Jamie assured her partner that since this art opening was in SOMA, it was perfectly acceptable to wear her black silk T-shirt, pleated black gabardine slacks, and black leather baseball style jacket. Deciding on a more femme look for herself, Jamie chose a little black crepe dress with a heavy maroon paisley scarf draped around her shoulders.
As Jamie assessed her partners appearance, she considered that perhaps sinister wasnt a great choice for this evening. With her black eye, the dark outfit made her lover look a bit like a gangster, but it was too late for her to change at this point. "You look very nice, Honey," she said.
Ryan fussed at herself in the mirror for quite a few minutes before she turned and glumly replied, " I look like a mob enforcer who had a bad day."
"Honey, half the people there want to look like dangerous women with sordid pasts. Theyll all be jealous!"
That got her a smile and a kiss for her efforts, even though Ryan knew she would be stared at. When they arrived, they spotted Catherine immediately, and Ryan noted that her mother-in-law looked sensational, as usual. She was also wearing a little black dress, but hers was a little longer than Jamies.
"Wow! You look wonderful, Catherine," Ryan said appreciatively as she considered the stylish woman.
"And you look just perfect for the occasion," Catherine joked fondly. "Everyone will wonder what dangerous exploit harmed that beautiful face."
"Believe me, Id rather be inconspicuous," Ryan said, somewhat tired of always standing out in a crowd.
"Speaking of inconspicuous, Cassies mother is here tonight, girls. I think wed do well to avoid her. The last time I checked, she was in the other room of the gallery, so lets stay in here for the time being."
"Works for me," Ryan said. "If shes anything like her daughter, meeting her could not possibly be a pleasant experience."
After they had spent a few minutes chatting, they decided to look at the exhibit. Jamie snagged champagne for everyone when the waiter passed by, and Ryan grabbed a few tidbits from every canapé-laden tray that she could spy.
Ryan was drawing more than her usual attention, many patrons doing a double or triple take when they noticed the remarkably tall woman with the black eye. When one matron had the temerity to blatantly stare, Catherine marched right up to her and said, "Im sorry. I dont remember your name."
The woman gave her a puzzled look, having just noticed her, her attention focused on Ryan. "Pardon? I dont think weve met."
"Do you know my young friend?" Catherine continued.
"N no," the woman admitted, now looking very flustered.
"Then why dont you stop staring at her," she said, with a feigned smile. "Its really quite rude."
As Jamie watched the scene, she noticed a waiter in the vicinity, and dashed across the room for more champagne, her mothers impetuous confrontation having rattled her nerves. Catherine strolled back over to Ryan, a pleased grin on her face. Ryan tossed her arm around the woman and said, "You really are something. Whenever Jamie does something that takes me by surprise I immediately think of you, and it becomes obvious where she gets it from."
"I just cant suffer pompous fools any longer, Ryan. Its funny," she mused. "Ive spent most of my life being concerned with what others thought of me. My mother beat that lesson into my head my entire youth. I can still hear her saying, Its important to make a good impression, Catherine. But as Ive gotten older, Ive come to realize that you cant live your life based on the opinions of others. Im trying to allow only my own opinions and those of the people closest to me to matter."
Ryan gave her a squeeze and said, "Thats the best advice Ive heard all day."
Catherine leaned into the hug and dropped her head onto Ryans broad chest. "Youre one of the people whose opinion I care about."
Ryan bent slightly to place a kiss on the crown of Catherines head. She rested her good cheek against the same spot as they took comfort in the gentle embrace. As she lifted her head she caught a glimpse of a vaguely familiar figure. Is that ? she thought, but Jamies return distracted her, and she filed the question away for the time being.
Two glasses of champagne on her chronically empty stomach brought out Ryans playful side. After Catherine was dragged away by a woman who just had to introduce her to the artist, she surreptitiously followed Jamie into the bathroom. There was only one stall, with a small sink and a mirror lining the other wall. She turned the water on to give her partner some privacy, but she did not otherwise announce her presence. Jamie emerged from the enclosure and returned her lusty look. "You look like youre looking for trouble," she purred as she slid her arms around Ryans neck.
"And you look like you could give me all I can handle," the dangerous looking woman replied, backing the blonde up against the door.
Jamie stood between her spread legs and began to kiss her with a slowly escalating passion. She knew Ryan was on a short fuse these days, so she tried not to go beyond her comfort zone. Luckily, Ryans playfulness was greater than her lust, and they began to tickle and pinch each other as they wrestled against the door. A woman came up to the restroom and started to push the door open, but she drew back in surprise when she heard the shrieks of laughter and rough thumps on the door as one or the other of the occupants banged against it. They didnt sound like children, so she assumed it was a couple sneaking into the rest room for a little tryst. Knowing many of the people at the party, and loath to miss a bit of gossip, she lurked around outside waiting for the pair to emerge.
After banging around playfully for much longer than was wise, Ryan came to her senses and straightened her clothing, offering to leave first in case anyone had heard them. Jamie gave her a kiss for her gallantry and sent her on her way.
Ryan had traveled no more than three steps outside the door when she caught sight of the face she had seen earlier, and her suspicions were confirmed as she recognized the woman from the gym with whom she'd had a delightful, and quite remunerative, encounter at the Mark Hopkins hotel. Wracking her brain, she finally came up with the name. "Hi Laura," she said, extending her hand.
The woman glanced around quickly to make sure no one saw her even speaking to the dark woman. "Hi," she said as she tried to get a better look at her in the dark hallway. She pointed at Ryans bruised face and asked, "Jealous husband?"
Ryan gave her a smile as she said, "No, nothing so interesting. Just banged heads with someone while I was playing volleyball."
"God, it looks like it hurts," the older woman said, looking at the discoloration closely. "Do you have a good doctor?"
"Its no big deal. Ive had more black eyes than I can count. It should be fine soon."
Catherine came around the corner looking for her companions, and she stopped dead in her tracks when she saw who Ryan was chatting with. Both Ryan and Laura turned at once, and she pasted on a smile and approached. "Hello, Laura," she said smoothly. "Have you two met?"
"Uh yes I uh, pardon?" she asked weakly, futilely trying to dematerialize.
Ryan decided to rescue her, so she informed Catherine, "Laura and I know each other " she started to say, as Laura looked like she was going to faint. Nonetheless Ryan continued, "from the gym. I didnt have the chance to work with her, but we have some mutual acquaintances that we were just catching up on."
Now Laura was beginning to panic for her young friend. It was obvious that Catherine had lost her rational mind by bringing this woman to a public event, but she was a sweet kid and Laura didnt want Catherine to cause a scene when the other woman emerged from the bathroom. To her amazement, Ryan seemed perfectly calm and at ease with the situation. I guess this sort of thing happens to her all of the time, she thought to herself. Casting another quick glance at Ryan, Laura mused, She looks even better now than she used to at the gym. I wonder if I could get a few minutes with her in the bathroom later. Ive got plenty of cash in my wallet.
A moment later Jamie emerged from the bathroom, and she immediately walked over to the group. Lauras eyes bugged out as she waited in vain for the fur to fly. To her astonishment Catherine said, "Laura Slocum, let me introduce you to my daughter Jamie."
Daughter! Shes doing her daughter!!
"Jamie, Laura and I serve on the boards of some of the same charities. Youve heard me speak of her many times."
Jamie extended her hand and wondered about Lauras nearly limp grip. She knew she had seen the woman before, but she could not place her. Catherine finally filled in that blank by saying, "Ryan tells me that Laura goes to your gym. Perhaps youve seen her there."
"Perhaps," Jamie said neutrally while she tried to avoid looking at Ryan.
They conversed for another moment or two before Laura excused herself to use the facilities. Catherine speculated, "She was acting very odd tonight. I wonder if shes all right."
"There is a bug going around," Ryan said helpfully.
As Catherine led the way back to the exhibit, Jamie pulled Ryan down to whisper, "Maybe she has the OFlaherty flu!"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Catherine was considering buying a piece of art, and her companions were offering their opinions when a tall, immaculately put together woman sidled up and said, "Jamie, Catherine, how good to see you!"
Jamie looked far from happy as she replied, "Mrs. Martin, how are you?"
Catherine seamlessly introduced Ryan to the very interested looking woman. "Ryan OFlaherty, this is Laura Martin. Cassies mother."
"Good to meet you," Ryan said with her darkened eye and intentionally evil-looking smile.
Noticing that Laura was staring at Ryans injury, Catherine sighed and explained, "Ryan had a little accident yesterday."
"Im sorry to hear that," Laura replied although her face did not reflect her sorrow. She wore an expression that was a mixture of prurient curiosity and blatant mockery of the young woman, and Catherine could feel her temper begin to flare. "Cassie tells me that you have a tendency to make people angry. Did you finally push someone too far?"
Catherines uncharacteristic friskiness continued unabated as she gazed at her former friend and whispered, "I wouldnt antagonize her, Laura. Shes killed people for less." With that, she placed a hand on the backs of each of her companions and guided them across the gallery.
When they were safely hidden behind a partition, Jamie stared at her mother in open-mouthed shock, while Ryan laughed helplessly. "W...w...why did you tell her that? You know how she loves to gossip!"
"I might as well give her something good," Catherine said reasonably. "At least now when it gets back to me Ill know where it came from!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
Late that night when they were snuggling in bed, Ryan could not stop shivering. She finally got up and put on a long sleeved T-shirt and a pair of thick wool socks. "Dont you need any clothes?" she asked Jamie, puzzled that her partner looked perfectly comfortable.
"No, Baby, Im fine. It doesnt seem cold to me." As Ryan hopped back in bed Jamie asked, "Was it odd to run into that woman from the gym?"
"Yeah, it was," she sheepishly admitted. "You know, of all the casual sex partners that I ever had, shes the only one I regret."
"Why? Because shes so much older than you?"
"No, of course not," Ryan said quickly. She looked at Jamie for a moment and said, "I think I was afraid of becoming like her some day."
Jamie sat up immediately and stared at Ryan as she tilted her head. "How, Honey?"
"She was just there for sexshe made that clear. But it struck me that not only didnt she want emotional involvement with me, I doubt she had it with anyone else in her life, either. She just seemed cool and distant. Maybe I felt like Id lose my ability to be intimate with someone if I continued on my path," she said softly. "It scared me."
Snuggling into Ryans body, Jamie let herself feel the bone deep connection that they had slowly developed. "That will never, ever happen to you, Ryan. You are totally, lusciously, fabulously intimate. And were going to spend the rest of our lives getting closer and closer."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan was relaxing at her family home on Friday afternoon, Coach Placer having given them a rare day off. "Calm down, Duffy," she urged her wildly barking dog as she ran up the stairs to answer the ringing doorbell. "Jeez, you act like every visitor is the devil himself!" Without bothering to look to see who it was, Ryan flung open the door, a wide smile on her face, that quickly froze before morphing into a grim, wary expression. "Jamies not here," she said when her eyes landed on her father-in-law.
"I know that," he answered brusquely as he brushed past her. "Im here to see you."
"Me again?" she asked, her anger at the man peeking out a little. "Your last visit sure didnt get you want you want. Trying for best two out of three?"
He turned and fixed her with a look that was almost unreadable, but there was a hint of sadness in his eyes that reminded her so much of her partner that it shocked her into silence. "If you ever find yourself in my position, I assure you that youll understand how difficult this has been." His head shook slowly as he looked around the neat, modest home.
Ryan stood behind him, turning her head to survey her home as he did. She saw a tidy, organized space, completely devoid of any attempt to decorate in the traditional sense. The rooms looked like they had been furnished to stand up to a significant amount of rough use, and in fact, they had been. The fabrics were sturdy and man-made, the carpet the thin-piled industrial variety. Family photos were the main decoration, and they littered every bookcase and horizontal surface. A woman's touch was largely absent, even the colors looking like they were made to appeal to a masculine taste. Letting the images roll around in her mind, Ryan fought with the small inner voice that mocked the home her father had lovingly created for her and her brothers, knowing that Jim Evans servants enjoyed a much more opulent lifestyle.
"This is the longest Ive ever been away from her." The words came from just a few feet in front of her, but she could barely hear them, his voice was so soft. "Is that her your room?" he asked, jerking his head towards Martins bedroom.
Taken aback by his odd demeanor, Ryan shook her head. "No. We uh our room is downstairs."
He cocked his head, torn between the business he had come to attend to and the deep longing that had hit him the minute he'd entered this unfamiliar space. "Can I see it?"
"Why uh well, sure, I guess so," she said, having no idea what was going through his mind. With Duffy right on her heels, she led the way, stopping uncertainly in the center of her room, watching Jim pace slowly around the perimeter.
He took in their bed, the center visibly sagging from years of use. Ryan had never told Jamie the history of the piece, but the bed had once belonged to her parents. After her mother died, her father had been unable to sleep in the bed he had shared with his beloved wife, the memories of their nights together giving him horrible insomnia. Eventually, he consigned the bed to the basement room and bought a new one for himself. Since the original had been a wedding present, the bed she and Jamie slept on was a full thirty years old, something that she knew would horrify her partner. The comforter was nearly as old, but the sheets were a more recent vintage, no more than six or seven years, if she recalled correctly.
As he leaned over and fingered the thin, faded pillowcase he mused, almost to himself. "You think you know her, but you dont. She doesnt even know herself." He gave Ryan a long look and said, "Maybe you dont want her money." Looking away, he turned back to the bed and allowed, "Maybe you do have some pride, Ryan." A long, heavy sigh issued from his lungs as he added, "Either way, it really doesnt matter. If you want her money, Ill see to it that you dont get it. If you dont take the money that shell want to spend on you, shell eventually get tired of living like this and shell abandon you."
Unable to hold her tongue, Ryan said, "Its not things that make her happy, Jim. If you really knew her, that would never cross your mind."
Laughing softly he said, "Ahh, the confidence of youth." Walking around the room he looked at each item of furniture, noting that no two pieces had any stylistic connection to each other. "So things dont mean anything to her, eh Ryan? Then why does she insist that her mother buy her a new set of hand-woven linen sheets for Christmas every year? Why did we have to have our butter and fresh cheeses overnighted from France once a week? Why does she have most of her dresses custom made? Why did I just see a bill for over $25,000 for the little shopping spree that my wife took her on during their Newport trip?" Noticing the glimmer of surprise in the vivid blue eyes he sneered, "You didnt think that she actually lived on that $2,500 a month that I give her for her allowance, did you?"
The look on Ryans face revealed that was exactly what she thought, and Jim knew that he had set the hook. "Did she ever tell you about her 20th birthday present?" Ryan shook her head, still reeling from the details of Jamies spending that she had known nothing about. "We thought wed have a small party at our home, you know, just Jack and her grandfather, but Jamie insisted that she wanted a memorable day. Of course, since we give her anything that she wants, we acquiesced to her wishes."
He stood in the room, looking very smug, waiting for her to ask him to finish the story. She did not, crossing her arms over her chest, waiting for him to complete his little game. Realizing that she was not going to rise to the bait, he continued, "She wanted to have dinner at Alain Ducasse in Paris, a Michelin three-star restaurant," he added, since he knew she would not recognize the name. "Her birthday falls in the middle of the term, so she didnt have much time and we had to take the Concorde from Washington. In essence, Ryan, my little girl wanted a $40,000 dinner for her birthday, and thats exactly what she got. I defy you to consider the facts and tell me that she doesnt care for things."
For just a moment, Ryan allowed herself to be carried away by his arguments. Images of herself and Jamie in an opulent home, surrounded by servants, started to make her heart beat faster, and she had an irrational panic that he partner would, over time, require a more and more lavish lifestyle to be happy. To avoid having to look Jim in the eye, she walked to the far corner of the room, trying to collect her thoughts. Her eyes slid up the bookcase, falling upon two framed pictures. All at once, it hit her, and she blinked slowly, surprised that she'd had even a moments doubt. Lifting both photographs, she extended one in his direction, waiting for him to accept it.
He gave her a slightly puzzled look, but gazed at the photo, smiling involuntarily as he did so. He, Jamie, and Catherine, all dressed very stylishly, smiled into the camera. They were sitting in a very elegant restaurant, all holding crystal flutes filled with what looked to be champagne. An array of dishes lay before them, the beautifully prepared food just waiting to be consumed. Jim had left his chair and was nestled between his wife and daughter in order to fit into the field of vision of the lens. One arm was wrapped around each woman, and both blonde heads were inclined slightly towards him, both women wearing nearly identical, obviously studied smiles.
"Is this the dinner that youre speaking of?" Ryan asked as he continued to gaze at the photo, memories of that special day flooding his mind.
"Yes, it is," he said absently.
"What do you see?" Ryan asked, causing him to jerk his head up and stare at her.
"Is that a trick question? I see my family having a lovely timea time that Jamie obviously feels was very special."
"She does," Ryan agreed. "I didnt know the details, or how much that dinner cost, but she did have a very nice time that night."
Ryan handed him the other photo, and he reached out to grab it. Before she released it she asked, "Where does she look happier?"
He took the picture and gazed at it for a moment, blinking in surprise as he did so. Jamie and Ryan were sitting on a boulder overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the smaller woman nestled between Ryan's legs, leaning back in a very relaxed manner against her chest. The looks on their faces spoke of almost painful happiness, their smiles stretching their faces past the point of comfort. Jamies head was tilted to the right, Ryans to the left, causing them to nest one atop the other. Ryans left arm was tucked around the smaller womans waist and both of Jamies arms rested upon it, both women seemingly very used to and comfortable with each others bodies.
Ryans voice broke his concentration when she said, "This trip required eight months of hard work, every bit of determination that she possessed, and a ton of confidence in herself. It didnt cost me a dime to help her have this, but having her with me was absolutely priceless. Which trip," she asked, shaking both photos in his face, "do you think will linger in her memory? Which trip changed her life? How can you tell me that things are more important to her than this?"
"Over time," he intoned coldly, "water finds its own level. A few rustic experiences cannot take away the fact that Jamie is the product of her upbringing, and she will eventually want to return to the lifestyle she was born to, Ryan. Then what do you do?"
Ryan was puzzled. It seemed almost as if Jim finally saw her for who she was, but that didnt make any sense to her. It appeared that he understood that she was uncomfortable with Jamies money, and worried that it would become a wedge between them. Try as she might, she could not understand how or why he had changed his mind about her, but she had a very bad feeling about it.
As if he could read her mind, he extracted a manila envelope from his leather portfolio and handed it to her. With intense self-satisfaction he watched as she opened it and allowed the contents to slide out into her hand. With a furrowed brow she sorted through the typed document, trying to understand what it was and what it meant. While still trying to accomplish this, she came upon a series of crisp, sharp 16x20 inch photos, all of her. Thumbing through them, she saw pictures of herself with Jordan, with Jenny, and with some of her other teammates. In every picture she was kissing or touching a woman in what looked to be an intimate way. She recalled each situation, and knew that each instance represented a completely harmless interaction, but the scenes did appear to show that she was quite familiar with each of the other women.
"Wow," she said slowly. "Pictures of me kissing my friends hello. This is shockingshocking, I tell you!" Her tone was derisive, biting, and Jim recoiled a bit at it.
"The pictures are damning enough, Ryan," he sneered, "but the report is the icing on the cake. Jamie will finally see what Ive been telling her all along."
Ryan didnt even attempt to read the report, knowing there was nothing factual in it, and feeling confident that Jamie would not be tricked into believing lies about her. She slapped the papers against her open hand a few times, shaking her head in disgust. "I guess this is where I fall on my knees and beg for a payoff, huh?"
His eyes narrowed, his lips moved into a grim line. "Well, what do you want?" he asked in challenge.
She sighed heavily, her eyes drooping into a weary, resigned expression. "The same thing Ive always wanted. For you to be the father that she deserves." She gave him such a sad, wistful look that he was once again taken slightly aback. "I want you to love her enough to trust herto know that even though she makes mistakes, theyre her mistakes, and theyre absolutely necessary for her to grow up. I want you to love her enough to let her make her own way in the world, even though it isnt what you would choose for her." Her face gentled into a fond smile as she admitted her true desire, "I want you to be half the man that my father is. Thats the very least that she deserves."
Fighting his anger, he grabbed the photos and the report from her hands and roughly stuffed it back into the folder. "Well just see, Ryan. Well just see."
Turning on his heel, he strode across the room, stopping when she plaintively asked, "Did you ever love her, or was she always just something to control?"
He faced her, his entire body tingling with rage. Every impulse called out for him to hit her as hard as his could, to knock that self-possessed expression off her face and at least blacken her other eye and mar the lovely features that his daughter was so obviously attracted to. But he knew that would only give the woman a leg up on him, and he would never, ever do that. "No father ever loved his daughter more than I do," he thundered, making the hackles rise on Duffys neck. "I told you Id do anything for her and I meant it!" He waved the report in Ryans face, somewhat deflated when she laughed softly, her dark head shaking the whole while.
"Anything except what she wantswhat she needs. Yeah, youll do anything for her, all right. Just as long as it fits your image of who she is. Yeah, thats love!"
Kicking the face of one of the low cabinets so viciously that his foot crashed through it, Jim spewed forth a string of curses and wrenched his foot out of the hole he had created. Limping, he stormed up the stairs, slamming the door so roughly that it rattled on its hinges for seconds after he left.
* * * * * * * * * * *
It was early, just five oclock, and Ryan knew that Jamie would likely not arrive home until seven. Her anxiety was so intense that she felt like crawling out of her skin, and she tried to think of an activity that would keep her occupied until her partner arrived. Dialing the phone, she was dismayed to find no one home at Caitlins or her aunts home. Well, there goes my best chance at a distraction, she mumbled to herself. The late afternoon sun was still strong in the west-facing windows and she felt compelled to be outdoors, even though she had no real destination.
Wandering aimlessly, she walked up and down the hilly streets of her neighborhood, finally finding herself in the middle of Castro, on Church, not really knowing how she got there. Shrugging her broad shoulders, Ryan made her way into the Pilsner Inn, a place that she had not visited in well over a year.
Entering the space, she smiled at memory of just a few years prior, when the bar had been populated with no more than a handful of men who looked like they had been there so long that they had actually become one with the banged-up bar stools. The place had been claimed by several groups in the last few years, now populated by a medium-young crowd of good-looking men. Ryan liked the place well enough now, had actually liked it a little more when it was full of pierced and tattooed guys, and it seemed like a friendly, relaxed place to spend an hour or so in.
The bar was nearly deserted, as it should have been this early on a Friday night. She approached the bar, and made eye contact with the bartender, who was watching the early evening news. "Hi. Irish whiskey. What have you got?"
"Mmm," he pondered. "Jamesons, and Laphroig."
She smiled, assuming he had not been tending bar for long, since Laphroig was as Irish as Sean Connery. "Jamesons, neat. Water back."
He delivered her drink quickly and she took both glasses onto the warm, still sunny patio, which was completely empty. Grabbing a chair, she straddled it, sipping her drink for a long while, enjoying the warmth of the whiskey as it slid down her throat. She wasnt sure how long she had been sitting there, but the bartender appeared and inclined his head, silently asking if she wanted a refill. With her shrug of acceptance, he departed, returning a few minutes later to set another pair of glasses in front of her.
Her stomach was still so tense that she felt like she had done 1,000 sit-ups, the muscles gripping painfully. The alcohol had actually served to relax her enough that she was starting to feel her equilibrium return, and she leaned back in the chair to let the setting sun warm her face. A swish of motion caused her to look up and see the bartender place a third round in front of her. "You look like you could use it," he whispered, giving her shoulder a little squeeze.
Boy, when they start handing out free drinks its time to head home, she mused, tossing the whiskey back in one long swallow and leaving a generous tip for the bartender.
* * * * * * * * * * *
In the nearly two hours that she had been gone, the house had filled with the various members of her family, and when she entered, Martin, Brendan, Conor, and Jamie were all sitting at the dining table, obviously waiting for her. Rushing in, she ran into the kitchen to wash her hands, offering up a mumbled, "Sorry about that. I went for a walk and lost track of time."
When she returned to the table, she was met with puzzled glances from everyone, Duffy included. She held her breath as she brushed her lips against Jamies cheek, hoping to keep her partner from smelling the whiskey. Additional kisses and additional breath-holding nearly made her pass out, and after kissing her father she turned her head to draw in a massive breath.
When she took her seat, a gentle hand reached under the table to grasp her thigh. Jamie asked softly, "Are you all right?"
Ryan nodded briefly, giving her the most sincere smile she could fabricate. "Yeah. Fine. Just walking around thinking. You know how I get."
Jamie nodded, unsatisfied with the answer, but deciding to wait until after dinner to grill her recalcitrant partner.
Dinner passed with the routine family conversation, Ryan not participating to any significant extent. Jamie shared slightly worried glances with the ever-vigilant Martin, neither wanting to press the issue at the moment. They had nearly finished the meal when the front doorbell rang, startling everyone slightlyRyan and Duffy severely. Conor hopped up to answer as Jamie watched the blood drain from her partners face. "Sweetheart," she urged, a very worried look on her face, "whats going on?"
"Jamie, its for you," Conor called, walking back into the room. "Some guy has a delivery that you have to sign for."
Shooting another look at Ryan, who had paled even more, she got to her feet and went to the door, her partner right on her heels. A rather rumpled young man, his bicycle propped against the porch railing, extended a triplicate form towards Jamie, and instructed, "Sign on the X."
She did so and accepted the envelope, turning to Ryan as the man left. Waving the item towards her partner, she asked, "I take it that you know whats in here?" The same wary look that had covered her face so many times during their big fight was once again firmly affixed to Jamies face, and Ryan knew that she had to take her downstairs and tell all. Grasping the smaller hand, now clammy with tension, Ryan descended the stairs to their room, assuming her family would forgive their abrupt departure.
Ryan sat on her desk chair, thinking that her partner would choose the bed or the love seat. Instead, she was surprised to find the smaller woman astride her lap. Less than a second passed before Jamie sat up straight, a look of pure astonishment on her face. "Ryan, youve been drinking!"
"Yeah, yeah I have," she admitted. "Its been a tough afternoon, Jamie." She dropped her head against her partners chest and breathed in her reassuring scent, saying, "I think wed better call your mom. I have a feeling that we need a family conference."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Try as she might, Ryan could not persuade her lover to wait for her mother to arrive before she opened the envelope. After Ryan gave her a general idea of the contents, the blonde gave her a fiery look and said, "I thought you had learned your lesson about trying to protect me."
Ryans dark head shook slowly, a sad look on her face. "Ill never stop trying to protect you, Jamie, but I have learned not to try to keep things from you. I swear thats not what Im trying to do, Babe. I just want your mom to be here too. This is going to upset you both, and Id like to get it all out in the open at once. Thats all."
Blinking slowly and regretting her tone, Jamie said, "Im sorry. I didnt mean that like it sounded. Im just more anxious waiting than I could be from seeing the contents of this. Is it okay if I look now?"
Ryan gave her a small nod, doubting that her partner was correct but acceding to her wishes. Holding her breath, she waited in tense silence while Jamie tore open the envelope, letting the pile of photos drop onto the desk. She sorted through them, a small frown furrowing her forehead. "Wow, what an exciting life you lead," Jamie mused dryly. Tossing the picture of Ryan kissing Jordan aside, she added, "Little does the photographer know that when youre serious about kissing a girl, you always lead with your tongue."
Chuckling slightly at her partners attempt at humor, Ryan nuzzled her face into Jamies chest. "Well, they always say to present your best attributes first," she mused thoughtfully.
Once all of the pictures had been tossed aside as so much rubbish, Jamie started to read the enclosed document. A folded slip of paper dropped onto the table, and she picked it up, reading,
I know this will be hard for you to accept, but I think this evidence makes it clear that not only is Ryan incapable of entering into a committed relationship, she has already been unable to remain faithful in your short time together. I dont know how old that young girl is, but Im certain that the child welfare authorities would be interested in looking into this if you so choose.
I fully expect that you will be angry with me at first for having this investigation done. I just hope and pray that you eventually realize that its Ryan who deserves your wrath, not me for merely pointing out her betrayals.
Looking up at Ryan with pain-filled eyes, the smaller woman tossed off, "Well, what did you do? Kill Jon Benet Ramsey?" At Ryans light chuckle, Jamie added, "This should be fascinating." Taking the report in her hands, she climbed off Ryans lap and began to pace across the floor, reading to herself as she did so.
The report started off dealing with every aspect of Ryans financial situation, even going so far as to include information on Martins salary and the average monthly expenditures of the family. As expected, the report cast not a single aspersion on anyone in the family, stating that the entire OFlaherty clan was beyond reproach when it came to money. The author of the report gave commentary on his findings, and he clearly stated that Ryan seemed like the kind of woman who was not overly swayed by money, and seemed like a very honorable person financially. Thats my girl, Jamie smiled, happy--and a little surprised--that the investigator had taken his time to learn the truth about her partner.
Next came Ryans academic career and again, nothing of surprise was found in that area. All of the investigators sources agreed that Ryan was incredibly gifted and could pursue a career in any of ten fields. The investigator commented that Ryans ability was surpassed only by her hard work, and once again Jamie was pleased with the commentary. Jeez, is a lot of sex the only thing this guy found? I could have told him that!
"Im going to go upstairs and tell Da that were okay," Ryan said, breaking into Jamies reverie. "We are okay, arent we?" she asked slowly, a wary look in her eyes.
"Of course we are," Jamie assured her, gracing her with a wide smile.
Ryan took off and Jamie bent her head to concentrate again. The first two sections had been about ten pages combined, and it looked as though the rest of the voluminous report concerned Ryans sexual history. Oh boy, Jamie mused, now Daddy knows about every little dalliance my poor sweetie has ever had. She paused for a second thinking, In the long run, hell probably be really jealous. Ryan got hot girls without having money or power!
The report started right at the beginning, giving a condensed but relatively accurate review of Ryan and Saras encounter. My God, who told this guy this stuff? Im amazed that he got the details pretty correct! Sara would flip!
Next came some gossip about the women that Ryan had started dating in high school, giving scant detail, but allowing plenty of room for innuendo. Jamie started flipping through the pages almost idly, realizing that some of the information came from people who obviously bore some sort of grudge against her partner. Even so, most of the information was not very damaging, and for that Jamie was grateful. Even when they dont like you, they cant find much mud that will stick, can they, Buffy?
When she got to a page concerning Tory Knight, Jamie slowed and started to read every word. This is a new one, she mused, her eyes growing wide as she read the details. She spent a long time on the few pages that concerned Tory, then skimmed through the recitations of Ally, Alisa, Carolyn, and all of the other casual and semi-permanent buddies that Ryan had told her about. When she was finished, she returned to the pages on Tory, still deep in thought when Ryan brushed by her.
The dark woman tossed a long leg over her desk chair, straddling it backwards, as usual. Blue eyes peeked out from long bangs and asked, "We still okay?"
Jamie nodded, not quite as enthusiastically had she had before Ryan had departed. The perceptive woman noticed the difference and rolled her chair around until she could read over Jamies shoulder.
"Tory Knight," she mused aloud, shaking her head a little as Jamie turned her head to lock eyes with her. "The name sounds familiar "
Wordlessly, Jamie handed her the report, watching Ryans rapid eye movement as she speed-read the several pages, her face visibly paling. "Oh, my God," she murmured, handing the report back to Jamie with a shaking hand. "I had no idea!" She got up from her chair and went to her window, looking up at the bright moon. After several long minutes had passed Jamie interrupted her reverie.
"What didnt you know, Ryan?"
Turning to face her partner, the dark woman blew out a breath and revealed, "Well, hardly any of it." She ran her hands through her hair, settling it as she straightened her shoulders and said, "Ill tell you everything I know."
Jamie perched on the edge of the loveseat, tilting her head in anticipation.
Taking another breath, Ryan began, "I met Tory at the gym. I liked herwe hit it off, and we got together a few well, quite a few times," she admitted. "I always went to her house, like I did with everybody I saw, but one time she insisted that we had to go to a moteljust for a little spice, she said. I didnt think much of it, until one afternoonwe always met in the afternoonwe were in her apartment, and wed been at it for a long while. We must have looked like the wrath of God, and we were both pretty exhausted. Obviously we had fallen asleep, because we hear this noise, and she grabs me and shakes me really hard, and starts throwing my clothes at me. I heard a mans voice calling out, 'Tory, Tory,' and I realize that Im not supposed to be there."
Jamies eyes were wide, and Ryan wryly agreed, "Yeah, I felt like a deer in the headlights, too. She lived on the third floor, so there was no way I could go out the window. Luckily, the apartment ran down a long hall, and we could hear him go in the opposite direction, towards the kitchen. She told me to go into the next room, so I dashed next door, stark naked, holding my clothes and shoes." She rolled her eyes, still amazed at the lengths she went to have sex with relative strangers. "I opened the door and ran in and started to get dressed, only to step on some little toys that were littering the floor. I almost screamed in pain, but I managed to keep my mouth shut." She shook her head, slightly disgusted with herself. "Shit, Jamie, she had a kid. Not only was she married, she had a kid."
"I know," Jamie agreed, having learned that from the report. "What happened, Honey? Did her husband find you?"
"No," Ryan said, shivering in memory. "He went into the bedroom and obviously found her trying to make herself presentable. I could hear his voice starting to get louder and louder, and I took off and ran out of there as fast as I could. I didnt even have my shoes on," she recalled. "I must have run five blocks barefoot, with my underwear stuffed in my pocket. Damn," she breathed out wearily, "that was so fucking stupid."
"Did you ever speak to her again?"
"No," Ryan admitted. "She paged me later that night, but I didnt return it. She must have paged me twenty times in the next few days, but I just couldnt face her. I was chickenshit," she admitted, coloring a little as she said this.
"How old were you?" Jamie asked, not having noticed this detail in the report.
"18," Ryan said quietly.
"How old was Tory?"
The dark woman shrugged, her shoulders lifting perceptibly. "Dunno. Maybe 30 hard to tell. Everybody looks the same when youre 18. They all just look older."
Jamie got up and slid her arms around her partner, reassuring her by her warm presence. "Its okay, Love. You did the best you could."
"Crap, Jamie," the taller woman sighed. "Do you think he divorced her just because of me? I cant imagine how horrible it would be to have my ex-husband take my child away like that." She looked like she was about to cry, but Jamie tried to remind her of the reality of the situation.
"I can tell this bothers you, but Tory hid a lot of things from you. She was much older, and she had a responsibility to either be honest or set things up so her husband and child werent impacted by her actions. You were pretty blameless here, Love."
"I still feel like crap," Ryan muttered, walking back to the window. "I might have been the cause for her divorce and for her losing her child. And I was too much of a chicken to even talk to her! How self-centered!"
"Every 18-year-old is self-centered," Jamie soothed. "Some of us grow out of it. You did," she insisted. "You did your best, Ryan. Try not to let this bother you."
Ryan sighed, then took in a deep breath, trying to rid her mind of the image of Tory sitting in her apartment, her husband and son both gone.
Jamie broke into her musings by saying bitterly, "I know that Daddy thinks what you did is the equivalent of his behavior. Its not," she snapped. "You made a reasonable mistake." She looked up into Ryans deep blue eyes and said, "I know youd never have sex with someone if you knew they were married."
Ryan swallowed, her gut tensing appreciably. With a heavy sigh, she looked at her lover and told the truth. "Thats not so, Jamie," she said softly. "I have had sex with women that I knew were married."
Flopping down onto the bed, Jamie blinked slowly, trying to get her mind around this. "You you have?"
"Yes, I have. Im not proud of it, but I have." Her lips were pursed, and she looked quite somber as she said, "Im sorry to disappoint you, Love. I know how you feel about marital commitment."
"But why, Ryan," she begged. "Why would you do that? I know how you feel about marriage. Why?" She looked like she was about to cry, and Ryan deeply regretting causing her lover any more pain this evening. She knew that Jamie was justifiably disappointed in her, and she had to admit that she was disappointed in herself.
"I dont really have a good reason. If a married woman approached me, and I was certain that shed done it before and was going to do it again, I sometimes agreed to a little fling. I reasoned that I didnt cause the problems in her marriage, and that the problems wouldnt go away if I held back." She shrugged, repeating. "I told you, I dont really have a good excuse. All I can say is that I regret having slept with married women, especially now that I see what the aftereffects can be even in a marriage that has long-standing problems."
Jamie pulled her close, dropping her head onto Ryans chest. She sighed deeply as she admitted, "I wish I didnt know that you had done that."
"I wish I hadnt done it," Ryan agreed fully.
Giving her a squeeze, Jamie reminded her of the promise she had made many weeks ago. "I told you before that the past was past. Its buried between us. Lets let it go."
"Can you do that?" Ryan asked, timidly.
"I think so. I dont like it, but I think I understand your logic at least. The bottom line is that you learned something from it, and even if we werent together, I doubt that youd ever do it again."
"No, Im certain that I wouldnt," she agreed, her heart starting to beat normally once again. "I thought I respected marriage before, but now that Im committed to you " She trailed off, shaking her head. "Now I understand how sacred the vow is," she said quietly. "Its hard enough to build a relationship without a third party trying to destroy it."
* * * * * * * * * * *
The women were sitting on the deck when Catherines light tread finally sounded on the staircase. Duffys tail was whapping against the house so sharply that Martin came out, thinking someone was knocking on the door. He noticed Ryan holding on to the dogs collar, then saw Catherines blonde head peek up as she smiled at the gathering. She was dressed in a pair of tan linen slacks with a pure white linen square-cut oversized blouse. The blouse hung out over her slacks, giving her a slightly casual air, but her exquisitely tasteful jewelry and carefully applied make-up diminished the casualness. In her left hand she carried a bottle of liquor, in her right a small purse that perfectly matched her buttery soft sable-colored leather flats.
"I wasnt sure that the traffic gods would comply, but Im finally here," she said brightly, a few signs of tension on her face.
"Im sorry, Mom," Jamie said, getting up to greet her with a kiss and a hug. "We should have come down to you."
"Nonsense," she said, brushing off the suggestion. "Traffic was much worse the other way. Im happy to come, Sweetheart."
Ryan greeted her mother-in-law, already feeling slightly better to have the older woman nearby. Martin dashed into the house and called for the boys and they filed out moments later. The look on Catherines face was priceless as Brendan bent over and gave her a robust hug, closely followed by Conor, who mimicked his greeting.
Composing herself, Catherine said, "Its very nice to finally meet you, Brendan. Now I just have one more to go, correct?"
"Yes," Martin agreed. "Rory will be home by the weekend, so youll meet him at the party." He said this so matter-of-factly that Catherine was unable to disagree with him, figuring that she had a party to attend.
The boys returned to the house to continue watching the Giants game and Martin started to go with them, but Catherine asked him to stay. "Would you mind discussing what went on today with us, Martin?" she asked. "Id like your opinion."
"No, no, Id be happy to, if Im not interfering."
"Wed love you to talk with us, Martin," Jamie insisted. "Let me go get a glass for you, Mom."
"Oh," Catherine said, looking at the bottle that she still held in her hand. "I wasnt sure that you kept Scotch in the house, and I hate to switch."
She looked a little sheepish, but Martin immediately got to his feet and said, "Well done, Catherine. I think a wee nip would be just the thing." Moments later he returned with four glasses, a pitcher of water, a metal mixing bowl filled with ice, and a bottle of Connemara whiskey. "Youll find no Scotch in the OFlaherty home," he teased, his eyes twinkling. "Its Irish or nothing here."
Ryan took a glass and helped herself to some whiskey, suitably impressed that her father had pulled out the good stuff, while Jamie joined her mother in imbibing a little Scotch.
"Well," Catherine said, letting the smooth warm mellowness of the liquor bring a nice heated tingle to her chest as she swallowed. "An impromptu Friday evening chat, a pair of very anxious looking young women, and two bottles of liquor. I have a feeling this is bad news indeed."
"It is, Mom," Jamie admitted. "I promised you that I wouldnt take any major steps without talking to you first, so I wanted to let you know that Im going to cut off all contact with Daddy in the future." She said this calmly, but there was such a well of sadness in her eyes that Catherine felt her heart clench in sympathy for her daughter.
"Im sure you wouldnt do that if it wasnt justified, Jamie," she acknowledged. "What happened, Dear?"
"Daddy hired a private investigator to trail Ryan," she said, drawing a slight flush from her partner as all eyes turned to her.
"Oh, Ryan, Im so sorry," Catherine said, her eyes blinking slowly against the shame that she felt. "Im embarrassed to share a name with that man." Letting out a heavy sigh, she leaned back in her chair and drained her drink, immediately pouring another. "Is there anything that I can do to make amends, Ryan?"
"No, its fine, Catherine," she insisted. "Jamie knew almost everything in the report." She looked down at her feet and admitted, "It was pretty humiliating to see my life laid out like thatbut I guess that was his goal."
"How do you feel about this, Martin?" Catherine asked, seeing the fire burn in the cold blue eyes.
He blushed slightly as he told the truth. "If it wasnt for you and Jamie, Id find him and beat him to within an inch of his life." His voice was low and filled with such venom that Catherine shuddered a bit in reaction. There wasnt a shred of doubt in any of the three women that Martin would successfully complete his mission if he did not feel the need to control himself for the sake of the Evans women.
The older woman nodded after composing herself, and she turned to face her daughter. "I understand why you think this is your only option, Jamie. I wouldnt have said this two weeks ago, but Im in agreement. This might be the only chance he has to see how wrong he is." She sighed and leaned her head back, gazing at the moon high overhead. "I thought I had experienced pain in my life," she said softly, "but everything else pales in comparison to having the man who helped bring your child into the world intentionally hurt her. I dont know if I can ever forgive him for this, Jamie," she said with a world of hurt in her deep brown eyes. "He might have lost both of us tonight."
With tears streaming down her face unchecked, Jamie got to her feet and crossed the short distance to her mother, dropping to her knees and resting her head in her lap. Catherines composure crumbled, and she began to sob softly as she tangled her fingers in her daughters fine hair and began to rhythmically stroke it.
Catching his daughters eye, Martin inclined his head towards the door, indicating that he thought the Evans women should have a moment alone. No sooner were they inside the house than he wrapped his daughter in such a fervid embrace that her lungs were unable to expand. "Im so proud of you, Siobhán," he whispered raggedly. "I thank God for having given you to me."
She hugged him back with all of her strength, overcome with feeling. "I told Jim that all I wanted in life was for him to be half the man that you are," she said, her own voice hoarse with emotion. A small chuckle escaped as she admitted, "If he could only manage twenty five percent, it would still be a massive improvement."
* * * * * * * * * * *
At eleven oclock Jamie poked her head into the house. Martin and Ryan were sitting in the living room, chatting quietly, and both dark heads turned in Jamies direction. Even from fifteen feet away Ryan could tell that she was bleary-eyed. "Moms gonna leave now," she said a trifle thickly.
Hopping to his feet, Martin strode out to the deck and stood in front of Catherine. "Would you rather stay over tonight, or would you prefer that I drive you home?" His deep blue eyes were locked on her, and it was obvious that only those two options were on the menu.
She sighed, not wishing to burden the poor man but realizing that resistance was futile. "I can just take a cab, Martin. I dont want to be a bother."
"Nonsense. Cabs are an endangered species around here, Catherine. Ill drive your car and have Brendan follow me."
"No, no," she insisted, loath to have both men driving that far just because she had overindulged. "Ill go stay at our city apartment," she proposed. "Can I take a cab there?"
"Again, no," he decreed. "Ill drive you."
She sighed, catching her daughters amused look. "All right. Why dont you just drop me off there. We have an extra car at the apartment. I can come over tomorrow and pick up my Mercedes."
"Are you sure youll be alone, Mother?" Jamie asked warily.
"Yes. Hes down in Pebble Beach. For the fourth consecutive weekend," she added, a harsh smile marring her features.
* * * * * * * * * * *
As their parents left the deck, Jamie sat between Ryans legs on the chaise lounge, soaking up the comfort that the dark womans body always provided. "Im worried about her," Jamie murmured.
"I am too," Ryan agreed. "She must need the security or the familiarity or something to have stayed with your father this long. I think this is really going to be tough for her." I just hope that she doesnt continue to drink like this. Jesus, that bottle was more than half full when she arrived. She gazed at the empty, sitting upright on the table next to them. Jamie seems a little buzzed, but not too bad, so Catherine must have caused the most damage. Fighting the lethargy that seemed to settle into her bones, she laughed at herself mockingly. Youve got a lot of room to talk, OFlaherty. You spend the afternoon in a bar, then you come home and do a good bit of your own damage on that whiskey bottle. People who live in glass houses
"You havent read the whole report yet, Honey," Jamie reminded her partner. "Theres some stuff about you and Sara in there, and I was thinking that youd better call her and tell her about it."
Dropping her head into her hands Ryan moaned, "He doesnt care about anything other than getting what he wants. It doesnt matter how many innocent people he hurts." She sighed heavily and said, "Ill read the damn thing when we go downstairs. If I need to call Sara, I will," she agreed, not looking forward to that conversation in the least.
* * * * * * * * * * *
As they drove along in the still-heavy Friday night city traffic, Catherine leaned her head back against the headrest and gave voice to her slightly disordered thoughts. "Martin?" she asked lazily. "Have you ever wished that Ryan Siobhán wasnt a lesbian?"
He was a bit taken aback by the question, but he answered honestly, and from his heart. "No. Never." Glancing at Catherine he continued. "I take it that you wish Jamie wasnt."
Shaking her head slowly she said, "Not for me. It doesnt bother me at all." Shrugging her delicate shoulders she said, "How can I express this?" She thought about her point for a few minutes, finally saying, "Since she is gay, Im very, very happy that shes found Ryan. They seem like a perfect pair, and I want you to know that I couldnt have picked a better partner for my daughter." Her voice was earnest, and Martin realized that what she was saying was very important to her. "But there is a part of me that wishes she was straight, Martin. I would never want her to pretend to be who she wasntI just sometimes wish she wasnt who she is."
"Why?" Martin asked simply. "Shes such a fine lass, Catherine. Why nitpick?"
"I dont know," she sighed, feeling very open with a man she knew so little. "All of the trouble started when she first started having misgivings about her engagement. I know now that Jack wasnt right for her, but there is a part of me that wishes she had found a man who would have made her happy. I just cant tell you how horrible it is for me to watch her sever her relationship with her father over this. A year ago Jamie would have told you that her bond with her father was the strongest one in her life." Tears sprang to her eyes again as she whimpered, "Its breaking my heart, Martin."
"I cant imagine," he soothed, reaching across the car to grasp and squeeze her hand. "I truly cant imagine, Catherine." He had a lot to say to the womanmostly reminding her that Jim had chosen this split, but he didnt think now was the time. He knew that she had to mourn the death of trust that both Jamie and she had once shared with the man, and he knew that he couldnt help her with that.
She looked out the window, watching the brightly colored buildings fly by. "Forgive my musings, Martin. I know that things are what they are. Lord knows, theres no guarantee that Jamie could have ever found a man to love her and care for her as much as Ryan does." Bitterly she added, "I certainly didnt."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Catherine insisted that Martin drop her off, resisting his offer to find a place to park and accompany her. Now, as she rode up in the gold-toned elevator, she mused, I should have let him walk me up. Its so comforting to be in his presence. No wonder Jamie cares for him so much.
Slipping her key into the lock, she opened the door to the muted sounds of a television playing in the background. Shit, she muttered to herself, uncharacteristically cursing. All of her instincts told her to back out of the apartment, preserve her dignity, and walk to the first hotel she spotted. But some insolent part of herlong buriedpoked its head out and caused her feet to carry her towards the sound.
They were nestled together on the couch. Jim was bare-chested, and as Catherine walked closer she could see that he was wearing only his boxers. The young redhead was attired in a skimpy ribbed tank toponly. Jims head was resting on her shoulder, and Catherine detected that he was asleep, which made perfect sense since the young woman was watching MTV and she knew that her husband would never choose that channel.
Gathering every bit of gumption that she had been gifted with, Catherine strode to the front of the sofa and extended her hand, pasting on a cultured smile as she said, "Catherine Evans. I dont believe weve met."
The young woman paled noticeably and pushed Jim from her body, cowering in the corner of the sofa as if Catherine was planning on shooting her. Her sudden movement woke him and he blinked slowly, as he tried to focus. "Wha ?" Turning his head in the direction of his lovers frightened gaze he focused on his wife, standing two feet in front of him with an eerily calm look on her face.
His head swiveled in all possible directions, finally lighting on his lover as he noticed her state of dishabille. Grabbing a chenille throw from the back of the sofa he gallantly covered her, trying to get to his feet at the same time. "Now look here, Catherine " he began, his authoritative voice coming to the fore.
"Im going to sleep in the guest room, Jim."
She stepped around the piece of furniture, confidently making her way towards the hall when he called out, "You cant just barge in here "
She turned quickly, her brown eyes flashing with seldom-seen anger. "This is a community property state, Jim. Until the divorce, one-half of this apartment is mine. Im sleeping in my half tonight. Try to keep the noise to a minimum, wont you?"
With that, she turned on her heel and continued on her path, not stopping until she reached the well-appointed guest room, immediately locking the door behind her. Her body sagged against the heavy, solid surface, her legs slowly losing their muscular tension until she had slid down the length of the door and collapsed onto the plush pile carpet. With all of the strength that she could summon, she focused on keeping her sobs nearly silent, intent on never letting her husband know that he had finally managed to break her heart.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Your mom seemed pretty sedate today, dont you think?" Ryan asked after Catherine showed up to collect her car on Saturday morning.
"Yeah," Jamie agreed. "She probably has a bit of a hangover. I dont think shes been drinking much lately. Shes outta practice."
"Do you think we should have gone home with her? I hate to see her looking so sad."
Turning to look at her partner fully, Jamie said, "You know, even if you didnt have any other good qualities, Id love you just for the way you care about my mother. I cant tell you how much that means to me, Ryan."
"I love her too," the taller woman said simply, meaning every word.
"Are you going to call Sara today?" Jamie asked, not wanting to bring up the sore subject, but feeling that she should.
"Yeah," Ryan said glumly. "I think I should."
"Wanna talk about it first?" Jamie asked.
"Nah. Ill just tell her and hope she doesnt freak."
"Hard to imagine that an incident that happened seven years ago could show up in some investigator's report about an entirely different matter."
"Yeah. Hard to imagine is an understatement," she groused.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Sara?" the anxious woman asked a few minutes later.
"Hi, Ryan," she said immediately, not needing further identification from her old friend. "Im surprised to hear from you."
"Yeah," she said quickly. "Youll be surprised and displeased when I tell you why Im calling."
"Whats wrong?" she asked, her voice rising in pitch.
"Nothing," Ryan started to say, but amended quickly. "Plenty of things are wrong, but nothing life-threatening. Let me just get to the point so you dont have to guess, okay?"
"Sure. Go ahead, Ryan."
She blew out a breath, unsure of where to start. "Very shortened version of the story," she said in the familiar shorthand that Sara was so used to. "Jim Evans is unhappy with Jamie and me being together. He has some doubts about me as a person and he had me investigated."
Sara gasped in shock, mumbling, "That sucks."
"Sure does," Ryan agreed. "This affects you because he went back and delved into my uh romantic life," she said with a nervous clearing of her throat.
"And he knows about you and me," Sara said quietly.
"Yeah. Your name was in the report," Ryan agreed. "It was pretty accurate factually."
Sara was quiet for a moment and Ryan waited also, letting her friend have time to think about her reaction. "Thanks for telling me, Ryan," she finally said. "Id hate to have that blindside me if it came up at work."
"Do you think it might?" Ryan asked.
"No. My name is common, but even if it wasnt I dont think hed make the connection. Ive never spoken to the guy in a one-on-one situation, Ryan. Morris and Foster has over 450 attorneys now, and Im at the very bottom of the food chain."
Breathing out a sigh of relief Ryan said, "Thats reassuring. I was afraid he might associate you with me and think less of you because of it."
A soft, lilting laugh came out of the receiver and Ryans eyes drifted closed at the warmth that the sound evoked. "Being associated with you would only enhance my reputation with anyone who had a brain in their head," she said gently. "Dont give this another thought, Ryan. I wont," she promised.
"Its a deal, Sara. Thanks for being so mature about this."
"Its taken me a while to begin the process of maturing," she chuckled, "but now that Ive started, Im gonna do my best to keep going in the right direction."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Part Eight
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