I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 16: Paradigm
By: Susan X Meagher
Jamie Evans opened her eyes slowly, hoping she’d be greeted by the quiet stillness of the dark of night. Instead, she noted bright, clear light peeking through the curtains. Curtains?
There was no sound save that of cool air blowing from the air conditioner. Air conditioner?
Quicker than she would have liked, her mind cleared and she recalled they were in Los Angeles, at another nondescript hotel. She turned her head and saw that Ryan was wide awake—lying on her back with an ankle crossed over her raised knee. She didn’t move, which indicated to Jamie that she was lost in thought.
Shifting the tiniest bit, Jamie blinked to clear her eyes and looked at her lover for a few moments. Her hair was severely mussed, long strands draped over her forehead. Normally clear eyes were a little puffy and slightly bloodshot. But those little imperfections didn’t diminish the pure, unadulterated beauty that nearly always caught Jamie by surprise when she spent time gazing at her partner. Even though Ryan was, by any account, a beautiful woman, Jamie knew that her true beauty wasn’t in her features or her form. It was the indefinable “Ryanness” that made her so incalculably lovely. And no matter how many years passed, Jamie knew that the Ryanness would only grow more attractive to her. She wasn’t sure how she knew this to be true, but she would have staked her life on it.
As usual, she couldn’t look at Ryan for long before her lover’s senses detected her wakefulness. Head turning, eyes brightening, Ryan leaned over and kissed Jamie’s forehead. “Morning, princess.”
“Hi. Been awake long?”
“Eh.” Ryan shrugged. “Not sure.”
“Was it dark when you woke up?”
Jamie checked her watch. “It’s just 7:00. I’m not sure when sunrise was, but it couldn’t have been too long ago. Whatcha thinking about?”
Seeing that her lover was rather monosyllabic this morning, Jamie prodded, “What about school?”
Ryan looked at her and said, “The end.”
A small, firm head shake was Ryan’s preliminary answer. She looked blankly into the distance. “The end, in general. I’m not sure I’m ready for it.”
Pulling herself up towards the head of the bed by using her good elbow, Jamie arranged a few pillows behind her back and leaned against Ryan. “More, please.”
Ryan’s head swiveled and she showed an off-center grin. “Not verbal yet.”
“Okay.” Jamie started to rub her partner’s bare belly, smiling when goose bumps appeared immediately. “Let me guess; I’m getting pretty good at that.” She pressed her lips together and thought for a minute. “Is it creeping up on you too fast?”
“Do you feel unprepared?”
“Worried about your French exam?”
A dismissive shake of the head.
“Sorry,” Jamie said, sliding her hand up to pinch Ryan’s side. “I forgot you don’t have scholastic worries like the rest of us dopes.”
Ryan gave her an evil look.
“Well, you don’t!” She thought for another few seconds and tried again. “I assume this feels like a big transition for you.”
The nod was a little more pronounced this time.
When Jamie saw that, she knew the answer. “Cal feels a little like home for you, doesn’t it, baby.” Immediately, she could see tears form in Ryan’s eyes. She sat up and put her arms around her and gave her a squeeze. “It’s gone too fast for me too. Especially these last two years.”
Ryan pulled away from the hug and fell back against her pillows. “Yeah. Too fast. I barely noticed the time flying by. I hate that.”
“It’s hard not to have the time fly by when you fill every moment, honey.”
Jamie’s voice was soft and didn’t contain a shred of judgment, but Ryan shot her a quick look. “Meaning?”
“Just what I said. You pack your days so full that each one seems long, but they kinda run together, don’t they?”
Her expression was closed and Jamie couldn’t tell if she was going to snap at her or if she sincerely wanted to hear her opinion. “Like…uhm…” She looked around the room. “…like this. We’ve both woken up in so many anonymous rooms this year that I can never tell where I am. The first night we slept together I remember waking up and knowing we were at The Osprey Inn. It was special. Being with you was special. The whole thing is etched in my memory. But this…?” She moved her hand around, pointing at the universal armoire, table and two chairs. “We could be in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine and it would look the same. The games are all pretty much alike. The meals are all alike. They blur, babe.”
“And…that means…what, exactly?”
Jamie still had no idea if Ryan was perturbed or curious. “It means nothing much. Just that we’ve both been busier than most college students. We’ve played more sports, participated in more things, gotten involved in more conflicts and had more traumatic things happen to us in two years than most people have in a lifetime.”
Now it was clear than Ryan was miffed. Jamie wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t back off from making her point. “So, nothing. You said the time had flown by, and I offered my view on why that happened. College went five times faster than high school did for me and I think it’s because stuff started happening to me once I met you. High school was just the same old stuff—day after day.”
“So…it’s good that we’re…that I’m so busy?”
Ah, she thinks I’m blaming her. “It is what it is, baby. I was honestly just speculating.” She put her hand back on Ryan’s belly and rubbed it gently. “What’s wrong, Tiger? Feeling grouchy?”
Ryan rolled her eyes, always hating to be caught in an off mood. “A little. I got my period this morning. I’ve got cramps and my back hurts.”
“My poor punkin’.” Jamie kissed her cheek and stroked her arm. “Lie on your tummy and I’ll rub your back.”
“You don’t have to,” Ryan grumbled.
“I know I don’t have to. I like to. Gives me a chance to touch you.”
That brought a reluctant smile to the deep pink lips. “You touched me a lot last night.”
“I know. But this time I wanna comfort you, not drive you mad.”
The reluctant smile turned enthusiastic. “You did drive me mad. I’m glad we didn’t have my toys, ’cause I would have used that pile driver to make myself come again. And I don’t wanna spend the day itching while I have cramps.”
“Come on, my little lamb. Lie on your tummy.” Ryan rolled her eyes again, giving Jamie the “you don’t have to make over me” look. But Jamie had learned that right behind that look was the “if you don’t make over me, I’ll be even grumpier” persona that Ryan would never admit she had.
Ryan pushed the pillows out of the way and rolled onto her belly while Jamie got up and retrieved some moisture lotion from the bathroom. “I should have brought a heating pad,” she said. “I knew you were due right around now. Did you take some pills?”
“Yeah. But the cramps woke me up. It always takes longer to get rid of ’em when they get a head start.”
“I know, baby. But we’ll try.” She warmed some lotion in her hands and applied it to Ryan’s back, then started to work on her lower back—always the site of her discomfort.
“Umm, feels good,” Ryan mumbled into the mattress.
“We’ll fix you up. Want me to order some breakfast for us in the room?”
“Nah. It’s always cold.”
“When’s your bus to UCLA?”
“9:30. Breakfast is at 8:30.”
“No offense to the hotel, but buffet breakfasts suck. We’ll go somewhere nice. There’s a good place in Westwood.”
“Don’t give me the ‘aww Jamie’ routine. You know you love a good breakfast, and you love it more than usual when you’re not feeling well. Now just play along. Tell your buddies that I insisted and you’re too nice to refuse me.”
Ryan peeked over her shoulder. “I am.”
Leaning over, Jamie kissed the back of her neck. “You’re a living saint.”
Scooting around on the bed, Ryan put her hands under her forehead and relaxed, letting Jamie work on her spasming muscles.
“You’re right, you know,” she said, grunting out the last word when Jamie pressed hard on her.
“That you’re a saint? I know, honey.”
“Ha. Ha. You’re right that I try to put too much stuff into a day.”
“I can’t be right if I didn’t say that,” Jamie said, her tone playful.
“You meant it. I know you.”
“Then I suppose I don’t need to talk. I’ll just let you guess what I’d say.”
“That’d work,” Ryan decided, which earned her a hard pinch on the waist.
“Watch it, Tiger. I have a lot of bare skin at my disposal.”
“You know I’m teasing. You didn’t specifically say I do too much, but we both know I do. And when I’m forced to step back and assess a certain time period, I realize that I didn’t slow down enough to enjoy it.” She twisted her neck to meet Jamie’s eyes. “It woulda been nice if we’d spent the last year sitting in the library trading kisses all day. I don’t think we’ve spent more than an hour all year walking around campus together.” She dropped her face onto her hands. “Where did the time go?”
“It went into four sports, one carjacking, one troubled teenager, one pair of divorcing parents, one pair of marrying parents, one Putnam competition, one broken elbow, trying to spend time with about forty family members, and as much sex as we could manage.”
Ryan turned and met her gaze again. “Not nearly enough of that. We had a long dry spell.”
“We’re getting back to normal, sport. We’ll catch up.”
Sighing deeply, Ryan flexed her back muscles and said, “I feel like I’m always in a hurry. I should be lying here just feeling your hands, but I’m thinking about how soon I have to get into the shower to get to breakfast, how we’ll get from breakfast to the field, all kinds of details are just zooming through my head.”
Jamie leaned over and pressed her body against Ryan’s. “I understand. I do the same thing. Let’s shower and eat, and that’ll take a couple of things off your list.” She rolled off and Ryan turned over and grasped her, holding on tightly.
Nose to nose, they gazed into each other’s eyes. “I’m gonna try my best to focus today. Really try to enjoy it. This is my last trip to UCLA and I wanna remember it.”
“After breakfast, we’ll walk to the softball field. It’s not far. We can stop and smell the flowers.”
“You’ve got a deal.” Ryan released her and slipped out of bed. “Thanks for reminding me to take it a little slower.”
“Me? I swear I didn’t say any such thing,” Jamie protested, trying and failing to look innocent.
Jamie was sitting in King Student Union on Monday morning, sipping a tepid cup of coffee to force herself to stay awake. While she was glad she was learning things that would help her manage her money and organize the boyos’ building project, she wasn’t, in her heart, a business major. She missed the long class discussions of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, finding the intricacies of the economy a very poor substitute. But she was determined to learn as much as she could, and figure out ways to apply her knowledge to achieve her goals.
Her ringing cell phone provided a very welcome distraction. She opened it immediately. “Hello?”
“Hi,” Catherine said. “Are you home?”
“We are. We got home late last night. How was your weekend? Did you do anything fun?”
“Fun?” Catherine hesitated, then said, “Nothing to speak of.”
It was the pause that did it. That slight pause made Jamie think of the things that her mother might have done, but was unwilling to share with her. It was her turn to speak, but all that filled her head were images of her mother with Giacomo: sitting on the terrace of her Milan apartment, strolling around Chelsea looking at galleries, having breakfast by the pool in Hillsborough. Catherine’s voice snapped her back to the present.
“Did you two have fun in Los Angeles?”
“Sure,” Jamie managed. She was quiet for a moment, finding herself unwilling to talk about the nice dinner they’d had. She knew her mother was involved in Ryan’s finding a trendy restaurant and securing reservations, but she couldn’t thank her. She felt as though she was unable to speak her mind, resorting to a trite, “LA’s always fun.”
“Did you have any time alone with Ryan?”
“Oh, we snatch a few hours away from the crowd whenever we can, but it’s not really a pleasure trip.”
“No, no, I suppose it isn’t.”
A good half minute passed in silence. “I’m trying to stay awake today,” Jamie said. “Even though LA is in the same time zone, I always feel a little jet-lagged after these trips.”
“It’s probably just the travel. And traveling with a group has to be more tiring than going alone.”
“Yeah, I guess it is. I’m drinking coffee, but it doesn’t seem to be working.”
“Maybe you can take some time out for a nap.”
“No, I don’t think so. Finals start soon. I’ve got a lot to stuff into my head.”
“Well, I’ll let you get back to your work, honey. I just wanted to make sure you got home all right.”
“Yeah, we did. Thanks for calling, Mom.”
“We’ll talk soon, okay?”
“Sure. I’ll give you a buzz in a few days.”
“Don’t work too hard.”
“I won’t. Bye.” She clicked off the phone, but couldn’t stop thinking about her mother and the distance that still remained between them. She desperately wanted it to end, but she didn’t feel able to be unguarded with her. It reminded her of how they’d interacted when she was trying to hide her sexuality…and she hated it.
Jamie pressed the door latch and entered the house, waiting a second for Ryan’s greeting. When one didn’t float down the stairs, she assumed her partner had left early for practice. She laughed at her disappointment, finding it amusing that she’d grown so fond of such a small thing. After checking the mail that Ryan had laid out neatly on the table, she dropped her book bag and trudged upstairs, wishing for a nap but determined to study for an hour and then start dinner. She was still a little unsettled from her chat with her mother, but she didn’t have any idea of how to make things right between them again.
She was lost in thought when she reached the landing and she stopped abruptly when she looked into the bedroom, shocked to see Ryan flat on her back with her sweatpants and underwear bunched around her ankles. Her feet were planted on the bed and her legs spread wide apart. Her industrial-strength vibrator was pressed against her and her eyes were tightly closed. For a second, Jamie wasn’t sure what to do. She felt like a sneak, but she hadn’t been stealthy in her actions and she’d had no way of knowing Ryan was at home—much less masturbating. She considered slipping back down the stairs, but she didn’t want to disturb Ryan’s rapt concentration. So, she stayed where she was, but averted her eyes. She wasn’t sure why she did so, but it felt wrong to watch her partner do something that was in every way a deeply private act.
Luckily, she didn’t have to wait long. She heard Ryan’s breathing, then a few soft moans and an expulsion of air. Then the vibrator was turned off and thunked onto the bed.
Now Jamie had to make another decision. Did she try to sneak away or announce her presence? She guessed that Ryan would hear her, now that she was finished, so she cleared her throat and said, “Knock. Knock.”
Head snapping towards the door, Ryan stared at her with wide eyes. “Oops!” she said, giving what Jamie perceived as a guilty grin.
For some reason, her response triggered something in Jamie and she felt herself beginning to get angry. “Oops?” she asked, frowning. She went into the room and walked to her dresser to change clothes.
“Umm, no kiss?” Ryan asked. She quickly pulled up her pants and stood.
“You were busy.” She felt Ryan’s hands on her waist and mouth near her ear.
“Did it bother you to see me doing that?”
“Bother me?” Jamie turned and looked at her lover for a second. Unaccountably, she felt as if she didn’t know her, and she wondered who this woman really was. One thing she was sure of: she didn’t want to talk to her about this and she didn’t want to be near her. “No. But I wish you’d closed the door or gone into your own room.”
“Why?” Ryan’s head was cocked like Duffy’s and her open expression conveyed the same level of ingenuousness.
“Because that’s a private thing. I don’t want to watch you go to the bathroom or scratch your butt or pick your nose. Private things. Do them in private.” She turned and considered her dresser for a moment, then changed her mind about a new set of clothes. Scooting away from Ryan’s gentle grasp, she started for the door. “It’s no big deal. I just don’t want to feel like I’m sneaking up on you.”
Staring at her back, Ryan said, “I don’t feel like you’re sneaking up on me.” She followed Jamie from the room and added, “You love to watch me masturbate when we’re making love. What’s the difference?”
Jamie sighed heavily as she turned the corner and headed for the kitchen. “If you don’t see the difference, I can’t explain. It’s no big deal. Forget it.”
Clearly stunned, Ryan stood right where she was. After a minute she went into her room and got ready for practice, stopping by the bed to unplug the vibrator and put it away. Five minutes later she went into the kitchen. Jamie was sitting at the table, munching on a bowl of raw vegetables while she read a book entitled, “Financial Management of Residential Real Estate.”
Jamie looked up and gave Ryan a half smile. “I can’t make practice tonight. I’ve got a lot of reading to do. Mind if we get carryouts?”
“No.” Ryan sat down and looked at her lover. “What happened upstairs?”
Sighing dramatically, Jamie said, “Nothing. Give it a rest, will you? Every little incident doesn’t deserve dissection. I was surprised to see you doing that in plain view; I asked you to do it in private. That’s it.”
Ryan reached across the table and touched Jamie’s hand. Her voice was low and soft. “If I could understand why it bothered you, I’d have a better chance of not upsetting you next time.”
With a faux smile, Jamie said, “Go in your room and close the door and there won’t be a next time. It’s as simple as that.”
As quickly as a slamming door, Ryan’s guileless expression closed. She stood up and went to the refrigerator and took out a container of yogurt. Then she searched for and found a plastic spoon. As she walked out the door, she said, “Carryouts are fine,” then left the room. Seconds later Jamie heard the door close…hard. She winced, then slammed her hand against the table and uttered a curse.
Ryan got home a little later than usual. For once, she didn’t offer to stop for dinner on her way home from practice, so Jamie had ordered food from a local Thai place. Dinner was displayed on the kitchen counter—still in the takeout containers. Ryan took a look, let her gaze wander to Jamie, and said, “Are we going to eat together?”
“I’ve been picking at it since it got here. I timed the order so it’d be here when you usually get home.”
“So, that’s a no?” There was still not a hint of emotion in Ryan’s expression.
“I’m really swamped…”
Ryan nodded and took the plate that had been set out for her. She didn’t wash her hands, which were obviously dirty even from Jamie’s distance. She picked up one container at a time and turned it upside down, letting about half of the contents fall onto her plate. When her plate was piled high she turned and left the room, pointedly ignoring the utensils and the napkins.
Jamie’d been staring at her, trying to get her attention with a glare, but Ryan had ignored her completely. For a moment, she was tempted to jump up and follow her, but she really did have a load of work to do and she decided to let her anger fuel her concentration. She got up and took the remnants of the honey ginger duck back to the table and carefully speared a few pieces with her fork, chewing thoughtfully while trying to concentrate on her work.
Ryan didn’t make another appearance in the kitchen, and by ten o’clock Jamie had had her fill of real estate. She got up and packaged the leftovers for Ryan to snack on the next day, then washed her dinner dishes and turned off the lights. Heading upstairs, she noticed that their room was dark and she wondered if Ryan was already in bed. But when she turned on the light she saw that Ryan was in neither the bedroom nor the bath. The door to Ryan’s room was closed, giving Jamie one more small indication of her lover’s mood. She didn’t want to have another extended discussion over something so unimportant, so she knocked on the door and waited for Ryan to reply.
Jamie opened the door halfway. “I’m going to bed. Coming soon?”
Slowly, Ryan looked up. She was lying on her stomach on the bed, reading what looked like a magazine. “Probably.”
Her expression gave away nothing and Jamie felt her ire rising, but she tamped it down and nodded. “Okay. See you soon.”
As she turned she heard an icy voice say, “I still don’t merit a kiss?”
Grinding her teeth, Jamie paused to control her voice and reaction. Turning, she said, “Of course you do. I assumed you’d be coming to bed soon and I’d kiss you then.” She started to move towards Ryan but she was waved off dismissively.
“Fine. Go to bed. See ya.”
Barely managing to stop herself from shaking the stuffing from her partner, Jamie closed the door and mumbled obscenities while she brushed her teeth. By the time she got into bed she was still fuming, but she found that she was remarkably tired. Her mind flashed to all of the unsettled fights she and Jack had gone through and how she’d always fallen asleep quickly when she was particularly angry. She tried to assess why this happened, but she was sound asleep before she could give it any serious consideration.
The morning sun warmed her face and Jamie turned to snuggle up to Ryan, but the other side of the bed was cool to the touch. Blinking her eyes open, she was hit with a wave of anger mixed with dismay. God damn it! If she won’t sleep with me over something so minor, what’ll we do when we have a big fight? Every fucking thing has to be beaten to death!
Her feet hit the floor with a thud and she marched into Ryan’s room, ignoring her need to use the facilities. Ryan was right where she’d left her, but her magazine was on the floor, open to the article she’d been reading when she’d fallen asleep. Her hands dangled off the bed and they were dark with pooled blood.
Sighing, Jamie picked up the magazine, noting the title, Chaos, Solitons & Fractals. The article that Ryan had stopped on was Chaotic motion of magnetotactic bacteria, but neither title helped Jamie figure out what kind of magazine or journal it was. She recognized the word bacteria, which pointed to biology, but she was pretty sure that chaos and fractals were math things. And she knew this was leisure reading since Ryan had only one exam to prepare for. And no matter how much things had changed since she’d learned the language, she was sure this wasn’t assigned reading for French class. For no logical reason, the fact that Ryan read things like this for fun pissed Jamie off.
Ryan’s interests usually didn’t bother her, but today they seemed to widen the gulf she felt between them. She thought back to the previous afternoon and felt a small wave of panic when she considered how much she didn’t know or understand about Ryan, yet she’d pledged her life and her entire future to her.
Her heart was beating loudly in her chest when Ryan made a sound that was partly a cry and partly a whimper. “My hands,” she mumbled, turning onto her back. She stretched her arms up into the air and cursed under her breath.
Jamie sat on the edge of the bed and asked, “Do they hurt?”
“They’re asleep.” Ryan looked like she was sucking on a lemon. Her eyes were closed tightly and her mouth was twisted into a grimace. She shook her hands, which made her grimace worse. Jamie didn’t say anything, sitting quietly until Ryan’s expression returned to normal. “I must have had them hanging over the bed all night. They’re almost completely numb.”
Her first instinct was to try to comfort her partner in some way, but Jamie couldn’t make herself do it. She was still so torn between anger and confusion that she didn’t feel safe offering up any part of herself.
Ryan blinked a few times, then pushed her hair from her eyes. “What in the hell is going on between us?”
Jamie lifted and dropped her shoulders, partially avoiding Ryan’s eyes. “I dunno.”
“You’re obviously mad at me. Why won’t you tell me what’s pissing you off?”
Temper flaring once again, Jamie said, “I’m not pissed off! Or at least I wasn’t at first. I asked you to do something in private and you’re the one who got all huffy. I don’t like to beat things to death and you do.”
Ryan didn’t respond immediately. She shook her right arm again and then rested her head on her braced hand. The intensity of her gaze made Jamie feel like she was being x-rayed and she got up and went to the window. But that didn’t make Ryan talk. After feeling the blue eyes burn her back, she turned and snapped, “Will you stop staring and say something?”
Seemingly not flustered in the least, Ryan shook her head. “No.”
“Fine. I’ve got to use the bathroom.” Jamie strode from the room and closed the door. She was biting her lower lip to avoid cursing, but she relieved herself and then turned on the shower. She felt unaccountably lonely getting into the warm water when she knew Ryan was just a few feet away, but she was certain her partner wasn’t going to say another word until she explained why she’d been angry in the first place. And she did not want to discuss the whole matter. She just wanted to move on.
She lingered in the shower, hoping the warm water would soothe her emotions. But other than pruning her fingers, all she managed to do was waste water. She got out and dried her hair, then went into her room and got dressed. When she went downstairs, she found a note from Ryan on the kitchen counter.
I don’t understand what’s bugging you and I need to. I can’t ignore things like this, even though you want me to. Call me when you want to talk. I can’t ignore the tension when I’m at home and I need to study. If I don’t hear from you I’ll go home tonight.
Jamie ripped the note into strips, then crumpled them together and threw them in the trash. Emotional blackmail! We have to do it her way or she’ll run home to the people who really love her. She kicked a chair, then grabbed her foot and hopped up and down, growling from the pain. “Fuck!” she cried loudly enough to wake the neighbors.
Ryan was sitting on a wide expanse of concrete on the side of Koshland Bioscience Library, forcing herself to conjugate verbs when she caught sight of Jamie walking on one of the paths that crisscrossed the campus. Her gaze sharpened and her stomach flipped when she recalled seeing her partner look just like that so many times when things were going badly between her and Jack.
Ryan was angry, but she was much more puzzled than mad. She knew there was probably a very simple explanation for why Jamie had been upset with her, and she knew that the only reason her partner didn’t want to discuss it was because she was embarrassed about her feelings. Ryan knew she could guess and probably come up with the answer, but she didn’t want to do that. She wanted Jamie to be able to tell her when things bothered her, even if they didn’t make sense.
But seeing her partner’s head dip and her shoulders a little slumped made her heart hurt, and she suddenly didn’t care about the fight. She just wanted to make that lovely face smile. Leaving her books, Ryan jumped up and started to lope across the grass, making a beeline for her lover. When she reached her, she touched her lightly. “Hey. Are you in a hurry?”
A bit startled, Jamie stopped, forcing a dozen students to veer around her. She moved towards Ryan and looked into her eyes for a moment. “Are we speaking?”
“Yeah.” Ryan leaned her head in the direction of the library. “My stuff’s over there. Do you have time to sit with me?”
“Uh-huh. I’m finished for the day.”
Ryan’s eyes grew large and she looked at her watch. “Damn! No wonder my butt hurts! I’ve been sitting here since ten o’clock!”
Jamie smiled, shaking her head. “Five hours on concrete’ll do that to ya. Let’s sit on the grass.”
“Deal.” They went over to where Ryan’s books were and found a sunny bit of grass located far enough from the paths and the entryway to the library to let them talk in peace. Ryan took Jamie’s hand and said, “I’m sorry for being such a jerk. I heard what you asked me to do and I’ll do that. I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable.” Ryan wasn’t sure that this tactic would work, but she knew that if she opened up, Jamie would likely do the same. Ryan couldn’t help but smile as she watched, fascinated, as Jamie’s posture straightened, her head rose and her lips began to form a delighted grin.
“Yes.” Ryan nodded somberly. “Really. You asked me to do something and I should have just agreed.”
“That’s it?” Jamie asked once more, looking tentative.
“That’s it.” Ryan slapped her hands together, dismissing the argument.
It was clear that Jamie had her doubts. “We don’t have to discuss it?”
“I don’t have to go over every possible thing that went through my mind when I saw you?”
“You’re not gonna bring this up again when I let my guard down?”
That stung a little, but Ryan hid her reaction. “No. It’s over.”
“You’re really gonna let this drop.” This time it wasn’t a question, but Jamie’s voice held a good bit of trepidation.
Forcing herself to smile, Ryan said, “I was doing something you don’t want to see. You asked me to do it in private. I will. We’re done.”
Slowly, Jamie’s cautious smile began to droop. “So, you are going to do that again?”
Ryan was caught by surprise. This wasn’t where she thought things were headed. “Uhm, if the situation warrants it.”
Frowning, Jamie asked, “What situation?”
Ryan closed her eyes and scratched her head with both hands, mussing her hair severely. “I thought you didn’t wanna talk about it.”
“I don’t! Or I didn’t until you admitted that you’re gonna do that again.”
“I didn’t say that,” Ryan insisted, flummoxed. “I said I’d do it in private if the same situation came up.” Now her expression matched Jamie’s, and her voice became strident. “What business is it of yours, anyway?”
“I thought our sex life was both of our business!”
Ryan shook her head rapidly. “Our sex life? What does a quick orgasm have to do with our sex life?”
“Do I have to explain everything?” Blonde eyebrows were raised as high as they could go.
“Yeah, obviously you do. ’Cause I can’t figure out how my getting rid of cramps affects our sex life.”
Jamie leaned back on her hands. “What? What are you talking about?”
Ryan’s gaze sharpened and she stared at Jamie for a few seconds. “Do you want me to explain what happened?”
Staring back, Jamie said, “Yes, Ryan. I want you to explain what happened.”
“Fine. I just don’t wanna be accused of beating something to death.” The crack didn’t cause a reaction, so Ryan continued. “All right. I was getting ready for softball and started to feel crampy. I’d taken some pills just an hour earlier and I didn’t wanna take more, so I gave myself a quick orgasm. It really helps the pain if I come when I have cramps.”
“You weren’t…doing that rather than making love?”
“Hell, no!” Ryan stared at her, clearly puzzled. “I just wanted my uterus to stop contracting. Shit, I had like ten minutes until I had to leave. If I was gonna do myself rather than make love, I’d spend a little more time.”
“Oh, damn.” Jamie lay down on the ground. “I’m sorry. I just assumed…”
Wincing, Jamie said, “I assumed you were doing that in lieu of making love.”
“Well, what if I was? Do I have to ask permission to touch my own clitoris?” Ryan was clearly steamed, and her voice was loud enough to travel to a few students walking by.
Jamie gave her a withering glare. “No. But we’ve just barely gotten back into a good rhythm. I’m hot for you like I’ve never been, and it hurt me to think you got more pleasure out of touching yourself than letting me touch you.”
“Damn it, Jamie! If you thought that, it really sucks that you not only wouldn’t tell me, you made me promise not to bring it up again! Why in the hell would you rather ignore something like that than find out a perfectly reasonable explanation?”
“I don’t know,” she growled. “I just get sick of talking about everything.”
“Fine,” Ryan said, starting to get to her knees. “I’ll start to act like Jack and ignore you whenever something emotional comes up.”
Jamie grabbed her waistband and yanked it, dumping Ryan onto her seat. “That’s not what I want and you know it. You’re just trying to hurt me now!”
Gathering herself, Ryan sat quietly for a minute, then lay on the grass. “You’re right. I’m sorry for snapping at you. It hurt my feelings when you said you’re sick of talking. That’s the thing that makes our relationship work.”
Jamie lay down next to her partner and took her hand. “You’re right. But sometimes it’s too…too. I feel like you’re looking into me with a microscope.”
“Sometimes I have to. You close up like a clam.”
“So do you. When I close up, you do the same thing. You follow me with those cold blue eyes and make me feel like you’ll never open up until I do it your way.”
Ryan sighed, then tucked her arm around Jamie and tugged her up against her side. She put her feet on the grass and Jamie put the fronts of her thighs up against the backs of Ryan’s thighs, just as though they were in bed. Chuckling softly, Ryan said, “It was just a year ago that you didn’t want me to kiss you when anyone might see us. Now we’re cuddling on the lawn.”
Laughing, Jamie reached up and planted a long kiss on Ryan’s lips. “A year ago people in Uzbekistan didn’t know we were lesbians. I’m not sure we’d get a second glance around here if I went down on you.”
A warm, inviting grin lit Ryan’s face and Jamie had to kiss her again. Jamie slipped her hand down the front of Ryan’s khaki shorts, making big blue eyes bug out.
Giggling demonically, Jamie pulled her hand out. “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I do that, Tiger. But I could squeeze you in at home.”
Ryan hugged her tightly. “Know what I was thinking about when I had my quickie yesterday?”
“Do I wanna?”
Ryan pinched her. “Yes, you do. I was thinking about making love to you. I’m hornier than usual when I have my period and I’d been thinking about you all afternoon. I really wanted to make love. The orgasm I had was just a tiny snack.”
“But we couldn’t have had sex last night without pulling out the pile driver,” Jamie said, still a little miffed.
Giving her a puzzled look, Ryan asked, “Says who?”
“You have a hard time coming twice. Don’t act like that’s not true.”
“No,” Ryan explained patiently. “I have a hard time coming twice in an hour or two. But I can always have sex in the afternoon and again in the evening. And if I just use the vibrator for a minute or two, I’m even hungrier for sex. If I don’t have much foreplay I’m ready for seconds pretty soon. I would’ve been ready and willing last night.”
Jamie sat up and stared at her. “You would’ve been?”
“Yeah. I was just having a therapeutic orgasm. That doesn’t affect me like making love does. It’s like making myself sneeze or something. Just a vasodilator.”
“So I got pissed for nothing.”
“Nothing at all,” Ryan agreed.
“And you wanted to have sex last night.”
“I was dreaming about it all afternoon. The dream stopped when you came home, of course. Nobody feels sexy when she’s in trouble.”
“Arggggh!” Jamie slumped back into Ryan’s arms. “How do you put up with me?”
“It’s not easy. But your money makes it all worthwhile.” Ryan started laughing and after a short delay Jamie joined her; both of them laughing so hard that a few students finally noticed the pair of women lying on the grass—bodies intimately entwined.
They walked home together, holding hands and enjoying the warm, sunny afternoon. “Mind if we clear up one little thing?” Ryan asked.
Jamie looked up at her and gave her a sly grin. “I release you from your promise. You can express yourself.”
“Good. ’Cause I wanna talk about expressing myself. How do you really feel about my having myself if I’m in the mood?”
Her arm was around Ryan’s waist and Jamie let her hand drop to pat her butt. “I think it’s cute that you call it ‘having yourself.’ And…I guess…hmm…I’ve never given this much thought. I always assumed—”
Ryan saw the look on her face and jumped in. “I like making love a lot more than I like having myself, Jamers, but I don’t like having to ask your permission if I ever feel like doing myself. It’s one thing if I turn you down for sex ’cause I’m always doing it alone. But if I just feel sexy and I’m alone…I don’t wanna feel like I’ll get in trouble for scratching an itch.”
Jamie was nodding throughout Ryan’s comments. “I know, I know. Uhm…I guess that I kinda feel like I did yesterday. I don’t wanna know if you masturbate. It’s really a private thing and I don’t want to catch you doing it. Even if you don’t feel caught…like any woman properly embarrassed about her sex drive would, by the way.”
Ryan knew the teasing was genuine and she tucked her arm firmly around Jamie’s body. “I’m sorry I’m not more guilt-ridden. I’ll try harder.”
“I thought I could count on a good Catholic girl to agonize about masturbation.”
“Sorry. If I feel the need, I’ll make sure to do it in private, but I’m not gonna feel guilty about it. So if my door’s closed…don’t open it. I’m either working on something that I need to concentrate on…or working on myself. You can assume whichever you want.”
“I’ll assume you’re doing something with chaos. That is what you were reading last night, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. Something along those lines. Hey, does this mean you don’t wanna have phone sex again?”
“Oh, no! If we’re apart, phone sex is good. I like to think of you lying in bed having yourself while I talk dirty to you.”
“Huh. So it’s only when you’re in town that it bothers you.”
“Yeah. And that’s only because I don’t wanna miss an opportunity. I’m wild for you, honey. I don’t want you throwing away orgasms when they’re a precious resource for you.”
“Got it.” They walked along for a while, then Ryan said, “Was anything else bothering you yesterday? You seemed kinda…easily annoyed.”
“Nothing much. I guess I’m a little stressed about exams.”
“Yeah, that’s always a bitch. But you seem pretty prepared. You worked a lot harder this term than last.”
“I’m prepared,” Jamie admitted.
Ryan slowed down and gazed at her partner for a minute. “Something else is going on. I can see it in your pretty face.”
Jamie shook her head. “Nothing. Really. Well…maybe I’m a little down about my mom. We’re building the dam back up that we’d just managed to demolish. Pisses me off.”
“Not really, but kinda. She called to ask how our trip went and I acted like a big baby and refused to tell her anything about it. I know I’m being a jerk, but I don’t like talking about my life if she won’t talk about hers. Know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Jamie shot her a look. “Do you understand, or not?”
“I do. I mean, I don’t share things with people who don’t share with me. Christ, look at all of the stuff I didn’t know about Ally. For me to risk something, I’ve gotta feel that the other person risks something. But your mom…your mom is only trying to keep one little part of her life private. It’s a lot like when you weren’t ready to talk to her about me.”
“Exactly!” Jamie said, looking triumphant. “And that really hurt her feelings because she was interested and ready to help if I needed it.”
“Right. But you weren’t ready, and that was the important part.”
“Nope. Not gonna fly.” Her lips were set and Ryan knew Jamie wasn’t in a receptive mood. “She was guessing, Ryan. She didn’t know what was going on. I know she’s been having sex with Giacomo. We’ve discussed it and she’s told me she feels like she’s accepting crumbs. It’s more like she doesn’t want me to remind her of that. She doesn’t want me to support her decision to break up with him. She wants to keep it going and act like it’s good enough for her.”
“That’s her decision, honey. Even if you don’t like it. Even if it isn’t great for her. Even if she could do a thousand times better.”
“How do I support her doing something that sucks?” Jamie asked, glaring at her partner. “What if she starts drinking all day long? Should I mix martinis for her?”
Ryan rolled her eyes. “There’s a difference between drinking too much and dating the wrong guy. She’s over forty, honey. She’s really old enough to choose her own companions.”
“Fine! Then she should have the courage of her convictions! If she’s proud to be with him, she should admit it!”
Ryan could see their discussion was getting nowhere, so she backed off and tried to put it to bed. “I predict this won’t last long. I can’t see your mom doing something she’s ashamed of. Once she makes up her own mind, she’ll talk about it or break up with him. I think she’s just on the fence right now.”
“I’d like to knock that Giacomo character off the fence with a mallet,” Jamie grumbled. “He’s so damned charming and oozing with compliments. I hate guys like that.”
“I know,” Ryan said. “He doesn’t seem particularly sincere.”
“Sincere? He seems like he’s auditioning for a part as a gigolo!”
“Your mom won’t be happy with a gigolo,” Ryan said, hoping that she was right.
On Wednesday morning, Ryan was lying on her bed, flipping flashcards over one by one. She was doing pretty well, but she had a rule that she couldn’t stop until she’d gotten fifty cards in a row correct. She’d amassed over five hundred cards over the year and she was more than ready to stop for the day, but the most she’d gotten in a row was forty-two. The phone ringing was a welcome respite.
“Hi, Catherine. Boy, it’s nice to hear from you!”
“Goodness! I wish Jamie sounded as happy to hear from me as you do.”
“Jamie’s always happy to hear your voice. I’m just extra happy because I can take a break from doing my flashcards.”
“Oh, haven’t you seen me toting my box of cards around with me? It’s how I pound some French into my thick head.”
“Oh, you poor dear. I’ve never had to learn a language as an adult.”
“Your mom got you started when you were young, too, huh?”
“Not as young as Jamie, but she wanted to take me to France when I was fairly young and she got me a tutor. I did very well and she decided I had a gift for language. Little did she know that children pick up language very easily. So, I studied Italian after I’d mastered French. Whenever I needed an easy class, I’d take French or Italian and breeze through. It certainly came in handy.”
“I’d pay good money to be able to take a nice differential equations class right about now,” Ryan said, laughing. “I could do that in my sleep!”
“We all have our strengths. I doubt that I could pass seventh grade algebra.”
“I’d tutor you. It’d be a snap.”
“My offer still holds to help you with French, Ryan. Any time.”
“Thanks. But I do better just cramming the words into my head. I don’t even try to delude myself into thinking I’m learning French. I’m just trying to learn enough to be able to pass a proficiency exam, so I don’t care about pronunciation or any of that stuff. I just want to know enough words to be able to make sense out of written passages.”
“Well, I’d hate to clutter up your mind with speech if you don’t need it,” Catherine said, chuckling softly.
“I try to keep my hard drive as clean as possible. I assume you called to talk to Jamie, but she’s at the library. Want me to have her call you?”
“To tell you the truth, I called to talk to you.”
“Cool! What’s up?”
“I’d like some advice, if you have any to spare.”
“I’m your woman, Catherine. I’ve got an opinion on everything, even if it’s based on nothing but a guess.”
“Oh, I’m sure you have an opinion on this, Ryan. It’s about Jamie.”
That caught Ryan up short. “You’re right. I always have an opinion about Jamie. What do you want to know?”
“I’d like to know how she’s feeling about our relationship. I can tell she’s uncomfortable with me, but I can’t tell if this is a passing phase or if it’s hurting us at a deeper level.”
“Umm…yeah…that’s a big one. I’m not sure what to say.”
“As much as I would like your input, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I know you have your secrets.”
“Well, sure we do. But I’m not sure if I know what’s going on. I can’t tell if she’s really angry with you, or if her feelings are just hurt. I kinda think she’s just hurt because you’re shutting her out a little bit.”
Catherine sighed heavily. “Parenthood can be tricky, Ryan. There should be better courses before you get involved.”
“I’m sure that’s true. Of course, being a child isn’t always easy, either. I’m still getting used to having Aunt Maeve be my stepmother, and she’s been in my life forever.”
“Good point. Good point,” Catherine said contemplatively. “Do you have any advice for me, honey?”
“I don’t know if I’m the best person to give advice about this. I’m sure not unbiased.”
“I’m not asking for an unbiased opinion, Ryan; my therapist can give me that. I want to know what I can do to make sure I don’t cause a rift with Jamie that will be difficult to heal.”
Ryan was quiet for a minute, thinking of what she could say that wouldn’t betray Jamie’s confidence. “I’d say that Jamie would be a lot happier if she felt you weren’t hiding something. I think she could handle not liking what you do if she didn’t feel you were embarrassed about it or felt that she wasn’t mature enough to hear what you had to say.”
“Uh-huh. So…you think that’s her perspective?”
“I’m not sure, honestly. It’s just a guess. But she always handles things better if she feels like she’s being treated as an equal.”
“Yes, that sounds like Jamie.” Letting out another long breath, Catherine said, “I’ve always had a hard time judging how to treat Jamie. I’m not able to guess how like a parent I should be. It seems like I’m either telling her too much or too little. It’s frustrating!”
“I’m sure it is. And if you were my mom, I’d rather not know about your private life. Jamie’s not like that. You two started getting close again when you started being more like friends and backing off from that…”
“I see what you mean. I do.”
“I’m not criticizing you, Catherine. I know you’re doing your best to be a good mother. And I don’t think kids should know everything about their parents’ lives. But Jamie doesn’t agree with me. I think she feels that you and she and Jim are all about on the same level.”
“At various times, she’s been the adult,” Catherine admitted. “I can hardly blame her for feeling like our equal.”
“Well, I think she’s the kid and you’re the mom, but I’m sure there’s some equilibrium you two can find. Someplace where you don’t tell everything and she doesn’t feel too shut out.”
“I’ll give it a try. I have to do something to break the ice.”
“Don’t worry too much, Catherine. Your relationship is very dear to her. She’ll meet you more than halfway if she doesn’t feel cut off.”
“Good. Very good. Thanks so much, Ryan. You’re a good sounding board.”
“Anything else you want to talk about? I’d love to stay on the phone for a few hours.”
“Get back to work,” Catherine said in a forceful tone that made Ryan giggle.
“You so can’t pull that off. Thank God you didn’t dream of being a Marine drill sergeant!”
Continued in Part Two
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