When Jamie got out of bed on Wednesday, she began the refrain she had finally stopped when sleep had overtaken her the night before. "Are you sure that making dinner for us all is something you want to do?"
"Yes, dear," Ryan replied patiently. "I want you to attend your father's speech. I would like to go too, but I really can't get out of practice. I've already checked with Jennie's housemother, and she says it's perfectly fine if she eats with us. I don't know why you're stressing about this."
"I don't know," she said, a little embarrassed to be caught in her nervousness. "I guess I'm just anxious about seeing my parents together. I feel like there's always a chance that something will go wrong and they'll be feuding again. This is also the first time Daddy's eaten with us, you know. What are you going to make?" she asked.
"Something appropriate to the day," Ryan replied mysteriously.
Jamie snuck another peek out the window and said, "I don't know what goes well with 43 degrees and driving rain, but I trust you to make the correct decision."
Ryan joined her at the window and gave her a hug as they watched the rain pelt down in sheets. "'Tis a bit of a sickener," she agreed. "When I was a kid in Ireland my grandmother would look at weather like this and say, 'Sure and there's a break in the clouds just over the hills. You go out and play, Siobhán, but wear your slicker.'"
"God, she was that much of an optimist?"
"Not at all," Ryan laughed. "She would have sent me out in a hurricane just to keep me from being underfoot!"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
When the Evanses came in through the back door a little after seven p.m., the rain had tapered down to a steady drizzle, but the wind was absolutely bone chilling as it whipped off the Bay. "I'm freezing!" Jamie cried as she ran up to receive Ryan's warm embrace.
She was wearing a cream-colored turtleneck with a dark green wool sweater and a pair of tan corduroy slacks, but her light jacket obviously had no insulating properties. "Where are your winter clothes?" Ryan demanded. "No hat? No gloves?"
"It was raining so hard when I left that I thought the biggest issue was staying dry. This is the only rain jacket I have."
Ryan shook her head in mock anger and tightened her embrace. "How did you ever survive having this scamp in the house for 18 years?" she asked Jim and Catherine as they were taking off their perfectly adequate rain gear.
Ryan went to hang their things up in the mudroom, and when she returned Catherine gave her a hug and a kiss as usual, but Jim just extended his hand. Jamie was peeking in the oven, so Ryan lightly slapped her hand and said, "Uh-uh-uh, no peeks!"
"Ooo, but it smells so good," Jamie said, trying to get past her larger partner to take another look.
Ryan didn't move an inch as she tweaked Jamie's nose and said, "Set the table, and I'll not only let you look at it, I'll let you eat it. I'll go let our other guests know that you're here," Ryan offered as she left the room.
"Guests?" Jim asked. "Someone other than Jennie?"
Before Jamie could reply, Ryan returned with Rory and Jennie in tow. Both Jim and Catherine looked pleased to see Jennie again, and when it became clear that Rory bore him no ill will, Jim relaxed and took on his normal demeanor.
"Jim was giving a speech at Cal today on a bill he's proposing to fund research grants in the pure sciences," Ryan said. "I really wish I could have gone," she added. "I'm very much in support of your plan."
"Thank you, Ryan," he said, surprised at himself for not guessing she would be interested in his bill. "It's always nice to hear that one of my constituents is supportive."
Catherine accepted a glass of the Pinot Noir that Ryan was pouring and commented, "I wasn't aware that you liked to cook, Ryan."
"I do, actually," she said. "I'm not terribly creative, but I'm pretty adept at executing old family favorites. Tonight's dish is a Casey heirloom," she added in her adorable brogue.
"Casey?" Catherine asked.
"My mother's mother is a Casey," she informed her. "She got this recipe from her grandmother on her father's side. So technically I suppose it's a Ni Mhuiri recipe, but it came down through the Caseys."
"I'm going to hazard a wild guess that that's a Gaelic name," Catherine said with a smile.
"Yep, one more unpronounceable name. I can only thank my mother for naming me after her father's family. Almost everyone can pronounce Ryan." She opened the oven, took out a large enameled Dutch oven, and carried the dish over to the table. Trotting back over to the lower oven, she removed a tray of fluffy biscuits and put them into a basket with a warming stone hidden beneath the gingham napkin that covered them.
As Jim passed by on his way to his seat, he gave Ryan a smile. "Thank you for cooking for us, Ryan. We both appreciate it."
Ryan's natural ebullience took over, and she placed her hand on his arm and gave it a squeeze. "My pleasure," she smiled.
When they were all seated, Ryan looked around the table and asked, "Anyone mind if I lead grace?" When no one voiced a complaint, she extended her hands and gripped Jamie's and Jennie's. Looking at Rory, she began, "It's fitting that we're sharing a dish that came down from our mother's family. Today would have been her fifty-second birthday, and I know nothing would make her happier than to have at least some of us gather and think of her. She's never far from my thoughts, and I thank God every day for having given her to us. We didn't have her for long, but we had every bit of her for every day that she was with us. I suppose all we can hope for out of life is that we love and are loved well while we live, and that we're remembered fondly when we're gone. She was all of that and so much more." She lifted her glass and toasted all of the guests, then got up halfway to lean across Jamie and kiss Rory. "One thing that pleased her more than anything was to have people enjoy the food she prepared, so let's eat heartily in her honor!" she declared.
As Ryan removed the lid to the heavy pot, every eye went to the dish to try to figure out what the delectable aroma was. "Nothing warms a cold body like a bowl of Irish stew," she declared as she began to ladle the stew into the earthenware bowls.
Everyone made over the dish enthusiastically, with Jim passing along some very sincere-sounding compliments. As they ate, he asked Jennie, "Are things settling down for you, Jennie?"
"Yeah, things are pretty good," she said, her sunny disposition shining through. "I like the girls I'm living with, and the housemother has always been nice to me."
"How about school?" he persisted.
"It's okay," she said noncommittally, shrinking a little bit in her seat.
He noticed her reticence and decided to follow up. "What exactly are you taking?" he asked.
"Well," she blushed, "I'm in this thing called Accelerated Learning."
"What does that mean?" Jim asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Umm, I think it's supposed to help new kids and kids who've had to miss a lot of school catch up with everybody else."
Ryan fixed her laser-like blue eyes on Jennie and asked, "What is it really, Jen?"
Her blush deepened as she admitted, "It's where they stick the pregnant girls and the kids who've been kicked out of regular classes."
"Why have the others been kicked out of regular classes, dear?" Catherine asked, her concern for the child growing by the moment.
"Um, some of them were kicked out for drugs or fighting. One scary guy got suspended for a whole year for having a gun on campus. And some of them are kinda slow," she said delicately.
"Are these all freshmen?" Catherine cried.
"No, I'm the only freshman. The scary guy is 19. He should have graduated last year and he doesn't want to be there, but he has to show up as part of his probation. He has to wear one of those things on his ankle so they know where he is all the time."
Catherine's eyes had grown wide, but she tried not to let her concern show, knowing that would make Jennie reticent to be honest. "Tell us about what you study. Do you have classes for Math and English?"
"Um…this was my first day, so I'm not really sure…"
Ryan again fixed her with her gaze and said, "What did the other kids tell you that you'll study? I'm certain that they gave you all the dirt."
"Well," she blushed, "they said we don't have to do anything. We don't even get books."
"Jennie," Jamie said, visibly alarmed, "what do you do all day in school if you don't have books or regular classes?"
"The other kids said they just try to keep us quiet." She said this last statement so quietly that it was nearly impossible to hear her. Her head had dropped, and she stared at her plate in shame.
Ryan felt her stomach begin to churn again, and she realized that Jennie's problems were much more complex than she had guessed.
"Were you in regular classes at your previous school?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, but my mom lives in Oakland. When I stay at the house in Berkeley I have to go to school there."
"That doesn't make any sense!" he cried, his frustration getting the better of him. "Why can't you stay at your old school?"
"I don't have any way to get there," she said quietly. "It's in a pretty bad neighborhood and I'm afraid to ride my bike that far. It's inconvenient to get there on the bus, 'cause I'd have to change twice and wait on a really dangerous corner. I can walk to the school in Berkeley."
"Jennie," he asked carefully as he put his spoon down, "did you like your old school?"
"It's okay. But they didn't have any classes in art or music, and that's what I do best in."
He nodded briefly and went back to his dinner without another comment on the topic.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Thankfully the dinner conversation moved on to brighter topics, with Jim showing genuine interest in Rory and his career. They spoke about the wedding and the one phone call the family had received from the newlyweds, telling them that things were fine and they'd see them all on Thursday.
The entire Dutch oven was empty by the time dinner wound down, and Catherine leaned over and speared the last bite of carrot from Jim's plate, giving him an impish grin as she did so.
He regarded her fondly for a moment as he leaned back in his chair. "You know, Catherine, I don't think I've ever seen you clean your plate in the twenty-two years I've known you. Your healthy appetite is quite a surprise."
"I've been working out," she said proudly. "I ride my bike nearly every day, and I use our gym three days a week. It's wonderful to be able to eat real food," she admitted.
"Well, you look marvelous." He smiled at his daughter and said, "Doesn't she look marvelous, Jamie?"
"Indeed she does, Daddy," she agreed, smiling at the faint blush that covered her mother's cheeks.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jennie had a nine o'clock curfew, so Rory offered to give her a lift on his way home. After all of the good-byes were said, Jim went into the parlor to make a few business calls while the women cleaned up.
They were nearly finished when Jim came back into the room. "After the fiasco we had the last time I was here, I decided to take care of a little paperwork," he said as he held out an official-looking document to Jamie.
She carefully read the single sheet, then gazed up at him with a delighted smile on her face. "This," she said as she shook the paper, "is so very thoughtful of you, Daddy. Look, honey," she said, extending the sheet to Ryan.
Ryan dried her hands and read the document. "Thank you, Jim," she smiled. At Catherine's raised eyebrow, she explained, "Jim had the title to the Porsche transferred to both of our names." After looking at it carefully, she teased, "You even spelled Siobhán correctly!"
"The keystone of legal work is detail, Ryan. Speaking of legal work, we've got to do something to make sure that Jennie can stay in one place to finish high school. That is just criminal!"
"I agree," Ryan said. "At this rate she'll drop out at sixteen-and that will just consign her to menial work her whole life. What do you think we can do, Jim?"
"I think we have to go to her mother and force her to allow Jennie to remain at the group home until she's out of high school," he said decisively, his normal take-charge attitude in full force.
"Force her?" Ryan repeated weakly as she shot Jamie a look.
"No, not force her," he said rather sharply. "Convince her."
"What tactics were you planning on using, dear?" Catherine asked, her voice wary.
"Just verbal persuasion, Catherine," he scowled, not liking her implication one bit.
Ryan looked at him for a long minute as she gathered her thoughts. "I don't normally agree with strong-arm tactics, but I think Jennie's only chance of survival is to remain out of her mother's house. After what we've learned tonight, we need more of a plan than just keeping her out of the house, though. We need to get her into a decent school," Ryan decided, "and that's not going to be easy."
"We have to do first things first, Ryan," he reminded her. "I'm going to be in town most of tomorrow. I'll have one of my aides call her mother and see if he can make some progress. I'm happy to get involved and go see her if need be," he declared.
Jamie went up to her father, and gave him a hug, saying, "I'm so pleased that you're willing to help, Daddy. That's very generous of you."
"Not at all, dear," he said, patting her back. "She's a lovely young girl who's at a very critical turning point. If we can step in and help her now, it might make the difference in her life. We can't just stand by and do nothing."
"No, we can't," Ryan agreed. "This will go much easier with your involvement, Jim. Thanks for caring."
* * * * * * * * * * *
As the couple cuddled in bed that night, Ryan mused, "You know, that was the most animated I've ever seen your mother around your father. Normally she's pretty flat, but today she was very much like normal."
"Yeah, I noticed that too," Jamie agreed. "I was also pleased that they each only had one glass of wine. I don't remember the last time one bottle lasted an entire evening at my house."
"You know, she doesn't drink much at all when she's around us. Is she consciously trying to cut back?"
"I don't know," Jamie said thoughtfully. "I don't want to interfere or make her think I'm supervising her, so I haven't really ever commented on her drinking. I'm just pleased that I haven't seen her drunk in a couple of months. That's progress!"
"It is," Ryan agreed. "It was quite the shocker to have your father be so passionate about Jennie's problems. That really impressed me, Jamie."
"Yeah, he's acting more like he did when I was younger," she mused. "He used to seem like he really cared about people. I think being in the Senate has been a good thing for him. He seems a little more open-minded."
"I'll take any progress we can get in that area," Ryan grinned, earning a swat to the seat for her impudence.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jim called Ryan around lunchtime the next day and revealed that his aide had discussed the issue with Mrs. Willis, who had said she needed to pray on the issue before she could discuss it again.
"That sounds like she's going to that minister of hers to see what he says to do," Ryan decided. "She's given her life up to some guy at a church in Oakland. I hope he doesn't make matters worse," she worried.
"I can do a little investigation into his tax-exempt status," Jim mused, but Ryan quickly interrupted.
"Let's just see how it goes before we use the big guns, okay?"
"As usual, I have to be reminded of the moderate path," he conceded. "Thanks, Ryan. I'll let you know if I hear back before I leave. And, Ryan?"
"I really appreciate the hospitality you showed me last night. I was honored to be with you when you celebrated your mother's birth. I know she meant a lot to you."
"Thank you, Jim," she said, smiling into the phone. "I'm pleased that you recognize that."
"I'm not such a bad guy when you get to know me," he teased.
"Of course you're not," she agreed. "You're Jamie's father-nothing all bad could produce something so good."
* * * * * * * * * * *
The next call came from the plane. Jim hadn't had time to call before he boarded, so the Sky phone was his next best choice. "I know I shouldn't talk about this when people can hear me," he said, his anger obvious, "but I'm so mad I could punch that woman!"
"Uhm…Jim, probably not a good idea to hear a Senator threaten to punch a woman," Ryan reminded him.
He sighed, and let out a deep breath. "Could you travel around with me to kick me in the pants a few times a day, Ryan? I think I could really use an attendant sometimes."
"I take it that you spoke with Mrs. Willis?"
"Yes. What a miserable excuse for a parent! She shouldn't be allowed to have a fish, much less a child!"
"What in the hell happened, Jim?" Ryan asked, hoping that he hadn't made matters worse.
"Well, after my aide spoke to her again, I decided to go over there. I thought that having a Senator visit her could help make up her mind," he admitted.
"That slimy, disgusting minister you speak of was there at the time," he revealed, his voice dripping with disgust. "They were 'praying,' but it sounded like a bunch of hogwash to me. He launched into this diatribe about gay people and how they prey on youth. They think that you've lured Jennie into being gay, Ryan!"
Now Ryan was really worried. Mrs. Willis had always been civil to her, and she was quite sure the woman knew that Ryan had Jennie's best interests at heart. "So where do we stand?" she asked tentatively.
"Well, this idiot thinks that Jennie's too far gone to be saved. He told her mother that having her in the house would be inviting the devil in. Can you believe that!"
"No, but it sounds like that's the outcome we wanted," she decided.
"On one front, it is," he agreed. "But I have a feeling she's going to cut off contact with the child. I know that would break Jennie's heart," he said, his voice quavering with emotion. "How could a parent do that to their little girl, Ryan? How can you stop loving your child?"
"I don't know," she said honestly. "I don't think you really can stop, to be honest. I can only assume that she never loved her."
The silence hung between them for a minute, both of them recalling just a short time earlier when Ryan had asked Jim if he had ever loved Jamie. He finally broke the silence, saying, "Well, for better or worse, she claims that she's willing to allow Jennie to stay in the group home until she's of age. She also doesn't care where she goes to high school-as long as she doesn't have to pay for it."
"What a piece of work," Ryan muttered.
"When I was leaving, that idiot minister hit me up for a contribution!" Jim declared, still irate over the encounter.
"I'm guessing that you didn't give him one," Ryan said.
"No, not hardly. I still would like to have him investigated, but at this point I guess we'd better leave well enough alone."
"This is going to be very, very hard on Jen," Ryan said, already worrying about what she would tell the child.
"I know that, Ryan," he agreed somberly. "It won't be the same, but I know that you and Jamie can provide the kind of support that she could never have received at home."
"True," she admitted, "but nothing can make up for the loss of your mother…no matter what kind of a mother she is."
* * * * * * * * * * *
On Thursday night, Ryan should have been concentrating on warming up for the University of Washington, but her attention was torn between pre-game preparations and repeated glances into the crowd in search of her father and Maeve in the stands. The couple was due home but they hadn't explicitly said they'd be at the game. Rory had brought Caitlin, and they were sitting next to Jamie and Mia, but there was no sign of the honeymooners.
Just before the player introductions, Ryan caught sight of the pair out of the corner of her eye, and she immediately felt her body relax. Both of them were smiling so broadly that they glowed, and she offered them both a hearty wave and a blown kiss. Ryan could hear Caitlin's enthusiastic greeting-a rapid-fire repeat of a hard "g" that she had recently mastered. Her vocabulary had grown, but she was still having trouble getting past the "g", even though they all assumed she would soon have an epiphany and settle on a recognizable word for her grandmother. As Ryan smiled up at them, she assumed that they would urge the baby to refer to Martin as her grandfather, and she had to admit that felt odd. Lots of changes to get used to here, she decided.
Martin sat next to Jamie, giving her a warm hug as the team was introduced. They weren't paying a lot of attention as the announcer began his usual spiel, but they perked up when he called, "Starting at outside hitter, a senior from San Francisco, California, the PAC-10 student athlete for the month of October, Ryan O'Flaaaa-her-ty."
Martin looked at Jamie, and she stared back in open-mouthed shock. As they turned their heads in unison, they locked eyes with the PAC-10 player of the month. She shrugged her shoulders just a tiny bit and gave them an adorable little crooked grin. "She's an enigma," Martin mused.
"Wrapped in a conundrum," Jamie added with a smirk as she blew her secretive lover a kiss.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Catherine arrived very late, traffic not cooperating, but Ryan spotted her as soon as she arrived and gave her a discreet thumbs up sign.
As soon as the last point was scored, Ryan ran up into the stands to kiss her father and Maeve and welcome them home. Jamie informed her partner that the group was coming to the house for a little dessert so the couple could tell them all about their trip.
The dark woman hugged her father and stepmother and ran to get changed, skipping her usual informal autograph session. "Boy, she really missed you two," Jamie smiled to Martin. "For her to rush out of here like this is remarkable!"
Martin winked at Jamie and said, "Don't tell Siobhán, but I don't think we spent a moment missing anyone in the family. Even Caitlin's name wasn't mentioned, and you know she's the focus of most conversations around here!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
The small group sat around the living room, eating ice cream and cake that Jamie had stopped to buy. "So, Da, what did you think of the house?" Ryan asked.
"Oh, my!" he exclaimed. "Can you even call a place like that a house? Shouldn't there be another name for it, like castle or mansion? I've never seen anything like it in my whole life."
"That was one kitchen that Marty and I could share peacefully," Maeve decided. "We made all of our meals together, and we didn't run into each other once!"
"So you didn't go to any of the restaurants Jamie recommended?" Ryan asked. "I didn't think you'd want to cook all week."
"No, we didn't go out for any meals…did we, Marty?"
"No, no, I don't believe we did," he agreed.
"Did you go over to Pebble Beach and walk along the pedestrian paths?" Jamie asked.
Maeve gave Martin a look and said, "No, we didn't get a chance to do that, either, Jamie."
Martin was blushing a little and Rory went to the heart of the issue. "Did you leave the house, Da?"
He gave his youngest son a slightly perturbed look and said, "No, lad, we did not." He added, "It's a very big house, ya know, and we were only there four days. It took a while to explore the entire place."
Jamie shot her partner a look, and they both had to struggle to refrain from laughing, but neither wanted to make the couple uncomfortable, so they behaved themselves. "It is a big house," Jamie agreed. "It could easily take four days to see it all." Turning back to Martin she said, "Did you spend any time in the gym? I know you like to work out."
He pulled on the collar of his shirt and said, "No, no, we didn't get over there, Jamie. Maybe next time."
"How about the pool, Aunt Maeve?" Ryan asked, having a feeling what the answer would be.
"No, we're not much for swimming, dear. We uh…didn't venture very far."
"How was the weather, Da? Or did you not make it to a window?" Ryan asked innocently, ineffectively batting her blue eyes at her father.
He shot her a look and reminded her, "Siobhán, I have a series of embarrassing stories, going back to 1975, that I'm sure everyone would love to hear. Before you go teasing your father, perhaps you'd like to step back and consider that."
"Who wants more cake?" she asked brightly, smiling at her now smirking father and his blushing bride.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Mmmm…Saturday," Jamie sighed early in the morning, sounding a little like Homer Simpson.
"Yeah, it's nice to be able to lie in bed and not worry about class or golf practice," Ryan agreed.
"Or basketball or volleyball games," the smaller woman added.
There was a brief silence, and then Ryan said, "Well, you're technically correct. I don't have a game today."
"Ry…a…n…" The dark haired woman always knew she was in trouble when her name sounded like it was made up of three syllables.
"What's up? You played volleyball Thursday and Friday evenings, and you don't have your first basketball game until tomorrow."
"True. But we have practice today. It'll probably be a long one," she advised.
"You have to practice on Saturday?" Jamie sounded absolutely horrified at this development.
"Yep. Especially when we have a Sunday game." Ryan had a chagrined look on her face as she said, "I think the schedule's gonna be pretty tough. Coach Hayes seems like she expects a lot more from us than Coach Placer did."
"I don't like it," Jamie grumbled, "but I guess I don't have a choice. Can I come?" she asked, her voice still cross.
"No, you can't come this afternoon," Ryan said as she started to kiss a wet path from her ear, down past her collarbones, around one perky breast, down to linger at her tempting navel. "But you can definitely come this morning," she growled as she climbed on top of her giggling partner to fulfill her prophesy. "Several times."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
When Ryan got home from practice, there was a definite slump to her shoulders.
Jamie looked up from her book and asked, "What's wrong?"
"I went by the volleyball office to check on the NCAA selection results. We didn't make it," she added needlessly.
"Oh, sweetheart, I'm so sorry," she said, as she got up and offered a hug.
"Yeah, it kinda sucks. If we were in any other conference, I'm sure we would be in, but they took four PAC-10 schools, and it just looks bad to take half the conference." She unzipped her jacket and started to strip for a shower. "I'm disappointed, but Jordan's gonna be devastated. She needs the exposure for USA Volleyball to see how good she is."
"I think it's so sweet that you are more focused on Jordan's disappointment than your own," Jamie said softly.
"I'd really love to play in a NCAA tournament, so I am disappointed. I know we won't go in basketball, so this was my best chance. But this is Jordan's future. It's a very big deal for her."
"You gonna call her?"
"Yeah. After I take a shower and wash my disappointment down the drain," she said, a half-smile curling up one side of her mouth.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Just after Mass on Sunday, Ryan ran downstairs to change clothes while Jamie helped Martin make brunch. The O'Flaherty kitchen was bigger than the one at the Driscoll house, and since all of the unmarried children now lived together, the newly married couple found themselves automatically drifting into eating their meals with the boys. No one complained, of course, since the boys were more than happy to have a pair of built-in cooks.
A few minutes later Ryan was back in her new "Cal Basketball" warm-ups. The unveiling was a little anticlimactic--the new suit was identical to the old save for the legend, since Adidas was the sponsor of all of the women's athletic teams.
"Ohh, you look so cute," Jamie said fondly, ignoring the fact that only one word had changed.
"I've really gotta go," Ryan said as she looked at her watch. "Is there something I can eat on the run?"
Martin shook his head, but he immediately started to make her an energy shake. He added a couple of spoonfuls of protein powder as the nutritionist had recommended, and Ryan gulped it down without complaint. Jamie went to the cabinet and got out some energy bars that she placed in Ryan's generously sized pockets. "Is that enough to keep you going?"
"Yeah, I think so. I had two bowls of oatmeal before Mass, so this should do it."
"Did you take your vitamins?" the smaller woman asked.
"Yep. Every one-even the big one that makes me gag," she said proudly.
"Okay, you're released," Jamie decided. Martin smiled at his daughter as she kissed her partner good-bye.
"I could have used you around the house when the lass was young, Jamie. You certainly have a way of handling her."
Ryan replied by raising one eyebrow to dangerous heights, causing her father to blush fiercely. "I didn't think that one through," he admitted.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The mostly completed Haas Pavilion was the site of the game, and Jamie was excited to see the new building. The men's team had, of course, received the honor of opening the gym, but there was still a little excitement for the first women's game. She was pleased to see a decent crowd streaming into the venue, but quickly realized that there were problems at the gate that made the crowd seem bigger than it was.
Even though the court had been ready for some time, and the offices an even longer time, the staff had not been properly trained or equipped to deal with a crowd, and it took almost fifteen minutes to finally enter the building.
Because most of the O'Flahertys had attended the volleyball game the night before, many of them decided to skip today, since Ryan warned she would not play much, if at all.
Catherine, however, was right on-time as usual. She found Martin, Maeve, Caitlin, Conor, Brendan, Rory and Jamie without too much trouble, and she looked around excitedly while the band played. "This is very lively, isn't it?"
"Yeah, there's more excitement about basketball than there usually is for volleyball. It's kinda cool to have the whole band here."
"Don't forget the full complement of cheerleaders," Conor added with semi-lecherous grin.
Jamie was shocked but enormously pleased when she turned around in response to a tap on her shoulder to find Jordan, Mia, and the entire volleyball squad grinning down at her. "You are so sweet!" she cried as she hopped up and hugged each woman. They all knew Martin, Maeve, Brendan and Catherine by now, and most of the girls had been chatted up by Conor, but Rory was a new face to many of them. Jamie made the introductions as the team grabbed the empty row right behind them.
Turning around, Jamie patted as many legs as she could reach and said, "I'm really sorry you guys didn't get the NCAA bid. You deserved it."
The women mumbled their thanks, obviously not in the mood to talk about the disappointing news.
The teams came out to warm up just as the spectators got settled. They were wearing a different type of navy blue warm-up outfit, and Conor told Jamie they were practice warm-ups. He explained that there were snaps all the way down both legs so they could be ripped off without trying to get them over their shoes.
Mia was sitting right behind Jamie, and she leaned over and said, "She looks pretty cute in that outfit."
"Yeah, she does," Jamie agreed. The solid color and roomy cut made Ryan look even bigger than normal, and Jamie was always in favor of more of her lover--even if it was an optical illusion.
As game time drew near, the cheerleaders took the floor and stood at attention as the band played the Star Spangled Banner. Introductions began for the visiting University of Nevada, and Catherine commented that they were distinctly perfunctory. The announcer reported each starting player's name, class, height and her hometown, but he did so in a near monotone.
As soon as their introductions were finished, the cheerleaders formed a long phalanx that the players would run through to reach the middle of the court. Now the announcer came to life, as he intoned dramatically, "And now…your University of California Goooolden Bears!!" The crowd cheered heartily as he began to introduce each of the players. He called out each of the players by number with the reserves introduced first. Since Ryan wasn't a starter, and she had the lowest number, she was called first. "A 6 foot 3inch senior forward from San Francisco, California…Number 5…Ryan O'Flaaaa-her-ty."
Martin shot Jamie a smile as he asked, "Is that the same announcer from volleyball?"
"Yep," she replied as she spotted the red haired man at the scorer's table. Ryan's personal rooting section got to their feet and cheered loudly. The volleyball team chanted "Boomer…Boomer…Boomer," until Ryan looked up and gave them a tiny wave.
Jamie had not met any of the basketball players yet, and Ryan didn't have much to say about them since she had been working almost exclusively with Lynette to get ready to play. Jamie noticed that there were only two people taller than Ryan, a very large black woman named Janae Harris from Inglewood, California, and a woman with a tongue-twisting, unpronounceable name from Croatia.
The starting players ripped off their warm-ups, and Jamie laughed when she heard the gasp that came from her mother as she spied the uniforms for the first time. "Oh my!" she muttered. "That is the most unfortunate outfit I've ever seen."
Jamie had to admit that the uniforms were dreadful. They were the very bright gold that normally accented the navy blue of most of the Cal gear. Gold was a fine color as an accent, but a little bright gold goes a very long way, and these uniforms were past any reasonable limit. Jamie mused that very few people looked good in gold, and it was clear that only the darkest black women on the team could pull it off. Unfortunately, only three members of the team were very dark skinned, so the rest of them were doomed to look jaundiced for the rest of the season.
Ignoring the color, which was very hard to do, the cut of the uniforms was absolutely horrid. It looked like the uniforms of the Golden State Warriors had been delivered by mistake, but the team had decided to wear them anyway. Most of the players had their shirts hanging out over their shorts, and it looked as though they were men's jerseys, since the tails were quite tight around the women's hips. But as bad as the shirts were, it was the shorts that were the true tragedy. If a woman had a 30-inch waist, it looked as though she wore a 40-inch pair of shorts. They were so outrageously baggy that they would have been comical, if they weren't so dreadfully unattractive.
As tip-off drew near, the starters pulled their jerseys down as far as they could go, then they pulled their pants down very low on their hips. Next they pulled the jerseys out until they bloused down over the wide waistband of the shorts. After another bout of tugging the shorts down, they were set, until they had to run or jump--which necessitated another round of adjustments.
Mia leaned over and whispered to Jamie, "You have to make her quit this team! She could ruin her whole reputation if she's seen in that monstrosity!"
"Maybe she doesn't look as bad in hers," she said weakly, almost afraid to have Ryan take off her warm-ups.
Once she was over the shock of the uniforms, Jamie paid attention and really began to get into the game. She had spent a lot of time in football stadiums when she was growing up, but her father wasn't a big basketball fan, so she wasn't either. It was enjoyable and educational to have the volleyball team behind them, since many of the girls had played basketball in high school, and they knew a lot about the game. They also provided contagious enthusiasm as they cheered wildly for each play.
The band was located in the section right next to theirs, and Jamie noticed that the drummers rapped their sticks on the rim of their instruments every time Cal scored a point. They began to anticipate the noise, and after a few minutes the volleyball team began to chant with the drummers when a point was scored. After the first three-pointer they all cried, "Bang! Bang! Bang!" as the drums rapped out the crisp staccato.
Cal was clearly the superior team, and by halftime they were leading by 15. Ryan did not play, as predicted, but Jamie noticed that she was very intent on watching the game. She sat next to Lynette, and Jamie noticed that she talked to the coach incessantly.
The second half began in the same lop-sided fashion that the first half had presaged, and with five minutes left Cal was leading by 25. The woman from Croatia hit the floor hard while fighting for a rebound, and after the trainer checked her out, Coach Hayes sent her to the bench. Jamie saw the coach turn and point to Ryan, and the O'Flaherty rooting section went wild as she stood up and shucked her warm-ups. The girls shouted "Boomer, Boomer" until time was called and she ran onto the court.
Much to Jamie's disappointment, Ryan looked a little worse than her teammates did. Her golden tanned skin was singularly unsuited to the garish gold color, each being just exactly the wrong shade to compliment the other. Her weight loss made her look absolutely lost in the huge uniform, hiding every attractive element of her lovely body. As Jamie stared at her partner in puzzlement, Mia leaned over and pointed out the missing ingredient. "Where are her breasts?" she whispered.
"I don't know," Jamie murmured. "I'm certain that they were there this morning…"
She wasn't sure how her lover had accomplished it, but her breasts were practically non-existent in the colossal jersey. And given that the shorts hid every hint of her hips and rounded butt, she had to admit that every ounce of her sex appeal was very well hidden. Oh well, at least Ms. Oski bear will stop hitting on her, she mused. Once her shock at seeing the uniform had passed, Jamie allowed her eyes to roam down and notice that Ryan wore black high-top basketball shoes with short black socks that barely showed above the ankle, a look that Jamie fervently hoped Ryan did not copy when in civilian clothes. The tall woman reached into her sports bra and extracted a mouth guard, and as she slipped it into her mouth, Jamie noticed that it was a bright blue color. Oh, that will help, honey. Blue teeth are just the right touch!
Even though Ryan didn't look hot, she played hot. Cal played an aggressive style of man-to-man defense, and Ryan played her opponent so tight that they could have both gotten into the same mammoth uniform together. She was obviously annoying the poor woman, as the overmatched player tried in vain to get away from the pressure. Her opponent wasn't a very good ball handler, and she was obviously surprised when she tried to hold the ball above her head to make a pass, and Ryan jumped in the air and smashed the ball from her hands. The volleyball team started yelling, "Spike, spike, spike!" as the ball skittered across the floor and landed in the hands of Cal's point guard. Ryan took off for their basket as soon as she slapped the ball away, and two passes later her teammate fed her the ball for her first two points-an uncontested lay-up. As Ryan ran back up the court she couldn't keep the smile off her face, while she pointed dramatically at the teammate who passed the ball to her as the announcer called out. "Ryan O'Flaaa-her-ty. Thank you, Amy Sumitomo."
Coach Hayes left Ryan in for the rest of the game, and even Catherine could tell that she caused the intensity of the game to increase measurably. "She's quite the little fireball," she mused as she smiled at Jamie. "Would it be terribly rude to see if you could have that outfit tailored for her?"
"I don't think that would be a good idea," she replied, wrinkling up her nose. "Although the fashion police should be handing out fistfuls of citations today."
"Well, ask her to make sure that any photos they take of her will be from the neck up-and with white teeth," she added, giving Jamie a wink.
Ryan was not given many more scoring opportunities, but she was a potent force on defense. Her lightning-quick body was a blur as she flew around the court, and she managed to block two shots and snag two rebounds in her limited play. Just before the buzzer, she had the ball, and Jamie could see her dart a glance down for the three-point line. She dribbled back a foot and launched a beautiful shot that flew through the hoop as she was fouled. "Four point play!" her rooting section cried as Ryan went to the free-throw line. She went through the same routine that Jamie had seen the day Ryan had tried out, but Ryan added one little twist. Using her index finger, she made a quick X over her heart, then concentrated and lofted the ball cleanly through the net.
The final score was 99-69, and somehow Ryan's gaze landed on her partner as soon as the buzzer sounded and she threw Jamie a blown kiss.
As the announcer summarized the game totals, he once again went through Nevada's numbers perfunctorily. When he announced the totals for Cal, the band got involved once again by rapping out the point totals for each player. Even though she had only played a few minutes, after Ryan's name was called the drums banged out six thumps. "Well done, eh, Jamie?" Martin asked.
"Mighty!" she agreed with a big grin.
Since Jamie had the team all together, she said, "We're having a big party on Tuesday after your last game, guys. Bring dates or friends, or family, if you want. Thanksgiving break starts the next day, so you've got no excuses!"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie was waiting right outside the locker room holding a squirming Caitlin when Ryan emerged. "My two favorite girls!" the dark woman smiled, accepting the lunging baby.
"You did so good," Jamie enthused. "You're gonna be starting in no time!"
"Thanks," she said with a shy grin that charmed Jamie to the core. "Hey, did you see the sign I gave you?"
"When you were shooting free throws?" Jamie asked. "I saw it, but I'm not sure I understood it."
"I made a little X over my heart," she smiled. "You know, like the sign for a kiss."
"Ooo, you're such a sweetheart. Were you born so cute, or do you just keep getting cuter all the time?"
"Mmm," Ryan paused to consider the question. "I think it's an ongoing process. I don't think I'm done yet, either. There's plenty of unexplored cuteness for you to tap into."
"Now that's something to look forward to," Jamie decided.
"You know, you didn't comment yet, Jamers. Did you like our outfits?" she asked with an innocent smile.
"Um, they were very, very…bright," she replied, believing in the maxim 'if you can't say something nice…'
Ryan tossed her head back and laughed at Jamie's faltering tries to compliment her. "I know they're dreadful," she admitted, "but that's how the rest of the team likes to wear them, so I don't really have a choice."
"Well, the uniforms are bad enough, but where did your breasts go?"
"I can't stand to have them bouncing around, so I wear a sports bra that's one size too small, and then a compression top over that."
"Well, it was very effective," she chided her. "I couldn't see one inch of movement from any of your body parts."
"I'm sorry you don't get to see jiggling," she said as she wrapped her arm around her partner to go find the rest of the family.
"Me too," she whined. "Now I'm gonna have to actually watch the game!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
On the way back home, Jamie asked, "Did you have a meeting after the game?" She sniffed delicately and teased, "You sure as heck didn't take a shower."
"Yeah," Ryan smiled. "Coach likes to review the game as soon as it's over. Then at the next practice she goes over it in detail…minute detail, from what I've heard. We did get a little good news, though."
"We can all go to the airport on our own on Thanksgiving. Apparently, she likes the team to travel together on the bus, but since so many of us will be with our families on Thursday, she's not going to make us come to Berkeley first."
"Wow! What a humanitarian," Jamie teased. She looked at Ryan with concern and asked, "Are you sure you're going to enjoy this? She doesn't seem like your kinda coach."
Ryan shrugged. "I hate to jump to conclusions, but so far you're absolutely right."
Jamie shot her a look and said, "Can we discuss this, Ryan?"
"Honey, I've got some concerns. Can we stop for a cup of coffee or some ice cream? I don't want to discuss this in a moving car. I want your full attention."
Ryan gave her a wink and said, "And you think you can get that when I've got a dish of ice cream in front of me? It had better be coffee."
They parked in the big public lot next to Sufficient Grounds and snared the front table, watching the Sunday night parade of homeless people looking for a spot to bed down.
"I'm worried about you, Ryan," Jamie said quietly. "I know you have boundless enthusiasm for things that you love, but I just have a feeling that this isn't going to be one of them. You're still very run down, your weight is still way too low, and you've got a load of schoolwork this term. I just don't see how you can do it."
Ryan reached across the table and grasped Jamie's hand, blue eyes searching her face with concern. "Why haven't you said anything before?"
"I have, honey. I think you know I wouldn't have chosen this for you."
"Yeah, I know, but that's different from being worried about me. Before you were just telling me that you wouldn't do it. Now you're saying that I shouldn't do it. Big difference, babe."
Jamie sighed, and shook her head. "I don't want to tell you what to do. That's not the kind of spouse I want to be."
Ryan reached across the table to cup her cheek. She exerted just a bit of pressure, and Jamie lifted her head and met her eyes. "You're a wonderful spouse. You're just showing me that you love me."
"I do love you, Ryan." Her eyelids fluttered closed and she rubbed her cheek against the hand that smelled of leather and sweat. "I love you enough to not nag you about this. I just want to make sure you've thought it through thoroughly."
"I think I have, Jamie. I mean, I can't be sure this will work out, but I get along well with one of the women, and I like the assistant coach a lot."
"That's a small amount of support, love."
"Yeah, but Janae is cool. She's the center, and she's also a senior. I know she wants to make a difference this year, and I believe that if she and I work hard we can win over some of the fence sitters. If we can get the control of the team away from the other two seniors, I think we could be good."
All of this was a complete news flash to Jamie. "You not only have to play well, you have to orchestrate a coup?"
"I wouldn't go that far," Ryan chuckled. "But the other two seniors are pretty negative, and their negativity has infected the team." Jamie was giving her a wary look, and Ryan looked at her seriously and said, "I know you don't understand this, but I love team dynamics. I get a huge boost from trying to toy with the chemistry of a team and turn it into a positive force. Janae feels just like I do, and I think it would be awesome if we could kick some butt and drag Cal out of the cellar for a change." She looked thoughtful for a moment and said, "In a way, it's my gift to the school. Volleyball was such a breeze-with such a great bunch of women. I'd like to help the basketball team start the long climb to respectability."
"This really means a lot to you?"
"Yeah. In a weird way it does. Besides the things I've mentioned, I have some selfish reasons, too. I like it that we play in the big gym. I like it that some of our games are televised. I really enjoy the boost that women's basketball has had in the last few years, and I want to be a part of it." Her eyes were shining with excitement and Jamie felt all of her reservations fade when she looked into those baby blues.
Reaching across the table, Jamie grasped her partner's hand and said, "I'm in your corner, baby. If this is what you want, you've got my full support."
"That's worth everything to me," Ryan smiled brightly.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Part Nine
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