I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 11: Karma

By: S X Meagher

Part 8

On Monday of Christmas week, Jamie convinced Ryan to go down to Hillsborough to spend the night. Ryan was happy to oblige, but she wanted to stop at Sacred Heart and speak with Sister Mary Magdalene for a few minutes since they had some free time. She was certain that Catherine had done a good job of making Jennie’s needs known, but Ryan was determined not to let anything slip by. Coach Hayes had miraculously revealed that she had a heart – moving their practices up to 10 a.m. for the remainder of their winter break, to allow the players to have their evenings free. Jamie’s coach proved to have an even bigger heart, urging his players to play their home courses during the long break rather than forcing them to stay in Berkeley.

Just after noon, Jamie watched with a grin on her face as her partner stood in front of her closet in her underwear, debating the merits of her wardrobe. "Still trying to impress the good sisters?" she asked with a twinkle in her eyes.

Ryan turned a stern gaze on her, but couldn’t maintain it for long. She almost immediately let her face slide into a grin as she said, "I hate to get busted so easily."

"Well I think it’s adorable that you still care what the nuns think of you," she said fondly.

"I just want to look like an adult," she admitted shyly. "I was such a gawky kid … I hate to look the same six years later."

"Honey," Jamie said slowly as she let her gaze travel up and down her lover’s sculpted body, "gawky is the last word anyone would use to describe you." She smiled and regarded her for a moment. "Gorgeous … sexy … devastatingly beautiful …"

Her litany was stopped abruptly by Ryan’s lips gently pressing against hers. "You always make me feel special," she said softly.

"You are special," Jamie assured her as she ran her fingers through her dark hair. "Will you let me pick out some clothes for you, babe?"

"Sure. You do a much better job than I do, anyway."

"I don’t agree with that, but you seem especially indecisive today, and we need to get going to avoid rush hour traffic." She jumped to her feet and quickly pulled out a pair of neatly pressed khaki slacks, a pale yellow turtleneck, and a marine blue wool sweater that looked particularly good on her lover. "Here you go, hon. You’ll look nice, and you won’t be uncomfortable."

"Thanks, babe," she said, sliding into the slacks. "As long as you’re there, pick me out something for tomorrow too, okay? And add some workout clothes so I can go on a run or use your mom’s gym."

"Coming right up," she agreed. "Then let’s rock."

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

"I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me, Sister Mary Magdalene," Ryan said as they were shown into the neat office. "Do you remember my partner?"

"Of course," the woman said. "It’s good to see you again, Jamie. After having had the pleasure of speaking with your mother, I’d better watch out if you share the same negotiating skills."

"Oh, my mother is far more adept than I am," she said modestly.

"Well, Ryan, what can I do for you today?" Sister Mary asked.

"I had a couple of things on my list," she began, "but I may as well get the stickier one out on the table." She looked a little uncomfortable, but she forced herself to take a breath and get it out. "Jennie is very excited about attending school here, Sister. And I have no doubt that the academic instruction she’ll receive here will help her tremendously. But I’m worried about her socially," she revealed.

"Is that because she’s a lesbian?" Sister perceptively asked.

"Partly, yes," Ryan agreed. "It’s hard to be a lesbian-identified teenager almost anywhere, but I’m particularly worried about how she will fit in here," she said, getting to the issue.

"I assume you’re now referring to your own experience, Ryan," she said quietly.

"It’s the only experience I have to go by, Sister," she said with a tight smile. "I want to make sure that Jennie will get some support from the faculty if any of the students start to harass her. She’s very open about her orientation compared to how I was at her age. I hadn’t even really acknowledged to myself that I was gay. And when I think of the harassment I got, I can only imagine what will happen to her."

"Ryan," she said thoughtfully, "given how you feel about your experiences here, why do you want Jennie to attend our school?"

"Because I know you well enough to believe you, Sister," she said flatly. "And if you tell me you will support Jennie, I believe you will. Except for that one dreadful incident, Sacred Heart changed my life in so many positive ways, that I want Jennie to have those same opportunities."

Sister leaned back in her chair and dropped her head back for a few minutes. She got up smoothly and came around the front of her desk, perching on the corner, right in front of Ryan. She extended her hand and gently held Ryan’s when she gave in to her unspoken request. "I promise I will support her, Ryan. I owe that much to every student who attends this school. I’m so sorry I didn’t do the same for you." Her light brown eyes stared deeply into Ryan’s, and Ryan knew that the woman was telling the truth.

"It’s okay, Sister," she said. "It all worked out for me in the end."

"God works in mysterious ways, Ryan," she said as she released her hand and went back to her chair. "Now what else did you want to cover?"

"I wanted to find out where to buy her uniforms and a list of textbooks she’ll need. I want her ready to go on January the tenth," she said with a broad smile.

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

"My God!" Ryan cried as they turned onto Catherine’s street. "Looks like half of the electric usage in the Bay Area comes from your neighborhood!" Jamie laughed at her characterization, but she did have to admit that the gardeners had been busy. Most of the large homes were surrounded either by stone or stucco walls, or dense shrubbery. Nearly every hedge and fence was decorated by some form of electric light in honor of the holiday, and given the neighborhood, it was clear that the homeowners didn’t stand on a rickety ladder to put up the lights. When they entered the property, Ryan was delighted to see that every large Italian cypress that surrounded the Evans home had been neatly wound in tiny white lights, and a long double row of shiny silver luminaries bordered the gracefully curved drive. The roofline of the house was trimmed in white lights, and a pair of gargantuan wreaths hung on the front door. "Who was the poor sucker that had to get on that slippery slate roof?" she marveled slowly.

"Mother hires professionals, honey," she chided her. "They have cranes."

"Whew! I could just see some poor guy sliding down that thing, never to be heard from again!"

Marta answered the door just moments after they rang the bell, and she gave each woman an enthusiastic hug. "Feliz Navidad!" she cried as she motioned for them to enter. The high ceiling of the living room allowed for the placement of the largest Christmas tree Ryan had ever seen in a private home. It stood at least twelve feet tall and was perfectly, and professionally, decorated in ornaments that Ryan guessed were precious antiques. The selection of ornaments perfectly accented the furnishings of the living room, of course – matching both the warm, rich colors and the understated style. The tree also carried more lights than seemed wise when attached to a dead, drying tree. The tree actually was putting out as much heat as the cheery fire in the stone hearth just next to it, and Ryan mused that her father would probably not be able to be in the room without a fire extinguisher in his hands. When she looked carefully at the tree, she noticed that the lights ran up and down the trunk and then spread out to cover every major branch from one end to the other. Wow, she thought to herself. It would be hard enough to put those on, but taking them off must be a bitch!

The rest of the room was decorated with touches of green, red and gold, and the massive mantle was bedecked with a velvet cloth that matched the colors of the ornaments that graced the tree. Fresh smelling fir garland was wrapped around the banister that led to the second floor, and it was interlaced with tiny white lights that served to highlight Catherine’s slim form as she gracefully descended the stairs. "It is so good to see your friendly faces," she said gratefully as she remained on the lowest step to hug her guests.

"Your house is magnificent," Ryan said in amazement. "I’ve never seen anything like it."

"I almost skipped it this year, to tell you the truth," she said lightly as she grasped each woman’s hand to lead them into the living room. "But the decorators were so disappointed that I finally told them to go ahead. Now I’m glad I did it," she said with a small smile. "It brings some cheer to the old place." Ryan noticed the stress in her features, and observed that Catherine’s gait was much stiffer than normal.

Ryan paused to run her hand over a large, elegantly carved Nativity scene. "This is beautiful," she said when Catherine came to stand next to her.

"That’s our Nacimiento," she said softly.

"Is this a family heirloom?" Ryan asked.

"After a fashion, Ryan," she nodded with a small smile. "It means a great deal to me. I’d like it to be in your house one day."

Ryan looked at her and caught sight of the depths of sorrow in her lifeless brown eyes. She grasped her hand and gave it a squeeze, saying, "I think you should keep it for the next fifty or sixty years. I want to see your great-grandchildren come down here to marvel at the beautiful decorations you have."

Catherine stifled her tears and took a seat, and soon Marta came bustling out carrying a tray with an insulated pitcher and a set of three heavy mugs. "I made some mulled wine for you to sip on before you go out," she announced.

"Oh, I forgot that this was Thursday, Jamie," Catherine said. "Marta teaches her class tonight, so we’ll have to go out."

"Nonsense," Jamie said. "You don’t mind if we use your kitchen do you, Marta?"

"No, no of course not, Jamie. I would be honored."

"We’ll cook for you, Mom," she said happily. "I don’t think I’ve ever made a meal for you."

"That was one thing we had in common," Catherine replied with a sad look.

"Hey, come on," Jamie said as she handed her mother a mug filled with the spicy red wine. "We’ll do it together – just the three of us."

"Oh, honey, I can’t do a thing in the kitchen," Catherine demurred.

"Not without a little instruction, you can’t," Jamie agreed. "Right, Marta?"

"Definitely, Jamie. Anyone can cook with a little instruction."

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

They sipped their wine as Ryan related the gist of her discussion with Sister Mary Magdalene. "Oh, I need to call her," Catherine remembered. "Kevin started today, and I want to make sure everything is going well on her end."

"That was incredibly thoughtful of you to hire Kevin to do the work, Catherine," Ryan said, "but he’s a little reticent to accept payment for it."

"That’s why I told him I wouldn’t hire him if we didn’t agree on his wages up front," she said with a smile. "I could understand if he wanted to do some small job for me, but this will take every hour he can spare between now and the tenth when school starts. He still tried to pull a fast one on me," she chuckled. "He quoted me a ridiculously low number for his hourly wage, so I called the union hall and asked for the going rate for electricians. He’s going to be surprised when I pay his bill," she said with a warm laugh.

"You know, Catherine, most clients worry about being overcharged," Ryan grinned.

"Not with your family!" she said with a dramatic rolling of her warm brown eyes. "You’d think you were communists!"

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

When they got up to make their way to the kitchen, Ryan stopped to regard a framed picture of a very young Jamie sitting transfixed on the lap of a very credible looking Santa Claus. She was about three years old, and the look on her face made Ryan grin so widely that her cheeks ached. "I need a copy of this," Ryan said gravely as she shook the frame in Catherine’s direction.

Catherine came to stand next to Ryan and leaned against her when Ryan slid an arm around her waist. "Wasn’t she a beautiful child?" Catherine asked wistfully.

"Incredibly," Ryan agreed as they stared at the image. Tiny little Jamie was wearing an emerald green velvet dress, white tights and little black patent leather shoes. She had her hair pulled back in a ponytail with a matching green ribbon tied around it. Her little cheeks were flushed with excitement, and her eyes just sparkled with delight and awe at the presence of the fabled St. Nick right next to her.

"Look at those chubby little legs," Ryan said affectionately.

"Hey, watch it," Jamie warned as she took a look. "Well, I was only three," she said defensively. "You’re supposed to be chubby then."

"You’re adorably chubby," Ryan insisted. "Boy, Caitlin will be a very lucky child if she continues to look like you."

"Come on you two," Jamie urged. "I’ve hardly eaten all day and I’m famished."

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

After doing an inventory, they decided to roast a chicken and have some rosemary potatoes, asparagus and Pennies from Heaven, one of Ryan’s favorite carrot dishes. She loved the little sliced carrots sautéed with butter and brown sugar until they shone like copper pennies, and she asked Jamie to make them every time there was a bunch of carrots in the refrigerator. There really wasn’t much to do except a little chopping and slicing, so Ryan sat at the counter sipping her wine, while Jamie provided her mother with a short cooking lesson. After receiving her instruction, Catherine did a decent job of cutting up the carrots and the rosemary. Jamie checked on her frequently and praised her for her efforts, making her mother beam with pride.

Catherine loosened up a little as the evening wore on, but she still looked drained and pale when dinner was finished. Ryan decided that nothing felt better than some human touch when one was down, so she cleared the table and offered, "Since you two cooked, I’ll clean up. Why don’t you both go put on your suits, and we can go sit in the spa for a while?"

"Excellent idea," Jamie agreed and Catherine seconded the vote. They left as Ryan was filling the sink, but just as she pushed up her sleeves and submerged her hands, another pair of hands grasped her around the waist.

"Catherine," she hissed sharply, "I told you not to do that when Jamie’s here!"

"Oh, you are such a naughty little girl," Jamie scolded as she squeezed her tightly.

"Hey, where’s your suit?" Ryan asked, turning around to catch a look at her still fully clothed body.

"I had to go to the bathroom, so I went down here and came back to grab a handful of this delicious ass," she said seductively as she did just that.

"Hmm, you get very randy when we’re down here, don’t you?" Ryan commented as she stuck her butt out for Jamie to grab at will.

"Do you mind?" she asked slowly as she grabbed Ryan’s hips firmly and pressed against her in a tight little circle.

"Not in the least – since your father’s gone," she gasped out as one of Jamie’s hands slid up her stomach and grabbed a breast. "But we’re gonna have to give the spa a miss if you keep that up."

"Oh, you’re just so easy," Jamie whispered into her pink ear as she covered her body fully. "A simple little touch and you get all flustered." As she spoke, she grasped the waistband of Ryan’s slacks with her left hand while her right slowly slid her zipper down. "Now you’ll be telling me that this excites you, too," she scoffed huskily as her small hand slipped past the zipper and cupped Ryan’s mound. "Mmm, I love you in your tight little boxers," she whispered as her fingers slid between Ryan’s legs.

Ryan’s dark head dropped back against Jamie’s shoulder as the determined hand squeezed her lips together rhythmically. Ryan’s feet moved apart automatically as her hips shifted forward and pushed her pelvis down against Jamie’s searching fingers. "Oh, God," she murmured in a strangled cry as Jamie quickly realized that she had bitten off more than she could chew at the moment. Hearing her mother’s footsteps, she slid her hand out and dashed out the other door, leaving an astounded Ryan with her fly and her mouth hanging open as Catherine came into the room.

"Need any help, dear?" she asked as she came up next to Ryan.

No, but would you mind if I stuck my hand in my pants and finished what your evil little daughter started? she thought, but her rational mind said in a voice at least an octave too high, "No, no, no help. Just go get the spa ready for Jamie."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Catherine smiled at her companions when they were all relaxing in the spa. "What do you two have planned for your free time this week?"

"We don’t have much free time," Jamie admitted. "We’re not having formal golf practice until school starts again, but I’ve decided I’ve got to really start playing a lot. And Ryan’s got to spend every spare minute getting her applications for grad school in, as well as basketball practice, of course."

"We haven’t really talked about this, honey," her mother said, cocking her head curiously. "Are you planning on attending school next year?"

Jamie smiled at her partner and said, "I make fun of Ryan for being unable to decide, but I’m even worse than she is. I just can’t make up my mind, Mom, and doing it just to do it seems silly."

"I suppose I just assumed you’d go on for a masters in English," Catherine mused. "You used to talk about doing that."

"Yes, and I talked about going to a writing program, and I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a Ph.D. in psychology. Ryan thinks I should go to law school – just because she thinks I’d be a natural." She paused to stick her tongue out at her grinning partner. "She tries to make it sound like a compliment, but I think it’s a veiled way to call me argumentative and manipulative."

Ryan’s eyes went round as she pointed to herself with exaggerated innocence.

Jamie smiled warmly and said, "I am manipulative, baby. Truth hurts."

"You’re persuasive," Ryan demurred. "That’s a good trait."

Jamie turned back to her mother. "As you can see, my interests are all over the place. So I think I’m going to pass on applying anywhere right now. Once we see where Ryan gets in, it’ll be easier to narrow my own choices down."

Catherine looked to her daughter-in-law. "Well, fill me in, Ryan. What have you chosen?"

"I’m still on the fence, too, Catherine. I’m going to apply to Cal and Stanford in math and biology, and Stanford and U.C.S.F. for an M.D./Ph.D. program. Then I’ll see where I get in, and make my choice."

Catherine blinked a bit and said, "I had no idea you wanted to be a physician, Ryan."

"I don’t," she shrugged. "I want to do research, but at the higher levels there’s a built-in bias against people who don’t have their medical degree. I also can’t conduct clinical trials on my own without an M.D. That’s not such a bad thing if I work in an academic setting, but if I want to work in private industry, I really need the credentials. I hate to have to do it, because it will take me a very long time to finish – but if I get in, that’s probably what I’ll do."

"How do you feel about locking yourself into more schooling?"

She shrugged and said, "I don’t mind the schooling part. But we’ve decided to wait to have children until we’re through with school. I’m a little bummed with the thought of not having our first child until I’m over thirty."

Catherine smiled and said, "You never know what will happen, girls. You might just be surprised with a baby before you expect one."

Now it was Ryan’s turn to blink in surprise. "Uhm … we can’t have an accident, Catherine. We have to make a conscious choice to get pregnant. There’s not a single sperm between us."

Throwing her head back and laughing heartily, Catherine said, "I know that, Ryan! I just meant that you might decide to get pregnant much earlier than you’re planning at this point. Goodness!" she laughed again. "I sometimes forget that you’re lesbians, but I’ve never given a thought to either of you having the ability to impregnate the other."

Ryan laughed as well, shaking her head as she said, "Maybe that’s what I’ll do my research on. Wouldn’t you like to have an adorable little clone of Jamie running around the house?"

Smiling at her daughter-in-law, Catherine admitted, "Knowing you, I might as well get the nursery ready, Ryan. I’m continually impressed by your talents."

* * * * * * * * * * *

After a relaxing dip in the warm water, Ryan said, "I’m in the mood to give two massages. And I choose you to go first," she said as she poked her finger against Catherine’s chest.

"Oh, Ryan, you don’t have to do that," she demurred weakly.

"But I want to," she replied. "You don’t want to disappoint your guest do you?" she asked while batting her eyes.

"I’m helpless around both of you!" Catherine declared dramatically, but she allowed herself to be led out of the spa and into the massage area in the pool house.

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

Catherine went to bed as soon as Ryan was finished with her, and Ryan did such a good job on Jamie, that she was snoozing peacefully on the massage table by the time her massage was finished. "I have got to think this through better in my thick head!" Ryan mumbled audibly as she lifted the sturdy body and carried her into the house, smiling down at the serene expression as her partner woke just enough to give her a lazy, satisfied smile.

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

Early the next morning, Jamie’s nose twitched in Ryan’s direction. "Why do you smell so sweet?"

"That would not have been your question 20 minutes ago," she assured her. "But I smell sweet now because I went for a nice long run, stopped in the kitchen for a just baked cinnamon roll, and hopped in the shower. I’ve washed my hair, shaved my legs and brushed every little tooth. All of that adds up to sweetness," she conjectured.

"And why are you back in bed?" Jamie asked with a sultry tone to her voice.

"I’m here to collect," Ryan answered in her own sexy voice. "You left me with the female equivalent of blue balls last night, missy!"

"Oh, let me see," Jamie teased, giggling as she ducked her head below the covers. "I don’t see anything blue down here," her muffled voice called out. "Everything’s pink and sparkling clean." She popped back up and said, "I’m gonna go get all sparkly too. I’ll love you forever if you dash back down and get me one of those rolls while they’re still warm."

"Do you think Marta will mind?" Ryan asked casually as she trotted over to the door, her firm breasts jiggling just the way Jamie liked them.

"I think she would faint dead away, gorgeous. Put some clothes on before I have to call the paramedics!"

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

When Jamie emerged from the shower Ryan was back in bed, contentedly sucking her fingers clean of the glaze that covered the sticky cinnamon rolls. "You’d better hurry," she teased.

Jamie leapt to the bed from at least five feet away, and only Ryan’s quick reflexes saved the buns from winding up on the sheets. "Why do you do things like that?" she cried in exasperation.

"Because I know you’re as quick as a cat, and I love to see the look on your face," she said happily as she snagged a roll from the plate resting on Ryan’s lap.

That comment merited her a gentle kiss … and another … and another until they were grappling together in a mess of sheets, down comforter and tangled limbs. Ryan had the presence of mind to secure the plate prior to her opening volley, but just when Jamie was about out of control she pulled the plate back and snatched another roll, idly commenting, "I’m hungrier than I am horny."

Jamie lunged for her and grabbed the roll from her mouth, stuffing the entire thing into her own mouth before Ryan could even bite down. "Hey, give me that back!" she cried as she tried to tickle it out of her. But Jamie leapt to her feet and danced around behind an upholstered wing chair, moving it quickly to keep a bounding Ryan at bay while she chewed noisily with a wicked look on her face.

She finished the morsel and opened her mouth wide to show that it was all gone. Ryan leapt for her and managed to get her arms around her waist despite Jamie’s fierce defensive moves, then she tossed her over her shoulder while she lightly paddled her butt, before dumping her back onto the bed. "Just for that, I’m going to lift weights instead of make love!" she declared defiantly.

"Oh, Ryan," Jamie pouted, "don’t leave me … I’ll be good, I promise," she added with her best innocent look.

"I didn’t say I was going to leave," she reminded her. "I said I was going to lift weights!" And with that she grabbed her by the waist as she rolled onto her back. She used her powerful chest and arm muscles as her hands slid down to Jamie’s hips and powered her up and down amid her screams and nearly hysterical giggles.

The game became much more creative as Ryan managed to perform a set of abdominal crunches with her partner straddling her lap and limply resting against her chest; 20 pushups with Jamie lying completely atop her; and another 20 with Ryan’s body poised over Jamie’s. The last pushup was aborted when Jamie snaked her arms around her partner and pulled her to her chest, refusing to allow her to finish. Jamie’s warm, wet kisses made Ryan very pleased with her decision, and they spent the next hour making love enthusiastically and athletically.

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

When they finally emerged from Jamie’s room, it was just past nine o’clock and they nearly collided with Catherine as she emerged for the first time. "Oh, how nice!" she said happily. "You managed to sleep in!"

"Yep," they answered in unison, with matching contrived looks of innocence on their very satisfied faces.

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

Ryan ran off to practice while Jamie and Catherine sat in the sunny kitchen, idly picking at the last remaining cinnamon roll. "I’m a little worried about you, Mom," Jamie said softly as she gazed at her mother’s drawn face. "I’ve never seen you look so sad."

"Christmas is hard," she admitted. "Harder than I thought it would be. I think back to our first Christmas together … how filled with promise and plans we both were, Jamie. You were due to be born soon, and we were so much in love." She sighed and wiped at a tear with an irritated gesture. "It seems so long ago."

"Your mind is really made up, isn’t it?" the younger woman asked, her concern evident.

"Yes, I’m afraid so, honey. I know this is hard for you, but I can’t go on like this."

"Mom," she said gently, "I promised myself I wouldn’t get involved, and I really don’t want to," she said, "but I honestly think that Daddy’s telling the truth this time."

Catherine nodded, a resigned look on her face. "I think there is a very good chance of that, honey," she said softly, surprising Jamie.

"But …"

"Honey, the issue isn’t whether or not he’s telling the truth this time. The issue is that I have not been able to rebuild my trust in him." She looked at Jamie and asked, "Could you stay with Ryan if you were innately suspicious of every woman that she spent any time with?"

"No, no, I couldn’t," Jamie admitted. "Every once in a while I feel a little jealousy, and it drives me nuts. And that’s with me knowing that she would never cheat. If I couldn’t trust her … we’d have nothing," she said softly.

"That’s exactly it," Catherine agreed. "I didn’t know that until this last incident, Jamie. I thought we could just start anew. But even if he could – I couldn’t. I have too much resentment built up over his behavior – I can’t let go of it, honey. I wish I could – but I can’t."

"I understand, Mom," she said as she scooted her chair close and offered a gentle hug. "I would do the same thing. I’ve told Ryan that I have a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy on cheating. It’s unforgivable."

"Thank you for understanding," Catherine sighed, her breath warm against her daughter’s neck. "I was afraid this would be impossible for you to accept."

"You’re a very generous and giving woman, Mom. If you could get past this – you would."

"I need to get on with my life. I’ve been in a holding pattern for years – like I was in suspended animation. I’ve had enough!" She sat up and wiped her eyes with a napkin, then shook her head to clear it and said, "Goodness! Life is so much more painful without a hearty dose of alcohol!"

She got up and went to the refrigerator and poured herself a glass of orange juice. Jamie didn’t ask the question – she just cocked her head and waited to see if her mother wished to talk about it further.

"My therapist seems to have the notion that I drink to escape my feelings," she said lightly, sitting back down and gazing at her daughter with an unreadable expression on her face.

Again, Jamie didn’t reply, she just raised an eyebrow and Catherine continued. "I’ve decided to limit myself to one drink a day – just to prove her wrong, of course," she chuckled. Glancing at her watch she said, "It’s probably a little early for my daily quota now, isn’t it?"

Leaning in for another hug, Jamie merely said, "You’re a very brave woman, Mom. I admire how you’re handling all of this. I know it’s really tough for you."

"Thank you, sweetheart," she whispered. "I’m doing my best. Sometimes I don’t think I can get through it, and then I remind myself that my daughter deserves a sober mom."

"I have a great mom," Jamie murmured, kissing her mother’s cheeks gently and leaning in for another hug.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan came back, they were still at the breakfast table, and she stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips. "Have you two moved?" she asked, a scowl on her handsome face.

"Nope. We decided to be in place for lunch. Hungry?"

"Gee … when have I ever said no to that question?" Ryan grinned. "I’ll make lunch," she offered.

As if she had the room bugged, Marta appeared and guided Ryan to a chair. "I will make anything you desire, Ryan. It is my pleasure."

Ryan cast a glance at her mother-in-law and asked, "Can Marta go home with us?"

"No way, Ryan. Marta and I are a package deal."

"Oh, I’d be happy to have you come too, Catherine. I’ll give you my room." She had a big smile on her face, and Catherine knew that at some level the young woman was entirely serious.

"I think we’ll keep the Peninsula branch of the family right where it is, Ryan. We need the space for parties!"

"Speaking of parties, you’ll come spend Christmas with us, won’t you, Mom?" Jamie asked. "We’ll all get together on Christmas Eve for dinner, and then go to midnight Mass."

"You sound like an old hand at this," Catherine said with a smile.

She blushed a little as she admitted, "This will be my second Christmas Eve with the O’Flahertys."

"It will?" Catherine asked with a puzzled look on her face. "I distinctly remember you going to Mass at your grandfather’s."

"I snuck out of Jack’s apartment to go," she revealed. "I told him I had to go to Berkeley to pick up something, and then I met him at church. I was at Ryan’s from late afternoon until eleven!"

"My, what a secret life you’ve led," the elder Evans said fondly.

"I also snuck out of the firm’s New Year’s party to go find Ryan at her party," she said rather happily.

"And neither of you knew that you were attracted to each other?" Catherine asked in amazement. "I don’t ever remember sneaking out of the house to go see my girlfriends, Jamie," she teased.

Ryan smiled at her mother-in-law. "I was totally attracted to Jamie by that time," she confessed, "but I convinced myself it was a wasted effort." She smiled at her partner and said, "I think she had a pretty good idea that she had feelings for me too by that point. I got a massive vibe from you at the New Year’s party," Ryan fondly admitted. "It seemed really important to you to give me a New Year’s kiss."

"Mmm, I still remember how my lips tingled when I kissed you," Jamie said with a dreamy expression on her face. She sighed heavily, tossing her head to clear it. "So, what’s the verdict, Mom? Will you come?"

Turning to Catherine, Ryan commented, "You may as well agree to come have Christmas with us, Catherine. She always gets her way."

"That she does," Catherine agreed fondly. "All right, I’ll come. But would you come home with me after church and spend the night? I hate to seem so needy, but the thought of waking up on Christmas morning to an empty house is a little more than I can bear right now."

"We’d be happy to, wouldn’t we, honey?" Jamie said immediately.

"We would love to, Catherine," Ryan agreed with a sweet smile as she reached over and squeezed her hand. Turning to Jamie, Ryan asked, "Do you want to spend some time with your father too? I know this is going to be hard for all of you to get through."

"Oh God," Jamie muttered as she closed her eyes tightly. "I … guess I …"

"It’s all right, Jamie," Catherine said. "I want you to spend time with him. He’s going to be very lonely this year, too."

"I will, Mom, and I really appreciate that you still feel some empathy for him."

"I love him, Jamie," she said softly, tears forming in her eyes once again. "I will always love him. I just can’t be married to him."

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

After lunch the threesome sat out by the pool, trying to soak up the watery rays of the thin sun. Jamie turned to her partner and said, "When you were gone, Mom asked what we had planned for New Year’s, and I realized that we haven’t discussed it."

Chuckling mildly, Ryan agreed. "We’ve had so much going on that it just didn’t seem like it was that close."

"If you’d like to do something special, Mom had a brilliant suggestion."

"Really, what is it, Catherine?"

"Well, I told Jamie that I knew about Mia and her newfound interest in Jordan," she said.

"Oh, do you now?" Ryan teased. "How did you figure that mystery out?"

"It wasn’t hard," she admitted. "I saw them dancing together at your father’s wedding, but I didn’t give much thought to it at the time. I know girls your age are often very affectionate with each other. But I was at your house after I took Jennie to Sacred Heart, and they came in. They were quite … affectionate, as well as very distracted, and they didn’t see me, but they were a lot friendlier than I can remember being when I was that age!"

"Oh, they’re friendly all right," Ryan admitted with a chuckle. "But how does that

relate to New Year’s?"

"I told Mom how upset Mia is to have Jordan gone, and she suggested we all go somewhere together for New Year’s. Since you’ll be in North Carolina on the 30th, it makes sense to go somewhere on the east coast, and she suggested the Bahamas."

"Wow," Ryan said slowly. "That would be nice …"

"Warm water, sun, sand …" Jamie said.

Ryan’s lips curled into a big grin as her eyes blinked slowly. "Mmm, I do love the water."

"Crystal clear water that actually looks aqua against the pink sand," Catherine supplied.

"Mmm." The dark haired woman submerged herself in the thought for a moment before her eyes opened wide and she said, "Pink?"

"Pink," Catherine stated confidently. "My favorite place in the Bahamas most definitely has pink sand. Have you ever been to the Caribbean?"

"I’ve been to beaches from Los Angeles to Point Reyes in the U.S., and I’ve ranged as far as Dingle Beach in Ireland, but that’s it."

"Then you are most definitely in for a treat," Catherine promised.

"But what about Jordan and Mia?" Ryan asked, obviously willing to accept the gift. "Don’t we have to check their schedules first?"

"Well, Jordan will know if she makes the team by then, since they make the final cut on the thirtieth. If she gets cut, she can definitely come with us, and if she doesn’t, she could go straight to Florida for their first tournament. I think Mia said it starts on January the fourth."

"That sounds great, and the thought of lying on a warm beach is extremely appealing – but how can we get in anywhere at this late date? You know, most of the world thinks it’s the new millennium, even though that’s really next year."

"I have the best travel agent in the English speaking world, Ryan," Catherine informed her. "Let me see what magic he can work for you all."

"That would be great, but are you sure Mia’s available?" Ryan asked.

"What could you imagine would make Mia pass up four days on the beach with Jordan?" Jamie asked with a puzzled look on her face.

"Good point," Ryan laughed. "Make the call!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Catherine went inside to get her travel agent started, and after a minute Ryan asked, "Is today the twenty-first?"

"Yep. Why?"

"I’ve been trying to work out a schedule to get our training in. If we start as soon as we get back, we’ll have exactly six months to get ready for the ride." She shook her head, and said, "I’ve never tried to prepare with so little time, but I guess we don’t have much choice."

"Pardon?" Jamie asked slowly, recognition dawning.

"The AIDS Ride?" Ryan said, giving her partner a puzzled look. "You know … the seventh annual AIDS Ride? The one you and I are going to do together?"

"Just back up a minute," Jamie ordered. "You mean to tell me that you honestly think you have time to participate in the ride this year?"

Ryan blinked slowly and nodded. "I have to!"

"You most certainly do not! I’ll have to push you across the finish line in a hospital bed, and you know it, Ryan O’Flaherty!"

Ryan’s eyes filled with determination, and her chin jutted out just enough to show she was not going to give in. "Then you’ll just have to do that, Jamie, because I’m doing the ride!"

By the time Catherine neared the pool, she could hear the raised voices, and see the flush coloring her daughter’s face. Turning immediately, she started to head back to the house. "Mom!" Jamie called. "Will you come here and help me convince this block-head that she can’t possibly get ready to do the AIDS Ride this year?"

"No, I most certainly will not," Catherine said over her shoulder. "I will never get involved in your squabbles, honey. Call me when you’re finished arguing."

Ryan looked over and said, "Come on back, Catherine. We’re not arguing." She turned to Jamie and narrowed her eyes. "There’s nothing to argue about. I’m doing the AIDS Ride this year. I’d love to have you join me, Jamie, but I won’t be angry if you choose not to."

"You make me so damned mad some times!" the blonde cried. "How can you ignore the patently obvious facts, Ryan? You’re underweight; you’re still lethargic from your illness; you’ve got a huge independent study next term that will take up a massive amount of your time; you’re trying to play a varsity sport with a martinet for a coach; and you’ve committed to tutoring Jennie! When in the hell will you have time to ride?"

When Catherine reached the door she called out, "Let me know when you’re finished not arguing, girls."

"We’re not arguing," Ryan insisted, her face getting red as well. "There’s nothing to argue about." Leaning closer to her partner she whispered harshly, "You can’t tell me what to do! Others have tried – and failed!"

Catherine’s eyes widened as the door closed, determined to stay inside until there was a truce. Well, at least Ryan’s shown she’s human … I was beginning to wonder!

* * * * * * * * * * *

"How can I get you to listen to reason?" Jamie fumed, not even noticing that her mother had departed.

"The same way I can get you to," Ryan said, with a withering glare. "Maybe you’ve just not been paying attention, but the AIDS Ride means a tremendous amount to me. I’ve participated every single year — and this isn’t going to be the year I break the string! You are free to make your own decisions, Jamie. If you don’t think you can get ready, you don’t even have to try. But I’m doing it if June the fourth is the first time my ass is on a bike seat!"

The sound Jamie let out was half scream and half howl. "You’re positively infuriating!" She leapt to her feet, and stormed back into the house, leaving Ryan to savor the blessed silence.

* * * * * * * * * * *

An hour later, Jamie went back outside, smiling gently when she spied her lover, sound asleep on the lounge chair. Her organizer was lying open on the ground next to her, and the breeze was making the pages flip noisily. Picking up the massive book, Jamie looked through the weeks, noting that Ryan had already neatly filled in notations for practically every available moment between January the fourth and June the third, with an estimate of how many miles she would be able to ride in the given time. She had to chuckle to herself when she saw that Ryan rode an hour later every day after daylight-saving time began, since she would have that extra hour of light.

She sat down and gazed at her sleeping partner, her anger forgotten. Ryan was often infuriating, but Jamie had to admit that she deeply admired her perseverance and dedication to a cause. The AIDS Ride was important to her, and she was going to participate – no matter the cost.

The sleepy blue eyes blinked open, and Jamie reached over and grasped Ryan’s hand. "Mad at me?" the blonde asked.

With a smile that could have melted the hardest heart, Ryan shook her head gently. "Of course not. Are you mad at me?"

"No. You know I can’t stay mad at you. You’re too damned adorable." She tweaked her nose and offered a hand up when Ryan tried to sit.

"You won’t even try to get ready with me, will you?" she asked softly, looking into Jamie’s eyes.

The blonde head shook. "I can’t, honey. I have golf practice in the mornings and I have to practice or be in a tournament both days of the weekend. I just don’t have the time." She put her arms around Ryan and said, "I’ll still contribute, of course, and since we signed up for this year at the end of last year’s ride, I think I’ll just let them think I’m going to ride."

"Why’s that?" Ryan asked.

"So you get a tent to yourself," Jamie teased. "No way I’m letting anyone get that close to you for a whole week!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later that afternoon, Jamie found a quiet moment to put in a call to her father. Her talk with her mother about the divorce had been weighing on her mind, and she felt a strong pull to connect with him. "Hi, Daddy," she said when she reached him at his office.

"Hi, sweetheart," he said, and she could practically see the smile that graced his face when he recognized her voice.

"Daddy, I wanted to see if you had plans for Christmas," she said. "If not, I’d really like to spend some time with you – if you can come to California, that is."

"Are you sure, Jamie?" he asked hesitantly. "Of course I’d like to come, but I don’t want to interfere …"

"Daddy, you can’t interfere with my life … you’re part of my life. Of course I want to spend some of the holiday season with you."

"I’m free after today, to be honest, honey. I was just wasting time in the office since I didn’t have anything better to do."

She felt that statement tug at her heart, and she said, "Come home, Daddy. We have a lot of things going on, but I’ll spend every moment I can spare with you. Poppa would really like to see you, too," she reminded him.

"Okay, baby," he said. "I’ll come as soon as I can get a reservation."

"I’m really looking forward to seeing you, Daddy," she said. "I miss you."

"Thank you, baby," he said in a strangled voice. "That means a lot to me."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 9

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