I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 16: Paradigm
By: Susan X Meagher
On Wednesday afternoon, Martin walked into the children’s house and called out, “Anyone home?” Getting no response from a human, he bent over and allowed Duffy to make over him with abandon. “How’s about a little walk for the boy?” he asked, smiling. Duffy’s tail wagged so fiercely that Martin was afraid he’d injure it. “Now, now, calm down a bit. I know you’re lonely, but we’ll take care of that.” He clipped the leash to Duffy’s collar and let the dog drag him to the door. “It’s a lovely day for an outing,” he said. “Let’s go visit all of your favorite spots.”
Duffy seemed to understand the enormity of the invitation. As they walked down the stairs, he whimpered and whined, then took off up the street, sniffing every bush and tree he encountered.
It was after 5:00 when Martin brought the still-excited dog home. He saw that Conor’s truck was on the street and announced to Duffy, “Himself is home. Maybe you can talk him into taking you for another walk or a little run.” Once again Duffy strained at the leash, intent on getting to Conor. They jogged up the stairs and burst into the house.
“Whoa!” Conor said, nearly knocked over by Duffy’s greeting. “Where’ve you two been?”
“I got home at around 3:00 and thought I’d wear the dog out,” Martin said. “I was unsuccessful.”
“I’ll take him for another walk. Might as well go now since I’m dirty.”
Martin scanned his son’s appearance. “Now that you mention it…”
“Dirty day. Spent most of the afternoon under a porch. When footings are rotten they always seem to be in a place you don’t wanna be. I’ll take Duffy out and then get clean.”
Martin picked up a box that rested on the dining room table. “New shoes?”
Conor’s eyes lit up. “Not just shoes,” he intoned dramatically. “John Lobb shoes.” Lifting the lid of the box, he leaned over and sniffed. “Don’t these smell great?”
Martin’s face scrunched up in a look that blended bewilderment and distaste. “They’re shoes, boy! They should smell like leather.”
“Calfskin,” Conor said. “I never thought I’d have shoes this nice. Catherine really knows my weak spot.”
Martin’s gaze sharpened. “Catherine? How is she involved?”
“Oh. She got me a few things so I can be a proper escort.”
“What do you mean she got you a few things? Do you mean she paid for these?”
“Well, yeah. I could never afford shoes like this.”
“What? Are you mad? You make a damn fine living for a young man. What are you doing with your money if you can’t afford a pair of shoes?”
Conor took a breath, trying not to snap at his father’s intrusiveness. “I can afford shoes, Da, but I can’t afford the kind of clothes that I have to wear to fit in with Catherine’s crowd.”
Martin picked up one of the shiny brown shoes and shook it at his son. “It’s a pair of shoes! No one looks at what a man has on his feet. The only time I notice shoes is when a man wears dirty, unpolished ones. You take a good pair of shoes and polish them properly and you can go to dinner at the White House.”
Clearly frustrated, Conor shook his head forcefully. “Da, this is different. These people care about the little things. It’d look bad for Catherine if I showed up for every event in my one pair of nice shoes.”
Blinking, Martin stared at his son for a minute. “If these people are so small minded that they’ll look down their noses at you, and you care about what they think, then you should buy your own. It might cost you a couple of hundred dollars—but that’s the price you have to pay.”
Conor tried to stop himself, but he laughed. Loudly. “Da, if they were a couple of hundred, I would have bought them. I’m not sure how much these were, but I’m sure they were more than I bring home in a week. Everything Catherine buys is the best there is.”
Blue eyes narrowed dangerously. “What else has Catherine bought for you?”
Stepping back a pace, Conor hedged, “N…nothing much. Just a couple of things.”
“Show me,” Martin said in a tone that Conor would never have considered refusing.
“I’ll be back in a minute.” Conor walked into his room and spent a few minutes gathering his bounty. He returned with a tuxedo, two suits, a blazer, two pairs of slacks, five shirts, seven ties and two pairs of shoes. His head was down, his longish hair falling to his forehead.
“You’ve taken all of this?” He plucked at a sleeve of one of the suits. “This wool is softer than a baby’s bottom!”
“That’s true, Da. All of this stuff is expensive. Very expensive. But Catherine really wants me to wear this kinda stuff.”
“And you didn’t complain too much, I’ll wager.”
“Hell, no, I didn’t complain. I love nice clothes!”
“Don’t go wishing for hell, lad. It comes to you if you deserve it.”
Conor slapped his hand on the table. “I’m not wishing for hell, Da. And I’m not gonna apologize for liking nice clothes. I didn’t ask for this stuff; Catherine insisted. And don’t forget that I’m helping her out by going to these things. I sure wouldn’t choose to go to a benefit for some goofy museum with people older than dirt, but she doesn’t like to go alone.”
Martin stared at his son, his gaze so intent it looked as if he was trying to see inside his mind. “I know you’re a good man, but this is beyond your usual level of generosity. You’ve never been the type to give up your free time to do something you didn’t enjoy. What’s in this for you?”
Conor looked like he’d been shocked with a live wire. “Me?”
“Yes, you. Are you doing this for the clothes?”
“No! I…like being with Catherine. She’s a lot of fun.”
“How many of these events have you been to?”
“Uhm…I don’t know…maybe ten?”
“It’s only been a few weeks! How many events does she go to?”
“A lot,” Conor said. “Museums, the opera, the symphony, things at Stanford, art galleries. She’s really busy.”
Martin looked more than skeptical. “And how does she introduce you?”
“She just tells people my name. Why?”
“I’m wondering what’s in this for her,” Martin said, his mouth quirked into a scowl. “Does she want people to think you’re dating each other?”
“I could do a lot worse!”
“What’s that supposed to mean? She’s your sister’s mother-in-law!”
“I know who she is,” Conor snapped. “And I’d be lucky to have a woman half as nice and funny and pretty as Catherine is. I have more fun with her than I’ve had in a long time with the women I usually date. She’s a great dancer and she has a wicked sense of humor. She’s like Jamie, but sexier.”
Martin shoved his son with the heel of his hand. Conor took a step backward and put up his hand to ward off another push. “Don’t you dare say that about Catherine!” Martin fumed. “She’s a member of our family, not the usual flah you drag home.”
Insulted on many levels, Conor stared at his father for a moment. “I don’t think of Catherine as an easy lay! How could you even think that! She’s a great woman, and I’m gonna hang out with her as often as she wants. And if she wants to buy me clothes…she can.” His strong chin stuck out at a defiant angle even as he braced himself for the likely physical response.
Grabbing the back of a dining chair, Martin took several deep breaths and calmed himself. When he spoke again, his voice was soft and even and his gaze didn’t move from the table. “You’re asking for trouble, son. What you’re doing is dangerous…for you and her. It’s one thing to go with her to things so she’s not alone. It’s another to go with her because you like her better than your…usual girls.” He lifted his eyes and looked at Conor. “Don’t start something that will lead you into trouble.”
Conor’s voice rose again. “I don’t see what the big deal is.”
“You don’t think of a family member as sexy,” Martin said, the word sounding like a curse. “When you feel that way, you back off until you come to your senses. You don’t ask for temptation.”
“What’s the big deal? We’re not related!”
“She’s your sister’s mother-in-law!”
“And Maeve is my aunt! That didn’t stop you!”
Martin grasped the chair in front of him and slammed it down so hard that the splintering of wood cracked through the quiet house. He turned and walked out without another word to his stunned son.
Jamie’d been home for a few hours, forcing herself to study some of her drier material. She liked to get the worst of it out of the way as early in the day as possible so that she could read the more interesting things when she was tired. But no matter how good her resolve, her mind wandered constantly when she was reading about various economic theories. She knew she’d never develop a real love for economics, but she’d thought she’d like it more than she did. It was a real chore for her to focus on something she didn’t click with. It had crossed her mind more than once that she’d made a mistake in making business her minor. She desperately missed reading novels and discussing them with a group of people who enjoyed reading for subtext as much as she did, but it had been months since she’d been able to read for pleasure, and she’d finished all of the courses in her major.
She got up and found a couple of colored exercise bands in Ryan’s room and spent a while stretching her muscles. It wasn’t easy with one arm straight out, but she’d gotten fairly adept at using her injured arm. Her doctor had urged her to use it as much as possible, and since it didn’t hurt much she was following his instructions.
Her mind wandered to Ryan, and the first time Ryan had trained her at the gym. It astounded her to think that had been a mere year and a half earlier. It seemed like Ryan had been part of her life forever. So much so that she had to force herself to concentrate to recall even a glimmer of how she’d felt when she was engaged to Jack.
But it was easy—very easy to recall that first day with Ryan. Feeling her warm, sure hands on her body, smelling her scent when she leaned close to help with an exercise, feeling the heat of her body when they brushed against each other. She recalled tingling with sensation through the entire hour, then trying to figure out why she was so energized and longing for touch when they were finished.
She laughed ruefully, remembering how often she surprised Jack with uncharacteristically keen sexual interest after she’d been working out with Ryan. Even though he didn’t care for her developing muscles, he clearly wasn’t going to ask her to stop working out when she was more amenable to sex after she’d been at the gym.
Lying down, Jamie held the band as well as she could with her broken arm and stretched for a few minutes. She wasn’t trying to work up a sweat—just make her muscles move enough to get the blood flowing…hopefully to her brain.
When she was finished, she went downstairs and made herself a smoothie with bananas, strawberries, and some non-fat yogurt. She sat in the living room to drink it while making one more attempt at her econ work. Her mind continued to wander, so she stood and paced while reading. That helped a little, but she was still not fully present. So she started to read the text aloud, finding that helped quite a bit.
She was walking around the room, textbook cradled in her right arm while she proclaimed the boring sentences in Ciceronian declamations. The technique worked amazingly well, and she finally dropped the book onto the table, satisfied that she’d given it her best effort. She was standing by the door when she heard Ryan’s key in the lock. Her face morphed into a delighted grin and she turned the lock before Ryan could withdraw her key. “Hi!”
Ryan cocked her head a little at the enthusiastic greeting. “Uhm, hi. Do you often stand by the door waiting for me to show up at unexpected times?”
“Nope. I was just putting my book down.” Ryan was still standing on the porch, but Jamie didn’t let that stop her. She went to her and wrapped her good arm around her neck, giving her a long kiss filled with lascivious intent.
Ryan swayed a little when Jamie released her, her eyes half-closed. “What a nice welcome. Can I come in now?”
“Wish you would.”
Ryan took two steps, not enough to let her close the door, then blinked when Jamie started to unbutton her shirt. “Whatcha doin’?”
“Undressing you,” Jamie said, her eyes narrowed in concentration as one hand fumbled with the buttons.
“I usually close the door before I change for softball. As a matter of fact, I almost always go upstairs.”
“Not today.” Jamie said, smiling in satisfaction when she finished with the shirt. “Take it off. And your bra. That’s too hard for me.”
“Honey, I’ve gotta change,” Ryan said gently. “Softball practice starts in thirty minutes.”
Jamie grabbed her neck and pulled her down again, nearly burning her lips with a long, hot, desire-filled kiss. “What happens if you’re late?” she whispered, breathing heavily.
“Uhm…” Ryan’s brow furrowed. “Nothing. Lots of people are late because of different classes and stuff. I’m usually one of the first ones there.”
Jamie raised an eyebrow, then twitched her head in the direction of Ryan’s open shirt. “Take it off.”
Ryan shrugged agreeably, but closed the door first. She grinned while she removed her shirt and bra, then stretched and shook her shoulders as she often did when she freed her breasts from their confinement. Jamie watched with rapt interest, then commanded, “Do that again. Slower.”
Ryan started to move, pushing her lover back towards the sofa, shaking her shoulders slowly and deliberately. Her breasts swayed gently, her eyes fixed on Jamie’s while she let her more dominant personality emerge. By the time they reached the sofa, the predator that lurked under Ryan’s placid exterior was in place and ready to rock. She grasped Jamie’s face with both of her hands, holding her still while she gazed into her eyes for a long moment, then she let her eyes drop a few inches, focusing on Jamie’s open, moist lips. A ravenous smile lit her face and she moved in, capturing those lips while she held her head so tightly that Jamie couldn’t have moved if she’d wanted to.
Ryan purred softly, kissing her partner with firm, unyielding determination. Still holding Jamie’s face, she bent her knees, leaning in to force her lover to sit. Ryan straddled Jamie, letting all of her weight rest on her lap while her hands continued to hold her head and her lips continued to kiss her with total possession.
Moaning in response, Jamie stroked the backs of Ryan’s hands, silently encouraging her to take and keep control. But Ryan didn’t need encouragement. Even though this wasn’t the way they usually interacted, like a well-worn pair of jeans, Ryan slipped into the role without a thought, her comfort obvious.
She took Jamie’s hands and placed them on her own breasts, squeezing Jamie’s hands firmly to guide her. Immediately, Jamie followed instructions, letting Ryan’s kisses warm her from the outside in while she teased her breasts until she started to lose track of where they were. She shook her head, a little confused when she felt herself being pushed onto her side then her back as Ryan grasped her slacks and pulled her into position. Their mouths were still locked together, Ryan’s sultry kisses never stopping.
The coffee table made a scruffing noise as it was pushed across the rug on which it rested. Ryan knelt, her fingers deliberately undoing the buttons on Jamie’s shirt. Then one hand caressed a breast, palming and gripping it tenderly while the other slipped down Jamie’s belly to undo her slacks.
Ryan’s breathing was a little ragged while she wrestled with the material, pulling at them with one hand while Jamie shifted and lifted her hips to aid in the quest. The slacks were thrown over Ryan’s shoulder, then she slipped her hand into Jamie’s panties, her mouth forming a slow smile when her delving fingers touched warm, wet flesh.
Jamie gasped, yanking away from Ryan’s mouth to suck in a breath, but Ryan obviously didn’t want to give up control. She slipped her hand through Jamie’s hair, forcefully guiding her back to the kiss. Sighing, Jamie submitted, pushing her mouth against her lover’s while she thrust her hips against Ryan’s fingers.
Ryan’s hand curled into a fist and she pressed it against her partner, pushing Jamie’s entire body with each thrust. Her mouth still covered, her hair pulled just to the point of pain, Jamie didn’t have the freedom or the ability to say a word. Ryan controlled everything she felt, everything she wanted, everything she needed.
One more dip into the wetness made Jamie shudder. Slipping her hand out of Jamie’s panties, Ryan once again held Jamie’s face in her hands, bestowing a flurry of heated kisses onto her voracious mouth. Just when Jamie decided she didn’t need another thing in life, Ryan pulled away and snaked her hands down Jamie’s body until they touched her panties, then removed them without a pause in the course of her long caress. The touch had been so soft and gentle that Jamie blinked in surprise when her body was roughly pulled and lifted until her legs dangled across Ryan’s shoulders. Before she could react, Ryan was kissing Jamie’s vulva with the same intensity she’d shown her mouth.
Jamie had to concentrate with all of her power to resist her impulse to squirm out of Ryan’s firm grasp. Submitting this completely was not easy for her, but it was so deliciously freeing. She grasped for something—anything to anchor her body to the sofa to guarantee that Ryan never, ever stopped what she was doing.
Her ass was half a foot off the sofa, Ryan’s warm hands grasping her cheeks and playing with them roughly while she kissed and nuzzled against Jamie’s fiery need. Jamie’s skin felt hot and tingled with sensation as Ryan squeezed and pinched her while licking her so tenderly that her brain had a hard time keeping the sensations separate. At times it felt like Ryan was pinching her clit and caressing her ass, but Jamie was sure just the opposite was actually happening. She finally stopped trying to think and let herself just feel—feel whatever happened, without analysis.
Turning off her conscious mind let all the sensations gather into a ball of pure energy radiating between her legs, a hot, pulsing life form that exploded in a burst of pleasure so intense that Jamie sensed a small tear in the fabric of her consciousness. She had no idea how she had come to be lying across the sofa again with Ryan kissing her and stroking her face so tenderly. Her eyes opened and she had trouble focusing for a moment, but then the contours of Ryan’s lovely face sharpened and she could see the beatific smile on her lips.
“Hi,” Ryan said softly. “You okay?”
“I have no idea.” Jamie reached up to make sure the top of her head was still attached, then noticed how hot and flushed her face was.
“You’ve gotta breathe, baby,” Ryan whispered. “You’ll black out if you don’t breathe.”
“I think I did. Black out.”
Clearly concerned, Ryan’s smile disappeared. “You did?”
“Maybe,” Jamie said, patting her absently. “I felt like I had this…supernova between my legs and then it exploded. Next thing I knew, you were kissing me and I was lying down again.”
Ryan put her fingers against the pulse in Jamie’s throat, frowning a little. “Your heart’s really racing.”
“Isn’t it supposed to?” Jamie asked, smiling lazily.
Ryan looked into her eyes and nodded. “You look okay, but I want you to lie still for a few minutes, okay?”
“Can’t do it.” Jamie put her arms around Ryan and pulled her down for a hungry kiss. “I’ve gotta see a woman about an orgasm.”
Ryan drew back and patted Jamie’s cheek. “No can do. I hate to come and run and that’s what I’d have to do.”
Grinning, Jamie said, “I meant me. I kinda missed the last one. I need a few more.” She took Ryan’s hand and snuggled it between her legs. “Come on, it’ll just take a few minutes.”
“Unh-uh.” Ryan gave her a sexily defiant smile. “Gotta keep you hungry. You stay here and think sexy thoughts until I come home, ’cause you’ve got two or three minutes of work cut out for you when I get here.”
“Wish I were.” Ryan stood and stretched to get the kinks out of her back and legs. “But I can’t relax and enjoy myself when I know I’m gonna be late. And I have to make sure you’re unsatisfied. Purely selfish motives,” she admitted happily.
Jamie dramatically draped an arm across her forehead. “You’re the spawn of the devil!”
“Can’t help it.” Ryan shrugged and took off for the stairs.
A few minutes later Jamie heard the shower running and she grinned impishly, knowing that her charms hadn’t been lost on her partner since she needed to shower before going to get dirty.
Too enervated to get up, Jamie lay on the sofa for quite a while after Ryan left, idly thinking of what she wanted to do to her partner the second she came in the door. She was still very turned on, but she didn’t give in to the fleeting desire to touch herself. It was more fun to simmer—something Ryan had never been able to understand.
Finally, she got to her feet, collected her discarded clothing and went upstairs to shower. She knew that Ryan wouldn’t care one way or the other, but she had a thing about being clean when they made love. Every once in a while she’d shower in the middle of an extended lovemaking session—much to Ryan’s bemusement. She chalked it up to one more instance of Ryan’s liking nearly every earthy, natural sensation and aroma, while she thought just about everything smelled and tasted better after a good scrubbing. She did have to admit that she loved to smell Ryan when she had worked up a good sweat, but it had to be fresh, and it helped if she was turned on at the time.
She was smiling at her own little idiosyncrasies when she reached her room. Going into the bath, something caught her eye in the mirror on her dresser. She turned around and craned her neck to see her butt, finding a clear impression of Ryan’s hand imprinted there. Stunned, she thought carefully about the preceding half hour and could not recall one slap. My God, I was so out of my head, I didn’t feel her swat me hard enough to leave a handprint! Good thing, or I would have swatted her right back! Getting into a slap fight would probably have ruined the mood!
Ryan bounded up the stairs a couple of hours later, playfully removing her clothes before she was all the way in the front door. “Almost ready,” she said, her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth while she hopped on one foot to get her shoe and sock off.
“Do you want your spanking now or later?” Jamie asked dryly, trying to look stern.
Ryan stopped, one foot held in both hands, wobbling a little bit. “Huh? What did I do?”
Standing up, Jamie turned and pulled her robe aside, then lowered her panties. She bent over and pointed to the still-visible handprint. “You slapped me!”
Dropping her foot, Ryan’s expression grew skeptical and she walked over to her partner. Caressing the soft, slightly warm flesh, she said, “I only do as I’m told, ma’am.”
Jamie quickly dropped her robe and stood up straight, staring at Ryan. “What?”
Ryan bent over and pulled her lover’s panties up, settling them just so on her hips, smiling a little bit while she worked. Still not looking at Jamie, she said, “You asked for it, you got it. You’ve gotta learn to control that cute little mouth.”
“You’re kidding.” It wasn’t a question.
Ryan finally made eye contact. “No, I’m not. You were squirming around like a trout on a hook. I felt like my ears were being boxed.” She smiled but Jamie didn’t join her. “Uhm…” she went on, a little more tentatively. “You kept begging for me to do it harder, but I wasn’t sure if you meant that you wanted me to lick you harder or play with your butt harder, so I used the scientific method and tested each alternative.”
“So you just slapped me?”
“No, of course not. I started playing a little harder, and you kept begging for more. I tapped you a couple of times and you yelled something like, ‘Make it hurt!’ so I did. I gave you a wallop and you came as soon as I did.” She shrugged, smiling hesitantly. “We were having sex. You don’t always think about what you want; you just want it.”
Jamie flopped down on the sofa. “I wanted you to hurt me.” Her tone was flat and she sounded disappointed with herself.
Ryan sat next to her, not touching. “That’s not really the best way to look at it. Your limbic brain gets involved and all bets are kinda off.”
Giving Ryan a fairly annoyed look, Jamie said, “I know that word but I don’t know what it is, other than a part of the brain.”
“Oh. Right. Uhm … well, if we’re talking about the triune brain …” She paused when she was met with a blank stare. “Okay.” As she always did when she talked about something that truly interested her, she started to use her hands. She made an ovoid shape and said, “There are three main parts of your brain: the reptilian, the limbic and the neocortex. The reptilian brain is down here.” She used her finger to draw on Jamie’s head, outlining a portion of her lower skull and neck. “That’s the part that keeps you breathing and doing all of the other involuntary stuff. The next part is the limbic brain; that’s what we share with other mammals. That’s the part that makes you want things that you can’t explain, or even like, when your neocortex gets involved.”
Jamie sighed loudly. “I know this stuff is second nature to you, but it doesn’t help me much. I just want to know why I asked you to do something I can’t remember and don’t particularly like. A nice, simple, non-scientific explanation would be ideal.”
Gesturing with her hands again, Ryan said, “Give me one more minute. It’ll help you if you get the differences in the parts of your brain. Really.” When Jamie didn’t respond, she continued. “Your limbic brain controls most of your emotions and your needs and your desires. When you’re turned on and reacting, rather than acting, your neocortex plays a much smaller role. And that’s the part that…for lack of a better word...thinks. That’s the part that gives us consciousness, and speech, and abstract thought. When you’re really turned on, you’re feeling much more than thinking. And sometimes you want a feeling or a sensation that you wouldn’t want if you were filling out a survey.” She put her hand on Jamie’s thigh. “Remember a week or so ago when I wanted to have an orgasm right after I’d had one? I had to use the big vibrator to come.”
“Yeah.” A small smile started to bloom. “I remember.”
“My limbic brain was demanding an orgasm, but my neocortex was involved too. That’s why I was able to think about how I’d feel and know it wasn’t wise. But that damned limbic brain wanted to come. It’s the same part of the brain that wants drugs even though the neocortex knows they’re not a good idea. Your limbic brain felt the sensations and liked the way I was playing with your ass. It wanted more. That’s nothing to be upset about. We’re all animals.”
Jamie was frowning, and blithely tossed out, “You’re more animal than I am.”
“Thanks.” Ryan pulled away and put her hand in her own lap.
Wincing, Jamie reached out and took her lover’s hand. “I didn’t mean that in a bad way. You’re just more comfortable accepting your body and your desires than I am. I like to be more in control. I don’t like asking for you to hit me and then not even recalling it! What if I’d asked you to poke me in the eye!”
“Well, since I wasn’t as turned on as you were, I might have said no.”
Jamie shot her a quick look and saw the deadpan expression on Ryan’s face. “You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t. I’m your lover, not your out-call. You can’t trust a trick to take care of you, but you can trust me. I’d never do anything to hurt you, and if you don’t know that, we’ve got a big problem.”
“I do, I do. I’m just…I hate to be out of control. Can’t you understand that?”
“I understand the words,” Ryan said, “but I love to be out of control. I’ve dedicated my life to turning off my neocortex as much as possible. Maybe you’re further along evolutionarily than I am, but I like to turn off my thoughts and feel as much as I possibly can. I love it when we get wild and my nipples are sore the next day.” Her voice grew lower and quieter and she slipped her arm around Jamie’s shoulders. “I like the way my clit throbs when you’ve sucked on it too hard or too long. And I love the ache I get in my cunt when I beg you to put just one more finger inside me.” She dipped her head and nibbled a clean, pink earlobe. “Sensation is such a turn on for me—the way you smell and taste and feel when I’m touching you. My mind is turned off and I’m just wallowing in sensation. I…can’t…get…enough.”
Jamie turned and smiled at her, then brought her hand up and caressed Ryan’s neck before pulling her forward. They kissed softly, just brushing their lips together. Jamie pressed a little harder and kissed her roughly, smiling when Ryan gasped. Pulling away, Jamie took a sniff around her lover’s mouth. “You smell like hot dogs.”
“I grabbed a couple of dogs on my way home. I hoped we wouldn’t have time to eat.”
“Come on.” Jamie took her by the hand and led her upstairs. “Let’s take a shower together.”
“You look pretty clean to me.”
“Not for long, if I’m lucky.”
“Oh, you’re lucky, all right,” Ryan said. “You’re gonna be so, so lucky.”
Rory entered the house at around eight o’clock that evening and was surprised to hear the mournful sounds of Conor’s mandolin coming from his bedroom. He was used to hearing his brother play, but it was odd for Conor to play in the middle of the evening, and even odder for him to play such sad music. Deciding not to intrude, Rory went into the kitchen to scrounge up some dinner for himself. He was pleased to find some meatloaf, probably leftovers from the firehouse.
He sat at the dining room table and ate, reading the paper while he did so. When he finished, he realized that Conor was still playing and that the mood of the pieces he was choosing was just as gloomy as it had been earlier. Sighing, he went into the kitchen and tidied up, then knocked on the door to Conor’s room.
Conor was sitting on his bed, playing his mandolin with his eyes closed. Rory assumed his brother would stop when he entered, but since that didn’t happen he had to make a decision about whether to stay or leave. Conor looked so down, Rory felt he’d better stay and ask what was up.
At the end of the piece, Conor let the instrument slide down his chest. “What?” he asked, looking at his brother with an annoyed glare.
Rory immediately regretted his decision to intrude. Conor was usually good-humored, but when he was in one of his black moods it was impossible to communicate with him. Still, he had to give it a try. “Wanna talk about what’s bugging you?”
The answer surprised Rory. Conor would usually not acknowledge that he was upset or angry, and the fact that he had gave Rory pause. “You sure? When I’m pissed-off, it helps me to complain to somebody else.”
Conor pursed his lips so hard they whitened at the corners of his mouth. To Rory’s amazement, he looked as though he might cry. “Every once in a while,” he said, spitting the words out, “I wish Da had been the one to go early. Everything would have been better—for all of us—if Mam was still here.”
Rory was too shocked to respond immediately, so he nodded slowly, taking a few moments to think of a way to answer. “You’re probably right,” he finally said. “Everything would have played out differently if Momma was here. But she woulda had a helluva time supporting us all. It woulda been tough, having her wait tables or something. She didn’t have any job skills.”
“She was the best mother in the world,” Conor said, his voice tight and a little high.
Rory wanted nothing more than to run upstairs. He’d only seen his older brother cry once or twice, and it wasn’t something he ever wanted to see again. “She was,” he said, trying not to tip Conor over the edge. “But you don’t get paid for mothering. It would have been hard on us not to have a father. It just sucks to lose a parent, I guess.”
“She wasn’t a judgmental prick,” Conor sneered. “She didn’t have her nose in your business all the time. And she wasn’t the queen of morals and ethics and all of that other shit.”
Rory began to feel like he was on solid ground again. Conor’s anger at their father was a subject he could understand and empathize with. “What’d he do?”
Conor was holding his mandolin by the neck and he slapped it forcefully against the bed, making Rory wince. He knew his brother could snap a sturdier piece of wood in half without much effort, and he knew Conor’d be furious with himself if he broke his mandolin. He got up and slid the instrument away from Conor while his brother began his rant in earnest. “He came over here and started ragging on me for letting Catherine buy me clothes and shoes.”
“She…buys you stuff?” Rory asked, dumbfounded.
“Yes,” Conor snapped. “Don’t you start with me or I’ll bloody your nose.”
Rory placed the mandolin on the desk and held up his hands. “Hey, I don’t care if she buys you a car. That’d be like me buying you a beer.” He smiled, trying to make light of the situation. “I just didn’t know.”
Clearly frustrated, Conor slid down the bed and rolled onto his stomach. He placed his hands under his chin and stared at the wall for a few seconds. “It started out with me doing her a favor,” he said quietly. “She hangs out with people who go to France for the weekend when they hear about a new restaurant opening.” He looked at Rory, his expression plaintive. “Know what I mean?”
“I don’t know people like that, but I know they’re different than us.”
“Really, really different,” Conor said. “Going to things with her has made me see how different they are. And one thing I know is that it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s all about how you look and how you act.”
“Really? I would have thought that you had to be one of them to matter.”
Conor made a face. “Well, you probably do, but Catherine kinda wanted me to tag along so the other women didn’t think she couldn’t get a date.”
“Oh,” Rory said, the situation becoming clear. “You fit in because the women think you’re Catherine’s young stud. I bet no guys talk to you, do they?”
“No,” Conor admitted. “I was supposed to look like I belonged by having the right clothes and looking good. But since we’ve been doing this, I’ve been having a really good time. The events suck, but Catherine’s a load of fun.”
“You didn’t tell Da that, did you?”
Conor nodded and flinched. “I said she was sexy.”
“Oh, fuck,” Rory groaned. He bent over, making a face. “You didn’t!”
“Yeah, I did.” Conor started to laugh and Rory joined him, both men releasing a load of tension. “He almost shoved me through the wall.”
“You’re lucky he didn’t knock your teeth out!”
“The old man’s not as old as he seems,” Conor admitted. “He broke the legs on one of the dining room chairs just by slamming it down.”
“Shit!” Rory’s green eyes were wide. “Good thing he didn’t hit you, Con. You can’t hit him back!”
“Don’t I know it! Thank God he used the chair, or my legs would be snapped in half. He took off after he broke the chair, but it’s not over.”
Rory shook his head solemnly. “It never is.”
“I guess I’ve gotta apologize and say I didn’t mean it, but I do!” He looked at his brother, his expression defiant.
“Hey, that’s your business. Catherine is sexy, and Da knows it. Maybe he’s thought the same thing and got mad because you said it.”
“Eh…he got mad because he said I couldn’t think that about a family member. Then I reminded him that Maeve was a family member, and that hadn’t stopped him from going after her.”
“You didn’t!” Rory’s eyes almost popped from his skull.
“I sure did. I woulda walked on hot coals to get those words back, but they were long gone.”
“You’re in deep, deep, deep,” Rory said, stating the obvious. “You can say what you want about Da, but you’re looking for trouble when you talk about Aunt Maeve.”
“I wasn’t!” Conor insisted. “I was talking about him! But he didn’t see it that way.”
“You’d better get over there tonight. You know he gets madder as time goes on.”
“I know,” Conor said glumly, “but I’m pissed off! He has no right to tell me I’m not allowed to take clothes from Catherine, and he can’t supervise my thoughts.”
“No, but he’s gonna try. You just have to nod and act like he’s right. Haven’t you learned that by now?”
“I can’t get along with everybody like you do. You lucked out and got Mam’s disposition.”
“Well, no matter what, you’d better go make it right with him. And, Conor, I know you didn’t ask for advice, but don’t try to get close to Catherine. No matter how cool she is, it won’t be worth it.”
“Says you,” Conor grumbled.
“Okay, then, how about this? If you want to take the risk, don’t tell anyone until you’re ready to get married. And I do mean no one! That’s the only way Da got away with it. If he’d told us the first time he was gonna ask Aunt Maeve out, we would have pummeled him!”
Later that night, Ryan was lying on her back, her legs spread wide, one knee bent. Jamie’s head rested on her thigh and she was gently stroking the tender skin at the apex of her leg. “Do you like the word cunt?”
“Huh?” Ryan’s voice was raspy and her throat was obviously dry.
“You used the word cunt earlier today. I can’t remember your using it before.”
“Umm, I don’t know if I have or not. I kinda got in the habit of using the proper terms for things.”
“When did you get in the habit?”
“I guess last year, when we used to talk about sex. I didn’t know you that well and I tend to use clinical terms when I’m talking about sex in the abstract.”
Jamie used her finger to trace all around Ryan’s vulva, asking idly, “What do you normally do?”
“When I’m having sex?”
“Depends on the person and the setting. When I think back, I guess I tended to let the other woman set the tone.”
“How come?” Jamie was intently grooming her partner, gathering a few damp hairs and curling them together.
“What are you doing?” Ryan lifted her head to try to see.
“Playing. Do you mind?”
“Nah. Just stay away from my clit.” She paused a second. “I say clit, don’t I?”
“Yeah. We both do. But we use the medical terms for everything else.”
“Clit is kind of a medical term too,” Ryan said. “I’m just usually in too much of a hurry to get ‘clitoris’ out.”
Jamie laughed. “That’s the truth. I’m surprised you have enough time to say ‘clit.’ You’re still my Quick-draw.”
“I told you not to let that get around,” Ryan said, laughing softly. She raised her head again. “Do I need a trim?”
“You’re being very intent down there. I thought I might need a trim.”
Blinking, Jamie said, “You trim? Down here?”
Looking rather indignant, Ryan said, “Of course I do.”
“Have you always?”
Giving her a goofy grin, Ryan said, “Not until I started having sex.”
“Really?” Now Jamie’s attention was even more intent. “I can’t tell,” she said as she trailed her finger carefully along the hair line.
“I’m not real furry. I just take a little off the top.”
Jamie looked up and met her eyes. “So, it’s just length?”
“Yeah. I took it down pretty low when we were first together. I thought the whole concept would be easier for you if you could see everything pretty clearly.”
Putting her head down, Jamie tenderly kissed the smooth skin at the apex of Ryan’s thigh. “You’re so thoughtful. It charms the heck out of me to hear how much planning you put into our being together.”
Reaching down, Ryan ruffled Jamie’s hair. “You were worth every moment. Giving myself a trim, stopping myself from using my normal vile and vulgar vocabulary…”
“You’re silly,” Jamie said, giving her a little pinch. “So, what words do you like?”
“Just about anything. If I was with someone who was really raunchy I could go there. Some things sound better to my ear, but nothing really offends me. Surprise,” she added, chuckling.
“I kinda like cunt,” Jamie said, “but only for sexy talk. Like today when you used it, it was hot. Made me tingle.”
“Cool. Any terms you don’t like?”
“You know me,” she said, pulling on a few hairs until Ryan slapped her hand away. “Dozens of ’em. But you’ve never used a term I dislike.” She scooted up until they were on the same plane.
Ryan rolled over and kissed her. “Pussy?”
Looking slightly ill at ease, Jamie said, “I’d have to be pretty worked up to use that, but you could use it and it wouldn’t bother me.”
Making a face, Jamie said, “Not good. I couldn’t get turned on enough to think that was sexy.”
“I was teasing. I don’t like that one either. I don’t know why, but it sounds vulgar.”
“Yeah, to me too. Do you know any Irish words?”
Ryan reached down and cupped her hand under Jamie’s breast. “Diddies.”
Moving her hand down, she patted Jamie’s vulva. “Box.”
“Eh, nothing good about that. And it doesn’t sound Irish. I hear that here.”
“If we were kissing and I snuck my hand inside your pants that’s ‘dropping the hand.’”
“Cute enough, but inapplicable. You can drop your hand anywhere you want.”
Ryan kissed her ear. “That’s not technically true, but I won’t argue.”
Jamie rose up on an elbow, about to protest, then Ryan’s meaning dawned on her. “Right. You can drop your hand on my diddies and my box.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’ll be a cold day in hell before you touch my…”
“One of many terms. But we don’t really need a word, since we’ll never have to refer to it.”
Jamie pulled her over and kissed her. “Such a brat.”
“I’m perfectly satisfied to play with your gee. You know I think you’ve got a lovely gowl. Nicest growler I’ve ever seen.”
“Let’s stick with vulva, okay? Or better yet, just point.”
Ryan chuckled. “Fine by me, my little bean flicker.”
Jamie rolled her eyes. “Bean flicker?”
“Lesbian.” Ryan pointed her tongue and wiggled it up and down. “Flick your bean.”
“Yes, you may, now that you mention it.” She was giggling when she put her hands on Ryan’s shoulders and tried to push her down the bed. “Go play with my growler or I might bite. I’m still throbbing from this afternoon.”
“Oh, I’ll play with all of your available parts. But don’t direct me; you know I like to drive.”
Jamie released her grip and lay back. She put her arms out and spread her legs apart. “All yours, honey. Feel free to render my neo-whatever completely useless.”
Conor sat in his room, trying to convince himself to visit his father. He knew that Rory was right and that Martin would only get angrier with time. Still, he hated to grovel, and he knew he’d have to kiss his father’s ring to get back into his good graces. It was almost 9:00 and he knew his father and Maeve went to bed fairly early, so he got up and started to trudge over to the house. For no reason in particular he decided to take Duffy, figuring he and the dog could go for a walk to drain off some tension if things didn’t go well.
After a perfunctory knock he entered the house, calling out, “Anybody home?”
“We’re in the kitchen,” Maeve responded. “Come on back, dear.”
“It’s dear and dog,” Conor said. Duffy ran ahead and said hello to Martin and Maeve in his usual enthusiastic fashion. When Conor entered the kitchen, Maeve was leaning over rubbing Duffy’s head and Martin was standing at the sink, a dark glower on his face.
“What a nice surprise,” Maeve said. “How about a slice of cherry pie?”
“I’m…pretty full. I thought I’d go for a walk. Wanna go with me, Da?”
Maeve looked a little puzzled, and she gave Martin a quick glance. His expression was a little less malevolent, but it was clear he was unhappy.
“I’m not sure I’m in the mood,” Martin said. His voice was low and quiet, and before Conor could blink, Maeve was leaving the room. She didn’t say a word as she left, and neither man commented on her departure, but Duffy dutifully followed her.
Conor sat down on a chair and studied the table for a moment. The room was so quiet he could hear the clock ticking. When he spoke, his voice sounded loud. “I came to apologize.”
“For what?” Martin asked. He remained at the sink, but he was no longer washing dishes. His sleeves were rolled up and his arms crossed over his chest, his expression blank.
“For what I said this afternoon. For…everything,” he added, trying to cover all bases.
“And what about Catherine?”
The question hung in the air for a few moments, then Conor cleared his throat and said, “That’s my business, Da. I’m really sorry for what I said about you and Aunt Maeve. I’m really glad you two fell in love, and it’s been good for all of us. I just hope you know that I love the family as much as you do. I wouldn’t do anything to screw things up.”
Martin pushed away from the sink and moved to the table where he pulled out a chair and sat. Leaning over, he looked carefully at Conor. “You don’t always know what’s ahead of you, son. You also don’t know what’s going on in Catherine’s head. If you have a lick of sense, you’ll stop accepting her gifts and her invitations.”
Conor looked back at his father, gazing into his eyes until he began to feel uncomfortable. “I do have sense. And I am an adult. I need to make my own decisions, but I’m happy to listen to you, Da. Advice is one thing, though. Being told what to do isn’t gonna work.”
Clapping his hands together, Martin stood. “Fine. You know what my advice is. And whether you believe this or not, Maeve and I would have cut it off if we were sure you children didn’t approve.” His eyes filled with tears. “It would have broken my heart in two,” Martin said. “But nothing is more important to me than the happiness and safety of my family.”
Conor pushed his chair back and stood up. He wrapped his father in a hug, both men slapping each other loudly on the back. Pulling back he said, “I know that, Da. I promise I feel the same. But there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing. I’m helping Catherine out and enjoying her company. Nothing to worry about.”
Martin grasped his son’s shoulders and looked into his eyes. “I hope that’s true, boy. I truly do.”
The next morning, Maeve let herself into the children’s house to deliver a basket of muffins she’d made. It was early, but someone was up since she could hear the upstairs shower running. She placed them on the dining table so they’d notice them, and when she started for the door she saw one of the chairs leaning against the wall. Investigating closer, she saw that two of the legs had been shattered. She didn’t know a lot about carpentry, but she knew the chair had been destroyed by force, not use. Briefly, she wondered if the boys had been fighting, but then she recalled the look on Martin’s face when Conor had visited and added the fact that Martin had been completely silent about the reason for Conor’s visit.
Maeve tried to dismiss the entire incident, but found herself unable to. Whoever had fractured the chair had been very angry as well as fearsomely strong. A chill came over her, along with images of Charlie’s face just before he would slap her or one of the children. She wished she could wipe the images from her mind, but they were embedded. In her heart she knew that Martin was nothing like Charlie, but seeing the broken chair took her back to those awful times and she wished she’d not visited the house at all.
Instead of heading home, she decided to go to St. Philip’s for the early Mass. A little prayerful reflection always made her feel more centered, and this was shaping up to be a day that begged for calm.
Continued in Part Three
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