I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 8: Honesty

By S X Meagher

Part Five

Later that night, Ryan was so happy to be able to go to her family’s home that she actually seemed significantly better. By bedtime things had almost reverted to normal except for the dreadful cough that threatened to loosen the shingles on the roof. Luckily the cough progressed and by Saturday night it was productive, which eased the strain on Ryan’s body. But the sound of her coughing up gobs of phlegm set Jamie’s teeth on edge, and she prayed for a quick end to this phase of the illness.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Monday was Labor Day, but Jamie still had golf practice that morning. After a tedious argument, she went alone, refusing Ryan’s entreaties to be allowed to accompany her. By the time she got home, Ryan was edgy and irritable. "I can’t stay in the house alone all day," she whined. "Can’t we go to the party?"

Martin was working all day, so the traditional O’Flaherty Labor Day party was being held at Francis’ home. Ryan had been lobbying to attend, but Jamie didn’t think it was wise to allow her to be around the baby on the off chance that she was still infectious. The second draining argument of the day raged for a while until Jamie got frustrated and called Martin at work and had him forbid his daughter from going to the party. As Ryan stalked away from the phone, Jamie heard only one word that was mumbled under her breath. "Traitor!" she grumbled as she went back to bed.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan woke, Jamie came over to sit on the edge of the bed and said, "I hate being such a Scrooge. And I hate seeing you so sad. Can you think of anything that might brighten your mood?"

"I need to be outside, Jamers," she begged. "I feel like I’m dying a slow death being cooped up like this. It’s been a week and two days!"

"Okay, Love. How about this? I know your stamina isn’t good, so let’s go over to Olympic. You can drive the cart and feel the breeze in your hair and get a little sun on your face."

"Okay," Ryan allowed. "That sounds pretty nice. Can I get out of the cart and hit a few balls?"

"Of course. If you feel like it, you can do anything you wish."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hey, Con, wanna play golf this afternoon?" Jamie asked when she spotted Conor watching TV.

"Well, I was going to go to the party." He looked at his pale sister and caught the look Jamie was giving him. He had heard snippets of an argument and had guessed that it centered around Ryan not being allowed to attend, so he backed off. "That’s no big deal though. I’d be glad to play. Where do you want to go?"

"Let’s do Olympic," Jamie decided. "It’ll be much less crowded."

His eyes lit up immediately. "Now I’m really in." Looking at his sister, still clad in her pajamas, he asked, "Think you can get into clothes some time today, Sis?"

"Hey, I can’t help it that I have something wonderful to stay in bed for," she drawled, giving her blushing partner a pointed look through her droopy bangs.

"Stop that!" Jamie mouthed, narrowing her eyes at her impish partner.

"I’ve gotta get me some of that," Conor decided. "I’m gonna be the old maid around here if I don’t get shakin’."

"Can we help?" Jamie asked, thinking that Conor’s prediction was very close to coming true.

"Maybe," he said seriously, his dark blue eyes focusing sharply. "Maybe you can."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hey, James, what’s up?" Mia’s perky voice answered.

"Do you want to play golf with us this afternoon? We’re gonna play Olympic."

"Golf, huh?" she asked slowly. "Is that the best you can offer?"

"Conor’s playing with us, and he specifically asked if you might be available."

"You know, I can’t think of a thing I’d rather do than play a little golf," Mia decided immediately.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It was after six when they finished the round, and everyone was starved. "Since Da’s at work, why don’t we have dinner at our house?" Ryan asked, drawing approval from the foursome. "Barbequed chicken okay with everyone?"

"Works for me," Conor said, and Mia echoed him.

"Jamie and I will go to the store. You two go home and get the grill started, okay?"

"Will do, Sis," he agreed, giving Mia a long, appraising glance as she walked in front of him, headed for the truck.

"Conor. Conor. CONOR!"

"What?" he said, looking at his sister with annoyance.

"Don’t forget to start the fire…in the barbeque pit…not your loins!" she added, just so there was no confusion.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"It’s kinda nice having Conor cook for us, isn’t it?" Ryan asked as she and Jamie relaxed in the living room. The recuperating woman had held up remarkably well, and Jamie had been pleased that she didn’t even try to push herself to play. She seemed happy to drive the cart and urge her partner on, and Jamie could see some of the sparkle come back into the blue eyes as she soaked up the warm sun. When they arrived home, Conor had taken over the grill, and Mia had appointed herself his assistant. Each time Ryan had ventured outside she felt like a third wheel, so she finally gave up and stayed in the house with Jamie.

"I like it," Jamie agreed. "And Mia seems awfully interested in the big guy."

"Vice versa, too," Ryan decided. "I’ve always thought he and Mia would be good together. I wonder why he didn’t pursue her after we took them to the baseball game?"

"Mia wondered the same thing," Jamie revealed. "Don’t you ask him questions like that?"

"No. We try to stay out of each other’s romantic lives as much as possible. I don’t really know what’s up with him on the girlfriend front. All I know is that he’s not had a steady in almost three years. After he decided not to move in with his girlfriend, he seemed to shy away from getting serious."

"Sounds like his sister," Jamie teased.

"Yeah," Ryan mused. "We’re a lot alike that way. That’s why I’d love for him to find someone he meshes with. I’m so much happier now than I was before, and I think he would be too."

"You sure that it’s not just misery loves company?"

"Nope." Ryan’s dark head started to shake as she declared, "Bliss loves company, too."

* * * * * * * * * * *

During dinner the sparks were flying so furiously between Conor and Mia that Ryan was on the verge of giving them a tray so they could eat in Mia's room. After a while, Jamie and Ryan began to have a separate conversation, doing their best to ignore the other pair.

As soon as was polite, Ryan stood and offered to do the dishes. "I’ll help," Jamie piped up, trying to give the other couple some time alone. She and Ryan dashed into the kitchen, the smaller woman leaning heavily against the door. "My God! We weren’t that bad at first, were we?"

"Yes, of course we were," Ryan laughed. "Luckily, we were trying to keep it a secret, so not many people were subjected to our mating rituals."

"Lucky them!" Jamie cried, crossing over to the sink. She paused as she reached it and turned to regard Ryan with a curious expression. "We’re not that bad now, are we?"

"Weeeeell," Ryan drawled, making her partner blush, "we still have our moments. But having our own room helps matters quite a bit."

"Jeez! I sure hope so. That was absolutely embarrassing."

"Well, I think it’s cute," Ryan decided. "I don’t get to see Conor around women very often. It’s kinda nice to live vicariously through him."

"You won’t have to live vicariously for long. Your sex drive will come back as soon as you’re well. Don’t worry about it."

"I’m not exactly worried," Ryan decided. "It just feels odd not to have any desire whatsoever." She pulled her loose jeans away from her waist and cast a tentative look into her pants. "Don’t forget about me," she urged her fun parts, drawing an amused grin from her partner.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan wasn’t sure what time it was when the sound of someone opening and closing the drawers and cabinets in their bathroom startled her awake. It’s not Jamie, she managed to think, her lover wrapped around her like a blanket. Oh well, Mia must be looking for a spare toothbrush for Conor. I’m sure he’s still here, she thought with a mental smirk.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The fight began just moments after dawn when Jamie woke to the sight of her lover getting dressed for school. "No way, Ryan," she said firmly, drawing an outraged look from the cool blue eyes.

"I’m better!"

"Yes, you are, but you still had a little fever yesterday. You can’t go back to school until your temp has been normal for 24 hours. I’m sorry, Babe, but I’m not going to bend on this."

"Do you mean to tell me that you think you’re going to stop me from going to practice today?" Her eyes were fiery now, and Jamie knew that she had to pull out the big guns.

"Ryan, Coach Placer told me that he will not let you practice until I give him the okay. I’m sorry to do this, but you can’t practice today, and you can’t play tomorrow. You’re too weak and too run down to even attempt it."

The enraged woman turned and stormed into her room, slamming and then locking her door, refusing to respond to Jamie’s quiet "I love you," before she left for school.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After waking at ten, Ryan went downstairs to fix a little breakfast. Mia came into the kitchen, took one look at her and nearly leapt at her, slapping her with both of her open hands, yelling in frustration as she cried, "How old were those fucking condoms!"

Ryan was protecting her body as best she could, not having any idea why her roommate was trying to knock her senseless. She finally grabbed both of the flying hands and gave her a good shake, needing all of her energy to do so. "What in the hell are you talking about?"

"The condoms!" the smaller woman cried. "How old were they?"

"Mia, I don’t know what you’re talking about! I didn’t give you any condoms!" The irate woman lifted her knee, looking like she was going to give her a shot to the groin. Ryan bent over, narrowing the potential target as she pushed her away sharply. "What in the hell is wrong with you!?"

"Your stupid brother broke a condom on me last night, and it’s your fault!" She crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at Ryan defiantly.

"Okay," Ryan said, running her hands through her hair. "I never gave you a condom, so how can I know how old the one you used was?"

"I found them in your closet," she insisted. "In that gym bag where you keep your toys." Her face broke into a small smile as she said, "Great collection, by the way. Maybe you’re the more attractive O’Flaherty."

"Thanks," Ryan said, turning to walk over to the couch and flop down on it. "I kinda prefer women that don’t try to knock the stuffing out of me, but I’ll keep your name on file."

"Oh, I didn’t hurt you," the smaller woman scoffed, sitting next to her and rubbing her leg. "I didn’t get a lick in."

"You sure tried hard enough," Ryan chided. "You fight dirty, too. That knee to the groin hurts women as much as it does men."

"Yeah, I know," Mia laughed. "They act like it hurts worse, though."

"Okay, let’s get this straight," Ryan said, shaking her head to order her jumbled thoughts. "You and my rock-headed brother just had to have sex last night. Neither of you had any condoms, but that didn’t stop you. So you rifle through my stuff and find some old condoms in my toy bag which you then proceed to use."

"That’s right so far," Mia agreed.

"One of the condoms breaks, and you, of course, blame me."

"Right again," Mia nodded, pleased that Ryan was finally catching on.

"What was Conor’s reaction to this?" Ryan asked, assuming that Conor had freaked.

"Mmm, he was okay," Mia revealed. "He swore that he’d been tested for AIDS last year, and that he always used a condom."

"He’d better," Ryan muttered to herself.

"I’m sure he would have been a little more upset if I had told him that I didn’t use any other form of birth control," the smaller woman muttered, getting to the heart of the issue.

Ryan’s face blanched as her head started to shake. "So, you not only had unprotected sex, but you might be pregnant."

"No shit!" Mia moaned. "Why do you think I’m so upset?"

"Get your stuff," Ryan decreed, rising to fetch her backpack.

"Where are we going?" Mia cried, rushing to keep up with the long-legged woman.

"We’re going to the doctor. Your choice between University Health Services and your private doctor."

"I have a private one, but she’s in Palo Alto."

Ryan rolled her eyes, decreeing, "UHS it is. Let’s go. I’m too young to be an aunt."

* * * * * * * * * * *

For some strange reason the wait was not interminable, and Mia’s name was called fairly quickly. "Okay," she said as she got up. "Tell me again what I want?"

"Do you want me to come in with you?" Ryan asked, not really looking forward to the experience, but wanting to make sure that Mia was properly taken care of.

"Will you?" For the first time, the warm brown eyes looked at Ryan with a hint of fear.

"Sure. I’d be happy to," she assured her, getting up and sliding an arm around the smaller woman’s shoulders.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"All right, Ms. Christopher, what can we do for you today?" the nurse practitioner asked as she slipped into the room. Mia was partially covered in a drab green paper gown, leaving at least half of her body exposed to the chill of the air conditioning that the conveniently located blower rained down on her.

She looked up at Ryan, once again looking rather afraid.

Taking over, the tall woman explained, "My friend here had unprotected sex last night, and she’s not taking birth control."

"Oh, I see," the nurse said slowly, her brow furrowing. "You do know the dangers of unprotected sex, don’t you, Ms. Christopher?"

"Yes, of course I do," Mia insisted. "I did my part," she said, her normal attitude back in place. "It’s her condom that broke." She was now glaring at Ryan, and the nurse turned to look at Ryan with a puzzled expression.

"Long story. Germane to nothing," she said, in her usual shorthand style. "Can you prescribe the morning after pill for my friend?" she asked, getting down to business.

"Of course," the woman replied. "Where are you in your cycle?"

"Right smack in the middle of it," Mia muttered, having worked out the math all morning long. She was by now all too well aware that she was at her most fertile.

"I’ll need to do a pelvic exam first, to make sure you’re not pregnant," the nurse insisted.

"I’m not," Mia maintained. "I haven’t had sex with a guy in three months."

"Just lie back," the nurse insisted, not swayed by Mia’s declaration. "Put your feet in the stirrups and slide down towards me please."

Shooting Ryan a venomous look, the irate woman did so, while Ryan judiciously focused her attention elsewhere.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"What is this stuff again?" Mia asked as she swallowed the two small pills the nurse had given her.

"It’s a higher dose of the normal birth control pill," Ryan explained once again, trying to be patient with her flustered friend. "It helps delay the release of the ovum, and it slightly disrupts the development of the uterine lining. It’s perfectly safe, Mia. Much safer than pregnancy," Ryan intoned somberly.

Mia sighed and rested her head against Ryan’s chest. "Can I have a hug?" she asked softly.

Ryan immediately wrapped her arms around her friend’s shivering body. "You’re chilled," she said softly, tightening her hold.

"Jamie’s right," Mia murmured. "It feels really safe in here." She nuzzled her face against Ryan for just a minute more, finally pulling back and tilting her chin up for a kiss, which Ryan gladly delivered. "Thanks for taking care of me," she said, a definite slump in her posture. "I never thought I’d be having an abortion, but here I am."

"No, no, no, Mia," Ryan insisted, grasping her shoulders to force eye contact. "This is not an abortion. This prevents the release of the egg. No egg—no pregnancy. Trust me on this, Mia. I wouldn’t lie to you about something this important."

"I do trust you, Ryan. I just don’t know much about this stuff. That’s why I was on the Depo-Provera shot for a long time. I just didn’t want to think about any of this."

"Why did you go off it? You really should have some form of back-up birth control, Mia. Condoms are just not fool-proof enough."

"Ya think?" she asked dryly. "I’ll probably go on the pill or something reliable like that. I was on Depo from the time I was in high school, but I hadn’t had a period in almost five years because of it, and my doctor thought I should go off of it for a while. Since I’m not dating anybody, it seemed like a good time, so I had my last shot in April. I just got my first period last month."

"Lucky you," Ryan chuckled.

"Yeah, timing is everything, huh?"

"I’ll say."

"So I don’t have anything to worry about, huh? You’re sure I won’t get pregnant?"

"Very, very unlikely," Ryan assured her. "Less than a five percent chance when you take the pills properly if you take them less than 24 hours after intercourse."

"Thanks, Pal," Mia said again. "I am SO not ready to be a mommy."

Ryan slid an arm around her again, and gave her a gentle hug. "Maybe not, but I’d kinda like to have you as a sister-in-law."

"Maybe someday," Mia smiled. "Far…far…far…in the future."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When they returned from the doctor, Mia announced that she was heading out to attend her afternoon classes, but Ryan shot her a warning glance. The nurse told you that you might be nauseous, Mia. You might want to stick close to home."

The curly-haired brunette looked at her for a minute and said, "I’ve skipped this class twice already, and I only get four cuts. I think I’ve got to go."

Ryan nodded and offered, "If you start to feel bad, call me and I’ll come pick you up. I know some women don’t have much reaction to the pills, but some get very ill. I don’t want you walking home if you’re sick."

"Will do. Thanks again for taking care of me, Ryan. You’re a good bud."

When Mia left Ryan collapsed on the sofa in the living room, desperately needing a nap. The ringing phone woke her moments after she fell asleep and she answered groggily, "H’lo?"

"Ryan dear, it’s Aunt Maeve. I thought I’d come see how you’re doing if you’re up to a visitor."

"Oh…sure. Um…I’m probably just going to sleep, but you know you’re always welcome, Aunt Maeve."

"All right, Love. I’ll be over in a bit."

"I’ll leave the front door unlocked."

Maeve arrived mid-afternoon, carrying some of her homemade chicken soup. Luckily she used the correct kind of egg noodles, having learned the recipe from her mother just as Fionnuala had. Ryan had not yet had lunch yet since she had spent the better part of mid-day with Mia, and she dug into the soup with gusto while Maeve entertained her with news of Caitlin, who had pleased her father by finally uttering "Da Da" in a clear voice that morning before he left for work. Ryan kept her secret about the earlier utterance of the word, having decided that Tommy should always assume that Caitlin reserved that honorific for him alone.

After lunch they went into the living room to chat for a while. Ryan's energy soon began to wane; Maeve noticed that she was fading fast, so she scooted down to the end of the sofa and patted her lap. "Down you go," she instructed as Ryan shot her a childlike grin and took her up on her offer. One of her favorite memories of the years immediately following her mother’s death was of lying on a sofa or a bed while her aunt rubbed her head. It had become a calming ritual for both of them and Ryan occasionally wished that they still had that loving contact, but it was hard to ask your aunt to rub your head when you were 23 years old. Still, if she offered…

As her head hit her aunt's lap, her eyes closed and she let herself just soak up the warm feelings flowing over her. Maeve began to run her fingers lightly through Ryan’s dark hair, ruffling it with each pass. "I like what you’ve done to your hair, Sweetheart. It’s a very becoming style for you."

"I wasn’t ready to ditch the bangs, but the guy Jamie takes me to won’t cut them anymore, so I guess they’re gone for good," she said with a little shrug.

"You’re very happy together, aren’t you, Ryan?"

She looked up at her aunt with a confident smile as she said, "Yeah, I am. I’m not sure Jamie’s happy with me right now, but I’m happier than I ever thought possible. Jamie is everything I could ever want in a partner, and I know we’ll be together for the rest of our lives."

"Well, well," she said fondly, fluffing Ryan’s hair, "I knew you were over the moon, but I didn’t realize you were permanently committed to each other."

"If we could get married, I’d do so tomorrow," she said.

"I’m so sorry that you can’t," Maeve whispered. "It just breaks my heart that people are so narrow-minded towards love."

"Thanks, Aunt Maeve. It really helps to have the family support our love. That’s easily as good as having the state recognize us."

Maeve looked down on her niece as she continued to massage her scalp. "Your mother would be mad for Jamie, you know."

"Do you really think so?" Ryan asked with just a touch of hesitation. "I mean, I know how lovable Jamie is, but I’ve thought maybe Mama would have some issues about me giving my heart away."

"I don’t think so, Dear. Your mother was most concerned about raising adults, not children. She used to make me laugh when she would say that people should put things in perspective by looking at their children as men and women rather than boys and girls. She wanted nothing more than for each of you to find a mate and build your own lives. And she loved your father so much that I think she wanted to have him all to herself once you were all grown and gone." Her voice caught on this last sentence, and Ryan looked up through her own misty eyes to catch the tears running down her aunt’s cheeks.

"You miss her a lot, don’t you?" Ryan said softly.

"I think of her every day, Siobhán," Maeve said, reverting to the name her sister had so loved. "And I see her in you so clearly sometimes that it takes my breath away."

"Do you really?" Ryan asked, totally charmed by this revelation. "You’ve never said that before."

"I must admit it’s been happening much more since Jamie’s come into your life, Dear. You’ve just become so much softer and more vulnerable since you’ve fallen in love. And that’s the part of you that’s like my little sister."

"That’s how I remember her," Ryan admitted. "When I think of her, I can just feel a warmth and a softness that feels like it envelops me. Does that make sense?"

"Yes, it truly does," she agreed. "Oh, she was a feisty one, too, don’t get me wrong. But warmth and gentleness just flowed from her when she was with you and the boys." She looked down on her niece with affection as she revealed, "I still remember the day she said she prayed that some day you’d find someone to love you as much as she did." She brought her fingers to her mouth and kissed them lightly, then placed them on Ryan’s cheek. "I’m so happy that you’ve made her wish come true."

Ryan let her tears come unrestrained upon hearing this. She cried for a long while as Maeve continued to stroke her hair and face, tenderly comforting her.

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

At 6:30 Jamie opened the front door to see Maeve holding up a finger to her lips, indicating that Jamie should be quiet. She silently closed the door and tiptoed over to the sofa, feeling a swell of emotion as she saw her lover curled up in her aunt’s lap. She looked so young and innocent, with such a guileless look on her face, that Jamie could actually see the young child in her. As usual, Ryan’s internal radar alerted her to Jamie’s presence and she blinked her eyes open a few minutes after she arrived. She sweetly looked up at her aunt as she asked, "How long was I asleep?"

"About two hours, Love."

"Two hours! You must be stiff from sitting in one position for so long. You didn’t have to let me sleep like that, Aunt Maeve!"

"It was nothing but pleasure for me, Sweetheart. I miss having you sleep in my arms; it’s been a long while."

Ryan gave her a crooked grin as she stayed right where she was. "I miss it too," she admitted. "I get to sleep on Jamie’s lap, but it’s not the same." Jamie had perched on the arm of the sofa and she brought her hand down to brush the hair from Ryan’s face as she continued. "There’s something about Jamie that feels decided un-maternal," she teased as she caught her gaze.

"Lucky for you," the blonde pointed out as she lightly ruffled her hair.

Ryan tossed her legs to the floor and stretched a bit before she got up and went over to hug her partner. "Mad at me?" she whispered softly.

"Of course not. You’re justifiably disappointed, Ryan. You’re just taking out your frustrations on me."

"Yeah, that’s it," Ryan agreed, not mentioning the fact that she had nearly passed out from exhaustion after just sitting in the doctor’s office for an hour. "You were right, as usual, Babe. I’m not up to playing yet."

Maeve stood up and did her own little stretch as she announced, "I’d better get moving if I want to beat the traffic."

"It’s too late for that, Maeve, why don’t you stay for dinner?" Jamie asked.

"Are you sure it’s no bother?"

"You couldn’t be a bother if you tried," Ryan said sincerely as she bent over to give her a gentle hug.

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

Ryan sat in the kitchen since she was still under Jamie’s orders to rest, but Maeve was allowed to help with the meal preparation. Jamie put her in charge of making a salad while she prepared one of Ryan’s favorite risottos. It took a long spell of constant stirring to render the rice tender enough, and while they were waiting Jamie took Ryan’s temperature once again, pleased when it finally read 98.6. "If it’s normal in the morning, you can go to school," Jamie announced, drawing a slightly worried look from her partner.

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

Jamie knew that Ryan was nearly healed when she insisted on going for a walk after Maeve departed. They stayed very close to home, but they managed to circle the block four times before she called it a night.

Once in bed, Ryan revealed her fears, "That last block seemed two times longer than the one before, Jamie. I’m worried that I’m not going to be able to stay in class all day." She hit her pillow in frustration. "This is so hard for me to tolerate! My body’s never betrayed me like this!"

"I know, Love, I know," she soothed, drawing Ryan close and patting her gently. "I’m just begging you to take it easy, Ryan. It’s better to take it slow than to have a relapse and miss another week, isn’t it?"

"I guess," she agreed. "It’s just so much more understandable when you’ve got a broken leg or a torn muscle. It sounds so lame to miss four games with the flu." She said "flu" with the same inflection she would have used for "chapped lips" as an excuse.

"The flu has probably killed more people worldwide than most other diseases, Ryan. It’s a very serious illness."

"I know that, Jamie," she said softly. "My grandfather lost both of his parents, and my grandmother lost a baby brother, to the worldwide epidemic in 1916."

Jamie sat up in alarm, "My God, Ryan, why didn’t you say something! That’s absolutely horrible!"

"I know," she said quietly. "I think that’s why I freaked out when you first told me that’s what I had. My Granny told me that her little brother was fine one day, and dead the next." She shivered noticeably as she added, "Sometimes she doesn’t use good judgment in what she tells kids. I’m never going to let her be alone with our babies."

Jamie was even more shocked by this announcement. She knew that Ryan had a rather stormy relationship with her grandmother, but she didn’t have any idea that she didn’t trust her. "I didn’t realize…" she began, but Ryan elaborated.

"She’s a good woman, Jamie, but she’s harsh. She had a very tough life, and she thinks it’s fine to tell kids about all the horrors of it, no matter how young they are. I think she thinks it will toughen them up." Ryan snuggled close and said, "I want our babies to think the world is a safe and gentle place until they absolutely have to be exposed to the realities of life."

"I want that too," Jamie whispered, wishing that she could do the same for her precious partner.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan didn’t even ask if she could attend the volleyball game on Wednesday night, Jamie had a very good indication of how much energy her day at school had demanded. She tucked her into bed at eight o’clock and went back downstairs to study a bit.

Mia came home at ten and collapsed against Jamie in an exaggerated mock faint, moaning, "Can you believe what happened with Conor and me?"

Using every available muscle to keep her friend from dropping to the floor, Jamie laughed, saying, "What are you talking about? What happened?"

Mia found her feet and ran a hand through her disordered curls, gazing questioningly at Jamie. "Ryan didn’t tell you?"

"Tell me what?" the blonde asked once again.

"About me thinking I might be pregnant."

"WHAT? God, Mia, are you serious?"

"Wait a minute," the curly-haired woman ordered. "Just wait a minute. Your lover thinks that her brother might have gotten me pregnant, and she doesn’t even mention it to you? Jesus, I guess that shows me where I fall in the food chain! I don’t even merit a footnote!"

"No, no, that’s not it," Jamie sighed, rolling her eyes. "Ryan never, and I do mean never, talks about other people. No matter how much she wants to. I didn’t even know that you slept with Conor."

Mia’s big brown eyes blinked slowly, trying to determine when Jamie was going to get to the punch line. "You’re kidding, right?" she finally gasped.

"Nope. I wish I was. It drives me absolutely stark raving mad sometimes, but it’s the God’s honest truth. Telling her something is like putting it in the vault."

"That’s sick!" Mia cried. "What fun is that?"

"Not much," Jamie agreed. "It’s really hard for her sometimes because she can’t vent to other people when something’s bothering her. But even if she really, really wants to tell, she won’t."

"Damn, that’s either really noble or…or…I don’t even know what that is!"

"Let’s get back to the topic here. What in the hell were you doing sleeping with Conor without protection? Are you nuts?"

"No, I thought I had protection," she insisted. "Those condoms Ryan had in her sex toy bag were ancient!"

"She has condoms?" Jamie gaped.

"Dozens of ‘em," Mia insisted. "Don’t you use ‘em?"

"Are you sure you’ve slept with women, Mia? They don’t have parts that condoms fit over."

"Uh-huh," Mia laughed, this time absolutely certain that Jamie was toying with her. "You never fail to crack me up, James."

Jamie was not going to let Mia know that she had no idea what she was talking about, so she just smiled enigmatically and reminded her to finish her story. "So what happened after the condom broke?"

"Well, as you know, I’m not using any other form of birth control. Luckily, your girlfriend understands reproduction better than I do, and she took me to University Health Services to get me the morning after pill." She paused for a moment and looked over at Jamie thoughtfully. "She was really wonderful, James. Really concerned about my feelings…she even held me when I was scared." Shaking her head slowly she added, "She’s a very good person."

"She is," Jamie agreed.

"So how did the little lame princess take to having to miss another game tonight?" Mia asked, trying to switch to brighter topics.

"She was okay today, but she’s still pretty volatile. She just seems so frustrated, Mia. I really feel bad for her."

Patting Jamie’s knee gently, Mia asked, "How about you, Babe? Aren’t you getting a little…frustrated?"

"Huh? Oh…" she said, comprehension dawning. "No, not at all, really. I haven’t even considered sex since she’s been ill. My sex drive isn’t that strong on its own. It’s my interactions with Ryan that get my motor running, and she’s not giving off any sexual vibes at all." Jamie paused thoughtfully as she considered, "I actually feel more maternal towards her these days. Funny," she added as she shook her head.

Mia gave her a long look and asked, "So what’s it like, James? Being committed to a woman, I mean."

"Uhh...I’m not sure what you mean, Mia."

"Well, you’ve been committed to a guy, and now you’re committed to a woman. What’s the difference?"

"Eh…I’m not sure I’m the one to ask," she said. "I think a real bisexual could give you a more accurate depiction of the differences."

"Um…what are you?" Mia asked carefully. "I kinda thought that…"

"Nope," Jamie said. "It hit me when I was in Rhode Island. I’m a true blue lesbian, Mia. I just didn’t know it until I met Ryan."

"Wow! That’s a switch! How do you feel about that, James?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "It’s weird, Mia, but it’s no big deal. I don’t think I even remembered to tell Ryan about my revelation. It just felt right when I told my cousin."

"Weird," she agreed. "You know, there’s a part of me that envies you, James. Sometimes I wish I could go lesbian." She shuddered as she added, "Especially after what happened on Monday night. I would love never to have to worry about birth control again."

"You know," Jamie said thoughtfully, "guys will never be able to understand women fully until they know what it’s like to have to have that low-level fear of pregnancy every time you have sex. Even on the pill it was always on my mind. Jack thought I was nuts, but having that worry get all mixed up with sex is really tough on the old libido. I feel so free with Ryan. Like we can do it whenever, wherever we want and never have to worry if we missed a pill or don’t have condoms with us."

"God, I would love that," Mia moaned. "I just can’t imagine never having my hands on another…" She shot Jamie a look and said, "You probably don’t want to hear me wax poetic about the beauty of penises, do you?"

"No," Jamie agreed. "I never really loved the little things myself. Too temperamental."

"Yeah, they can be," Mia agreed. "But when a guy really knows how to use it…like Conor," she added teasingly, "it can make up for a boatload of problems."

Jamie squirmed in her seat, not wanting to pry, but fascinated to hear a little bit about Mia’s experience. "So, um…he was really good?"

Mia dramatically faked a swoon, fanning herself with both hands. "He could do that for a living and make a fortune! By far, without a doubt, the best sex I’ve ever had with a man."

"What makes him so good?" Jamie asked quizzically.

"Hmm…what was it," Mia mused thoughtfully. "Well, technically, he was the perfect size…" She held her hands up, trying to approximate Conor’s proportions, but Jamie’s hand shot out to grab her friend’s wrist to prevent the demonstration.

"Generalities, Mia, please, no specifics. I have to look at him over breakfast on the weekends."

"Okay, suit yourself," she agreed, dropping her hands. She sighed heavily and cocked her head as she said, "Maybe it’s because he’s older than the guys I normally go out with, but he wasn’t focused only on himself. He was just so present," she mused. "It’s hard to convey, but I felt like I really knew him." She shivered a little as she said, "That’s never happened to me before, James. It was our first time, but it felt like something we’d been sharing for years. This might sound funny, but he made me feel beautiful, and incredibly sexy."

Jamie snaked an arm around her back and gave her a gentle squeeze. "Must be genetic," she chuckled, "’cause that’s just how his baby sister makes me feel--like I’m the most beautiful woman on earth, and that she loves the very ground I walk on."

"You’re a lucky woman, James. That face, that body, and to feel like that when she loves you. Whew! And to have it all in a package that doesn’t spew semen…wow!"

"Well, that’s not the most elegant way I’ve heard it put, but you’re right. I am incredibly lucky. And getting enough semen to have a baby when we want one won’t be a problem with that raft of brothers and cousins. She’s truly the ideal woman."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Rescued any fair maidens today, or is that a Monday, Wednesday, Friday

thing?" Jamie asked when Ryan awoke as she joined her in their bed.

Ryan blinked groggily for a moment, then yawned loudly and stretched. "Mia told you, huh?"

"Yesssss. You sure as heck didn’t."

"We’re not going to go into this again, are we?" Ryan’s body had grown noticeably stiffer, and she was clearly preparing for a fight.

"No, Love," Jamie soothed, giving her back a little scratch. "I’m proud of you." She tucked her body into Ryan’s, enjoying the feeling of being completely enveloped.

"Proud? Why?"

"The fact that you’re so honorable is really something to admire, Honey. I’m surprised at myself for not being able to see this earlier."

"Thanks," Ryan whispered. "That really makes me feel good."

Jamie started to rub her partner’s back, and the taller woman was nearly asleep when Jamie remembered something Mia had mentioned. "Honey?"

"Yeah?" Her voice was slow and soft, but alert, so Jamie continued.

"Why on earth do you have a bunch of condoms in your little bag of tricks?"

Ryan rolled onto her side and braced her dark head on her hand. A playful smile brightened her face and she lifted one eyebrow as she asked, "Do you really not know, or are you playing with me?"

"Um…if I say I’m playing, will you still tell me?" she asked, flushing a little. "I hate being such an innocent."

"How much or how little experience you have is nothing to be proud of or embarrassed by," Ryan said softly. "I’m really glad that you don’t have a raft of lovers that made you cavalier about, or disenchanted with, sex."

"You’re not that way," Jamie insisted, her eyes grown wide.

"No, I’m not. I’m a natural optimist. But I’ve been with people who were so cold and distant about the act." She shivered roughly and shook her head, "Nasty stuff."

"The condoms?" Jamie reminded her gently.

"Oh, right," Ryan smiled. "I was thinking about one of the first people that I used a condom with. Got carried away on a memory for a second." She looked up at Jamie and explained, "I used condoms on sex toys so they could be reused. It’s easier to remove a condom and slip another on than having to get up and clean a toy with a bleach solution." Popping her eyebrows she added, "Romantic, huh?"

Jamie patted her idly, her attention on the far wall as she thought about Ryan’s explanation. "So you’d use a toy on someone, then throw the condom away so it’d be nice an clean later on if you wanted to use it on her again, huh?"

"Well, more likely so that she could use it on me," Ryan said, thinking the answer obvious.

For some reason, that brought Jamie up short. She sat up a little straighter and said, "Women used toys on you?"

"Well, yeah," Ryan chuckled. "I wasn’t just performing a public service. I liked to receive pleasure, too."

Now a furrow had formed between Jamie’s eyebrows. "I know that," she mused, "it just never occurred to me that you’d be on the receiving end of one of those big things." She turned to face Ryan with a puzzled frown. "I just see you um…wearing one."

"Ahh…," Ryan nodded, thinking back to the assortment of toys that she had exposed Jamie to at Good Vibrations. "If we’re talking about strap-ons, I’d say that your guess was right. I was usually driving," she grinned. "At least, that’s the way it was as I got older. I had to know and trust a woman before I’d allow myself to be that vulnerable."

"But not when you were younger?"

"No. When I was first coming out, I was so green that I’d do whatever someone suggested," she admitted. "You’ve gotta remember, Jamie, that I was in a really bad place at first. I didn’t know any lesbians my age, and I was hanging out with some pretty rough trade."

The blonde woman shook her head, musing, "I’ve never understood how you got away with that. Your father and your brothers are so protective of you. Didn’t they notice you sneaking into the house in the middle of the night?"

"Nope. I never got caught. One advantage of having a separate entrance to my room," she added with a wink. "As long as I was home for breakfast, no one was the wiser. I had some fake ID’s that Dermot got for me, and I’d wait until Da was away, or in bed, and sneak off to a bar."

"We’re having boys," Jamie pledged once again, patting her partner’s cheek. Giving Ryan a thoughtful look she asked, "Were you ever scared?"

"Oh, yeah! I was terrified sometimes." She shook her head, a somber look on her face. "It was not a nice way to come out, Jamie. Even though I had ID, it was damned obvious that I wasn’t of age. It was also pretty obvious that I’d go home with anyone who asked," she admitted. "Some of the women that approached me were really nice, but a few were kinda scary."

Concern flooded the green eyes that locked upon Ryan’s, and her hand reached out to brush her bangs from her eyes. "Did anyone ever hurt you?"

"No, not really," Ryan shook her head. "I was often a little sore, and frequently embarrassed by my naïveté, but no one ever really hurt me."

"Embarrassed? How were you embarrassed?"

Ryan chuckled softly and recounted, "When you asked me about the condoms I was thinking about the first time a woman used a strap-on on me. I was a raw beginner," she smiled, "and I’d never even seen one, much less had one inside me. I’m sure I would have screamed if I had seen her coming, but thankfully she had me bent over a couch in her living room, so I was spared that little bit of humiliation."

Jamie closed her eyes briefly and patted her partner’s back, wishing that she hadn’t been so rudely initiated into the world of lesbian sex.

"This woman was pretty tough looking," Ryan recalled. "Full leathers, tattoos, the whole bit. She was pretty gruff—not a lot of talking going on, she didn’t even ask my name, but it was pretty exciting at the same time. Everything was going well until she leans over my back and starts to put this thing into me." Ryan shivered in memory as she said, "It really wasn’t that big, but I was shocked! I let out this startled yelp and she backed off immediately, much to my surprise. She spent some time trying to relax me, and encourage me, and finally got me excited enough so that it wasn’t painful any more."

Jamie’s head was still shaking slowly, wishing she could turn back time to provide Ryan with a young partner to experiment with at her own pace.

Ryan caught the look on her face and said, "It’s okay, Jamie. This isn’t a painful memory, it’s a funny one."

With a sad smile, Jamie said, "It’s not funny to me, Sweetheart. It makes me ache for you."

Ryan gave her a genuine grin and said, "I haven’t gotten to the funny part yet."

"It’s gonna be tough to pull this out of the melancholy pile, but give it a go," Jamie said with an indulgent smile.

"Okay, here goes. Working with me and helping me relax obviously excited her a lot, and as she started to really get into it. She stood up a little and clamped onto my shoulder, then started to slap my ass—hard—on every stroke."

"Not funny," Jamie informed her, giving immediate feedback on the story.

"Hold on," Ryan smiled. "So she’s really going at it, and I kinda liked it, but the slapping was a little much. Then she really starts to get wild, and every time she slaps me she demands, ‘Who’s your daddy? Who’s your daddy?’ "

Jamie’s eyes were wide and Ryan nodded enthusiastically. "That’s just what I thought!" she cried. "By this time I was totally out of the mood, and all I could think about was how much my ass hurt! It started to feel more like an interrogation than sex, and after a while I figured she’d never stop if I didn’t answer her!"

"You didn’t!" Jamie began to laugh and by the time Ryan got to the punch line, she was rolling on the bed, holding her sides.

"I most certainly did," Ryan said through her own laughter. "I called out, ‘Martin O’Flaherty is my daddy!’ "

Jamie’s legs were kicking into the air as she howled with laughter. "My God! What did she do?"

Ryan wiped away the tears that were rolling down her cheeks and related, "She was really a pro, ‘cause she didn’t let my little outburst break her concentration. She actually paused just a second, gripped my shoulders hard and said, ‘Whatever,’ then went right back to it. I finally figured out the game, and I faked a massive orgasm just to make her stop!"

"My God, Ryan, that’s the funniest damn story I’ve ever heard. I can just see your sweet, earnest face—trying to get the answer right!"

"Yeah, they never prepared me for that kinda pop quiz at Sacred Heart. Jeez! I thought the nuns were tough!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Mia, Conor’s here," Jamie called up the stairs when her brother-in-law arrived to escort Mia to dinner on Thursday evening.

"Be right down," she yelled back.

Conor followed Jamie into the kitchen, idly watching her prepare dinner.

Mia came down the stairs and poked her head into the kitchen, spending a moment observing Conor before he saw her. Jesus, he’s a fine looking man, she thought, feeling her heart start to race just from his presence. One of the things she found particularly attractive was Conor’s stylish dress. When she had learned he was a carpenter she assumed he’d be in jeans and a flannel shirt all of the time, but that was exactly the opposite of the truth.

Conor did dress comfortably when he was at home or work, but when he had a date he looked like a model for GQ magazine. He actually dressed a little gay, but Mia absolutely loved the look of a massive, testosterone laden man who wasn’t afraid to look very stylish. Today he wore a skin-tight pink short sleeved shirt, the snug sleeves straining over his hard biceps, and a pair of shiny gray slacks, both pieces made with a good deal of nylon or Lycra in them so that the fabric clung to his beautifully built body.

Gotta love a man that’s not afraid to wear pink, she decided, wiping her slightly sweaty hands on her dress as she put her confident face on and went to meet her date.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Conor and Mia returned just as Ryan and Jamie finished dinner, Jamie's adventurous recipe taking much longer to prepare than she had expected. Ryan and Jamie were in the kitchen, and when Jamie went out to bring in another load of dishes she blinked and went right back in. "Whew!" she said fanning herself rapidly. "Got some hot action going on in the living room!"

"Great," Ryan moaned. "We’ve got a dining room full of dirty dishes and we have to disturb them just to bring the stuff in."

"Oh, it’s no bother. We can get it tomorrow. You probably need your rest anyway."

"I feel good," Ryan decided. "I feel more like myself that I have in almost two weeks now. I still have a little energy left."

Another peek out the kitchen door showed that the heat had risen a little bit in the living room. Jamie approached and slipped her hands behind Ryan’s neck, pulling her down for a very friendly kiss. "You should give that boy some tips," she insisted. "You were much more subtle when you were in action. I still remember you sitting on the edge of your desk in our psych class, nearly looking bored as woman after woman approached you. You honestly looked like it didn’t matter to you one way or the other if they spoke to you, but those blue eyes just pulled those women in like you’d stuck a hook in their mouths."

Ryan tilted her head in thought, acting like an idea had just occurred to her. "You know, for a straight girl, you sure were observant. Were you always so interested in your classmates?"

"Funny, very funny, Tiger. You know full well that I was hooked on you from the first day. I wanted to knock those other girls aside and climb those long, crossed legs. I had a mental image that occurred with shocking frequency," she revealed, a flush coloring her cheeks. "I’d see you sitting there, with that confident posture, and I’d imagine myself shimmying up your legs until I was wrapped around your waist. I don’t know why or how I knew this, since I had never done anything like that before, but I somehow knew that I needed to grind myself into you…hard." She said this last word with every bit of her considerable sex appeal, her eyes narrowed, burning into Ryan with a tremendous intensity.

Ryan’s eyes were wide, and she fanned herself rapidly. "Oh my!" she said in her best southern drawl. "Such thoughts from a fine young lady."

Jamie advanced on her, pushing her until the backs of her legs were pressed up against the heavy kitchen table. "I think I’ve earned a chance at making that fantasy real, don’t you, Sport?"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Some time later, Mia pulled her mouth away from Conor’s questing tongue as she murmured, "What in the heck are those two doing in there?"

"Mmm," he moaned, his eyes glassy and unfocused. "Moving furniture, I guess. Can’t say that I really care."

"Good point," Mia agreed, allowing her eyelids to flutter closed as the warm mouth settled upon hers once again. A flurry of activity caused her to spare a quick glance at her roommates, who were scampering across the living room toward the stairs. Ryan looked like she’d been wrestling a tomcat—face flushed, shirt seriously askew, hair severely tangled. Jamie led the way, tugging at her impatiently. The smaller woman was holding her slacks up with her spare hand, and her face was even more flushed than her partner’s.

As they rounded the corner to climb the stairs, Ryan met Mia’s gaze and waved weakly before she was bodily pulled along by her impatient lover. "Some people," Mia scoffed self-righteously. "No self control!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Do you want me to stay over?" Conor asked, when he and Mia were alone.

"Sure, if you want," she said, wanting him to stay, but not wanting him to get the wrong idea. "I’m really enjoying kissing you," she insisted, adding another sweet kiss to his grinning lips, "but I’m not in the mood for sex, so if that’s your main reason for staying…" she trailed off.

"Already?" he laughed gently, teasing her slightly swollen lips with the tip of his finger. "It usually takes three or four times with me for a woman to be completely turned off."

She snuggled against him, his muscular body making her feel positively dwarfed. Looking up into his vivid blue eyes she shook her head slowly, giving him a gentle smile. "I’m a long way from turned off, Conor. I just got my period tonight, and I’m feeling kinda yucky."

His large, warm hands slipped down to cup her hips as he pulled her close. "Make you a deal," he offered. "You give me a rain check for sex, and I’ll give you a nice backrub."

"Make it a tummy rub and you’ve got a deal," she decided, enormously pleased that he was so easygoing about being turned down.

His answer was to start unbuttoning his shirt, her eyes locked onto his chest as his sculpted pecs came into view.

Taking his hand, she led the way to her bedroom, and smiled at him as she started to remove her own clothes, feeling oddly comfortable with this relative stranger. "Um…I didn’t tell you this on Monday," she began, deciding to be completely honest with him, "but I was really freaked out when that condom broke." He looked up in surprise, and she added, "I wasn’t using any other birth control that night."

His slacks were just halfway down his long, muscular legs, and they remained right there as he sank onto her desk chair, all of the blood draining out of his handsome face. "You…what?" he gaped.

"I wasn’t prepared," she said rather weakly. "I’m going to get on the pill, but I wasn’t at the time. I’m sorry, Conor, I know it was irresponsible of me."

He blinked slowly, shook his dark head a few times and tried to make his mouth move, but he was largely unsuccessful. She came over and sat on one strong leg, liking the way the muscular thigh felt against her bare skin. "Are you okay?" she asked draping an arm around his back. "I’m sure I’m not pregnant, Conor. I took the morning after pill, and I just got my period, so I’m sure I’m okay."

"I’m fine," he said, taking in a deep breath. "It’s been a very long time," he whispered. "I uh…forgot what that felt like."

"When did it happen before?" Mia asked, interested in learning about the experiences that had formed Conor.

"I was 21," he said thoughtfully. "My girlfriend missed her period, and we were panicked. It was a very, very tense week. My whole life flashed before my eyes."

"I’m really sorry if this scared you like that," she whispered, placing a gentle kiss on his cheek.

He looked up at her. "You know, it didn’t," he decided. "I’m at a different place in my life now. It wouldn’t be the end of the world for me, like it was then."

"Huh?" she said, her mouth gaping open. "You’d want to what…get married?"

"Yeah. Why not?" he asked, thinking that the idea didn’t really sound all that bad. "I’m 28 now, and I’m pretty close to being ready to settle down. An unplanned pregnancy might just give me the push I need." He was smiling at the thought, a little lost in his musings.

"No, no, no, no, no," Mia stammered, climbing off his lap immediately. "I’m nowhere near being ready to settle down. Jesus, Conor, I’m just 20!"

"So you would have what…had an abortion?" he asked, not liking the sound of that one bit.

"Well, I don’t know what I would have done," she allowed. "Abortion would be an option, but I guess I more likely would have had the baby and given it up for adoption."

Now he was on his feet, glaring at her with wide eyes. "You’d give my baby up for adoption? I don’t think so!"

"It’s your baby when you carry it in your uterus for nine months, Conor. Having an orgasm doesn’t give you the final vote here, ya know. I’m not ready to have a child, and I’m not going to be ready for a long, long time."

He finally allowed his brain to take in her message. "How long a time?" he asked slowly.

"I’m not sure, but I think I’d like to stay single until I’m around 30."

"Jeez, Mia, that’s nine years! I’ll be 37 then. I don’t want to wait that long to start a family!"

Realizing that something was going horribly wrong, she went to her closet and shrugged into a flannel bathrobe, suddenly feeling quite exposed. "Um, Conor?" she asked, sitting down on the bed and patting the surface so that he would join her. "I thought we were just casually dating," she said. "Do you have something more in mind?"

"Well, I don’t know," he decided, looking awkward and a little adolescent. "I hadn’t really given it a lot of thought, but when you talk about having a baby, I start to think about it, and I realize that you’re the kind of woman I’d like to be married to."

She took in a breath, letting this startling information sink in. Deciding to be completely honest she said, "You’re the kinda guy I’d like to be married to," she agreed, placing her hand on his impossibly hard triceps. "In about ten years." Her point was clear, and the determination in her brown eyes made it obvious that it wasn’t up for further discussion.

"So, you’re only interested if this is just a casual thing, huh?" he asked softly, his eyes showing hurt.

"Yeah. That’s all that I can handle at this point in my life, Conor. I just want to play."

"I’ve been playing since I was 16," he said sadly. "I’m a little tired of it."

She scooted up behind him, wrapping her arms around his broad back. "I don’t think this is going to work out, Conor," she whispered. "Maybe we should stop before it gets complicated."

He nodded, knowing that she was right, but not wanting to give her up before they really had a chance to get started. "I guess you’re right," he said. He got up and drew back the covers, motioning for her to get in. "Let me give you that tummy rub."

She looked at him carefully, not sure if he had understood her or not.

He smiled gently and helped her to her feet, grasping the tie to her robe and unfastening it with a confident touch. Slowly sliding the soft fabric from her shoulders, he guided her to the bed.

Even though she had decided not to sleep with him, there was something so arousing about the self-assured way he was directing her that she decided she’d gladly submit to his touch one last time. She slid in between the sheets, smiling confusedly as he pulled the desk chair over and started to rub her, his large, warm, callused hand making small, soft circles on her tender belly.

"This is a freebie," he said softly, his deep honeyed voice sending chills up her spine. "I don’t want to make love to you if it can’t go on." His deep blue eyes locked onto hers as his heart clenched in pain at the sadness he felt over not being allowed to get to know her better. "It would be too hard to let you go."

"Will you hold me, Conor?" she asked hesitantly. "I feel really sad."

"Of course," he smiled, slipping into bed behind her, his strong hand continuing to knead her abdomen. "If I’m still single in nine or ten years will you give me another chance?" he whispered, his voice a little hoarse with emotion.

She placed both of her hands onto his and squeezed gently. "In a heartbeat," she promised, hoping that their romantic paths would one day cross again.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hey," Ryan said in greeting when she saw her brother sipping a cup of coffee in the kitchen just after five the next morning. "What’s going on?"

"Not much," he sighed, his gaze remaining relatively unfocused. "I have to get going, but…"

He looked so bereft that she approached him and gave him a squeeze on the shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"She doesn’t want to see me any more," he said, looking remarkably hurt.

"What? Why?" Ryan was more than a little puzzled, thinking that they had looked pretty cozy just a few hours ago.

"She’s not ready to settle down," he said glumly, his shoulders shrugging appreciably.

"And you are? Since when?"

"I don’t know," he said, his hand scrubbing at his closely cropped hair in an irritated gesture. "I just think she might have been the one, Ryan."

"The one?" she asked slowly, thinking she must still be dreaming. "THE one?"

"Yeah." He gave her a scowl, asking, "Is that impossible to believe? I can love someone too, ya know!"

"Hey, hey, don’t get mad at me. I know that you can fall in love, Conor. I just didn’t think you’d had time to do so. I mean, you basically had two dates."

"She fits, Ryan," he said slowly. "I’ve got a list, and she fits it better than any woman I’ve known."

Now thoroughly fascinated, Ryan gazed thoughtfully at her brother, placing her hand on his arm. "Tell me about your list, Conor."

He shrugged and waited a few seconds, obviously trying to determine if he should reveal something so private. He must have decided in the affirmative because he got a very thoughtful look on his face and said, "Okay. First off, she has a smokin’ hot body."

Ryan nodded, her illusions about her brother’s emotional depth flying out the window. "She does indeed. Fabulous ass," she added, just to show that she understood the depth of his loss.

"Wo!" he agreed solemnly. "It feels better than it looks, too. Second, great face. That’s a tough combo, you know. Most of the really pretty girls I’ve dated have something scary wrong with their bodies. Mia’s got the whole package."

"Nice eyes, full lips." Ryan could have gone on, but she didn’t want to compound his pain.

"Right. Third thing. She’s amazingly low maintenance. Her hair looks nice after she just runs her fingers through it a few times. Not much make-up. She looks really great, and she gets that she’s dressing for the guy, you know? I hate those women that spend hours getting ready and they don’t look one bit hotter. What’s up with that?"

"Got me," Ryan shrugged, coincidentally agreeing with her brother on this point.

"Last point—and it’s a big one," he warned. "She’s totally relaxed about sex. She acts like it’s supposed to be fun—not some big religious experience."

"Big one indeed," Ryan agreed. She shook her head slowly, sparing a sympathetic look for her brother. "I didn’t realize that Mia was four for four on your list, Conor. No wonder you’re bummed."

He gazed into her eyes, so similar to his own. "Thanks, Sis. You’re really great to talk to about this kinda stuff."

"Any time, Bro. That’s what sisters are for." Getting up to get the juice she had come down for, she wrapped her arms around him from behind and kissed his cheek. "I know she was special, but I guarantee that there’s another woman who can meet your requirements. I mean, there are two of them living in the same house, for God’s sake! How hard could it be to find another?"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part Six

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