I Found My Heart in San Francisco: Book 15
By SX Meagher
When Mia had spoken to Ryan the day before, Ryan said she wasn’t sure who’d be at the airport to meet her—but someone would. Mia found the O’Flaherty rule about having someone pick you up a little odd—not to mention inconvenient for them, but she had to admit it did make her feel like someone was very glad she was home.
She was fairly sure that she didn’t gasp aloud, but it was a near thing when she saw Conor standing by the gate. “Hi,” she said, feeling uncharacteristically shy. She wasn’t sure if she should hug him or not, but he resolved her dilemma by bending over and giving her a friendly, almost brotherly, hug.
“You look great!” he said, his big voice booming.
“Thanks. You look good too. I like your hair that way.”
He reached up and ran his hand through his unusually long hair. “Jamie’s got me going to the same place she and Ryan get their hair cut. The guy charges so much, I decided to wait as long as possible between haircuts. But I’m kinda getting used to it being longer. I think I’m gonna see how I like it as it grows.”
Mia looked at him quickly, not wanting to let him see her checking him out. He was, she had to admit, even better looking with longer hair. It was so black and thick that she was nearly drawn to running her hands through it—probably exactly what his dates would do. “Might as well let it grow now. One day you’ll get married and your wife will be in charge of it.”
“Right,” he said, laughing easily. “Jamie’s in charge of Ryan’s, Maggie’s in charge of Brendan’s. Heck, even Aunt Maeve changed the way Da cuts his.” He snapped off a quick look at Mia. “Yours is getting long, too.”
“Yeah. I don’t have a hairdresser in
“Have you had it long before?”
They were walking now, and Mia was feeling more comfortable with him by the minute. “Oh, yeah. Until college. It straightens out a little bit when it’s longer. But I had to braid it at night or it would have looked like a bird’s nest in the morning.”
“I think I’ll stop before mine gets that long,” Conor said thoughtfully. Then he shot Mia and look and grinned, and she gave him a playful slap.
“You’re in a good mood. What’s going on with you?”
“Nothin’ much. Ryan told me you were coming to town, and when she said your flight was after I finished work, I asked if I could pick you up.”
Her stomach flipped and Mia prayed he wouldn’t make a play for her. Deciding to get it over with if he was going to try and rekindle old feelings, she asked, “Why?”
He shifted her big bag from one shoulder to the other. “Two reasons. One—I like you; two—I wanted to apologize.”
“Yep. The last couple of times I saw you, I acted like a dick, and I wanted you to know I was sorry. You were always up front with me, but I acted like we were engaged or something. That was just … dickish,” he said, chuckling at his newly coined word.
They were crossing the street to the parking lot when she looked up at him. “What was up with that? I thought you were good with how things were between us.”
“I was,” he said, shrugging. “But that was when we both agreed we weren’t ready to settle down. When you settled down about two minutes later …” He raised an eyebrow and looked at her. “I don’t like to lose.”
“I don’t like to feel like a game,” she said, scowling at him while he opened her door. She got in and waited for him to join her.
He settled in and buckled his seatbelt. “You’re not a game. I just felt a little … played. If you had said you were ready to get serious, I would’ve been down for it. It pissed me off when I realized you were ready to get serious, you just didn’t want to get serious with me.”
She reached over and grasped his forearm, blinking when she felt how large it was compared to Jordan’s. “That’s not how it was. I can’t … I can’t explain it, Conor, but I wasn’t rejecting you. The timing was just bad for us. I think … no, I know … that pregnancy scare was kind of a deal breaker. It really freaked me out.”
“Me too,” he said. “But in a different way. It made me think I was ready to settle down; it made you wanna run away from anything that produced sperm.”
He gave her a half-smile, but she could see it was insincere. “No, it wasn’t sperm. The timing was just right with Jordan. I’m not into that ‘there’s only one person that can make you happy’ stuff. But I do think you’ve gotta have some luck to have things click.”
“And you and Jordan click.”
“Totally,” she said emphatically. “If I could, I’d marry her.” He turned to her and she could see the muscles in his jaw loosen, then his mouth break into a smile.
“I’m happy for you … both of you.”
Their eyes met and she could see the sincerity in his blue eyes. “Thanks. It feels fantastic, Conor. I’d always tried to avoid getting too involved. But with Jordan—I don’t have an option.”
He put the key in the ignition and turned the engine over. “So, being a lesbian must be the right fit for you.”
“Don’t go nuts on me,” she said, laughing. “I love Jordan, but I’m not a lesbian.”
His eyebrow rose again, and Mia was struck by the remarkable resemblance between him and Ryan. “I mean it. It’s not an issue—since I plan on being with Jordan forever, but I don’t feel gay; never have.”
Conor gave her a puzzled glance, then backed his truck out of the parking space. “Okay. I don’t get it—but it’s your life. You should know.”
“I do,” she said. “It’s just hard to explain to people who think there are just two ways to be: gay and straight.”
“There are only two in my book,” he said. “The first time I check out a guy’s ass—I’m gay.”
“Not even in the locker room at the gym?” Mia taunted. “At the urinal?”
Conor shrugged. “I’ve looked. But just for comparison. I’m always worried about a guy who won’t look any lower than my head. It’s weird when a guy’s really careful not to look. Always makes me think he wants to look, but knows he won’t be able to stop. It’s funny,” he said, giving the matter some thought. “It’s having a guy look at your ass that creeps you out. Every guy wants to know how big another guy’s dick is. That’s normal. But if a guy’s looking at my ass—that’s gay.”
“Fascinating,” Mia said. “Just fascinating. Do many guys look at your ass?”
“Yeeeeeeah,” he said, blushing a little bit. “More than I like to admit. Ryan says I look just gay enough to make guys think I’m in the club.”
“Huh.” Mia sat sideways in her seat and looked him over. “You look straight to me. But you are a little … clean for a straight guy.”
“Yeah.” He nodded. “Ryan says I care too much about how I look to be straight.”
Mia giggled. “It doesn’t bother you to talk about this?”
He gave her a puzzled glance. “Why would it?”
“I don’t know. Most guys wouldn’t like to admit that they look a little gay.”
“It’ll bother me when more men than women check me out. Until then … the boys can look all they want. Just don’t touch the merchandise.”
“Has anyone ever tried?”
“To touch me?” he asked, his voice rising.
“Hell no! I’d clock a guy who tried it!”
Mia sat up straighter in her seat. “Would you really? You’d bash a gay man?”
Looking to see if she was kidding, he said, “Bash? It’s not bashing if he grabs you! What would you do if a guy grabbed your ass?”
“Probably try to knee him in the crotch,” she admitted.
“I rest my case. Men are dogs. Doesn’t matter if they’re gay or straight. Give ’em an inch—”
“And they’ll grab your ass,” Mia said, finishing his observation. “I guess I never thought of it like that. But you have a point.”
“It doesn’t bother me if a guy politely checks me out. I give him a ‘not interested’ look and that’s the end of it. But if some jerk ever got aggressive with me—lights out! You gotta draw the line somewhere.”
“What if a woman tried to grab your ass?”
He smiled at her, his sexy grin in place. “I have a double standard. I’d allow that. How about you?”
“Mmm … I probably would too. Or at least I would have before Jordan.”
His grin remained. “Good thing you’re not gay.” He winced when she slapped his bare arm, and they teased each other all the way to Berkeley.
Jamie and Catherine sat in traffic on the 101 freeway, waiting to exit near The Mission. “Do you think the cousins will consider a building outside their neighborhood?” Catherine asked.
“I don’t think they much care where it is, so long as they don’t have to drive too far to work on it.”
“This one sounds promising. Did you bring your little camera?”
“Yep.” Jamie nodded to where it laid on the back seat. “You might have to take the pictures, though. I don’t think I can do it with one hand.”
“How’s your arm feeling, honey?”
“Not too bad I elevate it and that helps. I don’t think about it much unless I try to use my arm and find that it doesn’t bend.”
“I’m more than happy to take pictures if the building merits it.” Catherine frowned. “Are we close?”
“Yeah.” They’d exited the freeway and were slowly cruising down Dolores, and Jamie said, “There it is.
Catherine turned left and slowed down, looking for a place to park. “I’d better find something on Dolores; the smaller streets never have anything.”
Jamie agreed, and a few minutes later they were blessed by the parking gods. Walking together down the street, Jamie stopped at
Catherine smiled at her daughter. “A year ago I wouldn’t have believed we’d be walking around this neighborhood looking at apartment buildings.”
Grinning, Jamie said, “It would have been a stretch, wouldn’t it? I remember the first time I drove to Ryan’s. I was going through The Mission thinking, ‘How am I gonna be polite if she lives over some little taco stand?’”
“Dear,” Catherine said fondly, “you wouldn’t have noticed. Tacos would have become your favorite food.”
Jamie nodded her head, a little embarrassed. “I guess I was a little dreamy-eyed.”
Linking their arms together, Catherine said, “I wish I had known what you were going through then. It would have been nice to share that with you.”
“Mmm … I wasn’t much for sharing then; wish I could have been. But I was as clueless as it’s possible to be.”
“You’ve done well for yourself in a year. I always knew you could master anything you put your mind to.”
Jamie leaned over and kissed her mother on the cheek. “You helped me a lot, Mom. Without your support … I don’t even wanna think what I might have done if you’d let Daddy speak for both of you.”
“You know,” Catherine said thoughtfully, “even though it led to the breakup of my marriage, I’m very glad I’m learning to stand up for myself.”
“And for me,” Jamie said. “That’s what made me see how much you loved me.”
Her smile was so wide her eyes nearly closed. “I do love you,” Catherine said. “I always have. I’m so happy that I’m your mother.”
“We’re both coming into our own, Mom. The Evans … uhm … we’re doing well.”
In a moment Catherine’s smile was gone, replaced by a look of deep concern. “You don’t like that I’m changing my name, do you?”
“No. But I’d probably do the same thing if I were in your position. I understand why you don’t want Daddy’s name any more.”
Catherine stopped, grasping Jamie’s arm to slow her down. “That’s not why I’ve done this. Your father and his name had almost nothing to do with this, dear.”
“Then what did?” Jamie’s chin was sticking out, and that didn’t make her look very open-minded.
“I truly wanted to honor my great-grandmother. I didn’t just want to return to my maiden name, because I wasn’t much of a person when I was that young woman. I chose this name to help me have a role model. I don’t want to be known as Senator Evans’ ex-wife, nut it’s his notoriety I don’t want to be associated with, not the man.”
Jamie forced a smile. “Okay. I’ll try to think about it from that perspective.”
Catherine nodded. “Let’s go see this apartment building.”
Ray was waiting for them. Jamie looked up and then said to the realtor, “Why would anyone put those nasty shingles on a building?”
Smiling, Ray said, “People didn’t want these old buildings to look old. This was the craze in the 40s and 50s.”
“Hmm … can they be taken off?”
“Sure. Anything can be taken off. But they’re probably asbestos. That’ll cost a bit.”
Jamie handed Catherine her camera. “Take a picture of this lovely green building, will you?”
They spent about half an hour looking at the interior, and even though it took a lot of imagination, they all agreed that it belonged in the possible category.
Jamie took her phone out and called Niall. “Hi,” she said, “Mom and I just looked at the three flat on
“Uhm … that’s why I’m calling you. Would you like to take a look?”
“I could. But I’m not in charge.”
Rolling her eyes, Jamie said, “I took pictures. I’ll show them to all of you and see what you think. How’s that?”
“Good. Good. See ya.”
Jamie looked at her mother. “Being the real estate agent for the O’Flaherty cousins is a little tougher than I thought it would be.”
Back in the car, Jamie said, “Do you have time to stop at Kinko’s?”
“Of course. For what?”
“I’m gonna print these pictures and drop them off at each house. Then I’m gonna tell them to go look at the outside and let me know if they want to schedule a visit. I can’t make the decision for them … at least not so they notice.”
Conor carried Mia’s bag to the front door and waited patiently while she rang the bell six times in fifteen seconds. She had a key, but she wanted to make an entrance. She and Conor smiled at each other when they heard quick footsteps and a shouted, “Keep your shirt on!” booming from the house.
“Ryan’s home,” he said. “Such a dainty girl.”
The door was flung open and Ryan reached out and grabbed Mia, lifting her off her feet. Instinctively, she wrapped her legs around Ryan’s hips and kissed her. “I didn’t know you cared,” she giggled. “Don’t let Jamie catch us.”
“She’ll never know,” Ryan said. “She called and said she’d be home soon, but we can have fun until she gets here.” She nuzzled her face into Mia’s neck and blew a loud raspberry against her skin. “Now that I’ve got you, I’m never letting you go. You’re mine now.”
Mia ran her hands over Ryan’s shoulders, then leaned back a little and pinched her cheeks. “I might not argue. You’re lots softer than Jordan is now. Would Jamie mind sharing?”
“I’m gonna take off before you even think about answering that,” Conor said.
“Hey, come in and hang out,” Ryan said. “Stay for dinner. I promise I won’t gross you out.”
Conor laughed. “It wouldn’t gross me out if you weren’t involved. It’d be much better for me if Jamie and Mia and Jordan hooked up.”
“Not gonna happen,” Ryan said. “Well, I can’t speak for Mia and Jordan, but Jamie’s not into sharing.”
“There’s not enough of Jordan to share!” Mia interjected. “If she doesn’t put on some weight, she’s gonna blow away.”
Ryan placed Mia onto the floor. “Come on in. You too, Conor. I’ll make whatever you want for dinner.”
“I want some of that pizza you and Jamie are always talking about,” he said.
“Done! I love to order out. Especially when it’s my day to cook. Pizza good for you, Mia?”
“Hell, yes! I haven’t had pizza since I left. Jordan can’t eat bread or cheese, so our version of pizza would be tomato sauce, oregano and basil.”
“You know you’ve lost a few pounds too,” Ryan said, looking her over. “You look good, but you’re almost too thin.” She pulled on a few locks of Mia’s hair, smiling when the curls sprang back into place. “Your hair looks cute. I’ve never seen it so long.”
“Thanks. I was gonna get it cut, but now I think I might let it grow.”
“What’s with Jordan being so skinny?” Conor asked. “I didn’t know you were supposed to be thin for volleyball.”
“You’re not,” Ryan said, looking a little displeased. “Jordan has some trainer who wants her to be as skinny as a stick and then start putting muscle on. It sounds stupid to me, but he’s calling the shots.”
“What’s up with that?” Conor asked. “She was thin before.”
“Not like she is now,” Mia said. “She’s all bony and sharp. She’s lost her …” she shot a look at Conor, “…some of her best parts. But she’s down to the percentage of body fat that the trainer wants, so she’s supposed to start eating a lot more protein and working with heavier weights.”
“I hope that guy knows what he’s doing,” Ryan said. “How’s her energy level?”
“I don’t think it’s as good as it was, but she doesn’t agree.” Mia shrugged helplessly. “If they told her to eat rat poison, I think she might do it. She wants this sooooo bad.”
“You’d think the Olympic team would have somebody competent,” Ryan said. “But maybe she should go to the doctor and have some blood tests done. She might be hurting herself.”
“Don’t give me anything else to worry about. Being in a relationship is a full time job!”
Ryan gave her a big hug, holding onto her while kissing her head. “It is, but it’s a great job, isn’t it?”
“The best I’ve ever had,” Mia agreed. “Of course, it’s the first job I’ve ever had, so what the hell do I know?”
Dinner lasted until after ten o’clock, with Ryan having to run out to the store to buy another bottle of red wine when they’d run out. She walked Conor out to his truck, and gave him an enthusiastic hug when they reached the door. “I don’t know if you were being sincere, but you acted like everything was normal between you and Mia. Thanks for being so mature.”
“I had nowhere to go but up,” he said, chuckling. “Besides, it’s obvious Mia’s hooked. If I keep acting like an ass, you guys won’t want me around when she’s here. And I really like her.”
“I do too,” Ryan said. “And it’s a lot of fun having you here when Mia’s home. I think you guys can be good friends.”
“Yeah. Just what I need—more girl friends.” He kissed Ryan’s cheek and said, “You’ve gotta branch out and get some straight friends, really straight friends. Ones who throw up a little at the thought of kissing a woman.”
Ryan laughed. “I’ll look around. Maybe there’s a club at
“That’s all I ask. My needs are simple.”
“Thanks for picking Mia up, Con. I won’t even charge you for the pizza.”
“You’re all heart. I might come see you play on Sunday. Any chance you’ll get in?”
“The usual. I’m first off the bench, so you never know.”
“Okay. See ya.” He kissed her cheek and got into his truck, the sound from the massive engine reverberating down the quiet street.
Jamie and Mia were still sitting at the table when Ryan went back inside. “One of you has to get up at 7:00,” she said, looking pointedly at Jamie.
“I know, I know. But I wanna stay up all night and talk to my buddy!”
“Since I escaped having to cook, I’ll clean up. You guys go get ready for bed. I assume you were up at dawn?” she asked Mia.
“5:30, as usual. I’m not sure what the time difference is between here and
“Her coaches sound like … mmm…” Ryan considered her options, “… idiots.”
“That’s what I think. But I try not to say much to Jordan; she’s like a cult member.”
“Go get ready for bed,” Ryan ordered. “Jamie needs her nine hours.”
A blonde eyebrow rose. “Then why don’t I ever get more than seven?”
“’Cause you’re always up too late yapping,” Ryan said. She ducked the spoon her lover threw at her, eyes going wide when it almost hit a vase filled with jonquils. “Ooo … that was close. I’ve gotta teach you better. You aim for the gut … then even if you’re too high or too low, you still hit something. Being an only child really screwed you up.”
“I’ll get you later,” Jamie said, squinting her eyes menacingly.
Ryan winked at her. “That’s the other thing that keeps you up too late.”
When Ryan went up to their bedroom, she wasn’t too surprised to find that Jamie was absent. As expected, Jamie was lying on Mia’s bed, running her fingers through her friend’s curls. Ryan put her hands on her hips. “I want in on this.”
“Come on,” Jamie said, patting her lap. “You can have my other thigh. But I’ll have to alternate my hand from head to head.”
Ryan poked her head into Mia’s bathroom and grabbed some moisture lotion. “I want some Mia.” She sat by the foot of the bed and plopped both of Mia’s feet into her lap. “Can you tell we missed you?”
Mia purred when Ryan put some of the lotion on her hands and warmed it, then started to rub it into the sole of her foot. “I never would have left if you two would’ve done this every night.”
“We couldn’t get to you,” Ryan complained. “Jordan was always wrapped around you.”
“Mmm … right. I guess being with Jordan has a few advantages … although this is awfully nice.”
Her eyes were closed, and Jamie smiled at Ryan when it became clear that Mia was going to be asleep in moments. “While you’re home, we’ll treat you like the princess you are,” Ryan said. “We’ll cook for you, massage you … anything your heart desires.”
“Bring Jordy here to sleep with me,” Mia mumbled, curling up against a pillow and hugging it.
“Almost anything your heart desires,” Ryan amended, sharing a sympathetic look with Jamie.
Ryan was loping across campus when someone called out, “Hey! Ryan!” She stopped and turned, seeing Gabe waving at her.
“Hey! What’s up?”
He trotted over to her. “Did you look at the results from the Putnam?”
“I looked at the team scores. If you’d been on the team instead of Serban, we would have come in second. Second! And we would’ve lost to Waterloo by just six points!”
Ryan kicked the ground. “Damn!”
“Damn is right! If Skadden hadn’t insisted on screwing things up, we would’ve rocked!”
“It’s over now,” Ryan said, giving him a collegial slap on the back. “Not much we can do about it.”
“I’m gonna send an e-mail to the department head. Skadden shouldn’t be in charge any more. He’s a dinosaur.”
“I agree,” Ryan said. “But I don’t think that’s a fight I wanna get involved in. Too uphill.”
“Come on,” he said, jumping up and down in front of her like a kid. “You’re the one who was wronged.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. But I’m too busy to start a fight. Maybe after graduation.”
Gabe shoved his hands into his pockets. “I was countin’ on you.”
“I know. But I can’t do it. I just have other priorities right now.”
“Okay.” He turned, waving goodbye as he walked away.
Ryan watched him walk away. “Good luck, Gabe,” she said quietly. “You’ll need it.”
When Ryan got home from her game, Jamie and Mia were sitting in the living room, drinking beer. “Hey!” Jamie said, lifting her bottle. “Welcome home!”
Ryan smiled and walked over to give her a kiss. “How was your tournament?”
“Good. Well, as good as a tournament can be when you don’t get to play. I just got home about fifteen minutes ago. I would have come over to see you, but I figured you’d be finished. Did ya win?”
“Yep. We played well.”
“Did you play?” Mia asked.
“Nope.” Smiling, Ryan explained, “I usually go in when we don’t play well.”
“And you’re okay with that? Jordan goes nuts when she can’t play.”
“I’d rather play. But I’m enjoying this for what it is—my last time playing college sports. I chip in when the coach thinks he needs me, and if he doesn’t—I’m cool.”
“Wow, you’ve changed,” Mia said, looking at Ryan curiously. “You weren’t like that when you were playing volleyball.”
Ryan sat next to Jamie and put her feet up on the coffee table. “You’re right.” She took Jamie’s beer and took a long gulp. “Mmm … good,” she said, waggling her eyebrows. “I’m trying to be a little more relaxed about things. I’m not always successful, but I’m trying.”
Jamie put her arm around her partner and hugged her. “She’s trying real hard.”
Acknowledging that with a kiss, Ryan said casually, “I did something good today.”
“You know Gabe, who scored so high on the Putnam?”
“Oh!” Mia said. “Jamie told me how great you did. That’s so cool!”
“Thanks. Well, the guy who really kicked ass told me that if I’d been on the team instead of the guy Skadden put in my place … we would’ve come in second.”
“No!” Jamie cried.
“Yep. And here’s the good part: he wanted me to help him get Skadden fired as the team leader.”
Jamie blinked at her. “And you said no?”
“Yep.” Ryan smiled placidly. “Sure did.”
“But why? You … and
“I know. But Gabe wasn’t throwing a fit until he saw that the team would have done better with me. If he was so concerned with equality, he would have fought for me back when Skadden decided not to put me on. He’s his golden boy, and Skadden probably would have listened to him if he’d really taken a stand. It’s too late now. And I’m too busy to bang my head against the wall. The department knows Skadden’s a jerk. They know he’s never had a woman on the team. They don’t care. And I don’t wanna whip myself into a frenzy trying to fight the bureaucracy.”
“Damn,” Mia said. “That’s … mature! When did you get to be mature?”
“Don’t worry, it’s not consistent,” Ryan assured her. “Jamie can testify to that.”
“I’m stunned,” Jamie said, and her expression bore her out. “I can’t imagine you letting this go.”
“It does piss me off, and I don’t want other women to get screwed. I might write a letter after graduation; I’m just not into it right now.”
“I’m still stunned,” Jamie said. “Proud of you, but stunned.”
Ryan snagged the beer from her partner. “If you’re gonna sit there with your mouth hanging open, I’m gonna finish this little baby.”
“Go ahead.” Jamie said, “You know everything I have is yours. Oh, Niall called and said the boys want to look at that three-flat this weekend. I hope they can manage it without supervision.”
“Is Brendan going?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“They’ll be fine,” Ryan said before draining the bottle.
On Saturday morning, Ryan was just getting ready to leave for the softball field when Mia came tottering out of her room. She walked right into Ryan and hugged her, holding on for a long time. “It didn’t take me too long to get out of my 5:30 wake-up call habit, did it?”
“When did you get home? I didn’t hear you come in.”
“When do the bars close?” Mia asked with a grimace.
“Then probably 2:15,” she said, giggling. “But I didn’t get drunk. I just hung out and watched my friends get drunk. Man, I hang out with some drinkers!”
Ryan chuckled. “Yeah, you do, but that’s part of the fun of college. If you can’t get wasted every once in a while when you’re in college, when can you?”
“I still like to drink, but I’ve cut way, way back since I’ve been with Jordan.” Mia considered for a moment. “In fact, we never have alcohol in the house.”
Ryan reached down and tickled Mia’s lower back. “Hear that, liver? There’s still a chance you won’t have to be replaced.”
“Funny, O’Flaherty. Where are you off to?”
“Softball game. Wanna come?”
“Gosh, that sounds tempting,” Mia said, rolling her eyes. “But I’m gonna go see my parents. I might stay down there and go to Jamie’s match tomorrow. She’s at Stanford, right?”
“Right. I’m not sure what she’s gonna be doing, but she can tell you if you call her here tonight.”
“Okay. If my parents aren’t behaving themselves, I’ll come home.”
“Call us,” Ryan said. “And don’t forget. I promised Jordan I’d take good care of you.”
Mia hugged her tighter. “I wish I had someone to watch over her. All I’ve got is somebody who wants to get into her pants.”
“Knowing how Jordan feels about you, someone would have to sedate her to get her clothes off. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“I know,” Mia said. “It still makes me … uncomfortable. Jill’s just so obvious about it. When we left for the airport on Thursday, she made a big deal about how she’d never let Jordan out of her sight. It was … gross,” she said, making a face.
“Jordan’s hooked on you, and that’s all that matters. Now go get some coffee. I bought you a bagel and a muffin and some cereal.”
“Fruit Loops. Your favorite.”
Mia stood on her tiptoes and pulled Ryan down for a kiss. “You spoil me.” She rubbed the tip of her nose against Ryan’s. “I love that. I might have chosen you if I’d met you before Jamie did.”
“Lucky for me,” Ryan said, laughing. “Neither one of us would have seen thirty!”
Ryan had offered the use of her car, but Mia chose Jamie’s, having driven it many times over the years. She pulled into her parents’ drive around noon, pleased to see both cars in the garage. She rang the bell, and smiled at the stunned look on her father’s face when he opened the door.
His hug engulfed her and she held onto him tightly, letting the hug soothe a part of her that had been seriously wounded.
“What a great surprise!”
“I should have called,” she said when he released her. “But I like surprises.”
“This one is great!”
Her father looked so happy to see her that she was very glad she’d decided not to go to
“I just got home from the course. You have great timing,” he said
“Nah. I just slept late. We usually get up really early. It was nice to be a sloth.”
“Come on in, honey. Your mom’s outside. She’s putting in some plants.”
Mia walked through the living room, feeling comforted and safe among the familiar furniture and knick-knacks. The kitchen smelled like bacon and pancakes, and her stomach grumbled, even though she’d had a huge bowl of Fruit Loops just an hour ago. She opened the back door and her mother looked up—and her face brightened like she’d seen Santa Claus. “Mia!” She jumped to her feet and ripped off her gardening gloves, but didn’t have time to take a step before Mia wrapped her in a hug.
“Hi, Mom. I thought I’d surprise you.”
“Surprise me! I’m stunned! I was expecting a call telling me when you were leaving for
“Jordan left yesterday. I decided she’d play better if she didn’t have to worry about me.” She looked into her mother’s eyes. “And I decided I needed to come home for a week. I miss you guys and I miss my friends. Colorado Spring’s nice, but it’s not my home.”
“This is your home,” Anna Lisa said, hugging her for a long time. “This will always be your home.”
Mia didn’t say what she was thinking because she didn’t want her hurt her mother, but she didn’t think of Hillsborough as home any longer. She knew that
“Can I help you plant?” Mia asked. “It’s so nice to be outside.” She looked around the large, well-tended yard. “I miss having any outside space.”
“Sure. I’ll get you some gloves.”
“No thanks. I like the dirt.”
Anna Lisa bumped her with her shoulder. “You were always a little dirt-devil.”
Mia was wearing jeans, and she knelt down next to her mother and started digging holes for the bedding plants. “I’ll dig and you can plant. How deep do you want the holes?”
“About three inches. We’ll be done in no time if we work together.” They put a few plants in and Anna Lisa said, “Could I convince you to take a drive over to Nonna’s?”
“Sure. I don’t have any plans.”
“Great! Adam, would you call my mom and see if she’s home?”
“All right,” he said, heading for the house with a resigned slump to his shoulders.
Anna Lisa giggled. “Twenty-five years and he still hates to call her. Men are such babies.”
“He’s not so bad. You’ve trained him pretty well.”
“It’s not easy!” Anna Lisa worked quietly for a few minutes, then asked, “Everything’s all right, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I don’t know. I was just worried that maybe you’d had a fight with Jordan. You seemed so sure that you were going with her …”
“I was. Now, I don’t want you to think you have any influence over me,” she said, laughing, “but you do. I thought about what you said and I started to really think about whether or not I wanted to go.”
“Did Jordan want you to go?”
“Yeah … she kinda did. But she wanted me to go if I was gonna have a great time. And it just didn’t seem like fun to sit around and wait for her to finish playing. It also seemed like an awful lot of money for us to be spending almost no time together. And, to be honest, I don’t have much interest in that part of
“Oh, my God! Is she going to do that?”
“I doubt it. But it’s an option. They have a good professional league there, and some of her teammates go there every winter.”
“Are you sure you know what you’ve gotten yourself into, honey?”
“Nope.” Mia sat back on her haunches. “Do you ever really know what’s gonna happen when you love someone? You just kinda see what happens.”
“But she seems to put this sports thing first in her life!”
Mia shook her head. “She does, Mom. I’ve told you that. This is one of her life goals. She’s not gonna do it her whole life, but being on the Olympic squad is the highest level of competition she’ll ever have. This means the world to her.”
“But what does it mean to you? Are you just along for the ride?”
Staring at her mother for a while, she finally said, “Yes. Jordan has a goal. She’s worked for it her whole life. My job is to help her do as well as she can. When she’s finished, we’ll figure out what we want to do with the rest of our lives. Things will be more equal then.”
“How do you know? If you give in to everything she wants now, won’t she expect that?”
Trying not to roll her eyes, Mia said, “She’s not like that. She’s not bossy or pushy or anything like that. If I asked her to, she’d quit the team right now. But I wouldn’t. I’d never ask her to stop doing something that really means everything to her.”
“Honey, I’m not … I don’t want you to set things up in a way that always puts her first. That’s all.”
It wasn’t easy to keep her cool, but Mia was determined not to fight. “I don’t think you understand, or maybe you don’t believe me when I say I’m in love with her. We’re partners. Right now, she has a goal. Later on, I’ll have one, too. We share. Isn’t that the point of being in love?”
Anna Lisa sat perfectly still for a minute, then she nodded. “Yes. That’s the point of being in love. I … suppose I’m not really used to the whole thing yet.”
“You’ll get there, if you want to,” Mia said.
“Well, you know this isn’t what I want for you, but you do seem happy, and that’s very important to me.” She leaned over and kissed Mia’s cheek. “Even though you might not believe me, I really want you to be happy.”
“I believe that. I just know that you’d rather I was happy the way you want me to be.” She gave her mother a teasing smile.
“Oh, everyone’s like that. So … what’s your goal?”
“Mmm … I think I’ll go to law school. Maybe not in a year, but as soon as I can. But my real goal is to have kids.”
“Yeah. You know — small humans.”
“Yep.” Mia didn’t say another word. She just watched the conflicting emotions whirl across her mother’s face. She saw everything pass by in a matter of seconds, but she didn’t try to intervene. She knew this wouldn’t be an easy sell, and she was prepared for a long fight.
“Well. I hope you’re going to wait for a while to do that.” Anna Lisa wasn’t giving away much, but the look on her face was less than enthusiastic.
“Jordan and I haven’t even talked about it seriously, but my life goal is to be a good mother. Everything else is just a job.”
She looked like she was fighting with herself, but Anna Lisa couldn’t help but smile. “You’re always full of surprises, my sweet girl. I can never guess what’s gonna pop out of your mouth next.”
“Stay tuned, Mom. It’s always something.”
After they were finished in the garden, they went upstairs to clean up. Mia had some clothes in her closet that still fit her, and they were a little bit dressier than the jeans she was wearing—always a good thing for a visit to her grandparents. Her mother was ready before her father, and she came downstairs looking edgy. She walked up behind Mia, who was sitting at the kitchen table, and started to play with her hair. “I like your hair this length,” she said. “It’s such a pretty color.”
“Thanks. It’s the same color as yours, you know.”
“It’s the same as mine used to be,” Anna Lisa corrected. “I’ve had to start dying mine.”
“Really?” Mia turned around and looked carefully. “You can’t tell.”
“For what those thieves charge me, you shouldn’t be able to tell. I don’t have a lot of gray, but I’m not giving in gracefully. I’m not going to be gray before Nonna is!”
“She’s only sixty-five, Mom,” Mia teased.
“Thank God she started lightening it up. She was starting to look like a vampire with that dark hair and pale skin.”
“Who talked her into that?”
“God knows. I’d never have the nerve.”
“It cracks me up that you’re afraid to tell her something like that,” Mia said.
“It’s not worth it, honey. There are some things you talk about, and some things you don’t. Uhm … that … uhm … that’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“I won’t talk about Jordan,” Mia said, scowling. “That is what you were going to ask, right?”
“I hate to make you feel bad, but it’s too soon. After you’ve been together for a while and know that you’re stable … then it’ll be easier.”
“No, it won’t. She’ll still have a fit. But I’m not really in the mood to have her go nuclear on me, so I wasn’t gonna talk about Jordan anyway.”
Anna Lisa leaned down and kissed her cheek. “You’re being so mature about all of this. You really are growing up.”
“I am,” Mia agreed. “And part of the reason I’m growing up is because of Jordan. She helps me think things through. Something I haven’t always been good at,” she said, smiling.
“I wish she were a man, but, for a woman, she seems like a good … What do you call her?”
“You can call her my partner. I call her my luscious lesbian lover.”
Anna Lisa put her hands around Mia’s throat and playfully choked her. “Forget what I said about being mature, you little devil!”
“Help! Dad! Mom’s trying to kill me!”
Brendan rang Ryan that evening. “Hi,” he said. “I think we need another pow-wow.”
“Everybody saw the building, and we all agree that it’s got potential. But it costs a lot more than we discussed, and it’s not a house. Knowing Jamie, she’s got something in mind, but we’re stumped.”
“Huh.” Ryan looked at her partner, peacefully curled up on the sofa, reading a book. “You’re right. She’s always got a hidden agenda.”
Jamie looked up and pointed at herself ostentatiously. Ryan wrinkled up her nose and nodded.
Chuckling, Brendan said, “Wanna ask her, or should we just do as she says?”
“It’s easier if you just do as she says.” Jamie nodded energetically. “But we should probably chat. How about tomorrow night? We’re planning on coming home for dinner.”
“Okay. I’ll set up a poker game. That’ll attract a crowd.”
“Sounds good. Will I see you and Maggie at dinner?”
“Don’t think so. She’s got a cocktail party for work that she’s dragging me to. We’ll probably have dinner with some of her co-workers.”
“Sounds like fun,” Ryan teased, knowing he hated to socialize with strangers.
“Yeah. Being in love stinks sometimes, but it’s worth it in the long run.” He laughed softly. “At least that’s what I keep telling myself.”
On Saturday evening, Conor pressed the bell at Catherine’s
“You don’t need to go to any trouble for me, Marta. I’m fine.”
“I’d enjoy making you a drink. I’m a good bartender.” Her dark eyes were twinkling and Conor found himself unable to resist her offer. “Okay. Just a little whiskey and water.”
She nodded and went to a bar hidden in an antique armoire. After naming six brands of whiskey and two kinds of bottled water, Conor made his choices, hoping he didn’t have to specify a type of ice. Marta handed him the drink and put out a coaster, then left the room. Conor wished she would have stayed and chatted, but he assumed that wasn’t done.
Catherine appeared relatively soon and he stood to greet her. “As usual … you look fantastic,” he said. He studied her, looking at her hair, her jewelry, her clothing and her shoes. “Flawless. Just flawless.”
Laughing softly, Catherine said, “Your sister does the same thing. She looks me over like she’s my dresser. Did you two learn that from your father?”
“Ha! You’ve gotta be kidding! Da tells every woman she looks nice. He’s completely untrustworthy.”
“I’ll have to remember that.”
“Don’t trust Rory or Brendan either. They don’t have a clue.”
“You’re always a surprise,” Catherine said. “And may I sincerely tell you that you look fabulous in your suit. That’s a very nice tie,” she said admiring the navy blue background with multi-colored dots.
“Thanks. I wanted something to give the suit some pop. Polka dots won’t be stylish for long, but they’re in right now.”
“You really do care about how you look, don’t you?”
Conor smiled. “Sure. I get so dirty at work that I love to get cleaned up.”
“You certainly don’t look like your average carpenter.”
“It’s harder for me than for a guy who sits at a desk. I have to get a manicure to get the grime from my fingernails, and I need a facial every few weeks to get the dirt out of my pores.”
Catherine blinked. “You go to a salon?”
“Yeah. Unless I’m dating someone. I had a girlfriend for a long time and she used to love to give me facials and things like that. She said I was the only guy she’d ever gotten to play with like that.”
“I … I’d guess so. I’ve certainly never done that for a man.”
“I don’t think I’d do it if I lived in Moose Nose,
Catherine laughed. “You’re full of as many contradictions as your sister. You two are most definitely interesting companions.”
“Then let’s go. Your car or mine?”
“Mine, if you don’t mind. Will you drive?” Catherine held out the keys.
“Twist my arm!”
The event was being held at Davies Symphony Hall, a place Conor had never entered. But he conducted himself well, managing to be at Catherine’s side when she looked for him and absent when she was having a serious conversation. He made a little small talk on his own, but primarily acted as a very proper, discreet companion.
Waiters carried hot and cold appetizers on trays, and Conor had a few of each, not wanting to appear too ravenous. He also didn’t want to risk dripping on his new tie, which had cost him a day’s labor. Waiters also circulated with flutes of champagne, and he availed himself of two of those. A large table in the corner held various kinds of cheese and later in the evening a second table was revealed; this one filled with tiers of desserts.
“Would you like something sweet?” Catherine asked.
“Uhm … is there … more food? Real food?”
Her eyes widened. “Didn’t you have enough canapés?”
“No, not if that’s all we get.”
He looked so disappointed that she nearly laughed. “Oh, Conor, I’m sorry I didn’t make it clear that this wasn’t a formal dinner. The hall isn’t big enough to seat all of these people, so they just serve heavy hors d’oeuvres.”
“Those were heavy? A piece of mango stuck to a shrimp isn’t heavy … it’s light … it’s ultra-light.”
“Did you have some of that Kobe beef?”
“Yes, but it was cut with a plane. Wood shavings are thicker than that. I’m gonna have to stand at that dessert table and make some sparks fly.”
He grinned at Catherine, but she could see that he was serious. “You don’t have much of a sweet tooth, do you?”
“No, not really. I like pie and a chocolate malt once in a while, but I’m an entrée kinda guy.”
“Then we’ll go get you an entrée.” She started to walk away, but Conor touched her arm.
“No, we don’t have to leave. I can stop and get a burger on my way home. You need to be here.”
“I’ve spoken to everyone,” she said. “I’ve done my duty and we can go … unless you’re not ready.”
“Oh, I could probably force myself to take off. Especially since there’s no dancing. I had my eye on that woman over there who’s tapping her foot to the music.”
Catherine looked over and saw a woman who was likely a nonagenarian, tapping her foot and shifting her shoulders while her ancient husband leaned against a wall to avoid falling over.
“Her husband doesn’t look like he can lead her around the dance floor any more. I bet she misses dancing.”
He looked entirely serious, and Catherine once again marveled at the playful/serious, thoughtful/impetuous O’Flaherty clan.
Continued in Part 8
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