I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 16: Paradigm
By: Susan X Meagher
Jamie woke on Sunday morning, immediately noting Ryan’s absence. “Honey?” she called, her voice a little raspy.
“I’m in my room. I’ll be there in a minute.”
“No need. I just wanted to know where you were.” She grasped Ryan’s pillow and hugged it, falling asleep in moments.
About ten minutes later, Ryan walked into the bedroom, stopping abruptly when she saw that Jamie was asleep. Surprisingly, Jamie woke immediately, blinking her eyes. “What’s up?” she asked.
“I’ve been deciding what I want to do today.”
Jamie looked over her shoulder and noted that the day was gray and overcast. “Work on your tan?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’ve made a list.” She sat down and started to read, “We could race go-karts, go sailing, rock climbing, mountain biking—”
Jamie held up her splinted arm while yawning softly. “You can do those things, babe. I’ll watch and call 911 if you need it.”
“Damn! I tried to include things you like to do. I keep forgetting you can’t use your arm.”
“What would you do if I wasn’t going to join you?”
“Go surfing,” she said without hesitation.
“Really? You haven’t done that all year.”
“I know. I miss it. And today’s a good day.”
“Really? It looks pretty drab out.”
“It is, but the surf report is pretty good.” She fidgeted, obviously ready to get going. “Well, it’s not pretty good, but it sounds decent.”
“What did it say? Not that I speak surfish.”
Ryan smiled at her coinage of a new word. “In English, it said that the waves are high and it’s not crowded.”
“That sounds decent. Let’s do it.” Jamie started to get out of bed.
“Are you sure?”
“But you don’t surf.”
“I know, but I can have fun. Is there some place I can buy a wetsuit?”
“Uhm, sure. There’s a good surf shop close to Ocean Beach.”
“Okay. Let’s get breakfast and get going.”
“Let’s just get going. There’s a good place to eat right by the beach.” Ryan started to go towards her room, but stopped abruptly. “Hey, why don’t we pick up Caitlin?”
Jamie appeared to ponder the idea, then nodded. “Okay. If Annie says it’s all right, we’ll get her.”
“Annie always says yes,” Ryan said, chuckling. “What mother doesn’t want a morning off?”
“Good point. Let’s go, wahine.”
It was around fifty degrees, and the wind had picked up a few knots from the time they’d left Berkeley. Ryan was contemplative during breakfast, watching the waves and the few surfers in the ocean. Jamie didn’t speak much, finding it more entertaining to watch Ryan’s stormy blue eyes scan the sea.
“How’s it look?” Jamie finally asked, noting that her and Ryan’s plates were both clean.
“Not good.” Ryan wiped her mouth and tossed her napkin onto her plate. “I recognize one graybeard, and he’s out here every day—no matter how bad conditions are. I don’t know who posted the surf report, but if these are good conditions...”
“The waves are high like the guy said,” Jamie observed. “Are they too high?”
“No such thing,” Ryan said, smiling. “The height is fine, but the shape isn’t good. And there’s a long gap between sets. I haven’t seen anyone catch a good wave. They look like they’re waiting for things to calm down a little.”
“Maybe it will. But now I don’t feel guilty for wanting to go to the surf shop.”
Ryan smiled at her. “Let’s go. I don’t know what you plan on doing, but I guess there’s only one way for me to find out.”
“You’re not the only one with secrets, Buffy.”
They were standing in front of the shop when it opened. Ryan didn’t recognize the man who opened the door, and he looked like he wasn’t at all happy to have customers waiting. But Jamie was in a very good mood, and she started to work her charms as soon as they walked inside.
“Hi,” she said brightly, giving the young man a gleaming smile. “I wanna buy a couple of things and get out of here quickly so you can enjoy your coffee.”
He looked longingly at the large cup on the counter. “’Sokay. Whaddya need?”
“Just point me towards the wetsuits for a woman my size. My buddy here will help me try them on.”
“Cool.” He walked them over to the large selection and said, “If you want a girl’s suit, you’re probably an eight or a ten. You’re an extra-small in a guy’s suit.”
“I want a girl’s. Better colors,” she said, looking at the pink, blue, and lavender trim on the women’s suits.
“Go for it,” he said, finally smiling. He walked back to the counter and started to drink his coffee.
“Girls?” Jamie asked when he was out of earshot. “Not too demeaning.”
“Surfer mentality. Get used to it.”
“I’m not a surfer; I just want the clothes.”
Ryan smiled. “Whatever gets your engine running. Now let’s figure out how to get one of these things over your splint.”
“No need. I brought an elastic bandage. The doctor told me I could take the splint off as long as I was careful with it.”
“So, you’re gonna put on a wetsuit and just watch me surf?”
“No. That’d be silly. Now help me try on that cute one with the pink top.”
It didn’t take nearly as long as Ryan feared it would to make Jamie completely happy with her purchase. Then she walked over to a display near the back of the store and sorted through a bunch of skimboards.
“Are you gonna buy one of these?” Ryan asked.
“Uh-huh. I like ’em.”
“They are cute,” Ryan agreed, pausing a few seconds before tentatively asking, “Do you know how to ride one?”
Jamie gave her an outraged glare. “Even girls can ride a skimboard.”
“No offense. You just gave me the impression you were more interested in the gear than the water.”
“Nope. Now pick up that cute one that looks like it’s just varnished wood.”
Ryan did, nodding in agreement. “Classy.”
“Thank you. Now, let’s get something for the baby.”
“Like a toy?”
“No, silly. Like a wetsuit. It’s cold out there. Even though she’s a thrill-seeker like her cousin, she’s still a baby.”
Jamie was quick with her size-calculation and they got to Tommy and Annie’s house with their new purchases. Caitlin was delighted to see her playmates, but a little less delighted at being encased in neoprene. She was crying lustily while Annie wrestled with her to get her little feet in the neoprene booties, even though Ryan was making faces, jumping up and down and singing. Jamie watched, drolly saying, “Being a parent might finally tire you out, Tiger.”
Ryan smiled, still performing. “No way. I can keep up with any baby in the world.”
“We’ll see.” Caitlin’s face was red and blotchy and she was hiccupping when Annie finally succeeded in getting her dressed. Jamie reached in and picked up the baby, smiling at Annie when she said, “I like to be the good guy. Just stand back and let you two be the evil ones who torture this poor child.” She kissed all over Caitlin’s little face, giggling when Cait kissed her back.
“Smart girl,” Annie said. “Wish I could get away with it. Of course, you two will be the ogres when you try to get her out of the ocean. When we go I can always rely on the bone-numbing cold to help persuade her.”
Jamie made a face. “Oh-oh. We might have made a miscalculation.”
“Yeah, I think you did,” Annie said. “But I certainly wasn’t gonna tell you that before you got here. Tommy’s at work and I’m gonna go to Martha and Brothers, read the paper and drink coffee—alone.” She sighed dramatically. “Alone. Who knew what a beautiful word that would become?”
“I think you might be alone for quite a while,” Ryan said. “Neither Caitlin or I have the sense to come out of the water.”
The threesome drove back to Ocean Beach and found parking only a few blocks away. Ryan carried her board, wetsuit, and Jamie’s skimboard. She said, “I should have put my suit on at Annie’s. I missed my chance.”
“I like it when you get dressed in public. I’ll hold a towel for you.”
“I don’t mind the being in public part, but it’s about fifty degrees.”
“Don’t forget the fog. It’s so heavy now it feels like rain.”
“A lovely day for the beach,” Ryan said. “My heart’s pumping already.”
It took a while for Ryan to get into her suit, especially since Jamie kept dropping the towel just enough to make Ryan think she was going to let everyone on Great Highway see her in the flesh. Cait pulled on the towel as well, but she didn’t seem to know why it was fun to do so. But Ryan’s squeals were enough to keep her well entertained.
Once dressed, Ryan carried her board and Jamie’s little skimboard to the beach, and when they hit the wet part of the beach, they both started taking quick steps. “Cold,” Jamie said. “Feels like needles.”
“Yeah. I know it’s cold, but it almost feels like it’s burning.”
“Should be fun!” Jamie squealed, partly for effect. She was carrying Caitlin, and the baby was struggling to get out of her hold. “I guess I can put her down, huh?”
“Sure. The cold might knock some sense into her.” She smiled, watching the child’s eyes grow wide, then laughed when Caitlin ran for dry land. But the determined child wasn’t going to let the cold water stop her from playing. She toddled in and out of the surf until she acclimated to it, then kept going deeper and deeper until she was in thigh-deep water.
“That’s my girl,” Ryan said proudly. “She’s not an O’Flaherty but she’s as dumb as any of us.”
They stood at the edge of the water watching Caitlin splash happily. “One of us has to be within grabbing range of her.” She looked at Jamie and said, “Honestly, baby, we can’t take our eyes off her out here.”
Jamie looked a little puzzled. “Okay. I know the ocean is dangerous.”
“Very dangerous today. But not so much at the shore. Honestly, the surf looks awful. At least what I can see looks awful.”
“It’s really high.”
“Yep. And I can’t see if there’s anyone in the line-up.”
“I hate to tell you what to do, but it seems a little dangerous to me to surf when you can’t see land.”
“Yeah,” Ryan nodded. “I hate it when you tell me what to do, too.” She leaned over and gave Jamie a quick kiss. “Just kidding. I take this seriously.”
“I love the sign we passed saying, ‘People Swimming and Wading Have Drowned Here.’ How many languages was that in?” Jamie asked.
“I don’t know, but I didn’t recognize the characters in a couple of them. The last one was either Greek or Russian.”
“How could you drown while you’re wading?”
“Easy. This is a very dangerous place. You’ve got millions of gallons of water and sand pouring out of the Bay, and waves and tides and wind coming in from the ocean. It’s almost always wild out here.”
“But you wade right next to the shore.”
“Right. But if there’s a riptide it can pull you off your feet and dump you into the lateral current. That baby is fierce when it’s close to ebb tide.”
“Is it ebb tide now?” Jamie asked, her voice on the verge of breaking. She reached down and grasped the long tab at the end of the zipper on Caitlin’s wetsuit.
“No, no. It’s just past flood tide. It’s safe for her to play.”
“I hate to be so realistic, but flood tide doesn’t sound much better than ebb. In fact, it sounds a lot worse.”
Ryan laughed. “Yeah, I guess it does. But it is safer. The flood tide is much less fierce.”
“How long have you been coming here?”
“I think I was about ten when I started. Da doesn’t know that, by the way. He thinks I waited until I was in high school.”
“Got it,” Jamie agreed, bumping Ryan with her shoulder. “So, are you gonna try?”
“Oh, sure. I’ve gotta try.” Ryan grinned at her. “It might be fantastic through the fog.”
“Right. Very likely. How am I supposed to watch you?”
“Simple. There’s not much you can do to help, so why watch? Besides, you’ve got your hands...I mean hand, filled with Caitlin.”
Jamie took her partner’s hand and squeezed it. “We haven’t even been together for a year, baby. Don’t make me a widow so soon.”
“I won’t. Promise.” She bent and kissed Jamie then splashed water at Caitlin. “I just need to check it out. I’ll probably be back in no time.”
“Just be careful. I can’t make your heart race if I don’t get you back home.”
“You’ll get me back home. Don’t worry.” She kissed Jamie tenderly and walked into the water, squealing like a little girl when the water covered her feet.
Jamie watched her paddle out, grasping more of Caitlin in response to her increasing fear. Caitlin didn’t like seeing Ryan leave, but she didn’t throw a fit, being fairly happy just to be in freezing water. She did stop her play and plaintively cry, “My-my,” her current attempt to enunciate her cousin’s difficult name.
It was clear Ryan was using every bit of her strength to try to get out into clear water. A big wave came at her when she was still fairly close to shore, and Jamie watched her partner move her hands up to the top of the board and push it underwater. She popped out the back of the wave a second later, shaking her head furiously to get her hair out of her face. She was still lying on the board, paddling hard, but she wasn’t making much progress. The pull was obviously very strong. For every two feet she gained, she lost another two to the lateral current. Jamie grasped the tab on Caitlin’s suit and tugged her down beach, following Ryan. She hoped her partner would get into calm water or give up before they passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, knowing that she and Caitlin could never keep up with the current.
Ryan was tiring, that was clear. She let the current carry her for a few moments, and Jamie reached down and grabbed Caitlin, trotting while carrying her under her arm, ignoring her outraged squawk. “Nooooo!” she cried, but Jamie kept running as quickly as she could.
Finally, with a burst of strength, Ryan broke through the current, diving under another big wave to emerge on the other side. Jamie let out a sigh of relief and lowered Caitlin to the water again. The baby picked up right where she’d left off, splashing noisily and singing a song that Jamie was sure would be lodged in her own brain for days.
Luckily, the fog was lighter than it looked, and Jamie could see Ryan fairly well. There was one other surfer in the line-up, and he paddled over to Ryan and seemed to be talking to her. Ryan sat astride her board and neither she nor the other surfer seemed in a hurry to ride one of the big waves. The waves looked well formed to Jamie’s moderately experienced eye, but they were breaking very close to shore.
She finally grew tired of watching Ryan just sit in the water, so she went back to her skimboard and said, “Cait, check this out.” She grasped the board, using her splinted arm efficiently to hold the light board. Cait watched for a few moments, then took off after her when Jamie started to run. “Me! Me!” she cried.
Jamie turned and called out, “Watch!” then dropped the board and jumped onto it. She hadn’t been on a board in two years, but she’d spent so many hours on one while growing up that it didn’t seem as alien as she’d feared. The limited mobility of her left arm kept her from being very aggressive, but she could take off, get up a head of steam, toss the board in front of her and jump on it while skimming along the retreating surf.
She practically had to wrestle Caitlin for control of the board, but it kept the baby away from the surf and occupied. “Me go!” she kept saying. “Me go!”
“I think your mommy and daddy better have another baby at some point, Caitlin or you’re never gonna learn how to share.” She chuckled. “You don’t wanna be like me.”
Caitlin’s begging finally had its intended effect, and Jamie tried to show the child how to jump on a moving board. It was a complete waste of time, but they both had fun playing in the water which didn’t seem so cold now.
She looked up and saw Ryan splashing through the surf, her long hair flying about wildly in the gusting wind. “It’s tough out there!” Ryan hollered.
“I saw you fighting to get out past the waves. You looked like you were going to wind up in Japan.”
“It wasn’t a riptide, but it was close! My arms noodled on me.”
“That was a sweet little nosedive you did to get past the waves near the shore.”
“I had to duckdive three times in the same place.” She tilted her head to the side and hit herself a few times. “I got water in my ear on one of them. The wave caught me a little bit.”
“Did the other guy out there catch any waves?”
“Nah. This is just a day to tell people you were out. There’s nothin’ goin’ on. The guy who posted the report probably figured no one else was dumb enough to go out in the fog and he could tell his friends he was riding big ones.”
Jamie gave her a one-armed hug. “Little did he know you’re dumb enough for two women.”
“At least.” Ryan kissed her partner’s head. “Tell me about this skimboard thing. I had no idea you had experience.”
“Yeah. Lots.” She started to run, but Ryan’s yell made her stop in her tracks. Both Jamie and Caitlin stared at Ryan, but only Jamie responded. “What?”
“You’re gonna jump on that with a broken elbow?”
“Yeah.” Jamie smiled at her. “I think you’re in my position for a change. How does it feel?”
“Awful!” Ryan walked over to her and gently stroked her injured arm. “Are you sure you wanna do this? You could easily fall. I mean easily.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be fine. I won’t go fast. I just wanna get the feel again.”
“What am I gonna tell your mom if she comes home to see a cast on your other arm?”
Giggling, Jamie started to trot, managing to say, “If you think of something, let me know. I’m sure I’ll be able to use it with your father at some point.” She tossed the board in front of herself, jumping on for a short, but smooth ride. She fought to keep her balance when the board stopped, but she was unscathed. “Wanna use it? I’ve been trying to teach Caitlin, but she seems a little slow.”
Ryan laughed. “No, you go ahead. I wanna be able to drive you to the ER. And I won’t tell Caitlin you think she’s slow. I know most 19-month-old kids can hold a board as tall as they are, run with it and jump on while it’s moving, but she doesn’t need to know that.”
Jamie stuck her tongue out. “I’m being very careful. When my arm heals, I can show you some tricks. I’m not bad, if I must say so myself.”
“You’re not bad at anything. But you’ve never surfed. How come?” She grabbed Caitlin and held her over her head, distracting her while Jamie ran and jumped on a few more times.
Jamie handed Ryan her board, the put her arm around her waist, leading her back up the beach to where they’d started. “My mom. She knew my father wouldn’t watch me properly when I was a kid, and she worried I’d drown. I really, really wanted to go with him, though, so he bought me my first skimboard and showed me how to use it. There were always a bunch of kids on the beach, and I learned some tricks from them.” She smiled at the memory. “Those times I behaved more like a kid than any other time in my life.”
“Sounds like fun. I’ve only been on one once or twice. I’ve never owned one.”
“No!” Jamie looked excessively shocked. “I have a piece of sports equipment that you don’t have?”
“I bet you have horse stuff, too, and I’ve never been riding.”
“We’ll have to remedy that. I bet you’d love riding.”
“I’m not so sure. My grandfather told me never to get on the back of an animal dumber than I was. He hates horses.”
“Some horses are very bright,” Jamie teased.
“Show me a trick, smarty pants.”
“Okay. Pay attention.” Ryan waited patiently, with Caitlin sitting on her shoulders, using her head as a drum. “I think you can easily do a three-sixty.”
“Sounds fun. What do I do?”
“You know how to jump on, right?”
“Yeah. Run, toss it, jump on.”
Jamie grinned at her. “You make it sound easier than it is.”
“Well,” Ryan stuck out her chest, “I am a three-sport athlete at a major university...”
Jamie started speaking louder than her partner, trying to drown her out. “Once you jump on, you squat down and drag a hand. If you’re gliding, the drag will turn you around.”
“Simple physics,” Ryan said. “Did I mention I’m also well versed in the sciences?”
“Get going or I’m heading home. It’s freezing out here!”
Ryan took the board, put the baby on Jamie’s shoulders, and started to lope down the beach, tossing the board well in front of her and jumping on with both feet at the same time. She squatted down and stuck her hand deep in the sand, stopping the board immediately. But Ryan didn’t stop. She tumbled head-over heels, landing flat on her back with the surf hitting her hard and tumbling her over again and again like a piece of driftwood.
Jamie tried to control her laughter, but she was still giggling when she and Caitlin reached the scene of the accident. Ryan’s expression was priceless. She looked truly astounded that she’d wiped out, and more than a little angry at the ocean for treating her so rudely. “Are you all right?” Jamie asked. She put a hand out and Ryan took it, getting to her feet just as another wave came in.
“Damned ocean,” Ryan muttered. “It doesn’t know who I am.”
“You wiped out pretty hard. Are you really all right?”
“Oh, sure. I’m never gonna get the sand out of my hair, but I’m fine.”
“Wanna go home?”
“Before I learn that trick? You’ve gotta be kidding!”
Jamie sighed, hoping that Ryan figured the trick out before they expired from hypothermia.
It only took another ten tries for Ryan to complete a 360 turn. She was just about to try a 720 when Jamie called a halt to the game. “We can’t do this all day, honey. The baby’s getting pissed.”
“Oh, all right.” Ryan walked over and took the child, held her close while she tried to run with the board, failing miserably. “This won’t work,” she said, looking perplexed.
“Give me the board,” Jamie said. She and Ryan ran at the same speed, then Jamie tossed the board, shaking her head as Ryan and the baby jumped on, going just a couple of feet before Ryan jumped off. “You be careful with that baby, Ryan O’Flaherty. Her bones are flexible, but not flexible enough to have you fall on top of her.”
“I’m going slow,” Ryan said. “If I fall, I’ll make sure I land on my back.”
Jamie had no idea how a person would do that, but if Ryan said she could do so, she believed her.
Caitlin was having a blast, even though she and Ryan were taking some of the shortest rides ever recorded on a skimboard. Then Ryan sat the baby down on the moving board and Cait was in heaven. She liked nothing better than doing something by herself. And the fact that Jamie was running and tossing the board and Ryan was running and placing Caitlin on the board did nothing to dissuade the child from believing she was very accomplished.
They kept the game up until Jamie was exhausted. “I’m out,” she said, panting. “I’m out of shape, and I’m out of breath.”
“No problem,” Ryan said. “We’ll go play in the water.” She grabbed Caitlin and ran back into the ocean, both of them screaming from the shock. Jamie just shook her head, mumbling, “Maybe she’ll forget that I said I wanted children.”
An hour later, on the way to the car, Jamie said, “The coldest winter I ever experienced...”
And Ryan finished, “Was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” She laughed. “Mark Twain wasn’t the first or the last to say that.”
At dinner, Giacomo asked to speak to the chef, and when the man walked out of the kitchen, he smiled broadly and embraced him. He introduced Catherine, then asked him to prepare a meal for them. After ascertaining that neither of them were allergic to any food, he disappeared into the kitchen to work his magic. The waiter arrived with a bottle of wine and poured for them. Catherine picked up her glass and they toasted their vacation, but as she took her first sip, she paused and set the glass down.
“It’s not good?” Giacomo asked.
“No, no, it’s delicious. I...uhm...think I’ve had enough.”
“What? You didn’t wet your tongue.”
“I had some wine earlier today.” She stopped and considered, then decided to tell him the truth. “A few months ago I decided that I’d been drinking too much. Since then, I’ve limited myself to one drink a day. It’s...easier that way. I don’t have to think about it.”
He looked very concerned, taking her hand and stroking it. “Tell me more.”
“There isn’t a lot to tell. I was unhappy. You know how I was when we first met.”
“Yes. Very unhappy. I recall how sad you seemed and I was determined to put a smile on your lovely face.” He grinned rakishly. “I love to see you smile. Especially when it’s at me.”
“When I’m sad or lonely or bored, I tend to drink too much. It’s not good for me and I decided I didn’t want to live that way anymore.”
“And you can do this? You can drink a little and stop?”
“Yes.” She nodded, looking proud of herself. “It was hard at first, but now I only want more when I’m upset or feeling down.”
“Do you feel down now?”
“No, of course not. I’m very happy to be here with you.”
“This is ...” He frowned, seeming to search for words. “Maybe a difference between our cultures. Here we enjoy wine as much as we enjoy food...as much as we enjoy anything of beauty. Of course we have people who cannot control their appetites, but it seems to me that we have fewer people who go to the...what is it? Anonymous?”
“Yes. And there are other groups, yes?”
“Yes.” Catherine chuckled. “We have a group for anything you do too much. Alcohol, food, sex, drugs, shopping—just about anything you can enjoy.”
“I don’t understand that,” he said, his expression showing just how puzzled he was. “Everything is best when it’s special. I’ll recall those simple drinks we had this afternoon for a long time. I don’t think we had a quarter bottle of wine, and it was watered down, but it tasted so fresh, so fruity. And to then taste it on your lips.” He rolled his eyes, then patted his chest over his heart. “I’ll remember.”
“I’ll remember too,” Catherine said, feeling as though she might cry.
“How does it hurt you to have wine with dinner?” Giacomo asked. “Do you think you’d want more and more?”
“No,” she said, hesitating. “Not really.”
“So...it’s just because of your rule?”
“Yes. I promised myself I wouldn’t drink too much, and limiting myself to one drink seemed the easiest way to do that.”
“But you could change the rule if you wanted to.”
“Yes, I suppose I could.”
“Perhaps the rule should be not to drink alone,” he suggested. “Is it good to have a drink just because you’re allowed to?”
“No...I suppose it’s not.”
“Do you have this one drink every day, even if you don’t particularly want it?”
She gave him a long look, one that seemed to question his sincerity. “I’ve never....” She stopped and took a breath. “Yes. I have one every day.”
“Is that a good idea? It sounds like a medicine you need. Why not have some wine...not too much...when you have a wonderful meal? Enjoy the wine as it complements your food, not to lift a dark mood or to feel less. Enjoy wine to feel more. That’s why it exists, Catherine. To feel more, not less.”
“I’m not sure I know how to stop if I don’t have a limit beforehand,” she said, a frown wrinkling her brow.
“The bottle is only so big.” Giacomo held it up, critically looking at the ruby liquid. “Two glasses...over the course of a long dinner. Would two glasses make you feel drunk?”
“No,” she said, laughing bitterly. “That’s one of my problems. I rarely felt drunk, even though I was.”
He raised a hand and made a flitting gesture. “The decision is, of course, yours. But I would always urge my children to drink for pleasure, not to alter a mood and not to fulfill a quota. That seems unwise to me.” He grinned. “But I have an Italian perspective. I don’t trust another person to tell me I do anything too often or not often enough.”
“The wine is delightful,” she said, picking up the glass and taking another tiny sip. “I can’t wait to see what we’ll be eating.”
“I guarantee you will love it,” he said. “And that the wine will be the perfect complement.” He took a small sip. “I believe wine should be like a spice, a seasoning. Something used in moderation to enhance a meal or an experience. It should never be the meal itself. That, to me, is dangerous.”
“I see your point,” Catherine said. “I’ll give it some thought. But for tonight, let’s enjoy our meal. Here’s to our first course—the wine,” she said, clinking her glass with Giacomo’s.
The girls decided they were too cold to drive back to Berkeley, so, after delivering a wet, tired baby back to her mother, they headed for Noe and a hot shower. When they walked in, still wearing their wetsuits and looking like a rogue wave had just washed them ashore, Martin saw them and cried, “For the love of Mike! Where have you two been?”
Ryan took a long, slow look at their wetsuits, then tilted her chin and playfully asked, “Is that really your best question?”
“You girls were in the ocean today?” Maeve jumped up and came to stand in front of them. “You’re both shivering. Go warm up and I’ll make you some nice oatmeal for breakfast.”
“We already had—”
Ryan jumped in. “We’d love oatmeal. It’s been hours since we’ve eaten.”
Maeve patted Ryan’s side and winked at Jamie. “Siobhan’s view of time doesn’t always follow the clock. Now scoot, you two.”
Duffy happily followed them downstairs, sniffing and snorting at the fantastic scents that clung to their wetsuits. Ryan generously offered to peel Jamie out of her suit, but when Jamie tried to return the favor, Ryan said, “No, I’ll do it in the shower.”
“Why? Did you get sand in it?”
“No.” Ryan walked into the bathroom and got into the tub. She started to ease the suit off. “I peed in it. I’m sure there isn’t any left in liquid form, but I thought I’d better be safe.”
Jamie looked like she’d just heard a very bad joke. “You peed in your suit?”
“Sure.” Ryan yanked the suit off her leg and started to rinse it out. “Everybody does when it’s cold.”
“There’s two kinds of people: those who pee in their wetsuits, and those who lie about it.”
“There might only be two kinds of people, but that would be: people who voluntarily soil their own clothing, and normal people. I’m normal.”
Ryan looked a little suspicious. “You really mean to tell me that you’d take your wetsuit off to pee in the ocean?”
“No.” Jamie handed her partner a plastic hanger for her suit. “I’d get out of the ocean, find an acceptable facility, take off my suit, then pee. Like a normal person.”
“Damn, it’s time consuming to be normal.” Ryan grinned at her. “Do I have to clean the tub for you to get in?”
“Yep.” Jamie handed her a sponge and some cleanser. “And don’t miss an inch.”
Conor and Kevin had finished breakfast and were in Conor’s room watching TV when the girls emerged from their room. “Whatcha watching?” Ryan asked.
“NBA,” Kevin said. “You guys surfing today?”
“Tried to,” Ryan said. “No luck. But Jamie showed me how talented she is on a skimboard.”
Conor sat up. “With a broken arm? You let her do that?”
“I can’t stop her, Con. She’s got a wild streak a mile wide.”
Jamie punched her partner playfully. “Look who’s talking. And I just did a few rides, Conor. Nothing risky.”
“I’ve never been able to get the hang of a skimboard.”
“I think you’re a little large for one,” Jamie said. “Being close to the ground is an asset.”
“Breakfast is ready,” Maeve called.
Ryan put her arm around Jamie and said, “Don’t you love the fact that Da and Aunt Maeve act like they still live here? We’d never get breakfast from Conor or Kevin.”
“That’s the God’s honest truth,” Kevin agreed. “But we’ve always got beer in the fridge.”
After breakfast, Martin and Maeve had a final cup of coffee while Jamie and Ryan cleaned the kitchen. When Martin went in to watch a little basketball, Maeve went over to the church to see if anyone needed help doing anything.
Ryan watched her aunt leave, commenting, “She’s such a good woman. That parish would have to hire six people to replace her. They ought to make her a bishop, just for grins.”
Neither woman was interested in the basketball game, so they went to Ryan’s room to decide what to do next.
Ryan sat down on the love seat and Jamie sat on her lap. “Guess what I’d like to do,” Jamie directed.
Gazing at her curiously, Ryan seemed to think for a minute. “Given how you’ve been acting lately, I think you’d like to go home and make love.”
Jamie smiled at her lovingly. “That’s on my list. With a big, red star,” she said, “but right now I’d like to go to church.”
Ryan cocked her head questioningly. “Really? That surprises me. We haven’t been in so long, I’ve almost forgotten that we used to go regularly.”
“It has been a long time,” Jamie admitted. “But I really miss hearing my grandfather preach. I rarely missed Sunday services before I met you.” She leaned over and kissed Ryan. “Heathen.”
“Just kidding. You’re not a heathen, but our schedules have made both of us lapsed churchgoers. I make up for it a little, but only a little.”
“How do you make up for it?”
“When I’m on a road trip I always take my Bible and read some scripture on Sunday. It makes me feel connected.”
Ryan looked a little stunned. “I had no idea.”
“Yeah. I love to read scripture, particularly the Psalms and the parables. I had a beautiful book when I was a little girl that illustrated some of the parables. Elizabeth used to read them to me for bedtime stories.”
“Boy, I thought Catholics were weird.” Ryan giggled when Jamie tickled her.
“No, Episcopalians are weird too, just in different ways. So, will you go with me? We can make the last service if we rush.”
“Sure. I’m always happy to see your grandfather. And it does my soul good to see women priests.”
After the service, Jamie convinced her grandfather to go to lunch with them. Ryan was happy to go; lunch was one of her favorite meals. Jamie felt as if they were eating their third meal of the day, but Ryan thought things were just getting started.
While they were waiting for their meals to be delivered, Reverend Evans asked, “Are you girls just about ready to start your marriage preparation class?”
Ryan playfully dropped her head to the table and lightly pounded the surface with her fists. “Not another test!”
“Yes, it is a little like a test, but the good news is that you can’t fail. As a matter of fact, it’s not even scored.”
“I wish you could talk Cal into adopting that practice,” Ryan said.
“Have finals got you down?”
Jamie reached over and patted Ryan on the cheek. “Don’t let her fool you, Poppa. She has one test and she’s been studying for it practically nonstop for months. I’d be amazed if she didn’t ace it.”
“But it’s in another language,” Ryan said, looking pathetic.
“All of my tests are in another language,” Jamie said. “I sure as hell don’t speak business.”
“Well, the marriage class is definitely in your language. Especially yours, Ryan. It’s all about feelings.”
Jamie moaned. “You know that’s not my favorite language Poppa. But I’ll give it a good try.”
Reverend Evans smiled at his granddaughter. “I think you might like this class. Even though a lot of couples aren’t crazy about it while they’re taking it, almost all of them tell me later that they were happy they went through it.” He chuckled, grinning at both women. “Especially the ones who decide not to get married because of the class.”
“Yikes,” Ryan cried. “Some couples break up because of this?”
“Yes,” Reverend Evans said. “I think most of them knew they were on shaky ground, and taking the class allowed them to process why things weren’t going to work. I don’t think you two have anything to worry about, though.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Jamie said. “I’ve been hell on wheels lately. Ryan might welcome an excuse to get rid of me.”
“If I wanted to break up with you, I would tell you, Jamie,” Ryan said. “You wouldn’t be surprised. If something like that ever happened, it would be after months, if not years of hard work, trying to fix things. I’ve made a lot of promises to you, and one that you can take to the bank is that I’ll always tell you when and if things aren’t working for me.” She reached across the table, picked up Jamie’s hand, and kissed it tenderly. “Things are working very, very well for me.”
Jamie looked a little embarrassed to have Ryan expressing herself so openly in public. “Oh, I’ll wear you down eventually.”
Reverend Evans said, “I think I’m going to bet on Ryan in this race. All couples have problems. I’ve never met a couple who didn’t have intractable issues that they couldn’t fix. The secret to a successful marriage is not letting those problems obscure the love you have for each other.”
“You’d have to be hiding some remarkably large faults for me to have my love obscured in any way,” Ryan said. “I’m in until the end.”
“Me too,” Jamie agreed. “I’m just afraid that after I drive you mad, you’re going to wish the end would come soon.”
After lunch, they went back to Berkeley. They were both a little lethargic, their early rising and an active morning tiring them out. Ryan sat down on the sofa and gazed at her partner while Jamie organized the papers littering the table. She loved that Jamie kept a nice selection of dresses at the O’Flaherty house so that she could look fantastic with no planning at all. And watching her in her snug-fitting dress was making her think of the next item on their agenda. “I need a little caffeine if I’m going to stay awake.”
“We can take a nap, honey.”
“No. I’d like to stay up. After we play a little bit, I’m sure we’ll take a nap whether we want one or not.” She chuckled lethargically.
“Boy, you are tired. What would you like, hmm? A soda, iced tea?”
“Do we have any chocolate ice cream? And maybe some hot fudge? No, no. Vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. But make sure to use a lot of hot fudge—for the caffeine.” She smiled angelically.
“I’m trying to lose weight and you want a huge hot fudge sundae after eating three meals.” She glanced at her watch. “Before two o’clock.”
Ryan shooed her with her hands. “Hurry, or it’ll be time for another meal.”
With a happy grin on her face, Ryan licked the inside of her empty bowl. “How would you like it if I put some hot fudge on you?” she asked, looking at Jamie speculatively.
“You don’t have any left. Besides, it’d probably go right to my belly.”
“Ha, ha. Assuming it would stay on the surface of your skin, would you like that?”
“During sex? Or just as a vehicle to feed your voracious appetite?”
“Yes.” Ryan smiled. “Well, not just as a vehicle, but in addition to being a vehicle.”
Pursing her lips, Jamie shook her head. “Not my thing. I don’t mind if you want to do it; it just doesn’t sound appealing to me. Too sticky. Too messy. I’d have to wash the sheets, since I wouldn’t want Maria Los to see them. It seems like a lot of work just to have you lick me, which you seem perfectly willing to do with very little enticement.”
“This is true.” Ryan put down her bowl and put her arm around Jamie’s shoulders, pulling her close. “And you sure don’t need any flavor enhancement.”
“Do you like to do that? Eat food off people?”
Quickly self-censoring to make sure she didn’t reveal too many specific details of life before Jamie, Ryan said, “It can be fun. But it’s not really a culinary experience. To be honest, skin and sweetness don’t really go together. Especially the best kind of skin.” She slowly slid her free hand up her lover’s thigh, smiling broadly when her path was unencumbered. “I love how you never wear pantyhose.”
Jamie kissed her. “You told me you didn’t like them. Done.”
“The nylons you wear are really sexy.” Ryan’s voice had dropped into a lower register, and her words tumbled out lazily. She trailed her fingers up and down Jamie’s thigh, while she put her lips to her lover’s neck and sniffed delicately. “You smell so good.”
Relaxing in the embrace, Jamie dropped her head so that Ryan had more skin to work with. “I love it when you kiss my neck. You make me feel so sexy.”
“You are.” Ryan shifted to be able to reach between Jamie’s legs. She delicately stroked her, watching in fascination as her partner stiffened and arched her back. “You look just like a cat,” she whispered into Jamie’s ear. “A graceful, slinky, elegant cat whose back is being scratched.”
Jamie practically hummed her reply. “That’s not my back.”
“No, it definitely is not.” Ryan’s breath was warm and moist and Jamie’s pulse rose with each word. She squirmed in her embrace, pressing her body against Ryan’s. “I love your back, but this little spot,” she patted her softly, “is in another realm.”
Jamie turned her head and kissed Ryan hungrily. “I love how you play with me.”
Smiling warmly, Ryan said, “Playing is the best part of loving.”
“Even if we don’t make love today, like if we had a 7.0 earthquake right under our house in the next few moments, I’d feel loved just because of how you play with me. You make me feel special and very well loved.”
“Oh, you’re loved, sweetheart. You’re loved and desired and needed and...required. Yeah, touching you is an elemental part of my happiness requirement. I’ve never, ever, felt like this before.” She kissed Jamie’s neck, then moved up along her jaw, never stopping the kisses until she reached her lips. Then she took a breath, smiled, and touched her lover’s lips with her own. They kissed for a long time, both of them unhurried, just enjoying the sensation of loving and being loved.
“I love you, Ryan,” Jamie murmured. “I love every part of you.” She playfully bit the end of her nose. “I even love the part of you that likes to pee in your clothes.”
“And I love the part of you that thinks it’s gross.”
Giggling, Jamie said, “No, you don’t, but you put up with me very patiently.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” Ryan sat up a little and straightened her shirt. “I love that you’re different from me. I think it’s charming that you get so grossed out so easily. It’s adorable.”
“Adorable?” Jamie asked, cocking an eyebrow suspiciously.
“Yeah, really. I’ve...dated women who were like me. You know, kinda rough and tumble.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“You know what I mean. Someone like Karen Joncas. She’s a ball of fun and I had a great time with her, but I never could have fallen in love with her. She’s too much like me.”
“I don’t get it,” Jamie said. “You’re certainly not given to self-hatred.”
“No, not hardly. But when I’m with someone like myself, it feels like play, only like play. I don’t have the urge to go any deeper.”
“Emotionally. With you I want to expose more of myself, reveal myself. I don’t have that urge with someone who’s like me. It hardly seems necessary.”
“Huh. That surprises me a little, but I’m not sure why.” She placed a quick kiss on Ryan’s lips. “But I’m glad.”
“I’m glad too. You’re just perfect for me.”
“Even when I’m bitchy?”
Ryan grinned at her. “We’ll just have to wait until that dark day comes. I can’t guess about something that’ll probably never happen. I’m not a psychic, ya know.”
Jamie kissed her cheek so hard that she made a popping noise when she pulled away. “Are you sure you were never married before? You know exactly how to answer questions.”
“No. I’ve never, ever given my heart, and my future, to another. You’re the only one for me.”
Jamie sat back and gazed at her partner for a few moments. “Why don’t you go get the hot fudge and meet me upstairs?”
“Yeah. You wouldn’t have brought it up if you didn’t wanna do it. So warm it up a little and come upstairs. I’ll have your canvas bare and waiting.“
“But the sheets—”
“Washing the sheets is a very, very small price to pay to have your fantastically talented mouth touching me everywhere. And a little more caffeine couldn’t hurt.”
“Well, I do want to study later...”
Jamie kissed her, letting the kiss go on and on. “Meet me upstairs, you sexy beast.”
“After that kiss, I could warm up the fudge with my blood.” Ryan fanned herself dramatically, looking faint.
Jamie stood and held out her hand. “I’m so hot for you that you don’t even need to warm it.” She pulled Ryan to her feet and they kissed again, the kiss gaining intensity as it continued for precious seconds.
Ryan’s head dropped and she rested her chin against Jamie’s forehead. “Who needs fudge?” She bent and picked her lover up, carrying her up the stairs to their bedroom, while Jamie placed sweet, anticipatory kisses all over her face.
Book 17: Quandry
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