I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 13 Monogamy

By: S X Meagher


Part 8

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 it’s 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 couldn’t 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 doesn’t 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 don’t want to clarify the law – they want to make this a referendum on behavior that they don’t 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? That’s not so – and that’s why I think the measure is mean-spirited and divisive."

Several other reporters now started shouting questions at him, but Jim’s handlers decided that he’d 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 we’re vulnerable on the proposition. We’ve 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. It’s a live grenade. Every time this issue has come up, we’ve managed to dodge it, but that can’t last forever. I’m hoping we don’t get dragged into a big thing before the primary. The Veep doesn’t need this shit."

Jim’s eyes narrowed, and his nostrils flared as he spat, "Al Gore can kiss my ass! My daughter’s private life is her business! Not yours – not anyone’s!"

"Of course, of course," Jason backpedaled. "No one with any brains cares about her sexual preference, Senator. But it’s still a weak spot, and I’d 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 that’s not on message, sir, and I …"

"Now what?" he growled, sick to death of being dictated to by underlings.

"You said two words that can’t ever be used to your advantage … especially given your daughter’s 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. "It’s bad enough to say ‘gay’, but it’s 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 won’t 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, it’s 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. "I’ve decided on my plan for revenge," she said quietly.

Amanda didn’t rise to the bait, merely saying, "Yes?"

"Uh-huh. I know we’ve talking about this several times, Amanda, but I don’t 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 I’ve said before, it’s awfully difficult to exact revenge. I only want you to be certain you’ve thought this through."

"I have," she insisted. "And, strangely enough, Jamie’s father has helped me focus my feelings. He’s helped me to see that it’s not merely revenge that I’m seeking. At this point, I also need restitution."

"Jamie’s 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 I’d be fine with people acknowledging that I won’t lie down and let someone screw me over."

"I’m not making any judgment about your seeking revenge," the therapist said. "I’m only trying to make sure that you can deal with the feelings you’ll have. You have an awfully gentle soul, Ryan, and I don’t 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 it’s my due, Amanda."

"I can’t argue with you, Ryan, and I can see how much thought you’ve given to this. I hope you get some satisfaction."

"I do, too," she said. "But even if I don’t get any satisfaction from the revenge, the restitution angle will make me feel better. Of that, I’m certain."

"Okay," Amanda agreed. "Other than that, how are you feeling?"

"Mmm … pretty good, I guess. I still struggle with my guilt feelings, but I’ve resigned myself to having to live with them."

"Do you honestly believe that, Ryan?"

"Yeah, I do. I’m profoundly disappointed in myself, Amanda, and I don’t think I’ll ever think of myself as a brave woman again. I’m going to have to live with that."

"We’ve talked about this before, but at this point I’m 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 don’t wanna do that," Ryan said immediately. "Besides, it’s hard enough to find the time to talk to you, Amanda. I can’t spend any more time on therapy."

"Then we can reduce our sessions, Ryan," the older woman said. "I don’t normally try to coerce you into doing things, but at this point I have to concede that we’re not making progress on this point. I truly believe that you’ll be better served by talking to other people who’ve been through what you have. I feel strongly about this."

There was dead silence on Ryan’s end for a full minute. "I don’t want to."

"I know that," Amanda acknowledged. "But you also don’t 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 don’t have much free time, Amanda. Actually, the only time I have available is before 8 a.m."

The doctor laughed softly. "Don’t think that will put me off, Ryan. I’m 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, it’s not math tonight. He’s helping me with a program I’m 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. It’s uhm … extracurricular," Ryan said, finding the word particularly apt. She walked into the kitchen and started to do the dishes, turning to meet Jamie’s eyes when she walked in behind her. "You can hang out if you want. It’s no big secret. It’s something I’d like to learn, and Vijay is a programming genius."

"Mmm … maybe I will," she said. "I’d 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 you’d 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. I’m sure she doesn’t 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 wasn’t so odd, and Jamie had grown used to her partner’s 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.

"Don’t disturb me! I’m almost done."

Jamie strode over to her, and extended both hands. "Give it to me right now and get into the bathroom! I swear, you’re 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. "Don’t 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 didn’t ignore your body’s signals so frequently, you’d give that experience the scant regard it deserves."

"You don’t 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. "I’m an artist," she declared, holding the end of the peel with her other hand, letting it dangle.

"You’re a lunatic," Jamie insisted with a wide smile. "Did Vijay leave?"

"Uh-huh. He’s 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 Valentine’s Day?" She was trying hard to sound casual, realizing that it was hard to put anything over on her hyper-alert lover.

"Nah. Can’t be. It’s 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 you’re right," she said. "Do you want to do anything to commemorate it?"

"You don’t?" the blonde asked, more than a little shocked and slightly perturbed.

‘Well, we’ll just be getting back from Florida late the night before." She shrugged, looking slightly bored. "Anyway, does it matter now that we’re together? I thought Valentine’s 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! What’s wrong with you, anyway? I thought that being with a woman would relieve some of the ‘I’m just a guy and I don’t 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 didn’t know the rules, but I can learn. Don’t take my head off!"

She sighed and shook her head slowly. "I’m sorry. It’s our first Valentine’s Day together," she said, looking deeply wounded, "and I’ve never had a nice one. I thought you’d …" She trailed off, staring at the floor, thoroughly dejected.

"Hey," Ryan murmured, crossing the room quickly to slip her arms around her partner. "I’m just messing with your mind. I’ve already got something planned." Thank you Catherine and Mia, she said in silent offering.

"You do?" she asked suspiciously, looking up into Ryan’s eyes to gauge her sincerity.

"Yep. I really do. We don’t have practice that night, since we’re 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 … I’d rather go someplace in the city, if it’s all the same to you," Ryan said. "My thing’s in the city, and I don’t want to have to drive back over here during rush hour."

"I’ll 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 didn’t think it was important."

"I do think it’s 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 Mia’s room later that night and closed the door behind her. "Do you have any idea where Jamie’s taking me to dinner for Valentine’s Day?"

The curly-haired brunette looked up from her book with exaggerated indifference. "I might. What’s it worth to ya?"

"Mmm … it’s worth Jamie having a memorable night, and since you’re her best friend, that should be reason enough for you."

"Keep going," Mia said. "You’re 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 Valentine’s Day."

"Sold," Mia declared. "You’re going to Farallon. Nice place from what I’ve heard."

"Thanks," Ryan said, heading for the door. "I won’t tell Jamie that you sold her out for only $20.00."

"She’s known me for almost eight years now. She’ll 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 Valentine’s Day. I’d 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. I’m sure you’ve seen every trick in the book."

"Ah, yes, Valentine’s 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 you’ve 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 can’t 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 you’re the expert, but I’d 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? Wouldn’t that hurt it?"

"Is the ring plastic?" he asked archly.

"No, it’s a very nice stone," she said. "In a gold band."

"Then it won’t 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 I’ll 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. "It’s 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 you’ll 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. "You’re 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, she’s here. Hold on."

Ryan grasped the offered phone and said, "Hey, Con."

"Did you hear what that sneaky cousin of ours did?"

"Nope. I’ve heard nothing. What’s 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."

"That’s great," Ryan said. "Why are you pissed?"

"After … I repeat … after … broker’s fees he’s gonna make $200,000! Two fucking hundred thousand dollars, Ryan!"

"Jeez … that’s a boatload of dough. What’s he gonna do with it?"

"Who cares?" he cried. "That’s not his money!"

"Uhm … whose is it?"

"It belongs to all of us! Maybe not you and Jamie, and some of the boys didn’t do all that much. But Frank, Donal, Padraig and I have put in hundreds of hours working on that dump! I didn’t 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 you’ve expressed your displeasure to Niall?"

"Of course I did. If you think I’m 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 didn’t work out. I don’t think he was ever serious about it, Ryan, and now he’s 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 isn’t 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 didn’t put ten minutes of thought into any element of the entire thing! Now, come on, I understand that you’re pissed to have put that kinda time in, but you’ll be paid back someday. If you ever want to have your own place, I’m 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, you’re 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. He’s not going to do that. Now, chill, will you? You can’t turn back time, and other than giving you a share of the money, there isn’t 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 wouldn’t. But he didn’t even offer!"

"I understand that, Con, and I’m sorry you’re so bummed. I just don’t think Niall thought this through."

"Nah, he didn’t," he had to admit. "It clearly wasn’t his idea to sell." There was a short silence and then he chuckled and said, "Don’t think I don’t remember who put the idea into his head, either. Tell Jamie I’ve 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 didn’t know that Niall was so malleable."

"Oh, he’s malleable, all right. And he’d 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. Ryan’s 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 wasn’t heard from again.

"I don’t 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 don’t have enough players to need our own plane. We would if we shared with Stanford and St. Mary’s or San Jose State, but we tend to go to tournaments that they aren’t in."

"Are you looking forward to the tournament?" Jamie asked.

"Yeah. It’s 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 don’t mind having your birthday away from home?"

Jamie squeezed her hand and said, "You’re my home. As long as we’re together, I’m 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, we’ve got five games over the next three days, so we’ve got to focus. We’re playing some powerhouses, so I hope you all get some rest tonight. We’ll 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 we’re here. If you can’t manage to get yourself fed properly, then you’d 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 that’s a promise.

"The bus leaves for the complex at ten a.m. sharp. If you’re not ready – we leave you behind. Oh, and curfew is midnight for everyone. I’m not going to do bed checks – but if I hear that someone stayed out much later than twelve, you’ll 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. "O’Flaherty 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 aren’t petty little whiners, but just in case, I want you to know that O’Flaherty isn’t getting any special treatment here. As you all know, the NCAA expressly prohibits any player from receiving benefits that a regular student wouldn’t receive – and I take the NCAA rules very, very seriously. Blondie paid for her own plane ticket and she’s paying for their room and her own meals. It doesn’t cost an extra dime to let her ride on the bus, and I’d gladly give a lift to any Cal student who wanted to hop on, so I’m 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, he’s 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 Jamie’s, then started for the main entrance. "Honey," Jamie said, "you had two bags. You had a huge duffel bag, too."

"Oh. Yeah. Uhm … Jackie’s gonna take that one for me. I’ve got some of her stuff in it."


"It’s cool. Everything’s under control."

Jamie took another glance at the milling players still trying to locate their bags, and doubted Ryan’s 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. "You’ve got your own reservations, right, O’Flaherty?" she asked.

"Yep. We’re good." Ryan strode up to the front desk and got squared away, and a few minutes later they arrived at their room. To Jamie’s 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 you’re not used to hanging with the poor folks, so I thought I’d 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 don’t have to do this in the future. I think you’ll get along better with your teammates if it doesn’t look like we’re livin’ large. I mean, Coach Roberts must be a little concerned since he made a point of saying something on the bus."

"Nah. I don’t think that’ll be a problem with this group. He’s only being proactive. But I won’t splurge on rooms anymore. This is a special occasion."

"Oh, right!" the smaller woman giggled. "I forgot it was my birthday tomorrow."

"I didn’t," Ryan said. "I know it’s 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 couldn’t quite handle the lift, and Ryan had to help him.

"What’s 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, I’d 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 Jamie’s shoulder.

"Did you know she was going to do this?"

Ryan gave her an enigmatic smile and said, "We’ve had a few discussions about your birthday, and how to make it special for you. We share a common goal, you know."

"What’s that?" Jamie linked her hands behind Ryan’s neck and leaned back to be able to observe her face.

"To make sure you’re as happy as possible every minute of the day."

With a few gentle kisses and a firm hug, Jamie said, "You’re 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. "It’s a cake big enough to feed the whole motel!"

Ryan checked her watch and proclaimed, "Then I guess it’s 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. "We’ve got enough food for a small army here – and I want every crumb gone by midnight! The kitchen is sending up drinks, but if there’s anything you want that we don’t 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. I’d 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 everyone’s needs, but she was graceful enough that she was able to manage it.

Jamie caught her during a quiet moment and said, "That’s a pretty impressive mound of presents there, sport."

"Yeah," Ryan said. "You’ve obviously made an impression on them all."

"Oh, I’m sure that’s so. I’ve 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. "You’ve inspired them to uniformity. Wanna open them yet?"

"Nah. Let’s wait until most of the food is gone. It will be easier to move around when people aren’t balancing plates on their knees."

"Having fun?" Ryan asked, bending to kiss the top of Jamie’s head.

"Absolutely. I think we should do this for every road trip."

Ryan gulped, her eyes wide. "I’d better get busy then, ‘cause this took me weeks to plan!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

They combined the gift opening with a test of Jamie’s memory. The memory test was, of course, Ryan’s 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, "How’d I do?"

"Excellent," Stephanie said. "I’m from San Diego, by the way, but I won’t 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 she’s got that shyness thing licked."

"She’s 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 I’m out of the house.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The next morning, they were almost ready to head downstairs to wait for the bus when the phone rang. "I’ll get it," Jamie called. "Hello?"

Martin’s voice greeted her. "Happy birthday to ya, Jamie."

"Oh, thanks for calling Martin. It’s 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 I’m forever grateful to you."

"She does the same for me, Martin. That’s 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."

"Most likely."

"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."

"That’s our girl," Maeve said. "We’ll let you go now, dear. I’m sure you have a million things to do."

"Yes, the bus is leaving soon, so I’d better run. Thanks again for calling. I appreciate it."

"Think nothing of it," Maeve insisted. "Have a lovely day, Jamie."

"I haven’t had many bad ones with Ryan by my side. She’s 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 don’t get dressed I’ll 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 it’s 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 I’ll pass on the uniform," Jamie said, "but I’m 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 partner’s mental processes when Jackie sat down next to her. Jackie Maloney was probably Ryan’s best friend on the team so far. She was a very friendly woman from Salinas, California, and Jamie was sure she’d 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 family’s large spread. She had to weigh at least 225 pounds, and she was only about Jamie’s 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 can’t read her. You got anything?"

"Yeah," Ryan nodded, "I got a little. She’s 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 I’ve been watching her carefully, and she has a little bit of a tell when she throws it. You’ve gotta watch carefully, but it’s her favorite pitch and she gets a little excited when she’s gonna throw it. Right before she goes into her windup, she loosens up her shoulders – like she doesn’t 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, aren’t you?"

"Hey, you’re a jock, too. Don’t you have nicknames for your golf teammates?"

"None I’ve ever heard. Maybe I’ll start a trend."

"Yeah, tell ‘em your nickname is Cinna Bunz," Ryan said. "That oughta make you popular."

"If that gets out, you’re toast," Jamie threatened, her green eyes flashing.

"Don’t worry, you’ve 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 didn’t 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. You’re the one who ripped the cover off that poor ball. I think it’s 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 don’t mind not playing, do you?"

Ryan shrugged and said, "I’d rather play than not – but I’m cool with it. Jackie’s a better hitter than I am, and she’s a good fielder, despite her size. She’s been with the team for four years, and works her butt off to perfect her hitting. I don’t have a word of complaint."

"You’re a good teammate, Ryan."

"Hey, I’ve pushed a lot of good players to the bench in my day. I don’t mind seeing what it’s like to be on the other side. Besides," she said, "I get to sit with my best girl when I don’t play. That’s a deal I’d make any day."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 9

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