I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 11: Karma

By: S X Meagher

Part 7

"We’re leaving in one half hour," Ryan threatened from outside of Mia’s closed door late the next morning. "I know you’re in there, you two. I can hear you grunting."

She flinched as a shoe hit the door with a thunk, but she at least knew that they had gotten the message. Jamie was already downstairs, studying with deep concentration. "Did you make contact?" she asked idly.

"I got something thrown at the door, so I know they’re conscious," Ryan said with a chuckle as she sat down next to her partner to read the paper. With ten minutes to spare they heard the shower start, and at noon on the button the pair came flying down the stairs – hair wet and only partially dressed, but at least they were present.

"Coffee," Jordan choked out. "Gotta have coffee!"

"We drank ours hours ago," Jamie chided her. "But if you get in the car like good girls, I’ll stop at Sufficient Grounds for you."

"You’re a goddess," Jordan intoned reverently.

"Why did you waste all that time in the shower?" Ryan asked.

Jordan turned and stared at her in shock. "Do you really think it’s wise to go to a Raider game covered with the scents we were covered in? That’s like throwing a pork chop to a pack of hungry dogs."

Ryan laughed as she recounted, "There was a little boy in my grandmother’s town that no one liked because he was such a little cuss. She used to say that his mother had to tie a pork chop around his neck to get his dog to play with him."

"Your grandmother sounds like quite the character," Jamie said with an amused grin.

"That she is," Ryan agreed.

"Enough reminiscing," Jordan said. "There’s a triple latte at Sufficient Grounds with my name on it."

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

Traffic was congested around the stadium, but they got to bypass most of the gridlock with their valet parking pass. "Have you guys ever been to a game?" Ryan asked as the red-jacketed valet accepted the Lexus from her.

"I went to a Raiders game when I was little, and they were in L.A.," Jordan recalled. "How about you, Mia?"

"Nope. I’ve been to the Niners, but never the Raiders. I hear the crowd is kinda wild," she said.

"You might say that," Ryan chuckled. "But we’ve got the Stadium Club pass, so we can hide out up there."

"Where’s the fun in that?" Mia asked. "I want to soak up the local ambiance."

"You might change your mind," Ryan predicted as they presented their tickets at the gate.

"Metal detectors?" Jamie asked as they were led through the device. "What are they looking for? Uzi’s?"

"Nope. Just your average Raider fan," Ryan assured her as a yellow jacketed security man did a quick pat-down on each of them.

"Remind you of your recent altercation with the Oakland police?" Jamie asked loudly.

"If I see one of these guys snap on a rubber glove, I’m bolting!" Ryan declared with a shiver as her eyes darted to the ham-handed behemoths.

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

The boys and Maggie were already in their seats when they finally located them. "We’ve been here about 20 minutes, and the crowd is already out of control," Brendan said. "I think we should go up to the Stadium Club."

"I agree," Ryan said looking around. "We’re the only women around here so we’ll be targeted."

"Oh, come on," Jordan said. "We’re not at San Quentin. How bad can it be?"

"I think it feels more like a football game to be out in the stands," Jamie said. "I hate it when we sit in the luxury boxes at Candlestick."

"Let’s stay and give it a go," Conor said, looking to his brothers for support. "We can protect the girls."

"Against all these guys?" Brendan asked with his eyes wide.

"We can take care of ourselves," Jordan said confidently. "Don’t you boys worry about us."

"Okay," Brendan said, shrugging his shoulders. "I’ll make a run for beer. Who wants one?"

Since everyone wanted one, four people had to go as there was a two-beer limit. So, Ryan, Conor and Brendan and Rory went to get in line for beer, while Jordan got in the longer food line.

"So, things are still hot and heavy between Jordan and Mia?" Conor asked as they waited.

"Yeah, I think so," Ryan agreed, not wanting to get into that particular discussion with her brother.

"I still say Mia’s just my type," he muttered.

"I don’t know her very well," Brendan said wisely, "but she seems like she’s a lot of people’s type."

"Yeah, she’s a cutie all right," Ryan agreed.

"Come to think of it," Rory decided, "I think she could be my type."

"She’s busy, boys," Ryan reminded them. "Give the girl a little room, will ya?"

"You know, I shouldn’t admit this, but she’s even more attractive to me now that I know she sleeps with Jordan," Conor said.

All three sets of O’Flaherty brothers' eyes rotated and fixed onto Jordan as the oblivious woman waited in line. She was looking particularly attractive today herself, wearing bright red jeans that hugged her curves, and a creamy white angora turtleneck that highlighted her impressive breasts to very good effect. "I’m gonna pop the first one who drools," Ryan threatened as the men ineffectually tried to wipe their conjured xxx-rated images of Jordan and Mia from their minds.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After they had procured the beer, they went over to the food line and waited patiently for Jordan to finally be served. "God! The prices are bad enough!" she grumbled, "but it takes 20 minutes to get a hot dog!"

The game against the Kansas City Chiefs had started just after they got in line. Luckily there were TV monitors all over the concession area, since most of the crowd spent at least one quarter of the game waiting in the obnoxiously long lines.

Their seats were, of course, excellent ones. Located just off the 50-yard line in the lower deck, Ryan assumed that they would be surrounded by lawyers and businessmen. Even though she knew the crowd tended to be rough, she assumed that most of the rowdies would be confined to the cheap seats. But since Raider games had garnered such a well-deserved reputation for drunken fights, most businesses had a hard time getting clients to even accept the tickets. It was unclear to Ryan whether the corporations and law firms had given the tickets to the drunken men around them, or if they just migrated from the upper deck, but by the time they got to their seats, she was on the verge of punching a few guys. She and Jordan had been whistled at, leered at, and ogled during the long walk, and she knew her friend had a very limited tolerance for that sort of thing. To Ryan’s amazement, Brendan had actually shouted at one particularly offensive patron, and she began to wish they had just gone directly to the Stadium Club.

They were almost at their section, and she was watching the game with one eye as Oakland was churning down the field in an impressive drive. They passed in front of the metal railing that guarded the front of their box, and handed the food and drinks up to Jamie and Mia. Even though they were in the front of the section, the small women had to stand to see above the crowd that constantly snaked in front of them. "I can’t see!" Mia complained for the tenth time. "I need to be taller!"

The drunks in the seats just behind them immediately offered a clever solution to her plight. As Jordan, Ryan, Conor, Rory and Brendan watched helplessly, the laughing brutes grabbed Mia around the waist and picked her up high into the air. "How’s that, babe?" the largest one asked.

"Put her down!" Jamie shouted in outrage as she impulsively reared back and popped the man in his ample gut.

"Oh shit!" Ryan cried as she grabbed the railing and hoisted herself up. Before she could swing her leg over, the smaller man had grabbed Jamie in much the same fashion, and her short, sturdy legs began kicking violently as she screamed. Ryan made a leap for her, but the smaller man was at least 6 foot 3 inches tall, and one whole stair higher than she was. Jamie’s boot caught the guy right in the chest, and he quickly decided that he wanted to get rid of his trophy. But rather than putting her back down, he acceded to the wishes of the assembled multitude who were chanting, "PASS ‘EM UP! PASS ‘EM UP!"

The smaller man and his mammoth companion decided that was a fine idea, so they handed their squirming, kicking prizes up and over their heads to the laughing pair of men behind them. Jordan had scrambled up after Ryan, and they stood helplessly as their girlfriends rose through the crowd. "Fuck!" Ryan shouted. "Jordan, you and Conor take the right aisle, I’ll take the left with Brendan." She looked at Maggie and Rory and decided, "Maggie, you go get security. Rory, go to the top of the section and try to grab them if they get that far." Jordan jumped back down and grabbed Conor’s hand as they took off. Ryan jumped back down too, and ran around to the left aisle. They couldn’t hear each other with the crowd noise, but they communicated with hand signals. Ryan indicated that Jordan should go up a few rows and try to intercept Mia as she was passed up. The blonde ran up three rows and snaked through the raucous crowd, trying to be in position to grab her lover, but the men who were participating in the game just altered their path and started passing Mia up at a diagonal. As Jordan tried to run back to the aisle, her ass was grabbed so many times she felt like a pincushion, but she ignored the assaults to focus on her goal.

It didn’t take long for the yellow jacketed security officers to start swarming all over their section, but they only served to get in the way. There was really no way to make the ebullient men stop, and the loudly barked orders to do so were met with derision, profanity and raucous laughter. The captives were still fighting valiantly, and it became clear that many of the men who passed them did so just to avoid being kicked or punched. The lead officer on Mia’s side started yelling at her, "If you just relax and stop fighting, they’ll let you go, ma’am."

To Jordan’s complete amusement, Mia cried, "Fuck you!"

"They haven’t broken her spirit," the blonde laughed to Conor.

Ryan was at the boiling point as dozens of men grabbed her precious lover in the most inappropriate of ways. She could see a few of the particularly lecherous ones grab her ass firmly, but when a guy only three spots in from the aisle leaned way over to squeeze one of her breasts, Ryan snapped and leapt for him. He was just straightening up with a stupid, leering grin when his big dumb face met her powerful right hand. As soon as that happened, the crowd went wild. Fists started flying as Ryan and Brendan were both pulled into the melee. The crowd loved a fight much more than they liked to grab unwilling women, and by the time Jamie and Mia reached the top row of their section, the security guards were in position to reach over and grasp them by the shoulders. Jamie’s last captor didn’t want to let her go though, and she was pulled from both ends until she finally wrestled one foot free and kicked the jerk right in the head. He let go immediately, but the guards who held her shoulders didn’t realize it and kept pulling firmly. When the resistance on her legs was released, she went shooting forward and landed on a massive pile of yellow-jacketed flesh with a loud thump. Mia scrambled over and helped her to her feet just as Jordan and Conor arrived. Jamie threw her arms around Conor as Mia did the same to Jordan, much to the delight of the frenzied crowd. "Dykes! Dykes!" they shouted. "Kiss her, baby! Give her a hot one!"

Jordan had reached her capacity for insults, but she had one left in her own arsenal. "Suck my DICK!" she bellowed as she grabbed her crotch in a very obscene fashion.

"Uhm, ma’am," the calm voice of an Oakland police officer interjected.

"What?" she growled.

"It might be a good idea not to incite them," he suggested gently. "Once they know they’ve upset you, they get a lot worse."

"Fine," she groused. "But you’d better give us an escort, or somebody’s gonna get kicked in the nuts!"

"Yes, ma’am," he said with a smirk as he and his partner tried to clear the aisle.

Jamie had come to her senses, and she looked around wildly, her hair flying around her head. "Where’s Ryan?" she cried.

"I don’t know," Conor said. "They were right down there a moment ago." He pointed down the aisle they were trying to traverse, and his impressive height allowed him to catch a glimpse of his sister’s dark head flying around in the crowd. "Oh, shit!" he cried as he took off running.

Jamie started to take off after him, but the police officers had seen enough of her feistiness, so they grabbed her and Mia by their collars and ordered a security guard to do the same to Jordan. All three women tried to wrestle out of their holds, but the officers assured them, "If you three get down in that mess we’ll never get you back!"

"But that’s my girlfriend!" Jamie cried as Ryan jumped onto a seat and let loose with a roundhouse punch against some jerk’s head.

"She looks like she’s doing all right," the other officer said dryly.

Conor jumped onto the seat next to her, and seconds later Brendan’s dark head, then Rory’s fairer one, popped up right behind them. The four of them stood back to back to back to back, with such fierce glowers on their dark faces that the crowd actually backed off from them a bit, looking for easier targets. There were at least 50 security guards on the scene by this time, and Jamie watched helplessly as the police ordered the O’Flahertys down from their seats. Bright yellow plastic bands were snugged around their wrists, binding them behind their backs. "You can’t arrest them!" Jamie cried. "They were attacked!"

"We’ll sort it all out in the lockup downstairs, ma’am," he assured her.

When it became clear that the melee had calmed down, the officers allowed the women their freedom with the admonition, "Don’t start any more trouble, you three. You can come down to the lockup to claim your friends."

"Start trouble my ass!" Jordan fumed under her breath. "Let’s go get our food at least," she muttered. "Being mauled really works up an appetite!"

They got back to their seats without further incident, but when they looked down and saw eight empty beer cups, eight wax paper wrappers smeared with condiments, four empty bags of peanuts and four empty Cracker Jacks boxes all neatly lined up in their cardboard carriers, Jordan almost started the entire fight up again. "Which of you motherfu…" she started, but both Jamie and Mia clamped hands over her mouth as they pushed her back down the aisle.

They endured constant catcalls as they tried to exit, since they were now the celebrities of their section, but they got to the lockup without further trouble.

Luckily the officers who had been holding the O’Flahertys immediately moved to let them go free. Still, when Jamie saw them emerge from the lockup with sheepish grins, she nearly burst into tears. Brendan’s lip was split, with blood running down his chin onto his white golf shirt. A large red mark marred Rory’s cheek, Conor’s left eye was rapidly turning some interesting shades of blue, and Ryan had angry red marks on both cheeks and her chin, not to mention the bloody nose she was trying to control. "Anybody for the emergency room?" she asked lightly as Jamie threw herself at her. "Watch the ribs, babe, watch the ribs!" she cried, wincing audibly.

"My God!" Jamie cried. "What happened?"

"Hard to say," Ryan admitted. "I saw some asshole grab your breast, and everything after that is a blur!"

"My heroes," she said gratefully as she hugged each of the battered warriors. "You’re idiots, but you’re still heroic!"

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

They decided their injuries were not serious enough to merit a trip to the E.R. Doctor Terry was at home and didn’t mind making the short walk over for an impromptu check-up and a beer. He pronounced them all fit, but chided them all for trying to take on the entire Oakland Coliseum.

Once the doctor had given them proper lectures, he couldn’t help but compliment the crew. "I bet that lot of rowdies didn’t know what hit them when the O’Flahertys got involved."

"No one messes with the fightin’ O’Flahertys," Conor boasted. "Our women are tougher than their strongest men!"

Ryan took a look at her friends and suggested to Doctor Terry, "Now that you’ve checked us out, maybe you should have a look at Jamie and Mia."

"No, all we have is a few bruises," Jamie assured her. "Although I do feel like a truck hit me."

"You were fighting with every ounce of power you have, honey. That was a tremendous strain on your body!"

"Yeah, I guess it was, but you guys have to feel worse than we do! You were getting pummeled!"

"Nah," Ryan assured her, "just a few scrapes. It takes more than a bunch of hooligans to get the best of us."

"Well I think we should head home and soak in the tub for a while," Jamie said. "I hate to miss Sunday dinner, but I've gotta soak!"

"I’ve got a better idea," Ryan intoned.

* * * * * * * * * * *

An hour later found Jamie and Ryan at the Olympic Club, lounging in the massive whirlpool. The O’Flaherty men were in their separate locker room, waiting to take Ryan up on her offer of massages for everyone. Jordan, Mia and Maggie were already undergoing their treatments, and Ryan and Jamie were patiently waiting their turn. "Feels good, doesn’t it?" Ryan asked lazily as she allowed her arms to float to the surface of the bubbling water.

"Divine," Jamie agreed. "Get used to this, babe," she instructed. "Until classes start again, you’re allowed to do four things: play basketball, relax, sleep and have wild, passionate sex."

"Gosh," she said reflectively, "I’m trying to think of who on earth would argue with that? Only one thing you missed, honey. I’ve got to get my grad school applications in soon, or I might as well not bother."

"Okay," the smaller woman allowed. "By the time school starts you’re going to be very well rested, weigh at least five pounds more, have all of your applications in, and be absolutely sick of my constant sexual attentions," she said with a wry laugh.

"Well then, school had better not start for many, many years, ‘cause that last requirement is gonna take a very long time to fulfill," Ryan predicted.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jordan relaxed against the headboard of Mia’s bed, several fluffy pillows supporting her back. Mia lay sprawled against her body, her head resting on her lover’s chest. "You know, I bet that when most people say they’re gonna make love all night long, they’re exaggerating slightly," Jordan mused.

Mia laughed softly, and said, "We haven’t been making love all night long. We had some very long breaks."

"You’re right," Jordan agreed. "But when I think of this night, I’ll always remember it as the first night we made love ‘til dawn."

Something about the way Jordan’s voice sounded made Mia look up quickly. What she saw made her heart melt and, with a trembling voice, she asked, "Will you think of this night?"

"Of course!" Jordan shifted so that Mia fell into her strong right arm. She cradled her like a child, pressing Mia’s head against her breast. "Of course I will," she whispered roughly.

Throwing her arms around Jordan’s back, Mia hugged her with every ounce of strength that she possessed. She fought valiantly to keep her emotions in check, but when she heard a great, wracking sob and felt hot tears drop onto her back, she lost her battle and cried piteously.

They cried until neither had tears left to shed. Both were weak from the outpouring of emotion, and Jordan slowly loosened her grip. Mia lay back and looked up at her with a face full of sorrow, and before she had a chance to second-guess herself Jordan made a shocking offer. "I don’t have to go," she whispered. "I can stay … stay here with you."

In a flash, Mia was sitting up, staring at her with alarm. "Jordan! This is what you’ve worked for your whole life! How can you even speak of giving up your dream?"

The broad shoulders shrugged, and the vivid blue eyes shifted to stare, unfocused, at the rumpled sheets.

Mia held her tightly and said, "I can’t let you even think of such a thing. You’d never forgive yourself for letting this opportunity pass you by." She held her lover at arm’s length, and forced her to look into her eyes. "Promise me that you’ll give this tryout your all, Jordan." Shaking her lightly, she demanded, "Promise me!"

"I will," she muttered, her darting eyes having a tough time remaining on Mia’s face. "I promise I will."

Holding her close once again, Mia assured her. "You have to do this, Jordan. You have to try your best. This is your only chance to achieve your dream, sweetheart."

Finally focusing on the warm, brown eyes, Jordan nodded again, wishing she could say what was in her breaking heart. This might be the only chance I ever have with you, too. And you mean more to me than volleyball ever could.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan was scheduled to take Jordan to the airport, since Mia had an early final. It was just 6:30 when Ryan headed for the kitchen, looking for some breakfast. She hadn’t seen Jordan since late afternoon, so they hadn’t worked out a timetable for when they would leave. They had to allow at least an hour to get to SFO, and since Jordan hadn’t packed, she knew they should get moving immediately, but she dreaded the fight she knew she would have getting her friend out of Mia’s bed.

When she pushed the swinging door open, she nearly gasped in shock to see both Jordan and Mia standing in the kitchen. My God, she thought, how did they get up before I did? It was unclear whether they didn’t know she was in the room, or they didn’t care. Jordan was leaning against the built-in baking counter, with Mia leaning heavily against her. The taller woman was murmuring quiet little ‘shushing’ sounds as she ran her fingers through Mia’s curly brown hair. It was obvious that Mia was quietly crying, and Jordan’s eyes were red-rimmed also. She rotated her head slowly, and made eye contact with Ryan, nodding her head and holding up a finger to indicate she needed another minute.

Ryan granted her the privacy she requested, reassuring herself that they could stop for breakfast on the way to Jordan’s house. Jamie came down the stairs just as the kitchen door swung open. Mia ran through the parlor and scampered up the stairs past her, tears rolling down her cheeks. Jordan slowly walked up to Jamie and wrapped her in a fierce hug, holding on for a long time. As she pulled away, she placed a gentle kiss on her lips and patted her cheek, still without a word. Turning to Ryan she nodded briefly and went to the door and exited quickly. "Is she okay?" Jamie asked quietly.

"I don’t know," Ryan said, "but I’m sure Mia isn’t. We’d better get going, babe. Good luck today."

"Thanks, hon. I should be home by noon. Wanna have lunch?"

"Sounds great. I’ll stop at the store on my way back from the airport."

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

Jordan was leaning against the Lexus, wiping furiously at her eyes as Ryan approached. The doors unlocked remotely, and Ryan reached into the back seat to grab some tissues for her friend. Jordan dabbed at her eyes and blew her nose as Ryan started up the car and drove to Sufficient Grounds for coffee and muffins. She pulled up right in front and said, "I’ll run. Triple latte?"

"Yeah," Jordan said gratefully, "and something to eat."

"Did you have anything last night?" Ryan asked.

"Not a bite," she said as she shook her head.

"Be right back," Ryan promised, squeezing her shoulder.

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

When they got to her apartment, it became obvious that Jordan was not in the proper mind frame to pack. She took a big nylon duffel and went through her drawers, hurling in all of her bras, panties and socks. Another drawer surrendered a few T-shirts, and a third gave up some sweat pants and two pairs of jeans. Jordan looked up and said, "I have to take a quick shower, Boomer. They’ll throw me off the plane smelling like this."

"Go ahead," she said. "We’ve got 20 minutes before we have to leave."

Jordan gave her a grateful look as she made for the shower, and emerged ten minutes later, rubbing her long blonde hair energetically with a towel. She dropped the towel onto the bed, then broke into helpless tears when she saw what Ryan had done in her absence. Her friend had removed everything from her bag, and had neatly folded and organized every single item. She had also laid out Jordan’s favorite black jeans and a thin black turtleneck that she looked particularly good in. A bra, panties and a pair of black socks were placed on top of the sweater, and Jordan’s short black boots were lying neatly on the floor in front of the clothing.

Wordlessly, Jordan collapsed into Ryan’s arms, sobbing pathetically. "I don’t want to leave," she wailed. "I’m so happy here, Ryan. I feel so close to having just what I’ve always wanted," she croaked out. "I’m giving up so much!"

"Oh, Jordan, I’m so sorry this is so hard for you," she sympathized. "But you can come back when you’re done. You aren’t losing anything. We’ll all be waiting for you."

"You can’t guarantee Mia will wait for me," she sobbed. "God! I don’t want to lose her!"

"Jordan, she didn’t look like someone who didn’t care this morning. She was awfully upset."

"I know," she sniffed. "I know she cares for me. And if I were staying, I think we could make a go of it. I just don’t think she’s ready to commit to a long distance relationship. I think she’s most upset by the loss of our unrealized potential."

"I don’t know, Jordan. I’ve known Mia for a while, and I’ve rarely seen her cry. She’s not easily upset."

The blonde shook her head as she started to dress. "I think we’re both afraid to stick our necks out right now," she admitted. "This couldn’t have come at a worse time, Ryan. If we had another month, or even a few more weeks, I think we’d have more certainty. But it’s still so new that neither of us has much confidence."

"I can see that," Ryan sympathized, "but don’t give up. Promise me that you’ll try to stay connected with her."

"I will try, Ryan," she said firmly. "I really don’t have any choice."

"I know that feeling," Ryan empathized as she gave her another hug.

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

She had Jordan settled at her gate when she asked, "I’m going to go get another cup of coffee. Join me?"

She barked out a laugh as she said, "I’ll take all you’ve got."

"You didn’t get much sleep did you?"

"I got exactly zero sleep," she admitted. "We were either crying or making love all night long. And we have our first run through today at four. They’re going to think I’m some sort of zombie!"

"I’ll fix you right up," Ryan promised. "And I’ll get you another little snack."

"I won’t move a muscle," Jordan vowed.

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

By the time Ryan returned, Jordan was pacing furiously back and forth in front of her seat. "Jeez, where have you been?" she cried when she caught sight of her coffee-bearing friend.

"Long line," she replied. "But you can take it on with you."

"They already called us to board, so I’d better scoot," she said as her lower lip started to tremble again.

Ryan handed her the coffee and a scone, after Jordan lifted her carry-on onto her shoulder. Once her hands were full, Ryan folded up some papers and slipped them into Jordan’s back pocket. "What’s that?" Jordan asked as she jerked her head around.

"You’ll find out when you sit down," she assured her with a grin. "Just don’t throw it away before you look at it."

"Okay," she said with a dubious look, "but it better not be anything to make me cry," she warned.

"No guarantees," Ryan said as she wrapped her in a hug. "You’ve become rather emotional lately. I’m not sure what might set you off."

"That’s the truth," she conceded wryly. "I’ve lost a quart of fluid in the last 24 hours."

"Well, you could have lost a few teeth at the Raider game," Ryan teased. "Count your blessings!"

"I do count them, Ryan," she said soberly. "And you’re one of the ones I count every day."

Ryan beamed a smile at her and leaned in for a kiss. Jordan gave her several, then turned and purposefully strode away.

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

It took her until they had been in the air for 20 minutes to compose herself enough to pull the packet of paper from her pocket. She carefully unfolded it and had to hold back tears once again as she looked at the round trip ticket from Denver to San Francisco leaving on December the twenty-fourth and returning on the twenty-sixth. A hastily written note in Ryan’s bold hand stated, You’re the gift I want for Christmas! Love, Boomer.

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

When Ryan returned home, groceries in hand, Jamie came bounding out of the house to greet her. "Another one finished!" she cried jubilantly.

Ryan caught her in a hug, managing to maintain her control of the groceries at the same time. "Good thing for you I’m coordinated, or we’d have a dozen eggs on the ground," she chided.

"But you are coordinated," she reminded her happily, "And strong, and soft and beautiful and …"

"Hmm, what’s on your mind, as if I couldn’t tell?" Ryan asked with an indulgent grin.

"Well, we’ve got almost three hours until your practice, nobody’s home, and you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever laid eyes on …" she teased seductively as she took Ryan’s hand and led her into the house.

"Only too glad to perform my spousal obligations," she assured her, "but I need to have some lunch first, or I won’t have my normal stamina."

"I’m only too happy to oblige," Jamie relented. As they went into the kitchen she asked, "Did everything go okay at the airport?"

"Yeah, I suppose it did," she said reflectively. "But Jordan was just devastated. You know, I think she felt like she belonged with Mia and us more than she ever has anywhere else in her life. This is really going to be hard for her."

"God, you should have seen Mia. I’ve known her for eight years, and this is the most upset she’s ever been. The poor thing had to take a final first thing this morning, and her eyes were nearly swollen shut from crying."

"Well, I hope you don’t mind my spending our money without asking first, but I got an idea when I was at Jordan’s this morning. I called the training site in Colorado Springs when she was in the shower, and found out when their practice was over on Christmas Eve and when they had to be back on the twenty-sixth. Then, when we were waiting for her plane, I ran back to the ticket window and bought her a ticket to come home for Christmas."

"Ryan, honey, I want you to understand something," Jamie said earnestly. "You never have to explain where the money you spend goes, and you never have to ask my permission to spend it. This is our money, babe, and your decisions are just as valid as mine. But just for the record, I think it was a scathingly brilliant idea. Especially since Mia’s birthday is the twenty-sixth.

"If Jordan gives me a hard time, I’m going to tell her the tickets are really Mia’s birthday present," Ryan chuckled.

"Huh? Why would she give you a hard time later?"

"Oh, I just snuck the tickets in her pocket. Her hands were both full and she was late getting on the plane, so we didn’t have time to discuss them."

"Are you gonna tell Mia?"

"No, let’s surprise her," Ryan suggested.

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

"Aren’t you going to compliment me on sticking to your agenda for my free time?" Ryan asked her partner as they slowly woke from a long nap.

"What’s that, sweetie?"

"I’m due at basketball in twenty minutes, so that’s one item I’m allowed. I had nearly a two-hour nap, a very good lunch, and very passionate, very satisfying sex," she added with a waggling eyebrow. "If I’d been able to squeeze in a little work on my applications, I’d be golden."

"You’re a very compliant patient," Jamie agreed. "Now you scoot while I get some studying done. When you come home, I’ll have a nice dinner ready for you and take you to bed nice and early."

"I’ll rush home as quick as I’m able," she promised as she hopped out of bed for a speedy shower. "Dallying is not allowed on my rigid schedule!"

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

"How ya doing, buddy?" Jamie asked her roommate as she came trudging in the front door just after noon on Friday.

"I’m done!" she declared as she let out a breath. "As soon as I burn those books," she pointed at the texts lying on the floor, "I can flush everything that I learned this term from my mind so it’s nice and empty again!"

"How about some lunch?" Jamie asked, aware that Mia had hardly eaten a thing since Jordan had left.

"Mmm, I don’t really care," she said. "Any calls?"

"She has practice from eight until noon, honey," Jamie reminded her.

"I know," she muttered. "I just thought she might call as soon as she was done."

"She’s probably a little hungry," Jamie offered, but she was interrupted by the ringing phone.

Mia jumped for it, showing more energy than she had all week. A blissful smile covered her face as she said, "Hi," in a wistful, breathy voice.

That’s my cue, Jamie thought to herself as she went into the kitchen to make lunch.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan returned home from practice, Jamie was waiting to leave for the city. "I’m done! I’m done! I’m done! I’m done!" the blonde cried as she leapt into her lover’s arms.

Ryan just smirked down at her, blowing away the long strands of her own hair that had settled onto Jamie’s face. "If I ever hurt an arm or a hand, I’ve got to remember to call and tell you before I get home. I just never know when a substantial weight is unexpectedly going to be hurled at me with a great deal of force."

"Hey, whose weight are you calling substantial?" the feisty woman glowered.

"At this point in the day – yours," Ryan admitted, just about exhausted from a very intense afternoon of practice. "As the day goes on, Caitlin starts to look like more than I can handle."

Sliding down the long body, Jamie patted her side and said, "Hey, I’ve got good news! If you’d been in my class, you would have won the portfolio challenge."

"Cool! So how did you do?"

"I came in third. Not bad for someone who was just taking her first business class, huh?"

"Very good indeed," Ryan smiled. Placing a gentle, warm kiss on Jamie’s lips, she added, "I’m really proud of you. You worked very hard this term – at courses that don’t come naturally to you."

"Thanks," she said, coloring a little under the praise. "Now I just have to see how I did."

"Mmm…in my opinion, that’s the wrong attitude. You worked hard – you learned a lot – everything else is someone’s subjective opinion of what you learned."

"Not really, honey," Jamie advised. "We had an objective final."

"Yeah, but a human wrote the test. The way they frame the questions; the topics they cover; the terms they use – all of those elements increase the subjectivity of the most objective test. What’s important is that you got a lot out of the course – and that you’re proud of your accomplishments. Other than that – let it go."

Jamie gave her a beaming grin, once again considering herself unbelievably lucky to have fallen for such a supportive woman. "I’ll try to follow your advice, Ryan. I agree that it’s important to reward myself – rather than wait for someone else to do it."

"Hey, I know of a fun reward. Let’s stop and buy a Christmas tree for the house. We’ve always had one, and I’m sure the boys won’t think of it."

"That would be nice," Jamie agreed immediately. "Do you have everything else?"

"Well, it’s probably not of the same caliber as your family’s, but we have plenty of ornaments to fill a tree."

"Ryan," Jamie gently rebuked her, "it’s not important how much the ornaments cost. You know that, baby."

Ryan shot her a glance and asked, "Ornaments cost money?"

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

After spending a ridiculously long time picking out the perfect tree and supervising the high school kid who lashed it to the roof of the Lexus, they finally arrived home just as full darkness settled. Conor and Rory were both home, and the men eagerly ran out to help them bring the noble fir into the house. "Beauty," Conor said with approval as he held it out at arm’s length after cutting the string with his always-present pocketknife. Duffy heartily approved also, scampering around the tree for a moment while Conor held it steady. Ryan had gone to the garage for the boxes of ornaments and lights, and after three trips they had everything assembled. A quick call for a pizza, and another to invite Brendan and Maggie over, and they started to unpack the carefully wrapped decorations.

Jamie was amazed to find that every single ornament in the box was made by one of the children. All of the ones made by the boys were marked in an inconspicuous spot by a delicate hand, obviously Fionnuala’s. But each of Ryan’s bore Martin’s European-style cursive, indicating her name and the grade she was in when the ornament was crafted. He tried so hard to keep everything the same for them, she marveled. God that must have been hard! She noted without comment that one little snowman made from Styrofoam balls indicated that Ryan was in the second grade. My God, this was made just weeks after her mom died! she nearly cried. I don’t know how they got through it. Ryan noticed the look on her face, and she gently removed the ornament from Jamie’s weak grip, and glanced at the inscription. Their eyes met in silent understanding as Jamie’s heart clenched at the lost look in those sad blue eyes. But Ryan shook her head briefly, and leaned over to offer a kiss to her partner, silently thanking her for understanding.

The tree trimming took a good two hours, with the boys taking charge of the lights while the girls organized the ornaments. When they were finished, it looked exactly like what it represented – a lifetime of fond family memories. A number of the hand made trinkets were far less than beautiful, but every one was authentic, and represented the best efforts of the small hands that had created it. As they stood back to survey their handiwork Jamie leaned her head against Ryan’s shoulder and murmured, "That is the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen."

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

Cal was playing in a weekend tournament at the Arena in Oakland, the home of the Golden State Warriors of the NBA. As befitted a pro team, the arena was huge – seating close to 20,000 people. It was hard to sell the stadium out when the Warriors played, and when the biggest draw of the tournament was the Golden Bears women’s team, the attendance was absolutely anemic.

The sparse crowd in the cavernous stadium didn’t aid the team’s play, and they were routed, with Ryan determinedly playing every minute of the game. The three forward, two guard offense worked fairly well, with Cal scoring much more than usual. But on defense Ryan didn’t do nearly as effective a job as Janae, allowing the other team to score almost at will. "That coach should be taken in for a thorough mental examination," Martin glowered at the end of the disappointing match. "She keeps the best player on the bench for two weeks, then forces her to play a position she’s not suited to. On top of that she doesn’t give her one minute of rest! Those are human beings down there!" he yelled to the diminishing form of the coach as she trailed behind the team on their way to the locker room.

"It’s all right, Marty," Maeve soothed. "Ryan’s a big girl, and she can ask to be taken out if she needs to be."

Martin gave her an incredulous look, then turned to Jamie for support. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders as Martin looked at his wife. "We’re talking about Siobhán, Maeve! She wouldn’t ask for a break if she had a compound fracture!"

"That trait must be from the O’Flahertys," Maeve said to Catherine, who was quietly watching the interplay. "The Ryans are a very level-headed people."

Martin’s eyes rolled dramatically, but chose to keep his opinions to himself, having already learned his lessons well during his short married life.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan was asleep downstairs at the O’Flaherty home when the phone rang just after six. Jamie lunged for it to avoid having the ringing wake her sleeping partner, and answered breathlessly, "Hello?"

"Hi," the soft soprano voice floated over the line. "This is Sara Andrews. Is this Jamie?"

"Oh, hi, Sara," she said with her normal, friendly tone. "Sorry for the way I sounded. Ryan’s asleep, and I didn’t want the phone to wake her, so I made a leap for it."

"She’s okay, isn’t she?" she asked quickly, the concern in her voice obvious. "She’s so thin lately that I’ve been concerned about her."

"Oh, sure she is. She had a game this afternoon, and you know how hard she plays. We’re working on getting some weight back on her, but she burns calories off a lot faster than she can eat."

"She’s always been that way," she agreed with a fond laugh. "When we were in grade school, she was the only kid who brought two lunches – one for recess and one for lunch."

Jamie smiled at this memory, dismissing the tendril of jealousy that flared whenever she acknowledged how much history Sara shared with her partner. "Yeah, I’m getting a glimpse into Martin’s troubles," she laughed. "These afternoon games are terrible. It’s hard to get enough fuel into her to last her through the game while not having her tummy too full to play."

"Is that the tournament in Oakland? I read about it in the paper today."

"Yeah. That’s the one."

"Would it be okay if I came to the game tomorrow?" she asked hesitantly.

"Sure. Why don’t you come over here and ride with me?" Jamie offered.

"Oh, gosh, Jamie, I don’t want to put you out …"

"Not a problem. Ryan’s going to leave hours before I do, and I’m babysitting tomorrow, so it would be nice to have another pair of hands."

"If you’re sure …"

"I’m positive. The game’s at one, so I’ll leave here at noon. Come anytime before that – and wear something that you don’t mind getting drooled on," she added with a chuckle.

"I will and … thanks, Jamie," she said quietly.

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

"Are you absolutely sure this is something you want to do?" Ryan asked for the fifth time.

"Yes, honey," she patiently replied. "I want to go to Mass, and Caitie is usually fine during the service."

"I know, but you’ve never had her alone in a setting like that …"

"Ryan, if she gets to be too much, I’ll just leave. It’s no big deal," Jamie assured her. "Why is this bothering you, babe?"

"I don’t know," she admitted, pausing reflectively to try to decide what the issue was. "Maybe it’s having you and Sara spend time together this afternoon," she hazarded. "That feels weird."

"Weird, like you wish I hadn’t asked her without checking with you? Or weird like," Jamie shivered from head to toe, making a disgusted look as she did so, "that?"

"You are so cute," Ryan smiled, taking her partner in her arms and giving her a squeeze. "You just have the cutest way of taking the slightest hint of a bad mood and whisking it away."

"I just love you, Ryan," she sighed as she snuggled close. "I don’t do anything special."

Caitlin had been playing peacefully with the new stuffed animals that Jamie had remembered to purchase, but when she saw the extended hug she got to her shaky feet and tottered over to the pair. "Uh ... uh," she cried as her chubby little hands reached skyward.

Ryan leaned back in the embrace and gazed down at the baby fondly. "She’s almost got another word there," she commented as she pulled away momentarily to bend and swoop the child into her arms. She snuggled her in between their bodies and chuckled as Caitlin let herself be enveloped in the tight clutch. Her little blonde head rested just under Ryan’s chin, and Jamie dipped her head to plant tiny, soft kisses all over her giggling face.

"Who’s kissing you, Caitlin?" Ryan murmured. "Who’s kissing your face?"

She rubbed her face against Ryan’s chest as the kisses started to tickle. Jamie’s face was still just inches from hers, and she stuck her little hand out and patted her, in a gesture she had been making since she was tiny. "Jamie is kissing you," Ryan said slowly as the patting continued. "Jamie."

"Mmh mmh," she got out, trying diligently to imitate her cousin.

"That’s right … Jamie," she tried again.

The look of concentration was so intense that Jamie had to bite her lip to not laugh in the baby’s face. The child scrunched up her brow and gave it another try, "Mmhh mmhh," she huffed forcefully as Ryan congratulated her for her efforts by grabbing her legs and holding her upside down high in the air. She giggled wildly at the sensation, always loving the somewhat rough treatment that she received from Ryan. But Jamie captured her and held her to her chest as she gave her a tender squeeze and a final kiss on her wispy blonde head.

"You’d better get going," Jamie insisted. "I refuse to watch you run laps again if you’re late. My poor heart can’t take the stress."

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

Church went remarkably well since Jamie went against O’Flaherty tradition and dropped Caitlin off in the childcare center before Mass started. As much as she loved being with the baby, she really didn’t believe that the child got anything from sitting still for nearly an hour, and she knew the people surrounding her were grateful for the break. She spent a good ten minutes in the child care area before the service to get her acclimated, but the tot quickly forgot that Jamie was with her when she met the other children that the three volunteer mothers were watching. There were five other kids being watched, and two were close to Caitlin’s age. Jamie surveyed the whole set-up to make sure that it was safe, and was reassured when she got good vibes from the volunteers. Nonetheless, she made sure that each of them had her cell phone number in case there was any problem. "No one else is with me today," she warned, "so I’m the only one who will come to pick her up."

"Don’t worry, Jamie," a woman named Lori assured her. "We know the O’Flahertys and the Driscoll’s. I actually went to school with Conor and Colm."

"Oh, that’s a relief," she said quickly. "Do you know Tommy and Annie?"

"Not well, since they don’t attend many church functions, but I know Maeve quite well. Where is she this morning, anyway?"

"Oh, she’s helping Martin with the big holiday open house at the fire station," Jamie replied. "She wouldn’t approve of me leaving Caitlin here, but I think she’ll be happier playing with other kids than fussing in church."

"Oh, I agree," Lori said. "My mother thinks Blake should be in church also, but this is so much less stressful for us both," she said indicating a dark haired little boy that Caitlin was following around. "You know, we could always use another willing volunteer …"

"I need some solitude today," Jamie admitted, "but I may just take you up on that in the coming weeks."

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

Sara looked lovely as usual, Jamie thought with a smirk. She had always been a little envious of long legged, delicately boned women, and Sara was clearly a prototype for the species. Her hair was shorter since the last time Jamie had seen her: now the thick, glossy, chestnut strands just ticked the tops of her shoulders when she moved her head. A very soft looking cream-colored sweater topped a cocoa brown skirt that looked like suede or moleskin. The skirt was long, nearly covering the tops of the dark brown leather boots that she wore. The skirt and the boots combined to make her legs look endlessly long, and Jamie had to force herself not to snatch another quick look at her as she bent to fold herself into the Lexus. Get your eyes off her ass! she slapped herself in a mental rebuke. Hey, I’m only human, her libido answered.

There was really no doubt in her mind as to what attracted Ryan to Sara. Of all the women from Ryan’s past, she had to admit that Sara would be her second choice … after Ryan, of course. Regrettably, being around her always brought out her normally hidden insecurities, and not just because of the role she played in Ryan’s life. Sara was everything that girls were brought up to emulate. She was tall and lean and graceful, with a walk that looked like it belonged more to a dancer than an athlete. Her voice was high and soft, making her seem both demure and very sexy. She exuded gentleness and softness, with just a hint of playfulness, and Jamie spent a moment wondering what it would feel like to be in her arms. Jesus! Will you stop this! What’s gotten in to you today?!

Sara snapped her out of her musings when she asked, "Has Jordan left for the training facility yet?"

Jamie was a bit surprised by her knowledge, but then recalled that Ryan had called to congratulate Sara on passing the bar and that she had probably mentioned Jordan at the same time. "Yeah. She just left on Monday morning. It was pretty hard for her to leave."

Sara turned a bit in her seat and said, "I’ve got to admit I was surprised that Ryan didn’t get invited too. Her stats were better than Jordan’s in some ways."

Jamie felt a little surprised that Sara had obviously been perusing the calbears.com site on the Internet, and even more surprised that Ryan had not told her the truth. "Uhm … she was invited, Sara. She chose not to go."

"Are you serious?" The shock on Sara’s face was evident even though Jamie could only cast a quick glance at her. "How could she pass up a chance like that? My God, when I think of how much it meant to her to go to the Olympics … it was all she talked about!"

Jamie nodded her head a bit as she said, "I knew it was important to her, but I don’t think I knew it was that important."

"Oh, Jamie, you have no idea," she said seriously. "You know how focused she can get." At Jamie’s nod she continued. "She didn’t have a computer when she was in high school, but I had one – with an Internet connection. After practice, she would come over and plop herself down in front of that computer every day for any new little bit of information she could get about the Olympic team, or the national soccer federation. Just any piece of information that would go right into her little memory bank," she said fondly. "She knew every player on the team, and when I say she knew them, I mean it! She knew every camp they had attended, how they did in high school and college. She knew how our stats stacked up against every player at the same age. It was really remarkable how focused she was. She actually seems very well rounded now compared to how she was then. Nothing … well, nothing more than her family, was as important to her as soccer. And nothing about soccer was as important as the Olympics."

"And you," Jamie quietly added.

"Wha …" Sara began to ask but Jamie quickly revealed her thoughts.

"You were always going to be on the team together in her fantasy, weren’t you?" she asked.

Sara’s chestnut hair brushed across her shoulders as she nodded her head. "Yes, that was the dream," she said softly.

"I’ve never been able to figure out why she quit soccer so abruptly," Jamie mused. "I mean, obviously it made sense to quit the team at Sacred Heart, given the harassment and lack of support from the coach, but she could have played in a city league or on a club team. It’s also never made any sense to me why she wouldn’t go to another college to play. Martin says Stanford would have been thrilled to have her."

"U.C.L.A., North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, the Ivy League," Sara added. "Jamie, everybody wanted her. She was so heavily recruited by North Carolina that it was almost like she was being stalked – and they were national champs at the time, clearly the premier program." Sara shrugged her shoulders, and said, "For whatever reasons, she obviously had her heart set on Cal."

"Were you recruited by those schools?" Jamie asked, as casually as she could manage.

"No! No way! I was good, Jamie, and I did well at Cal, but Ryan was great. She could have … no … should have been, on the World Cup team. She could have made it easily if you ask me. Cal was never very strong in soccer – it was really beneath her skills – but it’s what she wanted."

"No, Sara, that’s not it," Jamie replied, a resigned sigh escaping from her lips. "She didn’t have her heart set on Cal. She had her heart set on you."

Sara turned slightly in her seat and stared intently at the smaller woman. "What do you mean?"

"She let you decide where you would go – since you were a year older. Think back, Sara," she insisted, knowing her hunch was correct. "When did you both start talking about Cal?"

Sara was quiet for a while, thinking back to her high school years, a look of serious concentration on her face. She finally nodded briefly and said, "We started talking about Cal when I was a sophomore and Ryan was a freshman. The Cal coach came to a lot of our games, and it became pretty obvious that she wanted me for her team. As soon as Ryan heard that – we started daydreaming about it all of the time." Sara’s head dropped back and she took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "We took BART over to Cal to see all of their home games," she said, a fond smile settled onto her features. "It just became our school. We learned the fight song, and we’d sing it when we walked home from practice at night." A few tears appeared on her cheeks, and her voice grew raspy as she said, "She started to call me Bear, and when we’d part at night she’d give me a playful little punch and say, ‘Go Bear!’ " Wiping furiously at her wet cheeks, she said, "You’re right! She did it for me. It was all for me."

Jamie reached over and patted her knee, the emotion in the car nearly palpable. "You were such a vital part of the dream. When you weren’t a part of it any longer, she didn’t have a reason to continue. She wanted to go to Cal to be with you, and she wanted to be on the Olympic team with you," she acknowledged. "It just wasn’t attractive to her once you were gone … it wasn’t worth the struggle."

Sara’s eyes fluttered closed as her head tilted towards the window. "I was so unworthy of her," she said with her obvious sorrow choking her words. "I am so eternally grateful that she found you, Jamie," she added as her hand reached out blindly to rest on the startled woman’s leg.

"Y ... You are?"

"Of course," Sara replied immediately. "It’s obvious how much you love her, and how much you have to give to each other."

"That kind of amazes me," Jamie mused quietly. "I guess I thought you were still …"

"I am," she whispered. "I still love her with everything I am."

Jamie shot her a wide eyed look, but Sara squeezed her leg and reassured her, "But all that I have is insignificant compared to what you have, Jamie. I’ve tried very hard in the last few months to face some hard facts about myself, and I have to admit Ryan pushed me to do so. You know, she told me why she would choose you over me if she had the chance all over again. God! My heart almost broke when she told me that, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, and she was right. She’s surpassed me so far emotionally that she could never be happy with me. She needs someone who is her equal … she needs you, Jamie. And if I really love her, I need to want the best for her. I think she has it," she added quietly.

They were approaching the arena now, and Jamie was utterly silent as she pulled into the nearly empty parking lot and turned off the car. Her head dropped back as she sighed deeply, and composed herself for a moment. Turning slightly, her face curled into a gentle smile and she unlatched her seat belt as she leaned towards Sara. The taller woman did the same, and allowed herself to be caught in a tender hug, broken only by Caitlin’s cry demanding to be brought in to the embrace. "She hates to be left out," Jamie whispered as she pulled back, the light scent of Sara’s perfume still filling her lungs.

"So do I," she admitted. "And I’m very grateful that you’ve welcomed me into your lives."

"You’re very welcome, Sara," she said sincerely. "Anyone who loves Ryan is always welcome in our home."

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

Ryan’s game was really on, and she had a stellar outing. She didn’t score much, because their opponents put a double-team on her, but that strategy allowed one Cal player to be unguarded almost constantly, and they used that to their advantage throughout the afternoon. Even though she didn’t contribute much offensively, she did a much better job with her defense, and her improved play sparked the other members of the team to kick their games up a notch as well.

At one point Jamie asked Conor reflectively, "Do you think it bothers her not to score?"

"No, not at all. She actually gets more pleasure out of playing good defense. What is most important to her is making a contribution however they need it in a given game. She told me that she didn’t care what happened the rest of the year, but that she wasn’t going to have another trillion in the box score if it was the last thing she did!"

"What’s a trillion?" Jamie asked.

"That’s basketball lingo for no points, no assists, no rebounds, no free throws attempted or made, and no fouls," Conor informed her.

"But why is that a trillion?"

"Well, in the box scores they list all of the offensive and defensive categories next to one another. During the early games, Ryan would have two minutes played with a bunch of zeros after the minutes. Even though there aren’t enough zeros to make it a trillion, the term stuck as a way of saying you played but didn’t do squat."

"Her trillion days are over," Jamie happily agreed.

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

Sara, Caitlin and Jamie went down by the locker room entrance to greet Ryan after Cal’s hard-won victory. They had been waiting for mere moments when Jamie spotted a familiar face from the corner of her eye. A very familiar face that she would have been happy to never see again. The thin blonde woman was leaning against the far wall, looking at Jamie with undisguised interest. Actually, she looked more like she was scoffing at her than interested in her, and that look alone made Jamie hand the baby to Sara with a quick, "Be right back." She stalked over to Cassie, smiling inwardly as the smirk left the taller blonde’s face, replaced by shock at Jamie’s audacious approach.

"Hello, Jamie," she said with mock politeness. "I saw you upstairs with your mother. Interesting that she didn’t go to Washington with your father. Trouble in paradise? Or hasn’t she noticed that he’s gone?"

Ignoring the comment, Jamie asked, "Why on earth are you here? You don’t like sports." She acted as though something had just occurred to her. "On second thought, you don’t like anything."

"You’re not the only one with secret interests," she said dismissively as Jamie tried to figure out how to strangle her without attracting attention. "Actually I‘ve gotten to be good friends with one of the players."

"Don’t tell me, let me guess," Jamie offered. "Either Janet or Wendy."

Cassie blinked at her a few times. "How did you guess that?"

"They’re the only ones who seem to be your type," she replied with a sickeningly sweet smile of her own.

"Speaking of types, I’ve just been hearing all sorts of things about you," Cassie taunted, her attractive face curled into a very unattractive sneer. "Everybody knows, Jamie."

"Knows what?" she asked, intentionally playing dumb.

"Knows that you two are dykes," she spat out, glaring at her former friend.

"You’re kidding!" she said with a completely shocked look on her face. "Everyone knows?"

"Yes, everyone!" Cassie crowed. Jamie had seen her lanky lover emerge from the locker room, and caught her surprised glance. Ryan immediately changed paths and headed right for her. She was coming from behind Cassie, so the blonde did not see her coming.

"My God!" Jamie moaned. Lifting her chin she said, "Well, if everyone knows, there’s no reason not to do this!" She opened her arms and pulled Ryan in close for an openmouthed, tongue-thrusting , spit-swapping kiss that continued long past any reasonably modest limit.

Knocking Cassie over with a feather would have been overkill at that point. Jamie could hear her try to catch her breath to make a comment, but after a few seconds of the passionate kiss, Jamie no longer cared who was watching; and by the time she could feel Ryan’s mouth curl into a grin, she had almost forgotten why she had even begun the embrace. "You must have really liked my game today," Ryan murmured through her grin.

"I think I was trying to make a point, but now I don’t remember what it was," she said absently as she looked around and found the space previously occupied by Cassie blissfully empty.

Sara came trotting over with the baby asking, "What in the hell was that display about? That woman you were talking to almost fainted!"

"Old roommate," Jamie explained. "Doesn’t like Ryan. Persona non grata," she added succinctly.

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

"I’m starved," Ryan complained as soon as she walked in the door to the house.

Jamie smiled at her and called out, "Hey, anybody home? I’m gonna cook!"

When there wasn’t a reply she said, "Obviously, no one is home. We don’t have a lot, but I could make vegetable frittatas. Would that hold you until dinner?"

"That would hold me for 12 hours!" Sara laughed.

"Hey, I’m a growing girl," Ryan said defensively.

"Face it, Ryan, you’ve always eaten like a teenaged boy," her old friend teased. "God, Jamie, you should have seen her when she was a pre-teen. She would go home after practice and eat a huge sandwich that her Dad would have left for her, then we’d go to my house and my mother would make her another one. Then she’d go home from there to have dinner!"

"Hey, I was a lot more active then," Ryan reminded her.

"Honey, you never stop now! How could you be more active?"

"Trust me," she said seriously.

"We really have to adopt," Jamie muttered as Sara laughed. "Are you in a hurry, Sara, or can you join us?"

"I’ve got no plans," she said, casting a tentative glance at Ryan to make sure she was in favor of her staying. The blue eyes were lit up in a bright grin, so she accepted. "Every minute I spend with the munchkin is blissful for me," Sara decided, jiggling the giggling baby on her hip. "Besides, the last home cooked meal I had was Thanksgiving. I usually just grab a salad for dinner. It would be nice to have something hot for a change."

"Okay, here’s the deal. Ryan, go take a shower; Sara, you watch the baby – I’m going to the store for something more substantial than a frittata."

"Yes, ma’am," Sara said quickly, knowing not to refuse a direct order.

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

Jamie cooked while Sara and Ryan entertained Caitlin, with an assist from Duffy. Now that the baby could walk, Jamie did not like to cook with her in the kitchen, even with Ryan watching her, so the women followed her order and played with the baby in the living room.

"So … uhm … seeing anyone new?" Ryan asked, knowing that she was prying, but dying to know.

Sharing a shy smile, Sara nodded slightly and said, "Yes. I’ve gone out with Ally a couple of times since Thanksgiving." She paused for a second and said, "She told me about how close you were."

Ryan lifted an eyebrow and asked, "What did she tell you?"

"Not too much, honestly. I think she only said as much as she did because it was obvious that I thought she was insane for letting you go," she chuckled.

Ryan nodded, knowing that Ally wouldn’t reveal anything of their sexual history, but reassured that Sara knew the context of their relationship. "How do you feel about that?" she asked, her deep voice quiet and soft.

"It’s a little odd," Sara admitted. "I uhm … I’m not sure if we’ll keep seeing each other."

"Because of me?" Ryan asked.

"No, not really. We’re keeping this very casual, Ryan. Ally has some very clear goals before she gets involved with anyone, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet." Sara was lying on the floor, her attention half focused on Caitlin and half on Ryan. "I’m a little scared by her, Ryan," she admitted.

"Scared?" Ryan asked slowly, not understanding the point.

"Yeah. She seems like she’s very clear about what she wants and how she wants to get it. I just feel so muddled around her … like I’m still a kid, and she’s an adult."

"I felt that way around her a little bit, too," Ryan admitted, sharing a warm smile with her friend. "She has a very powerful personality, and she’s quite determined when she knows she wants something." Cocking her head, Ryan asked, "Do you like her enough to try to go forward?"

"Yeah … yeah, I do," she said, blushing a little. "I like her a lot, I’m just afraid she’ll think I’m too immature for her."

Ryan lay on the floor and put Caitlin on her stomach. The baby loved to sit on Ryan’s belly and pretend that her big cousin was a pony, sticking her little feet into Ryan’s sides as she jumped excitedly. "This is the best exercise for my abs," the dark-haired woman chuckled. She turned her gaze to Sara and said, "Ally gives the appearance of being totally in control. But she has just as many insecurities as the next woman. She’s really clear about what she wants from a relationship, but I guarantee she’s not significantly more mature than you are, Sara. A lot of that is just the image she presents."

"Really?" Sara asked, tilting her head in surprise at the information.

"Really. Ally had to grow up quick. She’s been on her own for a long time, and I think that makes her appear more mature than most people her age. But she’s just looking for someone to love – like most of us are."

"That’s what I’m looking for too, Ryan," Sara sighed, absently playing with Caitlin’s foot.

"Well, my advice is to give Ally a chance if you feel any spark. She’s a great person, Sara."

"We haven’t even kissed yet, Ryan, but I am really attracted to her. It’s funny," she said thoughtfully, "she’s really not my type, but I guess that doesn’t matter, does it?"

"Nope," Ryan agreed wholeheartedly. "I didn’t recognize that my type was feisty green-eyed blondes until just under a year ago. Who knew?"

Sara laughed mildly at her friend’s joke then said, "Jamie tells me you’re having a heck of a time with this coach. What’s going on?"

Ryan shrugged and said, "She’s a tough one, but I think I’m finally figuring her out."

"I’ve been on a lot of teams with you, Ryan, and I’ve never known you to have a problem pleasing a coach. What’s up?"

"Well, I think the biggest thing is the fact that I’m a 24-year-old woman, playing with seventeen and eighteen year-olds. Coach believes in having one set of rules – and they’re really inflexible. I think she does that to keep a very tight handle on the younger players – which makes sense, but she applies those rules to me as well. I started off the season by trying to do what made sense – even if my decision didn’t fall within the rules. She’s quickly made me see that’s not gonna work," Ryan admitted with a wry grin.

"And you’re okay with that?" Sara asked.

"Yeah. I am. It’s her team – her rules. I knew she was inflexible when I signed up – so I’ve just decided to stop being a baby and go along with the program. From now on, I’m gonna ask permission for everything!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

After Sara left, Jamie gave her partner a grim smile and said, "Time for my weekly attempt to cheer my father up."

Ryan squeezed her shoulder and left the room so that Jamie had some privacy. "Hi, Daddy," she said when he answered.

"Hi, sweetheart. It’s nice to hear from you. How are things?"

"Things are fine. I just wanted to see how you were doing, Dad."

"Oh, about the same," he sighed heavily. "I’m getting by all right, honey. I just … I just didn’t expect to be at this place at this point of my life." He was quiet for a moment, then added, "It’s so ironic, honey. I can hardly count the things I’ve done that would have given your mother every justification to boot me out of her life. But when I make up my mind to dedicate myself to her and permanently stop cheating – she jumps to an erroneous conclusion and tosses me aside." He sighed once again and said, "I can’t complain – since God knows she’s got plenty of justification. But it just seems so ironic … do you know what I mean?"

"I think I do," she said quietly. "I know this is hard for you, Dad."

"Yes, yes it is, Jamie. I uhm … I just wish I could get her to listen to me. I really have committed myself to her, and I swear that I’d try to be the husband she deserves – if she’d only let me."

"I wish I could help, Daddy. I really do."

"Jamie," he said, "I don’t want to put you in a bad position, but if you ever get the chance, I’d really appreciate it if you’d try to get her to at least talk to me. This is driving me absolutely mad!"

"I don’t know if I can do that, Dad. I just can’t get in the middle of this …"

"You’re right," he said, sounding thoroughly defeated. "I’m sorry I asked. I made this bed … now I have to lie in it."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 8

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