I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 16: Paradigm
By: Susan X Meagher
Ryan was finished with her final college class by 11:00 a.m. She walked home, heavy-hearted, reflecting on how quickly time at Cal had gone, and how long it seemed since she’d started college at USF.
Jamie was just leaving the house when Ryan came walking down the street. “Hey,” Ryan called out, her greeting devoid of its usual cheer.
Jamie turned and waved. “Are you finished?”
“Yep.” Ryan’s eyes were a little dull and her smile was wan.
“I’ve gotta run to get to my last class. Wanna do something fun afterwards?”
The blue eyes brightened a bit. “Sure. What do you wanna do?”
“Something athletic.” She patted her belly. “I’ve gotta get rid of my paunch.”
“No comment.” Her smile precluded any offense Jamie might take. “But I’ll think of something and meet you after your class.”
“Really? I could come home.”
“Nah. There’s more to choose from on campus.”
“Okay. I leave it in your capable hands.”
She stood on her tiptoes and puckered up, and Ryan dropped a kiss onto her waiting lips.
“See you in about an hour and a half.”
“Okay, sweetie. Remember,” she said, waving her splint while she backed away, “I’m injured.”
“I’ve been hit by that thing often enough to know it’s there, Jamers. I’ve got the bruises to prove it.”
Ryan put her things away and sat down at her desk to study for an hour. But she had a very difficult time staying on track. Finally giving up, she collected some things in a large gym bag and left for campus. The day was fairly gray, and it looked like the fog would roll in early. The gloom didn’t help Ryan’s mood, but the dim day wasn’t what had her down.
She’d been reminiscing all morning, thinking of the first time she’d been on campus, the soccer games she and Sara had attended when they were still in high school, the way she and Sara had painted Oski, the Cal mascot on each other’s cheeks when they’d watch a Cal football game. She couldn’t ever recall wanting to go to another school. It had, in an odd way, seemed like her destiny. And to have that destiny delayed, and nearly denied, still hurt. It hurt more than she liked to admit, and she had a feeling it would always smart a little.
USF had been a fine school, and she’d enjoyed her years there. She’d made friends and played sports and started to feel like a kid again. But she never felt like she really fit in. She’d always felt like she should have been at Cal—that she wasn’t getting the college experience she’d dreamed of.
Ryan wasn’t sure why she’d finally decided to transfer. It was partly because she knew Sara would be gone and she’d never have to see her on campus. But Sara had graduated after Ryan’s freshman year at USF, and she hadn’t even been tempted to transfer then.
Maybe it had been fate. Or luck. Or her mother’s guiding spirit. But she’d come to Cal at exactly the right time. She was sure of that. Even though she hadn’t known it at the time, she had been ready to fall in love. She was just waiting for the right woman.
Ryan started to walk a little quicker, a definite spring in her step. She’d found the right woman. There wasn’t a hint of doubt in her mind. And even though she hated to leave Cal after having spent only two years there, she couldn’t have asked for a better two years. Meeting and becoming friends with Jamie was a huge gift. But to fall so deeply in love with her was a prize beyond measure. And the mere thought of seeing her made her want to skip all the way to campus. I don’t know what kind of spell you’ve put on me, Jamie Evans, but I hope it’s never broken.
Jamie walked out of her class and caught sight of Ryan. Playfully, she took her textbook and launched it as high into the air as she could. Ryan watched its flight path as it passed over her head and crashed to the ground a few feet behind her. The binding cracked sharply as it landed. Chuckling, Ryan picked it up and stuffed the pages back into the binding as well as she could. “You busted it pretty bad,” she said as Jamie approached.
“Who cares? It felt great to throw it. As soon as my final’s over, I’m gonna burn it…page by page.”
“Tsk, tsk. Such a wasteful girl. I never make a mark in mine so I get full value when I turn them in at the end of the term. I hope our kids take after me.”
“Let’s go home and practice having babies,” Jamie said, leaning heavily against Ryan and looking up at her longingly.
“I thought you wanted to exercise.”
“Making love burns lots of calories, when you want it to. I could straddle you and grind against you while you do push-ups.”
Ryan laughed and wrapped her arms around her partner. “That would give me a workout, but it wouldn’t do much for you. But if you wanna skip working out, that’s your choice.”
“Mmm…” Jamie looked at the big nylon bag Ryan had with her. “Whatcha got?”
Ryan unzipped the bag a little. “Rollerblades. I got permission for us to use the track at the football stadium.”
“You did? Isn’t that kind of a big deal?”
Ryan lifted her chin and strove to look imperial. “I’m a three sport letter earner; they’d let me rappel off the campanile if I asked.”
Jamie grinned up at her partner. “Ooo, I’m so lucky to be with such an important woman.”
“Damn straight. Now, do you want to go home or go work?”
“Both,” Jamie decided. “Work first, then go home.”
“That’s my girl. Hard work is always the right choice.”
Ryan led Jamie to the service entrance into the stadium. She called out through the chain link fence, “Anybody home?”
A man emerged from a small office and looked at her questioningly.
“Somebody from the athletic director’s office said she’d call over here to authorize my using the track. Ryan O’Flaherty.”
“Oh, yeah.” He walked over and opened a side door. “How long you gonna be?”
“Maybe an hour. Is that okay?”
“Sure. I’m here all day.” He squinted a bit, his head cocked. “Don’t I know you from TV?”
“Yeah,” Ryan said, smiling. “I do the weather on Channel 7.”
The man’s face scrunched up and he looked even more confused. “Really?”
“Chance of fog in the A.M., should burn off by noon.” She gave him a very photogenic smile, then took Jamie’s hand and led her to one of the tunnels that opened to the field.
Jamie bumped shoulders with Ryan. “Why’d you do that?”
“No reason,” Ryan said, still smiling. “I get tired of telling people why they’ve seen me on TV, so I’ve started making stuff up. It’s fun.”
She looked pleased with herself, and it took Jamie a moment to realize that Ryan was happy because she was doing something to take care of herself. It was still too painful for her to talk about the carjacking, and making up a harmless lie was giving her a little enjoyment from a situation that could have been upsetting. She wrapped her arm tightly around Ryan. “I love you,” she said, smiling up at her.
“I love you too. Now let’s get moving while the sun’s out. I’ve called for fog to roll in late this afternoon.”
Jamie slapped Ryan on the butt and followed her to the track. They sat on a bench in the infield and Jamie waited patiently while Ryan knelt and helped her put on her skates. “I haven’t used these in months,” Jamie said. “I was just thinking that it was a waste of money to buy ’em.”
Ryan looked up at her. “Sports equipment is never a waste of money.” She put Jamie’s wheels on the ground. “How’s that?”
“Feels fine. Help me stand up and get comfortable, okay?”
“Sure.” Ryan stood in front of her, blocking the skates from moving. She helped her up and waited a moment while Jamie stood tall, moving her weight from side to side.
“They’re fine. I’ll just sit down while you put yours on.” She did, watching Ryan swiftly get her skates properly adjusted.
Ryan got up and held out her hands. “Let’s go.”
With a nervous smile, Jamie took hold of them and hesitantly stood. “I’m a little worried about falling again.”
“Makes sense. We’ll go around the track a few times together. Just hold my hand; I promise I can catch you if you start to fall.”
“Okay.” Jamie gripped Ryan’s hand ferociously. “Don’t let go. Promise.”
“Honey, I promise you won’t fall. Now don’t think about falling, think about moving.” Ryan started slowly, taking very small strides and dragging Jamie along with her.
“This is—okay,” Jamie said tentatively. “But I wasn’t even very good on ’em when my arm wasn’t broken.”
“Sure you were. You’ve got great balance, great legs, and a great ass. You could be a really good blader if you wanted to work on it.”
Smiling at the compliment, Jamie looked up at her. “Really?”
“Oh, yeah. You’ve got a perfect body for blading: compact, low center of gravity. And you have great glutes.”
“Used to,” Jamie said, pouting.
“Your glutes are perfect, now let’s start using them.” She started skating a little faster, and Jamie started pushing out a little more with her legs. They were moving fairly quickly when Ryan said, “Now bend your knees a little bit.” Jamie watched and imitated Ryan, who was flexing her knees quite a bit. “How do you feel? You look good.”
“Thanks,” Jamie said. “I feel good. I think I’m stable if you wanna let go.”
“Only if you’re sure.”
“I am.” Ryan dropped Jamie’s hand but stayed right next to her. They skated around the big oval three times, and Jamie was panting by the time they returned to their starting spot. “Let me rest for a minute, okay?”
“Sure.” Ryan helped her sit down, but it was clear she wasn’t tired. “Mind if I keep going?”
“Like I could stop you,” Jamie said, smirking at her lover.
Ryan smiled brightly. “I wanna do some distance work. Will you time me?”
“Sure. How long?”
“Mmm, give me fifteen minutes. That should do it.”
“Okay.” Jamie waited until Ryan got back on the track and into a ready position. “Go!”
Ryan started off in her usual style, but then she bent her knees more, inclined forward at the waist and really started moving. She kept her hands clasped behind her back on the straight-aways, but dropped her right arm when she went around the curves. She looked more like an ice-skater than a Rollerblader, but she was eating up track at a very fast clip. As the minutes passed, Jamie could see she was getting winded. Her pace slowed with each lap, but Ryan didn’t stop. By the time fifteen minutes was up, Ryan moved as if she was wearing concrete skates. Jamie called out the time and Ryan put her hands on her knees and slowly glided to a halt. Then she started moving again, standing up and taking small strides. By the time she was back at the bench, she was dripping wet and breathing heavily. “Damn, fifteen minutes seems like an hour!”
“You were really moving at the beginning.”
“Yeah. I’m not good at distance. I always start out too fast, then I die in the final laps.”
“Can’t you force yourself to go slower?”
Ryan grinned, her face bright red, her breathing heavy and quick. “What fun is that?”
“Help me up, speedy.” Ryan did and Jamie stood for a moment, making sure she had her balance. “I wanna do some more. Do you mind?”
“Of course not. I’ll go with you.”
“You don’t have to, hon. You look beat.”
“I am, but I wanna keep an eye on you.”
“Okay.” Jamie held her hand and they started out slowly, partly for Jamie and partly for Ryan. They gradually increased their speed, with Jamie finally sitting down into a pretty good squat. “Ooo, I’m gonna feel this in the morning.”
“That’s the point. This should give you a good aerobic workout and keep your hot little legs in shape.”
“I like it. It’s a lot more fun than being on the treadmill.”
“I’m happy to go with you any time, babe. This is good exercise for softball.”
“It’s a date. You just have to ensure we’re gonna have good weather.” She stuck her tongue out and giggled as Ryan tried to grab it.
Jim Evans was working in his office when he heard a soft knock on his inner door. “Come in.” He didn’t look up immediately, finishing the stack of papers he was signing first. When he did lift his eyes, he saw Kayla lingering in the doorway. She looked particularly good, and he realized he hadn’t seen her that day. He’d left while she was still asleep and he’d been too busy to come up with an excuse for why he needed to meet with her. “Hi, there,” he said, slowly looking her up and down. Putting his chin on his fist, he said, “I can’t imagine a better color for you. What do you call it?”
She entered and sat on the edge of his desk. “Green,” she said, chuckling.
He put his hand on her knee and gently rubbed up and down her leg, hoping to find evidence of stockings or a garter belt. “I know it’s green, but what shade?”
“Who are you — Giorgio Armani’s brother?”
“No. I just think you look so wonderful that I’d like to know exactly what you call that color.”
She grasped his hand and stopped it from creeping any higher. Giving him a droll look, she said, “Your mouth says you want to know what color my dress is, but your hand seems more interested in my underwear.”
He removed his hand, but not before giving her a suggestive look. “I’m multi-tasking.”
Giving him a quick kiss, she said, “My dress is…” She looked down, considering the color. “I’d say grass green.”
“In the springtime,” he said contemplatively. “Before it turns dark.”
Kayla tugged on his earlobe. “You’re in a mood today.”
“I worked hard and now I’m ready for a good dinner and a couple of drinks. Care to join me?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” A sound slap reverberated in the quiet room when Jim’s hand strayed into forbidden territory as Kayla slid off the desk. “Not in the office, Senator.”
For dinner, Jim chose one of Kayla’s favorite places, a restaurant he found a bit loud and rushed. But she liked the trendy, spicy food, and seemed to brighten up when they dined there. They were sipping mojitos and munching on tortilla chips dipped in a spicy salsa when he asked, “Have you given any thought to where you’d like to work next year?”
Her tongue poked out of her mouth to delicately lick a bit of salsa off the edge of her lips. Her head shook quickly. “Not much. Have you heard of anything?”
“Nothing concrete, but if we win the election, I’m sure you could stay on here. You’d be a big help to a newcomer.”
She smiled shyly. “Really?”
“Yes, of course. I love being with you, Kayla, but I’d never have given you the tasks I’ve asked you to do if I wasn’t sure you could do them well.” He chuckled softly. “If I’d thought you weren’t capable, I would have just brought you with me and supported you.”
Her smile faded. “I’m not the kind of woman to do that.”
“I know,” he said, nodding enthusiastically. “That’s another one of your good points. You’re not here just to have an easy job.”
Huffing a bit, she said, “If that were my goal, then I’ve really screwed up. I’ve been working my butt off since we’ve been here.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “You work harder than I do.”
“Duh. Staffers always work harder than MOCs.”
“The members of congress are always posing for pictures and going to receptions and on fact-finding missions. We don’t have time to do much real work.”
“Well, we minions have nothing but time. Especially when we’re expected to work sixty to eighty hours a week.”
“Do you regret it?”
“No. Not at all. I like this so much better than practicing law.”
He loaded a chip with salsa and put it into his mouth, chewing for a moment. “You didn’t get much chance to really practice, Kayla. You were never even first chair at a trial.”
“That’s true, but I think I learned the important things when I was at the firm. It seems that the most important tenets in corporate law are to delegate all of the repetitive stuff to underlings, be a good negotiator, and spend most of your time making contacts to bring in more clients. Of course, you have to kiss your current clients’ butts on a continuous basis. I don’t mean to demean the job, but it was pretty boring.”
He looked nostalgic when he said, “I loved preparing for trial. That was a rush for me.”
“Oh, me, too,” Kayla said, insincerity dripping from her words. “I worked on three trials. Two of them were exactly the same: ninety hour weeks, eating cold pizza at 3:00 a.m., spending hours a day prepping witnesses. Then both cases settled the morning of opening arguments. The third one was settled after about a week of trial. I’ve never felt more like I’d thrown away months of my life. I learned next to nothing, except for the indisputable fact that I hate to be sleep deprived.”
Jim laughed. “It’s not like that when you’re the lead attorney. It’s fun then.”
“And I could be the lead attorney in what—seven years? No thanks.”
“Hey, you’ve gotta put your time in. Big firms aren’t in a rush to create more partners. Every addition is a subtraction—”
“From your big, fat share of the profits,” she said, finishing his analysis.
“I thought it was worth a few years of heavy lifting to earn seven figures.”
“Not to me,” she said confidently. “Being here lets me feel like I’m actually doing something. I like it a lot.”
“You are doing something,” he said, looking into her eyes. “I can tell you take this very seriously.”
“I like giving you position papers and helping you decide how to vote on various bills. And being able to introduce legislation that means something…” She shivered noticeably. “It’s a rush.”
“I think you’re made for this, Kayla. Much more so than I am.”
“I wouldn’t like your job, but I’d like to work in the White House one day. I’m not sure what I’d like to do, but policy work has really grabbed me.”
“Who knew you’d be a policy wonk?” he asked with a chuckle. “If Al wins, I’ll do whatever I can to get you a spot in his administration. He’s a bigger wonk than Clinton, and that takes some effort.”
“Cool!” She beamed at him, showing her bright, white teeth. “I’d love to get in there and help him make some progress against global warming. I shudder to think what’ll happen if that idiot Bush wins.” She made a face. “But I have faith in the American people. Al might be wooden, but he’s smart. Bush is lazy and has no intellectual curiosity. Who’d want to be led by a guy who isn’t curious?”
“No one I know,” he said, smiling. “But, Bush has more personality than Gore does. I hope that doesn’t win the day, but it might.”
“Don’t even talk like that! The economy’s in great shape, we’ve got a big surplus, the market’s booming. Why would people wanna change what’s working?”
“I’m worried that Clinton’s nonsense with Lewinsky will dirty Gore. The Republicans have made it seem like Clinton’s a lying sex fiend.”
“Well, he probably is.” Kayla laughed. “But if we only had moral icons in Congress, you’d never have to wait to be served in the congressional dining room.”
“That’s all too true.” Their entrees were delivered and they each spent a few minutes trying their selection and offering bites to the other. Jim looked down at his plate and said, “So, when I go back to California, is it over for us?”
“We’ve talked about this,” she said, her voice soft and tinged with warning.
“I know, I know. But we’re getting along well. You won’t find a new man the second I leave, will you?”
She was also staring at her plate. Her shoulders rose and fell. “No, I suppose not. But why drag it out? I don’t want to return to California and you can’t stay here. Long distance relationships just don’t work.”
“They can if the people are really in love,” Jim said wistfully.
“Love?” She raised an eyebrow. “Since when are we in love?”
“I have a lot of feelings for you, Kayla. Really, I do.”
Her mouth full, she nodded. After she swallowed she said, “I have feelings for you, too. But I’ve been careful to remind myself this isn’t permanent. I thought you had too.”
“But, you’re so—you’re such a good woman, Kayla. I think we could…” He trailed off, at a loss.
“We could what? See each other every month or so? And then what? You don’t want more kids, and I might. And I work so hard I want someone to help me relax at the end of the day. Having to fly across the country to see you would just add to my stress.”
“I could come see you,” he said, smiling hopefully.
“Jim,” she said softly, “let’s not get into this now. It’s May, and I can’t know what I’ll be doing until after the election. If Bush wins and we lose your seat, I might be out on my butt.”
“No way. Even if that happens, God forbid, you could get on with a lobbying firm. I could help you with that.”
“We’ll see,” she said. “No rush.”
“But you’ll consider seeing me?”
“Sure,” she said, her gaze showing a hint of amusement. “I’ll consider it.”
He smiled at her, even though he felt that she was humoring him.
On Wednesday morning, Ryan found Jamie on her hands and knees, her head under the bed. She was wearing a pair of mint green satin panties, and the view was too much for Ryan to resist. As stealthily as possible, she got to her knees and crawled to straddle a leg, then placed her lips on the satin-clad ass and blew the loudest raspberry she could muster. Along with a shriek, Ryan heard a loud thump. She grimaced, knowing the thump had to be a skull or other hard surface hitting the mattress slats.
“My head!” Jamie’s butt started to twitch as she backed out. She sat down heavily, scowling at Ryan. “Very funny.” She rubbed the injured spot. “Why’d you do that?”
Ryan crawled to her, trying to look contrite. “Your butt looked so cute. Really.” Her eyes were wide and brimming with sincerity, fooling Jamie not at all.
“Can it. You just like to freak me out.”
Ryan shrugged, grinning. “Well, there’s that, too. Sorry you hit your head. But I bet you win an award at the athletic department luncheon, and that’ll cheer you up.”
“I doubt it. Remember my roommate, Lauren?”
“I’m not sure…”
“Sure you do. She was that really, really shy freshman. Nice kid.”
“There were two shy freshmen. Which one was yours?”
“Oh, never mind. Anyway, she did nothing but study. I’m sure she’s got the highest GPA on the golf team.”
“Well, maybe you’ll get some other cool award.”
“I like to keep my expectations realistic. I’m just counting on a nice sandwich.” She gestured for Ryan to come closer. “Now you scramble under the bed and get the sandal I was trying to reach. And don’t complain if something gets swatted while you’re under there.”
Ryan’s sexy smile made the slight pain in Jamie’s head disappear as if by magic.
The luncheon was much more crowded than either woman had expected. Looking around, they noted most teams were gathered together. Jamie saw Lauren and Samantha from the golf team sitting at a table, neither of them speaking or looking like they were having fun.
“Don’t make me sit with them,” she stage whispered.
“My teammates. They’re nice kids, but I have to talk constantly when I’m with them.”
“God knows you hate that,” Ryan said with a straight face.
“I wanna sit with you.” Jamie smiled sweetly and took Ryan’s hand, digging her fingernails into her palm.
Ryan yanked her hand away and tucked it around Jamie’s waist. “Always makes me happy to sit with such a calm, quiet woman.” She waved enthusiastically at her volleyball teammates, who were sitting about twenty feet from the entrance. “Ooo, I’m gonna have to pick a group.”
“That’s what you get for playing three sports, sport.”
“I guess I’d better stick with softball, eh?”
“Sure. Works for me.” They went over to the volleyball group and greeted everyone, then Ryan explained she had to keep moving. While they walked, Ryan spotted Janae from the basketball team, standing on the periphery of the crowd. Ryan made some hooting sound that reminded Jamie of a large animal and Janae replied in kind, smiling broadly.
“If it isn’t the pride of the athletic department,” Janae teased.
They hugged in a rough, large woman athlete fashion, and Jamie mused that she’d be bruised for days if Ryan was that rough with her.
“What’s up?” Ryan asked. “Where you sittin’?”
“I haven’t decided. I’m the only one from the team who was invited. I guess I can sit with…” she craned her neck, looking around.
“Us,” Ryan said. “I wanna sit with my softball teammates, and my antisocial girlfriend doesn’t wanna be with her teammates.”
“What team is that?” Janae asked, bending to hug Jamie gently. “All disabled?”
Jamie held up her splint. “I was on the golf team, but you have to have two working elbows to be any good.”
“Ouch! What happened?”
“Nothing interesting. I just took a header and cracked the bone.”
“Still hurts, though, right?”
“Oh, yeah.” Jamie rolled her eyes dramatically. “But it’s almost healed. I get the splint off soon.”
“I’ll sit with you and help you cut your meat.”
Jamie wrapped her good hand around Janae’s beefy arm, just barely refraining from commenting on how much bigger it was than Ryan’s. “We probably won’t get meat, but you can cut whatever we get.”
They made their way to the softball group, a small, but boisterous crowd. Lupe was standing and waving to get Ryan’s attention, although her diminutive size didn’t allow her to stand out in the crowd of athletes. She, Heather, and Kim were chanting: “Notorious R-O-F,” making Ryan smile, wave with both hands, then bow dramatically.
“Ladies,” she drawled. “My posse and I would like to class up this table. May we?”
“Yes, yes,” Lupe said, her enthusiasm apparent. Jamie was sure Lupe was straight, and just as sure that she had a girl-crush on Ryan.
They sat down and Ryan did the introductions, making Janae sound like she was ready to be drafted by every NBA team. Servers started placing simple plates of penne pasta with red sauce in front of each person, and Jamie picked up her fork and said to Janae, “Maybe I’ll need you for dessert.”
Janae snickered, “We’ll probably get Jell-O.”
“If we’re lucky.”
The hosts didn’t allow much time for dawdling over lunch. As soon as the majority of people had been served, the athletic director introduced himself and spoke for a few minutes about how important athletics were to creating a well-rounded student and member of society. Nearly everyone continued to chat, ignoring the earnest man. It wasn’t until he brought up a pair of assistants and they began to announce awards that anyone paid the slightest bit of attention.
Ryan heard Janae’s name in the first group. “What did you win?” she asked as Janae stood to a round of applause.
“Pay attention, Money.”
“Money?” Jamie asked.
“Money in the bank when Ryan’s at the free throw line,” Janae explained. She sat down and said, “I won a PAC-10 Postgraduate Scholarship.”
“Cool!” Ryan gushed.
Jamie leaned over and kissed Janae on the cheek, “Way to go.”
“Yeah, the $3,000 should get me through med school…if I go to Beijing University.”
“Three thousand? That’s all?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah. And each school can only have four winners. It’s a big deal in terms of prestige, but $3,000 won’t pay for my books.”
“Where are you going?” Jamie asked.
“UCLA. I was going to stay here, but I decided to live at home. It’ll be an adjustment for all of us, but I don’t wanna spend money on rent and food if I don’t have to.”
“I don’t blame you,” Jamie said. “You’ll probably be too busy to notice where you’re living, anyway.”
Janae laughed. “Probably true.”
“Hey,” Heather said, “they’re doing the team award. We’ve got a chance, guys.”
The announcer said, “The Golden Bear Team Award goes to the women’s golf team, with a team GPA of 3.25.”
“Hey, I win,” Jamie beamed.
“Stand up,” Ryan urged.
“No way. I didn’t want to sit with my teammates, I can’t stand up now; I’m a traitor.”
Ryan leaned over and whispered, “I’m gonna pinch you until you get up.”
Jamie stuck out her tongue. “Don’t even think about it. I’ll pop you with my splint.”
Ryan pulled her hand back. “Sitting down is good.”
“Now for the Golden Bear Achievement Awards,” the announcer continued. “This award goes to the student-athlete with the highest GPA in each sport.” He then started on a long list, going down each of the men’s teams first. When he finished with them, he started with basketball for the women. “Janae Harris and Siobhán O’Flaherty are virtually tied. Since spring semester grades aren’t yet available, the committee has decided to give both women the award.”
“Cool for us,” Ryan said, while she and Janae slapped hands so hard Jamie was afraid they’re break a bone.
“You can’t be that smart,” Kim, one of the softball players, teased. “You’re too goofy.”
“I cheat,” Ryan said, grinning while she crossed her eyes.
After a few more sports were announced they got to golf. “This is you, Jamie,” Heather said.
“No, I don’t think so. I’m here by the skin of my teeth.” As predicted, Lauren took the award, and Jamie clapped loudly for the shy young women. “Told ya,” she said.
“You probably woulda won if you hadn’t broken your arm,” Janae said, smiling.
“More than likely. I lost at least ten I.Q. points when I fell.”
“Hey, volleyball is next,” Heather said. “You gonna take it, O?”
“More than likely,” Ryan said. “I’m a freakin’ genius.” She didn’t even blush when her name was called.
“You really are a genius,” Kim said, looking stunned.
Jamie was mildly puzzled that Ryan seemed to delight in her awards, but she certainly did seem proud of herself.
The last award to be announced was for women’s softball and the team members started to quietly chant, “O’Flaherty, O’Flaherty.” Before her name was called, Ryan pushed her chair back and started to stand, rising to her full height when the announcer said, “Once again, the award goes to Siobhán O’Flaherty.”
Ryan looked as confident and proud of herself as Jamie had ever seen her. She gave a quick wave and sat down again, letting out a big breath. “It’s tiring getting up every couple of seconds.”
“Show off,” Jamie said, backhanding her in the gut with her splint.
“Show ’em if you’ve got ’em,” Ryan gloated.
After another few awards were handed out, the Anna Espenschade Award for successful integration of athletic and scholastic pursuits was announced. “This year’s award goes to the very busy Siobhán O’Flaherty,” the athletic director said. Ryan looked a bit nonplussed, but she stood and nodded when people began to applaud. “Siobhán was PAC-10 player of the month twice this year and was a PAC-10 All Academic team selection. She’s graduating this year with a double major in mathematics and molecular and cell biology.” Ryan started to sit down, but she was called to the podium to accept her award, a large gold cup with her name engraved on it.
When she returned, Kim was staring at her, open-mouthed, and Lupe looked just as shocked. “You’re a double major? In math and bio?” Kim asked.
“Yeah,” Ryan said, ducking her head in the way she always did when she was embarrassed about her accomplishments.
Jamie leaned over and hugged her, kissing her cheek as well. “I’m so proud of you,” she whispered.
Ryan nodded briefly, leaving no doubt that she wanted the spotlight to be turned off.
Next was the Neufeld Scholar Athlete award, given to graduating senior man and woman who held the highest GPA. “You’ve got this one locked,” Lupe said, beaming at Ryan.
But Ryan was slumping down in her seat, looking like she’d rather be anywhere but here. The athletic director said, “Once again…” and Ryan put her hand over her eyes. Jamie was afraid she was going to slip to the floor, but she perked up when the A.D. said, “Janae Harris and Siobhán O’Flaherty will share this honor.”
Janae got up first and pulled an embarrassed Ryan to her feet. Ryan was blushing furiously, and Jamie felt a wave of sympathy for her partner now that she was acting like herself. When Ryan sat down, Jamie just squeezed her thigh, not wanting to make a bigger deal out of it than she had to. Ryan gave her a thankful glance and took Jamie’s hand.
The PAC-10 medal was next and Jamie thought she could hear Ryan mutter, “Please, no,” under her breath. This award went to the outstanding male and female student athlete at each PAC-10 school. The athletic director built up the award for a few moments, going into the requirements for the winners. He mentioned not only scholarship and athletic performance but leadership. When he announced the name of one of the women who’d won a scholarship, Jamie could see Ryan let out a relieved breath. They all applauded, but Kim stage-whispered, “You were robbed, Rof. Robbed!”
“I’ll steal it from her on the way out,” Ryan said, cockiness back in force.
The next award was for the most academically improved student athlete, and everyone at the table was surprised and pleased when the athletic director announced, “Lupe Moreno of the softball team” as the winner. Lupe looked like she’d faint, but Heather and Kim helped push her to her feet. She was in tears by the time she sat back down and her teammates immediately surrounded her with hugs and pats on the back.
“I’m so proud of you,” Ryan said when she reached her for a big hug.
“It was hard when I first got here,” Lupe whimpered. “I worked every minute, but I nearly got dropped from the team because of my grades.”
“You stuck with it, Lupe. And you did great. Really great.”
Lupe looked up, meeting Ryan’s eyes. “My parents don’t speak English, and I didn’t learn until I got to school. I’ve always had to work hard to keep up.”
Ryan looked like she was on the verge of tears as she reached into her pocket and took out her cell phone. “Call your parents and tell them.”
Lupe beamed at her. “Really?”
“Yeah. Call ’em right now. They’ll be so excited for you.”
Lupe turned her face to the wall behind her and furtively dialed while the A.D. announced the last award. It was for community service, and Jamie was glad that Ryan hadn’t had time to volunteer like she had when she was at USF. She still wasn’t sure how Ryan had time to do so much volunteer work while working so many hours, but she figured that was one of her lover’s many, many secrets.
Ryan held Jamie’s hand on their leisurely walk home. She seemed fine, and a casual friend wouldn’t have noticed anything different in her demeanor, but Jamie could tell there was something rumbling under the surface of her placid expression.
“How come you don’t get to take that big-ass trophy home?” she asked in a teasing voice.
“Oh, please.” Ryan looked supremely aggrieved. “That was so embarrassing. They should have asked me if I wanted all of that stuff.”
Cocking her head, Jamie gave her a curious look. “You’ve got me guessing at things here, Tiger.”
“Well, when you were named as the GPA queen of three sports, you seemed to think that was cool. You were kinda cocky about it, which isn’t, may I observe, your normal reaction. Wassup with that?”
“Oh.” Ryan nodded. “I, uhm, was pretty sure I was gonna win those, so I was prepared. I knew they weren’t gonna say what my GPA was, so I didn’t think it’d be too embarrassing.”
“Why is it embarrassing to be recognized, baby?”
Ryan fidgeted, looking like she had a few fleas hiding in the bright blue striped cotton shirt. “I dunno. It just is.”
“But you said you were prepared for that. What do you mean?”
“You don’t have to have a really fat GPA to win those. You just have to be the highest on the team. I could’ve had a measly little 3.2 or something and still won. That’s not a big deal.”
Jamie elbowed her. “Hey! I’ll be jumping for joy if I get a 3.2.”
“Fuck,” Ryan muttered. She looked beseechingly at her partner. “That’s not what I meant. 3.2 is great. Really. It’s just that it’s not…astronomical or anything.”
“What’s your GPA?”
“Not sure,” Ryan said dismissively. “The ‘F’ I’ll probably get in French will affect it.”
Jamie made a face, trying to tease a smile back onto her partner. “Is it astronomical?” She snuck a hand in and tickled Ryan’s armpit, making her lover dance away and slap at her hand.
“Hey,” Jamie said thoughtfully. “Why didn’t you try to win the University Medalist award? I’m sure you would have had a good chance.”
Ryan put her hands up. “No interest. You’ve gotta ask for it.”
“Ask for it?”
“Yeah. You have to apply and write an essay and get a bunch of recommendations. It’s a big deal. You have to actually ask for it.” She shook her head, as though wondering who would ask for such an honor.
“I had no idea what the requirements even were. Why do you know so much about it?”
“Uhm, some people wanted to write recommendations for me, but I wasn’t interested.”
“That seems so odd. Why not be recognized for what you accomplish, baby?”
Ryan’s expression resembled the one she usually wore only while eating sour pickles. “It’s politics and popularity and all of that junk. So are grades, for that matter. I don’t like the whole deal.”
“Grades are politics?”
“Sure. I’ve got a, well, kind of a rep in my majors. Professors assume I’m gonna kick ass. If I didn’t do quite as well as they expected, they’d probably give me the benefit of the doubt. Like on my independent study. I didn’t really prove much of anything, but I know Robin will give me an A plus. No doubt.”
“But you worked like a dog! You could have taken a full load of classes and not worked that hard. You deserve an A plus for the effort and your methods.”
Ryan shrugged. “Eh, maybe. But she didn’t know how hard I worked. She just saw the results.”
“The results of hours and hours of work, Ryan. It had to be clear to her that you busted your butt. That matters.”
“Oh, who knows? It all seems like a game to me. I learned a lot in college and that’s what matters. Hell, Lupe should be the one who gets awards. She works constantly and plays ball with every ounce of her energy. Why don’t we award people who make the absolute best of what they have?”
“You’re no slacker, Ryan. It’s not like you sit on your ass and win things because of your gifts.”
“Sure I do,” she said testily. “I dabble at things. I don’t put all of my effort into any of my sports. I can’t even pick one major. Hell, I can’t decide where to go to grad school. I could do so much better if I could pick one thing I love and dedicate myself to it.”
Jamie looked at her and saw the angst etched into her lover’s beautiful features. It truly pained her to see how Ryan struggled to prioritize her enormous talents, but she knew this wasn’t the day to praise her. It was a day to distract her. “You have done that,” she said quietly, her voice sincere.
Ryan had to pause for a second to let Jamie’s comment reach her brain. “What? How do you figure?”
Jamie squeezed her hand and smiled at her. “You picked me. And you’ve dedicated yourself to loving me every day since. You deserve the Jamie Dunlop Smith Evans award for the world’s best lover. And as soon as we get home, I’m gonna give you the trophy.”
A luminous smile lit Ryan’s features. “I get a trophy?”
“Is it about…” she held her hand out to touch the top of Jamie’s head. “…this high?”
“About that. Yep.”
“Is it warm and soft and cuddly and sweet?”
“Immodestly, I’d have to say yes.”
“Let’s go,” Ryan said, taking Jamie’s hand and starting to walk quickly. “This is one loving cup I can’t wait to get my hands on.”
Continued in Part Six
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