I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 11: Karma
By: S X Meagher
It was nearly five p.m. when they returned home to Berkeley that night, and
Ryan began to unleash her frustration as they came in the house. The issue of
her playing time had obviously been weighing on her mind, because she brought
it up as she sorted through the mail on the entry table. "Im not
saying Im better than the starting forwards, but when youre getting
your asses kicked, its time to try a different substitution pattern!"
she grumbled. "How does she know I cant help if she wont give
me a try?"
"Maybe you should speak to her, Ryan."
"Aww, coaches hate it when you take up their time to whine about playing time," she muttered. "I just have to make the most out of my three fucking minutes!"
Jamie came up and slid her arms around her grouchy partners waist. "This has never happened to you before, has it?"
"That you dont get to play much."
Ryan lifted her head as she considered the question. "I guess it hasnt, now that you mention it. But this is what happens the competition gets stiffer as you go up in class."
"Do you really think the other forwards are more talented than you are?"
"Uhm, I cant really say, Jamie. Thats Coach Hayes call. Theyre obviously doing what she wants, or shed give me more of a chance."
"Well, I still think you should talk to her. At least let her know that you want to contribute more."
"Well see," she said absently as she looked at the list of phone messages scribbled in Mias nearly indecipherable hand. "Does this say Rich Placer or Mick Jagger?" she asked.
"Do you know Mick Jagger?" Jamie chuckled.
"How can I know him if he wont call?" Ryan conceded absently as she carried her bag up the stairs.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
They were both too tired to cook, so Ryan offered to go pick up a pizza from Zacharys, leaving Jamie to unpack while she was gone. When she pulled into the driveway, she was surprised to see Catherines Mercedes. Hmm I didnt know Catherine was coming over. She must have been in the neighborhood.
"Hi there," Ryan smiled as her mother-in-law rose to greet her. "This is a nice surprise." Ryans eyes darted from Catherine to Jamie, and she knew immediately that something was very, very wrong.
A second, longer look revealed that Catherine was obviously upset, and had been crying. Ryan opened her arms and Catherine nestled into her embrace, leaning against her heavily while Ryans eyes frantically searched Jamies face seeing the same desolate sadness that filled her mothers eyes.
Catherine lifted her head and said, "As I just told Jamie, Ive had Jim served with papers, and Im going to file for divorce."
Jamie looked over at her partner with an ineffably wounded look, hearing the news for the second time not making it any more palatable.
"But I thought " Ryan started to say, but Catherine shook her head.
"I thought so, too, dear, but things havent worked out like I had hoped." She pursed her lips while shaking her head a little, looking like she was arguing with herself. "I wouldnt normally tell you details like this, but it wont make any sense if I dont." She lifted her head and squared her shoulders, saying, "I was watching the congressional session on C-SPAN on Wednesday and saw the woman Jim has been having the affair with. Shes still with him," she added in clarification, her lower lip quivering.
"Are you sure, Mom?" Jamie asked, her tone bordering on frantic. "Maybe theres a reasonable explanation "
"I spoke with your father, honey," she admitted. "He claims theyre no longer involved, but I just cant let myself believe that. He might be telling the truth, but I dont trust him enough to believe him."
"But what if he is telling the truth, Mom? Is it fair to let him try to work towards reconciliation, and then dump him because of a suspicion?" Jamie realized that her words sounded harsh, but she wanted to make sure her mother was thinking this through thoroughly.
"Maybe its not fair," she admitted softly, "but life isnt fair, dear. I was committed to giving this my best effort, and I think I have. It seems to me that my best isnt good enough." She sank into a chair, looking as if every iota of energy had been drained from her body. Having expressed all that she felt needed to be said, she fell silent. A silence that lengthened as Jamie and Ryan processed what was going on, and struggled for an appropriate, supportive response.
After her original question, Ryan hadnt ventured another word. She finally walked over to Catherine and sank to her knees in front of her. Catherines head cocked slightly in question, and Ryan silently extended her arms, offering an embrace. Leaning forward, Catherine fell against her, while Ryan held her tightly, saying simply, "Im so sorry."
Though Jamie was devastated by the unexpected turn of events, she took the cue from her partner, and stopped trying to cross-examine her mother. She moved across the room and joined Ryan, cuddling up against her mothers side as she hugged her tight. "Im sorry, too, Mom. I know you tried your best. He got more chances than he deserved."
Catherine sniffed a little, trying to maintain her composure, drawing comfort from the obvious love in the embraces encircling her. "I couldnt have gotten through this a year ago, Jamie. Youve helped me find strength I didnt know I had."
The younger woman kept her arms tight around her mother. "Well get through this, Mom. Well be there for you whenever you need us."
"You already have been, sweetheart." Catherine smiled, focusing not on what she had lost, but rather on what she still had. "You already have been."
* * * * * * * * * * *
They convinced Catherine to stay while they ate, but she had no appetite, and didnt join them. The hours passed slowly, since none of the women had much to say each of them struggling with her own feelings. At around nine, Catherine stood and said, "Id better get going."
She looked so lost and alone, that Jamie immediately protested. "I dont want you to be alone tonight, Mom. Please stay with us."
"No, honey," Catherine protested. "Ive taken up your whole evening. Theres nothing more to say, anyway."
"It doesnt matter if we talk," Jamie insisted. "I just dont want you driving home tonight." She walked over to her chair and sat on the arm. "Please?"
Catherine shook her head decisively. "Im really fine," she said. "You neednt worry about me."
Ryan finally spoke up. "We do worry about you, Catherine. Both of us do. Id feel better if youd spend the night, but if you wont do that, well drive you home. Whatever you prefer."
"Oh, I wish I had just called," she sighed. "I hate to be a burden."
"Thats so far from the truth that its not even in the ballpark," Jamie insisted. "Youre not burdening us, Mom. Were sharing this with you. Thats a very different thing. Were all sad Lets spend the evening supporting each other, okay?"
"Okay," Catherine finally agreed, the tiniest of smiles curving her lips. "Well have a sleepover."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"How ya doing?" Ryan asked gently as she sat down on the bed after they had Catherine squared away in Ryans room.
Jamie looked at her for a second, and then climbed onto her lap, knowing that Ryans touch would help her calm herself. "Im sad Im disappointed Im angry with my father for his inability to control himself Im a little angry with Mother for starting down the path of reconciliation if she was going to give up so soon Im sad for both of them." She rested her head against Ryans neck and sighed. "Im sad for myself, too. I want my parents to love each other, Ryan."
"Of course you do," the larger woman soothed. "Thats a very natural reaction, honey. Every child is affected by divorce no matter how old you are."
"I guess thats true," Jamie murmured. "Im just a little disappointed in myself. I want to be there for my mom I dont want to be so wrapped up in my own feelings right now. Shes the one whos in pain."
"So are you," Ryan reminded her. "And if you let yourself experience whatever feelings you have even the ucky ones youll be able to be there for her when she needs you."
"Howd you get so smart?" Jamie asked softly as she leaned back in her partners embrace and settled a few flyaway strands of her hair.
"I learned that in my grief support group after Michael died," she said. "I was having terrible nightmares for a while, and one day the group leader got me to admit that I was furious with him for dying. As soon as I let that out, the nightmares stopped, and I was able to get past my anger and let myself feel the loss."
"That was a long time ago, and you were just a kid," Jamie marveled. "Howd you remember that all of this time?"
"I use it a lot," Ryan explained. "It was honestly one of the most important lessons Ive ever learned. If I can allow myself to feel the dark, ugly emotions that always come up when something upsetting happens, Im able to let my gentle feelings come up, too. Its like the bad ones have to come out to let the good ones flow."
"Do you have bad feelings about my parents divorce?" the smaller woman asked softly.
"Yeah, I do," Ryan admitted, "but I dont want to share them. It works better for me if I keep them to myself." She waited a second and said, "But feel free to share yours if it helps. It just doesnt work for me."
"Okay, if something comes up I might, but this is probably the kind of thing its best to share with Anna. Its nice to have a therapist at times like this," she sighed.
"You might need to see her a few extra times. The holidays are gonna be hard for you if theres a lot of strife between your parents."
"Okay. I might do that," she agreed.
"Are you going to call your dad?"
"Yeah," Jamie said softly. "Ill call him before I leave for class. Im not looking forward to it," she added needlessly.
* * * * * * * * * * *
When Ryan emerged from the bath the next morning, Jamie was sitting at her desk chair, her head in her hands. "Well, the deed is done," she declared, looking up when she heard Ryan enter.
"How was he?"
"Not good. He was going to come home for Thanksgiving to surprise me. Mother called him on Wednesday night to tell him to stay in Washington."
"Oh, Jamie, Im so sorry. He must really be in pain."
"He is. He swears that he hasnt slept with his mistress since the weekend of the Stanford game. I believe him, Ryan, I really do. I think he was making a totally sincere effort here."
Ryan gave her a sympathetic look, trying not to allow her own grave doubts to show. "I guess it doesnt matter if hes telling the truth at this point. Its your moms decision, and only her opinion matters."
"I know, I know, and Im going to try my best not to get in the middle. Daddy actually begged me to try to get Mother to listen to him but I cant, Ryan. This has to be between them."
"I know itll be tough to stay neutral, babe, but I really think it would be a mistake to get involved. You have no power here you can only be pulled in both directions."
"I know, but its hard to say no when I hear him crying on the phone. He was sitting in his office on Thanksgiving, Ryanwith no one to talk to. We were all having a blast, and he was alone." She looked out the window as she bit her lip to keep from crying. "It just doesnt seem fair."
"Its not," Ryan agreed. "Especially if hes telling the truth."
"Especially then," Jamie agreed.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jamies focus was far from sharp when she showed up for golf practice. The morning was crisp, cold, and windier than she liked, so she spent some extra time stretching before she started to work. Scott Godfrey, the head coach, nodded at her, and she gave him as warm a smile as she could muster. "Have a nice Thanksgiving?" he asked.
"Yeah, it was fine. How about yours?"
"Great. This was Elizabeths first Thanksgiving, so we had more than the usual supply of relatives show up. I think my wife is really glad that its over." He rubbed his hands together and said, "Its really freezing today, isnt it?"
"I just got back from Colorado Springs last night, and compared to that, this weather feels positively balmy," she joked.
"Were you skiing?"
"No. My partner, Ryan, is on the basketball team. They had to go all the way to Colorado to get their butts kicked."
He cocked his head and commented, "I thought Ryan was on the volleyball team."
"She was. But the seasons over, and she felt compelled to jump right into another sport."
"Are you opposed to her playing basketball, Jamie? You certainly dont sound very happy about it."
"No," she said, shaking her head. "Im not opposed to her playing. Ill admit that I dont care for the chemistry on the team, but she thinks she can help improve that."
After a moment, he asked, "What do you think of ours?"
"Our chemistry," he clarified. "How does it compare with what youve seen with Ryans teams."
"Mmm Id say were right in the middle of the two extremes that shes experienced this year. The volleyball team was a very tightly knit group. They really liked one another, and they socialized quite a bit as well as playing together. But the basketball team is very cliquish, and I get the impression they dont like to be around one another more than is absolutely necessary."
"And where do we fit into the continuum?" he asked.
"Well, I dont detect a lot of camaraderie, and I dont think many of the girls socialize, but I also dont see any antagonism or jealousy. Were all polite to one another, and we joke around in the locker room, but thats it. To be honest, we dont know each other well enough to have much to talk about."
He shook his head. "I wish we had the budget to do some things to build some team spirit. All I can afford is the one weekend before our first tournament in Vallejo."
"Its really an individual sport, Scott. I dont see that its possible to do much to bring the team together. For what its worth, this is no different than my high school team was."
"Things were a little different last year," he commented. "We had three seniors who were all very gregarious. The younger girls really followed their lead."
"This is a pretty quiet group," Jamie observed.
"Yeah, and it doesnt help that the team is so young. With four freshman and only two seniors it has been hard to keep the spirit from last year going. Youre brand new, and Juliet is well, shes just not the type to spend her time getting to know the other players."
Jamie chuckled and said, "I dont think Ive ever heard her speak."
"Id guess that shes the most focused player Ive ever been around," Scott mused. "Her goal is to turn pro as soon as she graduates, and I think shes honestly got a chance."
"I havent seen her course management skills, but shes a heck of a ball striker," Jamie agreed. "She has one of the most beautiful swings Ive ever seen, too."
"Yeah, I wish I could take credit for helping her build that swing, but she had it when she got here," he chuckled.
"Id better get busy if I want to build my own swing," Jamie joked. "Ill try to think of some ways to promote a little harmony, Scott. Its just hard when we have to practice at the beginning of the day. Not having our own course makes things tough."
"It does," he agreed. "But were never going to get a course, so well just have to be more creative."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Scott had spent time with Jamie the previous week, giving her a few tips on improving her draw shot. She worked on that diligently, then spent another hour going through her entire bag, hitting 15 or 20 balls with each club. Scott and his assistant, Evan Foster, split their time among all of the women, spending a few minutes watching each and offering tips where needed. By the time Jamie was finished, only Juliet remained. It was not quite 8, and she didnt have class until 10, so Jamie sat down at the base of a practice bunker to watch her teammate.
Even though theyd been practicing at the same facility for nearly three months, Jamie could not remember saying more than a total of 20 words to Juliet. However, after talking with Scott, she decided that she needed to start being a little more aggressive about making friends on the team. She actually felt a little guilty about her own self-involvement, but she selfishly wanted to spend every minute of her free time with Ryan. Youre going to have a lifetime with Ryan, she reminded herself. If youre going to be a member of this team, youve got to make an effort to help turn it into a real team, rather than a collection of individuals.
She spent at least a half hour watching Juliets nearly perfect swing. When the woman finally stopped and began to stretch, catching Jamie out of the corner of her eye, she turned around in surprise and said, "Uhm hi." Looking over her shoulder just to make sure Jamie wasnt looking at someone else, she asked, "Are you uhm waiting for me?"
"No, not really," Jamie smiled. "I dont have class until 10, so I thought Id hang out for a bit."
"Youve been watching me?" Juliet asked, obviously puzzled.
"Well, if Im going to sit and watch a teammate, youre the one Im going to choose," Jamie answered honestly. "Might as well try to learn from the best."
"You uhm think Im the best?" Juliet asked, a small smile forming.
"I know you dont pay a lot of attention to whats going on around here, Juliet, but you dont seem oblivious," Jamie chuckled. "Its no secret that youre the best player on the team."
The woman just shrugged, looking uncharacteristically shy. "I just work hard," she said.
"A lot of talent and hard work are a great combo," Jamie said. Looking at her watch, she asked, "Do you have time to get some coffee?"
"Uhm not today," Juliet said. "I have class at 9." She hesitated a beat, then added, "I could tomorrow, though. My first class is at 11."
"11, huh? My first is at 11, too. Why dont we come out early and play a round after we practice for a while. Im sure Scott would let us cut practice short."
Juliet nodded. "Id like that. Its getting tough to get 18 in after class, now that it gets dark so early."
"Where do you usually play?" Jamie asked.
"Here at Tilden, mostly. I usually go home to Sacramento on the weekends, though. I can get in a lot more holes, since the course is much less crowded. On a good day, I can play three rounds."
Jamie gave her a warm smile and said, "You do work hard, doncha?"
"Yep. I know what I want, Jamie. I might not get it, but I swear I wont fail because of a lack of effort." Her watch alarm went off and she hefted her bag onto her shoulder. "Gotta go. See you bright and early tomorrow, okay?"
"Its a date," Jamie smiled. She watched Juliet practically sprint for the parking lot, thinking, It wasnt a huge gesture, but I feel good about at least trying to form a friendship.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie stopped back by the house after practice to find her mother and Mia in the kitchen, chatting companionably. "How are you feeling?" Jamie asked when she crossed the room to offer a kiss.
"Better," Catherine said. "A good nights rest made a big difference. You were right, as usual, honey. Im sure I slept better knowing that you were close by. I only woke up once, which is a big improvement. When I couldnt get back to sleep I almost took a crack at playing that elaborate drum set that I assume must be Ryans," she chuckled.
"Howd you guess?" Jamie asked wryly. "I gave it to her for her birthday, but shes barely had time to break it in."
Mia stood and walked over to her friend. "Ive got to get going now. Im really sorry to hear the news," she said, meeting Jamies eyes.
"Thanks. Well get through this, wont we, Mom?"
"We will, Jamie. Were tougher than we look."
"Thats a relief," Mia joked, bending to kiss Catherines cheek.
* * * * * * * * * * *
As she was walking out of her morning class, Jamie reached down to her waistband to retrieve her ringing phone. "Yesss," she drawled.
"How do you always know its me?" Ryan asked. "Or do you use that sexy drawl with everyone?"
"No, just you. And I know its you because youre the only person who knows my schedule so intimately," she revealed. "Whats up, babe?"
"I have good and bad news," Ryan said with a note of mystery in her voice.
"Hmm, give me the bad first," she decided.
"Ive been asked to try out for the national volleyball team," she replied, unable to keep the enthusiasm out of her voice.
"Thats the bad news?" Jamie shouted, unable to control her excitement.
"Well, its both," Ryan admitted. "Its good news since its a huge honor, but its bad news since it requires me to make some hard choices."
"Are you at home?"
"Im coming home for lunch," she said decisively. "I have to congratulate you properly!"
A half hour later, Jamie rode up to the house and automatically matched the grin on her beaming partners face. Ryan hopped off the top step and trotted over to the bike, lowering it to the ground. "I am so proud of you!" Jamie cried as she threw her arms around Ryans neck.
"Thanks, honey," she mumbled into her shoulder. "Im pretty excited myself."
"Well you should be! I guarantee youre the only woman with only two years experience at the college level who got invited."
"Actually, a couple of freshmen got invited, including that cutie from Stanford, but I am the only 24-year-old."
"It just makes me so happy that you were able to play this year," Jamie said as her eyes welled up with tears. "Its wonderful to see you this excited about something."
Ryan grasped her hand, and pulled her into the house. They jointly prepared soup and sandwiches, and a half hour later when Mia came wandering in, she had to laugh at the scene. Jamie was perched on Ryans lap feeding her spoonfuls of soup like a bird feeding her young. "You two are so cute," she said affectionately as she ruffled Jamies hair.
"Have you seen Jordan?" Ryan asked as she craned her head around to make eye contact.
"Not in the last 15 seconds or so," she said as Jordan came strolling in.
Ryan urged Jamie off her lap as she jumped up and threw her arms around her teammate. "Congratulations!" she said as she gave her a rough squeeze.
Jordan leaned back in the embrace and asked suspiciously, "How did you know?"
"Coach told me when I talked to him this morning," she said without elaboration.
"Why were you talking to Coach?"
"Cause I got invited too," she said, her eyebrows bouncing wildly.
Jordan let out a joyous cry and jumped into Ryans arms. "Thats so cool! That little rat didnt say a word about you!"
"He wanted to tell me first, and since I was out of town he didnt get hold of me until this morning," Ryan explained. "But since he had already talked to you, he was free to tell me about you."
"Ryan, were going to have so much fun!" Jordan cried again, but another looked showed that Ryan did not share her exuberance. "Whats wrong?" she asked.
Ryan put her back on the ground and said, "Umm, were not sure that Im going to accept."
"Not accept? Are you nuts! Youll never get another chance to go to the Olympics, Ryan. How can you possibly not accept?"
"There are a ton of repercussions to accepting this invitation, Jordan. Im just not sure if I can turn my life upside down right now."
Jordan sank down heavily into a chair as she let out a breath. "Boy, you jacked me up awfully high only to cut me right back down."
"Im sorry, but we have to spend some time discussing this. Its not an obvious choice for me."
"You two can discuss it, but I have to get back to school," Jamie announced. "I love you, Tiger," she said softly as she kissed Ryans lips gently. "And Im very, very proud of you." Walking over to Jordan she bent to offer her a kiss also. "Youre not so bad yourself, Jordan," she said affectionately, patting her cheek.
Jordan looked at Ryan as soon as Jamie left the room and asked, "Doesnt she want you to go?"
"No, thats not it at all. Shes very much in favor of my going. I think shes a little confused by my reluctance, too. I guess its hard for me because this isnt something I was planning for. I mean, Id been scouted for the national team in soccer since I was 14. Im pretty sure I would have made the team after my freshman year in college if I had gone to Cal at first. That was always my goal, and after that died I just put thought of the Olympics and World Cup aside. Ill admit it was hard to let it die, but once it did, I didnt expect to resurrect it again."
"But this just fell into your lap, Ryan. Its a tremendous gift!"
"I know, Jordan. But Id have to drop out of school for at least a semester even if I didnt make the darned team. If I did that, I would not only not graduate this year, Id have to put graduate school off another year."
"But whats your rush?" she demanded. "Itll all be here when we get back with our gold medal."
"There are things I want to do," she explained. "We want to wait to have a child until Im out of grad school. Delaying that a year just slows our time table down."
"Jamie could go first," Jordan reminded her.
"I know, but I like the way weve planned things. Besides, if I do this, Jamie will have to drop out and come with me. I couldnt be away from her for almost nine months."
"But its the Olympics, Ryan," she moaned. "This is not just some small thing."
"I know, Jordan, but Im also tied to the basketball team. Its not fair to just ditch them."
"Thats a joke," she scoffed. "The equipment manager plays as much as you do!" Ryan shot her a stunned, hurt look, and Jordan rose to come stand behind her chair. She put her hands on the strong shoulders and gave her a gentle massage. "I know how good you are, Boom, and it just kills me that your stupid coach doesnt. I listened to your game on the Internet on Sunday, and there was a good ten-minute period where you would have sparked them in a big way. What in the hell is wrong with her anyway?"
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, but she doesnt seem to share your enthusiasm," Ryan said glumly.
"Well if youre going to let that be a big factor in your decision, you had better ask her if shes going to use you. Its dumb to pass up the Olympics to ride the pine."
"Youve got a point there, but thats not the only factor. I loved playing volleyball this year, but now that Im on a team I dont really like, it reminds me of how much chemistry matters on a team. What we had this year was really special, and thats why I loved it. Im not sure I love volleyball enough to devote nine months of my life to it if I wasnt crazy about my teammates."
"Youre crazy about me," Jordan reminded her with a shy grin.
"Now thats the absolute truth," she agreed.
Mia had been silently observing this entire dialogue, but she finally got up and took Jordans hand. "Excuse us, Ryan, but I promised Jordan lunch, and weve only got an hour to spare."
As they left the kitchen and started for the stairs, Ryan pointed out. "Foods in the kitchen, girls."
"Thats not what Jordan has a craving for," Mia said lightly as she tossed her curly brown hair and shot Ryan a wink.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
After practice, Ryan decided that Jordan and Jamie were right she had to get some indication from Coach Hayes as to her plans for the season, as well as take care of some special arrangements she needed to make. "Hey, Coach?" she called as she started to walk back to her office.
"Do you have a few minutes to discuss a couple of things?"
She looked at her watch and warned, "My family is waiting for me for dinner, Ryan. Is it quick?"
"Uhm, probably not," she said honestly. "Ill make an appointment."
Coach Hayes looked at the concerned face for a moment and relented. "Come on, if its important enough to make that face, I guess I can spare a few minutes."
"Im not very good at hiding my feelings," she admitted as she tagged along beside her coach. When they reached the office, Ryan asked, "Do you mind if I get out of my wet jersey?"
"Go ahead. Ill call home while you change."
A few minutes later, Ryan walked back into the office in a dry T-shirt and her warm up jacket. She sat down in the chair facing the desk, and waited for the coach to hang up the phone. When she did, she gazed at the younger woman and said, "Youre right when you say you dont hide your feelings well, Ryan. Its obvious youre unhappy with your playing time, but I need you to know that I dont explain my decisions to every unhappy player."
Ryan was a bit taken aback by her comments, but she immediately regained her poise and said, "I do want to ask what your plans for me are, but not for the reason you suspect. Ive been asked to try out for the volleyball national team, but I have no intention of doing so if it would let the basketball team down. So my real question is, do you think you need me enough to give up this opportunity?"
Coach Hayes leaned back in her chair and stared at Ryan for a moment. "I didnt realize you were that talented at volleyball," she said slowly.
"Im not sure I am, but its nice to be asked to try out. And just for the record, Coach, I never would question your judgment about playing time. I admit Im disappointed that I havent been allowed to contribute more, but I trust you to make the correct decisions for the benefit of the entire team."
"Good," the older woman said briskly. "Now, how can I help you?"
"Well, as I said, I like to play basketball, Coach. I made a commitment to play for this team, and I intend to honor that commitment if youre relying on me."
"I dont understand how my input affects your commitment, Ryan. A commitment is just that. If you want to break your promise to the team, thats your decision. Im not going to make it easy for you by telling you it doesnt matter."
The player blew out a frustrated breath and lowered her head, staring at the floor for a moment. "Look, Ryan," the older woman said., "I appreciate the spot youre in, but I dont want to be the one to make this decision for you. I cant promise you that youll play much if at all. Theres a good chance that youll end up being the best player on the team, but things could just as easily go the other way. You have to do what you think is right."
Ryan forced her mouth into a smile. "Thanks for being honest with me, Coach. I need to decide within the next day or two, so Ill let you know."
"Good," the older woman said as she stood.
"One more thing," Ryan spoke up. "Im scheduled to take a math test on the day of our game down at Fresno State. Its a national thing, and its scheduled for that morning. I can get the okay for a delayed start, but I have to take it that day and that day only."
"And?" the coach asked, arching an eyebrow.
"And I wanted to know if I could fly home, rather than take the bus. Theres a five oclock flight that would allow me to get to school by around six-thirty, if its on time."
Narrowing her gaze, the coach asked, "What makes you so sure that the game will be over in time for you to make the flight?"
"Well," she said, flushing a little under the gray-eyed scrutiny, "I dont really play that many minutes, Coach. I thought I could leave at four, whether or not the games over."
The older woman drew in a breath and said, "Ryan, if thats your attitude, you may as well quit. Either youre a member of the team, or youre not. Making your own schedules and traveling separately indicate a real inability to understand what a team is all about." She stood to go, arching her eyebrow again as she cocked her head. "Is there anything else?"
Ryan stood, shaking her head the entire time. "Ill stay for the game and ride home with the team," she said quietly. "I have to be accompanied by a faculty member for the entire time period of the test. Are you willing to keep an eye on me from nine to noon, and one to three on that day?"
"Thats my job, Ryan," she said, giving her a small, insincere smile. "I keep my eye on everyone."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Being in a bit of a fog when she left the office, Ryans distraction caused her to slam into Lynette, who was trying to enter. "Oh, shit!" she cried as she immediately reached out and grabbed the assistant coachs shoulders to steady her.
"Jesus! No wonder you play such good defense! If I ran into you on a pick, I wouldnt be in a hurry to repeat the experience!"
"Im really sorry, Lynette," Ryan said as she looked at the assistant carefully to assess the damage. "I just wasnt paying attention."
Lynette returned her look of concern, and nodded her head in the direction of the office. "Were you speaking to the coach?"
"Is anything wrong? You didnt quit did you?"
"Ah, no, why assume something is wrong?"
"Well, she doesnt spend much time talking to players. Thats our job," she explained, meaning she and the other assistant coaches.
"I got that impression," Ryan conceded. "Do you have time to talk to me for a few minutes, Lynette?"
Lynette gave her a genuine smile and said, "I always have time, Ryan. Thats my job."
"Is it against your policy to fraternize with players?"
"No," she said with a gentle laugh. "I dont know of any other way to get to know people."
"How about dinner at my house?"
"Yeah. Let me just call Jamie and see if she minds," she said as she pulled her phone out of her gym bag.
Lynette waited patiently as a grin spread across Ryans face. "I still dont know how you always know its me," she chuckled.
After a pause she smirked and said, "Jamie, I do not believe that the phone rings differently when I call, but its sweet that you think so." Her smile grew bigger as she said, "I will tell you. Would you mind if I brought Lynette Dix home for dinner?" She looked at Lynette and nodded as she said, "I knew you wouldnt mind, but I think its polite to check. Well be there in ten minutes, honey. I love you."
As she hung up she smiled and said, "I came on Rollerblades. Do you want to run alongside or drive me home?"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Ten minutes later they were sitting in the cozy kitchen, preparing to eat the delightful coq au vin that Jamie had prepared. Ryan had filled Lynette in on her conversation with Coach Hayes on the way to the house, but she took a minute to bring Jamie up to speed.
"So what are you really looking for Ryan?" Lynette asked as she took a sip of the wine Ryan had just poured for her. "Do you want advice on whether to accept the offer from the volleyball program, or do you want my opinion on whether well use you more this season?"
Ryan leaned back in her chair and took a sip from her glass as she gazed at the coach thoughtfully. "Neither, actually," she said. "I want your opinion on whether Im an addition to the team, or a distraction."
"Thats it?" she asked in surprise.
"Yeah. If I decide not to try out for the Olympic team, I want to stay and contribute if Im wanted. But I have no interest in investing my time if itll just make things worse."
"Coach didnt give you any feedback, did she?" she asked knowledgably.
Ryan just shook her head.
"Okay, Ill give you my take. Well be a better team when you get more minutes. And nothing makes a team gel as well as winning. So I predict that if you stay, things will get substantially better on the court. But I cant guarantee that will translate to off the court."
Jamie brought the heavy cast iron Dutch oven over to the table as she asked, "Why do you think the team is so fragmented, Lynette?"
"Boy, this smells delicious, Jamie," she said appreciatively. "I dont get many home cooked meals." She leaned over her bowl and took another deep whiff as she smiled again. "I dont even want to wait until it cools, so Ill answer your question to distract myself. Obviously I cant tell you too much, since some of the things I know are confidential. Lets just say that the team has gotten a little more cliquish in each of the five years Ive been here. We havent had much leadership from the upperclassmen, and, as you know, they set the tone for a team. But I honestly dont see much of that changing. I just worry because I can see the freshmen already being infected by it."
"I see that too," Ryan said. "It seems like Frannys afraid to speak."
"Yeah. Blacks, whites, freshmen and Eastern Europeans," she said wryly. "It must seem just like back home in the Balkans for the Croatian girls."
"So just Janae, Franny and I are not in a clique?"
"Pretty much," Lynette admitted.
Ryan nodded her head slowly, looking as if she had made up her mind. "Thats what I thought. It looks like well have to either take over one of the other cliques or start one of our own."
"Youre gonna need some luck, Ryan," the older woman warned. "The teams not only fragmented, I think most of the players like being in their little groups. I dont see that theyre motivated to leave them."
"Ryans very persuasive," Jamie assured her, exchanging a fond look with her partner.
"I dont doubt that, Jamie," Lynette agreed, "but this task could be beyond even Ryans skills."
Well just see about that, Ryan decided, already trying to figure out how to appeal to the small groups.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Did it help to get Lynettes perspective on the team?" Jamie asked when they were getting ready for bed.
"Yeah, I guess so," Ryan said. "I know we have our work cut out for us, but I still think Janae and I can make a difference."
"Correct me if Im wrong, but it sounds like youve made up your mind."
"No, I really havent, Jamie. I wont make that decision without you."
"Uh-uh, Ryan. I dont want any part in this one," the smaller woman said, shaking her head decisively. "This has to be your decision. Youre the one who will have to put out the effort, so youre the one that needs to decide."
"But your life will be thrown upside down, too," Ryan insisted, wide-eyed.
"I know it will, but not as radically as yours will be." She put her arms around her partner, and said, "Im not in as big a hurry to graduate, and Im not in a hurry to start to work. Living in Colorado Springs for a year could be a kick," she smiled. "I love to ski, and I could really work on my technique while youre jumping through the roof of the gym." She gave Ryan such a look of devotion that the larger woman felt her heart swell with love.
"Youre such a wonderful partner," she sighed. "So supportive so caring."
"All true," Jamie smiled. "And youll be there for me if ever the situation is reversed."
"All true as well," Ryan confidently agreed. She placed a gentle kiss on the top of Jamies head and said, "I should be able to decide about the Olympics once I get a little more information. Then I need to decide if I want to stay on the basketball team if I dont go to Colorado."
"How are you feeling about that?"
"Its one thing if I quit to join the Olympic team," she said. "Its a very different thing to quit just because I dont like it. As much as it pissed me off, Coach Hayes had a good point. I did make a commitment, and I have to decide if my word is worth more than my happiness."
The smaller woman rubbed Ryans back and said, "They have a commitment to you too, Ryan. Are they living up to it?" Ryan blinked at her, an almost vacant look in her blue eyes. Jamie explained, "They have a commitment to make the team as good as it can possibly be. That includes taking the time to figure out that youre a fantastic player, and can help them a great deal."
Ryan nodded, a confused look on her face. "I guess thats true," she mused.
"They have a commitment to help you develop as a player, Ryan. They have an obligation to treat you with some respect. They cant throw a group of people together and just expect them to survive," she insisted. "They have to do their jobs, so the players can do theirs."
Looking absolutely stunned by Jamies words, she said, "Ive never thought of it like that. I guess it does go both ways."
"Look, Ryan, I know that your word means a great deal to you, but dont let your promise stop you from getting something that you really want."
Ryan nodded tentatively, "Ill try not to." She sighed, then yawned loudly. "This has been a bitch of a day!"
"Oh, I noticed that you got a note from Moira," Jamie said. "How is she?"
"Good," Ryan said, slipping into bed and cuddling up to Jamie when she joined her. "She just wanted to thank us for the hospitality. Boy, I hate that we spent so little time together. Normally, Im like her little shadow when shes here."
"Shes really special to you, isnt she?"
"Oh, yeah," Ryan sighed. Turning to look closely at her partner, a note of concern in her blue eyes, she asked, "Didnt you think she was special?"
"Yes, I did. I was particularly charmed by how much she seems to love you, but even without that vital trait, she was a very cool woman. Not very much like Maeve at all, much to my surprise."
"No, shes really not. Shes much more like my mom," Ryan agreed. "I think thats why she and my mom werent overly close they were too much alike."
"But she and your mom got on well, didnt they?"
"Oh, sure. They were friends, but they werent as close as my mom and my Aunt Maeve they were inseparable." Ryan paused thoughtfully and said, "You know, my mom didnt really want to come to America. She was perfectly happy in Ireland. As a matter of fact, I think she would have worked on my father to return if she had lived. She wasnt all that crazy about the United States she thought it was a very dangerous place to raise kids."
"Did she come only because of your aunt?"
"Yeah, pretty much. Well, my aunt and my father," Ryan grinned. "She apparently fell in love with him at first sight."
"I know exactly how she felt," Jamie sighed as she scooted closer, and wrapped her arm around Ryans waist. "I can still remember the flip my stomach did the first time you turned around, and I got a look into those baby blues."
"Aww, you say the sweetest things," Ryan smiled.
"I speak the truth," Jamie assured her. "I still get the same flutter when you look at me now, you know."
"Like this?" Ryan asked softly, as she locked her eyes upon her partner and gave her a sexy smile.
"Works every time," Jamie insisted as she captured the pink lips with her own.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Part 4
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