I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 13 Monogamy

By: S X Meagher


Part 12

As she tried to make her bleary eyes focus, Ryan jogged down the stairs to answer the doorbell. Who in the heck is at the door at this time of the morning? Oh well, at least it got my lazy butt out of bed. If left to my own devices, I would have been tempted to bag my whole morning schedule. As she flung the door open, she was surprised to come face to face with a huge bouquet of flowers, her nose twitching as a spider mum poked her cheek.

"Delivery for Evans-O’Flaherty," the invisible deliveryman announced.

"That’s me," she replied, and placed her hands around the substantial vase, relieving the now visible man of his burden. She turned and placed the vase on the hall table, then made eye contact with the visitor. "Do I need to sign for it?"

"No need," the attractive, well-dressed man said. "I own the shop."

Ryan shook her head, a smirk covering her face. "Let me guess," she drawled. "Catherine Evans is behind this special delivery."

"She said it was important that they arrive before you left for school," he said. "My delivery guys don’t start until eight, so I thought I’d drop them off on the way back from my daily visit to the flower mart."

"Catherine has a way of making things happen," Ryan said.

"For what she spends at my shop, I could afford to go to Holland to pick up those tulips," he said, nodding his head toward the arrangement. "Her complete satisfaction is very important to me." Ryan started to grab her wallet from the table, but he saw what she was doing and said, "No, really, there’s no need to tip me. But, I would appreciate it if you let Mrs. Evans know that you were happy."

"I’ll make sure to give her a good report," Ryan promised. "Thanks for going out of your way." She closed the door and stood back to assess the gift, marveling at the remarkable assortment of flowers the elaborate ceramic vase held. Snatching the large card, she trotted back up the stairs, dropped her sweats and slid into bed.

"Mmm … good morning to the future Mrs. Evans," Jamie purred lazily as she snuggled close.

"Good morning to you, the future Mrs. O’Flaherty," Ryan murmured. "How’s my fiancée this morning?"

"She’s good," Jamie mumbled through a yawn. "How’s mine?"

"She’s very good." Ryan wrapped her arms around her still-drowsy partner and cuddled her to her chest. "She’s well-loved, well-rested and ready to blind a few of her classmates when the sun hits her hand." Extending her left hand, she admired her ring, amazed that she felt perfectly at ease to have the substantial investment resting on her finger.

"Do you really like it?" Jamie asked, with the faintest note of worry in her soft voice.

Giving her answer thoughtful consideration, Ryan said, "It’s certainly not what I would have picked for myself."

Jamie’s heart picked up, suddenly chagrined at having asked Ryan such a direct question. She knew her partner was always frank about issues of style; and while she applauded her honesty, for a moment she wished this was one of the times Ryan would humanely lie to spare her feelings.

Ryan continued in her slow, analytical fashion, "I’m sure I would have tried to get away with something much more modest – if I consented to a ring at all." Now the smaller woman’s heart began to thud in her chest, beating so loudly that Ryan noticed it. "You okay?"

"Uh-huh," she said tightly. "Go on."

Ryan shrugged and continued. "I’m so glad that you didn’t consult with me before you bought it. It would have been a shame to let my frugal nature stop me from wearing something this gorgeous. This is a little much for me right now, but I’m going to wear it for the rest of my life, and I’ll slowly grow into it. If you bought me something I was comfortable with now, it would look kinda silly when I was in my forties or fifties."

"So you do like it?"

Lifting her head up so that she could look into Jamie’s eyes, Ryan cocked her head and asked, "How could I not like it? It’s stupendous, Jamie! Haven’t I made that clear?"

"Well, you seem a little hesitant …"

"Look," Ryan said, lifting Jamie’s chin with her fingers. "I am hesitant to get used to this kind of lifestyle. That’s no news flash. But being your spouse puts me into this economic stratum, and I’ve got to work on getting comfortable with it. It is what it is, and I refuse to have this be a chronic issue between us. I’m gonna try to chill a bit and look at the long view."

It took a little maneuvering, but Jamie managed to get Ryan’s hand close to her face. She spent a moment looking at the ring, admiring the way it looked against the long, elegant fingers. "It suits you," she said softly.

Ryan chuckled and nodded her head. "It does, strangely enough. I don’t see myself as the kind of woman who’s suited to diamonds of this size. I’m gonna have to do some mental adjustments." She gazed at the three oval diamonds, the center stone nearly two and a half carats, with each of the flanking stones over a carat. In color, they perfectly matched her diamond earrings, and the platinum band stylistically tied them to the platinum collars of the earrings as well. "I’m very glad that you bought it for me. And I’m flattered that you see me as an elegant enough woman to be able to pull off wearing it." They kissed gently, their lips barely brushing against each other. "What about yours? Are you happy with it?"

"Of course I am!" Jamie brought her hand up to rest between them, so they could both view the new ring. "I’m glad that we didn’t try to make them match," she said, considering the massive differences in the rings. "We would have both had to compromise to get something we both liked. I think it’s cool that they’re so different – they’re as different as we are."

"Yeah. A square cut emerald with two square cut diamonds in a yellow gold setting is about as far from mine as you can get," Ryan said. "Do you really like the square cut? I was torn between the square and the round."

"I prefer the square," Jamie said, "and I’m very glad you went with the Princess cut. It has so much more fire than the flat emerald cut. I don’t know why, but I’ve always pictured a square cut emerald when I thought about my engagement ring."

Ryan chucked as she said, "I can honestly say that the thought of an engagement ring had never crossed my mind. I don’t think that’s a common lesbian daydream."

"You’re my lesbian daydream," Jamie sighed as she wrapped Ryan in her arms, only to be poked by a sharp object. "Ow!"

"Oops." Ryan giggled as she took the card out from between their bodies. "Forgot about that."

Jamie removed the card from her hand and batted her eyes at her. "Oh … you bought me a card. How sweet."

"Can’t cop to that," Ryan said. "It’s from your mom. She had a bouquet the size of a Buick delivered this morning."

"Really? That’s cool," Jamie said, opening the card. She cleared her throat and read, "Congratulations, Jamie and Ryan. I know that your marriage will bring both of you unlimited happiness. I love you both,


"She’s a peach," Ryan said.

"There’s more," the smaller woman intoned. "We need to get together immediately to start planning! Dinner at my house tonight?"

Ryan pulled the covers over her head and muttered, "She was the soul of restraint for Da and Maeve, but I know she’s gonna take off the gloves now. Heaven help me!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Good news, Poppa," Jamie giggled into the phone later that day when she caught her grandfather in. "She said yes!"

"I’m speechless," he said. "I thought you’d have to spend weeks convincing her."

"No, she jumped aboard without a complaint. Gullible little thing, isn’t she?"

"I happen to think you both have excellent taste," he said. "I take it you’re both on cloud nine today?"

"Yes, except that mother wants to discuss our wedding plans tonight. I have a feeling that’s going to be a bit of a struggle with Miss ‘Can’t We Order a Pizza And Be Done With It?’"

"At least you don’t have to worry that she loves you for your money, Jamie," he reminded her. "Unless she’s a fabulous actress."

"No, she’s a pretty awful actress, actually. She genuinely doesn’t like having this much money. But she was very sweet about the ring I bought her. Nary a complaint."

"That’s good to hear. It’s not that common for couples to have the issue of fighting over too much money, but it can be as bad as having too little. I’m glad that you’re both trying to find a middle ground."

"We are," she said. "But still, Mother might try her patience with her plans for the ceremony. Can I convince you to join us for dinner – say, around eight?"

"I’m happy to. We have a few things to discuss, anyway, and we can wrap up my issues at the same time."

"Great. Meet us at Mother’s.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hi, Mom, it’s me," Jamie announced late that afternoon. "Poppa’s on board, so we’ll be there around eight. Should we coordinate our ideas before we get together?"

"Why would we want to do that? Isn’t that the point of the meeting?"

"Not when Ryan’s involved," Jamie said with a chuckle. "She thought Martin and Maeve’s reception was ostentatious. I think we’re gonna have to struggle to get her to agree to anything fancy."

"I don’t want to make her uncomfortable," Catherine insisted. "We can keep this very low key."

"But I don’t want low key, Mom. I want something memorable. It doesn’t have to be opulent or anything, but I’ve dreamt about my wedding since I was a little girl. It’s important to me."

Catherine paused, thinking that perhaps it was unwise to discuss the issue until the young couple had come to a private agreement about the tone for the ceremony. "I don’t want this to cause trouble for you, Jamie," she said. "Maybe we should hold off until you and Ryan agree."

"Don’t worry about that," Jamie said. "We don’t fight about issues like this. Ryan acts like she’s making a huge sacrifice, then I thank her profusely. It all works out."

"If you’re sure," Catherine said warily.

"I am. I don’t want her to be unhappy, Mom. I can tell if she’s really uncomfortable, or being dramatic. I have found one trick that works, though. She likes to be able to compromise about issues like this."

"That’s good to hear," Catherine said, a smile reflected in her voice.

"So, what works is to ask for something outrageous," the younger woman revealed. "Then, the compromise is close to what I wanted anyway."

With a tone that was only partially teasing, Catherine said, "That’s frighteningly devious, sweetheart. Are you sure that’s a good idea?"

"Look, Mom," Jamie said. "She’s still talking about how fabulous Martin and Maeve’s wedding was. She loved the fact that it was a special day and that they had a party that was different from all of their other gatherings. She’s programmed to say that she doesn’t want it. If she could let herself go and say what she truly wants, I bet it’s nearly identical to what I want."

"You know her well, Jamie," Catherine said. "But try not to push her too hard. There’s nothing more unattractive than a woman who constantly manipulates her spouse."

"I understand that, Mom. We do tend to manipulate each other a little bit, but we get over it quickly if we don’t get our way. I’ll be fine with it if we end up having a barbeque in the back yard. But I’m going to ask for more than I want and see where we end up."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hey," Ryan called as she ran up the stairs after softball practice. They were on a tight schedule, so she didn’t take the time for her usual welcome home buss.

Jamie poked her head out of the kitchen and called up the stairs, "One day of being engaged and I no longer merit a hello kiss? This bodes ill, Ms. O’Flaherty."

"I’ll make it up to you later," Ryan hollered as she dashed into the shower.

"You’d better," the smaller woman chuckled in a normal tone of voice, since Ryan couldn’t hear her anyway.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The first stop was to dash by Martin and Maeve’s to make their announcement. On the drive over the traffic-clogged bridge, Ryan said reflectively, "This is kind of an odd situation to be in, isn’t it?"

"What is?"

"To tell people that we’re engaged. It’s kinda bass-ackwards, isn’t it? I mean, we’ve told people that we’re, in essence, married. You already wear a wedding ring. We refer to each other as spouses. Yet, now we’re engaged. It’s odd."

"I don’t think it’s much odder than a straight couple who lives together, is it? They probably consider that they’re spouses, too."

"I guess," Ryan said. "I do kinda like the formality of being engaged, to tell you the truth. It’s cool to think of you as my fiancée. It’s like we get to do the whole thing over again. And having our families with us is going to make it special." She shot Jamie a wide grin and said, "I’m really looking forward to this. It’s one bit of heterosexual privilege that I want to claim."

Jamie grinned back at her, charmed by how much the ceremony meant to her partner. "You know, I was thinking about it today," she said. "I suppose I should take my wedding ring off until we make it official." She caught Ryan’s startled look and immediately followed up. "But I can’t. I couldn’t bear to."

A luminous grin lit up Ryan’s entire face. She reached across the car and captured her partner’s hand, bringing it close to her lips for a soft kiss. "I’m glad. I don’t want you to ever take it off."

"I’ll take off the engagement ring when I play golf," she said, "but I leave the wedding ring on all the time. I’m developing a nice little callus at the base of my finger, as a matter of fact. I like it," she said.

Since the hand in question was still available, Ryan tickled the callus with the tip of her tongue. "I look forward to developing my own. One more small reminder of my love for you."

"Only you could make a callus sound romantic," Jamie sighed as she unbuckled her seat belt and leaned over for a warm kiss. "Might as well give the other drivers something to talk about on their cell phones," she said.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Anybody home?" Ryan called out as she popped her head into her aunt’s house. As usual, the front door was unlocked, but she didn’t want to fully enter without permission; trying to give the newlyweds some level of privacy.

"Siobhán?" Martin’s voice carried from the kitchen.

"Yep." She and Jamie entered the house as Martin and Maeve exited the room.

"Did you come for dinner, girls?"

"No. We’re headed over to Catherine’s place for dinner, but we wanted to stop by and show you something first." She was smiling broadly, and Martin’s smile reflexively broadened to match hers.

"What is it?" Maeve asked.

"Last night we proved that we truly belong together," Ryan said. "We both had the same thought at exactly the same time."

"Get on with it," Martin ordered, his curiosity overriding his normal patience.

"We asked each other to marry," she announced proudly, with both her and Jamie extending their hands to Martin and Maeve’s astonished eyes.

"Holy mother of God!" Martin reached for both hands simultaneously. "I’ve been blinded!" he cried dramatically, as the light hit the substantial stones.

"Oh, girls," Maeve gushed, "I’ve never seen two more beautiful rings!" She tore her eyes away from the jewelry to gaze at her niece. "And you didn’t talk about this beforehand?"

"No, that’s why it’s so funny," Ryan said. "We knew that we wanted to have a commitment ceremony, but we hadn’t discussed it at all."

"Well, this is grand, just grand," Martin enthused, wrapping each woman in a hug, as Maeve did the same. "Congratulations, girls."

"Thanks, Da," Ryan said as she pulled away. "We’re running late to get to Catherine’s, but we had to stop by to let you know."

"Will you be home this weekend, love?"

"No. Another tournament. We’re gonna have to start coming over for dinner during the week so I can see you two."

"We’d be happy to bring Caitlin over some evening, too," Maeve offered. "She misses you fiercely when you don’t come home. She associates you both with church now," she revealed. "She was anxious all during Mass on Sunday, and I think she was looking for you."

"I’d love it if you’d bring her over," Ryan said. "But I hate to have you sit through that much traffic."

"We’ll come early and watch your softball practice," Martin suggested. "I’m off next Tuesday and Wednesday. Maybe we can do it then."

"Sounds like a plan," Ryan said as she kissed him goodbye. "We’ve gotta run now."

As they ran back down the stairs, hand in hand, Martin found himself transported to the morning that Ryan had announced that Jamie was the one for her. It was the morning that they’d left for Pebble Beach, and father and daughter were able to carve out a few private moments in the midst of doing laundry and packing.

"I can’t say I’m surprised, but I didn’t know you were ready to make a permanent commitment at this point in your life," Martin began.

Ryan’s clear blue eyes were slightly wide, and her expression was one of pure determination. "This is it for me, Da. You know I don’t enter into relationships easily, but this was the most natural thing in the world. I barely had to think about it."

"That’s how it was for me with your mother. Getting married was the furthest thing from my mind, but after a few weeks, it seemed like something I had to do."

"Had to do. That’s exactly it," she said reflectively. "This is something I had to do."

"I’m happy for you both," he whispered into her ear as he hugged her close. "I know you’ll be happy together."

"I know we will," Ryan said, sniffing a little. "I had a very good example of a successful marriage."

Expressing his seldom-revealed regret, Martin said, "I wish you would have had that example for many, many more years, darlin’." He held her close as the tears started to fall. "Your mother would have been so happy for you. And she would have loved Jamie like her own. I’m sure of that."

"Thanks, Da," she whispered, her voice too raw with emotion to speak any louder. "If it’s okay with you, I want to give Jamie Mama’s wedding ring. I want to always have her with us, and having Jamie wear it will always remind me of her."

He didn’t answer verbally, since he was too choked up to speak. He just hugged her so tight she was nearly bruised, giving her his enthusiastic permission.

"Marty … Marty." Maeve’s hand on his arm startled him from his reverie, and he shook his head to clear it.

"Sorry. I was wandering a bit."

"It’s hard to see her grow up so soon, isn’t it?" she asked softly.

"It is," he said. "Luckily, she’s chosen well. I have every confidence that they’ll love each for their whole lives."

"I do, too," she said, taking his hand. "Jamie’s a very lucky young woman. If Ryan’s anything like her father, and I know she is, Jamie’s going to be very well loved."

Martin gave his blushing bride a very enthusiastic kiss, giving complete credence to her words.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After Marta had worked her magic with a perfect paella, the foursome got down to business.

"Why don’t you start, Poppa?" Jamie suggested. "I know you have some thoughts about the timing of the ceremony."

"All right," he said. "Normally, I have an unwritten rule about marrying people who have only been together a short time. I generally request that a couple be together for two years, and be members of the congregation before I’ll agree to join them." Ryan’s eyes widened a bit, but he quickly said, "There is a benefit to being my granddaughter, though. I know that neither of you are behaving frivolously here and, given what you’ve been through in the past few months, I think there’s been a very good indication of the stability of your partnership. So I’m willing to waive my two year rule," he said. "I would, however, like to wait until you have a full year together. Is that something you can live with?"

"That’s fine," Ryan said immediately, and Jamie nodded her consent as well. "We could actually have the ceremony on the anniversary of our …" She searched for words to explain their bonding on that June day in Pebble Beach, finding herself completely tongue-tied.

Jamie came to her rescue, saying, "We pledged our permanent commitment to one another on June the fourteenth. I think it would be a great idea to have our wedding right around then."

Ryan nodded at this suggestion, and Charles agreed. "That’s fine, girls. Now the only other thing I need to have you do is participate in our marriage preparation class."

Looking a little ill, Ryan managed to say, "Another class? I don’t mean to be difficult, but I’ve got about all I can handle on my schedule now, Charlie. How big of a time commitment is this?"

"It’s two hours a week for eight weeks, Ryan. We’ve got a class starting up on the first week of March for all of the couples marrying in June." He gazed at her thoughtfully for a moment, then said, "I don’t feel comfortable waiving the requirement, especially since you’ve been together such a short time. I think it’s important – and I think it can help assure the success of your relationship."

"Oh, I’m not trying to get out of it," she said. "I’m trying to figure out how on earth I can participate."

"It won’t be easy for me either, Poppa," Jamie said. "When is the class?"

"It’s on Thursday nights," he said.

"That clinches it," Ryan said, shaking her head. "We either play on Thursday, or are on a plane going to a tournament. I’d have to quit the team to participate."

"No, no, don’t be silly," Jamie insisted. "We’ll figure this out."

Catherine piped up with a suggestion. "Why rush, girls? Now that you’ve decided not to go to graduate school yet, why not take it easy and have the ceremony later in the summer? That will give you time to plan and relax a bit after you graduate."

"Well, I like the idea of having it be on our anniversary, but I don’t see any way around this," Jamie said. "How about August, Ryan? Does that work for you?"

"August 26 is a perfect day," Ryan said, grinning widely. "It’s not only a Saturday, it’s my parents’ anniversary."

Reaching across the table, Jamie grasped Ryan’s hand and gave it a squeeze, locking her eyes on her as she said, "That’s a wonderful suggestion, sweetheart." Looking at her grandfather, Jamie asked, "Could we do a class that would allow us to use that date?"

"Yes," he said, looking at his schedule. "I can start another near the end of June. That’ll be just about right."

Giving her partner a big smile, Jamie said, "Let’s do it."

Charlie penciled the date in, as Catherine jotted the day down in her massive Filofax. "I think that’s a better time anyway, girls," Catherine said. "It gives me six full months to plan." Her eyes were twinkling, and Ryan knew the tag-team harassment was about to begin.

"Can I have a glass of wine before I’m beaten into submission?" she asked with an aggrieved expression on her face.

Charlie rose from his chair and patted her on the back. "Buck up, Ryan. You’ve marrying into a family of very determined women. You can either submit now, or submit later. Either way, the outcome is predetermined," he said, chuckling softly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After taking a sip of her wine, Ryan said, "We haven’t discussed a pretty important element here. Since I’m broke, and Da isn’t flush, we either have to have a very modest affair, or the Evans family will wind up paying for the entire thing. How do you two feel about that?"

"I want to pay for it," Catherine insisted. "I want you to have exactly what you want, and I don’t want you to give the finances another thought." Looking at her daughter-in-law, she asked, "Can you live with that, Ryan?"

"Yeah, I think I can," she nodded. "At least, I’ll try my best." Looking at her partner, she said, "Having a wedding has never been a dream for me, but it has been for Jamie. I want this to be perfect for her."

"I want it to be perfect for you, too," Jamie said. "Let’s get to it, then. I suppose we have to decide on the location. I’d prefer to have the service in Poppa’s church, and then move to the reception. What about you, honey?"

"Agreed," said Ryan. "Weddings in an informal setting don’t seem real to me."

"Excellent," Jamie said, giving her partner a little wink. "See how easy this is?"

Charles made a note in his calendar and nodded for Jamie to continue.

"Next is the venue for the reception. We could do it in Hillsborough, but I was thinking that it might be nice to have it at a hotel, or a club. I’d like for Marta to be a guest – and she would never be able to let strangers into her kitchen without closely supervising them." She braced herself for Ryan’s rejoinder, expecting her opening volley to be a suggestion that they have the party in the backyard in Noe.

One dark eyebrow rose, then she nodded her head slowly. "How about the Olympic Club? After all, we are members."

Jamie nearly fell to the floor in amazement, but she managed to cover fairly well. "You’re okay with having it at Olympic?"

"I suggested it," Ryan said, blinking her big blue eyes ingenuously.

"All right," Jamie said, still a little flustered. "What do you think, Mom?"

"I think it’s a good idea. Olympic has a lot of family memories for us, too, Jamie. It’ll be rather homey." Giving Ryan a quick glance, she offered, "My only other suggestion is the Ritz-Carlton. They have a lovely room, and the food is better than it is at Olympic."

Ryan shrugged and said, "Either one’s fine with me." Then she relaxed in her chair and took a long sip of wine, smiling serenely at her stunned partner.

Going for an item that she knew would provoke controversy, Jamie said, "I’d like to have a formal reception. What do you think, Ryan?"

"I’m not sure I know what that means," Ryan said, waiting for elucidation.

"Well, everyone in the wedding party would wear formal attire. Tuxes for the men and gowns of some sort for the women."

"What about the guests?" she asked, looking very dubious.

"The men would have the option of wearing a suit or a tux, and the women could choose between a dress and a formal gown."

Her eyebrows remained in their hitched position as she enunciated clearly, "Some women will be wearing slacks, Jamie. One of them is in the wedding party."

"We can work that out," she soothed. "I know you wouldn’t feel comfortable in a bridal gown with a big train."

Once again, Ryan stunned the assembled group when she shrugged her broad shoulders and said, "Okay. As long as I can wear slacks, whatever you want to do is okay with me."

"You don’t mind that your cousins will have to wear suits? And your brothers will have to wear tuxes?" This was too much agreement for the smaller woman’s brain to process, and she took another swallow of wine to calm her nerves.

"Nope. Won’t kill ’em." Another small, satisfied grin took up residence on her face, and Jamie wondered once again who this imposter was.

"Well, maybe we should discuss how many people we want to invite," Jamie suggested, giving Ryan another quick look. "I was thinking about 250."

Now Ryan’s familiar scowl settled on her face, and Jamie was reassured that the tall beauty at her side was really her partner. "I don’t know about that," she said, adding a little headshake to emphasize her disagreement. "I think we might have to go higher than that."


"Well, yeah," Ryan said, ticking the categories off on her fingers. "Family on my side alone will be over 50. If we invite all of my aunt’s people, I could easily get to 100. I want to invite my volleyball team and all of the coaches, my softball team; the basketball team can kiss my Irish ass," she added with a grin. "A lot of people from the AIDS Ride, some of the people from my old gym …" Blinking at Jamie, she hesitated and asked, "Is that too many?"

Jamie held up a hand, trying to make the words coming out of Ryan’s mouth fit with her usual parsimony. "You don’t mind having three or four hundred people at our wedding?"

"Why would I mind?" she asked, cocking her head. "I want to share this with everyone who’s important to me." Narrowing her eyes a tiny bit, she asked, "Don’t you?"

"Of course I do," Jamie immediately said. "But I thought you’d want to keep it simple and quiet."

"Heck no! This is a very big deal to me, Jamie. I never thought I’d get to have anything like this, and now that I can, I want to blow the lid off! I want this to be a party that people will remember for years!" Her face was beaming such a wide grin that Jamie’s astonishment faded away, to be replaced with a matching smile.

"I want that, too," she said, leaning over to press her lips against Ryan’s. She kissed her cheek several times, adding a firm hug. "I want everyone we care for to be there with us."

Ryan nodded, slipping an arm around her to return the hug. "We’ve had the private ceremony. This one’s a party."

As she sat upright, Jamie spared a glance for her mother and grandfather, who were both doing their best not to laugh. "The only consistent thing about Ryan O’Flaherty is her consistent inconsistency," she announced. "Thank God I love every one of her adorable quirks."

* * * * * * * * * * *

By the time they left, they had decided on either the Olympic Club or the Ritz, depending on availability and capacity; hiring a band so that Rory didn’t have to work; a noon church service, with the reception beginning at six o’clock; a full dinner with dancing afterwards; and a honeymoon trip of undetermined length and destination.

They were settled in the Boxster, and Ryan had dropped the top, even though the night was cool. She had been going non-stop since six a.m., and she thought the cool air might help revive her. Since Jamie was tired as well, she didn’t complain, even though the weather was quite brisk.

Riding in companionable silence until they reached the bridge, Jamie leaned over as far as she could and tucked her left hand under Ryan’s jacket, knowing that her body heat would warm it in seconds. "You pleasantly surprised me tonight, tiger," she said reflectively.

"How so?" Ryan asked over the whipping of the wind as they passed by the massive supports of the bridge.

"I thought you’d have a lot of problems with the ideas I suggested for the reception. I’m still amazed at how agreeable you were."

Sparing a warm smile, Ryan said, "I’ll take that as a compliment."

"That’s how I meant it," Jamie said, giving her side a little pat.

"I meant what I said earlier," Ryan said. "This is the first and last time I’ll ever have a huge party like this. We might as well do it up right."

"You’re honestly okay with all of the elements we decided on?"

"Well, the formal dress is a little much, but I want you to be happy, Jamie. If you get pleasure out of that, I figure it’s the least I can do. After all," she said, "the bride pays for the wedding. You should have the bigger say."

Giving her a pinch, she demanded, "If I’m the bride, who are you?"

"Mmm … I’m not sure. I only know that I’m not the bride."

"Maybe we’ll have the ushers ask the guests whether they want to sit on the bride or the non-bride’s side," Jamie said.

"Works for me. I’m neither a bride, nor a groom. Those terms don’t fit me."

"The title doesn’t matter," Jamie insisted. "All that matters is that you love me and I love you."

"That’s a title I can get behind," Ryan said, gracing her partner with a winning smile. "I’m a Jamie-lover."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan came home from her morning class on Wednesday, the phone rang right as she was wrestling with the key in the lock. Grabbing the device, she said, "H’lo?"

"Hi, Ryan, it’s Amanda."

"Oh, hi. What’s up?"

"I think I’ve found you a group that will fit your stringent requirements," the doctor said.

"Oh, boy," Ryan said, letting her decided lack of enthusiasm show.

"You don’t have to go, Ryan," Amanda said. "I won’t think badly of you if you’re not able to commit to this. But I believe that at this point, you’ll get more from the group than you will from me."

Ryan sighed, and chided herself for giving Amanda a hard time. "Let’s hear the details."

"It meets in Oakland, which shouldn’t be too inconvenient; and the best news is that it meets at 7 a.m. on Monday and Thursday. How does that sound?"

Forcing herself to be polite, Ryan said, "It sounds like you went to a lot of trouble to find this for me, Amanda. I might not sound very enthusiastic, but I appreciate that. I guess the group meets tomorrow?"

"Yes, it does. Bright and early."

"Uhm … Jamie and I are going to Las Vegas tomorrow for a softball tournament … I’m not sure I can …"

"When does your flight leave, Ryan?"

Blowing out a breath, Ryan admitted, "Late afternoon. I guess you’d better give me the address – since I suppose I’m headed over there in the morning."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later that afternoon, Ryan rushed around the house, getting her gear packed for the short bus trip to Moraga for a double-header against St. Mary’s. The day was very overcast, and promised a good drenching, so she made sure she took the new rain jacket that Jamie had purchased for her. She was almost out the door when the phone rang; and when she heard her father’s voice on the machine, she dashed over and picked up. "Hey, Da, I’m about to head out. What’s up?"

"Your aunt and I talked about it today, Siobhán, and we’re not willing to wait another week to see you. I arranged to take the afternoon off, so we’re going to come see your game."

Smiling brightly at his thoughtfulness, she warned, "I’d love to have you, Da, but it looks like we might get rained out. I hate to see you drive that far for nothing."

"Not to worry. I know it’s a risk, but one you’re well worth. Tell Jamie we’ll see her there."

"Okay. I love you, Da. Thanks for being so supportive of me."

"Always a pleasure, love. Now see what you can do about getting your coach to let you play an inning or two, okay? I want to see you stretch those long legs."

"Will do," she said, knowing that he was kidding.

* * * * * * * * * * *

On the bus ride to St. Mary’s, Ryan sat in the seat behind Jackie, and they played one of their favorite games – "guess who’s driving the car." The point of the game was to guess the sex and approximate age of the drivers of the cars they passed, and over the weeks Ryan had gotten quite good at it. But she was still no match for Jackie, who beat her every time out.

Nearing their exit on the freeway they approached a black Nissan mini truck, and Ryan called out, "Two people … no, three. A man, a woman and a baby. Both of the adults are in their late fifties, and the baby is …" she scrunched her nose as she appeared to concentrate, "about a year and a half." Nodding, she added, "The baby’s blonde." The bus passed the truck, and Jackie shot a quick look at the occupants, then turned to Ryan with her mouth hanging open. "My parents and my cousin," the taller woman laughed heartily.

"Your parents, huh? Have they been to any of the other games?"

"Nope. They came to almost every volleyball and basketball game I played in, but our games are a little harder for them to get to, since they’re usually in the afternoon. Besides, since I generally don’t play, I hate to see them waste a trip to see me sit on the bench."

Jackie gave her a concerned look and asked, "Do you ever resent not playing? I mean, it’s obvious that you have a ton of talent, Rof."

"No, I really don’t," she said. "I played my ass off in volleyball and basketball. I’m enjoying being part of the team." She smiled and said, "I think my father would enjoy getting to see me play, but he won’t be disappointed if I don’t."

"I don’t think my parents will get to make it to a game this year," Jackie said wistfully. "This is calving season, and you don’t leave the farm when you’ve got a bunch of animals giving birth."

"How about later in the year?" Ryan asked.

"They promised they’d go to Oklahoma City if we make it to the College World Series," she revealed. "That’d be sweet."

"Well, we’re undefeated," Ryan reminded her. "If we keep playing like this, we’re a lock."

"Uh-huh," Jackie said, knowing that Ryan was joking. "It’s one thing to do well in the early season. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to kick ass in the PAC-10."

"St. Mary’s … Arizona … UCLA … no difference," Ryan said, pumping up the bravado. "Just a bunch of girls who can’t touch us!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Cal was beating St. Mary’s 3-0 in the fourth inning when the rain started to fall. It was a light drizzle, not enough to halt play, but it looked like it was the front edge of a much bigger storm. Cal was at bat, and when Jackie went to the on-deck circle to warm up, she took a few tentative swings and signaled the trainer. After a brief consultation, she headed back to the dugout, and Ryan heard Coach Roberts call out, "O’Flaherty! Grab a bat and earn your keep!"

"Yes, sir!" she yelled back, getting to her feet so quickly that she almost tripped over her own bag. Sparing a glance a Jackie, she saw her friend give her the okay sign, relieving her worry about her injury. Ryan dashed to the bat rack and pulled out her favorite, then ran to the on deck circle and started to warm up. She didn’t have much time to spare, but she did manage to find her family in the stands and give them a ghost of a wink.

Of course, Martin, Maeve and Jamie all waved excitedly, and Ryan hoped that her teammates didn’t notice their exuberance. Softball, above all of her other sports, was about being cool – and having your family hooting and hollering was far from cool. Inwardly, however, Ryan was tremendously pleased that her family was there to see her finally get to play in a real game.

Julie, the catcher, made the second out, and as Ryan narrowed her concentration to approach the plate, it hit her: Jackie was faking her injury! Her friend had obviously wanted Ryan to get to play in front of her parents – and she had decided to take the matter out of the coach’s hands. Ryan shot a quick glance to the bench and saw her friend sitting at the far end, grinning widely. Damn! she thought, approaching the plate and knocking the mud from her spikes. Well, no matter how it happened, I’m in the game. I might as well take advantage of it.

Standing at the plate, she focused intently, trying to see only the ball. The pitcher had a rough, irregular motion, and she forced herself to ignore all of the twitches and jerks and concentrate on that yellow orb. Ryan had been studying the pitcher throughout the game, and she smiled inwardly when the woman threw her a fastball off the plate, the same as she had with Jackie at her previous two at bats. Assuming that she’d follow up with the same second pitch slider that she had throw her predecessor, Ryan focused even more intently, and was ready for the ball when it reached her. She swung and made solid contact, knocking the ball over the head of the shortstop, where it fell, untouched. Lupe, who had been on second, ran for all she was worth, and she scampered across the plate moments ahead of the desperate throw from the left fielder. Ryan knew they’d throw home, so she headed for second as soon as the ball left the fielder’s hand. The catcher fired down to second, and Ryan arrived a split second before the ball, sliding in safely.

She asked for a time out, and then hopped up, trying to brush the dirt from her once-pristine uniform. But the drizzle had turned the dirt to mud, and she could already feel it seeping through her uniform. That’s more like it, she thought to herself. Nothing like a filthy uniform to make you feel like you contributed!

* * * * * * * * * * *

After thumping Jackie on the head with her oversized first baseman’s mitt, Ryan ran out to take her position in the field. Sparing a glance into the stands, she made eye contact with Jamie, who blew her a huge kiss, and then tried to get Caitlin to do the same. It was hard to concentrate with the adorable blondes in the stands, but she managed to block out everything except the game, not even noticing when the rain picked up by the end of the inning.

They had a long rain delay, and after having a word with the coaches, she ran over to the fence to speak to her family. "You might as well pack it in. If we can finish this one, we will; but they’re pretty sure they’ll call the next one."

"You were awesome!" Jamie crowed.

"It was only a single," Ryan demurred, but it was obvious to all that she was pleased with herself.

"You did well," Martin said. "And thank that coach for finally coming to his senses."

"Will do, Da. Love you," she said in parting. As she dashed back to the dugout she mused, It’s Jackie I have to thank. Coach still thinks I’m a bench ornament.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Departing Moraga, Jamie drove to Berkeley to prepare for the second wave of O’Flahertys visiting the East Bay. With all of their demanding schedules, this was the only night the girls were able to get together with Brendan and Maggie to discuss the real estate plans, so Jamie rushed to the store to buy enough groceries to make a simple dinner for the small group.

By the time the second game was finally called due to darkness and rain, Jamie nearly had dinner ready. Brendan and Maggie arrived well before Ryan returned, and Jamie and Mia entertained the pair with an extended retelling of the engagement ring fiasco. It amused Jamie to no end that the story had already become Mia’s to tell, but she didn’t mind, since her friend did a marvelous job of recounting the tale. They were still laughing when Ryan finally arrived, hair wet and slicked back off her face, but clothing completely dry – sparing her a swat from her disciplinarian lover.

After dinner, Mia retired to spend her evening on the phone, while the foursome sat around the table, with Jamie furiously scribbling notes.

Maggie had worked on a few real estate investment partner deals, so she had some valuable insight as to how the deal should be structured. Most of her ideas made perfect sense, but both Ryan and Brendan balked at her idea of how to assign partnership interests.

"I know it makes logical sense to have each cousin get a share equal to the hours he puts in, but that’s not a good idea with this bunch," Brendan said, with Ryan nodding her agreement. "The boyos do better when it’s all for one, one for all."

"If they have to keep track of hours, they’ll be squabbling constantly," Ryan said. "I propose that they each get an equal share. They’ll police themselves into working harder that way – I’m certain of it."

"Okay," Maggie said, while Jamie continued to write away. "There’s no reason that can’t work. My family would probably do it the same way."

"So, how should we do this legally?" Jamie asked.

"I think we should form a real estate investment trust," Maggie suggested. "Everyone gets an equal share of the proceeds after expenses. Niall would put up the capital, but he wouldn’t get any return on his investment per se – his return would come from his work on the house – the same as the other guys."

"Is that fair to Niall?" Jamie asked. "That’s like providing an interest free loan."

"I think it’s fair," Brendan said. "The cousins are really angry about what they consider his unfair profit. If he doesn’t make any additional money off of his principle I think they’ll be much more amenable to the deal."

"Yeah, I guess I see your point," Jamie said. "Hopefully, Niall won’t squawk about it."

"Would all of you want to be partners, too?" Maggie asked.

"No, no, no, not us," Ryan averred. "We’re not skilled enough to contribute as much as the boys will, and if we go to grad school in a year we won’t want to spend our weekends working that hard. We’ll help, but out of solidarity – not obligation."

"I don’t want to join either," Brendan said. "I don’t need the extra money enough to give up all of my weekends. Rory might want to, but he’s gone half the year, so we have to figure out how to work that out."

"He’s gone half the year, but he’s available nearly full-time when he’s home," Ryan reminded him. "I think he should get a full share if he’s willing to work during the week when he’s home – rather than weekends only."

"Sounds fair to me," Brendan said. "So, now what do we do?"

"I think we have a family meeting – how about next Wednesday?," Ryan suggested. "We can have everyone over for pizza – say seven o’clock?"

"I can make it," Brendan said, and Maggie concurred.

"I’ll start dialing for cousins," Ryan said and picked up the phone to commence.

"Wait, honey," Jamie said, walking over to stop her in mid-dial. "I don’t think we should do that."

"Huh? But I thought you wanted to …"

"Oh, I do. I just don’t think we should be the ones to make the proposal. I mean, the whole point is to have the boys forgive Niall, right? So … let’s have Niall make the offer – over at his house." She was beaming at Ryan, her green eyes dancing with pride at her brilliant idea.

The grin that met her was nearly identical in its intensity. "That is a completely fabulous idea." She handed the phone to Jamie and said, "Call the man and make it happen."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 13

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