I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 13 Monogamy
By: S X Meagher
Senator James Sloan Evans stood in front of the microphone, gazing out at the sea of semi-interested faces, as he addressed the students at Cal State University-Los Angeles. His scheduled remarks had just concluded, and he braced himself for the questions from reporters that were sure to follow.
His advance staff had tried to keep the members of the press to a minimum, since the senator was still trying to get comfortable with the pugnacious style that most reporters displayed. He was used to a very civil style of discourse, both at the firm, and in his daily life, and he was having a little trouble adjusting. On more than one occasion, a staff member had to catch his eye and make a discreet "kill" sign to urge him to stop talking about an issue that they were not ready to have made public, and he was slowly learning to dance around every question revealing little, if anything.
After the expected questions about the economy, his support for Vice President Gore in the November election, and his insistence that he would not be running for re-election, a young man, probably a student, finally was allowed to step to the microphone. "Senator Evans," he began, his voice shaking from nervousness, "could you describe your stance on Proposition 22?"
Jim hid a smile, pleased that he was up to date on the party line, and comfortable with the position the administration had decided upon. "My stance on this proposition has been consistent. I am unequivocally opposed to it. Even though this is a state, not a federal matter, I think its a wrongheaded ploy by a small group of right wing zealots to push their agenda forward at the expense of gay men and lesbians. This proposition is totally unnecessary, and will lead to nothing less than an increase in divisive rhetoric. I think we have quite enough of that in the country at the moment," he concluded firmly.
The young man nodded and went back to his seat, his place taken by a newspaperman from the Los Angeles Times. "Could you explain how the proposition would divide the state, Senator? The wording couldnt be simpler," he explained. "It merely states that in the state of California, marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman. That doesnt seem so divisive to me."
"If the backers of the proposition were merely trying to clear up a point of confusion, I would have no argument," Jim said. "But case law and judicial opinions have consistently held that marriage in this state is only valid between men and women. The backers dont want to clarify the law they want to make this a referendum on behavior that they dont approve of. I guarantee that they will tout a winning vote as evidence that the people of the state are opposed to gay rights even though gay rights are not addressed in this proposition. I assure you that the backers of the plan are using this to advance their own goals. Why else would the advertisements imply that this proposition is the only thing stopping people of the same sex from marrying? Thats not so and thats why I think the measure is mean-spirited and divisive."
Several other reporters now started shouting questions at him, but Jims handlers decided that hed said enough for one afternoon. The last question was loud enough to be heard even over the din. "Does the fact that your daughter is a lesbian influence your vote, Senator?" The small band began to play, and soon the noise overwhelmed the shouted questions, and the senator was able to leave the stage after waving to the moderately enthusiastic crowd.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Wow," Jason Farlington sighed as he settled into the roomy leather seat of the limo that would take Jim and Kayla back to the airport. "My life flashed before my eyes. Anyone else?"
Jim gave his chief aide a sharp look and asked, "What do you mean by that?"
The younger man sat up straighter and cleared his throat nervously. "Oh! just that uhm well, that were vulnerable on the proposition. Weve got to avoid it, Senator at all costs."
"Vulnerable?" the low, slow voice asked. "Vulnerable how, Jason?"
He knew he had been caught, so he decided to be totally honest. "Everyone knows that your daughter is gay, sir. Its a live grenade. Every time this issue has come up, weve managed to dodge it, but that cant last forever. Im hoping we dont get dragged into a big thing before the primary. The Veep doesnt need this shit."
Jims eyes narrowed, and his nostrils flared as he spat, "Al Gore can kiss my ass! My daughters private life is her business! Not yours not anyones!"
"Of course, of course," Jason backpedaled. "No one with any brains cares about her sexual preference, Senator. But its still a weak spot, and Id like to continue to run every time it comes up." He cleared his throat and mentioned the point that had bothered him the most. "You said something thats not on message, sir, and I "
"Now what?" he growled, sick to death of being dictated to by underlings.
"You said two words that cant ever be used to your advantage especially given your daughters uhm "
Eyes narrowing to slits, Jim cocked his head, waiting for the younger man to finish his thought.
"You said gay rights, sir," he swallowed. "Its bad enough to say gay, but its a time bomb to ever merge the word gay with rights. The other side will find some way to take your statement out of context and "
Jim held up a hand, as Kayla shifted uncomfortably in the seat next to him. "Enough. I get the message. You wont have to tell me again." Closing his eyes, he allowed his head to drop back onto the seat, as Kayla and Jason shared an anxious look over his head. His quiet voice startled both of them. "This god damned proposition means nothing, and how my daughter spends her time means nothing to the people of this state!"
"That would be nice," Jason said, his voice as soothing as he could make it. "But, its not reality, sir."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Now that Ryan was feeling so much better, she and Amanda had tapered off to speaking three times a week on the phone. Much to her surprise, Ryan struggled a little with the diminution of their contact, but she knew she had to get used to dealing with her feelings on her own, so she did her best to express how she felt about the reduced sessions, rather than give in to the temptation to increase them again.
They had consciously tried to limit their discussions to focusing on the carjacking, and all of the fallout from the event. Now, nearly eight weeks since the trauma, there was only one thing that Ryan had on her agenda. Placing her Wednesday morning call to Amanda, Ryan decided to broach the topic. "Ive decided on my plan for revenge," she said quietly.
Amanda didnt rise to the bait, merely saying, "Yes?"
"Uh-huh. I know weve talking about this several times, Amanda, but I dont think I can let go of my anger without some satisfaction."
There was a long silence, while Amanda waited to make sure Ryan was finished. Then she said, "I understand your impulse, Ryan, but as Ive said before, its awfully difficult to exact revenge. I only want you to be certain youve thought this through."
"I have," she insisted. "And, strangely enough, Jamies father has helped me focus my feelings. Hes helped me to see that its not merely revenge that Im seeking. At this point, I also need restitution."
"Jamies father, huh? That seems like a curious alliance, Ryan."
"Yeah, I guess it is. But he was quite helpful, Amanda. He has a certain uhm expertise in this area."
"Do you want people to say the same thing about you, Ryan? Would you like it if your family or friends thought you were the person to see to get advice on how to pay someone back for doing them harm?"
Ryan thought about the question for a moment, finally saying, "You know, a few months ago I would have said no. But now, I think Id be fine with people acknowledging that I wont lie down and let someone screw me over."
"Im not making any judgment about your seeking revenge," the therapist said. "Im only trying to make sure that you can deal with the feelings youll have. You have an awfully gentle soul, Ryan, and I dont want this experience to scar you."
"Thanks," Ryan said softly. "I do have a pretty gentle soul, but I have a tendency to be too forgiving sometimes. In this case, I think it would be good for me to get a little retribution, as well as a little revenge. I think its my due, Amanda."
"I cant argue with you, Ryan, and I can see how much thought youve given to this. I hope you get some satisfaction."
"I do, too," she said. "But even if I dont get any satisfaction from the revenge, the restitution angle will make me feel better. Of that, Im certain."
"Okay," Amanda agreed. "Other than that, how are you feeling?"
"Mmm pretty good, I guess. I still struggle with my guilt feelings, but Ive resigned myself to having to live with them."
"Do you honestly believe that, Ryan?"
"Yeah, I do. Im profoundly disappointed in myself, Amanda, and I dont think Ill ever think of myself as a brave woman again. Im going to have to live with that."
"Weve talked about this before, but at this point Im going to push you a little. I think you need to get into a small group setting and talk with other people who have been through traumatic situations."
"No, I really dont wanna do that," Ryan said immediately. "Besides, its hard enough to find the time to talk to you, Amanda. I cant spend any more time on therapy."
"Then we can reduce our sessions, Ryan," the older woman said. "I dont normally try to coerce you into doing things, but at this point I have to concede that were not making progress on this point. I truly believe that youll be better served by talking to other people whove been through what you have. I feel strongly about this."
There was dead silence on Ryans end for a full minute. "I dont want to."
"I know that," Amanda acknowledged. "But you also dont want to spend the rest of your life feeling guilty, do you? You owe it to yourself to get past this, Ryan, and I believe this is the way to go."
"Fine," the younger woman said with no enthusiasm. "How do I find a group?"
"I have some contacts," Amanda said. "Let me make a few calls and see if I can find a group for you. Would you prefer for it to be in Berkeley?"
"Yeah, I guess so. But, I dont have much free time, Amanda. Actually, the only time I have available is before 8 a.m."
The doctor laughed softly. "Dont think that will put me off, Ryan. Im as determined as you are."
"I feel sorry for your partner," Ryan said, finally giving in and laughing as well.
* * * * * * * * * * *
On Wednesday evening, Ryan ate hurriedly, since her advisor, Vijay, was coming over.
"What are you two little math nerds working on tonight?" Jamie asked.
"Mmm actually, its not math tonight. Hes helping me with a program Im writing."
"A program? A computer program?"
"Yep," Ryan confirmed, as she stood to collect the dishes from the table.
"Is it for your independent study?" Jamie asked.
"Nope. Its uhm extracurricular," Ryan said, finding the word particularly apt. She walked into the kitchen and started to do the dishes, turning to meet Jamies eyes when she walked in behind her. "You can hang out if you want. Its no big secret. Its something Id like to learn, and Vijay is a programming genius."
"Mmm maybe I will," she said. "Id like to see how you two work together."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie had a load of her own studies to concentrate on, but she had a niggling desire to observe her partner working with another person. She had the faint hope that listening to Ryan have to put words to her thoughts might help her to understand the way her mind worked.
Vijay and Ryan had been upstairs for about an hour when Jamie went up with a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Ryan, and a Coke for Vijay. "Keep working," she said when she entered the room to two pair of eyes meeting hers. "I thought youd like a snack."
They nodded almost identically, and Jamie had to hide a smile. Math nod, she thought to herself. They had a long stream of flow-chart paper laid out on the floor, and the pair started speaking to each other in a language that had some familiar elements, but certainly did not sound like English. Im sure she doesnt speak Urdu or Hindi, Jamie mused, resisting the urge to scratch her head in puzzlement. After a few minutes, she stepped out of the room, unnoticed by either of the programmers. Passing Mia in the hall she said, "Wanna get a brain cramp? Stick your head in there and listen to those two. They are otherworldly."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie had been studying in the library and, finding herself in dire need of some form of caffeine, she made for the kitchen, coming in the seldom-used side door of the room.
She thought she heard some quiet sounds emanating from the room, and her suspicions were confirmed when she spied her lover standing at the sink. About to speak, she instead concentrated on the show her quirky partner was putting on.
The dark beauty was focusing fiercely, her concentration complete, as she attempted to peel a large navel orange all in one, long piece. That part wasnt so odd, and Jamie had grown used to her partners need to devise little games and tests of various arcane skills. Jamie pondered that the dance Ryan was performing may have been part of her need to challenge herself, but the longer she watched, the more she was sure that her partner only needed to go to the bathroom.
Ryan was hopping from foot to foot, her butt twitching as she shifted her weight back and forth repeatedly. Her tongue was sticking out about a half of an inch, and a low hum came from her partially open mouth.
"Ryan." A startled gasp came from the oblivious woman, and Jamie had to laugh at her expression.
"Dont disturb me! Im almost done."
Jamie strode over to her, and extended both hands. "Give it to me right now and get into the bathroom! I swear, youre worse than Caitlin!"
Thoroughly chagrined, Ryan handed it over like a guilty schoolgirl, dipping her chin as she peered at Jamie through her long bangs. "Dont ruin it," she ordered, then promptly ran for the blessedly convenient bathroom. She emerged minutes later, a look of sublime pleasure on her face. "Does anything feel better than that?" she moaned.
"I can think of several things," Jamie contradicted. "And if you didnt ignore your bodys signals so frequently, youd give that experience the scant regard it deserves."
"You dont know how to have fun," Ryan insisted, sniffing pointedly as she held out her hands for her prize. With another few seconds of concentrated effort, the orange was perfectly peeled, and she regarded it with satisfaction. "Im an artist," she declared, holding the end of the peel with her other hand, letting it dangle.
"Youre a lunatic," Jamie insisted with a wide smile. "Did Vijay leave?"
"Uh-huh. Hes gonna come back next week and check on my progress."
Jamie walked to the refrigerator and took out a Diet Coke. "Hey, did you remember that next week is Valentines Day?" She was trying hard to sound casual, realizing that it was hard to put anything over on her hyper-alert lover.
"Nah. Cant be. Its in two weeks," Ryan insisted, stopping to look at her watch. Using all of her dramatic talents, she made a face, then looked up at Jamie. "Guess youre right," she said. "Do you want to do anything to commemorate it?"
"You dont?" the blonde asked, more than a little shocked and slightly perturbed.
Well, well just be getting back from Florida late the night before." She shrugged, looking slightly bored. "Anyway, does it matter now that were together? I thought Valentines Day was for people who were dating."
Jamie set her bottle down on the counter and crossed her arms, glaring at Ryan with fierce green eyes. "Hell, yes, it matters! Whats wrong with you, anyway? I thought that being with a woman would relieve some of the Im just a guy and I dont know how to be romantic shit that I had to put up with my whole life!"
"Okay, okay!" Ryan soothed, holding up her hands in supplication. "I didnt know the rules, but I can learn. Dont take my head off!"
She sighed and shook her head slowly. "Im sorry. Its our first Valentines Day together," she said, looking deeply wounded, "and Ive never had a nice one. I thought youd " She trailed off, staring at the floor, thoroughly dejected.
"Hey," Ryan murmured, crossing the room quickly to slip her arms around her partner. "Im just messing with your mind. Ive already got something planned." Thank you Catherine and Mia, she said in silent offering.
"You do?" she asked suspiciously, looking up into Ryans eyes to gauge her sincerity.
"Yep. I really do. We dont have practice that night, since were just back from a three-day tournament, so I arranged for us to do something a little different that afternoon."
"Okay," Jamie said slowly. "I was going to take you out to dinner. Can we do that, too?"
"Sure. This thing is over by five or so. Dinner would be great."
"Should I make reservations for someplace local?"
"Mmm Id rather go someplace in the city, if its all the same to you," Ryan said. "My things in the city, and I dont want to have to drive back over here during rush hour."
"Ill think of someplace nice and romantic," Jamie promised. She snuggled up close to Ryan and murmured, "Sorry I was being such a baby. I was so stunned that you didnt think it was important."
"I do think its important," Ryan whispered as she held her close. "Any chance I have to tell you how much I love you is very, very important."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan knew it was wrong, but she snuck into Mias room later that night and closed the door behind her. "Do you have any idea where Jamies taking me to dinner for Valentines Day?"
The curly-haired brunette looked up from her book with exaggerated indifference. "I might. Whats it worth to ya?"
"Mmm its worth Jamie having a memorable night, and since youre her best friend, that should be reason enough for you."
"Keep going," Mia said. "Youre not there yet."
Ryan reached into her wallet and extracted a calling card that she kept for road trips. "This one has about $20.00 left on it," she guessed, extending it to Mia. "That would let you spend the evening talking to your sweetheart on Valentines Day."
"Sold," Mia declared. "Youre going to Farallon. Nice place from what Ive heard."
"Thanks," Ryan said, heading for the door. "I wont tell Jamie that you sold her out for only $20.00."
"Shes known me for almost eight years now. Shell be surprised I held out for that much!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Farallon. How may I help you?" the cultured voice answered, when Ryan called later that night.
"Uhm, hi," Ryan said. "My partner and I are having dinner at your restaurant on Valentines Day. Id like to do something special for her that night, and I was wondering if you have any suggestions for how to surprise her with a ring. Im sure youve seen every trick in the book."
"Ah, yes, Valentines Day. Yes, I would say that, over the years, I have seen that day commemorated in every possible way. Did you have anything particular in mind?"
"Is there any way to surprise her with the ring during the meal?"
"I could go on," he sniffed dryly, "but the easiest way is to hand it to her. Much less fuss."
"Is that the best youve got?"
"I have many, many suggestions, I assure you. But handing it to her is the only way that I can guarantee your success." He paused dramatically and added, "If she accepts your proposal of course. I cant help you at all in that area."
"What could go wrong?" Ryan wondered.
"Again, I could go on. There are problems too numerous to mention."
"Uhm I know youre the expert, but Id like to surprise her in a non-traditional way."
He sighed, then said, "Well, we have a very nice heart-shaped flourless chocolate cake that we make that night. We could bake it into that."
"Bake it? Wouldnt that hurt it?"
"Is the ring plastic?" he asked archly.
"No, its a very nice stone," she said. "In a gold band."
"Then it wont be harmed by a little heat. If you like the idea, you can drop the ring off early in the day, or you can excuse yourself and come into the kitchen to drop it off before you order dessert."
"Uhm I think Ill come into the kitchen," she said, not liking the idea of leaving the ring unsupervised for any length of time.
"You can join the crowd," he said. "Its a complete madhouse in that kitchen, with nervous men watching to make sure their ring gets into the correct dessert."
"No women?" Ryan asked, chuckling.
"I think youll be the first," he admitted. "But we at Farallon thrive on variety."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Before bed, Ryan went into the kitchen to make some cocoa, and before she was half done, both Jamie and Mia were sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for their portions. "You two sure do have keen senses of smell," the tall brunette said. "Youre like bloodhounds."
"You make the best cocoa in the world, Ryan," Mia said, licking her lips.
"My mom taught me to make it," Ryan said, a thoughtful look on her face. "It was the first thing I ever learned to cook."
Jamie got up and slipped her arm around her partner, holding her close while Ryan stirred the rich mixture. Mugs in hand, they were halfway up the stairs when the phone rang, and Mia dashed to answer, thinking it might be Jordan. "Oh, hi, Conor," she said, her normal enthusiasm intentionally tamped down. "Yeah, shes here. Hold on."
Ryan grasped the offered phone and said, "Hey, Con."
"Did you hear what that sneaky cousin of ours did?"
"Nope. Ive heard nothing. Whats up?"
"Niall sold his house! He got an all-cash offer with a thirty day close. The agent I referred him to really came through for him."
"Thats great," Ryan said. "Why are you pissed?"
"After I repeat after brokers fees hes gonna make $200,000! Two fucking hundred thousand dollars, Ryan!"
"Jeez thats a boatload of dough. Whats he gonna do with it?"
"Who cares?" he cried. "Thats not his money!"
"Uhm whose is it?"
"It belongs to all of us! Maybe not you and Jamie, and some of the boys didnt do all that much. But Frank, Donal, Padraig and I have put in hundreds of hours working on that dump! I didnt mind doing it when I thought it was gonna be his home but to line his pockets! No way!"
Ryan sighed, having a feeling that the other cousins probably felt as put-upon as Conor did. "I assume youve expressed your displeasure to Niall?"
"Of course I did. If you think Im mad, you should hear Frank! I was afraid he was going to knock him senseless."
"What does Niall have to say?"
"Oh, he gave us some load of crap about how he was going to live there, but it didnt work out. I dont think he was ever serious about it, Ryan, and now hes got a nest egg that none of the rest of us will ever be able to match! It sucks!"
Ryan rolled her eyes at her partner, who had come to sit next to her on the stairs. "Conor, you know as well as I do that Niall isnt a long-range plan kinda guy. He bought the house before he thought it through, he fixed it up more than he ever should have, and as soon as someone suggested it he sold it! He didnt put ten minutes of thought into any element of the entire thing! Now, come on, I understand that youre pissed to have put that kinda time in, but youll be paid back someday. If you ever want to have your own place, Im sure all of the cousins will help you as much as they helped Niall. Think of your time investment as money in the bank. When you want to make a withdrawal, the family will be there to repay you."
"Yeah, youre right on that point, Ryan, but Niall can withdraw something a little more tangible than I can. I swear, if he buys a hot car and starts flaunting it "
"Conor, Niall is the most frugal of all of us. Hes not going to do that. Now, chill, will you? You cant turn back time, and other than giving you a share of the money, there isnt much Niall can do to make it up to you. If he offered you money, would you take it?"
There was a short silence as Conor had to admit, "No, I wouldnt. But he didnt even offer!"
"I understand that, Con, and Im sorry youre so bummed. I just dont think Niall thought this through."
"Nah, he didnt," he had to admit. "It clearly wasnt his idea to sell." There was a short silence and then he chuckled and said, "Dont think I dont remember who put the idea into his head, either. Tell Jamie Ive got a bone to pick with her."
"She was only trying to help, Con," Ryan said, snaking an arm around her partner and giving her a squeeze. "She didnt know that Niall was so malleable."
"Oh, hes malleable, all right. And hed better have his malleable little ass right in the front of the line if I ever need his help!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
On Thursday afternoon, Jamie struggled through the small aisle of a 737, trying to keep up with her partner. For once, Ryan had much more luggage than she did, so they had checked their bags. But the taller woman had a thing about keeping her gloves with her, and somehow Jamie wound up carrying the gym bag, rather than her own carryon. The bag was not really heavy, but it was ungainly since the gloves were bulky and irregularly shaped. Ryans computer and a number of her books were also in the bag, so Jamie had to be careful with it as she walked.
They reached their seats, and found that a civilian was sitting in the window seat. Jamie thought about trying to switch, but she decided to play nice and go along with the flow on this trip.
The last few stragglers made it onto the jet and Coach Roberts strolled up the aisle, counting heads. Satisfied that all were in place, he took his seat at the rear of the section and wasnt heard from again.
"I dont know why, but I had an image of this being a charter flight, with only you guys on it," Jamie said.
"No such luck. We dont have enough players to need our own plane. We would if we shared with Stanford and St. Marys or San Jose State, but we tend to go to tournaments that they arent in."
"Are you looking forward to the tournament?" Jamie asked.
"Yeah. Its a lot of softball crammed into a weekend, but with five games in three days I might get to play. How about you? Sure you dont mind having your birthday away from home?"
Jamie squeezed her hand and said, "Youre my home. As long as were together, Im happy."
* * * * * * * * * * *
The flight was uneventful, and things were well organized when they landed. After waiting for their luggage, the motley-looking crew made their way to a chartered bus that was waiting outside the terminal. When they were all settled in their seats, Coach Roberts stood at the front of the bus and said a few words.
"Okay, weve got five games over the next three days, so weve got to focus. Were playing some powerhouses, so I hope you all get some rest tonight. Well have a light dinner at the hotel, and breakfast starts at nine. Neither meal is mandatory, but I want you all to eat healthy meals while were here. If you cant manage to get yourself fed properly, then youd damned well better be eating with us. If I catch any of you eating a bag of chips and a Coke for breakfast, the meal is gonna be mandatory and thats a promise.
"The bus leaves for the complex at ten a.m. sharp. If youre not ready we leave you behind. Oh, and curfew is midnight for everyone. Im not going to do bed checks but if I hear that someone stayed out much later than twelve, youll be sitting in your room instead of playing."
"One last thing." He scanned the players faces, making sure that everyone was paying attention which they all were. "OFlaherty has her girlfriend here with her."
Jamie could feel her cheeks coloring and she mentally rolled her eyes, wondering where this train was headed.
"I know most of you arent petty little whiners, but just in case, I want you to know that OFlaherty isnt getting any special treatment here. As you all know, the NCAA expressly prohibits any player from receiving benefits that a regular student wouldnt receive and I take the NCAA rules very, very seriously. Blondie paid for her own plane ticket and shes paying for their room and her own meals. It doesnt cost an extra dime to let her ride on the bus, and Id gladly give a lift to any Cal student who wanted to hop on, so Im not gonna charge her anything for that. Now, if any of you want to bring a boyfriend or a girlfriend or a family member, you have the same opportunity." He looked at every face once again, sparing a slight wink for Jamie, then nodded and sat down.
"Well, hes certainly to the point," Jamie said. "Any chance of getting him to remember my name?"
"Only if you can play softball," Ryan said.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Their arrival at the hotel was a study in organized chaos. There was a tremendous amount of luggage stored under the bus, and it took quite a few minutes to get everything sorted out. Ryan grabbed her suitcase and crawled over a dozen bags to fetch Jamies, then started for the main entrance. "Honey," Jamie said, "you had two bags. You had a huge duffel bag, too."
"Oh. Yeah. Uhm Jackies gonna take that one for me. Ive got some of her stuff in it."
"Its cool. Everythings under control."
Jamie took another glance at the milling players still trying to locate their bags, and doubted Ryans words, but it was her bag so she shrugged her shoulders and followed her into the motel.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The student manager had gone inside as soon as the bus pulled up, and now she stood in the lobby handing out room keys. "Youve got your own reservations, right, OFlaherty?" she asked.
"Yep. Were good." Ryan strode up to the front desk and got squared away, and a few minutes later they arrived at their room. To Jamies surprise it was a very spacious layout, with a nice sitting room and a separate bedroom.
"Did you do this on purpose?" she asked.
"Yeah. I know youre not used to hanging with the poor folks, so I thought Id at least get you a big room. I thought it might ease your transition into the lower class."
Jamie gave her a hug and said, "I appreciate your efforts to cushion my culture shock, but you dont have to do this in the future. I think youll get along better with your teammates if it doesnt look like were livin large. I mean, Coach Roberts must be a little concerned since he made a point of saying something on the bus."
"Nah. I dont think thatll be a problem with this group. Hes only being proactive. But I wont splurge on rooms anymore. This is a special occasion."
"Oh, right!" the smaller woman giggled. "I forgot it was my birthday tomorrow."
"I didnt," Ryan said. "I know its not the same as being at home, but I want you to have a fun day."
"All I have to do is be with you, and fun is sure to follow."
* * * * * * * * * * *
They were about halfway through putting their things away when Ryan went to answer a knock at the door. "Hi. Put it right on the table," Jamie heard her say. She popped her head out of the bedroom to see a man placing the largest gift basket she had ever seen onto the small dining table. The basket was obviously very heavy, because even his impressive musculature couldnt quite handle the lift, and Ryan had to help him.
"Whats this?" Jamie asked, a delighted grin on her face.
"Oh, they do this for everyone," Ryan teased.
The server wiped his brow and said, "If we did this for everyone, Id find a new job!"
Ryan tipped him and sent him on his way, and by the time she saw him to the door, Jamie was already deep into her exploration. "Ryan! Look at all of the cool things in here!"
"Catherine comes through again," Ryan said, peering at the delights over Jamies shoulder.
"Did you know she was going to do this?"
Ryan gave her an enigmatic smile and said, "Weve had a few discussions about your birthday, and how to make it special for you. We share a common goal, you know."
"Whats that?" Jamie linked her hands behind Ryans neck and leaned back to be able to observe her face.
"To make sure youre as happy as possible every minute of the day."
With a few gentle kisses and a firm hug, Jamie said, "Youre both doing very, very well."
They were sharing lazy kisses when another knock startled them. "Now what?" Jamie asked.
Yet another man entered the room, this time carrying a large square box. "Put it right there," Ryan instructed, while reaching into her pocket for another tip.
"Ryan!" Jamie said after the man had gone. "Its a cake big enough to feed the whole motel!"
Ryan checked her watch and proclaimed, "Then I guess its time we invited the whole motel in for a party." She opened the door and the entire team started streaming in, each woman bearing a neatly wrapped present and offering a hug for the birthday girl.
Jamie was too stunned to move, and every time she cast a glance at her partner, the taller woman was smiling like the cat that ate the canary. When the last of the guests had entered, Ryan called them to order. "Weve got enough food for a small army here and I want every crumb gone by midnight! The kitchen is sending up drinks, but if theres anything you want that we dont have, just let me know. Enjoy!"
Jamie had sidled up next to her while she spoke, and Ryan reflexively draped an arm around her shoulders. "Surprised?"
"Uhm yeah. Id say that surprise covers it," she said. "You are too much sometimes."
"You know what I always say," Ryan said. "Too much of a good thing is juuuuuust right."
* * * * * * * * * * *
The party was in full swing and Ryan was the perfect hostess, making sure that everyone had food and drink at all times. She had to climb over bodies to tend to everyones needs, but she was graceful enough that she was able to manage it.
Jamie caught her during a quiet moment and said, "Thats a pretty impressive mound of presents there, sport."
"Yeah," Ryan said. "Youve obviously made an impression on them all."
"Oh, Im sure thats so. Ive even inspired them to use matching paper, and wrap the presents in an identical manner. Remarkable," she said.
"Yep," Ryan said, going along with the joke. "Youve inspired them to uniformity. Wanna open them yet?"
"Nah. Lets wait until most of the food is gone. It will be easier to move around when people arent balancing plates on their knees."
"Having fun?" Ryan asked, bending to kiss the top of Jamies head.
"Absolutely. I think we should do this for every road trip."
Ryan gulped, her eyes wide. "Id better get busy then, cause this took me weeks to plan!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
They combined the gift opening with a test of Jamies memory. The memory test was, of course, Ryans idea, and Jamie shot her a few lethal looks, but played along.
Ryan handed her the first gift and pronounced, "This one is from Stephanie."
Jamie accepted it, and scanned the crowded room. She pointed at a very slim, dark-haired woman and said, "Stephanie Simon. Pitcher. Senior. Uhm from somewhere in Southern California." Smiling at the woman she cocked her head and asked, "Howd I do?"
"Excellent," Stephanie said. "Im from San Diego, by the way, but I wont deduct anything from your score."
Jamie rolled her eyes and said, "Softball players always keeping score."
She got through the pile of gifts with very few errors, although she had a pretty tough time with hometowns. Ryan had obviously bought and wrapped each of the gifts; and while each was only a small thing, Jamie was deeply touched by the effort and thought her partner had put into the endeavor.
Heather approached as the guests started to leave and pressed a small gift into her hands. "I wanted to get you a little something on my own, Jamie," she said nervously. "I uhm hope you like it." She gave her a hesitant hug and took off before Jamie could get a word out.
Ryan saw the interchange and approached her partner, whispering, "Glad to see that shes got that shyness thing licked."
"Shes so cute," Jamie said. She tore the wrapping off the gift to expose a CD. "Ooo the new Nelly Furtado. Cool!"
I owe you one, Heather, Ryan growled internally. I hope Jamie plays that when Im out of the house.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The next morning, they were almost ready to head downstairs to wait for the bus when the phone rang. "Ill get it," Jamie called. "Hello?"
Martins voice greeted her. "Happy birthday to ya, Jamie."
"Oh, thanks for calling Martin. Its been a great birthday so far, thanks to your daughter. She had a huge party for me last night with the whole team. It was great!"
"You bring out the best in her, Jamie, and for that Im forever grateful to you."
"She does the same for me, Martin. Thats the only way it works."
"Wise thoughts for one so young," he teased. "Of course, that extra year you put on today might have done the trick."
"Maeve wants to say hello, too," Martin said. "Here she is."
"Happy birthday, Jamie dear. How was the party?"
"Ahh you knew about it, huh?"
"Not in detail. But we knew that Ryan had arranged for something with the team. Was it fun?"
"It was a blast. It was a nice way to get to know everyone, too. As usual, Ryan had several agendas she was serving."
"Thats our girl," Maeve said. "Well let you go now, dear. Im sure you have a million things to do."
"Yes, the bus is leaving soon, so Id better run. Thanks again for calling. I appreciate it."
"Think nothing of it," Maeve insisted. "Have a lovely day, Jamie."
"I havent had many bad ones with Ryan by my side. Shes my perpetual birthday gift."
When she hung up a pair of warm hands settled on her bare waist. "Perpetual birthday gift, huh? I like it."
"I like it too, but if I dont get dressed Ill miss the bus. Something tells me that Coach Roberts would ditch me, too even on my birthday."
* * * * * * * * * * *
When they arrived at the softball complex Jamie found a quiet picnic table and started to study. She quickly got lost in thought and barely noticed when Ryan sat down next to her. "Hi," she said, all decked out in her softball gear. "Do you want to study today, or would you like a more interactive experience?"
"I could be convinced. What do you have in mind?"
"Wanna be our bat girl?" Ryan asked.
"Are you serious?"
"Yep. Coach says its okay if you want to. You could even wear a uniform."
"Can I sit on the bench with you?"
"Yep. Right next to me."
"I think Ill pass on the uniform," Jamie said, "but Im all about sitting in the dugout with you."
* * * * * * * * * * *
They found a navy blue, Cal Softball polo shirt that fit well, and the khaki shorts she had chosen nearly matched the ones the coaching staff wore. So Jamie looked very much like the supporting members of the team. Her duties were few run out to the plate and retrieve the bat when a player hit the ball. She took her cues from Ryan, who watched the game so intently Jamie wondered what could possibly be going on in her head since there was so little action.
She got a clue into her partners mental processes when Jackie sat down next to her. Jackie Maloney was probably Ryans best friend on the team so far. She was a very friendly woman from Salinas, California, and Jamie was sure shed never seen anyone look less like an athlete at first glance, that is.
Jackie was a farm girl, who had spent her early years helping out around her familys large spread. She had to weigh at least 225 pounds, and she was only about Jamies height. Her long, wavy, medium brown hair was usually worn in a heavy braid that trailed down her back, but having all of the hair pulled off her face so severely made her look even more imposing. When she wore her uniform, the vertical stripes looked more like a series of parentheses, but upon closer inspection Jamie had quickly decided that she wasnt truly fat. She was simply a very large girl with a substantial bone structure and heavy, thick muscles.
As Ryan had said, it was a shame that Jackie was straight, since many lesbians were partial to large, powerful women, while most young men didnt find the look attractive. But Jackie was clearly straight albeit frustrated by her inability to find a man who could appreciate her.
Jackie had struck out in spectacular fashion in the first inning, nearly managing to fall onto her butt when she flailed at a pitch in the dirt. Upon her return to the bench she sat next to Ryan and the pair stared at the opposing pitcher for a few minutes, not a word spoken. Finally, Jackie said, "I cant read her. You got anything?"
"Yeah," Ryan nodded, "I got a little. Shes got an oh, shit sinker that you bit on your first time up."
"No kidding?" Jackie said, giving Ryan an elbow in the ribs. "I felt like a pretzel!"
"Yeah, she messed you up bad on that one. But Ive been watching her carefully, and she has a little bit of a tell when she throws it. Youve gotta watch carefully, but its her favorite pitch and she gets a little excited when shes gonna throw it. Right before she goes into her windup, she loosens up her shoulders like she doesnt want anything to interfere with the delivery. Watch her," Ryan instructed. They sat quietly for a few minutes, and sure enough, the next time the woman threw the sinker she nudged each shoulder a little, trying to settle her shirt. "Here goes," Ryan predicted. Lupe flailed at the ball, and Jackie gave Ryan a warm grin.
"Good work, Rof," she said as she slapped her hard on the back.
"Rof?" Jamie asked when Jackie went to grab a bat.
"Yeah. I told you they were calling me the Notorious R.O.F. before I even joined the team. Well, that got shortened to Rof."
"You jocks are all about nicknames, arent you?"
"Hey, youre a jock, too. Dont you have nicknames for your golf teammates?"
"None Ive ever heard. Maybe Ill start a trend."
"Yeah, tell em your nickname is Cinna Bunz," Ryan said. "That oughta make you popular."
"If that gets out, youre toast," Jamie threatened, her green eyes flashing.
"Dont worry, youve got more on me than I have on you."
When Jackie took her next turn at bat, she managed to hold off on every sinker thrown her way. The pitcher was getting frustrated, and after Jackie had worked the count to three balls and two strikes, the hurler made a mistake and sent up a fat fastball right over the heart of the plate. The pitch was so juicy that Jackie almost swung too soon, but she held back a heartbeat and crushed it. The ball left the stadium so quickly that the left fielder didnt even move. She merely let her eyes rotate to watch the missile zoom over her head.
The whole team rose to greet her, and Jackie reserved a special thump on the back for Ryan. "You rock, Rof. Thanks!"
"I only gave you a tip. Youre the one who ripped the cover off that poor ball. I think its still rolling around out there in a field somewhere."
Jackie went to get a drink and Jamie looked over at her partner, who was sitting calmly, a broad smile covering her face. Patting her on the thigh, she said, "You really dont mind not playing, do you?"
Ryan shrugged and said, "Id rather play than not but Im cool with it. Jackies a better hitter than I am, and shes a good fielder, despite her size. Shes been with the team for four years, and works her butt off to perfect her hitting. I dont have a word of complaint."
"Youre a good teammate, Ryan."
"Hey, Ive pushed a lot of good players to the bench in my day. I dont mind seeing what its like to be on the other side. Besides," she said, "I get to sit with my best girl when I dont play. Thats a deal Id make any day."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Part 9