I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 8: Honesty

By S X Meagher

Part Two

They woke a little later than normal on Saturday, neither feeling particularly well rested even though they had slept through the night. Their normal level of playfulness was completely lacking, replaced with a slightly strained politeness that was quickly getting on both of their nerves. This is going to take a while, Ryan thought, trying to reassure herself. We had a very tough time last night, and it’s going to take time to heal, just like any injury.

Even though she understood it, the dark woman was anxious to have the discomfort pass. Acknowledging that she had no earthly idea how to speed up the process, she felt a stab of hurt when she heard the shower running—Jamie obviously planned on showering alone. She always showers with me, she thought glumly. I guess she can’t even tolerate being naked together.

Rather than pining away for the closeness she craved, Ryan went upstairs to get breakfast started. Conor was still at the dining room table, idly perusing the Chronicle while he finished his coffee. "Hey, how’s it going?" he asked carefully when his disheveled sister entered the room.

" ‘Kay," she mumbled, heading for the kitchen to see if there was any more coffee. "What’s up?"

"I’m going over to Niall’s," he offered. "We’re gonna start taking his roof off. You guys wanna come?"

"Mmm…not sure," she replied, sitting down opposite him, a large mug held in both of her hands to warm them. "Good day for it," she observed, the late summer fog providing a cool backdrop for the work.

Seeing that he wasn’t going to get much response from his sister, Conor got up and started to clear his dishes. "I’ll do that," Ryan offered. "I’m gonna cook when Jamie comes up."

Hesitantly, he returned his plate to the table, deciding to press the issue. Walking over to stand in front of her, he squatted down so they were at eye level. The searching intensity of his gaze made her feel uncomfortable, and her eyes shifted quickly, unwilling to focus on his. "Is everything okay between you and Jamie?" he asked.

She nodded quickly, wishing he would give her some space. "Yeah. It will be," she said confidently, reminding herself that the resolution would not be quick. "We just need a little time."

Standing tall, he ruffled her hair, bending to place a soft kiss on the top of her head. "Take care of yourself, Sis," he said. "You look like you’re really hurting."

Patting the large hand that rested on her shoulder, Ryan assured him, "We’ll be fine, Con. Thanks for caring."

"See you later," he said, heading for the front door. "Give Jamie a kiss for me."

As soon as the door closed, Jamie appeared, showered and dressed for the day. She'd been miffed that Ryan was missing by the time she got the shower ready, but she assumed that her partner just needed some space.

"You just missed Conor," Ryan said when Jamie came into the dining room.

"I missed Conor on purpose," the smaller woman said, taking the seat he had vacated. "I’m embarrassed to face him after my little display last night." She shivered involuntarily as she recalled her high-decibel outburst. "I assume he thinks I was a jerk." She knew that Conor cared for her, as did all of the O’Flaherty men, but she also knew that their allegiance would always remain with their sister.

Cocking her head in puzzlement, Ryan said, "I have no idea what he thinks, but I assume he thinks we had a fight. I’ve driven him to scream at me many times, so it’s just as likely that he thinks I was being a jerk to you."

Now Jamie was puzzled. "What did he say last night? Didn’t you tell him what was going on?"

"No, of course not," Ryan said immediately, shocked that Jamie would even ask such a question.

"But you tell him everything," Jamie gaped.

"No, I don’t," Ryan demurred. "To explain what had happened, I would have had to tell him about your dad. I couldn’t do that," she added, looking helpless.

As she blinked slowly, it dawned on Jamie that Ryan had not been able to seek her family’s support and that she had dealt with the upsetting events all on her own. "You could have told him about our fight," she suggested. "That would have been okay, wouldn’t it?"

Ryan’s rapidly shaking head was a clear reply. "No, I couldn’t," she insisted. "I will never tell my family about the problems we have, Jamie. They love us both, and it’s unfair to try to get them to take sides."

Suddenly feeling very cruel, Jamie said, "It must have been hard to not be able to share with him."

"Yeah. It was. But this is our life, Jamie. We have to work things out between ourselves."

Leaning back in her chair, Jamie scrubbed at her face with clenched fists, rubbing her still-irritated eyes. "Thanks for keeping this between us," she said. "It would be hard to feel like they were mad at me too." She stretched a little in her chair, trying to get the stiffness out. "I feel like I’ve been pummeled all night long. My body hurts all over."

"Mine too," Ryan admitted. "I think I’d feel better if I used my muscles a little, kinda got the blood flowing."

Laughing gently, Jamie replied, "I’d like to spend the day soaking in a hot tub and writing in my journal."

That sounded like the seventh circle of hell to Ryan, and her face reflected her opinion. "Uh…okay…I guess we could do that."

Cocking her head, Jamie asked, "What do you want to do today?"

Feeling very much in need of an infusion of family, Ryan proposed, "Um…the fellas are going to Niall’s to take his roof off. I’d like to help…" She trailed off weakly, seeing the look on her partner’s face.

Pasting on a smile, Jamie proposed, "Let’s each do what will make us feel better, okay? You go play with the boys, and I’ll spend the day at a spa. I’ll take my journal and process some of the stuff that’s going on in my head."

"You sure?" Ryan asked, already getting to her feet.

"Positive," Jamie replied, seeing the relief on her partner’s face. "Just promise me that you won’t fall off that roof."

"I won’t," Ryan vowed, deciding not to mention that she would likely be at the top of the structure, since she was the lightest member of the crew. "I’ll stop for coffee and a bagel on the way over, okay? You don’t mind making yourself breakfast, do you?" Her face was creased into the first smile of the day, and Jamie realized how much it meant to her lover to be surrounded by her family.

"Of course not. You get going. And have fun today, okay? I’ll miss you."

"I’ll miss you too. Have fun being pampered."

As the dark woman scampered down the stairs, Jamie mused that they were both going to be pampered, just in very different ways.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan and Conor arrived home that night, Jamie had to spend a moment trying to determine which O’Flaherty belonged to her. Both siblings were covered with a layer of grime so thick that it looked like it would have to be chiseled off. They both wore bandanas tied around their heads, ostensibly to keep the grime out of their hair, but also effectively disguising their identities since it was impossible to see who had the longer hair. Both siblings wore heavy denim work shirts, nearly hiding Ryan’s most identifiable asset. Luckily, her full breasts poked out just enough to provide the means to I.D. her, and Jamie approached her gingerly, not wanting to touch the crud that covered her. "What did they do? Drag you over the roof until the shingles disintegrated?"

"No," Ryan laughed, "but it felt that way. 30 years of San Francisco dirt was infused into those shingles, and I think about half of it is on us. I almost called a cab so I didn’t get my car dirty."

"You get downstairs and get in the tub," Jamie ordered. "And don’t you dare take those clothes down with you. You strip right here."

Both O’Flahertys gave her guilty looks as they started to peel out of their clothes. The smaller woman blinked in surprise, but Conor assured her, "I’ve seen Ryan in her undies hundreds of times. No biggie."

"Well I haven’t seen you in yours!" Jamie cried, scampering down the stairs to the laughter of the siblings.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Conor! Ryan! Dinner’s ready!" A few minutes after the call, Conor came slowly down the stairs, his body feeling the stress of balancing on the peaked roof for the better part of a day. When Jamie heard no activity from the basement she went down to fetch her partner.

Poking her head into the bath, she found her sound asleep in a tub full of murky water. Thank God she’s got such long legs! She would have drowned if her body could have sunk down low enough!

* * * * * * * * * * *

It started like all of the others, and even in her dream Ryan groaned and cried, "Not again!" But even though she fought it, the old nightmare began to play out and she was drawn into the scene, just as she had been so many times before.

She parked her motorcycle and turned slightly to make eye contact with her passenger, puzzled to find Jamie smiling back at her. Jamie?

The smaller woman swung her leg over the bike, lightly holding on to Ryan’s shoulder for stability. She stood there patiently while Ryan got the bike secured, but when the taller woman turned back to say something she was hit by a jolt of raw fear when she saw the panicked look in the green eyes. Whirling around, she saw him, her mind struggling with the image of a lone man coming for them. That’s weird. It’s always a group, her dream observer commented. And it’s always young guys.

As their assailant approached, Ryan saw the length of pipe in his hand and her eyes fluttered closed as she braced herself for what she knew was going to be a blast of gut-wrenching pain. She waited for the first blow, which always broke two ribs on her left side, her entire body tensed with anticipation. But the blow didn’t come--and she cracked opened her eyes to find a scene more painful than the original attack had been.

Jamie was now standing next to her assailant—who removed the stocking cap from his face to reveal Jim Evans’ malevolent visage. The look on Jamie’s face was cold and remote as she spat, "It’s not safe to be with you." Then she turned and left with him, as Ryan crumpled to her knees, the pain greater than it had ever been when the pipe broke her body, piece by piece. She collapsed onto the ground, and curled into a fetal position, crying piteously as her heart broke.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The sound of her own tears woke her, and she fought to escape the dream, finally realizing that she was in her bed, and that Jamie was right beside her. They had drifted apart during the night, and that allowed her to slide out of bed unnoticed. She stumbled over to the loveseat and sank into the cushions, leaning her head back to catch her breath.

She glanced at her watch and saw that it was only four a.m., far too early to get up. Her heart slowly resumed its normal beat, and she grew chilled, the perspiration that covered her body turning ice cold.

Going to the linen closet, she retrieved a blanket and wrapped it around her body. Then she sat with her back against one of the arms of the loveseat, her knees drawn up until they nearly reached her chin, and tried to stop the grim parade of images that flashed before her eyes.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan said nothing of her nightmare to Jamie, not wanting her partner to know how devastated she had been by her cutting words. They tried to get back into their normal Sunday routine, but it felt forced and uncomfortable. Ryan was stiff from the previous day’s work, and exhausted from lack of sleep, so they hung around the house reading and napping until late afternoon when they went to pick up Caitlin for the evening. The baby was ecstatic to see them, but when she kept looking at the door with a curious smile, Ryan finally realized what the baby was seeking. "I think she’s looking for your mom, Jamie," she said with a winsome smile. "She thinks she’s part of the package now."

"I wish she was here," Jamie mused. "I called her yesterday when you were out."

"How’s she doing?" Ryan asked.

"Ehh…I don’t think it’s going very well, to tell you the truth. Julia’s really unhappy to be moving, and Steph claims the treatment facility is run by sadists. Mom is afraid that Steph will break out if there’s any possible way."

"Ooohh, I don’t envy her. She’s really put herself out there for her cousins. I admire that," Ryan said. "So what did she say about what happened here?"

"It’s pretty fucked up, Babe. She knew about the current girlfriend. One of the partner’s wives told her at the New Year’s party last year. Guess that explains why she got so blind drunk." Jamie thought of that horrible night, still able to recall the deep sense of longing that had made her want to ditch Jack and spend the evening with the long, lean beauty in the black leather pants.

"Does your father know that she knows?"

"That’s the fucked up part," the blonde revealed. "It’s an open secret between them—both of them acting like everything’s okay. I think she’s worried about what it’s going to do to their marriage to have the secret revealed."

"Your mom deserves better," Ryan mused, thinking that the chances of the Evans’ marriage surviving this storm were small indeed.

"Yeah, she does," Jamie agreed fondly, happy that she and her mother were slowly building their relationship into something that was solid and secure.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"You cold?" Ryan asked after emerging from the bath late that night.

"A little," Jamie admitted. The mid-August chill had firmly settled on the house, and the basement room was clearly the coldest space.

Grabbing two T-shirts, Ryan tossed one to her partner, and slipped into bed beside her. "I’m freezing!" she shivered, feeling the cold in her bones.

"I’ll warm you up," Jamie offered, wrapping her body around her partner, briskly rubbing her back to increase her body temperature.

After a few minutes of the enthusiastic rubdown Ryan sighed and murmured, "Feels good. G’night." She paused awkwardly, not knowing how familiar she should be. Tilting her head up, she placed a soft kiss on Jamie’s lips and rolled over, presenting her surprised lover with a view of her broad back.

Well, I guess it going to take a little while longer until we’re comfortable with each other’s bodies, Jamie mused. Her hand paused above her shoulder, but she drew it back after a second. With a frustrated sigh of her own, she snuggled up against Ryan’s back, resting her head against the softly muscled surface. We’ll get there, she assured herself. It will just take time.

* * * * * * * * * * *

With all of the events of the weekend, they had barely spent a moment celebrating Jamie’s success at making the golf team. Deciding to surprise her, Ryan made reservations at Oliveto in Oakland. The relatively expensive eatery was well beyond her comfort level, but she knew that they needed a special meal to commemorate the accomplishment for her partner.

They had a nice dinner, relaxing at the small table for a long while as they slowly drained a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Ryan had noticed the pensive look on her partner’s face but had consciously avoided asking what was on her mind. Eventually, however, conversation was at a standstill and she asked, "What’s going on in that pretty little head?"

A small, wry laugh was Jamie’s reply, and she shook her head for a moment, trying to decide whether to reveal her thoughts. Looking up at Ryan with a curious expression she asked, "You know what still preys on my mind?"

Reaching across the table to entwine their fingers, Ryan shook her head. "No. Tell me."

"It’s the thought that you will keep things from me in the future. I mean, I understand your reasoning about keeping confidences—really I do, Ryan. But I worry about having you keep things from me. It’s hard for me to trust you when I know that you might do that."

Ryan looked at her intently, tilting her head a little as she seemingly switched topics and said, "Da’s going to be very hurt that Brendan has fallen in love and not told him about it. You know about it. Why haven’t you told him?"

"Well…I uh…"

Continuing on her path, Ryan said, "The boys will be very upset that I know about Da and Aunt Maeve. They’re gonna feel like Da’s playing favorites by telling me. You know the truth. Why haven’t you told them?"

"That’s not my business," Jamie began, immediately seeing Ryan’s point. Taking a breath, she saw the flaw in her partner’s logic. "The situation isn’t analogous, Ryan. You owe a greater duty to your partner. We’ve pledged to be completely honest with each other…"

"I am completely honest with you, Jamie. I am completely forthright about everything that I do. I will continue to always be honest about my behavior. But that’s all that I can promise."

Sighing heavily, Jamie nodded, obviously not satisfied. "I guess I have to take your word on that."

Ryan gave her a puzzled look. "My word? Why not look at my actions? I have been so painfully honest with you about everything that happened with Sara—sometimes I thought I was actually digging my own grave! But I had participated in something that I knew was wrong, Jamie, and I told you about it—in detail—immediately! I told you that I still had love in my heart for Sara—do you think it was easy to tell you that and see the hurt in your eyes! Jesus!" She lifted her hand and rubbed the bridge of her nose, a long-standing habit that indicated stress.

Jamie was speechless, not realizing until that second how hard it had been for Ryan to tell her about those incidents. The dark woman continued, "I didn’t need to tell you that I went to Mass with her on the day you returned. I didn’t need to tell you we had lunch together. But I did tell you, because it was something that I participated in, and I thought you should know. I will always, ALWAYS, tell you the truth about anything that I DO." She was speaking with quiet fervor, her voice not rising above the muted sounds of the busy restaurant. "That’s the best that I can do, Jamie. I’m very sorry if you need more, but I can’t give it to you."

It took a minute for the blonde woman to let these words reach her heart, but she finally allowed them in, realizing that Ryan’s fortitude was one of her most appealing qualities. Smiling gently, Jamie grasped Ryan’s hand once again, locking eyes with the lovely woman. "I don’t need more," she said quietly. "I just need you."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When they returned home from the restaurant, they nearly collided with a messenger who was just coming down the porch. "Jamie Evans?"

"Yes," she said wearily, knowing she was in for more bad news.

"Delivery. You have to sign for it."

She did so, then went into the house to take a look at the missive. It was a long handwritten letter from her father, explaining his version of the events and begging her to contact him as soon as she received the letter. Jamie was not impressed, tearing the letter into small pieces and throwing them into the trash. She didn’t read the letter to Ryan, and didn’t offer to let her read it. Her entire summary consisted of two words, "Yeah, right!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

By Wednesday afternoon, Jim Evans was nearly out of ideas. He had tried every possible means of communicating with his daughter, but Jamie steadfastly refused to take his calls or respond to his letters. Feeling like his connection to her was nearly severed, he tried the only thing he could think of, even though he knew it was a long shot and might backfire even if it did prove to be productive.

The investigator crisply answered his private line, "Dick Williams."

"Jim Evans," he announced. "How’s the investigation going, Dick?"

"Not bad," he said, stalling for time. So far he had expended much more money than he thought wise to obtain absolutely nothing of interest on the young woman he had been hired to investigate.

"Good, good," Jim said. "Keep on it until you have something major. I do have one more job for you," he added. "I need for you to expand your investigation. You do have international contacts, don’t you?"

"Absolutely," he replied. "We’re a little thin in the Far East, but…"

"Not a problem. My concern is Western Europe. Specifically, Italy."

* * * * * * * * * * *

That night, they lay in bed together, Jamie’s hand idly drawing patterns on the soft cotton of Ryan’s T-shirt. The larger woman had worn a shirt to bed every night since their fight, and Jamie was beginning to wonder if their easy familiarity with each other would ever be restored. The letter from her father had affected her deeply, even though she had tried to shrug it off, and she felt the distance between herself and her lover like a physical presence that was pulling them apart.

"Ryan?" she said, her voice soft and wistful.

"Yeah?" Ryan had almost been asleep, the soft touch of her partner always an effective sleep aid.

"Will we ever get back to where we were?"

The dark woman shot up into a sitting position, startling Jamie. "What?" she blinked, trying to make sure she understood the question.

Tears sprang to Jamie’s soft green eyes as she said, "I just feel so distant from you. It’s like you don’t want to touch me or be close to me any more. Will it ever be like it was?"

She looked so fragile, so wounded that Ryan’s heart nearly broke. Wrapping her strong arms around the heaving chest, Ryan whispered fervently, "Of course it will be. We’ll get back to where we were, and then we’ll just keep going. We’ll always keep trying to be closer."

"But how do we get there?" Jamie sobbed, feeling that her very tentative overtures at physical intimacy had been rejected every evening since their fight.

"It will just take a little time, Jamie. We had a very, very tough spell there, but it’s getting better day by day."

With a shuddering breath, the smaller woman asked the question that had been on her mind since Sunday. "Will we ever make love again?"

Sitting up once more, Ryan’s wide-eyed look bespoke her shock. "God yes, Jamie! Of course we will! I was just waiting to get a sign that you wanted to…"

"I was waiting for a sign that you wanted to…" the smaller woman murmured, realizing that they could have been in this standoff for years.

"I felt that I should stay away since I was the one who hurt you so badly," Ryan offered, shaking her head at her obviously erroneous thought process. "I just assumed you wouldn’t want me touching you that way for a while."

"I thought you were still too hurt to want me to touch you," Jamie said, her voice soft and full of regret. She sighed heavily and said, "It’s not the sex, Ryan. We’ve gone this long without sex before. It’s the emotional distance that’s tearing me up inside. It’s feeling like I have to think about it and even ask permission before I touch you," she said softly, her voice a little rough with emotion.

Ryan’s features gentled, and she gave her partner a smile filled with love. "Your touch heals me," she whispered. "You never have to ask for permission to touch me, Jamie. Your touch makes me feel whole and safe and secure. It’s a balm for my spirit."

Jamie fell into her arms, sighing gratefully as she felt her lover’s embrace surround her. "Will you touch me tonight?" she asked, finally confident that she would not be rejected.

"I’ve been waiting to hear those words," Ryan sighed, her hands slipping under the T-shirt that covered her partner’s body. As her hands moved under the soft cotton, she felt the goose bumps that covered Jamie’s torso, and shivered in response. "God, I’ve missed this," she moaned, her heart filled with the emotion of the touch long denied.

"Welcome back, Ryan," the relieved blonde whispered as the shirt was whisked from her body, revealing a wide expanse of skin that craved her lover’s gentle touch.

"I never left," the dark woman vowed. She tugged her partner into a warm embrace, holding her close for a long while, just letting their bare skin acclimate to the contact. Trailing her hands down her partner’s shivering body, Ryan felt hesitant, even shy, in her overtures. The easy familiarity with each other's bodies was absent, and even though she knew it would return with time and patience, she wasn’t quite sure how to get past the uneasiness. She moved at an almost glacial pace, her hands roaming over Jamie’s body while her face was pressed hard against her neck, breathing in her scent to help her recall the path to her lover’s pleasure.

The smaller woman nuzzled against her, every part of herself moving gently against Ryan, letting the dark heat that flowed from her body thaw the chill that had settled between them. The minutes dragged on with Ryan failing to move them forward, obviously shy and hesitant to lead the dance. Jamie continued to cling to her, her desire building slowly, but steadily. The strong, warm body gliding against her was maddening, the constant stimulation thrumming deep inside, neither increasing nor varying the pace.

Finally, frustration overtook her, and the smaller woman grasped Ryan roughly, focusing all of her strength to throw her onto her back. With a growl, she covered her, blinking as her eyes encountered the wide-open orbs of her lover. "You can’t tease me like this," she moaned. "I’ve waited too long to touch you." Her head dropped and claimed Ryan’s slightly open lips with a passion that she rarely revealed, her mouth grinding against her lover’s.

A strangled moan was caught by Jamie’s open mouth, and she smiled in satisfaction as Ryan’s arms flew around her neck, holding on so convulsively that soon her elbows were locked around Jamie’s neck. The larger woman clung desperately to her, giving up all pretense of control, surrendering to her partner’s greater need.

Fierce, bruising kisses rained down on her mouth, her lips swelling slightly from the combination of arousal and constant, unyielding pressure. The small, warm hands were everywhere, touching Ryan so possessively, with such unerring accuracy, that her body felt as though it were being branded by the heat that radiated from them.

The kisses continued to fall, moving from her tender mouth onto her neck, her shoulders, finally progressing to her aching breasts. As the first gentle nip caused the dark woman to cry out, a smooth, firm thigh wedged between Ryan’s legs, making her gasp in surprise at the sensation. So many signals flooded her brain that she could no longer tell pleasure from pain, pressure from caress. All she knew--and she knew this with every thread of consciousness--was that she had to thrust her hips against that firm column of thigh.

Her own thigh lifted in response, the action unconscious but instinctive. Ryan’s hips began to pump--harder, more forcefully--giving and receiving pleasure simultaneously. Soft cries pervaded the room, but neither was sure whose voice cried out; both women's focus was solely on the building pressure between their legs.

The way was smoothed with the flood of moisture that flowed from each woman, the slick lubrication nearly causing them to slide from each other. Grasping Jamie desperately around the hips, Ryan’s fingers dug in hard, holding her in place with an iron grip. Her natural dominance flared, and they briefly fought for control, finally reaching an unspoken truce as their bodies settled into a deeply satisfying rhythm.

Hands sliding up her lover's glistening body, Ryan grasped the swaying breasts that dangled over her, giving them a very firm squeeze as Jamie threw her head back and howled, her back arching dramatically as she surged hard into her partner.

Ryan tried to control her wild panting, but was unsuccessful, eventually giving in to the sensation of being completely and utterly out of control.

Sweat dripped onto her body, merging with her own, and then Jamie’s torso fell onto Ryan’s, her hips hunching madly as she forced her body to respond to the rough thrusting. The bed banged forcefully against the wall as she pounded away, knowing they were both close…so maddeningly close.

Jamie's head dropped onto the pillow and she grasped Ryan’s shoulders, squeezing hard enough to leave marks as her hips continued to surge. As she felt the first powerful blast of orgasm roaring through her body, she turned her head and bit firmly, sucking hard against Ryan’s pulse point, her desire to consume her lover almost overwhelming. The pain sent Ryan hurtling into climax, unable to do anything but hold on as tightly as she could, her body spasming and jerking roughly.

Their bodies were so thoroughly entwined that their orgasms seemed to flow from one body to the next, and neither felt satiated until the other calmed, long moments later.

Jamie rolled off and landed on the bed with a thud, all of her muscles abandoning her. She panted for air, her body still shaking violently, the emotion as powerful as the physical sensations that still flooded through her.

After mere seconds, Ryan rolled on top of her, the deep blue eyes locked onto hers with a quiet, intense, passion.

Jamie’s eyes widened at the hungry look in those eyes, and before she could think her hands moved to the damp, ebony hair, smoothing it back as she moaned, "No, no more, Honey. I…can’t."

The blue eyes gentled as Ryan revealed her need. "I needed to break that dam…to free up all of the frustration that’s been building. But now…now, I have to touch you slowly. I need to feed on you, Jamie…to taste every part of you. Please?" There was not a touch of hesitation now- in her body, in her eyes, or in her voice. She knew what she wanted--knew what she needed, and she was supremely confident that her lover would never deny her.

With a smile slowly forming on her face, Jamie ran a shaking hand through the dark hair and asked for one small concession. "Be gentle," she begged softly.

"That’s my one desire," Ryan promised, dropping her head to kiss her partner with a slow, tender flow of emotion. To avoid hurting the smaller woman, she was bracing most of her weight on her arms, and Jamie pulled away slightly to turn her head to lick and kiss the prominent veins and muscles that stood out in relief, bulging under the strain.

She smiled up at her partner and flushed slightly under her bemused scrutiny. "I like ‘em," she shrugged, not having a better explanation. "Sometimes I just have to kiss ‘em."

"I like you," Ryan smiled down at her, "and I understand the compulsion perfectly." Dipping her head again, she kissed all over the now-peaceful face, dotting tender kisses on her forehead, all along her hairline, down the jaw line, and along her neck, savoring the salty musk of her skin. "You taste so wonderful," she whispered, going back again and again to reclaim her prize.

The smaller woman purred in contentment, savoring the sensation of the soft, moist lips trailing along her body. "Kiss me again," she begged, needing to feel Ryan’s mouth once more.

Shifting slightly, Ryan fulfilled her request, lingering for long minutes as their tongues darted and teased each other’s mouths. With a heavy sigh, the dark head lifted and she pushed herself down her partner’s body, kissing, licking and sucking gently as she moved. Her pink tongue peeked out of her mouth to tenderly lave first one pert nipple, then the other. Maintaining her gentle, soothing touch she continued to nuzzle softly, pleased when she felt Jamie’s hands in her hair. The smaller woman didn’t try to guide her or press into her, content to feel the connection that was pulsing between them.

Lifting her head to gaze into her partner’s eyes, Ryan’s dark blue orbs searched the mist green ones that looked back at her with so much love. "I have to taste you," she whispered, her stare turning hot and penetrating.

The green eyes blinked slowly as Jamie wordlessly settled back and drew her knees up, giving her lover permission to savor her in any way she pleased. With a satisfied smile, the dark head dipped as her tongue darted out to barely trace the outlines of Jamie’s desire-tinted flesh. Once again, small hands threaded their way through the dark hair, soothing and encouraging her partner.

Ryan slid her hands under Jamie’s thighs and pushed gently, lifting her slightly and pinning her into position by nestling her chest against her buttocks.

Seeing that Ryan wanted her body to be elevated, the smaller woman placed her feet onto her shoulders and pushed, helping to give her partner the angle she needed. She could see the satisfied grin on the lovely face when Ryan dropped her head and started to probe the sensitive flesh with the tip of her tongue. The position she had placed her partner in allowed her to maintain eye contact, and she did so hungrily, her eyes never leaving the green orbs that fought to focus.

In a matter of moments, her touch grew firmer, more determined, as she could feel her lover’s response start to build. She matched her pace, her tongue whirling gently, caressing every bit of skin with a resolute fervor, softening the pressure as she felt her begin to spasm. She held on tight as the smaller woman cried out, deftly slipping one of her fingers into the clutching warmth, helping to draw out and prolong the thrumming contractions.

Savoring the experience fully, Ryan rested her head against her partner’s belly, feeling the gentle pulsing against her cheek while she nuzzled at her soft skin with her lips.

As Jamie’s body stilled, she withdrew gently, then crawled up her limp form to wrap her in a tender hug. "I love you so much," she murmured, kissing the damp brow again and again. "I never want to feel so distant from you."

"Never," Jamie vowed, her voice weak and slow. "It’s so lonely without you, Ryan." By the time the last word was uttered, the exhausted woman let sleep overtake her, feeling utterly loved once again.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"It can’t be time for school to start. We just started our vacation," Jamie complained as Ryan tried to drag her limp body from bed.

"I know it seems like that, but it’s been three months." Sitting down on the bed, Ryan pulled her recalcitrant partner onto her lap and cuddled her for a few moments. Leaning close to her ear she reminded her, "When spring term ended we hadn’t made love yet. Doesn’t that seem like a very, very long time ago?"

"Well," the smaller woman purred, "when you put it that way, I guess you have a point. It feels like I’ve been lost in those big blue eyes for a very long time."

"To be technically correct, you have been," Ryan teased, "but you’ve only been enjoying the entire amusement park for a little over two months."

Feeling the warm solidity of Ryan’s body cradling her own, Jamie allowed herself to sink into the sensual haze of her partner’s alluring scent. "Maybe we should go on a ride or two before we have to leave, huh?"

"Yeah, that’s gonna happen." Picking Jamie up from the bed, Ryan carried her into the bath, setting her down on the cold tile of the vanity.

"YEOW!" she cried, hopping to the floor. "That’s cold!"

"Woke you up," Ryan reasoned, leaning in to turn on the shower. One sharp shove from behind and the cold water rained down on her, making her howl with outrage.

As the sputtering woman shook her head roughly, Jamie drawled, "Woke you up too, huh, Tiger?"

"You know, I had the crazy notion that once I left home I’d be in a mature, adult relationship with a fellow mature adult. I honestly didn’t think it would just be an extension of the constant teasing and practical jokes that I had to put up with from the boys. What did I do wrong?!

"You made me what I am today, Ryan O’Flaherty. And don’t you forget it! I never played a practical joke on another human being before I met you!"

"So I’ve created my own monster?"

"You got it, Dr. Frankenstein. Now let’s get ready so I can get some breakfast into you before your first class. You need to put on at least ten pounds before I’m satisfied." Looking down at her own body, Jamie poked the extra flesh that had settled onto her midsection. "Actually, I’d like to just give you some of mine. I must have put on five pounds in Rhode Island."

Closing her eyes, Ryan ran her hands all over her partner’s body, her mouth quirked into a teasing smile. Concentrating hard she decreed, "I’d say seven pounds. And I think you should keep every one of them. I love a woman with curves."

Stepping into the shower, Jamie scoffed, "You say that now, but you’ll change your tune if I stay on this path."

"No I won’t," Ryan said, blinking her eyes slowly. "I want you to feel good about your body, and I want you to be the weight that feels most natural for you. That’s all that’s important to me."

The warm spray of the shower was beating down on her back, and Jamie maneuvered her partner so that the brunt of the pounding fell onto her. She took a soft cloth and proceeded to wash the long body, methodically working down the muscular form. Her face bore a look of deep concentration and Ryan knew that something was on her mind, but she decided to let her voice the issue when she was ready.

The shower was almost over when Jamie finally asked, "Are you sure you’re okay with me putting on a few pounds?"

Bending to kiss her wet lips Ryan assured her, "A few or many—makes no difference to me. I like you to stay fit and active, but that’s not even for your look—that’s just to keep you healthy."

"So you’re not more turned on by a thinner body?" she asked.

"Nope. I’m turned on by self-confidence and self-acceptance. If you feel good and sexy in your body, that comes across really clearly. It’s that energy that pulls me in."

Shooting her partner a guilty look, Jamie turned off the shower and handed Ryan a towel. "Now I feel all shallow," she pouted. "I want you to put on some weight mostly because I like your curves better when you weigh more."

Shrugging her shoulders, Ryan said, "So? That doesn’t make you shallow. That makes you—you. You need a certain kind of visual stimulation to turn you on. Why have judgments about what you need?" She was puzzled by Jamie’s feelings of guilt about her needs, and her expression showed it.

Wrapping her arms around Ryan’s damp waist, Jamie filled her lungs with the fresh, clean scent of her body. She looked up into her eyes and asked, "Can I be you when I grow up?"

"Ha! Like you’re ever going to grow up!" Ryan laughed as she slapped her hard on the butt.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan was dressed and ready, lying on their neatly made bed, hands laced behind her head as she watched her partner dawdle. Grinning at her childlike antics, Ryan teased, "You used to tell me that you loved mornings. What happened?"

"You happened," she moaned. "I had no idea how wonderful it would feel to sleep with you. I just can’t bear to let you out of bed in the morning. You’re so warm and cuddly and soft." She sighed deeply as she smiled over at her partner. "When I used to go to bed at nine, I was asleep by 9:15. Somehow that no longer happens."

"Hey, don’t blame me for that. You’re the one who can’t keep her hands to herself," Ryan reminded her. "If it was up to me, we’d make love in the afternoon and sleep at night. You know my prime time is three o’clock," she reminded her.

A hurt look crossed Jamie’s formerly sunny features as she said, "Don’t you like making love before we sleep?"

Hopping to her feet, Ryan crossed the room and pulled Jamie into a hug. "Did that hurt your feelings?" The barely perceptible nod caused her to reply, "I need your touch like I need air, Baby. I’m just worried about you dragging through the whole term. You’ve got a very difficult schedule, and I want to make sure you’re rested."

"But what can we do?" Jamie moaned. "I start kissing you goodnight and before I know it, we’re…involved."

"I’m not sure what we can do, but if you don’t get eight hours a night you’re not going to be a happy girl. You’ve got a lot of class hours this term, and since the subject matter is not scintillating you really need to be awake."

"Since we have to get up at six, I should be fine if we are asleep by ten. Could we try to accomplish that?"

"Yes, we can," Ryan said. "It won’t be easy performing under the clock, but I can do it!"

"Okay, Speedy, go read me your schedule," she said, patting her lover's butt.

Moving to the desk, Ryan grabbed the little schedule that she had printed off on heavy card stock. "Okay, I have class from eight until ten on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Then I have a break until one, then I have two more classes. That’ll keep me busy until three. Then practice from four until six. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have an eight o’clock class, then a seminar at ten. I’ll probably spend a few hours on those days working on getting ready for that national math competition, and then I’ll need to spend a couple of hours in the weight room, and then of course, practice from four until six. I’ll run home for dinner, and then study from seven to nine, at which time I’ll make love to you for an hour and then collapse." She added a goofy grin to punctuate the statement, but Jamie knew the semester was going to be very difficult for her.

"You’re going to be swamped this term, Baby. Is it really wise to stretch yourself so much?"

"Well, no," Ryan said thoughtfully, "but I’m in a bind. I want to do that independent study next term, and I have to brush up on both physics and economics to give myself a firm footing. I really want to compete in this math competition because I’ve never taken the time to do it before, and it looks bad if I don’t take a stab at it."

"What’s it called again, Honey?"

"It’s the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition," she said, drawing out the name. "It’s a pretty big deal. There are usually at least 2,500 people who take the test."

"It’s how many questions?"

"Just a dozen," Ryan informed her. "You get ten points for each correct answer. The problem is that the questions can be on any mathematical topic. You’ve got to be pretty sharp in all of the elements."

"Twelve questions," Jamie said slowly, shaking her head. "How could so few questions eliminate anyone," she wondered. "Don’t most people get 120?"

Ryan chuckled and said, "Um…the questions aren’t ‘what’s two plus two’. They’re hard." She crinkled up her nose as she said this, and stuck her tongue out at her partner.

Patting her side, Jamie acknowledged that fact. "I understand that, Silly. Still…I can’t imagine that a lot of people don’t get a perfect score."

"Um, Jamie, last year only five percent got more than 43. Only ten percent scored better than the median. It’s really hard."

Returning her grin, Jamie cocked her head and asked, "Are you sure those were math majors? Maybe they got mixed up and sent the test to a bunch of English majors."

"Nope," Ryan chuckled. "I think the right people got the test. Speaking of English majors, though, you’re gonna have to brush up on some math concepts to get through your term, too."

"That implies that I have concepts to brush up, Ryan," she said, looking worried. "I’m afraid that taking these business courses is going to shoot my GPA to hell."

"Not to worry," Ryan assured her. "I’ll help you get through it. The math that you need to know is really very simple."

"Yeah, for you," Jamie scoffed. "For me?" She rolled her eyes dramatically, drawing a sympathetic smile from her lover.

"No worries, guaranteed," Ryan decreed. "Now get your sweet little butt in gear or you’ll be late for practice."

"I wish my golf practice wasn’t first thing in the morning. I’m not going to have my nice normal wake-up routine."

"Maybe Scott will change it when he sees what a bear you are," Ryan teased, knowing that her partner would put on a good face even if she wasn’t feeling peppy.

"Grrrrrrrr," Jamie growled, narrowing her eyes as she chased Ryan down the stairs to scare up a little breakfast.

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

Tuesday evening just as Jamie was getting out of her car Ryan rode up on her mountain bike. "Hey, Honey," she said happily.

"My head is throbbing!" the blonde woman moaned. "I had no idea how little I knew about business until today!" She was struggling with her packages and books, so Ryan dropped her gym bag from its secure place on her back and eased her bike down to the ground.

"Let me help you with that," she offered, and Jamie gratefully handed her two grocery bags. "What’s in here?" she asked, poking her head in.

"Just dinner for tonight and some snacks and some lunch for you."

"Only two bags?" she teased. "Where’s the rest?"

"There’s plenty, Sweetheart. I won’t let you go hungry."

Jamie went upstairs to change while Ryan put the groceries away. Mia came in just as she was finishing and asked, "Hey, what’s for dinner?" She walked over to Ryan and gave her a kiss on the lips while she tried to figure out if there was enough for her.

Ryan tousled her curly locks as she asked, "Are you our dependent? I haven’t seen you make a meal yet."

Crossing her arms over her chest, Mia threw her head back and giggled. "That’s a laugh! I’m the last person you would trust near a stove." She jumped up on the counter and looked at Ryan for a moment, their eyes close to level from her perch. "Do you mind when I eat with you guys?"

Ryan came to stand between Mia’s spread legs, then leaned over just enough to be able to give her a warm hug, as she assured her, "I love having you eat with us. It feels more like home to me."

Jamie interrupted the scene from where she stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips. "Hey, get your own girl," she warned her curly-haired friend.

Ryan turned around to face her partner but stayed right between Mia’s legs. The smaller woman laced her hands loosely around Ryan’s neck and bent over to peek at Jamie from over the broad expanse of shoulder. "If I can’t have this one, I don’t want one at all," she pouted. "You called dibs on the best girl in town."

"Now there’s no need to fight, girls," Ryan said amiably. "There’s plenty of me to go around."

"There won’t be if you try to share your luscious body with anyone else," Jamie warned. "You are the exclusive property of Jamie Evans, a sole proprietorship. And I stress the ‘sole’."

Ryan left her haven and wrapped her arms around Jamie, pulling her close for a soft kiss. "I love being your property." She released her hold and instructed, "Now you two go sit down. I’ll make dinner."

"Really?" Jamie asked. "Don’t you want me to help?"

"Nope. I sat around too much today. I need to do something creative." Casting an appraising look at her companions she mused, "I bet you could both use a cold beer. Why don’t you both sit at the table and relax for a while?"

"You’re the best," Jamie said as she gave her another kiss.

Mia hopped down and added a kiss of her own. "You are the best, Ryan. And you’re such an improvement over Cassie!"

"Gee thanks," Ryan said weakly. "That’s scant praise!"

Taking a chair at the kitchen table, Mia sipped the beer Ryan handed her and said, "Ooh, Jamie, I forgot to tell you. I’ve got news."

"Spill it," Jamie demanded, knowing that Mia always had a firm hold on the latest gossip.

"I saw the aforementioned ex-roommate today. She was with a different guy, and they looked like they were ‘together.’ I wonder if Chris got sick of her sorry butt."

"How could he not?" Jamie shivered. "Actually, even though every word that came out of her mouth was probably a lie, she did mention that they were breaking up when she came here this summer to torment me. Did you talk to her?"

"I would have, but she looked right through me. We were at the bookstore and she acted like I didn't exist!"

"Her impeccable manners are obviously still in place," Jamie observed. "I wonder where she’s living this year?"

"Ask your mom. She still hangs with Cassie’s mom, doesn’t she?"

"Yeah, I guess so, but I don’t think they’re as close as they used to be. My mom doesn’t really talk about her much anymore."

Ryan walked over to the twosome and took a pull from Jamie’s beer. She squeezed her shoulder and said, "I’d be happy if that sour little face never darkened our door again."

"You didn’t like her from the start, did you, Ryan?" Mia asked.

"No. I really didn’t, and I don’t say that about many people. I can usually find something to like about anyone, but I disliked Cassie from the day that I met her. And when she started giving Jamie a hard time…" She made an exaggerated display of smacking her open palm with her fist. "Lights out!"

"My hero," Jamie sighed as she wrapped her arm around Ryan’s hips.

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

Over dinner they all shared news of their day. The consensus was that Jamie had the toughest schedule since she had to keep Monday and Friday free to travel to golf matches. With practice every morning from seven to nine, and a class schedule that was without a significant break from ten until four thirty on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, she was really going to be swamped. Her classes were no day at the beach either. Since she had decided to concentrate on managing her own money, she was taking Introduction to Financial Accounting, Federal Income Tax I, Money and Capital Markets, and Introduction to Real Estate and Urban Land Economics. Just to keep her sanity, she added a course that she was looking forward to—Literature and Sexual Identity. On top of her classes she still had to make time for therapy, which she moved to five o’clock on Monday and Wednesday, barely leaving her room to breathe in the middle of the week.

Mia’s recitation of her schedule had her roommates shaking their heads and laughing. "I hate taking upper division courses," she grumbled. "The classes get smaller and smaller! I had to really scramble to get into the big ones. I’ve got one with 105 people, one with 60, and one with 50. I long for the days of those huge survey courses," she said wistfully.

"Um, Mia?" Ryan asked. "Do your courses have names, or do they only tell you how many people are in them?"

"Oh, they have names," she said, shaking her head. "Some nonsense about examining cultures in time and space—blah, blah, blah. I swear the professors must have competitions for the most meaningless course descriptions." She brightened appreciably when she announced, "I do have one cool course, though. It’s got 435 people in it!"

"What’s that?" Ryan asked.

"It’s in the music department, and it looks like we just sit around and listen to music. I can’t understand why we get credit for that, but hey, if they’re dumb enough to offer it, I’m dumb enough to take it!"

Ryan didn’t understand her friend’s focus on class size, and she asked, "What’s up with wanting the big classes? More people to copy from?"

"Ha-ha," she sniffed. "I don’t copy, Ryan. You never know if the person you’re copying from hasn’t paid less attention than you have. I’ll take my chances with my own shoddy study habits, thank you very much!"


"Isn’t it obvious?" she asked. "The more people, the more you can slither down in your seat and disappear. If there’s more than fifty people, the odds of being noticed are very, very small," she pointed out.

"You know, Mia, I don’t think this was what the founders of the University of California had in mind when they established this institution," Ryan observed.

"Oh, so what are you taking, Smarty Pants? What’s your major anyway? P.E.?"

Ryan was a bit surprised that Jamie had not talked about her major. "No," she replied with a smile. "I’m double majoring in molecular and cell biology and math."

Mia scrunched up her face in puzzlement and asked, "Why?"

"’Cause I like it," Ryan replied, thinking the answer was obvious.

"What kind of courses do you take? I’ve never known a biology major."

"Well, I’ve actually finished my requirements for bio. Now I’m concentrating on math."

"You should take this cool music thing with me!" Mia said brightly, thinking that it would be fun to goof around with Ryan during class.

"Don’t think I can manage it, pal. I want to do an independent study next term, and my advisor has talked me into branching out a little from straight math."

"What’s your independent study gonna be on? The theory of why volleyballs bounce?"

"Nooo," Ryan replied patiently, not offended in the least by Mia’s teasing. "I’m not sure this will stick, but right now I’m thinking about studying stock market fluctuations." She cocked her head and asked, "Are you sure you want to hear about this?"

"Of course," she said. "I’m all ears."

"Okay," Ryan said as she continued. "I don’t know if you know much about linear systems, but the two polar models are the random-walk model and the harmonic model. A model in between the two is color chaos, which produces irregular oscillations with a narrow frequency band."

She looked up to see that Jamie’s eyes had glazed over, but that Mia was staring at her intently. "Go on," the curly-haired woman urged. "This sounds fascinating so far, Ryan. I didn’t know that was something that interested you so much. That was color chaos right?" she asked with a focused expression.

Jamie’s mouth nearly hit the table. "Do you know what she’s talking about?"

"Not a clue," Mia said. "But I’ve been dating men since I was fourteen, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s how to look interested when they bore you to death." She smiled over at Ryan and patted her hand. "Not to imply that you’re boring me, of course."

"Of course," Ryan gamely replied, deciding to keep the rest of her topic to herself. "Never crossed my mind."

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

After they had finished eating, Ryan gave Mia a lesson in how to clean a kitchen properly. The smaller woman watched attentively and performed each of her assigned tasks, but when they were finished she said, "Okay, I think I understand how to do this. But why bother? Maria Los cleans because she likes to."

"I’m sure cleaning up our filth is what gives her life meaning," Ryan said with a smirk. "But henceforth, the price of a meal is to clean the kitchen. Just because she’s hired to clean doesn’t mean we should go out of our way to make the place dirty!"

Mia nodded at her, following Ryan with her eyes as she grabbed her book bag and went upstairs to study. As soon as Ryan was out of the room Mia commented, "I can never tell if she’s kidding or not. Does she really think it makes sense to clean up when you have someone to do it for you?"

"I’m pretty sure she was serious about that," Jamie informed her. "But you can always tell if she’s kidding by looking at her eyes. She just can’t keep them from twinkling when she’s kidding."

"Huh," Mia mused, on her way out of the room. "She’s a hard one to figure out."

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

To give her partner some space, Jamie worked in the library on the first floor while Ryan used her computer in their room. A little before nine, she went upstairs to find her partner busily typing away. "Still working?"

"No, just writing to my cousin."


"Yep. I’m ashamed to say that I never correspond with my other cousins in Ireland. Aisling is my eyes and ears over there." She turned and smiled at Jamie, adding, "I’ve been trying to get her to find out if Granny is mad at me for telling her that I was gay. Ais claims she knows nothing, but something tells me she’s holding out on me."

"Why would she do that?" Jamie asked, taking a seat on the bed.

"Oh, it’s a long-standing thing between us. She has to put up with Granny year ‘round, so she thinks I need to suffer a little once in a while." Ryan laughed softly as she finished the letter and hit send. The e-mail disappeared so quickly that she blinked a few times and asked, "What kind of modem do you have in this monster?"

She was already investigating for herself when Jamie supplied, "When I got the G-3, I decided to have DSL installed. It’s sweet," she added.

Whistling between her teeth, Ryan said, "Well, I should think so. My modem is so slow it takes me 20 minutes to download a song on Napster. Hey, if I bring my computer over here, would you mind if I hooked up a hub and shared your line?"

"Course not. I’ll have a separate one installed for you if you want."

"Splitting the signal is no big deal. That will be fine."

" ‘Kay. If you bring your computer here, what will you use on the weekends? Won’t that be kinda tough?"

"Yeah, I guess it will, but I don’t want to monopolize yours. I use a computer for almost everything." She looked longingly at the G-3 and said, "Of all of the things that you own, that’s the one I love the most. If you were the world’s worst girlfriend, I think I’d keep you just for your computer."

"I’m gonna put a megahertz on you, Buffy," Jamie threatened as she climbed onto her lap, straddling her.

Glancing at her watch, Ryan patted her partner’s butt and said, "Time’s a-wasting. Let’s get to bed."

After brushing her teeth and washing her face, Jamie came back into the bedroom but found that she was once again alone. Now where is she?

She got her answer a few moments later when Ryan came back carrying two champagne flutes and a bottle of wine in an ice bucket. She was wearing a T-shirt and her sweats, but she stepped out of her pants immediately. Jamie looked up at her grinning face with a questioning gaze.

As Ryan tugged off her T-shirt she solemnly announced, "We have reason to celebrate."

"We do?" Jamie asked, peeking in the bucket to see a half bottle of a rather good vintage champagne.

"Yep. The course of my life was radically altered one year ago today."

"Oh, Ryan," Jamie squealed and pulled her partner down onto the bed. "It’s the anniversary of the day we met!"

"August the 24th will always be one of my favorite days of the year," she whispered as she took Jamie into her arms. "This has honestly been the very best year of my life. And every single day that will live on in my memory is because of you."

Jamie slid her hand behind Ryan’s neck and laced her fingers into ebony hair. She exerted light pressure until Ryan dipped her face so they were nose to nose. "I love you so much, Ryan. I never would have suspected that taking one little course could change my life, but I thank God every day for allowing us to meet on that warm summer morning. Thank you for changing my life."

Ryan shifted just enough to be able to reach her rose tinted mouth. She bestowed dozens of tiny, soft kisses on those supple lips, but seemed content to keep her touch light and playful. Her kisses were tender and warm and sweet, but as with most things that Ryan did there was an undercurrent of sensual passion.

They managed to open the champagne and were even successful in drinking a good bit of it, as that slow undercurrent gradually became a raging flood. After a long while, Jamie paused for another healthy swallow of the wine, deciding that champagne was the perfect antidote for the dry throat she always got from panting out an orgasm. Her head was just beginning to buzz from the combination of wine and love when she glanced at the clock to see that it was ten o’clock on the button. Ryan was snuggled up against her back, lightly stroking her thighs as she urged her into sleep. The last conscious thought that lingered in her brain was, How did I ever get so lucky to be so blessed?

* * * * * * * * * * *

"I’m not going to be home for dinner tonight, Babe," Ryan said on Wednesday morning as she strapped on her backpack.

"Oh? Got a date?"

"Kinda," Ryan agreed. "I’m seeing a younger woman." Waggling eyebrows indicated that she was teasing, but it took a moment for Jamie to understand her veiled reference.

"Are you going to see Jennie?" Jamie had to think hard to recall the young woman’s name, having only met her once, but she managed to pull it from her memory bank.

"Yep. She’s registering for school tomorrow, and I told her I’d help her plan out her schedule. The only time we’re both free is after volleyball practice, so I thought I’d take her to dinner."

"Why don’t you want to bring her here?" Jamie asked, a little puzzled that Ryan wouldn’t do so.

"Mmm, not a good idea," Ryan said, shaking her head. "Her mom is not wild about me anyway, and I don’t want to antagonize her."

"Why doesn’t she like you?"

Ryan shrugged, trying to decide how much to reveal. "That time you saw us together, did Jennie tell you where she lived?"

"Yes, I think it was some kind of group home or something."

"Right. Right," Ryan agreed, feeling that it was safe to reveal the reasons behind Mrs. Willis’ antagonism. "I met Jen when she was first at the group home. It’s a place for lesbian kids that have been thrown out of the house—usually just because they’re gay."

It took a moment for Jamie to be able to get her mind around this concept, but she managed to say, "That’s so horrible!"

"Of course it is," Ryan agreed, needing to cut to the chase to get to school on time. "Anyway, I met her then, and now that she’s home again her mom doesn’t really want her to keep in touch with people that she met at the home. It’s really tough for Jen, ‘cause she was there for almost a year."

"So is she going behind her mother’s back to meet you?" Jamie was a little afraid to have her partner seeing a minor if the girl’s mother was opposed.

"No. She lets her see me, but she wants us to focus on school stuff. She won’t let us do social things any longer." Shaking her head in disgust, she bent to kiss her partner goodbye. "Jennie’s fucked up enough all on her own. Having her mom trying to keep her from her friends just sucks."

* * * * * * * * * * *

A little after ten that night, Jamie trudged up the stairs, her brain clouded with facts and formulas that had never before taken up residence there. When she reached her room, she was surprised to find the computer turned off and her partner nowhere to be found. Taking a look in the other bedroom, she saw her lying on her back, hands laced behind her head. As Jamie approached, she could see the blue eyes darting across the wall opposite the bed, the movement rapid and very focused. She stood by the bed for a full minute, wondering what was going on behind those cool blue eyes, when Ryan abruptly turned to her and said, "Did you just come in?"

Shaking her head lightly, the smaller woman perched on the edge of the bed, stroking the errant hair back from Ryan’s forehead. " ‘Bout a minute or two ago. What were you doing?"

"Oh." Ryan looked slightly flustered, obviously a little embarrassed to be caught doing whatever it was that she had been doing. "I was trying to relax."

Climbing fully onto the surface of the bed, Jamie trailed her fingers across Ryan’s smooth forehead, commenting, "That looked like anything but relaxing. You looked like your eyes were following a really fast tennis match."

Now blushing a little, Ryan admitted, "I’m all keyed up from working on problems for the competition. When my mind is racing, sometimes I have to count to calm down."

Now fascinated, Jamie lay on her side, her face mere inches from her partner’s. She loved to learn little things about how her lover’s agile mind worked, finding that her appetite for the meaningful minutiae was unlimited. She slowly ran her fingers through Ryan’s silky dark hair, knowing that was another way to calm her lover's racing thoughts. "Tell me about counting," she asked softly.

Ryan swallowed, shrugging her shoulders as she did so. "I guess you don’t count, huh?"

"Ahh…no. I have no earthly idea of what you are talking about."

Shrugging her shoulders once again in an endearingly adolescent manner, Ryan tried to explain. "I uh…count…things." Jamie’s look remained blank. "You know—I try to find patterns and schemes." Her brow furrowed slightly, making a small indentation in the flesh between her eyes. "It has always calmed me down."

"Always?" Jamie queried, assuming her partner was referring to her school years.

"Yeah. Always. My earliest memory is of lying in my bed, trying to figure out how many variations of the pattern of my wallpaper were mathematically possible." Looking up at Jamie with the same look of childlike wonder that she had likely evinced then, she said, "There were only seventeen possibilities. I was surprised!"

Blinking slowly, Jamie cocked her head just enough to bring her eyes level with Ryan’s. "Is that even possible? I mean, how on earth would you know to do that?"

Chuckling slightly, Ryan assured her, "Of course it’s possible, Babe. Every pattern can be manipulated, and most of them are finite." She was still smiling broadly, thinking that Jamie was teasing her, but then remembering that they didn’t see the world in the same way. "You really don’t see that, do you?" There was a trace of sadness in her voice as she acknowledged that this was a chasm between them that would never be breached. "I know this is silly," she said softly, "but I wish you shared this aptitude with me. Nobody that I love sees things the way I do. It’s…" Her eyes misted over slightly as she concluded, "kinda isolating not to be able to share things that mean so much to me."

Jamie sighed, not really understanding what Ryan was getting at, but realizing that it was hard for her lover not to have someone who shared her perspective. "No one in your family has this gift?" she asked, continuing to slip her fingers through Ryan’s hair.

"No, not in the same way. Conor has a little bit of it. He’s very gifted at seeing objects in space, and being able to manipulate them, and he’s good with numbers, but it’s not the same. My cousin Cormac has a talent for math, but he’s um…" she shrugged, unwilling to give herself as much credit as she deserved.

"He’s not as gifted as you are," Jamie finished for her.

Blushing slightly, Ryan agreed. "The last time I was in Ireland, he was working on some stuff for school, and he didn’t seem to grasp things in the same way that I do. It seemed like he had to really study the formulas and look at examples to be able to solve problems." She shook her head slightly, not really understanding what that would be like.

"I would guess that most people have to do that, Hon. To get through trigonometry in high school, I had to make little cards with formulas on them and spend my time memorizing them." She tilted her head and asked, "You don’t have to do that at all, do you?"

"Well, yeah, I have to learn formulas and stuff. But I don’t have to try to memorize them. It’s kinda like giving me directions to a place I’m vaguely familiar with. Once I understand the general parameters, it becomes obvious."

"I uh…I don’t have any idea what that would be like," Jamie admitted. "I wish I did. I’d love to be able to see the world like you do." They were quiet for a minute, just enjoying being close. "When did you know that you were…different?"

"Mmm…probably first grade," she decided. "My teacher used to just kinda stare at me when we’d do math. She finally went to talk to my parents, and they let me sit in with the older kids when they did math. It worked out pretty well."

"Sounds like you had good teachers," Jamie decided, remembering the story about Ryan’s second grade teacher, who had helped her decide on her new name.

"Yeah. Mostly. Only real trouble I ever had was in, mmm…fourth grade. I had this teacher, Mrs. Seickman, who just didn’t like me for some reason. She was trying to get us to take notes—not a bad idea for kids to learn—but I didn’t need to. She was so focused on writing things down that she didn’t seem to care if we were learning anything. We went around and around—she finally called Da and demanded that he order me to start taking notes during her boring lectures." Ryan shook her head, smiling at the memory.

"What did your father do?" she chuckled. "Tell her to take a hike?"

"No, no, no," Ryan assured her. "He is a very strong believer in showing respect for your elders, particularly teachers. We sat down and talked about it for a long time. I didn’t see the point in wasting my time, but he was adamant. Finally, he challenged me to think of a way to make it interesting." Her eyes were twinkling with an impish delight that always charmed Jamie.

"What did you do, Buffy?" she teased, knowing that Ryan would follow the letter of her father’s law, if not the spirit.

"I did just what old Mrs. Seickman ordered. I took notes for the rest of the year."

"How?" Jamie urged, knowing there was a catch.

"When I was feeling verbal, I took notes in Gaelic," Ryan informed her. "When I was in a math mood, I assigned the numerical value for each letter of every word, and then added up each word to see how much each lecture was worth."

Shaking her head, Jamie patted her grinning partner on the cheek. "I would have loved to have known you as a kid."

One dark eyebrow was wiggling, and Ryan informed her partner, "I had one more little trick that I used once in a while. When she was walking around the room, I was afraid of doing the math thing, 'cause she’d get mad. So I took notes backwards. She would look right over my shoulder, and she never even noticed."

A very self-satisfied grin covered Ryan’s face; even 16 years later, she was pleased with this small act of insurrection. Jamie was staring at her with her mouth gaping open. "You can write backwards?"

Ryan blinked. "Um…you can’t?"

Jamie rolled her eyes, pinching her partner’s pink cheek. "I have a feeling that I’m going to hear that phrase time and time again during our years together. I’d better get used to it."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Before practice on Thursday, Jordan approached Ryan and spent a few minutes trying to talk her into having a big get-together for the team. Ryan wasn’t opposed in theory, but she had some serious doubts about the soundness of the idea as Jordan proposed it.

"Come on, Ryan, we need to be leaders on this team," the blonde urged.

"I agree, Jordan, but I don’t see why leadership has to include taking the team out to get them drunk. I think that’s a little irresponsible."

"I didn’t say I wanted to get them drunk. I just said we should go out to a bar to bond."

"Fine. Let’s go to a coffeehouse to bond."

"Okay, okay. I do think that we’d relax better if we had a few drinks."

"You may be right, but I will not be responsible for taking a bunch of 18-year-olds out drinking," Ryan insisted. "I’m sure they’ve been doing it for years, but I don’t want the ax to fall on my neck if someone gets out of control."

"Okay," she grumbled. "We’ll do it your way. We’ll go to a restaurant. Friday night okay?"

"Yeah, I guess so," Ryan agreed. "I prefer to go home on Friday, but I’ll go if it means so much to you."

"Cool. We’ll have a big girls' night out."

"I’m sure my love can entertain herself for one night," Ryan decided, "but I can guarantee that she won’t like it."

"Bring her along," Jordan urged. "She’s a girl."

"Really? I thought this was just for the team."

"Well, it’s for a little more team bonding before the season starts. I think it would be good for everyone to get used to seeing you and Jamie together. I think they all know who she is, but if they spent some time around you they might feel more comfortable with your relationship."

"You’re getting the same vibes that I am, aren’t you?" Ryan asked, feeling that some of the underclassmen were still very tentative around her.

Jordan looked pensive for a moment, then allowed, "I don’t think anyone is antagonistic to you, Ryan, but a couple of the freshmen are from really small towns. I’m certain they don’t have a lot of experience with women who are as open about their sexuality as you are. Spending time with the two of you will help them see that you’re just average people."

Ryan nodded, making one small correction. "I’m average. Jamie’s extraordinary."

"Yeah. Well, call the extraordinary one and tell her you’re going out with the girls tomorrow."

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

Continued in Part Three

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