I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 16: Paradigm
By: Susan X Meagher
Jamie was walking across campus, the mid-afternoon sun feeling good on her skin. It was warm for May, and dozens of students were lying on the broad expanses of grass that dotted the campus. She was on University Drive, and as she passed Evans Hall, the math building, she glanced over and recognized the unmistakable figure of her partner. Ryan was on the west side of the building, below the open plaza that was filled with students. If Ryan had been alone, Jamie would have thought it odd that she was leaning against the building in a relatively private spot. But given that she was talking to an attractive woman, tendrils of an emotion Jamie hated to recognize—jealousy—seemed to reach out and envelop her heart. She stopped in her tracks, causing the man behind her to bump into her. He mumbled an insincere “sorry” and she moved off the street, trying to decide whether or not to approach Ryan.
Ryan looked interested, animated, but Jamie was relieved to see that her “predator” look was absent. As she studied her, she had to admit that the predator look wasn’t entirely absent, but it was just a glimmer of what it used to be. Nonetheless, seeing even a shred of it made her stomach hurt.
Jamie had never seen the woman Ryan was talking to; she was pretty sure she’d remember her if she had. She was tall, but not nearly as tall as Ryan, with wavy blonde hair that just reached the nape of her neck. The sun was shining on the pair, and the woman’s hair seemed like it was a dozen different shades, ranging from gold to a light brown. It was the kind of blonde that had to be natural, and her gentle curls seemed completely authentic, too. Jamie was beginning to assess her clothing when she caught herself and tried to stop. But it was hard, very hard to ignore the fact that her lover was standing in an isolated spot with a very pretty woman who Jamie didn’t know.
Since she was standing by the side of the street with no apparent purpose, Jamie decided she’d better say hello or go home. She wasn’t sure why, but she chose to go home, turning around and going the wrong direction so she didn’t have to pass close by Ryan.
Nearly an hour later, Ryan came bounding up the stairs to the house, not noticing Jamie sitting in a chair on the porch. “Running late?” Jamie asked, making Ryan squeal and drop her books.
“Christ!” She put her hand on her heart and took a big breath. “You scared the crap out of me!”
“Just saying hi.”
Ryan walked over and dropped a kiss on her partner’s head. “Nice day, huh?”
“Great. Are you running late?”
“Yeah. Very. Some kid stopped me when I was leaving your hall.”
As always, Jamie smiled when Ryan referred to the math building as hers. They both knew that Jim Evans was the first Evans with any significant money, and that he gave his university donations only to Stanford. Nonetheless, Ryan was unremitting in her belief that Evans Hall was Jamie’s.
“A kid?” Jamie asked, trying to sound mildly interested.
“Yeah.” Ryan picked up her books and opened the door. “Somebody who wanted to talk to me about the Putnam.”
“Oh. I guess you’re the person to see if a woman wants to take the test.”
Ryan cocked her head. “I didn’t say it was a woman.”
Trying hard to keep the color from her cheeks, Jamie said, “I just assumed it was. I mean, if I was a woman and I wanted to take the test, you’re the one I’d ask about it. Since you got the highest score…of all of the women…you know.”
“Yeah, I guess I did,” Ryan said, smiling inscrutably. “Gotta get ready.”
Jamie waved, affixing the most natural smile she could. “I’ll be here.”
When Ryan entered the house, Jamie’s head dropped back to hit the chair. “Smooth. Very smooth. Maybe I should join the C.I.A.”
At dinner that night, Jamie once again tried to draw her partner out. “What kind of advice did the person you talked to this afternoon want about the Putnam?”
“The person,” Ryan said, emphasizing the word with a sly grin, “wanted some advice on what kinds of things to study, how early to start, how much time to spend on it. Just the usual.”
“What did you tell him or her?”
Ryan carefully pulled a slice of yellow pepper from her salad and nibbled on it delicately while she thought, looking a little like a rabbit. “Are you really interested?”
“Sure. Of course.”
“Mmm…I said that a person could devote years to boning up on all of the areas they test, but that I didn’t think that was wise. I recommended a few basic books that give a good overview of all of the disciplines and said they’d be a good place to start.” She pulled out a green bean and ate it just as she had the pepper. “I wanted to make it clear that the Putnam isn’t all that important in the scheme of things. It’s silly to let your coursework slip to work on it.” She shrugged her shoulders. “If you’re lucky, you do well. If not, no big deal.”
“Easy for you to say,” Jamie said, her nose wrinkling when she smiled. “You’re a very lucky woman.”
Ryan’s eyes met Jamie’s and she smiled lovingly. “True. I met you and that’s the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Taking Ryan’s hand, Jamie kissed the back of it, then noticed a scratch across her knuckles. She kissed along the scratch, saying, “Bad owie.”
Ryan took a look. “I didn’t notice. Must have happened at practice.”
“So…” Jamie said, once again trying to lead Ryan, “will you help this person study for the test?”
Sitting up and giving Jamie a very puzzled look, Ryan said, “I won’t be on campus next year. I don’t have any plans to tutor people.”
“I just thought you might have made plans.”
Ryan focused on her salad again, and Jamie had to admit defeat. She ate listlessly, frustrated by her inability to pull any information from Ryan and wondering if her lover was intentionally hiding something. When Ryan was finished with her salad, she got up and put her dish in the sink, then took the quiche Jamie had made from the oven. After filling their dishes, she delivered them to the table. “Looks great.”
Loading her fork, Ryan blew on it to cool it down. Not looking at Jamie, she said, “Her name is Chloe, and she’s a sophomore. I’ve never met her before, but Robin Berkowitz is her advisor and she told her to look me up. She’s an applied math major, and her focus is computer science.” She popped the bite of quiche into her mouth and nodded. “Good.” Chewing, she added, “Other than the fact that she’s damned good-looking, I didn’t learn anything else about her.” She focused her gaze on Jamie and smiled. “Okay?”
Glowering, Jamie said, “If you knew I wanted information, you could have just told me.”
Still smiling, Ryan said, “When you see me on campus, you should just come say hello. There’s no one in that whole place I’d rather talk to than you. And, just for the record, I guarantee that I’d be more discreet if I were going to cheat on you.”
Jamie stabbed at her entrée. “I don’t know whether to be embarrassed or angry.”
“If you have a choice, I’d go with embarrassed, ’cause I didn’t do one thing wrong.”
“You played with me!” Jamie’s eyes were filled with fire.
“You played with me! When I told you I was talking to someone, you could have said you’d seen me. But you didn’t.” Ryan lowered her voice and reached for her lover’s hand, stroking her thumb across the back of it. “Why do you assume I have something to hide?”
“I don’t,” Jamie said, nearly whining.
“Yes, you do. If you didn’t, you would have waved or stopped and said ‘hi’, or mentioned it when I brought it up. You were worried, Jamie, and the fact that you go there worries me.”
Shaking her head in a gesture of pure frustration, Jamie said, “I talk about this all of the time in therapy. I swear I’m trying to get over it.”
Ryan pushed her chair away from the table and patted her lap invitingly. Smiling a little, Jamie got up and sat on her lap, draping her arm around Ryan’s neck. “If you’re aware of it and trying to overcome it, that’s all I ask,” Ryan said. “It hurts to have you doubt me, but I can be patient.”
“I swear I’m trying.” She rested her cheek against Ryan’s, sighing deeply. “Since I’m trying to stop being suspicious, will you stop playing with me when I do it? It makes me feel stupid.”
“Yeah,” Ryan whispered. “I’ll try. I guess I am trying to make you feel stupid, and that’s wrong of me. But you hurt me and I try to get you back. Not very mature.”
“No, it’s not. But at least you’re honest.” She bumped against her, a very soft laugh bubbling up.
“We have to be honest to have a good marriage. We have to.”
“I know. I really do know how important it is.” Jamie kissed her cheek and got up, then sat in her own chair. “I wasn’t like this with Jack. But once I found out about both of my parents’ cheating…”
“I’m sure that makes it hard to trust.”
Finally taking a bite of her dinner, Jamie nodded at the quality of her quiche and said, “They’re the people I trust—or trusted—the most in my life. And they were both lying about something really important.”
“True. But they weren’t lying to you.”
Giving her an irritated look, Jamie said, “Yes, they were. They were trying to maintain this image of a good marriage when they were tearing each other apart. The whole thing was a lie.”
Ryan nodded, realizing they could easily get bogged down in semantics. “The important thing is that you know why you’ve become distrustful, and you’re trying to change. That’s a big deal.”
“It is. And it’s a lot harder than it looks.”
“I’ve had some tough things in my life, but I’ve never had to doubt either of my parents. I’m sure I’d see the world differently if I had. So I’m really trying to be patient, Jamers. But sometimes…”
“You get hurt.”
“Yeah. I get hurt and I react. Usually by trying to make you look dumb. I’m not proud of that.”
“Well, like I said, you’re honest about it. I know you’ll try to stop.”
“I promise,” Ryan said, looking into her eyes.
“I do, too. Now, can we eat before this is ice cold?”
“Yep. I put the rest back into the oven. Let me get you a hot piece.”
Jamie held up her plate. “Normally, I’d tell you not to bother, but you did start this right when I was about to take a bite.”
Ryan got up and kissed her head. “You make a good point. I was a bad girl and my timing sucked.”
After dinner, Jamie could not summon the fortitude to study, so she engaged in one of her guilty little pleasures and called Mia. She was pleased when her friend answered on the first ring. “Were you sitting on the phone?”
“Nah. This place is so small that I just have to lean one way or the other to reach everything. What’s goin’ on, girlfriend?”
“Not much. I should be studying, so I’m resisting the imminent boredom by calling you. Is this a good time?”
“Sure. Any time’s a good time. I’m watching TV and Jordy is acting like she’s awake.”
Jamie could hear Jordan mutter, “I’m awake.”
“My woman’s upstairs studying. But I’m nowhere near the gunner she is. I’ve really been slacking off. I order carryouts more often than I cook. I’m turning into a real slug.”
“Better watch out. Cal’s full of gorgeous, rich, smart, available lesbians who want to cook a little somethin’ somethin’ for Ryan.”
“Ugh! Don’t remind me!”
“Hey, I was kidding. You’re one of a kind.”
“Eh, I don’t know about that. But Ryan caught me trying to squeeze info out of her earlier today. I saw her chatting some woman up and didn’t have the sense to just tell her I saw her.”
“Damn, James, will you never learn?” Mia laughed heartily. “Ryan’s got that damned big brain and she has it on all the time! You can’t fuck with her!”
Joining in the laugh, Jamie said, “I must think I’m a genius or something, ’cause I keep trying. But since I never, ever succeed, I’m obviously not. A smart woman would learn from her mistakes.”
“So, tell. Who was the chick?”
“You’ve gotta let me set it up,” Jamie said. “Then you’ll understand why I tried to trick her.”
“Go for it.”
“You know Evans Hall?”
“No. I mean, I know it’s tall and I know where it is, but I don’t know it inside and out.”
“But you know how it sits? With that big, blank wall in the back?”
“Kinda. You know I don’t pay attention to things that don’t affect me.”
“Well, there’s a big, wide kinda plaza in the front of the building where people hang out. It’s about, I don’t know, fifteen or twenty feet off the ground. Under that plaza thing is this bare wall. There’s no path or anything close to it, and there are some trees around there, so it’s not a good place to sit in the sun or anything.”
“Right,” Mia said, obviously recalling the building. “It’s boring looking.”
“Yeah, it is, but it’s also a good place to talk to someone in private.”
“But it’s not hidden, is it?”
“No, I guess not. If you’re walking down Uni Drive you see it—if you’re looking. But,” she added mysteriously, “you never are!”
“And this is where Ryan was?”
“Yep. Hiding in plain sight.”
“But you saw her,” Mia said slowly. “So it wasn’t a very good hiding place. Now if you want hiding places—”
Jamie cut her off. “I don’t want ’em. And we found a few of our own before I came out to you.”
“Well, look at you! Good work, girlfriend.”
“Thank you. Of course, Ryan found them all, so I can’t really take credit.”
“What was Ryan doing? Was she doing that thing she used to do where she’d put her hands on either side of the victim’s shoulders? That was a great one,” she said with obvious admiration. “If I was taller, that would have been a great one to steal.”
“You saw her doing that?”
“Sure. We worked out together at the gym, you know. And, if I’m gonna be totally honest, I used to look for her around campus. Seeing her used to perk up my whole day.”
“You were watching my sweetheart?”
“Sure. I was with Jason then, and we clearly weren’t monogamous. If I had a chance, I woulda pounced on her.”
“Damn! You’ve never told me that.” She paused for a minute. “I bet you’ve never told Jordan that, either. She’s gonna hear you.”
“I’m not stupid,” Mia said. “I got out of bed and came into the living room. She’s sound asleep.”
“Then tell me more about this Ryan thing. Why didn’t you hook up?”
“I never had a chance. I never got a vibe from her. None! And I’ll admit that I was a little insulted.”
“Huh. No vibes at all?”
“Zip. And I was open to ’em. I must not be her type.”
“You’re exactly her type,” Jamie said ruefully. “I’ll have to ask her. Maybe it’s because she knew you had a boyfriend.”
“Doubtful. She went out with a girl I knew who was engaged.”
Jamie was silent for a moment, once again trying and only partially succeeding in keeping from judging Ryan on her past behavior.
“Uhm, is it cool that I said that? I know you hate that she did shit like that.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know she didn’t have a problem with dating women in relationships.”
“You know I agree with her. We’ve talked about this, bud.”
“I know, I know. It’s a sore spot between us, and I’m beginning to think we’ll never resolve it.”
“Come on, buddy. You’ve gotta loosen up.”
“I know that. It’s not fair of me to even think about Ryan’s past.”
“Or mine,” Mia said quietly. “I fooled around with anyone I liked. It didn’t matter to me what was going on in their lives. Ryan and I must fall in the same category in your book.”
“Oh, baby, I don’t think less of you or of Ryan. It’s just hard for me. Learning about my father changed so much for me. It’s given me a jaded view of so many things. Think about how you’d feel if you found out that your mom had been screwing every delivery boy who came to your house for the last twenty years. Wouldn’t it freak you out a little?”
Mia sighed. “Yeah, of course it would. Especially if my dad didn’t know.”
“I know it’s none of my business, especially since all of this happened before Ryan and I were together, but it makes me question her fidelity to me. If she didn’t respect other relationships, how do I know she’ll respect ours?”
“Babe, if you’re really questioning that, you’d better talk about it. A lot. I couldn’t be with Jordan if I thought she doubted me.”
“She doesn’t? Ever?”
“Never,” Mia said emphatically. “She doesn’t ask about my past and I don’t volunteer. For all she knows, I had one boyfriend.” She laughed softly. “Well, that’s not true. When we were first together, I told her about Mark and Melissa. So she knows I was tag-teaming a guy and a girl when I was in high school. Oh. And she asked about Conor. But we had a fight about that, and since then, she doesn’t show the slightest interest in my prior relationships. I’m not sure if it’s lack of interest or fear, but either way it’s good.”
“I made the mistake of asking a billion questions,” Jamie admitted. “I wish I would have kept my big mouth shut, or that Ryan would have told me it was none of my business.”
“She’s not the type. She’s one of those sickeningly forthright people. Unluckily for you.”
“She’s my sweetheart and I love that she’s so forthright. I’ve just got to learn how to get past this. We can’t erase the past, and I can’t make her feel guilty about something.”
“But you can’t change how you feel. And you shouldn’t,” Mia said. “You have morals you shouldn’t feel bad about.”
“I don’t feel bad for having morals. But they’re mine. I can either find someone whose match mine exactly, or I can learn that having a different view isn’t horrible. That’s what I’ve gotta work on.”
“That makes sense. Good luck with that,” Mia said, chuckling.
“Are you implying I’m inflexible?”
“No, I’m not implying it. I’m stating it.” Mia giggled. “But you’ve loosened up a lot in the last year. You can let go of this if you try.”
“I’m trying. Now, do you want to hear about the woman Ryan was talking with?”
“Depends. Was she hot?”
“She was cute, but not hot, if you know what I mean.”
“All Ryan will give me is that her name’s Chloe and that she’s a sophomore math major. She’s got great hair, though. Really great.”
“Why was Ryan talking to her?”
“She said that Chloe wanted some advice on how to study for that big math test Ryan took.”
“Sounds pretty harmless―a math major asking for some advice from the woman who just kicked ass in the test. She might actually be telling the truth, James.”
“I believe her, Mia. It’s just that when I first saw them, I froze, and I let all sorts of things get into my head. Then I tried to trick her into telling me about the girl. She caught me in two seconds.”
“You’ve gotta quit trying that shit. She’s like a fox.”
“I know, I know. I’ve also gotta start trusting her.”
“Right. Do that. Now on to the next topic. Have you gotten your stuff on graduation yet? I just got mine and I wanna see if we graduate anytime near each other.”
“Yeah, I got mine. English is at The Greek on May the fifteenth.
“Mmm…” Jamie looked around the room and spotted Ryan’s organizer. “Let me look in Ryan’s book. I’m sure she’s already neatly entered all of the information on the proper day. Hold on.” She dashed over to the table and picked up the heavy book, then carried it back to where she had been sitting. “I can’t believe she carries this huge thing around, but she’s always writing in it, so I guess she needs it with her.”
She opened the book and ran her finger down the plastic ruler that Ryan used to mark the current day. Just to check, she looked at the page and saw that it rested on May the third, the current date. There was an entry in Ryan’s bold hand stating, “Call Chloe,” and the number. The name was underlined four times and bore an exclamation point as well.
“Oh, fuck,” Jamie muttered.
“I just looked in her book and she has a big entry to call that woman. Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
“James! We just went over this.”
“I know! If I ask her now she’ll know I was snooping.”
“I meant that you have to trust her, doofus, not that you should figure out why she’s gonna call the woman. Damn, James, this really is a big deal for you. You were never like this with Jack, and he could have been up to all sorts of shit down in Palo Alto.”
Jamie’s answer was immediate and unequivocal. “I didn’t feel like this about Jack.”
“I guess that’s the good and bad news for Ryan. You don’t trust her because you’re really in love with her.”
“I do trust her, dammit. I just….”
“Want to know who she talks to, calls, and thinks about. That’s a little more like stalking than trust.”
Annoyed, Jamie said, “I know I’ve got work to do. You don’t have to remind me.”
“Fine. How about this? Does she mind if you look at her stuff?”
“No. Well, I don’t think so. I don’t do it often, but she leaves her book out, so it must not be something she wants kept private. Besides, she’s asked me to check things in there before.”
“This might be too radical, but you could do something wild and tell her the truth. The whole truth.”
“Mmm, I think I’d better talk to Anna first. She’ll tell me the same thing, but I’m paying her to do it.”
“I’m in trouble when I say the same thing a therapist says. I’ve gotta put a stop to that right now.”
“Well, she might also tell me to stop snooping and keep my suspicions to myself. I’m not sure.”
“Let me know, so I never repeat a professional opinion.”
“Will do. Aside from listening to me whine, whatcha been up to?”
“Just working on my senior thesis.”
“You have a senior thesis? Really?”
“Yeah. American Studies is a real major. Do you think I’m in the trade school section?”
“No, of course not. But you’ve never mentioned one. I thought you might be in one of the majors where you could opt out.”
“Unh-uh. Wish I was.”
“But don’t you have to take a thesis seminar? Won’t they know you’re not there?”
“I took it last term. Now I just have to write the paper.”
“You haven’t started?!?”
“Of course I have. I had to do a lot during my seminar. It’s all organized and stuff, it’s just the writing I have to do.”
“All of it?”
“Yep. And it’s due next week. Guess I’d better get busy, huh?”
“Fuck, Mia,” Jamie whispered. “Is that even possible?”
“We’ll see. Wish me luck, huh?”
“What’s your topic?”
“The title is ‘Fly-Girl Feminists.’”
“Huh? What in the hell—”
“It’s about hip-hop and rap, and about how women who are politically sensitive can love the music even though some of the lyrics are way beyond sexist.”
Jamie sounded more than a little skeptical. “You can do that for a topic?”
“You know,” Mia said slowly, “you’re really dissin’ me today. Just because I don’t spend my library time in the dusty section, doesn’t mean that my topic’s bullshit. I’m in American Studies, babe. And rap and hip-hop are very important American creations.”
“Damn, Mia, I’m sorry. I don’t want you to think that I’m belittling you. I’m really not. It just surprised me that you could do something so…current. I guess I do really have a Nineteenth Century perspective.”
“Eh, that’s okay. I’m just kinda sensitive about the whole thing. My mom was giving me a hard time about it the other day, acting like she’d thrown away her money on my degree.”
“That’s not fair.”
“When are parents fair?” Mia asked, chuckling. “She has a weird view about school. When she was young, she took classes in Stanford’s extension program, and she only took things like philosophy and literature and history. All the boring stuff. She thinks that’s what college is for.”
“Kinda old school,” Jamie said.
“Literally. But I’m not interested in that stuff. I am interested in hip-hop, and I think I can do a good thesis. I’d better, ’cause I really wanna graduate with you guys.”
“Oh. Let me check Ryan’s book. I assume I won’t find anything worse than I already have.” She thumbed through the pages. “Here it is. Math is on May seventeenth at 3:00 and MCB is on the nineteenth at 7:00. Same day as yours. Oh, shit!”
“What? Now what did you find?”
“Nothing bad. But she has to be in Fresno if the softball team makes the NCAAs, which I’m sure they will. She won’t get to go to her own graduation.”
“Damn, Mia. She can’t miss yours and hers.”
“Can she make the math one?”
“Yeah. But that doesn’t help.”
“I know. But I guess you’ll have to satisfy yourself looking at how cute she is in her little group of nerds just once. And that’s only if her gown’s long enough. Nothing looks worse than a short gown.”
“Good point. I’ll have to investigate. I can’t have my baby looking like she’s wearing hand-me-downs.”
“Will you go order mine? We’ll wear the same size.”
“Sure. I was gonna go this week. But maybe you should send Hannan,” she said, laughing.
“Nah. I’d have to pay her. You’re cheap.”
“One of my best features. Hey, do you want a stole?”
“A stole.” There was a few seconds of silence, then Mia said, “Is that the sash thing?”
“Yeah. It’s gold satin. Goes around your neck and hangs down. It just dresses up your gown a little bit.”
“Sure. I’ll take one.”
“Want it embroidered with anything? You could have a club or a sorority, but you’re not in anything like that. You can also have the year put on it.”
“Whatever. Think they’ll let me put ‘Jordan Ericsson Fan Club’ on it?”
“Doubtful, but I’ll ask. Now I’m gonna go figure out a way to let Ryan be in two places at once. I’m a busy girl.”
“Get on it, girl. It’s a big job. And Jamie, forget about her calling that chick. I’m sure it’s just to give her some info about the test.”
“I know. If she was cheating, she’d never let me catch her. She’s so friggin’ wily.”
“Good news and bad,” Mia said. “But she’s worth the trouble and you know it.”
“All true. Give my love to Jordan, and keep a big hunk for yourself.”
“Same to you and Ryan. Call me soon.”
“I will, hon. Love you.”
After she hung up, Jamie stayed in the downstairs library. She could have easily studied in her bedroom, but with Ryan right next door she’d found that she continually peeked into her room to tell her something or ask a question. Ryan was always patient and acted like she was happy to be interrupted, but Jamie knew it wasn’t optimal studying conditions for her intense partner.
Even in another room, Jamie had a hard time keeping her mind on real estate financing. Her eyes kept darting to the phone, checking to see if Ryan picked up the extension in her room. It took hours, but finally, at 9 o’clock, Jamie saw the green light flicker. She waited for a few minutes, partly to try to compose her expression. Then she went upstairs and turned on her computer. She made more noise than usual, just so Ryan would know she was upstairs. Then she opened the door to Ryan’s room, saying, “Honey? Did you—” Seeing Ryan lying on the bed, talking into the receiver, she put her hand over her mouth and pointed to the phone, whispering, “Sorry.”
Ryan waved her off and patted the bed, inviting Jamie to join her. Surprised, she did, snuggling next to her lover’s warm body. Ryan was clearly speaking about math classes, saying, “I probably made a mistake by making geometry and logic my semi-electives. I should have taken more computing. 128A would have helped me more than 130. I mean, classical geometries interested me, but I should have paid more attention to things I might need in the future. I know that over the long-term, computing will be more important than geometry. But that’s what happens when you don’t plan for the future.”
Chloe spoke for a minute, then Ryan offered her opinion on a professor. “I’d choose Wu. She’s kinda hard to understand, but once you get used to her speech pattern, you won’t have a problem. Actually, I’d take her and try to make myself known. I’d be surprised if she doesn’t wind up with a Nobel for the work she’s doing on fast algorithms. She’s really on to something, and it’s gonna change things big time if she’s right. Having someone like her write a recommendation for you would really get you noticed. If you go to grad school, that is. I assume you’re planning on it.”
Jamie felt so comfortable lying against her lover that she was nearly asleep. Her anxieties were gone, and she felt so good about Ryan inviting her into the room that she was calm and peaceful.
Ryan said, “Thanks. But I’m skating this term. The only exam I have is in French.” She laughed softly. “No, and I wouldn’t take it at all if I didn’t have to.” She paused. “For grad school.” Another pause. “For the language requirement.” Jamie was jerked awake when Ryan sat up like a shot. “What do you mean? Why not?” Her voice was rising, and she nearly shouted, “Are you sure? Really sure?” Then she fell back onto the bed. “Fuck me. Fuck. Me.”
Jamie looked at her partner with wide eyes, but Ryan’s pique didn’t last long. Now she started to laugh, and kept going until tears were running down her cheeks. Jamie wasn’t sure what was funny, but she had to laugh as well. Watching Ryan laugh was so contagious that she couldn’t help herself, even without having the slightest idea of why she was laughing.
Ryan got control of herself and said, “I don’t know why I’m laughing. French has been kicking my ass! I’d rather take Diophantine approximation with al Naqshband at 7 a.m. than elementary French!”
She laughed again. “Yeah, French is easier to understand than English when al Naqshband is talking. I don’t know where he’s from, but he obviously didn’t take English when he was young.” Another chuckle. “Yeah, I guess it’s possible he never took it.” She looked at Jamie and rolled her eyes, mouthing, “I’m stupid.”
Jamie put her hand on her thigh, patting her gently.
“I’ve gotta go. I have to bang my head against the wall for a while, then study some more French verbs. Damn me and my laziness.” She laughed again and said, “Sure. I don’t mind. When I transferred in, I didn’t know anyone who’d taken upper division courses at Cal. I woulda loved to have someone to bounce ideas off.”
Ryan nodded and said, “Any time. You’ve got my number. See you around.” Then she hung up. Before Jamie could ask a question, Ryan jumped up and went to the wall, then softly banged her head against it. “I’m the stupidest, laziest woman in the Western Hemisphere.”
“What in the hell are you talking about?”
Ryan turned and looked at her. “There’s no language requirement for grad school in the sciences or math. I. Didn’t. Have. To. Take. French.”
“Oh, honey,” Jamie said, trying unsuccessfully not to laugh. “You poor thing.”
“I don’t know why I didn’t check!” Ryan put her hands to her head and acted like she was going to rip out handfuls of hair. “You told me you had to know a foreign language in grad school, and I just assumed I’d have to.”
“I…I guess I thought you might need another language to read scientific journals. Isn’t French important in science?”
“Yeah, it is. But there’s no requirement. At least that’s what Chloe says.”
“Oh,” Jamie said, trying to sound surprised. “Is that who you were talking to?”
“Yeah.” Ryan went to her computer and pulled up the site for the graduate program in biology at Berkeley. “It doesn’t say one feckin’ thing about a foreign language.” She turned in her chair and gave Jamie a blank look. “Is it too late to drop?”
“Ryan, don’t be like that. You’ll do just fine and you know it.”
Eyes wide, Ryan shook her head. “No, I don’t know it. I’m sure I’ll pass, but…” She trailed off, looking disgusted. “There were lots of fun courses I could have taken.” She looked thoroughly dejected. “I really wanted to take this seminar on RNA-controlled gene expression, but I knew it would be a lot of work and I didn’t think I could do it with my independent project and French.”
“My poor girl,” Jamie soothed, getting off the bed and standing next to Ryan. She took her lover’s head and nuzzled it against herself, threading her fingers through Ryan’s hair. “You didn’t get to take a nice, fun course like RNA-something-I-don’t-understand.” She laughed, making Ryan’s head bounce.
“Don’t make fun of me. I’m really disappointed.”
“I’m not making fun of you. I understand how much enjoyment you get out of learning things.”
“Things I’m interested in,” Ryan corrected. “I’m not interested in French. It’s fine with me if I never use one of the words I’ve temporarily forced into my medium-term memory. I’m gonna be like Mia and do a core-dump when I walk out of that final.”
“I wish I looked like you so I could take the test for you,” Jamie said. “I could be your Hannan.”
Ryan’s head tilted up and she grinned. “You’d have to use stilts, too.”
“I’d do it for you.” Jamie leaned down and kissed Ryan’s head. “I’d do anything for you.”
“Then why didn’t you check to see that I didn’t need to take a stinkin’ language? That woulda been helpful!”
An hour later, they lay in bed, with Jamie trying to stay awake while Ryan finished an article she was reading. It was early, not even 10:30, but Jamie was fading fast. She’d been idly thinking about having sex ever since Ryan got home, but she didn’t mention her desire, preferring to let it build until they had an opportune time. The moment seemed right, even though Ryan was engrossed in whatever she was reading, so Jamie made a small move to signal her interest.
She lifted her hand from Ryan’s hip and placed it on her belly. Slowly, she made small circles with the flat of her hand, just letting Ryan know she was there. After a moment, Ryan’s hand covered hers and patted her absently, but the blue eyes didn’t waver from the text.
Jamie moved her hand to Ryan’s leg and palpated the muscles in her thigh. Even though Ryan wasn’t working out as often as she used to, her legs were still in great shape. She was running and sprinting for softball, and she’d taken to blading around Berkeley to keep strong and agile. Jamie loved to see her zooming across campus, looking about seven feet tall and as graceful as a ballerina.
The thigh rubbing wasn’t having its intended effect, and Jamie was anxious to get something started, so she took a bottle of moisture lotion from her nightstand and scooted down to the end of the bed. “Mind if I rub your feet?”
Ryan slowly lowered her magazine, giving Jamie a wry, puzzled smile. “Under what circumstances would I say no to that offer?”
“Can’t think of many, so I won’t bother to ask next time.”
Ryan made a sweeping gesture with her hand. “You have explicit permission to rub my feet any time you want.”
Jamie put some lotion on her hands and started rubbing it in. “You’re getting some rough skin around your heel,” she said, looking carefully. “I should give you a pedicure.”
“If you want,” Ryan said, her magazine back in front of her face.
“Not tonight. I’m kinda tired.”
“Mmm, I’m getting tired too. That feels awfully nice.”
Finally! “I love to rub your feet. I know they’re one of your favorite body parts.”
“Uh-huh.” Another page turned, but no signs of interest were shown.
Jamie tried to put all of her building desire into the way in which she touched Ryan’s feet. She massaged them as if she were making love to them, lavishing loving touches on them for several minutes. Finally, Ryan dropped the magazine to the floor and held her arms up in the air to stretch.
“Feels great,” she murmured. “Come up here.” Ryan patted the bed next to her.
Grinning, Jamie scampered into place, waiting for Ryan to make her big move. But instead of a heated kiss, Ryan offered a sisterly buss on the top of the head and held Jamie tenderly in her arms, sighing heavily. “That felt so good,” she said. “It makes me feel so loved and cared for when you do something like that. It’s especially nice that I don’t even have to ask. You just instinctively know when I’m a little wound up.” She hugged Jamie harder and nuzzled her face into her hair. “Such a good girlfriend.”
“Thanks. I love to touch you. From head to toe.” She tilted her chin and puckered her lips, waiting for Ryan to kiss her properly.
But once again she was either rebuffed or misunderstood, because Ryan gave her a quick peck. “Are you ready for bed?”
“Totally,” Jamie said, smiling what she hoped was a sexy, inviting smile.
“Me, too.” Ryan turned out the light and shimmied her hips until she was flat on her back. She patted her chest. “Put that sweet head right here.”
Jamie didn’t comply. Instead, she stared at her partner in the darkness. “Are you intentionally ignoring my signals?”
Even in the darkness, there was no mistaking Ryan’s look of complete surprise. “Signals?”
“Yes! Can’t you tell I want you to make a move?”
“A move?” Ryan’s confused look turned to a smirk. “You wanna have sex?”
“Yes!” Jamie hit the mattress with her fist. “Don’t you? You’re going to Oregon tomorrow. What do I have to do to get you to start something?”
“Me? Why don’t you start something? I don’t think I’ve ever turned you down…when I was in my right mind.”
Jamie could see the fragile look that often settled onto Ryan’s face when she thought about the tough times they’d had reconnecting after the car-jacking. Trying to dispel it, she stroked her head and said, “You’re always responsive when I tell you what I want.”
“Well?” Ryan rolled onto her side and rested her head on her hand, eyes twinkling in the moonlight. “What do you want?”
“I want you to make the first move!” Jamie’s frustration was obvious, but equally obvious was Ryan’s confusion.
“Because…because that’s how I like it.” Jamie’s lower lip was sticking out, making her look like she was asking for a piece of candy rather than sex.
“And, I don’t usually make the first move?”
“No, you do…or you used to,” Jamie amended. “But lately you just kinda lie there and make me ask for it.”
Ryan’s eyes nearly bugged out. “Are you accusing me of being a pillow queen?”
“I don’t know. What’s a pillow queen?”
Laughing, Ryan said, “A woman who lies on her back and waits for her partner to please her. A lazy lay.”
“Well.” Jamie looked at her thoughtfully, the dim light barely allowing her features to be seen. “Lately you have been a pillow queen. You used to pick up the smallest signal I gave you. But lately I have to make a clear sex move if I want you to respond. What gives?”
“Come lie by me,” Ryan said. Jamie did, lying so they were sharing the same pillow. Ryan put her hand on her hip and scooted closer, so their bellies touched. “I wasn’t aware that I was doing anything differently. I don’t feel any different. I’m sure of that.”
“Really?” Jamie asked, sounding like she very much wanted to be reassured.
“Really. You’re the only woman I want, and I want you every time you have desire.”
“What about you? You’re the one who used to run the show, and you’re not doing it anymore. That’s what’s got me worried.”
“Huh.” Ryan breathed out slowly, clearly thinking. “I don’t feel particularly sexual lately, but that’s not odd for me. I always lose my edge at the end of a term.”
“Not last spring,” Jamie said, giving Ryan a droll look. “You had enough edge for all of Cal.”
“That’s not a fair comparison. We were just falling in love. No one could keep up that pace. I was so turned on every time you looked at me, my hair hurt!”
Jamie reached up and grasped the T-shirt Ryan wore, shaking her a bit. “I miss that.”
“I don’t,” Ryan said slowly. “I don’t know if I’ve thought of it before, but I love the security of being with you. It’s so nice to know that I have someone who loves me and desires me waiting for me at the end of the day. I never want to go back to that quest for the holy pussy I used to be on.”
“Nice turn of phrase.” Jamie looked slightly ill.
“You know what I mean.”
“You felt you were just waiting for pussy last spring?”
“No, of course not. Once we fell in love, everything was different. I’m talking about before that, when I was always sniffing around looking for new talent.”
“What does that have to do with us now?”
“It’s, it’s a lessening of pressure,” Ryan said. “I don’t have to be like a scent-hound, always on the watch. I can just be myself and listen to my own body for cues.”
“And mine,” Jamie said, her words not covering their sting.
“Of course. Of course. It’s my job to pay attention to your cues, and I’m sorry if I haven’t been. It’s just…it’s just that I’ve never been in this position before, Jamers. I’ve never had sex available to me whenever I wanted it. It’s taken me a year to get comfortable with that, and maybe I’m too comfortable.”
“I don’t want you to be too comfortable. I still want you to want me.”
“I do! But in the old days I was always semi-turned on. I was always receptive in case I happened across a partner. I was like a hunter/gatherer. If I found sex, I took it. Even if I hadn’t particularly been looking for it. I never knew if there was gonna be a famine, so I had to gorge when it was available.”
Jamie patted her indulgently. “You were a hunter/gatherer in the Garden of Eden, sport. There was no famine in sight.” Even in the dark, Jamie could see that Ryan was blushing.
“I’ll admit I had pretty good luck, but I was always in a state of heightened awareness. It’s so nice not to feel like that anymore. Maybe I’ve gotten lazy.”
Jamie kissed her lips softly. “You’re always receptive if I make it clear that I want to make love. I’m just used to you being the other way—the ‘give you an inch and you’ll take a mile’ way.”
“Guilty. Totally guilty.”
“If I’d touched your tummy, then your leg, then rubbed your feet last summer…well, I wouldn’t have gotten past your tummy before you would have had me on my back.” She smiled warmly. “I loved that.”
Ryan let her eyes roam all over Jamie’s face, closely observing her. “It makes a big difference to you, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah. I wish it didn’t, but I like it when you know what I want and give it to me.”
Ryan moved her head closer, so close Jamie could feel her breath warm on her lips. “I want to give you what you want.” She ran her hand from Jamie’s hip up and across her back, stroking her firmly. “I like to take you,” she whispered. “Just put you on your back and take what I want.”
Eyes blazing, Jamie nodded, nostrils flaring. “Anything you want.”
“I want you,” Ryan said. “I want all of you.” She flipped Jamie onto her back and was astride her in a moment. Reaching down, she grasped the hem of Jamie’s shirt and pulled it from her body. She leaned over, keeping her eyes locked on Jamie’s. Right before she attached her mouth to a plump breast, she said, “I hope you’re ready, baby, ’cause I’m gonna give you a workout.”
“You know you’re the best trainer in the world.”
“It’s a big world,” Ryan said, eyes glittering. “Let’s just say…Northern California.” She latched on to Jamie’s breast with a vengeance, making her lover cry out and nearly push her head away.
“You’re so modest,” Jamie whimpered. She started to rub the back of Ryan’s head, stroking her in time with her suckling. “Don’t stop, baby. Don’t stop. Keep that up all night long.”
Ryan was true to her word. Jamie had been put through her paces, finally begging Ryan to let her stop orgasming. “Dear God,” she panted, fully exhausted.
“Is that what you like?” Ryan asked, hovering above her, a self-satisfied grin on her face.
“Yes, baby.” Jamie stroked her face. “That’s exactly what I like. But I won’t see twenty-five if you give that to me every night.”
Ryan flopped down next to her. “Special occasions. Like…days that end in ‘Y’.
“Wow. I’m drained! What did you do to your fingers the last time? They felt so soft.”
Ryan took Jamie’s hand and put it on her breast, letting her feel the dampness. “I used my breast.”
“You used your breast?”
“Uh-huh. I could tell you were getting sore, so I thought I’d mix things up. I wanted to use something soft and my tongue was tired.”
“It felt fantastic.” Jamie pinched the damp nipple. “It was firm and taut, but so soft.”
“Felt great to me too. I put myself between your lips and jiggled it until you responded.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “Turned me on.”
Jamie kissed her, lingering a long while, exploring Ryan’s mouth. “Can you go again, baby?”
“Don’t think so.” Ryan reached down and felt around experimentally. “I’m too swollen. I’d have to use the pile driver.”
“My poor baby. I wish you could have more orgasms. I can feel how turned on you get.”
“That’s the truth. The spirit is very, very willing.”
“But you’re okay, right?” Her tone was solicitous.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m used to this. I tingle for a while, but it’s not distracting or anything.”
Jamie patted her gently. “Don’t you love lying together after we make love?”
“Nothing better. Truly. I never feel better than when we’ve been touching and kissing and sharing everything. I feel satisfied in ways that have nothing to do with sex.”
“Me too. The sex is great, don’t get me wrong, but this…” She hugged Ryan tightly, feeling her warm body and smelling the various musky scents their lovemaking had created. “This is so much more than sex.”
“It is,” Ryan whispered. “So much more.” She lay on her back and Jamie shifted so she was lying against her side. “Now how can we make sure I read your signals better?”
“I don’t know. I guess you have to pay a little more attention.”
“Just for the record, how many times have I ignored your signals? Dozens of times?”
“No, not dozens,” Jamie said quickly. “Not nearly that often.”
“Take a guess. Ten times?”
“No, not that many.”
“Mmm.” Jamie sucked her lower lip into her mouth and ran her teeth across it. “I can only think of one other time. Yesterday when I jumped on you when you came home to get ready for practice.”
Ryan’s eyebrows jumped up. “I wasn’t even home! I walked in the door and you started undressing me. How can you say I wasn’t reading your signals?”
Smiling sweetly, Jamie cocked her head and gazed at Ryan fondly for a moment. “If you’d made love to me that morning, I wouldn’t have been so hot.”
“Ha! The one way I can guarantee you’ll want to have sex at night is if we have sex in the morning. It’s like I’ve turned on a faucet.”
Shrugging while she smiled, Jamie said, “You’re addictive.”
“So I’ve misread your signals twice, huh?”
“Twice this week,” Jamie said, holding up two fingers and waving them in Ryan’s face. “I detected a trend and thought we should stop it quickly.”
“You’re very vigilant,” Ryan chuckled. “You know I’m happy to take the lead, but wouldn’t it be easier if you were more direct when you’re in the mood? We won’t always be in synch.”
Jamie was quiet for a moment. “I can be, but I really love it when I don’t have to be.” She moved her head and kissed Ryan again. “How’s this? I’m so totally hot for you that you can assume I want to have sex every night. Don’t forget that any time of day is fine with me,” she added.
Ryan laughed softly. “You are a little firecracker, aren’t you?”
“I have been. You have your confidence back, honey, and when you’re confident and feeling good—you’re so sexy it should be illegal!”
“Illegal? That seems harsh. I prefer immoral,” Ryan said thoughtfully.
“That’s my bad girl. You always prefer immorality, when given a choice.”
Continued in Part Four
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