I Found My Heart in
By SX Meagher
A short time later they were ensconced at a small table at an equally small bistro in
“Mmm …” She swallowed and considered his comment. “I am. I don’t feel as lonely, and that’s always a plus. And I …” She thought just a few seconds before she decided to be honest with him. “I feel desirable again.”
“The guy who showed up at your house during the party?”
“Why … yes. Was it that obvious?”
“No, no.” He shook his head decisively. “But he didn’t look like an old family friend. Jamie didn’t know him, so … I just guessed.”
She colored slightly. “I don’t know why I’m a little embarrassed to have Giacomo in my life.” She shifted in her seat. “Yes, I do. He’s married.”
“Ooo … unhappily?”
“No, on the contrary. He’s happily married, but both he and his wife have outside … interests.”
Conor’s blue eyes widened. “Now that’s a marriage I could get into!”
“I couldn’t,” she said immediately. “And that’s one of my problems. I put myself in his wife’s position and know how much I’d hate having my husband being intimate with another woman.” She didn’t reveal she’d been in such a position many times, her decision to keep her marital troubles private holding firm. “I hate doing something to a woman that I’d hate to have done to me.”
“But she doesn’t hate it? You know that?”
“Do I know that?” She frowned. “I know that’s what Giacomo has told me from the beginning. He says she has a lover … the same person for many years.”
“Maybe you’d feel better if you talked to her. If she really doesn’t care …”
“Giacomo has offered,” she said. “They’ve always kept things an open secret, but he told her about me and asked if she’d talk to me.”
“Then he must be telling the truth. That’s a whopper to get out of if you’re bluffing.”
“I don’t think he’s the type to lie. I really don’t.”
“You’re sure he’s on … the up and up? He’s trustworthy?” Conor didn’t have the heart to ask if Giacomo could be after Catherine’s money, and he hoped she’d see behind his question.
“Yes. I’m sure of that. He doesn’t need anything from me. He has children, a wife much younger than me, money, connections. There’s not a reason in the world he cares for me—except me.”
“Like that’s not enough!”
She reached out and rubbed the back of his hand. “You’re so good for my ego.”
“Your ego isn’t big enough. Neither is your appetite.” Their server set his steak and her six oysters on the table. Conor looked at the heaping mound of ultra-thin, crispy fries on his plate and said, “I won’t rest until you help me finish these off.”
She grinned at him and snagged one, blowing on it to cool it. Taking a delicate bite, she closed her eyes for a moment then said, “Divine. The worse food is for you, the better it tastes.”
That’s true for men, too, Conor thought, hoping that such wasn’t the case with Giacomo.
They almost finished the fries, but Conor had to take care of two of Catherine’s oysters. “How can you not have room for two oysters?” he asked, patting his mouth clean. “I could have two dozen as a light appetizer.”
She laughed at his use of the term. “How many for a heavy one?”
“One of those numbers Ryan talks about. The ones so big they have to guess at how many zeroes there are.”
“Your sister has been such a wonderful addition to our family, Conor. I hope you all know how much I love her.”
“I do. She does too. Believe me, we wouldn’t ask you over all the time if you weren’t nice to her. You don’t see Jim dropping by when he’s in town, do you?”
“No, I suppose I don’t. But he’s coming around.”
“I like him. But he could cure cancer and Da wouldn’t … throw water on him if he were on fire.” He’d barely caught himself before he’d said “piss.” “He doesn’t forgive or forget, especially where my little sister is concerned.”
“But he’s always been polite.”
“Oh, sure, he’s polite. But it’s a very chilly polite.” He chuckled, his expression adorably demonic to Catherine’s eyes.
“How about you, Conor? Anyone special in your life?”
“No. But I wouldn’t mind finding someone. I’m ready to settle down a little.”
“It shouldn’t be hard for you to find a nice woman. I’d guess you could have your pick.”
“No, that’s not true.” He didn’t feel comfortable talking about Mia, so he just smiled. “Uhm … are you … exclusive with Giacomo?”
“Hmm. Good question.” She tilted her head and thought for a moment. “I thought I wanted to meet a man and either get married or have another marriage-like relationship. But now I’m not so sure.”
“Oh, I think it’s hard to find love. I certainly don’t know anyone I’d like to date, and I probably know everyone in my economic class in
“That can’t be your only reason to give up on marriage.” His expression showed just how little he believed her.
“No, I suppose not. The real reason is that I’m at the age where all of the men have been married once or twice or three times.” She smiled wryly. “I don’t really want to have step-children or vengeful ex-wives or all of the turmoil that entails. Having a … whatever Giacomo is to me … is easy. I know where I stand, I know what he wants, and I know neither of us expects anything to change. That makes things … tidy.”
He gazed at her for a few moments, looking into her eyes. “Is that enough?”
“It is for now.” She took a long sip of water, but Conor’s eyes were still trained on her when she looked up. “But I’d like more. Maybe not now, but one day I’d like to have someone I don’t have to share.”
“How often do you see each other?”
“Not very often. He lives in
“Sadly, yes. It certainly increases the price of a date. Luckily, I can afford it.”
Conor waited patiently while Catherine opened the door of her home. It was late, so he assumed he’d just walk her to the door. But she turned and said, “Come in, if you’re not too tired.”
He checked his watch. “It’s almost midnight ...”
“Oh, you don’t have to come in. I just wanted to see how you felt about tonight.”
“Felt?” He looked puzzled. “I had fun. Is that what you mean?”
“Yes. I … I’d love to ask you to some other events, but I want to make sure you’d really enjoy yourself.”
“Catherine, if I hadn’t gone with you tonight I’d either be at a pub with my cousins or playing cards, or lying on my bed watching TV. My life isn’t very exciting. Hanging out with you shows me a whole new world. One I like, a lot!”
She smiled at his exuberance. “What do you like about it?”
“I like getting dressed up and going places I’ve never been. It’s kinda like getting a day pass to a really cool club that you could never join.”
Puzzled, she asked, “Are you certain? Because there are other people I could go with. You just seemed to enjoy going to the opera benefit …”
“I’m positive. Really. I’ll go any time you need an escort. But I wish you would have let me pay for dinner. You really didn’t have to buy.”
“It’s my fault you left the party hungry. Next time I’ll warn you if we’re not going to get a proper dinner.”
“Cool. I hope next time is soon.”
“How about next Friday? I’m going to a cocktail party at Stanford Law to raise funds for scholarships. It’s just cocktails, so we can have dinner afterward—my treat.”
He pursed his lips, scowling slightly. “Only if I pay.”
“We’ll have dinner at my house.” She playfully stuck her tongue out at him. “No charge.”
He didn’t think it appropriate to reply with his usual, “Don’t stick that out if you’re not gonna use it,” so he just smiled at her. “Next Friday it is. When and where do you want me?”
Looking glum, Mia walked downstairs on Saturday night. Noting her lethargic shuffle, Jamie asked, “What’s up?”
“Jordy finally found an Internet café in
“Ooo … is she bummed?”
Mia sat down and thought for a moment. “Seemed so. She didn’t have much to say, really. Just told me they were playing at about the level they usually do, but they couldn’t keep up. Then she said she loved me and that I’d made a good decision not to come. But she didn’t say why.”
“Maybe the hotels aren’t very good,” Ryan suggested.
“Or maybe they don’t have much free time,” Jamie added.
“Kinda hard to tell when she writes about ten lines.” She put her feet on the chair and rested her head on her knees. “She must be depressed and grouchy.”
“Or tired,” Ryan said. “It’s draining to play at that level, and even though they’ve been practicing hard, playing real matches is very different. Much more intense.”
Mia nodded. “She does get quiet when she’s tired.”
“She’s quiet when she’s wide awake,” Ryan teased. “Don’t read too much into this.” She stood and yawned. “Time for bed.” Holding a hand out to Jamie, Ryan helped her to her feet. “Want anything rubbed, Mia?”
She smiled and narrowed her eyes, thinking. “Mini-backrub?”
“You got it. I’ll even make it a maxi if the mini doesn’t knock you out.”
On Sunday afternoon, Mia walked up behind a beautifully attired blonde woman and whispered, “Rumor has it that the Evans kid faked the broken arm because she flunked a drug test.”
Catherine whirled around and stared at Mia. “My God, I was about to slap you! Nobody talks about my baby like that.” She gave Mia an enthusiastic hug. “It’s so good to see you!”
Slightly stunned at the enthusiasm of the greeting, Mia gathered herself and managed to say, “Thanks, Catherine. It’s good to see you, too. How’s Jamie doing?”
“Good. It’s silly for me to come out to watch her team when she’s not playing, but I’ve followed them all year. I hate to stop now.”
“Where is she?”
“Oh, she rides around in a cart and takes drinks to the players. She seems to enjoy it.”
As they started to walk to the next hole, Catherine said, “Jamie told me a little bit about Jordan’s big tournament. Tell me all about it.”
“Oh. Well, they play the Russian national team tomorrow. The Russians are probably the best team in the world right now—well, either them or the Cubans. I’m afraid the
“Is Jordan happy? Does she enjoy being on the team?”
“Oh, yeah.” Mia was smiling so brightly that Catherine unconsciously mimicked her. “She loves it, Catherine. The only bad thing is that she’s worried she won’t make the final cut. They have to get rid of seven or eight players before the Olympics, and she’s afraid she might be one of ’em.”
“Oh, dear, that would be awful! Especially after all she’s given up!” She reached out and grasped Mia’s arm. “Not to mention what you’ve sacrificed.”
“Yeah. It would suck royally. I don’t really wanna think about it, ’cause I know she won’t be able to walk away. If she gets cut, she’ll wanna play in
Catherine looked at Mia for a moment. “But you would, wouldn’t you?”
“Yep. I’m hooked, Catherine. I’d do just about anything to make her happy.”
“Being in love can be hard, can’t it?”
“Sure can be. But it’s worth it. At least Jordan is.” Catherine put her arm around Mia’s waist, once again surprising the younger woman. She’d known Catherine for eight years, but they’d never been physically affectionate in the least.
“You look happy and healthy and very content. I think Jordan’s lucky to have you.”
“That’s what I keep telling her.” Mia laughed. “So far—she’s bought it!”
Jamie’s team didn’t improve their standing from the previous day, but her mood certainly wasn’t affected by her team’s play. Mia and Catherine hadn’t seen her once during the round, but when she spotted them she jogged over to Mia and gave her a very robust, one-armed hug. “I’m so excited you came!” Jamie said, squeezing Mia until she was breathless.
“Then don’t kill me!”
Jamie released her and gave Catherine a much more controlled hug. “Isn’t it great to have Mia home, Mom?’
“I haven’t had a better time at a tournament all year.” Catherine smiled and patted Mia’s shoulder. “It was so nice to walk around together. My sides hurt from laughing.” She took a quick look at her watch. “Can I interest you two in dinner?”
Jamie looked at Mia, who shrugged her shoulders. “Well … I’d love to, but I need to call and see what Ryan’s doing. Oh! I have to see if she won, too. They’ve lost the last two days.”
“What are your plans, Mia?” Catherine asked.
“I told some friends I might go out with them later, but probably not ’til 10:00 or 11:00. So I’m up for anything.”
With a glance at Mia, Jamie asked, “How’d you get here?”
Smiling cherubically, Mia said, “Your car. Ryan gave me permission.”
“You don’t need permission. What’s mine is yours.”
Mia gave her a faux scowl. “You mean that too literally sometimes.” She looked at Catherine. “She’s always trying to give me money.”
“She should,” Catherine said. “I don’t want to say anything negative about your parents, but I don’t think it’s right to cut your child off financially just because you don’t approve of her choices. If you need anything, Mia, absolutely anything, I hope you’ll let Jamie or me help.”
Squirming visibly, Mia said, “I have a hard time taking money. I know I shouldn’t be so weird about it, but it makes me uncomfortable. Jamie sent me the ticket to come here and I’m determined to pay her back.”
“Don’t even think about it! If I could’ve traveled this month, I would’ve been to see you three times already. You’re just saving me time.” She slung an arm around Mia’s shoulders. “It’s fantastic to have you home for a few days. And every time Jordan has a trip that you don’t want to go on, I’m sending you another ticket. So … get used to it.”
“We’ll see about that. I might figure out a way to say ‘no.’ It’s not what I’m best at, but I’m working on it.”
“Back to dinner,” Jamie said. “I forgot we’ve got to go to the O’Flaherty’s for dinner. Why don’t you both come?”
“I think I’d better go back to
“You’re a good daughter,” Catherine said, giving Mia another quick hug. “And Jamie, you’d better call Martin and tell him you’re bringing a guest.”
“I will. Even though he always makes too much, you never know when Ryan’s gonna be hungry enough to eat for three.”
Frowning slightly, Catherine assessed Mia’s thinness. “Maybe some of your mother’s cooking will put a few pounds on you, Mia. You must be eating the same things Jordan is.”
“Pretty much. I don’t have the heart to eat normal food when she’s got to eat like a rabbit.”
Jamie kissed her cheek. “We’d better get going. Call us if you’re not coming home.”
Mia blinked in surprise. “Where would I go?”
“Oh!” Jamie blushed. “I forgot you’re living a clean life now. Sorry, bud.”
“S’okay. It’s hard to break old habits. You had three years of trying to keep track of me. Just convince yourself I’m on parole; it’ll be easier.”
When they reached the Mercedes, Catherine clicked a button on her key ring and the doors unlocked. Jamie started to open the passenger door, but paused for a moment before getting in. When they were both seated, she said, “When Ryan’s with us, you always ask her if she wants to drive. You never do that with me.”
Catherine smiled at her and turned the key. “Really? I wonder why?”
“You don’t know?”
“No. It hadn’t occurred to me that I did that with Ryan. It must be because she loves to drive.”
“I love to drive, too,” Jamie said, staring at the side of her mother’s face.
“You do?” Catherine spared a second to look at her. “Ryan always drives your car when you’re together, doesn’t she?”
Irritated by her logic, Jamie said, “Not always. We just got in the habit when she didn’t have a car. I let her drive so she didn’t drool.”
Catherine turned again, but didn’t see the expected smile on her daughter’s face. Assuming she was out of sorts because of her injury, she let the subject drop.
Jamie fussed with the radio for a few minutes, finally finding a station she liked. It was a Spanish station, but Catherine didn’t mind, finding the music lighthearted and rhythmic. “I think I hear an accordion,” she said.
“Yeah, that’s common. This is a Norteña song.”
“Yeah. The people who live along the northern border of
Jamie laughed a little. “It’s kinda like gangsta rap, but only because of the topics they cover. It is kinda weird, because it sounds like a big German band—but this song is about a guy who gets busted bringing over drugs and he has to go to prison in
“Do you listen to this kind of music … often?”
“Only when I want to listen to Spanish. Helps me stay sharp. This station plays mostly Norteña and Banda.”
“I’m not sure what those are, but it’s always nice to learn a little something new about you. I had no idea you listened to music to keep your Spanish in shape.”
Jamie was quiet for a few moments, then she said, “It is nice to learn things about each other, isn’t it? That’s one of the things I missed during the time we weren’t very close. I never … felt that I really knew you.”
Catherine nodded, keeping her eyes on the road. “I hope that’s changed.”
“It has … mostly.”
“Mostly?” A blonde eyebrow rose. “Only mostly?”
“You haven’t given me the whole story on Giacomo.” Jamie let out a breath, relieved to finally have the topic out in the open.
“Whole story?” Catherine gave her a quick look. “What story is that?”
Irritated by her mother’s feigned innocence, Jamie said, “You told me you were going to break up with him. That was quite a while ago, Mother. And I’ve been trying to figure out why he showed up at your house if he wasn’t welcome.”
The “mother” reference caught Catherine by surprise. It had been almost a year since Jamie had used it rather than the much warmer “mom.” She thought for a minute, trying to decide what she was willing to share. “He surprised me that night, Jamie. I thought I told you that. I never would have invited him to come to my house while I was having a party. It’s … uncomfortable.”
“But you would … you do … invite him when you’re not having a party?”
“I don’t like your tone,” Catherine said, surprising herself. “You sound as if I’m accountable to you.”
Eyes wide, Jamie blinked in shock. Her mother had never come close to chiding her for anything, and she didn’t like the experience one bit. “You’re not accountable to me,” she said, stressing the word to make it sound more offensive than it was. “But you told me you were going to break it off—because you deserved to be treated better. I didn’t tell you I thought you should break up with him … although I would have if you’d asked.”
Catherine’s voice was soft, but her words were not. “I didn’t ask. And I don’t like feeling like you’re scolding me. It’s quite disrespectful.”
“Damn it, Mother!” Catherine almost swerved off the road at this outburst. “Did you break up with him or not?”
For safety’s sake, Catherine pulled off at the next exit. She drove into a gas station and found a spot to park, out of the flow of customers. Turning off the engine, she shifted in her seat to be able to face her daughter. Jamie’s face was bright pink and she looked like she was going to throw a tantrum. “Why are you so upset?”
“I’m upset,” Jamie said, spitting out the word, “because you told me you felt bad about yourself for dating a married man. You said you deserved better. You said you knew what it was like to have your husband cheat. I didn’t put those words into your mouth. And if you do feel that way, I’m angry at you for compromising your morals just to have sex!”
The car was deathly quiet for a few moments. Catherine’s expressions reflected the gamut of emotions that pulsed through her. But her years of tamping down and ignoring her feelings prepared her to respond calmly. “My sex life and my moral code are no one’s business but mine, Jamie. I must have given you the impression that we’re peers, but we’re not. I can’t demand that you respect me and my choices, but I will not have you dictating to me. If you don’t mind, I consider this subject closed.”
Without waiting for an answer, she started the car and began to back out of the parking space. A mumbled, “You’re the one who wanted to be friends,” caught her by surprise. She kept going, easing the car back onto the on-ramp for the freeway. She thought about Jamie’s comment for a second, recalling the conversation they’d had in
When they reached the “children’s house,” as Martin called it, Jamie hopped out while Catherine was putting the car into park. She marched ahead, her erect, rigid posture showing her anger. Catherine took her time, freshening up her lipstick and making sure her hair was perfect. Jamie was waiting for her at the foot of the stairs, and she marched up without saying a word when Catherine arrived.
Surprisingly, once they entered, Jamie reverted to her usual cheerful self. Catherine knew her well enough to see that she was forcing it, but she was fairly sure that only she and Ryan knew anything was wrong. It made her smile to see the concerned look on Ryan’s face after they’d been in the house a matter of moments, and she went into the kitchen to chat with Martin and Maeve as Ryan led Jamie downstairs under the pretext of changing out of her golf clothes—which were as pressed and fresh as they’d been that morning.
Before they’d reached the room, Ryan asked, “What’s wrong?”
Jamie shook her head, waiting until she closed the door to speak. She walked to the bed and flung herself on it face-first. “My mother’s being a jerk.”
Stunned, Ryan stood still. “She is?”
Jamie rolled over, gazing at Ryan with slitted eyes. “Yeah, she is. I asked her about Giacomo and she not only wouldn’t tell me one thing, she told me it was none of my business and that she was the mother and I was the child. Period.”
“Well … uhm …” Ryan approached and sat on the foot of the bed. “You are. Did you flat-out ask her what was going on, or were you more subtle?”
Blowing out a breath through pursed lips, Jamie said, “I was pretty direct.” She caught Ryan’s look. “I’m pissed! She’s doing the same thing that my father did! How can she do that to another woman?”
“I … thought that his wife didn’t mind …”
“Oh, please!” Jamie sat up and looked at her partner like she was slow. “Every cheating man says that. I’m sure my father told the women he was with that my mother didn’t mind. And even if his wife doesn’t mind, it’s still wrong. There’s no excuse, none whatsoever, for sleeping with a married man.”
Ryan was silent for a few moments, then softly said, “I’ve slept with married women. Are you angry with me?”
Jamie’s voice was sharp and stinging. “I would be if you didn’t feel guilty!”
Scratching her head, Ryan half-closed one eye and looked at Jamie quizzically. “I don’t feel particularly guilty about it. And, if we weren’t together, I can’t say I’d never do it again. It depends on the circumstances.”
Jamie jumped to her feet. “Fine! So I’m the only one around here who values the vows … yes, the vows … of marriage!”
Ryan didn’t rise to the bait. If anything, her tone was calmer and she spoke more slowly than she had been. “That’s hardly fair. I never cheated on anyone. I just had sex with a few women who chose not to honor their vows.”
Hand on hip, Jamie gave her a withering glare. “There’s no difference, and you know it. That’s like driving the car while someone else robs a bank. Those women wouldn’t have been cheating without you, Ryan.”
“So … you’ve been holding in your contempt of me?” She was smiling, but it was sardonic.
“No, damn it, no! I don’t feel contempt for you, but I hope you see that what you did was wrong!”
Ryan got up and walked over to her, attempting to put her hands on Jamie’s shoulders before they were shaken off. “Damn! What’s gotten into you? You act like your mother killed someone and I helped bury the body!”
“Do you … or do you not think that having sex with married women is wrong?”
Knowing she was making things worse by being honest, Ryan shrugged her shoulders. “It depends. I won’t say that it’s always wrong and I won’t say I always felt guilty. I didn’t.”
“How many times did you do it?”
Jamie was yelling, and Ryan hoped that there was enough noise upstairs for the others to not hear her. “A few … several … hell, I don’t know! I didn’t have a lot of info on some of the women I was with. Some of them coulda been married.”
“How … many … do … you … know … were … married?”
Ryan truly hated to be spoken to like a child, but she tried to ignore it since she could see how upset Jamie was. “Four … no, five.”
“Five? You fucked five married women? That’s disgusting!”
“Yeah, I did,” Ryan said, her eyes narrowed and cold as steel. “And I’d do four of ’em again if I were single.” She got closer and talked softly, but her words stung sharply. “I don’t like having to justify my behavior to you or anyone else! I’m not gonna fuck …” She used the word with the same level of venom Jamie had, “…anyone, married or single, because I’m committed to you. That’s all that matters. My past is mine. And don’t go throwing that saintly pose around too much, Jamie, because your past isn’t lily-white, either.”
“What? I was with one man, Ryan. One!”
“I know that. And you tried to cheat on him … with me! You put me in a bad position on several occasions—kissing me on your birthday, dancing with me like you wanted to eat my clothes off, making me sleep under the covers with you when you were drunk. Not to mention the time you outright asked if you could fuck me to see if you liked lesbian sex. You might have only been with one man, but you put yourself into the position of cheating on him. I just didn’t wanna play that game … even though I’m obviously a common whore!” She kicked her desk chair on the way to the stairs, leaving the object spinning slowly.
It took a long time for Jamie to calm down enough to go upstairs, and when she entered the living room, she realized she hadn’t changed her clothes—her ostensible reason for going downstairs in the first place. The guarded looks on Maeve, Martin, Conor and Kevin’s faces, and the chilly ones on Catherine and Ryan’s let her know that the ruse hadn’t been necessary. “Sorry,” she said, grabbing a chair from the dining room to sit on.
Ever gracious, Maeve said, “Don’t be silly, Jamie. We didn’t mind waiting for you. Are you ready to eat?”
“Yes,” she said, not looking up.
“Come on then,” Maeve said, giving her a hand up. “You must be hungry after chasing around on the golf course all day.”
Putting on a faux smile, Jamie said, “It’s a lot easier than playing, but I am hungry.”
Ryan stepped behind her and put an arm around her waist. With a gentle kiss to her temple, she whispered, “I’m sorry.” Jamie patted her hand and nodded, and they sat down to eat.
During dinner, Catherine said, “I’ve been doing my homework about your commitment ceremony, girls. Do you have time to go to the Ritz one day this week for tea?”
Ryan frowned. “Not this week. But I could schedule something. Maybe two weeks from now?”
Jamie shook her head. “I can’t either,” she said, not elaborating.
“Well, I suppose we’ll just put it off.” There was a tense few moments of silence, then Catherine looked at Maeve. “What about your schedule? Is it more flexible?”
Maeve smiled. “I don’t have a thing stopping me from going to tea. I can go any day but Wednesday.”
“Let’s go tomorrow,” Catherine said. “Come to think of it, you and I should do all of the preliminary scouting for locations. The girls are far too busy.”
“I trust Aunt Maeve … I mean, Maeve to vote for me,” Ryan said, grinning at her aunt. “I can’t get the hang of the first name thing.”
“Then drop it,” Maeve said. “I only wanted to make you more comfortable, dear.”
“I’m more comfortable with the old name,” Ryan said. “So if you don’t mind …”
“I don’t mind a bit. I’m proud to be your aunt.”
“And I’m proud to have you as a step-mother. There just isn’t a good name for that. And Maeve just seems too informal.”
“Do I have to go back to ‘Aunt Maeve’?” Conor asked. “I’ve only just gotten used to the new way.”
“Of course not,” Maeve said. “You can call me whatever you like, Conor.”
“Good. Then I’ll call you a very good cook.” He got up and headed for the kitchen. “If anyone wants seconds, you’d better ask now!”
When Conor said it was time to walk over to Brendan’s for the meeting about the apartment building, Catherine got ready to leave also. They all said their goodbyes to the family, and Jamie and Ryan walked Catherine to her car. Ryan talked non-stop, probably to avoid a long silence. When they got to the Mercedes, she kissed Catherine and waited while Jamie did the same. Pleased that the Smith-Evans women were being civil, Ryan led Jamie further up the street to the car. “Still mad at me?” she asked.
“I wasn’t mad at you. But you have every reason to be mad at me.”
“I’m not … now. You didn’t seem like yourself so I thought I should cut you some slack.”
Jamie nodded. “I’m sorry I was being such a jerk. This just has me confused. I thought my mother and I had the kind of relationship where we shared important things. It hurts to think she doesn’t feel that way.”
“Ahh, babe,” Ryan put her arm around her, “don’t feel that way. I’m sure that isn’t it. She probably doesn’t have this all worked out in her own head yet. Maybe she does feel a little guilty. Having you call her on it can’t feel good.”
Dropping her head, Jamie said, “Guess you’re right. I should be more supportive.”
“You don’t have to give your approval, honey, especially if you believe she’s making a mistake. But she’s her own woman and she’s entitled to make her own mistakes. You wouldn’t like it if she called you out on the things you do.”
“Of course I wouldn’t. But I’d hope I wouldn’t do something as …” She trailed off, deciding she’d insulted her lover and her mother enough for one day. Ryan tacitly accepted her retreat, and they walked for a while in silence. “I’m sorry,” Jamie said quietly. “I don’t have any right to harass you about your life before we met. I’ve told you that the past is past, and I’m not keeping my word.”
“No, you’re not,” Ryan said. “And it’s not gonna be very cool if I have to worry about you going biblical on me every time someone else does something that I did before we met. That sucks.”
“I know, I know.” Jamie sighed. “It’s just a gut reaction, baby. Intellectually, I don’t think about your past, and what you used to do doesn’t even show up on my radar. But … when my parents get involved, I … lose it.”
“Your parents are involved a lot, a whole lot. And I don’t wanna get blasted every time they don’t meet your standards.”
Jamie looked at Ryan, staring at the side of her face for a moment. “You think I’m being moralistic, don’t you?”
“Yep.” Ryan didn’t turn her head, she just tightened her lips. “You don’t have to approve of what they do, but it’s not your place to lecture them. It’s disrespectful.”
Letting out a small sound, Jamie said, “Have you been talking to my mother? She said the same thing.”
“She’s right, in my opinion. If Da did something I thought was wrong I’d probably tell him it bothered me, but I wouldn’t bust his chops about it. He’s my father; we’re not equals.”
“It hasn’t been like that for me, Ryan. My mother was more of a … mentor for me.
Ryan’s head turned slowly and she gazed at Jamie, clearly puzzled. “I don’t know what that even means.
For a few minutes Jamie thought about her response, but she couldn’t get over the look in Ryan’s eyes. They were quiet until they were almost at Brendan’s. Jamie put her hand around Ryan’s arm and squeezed it. “Can we talk about this again in a few days? I think we’re both too worked up about this.”
A slow, reluctant smile tugged at Ryan’s lips. “Sure. I hate to fight.”
“Me too. I know you don’t understand the dynamic between my mother and me, but it’s different than what you had with your mom, Ryan. You and I don’t do very well when we aren’t viewing a situation from the same perspective.”
“True. But I don’t think I can ever view it from your perspective. To me, you’re so lucky to have a mother who loves and supports you that I think you’re nuts to complain about anything.”
“Well, I’m sure people without a left arm would think I was a big baby to complain about having a broken elbow, too. They’d probably rather have every bone in the arm broken than not have an arm at all.”
Now Ryan’s smile was genuine. “Probably true. Losing something important makes you appreciate it more.”
“I don’t know if appreciation is the right word. Need might be more apt.”
“I’ll buy into that,” Ryan said. “I need my mom. I haven’t stopped needing her since the day I lost her.”
Her voice cracked on the last word, and Jamie could see the glimmer of tears in her eyes. “I’m so sorry your mom’s gone, honey; I really am.” Jamie put her arm around Ryan’s waist and squeezed her tightly. “But it’s not fair to me to expect me to treat my mom like you’d treat yours if she were here. It’s a different situation, completely different.”
“I know that. But it doesn’t seem different in my gut.”
“Let’s let this sit for a while. I don’t think we’re gonna get anywhere with it tonight.”
“Probably a good idea. But I’d really like it if you didn’t bring up my past. We had an agreement.”
“You’re right,” Jamie said. “I’ll try harder.”
Ryan took and kissed her hand. “That’s all I can ask.” She chuckled softly and added, “I can ask for more, but I’m probably not gonna get it.”
When they reached Brendan’s apartment, they walked in via the unlocked door. Brendan had the foresight to buy beer and chips, and the gang spent a while chatting and drinking. When they finally got down to business, Ryan was thankful that Brendan acted like he’d called the meeting. He said all of the things he’d mentioned to Ryan on the phone, and asked Jamie what had led her to look for an apartment building rather than a house.
She mulled his question over for a minute. “There isn’t a house for sale that would let us turn it over quickly and make a good profit. Niall bought right before this last big bubble, and houses like his … in bad shape … are selling for $700,000. The three-flat is expensive, but it’s priced really well for the size. It needs a lot of work, but it seems like the kind of place we could use to have an income stream from the tenants.”
“Three tenants isn’t many,” Ryan said.
“Well …” Jamie smiled at her, “I thought two tenants and one cousin would be about right.”
“Which cousin?” Ryan asked.
“The one who needs to move. Tommy and Annie are gonna be booted out as soon as their landlord finds someone dumb enough to pay $600,000 for that little shoebox. If they moved into the bottom floor, they’d get a nice backyard for Caitlin and Tommy could be the resident manager.”
“Did you talk to Tommy about this?” Kevin asked. “He didn’t mention anything about it.”
Ryan answered for her partner. “Jamie doesn’t like to tell the people involved what she’s doing until she’s got it all sorted out. She loves to surprise people.”
“Tommy’ll be surprised,” Kevin said. “But I think he’d love it, as long as he wasn’t getting a sweet deal.”
“Of course not,” Jamie said, thinking this was the only family she’d ever met where they argued about how not to come out ahead in every situation.
The next day, Ryan was lying on her back on the bed, staring at the ceiling when Jamie came home from school. Jamie started to speak, but she could see that Ryan was transfixed, so she went into the bathroom to brush her teeth, thinking that Ryan would hear her. Several minutes later, she emerged to see that her lover hadn’t moved. When she’s in one of these fugues, a burglar could clean us out. I don’t think I’ll be able to leave her alone with our kids!
She wanted to sit at her desk and take some notes from her class, so she either had to break Ryan’s trance or wait her out. Feeling anxious to get to work, she called out, “Honey?” When there was no response, she said more loudly, “Ryan?” A quick headshake and the eyes fixed on her like a pair of blue L.E.D.s.
“Hi. Didn’t hear you come in. You’re a quiet little thing.”
Jamie sat on the edge of the bed and fussed with her lover’s bangs while she looked into her eyes. “No, I’m not. You were concentrating.”
“Oh. Yeah. I’m trying to work something out. Not having much luck.”
“I need to use my computer. Will I bother you?”
“Nope. Will I bother you if I stay here?”
“Nope.” She bent and kissed Ryan lips, then added another buss to her forehead. “Keep thinking, Tiger.”
By the time Jamie had her books and notes in place Ryan already had the distant look in her eyes that overtook her when she was in a zone. She wasn’t all the way there yet, but Jamie was always fascinated to watch her slip away from the conscious world. She kept sneaking discreet glances at her while she powered up her computer. Within a few minutes, Ryan was gone. Totally gone. For Jamie, it was almost like being alone in the room and she didn’t really like the feeling. But this was one more of her endlessly quirky lover’s quirks, and she knew it was one that was there to stay.
Catherine and Maeve sat in an elegant room at the Ritz, drinking tea and eating delicate finger sandwiches. “This is an afternoon ritual I could repeat ad infinitum,” Maeve said, smiling happily at her companion.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself. It is nice, isn’t it?”
“Very. But my Siobhán would be as uncomfortable as a dog wearing a top hat in this place. She can fit in anywhere and you’d never know she didn’t feel like she belonged, but I know her. There’s far too much … formality here. I know she’d like to have the party at your house. Or our house.” She laughed, just thinking about a hundred people jammed into the small place.
“I think you’re right. But Jamie wants something unique. I know Ryan will give in … she always does. But I want her to be happy, too.”
“We’ll just keep looking. If we can have a good cup of tea, I’d do this every day.”
“You’re so easy to be with,” Catherine said. “I can’t express how nice it’s been getting to know you this year.”
Maeve grasped her arm, always ready to show her affection. “We’re the lucky ones. Ryan’s a different person since she met Jamie. She’s so much happier, so grounded. I was beginning to wonder if she’d ever settle down. I thought she might be like the boys … dating one girl after another for years and years.” She blinked, then said, “You knew she … dated a lot, didn’t you?”
“Yes, Maeve.” Catherine laughed. “Jamie’s told me she was quite popular.”
“I don’t know a lot about her adventures, just like I don’t know what the boys are up to. But Jamie’s the first girl she ever brought home. I knew she was special even before Jamie did.” She laughed softly. “The poor girl didn’t have a chance.”
Catherine joined in her laughter. “That’s about how Jamie describes it. She makes it sound like she was drawn into a force-field.”
“All of the O’Flahertys have charm to burn. Sometimes things come too easily for them. I think Jamie keeps Ryan on her toes, and that’s good for her.”
“Jamie keeps us all on our toes. She’s a little angry with me right now.”
“She seemed … tense on Sunday. Do you want to talk about it?”
“I don’t want to spend our time talking about my troubles. That’ll put a damper on our afternoon.”
“Rainy days as well as sunny ones, Catherine. That’s when you need a friend.”
Catherine took a sip of her tea, gazing at the leaves in the bottom of her cup for a moment. “She’s angry because I won’t talk to her about the man I’m seeing.”
Maeve tilted her head, saying nothing but giving a slight smile of encouragement.
“The man you met at my house last month, Giacomo Fontini.” She didn’t feel the need to add that he was the man Maeve saw carrying her upstairs for obvious purposes.
“She does. I told her I was going to stop seeing him, but I changed my mind. She senses that, probably because I won’t talk about him.”
“Oh. Why … does she … how do you usually handle things like this? Do you usually tell her a lot about your personal life?”
Catherine nodded, her expression contemplative. “I’ve made the mistake of telling her too much. We weren’t very close before she met Ryan. Part of that was my fault, but I think part of it was also because Jamie was always hiding part of herself. I don’t think I understand even a small part of what it’s like to hide something like your sexuality, but it must be dreadful.”
“And you think that to make up for the past, you started telling her too much?”
“Yes, I do. It felt so nice to have her seem to enjoy being with me. It was like finding a very good friend again after years of separation.”
“That doesn’t work, does it?”
“No, it doesn’t. She’s not my friend; she’s my child. Even though she’s an adult now, I still need to treat her as a parent would.”
“It hasn’t been that long. She’ll figure out that you’re changing the rules a little. I bet she’ll appreciate it. I don’t think it’s comfortable for children to be too intimately involved in their parents’ personal lives.”
“I’m not too worried about Jamie. She gets angry and gets over it quickly. I suppose I’m more concerned about continuing my relationship with Giacomo. I’m afraid that will make Jamie lose respect for me. And that’s something I would regret.”
Giving her a confused look, Maeve said, “Lose respect? Why would she lose respect for you?”
“You might lose respect for me as well,” Catherine said, almost wincing as she added, “Giacomo’s married.”
“Oh.” Maeve didn’t say another word, but her expression didn’t change one bit.
“That doesn’t bother you?”
Maeve’s eyes shot open wide. “Me? Why would it bother me?”
“I’m sure you’re not the type of person who’d date a married man, Maeve.”
“Oh, Catherine, what I’d do has nothing to do with it. I was married to a man I stopped loving within five years of our marriage. He was an alcoholic and a very cruel man when he drank. My beautiful young son contracted a terminal disease by having unprotected sex with a large number of men when he was just a boy. I didn’t judge either of them for their behavior—even though I went through more pain than I thought possible with both Charlie and Michael. I don’t have the slightest interest in forming an opinion about your choices … unless you’re hurting yourself. Then I’d get involved and try to reason with you.”
“You’re a good, good friend,” Catherine said. She fumbled through her purse, finding a handkerchief and dabbing at her eyes. “Thank you for reassuring me.”
Maeve patted her hand. “Now tell me about this man. He must be special.”
“He is. He’s the man I should have married.” Her lips thinned as she grinned slyly. “But he was still in grade school when I married Jim.”
“Oh!” Maeve chuckled, shaking her head a little bit. “And what’s wrong with that? Men have been dating girls since the beginning of time.”
“True. But he’s not a boy, he’s definitely a man. He cares for me deeply, Maeve. But he’s committed to his family, and I respect him for that.”
“What about his wife?”
Catherine laughed nervously. “They have a unique relationship. His wife has a long-term lover and Giacomo has me. He and his wife are both aware of each other’s outside interests, but they don’t talk about it specifically. It’s an open secret.”
“Are there children?”
“Yes. They have two. Giacomo has to travel for business, and he comes to the
“Does he love his wife?”
Lifting her shoulders, Catherine said, “He says he does. Very much. He claims they’re happy, but that they’re not happy being monogamous.”
“Well,” Maeve said, looking a little puzzled, “it’s not a relationship that would work for me, but again, I’m not the one to judge what works for others. I’m concerned about you. How do you feel about continuing to see him?”
“I don’t want to let him go,” Catherine said, her voice soft but sure. “I don’t want to stop something that works for me on the chance that something better will come along.”
“Then that’s what you should do. That’s all there is to it.”
“Oh, but Jamie will not like that one bit, Maeve. Not one bit.”
“Jamie’s opinion isn’t what’s important, yours is. Consider how you feel about this. If you think you’re doing something wrong … I’d think twice. But if you feel right about it … if your conscience is clear … that’s all that matters. All that matters.
At 3:30 Jamie stole another glance and saw that Ryan was still zoned out. She got up and went over to her, calling her name. As before, Ryan snapped out of it and looked at her.
“You’d better get ready for practice. It’s 3:30.”
“Damn.” Ryan rolled off the bed and grumbled to herself while going to her room to get her clothes ready. She came back a few minutes later, dressed and ready to go. “Sorry I’m grouchy. Vijay’s coming over tonight and I really wanted to have this idea worked out in my head so he could help me with the programming.”
Jamie smiled up at her. “Anything I can do to help?”
Ryan bent over and put her mouth on the top of her head, then made a loud sucking sound. “I could use another brain. My processor’s working at full capacity.”
“You’d better save that trick for Vijay. Mine wouldn’t help a bit.”
“You’re a whiz, baby,” Ryan said, grinned at her. “Your brain’s just not fixated on the same things mine is.”
Jamie ran a hand up Ryan’s thigh. “Sometimes it is,” she purred, giving her a sultry look.
“Thank God for that!” Ryan kissed her soundly and turned for the door. “Don’t lose that thought!”
Jamie didn’t lose the thought. In fact, she simmered with it all afternoon. Their sex life had been on the fritz ever since the carjacking, but things were starting to click again and she found Ryan so spectacularly appealing now that her confidence was coming back that she could barely focus on her work. But Ryan was made of tougher stuff and she seemed perfectly able to balance her fixation on her project and a reawakening sex drive. Which irritated Jamie just the tiniest bit.
Ryan got home a little after six o’clock, dropped her gym bag by the door, and strolled into the kitchen. “Hi,” she said, giving Jamie a quick kiss and grabbing the first edible thing she could get her hands on.
Jamie smiled at her, watching her demolish a carrot in moments. “Salad okay?”
“Sure. I’ve gotta rush. Vijay’s gonna be here in half an hour. Mind if I go take a shower before we eat?”
“No, go ahead. I’m still working on the veggies.”
Ryan kissed her again, grabbed a big wedge of jicama and took off, leaving Jamie smiling at her partner’s insatiable appetite.
Around ten o’clock, Jamie went to the study and found Ryan and Vijay hard at work. They had three laptops going, which seemed a little excessive to Jamie, but she didn’t comment. “Are you two anywhere near finished?”
Ryan glanced up and frowned. “Ooo … uhm … no, we’re not. Should we … stop?”
“No, no, just take a little break and walk me upstairs, okay?”
Ryan looked more torn than Jamie was happy with, but she got up and said to Vijay, “Back in a sec.”
“Goodnight, Jamie,” he said. “Thanks for the snack.”
“You’re welcome. And don’t feel like you have to stop just because of me. I know how Ryan is when she gets involved, and if you’re anything like her …”
“I’m worse,” he said, laughing.
“God help us!” She took Ryan’s hand and they walked upstairs.
Ryan put her hand on Jamie’s neck and gave it a scratch. “Wanna be tucked in, little girl?”
“Not really.” Jamie smiled at her. “I wanted some kisses. If you won’t go to bed with me, the least you can do is warm up my lips.”
“Always happy to.”
They reached the bedroom and Jamie dropped her sweats and slid between the sheets. “Begin,” she said, puckering up.
Sitting on the side of the bed, Ryan leaned over, placing her hand next to Jamie’s pillow to support herself. She drew close and paused, gazing into Jamie’s eyes. “I wish I could go to bed with you.”
Jamie started to lift her left hand, then chuckled when she realized she’d hit Ryan on the head if she lifted it. Switching to her right, she brought it to Ryan’s cheek and stroked it tenderly. “Me too. I always miss you when you don’t.”
“I’ll be up as soon as we finish. Can’t guarantee when that’ll be, though.”
“It’s all right, really. I know how important this is to you, baby. You’ve been working on this for two semesters. I don’t want you to drop the ball now.”
“Thanks for understanding.” Ryan dipped her head and placed a delicate, slow kiss on Jamie’s lips. “Thanks for loving me.”
Jamie threaded her fingers through Ryan’s hair and held her still. “I do love you. I always will.” They kissed, slowly and gently, for a few moments, then Jamie pressed Ryan a little more firmly against her mouth. “I always want you when I can’t have you,” she whispered. “I could eat you alive right now.”
Ryan chuckled, then playfully nipped at her lover’s nose. “You’re getting as bad as me— forbidden fruit and all that.”
“You’re a good bad influence.” Jamie kissed her again, harder this time, intentionally trying to make Ryan hot. She knew it was a little cruel, but she wanted to be missed. Her arm slipped down and she held on to Ryan’s shoulder, holding her still. Then her tongue darted all around Ryan’s lips, teasing her with a feather-light touch.
“No fair,” Ryan growled. “You’re taunting the wildlife.”
Impish green eyes looked up at her. “Mmm … I know you love math. I just want you to realize what you’re giving up.”
“I realize exactly what I’m giving up,” Ryan murmured. “And I’m doubting my sanity. I’m just too polite to kick Vijay out right in the middle of draining his brain.”
“Go,” Jamie said, kissing her one last time. “I’ll be here when you’re finished.”
Ryan smiled. “If I weren’t sure of that, politeness would lose out.”
It was after 2:00 when Ryan locked the door after seeing Vijay out. She was jazzed, higher than she’d been in months. If the bars had been open, she would have offered to take Vijay out for a celebratory drink for coming to what she was almost certain was the final solution to her project. But they weren’t open and Vijay didn’t drink, so she was left to celebrate on her own.
Nervous energy flowed from her body, and she had to do something to release it. She was seriously thinking of going for a run when she remembered that she could play the drums in her room and not disturb Jamie. So she grabbed a beer and headed upstairs, nearly skipping with happiness.
Carefully closing both bathroom doors, she turned on her kit and put her headphones on. Picking up her sticks, she spent a moment twirling and tossing them, just to show off, then she started to play, venting her energy and her glee on the poor rubber pads that adequately substituted for skins.
After forty-five minutes, Ryan’s tank top was soaked through. She let out a breath and wiped the perspiration from her forehead with the back of her arm, then gasped when she saw Mia lying on the bed on her belly, smiling at her. Ryan took off her headphones. “When did you get here?”
“A while ago. You’re fun to watch.”
“Gee, thanks.” Ryan stood and stretched. “Good workout.”
“It’s a good thing we’re both monogamous, ’cause I’d jump you right about now.” Mia gave Ryan a cherubic smile. “You are sizzling hot, O’Flaherty.”
“Uhm … thanks,” Ryan said, ducking her head in embarrassment.
“Hey, that didn’t upset you, did it?”
“Well, no, it didn’t upset me … but it’s kinda weird.”
“Why? It’s just a fact. There are thousands of hot women, but I wouldn’t trade Jordy for any of ’em. I’m sure you feel the same about Jamie.”
“So? I think you’re smart and funny and nice and red hot. It’s just a part of who you are. Doesn’t make me like you better. I’d love you if you looked like a dog’s butt.”
Ryan grinned. “Glad to know I’m not on that end of your scale. Hey, if you’re gonna be up for a few, can I use your shower? I don’t wanna wake Jamie.”
“Wake Jamie? You could jump on the bed and not wake her. But you’re welcome to use mine if you want it.”
“Eh … you’re right. Jamie’s impervious to noise.”
“Use mine.” She batted her eyes seductively and lowered her voice. “I’ll wash your back.”
Squealing, Ryan jumped up and ran for her own bathroom, locking the door while she giggled.
Continued in Part 9
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