I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 8: Honesty

By S X Meagher


Part Ten - Conclusion

The next morning dawned bright and clear, and Ryan decided to go for a quick run just to get her blood flowing. She had nearly stopped running, the exhausting volleyball practices taking so much of the pop from her legs that she knew it was unwise to put any more strain on her body, but every once in a while she just needed to feel the reassuring pounding of the pavement beneath her feet, and today was such a morning.

Dashing into the kitchen for a bottle of sports drink, she almost swallowed her teeth when she found Jordan sitting on a chair with Mia firmly ensconced in her lap, giving her mouth a very thorough inspection with her tongue. Jamie came in the room right behind her and literally ran into Ryan’s back. They both stood and stared at the twosome who finally came up for air. Mia blithely remarked, "Haven’t you ever seen people kiss before?"

Ryan walked over to the cabinet and grabbed a bottle of Gatorade, turning and walking right back out of the kitchen without a word. Jamie was still rooted in place, so Mia got up and came over to pat her on the cheek. "It’s okay, Jamie. It happens in the best of families!"

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

Jordan came running down the stairs after Ryan, calling, "Hey! Wait up! Can I have a ride home?"

"I’m not taking my car, Jordan. I’m going for a run. If you want to join me, I’ll wait until you go slip into some of my running clothes."

The lanky blonde considered the proposition for a moment, then shrugged and asked, "Where’s your stuff?"

"I’ll get you something," Ryan offered, not really happy at having to wait, but mildly interested in what was going on. Jordan followed her upstairs where Ryan pulled out a T-shirt and a pair of nylon shorts, the type of outfit that Jordan normally wore to run in.

Jordan started to strip as soon as they entered the room, and she shimmied into the shorts as Ryan tossed them to her. "I could really use a shower first," she muttered.

Making a mental note to wash the clothes as soon as they returned, Ryan joked, "So…you have sex all night long, don’t take a shower, and then you ask to borrow clothes. Sweet."

"I didn’t have sex," Jordan averred. "I just want to shower to wake up after being up all night."

"What in the heck were you doing all night? The night before a big game, I might add!"

Jordan was dressed now and they went back outside, starting off nice and slow to let their muscles loosen up. "I don’t really know where the time went, Ryan," she said thoughtfully. "We just hit it off really well, you know? We started talking, and we danced a little, and before I knew it, the place was closing."

"That was four hours ago," Ryan reminded her with a scowl.

"I know. It was funny. I uh…wasn’t the least bit tired, and neither was she. We came back here and got her car and went up into the hills just to watch the lights of the city." A fond, winsome look covered her face as she said, "It was a beautiful night."

"So you sat in her car and made out all night?" This seemed a strange way to Ryan to spend the evening when a nice soft bed was easily attainable.

Jordan looked a little taken aback. "No, we didn’t ‘make out’ as you so eloquently put it. We didn’t kiss until just a minute or two before you came down. Good timing, by the way," she added, shooting a teasing look Ryan’s way.

"Sorry about that," Ryan grinned. "I just had no idea. I was certain that Mia was as straight as I am gay."

Jordan gave her a puzzled look and commented, "You ought to spend some time talking to her, Ryan. She’s really fascinating when you get past the airhead façade."

That’s a façade?

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan got home from her run she noticed that Mia’s door was open. She walked in and started looking around the room, eventually poking her head in the closet. "What are you looking for, Ryan?"

"You’re not hiding any of my other teammates or any of my brothers in here, are you?"

Mia looked at her carefully for a moment. Her face broke into a wide grin as she said, "Hey, Jamie’s right. Your eyes do twinkle when you’re kidding!"

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

True to her word, Jamie came barreling into the locker room at 5:30 that evening bearing a small gray plastic box. She wasn’t surprised to find that Ryan was the only one present, since she knew her partner would feel calmer at the gym than at home. "Hi," Ryan said happily upon glimpsing her face.

"Oh, my," Jamie murmured as she caught sight of her lanky lover in her uniform. "You certainly fill those shorts out," she said softly as she trailed just the tips of her fingers up her strong quadriceps and then down her firm cheeks. The uniform certainly did flatter Ryan’s build. The short-sleeved white nylon jersey with the bold "Cal" in gold outlined in navy blue emphasized her strong, broad shoulders. The shirt was tucked into the tiniest, tightest shorts that Jamie had ever had the pleasure to see her lover in. Even though Ryan often wore compression shorts, she usually chose the nine-inch inseam to keep her thighs warm. But these little navy blue Lycra shorts with the tiny "Cal" logo on the thigh were no more than three inches long, and Jamie quickly decided that three inches was the perfect length for her long legged lover.

"Can you tell I’m not wearing anything under my shorts?" Ryan asked as she bent over a little.

"Not with my eyes," Jamie purred as she snuggled up behind her and ran her hands all over her muscled rear, and then dragged a fingernail right up the rear seam of the shorts.

"Jamie!" Ryan shouted standing up abruptly. "The rest of the team will be here any minute! I don’t want you feeling me up in public!"

"They all know we’re lovers," she reminded her.

"But that doesn’t mean they want to see us be lovers!" Ryan was still flustered, and Jamie found her expression endearingly adorable.

"Why, Ryan O’Flaherty, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you worry about anyone’s reaction to us. Do you think it makes your teammates uncomfortable to have me around?"

"No, no, that’s not it," she said with a blush. "It’s just—I don’t know—it’s like too personal or something. I’d feel the same way if you were a guy. Athletes just tease each other a lot and I know I’d be harassed if anyone saw you grabbing my ass."

"Okay, I promise to keep my hands to myself. But that’s asking a lot when you prance around in that adorable uniform!"

"Do you like it?" Ryan asked a little shyly, looking down at her body.

"I love it," Jamie replied sincerely.

"I thought maybe I’d look too skinny in it," Ryan considered, showing more of her vanity than Jamie had ever noticed. She was staring at herself in the mirror, running her hand over her now concave stomach.

"Uh-uh," Jamie insisted. She braced herself against the door to prohibit it from swinging open and said, "Come over here so I can show you how much I like your outfit." Ryan gave her an indulgent grin and walked over to receive a very hot kiss. Jamie’s hands ran all over her body, sending delightful shivers down Ryan’s spine. "Even though I like you with a little more bulk, you look fabulous in this. Your weight loss got rid of that nice soft layer I love, and now all that’s left is muscle." She gave Ryan a devastatingly sexy smile as she reminded her, "You know how I feel about your muscles." She grasped two hands full of butt and whispered, "For hugging, and touching, and making love, I like a little softness. But from a purely visual perspective you look as hot as I’ve ever seen you—or anyone else for that matter," she added, meaning every word.

She spent a few minutes kissing Ryan with a quiet passion, knowing that being slightly aroused always relaxed her partner. As she released her, Ryan shook her head to clear it as Jamie added, "Now I have to give you my good luck wish." She wrapped Ryan in a massive hug as she said, "I know you’ll do well tonight, Baby. I’m so proud of how hard you’ve worked to be able to play."

"Thank, Jamie," she softly replied. "It’s only because of your support that I got this chance. I appreciate this more than I can say."

After several heartfelt kisses Jamie pulled back and said, "How did you get your hair up that tightly?" Ryan’s shoulder length hair was pulled up into a very snug ponytail, and it sat much higher on her head than she normally wore it.

"I had to have it this high to keep my bangs pulled back," she said. "And I still had to put clips in to hold it in place. It took me longer to get my hair tamed than it did to get dressed!"

"Well you look very cute. Although I would prefer to have that dark mane flying around, your ponytail is quite neat. Now let’s get down to business. You get to be my first victim. Where do you want your tattoo?"


"Well, it’s a fake one, but I can make it look pretty real," she promised. She opened her art supply case and showed Ryan her nontoxic body paint and the other implements of her craft. "Now what do you want and where do you want it?" she asked with eyes dancing.

"Can you do a volleyball?"

"Sure. Do you want the logo on it?"

"No, how about the gold script ‘Cal’ in the middle of the ball."

"I can do that easily," she said confidently. "Now where do you want it?"

"How about the side of my arm, right by the bicep."

"That would be my recommendation," she agreed.

By the time Jordan and Michelle sauntered in Ryan was flexing her colorful new tat. Jamie was extremely pleased with her work and within a few moments everyone was lined up to receive their choice. Jordan chose the ‘Oski Bear’ head but she wanted it on her cheek so the Stanford players would have to see it when she was at the net. Michelle wanted a big ‘Cal’ script just above her sock. Jamie smirked to herself when shy little Heather Clark asked for Ryan’s advice on what she should choose. It was all Jamie could do to not chuckle when the young woman approached and asked Jamie to give her one just like Ryan’s. Within a few minutes everyone was decorated, and even Jamie noticed the mood in the locker room lighten perceptibly as everyone stood around voicing their opinions on the style and placement of each new tattoo.

Jamie noticed that everyone wore their hair pulled up severely and it took quite a while for the entire team to be satisfied with their ‘dos. But by 6:20 they were ready to take the court, and Ryan surprised her partner when she gave her a big kiss for luck as they wandered out to begin warm-ups.

When Jamie emerged from the locker room there were no more than 30 people in the stands, but as she expected at least 20 of them were O’Flahertys. She made her way to the section that they were claiming and spent a few minutes greeting each relative. Just as she finished, Tommy and Caitlin came in with Maeve and Kevin, and a few more warm greetings were exchanged. "Oh my," Maeve said when she got a look at her niece, "doesn’t she look big and strong in that little outfit."

"She gets annoyed when you call it an outfit, Maeve," Jamie knowledgeably informed her. "It’s a uniform." Caitlin was fidgeting to get to Jamie so she set her painting supplies down and took the gurgling infant in her arms. Things went smoothly for a few minutes, but when the baby caught sight of Ryan she vocally demanded access to her favorite cousin. Since there were so few people in the gym Ryan paused in her stretching routine and trotted up into the stands for a sloppy kiss. As long as she was there she stopped to give every aunt, uncle, cousin, and brother a kiss and a hug. But when she tried to return to the court, Caitlin put up a whale of a fuss. She hadn’t been seeing as much of Ryan as usual because of Ryan’s illness and her hectic schedule. So when she got her hands on her cousin she did not want to let go. Since it was early, and Stanford was still in their dressing room, Ryan ran down the stairs holding the baby so she could meet the other players. Everyone made over her for a few minutes, and Caitlin delighted the women by kissing each of them on command. The fun was over much too soon, but when the coaching staff came onto the court it was time to get busy. Ryan raced back up the stairs and deposited a cranky baby with Jamie and gave her a small shoulder shrug as she raced back down.

The stands began to fill quickly, and then Jamie noticed the members of the band begin to straggle in. Soon there were a good fifty members of the group squeezed into the stands, and as they began to tune their instruments, Jamie realized this was going to be a very noisy experience.

She had never watched a women’s college-level game, and as they began their drills, she realized that the game she had played in elementary school and high school gym class had nothing in common with this sport. This one was all about speed and quickness and jumping ability and athleticism. The women threw their bodies around with little regard for their safety, but Jamie was somewhat heartened by the resilient surface that had been put in place over the hardwood floor. That might keep Ryan from a few trips to the emergency room, she mused as she watched her partner hit the floor hard and do a little somersault to bleed off some of the force.

Catherine arrived to the great pleasure of Caitlin, who was fully placated by the arrival of her new friend. The happy baby climbed into her lap immediately to play with Catherine’s face and her heavy gold necklace. Warm greetings were extended from all of the O’Flahertys with Maeve leading the way. "I’m glad you could make it, Mom," Jamie said as she placed a kiss on her cheek. "Ryan will really appreciate it."

"I wouldn’t have missed this for the world," she said sincerely. "I can go to the symphony any night."

Jamie knew that the San Francisco Symphony was one of the favorite events on her mother’s busy schedule, and she was quite touched that she would give it up just to watch Ryan play volleyball.

Catherine looked about and commented, "Interesting look for the band, Honey. Where on earth do they even purchase straw hats any more?"

Jamie shrugged, rolling her eyes a little as she said, "They’re called the Straw Hat Band, so the hats are mandatory. They must have a secret supplier." Both women gazed at the members of the band, clad in their straw boaters, navy blue vests and jeans. Even though they were making a tentative attempt at uniformity, the fact that each person covered nearly every centimeter of the vests with patches, badges and pins allowed them to maintain their individuality.

Catherine leaned over and asked, "Do you know much about this game, Dear? It’s been many years since I’ve seen a volleyball match."

"No, I don’t know much at all. Ryan talks about it with all of this jargon, and I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know what she’s talking about. I don’t think that will hamper my enjoyment, though. Heck, I get pleasure out of watching her work at her computer!"

"That doesn’t surprise me in the least," Catherine chuckled. "I’ve seen you watch her in rapt fascination when she’s studying a menu at a restaurant!"

The younger woman shrugged her shoulders and said, "What can I say? She’s inherently fascinating." As Jamie surveyed the court, she decided, There’s only one thing I really need to know to enjoy the game—that Ryan is playing. That decided, she went back to her favorite activity of watching her partner like a hawk. Ryan was a blur of activity during their warm-ups; and when she wasn’t actively hitting or slamming or blocking the ball, she was animatedly talking to the younger players.

At seven o’clock Stanford came running out of the visitors’ locker room and took over the court. Jamie thought it funny that the Cal players acted like they didn’t know the other side was there. Ryan’s team just casually walked off like they had all decided it was time to take a break. But when they got to their own sideline, they spread out and watched Stanford with rapt attention. Both of Cal’s assistant coaches went out on the court to shag balls for the Cardinal, and Niall informed Jamie that they provided that service mainly to get a good feel for how the other team stacked up.

Jamie didn’t know much about volleyball, but it was clear that this team was good. They were very tall, very agile, and very athletic, and all of those skills were displayed during their warm ups. "They look good," Jamie mused to Niall.

"They are good," he said seriously. "They are very good."

They watched the Cardinal go through the same types of drills that Cal had gone through, and at 7:10 Cal got the court back for their final warm ups. Ryan ran over to the curtain that separated the court from the rest of the large gymnasium and poked her head through. She was obviously speaking to someone, and when she popped back out loud music started coming from the public address system. The players seemed to get into the music, and Jamie noticed that they were all speaking to each other in an animated fashion. As the songs changed, they looked like they were trying to guess who had chosen each particular one. Then it dawned on Jamie why Ryan had called each of her teammates the night before. She had obviously asked each of them for their favorite song and had arranged to have them played during the warm up.

After a few minutes Stanford took the court at the same time, and the teams each stood back on the service lines and simultaneously hit serves at each other. There were 30 balls flying in the air and Jamie could not understand how someone did not get hit in the head, but they all seemed cognizant of where the balls were at all times. Amy’s song was obviously cued up because she started hopping around when Cyndi Lauper started to wail out "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." She forced Ryan to stop serving for a moment and dance wildly with her behind the service line, looking very loose and carefree.

Jamie happily noted that the antics of the upperclassmen seemed to visibly relax the younger players, and they began to dance around a bit also. It was almost 7:25 by this time, and the teams stopped their serving practice and paired off to warm up by tossing the ball back and forth. Most of the pairs passed the ball in a leisurely fashion, but Jordan and Ryan made the game a little more interesting. They started off like everyone else, but within a few tosses they were hitting the ball with more and more velocity. They were standing about 20 feet from each other, and as the game escalated Ryan’s song came on. She had chosen "Jump" by Van Halen and as she and Jordan tried to kill each other, she began to jump as high as she could every time the word was sung. It was truly mesmerizing to watch 15 women hitting the ball back and forth while they jumped in the air in time to the music, and they all got into the game quickly.

Catherine leaned over and asked, "Is that Ryan’s friend you’ve talked about?"

"Yep. That’s her," Jamie smirked. "Good thing I’m not the jealous type, huh?"

Catherine chuckled and said, "Oh, Jamie, you have nothing to worry about. If those two were together they’d be dead in a week!"

Watching them play their little game, Jamie had to admit that Ryan and Jordan could never be a couple. They were far too competitive with each other to ever be vulnerable enough to open up to each other fully. But as she watched she realized that even though she had never been jealous of Jordan sexually, she did envy her athletic ability. As she watched the interplay, Jamie saw Ryan’s eyes take on a familiar glow, and she whispered to her mother, "Buffy’s back."

Just when the gleam came into Ryan’s eyes, Jordan’s song came on. She had chosen "Hit Me With Your Best Shot", and they watched with rapt attention as Ryan began to spike the ball at Jordan’s knees with as much power as she could generate. The sharp smack of the ball echoed through the auditorium as the entire crowd focused on the two women who looked like they were trying to hit the ball through the other rather than to the other.

It was obvious that neither woman would back down, and the other pairs started to move further and further from them to avoid being hit. The pair switched roles, and now Jordan was doing the spiking, with Ryan digging. Jordan kept hitting hard knuckleballs right at Ryan’s feet, but no matter how low or how hard she hit, Ryan dug each one out and returned a scorcher. Jamie was beginning to worry that they would hurt each other, and the assistant coach obviously was worried about the same thing since she gingerly approached and told them to knock it off. Ryan gave her a sheepish grin and immediately started to play nice. But as the song ended and they started to walk back to the bench, Jordan had to zing a hard serve right into Ryan’s butt. The rest of the team had to wait for a moment as Ryan tried to chase Jordan down, but the blonde ran onto Stanford’s side of the net and tried to get into their huddle. The entire crowd laughed at their antics, and even Coach Placer seemed to get a kick out of it. The Stanford team pushed Jordan out of their midst, then watched Ryan put a firm headlock on her and drag her back to their own side.

"You’re certain that they’re friends, Dear?" Catherine asked as she watched the drama unfold.

"Yep. She’s used to a lot of rough play from growing up with her brothers and cousins, but I think Jordan is the only woman who brings out that rough side of her."

"Lucky for you," Catherine laughed, knowing that her daughter would be no match for the wild side of Ryan.

The band performed a reasonably professional rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at 7:30 on the dot. The starting lineups were introduced by the very enthusiastic announcer, and Jamie smiled at the exaggerated way that he pronounced each player’s name. He emphasized Jordan’s first name, calling out, ‘Joooor-dan Ericsson’ as she was introduced. But he clipped Ryan’s first name and called out ‘Ryan O’ Flaaaa-her-ty’ when it was her turn. Martin turned around and smiled up at Jamie as he said, "He did that well, didn’t he, Darlin?"

"He certainly did, Martin," she agreed wholeheartedly.

As the players took their places, Jamie noted that Ryan had rolled up the sleeves of her jersey and neatly tucked them in so they were invisible. She wondered why that was necessary, but her question was answered a moment later. Stanford served to open the match and after a flurry of fakes and leaps by both outside hitters and the middle blocker, the setter passed the ball to Ryan. She exploded from behind the three-meter line and slammed the ball so forcefully that after it bounced untouched on the center of the court, it ricocheted into the stands and hit a very surprised woman right in the lap. Catherine slowly turned her head to look at her daughter, her wide eyes nearly popping from her head. "Did you see…?"

"Yep. And I figured out why she doesn’t like sleeves on her jersey," she said happily, realizing that Ryan needed every bit of mobility she could muster.

Cal was very sharp in the first game, and they stunned the Cardinal with a 15-7 win. Conor was making a run for nachos and as he walked by Jamie he predicted, "The next game will not be so easy."

True to his prediction, the Cardinal bounced back and squeezed out a 15-13 win. Their winning point did not come easily, however; Cal was dogged on defense, and the final point came from a long rally that had the entire gym buzzing. Ryan made a spectacular dig by diving for the ball with her entire body perpendicular to the floor. Amazingly, she managed to return the ball as her body hit hard on the rubberized surface, but Stanford’s highly touted middle blocker managed to stuff the ball right back at Cal for the winning point.

A ten-minute intermission followed game two, and the O’Flahertys buzzed about the match for the entire time. Each of the cousins had a theory on what Cal could have done differently to take the game, but Caitlin cared only that Ryan was missing. She was not happy until the team came back out and she got to watch her favorite playmate jump around again.

Game three went to Stanford rather easily at 15-6. Cal looked nervous and tentative for a good portion of the game, and their service game was abysmal. Jamie counted six net serves in a row, and it was clear that the team was becoming frustrated. As point after point went against Cal, Jamie tapped Niall on the shoulder and asked, "Why do they keep congratulating each other when they lose a point?"

"You know, I’ve got to admit that makes no sense to me. I guess it’s a woman thing," he said as he shrugged his shoulders.

Jamie wasn’t sure how it happened or what the difference was, but game four turned into a showcase for her lover’s enormous talent. Ryan was in some kind of a groove that lasted throughout the game. The announcer called her name again and again, shouting out ‘Ryan O’Flaaaa-her-ty’ every time she scored a kill or blocked a ball. Ryan was in the backcourt serving at 13-11 and Niall leaned over and predicted, "She’ll nail this one with a jump serve."

Ryan bounced the ball twice and tossed it high into the air. Just when the ball began to descend she leapt as high as she could and smashed the ball with her open hand. It skimmed just over the tape, barely missing being called a fault. The ball curved wickedly and landed untouched between four diving players who hit the mat in frustration. Jamie detected a glimmer of a smile on her partner’s face, but she knew that Ryan would never show her feelings too obviously in a match like this.

Serving for the game, Ryan zipped another scorcher, but this one was dug out in a desperation play by their talented freshman outside hitter. The rally had been going on for nearly a minute when the ball was perfectly fed to Jordan. She jumped higher than Jamie had seen her go all night and slammed the ball powerfully into the leg of a Stanford player. The ball flew off at a wild angle, and Cal had evened the match.

"This is enervating, Jamie!" Catherine cried as she sank to her seat. "I’m exhausted from watching! How can she play so hard for so long?"

"I have no idea, Mother," Jamie admitted. "She just hates to lose so badly that she would do anything to avoid it. I guarantee she doesn’t even feel tired right now. She can just go into a zone and do what she needs to do, ignoring her own body."

Another short intermission allowed everyone to get up and stretch. There were a few cheerleaders, and they performed while the crowd buzzed about. Caitlin was getting fussy again so, after Jamie and Catherine changed her, Conor took her for a horsey ride around the auditorium. After ten minutes of racing around, they were both able to sit and enjoy the final game of the match.

Both teams were a little tentative at the start. The ball was served at least ten times before a point was scored, and Coach Placer finally called a time out to re-group. The break was only one minute long, but both sides seemed to benefit from it. The points started adding up, and in a matter of minutes the score was knotted at 13. The rotation was in Cal’s favor, as Niall pointed out. Cal’s smallest player was serving and their best middle blocker and the two outside hitters were in the frontcourt. Stanford’s smallest player was at the net and their best middle blocker had been taken out in a defensive strategy, leaving them a little weak.

As the team got ready, Erika Selznick came up behind Ryan and stood so close that their shoes touched. She appeared to be speaking to her, and Jamie noticed that she placed her hand against Ryan’s butt and held two fingers pointed down at the ground for the other players to see. "Niall, what’s the setter doing?" she asked.

"She’s telling the team which attack strategy they’re using," he said. "She gets behind Ryan so the other players can see her fingers. The dark shorts allow the others to see her better, but since Ryan can’t see she needs to tell her directly."

"Okay," Jamie said slowly, only slightly placated at the thought of another woman’s hand on Ryan’s butt.

The next point came quickly on a service ace. Everyone in the stands was on the edge of their seat as the next ball was served. It was returned quickly, and the setter called ‘Ryan!’ before she tossed the ball high into the air. Ryan’s body went up higher than Jamie would have ever thought possible. She pulled her arm back as she flew until she was coiled into an inverted ‘C’. Jamie got ready for a massive spike, and she could see the Stanford team brace themselves. But even though the motion seemed identical to every other spike Ryan had hit that night, when Ryan actually hit the ball she touched it so gently with just the tips of her fingers that the ball seemed to float to the ground. Time seemed to stand still as every Stanford player dove for the softly falling ball, but it settled onto the floor with a satisfying thump as the Cal team leapt into the air as one.

They hugged and slapped hands and squeezed each other until they squealed. The coaches even hugged as the victorious players celebrated, but the merriment only continued for a few seconds. Both teams got into a neat line and ran up to the net to shake hands. As each player lightly tapped hands, Jamie noticed that Ryan seemed to know some of the seniors. She stopped for a second and embraced two of the women, and after the line was finished Stanford’s coach came over and gave Ryan a very enthusiastic hug. She placed her hand on Ryan’s shoulder and spoke to her for a few moments as Ryan beamed down at her. A firm swat on the butt sent her on her way back to the arms of her giddy teammates, but before they trailed back into the locker room, Ryan turned and locked eyes with her partner for just a moment. The look of pure joy on her face was worth any sacrifice that Jamie could have made to allow her lover to play on the team, and she tried her hardest to imprint that blissful smile permanently into her memory.

Jamie knew that everyone would want to congratulate her partner, so she raised her voice and said, "Let’s all go to our house for some dessert!" Everyone seemed in favor of that plan, so Martin, Conor, and Brendan decided to split up to guide all of the cousins to the house. Jamie removed the house key from her ring and sent them ahead while she waited for Ryan. Catherine offered to stop at the store and pick up food and Jamie gratefully accepted, advising her, "Pretend you’re feeding a group of hungry stevedores. These people eat!"

Jamie was waiting by the locker room when the team started to file out. As each player walked by she invited them to the house, and most immediately accepted. Ryan finally came out with Jordan and they both accepted Jamie’s hearty congratulations. "Poke your head back in there and tell everyone else that we’re having a little celebration at our house," Jamie said. "Your family is all waiting for you."

"Excellent!" Ryan cried. "I was afraid I wouldn’t get to talk to them."

"Not a chance, Baby," she assured her.

Ryan looked around and noticed that a large group of young girls was clustered around the narrow opening where both teams exited their respective locker rooms. Narrowing her gaze she elbowed Jordan and said, "What gives? Those kids are all waiting to get autographs from Stanford! Unacceptable!"

Striding over to the crowd she directed a pointed stare at Stanford’s freshman outside hitter, the woman most in demand. The attractive young woman gave Ryan a smile and shrugged her shoulders. Ryan returned her grin, but determined that she couldn’t let this insult continue. Turning to Jordan she asked, "Where do you guys sign autographs?"

"Uh…we don’t," Jordan said. "No one ever asks for them."

"Are you nuts?" the dark woman scoffed. "We’ve gotta create a little excitement here, pal." She cast a glance at Jamie who was holding a free poster that had been given out to everyone attending the game. "Hey, Babe? Do you have any felt-tipped markers on you?"

"Yeah, I have some in my art supplies," she said. "Do you want ‘em?"

"Yep," Ryan decided. "We’re having an autograph session." She strode past the Stanford team and went into the large, unstructured area right behind the court. Speaking to one of the maintenance workers, she secured a long folding table and a few chairs, then set about finding some of her teammates. In a few minutes every chair was full, and when the young girls saw the players busily signing posters, the crowd gathered around like bees to honey. Ryan smirked at Jordan and said, "We might not get any publicity, but we can create our own buzz."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Eleven of the fifteen players were able to make the impromptu party, and Jamie smiled to herself as she watched her mother, Maeve, and Ryan’s aunt Peggy set out the massive amounts of food that Catherine had purchased.

When the team filed in, they were greeting with much acclaim by the crowd. They were all dressed in their warm-up suits; and since Cal had gone to the expense to have their first names embroidered on the breast, each was easily identifiable.

Ryan took quite a bit of kidding for having invited the entire gym to her home, but everyone had a good time. Since it was a school night no one stayed long, and within an hour nearly all of the food was gone. Catherine shook her head as she stared at the empty platters and said, "It…it was like a swarm of locusts!"

Martin slid his arm around her shoulder and advised, "You should have seen the work they did when the boys were teenagers! They ate three times what they do now!"

"I thought I was buying four times more than we could possibly eat," Catherine marveled.

"Leftovers are just an elusive dream at the O’Flahertys'," Jamie informed her.

Martin recruited his brothers to help with the cleanup since they had not been part of the preparation. Catherine said to Ryan, "I don’t think I’ve ever seen men get up to clean a kitchen. Do they always do that?"

"Yep. Since they were raised without a mother they had to learn to take care of themselves. They’re all quite handy."

"You are just a remarkable group of people," Catherine said fondly. "And I swear I have never seen a performance like you and your friend put on tonight!" Jordan was standing close by, and Ryan pulled her over to receive her share of the compliment.

"I’ve never played with a fellow outside hitter who was as talented as Jordan. It’s amazing how much easier the game is when you have a balanced attack."

"Well I clearly know nothing about the game, but I can appreciate talent and you two just shone tonight."

"I’ll say," Jamie agreed as she slid in under Ryan’s arm. "My big boomer really came through didn’t she?"

"Boomer, huh?" Jordan asked with sparkling eyes.

"Jamie!" Ryan moaned. "Do you have to give her any more ammunition?!"

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

As Ryan and Jamie lay in bed that night, the taller woman asked, "Were you as surprised as I was to see Jordan and Mia this morning?"

"Mmm, yes and no," Jamie said.

"Care to elaborate? Or is that your full statement?"

Jamie sighed and admitted, "I’m not surprised to see her with a woman, but I was surprised to see her with Jordan. I don’t see that there’d be any spark there whatsoever."

She said this so dismissively that Ryan grew a little defensive of her friend. "What? Jordan’s not good enough for Mia?" She paused a second and then realized, "Hey, you knew something kinda big, and you obviously didn’t tell me about it." A wide smile settled onto her face as she added, "Good job!"

Jamie tossed her blonde head dramatically, insisting, "I can keep a secret just as well as you can. And I didn’t mean that Jordan’s not good enough for her, I just meant that Jordan seems so aloof and self-involved."

"Oh, that’s a ringing endorsement," Ryan said, a little pout forming on her lips. "Glad you like her so much."

"I do like her…kinda," Jamie said, trying not to offend her partner.

Ryan half sat up, leaning on her braced hand. "Do you really not like her, Jamie? I didn’t know…"

"No, no, it’s not like that. I just don’t know her well enough to have a real opinion. I don’t share the sports thing like you two do, I’m not real competitive like you both are, and I’ve never had an in-depth conversation with her about anything. I just don’t know her well enough to like her or not like her."

Ryan nodded, agreeing that all of her partner’s points were true. "Okay. I guess I get that. I guess over time you’ll learn more about her…especially if she and Mia start dating."

"Hmm…what do you think about that, Hon? Did they sleep together?"

Ryan smiled broadly and said, "Ask Mia."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan and Jordan emerged from the Recreational Sports Facility the next afternoon, their sweat-soaked clothes draped limply on their bodies. "I love working out hard on a nice warm day," Ryan mused as the afternoon sun him them.

"We don’t get many of ‘em," the lanky blonde acknowledged. "Enjoy it while you can." They walked down the wide concrete entryway to the building, idly chatting until Jordan said, "Wow, could that old guy be any more obvious?"


"There’s some old dude over there blatantly staring at us."

She was just about to make a rude gesture when Ryan followed her gaze and said, "That old dude is my father-in-law. I’d better go see what’s on his alleged mind."

Jordan placed a restraining hand on her arm, asking seriously, "Are you sure, Ryan? I can stay with you if you think you might need help."

"Nah," she said lightly, pleased that her friend was willing to stick up for her. "I think he finally understands that he doesn’t have any hold over me. He probably just wants to bust my chops again." Just to maintain her normal routine she leaned forward slightly and gave her friend a very light kiss on the lips. "See you tomorrow at practice."

Jordan ruffled her hair, dramatically wiping her hand on her shorts after her hand came up damp. "Man, you sweat!"

"Yup. Part of my charm," the grinning brunette replied.

She jogged over to Jim, approaching him rather gingerly, as she would have greeted a suspicious-looking dog. "What’s up?" she asked, trying her best to be civil.

"I’m uh…I’m leaving for Washington tomorrow," he told her. "I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks, maybe more."

She gazed at him quizzically, her dark eyebrows inching up in a standard "so what?" look.

He was standing awkwardly, looking like he needed to do something with his hands. "I’ve uh…I’ve tried everything, Ryan. She’s blocked my number on her cell phone, my e-mail gets returned as undeliverable, and my letters came back ‘addressee unknown’."

Another shrug from the dark-haired woman. "This surprises you….how?"

Now he began to let his frustration show. He started to pace in a quick line in front of her, his hands jammed into the pants pockets of his suit. "Catherine won’t speak to me, my own father tells me that he won’t intercede for me." He looked up at Ryan with a look of pure panic and said, "I can’t lose her, Ryan. I can’t!!"

"You could have thought of that sooner, Jim," she said with as much empathy as she could muster. "I think it’s too late in the game to have regrets now."

He grasped at her desperately, gaining large handfuls of wet shirt. "That can’t be true, Ryan! It can’t be!"

She pointedly removed his hands, shaking her head as she said, "I think it is true, Jim. Trying to destroy her feelings for Catherine was the last straw for her. I honestly don’t think she can forgive that."

"Ryan, you’re my last hope. I…I don’t have anywhere else to turn." His eyes had filled with tears, and his trembling lower lip betrayed his vulnerability. "Please…please talk to her for me," he begged, his voice raspy with emotion.

She shook her head weakly, finding it difficult to refuse such a heartfelt plea even though she knew he was getting exactly what he deserved. "I can’t do that," she insisted. "I can’t manipulate her into seeing you. She makes her own choices, and she chooses not to see you."

"Please," he whispered, one last time, the word reverberating in her ears as she turned her back and went to fetch her bike.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"That’s all he did?" Jamie asked again. "He just asked you to speak to me…to get me to talk to him?"

"Yes, that’s all," Ryan repeated. "He’s apparently leaving for Washington, and he’s going to be gone for a few weeks. I guess that made him feel he needed to take some action."

"Best of luck," Jamie muttered, turning back to the stove to finish their dinner preparations.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Both women were unusually quiet during dinner, only making occasional comments about their respective days. It was almost a relief when they finished eating and Ryan could spend a half-hour in the kitchen, focusing on the routine, calming tasks of cleaning up.

At nine o’clock Ryan started to close down the computer, then spent a few minutes getting ready for bed. By 9:20 Jamie still wasn’t on her way, so Ryan slipped into a pair of her pajamas and went downstairs to see what was keeping her.

Entering the study, Ryan saw her partner sitting on the leather couch, her intent gaze focusing on something that Ryan wasn’t able to see. Her books were still in her book bag, obviously untouched during the entire evening.

Ryan sat down next to her, drawing a slightly embarrassed chuckle from her partner. "I didn’t get much done tonight, huh?"

Running a fingertip along the edge of the bag Ryan agreed. "Not too much. Looks like you’re working on something, though," she guessed, lightly tapping Jamie’s temple.

Verdant eyes locked onto Ryan’s as Jamie asked, "You think I’m being a jerk, don’t you?"

A slow, startled blink was Ryan’s first response. Her second was a softly spoken, "Of course not, Honey. I would never think that of you."

"Well, what do you think?" Jamie persisted, knowing there was something going on behind those blue eyes that Ryan wasn’t sharing with her.

"I think you’ve had a very, very tough time of it, and I know that it’s going to take you a long time to decide how you want it to be between you and your father."

Giving her diplomatic lover a gentle elbow in the ribs, Jamie teased, "That was a very good non-answer."

Defending herself slightly, Ryan replied, "I mean it. I can’t put myself in your place. I’m sure that you’re making the decisions that feel like the right ones for you. That’s all that matters."

"No, it’s not, Ryan," Jamie insisted. "It’s also important that I maintain your respect."

Dark blue eyes gazed at her, the truth shining through brightly. "You have it. You always will."

"Answer one question for me," Jamie asked softly. "If this was your father, and he had done the same things, would you see him?"

"Yes," Ryan answered immediately.

"Jeez, didn’t have to spend too much time thinking of that answer, did you?" She seemed a little disappointed in the response, so Ryan hastened to explain.

"We have such different backgrounds, Jamie. That’s part of what influences me. Just because I couldn’t cut off contact with my father doesn’t mean that you should do the same. I mean that," she said earnestly.

"They why would you see your father again?" the smaller woman asked.

Ryan sighed heavily, hoping that Jamie could understand that her answer was applicable only to herself. "I’ve lost one parent, Jamie. I would never voluntarily give up my last one ."

The blonde head nodded slowly, realizing that Ryan would naturally feel that way. She got to her feet, extending a hand to pull the tall woman up. "Thanks. That helps a bit."

"I hope so, Jamie," Ryan said softly, wrapping her in a warm embrace. "I’ll do anything to help you."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Thanks for taking time out of your day to see me, Poppa," Jamie said as she and her grandfather met just outside of the Swan Oyster Depot.

"Jamie," he said fondly, "I always enjoy seeing you. And buying me lunch at the Swan just sweetens the deal."

As they walked inside, she considered the changes the last few years had brought to their relationship. He treated her completely like an adult, she noted with satisfaction: showing her love and unqualified support, but never forcing his opinion on her, a lesson that she fervently wished he had imparted to his son.

She took his hand and walked into the restaurant, waiting until they were shown to their table to speak again. Looking at the older man with thoughtful concern she said, "I’m stuck, Poppa. I feel like I need to make a decision about my father and move on with my life, but I just can’t seem to get there."

He covered her small hand with his own and gazed into her eyes. "What does your heart tell you to do, Jamie?"

She blew out a breath, ruffling her bangs as she did so. "That’s a tough one. I suppose that my heart is pretty optimistic," she chuckled. "I want to believe that he—like everyone else—can change if they’re really motivated." Shrugging her shoulders she said, "Of course, at this point he’s given no indication that he’s motivated to change."

"Okay," Charles said, "that’s your heart. What does your head think?"

"Well, my head is not very optimistic. But it’s more than that," she admitted. "I’ve given him a lot of chances, Poppa, and he’s blown each one. Logically speaking, I’m terrified of what his next act will be. I feel like I should permanently cut off all future contact with him, just to protect myself and Ryan."

He nodded somberly, seeing the situation from her perspective. Their waiter brought menus and they perused them in silence for a moment, not speaking again until their orders were placed.

"What do you think I should do, Poppa?" she asked.

"I’m not sure I can tell you that, Jamie. I honestly think I’m too involved with both of you to be able to see the situation clearly." He shook his head, his brow deeply furrowed as he drew in a breath. "It’s so hard for me to see what he has become." He leaned back in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose, looking like he was about to cry.

"You know what’s been on my mind lately?" Jamie asked. As he shook his head she continued, "I’ve been trying to understand how he turned out this way. It’s the nature versus nurture argument. How could such a loving, giving, compassionate man as you raise someone who’s capable of what my father’s shown that he’s capable of?"

Charles let out a sigh and smiled wanly. "I hate to admit this, Jamie, but your father was nurtured by a man who shared many of the same traits he’s exhibiting right now."

"Pardon?" she asked, her eyes growing wide.

He leaned back in his chair and gazed at her for a few moments, finally shaking his head slightly when he decided to reveal something very personal. "It’s true," he conceded. "I’ve always been glad that you didn’t know me when I was a younger man, Jamie, because you’d feel very differently about me. I think it’s time I explained a few things to you, Honey. It might not help you, but if there’s even a chance that it will, I’m happy to share my struggles."

"Your struggles?" she asked, not having any idea of where he was going with this train of thought.

"Yes, Honey. Twenty years ago I was struggling…with my faith and with my calling. I was just about the age your father is now, and I had finally come to realize that my dreams of being named bishop would likely not materialize."

"Bishop?" she gaped. "But…that’s not the type of thing that would appeal to you! You’ve always said you have no interest in the administrative duties that being bishop would entail."

"Not true," he said, shaking his head. "I was very much interested in being bishop. The power and prestige of the position were very compelling, Jamie, and I’ll admit that I practically lusted for it."

Trying to reconcile what he was telling her with what she knew of him, Jamie asked, "Why do you think you weren’t asked to become bishop?"

"I have a very good idea," he said, a small smile settling on his face. "I think I was considered to be too rigid, too doctrinaire to be able to deal with the problems of a diocese as large as ours."

"Too rigid!" She said this louder than she should have, and immediately lowered her voice. "You’re the most flexible man I know!"

"Thank you for saying that, Jamie, but now I’m not who I was then. Before the AIDS crisis hit San Francisco, I was the type of man that I now have nothing but pity for. I truly believed that the purpose of religion was to give people rules to live by…and I do mean rules! I thought that I had the answers to many, if not all, questions about moral living. I’m sure that even then I considered myself a liberal, but there was nothing truly liberal in my thinking."

Jamie looked at him with deep interest but said nothing, her shock rendering her unable to formulate a comment.

"I knew that many of the people that I depended on to help run the church were gay men. I said all the right things about tolerance and love, but I didn’t believe any of it. Deep inside I thought that gay people were misguided at best, eternally condemned at worst. I actually used to feel sorry for them, because they had such ‘empty’ lives—going from one meaningless sexual encounter to another. I’m embarrassed to admit that I believed that I was on a higher moral plain than my gay associates. They were the ‘other’…they were not like me."

Her mouth had dropped open and she gaped at him, unable to see the man he described in her loving, generous grandfather. "But how…? What changed you?"

"I didn’t change until it affected me personally," he admitted. "I was so self-involved that I was only able to see things clearly when my own interests were involved." He shook his head in shame at his hubris, but continued his story. "I began to lose some of the men who helped my church run efficiently. But even then I didn’t lose too much sleep over the issue. I believed that this illness was some form of tragic, but inevitable retribution for the lives that these men had led. Now, don’t get me wrong, Jamie," he said when he saw the stark disbelief in her green eyes. "I felt very badly for these people. I just wasn’t affected on a deep, personal basis. But all of that changed in 1984 when my music director developed AIDS. This was a man I had worked with closely for over ten years, Jamie, and for the first time, I allowed this disease to touch my heart. As I learned more about his life, and his circle of friends, I began to feel—really feel—the loss of so many people the disease had claimed. I saw the community rally around this man, and I began to see the rich, full life that he and many other gay people had fashioned for themselves. This man and his friends took me in and let me see what friendship and love and charity were really all about. I saw that my notions of sin and righteousness were just excuses for labeling behavior that I didn’t participate in. I began to open up and really see my fellow parishioners as they were. I began to understand the weaknesses that we all have, but I also was privileged to see the strength that so many people are blessed with."

"I saw that on the AIDS Ride," Jamie commented. "The courage of some of those people astounded me."

"Indeed," he agreed. "All I can say is that AIDS changed me in some very dramatic ways, Jamie. It allowed me to cast off my small-minded habits of looking down on people who don’t share my life choices. It opened me up to the experience of truly being with others as they are. It allowed me to see, for the first time in my life, that we are all truly children of God. Each one of us is as precious as the next. God creates each of us according to His plan, not our plans." He smiled at his granddaughter and grasped her hand gently, "I studied the issue, Jamie. I’d say that I read everything written on homosexuality and faith. Through study and prayer, I finally came to the conclusion that to reject a person because of the way God created him is just bad theology."

She squeezed his hand, as her head shook gently, "I feel the same way, Poppa. I think I came to believe this from your influence," she admitted. "It must have been much harder for you to have to figure this out for yourself."

"I labeled myself a man of faith, Jamie," he said softly, "but that title wasn’t apt until I took that journey and let those people help me discover what faith truly was."

Gazing at her grandfather for a moment, Jamie asked, "I appreciate that you’ve told me all of this, Poppa, but I don’t see how it all connects to my troubles."

"It does, Jamie, it truly does," he insisted. "I told you all of this as a way of partially explaining your father. The man who raised him was consumed by a desire for power and prestige and position. Oh, I tried to hide it beneath a humble, priestly exterior, but it was there, right under the surface. I did not give your father the proper moral guidance that a person needs in order to make the proper choices for himself. I understand that he’s made some very poor decisions in his life, but I truly believe that my poor example helped him make some of those choices." He looked at her intently, his green eyes focused on hers. "I was not able to change until I was confronted by a situation that I was intensely uncomfortable with. But when I was forced to look inward, I was able to open my eyes. I honestly think that this situation could present a similar possibility for being a life-changing event for your father."

"It sounds like you were in a place where you were willing to look at your life and make some changes, Poppa," she skeptically observed. "I don’t know that my father is in that place."

"I know the situation is different," he admitted. "And I don’t in any way absolve him of his responsibility for the dreadful things he has done. But I am saying that this could be an opportunity for you to help him to become the person that I believe he could be. I know that he loves you as much as he is able to love, Jamie. There is no one in his life that he is as connected to. I dread the thought of what will happen to him if you sever your ties."

Total silence enveloped the table as she reflected on his words. Jamie finally reached for her grandfather’s hand and grasped it securely with her own. "I have such a hard time reconciling the person that you say you were with the person that I’ve always known," she said, slowly shaking her head. "It’s almost incomprehensible."

"I have a hard time remembering what it was like to feel that way," he agreed. "But it’s good to force myself to remember once in a while. It shows me how the power of love can change anyone’s life."

"Anyone who wants to change," she added quietly. "That’s the key, Poppa. You were obviously open to it. I see no sign that my father is."

"You may be right, Jamie," he admitted. "If he’s unwilling to try, there’s nothing you can do. I don’t want to put pressure on you, Sweetheart, but if you can hang in there for a little while and just be patient, he might surprise you."

"Oh, he’s surprised me plenty," she said wryly, sparing her grandfather a small smile. "I’m just afraid his next surprise might involve bloodshed."

* * * * * * * * * * *

After lunch Jamie walked her grandfather back to his house, asking for one small favor when they arrived. "Could you open the church for me, Poppa? I think better there. The world looks clearer to me through stained glass," she said with a chuckle.

"Of course, Sweetheart. I’ll be in my office. Just let me know when you’re leaving."

She went into the cool, quiet space and sat down in the last pew, letting her memories wash over her. Picking up a copy of the Book of Common Prayer, she leafed through the well-used tome, automatically finding some of her favorite passages of scripture. She didn’t have a particular focus, and her thoughts were vague and fleeting, never staying on one topic for long. It was as if her subconscious was processing something and her conscious mind was just along for the ride. After more than an hour she put the book away and stood up, taking in the sweet smell of the candles that permeated the space. Surprisingly, she knew exactly what to do, and without a moment’s hesitation she went to say goodbye to her grandfather and set out for her destination.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"You go right in, Jamie," Helen said as she escorted her into her father’s office. "He’s going to be so excited to see you." Her voice lowered, "He seems really sad about leaving, doesn’t he?"

"I suppose he does," the younger woman smiled, not having any idea if that was the case.

"It’s such a mess in here," the secretary laughed, shaking her head at the organized chaos. "He’s in the middle of packing up his personal things."

Seeing the solitary banker’s box atop the desk, Jamie gave the woman a wry look and asked, "Is the one box all that he’s taking?"

"I suppose so," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "It’s an open secret that he’ll be back in January of 2001," she added. "It doesn’t make much sense to take much. He said he’s only taking things that are absolutely vital."

A young man in a dun-green uniform was removing boxes of legal files from the office, likely taking them to the attorneys who would be taking over Jim’s casework. As the man left the room he closed the door, and she walked over to the desk and sat in her father’s chair. An early memory of coming downtown for Christmas flooded over her, and she recalled sitting in the big leather chair when her feet barely dangled off the edge of the seat.

Idly perusing the contents of the box, she was stunned to regard the item lying on top. It was a framed picture that she had drawn for her father when she was in pre-school. The crudely formed stick figures represented her and her father, his left hand holding her right. In her childish scrawl she had written, "I love you, Daddy" across the top of the paper. "Jamie" was penned across the bottom of the paper, the "J" backwards, and the dot over the "I" a big circle. She was gazing at it intently when she sensed a warm presence over her shoulder. "That was the first sentence you ever wrote," her father said softly, his voice husky with emotion.

"You had this framed?" she asked in wonder, feeling the solid weight of the wood in her hand.

"Of course I did. That was the most amazing love letter I’d ever received." Even though she couldn’t see him, she knew that her father was crying, and seconds later she heard a few sniffs that confirmed her belief.

Reaching into the box, she began to extract the few items, holding each in her hands as her father provided commentary. "That’s from the first round of golf we ever played together," he said as Jamie hefted a Lucite cube in which a small scorecard floated. "That’s from the trip you convinced me to take when you were sure you wanted to be a cowboy when you grew up," he said wistfully, gazing over her shoulder at a picture of the two of them atop horses at a ranch in Colorado. Her boot-clad feet were so short that they barely made it into the stirrups, but the grin on her face was absolutely luminous. The smile on her father’s face was one of loving indulgence, and she had a brief memory of how validated she had felt when he’d agreed to take the little trip. Another photo was of their first ski trip together, still another of her playing in her first match for the golf team at her high school.

Reaching into the box again, Jamie was stunned to find a fairly recent photo—from the AIDS Ride. She and her father were beaming for the camera, him looking so proud that it immediately brought tears to her eyes. "Was this important to you?" she asked softly, extending the picture for him to view.

"Of course," he said with fervor. "You had worked so hard to achieve that goal, Jamie. I’ve never been more proud of you."

Her shoulders sagged as she wearily asked, "Then why can’t you show me that you’re proud of me by trusting my decisions?"

"I do trust you, Jamie," he began, but she help up her hand, unwilling to go down that road again.

"Enough," she said wearily. "You’ve been saying that for months, Daddy, but it’s a loser argument."

"Okay," he agreed quietly, coming around to perch on the edge of his desk. His head cocked a little as he asked, "Did Ryan talk you into coming today?"

She laughed softly, shaking her head a little as she said, "She doesn’t talk me into things, Daddy. In only a few months she’s learned that doesn’t work." Adding a self-effacing chuckle she said, "She knows how to handle me. You really should get some tips from her."

With a hopeful look he asked, "Does that mean that I’ll get the chance to see you again?"

"It depends," she said, gazing deeply into his eyes. "Are you willing to let me make my own choices in life, including my own mistakes?"

"Yes," he said, tears forming in his eyes. "I promise that I’ll do my best to treat you like a woman…not my little girl."

She nodded, unwilling to keep the animosity going any longer. "I think we should try again," she said. "If you’re willing to apologize to Ryan and to Mother, and begin to treat Ryan like my partner, we can try again."

"It’s taken me a while, but I now know I was wrong. I promise I’ll treat her just the same as if she was your husband..." he began.

Leveling her gaze, Jamie warned, "Don’t get crazy with the promises, Daddy. If you think you’re going to suddenly love her, you’re lying to both of us. All I want is for you to treat her with respect. If you’re open-minded, over time you will come to like her, but that will take a while."

"I promise I’ll try," he said softly, heeding her advice not to bite off more than he could chew.

"That’s all I ask, Daddy. I just want you to try." She got up from the chair and started to walk to the door. "You can write or e-mail me if you want, and I’ll let your calls come through on the cell, okay?"

"That’s more than I deserve," he said sincerely.

Giving him a small smile, she agreed. "This is true. Luckily, I’m bonded to a woman who makes Mother Teresa look like a hothead. Ryan pointed out how short our time together is. I don’t want to waste any more of it, Daddy."

"Jamie," he said hesitantly, "I want you to know how sorry I am about everything—especially for what I did to Ryan and your mother."

"Let’s just move forward, okay, Daddy?" she asked, not wanting even to be reminded of what he had done.

He nodded quickly, agreeing that was the best tactic. "Um…they’re making the announcement about my appointment tomorrow in Washington. You wouldn’t happen to have a free day to be there with me, would you?" There was such a vulnerable, hope-filled look in his eyes that she felt a little sad for him.

"No, I can’t make it," she said. "But I hope it goes well for you."

"Thank you, Honey," he said, moving forward to attempt to hug her goodbye. He approached her warily, neither sure quite how to behave. A quick hug which they both seemed happy to end marked the culmination of the feud, and as they clumsily drew apart, father and daughter shared a meaningful look, both silently hoping that they would never again be estranged.

He stood rooted in place as she continued across the room. "I’ll miss you, Jamie."

She turned to face him, seeing something in his expression that absolutely shocked her. Without allowing her inner voice to censor her words she asked, "Are you afraid to go?"

He looked strangely childlike as he stood in the middle of the room, his hands balled into impotent fists. She could see him swallow as he fought the self-analysis that she was asking him to indulge in. "I…uh…I’ve never lived anywhere but San Francisco," he said. "It’s strange to be going so far from home…especially alone," he finished in an even softer tone. "I feel a little like I’m heading off to my first day of school." His face broke into a warm grin as 15 years disappeared from his face. "I don’t know where that came from," he muttered, a flush creeping up his features.

"From your heart," Jamie said, echoing his smile. "It’s a good thing to listen to."

"I’ll try to remember," he said, his face gentling even more as he met her eyes.

"Keep in touch, Daddy," she whispered, feeling very light and free as she said those words. As her heels crushed a path along the thick pile carpet, she let her mind try to project the path they both had to traverse. She was mature enough to know that they would still have some very tough waters to navigate, and just innocent enough to fully believe that they would successfully do so—together.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The End

To be continued in Book 9: Intentions


As always, to Carrie.


My sincere thanks to Day and Stacia for their time, skill and efforts in beta reading this piece, and to Tenara, for naming it.

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