I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 14


By SX Meagher

Part Ten

On Wednesday morning, Jim got up and called Kayla, not particularly surprised when she didn't answer either of her numbers. He couldn't afford to be seen knocking on her door, begging to be let inside, so he left for work at the usual time, surprised to see her already at her desk when he arrived. She didn't look up as he passed, and he didn't want to let anyone else know they were fighting, so he went into his office and closed the door, determined to let her make the first move.

* * * * * *

Ryan was walking out of her French class when her cell phone rang. Her heart started racing when the caller ID showed "Maeve Driscoll." "Hi. Anything wrong?" she asked, the words coming out nearly as one.

"No, sweetheart," he father's calm voice said. "I wanted to call to see how you were feeling after that horrible vote yesterday."

She let out a breath. "Oh. You've never called me on my cell phone. I assumed something terrible had happened."

"It did," he said. "A bunch of idiots have been given the right to decide who the benefits and obligations of citizenship should go to. That's a very bad thing, darlin'."

Tears stung Ryan's eyes. "You know," she said, her voice shaking, "knowing that my family understands that makes everything better. I mean that, Da. It makes everything better."

"This has been hard for you, hasn't it?"

"Yeah," she said, trying not to let other people see her cry. "I've felt pretty … I don't know … I guess lonely is the right word."

"You're not home enough," Martin said. "You don't do well when you're away from home too often."

"I know. Believe me, I know. I'm not home enough. I'm not spending enough time with Jamie. I'm not working on my independent study enough. I'm pulled in too many directions, Da. Things just aren't clicking for me."

"What can I do, love?"

Ryan sighed, her breath catching as it left her lungs. "I don't know. If I knew, I'd do something about it. I overextended myself … again … and now I'm paying for it."

"Would it help if we came over to your house for dinner more often, sweetheart? It breaks my heart to hear you sound so sad."

"I am sad." Even though she was right outside her classroom building, she broke down, tears flowing freely down her face. Through sharp gasps and hiccups she said, "I feel like I'm screwing everything up. I'm not able to concentrate like I used to. I still haven't made sense of my project, and if I don't finish it I won't graduate."

"There, there, sweetheart," Martin soothed. "If you can't finish it, you'll finish it this summer. It's not the end of the world. Don't let little things like that get you down. You've had a very stressful year, Siobhαn. Taking care of yourself has to be your biggest priority."

"Yeah," she said, the bitterness obvious. "I'm the hot-house flower."

"No, you're not," he said. "You've never been fragile or delicate, and you're not now. You just have to listen to your body and your heart, darlin'. And you have to let me know when you're not feeling well. It's my job to help you through hard times."

"I'm an adult, Da. I have to be able to take care of myself."

"Nonsense! You're my baby, and you will be as long as I'm breathing. Let your ancient old father feel like he's needed."

"Okay," she said, unable to keep from smiling. "I'd love for you and Aunt Maeve to come for dinner the first night you have off."

"When do you get home?"

"Around 6:30 or 7:00 most nights."

"We'll be there tonight. Tell Jamie we'll bring dinner, so she doesn't have to do a thing."

"Really? Tonight?" The excitement in her voice was infectious.

"Yes. Tonight. Hurry home, sweetheart. Your father misses you."

* * * * * *

Jim and Kayla kept a cool distance all day. When he asked her to join him for a conference call with Bob Washington, the Democratic nominee for his senate post, she looked like she was on the verge of refusing, but she went along and even contributed a few things to the discussion.

By the time Jim was ready to leave, she was already gone, and he didn't hear another word from her until almost ten o'clock. Kayla knocked on his door and entered without a word when he answered. Walking over to his wet-bar, she poured herself a scotch and sat down. "How long have we been seeing each other?"

"Uhm … about a year and a half," Jim guessed.

"That sounds about right." She nodded thoughtfully. "I'd say we should know each other pretty well by now, shouldn't we?"

He looked at her warily. "Yes, I think we do."

Tilting her head, Kayla looked at him for a moment. "What do my parents do for a living?"

"Ahh … for a living?" Jim repeated, searching his mind for a clue.

"Yeah. What do they do for a living?"

"Uhm … I think your father is a doctor of some kind. But I don't recall what your mother does."

"Not much," Kayla snapped. "Being dead limits your professional opportunities." She raised her glass to her lips and drained it.

He blinked slowly, stunned. "I'm so sorry; I didn't know."

"Of course you didn't know," she said, her voice cold. "You didn't know because it's my life-not yours. If it doesn't directly impact you, you don't give a crap!"

"Kayla! That's not true!"

"How many siblings do I have? Where did I grow up? Did my father remarry? What are my interests? What are my long-term goals?"

She fired the questions at him so quickly that he barely had time to comprehend them, much less answer them. "Just because I don't know those things it doesn't mean I don't want to know," Jim maintained. "You're very guarded around me, you know. I just … I don't want to pry."

"Fine," she snapped. "I'll tell you the answers to these complex questions. My father is a psychiatrist. My mother died when I was two. She was in an auto accident." At Jim's shocked expression, she continued. "She had been drinking, and she drove off Mulholland Drive on her way home." Narrowing her eyes, she said, "I grew up in the Hollywood Hills, for your information."

"That's just horrible," he said, trying to be empathetic.

"No, the Hills are actually very nice," she snapped, being intentionally obtuse. "I don't remember my mother, but from all reports, she and my father had a very unhappy marriage. He regrets having married her."

He started to speak then held back. But when she didn't continue, he said. "That's not a very kind thing to say about your late wife."

Giving him a look that questioned his intelligence, she said, "He regrets it because he knew he was wrong to marry her. He's gay." She let that hang there for a moment, then added, "He tried to ignore the truth, thinking he'd be able to make a go of it, but it didn't work out. They were both very unhappy, and she drank and ran around with other men, trying to make him jealous."

Seeing the pain that had settled upon his young lover's features, Jim just shook his head. "That must have been so hard for her."

"How about him?" she demanded, her eyes flashing with anger. "She knew about him before they married, but she wanted to be married to a successful young doctor. She used him as much as he used her. And if society weren't so fucking narrow-minded, he would have admitted he was gay, and she would have had to find a nice, straight man to marry. She might be alive today," she added with a sneer. Her expression changed, and Jim could see a dark look in her normally bright eyes. "She'd only be forty-four years old."

"I'm sorry," he said again, at a loss for a way to be more supportive.

"I'm sorry, too. I'm sorry that people like you can't see how loving and supportive two men can be. My dad and his partner Dan did their very best to raise me. And I think they did a hell of a job. I just wish they'd been able to have me without getting my mom involved. Of course, if you had your way, they would never have been able to adopt a child, so they wouldn't have had me at all."

"Kayla, I really apologize for what I said last night. I was letting my mouth get ahead of my brain again. What I said was stupid and very narrow-minded." He reached for her hand and was only mildly surprised when she pulled it away. "I didn't know," he offered. "You never said anything."

She narrowed her gaze and stared at him for a few moments. "I learned a long time ago that I had to trust someone completely before I told him about my family. I got burned too many times." She looked so sad as she revealed this that he desperately wanted to hold her, but he recognized that his comfort would not be welcome.

"I'm very sorry," he repeated. "I'd really like to hear about your father and his …"

"My parents," Kayla said, her eyes flashing fire.

"Your parents," he parroted. "I'd like to hear about them."

Taking him at his word, she nodded once. "As I said, my father's a psychiatrist. We have a funny kinda house. It's set way back in the hills, and rather than one big space, it's a group of small buildings. One of them has our kitchen, dining area and living room, another houses the bedrooms, still another is a small guest house. My father has a freestanding office, and Dan has a freestanding studio. He's an artist."

"Oh? What kind of artist?"

"He's a painter of some renown," she said. "Dan Buchard."

Jim's eyes widened. "Does he do a lot of very, uhm … unique portraits? Like a traditional figure study, but with a twist?"

"Yeah," she said, a small smile forming. "Do you know him?"

"Catherine's a big fan. I think we have … had … two … no, three of his paintings."

"I guess I should thank you," she smirked. "The outrageous prices his work has demanded in the last few years put me through UCLA law."

"So, who raised you, Kayla? Did you have a nanny?"

"No!" she said, her eyes narrowing again. "My parents raised me. Dan likes to work early in the morning when the light's good, so he was ready for a break by the time I got up. When I was little, I'd play in his studio while he worked. They switched off, each of them taking care of me at different times of the day." She chuckled mildly and said, "Dan always got stuck taking me to shul for my bat mitzvah lessons. Strangely, we really bonded over the lessons, and he decided to convert."

Jim stared at her blankly for a moment, then said, "I had no idea you'd had a bat mitzvah. You don't-"

She cut him off with a withering glare. "I'll stab you in the heart if you even think of telling me I don't look Jewish."

"No! No, that wasn't what I was going to say. I was just going to say that I'd never heard you say you were religious. I guess it surprised me that you had formal religious training."

"I went home for the high holy days last year, so you wouldn't have noticed that I attended services, and Passover fell during Easter week. You were with your family, and as I recall, you didn't ask me what I did."

"Oh," he said quietly. Trying to get back on topic, he commented, "I've never been to a temple. Maybe we could go together sometime."

"Maybe," she said tersely.

Trying to draw her out, he asked, "So tell me about what it was like to be raised by two men."

She thought for a moment. "In a way, it wasn't very different. Dan's very maternal," she said fondly. "And I don't mean in a limp-wristed kinda way."

Her expression was challenging, and Jim tried to placate her once again. "Look, let me be honest. I admit that I don't know many gay men. I just … I've never had any gay friends. But that doesn't mean I'm a total homophobe."

"No, you look," she said, her anger flaring again. "You'd never vote on a farm bill or a foreign appropriations bill without trying to understand the impact of your vote. I've seen how you study things, Jim. I've seen how seriously you take those issues. But you voted for the Defense of Marriage Bill for no reason whatsoever. I know the President didn't put any pressure on you, and you aren't running for re-election, so you had nothing, nothing to lose. You did it because you didn't think it was important enough to really study it and make a reasoned judgment. That's so fucking wrong. You owe it to your constituents to try to serve them all-based on fact, not your gut-level fears. You should have dealt with those issues by the time you were fifteen."

He nodded. "I was wrong to vote for that bill without really thinking it through. I'm gonna try to educate myself. I really will try."

"That's all I ask," she said quietly.

"Uhm … could I meet your parents sometime?"

Kayla shook her head. "No, not right now. I'm a little … I'm a little ashamed."

"Hey, don't feel like that." He walked over to her and sat on the arm of the sofa. "You should be proud of them."

"I am!" She got to her feet and glared at him. "I'm ashamed of you. I'm ashamed of myself for sleeping with a married man. I was raised better than that," she said quietly, as a few tears slipped down her cheeks.

Taking her in his arms, he found himself whispering, "So was I, Kayla. So was I."

* * * * * *

As promised, Martin and Maeve arrived in Berkeley at 6:00, the pair always being at least half an hour early. Jamie opened the door and hugged them both for so long that she forgot to invite them in. "Are we staying on the porch?" Martin asked. "It's a lovely one."

"My manners!" Jamie slapped herself in the forehead. "At least you know I'm happy to see you!"

Maeve put her arm around the younger woman's waist. "And we're happy to see you, too. I feel terrible that we haven't made more of an effort to visit."

They walked inside and sat in the parlor. "What can I get you to drink?" Jamie asked.

"Nothing now," Martin said. "We'll relax for a moment and then make up our minds. But you can put these bags in the kitchen. We brought Italian combos for the princess. Conor assures me that nothing makes her happier."

"Oh, my God," Jamie said, smiling brightly. "She hasn't had one in ages. She'll be in heaven." She went into the kitchen and put the bags on the table, then joined Martin and Maeve in the parlor.

Jamie looked at Maeve and said, "I don't want you to feel bad about not knowing what Ryan needs right now. I've let her down, too. I think we've all got to change our habits a little-including Ryan. She hates to talk on the phone, but she's gonna have to get over that and call you both more often. And I have to let you know when she needs you-since she won't."

"She thinks she's impervious from having needs, doesn't she, dear?" Maeve asked.

"You know her better than I do," Jamie said. "She hates to feel weak, and she feels weak when she has to ask for help." She shook her head. "She's so frustrating sometimes, I want to shake her!"

"It's the O'Flaherty side, Jamie," Maeve said, winking at her. "They must be descended from the Spartans."

"I can't disagree," Martin said, "even though I'd like to. I know Siobhαn gets this from me. I just wish I hadn't tried to make her so independent. I raised her like I raised the boys, and that wasn't always good for her."

"You're a great father, Martin. Really. I think this is just part of Ryan's personality. Plus, I'm sure she didn't want to let her big brothers think she was a baby."

"At least she can cry now," he said. "She wouldn't cry in front of the boys when she was little. She could break an arm and not shed a tear."

"Thank God for small favors," Jamie said, laughing.

"So, what have you been up to, Jamie?" Maeve asked. "Besides traipsing all over the west coast with your golf."

"Not a lot," she said. "My schedule's been easier than Ryan's, mainly since I have a regular course load. It's much easier to take a test than to develop a complex formula like she's trying to do."

"Do you have any idea what it is she's doing?" Maeve asked, lowering her voice. "We've asked her so many times it's embarrassing, but we don't understand a word."

Jamie smiled. "To be honest, I understand what she's talking about when she explains it. But I must not really understand, since I couldn't begin to tell you what she's told me. All I know is that it's hard, and it's not coming to her as easily as most things do. The only real course she has is French, and she's having a hard time with that, too. This just isn't her term."

"I hate to even bring this up," Maeve said, "but have you been training for the Breast Cancer Walk?"

Jamie put both hands over her eyes. "We haven't started! I'm afraid we're just gonna show up on the day of the walk and hope for the best."

Maeve's eyes widened. "Can you do that?"

"I guess we'll find out," Jamie said. "I haven't been to the gym in, I don't know how long, and Ryan doesn't go, either. She told me the other day that she's in the worst shape she's been in since she was in high school."

"She's fit as a fiddle!" Martin said.

"Oh, sure, 99% of the population would trade places with her," Jamie agreed, "but she's not fit like she was for the AIDS Ride. She was awesome then. She still looks great, but she hasn't been working on her aerobic capacity-just her softball skills. And I don't think it's gonna matter how far she can throw a ball when we're walking from Santa Barbara to L.A."

"I'm frightened to death, and I'm walking every day," Maeve said. "I keep dreaming about dropping to the ground and being left behind."

"If you drop, we'll drop right next to you, Maeve," Jamie promised. "No one will be left behind."

"What if you drop first?" Maeve asked, eyes wide.

All three of them stopped talking when they heard Ryan's tread on the steps. She walked in, dropped her bag and smiled so brightly that it seemed the entire room lit up. But as soon as her father stood to hug her, she started to cry, hanging onto him for dear life as Maeve and Jamie looked on with sympathy.

* * * * * *

Martin and Maeve left early, instructing the girls to ignore their schoolwork for the night and get to bed. Dutifully, Ryan marched upstairs and started to brush her teeth. Jamie sat on the tub and watched her lover, charmed by how utterly complaint she was with her father's instructions. It was just nine o'clock, but Ryan stripped off her clothes, went into the bedroom and pulled back the bedspread.

"Are you really going to bed?" Jamie asked.

"Yeah. Da's right. We both need more sleep. I'm gonna turn my mind off and get a good nine hours. That should help me feel more like myself."

"Okay. I'll brush my teeth and be right in." It took Jamie less than five minutes to get ready for bed, but by the time she walked into the bedroom, Ryan was sound asleep, a contented childlike expression on her lovely face.

All you needed was a good dose of O'Flaherty love, sweetheart. That's the key to a good night's rest.

* * * * * *

On Thursday afternoon, Jamie sat in the parlor, catching up on some reading. She'd been home from school for hours, and even though she hated having Mia gone and Ryan away every afternoon, she had to admit that she'd never been more prepared for class. She didn't have a lot of extra time, but for the first time since she'd met Ryan, she didn't flinch when one of her professors called her name in class. The phone rang right before Ryan was due, and she assumed her partner was on the phone. She didn't even look at the caller ID, just said, "Hello," in her usual friendly fashion.

"Hi," a male voice said. "It's Daddy."

"Oh." She could hear the drop in enthusiasm in her voice, and she hated that it was so apparent. But she never knew how things would go between them, and she was more than a little cautious. "Hi."

"I want to apologize."

She waited for a moment then asked, "For what?"

"For several things, but first and foremost, for the way I've voted on some very important issues."

"Go on," Jamie said, thinking he could be referring to nearly anything.

"I'm sorry for the way I voted on the Defense of Marriage Act, and I'm sorry I voiced support for Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

She waited a beat, thinking of how he could benefit by being sorry. She couldn't figure out his angle, so she tried to fish for more information. "Why the conversion?"

"Kayla called me on it," he admitted. "She made me tell the truth about why I voted the way I did, and she tactfully pointed out that I was an ass."

"Huh. I think I pointed that out, too," Jamie said, still not sounding very warm. "You yelled at me."

He let out a short, nervous laugh. "I guess she gets a little more leeway. With you I still think I'm the dad and you're my little girl."

Jamie didn't point out that the little girl and the lover were contemporaries, but she wanted to. "So … gonna tell me the secret? What was your real reason for voting the way you did?" She could hear him breathing, and knew he was coming up with either a lie or an excuse.

"You know, that won't help us mend fences. Just know that I wasn't thinking … I was reacting, and I'm going to try to make sure I think before I vote from now on."

"Okay," she said, knowing that it wouldn't do any good to press him. "That's all I ask of my other representatives, so I shouldn't hold you to a higher standard. How are you going to educate yourself?"

"Oh. Well. I … I haven't given that much thought. But I'm going to try."

"Let me know if I can help. I did a lot of reading on homophobia for my lesbian psychology class."

He laughed. "It still amazes me that you can take a course in being a lesbian. Berkeley is a very unique place."

"It wasn't a course in being a lesbian," she said, the edge back in her voice. "It was a course on how society is trained to react to lesbians. There's a big difference."

"Isn't trained a pretty strong word? I don't think most people are indoctrinated."

"I think they are. I'm sure they are."

"Fine," he said, "Let's not argue about semantics, okay?"

"All right. I don't want to fight. It's too stressful."

"I'm not catching you at a bad time, am I? I don't want to interrupt dinner or anything."

"No, this is a good time. Ryan's still at softball practice, and I haven't started dinner yet."

"Uhm … I don't know if this is the right time to talk about this, but something's been on my mind for a while."

"What's that?"

"It's your identification, Jamie. I know you feel like you're a part of this group now, but sometimes, you sound so strident. It's very off-putting. You could reach more people if you soft-pedaled it a bit."

Her eyes were closed so tightly that she could see stars. "If having a well-thought out opinion that differs from yours is being strident, I'm guilty as charged."

"Oh, don't be so defensive. I just want to counsel you to watch your language. Throwing labels around only makes people angry."

"What labels?"

"You said I was being homophobic, and nothing could be further from the truth."

"That just means that you have an irrational fear of homosexuals. Since you can't tell me why you voted the way you did, I think the odds are that your votes were based on fear and ignorance. That's homophobia."

"Jamie, you're the same girl you were a year ago. But now you're a member of some angry special-interest group. I wish you hadn't adopted their attitudes. It pays to think for yourself."

She was close to cursing him and hanging up, but she forced herself to finish the conversation. "You don't know much about this. Trust me."

"I can have an opinion, can't I?"

"Sure. Just like I can have an opinion about coming-of-age rituals in New Guinea. I don't know a thing about them, but I can spout my opinion."

He let out a breath, and she could hear the anger he was trying to contain.

"Let's put this to bed, okay?"

"Fine," she said. "Let me know how your research goes." Her tone indicated that she believed his research would end when he hung up the phone.

"I will. I hope you take my apology seriously."

"I do," she said, thinking, You say whatever you have to say to placate people. That's all an apology has ever meant to you.

* * * * * * * *

A few minutes after Jamie hung up, Ryan came home, and Jamie immediately told her about the call.

Ryan crossed her arms over her chest, her expression sardonic. "He sure does like to jerk you around, doesn't he?"

Jamie bristled. "What do you mean, jerk me around?"

"Oh." Ryan could see that she'd been too frank. "I just meant that he … hurts you and then, uhm … thinks about it and apologizes. I used the wrong term. Sorry."

"How is that any different from what you did with the practical joke? In Las Vegas, you promised you wouldn't do it again, and you did. Isn't that jerking me around?" Her hands were clenched into fists, and she looked like she would welcome a fight.

But Ryan didn't want to have one. She'd had a long day, and she just wanted a nice meal and a little peace and quiet. "You're right. Apologizing isn't enough. I have to change my behavior. And I promise I'll try.

Jamie made a face and turned and walked towards the kitchen. Ryan stood right where she was, trying to figure out what had really happened to piss her lover off so much. I know I have my faults, but I don't like being compared to him. There's a big difference between playing a prank and screwing every good-looking woman who comes his way. But I'm not gonna bring it up again. I need a fight like I need another sport.

* * * * * *

It seemed like Jamie was over her pique once they sat down to dinner. But as the meal progressed, it became clear that her conversation was one-sided. "Everything go all right at school today?"

Ryan was obviously still skittish from their earlier encounter, and she kept it short. "Uh-huh. Nothing exciting."


"Good. Ashley and Jennie were there. Today's the first nice day we've had for a while. It was nice to have a few fans back."

"You don't mind that I don't come anymore, do you? I need the time to work."

"Heck, no. Watching softball practice is really boring. I don't know why Ash and Jennie bother."

"Well, Ashley goes because she has friends on the team, and I think she misses playing her sport right now. And Jennie … well, Jennie just loves to be around you guys. It makes her feel like she's part of something."

"Yeah, I guess you're right. Oh, I forgot that I had to take Jen to the clinic to have her follow-up HIV test and STD exam today. I had to skip class to do it." She put her head down and took another bite, chewing mechanically, not seeming to be getting much satisfaction out of the meal.

Jamie stared at the top of her head for a moment. "Doesn't that merit a comment? How is she?"

Ryan flinched, looking like she'd been slapped. "Who?"

Jamie spoke slowly, trying to make sure her partner could keep up. "Jennie. You took her to the doctor for a pretty serious test."

"I would have said something if it were a problem." She looked down at her food again, and moved some of her chicken around on the plate. "She's fine. No evidence of any STDs. She's a little worried about the HIV test, but I'm not. I'm sure her friend was clean." Her brows knit together. "What was his name? Ajax? No, no, Axel," she said. "Anyway, they didn't do anything that could have caused a blood exchange. I wanted her to have the test just to scare her."

"It's good that she's a little worried. That might make her think twice before doing something like that again. When will she get the results?"

Ryan had clearly moved on to another topic in her head. "Huh?"

Jamie waved her off, not even bothering to ask again. Ryan went back to eating, putting all of her concentration into her meal. It was patently clear that something was troubling her, but also clear that she didn't want to talk. Jamie was about to get up and clear the table, but she recalled a question her mother had asked. "What time is your game in Sunnyvale on Friday? Mom wants to come."

It only lasted a second, maybe less, but Jamie saw it: a look of stark fear passing across her lover's face.

Ryan composed herself as quickly as she'd let the emotion seep through. "Three o'clock. We're staying down there, right? With your mom, I mean?"

"Yeah, sure we are."

"I just … I was just checking the schedule."

"Everything's the same," Jamie said, studying Ryan carefully. "I have to leave at 4:00 on Saturday to catch the plane to Temecula, and you're gonna stay at Mom's that night."

The fear flitted by again, and Jamie realized what the problem was. She reached across the table and took Ryan's hand, then gently stroked her skin with her thumb. "Are you upset about being alone while I'm gone?"

Ryan held out for a second then nearly shouted, "When I get home, no one will be here. No one," she said, making it perfectly clear. "I don't think I've ever slept in an empty house in my whole life." She started to cry, wiping at her tears with a vicious swipe of her hand. "You're mad at me, and I don't even know why, and I'm a big, fucking baby! I need a god-damned babysitter as much now as I did when I was two!"

Jamie got up and went to her, wordlessly urging her to move her chair back. Ryan did, and the smaller woman sat on her lap. "I'm not mad at you, and you don't need a babysitter. I was mad at my father, and I took it out on you. I'm sorry for that, baby."

"'S okay."

Running her hand through Ryan's hair, Jamie said, "You're a very mature, very competent, very capable woman. You're having a hard time right now. You need to keep things nice and simple, and that's hard to do when we're both so busy."

Ryan gave her a look that made Jamie's stomach do a flip. "Why doesn't it bother you? You don't get upset when you have to leave. Doesn't it affect you at all?"

She knew her answer was very important, and she spent a moment trying to make sure she got it right. "I don't like to leave you. I hate to be away from home." She put her hands on Ryan's cheeks and moved her head so they were face to face. "I want to be with you. Every day."

"But you don't get upset when you're not." Ryan's eyes were dark, and Jamie knew that the ice she was walking on was very thin.

"Do you remember how you were when you were on the volleyball team?"

"Yeah. What about it?"

"You went on a lot of road trips, and even though you weren't crazy about them, you didn't mind. You weren't upset. That's how I feel. I'd rather be home, and if I can't be home, I'd rather have you travel with me. But I like to play, and travel is one of the bad things about the sport."

"So … I used to be normal like you, and now I'm not."

Jamie's eyes fluttered closed. Being with Ryan was usually such a joy, but helping her through her periods of self-recrimination tested Jamie's soul. "I think the car-jacking has had a more lasting effect on you than it has on me. I think life has been harder for you since it happened, baby. And I think it's harder for you to be away from me and your home and all of your routines."

The blue eyes were still dark and devoid of emotion. This was Ryan at her most frustrating: furious at herself and unable to cut herself the smallest of breaks. "We were in the car-jacking together. I've been through bad things before. I should have gotten over it sooner than you did."

"Sweetheart, it doesn't work that way." Jamie tried not to let her frustration show, but Ryan wasn't making things easy. "Anna and I have talked about this a lot."

"You talk about me?"

"Yes," Jamie said, knowing this might set her lover off. "We talk about all of the people I love. I love you more than anyone, so we talk about you pretty often."

"So what does a woman I've never met think about me? Am I ready for shock therapy?"

"No! Of Course not! Anna doesn't try to diagnose you. She's my therapist, not yours. We talk about how the things you're going through affect me." She kissed Ryan's forehead, but got no response. "I worry about you-a lot. I know how hard things have been for you. I know how angry you are with yourself."

Ryan ignored most of her lover's statement. "I'm fine. I just don't like to travel right now. It's not the end of the world."

"I know that," Jamie said. "But it upsets you, and anything that upsets you upsets me."

Ryan's posture loosened up just a little. "Why does Anna think I'm having a hard time?"

"Mmm … I haven't asked her specifically, but she did say that old traumas can get new life when something new happens. They build on one another."

"Yeah, I've heard that. But I should be able to use the things I learned before to get out of this. Experience is the best teacher."

"Not always, baby. We suffered through a very traumatic event, and it's gonna take time, but you will get over it. You just have to have a little more patience."

"I'm sick of being patient! I got over being gay-bashed faster than this. I don't feel like I'll ever be confident again."

"Yes, you will," Jamie said, her voice louder and stronger. "I know you will. We both will."

"When does it bother you?" Ryan asked, her eyes suddenly filled with concern.

"In small ways. I cross the street whenever I sense someone behind me; I get up and leave Sufficient Grounds if someone particularly menacing comes in; I'm always wondering if someone I see will unexpectedly want to harm me. I don't have that … that secure feeling I used to have."

Ryan tucked her face against her lover's chest. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I'm so sorry they took that away."

"It gets better all of the time," Jamie assured her. "I feel lots better than I did just a month ago. Besides, it wasn't good to assume everyone was my friend. Over time, the fear will fade, and I'll just be a little cautious. That's not a bad thing."

"You feel better … consistently better … all the time?"

"Yeah, I do. Anna says that's most common. As I encounter things that upset me, I try to face them. Then we talk about them in therapy. It helps a lot."

"I don't feel like that. I don't feel much better than I did after we got back from Pebble Beach."

Jamie stroked her hair for a few moments, then slid her arms around Ryan's shoulders. She brought her lips close to Ryan's ear and asked, "Does it worry you?"

Ryan's eyes closed and she nodded.

"It will get better. It's just taking longer than you want. But time will heal you, honey. I'm sure of it."

The brunette sighed. "Life can be so hard."

"And so good," Jamie whispered, tightening her embrace and feeling her lover's solid body in her arms.

* * * * * *

Part 11

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