I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 14


By SX Meagher

Part Nine

Ryan opened one eye when her watch alarm rang on Tuesday morning. The sky was a flat, dull gray, and she could see the trees moving briskly in the wind. Well, the weather matches my mood. She heard Jamie blowing her hair dry, and instead of joining her, went into Mia's bathroom. She was in a perfectly foul mood, and didn't want to have to talk to or be nice to her lover or anyone else.

She was still showering when Jamie poked her head in to say goodbye. Once Ryan was dressed, she had plenty of time to make coffee, but she dawdled a little, turning on the radio in the kitchen to hear the local commentators talk about the election. Every word she heard made her teeth clench, so she put on her slicker and grabbed her book bag. As soon as she left the house, she knew she was underdressed. It was only about forty degrees, and the wind was really whipping, making the fine drizzle feel like icy needles. Fuck it, she thought, even though it would have taken her mere seconds to go back in and get a warmer coat. She considered driving to therapy, but knew the traffic would be horrible. Taking her motorcycle flitted through her head, but Jamie hated it when she rode in the rain, so she dismissed that idea out of hand.

After wasting time and brooding about her options, she was running a little late and didn't have time to stop for coffee or food. She had to take two buses to get to her session, and by the time she arrived she was ready to take on all comers.

Ellen saw that the often reluctant young woman had something on her mind, and she began the session by asking, "Ryan, would you like to start?"

"Love to," she said, her expression grim. "I'm pissed as hell that I'm gonna have to spend the day waiting to see whether the citizens of my home state think I should have equal rights or not. What kind of country is this when we have popular elections to vote on who to let in and who to keep out of the party?"

"I assume you're talking about Proposition 22?"

Ryan gave her a blank stare, and the therapist said, "In case anyone doesn't know about it, there's a proposition on the ballot today to forbid the state from ever sanctioning same-sex marriage."

"Really?" Helen, one of the older women asked. "I didn't hear anything about that."

Ryan glared at her and snapped, "Well, you still get to vote. Just flip a coin in the booth. It's only my life."

The woman recoiled from the rebuke, staring at Ryan like she'd been slapped.

"I'm sure you didn't mean that like it sounded," Ellen said.

"No, of course I didn't," Ryan said. "I'm really sorry, Helen. I'm pissed off and I took it out on you. I'm … I'm sorry."

"That's okay," the woman said, looking very uncomfortable.

"Why's this such a big deal?" A new member, a thirty-something Japanese-American woman named Ei stared at Ryan. "You can still be in a relationship. There are churches that'll marry you."

"It's a big deal because it's wrong to discriminate against people for being who they are," Ryan said, her edge coming back.

"Nobody has to know you're gay. Try having the wrong skin color or an accent for a day, and then you'll know what it feels like to be a real minority."

Ellen stepped in immediately. "We're here to support each other, right? Getting into issues like this isn't very supportive. Ryan's feelings are perfectly justified, and that's what we should be concentrating on-not politics."

"Sorry," the woman said, not sounding sincere in the least.

Ryan didn't say anything else, and when Ellen tried to urge her to continue, she shook her head. "I'm done." She was, in fact, finished for the hour. She turned off the other voices in the room and thought of as many witty, vicious, cutting, incendiary things she could have-should have-said to her peer, wishing she'd had just one more swipe at her.

When the session was over, she stepped outside and saw that her nemesis was standing in the rain, seemingly waiting for Ryan to approach her. She took one step in her direction, then turned and went towards BART. Given the way she felt, she worried that she might actually take a punch at the woman, and she realized she couldn't let herself get that out of control. As she walked in the cold rain, she considered something her grandfather had once told her. They'd been talking about some restrictions the government was putting on commercial fishing vessels and how some of his fellow fishermen were taking it very hard.

"But aren't the rules the same for everyone?" she'd asked.

"Sure they are, love. But if you beat ten men with the same rod, some of them would say it felt like it was covered in lamb's wool, some would say it had been soaked in brine, and some would say it had razor-sharp barbs on it. Everyone sees the world, and his place in it, differently, even if they all have the same experience.

"Why were the men being hit?" she'd asked, missing the point at the time.

"Just a little story I made up. I only mean that some people always feel hurt, and others don't let hurt bother them in the same way. If you have a choice, I think it's better to feel like the world's on your side."

She smiled, amazed that she'd remembered the incident at all, much less on this dreary morning. I get it now, she thought. I'm gonna try to feel like this proposition's covered in lamb's wool. It still hurts to be beaten, but I don't have to make it worse for myself.

* * * * * * * *

As soon as Mia woke on Tuesday, she started thinking of Jamie. For a change, she knew she was up earlier than her friend would be, so she turned on the news, trying to get some indication of how the pundits thought the vote would go. She was pretty sure the proposition would pass, but she hoped the vote was at least close.

At 8:00 a.m. California time, she dialed her friend's cell phone, catching her on her way to school. "Hi," she said when Jamie answered. "I've been thinking about you, and I just wanted to see how you are."

"Ooo, who's my best friend?"

"I am. And I know today's gonna be tough. Have you gotten much feedback on the article?"

"A little," Jamie said. "I was freaked at school yesterday, but I feel better today. No one said anything rude to me or anything, but I could tell people were talking about me again." She made a tsking sound. "Just like me to give people ammo as soon as they stop pointing at me when I walk across campus."

"You did the right thing, James. That's what counts."

"I know. At least I think I know. So what's up with you? How's married life?"

"This is like married life in a sorority house. We've got to get out of here as soon as possible. I can't tell you how awful this apartment is, James. I knew Jordy didn't care much about where she lived, but this is ridiculous!"

"What's so bad about it?"

"My list is so long I don't know where to start."

"What could be so bad? Is it really dirty?"

"No, it's not that. It's just so cheap," Mia said. "I mean that in every way. There's no insulation, so it's cold as hell even though it's only about forty degrees, and the walls are paper thin. The women next door can hear us breathing, much less making love. I feel like I did the first time I blew a guy in a dark room at the TKE house and found out that there were a bunch of guys hiding there, listening to us."

Jamie was absolutely silent for a minute. "Think about doing a lot of editing before you tell your children about your college years, okay?"

"I'll tell 'em I was home-schooled," Mia said. "The room is about the size of my bathroom at your house, and there's no closet."

"What do you mean? A room has to have a closet."

"None. Nada. Jordy thinks the third bedroom was designed for a small kid or an office. All I know is that I've got to fold all of my clothes and put them in plastic bins. It's like living in the Target kitchen organizer aisle."

"How … where … fuck!"

"Tell me about it. Hey, can you help me out? I wanna make a real meal for Jordy, and there's nothing here."

"Sure, I can give you a shopping list. Do you have a pen?"

"Yeah. Shoot."

"You should make something easy. How about spaghetti and meat sauce."

"Great. She loves spaghetti. What do I need?"

"Not much. Pasta, a can of whole tomatoes, some tomato paste, a little onion, garlic-"

"Back up," Mia said. "What kinda pot or pan do I use?"

"What do you have?"


"What do you mean nothing? I thought the other women had lived there for a couple of years."

"They have. They've got nothing. Trust me. I have to buy plates and metal utensils, Jamie. All they have are paper plates and plastic forks."

"Jesus! They sound like guys!"

"They are," Mia said. "I've decided. Jocks are jocks whether they're women or men. They only care about their sport. Somebody else has to do everything for them. They eat at the training center because it's free, and they can't stand to wait to make a meal. Have I mentioned they're all cheap?"

"Yeah, I got that impression. Well, it's gonna cost you a little money, but I think I can give you a very bare-bones list of what you need to make very simple meals. The first thing you've got to do is find either a Costco, a Wal-Mart, or a Target."

"How do you know these things, James? You think Neiman-Marcus is slumming."

"I do not!" Jamie said, laughing. "And my sweetheart has been initiating me into the world of bargains. It's kinda fun."

"Clue me in," Mia said. "And tell Ryan I owe her one for bringing you down to ground level."

* * * * * * * *

Jordan arrived home a little before 5:00, and she grabbed Mia and twirled her around in a circle before planting a dozen kisses on her face. "Damn, I missed you. I know you're just a half-hour away, but that makes it that much worse." She put her lover down, and her nose began to twitch. "What's that smell? Did you order carryouts?"

"No, sweetheart. That's the smell of food. Food cooked … at home … over real heat. No plastic, no microwave, no kidding."

"What? We have a kitchen?" Jordan asked, obviously pleased.

"Yep. Come with me, and I'll show you all of the new things we have. Oh, and by the way, the new things are mine. I don't want your slobby friends to start using them, because they'll ruin everything. I'm feeling very protective of my little realm."

"No problem. They have to keep their hands off my woman and my woman's kitchen. I'll fight to defend you and your spatulas."

* * * * * * * *

For the tenth time, a graceful foot obscured Jim Evans's view of the television, and he finally reached out and grabbed a bare knee, holding it firmly so that he could read the election results scrolling across the bottom of the screen. "This is important," he reminded his companion.

Twisting out of his grasp, Kayla pushed her crimson hair from her eyes and chuckled mildly. "It's not important, and you know it. Bob Washington should have been declared the Democratic senatorial nominee before the election was held. Calling that group of socialists competitors was merely semantics."

"I know," he agreed, shifting so he could see around her, "but I'm interested in the rest of the results."

Sitting up, she gave him a very serious look. "You don't honestly think that Prop 22 is going to fail, do you?"

"No," he said, grimacing slightly. "I just hope it doesn't pass by too much. I know this means a lot to Jamie."

She ran her hand along his arm and said, "It's gonna pass, and it's gonna pass by a wide margin, Jim." As she spoke, the ballot initiatives from California started to slide across the screen. He blinked when he saw the preliminary numbers.

"Did I read that right? Did it say 75% in favor?" Blanching, he didn't even wait for her answer, knowing that his eyes had not deceived him. "Oh, shit." He lay down and draped his forearm over his eyes. "Assholes."

Gazing at him, she tilted her chin and asked, "You're upset by the numbers? I've been telling you all along it was a cakewalk."

"What?" he said, his arm dropping to his side. "It shouldn't bother me to have 75% of the people of the most liberal state in the country say that my daughter shouldn't ever be allowed to marry?"

Kayla blinked slowly, trying to understand. "Who are you? You voted for the Defense of Marriage bill. Explain the difference."

Grumbling audibly, he turned onto his side. "Turn off the TV, will you? I've seen enough."

"Come on," she insisted, grasping his hip and giving him a shake. "Don't pout."

"I'm not pouting," he said, pouting. "I just don't want to talk about it. I get yelled at enough by my daughter. I don't need you piling on."

"Jim," she urged, tugging at him again. "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, but you've got to admit the proposition and the bill were basically the same thing. Are you opposed to gay marriage or not?"

He rolled onto his back and shook his head. "Yes, I'm opposed to gay marriage."

"Then how …"

Petulantly, he said, "I'm not really opposed to lesbian marriage."

"Uhm … wanna run that past me again?"

"Seeing Jamie and Ryan together makes me see how women need that kinda thing … it's part of who they are. And I've gotten used to seeing them hug each other or kiss. It … it seems pretty natural. And … I'll admit to watching my fair share of lesbian porn. It's … not so odd to see women together."

Kayla was staring at him with a look that should have warned him that he was treading in dangerous waters. But he was too engrossed in his thoughts to notice.

"But guys are different," he said, sounding confident of his opinion. "Why two guys would want to marry is beyond me. Totally beyond me. Every guy I know had to be talked into marriage. Marriage is for women. Guys just go along for the ride." He was really getting into his topic, and he continued to expound. "The guys who want to marry look like such queens. You know what I mean. The pictures of guys all dressed up in tuxedos or wedding gowns," he added with a grimace. "They turn my stomach!"

"Let me get this straight," she said. "You voted for the Defense of Marriage bill because seeing guys together makes you sick?"

"No! Well … partly … no, no, that's not it," he grumbled. "Marriage has been between a man and a woman forever. I don't see why we should change it just because of pressure. Besides, the numbers don't support it. The majority of people don't want it. That should count for something." He was trying to think of another good reason when he saw the look on her face.

"Of all of the narrow-minded …" She jumped from the bed, giving him a lethal glare before she stormed out of the room.

"What? What did I say?" he called after her. "Don't be so sensitive!"

When he didn't get a reply he went into the sitting room of his apartment and found her in front of the TV watching CNN. "Why did that upset you?" he asked, perching on the arm of the sofa.

She looked up at him for almost a full minute, finally asking in a quiet voice, "Don't you have any sense of how important your vote is?"

"Well, sure I do-"

She cut him off. "You told me how you explained your position to Jamie, and that made sense. I didn't agree with you, and it angered me that you felt that way, but at least it made sense. But to hear you admit that you voted to take away the right of adult citizens to marry just because gay men give you the creeps not only astounds me-it sickens me."

"Kayla!" He stared at her with his mouth gaping open. I … I … I'm sorry."

"For what? For that fact that you upset me, or that I called you on it?" She got up from the sofa, went into the bedroom, struggled into her clothes and found the card key to her own apartment. "I'll see you tomorrow," she said, leaving the room by slamming the door.

"What in the hell was that all about?" he asked the empty space.

* * * * * * * *

Mia and Jordan were just finishing dinner when their roommates arrived. Toni walked over to the pair who were sitting at the never-used dining table and asked, "Where'd you get that?" She looked closer. "Since when did you start eating carbs again?"

Jordan shot a guilty look at Mia. "One night won't hurt. I've been dying for a good carb-loaded meal, and Mia was kind enough to cook for me."

"Cook?" Toni looked at her. "You can cook?"

"Sure. I can cook … for Jordan."

Toni gave Jordan a smirk. "You'd better not let Roman know you ate a big plateful of spaghetti. He'll have you run to Denver and back to burn it off."

"What Roman doesn't know won't hurt him. And if he finds out, one of you had to squeal." She gave all of her roommates an evil smile. "If he finds out, I'll make up something awful about each one of you. Hot fudge sundaes, whole bags of Oreos, candy bars hidden in energy bar wrappers. I'm very creative."

"Roman's gonna have to smell the carbs on your breath," Toni said. "And he might." She laughed and went into her room, followed quickly by the others retreating to their spaces.

Mia stared at her partner. "Why didn't you tell me you weren't eating carbs?"

Jordan looked a little sick. "After all the work you went to? I'm not an asshole, honey. Besides, one day isn't a big deal."

"Why did Toni act like it was?"

"Because she likes to stir things up. That's just her style. She doesn't mean anything by it."

Mia got up and started to clear the table. Jordan jumped to her feet to help, but the brunette said, "Don't bother. It'll only take a second. Go relax for a little while. I'll be right in."

She wanted to argue, but Mia didn't look like she was in the mood to discuss things. "Okay. I'll be waiting for you."

After she left, Mia spent the fifteen minutes it took her to clean up trying to get over her anger. She knew that Jordan was telling the truth and trying not to disappoint her, but it still made her angry that her lover hadn't been more forthcoming. When she was finished, she went into their bedroom.

Jordan was sitting up, gazing expectantly at the door. "Mad at me?"

Mia sat, then lay down, taking Jordan with her. "No, I'm not mad. I guess I was a little embarrassed. I felt like you were just humoring me."

"No, not at all. It really did feel great to eat a normal meal. Didn't you see how my eyes lit up when I saw you'd made spaghetti?"

"Yeah." She reached under her lover's shirt and drew her fingers along her abdomen. "I've been wondering how you got this thin. I thought it was from working hard." She rapped on Jordan's belly, half expecting to hear a wooden sound. "Is it good to be this skinny, honey? You're looking anorexic."

"I know," Jordan said. "And, no, I don't want to be this lean. But I've got to get to ten percent body fat before I can start to put on muscle. We all underwent a lot of testing when we got here, and they told me I was skinny-fat."

"What in the hell is skinny-fat?"

"I have the kind of body that can't build muscle until it's down to an almost dangerously low body fat percentage. If I'm not extra, extra lean, any additional weight is just fat."

Mia laughed. "You don't have an ounce of fat on your whole body."

"Yes, I do. Actually, it's down to about a pound right now, and once I lose it, I can start building up again."

"A pound? You're really concerned about a pound?"

"Yeah. Well, Roman is. I'm at just over ten percent body fat. Once I get to ten, I can start working harder on weight training. I don't know if this is really gonna help my game or not, but he's sure it is. He's had a lot of success with the past teams, so I've got to trust him."

"So … run this past me again. What's the goal?"

"The goal is to be as lean as I can get by eating an ultra low-carb, low-fat, high-protein diet. Then I'll start to increase my weight-training and slowly increase my carbs. Right now, I'm doing no more than twenty grams a day. That'll probably go up to fifty or sixty, but only if I can handle it."

"This sounds like a load of crap to me," Mia said, "but if you trust this guy, I'll support you. Now, what can you eat?"

"Not much that I like," Jordan admitted. "No sugar, no added fat, no butter or oil, of course, no cheese, no beef. Just skinless chicken, fish, green vegetables, and as many kinds of beans as I can stand. Too bad I hate beans, huh?"

"Sounds like a big chicken and vegetable salad with no dressing," Mia said, making a face.

"Yeah. I've been having grilled chicken or fish and a plain green salad for dinner every night since I've been here. I don't even care about food any more."

"Well, I don't know how Jamie can fix this, but I'll call her tomorrow and see what she can come up with." Mia tucked her arms around her partner and kissed her tenderly. "We need to call them tomorrow and give 'em a little love. Prop 22 won by a landslide."

"We should each marry one of Ryan's brothers and live in a big house where all the girls partner up and the boys run around with as many women as they can get their hands on. That arrangement would be perfectly legal. Morons," she muttered.

"Ryan would have to go outside the family. I think incest is almost as bad as homosexuality."

"Right. I guess she can marry my brother. He'd be a wonderful husband."

Mia looked at her for a moment and saw the guarded, closed expression that Jordan always wore when she talked about her family. She gave Jordan another gentle kiss and hugged her even tighter. "Let's just live in sin," she said. "We're too young to commit to marrying all of those O'Flahertys."

"Good point. But if you get married, pick Rory, okay? I get bad vibes from Conor."

"It's a deal," Mia said, not sure if her lover knew just how bad the vibes had been between her and Conor.

* * * * * * * *

During dinner, Jamie and Ryan left the radio on in the kitchen. It wasn't very loud, but each of them could easily hear it since they weren't talking much. Ryan didn't tell her partner about her blow-up at therapy, partially because she never talked about her sessions, and partly because she was embarrassed to have caused such a scene. Jamie forgot to tell her about talking with Mia, and the rest of her day wasn't memorable enough to bring up. So they both picked at their food and listened to the commentators report that over seventy-five percent of the state thought them unworthy of state sanction of their love.

Ryan looked at her partner, seeing how down she looked. She thought of the little story her grandfather had told her and said, "Let's go be gay."


"You heard me. Let's get on my bike and go to the Castro and be way gay."

A smile lit Jamie's face as she asked, "How do we be way gay? I don't wanna be on TV again."

"Let's put on our dykiest clothes and go sit in a seedy bar and check out chicks. That's what most people seem to think we do on a regular basis. We might as well do it."

"You wanna check out chicks?" Jamie asked, raising a dark-blonde brow.

"Sure. We scary homos can't have real, meaningful relationships. Let's go shopping so we can have the next victim lined up."

"I can't tell how serious you're being." She wasn't sure when it had happened, but she was having a harder and harder time reading Ryan's cues of late. "Do you really want to go out?"

"I meant everything but the shopping for the next victim thing. I'm gonna stick with you-just to screw with people's minds."

She looked fairly happy and a little playful, so Jamie got up and held out a hand. "Let's go. We don't even have to clean up. I think lesbians are supposed to be pretty sloppy."

"That's my girl. Always willing to adapt."

An hour later, they were seated on a pair of barstools, looking out at the mιlange of people passing by the Twin Peaks, a venerable Castro bar. The place was located right at the epicenter of the neighborhood, the corner of Market and Castro, and even though it was mostly populated by forty-something men, the pair felt quite comfortable there. There were large plate-glass windows that allowed for a very good view of the passersby, and Jamie was taking full advantage.

She sat with her forearms resting on the wooden ledge, her beer in front of her. The blonde looked as stereotypically lesbian as Ryan had ever seen her, and she had to admit that she liked the look for a change of pace. Jamie had on most of the outfit Ryan had bought for her for the Dyke March-camouflage pants, a tight, dun-green T-shirt, and a pair of black Doc Marten's. Her distressed leather jacket was draped across her bar stool, and she intentionally kicked it every once in a while, just to add a mark or two.

Ryan matched her partner's style, wearing faded jeans, an old jeans jacket that she had turned into a vest, and a skin-tight, black tank top. She didn't copy the Doc Marten's, however, choosing her buff-colored work boots for a little variety. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she wore a black baseball cap pulled low over her eyes that read "Rough Trade" in bright red letters. Her motorcycle jacket was on her chair, just like Jamie's was.

Much to Ryan's surprise, Jamie thought it would be fun to girl-watch, and they spent a pleasant hour doing just that. To neither woman's surprise, it was established that Jamie liked big women, while Ryan preferred a smaller, more petite size. Ryan liked her women to be quite clean-cut, preppy looking if possible, while Jamie had much broader tastes. Ryan was actually amazed to hear her comment that she fancied some pretty tough-looking characters, but she didn't express her surprise. Jamie was just developing her taste after suppressing her inner desires for the better part of her life, and Ryan fully supported her efforts to define what sorts of women attracted her.

"Oh! Oh!" Jamie's eyes lit up, and she elbowed Ryan in the ribs. "There she is! That's the woman for me!"

Chuckling, Ryan tore herself away from gazing at her partner's verdant eyes and looked outside. There, casually posing in front of the window, was a woman who looked like she'd just come from splitting a cord of wood. A blue and green flannel shirt covered her torso, the sleeves having been completely removed. Very well-cut arms extended out of the snug shirt, which was tucked into tight black jeans. Her hair was glossy black and straight, just ticking the collar of her shirt. Cocoa brown skin, flawless and smooth, perfectly complemented the nearly black eyes that darted up and down the street, obviously searching for someone. "You want her, huh?" Ryan asked, leaning over to whisper into her partner's ear.

"Uh-huh," Jamie purred, gleefully engaging in the fantasy. "I'd make good use of those big muscles."

"So … does she replace me, or do you want us all to party together?"

"Mmm …" Jamie growled, still staring at the stranger. "I want you both. Since you're my favorite, you can pick which half of me you want. She'll take the leftover."

"Okay. Works for me." She got up and strode out the door, leaving a nearly apoplectic Jamie behind.

It was obvious that the two women didn't know each other. The stranger moved back a step and looked Ryan over from top to bottom, not even a hint of a smile crossing her dark features. Ryan was speaking, and she slowly inclined her head towards her partner, who tried to compose her expression. Now both women looked at her, and the stranger nodded once, then followed Ryan into the bar.

Jamie wasn't sure if her best course of action was to hide in the bathroom or run out the front door, but since the two large women were blocking the door she decided that the bathroom would have to do. She got about two feet when Ryan grabbed the back of her pants and held on tight. "Don't bother getting up," she insisted. "We can pull up another chair." Propelling the struggling woman back onto the stool, Ryan said, "Jamie, this is Coco. Coco, Jamie." She pulled a stool over and urged Coco to sit. She sat on the other side of the new addition, blithely ignoring the lethal gaze that she could feel burning into her skin. "Jamie, don't you have a question that you wanted to ask Coco?" She beamed a smile at her partner.

"NO! I mean, no, I don't, Ryan. I, uhm, can't think of a thing I'd like to ask."

"Oh, I thought you were … curious."

Coco turned her dark, intense eyes on Jamie and let her mouth slide into a fantastically attractive smile. Her white teeth gleamed in the dull light, and she asked, "Yeah, Ryan said you were thinking about trying something new."

Her smile was mesmerizing, and Jamie found herself powerless not to return the grin. Shaking her head, the blonde forced herself to say, "No, no help needed. Just fine here … yep … just fine."

"Come on," the dark beauty urged, "Don't be shy. Take off your shirt and let me get a good look at you."


"Yeah, Jamie," Ryan urged. "Let Coco take a look." She hopped off her chair and removed Jamie's shirt before the smaller woman could lodge a word of protest.

Coco leaned back and assessed her thoughtfully, finally nodding with satisfaction. "I think you look fine."

"Thanks," Jamie said weakly, simultaneously plotting Ryan's demise.

"Do you take any supplements? Amino acids, Creatine?"


"Do you take supplements?" she asked again. "It's hard to build bulk if you don't."

Looking from Ryan to Coco and back again, she repeated, "Huh?"

"Jamie," Ryan soothed, now placing her hands on her shoulders, "Coco was Ms. California Bodybuilder 1999. If you want to build up your arms, you really should listen to her." Looking at their new friend, Ryan asked, "What do you take?"

Coco laughed heartily and said, "You're kidding, right? I don't give out my secrets to anyone. Besides, just because something works for me, doesn't mean it'll work for you." She smiled at Jamie. "You're just getting started, but there's no reason you can't bulk up if you really want to. Just do it safely. A pretty girl like you doesn't want to mess up her body with steroids."

Jamie was still staring at her, her mouth slightly open.

"Oh, she won't," Ryan said. "She's far too precious to me to ever let her do something like that."

Coco smiled at the pair and cast another look outside. "Hey, my wife's here. Gotta go. See you, and good luck," she added, extending her hand to shake Jamie's limp mitt.

The pair watched the woman leave, then Jamie got up and went to the bar, buying herself another beer. When she returned, Ryan was unsuccessfully trying to compose her face, the grin leaking out of the corners of her mouth. Jamie sat down and sipped on her beer, finally putting it down on the ledge and gazing at her partner.

Big blue eyes batted ingenuously. "Am I in trouble?"

Taking another long sip, Jamie looked at her thoughtfully. "I wasn't raised like you were, Ryan. Mia teases me a lot, and Jack teased me quite a bit, but no one has really exposed me to practical jokes. I'll admit that I probably don't know the proper rules, but those are the breaks." She leaned forward so that their noses touched lightly. "I'm not only going to get you back … I'm going to get you back at least … at least … twice as bad. And I don't want to hear a word of complaint." Tapping her on the chest with a finger, Jamie vowed, "You have been warned."

Ryan gulped noticeably. "Like when you paid that woman to make it look like I was cheating on you?"

"Child's play." Jamie smirked. "That didn't come near to what I'm going to do to you." She leaned back and cocked her head. "I know that you won't stop playing your little games-it's too ingrained. So I'm not even going to ask you to stop. Even though I might remind you that in Las Vegas you promised you wouldn't pull another one. I just want you to recognize the consequences of your actions. You'd better make sure your joke is worth the payback, babe."

Ryan nodded soberly, finally saying, "This one was worth a lot. You might have to remind me of that after you humiliate me in front of the whole city, but this one was sweet."

"Enjoy! Soak it all up-revel in it, love. Perhaps you'll take some cold comfort from it in the future." Taking another sip of beer, she turned her stool to gaze out the window again. "Now, where were we?" She looked up and down the street, then pointed, "Pretty redhead, nine o'clock."

Ryan grasped her partner's beer and took a drink. "Nah, not your type."

As the woman moved closer, Jamie had to agree with her. Chuckling, she asked, "How do you know my type better than I do?"

"I don't. My eyes are just a little better than yours."

"Are not."

"Are too. What's the most distant sign you can read?"

Jamie sighed, realizing that the competition was never over with the dark beauty at her side, but that was just how she liked it.

* * * * * * * *

It was still fairly early when they left the bar, and since the night was clear, Ryan guided her bike to one of her favorite spots to view the city. Corona Heights Park was located between the Castro and Buena Vista Park, and was usually very quiet late at night.

They walked hand in hand, crossing the cropped grass to find some large rocks to lean against. Because the night was clear, it was also very chilly, with the wind blowing vigorously. Ryan sat on one of the rocks, with Jamie in front of her, her heavy leather jacket protecting her from the worst of the chill. Snuggling against the cold, they watched in silence as the city below them went about its business-unaware that it was being observed.

"Ryan?" the smaller woman asked after a long while.

"Hmm?" The voice tickled her ear.

"You didn't think I was serious, did you?"

There was a quality to Jamie's voice that caused Ryan to shift her body so that she could see her face. "Serious?"

"Yeah." The blonde head nodded quickly, then she hesitantly added, "About being with someone else … about being with you and someone else."

Tightening her hold around her lover's body, Ryan began to shake her head, saying, "No, no, no and no! You're the last person in the world who would ever want to do that!" Leaning back just a bit to let Jamie see her face, she added, "I'm the second to the last, by the way. I can't think of anything we'd enjoy less."

She had such a look of distaste on her face that Jamie had to laugh despite her unease. "Are you sure? Because I'd never … ever …"

Ryan silenced her with a gentle kiss. "I'm sure. The thought that you might be serious never crossed my mind. I really had fun tonight. I love seeing you develop and refine your taste in whom you find attractive-and that's all that you were doing. We were just playing, and fantasizing about things that we would never, ever do. That's what makes it a fantasy."

Jamie nodded, the concerned look still on her face. "Okay. I just thought that maybe that's why you played the joke. I thought maybe you were mad at me, or hurt, and that you were trying to teach me a lesson."

Ryan's eyes closed, and she leaned her head back and filled her lungs with the fresh, clean air. "Jamie," she finally whispered, "I'm so sorry for playing that joke on you."

Jamie looked down at the ground and said, "When you do things like that, it doesn't feel like a joke. It feels like you're trying to make me look foolish, or gullible or to embarrass me." Gazing at Ryan with guileless green eyes, she quietly asked, "Why do you want to embarrass me?"

Suddenly, tears were flowing down Ryan's cheeks, the cold wind chilling the hot tears before they traveled an inch. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "I'm so sorry."

Jamie held her tight, whispering, "Don't cry, sweetheart. Please, don't cry."

"But I hurt you. I hurt you … intentionally."

"Did you do it to hurt me?"

"No! Of course not! But I messed with your mind, and that hurt you. It's the same thing."

"No, it's not. It's really not." Jamie hugged Ryan tight and said, "We just don't speak the same language here. I usually know you're teasing when you do things like that, but it makes me want to hurt you to get back at you. I hate to feel like that; I just don't know how to control my reaction. You O'Flahertys all know it's a game, and you respond in kind. But I want to go nuclear on you-and that scares me."

"We don't all know it's a game. Donal doesn't think practical jokes are funny … at all."


"Yeah. Over time we stopped making him the brunt of jokes. He just couldn't take it. He broke Declan's nose because of a really harmless prank in high school."

"What was the prank?" Jamie asked, knowing that Ryan's version of harmless and hers might differ significantly.

"They were both on their high school basketball team. Actually, Dermot was on the team, too, and knowing him, he's probably the one who came up with the idea. Anyway, it was a pretty conservative Catholic boys' school, and they wouldn't let them wear the big, baggy uniforms. Before the game, Donal was dawdling a little, like he always does, and either Dec or Dermot hid Donal's real uniform and left him an unused one that must have been an extra-small. Well, as you can imagine, Donal was never an extra small anything, but since they'd hidden every other uniform, he had to put on this tiny thing and run out onto the court when he was introduced. It looked like the darn thing was spray-painted on him!" She threw her head back and laughed, her tears forgotten in the face of this hilarious image.

Jamie, however, just looked at her, shaking her head. "He must have been mortified."

Ryan's laughter died down, then stopped altogether. "You really don't think that's funny?"

"No." The blonde head shook. "I just feel sorry for Donal. He's such a proud guy-he must have wanted to crawl in a hole and die."

Looking at her with confusion, Ryan said, "That's the point of the joke. The guy's supposed to be embarrassed. Then he figures out how to do the same thing to you."

"Is that what Donal did?"

"No, he sure didn't. He waited until halftime and sucker-punched Dec when he ran into the locker room. Popped him a good one. Dec didn't even see it coming. Of course, Donal got suspended," she said quietly, suddenly seeing that the situation didn't seem nearly as funny as it had before she'd started to analyze it. "Uhm …" She scratched the back of her head and said, "Maybe Da was right when he used to say, 'It's only a game until someone loses an eye.'"

Eyes widening in surprise, Jamie said, "Well, that's a little extreme, but I understand his point. Jokes like that can get out of hand."

Ryan nodded. "You can get me back for what I did tonight. I don't care if you put a bare-assed picture of me up on a BART billboard so that every person crossing the Trans-Bay tunnel sees it. But once we're even, I'm gonna try really hard not to pull another joke on you. If you don't think it's funny, it's just cruel."

"Thank you. And I don't think I'll pay you back. I wouldn't do it for a joke-I'd do it just to be mean, and that's not how I want to be with you."

"Okay," Ryan said quietly. "Although I'd prefer it if you'd just get me back. Now I'll have this hanging over my head."

Shrugging her shoulders, Jamie smiled at Ryan and said, "Them's the breaks, sparky."

"You're going to not get me back just to torture me, aren't you?" Ryan asked in amazement. "That's … that's cruel!"

"Could be." Jamie smiled again. "I'll never tell."

"You're truly diabolical," the taller woman sighed. "I never can win with you."

"Nope. Sure can't. Might as well stop trying."

Ryan gripped Jamie's hand and pulled her to her feet, then wrapped her in a warm hug. "Yeah, like that's gonna happen."

* * * * * *

Part 10

Return to the Academy