I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 10:  Journeys

By SX Meagher

Part Two

As expected, Jamie was patiently waiting for Ryan when the plane landed just after noon on Saturday.  The unexpected twist was the colorful bunch of helium balloons that she held in her hand.  "Happy birthday, honey!" she called out the instant Ryan passed through the doors of the jet way.

Ryan grinned broadly, good-naturedly accepting the delighted congratulations of her teammates, none but Jordan having known that this was her natal day.  As Jamie hugged her, Ryan was patted on the back repeatedly, with a few of the other women ruffling her hair as they passed.  Jordan hung back, waiting to greet Jamie.  When the smaller blonde released Ryan, Jordan hugged her and kissed her cheek.  "Mission accomplished, Jamie," she said.  "She was fed every hour on the hour, and she got ten hours of sleep both nights.  Actually, she slept on my shoulder all morning, too, so she should be good to go."

"Excellent job, Jordan," Jamie smiled.  "Coming to our house, by any chance?"

"Hmm," she said, looking like she hadn't given the idea any real thought, "I guess I could swing by at some point."

"Let's go, stretch," Jamie smiled, giving her a friendly pat on the seat.  "Mia's waiting in the car.  We were running late and didn't have time to park."

"Mia, huh?" the tall blonde commented.  "I guess it would be nice to see old Mia.  How is she, anyway?"

"Seems fine since you were on the phone with her half of the night," Jamie commented dryly.

"Yeah, well, I'm just checking," she said, nodding somberly.  "It's good to be careful."

"You're busted, Jordan.  It's best to come along peaceably," Ryan grinned, slinging her arm around her friend.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

The foursome stopped by the Berkeley house just long enough to disgorge passengers, since Ryan was anxious to get home.  Jamie ran into the house and emerged with two extremely large rectangular baking dishes, both covered with foil.  "Since you guys are coming over to party in Castro with us tonight, why don't you come for dinner, too?" Jamie asked.

"That would be great," Mia agreed.  "Jordan?"

"Yeah.  I'd love to.  Now we just have to spend the afternoon figuring out costumes."

"Ours are all set," Ryan grinned, "although I think my partner is having second thoughts."

"Well…it sounded like a good idea when I saw it, but now it seems kinda juvenile," Jamie admitted.  "It might be fun to do something a little sexier…I mean, this is my first Halloween as an official lesbian."

"Oh, I could fix you right up if you want to look sexy," Ryan promised, "but I think the costume you bought is really cute."

"We'll see," Jamie said, patting her cheek.  "Now let's get home.  See you guys around six?"

"Cool," the pair replied in tandem.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"So, what's in the pans you so neatly secured in the trunk?" Ryan asked as they pulled out of the drive.

"Birthday girls shouldn't ask too many questions, sweetness."  Jamie was giving her the most adorable smile, and Ryan had to pull over to the curb and give her a kiss-even though they had traveled less than 50 feet.

"I really missed you, honey," she murmured, nuzzling her face into Jamie's neck.  "More so this time than usual."

"Do you wish I had come with, love?  I hope you know I stayed away just so you could rest better."

"No.  I appreciate that you tried to do what was best for me.  I really did rest up pretty well-even though the travel for this trip is pretty tiring.  We spent far too much time on the bus for my tastes."

"That's what happens when you play the PAC-10 schedule," Jamie admitted.  "When the town is too small for an airport, you've gotta do it the hard way."

Ryan started the car up again and commented, "I think I missed you because Jordan and I talked a lot about how she feels about Mia.  It made me think of you even more than I normally do-and then I started to miss you more and more."

"What does Jordan have to say about Mia?" Jamie asked.

"Oh…nothing much," Ryan said, obviously evading the question.  "She seems to like her a lot."

With a wry chuckle Jamie commented, "Well, I can certainly understand how such a scintillating conversation could make you pine away for me.  You two need to calm down a little-your hearts can only take so much!"

The tips of Ryan's ears reddened a little over her embarrassment at being caught dissembling.  "She tells me some really private things, hon. I have to respect that."

"I understand, honey.  I don't like it, but I understand."

Trying to change the subject, Ryan said, "Hey, Jordan hasn't had a nightmare since she's been seeing Mia.  Cool, huh?"

"That's very cool," Jamie smiled.  "I really think they're good for each other, don't you?"

"I do.  Hearing about Mia from Jordan's perspective gives me a whole new frame of reference on her," Ryan mused.  "She sounds like quite a catch."

"She is," Jamie assured her.  "She just has to allow herself to be vulnerable enough to be caught."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Every member of the O'Flaherty family was at home when they arrived, and the group made over Ryan effusively the moment they entered the house.  Jamie stood back a little and considered her feelings when Ryan had first told her that her family didn't exchange gifts on birthdays.  I actually felt a little sorry for her, she smirked internally.  Boy, was that wrong!  Having a group like this show you how much they love you is worth so much more than anything they could buy for you.

"Have you had lunch yet, love?" Martin asked as he went into the kitchen.

"Not really, Da.  I just ate some fruit that Jamie sent with me."

"I'll make something for you both.  Name your pleasure, Siobhán.  All of your wishes will come true on your birthday."

"Hmm…" She pondered her options for a few minutes, finally deciding, "How about a club sandwich?  Can you manage that?"

"I can as soon as one of your brothers goes to the market for some turkey," he decided.

"I'll go," Rory said, heading for the door immediately.  "Anything else?"

"Root beer?" Ryan asked.

"Done," the youngest brother declared as he grabbed Duffy's leash and took the excited pup with him.

"Is this a family tradition?" Jamie asked, grabbing a kitchen stool as Martin started to cook some bacon.

"Yes, each child got to do whatever they wanted on their birthdays.  Siobhán always asked for the same thing," he said fondly, smiling at his daughter.

"What was that?" Jamie asked.

"She always asked me to arrange to have the day off, and she would take the day off school if her birthday fell on a weekday.  She never cared what we actually did-she just wanted us to spend the day together."  He was giving his daughter such a fond look that she blushed again, looking very adolescent.

"That is so sweet!" Jamie cried, getting off her stool to give her partner a fierce hug.

Ryan elaborated.  "I loved being with the whole family, of course, but I rarely had Da all to myself.  I looked forward to my birthday for months," she recalled.  "Kids at school would always ask me what I got-they didn't understand why I was so excited to tell them about going to the zoo, or something simple like that."  She shook her head a little, still puzzled that some people couldn't understand the beauty of simple gestures.

"Silly kids," Jamie murmured, giving her partner a patently fond kiss on her very sweet cheek.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"Having a nice day so far, sweetie?" Jamie asked when they were back in their room.
"Unh-huh," Ryan smiled, jumping onto her bed and folding her hands behind her head-all in one smooth move.  "Very nice day so far.  Of course, just being with you improves every day substantially."

"I need to go upstairs and tend to a little something.  Can you entertain yourself for a little while?"

"Sure.  I think I remember how to do that," Ryan grinned.  "Hurry back."

As soon as Jamie left the room, Ryan set about trying to find alternative costumes for them to wear that night.  The smaller woman was only gone about fifteen minutes, but in that time a delightful transformation had taken place in their room.  Gone was the lanky, 24-year-old jock, dressed in her volleyball warm-ups.  Instead, a stunningly sexy schoolgirl sat on the bed, blinking up at Jamie with all of the innocence she could muster.  "Hi, there," she whispered, her lusciously sexy voice at odds with the faux innocent smile.

"Oh, my God!"  Jamie had to grab for the desk chair to prevent herself from falling to the ground at the sight.  "Where…where did you get that…outfit?"

"It's my uniform from high school," she said, still blinking innocently up at Jamie.  "Do you like it?"

The blonde shook her head roughly as she said, "Ryan O'Flaherty, you most certainly did not leave this house in that uniform!"

"I most certainly did," Ryan insisted.  "Every day, as a matter of fact."  She stood and smoothed the pleats of her skirt, doing a little twirl just to show off.  "Of course, it fits a little differently than it did then."

"Come over here, you sexy thing," Jamie commanded, a lascivious grin on her face.  "I'd walk over to you, but my knees are still weak."

For the first time that Jamie could remember, Ryan actually flounced over to her, swinging her hips in a scintillatingly sexy fashion.  "Yesssss?"

Smacking her dry lips together, Jamie started at the top of the dark head, taking her in, starting at the adorable twin ponytails that bounced along as she walked.  Ryan had applied a little blush to her cheeks, enhancing her schoolgirl image, but the innocent image took a beating when Jamie's eyes slid lower and landed upon the voluptuous breasts straining to free themselves from the several-sizes-too-tight, short-sleeved white blouse.  The lacy white bra that peeked out from the straining buttons didn't help the image a bit either, she decided, but she was the last one in the complaint line.

The white blouse was so small that it was only half tucked in, revealing smooth tanned skin where it failed to meet its goal.  The skirt, which Jamie still had a hard time believing that her partner had worn, was a bright red and navy blue plaid, one-inch knife pleats encircling her entire body.  The skirt was short, to say the least, and Jamie was fascinated by the discrepancy of lengths, the rear appearing at least two inches shorter than the front.  It didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out the cause of the problem; Ryan's very toned butt was taking up more than its allotted portion of the fabric.  The leggy brunette turned again, this time revealing just a hint of white lace.

"Honey," Jamie gasped, "it's your birthday…not mine."

"True," the sexy schoolgirl murmured as she pushed her partner onto a chair and straddled her lap.  "You wanna party with me?"  She had a large piece of bubble gum in her mouth, and as she asked the question, she blew a huge bubble that took every bit of Jamie's self-control not to pop.

Her head was bobbing like a puppet's, and Ryan giggled a little at her enthusiasm.  She climbed off her lap and walked a few feet, then looked down at the carpet.  "Oops.  Dropped something."  The method she used to retrieve the imaginary object was not approved by the American College of Orthopedic Surgeons.  Her feet were close together, and Jamie took a moment to appreciate her navy blue knee socks and cordovan penny loafers.  With nary a flex to her knee, she bent from the waist, folding her long body in half as she leaned over to reach the rug, her short skirt climbing…climbing…climbing…until it revealed the scandalously erotic white lace thong that Jamie just got a peek of.

Ryan's teasing had pushed her frisky lover to the brink, and before she could stand, she was tackled from behind, laughing wildly as Jamie threw her to the bed.  They wrestled roughly for a few minutes, this kind of play previously foreign to Jamie, but something she found that she enjoyed immensely.  Ryan was so much stronger, and so much bigger, that she went far out of her way to play gently, reminding Jamie of a mother bear playing with her cub.

Rolling onto her back, Jamie started to undress, her hands flying to her shirt buttons.  "No, let me," Ryan urged, gently removing the smaller hands.  "I absolutely love to undress you."

With a deep, contented sigh, Jamie tried to relax, placing her hands alongside her head.  "I love it too," she admitted, "although it drives me absolutely crazy."  She gave her lover a fond smile, knowing that Ryan always took at least six times longer to complete the task than she would have chosen.

"Patience is a virtue," Ryan reminded her gently, starting to nibble on her neck and ears.  "We learned all about virtue in school, you know."

"I just bet you did," Jamie gasped as Ryan took a playful nip on her neck.  "What else did you learn in school today?"

"Mmm."  Ryan's whole face was burrowing into Jamie's neck as she took a series of deep breaths, trying to fill herself with her lover's scent.  "My best subject is anatomy," she whispered.  "Will you help me do my homework?  I have to identify all of the parts of the body…with my tongue."

"What was the name of your school again?  Sacred Heart Academy for Wayward Girls?"

"That's the one," Ryan agreed.  "I'm trying to win the Most Wayward Girl of the Year award.  Wanna help me descend another rung on the depravity ladder?"

"If you'll get those little fingers busy, and get my clothes off of me, I'll do anything you want, sweetheart," she murmured.  "We're awfully overdressed."

"You have an awful lot of buttons here," Ryan whispered as she bent her head over Jamie's chest and surveyed the mint green oxford-cloth shirt that she wore.  "I'd better get started."  To Jamie's combined dismay and pleasure, Ryan bent further still, and started to work at the first button with her mouth, her tongue expertly pushing the button through the hole.  She was making the most adorable little noises as she worked--soft sounds that were not quite moans escaped her lips.  Jamie laced her fingers through the ponytails and just held on, content to feel the powerful body poised over her and observe the lovely features as Ryan concentrated upon her task.

By the time she had reached Jamie's belt, the smaller woman was pulling her head down as forcefully as she could manage, moaning softly as Ryan's hands roamed all over her body.  Tugging at the shirt with her teeth, Ryan resembled a frisky puppy with a chew toy, her sexy grin revealing itself amid the bunched up green fabric.  When she had the shirt open at last, she wisely decided to use her hands to unbuckle the belt, then went right back to her tongue and teeth to pop free the five metal buttons from Jamie's new shrink-to-fit 501's.  She had to cheat a little, and use her hands to make the fabric taut, but Jamie was loath to complain.  Her partner got so much pleasure out of undressing her that she always felt her own arousal increase as she watched.

When all of the smaller woman's clothing was spread open to Ryan's gaze, she dipped her head once again and started to lick and suck every inch of bare skin she could reach.  It was so much easier to just remove all of her partner's clothing, but so much more arousing to feel like every kiss was the result of a hard-won gain.  She kissed lower and lower on Jamie's firm belly, finally reaching her low-cut panties.  Grasping the waistband with her teeth, she gave the smooth material a few firm tugs, her bright blue eyes dancing impishly as she did so.

"I've never had anyone give me a wedgie while making love," Jamie teased, fondly brushing her hand through Ryan's bangs.

"See all of the new and exciting adventures I can lead you on?" Ryan grinned, lightly resting her chin on her partner's pubic bone.

"I do," Jamie smiled as she rolled over and shed her blouse in the process.  "Sorry to infringe on your turf, Buffy, but some of my more impudent parts are signaling me that they're ready for some action."

"Hmm…time for anatomy class, huh?  Would that be the labia majora?  Or perhaps the minora, voicing a complaint?"  Ryan twisted on the bed so that her face was peeking into the open fly of Jamie's jeans.  "That pesky clitoris isn't whining again, is she?"

"Yes, yes and yes," Jamie whispered, thrusting her hips into Ryan's face a few times.  "They're all very needy."

"Mmm, I can see that," Ryan murmured, starting at her partner's cleavage and painting a path of warm, wet kisses up her chest.  "But the party just started, love.  We've got all afternoon, and I so hate to rush."

"A little rushing can be a good thing," Jamie insisted, sliding her hands up her chest to unhook her bra.  She shook her shoulders slightly, letting the soft mounds bounce lightly against her chest.  "Why don't you rush over here and kiss me," she growled, her hands hefting her breasts tauntingly, leaving nary a doubt that she wasn't referring to her lips.

"Ooo…rushing can be nice," Ryan agreed, climbing over her partner like a hungry panther and dropping her head onto a pert breast.  They both let out faint gasps, a little stunned by the magnitude of the sensation.  They had tasted and touched each other dozens of times during their months together, but Ryan found that each time felt brand new when it was preceded by a long bout of teasing foreplay.  Something about the delayed gratification made her nearly crazy to touch Jamie, and seeing the longing and the pent-up desire on her partner's face increased her need dramatically.

"Oh, God, this feels fabulous," Jamie moaned, her hands stroking Ryan's lovely face as the voracious woman feasted upon her breasts.  Ryan groaned in response, her exclamations limited to an occasional slurping sound, as she devoured the tender flesh with boundless enthusiasm.

Jamie's head lolled from side to side, the sensations building incredibly quickly.  The insistent throbbing between her legs was growing by the second, and she knew that she was already on the edge.  Her hands slid to her hips and she slipped her thumbs into the waistband of her panties and tossed her legs high into the air, shimmying simultaneously out of jeans and underwear.  She was pushing Ryan down at the same time she was disrobing, getting her legs in the air at about the same time Ryan was right where she wanted her.

The dark head whipped up in surprise as Jamie lowered her legs, effectively trapping her partner in the tangle of denim.  "You're mine now," she growled, as she settled her feet onto Ryan's back, the compliant woman snuggling her shoulders tight against the backs of Jamie's thighs.

"I'm yours always," Ryan pledged as she bent her head and began to explore.

After just a few minutes, Jamie grasped her shoulders and squeezed.  "Wait, baby.  Wait…"  Ryan lifted her head and made eye contact, her head cocked questioningly.  "Wow," Jamie smiled.  "I was almost gone, and you've barely started."

"I've got all day," Ryan assured her.  "Besides, I love the neighborhood."  She turned her head and rested her cheek low on Jamie's belly.  "I'll just hang out 'til you're ready."

"You are so silly," the smaller woman sighed, fluffing her partner's bangs.  "I love playing with you in bed, Ryan.  It's so nice to just relax and do whatever feels good at the moment."

"Mmm-hmmm," Ryan murmured as she started kissing Jamie's smooth belly, her mouth needing a little stimulation.  "This feels good right now."

"Can I have a little more?" the smaller woman asked.  "I don't think I can take much…I just love this high I'm on and don't want it to stop."

Ryan smiled up at her.  "I meant what I said, love.  This is pure pleasure for me.  The best birthday present I could have."  She shifted down until she was comfortable and resumed her gentle nuzzlings, quickly getting back into the rhythm of their lovemaking.

They moved against each other for quite a few minutes, Jamie's hips twitching gently the entire time.  "Whoa!" she cried abruptly, grasping Ryan's shoulders again.  "Just in time, baby.  Just in time."  While Jamie lay on her back, trying to get her breath, Ryan busied herself kissing and nibbling on the tender thighs so conveniently located, seemingly quite content to start and stop abruptly.  Once more running her fingers through the dark hair that covered Ryan's forehead, Jamie asked, "You really don't mind making this last as long as we can?"

"No rush," the amiable woman assured her partner.  "As long as I don't miss dinner, you can't take too long."  As Jamie watched the blue eyes blink languidly, she considered that Ryan was never calmer or more laid-back than when they were making love.  All of her usual nervous energy dissipated when she was focused on pleasing her partner, and Jamie mused that perhaps one of the reasons Ryan was so sexual was as a way to keep herself calm.  Thank God she's hyperactive, she smirked to herself.

Once more, Ryan snuggled close and delicately traced every part of her lover, her warm, wet tongue gliding over smooth skin made smoother still by her growing excitement.  Ryan had never loved her more gently, making her touch feather-light to prolong the experience.  Eventually, even the whisper-soft touch overwhelmed Jamie's senses, and she began to pump her hips, signaling her impending climax.  "Oh, Ryan, I love you," she cried out, her hands gaining purchase on the white blouse as they flexed convulsively.  She gasped repeatedly, her climax building and building while brilliant colors flashed in her tightly shut eyes.

As the spasms died down, Jamie reached out for her partner, needing the full contact of her body.  It took a little maneuvering, but Ryan freed herself from her denim restraints, and climbed up the bed to wrap her still-trembling lover in her arms.  "Happy birthday to me," she mumbled softly, drawing a weary chuckle from her enervated partner.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"Hi, Mr. O'Flaherty…I mean Martin," Mia said, as the head of the family opened the door.

"Well, hello there, girls.  Good to see you both.  I haven't heard a word from Siobhán or Jamie since lunch.  Would you like me to roust them?"

"Nah.  We can go.  We're used to them," she laughed, scampering down the stairs even as she spoke.  She knocked lightly, waiting politely until she heard a mumbled, "Yeah?"

As she opened the door, a much more awake voice cried, "Whoa!  Give us a second!"

Mia poked her head all the way in and said, "It's just us.  No worries."

"Jesus!"  Ryan flopped onto her back, shaking her head as she said, "I thought my father was gonna get a lot more information about our little naps than he wanted."

"Ooo…somebody got lucky on her birthday," Mia observed, seeing all of the usual signs.  Clothes were strewn around the room; the blanket and sheet had been pulled from their moorings, and now covered the women in a most irregular fashion; and both members of the pair looked like they had been thoroughly loved.  Mia picked up the tiny plaid skirt, and held it up for Jordan to view.  "Somebody got VERY lucky on her birthday," the curly headed woman corrected.  "Way to go, Jamie.  I bet you looked hot in this!"

"Well, I would have," Jamie smiled, her tousled hair and pink cheeks giving her a very youthful appearance, "but I'm the one who got the present.  Ryan wore that little number for me!"  She was chuckling as she said this, and Ryan gave her a little tickle for revealing her secrets.

"My, my, Boomer, this is a side of you I wouldn't have guessed.  Do you have any other naughty little outfits lying around here?"  Jordan made like she was inspecting the closets, allowing Ryan to wing her with one of her loafers.

"I was getting my Halloween costume ready," Ryan insisted.  "Not my fault that my partner succumbed to my charms once I had it on."

"Oh, like that wasn't your intent," Jamie giggled.

"Hey, you're the one who didn't want to wear the outfits we agreed upon," she reminded her.

"I couldn't come up with anything," Mia informed them.  "Can I wear your cast-offs, Jamie?"

"Why don't you wear Ryan's school uniform?" Jamie suggested.  "She sure as hell isn't going out in public in it!"

"Ooo… a jealous streak?" Jordan asked.

"No, just a realist," Jamie averred.  "There'll probably be twenty women there who have slept with her, and displaying her wares to people who've already had a sample is just bad business!"

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

They rushed to get a shower while Jordan and Mia looked through Ryan's closet, trying to come up with acceptable outfits.  Still undecided at dinnertime, they all went upstairs to get the meal started.  Maeve had just arrived, having brought a large platter of Ryan's favorite cookies as a treat.  Jamie was in charge of the meal for a change, and Martin sat on a stool and watched her work in his kitchen for the first time.  "I might just get used to this," he said, smiling at his betrothed.

"I have a feeling we're going to have to come to an agreement of some sorts on the kitchen, Mr. O'Flaherty," Maeve said.  "I don't think I can bear to give up control of my kitchen completely."

"We'll figure it out, love.  No problem is insurmountable."

Conor came in and said hello to everyone, with a small awkward pause when he got to Mia.  He had seen her since their brief affair, but they had not been in such close quarters since then.  "How have you been, Conor?" she asked cordially.

"Good.  Nothing much has been going on.  I think I'll go and clean up before dinner.  I've been playing basketball all afternoon."  He exited quickly, and Ryan shared a discreet shrug with Mia when the smaller woman caught her eye.

For reasons that eluded her, Ryan was absolutely surprised when she sniffed the scent of lasagna baking away in the oven.  Pulling Jamie into the dining room for a moment alone, she rested her forearms on her partner's shoulders, loosely linking her hands behind her neck.  "I don't know why, but it didn't dawn on me that you'd make lasagna for me.  Thank you, baby.  I really appreciate it."

"That's our new birthday tradition, love," Jamie informed her.  "Hours and hours of lovemaking, then I'll fill your little tummy with your favorite food."

"Could you have a better idea?" Ryan mused, seriously thinking it was not possible to outdo this one.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Ryan put herself in charge of fixing Jordan up with a costume, and Jamie agreed to help Mia get into her schoolgirl outfit, since she had decided that it would look nice on her.  Mia and Jamie went upstairs to Martin's room, and Ryan and Jordan stayed downstairs so they didn't get in each other's way.  "Do you have any ideas, Jordan?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah.  I'd like to look as different from normal as I can.  I wanna mix it up for a change."

Ryan regarded her friend for a moment.  Jordan generally either looked like a model for The Gap, which she was, or an athlete.  She usually dressed a little more stylishly than her peers, and looked quite feminine, not having even a touch of androgyny in her appearance.  "I can make you look like a pretty authentic construction worker, or a tough leather woman," Ryan decided.  "Any interest?"

Jordan swallowed.  "Well, I guess I could, but if Mia's gonna wear that school uniform I won't look like I belong with her.  I'd kinda like to have the same theme."

"Hmm," Ryan said, thinking about the challenge for a moment.  "I think I can hook you up."

A little while later, Jordan emerged from the room, heading upstairs for a vote.  Martin caught sight of her first, and he laughed heartily.  "Maeve, look!  Our little Siobhán is back!"

Maeve turned and joined her fiancé as they both laughed at the shyly grinning woman.  Jordan wore a pair of Conor's carpenter's jeans, his size 36-inch waist dwarfing her 28-inch body.  The waistband was rolled over several times to make them stay up on her slim form, but they still sagged dramatically.  Conor's barn jacket likewise hung on her body, the sleeves rolled up so she maintained the use of her hands.  One of Ryan's baseball caps sat on her head-backwards, as was the style of the owner.  Under her arm she carried Ryan's skateboard, and Ryan's Bad Badtz Maru backpack was hooked over a shoulder.  In total, she looked unbelievably goofy and so unlike herself it was shocking, but entirely humorous.

"Do I pass?" she asked.

"Are you trying to look like a little hoodlum skateboarder?" Martin smiled.

"That's the general idea," Jordan agreed.

"You pass with flying colors," Maeve smiled, sending Jordan in search of additional votes.

With a light knock, Jordan poked her head into Martin's room.  "I'm ready, how about you?"

"Come on in," Jamie advised.  Jordan did so, and broke into a grin so broad it was comical.

"I didn't realize I had a thing for Catholic school girls until just this minute," she said.

"That's exactly what I said, not six hours ago," Jamie echoed. "Who knew?"

Mia did look adorable, and Ryan was giving her such a frankly appraising look that Jamie came up and backhanded her in the gut.  "Off limits, Buffy," she growled.

Ryan actually blushed, much to Mia's pleasure.  "I was just thinking of how much more fun high school could have been if there had been girls like you there during my senior year," Ryan admitted.

"I would have given you a run for your money," Mia agreed, smiling broadly.

"Without a doubt," Ryan agreed.

"You look absolutely adorable, Jordan," Mia insisted.  "You look just like the kind of ruffian I would have been attracted to in eighth grade."

"How about now?" the tall blonde asked quietly.

Mia didn't answer verbally.  She merely nodded her head, and pulled Jordan close for a very friendly kiss.

"Well, our work here is done," Ryan said.  "Now it's our turn, Spot."

"Spot?" Jordan asked, wondering what she had missed.

"You'll see," Jamie promised, taking Ryan's hand as they walked downstairs to dress.

It didn't take either of them long to prepare.  Martin had bent the regulations of the San Francisco Fire Department by borrowing the gear of one of the members of his battalion who was on vacation.  The young man was close to Ryan's size, and he gave his permission easily, knowing that Martin's daughter would treat his uniform with respect.  It was a cool night, making Ryan glad that her costume would provide some much needed warmth.  She wore a San Francisco Fire Department T-shirt, navy blue emblazoned with a red Maltese Cross that was bisected by large crossed axes. A bright yellow slicker with strips of reflective tape on the hem and the placket, matching pants with red suspenders to hold them up, and her own boots finished off her costume perfectly.  In Jamie's opinion, her cutest accessory was her father's helmet, which fit her surprisingly well once he made a small adjustment.  San Francisco firefighters still wore the old-style black leather helmets, with the long duckbill in the back to keep water from running down their necks, and Ryan looked like she was born to wear it.  Jamie was so impressed with her look that she found herself wavering on her reticence to have Ryan join the department.  "Wow…there would be a massive increase in pyromaniacs if you joined up," Jamie teased.

"And people would join up in droves if all of the mascots were as cute as you," Ryan insisted, tweaking Jamie's black nose.  The smaller woman had ordered an adult sized full-body 101 Dalmatians outfit for herself, reasoning that if Ryan was a firefighter, she was going to be her faithful mascot.  The white fleece suit with the big black spots really did look adorable on her, and her extra touch of using make-up to produce a black nose and whiskers really enhanced the look.

The smaller woman turned and wagged her tail at Ryan, earning herself a kiss.

Jamie didn't have to take too much teasing, everyone agreeing that she and Ryan looked adorable together, and the group was finally ready to set off.  Conor took pity on them, and offered to give them a ride over the hill in his truck, to which they all gladly agreed.  As they approached Castro, Conor shot Mia and look and asked, "Have you ever been over here for Halloween?"

"Huh-uh," she said.  "I don't think I've been over here for anything.  Is it fun?"

"Well, you won't find many eligible men," he said, chuckling a little.

"That's not why we're here," she smiled, and simultaneously noticed that Jordan tensed up beside her.  "We're just going to party with our friends," she added.

"Oh, you'll have fun," Conor assured her.  "Even though you won't meet any eligible guys, I'd bet a few women wouldn't mind picking you up."

"Also-not interested," she smiled, giving Jordan a surreptitious pat on the leg.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

They had a marvelous time together, just as Conor had predicted.  Both Mia and Ryan attracted more than their share of looks, neither Jamie nor Jordan being up to their own usual babe-magnet status.  Most of the evening was spent looking at the costumes that the other revelers wore, with the leather look being the choice of a full 25% of the crowd.

Through most of the night, Mia held Jordan's hand or grasped her upper arm when the crowd got too thick.  Jamie noticed this, and was pleased with her friend's comfort with the situation.  She was about to mention this to Ryan, when a voice from behind called out, "Mia?  Is that you?"

The curly haired woman dropped Jordan's hand like it was a hot rock, turning to find Melissa, her old friend from high school, and her lover.  "Yep, it's me," she smiled.  "How are you, Melissa?"

"I'm great!" she said, wrapping Mia in a hug.  "Mia, this is my lover, Andi.  Andi, this is Mia Christopher.  You remember Jamie Evans and her partner Ryan O'Flaherty, don't you?"

"Yeah.  How are you both?" Andi asked, extending a hand for both women to shake.

"We're good," Jamie said, her eyes shifting to a very uncomfortable-looking Jordan.

"So, Mia, what are you doing here?" Melissa asked, glancing furtively at Jordan, who had yet to be introduced.

"Oh.  Well, I've never been to Castro, and Halloween seemed like a good time to start," she said, not elaborating any further.  "Jamie and Ryan are our tour guides."

Jordan was staring at the ground by this time, so Jamie jumped in.  "Melissa, this is Jordan Ericsson, one of Ryan's teammates from the volleyball team."

"Hi, Jordan," Melissa said, echoed by Andi.  "Have you been to Castro before?  Or are you a novice also?"

"I'm a novice," she smiled.  "Just passing through."

"Well, it was great to see you all again," Melissa said, her eyes fixed on Mia.  "You should call me sometime."

Jamie piped up and said, "You can call us too, Melissa.  We're listed under my name."

"That's a deal, Jamie," she said, giving Mia one final gaze as she and her lover departed.

Without a word, Jamie tugged on Ryan's sleeve, trying to give their friends a little room if Mia wanted to explain who Melissa was, and why she was acting so standoffish.  As soon as their friends were a safe distance away, Jordan asked, "Old friend?"

"Uh…yeah.  We slept together in high school.  I told you about her," she reminded her.

"Oh.  Yeah.  I forgot her name," Jordan admitted.  "Kinda didn't think I'd ever have the pleasure."

"San Francisco is kind of a small town," Mia decided.  "Especially when you don't want it to be."

Jordan bent down a little and looked Mia in the eye.  "You okay?  Did that bother you?"

"Yeah.  It did a little.  Thanks for asking," she said softly, giving her lover a small smile.

"Hey, I care about you," Jordan reminded her, tucking an arm around her waist.  To her surprise Mia patted her hand and removed it, instead holding her hand for just a minute before dropping it.

They caught up with Jamie and Ryan, but the mood of the evening had been ruined, and within a short while both Jordan and Mia were ready to go.  It was late, after midnight, so they all agreed to walk back together.

Ryan and Jamie did their best to hold up their end of the conversation, but it didn't help much.  The walk seemed longer than usual, probably because of the awkward silences.  Just before they reached the house, Ryan offered, "You guys are welcome to stay over if you're too tired to drive home."

"No, thanks," Mia said immediately.  "We're fine."

They changed back into their clothes and took off just a few minutes later, promising to return the next day for Ryan's party.  As Jamie watched them drive away, she said, "It's tough being in a relationship when you're trying to stay in the closet, isn't it?"

"I wouldn't recommend it," Ryan agreed softly.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"I guess Jamie's prediction was wrong," Jordan said, trying for a light tone to her voice.

"What about?" Mia asked absently, as she concentrated on getting them out of the often-confusing streets of Noe Valley.

"She thought Ryan would run into a bunch of old lovers, and I don't think she did."

"Yeah.  Must have been a slow night," Mia chuckled.  "Apparently, it happens frequently."

"Uhm…does it happen…frequently…to you?"  Jordan was staring intently out of the passenger window, and when Mia shot a glance at her, she could see some lines of stress around her mouth and eyes.

Mia sighed, having a feeling that she needed to concentrate to answer this question.  They were still on 24th, and she pulled up to an empty meter and put the car in park.  "What do you really want to know, Jordan?" she asked quietly.  "You know that I'll tell you anything, don't you?"  She placed her hand on her friend's thigh, but Jordan didn't respond to her touch.

"Did you sleep with Conor?" Jordan asked, still not looking at her.

Mia blinked, not having expected the conversation to head in that direction.  "Yes, I did.  I went out with him twice, and I slept with him once."

The blonde head swiveled in her direction and tilted in question.  "You didn't like him enough to go out more than twice, but you still slept with him?"

There was just a hint of censure in her tone, and Mia found that her hackles were rising.  "I won't try to justify my sexual behavior to you, or anyone else, Jordan."  She removed her hand from her friend's leg and crossed her arms.  "It's truly none of your business."

Jordan slumped down in her seat, her long body not having much room to move, but taking every inch she could manage.  "I apologize," she said softly.  "You're right.  It's none of my business."

Mia wanted to say that it was Jordan's business to know her well, but she saw how unreceptive her friend was, so she decided to hold her thoughts until they could discuss the matter less emotionally.  "Can we talk about this later?" she asked.  "I'm really beat."

"No need," Jordan said.  "I appreciate that you answered my question.  That's all I wanted to know."

Sighing heavily, Mia put the car into drive and proceeded to the East Bay, finally turning on her CD player, just to cut the silence in the car.  She pulled up in front of the house, but to her surprise, Jordan gave her a light kiss on the cheek and announced that she was going home.  "Jordan," she said, her frustration showing, "why didn't you say so?  I don't want you walking home.  It's after one!"

The tall woman shrugged while looking at the sidewalk.  "I'm used to it.  I'm faster than any of the criminals, anyway."

That didn't reassure Mia in the least, and she grasped the sleeve of Jordan's jacket and pulled her close.  "I'm sorry if I hurt you tonight.  Please don't shut me out."

Jordan's head shook slowly.  "I'm sorry, too, Mia.  I didn't mean to offend you.  I've just gotta go now."  After an awkward, one-armed hug she took off, running down the street with her easy, loose-limbed stride.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

When Ryan came into the dining room the next morning, there was a basketful of mail for her.  "You didn't get your mail yesterday, love.  It seems like many of your fans remembered you," Martin teased.

"Looks like one of my fans even sent a present," she smiled, picking up a square box.  Her smile quickly faded as she looked at the postmark.  "Do you have any buddies on the bomb squad, Da?" she asked, only partly kidding.

He got up and looked over her shoulder, nodding somberly when he saw the address.  "He does seem to be making an effort, sweetheart.  He even sent it Federal Express so it got here on your birthday."

"Yeah.  I know," she agreed.  "I just don't trust him, and I hate to let my guard down."

"Reminds me of the old blessing," he recalled.  "May those who love us-love us.  And those that don't love us-may God turn their hearts.  And if he doesn't turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles, so we'll know them by their limping."  Laughing softly he met his daughter's eyes and said, "I think you're wise to keep an eye out for his limp, darlin'."  He walked into the kitchen to begin breakfast for the young women, leaving Ryan alone to open her present.

She was mildly pleased that Jim didn't use the franking privileges of his office to send the package for free.  After inspecting it from every angle, she set it aside and opened all of the other mail.  She was working on the last card, one from Ally, when Jamie came into the dining room.  "Ooo…somebody's a popular little birthday girl," the smaller woman teased when she saw the cards neatly displayed upon the table.

"Yep," Ryan smiled.  "It's nice to have my friends remember me."  She tossed Jamie the package from Jim and said, "I have a feeling that you were instrumental in this one."

Jamie smiled and said, "I merely mentioned that your birthday was coming up. That was my only contribution. He asked for our address here in Noe, and said he wanted to send something," she assured Ryan.  "He didn't even ask for ideas of what to buy, so God knows what's in there."

Ryan took the package back and shook it a few more times, finally admitting, "I don't have a clue.  I'm usually pretty good at guessing, but I don't have enough to go on this time."

She looked mildly depressed and Jamie reminded her, "You could open it, hon."

"But I like to guess," she insisted.  "That's half the fun."

"Want me to open it, and then you can ask for clues?"

"Nah.  That's cheating.  I'll just open it myself."  Her mood brightened appreciably when she opened the present.  She had not even known that such devices existed, but Jim had bought her a very tiny portable DVD player.  "This is so cool!" she cried, bringing Martin from the kitchen.

"What is that little thing?" he asked.

Jamie explained the purpose, while Ryan opened the card.

Dear Ryan,

I know you are forced to travel a lot, and I thought this might help you pass the time-when you're not thinking, of course.  You can use the gift certificate to purchase some of your favorite movies.  I hope you enjoy the little gift, and have a wonderful birthday.

Best wishes, Jim.

Ryan looked at her partner and said, "This was really thoughtful, Jamie.  He really tried to find something that fit me rather than just throwing some money at me.  I really appreciate this-even though I'm sure it was ridiculously expensive.  He's really trying, isn't he?"

"I think so, honey.  I really think so."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

When they returned home from Mass, Ryan decided that she wanted to call Jim to thank him for the gift, even though she would send a written note as well.  She tried his apartment first, but there was no answer, so Jamie suggested she try his private line at his office.  He answered immediately, and Ryan identified herself.

"Well, hello, Ryan.  How did the birthday go?"

"Very well, thank you," she smiled.  "I wanted to thank you for the fabulous gift, Jim.  It was too generous, but I really do love it."

"Don't forget to buy some movies for yourself," he reminded her.

"Oh, I don't have to," she insisted.  "Blockbuster rents DVD's.  I can use that gift certificate to rent for a whole year!" she said excitedly.

"You're something else," he said, his voice containing a note of fondness that she had never heard from him before.

"That's what they've been telling me for 24 years now," she admitted.  "While I have you on the phone, I do have a favor to ask of you, Jim."

"What's that?"

"I'd like your permission to contact the private detective that you had investigate me.  I want to obtain Tory Knight's address and phone number."


"The married woman that I had the affair with," she reminded him.  "I want to contact her to apologize for any part I played in destroying her marriage.  I don't know how to get in contact with her, and I assume that the detective wouldn't reveal that information without your permission.  So I'm asking for your permission."

"Does Jamie know you want to do this?" he asked carefully.

"She does now," Ryan said, since her lover was astride her lap.  "Do you mind, honey?"

Jamie took the phone from her and said, "Hi, Daddy.  I didn't know Ryan wanted to contact that woman, but I think it's a very generous thing to do.  I'm glad that she wants to."

"Okay, Jamie, I'll have the investigator call Ryan with the information."  He paused for a moment then added, "She's a tough one to figure out, honey."

"No, she's not, Daddy.  She's the easiest person to figure out that I've ever known.  She always tries to do the most generous thing-no matter the consequences.  Just remember that, and she's a breeze."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

The party was scheduled to begin at two, and the first of the relatives wandered over at twelve-thirty.  Shortly thereafter, Jordan called with a question for Ryan.  "Hey," she said, "how do I get to your house on public transpo?"

"Uhm…why do you need to?  Isn't Mia coming?"

"I guess she is," Jordan said.  "We didn't sleep together last night, and I haven't heard from her yet, so it's looking like she's going without me."

"Did you guys have a fight?" Ryan asked.

"I guess…I'm not really sure, though.  We didn't yell at each other or anything, but I asked her a question that seemed to piss her off, and we stopped speaking."

"I'm happy to give you directions, Jordan, but I'm equally happy to come get you.  It's kind of a hassle to get here from Berkeley.  You've gotta take BART, and switch to MUNI, and then change buses.  It could take you over an hour."

Jordan sighed and said, "I don't want you to go that far out of your way, Ryan."  She paused and said, "Hang on a sec, will ya?"


Jordan came back a minute later and said, "Mia just got here.  We'll be over in a bit.  Thanks, Ryan."

"Hope it goes well, pal.  My motto is to apologize-even if you don't know why you're apologizing."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Catherine had learned her lesson, and she arrived just after one, no longer content to be the last to join the party.  This time she brought a guest, and Jamie ran to the door to greet her grandfather with a warm hug before he was halfway through the door.  Catherine carried a lavish bouquet of flowers, with Casablanca lilies, anthuriums, ginger, and birds of paradise artfully arranged in a basket.  A bottle of wine peeked out of the basket, and Ryan pulled it out to find that it was a rich, dark Pommard, bottled in 1975, the year of her birth.  "This is beautiful, Catherine," she smiled.  "Just perfect.  And these are some of my favorite flowers!"

"They suit you, Ryan," the older woman smiled.  "Charles and I were just discussing that on the way over.  Most of these come from the wilder, tropical climates, and those remind me of you a little bit."

"I truly do appreciate your thoughtfulness," Ryan said, giving her a generous hug and a kiss on each cheek, as was Catherine's habit.  "And I'm really glad that you could join us too, Charlie," Ryan said.

"The pleasure is all mine, Ryan," he insisted.

"Daddy sent Ryan a present, Mom," Jamie informed her.  "He seemed to put some thought into it, too."

"Oh, he's actually quite good at that, dear.  With all of his international business experience, he's had to learn how to buy gifts."

Ryan brought her little DVD player over to show Catherine and Charlie, and they marveled over the technology for a few minutes.  Caitlin became aware that her best friend had entered unnoticed, and she made up for that by making her way across the crowded room, her path supported by a quick grab to assorted pant legs as she walked.

Ryan noticed that Catherine wore neither earrings nor a necklace, and she had to offer a teasing comment, as the older woman stooped to pick up her delighted little friend.  "You seem to be accessorizing a little less these days, Catherine.  Any particular reason?"

"Oh, just the fact that I've nearly been strangled by this strong little grip," she laughed.  "It took me long enough, but it dawned on me as I was walking up the stairs.  I've got my jewelry in my pocket," she said, smiling as she patted her slacks.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Jordan and Mia arrived right on time, and after they spent a few minutes greeting everyone they signaled Ryan that they wanted to see her in her room.  When they'd descended, Mia said, "Jamie said that your family doesn't do gifts, but we both wanted to get you something, so we thought we'd give them to you down here.  Is that cool?"

"Of course it is," Ryan said delightedly.  "I'm certainly not antagonistic to gifts.  We just stopped doing it because there were so many of us.  It wasn't for moral reasons or anything," she laughed.  "We just didn't have enough money."

"Cool," Mia said.  She handed Ryan a neatly wrapped package, and said, "I don't think you have one of these, and I love mine, so I thought you might like one, too."

"Thanks," Ryan said.  She spent a few minutes guessing, but finally gave in and ripped the package open enthusiastically.  "Ooo, a portable MP3 player!  Thanks, Mia!  I really have wanted one of these!  I'm a Napster junkie."  She kissed her roommate and gave her a hug, then released her, and spent a moment looking at her new toy carefully.  Mia explained how it worked and offered to put some of Ryan's music on it when they got home.

The box Jordan handed her was quite a bit larger, and as Ryan grasped it she urged, "Don't bother guessing, 'cause you'll never get it."  Ryan took her at her word, and ripped through it in record time.  Inside was a hard-shell backpack in a bright blue.  "I love your Bad Badtz Maru one," Jordan smiled, "but I hate to see you put your laptop in it when we travel.  This should keep your little baby safe."

"This is great!" Ryan exclaimed.  She fussed with the straps with Jordan's help and got it adjusted properly, quite liking the way it conformed to her back.  "I love this, Jordan.  It's really perfect!"  Smiling at her friends she admitted, "I got such great gifts this year!"

"What did Jamie get you?" Jordan asked.

Jamie rolled her eyes and said, "We've been playing the 'guess the gift' game since we got home last night.  She refuses to open it until she can guess."

"Has she gotten close?" Mia asked.

"No…we're still on the 'is it bigger than a bread box' part of the game.  At this rate she won't open it until her 25th birthday!"

"I told you that I like to guess as much as I like the present," Ryan reminded her.  "When I was little, we each got two presents for Christmas.  I found that if I spent a long time guessing what they were, it seemed to last longer."

"Oh, you're all about making things last long," Jamie teased, recalling their extended love play from the day before.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

They were barbequing, as usual, and Ryan volunteered to watch one of the grills, taking Jordan with her so she could ask her about the spat.  "So, how did things go on the way over?"

Jordan gave her friend a swat to the seat and said, "Thanks for the advice, bud.  I apologized, and she just looked at me and said, 'For what…exactly?' "

"Oh-oh.  There is always the risk of that.  Sorry I didn't give you the whole scenario."

"Oh, that's okay.  I pulled it out pretty well.  I told her that I was sorry we were so distant from each other, and that I was sorry if I hurt her."

Ryan smiled and draped an arm around her friend's shoulders.  "Excellent recovery!  You have potential!"

Jordan nodded and said, "Things seem a little better, but it's still tense.  I don't even know why I'm mad…and I sure as hell don't know why she's mad!"

"How did it start?" Ryan asked.

"Like I told you…I asked her a question," she reminded her.

"Yeah…well, there are questions, and there are questions," Ryan said, giving Jordan a look.

"Okay.  It was a bad question.  I asked her if she had slept with your brother," she admitted.


"Yeah," Jordan nodded.  "That wasn't so bad, but when I commented that I was surprised she slept with him after just two dates…"

"Yipes!  You didn't!"

"Oh, yes I did.  I know that was a snotty thing to say, Ryan, but it really surprised me, and I let that show.  That just doesn't seem like Mia."

It sounded just like Mia to Ryan, but she thought it wise not to say so.  "I know this is easier said than done, but it's never a good idea to comment on someone else's sexual past, Jordan.  It buys you nothing."

"I'm learning that," she smiled wryly.  "I'll put that in the 'things that would have been helpful to know yesterday' category."

"Why did you bring it up, Jordan?  Does it bother you that she had a brief thing with Conor?"

"No, not really," she admitted.  "I think I was just pissed off in general, and I was picking on her."

"Why were you pissed off?" Ryan asked, having a good idea.

"It was that Melissa woman," she admitted.  "I knew all about her, but it pissed me off that Mia acted like she didn't even know me when she was there!  She didn't even introduce me," she grumbled, looking very wounded.

"I can imagine that hurt," Ryan sympathized.  "But that's how you set this up, isn't it?  I thought you wanted to be totally discreet…and if I recall, you were more insistent on that than Mia was."

"I know, I know," she groused, kicking at the grass with the toe of her shoe.  "I just felt like crap when it happened, Ryan.  I felt like she was ashamed of me."

"I can understand that, Jordan.  But isn't it possible that Mia was just respecting your boundaries?  It's kinda tough to be angry with her for following through on your agreement."

Jordan shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans and said, "This is exactly what I was afraid of, Ryan.  I told you that I'm not the kind of person who likes to be inauthentic.  I don't want to hide how I feel about Mia.  It feels awful to do that."

Ryan waited a beat, considering the intense sadness on her friend's face, then gently asked, "How do you feel about her, Jordan?"

The light blue eyes drifted up to meet Ryan's, and the darker woman could clearly see the hesitation reflected in their depths.  "I like her…a lot."  She looked back down at the ground and added, "I don't want her to tell the world we sleep together, but I also don't want her to act like I don't exist!"

"That seems fair," Ryan agreed.  "Why don't you tell her that your feelings were hurt, Jordan?  You've both got to practice with this, and the only way you'll both get better is with some feedback.  She probably thinks you're mad that she slept with Conor, when that doesn't seem like what's bothering you at all."

"Okay, I will," she agreed.  "That's one of the things I like best about her, to tell you the truth.  We talk about everything-really honestly.  We have to do that now, too."

Ryan nodded somberly.  "Now more than ever."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

When Jamie saw Ryan leading Jordan off, she did the same with Mia, taking her back down to Ryan's bedroom to find out what was going on.  "You guys don't seem like yourselves today," she began.  "Is everything all right?"

"No," Mia sighed, as she flopped down on the bed.  "Everything's kinda sucky, as a matter of fact."

"What's up, babe?  Do you feel like talking about it?"

"I'm not sure, James," Mia reflected.  "We had a little fight last night, and Jordan went home. I was awake most of the night just trying to figure out what was wrong.  I guess seeing Melissa kinda threw me," she admitted.

"How so?" Jamie asked.  "You don't still have a thing for her…"

"No!  Nothing like that," Mia insisted.  "It just made me feel funny, James, like an outsider, I guess."

"Huh?  You lost me, pal."

Mia rolled over onto her side and faced her friend.  "I'm finally taking a look at myself, James, and I'm puzzled.  I mean, I don't feel like I'm a lesbian…that's just not me.  But I'm clearly not straight.  I couldn't feel like I do about Jordan if I were.  Seeing Melissa last night made me think about how it was with her…I really cared for her, James, but I wouldn't let myself…you know?"

The blonde woman nodded, having some experience at trying to deny her feelings for another woman.  "So, what do you feel like, Mia?"

"That's where I'm stumped," she admitted.  "If I tell people I sleep with Jordan, they assume I'm a lesbian, but I'm not.  If I tell them that I also slept with Conor, they assume I'm straight, but I'm not.  It was easier before, when I just felt like an open-minded kinda girl, but that's not really true any more.  I'm not just experimenting with Jordan, Jamie.  And it's not just sex," she added somberly, not surprising Jamie in the least.

Running a hand up and down Mia's back, Jamie said, "I can tell that you care for her, Mia.  Does she know how you feel?"

"I don't know how she couldn't," she scoffed.  "Sometimes it's almost a religious experience when we make love-that doesn't happen with casual sex partners."

"I'd think not," Jamie agreed.  "Are you going to tell her that you love her?" she asked gently.

"Don't go off the deep end," Mia warned.  "I didn't say that.  I said I care for her…that's different."

"Oh…right," she agreed, nodding slowly.  "That's different."

"I don't know what I'm going to do.  She's like a wounded animal some times, James.  It's obvious that there are times when she wants to run and hide, but she generally hangs in there and works things out with me.  I don't want to scare her by being too needy, you know?"

"Caring for someone doesn't make you needy," Jamie insisted.  "Just the opposite, really, Mia.  It makes you stronger."

Mia shook her head and said, "I don't know, James.  Maybe that's so, but I don't think we're at a point to have those serious discussions yet.  Things are going along fine, and I don't see any reason to screw it up.  I think I'll just apologize for being in a bad mood last night, and try to get close to her again.  It was only one night, but I missed her," she admitted, a wistful look on her face.  "I've really grown used to having her sleep next to me-it was odd to be alone."

"I know the feeling," Jamie empathized, dreading the next away game, which was coming up in just a few days.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"Is it bigger than the dining room table?" Ryan asked, sneaking up behind her partner and whispering the question in her ear.

"No, Ryan, it's not bigger than the dining room table."

"Is it bigger than Jordan?" Ryan followed up, chuckling a little.

"Not comparable to a human," the smaller woman decided.  "Try again."

"But it was comparable to the dining room table, eh?"

"Only in some ways," Jamie decided.  "You're still way off, honey."

"I'll get there, just you wait," she warned, narrowing her deep blue eyes dangerously.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

By the time all of the guests had been fed, all of the cake had been eaten, and Caitlin had fallen in Ryan's arms, the dark woman had ascertained that her gift was not clothing, not books, not related to a sport, and was bigger than Martin's easy chair but smaller than the refrigerator when laid on its side.  It wasn't much, but Ryan was still brimming with confidence that she would figure it out.

Rory came up and asked, "Any chance I can move your present out of my room tonight, Ryan?  I almost killed myself when I got up in the middle of the night."

Ryan whirled and faced her partner.  "It's in Rory's room?  Why would you choose Rory's room, hmmm?  Maybe Rory helped you with it!"  She said this like she had just deciphered the Rosetta Stone, and Jamie just laughed and rolled her eyes.

"Okay, let's say he did.  How does that help?"

"Oh, for the love of Mike!" Rory cried.  "Is she still trying to guess what it is?"

"I'm getting close," Ryan insisted, waving her brother off.

"No, she's not," Jamie smiled, shaking her head.

"Well, it's gonna be out in the hall when I go to bed, so you'll know one way or the other, Sis," he threatened as he walked off, chuckling to himself.

"Big question, Jamie," Ryan said seriously.  "Did Rory help you decide what to buy?"


"You didn't ask Conor, or Brendan, or Da?"

"Nope.  Just Rory," she smiled, knowing that Ryan was getting close.

Ryan nodded slyly, a wide smile settling on her face.  "I've got it," she declared.  "And if I'm right, I'd better give Caitlin to your mom, 'cause she's gonna wake up screaming from the noise!"

When Rory saw his sister taking the stairs two at a time, he followed her up, coming up alongside Jamie, who was lagging behind.  "Did she guess?"

"I think so, but she might still be a little surprised," she said.

Indeed, Ryan was surprised.  She stood in the doorway, looking at the impressive set-up, a puzzled expression on her face.  "Electronic drums?" she asked.  "Electronic?"

"Trust me, Sis," Rory insisted.  "These babies have come a long way."  He took a pair of sticks off his dresser and handed them to her.  Leading her over to the stool, he urged her down, then handed her a pair of headphones.  He flicked a few switches on a module and said, "Give 'em a rip."

She looked a little doubtful, but started to play, a thoughtful look on her face that quickly turned into a smile.  The smile grew as she experienced each element of the set, until she was beaming an iridescent smile at her partner.  Removing the headphones so she could hear, she said, "These are absolutely phenomenal, honey!  I love them!"  Turning to Rory she said, "I had no idea electronic could come this close to acoustic."

"Yeah, Roland has done a great job with these.  Most good drummers have acoustic and electronic now, just because these are so much more versatile.  I think you'll really love them, Ryan."

"I love them already," she smiled, "but you really shouldn't have been so generous, honey.  These must have cost a ton!"

"Yes, they were expensive," she admitted, "but these fall in the 'as much for me as for you' category."

Ryan knew just what that meant, but Rory did not.  "Do you play the drums, Jamie?" he asked, innocently.

Ryan gave her lover an impish smile and replied for her.  "Nope.  She plays the drummer."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

On their way home, Mia looked over at Jordan and asked, "My place or yours?"

"Mine," Jordan said, surprising and displeasing Mia.  She started to look at the blonde, but Jordan touched her leg lightly.  "You've never even seen my apartment, Mia.  I think it's time I gave you a proper tour."

"Does the tour include the bedroom?" she asked with a suddenly sunny smile.

"That's where the tour starts," Jordan revealed.  "I missed you last night."  She shot Mia an adorably shy smile, making the smaller woman's heart clench with emotion.

"I missed you, too, sweetheart," Mia agreed, letting the term of endearment escape before she could pull it back in.

Another shy grin accompanied Jordan's soft response, "No one has ever called me sweetheart before."

"Their loss," Mia smiled, reaching over to grab her lover's hand and press it against her breast.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Catherine and Charlie were among the last to leave, having helped clean up and put everything away.  After a fond goodbye from Jamie and Ryan, they got into Catherine's car for the trip to Nob Hill.  "I didn't want to bring this up during the party, but I am interested in how things are going for you, Catherine.  How have you been?"

She smiled at her father-in-law and said, "I don't think I could get through this time without Jamie and Ryan, but with their support I'm actually faring pretty well.  I'm not sure what will happen between Jim and me, but I feel more confident that I can handle whatever comes."

"Do you want to end the marriage, Catherine?" he asked gently.

"No.  No, I don't, Charles.  We have a lot of problems, but I would prefer to work them through together and try to save our relationship."  She gave Charles a look and said, "My therapist said something not long ago that I've been thinking about a lot.  She said that you choose your mate for both healthy and unhealthy reasons, and that leaving them when problems occur doesn't insure that you won't have the same issue pop up again with the next partner you choose.  If I'm going to have to really investigate the issues that led me to Jim, and that kept me with him through his betrayals, I'd like to have him there while I do it."  She spared a look at her father-in-law and asked, "Does that make any sense?"

"Yes, I think it does, Catherine.  I know that you make a good point about repeating your mistakes.  That's something we humans seem programmed to do."

"I suppose what I mean is that I love Jim deeply, and I don't want to lose him.  Yes, he has flaws, but so do I.  He clearly has a very difficult time with fidelity, but in other areas I trust him completely.  If he agrees to try to work on our problems, I trust him to do his best."

"What do you think the likelihood of that is, Catherine?" he asked, not seeing much evidence of his son's willingness to do so.

"It's hard to tell, Charles.  He calls me every few days-usually without much reason.  He seems lonely in a way I've never seen.  It's hard to put a finger on it, but I occasionally see glimpses of the young man I fell in love with, and that gives me hope."

"I can understand that," the older man agreed.  "I certainly hope he comes through for you, Catherine.  You're the best thing that ever happened to him-if he can only wake up and see it."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Jamie climbed into bed a few minutes after their last guest had departed.  She curled up next to Ryan's side and placed a hand on her belly, knowing that she would be asleep in seconds.  The bed was rocking just a tiny bit, and she sat up to look at Ryan.  "What are you doing?"

"Oh…I didn't think you'd feel that."

"What are you doing?" she asked again.

Ryan cleared her throat and admitted the truth.  "Playing my drums."

"Lord, you are an adorable woman," Jamie sighed as she snuggled next to her again.  "How are you playing your drums, sweetheart?  You don't have your sticks in here, do you?"

"No.  I'm playing my thighs," Ryan assured her.  "I understand why you did it, but having my new toy upstairs is pretty harsh, baby."

"Yes, I realize that, but even though they don't make much noise, I'm not about to hear that slapping sound all night long.  And that's just what you'd be doing, so don't even try to convince me otherwise."

"Point taken," Ryan agreed.  "I really, really like 'em," she whispered.  "I never had my own set."

Jamie sat up on her elbow and asked, "Never?  I thought you played in school."

"I did.  The school owned a set, and I stayed there to practice.  I always dreamed of someday having my own kit," she said wistfully.  "I should have realized that you'd be the one to make my dream come true."

"Rory helped," Jamie advised.  "I asked him if you'd like to own drums, and he was very enthusiastic.  He was certain you'd love them."

"He knows me well," Ryan agreed.  "You know I never would have bought them for myself," she added softly.  "They just seem like such a luxury."

"My goal is to one day have you not think of luxury as a dirty word," Jamie teased.

"My goal is to have you holding my hand on my 100th birthday, wishing our guests would leave so that we can make love until daybreak," Ryan whispered.

"Our guests are gone now," Jamie replied, giving Ryan's neck a little nibble.  "Wanna put those twitchy hands to use?"

"I'd rather play you than a drum any day, love," Ryan agreed, folding her partner into her warm embrace.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Continued in Part Three

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