After a decidedly nutritious lunch, Ryan sat down in front of her computer and didn't move until quarter to three. Jamie was studying in the library, and she looked up in surprise when her lover came jogging down the stairs in her warm ups. "Gotta go, babe," she said casually as she laced up her Rollerblades.
"Okay, but why so early?" Jamie asked.
"I've gotta make a stop before volleyball practice," she said evasively as she kissed Jamie and dashed to the door. "I'll be home by seven or eight."
Seven or eight? That doesn't make any sense. She's up to something, she thought suspiciously. Her whole attitude was a little cagey, she decided. She's definitely hiding something, and given her penchant for torturing her poor body, I'd better find out what it is. She doesn't generally act like that unless she's about to do something dumb.
She hopped up and grabbed her bike from the front porch, slapping her helmet on as she unlocked it and took it down the stairs. She knew that Ryan could beat her to campus, but she also knew that, given her outfit, she was headed for one of the athletic facilities, and she already had a pretty good suspicion as to her destination. She arrived at the Recreation and Sports Facility, and locked up her bike before flashing her student ID for admission. The gym was usually sectioned off for volleyball practice, but today it was wide open, and she noticed that the normal resilient surface wasn't in place. She thought she might have guessed wrong when Ryan came out onto the court with Coach Hayes and Lynette Dix of the basketball team.
Jamie didn't want to be seen, so she lurked just outside of the court area. The voices carried well, given the silence of the gym, but she nearly broke that silence when she heard the coach ask, "Are you sure you're up to double practices, Ryan? I can't afford to go easy on you if you're going to be of any help to us."
"I'm in tip top shape," she said. "I actually just had a check up today, and the doctor cleared me to play both sports."
Jamie was clenching her fists so firmly that her knuckles turned white. She did not clear you to play both sports, you idiot!! She told you to sleep for nine hours a night, and gain weight so you don't collapse!!
"As I told you when we spoke on the phone last week," Coach Hayes said, "I won't let you suit up unless you've practiced for two full weeks. Now just because you suit up certainly doesn't mean that you'll play…but you'll have a chance if you work hard enough."
"Working hard is never a problem for me, Coach," Ryan said, her earnest gaze focused on the older woman.
"I'm sure that I won't be comfortable with your familiarity with our offense after only two weeks, Ryan, so don't get your hopes up that you will play much. Lynette is willing to work one-on-one with you for an hour a day to get you familiar with our system. Is three o'clock good for you?"
"Yeah. Then I can go to volleyball practice from four to six and run over to Haas for the last hour of your practice," Ryan said.
"Okay, Ryan. I'll let you be the judge, but you look awfully thin. Were you this skinny when you tried out for us?"
"Uh…no, not really," she admitted. "I like to play volleyball really light, but I'm already working on increasing my weight for basketball."
"There are some big girls in this league, and you're going to get tossed around a lot at your current weight," the coach warned. "I'd bulk up as much as you can. I don't anticipate using you as a center, but you're too thin to even be an effective forward right now."
"Not a problem," she said. "I've already made an appointment with a nutritionist to make sure I gain it properly."
"Okay, I'll let Lynette be the judge of your progress. If you do well over the next two weeks, we'll add you to the roster for the Colorado game."
"How about Nevada?" Ryan asked hopefully.
"That's next Sunday," Coach Hayes reminded her.
"I know, but I've been studying the playbook, and I think I can help. The offense is very much like I played at U.S.F., so I don't think it will be that hard for me to learn."
"We'll see," Coach Hayes said cautiously. "Does Coach Placer know you want to play next weekend?"
"Uhh, no. But we'll know by next Saturday if we get an NCAA bid. If we don't, it doesn't matter what we do in our last game."
"But if you do get a bid?"
"Then I should concentrate on volleyball," she said decisively. "But the odds that we'll get a bid are poor."
"Okay. We'll see how you do. I'll let you two get to work, and I'll see you at Haas a little after six. Oh, and Ryan?"
"To me, a good practice is when the hem of your shirt is wet. Get ready to sweat!"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
To Jamie's relief, the first hour of practice consisted of slow motion walk-throughs of the offense. Ryan was not even damp when she grabbed her gym bag and waited for the maintenance staff to lay down the resilient surface the volleyball team used.
Jamie finally smiled as she saw her lanky lover take out a can of Ensure and gulp it down as she sat on the floor and waited for her teammates. Good girl! She had to laugh at the face that Ryan was making, so when she pulled out another can and gulped it down, she gave her an even bigger smile and thought, even better girl! You're not in nearly as much trouble as you were an hour ago!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Hi, honey," Jamie called out brightly as Ryan came in the front door at around 7:15.
"Hey," she answered as she started to trot up the stairs. "Gotta take a quick shower."
Jamie waited until she could hear the shower going before running up the stairs and checking out Ryan's discarded clothes. The wet mess on the floor of the bedroom was testament to Coach Hayes' maxim. I'd better stock up on Gatorade, she thought wryly.
Dinner was just being set on the table when Ryan came back down in a pair of the cotton pajamas that Jamie had bought for her. Mia joined them for dinner and as Ryan dug in, Jamie casually asked, "Why were you so late tonight?"
"Oh, umm, no special reason," she said, shifting in her chair.
"And did you start early too?" she asked with the same casual tone.
"Yeah, I started a little early."
"Is Coach Placer going to keep you this late all week?"
"I might be this late all week, yeah…I might be," she said carefully, her fork carving patterns in her mashed potatoes.
"Hmm, it seems odd to me that you would need extra practice this late in the season." Ryan just nodded briefly, but offered no comment. "Mia, didn't Jordan call you a while ago?" Jamie asked in feigned confusion.
"Yeah, she called around 6:30. She's gonna come over later and help me study."
"Hmm, why didn't Jordan have to stay late, honey?" she asked sweetly as she batted her big green eyes at Ryan. "Are you just a special case?"
Ryan carefully placed her fork down and took a deep breath. "Did you follow me, or can you smell the leather on my hands?" she asked with an aggrieved sigh.
"I followed you, of course! And you can just thank your lucky stars that I didn't go down onto that court and thoroughly embarrass you in front of your coach!"
"What's going on?" Mia demanded, never having seen her roommates come this close to a fight.
"Rockhead here has decided to play both basketball and volleyball. Of course, this is in addition to the three early-morning study sessions for the Putnam competition. We just went to the doctor this morning because she's feeling so bad, so she thought it was the perfect day to begin practicing four hours a day instead of two!"
"But she said I could," Ryan whined.
"She most certainly did not!" Jamie insisted. "You told her you were going to start basketball as soon as volleyball ended, and she said that if you didn't start sleeping more and gain some weight that you would never make it through another sport! That's not exactly a ringing endorsement, Ryan!"
"Well she didn't say I couldn't," Ryan reminded her as she stuck her lower lip out in her adorable little pout.
Jamie dropped her head to the table and smacked it lightly against the surface. "I don't know what I'm going to do with you," she moaned.
Ryan turned to Mia and gave her a childlike grin as she admitted, "I'd bet I've heard that refrain at least 1,000 times in my life!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
The next morning when Ryan got back from working out at the gym there was a note taped to the refrigerator. "Open Me!" it read. Grinning widely, she opened the door and found two complete meals and a snack, all ready for her consumption. A large container of oatmeal was labeled, "Add two bananas and blueberries and eat by ten a.m." A container of hearty potato soup was marked, "Eat by two p.m.", and a pint container of plain, nonfat yogurt bore the legend, "Add strawberries and blueberries and take to gym to eat between practices." The blender was in the refrigerator, and it had been filled with orange juice, a sliced banana and strawberries. Its label read, "Add nonfat frozen yogurt and drink whenever you wish as long as it's before three p.m." There was a little heart or a series of x's circled with o's on each note. I would have had a girlfriend years ago if I'd known it would be this nice, Ryan thought fondly, kissing the container of oatmeal as a substitute for her partner.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The downside of having a concerned partner made itself known when Ryan showed up at three o'clock for her workout with Lynette. The older woman gave her a look and said, "Jamie called me today, Ryan. You really should have told us about the real reason for your weight loss. Losing 25 pounds to illness is a lot different than playing light."
"I know," she said, both chagrined and miffed with Jamie for interfering. "I just didn't think you'd let me play if you knew I'd kept losing weight."
"That's a good guess, Ryan, and if I told Coach Hayes, that's just what would happen. But I know how much you want to play, and I'm willing to keep this our little secret. Two things I need from you, though."
"Name it," she said immediately.
"One-no weight lifting until you've gained a few pounds. You're working plenty hard at practices-you don't need any more strain on your body."
"Okay. That's a good idea," Ryan agreed.
"Two-no more running. It's not doing you any good at this point, and it's sapping calories. Do we have a deal?"
"Yes, Coach, we do," she agreed.
"One more thing, Ryan," Lynette said. "Don't be angry with Jamie for calling me. She's worried about you, and I think she has good reason."
"Yeah, she does," Ryan agreed. "I get too focused and forget to take care of myself sometimes."
"You're going to have to do a better job of that, Ryan, or this schedule will eat you alive. It's a lot more demanding than the volleyball schedule. The games are often longer, and Coach Hayes is a hell of a lot harder to play for than Coach Placer." She gave her a worried look and said, "I just hope that you don't regret your decision to play, Ryan."
"I won't," she assured her. "I just love to play, and this is the highest caliber of competition I'm ever going to have. It's worth it to me, Coach."
"I hope so," she said. "I sincerely hope so."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Catherine walked into the baggage claim area of National Airport in Washington, D.C. and immediately noticed the uniformed driver holding aloft a sign that read "C. Evans." She signaled the man and he helped her retrieve her luggage, escorting her to the limo just minutes later. The flight had been uneventful, but she had not been able to sleep, her mind far too active to allow her to relax. She had flown most of the night, and dawn was just breaking over the Washington skyline when the car reached the hotel. The bellman took her bags, and before she was halfway across the lobby Jim appeared, looking fully awake and ready for the day. He was dressed in a dark blue suit, crisp white shirt, and a gold and navy print tie that she had given him after a trip to Italy. She smiled broadly at him, and allowed him to give her a warm hug. "God, it's good to see you," he whispered, squeezing her tight.
"How did you know I was here?" she asked, delighted that he cared enough to come down to greet her.
"I asked the doorman to alert me as soon as a limo carrying a gorgeous blonde woman pulled up." He was giving her one of his most rakish smiles, and she could only respond with a small shake of her head.
As he led her to the elevator she said, "You look good, Jim. You actually look more well rested than I've seen you in years."
"Don't tell anyone," he whispered conspiratorially, "but this job is a day at the beach compared to practicing law."
"Your secret's safe with me," she chuckled, finding herself charmed by his boyish exuberance. When they arrived at his apartment, he gave her a brief tour and directed the bellman to put her bags in the spare bedroom.
"I'm sure you want to spend most of the day sleeping, but I'd love to give you the grand tour of the Capitol if you're up for it," he said. "I think you'd enjoy it."
"All right," she agreed. "Either today or tomorrow. My flight back isn't until five, so we can do it either day."
"Oh, good!" he said excitedly. "I can arrange for a special lunch in the Senate dining room. I'm sure you're too tired to do that today."
"Yes, I think I'll need most of the day to make myself presentable for tonight," she laughed.
"That's where you're wrong, Catherine," he assured her, looking deeply into her eyes. "You'd be the most beautiful woman there if you went just as you are. You look absolutely lovely," he added, his green eyes boring into her.
She blinked at him, on the verge of tossing off a self-deprecating comment, but the sincerity in his expression stopped her. What is going on with him? she wondered. He acts like he wooing me again!
"I have a breakfast meeting this morning, so I have to get going," he said, crossing to the closet to retrieve his overcoat. "If you need anything, anything at all, call my secretary. She can reach me at a minute's notice. Also, the concierge of the hotel is wonderful, and room service has a great salad that I know you'd like." He was smiling broadly at her the entire time he talked, and she mused that his tone showed more excitement than she had heard in years.
"I'm sure I won't have any problems, Jim. I honestly think I'll sleep most of the day-I was unable to on the plane."
"OH!" He walked across the room and handed her a slip of paper from a pad resting near the phone. "I arranged for a massage for you for late this afternoon. I thought that would help you feel refreshed for tonight. I know what a tough time you have sleeping on airplanes."
His expression was that of a schoolboy who was waiting to hear if he had passed an important test, and she smiled broadly in return. "Thank you, Jim. This is very thoughtful of you."
"All of the details are listed right here," he said. "You can walk to the spa…it's almost across the street."
"Thank you again," she said, and was surprised by the enthusiastic hug he gave her.
"I'm just glad you're here, Catherine," he said softly. "I'm very, very happy to see you."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Once she was unpacked and dressed in her pajamas, Catherine tried to get to sleep, but her mind was still racing. She decided to call Jamie and chat with her for a moment, hoping that being able to vent her feelings would help. The younger woman answered on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Hi, honey, it's mother."
"Hi, Mom!" Jamie whispered. "Hold on a sec…I've got to go outside." She was quiet for a moment, then said in a normal tone of voice, "Okay, I can talk now."
"Am I disturbing you?"
"No, not at all. You just saved me from actually falling asleep in the middle of class. Wow, who knew accounting could be so boring!"
Catherine laughed and said, "It doesn't seem like that's a subject that matches your personality, but it's a good thing to know."
"Yeah. I keep telling myself that," she smirked. "So, are you there?"
"Yes. I'm going to try to go to sleep for a while, but my mind won't let me relax."
"How come, Mom? Is something bothering you?"
"Did you see that movie where aliens come to earth and infiltrate the country by starting with the President, and then working their way through the Congress?"
"Uhh…no. Was that the movie on the plane?"
"Hardly. Anyway, I think it's happened…and they've obviously gotten to your father."
Jamie chuckled as she said, "He's seemed like he's been under someone's mind control this year. Do you have any further evidence?"
"He must have found the Fountain of Youth at the same time. He's acting like he did when we were dating…actually he's nicer than he was then. He honestly acts like he's trying to impress me, and he hasn't done that in a very, very long time."
"Maybe he really is sincere in his desire to try again, Mom. Do you think you can trust him?" she asked warily.
"No, I see no reason to trust him yet, honey. He's got a very long way to go before I do that again. But he is trying, and that's very good to see."
"I'm glad to hear that, Mom. If he's got a brain in his head, he'll put all of his energies into trying to win you back."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"The limo should be here soon, Catherine. Are you about ready?"
The door to the second bedroom opened, and Jim took a step backwards, his mouth gaping open as he took in the vision of his wife. Catherine always looked lovely when she was attending a formal dinner, but she was fairly ravishing tonight, and the look on Jim's face left no doubts that her extra efforts had paid off.
Jamie had convinced her to buy a dress she would not normally have been drawn to--a burnished gold silk strapless gown, with a form-fitting bodice and full train. The bustline of the dress emphasized her meager cleavage to very good effect, with the smoky topaz solitaire pendant she wore helping to set it off. Catherine didn't have a distinctive tan, but she had been swimming recently, and the kiss of the sun showed faintly across her shoulders, making her look healthy, robust, and very attractive.
"I am stunned," Jim murmured, walking slowly around his wife, looking at her from every angle. "I have never seen you look lovelier, Catherine." He took her hand and walked down the hallway with her, his eyes never leaving her. "I don't think I've ever seen you in that color before," he mused. "I don't even know what it's called…but they should name it after you."
She couldn't remove the smile that settled on her face, even though she knew his compliments were ridiculously outlandish. "You look very nice yourself, Jim. I like this tuxedo better than any you've ever had."
"Thank you," he smiled. "That's probably because I finally let you talk me into having one made in Italy. I don't know why I ever argue with you about fashion. You clearly know what's best."
"I'm actually excited about tonight," she said as they walked to the door. "Believe me, I can't remember the last time I was looking forward to a formal dinner."
"No, I've had my fill also, but this one should be special…especially now," he added, as he placed his hand against the small of her back and guided her out the door.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Catherine wasn't sure if she had forgotten, or if Jim had failed to tell her that this dinner was in honor of the president of Italy. Various members of the Italian consulate were in attendance, scattered among the tables, and Catherine was seated next to one such dignitary. Jim watched her out of the corner of his eye as she managed to charm the Ferragamos right off the fellow, chatting easily with him and his wife about all things Italian. She was the only other person at the table who spoke Italian, and even though the man spoke perfectly acceptable English, it was clear that he and his wife preferred conversing in their native tongue, so Catherine became the translator for the table.
After dinner they adjourned to the Red Room for dancing. Catherine was a little surprised when Jim insisted on having the first dance with her, but she settled comfortably in his arms and let him lead her around the large, polished floor. "Are you having fun?" he asked, his breath warm and moist as it passed over her ear.
"Very much so," she replied, tilting her head to gaze into his eyes. "Are you?"
"Yes," he said, "but I'd like it even better if all of these other people would leave us alone."
"It looks like someone's about to cut in, dear," she whispered, and his face flashed a frown of displeasure. "Oh, I'll be right back," she chided softly. "You can't say no to the leader of the free world!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
When Jim had been reunited with his wife, he sulked for a few minutes about the temerity of the President. "Two songs! Why did he have to dance with you for two songs! He's got his own wife," he grumbled.
"Uh-huh," Catherine said, thinking that Jim and the President had some of the same habits where women were concerned. "You could have asked Hilary to dance," she suggested.
"I don't think he'd have noticed," he groused, clearly angry that he couldn't trump the man. He blinked down at Catherine and said, "He's as stupid as I am. He clearly doesn't see what a wonderful woman he's married to. After all she's been through, I can't imagine it's not over for them." He paused for a second, taking in a deep breath. "I hope it's not over for us, Catherine."
She patted his back and leaned against his chest, not speaking for a few minutes as they moved gracefully around the dance floor. "It's not over yet, Jim. I don't know what's in store for us, but it's not over yet."
* * * * * * * * * * *
When they were back at their table, Jim sipped a cognac and mused, "I wish I hadn't had to leave my cell phone at the guard station. I would love to call Jamie from the White House."
Catherine gave him a puzzled glance and raised an eyebrow at one of the hovering attendants. "The Senator needs to make a long distance phone call. Can you help him?"
"Yes, Senator, right this way, sir," the tuxedoed man said.
Jim smiled as he rose and extended his hand to his wife. "Mrs. Evans will be joining me for the call," he said, and they were escorted to an elegant sitting room, far down the hall from the dinner.
After securing a line, the man handed Jim the phone and said, "Do you need the operators to connect you, sir, or do you know the number?"
"I know it," Catherine said, and proceeded to dial.
Jim smiled at the man and said, "See why I need her?"
* * * * * * * * * * *
On the way back to the apartment, Jim sat closer to Catherine than she was used to, and after a few blocks, his arm was resting lightly around her shoulders. "Remember the first formal dance we ever attended?"
She looked at him as if he were mad and said, "Yes…how could I forget? I have a permanent reminder of that night, Jim, and we just spoke to her on the phone!"
He smiled and said, "I meant a little earlier in the evening."
"Oh…before I got so drunk that I had unprotected sex with you in the car." She had never spent a day regretting the gift of their daughter, but if she could turn back time she would have been in her right mind at the time of her conception.
He looked a little taken aback by her tone, and he blinked at her slowly before he asked, "Do you regret it, Cat?"
She patted his leg and assured him, "No, I don't, Jim. I didn't like the timing, and I wish I hadn't been so drunk, but I don't regret sleeping with you, I don't regret marrying you, and I certainly don't regret having Jamie. It doesn't do much good to complain about the details-especially when the outcome is so wonderful."
"She is wonderful, isn't she?" he asked rhetorically, sliding his arm lower and drawing Catherine close. "She's the best parts of both of us…how did that happen?" he asked with a wry chuckle.
"I don't have a clue, but I'm very grateful for it," she agreed, feeling uncommonly comfortable nestled against his body.
"She seemed very happy to hear from us," he commented softly.
"I think she was. How often do your parents call from the White House?" She was quiet for a moment, and then said, "I think she'd be very happy if we got back together."
"I know I would," Jim whispered, pulling her still closer, his arms wrapped tightly around Catherine's body.
"I'm willing to try, Jim, but we have to go slow. I need a lot of proof before I'm going to trust you again."
"I've stopped seeing Kayla, Catherine. As soon as I returned here after the unfortunate incident with Jamie and Ryan-I broke it off that night."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because I know it's wrong," he said softly. "It's childish and immature. I'm like a four-year-old…I see a new toy and I immediately lose interest in the one that I was perfectly happy with. I've turned into the man I used to make fun of, Catherine. I don't want to be known as the old letch who can't be trusted around a pretty girl. It's not how I was raised, Cat."
"No, it certainly isn't," she agreed. "You had a very good role model, that you chose not to follow."
"It's not too late," he insisted. "I can change this time…I know I can."
"I'm willing to try, Jim," she reiterated. "You're going to have to be patient, though. I won't rush into anything."
"I will be." His promise was whispered directly into her ear, and she felt a shiver roll down her body. "I will do my best."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Care for a nightcap?" he asked, holding up a bottle of cognac.
"No, I don't think so," she said. "Feel free to have one, if you wish. I'll stay up and keep you company." She'd had wine with dinner, but she wanted to have her faculties about her, having a feeling that Jim would try to re-ignite their sexual relationship immediately.
Her guess was proven correct just a few minutes later. He sat down next to her on the couch and leaned dangerously close. "I've been thinking about what you said in the car earlier," he mused as he let his fingers trail down her neck, pausing to lightly touch her necklace.
"What's that?" she asked lazily, unconsciously tilting her head to give him better access.
"I think it's a shame that our first time together was such a frantic, clandestine coupling. Wouldn't you like to have another chance to do it right?" He leaned even closer and began to place tender, moist kisses from the tip of her bare shoulder all the way to her sensitive ears.
"You can't rewrite history, Jim," she reminded him. "We made our choices."
"Perhaps," he said softly as he nibbled lightly on her ear lobe, "but I think we could start off the second act of our relationship by reliving that night. We're sober, we're in a nice, comfortable place, I have a nice, comfortable bed, your sorority housemother isn't waiting up for you, and we don't have to worry about you getting pregnant."
"We didn't worry about that the first time," she reminded him.
"We did from then on," he protested, as though that made a difference.
"Yes, we did," she chuckled. "I guess we have the benefit of knowing exactly when our child was conceived. Most people don't know that."
"May the fifteenth," he recalled. "I've always been partial to that day." He tilted his head as his body shifted closer, his lips meeting hers in a tender kiss. "We could christen our new beginning on November the tenth."
She placed her hands on his chest and pushed him away just an inch or two. "I'm partial to that May anniversary," she smiled. "I want to try again, Jim, but I won't let you break my heart. I have to know that you will be faithful to me, and that's going to take a lot of convincing. It's just too soon tonight."
"I understand," he said softly, laying his head against her shoulder. "I really do understand, Catherine. I haven't given you any reason to trust me."
"No, you haven't, Jim, but I still love you. I very much want this to work out. Can we just date for a while?"
"Sure." He smiled, and she felt his mouth move against the skin of her shoulder. "Do you remember what we did on our first date?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. We went out for hamburgers, and then you walked me back to the sorority house and we made out like we were on fire, sitting on a stone bench in the yard."
"You had my heart racing that night," he sighed. "I thought you were very experienced."
She laughed softly and said, "No, just desperate to grow up. I had been so closely supervised at home…I went off the deep end a bit at college."
"You didn't go far enough to please me," he chuckled, "but you could kiss like no one I'd ever been with. That kept me coming back for more."
"I was so amazed that this mature law student wanted to go out with me that I'm sure I was a little more forward than I would have normally been. I didn't want you to think I was a child."
"Oh, you were no child," he murmured. "You kissed like a woman."
She shifted under him and moved her head until she was gazing into his eyes. Her lids fluttered closed as she leaned forward and kissed him, letting the embrace go on for quite a while. As she moved away she sighed and asked softly, "Do I still kiss like a woman?"
His slow, sly smile assured her that she did, and she leaned in for another. They cuddled and kissed for a long time, not going any further, even though she knew he badly wanted to. There was a part of her that was testing him-seeing if he would honor his promise not to push her. He behaved admirably, letting her lead the dance, responding immediately, but never pushing her. She pulled away at one point when her breathing began to grow ragged. Taking his hand in hers, she placed it over her breast and whispered, "You have my heart racing tonight, Jim. I'm going to go to bed while I still have some control."
"Control is highly overrated," he protested mildly, letting just one finger slip inside the bodice of her dress. With a sultry smile, she just leaned over and gave him one last kiss, this one the hottest of the evening.
His eyes were glazed as she pulled away and patted him gently on the cheek. "Good night, Jim. I had a fantastic evening."
"G'night," he murmured, wanting to walk her to her door, but knowing his knees would not hold him up. As he watched his wife glide down the hall he marveled, We haven't kissed like that in years! Maybe dating isn't such a bad idea!
* * * * * * * * * * *
After a leisurely lunch in the Senate dining room, Jim walked Catherine all around the Capitol, smiling inwardly at the vast numbers of people who already knew him by name. They were standing next to one another, overlooking the rotunda, when she reached down and grasped his hand. "Hard to imagine that the earnest young man I feel in love with would one day be a United States Senator," she said softly. "I'm proud of you, Jim. Your hard work has really paid off."
He shook his head slowly, gazing into her deep brown eyes as he said, "I'd trade it all to have your love and Jamie's respect once again. I mean that, Cat. I swear I do."
She reached up and brushed a tear from his cheek, then stood on her tiptoes and kissed the spot. "We'll work together to get there, Jim. I'll support you in any way that I can."
"That's so much more than I deserve," he whispered while he hugged her close to his chest, his feelings for her welling up until he thought his heart would break.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"I think the star of the game deserves a nice long backrub, don't you, Boomer?"
"Not a bad idea, Jordan," Ryan smiled, starting to tug off her T-shirt.
"Uh…Boom?" Jordan said as she extended the bottle of moisture lotion. "I think even a casual observer would give the MVP nod to me, don't you?" She was batting her eyes at Ryan in her trademark style, and the dark-haired woman acceded to her wishes.
"I can't argue with your logic," Ryan agreed. "You did rock tonight."
"Kinda sucks not to have our women here, doesn't it?" the blonde asked as Ryan started to work on her.
"Our women?" Ryan chuckled. "I don't tend to refer to Jamie as my woman. Don't think she'd appreciate it."
"I'd never say that to Mia's face," Jordan agreed. Ryan saw the satisfied smile settle onto her features as she admitted, "I do think of her like that though…as mine, I mean." Twisting her head around so she could see Ryan she said, "That's silly, isn't it?"
"What could be silly about that?" Ryan asked. "It's hard not to feel like that about someone that you're growing close to, Jordan."
"I just wish I knew how she felt about me," Jordan mused as she rested her chin on her linked hands. "I still don't know if this is just a fling for her, or not."
"You know, I've only known Mia a little over a year, but she's doesn't seem like the type to spend this much time with you if she was just playing around. I think she likes you a lot, Jordan. She might even be falling in love with you," she said, feeling Jordan's body flinch when she said that.
Ryan didn't think she had ever heard a more hope-filled voice as Jordan asked, "Do you really think that could be true?"
"Don't say it with that disbelieving tone of voice," Ryan chided. "You're an extremely lovable person."
"Maybe," Jordan muttered. "But I don't think that's how she feels, Ryan. I mean, look at how she behaved on Halloween. Mia's so open about things, and she doesn't care what people think about her. If she were in love with me, she'd tell me and everybody else in her life. No, I think she likes me-a lot-but I think she's planning on just being friends when we're done with the affair."
"When are you going to be done?" Ryan asked gently.
"I don't know," Jordan mused, her voice quiet and laced with sadness. "I guess whenever she says we are."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan was reticent to go to sleep, since Jordan seemed so down, but she was just not able to keep her eyes open a moment longer. Her lethargy was really irritating to her even though she was now confident that she wasn't seriously ill. She fell into a fitful sleep, her mind racing while her body collapsed.
She wasn't sure how long she'd been asleep when a muffled sob woke her. "Jordan?" she mumbled, her eyes too heavy to open. "Jor?"
A very quiet, very shaky voice said, "Go back to sleep. It's okay."
She heard the bed creak when Jordan got up and a moment later she heard the fan in the bath, but even over the background noise she could hear muffled sobs. Tossing the covers back, Ryan padded over to the bath and knocked lightly. "Jordan? Come out and tell me what's wrong."
"It's all right, Ryan. Don't worry about it. I'm just having a rough night."
"When you have a rough night, I have a rough night. Now come out here and tell me why we're upset."
Something about that statement struck Jordan as funny and Ryan heard a short bark of laughter. "You're a kick in the head, O'Flaherty," she said when she opened the door.
Ryan tucked an arm around her waist and led her back to bed, then went back into the bath and wet a cloth with cool water. Jordan's eyes were swollen and red, and she gratefully accepted the soothing cloth. "Thanks."
"No problem. Now tell me what's got you so upset."
"I had another one," she said quietly, dabbing at her eyes.
"A nightmare?" Ryan asked gently.
"Yeah. First one in a long time."
"I know you've told me that you don't want to talk about them, but it really might help. Is there a recurring theme?"
"Yes, Ryan," she said tiredly. "It's always the same damn dream, and I've been having the fucker since 1987." She looked at Ryan and shook her head. "Are you sure you want to hear it?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Fine." She lay down on her back and stared at the darkened ceiling. "I'm a little kid and I come home from school one day. I walk into the house and my dad is gone. Only no one else knows he's gone, because no one else knows he exists. I'm the only person who knew him. None of his stuff is there, and my mother's stuff is arranged in the closet like nothing had been moved or taken away. I'm afraid to ask where he is, because I know it'll make her mad." She sucked in a breath and finished. "I go into my room and everything looks normal, just like I'd left it that morning. All of a sudden the whole house starts to shake, and the house rips apart. There's this gaping chasm right in the middle of my room and the shaking is so bad that I start to slide across the floor. I'm grabbing onto anything I can get my hands on-the bed, the rug, my desk chair-but it all slides into the hole. I scream bloody murder and slide in too-knowing that I'll be dead in just a second--and then I wake up."
"Wow," Ryan muttered. "That would scare the piss out of me."
"It's done that a time or two," she admitted. "I'm just so sick of it."
"Do you have any idea of what it means?"
Jordan sighed heavily. "I'd damn well better, after more than ten years of therapy." She rolled over onto her side and gazed at Ryan's darkened form. "It's nearly factual, Ryan. I came home from school one day and my mother told me that my father was gone. There was no real explanation, and the look in her eyes told me I'd better not ask for one. I went into my room and sat down on the floor and started to bawl. I cried for hours, but she never came in to check on me.
"I must have fallen asleep right where I lay, because I was still on the floor when the Whittier earthquake hit early the next morning. It wasn't even that bad of an earthquake, just a 5.8, but we lived in an old house and we were very close to the fault line. Everything in my room started to dance around on the floor, and I got pinned against the wall by my bed. I still don't know how long I was there, but I screamed myself unconscious. After that, all I remember is getting yelled at by my mother for scaring her and Gunnar when I didn't run outside with them."
Ryan didn't have a thing to offer in response to Jordan's story. She just got up and sat next to her on the bed while she held her in a warm, comforting embrace. She rocked her for a long time, intent on giving the poor, fractured woman as much sympathy as she was able. Jordan finally spoke. "Thanks. A few of those hugs would have knocked a couple of years off my therapy tab."
"Does Mia hold you like this?" Ryan asked softly.
"Yeah." Jordan let out a deep sigh and revealed, "She hasn't had to do it much. I've been pretty secure since we've been together."
"We were talking about a few things that might have shaken your moorings right before we went to sleep," Ryan reminded her.
"My therapist calls that my 'loss nightmare'," Jordan said. "I have it whenever I feel that something important is going to be taken from me."
"Jordan, there's no reason to think that Mia's gonna give up on your relationship. You're really just speculating."
"It's what I do," she mumbled.
"Well, you can just as easily go the other way," Ryan declared. "Roll over."
"Roll over on your tummy."
Jordan did so and waited until Ryan shifted to sit next to her. "I'm gonna rub your back and I want you to focus your mind on how it feels to hold her and be held by her. I want you to think of every little comfort that she gives you and how it makes you feel when she does. Think about kissing her and holding her when you sleep. I forbid you to have one glum or negative thought. Do you hear me?"
"I hear you."
"Good. The next sound I want out of you is a snore."
"I do not snore!"
"No, you don't," Ryan chuckled. "Guess that means you're done talking for the evening, huh?"
Ryan got to work, and after a surprisingly short time Jordan was sound asleep, her breathing deep and relaxed. Ryan bent over to give her a kiss on the head and was pleased to see a warm, gentle smile on her face.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"This would have to be the day that our flight gets canceled," Ryan grumbled as the volleyball team sat in the Phoenix airport waiting to learn if they could be accommodated on the next flight. The student manager, Coach Placer, and both assistant coaches were engaged in a long-running discussion with airline personnel, but from the expressions on their faces, it didn't look good.
"I guess I'd better call Jamie and tell her not to bother coming to the airport. I hate to have her waiting around for us."
"Doesn't she ever have class?" Jordan asked. "How is she available on a Friday morning?"
"Yes, she has class-and she attends all of them, as a matter of fact. She just scheduled Friday as a very light day since she had a lot of Friday golf meets during the early part of the fall."
Ryan was dialing as she spoke, and she reached Jamie as her partner was already on the way to the airport. "You might as well go home," Ryan advised. "I'll go back to Berkeley with the team."
"No, I'm almost there," she insisted. "I'll go hang out somewhere and study. Call me when you know what flight you'll be on, okay?"
"Okay…if you're sure."
"It's easier this way, and since we're going to the city, this will save time. Talk to you later. Be safe, sweetie."
"Do my best," Ryan smiled. "I'll call later."
The coaching staff somehow managed to convince the airline to squeeze another 20 people on the plane, and they were able to board the next flight, making them only one and a half hours late. When Ryan called Jamie, the smaller woman told her that she'd meet her in the international lounge; she was a member due to her frequent flying on Alitalia and she loved the espresso they provided.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"You guys going to Berkeley?" Jordan asked as they exited the plane.
"No. We've got to go home and help get set up for the wedding. What time do you guys think you'll come down?"
"The reception starts at two?"
"Then I guess we'll be there at two," she smiled. "Jamie's mom gives great parties-I don't want to miss anything."
"Bring some casual clothes," Ryan advised. "I have a feeling this party is going to run late-and wild."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Part Five
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