I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 11: Karma

By: S X Meagher

Part 4

When the alarm went off at 5 a.m., two groggy women struggled to their feet. "You don’t have to get up yet, honey," Ryan yawned.

"Yeah, I do," Jamie mumbled. "I’m gonna try to do the same thing with my team that you’re doing with yours. Today I’m going to play a round with the only other senior. I thought I might be able to work on her a little to see if we can try to be leaders."

"Wow, that’s kinda cool," Ryan said. "What’s her name?"

"Juliet. She’s the one who wants to try to make it on the pro tour."

"Oh, yeah, you’ve mentioned her. Is she nice?"

"From what I know of her, she is. Yesterday was the first time we’ve really spoken," Jamie admitted. "I should have a better feel for her after today."

"Wanna shower together?" Ryan asked. "If we’ve got to get up this early, we might as well have a little something to look forward to."

"Sounds like a plan," Jamie agreed, "but you keep those little Irish hands to yourself, or we’ll never make it."

"I will if you will," the dark woman promised. "You’re usually the naughty one."

"My secret is out." Jamie wrapped her arms around her naked lover and gave her a very friendly hug. "I’ll save my naughty thoughts for tonight, Hot Stuff."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later that morning, Ryan walked through the deserted halls of the athletic department offices, and found Coach Placer just as he was opening his door. "Well, well, to what do I owe the honor?" he asked happily when he caught sight of her.

She yawned cavernously, then apologized. "Sorry about that. I’ve been getting up extra early to study for a math competition." She smiled and said, "I’ve been staring at formulas since six."

He shook his head and patted her on the back, guiding her into the office. "Nobody can say you’re not a hard worker, Ryan. It’s women like you that make this job so rewarding."

"Thanks," she beamed. "Given how much I respect you, that really means a lot." She sat down in the chair in front of his desk and waited for him to take his seat. "I’ve got some questions, and I think you’re the only person who might have the answers," she informed him.

"Sure, Ryan. Tell me what’s on your mind."

"It’s the volleyball tryouts," she explained. "I’m betting that you know more than you’ve told me about them. I’m gonna guess that you even have a pretty good idea of what my chances are of actually making the team," she said with a raised eyebrow.

"Why would you think that?" he asked.

"I just think that coaches are a pretty tight lot. I bet you’ve heard some rumors, or have some idea of what the outcome might be, but you don’t want to tell me."

"Hmm, now why would I do that?" he asked with a sly smile.

"Probably because you wanted me to enjoy the thrill of being asked, and you think I might enjoy just going out there for the experience."

"I see," he said somberly. "Well, let’s say you’re correct. Would my assumptions have been incorrect?"

"In my case, yes. I’d have to defer a lot of my plans if I go, not the least of which is graduating this year. I’m really only interested in attending if I have a good shot at making the team."

"What do you know about the team, Ryan?"

"I know that most of the players have been together for years," she said. "And I don’t know how many players they can carry, but I can only imagine that not many slots are open. I think they invite a lot of college players to keep good relations with the college coaches, and reward people for having a good season. But my guess is that they’ve identified who they want while the player is still in high school. If they progress like they expect them to, they pull them onto the team after they graduate and have really proven themselves for four years."

"How’d you get so savvy?" he asked with a smile.

"I was one of those people that the soccer federation had hand picked while I was in high school. That’s how it seemed to work."

"You’re just about dead on correct," he admitted. "I think they might take three women from this tryout."

"How many were invited?"

"25," he said rather gravely. "And I can also tell you that their biggest need is at middle blocker."

"What do you think Jordan’s chances are?"

"I think they’re good, but she’s gonna have to put on a show when she gets to Colorado. That freshman from Stanford gets all the press – so much so that they’ll probably have to take her, even though I think she’ll be much better when she grows into her body a little. Jordan is a very talented player, and she’s been to every major training camp that’s been offered. A lot of people on the national level know her, and she’s proven herself at the international level too. She played in Europe for six weeks last summer and did very well."

"What’s the chance of both of us making it?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

"You’re the mathematician, Ryan, but I’d say you have a better chance of being struck by lightning simultaneously," he said sadly. "And I’m not saying that I think you aren’t both talented enough. But they’re not going to take three outside hitters – no matter how good you all are. Besides, it would look funny to add two women from the same school, especially when we didn’t even make the NCAA’s."

"So you don’t think they’re only looking at how well we perform at the tryout?"

"No. Like everything else, politics plays a big part. You haven’t paid your dues, Ryan. I was actually amazed that you were even invited – but your numbers were just too good to pass up."

"So you don’t think there’s any way I could impress them enough to add me to the roster?"

"Let me say this, if they add you, they’ll probably subtract Jordan," he said with finality. "I think they’ll take the Stanford freshman, even if she doesn’t play that well. That leaves one slot – max – for another outside hitter." He gave her a sober stare and added, "I think they have to take a middle blocker, and there’s a very good setter from Hawaii that they’re very hot on. So, for either of you to have a chance you’d have to outplay the other."

She leaned back in her chair and said, "It was so pleasurable to play for you, Coach. I really wish it were still volleyball season." She shook her head and said, "It’s so refreshing to talk to someone who’ll give you the straight scoop."

"Things aren’t working out so well in basketball, are they?" he asked gently.

"No. I don’t get to play much, and the team is very divided. Practices aren’t any fun, and I haven’t been able to make many friends. It just makes me appreciate what we had this past season. And it makes me appreciate you too, Coach," she said fondly as she got up. "Well, maybe I’ll come back as a fifth year player, if you’ll have me."

"Have you? That’s a laugh! The welcome mat would be so long it would go all the way to your house!"

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

Over dinner, Ryan asked, "So, how did your golf match go this morning?"

"Good, as far as golf is concerned," Jamie said. "But my goal was to get to know Juliet a little. That’s obviously going to take more work."

"How come?"

"Well, we played 18 holes of golf, and all she said was, ‘you’re away’ and ‘nice shot’. She’s obviously not into wasting a word."

"Did you try to talk to her?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah, but I stopped trying after she made it clear that she wasn’t paying attention. I think this might be a very slow process. The good news is that I could learn a lot from her. She concentrates as fiercely as you do, honey, and she really knows how to think her way around a course. We decided to play again on Thursday morning." Jamie shrugged and added, "Whether or not we get to be friends, I think I can benefit from just hanging out and watching her play."

"You’ll wear her down," Ryan predicted. "No one can resist that adorable face for long."

* * * * * * * * * * *

That night, as they snuggled in bed, Ryan said, "Oh, I talked to my favorite math professor, and she agreed to proctor the Putnam exam for me."

"That’s great," the blonde answered sleepily. "Will you take it on Sunday, or what?"

"Kinda," Ryan said, knowing that Jamie would explode when she told her the truth. "Kinda Saturday and uhm … kinda Sunday."

All vestiges of sleep now gone from her body, Jamie sat up and looked at her partner, one eyebrow arched dramatically.

"I have to take it on Saturday, Jamie. It was hard enough to get the committee to allow me to take it at the end of the day."

"Explain," she wearily demanded.

Ryan rolled her shoulders and said, "I have to take it when I get back from Fresno."

"So you’re going to play in a game in Fresno, ride a bus for three or four hours, and then take a six hour test?" Her expression gave Ryan the distinct impression that she didn’t think this was a wonderful idea.

"That’s the plan," she said, her mouth set in a grim line. "I don’t have many options. It’s either quit the team, or waste the months of preparation I’ve put into this."

"Ryan," Jamie with said as much patience as she could summon, "taking it under those conditions means that you’ve wasted your preparation anyway. You can’t possibly do well at the end of a day like that!"

"Jamie, sometimes you do what you have to do. This is what I have to do."

"You’ve already made up your mind to refuse the tryout and stick with basketball, haven’t you?"

Ryan was lying on her side, plastered up against her lover’s body. Her arm was tucked tightly around her waist, and their heads shared the same pillow. When she spoke, her warm breath fluttered against Jamie’s cheek. "Have I no secrets from you?" she chuckled deep in her chest.

"No, none at all. Spill it."

"I haven’t made up my mind completely, but I’m leaning that way. How do you feel about it, babe?"

"Ryan, I’ve told you before that I want this to be your decision. You’re the one that will have to do the work. I just want to make sure you’re doing this for the right reason. Are you sure this is what you want?"

"Hon, if this was the soccer team, you couldn’t hold me back. But it’s not important enough to me to throw our lives into an uproar just for the chance."

Jamie nodded, understanding her partner’s point. "Do you think Jordan will make it? It means so much to her."

"I think her chances are decent," Ryan said, "but not excellent. Coach told me some things that indicated that we’d never both make it, and she deserves it so much more than I do."

Jamie didn’t think that was necessarily true, and her expression telegraphed her feelings.

"She does," Ryan insisted. "She’s been working for this since she was twelve. For me, it would be a gift. For Jordan, well, for Jordan, it’s the most important thing in her life right now."

Nodding slightly, Jamie acknowledged those facts. "I still think you’d be a great addition to the team, honey. You rule!"

"I appreciate the vote of confidence," Ryan smiled. She grandly gestured towards their room. "But I think I’ll make this my kingdom – with you as my queen." She collapsed with laughter as Jamie dramatically made the gesture that signaled forced vomiting.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Jamie woke the next morning, she rolled over to cuddle, her eyes opening when all she found was a cool mattress. "Ryan?" she asked, getting no reply. The bathroom door was open, so Jamie figured her partner was already downstairs. She got up and tugged on a robe against the chill, then made her way downstairs, calling Ryan’s name again. She was met with silence, and stood in the kitchen for a moment, idly looking around for a note. Finding that she was parched, she opened the refrigerator and noticed that the orange juice container was missing. Okay … one missing lover, one missing juice bottle. They both have to be around here somewhere. As her eyes scanned the kitchen for clues, she noted that the key was dangling from the deadbolt on the door to the yard. Ahhah! Smiling, she poked her head out the door to see Ryan sitting on the bench that rested under the arbor.

Wearing sweats, her hair mussed from sleep, Ryan was staring blankly across the yard, her face etched in pain. "Honey?" Jamie said softly, not wanting to startle her. Ryan didn’t answer, and Jamie realized she was deep in some form of contemplative state, and likely didn’t want to be disturbed. The smaller woman went upstairs and took her shower, mildly concerned for her lover. Once dressed, Jamie went back downstairs, deciding to leave a note for Ryan rather than break her mood. But Ryan was just walking back into the house as Jamie entered the kitchen. To her surprise, Ryan’s eyes were red rimmed and swollen, and the larger woman wiped at them with the sleeve of her shirt. "Sweetheart, what’s wrong?" Jamie asked solicitously, moving to stand next to her.

"Something hit me this morning," Ryan sniffed. "I was lying in bed, sound asleep, and it was like a hand reached out and grabbed my heart, giving it a good shake. I woke up totally filled with dread, and I realized that this was the anniversary of my mother’s death." Shaking her head she closed her eyes tightly and muttered, "How could I be too busy to remember something like that?"

"Honey, you did remember," the smaller woman said. "It must have been in the back of your mind for it to come to you like that."

"But I didn’t think about it early enough," she insisted. "I normally commemorate it. Last year I had a Mass said for her at Newman Hall."

At Jamie’s puzzled look, Ryan said, "That’s the Catholic student center on campus."

"Oh, I see. You have to plan something like that ahead of time, huh?"

"Yes," Ryan said. "I’ve just been so damned busy lately." A few more tears slid down her cheeks, and she said, "How can I be too busy to remember my mother?"

Giving her a stern look, Jamie said, "You’re being silly, Ryan. You remember your mother every day. I know you do!"

Giving her partner a sheepish look in return, Ryan nodded. "I do, but this is different. Being remembered at Mass would mean a lot to her. I know it would, Jamie."

"Ryan, honey, it wouldn’t matter to your mother to have the priest remember her. What would mean something to her is to have you remember her at Mass. I’ll meet you after your last morning class, and we’ll go together. I’ll call and make sure they have a lunchtime service."

The tall woman threw her arms around her partner and held her tightly. "Thanks for loving me," she whispered. "I’ll call you later this morning."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Jamie arrived at Tilden she started to warm up, surprised that she was the first one there. After just a few minutes, Scott showed up, and after chatting for a moment she said, "Juliet and I were speaking yesterday, and we decided it might be nice to play 18 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Would you have any problem with our shortening our usual practice to get in some holes?"

"No, that’s fine, Jamie. I certainly don’t have to supervise you two. Feel free to do that any time you wish."

"Will do," she smiled, waving to the rest of the players as they arrived. "Shuttle bus must have been late again," she commented, feeling only slightly guilty for being able to drive herself to practice.

She worked for the required two hours, and as she was finishing up, an idea hit her and she sought Scott out again. "How would you feel if I could get more players to agree to play a round twice a week. I know that almost everyone plays several times during the week, but they all just saunter over here when they can spare four hours. I was thinking that it might help team spirit if we could make it a little more organized."

"That would be great," he agreed. "If you can get a decent sized group, I could have Evan go with you to provide a little playing lesson."

"I’m gonna give it a whirl," Jamie decided. She spent the next twenty minutes proposing her idea to every other player, and they all decided to bring their registration materials for spring semester on Friday so they could try to work together to arrange their schedules to accommodate the plan. This is going pretty darned well, she decided, pleased with her progress.

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

Picking Ryan up after her last morning class, they arrived at Mass just a few minutes late. Ryan usually liked to sit near the front, but this time she took the last pew, staying right by the back door.

The priest flew through the noon mass, since most of the very small crowd consisted of students on their lunch hour. At one point, the priest asked the congregants to remember the souls of the dead, then mentioned the person that the Mass was being said for. Ryan was already kneeling; but after the priest mentioned the stranger’s name, her head dropped even lower, and her shoulders began to shake noticeably. Jamie knelt down next to her, wrapped her arm around Ryan’s waist, and held on tight. It quickly became obvious that Ryan was truly overcome with emotion, so Jamie tugged on her sleeve until she followed her outside. Grasping Ryan’s hand, she led her to the small outdoor patio on the side of the church.

They sat together on a small bench, and Ryan immediately dropped her head onto Jamie’s chest and cried so hard that Jamie feared she would be sick. She had seen Ryan cry on many, many occasions, but she had never witnessed an outpouring of emotion like this. As luck would have it, she was wearing a coppery brown cotton blouse with wheat colored jeans, and after 5 minutes of inconsolable crying, there were large dark streaks from her collarbone down past her breast. But her attire was the last thing on Jamie’s mind at the moment. She was solely focused on her disconsolate lover and the pathetic cries that were coming from her heaving chest.

As the sobs quieted down a bit, Ryan lifted her head and sucked in a few very shaky breaths. She had no tissues, and Jamie’s were long since exhausted, so Ryan was forced to pull her T-shirt up to wipe her eyes.

Jamie had been patting or rubbing some part of her since they sat down, and as she wrapped her arm even tighter around her partner, she simply said, "Tell me, baby."

A few more deep breaths preceded her first words. "I realized today why I have so willingly agreed to hold off having children," she said softly. "I’ve been afraid to have a baby because I couldn’t bear to cause my child this kind of pain. I don’t think I can ever explain it fully, Jamie. It just feels like the pain is lodged in my bones. It’s like it’s an intrinsic part of me."

She leaned her head back and sucked in another breath before she said, "My mother probably had cancer when she gave birth to me, and as happy as I am to have been born, I know she wouldn’t have willingly gotten pregnant if she had known she was ill. I’m … I’m terrified to have a baby, Jamie. What if the same thing happened to me?" Her face was stark white, and her whole body was shaking noticeably.

"Oh, honey, I know you worry, but there’s every indication that you’re perfectly healthy. Alison examined your breasts just a short while ago, and she reassured you that your risk of developing cancer isn’t significantly elevated because of your mother’s illness."

"I know that logically," Ryan said tiredly. "This isn’t about logic. This is pure fear, Jamie. It makes me sick to my stomach to even think about having a child and being taken from him or her." She shivered again and in a shaky voice said, "I don’t have the kind of strength that my mother had. I will never have the kind of strength that she had." Ryan’s eyes were tightly closed. "She was the bravest person I ever met, Jamie. She was a small woman, but she had enough courage for an army. And not just because of the way she bore the intense pain she was in. The bravest thing she did was to keep her fear from us. When we were with her, she was always upbeat and optimistic. How hard must that have been! How could she avoid grabbing us and holding on with every ounce of strength she had, while she cursed the fates that were taking her from us? I’ll never understand how she was so brave, but if I had half of her courage, I’d be happy."

Ryan dropped her head again, and struggled to hold the tears at bay. "Her birthday was not long before she died. We had all of the furniture moved out of the living room to accommodate her hospital bed. There were tubes and needles and IV’s and God knows what else stuck in every part of her body. She could not have weighed 80 pounds, but I still remember all of us sitting on that bed with her on her birthday. She sang songs with us, and even managed to eat some cake. After everybody else went to bed, she held me in those bony arms and sang that sweet lullaby to me in her angelic voice. As much pain as she had to be in – and all she cared about was that I felt loved and comforted. I slept with her on that tiny bed most of her last week. It must have been terribly painful for her to have me plastered all over her, but she seemed to need it as much as I did. I was in her arms when she died …" Ryan rested her elbows on her knees, dropped her head into her hands and sobbed violently. "God, I miss her," she choked out as Jamie rubbed her back as soothingly as possible.

"I know how much you miss her," Jamie murmured. "And I know how it frightens you to think about repeating what happened to her. But what I’ve heard from you about your mom makes me confident that she wouldn’t want you to let your fears get in the way of living your life, Ryan." Jamie reached up and grasped Ryan by the shoulders, holding her until the blue eyes rotated to meet her. "You’re a very brave woman, too, even though you have your doubts sometimes. You are, sweetheart. You’re brave enough to face your fears, and you’re brave enough to live your life. Some day we will leave our children alone, but I’m supremely confident that our kids are going to be in their seventies or eighties by that time. We’re going to live to be very, very old women, Ryan. You and me, together."

"I wanna believe that," Ryan sobbed. "I can see you as an adorable little old lady, but I never have an image of myself like that." She started to cry even harder and said, "I don’t want to leave you alone, Jamie."

"You can change the way you think about this, Ryan. This is just your fear talking." She lifted her hands and grasped Ryan’s face, gazing deeply into her eyes. "Visualize this with me," she begged. Sighing, Ryan closed her eyes and listened to Jamie’s voice soothe her soul. "It’s 2075, and we’re getting ready for your big 100th birthday party. You and I are in our bedroom, and you’re pitching a bitch about wearing a dress, as usual," she chuckled. "You’re still devastatingly handsome in my eyes," Jamie said softly. "Hair as white as snow, you wear it short now, and the cut shows off that strong jaw you still have. Your eyes seem even bluer, contrasting against your white hair." Jamie leaned forward and kissed the closed eyes gently. "Your skin is a little paler, but it’s still fairly dark, since you’re still outside so often, playing with our great-great-grandchildren."

Ryan couldn’t help but chuckle a little at that image; heartened, Jamie continued, "Your shoulders are still broad, but you’ve lost most of your muscle." She laughed softly and said, "You’re still in shape, though. You just can’t pick up a few hundred pounds like you could when you were only 80."

Eyes still tightly shuttered, Ryan leaned forward and unerringly found her lover’s lips. "In my mind, you’re still blonde," she smiled. "I can see you sitting on the bed, deciding what I should wear to the party, making sure I don’t look too casual."

"Of course I’ll still be blonde," Jamie giggled. "It might take all of my millions, but I’m never going to look a day over 75!"

Tilting her chin, Ryan started to place tiny kisses all over her partner’s face, murmuring between each kiss, "I … love … you … with … all … my … heart."

"And I love you, too." Jamie kissed her gently and vowed, "We’re going to have our babies, and we’re going to raise them to be happy, healthy adults. Then we’re going to help our babies raise their babies …Then we’ll help our grandbabies raise their babies. We’re gonna be around for a very, very long time, Ryan. I’m certain of that."

"I’m not certain," Ryan admitted, "but with your help, I’m sure gonna try to believe."

"You’ve gotta believe, baby," Jamie urged. "Believing can make it happen."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie spent the evening tenderly caring for her still fragile partner. As usual, when Ryan was in a vulnerable mood, she gratefully accepted all forms of physical attention, but generally avoided talking about her feelings. Even though that wasn’t Jamie’s way, she had learned to respect Ryan’s needs, and had eventually stopped trying to get her to talk. Instead, she made it a point to study in the same room; finding an excuse to get up and kiss the back of Ryan’s neck, or give her a short massage. Her gentle ministering continued through the evening, extending to their bedtime with Jamie holding her lover tenderly through the night.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Caring, loving, tender Jamie was nowhere to be seen when the alarm went off at five on Thursday morning. The blonde looked at her partner through bleary eyes and grumbled a faint acknowledgment of her presence. "You first," she decided, putting the pillow over her head. Ryan dutifully got up and showered, then spent a few minutes dragging her partner from the warm bed.

"I don’t wanna," the grumpy blonde moaned.

"Honey, you made a date to meet your teammate. You can’t stand her up. Now, come on. Be a good little girl, and I’ll make you some oatmeal."

One green eye opened warily. "With bananas?"

"Of course, love. Bananas and lots of brown sugar, just like you like it."

"Okay," she said, a tiny smile forming on her lips. "Only you can make 5 a.m. appealing." She got up and stretched for a few moments, then asked, "What’s on your agenda for today?"

"Big day," she said, rolling her eyes. "I’ve got to meet my study group at six, then I have class. I’m gonna come home after that and get on the phone and start investigating private schools for Jen. It’s not going to be easy at this late date; time is slipping away if I’m going to find a spot for her for second semester. I could kick myself for waiting this long. I swear I don’t know where the fall went."

"I don’t either," Jamie agreed. "You’ve just been sitting around here on your cute little butt. I didn’t realize what a lazy woman you were when I married you."

"Funny," Ryan said, ruffling her disordered hair. "Don’t forget we play St. Mary’s tonight. The bus leaves at 3, so I doubt I’ll see you before I go. Now let me get my cute little butt in gear or you won’t get breakfast."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Jamie met up with Juliet in the parking lot of the always-crowded municipal course, they were both a little puzzled to see several dozen cars already in the lot. "The sun has just barely risen," Juliet muttered, sitting on the bumper of her small car to put on her spikes. Do people sleep here overnight to get a good tee time?" Just then a little car pulled in next to them and two elderly women got out, chatting companionably. Another car honked, and the women waved to their friends, while Juliet gave Jamie a scowl. One of the elderly women called out, "Hurry on, girls. You won’t have any time to warm up."

The younger women hurriedly finished getting ready, then went over to the starter, their eyes wide as they took in the large number of women obviously ready to go. "Hi," Juliet said. "We’re on the Cal golf team. Any chance of sneaking in before this crowd?"

The man gave her a wink and said, "This is our ladies league. You two are ladies … why don’t you join them?"

"Sounds appealing," Juliet said, trying to make her mouth smile, "but we only have about two and a half hours."

"Oh, well, the ladies generally take five, and that’s only if they’re first out in the morning." He started to chuckle. "I’m just teasing you. They go off on 10 rather than 1. You’ll likely still catch them, but probably not until fifteen or sixteen."

"Would anyone complain if we played two balls?" Juliet asked, now showing a warm, friendly smile.

"I think we could bend the rules just a bit," he agreed. "Do you girls have your passes with you?"

"Sure do," Juliet said, and Jamie produced hers as well.

"Hard to tell if you two are on the golf team or the modeling team," the elderly man teased. "Girls as pretty as you two didn’t play golf when I was a young buck."

"Why, thank you," Juliet said. "You should sneak out and join us for a few holes. We play pretty, too."

"I just bet you do," he chuckled. "Have good round, girls."

As they walked away, Juliet joked, "I never have to flirt with the starter at my home course. Of course, my dad would throttle the guy if he ever tried to come on to me." She shrugged and added, "Oh, the joys of public courses."

"We should have gone to Stanford," Jamie agreed, chuckling softly. "Of course, I never would have made the team there." She gave Juliet an appraising look and asked, "Why didn’t you go to Stanford? You’re clearly good enough."

Juliet looked a little embarrassed and said, "Uhm … don’t take this the wrong way, but, coming here was part of my long term strategy."

"And that was …?"

"My dad and I decided that I’d stand out more on a more mediocre team," she admitted, blushing slightly. "There are at least three players on Stanford that are as good, if not better than I am, and I was a little afraid of getting lost in the crowd over there. Cal’s program is new, and we thought it would look better for me to help put a new program on the map than help an existing one stay excellent." Shrugging, she asked, "Does that sound as manipulative to you as it does to me?"

"You’re planning your future," Jamie said. "You have to consider all of the angles. I’m just glad you’re here."

"So am I," Juliet smiled. "Besides, gold and navy blue go better with my coloring. That cardinal red doesn’t do a thing for me."

Her eyes were smiling as she said this, but Jamie detected just a hint of truth in her statement. Wow, first Ryan, then Jordan, and now Juliet. I’m surrounded by goal-oriented women!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan began to think her morning had been a complete waste. She was not in the least surprised to find that most of the good schools in the East Bay were not very interested in a child that had been suspended three times in one year, had recently run away from home, and had changed schools three times in a six month period. She was running out of ideas when the phone rang, jolting her out of her reverie. "Hello?"

"Hello, Ryan, it’s Catherine. I wanted to get in touch to tell you about a few calls I made today."

"Phone calls?"

"Yes. Jamie called this morning and told me that you were getting busy on finding a school for Jennie. So I made a few calls to the schools that we looked at when Jamie was young."

"Oh, Catherine, it’s so thoughtful of you to get involved like this."

"Nonsense, Ryan. That child needs help, and I’m only too glad to do what I can. I called every good school from the Peninsula to the South Bay, and the only one that will even give her an interview is Jamie’s old high school. And I’m certain that’s only because the headmaster knows how much money we have."

"Do you think Jennie would fit in down there, Catherine?" Ryan asked as delicately as possible.

"That’s a difficult question, Ryan. I didn’t tell the headmaster that Jennie is a lesbian, since I wasn’t sure if she would want them to know. Aside from her sexual orientation, I’m sure she would be the poorest child in the school. And my guess is that she’d be picked on for that more than anything else."

"I know from experience that being poor in a rich kids’ school can be tough," Ryan agreed.

"Was that your experience, dear?"

"Yes. I went to an exclusive Catholic girls school in Pacific Heights. The saving grace was that they had five or six scholarship students in my class, so I didn’t stick out too badly. And since my family had always stressed that money wasn’t really important, I didn’t get caught up in it. I chose my friends carefully, and got so involved in sports that I gained some popularity from that. But some of the other scholarship students didn’t fare as well. A lot of them felt totally out of place."

"Adolescents can be so cruel to one another," Catherine sympathized.

"It worked out for me," Ryan said. "And it helped me to see early on that money doesn’t make people happier. That was a very valuable lesson."

"I couldn’t agree more when I look at the depressive personalities in my family," Catherine agreed.

"You’ve given me an idea, Catherine. I think I’ll go pay a visit to Sister Mary Magdalene."

"Is that someone from your old school?"

"Yes. The Mother Superior," she said. "And she owes me a huge favor."

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

Luckily, Sister’s secretary found a spot for Ryan to speak with her at noon, so after making herself presentable, she took off for the city.

"Well, well, I didn’t expect to see you so soon, Ryan," Sister Mary Magdalene said as she extended her graceful hand.

"Thank you for seeing me, Sister," she said. "I’ve come to speak to you about a young girl that I mentor."

"Oh, what a lovely thing to do," she said. "It’s so rewarding to help influence a young woman’s life."

"Yes, Sister, it’s been rewarding and challenging," she admitted. "The young woman in question is a freshman at Berkeley High. She’s bright and very creative, and I firmly believe that she could be an excellent student – given the right environment."

"But she’s not an excellent student now," Sister said perceptively, getting to the root of the problem.

"That’s hard to say honestly. The girl has identified as a lesbian since she was twelve years old, Sister. Her mother is a follower of a very conservative minister, and she has tried to force my young friend to change her sexual orientation. As I’m sure you know, that’s a losing battle."

Sister nodded patiently as Ryan continued. "That isn’t the big problem, though. Her mother has a very, very strict set of rules for my friend; but when she breaks one, she throws her out onto the street and expects her to fend for herself until she decides to let her back in. Because of this she’s been forced to live in a group home in Berkeley, and that move required her to change high schools. Then the state decided that she should live with her father and stepmother in San Diego, necessitating another change. That didn’t work out," she said, in a massive understatement, "so she’s now back in Berkeley. Obviously, my friend has not had much instruction, Sister, and now they’ve thrown her into a program that sounds more like a holding cell than a high school, and I know she’ll be lost if she isn’t challenged academically."

"This sounds like a very troubled child, Ryan. And you should know that Sacred Heart is not equipped to deal with girls with severe behavioral problems. Our girls are very high achievers."

"I’m aware of that, Sister," she said with a smile. "I was one myself not very long ago."

"You certainly were, Ryan," she agreed. "I would say you were one of the most talented students ever to attend our school."

"Thank you, Sister, and I know that I don’t have to remind you that one of the tenets of Sacred Heart is to offer a quality education to girls who could not otherwise afford it on their own."

"Yes, Ryan, you of all people know that’s true. But girls from less affluent homes must qualify academically, and it sounds like your young friend could not do that."

"I’m not so sure of that, but I’m not asking you to consider her as a scholarship student. She can afford the tuition, Sister. And strange as it sounds, I don’t consider her a troubled child. Strong willed and independent, but not troubled. She’s actually an incredibly sweet girl that just needs to see that there’s a better way to live. But I can’t convince you of this in the abstract. I’d like to bring her over here to meet you. Will you do me that favor?"

She pursed her lips together and looked suspicious, but she finally nodded and said, "I will, Ryan. Can you bring her tomorrow?"

"If I can’t, I can have a friend bring her. I’ll check with your secretary and find a time when you’re free." Ryan stood and extended her hand as she said, "Thank you very much for your time, Sister." As she walked out, she poked her head back into the office to warn, "She dresses a little casually, so be prepared."

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

That night, after another humiliating defeat, Ryan came barreling out of the visitors’ locker room to find her fans patiently waiting for her.

"Here’s our star of the game," Catherine said as she made her way over for a hug.

"Star of the bench, but thanks anyway, Catherine," Ryan said with a good-natured smile. "I got to speak to the Mother Superior at my old school today. She’s agreed to talk to Jen, but she wants to see her tomorrow at two. I’ve got to leave for Fresno at four, and I can’t risk being late. Is there any way you could do it?"

"I’d be happy to, Ryan. Does Jennie know I’ll come for her?"

"Yeah. I spoke to her before I came down this afternoon. Then I called her housemother and asked her to call her school and get her excused for the day. Given what she told us about her course of instruction, or lack thereof, she won’t be missing anything anyway," she added wryly. Ryan pulled a sheet of paper from her organizer in her gym bag. "I’ve written her address down, and included directions from the freeway. The directions to the school are there, too."

"I’m sure it will all go fine, Ryan. Don’t worry about a thing." Turning to Jamie she asked, "Will you stop for a cup of coffee before you head back?"

"Ryan has to go on the bus," she grumbled. "Her coach isn’t terribly flexible."

"Jamie’s angry because we’re taking the bus to Fresno, and Coach won’t let her come with," Ryan supplied.

"Well, it’s just stupid," she pouted.

"So you’re not going, dear?" Catherine asked.

"No, it doesn’t make much sense to fly down there to spend the evening alone in a hotel room. They’re having a team dinner tomorrow night to review some game films, and I obviously can’t attend that. I’ve got plenty of studying to do since my first final is Wednesday, so we decided that I should stay home this time."

"Why don’t you come down to the house on Saturday?" Catherine suggested. "You could lounge by the pool while you study."

"Good idea," Jamie smiled. "It’s a date."

"I’ve got to go, or I’ll have to run sprints as punishment," Ryan informed them. "Why don’t you two go out for coffee? This bus takes forever!"

"Good idea. See you at home."

"Thanks a million, Catherine," Ryan said as she gave her a kiss.

"I’ll call you tomorrow night for a full report," she promised. "Play well in Fresno, dear."

"Thanks a lot," she replied as she bent to kiss Jamie lightly. "Thanks for coming all the way down here, babe. It means a lot to me to see you in the stands."

"I’m your groupie through thick and thin, Ryan. You’re just as cute on the bench as you are on the court." She wrinkled up her nose and added, "Cuter, really, since you get to wear that perfectly attractive warm-up suit when you’re on the bench."

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

Catherine rang the doorbell at the group home just after ten a.m. She smiled to herself as she could hear eager young footsteps flying down the stairs from the second floor. Jennie flung the door open, and greeted her enthusiastically, "Hi, Mrs. Evans! Do you want to come in and meet Sandy?"

"I’d love to." She smiled back at her infectious grin. She entered the haphazardly furnished, but neat and clean two-story Craftsman style home, and paused in the entryway while Jennie ran to fetch the housemother. Seconds later she came back, holding a middle-aged woman’s hand.

"Mrs. Evans, this is Sandy. She’s the housemother here," she explained.

"Good to meet you," Catherine said as she extended her hand.

"It’s always nice to meet Jennie’s friends," she said warmly. "I really think it’s wonderful of you and Ryan to try to get Jennie into a decent school. Berkeley High is fine if you’re in a regular class, but they’re not very flexible when a child isn’t able to attend consistently."

"This is just a preliminary interview," Catherine warned. "Jennie might not like the atmosphere at the school."

"Let’s go find out," Jennie said optimistically.

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

On the way to the car, Catherine surveyed Jennie’s outfit. It was the same one she had worn on Thanksgiving, and even though it was an improvement over her normal attire, it would be perfectly clear that she was not of the same social class as the other girls.

After making over Catherine’s car for a while, Jennie turned to her and asked, "Do you think I look all right? Ryan said that mostly rich kids go to this school."

"I think you look very nice," Catherine said with a big smile. "But one of my favorite activities is to go shopping. What do you say we buy you another nice outfit for your next interview?" Jennie looked a little hesitant, albeit hopeful. Catherine immediately assured her, "My treat, Jennie."

Her sweet face nearly exploded with delight as she said, "Are you sure you want to? You really don’t have to do that, Mrs. Evans."

"Definitely. I never get to shop for Jamie anymore, and I really do love it."

"Okay," she said with a giddy laugh.

Catherine decided to take her to Nordstrom’s, since she didn’t want to overwhelm her with her normal elegant boutiques. She shied away from the area that catered to Jennie’s ago group, and took her to the area for young professionals. A friendly young woman came over and asked, "Can I help you today?"

"Yes," Catherine said. "This young woman is interviewing with some exclusive prep schools in the area, and she wants to make sure she fits in."

"You’ve come to the right place," the clerk replied with a smile as she led Jennie to the attractively displayed racks of merchandise.

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

An hour later Jennie emerged from the dressing room looking absolutely fabulous, if not a little stunned. She wore an elegant, stylish navy blue double-breasted blazer, a short sleeved white cashmere shell and a pair of slate gray pleated slacks held up by a thin black leather belt. Thin black trouser socks and highly polished black leather flats completed the ensemble that gave every indication that this was a young woman from old money, who was recovering from some sort of injury that had regrettably required her head to be shaved. Catherine wished once again that the interview could take place in a week or so since Jennie’s brush cut was nearly at the point of lying down, but even her unconventional haircut did not detract from how lovely she looked. "I just knew there was a beautiful young woman hiding under those baggy clothes," Catherine teased her.

"I don’t know what to say, Mrs. Evans…" she began.

But Catherine placed a hand on her shoulder and asked, "Do you like the clothes?"

"Yes!" she cried.

"That’s all that matters," she said firmly. Looking up at the sales clerk she advised, "We’ll take these, and I want to add the long-sleeved gray turtleneck sweater in the same shade as the slacks."

"Great, would you like hangers or boxes?"

"Jennie, would you like your things on hangers?"

"Can’t I wear them?" she asked tentatively.

Yes! Catherine cried internally. But she smiled sweetly and said, "You can if you want to, dear. They’re your clothes."

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

After lunch in the store’s café, they headed over to the school. "I’ve never been over here, except to go to Ryan’s," Jennie commented.

"To Pacific Heights, dear?"

"No, to San Francisco," she said hesitantly.

My God! This child lives three minutes from one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and she’s never been here! "Maybe we’ll have to remedy that," Catherine said as she smiled at her.

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

When they arrived, one of the younger teachers was enlisted to take them on a thorough tour of the facility. The school was not at all large, and was mostly contained in one building, a former mansion that had been beautifully converted to classroom space. The high tuition, and "A list" of alumnae worked to provide top quality facilities. Catherine thought she would have to carry her young friend when she spied the beautifully equipped art studio. Jennie reverently moved about the room as she lightly touched the potter’s wheels, mounds of modeling clay, tubes of oils and watercolors, stacks of canvasses and piles of sketchbooks. Their tour guide made eye contact with Catherine, and they both smiled at the patently ecstatic look on Jennie’s face.

As luck would have it, they were able to observe a music lesson being conducted in the large music studio. Several girls were playing electric keyboards while they wore headphones so they could hear only themselves. Tiny soundproof booths surrounded the large space, and each room held a student playing a woodwind. The instructor sat at a console outside of the rooms and listened to each girl in turn. She could speak to them, and they could reply, but other than her soft voice, the space was absolutely quiet.

As they walked back to the office, Catherine pulled Jennie over to the large trophy case near the front entrance. "Someone you know is mentioned a few times on these trophies," she informed her, having been clued in by Jamie.

Jennie looked at the trophies, her smile growing wider by the minute. She looked up at Catherine with near adoration in her blue eyes and gushed, "She’s really something, isn’t she, Mrs. Evans?"

"She is indeed," the older woman agreed wholeheartedly.

Just before they entered the office to meet Sister Mary Magdalene, Jennie asked if she could use the rest room. When she emerged, every hoop and stud was removed from every obvious piercing. I think she likes it here, Catherine mused with a smirk.

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

The interview went well to Catherine’s experienced ear, and when it was over Sister suggested that Jennie go back down to the art studio and observe the class that was being conducted. "I’ll come fetch you in a few minutes," Catherine assured her.

As soon as they were alone, Sister Mary Magdalene smiled at Catherine and said, "Ryan was right. She seems like a very sweet girl, but I just don’t see her fitting in here."

"Why not?" Catherine asked calmly.

"Despite her outward demeanor, she has had some serious behavior problems, Mrs. Evans. Her grades have not been good, and she’s basically learned nothing so far this year. She would be seriously behind the other freshmen, and I doubt that she could keep up without substantial outside help."

"What type of help?"

"She would need a private tutor at the very least. And even though she’s beautifully dressed, I think it’s obvious that she’s from very humble circumstances."

"Your point being?"

"We couldn’t afford to provide tutoring for her, Mrs. Evans. I don’t know how her family can afford tuition, but I can’t imagine they could afford a private tutor also."

"Money need not enter into this discussion, Sister. Jennie will have everything she needs."

"But it’s unfair to allow her to enter when her grades are so suspect. She’ll be taking the place of a girl who would be more deserving academically."

"Others might be more deserving academically, Sister, but I guarantee no other girl would benefit more from this experience. Isn’t it worth the risk to have a hand in actually saving this child’s life?"

Sister blinked slowly. "Do you honestly think she’s in that much danger?"

"She was in terrible danger just a few weeks ago, Sister. But Ryan has made a commitment to protect her, and she will do that – one way or another. Jennie seems to like it here, and I think the structure would be very good for her. She’s far too worldly about some aspects of life, but incredibly naïve about others. I think this atmosphere will allow her to regain her innocence."

"I would need to be assured that she will receive all of the outside help she needs, including psychotherapy if necessary," she said as Catherine felt her begin to cave in.

"She will have it. I will personally see to it," she said firmly.

Sister nodded her head, and closed her eyes for a moment. Looking up, she tilted her head a little and asked, "What led you to become involved with Jennie, Mrs. Evans?"

"Ryan introduced us. And if Ryan believes in her, that’s good enough for me."

"And what is your relationship with Ryan, if I may ask?"

"She’s my daughter-in-law," Catherine said with a smile.

Sister’s eyes nearly popped from her head at that response, then her smile returned as recognition dawned, and she said, "I met your daughter this summer. She seems like a fine young woman."

"She is," Catherine said proudly, "and I believe Jennie can also become a fine young woman, with just a little help." She stood and fixed her gaze on the older woman as she asked, "What shall I tell her?"

"If she wants to attend, she may start on January the tenth," Sister replied firmly.

Catherine looked at her as her face curled into a smile. "I noticed that the lighting in the art studio is not very good quality."

"No, regrettably that’s been a luxury we haven’t been able to afford. The florescent lights leave quite a bit to be desired."

"How long are you closed for winter holiday?"

"Two weeks, why?"

"That should be just long enough to have professional quality studio lighting installed. Do you mind if I have my electrician contact you regarding your plans?"

"N … N … No, of course not, Mrs. Evans. That would be wonderful!"

"His name is Kevin Driscoll, Sister. I’ll have him call you on Monday."

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

As she arrived back at the art studio, Catherine peeked in and saw Jennie sitting on a stool, absently fingering a pile of gray modeling clay. Her eyes were so fixed on the instructor that she didn’t see or hear Catherine when she came up behind her. "Ready?" she asked quietly.

She started, but smiled back at Catherine and joined her in the hall.

"Do you have plans for January the tenth?" Catherine asked lightly.

"No, not that I know about."

"How would you like to start school here on that day?" she asked.

Jennie stopped dead in her tracks and stared at Catherine with her mouth gaping open. "Really? Really?" she cried with a huge grin.

"If your mother gives her permission, Sister would love to have you," she replied.

"Mrs. Evans I’d give anything to come here," she said with wide eyes. "It’s the coolest place I’ve ever been! But I don’t think my mom will let me," she said as her face fell. "I talked to her on the weekend, and told her that Ryan was going to try to help me go to a better school." She looked embarrassed as she said, "She told me that it didn’t matter what kind of education I had. She says all that’s important is that I’m going to hell if I don’t stop being gay." Her watery blue eyes looked up at the older woman as she asked, "Do you think that’s true, Mrs. Evans? Do you think that about Jamie?"

Catherine draped an arm around her small shoulders and said, "I don’t believe the same things your mother does, Jennie. I believe in a God who loves everything that he created. I think he did a very good job when he created you," she said softly as she brushed her hand along the side of Jennie’s face. "If your mother does give her permission, would you mind coming this far to school?"

"How would I get here?" her ever-practical mind asked.

"Don’t worry about that, Jennie. I just want to know if you want to come here."

"Yes, I do," she said decisively. "I … I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to go home, Mrs. Evans, so I won’t be able to go to my old school."

"Do you want to go home, Jennie?"

Her head nodded briefly. "I miss my mom," she said softly. "But us living together is gonna get me killed," she added as a tear slipped down her cheek.

"Not a chance, Jennie," she assured her as she gave her a hug. "You have some very powerful protectors in your corner now."

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

Continued in part 5

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