By S X Meagher
Ryan had taken to riding her mountain bike to school, requiring her to carry a substantial amount of books and supplies on her back, and Jamie usually helped her get loaded up. As she prepared to leave on Monday morning, Ryan asked, "Are you sure you dont want me to go with you to see your father?"
Gazing at Ryan for a full minute, Jamie worked her cheek between her teeth, obviously struggling with some inner conflict. Her blonde head finally shook brieflyher mind made up. "No. I want to talk to him alone. Even though he targeted you, he did so because of me. This is really between me and him."
"All right," Ryan agreed, lacing her hands behind Jamies neck and giving her a tiny tickle as she did so. She leaned in close and brushed her lips across her cheeks, then embraced her gently and whispered, "Im going to be worried about you all day. Promise youll page me after you see him?"
"I will," she agreed. Patting Ryans chest with the flat of her hand, she forced a bright smile and said, "Ill see you after practice tonight."
Ryan rode away, feeling the anxiety building as she increased the distance between herself and her partner.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Once again, Jamie used the ruse of paying her father a surprise visit to learn his schedule from his secretary. He was in his office when she arrived just after lunch, and she could hear his voice carrying clearly down the hallway when she approached. Allowing him the courtesy of finishing his phone call, Jamie chatted quietly with Helen for a few minutes, the small talk serving to keep her mind off the impending confrontation.
As soon as she heard him say goodbye, she thanked Helen for arranging the meeting and slipped inside his office, closing the door firmly behind her. He looked up and his face betrayed a moment of surprise which was quickly replaced by a look of sad resignation. It was obvious that the young woman who stood in front of his door was not there to conduct a social call; Jim knew the many expressions of his daughters face better than most, and he immediately knew that she was, at the very least, intensely angry.
He got up and crossed the room, unsure of how to greet her. For just a moment, he had the irrational notion to try to kiss her, then realized that would be a very bad idea. Instead, he offered nothing by way of greeting, and neither did she. He sat on the arm of his leather sofa and waited in tense silence, knowing that the very essence of their future relationship lay in her small, clenched hands.
"A year ago, if I had been told that one day I would voluntarily choose to cut off contact with you, I think I would have laughed." He felt his stomach clench as she continued in a low, emotionless voice. "I thought, out of all of the people in the world, that you loved me more than anyone else did. More than mother, more than Jack, even more than Poppa. I thought that you understood me, and that my welfare was paramount to you." She shook her head, still unable to fully believe all of the evidence that now showed she had been mistaken. "Funny what a difference a year makes," she added, her voice now growing cold and bitter.
"Jamie, please let me explain," he began, but she cut him off.
"There is no possible explanation. You hired someone to investigate my lover. You did that only to cause me further pain and embarrassment."
"I did not!" he cried, unable to hold his tongue. "Im trying to show you who she really is!"
"Hmm lets see, a few weeks ago she was a money-grubbing opportunist. Then your little investigation quashed that notion, so you no longer try to push that point. But you cant admit that you were wrong. No, thats not in Jim Evans' repertoire. You just change your focus. Now shes a two-timing pedophile." She blinked slowly, cocking her head a tiny bit as she asked, "That is todays incarnation of evil, isnt it?"
His head dropped in resignation as he realized that he had very little chance of reaching her now. Still, he tried for the last weapon in his arsenal. "So, when I have an affair, its evil and horrible. When Ryan has an affair with an older married woman--with a young child, no less--that just makes her more lovable." His tone was bitter and filled with rancor for the dark woman who had so alienated his child from his affections.
"I never thought of you as stupid," Jamie mused, narrowing her eyes at him thoughtfully. "But it puzzles me that you cant grasp a simple fact. Ryans never been married before. Before now shes never made a vow to anyone to remain faithful. Shes never intentionally betrayed her spouse just to get laid!" Each of her final words was nearly spat from her mouth as she tasted the bile at the back of her throat.
"So, just your mother and I are beyond your contempt?" he asked softly, a malevolent gleam in his eyes.
"I have no contempt for my mother," she snapped. "Its not her fault that you cant remain faithful any longer than a dog in heat!"
He rose and went to his desk, opening his lowest drawer and extracting a file folder. Returning to his daughter, he pulled a few photographs from it and tossed them at her sharply, one at a time, her body reacting automatically to catch them. She didnt want to look, but the first image caught her attention immediately and she was unable to stop her eyes from focusing on it. It was a crystal clear shot of her mother in the very recent past, judging from her haircut. She was sitting at an outdoor café that Jamie recognized as being close to her apartment in Milan. A very handsome dark-haired man held her hand in the photo, his black eyes boring into the fair woman with a magnetic intensity.
The next photo was taken moments later, and their chairs had drawn closer. Now their arms were loosely draped around each others bodies, and their lips met in what was likely a short, tender kiss. The following picture showed Catherines head resting on his shoulder, his fingers tilting her chin up to be able to better gaze into her eyes. Another showed them entering her apartment building together, the time stamp showing three p.m. In the very last photo, Catherine stood on her balcony, offering a longing farewell to the man, who stood on the street below. She was now wearing a silk robe, and her hair was attractively mussed. The stamp on this photo read seven p.m., and from the golden light that colored her body, it seemed to reflect the accurate time. "Giacomo Fontini," she heard a voice intone. "Art gallery owner. 32 years old. Married. Three children." He waited until he could see the full realization of his words reach her, then asked, "What level of contempt does that engender, Jamie?"
She rose and faced him, her green eyes filled with tears. Her gaze flicked over his face, trying to remember what it had been like to love and be loved by this man who now seemed like a complete stranger. "My contempt for you is so complete, that I have none left to spare."
Without another word, she turned and walked out of his office, determined that those would be the last words she ever spoke to him.
* * * * * * * * * * *
She was barely aware of the road she was on and even less aware of her destination. Her surprise was near total when she found herself entering the town of Hillsborough, and found her car automatically proceeding to her childhood home.
She found her mother in the garden, the older women strolling along the gravel path in deep concentration. The sound of footsteps startled her, and she turned to face Jamie with a look of shock. "Sweetheart " she began only to find her arms full of her sobbing child. The young woman cried so hard that Catherine prepared herself for the worst, and, as she'd feared, moments later her daughter was bent over from the waist, retching violently onto the path.
When she was able to stand, Catherine led her to a bench and left her for a moment to get her something to drink. Minutes later she returned, a tall glass of lemon-lime soda in one hand and a damp cloth in the other. Handing Jamie some tissues, Catherine wiped at the sweat that ran freely down the young womans face and neck.
It took a long while, longer than she could ever remember, to calm her down enough to discuss what had happened. Jamie drained her glass of Seven-Up and put some of the ice cubes into the cloth, placing it on the back of her neck to help cool her fevered body.
"Are you feeling better, Honey?" Catherine asked softly, her heart aching for her child. She intuited that her distress was over her planned confrontation with Jim, and she forced herself to be patient enough to let Jamie explain her plight when she was ready.
"Yeah, I guess so," she replied, wishing that she didnt have to share what she had learned. "I went to see my father today," she began, no longer able to even refer to him by his more familiar form of address. "It was it was bad, Mom."
Slipping her arm tightly around her daughters shoulders, Catherine assured her, "You dont need to tell me if you dont want to, Honey."
"No, no, I have to," Jamie swallowed convulsively, trying to stem another round of tears. "The really bad part was about you."
Catherine stiffened, her eyes growing wide with alarm. "About me?" she asked, her mouth suddenly very dry.
"Yes." Jamie took a deep breath and revealed, "He had you followed, too."
All of the air seemed to escape from Catherines body, and she collapsed against the hard wooden bench, her heart racing, her palms covered with sweat. "Jamie," she whispered, "Im so sorry. Im so sorry that I "
Her daughters hand covered her own as the strong, firm voice said, "Its okay, Mom. Its a little late, but I I finally understand what Ryans been telling me all along."
Staying right where she was, Catherine merely inclined her head, silently urging her daughter to continue.
"What happens between you and my father--between any two people for that matter--isnt my business. I never should have been so judgmental about his behavior. I dont have to like it, but I dont have the right to get involved."
Catherine let out the breath she didnt know she had been holding, and gave her daughter a relieved look. She dabbed at her eyes with the last of the tissues and said, "I know Ive done some things that you dont approve of, Jamie, but I honestly dont know if I could survive if I lost your respect."
Enveloping her mother in a hug, Jamie whispered, "I love and respect you, Mom. I dont know what happened between you and Daddy, but Im sure you had your reasons for what youve done."
"Ill tell you all about it, if you want to know," Catherine offered.
Looking at her mother curiously, Jamie asked, "How long has it been going on?"
"Not very long," Catherine revealed. "It started when I went to Milan after Christmas last year."
"Why?" Jamie asked, thinking it odd that her mother would choose this point in her life to have an affair, since it was obvious that her father had been unfaithful for many years.
"Its a long story, but Ill give you the condensed version," she said, taking in a deep breath to clear her mind. "Things got very strained between your father and I not long after you left for college. I think that both of us had a large void in our lives without you, and I decided that I didnt want things to go on as they had been." She furrowed her brow, trying to decide how much she should reveal. "We hadnt been intimate in several years, and I just decided that I couldnt live without love for the rest of my life."
Jamies eyes closed in pain as she considered how lonely it must have been for her mother to be locked into a sexless marriage to a man who was unfaithful.
Catherine continued, "We discussed divorcing, but to my surprise, your father proposed that we try to start over again." She smiled softly, remembering his heartfelt plea to give him another chance. But her smile faded as she observed, "I think he just didnt want to lose the houses and his cars."
"That sounds like him," Jamie agreed, unable to see her father in even a glimmer of a favorable light.
"We tried to re-establish our physical relationship, and even though it was strained, I thought we were making progress. Then we went to the New Years Eve party last year," she said, her voice tight with remembered anger. "One of the partners wives took me aside and told me that your father was having an affair with one of the associates." She shook her head slowly, the shame still causing her cheeks to flush. "That was the final straw for me, Honey. Being humiliated in public like that was just something that I couldnt tolerate."
"What was his excuse?" Jamie cried, unable to understand how a man could lie repeatedly to his wife.
"I never told him that I knew," Catherine said softly. "I rebuffed his advances once or twice and he never made another overture." She looked every one of her 41 years as she sighed and said, "I think he was just sleeping with me so that I didnt divorce him. He seemed relieved not to have to touch me again."
Blinking her eyes against the pain she felt for her mother, Jamie asked, "So you tried to find a lover?"
"No, Dear. Id known Giacomo for several years. We were great friends, and hes helped me with all of the art Ive acquired over the years Ive lived in Milan." She blushed slightly as she admitted, "Ive known he was interested for quite a while, but I always told him that I couldnt return his affection." She looked up at Jamie with a hint of defiance in her deep brown eyes and said, "I stopped saying no after I found out about your fathers latest conquest."
Jamie tried to get her mind around all of these events, finally asking, "But what about his wife and his family? Isnt it hard on them?"
Catherine shook her head slightly and assured her daughter, "Giacomos wife knows about us. She has a lover, too." A smile covered her face as she recounted, "His wifes lover is a woman, Jamie."
"Really?" The younger woman was somehow shocked by this revelation, and her face reflected her surprise.
"Yes, Dear. Their marriage is quite secure. Neither wants to leave the other, but neither is completely satisfied at home. Theyre home together in the evenings, and they spend time with their children on the weekends, but their afternoons are for their personal pursuits."
Catherine seemed to think this was quite normal, but Jamie was having a tough time. "Is is that enough for you, Mom? A few stolen afternoons, once or twice a year?"
She shrugged her shoulders a bit, saying, "Its not what I want, but its enough to make me feel like someone desires me, Honey. I feel young, and interesting, and attractive when Im with Giacomo, and for now, its enough."
"But wouldnt you rather find someone in the States?"
Catherine looked rather horrified at the mere suggestion. "Oh, I would never do that, Honey. Not when there was a chance you would have found out."
Jamie swallowed and blinked her eyes a few times, wanting to make sure that she understood her mothers point. "You wouldnt seek your own satisfaction because there was a chance that the gossip would get back to me?"
"Of course, Sweetheart," Catherine said, puzzled that her daughter would even question her logic. "Your respect means everything to me. I would never put that at risk."
Snuggling close and allowing her head to rest on her mothers shoulder, Jamie closed her eyes, letting the enormity of the sacrifice reach her brain. "I think I understand," she said slowly. "When youre a parent, you have to let your childrens needs come first."
At Catherines nod, Jamie informed her, "Im an adult now, Mom, and I want you to know that its perfectly all right with me if you want to find someone on this side of the Atlantic. I can handle it."
Catherine smiled softly at her daughter and offered up a small tease to lighten the mood. "If I had played my cards right, I would have snared that darling Martin OFlaherty while he was still on the market!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie decided to stay in Hillsborough for dinner, feeling like she needed to spend a little more time with her mother. Things seemed fairly normal between them when she finally departed at 8:30, and she mulled over the developments of the day the entire way home.
Ryan was sitting on a chair on the front porch when she arrived, and Jamie smiled to herself as she saw the phosphorescent glow of the laptop casting a pale shadow across her body. One of the things she had always loved about Ryan was her ability to make the most out of every minuteeven tonight, when she was understandably anxious about the outcome of the day. Too antsy to wait in her room, she had brought her work with her, somehow feeling less anxious when she was outdoors.
By the time Jamie had turned off the ignition, Ryan was at the door, looking at her with a face full of compassion mixed with trepidation. "Have you been worried about me?" she asked as Ryan wrapped her in a hug.
"Of course I have," Ryan murmured, her face snuggled up against Jamies neck. "I knew you werent being very forthright and I assumed its because your mom was there. What happened?"
"Shit. Im sorry, Ryan. I should have gone into another room to call you. I I just wasnt thinking very clearly."
"Its all right," Ryan soothed. "Youre home now." She released her hold and took Jamies hand, leading her slowly up the sidewalk and onto the porch. "Wanna go inside, or stay out here?"
"Out here, please," she decided. "Can I sit on your lap? I need to be close."
"Best idea Ive heard all day," Ryan agreed. She sat down on the roomy Adirondack chair and waited for Jamie to snuggle in. After a few minutes they were both comfortable, and as Jamie lay her head against Ryans chest she felt some of the fractures in her psyche start to heal almost immediately.
"I dont know how I would get through all of this without you," she whispered, feeling the rock-steady beat of Ryans heart against her cheek.
"Not to be too nitpicky, but you wouldnt have these problems without me, Jamie. I know that you dont regret being with me, and you know that I wouldnt change a thing, but the fact remains that my presence has caused the rift with your father, and Im very, very sorry for that."
"Nope. You couldnt be more wrong," Jamie said confidently, her head slowly moving back and forth against Ryans chest. "If not you, it would have been something else. Hes unwilling to let me make my own decisions, Ryan. I think its almost irrelevant what those decisions are. This would have come up at some point, with you or without you. Im just glad that youre here to help me through it."
"I always will be here for you, Jamie. No matter what." She wrapped her arms a little tighter around her partner, trying to convey her support through her physical presence. "Do you feel like talking about it?"
"Not much," she admitted. "Im pretty drained. But I know youre anxious, so Ill give you a quick version."
"If you dont want to, I can wait "
"No. Its all right, Honey. You should know this." She took a deep breath and said, "My father didnt just have you followed. He also sicced his hounds on my mother."
Ryans body tensed appreciably and Jamie asked quietly, "You didnt know about this, did you?"
"No. I know nothing about your mom that you dont know," she said immediately, feeling a twinge of regret that her partner had to question that.
"Well, the bottom line is that shes been having an affair in Italy. With a married man," Jamie added, still not quite comfortable with the facts.
"Oh, Honey," Ryan crooned, holding her close. "How awful for you to learn that."
"No, no, Im okay with it," she decided. "Well, not okay, I guess, but Im certainly not angry or upset with her." She lifted her head and gazed into Ryans eyes, their heads so close that she could make out each individual eyelash. "If I had listened to you earlier, this might not have gotten to this point."
"Huh? Listened to me about what?"
"You told me early on that I shouldnt be so judgmental of my fathers behavior, Ryan, and if I had listened to you he might not have gone this far. He was trying to show me that both you and my mother have done the same things that he has."
"What a bastard," Ryan mumbled, feeling her ire rise at the man who would intentionally try to poison his daughters feelings for her mother.
"Yeah. No argument there," Jamie agreed. "Nonetheless, Ryan, if I hadnt made such a big deal about his affairs, he might not have felt that he was justified in trying to dig up dirt on both you and mother."
"Jamie, it certainly isnt your fault--" Ryan began, but Jamie interrupted.
"No, of course it isnt. He acted with malice, Ryan, I know that. All Im saying is that I think I pushed him a little by being so sanctimonious about his affairs. It really isnt my business, and Im sorry that I made such a stink about the whole thing."
"Thats very mature of you to admit," Ryan said softly. "Youll always have feelings about the way your parents conduct their relationship, but its really not a good idea to take sides. A relationship is just too complicated." She sighed deeply and added, "To be honest, I lost all respect for your dad when I learned he was cheating on your mom. I wouldnt tell him that, of course, but it really pissed me off."
"I dont know, Ryan," Jamie said softly. "I really do understand that I should stay out of itbut I dont know how to learn that kind of information and not get involved." She shrugged and added, "It doesnt matter much anymore I suppose."
Hearing the defeated tone in her voice, Ryan said, "I assume that youre pretty angry with your father for having your mother followed."
With a heavy sigh, Jamie admitted, "You know, I think Ive reached my capacity for anger. Im no angrier than I was when I went there today. Maybe Im just numb I dont know." She snuggled back down and added, "Maybe hes finally killed the love I still had for him. He just seemed pathetic today, Ryan. I almost feel sorry for him." She climbed off Ryans lap and extended her hand, helping her partner up. "Maybe he should hook up with that young associate and start over. He could start a new family and try to do it right this time." She turned and gazed at Ryan with a look of pure determination. "He might as well start a new family, because hes lost the one he had."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan was waiting outside of Coach Placers office on Tuesday when he emerged to walk over to practice. "Have you made up your mind about taking me this weekend?"
He laughed at her determination and promised, "Ill let you know after practice, Ryan."
"Just let me know what I have to do to convince you, Coach," she said earnestly. "If youre worried about the cost of taking me, Ill even pay my own way. Its really, really important to me to be with the team this weekend, even if you dont think I can play."
He shook his head, knowing that he wouldnt be able to refuse her. "Okay, Ryan, lets go over right now and measure your vertical leap. If you can show me that you still have any explosive power in those skinny legs, youre on."
When they arrived at the RSF, she ran a few easy lengths of the gym and bounced around a little bit before she did a few deep squats. She exploded out of a couple more squats and pronounced herself ready. Dipping her fingers in the blue chalk she made her first mark on the wall. Concentrating fully, she crouched down a little and began her approach. She exploded from her mark and propelled herself towards the wall, brushing the surface with the tips of her fingers before she landed softly. Coach Placer gave her a puzzled glance as he pulled out his tape measure, then he called Erin over and asked her to confirm his measurement. Ryan just stood there grinning with a satisfied smile on her face.
"OFlaherty," he finally said, "I dont know how you go from being critically ill to improving your leap by two inches in less than two weeks, but if it works I want the whole team infected!"
She gave him a happy smile as she revealed, "Losing twelve pounds made a big difference in my leap. I feel much lighter and more explosive. Im going to try to play at this weight and see if my stamina can hold up."
"Well, we should have an indication by Saturday night," he said with a twinkle in his eyes. "Erin, make sure Ryans on the roster for this weekend."
Her exuberance got the best of her and she performed a flawless standing back flip in front of the startled coach. "Dont break your neck!" he yelled. "Youre going to be the death of me, Ryan!"
"Nah. If I havent driven my father mad yet, youre safe."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
As they snuggled together later that night Jamie slid her hand around to cup Ryans breast. Taking a tender nip of a pink earlobe she teased, "Youve lost a substantial amount of my favorite assets, Sweetie. What are we going to do about that?"
"Are they really smaller?" Ryan asked as she looked down, finding herself unable to judge.
"Yeah, they really are. I can get one all the way into my mouth now," Jamie said as she wiggled an eyebrow.
"It felt like you were trying to suck my ribs out of my chest," Ryan gently chided, reaching around her shoulder to flick the tip of Jamies nose with her index finger. "You were quite the voracious little lover tonight."
"It was funny," the blonde said seriously, her face pensive. "It felt a little like making love to a different body. Everything felt a little strange." She let her hand slide down Ryans still moist body, pausing occasionally to consider the changed contours. "You were still you, of course, and you acted the same, but you felt so different that it was odd. I know every little part so wellits going to take me some time to get used to the new topography."
"Would you be willing to live with the new look until the seasons over?"
"Sure, if you want to stay this light. But why would you want to? You told me that 200 is your ideal weight, and youre a very, very long way from that."
"200 is my ideal for lifting weights, looking muscular, and having power. I generally try to get up to around that before the AIDS Ride. But volleyball rewards quickness and jumping ability much more than power. Even though Im weak right now I felt like my first step was quicker today. I think Im going to try to play at this weight and see how it goes."
"That will give me an excuse to go buy you new bras." She clambered over her partners sweat-slick body and grinned widely at her. "And you know how I love to buy you lingerie," she whispered.
"I dont know why you enjoy it so much," Ryan reasoned. "You never let me keep it on for long."
"Its kind of like having really pretty wrapping paper on a present. It really dresses up the gift, but you cant wait to get that paper off and get your hands on the present," she said with a big smile, her hands roaming all over her big live present.
"Youre incorrigible," Ryan said with a smile as she felt her lips being captured in a sultry kiss. "And thats just how I like you."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Wednesday dawned foggy and cold, and the tall figure in the dark gray suit had to occasionally wipe the condensation from his eyes as he walked along. It was a good walk from Jims apartment to Nob Hill, but he hadnt considered taking a cab. He was rising so ungodly early lately that he was usually looking for ways to occupy the long hours before dawn. A bracing walk fit the bill, and as he neared his destination he was pleased to note that it was past six. Hell be up by now, he decided.
His prediction proved accurate a few minutes later when his father opened the door to his small house and blinked at his visitor in surprise. "Good morning," he managed. "Is everything all right, Jim?"
"Not really, Dad," he admitted with uncharacteristic honesty. "May I come in?"
"Oh!" His father looked completely flustered as he stepped aside and let his son enter. He followed the younger man into the sitting room, pausing at the door to inquire, "Coffee?"
"Oh, no thanks, Dad. I stopped twice on the way over here. It helped to keep my hands warm."
"You walked over here?" Charles asked, cocking his head in question.
"Uh, yeah. I uh Im having a hard time sleeping in the morning. It helps to get up and get going. I crossed paths with the cleaning crew in the office yesterday," he chuckled mirthlessly.
His own coffee forgotten, Charles sat down and gazed at his son for a moment, seeing the lines of stress that had settled around his mouth. His color was unusually pale, and his eyes bore none of their typical sparkle. "Tell me whats bothering you, Jim."
Looking into his fathers eyes, Jim had a brief flash of recognition as he realized how starkly similar the warm green eyes were to Jamies. "Has Jamie talked to you, Dad?"
"About?" the older man asked, noncommittally.
Jim sighed, realizing his father would guard his secrets carefully, as usual. "About whats happening between her and me. About me having a private investigator look into Ryan and Catherines lives."
The gray eyebrows shot up, Charles eyes growing wide. "No, she probably didnt want to give me a heart attack," he muttered, shaking his head. His eyes fluttered closed as he asked rhetorically, "What will it take for you to come to your senses?"
Jim took the question seriously and looked at his father with eyes bright with emotion. "I think I have, Dad," he said earnestly. "I really think I have." Now only one eyebrow remained arched and Jim continued, "I dont know why it took me this long, but it finally sank in," he insisted. "Jamies just as hard-headed as I am, Dad, and shes not going to let me dictate to her about her choice of companions," he said, not being able to come up with a more palatable word. "It finally dawned on me that either I drop the issue, or Ill lose her permanently." His eyes were unfocused as they stared at a space over Charles shoulder. "I cant lose her, Dad. Shes my life."
Charles got up and sat on the sofa, next to his son. "Im glad to hear that, Jim. Its a start."
The younger man looked up at him. "A start?"
"Yes. Its just a start. Youve decided to honor her choices because of the harm that will come to you if you dont. Thats not the same as truly validating her, son. Thats just protecting your own self-interests."
"What are you saying, Dad? What do I have to do?"
The older man sighed and patted his son on the shoulder. "You need to realize that you have a lot of work to do here. This is not going to be an easy journey for either of you." He gave him a speculative look and asked, "Is Jamie willing to work on this with you?"
"Thats why Im here," Jim admitted, shifting nervously in his seat. "I uh thought that you might be willing to talk to her for me, Dad. She wont take my calls, and I dont think that she reads my letters. I cant reach herno matter what Ive tried."
"Thats not really surprising, is it?" His words were harsh, but his eyes held their normal warmth, softening the sting. "Youve done some things that are very hurtful, Jim. You cant expect her to ignore that just because you see that your tactics were ineffective."
Jim stared at the floor, his lips pursed in a long-familiar pout. "Thats where I thought you might come in," he mumbled.
The older man was slowly shaking his head. "I cant do that. You need to find a way to make amends to those three women. Its not going to be easy, Jim, but youre going to have to do it. All I can advise is that you keep tryingover time she might give you another chance."
Getting to his feet, Jim walked over to the window, watching the increasing activity on the street as the residents of Nob Hill set off for work. "I find it hard to believe that you wont even try to go to bat for me, Dad." His voice was low and soft, and revealed only some of the deep hurt that he felt. "If not for me, I thought youd get involved for Jamies sake."
The priest walked over to his son and lightly touched his shoulder. "There isnt a thing in the world I would deny you, Jim. I swear, if I could make this all go away, Id do so in a minute. But my getting involved wouldnt do a thing to solve the problems that exist between you and Jamie. The only way out is for the two of you to work this out together." Patting him gently he added, "I know patience isnt one of your strong suitsbut this time youre going to have to try to be patient."
"But Im leaving for Washington on Friday! I cant leave with things like this!"
"I think the die is cast, Jim. Jamies in charge here, and you can only pray that shes willing to forgive you some day."
"Im not so sure Jamie is the one in charge," the younger man grumbled. "I still think Ryan has an undue influence over her."
Charles grasped his sons shoulder and turned him so they were facing each other. "Thats not true," he said firmly. "Theres a very big difference between having undue influence over someone, and caring deeply for them. Of course Ryans opinion is important to Jamie, but her influence is anything but undue. I know this isnt what you want to hear, but at this point in her life, Ryans influence is greater than yours, and thats as it should be."
Jim leaned his head against the window frame, staring vacantly for a few minutes. He sighed softly, then nearly whispered as he said, "If thats true--Ive lost her."
"You dont know that," Charles warned. "I know how difficult this is for you, but this is one time that you cant force your will. You have to let Jamie approach youwhen shes ready."
With a decided slump to his shoulders, Jim walked to the door. He paused for a moment, and gazed at his father with eyes filled with pain. "You dont know how hard this is, Dad. Its its truly devastating." He sighed deeply, then opened the door and stepped out into the dull gray morning.
Charles went to the window and watched him walk down the street. He felt a deep, familiar ache in his chest, as his considered his only son. I know exactly how it feels to have my best efforts to reach my child rebuffed, Jim. I know that feeling all too well.
* * * * * * * * * * *
On Thursday morning Ryan asked, "Wanna go to Union Square with me this evening?"
"Uh sure. You know Ill go anywhere as long as Im with you. Although why you want to go to the shopping district is anyones guess."
"Hey, I shop too," Ryan insisted. "I do wear clothes, ya know."
"Well," Jamie grinned saucily, "thats not a requirement to keep me happy, but I guess some people arent as open-minded as I am."
"This is true," Ryan agreed, placing a kiss on Jamies forehead. "Ill be home about the usual time. We can eat there if you want, or you could make sandwiches or something if you have time."
"What are we going for, Ryan? And whats the rush?"
The taller woman narrowed her eyes, looked suspiciously over both shoulders and said, "Top secret. Cant reveal our destination."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan was released a little early that night since they were going to have a run-through the next morning before they left for Washington, giving them a little extra practice time. She and Jamie parked in the lot at Macys and as they exited the lot, they immediately crossed the street. When Ryan opened the door to the Levis Superstore Jamie shot her a glance as she passed. "We came all the way over here for jeans? They sell jeans three minutes from our house."
"Not these jeans," Ryan assured her, immediately heading to the glass-enclosed elevators for a quick trip to the upper floor. She led the way to a section of the store with a long counter and a series of dressing rooms, and not much else. "Hi, I need to order some custom fit jeans," she told the first saleswoman who approached her.
Jamies mouth gaped as she said, "They make them to order?"
"Oh, yeah," the woman said. "Any style, any fabric, any color. Its your choice."
"Thats remarkable," she said. "Do you want something special, Ryan?" She looked up at the tall woman who gave her a gentle smile.
"Yeah. I want regular old 501s that go past my ankles." Ryan turned to the saleswoman and said, "Ive been here before, so Ill just look at your books for a few minutes to determine what fabric I want."
The saleswoman nodded and left to greet the next customer, but Jamie was still working on digesting what Ryan had just said. "My God, it never dawned on me that you wouldnt be able to buy jeans that were long enough "
"Until this store opened, I wore shorts year-round," she said, shaking her head. "That last growth spurt knocked me out of womens pants. They make guys jeans long enough, but I look ridiculous in them. The waistband gaps, theyre baggy in the seat. Unacceptable!"
"But you have khakis that fit "
"Yep. All from here. I have one pair of wool slacks that fitthey had some hellacious hem in them. Even still, they show more ankle than Im comfortable with."
"You have those black gabardine slacks," Jamie reminded her.
Ryans eyebrows popped a few times as she revealed, "Those are mens slacks. Theyre cut generously, and have pleats. Somehow they worked for me. But Ive never been able to find another pair that fit as well." She smiled at Jamie and revealed, "Its been a struggle my whole life, even as a kid. I wore boys clothes until I started to develop some curvesthen I was generally outta luck."
"Yeah, but your fans were just beginning to get lucky. Pun intended," she giggled.
"Bring your punny little butt over here and help me choose. I think I just want regular 501s, but Im amenable to suggestions."
"Cool," Jamie said as they surveyed the chart on the wall with color swatches, leg styles and button and zipper options. "You can really get anything you want?"
"Yep. Youre the boss."
They spent much longer than Ryan would have taken, but they finally decided on four pairs of pants: one pair of blue jeans, one black, one pair of mid-green khakis, and one of the traditional beige khakis. The blue jeans were to be Ryans favorite stylebutton-fly, five pockets, and straight leg. For the black she let Jamie talk her into a boot cut, which the smaller woman insisted would look better with her Doc Martens. The khakis were quite traditionalall cotton, zipper fly, four pockets--and Jamie gave her approval to the entire wardrobe.
The saleswoman led Ryan into a tiny dressing room, where Jamie wasnt allowed to accompany her. "Why cant I go? I wanna see them measure you."
"'Cause you wont be able to see a thing. Its all done by remote cameras in a jet-black room. The cameras would pick you up, and youd have to get into the pants with me for them to fit right."
"And the problem with that is ?"
"See you in a minute," Ryan assured her. "You can look through the little slit in the door if you want."
"I want," she decided.
Ryan shucked her baggy jeans as soon as she got into the tiny room, then ignored the gym shorts the woman had given her, preferring to leave her own boxers on. Jamie was, of course, talking to her the entire time, but Ryan had to go into another, even smaller room, and their contact was cut off.
A disembodied voice instructed the dark woman to grab a pair of handles midway up the wall, and when she was set the cameras started to flash, their strobes so bright that she would have been bothered if her eyes had been open. The whole thing just took a few seconds, and she was out in no time, Jamies cute little nose still pressed into the slit in the door.
"All done?" she asked.
"Yep. Quick, huh?"
"Ill say. Maybe I should do this, too."
"Can if you want. Or we could get you shrink-to-fits."
Ryan emerged and told the saleswoman that theyd be back to settle up in a bit. She walked Jamie around the elevator bank to a big display for the shrink-to-fit style. No one was currently waiting to have jeans done, so Ryan signaled to the impossibly thin young man who was on duty. "My friend wants some jeans. Can you hook her up?"
"Sure. What size do you normally wear?"
"Either six or eight," she said.
"These arent womens sizes," he informed her. "I think I can guess your waist and inseam. Ill bring in a couple of different pair for you to try. Then we can get started." Jamie suspiciously eyed the big tub in the center of the display, but she didnt comment, figuring that this would either be fun or interesting since Ryan was involved.
Ryan went into the small room with her, their bodies having to perform an impromptu dance to give Jamie enough room to strip out of her own slacks to try on the jeans. Ryan examined the relatively baggy, extremely stiff fabric with her usual eye for detail. "Nope. Next size down."
"I would think so," Jamie agreed, slipping them off without needing to unbutton. The next pair was still too large for her tastes, but Ryan grasped the stiff fabric in a few critical places, her head practically nestled between Jamies breasts. The smaller woman giggled as the searching hand pinched the fabric between her legs and looked up, her eyes twinkling with amusement. "Too snug?"
"Nope. But will you always keep your hand there? I mean, I dont mind, but "
"Just making sure they wont be too tight if they shrink that much," Ryan assured her. "Just trying to be professional, maam."
"You havent worked here, have you?" she asked, ruffling her hair.
"Nope. But I have had my hand right there on quite a few pairs of jeans "
"Are we done, wise guy?" She leaned over and placed a sweet kiss on Ryans lips. "Lets go pay for your stuff and get going."
"Weve just begun the process," Ryan insisted. "Now comes the fun part." She poked her head out the curtain and told the clerk that they were confident of the size. When she drew her hand back inside she held a small strip of some type of synthetic fabric fashioned into what promised to be the most ill-fitting thong in the history of lingerie.
"Cant I just leave my own on?" Jamie asked, indicating her lavender satin panties.
"Yes, you could, but theyll look like they came from one of the tie-dye merchants on Telegraph when youre done here."
"Trust me," Ryan said. "Put these on and then put on the jeans."
Jamie blew out a breath, fluffing her bangs as she exhaled. "This sounds potentially weird, Ryan. Are you sure you know what youre doing?"
"Yep. Ive been here with several people. I used any chance I could to get a woman naked." Her bouncing eyebrows caused Jamie to crack up as usual, and moments later she sat down to put her shoes back on.
"No shoes. And take your socks off," Ryan instructed. "You also need to put this T-shirt on," she said, handing her a well-worn shirt.
Giving her another look, Jamie did so, then left the dressing room to find the young man filling the large stainless steel tub. "Is this temp good for you?" he asked Ryan, obviously assuming she was the brains of the operation.
She stuck a hand in and decided, "A little more hot water. Shes a delicate one."
Jamie eyed her carefully and asked, "Im gonna get in that?"
"Yep. Ergo the shrink element of the equation," Ryan said, giving her a little smirk.
Ryan went to pay for the jeans, a prerequisite to getting into the tub. She brought the receipt back just as the tub was full, and she took Jamies hand to guide her, smiling at the comical expression on her face as she sat down in the warm water, the jeans adhering to her skin with a strange, clammy sensation. "Uck," she said, a look of distaste on her face.
"Oh, its not so bad. Ive had my jeans on in water before. Youll get used to it."
"I dont even want to know," Jamie decided, giving her an aggrieved look.
After 15 minutes, the salesman asked her to stand while he and Ryan assessed the fit. They walked around her and gazed critically at various parts of her, but only Ryan touched her, giving the young man a pointed, proprietary look when his hand strayed too close to her precious partner. "Ten more minutes," Ryan decided, adding, "A little more hot water, too. Shes starting to look a little chilled."
"Coming right up," he said, adding the hose to the tub once again.
Jamie sat back down, playing with the rubber ducky and the various squirt guns provided for her pleasure. Ryan, of course, got shot a few times, with Jamie managing to hit her right on the nipple, leaving a nice dark mark on her bright blue shirt.
During the next fit-check, both critics agreed, and Jamie was allowed to exit, her toes now severely wrinkled and tinted a nice shade of very light blue. She started for the dressing room, but Ryan guided her to an enclosure on the perimeter of the display area. Jamie entered what looked like a partial dressing room, the Formica panels running from the floor to mid-chest. The salesclerk pushed a button and a powerful, warm fan hit her from all sides, as she let out a startled squawk. "Now comes the fit part," Ryan smiled, leaning on the panel as she crossed her arms and smiled broadly at her partner. "Now you know how your poor clothes feel when you put them in the dryer," she joked. She tossed her dark hair and went to pay for her own purchases, leaving a scowling woman on the permanent-press cycle.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Part Nine
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