I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 16: Paradigm

By: Susan X Meagher

Part Nine

It was pitch black and silent when Jordan flew into a sitting position, her heart beating so fast that she felt it would burst from its cage. Blindly, she reached out with both hands, frantically patting the bed, trying to find Mia. Her heart slowed a little as she woke up more fully and realized she was alone and that Mia was with Jamie and Ryan.

Sweat pooled at the small of her back and she ran her hands through her tousled hair, trying to regain some semblance of control. The nightmare had been a bad one. A very bad one. One of the worst she’d had since before she’d met Mia. It wasn’t cool in the room, but her sweating body made her feel chilled. She got up and took a T-shirt from her laundry bag, the scent of her own body further centering her.

Whenever the nightmare woke her like this, it took her a few minutes to remind herself she was an adult and that she wasn’t in danger. Being with Mia had made that clear, and had finally convinced her that her former therapist had been right: the dreams were nothing more than a nighttime alarm, a clarion call about her fears of abandonment and isolation. Taking the remarkably terrifying step of being with Mia had stopped the nightmares almost immediately, but having another one made her feel as small and powerless as she had before meeting her lover.

She sat up in bed and pulled the light blanket from its moorings, wrapping it around her shoulders. Grabbing an elastic band from her nightstand, she gathered her hair and wrapped the band around it, securing it and letting the air cool her wet neck. Shivering with a combination of fear and anxiety, she tucked the blanket closer, covering her head with it.

Jordan stole a glance at the clock, hoping it would be close to 5:00, when she’d be able to get up. But it was 2:30, hours from the relief of dawn.

Through the years, her therapist had suggested a variety of relaxation techniques, but none of them had worked well. Now that she was practicing yoga on a regular basis, she decided to meditate to take her mind off the images that kept streaming through her head. Normally, she spent an hour a day meditating and practicing yoga. She’d found that it worked best for her to do it during their long lunch break at practice. Even though she knew Mia would like to watch, she was a little embarrassed to do it in front of her, so she kept it her little secret.

Tossing off the blanket, she stood in the middle of the small room and centered herself by taking many deep, cleansing breaths. She shook her arms, letting them dangle for a moment, then rocked her hips and tried to loosen up. When she felt pliable, she squatted a little by bending her knees.

Her technique was to envision herself as a long blade of grass swaying in the wind. She lifted her hands above her head and clasped them together, then started to move gently. Imagining her roots deep in the ground, she tried to feel the energy of the earth move through her body while she slowly undulated her hips and shoulders.

The imagined wind buffeted her, while her roots held her snugly to the ground. She twisted and turned, moving in the breeze, concentrating only on the earth holding her and the breeze making her sway. As she moved she felt lighter and more centered, more like herself. She continued to move her hips until she felt completely in possession of her body. A wave of lethargy washed over her and she shook her body, starting at her head and moving down slowly. Then she took in a deep breath and lay down, settling the blanket in a ball and holding it to her chest. Trying to keep only an image of Mia in her head, she closed her eyes and fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.


On Thursday morning, Ryan woke at the first light of dawn. She felt lazy and a little tired, but there were some things she needed to get done, so she contemplated getting up. Jamie was wrapped around her in a very pleasing fashion, using one of Ryan’s breasts and a bit of her shoulder for a pillow. On the other hand, her final was Monday and she was truly anxious about it, something she hated to admit, even to herself.

She had always maintained that grades meant nothing to her, but now that she knew she didn’t need foreign language proficiency for grad school, there was no explanation for her anxiety other than wanting to get a good grade. The truth of this realization forced her to admit that her GPA actually did mean a great deal to her, and, even though she wouldn’t tell Jamie this, she was determined to do well, very well, on her exam. While she didn’t want others to know her grades, they were a form of competition. And she hated to fail at any form of competition, even one that she knew was not of any real consequence.

So, with a regretful sigh, she gingerly turned Jamie’s face away from her breast, watching with a gentle smile as her lover made one soft, complaining mew and rolled over onto her other side. Ryan slid from the bed and went into Mia’s room to shower, emerging a few minutes later, clean and fresh and ready to take on la belle langue.

After a breakfast of “Ryan’s jumble”—which this morning consisted of granola, bran flakes and a sprinkling of Frosted Flakes, or Frosties as her mother had called them, she sat in the backyard and gazed up at the sky. There was a bit of blue peeking out through the clouds, but it looked like the color would soon be lost to the maddening dullness of the overcast skies they’d been experiencing.

Her box of flashcards lay beside her on the garden bench, and she glared at it before taking off the top. There was something so inherently wrong with having finals after commencement that she was truly offended by the entire scheme. She and Jamie should be celebrating their graduation— their having worked and played and fallen in love over the course of their studies. But here she was, on a chilly, gray day, going over verb conjugations when her lover was upstairs sleeping in their big, warm bed. She recalled how decadently delicious Jamie’s naked body had felt when pressed up against hers when she woke. Her eyes turned to their bedroom window, wishing she could see through the clapboards to get another viewing of how touchingly lovely Jamie looked while she slept.

Ryan had been with more women than she cared to admit, but none of them touched her the way Jamie did when she looked at her sleeping face. Her cheeks always seemed pink and healthy, and her often mussed hair only added to her attractiveness. It was truly the best “bed head” Ryan had ever seen—just messy enough to look like she’d had a good roll in the hay.

The thought of Jamie, and her overall grumpiness about the ill-timed convocation, caused Ryan to do something very out of character. She picked up her box of flashcards, carried them into the kitchen, and began to strip off her clothing as she ascended the stairs. It was nearing Jamie’s normal waking time, and Ryan couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate their graduation than to give her lover the gift she’d been seeking nearly every day—a nice, long lovemaking session.

By the time she’d reached the bedroom, a rakish smile had settled onto her face. Jamie hadn’t really been craving lovemaking. She’d been as horny as a toad, and Ryan was very skilled in satisfying a woman’s desire for some down and dirty sex. As a small commencement token, she detoured to the closet of her bedroom, grinning happily as she rooted through her collection, picking out just the right thing for a young woman’s graduation.

Ryan slipped back into bed, filling the space in front of her still-sleeping partner. As she often did, Jamie woke just enough to wrap her arm around Ryan and aim a few soft kisses in the general vicinity of her body. This time she was right on, and the kisses landed on Ryan’s neck. She’d twisted her hair up when she’d showered, and the clip was still holding her tresses against her head, leaving lots of bare skin for Jamie to access.

Ryan was mentally timing her lover to test her response time; it just took a few seconds. She heard a soft intake of breath, then the same smacking sound Jamie made when she had her first taste of something particularly tasty. The arm around her tightened possessively. “Shower?” the low, raspy voice asked.

“Uh-huh. All clean for you.”

“For me?” The surprise in her voice was colored with pleasure. Jamie kissed the clean, lightly scented skin again, this time with more interest. “Umm…nice.” She cuddled up as closely as she could get, draping a leg around Ryan’s hip and pressing her vulva against the firm ass. “All for me?”

“Uh-huh. A little graduation present.”

“Mmm.” Jamie hugged her tightly. “What a nice present. I can’t think of anything I’d rather have.” She started kissing all across Ryan’s shoulders, smacking her lips in pleasure. “You taste so good.”

“Thank you. It wouldn’t do to give you a dirty gift.”

Jamie pulled her leg away, starting to get up. But Ryan caught her and held on. “Where are you going?”

“To take a shower.”

“Oh, no, you don’t. I happen to like my gifts au natural. I love the way you smell when you wake up in the morning.”

“You’re odd, O’Flaherty, but I love you anyway.” She entwined herself with Ryan’s body and stroked her skin. “You’re the softest thing I can ever imagine holding. You’re strong and heavy, but so soft. I never get over the dichotomy.” She trailed her hand up and down Ryan’s side, smiling when her lover arched into her touch. “You love to be touched, don’t you, baby?”

“Uh-huh. All over.” Ryan ground her ass against Jamie, snuggling into her as tightly as she could.

Continuing to kiss her neck and ears and nibble on her bare skin, Jamie let her hand drop to Ryan’s belly, tickling her. Ryan giggled like a child, pressing tightly against Jamie’s body in a wrongheaded move to escape the torment. Her actions let Jamie possess her more fully, scratching and tickling her from her breasts to her belly. As her hand moved a little lower, Jamie was shocked to feel something firm and smooth. Leaning over Ryan’s shoulder, she saw a bright blue phallus peeking out from between her legs. Clambering over her partner, with Ryan chuckling at her antics, Jamie got as close as she could manage, finally asking, “Honey? What’s holding that thing upright?” She reached back and blindly felt across Ryan’s hip and ass, noting the absence of anything resembling a strap. “Isn’t a strap-on supposed to have a strap?” She slipped back down to lie behind Ryan. “That is a strap-on, isn’t it?”

Ryan turned her head to be able to see her lover’s face, grinning at her playfully. “It’s kind of a strap-on. And it’s held in place by magic.”


“Yes. Magic.” Ryan scooted over, then turned to lay on her back. “I can make it move by magic, too.”

Jamie watched, fascinated, as the phallus wiggled and bounced up and down a couple of inches. “How’d you do that?” she demanded, scooting down to investigate.

“Hey, hey, hold on, sparky.” Ryan grasped her by the shoulder and held on. “Why don’t we play a little bit and you can find out how things work the hard way.”

Grinning wryly, Jamie said, “The hard way, huh?”

“Mmm-hmm. The hard way.” Ryan tucked her hands into Jamie’s armpits and forcibly tossed her onto her back. Leaning over her, she got to within an inch of her face and said, “Buckle up, baby. I’m gonna take you for a spin.”

Jamie’s eyes twinkled with a mixture of desire and excitement. “You know just what to say to a girl.”

“To this girl, I most certainly do.” Ryan leaned in and kissed her hard, pressing their bodies together with a raw, untamed need. She finally broke away and panted, “I know just what my girl needs.”

“Oh, you do, you do,” Jamie murmured, her gaze already unfocused.

Ryan moved so their noses touched. Her voice was heavy with unspent passion. “You’ve been jonesing for a good, hard fuck. And I’m gonna give you one you won’t forget.”

Jamie practically swooned at her lover’s uncharacteristically coarse talk, and the gleam in her eyes and the insistent shifting and pressing of her vulva against Ryan’s leg showed she was more than receptive. “Do me, baby,” she whispered throatily. “Do me good.”

Ryan’s response was another hard, wet kiss, delivered with an urgency and a forcefulness that made Jamie feel lightheaded. Ryan had never been this dominant, but she didn’t give off the faintest hint of indecision or discomfort with the role. She moved slowly, but surely, caressing and biting, sucking and laving Jamie’s skin.

Ryan worked on her lover’s breasts with an intensity that made Jamie’s eyes roll up into her head. The pain was of the most delicious kind. The kind that confused her senses so thoroughly that the line between pain and pleasure was crossed so many times that she gave up trying to decide whether to beg for more or cry for mercy.

When she was sure she couldn’t take another moment, Ryan slid up her sweaty body and began to work on her mouth with the same unbridled focus. She kissed Jamie with tender, soft caresses, then probed her mouth with a firm, searching tongue. Her kisses were wet and sloppy and hard and soft and sweet and rough. Every kind of touch imaginable rained down on Jamie and she barely managed to keep up with her lover’s need. Ryan’s desire was overwhelming, overpowering, but also so loving and so connected that Jamie returned the emotion with the same fervor.

They held each other tightly, rolling over in bed interlocked, their bodies wet and gliding and pressing together. Jamie slid down Ryan’s body and latched on to her breasts, giving them the same rough love that Ryan had given her. “So good, so good,” Ryan moaned, holding Jamie’s head tightly, not giving her the option of pulling away.

Biting and nipping at the pale flesh quickly turned it lush and pink, with a bright flush covering her chest. “Harder,” Ryan panted. “Suck me hard.”

Jamie dove into her with abandon, sucking Ryan’s breast into her mouth—pulling in every bit of flesh she could accommodate. Her mouth was full, and when she began to suck deep in her throat, Ryan grasped handfuls of her hair and clutched her to her breast, demanding that Jamie suck lustily.

They were in a frenzy of lovemaking, their bodies crying with desire. Ryan finally put her hands on Jamie’s shoulders and pushed her away, gasping with pain as the suction was broken. Her eyes were glassy and vacant, her face flushed and wet, and her whole body shook. “I’ve got to have you,” she panted. “Now.”

Jamie threw herself onto her back, ready for anything Ryan could give her. But Ryan had other ideas. She lay down and wrapped both arms around her lover, pulling her onto her own body. After several minutes of reckless, passionate kissing, she said in a clear voice, “Climb on, baby. You’re in charge.”

Lifting her head, Jamie looked into Ryan’s eyes, saw the ultra-confident, proud, knowing demeanor that made her want her with a craving she’d never be able to satiate. She placed her hand on Ryan’s chest, feeling her heart beat so rapidly it almost frightened her. Steadying herself, she got to her knees astride Ryan’s hips, their eyes locked together. Ryan put her hands around Jamie’s waist, waiting for her to take the lead.

Reaching between her legs, Jamie found the base of the dildo and realized she’d have to scoot up so that it could enter her. Before she moved, she let her finger slip down the silicone, finding that it entered her lover’s body. Experimenting, she moved it back and forth, watching raptly as Ryan’s eyes closed halfway, her nostrils flaring.

“Are you fucking me or am I fucking you?” Jamie asked, moving up her lover’s body.

Ryan half-smiled, her gaze still unfocused. “Don’t know. Don’t care. Do it.”

Using her splinted arm for stability, Jamie opened herself with her other hand. Searching for the head of the dildo by shifting her hips, she found it, growling with pleasure as it pushed past her opening. “Ooo…” She threw her head back and hissed softly as the dildo slid into her in one long motion. As she felt her vulva touch Ryan’s, she shifted her hips, watching in fascination as Ryan’s eyes opened wide and she barely uttered a gasp.

Ryan reached for her shoulders and pushed down, making the dildo shift inside both of them. “Fuck me, fuck me,” Ryan moaned, her head dropping back to the pillow, eyes closed tightly.

Jamie sucked in a breath and began to move, quickly getting a feel for how she had to move to have the toy press against both of them. It took a while to synch up with Ryan, to get their hips moving at the same time, but she finally nailed it. Pressing down, then lifting her hips just the slightest bit seemed to make the dildo press against the roof of Ryan’s cunt. The grunting and shoulder squeezing that accompanied each of these moves gave Jamie all of the evidence she needed. And when she slid back on the toy, it did the same to her.

Ryan’s hands moved from Jamie’s waist to her breasts, holding them gently, just squeezing and releasing each time the dildo twitched inside her. Her eyes were still closed tightly, and her lips formed a perfect “O” through which she steadily blew a long stream of air every time the toy touched her g-spot.

Jamie’s whole body was shaking, her knees so wobbly she could barely stay upright. But the sensations were so overwhelmingly fulfilling that she couldn’t make herself go faster—even though she knew just a slight up-tick in rhythm would make her come.

Ryan squeezed her legs together, making the toy rub against her clit every time it moved. She knew she was right on the edge, but she desperately wanted to wait for Jamie. Her body had no such desire, and before she could even warn her partner, she came noisily, moaning and twisting under her lover like a big fish on a tight hook.

Grasping the hands that weakly held onto her breasts, Jamie started thrusting for her own pleasure now, no rhythm but her own guiding her. Her teeth showed through her slight grimace, and her eyes were half closed as she worked. Body covered in sweat, she thrust her hips sharply, now feeling the sensation of Ryan’s hands eagerly palming and squeezing her breasts. Her ass contracted with each thrust, the feeling flowing to every part of her cunt. Finally, she bent over, her breasts tantalizingly close to Ryan’s mouth as she bore down on the dildo, making it rub firmly against her clit. Her breathing grew louder and heavier; sweat dripped from her body as she got closer and closer. Finally, the feeling overwhelmed her and she cried out, nearly sobbing with relief as her cunt clutched and released around the dildo again and again. She dropped onto Ryan’s chest, the dildo still deep inside, engulfed by her spasming flesh.

Ryan kissed her chest and touched her back, gently grounding her. It took a few seconds, but Jamie finally murmured, “Need more.”

“Come on, baby,” Ryan soothed. “You can have as much as you want.”

“Too tired.”

“Oh, my poor girl’s worn out.” Wrapping her arms around Jamie, she warned, “Watch your arm,” then rolled over, placing Jamie on her back. “Is this better?” she asked, moving slowly, pushing the phallus gently into her partner.

Jamie’s satisfied gurgle and lazy smile signaled Ryan to keep pumping her hips against her magnificently beautiful, nearly insatiable lover.


Jordan took another look at the large clock at the far end of the volleyball court. She’d glanced at the clock so many times that she’d nearly been hit in the face with the ball during a drill. But she couldn’t, no matter how hard she tried, concentrate on volleyball. Even though she’d eventually soothed herself back to sleep after her nightmare, the aftereffects lingered, making her skin crawl every time she thought of the dream.

Having Mia gone was affecting her in so many ways, all of them bad, that she was tempted to call her and beg her to come home. But she knew her lover needed to spend some time at home. Being with her family and with Jamie and Ryan always invigorated and calmed her—a seeming disparity. But that’s exactly what the visits did, and Jordan knew Mia needed both the excitement and love she got while she was at home. Still, it was tempting, very tempting.

Finally, their coach blew his whistle, signaling the end of morning practice. “Gonna shower first?” Toni asked, startling her.

“No. I mean, yes. I’ve gotta make a call, then I’m gonna shower. See you at lunch.”

“I can wait…”

“No. No, thanks. I might be a while.”

“Fine,” Toni said, clearly miffed. “See you.”

Jordan went to her locker and got her phone, then put on her warm-ups and went outside to sit in the sun. It was warm, very warm with her fleece on, but she didn’t want to risk having her muscles tighten up. It was 11:00 in Hillsborough, and she hoped Mia would be up. Dialing the phone, she impatiently tapped her foot against the spongy grass.

She counted the rings, hoping her lover would pick up before the magic number elapsed. But when the phone rang for the fifth time, she knew it was going to voice mail. Trying to sound casual, she said, “Hi, honey. I’m sitting outside on a nice warm day, wishing you were sitting next to me. Call me when you can. I’m gonna stay outside for a little while, then go have lunch. I love you.” Looking at the phone with regret, she closed it and laid it next to her.

The grass was thick and deep green, and she was unable to resist lying down. Stretching out to her full length, she spent some time extending her body, trying to make each vertebrae pop. She put her arms over her head and stretched again, reaching as far as she could with each hand. She’d just extended to her full potential when her phone rang and she frantically patted the ground to make sure she caught it before it went to voice mail. “Hi,” she said, trying to sound happy.

“Hey. Sorry I didn’t pick up. I stayed up late last night and just wasn’t in the mood to get up today.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to wake you. Wanna call me later?” She hated even making the offer, and desperately wished Mia wouldn’t take her up on it.

“Nah. I’m just in bed because I don’t have anything to do.”

“Did you do anything after we talked last night?”

“No. Just went to my grandparents’ house. We stayed pretty late, then we had a fight on the way home. Sucked,” she said, giving a succinct assessment of the evening.

“Oh, baby, what did you fight about?”

“Three guesses.”

“I think I can get it in one. What set it off?”

“Me,” Mia admitted, chuckling fiendishly. “I couldn’t let it rest, Jordy. My mother got exactly what she wanted, and I just had to ruin the evening for her. I’m such a brat!”

“No, you’re not,” Jordan soothed. “It hurts your feelings when she doesn’t respect you and your life.”

“True. But I could handle it a little more diplomatically.” She laughed again. “But that’s no fun.”

“Are you all right? Do you wanna talk about it? I have time.”

“Nah. I’m fine. I’m just not looking forward to going downstairs. Peter went back to school this morning, and I’m gonna avoid facing my mother alone until I get too hungry to avoid her.”

“You should have a little emergency stash. They say to have three days of food stored in case of a disaster. You could keep it in your room.”

“Damn fine idea. I’ll buy a case of those energy bars I like.”

Jordan chuckled. “Those are candy bars, honey. They have marshmallows and chocolate chips in ’em.”

“They say they’re granola. That sounds healthy enough for me.”

“I wish you were my nutritionist. He wouldn’t let me eat one of those if that’s all I ate all day.”

“He’s an idiot. Everyone knows that sugar is the key to happiness.”

“I get all of the sugar I need from your kisses,” Jordan sighed, closing her eyes and trying to imagine the sweetness of her lover’s lips.

“You’re such a sweetheart. My sweetheart.”

“All yours. Well, yours and the USOC’s. They have control of a good portion of my body.”

“Keep the sexy parts for me. I don’t share.”

“I don’t either. I don’t even touch ’em when you’re gone.”

“You don’t?”

Jordan laughed at the shocked tone in her lover’s voice. “Unh-uh. I don’t get the urge when you’re not here.” She didn’t ask the follow-up question, already knowing the answer.

“No wonder you’re so hot when we’ve been apart! You’ve been starving.”

“Hey.” Jordan gathered her nerve and asked the question she’d been mulling over all morning. “What do you think about going to Switzerland with me?”

Mia was silent for a few seconds, then she asked, “How come?”

Jordan had to make a quick decision—tell the whole truth, or try to manipulate Mia into coming without being clear about why she needed her. It just took a second to decide to be honest. “’Cause I need you.”

Immediately Mia said, “Okay. Want me to buy the ticket, or can you get a deal?”

Jordan had to close her eyes tightly to stop the tears from escaping. “I love you,” she finally said, her voice breaking.

“Baby, what is it? Is something wrong?”

“No, no. I’m just so thankful that you are who you are. You don’t ask me any questions, you just agree. That’s so loving.”

“That’s because I’m so loving you,” she said, softly. “I’d do anything for you, Jordy. I’ve told you that and I meant it. Anything for you, baby. Anything.”

“I can get the ticket—if you’re sure.”

“I’m sure. And if you want to tell me why you changed your mind about traveling alone, I’m always ready to listen.”

“It’s not a secret,” Jordan said, even though parts of her wished she could keep it a secret. “This is a big tournament and I think I’ll play better if I have you there. It’s all about me.”

“Yeah, that’s you—Ms. Self-Absorbed.”

“Sometimes I am.”

“I haven’t seen that part of you yet. Don’t ruin the illusion of your perfection.”

“Got it. I’ll keep up the illusion.”

“You sound happy. Are you?”

Images of Mia in their hotel room, waving to her from the stands, and snuggling up to her in bed floated through Jordan’s head. “I’ve never been happier. And it’s all because of you.”

“Have you had lunch yet?”

“No, I’m gonna go when we hang up.”

“You go fill that little tummy. And Jordy?”


“I’m very, very happy that you told me you want me to go with you. Good girl.”

“Thanks,” Jordan said, smiling brightly. “Talk to you tonight.”


Feeling a little more social, Mia took a shower, got dressed, and ventured downstairs. Her mother was in the kitchen, and from the scent wafting from the range, she was stewing a chicken.

“Morning,” Mia said, approaching her mother and giving her a hug from behind.

“Hi, sleepyhead. Did you sneak out last night?”

“No.” Mia went to the coffeemaker and poured a cup. “I had a hard time relaxing.”

“Mmm.” Anna Lisa leaned against the sink and appraised her daughter for a moment. “Me, too.” Pushing away from the sink, Anna Lisa went to Mia and wrapped her in a long, affectionate hug. “I’m sorry your day was ruined.”

“It wasn’t ruined,” Mia said, her words slightly muffled against the cotton of her mother’s blouse. “Part of it is I miss Jordy, and I hated the fact that she had to go back to Colorado.”

“That makes sense,” Anna Lisa said as they parted. “Anything else?”

“Sure. What I said last night was true.” Mia sat at the kitchen table and put a very generous amount of milk into her coffee. “I can’t go to family functions and act like Jordan doesn’t exist.”

Anna Lisa sat down and pulled her chair close to Mia’s. She cupped her hand over Mia’s cheek and gently stroked her. “I’m sorry this is so upsetting for you.”

Warily, Mia looked at her. “Why are you being so nice?”

“Because I love you.” Leaning over, Anna Lisa kissed her daughter’s forehead. “Even when we disagree, it doesn’t affect my love for you. I want you to be happy, Mia. I’m not sure you know how important it is to me that you be happy.”

“No, I don’t know that.” Mia was still stinging from her mother’s comments the night before, and she wasn’t ready to let it go.

“Well, it’s true. And, even though I’ve never been in the situation, it has to be hard to be in a relationship where some—many people—aren’t supportive.”

“Especially when those people are your parents,” Mia said pointedly, giving her mother a narrow-eyed stare from over her cup.

“That’s where you’re wrong, my sweet girl.” Anna Lisa kissed her again, then stood up and went to the refrigerator. “What do you want for breakfast?”

“Cereal’s fine.”

“How about chocolate chip pancakes?”

Mia gave her a sly smile. “We can talk like adults. You don’t have to bribe me with sugar.”

“I’m not bribing you, I’m feeding you. Pancakes?”

“Sure. That’d be nice.”

Anna Lisa started gathering the ingredients. “Your dad and I are supportive of you, honey. And so is Peter. I don’t want to brag, but I think I’ve shown that I’m more than willing to meet you halfway.”

“Yeah, you have. But I felt like all of you were ganging up on me last night. Even Peter was involved!”

“I wasn’t part of the scheme to keep Jordan from coming to the party.”

“But you would have been. Don’t even act like you wouldn’t.”

“Well, to be honest, I would have asked you not to tell your grandparents—my parents, at least— about Jordan. They have no frame of reference for your relationship.”

“Don’t even try to get away with that. They live in the Bay Area. You can’t spit and not hit a homo.”

“But you’re not gay,” Anna Lisa said with a sweet tone that Mia heard as a dig.

“Fine. I’ll lie and tell them I’m a dyed-in-the-wool dyke. Would that make them more comfortable?”

Anna Lisa looked a little ill, but her quick wits didn’t fail her. “That would be hard to sell. Remember the night Nonna found you…” She pursed her lips and finally continued, “Giving some boy a…”

“Blow job,” Mia said. “So Nonna caught me giving a guy a hummer. Big deal.”

Looking pained, Anna Lisa said, “A hummer?”

“Another name for a blow job. Nothing bad.”

“Forgive me for thinking it’s not ideal for a fifteen-year-old to be performing oral sex acts in the backyard.”

“Better than the living room,” Mia said, smiling as cherubically as she could.

“Let’s drop that topic, shall we? My point is that Nonna knows you’ve been sexually active for years. And I’ve told her about some of your more shocking displays.”

“So? Lots of dykes have had sex with guys. It’s a phase.”

“I’d bet not many of them have been as dedicated to the pursuit as you have been.”

“I thought we had a deal. I thought we didn’t talk about stuff like this.”

Anna Lisa turned her back to begin cooking. “We did. But that deal’s over now. Besides, now that I don’t have to worry about you getting pregnant, it’s not as frightening for me.”

“Ahh, so there’s one benefit to doing a chick, huh?”

“Yes, dear, there’s one benefit. That’s a lovely way to describe your love, by the way.”

Mia got up and swiped a finger full of the thick pancake batter, sticking her finger in her mouth and sucking noisily. “I could be totally serious about how I feel about Jordan, but I don’t feel safe. Some days you act like you’re fine with it, and some days you act like you want me to go hide until I get over this.”

Anna Lisa gave her daughter a quick glance. “I’ve been reading some books about this.”


“Yes. There are a lot of them, you know. And one of them said that most people have to go through a process to come to terms with their sexuality. I think that goes for parents, too. I’m sure you didn’t just wake up one day and decide to have sex with girls.”

Mia giggled. “I kinda did.”

Looking at her again, Anna Lisa blanched. “Really?”

“Kinda. Melissa and I were at her house and we just started making out one day. I hadn’t planned on it, it just happened.”

“And you weren’t upset about it?”

“Upset? Hell, no. It felt great.”

“And you didn’t have to work through your feelings?”

Mia stood there, looking a little puzzled. “Mmm, I’m not sure if I did or didn’t. That’s kind of a sensitive point.”

Anna Lisa looked shocked. “You have secrets? You?”

“Yes, Mother. Even I have things I’m unsure about. I’m not sure I was entirely fair to Melissa. I think I was afraid to really love her.”


Strolling back to her seat, Mia sank into it. “Glad I could entertain you.”

“Don’t hit below the belt. I said that was fascinating, and I meant it. Learning more about your inner life lets me try to understand you better. Or don’t you want that?”

“Yeah, I want it.” She rested her head on her hand. “Let’s get down to the point, Mom. I have to be honest with my family. All of my family.”

Delivering a pancake, Anna Lisa said, “How about this: why don’t we talk about it for a while and decide when and if you approach them.”

“Not ‘if’, Mom. I’m gonna tell ’em.”

“Fine. Let’s talk about when you tell them. We can work through this. I know we can.”

Mia put a bite of her breakfast into her mouth, chewing thoughtfully. “Would you really do that?”

“Yes.” Anna Lisa hugged her again, squeezing her tightly. “I love you, baby, and I don’t want you to feel distant from us.” She sat down and watched Mia eat.

After a few more bites, Mia said, “Wanna go to Switzerland?”


“Jordan called this morning and said she needs me to go to Switzerland with her. I thought you might like to go with us. It’d be like a little vacation, and you and I could hang together.”

Anna Lisa’s face lit up in a relaxed smile. “I’ll talk to your father about it. If he says it’s okay, I’d love to go.”

“Great,” Mia said, grinning at her. “It’s a done deal.”


The flight to Milan was smooth, the seat in first class reclined almost flat, and the Ambien that Catherine took before she boarded worked to put her to sleep for nearly the entire trip. She went into the lounge and called Giacomo, then spent a good half hour freshening up, changing clothes, and putting on her make-up. Her hair was perfect and she was well rested and beautifully put together when he arrived to pick her up.

Giacomo jumped out of his surprisingly suburban station wagon and waved enthusiastically. He ran to Catherine and wrapped his arms around her waist, twirling her in a circle while laughing like a child. She knew they were making a spectacle, but she relished the moment, feeling completely and utterly desired.

When he placed her back on the ground he kissed her gently, almost chastely. Then he directed the porter to put her bags in his car. “I assumed you’d have many bags,” he said. “So I brought the Marea.”

Giacomo opened the door for her and Catherine got into the car. She surveyed the simple, family-friendly Fiat, finding it thoughtful that he’d brought a car that could accommodate her luggage. He tipped the porter and slid into the driver’s seat. Leaning in close, he said, “I wanted to give you a much better kiss, but I never want to embarrass you.”

“What about twirling me around like a toy?” she teased.

He looked down, pretending to be chastened. “I have only so much control.”

“Let’s go to my apartment and you can make up for your errors.”



As they left the airport, Catherine rested her hand on Giacomo’s leg. “It’s so good to see you,” she sighed. “You’ve been on my mind so often that I can hardly get a thing done.”

“I’ve been marking the days on my calendar. My secretary asked me why I’d circled today and put stars on the page.” He chuckled. “I told her it was a very special day and none of her business.”

Catherine slapped his leg playfully. “You did not.”

“No, just the first part is true. But when I didn’t say anything more, she knew it was none of her business.”

“You have a good secretary.”

“Yes, I do. She wants to retire but I won’t let her. I keep sending her to lovely, boring places for little trips so she sees that retirement is not for her.”

“Now that I believe,” Catherine said, laughing. “You know how to get what you want.”

He gave her a quick look. “I hope that’s true.”

His look was too intense to respond to, so she changed the subject. “Do you have to work today?”

“No, of course not! I’m on vacation.”

“You are? I had no idea.”

“It’s been so long since you’ve been here, Catherine. Do you think I’d spend my days in my gallery? You’re like a beautiful painting…but so…what’s the word…ephimera…yes, ephemeral. I have to enjoy every moment.”

“How are we…” Puzzled, she trailed off.

“Everything is fine. Tessa is going to Lake Como with Fiorella, and Donato and Cianna are staying with my parents. We can stay at my home, if you’d like.” He turned and gave her a gleaming smile.

“Your home?” Catherine turned pale at the thought.

“Yes. We’d have so much more room.”

“No, that’s not a good idea. I’d feel much more comfortable in my apartment.”

Catherine didn’t say another word and after a few minutes Giacomo said, “I’ve upset you. Tell me why you’re angry.”

“I’m not angry,” she said somewhat snappishly. “I just can’t imagine staying at your home and sharing the bed you and your wife sleep on. It seems… I just don’t want to.”

“Catherine,” he soothed, “we need to make some things clear. Tessa and I have talked about this and she’s agreed to speak to you about how things are.”


Her look brought him up short and he fumbled a bit before he spoke again. “It’s fine, really, it is. You’ll feel better if you speak with her. She thinks it’s a good idea.”

“I don’t!”

“But why? It’s the best way for you to feel good about our relationship. I don’t want you to feel like we’re doing something wrong.”

“We’re not? I can rationalize a lot of things, Giacomo, but I don’t think I can convince myself that being involved with you isn’t wrong.”

“How is it wrong?” He looked truly puzzled.

“You’re a married man. Marriage, by its very definition, is a bond between two people, not three or four.”

“Marriage is what the people involved say it is,” Giacomo responded forcefully. “Tessa and I have worked out a way to stay married, and we’re happy with it. Whose business is it to say that our choice is wrong?”

“What about your children? Don’t they deserve parents who love each other?”

Giacomo shot her another quick look. “Where does this come from? I thought we’d settled this at your house. Are you the same woman who called me yesterday, telling me she was so anxious about being with me?”

Catherine let her head tip back and rest against the seat. “Yes, of course I am. But when I’m here, I start to feel guilty. You offering your house made me very uneasy. I can’t imagine looking at your children’s rooms and seeing their toys.”

“Cara,” he said, touching her leg, “please speak to Tessa. She wants to meet with you today, since she’s leaving in the morning. Please.” He squeezed Catherine’s leg gently. “It will help.”

She blew out a heavy breath. “Fine. I don’t think it’s wise, but I’ll do it if it means that much to you.”

“It does. And you’ll see that it makes you feel better. I’m sure of it.”

Looking at the side of his face, she mumbled, “That makes one of us.”


To Catherine’s displeasure, Giacomo refused to accompany her to meet Tessa. The appointment was set for lunch at a small, quiet restaurant near the Castello Sforzesco, and Giacomo deposited Catherine into a cab at a few minutes to 1:00. He spoke to the driver and paid him in advance. “Trust me,” he said, blowing her a kiss.

As the cab pulled away, she realized she didn’t know what Tessa looked like. She spent the rest of the ride worrying about how to connect, barely noticing when the driver stopped. Befuddled, she emerged and stood on the sidewalk for only a second before a woman approached her.


“Yes. Tessa?”

“That is me,” she said.

Tessa extended her hand and they shook. Catherine was surprised by her looks, even though Giacomo had never described his wife. She was attractive, but not astoundingly so. Her hair and eyes were dark, and even though her hair was pulled back it was obviously full and curly. Tessa was thin and elegantly dressed, and to Catherine’s dismay, she was furiously smoking a cigarette. She was indistinguishable from a hundred other fashionable women in Milan, and that’s the element that puzzled Catherine. She would have wagered that Giacomo would have picked a wife like he picked his art—distinctive and rare.

“Shall we go in?” Catherine asked, hoping Tessa would extinguish the cigarette.

“Yes.” Tessa led the way, nodding at the captain and strolling determinedly to a waiting table. A waiter was there to hold Tessa’s chair.

“How lovely to see you, Signora Fontini,” he said in Italian. “Are you well?”

“Yes, quite well,” she replied.

He dashed to Catherine and helped guide her chair, then stood there looking attentive. “I’ll have a blood orange martini,” Tessa said. “For you, Catherine?”

“That sounds marvelous. I’ll have the same.” Catherine decided that today might be a good day to waive the one drink maximum rule.

They sat at the table, smiling insincerely at one another until the waiter returned. The drink was wonderful and Catherine felt a little calmer when the first sip of alcohol hit her stomach.

“So,” Tessa said, switching to English, “Giacomo tells me that you have guilty feelings about seeing him.”

“That’s true. I’m divorced, but my husband had lovers while we were married and each one of them hurt me. I don’t want to do the same thing to you.”

Tessa took a sip of her drink, gazing at Catherine over the rim. With an unkind smile she said, “And it took you how many years to have the guilt?”

Blushing in shame, Catherine shook her head. “I felt guilty from the beginning. Giacomo assured me that you both agreed that seeing other people was fine, but I still felt bad. I tried to break it off with him, but…”

Tessa lit another cigarette, then put the first one out. Waving it, she blew out a plume of smoke. “He gets what he wants. He always has.”

Catherine wasn’t sure if it was smoking that made Tessa look older than Giacomo, but she definitely did. The thought flashed through her mind that Giacomo might have a thing for older women, and for some reason that angered her. Her gaze hardened and she said, “He won’t get me if I believe this is bad for you or your children.”

“How kind of you to care.” Tessa’s delivery was laden with sarcasm, but Catherine didn’t take the bait. She patiently waited for her to speak again. After another puff on her cigarette and another sip of her drink, Tessa said, “Here are the facts, Catherine: my marriage improved when Giacomo and I decided to enlarge our circle.”

Catherine tilted her head, a little surprised at Tessa’s odd definition of her marriage.

“I have been in love with Fiorella for around five years. I hid the relationship from Giacomo for as long as I could, but he found out. That was a very difficult time, as you might imagine.”

“When did he find out?”

Tessa waved her cigarette dismissively. “I don’t know. Two years—three. It doesn’t matter. I don’t know if he’d had lovers before he found out. I never asked. But once he knew that I had another, he started seeing other women…in a most flagrant way,” she added venomously. “We were very close to divorce. I didn’t want my children to hear our fighting, and I didn’t want them to know their father was seeing every attractive woman in Milan.” She exhaled and smiled, a smile that could only have been called devilish. “I assume he hasn’t told you about those days.”

Once again, Catherine steeled herself. She had no intention of revealing any of the discussions she and Giacomo had had, and she refused to give Tessa the satisfaction she obviously sought. “We’re honest with each other,” she said, maintaining a steady, polite gaze.

“No matter. What is important is that he found you. Since then, he’s been happy. When he’s happy, the children are happy. We are happy as a family now that we both have someone else.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to divorce? Why not be honest about your lives?”

Tessa looked bored. “You Americans have such silly views of the world. I have no interest in being called a lesbian. I have no interest in living with my lover. We see each other occasionally, and that’s what we both want. I have a home, a husband, two children and no one needs to know about my sex life.”

Catherine tried to stop herself, but she was curious about Tessa’s agenda. “So, this is just about sex for you?”

“No! I call her my lover for a reason. I love her very much. But I would kill her if I lived with her. She’s in the government and her political views are detestable. But we have a wonderful time together as long as we don’t talk about politics or religion or art. She makes me happy and I don’t want to give her up. Having Giacomo occupied lets me live the life I want.”

“But what about your children? Won’t they figure out that you’re not …”

Tessa cut her off immediately. “My children are my business. I’m not going to give up my lover; and my husband, like all men, needs sex. I love Giacomo, and I would have sex with him occasionally, but he doesn’t want that. He wants all of me or none of me.” She shrugged. “He’s chosen to take nothing. So, if he’s not having sex with you, it will be another woman. The only other choice is divorce, and neither of us wants that. It’s not done in our families.”

“This is hard for me to understand,” Catherine said, ruminating.

Tessa raised a delicate hand and in moments two more drinks were delivered. “It doesn’t matter to me if you understand. This whole discussion is a waste of my time. I didn’t want to meet the woman my husband sleeps with. It’s unseemly. But Giacomo begged me to reassure you that you weren’t harming me or our family. I doubt that I’ve done that, since you seem to have the ridiculous double standards that most Americans have.”

“What exactly do you mean by that?” Catherine asked, her color rising.

“I mean that you marry and have lovers and get divorced and remarry and have more lovers and divorce again and again. Does that set a good example for your children?”

She was glaring at Catherine, who was forced to respond. “Of course not. But it’s not common for people to divorce more than once.”

“Once is too much! It’s impossible to find one person who sexually satisfies you for your entire life. I want my children to respect marriage as a pact that you honor—even if that person doesn’t fulfill your every need. They know their father and mother will always be together—as a family. It won’t matter one bit if they find out we each had lovers along the way. What matters is that we love one another and have a happy home life.”

“Even though you each have a secret life? How can that be good?”

“Everyone has a secret life! How naïve you are. How was it for your daughter to learn about your lover? Wouldn’t it have been better for her if you and your husband had stayed married while you each had your other interests?”

Catherine took one sip of her drink and set it down. She found that her head was becoming a little light and she needed to be in full command of her faculties to respond to Tessa. “Yes, in some ways my daughter would have been happier if she hadn’t learned the truth about her father and me. But it was an untenable situation. I was…humiliated by my husband’s behavior.”

“So you married a man who didn’t have the civility to keep his assignations private. And that’s your problem, not the fact that he had other lovers.”

Catherine sighed, feeling tired and a little ill. “You might be right. But I would have preferred that he was true to me. That’s the message I wish I could have given to my daughter. That marriage and fidelity can work.”

Tessa chuckled. “She’s a little old for fairly tales, isn’t she? Love and marriage and fidelity rarely converge. Stay with Giacomo, Catherine. You’ll have two of those elements. He’s as loyal as a dog.” She stood up and signaled to the waiter. He scurried over and she said, in Italian, “My friend may be having lunch, but I have to leave. Put the bill on my tab.” She turned to Catherine and extended her hand, continuing to speak in Italian. “I wish we hadn’t had to meet, but I can now see why Giacomo loves you. You’re as much an idealist as he is.” With that, she left, leaving the befuddled waiter to stare at the wall, acting as if he hadn’t heard a word Tessa had said.


Feeling a little wobbly, and not yet ready to speak to Giacomo, Catherine ordered lunch. As usual, she didn’t eat much, but she felt much better when she’d finished. The waiters were obsequiously polite when she left, and she stepped into the bright sun and waited a moment for her eyes to adjust from the dim restaurant. She was just about to hail a cab when Giacomo approached, looking concerned. “I thought you’d never leave! Tessa left almost an hour ago.”

Catherine laughed, his expression so childlike that it was both funny and endearing. “Tessa wasn’t hungry. I decided to have lunch.”

“She left before you ate?”

“Yes. And I have good reason to believe you lied to me when you said she wanted us to meet. She acted like she’d rather be sweeping the street.”

He dropped his face into his open hands, moaning dramatically. “I knew she wouldn’t behave. She can be such a child.”

Touching his back, Catherine said, “Let’s go home. I’ll tell you all about my lunch.”

Looking at her carefully, Giacomo asked, “Are you angry with me?”

“No, not at all. I think it’s charming that you wanted to reassure me, even though I’m sure Tessa was less than willing to comply.”

He rolled his eyes and grinned. “You have no idea. She can be quite…how would you say…a handful?”

“That’s exactly how I’d say it,” Catherine agreed. “She seemed like two hands full—at least.”


After Giacomo had sent Catherine off, he’d gone to his home and packed a suitcase. His clothes and personal items were put in one of the guestrooms, and his laptop was open and resting on an antique desk in the room. When Catherine saw what he’d done she linked her arms around his neck and kissed him. “This is the first time we’ve ever shared a room.”

“No, it’s not,” he said, smiling contentedly. “We shared a room at your home. It was just for the weekend, but it was nice.”

“That doesn’t count,” she said. “We slept in the pool house and I was torn about your being there at all. This,” she held her hand out and swept it around her apartment, “is mine, and I want to share it all with you. Will you put your things in my room? I want to smell that delicious shampoo you use and watch you comb your hair.”

“You are such a romantic,” he teased, then kissed her again and again. “You’re everything I want in a woman.” He buried his face in her neck, hugging her so tightly it was almost too much. “I want to make love with you so badly it’s torture, but I must know what happened between you and Tessa.”

She pulled away and took his hand. “Come. I’ll make you a drink and we can sit on the balcony and talk.” In the kitchen, she saw that the pantry was fully stocked. “Simone has been a Godsend, Giacomo. Thank you so much for finding her for me.”

“She’s a nice young girl,” he said. “Her mother works for my parents. They’re from Ethiopia, but Simone speaks Italian well. It seems silly to have to have an empty house cleaned, but it’s not good to let a place lie empty and uncared for.”

“Simone bought everything I asked for, so I can make whatever you’d like.”

“Allow me,” he said. “What can I make for you?”

“Mineral water. I had a martini at lunch and my head is still a little light.”

“One of Tessa’s new favorites? She loves the blood orange martini.” He handed her a glass of Ferrarelle water.

“Exactly. It was good, even though the company wasn’t particularly warm.”

He quickly poured a little vodka in a rocks glass and added a few ice cubes, then he took Catherine’s hand and led her outside. “Let’s go talk.”

They sat in the recently cleaned deck chairs and Catherine kicked off her shoes and put her feet up on a stool. “I’m glad I went, even though it wasn’t very pleasant.”

His brow furrowed. “She wasn’t rude to you, was she?”

“Not rude,” she said slowly, even though Tessa had clearly been so, “just not friendly. It was clear she didn’t want to lift the curtain on the production.”

“Curtain? What do you mean?”

“Mmm, I think you know.”

“What do I know?” Giacomo tugged on his ear, an unconscious signal that Catherine took to mean he was being disingenuous.

“You and Tessa have had what you describe as an open marriage, but it hasn’t been very open. It’s been more of an open secret.”

He sucked on his lower lip for a second, then nodded. “Yes, I suppose that is a better way of describing it. We haven’t always discussed things that are difficult. Maybe that’s a mistake.”

Catherine took his hand and kissed it, letting the dark hairs on the side of his hand tickle her nose. “I’m the last person who should tell you how to deal with your marriage. But I want us to be honest with each other. Completely honest. Do you think you can do that?”

“Yes,” he said immediately, staring into her eyes. “Yes, I can.”

“If you’ll give it your best efforts, I’ll do the same. But I want everything to be clear between us, even if it’s difficult sometimes.”

“Tell me what you want.”

“I want to be intimate with you, Giacomo.” He was leaning towards her as she spoke, and she barely had to move to kiss him. When he pulled away, she patted his chest. “I want to know what’s in your heart and in your head. I want to love you.”

“That’s exactly what I want. Exactly!”

“But we have to acknowledge that we have many things that can get in our way. Besides your marriage and your children, we live on different continents and neither of us wants to move.” He looked crestfallen and Catherine’s heart beat quickly.

“No, I cannot. I love my family and my country. I could never leave.”

“I could be persuaded to leave America, but I could never leave Jamie. So we won’t be able to see each other very often. That’s not ideal.”

“No, it’s not. But I’d rather see you twice a year than some other woman every day.”

He was still very close, resting his elbow on the arm of her chair. She kissed him again, letting his full lips and woodsy scent make her pulse beat quicker. “There’s more,” she whispered. “Jamie isn’t happy about my seeing you, and we’ll never be able to be open about our relationship here.”

“No, I suppose not,” he said glumly.

“Maybe I should sell this apartment and buy another in a place where we can go to dinner and the theater without worrying about one of your friends or family members seeing us.”

“But don’t you love Milan?”

He looked so hopeful that she felt she had to lie. Catherine had chosen Milan because of its connection to opera, fashion, and modern art. Except for those three things, however, it held little interest for her. She thought she’d be happy there, but if she hadn’t met Giacomo she probably would have already moved to a different city in Italy. “Of course I do. But we could be more open somewhere else—Rome or Florence or Venice, even Turin or Pisa or Bologna. I don’t feel comfortable seeing you during stolen hours. When we get together, I want to have you all to myself.”

He was quiet for a few minutes, but finally nodded. “I didn’t like talking to Tessa about all of this, but it was nice to be able to make plans so we could each be happy. Stolen hours aren’t good for any of us. I don’t think she’s ever had time away with Fiorella.”

Catherine privately thought that extended time with Tessa might wear on Fiorella’s nerves faster than either woman would like, but she kept that to herself. “This is part of the honesty I need to have, Giacomo. And there’s another thing. If you and Tessa have a sexual relationship, it’s completely fine with me.”

He started to speak, but she squeezed his hand and he stopped. “I don’t want to know whether you do or don’t. But she’s your wife, and if you could get back to the place where you love only each other, I think it would be best for you.”

“That won’t happen,” he said firmly.

“I just want you to know that it’s fine with me if it does. But other than that, I want you to be with only me. If you meet someone who appeals to you, I need for you to tell me. I might be comfortable sharing you, but if you lie to me, I’ll never see you again.” She moved slightly, leaning into him until she could barely maintain her focus. “I can’t bear to be made a fool of again.”

“I would never, never do that, Catherine. I’m not that kind of man.”

She kissed the tip of his nose. “I can be very open-minded. But don’t lie to me.”

“I will not,” he said dramatically.

“I won’t lie to you, either. And I don’t rule out finding someone in America to love. Not that I’m looking for someone,” she added when his expression turned sad. “But I won’t even accept a date without telling you.”

“I want you to be all mine,” he said, grasping her hand tightly. “But if someone in American can make you happy, I would be happy for you—one day.”

She smiled and kissed him, slipping her arms around him and holding on tightly. In seconds they were standing, and then she was in his arms, being carried to her bed.

Continued in Part Ten

Return to the Academy