By SX Meagher
Mia sat in the O'Flaherty living room, with Jamie at her side. The brunette was still a little teary, but she had come to accept that Jordan was taking the proper long-term view of their situation. "I hate being an adult," she muttered.
Jamie put her arm around her friend and pulled her over for a long hug. "It does suck sometimes, doesn't it?"
"I made such a big deal about how mature I was when I was freaking out with my parents last night, and an hour later I was ready to go to Colorado with no plans at all. I hate it when they're right. I am just an immature jerk,"
Hugging her tighter, Jamie placed a kiss on her temple. "You're not immature or a jerk. You were upset-justifiably upset last night. But as soon as you and Jordan talked it out, you decided to slow down and think it through. That was a very mature thing to do."
"I only did it because Jordy talked me into it," Mia admitted. "That shouldn't count."
"Sure it should! If you were immature, you'd stick to your guns no matter what. Don't cut yourself down, buddy. You don't deserve it."
Mia gave her a half-hearted smile. "I'm just pissy today. I can't bear to have my Jordy leave me."
"I know," Jamie said. She turned and looked into the dining room, seeing Jordan and Ryan standing in the corner speaking quietly. "You guys had better get going. It's 1:30."
"Damn," Mia sighed. She got up and saw her lover. "What do you think they talk about when they're alone?"
"Oh, I think they have their own little jock way of saying goodbye. I'm sure we'll never know."
* * * * * * * *
Ryan leaned against the wall, deep in thought. "I don't know, Jordan. I guess we could have improved if one of us had been a middle-blocker last year, but I still think having a dominant pair of outside hitters is the way to go."
"I did, too," Jordan said. "But seeing what kind of damage we're doing with our middle-blocker cheating on the weak-side has convinced me that we could have done better against schools with a big girl in the middle."
Ryan caught sight of the other two women getting up. "Time to go," she said.
Jordan wrapped her arm around Ryan's neck, getting her in a good headlock. She roughly pushed her around, with Ryan laughing rather than trying to extricate herself. For good measure, the blond thunked her head like a cantaloupe before letting go.
Ryan stood up and pushed her hair out of her eyes before diving for Jordan's knees and sweeping her off her feet. She stood, holding her friend in her arms. "How much do you weigh?" she asked, while Jordan squawked indignantly.
"Not enough," Mia said as she and Jamie walked into the room. "She's skin and bones."
"Put me down," Jordan demanded.
Ryan placed a loud, wet kiss on her cheek then deposited her onto the floor. "Don't they feed you?" she asked.
"Yes, they feed me," Jordan said, a little embarrassed at how easily Ryan could pick her up. "About six people tell me what and when to eat. I feel like a lab rat."
"Tell 'em to finish their studies before the rat dies of malnutrition," Ryan said, her tone more serious than it had been before.
"I'm fine," Jordan said. "The point is to be in peak shape in September, not now. They pay a lot of people to think for us. Don't try to upset the system." She was smiling, but it was clear that there was an edge to her comments.
"I'm sure they know what they're doing," Ryan said, clapping her on the back. "Maybe they're trying to make you into a stealth outside-hitter. You'll be so thin, your opponents won't even see you."
"That's probably it," Jordan said. She knew that Ryan could razz her all day, but she wanted to spend her little remaining time with Mia. "We've gotta go, guys. Thanks for everything." She opened her arms and Jamie nestled in for a hug. Jordan kept her arm around Jamie, and the foursome walked to the front door. Ryan squeezed her shoulder, then ruffled her hair a little. "You two take care of yourselves," Jordan said.
"We will," Jamie said. She moved aside and felt Ryan's arm encircle her waist. Leaning against her, she waved goodbye, and Jordan and Mia walked down the open staircase, Duffy escorting them to the sidewalk.
"C'mon back, Duff," Ryan called out, and the obedient pup trotted back up and sat at her feet, waiting for a head-scratch.
"Yes, you're a good boy," she said. They closed the door, and Ryan made for the loveseat, stretching out as well as she could.
Jamie leaned against the front door, looking pensive and a little down. "I'm worried about them."
"Yeah," Ryan said. She arched her back and let her head dangle for a moment. "I hate to see Mia act so impulsively, but I can really understand wanting to get outta town after the way her parents treated her."
Jamie stuck her hands in her pockets and pushed against the fabric with her fists. "I know her parents, Ryan, and they love her as much as your father loves you."
Ryan looked up, surprised.
"I know it sounds like they were assholes, but that's not that odd. She and her mom yell at each other, but it always blows over quickly. I think she should try to work things out with them before she leaves town."
"Hey! I thought you said you'd leave today if you were Mia."
"Yeah, I'd want to, but I'm not sure if I really would. I'm afraid she's really gonna damage her relationship with her mom, and her mom means an awful lot to her."
"But so does Jordan."
"Of course she does," Jamie agreed. "But what's she gonna do in Colorado? Jordan's busy all day. Mia doesn't know anyone there. You know how social she is. She'd freak if she were alone all the time."
"Damn, it's hard raising a family," Ryan said, chuckling at her own joke.
Jamie laughed while she walked over to her partner. "I'm beat."
Jamie sat on her thighs, making Ryan giggle. "I think we need a long nap and " She slipped her hand up the long expanse of thigh to rest right on the seam of Ryan's sweats. "A little more lovin'."
Ryan pumped her hips, a happy grin on her face. "Sounds good." Jamie got up and held out a hand to help her partner to her feet. "But I promised Tommy we'd watch the baby this afternoon."
"What?" Jamie gave her partner a puzzled look. "When did you do that?"
"Yesterday I think. I'm not sure. He and Annie wanna go look for new apartments." She returned her partner's look. "Why? Don't you wanna see Caitlin?"
"Well, sure, I always wanna see her," Jamie said, "but I thought we could have some down time today. I'm kinda beat."
"Oh." Ryan looked a little confused, as she often did when she and Jamie didn't share an agenda. "I could watch her by myself."
The blonde barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. "I wanna chill with you," she said. "I wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon just napping and making love."
Ryan looked a little sick. "I guess I could cancel but it's a little late for that."
Jamie shook her head. "It's fine." She patted Ryan's waist. "No big deal. Let me get my phone and put my shoes on."
"You sure?" Ryan asked. "'Cause I could cancel."
You'd rather shoot yourself, Jamie thought. "No, it's fine, honey. But tell me when you make commitments like this. I can adjust my expectations."
"I'll try," Ryan said. "I just don't think sometimes."
"Oh, you think all the time," Jamie said. "You just don't always think of yourself first."
* * * * * * * *
They'd been at the Driscoll house for a few minutes, and Ryan was already on the floor with Caitlin, chasing her through the small house. "Where are you guys going to look at houses?" Jamie asked.
"We can't afford a house if we're gonna stay close," Annie said. "We're just gonna try to find a two-bedroom apartment that we can afford."
"But Caitlin loves her little back yard," Jamie said.
"I know she does," Annie agreed. "But we're really gonna be strapped if we stay here. The rent went up $300 a month. $3600 a year is a big bite for us."
"Damn," Jamie said, looking around the tiny house. "They've got some nerve."
"They sure do," Tommy agreed. "All of my friends in the department are moving way, way out so they can have a decent-sized house, but then we'd have to put Cait in daycare."
"And your mother would kill you," Jamie added.
"So would mine," Annie said. "My mom threw a fit when I said we might try the Mission. Everybody wants us to stay in Noe, and so do we, but it's getting harder and harder to do."
"Niall says there are still some bargains in the Mission," Jamie said. "But they're all fixer-uppers."
"Hey, why don't you guys buy the first house that the cousins are gonna fix up?" Ryan asked.
"They wanna make money," Tommy said. "And I don't blame 'em. It'll be out of our price range when they're finished."
"Aren't you gonna help?" Jamie asked.
"Nah. I would if we didn't have Caitlin," Tommy said, "but I can't be working on a house every weekend I have off. Besides," he laughed, "Annie won't let me."
She bumped him with her hip. "Caitlin needs to have time with her daddy. That's more important than having a nicer place to live."
"I agree completely," Jamie said. Of course, I can afford to agree since I've never had to worry about having a nice place to live.
* * * * * * * *
Three hours later, Jamie sat in the little living room, idly reading the Sunday paper while Ryan lay on her back on the floor with Caitlin sprawled over her body. They were both sound asleep, and Jamie was tempted to join them. But she wasn't much for sleeping on the floor, and the sofa was too short for her to stretch out on. She considered going to nap on Annie and Tommy's bed, but she thought that was a little forward even for the casual O'Flaherty/Driscoll clan. So she fished one of her books out of her purse and tried to do a little reading to get a head-start on her class work for the week. I've gotta figure out how to get comfortable enough to sleep anywhere if I'm gonna be a successful member of this family, she thought, a little jealous of Caitlin for being able to fit entirely on Ryan's body.
* * * * * * * *
At 6:45 that evening, Jamie sat in her car, revving the engine while she waited for her partner. Finally, Ryan jogged down the stairs of her family's home, uncharacteristically late. "What's up with you?" Jamie asked when the taller woman was seated and buckled in.
Ryan gave her a slightly confused glance, then looked out the windshield. "Nothing's wrong. Why?"
"Well, you were poking around for a good fifteen minutes, then you didn't want to drive, even though your car's right across the street, then you took forever to come down. That's not like you."
Giving her a cherubic smile, Ryan said, "Maybe it's the real me I've kept hidden for all these months. From now on, I'm gonna be late and inconsiderate."
Knowing that Ryan was not going to give her a direct answer and not feeling like playing detective, Jamie put the car into first gear. "Who should run this meeting?"
"Niall, I guess," Ryan said, "even though Brendan would do a better job."
"Then why Niall?"
"Mmm " Ryan made the soft, musical sound she made when she had an opinion, but wanted to edit it before she spoke. "I think the lads will be more amenable to listening to Niall than they would Bren."
Jamie snuck a quick glance at her lover, trying to read her face. The strong features were impassive, so the blonde let it slide. "You've got something going on in that pretty head," Jamie said. "But you're gonna make me work for it, aren't ya?"
Ryan turned and smiled at her partner. The guileless, open expression always melted Jamie's heart. "I'm as blank as a slate," she said. "You always think I've got a million things going in my mind. But sometimes the only things going on up here," she tapped her temple, "are the basic requirements for existence. No thoughts no feelings just breathe in, pump blood, digest food."
When Ryan turned up the power of her smile, Jamie wasn't fooled. She knew her partner was indeed working something over in her head. But she also knew that Ryan shared her feelings when she was good and ready, especially when they concerned her family.
"Forget I asked," the smaller woman said. "But this deal is pretty complex, and if your cousins are on the ball, they'll have a lot of questions."
"I've never claimed that my cousins were on the ball," Ryan said. She laughed soundlessly, then leaned back against her seat and watched the sights as the Boxster worked its way to the Sunset District.
* * * * * * * *
When everyone had arrived, Niall took a swig of his beer and tried to explain the details of the plan Jamie had come up with. Brendan and Maggie had worked on the raw idea, making it as simple as possible, but when Niall talked about it, it didn't seem so simple after all.
Ryan was sitting on the floor in front of Jamie and fidgeting so badly that the blonde wanted to pinch her. But her stoic partner kept her mouth closed when she wasn't sucking on her beer like a baby bottle.
When everyone was thoroughly confused, Jamie couldn't stand it any longer, and she had to step in. "If I can say a few things?" she asked, finding herself surprisingly tentative. All eyes turned to her, and she looked at her notes then said, "This is really simple, guys. We form our own company to buy distressed homes, fix 'em up, and sell 'em. Niall will make $200,000 from the sale of this place, and he's agreed to use that money as the seed money for all of the houses we buy. So all we have to do is take out construction loans to pay for materials. When the place is finished, we sell it, use the $200,000 as another down payment, and use the profit to pay for materials on the next house. By the time we've done a few houses, we should have enough money to start distributing income."
"But how do we split up the money?" Donal asked.
"That's what we have to agree on tonight," Jamie said. "Since everyone has already agreed on the idea, we just have to hammer out the details. The big one is how to pay out profits."
"I didn't understand the stuff Brendan gave us," Declan said. "It didn't make sense at all."
"Yeah," Padraig said. "Why are the girls and Brendan not getting paid? Aren't you all part of this? And why does Rory only get a half-
Jamie shot a look at her partner, but Ryan didn't come to her rescue. She was looking at her with the same blank stare that nearly everyone else in the room had. Jamie could see that Brendan wanted to chime in, but he didn't speak either, leaving her to carry the ball. "Well, we're in school and both doing our sports until June. Then we're getting married and going on a honeymoon."
"That's the last thing you two need," Kevin mumbled, just loud enough to be heard. "You've been on a honeymoon since you met."
All of the boys laughed at that, and Jamie tried not to blush. "True," she said, "but we're taking one anyway. So we won't be able to help until fall. We thought we'd meet again in September and see how things stand. We'll help out before then, but I don't think it'll be very often."
"But if you work, you should get paid," Colm said.
"Colm, I helped you work on Niall's kitchen," Jamie reminded him. "Would you have been happy to give me half of your pay for that day?"
"Sure," he said, always gallant.
"Well, that's because you're generous," Jamie said.
"That's because he thinks you're fine," someone from the back of the room said.
Ryan got to her knees and scowled in the direction of the comment, making the boys laugh even harder.
"Anyway," Jamie said loudly, trying once again not to blush. "We're not skilled in any of these jobs. We like to hang out and help a little, but we're not even good enough to be day laborers."
"You would be if you kept at it," Colm said. "And Ryan's plenty good enough to be paid a wage."
"There's a big difference between lending a hand once in a while and being part of the team," Ryan said, finally breaking her silence. "If we drop by to have lunch and drink a few beers, that's one thing. If we commit to giving up our nights and weekends, that's quite another. We're still at the beer and lunch point-so it's not fair to pay us."
"And I'm gone for half the year," Rory said. "So I should only get a half share."
"Why couldn't you work full-time for half the year?" Dermot asked. "What else have ya got to do?"
"Well, nothing really," Rory said. "But it'd have to be an 8:00 to 4:00 kinda thing, since I play a lot of gigs at night."
"You should get a full share," Dermot said. "S'only right."
"Okay," Rory said. "You fellas can make sure I'm pulling my weight."
"None of that!" Frank's deep voice carried over the crowd. "Nobody keeps track of nobody else! You're in or you're out. And if you're in, you keep an eye on yourself, nobody else."
His proclamation was met with heads nodding and mumbled agreement.
Jamie smiled, thinking back to Ryan's prediction that the cousins would behave in just such a manner. "Okay, so everyone who wants to commit his weekends and some nights to the project gets a full share. That makes it very, very simple."
"Why not you, Brendan?" Kevin asked.
"I could use the money," Brendan said, "but I can't commit to evenings. I have to work late too often."
"And I'm in charge of him on the weekends," Maggie said, wrapping her arm around his neck. "He's off limits."
"Women ruin everything," Niall said, giving Maggie a wink.
"How would you know, when you've never had one?" another man called out also from the back of the room.
"I know you're back there, Kieran. You're the only one I can't see, you moron."
Kieran's dark head popped up from behind Frank. "Just trying to keep the party lively," he said.
"So, are we finished?" Niall asked.
Jamie was quite sure that almost nothing had been discussed, but she knew that was the O'Flaherty way.
Frank piped up again. "Is everything in these papers, Bren?"
"Yeah. Maggie and I worked on it together to make it as simple as possible. We'll file the papers to get a D/B/A and all of the other details. But you should all read and understand everything before you sign."
"You read it," Frank said. "That's good enough for me." He got up, took the bunch of papers from the dining room table and found his name, signing every place indicated, then handing the pen to the next cousin in line.
Jamie watched, amazed that no one questioned anything. It seemed they were more concerned with taking advantage of each other than they were of being taken advantage of.
Ryan looked up at her and smiled. "This bunch would be a great target for a swindler, wouldn't it?"
Despite her words, Jamie could see the pride in her eyes, and she knew that Ryan valued harmony much more than keen business sense.
* * * * * * * *
Just before the meeting broke up, Maggie pulled Jamie aside. "I saw the comments your father made about prohibiting gay marriage." She paused, looking a little unsure of herself. Even though Maggie had been at all of the recent family gatherings, she and Jamie hadn't had any alone time to speak of, and it was clear she was unsure of what she should say.
Jamie squeezed her arm and gave her a warm smile. "My father is " She trailed off, shaking her head. "He's a series of contradictions. I never know what he'll say next."
"I just wanted to say that I can imagine it's hard for you-being the daughter of a politician. If you ever want to talk about anything "
"Thanks," Jamie said. "It is hard sometimes, and it's probably worse for me since I didn't grow up around politics. I'm not used to it."
"I don't know how you get used to your father's saying you don't have the right to marry," Maggie said. "That's gotta hurt, no matter who you are."
"It does," Jamie said. "And thanks for saying something to me about it. It's always nice to know that people understand."
"We do," Maggie said.
Jamie smiled at her, charmed that she was using the plural pronoun to refer to herself and Brendan. I think there might be two weddings in the O'Flaherty family.
* * * * * * * *
When they got into the Boxster, Jamie asked, "Wanna go get your car?"
"Nah. I don't need it this week. Besides, I'd rather go home with you."
"I'm good." Ryan rolled her seat back and let out a sigh. "Chauffeur me."
"Okay." She put the key into the ignition and started the car. Checking the traffic, she pulled out and headed for home. "I had a little chat with Maggie right before we left."
"I saw you talking," Ryan said. "I know where you are every minute, so don't get any ideas."
Laughing, Jamie said, "How can I get tired of you when I hardly ever see you?"
"You see me now," Ryan said. She put her hand on Jamie's thigh and gave it a good scratch. "What's up with Maggie?"
"Nothing. She just wanted to empathize about my dad. Said she figured it must be hard for me to have him be such a jerk."
Ryan's eyebrows shot up. "She said that?"
"No, of course not. That was the message-not the words."
"Whew! We like to be honest, but that's a little too honest."
Jamie snatched a quick look at Ryan's face. "He is a jerk, isn't he?"
Ryan didn't like the tone her partner was using. She turned and studied the sad, wistful look on Jamie's face. "Sometimes he does some pretty insensitive things. He usually thinks he's right, and he can be single-minded. But I don't think he's a jerk."
"Sounds like you're describing a jerk."
"Not really," Ryan said. "In my book, a jerk is someone who hurts people and doesn't care. Cassie's a jerk. Your dad does some dumb things, but I think he feels bad when he sees that he's hurt people."
"But that doesn't stop him from doing the next dumb thing."
"No," Ryan agreed. "He doesn't seem to learn from his mistakes."
"So he can hurt me and hurt you and hurt my mom, and we all just have to forgive him, huh?"
Ryan looked a little uncomfortable, and she fidgeted in her seat. "You have to make that decision for yourself, Jamers. It's a tough one."
"I have to set some limits, Ryan. I can't let him come to our wedding if he's gonna parrot the administration's stupid position on gay marriage. I just can't."
Ryan didn't say anything. She just let her hand rest on Jamie's leg, silently showing her support.
* * * * * * * *
The couple walked into their house just as the phone started to ring. Ryan looked at the caller I.D. and said, "I don't recognize the name."
They waited to hear a voice on the answering machine announce, "Hello? I'm trying to reach Jamie Evans. This is William Fisher from the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgendered and Queer Defenders Against Defamation."
Giving Ryan a puzzled look, the smaller woman picked up. "Hi, this is Jamie."
"Hi, Jamie, as I said, this is Will Fisher from GLBTQDAD."
"We'd like to make you a proposal."
"A proposal?" she asked slowly. "To me?"
"That's right," he said, sounding much like the people who called to beg her to switch long-distance service. "Even though we're a national organization, we realize that state propositions can have a significant impact on the entire country. We think that the defeat of Proposition 22 has to be our most important fight right now."
"Uhm Will? I already donated to the fund for the state effort to defeat the proposition, and it's a little late to-"
"We're not looking for money," he interrupted. "We'd like you to write an opinion piece concerning your feelings on the proposition and the administration's support for 'Don't ask, don't tell' as well as the Defense of Marriage Bill."
She let his message sink in, then gave a puzzled-looking Ryan a wry smile and said, "Are you calling all of the gay people in California to offer them this opportunity? Just at the Es now?"
He laughed nervously and admitted, "No, you're the only person we've called. Your father's comments sparked the idea. I don't know you personally, but I can't imagine that you were very happy about his position."
Ignoring his statement, she said, "I'm not the politician in the family. And if you've paid much attention in the last few months, you would have noticed that I don't like to make my private life public."
"I realize that, Jamie, really, I do. Actually, your name came up in discussions we had in January, but we decided not to even ask. It's just that your father's comments are going to hang out there if we don't respond to them. We have a hell of a time getting coverage in the mainstream press, but if you were to write the article "
"The legitimate press would print it because of my celebrity," she finished wearily.
"That's about it," he said. "Look, I know this is asking a lot of you, especially after all you've been through this year, but if there's any part of you that feels strongly about making a public reply to your father-here's your chance. We have sources at the Chronicle, and they're confident they can position the article on the opinion page on Monday. We'll help you write the piece if you want, or you can take a stab at it yourself. Just give the idea some thought, will you?"
"Okay, I will," she said. "Give me your number and I'll call you tomorrow."
He did as she asked, and Jamie hung up, giving Ryan an aggrieved look. "Some days I wish my father and your father could change jobs."
* * * * * * * *
After discussing Will's proposal with Ryan, Jamie decided that she needed to think the issue through on her own. "I'm going to have to live with this no matter which way I go, so I need to let this settle for a bit. But I'm not in the mood to do it tonight. Let's go to bed and forget the whole thing, okay?"
"Works for me." Ryan scratched her head and gave her partner an intentionally befuddled look. "What thing?"
* * * * * * * *
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