I Found My Heart In San Francisco
Book 16: Paradigm
By: Susan X Meagher
Mia had planned ahead. She knew there would be so many people milling around after the convocation that she’d never find her family, so she’d told them to meet her by the stage of the Greek. She felt bad about abandoning Jamie, but she knew Ryan would find her eventually. She was giggling and holding Jordan’s hand when she spotted her father and brother. “Dad! Peter!” She waved vigorously.
As the two Christopher men waved back, Jordan found herself staring. They looked so much alike and so startlingly different from Mia and Anna Lisa that it seemed impossible the men were actually related to Mia. When they got closer, she saw that Peter had Mia’s smile and that the siblings’ smiles were very similar to their father’s. She also noted that Adam’s smile looked more forced than genuine, and she was immediately worried that her unexpected presence was the reason.
Mia was fiercely hugging her father and then her brother, Jordan standing by her side, feeling very uncomfortable. “Hi,” she said, extending her hand to the senior Christopher. “I’m Jordan.”
Mia released her brother and put an arm around Jordan’s waist. “I can’t believe the two most important men in my life haven’t met the most important woman! Guys, this is Jordan Ericsson. Jordan this is my dad, Adam, and my brother, Peter.”
Adam continued to smile tentatively, but Peter wrapped his arms around Jordan and gave her a warm hug. “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to come to Colorado to meet you.”
“No worries; it’s cool. It’s good to meet you, Peter.”
“Where’s Mom?” Mia asked.
“She’s still sitting down,” Adam said, gesturing toward the upper tier of seats. “Your grandmother didn’t want to be caught up in the crowd, so they’re waiting for us.”
“Right. Let’s go get ’em.” Mia started to walk, but Adam didn’t move.
“Uhm, maybe you’d like to say hello first, Mia.”
“We just said hello, Dad.” Grinning, she turned and looked at him, then gave Peter a quizzical glance. “What’s going on?”
“Maybe we could talk…alone for a moment,” Adam said, looking embarrassed.
“No.” Mia crossed her arms over her chest. “Jordan’s part of the family. I don’t have any secrets from her.”
“Maybe your father does,” Jordan said quietly.
“Too bad.” Mia glared at him, hands on her hips. “What’s going on?”
“Well, your grandparents are having a party for you, honey and they…and your mother weren’t expecting Jordan. I thought she…you,” he said, turning to Jordan and smiling that false smile again, “weren’t able to be here.”
“Senator Evans and I hitched a ride with Secretary Albright,” Jordan said. “He really went out of his way to make sure I got to come.”
Adam shook his head, looking terribly confused. “Secretary Albright?”
“Long story, Dad,” Mia said. “So you weren’t expecting Jordan to come. What about it?”
“Uhm, I don’t think your mother is quite…ready to have you and Jordan meet your grandparents yet. As…” he made a vague gesture with his hand, “…a couple.”
“Well, we are a couple,” Mia said, her chin sticking out defiantly.
“I know, honey, but you know how your grandparents are…”
“Nonna will flip,” Peter said. “And if Nonna flips, Mom’s gonna flip even harder. I think Dad’s trying to avoid the drama.”
Looking ill, Adam said, “When all three of you are upset it can get a little intense.”
“So, I’m supposed to what? Leave Jordan in the parking lot?”
“No, no, that’s not what I meant. I just thought that you might be willing to wait a little before you tell your grandparents about your relationship. If Nonna thinks Jordan is just a friend she’ll be much easier to deal with.”
Mia’s color was rising and she looked like she was about to blow. “Look, Dad, you’ve chosen to let Mom’s moods run your life, but I don’t do that. Jordan’s my lover and we have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.”
“That’s a little harsh,” Adam said, scowling. “Just because I don’t like to set your mother off doesn’t mean I let her run my life.”
“Don’t give Dad a hard time,” Peter said, stroking Mia’s shoulder in a soothing fashion. “He’s only trying to keep the peace.”
She shrugged off his hand. “You’re as bad as he is. You both think that you can humor her and she’ll be nice. But that doesn’t work half of the time. You’ve gotta do what you want and let the chips fall!”
“Mia,” Jordan said, her voice a little louder than it had been. “Mia!”
Mia whirled and stared at her, stunned by the atypical volume. “What?”
“Can I talk to you…alone?”
Blinking slowly, Mia nodded. They moved away, out of earshot of Adam and Peter. “Don’t tell me you want to give in, too!” Mia said, glaring.
“I’m not giving in to anyone,” Jordan said quietly. “Including you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just what I said. I’m perfectly happy to let the world know about our relationship, but I don’t have to make it into a huge issue. Your mother and your grandmother are obviously both pretty emotional people. Why would you want to make this into a bigger deal than it has to be?”
“What are you talking about? I just want to act naturally!”
“But you know that will stir them both up! And you’ll ruin the party they’ve planned for you. If you want your grandparents to accept us, you’ll talk to them…alone. You’ll explain our relationship and help them understand. It’s childish to think you can go to their house and spring it on them, Mia. It’s really childish.”
Mia’s cheeks were pink and she looked like she was ready to scream, but she took and held a breath for a few moments and then let it out slowly. “Maybe you’re right,” she said. “Talking to them would be more mature.”
“That’s my girl.” Jordan smiled warmly and held Mia in her arms, rocking her slowly. “Don’t be like your mom and your grandmother, baby. Don’t explode first and then have to pick up the pieces. Think first…then act.”
“You’re right,” Mia murmured into the fabric of Jordan’s blouse. “There’d be a huge scene and we’d be thrown out of the house.”
“That’s not how I want to remember today. I want to remember how wonderful it was that I could be here to see you and Jamie and Ryan in your caps and gowns, and how proud I was of you. That’s what I want to think of when I think about today. Not how hard it was to catch a bus back to Berkeley from…where do your grandparents live?”
“From San Mateo,” Jordan said, kissing Mia’s head.
Mia looked up at her, smiling impishly. “But having a big fight and getting thrown out would be more memorable. You’ve gotta give me that.”
Jordan kissed her, lingering a moment. “I’ll give you that,” she said when she drew back for a breath. “But those aren’t my kinda memories.”
“You’ll get used to ’em,” Mia predicted. “You can’t be in my family and not have a few knockdown drag-out memories.”
“Oh, boy!” Jordan’s enthusiasm was patently fake, but she put on a big smile and raised her fists to sell the act.
“Come on.” Mia took her by the hand and started to walk back to her family.
Jordan cleared her throat. “Uhm, Mia, to be honest, I don’t think I have the time to go to San Mateo and still get back for my flight.”
“Oh, Jordy! Do you have to go so soon?” Mia looked up at her, obviously hurt.
“They have to route the plane back to the Air Force Academy to pick up the Vice President. If I leave now I can fly back to Colorado Springs directly. If not, I have to take the last plane to Denver and then figure out a cheap way to get home from there. It’ll be a much bigger deal.”
“But you’ll miss my party.”
Jordan gently stroked Mia’s cheek, then let her hand fall to rest on her shoulder. She massaged the back of her neck, smiling when Mia’s eyes began to close. “You know I’d stay if I could, but the last plane is at nine o’clock. I’d get to your party and have to come back almost immediately.”
“You can’t take tomorrow off, huh?”
Jordan cradled Mia’s head in her hand, looking into her eyes. “No, baby. I can’t. But there’s no place I’d rather be than with you. You know that, right?”
Smiling, Mia nodded. “Yeah. I know that. You’re stuck on me.”
“That’s the absolute truth. And if I could, I’d never leave your side.”
“But you can’t.” Mia stuck out her lower lip. “You’ve gotta go be an adult.”
“I don’t like being an adult, since it means we’ll be apart for over a week. That sucks.”
“Yeah. But you’ll be back here next week. And you can see me actually get a diploma!”
“That’ll be cool,” Jordan agreed. “And if you wanna talk to your grandparents between now and then, I’ll gladly let ’em take a swing at me.”
“My grandfather’s not the violent type. And my grandmother’s more likely to make you wanna kill yourself than get her hands dirty. My dad’s parents don’t get too wired about anything. They’re just glad I’m not in jail.”
“Those sound like good grandparents, keeping the important things in perspective. Now give me a good kiss and let’s see if your father will drop me off at the Oakland airport.”
“If you’re lucky, Peter drove too. He and I can drop you off, and you can skip out without having to endure my grandmother’s always rude questions. And after that speech…she’s gonna be breathing fire!”
“Gosh, you make her sound like a real peach! I can’t wait to meet her.”
“She’s, well, she’s my grandmother. She’s one of a kind.”
“So are you. And you’re mine,” Jordan said, taking Mia in her arms and kissing her for all she was worth.
Jamie circled the perimeter of the crowd, assuming that a gaggle of O’Flahertys would stand out if she had the proper perspective. She finally found her favorite O’Flaherty—standing with Jackie from the softball team and what she assumed was Jackie’s family. “There you are,” Jamie said, walking up to the group.
“Didn’t Ryan look like a princess sitting up there with all the bigwigs?” Jackie asked.
“Oh, she’s a princess all right.” Jamie tucked an arm around her lover’s waist.
“I was looking for you,” Ryan said. “But I found Jackie first.”
Jackie smiled. “And I’m glad I got the chance to talk to you, but we’ve gotta go. My parents have to drive home after we have some dinner.”
“Will we see you all in Fresno?” Ryan asked the Maloneys.
“Oh, yes,” Jackie’s mother said. “We’re trying to get every ticket we can get our hands on. We have so many relatives who want to come.”
Ryan slapped Jackie on the back. “It’ll be nice to have the stands full of your family. We need to have a rooting section.”
“Most of our friends root for Fresno State,” Mrs. Maloney said. “But we’re not going to let them into the stadium if they don’t switch to our side.”
“Good for you,” Ryan said, smiling. “We’ll see you in a few days.”
Ryan shook hands with Jackie’s parents and they departed, with Jamie giving her a pinch. “I don’t even get introduced?”
“Oh! Sorry. I’ve talked to so many people I can’t keep track of who I know and who you don’t.”
“That’s okay. It was nice to see Jackie in her cap and gown. She looks like her mom.”
“Yeah, she does. Your mom and dad and your grandfather are with my family. Let’s go gather them up and head over to your mom’s.”
“No comment about the speakers?”
Ryan looked thoughtful. “Not about whether it was right or wrong for her to do that. I debated the issue with myself all during the ceremony; I’m done. But I thought it stunk that she threw away her approved speech and went into her harangue. That’s cheating. She should have written the speech she wanted to deliver and been up front about it.”
“I’m sure it will be a topic of conversation at the party. My father will bring it up.”
“Or mine will.” Ryan rolled her eyes. “He has no patience at all for people who disrespect authority figures. He must have been simmering.”
“Mine just doesn’t want the administration made to look bad.”
“Your cynicism’s showing,” Ryan teased. “Better tuck it back in before we meet up with the families.”
They finally located their mingled family by following the hearty applause and enthusiastic hoots from the O’Flaherty brothers when they got within sight. By the time they reached the crowd, Ryan was blushing and Jamie was grinning with pleasure. “We’ve got a celebrity in our midst,” Jamie said, pushing Ryan forward.
“It’s no big deal.” Ryan had on her “aw, shucks” expression, and Jamie delighted in seeing her look both humble and secretly pleased to be acknowledged.
“Why don’t you tell us these things?” Martin demanded as he pulled his daughter towards him for a big hug. “We’re always the last to know.”
“You’re tied with me, Martin,” Jamie said. “We were waiting in line to enter and she just took off. I thought maybe she’d decided to skip the whole thing.”
“Such a girl you are,” Martin said fondly, cuffing her on the chin.
“It was no big deal,” Ryan said. “I don’t even know why I had to sit on the dais. Jocks get enough praise around here.”
Brendan and Maggie wrestled Ryan away from her father, and they both hugged and kissed her. “You looked so impressive sitting up there with the chancellor,” Maggie said. “We’ve got it all on tape.” She held up her camcorder, while Ryan rolled her eyes. “We’ve got you and Mia and Jordan, too, Jamie. But we couldn’t figure out why Jordan was with you.”
“I have no idea. As a matter of fact, neither does Jordan. Ask Ryan.”
All eyes turned to Ryan. “Well, I saw a guy who had some extra caps and gowns for the people who inevitably show up without one, and I slipped him a couple of bucks. I thought Jordan should be able to be with us—even if she isn’t getting her degree yet.”
“You did good,” Jamie said, beaming at her. “Jordan was really happy.”
Ryan unzipped her gown, revealing her strange outfit. “That’s quite unique,” Maeve said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman in shorts, a T-shirt, knee-high nylons and pumps. I don’t think it’ll ever be a fashion hit, though.”
Ryan kicked off the shoes and pulled off the nylons. “Ahh,” she said, taking in a deep breath. “Now I feel like myself again.”
“Put those shoes back on immediately,” Martin ordered. “We haven’t taken pictures yet, and you’ll not be barefoot in them.”
Jamie stood next to her partner and put her arm around her. “I don’t know why I worried about you looking silly in pictures. I should have known your father would make you behave.”
The party at Catherine’s was the smallest one Jamie had ever attended with the O’Flaherty clan. Only Ryan’s immediate family was there, and for once that didn’t mean cousins of cousins. Martin, Maeve, Brendan, Maggie, Conor and Rory joined Jim, Catherine and Charlie Evans for a remarkably quiet fete.
“There’s a whole different vibe when the cousins don’t show up, isn’t there?” Ryan asked Jamie once they were all served a drink by the bartender Catherine had hired.
Jamie straightened the placket on the nicely ironed blouse Ryan had changed into. “It’s weirdly quiet,” she agreed. “I guess Caitlin alone makes up half of the noise at most parties.”
“The bartender would have his hands full if the cousins were all here. He’d need serious back-up.”
Martin and Maeve were standing a few feet to Ryan’s right when Jim came over to them. “You must have been very proud of Ryan being on the dais today,” he said.
Ryan could see her father stiffen at Jim’s mere presence. “I’m always proud of her,” he said curtly.
Maeve looked at her husband expectantly, and when he didn’t elaborate, she did. “Of course we’re always proud of her, but today was very special. And Jamie looked very wise in her cap and gown.”
“Yes, she did, but I’m sure she’d rather have been up on the dais with Ryan.” He chuckled, obviously trying to ingratiate himself.
“There’s nothing to those awards,” Martin said snappishly. “Jamie’s as bright as a new penny. And she’s a wonderful golfer. She’s not a bit inferior to Siobhán.”
“No, of course she’s not,” Jim said, looking perplexed. “I just meant that, well, Ryan’s really made a mark at Cal.”
“So has Jamie.” Martin crossed his arms over his chest, looking like he was spoiling for a fight.
Ryan closed the distance between her and her father. “It was a nice ceremony, wasn’t it?”
“It was,” Martin said, “until that self-centered girl had to make a fool of herself. The very idea of being asked to speak at a ceremony like that and turning it into a holy show.”
“I thought it was very inappropriate,” Jim said. “Secretary Albright didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.”
Ryan saw her father’s head start to nod, then he abruptly reversed himself and said, “Well, she’s a young girl. I’m sure she thought she was doing the right thing.”
That was all Ryan could take. She put her arm around him and said, “Let’s go see if Catherine needs help in the kitchen.”
As odd as the request was, Martin was unable to refuse the mere possibility that Catherine needed help, so he compliantly went along with his daughter. Maeve smiled stiffly as Jim said, “I don’t think he likes me.”
Jim wandered over to where Conor was sitting and asked, “I was going to step outside for a cigar? Care to join me?”
“Do you have an extra?”
“Sure do.” He reached into his suit jacket and drew out a worn leather cigar case, flipped it open and showed Conor three neatly lined up cigars.
Conor removed one of the cigars and whistled through his teeth. “Montecristo. ‘D’ Edición Limitado 2000.” He held the cigar to his nose and inhaled. “Nice. Very nice.” Again he looked the cigar over. “Are these legal?”
“It’s not legal to import Cuban cigars into the U.S.,” Jim said, not answering the question.
“Are these Cuban?”
Jim rolled his eyes, obviously exasperated. “Gee, Conor, I don’t know. Do you want to smoke one or not?”
“Sure. Yeah.” He stood up. “I’d just enjoy it more if I knew it was illegal.” He followed Jim outside, standing on the front steps while Jim bored a hole in each cigar with a punch he had on a keychain, then lit first Conor’s, then his own.
“This is a Lonsdale,” Jim said, thoughtfully blowing out a stream of smoke. “One of my favorites.”
“I don’t know anything about cigars,” Conor said, “but this one tastes great. Almost like cocoa.”
“Yeah. Also a little vanilla.”
“It’s good. Very good. I’m surprised at how much smoother this is than the smaller one I usually buy. I thought a smaller cigar would be milder. ”
Jim nodded. “Common misconception. A small ring gauge cigar burns hotter and harsher than a large one. If you only smoke occasionally, I’d go with a large gauge and a medium body. And,” he added, smiling slyly, “it helps to have a good supplier.”
“That I don’t have. I buy from a place that doesn’t even have a humidor.”
Jim made a sweeping motion with his cigar. “That’s a waste of money. There are some very good shops in the city. I can give you a couple of names.”
“Thanks. I don’t buy cigars very often, but I’d do it more if they tasted like these.”
“Well, you can’t get these around here. But you won’t taste a big difference between this and a well-made cigar from the Dominican Republic.”
Conor studied the cigar in the lamplight. “I could get used to this.”
“Rumor has it that you’re getting used to going to the opera and the symphony.” Jim took a puff off his cigar, his eyes narrowing. “I didn’t know you were a member of the cognoscente.”
“I don’t know what that is, so I don’t think I’m a member.”
“That’s someone who has refined tastes, someone who appreciates the good life.”
“Oh.” Conor nodded. “Then I guess that is me. How do you say it again?”
Jim gritted his teeth and pronounced the word again. “Cognoscente.”
“Right. Is that Spanish?”
“Italian. Catherine speaks Italian. She can tutor you in the pronunciation.” He glared at the younger man, but Conor was obliviously puffing on his cigar. “Why are you going out with Catherine?” he finally asked, a little louder and a lot more possessively than he’d intended.
Coughing on the smoke he swallowed, Conor caught his breath and said, “She needs someone to hang out with. I like going to those things.”
“How many times had you been to the opera before Catherine took you?”
“Where else have you been with her?”
Conor squared his shoulders and narrowed his eyes. “Why are you interested?”
“I asked why you’re interested.” Conor stood his ground, not letting Jim’s age or position intimidate him.
“I was married to the woman for over twenty years! I’d still be married to her if she hadn’t filed for divorce.”
“Don’t act stupid,” Jim sneered. “You wouldn’t like it if I took up with one of your ex-girlfriends. Especially if you were still in love with her.”
Conor’s posture relaxed and he put the cigar to his lips, looking at Jim through the smoke. “I guess you’re right about that. But I like hanging out with her, and she likes it too. That’s as far as it goes.”
Jim scanned Conor’s eyes, as if he was trying to find the truth in them. “You’re not interested in her?”
With a short burst of laughter, Conor said, “What idiot wouldn’t wanna go out with Catherine? But she hasn’t ever expressed an interest in me.”
“Just biding your time, huh?” Jim’s expression was malevolent.
“Nope. Catherine doesn’t seem to need anything more than an escort. And that’s what I am.”
“Keep it that way.”
Conor laughed, not showing a flicker of intimidation. “Really? Why? Are you gonna try to scare me off like you did with my sister? That worked well.”
His instinct was to lash out in reaction to Conor’s impudence, but Jim took a few seconds to think first. He chose to rein in his temper and be honest. “It was wrong of me to give Ryan such a hard time, but I was just trying to protect my daughter. Your sister had a very checkered past, and I didn’t want Jamie to be another notch in her—whatever. But Catherine…Catherine is in a different category. And I don’t want you to get close to her. I mean it, Conor.”
“Are you honestly threatening me?” Conor bent over and carefully put his cigar out on the step. When he stood, he leaned in close and said, “You don’t scare me. And if I told Catherine what you just said, she’d pop her cork.” He put the cooled cigar in the breast pocket of his shirt and patted it. “I think I’ll enjoy this with a more sociable crowd.”
Conor put his hand on the door and Jim said, “I’m not kidding, Conor. Leave Catherine alone.”
“I’m not the one you should be worrying about, Jim.” He faced him and added, “I’m surprised you don’t know that already. Haven’t your hired dicks told you every move she makes?” He opened the door and started to walk inside, but he paused to ask, “Does your new girlfriend know you still have it bad for Catherine? Or is it just that you can’t be faithful to anyone? Maybe you ought to spend more time working on that and less trying to control someone you basically threw away.”
As soon as Conor closed the door behind him, Jim kicked the step and muttered, “The fucking O’Flaherty family. There has to be a way to ship them back to Ireland.”
Catherine found an opportune moment and pulled Jamie aside. “I have a few presents for you and Ryan, but I didn’t want to give them to you with so many people here.”
Jamie’s eyebrows rose. “What kind of presents?”
Laughing, Catherine said, “Oh, nothing risqué. But I know the O’Flaherty’s don’t often give presents and I didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable.”
Jamie put her arm around her mother and hugged her. “You’re one of the nicest people I know.”
Catherine impulsively threw both of her arms around Jamie and held on tight. Her voice breaking, she said, “That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
Seeing that her mother was on the verge of tears, Jamie took her by the hand and discreetly snuck out of the living room. They went into a lovely room that served as a den, although the space was much more elegant than the word conveyed. Jamie sat down on one of the two sofas and Catherine sat next to her. “I’m very sorry for the way I’ve been treating you, Mom. I hope…well, I hope that you know I’ve just been butting in because of how much I care about you.”
Catherine gazed at Jamie for a moment, then reached up and delicately touched her cheek, then her hair. “I know how much you care for me. But sometimes the things you say aren’t very loving. They’re…humiliating.”
Tears sprang to Jamie’s eyes. “They are? But I didn’t ever mean for the things I said to hurt you, Mom. Really!”
“I’m sure you didn’t,” Catherine said, continuing to stroke her daughter’s face. “But some of the things you say do hurt me. I sometimes feel that you’re belittling me, that you’re taking the moral high ground. And that hurts me deeply.”
Jamie dropped her head and sighed, trying to keep from crying. “I love you, Mom, I really do. And I just…I just want the very best for you. I want you to have someone who loves you as much as Ryan loves me.” She looked up, tears staining her cheeks. “That’s all I want. I desperately want you to feel that.”
“Shh,” Catherine said, wiping the tears away with her fingers. She wrapped her arms around Jamie and rocked her gently. “I want the same thing, honey. I just need to find what I need in my own way. I know myself better than you might think.”
“I know, I know,” Jamie sighed, her voice muffled by Catherine’s body. “And I know it’s not my business who you date. I just can’t see you getting what you want from Giacomo.”
“Maybe in the ten minutes you’ve spent with him, you didn’t get to know him as well as I do.” She loosened her grasp and smiled when Jamie looked up at her. “Yes, I’m teasing you. But the truth is that you don’t know him at all. And you don’t know what I want and what I need. So we need to put this behind us, sweetheart. I don’t want you to feel bad about expressing yourself, but I also don’t want to feel that you’re looking down on me.” She bent her head and kissed the crown of Jamie’s head repeatedly. “I love you.”
Jamie sat up and kissed both of Catherine’s cheeks. “You know, when I was just becoming friends with Ryan, we had this same kind of thing happen between us. I wanted her to want something that she wasn’t interested in. I pushed her so much she nearly fell in love with another woman.” She chuckled softly. “I would’ve hung myself if that’d happened. I should have learned my lesson then.”
“And what was the lesson?”
“To learn how to support the people I care for,” Jamie said, looking into her mother’s eyes. “And I care for you very, very much, Mom. I’m going to really try my best to be supportive. No more snarky comments. I promise.”
Catherine hugged her again. “You can slip once in a while, but I’d love to feel that you support me, even when I don’t do what you’d like.”
“I promise I’ll do my best.”
“And I know you mean it. Now, go find Ryan and meet me in my room. I’ve got a few things for each of you.”
Jamie had Ryan by the hand, forcefully pulling her into Catherine’s spacious bedroom. “I don’t need any presents,” Ryan was saying. She reached out and grabbed on to the doorframe, acting as if she was being led to her execution.
Catherine looked up in alarm, but she saw that the bright, blue eyes were full of fun. “I hate to torture you, Ryan, but Jamie’s used to getting presents. It would be odd to fill the car up with presents just for her, so play along for her sake.”
Ryan let go of the door and gave Catherine a generous hug. “Oh, all right. But you needn’t think I enjoy this.” She tried and failed to look gruff, then burst into a childish giggle. “I really love getting presents. I never got to vote when my family decided we didn’t need gifts to commemorate events.”
“Marvelous,” Catherine said. “I ordered something special for both of you, but it’s not here yet. I hope it’ll arrive in a few days.”
“That’s fine,” Ryan said. “We’ll have another reason to want you to rush home.”
A brief look of sadness flitted across Catherine’s features, then she went into her closet and started to bring out shopping bags full of…books. Jamie and Ryan exchanged puzzled glances, but Catherine explained all when she said, “I know how hard it’s been for each of you to read for pleasure. So I went to that nice bookstore by your house and asked a young woman to find every significant work of fiction from the last four years for you, Jamie.”
Jamie squealed with delight, taking some of the books out of the bags. “What a fantastic gift! And I’ll have a year to read them all. Thanks so much, Mom!”
She hugged and kissed her mother, while Catherine beamed at the enthusiastic reaction her gift had brought.
“And for you, Ryan, I bought quite a few books on biology, genetic research, and math. Then I spoke to someone at your library and ordered some journals for you.” She took out a list and read, “Nature, Bulletin of Mathematical Biology, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…”
“P-NAS,” Ryan interrupted, grinning.
Catherine looked perplexed. “Pardon?”
“That’s a really popular journal. That’s what they call it at school. Math humor,” she added, grinning.
“I have a few more on this list, but I’m not sure they’re the ones you read. I want you to go through here and add anything you’d like.”
Ryan shook her head, laughing. “Catherine, all of these are available at the library. I don’t need my own copies.”
“Nonsense. You need to have fun this year. Sitting in the library for hours at a time to keep up with your field isn’t any fun.”
Ryan looked as if she’d been hit in the head. “I won’t be on campus. I won’t even have library access.”
Jamie tucked an arm around her waist. “We can pay for a library access card if you want one, honey.”
“Damn.” Ryan plopped down, still a little stunned. “I’ve always been a student.” She looked up at Jamie. “What am I if I’m not in school?”
“You’re a post-grad, pre-grad,” Jamie teased. “You’re post graduation, but pre grad school. There are thousands of us.”
“Sure. Lots of people don’t know exactly what they want to do, or they don’t have the money for grad school. I’ll bet most of our class is in a kinda limbo.”
“Nobody I know,” Ryan said. “Everyone I’ve talked to is going to grad school in the fall. I’ve been ducking my professors for months because they’ve been harassing me about not going on.”
Jamie chuckled. “Everyone I know is just kinda coasting. Hoping someone tells them what to do now.”
“Maybe that’s one difference between English majors and math majors,” Catherine said.
“One of many,” Jamie said, kissing Ryan on the top of the head. “Just one of many.”
Jim stayed outside so long he was sure someone would miss him. But he was well aware that he wasn’t particularly important at this, or any other party that Catherine threw. Given how little most of the O’Flahertys cared for him, he considered just leaving. But he had a plan, and he didn’t want to give up on it without a fight. At around eight o’clock he went inside, sidled up to Catherine and said, “I’m going to tag along with Secretary Albright on her flight. Would you like a ride to the airport?”
“Oh.” She looked at him in confusion for a moment. “I have a limo scheduled, but…” She looked at her watch. “I suppose I have time to cancel.”
“Or…” He smiled, trying to put as much charm into the expression as possible. “We could take your limo together and I could meet the Secretary at the airport. Then you and I would have a little private time to catch up.”
“Do we need to catch up?” she asked, smiling inscrutably.
“Well, I suppose there’s nothing earth shattering…”
He looked a little flustered, and she took pity on him. “That’ll be nice. The limo should be here in about half an hour. We’d better start saying our goodbyes.”
They each made the rounds separately, with Jim finishing the task well before Catherine, since he skipped all of the O’Flaherty men. He caught Marta’s eye and asked her for Catherine’s bags, knowing that they’d be ready. As expected, she rolled them into the entryway moments later.
Catherine was in a corner, having a private chat with Jamie, and Jim tried to stop himself from being jealous. Just over a year ago, he’d have been the one that Jamie went out of her way to save a little extra time for. Watching her and Catherine saying their tearful goodbyes, he wished he could turn back the clock—not only to regain the relationship he and Jamie had enjoyed, but to have another chance at being a real family.
Jamie and Catherine walked over to him and in a moment, Ryan was right next to them. It seemed virtually impossible to speak to Jamie without Ryan hovering, although Jim noted that Ryan gave Catherine alone time with Jamie. Jamie grasped Ryan’s hand and tucked it around her waist, then leaned against her slightly. “We’ll see you next week, right, Dad?”
“Right. I’m not sure when I’ll come back, but I’ll definitely be at your graduation. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He saw the look on Catherine’s face and had a very brief moment of regret for having said that. But he truly felt that way and he wanted to make sure both Jamie and Catherine knew it.
“You’re not going to stay all week, are you?” Jamie asked.
“No, I’ve got a lot to do next week. Oh!” he said, turning to Ryan. “I meant to tell you I won’t be here for your graduation. Is that all right?”
“Sure. No problem. Besides, I’m gonna have to miss one of mine. And I probably won’t get home in time for Mia’s. Your being here today was really nice, Jim. We both appreciated it.”
“My pleasure. Well, are you ready, Catherine?”
“I just have to get my bags.”
“Marta brought them out. She has your purse and a raincoat, too.”
“Then I’m really ready.” She peeked out the window and said, “The limo’s here.” Turning to Jamie she hugged her fiercely and whispered, “I’m going to miss you so much.”
“I’ll miss you too, Mom. I hope you have a great time.”
“Thanks.” Catherine pulled back and kissed her on both cheeks. Then she released her and hugged and kissed Ryan. “Take care of my baby for me.”
“I will. We’ll see you soon. Have fun.”
Catherine nodded and walked to the entryway, while Jim hurriedly gave Ryan a quick, relatively formal hug, and a longer, more paternal one with Jamie. Then he dashed over to Catherine and they both waved at the small crowd as they walked out.
On the sidewalk, Catherine took Jim’s arm while the driver carried her bags. They got into the back and Jim instructed him about their respective terminals, then closed the privacy glass. “That was a nice party you threw,” he said, loosening his tie. “I think the girls enjoyed themselves.”
“Yes, I think they did. I’m surprised they didn’t want to let loose with their friends, but they both act older than so many of their peers. I wonder if being committed to one another contributes to that.”
“Oh, I think Jamie’s been older than her years since she was a child. I don’t think that’s true for Ryan, though. I think she’s got a lot more kid in her than Jamie does.”
“I see that side of her,” Catherine nodded, “especially when she’s with her various teams. She’s quite young when she’s in her sports-mode.”
“Speaking of being young…” he said, fidgeting a bit in the leather seat. “This is embarrassing, but I was hoping you could do me a favor.”
“What kind of favor?”
Jim had a moment of nostalgia for the days when she would have answered “yes” without a second thought. Those days were clearly over. “Could you recommend a good plastic surgeon in the city?”
Her eyebrows rose dramatically. “For you?”
“Yes, for me. I spent too much time in the sun when I was young. And I don’t have the coloring for sun. I’d like to get rid of some of the lines around my eyes.”
Clearly trying to hide a smirk, Catherine said, “I’ve heard of a few good doctors in the city. I’ll look them up and send you their names and numbers.”
“It’s not funny,” he said, a little sharply. “You don’t have a line on your face.”
“Maybe I’ve already seen those doctors.”
“No!” Now she looked insulted. “I’d think you’d be able to tell if I’d had surgery.”
“I don’t think I could,” he admitted. “You look better every time I see you. I don’t know if you’re just happy or if you’ve had something done.”
“I’m happy.” She looked at him for a moment and said, “Part of what makes me happy is going to Italy to see Giacomo.”
He felt a tightness in his gut. “Oh, that’s why you’re not going to be home for Jamie’s graduation.”
“Yes, but that was totally inadvertent. I thought I’d scheduled my trip properly so I would be here for both of her ceremonies, but I made a mistake. I offered to cancel but…” She smiled at him. “You know how Jamie is. She insisted that she didn’t want me to.”
“Sure. She’d say that.” He looked at her briefly, seeing that he’d hurt her but knowing he couldn’t undo his remark. Before stopping to think it through, he said, “You must really care for this guy.”
“I wouldn’t go all the way to Italy to see him if I didn’t.”
She seemed defensive, and he tried to think of a way to get her to open up a little. “It was something to see Jamie in her cap and gown, wasn’t it?” He knew that was out of left field, but Jamie was one of the few things he knew they could agree on.
“Yes. It was—rather odd.” She took a breath and ran her hands through her hair, ordering it. “She looked oddly young, didn’t she?” He gave her a puzzled look and she continued. “Much of the time she seems so mature and adult, but being in her cap and gown made her look young. I can’t explain it any better. It’s just an impression that I got. That’s what I’ll remember about today.”
“I’m very proud of her. She’s a remarkable young woman.” He gave her a fond gaze. “That’s mostly thanks to you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, making a dismissive hand gesture. “You and Marta and Elizabeth had a lot more to do with her development than I did.”
He said it so loudly that Catherine flinched. “That’s how I feel.”
“You spent a lot of time with her, Cat. You had a good, strong relationship, no matter how you try to rewrite history.”
“Oh, we had a good relationship, but I don’t think she regarded me as maternal. I think it was more…is there a feminine term for avuncular?”
He chuckled. “Not that I know of. And if there were, it wouldn’t apply to you. You were her mother and you were a darned good one.”
Raising an eyebrow, she cocked her head and asked, “Why are you trying to butter me up?”
“I’m not. I’m just saying how I feel.”
“You’ve never spent much time praising my maternal skills. What’s on your agenda?”
“Damn!” He stared at her, offended. “Do you think I’m always an asshole?”
She shrugged, hurting him even more. “I don’t know, Jim. I suppose I just don’t trust you. I’m a little suspicious of your motives, even when I don’t have a particular reason to be.”
“So I shouldn’t even bother trying to have a civil conversation with you? Does my mere presence annoy you?”
“Don’t be dramatic,” she sighed. “I’m not trying to be rude, I just have to be honest. You destroyed my trust, and that’s the cornerstone of any relationship.”
“And you trust this Giacomo?” he said, sneering a little at having to speak his name.
He knew he shouldn’t say it, but he found the urge unstoppable. “Even though he was seeing you when he was married?”
Her eyes narrowed and she looked him right in the eye. “Yes. He’s worthy of my trust.”
“I don’t get it. He was cheating on his wife, you were cheating on me, but that’s okay. I’m a horrible guy for cheating, but you and he are…what? Misunderstood?”
“The limo’s in my name,” she said, her voice cold and flat. “I’m sure the driver will put you out wherever I tell him.” She looked out the window, seeing a small emergency lane and short guardrail on the freeway. They were on a small hill, and the road dropped off sharply behind the guardrail. “Here might be nice.”
“Don’t be that way. I didn’t mean to upset you. Really.” He scooted around, trying to get her to meet his eyes. She finally did, but she looked so perturbed that he was a little regretful that he’d been successful at capturing her gaze.
She turned her head and stared out the window for a few moments. “Let’s drop it, all right? I hate to fight.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I know I started it, and I truly regret it.”
“It’s over. Let’s move on.”
A beat passed, then he said, “Have I done something recently to upset you?”
“Well, you’re usually nice to me. We’ve been around each other frequently, and I’ve actually been impressed with how cordial you’ve been. Why the change?”
“We’re always with a group. I can treat you like I treat anyone when we’re with other people. But being alone with you...” She shivered and looked away. “It brings up a lot of things that I’d rather not dwell on.”
“Okay. I understand.” A few moments of silence followed, with Jim finally managing, “Are you planning on doing anything interesting in Italy?”
She looked at him for a second, then shook her head. “Is that really a good direction to go in?”
“No,” he said, gritting his teeth. “I…there aren’t that many topics that aren’t loaded in some way.”
“That’s one of the reasons it’s hard to be alone with you. I don’t want to talk about my private life and I don’t much want to hear about yours. That doesn’t leave a lot, does it?”
Her expression was sad and he suddenly felt like crying. “This is hard.” He turned and looked out the other window, trying to get his emotions in check. “I wish we could be friends. At least friends.” He felt his chest tighten and a flash of heat behind his eyes that signaled the beginning of tears. He shut his eyes tightly, hoping to staunch the flow.
She reached out and lightly touched his arm. “Maybe we can be friends—one day. We need some time to let our wounds heal.”
His voice broke when he said, “Yeah. Maybe.”
Once again she patted his arm and looked out her own window, watching the steady stream of cars glide by.
Mia sat in the rear passenger seat of her father’s big, dark gray Mercedes. They’d just left the party that her grandparents had thrown for her and she was wrestling with an urge. She knew it wasn’t wise. She knew it would make the drive home tense at best. But she couldn’t stop her mouth from opening and the words come tumbling out. “Did you know Jordan was at the ceremony, Mom?”
Her mother turned around and stared at her. “What?”
Eyes narrowed and filled with intensity, she said, “I’m asking if Dad and Peter were acting on their own, or if you told them to get rid of her.”
“Mia, what are you talking about?” Anna Lisa looked dumbfounded. “Is Jordan here?”
“Not now,” Mia said, sulking and slipping down in her seat.
Anna Lisa clamped her small hand around her husband’s upper arm. “What’s she talking about?”
Adam’s lips pursed and he fiddled with the air conditioning control, likely trying to buy time.
“Stop that and answer me,” Anna Lisa demanded.
He gave her a quick glance and said, “When Peter and I went to find Mia, Jordan was with her. Jim Evans flew in this morning, and he arranged for Jordan to come with him.”
“Did you know she was coming?” Anna Lisa asked, turning to look at Mia.
“No. It was a surprise.”
“Why is she gone? Did you fight?”
“No,” Mia snapped, irritated. “Dad and Peter thought Nonna would have a stroke or something if Jordan came with us to the party.”
Anna Lisa’s hand was still on Adam’s arm and she squeezed it roughly. “What’s the matter with you? You can’t show a little hospitality?”
Giving her a look as full of irritation as Mia’s had been, he said, “I’m very hospitable, more so than you and your mother would have been if Jordan and Mia had walked in holding hands.” He gave his wife a pointed look and he saw understanding dawn.
“Oh. Well, I certainly don’t think that would have been appropriate. Your grandparents are elderly and frail, Mia. They’re not used to things like that.”
“Things like what? Seeing two people in love?”
“You know very well what I mean. Don’t be coy.”
“I’m not. I’m really not.”
Anna Lisa turned and looked at her daughter.
“I don’t see why my being in love has to be something weird, something I have to hide.” She was on the verge of tears. “I really don’t.”
“It just is,” Anna Lisa said. Her voice was calm and soft and soothing. “I wish it wasn’t, baby, but it is.”
“Only if we let it be,” Mia said, lower lip trembling.
“That is not so. Other people have their opinions, honey, and wishing they didn’t isn’t going to change things. Your grandparents don’t need to be exposed to this. I promise you they wouldn’t understand.”
“What?” The tears stopped, replaced by a stunned, angry glare. “You honestly think I’m going to hide my love, my life?”
“They don’t need to know, honey. It’ll only confuse them.”
“Fuck that!” Mia’s eyes were blazing and her voice shrill.
“Don’t use that kind of language! You sound like a cheap woman.”
“Gimme a break. You’ve heard worse.”
“I don’t want to hear it from my little girl. You’re not a sailor, you know.”
Mia looked bored. “Whatever.”
“Every time I think you’re making progress, that you’re really maturing, you do something like this. It’s always one step forward and two steps back with you.”
“Yeah. That makes sense. Wanting to introduce my partner to my grandparents is ridiculously immature. I see your point.”
“Trying to make a point when you know it will upset your grandparents is the immature thing. And cursing like a streetwalker.”
“You’d probably prefer I was a streetwalker. At least then Nonna wouldn’t think I was gay.”
“I thought you weren’t gay,” Anna Lisa snapped.
Mia was turned in her seat, looking at her fingernails. “I’m not. But it takes an open-minded person to understand how I can love Jordan and not be gay. There’s a dearth of them in this family.”
Adam finally spoke, making both women turn his way. “Will you two please stop it? I’d like to keep my eardrums intact. Jordan’s gone, the party’s over, and you have plenty of time to argue about this later.”
Mia sank further into the seat and Anna Lisa turned to gaze out the window. The rest of the ride passed in a tense, heavy silence.
Jamie and Ryan opened the door to their home, and both noticed the blinking red light on the answering machine. “I wonder if Ray took me seriously,” Jamie said, putting her things down to walk over to the machine.
“I think he did,” Ryan said, smiling to herself. “I heard you when you were on the phone with him this morning. I think he has his marching orders.”
Jamie stuck out her tongue and hit the “play” button. “Hi, Jamie. This is Ray. Good news! The seller accepted your offer. You’re going to have to come by my office to accept, though. Is that all right? If you can’t…” There was a long pause. “I could have a messenger come to your house. Or…” Another pause. “Let me know, okay?”
Ryan put her arms around her lover. “I think he got the message. And you, my little real estate mogul, did a very good job. Now you just have to pay for our new family toy.”
Catherine nearly fell asleep in the limo on the way to The Pierre Hotel in New York City. Her flight had left a little late, and by the time they landed at JFK it was 6:00 a.m. If she’d been staying in New York, she would have forced herself to stay awake until it was time for bed. But she had another long flight ahead of her and she knew her body clock would complain no matter what she did.
Check-in took a matter of moments, and she eyed the bed hungrily while the bellman explained all of the amenities, none of which she planned on using. Her flight to Milan was scheduled for 8:00 p.m., and even though she appreciated that the airlines scheduled European flights to allow business travelers to arrive in Europe in the morning, it made for a very long day for someone from the West Coast…especially someone who didn’t do well on eleven-hour flights. So, she usually flew to New York, slept for a few hours, then went back to the airport. She could have saved time, not to mention money, by staying near JFK, but it didn’t make much sense to her to try to sleep during the day with a plane roaring overhead every three minutes. Besides, the staff at the Pierre acted as though she were an old friend, even though she was fairly sure she’d never previously interacted with any of the staff members she’d encountered on this stopover.
She removed her travel/cosmetics bag and spent a few minutes getting organized. Dutifully, she brushed her teeth and removed her make-up, then changed into a sleek, pale blue satin nightgown that could have passed as a dress if it were shorter. The bed beckoned and she slid between the soft, white sheets with a hiss of pleasure. Within minutes, she was asleep.
Jamie woke slowly, realizing that she’d had far too much liquid before bedtime. With regret, she forced herself to wake up completely and start to get out of bed. Her progress was stopped abruptly when she heard a wide-awake voice ask, “What’s wrong?”
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Jamie turned to her partner. “What’s wrong with you?” She looked at the clock and said, “It’s 3 a.m.”
“I know.” Ryan’s hands were laced behind her head, and she looked like she’d been contemplating something important. She turned onto her side and fluffed her pillow. “Can’t sleep.”
“Let me go pee. Be right back.”
Jamie scampered into the bathroom, with Ryan smiling at her exit. She still found it a little funny that Jamie couldn’t bear to leave the bathroom door open so they could continue their conversation.
A few minutes later, Jamie emerged and got back into bed. “Wanna cuddle?”
“No, I’m all right.”
“Are you thinking about something?”
Ryan’s lazy smile took several seconds to reach both sides of her mouth. “I’m always thinking about something.”
“Come here, you.” Jamie lay on her back and patted her shoulder. “Let me kiss that sweet little head.”
“No arguments.” Ryan scooted close and put her head on Jamie’s shoulder, tucking an arm around her lover’s waist to further anchor herself.
Jamie threaded her fingers through the dark hair, murmuring, “What’s got my girl so wired?”
“Something’s going on in here,” Jamie insisted, tapping gently on Ryan’s head.
“Not much. Just thinkin’.”
“You’re thinking evasively,” Jamie said, placing a kiss on Ryan’s head. “It’s okay if you don’t wanna talk, sweetie, but if you do, I’m your girl.”
Ryan tilted her head to gaze into Jamie’s eyes for a second. “I hope you’re my girl even if I don’t wanna talk.”
“Sure am. All yours, all the time.”
“That should help me relax. Thinking about how lucky I am to have you as my partner is enough to make me happy as a clam.”
“But you’re still clamming up.” Jamie tickled under Ryan’s chin, then kissed her head once again. “Want me to rub your head or your back?”
“No, I’m okay. I’ll get to sleep eventually.”
Ryan could feel the tension in Jamie’s body as she turned a little. “You haven’t been to sleep yet?”
“Uhm, no. I’m just keyed up from everything that happened today.”
Ryan sighed. “You’d have been a good police detective. You wear me down.” She rolled onto her back and once again put her hands behind her head. “Something hit me today and I can’t get it out of my head.”
Jamie reached over and rubbed her belly, waiting patiently while Ryan seemed to struggle with her thoughts.
“Okay. Here it is.” She felt a swell of emotion flood over her, and knew she wouldn’t be able to keep her tears at bay. Giving up her desire for control, her voice shook when she said, “I was thinking about how much I wanted to have my mother with me today.”
“Oh, my sweet baby. I knew it’d be hard for you today.” Jamie stroked her gently. “I’m so sorry.”
“’Sokay.” Ryan cleared her throat and said, “I expected to feel sad. I was prepared.”
“Yeah? You were?”
“Uh-huh. But I wasn’t prepared for how I’d feel when it hit me that your mom is alive and well—and she’s not coming to yours—by choice.” She lost all control and started to sob, causing a clearly confused Jamie to wrap her in a hug.
“Why are you upset, baby? We’ve talked about this before and you didn’t seem to think it was a big deal.”
“It is,” Ryan said, still crying. “It’s a very big deal. My mom would have cut off a leg to be able to be here for me. And it makes me mad…” She started sobbing so hard that she could hardly get her breath. “It makes me so mad. If your mom was here right now I think I’d tell her off.”
“Ryan! I’m—I’m amazed. You seemed almost uninterested in her going away. I don’t understand why it just hit you that you’re upset about her trip.”
“I’m not sure. Maybe I was blocking out how I felt about my mom not being here. But when we were at your mom’s house today it hit me—hard. It seemed so wrong to me that she was going on a vacation instead of being there for you.”
Jamie cuddled her partner tenderly, rubbing her back and kissing her cheek and neck. “It’s all right, sweetheart. It’s all right. She would have changed her plans if I asked her to. She offered to, baby. It was my choice.”
“You shouldn’t have had to make that choice. It was wrong—so wrong—of her to put you in that position. I’m so disappointed in her.”
“Don’t be mad at her, honey. She’s struggling right now.”
Ryan’s chin tilted and she gazed at Jamie for a minute. “She is?”
“Yeah, I think she really is. It seems important to her that she see Giacomo. And if she didn’t go now she probably wouldn’t be able to go for a couple of months.” She kissed Ryan’s lips, giving in to the delicious sensation of her warm, moist flesh to luxuriate in the touch. “Think how we would have felt if we had to wait a couple of months to see each other.”
Ryan smiled, but the sadness still showed in her eyes. “No way. It almost drove me nuts to have you gone for a week last summer.”
“Exactly. She’s not just my mom. She’s a woman who’s trying to figure something out. We talked for a while today and I got a much better sense of that. She’s working on something, honey. I’m not sure if it’s whether she loves Giacomo or whether she wants to continue seeing him or what, but it’s something.”
“You don’t sound like you’re mad at her anymore.”
“I’m not. I’ve been busting her chops for a while now and she called me on it today. Made me feel like a jerk.”
“No, no, I deserved it. I’ve been very demanding and kinda judgmental. Nobody likes that.”
“No, I guess no one does. But you were just telling her how you felt.”
“No, it was more than that. I don’t think she’d ever mind my telling her my feelings. But she doesn’t like to be told what to do. And she doesn’t like my smartass comments that have a tendency to slip out.”
Ryan chuckled and moved down so she could peer into Jamie’s mouth. “This cute little mouth makes smartass comments? Not possible.” Jamie stuck her tongue out and Ryan sucked it into her own mouth. The playful exchange shifted into something more serious and sensual. “Mmm…” Ryan finally lifted her head and said, “That’s a nice tongue.”
“It’s nicer when it’s used for good rather than evil. I’m gonna try to stop being such a smartass to my mom and you and everybody.”
“You’re not like that.”
“I have been lately.” She laughed softly. “I’m sick of myself.”
“I’m never sick of you.” Ryan kissed her tenderly. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. Now relax and go to sleep. Everything’s gonna be fine. My mom went to the big ceremony and got to see all of the hoo-ha. It’s cool.”
“Okay. I’ll try to let go.”
“You will. You’re the essence of compassion.”
“That’s a little extreme. But I’m sure you’re right. I’m hardly mad at all now.”
“That’s my sweet baby girl. Now cuddle close and dream about reading all of those journals that my mom gave you.”
Ryan plastered herself to Jamie’s back and sighed heavily. “Mmm…P-NAS. Nice.”
Waking with a start, Catherine searched for the clock and saw that it was just 8:00 a.m. Irritated, she tried to return to sleep but found her mind racing. A mixture of anticipation and anxiety had settled over her and both had served to disturb the little sleep she’d gotten. She longed for a cup of weak tea with a dose of bourbon, but she’d been sticking to her resolve to have only one drink per day and she didn’t want to waste it so early in the morning. So she got up and turned on the television, tuning to CNN, hoping the calm, measured tones of the announcer would eventually lull her back to sleep.
CNN apparently did the trick, because she woke again at noon, feeling extraordinarily hungry. A call to room service was the obvious answer. By the time her breakfast arrived, she’d washed her face and put on a robe. When she finished her meal, she gave in to temptation and called Giacomo on his cell phone. The phone rang a few times, then his deep, silky voice answered.
“What a lovely surprise.”
“I hope you have caller ID,” she teased.
“I do. But the phone rings in a special way when you call me.”
She felt a girlish thrill at the way he always managed to make her feel special. “I’ve just had breakfast and I still have five hours before I have to leave for the airport. I wish you were here with me.”
“I do too. I should have come to New York to meet you. It was thoughtless of me.”
She laughed quietly, wondering if he was always so agreeable with his wife. “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just a little lonely. I’m ready to see you, and it’s hard for me to wait.”
His voice took on the smoky, husky tone he used when he whispered in her ear. “It’s very hard. I can almost…almost feel you in my arms.”
“Just the thought of that makes me feel good. But I have to make the clock move quicker.”
“Is the weather nice?”
“I haven’t even looked outside.” She drew back the heavy curtains. “It looks lovely. Clear, blue sky. Light wind.”
“Why don’t you go for a walk in the park? You’ll be sitting for a long time tonight.”
“That’s a good idea. I can probably get five miles in. Maybe I’ll have time to stop at one of the midtown galleries. Is there anything you’re dying to have?”
“You. Only you, Catherine. There isn’t a piece of art in the world I’d choose over holding your face in my hands.”
Continued in Part Nine
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