I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 13 Monogamy

By: S X Meagher


Part 9

A curly-haired brunette sat in the vaguely comfortable seat in the United terminal, and craned her neck towards the doors where she expected passengers to soon disembark. Although she was eagerly anticipating this visit, she still felt a little ill-at-ease, an emotion that she couldn’t ever remember experiencing around her older brother.

She was lost in thought for quite a while, shaking her head in amazement when Peter tapped her on the shoulder, grinning widely. "Bored?" he asked.

"Peter!" She leapt to her feet and rose to her toes, stretching to reach his neck. With generous kisses to both of his cheeks, she released him for a moment before she leaned back in for a hug. His bag was draped over his shoulder, restricting his movement, but when he saw how desperate his sister’s embrace was, he dropped the bag with a thud, and wrapped his arms around her.

"Hey, are you all right?" he asked softly as her face nuzzled against his jacket.

"I’ve missed you," she mumbled. "This is the longest we’ve ever been apart."

"Hey, you’re the one who didn’t want to go to Europe over Christmas," he reminded her gently.

"I know," she said, a sheepish grin on her face as she stood. "I’m not blaming you, Peter," she insisted. "But I’ve really missed you."

He stooped to pick up his bag, then slung an arm around her shoulders. "Please don’t think I doubt your sincerity, Mop Top," he teased, reverting to a once-hated childhood nickname. "But when you miss your big brother, it’s usually because you’re in some kind of trouble that you don’t know how to get out of. What is it this time?" His blue eyes were gentle and filled with equal parts affection and resignation.

"Nothing!" she said sharply, her eyes sparking with indignation. "Can’t I simply be happy to see you?"

Pulling her to a quiet corner of the waiting area, he placed a hand on each of her shoulders and said, "Of course you can, and I’m happy to see you, too. But you haven’t been calling – you haven’t been writing – and you haven’t been going home recently. It doesn’t take too much extrapolation to leap to the conclusion that something’s going on with you. It might be good, or it might be bad, but it’s something. Do you want to tell me now, so I can help deflect the Grand Inquisitor?" he joked, referring to their mother. "Or do you want to wing it?"

She sighed heavily and took her cell phone from her bag. Speed dialing a number, she rolled her eyes at him and said, "Hi, Mom, it’s me. Peter’s flight’s delayed, so don’t expect us home soon. No, it’s no problem. I’ll wait in the bar." With another sigh she met her brother’s amused smile and added, "I’m legal now, Mom. You won’t have to bail me out – it’s not against the law to have a drink in an airport." She couldn’t help but chuckle as she said, "Yes, you’re right. It’s not a single drink that lands me into trouble. I’ll behave." She took Peter’s arm and led him to the first bar they encountered. "Okay. I’ll call when we’re leaving. I love you too, Mom."

She snapped the cover closed and sighed, "Don’t you dare laugh! She doesn’t watch you like a hawk!"

"She doesn’t need to," he said, leading her to a corner table and signaling the waitress.

* * * * * * * * * * *

They chatted companionably while they waited for their drinks, with Mia occasionally reaching over to give his hand a squeeze. Peter wasn’t nearly as openly demonstrative as his sister, but he gracefully accepted her loving touches, and occasionally gave her a gentle pat as well. Their drinks were nearly ready for a refill when he asked, "Ready to spill the beans?"

She shrugged her shoulders, not feeling ready, but knowing that it didn’t help to delay. "I’ve fallen in love," she said, deciding to get right to it.

As his head cocked, his eyebrow lifted. "So far, so good. I assume there’s more?"

"Yeah. There’s a little more. Uhm … it’s someone from school. One of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Bright, sensitive, funny, and very gifted athletically."

"You with an athlete? That’s a shock. You’ve always hated jocks."

"Very gifted," she emphasized. "A member of the Olympic volleyball team," she added, completely avoiding the use of pronouns.

Recognition dawning in his gentle blue eyes, he reached across the table and grasped her hand. "I assume Mom and Dad don’t know?"

"Don’t know what?" she asked warily.

"That you’ve jumped the fence." His lips twitched into a small smile as he asked, "I thought you were so certain that you were only interested in experimenting with women, Mia. What pushed you over?"

"Jordan," she sighed dreamily. "Jordan Ericsson, the most beautiful, loving woman on the planet."

His smile grew as he watched his sister’s face. Her gentle, warm, peaceful expression reflected a calm he had rarely observed. "This is the real thing, huh?"

"Oh, yeah," she sighed. "There’s not a doubt in my mind about her. I’m just worried about – everything else," she grimaced, the restless, slightly agitated look back in force.

"Hey, don’t go off the deep end. If you’re sure about this, it can work out. Tell me about her."

The warm sparkle came back into her eyes as she wrinkled up her nose and asked, "Wanna see her picture?"

"Sure. I’d love to." He didn’t know what to expect, having seen his sister run through the gamut of ‘types’ when it came to men. His forehead twitched into a frown as he observed her take the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living out of her bag.

She thumbed through it until she got to an ad for "Polo" by Ralph Lauren, then pointed to the tall, lean woman in a strapless, black velvet evening gown, straddling an equally gorgeous wavy haired young man dressed in a tuxedo, sitting on an old wooden swing hanging from a huge tree branch. The man was grinning at her like he was barely able to stop himself from ravishing her, and her head was thrown back, allowing her long, golden hair to drape down her bare back. Peter’s eyes popped out as he considered that he would have gladly traded places with the man in the picture, or with his sister, for that matter. "This is your girlfriend?" he gaped.

"No, that’s the perfume she wears," she scoffed, slapping his shoulder. "Actually, they gave her enough of the stuff to fill a bathtub. Or a trash can," she added, wrinkling her nose.

"Your girlfriend is a model, and an Olympic athlete?" he mumbled, unable to take his eyes off the lovely woman in the picture. Jordan’s hands were grasping the sturdy rope that held the swing up, and her well-defined biceps curved a bit to very good effect. The bustline of the dress swept across the tops of her full breasts, creating a delicious-looking expanse of cleavage. Full lips beckoned the man in the picture, and Peter imagined having those lips … He was ripped from his musings by being hit sharply with the rolled up magazine.

"She’s mine, ya know!"

Rubbing his hand over his face, he fought down the flush that he knew was rising on his cheeks. "Shit. I’m sorry, Mia, but you show me a picture like that – you can’t expect me not to react! Dad will do the same!"

"Great! just what I need. The three of us can sit around and drool over her while Mom loads the gun!"

He chuckled while shaking his head. "We don’t have a gun. You know Mom’s more the butcher knife type, anyway."

Even through her anxiety, she couldn’t help but laugh at that. "I guess you’re right. I don’t have to be able to outrun a bullet. I only have to be able to outrun you and Dad."

His eyes grew serious as he asked, "Are you gonna tell them?"

"Not yet," she said, shaking her head briskly. "I’m not ready yet, Peter. I mean, I’m not unsure about Jordan, but I don’t have answers to the questions that I know they’ll ask. I feel like I need an iron-clad case before I bring it up."

"They love you, Mia; you don’t have to defend yourself to them. I know it will be hard at first, but they’ll get over it."

"Maybe," she nodded, "but I’ve seen what happened to Jamie this year, and I worry that it’ll be the same for me."

"How’s she doing?" Peter asked. "I wrote her a note after the car-jacking. She sent me a nice one back."

"Yeah, she told me," she said, touched by her brother’s thoughtfulness. "She’s doing better now. Ryan’s still having a tough time, though. She doesn’t say anything, but she’s a lot jumpier since it happened. Not that I blame her," she said, shivering at the memory.

"Is Jamie happy, Mia? Is this all working out for her?"

Her lips curled into a wide grin as she said, "I’ve never seen her happier, Peter. She finally seems to know who she is, and she’s growing and changing in ways that truly amaze me. It’s been great to watch and be a part of."

"The same might happen to you, Mia," he gently suggested. "I mean, yeah, it’ll be hard for Mom and Dad to accept, but if this is who you are – they need to know it."

Her chin tilted up as her brow furrowed. "Who I am?"

"Yeah. They need to know that you’re a lesbian," he said, confused by her startled expression.

"I’m not, Peter," she said quietly. "That’s part of the problem."

"But I thought that …"

"Look," she said, folding her hands on the table and rubbing her thumbs together as she organized her thoughts. "I’m in love with Jordan. I would happily remain in a monogamous lesbian relationship for as long as we can make this work. But I’m not a lesbian, Peter. I love men, and I always will. I just don’t want to love them while I’m with Jordan."

"I see," he said, scratching the back of his head in an indication that he actually did not.

"That’s my problem," she insisted. "If I were a lesbian, I wouldn’t have a problem with telling Mom and Dad. They’d flip out, but they’d get over it. It’s much, much harder to explain to someone that you’re in a lesbian relationship – that you love a woman – but aren’t gay. I don’t think they’ll get it, Peter."

He nodded slowly, and Mia saw that he was finally understanding her point. "I think I see one potential argument they’ll have," he said.

"What’s that?"

"It’s one thing if you’re only attracted to women. But if you can love men, why choose to love a woman? You’re voluntarily putting yourself into a group that society in general doesn’t approve of."

"Exactly!" she cried. "That’s exactly what Mom will say, Peter! I can hear her now!"

"Is your girlfriend a lesbian?" he asked. "She sure doesn’t look like one."

The scowl on her face made him wish he could suck his last statement back in, but it was out now and he tried to explain, "I didn’t mean that like it sounded, Mia. That was … well, that was a stupid thing to say."

She patted his hand and said, "Don’t feel bad. Everybody does it, Peter. I’ve done it myself." She reached into her wallet and found the little schedule for the volleyball team that showed a fierce looking Jordan elevating to go for a kill. Gazing at it fondly for a moment, she handed it over, saying, "This is how she looks when she’s not in makeup and a gown. It would be hard to guess that she’s gay," she said. "But she is. I’m pretty sure this is a life-long commitment for her."

He looked at the photo for a long while, finally saying, "I can’t imagine what that would be like. I mean, I knew I liked girls when I was in pre-school. I can’t imagine how weird it would feel to one day wake up and find out that I was into guys – but hadn’t known it."

She chuckled and said, "I think it’s a little more involved than that, Peter. She’s had lesbian leanings for a long while. She’s just now ready to commit to it."

"How does she feel about the fact that you don’t feel like a lesbian?" he asked, handing back the schedule with a vague note of regret.

"Mmm … she says she’s fine with it, but I think it bothers her more than she lets on. I think there’s a part of her that worries I’ll find some guy that I like better, and dump her."

"That’s not how you are," he said defensively. "You hang in there and try to make things work!"

Mia beamed a smile at her brother and nodded. "Yeah. I know I do, but she’s never known me when I’m in a relationship. This is all new for both of us."

He reached across the table and grasped her hand, giving it a squeeze. "I think you should wait to tell Mom and Dad. I think you need to see how this goes and make sure you’re in it for the long haul before you freak them out."

She nodded briskly, her curls tossing about her head. "I think I’d already decided that. Now I have to figure out how to plan for next year without them finding out."

"Next year?"

She checked her watch and said, "I’ll tell you in the car. I know Mom will freak about Jordan, but Dad will freak about the other little matter that’s come up."

"Little matter?" he asked as he got to his feet and grabbed his bag.

"Not so little, actually," she said, knowing that deciding to attend Stanford Law would ameliorate any wrongs she committed – at least in her father’s eyes.

* * * * * * * * * * *

A gentle hand stroked languidly through her curls, causing Mia to sigh heavily and curl her body around the warmth that she unconsciously sought. "Mmm, nice," she murmured, as she tightened her embrace while arching her back in a long stretch. Her head shook to clear the cobwebs, then she rolled onto her back and looked up into Jordan’s clear blue … "Mom!"

Anna Lisa Christopher gazed fondly into her daughter’s dark eyes and moved her hand from her hair to her cheek. Brushing the backs of her fingers along the smooth surface she said, "God willing, some day you’ll have a daughter, Mia, and you’ll know the feeling I get in my heart when I watch you sleep."

A slow, drowsy smile settled onto Mia’s face and she nuzzled against her mother’s hip. Her relaxed, unguarded posture left her totally unprepared for the sharp sting when her cheek was grabbed and pinched firmly. "Pray that your daughter doesn’t keep secrets from you like you do from me!"

"Ow! Ow! Ow!" the younger woman cried as she tried to follow her mother’s hand to relieve the pressure on her face. "Lemme go!"

Releasing her, Anna Lisa leaned forward until their nearly identical brown eyes were inches from each other. "Who are you sleeping with so often that your body thinks he’s beside you in bed? Is this why you don’t come to visit anymore?"

"No!" she scowled, rubbing her cheek. "I don’t come home because I don’t like to be assaulted!" Throwing off the covers, Mia exited the bed from the other side, trying to stay as far away from her mother’s strong grip as possible.

The two fiery women stood at opposite sides of the bed, regarding each other warily. "Mia," Anna Lisa warned, "you know we have a deal. It’s obvious you haven’t kept up your end of the bargain. Now who is he?"

Mia rolled her eyes, mentally kicking herself for promising that she would always keep her mother informed when she got serious about anyone. In exchange for her promise, Anna Lisa had agreed to never question Mia about her sex life. It had seemed like a good idea when she had struck the deal in high school – and didn’t have the money to purchase birth control on her own. But now she deeply regretted both having made, and then having reneged on, the agreement. Considering how to extricate herself from this dilemma, while her mother’s dark eyes bore into her, she decided to adopt one of Ryan’s tactics.

"Okay," she sighed. "You’re right, Mom. There is someone, and we are serious about each other."

Anna Lisa’s hands went to her hips and she glared at her child with a triumphant expression. "I knew it!"

"I’m sorry, Mom," she added, her genuine sincerity boosted to the highest level she could summon. "I haven’t told you, and it was wrong of me."

The rigid stance shifted, then softened, then Anna Lisa opened her arms and beckoned her daughter to come to her. Mia did so, letting her mother envelop her in a warm hug. "Why didn’t you tell me? It hurts me to have you keep your life so secret."

"I’m sorry, I really am," Mia sighed. "I … well, I have some things that I have to work out before I’m going to be ready to talk about this." She pulled away and gazed directly into her mother’s eyes and promised, "That doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, or trust you, Mom. It only means that I’m confused about this, and talking about it now won’t help."

"Since when can’t I help you get through something, Mia? We’ve been through so much together! I’ve worked so hard to listen to you, and not judge you!"

"I know, Mom," she soothed, leaning in for another hug. "I swear that this isn’t about you." Releasing her mother with a gentle pat, she straightened up and said, "There are just some things that I have to work out on my own, Mom. This is one of them."

Anna Lisa looked at the calm, determined look in her child’s eyes, and heard herself say, "All right, Mia. I won’t ask again."


"Yes. Really. You’re old enough to know what you need at this point in your life. I’m here for you, Mia, and I know that you know that. I must know one thing, though," she said, an unyielding expression in her eyes.

"What’s that?"

"You’re not in any trouble, are you? You’re not pregnant or using drugs again, or …"

"Mom," she said firmly, holding up a hand. "Stop! Nothing is wrong, I swear. I’m very happily in love with a wonderful person, who I know you and Dad will love. It’s other … circumstances that are the problem, and as soon as I figure out all of the details, I’ll tell you everything. I promise," she vowed. "I’m very happy, Mom." The smile she beamed at her mother was a clear indication of her veracity, and the older woman reached for her once again.

Stiffening, Anna Lisa grabbed her shoulders and held her at arm’s length. "He isn’t married, is he?"

"No. Definitely not, Mom. This is an issue between the two of us … no angry lovers, no spiteful ex’s. I swear," she said. "I’m very happy, and I’m sure we can work things out."

"If you’re happy, I’m happy, Mia. That’s all I want for you."

They stood quietly, holding each other for a long while, until Anna Lisa released her – but not before slapping her gently on her butt. "You’re too skinny! Come down for breakfast right now, and eat something substantial for a change!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Anna Lisa stood in the bedroom she shared with her husband of 25 years and said, "I think she’s all right, Adam. She admitted that she’s fallen in love, but she won’t talk about him."

"She won’t?" he asked slowly, knowing that his wife could make a rock talk if she set her mind to it.

Sighing deeply, an expression of resignation on her face, she said, "It’s time I stepped back and let her make her own way. She’ll tell us when she’s ready."

With a broad smile, Adam wrapped his wife in a warm embrace, then tilted her head up to kiss her. "That must be hard for you, but I think it’s the right thing to do. If she doesn’t feel like she’s going to be questioned so intently, she might be willing to come home more often."

Returning the soft kiss, Anna Lisa shook her head, while giving her husband a smile. "No, that’s not it. She doesn’t come home because she wants this man in her bed. She’s not ready to tell us, so she can’t bring him home with her. As soon as she figures out whatever it is that she has to figure out, I think we can convince her to visit more often – and bring him with her."

Adam smiled at his wife, frankly amazed at the change in her attitude. "You’d let her sleep with her boyfriend in the house?"

Shrugging her shoulders, she admitted defeat. "I want my daughter to come home more often. I’d rather have her here with a man, than there with the same man. We can’t stop her from having sex," she said. "Lord knows we’ve tried!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

"So what will it be?" Adam asked as his entire family sat in the kitchen, digesting their breakfast.

"What are our choices, Dad?" Peter asked.

"We can play golf …"

"No golf!" Anna Lisa declared. "I want all of us to be together."

"Okay," Adam said. "I’ve got the keys to Jim Evans’ boat. How about a day on the bay?"

"That’s my vote," Peter said immediately.

"I’m game," Mia said.

"Let me pack a lunch and we can be off," Anna Lisa said, hopping to her feet to get started.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Following the script that she had worked out with Peter on the ride home the previous evening, Mia waited until they were on the water to make her announcement. "Mom, Dad, I’ve got good news," she said brightly.

"What’s that?" Adam asked.

"Either Stanford has dropped a few hundred notches academically, or there was a terrible screw-up in the Admissions Office, but, either way, I was accepted into the law school." She waited expectantly for the words to register with her father, grinning widely when his face practically exploded with glee.

"Mia!" he cried. "I didn’t even know you had taken the LSATs! I’m astounded! Overjoyed, but astounded," he repeated.

"That’s wonderful, baby," Anna Lisa echoed. "We’re both very proud of you!"

"That’s the good news," she hedged. "Now the news you might not like so much is that I’m not sure I’m going to accept."

Adam looked like he was ready to jump overboard, and he said, "You can’t turn down an opportunity like this! You can’t!"

"Why would you turn it down?" Anna Lisa asked. "You wouldn’t have applied if you didn’t want to go. This has something to do with this boyfriend, doesn’t it?"

"No!" Mia cried, shouting to be heard above the snapping sails. "Well, maybe a little," she said. "We’re having a tough time figuring out where we’ll both be next year."

"He won’t be in San Quentin, will he?" Anna Lisa asked suspiciously.

"Mom, I said nothing was wrong. That includes dating a felon!"

"Mom, Dad," Peter said, "give her a chance here. Committing to three more years of school right away is a tough thing. Wouldn’t you rather she make the decision before she goes, or do you want to waste a year’s worth of tuition if she drops out?"

"Yeah," Mia piped up. "I’m trying to think things through for a change, but I need a little time."

Adam nodded, pleased that his daughter seemed to be taking a mature perspective. "Okay, Mia. You let us know if you need any help in making the decision. Obviously, I’d like for you to go and be successful at Stanford, but I only want it if it’s right for you."

"That’s very generous of you, Dad," she said, wrapping him in a hug. "I know it would mean a lot to you if I went there."

"It would, but no matter what you do I’m very proud of you for even being admitted."

"Thanks, Dad," she said, smiling broadly, wondering why on earth she hadn’t come home weeks earlier.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"I’ve got it!"

Ryan turned her head slowly and gazed at the near-joyous look of satisfaction on her partner’s face. They had been in the air for over an hour, and the taller woman had been nearly asleep for most of that time. Jamie, however, had been busily making notes in her journal, the soft, consistent scratch of her fountain pen lulling Ryan to sleep.

"Care to share?" Ryan said, knowing that it would be impossible to stop her.

"I know how to get Niall out of the doghouse!"

"I know you’re good, but I don’t see how even you can accomplish that," Ryan said. "I’ve spoken with at least six of the lads, and they’re well and truly steamed. I think this is going to have to wear off gradually."

"That’s where you’re wrong!" Jamie said, grinning broadly. "When they hear the plan, they’ll think he’s a hero!"

"Give," Ryan demanded, sitting up a little straighter in her seat.

"Okay." The dark blonde eyebrows twitched vertically a few times, then she turned a few pages in her journal and began. "The main issue is that he made $200,000 – and they all made squat, right?"

"Right," Ryan said.

"But, being hard-headed O’Flahertys, they wouldn’t consider accepting any of the money – even if Niall offered, right?"

"Well, I don’t necessarily agree with the descriptor, but the facts are correct," Ryan said. "And at this point, even if they wanted the money, they wouldn’t take it as a matter of pride."

"Okay – how about this," Jamie said, the excitement flowing from her in waves. "Niall takes the entire chuck of money, and uses it to make a down payment on another fixer-upper, either in Noe or the Mission. We form a collective – and we all contribute to the mortgage and expenses of the new place. All of us work on the house, and when it’s done, we sell it. Niall would get his $200,000 back, and the rest of us would split the excess."

Her wide eyes and happy, expectant grin would have made Ryan say it was a marvelous idea, even if it wasn’t, but as luck would have it, she thought it was just short of brilliant. "How long has this been rolling around in your mind?" she asked.

"Mmm … ever since Conor called to say they were all mad at Niall. I can’t stand to have the boys angry with one another." Her expression was so sincere, so guileless, that Ryan couldn’t help but lean over and give her a gentle, emotion-filled kiss. Jamie returned it, the soft, moist meeting of their lips creating barely enough noise for Jackie to hear and immediately lean over the seat back to give Ryan a rap on the head.

"No funny stuff on public conveyances, O’Flaherty!"

"Everybody’s a critic," Ryan called back over her shoulder.

Touching her nose with a fingertip, Jamie said, "We should behave. I don’t want to make the other women uncomfortable."

"I’m the one who’s uncomfortable," Ryan said, rubbing her head.

"So, given the heat of that kiss, I take it that you approve of my idea?"

"I think it’s absolutely brilliant! And I think the boyos will go for it. Conor told me the other day that he missed working with the fellas on the weekend."

"Now I haven’t worked out the details, but I think we should propose the rough framework to Niall to see if he’s willing. I’ll call him as soon as we get home," Jamie said, her face beaming with pleasure.

Ryan leaned in again, but then remembered where they were. "I owe you one," she promised, blowing a kiss instead of delivering one.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Niall is in!" Jamie crowed the second she hung up.

Ryan found it completely adorable that Jamie was the one to take the lead and call Niall, and she thanked the heavens once again that her partner was so very comfortable with her extended family. "What now?"

"I think I’ll call Brendan next, and see if he has any ideas for how to structure it. Are you up for having him and Maggie over for dinner to discuss it?"

"Always," Ryan said. "Other than practice, I’m free through Thursday."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Mia came home not long after that. "Hey, you two!" She offered hugs to both women, then went to the table in the entryway and picked up a key. "Something’s waiting for you in the garage," she said. "It’s blue … and hot … and it’s from Germany …"

"My X5!" Ryan snatched the key that Mia teasingly dangled, and in the blink of an eye, the door flew open and the excited woman was running down the front stairs, heading for the garage.

"I think she’s excited," Mia said dryly as she and Jamie set off at a more moderate pace.

"Get in," Ryan ordered when the approached. Chuckling softly, both women did so, "Who delivered it?" Ryan asked when she met Mia’s eyes in the rear-view mirror.

"It was cool. They brought it in on a flatbed truck and pushed it into the garage. It was mighty tempting, but I resisted the urge to take it for a spin."

"Good thought," Ryan said, not even able to think of a punishment severe enough to fit that crime. "There’s only 1.7 miles on it," she marveled.

"It’s really nice," Jamie said. "Can I play with the buttons?"

"Can I stop you?" Ryan asked.

Jamie stuck her tongue out and started to play, opening and closing the sunroof a few times and discovering the CD player hidden in the glove box.

"I’ve never had a new vehicle," Ryan marveled, her hands running all over the matte black, leather-covered dash. "It’s so sweet."

"Don’t you want to drive it?" Jamie asked.

"Of course. But first, I want to make sure I know where everything is. I don’t want to wreck it my first day out!" She proceeded to figure out how to position the mirrors and her seat, while Jamie and Mia both punched every button they could get their fingers on.

Ryan was finally confident, and turned the key. "Ooo … nice purr, huh?"

"Sounds a little like you when I rub your belly," Jamie joked.

They went on a short spin around the neighborhood, and to Mia’s amazement, Ryan let both her and Jamie do a lap around the block. "Great ride," Mia enthused when they returned. "It could be a real neck-snapper if you gunned it."

"Thanks." Ryan was distracted, but she managed to send a smile Mia’s way. "It’s got a good-sized V-8 in it. That gives it some pep."

"Ready for bed?" Jamie asked.

"Heck no. I’ve got to play."

"Have at it, but I’m going to bed. Kiss me when you get there."

"Uh-huh," Ryan said in her ‘I’m not listening to you so you’d better not be telling me anything important’ tone.

Jamie draped her arm around Mia’s shoulders and said, "I wonder how long it will take her to notice we’re gone?"

"Given the size of the owner’s manual, I’d say about three a.m.," Mia guessed.

"You may be right," Jamie said. "I’ll give you a report tomorrow."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Jamie saw her roommate the next day she said, "You weren’t off by much last night. Ryan woke me up at two a.m. with this totally puzzled expression on her face. I honestly don’t think she had any idea she’d been alone out there for three hours."

"She’s no slouch in the concentration department," Mia said. "Did she have a good time?"

"You know, I think she enjoyed getting to know her car as much as she enjoyed driving it. She seemed quite blissful today. Tired, but blissful."

* * * * * * * * * * *

On Valentine’s Day afternoon, Ryan stood in her room at her family’s home. "Ready to head out?" she asked brightly. Jamie finished hanging up the dress she planned on wearing that night, and gave her partner a broad grin.

"The event you planned takes place outside?" she asked again.

"Yep. Make sure you dress warmly. We’ll be out until it’s dark."

"Okay," she said, making sure that her warm gloves were in her pockets. "Should I take my little camera?"

"Yeah. I’m pretty sure there’ll be some photo opportunities."

Finally resigned that her cajoling had been to no effect, and that Ryan would not reveal their destination prematurely, Jamie took her partner’s hand as they set off for points unknown.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan was not yet ready to take her new car on its maiden voyage across the Bay Bridge, so they’d come in Jim’s loaner. Since parking was so scarce, they parked the BMW sedan in Niall’s driveway at his house in Sunset. Taking off on foot, they passed a building that nearly filled a block. "This is the Irish Cultural Center," Ryan indicated. "This is where I took ceili dancing lessons when I was a little ankle biter."

Jamie laughed at her choice of terms and said, "Knowing how tall you were, you were a butt biter by the time you were old enough to take dance lessons."

"Ahh … good point," Ryan said. "I guess I was about four when I started. That would definitely put me within butt biting range of most people."

"Wow, I can’t imagine getting a bunch of four-year-olds to concentrate long enough to teach them how to dance. What did you call it again, kay-lee?" she asked, pronouncing it phonetically.

"Yeah, traditional Irish step-dancing."

"Ooo … like Riverdance?"

Ryan sniffed and said, "Hardly. If ceili dancing is like classical ballet, Riverdance would be like interpretive dance based on a ballet. Riverdance takes the elements of ceili and runs wild with it."

"Your tone implies you don’t think much of Riverdance," Jamie said.

"No, it’s not that. It is what it is," Ryan said. "I only hope that kids stay interested in the tightly controlled style of the traditional dance. I think they have to know the elements before they can start riffing on them. I’d bet that most kids get bored when they’re not running around like Michael Flatley after a few weeks."

"Show me a few steps," Jamie begged. "I’ve never seen you dance that way."

Ryan patted her and said, "I’ll show you at home. I’d look like a nut standing out on the street doing a step dance."

Jamie nodded soberly. "Oh, I understand. You never want to look like a nut." She ran all the way to Sloat Street, barely managing to stay one step ahead of her lover’s pinching fingers.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Wanna take a picture of the pup?" Ryan asked, a big grin splitting her face.

"If this is where we’re having lunch, you’re in more trouble than you can imagine," Jamie scolded as they stood outside of the Carousel Diner on Sloat.

"No, we’re not going to eat here," Ryan said. "I like the dog. I used to come here for a soda after dance lessons while I waited for the bus."

"When you were four!"

"Nah. Conor took lessons with me until he was in high school, and we went together most of the time. I wasn’t allowed to ride the bus alone until I was 7 or 8."

Jamie shook her head as she considered letting their children ride alone on a city bus when they were in second grade. Drawing her attention back to the topic at hand, Ryan pointed up. Jamie’s eyes drifted up the rusted, paint-peeled steel pole, to gaze at the giant dachshund head that rested at the top. The dog wore a chef’s hat, and was clad in a neat bow tie. "It’s very nice," she said with a forced smile.

"You have no sense of history," Ryan chided her gently. "This is the last intact Doggie Diner dog head in the world!"

"Imagine that," Jamie said. "Are the others in museums? Perhaps the Louvre?" She batted her eyes ingenuously, causing a scowl to form on Ryan’s face.

"I really like it," she said, her feelings hurt. "Da brought my Mama here when they were dating." Her mouth was turned down into an adorable pout, and Jamie couldn’t help but kiss the frown from her face.

"The O’Flahertys have always known how to treat their women, haven’t they, tiger?"

"Hey, he was a young guy – no money at all – he took her to the zoo, and Golden Gate, and any other place that was free. Heck, she still had the Irish soil on her shoes. I’m sure she thought it was a lovely spot compared with the chipper in Killala." At Jamie’s raised eyebrow, Ryan explained, "When she was growing up the only restaurant in Mama’s town was a fish and chips takeaway. Now, fifty years later, the only restaurant is a fish and chips takeaway," she added with a grin. "But it’s owned by a different guy. That’s progress for ya."

"I’m sure your mother thought it was the nicest place she’d ever been – so long as your father was with her. That’s how I feel when I’m with you," she added, sparing a warm kiss for Ryan’s chilled lips.

Ryan took her hand to start up again, but Jamie paused to take several pictures, mildly disappointed when she was unable to get Ryan in the shot – since the head was so high above the ground. She grasped Ryan’s offered hand and leaned against her shoulder, "I like the doggie, too," she murmured.

* * * * * * * * * * *

They proceeded up the street, with Jamie still having no idea of where they were headed. "I used to go out with a woman who understood my doggie devotion," Ryan sighed.

"Oh, did you now?"

"Yep. She understood the cult. Heck, she had the dog tattooed on the back of her shoulder!"

Jamie turned repeatedly to look at the dog head as it shrank in the distance, then back to her partner, finally asking, "Really?"

"Yeah," Ryan insisted. "The dog’s a big deal around these parts, honey."

"Huh." Jamie took her partner’s hand as they continued to walk, finally asking, "Why did you and your fellow doggie worshiper stop seeing each other? It sounds like you shared a belief system." She said this with a face full of studied innocence, making Ryan smirk at her.


"Yeah. Of course."

"Uhm… I uhm … couldn’t keep up with her," Ryan said, shrugging her broad shoulders. "She was … wow … she was all that," the dark woman sighed, her mouth twitching into a wistful smile. "If I hadn’t been trying to do well in school as well as work a lot of hours, I woulda hung in there. But with my schedule, she almost killed me!"

"Is she still single?" Jamie asked suspiciously.

"Nope. She found a great woman about a year ago. They seem very happy together," Ryan said. Waggling her eyebrows, she added, "Her girlfriend seems very, very satisfied." She waited a beat and added, "Not as satisfied as I am, but that’s understandable." Lifting Jamie’s hand to her mouth, she kissed it gently and said, "No one’s as satisfied as I am."

"Good recovery," Jamie said. "I’ll let you buy me lunch."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"We’re here," Ryan declared a few minutes later as they stood in front of the entrance to the San Francisco Zoo.

"We’re going to the zoo – for Valentine’s Day?" Jamie gazed at her partner, waiting for the punch line.

"Don’t you like animals?" Ryan asked, cocking her head.

"Well, yeah, but …"

"Come on," she insisted, tugging at her hand. "We’re gonna miss the show."


Ryan was moving at such a quick pace that Jamie had a difficult time keeping up with her. They walked past every display and habitat, not slowing until they reached an out-of-the-way spot where a uniformed woman asked for their names. Jamie was too out of breath to even question her partner by this time, and after they were waved into the little grove, Ryan grinned at her and asked, "Isn’t this a nice place for lunch?"

The smaller woman looked around and saw buffet tables laden with all sorts of delectable looking goodies, ice sculptures in the shapes of various zoo residents, and a champagne bar, where several other couples stood, sipping wine.

"Ryan, why are we having lunch in the zoo? Not that I mind, of course," she hastily added. "It looks fabulous!"

"It’s a tour the zoo puts on every year," she said, always pleased to share something new with Jamie. "We have a nice lunch, then we go on a tour with a guide, who explains the mating rituals of a selection of animals."

"Mating rituals?" Jamie asked with one severely raised eyebrow.

"It’s Valentine’s Day. Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. Or so I’ve been told. I’ve never actually seen fleas do it," she said, grinning cheekily.

Jamie led her over to the champagne bar and took a pair of glasses from the tray. Leading Ryan to the nearest space heater, she clinked their glasses together and said, "Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart." Taking a sip, she added, "I’m very glad that you brought me here. This is so … so you," she said. "A little off-beat, a little wild, very non-traditional. All of the reasons I fell in love with you, all in one package." She smiled up at her and said, "I should have known you’d never forget Valentine’s Day."

"I never will," Ryan pledged, bending slightly to offer a soft kiss. "It gives me a marvelous excuse to kiss you in public," she added with a rakish grin.

As she pulled away, Jamie looked around at the assembled couples and said, "I think we’re the only lesbian representatives here. Two gay couples, but that’s it."

"That’s nice," Ryan sighed, not having heard a word she said. She was gazing at her lover with a besotted smile, letting the warmth of their bond pervade her body. She had never considered Valentine’s Day a memorable one on the calendar – always managing to be blessedly single when the day rolled around. But now, as the lovely blonde gave her a bemused smile, she decided that she quite liked the holiday. Going out of her way to show Jamie how much she loved her was something that she knew she could become very used to.

"What’s that cute little grin for?"

"I was wondering if many animals feel love like we do," she commented thoughtfully. "I mean, I know that many species pair-bond, and some mate for life. I’m just wondering if they experience love." She sighed and cocked her head a little, saying, "I hope so. It’s a delicious feeling."

The uniformed woman approached and lightly tapped Ryan on the shoulder, interrupting their warm embrace. "The tour’s going to start soon. Why don’t you two go on over and hop on the tram before everyone else."

"Thanks," Ryan said, taking Jamie’s hand to lead her to the front seat. "We might be the only lesbians on the tour, but we’re not the only ones in the house," she said. "Sister’s looking out for us."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan asked so many questions on the tour that Jamie was afraid the guide regretted her decision to offer them their choice of seats. Luckily, the patient woman clearly loved her job, and she was very well schooled in her subject. The discussion about whether animals felt love lasted for over a quarter of the tour, with no real resolution, but it was fun to watch Ryan and the guide use their logical, scientific minds to try to think the question through.

When they finished, the woman offered to take a couple of photos of them, then Jamie snapped one of Ryan with her new friend. It was almost dark when they left, and the zoo was shutting down for the night. As they walked out, Ryan called out and waved to every creature that she saw, "G’night. Thanks for sharing your home with us."

"You are one of a kind, Ryan O’Flaherty. I’m so glad that you’re mine."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 10

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