I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 8: Honesty

By S X Meagher

Part Six

After a short talk, the coach and Jamie decided that Ryan would not be allowed to practice until the following week. Luckily Ryan accepted this decision and was content to attend the Saturday night game and sit in the stands. The five-game loss was too much for her to bear stoically and she groused about the game the entire time, not even going to the floor to speak to her teammates. Luckily, the exertion took so much out of her that she fell asleep almost as soon as they hit their room, so Jamie was spared any further complaints.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie’s first golf match was on Monday and Tuesday in Oregon, and while Ryan was heartbroken about not being able to attend, she couldn’t miss any more classes. She also thought that she would be able to practice on Monday, and there was no way that she would let the team down. On Sunday afternoon Ryan suggested they take a nap together before Jamie had to leave for her flight. Jamie was a little concerned, hoping that Ryan’s need for naps had diminished, but she accepted the offer just to be close. Even though they had been close physically during the illness, there was still something missing between them—some indefinable spark that their lovemaking provided.

She had been quite worried when even her blatant propositioning of Ryan in the kitchen a few nights earlier hadn’t resulted in sex. The tall woman had let her climb her body like a jungle gym, even managing to adopt the cool dispassionate look she used to use to lure women into her lair. But as soon as they got upstairs, Ryan had climbed into bed and drifted off before Jamie even got her teeth brushed.

Jamie knew that some intimate contact would give them a little sustenance for their separation, but she didn’t want to rush Ryan, so they took off their clothes and snuggled together for a while. She was nearly asleep when she felt a hand slowly crawling up the inside of her thigh. She turned her head and saw twinkling blue eyes framed by one raised eyebrow and a delightfully crooked grin. "You’re back," she cried as she flung her arms around Ryan’s neck and kissed her deeply.

"I am," Ryan agreed. "I might be a little rusty, but I think I remember how to do this." She slipped her hands down and cupped Jamie’s smooth cheeks, murmuring, "Everything seems to be right where I left it." As Jamie’s thigh lifted and slid around Ryan’s waist her hand snaked downward a few inches, feeling the moist humidity of her favorite spot. "Oh yeah," she whispered. "Everything seems to be in working order."

"Everything works because of your touch," Jamie said softly. "My body is so attuned to yours…sometimes it feels like we’re one."

""It feels like that to me, too," Ryan whispered. "And when you get on that plane tonight, it’s going to feel like you’re taking half of my heart with you."

"Let’s not think about that now, Sweetheart," Jamie begged, placing the tips of her fingers against Ryan’s soft lips. "Let’s just fill each other up with love. That’ll get us through the next few days."

"Your love will see me through all of the days of my life, Jamie," Ryan murmured, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "You’re the best part of me."

With a soft smile, Jamie gently corrected her, "No, you’re the best part of me."

Reaching an immediate compromise, Ryan decided, "We’re the best part of each other."

"That I can live with," Jamie agreed. She dipped her head and started to kiss her partner, working on Ryan’s mouth with an unwavering focus. The larger woman seemed lazy and lethargic in her responses, and Jamie realized that she was waiting to be seduced. Always willing to comply with Ryan’s silent requests, she changed her mindset and took the lead, glad to have the opportunity.

Ryan was naturally dominant, and she usually led the erotic dance, but occasionally she just lay back and opened herself to Jamie’s desire. It didn’t happen often--just enough to make life interesting. One of the things Jamie most appreciated about her partner was her versatility, in life and in their lovemaking, and she was grateful that Ryan encouraged her to explore every facet of her own desire.

Often when Jamie led it was because she was beside herself with need and was completely unable to control herself or wait for her partner to satisfy her. But today they were both just a little tentative, a little unsure of how to touch one another after such a long absence. It had been more than two weeks, and she thought back to their frenzied couplings after she had been in Rhode Island for just a week. Even though this was more than twice as long, she was startled to discover that she wasn’t thrumming with desire. In fact, her need was more to investigate and rediscover the pleasures of Ryan’s body, and she set out to do just that.

Shifting the taller woman onto her back, Jamie crawled up her body until their noses touched. Holding onto Ryan’s face with both of her hands, she tilted her head until her lips were just where she wanted them. She played with the deep pink flesh, trailing the tip of her tongue over them, tracing their shape, their softness. With a slight pressure on the lower lip, she bade them open, smiling gently as they did so. Her tongue slid into the warm space, and she let out a little growl as she was enveloped by the moist heat.

Ryan’s mouth felt so clean, so fresh and sweet, she was tempted to stay right where she was and just feast upon her lips until she had to leave for the airport. But her desire was beginning to grow now that she was taunting and teasing the pink flesh, and she knew she would have to put out the fire.

Wringing every bit of pleasure she could from the tender kisses, she started to move down, using her mouth to build her lover’s need. It felt like it had been a lifetime since she tasted the firm flesh that covered her neck and shoulders, and Jamie fed hungrily, trying to imprint the sensation on her tongue.

Her mouth sought out the always-alluring breasts, gasping in surprise when she could pull most of the warm flesh into her mouth, highlighting the dramatic weight loss that Ryan had suffered. Even though the volume had been reduced, the sweetness remained, thrilling Jamie to the core as she licked and sucked at the quivering mounds.

Pausing to linger at the well-defined abs, she sighed when she saw that most of the cushioning layer of flesh had disappeared, leaving a rock-hard belly that was slightly concave. Her tongue traced each depression and dip, and she smiled to herself when she noticed that Ryan was tensing the taut muscles.

Continuing to move down, she was struck with a desire and moved quickly to fulfill it. She scooted up to the head of the bed, supporting herself with a few squooshy pillows. Tugging Ryan along with her, she spread her legs and urged her lover to nestle into the space she had created for her.

When Ryan was settled against her, she spent a few moments nibbling on a tempting ear and nuzzling against the smooth neck. "I want to be able to see your body react when I touch you," she whispered. "I need to see your breathing start to increase, watch your breasts rise and fall when you cry out."

"Mmm," Ryan moaned, "you’ve never held me like this when you touch me. It feels nice…intimate."

"I feel intimate," Jamie whispered. "I want to crawl right into your skin and be a part of you."

"You are," Ryan pledged. "You are a part of me."

Jamie's hands couldn’t avoid the perfect breasts that beckoned to her, so she began to gently knead them while she continued to play with Ryan’s sensitive ears. In mere moments the dark woman was moaning softly, her head tossing back and forth against her partner’s torso. The dark hair skimmed across Jamie’s chest, the inky blackness splayed over her fair skin.

"Watch my hands," the blonde whispered. She could feel her partner take in and hold a breath as hands slid down her body, inching towards their ultimate goal. Two pairs of eyes were glued to the small hands as they found their target and Ryan’s legs reflexively spread wide to welcome them.

The breath slipped from Ryan’s lips as a sibilant hiss when two determined fingers slid into her wetness, re-igniting nerves abandoned for too long. Her hands automatically raised and latched onto Jamie’s forearms, ready to redirect her should she lose her focus.

"You feel like liquid velvet," the smaller woman sighed directly into Ryan’s ear. "I’ve missed this so very much."

"Mmmm, me too," Ryan moaned. "Oooo…I’m so sensitive…it feels like it’s been years." Her head was lolling against Jamie’s shoulder, but she couldn’t stop from staring at the hands that possessed her so completely. Seeing her lover’s hands caress and stroke her so intimately was driving her arousal, making her feel like she couldn’t hold back for long. "Almost there," she gasped out in warning.

"Relax, Baby," Jamie soothed, picking up the pace just slightly. "Just relax and let yourself go. I’ve got you."

Ryan felt herself crest and hurtle over the edge, her orgasm hitting hard as Jamie’s arms cradled her. The physical sensations pulsed and thrummed through her body for long minutes, but the emotion continued to build as she felt all of her defenses crumble as she welcomed her partner back into the place in her heart reserved especially for her.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Feeling more anxious than she could ever remember being on a golf course, Jamie tried to limber up before the start of her first intercollegiate golf match. She had slept poorly, partly from anxiety, and partly from Ryan’s absence. She wasn’t used to traveling on the economy plan and was a little surprised at their meager accommodations. The hotel was decent enough, but the sheets were rough and remarkably short for the queen sized bed. Each time she woke during the long night, her feet were completely exposed by the top sheet that refused to stay tucked in. Even the towels had been rough, as though they had been washed in strong soap with a healthy dose of bleach. Come on, Jamie, she had chided herself repeatedly. The place isn’t that bad—it’s probably as nice as any business travel place in the country. If you’re going to be a member of this team, it’s about time you learned how the other half lives. Or other ninety-nine point nine percent, as Ryan often reminded her.

She was concentrating hard on stretching out her tense back when she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. She turned, letting out a squeal of delight as she came face to face with her mother, who was grinning widely.

"Mom!" She threw her arms around the smaller woman, startling her a bit with the enthusiasm of her greeting. "God, I’m glad to see you!"

"Oh," Catherine sighed, "I was a little afraid I’d be intruding, Sweetheart. I don’t want to upset your concentration."

"No! Not at all!" Jamie cried, relieved to have some companionship. "I actually do better when someone I love watches me play." She looked a little sad as she said, "It’s been hard not to have Ryan here."

"I’m sure it has been, Sweetheart. I assume that you were even more reluctant to leave her after her illness."

"Yeah, it was tough," she admitted. "She’s better, and I’m sure she’ll be fine eventually, but this really took a lot out of her. I’m worried about her not taking care of herself while I’m gone."

"Oh, Jamie, she grew up nice and strong all on her own. I think she’ll be fine for two days."

Blushing slightly, the younger woman confessed, "I just miss her, Mom. It’s so hard to sleep without her."

An image flashed in Catherine’s mind of the many years she had shared her bed with Jim and how calming it had always felt to know that he was close by. Even when things were going poorly between them, they had often bridged some of the distance by holding each other in the night. Shaking her head to dispel the longing, she put on a bright smile for her daughter. "One more night, Dear. I know you can get through another night."

"Yeah," she smiled sheepishly. "I guess I can. Are you staying over?"

"No, Honey, I have a board meeting tomorrow that I can’t get out of. I’m taking the last flight out tonight."

"Maybe we can have dinner?"

Catherine thought about the offer for a moment, and then politely declined. "I think you should spend some time with your teammates, Honey. I’m just here to support you, not monopolize your time."

Leaning over slightly to compensate for the two-inch difference in their heights, Jamie placed gentle kisses on both of her mother’s cheeks. "You’re a very, very good mom," she said softly. "I’ve gotta go now, but I want you to know that your coming today means a lot to me."

"It means a lot to me to see you participate in something that gives you pleasure, Honey. I know you’ll do well."

Giving her a hug that squeezed most of the breath from her lungs, Jamie added another kiss and grabbed her bag to walk to the first tee.

Catherine watched her go, shaking her head in wonder as she considered the athletically built young woman. There was a confident, rolling muscularity to her stride, and that confidence extended to her carriage. She looked healthy, and happy, and quietly determined, and Catherine thanked God for allowing her to share this moment with her child.

She pulled her tiny cell phone from her purse and speed-dialed a number, waiting for the machine to pick up. "Hi, Ryan, it’s Catherine. I’m in Oregon, watching someone you love play a little golf. Call me on my cell if you’d like a live course update. Oh, and Ryan? Make sure you eat a good lunch. Jamie’s orders!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Catherine diligently walked the course, staying well in back of the foursome to remain out of Jamie’s peripheral vision. She knew what to do because she had attended most of her daughter's high school matches and Jim had advised her on the proper etiquette to allow Jamie to concentrate.

After the group finished the ninth hole, they were once again close to the clubhouse, and Catherine stopped in to buy a bottle of water. When she returned to the course, she had to rush to catch up. Cutting across an empty fairway, she saw a familiar figure half-lurking behind a pine tree. Marching up to him, she tapped her husband on the shoulder and demanded, "What are you doing here?"

"The same thing you are," he snapped, obviously miffed at having been spotted. "I’m here to support my daughter."

"Uh-huh," she said suspiciously. "Rather hard to do when you’re hiding behind trees, isn’t it?"

"Look Catherine," he said, in a tone of voice that made her name sound harsh and unattractive, "I know she doesn’t want to see me now, but someday she will. I don’t want her to look back at this time and regret that we didn’t share it. Just because she’s angry with me doesn’t stop me from trying to be a good father."

She was actually rather impressed by that statement, and she decided to be honest about her feelings. "That’s quite thoughtful of you, Jim. I hope things do work out that way and that you can someday share your pride with her."

He looked down the fairway, spotting Jamie’s compact form as he said, "She’s really something, isn’t she?"

"Yes, she is," Catherine agreed. "We’re both lucky…luckier than we deserve," she couldn’t help but add.

He looked at her for a moment, tilting his head as if he was going to ask her a question, but then he stopped and just sighed. "I want to watch her putt. This is a hole she can probably make birdie on."

"Okay," she said. "I think it’s wise not to let her see you, Jim. At this point it would probably upset her game."

His shoulders slumped perceptibly as he admitted, "I know that, Catherine." He left without saying goodbye, and she felt the same old twinge of sadness that settled over her whenever they saw each other lately. It felt like a combination of nostalgia, longing, and the stark realization that whatever they had once shared was now centered around one 21-year-old woman.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie won the match decisively, and she was ebullient when Catherine caught up with her outside the locker room. "I have to call Ryan and leave her a message," she bubbled.

"Oh, I’ve spoken to her three times already, Honey. She called me right before she left for volleyball practice. It was obvious that victory was assured at that point, and she told me to tell you that she loves you and is very proud of you."

"That is so sweet!" Once again, Jamie threw her arms around her mother, hugging her tight.

"She loves you, Dear, of course she’s proud of you."

"No! It’s so sweet that you called her to keep her informed." Giving Catherine her third rib crusher of the day she said, "I couldn’t have picked a better mother!"

At that moment, Catherine could have floated back to San Francisco, having never felt more connected to, or more proud of, her child.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As Catherine settled into her seat on the plane, the steward approached and asked, "Mrs. Evans? There seems to be a slight error with the seat assignments. It appears as though Mr. Evans is sitting in the other row. Should we move him back here?"

Marvelous! she thought, trying to refrain from rolling her eyes. Well, we don’t speak in San Francisco, maybe an enforced confinement will do the trick. "That would be lovely," she heard herself say.

As usual, Jim was the last one on the plane, and he stopped in his tracks when he saw that he was assigned the seat right next to his wife. "I thought you’d be staying over," he said, looking uncomfortable.

"No. I just wanted to be there for her first match. That was enough."

He shifted his weight from foot to foot, looking less confident than she had ever seen him. "Umm…should I ask to be moved?"

"No. I’m perfectly willing to be civil for an hour or so. How about you?"

Giving her a wry grin he advised, "I think I can handle it, Catherine. I’m paid $450 an hour to be civil to my adversaries."

"Well," she said, letting out a sigh. "I hate to think that’s my role, but if you do…"

He slipped into the spacious leather seat and gave her knee a hesitant pat. "No, I didn’t mean it that way. There’s no need for us to be adversarial."

She nodded, and turned her head slightly to gaze out the window. Lost in thought, she almost didn’t hear him say, "Do you remember the first time I took her to the golf course with me?"

A gentle, fond smile settled on her face as she asked, "That depends," she said. "Do you mean when you used to make me ride in the cart, carrying her in her infant seat? Or when you bought her first little set of clubs?"

"Oh, I wasn’t that bad," he chuckled, but quickly nodded and said, "I only took you with me a couple of times when she was an infant. I just wanted her to get a feel for the experience."

"She certainly did," Catherine said. "I can still see that determined little face all scrunched up into a scowl, trying to mimic your swing. I swear, those were the world’s tiniest golf clubs!"

"Some of my fondest memories are of the two of you, sitting on the grass, watching me warm up on the driving range." He bit his lip, looking like he was holding back tears as he choked out, "I thought we’d always be together."

She wasn’t sure if he meant him and Jamie, or the three of them, but whatever his intent, she felt a deep pang of sympathy for him. Through all of their troubles, through all of Jim’s betrayals and broken promises, there was a glimmer of love that still remained, and she let that flickering emotion show as she reached over and squeezed his hand. His head dropped to her shoulder and reflexively she reached up and smoothed her hand through his hair. They stayed that way for a long while, neither wanting to give up the tentative, fragile connection.

She continued to stroke his face as he whispered, "Will she ever forgive me, Cat? I can’t…I can’t bear it if she’ll never speak to me again."

"She’s hurt and she’s angry, Jim. But she has a very generous heart. If you can apologize and make her believe that you’ve learned that you were wrong…"

He sat up immediately, recoiling against the far corner of his chair as he said, "But I’m can’t! I’m not wrong!" He was blinking in surprise, obviously confused by her suggestion.

"You were and you are wrong, Jim. If Ryan was the worst choice in the world for her, you were still wrong. But she’s not! She’s a wonderful young woman, and if you’d only give her a chance…"

He glared at her, his lawyerly intimidation showing. "I’ll never give her a chance. She’s conniving her way into Jamie’s heart, but I will prove that she’s not who she says she is. I will prove it, Catherine!"

She leveled a gaze at him, unable to see one shred of the idealistic, earnest young man that she had married. "You will prove to Jamie that you don’t trust her or her decisions. That is all that you will prove, Jim, and if you can’t see that, we’re wasting our time discussing this."

"I should have known that she’d win you over, too." His disgust was evident as he sulked in his chair, looking more like his inner four-year-old than a man who had logged forty-six years on the planet. "I’m sure you all get along famously, don’t you, Catherine? You probably have all sorts of fun times together that only encourage Jamie!"

"Well, I certainly hope that’s true," she replied. "I have a very good time with them both. And yes, I do try to encourage Jamie to be who she is, even when it’s not my choice for her."

"So while I’m trying to make a point, to save her from making this mistake, you’re going behind my back to help her ruin her life!"

"Jim," she said as calmly as possible. "I don’t have a secret agenda. I’m not withholding things from you."

"I just bet you don’t," he snarled. "You’ve always had your secrets, Catherine. I’ve never known what’s going on in your head."

It was difficult to make Catherine lose her temper, but Jim was pushing the boundaries of her patience. During their long marriage she had almost invariably kept her opinions to herself, but she was changing and was not afraid of his censure any longer. She looked at him carefully and said, "All right, Jim, you want to know my secrets? I have one that I’ve harbored for a few years now." She leaned over until her eyes were gazing directly into his and said, "When you act like a spoiled child, I sometimes fantasize about strangling you in your sleep." She turned in her seat and got the attention of the steward, saying pointedly, "Mr. Evans would like to change seats. Can you accommodate him?"

The irate man unbuckled his seat belt and stood, not sparing another glance at his wife. As the steward directed Jim back to his previously assigned seat, he gave Catherine a sympathetic look. "Sorry," the young man mouthed, obviously having heard some of the argument.

Ahh, just what I’ve been missing in my life. Public arguments on airplanes. Could we be any more clichéd?

* * * * * * * * * * *

Catherine waited until all of the other first class passengers had exited to even stand up. She walked down the long concourse, idly contemplating the roller-coaster ride she had been on in the previous several months. There was so much noise that she almost didn’t hear her cell phone ring, but the faint sound finally reached her ears. "Hello?"

"Your ride is waiting at the arrivals level," Ryan’s smooth voice announced.

"Oh, Ryan," she said, continually amazed by the thoughtfulness of her young daughter-in-law, "you really shouldn’t have."

There was a long pause, and Catherine thought she might have lost the connection, but the voice asked quietly, "Why not? We’ve never had a member of the family take a cab or a van from the airport. Why would I treat you any differently?"

She smiled at the phone, clearly able to see the earnest young face formed into a puzzled look. "There’s not a reason in the world, Ryan," she finally said. "Yours is a family I’m proud to be a part of."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Catherine slid into the Lexus, she greeted Ryan with generous kisses to both of her grinning cheeks. "My daughter did pretty well for herself, Ryan O’Flaherty. You are a gem."

"Why, thank you, Catherine," she beamed. "Now I just have to convince your husband of that."

"That will be a longer journey," Catherine admitted, choosing not to share Jim’s presence in Oregon with the young woman. "My husband has a very, very difficult time admitting that he is wrong." She gazed out the window pensively, and Ryan left her to her musings after sparing a glance and seeing how focused she was. "He wasn’t always like that, you know," she commented. "He was always determined, but he wasn’t so headstrong when he was young. I think he developed that trait working as litigator. You know, Ryan, when you spend all day never giving an inch, it’s hard to remind yourself to turn that off when you go home at night."

"I could see that would be true," Ryan agreed, hoping that Brendan’s new girlfriend didn’t share that trait with Jim.

Catherine sighed and reached into her purse, extracting a neat, tan leather notepad. "Let me tell you all about Jamie’s match," she said, checking her notes.

Ryan shot her a smile and admitted, "I don’t care about the golf, Catherine. I just care about her. How did she seem?"

Catherine returned the smile and put the notebook away. "I don’t give a whit myself, Ryan. That’s why I had to take notes." She cocked her head and considered her daughter’s state of mind. "I’d say that she was nervous at the beginning. Understandably, of course."

Ryan nodded, having expected as much.

"By the second hole though, her normal attitude reappeared, and she seemed more and more confident as the day went on. It looked like she was having fun, even though she was concentrating very hard. She seemed very happy, Ryan. Very proud of herself."

"Excellent!" Ryan smiled. "Now that’s the kind of golf coverage I’m interested in!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan returned home, the house was dark and seemed larger and emptier than it had ever been. She walked around, feeling lost and a little anxious as she turned on more lights than they usually used. As if by telepathy, the phone rang, and she was pleased to hear her oldest brother on the line.

"Hey, Sis, got anything going on tonight?"

"Uh…no, Jamie’s gone you know."

"Oooh, that’s right," he said, acting as is if that fact had skipped his mind. "Well the boys and I were going to go get some Italian combos, and I thought it might be fun to come over to your place to eat them."

She nearly burst into tears at her brother’s thoughtfulness, knowing that he was only doing this to cheer her up and make sure she was taking care of herself in Jamie’s absence. "If you really want to, that would be great," she said, breathing out a sigh of relief.

"We really want to, Ryan," he said sincerely. "We miss you!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan gazed across the room. Her oldest brother was engaged in a spirited conversation with their cousin Frank who was, as usual, making an emphatic point with the base of his beer bottle. The butt of the brown bottle was poking into Brendan’s chest, and Ryan could see his jaw tense as he fought the urge to push Frank, and his teaching aid, away. She knew that Brendan never liked to let anyone know they were getting to him so she decided to go rescue him, impulsively deciding to discuss a little matter that had been on her mind recently. "Hi, guys," she smiled as she approached.

"Hey, Ryan," Frank said, "I’m just trying to refresh your brother’s mind here. When did our fathers emigrate? 1964 or 1965?"

She cast a pointed glance to her right, spotting her father not four feet away. "Hmm…I’m not sure, Frank. Why don’t you ask my dad while I borrow my brother here for a minute. I need a little help with something."

"Good idea, Ryan. You’re gonna owe me a beer, Brendan," he decreed as he went to settle the bet.

"Lord, does that guy ever give up? We would have been there for an hour!"

Ryan smiled, knowing that Brendan was every bit as determined as Frank, only he just made his points in a quieter fashion. "Eh, Frank’s Frank," she said, knowing that analyzing her cousin’s foibles was completely unproductive. "Do you mind coming upstairs with me for a minute?" she asked. "I wanna talk to you about something."

He gave her a slightly puzzled glance but agreed, following her up the stairs to her bedroom. "Nice space," he said appreciatively as he looked around.

"Thanks. It’s all Jamie’s stuff, of course, but it feels like home to me now." She sat down on the rolling desk chair and Brendan sat on the love seat.

"So, what’s up?"

"I’ve uh…I’ve been wondering about something, Bren, and I wanted to ask you to clear something up for me."

"Sure. Shoot." His face was composed and his expression was open and curious, as it so often was.

"Remember when I told you that I was gay?"

His face immediately reacted, his brow furrowing a little. "You mean when I asked you if you were gay," he corrected gently, always a stickler for accuracy. "That afternoon will forever be etched into my memory," he said with a small chuckle. "I don’t know which one of us was more nervous."

"I’d say it was a tie," she smiled in response. "Talking to your older brother about your sex life is no picnic when you’re 17."

"Oh, and it’s a real day at the beach when you’re a 23-year-old guy. I was afraid to talk to girls I was sleeping with about sex!" he laughed. "How do you think I felt about talking to you? You were my baby sister, and I still thought of you as a little girl."

"I don’t think I’ve ever thanked you for taking that risk," she said, giving him a grateful smile. "I’ve never felt more cared for."

He blushed, glad that his sister was appreciative of his efforts, but puzzled about why she was bringing it up now. "No problem, Ryan. You know I’d do anything for you."

"I do," she said sincerely. "And the same goes for me, too." She paused for just a minute, searching his face as she asked, "You told Da before I did, didn’t you?"

His blush deepened as he realized that he had been caught. "Uh…" He scratched his head, looking guilty until he finally said, "Yeah…I uh…thought it would go better for you if he had time to react first. I thought he’d be okay with it—and he was—but I didn’t want there to be a chance that he’d react badly."

She nodded, her long-held suspicion finally confirmed. "Bren, I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity, but I’m going to return the favor."

"Huh?" he blinked. "Who’s gay?"

"No, not a gay thing this time," she said. "But what I have to tell you is a little shocking nonetheless."

"I’m almost 30," he reminded her. "I’ve gotten much better at talking about personal things."

"Good," she smiled. Drawing in a deep breath she decided to just go for it. "Da’s going to make an announcement soon. He’s going to announce that he’s getting married."

Before she could complete her statement, Brendan’s face blanched and his mouth dropped open, his eyes so round that they nearly popped out of his head. "He what???!!!"

"He’s getting married," she repeated.

"My God, Ryan, he’s never had a date! Is this an arranged marriage? Is he helping somebody get a green card?"

The poor man was clearly grasping at straws and Ryan sought to get the whole story out. "Let me finish, Bren. I’ll tell you the whole thing."

He sank back against the cushions, looking like he’d been struck in the chest with a heavy weight. "Go ahead," he muttered.

"He’s going to marry Aunt Maeve," Ryan said, completely startled when Brendan leapt to his feet and strode to the corner of the room, his arms crossed tight against his chest. His head was shaking violently, seemingly trying to make the information leave his brain.

"No, no, no, no, NO!!"

She got up and approached him from behind, feeling his coiled body twitch when she touched him gently. "It’s true, Bren, and it’s obvious that this has really upset you, but please don’t let Da know."

He turned and glared at her, his blue eyes flashing with anger. "This is wrong, Ryan, it’s just wrong!"

"No, no it’s not, Bren. I was freaked out at first, but over time…"

"NO! I will never think this is okay, Ryan." He strode past her, evading her grasp as she tried to stop him. He sank onto the love seat once again and dropped his head into his hands. "Everything’s going so well!" he moaned. "Why do they have to screw things up? This will destroy the family!"

"No it won’t, Bren. Not if we don’t let it!" She was shocked at how intense his reaction was, but she was terribly glad that she had guessed right in deciding to tell him early.

"I can’t accept this, Ryan. I’m going to find Da and tell him so." He got to his feet and she grabbed him by the shirt, refusing to let go until he heard her out.

"Look, Bren, if you want that kind of responsibility you go right ahead, but I want you to know that if Da knows you’re opposed, he’ll break it off right now. He’s already told me that our happiness was more important than his and Aunt Maeve’s." She could see a flicker of doubt pass across his face, and she followed up, "Don’t you love him enough to let him have some joy in his life?"

He looked as though she had slapped him, physically recoiling as he tried to steady himself. "How can you even say that? You know how much I love Da! And Aunt Maeve is like a second mother to me. This isn’t about not loving them, Ryan, it’s about stopping them from tearing the family apart!"

"Brendan, you’re being irrational about this," she insisted, almost as agitated as he was. "This will not harm the family. They just fell in love. How can that be wrong?"

He glared at her for a moment, his lips pressed together so tightly they were white. "You’re okay with this? You approve of this?"

"Brendan," she soothed, "I’m the last person in the family who has the right to tell other people who to fall in love with. I know what it’s like to choose a partner that people could be offended by. I’ve got to tell you, Brendan, my life would have been destroyed if the family had not supported my choice. We can’t do that to Da!"

He sat down on the edge of the bed, looking like his legs couldn’t hold him upright any longer. "Shit, shit, shit," he moaned, looking utterly defeated. "You know I’d never intentionally hurt either one of them."

"I promise you, Bren, they would be hurt. Deeply, deeply hurt. They would call this off and would probably never try again. Is that what you want for Da?"

"Of course not," he muttered, shaking his head slowly. "I want him to be happy."

She crouched down in front of him to be able to see into his eyes. "Then you have to let him find happiness in his own way."

He stared at her for a long minute, the emotions flying across his handsome features as he did so. "How did you know this would upset me?"

She laughed softly, getting to her feet again. "Because it upset me. You and I are the drama queens of the family, you know."

"Gee thanks," he said dryly. "I don’t think anyone has ever called me a queen before."

She ruffled his dark hair, assuring him, "I just mean that you and I are the most emotional ones. Conor won’t care, and Rory won’t let anyone know if he cares."

"Good point," he smiled grabbing one of her belt loops and pulling her down onto his lap to give her a gentle hug. "I’m a little jealous that he told you first," he grumbled.

"Mmm, he didn’t tell me," she informed him. "I saw them together, and it was pretty obvious."

He tilted his head, his eyes wide as he asked, "You saw them…?"

"I just saw them holding hands and kissing a little in the park, Bren. Nothing

to permanently scar me," she chuckled.

"When are they going to tell us?"

"Soon. Probably when Rory comes home."

He sighed deeply and said, "This is going to take some work, but I promise I’ll have my act together by the time Da’s ready to make the announcement. Thanks for telling me, Sis."

"Hey, we drama queens have to stay together," she reminded him, earning a swat to her exposed seat.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan came bounding up the stairs on Tuesday night, she barely paused to greet her partner on her way to the kitchen.

Immediately getting up to follow her, Jamie asked, "Honey? Did you happen to forget that I’ve been gone for two days? Hey, what are you holding?"

"Ice bag," Ryan admitted, taking a quick glance in the mirror over the small writing desk in the corner. She had decided to try to dump the evidence before Jamie caught up with her, but looking at the deep blue smudge under her right eye, she realized that was folly.

"Why do you have an ice bag? Come on, let me see."

Ryan turned and gave her partner a sheepish grin as the smaller woman bit back a gasp. "You got hit in the head? We’re taking you to the hospital. Come on, let’s go."

Jamie was already grabbing her keys and looking for her wallet when Ryan grasped her by the shoulders and said, "Chill, Baby. I got hit in the eye—no big deal."

"Ryan," she said sternly, "Your head is too fragile to take any chances with. I think we should at least get a CAT scan."

"Jamie, Jamie," Ryan soothed, "the trainer took a look at both of us, and he knows my history. This is no big deal…really."

"Ryan, do you swear that you’ve told the trainer about all of your head injuries?"

"Yes, Dear, I swear that I did. I love to play, Jamie, but I love to think even more. I swear that I won’t jeopardize my ability to do that."

She sighed heavily, deciding to at least hear Ryan out before she hustled her off to the hospital. "All right. Now tell me how this happened."

"Hard to say. Grace and I were going for a ball and somehow our feet got tangled up. The top of her head hit right on the bone here," she gingerly touched the spot that the bruise sprouted from.

"Is Grace okay?"

"Yeah. She took more of a knock on the head than I did, but she seemed fine."

Removing the ice bag from Ryan’s hand, Jamie went to the freezer and filled it with fresh cubes. She brought it over and tenderly applied it to the sore spot, flinching along with Ryan as contact was made. "You need a lot of nursing during any given season, don’t ya, Sport?"

"Yep. I never did learn that moderation thing."

"True. Though sometimes that’s a good thing," Jamie decided, thinking that she’d keep the entire O’Flaherty package, even if some parts drove her mad.

* * * * * * * * * * *

They spent the entire dinner hour chatting about Jamie’s experiences in Oregon, and Ryan was glad that she hadn't allowed Catherine to give her a play by play, since Jamie was now doing so. She was so glad to see the bubbling enthusiasm on her partner's face, however, that she would have been fascinated to hear Jamie read the phone book aloud.

"So everything was great, huh?" Ryan asked when Jamie was finished.

"Yeah. Pretty great." She paused for a moment and admitted, "It was hard not to have my father be there. He’s never missed an important event in my life." After a few moments she added, "One time he flew all night just so he could be at some silly Christmas pageant that I was in."

"Maybe he’ll come around soon, and he can see some of your matches," Ryan mused.

"Yeah. Maybe. But if he gets the nod to fill Senator Sommers' seat, he’ll be in Washington. I think we’ve wasted our little window of opportunity."

"Never say never, Babe. You’ve got spring season, too."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The phone rang after Ryan went upstairs to study, and Jamie was pleased to find her mother calling to invite them to an art opening for one of her favorite young artists. After a brief conversation, Jamie promised to call back after she had discussed it with Ryan.

She had been studying in the library so she ran upstairs to speak to her partner. Ryan was sitting at her computer, the colorful screen saver reflecting off of her round, silver reading glasses. Jamie was used to her ability to concentrate but this was pretty intense even for her. Ryan had no awareness of another presence in the room, so Jamie quietly sat down on the bed to allow her to finish her thought. While she waited, she indulged in one of her favorite pastimes. She absolutely loved to watch Ryan when she wasn’t aware that she was being watched, and this evening provided the perfect opportunity.

Ryan’s eyes were focused like lasers on the abstract geometric patterns that scrolled across her screen, and Jamie wondered what could possibly be going through her mind to captivate her attention so fully. But she knew that Ryan’s work was then--and would always be--indecipherable to her, and she had slowly come to accept that as a fact of life.

At the start of the term Ryan had assured her that she would not have to work too much at night, and that had generally been true. But every time Jamie had to study, Ryan looked almost giddy with pleasure as she raced up to her computer for an evening of whatever it was that she did.

Ryan’s head started to move slowly up and down, causing her hair to trail across her shoulders as it did so. She softly muttered, "Yes, yes, yes!" as she touched her keyboard, and the screen saver disappeared to be replaced by an elaborate diagram in some form of mathematical notation. Her fingers began to fly across the keyboard while she continued to mumble "yes!" occasionally. Jamie could feel the excitement pouring from her body, and the room was nearly alive with the crackling energy that she generated. She worked away for at least ten minutes with Jamie watching so quietly that she was practically holding her breath.

Ryan slammed her fingers down for the last few keystrokes and sat back in her chair as she let out a full, satisfied breath. She laced her hands behind her head and started to stretch when Jamie softly said, "I could honestly throw the TV away if I could watch you work every evening."

Ryan nearly jumped out of her skin as she whirled around and stared at her partner in astonishment. "How long have you been here?" she sputtered.

"Umm, I’d guess about 20 minutes," Jamie grinned. "You were staring at a blank screen when I came in. Then you obviously had some kind of breakthrough, and I certainly wasn’t going to disturb you at that point. Besides," she said with a sexy leer, "I was starting to get hot just watching you."

Ryan flopped down on the bed and rested her head in her partner’s lap. "Thank you, thank you, thank you for not disturbing me. This one little issue has been bothering me all week, and I finally think I’ve resolved it. But it wasn’t very firmly fixed in my mind. I could have lost it if you had spoken to me."

"Is it something you can share?" Jamie asked, willing to try to understand Ryan’s work, but realizing that the odds were slim that she could.

"Ahh, no," she said regretfully. "But God, I wish I could! When I figure out something that excites me this much, I really wish I could share it with you."

"Yeah, sometimes I feel really left out too," she admitted. "I want to share everything with you, and I hate that I have absolutely no idea what you’re doing or why it’s important."

"There’s a part of me that wants to get a little stroking sometimes," Ryan admitted, "and I honestly have never gotten any for my math stuff."

"Honey, you know how in awe I am of your abilities," Jamie protested.

"I know, Babe, and I’m not complaining or anything. But because I have this gift, I feel like people think it’s easy for me. And sometimes I’d like some praise for how hard I work," she said with an embarrassed little blush. "But I recognize that it’s hard to compliment me for things that you don’t understand, so I guess I just have to feel satisfaction for my own efforts."

"Do you think that’s why you have always focused so much on sports? I mean, everyone understands sports and they can immediately sense your contribution."

Ryan rolled over onto her good side so that Jamie could reach the side of her head for the scalp massage she was still bestowing. "I don’t know. But it might be a part of it."

"How can I show you how proud I am of you? Can you think of anything?"

"Not really," she conceded. "It’s funny. This bothered me when I was young but I got over it. It’s never come up again until now. I guess your opinion means so much to me that I just want to know you’re proud of me. Kinda childish, huh?"

"Not at all!" she cried. "It’s terribly important that you praise me for my golf game and for my cooking and all of the things that I really put my soul into. I would hate to have you not be able to share your feelings about those things with me." She ran her fingers down Ryan’s face and slowly teased her lips with her fingertip. "You know, even though I have no idea what you’re doing, I can feel the energy pouring off you when you’ve really got something important figured out. Would it help if I showed you how that made me feel?"

Ryan rolled onto her back and smiled up at her partner with pleasure. "I think it might make up for years of neglect," she said with her sexy crooked grin firmly in place.

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

Jamie spent a solid hour showing Ryan just how proud she was of her. They were both too exhausted to even brush their teeth after their vigorous lovemaking, and they were mere moments from sleep when the phone jerked them both back into full wakefulness. "Shit!" she cried. "It’s my mom!"

She reached across Ryan’s body and fumbled with the receiver, dropping it into the tangled sheets where it took a full minute to retrieve. "Hello," she coughed out through her dry mouth.

"Something tells me that you forgot me and that I’m calling at a bad time," Catherine said. "Go back to bed, Dear. You can call me tomorrow."

"No, no," Jamie insisted. "It’s easier to decide when I have her right here. Can you hold on a minute, Mom?"

"Sure, Honey."

Jamie placed the receiver on her bare tummy and asked, "Do you want to go to an art opening with my mom tomorrow night? She wants to take us to dinner afterwards."

"Love to," Ryan lazily replied, but Jamie knew that would be her answer to just about any question at the moment.

"It’s a date, Mom. We’ll meet you there at seven."

"Great, Honey, and I’m really sorry I disturbed you. See you then. Oh, give my love to Ryan."

"She’s had all the love I can manage for one night!" she declared. As she replaced the phone she sat up abruptly and slapped herself in the head as she said, "That was my mother!"

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

When Ryan came home the next night, Jamie immediately knew that something was bothering her. It was hard to describe the subtle differences in Ryan’s body when she was troubled, but Jamie had never been wrong and she doubted that tonight would be different. "Hey," she said when the grumpy-looking woman dropped her gym bag onto the floor of their bedroom. "What’s wrong?"

Ryan gave her a quick kiss, her lips curling into a wry half-smile. "I thought my father kept a close eye on me. He’s positively neglectful compared to you."

"Is that a real smile or does it bother you?" Jamie was gazing at her carefully, not wanting to smother her partner.

The smile grew wider as Ryan assured her, "I love that you’re so attuned to me, Jamie. I uh…I guess I’m a little embarrassed about what’s bothering me, and I had hoped to knock some sense into myself before I got home. Guess I wasn’t successful."

"Wanna tell me? You don’t have to, ya know."

Ryan started to undress after looking at her watch and noticing they only had a half hour to get ready to meet Catherine. "Come into the bathroom while I shower. I’ll tell you what’s bugging me, but you have to promise not to think I’m a prima donna."

Jamie nodded somberly, trying to hide the grin that was itching to escape. "I promise," she insisted.

Ryan hopped in the tub, with Jamie shaking her head at her partner’s odd habits. The dark woman always got into the shower with the water turned off, then started to adjust the temperature with the ice-cold water running onto her feet. When she had it at the near-scalding temp that she preferred, she switched the valve—letting the remnants of cold water in the showerhead hit her full-blast. She spluttered and spit as the water quickly turned warm, but it was obvious that she hated that first cold blast. "Why do you insist on turning the water on that way?" the smaller woman asked. "Why not adjust it, turn the showerhead on, and then get in?"

"Where’s the challenge in that?" Ryan asked, cocking her dark head in question.

"Never mind." Jamie knew this was one mystery she would never solve, so she decided to give up without a fight. "Now, tell me what’s troubling you."

"Okay," Ryan sighed. "It’s about the Putnam competition that I’m gonna be in. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but this is a team, rather than an individual, competition."

"No, I don’t think you told me that," Jamie informed her.

"Well, it is," Ryan went on. "Cal can only have three people on the team, even though there are dozens of people who want to compete. It’s a little unfair, since Cal sends the same number of people that a school with 1,000 students sends, but that’s the breaks."

"I’m guessing that you weren’t chosen," Jamie said, seeing the disappointed expression that had settled onto Ryan’s face.

"No, I wasn’t, but that’s not what’s bugging me," she said. "The guy who’s in charge of the team seems like a decent guy, but I don’t know him. He’s given us a couple of practice tests from previous years, and I did really well on them. Professor Skadden said that the results would only be one factor in his decision, but I think it should be a very big factor. Anyway, he made the announcement today, and afterwards, I asked all three guys that he picked how they had done. I beat two of them--by a lot," she added glumly. "That pissed me off, so I waited to talk to Skadden." She shot Jamie a look and said, "I was about tenth in line to complain."

"What did he say?"

"Well, he tried to put it into terms that didn’t sound sexist, but he basically said that he preferred men on the team because they were more predictable. He said that women were ‘occasionally mercurial’, which I took to mean that my menstrual cycle might make me stupid on the day of the test."

"You’re not going to let him get away with that!!"

Ryan tilted her head back and let the hot water hit her open mouth, another quirk that Jamie found beyond odd. Retrieving her toothbrush and paste from the holder she had installed on the wall, she began to brush her teeth, her brow furrowed in concentration. After finishing, she wiped the water from the glass door and looked at Jamie for a moment. "I think I am going to let him get away with it, as a matter of fact."

"But why? That’s blatant discrimination, Ryan!"

"Yes, and not just on that front. He also said that he didn’t want an athlete on the team—that we’d have divided loyalties. The final straw is that he’s decided to have practice every weekday from four to six. Even if he chose me, I’d have to decline because that’s when volleyball practice is." She shot Jamie another look and said, "I think that’s why he set the time for then…just so I didn’t have a valid complaint."

The smaller woman started pacing around the bathroom, the confined space not giving her much room to maneuver. "This makes me so mad! That competition was important to you!"

Ryan turned off the water and wrapped a towel around her body. "It’s okay, Babe. I just don’t want another fight right now. Even though I can’t be on the team, I can still compete. I’ll just do my best to show him that he made a mistake," she said, a defiant glare in her blue eyes.

"But I thought you had to be on the team…" Jamie said, her brow furrowed in confusion.

"Even though the teams are the important part, there are also individual competitions and awards. I can enter as a Cal alternate. There can be as many alternates as want to compete, but of course, our scores can’t help the team." Giving Jamie a damp hug she said, "The good news is that the practice sessions are optional if you’re not on the team, so that’s one less thing I have to commit to. I think I’m going to see if some people want to practice with me. Maybe I can get one of the grad students to help prepare us."

Jamie gazed up at her and said, "I can see why you don’t want to fight this jerk right now, but doesn’t that just allow him to keep doing it?"

"Yep. But fighting sexism in the math department is more than I have the stomach for, Jamie. I’m just going to do my best, and show him that his prejudices are only hurting the team…and by extension, himself. I think that would go farther than getting the administration involved."

Jamie didn’t agree with her partner’s philosophy, but she recognized it was her fight and she had to conduct it as she saw fit. "Okay, Ryan. If that’s how you want to attack this, you’ve got my support. After you kick ass, we’ll hand out tampons instead of cigars."

"That’s my girl," the taller woman smiled, her mind conjuring up the image of Jamie doing just that.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part Seven

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