I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 14

Nurture

By SX Meagher

Part Fourteen

On Sunday afternoon, Jamie and Catherine sat at the end of a row of spectators that included Maeve, Martin, Jennie, Conor and Rory. The women intentionally tried to sit at the far end of a row during games so they could chat. They both loved showing their support for Ryan, but Jamie was only really interested when Ryan was playing, and Catherine couldn't even summon much enthusiasm at that point. But she loved to be with the family, and she took every opportunity she could to spend time with her daughter.

"Did I tell you about my dilemma in trying to find a date for the Opera Guild dinner?" Catherine asked.

Jamie turned to her with a puzzled glance. "No, I didn't know you were having trouble. Why didn't you tell me?"

"It wasn't a very big issue, honey. As a matter of fact, I was thinking of asking your father to go with me just to make everything appear normal. But that gossipy little item in the newspaper about our divorce ruined that plan," she said, making a face.

"Are you going alone? 'Cause I'd love to go with you," Jamie said, trying her best to sound sincere.

Catherine laughed. "Oh, honey, that's so sweet of you. But I know you'd rather watch paint dry than go to one of those events. Besides, you've had enough people staring at you this year. And if you needed another reason, Cassie's mother will be there. I can only imagine how much pleasure she'd get in saying something rude to you."

"Gosh, you sure do make it sound like a fun night. Do you have to go?"

"Since I'm the chairperson, it would be a good idea. But don't worry. I've found the perfect escort."

"Who's that?"

"Conor," Catherine said, looking very pleased with herself.

"Conor?"

"What?" the young man asked, leaning forward in his seat.

"Oh. Nothing," Jamie said. "I was just I forget," she added, turning red.

He gave her a look that questioned her sanity, then sat back to watch the action on the field.

"Conor?" the blonde asked again, quieter this time. "You're taking Conor to the dinner?"

"Yes. Why does that surprise you so?"

"He's he's Conor." Jamie said. "People will think you hired him from an escort service."

Clapping her hands together, Catherine said, "Goodness, I hope so."

"Are you all right? Everyone will be talking about you."

"They will be anyway," Catherine said lightly. "I might as well give them something good to talk about. I think we'll have a great time, and that's all that matters to me. I'm not going to stand for re-election, so I won't have to meet with the vipers who most annoy me every month. I'm free!"

"Mom! You've been on the board of the Opera Guild for forever."

"Only since you were a child," Catherine said. "I suppose that seems like forever, but it's really not. It's time for some new blood to get some power."

"You're hardly a relic. Don't give this up if you don't want to."

"I wouldn't," Catherine said, looking very confident about her decision. "I'm tired of seeing the same old faces and hearing the same petty gossip. I'll give more money to take the place of my labor. From now on I'm going to enjoy the opera as a spectator, nothing more. I'm sure I'll enjoy it more if I don't know about all of the squabbling that goes on behind the scenes."

"Wow," Jamie said. "I thought you'd always be connected to the Guild. This is really a big deal."

"Not for me," Catherine said. "I'm trying to divest myself of the things that haven't adding something positive to my life. I still want to do some charity work, but I'm going to find programs that appeal to me on a different level. Maybe I'll work with literacy programs or music education or something more down to earth."

"Okay," Jamie said, having trouble digesting the news.

"This is good news," Catherine said, sensing Jamie's doubts. "I'm getting rid of the things in my life that have been holding me back, making me feel stuck and unproductive."

Jamie summoned a smile and said, "If quitting makes you happy, I'm happy. But I think I might have to go to the dinner just to watch Conor flirt."

"Laura Martin and I are the new girls in the Guild," Catherine said. "The other women still call us that, by the way. Conor won't find many women from his generation."

"I've seen him flirt with octogenarians," Jamie said. "He flirts with anyone with a double X chromosome."

"Marvelous! That'll make people even more certain he's a paid escort." Catherine giggled, a sound Jamie was hearing more often, and loving more each time she heard it. "This is going to be fun!"

* * * * * *

After the game, Jamie and Jennie stood outside of the players' dressing room. Ryan walked out with Heather, and they all said hello. "Want a ride back to Berkeley, Heather?" Jamie asked.

"Sure. If you have room."

"It's just Jen and me," Jamie said. "My mom brought Conor and Rory, and Martin and Maeve drove up separately."

"Great. I'm always happy not to have to ride on the bus."

Jamie tossed Ryan the keys, and they walked to the parking lot together, where they spent a few minutes speaking to the rest of the family. When they were finally ready to leave, Ryan opened the doors and put her and Heather's bags in the back, then she went to sit in the passenger seat. Surprised, Jamie looked at her. "You don't want to drive?"

"Nah. I'm tired." The blonde was still staring at her, making Ryan finally ask, "What? I can't be tired?"

"Sure you can. But you don't look tired, and you don't act tired."

"I'm stealth-tired. It's under the radar. Let's go, okay? I'm also hungry."

"Well at least that's an indication of normalcy," Jamie said, accepting the keys from her lover.

Heather and Jennie were in the back seat, and they were both quiet, sensing some tension between their friends. Jamie bore a pensive expression, and Ryan looked a little fidgety. To break the silence, Jennie said, "I got my test back, and I got an 'A'. Thanks for helping me, Heather."

"Hey, that's great, Jen," Heather said. "Ashley just asked me if you'd gotten it back yet. She's always worried about grades-even when they're not hers."

"My offer still stands to help you with French whenever you need it," Jamie said.

"I know. But one of my girlfriends is from France, and we do our homework together. It's kinda like being able to do your homework with a teacher."

"She's not doing it for you, is she?" Jamie asked.

"No not really," Jennie said.

"Jennie "

"She doesn't do it for me, Jamie. She's just there when I get stuck."

"Just make sure you do the work to get yourself unstuck," Jamie said. "That's how you learn."

"I'm learning a lot," Jennie said. "We send notes to each other in French, and I have to figure them out. Sometimes it takes me all day!"

"Ryan's taking French," Jamie said, sneaking a look at her lover, who was slumped in her seat, staring blankly out the window.

Giggling, Jennie said, "Yesterday my note said, 'Oh, la vache! Le paquet de devoirs qu'il fiche aux potaches, ce prof ce n'est pas croyable! Je crois qu'il est sado!'"

Jamie laughed. "You're using some pretty good slang there, Jen. But will any of that be on your tests?" She looked at Ryan. "Did you get any of that, honey?"

"I heard, 'Oh, the cow.' But I doubt you were talking about farming." She said this with such a flat affect that Jamie wanted to pin her down and figure out what was going on. But she couldn't do that with Jennie and Heather in the car. So she took the first exit and went to a gas station. "Will you guys use my Speed-pass to fill up the car?"

"I don't know how," Jennie said, even while she eyed the key fob that Jamie handed her.

"You're smart girls. You'll figure it out. Ryan, will you come inside with me?"

"For what?"

Jamie gave her a sweet smile. "Because I asked you to."

Without comment, Ryan opened her door and got out, seemingly taking a lot of energy to accomplish the task. She followed Jamie into the bathroom, and stood there with her hands in her pockets. "What's up?"

"You're not," Jamie said, touching her on the shoulder. "What's bothering you?"

"Nuthin. I've gotta pee."

She walked into the stall, obviously expecting her partner to leave the room, but Jamie recognized a subterfuge when she saw one. She stayed right where she was, asking again, "Tell me."

There was a prolonged silence, during which Ryan managed to produce an ounce of urine. She came out and washed her hands while Jamie leaned against a sink and stared at her. "I'm supposed to be giving her music lessons every week. I don't think I've had time to do it twice since I gave her the damned clarinet."

Shoulders slumping in dismay, Jamie said, "She understands. I bet she doesn't have time anyway. And Rory's still teaching her some theory. It's not a bad idea to learn how to read music before you play an instrument."

Ryan dropped her head and mumbled, "I promised."

Jamie knew there was no way to assuage her partner's guilt, so she didn't even try. She slapped her lover on the shoulder and said, "Then you'll have to make it up to her this summer. You'll have her playing like a champ if you both put your minds to it."

Ryan nodded. "Yeah. I guess that's the answer."

Jamie put her hand around her waist and walked with her to the narrow door. "It'll be all right, honey. No one expects as much from you as you expect from yourself."

With a thin smile, Ryan said, "You're not the first to mention that."

* * * * * *

Jim Evans sat in the back seat of a Mercedes sedan with the car idling curbside at Reagan National Airport. There were signs next to the car decreeing that only "Official U.S. Government Business" was to be conducted, but it was commonplace for members of Congress to be picked up and dropped off in the spot.

He saw his father walk out of the terminal, and both he and the chauffeur alighted. Jim waved and caught his father's attention, and Charles got just a few feet before the chauffeur was at his side taking his bag. "Oh, you don't have to-"

The gray-haired man gave him a businesslike smile. "It's my job, sir. Allow me."

Charles released his bag and let the man carry it to the car and tuck it into the trunk. "Dad! It's great to see you!" Jim gave his father a surprisingly warm hug, then opened the rear door of the car. "Hop in, Dad." He dashed around to the other side and let the chauffeur hold and then close his door. "Good flight?"

"Yes, it was very nice," Charles said. "But you didn't have to put me in business class, son."

"Oh, please. It's nothing. Really."

"I was glad I didn't wear my clerical collar," Charles said. "Don't want people to think I'm raiding the collection plate."

"If every minister were as honest as you are, more people would belong to a church."

Charles patted his son on the leg, "You're not running for office, but I'd vote for you if you were. You don't have to flatter me."

Jim looked at him, holding his gaze for a moment. "I'm not flattering you. I meant that."

Slightly embarrassed, Charles smiled. "Thanks. I appreciate that." They pulled out into traffic, the roads congested, as usual. "Nice car you have here."

"Just one of the perks."

"Where are the perks better?" Charles asked, knowing his son loved the little and not-so-little items that went along with his jobs. "Law or politics?"

"Hmm that's hard to say. They're different, that's for sure. I guess the perks were better for me at the firm, but I'm treated like a demi-God in the senate. Each place is nice in its own way, but I prefer law."

"That surprises me a little," Charles said. "People give up an awful lot to win a senate seat."

"Yeah, they do. But it's never been a dream of mine. Politics is boring, if you ask me."

"Boring? Really?"

Jim laughed softly. "I shouldn't admit to that, but I'm used to getting things done. I could get on the phone with the president of a major corporation and work out a deal-just the two of us. Nothing gets done quickly in the senate. Nothing. It's all about compromise and waiting for the right time. If you were in office for thirty or forty years, you'd probably feel some accomplishment. But I'm just holding this place for Bob Washington. He really wants it."

"So you'll go back to your law firm?"

"Yeah," Jim said. "That's the plan."

* * * * * *

Charles Evans poked his silver head out of the bedroom on Monday morning, surprised to see his son showered and dressed, sitting at a table by the window, sections from several newspapers spread out in front of him. "Good morning," the younger man said when he spied his father. "Sleep well?"

"Very well. What are you up to?"

"Just reading a couple of papers."

"I assume you've got to do a lot of work to stay informed."

"Yeah. I read the Washington Post and the New York Times, then I get a news summary for the world from my staff."

"The world?"

"Well, not the whole world. Just the places where something is happening that might affect our interests." Jim gave his father a wry smile. "I was thinking about the founding fathers the other day, and felt a little envious that it could take over a month to get news from Europe. There's not a minute's time lag now. We're on a twenty-four hour news cycle." He stood up and said, "I made some coffee. Take a look at the room service menu and we'll order breakfast."

"You order breakfast?"

Jim raised an eyebrow. "I'm very busy. My time's worth too much to spend it cooking."

Charles clapped his hands together. "I've got to remember that you're a big boy now. You don't need my advice on how to live."

"I'd be doing a lot better if I'd taken your advice on a lot of subjects," Jim said as he disappeared into the kitchen to fetch some coffee."

* * * * * *

After her morning walk, Catherine sat down in her office and gathered some of her monogrammed stationery and a fountain pen. She played with the cap on the pen for a few moments, then checked the ink supply, a little disappointed to find it full. She wasn't ready to write the letter, but she knew she had to do it. The polite thing to do would be to speak to him in person, or at least on the phone, but he was very persuasive, and she didn't want to give him the chance to talk her into backing down.

After wasting as much time as she could, she uncapped the pen once more and wrote in Italian, "My dear, Giacomo. I hate to do this in a letter, but I've made a decision about us. I'm not able to see you any longer. It's not that I don't care for you, or find you a wonderful companion and lover. But I need more than you're able to give me."

* * * * * *

After breakfast, Jim asked, "What would you like to do today, Dad?"

"I'd like to see where you work. Would that be all right?"

"Sure. I've love to take you. I'll just put on a suit and tie."

"Oh we don't need to go."

"No, no, don't worry about it. I just don't like to be on the hill in casual clothes. I like to look like I'm working-even if I'm not."

"Are you sure you don't mind?"

Jim got up and put his hand on his father's shoulder. "I want to take you around town. I wear a suit and tie everywhere. It's my uniform."

Charles smiled at him. "A little different than California, huh?"

"Very. Washington is very stuffy. Very proper and traditional, too. People on my staff make fun of me because I wear Italian suits and shoes. Most of my colleagues buy American." He smiled. "One of the perks of not running for office. I don't have to wear a single-vent suit and an oxford-cloth shirt like all of the other guys."

"Hey! I wear a single-vent suit and an oxford-cloth shirt!"

"Only because you won't wear the shirts Catherine buys for you."

Charles made a face. "They're too nice. I hate to eat a bowl of soup if I'm wearing one of them. And they have to be dry-cleaned. My housekeeper can just run an iron over my oxford-cloth shirts."

"Well, I guess it doesn't matter any more. Catherine won't be buying our Christmas and birthday presents any longer. I'll try to think of something you'll really like, rather than something I think you should like."

A bit awkwardly, Charles gave his son a one-armed hug. "Bringing me here was the nicest present you could have given me."

* * * * * *

Jim and Charles exited the hotel and stood in the bright sunshine for just a moment before their car arrived. The doorman helped them in, saying, "Have a good day, Senator."

Seated in the comfortable sedan, Charles asked, "Was it hard to get used to being referred to that way?"

"I still turn around sometimes to see where someone important is," Jim said, laughing. "I really haven't settled in like I would if I were gonna be here long."

The trip to the hill was relatively short, and they both spent the trip admiring the flowering trees that dotted the streets of Washington. "I sure would enjoy having lovely trees like this," Charles said.

"Yeah, there are some definite benefits to living in a cold climate. But I wasn't crazy about the slush and sleet we had. Even though I didn't have to walk in it very much," Jim added, chuckling. "I'm practically carried everywhere I go."

The driver guided the car through a gate, showing some credentials to a uniformed officer. The man looked into the window, smiled and said, "Good morning, Senator Evans. Have a good day, sir."

"Thank you," Jim said, smiling.

Charles looked ahead, seeing a few black cars lined up. "Private entrance, huh?"

"We'd never get to work if we had to go through the main entrance. This makes things move along." The driver stopped and another police officer opened the door, once again greeting Jim by name.

The two men started to walk up the stairs together, but Charles stopped about halfway up. He smiled at his son, and patted him on the back. "I never thought I'd see the day my boy was a member of the senate."

"I wasn't elected, Dad. I was just picked out of a small crowd."

"Don't be modest," Charles said. "It's quite an accomplishment to be in that crowd, and you know it. And no matter how you got here-you're here-and I'm damned proud of you."

Jim smiled broadly, beaming with pleasure. "I hate to admit it, but I really wanted you to come so I could show off a little. I don't feel like I belong, but it's a fun club to be in-even for a short time."

When they got to the door, Jim could have sidestepped the security process, but he stayed in line and went through the metal detector with his father. They passed through a few doors, and entered the marble-clad halls of the United State Senate. "I haven't been here since gosh, I think it might have been when I was still in college," Charles said.

"Let's go look around, and then I'll take you to my office."

"Sounds good to me. Show the way, Senator."

They spent a few minutes in the old senate chamber and took a peek at the president's room, which was now used for interviews and photo opportunities. The senate was in session, and as they got closer to the chamber, more and more people bustled past them. "Can we come back during a break?" Charles asked. "I'd love to see where you sit."

They were nearing the door and Jim said, "We're going in now. Follow me." Jim said hello to the guard, who opened the door for them. They didn't walk very far, since Jim's desk was close to the back, on the right side with the other democrats.

Charles eyes were wide, and he looked around like he was afraid he'd be thrown out. Jim could tell he was uncomfortable, so he said, "Take a good look at how few people are listening to the guy who's talking."

Charles looked closely and saw that over a third of the desks were empty. Of the senators who were present, many of them were chatting with colleagues, some were reading, and some appeared to be dozing. Wide-eyed, Charles asked, "Is it always like this?"

"No, if we're debating something important, nearly everyone shows up. But even then, there are a million things going on." A young man approached and nodded to Jim. He put a pile of papers on the desk and started to turn away. "Jason, got a minute?"

"Uhm sure." It was clear the man didn't have much time, and equally clear he didn't want to be rude.

"Just a sec," Jim said. "I'd like to introduce you to my father. Dad, this is Jason Farlington. Jason works with me."

The young man stuck his hand out. "Good to meet you, Reverend Evans."

"Nice to meet you," Charles said. "Did you come from California?"

"No, I'm an Iowan. I've been here for over six years now. I was with Senator Somers. Senator Evans was kind enough to keep me on."

Jim laughed. "Jason was kind enough to stay on and keep things running. I'd still be looking for the dining room if it weren't for him."

Jason snuck a look at his watch. "Don't believe him, sir," he said, addressing Charles. "He's a very quick study. It takes most people a full term to really feel comfortable here."

Jim patted the man on the back. "Don't let us keep you, Jason. You look like you've got your hands full."

"Got a meeting with some lobbyists from the California Cotton Growers Association. Don't want to keep them waiting."

"Good to meet you," Charles said quietly, still nervous about talking in a normal tone of voice. As he watched Jason leave he asked, "Is that what your staff does all day? Take meetings?"

"Yep. A lot of the day. Everyone wants their share of the pot of gold."

"There's gotta be a better way," Charles said.

"I'm sure there is, but I don't think any country has found it yet."

* * * * * *

They left the senate chamber just after Jason did. Just outside of the room, Charles pulled Jim to a halt and stood there for a moment. "You had a pretty impressive office at the law firm, but it was nothing compared to this. I'm a little awestruck."

"If you think my desk at the back of the room is nice, wait'll you see my office. You'll want a tax refund!"

They took a shuttle from the Capitol to the Hart senate office building, where Jim and forty-nine other senators were quartered. The building was modern-much more modern than Charles had imagined. "This hardly looks like a government building," he said. "I thought there'd be lots of worn marble and statuary."

Jim twitched his head at the huge Alexander Calder sculpture in the center of a soaring atrium. "This building's not even twenty years old. We have nearly the same number of senators that we've had for the past hundred and fifty years, but now we need three buildings to house us."

They took an elevator to the third floor and entered a rather unimpressive door. A fairly typical office layout filled the space. High modular walls created fairly private workspaces for about ten people. They walked past the cubicles and went through another door, and Jim grinned when his father's eyes opened wide. Suddenly, they were in a large, opulent, high-ceilinged room-decorated in navy and a warm buttercream yellow. A woman, sitting behind a magnificent desk, spoke quietly into a nearly invisible headset. She gave Jim a friendly wave, then started to write on a notepad. "Nice digs, huh?" Jim asked.

"Good lord! What was that other room? The place where the people who polish the wood take a rest?"

Jim turned and pointed up. Charles followed his instructions and saw that there was a second floor above the office they'd just left. The upper floor had a huge glass window that would allow the people on that floor visual access to the reception area. "My staff is on two floors. All of the senators have sixteen foot ceilings, and the staff quarters are divided in two to save a little space. The upper floor has all of my legislative staff and the lower floor has my schedulers, personal assistants and the press staff. Then I have a bunch of people who work in the mailroom. I get a lot of mail."

"I had no idea," Charles said, stunned.

"I've got over 8,000 square feet. That's a damned big office!"

"I'm almost afraid to see where you sit," Charles said. "Or do you lie on a pile of gilt cushions?"

"I'm working on that," Jim said. "But for now, I just have a desk." He opened the heavy, painted door and escorted his father inside. "But it's a nice desk, isn't it?"

"Nice?" Charles put his hands on his hips and did a slow turn, taking in the huge desk, two velvet sofas and wooden table with six chairs. "I'm paying for this!"

"And for the fresh flowers," Jim said, indicating two elaborate arrangements. "Those come every other day."

"Your office in San Francisco looked like a phone booth compared to this!"

"I know. This is part of what makes people want these jobs. You get used to being important, and everyone here makes you feel very, very important." He gestured to one of the sofas. "Have a seat and I'll get us something to drink."

The words were barely out of his mouth when his secretary knocked and poked her head in. "Tea? Coffee? Soft drinks? Bagels? Danish?"

"Whoa!" Jim said, laughing. "You're going to make my father think I'm always treated this well."

The woman winked and said, "You are."

"Margaret Aimes, this is my father."

"Reverend Evans, it's so good to meet you," Margaret said, shaking Charles' hand. "It's so nice to put a face with a name."

"Same here," Charles said. "It certainly looks like Jim's being very well taken care of."

"We just love him," Margaret said, looking entirely sincere. "He's so much easier to get along with than Senator Somers." She clapped her hand over her mouth and said, "Forgive me for speaking ill of the dead."

"I can't forgive sins," Charles said, "but as sins go, that one barely registers."

"Oh, I can see where Senator Evans gets his charm from," Margaret said.

"You must pay her well," Charles said, laughing.

"Not well enough. And I'd love some juice, Margaret," Jim said. "How about you, Dad? Margaret can magically make anything you want appear."

"I don't want to be any trouble. Coffee's fine."

"What do you really want?" Margaret asked. "It's no trouble. Really."

"A decaf cappuccino?" he asked tentatively.

"Back in a minute," she said. "What kind of juice, Senator?"

"Surprise me," Jim said.

Margaret left, and the men sat on opposing sofas. "If I were you, I'd hole up in here and refuse to leave in December," Charles said.

"I'm ready to go," Jim said. He looked contemplative for a moment, then said, "I'm even more ready than I was a short time ago."

"Why's that?"

"Oh, things are not going well between Kayla and me."

"Mmm." Charles just nodded. "I was wondering if you were still seeing each other."

"Yeah, we are. But she thinks she'll stay in Washington when my term's up. I I thought we might go back to California and live together or at least work together. I really rely on her, Dad. She's " He looked away, and shrugged his shoulders in an oddly adolescent way.

Margaret knocked on the door and brought in a tray with a tall glass of pineapple juice and a steaming cup of cappuccino. She left before they could finish thanking her and both men chuckled at the words that hadn't been said.

"Tell me more about Kayla," Charles said.

"It's not just Kayla. It's all of the women in my life."

"There are others?"

"Oh! No, no, just Kayla. I mean that I'm having a hard time with Kayla and Catherine and Jamie. I used to think I knew how to treat women and what they wanted, but in the last year I've either gotten stupid or I was deluding myself."

"I don't think you've gotten stupid, son," Charles said, looking at Jim over the rim of his coffee cup.

"Smooth, Dad. Very smooth. So you think I haven't ever known how to deal with women?"

"Oh, you and your mother got along very well. Maybe too well."

"That's a little Freudian. Care to elaborate?"

Charles nodded. "I don't mean to analyze you. But you could do no wrong where your mother was concerned. I'm not sure it was good for you to be able to sweet-talk her into anything you wanted."

Jim took a drink of his juice, his forehead creased in thought. "I don't remember it being like that."

"It was. It certainly wasn't intentional, but I think we set you up to be a very successful man. Your mother treated you like a little prince and I set goals for you that you could never quite reach."

Waving him off, Jim said, "Don't be silly. You were great parents."

"No, we weren't," Charles said, his voice somber. "I was consumed by my career when you were young. Power and prestige meant everything to me. I put those same warped goals on you, son, and you did your best to make me proud of you."

"So you set goals for me. What's wrong with that?"

"I think you believed that I'd love you more if you met those goals," Charles said. He looked like he was about to cry. "And to be honest, I might have. It's only since I've had my spiritual awakening that I've realized love can't be attained or earned. It just is."

"Come on, Dad. You're being silly. There's nothing wrong with the way you and mom raised me. You have nothing to apologize for."

"You're wrong, Jim," Charles said. "We both made a lot of mistakes. And I think some of our mistakes have contributed to your problems with the women in your life."

The younger man got up and went to his window, looking at the expansive view of The Mall. "That's a lot of psycho-babble, Dad. I don't believe in coming up with excuses for why I do things. I've made my mistakes and I need to learn from them."

"I can't argue with that, son." He paused for a moment, waiting for Jim to look at him. "But if you've learned from them, why do you keep making them?"

His face flushing, Jim asked, "What does that mean?"

"You heard me. You have a very difficult time allowing the women in your life to have their own lives their own opinions their own needs."

"Oh, Jesus," Jim snapped. "Now you sound like Kayla. Or Jamie."

Charles settled back into his seat and looked at his son until Jim reluctantly made eye contact with him. "I'm not a psychic. How would I know that Kayla felt that way?"

Jim grumbled quietly, then walked back to the sofa and sat down heavily. "Damn it, Dad, what am I supposed to do? How do I change?"

"I'm not sure," Charles said. "But I think you have to."

* * * * * *

That night, Jim and Charles went to one of the restaurants populated with Washington insiders. Charles was not-so-discreetly looking around, trying to see if he recognized anyone. Jim joined him, his lips pursed. "Mmm a couple of congressmen and a bunch of lobbyists. All those guys do is go out to lunch and dinner. I don't know how they don't all weight five hundred pounds."

"Then I'm with the most important man in the place," Charles said, with a teasing smile.

"Yeah, you're a lucky guy." The waiter came by and took their drink orders, and when he left there was a stilted silence.

"You've been pretty quiet this afternoon," Charles said. "Is everything all right?"

Jim didn't answer right away. He was obviously debating whether to reply, and he eventually let out a breath and said, "I'm thinking about what you said this afternoon."

"Mmm."

"I have a hard time believing you don't have any suggestions for ways to change."

Charles held up his hands. "I don't know of any shortcuts. And I'm sure you know the difficult ways to change behavior."

"What? Therapy?"

"That works for a lot of people. But it's a waste of time if you're not motivated and ready to be brutally honest."

The server stopped and set their drinks in front of them. Jim took a sip of his Manhattan, smiling slightly while he savored the expertly made drink. "I take it you don't think I'm motivated," Jim said while he played with the cherry stem sticking over the lip of his glass.

"I didn't say that." Charles sipped his wine, an enigmatic smile on his face.

"But you do think it."

"No, I don't. I don't have any idea how motivated you are, Jim. Only you know that."

"I could get motivated if I thought it worked," Jim said, scowling.

"Therapy does work-for the right person-in the right circumstances. It's worked for me. It's worked for Jamie."

"Yeah, it's made Jamie into an entirely different person! She was a fantastic kid before she got involved with that lesbian class and started seeing that shrink."

"Ryan's not on your list of evil influences?" Charles asked lightly.

Jim smirked at his father. "I honestly don't think Ryan has influenced her as much as that therapy has. Ryan seems like she wants Jamie and me to be close. She really seems to value family."

"She does," Charles agreed. "But she's been an integral factor in a lot of Jamie's changes."

Looking frustrated, Jim said, "Oh, the changes aren't all bad, and you know it. It's just that Jamie's so short with me. It's like she's ready to jump on me for the slightest thing. I don't think she and I ever had a serious argument before this last year, and now it seems like all we do is fight."

"Maybe you're making up for lost time."

"What?"

"It's not normal for parents and kids to have a perfectly smooth relationship. If you're not having some ups and downs someone's hiding something."

"She seemed perfectly happy to me," Jim said. "Perfectly."

"That's not how I saw her."

Jim waited for his father to continue, but he didn't add a word. Impatiently, Jim asked, "Are you going to tell me how you saw her? Or do I have to guess?"

"I'll tell you if you want to know."

"Of course I want to know. I do value your opinion, you know."

"You don't ask for it very often," Charles said neutrally.

Eyes narrowing, Jim said, "I'm asking now."

"All right." He pursed his lips and looked at a spot to the left of Jim's head. He thought for a few moments, then said, "Jamie always seemed like a girl who wanted to do the right thing."

"And that's bad?"

"Only when she's not the one who's deciding what's right," Charles said. "Jamie wanted to please you and Catherine-you in particular. She wanted to be the perfect daughter, the perfect granddaughter, the perfect student. But she didn't seem to get much pleasure out of striving for those goals. She seemed lifeless, in a way. Like she was playing a role rather than making up her own mind about her life." He took a long sip of his drink and set it down with a thump. "I've seen more joy in that girl's face in the last year than I did in the previous twenty-one. And I'm damned glad for it."

"She still loves you," Jim grumbled. He was slumped in his seat, looking like he did when he was a teenager.

"She loves you too, Jim. The fact that she's hung in there with some of the pranks you've pulled proves that."

Jim slowly shook his head, looking completely defeated. "I don't know if she loves me or not. Sometimes I think we'll have one of those relationships where we get together just to argue."

"It doesn't have to be that way, Jim. I know Jamie doesn't want that."

Raising one dark blond eyebrow, Jim asked, "You know that for a fact?"

"I do. She loves you very much and she wishes you could get past some of the things that have been causing friction. But there's only so much she can do."

"So the ball's in my court, huh?"

"Jamie hasn't said that. But I would."

* * * * * *

On Tuesday morning, Ryan was unnaturally verbal at her group therapy session. As soon as it was her turn, she said, "I can't drive anymore."

She had a strange look on her face, and Ellen wasn't sure if she was going to continue. After a few seconds, the therapist asked, "How long has it been since you felt like driving?"

"Oh." Ryan nodded to herself. "I can drive if I'm alone. I just can't do it if anyone's in the car with me. I think Jamie's gonna figure it out pretty soon, 'cause I used to drive every time we rode together."

"And you don't want to tell her?" Ellen asked. "She might be able to help you, Ryan."

The young woman looked at her for a second, eying her warily. "How could she help me?"

Turning her gaze to the group, Ellen asked, "Anyone have any ideas?"

Helen raised her hand. "I wasn't able to go to my husband's office to pick up his things after he died. They kept calling me, reminding me, and every time I felt so humiliated that I couldn't face it." She looked at Ryan. "I stopped answering the phone, just so I didn't have to explain why I couldn't come."

"What did you do?" Ryan asked, intensely interested.

"A friend was visiting one day when the office called, and she could tell something was wrong. She offered to go for me," she said, smiling fondly. "But just hearing how easy it seemed for her to go gave me some courage. I called the secretary back, and my friend and I went that very afternoon." She paused for a second, then wiped her eye with the back of her hand. "There were some wonderful things in that box. I'm glad I got them."

Ryan smiled at her, the empathetic look conveying her understanding. "I'm glad you did, too."

"Do you think that Jamie might be able to go on some short rides around town with you, Ryan? Just for a little experiment?"

"She would," Ryan said. "But I'm not ready. It's too much. Too much."

"What is?"

Pursing her lips in her most annoyed fashion, Ryan said, "She already has to change her schedule around to go on my road trips. I don't want to ask her to do anything else. It's enough."

"But you need more," Ellen gently suggested.

"I don't want her to worry about me," Ryan said. "I'm fine when I'm alone. I don't feel much different when I'm walking around town or driving. But when I'm with her or her mom, I can't relax if we're outside. Everybody looks like a killer. If I'm a passenger, I can keep an eye on more things. Nobody's gonna sneak up on us again," she said, her eyes burning.

Ellen didn't want to press her, and no one else volunteered to speak, so she let it drop. But she made a mental note to bring it up again the next week to see if Ryan would consider taking another step in her recovery.

* * * * * *

Dinner was waiting when Ryan got home from practice on Thursday night. Her nose twitched, trying to guess what they were having as she went into the kitchen.

Jamie turned just as Ryan was about to touch her, and the smaller woman jumped. "You were sneaking up on me again!"

Ryan put her arms around Jamie and hugged her tight. "I was not. I'm just quiet."

"I think you learned how to be quiet so you can sneak up on people." Jamie let her head drop back and looked up at her lover. "Why haven't I been kissed?"

Rather than answer, Ryan's head bent and she kissed the soft lips that always made her feel like she was home. "Missed you," she said.

Jamie hugged her, holding on tightly. When she moved away, she asked, "Did you really? You're usually too busy to miss me."

Ryan sat on a stool and rested her head on her hand. "Yeah, I did. I just found out that someone I really admire died, and I was bummed. You always make me feel better when I'm upset."

Jamie was holding her before the brunette finished her sentence. "Honey! Who died?"

Resting her head on her lover's breast, Ryan said, "W.D. Hamilton."

"Uhm should I know him?"

Nodding, Ryan said, "You should, but I'm sure you don't. He'll probably be a household name in a hundred years if his theories hold up." She looked at Jamie and saw total befuddlement. "I'm sorry." She pulled back. "He was a biologist. One of the most original thinkers ever."

Squeezing her partner's shoulder, Jamie walked back to the stove to finish the meal. "Tell me about him."

"The sucky thing is that he was perfectly healthy," Ryan said. "Only about sixty-five. But he contracted malaria and died while he was in the Congo. He was investigating the theory that AIDS came from infected polio vaccines given in central Africa in the 1950's."

"Wow. Is that really possible?"

"Sure. I've got the book that explains the theory, but I haven't had time to read it."

Jamie shook her head. "There's so much we don't know. You try to wipe out one disease, and you wind up killing millions more."

Ryan gave her a thoughtful look. "That's one of the reasons I worry about being a scientist."

"What?"

"We know so little," Ryan said. "Sometimes I feel like we're stumbling around in almost complete darkness. I mean, Hamilton was a big deal a very big deal. But what was he able to do to really do during his life?"

She folded her arms and laid her head on them, a pose Jamie found impossibly endearing.

"One of the great thinkers of our time, and even though his contributions to biology are huge, I don't think one life has been saved because of his work." She frowned and mumbled something to herself. "Sometimes I think I'd better stick with math."

"You don't have to decide tonight, baby. You just have to decide what kind of dressing you want on your salad."

Ryan got up and walked over to her partner. "Your choice. The chef knows best. All I know is that I'm hungry."

"That's my girl," the blonde said, and gave her another hug. "You'll feel better after you eat. You always do."

"Then why do I ever feel bad?" Ryan asked. "I'm always eating."

* * * * * *

The next afternoon, Ryan had an hour free before practice, so she found a sunny spot on the lawn near the softball field and pulled out her cell phone. Hitting the speed dial, she waited a minute, then said, "Hey. It's me."

"I thought you'd lost my number," Ally Webster said. "Where the hell have you been?"

"Running my ass off," Ryan admitted. "I know this is hard to believe, but this is the first unscheduled hour I've had in weeks."

"Where are you? I hear birds chirping."

"I'm lying on the grass near the softball field. I have practice soon."

"You guys are doing great," Ally said. "Sara keeps me up to date. She gets an e-mail about your and Jamie's teams."

"You should come see us play," Ryan said. "Although we probably play when you're working."

"My weekends are pretty booked," Ally said. "Makes it hard to spend as much time with Sara as I'd like."

"How's it going?" Ryan asked. "Still hot and heavy?"

Ally laughed. "None of your business, hot stuff. You know I don't kiss and tell."

"I wasn't asking about the sex," Ryan said, chuckling. "Sheesh! You do have a relationship outside of the bedroom, don't you?"

"Yeah," Ally drawled. "What do you want to know about it?"

"I wanna know how you both are," Ryan said, frustrated with her friend's reticence. "What's going on? Are you mad at me?"

"How can I be mad at you? I haven't seen you. Or talked to you. Or gotten a post card."

"Okay, okay," Ryan said. "You've got me dead to rights. But I did send you an e-mail."

"After I called you," Ally said. "That's what I do when I don't wanna talk to someone."

Ryan was quiet for a moment, debating how frank to be. "I really don't want you to take this personally," she said. "I haven't had time for any of my friends. Hell, I haven't had time for Jamie. I'm in over my head."

"Aw, sugar, tell me what's going on?"

"Nothing bad," Ryan said. "I'm just really overscheduled. I'm not seeing my family enough, I haven't taken my poor dog for a walk in a month, Caitlin could've learned to read for all I know!"

Ally laughed. "I kinda doubt you're that disconnected, but I get your message. And I won't take it personally."

"I feel disconnected," Ryan said, feeling a little uncomfortable when the words left her mouth.

"Tell me about it," Ally said. "I'm your friend."

"I know," Ryan said. "But I can't explain it. Things just aren't clicking for me right now. I'm just trying to hold on until we graduate. Then I can reconnect with Jamie. It seems like all we do together is eat and sleep."

"How's Jamie doing?" Ally asked. "We saw her piece in the paper. That must have been fun."

"Yeah. A real blast," Ryan said, chuckling mirthlessly. "She's good, though. Too busy, but good."

"We're gonna have to get together," Ally said. "When will you have more time?"

"After graduation. We're taking time off after that. I plan on sleeping through June."

"I know you, Rock. That'll last about one day, then you'll be itching to get going again. Face it, you're hyperactive."

"I guess I can't argue with that," Ryan said. "You'd know better than most."

"Yeah, I guess I would. We had some great times together, baby, but it's nice to be in a relationship, isn't it?"

"Sure is," Ryan said. "I was about to blow a gasket."

Ally laughed. "I'm glad you're happily hooked up. But don't forget your old buddies, okay? We both love you."

"I love you guys, too," Ryan said, the words feeling strange rolling off her tongue. "We'll get together as soon as we can, okay?"

"Deal. Give my best to Jamie."

"I will. Same for Sara. Bye."

Ryan hung up and rolled onto her back again. There was something very strange about talking with Ally on the phone. She knew she could get used to it over time, but she wasn't sure they'd ever be able to be platonic friends. Feeling glum, she pulled out her laptop and started writing a long e-mail to her cousin Aisling, always feeling better when she vented her feelings to the person she could trust with every secret.

* * * * * *

Part 15

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