I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 16: Paradigm

By: Susan X Meagher

Part Seven

Catherine was running late, so she didn’t even come inside. She called as she reached the corner and, after kissing Jamie goodbye, Jim went out to meet her.

Jamie turned to Ryan and said, “No more distractions. We’ve gotta get ready, bud.”

“I’m ready.”

Jamie looked at her, taking in the white “Berkeley Math” T-shirt Ryan had bought for all of her friends in her major. The shirt was cute, with the pi symbol centered on an American flag. Jamie just hoped that Ryan didn’t keep whistling the song “American Pie” all day, or she was afraid her classmates would strangle her. Besides the shirt, she wore neatly pressed navy blue shorts and a gold and blue striped web belt. Her hair was pulled back in an elastic band, adding to her ultra-casual look. The only fashion concession she’d made for the event was to wear both of her blue diamond earrings. “That’s what you’re wearing?”

“Yeah. I’ll be hot in the gown, so why waste decent clothes? I’ll get ’em all sweaty.”

“It’s not very hot out, Boom,” Jordan reminded her. “I don’t think it’s gonna hit sixty.”

Ryan put on her “don’t waste your time telling me what to do” expression and said, “It’s sunny, and we’re wearing black. I’ll be hot.”

Pouting slightly, Jamie said, “You’ll look goofy in the pictures.”

“No I won’t. Since my legs are bare, it’ll look like I’m wearing a dress.”

“Not with those running shoes on.”

“It’ll be fine.” She patted Jamie on the butt. “Promise. Now go get dressed. We need to leave in ten minutes.”

Jamie climbed the stairs, mumbling just loud enough for her friends to hear. “She’s gonna look dumb.”


Jamie put on a sleeveless, summery dress in a pale blue print, grousing to herself while she dressed. She couldn’t recall ever being seriously disappointed in how Ryan looked, but this disappointment was pretty acute. It didn’t make sense to her to even bother going to the ceremony and wearing the gown, only to wear running shoes and a ponytail. When she returned downstairs, everyone was ready and Ryan was holding the door open for her. “Hurry up, babe.”

“I’m coming, I’m coming.”

Ryan looked at her and asked, “Where’s your splint?”

“I’m not wearing it.” Jamie’s eyes locked on to Ryan’s, daring her to protest.

“Fine. But you’d better have some support on that arm. You won’t be happy if you have to have surgery.”

Jamie drew back the arm of her black gown, showing the elastic bandage she’d been able to wrap fairly adeptly.

“Can I check it out when we get on campus? I wanna make sure it’s tight enough.”

“It is,” Jamie said, giving her that no-nonsense look again. If she had to bite her tongue to not criticize Ryan, she wasn’t about to allow Ryan to criticize her.

Holding up her hands in surrender, Ryan wisely chose to remain silent.

As they walked to the car, Jamie pointed to the paper sack her lover carried. “What’s in the bag?”

“Nuthin’.” Ryan was wearing her angelic expression, and Jamie didn’t press, as she knew she’d find out sooner or later what her secretive lover was carrying.

They hit traffic almost the moment they left the house. “How many people are in our class?” Ryan asked.

“I think I read there were maybe six thousand?” Jamie said.

Ryan grumbled, “I think every one of them has a car and is in front of us.”

“I bet my dad regrets not sticking with the Secretary of State,” Jamie said. “He’d probably get airlifted in to the ceremony.”

The area was so congested that Ryan finally gave voice to the inevitable. “We’re gonna have to walk if we wanna get there on time.”

“I’m wearing heels,” Jamie said.

Ryan pulled over to the curb and removed the key from the ignition, handing it to Jordan. “If the traffic’s too terrible, just find a spot and leave it somewhere. The police won’t be able to tow everybody.” She opened the back door and noted Mia’s glare. “I know. You’re wearing heels, too. So go barefoot.”

Mia cocked her head, looking at Ryan like she was just a little insane. “My mother and my grandmothers would flip if I went barefoot.”

“Carry your shoes. Just leave ’em off until we get close.”

“I’ve got nice stockings on.”

“So do I,” Jamie added.

“Then wear your shoes. We don’t have many options, girls. We haven’t moved in five minutes.”

Grudgingly, both Jamie and Mia took off their shoes, but Jamie demanded that Ryan hand over her socks, putting the very large socks on, then sticking her tongue out at Ryan. “My stockings cost more than your socks.”

“Jordy, do you have socks?” Mia asked.

“No, but I’ll bring you another pair of stockings from the house. How’s that?”

“Perfect.” Mia kissed her, then turned her towards the car. “Get going so you can get back here fast.”

“Got it.” Jordan jumped in and took off, actually making progress since she was moving away from campus.

The walk was moderately long, but since they were passing so many cars, it seemed like they were moving very quickly. “Think we’ll make it?” Jamie asked.

Ryan looked at her watch. “We won’t be there an hour early like we were supposed to be, but nothing at Berkeley ever starts on time. If we get there five minutes beforehand, they’ll let us into the procession.”

Mia moved to stand between Jamie and Ryan, and grasped both their hands. “Am I the only one who’s sad?” she asked, looking from one to the other.

“No,” Jamie said, immediately reaching up to wipe her eyes. “I am too. And don’t squeeze my hand too hard or I’m gonna cry even harder. I still don’t have much flexibility.”

Ryan reached into her paper bag and handed handkerchiefs to both women. “I knew we’d be crying all day and I didn’t wanna bring a whole box of tissues.”

“Why aren’t you crying?” Jamie demanded. “You always cry first.”

“Yeah, but if you cry first, I don’t always follow. You kinda act as an overflow for me.”

“Makes sense,” Jamie said. “So, since we were here for two years before we met you, Mia and I will start the crying, and you can come in a little later.”

Ryan winked and blew her a kiss. “You always come up with a good plan.”


They were only about ten minutes late as they approached Kleeberger Field, the area where the graduates were to gather. There were so many graduates, so many signs, banners, and officious people shouting out directions, that the three of them looked at each other for a moment, unsure of what to do. Ryan snapped out of her funk first. “Don’t move. I’ll figure out where we’re supposed to be.”

 Ryan ran back up to them a few minutes later. “Okay. Here’s the scoop. We go over there,” she pointed to a distant spot, “and get in line. We’re gonna start moving in just a few minutes, so we’ve gotta hustle.” They sped off, long, black gowns flapping in the steady wind. They’d just reached the spot where they were supposed to be when Conor ran up to them.

“I’ve been looking for you guys for a half hour!”

“We were late,” Ryan said. “What’s up?”

“Catherine bought you these,” he said, opening a big box and showing them three gorgeous leis made up of white and gold orchids.

“Cool!” Mia took one and put it on Jamie. Jamie put Ryan’s on, then she put the last one on Mia, standing back to admire her friend.

“You look fantastic,” Jamie said, kissing Mia and enveloping her in a long hug. “This is the last time we’ll graduate together,” she added, starting to cry again.

“I’m taking off,” Conor said. He bent and kissed Ryan on the head, then gave both Jamie and Mia a kiss on the cheek. “You guys all look great.” He shot a pointed look at his sister. “Except for those stupid running shoes.” Narrowing his gaze, he demanded of Jamie, “Where’s your splint?”

“Don’t rile her up,” Ryan said. “Call us and tell us where you’re sitting,” she called out as he loped away.

 Jamie took Ryan’s cap and carefully set it on her head, making sure it was perfect. She kissed her and said, “You look lovely. And I’m going to make myself forget you’re wearing shorts and a T-shirt and running shoes.”

“Does it bother you?” Ryan asked solicitously.

Shrugging slightly, Jamie said, “You’d look so pretty in a dress that every once in a while I wish you didn’t hate them. But I know you really do, so I don’t want to coerce you into wearing one.”

“I do hate them, but I like to please you.”

“Too late now. Hey, we’re ready to move."

They got in line just as the procession began and the huge group began to move in fits and starts.

“Reminds me of the AIDS Ride,” Ryan said, smiling. Her smile morphed into tears in a matter of seconds. “It kills me that Michael isn’t here,” she said, struggling to control herself. “He always used to tell me that I’d be a Bear one day.” She shook her head, her long hair cascading across her shoulders. “Don’t even get me started about my mother.”

“Don’t think of that,” Mia begged. “Let’s focus on the fun we’ve had.” Her lower lip started to tremble and she barely got out, “…that’s over now.”

“God, we’re a big mess,” Jamie said, putting an arm around both Ryan and Mia, making sure her left arm was nice and straight so it didn’t hurt. “We’re gonna drown ourselves by the end of the day.”

Once it got going, the procession moved relatively quickly, and in just a few minutes they drew near to the rear of the theater. “Lots of protestors,” Ryan said, being able to see over much of the crowd. “I had a feeling this would be a big day for dissidents.”

“What are they pissed off about?” Mia asked, straining to see through the crowd.

“Secretary Albright,” Ryan said. “Let’s see…I see signs saying ‘Baby Killer,’ ‘Clinton and Albright Condone Genocide,’ ‘Iraqis Are Human Beings,’ and…‘Secretary of War.’” Ryan looked at her friends and said, “They seem to be upset with our speaker.”

“What’s up with Iraq?” Mia asked. “Are we mad at them? I thought it was Iran we hated.”

“We have sanctions against Iraq,” Jamie said. “People are angry that the Iraqis aren’t getting medicine and food.”

“Well, what did they do to piss us off?”

Ryan looked at her askance. “College grad, huh?”

Mia slapped at her. “I’m in American Studies. A-m-e-r-i-c-a-n. Is Iraq in America?”

“Nope. Don’t think so,” Ryan agreed.

“I rest my case. So, why are we pissed?”

“Lots of reasons, but primarily, the sanctions are supposed to force Saddam Hussein to spend money on his people, rather than on building up his army again.”

“Oh. Right,” Mia said. “The whole Gulf War thing.”

“Yeah,” Jamie said with an indulgent smile. “That thing. Hussein’s still in power and we’ve had sanctions against trading with Iraq for ten years now. Most people agree they’re not working, and the Iraqi citizens are the ones who are suffering.”

“Got it. That’s why Albright’s a baby killer.”

“That’s one view,” Jamie said. “I can tell you what the administration says—”

“Nah.” Mia waved her hand. “I’ve got the gist now. That’s all I need.”

“So easily satisfied,” Jamie said, getting a wink from Ryan.

They reached the back of the Greek Theater and were directed to move into single file. Ryan put her arm around Jamie. “Hey…I’ve gotta…hang back a little bit. Do you mind?”

Jamie stopped, causing the person behind her to bump into her. “Sorry,” she said, turning to the poor woman whose cap had flown off. Looking at Ryan, she asked, “What’s going on?”

“I’ve gotta sit…” she gestured to the rear of the procession, “…over there.”


“’Cause they said I have to. Sorry, babe. Gotta go.” She kissed her and tugged on Mia’s lei. “See ya.” Then she took off, running quickly until she had disappeared into the crowd.

Jamie stared after her, but she started to walk again, finally saying, “I never know what she’s gonna do next. For all I know, she’s singing the national anthem!”


Just before they entered, a panting, pink-cheeked Jordan ran up, wearing a black graduation gown and carrying a cap.

Mia started to jump into her arms, but Jordan saw the intent in her eyes and held up her hands. “Don’t, babe. I don’t wanna attract too much attention.”

Mia hugged her and shook her back and forth. “How’d you get here?”

“Ryan. Who else? I don’t know how she did it, but she saw me back there looking for you. I was trying to bring you more stockings,” she said, holding up a pair. “She tossed me the cap and gown and said, “Run and you can catch ’em. So I ran.”

“I’m so glad you’re with us,” Jamie said, squeezing her tightly. “Especially since Ryan ran off.” Struck by a thought, she gulped. “She didn’t give you her gown, did she?”

“No, she had one on.”

“Do you know where she went?”

“No idea. I was with her for about two seconds.”

“My mysterious lover,” Jamie said, smiling in spite of her mild annoyance.


They entered the backstage area, walked through an open curtain, and strode to the stage. Just as they hit the stage, Jamie’s cell phone rang. She opened it and said, “Yes?”

“Conor. We’re on the left side, about two rows up from the hunk of empty seats.”

She scanned the area and saw a group of tall, dark-haired men standing and waving frantically. “Look up there,” Jamie said to Mia and Jordan, pointing out the men.

Both women joined Jamie in waving and Mia yelled, “O’Flahertys rock” at the phone.

Jamie looked carefully and could see her mother, father, and grandfather waving in a much more proper, but no less enthusiastic fashion. She continued to wave, blowing kisses as she finished walking across the stage toward their seats. “Tell my family I love them,” she said.

“Why is Jordan with you guys?” Conor asked.

“Ask your sister.”

“Where is she?”

“I have no idea. Gotta go.” She hung up and waved one more time before being forced to concentrate on the directions they were being given. It took a long time for everyone to file into the seats, but they eventually got organized. A graduate walked up to the podium and announced, “I’m proud to introduce Chancellor Berdahl, our distinguished speakers, honored guests and graduates.”

A long line of people entered and made their way across the stage, and, to Jamie’s complete lack of surprise, Ryan took a seat in the front row.

“Why’s she up there?” Jordan asked.

“Not a clue. Welcome to my life. I’m always the last to know.”

“Are you sure she’s not the University Medalist?” Mia asked.

“Well, we were at the awards ceremony where they announced who it was, and it wasn’t Ryan, but they might have had a tabulating error. Nothing is impossible.”

After the usual singing of the national anthem, a student introduced the chancellor and he took the podium. He presented various medals and awards, then said, “The Anna Espenschade Prize to a graduating senior female athlete for excellence of attitude in athletic endeavor goes to Siobhán Ryan O’Flaherty, a member of the Academic All America basketball team, and a double major in molecular and cell biology and mathematics.”

Jamie clapped enthusiastically, turning to Mia and saying, “I knew she got that award, I just didn’t know that got her a seat on the dais. That’s not bad, considering what she could have been holding out on me.”

“What’s an Academic All America?” Mia asked.

“It should be All American,” Jamie said. “I’ve heard of it, but I have no idea who awards it. Of course, I didn’t know Ryan was one, but that’s par for the course.”

Jordan leaned over and said, “It’s All America, even though it sounds funny. The sports information directors choose teams of players for all the major sports.”

“Are you one?” Mia asked, giving Jordan one of her adoring looks.

“I was. Junior year. Before I met you.”

“Did you get a uniform?”

Jordan blinked. “No, honey. We didn’t have a real team. Just an honorary one.”

“Oh.” Mia looked disappointed. “I thought you’d get to play some other smart team.”

Giggling, Jordan shook her head. “I love your imagination.”

“I’m gonna look into getting you a smart girls volleyball uniform. You’d look cute.” She gazed back at the stage. “Speaking of cute…see how nice Ryan looks? She’s got girl shoes on. She knew she was gonna be on the dais. Even Ryan doesn’t have the guts to wear running shoes up there.”

Jordan leaned over and said, “That’s Jamie’s influence. Ryan actually thinks running shoes are perfect for any occasion.”

“Sad, but true,” Jamie agreed. “And she has her hair down, too. And it’s brushed perfectly. The little minx was just jerking me around.”

The chancellor introduced the University Medalist and the four runners up, but didn’t invite the winner to speak. Jamie looked in the program and said, “Isn’t she supposed to talk now?”

Mia looked at the booklet and said, “Yeah. Maybe she didn’t want to.”

“No way. There’s just no way. They’d never give the award to someone who didn’t want to speak. You have to apply and write a proposal and everything.”

The chancellor then introduced Secretary Albright, but as soon as he said her name, a group of people in the audience and a few graduates stood and started to boo and shout out things that none of the women could understand.

“I guess it wouldn’t be a Cal commencement without protesters,” Jamie said.

But these protesters were very loud and very disruptive. They only got worse as the campus police waded into the crowd and tried to remove them. It looked like the graduates were allowed to stay if they sat down, but everyone else was taken away—forcibly. People were kicking and screaming, and the police were struggling to carry the protesters out while the large crowd watched in stunned silence.

“Couldn’t they let ’em stay?” Mia asked quietly. “Albright has a microphone. She’d drown them out.”

“I don’t know,” Jamie said, shaking her head. “It’s hard to say what’s fair in a situation like this. They want to disrupt the event, and they’d probably run up on stage if they’d let ’em. I’m totally in favor of freedom of speech, but…if every person who had a complaint stood up and screamed, we’d never get anything done around here.”

“It sucks,” Mia said. “I hate to see the cops roughing those guys up.”

“It’s the guys who are making it worse,” Jordan observed. “If they’d walk out under their own steam, there wouldn’t be any problem. They’re the ones who started fighting.”

“They should be able to protest,” Mia said. “They think she’s killing babies, Jordy. If they really believe that, they have to stand up and say so.”

“I think they got just what they wanted,” Jordan said. “They wanted to make a statement and get thrown out. Now their pictures will be in the paper and people will talk more about them than they will about you guys who are graduating.”

“You’ve gotta stand up for what you believe in,” Mia said quietly.

“Sure you do,” Jordan said, “but there’s a way to make your point. Messing up your graduation isn’t the way.”

Mia folded her arms over her stomach and stared at the stage, not saying another word. Once the protesters had been removed, the chancellor finished introducing Secretary Albright. She took the podium and acknowledged the protests in good-humored fashion, smiling and saying, “It’s good to be in Berkeley!”

There were protesters still present, but the ones remaining hadn’t stood up or raised banners. They continued to heckle the Secretary as she gave her speech, but she kept going, never giving them the satisfaction of stopping to respond to them. In the middle of her speech a quiet drone sounded over the auditorium and everyone looked up to see a plane dragging a banner that read, “1.7 million Iraqis dead—End sanctions now.” The crowd noted the message and a hushed murmur rose up as people commented about it. The Secretary received a standing ovation from most of the crowd, with Mia notably refusing to stand.

Looking a little uncomfortable, Jordan looked at Jamie and shrugged. Secretary Albright walked along the row of people on the stage, shaking each person’s hand. But the University Medalist, Fadia Rafeedie, refused to look at her, shake her hand, or stand up. She sat, alone, while everyone else applauded the Secretary.

As soon as she’d made her way down the line, the Secretary left the stage. By the time everyone sat down again, a large portion of the audience had left, and the section reserved for reporters emptied out almost completely, probably as they hurried off to send their stories to their papers.

The chancellor took the podium again and finally introduced the University Medalist, who was greeted with temperate, cautious applause.

With a nod of acknowledgement, she began her remarks. “Thank you, that was way too generous, Chancellor Berdahl. It makes me sound a lot better than I am. I had a speech and it’s right here. It took me so long to draft it and I kept re-drafting it, and this morning I changed it again; but I’m just going to put it to the side and I’m going to talk from my heart, because what I witnessed here today, I have mixed feelings about.

“I don’t know why I’m up here articulating the viewpoints of my comrades out there who were arrested, and not them. It’s not because I got, you know, straight A’s or maybe it is. Maybe that’s the way the power structure works, but I’m very fortunate to be able to give them a voice. I think that’s what I’m going to do; so if you give me your attention, I’d really appreciate it.

“I was hoping to speak before Secretary Albright, but that was also a reflection of the power structure, I think, to sort of change things around and make it difficult for people who are ready to articulate their voice in ways they don’t usually get a chance to.

“So I’m going to improvise, and I’m going to mention some things that she didn’t mention at all in her speech but which most of the protesters were actually talking about. You know, I think it’s really easy for us to feel sorry for her. I was looking at my grandmothers who are actually in the audience—my grandmother and her sister—who weren’t really happy with all the protesters. I think they thought that wasn’t really respectful of them. Perhaps many of you didn’t as well because you came to hear her speak. But I think what the protesters did was not embarrass our university. I think they dignified it.”

As soon as she said that, a large number of graduates got up and ostentatiously walked out, going up the long aisles of the theater. Some looked angry, others sad or disappointed, but the display was upsetting to almost everyone. The crowd was very quiet, as opposed to the catcalls and shouts that had nearly drowned out Secretary Albright at some points.

Jamie strained her eyes to be able to make out the expression on Ryan’s face. It wasn’t easy to see her mouth, but the set of her shoulders and the stiffness of her body made it clear that Ryan was, at best, uncomfortable. Leaning over to Mia, Jamie said, “I hope Ryan doesn’t get up and deck her.”

“No shit!” Mia responded, her voice just loud enough to cause the woman in front of them to turn around and scowl at her. Mia smiled, cheerfully extending the middle finger of her right hand. The woman blinked, then quickly turned back around.

Jamie pinched Mia, then nudged her with her shoulder. “Will you behave?”

“I hate to have people supervise me. Like she never heard the word shit before.” She stuck her tongue out at the woman’s back, then turned to Jamie. “Do you really think Ryan might throw down with this chick?”

“No, not when you put it that way. I’m sure that Ryan’s pissed off about having this ceremony made into a political harangue, but she knows she’d make it worse by causing a scene. She’d never do that.”

“I don’t care what you apologists say. This chick has to say what’s on her mind if she really believes the government is killing people in her name.”

The medalist continued, talking about the government’s actions in Iraq and Colombia, and making the point that much of the trouble in the world was due to the U.S. government’s support of dictators whenever such an arrangement worked to its advantage.

Her speech was fairly short, and when she finished, several people stood and applauded her. But many of the graduates didn’t join in and even more members of the general audience were silent, glaring at the young woman.

“That just wasn’t right,” Jamie mumbled.

“This is Berkeley,” Mia said. “If we don’t have free speech here, where do we have it?”

“I don’t mind having people protest,” Jamie said. “But she had the honor of speaking for the class. You can’t hijack that for your own agenda.”

 “But she believes we’re killing thousands of people. Her people.”

Jamie’s eyes took on an intensity that caused Mia to sit back in her seat. “Do you know how many people were killed in Congo this year?”

“I don’t know where it is, much less how many people were killed,” Mia said, smiling wryly. “I know it’s not in America.”

“It’s in Africa, and they think there might have been almost two million people killed. That’s a big deal. The U.S. could have and should have helped stop the genocide. And if we had gotten involved in Rwanda, also in Africa,” she added for Mia’s benefit, “most experts think the genocide in Congo wouldn’t have started.”

“Yeah, but—”

Jamie had a head of steam, and she kept going. “How many girls had their genitals mutilated this year in Africa? That’s at the top of my list. If I had this audience in front of me I could talk about that for an hour! Hell, how about the embargo in Cuba? We’ve been making Cubans live in squalor for a zillion years.” Jamie’s cheeks were flushed and she looked like she could go on all day.

“Easy, girl,” Mia said, playfully stroking her cheek.

“I’m just saying that there are so many issues in the world, so many things to be passionate about. Iran imposes the death penalty for homosexual behavior!”

“Wait a minute. Are we mad at Iraq or Iran? I get confused.”

Jamie’s outraged expression slowly morphed into a smile. “Both, I guess. But for different reasons. And the reasons change with the seasons. Stay tuned. The Middle East, South America, Central America—we prop up dictators when they do what we tell them, then overthrow them when they get out of line.”

“That’s what this chick is saying,” Mia reminded her.

“Right. And I agree with her. I don’t think sanctions are helping. But if I had to speak on international affairs, Iraq wouldn’t be where I’d start. She’s focused on it because she’s an Arab and it’s her people who are suffering. But there are things that are more important to me and you and every other person here. Hell, Ryan could talk for hours about the British in Northern Ireland, but she wouldn’t do it at the convocation.” She blew out a breath. “How did I get so damned agitated at my graduation?”

“Chill, James. Let’s put this crap out of our heads and focus on ourselves. That’s what I’m really good at.”

“You’re good at focusing on me,” Jordan reminded her, tickling the back of her neck.

“They’re playing ‘All Hail Blue and Gold,’” Jamie said. “No more speeches! Let’s see if we can sing along.”

“I don’t know the words,” Mia complained.

Jamie rolled up her program and hit Mia on the shoulder with it. “They’re printed in the program.”

Mia and Jordan turned to the proper page and tried to catch up. They were all smiling and Mia put an arm around Jamie and Jordan, looking at Jordan’s program to be able to sing.

All Hail Blue and Gold,
Thy colors unfold
O’er loyal Californians,
Whose hearts are strong and bold.
All Hail Blue and Gold,
Thy strength ne’er shall fail;
For thee we’ll die,
All Hail! All Hail!

All Hail Blue and Gold,
To thee we shall cling;
O’er golden fields of poppies,
Thy praises we shall sing.
All Hail Blue and Gold,
On Breezes ye sail;
Thy sight we love!
All Hail! All Hail!

By the end of the song they were all rocking side to side, singing at full voice. One quick look at Jordan had Mia in tears, and when Jamie saw her she started crying as well. Jordan put her arms around Mia, managing to slip a hand out to stroke Jamie’s hair. All around them the other graduates were celebrating—hugging, kissing, crying.

Mia dried her eyes with the sleeve of her robe. “That is, by far, the dumbest song I’ve ever heard! Why am I crying?”

“It’s not the song, it’s the setting,” Jamie said. “This is it—our last day as students.”

“It sure as hell isn’t!” Mia wailed. “I’ve still got finals, and so do you.”

Jamie’s face fell. “Why in the world do we have our graduation ceremony when we still have finals? Who’s in charge around here?”

“Obviously no one,” Jordan said, giggling. “I’m a semester away from graduating and I’m wearing a cap and gown.”

Mia hugged her with one arm. “I’m damned glad you’re here. It wouldn’t mean half as much if you weren’t with us.”

“Damned straight,” Jamie said, slapping Jordan on the back. “You should get a semester’s worth of credit for being on the Olympic team.”

“That might work if my major was volleyball,” Jordan said, an indulgent grin on her face. “But I haven’t learned much about architecture in Colorado Springs.”

“You’re going to grad school,” Mia sniffed. “You’ll learn everything there.”

“Grab the chancellor on the way out and put in a good word for me.” Jordan noticed the gleam in Mia’s eye and hastily added, “I’m totally kidding.”

“You’re no fun. I could probably have talked him into something.”

“Without a doubt,” Jordan agreed. “But I don’t mind taking another semester’s worth of credits. I’ve got all of my tough classes out of the way, so I can coast through what’s left.”

“Hey, we’re ready to rock,” Jamie said. Their row had begun to file out and they scampered along behind, all semblance of order ignored. They left via the top of the auditorium, and as they moved along Jamie caught sight of someone she immediately realized she hadn’t wanted to see. Sara Andrews was sitting just off the aisle, and even though she was looking at the stage and was wearing sunglasses, Jamie recognized her immediately.

What in the hell is she doing here? Did Ryan invite her? I’ll pop her one if she did—inviting Sara and giving away one of her precious tickets—and all without telling me. I’m sure Sara saw me. Sure of it! And where’s Ally? Is this just a little meet-up for Ryan and Sara?

She was fuming by the time they exited the auditorium. Friends and family were everywhere, creating such a crowd that Jamie held on to Mia’s hand just so she wouldn’t be swallowed up into the multitude. Jordan’s perspective was much better than Jamie’s or Mia’s and she called out, “Hey, I see some O’Flahertys over there. Way over there.”

Jamie jumped into the air, but she couldn’t see a thing. “Can they see you?”

“No, they’re not looking this way. But I can get us over there.” She looked around and said, “Let’s go to the right. Fewer people there. Then we can circle around and get to them.”

“Don’t lose sight of ’em,” Jamie warned.

“Stick with me. We’ll get there.”

They threaded their way through the throng, slowly heading toward the far exit—where fewer people were gathered. They’d made some progress when Jamie saw Sara leaving via that last exit. She dropped Mia’s hand and headed straight for her—with no conscious idea of why she was going after her or what she was going to do when she caught up. Surprising herself, she reached out and grasped the hem of Sara’s tailored suit jacket, pulling her nearly to a stop. Sara turned, and Jamie could see in her eyes that she hadn’t wanted to be spotted. Her smile was plastic and tentative. “Hi. Congratulations!”

“Thanks,” Jamie said. “I didn’t know you were going to be here. Couldn’t Ally make it?”

“Oh.” Sara looked around, as if Ally would appear. “I didn’t…I only had one ticket.”

“That’s kind of rude of Ryan,” Jamie said. “I hope Ally wasn’t offended.”

“Ryan?” Sara looked completely blank, then shook her head quickly. “Ryan didn’t invite me.”

“How’d you get a ticket?” Jamie knew she was being rude, but she didn’t seem able to control her tongue.

“Craigslist. Somebody who didn’t want to come sold his tickets.”

“But why…?” Jamie trailed off, seeing tears appear beneath the dark glasses. “Are you okay?”

“I’m sorry,” Sara sobbed, fumbling in her purse for a tissue. She found one and dabbed at her eyes. “I just couldn’t—ignore this. It’s been on my mind so much.” She was crying hard and Jamie couldn’t maintain her distance. She gingerly put her arms around Sara’s waist and squeezed her gently.

Sara returned the hug with much more feeling than Jamie had extended. Sara’s head was resting on Jamie’s shoulder while she shook from her tears. “I’ve made so many mistakes,” she said, her voice shaking. “And my mistakes have hurt Ryan so much.”

“Ryan’s fine,” Jamie said, her voice taking on an edge.

“I know she is,” Sara said, pulling back. “You’ve helped make her all right. But she wasn’t. She wasn’t for a long time. And that’s all my fault.” She shook her head, her shining hair shifting and draping across her shoulders. “I can’t stop thinking about how things might…” She stopped, looking like she wanted to say more.

“You’ve got to let go, Sara.” Jamie was staring at her hard, trying to see through the dark glasses. “Ryan has.” She had to acknowledge that was only partially true, but she knew in her soul that Ryan didn’t want to change the past.

“I have, for the most part. I swear I have, Jamie. I’m happy now, happier than I’ve been in my adult life. But when something like this comes up, I can’t stop from thinking about how different my life, Ryan’s life, would have been if I hadn’t been so spineless.”

“You were who you were. You weren’t ready to lose your family. It was different for Ryan. She knew she could be who she was, Sara. That makes a very big difference.”

“If only I had stood up to my mother when she told me that I wasn’t like Ryan—”

Jamie cut her off. “That sort of thinking is a waste of energy. You can’t change who you were. Focusing on the old stuff is keeping you from living your life. You’ve really gotta let go.”

Sara’s head dropped. “I know. I know I do. And it’s not like I want to change the present.” She lifted her eyes, peering out over the tops of her glasses. “I’m happy with Ally. I love her. I could never hurt her, even if Ryan was available. I just want to—”

“Change something that can’t be changed.” Jamie put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it. “It’s over, Sara. You can be friends with her, but you’ve got to let go of the past or she’ll never be comfortable around you.”

“She’s not comfortable now, is she?”

“No, she’s not. I’ve been mulling this over for a while, and it’s becoming clear. I think she feels your discomfort, or your longing, or whatever it is. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know why she’s uncomfortable around you—she can be surprisingly dense about some things—but I know she is.”

“She’s pretty damned intuitive,” Sara said, a thin, wry smile showing.

“Yeah. Too much sometimes. But she feels a lot of things that she can’t put a name to. I think this is one of them.”

“I’m gonna try to let this go. This was the last thing we had in common—graduating from Cal. Maybe seeing her graduate will let me put an end to this.” She reached out and took Jamie’s hand. “Don’t tell her I was here, okay?”

Jamie took in a breath, realizing she’d already made up her mind not to tell Ryan. “I probably won’t. It would upset her, especially if I told her what we’ve talked about. But if I do, you know she’ll call you.”

“I really don’t want her to know, but if you feel like you have to be honest with her, I’ll understand.”

“We try to be honest. But sometimes…well, sometimes it’s better not to tell the whole truth.”

“Yeah. That’s something I’m good at. Ally doesn’t know I’m here and I’m not going to tell her. There are just some things you’ve got to work out for yourself.”

“That’s true,” Jamie said, “but if the things you hide hurt your relationship…”

“No, we’re doing well. Really, we are. This stuff with Ryan’s just like a scab that gets pulled off every once in a while. I really hope this was the last time.”

“I do too.” Jamie put her arm around Sara and pulled her close for a hug. “Sorry I was bitchy when I first saw you. I thought Ryan had invited you and not told me.”

“She’s not the type,” Sara said, smiling sadly. “She’s the most honest person I know.”

“Yeah, she is, but she has her faults.” She smiled. “We’re past that ‘you’re perfect’ stage already.”

“You have a good relationship. And I’m gonna do my best to stay out of it until I can be myself around Ryan. We’re not in high school any more, and I’ve got to try to stay in the present.”

“You’ll get there.” Jamie gave her another quick hug and said, “I’ve lost Jordan and Mia. You don’t see any O’Flahertys around, do you?”

“No, and I’m gonna leave before I do. Don’t worry, Ryan will find you.”

“I’m not worried,” Jamie said, smiling and feeling relaxed. “I know she will.”

Continued in Part Eight

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