I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 16: Paradigm
By: Susan X Meagher
Jamie got up early on Friday morning and took a combo of BART and Muni to get to Ray’s real estate office on Castro. It would have been faster to drive, but that would have required her going later in the day to avoid rush hour, and she wasn’t in the mood to dawdle.
Ray had obviously just gotten to his desk; his cup of coffee was still steaming. “Hi,” he said, smiling when he stood to shake Jamie’s hand.
“Hi.” She sat down and said, “Ready to wrap this up?”
Chuckling, he started sorting through his papers. “You don’t waste time, do you?”
“No. Not in business. Besides, I’ve got things to do today.”
“You’re a busy young woman.”
“Yeah, I sure am. I’m got finals to prepare for.”
He stared at her, his hands holding the papers a few inches off the desk. “You’re still in school?”
“Yep. For another week.”
“Amazing,” he muttered, focusing on his tasks once again.
When Jamie was finished signing all of the papers, she called Brendan and arranged to stop by. She was in a hurry, so she went up to Market and grabbed a cab, getting to Brendan’s office in ten minutes. She’d been to the office before, and she was able to navigate the crowded space to find his small office. “Hi,” she said, poking her head inside.
He leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Ahh. You’re a good fix for a bad day.” He got up and kissed her cheek, then they both sat down. “How’d it go?”
“Fine. No problems. We should be able to close in thirty days if the title search comes back quickly.”
“Excellent. Niall and the boys can get together and start making plans for where to start. If they order some of the materials now, they can start work as soon as they close.”
“That’s beyond my ken; I’m just the silent partner. And that’s why I wanted to talk to you. We haven’t talked about how to structure repayment.”
He laughed, showing his teeth. “Funny family, isn’t it?”
“Truly,” Jamie agreed, shaking her head. “But I’d like to have things written down. You never know.”
Brendan grew serious. “That’s true. Do you want me to draw up a contract?”
“Mmm, I don’t think it’s necessary for the family, but, in terms of estate matters I think it’s best.”
“Yeah. If I die, I want to forgive the debt. So I want to make a codicil to my will. If we have a contract, things will be easier for the IRS to understand.”
His smile returned and he gazed at her long enough to make her uncomfortable.
“Oh, I was just thinking about how lucky Ryan was to find you. Not many women would worry about how not to get paid back.”
Blushing mildly, Jamie said, “You’ve gotta be prepared. And, even if the cousins aren’t crazy about it, I want to add the interest to the principle and delay repayment until the apartments are rented. I don’t want them to have to scramble to pay me while they’re working.”
“That’s easy to do, but, you’re right—they won’t like it. They’ll know they’d never get a deal like that from a bank.”
“Sure they could. Well, not a bank, but lots of investors would make a deal like that.”
“With a bonus to the investor.”
“I’ll get the bonus, Bren,” she said, rolling her eyes. “The interest gets added to the principle, and that makes the total amount repaid higher than if they paid it down from the start.”
“Someone has been studying real estate financing,” he said, smiling.
She grasped her throat. “I hate it, but it’s coming in handy. But as soon as my finals are over, I’m going to start reading those books my mom gave me for graduation. And I’m certain that there isn’t one of them that concerns real estate financing.”
“Good for you. It’s hard to get any recreational reading in while you’re in school, isn’t it?”
“Sure is. But I’m gonna spend the summer with your sister and a batch of guilty pleasures.” She paused. “Well, your sister is a guilty pleasure, but I’m also gonna have some fun with my books.”
Late that morning Ryan encountered Mia, who was turning into the O’Flaherty/Evans driveway. “Hey,” Ryan said, leaning into the open window.
“Hey, yourself. Want a ride?”
“Nah. I like to walk. Lets me get into softball mode. You coming over with Jamie to watch our game?”
“I think so. I have a final at 2:00, but I should be done by 3:00.” She looked at the clock on the dash. “Why are you going so early?”
“I’m going to work out with a couple of my teammates. Nothing too intense. Nice wheels, by the way,” Ryan said, stepping back to admire the British racing green Jaguar.
“My mom’s. I’ve just gotta figure out how to get it back to her.”
“Why didn’t you let us come get you? You know we would’ve been glad to.”
Mia gave her a deadpan look. “You’d carry me if I needed you to. You guys do too much.”
Ryan stuck her head back into the window and comically tried to reach Mia’s lips with her own, but she was making such grotesque faces that Mia laughed while trying to push her away. “But we looooove you,” Ryan crooned. “We loooove you so much!”
“Take that scary face and go do whatever it is you jocks do.”
Resuming her normal behavior, Ryan blew her a kiss and pulled herself from the car. “See you soon. Good luck on your final. And after the game we’ll drive down to Hillsborough to take your mom’s car back.”
“No!” Mia called out to Ryan’s departing body. “I’ll figure something out myself.”
She finished pulling the car in and went into the house via the back door. “James!”
Faintly, she heard Jamie call back. “Mia?”
Mia walked into the dining room, looked around, then went to the table by the front door and scanned the mail. “Yeah. You busy?”
“Nope. Just doing some bills. Be right down.”
Jamie trotted down the stairs a moment later, finding Mia sitting on the edge of the table. They embraced and kissed, then Jamie said, “What’s up? You don’t seem—quite right.”
With a wan smile, Mia said, “You’re not the first to mention that.”
Jamie bumped her with her hip. “You know what I mean. Everything okay?”
Sighing dramatically, Mia stood and walked over to the sofa, collapsing onto it. “Yeah.” Her legs dangled over the arm of the sofa, and she stared at the ceiling. “I have a final this afternoon, and all finals suck. Plus, I never feel great when I’m away from home.” She turned and looked at Jamie, her smile a little more genuine. “I’m seriously messed up when I start calling that crappy apartment home.”
“It’s where you and Jordan live right now, so it’s your current home. This is your more permanent home.”
“More permanent? What’s the expiration date?”
“You know what I mean,” Jamie said, laughing. “We’ll eventually live in the city. Then that house will be your home.”
“Gotcha.” Mia turned a little and gazed at the ceiling again. “Don’t try to move without telling me our new address.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it. So, how was your visit with your parents?”
“Not bad. We had some minor fireworks about my coming out to my grandparents, but Jordy straightened me out about that.”
“I assume you don’t mean that literally,” Jamie said, smirking.
Mia turned and caught the smirk. “No, she can’t make me stop loving her, even to please my parents. She just reminded me that it’d be a better idea to do it with some planning. She was right, as usual.”
Jamie took a slip of paper, wadded it up, and threw it at Mia. “They can be annoying, can’t they?”
“Who? Our girlfriends?”
“Yeah. Ryan’s always right, too. Drives me nuts.”
Scooting around so that her head hung over the seat, Mia put her hands to her throat. “It’s sickening. They’re both so mature.” Her smile faded as she added, “Hey! So are you!”
“That’s why you love me.” Jamie smiled confidently. “You’ll always be the one that people think is younger. One day you’ll thank me.”
Sliding back into a fairly normal position, Mia nodded. “I guess that’ll come in handy.”
“Wanna go to Ryan’s game with me?”
“Yeah. I ran into her when I was turning into the driveway. She volunteered you to follow me to Hillsborough so I can give my mom her car back.”
“Cool. I can stop by and…never mind.” She shook her head quickly, looking a little flustered.
“Oh, right, your mom’s gone.”
“Right. She’ll be home next week.”
“Kinda freaky that she’s gonna miss your graduation. What’s she doing, anyway?”
“Uhm, I’m not sure. She’d made her plans before she knew when the date was. She said she’d be happy to change things around, but that seemed silly.”
Mia’s legs dropped to the floor as she sat up. “You don’t look like you think it’s silly. You look like I feel—kinda…abandoned,” she finished when Jamie gave her a quizzical look.
“Oh. Right.” Jamie crossed her arms over her chest, almost looking like she was hugging herself. “I’d rather have her here, but it’s not a big deal. She had some things she wanted to do, and she would’ve had to rearrange a bunch of stuff. I felt silly asking her to change plans.”
“But you wish she would have insisted.” Jamie’s mouth opened, then shut. Mia got up and sat on the arm of Jamie’s chair. “She should have just changed her plans without asking if you minded. That’s not like your mom. Your new mom, that is.”
Chuckling soundlessly, Jamie nodded. “No, it’s not really like my new mom. But she would’ve changed in a second if I hadn’t insisted.”
“Still…” Mia put her hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “I’d be hurt, too.”
“Ugh.” Jamie shook her head. “Let’s talk about something lighter. This is kinda depressing me.”
Mia sat on the floor, then lay down and put her feet in Jamie’s lap. “Take off my clogs and rub my feet, will ya?”
“Who could resist such a lovely invitation?” Jamie tugged the shoes off and tickled Mia’s insteps, making the feet shake and twitch.
Tsking at her, Jamie took one foot and started to manipulate it, stretching the tendons and muscles. “Feel good?”
“Yep.” Mia put her hands behind her head and said, “Let’s talk about sex. That always cheers me up.”
“Oh, God,” Jamie moaned. “I’ve been on a…I don’t even know what to call it. If Ryan doesn’t wanna have sex every day, I act like she’s committed a crime. Thank God she takes hints. She came at me yesterday morning like…well, I don’t even know how to describe it. But she got me good.” She grinned evilly.
“Oh, that’s the look of a satisfied woman.”
“I don’t have words,” Jamie admitted. “She actually got me so good I didn’t even think about sex when we went to bed last night, and I haven’t forced her to service me yet today.” She giggled. “I think she’s happy to have a few hours off.”
“That’s good news that you’re feeling so sexy and she’s keeping up.” Mia’s smile was bright and perky. “No more aftereffects from the carjacking?”
“No, doesn’t seem to be. She seems like her old self, except she’s not as ravenous as she used to be. Like I said, she takes hints very well, but I think she’s doing it because she knows I’m hot for her. She says her drive is down a little because she feels comfortable with me, but I don’t think we’ve been together long enough for her to be comfortable.”
“She taking you for granted?”
“No, nothing that severe. It’s just that I had to set a fire under her to make her act like she used to when she was jumping on me every few hours.”
“Oh, I understand that. I don’t feel as needy, I guess, as I used to.”
“That’s kinda what Ryan said. She’s ready to go if I make the first move…”
“But you don’t like to,” Mia said, finishing her sentence.
“No, I usually don’t. But once in a while, it’s kinda fun.”
“We pretty much take turns,” Mia said thoughtfully. Her contemplative expression morphed into a sly smile. “She can top me really good when she’s in the mood. She’s got the gift.”
“I don’t think I have that gift. Or if I do, I don’t like to use it very often.”
“Whatever works for you. I just think it’s funny that a year ago you were worried about being alone with her and now you’d let her—do anything!” Mia started to laugh, but stopped when Jamie slowly shook her head. “You don’t?”
“Nope. Not everything. But we’re much more relaxed with each other. Everything isn’t a big deal now. She can pull out a sex toy and we don’t have to discuss it like the Maastricht Treaty before I’ll let her use it.”
“That’s progress. Good progress. So what won’t you do?”
“Kinda personal,” Jamie said, pinching a toe.
“Oh, please. You can’t start holding out on me now.”
“Well, it is pretty personal.”
“Huh. Personal. There’s only so many options.” Closing one eye, Mia looked up at the ceiling again. “I know you go down on her.”
“And just how do you know that?”
“Well, she’d dump you if you didn’t. She’s not a fool.”
“Ryan’s not like that. She’s doesn’t have a list I have to satisfy.”
Mia smirked. “You are actually trying to tell me that Ryan would let you go this long without going down on her?”
“Well, she’d probably have urged me…” Jamie stopped and laughed. “She’d grab my face and hold it there until I started licking. She’s patient, but not that patient.”
“Thank you for your honesty. But even if I didn’t know better, I’ve heard her begging you to move just a little to the left or the right. You only do that when somebody’s going down on you.”
“Damn!” Jamie tossed the foot from her lap, only to have it dropped right back on her thigh. “Did you used to sit by our door?”
“No. But neither one of you is very quiet. If I had my door open, I’d hear you guys going at it all of the time. Like you never heard us.”
“Harder, harder!” Jamie yelled, then panted heavily. “Harder, Jordy!”
Mia dug her heel into Jamie’s belly. “Smartass.”
“A couple of times Ryan wanted to take you in to make sure your cervix was still intact. You like it rough, girl.”
“Maybe Jordy just likes to give it to me very, very gently.” She stuck her tongue out. “So, if it’s not giving head it has to be…butt love.” She bared her teeth as her eyebrows rose. “That’s it!”
“Yes, you wily detective. I don’t let her go there.”
“Why not?” Mia looked genuinely puzzled. “It’s fun. Mixes things up a little.” She paused for a second, then said, “But you go there on her, right?”
“Occasionally,” Jamie allowed, smirking. “When she’s been a good girl.”
“Damn. She puts up with that?”
“Everyone has limits,” Jamie said. “I wouldn’t let her hurt me, no matter how much she wanted to.”
“Yeah, yeah, everyone has limits, but if Ryan likes ass-play I’m surprised she doesn’t give you a hard time about it.”
“Never.” Jamie shook her head. “She’d never do that. She lets me be me. And I try my best to let her be who she is. If she really needed me to do something, I’d do it—unless it was really disgusting.”
“So, you don’t think it’s disgusting?”
“Mmm, no, not really, which surprises the heck out of me. I can appreciate that there are a lot of nerves around the area, and Ryan comes in a second when I touch her there. It’s hard to think of something being disgusting if my baby likes it.”
“Has she tried to do it to you?”
“Sure. She tries everything.”
“And you say no?”
“Yeah. I’ve said no very clearly. I don’t think she’ll try again if I don’t ask for it.” She chuckled quietly. “She gets really close, though. I think she thinks I don’t notice.”
“So why not let her take a dip?”
Mia gazed at her drolly. “No. Lie to me. You know I love it.”
Laughing, Jamie pushed Mia’s foot off and lay down on the floor next to her. She rolled onto her side and whispered, “It’s secret.”
“I won’t tell.” Mia ostentatiously crossed her heart. “Promise.”
“I have to keep her hungry.” Jamie rolled onto her back and crossed her arms, looking very satisfied with herself.
Now Mia rolled over and braced her head on her hand. “Hungry? Hungry for ass-play?”
“No, it just worked out that way. It wasn’t planned.”
“You’re gonna have to give me a little more, babe. I’ve got nuthin’.”
Jamie rolled back onto her side and mirrored Mia. “When we were first together, she was very patient with me. Thank God,” she added, laughing. “She just pushed me a little bit at a time, making sure she wasn’t asking for too much.”
“That makes sense. That’s what I did with Jordy, until we’d been together about two weeks. Then I let her have it.” She giggled demonically.
“Ryan’s more patient than you are. It took her a couple of…months, no, it was probably weeks, too, before she made it clear she wanted me to go there.”
“But you wouldn’t?”
“No, I did it, and it was fine. But I didn’t want her to do it to me. I was nowhere near ready for that. I’d just gotten used to her going down on me, for goodness sake.”
“Damn, I can’t believe you were with Jack that long and didn’t do that every weekend.”
“Believe it,” Jamie said somberly.
“So you’ve just made up your mind, huh?”
“No, not really. But it’s become kind of a game. She really wants me to let her do that, but it’s fun to say no.”
“It’s never fun to say no,” Mia said. “Yes is the fun word.”
“Not always. She’s the one with all of the experience and she’s usually the one who directs things. It’s fun to make her want something that she can’t have. I wasn’t really clear about this until I realized I was doing it on purpose. So I thought about it and realized that I wanted to make her want things that I wouldn’t give her.”
“Why? That seems nuts.”
Excitedly, Jamie said, “No, no, it’s not, really. It’s a way of keeping some things off limits to keep her interested. I mean, I know she loves me and she’d love me if I let her do everything or not much at all. But there’s a certain…look she gets in her eyes when she’s just a little frustrated. I can just see her mind working, figuring out how to get me to let her do everything in the world. It keeps her engaged. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah, I guess it does. She clearly likes to be a bad girl, so keeping something in the bad category is probably a good idea.”
“You and Jordy don’t have things like that?”
“Hell no!” Mia said, laughing. “I just put her hand or her mouth where I want it and she goes to town. She gets so carried away I don’t think she realizes half of what she does until it’s over.”
“I’ve been there,” Jamie said. “But I’m gonna keep some things off limits until we’ve been together for a good, long time. I don’t ever want her to think she doesn’t have anything to look forward to.”
“I’d say you think too much,” Mia said, grinning, “but knowing Ryan you have to think a lot to keep up with her.”
“That’s the truth. I’ve gotta stay up nights just to try to keep up with her.”
“Give up, babe. You’re smart for a human, but she’s some kinda other-worldly smart.”
Laughing, Jamie said, “I’m still surprised she didn’t make University Medalist. And knowing her, I wouldn’t have found out about it until she walked up there to give her speech.”
“I know one thing,” Mia said. “She would’ve shaken Madeleine Albright’s hand.”
Jamie rolled her eyes. “She’d never embarrass anyone she disagreed with. But she’d probably try to get a minute alone with her and charm her into changing policies.”
About a half-hour before the softball game, Jamie drove by Jennie’s house to pick her up. She felt guilty that they’d spent so little time with Jennie recently, but she was powerless to change the situation. With Ryan’s practice and game load plus her travel, it was all she could do to keep up with her one class. And Jamie’s schoolwork had been fairly arduous, especially since she wasn’t really drawn to the subjects she was studying. Still, she felt like they’d relegated Jennie to seeing her at softball games, and that was unacceptable.
She gave the horn a quick beep and Jennie came bounding down the stairs, a big grin on her face. “Hi,” she chirped when she got in. She leaned over and kissed Jamie’s cheek, then sat back and buckled her seatbelt.
“Hey. You look particularly sharp today.” Jamie took a second and really looked the girl over. “New haircut?”
“New shirt?” Jamie reached out and touched the cute striped T-shirt.
“Yep. I’ve been shopping.”
“Cool. I play golf, but shopping’s my real favorite sport.”
“That’s what your mom always says about you,” Jennie said, giggling. “She said that just the other day.”
The car was rolling down the street, but Jamie turned sharply at Jennie’s admission. “You saw my mom?”
“Sure. We went shopping and we got haircuts.” The girl’s speech slowed and she looked unsure of herself. “Is that okay?”
“Oh, sure, of course it is. I love that you and my mom see each other. She just didn’t mention it.”
“Mmm.” Jennie looked confident again as she looked out the windshield. “Probably because it happens all the time. She just doesn’t think to tell you.”
“All the time?” Jamie asked, eyebrows high.
“Sure. If she’s in the city and isn’t busy, she picks me up after school. And if not, sometimes Marta comes and gets me.”
“Marta picks you up?”
Jennie could obviously sense Jamie was out of the loop. “Yeah. It’s no big deal. We don’t do anything special most of the time.”
“Most of the time?”
Jamie’s voice was getting higher with each question, and it was clear that Jennie sensed she was telling too much. “Well, yeah,” she said, a touch defensively. “Sometimes we do something cool, but most of the time Marta gives us a cooking lesson, or your mom helps me with my homework. Then the guy she hired takes me back to Berkeley, and if Heather isn’t busy she helps me, too.”
Jamie shot her another amazed look. “Marta teaches my mom and you how to cook?”
“Yeah. Your mom doesn’t know how. Neither do I,” she added. “Marta says you have to know stuff like that to be able to take care of yourself.”
“I know,” Jamie said. “She taught me.”
“Weird.” Jennie giggled. “Why didn’t your mom learn then?”
“I’m not sure.” Jamie was afraid she was going to cry, so she tried to focus her mind on another topic. “Your hair looks good.”
“Thanks. We both got our hair cut last week. Your mom wanted to look good for the big graduation and I wanted to look good for the little ones. She gave me her tickets,” she added, her voice filled with delight.
“We got tickets for the departmental ceremonies for you, Jen. We just couldn’t get any more for the convocation.” Because we didn’t go out of our way to look on Craigslist, she chastised herself.
“I’m good. I’ve got one for yours and one for each of Ryan’s. You can use the extra for somebody you might’ve forgot.” She smiled happily. “I’m really excited. I’ve never been to a graduation before.”
Good Lord, she’s making me feel like a total asshole!
Now that the end of the season was nigh, and Cal was ranked in the top ten teams nationally, tickets for games were becoming scarce. Jamie was intent on being at the games to support Ryan and the rest of the team, but Jennie had become super-fan, and she would have arrived at nine o’clock for a one o’clock game if Jamie didn’t keep an eye on her. Today’s game was at 3:00, so they arrived at 1:30, the late arrival time making Jennie twitch. But they easily bought three tickets, and Jamie left one at the box office for Mia, who she expected to show up well after the game started.
It wasn’t the best day for a softball game, but it wasn’t supposed to rain. The heavy cloud cover and relatively high humidity made it seem like it would, though. The temperature was in the low sixties, which Jamie knew would make Ryan happy. When it was too chilly, hitting the ball made her lover’s hands hurt, and when it was too hot, the heavy polyester fabric of their uniforms was very uncomfortable.
“Ashley’s got a final at 3:30,” Jennie said, not taking her eyes from the field, where the groundskeeper was working on the pitcher’s mound.
“So she’s not coming?”
“Unh-uh. I guess it’s just us, huh?”
“No, Mia’s coming. But she won’t be here for a while. She has a final, too. Speaking of finals,” Jamie said, reaching over to tousle Jennie’s hair, “when are yours?”
“We start next week. But I’m cool.” The young woman appeared calm and confident, surprising Jamie a little.
Jennie met her gaze. “Really. You can’t get as much help as I get and screw up, Jamie. It’s almost impossible.”
She looked so sincere that Jamie had to stifle a laugh. “You’re doing the work yourself, Jen. Other people are just giving you a hand.”
“I know, but I’d be dead meat if it wasn’t for everybody helping. Your mom especially.”
Once again Jamie was taken by surprise. “My mom?”
Jennie looked at her, puzzled. “You don’t know how much your mom helps me? Don’t you guys talk?”
“Sure, sure, we talk, but she doesn’t tell me what she does every day. I, well, she doesn’t tell me everything.” She ordered her mouth to smile, given how concerned Jennie looked. “Every woman likes to have some secrets. My mom must like to sneak around tutoring.” She whispered this last part and winked.
Jennie laughed. “You mom is so not a sneak. She probably just doesn’t think it’s important.”
“No, that’s not it. She thinks the world of you, Jen. I know that for a fact.”
“Really?” Jennie’s eyes lit up, making her look even younger than she was. “For sure?”
“For sure.” Jamie nodded solemnly.
“She’s awesome, Jamie. You got so lucky to have a mom like her. You don’t even know.”
Nodding slightly, Jamie had to admit to herself that Jen might have a point.
“I can tell her almost everything, and that’s so weird for me. I couldn’t tell my mom if something great happened, ’cause she’d think it was bad for me or that I’d stolen it or something.”
Jamie put her arm around Jennie and gave her a long, affectionate hug. She whispered into her ear, “Your mom doesn’t know you very well. That’s all.”
Jennie ducked her head, leaning against Jamie for a minute. “Maybe,” she finally said, her voice a little shaky.
They broke apart and Jamie asked, “What kinds of things can’t you tell my mom?”
“Huh?” The Cal players had just taken the field to begin warm-ups and Jennie was distracted.
“I asked,” Jamie said, tilting Jennie’s chin towards her, “what kinds of things can’t you talk to my mom about?”
“Oh. You know. Just stuff.” Her head swiveled right back to allow her to watch the field.
“No, I don’t. I didn’t confide in my mom very much when I was your age. I’m just wondering how you and I are different.”
“Ha!” Jennie looked at her, clearly amused. “There’s a million ways. Maybe a billion.”
“Okay. One—Mrs. Evans, I mean Mrs. Smith, I mean Ms. Smith, is your mom. She’s more my…friend, I guess. It’s just different.”
“I can see that. What else?”
“You’re…” Jennie looked at Jamie carefully for almost a minute. “You’re Jamie. I’m never gonna be like you.”
Laughing, Jamie said, “I have no idea what that means.”
“You’re totally different than I could be. You’ve got class and manners and money, and you know all sorts of stuff. You’re like a super adult—just like your mom. I’ve never met people like you.”
“Everyone’s unique, Jen. I’ve never met anyone quite like you.”
“You don’t hang out on the right street corners,” the young woman said, the expression on her face not revealing much.
“You were hanging out with a tough crowd, Jen. They were too old and too experienced for you. You were exposed to too much for someone your age.”
“I know,” she said. “I have to keep my mouth shut a lot of the time at school ’cuz I’ve seen things my friends haven’t seen. I don’t want ’em to know about…you know…stuff.”
“I can see that,” Jamie said, even though she was a little sketchy on what Jennie wanted to conceal. “How about at home? Can you be yourself there?”
Jennie’s expression clouded over just as the sky had done earlier that morning. “Yeah,” she said with a certain degree of either disgust or dismay, Jamie wasn’t sure which. “I have to be myself.”
“Hey.” Jamie put her hand on Jen’s thigh and squeezed it reassuringly. “Is everything okay at home?”
“Yeah,” the girl tossed off. “Fine.”
She said this with such finality that Jamie didn’t think she should pursue it. Instead, she went back to a previous thread of their conversation. “Hey, you didn’t tell me what kinds of things you can’t talk to my mom about. Is there anything on that list that I can help with?”
Jennie looked at her with what could be described as suspicious interest. “Really?”
“Sure. I’m a good listener. And I’m not too many years away from high school.”
“That’s so not normal,” Jennie said, giggling. “You seem lots older than my dad.”
“Hey! I’m only twenty-two. Your dad has to be older than that.”
“He is. He just doesn’t act like it,” Jennie clarified. “But I can’t talk to him about stuff either, so he might as well be old.”
“What is it, Jen?” Jamie grasped her knee and vigorously shook it. “I’m very discreet.”
“You mean you won’t tell?”
“Yeah. That’s exactly what I mean.”
“Not even Ryan?”
“Not if you don’t want me to.”
Jennie laughed softly. “Nah. You can tell Ryan anything. She’s discreet, too.”
“She is. She’s discreter than I am,” Jamie said, chuckling.
“It’s nothing huge. I just don’t have anybody to talk to about sex.”
Trying to keep the composed look on her face, Jamie said, “That’s cool. What do you want to know?”
“It’s not about knowing stuff.” Jennie was quiet for a moment. “Well, maybe it is. How do you know if somebody really likes you?”
“Likes you…as a girlfriend?”
Jennie looked confused. “Oh. I don’t know about that. I don’t think so. But, maybe.”
“Huh?” Now it was Jamie’s turn to bear the look of confusion.
“What if somebody tries to do stuff with you? Not like be girlfriends or anything, just do stuff.”
“I guess it depends on the kinds of stuff you’re talking about.”
“Sex stuff,” Jennie said, looking at Jamie as though she were slow to catch on.
“So you wanna know how you can tell if someone who wants to do sexual things with you really likes you?”
Jennie nodded. “Yeah. I guess.”
I wish Ryan would run up here and sit by us, but scant chance of that. “I think I can answer that, but the bigger question is how you feel about this girl? It’s a girl, right?”
“How do you feel? Do you like her as a girlfriend?”
“No, not at all.” Jennie’s face scrunched into a look of distaste. “No.”
“Then why is it a question? If you don’t like her, that’s all there is to it.”
“Right,” Jennie said, sounding like she was waiting for the punch line.
Now Jamie was sure she was missing something. Something big. “Yeah. If someone likes you, but you don’t like them, that’s the end of it. You tell her you’re not interested.”
Jennie scowled and leaned over to put her forearms on her knees. “Right,” she repeated.
Jamie touched her shoulder. “What do you mean? Did I misunderstand you?”
“No, I guess not. It’s just not that way.”
“Things.” Jennie shook her head and moved her shoulder from Jamie’s touch. “No big deal. I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Come on, Jen,” Jamie entreated. “Don’t shut me out.” Jennie didn’t turn to look at her or say a word. “Can I tell you something?”
Jamie took a short grunt as permission.
“Ryan and I argue about things like this all of the time.”
Jennie turned quickly and stared at Jamie. “Things like what?”
“Like not talking about things that bother us. We both do it. And we both hate it when the other one does it.”
Jennie smiled slowly. “Ryan always likes to talk about stuff.”
“Yeah, she usually does, but if I don’t want to talk, she shuts down and won’t talk to me at all. It drives me nuts!”
“Then why don’t you talk?”
“I’m not always ready to,” Jamie said. “Or I might be upset about something or embarrassed about it. Or sometimes I’m sure she won’t understand.”
With another laugh, Jennie said, “Ryan understands everything.”
“No, no, she really doesn’t, hard as that is to believe. Ryan has her faults, too. Not as many as most humans, but she has some.”
“Whatever you say,” Jennie said, clearly trying to humor Jamie.
“Well, even if you don’t believe Ryan has faults, I can guarantee that I do. And one of mine is not talking about things I really should be talking about.”
Jennie’s open, innocent expression made Jamie regret bringing the whole subject up. “Oh, like every once in a while I’ll do something that I realize was silly.”
Jennie’s interest grew. “Like what?”
“Uhm…well, the other day,” she forced herself to think of a way to use the story without traumatizing Jennie. “I came home and Ryan was…eating dinner without me. She was eating something in the fridge that I wanted to share with her. You know how much she eats,” she added for verisimilitude. “Well, I’d really been looking forward to eating with her, and now I couldn’t.”
Jennie’s skepticism showed. “You look forward to eating with her?”
“Yeah, I do. Especially if it’s something really delicious that we don’t have every day.”
“What was it?”
“Mmm…something French. Very rare.”
“Okay,” Jennie said, clearly still not convinced. “So what happened?”
“I got really angry that Ryan did that. But I didn’t tell her why I was angry, because I was embarrassed about being angry about something so immaterial.”
Jennie snickered. “That was pretty silly.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. But everyone overreacts sometimes.”
“Did you have PMS?”
“You know,” Jamie said, rolling her eyes, “I did. I hate to admit it, but I really do get short tempered before my period.”
“Me too. I cry easy, too.”
“Oh, me too. Like a faucet.”
“So what happened?” Jennie asked, now looking like she was fully invested in the story.
“Ryan wanted me to tell her why I was upset, but I wouldn’t. So she got mad and stopped talking to me. She just stared at me,” she said dramatically. “With those big, blue eyes.” She made her eyes big and stared at Jennie. “And she kept that up for a whole day. Just those eyes. Staring. At me.” She reached up and put both hands around her neck. “I was going nuts!”
“She didn’t talk at all?”
“The bare minimum. And everything she said made me madder. It could have really gotten out of hand.”
“Oh, the usual. Ryan acted all adult and apologized for eating all of the food. She said she didn’t need for me to tell her why I was mad, either. She’s so mature,” she said, sticking her tongue out like she was ill.
“That’s funny! But…there’s one thing I don’t get. If she apologized for eating everything, how come she didn’t know that’s why you were mad?”
“Oh. She…guessed. Yeah, she guessed. But she didn’t make me actually say that’s what I’d been angry about. That was the mature part.”
“That’s kinda cool,” Jennie said, grinning happily. “I don’t ever see you guys fight or anything. It’s nice to know you’re not perfect.”
“I wish we were. But we’re a long, long way from perfect. Sometimes I feel like we’re not even average.”
“You’re a lot better than average.”
“Some days, but not always. Everyone makes mistakes, Jen. And we make plenty. Now, how about telling me some more about this sex thing? I know I didn’t understand exactly what you were talking about, but I want to. I’m interested.”
Jennie took a breath and held it for a second. “It’s not a big deal. There’s just a girl who likes me, I guess, but I don’t like her. I guess I don’t know what to do to…keep her away from me.”
“Ahh. Things like that have happened to me, too. It’s a tough situation.”
“That happened to you?”
“Yeah. In high school a lot of guys asked me out, and I didn’t always want to go.”
“Asked you out? Out where?”
“For a date.”
Jennie laughed. “Nobody’s askin’ me out for a date. I don’t know anybody who’s ever gone on a date.”
“No. People don’t do that anymore. They just hang out.”
“So…what are we talking about?”
Jennie patted Jamie in much the same way Jamie had patted her earlier. “It’s no big deal. Really. I’ll just do what you said and say I’m not interested. I can do that.”
“Are you sure? I’m happy to talk about this.”
“I know. But it isn’t important. I can handle it.”
“If you’re sure.”
“I am. But thanks, Jamie. I like hearing about you guys. Makes me feel like I might be able to find a girlfriend someday.”
“Oh, you will. I guarantee it. You’re as cute as a bug, Jennie. The girls are gonna love you.”
Mia arrived in the bottom of the seventh, squeezing into the tiny space Jamie and Jennie made for her. “What’s rockin’?” she asked.
“You missed everything!” Jennie declared. “Nobody’s scored and Heather’s got a two hitter going!”
“So I missed…nothing?” Mia asked, grinning.
“Good nothing,” Jennie said. “This is only the third time Heather’s started, you know.”
“No, I didn’t. Is she the pitcher?”
Jennie rolled her eyes and turned to stare at the field again. Mia giggled, winking at Jamie.
Jackie came to the plate and watched one pitch sail wide. She caught the next pitch with the fat of her bat, sending it deep to left field. Jackie dropped her bat and watched it leave the field, then she sauntered around the bases while Jennie and Jamie and the rest of the Cal crowd stood and cheered.
People started to leave and Mia asked, “What’s up?”
“Game’s over,” Jennie said. “Heather wins!”
“Woo-hoo!” Mia yelled. “We get to leave.”
Jim and Kayla arrived home after a long day at the office and an even longer reception at the Swedish embassy. Jim wanted to attend because a major Swedish technology company did a lot of business in California, and he’d talked Kayla into accompanying him. She went in her professional capacity, and spent the evening talking to Swedish functionaries at approximately her level of importance. By the time they returned to the hotel, both were anxious to get off their feet and have a snack.
“A good caterer could make millions in this town,” Jim said as Kayla searched through the armoire that housed both the television and the few edibles he kept in the suite.
“Let’s order a pizza,” Kayla said. “I don’t think I had five bites of food tonight.”
He shrugged. “Okay. We haven’t done that in a long time.” He went to the phone and dialed the one place they’d found that had decent pizza and ordered what Kayla liked—vegetarian with light cheese. When he hung up, he untied and removed his shoes and socks, then took off his suit pants and hung them neatly over a chair. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“No,” Kayla said, smiling. “I’ve seen you in your underwear.”
“I meant that you’d have to answer the door when the delivery comes,” he said, chuckling.
“Ooo, I was just about to go put on as little as possible. I’m so sick of being dressed up that I’m nauseated.”
“I’ll put my pants back on. They’re easier than…” he sidled up next to her and ran his hands over her ass, “…a dress and a bra and…” His fingers slipped down her legs, searching for signs of interesting underwear.
“Just pantyhose today. Sorry,” she said, giving him a quick kiss. “But you’re right. Slacks are easier. I’ll go change into something more nonexistent.” She waved and opened the door to her studio apartment, leaving him to deal with the delivery.
Kayla didn’t return until the doorbell rang. When she did, she was wearing a snug black camisole and matching close-fitting, boy-cut panties. “Feed me,” she said, heading for the box on the table. Not bothering to use the plates that came with the order, she put the box on the coffee table and grasped a piece before she sat down. She tilted her head back and let the vegetable-laden slice fill her mouth. Biting, she hummed with pleasure, then sat down heavily and inelegantly. “Nothing better than watching TV in your underwear while you eat pizza,” she declared. “Reminds me of college.”
Jim once again removed his slacks and added his tie to the neat pile of clothing. He sat next to Kayla while he unbuttoned the top two buttons on his shirt and then unfastened his cuffs and rolled up the sleeves. “So…did you and your roommates all sit around in your underwear?” She gave him a puzzled look and he added, “Your sexy underwear?”
“Uh-huh,” she said, playing along. “We all dressed up in the sexiest things we had—thongs, G-strings, push-up bras. Then we’d eat pizza and lick any drips off each other with our hot, wet, pulsing tongues. Half the time we’d wind up in a pile, having wild, ravenous sex.” She gave him an evil look and said, “Sounds like dinner time at Jamie and Ryan’s house, doesn’t it?”
“For Christ’s sake!”
He looked like he was on the verge of vomiting, making her laugh so hard she nearly cried. “You deserve it! Everything a woman does isn’t centered on sex. Unlike guys,” she added, smirking.
“I’ll never be able to have another college girl fantasy,” he pouted.
“I’ve seen your porn,” Kayla deadpanned. “One of those DVDs will work for you.”
“Porn isn’t the same as a real fantasy. Thinking of you and some other girls at school is so much better. Are you sure you’ve never been with a woman?”
“I refuse to answer on the grounds that I might want to make up a story to get you off some day.”
“Good answer!” he said, beaming with happiness. “I tell you, you’re the perfect girlfriend.”
“Emphasis on the ‘girl,’” she said quietly, looking away.
“Huh? What’s that mean?”
She took another bite of her pizza, her mouth forming another small smile. “Part of what you like about me is my age. A big part,” she emphasized. “Once I have a few crow’s feet, you’ll start looking for a replacement.”
He scowled, turning his head so he didn’t have to look at her. “I know we have the three strikes and you’re out law in California, but does it apply to non-criminal behavior?”
“I’d probably give you three,” she said, “but I know three of your strikes, not including me. And I’m sure there have been others.” She touched his shoulder, softening her voice. “It’s who you are. You like young lovers, Jim. You’re not going to change.”
He got up and moved to a chair on the other side of the coffee table. He didn’t take any pizza with him, and it looked as though he’d lost his appetite. “I had a long talk with my father when he was here and I’ve been thinking about how I’ve behaved in the past.” He shook his head, his sandy hair falling across his forehead. “I don’t like what I’ve become, Kayla. I don’t want to be the dirty old man chasing women just for their perky breasts. I want more than that.”
“You had more than that. Your wife was beautiful, smart, funny, and as rich as hollandaise sauce. What more could you have wanted?”
“I was stupid. Just stupid.” He folded his arms across his chest, looking like a boy pouting after a lecture from his mother. “I wasn’t ready to get married. We never should have done it. Everyone would have been happier.”
“Why did you?”
He sighed, looking tired. “Catherine was pregnant. It was all my fault, and I punished myself, and her, by marrying her. I love Jamie more than anything in this world, but our marriage was a mistake. A big mistake. Catherine would have been better off if she’d gotten an abortion.”
“But you wouldn’t have Jamie.”
“I know. But I would have had other children when I was older and more settled. It just came at such a bad time. There was so much pressure.”
“Yes. They both wanted her to have an abortion.”
“They did?” Kayla dropped her pizza slice back into the box. “That’s an odd reaction.”
“Not really. She was too young, too inexperienced. She got pregnant the first time we had sex. I was so sure she was going to continue to hold out that I didn’t even have a condom with me. Getting drunk and deflowering a lovely young woman in a car and creating a human life because of my negligence is not something I’m proud of. As a matter of fact, I’ve never told anyone the circumstances.”
“Wow.” She stared at him, waiting for him to continue. When he didn’t, she said, “What do you wish you’d done?”
He looked at her for a moment, his brow knitted. “I wish I’d never met Catherine. She was too good for me. I wish I’d just kept fooling around with easy women until I finally had it out of my system.”
“How long would that have taken?” she asked, shrugging off the sting of his comment about easy women.
“I don’t know.” He relaxed in his chair, thinking. “It would have been nice to spend my first years as a lawyer just having fun and blowing off steam. I probably would have been ready to marry when most of my peer group was. Maybe when I was thirty, thirty-five at the latest.”
“And you think that would have changed you?”
He nodded. “Yes, I do. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m in some state of continued immaturity, according to my father. I think I might have actually grown up if I’d been able to be wild for a few more years.”
“But you seem to need variety, Jim. I mean, come on, you’ve been cheating for how long?”
He dropped his head and said, “Since the first year we were married.”
“Nice,” Kayla said, her voice filled with disgust. “While Catherine was pregnant?”
He nodded, his lips pursed together. “I was working so hard and she was so needy. I felt trapped. I didn’t want to be married and she didn’t either. We were both terrified about the baby and…I…when I was with another woman I could be free again. Just for a little while.”
“That’s pretty fucked up.”
“I know, I know.”
“I don’t know if you can change, Jim, but you’ve definitely got your work cut out for you.”
Jamie and Ryan were lying in bed that night, while Jamie recounted as much of her conversation with Jennie as she could recall. Ryan was listening carefully, asking a few questions. When Jamie was finished, Ryan said, “Tell me again how she put it when she said a girl was asking her for sex.”
“I don’t remember, honey. I was puzzled because I knew I wasn’t on her wavelength. I was talking about going out on dates with boys, and she was talking about some girl trying to get her to do sexual things. I still don’t know what she meant.”
“Is this someone from school?”
“I…I guess. She didn’t say.”
“Did she say anything that would let you guess what kinds of things she was talking about?”
“No. She just said it was sex things. I assumed she meant making out or something like that.”
Ryan’s gaze sharpened. “But she didn’t specifically say that.”
“No. I’m sure she didn’t.”
“Mind if I ask her?”
“No, feel free. I know I didn’t do a good job.”
“You did great. Really. Spending time with her and talking to her about her life is a very big deal. That’s exactly what she needs.”
Jamie cuddled close and rested her head on Ryan’s chest. “Will I understand our kids better than I do Jennie?”
Ryan’s soft laughter made Jamie’s head bounce. “No guarantees. But we’ll know our kids as well as possible. We should be able to tell when something’s bothering them.”
“But if they take after me, they won’t talk.”
Ryan chuckled. “I’ll have the kids. They’ll be hyperactive, but they’ll talk.”
Continued in Part Eleven
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