I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 12: Lifeline

By: S X Meagher



Part 6

"This is a pretty nice place," Mia said as they arrived at their hotel. The team was scheduled to play in the Pan-Am tournament starting the next day, and the hotel was located within walking distance of the arena where the games would be played.

"Yeah," Jordan said. "I sure lucked out. I thought we’d have to rent a separate room."

"It’s nice to have an odd number of players, isn’t it?" the curly-haired woman said. She walked over to Jordan and said, "I was really impressed that you told them you had your partner with you. Was that hard for you?"

The blonde shook her head, smiling gently. "No, it wasn’t for some reason." She bent and kissed Mia, lingering for a moment to enjoy the taste of her lips. "That was the first time I’ve ever come out to anyone," she said. "Other than Ryan, of course."

"It’ll get easier every time you do it. Jamie comes out to people on the street now," she said. "If she can feel that comfortable that quickly, so can you."

"It’s easier with support from the people I love," Jordan said, giving her another kiss. "It’s nice to have open-minded straight people – like you – in my life."

"I’ll give you a straight person," the laughing woman said, pushing Jordan onto the bed.

"Now, now, I have to get to practice," Jordan said, giggling while Mia’s fingers found all of her ticklish spots. "I can’t let you have your straight girl way with me."

"I’ll go easy on you now, but as soon as practice is over you’re gonna be mine."

"I’m yours anyway," Jordan said, placing a gentle kiss on her lips before she hopped up to get ready for practice.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Quicker than either woman was prepared for, they were thrust back into reality when they arrived back in Berkeley from the airport. Ryan was running late and didn’t have time to stop at home first, so she directed the driver to drop her off at the gym. She kissed Jamie quickly and hopped out, muttering, "I’ve still got sand in some very sensitive places. Sweating while I run up and down that court is not going to be fun."

"Sorry, Tiger," Jamie said, waving goodbye as her cranky lover trotted away.

She was nearly at the door of the gym when she saw them. Regrettably, they saw her at the same time, and descended upon her like a school of piranhas. "Ryan! What do you have to say about the article printed in today’s National Inquisitor? Is what they say about you true, Ryan? You have to comment sometime! Where’s Jamie? Are you still together, or has the publicity caused you to break up?"

Staring at the ground, she tried to brush past the small but determined crowd. As microphone after microphone was thrust into her face, she raised her arms and clasped her hands together, her sharp elbows poised to jab anyone who got in her way. The school had posted a guard at the players’ entrance, and as she drew near he opened the door to let her pass, throwing his substantial bulk across the opening to stop the crowd from following her.

She was nearly in tears by the time she made it into the locker room, feeling the pressure once again tightening in her chest. It was hard for her to breathe, and she knew that she was in no shape to play basketball at the moment. Since she was a little late, the rest of the players were already on the court, and she hurried to struggle out of her clothes, while pawing through her locker to find some clean practice shorts. Coach Hayes approached and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Are you okay?" she asked gently.

Ryan looked at her with a mixture of panic and revulsion. "Yeah. Yeah. I will be. I’m just having a hard time catching my breath. What in the hell were the idiots talking about?" she asked, her face contorted in stark confusion. "They were asking about Jamie and me."

Mary blinked at her for a moment, then asked, "Uhm … don’t you know the latest?"

"What latest? I don’t know a damned thing. I just got out of a cab from the airport."

"Uhm … I’m not sure exactly what’s going on, but the tabloids are now digging into your personal life," Mary said, feeling sick to her stomach at the heartbreakingly shocked look on the young woman’s face.

"My … my personal life?"

"Yeah. Uhm … someone close to you is obviously talking to the tabloids, Ryan. I … I … I don’t know why anyone would say what he or she has been saying unless …"

Glaring at the woman, Ryan snapped, "No one close to me would do that. No one! The tabloids just make shit up."

"Well … they’ve been printing some pretty specific details about you and Jamie. All sorts of things about how you first got together. They’re fascinated with the fact that you and Jamie are lovers." Stroking her back, the coach asked, "Your family knows about you, don’t they?"

"Of course. We live with them on the weekends. We’re not in the closet, Coach. It’s just … it’s personal!" With a strangled groan, she got to her feet and kicked one of the lockers … then another … then another … lashing out against the inanimate objects with a fury that shocked the startled coach. The out-of-control young woman started to grab anything that she could reach, taking out her rage on the towel cart, the Gatorade cart, and everything else that wasn’t nailed down. Mary was sure she was going to hurt herself, so she got behind her and grabbed onto her waist, holding on for dear life as Ryan flailed away, screaming curse words at the top of her lungs.

Lynette came running in just as Mary yanked with all of her might to stop Ryan from dragging her into the bathroom enclosure. Her desperate grab caused Ryan to lose her balance, and both of them wound up on the floor, their limbs tangled together. "Jesus Christ!" Lynette cried, running to separate them. "What the fuck has gotten into you, Ryan!" Turning her head to the door, she yelled, "Somebody call the campus police!"

"No! For God’s sake, don’t do that!" Mary pried herself away from Ryan, who was now babbling incoherently, curled up in the fetal position on the wet tile floor. "She didn’t try to hurt me, Lynette. She just flipped out, and I tried to stop her from hurting herself. She’s so damned strong, I was afraid she’d rip the sinks off the wall!"

Mary crawled over to Ryan and tugged on her until her head and shoulders were resting on her lap. Soothingly, she stroked her, murmuring to her as she did so. Looking up, she saw most of the members of the team standing in the doorway, their eyes nearly popping from their heads. Turning to Lynette, she said, "Get rid of everyone, and see if you can get Jamie on the phone."

When Lynette left, Mary continued to try to soothe her troubled player, rocking her like she did her own children when one of them threw a tantrum. Slowly, Ryan recovered, and she rolled onto her back, gazing up at her coach with a confused look on her tear-streaked face. "Fuck," she muttered. "I don’t know what the hell just happened."

Mary didn’t say a thing, she just helped Ryan to sit up, then she got to her knees and stood. Extending a hand, she helped pull the sturdy young woman up, then put an arm around her waist and led her down the halls to her office. Once inside, she handed her some tissues and said, "We’ve been trying to get hold of Jamie, or your family."

"No, no, that will just worry her," she said. "I’m fine now. I uhm … don’t think I should practice today, though."

The coach looked at her player until Ryan raised her eyes and met her gaze. "You’re in no shape to play basketball, Ryan. You need to get some help."

"I’m fine," she said, her voice rising in agitation. "I need to keep going! If I keep everything as normal as possible, I’ll be all right."

"No." Mary shook her head slowly. "In the last week, you’ve had a panic attack, you accidentally took an overdose of sleeping pills and liquor, and now you practically tear the locker room apart. You’re not all right, Ryan, and until you get some help, I can’t let you play."

"You’re kicking me off the team?" she asked, looking like she’d been struck.

"No. You’re physically unable to perform, Ryan. I want you to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist to help you through this. You can’t play until your doctor says you’re able."

"Fine." She got up and left the office, striding down the hallway to get her things from the locker room. Mary was right on her heels, and she grasped her sleeve as Ryan entered the room. The younger woman whirled and glared at her coach. "You don’t know what’s best for me! I’ll be fine if I can just go about my normal activities!"

"You can’t, Ryan," the woman said. "Things have changed. There are reporters following you, and they’re going to be at all of our practices, all of our games. You can’t be normal, because they won’t let you. I have to know that you can handle the stress!"

"I’ve handled more stress than you can imagine," Ryan growled. "I can handle this, too."

"No, you can’t. Not while I’m in charge. I’m sorry Ryan, but I care for you too much to let you harm yourself."

The young woman crossed her arms over her chest and asked, "Are you going to call my family and tell them this?"

"No. You’re old enough to make your own decisions. I just hope you make the right one." She looked at her for another moment, then her expression gentled and she said, "I care about you, Ryan, more than I care about winning and losing." She patted her on the back and left the room, leaving the younger woman alone.

* * * * * * * * * * *

She didn’t have her cell phone, and she had no money on her, since her things were in the cab with Jamie. Having very few options, she walked towards the players’ entrance, but stopped before she reached it. I’m not going through that again, she said. She began to prowl around the building, finding herself in the bowels of the new auditorium. She came upon some workmen unloading supplies from trucks, and realized that she was at the loading dock. Without announcing her presence, she sat down on the edge of the dock, then jumped, hitting the ground fairly hard. "Hey! You can’t leave the building that way!" one of the men yelled at her.

"Says who?" she growled, not bothering to look back.

Nearly a block from her home, she saw the news trucks double-parked on her normally quiet street. Suddenly, the place didn’t even feel like her home any more. The reporters had defiled the very ground that the building rested on, and she couldn’t bear the thought of going inside. All she wanted was to grab one of the cars and drive until she managed to elude the wolves. But both Jim’s BMW and the Boxster were in the driveway, neither doing her much good. While she stood on the sidewalk, looking as confused as she felt, a woman approached. "Hey, aren’t you …?" she started to ask.

"Yeah, I am," she said. "Do you live here?" Ryan indicated the house that the woman stood in front of.

"Yes, I do."

"Could I please use your phone? I can’t get into my house, and I’ve got to see if my girlfriend is okay."

"Sure, come on in," she said immediately. "Is Jamie all right?"

Ryan blinked at her and said, "It’s so odd, hearing you talk about her like you know her."

The woman blushed and said, "Well, I feel like I do. You two could have your own channel, you’re on TV so much."

Ryan just shook her head and made for the phone, relieved when her partner answered. "Where are you, honey?" she asked, hearing noise in the background.

"I’m still in the cab," she grumbled. "We’re close to the gym. I’m gonna brave the crowds to pull you out of there when practice is over."

"It’s over," Ryan said. "Can you come get me? I’m a block north of our house."

"Be right there," Jamie said, instructing the driver.

They escaped their neighborhood without further incident, but just stared at each other when the driver asked where they wanted to go. "I have to go home," Ryan said, her voice breaking. "I have to see my family."

Jamie immediately gave the driver directions, glad beyond words that he didn’t seem to recognize them, or think their behavior odd. Jamie reached Martin on her cell, and he instructed them to go to Niall’s house, since the media had not encroached upon his house in Sunset.

They had the driver stop at a Bank of America so Jamie could get enough cash to pay the exorbitant fare, and he dropped them off at around five o’clock. It was dark, but Martin wasn’t taking any chances. He whisked the young women into the house, then went back for their bags, and to settle up with the cabbie after Jamie thrust $200 at him.

Ryan stood in the hallway, tears streaming down her face, her partner holding on to her body tightly. Martin came back inside and wrapped them both in a fierce hug, holding on until his daughter’s sobs had calmed. He led them over to the redwood table and benches, the only furniture in the house. Ryan looked around, a desolate expression on her face. "I can’t stay here," she moaned, her voice rising in panic. "It’s like a prison cell!"

"Sshhh, sshhh," Martin soothed. "I don’t want you to stay here, love. I just wanted to get your things into a safe place. The reporters are covering our house, too, sweetheart, so we have to get you in surreptitiously, and I didn’t want to chance it until after dark. But don’t you worry, Siobhán, I’ll take you home with me, and come back and get your things later."

"Our house or your house?" she asked, her lower lip quivering.

"Wherever you’ll feel better," he said, wrapping her in another embrace. "My poor, poor baby." He sat down on one of the benches and held her tight, cradling her like he had when she was a young child. Jamie sat on her other side and patted her thigh soothingly, just trying to stay connected.

"What have we done to be hounded like this?" she asked.

"Nothing, darlin’. You’ve done nothing to deserve this. They’re a pack of jackals," he spat, his anger rising precipitously.

Jamie stood and went to her purse, extracting her cell phone. "I want to call my father and let him know we’re back."

"He’s called the house every day that you’ve been gone," Martin said. "He’s very worried about you both."

She nodded and waited as the speed dial connected to his apartment. He wasn’t home, so she tried his cell, and he answered quickly. "Daddy?"

"Oh, Jamie, thank God," he sighed. "I was afraid you’d gone into hiding."

"No," she said with a ghost of a laugh. "Although that’s very appealing."

"Where are you, honey?"

"We just got back to San Francisco. We’re at Ryan’s cousin’s house in Sunset."

"Let me come get you," he said. "I can have a limo pick you up – and I’m quite sure the police department will stop the reporters from following you."

Jamie took one look at her partner, her dark head cradled against Martin’s chest. "We need to stay here, Dad. I think it’ll be okay once we get settled."

"Jamie, I’m so sorry about everything that’s come out," he said, sounding heartbroken.

"What is it, Daddy? I’ve been in a cab for hours. I don’t know what you’re talking about."

"Someone who knows you spoke to the press. I’m not certain, but I think it was Cassie Martin."

"Oh, God." She sank onto the bench, and leaned heavily against Ryan. "Why do you think that?"

"The things that were printed are the kinds of things that only Mia or Cassie or Jack would know, honey. I know Mia wouldn’t do that to you, and Jack is far too honorable to betray you like that. I don’t think Cassie has the same moral code as Mia and Jack do."

Sighing, Jamie asked, "Okay, give it to me. What did she say?"

Jim paused for a moment, trying to think of the best way to present the things he had read. "She had two main points. One, that Ryan uses women for what she can get out of them – casting them aside when she’s finished; and two, that she set out on a path to destroy your relationship with Jack. The implication was that she’s using you like she’s used the others – and that once she has taken as much of your money as she can get her hands on – she’ll leave you for a real lesbian."

"I am suddenly so damned tired," she said, "I don’t even have the strength to get angry."

"I understand, honey," Jim said, "but it’s clear that you can’t continue to ignore this. It’s not going to go away on its own. You have to have a spokesperson. I understand that you don’t want to talk, but I think you need an expert to guide you through this morass."

"Fine," she said wearily. "We’ll be at …" She looked at Martin, who mouthed, "My house." "We’ll be at Martin’s," she informed her father, giving him the telephone number and the address. "Oh, and Daddy, make sure this person knows that the house is surrounded. He or she will be harassed just trying to get in."

"Public relations people are used to that, honey. It’s how they earn their living."

When Jamie hung up, she gazed at her partner for a moment, then said, "Given how upset you are, I have a feeling that you know about the tabloids."

Ryan’s dark head nodded, but she didn’t say a word.

"Do you know who sold us out, honey?"

With her eyes blinking slowly, Ryan said, "I didn’t before, but I do now. I hope that she’s made her peace with God – ‘cause she’s gonna meet him soon – as soon as I get my hands on her."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Hearing that the girls were back in the neighborhood, Conor was dispatched to the Necessaries, and stood in front of the magazine rack, reading the entire article from the tabloid. When he was finished, he approached the owner of the store. "Hey, Mr. Kim? How much money do you get for selling one of these?" He held the magazine up by the corner, touching it with only his thumb and index finger to avoid having it taint him.

"Oh … about twenty-five cents," he said.

"If you don’t sell them, can you return them?"

"Oh, sure, sure."

Conor counted the supply and made an offer. "I’ll give you thirty cents for each one if you return them all."

The man nodded for a moment, then asked, "Do these hurt Ryan?"

"They do."

"Then I send back. No need to pay, Conor. I make plenty from reporters drinking coffee, anyway."

Conor gave the man a warm smile and said, "Thanks, Mr. Kim. I can’t have my sister walk in here and see these."

* * * * * * * * * * *

While pushing her food around her plate, Ryan gave a brief, emotionless account of Coach Hayes’ asking her to leave the team temporarily, leaving out a few important details – such as her emotional meltdown.

Jamie could tell that Martin was steamed, but he wisely said little, trying not to work his daughter into even more of a state. "This will all be over soon, Siobhán. Then you can go back and finish out the year in peace."

"Right," she said tersely, giving no indication that she believed one word of his statement.

* * * * * * * * * * *

For the rest of the night, Ryan sat in front of the television, flipping between CNN, MSNBC, and all of the local news outlets, seemingly transfixed by the coverage. No one had anything of substance to say, of course, but that didn’t stop the drone of talk. Jamie couldn’t stomach the coverage, so she went to Kevin’s old room and wrote in her journal, trying to relieve her stress.

A gentle knock on the door just before nine o’clock brought Martin to his feet and caused Ryan to look up like a trapped animal. "Who is it?" he asked.

"Leslie King," a female voice said. "Senator Evans asked me to come. I’m with Rosenberg, Kelly and Martini." Martin had no idea what that meant, but Ryan got to her feet and opened the door.

"Ryan O’Flaherty," she said, extending one hand, while the other shielded her eyes from the glare of the lights trained upon the door.

The woman slipped past her, then spent a moment smoothing her hair back into place. "Quiet a gauntlet out there," she said.

"We had to come in through the back," Ryan said. "It pays to live in a neighborhood for thirty years. The neighbors don’t try to shoot you when you traipse through their back yards."

"Well," Leslie said. "It’s good to meet you, Ryan, even though the circumstances aren’t ideal. I’m here to see if we can’t help get you and Jamie a little peace."

"Anything you can do will be much appreciated," Ryan sighed, heading back into the living room. "Honey?" she called up the stairs.

Jamie came down, and after introductions were made, Leslie got down to business. "Senator Evans tells me that you’re both unwilling to make any type of statement," she began

"Correct," Ryan said, her eyes blazing with determination. "At this point, it’s a test of wills."

Looking up into those slate blue eyes, Leslie decided that this resolute young woman probably didn’t lose many such tests.

"Okay, I can see that’s a dead issue," she said. "That wouldn’t be my recommendation, but I can understand it."

"What is your recommendation, Leslie?" Jamie asked, feeling her lover tense noticeably.

"I think this would die down if you just made a statement saying that you won’t address the incident, or your personal lives. If they could see you, and let America hear you, I think it would go away."

"Think, or know?" the blonde asked.

"Well, I have 20 years of experience in the field, and I can assure you that the one thing the press loves is a recluse. You two have been wonderful for them. If you had just made a statement the first night, this would have been over immediately."

"Too bad," Ryan said, jutting her jaw out defiantly. "I’m not going to talk, because it’s no one’s business.

"Of course it isn’t," the woman said. "But sometimes you have to be pragmatic."

"No, I don’t," Ryan said, her eyes burning hot.

"Okay," Leslie said. "Pragmatism is out."

"I don’t mean to be rigid," Ryan said, "but I will be very upset with myself if I let the press make me do things that I don’t think are right. It might take the immediate problem away, but it will create a bigger internal problem for me."

"I can understand that," the older woman said, lightly patting Ryan’s arm, seeing the young woman jerk noticeably. "So the question remains, what do we do now?"

"Not a clue," Jamie said.

"What about having another family member make the statement?" Leslie asked.

"No," Ryan said, her eyes not blinking.

"Okay, then I guess it’s up to me. I’ll write up a speech, and you two can approve it, of course. I’ll call a press conference, and try to get all of the media outlets to send someone."

"What do you plan on saying?" Ryan asked, her eyes narrowing.

"Nothing," she said. "Absolutely nothing. I want every person who leaves that room to be cursing my name. I want to give them plenty of nothing, Ryan. After a while, they’ll realize that they’re wasting their time."

"That I can live with," Ryan said for the first time since they left the plane.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As soon as Leslie left, Jamie got on the phone with her father. "Thanks so much for sending a pro to help us out, Dad. I’m not sure her plan will work, but at least it’s a step.’’

"We discussed what she was going to suggest," he said. "Are you going to let her make a statement?"

"Yeah, we are, but we want her to make it. We’re just not up to it, Daddy."

"Is there any way we can see each other, honey? I have to leave for Washington tomorrow, you know."

"No, I didn’t know," she sighed. "I want to see you, too, Dad, but we don’t have a lot of options. Either you come over here, or I sneak out. Are you being followed?"

"Like a fox at the hunt," he growled. "But I won’t let that stop me, Jamie. If you want to get together, I’ll be there."

"It’s up to you, Dad. If you don’t mind braving the hordes, I’d love to see you."

"I’ll be there in fifteen minutes, honey," he said.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jim proved to be accurate in his prediction, and a cab dropped him off not long after they had finished speaking. Soon after he arrived, Martin and Maeve went to their room, to give Jamie and Ryan some time alone with him. Ryan was grumpy and irritable, so Jamie excused her after just a few minutes.

Father and daughter stared at each other for a few minutes, then Jim reached across the kitchen table and grasped his child’s hand. "I’ll do anything … anything to make your life more comfortable, Jamie. I’m more than happy to hire a driver for you, so they can’t see you get into cars; I’ll get a security team to clear the area for you before you leave a place – anything."

"I really do appreciate that, Daddy, but I don’t think that would help. I think going through that kind of thing every time we leave the house will drive Ryan mad."

He gazed at her for a moment, then asked, "I’m not criticizing you, Jamie, but so far every decision you’ve mentioned has been made by Ryan and for Ryan. Is that how you want it to be?"

She started to defend her partner, then paused and realized that her father had a valid concern. "I have let her take the lead, Daddy, but for a good reason." She sighed and said, "Being the focus of attention is driving her mad. It’s not that bad for me, for some reason. I’d just go to the Berkeley house and ignore them – but she’s not able to. Since she’s having such a hard time, I’m trying to let her make the decisions. I’m just trying to support her," she said quietly.

"You’re being a very good … uhm …"

"Partner," she said, giving him a wry smile.

"Right," he said, nodding. "You’re being a very good partner, honey. But are you sure that your needs are being met?"

"Yes, they are. My biggest need right now is making sure that Ryan gets through this. Once I’m sure she’s okay, everything will be fine."

"Okay," he said, letting the issue drop. "I just want you to know that I’ll get as involved as you want me to. I’ll do anything to fix this for you."

"Daddy," she said softly, placing a hand on his tensed arm, "sometimes you can’t fix things. This will go away in time, and I really don’t think there’s much you can do to make it stop. I appreciate that you want to try, but I think you need to just go back to Washington, and let this die out on its own."

He looked down at the table, "I don’t know if I can do that, honey. I can’t stand to feel that powerless."

"This time we are powerless, Dad. We need to calm down and wait until it blows over."

* * * * * * * * * * *


After her father left, Jamie went into the living room and spent a few moments watching her partner. She seemed to have been hypnotized by the television and remained oblivious to Jamie’s presence. "Can I convince you to come to bed?"

"Ehh … I don’t know," Ryan said. "I think I’m too keyed up to relax."

"This isn’t helping, Ryan. It’s just making you angrier. I can tell by your face."

"Yeah … angry … that’s about it," she snapped. "I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been this angry." She let out a humorless laugh and said, "I keep saying that, and then some bastard makes me hit a new high."

Jamie came around the front of the sofa to take a better look at her partner. The tall woman’s hands were curled into fists, and every muscle looked like it was coiled to strike. Jamie placed her hands on her belly, and just as she thought, the muscles were rigid with tension. "Honey, please turn it off. It’s making you crazy."

"I want vengeance," Ryan said quietly, her flashing eyes glowing in the blue light of the television.

"Oh, honey," Jamie sighed. She sat down next to her and tried to draw her attention away from the television. "Ryan, that’s not like you. Come on, now. You’ve got to put this in perspective."

The dark head finally turned towards her, Ryan’s face showing a mixture of incredulity and indignation. "Perspective? I’ll give you perspective! One of your former friends, a woman who sponged off your generosity for three years, a woman whose mother was your mother’s best friend for 15 years, decides, out of nothing but spite and vindictiveness, to throw us to the wolves. I’ve seen our faces plastered on every news show, with the skuzzy ones asking if I’m the hero I’m purported to be, or just an opportunist who’s taking advantage of my wealthy, inexperienced lover. Even the shows that claim to take the high ground are covering the story in nearly the same way – they just use the subterfuge of talking about how wrong it is to know all of these nasty things, and how little privacy we all have." Her eyes burned in their intensity as she growled, "There’s your perspective!"

Jamie didn’t respond, knowing there was nothing she could say at this point to soothe her partner. Looking into troubled blue eyes she made a decision and said, "We’re leaving tomorrow. I’m taking you someplace warm … where we can snorkel to our heart’s content." Narrowing her eyes, she said, "Don’t even think about arguing with me. I will not allow this to torture you, Ryan, and the only solution I can think of is to leave until it’s over."

In the blink of an eye, Ryan’s expression changed from rage to wide-eyed worry. "What if it’s never over?"

"Every news story has a life-cycle. When something else happens, we’ll fade back into anonymity."

"Is this really the best idea, Jamie? Is it really wise to just run away?" She pursed her lips together and said, "I’ve never run from anything in my life."

Jamie stroked her face with the tips of her fingers. "I don’t see any other way. We’ll be trapped here as long as the press is in front of both of our homes. It will eat you alive to be trapped here in the house. We have options. Let’s use them."

Ryan cocked her head and asked, "How about Pebble Beach? We could hide out there and not be that bothered if the press was outside the gates. You can’t see a darned thing from the street."

"That’s an option," she said. "I just thought you’d prefer to be in Mexico or Belize. I’m sure we’d be completely anonymous there."

"Yeah, we would," Ryan said. "But if we went to Pebble Beach, we could have my family come down for the weekend. That would really help. I need them close."

"You’ve got a deal," Jamie said, smoothing the hair from her forehead. "We just have to figure out a way to get the Boxster out of the garage."

"That’s impossible," Ryan said, shaking her head. "We’ll either have to rent a car or borrow Rory’s."

"Let’s rent," Jamie said. "I don’t want the parasites to know our license number."

Ryan looked over at her partner. "Now all we have to do is get some clothes smuggled out."

"Nope. We’re traveling with the clothes on our backs," Jamie said. "We can stop and buy a few things on the way down. I don’t want to alert anyone that we’re taking off again."

"Are you sure this isn’t an elaborate scheme to be able to buy me clothes?" Ryan asked, her face gentling into a surprisingly warm smile.

"No, but it’s a nice side benefit."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hey, Con," Ryan said when her brother picked up the phone.

"Yeah?" he asked sleepily. In just a moment he was wide awake, asking, "What’s wrong?"

"Nothing. We just decided we have to get out of here. The walls are closing in on me, bro," she said with a shaky voice.

"I can lend you a mask," he said, trying to be helpful. Maeve had entertained the young women earlier in the evening with her story of Conor’s exploits with the press. Always creative, he had paid a visit to a costume shop and purchased several rubber masks of former presidents, bloody ghouls and even a Monica Lewinski mask. Maeve claimed that seeing the huge man walk to his truck wearing that mask with a big cigar stuck in his mouth was the funniest thing she’d ever seen in her life.

"No, we thought we’d go down to Pebble Beach. We just have one problem," she said. "We’d really like to take Jamie’s dad’s BMW, but it’s in Berkeley. Interested in a reconnaissance mission?"

"Sure," he said, sounding brighter by the minute. "Now?"

"Yeah, if you don’t mind. Are you being followed?"

"No. They perk up when I leave, but they don’t even take my picture any longer. Want me to swing by and pick you up?"

"No, meet me at 24th and Noe. Can you leave soon?"

"Yep. Gimme five."

A few minutes later the siblings were headed to Berkeley. Ryan had prevailed upon her partner to stay home, and after a half-hearted argument, the exhausted woman agreed. Conor hatched the plan on the way over. "It’s late enough that they’re gonna be inattentive," he said. "Drop me off a block away. I’ll just stroll down the street, and make a run for the car. I should be able to evade them, since I assume I’ll catch them unawares."

"What if they catch you?" Ryan asked. "I don’t want you to do anything too risky."

"If they catch me, they catch me. It’s still worth a try."

"Okay," Ryan said. "Now remember to leave it by Mr. Regan’s house. Just leave the keys under the mat."

"Will do."

"Well, let’s give it a go. If it doesn’t work, we’ll just rent a car."

"Oh, it’ll work," he said, his blue eyes flashing with excitement.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan parked just far enough away to be able to watch her brother lope down the street, one of her Cal caps on his head to disguise his appearance. It looked as though the press was caught napping, because he reached the car and took off before anyone could scramble to his car or van. As the BMW flew past the truck, Ryan could hear Conor’s demonic laugh, broadcast to all over the car’s public address system. He’s having altogether too much fun with this, she thought as a fond grin settled onto her face.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan slept very little, her newly developed claustrophobia kicking in with a vengeance. Knowing that the reporters were right outside of her father’s house felt like another invasion, and her imagination began to work overtime. Unable to shake the feeling of being trapped, she finally got up and put on her warm-ups. She hunted around in Kevin’s old room and found a bandana, then tied it around her head, hiding her distinctive mane. Leaving a note upon her pillow for Jamie, she snuck out of the back door, crossing through every yard that she knew didn’t house a dog.

She circled around the block and peered down at the reporters, the crowd now dwindled to a pair. They were obviously chilled, as the night was cold and foggy, and she took some solace in that fact, hoping they were as uncomfortable as she.

Feeling a bit better now that she was outdoors, she walked the two blocks to her own home, just to see what was going on. A small pack of men was standing on the street corner, also looking chilled and bored. They were drinking coffee, and she smiled when she realized that all of the decent coffee shops in the neighborhood were long-closed. I hope you choke on the swill, she thought, with venom filling her heart.

Bored, anxious, and filled with rage, she made the only choice available to her. She started to walk, then when her muscles limbered up, she broke into a slow jog, then a quicker one. It didn’t take too long, and just after 3 a.m. she walked up to the front counter of Castro Fitness. Luckily, the person at the front desk knew her, and after a few minutes of murmuring sympathetic words for her plight, he waved her in.

Her bandana changed her look just enough so that hardly anyone recognized her. There were only six people working out at that early hour, and the one sharp-eyed man who did manage to place her just walked by and muttered, "Don’t let the bastards get you down, girl."

She smiled at him and nodded, "I’m trying not to."

Deciding that what she most needed was a focus for her anger, she slipped on some lightweight hand-protectors and started to work on the speed bag, getting a nice rhythm going, imagining that the bag bore the image of a certain blonde traitor that she was certain to wreak disaster upon.

After working the speed bag until her arms were heavy, Ryan had the trainer on duty lace her hands into a pair of boxing gloves, and she gave the heavy bag such a workout that the sturdy hooks holding it into the ceiling groaned. By the time she was finished, every person in the gym was casting curious glances at her – but this time it wasn’t because they recognized her. Every person there was actually glad that they didn’t know her – and relieved that they weren’t the ones that the darkly beautiful woman was cursing under her breath while she whaled upon the leather of the innocent bag.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Tiptoeing into the bedroom, Ryan shucked her clothing as quickly as possible. She didn’t have a change of clothes, so she had been forced to run home just to keep from freezing once the cold night air hit her sodden warm-ups.

They had left their suitcases at Niall’s, since they had to sneak into the house, so she didn’t have another thing to put on. Wrapping herself in a sheet, she took her wet clothing and put it in the dryer so she could wear it until she could send someone to her house for a fresh supply. She dropped the sheet and slipped into bed, her body a dichotomy of ice cold and steaming hot. Regrettably, Jamie automatically cuddled up to her as soon as she slipped beneath the covers, and her nice warm thighs pressed against the freezing cold flesh of Ryan’s butt.

"Mmm …" she mumbled, then blinked her eyes open. Ryan turned over and looked at her, and when Jamie focused on the alert, haunted blue eyes staring at her, she knew something was awry. "Why are you so wide awake?" Her warm hands touched various parts of Ryan’s body, then she sat up. Reaching up to touch Ryan’s hair she said, "You’re dripping wet and freezing cold. Were you outside? Is it raining?"

"I was outside. I was going nuts," Ryan said softly. "I couldn’t stand to be trapped in here another minute. I finally went to the gym and tortured some of the equipment. I guess I didn’t realize how much I was sweating. I couldn’t find a hair dryer …"

Jamie yawned noisily, and immediately made an offer. "This is silly. Let’s get up and go right now. You’re obviously not going to sleep."

"Really?" Ryan asked, her hopeful, fragile expression nearly breaking Jamie’s heart.

"Of course," she said, giving her a firm squeeze. "I might need to crawl in the back seat and sleep, but I think you’ll feel better once we’re out of here."

"I will," she said, her voice hoarse with emotion. "I’m sure I will."

"Come on then. We can grab breakfast on the road, and shower when we get there. Let’s get out of here before the reporters wake up."

When he heard them stirring, Martin came into the living room. "What are you two up to?" he asked. "It’s not 5 a.m.!"

"We’re going down to Pebble Beach, Da," Ryan said. "I can’t take another minute of this."

He nodded, understanding that his daughter was one of the last people in the world who could tolerate forced confinement. "How long will you be gone?"

"As long as we have to be. I’m sure we’ll be there on the weekend," she said. "Any chance of a visit?"

"You don’t have to ask twice," he said. "We’ll be there."

"Bring everybody. Come down on Saturday morning and stay over, okay?"

"We’ll come on Friday," he said. "And we’ll stay the whole weekend. Will you be all right, sweetheart?" he asked, cupping her cheek with his hand.

She just nodded her head.

"Call me when you get there, okay?"

"I will," she said, another few tears leaking out. "Don’t worry about me, Da, I’m sure I’ll be fine as soon as I don’t feel like a rat caught in a trap."

Her wrapped her in his arms and held her tight, rocking her soothingly for a few moments. "I know that it upset you, darlin’, but I think your coach did you a great favor by asking you not to play basketball for a while. You and Jamie can relax and just focus on building your strength back up. I’ve been worried about you ever since you had the flu, and this stress is just making matters worse." Patting her at various spots, he said, "Why are your clothes wet?"

"Long story. I went over to the gym to work out and I don’t have anything to change into. This stuff dries quickly, though. It’ll be fine by the time we get to the beach."

He shook his head, sharing a knowing look with Jamie.

"I’m going to focus on putting some weight back on her, and making her sleep twelve hours a day," Jamie said, patting her lover’s concave stomach when Martin released her. "I’m looking at this as a blessing in disguise."

"Now who’s the optimist?" Ryan challenged.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan drove slowly down the streets of Carmel, looking about anxiously as she tried to determine if anyone was watching them.

Noticing her darting eyes, Jamie placed a hand on her thigh and soothed, "We weren’t followed. No one knows we’re here."

"They will as soon as we get out of the car. Someone will spot us and call the tabloids."

"Eh … I don’t think that’s necessarily true … Carmel is pretty laid back, and people are very used to celebrities. There are practically no tourists this time of year, and I think the locals will ignore us completely."

"I hope so," Ryan said, the small furrow between her eyes threatening to become a permanent fixture.

* * * * * * * * * * *

They had breakfast without event, and Ryan started to relax just a little when she began to see that Jamie’s prediction was holding true. No one gave them a second glance at the restaurant, and when they stood on the sidewalk after their meal, the passersby blithely ignored them.

The weather was damp and cold, the brisk wind whipping through their light clothes – Ryan’s T-shirt still damp from her early-morning workout. "Time to go shopping," Jamie said. "Is there anything you need?"

"Need? No," she said immediately. "But there are some things that I’d like to have."

"Name it," Jamie said.

"Well, I could use a new ski jacket. Mine’s pretty thrashed, and I know the duct tape that holds it together bothers you. And I like those fleece pullovers you have. They look really soft. Maybe some fleece pants, too. Do they make those?"

"Sure," the blonde said. Cocking her head at her partner, she realized that Ryan was seeking warmth and comfort in any form she could manage, and she decided that her partner would be cuddled in softness the whole time they were in Pebble Beach.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When they entered the first store, Jamie noted that Ryan was fidgeting within three minutes. "Make you a deal. I’ll shop for underwear, pajamas, socks and shirts. You go down the street to the ski and surf shop and buy yourself a new jacket and some sweats. By the time you get back here, we’ll get you a pair of slacks and some shoes and be done."

"I don’t need slacks," Ryan said. "Besides, they won’t have any that fit me."

"You’ve told me you can wear men’s slacks if they’re pleated and cut slim. I want to be able to take you out to dinner, so just humor me, okay?"

"Okay. Be back in a few."

Take your time so I can buy some things without being supervised! Jamie thought, but wisely didn’t give voice to her wish.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan returned with an attractive jacket; a nice spruce green with a little bit of black detailing around the slash pockets. She had also purchased a pair of snug-fitting black fleece pants with a matching vest; a pair of fleece overalls in a green color very similar to her jacket; two turtleneck sweaters; and a pair of running shoes. "How’d I do?" she asked as Jamie poked her head into the bags.

"Very well! I was afraid every purchase would be a fight."

"Nope. I’m planning on being very compliant while we’re here. I have enough things to worry about without arguing about money."

Jamie’s eyes brightened and she said, "Then let’s make one last stop. I’ve got something all picked out for you."

Ryan gamely went along, allowing herself to be talked into a form-fitting, black knit polo sweater, a pair of men’s Italian-made pleated slacks in a slate gray, and a pair of shiny black leather shoes. "Done?" the dark-haired woman asked hopefully.

"Done," Jamie said.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"I don’t think you could look any cuter," Jamie said as she regarded her partner who was modeling in front of a cozy fire in the kitchen.

Looking at the tall woman, Jamie practically teared up at the adorable, childlike grin on her face. "I feel like I’m three years old," she said, giggling. "I’ve always been a little miffed that they didn’t make rompers and onesies for adults. Now I’ve got one."

Ryan was attired in her fleece overalls, along with a bright gold turtleneck. Jamie knew that her partner would neglect to purchase anything to keep her feet warm indoors, so she had bought matching pairs of Uggs–fleece-lined shearling boots that would keep them both toasty warm.

"You do look like a little kid," Jamie said. "It’s a very flattering look on you. Your whole mood seems brighter."

"I feel like I can breathe again," Ryan said. "I’ve never been as happy as I was when we pulled in here without a news truck or a pack of reporters nipping at our heels."

"We’re safe here. They can’t get onto the property, and I doubt they’ll even be allowed in the compound." She looked thoughtful and said, "I’m going to call security and warn them that we’re here – just so they’re prepared."

Ryan’s eyes grew wide at that idea. "But … but … they’ll tell someone!"

"No, they won’t. I’ll talk to the head of the security force. He’s a nice guy, and I’m sure he’ll do whatever he can to make sure we’re safe. I think it’s wise to let him make some plans before we’re tracked down."

Ryan swallowed, looking a little sick. "You think they’ll find us, huh?"

"That’s a possibility," Jamie said. "But if it happens, we’ll just stay on the property. We have plenty of room to run around here, and we can have the service stock the refrigerator with anything we want. We really don’t have to leave."

Ryan nodded, not very happy with the thought, but resigned to their fate. "Okay. Give him a call," she said glumly.

Jamie urged her to take a seat, then crawled onto her lap, snuggling close for a moment. "It will be fine, Ryan. I promise you that we’re safe here. We can swim, we can play tennis … there’s even enough land to run if you want. We won’t feel trapped – even if we have to stay on the property."

Ryan nodded, acknowledging that the statement was probably accurate. "I’m just twitchy," she said softly. "My startle-response is off the scale."

"I know, love. Why don’t you go make some phone calls," she said as she patted her gently. "Call your father at work, then call your aunt. I know they want to hear that we’re okay."

"All right," she said, her face brightening a little. "I’ll page Conor, too, to let him know that we got the car without any problem. Then, I’ll check in with Rory, I know he’s worried …"

Jamie got up and watched her lover go to the phone, seeing her step actually grow lighter as she went to connect with her family.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Sneaking upstairs, Jamie stuck her head in the office and saw that Ryan was sitting at the desk, staring at her computer, obviously concentrating fiercely on something. Creeping back downstairs, she took the portable phone and called Anna, leaving her number on her machine. She took the phone and went out onto her favorite patio, the one with the glass wall and the incredible view of the ocean. She wrote in her journal for a long time, and when the phone rang she had to flex her fingers for a moment to get the circulation back into them.

"Jamie? It’s Anna Fleming."

"Hi, Anna. Do you have time to talk now?"

"Yes. Is the way we’ve set this up all right for you?"

"Yeah, I think it’ll work. If I don’t have to, I’d rather not be tied to a set time to speak with you. I’m sure some days I’ll need to speak with you a couple of times, and I’d really like the flexibility."

"I think this will work, if you don’t mind having to wait for me to call you back when I can carve out some time."

"I don’t mind waiting, Anna. I have a feeling I’m going to be housebound while we’re down here."

"Oh, dear, have the reporters found you already?"

"No, actually they haven’t. I just think it’s best for Ryan to hide out for a while. She seems to feel safer if she’s certain she’s protected."

"That’s understandable," Anna said. "But that doesn’t tell me how you feel about it."

"Well, this wouldn’t have been my choice, Anna. I wanted to go to Central America and lie on a beach until this all calmed down. I’m sure we would have been safe in Belize or Venezuela, and being outside in the warm sunshine was very, very appealing."

"So, how did you wind up in Pebble Beach?"

"It’s what Ryan needed. She couldn’t stand to be that far from her family, Anna. They’ll be able to come down and visit on the weekend, and I know that will help her a lot."

"But, Jamie, you have needs, too, and you can’t afford to ignore them."

"I’m not; really I’m not, Anna. But Ryan’s about ready to snap! I’ve never seen her like this, and it frightens me half to death. Her needs have to come first right now."

"I can understand that there are times in every relationship where one partner’s needs predominate, but you have to find other ways to tend to yourself, Jamie. Why don’t you tell me why you didn’t want to visit Pebble Beach."

"Well, it’s certainly not a bad place to be captive, but I feel a little like a bird in a gilded cage – it’s still a cage. I don’t need to hide like Ryan does right now. What I need is to interact with people – that calms me down. I’d like to spend time with my grandfather, and my mother when she gets back from Italy. I want to be outside, Anna, and not just here on the grounds."

"Then you’re going to have to find a way to do that, Jamie. You say you’re confident that you’re safe there. Why can’t you leave Ryan for a while and go out on your own?"

"Oh, I don’t think I could do that," she said. "She couldn’t stand to be here alone."

"How long do you have before school starts, Jamie?"

"Uhm … two weeks. Why?"

"Can you tolerate being cooped up there for two weeks?"

"Oh, God, I don’t think I can," she said, her voice filled with worry.

"Look, Jamie, I know how much you love Ryan, but driving yourself crazy to help keep her sane seems like a bad trade-off. I also doubt that she’d like it if she knew that you wanted to go out but didn’t, because of her."

"No, she’d hate that. But, Anna, you should see the look in her eyes when she gets frightened. It breaks my heart!"

"I understand that, Jamie, but you have needs, too, and you can’t afford to ignore them. You’re coping well so far, but that could change quickly if you begin to feel trapped."

Sighing, she nodded and said, "You’re right. I’m already struggling with nightmares, and these dreadful thoughts that keep bombarding me. Feeling like a prisoner will make it worse."

"You don’t have to be gone for hours and hours. Keep it short at first, and slowly increase the time you’re gone. That will let both of you adjust."

"Okay," Jamie said, sounding very unhappy. "I suppose I don’t have much choice at this point."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Late that afternoon, Jamie found her partner diligently working at the computer up in Catherine’s office. "Hi. You’ve been awfully busy this afternoon. Whatcha been doing?"

"Mmm," Ryan moaned as she stretched languidly. "I answered all of my mail, e-mailed my cousin, wrote real letters to my aunt and my grandparents, then started to sketch out my plans for my independent study." She gave her a sheepish look and added, "I’m doing everything possible to avoid working on my grad school applications."

Jamie sat down close to the desk and said, "I don’t think there’s a person in the world who likes to fill those out. Is there any way I can help?"

Ryan sighed and shrugged her shoulders. "No, I don’t think so. I actually finished most of them before the … you know."

Nodding slightly, Jamie picked up one of the unfinished packets and idly leafed through it. "You’re nearly done, honey. Why not just finish this one up?"

Taking it from her hand, Ryan went to the part of the application she was having trouble with. "I can’t fill this in," she said, her frustration obvious.

Jamie looked to where she was pointing and nodded, "That’s a pretty important part, honey. Maybe you should consider if your reticence means something."

Rolling her eyes dramatically, Ryan said, "Out with it. Say what’s on your mind."

Reminding herself that Ryan was understandably short-tempered, Jamie ignored her curtness. "If you can’t express why you want to go to medical school, maybe you don’t want to go."

Looking as though she was trying to curb her anger, Ryan said, "I told you that – in so many words, Jamie. I don’t want to go to medical school. I don’t want to be a physician. But if I want to do genetics research that involves clinical trials, I either have to be a medical doctor, or do my work under the supervision of a medical doctor. I have no intention of having someone else looking over my shoulder through my entire career!"

Having a feeling that Ryan was overstating the onerous nature of this requirement, Jamie wisely decided not to voice that thought. Instead, she gentled her voice and said, "Do you want to get your Ph.D.?"

Ryan nodded briefly. "I do."

"Then why not get your Ph.D. first? You could go to med school after you worked a year or two and got a feeling for how bad it would be to work under the direction of a physician."

Obviously feeling more than a little intractable, Ryan crossed her arms and shook her head firmly. "No. I know I’d hate having someone supervise me. I’ve talked to plenty of researchers, Jamie, and it’s a common complaint."

"Well," the blonde said, trying to find an acceptable alternative, "you could get your Ph.D. first, and then go to med school, couldn’t you? That way you’d get to have a couple of years doing something you liked."

Again, the dark head shook. "I don’t want to waste any more time than is absolutely necessary. Doing a joint M.D./Ph.D. program will save me from having to take quite a few courses. It’s the smarter way to do it."

Furrowing her brow, Jamie asked, "I’ve never heard you say you want to do work in a setting that would involve clinical trials. I thought you wanted to do basic genetics research."

"That’s what I think today," she said. "But I might change my mind later on. I want to have a degree that will let me do anything that interests me. It will be a hell of a lot easier to get the credentials now than when we have a bunch of kids."

Jamie stood and looked at her partner, seeing that the woman was not going to budge from her beliefs – no matter how irrational they seemed to Jamie. "Okay," she sighed. "Then you’d better think of a way to make your reasons for going to med school sound a whole lot more earnest and noble. I don’t think you’ll win many friends on the admissions committee if you say you want to be a doctor just so you don’t have to work for a doctor."

Surprisingly, Ryan found this funny, and her genuine laugh seemed like music to Jamie’s ears. "That’s what I’ve been struggling with. I’m just not in an ass-kissing mood these days."

"You’ll get there," Jamie said. "You’re one of the best ass-kissers I’ve ever met."

"All depends on the ass," Ryan said. "Now tell me about your day. I haven’t seen much of you."

"I was on the phone," Jamie said as she lay down on the chaise and stretched out. "I spoke with the head of security, then I called my mom – we talked for a long time. Then I spoke with my father, and I called Leslie at the public relations firm."

"How’s your mom?" Ryan asked, getting to the call she considered the most important.

"Good," she said thoughtfully. "At least, I think she’s good. She seemed a little down, but it’s hard to tell if it’s because of her own mood, or if she’s just worried about us. I did have to spend quite a while trying to talk her out of coming home early. She’s really upset about all of this."

"Any thoughts on why she might be down, other than this stuff?"

The blonde head shook gently and Jamie said, "No, not really. She said things are going well. She’s seen her … uhm … I don’t know what to call him," she said. Nodding her head once she made her decision. "I think I’ll call him by his name. She’s spent time with Giacomo, and she’s seen her cousins a couple of times. Stephanie and Trey are due to be released from the drug rehab facility this week, but she didn’t sound very hopeful." She shrugged her shoulders and added, "I guess being around that group could affect your mood."

"It would mine," Ryan said. "But it’s obvious that my mood’s all over the place anyway."

She looked a little sheepish, and Jamie gave her a gentle smile. "We’re both tense, honey. You wouldn’t be human if your mood wasn’t a little volatile."

Ryan gazed at her reflectively for a moment. "Why do you think the press bothers me so much more than it does you?"

"Hmm … I was thinking about that when I talked to my mom," Jamie said. "I’m not sure. Maybe I’m just used to feeling like I’m under a microscope, but whatever the reason, it really doesn’t bother me much, to be honest." She looked at her partner and added, "I’m sure I’d feel differently if I had to play golf with them hovering over me. I think those incidents in North Carolina really spooked you."

"Maybe," Ryan said. "I think you’re just tougher than I am."

Jamie laughed, knowing that she was teasing, but she acknowledged the grain of truth in her partner’s statement. "There are things I handle better, and things you handle better. I think it’s nice that we balance each other out a little bit."

"We do that," Ryan said. "I’d be much more freaked out about this if you weren’t calm. You’re really helping me to keep a lid on it. Thanks for that."

Jamie got up and stood next to Ryan. Absently playing with the fastener for the strap of Ryan’s overalls, she said, "I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep a lid on it, honey. I spoke with Anna this afternoon, and she gave me a referral for a doctor down here. I uhm … made you an appointment for this afternoon."

"Me? I thought you wanted to see someone to do some crisis counseling. I assumed we’d talk to someone together."

"I don’t think that’s a good idea," Jamie said. "Our experiences were very different, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to commingle them." Looking at Ryan carefully she said, "You’ve been talking and crying in your sleep at night. It breaks my heart to hear you moaning and whimpering, honey. You have to talk to someone to get those feelings out. I know that we each experienced our own version of hell that night – and I don’t think it’s good to visit each other’s."

"You do it, too," Ryan said quietly. "Last night you started to moan and then you sat straight up and screamed Caitlin’s name." She shivered and said, "I couldn’t get back to sleep after that."

"We’re going to drive each other mad," Jamie said. "We both need help, Ryan, and the sooner we get it, the sooner we’ll get back to normal."

"I don’t want to talk about it," the dark woman said quietly. "It’s like re-living it, Jamie, and I don’t ever want to do that."

Jamie held her close and whispered into her ear. "You’re a very, very brave woman, Ryan, and I know you can do this." She pulled away and kissed her partner’s pink cheeks. "This is the only way, honey. You either talk about it now, or let it torture you at night."

"Okay," she sighed. "Are you sure this is the only way?"

"Yes, baby. You need a professional." She kissed the top of her head and said, "I’m going to go into Carmel when you do. I want to do a little more shopping."

"You don’t have to drive me," Ryan said.

"Uhm … I’m going to take one of Daddy’s cars, honey. You go ahead and take the BMW."

"But why …? Does that mean you might not be home when I get back?"

"Uhm … maybe," she said. "I need to get out for a little bit. No big deal. I want to shop, maybe stop for a cup of cocoa. I need to feel like I can go about my business."

"But, why won’t you be home when I am?" the dark woman asked, her eyes wide. "How long will that take you?"

Jamie wrapped her arms around her and said, "I need to be outside for a while, honey. I promise that I’ll be fine – and that you’ll be fine. I’ll bring something home for dinner, and I swear I’ll be home by six, okay?"

"Okay," Ryan said, her voice sounding as frightened as a small child after a nightmare.

* * * * * * * * * * *

At 2 o’clock, the tall, dark, recalcitrant woman was shown into the therapist’s offices. "Hi," Ryan said, extending her hand. "I’m Ryan O’Flaherty."

"Amanda Johns," the motherly, slightly rotund woman said. She led Ryan into the spacious, tastefully decorated office and then stood just inside the door. "I usually sit in the brown recliner," she said. "Take your pick of any of the other seats."

Ryan chose the chair that was the greatest distance from the woman, and sat, stretching her long legs out in front of her. The doctor took her seat as well, and gazed at Ryan for a moment. "I think I know why you’re here, Ryan," she said, "but I’d like to hear what specifically brings you to me."

"My girlfriend and a gun to my head," she said, trying to smile, but failing rather dramatically. She scowled a bit and asked, "What would you like me to call you?"

"Whatever you like. I’m a medical doctor, so you can call me Doctor Johns, or even Amanda if that pleases you."

Ryan nodded, then said, "I’ll decide later." She shifted in her seat, and briefly wished she’d chosen the more comfortable looking sofa. "Uhm … what did you ask?"

"I asked you to tell me why you decided to come see me. That is, assuming that your original answer was a joke," she said, her eyes twinkling.

"It was … but only partially," Ryan said. "I don’t want to be here, and I’m only doing it because my lover thinks I should. I don’t want to upset her any more than she already is, so I came."

"You’re from San Francisco, right?" the doctor asked.

"Uh-huh. We’re seniors at Cal. I’m on the basketball team, and Jamie’s on the golf team – we can’t afford to be gone for too long."

"Hmm … so, you’re just here for a short while?"

"I assume so. I have every intention of being at school in two weeks when the next term starts."

"Well then, we’d better get busy, hadn’t we?" Amanda leaned back, and the footstool rose. "You don’t mind if I get comfortable, do you?"


"Are you comfortable, Ryan?"


"Do you want to change seats?"

"I guess." She got up and tried the sofa, maneuvering around until she looked a bit more relaxed. "This is better. That other chair’s too low for me."

"You’re a little taller than my average client," the doctor said, giving her another small smile.

"I do tend to skew a curve," she said.

Amanda gazed at her for another moment, then said, "There could be many reasons for you to be here, Ryan, but I assume you’re having some trouble because of the carjacking. Is that right?"

"Yeah. The carjacking, killing a guy, being hunted like prey … those little things," she said with more sarcasm than was polite.

"Like most people, I’m aware of what happened to you and your partner," the doctor said, "but I didn’t see it on television. So, while I know the broad overview, I’m very weak on the details. Would you mind telling me what happened?"

She sighed and sank further down in her seat. Looking bored, she said, "We were carjacked by two brothers. My little cousin was in the backseat of our car, and when they took over, they threw both Jamie and me out. Jamie climbed back into the backseat, and I jumped onto the roof right as they took off. We drove around for a while, then I got a gun away from one of them and eventually I leaned over and shot the driver. The bullet wounded both of them, and shortly after that we drove into the bay. We all made it out of the car, and later, the one with the more minor wound got an infection and died." She shrugged her shoulders and said, "That’s it."

The doctor nodded, and said, "I knew that much from the papers, Ryan." She leaned forward and the footrest snapped shut. She rested her forearms on her knees, now bringing her fairly close to her client. "My guess is that you’re having trouble sleeping; you’re irritable and anxious; probably a little paranoid; most likely forgetful; and …" She narrowed her eyes as she thought, "Also probably worried about your own health and/or your partner’s." She sat up taller and said, "And, if you’re like most people, you probably feel some level of guilt about something that you did, or didn’t do during the ordeal." Leaning back against her chair again, she asked, "How did I do?"

The surprised look on Ryan’s face gave testimony to her accuracy. "How do you know that?"

"I work with a lot of people who’ve been traumatized, Ryan. Those are very, very common reactions. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have some of them."

"I must be one major human," the tall woman grumbled, "’cause I have all of ‘em."

"Then we have our work cut out for us, don’t we?" Amanda asked, giving Ryan another smile. "Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but when you’re awake at 3 a.m. I bet you don’t think of the ordeal in the cool, dispassionate tone that you used when you recounted it to me."

"No, I don’t," Ryan said.

"Okay. Then let’s do it again, but this time, I’d really like for you to start at the beginning and tell me not only what happened, but how you felt as the events unfolded."

The tall woman sat upright, her body stiff. "I don’t wanna do that."

"Tell me why," the doctor asked softly.

Ryan got to her feet and went to the window, the muscles in her back so tight that they were visible through her knit shirt. "I lived it once. Once was too many times."

"You have panic attacks, don’t you, Ryan?"

"I just had one … bad one," she said.

"Are you afraid of having another?"

The dark head nodded briefly.

"Are you afraid of having one in front of me?"

Again, Ryan nodded, not saying a word.

"That’s understandable," the doctor said. "I’ve been with a lot of people who have them, Ryan, and they’re nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just the way your body reacts to extreme levels of stress. It’s really very common."

"They scare me," she said quietly.

"Of course they do," Amanda said. "Why don’t you sit down and tell me how you’ve been dealing with the stress so far?"

Ryan did so, sticking her feet out in front of herself, looking like a sullen teenager. "I went berserk and nearly trashed the women’s locker room at the new gym at Cal; I took some sleeping pills and drank everything I could get my hands on in my mini bar when we were on a road trip; and of course, I had a panic attack on national television. They’re unconventional strategies, but they’ve been effective."

The doctor nodded. "I rather doubt that. With a little work, we can get you past your fears, Ryan, but you’ve got to be willing to work hard. I know you don’t want to talk about how you feel, but that’s the only way to reduce the hold these fears have over you. I promise you that it’s the only way."

"I don’t want to," she repeated, sounding more intractable by the minute.

"How about this?" Amanda said. "Would it help you to write down your thoughts, rather than speak them?"

The young woman shrugged her shoulders, still looking sullen and withdrawn.

"Are you willing to try?"

"I guess."

Amanda looked at her watch and said, "Our time is up, Ryan, but I don’t want you to leave yet. It’s really important that you get a little of this out today, and I’d like you to be here in the office when you do. I have another small room, where my secretary sits. She’s not here today, so you can use her computer. I’d like you to take the next hour and try to express some of your feelings about what happened when you were carjacked. Take your time, do it slowly, and if you start to feel tense, just take a break. Walk around, take some deep breaths; just don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. I’ll come and get you in an hour. If you want to, we can talk some more. But if not, you can go home. Okay?"

"All right." Ryan got up and followed the doctor into a small, but cheery office. She looked the computer over and said, "I’m a Mac person, but I know how to use Word. This will be fine."

Patting her on the back, Amanda said, "I’ll be back in an hour. Remember, don’t try to go outside of your comfort zone. It’s important to get this out, but you don’t have to do it all in a day."

"Right. See you then." She sat down and adjusted the office chair, then got to work, her fingers flying over the keys by the time Amanda closed the door.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When the doctor opened the door an hour later, Ryan was bent at the waist, head lying atop the desk on her crossed arms. She lifted her head when she heard Amanda, and the doctor nearly gasped at the sight. Her eyes were red and swollen, and her long bangs clung to her sweat dampened face. Her skin was pale and clammy looking, and she shook noticeably when she tried to sit up.

Going to her, Amanda placed a hand on her shoulder and stroked her gently. "Got carried away, huh?"

"You said it was important to get it out," she said. "I don’t like to give in to my fears."

"Do you want to stay and talk about this, or have you had enough?" the doctor asked.

"Uhm … I really get to choose?"

"Of course you do, Ryan. I want to help you. If you really don’t want to be here, you’re wasting your money."

She looked up at her, her expression childlike, and hopeful. "Don’t you want to see what I wrote?"

"Sure. Why don’t you print it out," the doctor said. "Then delete it so no one else can read it."

Ryan did so, then handed her the impressive stack of paper. "Do you want to read it, or should I read it to you?"

"That depends on what you want. I’m happy to read it myself; either with you here or not. I’d also be happy to have you read it to me."

Extending the papers, Ryan said, "I’ve never been so tired. Would you mind just reading it?"

"No, not at all." The doctor took the papers and said, "Will you come back?"

"Yeah. I have to," she said glumly.

"You certainly seem like the type of woman who doesn’t mind working hard – once she puts her mind to it," Amanda said. "I can see you at 10 and at 2 tomorrow."

"Twice?" Ryan asked, eyes wide.

"At first, I think we should," Amanda said. "Just until you’re not feeling so panicky."

"Will this last long?" Ryan asked tentatively.

"It doesn’t have to," Amanda said. "We’ll get through this. We’ll work together, and get through this." Looking at her for a moment, she said, "As you know, I can prescribe medication to help you cope, Ryan. Some of the selective seratonin re-uptake inhibitors have shown good results in people prone to panic attacks. Would you like to consider that avenue?"

"No," Ryan said, her eyes wide. "I don’t want to depend on drugs to get me through this."

"Medication can be a tool that helps you get over the rough spots, Ryan. But it won’t do the work for you."

"I’d really rather not," she said, shaking her dark head. "I feel broken enough as it is. Having to take drugs would make me feel worse."

"Okay," Amanda said. "But if you change your mind, I’m confident there is a drug that can help with the panic attacks."

"I’ll keep that in mind," Ryan said, giving the doctor a look that indicated a complete lack of receptivity.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When she got home, the street was still free of reporters, and she heaved a sigh of relief, unable to bear the thought of being harassed further. Sticking her head in the house, she called out for her partner, then her stomach flipped when she realized that Jamie wasn’t home.

* * * * * * * * * * *

A little before six, Jamie pulled into the garage, and looked up in surprise when she turned off the car and heard music blaring. Getting out, she realized that the sound was coming from the second floor gym. She climbed the stairs and found Ryan vigorously pumping iron, her chest muscles gleaming with sweat as she did a set of dumbbell curls. "Honey, I’m home," she shouted over the pounding beat.

Ryan looked up and gave her a relieved smile. Trotting over to the stereo, she turned the volume down. Jamie looked up and noticed that the television was on, too, her partner obviously trying to fill the room with noise. "Hi. I uhm … needed to work off some energy."

"Are you all right, baby?"

"Yeah. I’ll come down when I’m finished, okay? I need to do a few more things."

"All right, sweetheart. I’ll start dinner."

As soon as Jamie left the room, the volume rose again. Ryan was gone for another half hour, and when she entered the house, she was a sweaty mess. "I’ll go shower and come back and help, okay?"

"Sure, love. I’m just about finished."

Even though Jamie had enjoyed going out, she was a little shaky, as well. After dinner they sat together in front of a warm fire in the kitchen, sipping on a nice bottle of deep red cabernet. Ryan had given off clear signals that she wasn’t in the mood for any physical contact, so they maintained a respectful distance from each other. "Are you sure therapy is going to help?" Ryan asked, her voice thin and filled with worry.

"Yes, yes," Jamie said. "I know it’s painful, but we have to suck it up and do it."

"I was afraid you were going to say that," Ryan said, still unable to stop the lurid video that was rolling in her mind – locked on replay.

* * * * * * * * * * *

A terrified scream woke Jamie not twenty minutes after she had fallen asleep. Her stomach in knots, the groggy blonde enveloped Ryan in a warm embrace and tried to soothe her through her nightmare, forsaking her own sleep, which she desperately needed.

A little over an hour later, Jamie returned the favor, waking Ryan with her inarticulate mumbling which slowly turned into groaning and rapid breathing. Ryan tried to calm her, and slowly succeeded. But her own rest was ruined, and she eventually got up and sat on the window seat, watching and listening to the waves crashing against the shore – feeling that the roiling of her own soul could rival the tumultuous surf.

* * * * * * * * * * *

By the end of her first session the next day, Ryan felt like she’d been beaten with sticks. Amanda had slowly urged her to open her protective shell and talk about the things that were interfering with her sleep. Trying to stall for time, Ryan asked, "Can you explain something to me?"

"Sure, if I can."

"Why did we both do so well when we were on vacation? We didn’t have one nightmare, we didn’t have this crap breaking into every third thought, and we really enjoyed being together. Now I can hardly stand to be in the same room with Jamie! I don’t feel like having sex, and that’s one of the things that usually keeps me calm," she said. "Even kissing her reminds me of the thing." She was once again unable to refer to the carjacking by any but the most obscure reference, and had settled on "thing". "I hide out in her mom’s office, and work on school work all day – and that’s just not like me!"

Amanda nodded, then said, "That’s not surprising, Ryan. Right now, seeing Jamie only reminds you of the ‘thing’. Being vulnerable, and open, and sexual with her is just not something that’s going to come easily for a while."

"That’s why I think coming here is a bad idea!" Ryan cried. "I should feel better –but I’m feeling worse!"

"You will feel better… I assure you that you will. Look, Ryan, what happened to you in the Bahamas is not unexpected. You had a horrific, life-threatening event occur, and a few days later you were able to leave everything behind. The weather was different, you didn’t have to see any of your family members, no one brought the incident up – you were truly on a vacation. Your emotions were on vacation, too, Ryan. But you can’t stay on vacation forever. At some point, you have to buckle down and face your real life. You real life is pretty tough right now, and I realize that your instinct is to run from it. But you can only run so far and so fast. Your emotions have to be dealt with, and I assure you that this is the right place to deal with them. I guarantee you that you can make some progress here, and be able to rely on Jamie once again for your emotional support."

"I miss her," Ryan sighed, a few tears escaping. "It reminds me of how close I came to losing her …" She dropped her head in her hands and started to cry again, letting out some of the feelings that had been choking her.

* * * * * * * * * * *

During her three-hour break, Ryan did nothing more than walk aimlessly down the streets of Carmel, finally finding herself by the ocean. She sat down and let the cold breeze and colder sea-spray hit her body, feeling more alive and more connected to the earth when she was being buffeted by nature. When it was time to go, she stood and forced herself back to Amanda’s office, hoping that the woman had, during the break, decided to quit practicing psychiatry completely.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As soon as Ryan left the house that morning, Jamie got into the Acura NSX and drove into Carmel. She really didn’t have anything on her agenda, but she desperately needed to be around other people. Choosing a crowded diner, she sat at the counter, reading the paper while absently listening to the people around her converse. "Hi," said an elderly woman. "What can I get for ya?"

Jamie looked up and said, "I’d like a bagel and some orange juice."

The woman stared at her for a moment, then said, "You’re … that girl from TV."

"That’s me," she said. She shook her head and let out a mirthless laugh. "It’s hard to think of myself as a celebrity, even though I guess I am. I feel much more like a frightened crime victim."

The woman’s motherly instincts immediately emerged, and she said, "Well, of course you do, you poor little thing. Did you come down here for a little vacation?"

"Not really. My parents have a place down here, and we came to avoid being hounded. I hope it doesn’t start up here, too."

"You’re safe here, sweetie. It’s Jamie … isn’t it?"

"Uh-huh," she said. "What’s your name?"

"I’m Helen," she said. "You’ll be safe here, Jamie. I’ll see to that."

Giving her a warm smile, Jamie asked, "And just how will you accomplish that, Helen?"

"This is my place," she said proudly, "and I’ll fire anyone who rats you out. I don’t put up with any nonsense around here."

"I guess I should just stay in the house, but I’ve been feeling like a prisoner," she said. "I really have to get out a little."

"I promise you that you won’t be bothered here," the woman said. "And forget the bagel. You need to put on a little weight, Jamie. How about some of the best blueberry pancakes you’ve ever had?"

"Who can say no to blueberry pancakes?" she asked, giving the woman a warm smile. "Bring ‘em on, Helen."

* * * * * * * * * * *

After enjoying both the food and a long chat with Helen, Jamie was just about at her car when her cell rang. "Hello?"

"Hi, Jamie. It’s Jack."

"Oh, hi. Sorry I didn’t return your call, but I’ve just been overwhelmed. I hope you understand."

"Sure I do," he said. "And if you don’t want to talk now, we don’t have to. I’m just worried about you, and I wanted to hear your voice."

"We’re okay," she said. "Neither of us was hurt badly. We just have to get a little peace and quiet so we can heal emotionally."

"I can’t imagine that Ryan isn’t pretty banged up. What she did was … wow."

"Yeah, she’s a wow kinda woman."

"Uhm … can I ask you a question? And I’d really like you to be honest with me."

"Sure. I’ll try."

"I ahh … kinda want to stay in touch with you. Not to be best friends or anything, but just to … you know."

"No, I don’t think I do know," she said.

"I don’t want it to be over. I know you don’t love me anymore, and I’m really happy with Natalie, but I want to have at least some connection to you."

She paused and thought about it for a long time. Finally, she made up her mind. "You know, I really wish I were the kind of person who could be friends with my ex, but I’m not. I love you, Jack, but our relationship is over. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work for me to maintain contact."

He was quiet for a moment, then asked, "Is it Ryan? Does it bother her?"

Jamie barked out a wry laugh. "She wouldn’t complain if I had you move in with us. No, Jack, she’s not like that. She thinks it’s great to maintain relationships with former lovers. This is my decision. I care about you, and I very much want you to have a fulfilling life. I’d just rather hear about it from people who know us both."

"Okay," he said quietly. "I’m just having a hard time letting go."

"Uhm … how would Natalie feel if she knew that?"

"I … I have no idea …"

"Oh, please. Think about it for a minute, Jack. Natalie would be somewhere between very uncomfortable and livid about us staying in touch. You’d know that if you’d let yourself admit it."

"Yeah … yeah … you’re right." He sighed deeply and said, "I just have trouble closing the door."

"I know that about you, Jack. Uhm … speaking of letting go, why did you let go of your plans to clerk for a federal judge this year? I’m surprised you’re even in town."

"Well, Natalie got a job here in town, and we just decided that it wasn’t good for our relationship to be that far away from each other."

"You know … it sounds like you two have some good instincts. I urge you to follow them. Concentrate on her like I concentrate on Ryan, and you’ll have a happy marriage. What you and I had will always be special, Jack, but it’s over now."

"All right." There was an uncomfortable silence, then he said, "Take care of yourself, Jamie. I’ll … I’ll always love you."

"Thank you, Jack," she said quietly. "Have a very nice life."

She hung up and sat in the NSX for a long time, feeling the sadness that came over her every time they spoke. If I really worked at it, I could get over my discomfort and be able to talk to him without feeling down. But that’s not where I want to put my energies. My life is messy enough without asking for complications. It’s time to let go, Jack. I have.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Continued in Part 7

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