I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 16: Paradigm
By: Susan X Meagher
Since Jamie had told Ryan she was constantly hungry for her, her partner had responded with remarkable vigor and tenacity. Not sure if Ryan’s libido was truly in overdrive, or if she was responding primarily to her request, Jamie had decided not to pursue the answer, just enjoy.
One element she delighted in was the closeness they created when they made love often. She’d forgotten how bonded they’d been when they were first together, but those feelings all came back now, and made her more aware of how deep her love for Ryan was.
Now Ryan slept, her breathing so heavy that it was almost a snore; Jamie was dozing lightly. Ryan’s head was on Jamie’s sternum, one of her long arms draped between Jamie’s thighs, while the other was splayed over her head, fingers tangled in blonde hair. It looked like someone had hit Ryan with a tranquilizer dart just as she was about to devour her partner. In fact, she had practically devoured her in the figurative sense.
Jamie wished Ryan was facing her so she could see her lovely face, but she had to content herself with occasionally opening her eyes and seeing Ryan’s head move up and down with each breath.
The phone rang, startling her and waking Ryan.
“Wha…? Where?” Ryan mumbled, sitting up and trying to get her bearings.
Jamie patted her, then tried to extricate herself to answer the phone with her uninjured arm. “Hello?” she finally said on the fifth ring.
“Hi, Niall. What’s up?”
“Talked to Tommy. He’s in. Time to buy.”
“Okay,” she said, shaking her head at his machine-gun style of talking. “What do you want me to do?”
“You want me to make the offer?”
“Umm, yeah, I guess. What do you want to offer?”
“Whatever you think. Let me know.”
She could hear him put the phone back to his ear. “What?”
“That’s all you’re gonna say?”
“Yeah. We want you to handle it.”
“Niall,” she said, frowning at Ryan who was now awake and giggling. “You have to give me some parameters.”
“Huh? You know the deal. If it’s really underpriced, we’re good. Whatever works.”
She sighed, knowing this conversation was not going to end in a way that satisfied her. “Okay. I’ll call the agent and see what I can come up with.”
“Good. See ya.”
“Bye, Niall.” She hung up and looked at her partner drolly. “A fine mess you’ve gotten me into.”
“He wants you to do everything, right?”
“Right.” She sat up and tried to arrange a pillow behind her back. When it became clear she wasn’t having great success with one hand, Ryan helped. “He bought and sold a house recently. Didn’t he learn anything?”
“Nah. His da told him what to do. He’s clueless.”
“Why doesn’t his da take over now?”
“No way,” Ryan said, laughing. “My Uncle Patrick would never put himself into a position where everyone in the family was second guessing him.” Like a naughty child, she put her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide. “Did I say that out loud?”
“If I had better mobility, I’d swat you with a pillow.”
“Just kidding.” Ryan scooted up the bed so they were shoulder to shoulder. “No one will second guess you. They think you’re smart.”
“Thanks,” Jamie said, chuckling.
“I know you’re smart, but they think so based on no facts. They’re intimidated by a woman who has money and education and confidence. You or Maggie could tell them to jump off the Golden Gate and they’d assume you had a good reason as they were falling to their deaths.” Finding her teasing particularly humorous, she giggled again.
Jamie put her arm around Ryan’s shoulders and pulled her down to kiss around her ear relentlessly. Ryan was careful with her because of her injury, and Jamie knew she could get away with murder. “You’re gonna help me with this, smarty pants. So get up and put your thinking cap on.”
“I don’t need a special hat,” Ryan said, wrinkling up her nose. “But I’ll turn my computer on. We can crunch some numbers, my favorite hobby.”
“Mine too,” Jamie said, wishing the phone hadn’t rung.
After an hour on the phone with Ray, the real estate agent, and a short conversation with Mr. Merriman at her bank, Jamie was ready to make an offer on the building. She and Ryan had decided to go in at 20 percent below asking price, assuming their offer would be rejected. But Jamie wanted to get a read on how negotiable the seller was.
Ryan drove them to the city, where they met with Ray to write up the offer. He filled out the standard real estate offer form, blinking in surprise when Jamie said she was making an all cash offer.
“All cash?” he repeated, dubious.
She didn’t elaborate, and even though he looked like he wanted to ask why they didn’t need a mortgage, he just crossed out the section that asked for mortgage information. When he was finished, he cocked his head. “Are you signing for the group?”
“Yeah.” She pulled out the partnership agreement that Maggie had created for them. “Two of us have authority to bind the partnership—Niall O’Flaherty and me.”
“I’m a little worried that the seller will be reluctant to deal with such a large group. In my experience, it’s always easier with fewer people.”
“I’m sure that’s usually true,” Jamie said agreeably. “But I’d like for you to stress to the seller and his agent that I’m funding the project alone. When it comes to money, they’ll only have to deal with me.”
He smiled briefly. “I won’t tell them you don’t look old enough to drive.”
Jamie stiffened. “My age has nothing to do with my business sense.”
Ray held up his hands. “I didn’t mean I thought that. I just—well, it’s pretty rare to have someone as young as you are come in here and offer to write a check for an apartment building.”
“I’m sure it is. But we’re serious about buying. If not this building, then another. I’m old enough to know not to fall in love with a building. This is nothing but business, Ray. I only care about the bottom line.”
“Gotcha,” he said, putting his head down as he finished filling out the form.
When Jamie got home, she called Niall and told him they’d made the offer. “I don’t want to have to call everyone,” Jamie said. “Will you call someone from each family and pass the word on?”
“Yep. Call me when you need to.”
She chuckled, thinking Niall would be the last person she’d call just to chat.
Around 10:00 the next day, Ray called to say he had received a counter-offer. But to Jamie’s dismay, he wanted to present the offer in person. “Well, I don’t have time to come to the city,” she said. “So you’ll have to come here or wait until I have time.”
“Oh.” He was quiet for a few moments. “I guess I’ll come there. When’s good for you?”
“On second thought, I’ll ask my brother-in-law if he’s available. He lives close to you.”
“That’d be great,” Ray said. “I’m booked solid today. I’d have to come to your house late in the evening.”
“That won’t work,” Jamie said. “So expect Brendan O’Flaherty or Maggie Reardon to contact you to set up a time.”
“Okay. Let me hear from you when you decide what to do.”
“Will do. Bye.”
About an hour later, Jamie’s cell phone rang. “I’m on the ground, ba-bee!”
“Where are you gonna meet me? I don’t have a bag checked, so I can be at the curb in about fifteen minutes.”
“Great. I just got here and I was gonna park, but it’ll be easier if I just pick you up. I’ll lurk along the curb outside of Arrivals and wait for you.”
“Are you in the Boxster?”
“No. I’m in Ryan’s car. I still can’t work the shift on mine.”
“Okay. I’ll look for one big blue car with one little blonde driver.”
“You know you love me. Don’t even try to act like you’re not joyous at the thought of seeing me.”
“I can’t lie that well. Now, get off that plane and into my car!”
Mia ran to the driver’s door and waited impatiently as Jamie lowered the window. Her infectious grin made Jamie smile so broadly that her cheeks hurt. As soon as the window was down, Mia planted a big kiss on her lips. “Pop the trunk, you gorgeous thing.”
Giggling, Jamie did as she was told. Mia tossed in her bag, then got into the passenger seat. “Take me home,” she instructed imperially. “I wanna have some fun before I have to go to my parents’ house.”
Jamie leaned over and wrapped her good arm around Mia, squeezing her tightly for a long moment. “I love you,” she finally whispered, kissing Mia again as she pulled away.
Mildly puzzled, Mia gave her a wary smile. “Do I have a terminal illness I don’t know about?”
“You’re acting…kinda strange. You don’t usually get all mushy with me.”
“Well, I should. I love you, and I’m not sure I always let you know that.”
Mia leaned back in her seat, still looking a little puzzled. “Yes, you do. I don’t ever doubt that I’m your BFF.”
“Good.” Jamie nodded decisively. “You’re my best friend forever, and I always want to be sure you know it.”
“Is this about the conversation we had on the phone last week?”
“Maybe a little. I feel like I hurt your feelings, and it’s been on my mind.”
Mia reached over and tousled Jamie’s hair. “Don’t be nuts. I was feeling sensitive about my thesis. You didn’t say anything wrong.”
Jamie let out a big sigh. “I feel like all I do these days is bitch. I’m on Ryan’s case for talking to a girl, I’m down about how out of shape I am, and I’ve been really pissy to my mom.”
“Your mom? What’s she done?”
“Oh, nothing. I’m just a bitch. I feel like I’ve got PMS all the time.”
“You don’t have premature menopause, do you?”
Jamie smiled a little. “I rather doubt it. I think I’ll just accept the fact that I’m a bitch.”
“You never were before, and I don’t think you are now. Now take me home. I’m sick of sitting here and having that security guard stare at us.”
Jamie gave her a smile that was so sincere it was almost comical. “I love that you think of our Berkeley house as your home.”
Eyebrows rising, Mia said, “It is our home, isn’t it?”
“Yep. Sure is.”
“I’m glad we think the same way.” Mia put her hand on Jamie’s leg and squeezed it roughly. “I’m so glad to see you, girlfriend.”
“Me, too. As much as Ryan can fill up a house, it’s just not the same without you and Jordan. I want her to be happy, but I wish she’d win a gold medal and retire.”
“You and me both. I want her to be happy too, but I’d rather she was happy doing what I wanted her to do.”
“A girlfriend’s prerogative. What do you want her to do?”
“I’d like her to finish school and then get her masters in architecture. She really wants to be an architect and I think she’d be good at it. Then I’d go to law school and we could settle down to being a lesbian power-couple.”
Jamie was pulling onto the freeway, but she managed a sideways glance at her friend. “But you’re not a lesbian.”
“I know that, and Jordan knows that, and you know that, but we’d be viewed as lesbians because of our near-constant lovemaking. People make assumptions…” She chuckled.
“So, things are good?”
“Things are great. Jordy’s happy, and when she’s happy, I’m happy. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?”
“Near as I can tell. That’s the way it is at my house.”
“Ryan’s good? She’s not dating anyone else yet?”
Jamie blindly slapped in Mia’s direction, managing to hit her on the shoulder. “She’s not fooling around; I imagine she’s fooling around. Big difference.”
“Probably not to her,” Mia said, her tone more serious and thoughtful.
“Yeah,” Jamie said, matching her friend’s affect. “You’re probably right. It hurts her a lot when I doubt her. And it hurts our relationship. I’ve gotta get over this, Mia, but I’m not making great progress.”
“Can’t that shrink work some magic? You’re paying her enough.”
“I’d pay her double if she could make this go away. But I think I have to work the magic.”
“I might be off, but I think Ryan’s like me. If I’m single, I’m, let’s say, fond of human contact.”
Jamie laughed. “Okay. I’d agree with that.”
“But once I’m into someone, that’s it. I’m not looking anymore. And even if I look at men and women, I’m just looking. I would never, and I do mean never, cheat on Jordan. If I wasn’t happy, I’d tell her and try to fix it. But my sex drive is pointed in her direction. Only. Other women and men hold no interest for me—other than as a tiny portion of my fantasy life. But the thought of having sex with someone else, is…it’s actually repellant.”
“Really?” Jamie asked, sounding a little amazed. “It’s repellant?”
Mia’s voice was soft and low. “Yeah. Jordan and I don’t just have sex. We make love. She touches me in a way no one else ever has. Thinking about someone else just giving me a fuck is…crass.” She made a sour face. “I can’t imagine a situation where that would happen. I honestly can’t imagine it. And I’m not even a lesbian!”
“I know.” Jamie giggled along with her friend. “I think you’re right. I think Ryan’s like that, too. I know how much she loves me and I know how honest and loyal she is. I have no reason on earth to mistrust her. That’s why it’s so frustrating and annoying when I do. It’s based on a gut-instinct that I can’t let go of, even though it’s hurting the woman I love more than anyone on earth.”
Mia reached over and placed her hand on Jamie’s leg, squeezing it gently. “I bet it’s hard for you.”
“It really is.” Her voice was near-breaking and Jamie reached up and wiped away a tear. “I hate the fact that I doubt her. But the closer we get to our commitment ceremony, the more I worry. I just think of how my parents were both committed to a lifetime of fidelity and how easily they broke those vows. It must be easier to cheat than it seems. That’s all I can guess.”
“I don’t know, James. It just doesn’t seem smart to assume Ryan’s gonna be like your dad. She’s not like him in any other way. Why pick this one?”
“It’s not that I think she’s like my dad. I worry that we’re not mature enough to make this commitment. I see so many people act like they’re so ridiculously in love, and then they’re not speaking a year later. Where’s the disconnect? Did they not know what love was? Or can you really fall out of love that easily?”
“I don’t know,” Mia said. “But it makes me sick to think of not loving Jordan. It’s impossible to imagine.”
“I feel that way, too,” Jamie said earnestly. “But doesn’t everyone feel that way? And if they do, how do half of all marriages end in divorce?”
“Don’t have a clue. And I don’t ever want to get one.”
Coach Roberts had polled the softball team and found that they preferred to practice earlier in the day, now that classes had ended and everyone wanted their evenings free to study for finals. He had to schedule practice for a different time every day, since the players’ finals schedules were all different, but he was able to accommodate everyone.
So Ryan was finished for the day when she burst into the house at 2:00 p.m. “Who wants to kiss me?” she bellowed, her voice ringing through the house.
Mia was the first one to reach the railing on the second floor. “Me! Me! I wanna kiss you!”
“Excellent.” Ryan beamed up at her and extended her arms. As she suspected she might, Mia ran down the staircase and leapt at her, hurling both of them back against the front door. “Ooof!”
The air burst from Ryan’s lungs, but she kept her feet and managed to hold onto Mia, who pulled her head back and said, “Where’s my kiss?”
“Where’s my air?” Ryan panted. “You’re quite a handful.”
Mia gave her a good smack, the kiss so noisy that Jamie heard it. “Leave some for me,” she called, descending the stairs.
“I’ve always got a kiss for you,” Ryan said, looking around Mia’s curls to smile at her partner.
Jamie slapped Mia on the butt. “Make way. I called dibs.”
Mia released her hold and slowly slid down Ryan’s body until her feet touched the ground. “Jordan can’t hold me as well as you do. But don’t tell her that.”
“Our little secret,” Ryan said.
Jamie gave Ryan her welcome home kiss, then said, “I know you’re hungry, Tiger. What’ll it be?”
“Anything,” Ryan said dramatically. “I’m faint with the hunger.”
“We’re having sushi for dinner, if that influences your decision.”
“Oh, it does,” Ryan said. “I’ll have a couple of sandwiches first.”
“But you won’t be hungry for dinner.”
“That’s the point,” Ryan said, grinning.
After Ryan’s fairly moderate lunch, the girls sat in the living room, catching up on the minutia of their lives. “When I talked to you the other day, you didn’t talk about your trip to Texas,” Jamie said to Mia.
“Not much to tell.” Mia was sitting sideways in one of the overstuffed chairs, looking almost boneless as she often did when relaxing. “We got there, the team practiced, we had a very early dinner, then we left for the match. But the good news is that there was another cut after the games and Jordy’s still wearing the red, white and blue.”
“How many outside hitters do they have now?” Ryan asked.
“I’m not sure.” Mia’s expression was one of intense concentration. “I think…five. But maybe six.”
Ryan nodded. “They’ll probably keep four, unless a middle-blocker can also be an outside hitter.”
“Yeah, I think Jordy said they’ll keep four. She won’t know for sure until like…July. They wait as long as they can.”
“God, that must be so frustrating!” Jamie said.
“It doesn’t seem as bad now. But maybe it’s just not as bad for me. I’m sure Jordy’s gonna make it. She won’t even talk about it, but she’s been the first substitute after the usual starters. They wouldn’t do that if they weren’t serious about her.”
“It’s cool you noticed that,” Ryan said, obviously impressed.
Mia shot her a small scowl. “It’s her career. And it means everything to her.”
“I know that. And I didn’t mean it to sound like I was insulting you. I just meant that, well, I know sports isn’t your thing. If Jordan’s not talking about it, you’re being observant, and that’s really nice.”
“I love her, you dope. I notice when she eats less than usual or if she isn’t sleeping well. Her body’s like a sports car or something. We both treat it like it’s more of a machine than her.” She scrunched up her face. “Does that make sense?”
“Yeah, it does to me,” Ryan said. “I’ve never competed at her level, but I know it’s a very different thing when your career rides on your body.” She shook her head. “It’s gotta be a lot of pressure.”
“It is. And it’s only gonna get worse.”
“Is she still as skinny?” Jamie asked.
“I don’t think she has the capacity to be sturdy like Ryan is.”
“Nice term,” Ryan said, wrinkling her nose.
“Well, you are sturdy. But Jordan’s always gonna be kinda reedy. Her mom has the same build and she couldn’t weigh five pounds more than Jordy. I’d say that she’s put on a few pounds of muscle since she hit bottom, but she’s still awfully thin for my tastes. She’s eating a lot of protein now, but still almost no fat. But she’s able to eat more vegetables, which makes dinner a little easier. We can at least have big vegetable salads. She wants tofu on hers, but I’m not going there,” Mia said, making a face.
“You get to have rice tonight,” Jamie reminded her.
“Ooo, who ever thought I’d be excited about having rice? It’s hard being in a relationship!”
Dinner was artfully laid out on the kitchen counter, and Jamie stood back a little to watch her partner fill her plate. Ryan tried to be a good sport, but she was still very skittish about Japanese food. Jamie knew that her experimental nature would eventually lead her to love the food, but Ryan was a long way from being comfortable. She poked at the eel with her chopsticks, her nose slightly wrinkled in disgust. The soft-shell crab didn’t receive a much warmer reception and the octopus was ignored without a second thought. It wasn’t until she hit the salmon sushi and the tuna sashimi that she looked happy. Jamie knew those were her favorites, so she’d ordered eight of each, knowing that Ryan would eat most of them.
Mia, who loved Japanese food as much as Jamie, dove into the quail eggs, salmon roe and salmon skin with gusto. “This looks so good, James. I haven’t had Japanese food in forever.”
“Seems like yesterday,” Ryan mumbled, looking over her shoulder to see if Jamie was taking her teasing well.
Jamie picked up a plate and swatted Ryan’s butt. “I’d have this every week if I had my way. I go easy on you because you’re so cute.”
Ryan leaned over and kissed Jamie on the top of the head. “You don’t have to do that. I can keep up with you.”
“I want you to be happy.”
“And I want the same for you.”
Mia made a growling sound. “Knock it off! Stop trying to out-polite each other.”
Ryan wrapped an arm around Jamie, holding her close. “We can’t help it. We’re so disgustingly polite that we’re gonna have to start a support group.”
“You have the best ideas,” Jamie said, looking over her shoulder at Ryan.
“No, no, you do,” Ryan said, a sickeningly sweet smile on her face.
“I’m gonna eat before I barf,” Mia declared, flouncing into the dining room.
Kayla stopped by Jim’s office after almost everyone else was gone for the day, as she often did when he didn’t have an engagement for the evening. It was a very open secret that Jim and Kayla were sleeping together, but they both made it a point not to interact personally during the day. All of their business conversation was strictly business, and no one could say that Kayla wasn’t one of the hardest working aides in the office. Still, they both knew that having an office romance wasn’t good for either of them, particularly given lingering effects of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. Being impeached for lying about having sex was harsh, even by Washington standards. And while everyone in Congress knew the impeachment was theater, it had made everyone, particularly Democrats, a little edgy. So Jim and Kayla tried to be circumspect and keep their private and public lives as separate as possible.
Jim was on the phone when she slipped into the office, so she kicked off her shoes and sat down, putting her bare feet onto another chair. She watched him speak, noting his habit of doodling and jotting notes onto a legal pad the entire time he was engaged.
Kayla had no idea who he was talking to, but it clearly wasn’t business. He was relaxed and chatty, something he never was when Senate matters were at hand.
“I know it sounds crazy,” he said, laughing a little, “but she’s going to be going to the same place you are. Why not hitch a ride?” He looked up briefly and smiled at Kayla.
“I’m sure you will feel uncomfortable, but what’s more important—being there for Mia or feeling comfortable?” He nodded, writing “yes” in big, bold letters before he turned each of the letters into a three dimensional look. “That’s the girl! And it’s not like you’ll be alone. The plane will be filled with people. She won’t even notice you’re there.”
He looked at Kayla again, giving her a very satisfied grin. “I’ll get you back to Colorado on the last flight tomorrow night. You’ll miss most of the party, but that’s not a deal-breaker, is it?” He nodded emphatically. “Good! So, I’ll see you tomorrow morning. And you don’t have to dress up, either. Most of the people on the plane are reporters and they always look like hell.” He chuckled and said, “See you then.” He hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. “I’m pretty cagey when I want to be.”
Kayla privately thought that Jim was cagey even when he wasn’t trying, but she thought she’d better not offer that opinion. “What are you cooking up?”
“Just a little surprise for my daughter.” His phone rang again and he scowled when he saw the caller identified. “Gotta take this.” He picked up the phone. “What’s up, Jason?”
Hearing that name prodded Kayla to go back to her desk. Jim’s senior aide wouldn’t call him from home unless it was important, and she hated to waste time watching him talk on the phone. So she decided to work until he was ready to leave for his late flight, hoping she wouldn’t faint from hunger before then.
While they ate, Jamie asked Mia, “How long do we get to keep you?”
Speaking around a bite, Mia said, “I have to go home with my family tomorrow. Peter’s coming home and I assume we’ll have a little party or a special dinner after the convocation.”
“That sounds like fun,” Ryan said. “When can you come back?”
Mia batted her eyes coquettishly. “Sure you want me?”
Ryan stared at her. “Hell, yes. I want you and Jordan to move back here and you know it.”
“I do,” Mia said, giggling. “I just wanted to hear it. I guess I can come back late tomorrow night or Friday morning. I have a final on Friday afternoon.”
“What other finals do you have?”
“Mmm…” She squinted, thinking. “Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday afternoon. Then I’m all done.”
“Want me to come get you?” Ryan asked. “I just have one final on Monday, so I’m pretty available.”
“Nah. Somebody can bring me back.”
“Just buzz me if nobody’s available. I’d be happy to do it.”
“You’re my first alternate,” Mia said, pointing her chopstick at Ryan. “If I’ve worn out my welcome in a day, I’ll hit you up for a ride.”
Brendan called just as Jamie began to brush her teeth. Ryan answered and spent a few seconds talking to her brother, but, to Jamie’s surprise, Ryan didn’t ask him about the sale. She just handed over the phone and lay down on the bed, listening raptly to Jamie’s side of the conversation.
“Hi. This isn’t too late, is it?”
“No, not at all. What’s up?”
“Well, it looks like the seller is willing to deal. He countered at 10 percent below asking price. Ray thinks that’s a very good sign.”
“I do too. Did you ask him why he needed to see you to tell you the details?”
“Eh, I did, but he gave me some bull about wanting to make sure we could go over the entire thing and have all of our questions answered. I think he thinks we’re slow.”
“He’s wrong,” Jamie said, chuckling. “What do you guys think we should counter with?”
“I talked to Maggie, and she thinks it shows good faith if you meet halfway.”
“So, 15 percent under ask?”
“Yeah. That’s what she thinks, and I tend to agree.”
“Sounds good.” She sighed heavily. “It’s so nice to talk to you, Bren. You actually have opinions.”
“So do the cousins. Just not about anything worthwhile,” he said, laughing.
On Wednesday morning, Jordan got up before the sun rose. That was her habit, but even if it hadn’t been, she wouldn’t have needed the alarm. She was a bundle of nerves, having tossed and turned all night long. Having Mia gone disturbed her sleep, but that wasn’t what was making her nervous.
She got up and nabbed the shower first, washing and starting to dry her hair before anyone else was up. The dryer was noisy and she didn’t hear the knock on the door. Toni opened the door a little and shouted, “Can I come in and pee?”
“Sure.” Jordan kept drying her hair, absently thinking about her schedule.
When Toni was finished she stood behind Jordan and said, “Want some lotion on your back?”
“Sure. I can do it, but it’s easier to have help.”
Toni moisturized Jordan’s skin, giving her a mini-massage at the same time.
“That feels good. I’m pretty tense.”
“You feel it.” Toni worked on the muscles in her neck for a few minutes, then reached up and took the dryer from her. She held the appliance while Jordan continued to use her brush to present sections of her hair to the heat. “Your hair is getting so long you’re gonna have to pay somebody to do this,” Toni said.
“Nah. I can do it. And I’ll have it trimmed soon. I just never have time.”
“Your arm must be getting tired.” Toni took the brush and performed the entire task. Jordan put her hands on the sink to brace herself while Toni assertively brushed her long hair. “Good thing Mia’s not here,” she said, giggling. “She wouldn’t like how this looks.”
Her head tilting just a tiny bit, Jordan gave her teammate a puzzled look. “Why?”
Laughing again, Toni said, “You’re naked, holding on to the sink; I’m behind you in only my panties…”
Still clueless, Jordan continued to look at her. “I don’t get it.”
Exasperated, Toni said, “I look like I’m about to fuck you!”
Blue eyes didn’t register the imagined scene. “With a hair dryer?”
“Never mind.” Toni looked a little put off. “I sure wouldn’t like to find my naked lover in a bathroom with another woman.”
Jordan’s gaze sharpened and her eyes became hooded. “Then why are you here?”
“Uhm, well, Mia’s not home…”
“So you wouldn’t offer to dry my hair if she was?”
“Uhm, no, I guess I wouldn’t.”
Jordan turned and took both the dryer and brush from Toni’s rather limp hands. “Then you shouldn’t do it now. I don’t do anything that I wouldn’t do in front of Mia. I’d appreciate it if you did the same.” She managed a small smile and made a shooing gesture. “I’ll be out in a couple of minutes.” Wordlessly, Toni backed out of the room, leaving a mildly scowling Jordan.
By 7:00 a.m. Jordan was in Mia’s car, driving the relatively short distance to the Air Force Academy. She briefly considered Toni’s behavior, puzzled about her teammate’s comments. She didn’t understand why Toni would do something that she wouldn’t do when Mia was home, and, even more puzzling, why she’d admit to it. Jordan would never behave in a way that Mia would disapprove of, and she was confounded by her friend seemingly delighting in it.
By the time she’d spent a few minutes thinking about the issue, she was at the gates of the complex. It took a while to get through Security, but everything had been arranged, and after showing her driver’s license to a few guards she was directed to a visitor’s parking lot. She got out and walked to the impressive building where she was supposed to check in. A man about her age, looking alert and sharp-eyed, was sitting at a desk. “I’m here to meet Senator Evans,” she said.
“Yes, Ma’am. May I have your name?”
“Just a moment.” He picked up a phone and dialed a number, waiting a moment for someone to answer. “Jordan Ericsson for Senator Evans.” He listened attentively, then said, “I can provide her with an ID badge and have someone escort her. Thank you, Sir.” He turned back to Jordan. “Go through the door to your left and you’ll be photographed and given a badge. Come back here when you’re finished.”
She nodded and did as he said, slightly amused when another young man, just as stiff and sharp as the first took her photograph and checked her license again. He filled out a form on his computer, asking for her social security number. An ID card rolled out of a printer and he put it into a plastic holder attached to a lanyard. When he extended it to her, he held on for just a second. “This is optional, Ma’am, but if you’d like to offer your telephone number I’d be most appreciative.”
She started to give it, then it hit her. She laughed. “I’m partnered.”
He smiled agreeably. “Doesn’t surprise me, Ma’am. It’s not often a beautiful woman who lives in Colorado Springs drops by, though, so I had to ask.”
“I’m flattered,” she said, gracing him with one of her generous smiles. “Have a nice day.”
“Tell your friends this is a fine place to meet single men with stable jobs.”
“I’ll be sure to.”
She went back to the front desk and there was a third starched young man waiting to take her to meet Jim. . In silence they took the elevator to the third floor and exited to find a row of offices. He took her to an office marked “Lt. Colonel Avery Weiskopff” and opened the door for her. She entered and was not surprised to find yet another neat young man sitting behind a desk in the anteroom. Her guide saluted and said, “Ms. Jordan Ericsson for Senator Evans.”
His salute was returned and she was handed off. “Please have a seat,” her new attendant said. She did, and was no sooner in the chair than Jim emerged, smiling and happy-looking.
“Jordan, you made it.” He enveloped her in a friendly hug. “You’re looking very well.”
“Thanks, uhm, Senator—”
“If you don’t call me Jim, you can’t get on the plane.”
“Thanks, Jim,” she corrected immediately.
He laughed and tossed an arm around her shoulders. “Have you had breakfast?”
“Not much. I was too nervous.”
“Then let’s go get something.” He looked at the desk-bound man. “Sergeant, where can a couple of civilians get a bite to eat?”
“Exit this building and turn left, Sir. Follow the path until you reach the mess hall. You’re welcome to use it.”
“Thank you,” Jim said. He poked his head into the inner office and said, “I’ll be back in a bit. I’m going to go get some breakfast. Want anything?”
Jordan couldn’t hear the response, vaguely wondering who Jim was with. Before she could spend another minute thinking about it they were walking briskly down the corridor, following the sergeant’s instructions.
“So,” Jim began, “tell me how things are going. I don’t talk to Jamie often enough to keep up with everyone.”
“We’re doing well. I’m not sure how Mia can keep herself entertained, but she claims she likes being here.”
“Maybe being entertained isn’t her top priority,” Jim said, giving her a wry grin.
Jordan blushed a little, nodding her agreement. “She’s a very determined person. She made up her mind and there wasn’t anything I, or her parents could do to stop her. I’ve learned that it’s a waste of time and energy to try to talk Mia out of something. And since I benefit from her choice, I’m selfishly happy that I couldn’t talk her out of it.”
“I know Mia pretty well,” Jim said. “She’s a lot like her father was when he was her age. Adam made a decision and stuck with it, even if it didn’t make sense to anyone else. He was a very headstrong guy…until he got married.” Jim chuckled. “I never would have thought he’d marry a woman who ruled the roost, but Anna Lisa sure does!”
Jordan couldn’t help but laugh. “I don’t know either of them well, but it’s always surprised me that a guy who’s supposed to be a powerful lawyer takes a backseat to his wife. He seems to follow orders pretty well.”
“Yeah, that’s Adam. He’s in charge when he’s away from home…and that’s it! But he seems happy in his marriage so I sure as hell can’t criticize him.”
“Whatever works,” Jordan agreed. “I wish he would have been more supportive when Anna Lisa was so mad at Mia, but he just vanished.”
“Mia can’t do any wrong where Adam’s concerned, but I can’t see him crossing Anna Lisa.” He shook his head. “I just can’t see it.”
“So I should spend my time making Anna Lisa like me, huh?” she asked, her eyes twinkling.
“And her mother. Adam says his mother-in-law makes Anna Lisa look like a teddy bear.”
Jamie called Ray on his cell phone at 8:00. “Jamie Evans,” she said when he answered. “This isn’t too early, is it?”
“No, I’m up,” he said, but he didn’t sound particularly awake.
“I want to make a counteroffer, but I can’t go to the city today.”
“Oh. Well, maybe Brendan—”
“He doesn’t have signing authority, Ray. We can do this with faxes, and that’s how we’re going to work from now on. I don’t have time to come to your office to sign a paper and I don’t want you to have to come over here.”
“Oh. Okay. I guess we can do that.”
“Of course you can. I’ve written instructions telling you exactly what to offer. Just fill out the form and fax it to me. I’ll sign it and fax it back.”
“All right,” he said hesitantly. “I’m not used to doing—”
“Then this will be a fun, new experience,” she said with feigned enthusiasm. “I’ll be available until about 1:00, then I’m booked for the rest of the day.”
“Okay,” he said, sounding much more awake. “I’ll get right on it.”
“Excellent. Let me know.”
They were seated at the mess, Jordan eating some of the fresh fruit and cottage cheese that the fairly health-conscious mess offered. “Did you stay here last night?” Jordan asked.
“Yes.” He took a bite of scrambled eggs and chewed quickly. “I stayed at the Broadmoor. It’s a very nice resort. Have you been there?”
Jordan smirked. “If it’s nice, you can be sure I haven’t been there.”
“I could have stayed here, but…” he smiled rather rakishly, “I’m used to the sweet life.”
“What are you here for, if you don’t mind my asking?”
He waved her off. “No secrets. I’m on the subcommittee that oversees the service academies. I didn’t have to be here exactly today, but this seemed like a good time to take a look around. I haven’t been here before.”
“Wow,” Jordan said, a smile creeping out of her composed expression. “That’s a lucky break—what with having to be in California this afternoon anyway.”
He winked at her. “Funny how things work out, isn’t it?”
They finished their meal and strolled back to Jim’s borrowed office. As soon as they entered the room, a young man came out of the inner office and said, “They’re ready. We’ve got to hurry.”
He handed Jim his briefcase and a raincoat, then dashed back into the office to grab his own things. He was back in seconds, then exited and walked down the hall so briskly that Jordan and Jim practically had to jog to keep up. Once they were in the elevator, the young man said, “Jason Farlington,” and extended his hand to Jordan.
“You’re Jamie’s friend, right?”
“Uhm, not yet, but I’m still on the team. If I make the next two cuts, I’m going to Sydney.”
“Very cool. Good luck with that”
They got into a waiting car and were whisked to the airfield. From a distance, Jordan could see a plane that looked out of place. It was gleaming white and The United States of America was stenciled along the side. “Is that Air Force One?” she asked, her voice breaking.
“No,” Jim said. “It’s number two. The vice president is here, too, but he doesn’t need to make the side trip to San Francisco.”
“This is kinda freaky,” Jordan said. She was unnaturally pale and her voice was softer and a little higher than normal.
“Nonsense.” Jim put his hand on her knee and gave it a squeeze. “When you see the riff-raff that gets on with us, you’ll think you’re flying coach.”
“But…that’s the vice president’s plane.”
“And we’re hitching a ride,” Jim said with enthusiasm. “It’s an adventure.”
They were let out of the car just about twenty yards from the plane. Jordan watched as a group of men and women were allowed to climb the stairs and board the plane. They did, she had to admit, look a bit scruffy. “Reporters,” Jim said, seeing where she was staring. “We’d better get on or they’ll take all the good seats.”
They got into the line and many of the reporters spoke to Jim, asking why he was at the academy and why he was traveling to California. He proudly said he was going to his daughter’s convocation after having conducted some business for his subcommittee.
They found seats and Jordan was surprised at how boisterous the plane was. There was a moment of quiet, then Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State, boarded the plane, cordially saying hello to many of the reporters by name. She stopped at Jim’s seat and looked at Jordan for a second. “Is this your daughter, Jim?”
Jordan jumped up to shake her hand, hitting her head sharply on the bulkhead. Her eyes were squeezed shut in pain as Jim quickly came to her rescue. “No, my daughter’s about half a foot shorter than Jordan. This is one of her best friends, Madam Secretary. Jordan Ericsson’s a member of the U.S. Olympic volleyball team. She and my daughter Jamie would have been graduating together, but Jordan postponed finishing school to compete.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Jordan,” Ms. Albright said. “It’s not every day that I get to meet an Olympian.”
“The pleasure’s mine,” Jordan said, reaching out to shake her hand. “I’m really looking forward to hearing your speech today.”
The Secretary laughed. “You can’t mean that, but I hope it doesn’t bore you too much.” She nodded and moved to the back of the plane, being followed into a private cabin by several aides.
“That was cool,” Jordan said, her voice so full of awe that both Jim and Jason laughed.
“I guess we forget that this is a pretty big deal,” Jim said to Jason.
“I suppose,” Jason said, his attention already diverted to the stack of documents that nearly filled his lap.
A massive SUV was waiting for Jim on the tarmac of the Oakland airport, but it was dwarfed by the retinue that Secretary Albright had on hand. The Secretary and her aides and bodyguards exited the plane first, then Jim and his group were next in importance. Jordan felt a little odd to have the reporters looking at her critically as she passed, and she knew some of them were barely restraining themselves from asking who she was and why she was with Senator Evans.
They made it to Berkeley in good time, even though they didn’t receive the police escort the Secretary merited. Jordan got out in front of the house and found herself smiling broadly in anticipation of seeing Mia. She waited impatiently as Jim finished speaking with Jason before sending him on his way. Jim nudged Jordan with his elbow. “Let me go ring the bell while you wait on the side of the porch. Wait for a minute or so, and then come in. The surprise will be better that way.”
Her eyes popped open. “I don’t know if I can wait.”
He smiled at her. “Isn’t being in love wonderful?”
“It’s the best,” she said, giving him an unguarded, glowing smile.
They walked up to the wide porch and Jordan went to the far corner. He knocked once, and in seconds Jamie opened the door. “Daddy!” She put her arms around his neck and hugged him, then Jim went inside and Jamie closed the door.
Shifting her weight and fidgeting, Jordan stood the delay for as long as she could. She wasn’t sure that even a minute had passed, but she didn’t care. She didn’t want to waste another second. Her stomach was fluttering and her palms were sweaty when she grasped the door handle and pressed down with her thumb. Swinging the door open slowly, she saw that Jim and Jamie were just a few feet away from the door. Ryan was sitting on the back of a nearby chair and Mia was on the second step of the staircase, looking mildly interested in what Jim was saying. The breeze coming in through the open door caught Mia’s attention first, and she shrieked, “Jordy!” In a flash, she was in Jordan’s arms, hugging her so hard that Jordan was briefly worried about a rupture. But it felt so good to see Mia so happy that she ignored the pain and luxuriated in her lover’s embrace.
Jamie did a double-take, then said to her father, “You were behind this, weren’t you?” Before he had a chance to answer, both she and Ryan were trying to grab a piece of Jordan to hug—but Mia hadn’t left them much to work with.
Jordan managed to say, “You dad called me and arranged for the whole thing. I got to fly with him and Madeleine Albright!”
Ryan maneuvered Mia enough to one side to place a kiss on Jordan’s cheek, then went back to Jim. “That was very, very nice of you. Having Jordan here makes the day a whole lot better.”
He snuck a look at Mia, who was still holding on to Jordan and seemed to be crying. “If you and Jamie care for her half as much as Mia does, that’s an understatement.”
After regaling the group with the excitement of her trip, Jordan went upstairs with Mia so that Mia could get dressed for the ceremony. As soon as they crossed the threshold to her bedroom, Mia started to kiss Jordan, feathering her entire face and throat with the gentle touches. “I’m so happy you’re here,” she finally sighed. “It just didn’t feel right not having you with me. It didn’t really feel like a reason to celebrate, you know?” She looked up at Jordan, her big brown eyes radiating love.
“I do.” Jordan held her close, not saying another word, just gently rocking her while she rhythmically stroked her back.
Jamie was prepared for guests. She assumed someone from the family would come to the house at some point, and she wanted to train herself to observe the O’Flaherty tradition of always offering a bite to eat. She and Ryan set out a spread of cold cuts, cheese, olives, and raw vegetables, along with condiments and dip. Ryan wasn’t quite finished slicing some French bread when Mia came into the kitchen, closely followed by Jordan. “I smell food.”
“You have a better nose than I do,” Ryan teased. “Go ahead and start munching.”
“It’s gonna be a long day,” Mia said. “I won’t get another meal until seven or eight o’clock. I’m glad the weather’s nice, though. And it doesn’t look like it’ll be too hot.”
“It’s a long way from hot,” Jordan said. “It’s in the fifties, but the wind is fierce. You guys will never keep your caps on.”
“Ooo, was the flight bad?” Mia looked up at Jordan, searching her expression.
Jordan looked a little stiff when she said, “Yeah. A little. I didn’t like it.”
“It wasn’t too bad,” Jim added. “Our take off was pretty bumpy, though. I’m glad I didn’t have a cup of coffee in my hand; it would have been all over my suit.”
Mia protectively wrapped her arm around Jordan’s waist, and rested her head on her chest. Jordan didn’t say anything, but she and Ryan shared a small, knowing grin, acknowledging that their lovers were both protective of them.
Jordan and Mia nearly shared a chair at the table, but they managed to eat a good-sized meal, giving Mia energy for the day.
Jamie nibbled contemplatively on a carrot, then commented, “I’m surprised you’re wearing a dress, Mia. Are you just dressing up for Jordan?”
“No,” she said, beaming a sweet smile at her partner. “My grandparents are coming, and if I don’t wear a dress, the lecture might take as long as the speeches.”
“Are all of your grandparents alive?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah. My dad’s parents are cool. They kinda sit back and watch the fireworks.”
“The fireworks come from…?” Ryan led.
“My mom and her mother. Her father’s really quiet unless you get him worked up about something, but my grandmother makes my mother seem like she’s on Xanax.” She shot a charming grin at Jim and added, “If I had any idea of what Xanax makes someone act like, that is.”
Jim laughed. “You don’t look a lot like him, but you’re definitely Adam Christopher’s daughter. It’s hard to believe how many years it’s been since he and I were getting ready for our graduation from Stanford.”
“It’s kinda cool that you and my dad were buddies in college,” Mia said. “I hope Jamie and my kids are close enough in age to be friends.” She and Jamie made fists and pressed their knuckles together. “Too cool, huh?”
“I hope your kids take after Jordan,” Ryan teased.
Mia shot back, “And yours had better take after Jamie, so they don’t run around sleeping with…” She stopped dead, her eyes growing wide.
“My father knows about Ryan’s…popularity before she met me,” Jamie said quickly, putting Mia out of her misery.
Exaggeratedly wiping her brow, Mia looked at Jamie quizzically. “That’s going pretty far on the ‘introduce your girlfriend’ scale, isn’t it?”
“We share everything,” Jamie said, giving her father a smile that a stranger would have known was theatrical.
“I tell my parents my address and phone number,” Mia said. “Any more than that’s too revealing.”
“I don’t know your mother well,” Jim said, “but if your father gives you a hard time about anything, you just let me know. I can tell you things about him that would make your head spin.”
“Tell me now,” Mia said excitedly.
“No, no, I’ll only do that if he deserves it. God knows he’s got the goods on me, as well.”
Jordan watched the exchange, privately wondering what Mia’s father could have on Jim that would be more embarrassing than the things she already knew about him.
Catherine called about an hour before the girls were due on campus, and after consulting with Jamie, they agreed that she’d stop by and pick up Jim on her way. Jordan volunteered to take the graduates to campus and then return the car to the house. “Would you save me a seat, Jim?” she asked.
“Don’t you want to sit with my family?” Mia asked, looking hurt.
“Oh, sure, but I haven’t met anyone but your mom. I don’t think I could find them in the crowd.”
Scowling, Mia said, “I guess that’s true. But I could call Peter and have him look for you. He’s seen your picture.”
“I’d rather meet them when you’re there,” Jordan said, thinking that Mia’s description of her family dynamic was less than appealing.
“Okay. You’ll probably have a better time with Jim and Catherine, anyway. My grandmother tends to complain when people talk for too long. She’ll probably start grousing after about ten minutes.”
“I’m used to people talking about nothing for hours at a time,” Jim said. “I’ve got ninety-nine colleagues who do nothing else.”
Continued in Part Seven
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