I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 16: Paradigm
By: Susan X Meagher
When the alarm went off the next morning, Ryan shut it off immediately. She had a 7:00 a.m. flight to Eugene, but it was so dark out and Jamie felt so warm and welcoming that she couldn’t bear the thought of getting up. Still, her conscience wouldn’t let her fall back to sleep, so she softly and delicately stroked Jamie’s body. That was a nice way of waking up, plus she had the benefit of being able to touch her partner fairly aggressively without waking her.
She concentrated her attention on Jamie’s belly, playing with the soft skin, trying to feel the abdominal muscles that used to be so evident. Much to her surprise, a sleepy voice asked, “What are you doing?”
“Sorry.” Ryan kissed the back of her neck. “Go back to sleep. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Wanna have sex?” Jamie asked amid a yawn.
Ryan laughed. “No…well, yes, but I don’t have time. I was just touching you to wake myself up. You feel so nice.” She gently rubbed Jamie’s belly. “Makes me want to stay here all day.”
“I feel fat,” Jamie said. “Go ahead and say it.”
Ryan stopped and lifted up on an elbow. “What? Where did that come from?”
“It’s true and you know it. I haven’t done a thing since I broke my elbow. All my hard work is a complete waste. I’m as doughy as I was before I started to work out.”
“Jamie, you are not doughy. You’ve just lost some of your definition. You’ll get it back.”
“A few weeks…and I look like a marshmallow.”
“That’s nuts,” Ryan said. “Nuts.” She sat up and turned Jamie onto her back so she could see her face. “If you feel bad about how you look, why haven’t you said something?”
Jamie looked at her intently. “I was waiting to see if you’d say something.”
“What would I say?” Ryan was puzzled. “You look and feel fantastic.”
Green eyes were sparking through the darkness. “Then why were you kneading my fat gut like a ball of dough?”
“I don’t know where this is coming from, but you’re not fat, you don’t have a gut, and I wasn’t doing anything but touching one of my very favorite parts of your body. Now I’ve gotta jump in the shower, but we need to talk about this some more.”
“No, we don’t. I’m just grouchy about not being able to work out. And I hate losing all my muscle tone so quickly. It’s so frustrating!”
“I know how you feel.” Ryan got out of bed and stretched, showing off her fabulously toned body. “After my skull fracture, I looked like I’d never been in a gym. And I had to look ripped to make my clients think they could do the same thing.”
Jamie looked at her through half-closed eyes. “How long did it take to get back in shape? Don’t lie.”
“A while. A couple of months.”
Jamie thunked her splint onto the bed. “Fuck me.”
“But I was out of commission for a long time. If you wanna get busy, we can start doing some stuff now.”
“I can’t ride my bike, I can’t run; what can I do?”
“I’ll think of some things. We’ll get started when I get home from this trip.”
“Yep. Now kiss me and go back to sleep. I love you, sweetheart.” They kissed gently, then Ryan pulled back and rubbed noses. “Miss me,” she whispered.
“I will. I already miss you. Come home soon.”
“Soon as I can.” After one more kiss, Ryan made a mad dash for the shower.
They’d had a long day. Getting up for the flight had not been fun for anyone, but winning the late afternoon game had given the team a burst of energy. A big group met in Lupe’s room to play cards. By 9:30, Ryan had lost all of her chips—real chips, since they played with Pringles. Jackie continued the poker game, but Ryan decided to sneak off to call Jamie. It was near bedtime, and Ryan knew that her partner would be struggling to stay awake. She lay on her back on her full-sized bed and crossed one ankle over a raised knee. Pressing a button on her cell phone, she said, “Jamie,” and waited for the phone to dial. Jamie answered on the second ring, sounding sleepy and slow.
“Hey, baby,” Ryan said. “Is my girl ready for bed?”
After a comically long yawn, Jamie chuckled and said, “Did that answer your question?”
“Yeah, I suppose it did. How’d your day go?”
“Good. Fine. I’ve been working since I got home.”
“Did you get dinner?”
“Mmm, what did I have?” She paused, then said, “I poured some salad dressing in a little cup and dunked vegetables.”
“That’s not much, buddy. You need some protein.”
“I’ll have some tomorrow. Don’t worry about me.”
“I always worry about you. You’re my life-focus.”
“Nice. I like that,” Jamie said. “But I won’t waste away. As you know, I’m carrying around a spare tire.”
“You will never, ever get me to even acknowledge your saying that, much less agree with it. You might have issues about your body, but I’m not playing that game. I only care about how you feel—and if you don’t get enough protein you won’t be able to study well.”
“Sorry,” Jamie said, sounding chastised.
“No big deal. I’m just not gonna ever agree that your body is less than ideal. It’s the most perfect wrapper in the world. As a matter of fact,” Ryan said, her voice dropping into a lower register, “I’d love to be touching your wrapper right now. I was daydreaming about you on the flight, thinking about how responsive you are and how you react to my kisses.”
“Aww, isn’t that sweet?”
Ryan was wishing Jamie would take the bait and show some receptivity towards a little phone sex, but she wasn’t getting any discernibly responsive vibes. “You sound really tired.”
“I am. I was dozing when the phone rang. I’m already in bed.”
“Oh. Sorry. I don’t wanna keep you on the phone.”
“Don’t be silly. I always want to talk to you. I love you, Ryan.”
“I love you, too. Now cuddle up with my pillow and sleep tight.”
“I will.” Another massive yawn punctuated the promise. “Call me in the morning.”
“Okay. Love you.” Ryan clicked off and set the phone on the bedside table. She was feeling itchy and considered going for a run, but she knew that wasn’t wise. They were staying in another anonymous chain motel along an access road created solely for the motel and a number of fast-food restaurants, and she didn’t know the neighborhood.
Jackie came in and took a look at her roommate. “What’s up?”
“Nothin’. I’m bored and I wanna burn off some energy.”
“Energy?” Jackie took a look at her watch. “You’ve been up since 5:00 and we’ve gotta get up tomorrow morning at 7:00. Go to sleep like a human.”
Ryan laughed. “You know I’m not human.” She reached for the slim directory of services provided by the motel. “Does this place have a gym?”
“Nope. They have a hot tub, but it closed at 10:00.”
Tossing the book back onto the table, Ryan growled, “Why can’t we stay on campus? There’s something to do there.”
“You know the answer to that,” Jackie said as she went into the bathroom. She left the door open enough to be able to continue their conversation. “The men’s baseball team is here, the swimming teams are here, and the soccer teams are here. They’re all higher up on the food chain than we are.”
“Yeah, but only the soccer teams are on campus. Everybody else is stuck at a motel, just like us. Be glad the baseball team isn’t at this place; we’d never get to sleep.”
“If they were here, I could probably find somebody to wrestle or box,” Ryan said, only partly joking.
Jackie came out of the bathroom and tossed a hand towel at Ryan. “You’re a wild one, O. I don’t know how Jamie keeps you entertained.”
Ryan grinned evilly. “Then you need to get laid more often.”
Holding up her middle finger, Jackie pulled down the covers and sat on the edge of her bed, adjusting the air conditioner. “Mind if I turn it to ‘deep freeze’?”
“That’s fine. I like it cold.”
“You can leave the light on if you want.” Jackie put in her bright green earplugs. “You can turn the TV on, too, just don’t wake me up one second before 7:00.”
“Goodnight,” Ryan mouthed dramatically. Jackie smiled and rolled onto her side. Ryan flipped the TV on, but turned the sound off. She flipped through the channels three times before landing on a science fiction show with a muscular woman working out in a gym on some type of spaceship. Ryan didn’t care for sci fi, but she was intrigued by the woman. She was blonde, and had short hair and well-defined muscles. She didn’t look like Jamie at all, but there was something just familiar enough to make her think of her partner and how hot she looked when she was working out.
The scene changed and people started running around the spaceship, obviously trying to solve some crisis. Ryan turned off the set and got up to take off her clothes. She and Jackie were familiar enough with each other to sleep in their underwear, so she took off her jeans and her bra and put them in her bag. When she lay back down she was unable to stop thinking about Jamie, so she tried to switch her mind to another channel. She owed Ally a call. The second she thought of her, she started thinking about Ally working out. The image, though pleasing, seemed wrong, so she tried to back up. But when she changed her focus, she thought of Ally and Sarah and how incredibly hot it must look when they made love.
Perturbed with herself and frustrated, Ryan was on the verge of putting her clothes back on and walking up and down the access road until she was tired. But she knew she just needed a quick orgasm to relax, so she decided to go for it. Jackie slept like the dead and her earplugs would allow Ryan to moan with abandon, if the need arose, so there was no real chance of being discovered.
Her mind kept going back to Ally, so rather than fighting it, Ryan tried to imagine Ally and Jamie together. The thought was remarkably enticing, and she was almost able to convince herself it wasn’t wrong to think of her ex and current lovers having sex—almost, but not quite. She knew she wouldn’t have a problem with it, but she knew in her heart that Jamie wouldn’t appreciate it. And she hated to use Jamie in a fantasy that would, in any way, offend her.
Her clit had no morals, though, and it was ready to go. She slipped her hand past her waistband and smiled with satisfaction when her fingers split her lips and gathered up the moisture that just a few moments of thinking of Ally and Jamie had caused.
Then a brilliant idea hit her, and she tingled with anticipation. Why not think of Jamie—with an Ally attitude? Her clit twitched noticeably and she felt a fresh squirt of lubrication wet her fingers. “Oh, that works,” she purred quietly.
She imagined lying in bed at their home and having Jamie come out of the bathroom with lust in her eyes. Just seeing those green eyes spark with desire sent Ryan’s libido into high gear. She sank into her fantasy, blocking out the motel room and the air conditioner and the fact that she was alone. Looking at her lover in her daydream, she said, “Come to bed.”
Jamie smiled inscrutably and shook her head. “Don’t rush me. You know I’ll get to you when I decide you’re ready.”
Ryan’s heart rate picked up immediately. “What can I do to show you I’m ready?” she asked, her voice a barely audible plea.
Jamie sat on the desk chair backwards, leaning over the back so that her breasts were outlined by her tight, sleeveless T-shirt. “Hmm…what can you do?” She looked thoughtful, then said, “You can start by taking off your panties.”
In a blur, Ryan had the panties off. Now she lay on the sheet wearing just a black bra, her nipples so hard they begged to be pinched.
“Better,” Jamie said, assessing her carefully. “Roll over.” Ryan did, then shook her ass by lifting her hips off the bed.
“Did I tell you to move your ass?” Jamie asked quietly.
“No, you didn’t.” Ryan lay still, waiting for her lover’s response.
“Good. You know I like it when you’re totally honest with me. Now, tell me, why did you shake your ass like that?”
Ryan looked right into her eyes. “I want you to want it.”
Jamie’s eyebrow lifted a millimeter. “You want me to want your sweet, sexy ass?”
“Yes. I want that…badly.”
“What do you want me to do to your ass, Ryan? Do you want me to kiss it, spank it, lick it?” She paused dramatically, then looked at Ryan intently. “Or do you need me to fuck it?”
“All of that,” Ryan forced her weak voice to reply. “Most of all, I want you to fuck me. I need you, baby.”
“That’s my call,” Jamie said, not unkindly.
Ryan nodded. Her lover spoke the truth.
“How do I know when you’re ready?” Jamie asked softly.
“You know when I show you.” Ryan had been well trained. She knew Jamie would never take her word for it. She had to see indisputable evidence.
“Then why aren’t you showing me? If you really need me, I’d think you’d want to get moving.”
Clambering for position, Ryan got to her knees, her ass facing her partner. Letting her head rest on the bed, she turned so that she could just barely see Jamie’s face. She reached behind herself and used her hands to open herself as wide as possible. Every part of her was exposed to Jamie’s intent gaze. Ryan slowly rotated her hips, feeling a droplet of moisture slide down onto her hot clit—making her purr with sensation.
Jamie rolled the chair close, just close enough to be able to lean forward and breathe on Ryan’s sensitized body. “Nice,” she said in a near growl. “Very nice. Now show me how you’ll move when I’m inside you.”
Ryan resisted for just a moment, but she bit her lip and started to pump her hips slowly, moving her ass up and down, begging Jamie to take her. Suddenly, two fingers were unceremoniously slipped into her, making her gasp. Unable to stop, Ryan came—rubbing her clit so hard she winced in pain.
Coming down into reality, Ryan opened her eyes and realized her right wrist was aching. She’d had to assume a very uncomfortable position to put her fingers inside herself, and her underwear wasn’t making things any easier. She was ridiculously wet—so wet that she knew she’d have to go clean up to be able to sleep. But the afterglow was so nice, so fulfilling, that she was loath to get up.
Ryan chuckled softly, knowing that it would be years, if ever, before Jamie would want to role-play like that. And some even bigger changes would have to take place before Jamie would be interested in fucking her in the way she dreamed of. But she smiled contentedly, knowing that she didn’t have to have every need satisfied to feel completely happy with their sexual relationship. She’d loved the way Ally had fucked her, but Ally had never made her feel as fulfilled as Jamie did in the simplest ways. Five minutes of Jamie’s fingers on her clit was as satisfying as an hour of Ally’s role-playing, and she wouldn’t trade for the world. Still, she’d never tell Jamie that she dreamed of her being more dominant. There were things, many things, that she’d learned were best kept to herself, and putting Jamie into a dominant role was one of them. It might happen one day, but if it didn’t, Ryan knew it wouldn’t matter one little bit.
On Saturday night, Conor sat at a small table impishly eyeing the substantial portion of sesame encrusted seared tuna that remained on Catherine’s plate. Acting as if she hadn’t seen his hungry look, she gazed across the room while sliding the plate towards him. When his laugh reached her ears, she turned and smiled. “You could always ask for another portion.”
Cutting the small pieces of tuna into even smaller pieces, he grinned back. Keeping his voice low, he said, “It’s bad enough that I eat like a bear, you don’t want the whole room to know it.”
Catherine leaned over and whispered into his ear. “Our table companions are barely awake. You could lick the plate and they wouldn’t notice.”
He stifled a laugh and ate another piece of tuna. After chewing for a few seconds he said, “If I eat too much, I know I’ll fall asleep during the speeches. I need to be a little hungry to stay upright.”
“Not a fan of natural history?”
“I like the museum,” he said. “They used to bring us here on school trips. But hearing about how much money they need and what old bones they’re gonna buy isn’t as interesting as you’d think.”
She giggled, nudging him with her shoulder. “Behave! We only have to stay until the main speaker is finished, then I’ll take you out for ice cream.”
“How long will that be?”
Catherine glanced at her watch. “Probably another hour.”
Conor’s eyes widened and he flagged down a passing waiter. “Coffee, please. Extra-caffeine.”
While they waited for Catherine’s car to be brought around, Conor said, “Hey, let’s go back to the house. Maeve dropped off some shortcake and a quart of strawberries this morning. If we get there before Rory or Kevin, they’re ours.”
“That sounds a little risky. Maybe we should stop and buy a back-up.”
“There’s always a back-up. Kevin’s an ice cream freak and he always has five or six different flavors stored up. And Rory likes cookies, so he hoards a bag in the freezer just for emergencies.”
“I don’t think I’ve had cookies or ice cream in the house since Jamie left for school, unless the girls are visiting, of course. I learned my lesson one night when Ryan had to go out for ice cream after we’d finished dinner.”
Conor chuckled. “You can’t deny the poor girl dessert.”
“We’d had dessert. The ice cream was her after-dessert snack.”
As luck would have it, they were the first to arrive at the O’Flaherty house. Conor turned the oven on low to warm up the shortcake, and Catherine went into the dining room to set the table. “Conor?” she said, poking her head into the kitchen. “You’re missing a chair.”
“Oh.” He adopted a rather sheepish look. “I’ll tell you about that in a second. Let me clean the strawberries first.”
She watched his back for a moment, then returned to the dining room. When she’d finished setting the table, she went back to the kitchen. “No shortcake for me, just a few strawberries.”
He shook his head, but didn’t argue. After he’d made a large bowl for himself and a small dish for Catherine, he took the food into the dining room. “Coffee or tea?”
“Neither. I’m fine. Sit. Tell me about the chair.”
He’d initially hoped she’d forget, but then realized he wanted to discuss the incident with her. He looked at her for a moment, gazing into her warm brown eyes. “Da and I had a fight the other day. He was mad at me and he picked up a chair and slammed it down. Broke the back legs.”
“Goodness! I can’t imagine how strong you’d have to be…” She trailed off, clearly at a loss for words.
“Yeah, he’s strong, and he gets stronger when he’s mad. Good thing he takes out his anger on furniture.”
She looked very tentative, but asked, “Do you want to talk about the argument?”
“Yeah, I’d better, because you’re involved.”
She blanched. “Me?”
“Yeah, but not in a bad way. He saw the shoes you bought me. By the way, they feel like leather socks.” His smile showed the immense pleasure his new shoes brought him. “He asked if I’d bought new shoes and I said you’d gotten them for me. That led to a long lecture about how wrong it is to accept anything from anybody, ever.” He smiled sardonically.
Catherine looked suspicious. “And that led him to break a chair?”
“No, it was more than that. He asked what else you’d bought me and I told him.”
Making a face, Catherine said, “That was probably a little much for him.”
“A whole lot too much for him. He thinks I’m…” He spent a moment deciding how much to tell. “Using you. That I’m going to things with you so that you’ll buy me stuff.”
“That’s not true!” she said indignantly. Then a wave of doubt crossed her face. “Is it?”
“Hell, no. I told him I liked hanging out with you, but…he didn’t buy it.” Realizing how that sounded, he added, “He believes you’re fun to hang out with, but he doesn’t believe I’d go to museums and lectures just to hang out. He thinks you’re renting me by the hour.”
“I’m amazed at that!” She dropped her gaze and spooned a strawberry into her mouth, chewing daintily. Clinking the spoon on the edge of the glass bowl, she said, “I might not be able to read you well, but you certainly seem to be having fun.”
“I am. I’ve told you this is like seeing a whole new world. I don’t think I’d wanna live there, but it’s fun to visit. Especially with you.” He smiled at her and she responded with a bright one of her own.
“Should I talk to him? I hate to think he’s suspicious of your motives. You’ve been a tremendous help to me, Conor, and I want your father to know that.”
“Nah.” He waved her off, shaking his head. “He’d be mad that I told you about the fight. He probably didn’t even tell Maeve. He’s not mad at me anymore, but I thought I should tell you just to warn you not to buy me any more clothes. I don’t want him to break my legs.”
“Oh, Conor, I’m sorry this happened. I really would like to tell him how you’ve cheered me up and taken my mind off things. It’s just not right that he thinks you’re taking advantage of me. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
He was gazing at her mouth, watching the way her lips moved—exposing and hiding her perfect teeth—when he realized she was looking at him and probably waiting for a reply to something he hadn’t heard. “Uhm, this is really nothing to worry about. Da gets his back up about things, but then he forgets all about it. I promise this will go away.”
Catherine looked at her bowl, nudging a berry with her spoon. She looked at Conor slyly and said, “Would your father notice if I snuck two more shirts into your closet? I had them monogrammed, so I can’t take them back.”
“Monogrammed?” he asked, looking like a child waiting to open his birthday present. “I think he was too overwhelmed by what he saw to get an exact count.”
“They’re in my trunk,” she said, giggling when Conor ran for the front door, Duffy barking and following him as if they were running to a fire.
After he’d enthusiastically praised her and her tailor, Conor walked Catherine to her car. When they got there, she said, “You’re going to get a little vacation from boring dinners. I’m going to Italy for a few days.”
His eyes narrowed and he tried to keep the irritation from his voice. “Really? When?”
“After the graduation convocation. I’ll never understand why Cal has the big celebration before finals even start, but that’s how they do it. I thought I’d go right after that’s over and be back by the time the girls have their departmental graduations.”
“Where in Italy are you going?” He tried to sound casual, but was fairly certain that he didn’t.
“Milan.” She cocked her head and made a face. “Yes, Conor, I’m going to see Giacomo. Jamie’s already expressed her displeasure, so don’t feel that you have to lecture me.”
“I’d never do that. You just sounded kinda…undecided the last time we talked about it.”
“I am. Sometimes. Other times I know this is right for me.” She rested her hand lightly on his forearm. “So, I want to go spend a few days with him and be more honest about my feelings and my needs. I need to make some decisions.”
“Then you should go. I’ll have my shoes shined for when you come home.”
“You’re a dear,” she said. Rising to her tiptoes, she was still nowhere near his cheek. He bent down to her and when she pressed her lips against him, he felt a current chase down his spine. He knew his face was turning pink when she took her thumb and gently rubbed the lipstick from the spot. “Don’t want to give your father any more ammunition,” she said. “Buying you clothes is one thing, he’d have me in jail if he thought I was getting fresh!”
Smiling vacantly, Conor watched Catherine get into the car. He stood there until her taillights were dim red dots, thinking about how wonderful she smelled and how soft her lips were.
“Hi, Mom. What’s up?”
“I’m at my house in the city. How would you like to come over for tea?”
“For tea? That’s kinda cool. But Ryan’s away this weekend.”
“I know. I wanted to talk to you about something alone.”
“Oooo-kay. Is everything all right?”
“Yes. Everything’s fine. Can you come?”
“Sure. How about 3:30.”
“Marvelous. We’ll be waiting.”
Jamie hung up, wondering with a quickening heart who “we” was.
Jamie had just gotten back into study-mode when her cell phone rang. Looking at the name in the display she opened the phone and said, “Hi, Daddy.”
“Hi, cupcake. How’s my favorite girl?”
A mental picture of Kayla popped into her head, but Jamie forced herself to ignore it. “I’m good. I’m trying to get some work done. Tomorrow is our last day of class, then it’s finals.”
“Ooo, I recall those days. I don’t miss them, but I recall them. How are things going? Are you prepared?”
“I’m fine, I think. I miss my nice English classes, though. As soon as these exams are over, I’m gonna start reading real books again. I can’t wait.”
“You and Ryan can spend the summer reading,” Jim said, chuckling.
Jamie paused for a minute, then said, “I’m not sure she reads for pleasure. Damn! I should know something like that, shouldn’t I?”
“Well, yes. I’d think you would have noticed.”
“Things are different when you’re in school; hardly anybody has time to read for fun. But all of the books she has at home are textbooks and math and science books.”
“That’s a big clue. You could start a lending library with all of the books you’ve still got in Hillsborough.”
“Weird. It’s hard to imagine I’m partnered with someone who doesn’t read for fun.”
“It could be worse,” Jim said, laughing. “At least you know she can read.”
“Oh, she can read. She reads journals and things and I can’t even tell what topic they cover. She’s just got a very different brain than I do.”
“Differences make life interesting. Maybe you can get her hooked on reading fiction.”
“Well, the chances of that are better than my reading her stuff.”
“Are you two ready for the big convocation?”
“Yeah. We don’t have to do much—just put on our caps and gowns and show up.”
“Is Mia going to be there?”
“Yeah. She’s coming in on Tuesday. Her parents paid for her to come, so things are a little better in that arena.”
“Great. I knew Adam wouldn’t let that estrangement drag on too long.”
“But Jordan can’t come and we’re all down about that.”
“Why can’t she come?”
“Oh, she has practice that day. I’d think she could miss one day, but there’s no way she can get here and get home in the same day. Flying into Colorado Springs isn’t easy.”
“That’s a shame. I assume she’s not graduating.”
“No. She’s gonna finish up after the Olympics. But I’m sure she’s really upset about not being here for Mia.”
“I suppose the USOC doesn’t have money for special travel.”
“I don’t get the impression that the USOC hands out money like that. And besides, if it was only about money, I’d pay for her to come. But I’d have to hire a private jet and she’d never get over that. She’s as self-reliant as Ryan is.”
“Where did you find all of these friends who don’t want your money? That’s not normal.”
“Funny, isn’t it? Ryan and I still have fights about money, and they’re always about her not wanting me to spend it.”
“I know you’re thinking it, but you don’t have to tell me that I had her pegged wrong,” Jim said. “She’s a good woman.”
“She sure is. But she’s away this weekend, and I miss her.”
“Oh. She’s on a road trip?”
“Uh-huh. They’re doing really well, Daddy. They’ve been ranked in the top ten for the last month. They’ll make the NCAAs for sure.”
“Good for her! I’ll bet that’s got her jazzed.”
“Not too much. She doesn’t like to assume anything. She’s pretty laid back about things like that until they happen.”
“Well, I’m happy for her. She’s a hard worker.”
“That’s an understatement. So, when are you going to be here?”
“I’m not sure. I have a couple of things I could do on the way. I might not arrive until Wednesday. Is that all right?”
“Sure. The ceremony’s at 4:00.”
“Oh. I guess I didn’t mention this, but they asked me to sit on the dais.”
“Yes. But I turned them down. I don’t want this to be about me; this is your day, baby.”
“Daddy, you can get a little press if you want to. I don’t mind.”
“No thanks. If there’s an Evans in the newspaper, I want it to be you.”
“I don’t think I’m going to win any prizes, Dad, but thanks for thinking of me. I really appreciate it.”
“I love you, sweetheart. And I’m proud of you. You win the prize for the best daughter.”
“Thanks,” she said quietly. “I’ll see you on Wednesday. We’re gonna have a little party at Mom’s house in the city. You’ll come, won’t you?”
“Sure. If I’m invited. I’d like to see her place.”
“I know you’ll be welcome, Dad. Mom’s very cool about you. Will Kayla be with you?”
“No, she’s gonna hold down the fort here.”
“Everything okay with her?”
“Oh, sure. She’s starting to look for a new job—but we’re okay.”
“Yes. She’s decided to stay in Washington when I return home. I’m helping her to find something that she’ll like.”
“Wow.” Jamie was quiet for a moment. “Are you okay with that?”
“No,” he said, laughing bitterly. “But she’s very good at taking care of herself, and this is what she thinks would be best for her career.”
“Yes. Ouch, it is. But I can’t expect more, Jamie. She knows me too well to expect much from me.”
“Oh, come on. You say that like you’re a bad guy.”
“I am. Where women are concerned, I am.”
At 3:30, Marta answered the door to Catherine’s home, bowing deeply when Jamie entered. “Welcome, madam,” Marta said, almost hiding her grin.
Jamie waited for her to straighten up, then hugged her tightly. “I’ve missed you,” she said, kissing Marta’s cheeks.
“And I’ve missed you. Come in and sit down. We’re almost ready.”
“We?” Jamie asked with trepidation.
“Yes. Your mother and I. We’ve been making tea sandwiches.”
“Both of you?”
“Yes, yes,” Marta said excitedly. “Your mother is quite the sandwich maker.”
Jamie followed her into the large kitchen, finding her mother fastidiously cutting the crusts off some thin-sliced white bread. “This is harder than it looks,” Catherine said, looking up and blowing a few strands of hair from her forehead.
“Are you two starting a catering business?” Jamie asked, going to her mother to kiss her cheek.
“No, but that’s not a bad idea. What do you say, Marta?”
“I’d love to be paid for actually cooking,” Marta said, frowning at Catherine. “I feel like I’m stealing money every month.”
“Don’t be silly,” Catherine said. “You’re worth three times what I pay you.”
Jamie smiled at the interchange. It was a long-running battle. Marta felt she was overpaid for the little work she did, but Catherine viewed her as much more than a cook. She knew that her mother had set up an annuity for Marta’s retirement, mostly to get around arguing about her salary, and she had a feeling that Marta would flip when she learned about it.
Jamie sat at the counter and helped prepare the rather elaborate toast points with crème fraîche and smoked salmon, then worked on the blini with golden caviar. They had enough for four, but Marta set out only two cups and plates in the living room. Once she’d presented the food on a silver tray, she disappeared, leaving Jamie to wait patiently while her mother poured the smoky black tea into her cup.
She added a little milk and sipped the tea, watching her mother over the top of the delicate china cup. She could tell that her mother was a little nervous, but she wasn’t sure what was coming, so she couldn’t reassure her.
After a few moments of polite silence Catherine said, “I’ve made some mistakes in the last few weeks, dear, and I’d like to clear things up.”
“Yes. I was quite unyielding when I said I wouldn’t talk about Giacomo, and that was unfair of me.”
Jamie sat back in her chair. “I wouldn’t say unfair…”
“Whatever you wish to call it, it wasn’t fair of me to tell you everything about my life and then refuse to talk about Giacomo. That was—well, it wasn’t right. And I’m sorry.”
Smiling warmly, Jamie nodded. “That’s fine, Mom. I haven’t been very mature about the whole thing. And Ryan’s been all too willing to agree with me on that point.” She narrowed her eyes. “Traitor.”
“Ryan only wants what’s best for you, and you know it.”
“Doesn’t mean she’s not a traitor,” Jamie said, smiling slowly as her frown disappeared. “She’s supposed to take my side, no matter how stupid I’m being.”
“You’re never stupid, Jamie. Never.”
“Sure I am. Everyone does stupid things. I am still the child in this relationship, as Ryan always reminds me.”
“Factually true, but that’s not how we’ve always run things. So, if you think this will help, I’d like to change the rules a little bit.”
“Okay. What would you like to change?”
“For one thing, I’d like to be more open about my relationship with Giacomo.”
Jamie stared at her mother, wide-eyed. “All right.”
“But, and this is a big caveat, I only want to do that if you can withhold your disapproval.”
“My disapproval of…what?”
“Of my seeing him. I know you don’t think it’s a good idea, and that’s fine. I know how you feel, and it’s registered. But what I do is my decision.”
The frown returned. “So, you’ll talk about your life so long as I don’t tell you how I feel about it.”
“That sounds a little harsh, but I suppose it’s correct. I’m asking you to do what I did when you started to date Ryan.”
Jamie’s mouth dropped open. “You’re equating Ryan and Giacomo?”
Catherine nodded. “Yes, I am, and this is exactly the kind of reaction I don’t want to hear. I didn’t think you should break off an engagement and jump right back into a life commitment with a woman.”
“But you didn’t tell me that!”
“I know, dear. It wasn’t my place. I thought you should have taken the whole thing much more slowly and decided if lesbianism was truly right for you. You know that I love Ryan and that I support your partnership, but at the time I thought it was a rash decision.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that?”
“No one, not even a parent, can talk someone out of being in love. All that can do is cause bad feelings. So I’m asking you to honor my feelings for Giacomo and defer sharing your thoughts with me until I’m ready to hear them.”
Taking a sip of tea, Jamie let the heady brew linger in her mouth for a moment. “Do I have to act like I approve?”
Catherine looked at her daughter for a bit, her eyes roaming around Jamie’s delicate features. “How do you treat your father and Kayla? Do you talk to him about dating a woman just a few years older than you are? A woman who was just out of school when he, the managing partner of the firm, took up with her? Do you give him your opinion of the power imbalance implicit in a relationship like that?”
Pursing her lips, Jamie let her head drop. Her cheeks turned pink—first in anger, then embarrassment. “No, I don’t. I suppose I figure he’s always going to have some arm candy. Kayla seems like she’s able to stand up for herself pretty well. She’s mature for her age.”
“But you think I’m, what, salvageable?”
“Damn it, Mom, don’t make me sound like a Puritan. I just want what’s best for you. I want you to have a relationship with someone from whom you can get all that you need.”
“That’s my job, Jamie. Only I know what I need. Only I know what I’m willing to settle for.”
“I know, I know!”
“I’m not sure you do, honey. I deeply appreciate your love and your concern, but I can’t be lectured. My father lectured me and withheld his approval; my mother did the same thing. Your father…well, you know I don’t like to talk about our relationship in detail, but I think it’s fairly clear who controlled it.”
“Yes, it is,” Jamie said quietly.
“I need to make my own way, my own mistakes. I can’t…I won’t have another person I love and want to please make me feel guilty for doing something he or she doesn’t approve of. So I’m willing to tell you where I go and what I do, but I truly need for you to dispense with expressing your disapproval. If you can’t do that, then I need to keep that part of my life to myself.”
“What kind of things do you want to share?” Jamie asked, trying to keep her expression as neutral as possible.
“I’m going to visit Giacomo for a bit between your convocation and your graduation. We can leave it at that if you want, or I can tell you about my trip.”
Jamie nodded. She drank a bit more tea, then said, “I’d like to know. I want to know what’s important to you, Mom, and if it’s Giacomo…that’s fine.”
Catherine smiled. “Let’s take it slowly. I’ll tell you where I’m going and you can ask me anything you want to know, but it’s probably best if we keep it topical.”
“Like where you go…how much art you buy…that kind of thing?”
“Yes. All of that sort of thing. I just don’t think it’s wise to get into anything too intimate.”
Jamie laughed softly. “Mom, I don’t think I’ll ever ask anything that could even vaguely be considered intimate.”
With a scolding glance, Catherine said, “I’m not talking about sex, I’m talking about feelings. I won’t use you as a confidant about the process I’m going through in deciding to be with him, and it would be best if you don’t ask me questions about my choices.”
“Got it,” Jamie said. “I’ll do my best. But I might make a few mistakes while I get used to this.”
“I’ll be patient. I just ask that you be the same with me.”
Putting her cup on the butler’s table, Jamie moved to kneel down next to her mother. She hugged her and murmured into her ear, “I just want you to be happy, Mom. I swear that’s all I want.”
“I want the same for you, dear. As long as we remember that, we’ll be fine.”
“So, when do you leave?”
“I’m going to take the red eye on the night of your convocation. I’ll be gone about nine days. I’ll be home on Thursday so I can make sure to be back for your actual graduation.”
Jamie’s color rose and her voice turned soft. “Uhm, that’s Ryan’s graduation. Mine’s Monday.”
Catherine’s eyes grew wide. “Monday after Ryan’s?”
Shaking her head, Jamie said, “Monday before hers.”
Her eyes closed, and Catherine’s head tilted back. “You can’t be serious.”
“’Fraid I am. Five days after the convocation.”
Catherine blew out a long, weary breath. “I’ll cancel my trip. I won’t even get there until Friday morning. It hardly seems worth it to go for the weekend.”
“You could go the next weekend.”
Frowning, Catherine said, “No, I don’t think so. It took a certain amount of planning for Giacomo to arrange things. He’s leaving for a buying trip to Spain on the day I leave…or was planning on leaving.” Pasting on a determined smile, she said, “It’s no matter. We’ll arrange another trip. June might work out…but we have the breast cancer walk.” She looked thoughtful, obviously going through her calendar.
“No, no, I think we’ll be too busy planning your ceremony. I don’t think I can spare a week.” She briskly shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll work something out.”
Jamie tentatively took her mother’s hand, causing Catherine to look at her with a look of curious surprise. “This trip means a lot to you, doesn’t it?”
“I…I’d rather not talk about that, Jamie. We’ve just decided we’d stay topical, remember?”
Jamie’s gaze was intent and open. She looked at her mother with an expression of empathy and concern. “Yeah, I remember. But you look very disappointed, and I don’t like to see that.”
“You’re sweet,” Catherine said, squeezing her hand. “But plans are made to be broken.”
“Not if they mean a lot to you.” Catherine started to look away, but Jamie pressed her hand firmly. “It means more to me to have you at convocation than my graduation. Convocation is a bigger celebration, and I’ll be with Ryan and Mia. My graduation is just another speech. It’s fine with me if you miss it.”
“No, no, I wouldn’t even consider that,” Catherine said, her head shaking quickly.
“You’re not considering it, I’m suggesting it.” She fixed her mother once again with her gaze. “I’m being sincere, Mom. I’d be disappointed if you missed both ceremonies, but convocation means more to me. It’s gonna be fun to have a huge procession and be with my girls. The English department graduation is just not that big a deal.”
Catherine looked at her daughter, blinking slowly. “This is hard for me,” she admitted. “I’m not sure if you’re telling me this because it’s true or you’re being generous.”
Smiling, Jamie said, “Maybe both. But I promise that I won’t be angry with you if you miss it. I promise.” She took her mother’s hand and held it over her own heart. “Really.”
“All right.” Catherine paused, then said, “I’m sure I could arrange for Giacomo to come here for a week. Which would you rather—having me miss your graduation, or having Giacomo attending it?”
It was obvious that Jamie was trying not to show her feelings. Her expression was carefully crafted into a blank palette. “There must be a reason you decided to go to Italy, Mom. You probably already have plans.”
“We might, but I’m not sure what they are,” Catherine said. “Giacomo is in charge.”
“Then go ahead and go. He’s probably got some things planned. Besides, it’s a lot of trouble to change your arrangements at this late date. It would cost a fortune to change your reservations now.”
Catherine smiled, tempted to remind Jamie that she always flew unrestricted first class, a category that allowed for last minute changes, but she realized her daughter was trying to be tactful, so she let it pass. “Fine. I’ll go ahead with my plans. I’m sure Giacomo will appreciate your graciousness.” She patted Jamie’s cheek. “I know I do.”
As usual, Ryan and Jackie settled into the emergency exit row on the airplane. Since Ryan was by far the tallest player on the team, the student travel coordinator always assigned her to that row so she could have a little extra leg room. The plane was fairly full, and before they took off Ryan took out her Discman and loaded a relaxation CD she’d borrowed from Jamie. Jamie referred to it as New Age, but it made Ryan fall asleep, so she considered it a relaxation aid.
Jackie frowned at her. “Aren’t you gonna talk to me?”
“Can’t,” Ryan said, putting on her headphones. “I’ve gotta get some sleep.”
“Yeah.” Ryan smiled a little. “I’ve gotta study when I get home.” I’ve gotta study a certain woman’s body—in depth.
“Then I’m moving. I wanna play cards.”
Ryan put on a fake pout. “You mean I’ve gotta have this whole row to myself so I can put my feet up and get comfortable?”
Jackie gave her an elbow to the ribs. “You’ll miss me when I’m gone.”
“Only one way to prove that,” Ryan teased. She flicked her hands. “Go. Go.”
As she often did, Ryan prevailed upon the Cal bus driver to drop her off at her street as he made his way to the campus. She had a few blocks to walk, but she preferred that to having Jamie drive over to pick her up. To her great surprise, Jamie was standing on the corner waving when the bus pulled over.
Jackie opened her window and called out, “Is this what they mean by crazy in love?”
Jamie stuck out her tongue and said, “Yes. Don’t be jealous.” Ryan got off the bus and dashed over to her partner, lifting her off her feet. She turned in a circle, making Jamie throw her head back and laugh.
“Kiss her! Kiss her!” several players yelled.
Obliging them, Ryan stopped spinning and puckered up, waiting for Jamie to drop her head and kiss her. It only took a second, and as soon as their lips met the players made all sorts of catcalls and whoops. Ryan could just hear Coach Roberts shout, “For crying out loud, O’Flaherty! Have a little decency!”
Ryan laughed, putting Jamie back onto her feet. “Would you rather I carry you?” she asked, picking up her bag.
“No, I like to hold your hand.” Jamie took Ryan’s warm hand and held it to her heart. “I’ve missed you.”
“Me too. This is the first time in a while we’ve been apart. I don’t like it.”
“It sucks,” Jamie agreed. “But I got a lot done. And I’m sure I was more comfortable at home than I would have been sitting on a bed in a motel all weekend.”
“Did you do anything fun today?”
“Yeah. I went over to see my Mom for a while.”
Ryan turned to be able to see her face. “How’d that go?”
“Good. She wanted to set some new ground rules.”
“About how she talks to me about her boyfriend.”
Ryan was certain Jamie could have made those words sound more sarcastic, but it would have been a stretch. “You sound much more accepting, so it obviously worked,” she deadpanned.
Jamie shot her a look. “I don’t like him, Ryan; I’m never going to like him. But I want to have a good relationship with my mother.”
“All you can do is have an open mind.”
Jamie looked at her and saw that Ryan’s face was nearly expressionless. “If you’re trying to be funny, it’s not working.”
Ryan grasped her hand a little firmer. “I’m not trying to be funny. But I am pointing out that you’re not giving her a lot of room.”
“This guy is wrong for her,” Jamie said slowly. “You don’t wanna admit that, but you know it’s true.”
Dropping Jamie’s hand, Ryan switched her heavy bag onto her other shoulder. “Don’t put thoughts in my head. I said I didn’t care for him much when we met, but I have no idea if he’s right or wrong for her.”
Glaring at her, Jamie said, “So, a married man with small kids who lives on another continent is the guy you’d pick for my mother?”
“No. I’d pick my father for her.”
Jamie squealed. “What?!?”
Chuckling, Ryan said, “If I could pick your mother’s husband, I’d pick my father. He’s the best man I know. He’d treat her very well and he’d appreciate every single thing about her.”
“That’s crazy! He’d hate to go to all of her social things, and he’d never want to travel like she does.”
“Jamie,” Ryan said softly, “you didn’t ask me to pick someone she’d want. I just said that if I had to pick, I’d pick my father. He’s the kind of guy I’d like to see her with. But they wouldn’t make each other happy. She needs someone she clicks with, and I can’t possibly know who that would be.”
“Oh. So that was just one of your little parables. Thanks, Jesus.”
Ryan grasped her shoulder as Jamie was about to storm away. “Besides being intentionally snotty, that wasn’t fair. I wasn’t lecturing you, I was just explaining that I can’t know what your mom wants in a man. I rather doubt she’d pick me for you, but she sure didn’t give you a very hard time about being with me.”
“Fine.” Putting on a serious pout, Jamie walked alongside Ryan, scuffing her heels against the pavement as she always did when she was angry.
“I think we’d better make some new ground rules, too,” Ryan said after a few moments. “I don’t wanna argue about this.”
“Then be on my side!”
Ryan looked at her for a second, then said, “You’re right.”
“I am?” Jamie looked surprised. “About what?”
“I shouldn’t try to make you see things the way I do. She’s your mom and you’re upset with her. So feel free to tell me why you’re upset. I’ll do my best to listen and keep my trap shut.”
“That won’t work,” Jamie groused. “I’ll know you’re just humoring me.”
“No, I won’t be. There are two elements here.” She ticked them off with her fingers. “One is whether I think you should be upset, and the other is the fact that you are. I’ve been stuck on the fact that I don’t think you should be up in your mother’s face about this, but that’s really none of my business.” She stopped and put her arms around Jamie, hugging her tightly. “You’re my business; your feelings are my business.” She kissed her tenderly, murmuring, “I’m sorry I haven’t been more supportive.”
Jamie looked up at her, smiling brightly. “Thanks. I feel better.” She rested her head against Ryan’s chest. “I’m sorry for being snotty. I hate when I do that.”
“It’s okay. But you did hurt my feelings. I don’t like to hear that you think I’m a blowhard.”
Jamie pulled away and looked up at her partner. There was a certain wariness in Ryan’s eyes that made her wince. “I’m sorry, baby. Really, I am. I don’t think you’re a blowhard at all. It’s just that sometimes my mouth starts going and I can hardly stop it.”
Ryan was looking down, studying Jamie’s eyes. “I know. But sometimes you go out of your way to hurt me. That leaves a mark.”
Closing her eyes to avoid Ryan’s laser-like scrutiny, Jamie leaned into her partner, hugging her tightly. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better.”
Patting her back, Ryan placed a soft kiss on her head. “Okay. Let’s drop it. Wanna tell me what happened today?”
“No.” Jamie took her hand for the last part of their walk. “Let’s quit while we’re ahead.”
“Deal. Besides, we’ve got a lot to do.”
“We do? It’s eleven o’clock.”
“I know,” Ryan said seriously. “I’ve gotta take a quick shower, then I’m gonna strip every inch of clothing off of you and make love to you well enough to make up for being gone three days. That’s gonna take hours.”
Beaming at her, Jamie took off. “Race ya!”
They were still laughing when they reached the house. Jamie hit the stairs first, being unencumbered by a big duffle bag. She threw the door open, not having bothered to lock it. Ryan was about to chide her for her negligence, but she didn’t want to go over the same old thing right at the moment. Jamie wasn’t prudent enough about safety for her comfort, but she’d lectured her dozens of times to no effect. Besides, Jamie was already upstairs, probably getting ready for bed. So she put her bag down and double-locked the door, then paused to look at the mail.
There were a few interesting things in her pile and the communal pile, and she opened a letter from the dean of the biology program at Stanford, smiling in satisfaction at the deferential tone of the note. She’d been receiving calls and letters from most of the major universities for almost two years, and usually didn’t bother to read them. Things had settled down when most seniors had made up their minds about graduate school, but they had apparently figured out that she was still uncommitted and they were giving it another shot.
She heard Jamie coming down the stairs and said, “I should start going to visit some schools now that I’ve got free time. It might be nice to—”
A set of teeth sank into her neck, making her wince. Then a hand slipped around her body and cupped her sex, holding her firmly. Instinctively, Ryan pushed her ass against Jamie, finding that her butt fit right into the apex of her partner’s pelvis and thighs. It was clear that Jamie was standing on a step, since they would never have fit together in quite that way if she were on the ground.
Another hand palmed Ryan’s breast, then started to squeeze—while the teeth raked across her flesh. She pushed hard against Jamie, rotating her hips sexily while she covered her partner’s hands with her own and pressed—urging Jamie to handle her even more roughly. Ryan started to pant, Jamie’s dominance making her head spin. But after a few minutes of grappling, Jamie turned her around and started kissing her gently and lovingly. She seemed less sure of herself and the passion was starting to ebb, so Ryan bent her knees and tossed Jamie over her shoulder. As she struggled to carry her weight up the stairs she ran her free hand over Jamie’s legs and ass.
“I’m gonna have you begging for mercy in minutes. Or seconds.” A sharp slap to Jamie’s ass had her pressing her pelvis into Ryan’s shoulder. “I’m gonna put you on your back and do whatever I want with you.” Another pat to the ass was met with a soft groan. “And I wanna do lots and lots of things to you, things you’re gonna love.”
“I love everything you do to me,” Jamie said, her voice muffled because of her position.
“I’m gonna bury my face between your legs and lick you and suck you until you can’t stand it. Tonight we’re finally gonna figure out how many times you can come before you pass out from exhaustion.”
“Promise?” Jamie asked, her voice bright with enthusiasm.
“Promise.” Ryan slapped her ass one more time for her own pleasure, smiling when Jamie once again pressed into her while whimpering softly. Perfect. Just perfect.
Continued in Part Five
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