Late on Sunday night, Ryan lay on her stomach, her body splayed out diagonally across their bed. Jamie was astride her thighs, working diligently to relieve a sore muscle that Ryan had tweaked during their day of moving. "I don't know why you had to try to help move Kevin's dresser," Jamie chided her. "Brendan and Rory were right there. Why didn't you ask them to do it?"
"I don't like to act like a girl," she muttered into the hollow space created by her crossed arms.
"Oh, Ryan," the smaller woman sighed. "You're 24 years old, and you've proven yourself time and again to the boys. Can't you try to let it go…just a bit?"
"No," she said honestly. "I like to show I can do what they do."
"Why?" Jamie asked, never having gained much insight into this part of her lover. "You don't think women are less than men. Why can't you accept that we're different, rather than inferior? There are lots of things we can do that they can't."
"Yeah, but they don't want to do the things we can do. If there was a way to take a pill to start menstruating--believe me, guys would not be lining up to get it."
"Maybe not," she agreed, "but this competition you have with the boys seems to be pretty one-sided. I don't see that they're invested in it."
"No," Ryan agreed, "I guess they're not, when I look at it honestly. I'm not sure it's a girl thing, though, to be honest. I actually think it's more about being the youngest."
"Maybe," Jamie said, not really agreeing with her partner. "But I think it's more about wanting to be included when you were growing up. I can't imagine they would have wanted you around as much as they did if you had been focused on dolls and tea parties."
"You're probably right," Ryan agreed. "I guess I knew I had to develop the same interests to get their attention. They always thought it was cool that I knew about cars and sports and stuff." She paused reflectively as she said, "I used to wonder if some of that contributed to my being gay."
Jamie rolled off and lay down next to her, reclining on her side so she could see Ryan's face. "You say you used to wonder…what changed?"
"Oh, I learned more about being gay and discovered that most scientists don't think environment is the primary trigger. It's probably a combination of genetics and fluctuating hormones in utero-maybe a few environmental elements thrown in. I don't really care much anymore, but I used to try to figure out why I was different."
"It must have been so hard for you to have so many unanswered questions--and no place to go for answers."
"Yeah…that first year was tough. That's why it's so rewarding to work with Jennie, you know? It's really nice to provide positive role modeling for a kid who has a tough time at home."
"Speaking of tough times at home," the smaller woman said, "I've been thinking a lot about what you told me about your grandmother the other day."
"Yeah?" Ryan asked, a little warily.
"Yeah. I was wondering how you felt when you first discovered that your body could give you pleasure. I know how bright you were, baby, and I can't help but think you put two and two together and realized that's what your grandmother was worried about."
Ryan nodded, relieved that Jamie wasn't focusing on her grandmother per se. "Yeah," she said softly. "I can still remember the first time I touched myself sexually."
"You can?" Jamie was stunned by this revelation, especially since Ryan had been so young when she started to masturbate.
"Oh, yeah." She rolled onto her back, and laced her hands behind her head, a wistful look in her eyes. "I was in fifth grade, and we had a new girl in our class. She was an American, but her father worked for an international company, and she had spent the previous four or five years in Indonesia. We got to be friends, mostly because she was in band with me. She played tuba, but she didn't have one at home; since I didn't have a drum set, we would stay after school and practice. We were good kids, so they let us be in the music room alone. We talked more than we practiced, and I had quite a little crush on her," Ryan smiled.
"Did you know it was a crush?" Jamie asked softly as her hand drifted down to rub Ryan's belly.
"No, not at all. I just liked her-a lot!" she laughed.
"What was her name?"
"Cari Scott," Ryan recalled. "We didn't touch each other or anything, but I thought she was the most fascinating, experienced, worldly woman I had ever met," she chuckled mildly at her perceptions. "One night I was lying in bed, thinking about her, and for some reason I put my hand down between my legs and started to touch myself. I don't even think it was conscious," she recalled. "It's like my hand knew where to go without my brain even telling it to."
"It probably did," Jamie smiled. "I think our bodies know how to help us out if we listen to them."
"Yeah, maybe," Ryan agreed. "Anyway, I slowly became aware that I was touching myself in a way I had never been conscious of doing before-and it felt fantastic! The sensations built and built, and I kept going-no way I was getting off that ride if I didn't have to!"
"God, I would have loved to have known you then," Jamie sighed. "I bet you were absolutely adorable."
"Ehh…maybe. You'll have to ask someone who can give you an unbiased opinion," she smiled. "Anyway, I kept going until it was almost painful, and right before I got there, I thought about what it would feel like to kiss Cari…and bam! I had my first climax." She smiled over at Jamie and said, "The euphoria lasted about three seconds until I realized that this was exactly what Granny had been talking about. I wasn't supposed to touch myself to feel good! This was precisely what she said I would go to hell for!"
"What did you do?" Jamie cried, hating that her partner had to feel such censure of her very natural explorations.
"I wigged out about it for a couple of days," she revealed. "But one night, soon afterwards, those urges started to build up again, and I couldn't stop myself," she recalled, shaking her head. "I felt really bad, and I went on this campaign to prevent myself from even having the urge. I'd try not to go to bed until I was really, really tired, sometimes staying up until all hours of the night. I even asked Da to read to me until I fell asleep, but the first time he was at work, and I was all alone--bam! I did it again."
"So my little twelve-year-old Tiger had a strong drive even then, huh?" Jamie smiled.
"Yeah," Ryan said, thoughtfully. "In retrospect, the fact that I knew it was wrong probably drove my desire." She grinned over at Jamie and said, "You know how hot I think it is to do things that are just a little wrong."
"Yes, I do. It's one of your most endearing traits," she reminded her. "But it sounds like you were tormented about this, sweetheart. How did you get past it?"
"Poor old Brendan came to the rescue again," Ryan smiled. "God, it must have been hard for an 18-year-old to have to talk to his little sister about masturbation, but he did it." She looked at Jamie and said, "He's the best brother in the world."
"I couldn't agree more," Jamie said. "I'm eternally grateful to him for helping you through some very hard times."
"Yeah…this one was a pisser," she recalled. "I wasn't sleeping well, and I had dreams almost every night of being in hell and having my whole family up in heaven. It was so horrible to believe that I'd never see my mother again because of what I was doing." She shook her head roughly, obviously trying to dispel the old memory. "He finally asked me what was going on, since I was so grouchy from lack of sleep. I was so desperate that I swallowed my fears, and told him the whole story."
"The whole story?" Jamie asked, wondering how Ryan had phrased the question.
"Well, my version of the situation," she grinned. "I told him that Granny had told me that I'd go to hell if I put my hands under the covers when I took a nap…just trying to see if he had gotten the same story, you know?"
"Yeah," Jamie laughed. "What did he say?"
"Apparently he hadn't gotten the lecture, 'cause it took him a while. I finally told him that I tickled myself before I went to sleep, and asked him if it was wrong to do that."
"You tickled yourself?" Jamie said, thinking the expression was so charmingly Ryan.
"Yeah…that's what it felt like to me," she agreed. "I don't recall the conversation all that clearly, and I don't recall the look on his face, but he finally got what I meant, and he did a great job of reassuring me. He just said that Granny had some funny ways of thinking, and that we didn't always have to do what she said. He left me with the impression that there were differences between Ireland and America, and that we did things the American way." She was chuckling now, recalling her brother's tact in handling the situation. "He did tell me that I should always check with him before I disregarded Granny's instructions, but he helped me see that things weren't always black and white…and that was a very big help."
"He is quite a guy," Jamie agreed, her already high esteem of Brendan growing as they spoke.
"Yeah, he is," Ryan said.
"So, did your guilt go away after that?"
"Mmm…mostly, but not entirely. I still feel like it's a little wrong to masturbate…even though it doesn't stop me from doing it," she admitted, grinning slyly.
"You know, you've never done that in front of me," Jamie said thoughtfully. "Are you embarrassed to?"
"A little," she said, admitting this holdover bit of guilt from her childhood. "Plus, I prefer to have sex with a partner, so it seems silly to touch myself if you're there."
"Unless my hands are all busy," Jamie reminded her.
"Yeah. Then I don't mind lending a hand," Ryan agreed.
"Well, if the occasion ever arises, I want you to feel comfortable doing it in front of me, love. I don't want you to have any leftover guilt about that."
"I'll try," Ryan said. "Hey, I don't know your history. How did you discover the joys of masturbation?"
Jamie smiled and said, "Mia made fun of me for never having done it when we were in high school," she laughed. "I went to the store and bought a book that told you how to touch yourself. Strangely enough, the book helped and I kinda liked it."
"That's my girl," Ryan smiled. "Always the good student!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Are you bummed about having your aunt leave today?" Jamie asked when they woke the next morning.
"Yeah. I normally spend a lot more time with her on her visits. I feel like we've barely spoken this time."
"Well, she was only here for a few days, babe. She just didn't feel comfortable leaving Brenna for long."
"I understand," Ryan said. "I just don't like it."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Moira was packed and waiting when they arrived to take her to the airport. "I've been on the phone with my sister for over an hour," she related when Ryan was loading her suitcase into the Lexus. "She's having a marvelous time, by the way."
"I should hope so," Ryan grinned. "Lord knows that Jamie and I enjoyed our time down there."
Moira patted her back and said, "I've gotten the impression that you and Jamie enjoy most of your time together."
"Oh, we do," Ryan beamed.
She was getting into the car when she said this, and Jamie couldn't help but ask, "We do what, honey?"
"I was just telling my aunt how much we enjoy each other," Ryan informed her, adding a rakish grin and a wink.
With a flush coloring the tips of her ears, Jamie blinked slowly. "Wh…what…"
"Relax," Ryan smiled, giving her thigh a squeeze. "I was merely referring to how much we like spending time together."
Jamie's head fell back against her shoulders, and she moaned, "I never know with you, Ryan. It wouldn't be out of the question for you to reveal all sorts of mortifying details."
Moira was chuckling from the back seat, and she commented, "I'd wager that my Aisling is at my door the moment I arrive asking about you, Ryan. I must say that I'll have an awful lot to tell her."
Jamie turned around in her seat and gave Moira an inquisitive look. "What will you tell her? Has Ryan changed much since you last saw her?"
"Goodness yes!" Moira said immediately. She gave Jamie a long look and said, "The last time we saw Ryan was just after she was attacked. She was a different girl then, Jamie. Some of the fire had been taken from her." She reached up and squeezed Ryan's shoulder, giving her a fond look. "She wasn't our Ryan that time."
Ryan nodded. "I didn't feel like myself for a long time, Aunt Moira. You know," she said reflectively, "I was really flat all that summer. The first thing that I can remember being excited about was this cute little blonde from my psych class. I didn't think I had a chance with her, but something about her made me start to recapture some of my optimism." She turned her head just enough to fix Jamie with a love-filled gaze, and the older woman in the back seat made a mental note to relate to her daughter that the old Ryan was back and better than ever.
* * * * * * * * * * *
That afternoon, Ryan was sitting on the floor of the gym, stretching a little before volleyball practice began. The gym was totally silent, since she was the only one on the floor, and the silence allowed her to hear the very muted tune coming from her cell phone. By the time she got to her gym bag and retrieved the device, the call had already gone to voice mail. She didn't even bother to dial into the system, just hit speed dial number one and waited for her partner to respond. "Hi," Ryan said. "I assume that was you?"
"Yeah. I'm not bothering you, am I?"
"Not possible. What's up?"
"I'm not sure. But there was a very ominous sounding message from someone named Sheila Hawthorne on the machine. She said she's from the Department of Children and Family Services. Do you know her?"
Ryan's heart started to beat faster with the realization that a call from DCFS could only bear bad news. "That's Jen's social worker. Do you have her number?"
"Yeah. Call me back as soon as you talk to her, okay?"
Ryan spent the next fifteen minutes trying to track the woman down, finally reaching her--only to receive a load of very bad news. She was on the verge of being physically ill when she called Jamie back. "I'm going to see if I can skip practice," she began without preamble.
"Jen ran away. Her stepmother isn't sure if she left last night or this morning, but she didn't show up at school."
Jamie's voice reflected her fear, and her tone just magnified the knot in Ryan's stomach. The dark woman growled in frustration. "I don't know what to do, but I feel like I have to do something!"
"Honey, there's nothing that you can do right now. Stay at practice and get some of your frustration out that way. When you get home we'll figure out what to do next. I'll make some calls while you're gone, okay?"
"Are you sure I can't help right now?"
"No. I'm going to call the private detective that my father uses. He's an expert at finding people who don't want to be found. By the time you get home, I should have some leads."
Ryan's voice dropped into a near-whisper, and Jamie could hear a lot of activity in the background. "I'm scared to death, Jamie."
"I am too, but try to stay positive. We'll find her and bring her home safe and sound."
"Where's home?" The question was both simple and profoundly complex, and Jamie knew that it was one that would have to be answered soon if Jennie was going to live to see her next birthday.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan and Jordan ran into the house together, both severely out of breath. "What have you found out?" Ryan gasped.
"A lot," Jamie said. She twitched her head in Mia's direction. "Mia's on the phone right now with Jennie's homeroom teacher. She's agreed to violate school policy and give her the phone numbers of some of the kids that she's seen Jen talk to."
"I've talked to the private detective, her old social worker and the new one from San Diego, Sandy and several of the girls that Jen knew at the Safe Haven, and her stepmother. None of them had any idea that she would bolt, and none of them have any idea of where she might go."
"I know where she'll go," Ryan said quietly. "She'll come here."
"But honey, that's almost six hundred miles! How could she possibly get here?"
"Does she have any money?" Jordan asked.
"No. Her stepmother says she only gave her five dollars a week for spending money." Jamie's expression showed what she thought of this largesse, but she didn't comment further.
"She'll hitch," Ryan said. "She's done it before."
"She has? Jamie asked, mouth gaping open.
"She was in two foster care placements before they placed her at Safe Haven the first time. One was local, but the other was way the fuck up in Placer County. She ditched both of them and hitchhiked her way back here."
This news didn't help Jamie's churning stomach. "A fourteen-year-old girl hitchhiking across the state. What a fucking nightmare."
"We'd better call the highway patrol to be on the lookout," Ryan decided.
"The social worker did that. I don't think there's anything we can do but wait," Jamie advised.
"Wait and worry," Ryan corrected as her body slowly collapsed onto the loveseat.
* * * * * * * * * * *
To Jamie's surprise, Ryan actually fell asleep before she did, but her slumber was neither deep nor restful. Ryan woke at least once an hour and finally got up at three to make herself some hot cocoa with a shot of Bailey's. She was in the kitchen idly stirring the cocoa when she heard a creak that sounded like it was coming from the living room. Sticking her head into the room, she decided that she must have imagined it and went back into the kitchen. The sound startled her once again, and she realized that the wind must be rocking the chairs on the front porch.
She finished making her drink and was about to go back upstairs when she heard it again. I guess I'd better bring the rockers in if the wind is moving them around that much. She switched on the porch light and opened the door to the sight of Jennie, curled in a fetal position, her backpack nestled against her chest for warmth. She looked utterly exhausted, and nearly frozen; her small body was covered only by a threadbare sweater and a pair of ripped jeans. Her head fell forward and she moaned softly as her sleep was disturbed.
Ryan fell to her knees in front of her and wrapped her arms around her so tightly that she could feel every bone. She started to cry, twelve hours of mad anxiety unleashed in a torrent of emotion.
Jennie cried too, nearly as hard as Ryan did. She was shivering so badly that Ryan finally collected herself enough to cradle her in her arms and carry her into the living room, managing to kick the door shut with her foot. They sank into the loveseat as one, Jennie clutching herself to Ryan as if she were her lifeline. Neither woman could stop crying, but Jennie slowly started to warm and her body stopped shivering from the cold. She finally managed to ask, "Why are you crying?"
"Why am I crying?" Ryan looked at her incredulously. "I've been so worried about you! I love you, Jennie! Don't you know that?"
"Y…Yeah, I guess I do," she mumbled. "You don't have to worry about me. I can take care of myself."
Ryan grasped her by the shoulders and held her at arm's length, glaring at her with tears still running down her cheeks. "No you cannot! You're still a girl, Jennie, and you need adults to help you and guide you. If you had met the wrong person out there you could have been raped or killed. It's a miracle that you got this far in one piece!"
"I did meet the wrong person," she admitted, her tears starting again.
"What happened?" Ryan was frantic with alarm when she saw the look on the girl's face.
"It was last night," Jennie said, her voice shaky and hesitant. "A guy picked me up in San Diego, and he made me smoke grass with him."
"He…he made you?" Ryan asked, her stomach clenching into a ball of pain.
"I didn't want to do it 'cause I promised you I wouldn't," she sobbed. "I haven't smoked since that last time." She looked at Ryan to make sure the older woman believed her and was met with eyes brimming with love and trust. Jennie pressed her face against Ryan's chest and allowed herself to accept some of the concern and compassion that radiated from her.
After soaking up as much love as she could, Jennie continued. "I kept telling him that I didn't want any grass, but he put his hand on my neck and started squeezing." She pulled away from Ryan's embrace and tugged her sweater down to show livid purple fingerprints on her pale skin. "I thought he was gonna kill me." Her voice was soft and low, and Ryan could hear the same flat affect that she had often heard from teenagers who had been violated. Her stomach was churning so badly that she feared she'd be sick right on the floor, but she stayed with Jennie, offering as much comfort as she could.
"I don't know what was in this stuff, but I got so high so fast," she mumbled. "It was sickening. I kept feeling like I was gonna throw up, but I never did."
"Was the car moving the whole time?" Ryan asked.
"Yeah. We were on Interstate 5, I think, but we were going the wrong way. He was going to take me to Mexico," she related. "He was drinking beer and smoking the whole time. I don't know how he did it," she said. "I could barely see, I was so stoned."
"What happened then, Jennie?" Ryan's thin voice asked.
Her face colored in shame, and her head dropped against Ryan's shoulder. "He started touching me," she sniffed. "I begged and cried but he grabbed my throat again and said he'd kill me if I fought him. So I just sat there and let him." She sounded so thoroughly disgusted with herself that Ryan just had to interrupt.
"You did the right thing, Jen. You did exactly the right thing. You're here now and you're alive, and that's all that matters. No matter what you had to do-it's not your fault."
"But I let him," she sobbed.
"No." Ryan moved her body so they were eye to eye. "You didn't let him do anything. He was a cruel, violent adult who was drunk and high, and he forced you to do things that you didn't want to do. Anything--anything--you had to do to live through that is okay, Jennie."
"Okay," she said quietly, nodding her head slightly. "You wanna hear the rest?"
"Anything you want to tell me is fine, Jen. Anything at all."
"We started to get closer to the border, and they had these barricade things up that you had to go through. His hand was…in my pants," she said with a voice full of self-loathing, "but I jerked myself away from him when he slowed down to go through. I opened the door and jumped out and rolled down this embankment."
"Oh, God," Ryan moaned, pressing the child to her body in an automatic reflex. "Are you hurt?"
"A little," she admitted. "I started running through all this really sticky sharp stuff that was growing down there. I don't know how long I ran, 'cause I was all high. I finally got exhausted and found a big drainage pipe, and I just stayed there until I came down. It took a really long time, and it was light out by the time I felt like I could walk again."
Ryan pulled back a little and noticed that Jen's clothes were not threadbare, they were ripped and torn from the scrub she had run through. She grasped one of her legs and pulled her pant leg up, grimacing when she saw hundreds of deep scratches and cuts lancing her fair skin. "Jen, do you want me to take you to the emergency room? You're awfully banged up."
"No, no," she said her agitation beginning to come back. "It's just some scratches. Really, Ryan."
"Did anything else bad happen to you? Did anyone else touch you or hurt you?"
"No. I just hitched the rest of the way. A truck driver picked me up and took me all the way to L.A., but I couldn't get another ride for a couple of hours. A really nice lady picked me up in Glendale, and she took me to Valencia, then another trucker brought me here. I still had my Muni pass, so I took a bunch of buses, and finally got here."
"Why didn't you ring the bell, Jennie? Do you really think I'd want you outside freezing?"
"I didn't want you to get mad," she mumbled.
"Oh, Jen, we've got a lot of work to do here. I've got to somehow convince you that I really do love you and only want what's best for you-even when it's inconvenient for me."
"I know that," she admitted. "Sometimes I just get scared."
"I know," Ryan soothed. "We just have to work at making you not so scared." She patted her and said, "Let's go upstairs. I'll make you a nice warm bath with some baking soda in it. That should help with your cuts."
"But we'll wake Jamie up," she said, with no small amount of alarm.
"She loves you too, Jen. And she'll only care that you're safe-not that it's four a.m."
* * * * * * * * * * *
By seven a.m. Jennie was clean, warm, and fed, and all of her more serious scrapes had been treated and dressed. Ryan tucked her into the bed in her room and went back into her own bedroom. She looked longingly at her own bed, but banished the tempting thought and sat down at the desk to start making phone calls. When she related all of the details to the social worker, they agreed that Jennie had to go to the police to make a statement, but they also agreed that time was not of the essence, since more than 24 hours had passed and Jennie could not recall many details of her attacker's description or his car.
"When she wakes up, will you bring her down to my office, Ryan? I'll have her placed in one of the emergency shelters until we decide what to do with her."
"Can't she stay here until you figure out a solution? We have a spare room and I'd take her to school every morning."
The woman sighed and said, "I don't think I can do that, Ryan. We'd need Mrs. Willis's permission for an arrangement like that, and I'm sure she wouldn't give it."
"What about Safe Haven? For God's sake, it's the only place she's agreed to stay!"
"I know that, Ryan, but it's far more expensive than a foster home, and we're uncomfortable putting that many children into a single home."
"What if I paid for her? I'd be more than happy to pay the entire bill."
Sheila laughed, the sound rather unpleasant. "Do you have any idea how much money that is?"
"It doesn't matter. I'm…quite well off. It wouldn't be a problem." Well, that was the winning entry in the 'things I swore I'd never say' competition.
"Well," she hedged, "It's not unheard of to have a family pay for a private placement. I suppose it's possible to have a non-related individual do so. I'd have to have Mrs. Willis's permission, though."
"Do you want to call her, or do you want me to?" Ryan asked, ready and willing to resort to any means necessary to get Jennie back into the home.
"I'll do it," Sheila sighed. "I'll call you later, Ryan." Ryan started to hang up but she heard her say, "Wait!"
"I forgot to say thank you," she said. "It's not very often that I run into someone willing to go this far out of their way for someone they're not even related to."
Ryan smiled and said, "We are related. She's my sister."
* * * * * * * * * * *
When Jamie came home from school, Ryan was just going down the front walk to head over to volleyball practice. "Two questions," she said after giving her a quick kiss. "One, where's Jennie? And two, why do you look happy?"
"Same answer to both," Ryan said, giving her a very tired smile. "I just got back from taking her to Safe Haven. She's going to stay there."
"Stay there…like permanently?"
"Well, no. The social worker took pity on me when I started to cry," she admitted.
"I offered to pay for Jennie to stay at Safe Haven." She gave Jamie a half-anxious look and said, "That's okay, isn't it?"
Shaking her head, Jamie said, "I'm not even going to dignify that ridiculous question with an answer."
Ryan gave her an adorable grin and said, "Sorry. Anyway, Mrs. Willis won't hear of it. She wants Jennie in a foster home. So now we're going to go through the whole fiasco of having a hearing to determine a permanent placement for her. It's a fucking mess."
"So why are you happy?" Jamie was sure she'd missed something vital in the explanation.
"Well, until they have the hearing, Jennie can stay at Safe Haven. I'm gonna work on Mrs. Willis between now and then." She gave her partner an evil look and said, "I can be very persuasive."
"That's an understatement," Jamie chuckled.
"Oh, I called those therapists that Anna recommended. Jen's got an appointment tomorrow with a woman who specializes in helping troubled kids. She claims she doesn't need any help, but I want her to have someone to talk to about that scum-sucker that molested her. It's gonna prey on her mind if she doesn't have someplace to vent her feelings about it."
Jamie threw her arms around her partner's neck and gave her a very enthusiastic hug. "You are such a good person."
"Me? What did I do?" Ryan asked.
Jamie released her and stepped back to look at her closely. "You really don't know, do you?"
"No," she said blankly. "Anyone would have done the same thing."
Jamie impulsively tossed her arms around her waist and squeezed her tight. "God, if that were true, this would be a wonderful world."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Part Eight
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