I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 10:  Journeys

By SX Meagher


Part Nine

On Monday evening, Ryan came home from her last double practice, finding herself a little down in the dumps afterwards.  When she walked in the door, Jordan was already there, setting the table.  "You know, this extra hour is about to kill me," the blonde grinned.  "I'm used to eating by 6:15, Ryan.  Can you have your coach move practice up an hour?"

"Come here," Ryan said, smiling sweetly.

Jordan walked over, then immediately let out an outraged squawk when Ryan grabbed the back of her neck and shoved her head into her open gym bag.  "That's a toxic dump!" she hollered, bringing Mia and Jamie out of the kitchen to see what was going on.  "She's trying to kill me!" she cried.

"Honey, leave Jordan alone," Jamie warned.  "She's not used to being around ruffians like you."  The smiling woman approached her partner and gave her a gentle hug, while casting a glance at the gym bag.  "That's cruel, Ryan.  Very cruel."

"I thought you liked the way I smell," she said, feigning hurt.

"I do, baby.  I just prefer your scent fresh.  When it ferments on your wet clothes, it's a bit much, even for me."

"No respect in my own home," she grumbled, heading for the shower for her body, and the laundry chute for her clothing.

"Oh, baby, your aunt called.  She asked you to call her when you have time."

"Maeve or Moira?" Ryan asked as she ascended the stairs.

"Maeve.  She said it's not a rush."

"Let me call her now, okay?" Ryan asked.  "She never calls without a reason."

When she reached her room, she dialed her aunt's number, smiling when her father answered.  "May I speak to the lady of the house, please?" she asked.

"Ahh, it's my sweet one," he replied.  "I'll get Maeve for you, love.  Are you feeling well?"

"I'm fine, Da.  Had my last double practice tonight.  I'm back to one-a-days now."

"Good to hear.  See you tomorrow, sweetheart.  Shall I wear a suit?"

"Well, you can if you want, but your normal attire is just fine.  Are the boys all going to make it?"

"Of course they are.  We'll have a good showing of the cousins as well.  Don't you worry, love."

"I'm not worried, Da.  The family has never let me down."

"Hello, Ryan," Maeve said when she picked up.

"Hi, Aunt Maeve.  What's up?"

"I heard something distressing yesterday, and I didn't have a chance to talk to you about it after your game."

"What is it?"  Ryan felt her heart rate pick up at the tone of her aunt's voice.

"I spoke with Mary Elizabeth Andrews, and she said things are not going well at their house.  It seems that Sara told her parents that she's a lesbian."

"Oh," Ryan said, sitting down hard on her desk chair.

"Yes, apparently Mary Elizabeth wasn't terribly surprised, but Sara's father took the news very badly.  He told Sara she wasn't welcome to come home if she was going to choose that path."

"What would he rather?" Ryan snapped.  "Would he rather she never know love in her life, or should she marry some poor man who doesn't ever understand why she's so distant?"

"Ryan," Maeve said gently, "I'm on Sara's side in this."

"I'm sorry, Aunt Maeve," she said.  "I know you're supportive.  It just makes me so damned mad!  Why must people be so afraid of difference!"

"I don't know, but they are.  So many parents seem to love their children until they disappoint them.  I don't know Sara's father well, but he's always seemed very proud of her and her accomplishments.  I guess he can't stand to have his image of her destroyed."

"So what's the bottom line, Aunt Maeve?  What is Mrs. Andrews going to do?"

"That's the most distressing part, Ryan.  She acted so helpless.  She said that she didn't know what to do, other than to hope her husband changes his mind soon.  I got the impression that she wasn't going to push the issue-even if it means Sara is forced out of the family."

Ryan took a deep breath, biting back the colorful curse she was on the verge of spitting out.  "I thought Mrs. Andrews had learned something from what happened to me," she grumbled.

"I think it's expecting a lot for Mary Elizabeth to suddenly have a spine, Ryan.  She's a very, very passive woman."

"With a daughter that's probably absolutely devastated," Ryan said, her stomach clenching in sympathy for her old friend.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Jordan seemed distracted at dinner, and after Ryan watched her pick at her food for a while, she finally asked, "What's up?"

"Huh?" the blonde asked absently.

"Is something bothering you?  You've been quiet ever since I came back down."

Mia shot Ryan a look, but the question was already out on the table and she couldn't pull it back in.

"Oh…I was just thinking about tomorrow night.  I called home to get my messages and my dad called earlier to say he can't make it."

Ryan mentally rolled her eyes.  "He can't make it to senior night?  Does he know this is a big deal?"

"Yeah, he does.  He wouldn't cancel if he didn't have to, Ryan," she said, her defenses rising.  "He has a very demanding job."

"I didn't mean to imply that he doesn't care, Jordan," she said contritely.  "I just thought that maybe he didn't understand that this meant a lot to you."

She shrugged and said, "It really doesn't.  I'm sure that lots of people don't have family available.  It's just gonna be weird when your whole clan shows up," she admitted sheepishly.  "I'm really gonna look like an orphan then."

Knowing she was treading on thin ice, Ryan asked, "Did you even ask your mom to come?"

"No way," she said with wide eyes.  "Then she'd know the season was over!"

Ryan nodded, not understanding this logic in the least, but knowing that Jordan had her reasons for everything she did-even though they were sometimes elusive.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

After dinner Ryan called Sara, but no one was home and the answering machine didn't pick up.

Jamie came upstairs and lay down on the bed, motioning for Ryan to join her.  The dark woman cuddled up against her chest, allowing Jamie to soothe her by rubbing her back.  "It brings back all of the old memories, doesn't it?"

"Yeah, it does," Ryan agreed.  "I guess, in a way, Sara might have known how poorly this would go.  Maybe that's why she was so afraid of being honest."

"Maybe," Jamie sighed.  "It's just sad.  How can you let something so incidental to your child's total self affect how you feel about them?"

"I'll never understand it," Ryan murmured.  "Not if I live to be a thousand."  She nuzzled her head against Jamie's chest, soaking up the comfort.  "I feel like I need to get in touch with her.  Will that bother you?"

"No, of course not.  I'd be disappointed in you if you didn't feel that way.  We'll work it out, babe.  The important thing is to be supportive of Sara right now.  She must really be hurting."

"Guaranteed," Ryan said.  "She was closer to her mom, but she always strove to make her dad proud of her.  His approval was paramount to her…and probably still is."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Ryan hunted Mia down at lunch the next day, managing to find her sunning herself in front of the science library.  "Got any ideas about how to support Jordan tonight?" she asked without preamble.

"Uhh…" Mia squinted up into the sun, then motioned for Ryan to move to the side.  "Look, I offered to be there for her-as her friend-even though I'd freak out if everyone knew about us.  Don't give me that look, Ryan.  I tried."

Ryan sat down, and patted Mia on the shoulder.  "I'm sorry.  I should have known you'd try to be there for her."  She cocked her head and asked, "Did she just turn you down, or did she give you a reason?"

"Oh, she said that she didn't want anyone to think we were together.  But I don't know, Ryan.  I got the impression she just doesn't think she deserves it."

"You're gonna be there tonight, right?"

Mia blinked up at her and gave her a scowl.  "How big of an asshole do you think I am?"

"Forget I was even here," Ryan grumbled, before heading off to her next class.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"How are you feeling about tonight, babe?" Jamie asked as she helped Ryan secure her hair in a very neat style for the final volleyball game of the season.

"I'm sad," she admitted, looking just a little sheepish.  "It's hard to describe, since I know that I'll still be friends with the women from the team that I really bonded with, ya know?  But a team has a very ephemeral chemistry, and when you play your last game of the season-it's forever lost, even if you have the exact same players the next year."

"I think I understand that," Jamie said.

"It's harder than usual for me," Ryan said reflectively.  "Probably because I know this is the highest level I'll ever play at.  I've peaked, Jamie, and that's never happened to me before," she admitted.  "It's a little humbling."

"Honey, I know you don't agree with me, but I still think there's a good chance you'll get an invitation to try out for the Olympic team."

"It's not gonna happen, " Ryan insisted.  "I'm gonna try and just play my heart out tonight, and get on with it.  From now on, I'm just a former college player who will still kick an occasional butt on the beach volleyball court."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

The team was a little jittery during warm-ups, even though they were playing for nothing more than pride.  It was important to all of them that they make a statement with their last game, and things got even tenser when someone mentioned that a scout from USA Volleyball might be in the stands.

Ryan scanned the crowd in the sold-out gymnasium and easily found her rooting section.  She gave them a signal when it was getting close to game time, and they made their way down to the court.  The student manager came to get Jordan and Ryan, handing them their warm-up jackets.  They stood over by the huge blue curtain that separated the stands from the basketball court, and stood patiently while the lights went down and the announcer began his spiel.

"Ladies and gentlemen-may I have your attention?  Tonight we honor two graduating seniors who have combined to lead the Bears to their best finish in this decade."

"Jordan Ericsson, a four-year starter, is the all-time Bears leader in kills and hitting percentage.  A national player of the year candidate, she's also a two-time First-team All PAC-10 and a two time member of the U.S. World University Games team.  Jordan was a first team Volleyball Magazine All-America and was a Junior Olympic All-Tournament team selection.  She's from Santa Monica, California, and lettered for four years at Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles in both volleyball and basketball.  Jordan also played for the Palisades Storm club team for four years and was the CIF state champion in the 1500 meters."

Jordan slapped Ryan's hand and started to head out to the court, but Ryan grabbed her jacket and said, "Not so fast.  Wait for your cue."

The blonde gazed at her in the dim light, but Ryan just smiled enigmatically and said, "Listen to my bio.  It won't take long."

The announcer began again.  "Ryan O'Flaherty has made a big impact in only one year with the Bears.  A two-year letter winner from the University of San Francisco, Ryan was the PAC-10 player of the month for October, the first time a Bears volleyball player has won that honor.  She's from San Francisco, California and lettered at Sacred Heart Academy in volleyball, soccer, basketball, and softball for three years.  Ryan was a member of the CIF championship soccer team in her junior year.  That year she was also the state champion in the 200 meters."

"Let's give a hearty round of applause to these two fine athletes as they're joined by their family and friends."

The blue curtain parted as the lights went up, and no less than 20 O'Flahertys streamed through the opening.  A pair of significantly shorter women made their way to the front of the crowd, each bearing a lavish bouquet of roses.  Jordan was positively dumbstruck, and Ryan had to tug on her to get her to walk to the middle of the court.  The crowd was on its feet, clapping wildly as Jordan and Ryan waved and took a bow.

Even though the applause was thunderous, Jordan was aware of little but the small, warm hand that held her large, clammy one and the misty brown eyes that gazed up at her with a look that bordered on adoration.

Ryan slung an arm around her friend's shoulders and asked, "Isn't it nice to be part of a large family?"

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Ryan's prediction was accurate, and the final game proved to be an intensely emotional experience for the entire team.  They had little problem with their opponent, the University of Nevada, and were moving along nicely towards a three game sweep, leading game three 13-9, when timeout was called.  Coach Placer gave them a few instructions during the brief interlude, but just before he sent them back on the court he reminded them,  "Two more points for the season!"

Jordan shot a panicky look at Ryan, and as their gazes met it suddenly hit the dark woman full force.  Despite the short talk she'd had with Jamie, she hadn't given a lot of thought to the end of volleyball since she was already gearing up for basketball.  She realized with a start that she had done this her whole life.  She had never had to face the sadness that affected a lot of the women when the season ended, since she always had another one to go to.  It was very similar to the way she'd regarded women in the past.  When a woman had outlived her usefulness, she was replaced almost immediately with very little emotion.  But that wasn't how she was trying to live her life any longer, so she tried to stay with the emotion of the game and really feel what the end of the season meant to her.  It was obvious that Jordan was deep in the moment, and as she glanced over at her, Ryan wrapped an arm around her fellow senior as they prepared to take the court.  "Let's go out big!" she urged, giving her a fierce squeeze.

Jordan looked like she was fighting to maintain her composure, but she returned Ryan's hug and nodded her head forcefully.  "Let's kick some butt!" she growled as her face took on an intensely determined look.

The next point was won before Ryan could blink.  Erika served a beauty, but the ball was dug brilliantly and returned right to Jordan.  The tall woman elevated beautifully and slammed the ball down with as much force as Ryan had seen her exert all year.  As soon as the ball landed, she jumped in the air and gave a joyous whoop that seemed to energize the entire team.  On the next serve, the ball was returned to Ryan's side.  Amy and Jordan slid over, and the three of them rose as one with their long arms extended over the net.  Ryan had no idea which of them actually got the block, but the ball zoomed off their hands and skidded onto their opponent's court, for the final point of the season.

Before Ryan knew what hit her, Jordan had jumped into her arms, and it was only her quick reflexes that allowed her to catch her teammate.  The long, lean legs wrapped around Ryan's waist, as the blonde repeatedly thrust her arm into the air in triumph.  Ryan gave her an enthusiastic squeeze, but patted her back after just a few seconds.  "We have to be good sports, Jordan.  Hop down so we can shake hands."

"I like it up here," she said with a joyful grin on her face.  "Now I know how Shaquille O'Neal feels."

A rather firm slap on the butt got her to release her hold, and they politely shook hands with their vanquished opponents.  Ryan stood near the center of the court and let the bright lights warm her for a moment as her teammates streamed into the locker room.  She lifted her head and gazed all around the gym, just trying to soak up the moment.  As her eyes traveled around, they landed on a thin, dark-haired woman who was watching her intently.  As soon as Ryan looked at her, the woman rose from her seat and walked quickly towards the exit.  Sara!  She was pleased to see her old friend, but puzzled to see her in the stands.  Guess I'll find out what's going on after I change.

The celebration continued into the locker room, where everyone took showers for a change since they were all going to the party.  Jamie told Ryan that she would leave as soon as the game was over, but that she needn't be in a rush to leave.  They played around in the open shower area, teasing and congratulating each other with much more enthusiasm than usual.  It soon became clear that no one wanted to leave the protective environment of the team, so Ryan finally reminded them that there was a house full of food and drink just waiting for them.  That did the trick, as they all dashed out of the room and began fighting over hair dryers.

Most of the women had brought street clothes to wear to the party.  Since they had all taken their hair out of the restrictive ponytails or braids that they normally wore, they looked like an entirely different group of women when they showed up at the already hopping celebration.

Ryan immediately noticed that some of the cousins were paying rapt attention as they came in, but she had no intention of discouraging them.  The boyos could do a lot worse than these women, she thought sagely, her fondness for her teammates having grown with each game.

As soon as she spied her, Jamie rushed over to congratulate Ryan.  Jordan was also the recipient of a kiss from Jamie, but Ryan could see her looking around for a friendlier version as soon as Jamie pulled away.  Moments later, Mia came scampering up.  She took Jordan by the hand and started to lead her into the library, informing her friends, "I have to give her a private congratulations for her stellar play."  Her sexy grin left no doubt that the private talk would go on for a while, so Ryan went into the kitchen to help Jamie with the food.

They had decided to order in rather than cook themselves, so Jamie had secured trays of cold cuts and platters of antipasto from Ryan's favorite, Lucca Deli in Oakland.  She was pleased beyond words when they went into the kitchen to find that her Aunt Deirdre had baked a massive sheet cake and decorated it with a large rendition of a volleyball, the dark blue 'Cal' script outlined in gold.  "This is gorgeous!" she cried as she gave her grinning aunt a hug.  Her Aunt Deirdre had been the family baker all of Ryan's life, and her skills had been embellished in direct proportion to the massive numbers of cakes required in a family that commemorated every occasion with one.

Her aunt blushed a little as she gazed reflectively at her creation.  "It's not bad at all," she agreed.  "And with a slight modification, I can use the design for basketball in a few months!"

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Ryan made her way around the room, welcoming every relative.  When she reached the chairs in front of the library, she was stunned to see Jennie talking seriously with Catherine.  As soon as Jennie spied her, she came over and hugged her tightly.

"I had no idea you were coming tonight!" Ryan cried as she gave her a firm squeeze.  "How did you get here?"

"Jamie called me yesterday and asked if I wanted to come.  She stopped by and got me on the way over.  It was so much fun, Ryan," she said animatedly.  "It was really cool to see you guys play!"

"With all of those tall O'Flahertys, I didn't see you.  I'm really glad you got to come," she said sincerely.  Checking her watch, she queried, "Do you have permission to be out after curfew?"

"Yes, Ryan," she said dutifully.  "Mrs. Evans was just going to give me a ride home."

She bent down to kiss her young friend and asked, "Do you have plans for Thanksgiving?"

"Kind of."  Her smile faded as she finished her thought.  "My mom won't let me come home. The other girls can't go home either, so we're having turkey for dinner at the house."

"That won't cut it, small fry.  You're coming to my house.  I'll call your housemother in the morning and tell her I'll be up to get you at around 10:30.  I've got to leave for Colorado by three, but one of my brothers will take you home, okay?"

"Like I'd say no to that?" she asked, her sweet face beaming up at her friend.  She tossed her small arms around Ryan's waist and said, "It'll be so nice not to get yelled at on Thanksgiving."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Ryan and Jamie made their way around the room, chatting with each relative and teammate for a few minutes.  There were so many in attendance that Catherine had returned by the time they were finished.  "Good party, eh, Catherine?" Ryan asked as she joined her on the loveseat.

"Excellent as usual, Ryan.  I've been to some pretty impressive parties, but I never have more fun than I do when I'm with your family."

"Well, I'll let you in on a little secret," she whispered as she leaned over to speak into her ear.  "Our parties weren't much fun at all until you started attending.  You're the key."

Catherine gave her a little kiss on the cheek and said, "You are such a sweetheart, Ryan.  I don't think I'll ever be sure if Jamie's really a lesbian or if your charms were just too much to resist."

"I guess it doesn't really matter, Catherine, because I'm going to keep her too occupied to even consider that question for the rest of her life."

"You're pretty confident of that, aren't you?" she asked, her eyes focusing sharply on Ryan.

"Yes.  There's not a doubt in my mind," she admitted.  "Some things you just know, Catherine."  She looked at the still thoughtful expression on her mother-in-law's face and asked, "Did you feel that way about Jim?"

The blonde head shook slowly as she admitted, "I wasn't nearly as mature as you and Jamie are now, Ryan.  Jim was my first serious boyfriend, and I don't think I had any idea how I should have felt."

"What about now?" Ryan asked, sensing that Catherine wanted to talk.

She laughed, with a touch of derision in her voice.  "I suppose I should be as mature as you are now, but I'm not sure that I am," she admitted.  "I know I have a deep bond with Jim, but I'm quite sure I don't feel what you feel for Jamie."  She sighed heavily and leaned her head back against the sofa.  "I don't know if it's possible to be optimistic when you've had as many betrayals and disappointments as we have had, Ryan.  I think I have to be willing to accept less."

"I don't like the sound of that, Catherine," Ryan admitted.  "How can you open yourself fully to someone that you don't trust?"  She scooted to the edge of the cushion so that she could turn and face her mother-in-law.  "Being completely vulnerable with Jamie is what makes it possible for us to really love one another, Catherine.  I hate to think of you setting yourself up in a situation where you think you have to settle for less than that.  You really don't!"  Her eyes were burning with intensity as she said, "You are a fantastic woman, Catherine!  Any man with an iota of sense would realize that, and do whatever he had to do to convince you that he loved you.  You deserve--no, it's your birthright--to be loved completely.  Please don't settle for less."

Catherine nodded slowly, touched that her daughter-in-law cared enough for her to feel so strongly about this.  "I think I know that, Ryan.  Sometimes I lose track of what my needs are, but I think I'm doing better in this area.  I won't go back to Jim unless I can trust him.  It's just not worth it."  She looked at Ryan for a long minute, her hand lifting to gently stroke her flushed cheek, "I swear you are the best thing to ever happen to our family."

"I know I'm partial, but I think Jamie's the best thing to happen to your family," she teased.  "But speaking of family, when can I pick you up on Thursday?"

"Ryan, I give in to nearly every one of your demands, but I'm putting my foot down this time.  I'll drive myself, dear, and I promise to behave and not drink too much."

"That's not why…"

"I know you care about me, but I'd feel better if I drove.  I know you and Jamie have to leave early for your road trip, and I don't want any of your brothers to have to chauffeur me."

"Okay," Ryan said, seeing that Catherine was adamant about this.  "We'll see you on Thursday then."

"What time should I come?"

"You know, Catherine, I think it's about time I let you in on another secret.  We don't have starting times for our parties--I just make them up for you.  When people feel like being around each other, they head on over.  That's the best I can tell you."  She shrugged her broad shoulders and gave Catherine a helpless look.

"All right," she chuckled, "but I should warn you that I might be there while you're still in your pajamas."

"Not a problem," Ryan laughed.  "I'll give you a key!"

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Everyone with a job wandered off a little after eleven, but most of the volleyball team was still dancing at midnight.  There were enough hands remaining to make the clean-up move quickly, and by 12:30 the place was presentable again.  Ryan's teammates finally got the hint and started to walk to their respective homes.  Conor offered to give a ride to two of the women who lived a bit farther out, and after enthusiastic thank yous and good-byes, the last of the guests sauntered out at 12:45.

Jamie switched off the kitchen light as she grasped Ryan's hand to make their way towards the stairs.  They turned off the lights in the parlor as they rounded the corner, and were about halfway up the stairs when they heard a small crash and a loud string of profanity coming from the kitchen.

Ryan flicked the lights back on and ran back downstairs to find her cousin Dermot jumping on one foot as he held the other in both of his hands.  "What's the idea of turning off the lights?" he demanded irately.

"Umm, everybody's gone, Dermot.  Everyone except you and Amy," she pointed out as her teammate blushed furiously.  "Did you come with your parents?"

"No, I rode over with Dec.  Liam and Padraig came in Liam's car.  Either Declan assumed I was with the others, or he ditched me!" he said indignantly.

"No problem.  You can borrow my car.  I'll be home tomorrow afternoon, so I can pick it up then."

"Aw jeez, Ryan, I hate to take your car," he muttered.

"It's fine, Dermot.  Amy could use a lift anyway, right?"

"Yeah.  It's about three miles.  That's a little far at this time of night."

"You haven't had much to drink, have you, Dermot?" his cousin asked.

"Well, I hadn't planned on driving, so I had quite a few…" he admitted.

"I didn't drink at all," Amy said brightly.  "I could take you home."

"You two work out your own plans," Ryan said, as she tossed her keys to Amy.  "Just don't drive my car if you've been drinking, and call your mother if you're not going home," she commanded her cousin.

Now it was Dermot's turn to blush, but Amy wasn't far behind.  "Thanks, Ryan," he said gratefully.  "You're a lifesaver."

"My pleasure," she insisted.  "Have fun, you two," she smiled as she gave them both hugs.

Ryan saw them out the front door and locked up again.  By the time she got up to her room, Jamie was already in bed.  "Dermot and Amy?" she gaped, her mouth wide open.

"Yep.  Surprised the hell out of me too."

"Well if you can't get the prize of the O'Flaherty clan, Dermot's not a bad choice," she mused.

"Aw, am I really the prize?" Ryan asked as she climbed onto the bed fully clothed.

"No, but Maeve won't let your father go…" she'd started to say when the full-scale tickle assault caused her to lose her ability to speak.

"Ouch!" Ryan cried as she flopped back down onto her pillow.  "What in the heck?"  She stuck her hand under the pillow to pull the hard object out from beneath it.  "What is this?" she asked with a quizzical look at her partner, pulling the leather-covered book onto her lap.

"Open it and see," Jamie said as her face turned up into a grin.

Ryan did so, enormously pleased to find that Jamie had made her a scrapbook of the entire volleyball season.  She had included the small articles about each game that had appeared in the campus newspaper as well as the tiny snippets from the Chronicle.  She had also included the roster from each game that she had attended, along with her ticket stub.  Ryan was delighted to note that her partner had even gone to the trouble of obtaining the press release from the NCAA that announced Ryan's selection as the student athlete for the month of October.  The facing page showed the attractive certificate they had sent her commemorating the event.

A nice 8x10 of the entire team took up one page, but the rest of the pages were filled with candid shots that Jamie had taken in the locker room and at the post-game parties at their house.

"I'll add the pictures from this party when I have them developed," she said from over Ryan's shoulder.

Ryan was slowly shaking her head as she surveyed the neat book.  "You are the most thoughtful woman in the world," she murmured as she set the book down and pulled Jamie into her arms.  "I've never kept things from my teams, and I find they just all mesh together in my mind.  It'll really be nice to look back on this in future years and remember how special this group of women was."

"I'm glad you like it," Jamie said as she gave her a few sweet kisses.

"I love it.  And I love you," she said, pushing her down for a proper thank you.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

On Wednesday morning, Catherine was watching C-SPAN in what was becoming a new ritual for her.  She had never had much interest in Jim's legal career, but her family had always been very involved in politics, and she had grown up being very aware of the importance that government held in her life.  Since Jim was now serving at the highest level of government, she found her interest sparked once again, and she had taken to reading more and staying much more cognizant of the affairs of the Senate.

She was particularly interested since Jim had called her the previous evening to say that one major piece of business was scheduled before the Senate went on its extended break.  He was planning on speaking against a bill that would solve part of the budget crisis by slashing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, one of Catherine's favorite programs.  She could tell how excited he was to be able to address an issue that was important to her, and she had promised that she would be watching when he got the opportunity to speak.

Having risen extra early to be sure she didn't miss anything, she smiled into her coffee as the junior Senator from California rose to speak.  He looked particularly handsome, wearing a dark blue, chalk-stripe suit with a white shirt and a blue and green rep tie she had purchased for him.  He spoke quite eloquently, and she smiled as she considered that some of his points were actually her own-things she had mentioned when they spoke on the phone.  My God!  He's trusted my opinion on this enough to use my words as his own!

She was so taken aback by this completely uncharacteristic behavior that it took her a minute to place the young red-headed woman that came up to his desk and handed him a paper, obviously feeding him some statistics that his staff wanted him to be sure to mention.  Catherine blinked slowly, finally closing her eyes as the unbearably sharp pain of betrayal once again lanced her heart.

Pushing the coffee cup away, she crossed her arms and lay her head down upon them, too drained to even force herself to go upstairs.  Marta passed by but didn't say anything, honoring their long-standing but unspoken agreement.  She was always interested and always available to discuss any matter that Catherine chose, but Marta did her best not to interfere or intrude on her employer's privacy.  Even that day, when every empathetic part of Marta wanted to find out what was wrong and help if she could, she maintained her respectful distance.

After a long while, Catherine rose from the kitchen table and went upstairs to her office.  It took her a few minutes, but she found the papers she was looking for.  She sat down at her desk and composed herself as much as she could, and then with a shaking hand she uncapped her fountain pen and signed her name to the petition for divorce.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

At the close of Senate business, Jim strolled into his office, whistling a tune as he passed his secretary.  "Has the messenger delivered my tickets yet?" he asked.

"Yes, sir.  They came just a few minutes ago.  Will you need me to order a limo from the airport?"

"No, no thanks.  My wife will pick me up."  He smiled at the sound of that-very much liking being able to rely on Catherine again.  "Will you get her on the phone for me?"


He walked into his office and loosened his tie, then sank down into his large leather chair and pulled out the bottom drawer.  Hooking his heels onto the wood, he leaned back in his chair and hit the speakerphone when his secretary buzzed him.  "Cat?" he asked, his voice brimming with excitement.

"Yes."  That was all she said…just one word…but he knew something was terribly wrong.  He picked up the phone and asked, "What's wrong, honey?"

"I signed the divorce papers today, Jim.  A messenger picked them up a few minutes ago.  I assume you'll be served some time next week."  Her voice was eerily flat, completely devoid of the warmth and affection she had evinced just the night before.

"WHAT!  Cat!  How can you… Why would you…?"

"I must compliment you for making things easy for me this time, Jim.  At least this time I had the evidence right in front of me.  It never dawned on me that I'd see your mistress on C-SPAN, but I suppose I should be happy that it happened now rather than after this weekend.  Having you want to come and surprise Jamie seemed like such a nice thing…I had the illusion that we were becoming a family again," she said softly, her voice becoming ragged with emotion.

"Cat!  No!  No!  I swear, nothing is going on between Kayla and me!  I broke up with her the day after the Stanford game!  I swear I've not touched her since!"

"Jim," she said softly, "why on earth should I believe you?"

"Because…because I don't lie to you, Catherine.  I've always told you the truth, whenever you asked me about anything!"

"How do I know that?" she asked.  "How do I know that anything you say is true?  How do I know that the compliments you've been paying me are genuine?  How do I know that, Jim?" she repeated, obviously not expecting an answer.

"You have to trust me," he said, finally seeing the truth of the situation.  "If you can't trust me, we don't have much to go on."

His statement hung out there in the air, both of them knowing that it was an elemental truth.  He was holding his breath, praying that she would concede that he was trustworthy and that they could continue on their path of reconciliation.

But his prayers were not answered.  She sighed heavily and said, "I can't trust you, Jim.  I wish with all my heart that I could, but I can't."

She started crying softly, and even though her words had devastated him, he wished he could be there to hold her and comfort her.  "Please, Cat," he said, his hoarse voice just a whisper.  "Please try to believe me.  I'm telling the truth!"

"I can't let you hurt me again, Jim," she murmured.  "I can't."  Now she was sobbing harshly, crying in a way he had never heard from her.

"Please, Cat," he said, again and again.  "Please, let me come home.  I can't bear to hear you cry like this.  Let me see you."

"No," she sobbed.  "I've made up my mind.  Don't come home.  I can't stand to see you.  It's over, Jim.  It sickens me to say it-but it's over."

"Cat!  Please!"  He tried again, but the only sound was the flat, uncaring dial tone.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

As soon as she could manage, Jamie was off to the library on Wednesday morning.  Ryan had basketball practice at noon, and they were heading to Noe as soon as she was finished.  Jamie guessed that she wouldn't get much done if she hung around the house, so she forced herself to maintain her discipline.

Ryan had finished her breakfast and was just about to start cleaning up when Jordan came down in just a T-shirt and panties.  "Morning," she said as she came up behind Ryan and gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"Hi.  Want some breakfast?"

"Yeah.  Love some.  Could I also borrow some clothes?  I threw my wet stuff in my gym bag and got everything drenched.  I wouldn't even try to fit into anything of Mia's," she smirked.

"Sure.  You can go up and scrounge around.  You know where everything is."

" 'Kay.  Be right back."

A few minutes later she was back in a hooded sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants.  Ryan's thick ragg socks were on her feet, and she looked much warmer.  "So, what would you like for breakfast?" Ryan asked.

"You're gonna cook for me?" Jordan asked with a delighted grin.

"Sure.  You name it."

"Hmm, I don't remember the last time anyone cooked for me.  I need to exploit this opportunity."

"What part of eating with us every night isn't cooking for you?" Ryan asked with a crooked grin, ruffling Jordan's fine hair teasingly.

"You're cooking for each other," the blonde said seriously.  "We're sponging off you.  Big difference."

"You don't sponge," Ryan chided.  "We like having you both with us.  Believe me, I don't let people abuse me, Jordan.  If I felt taken advantage of, I'd speak to either you or Mia about it."

"Okay," Jordan said, somewhat reassured by her friend's statement.  "Still, this is the first time I can remember anyone cooking just for me."  She looked over at Ryan with her eyes slightly hooded, and added, "It's nice."  Jordan obviously didn't want to waste the opportunity, and she paused to think for several minutes until Ryan began to make suggestions.

"French toast?  Pancakes?  Oatmeal?  How about scrambled eggs with smoked salmon?"

"Mmm…we have a winner," Jordan smiled.

Ryan quickly prepared the meal, setting it in front of Jordan with a flourish.

Jordan dug in and closed her eyes in pleasure.  "These are divine, Ryan!"

"Thank you," she nodded.  "My grandmother in Ireland makes eggs this way."

"My grandmother in La Jolla makes eggs by harassing servers in restaurants until they're ready to throw them at her," the blonde laughed.

"Is that your mom's mother?"

"Yeah.  Apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?" she asked wryly.

"I don't know, pal," Ryan admitted.  "As much time as we've spent together, I'd have to say that I don't really know much about your family.  You're kinda reserved about the whole bunch."

"Mmm," she said, shrugging her shoulders.  "I don't have much to say, Ryan.  They're not my favorite people."

Ryan could tell that she'd divine little information from her friend, so she switched topics.  "You haven't said what your plans are for the holiday.  Are you going home?"

Jordan's head shook decisively, as she said, "No, I told my mother we're still playing.  She now believes that the volleyball season lasts until just after Christmas."  She laughed derisively, stopping short when Ryan placed a gentle hand on her arm.

"What are you doing for Thanksgiving, Jordan?  Are you going to Mia's?"

"No," she admitted, again shaking her head.  "She didn't offer.  It's no big deal," Jordan added, with a forced brightness.  "I can catch up on my classes.  That's what I've done for the last three years."

"What about your father?" Ryan asked, knowing that Jordan felt a little warmer towards him.

"Oh, he and Candy are going to Vail for a couple of weeks.  He's an avid skier," she said wistfully.  "When I was a senior in high school, he and I went there for Thanksgiving.  That's the last trip we had together."

"Has he been with Candy that long?" Ryan asked.

"No.  He had another one before her.  I forget her name," she said.  "Joni or Jody or something like that.  He's never alone for long."

"Will your brother be home for the holiday?" Ryan asked, knowing she was prying, but trying to figure out just what the dynamic in the family was.

"Of course," she said, her expression turning into a scowl.  "The little prince would never miss out on an opportunity to wallow in self-pity with my mother."

Once again, Ryan was shocked by the acrimony that Jordan held for her brother, and she couldn't help but ask, "What is the deal with your brother, Jordan?  Why so hostile?"

Jordan got up to take her plate to the sink.  She started running water to do the dishes, and as she waited for the sink to fill she said, "I shouldn't go off on him.  It's not really his fault, and I certainly don't want to trade places with him."  She turned to Ryan and said, "It's always been the two of them against me and my dad.  It wasn't so bad when my dad lived with us, but when he left…" she trailed off, her implication clear.

"So you felt that the two of them were against you?" Ryan asked, not really getting the point.

"No, not so much against us.  That's not the right way to put it.  It was more like they were the same person.  My mom hates my dad, so my brother has to hate him, too.  When I was real little, I was more of an outsider, but when my dad left, they both just kinda ignored me.  I got more and more involved in sports as a way to be out of the house," she admitted.  "Volleyball was great because there are a lot of tournaments and clinics that I could go to that covered almost every school holiday.  During most summers I would go from one camp to the next, rarely coming home at all.  So, I don't really know my brother that well, in a way.  I've never called him on the phone, and I've never written to him.  I'm not even sure I have his address."

Ryan did her best to hide her frank amazement at this situation.  She had no idea what it would be like to have so little connection with one's family, and she was afraid she could not even empathize with her friend.  She was looking at Jordan, her compassion evident in her eyes, when the blonde said, "I guess I don't talk about them much because they seem dead to me.  I've tried to kill any longing I have to get mothering from her.  It's just not going to happen."

Blinking in shock, Ryan allowed herself to consider for the first time the fact that it was actually preferable for her mother to be dead than to have the distant, rancor-filled relationship that Jordan was left with.  She approached her friend and wordlessly wrapped her in a warm hug, feeling Jordan's body relax against hers.  "I'm sorry that's how it is for you, buddy," she whispered.

Jordan didn't reply with words, but she greedily soaked up the affection Ryan offered.  "Will you come to my house tomorrow?" Ryan asked.

"Aw…I don't want to intrude, Ryan," she said.  "I'm used to being alone on the holidays.  Don't worry about it."

"Thanksgiving has a lot of meaning for me," Ryan revealed as she lifted her head to look directly into Jordan's blue eyes.  "It lets me give thanks for all of the people who mean something to me.  You're one of those people, Jordan.  Please come to my house tomorrow and share the day with us."

The sad eyes grew a little brighter as Jordan looked at her friend for a long minute.  "Did any woman ever refuse you?" she asked fondly, patting Ryan's cheek.

Ryan smirked at her as she said, "Not a whole hell of a lot of 'em.  You're not gonna spoil my record, are you?"

"Not a chance," she said with a grin.  "Add me to your list of conquests."

Mia stumbled into the kitchen as they were still holding each other in a loose embrace.  "Get your hands off my woman," she growled playfully, pointedly removing Ryan's arms from her lover's waist.

"We were just making our Thanksgiving plans," Ryan said, obliquely chiding Mia for not bothering to make sure Jordan had a place to go.

The smaller woman looked up at her and twitched her head towards the door, giving Ryan a none-too-subtle hint to take her leave.  She did so, patting Jordan on the back as she left.

Mia led her friend over to a chair, waited for her to sit, then perched on her lap.  "I've been working on my mom all week, but she's adamant that Thanksgiving is just for the four of us.  I don't know why she's so hardheaded about this, but she won't let any of my other relatives come either.  It's just a thing for her, I guess."

"That's okay," Jordan said softly.  "I don't really mind being alone.  It seems important to Ryan that I go to her house, so I will, but it really doesn't matter to me.  It's just a day to eat too much."

Mia knew it was more than that, and she suspected that Jordan wanted more than that, but didn't think she'd ever get it from her family of origin.  "I wish we would have thought this through," she said, leaning her head against Jordan's.  "I would love to go up to Tahoe with you.  Maybe rent a little cabin.  We could have a big feast in front of a roaring fire."  She started to run her fingers through Jordan's hair, knowing that her touch always calmed the larger woman.  "Then we'd make love all night long in front of the fire, sharing a few glasses of wine and just being together."  She sighed heavily and said, "Doesn't that sound nice?"

"Yeah, it does."  Jordan's voice was wistful and bore an element of hope.  "Maybe someday?"

"Count on it," Mia said, kissing her soft cheek.  "We just need to figure out who's gonna prepare that nice dinner for us, 'cause it sure isn't going to be me!"

"Hey, don't look at me," Jordan smiled.  "I can just manage to make cocoa on a cold night."

"I'd have plenty to be thankful for if I had you all to myself, a big fire and a mug of cocoa," Mia decided.

"Can you build a fire?" Jordan asked, her blue eyes dancing.

"You and a mug of cocoa is plenty, too," Mia corrected.  "And just for the record, the cocoa's optional."

Jordan graced her with a full, relaxed smile, and Mia found herself drowning in those pale blue eyes.  "I have to leave soon, honey.  Will you come upstairs with me and let me show you how much I'm going to miss you?"

"Yes," she whispered, placing a gentle kiss on the corner of Mia's mouth.  "If I can show you the same."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Ryan sat in her room as she contemplated the phone call she knew she should make.  Gathering her courage, she checked her organizer and dialed the phone.

"Morris and Foster," the receptionist announced.

"Hi.  I'm looking for an associate named Sara Andrews."

"Her direct number is 312-3344.  Please hold, and I'll connect you."

"Sara Andrews," she answered almost immediately.

"Hi, Sara, it's Ryan," she replied.

"Hi," she said rather winsomely.  "I guess you did recognize me."

"Of course I recognized you!  But why didn't you say hello?"

"I don't know.  I saw your whole family there, and Jamie, and I just thought it was best if I didn't.  But I couldn't let you play a whole season without seeing at least one of your games.  You don't mind too much, do you?"

"Why would I mind?  I think it's sweet that you cared enough to come."

"Ryan, I care more than I can say," she said softly.  "I will always care for you."

Feeling the stab of longing she always felt when her friend expressed her emotions, Ryan tried to fend off the mood with a little humor.  "So…what did you think?  Do I still have it?"

"You've still got the magic," she said with a chuckle.  "I thought you were good in high school but…"

"Okay, okay, I've fished for enough compliments.  Now tell me how things are going for you."

"Things are okay.  I was spending most of my time on the freeway, so I got an apartment in the city."

"Really?  Where?"

"Marina.  Where else should a young corporate attorney live?"

"So, is the job okay?"

"It's about what I thought it would be.  There are some nice people that I work with, but it's not too exciting."

"Hey, don't you get bar results this week?"

"Did you have to remind me?  My stomach is in full spasm," she admitted.

"I thought you weren't that concerned.  You told me this summer that it didn't worry you a bit."

"Wishful thinking, I'm afraid.  If I don't pass, I have to take three months off work and study like a maniac again.  Add to that the humiliation of everyone at the firm knowing that you failed, and it doesn't help me sleep at night."

"I uh…I spoke to my Aunt Maeve," Ryan said.  "She saw your mom at church on Sunday."

"Did she tell her about my little coming out party?" Sara asked wryly.

"Yeah, she did.  Was it really bad?"

She sighed and said, "In a way, it was as bad as I'd ever imagined."  There was a short pause and Sara added, "But in another way, it was much easier than I had dreamed.  I did it, and we're all still alive."  She chuckled softly and said, "I used to dream that my dad fell over with a heart attack when I told him."

"Your mom said that your dad is being pretty rigid about this.  What are you going to do?"

"Not much I can do," she admitted.  "He said this is the last chance I have to turn around.  He thinks that if he gives me his permission, there will be no reason for me to try to change."

"Does he really think that you can switch your sexual orientation on and off?" Ryan asked incredulously.

"Apparently so," Sara replied quietly.

"I'm really sorry to hear that, Sara.  I can't imagine how it must feel to be estranged from your family."

"I'll survive.  I just feel like I had to draw a line in the sand, Ryan.  It's not like he just disagrees with me; he feels like he can force his opinions on me, and I just can't tolerate that."

"So what will you do tomorrow?"

"I don't know.  I've got a couple of invitations, but it just feels weird to be with someone else's family."

"Would it feel weird to be with mine?" Ryan asked softly.

"What?" she shouted so loudly that her secretary got up and closed Sara's door.

"You obviously heard me.  We're having a huge crowd, so it won't be anything formal.  Some other friends of mine will be there, so you won't be the only one who's not related…"

"Ryan, I appreciate the invitation, but your father would rather have the Ulster Unionists there than me."

"That's not true in the least, Sara.  We had a party after the Stanford game and my father was entirely pleasant to Jim Evans, and he practically tried to have me killed."

"So you're saying they'd welcome me with open arms, huh?"

"Well, no, I didn't say that," she admitted.  "But they'd rather have you than Jim Evans."

That caused Sara to let out a long, low laugh, and Ryan knew she had her.  "Oh, Ryan, I miss your sense of humor.  Nobody here can make me laugh like you do."

"Then come over tomorrow and get your fill," she demanded.  "There's only one way to get comfortable being with each other again, and that's the total O'Flaherty immersion program."

"Okay, Ryan, you know you could always talk me into anything.  But I'll only come on one condition: Jamie has to invite me."

"Huh?" she replied weakly.

"You heard me," she said.  "I'll only come if Jamie wants me there."

"Boy, you picked the right profession," she mused.  "You drive a very hard bargain."  She paused for a minute then asked, "Why is that important to you?"

"Because of where we left things, Ryan.  You made it clear that you didn't want the temptation of being around me.  It's one thing for you and me to assume the risk, but this affects Jamie, too.  If this is going to cause one problem in your relationship I will not come."

"Okay," Ryan said.  "I'll talk to her."

"That's my final offer.  I'll be here until five or so, but I'll give you my home number, too.  If Jamie isn't as enthusiastic as you are it's perfectly all right, okay?  No hard feelings."

"Okay, Sara.  I'll talk to you later," she said as she hung up quietly.

Well this should be fun, she thought with a shudder.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Jamie got back from the library nearly an hour after Ryan's practice finished.  When she walked into the bedroom, the computer was on but Ryan was lying on the bed with her eyes wide open, staring blankly at the ceiling.  She was a little afraid of announcing her presence, since Ryan's trances were often the precursors to some breakthrough or another; but they had to leave soon to avoid Thanksgiving traffic, so she slid onto the bed next to her partner and wrapped an arm around her waist.

"Hi," Ryan said, as though she had fully expected her partner to join her.

"You weren't in the middle of anything important, were you?"

"As a matter of fact I was thinking of one of the most important scientific discoveries of our time," she said firmly.

"What was it, sweetheart?" Jamie asked when it became clear that Ryan was being playful.

"I was thinking about you," she said softly as she trailed her fingers down Jamie's grinning face.

"Oh, I thought you were doing some math thingies," she chided gently.

"I was," she assured her.  "I was thinking of your name and assigning numbers to it.  You know like 'j' is the tenth letter of the alphabet and so on?"

"Uhh, yeah, I guess I see what you mean."

"Then I took all of the values, and I added them all together, but that didn't do much for me.  So then I multiplied the numbers in your first name together and then did the same for your last name.  When I subtracted one from the other I thought I might be onto something.  So, I did the same for my name.  And do you know what I found?"

"No…I'm quite sure I don't have any idea."

"I found absolutely nothing," she admitted with a quirky grin.  "But it was fun to think about your name for…" she paused as she looked at her watch quickly, "45 minutes."

Jamie reached over and placed her hand over Ryan's chin.  Tugging lightly, she turned her face until it was in exactly the same position as her own.  She scooted just a little bit closer and laced her fingers through the dark hair as she started to kiss her.  Her hand moved softly through the inky strands until it rested on Ryan's smooth cheek.  As she lifted her head she whispered, "Having you spend your time like that is more meaningful to me than if you had written me a sonnet."

"Touch me like that again," Ryan asked in a voice that was just a hair above a whisper.

"With my fingers in your hair?"

"Uh-huh, and on my cheek," she instructed as she closed her eyes and waited for the gentle touch.

Even more softly this time, Jamie ran her fingers all through the ebony tresses and trailed them lightly over Ryan's cheek.  She dipped her head and kissed her soft lips again and again until her partner was moaning with desire.  "I love it when you touch my face with your hands while you kiss me," Ryan whispered.  "It feels so intimate."

"I love it too," Jamie whispered as she closed her eyes and started to nibble on Ryan's soft lips.  Her touch was fleeting, and incredibly gentle, but after a few seconds Ryan's mouth opened slowly and she drew Jamie's tongue in.  Now the intensity began to build as Ryan wrapped her arms around her partner and pulled her on top of her body.  Her mouth was fully open now as she hungrily sucked and nipped on Jamie's darting tongue.  Grasping Ryan's flushed face with both of her hands, Jamie pulled up just a bit and gasped out, "Do you mind if we get stuck in traffic?"

"There could not be anything further from my mind right now," she replied softly.  "I need to feel your touch, Jamie.  Love me," she urged, and Jamie immediately decided that a little traffic paled in comparison to the chance to love the luscious woman who gazed up at her.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

An hour later they struggled out of the tangle of sheets and got into the shower together.  "Have I told you in the last five minutes what a devastatingly wonderful lover you are?" Jamie asked as she rested her head on Ryan's chest to protect her face from the needle-sharp spray.

"Five minutes?" she said reflectively.  "I don't think so.  But if Mia's home, she could probably repeat some of your enthusiastic praise."

"You know she's with her family, silly.  If there was a chance she would have come home I would have closed the door.  I had a feeling I was going to ravage you this afternoon."

"Did you now?"

"Yep.  I was thinking about your sexy body, and the way you smell, the whole time I was studying.  It was a struggle to stay in the library as long as I did."

"Well, I'm very proud of you," Ryan said, kissing her nose.  "Just for that, I'll give you another tumble before we go to bed."

"If you use that tongue like you just did, you can tumble me anywhere, anytime," she enthused.

"My tongue might have gotten me into trouble today," Ryan ventured, having decided to get the issue out of the way.

"What do you mean?"

"I invited someone over for dinner tomorrow without checking with you first."

"Oh, I forgot," Jamie said.  "So did I!"

"Who did you invite?" Ryan asked.

"I asked Ally," Jamie informed her.  "She called yesterday when we were at the game, and I jotted her number down on my way out of the house today."  She looked at Ryan carefully and asked, "You don't mind that I called her, do you?  She asked to speak with either of us."

"No," Ryan said, shaking her head.  "I don't mind."  She knew she was speaking too soon, and she also realized that she did, in fact, mind that Jamie had spoken with Ally, but she thought that was childish and didn't want to admit it.  "Why did you invite her?"

"She sounded sad," Jamie revealed.  "She called to wish us a happy Thanksgiving, and when I asked her what she was doing, she said nothing.  I knew you wouldn't want her to be alone, so I asked her."  She looked up at Ryan with her guileless green eyes and asked, "Did I do okay?"

"Of course you did," Ryan sighed, giving her a gentle hug.  "It's always a good thing to offer to share our family with people who don't have one.  You did great, babe."

Jamie giggled a little and revealed, "It felt kinda cool, honey.  I've never done that before, you know.  I never took anyone except Jack to my house for a holiday.  It wouldn't have occurred to me."

"I'm glad it occurred to you now," Ryan said decisively.

"Who did you ask?" Jamie queried.

"Well, I partially asked Sara," she said.  "But she won't come unless you ask her.  She took what I said last time very seriously, Jamie, and she wants to make sure that she won't harm our relationship if she comes over."

Jamie's brow furrowed and she asked, "Do you think it will hurt us to socialize with her?"

"No, I don't anymore," she said.  "I know I'll have feelings for her for a very long time, but I know I'll never act on them.  I'm feeling totally secure these days, babe, and I hope you are, too."

"I am," Jamie smiled.  "I'm feeling very secure, and very well loved."

"And you don't mind calling her?"

"No.  I think that's probably a good idea, anyway.  The last time we spoke I wasn't very friendly."

"You are one in a trillion," Ryan said happily.

"You're a very generous grader," Jamie teased.

"No I'm not.  You deserve a straight A average in the girlfriend department," she insisted as she placed an enthusiastic kiss on her lips.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Since so many people were expected, Martin decided that they needed five turkeys.  While the churchgoers were at Mass, Conor and Rory got all of the barbeques going-two with mesquite and two with regular charcoal.  Martin had put the biggest of the birds in the oven before Mass, so when they returned the whole house was permeated by the intense aroma of the roasting fowl.  "My mouth is watering, and it's only 10:15!" Ryan moaned.  "How will I be able to wait?"

"I can make you a little something," Martin offered, but she would not hear of it.

"I want to be famished by the time we eat.  I'm going to put on a display the likes of which you've never witnessed!" she predicted.

"Maybe I should have gotten six turkeys," Martin mused.

"I can load up on the dressing and sweet potatoes," Ryan assured him.  "You know how I love Thanksgiving, Da.  For the last week I put myself to sleep by thinking of Thanksgiving dinner.  I swear I've been looking forward to this meal for a month!"

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Continued in Part Ten

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