I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 13 Monogamy

By: S X Meagher


Part 6

On Sunday morning, Ryan snuck out of bed, sparing a light kiss to her partner’s head. "Happy Birthday Party Day," she whispered before finding some sweats and a T-shirt.

Martin and Maeve were in the kitchen, preparing a small meal before Mass. Giving her father and aunt a kiss, Ryan sat down on a kitchen stool and watched the pair cook, smiling at how well they had managed to accommodate each other in the smallish space. She hadn’t apprised him of her demanding schedule yet, so she made it a point to mention, "This is the last weekend we’ll be home for over a month, Da."

"Pardon?" Martin asked, his eyes wide. "Why is that?"

"I’ve got five road trips in a row. Softball’s all about tournaments until we get to PAC-10 play. The only way to play good teams is to travel to the various tournaments … and we go to them all."

He crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head as he stared at her. "Is this wise, Siobhán? You admit that you’re still not yourself. Why take on yet another activity like this?"

She nodded, agreeing that this probably wasn’t the wisest choice. "I know I’m pushing myself, Da, but I think I’m going to like this. You know I like softball, and the other women on the team are nice, and a lot of fun. The coach is my kinda guy, and I fit in well. I think it’ll be fine."

"I hope you know what you’re getting into, Siobhán. Neither you nor Jamie could take another debacle like you had with that basketball team."

"What can’t Jamie take?" the woman in question asked as she entered the kitchen. She was very disheveled, her hair sticking up at odd angles, one of Ryan’s volleyball T-shirts and a roomy pair of blue and yellow plaid boxer shorts her only clothing. Ryan looked at her and her mouth curled up in a grin as she privately thought that few things were more attractive than a disheveled Jamie in her oversized clothes.

"Da’s worried about me biting off more than I can chew with the softball team," Ryan said. Jamie walked over to Maeve and gave her a kiss, then placed one on Martin’s cheek. Coming back around to her partner, she sat on Ryan’s knee and picked up her coffee mug to take a sip. The mug was so large that she had to hold it with both hands, and Martin stifled a grin as he considered that she resembled a small child sitting on her parent’s knee, drinking her morning cocoa.

"I was worried too, Martin, but my sweetie assures me that she’ll focus on herself a little more this time."

Martin and Maeve shared a pointed look, with both of them rolling their eyes a bit.

"I know you’ve heard it before," Jamie said, "but I think she learned a valuable lesson from the basketball team. We’re going to have frequent discussions to make sure she’s enjoying herself, and not getting too run down." She reached around to pat her partner on the side. "Have you noticed that she’s finally putting some weight back on?"

"Yes, her cheeks are filling out a little, now that you mention it," he said. "How have you managed, Jamie?"

"Hey, they’re my cheeks," Ryan huffed. "I have something to do with filling them out."

"Tell us, dear," Maeve said. "What’s your secret?"

"I’m not running much, I’m back in the weight room, and I’ve been getting a lot of sleep. Jamie’s been making little meals for me, too, so I can eat more often. I have a nice snack right before practice every day, and that gives me a nice boost."

"Ahh … so it is Jamie’s doing, just as I thought," Martin said. "Speaking of eating, what would you like, Jamie? You can have whatever you want today, you know, in honor of your birthday."

"Anything?" she asked, green eyes dancing.

"Anything," Martin said.

"Well, in that case, I’d like pancakes," she said, pursing her lips in thought. "But I only want one, since we’ll be eating brunch. Oh, and I want to eat it in bed," she added with a big grin.

"Well, there’s a woman who knows her own mind," Martin said. "Go back to bed, girls, your breakfast will be delivered presently."

"I’ll wait for it, Da, while Jamie jumps in the shower."

Martin started to comment that it seemed odd to shower before going back to bed, but he caught himself short, his recent experiences with his new wife alerting him to the fact that the girls were probably not going to sleep after their meal. The smaller woman got up and made for the stairs, encountering Conor on her way. He gave her a birthday kiss and commented, "Don’t you look cute this morning."

Patting him on the arm, she shook her head and said, "Yeah, right, Conor. Just because it’s my birthday doesn’t mean you have to stretch the truth quite that far!"

He watched her cross the room and then descend the stairs, his eyes lingering on the slow sway of her hips as she did so. He was gazing so intently that Ryan almost threw her heavy coffee mug at him, but when he sat down, he looked more puzzled than lustful.

Looking at his sister with a bemused expression, he said, "Women don’t get how cute they look with that ‘just got out of bed’ thing going on do they?"

"Jamie sure doesn’t," Ryan said, scratching her head as she tried to understand how her partner could fail to acknowledge her obvious morning beauty.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan came out of the shower as her partner was taking a big bite of her pancake. "Save some for me," she said, eying the plate.

"Oh, I’m not hungry," Jamie said. She picked up the bottle of Canadian maple syrup and added, "I only wanted an excuse to bring this downstairs."

Ryan jumped the few remaining feet, making the bed groan so loudly that both women were sure it would break. Eyes wide, Ryan said, "It didn’t used to do that."

"It didn’t used to be 30 years old, and you didn’t used to weigh so much," Jamie teased.

"I thought you wanted me to gain weight."

"I do, but the bed frame isn’t quite as enthusiastic about it as I am."

"Well, to be honest, it’s about time to retire both the frame and the mattress."

Jamie privately thought that event should have occurred while Carter was President, but she never would have admitted that to Ryan. "I think it’s just fine for occasional use, but it won’t hold up to the kind of workout you give it."

"Mmm … well, I didn’t buy you a birthday present – as instructed. Would you like a new bed?"

"Do you know what I’d really like?"

"Nope. But if it’s in my power – it’s yours."

"Oh, it’s in your power. But, you might not think it is."

"40 questions time, huh?" Ryan asked, her eyes twinkling.

"No … not really. I don’t think you’ll want to do this – so I’ve been putting off asking you."

"You seem like you’re up for it today – so give it a go, babe."

"Okay." Jamie put a bite of pancake in her mouth, then placed another in Ryan’s. Chewing thoughtfully, she finally nodded, and said, "I’d like a house."

Ryan nearly spat the bite across the room. "A what!"

"That’s the reaction I was expecting," Jamie said, giving her partner a smile. "You never fail to disappoint."

"Jamie! We’ve got a wonderful house in Berkeley, and there’s not a thing wrong with this house, either."

"I agree that there isn’t a thing wrong with either place, honey. But neither of them suits us at this point in our lives. Why live in Berkeley if we’re not in school there?"

"Well, we might be in school there," Ryan reminded her. "We just won’t know that for another year."

"Do you want to live there after we graduate? Or would you rather live here in Noe?"

"Well … if I had my choice, we’d live here. But doesn’t it make sense to hold onto the Berkeley house until we decide what our grad school plans are?"

Jamie shrugged her shoulders and said, "Sure, we could do that. But the real estate market is so outrageously high right now, it seems like a good time to sell. If one of us went to school in Berkeley, we could rent a nice apartment – rather than having the upkeep of the big house."

"Hmm … I guess that’s true," Ryan said, nodding thoughtfully. "Okay, let’s say that we do sell – are you saying that you’re not happy living here?"

Knowing that she had to tread very, very carefully, Jamie said, "I love living here, Ryan. And while we’re in school, this is a perfect living arrangement. But when we graduate I think we need to have our own space."

"Why?" Ryan asked, her dark head cocking, a completely perplexed expression on her face.

"Baby, it’s a lot of fun to live with the boys, but it’s more like a dorm than a home. There’s someone coming or going at all hours of the day and night – and even though it’s nice to have your parents make breakfast for us on the weekends, I want to cook for us. I want to have my routine, and I can’t do that with a house full of people."

Looking hurt, Ryan shifted her eyes away from Jamie and said, "I thought you liked it here."

Taking her by the chin, Jamie turned her head, staring directly into those big, baby blues. "I do. I’ve enjoyed it very much – but I don’t want to live with Mia, or Jordan, or Conor, or Rory or Kevin for the rest of my life. I want to live with you – only you. I want to cook for you, and eat when we want. I want to sit at the kitchen table and listen to the radio and read my newspapers in the morning. I love your family, honey, but I need my own routine."

Ryan nodded, looking unconvinced, yet resigned. "Okay. Where do you want to live?"

"Noe Valley, of course. I’d like to live on this street if we could find a place. Honey, I don’t want to move away, but I do want our own place. I won’t even lock the door until we go to bed at night – people can drop in whenever they want. I just want to be able to have privacy when we need it."

"All right." Ryan still looked wounded, and Jamie tried another tactic.

"Do you know why I want privacy?"


"’Cause I want to be able to come home and find you in the kitchen, and start undressing you without worrying that someone will come home and find us. I want to be able to make love on the kitchen counters and the sofa in the living room. I want to have a TV in our bedroom, so we can watch all of your dirty little movies – without having Conor lying between us."

Ryan had to laugh at that one. "He would, too."

"I know it! I’m not kidding about that one!"

"Are you sure you haven’t been unhappy here?" Ryan asked.

"I’m completely sure," Jamie said. "It’s been a lot of fun – for college students. But for adults – we need space – and a lock."

Eyes darkening with desire, Ryan asked, "Why don’t you show me what you need space – and a lock – for?"

"Well," Jamie said, eying her lover’s pert nipples. "I’d like to get the syrup out and make you my big, sexy pancake." She lifted the bottle, then made two golden circles around Ryan’s puckering nipples. "I’d like to be able to do this right at the kitchen table, for a nice little after breakfast treat." She leaned forwards and sucked each nipple into her mouth, lovingly whisking away the sticky syrup. Looking up at Ryan’s half-closed eyes, she asked, "Wouldn’t you like that, too?"

"I don’t remember the question, but the answer is yes!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

After another shower, the girls headed off to Mass. When they returned, many of the relatives had arrived, Catherine included. She was in the living room, holding Caitlin, as usual, when Jamie and Ryan went to greet her. Conor came bounding down the stairs and he detoured towards the blondes, making over each of them in turn. Holding Caitlin in his arms, he gave Catherine an admiring glance as he said, "I have never seen you look anything less than marvelous, but today you’re reaching new heights."

She smiled at him and gave him a tiny little headshake, her embarrassment evident. "You’re as generous as your sister is with compliments, Conor. Not that I don’t appreciate them, of course."

"Ryan, wouldn’t you say that Catherine looks as good as you’ve ever seen her?"

The dark woman scratched her head, seemingly giving the matter her utmost consideration. Catherine was wearing a butter-yellow leather jacket – collarless and without buttons – the jacket ticking the waistband of the matching slim-cut pants. A black ribbed turtleneck peeked out from beneath the jacket, the very snug silk knit hugging her body. The pants flared a bit at the hems, and shiny black boots revealed themselves, the heel low enough to allow for long periods of standing and playing with Caitlin. "I don’t know, Con, that’s a tough one. Catherine always looks wonderful, so it’s hard to decide. I do agree that she looks particularly wonderful today, though. The only thing that’s hard to believe is that she could be the mother of a twenty-two year old woman."

"I still don’t believe it," Conor said, matching his sister’s pose and her look of doubt. "I’ve never seen a picture of Catherine when she was pregnant, you know."

"I have," Ryan said, surprising Catherine a little. "Down in Pebble Beach, Jamie and I spent a very enjoyable morning looking at old family photos. Catherine was definitely pregnant, Con, but I’ll admit that she did look like she could have been the spokes-model for some campaign to eradicate teen pregnancy."

"I was still a teenager," she said in recollection. "If you’d followed my path, you’d have a four-year-old today, Ryan."

The blue eyes grew wide as she said, "That’s a scary thought! I am a four-year-old."

"I disagree," Catherine insisted. "I think you’d be a fine parent right now. One thing is certain – you’d do a much better job than I did."

"You’re doing great now," Ryan reminded her. "And no matter how much you denigrate your contribution, I still don’t believe that you didn’t play a vital role in forming Jamie’s character."

Everyone stopped and turned his or her attention to the door at the forceful knock that sounded just as Catherine was going to reply. They all recognized it was someone from outside of the family, since every relative knew the door was always unlocked during a party. Jamie ran down the stairs to open the door and let in a tentative looking Jim, accompanied by Kayla, her confident posture a sharp contrast to Jim’s wary look. "Daddy!" Jamie said enthusiastically, throwing her arms around his neck. He relaxed into the hug, enormously glad that not only did she answer the door, she seemed very glad to see him. Releasing her father, Jamie stepped back and extended a hand to Kayla. "I’m glad you could come, she said with a warm smile on her face.

"Thank you for having me, Jamie," the redhead said. "Happy birthday."

Ryan hustled over to greet the pair, and dutifully took their coats while Jamie led them over to her mother – deciding to immediately cut the tension that had settled in the room. Jim nodded to his former wife and approached her awkwardly, leaning in for a quick, stiff hug. "Hello, Catherine," he said. "I’d like to introduce you to Kayla Horwitz."

No one made mention of the fact that they had spoken and had been in each other’s presence before, but that proper introductions had not been possible. Catherine took in the young woman as she politely extended her hand. The confident, relaxed woman standing in front of her bore almost no similarity to the startled, frightened girl that had been nestled in Jim’s arms that night at his apartment. If not for the distinctive hair coloring, Catherine would have sworn it was another woman, but it was clearly her, and Catherine followed through on the pledge she had made to herself to be not only polite, but welcoming to the young woman. "I’m glad you were both able to come," she said. "What can I get you to drink?"

"What type of wine do you have?" Kayla asked.

Catherine chuckled mildly at herself and said, "I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have framed the question that way. We have regular beer, light beer, Pepsi and sparkling water. Would any of those be acceptable?"

Kayla’s forehead twitched into a small frown and she said, "I suppose I’ll have a light beer."

"That’s good for me too, Catherine," Jim supplied.

Now that the family was certain there would be no bloodshed, everyone made their way over to Jim, small knots of people greeting him cordially and then departing as soon as polite. Conor gave the pair a warmer welcome. "Good to see you, Jim," he said, shaking his hand firmly.

"Conor, this is Kayla Horwitz. Kayla, this is Conor, Ryan’s older brother."

"Nice to meet you," he said, showing even, white teeth.

He tried to convince himself that he was imagining it, but Jim swore he saw an ever so slight widening of Kayla’s eyes as the good looking man loomed over her. Don’t even think about it! he growled internally.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Since Mia now considered herself an honorary member of the family, she knew that knocking wasn’t required. She and Jennie stepped into the crowded room, and they both spotted Jamie immediately. Threading their way through the bodies, they both managed to give her a hug. "Happy birthday, James!" Mia said, while Jennie waited her turn.

"Thanks, guys," her friend said. "You’re a little late. What’s up with that?"

"Mmm … it took me a while to get going."

The look she shared with Jamie was one of deep sadness, and Jamie picked up on it immediately. "Jen, let’s go find Ryan. She’ll want to know you’re here."

As soon as she caught her partner’s attention and sent Jennie over to greet her, Jamie led Mia downstairs. Reaching up to touch her cheek, she asked, "You okay? You don’t look quite yourself."

Her head tossed, curls bouncing around her head. "I’m fine."

"You can’t pull that one on me, hon. You don’t have to tell me what’s bothering you, but something obviously is."

"I might only have PMS," she groused, "but I’m so damned sad, that I almost didn’t come." A few hot tears spilled out of her eyes, and Jamie got up to fetch a box of tissues for her. "If I hadn’t agreed to pick Jennie up, I might have stayed in bed."

"Tell me what’s up, Mia? Why are you sad?" The empathy and warm concern in Jamie’s eyes broke the dam that had been building in Mia for days, and she let some of her feelings out while Jamie held her in a loose embrace, stroking her back soothingly. "It’s okay," Jamie said. "Just let it out until you feel like talking."

It took a while, but she finally felt some of the pressure ease and she was able to speak. "I miss Jordan so much, Jamie," she whispered. "Coming here reminds me of being with her at parties with you guys …"

"Oh, that makes perfect sense," Jamie empathized. "That didn’t even occur to me, but I really do understand."

"What do I do?" the brunette sighed. "I love her too much to be this far away from her. I’ve got to make a decision about our future, and I’ve got to make it soon."

"Mia, it’s already February. If you can hold out until May, you can go to Colorado for the summer, at the very least. You don’t have to decide your whole future right now."

"Yeah," Mia nodded. "Then what? Do I continue with school? Do I get a job? Putting off the decision isn’t making things easier. It makes me feel more out of control."

"What does Jordan think?"

Mia shrugged and shook her head glumly. "She doesn’t help at all! She wants me to make up my own mind, but it’s so hard to do with so little input."

"What do your friends …" Jamie started to ask, but caught herself short.

"Yeah, right. I can’t talk to my parents, I can’t talk to my brother, I can’t talk to any of my other friends. God, this sucks!"

Jamie nodded sympathetically, now having a better idea of why this was so hard for Mia. Even though she complained about them, Mia was very close to her family. Her brother, Peter, in particular, had been a constant source of advice, and had always been a calming influence between their very volatile mother and the sometimes volatile Mia.

"You haven’t been seeing your other friends, have you?" Jamie asked gently. Mia had cultivated a widely diverse groups of friends during their time at Cal, but Jamie hadn’t seen any of them around the house lately, and Mia was usually at home in the evenings, a rarity before Jordan.

"No." She shook her head roughly and said, "I don’t have the strength to put up a front. Jordy’s all I think about, and if I can’t talk about her, why bother?"

"But, Mia," Jamie reminded her, "your friends have always been important to you. Heck, some of your guy friends are gay … can’t you at least talk to them?"

She pursed her lips, shaking her head sadly. "I don’t know who to trust, Jamie. I’m so damned confused!" Looking completely forlorn, she announced, "I got accepted to Stanford for next year."

"Stanford? Stanford what?"

"Stanford law," Mia related, the look on her face one of supreme regret.

"What? I had no idea that you’d even applied!"

"Yeah." Mia nodded her head slowly, finally admitting, "I didn’t want to tell anyone, ‘cause I assumed I’d get dinged. Surprised the shit out of me, to tell you the truth."

"Mia, that’s great!" Jamie enthused, throwing her arms around her friend. "That’s a huge accomplishment!"

"Yeah, yeah, I know; but now I feel like I need to accept," she moaned pathetically. "When my dad finds out, he’ll kill me if I walk away from this opportunity."

Jamie nodded, understanding that Mia’s fear was probably justified. "Do you want to be a lawyer? I had no idea …"

"I don’t know, James. I applied mostly on a whim, and because Peter talked me into it. I mean, I killed on the LSATs, so I figured I might as well give it a try. Who knows?" She shrugged her shoulders and added, "I figured if nothing else, it would give me three years to delay having to get a job."

"I guess you have to tell your dad, huh?" Jamie ventured.

"If I don’t, someone else will. He’s got lots of contacts at the school – I’m sure that didn’t hurt my chances, either."

Jamie sighed and wrapped her friend in a hug. "I think you need to see Jordan face-to-face to help you make a decision. Can you afford to go?"

"Yeah. I have the tickets that Ryan bought for me, but Jordan’s traveling this weekend. She’s gonna be at a tournament in Boston, and she won’t be back until Monday. We might as well wait until we go to Las Vegas."

"Okay," Jamie soothed, "I understand that you don’t have the ability to go see Jordan right now, but I hate to see you cutting yourself off from all of your friends, and your family. That’s got to make this worse for you."

"It does," she said. With a heavy sigh, she got up and dried her eyes one last time. "I’m sorry I’m such a grump on your birthday."

"It’s okay, Mia. I’d be more than grumpy if Ryan were that far away. Think about what I said and consider talking about this with some of your other friends. Don’t shut yourself off so much."

"I’ll try. Peter’s going to be home next weekend, and being around him always perks me up."

"Good," Jamie said. "Will you spend the weekend with your parents?"

"Yeah. I’m looking forward to it. Maybe I’ll feel better after a little infusion of family."

"It always works for me," Jamie said. She wrapped her arms around her friend, squeezing her tight.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Jamie came back upstairs, she decided to take Kayla outdoors to meet the O’Flaherty uncles and the cousins who were supervising the barbeque. Jim chose not to accompany her, having had quite enough of the stilted small talk that no one in the family was very good at. He spied Conor at the edge of a small group and went up to him at an angle, cutting him from the herd. "How are things going, Conor? I haven’t had a chance to speak with you in a while."

"Not much to report," the younger man said. "Now that things have settled down, and the press isn’t outside our door all the time, things have gone back to their normal state of boredom. How about you? I’d guess your life has gotten more exciting since you’ve been in Washington."

"No, not really. It’s just more meetings, more cocktail parties, and more formal dinners.

"Don’t you normally drink wine?" he asked.

"Yes, yes I do, but …"

"Let’s go for a walk and buy some. There’s a nice wine shop not too far down on 24th Street."

"You don’t need to do that, Conor."

"You and Kayla are guests, Jim. I know you’re not a beer drinker, and Kayla doesn’t look like one, either."

Jim nodded and clapped the younger man on the back. "I’ll take you up on your offer, but I’ll buy the wine, Conor."

"Deal," he said, smiling. As they walked along on the late winter afternoon, Conor looked at his friend and asked, "How are things going, Jim? I know this is a tough time for both you and Catherine."

"It’s been hard for me," Jim said. "I honestly don’t know how Catherine’s doing, but since she’s the one who made the decision, I guess it’s easier for her." Conor gave him a speculative look which Jim caught. "She didn’t tell you that?"

"Nope," the younger man said. "She’s never said a word about what happened or why you decided to divorce. She’s not the type to do that, Jim."

"Well, it certainly wasn’t my decision, Conor. I’d be back there in a moment if she’d give me another chance."

Looking at his friend with a skeptical glance, Conor said, "I can’t see Catherine booting you out on a whim. I’d guess she had her reasons."

Jim nodded reluctantly, deciding to confide in his young friend. "You’ve probably guessed this, but I wasn’t always faithful, Conor. I wasn’t ready to be tied down as early as I was."

"Mmm … not uncommon," Conor said. "So Catherine found out about your friend Kayla and called it quits?"

"Well, not exactly," he mumbled. "I mean, yes, that was the last straw, but Kayla wasn’t the first."

"Catherine knew about this?" Conor asked, his eyes wide.

"Yes, she knew about some of them. I thought we had an understanding," he said, still feeling wronged by his ex-wife’s changing of the rules. "I guess we didn’t."

Chuckling wryly, Conor asked, "What was the understanding? ‘Let’s be married while I sleep around?’ If that were possible, I’d be married!"

Jim nodded, even though he hated the way it sounded when Conor put it that way. "She didn’t seem to care that much after the first one or two."

"Wow." Conor shook his head slowly. "I’ve never met a woman who would put up with that. Especially not when she’s the one with the money!" Jim gave him a sharp look, but Conor explained, "If you were the one with the big bucks, I could see her giving up love to keep the dough. I can’t see why she’d share the dough after you cheated on her. That doesn’t sound like the Catherine I know."

"She’s changed," Jim said. "A year ago, none of this would have bothered her."

"I don’t know, Jim," the younger man said. "I can’t imagine where you’ve been fishing that you’d throw a woman like Catherine back into the sea. The women you’ve been seeing must be all-world!"

"Some were," he said. "Some were opportunists who wanted me for what I could do for them."

"Which one is Kayla?"

Jim gave him a wry smile and admitted, "She’s both."

They walked along 24th Street in silence, finally coming to the wine shop. Conor let Jim go in, since he had nothing to offer concerning the selection. As they walked back to the house, Conor commented, "You said something earlier that’s been bugging me."

"What’s that?"

"You said that you’d go back to Catherine if she’d take you."

"I would! I swear I would!"

"You’ve probably had more experience with women than I have, Jim, but I know one thing – just because a woman tells you that it’s over, doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes she wants you to prove that you’re sincere … that you really will give up everyone else for her." He chuckled mildly and added, "She wants you to show you’re suffering."

"What’s your point?" the senator asked.

"Well, you claim that you want to get back with her. Yet, not a month after this went down, you’re at a family party with the woman she caught you with. If you were serious about getting back with her … if you were broken up about this … why would you do that?"

There was not a trace of censure, or rebuke in the clear blue eyes, and that fact alone led Jim to answer honestly. "I uhm … guess it doesn’t look like I’m broken up about this, does it?"

Conor’s dark head shook.

"I am, Conor, I really am. I’m not the kind of guy who can go without companionship for months at a time. I believed Catherine … I did. And if she was never going to take me back, why should I wait around?"

The younger man patted his friend on the back and said, "That’s a good point, Jim." As they walked along, he thought to himself, If you really loved her, you wouldn’t even be able to get it up, doofus! Your heart would be so broken that being with another woman would be the last thing on your mind. Catherine’s in a lot more pain than you are, buddy, but you’ll never hear that from me!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan was standing near the front door holding Caitlin when she heard a light knock and then felt a rush of cool air as the door opened. She turned and saw Sara and Ally, and she made eye contact and waved them in. "Hi, guys, how’s it going?"

"Good," Sara replied, leaning in for a slightly tentative, one-armed hug. Ally smiled and did the same, but her hug was generous and warm, and she kissed Ryan with her usual ease. Caitlin leaned towards Sara, and the brunette gladly accepted her, smiling broadly as the child vocalized loudly.

"She’s got a lot to say, doesn’t she?" she asked.

"Yeah. She’s got mama and dada and goggie down pat." Ryan smiled as she reached over and wiped a string of drool from the baby’s chin with her fingertips. "I don’t know what it says about us that she mastered ‘dog’ before any of our names, but she’ll get there eventually."

"Hey, she’s almost got my name mastered," Jamie said as she came up from behind and caught the end of the conversation. "Hi, Sara, Ally," she said as she gave them each a hug.

"Let’s hear you say Jamie," Sara urged, bringing the baby up in her arms until they were nose to nose. "Say Jamie."

"May me," Caitlin dutifully mimicked, her face scrunched up in concentration as she stared at Sara’s lips.

"Very good! Now say Ryan," Sara instructed, giving her old friend a wink.

"May me," Caitlin offered, looking a little tentative, but nonetheless pleased with her efforts.

"Oh … close," Sara said. "Very, very close, Caitlin."

Chuckling at the pair, Jamie asked, "Can I get you something to drink?"

"No, I’ll go," Ally said. She placed her large hand on the small of Sara’s back and asked, "What would you like?"

"A soda or water," Sara replied, smiling warmly at her friend. "Thanks."

Ryan fought down the tendril of jealousy that was winding its way around her gut, and tried to make small talk. "So, how’s everything going?"

"Good," Sara said. "Really good," she added, wiggling her eyebrows a little. "It’s funny going out with someone who doesn’t drink and is mostly vegetarian. I’ve never gone out with someone who encouraged me to have better habits." She looked at her friends and said, "I’ve already got friends at work who have to have a couple of drinks to be able to relax enough to get to sleep at night. Almost every night, a group of people stops off at a bar before they head home. Being with Ally is really good for me at this point in my life," she said. "I don’t need to drink to relax when I’m with her, no matter how hard I’ve worked that day."

No, I bet you don’t, Ryan scoffed internally. Ally has a sure-fire remedy for stress!

"That’s great to hear," Jamie enthused, when it became clear that Ryan wasn’t going to say a word. "So, things are going well between you?"

"Yeah," Sara said, sneaking a glance at Ryan to gauge her reaction. "Things are going very well. I mean, it’s hard, since this is something neither of us has done before, but we’re working through things as they come up."

Deciding to summon her adult self, Ryan leaned over and placed a light kiss on her friend’s cheek. "I’m glad you’re giving this a chance, Sara. I think you can be great for each other."

"Thanks, Ryan," she said, smiling up at her. Her attention was diverted as Ally broke through the crowd; and Ryan couldn’t help but notice that Sara’s smile grew wider and more intense when she caught sight of her.

Seeing that Caitlin was commandeering both of her friend’s arms, Ally held the bottle of water up to Sara’s lips and asked, "Sip?"

"You’re a doll," the brunette said, and took a quick drink. Ally’s arm slid around her, and Caitlin cuddled up between them and began to play with the buttons on Ally’s shirt.

Feeling like she’d had quite enough evidence of her friends’ growing bond, Ryan said, "I need to go check on the barbeque. Be back soon."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Waitin’ for that fence to fall?" Jamie asked, finding her partner standing alone, staring blankly at the fence in the backyard.

Ryan whirled around, startled that Jamie had approached without her noticing. "Oh!" She colored a bit, and considered how truthful to be. Deciding to reveal all, she said, "I’m giving myself a pep talk."

Jamie patted her side and said, "It’s no easier for you to see Sara and Ally together, is it?"

The dark head shook slowly, a pensive look on her face. "I don’t know why it’s still an issue. I think that bothers me as much as they bother me – know what I mean?"

"Mmm … I guess I do," she said. "Do you mean that you’re mostly troubled by your inability to get over it?"

"Yeah. I know why it bothers me … I know why I’m a little jealous … I know that it will get better over time – but it hasn’t gotten much better. That’s what concerns me. I’m worried that I won’t be able to be friends with them – and that sucks."

"Honey, this is the first time we’ve seen them since they started dating. That’s not giving it nearly enough time. Now, come on, don’t be such a pessimist. That’s not like you."

Ryan smiled a little as she admitted, "No, it’s not, is it?" She took a deep breath and nodded slowly. "Okay, I’ll try to relax and see how things go. I mean, it makes sense it’ll take a while. It’s not only having to see one ex-lover move on. This is a double whammy!"

"Very true," Jamie acknowledged. "I know you’ll be fine with this eventually, Ryan, it’ll just take a while." She moved to face her partner, then locked her arms around her neck. "You can talk to me when it bothers you, you know. I’m a very good listener."

"You’re the best," Ryan said, bending to kiss her. They kept their embrace chaste, but they were still the recipients of a few catcalls from the assorted cousins gathered in the yard. From behind her back, Ryan shot the men a playful, but rude gesture as she pulled away from Jamie’s soft lips. "Heathens," she grumbled, her eyes dancing merrily.

"You love every one of them," Jamie said as she gave her a pat on the belly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When they went back inside, the pair sought Catherine out. "Hey, Mom, could we talk to you for a few minutes?"

"Of course." Shifting her eyes from one young woman to the other, Catherine asked, "Is everything all right?"

"Oh, sure. We wanted to ask you for a favor," Jamie said. "Let’s go downstairs so we can talk in private."

Catherine took the loveseat, while Ryan lay down across the bed with Jamie propped up against her legs. "We think we might be ready to start looking for a house here in San Francisco. Would you be willing to help us look?"

"Like you could stop me?" Catherine asked with her brown eyes comically wide. "Tell me what you’re thinking of."

"Well, we definitely want to live between Noe and Castro."

"All right," Catherine nodded. "I don’t know the boundaries of those neighborhoods, but I assume they’re close by."

"Yes," Ryan said. "They’re within walking distance. That’s the bottom line, Catherine. I don’t want our kids to have to get into a car to see their grandparents." Catherine blinked slowly and Ryan hastened to add, "I’d prefer that was true for both sets of grandparents, by the way."

She smiled gently, and reached over to pat Ryan’s hand. "I appreciate the thought, Ryan, but I’m very fond of my yard and my garden. I don’t see myself giving them up any time soon."

"The kids will think they’re going to Disneyland when they come to your house," Ryan said. "That pool, the great garden. I’d hate for you to give that up."

"I think Ryan likes the house more than our kids ever would," Jamie teased gently. "She loves that pool."

"I freely admit to that," Ryan said. "And since we won’t be able to have much land, it’ll be nice to be able to come down to Hillsborough and run around and feel the grass under our feet."

"I love that you enjoy coming to my home, Ryan. Now let’s talk about your home. In a perfect world, what kind of home would you like?"

"Well, to be honest, we could use a home like yours," she said with a laugh. "We obviously don’t need that much space, but we need some place to gather as a family. The problem, as you’ve seen, is that homes in Noe Valley are all narrow and tall. I don’t know how to provide for enough space for us and a couple of kids, and have room for family parties."

"Ryan, I don’t know how that’s possible," Catherine said thoughtfully. "When your cousins start having children, you’ll need a house bigger than mine!"

"This is true," Ryan said, "but we’d like to have as much space as possible. I know it’s a tall order, Catherine, but if you could help us, we’d appreciate it."

"I’m up to the task, girls," she said confidently. "If such a home can be found – I’ll find it!"

"Before you set off, we should give you a thorough tour of our geographic boundaries," Ryan suggested. "Maybe we can talk Conor into taking us on a tour of the house he’s working on. It’s an apartment building now, but it was a big Victorian before it was chopped up."

"Sounds great," Catherine said. "I saw him leave with Jim, but as soon as they come back, we’ll snare him."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Without too much prodding, Conor agreed to take them to the renovation, but he refused to allow Ryan to bring the baby. "Too many things she could get hurt by," he decreed. The four of them set off in Conor’s big truck, with the siblings giving Catherine a tour of Noe Valley on the way to Castro. "The hilly area where we live is called Upper Noe," Conor said. "The flatter areas down by 24th Street – where Tommy and Annie live – have smaller, newer homes and that area costs a lot less ... well, that’s relatively speaking, of course. All of our other uncles and aunts live in Upper Noe, by us, but it’s going to be very tough for our generation to stay in our neighborhood."

"Has the neighborhood changed, or have prices gone up dramatically?" Catherine asked.

"Both. When our families moved to the valley in the 60’s, it was filled with middle income, blue-collar Irish and Germans. None of my aunts ever had to work outside the home to make ends meet. But now, most of the families moving in are two income professionals, like doctors and lawyers, and the ubiquitous dot com millionaires. You need a $200,000 income to afford a home here now, and none of the O’Flaherty cousins will ever make that kind of money."

"Everyone is in a construction trade, aren’t they, Conor?"

"Yes. Everyone except Brendan, Rory and Tommy and Annie." He turned to his sister and said, "I guess we’ve got another couple of holdouts in the back seat."

"Count me in," Jamie said. "I’d last about a week!"

"Ryan could be a good carpenter," Conor mused, "but I think she’s gonna make a living with her head, rather than her hands."

"You never know, Conor," Jamie said. "I think she’d like to be a part-time carpenter/part-time mathematician."

"Ooh … that would be ideal," Ryan said wistfully. "But that’s a hard gig to find."

They arrived at the building a few minutes later. It was a terrific mess from the outside, and there was construction debris piled up on the tiny front lawn; but even with that, one could tell that this place had potential. "You say this area is Castro?" Catherine asked.

"Yeah. This neighborhood was very similar to ours 40 years ago. Very middle class, lots of Irish. But, it became a gay Mecca in the 60’s, and prices shot up dramatically. A lot of the middle class moved out because of the poor quality of the schools, so as they left, more and more gay people moved in. It’s even more expensive than our neighborhood now … and it’s a lot more congested, too."

They climbed up the stone stairs to the ornately carved wooden doors. Conor, of course, had the key, and he let them in with the admonition, "Watch your step carefully. I try to clean up at night, but there could be nails on the floor."

After a thorough inspection of the first floor, Conor let them take a peek at the second and third floors, which were basically untouched, giving them a flavor for how bad the place was before work had begun.

"How long has the place been an apartment building, Conor?" Catherine asked, as she found the third kitchen in the building.

"Probably 35 or 40 years. I’d say the building is a little over 90 years old, and as the neighborhood changed from single family to apartment buildings, they converted tons of these Victorians into three-flats, or even smaller units. We’re going to knock out both of the upstairs kitchens and make a huge one on the first floor."

When they went back downstairs, Conor spread out the blueprints for the place. He was very impressed with how quickly Catherine oriented herself, and with her perceptive understanding of the issues involved in making a single home out of three apartments. "I’m very taken with these drawings," she said. "I’d love to speak with this fellow. Can you give me his number, Conor?"

"Sure. I think I have some of his business cards at home. I’ll get one for you."

As they drove back, Catherine was deep in thought. She asked, "What was the total square footage before renovation?"

"Around 3500 square feet. But, because of all the hallways, and choppy little rooms the actual living space was pretty meager."

"What will the actual living space of the new layout be?"

"It should be close to 4000 square feet. The rooms will be much bigger, with very few hallways. The first floor will be a kitchen and a formal dining room and parlor. The second floor will hold a library/media room, an office and a guest suite, and the third floor will have two master bedrooms and two huge baths with dressing rooms."

Catherine nodded and resumed her pensive musings all the way home. When they arrived, Jamie slid an arm around her waist and said, "You look like something’s perking in your head. Wanna share?"

"No, not yet. I’ve got the germ of an idea, but I don’t want to reveal it if it’s not possible. I can assure you two of one thing, though. One way or another, you’ll get the house you need – and I’ll have a fabulous time helping you get it!"

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

As soon as they returned to the party, Caitlin toddled up to Ryan and asked to be picked up. When Ryan lifted her, the brunette made a face and asked, "When’s the last time you had your nappy changed, sweet pea?"

"Gosh, does she need changing?" Annie asked, handing Ryan the diaper bag while trying to suppress a smile. "I didn’t notice."

Blinking her eyes, Ryan reached up and held her nose with her free hand. "The wallpaper’s gonna peel off the walls, Annie. If you didn’t smell her, you should see an ear, nose and throat doctor at the hospital."

"Oh! I thought the neighbors were tarring their roof," Annie said, the picture of innocence.

"Your momma’s full of the same stuff that’s in your nappy, Caitie," Ryan said, chuckling as she took the baby downstairs.

When Ryan and Caitlin returned, she saw Jamie standing in front of her mother and Maeve. Both of the older women looked a little stunned, and Ryan looked to Jamie. "What did you do to these two?"

"I just made a proposal," Jamie said. "They’re both a little surprised, but they agreed to it."

"What’s the proposal?" Ryan asked.

"Meet your fellow walkers for the Avon Three-Day Walk," Jamie proudly proclaimed.

Ryan nearly fell into a providentially placed chair. "Are you serious?"

"I don’t know how she does it," Maeve said dully. "She seems like she’s just chatting, and all of a sudden I find myself agreeing to walk 60 miles in three days." She turned to Ryan and said, "How did that happen?"

"As soon as I learn how to say no to her, I’ll let you know, Aunt Maeve. But as of now, I don’t have a clue!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie was in the living room chatting with Mia, Sara and Ally. Jim walked up and gave Mia a hug, and said hello to the other two women, cocking his head slightly as he looked at Sara.

"I work for Morris and Foster," she said, seeing the vague recognition in his eyes.

"Oh, right," he nodded. "You’re in the Litigation Department, aren’t you?"

"Yes," she said, brightening slightly. "I am."

"Well, I hope you’re keeping an eye on things for me," the attorney said.

"I’ll make a point of it," Sara said, feeling a little like he was checking her out. "More water, Ally?" she asked, turning her attention to her friend.

"Love one," the tall woman replied, having gotten exactly the same vibe.

The pair walked away as Jim asked his daughter, "Have you seen Kayla?"

"Not for a while," Jamie replied. "She might still be outside."

The day had grown colder, and Jim doubted that his easily chilled lover would fare well outdoors. "I’ll check, but she gets cold easily." Setting off to search for the young woman, Jim stopped abruptly when he reached the landing outside of the kitchen. Kayla was indeed in the yard, sitting at a picnic table, surrounded by an entire flock of eligible O’Flaherty men. Every seat at the table was taken, and several more of the testosterone-laden titans stood around those seated, all of them seemingly intent on catching every word that came out of the beautiful young woman’s mouth.

Kayla was wearing a barn jacket, obviously belonging to one of the men, since the sleeves were rolled up so much that the bright red plaid flannel lining showed.

As Jim looked at the tableaux, he wondered to himself, Where are all of the women? Jamie should have some of her straight friends here – if she has any! Why aren’t Mia and … Sara out here? The big woman was obviously a lesbian, but I know Mia isn’t, and Sara sure doesn’t look like one. Hell, why can’t these behemoths get girls on their own? God knows they’re good looking enough!

Ryan wandered outside and caught sight of the look Jim was giving her cousins and Kayla. "Hi," she said quietly, flinching a little when he shot her a fiery glance.

"Oh … hello, Ryan, uhm … I didn’t hear you open the door."

"We didn’t know where you had gone off to," she advised. "I asked a couple of my cousins to entertain Kayla while you were gone."

"Ahh … I see. Well, that was thoughtful of you, Ryan. I uhm … was wondering … why don’t your cousins or your brothers bring women to these events?"

"Oh, they do," she said, "but only if they’re seriously dating someone. Only Brendan is hooked up right now."

"Why on earth is that so?" he asked, not understanding why a young man wouldn’t want to have a good-looking woman on his arm.

"Once they bring a woman over, everyone assumes it’s a big deal, and all of my aunts start bugging them about whether they’re going to get engaged and all that stuff," she said. "They’ve all learned their lessons the hard way."

"So not one of those young men is seeing anyone seriously?" he asked, his mouth gaping open.

"Nope. just Brendan, and he’s inside with his girlfriend."

"Thanks, Ryan," he said as he scampered down the stairs to retrieve his lover before one of the O’Flaherty men changed her allegiances.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Bad news," Ryan whispered to her partner when she came back inside. "Kayla was outside with the cousins and your dad saw them flirting with her. He looked like he was going to roll up his sleeves and take ‘em all on."

"Hmm … he’d last about three seconds against them," Jamie said. "But, when you date a callipygous girl, ya gotta expect to have to fight for her."

Ryan looked at her for a few moments, then gave her a half-smile and nodded. "Can’t argue with you there. I’m gonna go get ready, okay?"

"Sure. See you in a few."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie went downstairs a moment later and found her partner nose-deep in her dictionary, idly flipping through pages. Ryan shot a glance at her and colored slightly when Jamie said, "c-a-l-l-i-p-y-g-o-u-s."

Grumbling softly to herself, Ryan found the word and spent a moment committing it to memory. "How do you always know?" she asked plaintively as she sharply snapped the cover closed.

Coming up to wrap an arm around her, Jamie said, "You always wait a beat – like you think I’m going to explain the word that I just used."

"Well, if you know I don’t know it, why not tell me what it means?"

"That would be rude," Jamie insisted. "I figure that if you want me to explain something, you’ll ask me. Besides, that was the one inflexible rule in my house. If someone used a word I didn’t know, I had to go look it up. Both of my parents made it a point to never hand it to me."

"I think that’s a pretty good rule," Ryan said. "We didn’t do that, but I’d be willing to institute it for our brood."

Her one-armed hug turned into a deuce as Jamie looked up into clear blue eyes and asked, "Now we’re having a brood? What happened to one or two?"

Ryan sighed and gave her partner her most lovesick look. "I look at you and can’t help but wish for a whole house full of cute little Jamie-copies. None of them could ever approach your perfection, of course, but it’s sure going to be fun to see how close they get."

"Oh, so now I’m having them all, too, huh?" Her green eyes were glittering with amusement, and Ryan spent a moment regretting that they had a house full of people, and that she had to leave for her game soon.

"You’re gonna be so cute and sexy and luscious looking when you’re pregnant," she insisted, patting Jamie’s perfectly flat belly. "I don’t know if I’ll be able to resist the urge to pop a little bun in your oven all the time."

Jamie laced her hands around Ryan’s neck and stood on her tiptoes for a kiss. "I’m so totally grateful that you don’t have a penis," she sighed. "You’d be sneaking up on me constantly, trying to get into my oven."

"Oh, I love your oven." Ryan leered as her hand slipped down between their bodies and found a warm place that she wished she had time to explore. "I just can’t help make the buns."

"Thank God for small favors," Jamie giggled as Ryan’s fingers hit a very sensitive spot. "At least I’ve got a fighting chance if I see you sneaking up on me with a turkey-baster."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan came up the stairs from her bedroom at 1:30, dressed in her warm-ups, with a pair of Reebok shower sandals on her feet. "You look a little casual to play softball," Catherine teased when she caught sight of her.

"Yeah, I do, don’t I?" she said. "I like to wear these so I have less to carry. I don’t know why, but I can’t stand to have regular shoes on after I play softball. My toesies have to breathe," she said. Ryan smiled at her approaching partner, and said, "I’ve got to run, or I’ll be late. Will I see you both later?"

"Of course," Catherine said. "I’ll stay here a while longer, but I’ll be there."

"I would tell you that you don’t need to come, since it’s just the alumni game and it doesn’t count, but I already know your answer, so I’ll save us both the trouble."

"That’s the spirit, Ryan. Now, go play well."

"I’ll be there for the end of the game," Jamie revealed. "I don’t want to leave until the party winds down a little. I’ll probably come over with Mom, and we’ll bring Jennie, since she wants to go."

Jennie heard her name mentioned and popped her smiling face into the crowd. "Could I go with you, Ryan? I love to watch you guys warm up."

"Now that’s a fan," Ryan said. "Sure. Come on, sport." She reached into her gym bag and pulled out a T-shirt identical to the one she wore. Handing it to her young friend, she advised, "Since you’ve become our biggest fan, I thought you should have your own shirt."

"Cool! This is great, Ryan! Thanks!" Her face was beaming with pleasure, reminding Ryan once again how the smallest things had such an impact on her young friend.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 7

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