I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 13 Monogamy

By: S X Meagher


Part 13

Early the next morning, Jamie reached out and tucked her arm around Ryan’s waist. "Are you sneaking out of bed this early?"

"Yeah. I’ve uhm … got to go to a … meeting."

"What?" The blonde sat up and switched on the bedside light, rubbing her eyes as they adjusted to the brightness. "What meeting do you have at this time of the day?"

"Uhm … Amanda wants me to go to a … group … or something, I guess." Ryan slid out of bed, gazing down at her partner with an unreadable expression on her face.

Seeing the hesitancy and unease on Ryan’s face, Jamie gentled her expression and said, "It’s okay, honey, you don’t have to tell me about it if you’d rather not. I know you like to keep things between you and Amanda."

"No … it’s not that … it’s … well, I’m nervous about it."

"Do you want me to go with you? Drive you there?"

"That’s sweet," Ryan said, her expression softening into a smile. "But, I think I have to do this for myself. I uhm … might want to talk about it – but I might not, okay?"

"Okay," Jamie said. "You’re entitled to your privacy."

"Thank you," Ryan said, sitting down on the bed and stroking Jamie’s cheek. "That means a lot to me."

The blonde turned her head to kiss Ryan’s palm. "I know," she said quietly. Giving her partner a hug, she asked, "Want me to make you breakfast?"

"Thanks, but I don’t think so. My tummy’s a little upset, and I don’t feel like eating. I’ll stop and get a latte on the way."

Jamie put a hand on her lover’s bare shoulder and gazed into her eyes for a moment. "Baby, whatever comes up today, I’m sure you can handle it. No matter what life throws at you from now on – you’ve been through worse." Her face eased into a smile, and Ryan returned it immediately.

"You have a good point there, partner. Talking about the carjacking can never be as frightening as that night was." She kissed Jamie soundly, and said, "Thanks for reminding me of that."

"All part of the job description," the smaller woman said. "I’m merely trying to suck up to my supervisor."

* * * * * * * * * * *

At five minutes to 7, Ryan paced up and down the sidewalk in front of a small office building in downtown Oakland. She held a large latte in her hands to warm them, desperately wishing she’d worn gloves. A middle-aged woman approached and asked, "Are you Ryan, by any chance?"

"Yeah, I am." Extending her hand, she said, "Ryan O’Flaherty. Are you Doctor Moss?"

"Yes, but feel free to call me Ellen. Everyone in the group does. Come on in and let me introduce you."

Swallowing nervously, Ryan followed her in, and made eye contact with the 4 other women she’d seen enter the building while she waited. Ellen opened the door to the office and the group filed in, with the others chatting companionably. Ryan shrugged out of her down vest, then took off her ski cap and muffler. She noted that a few of the other women gave her puzzled looks for wearing shorts on such a cold morning, but the brunette was very glad she had done so when the room started to heat up past her comfort level.

"Okay," Ellen said, "it looks like everyone brought coffee this morning, so I won’t make my usual offer. We have a new member of the group that I’d like to introduce. This is Ryan," Ellen said, smiling at the newcomer. "To give you a little time to acclimate, we normally go around the room and introduce ourselves when we have a new member. So, why don’t we do that? Helen, would you mind starting? just say who you are, and what brought you to the group."

A cheerful looking, middle-aged woman smiled at Ryan and said, "I’m Helen, and I’ve been with the group for almost two years. My husband, God rest his soul, had been embezzling from his company. Things had been going poorly for Stan for a couple of years, and he was sure he was going to be fired. I’ll never know what caused him to do what he did, and I’ll never know why he didn’t trust me enough to tell me how frightened he was." She took a deep breath, and gave Ryan a sad smile. "But, he didn’t. When he was found out, he hanged himself in our home. We lost our house and our car; and I had to find a job to care for our teen-aged children." She looked into Ryan’s eyes, as though she could see the dark places in her soul, and said, "This group has saved my life."

Ryan nodded, feeling her stomach start to churn from hearing Helen’s tale. The woman next to Helen then spoke. "Hi, I’m Pamela. I’ve been with the group for about 6 months now. I was …" She looked out the window for a moment, took a deep breath, then looked up and continued. "I was raped and severely beaten by my ex-husband. I’d recently gotten into a relationship with a man I liked, but Jerry couldn’t stand to have me move on with my life." Ryan looked at the angry red scar that ran from Pamela’s eye to the base of her ear. "I really like the group – but it’s … hard … it’s hard to come here and talk about it. I know it’s something that I need to do, and I know it will help me, but it’s still hard to get to sleep on Sunday and Wednesday nights."

Nodding even more dramatically, Ryan tried to unclench her hands from the arms of her chair, feeling her muscles contract painfully.

The next woman said, "I’m Arlene, and I’m about to leave the group. I’ve been here for a little over a year, and I think I’m ready to graduate." Her comment drew nods and smiles from the others, and she continued, "I was in a very bad auto accident. The driver of the car that hit me was killed, and I was badly injured. But I’m nearly healed physically, and I’m feeling pretty good mentally, too."

"That’s good to hear," Ryan said, smiling nervously.

The woman next to Arlene shifted in her seat, looking tense and unsettled. "I’m Barb, and I’ve been coming here for two months." She looked around the room, her gaze brushing the top of each head, but never meeting anyone’s eyes. "I am … or I was … a police officer. I’m on disability, but I don’t think I’m going to go back." She shrugged her shoulders and said, "I change my mind about that every other day, so maybe I should keep my opinion to myself." She gave a stilted laugh, then took a breath and studied the carpet for a moment, then said, "I shot … and killed … my partner during a robbery. The review board declared that I wasn’t negligent in Phil’s death … but, I’m not the review board."

The room was completely quiet, so quiet that Ryan could hear her own heart beating. Her anxiety increasing by the moment, she was about to grab her jacket and run, but Barb’s voice pulled her back from the brink. "I hate coming here, but it’s helping. It really is." Ryan met her eyes, and could tell that the older woman could see the fear and anxiety that poured from her. "Hang in there, Ryan. We all help each other here."

Biting her lip, Ryan tried to twitch her face into a smile, but it didn’t come off very well. "I’ll try," she said. Knowing it was her turn, Ryan looked at Ellen, hoping for a reprieve, but the psychologist merely nodded encouragingly, so Ryan took a big breath and told her tale, in a very abbreviated form. "My lover, my niece and I were carjacked. All of us made it out alive, but I made some choices that night that still haunt me. I’d … I’d like to get past my guilt. I’ve also had a few people betray me – mostly to get money from the tabloids, and I’d like to get a better handle on my anger." She took a nervous breath and said, "I know I should be grateful that we’re all alright, but some dark urges keep pulling at me." Unable to think of another thing to say, Ryan looked at Ellen, hoping to be rescued.

Smiling warmly, Ellen said, "We all welcome you, Ryan. Now, this might surprise you after hearing the stories, but everyone in this room has experienced some level of guilt and anger over what happened to them. Every one of us has a different story, but there is some part of your experience that each of us can empathize with. I think you’ll find that this is a safe, caring place to talk about what’s troubling you. I only ask that everything we say here stay in this room. The only way we can trust each other is if we keep each other’s confidences."

"I understand that," Ryan said. "I’ve had a little experience with having my privacy invaded, so I’m hypersensitive to that."

Ellen smiled at her and said, "Well, after that glaring understatement, let’s begin. We normally spend about 10 minutes each, checking in and talking about anything that’s come up in the last few days. Helen? I think it’s your turn to check in first."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan hadn’t been out of the session for five minutes when her phone rang. "Guess who loves you?" a warm, cheerful voice asked.

A big smile covered Ryan’s face as she replied, "An adorable, sweet, kind woman loves me. I never have to guess."

"Good answer," Jamie said. "How ya doin’, buddy?"

"I’m all right. A little shaky, but all right. I can’t talk about the group, because I promised to keep everything confidential, but I think there’s a chance this might help me. Hearing these other women talk about their struggles put some of mine into perspective."

"So, you’re okay? Need me to hang around for a few minutes to hug you?"

"Do you have time?"

"I’ll make time for you. Are you coming home?"

"For one of your hugs? No question. I’ll be home in 10, then we can walk to school together."

"Hurry home, baby. I love you."

"I know that. I know it in my soul, Jamie."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie scampered down the stairs that evening, still shoving things in her open duffel bag. "Are you sure you don’t want to come with us tonight, Mia?" she called down to her roommate, who was sitting in the living room.

"Nah. I have to go to class tomorrow. Besides, you two probably want to have an evening alone in Las Vegas. You can use all the togetherness that you can manage."

"We haven’t really been apart all that much, since I’ve been going on road trips with my sweetie. I feel like her groupie."

"Let’s go!" Ryan poked her head in the front door, pointedly glaring at her watch.

"Bye, Ryan," Mia said, getting up to offer a kiss and a hug.

"See you tomorrow," the taller woman said. "I’ll try to leave some money in the casinos for you to win."

"My little jackpot is a sure thing," Mia said. "As soon as I pick her up from the airport – I’m gonna get lucky!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Standing with the group of people gathered around the gate, Jamie said, "When I see your coach tomorrow, I’m going to thank him again for treating you like an adult."

"It has been nice, hasn’t it? It’s pretty cool to be able to go a day early and enjoy the sights."

"Are you excited about seeing the Cirque de Soleil show?"

"Yeah," Ryan said, actually more excited about Jamie’s excitement than she was about seeing a circus act. "I haven’t been to the circus since I was a little kid. Michael took me," she said wistfully. "He, of course, had to constantly critique the clowns’ makeup, but we still had a ball."

Jamie squeezed her arm and said, "I’ve told you, sweetie, that this isn’t your typical circus."

Ryan shrugged amiably. "Whatever. If you’re excited about it, it must be good."

She wasn’t paying rapt attention, and after a moment, Jamie started to look around, trying to determine what Ryan was looking at. Backhanding her in the stomach, she hissed, "Will you quit staring at the women!"

"Oh!" Ryan turned back to her and said, "I wasn’t staring at them for the usual reason. I’m trying to figure out why they’re here. Is there a convention or something in Las Vegas this weekend?"

"I’m sure there are many conventions there," Jamie said. But as she took yet another look, she had to admit that she couldn’t guess what kind of convention the women would be attending. Young, thin, well built … very well built, actually, uniformly blonde, and dressed in a manner that could only be called … revealing; the collection of women stood around looking very bored. There were about ten of them, and they seemed to know each other, but they didn’t, for the most part, seem like friends. When Jamie turned back to say something to her partner, Ryan was gone. It took Jamie a moment to locate the tall brunette up at the check-in counter, and a few minutes later she was back.

"The attendant says we’re on the ‘call girl express’," Ryan said.


"Every Thursday night, sex workers from here and L.A. apparently fly to Vegas for the weekend. They’re commuters, after a fashion," she said. "Wanna strike up a conversation … get some tips?"

Raising an eyebrow, Jamie regarded her partner for a moment. "Are you inferring that I need tips?"

"Makeup tips," Ryan said slowly, obviously trying to get her brain to work quickly. "I thought they could give you some tips on how to get those long fake eyelashes to stay on."

"Pitiful save," Jamie said, shaking her head. "Truly pitiful."

They boarded a few minutes later, and managed to take off nearly on time. Ryan had to stop herself from laughing at the parade of men who happened to stop by some of the working girls’ seats on their way up and down the aisle to nowhere at all. When she tired of the show, she popped the last of her peanuts in her mouth and eyed Jamie’s unopened package. One twitching eyebrow convinced the smaller woman to hand them over. "How have you avoided coming to Las Vegas?" Ryan asked.

"Mmm … I didn’t have any desire to come until I could gamble," she said. "I’m not even sure my mother has been here, as a matter of fact. She’s not much for gambling. We were in Monaco a couple of years ago, and she sat in the bar while Daddy and I blew our bankroll."

Grinning playfully Ryan mused, "Some heavy hitters in Monaco, right?"

At Jamie’s cautious nod, Ryan commented, "Must be weird, not being the richest people in the room, huh?"

"Yes, it was very traumatic," Jamie said, rolling her eyes. "Now I understand how people in developing countries feel." She slapped her partner hard on the thigh, whispering, "Brat."

They landed at McCarran Field, and after a short cab ride, were delivered to their hotel. In return for agreeing to stay with the team on Friday and Saturday, Ryan allowed Jamie to book them into any hotel she chose for Thursday. She wasn’t terribly surprised when the cab dropped them off at The Bellagio, an elegant, massive hotel, situated on a calm 7 acre lake. Having guessed that they would be staying somewhere nice, Ryan had dressed up, wearing her neatly pressed chinos, a crisp blue and white checked blouse and her marine blue crew neck sweater, one of Jamie’s favorites.

The lobby was massive, and filled with people lined up in neat queues to check in. The lighting in the room was provided by a spectacular canopy of blown glass flowers – of every type and color. As they stood under the warm lights, the smaller woman found herself lost in her partner’s bright blue eyes, made even bluer by the sweater. "These lights are beautiful," Jamie sighed, "but they pale in comparison to you."

"Excuse me," the clerk said when the previous customer departed. "Ma’am. Ma’am!"

"Oh! Sorry," she said, blushing madly while Ryan chuckled. "I wasn’t paying attention."

"You were paying attention," Ryan whispered into her ear after Jamie had handed the clerk her credit card and he stepped away. "You were paying attention to me – and that’s exactly how I like it."

Pressing her finger against the shirt button that peeked out of Ryan’s sweater, Jamie let it slip into the placket and reach in to tickle the soft skin. "Ahem. Ma’am?" the clerk asked as the flush grew once again.


"I can upgrade you to a suite with a spa tub for a $50 additional charge. Would you be interested in the upgrade?"

"Uhm … sure," she said, still looking at the magnificent color of Ryan’s eyes.

The clerk scampered away again, and Ryan whispered, "You can’t catch a break. He’s gonna think you’re one sexually frustrated woman."

"I am," Jamie said, grinning wickedly. "I’m intensely sexually frustrated. Don’t you think it’s time to satisfy me?" As if on cue, the clerk returned, and his expression made it clear that he’d heard every word.

She looked at him, shrugged her shoulders and twitched her head in Ryan’s direction. "Do you blame me?"

"Not in the least, Ma’am," he said, smiling primly. "I hope that all of your needs are completely satisfied this weekend."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Well, that was the first time in my life that a check-in clerk said he hoped I got lucky during my stay," Jamie said, rolling her eyes at Ryan on the way up in the elevator.

"It’s happened to me a time or two," Ryan recalled, "but never in a place that didn’t charge by the hour."

"Such a life you’ve led," Jamie said, grinning at her randy partner.

Ryan’s ego had been thoroughly stroked by the interactions with the desk clerk, and she was ready to spend the better part of the evening fulfilling Jamie’s stated wish. Her hands were already probing some sensitive spots as the otherwise empty elevator whisked them to their floor, but the smaller woman had other plans. "You’d better calm down, hot stuff. The show’s at eight, and we’ve got to get going if we’re going to have time for dinner."

Glancing at her watch, Ryan said, "It’s only six. Can’t we go to one of those $4.99 buffets I keep seeing signs for? That shouldn’t take long."

"I assume you’re kidding," she scoffed. Tossing her head she declared, "It doesn’t matter if you are or not – because we are never – I repeat – never – going to have dinner at a $4.99 buffet."

"You’re no fun," Ryan pouted dramatically.

Jamie stood on her tiptoes and kissed her extended lower lip. "I’m plenty of fun, and you know it, tiger. When we get back to the room I’ll remind you of exactly how much fun I can be."

The bellman with their luggage was waiting for them when they exited the elevator, and Ryan gave him a puzzled look. "We have a separate set of elevators for luggage," he explained. "Let me show you to your room."

The room was absolutely gorgeous. Sumptuous, yet understated by Las Vegas standards, it reminded Jamie of a 4-star hotel in Rome or Milan – with 21st century amenities. They passed through the marble foyer into a large sitting room, with a small dining area off to the side. "Let me show you some of the room’s features," the bellman said. His short tour took only a few minutes, and Jamie left Ryan to push all of the buttons and investigate the room while she called the concierge desk to arrange for dinner. After a short discussion, she called out to Ryan, "Honey? Can I have some input here?"

"Yep." Ryan dashed out of the bath and leapt onto the sofa, causing Jamie to juggle the phone to keep it from falling to the floor.

"Brat!" she whispered. "We have a few choices for dinner. We can go French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, or American."

"Doesn’t matter to me. Your choice."

Picking up the phone again, Jamie said, "I think we’d like to dine at Le Cirque. I assume it wouldn’t be difficult to be seated now, would it?" She nodded her head and said, "Yes, we’re ready. That’s great. Thanks a lot."

Hanging up, the blonde stood and extended her hand. "We’re on, babe. Let’s chow down."

"Can I go like this?" Ryan asked.

"Well, I wouldn’t think of going to Le Cirque in New York dressed this casually, but this is Las Vegas. I think we’ll be fine."

"You look great," Ryan said, eyeing her partner. "But, then, you always do." She put her hand on the shoulder of the simple but elegant-looking, vivid blue, linen shift that Jamie was wearing, smiling gently at her partner. "You look fantastic, honey. Are you sure I’m okay?"

"You look adorable, Ryan. Really." Standing on her toes, Jamie gave her partner a few, quick kisses. "You look so comfortable in your skin that I don’t think people notice what you have on. You command attention, no matter what you’re wearing."

Ryan shrugged and said, "It’s because I’m so tall. When you’re taller than 99% of all women, people always look at you."

"Yeah, that’s probably it," Jamie agreed, not believing it for a minute.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As Jamie had expected, the restaurant was nearly empty at the early hour, having opened only a half hour before. The maitre d’hôtel was very accommodating, seating them at a table right next to the window, where they could overlook the lake. The restaurant was decorated in a whimsical fashion, with a multicolored recreation of a circus big top dominating the entire ceiling of the smallish room. "This place is beautiful," Ryan said, craning her neck to see everything. "I’m guessing that Le Cirque means the circus?"

"Good girl," Jamie said, nodding. "That semester of French is paying off."

Chuckling, Ryan said, "I’ve barely figured out what le means. Good think I’m not fixated on grades, ‘cause I might get my first ‘C’ this term."

"Wow. Your first ‘C’ in college, huh?"

Ryan’s dark head shook, and she took a drink of water, continuing to look around the room.

"High school?" Jamie tried.

Another shake of the head.

"Oh, please! You’ve never had a ‘C’?"

"Nope. It won’t kill me if I get one, though. I’m not going to let little things like that bother me any more."

"Hey, I thought your grades went down when you were a senior in high school. Are you not counting that?"

"No, I’m counting that. I got two ‘B’s’ and two incompletes my first semester. Those were my first ‘B’s," she said, shrugging sheepishly.

"I hope to God that our kids get your brains," Jamie said, chuckling softly.

"Well, the ones that I have might, but you’re rolling the dice if you use my brothers or my cousins. Donal and Declan barely got through high school, and Padraig is dyslexic. He had a hell of a time in school. Conor’s bright, but he was no scholar. Come to think of it, Brendan’s the only one who had any desire to go to college. The boyos were glad to be done with it after high school. I’m an anomaly for the O’Flahertys. The Ryans are the ones with the book-smarts. Maybe we should consider my cousin Cormac."

Jamie’s lower lip stuck out. "He doesn’t look like you. Remember, my main goal is to have a carbon copy of your sweet little face."

"Then, you’d better stick with Brendan. He at least likes to read. I don’t think the lads have opened a book since high school, unless you consider Playboy and Penthouse a book."

"I don’t," Jamie said, smiling sweetly. "And you’d better not, either."

"I’m completely unfamiliar with the genre," Ryan said, boldly lying. "I prefer Scientific American."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When their server arrived, Ryan, as usual, left the ordering to Jamie. The blonde chose a 5-course tasting menu; accompanied by 5 wines chosen for their compatibility. The pair was happily consuming a delightful cream of watercress soup when something caught Jamie’s eye. Signaling for their server, she asked, "Could you possibly open this door?"

"Of course, Ma’am." The man pushed the drapes aside, letting Ryan see what had captivated her partner. As the door opened, they were delighted to see a massive, synchronized, water show from the normally hidden fountains of the lake. There must have been a thousand of the huge streams of water; some going so high that Ryan supposed they must be forced from fire hoses. As the streams of water danced against the night sky, powerful speakers broadcast Frank Sinatra singing Luck Be A Lady, Tonight.

"Not too cool," Ryan said, smiling warmly at her partner. "Of course, my lady always brings me luck."

Reaching across the table, Jamie grasped her lover’s hand and gave her a somewhat shy smile. "Are you having fun, sweetheart?"

"I am," Ryan agreed. "And I’m very glad that we didn’t go for the $4.99 buffet. The meal is fantastic, Jamie, and I’m happy that you didn’t let my cheapness carry the day."

"You’re not cheap," Jamie said. "You’re careful … and that’s not a vice. It’s just that we don’t go out very often, and when we do, I like to make it memorable."

"I’m certain this will be a very memorable weekend. Being with you for 4 days will assure that."

"Such a romantic little Irish heart you have."

"I don’t have it any longer," Ryan said, her eyes sparkling in the reflected light of the fountains. "I gave it to you."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Just as Jamie had predicted, Ryan was in thrall during the entire performance of "O." The Cirque de Soleil had constructed a theatre at The Bellagio expressly for the elaborate water-themed show, and they had done a masterful job. Every seat had excellent sightlines, the music was perfectly suited to the theme, and the performances flawless. At the end, Ryan turned to her partner, and said, "There’s an eleven o’clock show. Can we go again?"

Jamie would have moved mountains to satisfy the hopeful expression on her lover’s face. But she had already had to move a mountain of greenbacks into a ticket broker’s pocket to secure the tickets to this performance, and she knew that Ryan would have a fit if she learned how much the tickets had cost. "They’re sold out," she said. "I can try to see if there’s a ticket broker …"

"No, no, that’s okay," Ryan said, looking like Jamie had suggested armed robbery. "It’s better to leave wanting more."

"If you’re sure …"

"Positive. Let’s hit the blackjack tables and let me win back what this evening cost us."

You’d better be one very, very lucky woman, Jamie thought to herself.

Ryan was a very lucky woman, and after playing for two hours, she had recouped over half of what they’d spent so far. Jamie didn’t let on, however, praising her abilities lavishly. "Your cousins think you cheat," Jamie teased when they were outside watching yet another performance of the fountains.

"Do not! They think I cheat because I have such a good memory." Her lips curled into a grin, adding, "Those boys are some of the worst card players you’ll ever find. I was born into the perfect family. They think they’re great, and they can’t back down from a challenge – but they suck! Absolutely perfect," she said, humming with satisfaction.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The soft click of the door woke Jamie the next morning, and she pushed her hair from her eyes to witness her grinning partner trying to sneak into the room. "Where have you been?"

Eyes wide with delight, Ryan ran over to the bed and dumped two huge plastic cups filled with quarters onto Jamie’s startled body. "I won a jackpot playing video poker! A great, big, fat royal flush. 2,500 quarters!"

"Ryan!" Looking at the clock, she saw that it was 6:30, and she was none too happy to have been woken by having a few pounds of dirty metal thrown onto her. "Why do you run out on me like that?" she asked grumpily. "I don’t like to wake up and not know where you are."

"I left two notes," the brunette muttered, a little pout forming.

"Can’t you stay in bed like normal people? The dawn can come without your help, ya know."

"I’m here now." The grin that won her heart began to form, and Jamie felt her own lips respond in kind. "I’d love to stay in bed and cuddle you until I have to go to the game. Isn’t it better to be in this nice, soft bed when we’re both awake?"

Jamie’s bad mood began to lift. She glanced at her watch and asked, "How long do we have?"

"Four and a half hours," Ryan said. "But I should get a bite to eat before I go."

"Oh, I’ll give you a bite," Jamie purred, drawing her partner down on top of her coin-covered body. "I’ll give you a bite to remember!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

The pair enjoyed one of the best mornings that either could recall. A large helping of each other, a long, playful shower in the sumptuous bath, and a delightful dim sum brunch in the hotel’s Chinese restaurant.

With great regret, Ryan exited the cab at the softball complex, with Jamie promising to return after she’d checked into the team motel. The blonde liked to watch the games, but watching warm-ups, batting practice and two seven-inning games while sitting on a backless bleacher was a little much – even for her.

After she got settled into their small, utilitarian room at the team motel, she flipped on the TV to while away an hour. The bed was firm, and the room was overly warm, but neither fact stopped her from falling asleep almost immediately. She woke slowly some time later, her neck stiff from the odd angle she’d been in. Stretching languidly, she looked at her watch and nearly jumped out of bed. "Two o’clock!"

Jumping into her shoes, she grabbed her backpack and ran for the lobby, only to have to wait twenty minutes for a cab. By the time she reached the field, the first game was in the top of the seventh, and she was almost relieved that Ryan was sitting on the bench, still in her warm-up jacket. At least I didn’t miss seeing her play, she thought in relief. I never would have heard the end of it.

The game was over in moments, and she waited patiently by the entrance to the locker rooms. Ryan might not have even noticed that I didn’t come on time, she mused. I don’t think she can see all of the stands from the dugout. The players started straggling out of the locker room, all of them giving her a friendly hello and a wave. Heather came out, obviously looking for her. "She’s okay, Jamie. It looks worse than it is."

Jamie’s eyes grew wide as her lover came limping out of the locker room, a massive ice bag secured to her knee, another to her elbow. Ryan’s face was a stoic mask of nonchalance, but Jamie ran to her, grasping her frantically. "Honey! Are you all right?"

"Hell, no, I’m not all right!" she said, wincing in pain. "Would you be all right if that had happened to you?"

"Well …" She started to say that she hadn’t seen what had happened, but she didn’t have the nerve to admit it at the moment.

"Have you ever seen such a collision? Jesus, it’s a wonder that I wasn’t carted away in an ambulance!" Ryan was shaking her head, grumbling to herself the entire time. "I guess you’re going to want me to go to the hospital, huh?"

"Didn’t a doctor look at you?"

"Nah. No doctor was available. I’ll probably be okay," she said, not looking very convinced. "I’m still a little woozy, but the double vision’s about gone."

Just then Coach Roberts came out of the men’s locker room, took one look at Ryan and asked, "What the hell’s wrong with you?"

"Nothin’," she said. "Only injury I might get is splinters from sitting on the bench."

"I’ll give you a splinter," he grumbled, cuffing her affectionately. "I thought maybe you’d sprained your arm playing the slots last night."

"Nah … I’m all about poker and blackjack."

"Doesn’t surprise me a bit, O’Flaherty. Go get those ice bags off and warm up. You might get off your butt for a change in the second game."

"Cool!" she cried, turning to share a smile with Jamie. She winced noticeably when she saw the cold fury in the jade green eyes. "Uhm … I was playing a practical joke on you. Funny, wasn’t it?"

Jamie didn’t say a word, but she took off after her, chasing her lover all around the field; nearly catching her several times since the ice bag on her knee slowed Ryan down. "You’re gonna need those ice bags when I’m done with you!" she cried.

"Can’t you take a joke?" Ryan gasped, leaping over a low bench.

"Yeah, I can take a joke," she panted. "Now we’re gonna see how well you can take one."

"What are you gonna do?" Ryan asked, eyes wide.

"Be ready, O’Flaherty. That’s all I’m gonna say. Be ready."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan did indeed get the nod to start the second game, taking over for Jackie, who needed a rest after the heat of the Las Vegas sun proved to be too much for her. Ryan looked so darned cute with her cap pulled low over her eyes that Jamie couldn’t bear to be angry with her – even though she would have been well justified. Right before the game started, she called her over to the fence and handed her the little present she had been carrying ever since the start of the season. "I’ve been saving this for the first game you started," she said, pushing the package of ‘Big League Chew’ through a link of the fence.

Ryan smiled broadly and opened the foil packet. She took out a huge wad of the shredded bubble gum and stuck it in her mouth, chewing noisily until she got it down to a manageable size. "Thanks," she said, her expression bordering on a leer. "Hey, you busy after the game? I’ve got a single room." Merrily dancing eyebrows indicated that she didn’t expect to be alone in the room for long, and Jamie played along.

"It depends on how you play. I’m a Cal groupie, you know. I’m going home with the star of the game," she said. "If that’s you – fine. If not – that’s fine, too." With that, she tossed her head and went to her seat, turning before she sat down to confirm that Ryan was, as usual, staring at her ass. Giving it a little twitch, she sat and waved her off. "Play well," she drawled.

To prove her star status, Ryan ran out to first base full-tilt, performing a flawless flip right before she reached the bag. Jamie heard Coach Roberts yell, "For Christ’s sake, O’Flaherty!" and she knew he too had seen the extemporaneous performance.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Luckily for Ryan, she was the star of the game, thanks to a single in the sixth inning, which knocked in the winning run. She was filthy, as expected, having slid into second base, and Jamie was surprised to see yet another ice bag when the brunette emerged from the locker room, Heather in tow. Jamie grabbed the younger woman by the arm and pulled her close. "An accessory after the fact still goes to jail, kiddo." Heather looked at her with wide eyes, but Jamie slapped her on the seat and said, "I know – she’s impossible to say no to."

"She really is, Jamie," Heather insisted. "I don’t know how you ever do it."

She smiled and said, "I don’t very often. She has an odd, but effective, charm."

"Hey!" Ryan scowled. "Who you calling odd?"

"Shoe fits – wear it," Jamie tossed back. "Now what’s with the ice?" Ryan’s makeshift ice bag was a zip-lock plastic bag, taped to her knee with a strip of what looked like clear plastic wrap.

"No biggie. When I slid into second, I banged it a little. It’s not even swollen, but the trainer looooooves to make us look goofy."

"Not a long trip when you’re involved," Jamie said. "Bus or cab?"

"Bus. The way I look, I don’t think I could get a cab to stop."

Jamie took a long look at the sweaty, bedraggled looking woman and shook her head. "You’ve got a point there, sport. Thankfully, Heather is still fresh as a daisy. I think I’ll sit with her." She grabbed the young woman’s arm and led her to the bus, sparing a teasing wink at her smirking partner.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As soon as Ryan was clean, she lay down on the bed and stretched out. "Time for a nap?"

"Yeah, I think so. Jordan’s flight comes in at seven, and Mia’s is due right around then, too. I told them we’d be in the casino at Mandalay Bay, since it’s close to the airport – and that you’d probably be playing poker."

"No probably about it," Ryan said. "You gonna nap with me?"

"I had a pretty good one earlier in the day," she reminded her. "I fell asleep sitting up watching Oprah!"

"Come snuggle for a minute, then," Ryan said, giving a hopeful look. "You can watch TV or read, once I’m out."

"Love to." Taking one of her textbooks, she lay down on the bed next to her always-cuddly partner and smiled when Ryan soon had her pinned firmly to the mattress. The larger woman was asleep in seconds, and Jamie knew that her study plans would go unrealized. She could run a sleep clinic for insomniacs, she mused before she nodded off. Ten minutes of cuddling with her could knock anyone out.

* * * * * * * * * * *

They were waiting for a cab in front of their motel when Jamie asked, "Isn’t it kinda funny how much freedom Coach Roberts gives you guys? Not many coaches would let you all run wild in Las Vegas. You don’t even have a curfew!"

"It’s a little odd, but it’s how I’d run the team if I were in charge. Seniors don’t have a curfew, but the rest of the team does. He likes to give each class a little more freedom so he can keep an eye on them until he’s sure they can handle it. The juniors have to be in by two, the sophs by one, and the freshmen by midnight."

"Huh. But, doesn’t that preclude the freshmen going out with any of the upperclassmen?"

"Yep. That’s part of his plan," Ryan said. "He wants us to play as a team, but he doesn’t think it’s mandatory that we all hang out together. He realizes that since the seniors have the ability to go to casinos and have a drink, they’ll be resentful if they have to stay home because the younger players can’t come with. Plus, if he keeps the freshmen on a short leash, they’re less likely to get into trouble by tagging along with the older women. His style is unconventional, but it’s worked for him."

"Coach Hayes should work for him for a few years after her lame ass is fired," Jamie said.

Ryan laughed, "He wouldn’t put up with her for five minutes. I’ve never met two coaches with such different styles. You’d think she’d take a look at his consistently successful record and take a clue – but that’s not gonna happen."

"Her loss," Jamie shrugged.

"Literally," Ryan said.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie was playing the slots when Mia and Jordan arrived. "Hey, girlfriend!" The blonde smiled at Mia’s bubbly voice, gathered up her cup full of quarters, and went to greet her friends.

"Wow! You look fabulous, Jordan," Jamie said, staring openly at the lanky blonde.

"Free product," she said, giving Jamie a quick pirouette to show off her new clothes. "I got a suitcase full of things after that Polo ad that I did, so I brought everything with me. This is the first chance I’ve had in weeks to be out of sweats or warm-ups."

"I think I’ve only seen you dressed up at Martin and Maeve’s wedding," Jamie said, eyeing her critically. "You should get out of sweats more often."

"Can you see why Ralph Lauren wanted her?" Mia asked, letting her eyes wander up and down the long body. "The clothes were made for her."

Jamie had to admit that the items did fit Jordan perfectly. The tall woman wore a beautiful cashmere, crew-neck sweater and a pair of pleated wool slacks, both in a warm, winter white. A well-cut, navy blue blazer with the large RL crest on the pocket was draped over her shoulders, making her look more like her model-self than her athlete-self. "You’re sure not going to get carded tonight," Jamie said. "You could pass for thirty!"

"What about me?" Mia asked rather petulantly.

Jamie gave her a fond glance and said, "You and I could both pass for 20. Regrettably, we’re 21 and 22. You do look very nice, though. That suit looks great on you. You should buy one like it." Mia was wearing one of Jamie’s favorite outfits – since it was, in fact, Jamie’s. The dark emerald pants suit made of very fine velour looked marvelous on Mia, and made her look very sophisticated; but she still looked a good ten years younger than Jordan.

"I didn’t have anything that Jordy hasn’t seen before," Mia said. "You don’t mind, do you?"

"You know I don’t," Jamie said. "Besides, it looks great with your eyes. Gives them some green highlights."

"It does," Jordan sighed. "I’ve been staring at her ever since we met in the airport, and it just dawned on me that it’s because her eyes are so complex-looking tonight."

Mia squeezed her hand and said, "You can look at them all night, honey – ‘cause we’re staying up 'til dawn!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

It took a while, but they finally found the poker tables. The Mandalay Bay followed the custom of most of the Vegas casinos, and had created a separate room for the game. Blackjack, pai gow poker, Caribbean stud, three-card poker and Texas hold ‘em could be played at any one of a number of tables dispersed around the gaming floor. But, regular poker was still king, and it was treated as such by the casinos. The poker room was raised up a few steps from the casino floor, and was surrounded by a half wall. They found Ryan at a table near the back of the room, seated with 6 men and one young woman, deeply engrossed in her game. "Odd crowd," Jamie said, looking around at the players.

Mia nodded, a look of faint distaste on her face. "They look like a bunch of guys who should be pluckin’ chickens."

Jamie took another critical look and had to agree with her friend. The room contained about 20 tables, and the vast majority of them had a game going on. The average age of the players was around 65, and very few of the men had bothered to shave – that week. The players contrasted so dramatically with the younger, wealthier looking crowd that populated the rest of the casino, that she was unable to reconcile the variation.

Something about the way the room was set up made Jamie reluctant to go in and tell her partner they were there. The place was very, very quiet – also strange for a casino. Oddly, there was a no smoking sign prominently displayed; the only place Jamie had seen such a restriction. Gazing at her partner again, Jamie asked, "She looks hot, doesn’t she?"

Due to the angle of the table, they had a side view of her, and both women agreed with Jamie’s assessment. Ryan was wearing a cream-colored, heavyweight, silk blouse and her leather pants, which gleamed in the muted light of the room. Her hair was loose and draped around her shoulders, the highlights almost blue where one of the pin-spots hit her. She had a long, thin cigar in her mouth, but Jamie noticed it wasn’t lit – due to the prohibition. Rather than smoking it, she seemed to be using it as a prop of some sort. But whatever her motivation, it made her look sexy and confident – two of Jamie’s favorite attributes.

The hand was over quickly, and Ryan stood and started to put her chips in a plastic carrier. Another man stood and approached her, motioning with his head towards a small room labeled "High Stakes." Ryan’s brow furrowed and she shook her head, but the man didn’t want to take no for an answer. He gestured towards the room again, but Ryan held her ground, sticking her chin out the way she did when her mind was firmly made up. Disgusted, the man stalked away, passing by the three spectators as he did so. "Fuckin’ bitch," he grumbled to himself.

Ryan looked up as she walked away from the table, and gave her friends a beaming smile. "Wow, three of the best looking women in Las Vegas – all in one spot!" With warm hugs and kisses for Mia and Jordan, she draped her arm around Jamie and asked, "Let me take you all to dinner. The sky’s the limit." She pointedly eyed her chips, giving Jamie a wink.

"Who was the guy who was talking to you?" Jordan asked. "He was cussing you out when he left."

"Sore loser," Ryan said, looking unimpressed. "I cleaned him out, and he wanted to play for $100 a hand in the high stakes room. I never bet that much," she said, shaking her head. "You can lose your shirt in 10 minutes. Besides, if my luck held, he’d probably be betting the mortgage on his house. I hate to play with compulsive gamblers, and he had all the signs."

"How much did you win?" the blonde gaped, seeing chips of many different colors in the tray.

"Enough." Her self-satisfied smile was all Jamie was going to get out of her, and she let Ryan cash out in private – since she obviously didn’t want to share the extent of her success.

They decided on drinks at The Red Square, an opulent vodka bar and Russian restaurant at the hotel. The chic, trendy bar was filled with the beautiful people of Las Vegas, and to Ryan’s surprise, her foursome fit right in. Her burgeoning wealth and social status didn’t hit her very often, but in a setting like this, she was unable to exert her powers of denial. Face it, O’Flaherty, Jamie’s always going to be one of the beautiful people, and since you’re her spouse, you’re at least mildly attractive. She laughed softly, and Jamie caught her eye, giving her a raised eyebrow.

Leaning over, Ryan said, "I was having one of my ‘I can’t believe this is my life’ moments. It’ll pass."

Jamie leaned right back into her, saying, "I can’t believe that you’re my lover, and I hope that’s a feeling that never passes."

"Let’s skip dinner, and go make out," the brunette whispered.

"Oh, no! You’re gonna need all of your stamina tonight. I need you well fed."

"Then let’s get some food, ‘cause I’m all about goin’ home early."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie had been busy during Ryan’s poker game, making reservations at a lovely restaurant in the hotel. Aureole was known for both fantastic food and a very unique wine cellar. The cellar was actually a 4-story glass tower, located right in the middle of the room, and Ryan was spellbound by the display. "If I had to move to Las Vegas, that’s the job I’d have," she said, her voice filled with longing.

Jordan was imitating her stare, and she nodded her complete agreement. "Without a doubt."

Jamie and Mia exchanged aggrieved looks, each of them rolling her eyes. "Jocks," Mia said.

"Well, it is kinda cool," Jamie had to admit, but I think I’d get tired of it."

The foursome stared for a few more minutes, watching a lithe, graceful woman glide up and down the tower via a system of pulleys; her athletic body secured by a nearly invisible harness. The lovely sylph wore a headset, and was obviously being given instructions by the sommelier. Up and down the tower she went, barely pausing long enough to slip a bottle from its cache and return to the ground. "I could do that for 24 hours straight," Ryan said, transfixed.

"Easy," Jordan agreed. "I’d do it for free."

"Let’s go, you two," Jamie said, tugging on her partner’s hand. "You’re goofy enough to try to wrestle the poor woman out of that harness."

That comment got Ryan’s attention, and she leaned over and whispered, "You have no idea how many times I’ve wrestled a woman out of a harness."

Jamie swatted her on the seat, no longer caring if people saw her. "Big talker," she whispered back. "I think you’ve made up half of your supposed debauchery."

Not rising to the bait, Ryan waggled her eyebrows, "Wanna bet?"

"No thanks," Jamie said, smiling up at her. "I don’t want to lose my shirt like that poor old chicken farmer did."

"Chicken farmer?" Ryan asked, scratching her head as Jamie tugged her over to their table.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Leaving the restaurant, Ryan clutched the complimentary box of handmade chocolates to her breast, leaving no doubt that they were hers alone. Deciding to walk their dinner off, they began the long stroll back to The Bellagio.

On the walk along the crowded Strip, they passed a near-constant stream of young Latin men, handing out full-color ads for prostitutes. The men were respectful, doing their best not to give the ads to children or women. But there wasn’t one who did not thrust one of the ads into Ryan’s hands. After the twentieth such encounter, her friends were laughing helplessly; and the look on the dark beauty’s face was as funny as the situation. "Do I look like a guy? Or can everyone tell I’m a big dyke looking for a woman?"

"Neither honey," Jamie assured her. "It’s your height. They don’t look at your face; they see that you’re a foot taller than they are, and shove a flyer at you."

Ryan stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, giving Jamie a scowl. "Jordan’s a half inch taller than me, and she hasn’t gotten one."

"Hmm … I guess you look like a big dyke then," Jamie said, giggling, "’cause you sure don’t look like any man I’ve ever seen."

"Thanks, I think," Ryan said, and shrugged her shoulders, only to have another young man put a particularly lewd picture in her hand. "I don’t have to pay for it!" she shouted, waving the picture at him.

"I’d pay you," Jamie said, pulling her down so that only she could hear. "Any price, any time."

"That’s more like it," the brunette sniffed, her dignity somewhat restored.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When they reached The Bellagio, they walked past the throngs of people waiting to enter the theatre to see "O." Ryan walked over to the ticket window while Jamie paused to regale their friends with how much they had enjoyed the performance, and moments later she was back, beaming a grin. She extended a pair of tickets to Jordan and said, "Eleven o’clock tonight. Be there."

Jordan gaped at her. "Jamie said they were sold out! How did you …?"

"They had some cancellations," she said. "Never hurts to ask."

"Ryan!" Mia cried. "You didn’t have to do this!"

"I enjoyed the show so much," she said, "that I want you to see it, too." Her face grew serious and she said, "I love winning money – but it’s like a gift – it doesn’t feel like mine. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to share it with my friends."

Mia wrapped her in a hug and grasped her hand as they walked towards the elevators, the pair a few steps in front of Jordan and Jamie. "You know," the curly-haired woman said thoughtfully, "I used to worry about Jamie. I honestly never thought she could find anyone as generous and loving as she is – and I thought she might not be able to share that part of herself with her husband. It’s so nice to see her with someone who’s as kind as she is. You two deserve each other, Ryan."

Ryan leaned over and placed a kiss on the crown of Mia’s curly head. "Thanks. I appreciate that. Being compared to Jamie is the nicest compliment you could give me."

* * * * * * * * * * *

After Jordan and Mia dropped off their bags in the room Jamie and Ryan had vacated, they prevailed upon their friends to do a little gambling with them before returning to the team hotel. The found a bank of slot machines in a quiet corner of the casino, so they could talk while they gambled. Ryan and Jordan were sitting on the cushioned, brocade chairs, while their smaller girlfriends each perched upon one of their athlete’s legs. "We made our reservations for Sydney this week," Ryan said. "I’m so damned excited about coming to watch you. I don’t think I’d be any more excited if I were going to compete."

Jordan gave her one of her most luminous grins. "It’s gonna be so great to have you all there. Do you remember what flight you’re on?"

"We’re on Quantas, and we get in the day before the opening ceremonies," Jamie said.

"Oh, good. You won’t be on the same flight with my parents," Jordan said, obviously relieved.

"Both of your parents are coming?" Ryan asked.

"And my brother and my grandmother," the blonde said, looking unenthused.

Mia rolled her eyes, and Jamie could tell something was up, but she didn’t want to pry. Switching to what she assumed would be a safer topic, she asked, "What does your brother do, Jordan? I don’t think I’ve heard you talk about him much."

Jordan pursed her lips, her brow knit into a frown. "He’s kind of an actor."

"Kind of?"

Jordan turned to Jamie and shrugged her shoulders. "There’s a breed of people in LA who manage to live with no visible means of support. He claims that he’s an actor, but I’ve never heard of him appearing in anything. I think he’s still in Actor’s Equity, but last I heard he was in danger of losing his card since he hadn’t worked."

"And he doesn’t do anything else?" Jamie asked.

"Not that I know of. He has an apartment in Brentwood, and he always has a nice car, but I don’t have a clue how he pays for it."

"Maybe your father …?"

That got a laugh from Jordan. "Not hardly. I don’t think they speak."

"Oh." Jamie knew this conversation had run its course, but she didn’t want it to end on such a down note. "Maybe he takes jobs here and there that you don’t know about."

"I’m sure that’s true," Jordan said, smiling enigmatically, and letting the issue drop.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"This game is too dull," Ryan declared. "Let’s play blackjack together."

"I don’t know a thing about it," Mia insisted. "I’ll go broke in two minutes."

"No, no, no, it’s fun. Let’s find some good blackjack slot machines, and I’ll explain it to you," Ryan suggested. "You’ve gotta play a few hands of a real game on your first trip to Las Vegas. Come on."

She confidently led the way, and her friends dutifully joined her when she’d located the right type of machine. A cocktail waitress came by, and Ryan gave her a charming grin and said, "If you’d bring us a bottle of water every time you come by, we’d sure appreciate it." She slipped the woman a five dollar bill, and received a warm, friendly smile in return.

"I’ll be back in a minute," she said, and Jamie could see a brief flash of connection between the women.

Leaning in, the blonde asked, "You could get her if you wanted her, couldn’t you?"

"Mmm … I’m not sure," Ryan said thoughtfully. "You can never tell with women who work for tips. Most of them have a very well developed sense of people. If they pick up that you’re gay, a lot of them will play with you, to make you think you can get them."

Jamie gave her a curious look, and asked, "Do you ever want to try to pick a woman up to see if you still have the magic?"

Ryan smirked at her, shaking her head. "Nope. No interest." At Jamie’s pleased smile, she added, "I know I’ve still got it."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan launched into a rather detailed explanation of her usual strategy, but quickly realized that she had lost both Mia and Jamie. Jordan was paying rapt attention, however, so she kept going, figuring that she’d think of another way to keep the stragglers involved.

Mia had disconnected so thoroughly, that she didn’t notice when all eyes turned to her.

"Uhm … Mia, why are you staring at that couple?" Jordan asked when she caught her attention.

"Oh!" The brunette actually blushed – not an easy thing to make her do. "Uhm … I was … thinking."

"About what, baby?" Jordan asked. "You look like something’s bothering you."

"Uhm … no, I’m okay." She looked uncomfortable, but all three women were looking at her, and she swallowed and said, "I was thinking about attraction and … stuff."

"Huh?" Jordan cast another glance at the extremely attractive couple playing the nearby slot machines. The dark haired man looked Italian or Spanish, and his fair-haired companion appeared to be a typical California actress/model. They were beautifully dressed and both oozed sex appeal. The man was playing the machine, with the woman leaning on a column, watching him intently. She gave off a vibe that said she was waiting for him to finish so that she could take him to their room and have her way with him.

"I was thinking about sex appeal and sexual orientation and things like that," Mia explained vaguely.

Jordan’s look was still blank, and Jamie and Ryan’s exhibited similar confusion.

"Okay," she explained, knowing she’d painted herself into a corner. "When you look at a couple like that, who do you notice first?"

Jordan scratched her head and said, "I don’t look at other people very often. If I don’t know them, I hardly notice that someone’s there."

Mia knew this was true, even though she didn’t understand it. She loved to look at people, and she noticed nearly everyone she encountered on a given day. Jordan, on the other hand, seemed to glide through her own little world, concentrating on something or other that only she was aware of.

"What about you?" the blonde asked Mia. "Who do you notice?"

"Mmm …" she said, wishing she hadn’t gone down this path. "It depends."

Jordan grasped her hand and gave it a squeeze. "It’s okay, Mia. Who do you notice? It won’t hurt my feelings. I’m interested."

She nodded and told the truth. "I see the guy. I always see the guy. If the woman’s extraordinary I notice her, too, but it’s the guy who catches my eye." She shrugged her shoulders, looking slightly bothered by this fact.

Trying to take the spotlight off Mia, Jamie piped up. "I see them both," she said. "It’s like my mind looks at them as a couple, like I’m trying to assess their chemistry – then I check out the woman ... thoroughly." She was blushing a little as she said this, but Ryan thought it was adorable, and gave her a little pat to encourage her to be honest. "What about you, Ryan?" she asked.

Ryan took in the scene, letting her mind assess it as she normally would. The man was giving off a powerful vibe, his attention fixed on the spinning reels, his fit, muscular body beautifully displayed in a tight black T-shirt and black slacks. The woman was very much in the background, most of her energy fixed upon him. He pulled on the handle with gusto, thrusting his hips with each forceful yank. Ryan noted that he was playing 3 coins in a ten-dollar machine, tossing away thirty bucks with each unsuccessful spin. Satisfied with the information that her brain had registered, she shrugged and said, "I see a really hot woman leaning against a pillar." That drew a hearty laugh from her friends, but Ryan wasn’t trying to be funny. She didn’t notice men most of the time – unless there weren’t any women around to capture her attention. "I’m being serious, guys," she insisted. "It’s how we’re programmed and how we’ve trained ourselves."

Still looking concerned, Mia turned to Jamie, and asked, "After you came out, did the way you look at people change?"

"Mmm … to be really, really honest," Jamie said, drawing out her answer, "no. It didn’t. I’ve always noticed women. I used to try to convince myself that I was checking out their clothes, or their style, but in reality I was looking at their asses," she said, giggling. "I’m more honest about it now, but nothing has changed."

Ryan loved to hear her partner talk about her still-developing sexual personae, so she encouraged her to continue. "What do you look at when you see a nice-looking woman?"

"Hmm …" Jamie turned her attention to a lovely brunette standing at a slot machine. She cocked her head and let herself look at her like she normally did, then relayed the process. "I start at the top and think, ‘Ryan’s hair is much nicer’." She shot a grin at her partner, and continued, "Then I think, ‘Ryan’s face is so much prettier.’ I go down her body, comparing her bit by bit. And let me tell ya, not many parts ever beat yours out, tiger."

"That is absolutely adorable," Ryan said, leaning it for a kiss. "I had no idea that you did that."

"Do you do that, too?" she asked, a hopeful look on her face.

Oh boy! "Well, I uhm … I guess that I kinda …"

"Never mind," Jamie said, shaking her head in disappointment.

"Hey, there’s a very good reason that I don’t compare you to other women," Ryan said, trying to rescue herself. "First off – it’s not a fair comparison. I love the whole you – not only your beautiful face or fabulous body. I don’t know the women I see on a daily basis, so it’s like comparing apples and oranges. They’d lose before the comparison could even begin."

"Hmm … should I accept that answer?" Jamie asked her friends.

"Yeah, give the poor thing a break," Mia urged. "She’s been very nice to us tonight."

"Okay," Jamie said, sparing a glance at the puppy-dog look on Ryan’s face. "I accept your rationale."

"I’m being serious," Ryan insisted. "The women I look at are merely bodies and faces. They don’t touch me or move me. They’re only assemblages of protoplasm."

"Wow!" Jamie gasped as a woman with a massive assemblage of protoplasm arranged on her chest walked by. "Were those real?"

"If you mean real versus illusory, then yes, they were," Ryan teased. "But if you mean real versus manufactured – no, they weren’t."

"How can you be so sure?" Jamie asked. "Maybe she got in the breast line twice when God was handing them out."

"Nope. You can tell. Look at the movement," she instructed. "Breasts that large have to move when you walk, and hers don’t. They’re far too firm and rigid to be real."

"Have you ever … sampled a surgically enhanced pair?"

Ryan shrugged and said, "Only partially."

"Explain," Jamie insisted.

"Well … at my old gym, one of my clients had hers done. She told me I could feel them – so I did."

"A client let you feel her tits?" Jamie gasped in surprise.

"Well … I think she suspected that I was an aficionado," she said. "She’d recently had them done, and she asked if I’d like to give her some feedback. So, we went into the locker room when we were done with our session, and I felt them."

"Amazing," Jamie said, shaking her head.

"They were kinda weird," Ryan revealed. "Not bad weird – different weird. They had a very, very different feel – much more resilient than natural breasts. I’d have to get used to them before I could enjoy them."

"Not to worry," Jamie said. "I won’t be having mine done in the near future, and we’ve agreed that you don’t get to sample anyone else’s."

"Not true," Ryan said. "We’ve agreed that I don’t want to sample anyone else’s. Small, but vital difference. You don’t force me to want only you. It’s the simple truth."

* * * * * * * * * * *

They walked over to the blackjack tables together, with Jamie asking Ryan a few detailed questions about the enhanced breasts. She knew she’d never experience any, but she was a more avid aficionado than Ryan was, so she felt it mandatory to live vicariously through her partner.

Finding an empty table, the foursome took their places, Mia and Jamie agreeing that Ryan would signal them when she wanted them to hit. They played for quite a while, and managed to lose only about a hundred dollars among the three of them. Jordan, however, was on a roll – even though she’d never played before. She didn’t ask for Ryan’s help, and she proved that she didn’t need it – getting up to $500 before she cashed out. "What a rush!" she moaned to Ryan when they stood in the cashier line. "That was hot!"

"It does feel good, doesn’t it?" Ryan asked. "I think gambling is one vice I could easily become addicted to. Thank God I’m too cheap to be able to tolerate losing money!"

Jordan peeled off $200 and extended it towards Ryan. "Let me pay you back for the tickets to ‘O’."

Ryan firmly pushed the money back at her. "Nope. Use it to buy a plane ticket to come home. Mia misses you something fierce."

"I know. It’s hard to tell which of us is more miserable."

"I think it’s a tie," Ryan said. "We’re gonna head home now. You two have a great time tonight, okay?"

"We will. We’ll try to get to your game tomorrow …" she began, but Ryan hushed her.

"Please don’t come. I’d like it if you stayed up late and made love until dawn. You need to spend your time together."

Jordan nodded and gave Ryan a kiss. "I would have had a best friend years ago if I could have had one like you."

"You’ve got one now," Ryan promised, wrapping her in a hug.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After their friends left, Mia and Jordan went to another quiet bar to have a drink before the show began. The smaller woman sipped her Cosmopolitan, deep in thought.

"What’s going on behind those pretty eyes?" Jordan asked.

"I didn’t hurt your feelings when I said I noticed men first, did I?"

Reaching across the table, Jordan took her hand and gave it a tug. Mia smiled and moved her chair closer until they were shoulder to shoulder. "Do you have any desire to break up with me to be with one of the guys you notice?"

"No! Of course not!" She leaned her head against the soft wool of Jordan’s jacket and said, "I apologize for bringing the topic up. It was tacky," she said. "I feel like I’m fixated with sexual desire and orientation these days."

Stroking her thigh, Jordan leaned in close and asked, "Why, babe?"

"I’ve been thinking," she sighed. "Sometimes I wish I were gay. It would make things easier."

Laughing gently, Jordan said, "That’s a new development. You know things have changed when being gay is easier than being straight."

"Not for everything," Mia said. "But it would be easier for things like telling my parents about us. I think they’d understand if I told them I was a lesbian. It’s this damned mixed-up orientation that I have that’s hard to explain."

"Baby, you’re not mixed up. You’re perfectly, logically, Mia. You are what you are."

"I know," she sighed. "But I think it’s gonna be hard to make them understand my Mia-ness."

"Are you thinking about telling them? I uhm … thought that you were certain that you didn’t want them to know."

"Things are different now, Jordan," she said, reaching down to grasp her hand. "We’re not merely dating now. I’ve never kept anything important from them – and you’re very, very important."

"Thanks," she whispered. They sat in silence for a few minutes while each tried to think of a solution. "Maybe you could wait until the summer’s over. That will give you six months to prepare – maybe drop a few subtle hints."

"That won’t work. I uhm … have to tell them before that because I have to make a decision about grad school."

"What do you mean?" Jordan asked.

Mia had been delaying discussing the issue, since she knew Jordan would feel strongly about it. "I’m not sure I’m going to go."

"Pardon me?" Jordan gasped. "You’ve got to go!"

"But school starts at the end of August. I’d have to take over a week off to go to the Olympics – and believe me – I’m going to the Olympics!"

Jordan let out a massive sigh and forced a smile onto her face. "We’ll figure it out, Mia. I’m not sure how we’ll do it – but we’ll figure it out."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 14

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