I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 8: Honesty

By S X Meagher

Part Four

Jamie ran a hand through her hair and tried to decide what to do first. God, I’m slow when I’m working on three hours of sleep. She had stuck to her guns and stayed right by Ryan’s side through the dreadful night. Chills followed sweats with startling frequency. No sooner did she have her cooled down than she got chilled. And no sooner did she get warm than she broke into a drenching sweat. She changed the sheets twice during the night and changed Ryan’s clothes three times. So much activity had taken place that the room looked like it had been looted, with sheets and clothes lying everywhere.

Thinking back on the night, she had to admit that during the quiet times she felt more intimately bonded with her partner than ever before. She felt like she had been allowed to see much deeper into her psyche and she was very grateful that she had been given the chance to do so. She’s so simple, and yet so complex. Such a scared little girl and supremely confident woman. I don’t think I’ll ever learn everything about her, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never get bored.

She made a pot of tea with honey and lemon, and some toast, and poured a large glass of orange juice for her patient. She also crushed some more ice to help cool her body.

Ryan was struggling to get out of bed when she returned. "You’d better be going to the bathroom," Jamie gently chided her.

"I was gonna take a shower," she sheepishly admitted. "I stink," she added as she made a face as she sniffed herself.

Jamie reluctantly agreed to Ryan’s request. "Are you sure you feel up to this?" she asked for the third time.

"Honey, I can’t stand to feel this grungy. It makes me feel worse to smell bad and be all sticky."

"Okay, I’ll help you, but you have to promise to let me know if you feel dizzy or weak."

"I will. Are you going to get in with me?"

"Yeah, I think I’d better."

"Good. You don’t smell so hot either," she said with a crooked grin.

That comment got her a massive hug and a matching smile. "That’s the first smile I’ve seen on your sweet little face since yesterday."

"I’ll have to insult you more often," Ryan promised with a smirk.

They successfully moved into the bathroom, and Jamie was able to get Ryan’s clothes off without much difficulty. She turned on the shower to let it warm up as she quickly stripped off her own clothes. "Whew! I see what you mean," she admitted as she got a whiff of herself. "I was in a cold sweat most of the night worrying about you, Baby."

Ryan looked terribly sad as she leaned against the wall. "I’m really sorry to put you through this, Jamie. I know it’s probably harder for you than it is for me."

"Nonsense, Ryan. I’m just worried. You have a bad fever, a sore throat, muscle aches…"

"Don’t forget headache and weakness," she reminded her.

"I didn’t know you had a headache too," she empathized.

"It’s not the worst I’ve ever had, since I’ve had a skull fracture, but it’s in the top three," she conceded.

"I feel so sorry for you. I know how you hate to be sick, and to be this sick must just be horrible for you." She wrapped her arms around Ryan’s overheated torso and gave her a gentle hug. "Now let’s get all clean and maybe you’ll feel a little better."

Luckily, Ryan was having a hot spell and the lukewarm water felt good on her hot skin. Jamie got her seated on the tiled bench in the corner of the tub and set about lovingly washing her hair and body. She quickly washed herself, knowing that Ryan should not remain upright any longer than absolutely necessary, then grabbed a towel and dried her partner briskly while she remained seated on the bench. "You don’t want your hair dried, do you?"

"No. Could you just comb it and tie it back in a braid?"

"Sure, Baby. I’ll do that once I get you back in bed." A clean T-shirt and flannel pajama bottoms had Ryan looking relatively normal. She sat on the loveseat and watched patiently as Jamie stripped the bed again. After a quick trip to the other bedroom to retrieve dry pillows Jamie guided her lover back to bed. In order to comb and braid her hair she got into bed and scooted behind Ryan, then eased the wide toothed comb through her dark hair, being especially careful not to pull on any tangles. Ryan’s head lolled limply as Jamie patiently worked on her tresses. "Does this feel good, Baby?" she whispered into her nearby ear.

"It feels good to know you care so much for me," she replied, expertly avoiding the question.

"But other than that…?"

"Well, my scalp hurts and my head aches. My skin is so sensitive that it hurts to even have clothes on; so as much as I generally like to lay on you, I’ve gotta admit that it doesn’t feel so good today."

"Is there any part of you that doesn’t hurt?" she asked.

"Um…do fingernails count?" Ryan queried, just trying to understand the scope of the question.

"Not really, Babe. I don’t think they have nerves." As soon as the braid was secure she carefully extricated herself from behind her lover, noticing that Ryan was very warm again. Bringing another cool cloth from the bath, she repeatedly wiped her face and neck.

"That feels good," Ryan said as she smiled up at her weakly.

"Really? Doesn’t your face hurt?"

"Yeah, it hurts too, but the rubbing of the cloth feels so comforting that I hardly notice it," she confided with another childlike smile.

Jamie leaned over and tenderly brushed her lips against her lover’s forehead. She pulled back just a little bit and looked deeply into Ryan’s eyes. "I love you so much. I feel honored to be able to care for you and provide you with a little comfort."

"Thanks," she whispered, a little blush rising on her face. Jamie continued to wipe her face as Ryan struggled to keep her eyes open.

"You need to drink some of those fluids. Before those eyes close again, I want either that tea or that juice in your little tummy."

" ‘Kay," Ryan said as she somewhat happily gulped down the tea and munched on her cold toast. "This is good," she said with a sweet smile.

"I’m glad you like it, my little teddy bear," Jamie said as she tickled her sides.

"Oh-oh," she said with alarm. "Getting cold again."

Jamie hopped to it and got a fleece top for her and quickly tucked her in. "Drink some tea. It’ll help warm you."

"Should I go to the doctor?" Ryan finally got out through her chattering.

"I don’t think you have to. We’ll just watch your fever to make sure it doesn’t get too high."

"But what do I have? I’ve never felt like this before. My throat is on fire, and all of my muscles ache. I never have a fever. Maybe I’ve got some strange virus."

I think you have the flu, Ryan."

"No! It’s just a cold!"

"Honey, the symptoms you have indicate the flu. There’s nothing we can do about that now. So just get over arguing about this and try to get better as soon as possible!"

"But I have to practice tomorrow, and I have to play on Wednesday," she cried, getting more and more upset.

"Look, Ryan. Nobody knows more than I do how hard you’ve worked to be on this team. I think I even have a pretty good idea of how much this means to you. But you are not going to play if you’re ill. That’s final!"

She marched from the room, hoping that she'd made an impression with her uncharacteristic diatribe. After a few minutes in the bathroom she poked her head out to see her partner sitting up in bed with a thoughtful look on her face. "It’s too early to make any predictions about this, Jamie. I’ll stay in bed today," Ryan said, as though she'd made a big concession. "If I rest up today, I should feel well enough to play tomorrow." She gazed up at Jamie and asked, "I can play if I don’t have a fever or a sore throat, right?"

Jamie assumed that her fever was making her delusional, but she wisely didn’t contradict her. "Of course. You rest up and we’ll see how you feel."

After Ryan struggled to get the juice down she closed her eyes and snuggled down into the sheets, sound asleep before Jamie could get to the door.

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

Jamie prepared some tarragon walnut chicken salad for lunch, normally one of Ryan’s favorites. When she went upstairs for her half-hourly check she noticed some small movement under the covers. Sitting gently on the side of the bed she began to run her fingers across Ryan’s forehead, shaking her head as she felt the heat radiating up. With a reaction time slower than Jamie had ever seen, Ryan blinked her eyes open and spent a moment trying to get them to focus. Jamie could almost see her brain try to work, but as she realized where she was, her eyes filled with pain.

"I’ve never felt this bad in my life," she croaked out. "I’ve got to get something to drink, even though I dread swallowing. Can I have something with ice?"

"Sure. Name it."


"Be right back."

When Jamie returned, Ryan had managed to sit up enough to drink, but she didn’t look happy about it. Hating to be cruel, but knowing that it was important, Jamie insisted that they take her temperature again. Ryan really didn’t want to wait the five minutes required, but Jamie reminded her that the reading would be disturbed by the cool liquid.

"Good news," Jamie said brightly, trying to put a positive spin on the matter. "Your temperature hasn’t gone up."

"Wow, at this rate I’ll be well by Christmas," Ryan groused. She grasped the offered cup and slowly gulped down the entire contents, wincing noticeably with each swallow.

She sighed deeply, looked up at Jamie with sad resignation, and lay back down. "I’m tired again," she said softly, sinking into sleep so quickly that Jamie just stood in place and watched her, shaking her head in wonder.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Martin suggested he come over and bring dinner, but it was clear that Ryan wasn’t up to eating, and Jamie felt less than social herself, so she declined the thoughtful offer. "When’s your next day off, Martin?" she asked.

"Wednesday, Darlin’. If herself is not well by then, Maeve and I will come and bring dinner, all right?"

"It’s a deal. Let’s hope this is over by then, Martin."

* * * * * * * * * * *

On Monday morning Jamie had to shake Ryan for a good minute before she got a response from her. "It’s time for me to go to practice, Love. Will you be all right if I leave you?"

"Huh? What is today?" Ryan’s eyes were foggy and unfocused, and Jamie wondered if she should skip practice to stay home with her.

After another moment or two, Ryan came back to her normal self and accepted Jamie’s help to go to the bathroom. When she emerged she looked a little better, and obediently accepted a mug of tea. "I’ll be okay. I just need to rest."

Reasoning that the logic was sound, Jamie said, "I’ve got my phone, and I’ll keep it on all day. Will you promise to call me if you feel any worse?"

"I will. Now get ready!"

She looked at Ryan thoughtfully for a minute as she revealed, "There’s a part of me that’s afraid to go for fear of exposing anyone else to this bug if I’ve got it."

Ryan’s lower lip began to tremble as she realized that she might unwittingly make her lover as sick as she was. "I don’t want you to get this," she sobbed. "I can’t bear the thought of you being this sick."

"Now you know how I feel," Jamie said as she wrapped her in her arms again. "It breaks my heart to see how bad you feel. Let’s both work together to get you well as quickly as possible, okay? Will you do that for me?"

"I’ll try," Ryan said with her little grouchy bear look.

Before she left, Jamie made a big pot of tea and put it, and a big bowl of tapioca, on a tray that she placed by the bedside. She pulled the phone up close to Ryan and dialed her own cell phone. "If you need me, all you have to do is hit the redial button. Can you do that?"

"Yeah, Jamie, I can hit a button," she answered with a smirk.

"I’ll do my best to get home as early as possible, but I want you to remember to call Maeve if you’re any worse, okay?"

"Okay, I promise I’ll call if I need her."

Jamie closed her eyes as she pulled her partner’s fevered body close for a tender hug. "I’d do anything to make you better. It just kills me to see you this way."

"I know it does, Honey. But I’ll be better soon. You can’t keep an O’Flaherty down for long."

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

Jamie had less than a third of her mind on her studies. Her morning classes dragged on, and by noon she realized that sitting in the chair didn’t really count as attending the class. Thus relieved of her afternoon duties, she hopped on her bike and rode to the grocery store to stock up on sickroom supplies.

When she arrived home, she tiptoed up to the bedroom to find Ryan still asleep. Walking over to the bed she stood quietly and watched her sleep for a few minutes, judging from the state of her sleep-creased face that she had been out for the entire morning. Grabbing the pile of soiled sheets, she went back downstairs and tossed one of the sets of sheets in the washer as she began to prepare lunch. Maria Los had arrived by this time, and she insisted that Jamie allow her to do the laundry. Every half-hour the blonde tiptoed into the bedroom and checked on her lover, content to let her sleep as much as possible. By one p.m. she began to grow concerned, since she thought it likely that Ryan had not gone to the bathroom yet. If she’s not urinating, she must be getting dehydrated. I’m going to have to force more fluids into her.

The rest of the day consisted of nothing more than stark worry from Jamie, and near comatose sleep from Ryan. The sum total of Ryan’s caloric intake was one half of a grape jelly and butter sandwich, one piece of toast, and a few bites of tapioca, falling several thousand calories short of her norm.

She slept most of the day and all of the night, not noticing the red-rimmed green eyes that gazed at her anxiously, nor the cool hand that felt her forehead at least 15 times during the long, dark night.

* * * * * * * * * * *

On Tuesday afternoon Jamie sat on the edge of the bed, speaking quietly to Coach Placer, her anxious lover’s head looming over her shoulder. "Exactly what did he say?" Ryan quizzed after Jamie got off the phone.

"He said that if you can’t practice today, he won’t clear you to play tomorrow," Jamie said, hating to deliver the news but knowing that Ryan would just have to deal with the disappointment.

"I just don’t know how I’m going to be able to practice," Ryan moaned pathetically. "I mean, I think I’ll be fine by tomorrow," she said, seemingly serious. "I’m just a little slow today."

"Yeah. Slow. That about sums it up," Jamie agreed, trying to avoid a fight.

"Shit." Ryan tossed the covers aside and tried to get to her feet.

"What are you doing?" Jamie asked, her brow arched severely.

"I have to go, Jamie. You’re the one who talked to him. If I don’t go today, I can’t play tomorrow."

For some reason this all seemed perfectly logical to her, but Jamie was determined to shine the light of reason on her delusions. "You aren’t going anywhere, Ryan. Not today, and not tomorrow. No arguments."

She sat up a little straighter and looked at Jamie with her eyes burning brightly. "You aren’t my mother, and you can’t stop me from getting up. I have to show up for my team."

"I know I’m not your mother. I’m not trying to be your mother. But you are too ill to even think about getting up."

"I cannot tolerate being told what to do!" she yelled, but she immediately grabbed her throat with both hands as she grimaced in pain.

"Ryan, please listen to reason."

But Ryan was in no mood for reason. She started to struggle with the covers but Jamie merely rested her hand upon her chest, effectively preventing her from getting up. Ryan tried three times, but each time the gentle hand completely halted her progress. She finally fell to the bed and uttered a low frustrated cry. "I have to go," she cried. "The team needs me, Jamie. Please let me get up!"

"Ryan, I’m holding you down with about three pounds of pressure. How do you think you can play volleyball?"

"I can, really I can," she begged. "It’s just mind over matter."

"Okay, I’ll make you a deal. I want you to focus every bit of your energy on getting out of bed and showing me that you can play. Do you agree that you have to be able to jump to play?"

"Yes," she said slowly.

"Fine. I want you to get up and jump as high as you can. If you can jump at your normal height, I’ll let you go. I'll even drive you."

Ryan nodded her head quickly and pursed her lips in concentration. She pushed the covers away and sat up for a few moments, breathing deeply to gather her strength. When she was ready she tossed her legs off the bed but had to spend another few minutes before she could get them all the way to the floor. She was using every bit of her will to convince her partner that she was well, but she knew it had not been a very convincing performance so far. "I need to get my sea legs," she explained. "It’s hard being in bed all day. I’d probably feel better if I had been at school."

"You’re probably right, Honey," Jamie agreed placidly. "I should have let you go to school."

Ryan nodded briefly at this concession and tried to get to her feet. Jamie even aided her attempt by holding her arm to steady her. She swayed dangerously as Jamie considered whether she would be able to hold her up if she fell. Ryan took a very deep breath and swallowed with a grimace of pain as she said, "Okay, I’m ready."

It was all the smaller woman could do not to smile at the determination of her sick lover, but she knew that this was not the time for humor. Ryan leaned over a tiny bit and rested her hands on her thighs. Taking another deep breath she started to go into a crouch to make her attempt, but the slight bend turned into a slow collapse as every normally dependable muscle and tendon failed her miserably.

Jamie sank to the floor and wrapped her arms around the thoroughly defeated woman. "I know this is horrible for you, Honey. I know how hard you’ve worked to be able to play with your team. But your body is just not going to cooperate for a while. Now let’s try to get you well as quickly as we can, okay?"

Ryan was unable or unwilling to talk at this point. She just nodded her head slightly and looked up at Jamie. "Can you help me up?" she asked with a thin voice.

"Sure, baby," she said as she stood and extended her hands. Unfortunately, Ryan’s grasp was weak and she seemed unable to use any of the strength in her legs. After grunting with the unsuccessful effort, Jamie finally had to release her hands. She rubbed her now sore back and said, "I don’t think I can do it, Honey. Can you help any more?"

"Noooo," she cried, sobbing pathetically. Jamie got back on the floor with her and rocked her in her arms until she quieted down.

"We’ll just stay here until you have some more strength, okay?" She got up and grabbed the pillows and the blankets to cover the now shivering body. Ryan’s limp form was practically covering hers and she was uncomfortable under the weight, but she stoically withstood the discomfort for her partner’s sake.

Amazingly, they both fell asleep, only to be startled awake by Mia’s trudging up the stairs. "Mia," Jamie called out as she passed the room.

"Yeah?" she asked as she stuck her head in. Placing her hands on her hips she laughed and said, "I told you that you two would eventually knock yourselves out of bed. You need some of those hospital rails."

"Ryan’s really sick," Jamie informed her. "She fell down and I can’t get her up by myself. Can you help me?"

Mia was immediately in the room and squatting down. "Jesus! You told me that she had been sick when I was at my parents this weekend, but I didn’t think it was this serious! What’s wrong, Ryan?" she asked as she lightly touched her face.

"Flu," she muttered, but even that seemed to deplete her energy.

"My God, how could you get this sick this fast?" she asked incredulously.

Ryan summoned all of her strength and replied, "The bigger they are the harder they fall."

"Hey, you still have your sense of humor," she said fondly as she squeezed her shoulder. "Come on, James, don’t let the poor thing lie on the floor all day." Mia got into a crouch and motioned for Jamie to do the same. They each grabbed an arm and draped it around their shoulders, then they linked arms behind Ryan’s waist. "One…two…three," Mia called, and miraculously Ryan was pulled to her feet.

"As long as she’s up, let’s help her into the bathroom," Jamie suggested.

"Cool, do I get to help you give her a bath?" Mia asked with a waggling eyebrow, preferring to see Ryan at her best, but not being terribly picky.

"No. That’s a little energetic at this point. I think I’ll give her a sponge bath later, since I don’t want her to fall in the tub. Will you help me then?"

"Absolutely," Mia replied. "Whatever you need, Hon."

Turning to her lover Jamie asked, "Did you pee while I was at class this morning?"

"Huh? What is today?" she asked groggily as Jamie pulled down her pants and sat her on the toilet.

Mia and Jamie exchanged worried glances as Ryan looked like she didn’t know what was expected of her. "Ryan, can you pee for me?"

"For you?" she asked hazily.

"Can you pee?" she asked again, trying to be clearer.

"Yeah, I can pee," she said, but she did no such thing.

"Ryan, are you going to pee?"

"Why? I don’t have to," she said from her fog.

Her attendants shot another set of worried glances at each other but they eventually lifted her, then Jamie pulled her sweats up again. They got her back to the bed with some difficulty, but as soon as she got there she started to struggle with her clothes. "She gets hot and strips," Jamie said.

"Just the opposite will happen to me," Mia responded brightly as she waited for the show to begin.

"OUT!" Jamie ordered as she pushed her towards the door. When she got there she gave her friend a grateful hug. "I don’t know what we would have done without you, Honey. Thanks for helping."

"My pleasure," she replied. "Let’s work out our schedules so that one of us is here for her."

"Thanks, Mia," she said as she hugged her tightly. "It’s nice to know you care for her too."

"I really do, James. Remember, I’m always available for sponge baths."

When Jamie turned back to the bed, Ryan had almost pulled her shirt over her head but she was too weak to get it off. The shirt was tightly stretched around her head, with her arms thrashing about in vain. The thought flashed through Jamie’s mind that Ryan might strangle herself if she wasn’t closely supervised, and she vowed to keep an even closer eye on her.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After synchronizing their schedules, Mia found herself watching over Ryan on Wednesday afternoon. Jamie made her promise not to give Ryan a sponge bath while she was sleeping, and she had behaved admirably, sitting on the love seat most of the afternoon, diligently studying.

The ringing doorbell caught her attention, and she raced down the stairs to answer. A very tall, very blonde, very attractive woman nearly filled the doorframe vertically, leaving massive amounts of room horizontally. "Hi," she said, her clear soprano voice tinged with a little bit of surprise. "Is Ryan up to a visitor?"

"She won’t wake up, but if you want to take a look, be my guest. I’m Mia, Ryan’s roommate," she said, extending a hand.

"Hi, Mia," the blonde beauty replied. "I’m Jordan Ericsson. I’m on the volleyball team with Ryan."

Giving the lanky woman a pointed glance, Mia assured her, "I might have guessed that," she said with a smile, looking at the Cal warm-ups with the small script "Jordan" over her breast. "Come on in. You can help me watch her sleep."

They went upstairs together and sat down on the love seat to watch Ryan for a few minutes. "Wow," Jordan said, obviously stunned at the deterioration in her friend’s health in just a few days. "Does she just lie here all day?"

"Yep. We have to watch her ‘cause she gets disoriented when she gets hot and tries to undress. Jamie’s afraid that she’ll strangle herself."

"Well," Jordan said, "I guess that answers the question of whether she’ll be able to make our road trip this weekend. I didn’t realize how bad off she was."

"It’s pretty bad," Mia agreed. "She hasn’t eaten enough for a fly. It’s gonna take her a while to get back to normal."

"It’s hard to tell with her all covered up like that," Jordan said. "She looks pretty normal, except for her color. She’s normally so tan and healthy looking."

"I don’t know where that tan went, but it’s gone," Mia agreed, shaking her head at her friend’s pallor.

"Damn!" Jordan got to her feet and stood by the bed, looking at her closely. "Let her know I came by, okay?" She brushed her hand across Ryan’s forehead, pushing her bangs out of her eyes. "We’ll miss you, Slugger," she whispered as she patted her cheek fondly.

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

When Jamie got home from school, she decided that she was going to get some calories into Ryan or die trying. She didn’t have much in the house, so she warmed up some soup from a can, thinking that the vegetable soup would be gentle on her partner’s stomach. It took a while, but she finally got Ryan awake and sitting up, and spoon-fed her against her mumbled wishes.

She got down the entire bowl, rather pleased with herself when Ryan said, "That must have woken my system up. I need to use the bathroom."

"Let me help you get up," Jamie offered as she wrapped an arm around her waist. She got Ryan to her feet and held on to her until she got her sea legs, then maneuvered her into the bath and helped her over to the toilet and slid her sweats down as Ryan flopped down hard on the seat.

She looked up at Jamie determination in her eyes. "I can handle it, Babe."

"Are you sure? This really doesn’t bother me, you know. I’ve wrestled you in here a lot in the last few days."

Ryan smiled fondly at her and said, "You’ve been a real trooper. But I know you prefer to keep this kinda thing private, so as long as I feel competent to go alone, I’d prefer that."

Ruffling her hair, Jamie kissed her cheek and waited outside the bath, feeling hopeful that Ryan trusted herself to be alone for a few minutes. Maybe that means she’s starting to get some strength back, she hoped.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Her hopes were dashed when Ryan emerged to move shakily towards the bed, hitting the mattress hard and falling asleep in moments. Regarding her for a few minutes, Jamie decided that she had to have a nap, so she went into Ryan’s room to try and catch a few winks before Martin and Maeve came over for dinner.

She had been averaging about six very poor hours of sleep per night, and she knew that she looked nearly as bad as Ryan. Falling asleep in moments, she was almost immediately awakened by some phone solicitor trying to get her to switch her long distance service. Speaking to the poor man in a much harsher tone than he deserved, she lay awake for a few long minutes, too tired and grouchy to relax enough to sleep—which turned out to be fortuitous, because she was awake enough to hear the strangled sounds coming from the bedroom.

She flew out of bed so fast that she tripped on the sheets, sliding into the room just as Ryan struggled to sit up. She was only off the mattress a few inches when she closed her eyes and violently retched all over herself and the bedclothes, making the most pathetic noises that Jamie had ever heard come from a human being as she vomited again and again. The smell and the sounds almost made Jamie join her in emptying her stomach, but she fought her own churning guts to comfort her partner as best she could. Climbing onto the bed, she rubbed her back while she spoke to her in a low soothing tone, trying to will her poor stomach to settle down. After a few minutes Ryan’s stomach was completely empty, but she couldn’t stop retching. Powerful spasms rocked her whole body as she shook with a frightening intensity. After an interminable time she finally stopped and fell back limply against the mattress, her body covered in sweat, unable to do anything more than issue a heart-rending groan.

"My poor, poor baby," Jamie murmured as she gently stroked her pale, clammy face. "Just rest a few minutes, and then I’ll get you cleaned up."

The smells in the room were quickly turning Jamie’s stomach, so she decided that she needed to get busy. Pulling away from Ryan’s wet body she went to the door and called for Mia, enormously pleased when her roommate emerged from her room. "Ryan’s sick to her stomach. It’s really gross, but I need to change the sheets and her clothes. Do you mind?"

"No prob," Mia said immediately, sliding past Jamie to approach Ryan’s side. "Poor sick little girl," she crooned, pulling the soiled top sheet from her body. While Mia worked on the sheet, Jamie carefully lifted the wet, soiled T-shirt from Ryan’s shaking body and then slipped her sweatpants off. The bottom sheet wasn’t soiled, but it was wet from perspiration. The pair worked together, loosening the left side of the sheet and immediately replacing it with a clean bottom sheet, then carefully rolling Ryan over until she lay on top of the fresh fabric. Finishing the bed in the same fashion, they covered Ryan’s bare body with the clean sheet and a heavy blanket.

Ryan was awake during this entire process, but she once again fell into a state of wary watchfulness, saying nothing, seemingly drawing all of her energies inward. It worried Jamie to have so little interaction with her, but she reasoned that Ryan needed all of her strength just to fight the virus and simply had nothing left to share.

While the dark woman shivered, Mia whispered to Jamie, "I know she’d feel better if she was nice and clean. Would it be insane to try to get her into the shower?"

"Yeah, I think it would be," Jamie mused, "even though I agree with you. Maybe that sponge bath, huh?"

"It won’t be as good as a real shower, but she’s really ripe, Hon. Smelling bad always makes you feel worse."

It took a long while, and they had to allow for many shiver sessions, but they finally had Ryan as clean as they could get her. Mia astounded Jamie with her efficient professional demeanor, not making one crack about Ryan’s physical attributes.

"I think I’ll get into bed with her and help warm her up," Jamie reasoned, since Ryan had been shivering nonstop for quite a few minutes.

"Okay, Hon. Call me if you need anything else, okay?"

"You are an absolute lifesaver, Mia. We’d be lost without you."

"I love you both," Mia said, giving her old friend a kiss.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie must have dozed off because the next thing she knew, Maeve’s gentle hand was shaking her awake. "Jamie, dear," she said softly.

"Huh?" She managed to sit up, rubbing at her eyes as she fought to focus. Carefully disentangling herself from Ryan’s body, she got to her feet, swaying a little as she did so. When she focused on Maeve’s face, she noticed that the shock of her appearance was giving the older woman a tough time. Her hair was standing up in some places, plastered down in others. She was wearing one of Ryan’s wrinkled T-shirts and sweats that had both seen better days. Her color was dreadful, both from worry and lack of sleep, and her eyes were dull and red rimmed. She started to tell the sympathetic woman how glad she was to see her, but instead broke into a sob that threatened to take her to the floor.

Martin was obviously standing right outside the door because he entered and grabbed her around the waist and carefully led her to the love seat, squatting down in front of her. "What’s wrong, Sweetheart?"

"She’s just not getting better," she sniffed. "I think we have to take her to the hospital." Maeve sat down on the other side and slid an arm around her waist. Jamie dropped her head onto her convenient shoulder and sobbed into the fabric of her cotton blouse. "I can’t keep her awake long enough to get her to drink. And her fever won’t go down a bit. I finally got some soup into her this afternoon, but it didn’t sit well on her stomach and she threw it all up." She shivered with the memory, recalling how absolutely powerless she'd felt when she had to watch that display. "She just seems to be getting worse, and I’m not strong enough to make her do what she doesn’t want to do," she said as her sobs grew stronger. Maeve ran a hand through her hair as she patted her back tenderly.

"It’ll be all right, Honey," she soothed. "Maybe she’d be better off in the hospital overnight."

"Let’s check her out before we make any decisions," Martin suggested. "I’d like to take her temperature again and then see how her stomach is."

"She’s naked, Martin. Let me get some clothes on her first. She’s a little shy around her Da." She gave him a fond smile and moved to her partner as Martin left the room, sighing heavily as she considered another round of struggles to get her dressed.

"Let me help you, Sweetheart," Maeve said. "As a matter of fact, let me get her dressed while you take a nice, hot shower. You obviously haven’t had a moment to yourself today."

"That bad?" Jamie asked, casting a quick glance into the mirror to confirm her suspicions.

"Let’s just say you’re not up to your usual high standards," Maeve said diplomatically.

"Are you sure you can get her dressed, Maeve? She’s a handful."

"I’m stronger than I look, Jamie. And regrettably, I’ve learned an awful lot about nursing in my 57 years."

Jamie just patted her arm in understanding, hoping fervently that she never had to learn the tough lessons that Maeve had been forced to face.

When Jamie emerged from the shower, she felt substantially better. She dressed carefully, trying to force some normalcy by at least looking decent. To her absolute shock, Ryan was sitting up, sipping a cup of tea with her father and aunt, and munching on a couple of cookies, or biscuits as the O’Flahertys referred to them.

When Ryan saw her she lifted her mug, saying, "All I needed was some of my aunt’s tea, Jamie."

"Do you feel better?"

"Yeah. Aunt Maeve got me awake and took my temperature. It’s down!" she said, with one of her first smiles of the week.

Jamie felt her forehead, detecting a noticeable lessening of the raging fever. "What was it, Maeve?" she asked.

"Just a little over 100," Maeve revealed. "I think our dear heart is on the road to recovery."

"I know it sounds odd, but I think I hit rock bottom this afternoon when I was throwing up. Maybe I’m on the upswing now, huh?" Ryan said with hope-filled eyes.

"God, I hope so," Jamie sighed, leaning over to kiss her partner’s cooling forehead.

"Jamie has been so awesomely wonderful," Ryan enthused, smiling at her partner. "She’s taken such good care of me. Against overwhelming odds," she added. "Lord knows I’m no fun to be around when I’m sick."

"No argument there, " Martin said, seeing no need to sugarcoat the truth.

"Oh, she’s not that bad," Jamie insisted, sitting by her partner on the bed. "Once we got over the disappointment from missing the volleyball game, she’s been very compliant."

"It helps that I was out of my rational mind," Ryan reminded her. "When you could hold me down with one finger on my chest I knew I was in trouble."

"The good news," Martin decided, "is that if the trend holds, you’ll have another 20 years before she’s this sick again."

"20 years!" Ryan cried. "I couldn’t handle this again that soon!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later that night, just before Jamie climbed into bed, she asked, "Do you need anything, Baby?"

Ryan looked a little shy as she batted her eyes and asked, "Would you hold me tight? I feel awfully little tonight."

Jamie smiled down at her, then kicked off her shoes and shimmied out of her jeans. She got into bed and propped herself up with some extra pillows. Ryan scooted up until her head rested on her lover’s chest, burrowing her head against Jamie’s breast until she was comfortably denned.

"I feel so close to you, Ryan," Jamie whispered into her ear. "This just feels so intimate."

"I feel that way, too. I never would have guessed that being this sick would make me feel closer to you, but it does. Why do you think that is?"

"Maybe because you’re so weak and vulnerable. It’s hard to say, though. Maybe our roles are a little different when one of us is ill."

"Maybe that’s it. I guess I always feel most intimate when I’m really vulnerable. And I’ve rarely been this vulnerable physically," she admitted. "It just changes how I feel about myself."

"Tell me about that," Jamie encouraged.

Ryan sighed deeply as she furrowed her brow. "I’ve had more injuries than I can count, but they always made sense to me. Ya know what I mean?"

Jamie nodding, thinking she understood.

"But this…this isn’t from a risk I took, or some activity I participated in. This just hit me out of the blue, and it’s really made me feel vulnerable. I mean, if I can catch this virus, what’s to stop me from catching something else, ya know?"

"Well, I guess that’s possible, but you can also look at this as your number just being up. Everybody gets sick once in a while, Babe. This takes care of you for a very long time."

"I hope so, Jamie," she said softly "I think I have an image of myself that’s centered around my physical self. I am what I do. Being active and being outside make me feel connected both to the earth and to other people. Being cooped up in the house, unable to even go outside, just makes me feel odd and unsettled."

"That makes sense, " she said as she continued to stroke her back softly. "I guess I also think of you mostly as a vibrant, active, energetic soul. It’s hard to see you be so weak and frail."

"I know I’d hate to see you this sick," Ryan admitted. "You don’t think you’ll catch it do you?"

"I don’t think so, Baby. There’s a two-day incubation period, so I probably would have gotten sick by Monday or Tuesday."

"Every time I’m lucid I say a prayer for you," she admitted shyly.

"And I’ve been praying for you," Jamie said as she tweaked her nose. "Let’s hope all of our prayers are answered."

Ryan wrapped her arms around her lover a little more tightly and within minutes was sound asleep. Jamie continued to stroke her face and back, remaining just where she was for another hour. It was uncomfortable to be pinned by Ryan’s weight, but she wouldn’t have traded places with anyone. She felt very warm and loving toward her partner and was terribly pleased that they had been able to have a little talk. As much as she missed their physical connection, it was the emotional connection that she needed to get through the day. Having those few minutes of intimate connection made her feel outrageously good and brightened her spirits enough to hope that the next day would bring better news.

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

As the limo pulled away from the stately, circular drive, Catherine spent a moment gazing at the house she had once loved, finding that the building no longer inspired warm feelings of home and family. With a sigh, she approached the front door, passing her neatly stacked bags in the entry. Well, this should be fun, she mused, noticing Jim’s car in the drive.

She had been gone nearly two and a half weeks, and she had not spoken to her husband in that entire time. She knew from Jamie that Jim knew that she had been the one to tell their daughter of his infidelities, and she knew that fact would make him very angry indeed, irrational as that reaction was.

No more than ten feet into the house, Jim descended on her, sneering evilly as he commented, "Look who’s back! Benedict Arnold has come home to gloat."

Sharing a saccharine laced smile with him, Catherine said, "One would certainly have to have a certain view of the world to feel like the wronged party in your situation. You break every vow that you ever made to me, and I’m supposed to apologize to you?"

"Yes, that’s right…you’re supposed to apologize to me! You couldn’t stand to have Jamie be close to me! You had to try and destroy what we shared!"

Blinking slowly, Catherine gave him a puzzled gaze. "I’m making this suggestion sincerely, Jim. I think you should have some tests run to determine if you have a brain tumor or some other medical condition that would cause this irrational thinking."

"I’m perfectly lucid!" he shouted, seeming everything but.

"Look, Jim," Catherine said. "If I had treated you like you deserved, Jamie and I would have spent the last 15 years in Italy. Now that would have been my attempt to destroy the closeness you and she once had."

"We’ll have it again before I’m through," he yelled.

"Not at the rate you’re going," she said with all of the empathy she could muster. "You’ll be lucky to get a Christmas card from her." With that, she strode up the stairs to her room, further saddened to see that he had removed all of his possessions from the space.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan was alone in the house on Thursday, her roommates having decided that she was well enough to no longer require a babysitter. When the phone rang at ten o’clock she answered, "Miss me, Sweetness?"

"Why yes, I did, Ryan," Catherine laughed. "Is that what you plan on calling me henceforth?"

"Well, I could," Ryan said, pausing to cough harshly, "but Jamie called dibs." Another cough and Ryan said, "Welcome home, Catherine. We both missed you."

"Are you ill, Ryan? That cough sounds dreadful."

"Yeah. I’ve had the flu," she said. "This is my first day where I can sit up. I’m hoping to make it over to the love seat this afternoon if I can get a good nap in."

"Oh my word! You’re the picture of health!"

"The picture’s pretty grim at this point, Catherine. I’m a shadow of my former self. Luckily my beloved spouse has been a spectacular nurse. Goodness knows where I’d be without her."

"Is she home, Dear? I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed her."

"No, this is her long day. She’s not home until six or so."

"Who’s watching the patient?" Catherine asked. "It’s awfully soon to be on your own."

"I think I’m okay," Ryan decided. "Jamie can’t afford to miss any more school. She’s been here almost constantly all week."

"What will you have for lunch, Ryan? Surely you can’t cook for yourself."

"Jamie handled that, Catherine. I’m looking at a very nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich that she made for me. I just have to get up the strength to eat it."

"Nonsense. You need a hot meal, and I’m going to bring you one. I’ll be there by one, Ryan. Now go back to sleep."

Before Ryan could say another word, Catherine had hung up. Gee, I wonder where Jamie gets her determination? she wondered idly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan woke at noon, she used the bathroom and then made her way downstairs. This was her first trip down the long staircase, and she was proud that she managed to travel the entire length without assistance. My, how your goals have shrunk. The long walk exhausted her, and she curled up on the small sofa for a little nap.

When Catherine rang the bell Ryan nearly fell from the sofa, but she collected her wits and made her way to the door. As Catherine took her in, she nearly gasped at the vision that greeted her. Ryan had actually tried to clean up a little, putting on her new pajamas. Regrettably, she was down at least one full size, the pants now so loose that the drawstring was pulled tight to hold them up. Her color was still quite pasty, her eyes a little dull. She hadn’t yet taken a full shower, so her hair was lifeless and dirty, not a trace of bounce or shine in the dark locks.

"Dreadful, huh?" Ryan shrugged, indicating herself.

"No, no, of course not, Dear. You just look like you’ve been through a rough time." She offered a tentative hug, immediately noticing how frail Ryan seemed—almost as if her sturdy muscularity had been surgically removed. "We just have to concentrate on getting some food into you."

"Yeah. Jamie was complaining before I got sick. I lost a good ten pounds this week."

"Well, let’s start here," Catherine said, opening a container filled with a thick, hearty chicken soup with rice and vegetables. "Marta made this when I told her I was going to visit a sick friend," Catherine informed her. "She says that it’s an old family recipe, guaranteed to cure all of your ills."

Ryan’s mouth was watering by the time they had the soup ladled out. She dug in and treated Catherine to a full-blown demonstration of the patented O’Flaherty swoon. Catherine laughed in amusement as she watched Ryan make over the soup in the most delightful way. "I can see why Jamie likes to cook if you give her that type of reaction," she said with a smile.

"This is just awesome, Catherine," she said sincerely. "I love soup, and it seems to settle well on my stomach."

Except for a few coughing fits that were as painful to watch as they were to experience, lunch went very well. Catherine updated her on all of the news from Italy, but since Ryan had no activities of her own to speak of, she told all about Jamie’s golf and her classes. Catherine insisted on clearing the table and, to Ryan’s great surprise, she even washed the dishes. After Ryan directed her to the proper home of every item, she suggested they retire to the parlor.

"I really feel a lot better, Catherine," Ryan said with a happy grin. "A delicious lunch works wonders for me."

"I’m glad you enjoyed it, Ryan. I assume you’ve not been able to play in your volleyball games. Will you be able to rejoin your team soon?"

"I don’t know. We have away games tomorrow and Saturday, and then we’re home on Wednesday. That’s what I’m aiming for."

"Well, you let me know when you are going to play. I’ll be in your cheering section!"

"Thanks, Catherine. That means a lot to me."

"You and Jamie are my family, Ryan. You mean a lot to me."

"Um…speaking of family, are things going all right with Jim? I don’t mean to pry but…"

"You’re not prying at all, Dear. No, things aren’t going well. We’re not speaking. It’s a very, very tense atmosphere at our home."

"I’m very sorry to hear that, Catherine. I know this is hard on you."

"In a way it is, but in another way it’s rather freeing," she said thoughtfully. "We haven’t been emotionally involved for a long while. This is just making that rift a little more defined."

"It’s going to be very hard for Jamie," Ryan said softly.

"I know that, Ryan. I don’t think we’re at the point of divorcing, yet, but it’s going to take a small miracle to keep us together."

"I hope you know that I’ll support you in any way that I can, Catherine."

Catherine gave her a wide smile as she said, "I know that, Ryan, and that means a great deal to me." Getting up to leave, she advised, "Now you take it easy the rest of the week. You can’t afford a relapse."

"I know," she agreed. "I think even Jamie is getting tired of taking care of me."

"I’m sure that isn’t true," Catherine chided as she patted her cheek. "She seems to thrive on a steady diet of you, Ryan."

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

As soon as Catherine left, Ryan went back upstairs and fell asleep before she had time to let out a deep breath. She stayed in the same position that she fell in, sleeping through to the evening.

The volleyball team was meeting on campus at seven to catch a late flight to Colorado for the weekend games, but before she left Jordan decided to stop by to see how Ryan was doing. Jamie was just finishing with the dinner preparations and, as usual, she invited Jordan to join them.

"Oh God, Jamie, you feed me so often I really feel like I’m taking advantage of you," she said, dropping her gym bag and letting her nose lead her into the kitchen.

"Is that a yes?" Jamie teased as she basted the chicken she was roasting.

"Do you have enough?" Jordan asked hesitantly. "One chicken doesn’t hold up well to Ryan’s appetite."

"It does now," she said regretfully. "Her appetite is way below normal. She’ll eat the dressing I made, but she’ll hardly make a dent in the chicken. We really do have enough, Jordan, and I’d like for you to stay. Her mood has really been down, and I’d appreciate it if you could help me cheer her up."

"Where is she, anyway?"

"She’s in bed. She was out cold when I got home, and I haven’t heard a peep out of her since I got home an hour ago."

Just then Ryan came shuffling into the kitchen. She honestly looked like hell, and Jordan actually gasped a bit when she saw her. She wore a navy blue T-shirt that was probably too big at her normal weight, but now it hung loosely from her shoulders and accentuated her weight loss. The thin, black watch plaid, flannel pajama bottoms that she wore made a more forceful statement, however. Even though the drawstring waist was cinched as tight as it would go, the pants hung so low on her hips that Jamie knew they were less than a couple of inches from revealing her dark curls. Running a hand through her hair she yanked up her pants with the other hand and said flatly, "Hey, Jordan." She walked over to Jamie and gave her a brief hug before she flopped down heavily into one of the kitchen chairs. "What’s going on?" she asked, even though it was clear that she didn’t care.

Jordan still looked too shocked to speak, but she shook her head to force herself. "I’ve got something for you," she said as she scampered from the room to lug her gym bag into the kitchen. She produced two cards and a reasonably intact bouquet of flowers for her friend.

Ryan looked up at her with a small smile and asked, "For me?"

"Yeah," Jordan said as she sat in a facing chair. She placed her hand on Ryan’s knee and said, "We miss you, Ryan. It’s just not much fun without you. I don’t have anyone to harass."

Ryan reached out and ruffled her hair as she sat back to open her cards. She chuckled at both and handed them to Jamie who took them and the flowers and arranged them on the table.

Dinner was just about ready, and Jordan hopped up to set the table and help bring the food over. True to Jamie’s prediction, Ryan picked at the chicken but ate a reasonable amount of dressing, broccoli, and butternut squash. Jordan more than made up for Ryan’s diminished appetite, and the entire meal quickly disappeared.

Ryan didn’t even try to get up to help, satisfied to watch her friend aid in the cleanup. "So, give me the story behind the first game," she finally demanded.

Jordan had avoided this topic since she knew it would only serve to depress her friend, but she couldn’t avoid a direct question so she gave her the scoop. "Well, Hawaii is a powerhouse as usual. They kicked our butts, but it was well deserved. Their middle blockers are just awesome, Ryan. They’re clearly in a class above us."

"Do you really believe that?" Ryan asked, doubting her friend's assessment.

"Well…Heather started in your place, and she just had a terrible game. I don’t know what her problem was, but she didn’t have one kill in the first game. Coach finally took her out, but Ashley didn’t do much better. When it became obvious that we were weak on the outside, they tweaked their offense to target them and just pounded them all night. It was actually kind of sickening. You know how it is when momentum starts to shift against you? We just couldn’t do anything right. Our service percentage sucked, we couldn’t get up for blocks, God, I think we had something like 20 kills for the night! So clearly no one played well, including me. We were just incredibly flat."

Ryan just looked down at the table in silence. It broke her heart to see her team struggling and not be able to help, but she was truly powerless. "I’m really sorry I let you down," she said as a tear started to leak out. "I’ll see ya," she mumbled as she got up from the table holding her baggy pants up as she shuffled from the room.

Jordan gave her a wide-eyed stare as she left the kitchen. She turned to Jamie and said, "I…I…I don’t know…she’s so…"

"I know, Jordan," she said as she patted her back. "She’s just not herself. She gets upset really easily, and I know she blames herself for not being healthy. She’s as depressed as I’ve ever seen her."

"God, I wish I hadn’t come," she mumbled. "I know I made it worse!"

"No you didn’t," Jamie assured her as she squeezed her shoulder. "Believe me, if you hadn’t come, she would be morbidly depressed that no one cared about her. She’s just really ill and it’s affected her mood."

"Should I go upstairs and try to tell her that we don’t blame her?"

"If you want to you can try, but there’s a good chance that she’ll blow you off or cry like a baby."

"I think I’ll try anyway," she gamely replied as she gathered her courage. She shot Jamie a worried glance as she admitted, "I’m not great with emotional situations."

"It’ll be okay," Jamie soothed. "Just talk to her in jock talk. That should help."

Jordan slowly made her way upstairs and paused when she came to the first open door. Ryan was lying on the bed on top of the covers with her arm thrown over her eyes. Jordan sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed the tangled hair from Ryan’s face. "We’re not mad at you for missing the games, Ryan. We know how sick you’ve been. To be honest, I’m amazed you’re not hospitalized! You just look so frail," she said softly as a tear leaked out of her eye.

Ryan kept her arm right where it was, but she did warn her friend, "I’m probably still contagious, you know. You might want to keep your distance."

"Thanks for the warning, but I want to be with you. I didn’t come over here to make you feel bad, Ryan. I really want you to know that I miss you, and not just as a teammate. I miss talking to you and joking with you, and kicking your lame little butt," she said as she patted her cheek.

Ryan dropped her arm and gave her a genuine half smile. "I could probably still take you in a 400, and I’m as weak as a sick pup."

"One time, O’Flaherty. You beat me one time, and I swear that I was carrying at least five pounds of lead in my pockets. When you get well, we’re having a showdown! Loser has to carry the winner’s baggage on all road trips for the rest of the year!"

"You’re on, slowpoke," Ryan said as her half smile turned into a full one.

Jordan leaned over and lightly kissed her cheek. "Your weak little germs can’t even touch me," she teased, giving her a gentle squeeze.

Ryan held on for a moment and whispered, "Thanks for caring about me."

As she rose, Jordan gave her a high wattage grin as she admitted, "I have to care about you. You’re the only person on the team who makes me feel superior in every way!"

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

Ryan’s fever remained low, but her illness had progressed into her bronchial tubes and she began to cough not long after Jordan left. The coughing persisted until her lungs ached, and Jamie was afraid she would crack a rib. After a rather frantic call to Annie for advice, and another to Ryan’s family doctor, Jamie went to the drugstore and bought thick rolls of adhesive tape and picked up some powerful prescription cough syrup. She carefully wrapped the tape around Ryan’s painful ribs, providing some support, then gave her a dose of the codeine-laden medicine, knocking her out until the next morning. The drug-aided quiet allowed both women to sleep through the night for the first time in a week, mildly replenishing their physical reserves.

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

On Friday afternoon Mia burst into the house carrying lunch for the patient. "Hey, Ryan," she bellowed from the living room, "luncheon is served."

Ryan came to the railing of the stairs, clad in only her underwear. "You brought me lunch?" she asked in delight. "I’ll be right down. I just need to get dressed."

"Don’t bother on my account," Mia said easily. Ryan dutifully slipped on her pajamas and padded downstairs moments later. "If you’re comfortable in your undies it certainly doesn’t bother me," Mia assured her.

"I think it bothers Jamie," Ryan confided. "She doesn’t even like me to be naked in the locker room."

"She’s a quirky one," Mia agreed as she pulled out big containers of pasta and meat sauce.

"Oohh, I love Italian food," Ryan enthused, salivating.

"What don’t you love?" Mia teased. "I’ve never seen you turn your nose up at any food."

"It’s funny," she said. "I don’t have an appetite in the morning, and I barely eat dinner, but I’m famished at lunchtime. It really helps to have something substantial, Mia. Thanks a lot."

"So how are you doing?" Mia asked as they dug into the feast. "Are you totally bummed about not playing tonight?"

"It truly sucks," she agreed. "I’ve worked so hard that it just kills me to have to miss all of these games."

"Have they won the games you’ve missed?"

"No," Ryan reported glumly. "They’ve only played one, but it doesn’t look good. I’m not saying that I’m the key to success, but when you practice as a team you get used to certain things that certain players can do. I think my absence has thrown off the chemistry of the team."

"It really does suck," Mia said sympathetically.

They spent the next 20 minutes talking about their classes. Mia surprised Ryan to no end when she insisted on cleaning up after the meal. Ryan was fading fast and Mia gently asked, "How long have you been up?"

"I got up when Jamie did. I’ve been reading ever since, so this is a pretty long spell without a nap. I should go back to bed, but I’m so sick of being in that bed alone I could scream!"

"Oh! I forgot your other present!" she said excitedly as she ran to her bag. She returned a few minutes later with the September issue of Playboy. "Look! Girls of the PAC-10!"

Ryan had to chuckle at her excitement. "Thanks, Mia. Maybe this will get me jump started a little bit. I’m afraid Jamie might turn me in for a new model. Her needs have been largely ignored for nearly a week now."

"No way, Babe. She’s stuck like glue. Come out to the library and sit with me for a while. I’ve got to get some reading done for my afternoon class, but I could give you a head rub while I do it."

"Would you really?" she asked excitedly. "I’d love to be able to relax down here, and some human contact would be most appreciated."

"Come on," she said as she linked her arm with Ryan’s.

Minutes later Mia was ensconced on one end of the long leather sofa with Ryan’s dark head resting on her lap. She held a paperback book in one hand while the other trailed lightly through Ryan’s dark locks. Half an hour later Jamie found them in a much more relaxed posture. Ryan was sound asleep, still resting on Mia’s lap, but now on her side with her feet drawn up. Mia was likewise asleep, with one arm protectively draped across Ryan’s shoulder and the other tangled in her hair. A copy of Playboy was haphazardly lying on the floor, obviously dropped from Ryan’s limp hand. I think I’m going to have to get a taping system like my parents have, she mused. All sorts of stuff obviously goes on here when I’m at school!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part Five

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