I Found My Heart in San Francisco
Book 12: Lifeline
By: S X Meagher
The next day they got a little more adventurous and decided to play golf at Pebble Beach, their first venture out together since the reporters had descended upon their sanctuary. Since they were both in the car, every reporter followed them, and when they pulled into the parking lot, a long line of SUVs and vans pulled in right behind them.
Getting out of the car, Ryan stared at the ground, refusing to make eye contact with anyone, no matter how much they begged. She had on a baseball cap, bill facing forward, and it was pulled down as low as she could get it.
The club was open to non-members, and to their dismay, two of the intrepid reporters managed to procure and pay for a round of their own. Normally, the wait for a tee-time was months long, but the day was cool and drizzly and many vacationers had chosen not to brave the wicked course on a rainy day.
Jamie wasnt about to let the reporters ruin their day, so she spoke to the starter, and he agreed to send a marshal out with them to keep an eye on things and make sure the men behaved. By the second hole, the marshal decided that the reporters were following too closely, so he moved another group between them, ignoring the outraged squawks from the men.
Standing on the third tee, Ryan looked around, asking, "Wheres Chip? I assumed hed be playing with us today." She said this with a definite edge to her voice, and Jamie waited a moment to answer, not wanting to further aggravate her partner.
"I dont know, honey. I assume hes doing his job."
"And thats what?" she asked, the edge still in place.
"Hes a golf pro," she said, knowing that Ryan knew exactly what he did for a living. "Hes probably giving someone a lesson."
"Ill just bet he is," she grumbled, turning to address her ball.
Watching her from behind, Jamie decided to let the matter drop. She knew Ryan was looking for a fight, but she had no desire to give her one. Every time she looked up, Ryan was staring at her, but still she refused to rise to the bait.
Normally, Ryans little bouts of pique were short lived, and ended as soon as she realized she was being childish. But she had a lot of staying power today, and she continued to glare at Jamie for nearly an hour. On the eighth hole, the larger woman couldnt take Jamies refusal to engage any more. She stood in front of her, blocking her from being able to get out of the golf cart. "How many times have you seen him since weve been here?"
Jamie took a deep breath, trying to decide if she should even answer. She knew this interaction would come to no good end, but she didnt have many options, so she told the truth. "Twice. I played a round with him that first day, and he watched me on the driving range yesterday." She reached out and grasped the waistband of her lovers slacks, holding on so Ryan didnt storm away like she had a tendency to do. "I know youre having a hard time keeping things in perspective, but it hurts my feelings when you question me like this. I have no romantic interest in Chip, or any other human being. Youre the person I love, Ryan, and you can trust me implicitly."
"I cant trust him," she growled. "Its obvious he has a crush on you." She narrowed her eyes and lowered her voice. "And he probably thinks he can get you."
"What does that mean?" Jamie knew she was being pulled into an argument, but she couldnt stop herself.
"Nothing." Ryan took a club at random and hacked at the ball, sending it shooting along the ground no more than 100 feet. "Fuck you!" she yelled, glowering at the innocent white orb. She strode down the fairway, the wind carrying most of her invective-laced commentary away so that Jamie couldnt hear it.
The blonde decided to skip the hole, since the group behind them had caught up to them and she didnt want to allow them to eavesdrop. She drove by her partner and demanded, "Get in. Were going to 9."
Ryan looked like she wanted to argue, but after a pregnant pause she walked around to the passenger side and climbed in. They rode in silence to the 8th green, noting that the group ahead of them was just finishing putting out. As soon as the foursome left the green Jamie decided to putt a few balls just to waste time. She dropped three onto the surface and forced herself to concentrate, managing to two-putt each of them over the long, curving, undulating green. Ryan stayed in the cart, looking sullen and withdrawn. When Jamie finished, she drove over to the ninth tee, then turned and stared at Ryan until the dark head finally turned her way. "I have no interest in Chip, Ryan, and whether or not he has a crush on me is immaterial. There are dozens of women who have crushes on you, and I dont try to prohibit you from seeing them. As a matter of fact, two of the women from your past openly admit that theyre in love with you." Her eyes sparked with fire as she added, "And Ive never ever tried to make you feel bad about that. I never would because Id be doing so only to hurt your feelings. Id appreciate the same consideration."
She got out of the cart, went to the tee, and hit a surprisingly good shot, despite the anger that coursed through her veins. Crossing her arms over her chest, she waited patiently, finally realizing that Ryan was not coming. Turning, she saw her sitting with her feet up on the edge of the cart, head buried between her raised knees. She was obviously crying, and Jamie sighed deeply, feeling like shed reached her limit of emotionally draining experiences. Wanting nothing more than to pick up her bag and play the round alone, just to avoid another scene, she nevertheless walked over to her partner and sat next to her in the cart. "Do you want to leave?" she asked softly.
"Yes, but theyll see me crying. I dont want to see my picture in the tabloids looking like this."
Jamie looked around, noting that the reporters were more than a hole behind them. "Hold on," she commanded, and took off, driving the electric cart as fast as she could. She maneuvered them around the course, going backwards down some holes, and cutting across a fairway or two. They approached a small building somewhere on the back 9, the structure well hidden by trees and shrubs.
"Where are we?" Ryan asked, looking around confusedly.
"This is one of the cart barns. No one will be around here until the end of the day when they store the excess carts here." She got out, then took her wallet from her bag and stuck it into her pocket. "Come on. Lets go for a walk."
"Yeah. We can cut across right over there and be by the shore. Lets go."
"But your clubs "
Putting her hands on her hips, Jamie stared at her partner for a minute. "Take a guess whats more important to me. You or those fucking sticks? Now, come on."
She started off, with Ryan having to run to catch up with her. "Jamie, its okay. Im better now. Im really sorry for what I said "
"Were going for a walk," she repeated, scowling.
"Okay, okay." Ryan shoved her hands in her pockets and walked alongside her partner. They crossed a fairway or two, lurked behind a tree as a cart sped by, then took off again, making it to the shore unmolested. They found a spot that the passing golfers would likely not see, and sat down on the springy, longish grass, both of them silent for a while.
"With all of the things that have happened, I understand that youre on edge," Jamie said. "I promise to support you, no matter what, but it wounds me to have you doubt my fidelity."
"I dont," Ryan said, giving her a pathetically sad look. "I really dont, Jamie."
"Then what is it, Ryan? What else should I think when youre obviously upset that I played golf with a guy I know?"
"Its stupid and childish and doesnt even merit talking about," she mumbled. "Cant we just forget it?"
"No." Jamie put her hand on her leg and said, "I want to know whats going on in your head."
"No, you dont," Ryan said, shaking her dark head firmly. "Its a bad place to be right now."
"You know what I mean. Tell me why youre upset about Chip."
She wrapped her arms around her knees and gazed out at the surf for a few moments, collecting her thoughts. "I felt like youd rather be with him than with me," she said quietly. "Hes not a psycho."
"Ryan, I dont know how many times Ive tried to convince you that youre not a psycho. Im out of ways to reassure you, honey. Youve had enough stress to drive the healthiest person mad, but youre getting through it. Youve made tremendous progress, and soon youll be completely back to normal. But youre not there yet, babe. That doesnt make you psycho; that makes you human."
Her chin rested on her raised knees, and Ryan stared out at the sea, unable to meet her partners eyes. "I had this image of you laughing and joking and having fun with him, and then thought of what it must be like for you at the house with me moping around, barely speaking. I dont blame you for wanting to get out and be around more interesting people but it makes me jealous and sad and lonely."
Shaking her head, Jamie said, "The thought of Chip being more interesting than you is too laughable to address. And I rather doubt he had the time of his life, baby. All I did was talk about you and how much I love you."
"What? You you came out to him?"
Giving her a completely puzzled look, Jamie said, "Of course I did! Ryan, I know he has a crush on me, so I made it clear that he doesnt have a chance. Honey, Id never spend time with a guy and let him think I was single. Im not," she said, her voice growing soft and gentle. She slipped off her golf glove to expose her ring. "Im yours."
"I worry," Ryan said, her face etched with tension. "I worry that youll lose patience with me and wish you could get away from me."
Reaching over, Jamie took her hand. "When you get this way, you seem to forget everything that you know about me. Im not that kind of person, and you know it, Ryan OFlaherty. In the first place, things arent that bad between us. And secondly, if they were, I still wouldnt want to get away from you. I want to get closer to you, Ryan, and that will always be my goal. For better or worse, baby. Thats not just an expression, thats how I live my life."
"Hug?" the larger woman asked tentatively.
"As many as you can stand." Jamie scooted closer and wrapped her arms around her partner, holding her tight while they watched the waves crash against the shore, oblivious to everything else in the world.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Maneuvering around the course, Jamie decided to go right back to where they had left off. It took a little while until they could sneak back on, but eventually the tee on 8 was clear and she couldnt spot the group on 7. They played the round in companionable silence, Jamie concentrating deeply. At the end of the round they saw the poor souls who had paid their fees to follow them. All each reporter was left with was a $375 bill for greens fees and cart rental, as well as a growing realization that these two young women were not going to give in any time soon.
* * * * * * * * * * *
After golf, they took a long nap, then ventured out again, going to dinner at a delightful northern Italian place in Carmel. Amanda had urged Ryan to continue to slowly stretch her comfort level, and she felt that she did well at the crowded eatery. When most people recognized them and heads slowly turned their way as they made their way to the table, Jamie just smiled at her partner and said, "I told you those new pants looked fabulous on you! See how much everyone likes them?"
* * * * * * * * * * *
When they got home, Jamie started to get ready for bed, but Ryan seemed anxious and irritable. She paced around the large house, going through the routine she had developed. Methodically, she checked every window, every door, and then stood and stared out the kitchen window; obviously looking for some sign of activity in the large expanse of grass.
She stood there for a long while, flinching dramatically when Jamie came up behind her and lightly touched her back. "Oh, Im sorry, honey. I thought you heard me."
"No." She moved away from the touch and said, "Im gonna go play my drums. You dont have to wait up."
Jamie nodded, but Ryan didnt see her response. She was out the door without another glance, leaving her partner feeling rejected and shut out once again the slight progress theyd made that afternoon evaporated.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The night was warm, although damp, so Jamie went to the coat closet and found a fleece jacket that belonged to her father. She put it on and went outside to sit in the garden next to the garage. Ryan had opened the window in the gym, and her frenetic drumming easily carried down to the blonde. Usually, the dark woman wore headphones, so that the only sound was the slapping of her sticks against the pads. But tonight she had hooked the set up to the massive speakers for the stereo in the gym, and the entire building nearly rocked. Jamie was sure the noise would give her partner a massive headache, or damage her hearing, but she didnt intrude knowing her interference would not be appreciated.
She had no idea what demons were torturing her partner tonight, but she couldnt rest until Ryan was a little calmer, and she vowed to stay right where she was until Ryan was ready for bed.
When the din finally ceased, Jamie checked her watch and saw that it was nearly 11 oclock. She pulled her jacket tighter and waited for Ryan to exit the building, but the minutes ticked by with no sign of her. Finally, at 11:30, she had to find out what her partner was doing. Ryan had promised that she wouldnt drink to excess, but Jamie kept thinking of the well-stocked refrigerator in the gym, knowing there was always a bottle of vodka chilling. She hated to doubt her partner, but she knew that Ryan would do just about anything to stop the demons and if her drumming hadnt calmed her down
Stealthily, Jamie entered the garage and climbed the stairs to the second floor. The door to the gym was open, but she couldnt hear a sound coming from the space. As quietly as she could, she poked her head in, and nearly let out a gasp of surprise when she spotted her partner. Ryan was stark naked, her wet body glowing in the dim light of a few large candles. She was seated on a large, square pillow, her body in a traditional yoga pose. Her hands rested, palms upturned, upon her knees; and her eyes were closed. In Jamies best estimation, she was sitting in front of a makeshift altar. A weight bench was covered with a white lace cloth, and atop it stood a Celtic cross finely rendered in a gold finish and three large votive candles. Ryans lips were moving slowly, but not a whisper of sound emerged. Soundlessly, Jamie went back downstairs, confident that Ryan was at least trying to calm herself down. Going back into the house, she made herself a cup of cocoa, needing the caffeine to keep herself awake, which she was determined to do.
The cocoa helped, allowing her to stay awake for another half hour. But by the time Ryan came back in, she was sound asleep, her face resting on the hard, wooden table.
What am I doing to her? Ryan asked herself, her heart gripping in pain for her partner. Squatting down beside her, Ryan gave her a gentle kiss, then tucked a hand under her knees and another behind her shoulders. Grunting from the effort, she lifted her and nestled her lover against her chest. Shed only traveled a few feet when Jamies sleepy voice traveled up to her. "Do you still love me?" she asked, in a heartbreakingly sorrowful tone.
She was so taken aback by the question that Ryan nearly stumbled. Placing her partner on one of the sofas in the living room, she got to her knees in front of her and whispered, "Of course I love you! How can you doubt that?"
"I dont, I dont," Jamie whispered, starting to cry. "I was having a nightmare and I got confused. I didnt know if it was real or if you were real "
"Oh, Jamie," Ryan sighed, holding her tightly. "Im so sorry."
"I dreamed that we never got back to where we were and one day you told me that you didnt feel the same way you used to feel. You said you said you thought it would be best if we just started over with someone else." She was crying heavily now, and Ryan just held her, unable to say a thing to ease her pain. "You said it was too painful to see me and be reminded of stuff," she sobbed. She wrapped her arms around Ryan so tightly that she bruised her. "Please dont let that happen. Please!"
"It wont!" Ryan whispered fiercely. "I swear it wont!"
"Hold me. Hold me and tell me everything will be all right." Ryan climbed onto the sofa, then tugged on Jamie until she was lying atop her. Her clothes were wet from sweat, but the smaller woman was oblivious to everything but her lovers heartbeat and the strong arms that held her. "I know its hard for you to be close, but please, please hold me tonight."
"I will," Ryan said, already feeling her heart start to race from the intimate contact. "I promise."
* * * * * * * * * * *
It took Jamie a long time to understand why she was lying on the sofa in the living room. She was covered with a warm blanket, and when she sat up she found a neatly typed note lying on the table in front of her.
I had to leave for therapy, and you were sleeping too soundly for me to have the heart to wake you.
I spent a little time this morning trying to get my thoughts down. I know its awfully late to be telling you these things now, but Im working as quickly as I can, and this was honestly the first time Ive felt able to do this.
First things first: You and I are together until death parts us. I think I clearly showed how I react to a stranger trying to separate us. Im sure not going to do something like that myself. Youre stuck with me, sweetheart. So even though I know I drive you mad sometimes okay, frequently there is no option to return this particular purchase.
Now, for the hard part. Four big things are bothering me, and no matter how hard I try, I cant get past them. Here goes:
I doubt that Ill ever forgive myself for giving his life the same value as yours. I just hope that you dont loathe me half as much as I loathe myself for what I was unable to do. Letting him live nearly cost your life. I dont even have words for the terror I feel every time I allow myself to consider that thought. I think I have a little insight into why so many military veterans lose their minds. Its not so much what you do in times like these its what you fail to do that drives you mad.
Those are the big four, sweetheart. Guilt, fear, self-loathing, and hatred are the only emotions I seem able to feel any more. To be honest, I havent made much progress with any of them. I still have nightmares every night, and I still have intrusive thoughts that torment me all day. But Amanda has really helped with the reporters. Im okay with them now, so I think its best to go back to Berkeley. Im afraid Im going to be struggling with this for a long time, babe, but we cant hide out here forever.
I truly wish I could be more open with you, and let you help me through this, but its just not possible at this point. I desperately want to be close to you, Jamie, but I start to panic when we get too close. My mind starts to race and I remember how you looked on that examining table in the ER when you were nearly blue with cold. Images of your lifeless body fill my head and I feel like Ill die from fright. The panic is as terrifying as the fear, so it becomes a vicious circle. Please, believe me when I say that Im trying the best that I can, but its too soon for me to be fully open with you. Amanda assures me that well get back to where we were, and shes not lied to me yet so Im gonna choose to believe her. Please believe in me and in us, Jamie. I do. I swear that I do.
Jamie sat staring at the note for a very long time. She read it over and over again, finally lying down to let it all sink in. So many thoughts, so much guilt in that sweet, sweet womans heart. Id do anything to purge her of it but I cant. All I can do is support her, and love her as best as Im able. Dear God, please let it be enough.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Later that morning, when Ryan stood to leave Amandas office for their last in-person visit, she reached for the hand the older woman extended. But Ryan couldnt repress her physical nature, and she took the offered hand and pulled the woman in for a robust hug. "Thank you so much," she whispered. "Its going to be odd just talking to you on the phone. Hell, its gonna be odd not talking to you tonight. But my family will be here late this afternoon, and I dont want to have to be on the phone for an hour."
"I think it was a wise choice to only see each other once today," Amanda said. "And Id much prefer to see you in person, too, but Im willing to see how it goes speaking on the phone. We made it work once before I see no reason that it wont work once again."
"Im not sure Im ready to go," Ryan worried, "but I know Ill be furious with myself if I dont graduate. School starts on Monday, and Ive got to be there."
"Youll be fine. Just remember, if you want to find someone in Berkeley, I wont mind a bit. I want you to do whatever feels right, Ryan."
"No, Im not much for change," she said. "I know you, and I trust you, and I dont want to have to build that trust up again."
"You let me know when you think you want to return to your team, okay?"
"Yeah, I will. Im not there yet, though. I need to ease back into things slowly."
"I couldnt agree more, Ryan. Youre not ready yet, but when you are, Ill be happy to talk to your coach."
"Okay. Ill let you know."
Amanda smiled at her and said, "Have a very good time with your family this weekend, Ryan. Ill speak to you on Monday same as always."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan poked her head in the back door of the house and looked around the room, expecting to find her partner nearby. After her therapy session, shed gone for a long walk along the cliffs, then bought a newspaper and whiled away another hour in a coffee shop. She knew she was being a big chicken, but she was afraid to see Jamie after delivering her note, and she debated whether to make a run for it before she was spotted. But she finally steeled her courage and started looking around the house. "Jamie?" she called a few times, receiving no answer. When she reached the second floor she didnt call out, thinking her partner might be back in bed. It was just noon, but their sleep patterns were so screwed up that either of them could be asleep at any hour of the day or night.
She found her in Catherines sunny office, staring out at the ocean, oblivious to Ryans presence. "Hi," the dark-haired woman said quietly.
"Oh, hi," she said, turning to give her a warm smile. She was sitting on one of the long chaises, and she patted the cushion. "Cmere."
Ryan did so, standing awkwardly next to the piece. "Yeah?"
Jamie grasped her hand and said, "Id like to pull you down here and hug the stuffing out of you, but I dont want to make you uncomfortable. Are you in the mood to be cuddled?"
Gratefully, Ryan clambered onto the chaise, managing to fit her entire, long body onto the remaining cushion. Jamie wrapped her arms around her and held her so tightly her own arms ached. After a long while, she said, "I know youre uncomfortable talking about things right now. I think writing down your thoughts was a very wise thing to do. So, lets do that for a while, okay? It might be safer for both of us."
"Yeah, really. I can organize my thoughts better when I write them down, and it makes things less emotional. Actually, Anna suggested that I write down how Im feeling every night before I go to bed. Ive been doing that for a few days now, and its really helped."
"You havent woken me up with a nightmare in a couple of days," Ryan said. "It must be working."
"It lets me put a lid on things," she said. "You might want to try it tonight."
"Okay," she said. "But I think having the family here will help a lot."
"I do, too," Jamie agreed.
Ryan shifted a little to take some of her weight off her partner. "Are we okay, Jamie?"
"Were very okay, honey. I appreciate that you told me whats going on in your head. We dont have to talk about it at all, but I wanted to let you know that it was very, very helpful to hear it."
"Okay," she said briefly. "I dont want to talk about it, but Im glad I could let you in just a little bit." She shifted her body again, finally getting slightly more comfortable. "What did you do all morning?"
"Oh, I played golf, then I had a snack. Ive only been up here for about a half hour."
Realizing that something other than Jamie was jabbing her in the back, Ryan reached down and removed a book from the cushion. "What are you reading?"
"Oh. I wasnt really reading," she said. "I was praying."
Ryan looked at the book, and saw that it was a beautifully illustrated copy of the Book of Psalms. Opening it, she saw how well worn the pages were. "This has seen a lot of use."
"Oh, yeah. My grandfather gave that to me, not long after I learned how to read. For years, I just looked at the pictures, but over time I really began to enjoy it. I particularly like it because its the King James Version. The language is absolutely beautiful."
"Ive been trying to get into a prayer space," Ryan said. "Its been really hard for me. Da brought the things from my prayer corner at home, but its been like pulling teeth."
"How does it normally work for you?" Jamie asked, surprised that theyd never had this discussion before.
"Mmm I seek silence. I try to quiet my mind and just be. If Im really quiet, and really reflective, I can sometimes reach a totally serene place. Thats when I feel Im really with God." She shook her head and said, "I dont know why I cant manage it any more, but I used to be able to spend a half hour or an hour doing that every day. Ive really been slacking off."
"Yeah. Thats you," Jamie scoffed. "A born slacker."
"No, really, Jamie. Its something Ive got to make time for. I have to do it in good times and bad. Its one of the keys to my mental health."
"Well, maybe youll be back in the habit by the time we get home."
"Its not working," she said. "I cant clear my mind at all. I find myself just saying formal prayers. I cant go the next step, no matter how hard I try."
"Youve got to start someplace, Ryan. Praying effectively is like any other exercise. Youve got to start out slow and build up."
"Youre right. Im expecting too much." Cocking her head, she asked, "How do you pray?"
"Mmm I usually start with a scripture reading. That puts me in the right mood. Then, I spend time reflecting on what Ive read. Sometimes I continue to think about the text that I read, other times I go off on a completely different tangent. I talk to myself, but I feel like Im having a conversation with my Creator. Do you know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I do. Thats not how it works for me most of the time, but that sounds just like how youd do it. Youre more of a language person."
"I am. I know youre not, but Id like to try something anyway," Jamie said. "Why dont you lie down and let me read some of the psalms to you. Maybe just hearing my voice will help quiet your mind."
"Okay. Id like that." She snuggled down and let her long legs dangle off the edge of the chaise. Gently, Jamie began to run her fingers through the dark hair, then she began to speak. For the next half hour, she softly recited the words to the songs and prayers that had been spoken and sung for millennia, and as her voice floated over Ryan, some of the turmoil started to lift from her tormented psyche. Despite the calming touch, soft voice and quiet breaking of the waves in the distance, Ryan stayed awake the whole time, taking in Jamies words like droplets of water onto a dry sponge. When she finally finished, Ryan turned and gazed up at her for a full minute. "That was wonderful. Can we do that again?"
"Sure. We can make it a daily ritual if you want."
"I want to I need to," she said. "I havent felt this peaceful since the day it happened."
"Anything you need, baby. Anything at all." Jamie patted her chest and said, "Scoot up here a little bit. I need to be closer just for a minute or two, honey."
Ryan gave her the vaguely haunted look that had regretfully become one of her most frequent expressions, but she gamely complied. Moving up the chaise, she rested her head on Jamies chest, as the blonde indicated. "When I was saying those words, I kept thinking of a song that they play at Mass. I dont know why, but I have an overpowering urge to sing it for you."
Murmuring softly, Ryan said, "Id like that. I love it when you sing to me."
"Just close your sweet, blue eyes and try to relax, sweetheart." She bent her head and kissed the glossy, black hair. "This is my wish for you."
Clearing her throat, she started to sing in the soft, confident tone that Ryan deeply loved.
You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in His shadow for life.
Say to the Lord, "My Refuge, my Rock, in whom I trust."
And He will raise you up on eagles wings, bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand.
Her musical urges rose to the surface, and Ryan started to hum the harmony, just to provide background for her partners soothing words.
For to His angels Hes given the command, to guard you in all of your days.
Upon their hands, they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.
And He will raise you up on eagles wings, bear you on the breath of dawn.
Make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand.
And hold you hold you in the palm of His hand.
"God is holding you in the palm of His hand, sweetheart," she whispered. "And so am I."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Ready for lunch, precious one?" Ryan had been dozing in Jamies warm embrace, but the smaller womans stomach was starting to make its needs known.
"Oh." The blue eyes blinked open and she looked up at Jamie sleepily. "Uhm sure. What would you like?"
"Id like a patty melt and a chocolate malt," Jamie said without hesitation.
"Really? You never eat stuff like that," Ryan said, now fully awake. "Do you have PMS?"
"Nope. I just like Helens patty melts. I think you will, too. Lets go."
"Whos Helen, and why are you eating patty melts with her?"
"Come on, Tiger. Its time for you to meet my new girlfriend."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan pestered Jamie all the way to the restaurant, but the blonde wasnt talking. It was obvious that Jamie was teasing her, but Ryan was unable to get a clue. Finally, they entered the small diner, and a round, friendly face topped by snow white, curly hair called out, "Jamie! You finally managed to bring her over for a decent meal!" Eyes nearly popping from her head, Ryan was enveloped in a warm, robust hug, then Jamie was given the same treatment. "I never thought I was gonna get to meet you, Ryan!"
"I Im surprised, too," she said, looking to Jamie to save her.
"Were heading home on Sunday, so this is our last visit," the blonde said. "Fix Ryan up with your specialty, Helen. She needs to put some weight back on, and I cant think of a better way to do it than with your delicious food. Oh, bring out the pictures of your grandkids, will you? Little Heather reminds me of Ryan when she was a little girl."
"Will do," she said, ruffling the short, blonde hair. "Do you like onions, Ryan?"
"Thats my girl," Helen said, a broad smile on her face. "Be right back."
As she went into the tiny kitchen, Ryan gaped at her partner. "Is she some distant relative I dont know about?"
"Huh-uh. I met her the first day we were here. Shes kinda adopted me."
Quirking a grin, Ryan shook her head, saying, "You are such a lovable little cuss, Jamie Evans. Women of all ages succumb to your charms."
* * * * * * * * * * *
To Ryans amazement, her father and aunt, all of her brothers, Maggie, Kevin, Tommy, Annie and Caitlin, and every one of her cousins showed up later that night. All of the cousins brought sleeping bags, since there werent nearly enough beds for the whole crew, but they didnt seem to mind camping out in such a luxurious campground.
She and Jamie set about getting everyone organized, putting Tommy and Annie, and Brendan and Maggie in the two apartments off the pool; getting Martin and Maeve settled in a guest room in the house, then waiting for all of the single men to cut cards to determine who got the other rooms. Ryan pulled Jamie aside and said, "Should we sleep in your mothers room, and let someone have ours?"
"No, I dont think Mom would like that, honey. Do the boys really mind sleeping on the floor?"
"No, not at all," Ryan said. "I just thought it would be nice." Jamies reticence puzzled her, but she figured that Catherine might just not be the type who liked to share her private space.
Ryan spent some time taking the group on an extended tour. It was very dark out, but the grounds were well lit, and they managed to get a flavor for the estate. As expected, the cousins were most impressed with the cars in the garage and the exercise room, and Ryan left most of them there to examine the toys.
Caitlin, Tommy and Annie were, as expected, required to be in the pool, so a few more cousins, along with Brendan and Maggie, joined that crowd. Conor, Dermot, Declan and Rory were playing pool in the game room, while Jamie and Maeve made up platters of snacks for all of the various groups.
Ryan looked around the warm, bright kitchen, watching while her father made a fire in the fireplace. She sighed to herself, feeling whole and safe and protected in the embrace of her family.
The back door opened, and she cried out a greeting when Catherine poked her head in, followed by a wide-eyed, but wildly happy Jennie.
"You little scamp," Ryan muttered, dashing by her partner to give her a slap on the butt. "Your mother wouldnt want us in her room!"
"Well, she wouldnt," Jamie said. "Shes small, but shes not small enough to have us in there with her and Jennie!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan, Jamie, Martin, Maeve, Brendan, Maggie, Conor, Rory, Kevin, Jennie and Catherine all sat out on the outdoor patio able to hear the waves crashing, but unable to see them, the moon being largely absent. Jamie had fired up the heaters, and the space was quite comfortable, even though the night was quite chilly and damp.
They all questioned Catherine about her trip, then Ryan and Jamie spoke of their stay in the Bahamas. Finally, Jennie filled everyone in on her first week of school.
By the time all of the players had spoken, Jamie looked at her watch and said, "10 oclock, honey. Time for bed."
"But but weve got company!"
"Nonsense, Siobhán," Martin said. "Were not company were family. Jamies concerned about you, love. Dont argue with the lass."
"I should have known hed be on your side," Ryan said, nevertheless getting to her feet.
Jamie took her hand and said, "Weve got to try to get into normal sleep patterns, honey. Weve got to be at school bright and early on Monday." Turning to the crowd, she said, "Stay up as late as you like, everyone. We cant hear a thing upstairs, so have a ball."
Conor piped up and said, "If you go running in the morning, knock on my door, okay?"
"Will do," Ryan said, making her way around the room to offer goodnight kisses to all. "We can taunt the reporters. Its fun to slow down until they can almost focus their cameras, and then take off as fast as you can. Drives em nuts!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan knocked lightly on Conors door early the next morning, but didnt receive a response. Opening the door, she saw that the bed was empty, so she went downstairs to search for him. He was in the kitchen, drinking directly out of the orange juice container. When he spied her, he adopted a guilty look, but she reassured him. "I do it all the time. Drives Jamie mad."
"I figure it saves washing a glass," he said reasonably. "Sleep well?"
"Great," she said. "Best night Ive had. Having you all here really made a difference."
"Id have a hard time going back home if I were you, sis. I think I could be pretty happy hanging out down here driving the cars playing golf."
"Eh its a nice place to visit " Ryans voice trailed off. "I just need normalcy in my life and this is far from normal."
"Yeah, I guess," he said. "Besides, we couldnt stand to have you this far away. Ready?"
"Yep. Now, let me warn ya. Theyre gonna be right outside. The police wont let them have their news trucks there, and they cant park their cars overnight, but that doesnt stop em from gathering on foot. Just try not to let them bother you, okay?"
"They wont bother me," he said. "Im just worried about you."
"Dont be," she said clearly. "Im doing fine with it now, and the last thing I want is for you to get into a confrontation with them. Just dont speak or make eye contact, and youll make me happy."
They got through the small knot of reporters without incident, although two of them came prepared, wearing running shoes and shorts. They gave a creditable chase, but the added weight of their cameras slowed them down enough so that the siblings had dusted them within a quarter mile. After that short sprint, they settled down to a comfortable pace, not speaking for a long time, both enjoying the early morning sounds of the sea.
After about three miles Conor asked, "So tell me more about your vacation. Was it really great?"
"It sure was," she said dreamily. "I have no desire to live in Pebble Beach, but I could live on Eleuthra. You would have loved it, Con. It would be right up your alley."
"Did Jordan and Mia have a good time, too?" he asked, trying to sound casual.
"Of course," she said. "After we left, Mia stayed in Florida to go to Jordans first tournament. They won every match, and beat Canada for the Pan-Am championship last Sunday."
"Wow," he said slowly. "She stayed, huh?"
"Yes, Conor," Ryan said. "Theyre very close."
She could see the scowl building as his shoulders slumped a bit. "I played that hand very badly," he said.
"I did what no guy in his right mind would do," he said. "First off I told the complete truth, and thats always fatal."
She smirked at him, having a different worldview, but realizing the she wasnt going to change his. "Yes, Con, honestly is a horrible thing to inject into a relationship."
"Youre telling me," he said somberly. "Second I did to her what guys hate to have done to them. I gave her the how serious about me are you speech. Thats insane! As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew Id shot myself!"
"Why do you think you did that?" Ryan asked, a little puzzled by his behavior.
"Mmm probably because I was thinking out loud," he said. "Id never given a thought to getting serious with her, but when she told me there had been a chance that she was pregnant, it just dawned on me that wouldnt have been such a horrible thing for me, at least."
"That makes sense," she said. "And as much as I am a proponent of honesty that was a little abrupt for a second date."
"Youre telling me? I could have pled temporary insanity, but her mind was already made up." He kicked a tree branch that was lying in the road, and grumbled, "What really pisses me off is that she was willing to get serious. She just didnt know it."
Ryan nodded, admitting, "I guess youre right. Shes pretty serious about Jordan."
"No signs this is just a fling, huh?" he asked, pressing for information.
"Hmm you know I dont like to talk about my friends behind their backs," she said, "but I think its safe to say that you shouldnt hold your breath waiting for her to be available."
"So close! I was so close, and I let my big trap ruin it for me."
"You dont know that, Conor. You never know when youre going to click with someone."
"I clicked with her," he said decisively. "I just hope that one day she clicks with me."
"Again dont hold your breath," Ryan said, thinking that her friends were a long way from breaking up.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Later that afternoon, Ryan wandered down to the pool and found Jennie playing with the baby, both blondes having the time of their lives. "Ive got to get the munchkin down for her nap, but its gonna be tough," Annie said when she caught Ryans eye.
"Well, I guess you have to decide when you want her to scream," Ryan said. "Either now, or later, when shes cranky because she didnt have a nap."
"I suppose now would be best," Annie said.
"Let me take her up to our room. I havent heard her scream bloody murder in weeks. Im due."
"Oh, Ryan, you dont have to do that "
"I know. But Id like to. I miss her, Annie." She gave her a wry grin and said, "If she gives me a hard time, Ill be sick of her and then I wont miss her so much."
"How could I turn down such a heartfelt plea?" she said.
"Come on, Jen," Ryan said. "Grab the baby and hand her over. Its time for her nap."
"Uhm can I come and help?" she asked.
"Do you really want to?"
"Yeah. Ive never put a baby to bed before. You can show me how."
"Okay. Dry off and join us."
Once they were in Ryans room, Caitlin started to look around suspiciously, slowly coming to the realization that they were getting into nap mode. As soon as the thought hit her, she started to scream, wailing pathetically and clutching at Jennie. "She doesnt associate you with the conspiracy," Ryan said loudly to be heard over the din.
"Boy, shes loud!" Jennie yelled back.
Ryan swooped her up and held her snugly, walking around the room with her as she jiggled her over her shoulder. "Having a baby isnt all glamour," she said. "Even one as nice as this one."
It took a while, and Ryans head was throbbing, but Caitlin finally calmed down enough to drink her bottle. "Why dont you feed her?" Ryan asked.
"Me? Ive never fed a baby before!"
"Then its time you learned how," Ryan said. "Come over here and sit in the chair Thats it. Now, just cradle her however she seems comfortable. You dont have to support her much. She usually gets herself into position." The baby fussed and kicked, then settled down, with her head resting against Jennies chest. "Now, take the bottle and angle it like this," Ryan said, showing her the proper way. "Thats great. Now all you have to do is let her suck. Shell either fall asleep, or let you know when shes done."
Jennie looked down at the nursing child, a warm grin on her face. "Its hard to imagine being this little, isnt it?"
"For me it sure is," Ryan said. "I think I was that size in utero."
"I was real little," Jennie said softly. "I had to stay in the hospital for a while, cause I was so tiny."
"Were you premature?"
"Uh-huh. I dont know how much, but I think I only weighed 4 pounds."
"That is small," Ryan said. "I think I had 4 pounds of hair when I was born." Jennie looked up at her, on the verge of making a joke, but her face scrunched up, and before Ryan could blink she was crying soundlessly. "Hey, hey, whats wrong?" the older woman asked, squatting down next to her.
"Ive Ive been so worried about you," she said.
"Oh, Jen, Im fine. You saw that for yourself on Christmas, didnt you?"
"But youre not home and you didnt come back to take me to sch sch school. I know you, Ryan, and youd only miss that if something was really wrong." She was sobbing hard now, and Ryan took the nearly sleeping baby into her own arms so that Jen didnt wake her.
"Im all right, sweetheart," she said, stroking Jennies shaking body with her free hand. "Things have been hard for Jamie and me, but well get through it. I promise you that, Jen."
"Youre not gonna break up, are you?"
"What? Of course not! Whatever gave you an idea like that?"
"I dont know," she mumbled, "but whenever adults keep stuff secret, they wind up getting divorced."
"Jennie, were not keeping anything secret." She reached out and touched her chin, making her face her. "Ill tell you the entire truth. Ready?"
"Uh-huh," she said, looking terribly frightened.
"Ive been afraid, Jen. The reporters and photographers scare me when theyre right outside my house. Sometimes they scare me so much that I start to panic. Did you see what happened to me when I was down in North Carolina?"
"Yeah," she said, looking embarrassed for her friend.
"Well, thats what happens. I needed to get away for a while, so I could learn how to handle it, and I think Ive done that. Ive been seeing a psychiatrist, and shes helped me get much more comfortable with having my picture taken constantly. Im ready to come home now, buddy."
"Are you sure? I dont want you to have any more of those attacks. That scared me so bad, Ryan."
"I dont want to, either," Ryan said. "I cant guarantee that Ill never have one, but even if I do, I think I know how to deal with them better. I feel pretty good, Jen. I really think Im ready to go home." Running a hand through the girls short hair she asked, "How about you? Tell me how this has affected you."
"I have nightmares," she said. "I had one a bad one last night. I was sleeping on the window seat in Mrs. Evans room, and I woke her up."
"Im sure she didnt mind," Ryan said.
Jennie looked up at her with a vaguely puzzled expression. "She didnt," she said quietly. "She got up and sat with me, Ryan. She put my head in her lap and rubbed it until I went back to sleep." With a look filled with wonder, she added, "No ones ever done that for me."
"Everyone deserves to have their head rubbed," Ryan said. "Im glad Catherine showed you how nice it can be." She shifted the sleeping baby in her arms and placed her back on Jennies lap. "Caitlin needs a little more cuddling. Do you mind? My arms are getting tired."
"No, I dont mind," she said, accepting the heavy bundle. "Shes so sweet." She cuddled her against her chest and stroked her wispy blonde hair.
"So are you," Ryan whispered, bending to kiss Jennies head. "Im gonna go get us a snack. You are hungry, arent you?"
"Glad to know I havent forgotten what its like to be young," Ryan said. "Be right back."
* * * * * * * * * * *
By late afternoon, the party was in full swing. The entire family was gathered around the pool, by Caitlins decree, and everyone took turns playing with her. Jamie and Ryan had spent most of the day in the kitchen, but both insisted that was their preference, so they were allowed to do as they wished.
"How does it feel to have everyone here?" Jamie asked during one of their frequent alone times.
"Good," Ryan said decisively. "I need a break every half hour or so, but its going pretty well. How about you?"
"Im good," Jamie said. "I feel so much better having my mom in town, and spending time with her is just what the doctor ordered."
"I feel the same about my parents," Ryan sighed. "Theyre pure comfort for me."
"Its a little harder with the boys though, huh?"
"Not much," Ryan said. "Theyre a little boisterous, and that gets on my nerves a bit, but that will calm down soon."
"Thats the attitude. It will all calm down soon."
* * * * * * * * * * *
The next afternoon, Jamie and Ryan saw everyone off, then did a final inspection of the house before they packed up as well. They were ready to go by 5 p.m., but Ryan seemed reticent to actually get into the car and leave.
Coming up behind her, Jamie snaked her arms around Ryans waist and hugged her close. "Having trouble leaving?"
"Yeah," she said, her voice low and soft. "Im worried about what awaits us back in the real world."
Jamie turned her around and gazed into her eyes. "I dont know about you, but the most frightening thing for me is facing whats in here." She tapped her temple with her index finger. "Those guys out there are nothing compared to the monsters I have in here."
Ryan smiled gently, and nodded. "Ive got a few creepy creatures in my head, too. I guess youre right, we take them with us wherever we are."
"Yeah but theyre getting less creepy all the time."
"They are," Ryan said. She wrapped her partner in a tight embrace. "Youve been so wonderful to me, Jamie. I know its been hard for you, and I just hope you know how much I appreciate that youve been able to let me go at my own pace."
"Hey, youre not the only one moving at a glacial pace," Jamie said. "Im very tentative, too, Ryan, and youve been very understanding of my needs, also."
"Well get there, baby," the taller woman whispered. "Its taking longer than I have patience for, but well get there."
"I know we will," Jamie sighed. "I have confidence in us."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Well, it didnt take them long to guess where we were going," Ryan said as they drove by the OFlaherty home and saw the large assemblage of reporters. "They must have radioed ahead for reinforcements."
"You feeling okay?" Jamie asked, just a little worried.
"Yeah. Im going to give this my best shot," she said. They found a parking spot about two blocks up Noe, and by the time they were out of the car, several reporters had raced up the street. They started to shout their questions, but Ryan ignored them completely, acting as though they were invisible. "Would you rather carry the suitcases, or clear the way?" she asked her partner, a small smile firmly fixed upon her face.
"Lets each carry one, and each use an arm to push our way through," Jamie said, greatly relieved to have her partner acting so normally. They did just that, neither woman seeming to pay the slightest attention to the questions, or the thrusting microphones. Shooting a glance at her partner, Jamie was both pleased and amazed to see that there wasnt a flicker of anxiety or tension on Ryans face. She looked like she was walking down the street all alone, save for the raised arm with the sharp elbow pointed menacingly at all who dared to come too close.
They reached the house without serious incident, and as they hit the door, Ryan opened it wide, allowing Duffy to fly out. He jumped frantically, licking both Ryan and Jamie, then ran for the pack of reporters who had daringly climbed the stairs after them. He was so exuberant that he practically knocked them down the stairs backwards, just as Ryan had hoped. She stood in the doorway, smiling benignly at the scrambling men, all trying to keep their balance as they walked backwards, slowly descending the stairs to get away from the frantic pink tongue. As they departed, she went to the deck railing, a deeply satisfied look on her face. "Our pestilent infestation of reporters is being exterminated in a very efficient manner," she intoned, sparing a glance at her partner. As soon as the dog neared the sidewalk, she called to him, and he turned and flew back up, his tail wagging fiercely.
The dog ran into the house after them, squealing with delight. "I think he missed us," Jamie observed dryly, as the dog caught Ryan flatfooted and knocked her onto her butt. He was licking her so frantically that Ryan was completely unable to defend herself, and Jamie made the ultimate sacrifice and joined her on the floor, letting Duffy spread his love between them equally.
"You do love me," Ryan said, as Duffy started to work on her ear.
"Yep, I do," Jamie said. "Ill gladly sacrifice myself to keep you safe."
Ryan reached out and grabbed her, wrapping her in the protective cocoon of her long arms and legs, effectively blocking Duffy from reaching her. "And Ill do the same for you," she sighed heavily, thoroughly relieved to be back home.
* * * * * * * * * * *
They were still on the floor when Conor, Rory and Kevin came in a few minutes later, and Duffy immediately relinquished his attentions on the girls to take off after the men of the family. "Are you sure your Uncle Patrick took Duffy to his house?" Jamie asked. " The dog acts like hes been locked in the closet for three days."
"Well," Ryan said, getting to her feet and pulling her partner with her, "hes got food and water, and theres a message in Uncle Patricks hand saying he brought him home at 8 oclock." She slapped her hand with the paper and said, "I guess it could be an elaborate ruse. Duffy, were you in the closet?" The big dog just stared at her, ears up, pink tongue hanging out. "He wont talk, as usual," Ryan said. "The darned dogs as hard headed as I am."
"Oh, surely not!" Jamie cried, flinging herself at her partner, knocking her onto the sofa.
Ryan rolled over and straddled her waist, pinning her arms at the same time. "Youre starting to take after Duffy!" she cried. "Whats gotten into you?"
"He must have gotten me wired up," the smaller woman said. "Plus, running the gauntlet of reporters got my blood pumping, too."
"You did great," Ryan said.
"Youre the one who did great," Jamie said. "You acted like you couldnt even hear them!"
"I couldnt. I just decided they werent there, and I focused all of my energies on getting down the street. I was staring at the ground so intently that I could almost see the individual molecules of sand, cement and aggregate that made up the concrete."
"Lord, I wish I could concentrate like that! I heard every stupid question, but I stayed calm because you were calm."
"Thats how we balance each other out," Ryan said. "If I was freaked, you would have been calm. Its what we do," she said softly, a gentle smile on her face.
* * * * * * * * * * *
They hadnt been home for ten minutes when Jamies cell phone rang. "When are you coming home?" Mia asked crossly. "Im lonesome!"
"Hi, sweetie! Well be home in the morning. Cant wait to see you. I was really sorry you couldnt come down to the beach this weekend."
"I was too, but I had to go see my parents. I missed em, but seeing all of their pictures of Rome made me glad I didnt go with. I swear, they were at some church or another the whole time! For a fallen-away Catholic, my moms sure a church nut!"
"The churches in Rome are as architecturally and artistically interesting as they are religious," Jamie said.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Mia said. "And this eye doesnt like to behold churches!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
It felt odd to be back in their bed, and Jamie had to struggle to avoid feeling jealous of Duffy. The happy dog was being cuddled fiercely by his mistress, and Jamie longed for just a tenth of the affection Ryan was lavishing on him. But she reminded herself that Ryan was doing her very best, and tried to be grateful that the dark woman had some means of getting the physical attention that she needed.
Once they were all comfortable, Jamie took out her book and started to read the psalms to Ryan. Much to her pleasure, the blue eyes fluttered closed after just a few minutes, and soon all three inhabitants of the bed were sound asleep.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The next morning, Ryan spent a good fifteen minutes talking Conor out of taking the day off to go to school with her. "Im fine," she said. "Really, Con. I have some techniques to deal with the stress now. Im sure Ill be fine."
"But I took you to school the last time you were scared," he said.
"Conor, that was my first day of kindergarten," she said. "Ive matured a little since I was four."
"Are you sure you dont want me to go with you? I really dont mind."
"Yes, Im sure, bro. Its gonna be a little rough, but Ill be fine. And if anyone gives me a hard time, Ill just tell them that my big brothers gonna come and beat em up!"
"I will, Ryan," he said, giving her a completely serious look. "I dont take kindly to people causing trouble for my little sister."
"I know," she said, ruffling his hair affectionately. "You go on to work. If I need you, Ill page you."
"Okay." He finally relented, leaving just as Jamie came upstairs. "Ill beat up anyone who gives you a hard time, too, Jamie," he called out as he departed.
"That was an odd greeting," the blonde said. "Have you talked to Amanda yet?"
"Nope." Ryan looked at her watch. "Im talking to her at seven a.m. and six p.m., every day this week. If the week goes well, were gonna cut it down by a few sessions next week. How about you?"
"Im gonna see Anna every day, too. Well probably cut down a bit next week, as well." She looked at her partner and said, "You pay close attention to make sure youre getting what you need over the phone, okay? We can find you someone local if it isnt working for you."
"I know. Amanda said the same thing. Shes really looking out for my best interests, honey."
"Thats why I like her," Jamie said. "Ive got to get going now. You dont mind taking your motorcycle, do you?"
"No. Ill be able to use the carpool lane, so leaving late wont be so bad." She wrapped her arms around her partner and said, "Are you okay with going alone? I could talk to Amanda on my cell phone if you need me to be with you."
"Im fine, sweetheart. I know youll worry, so walk me down to the car, okay?"
"Like you could stop me," Ryan said. "Duffy! Come on, boy. Time for a little walk." The big dog came scampering over, wagging his tail enthusiastically. Ryan reached down and patted his head, saying, "Now dont be shy about saying hello to all of the nice men outside. They particularly like it when you jump up on them really hard at about groin level." Smiling at Jamie, she reported, "Your escort is ready!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
When she entered the Berkeley house, Ryans mouth gaped open in surprise. The table by the front door was piled a foot high with mail, Jamies penchant for shopping via catalog finally catching up with her. When she pushed the mail to one side, she saw sticky notes lining the entire table no less than fifty of the 2 x 3 inch notes covering the surface. The early ones bore Mias somewhat sloppy cursive writing detailing the caller and their message, but the ones received last night bore pithy comments like, "Some asshole reporter called 1 a. fucking m." Oh-oh, Mias reached her limit.
Heading into the kitchen, Ryan spotted the grumpy woman eating a bowl of cereal. Her curly head tilted up and she said, "Good thing for you that I love you two. The fucking phone is about to drive me mad." She gave Ryan a half smile and got up, giving her a big hug. "I missed you."
"I missed you, too," Ryan said, holding on to her for a long time. "Well pay your cell phone bill for the month, so go ahead and use it exclusively. Until this dies down, we just wont answer the main number." She took the handset off the wall phone and tossed it into the trash. "Good riddance."
"How are you feeling about being back at school, buddy? You okay?"
"Well, to be honest, Im a little freaked out. I wish Jamie had been able to be with me this morning so we could walk to school together. Im doing better but Im still a little afraid that Ill deck someone." She shook her head and said, "Im honestly afraid that Ill break Cassies head open if I see her. I hope to God shes got the sense to run if she catches sight of me."
"Uhm are you guys still trying to avoid looking at the news?"
"Yeah. Were totally out of the loop. Why?"
"Well, something happened while you were gone that you should know about."
"Well someone from your team talked to the tabloids, Ryan. They said you had some kind of a meltdown when you returned from the Bahamas "
"Oh, fuck." Ryan sat down, looking like she was going to be sick. "Those dirty motherfuckers!"
"Uhm your coach called right after it happened, and I talked to her for a long time. She seemed strangely nice," she said.
"Yeah, shes not so bad. What did she have to say?"
"She said that she was going to try to find out who ratted you out, and then kick them off the team. She sounded very upset about the whole thing, Ryan. She seemed to really care about you."
"Yeah I think she does." Ryan shook her dark head and said, "I think I know who talked and I have a feeling that she was in cahoots with a certain soon-to-be-deceased former roommate of yours."
Mia stood up and walked over to give Ryan a hug. "Im going to walk you over to school, babe. There are too many people on your shit list for you to wander around unescorted."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan gathered the phone messages and read through them as she and Mia walked along. Noting that a reporter from the Daily Californian had called repeatedly, she asked, "Gee, I wonder what he wants? Does this guy really think Im gonna turn down big bucks from the tabloids to give him an exclusive story? You know damn well that the school would sell the rights to the story to the highest bidder. They must think I just crawled out of the potato patch."
* * * * * * * * * * *
By the time Jamie got to the practice range from her car, she had been hugged and squeezed so many times, she was certain shed have bruises. All of her teammates had called after the ordeal, and a few had even sent personal notes, making her feel more like a member of the team than ever before. While she limbered up, Scott came over and said, "Just take it slow, Jamie. Im sure you werent able to practice over break, but dont let that worry you."
"I was able to practice," she said. "We went down to my parents home near Carmel, and I was able to play nearly every day. Im actually feeling pretty good about my game."
"Hows Ryan?" he asked quietly. "I saw what happened when she was down south for that game "
"Shes better now," Jamie said, smiling. "Its been tough for both of us, but well get through it."
"Well, if you need anything, like time off from practice, just let me know. I dont want golf to add to your stress."
"It doesnt," she said. "Playing golf is a very welcome diversion for me, Scott. It got me through some tough days over the last weeks."
"Thats good to hear. Just remember that were all behind you, Jamie," he said. "Let us know if theres anything you need."
Juliet approached as Scott left. "Hi," she said. "Are you doing okay?"
"Yeah, I am," Jamie said confidently. "Did you have a good break?"
"Yeah. Sure." She shrugged and added, "I just played golf. Are we still on for a round tomorrow?"
"I am. Two oclock, right?"
"Thats it. Ill check with the other girls to make sure everyone remembers."
Juliet sauntered off, stopping to chat with several of the other players. Well, thats the first time some of the freshmen have heard her voice, the blonde thought. Maybe Juliet is coming out of her shell.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Several times during the day, Ryan wished she had accepted Conors offer of protection. She always drew a fair amount of attention on campus her impressive height, distinctive good looks, and having played two varsity sports making her stand out. But today, she was drawing more attention than she was comfortable with. She had been followed from home, a small pack of reporters jogging along behind her and Mia. Of course, she would not speak, or even make eye contact, but the same could not be said for her classmates. When Ryan left her first class, a reporter was interviewing some joker who Ryan had never seen before in her life. She heard the young man voicing an opinion about her, nonetheless, commenting that he had always found her to be aloof and standoffish. She was on the verge of grabbing him by the shirt and showing him that he might prefer her being standoffish, when Mia bounded back up to her and gave her a hug and a kiss. The flashes popped as the photographers stopping focusing on the young man and switched to Mia. "What the fuck?" she said, shielding her eyes with a raised hand.
"You dont mind being in the tabloids as the new woman Im having my evil way with, do you?"
"Well, I think Id better warn my parents, but other than that, I think its an honor," she said. "I just ran over to ask if you want to have lunch with Jamie and her mom. You dont have your cell phone turned on."
"Oops ... cant afford to do that," Ryan said, and quickly switched the device on. "Ive got to scoot, Mia, will you call Jamie and tell her I cant make it? Im going to meet with my independent study advisor during lunch. Tell her I love her, though, okay?"
"You love her more than you love me?" Mia said loudly, feigning outrage, then began to laugh heartily when the reporters scrambled for their notepads. "This is fun!" she said, chuckling as she departed.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie and Catherine sat on matching Adirondack chairs under the shade of a massive magnolia tree, eating the delightful lunch that Marta had prepared for them. By exiting through the back of her classroom, Jamie had been able to elude the sole reporter who had decided to tag along with her, and she was relaxed and happy, although very chilly, during their meal.
"Im simply amazed at how well youre taking all of this, honey," Catherine said.
"Well, there are a lot of things about the ordeal that are still bothering me," Jamie said, "but the reporters dont upset me. They really havent had much impact on me from the start. It doesnt seem like a big deal, for some reason."
"But Ryan doesnt feel that way, does she?"
"No. They bother her a lot, but much less now than they did at first. Shes a very private person, Mom, and she hates to have to censor her behavior in public."
"I can certainly understand that," Catherine said. "Im glad to hear that its getting a little easier for her."
"That part is," Jamie said. "But shes still very, very shaky. Shes still talking to her therapist twice a day, and I think thats going to have to continue for a while. Her sleep is still very spotty, and her appetites not really returned, either. Things are a long way from normal for us." Her head shook slowly as she gazed at her lunch with a resigned look on her face.
"Tell me what else is bothering you, honey," Catherine said, "I know something is."
"Uhm I dont think this is the kind of thing you want to hear about," Jamie muttered. "Its ah kinda personal."
"I dont mind. If you need to talk, Im very willing to hear you out."
"I dont know if it helps to talk about it or not," she said. "Its just were not uhm Ryan and I are having trouble being close, and its really wearing on me."
"Close like sexually close?" Catherine asked gently.
Chuckling softly, Jamie said, "Oh, were a long, long way from being sexual. Were just at the point now where I can hold her for a short while each day. The rest of our physical relationship is just a dream for now. She even changes clothes in her room and showers alone."
Catherine reached out and grasped her hand, "Oh, Jamie, Im so sorry to hear that. I know how much it means to you both to express your love. I thought that things would start becoming more normal if you slept together. I thought your bodies would just naturally move together during the night."
"No, that hasnt happened," she sighed. "I know that well get it back, Mom; Im confident of that. I just worry that its going to be really, really difficult for Ryan. Im afraid that it will take a very long time, and I dont want her to get too frustrated if it does."
"It sounds like Ryans got more of an issue than you do," Catherine opined. "Is that so?"
"A bit, yeah, Id say thats true," Jamie said. "Ive been thinking about this a lot, and I think were having different reactions because we approach sex so differently."
Catherine just cocked her head, encouraging Jamie to continue if she wished.
"You know how intense Ryan is, right?" Jamie asked.
"Yes, dear, Ive seen her in action. She is the soul of intensity."
"Right," Jamie said. "Well, shes very, very intense when we make love." Giving her mother a quizzical look, Jamie asked, "Are you sure its okay to talk about this?"
"Yes, absolutely," Catherine said. "After our talks in Rhode Island, Ive become shock resistant."
Jamie smirked at her and continued. "Ryans whole thing is to show me as much of herself as she can possibly reveal. She consciously tries to take down every barrier. Every time we make love, she tries to show me whats in her heart." She smiled wistfully. "She bares her soul to me, Mom."
Catherine smiled wistfully and said, "That sounds wonderful."
"Oh, it is," Jamie said. "Its such a gift. But when shes feeling wounded and frightened like she is now shes unable to be close at all. Its like shes either fully revealed or fully shielded. Theres no middle ground with her do you know what I mean?"
"Yes, I think so," Catherine said. "I take it that youre not the same way Ryan is."
"No, not at all," Jamie said. "Like I said, Ryan tries to be 100% present when were being intimate. She keeps those big, blue eyes locked onto me like were sharing the same DNA. I, on the other hand, lose myself completely when were close. My brain shuts off, and I just let the sensations take over. I mean," she said, "I know that its Ryan making love to me, but I dont really experience her very much I experience the sensations.
"So while Ryan is being so painfully intimate, and risking so much Im just floating along on this sensual cloud hardly aware of whats going on around me." She laughed briefly, then continued. "Sometimes I can really be connected, and allow myself to be as vulnerable as she is." She sighed. "Our lovemaking is incredibly moving when that happens, but usually were almost on different planes. Thankfully, it works quite well for us. Its just when were having trouble like now that the difference in our styles is so obvious. I could easily get carried away if Ryan started to touch me but she cant risk being touched or touching me, because she feels too vulnerable."
"Does she realize this, Jamie? Do you talk about this?"
"Not much," she said. "I dont want to bring it up at this point at least not in any detail. She feels really broken, Mom, and I dont want to make it worse. Shes so very fragile right now." She shook her head and fought to hold back the tears. "I just want to support her."
"Jamie," Catherine said, "I can see how hard this is right now, but its so obvious how much you love each other. Im sure that getting through this will make your relationship just that much stronger."
Her cell phone rang, and Jamie answered quickly. "Hello?"
"Hi. I got finished with my meeting early. Are you still having lunch?"
"Yeah. Come on over. Weve got plenty left."
"Will do. Are you in our usual picnic spot?"
"Noooo " she said. "Id play hide and seek, but youd never find us."
"Do tell," Ryan said.
"Were in the back yard of University House," Jamie said, and waited for her partners reaction.
"Uhm honey ? Why are you in the Chancellors back yard?"
"Ill tell you when you get here. Hurry up, Tiger."
Jamie smiled at her mom and said, "Shes coming over to join us."
"Seeing how your face lights up when you hear her voice says volumes about your bond, Jamie. This will all work out in the end."
"I hope so, Mom. I miss her." She gave her mother a small smile and said, "I didnt see her get dressed today, but if shes in her normal winter attire, youre going to think shes gone mad."
"Whys that, honey?"
"Well, she hates the fact that most of the classrooms are heated. Shes antagonistic to artificial heat. Heck, she doesnt even like to have the furnace on unless you can see your breath in the house. Ryans a firm believer that a cool house is a very good thing. Anyway, shed rather be cold than hot, so she dresses so shes comfortable in the heated classroom. In my opinion she looks more than a little odd "
Catherine twitched her head as she caught sight of a mass of dark hair flying in the breeze as Ryan scampered along the path, panting slightly. "Did you run the whole way?" Catherine asked when the pink-cheeked woman gave her a kiss and sat next to Jamie.
"Yep," she said, kicking her feet out. Ryan had on a snug, short-sleeved, navy blue knit shirt and a pair of khaki-colored cargo shorts an outfit that would have been perfectly suited for a 70 degree day. But it was around 50 degrees, heavily overcast, and breezy, with a decided threat of rain. To provide a little more warmth to her extremities, she also had on her bright yellow sleeveless fleece vest, a navy blue knit cap, heavy socks, and a pair of hiking boots.
Patting her exposed knee, Catherine said, "You look like youre getting ready to hike up in the Alps on a warm spring day. Arent you cold?"
"Nah. Running over here will have heated me up enough to last through lunch."
"Are you pressed for time?" Catherine asked. "Or do you just like to run everywhere you go?"
"No, not really. I was just trying to ditch the reporter thats been on my thats been following me. I lost him in the geology building. I hope he trips on a geode, and breaks his neck."
"You dont seem to have warmed up to the fellows much," Catherine said.
"Nope. Theyre vermin. The legitimate press is long gone. Now were stuck with the bottom-feeders." She looked around the massive, beautifully tended garden that gracefully followed the slope of a gentle hill. "Okay, I showed up. Now who wants to tell me why were here?"
"I had a meeting with the Chancellor this morning. I told him that Id brought a picnic lunch, and he suggested that we use his yard. Nice, isnt it?"
"It is," Ryan said. "But your explanation is less than fully revealing. I didnt know you had a relationship with the U.C. I thought you were Stanford all the way."
"I have been, up until now," Catherine said. "I just thought it was time to meet the Chancellor."
Ryan narrowed her gaze and crossed her arms over her chest. "Spill it, Catherine. That Mona Lisa smile isnt gonna cut it."
Patting her leg, Catherine said, "Its no big deal, Ryan. I wanted to make sure the university was prepared to deal with any security issues that might arise. I wanted the Chancellor to know that if we didnt like the way things were going, we would hire our own security people."
"Well, what did he say?" she asked.
"He said hed work with us to make sure you two were protected." She looked at both young women and asked, "How is it going, so far? Are the reporters bothering you?"
"Not much," Ryan said. "They seem to be concentrating on getting my erstwhile classmates to talk about me, since I wont speak. Oh, I took our phone off the hook, Jamie. There were so many people calling that Mia was starting to lose her sense of humor, and thats always dangerous."
"No problem," she said. "I only want to talk to people who know my cell number, anyway."
"I think things will be all right, Catherine," Ryan said. "I dont think you need to call the dogs out."
"All right, dear, but you just let me know if it starts to bother you. We have options."
Catherine watched as Ryan took just a few bites of her lunch, then put her fork down and ignored the tasty meal. Jamie had been watching her as well, and she picked the fork back up and poked around on the plate idly, looking like she was merely playing. Ryan was concentrating on telling Catherine about her independent study, and when the fork traveled near her mouth, she opened and let Jamie put the morsel in. Her response was automatic, and she hardly seemed to notice it was happening. While they chatted, Jamie continued to feed her, with Ryan compliantly opening her mouth and chewing every little bite until the plate was clean.
The concern and care that radiated from the smaller woman was obvious, and Catherine smiled repeatedly at the scene. She was unable to ignore that something was different, however. She had actually seen Jamie feed Ryan bits of food on many occasions, and there was always a teasing, sexual undertone to the habit. She often looked away when they were doing it finding the practice just a little too intimate for her own comfort. But that element was entirely absent today. Now Jamie seemed more like a nurse trying to unobtrusively get her ailing patient to take in sufficient nutrients. Instead of the easy comfort they normally evinced there now seemed to be an invisible barrier between them even though they smiled warmly at each other, and teased each other gently. There was just something missing and she fervently hoped that the two young lovers would soon rekindle the spark. I know only too well how easy it is to let a problem fester until its impossible to be close again.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Part 9
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