I Found My Heart in San Francisco

 

Book 1: Awakenings

 

By: S X Meagher

 

Disclaimers: See Chapter 1

 

Feedback: I'm consumed by self-criticism; therefore only positive feedback will be read. If you enjoyed the story please stroke my fragile ego, if not, flush it from your memory bank and move on. You can email me at sx_meagher@mindspring.com

 

Chapter 15

 

On the next Friday night Ryan pulled Martin's truck up a fire road on Mt. Tam and parked. She and Jamie hopped out and began to unload their mountain bikes. Jamie had to admit to a little apprehension about this ride. A group of women met every Friday to ride and she had heard that the rides were pretty intense. But she had been riding her mountain bike around Berkeley for months now and felt pretty comfortable with it.

 

In February Ryan had spent long hours showing her how to shift her weight to climb curbs and small rocks and tree stumps. She had spent quite some time learning how to position herself in the saddle to go down a steep incline and was beginning to feel pretty confident. But she knew she was a rank amateur compared to these women.

 

Since it still got dark early they each had halogen lamps on their bikes. As an extra precaution Ryan had insisted that she wear a light on her helmet also. She wore long bike pants, heavy, off road bike shoes and a light nylon jacket over her jersey. Ryan had on similar attire plus a pair of clear polycarbonate wraparound glasses. When Jamie had inquired about their purpose Ryan had mysteriously answered, "mud."

 

Jamie left it at that, figuring she would find out soon enough.

 

Ryan's bike was a serious off road machine. She had switched tires on the bike, opting for a very aggressive tread pattern, just made for dirt. She greeted several other women as they drove up in their trucks, jeeps and sport utility vehicles. When they were a group of about 20 they took off. It was a fairly normal ride until they reached a small peak. Ryan turned around and said, "Don't follow me," with a wild grin on her face. She and another woman took off, pedaling furiously until they stood on the top of a set of very large boulders. Each rock was at least 20 feet tall, and they sat atop one another to form an outcropping almost 100 feet high.

 

When they reached the peak she and her partner gave each other demonic smiles just as Jamie wondered what on earth she was going to do. She found out a split second later as Ryan hurled her bike straight down the rock face. Jamie was too shocked to scream or she surely would have done so. Ryan and her friend catapulted down the sheer face at incredible speeds. They crossed paths as they came down in a zig zag pattern, much the way a skier descends a steep slope.

 

When they reached the bottom Ryan threw her head back and howled like a wild dog. She slapped hands in the air with her friend and as they rode back to the group they were laughing uproariously. When Ryan pulled up next to Jamie she smiled an enormous grin and proclaimed, "Sweet Jesus, that rocked!"

 

Jamie caught her infectious happiness as they sped along down the trail. They came to a small rocky creek that still had a decent amount of water flowing after the winter rains. The descent at this point was not too steep, but some of the rocks were rather large. Another woman came up to Ryan and slapped her hard on the butt. "Tag!" she shouted as she pedaled away right down the middle of the creek.

 

Within a heartbeat Ryan was on her tail. The creek curved down the mountain in such a way that it was possible to stand at the top and see the path of the water for a good 1/2 mile. Jamie scrambled over to the edge to watch the pursuit. Ryan flew down the hill, seemingly with no regard for her safety. Jamie's heart nearly stopped beating when Ryan slipped dangerously at one point, but her incredible athleticism kept her from flying over the handlebars. She caught her assailant near the bottom of the creek, slapping her equally hard on the butt as she yanked her bike 180 degrees and began to climb back up the creek bed. The woman tried to keep up but Ryan had a good 10 yards on her by the time they reached the top of the hill.

 

Jamie was shocked when she saw her. She was dripping wet from heat to toe. Mud covered her legs and ran halfway up her back. But she wore the most blissful smile that Jamie had ever seen on a human being. "I won," she said proudly.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

The rest of the ride was a bit more sedate. Since it was now fully dark they stayed on the trail, although the dust from the dry earth stuck to Ryan's wet body like glue. The ride was entirely uphill and by the time they made it back to the car they were all sweating heavily. Jamie had never felt so grimy, but she could only imagine how Ryan felt.

 

One of the riders called Ryan over and Jamie surreptitiously watched them speak. Jamie wasn't sure which of the riders this was since it was so dark. But as some of the other cars turned their headlights on the pair was illuminated for a few seconds. The woman was a particularly striking Latina that Jamie had noticed immediately upon their arrival. She was very dark skinned, and had gorgeous jet black hair that went half way down her back. She had put it into a loose braid for the ride but she had shaken it loose while they spoke and it now framed her beautiful face. They were obviously well acquainted and they stood very close together as they spoke softly. The woman put her hand on Ryan's cheek and she turned her head slightly and kissed her palm. It was unclear what the woman was asking but Ryan was gently shaking her head 'no'. She reached into the woman's SUV and pulled out a couple of wet wipes. She quickly wiped her own face and then delicately cleaned all around the woman's mouth, trying to remove the caked on mud and dirt. When she was satisfied she leaned in for a few very friendly kisses. As she pulled away she started to turn but whirled around for another more passionate kiss. She reached up and gently touched the woman's cheek, and then she turned and crossed back over the road to the truck where Jamie waited.

 

Most of the women were going out for a few beers. Ryan was tempted but she finally decided that she needed dry clothes more than a cold beer. "I've got to remember to bring a change of clothes next time," she said as they pulled off down the fire road.

 

"Who were you speaking with?" she inquired as casually as she could muster.

 

"One of my friends. I should have introduced you," she said quickly.

 

"That's okay."

 

When Ryan didn't elaborate, Jamie persisted. "Are you close friends?"

 

"Pretty close," she said noncommittally.

 

Jamie couldn't take any more of this cat and mouse game so she blurted out, "Who the hell was that!?"

 

Ryan let out a deep laugh that rumbled through the cab of the truck. "I'm sorry, Jamie. I'm just playing with you. That was Alisa Guerra. She's an assistant district attorney in The City and I've known her for about 3 years."

 

"Were you an item?" she asked delicately.

 

"We still are," she said smoothly. "Or at least as much of an item as we ever have been. She's one of my long term buddies," she explained.

 

"Oh, well, I'm not stopping you from seeing her, am I? I can easily head on home if you want to go out."

 

"Nope. She wanted me to come over but I'm not in the mood. I'm really too tired for anything other than a warm shower and a soft bed."

 

"Well, I should think so," she agreed. Jamie studied her filthy form for a few minutes. Ryan still had an energized glow about her that Jamie found mesmerizing. "I don't think I've ever seen you be that wild," she finally said.

 

"I don't do it very often, but every once in a while I just need to blow off some steam. Riding up here is the easiest way I know to really clean out the pipes," she said happily.

 

"You just seem so full of joy when you're doing something crazy like that sprint down that huge hill," she said with a shake of her head. "Aren't you afraid to try something like that?"

 

"That's the whole point, Jamie," she replied with a confused little look on her mud spattered face. "It's the fear that makes it hot. If you knew you were safe you wouldn't get off on it."

 

"Get off on it..." she mused, unconvinced of the sentiment. "Do you need that kind of excitement?" she asked with a bit of concern.

 

"Yeah, I guess I do. I've always been an adrenaline junkie. I was just like this almost every day when I was a kid. If some other kid dared me to do something I did it, no matter the consequences."

 

"Is that what you mean by blowing off steam? Do your need to do this kind of thing or it just builds up until you can release it?" she inquired.

 

"Yeah, I guess it does. I've never thought of it in quite than fashion, but that's a good analogy. If I don't have some excitement in my life I get kind of anxious and I have to find an outlet," she admitted. "It's almost like a sexual release. As a matter of fact this is the first time I've been on a ride that I didn't go home with Alisa. We don't see each other a lot but we both get kind of hot after a really good ride."

 

"Do you think your need for excitement is why you like to um...date lots of different women?" she asked, just a bit afraid of the answer.

 

"I guess that is part of it. I get bored easily and I need to have a different kind of stimulation, if you'll excuse the double entendre," she grinned.

 

"Do I ever bore you?" she asked hesitantly.

 

Ryan pulled the car over to the side of the road. She turned fully in the big bench seat and looked directly into Jamie's eyes. "Never," she said firmly. "I don't know what it is about you, Jamie, but every time I'm with you it feels fresh. Sara was the only other person I've ever felt that way about. It's funny but I was with Ally for a few days a couple of weeks ago. She is the most amazing lover," she said appreciatively. "I mean truly amazing," she repeated just in case Jamie missed it the first time. "But after being with her for 3 days in one week I had enough. It's not that I don't like her; I really do. And she is so totally hot in bed!"

 

"You mentioned that," Jamie said dryly.

 

"Oh, right," she said with a smirk. "Anyway, I was thinking about that since I had just broken up with Tracy. I thought, 'Maybe I could make it work with Ally'. Conor had just given me this big talk about how he thought I should date a friend rather than a stranger and I mulled that over when we were together. But I had just seen enough of her after those 3 days." She turned again to fully face Jamie. "That has never happened with you. Never. Other than my family, you're the only person I don't get tired of."

 

Jamie was outrageously pleased to hear this information. She gave her friend a luminous smile and simply patted her leg as she said, "I've never gotten bored with you around either, you wild woman."

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

When they arrived home Martin came out to the front porch to greet them. He laughed at the sight of Ryan and told Jamie, "She's just lucky you're here, Jamie. I used to take her out in the back yard and hit her with the garden hose to clean her off before I'd let her in the house."

 

After a short lecture about contracting pneumonia Martin ordered them to enter the house through the door next to the garage to avoid tracking mud through the living room. Jamie was so exhausted that she gladly accepted Ryan's invitation to sleep over. After two long showers they relaxed on the bed. "Thanks for showing me your wild child, Ryan."

 

"Anytime, Jamie, anytime."

 

As they settled down Jamie heard a sharp grunt as Ryan rolled onto her side. "What's wrong?" she asked with concern.

 

"When I was going down that creek I almost lost it," she admitted. "I yanked it out at the last second, but I felt something pop in my leg. It just pulls a little when I roll over."

 

"Let me see," she demanded as she switched the bedside light on. Ryan was wearing thin Royal Stewart plaid flannel pajama bottoms and a dark blue T-shirt. Turning her face to gaze at her friend for a moment she gently demurred.

 

"I think it'll be okay, you don't have to do anything."

 

Jamie leaned over just a bit until she was able to face Ryan fully. She placed her hand on her shoulder and asked, "Why won't you let me help if I can? You're always so solicitous of me, and I've got to tell you, it feels great to be pampered a little."

 

"I know it does," she admitted as she obviously found it difficult to maintain eye contact. "It's just that you might be uncomfortable with the location of the problem." She quirked her mouth into a lopsided grin and rolled her big blue eyes just a bit when Jamie looked a little stumped.

 

Ryan was lying on her side facing her friend, who was lying in a mirrored position. She reached over and gently took her hand, bringing it behind herself and placing it on the abrupt swell of her right buttock. "It's my hamstring," she needlessly informed her. "And it's really high, almost in my glute."

 

Smacking her lips together to increase the flow of saliva the smaller woman took a deep breath and found the courage to say, "The offer still holds, Pal. A sore muscle is a sore muscle, no matter where it is. If it would help I'd be glad to work on it for you."

 

With a dubious tilt of her head Ryan decided to take her friend at her word. She rolled over in the other direction until she was fully on her belly, arms stretched out above her head. "It's right around here," she said, indicating the general area.

 

She was terribly grateful that Ryan could not see her face, but she sucked it up and allowed her hand to explore the area. As she probed gently she heard a sharp intake of air pass through Ryan's lips as she touched the spot. "Does it hurt a lot?" she asked as she gingerly touched the swollen muscle.

 

"It's just tweaked a bit. I'm sure it's nothing serious," she assured her. "Start a few inches below the swelling and slowly work up to actually touching the tweaked muscle."

 

"Okay, I can do that," Jamie replied firmly as she tried to figure out how to position herself. Making a quick decision she patted Ryan's left leg to indicate she wished her to move it away from her right. Once she did that Jamie was able to straddle the injured leg and work on the hamstring with a pretty good position. The pants were going to be an impediment but Ryan made no move to remove them to Jamie's concurrent relief and disappointment. So she did her best despite the obstacles.

 

She decided to draw an imaginary circle around the injury and attack it from all sides before actually touching the sore spot. Regrettably, this called for a large amount of actually rubbing her friend's smoothly muscled buttock. But she had made the offer and she felt obligated to perform the task without allowing herself to become sexually excited.

 

Working as gently as possible she began to knead all around the injury, never drawing closer to the actual spot. Her plan was to sneak up on it after relaxing all of the surrounding muscles. And her plan would have worked if the muscle was right on the surface. But it was not only high on Ryan's leg...it was deep. In order to reach the surrounding muscles she had to exert a lot of pressure and after a few minutes Ryan mumbled, "You're rubbing my skin raw." She lifted up onto her elbows and reassured Jamie once again, "It's okay, Pal. It's just a tough one to reach."

 

"We can do this," Jamie insisted as she placed a hand on the small of Ryan's back to hold her in place. "Lotion would help," she suggested after she gave the issue some thought. But when she thought of how the lotion would have to be applied she began to regret her idea.

 

Ryan seemingly sensed her hesitation and she turned her head to gaze at her friend for a moment. "You sure?" she asked again.

 

Now feeling trapped Jamie felt her head move slowly up and down. But it was obvious to Ryan that she was struggling with the concept. But all at once the dark head bobbed up and down briefly as she scrambled off the bed. "I think an equipment change is in order." She was standing in front of her underwear drawer as she made this declaration. After rummaging through the neat stacks for a moment she found what she was looking for as she held out a tiny black piece of material. "Better access," she grinned as she went into the bathroom to change.

 

Jamie could feel her heart thumping through her chest so audibly that she feared Ryan could hear it in the bath. Please God, don't let that be a thong! But alas her prayers were not answered. When Ryan emerged revealing a high cut black thong in a satiny material she could feel every bit of moisture leave her mouth and travel straight down to her groin. The look of terror mixed with lust must have been evident for Ryan stopped in her tracks and asked, "Is this okay? Um...It's all right if you don't want to do this, Jamie."

 

"NO! No, really," she insisted. "I uhh just didn't want to get anything on those," she fumbled. "They look really...uhh...nice."

 

"Oh," Ryan said as she looked down at herself. "Thanks. I never wear them for long," she laughed. "They're more of a prop than anything."

 

"A prop?"

 

"Yeah," she said with a chuckle. "My friend Ally likes things like this. Although she never lets me leave them on for long." Ryan found this fact quite humorous but Jamie could not loosen up enough to find humor in anything right then. She needed every bit of her strength and concentration just to stop her hands from shaking.

 

Ryan climbed back onto the bed, once again face down. This position did nothing, however, to alleviate Jamie's discomfort. She hadn't realized it until just that moment but she discovered with a gut clenching jolt that she was inordinately fond of Ryan's butt. Ryan's rounded, incredibly firm, finely muscled, smooth, creamy white butt, that is. And to have that perfectly shaped derriere placed right in front of her eyes for her shaking hands to massage was too much for her racing heart.

 

She nearly stumbled as she got to her feet but she managed to right herself as she declared, "That ride really dehydrated me. I'm going upstairs for a drink. Need anything?" One foot was on the lowest step by the time Ryan could reply but she managed to respond, "Uhh sure, a little water or Gatorade would be good. You sure you don't want me to go?"

 

"No, no, I know my way around," she assured her as she scampered up the stairs. Luckily she was modestly dressed in the roomy top to Ryan's pajama bottoms along with her own panties because she ran into Conor sitting on a stool in the kitchen, reading the paper.

 

"Hello there," he rumbled, looking her up and down briefly. "Nice outfit by the way," he added with a twinkle in his bright blue eyes. "You should wear that type of thing more often."

 

"Thanks," she blushed, suddenly feeling very exposed even though the top covered her body almost to her knees. "It's your sisters," she explained needlessly. "We went on a big bike ride up on Mt. Tam and I was too tired and dirty to go home."

 

"Ohh, riding with the big girls, are you?" he chuckled.

 

"Yeah, and I did pretty well, if I do say so myself. Of course, I could never keep up with Ryan. She's amazing." She walked over to the refrigerator and peeked at the contents. "What are you doing down here?"

 

"Oh, I had a long meeting with some thick headed clients. Ruined my whole evening. So I thought I'd at least have a beer and read the paper before I went to bed."

 

She turned and eyed his dark creamy looking beer in the very large glass. "What is that? It looks delicious."

 

"Murphy's stout," he proclaimed as he held the glass out. "Have a sip."

 

All of a sudden the thought of alcohol was very, very attractive. She reached for the heavy glass and took a long gulp. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand she pronounced, "Now that's a beer!"

 

"Have one with me," he urged. "Ryan won't miss you."

 

"I'd like to," she prevaricated. "But Ryan hurt her leg and I promised I'd give her a massage after I got something to drink."

 

"Well, if you had a wee one with me you would be getting something to drink," he said in his most seductive voice.

 

"You know, a little alcohol might make her leg relax. Would you pour one for us to share?"

 

"Geez," he grumbled as he got to his feet and retrieved another pint glass from the cabinet. "Even the straight girls won't give me a chance!"

 

Jamie read his teasing as just that and as he finished pouring the big can into the heavy glass she stood on her tip toes and kissed him on the cheek. "You're irresistible and you know it, Conor O'Flaherty."

 

He graced her with a big smile and a gentle one-armed hug as he handed her the glass. "Go take care of your patient," he ordered. But as she started from the room he asked, "She's not hurt badly, is she?"

 

Looking over her shoulder she gave him a grin and reminded him, "It takes more than old Mt. Tam to get the best of your little sister."

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She was a good bit more relaxed as she made the turn to descend the stairs but just for good measure she slugged down at least of the pint on the short trip. Ryan was just where she had left her, lying on her tummy with her arms extended. She was obviously very relaxed, but Jamie could still see the muscular tension in her powerful thighs and butt. "Where've you been? I was about to come looking for you."

 

"Oh, Conor was upstairs and he talked me into having a short one with him," she said airily. "I brought a pint down for us to share. I thought a little alcohol might help relax your leg."

 

"Hmm," she speculated as she rolled onto her side and supported her head with her hand. "That might be the key to increasing my massage business. 'Have a pint and a rub'."

 

"I think they already have that in The Tenderloin," she scoffed, mentioning the city's notorious 'sin district'.

 

Ryan held out her free hand and grasped the glass, giving first it, then Jamie a speculative look. But she did not comment further about the large missing portion, easily matching the amount Jamie had siphoned off with one enthusiastic gulp. "Ahh, that's smooth," she murmured.

 

Jamie got up on the bed and took another hearty swallow. They passed the glass back and forth, drinking quickly and in silence, until it was drained. "I guess we were thirsty," Jamie observed as she eyed the empty glass. "Care for another?"

 

But Ryan gently shook her head. "I'll be pissed if I have more on an empty stomach."

 

"Angry?"

 

"No, pissed," she explained. "One of the many, many terms the Irish use for inebriation." She rolled over onto her belly and turned her head to maintain eye contact. "Still interested?" she asked with one raised eyebrow.

 

"Yep," Jamie bravely agreed as she resumed her former position. The stout had helped a bit, she was pleased to note, and her hands were hardly shaking as she poured a generous amount of massage lotion onto them. She delicately began to implement her former plan, again working around the perimeter of the obviously swollen muscle. Once again Ryan relaxed into the touch, controlling her breathing with deep, steady breaths, evidently to control the pain.

 

Jamie imagined that the distended muscle must be terribly painful but Ryan stoically allowed her to work, never even flinching at her touch.

 

As she got into her work she carelessly allowed her mind to wander, a very bad decision as it turns out. She allowed herself to actually realize that she was straddling her friend's firm thigh with only her satiny panties between them. And the movement that she needed to press deep into the muscle caused that firm thigh to rub in a most delicious fashion against her throbbing vulva. At this point her only option was to distract herself. She tried everything. She thought of car crashes, world hunger, tornadoes, and pestilence. Nothing helped. She was only able to carry on by trying one of Ryan's tricks. She focused her mind totally on Ryan's leg. She rubbed, kneaded, stroked, tapped, fondled and petted that sinewy muscle all the way to the middle of her buttock. She had never been so focused on any task.

 

When she had done as much as she could for the injured muscle she spent a few minutes working on its twin. Small, satisfied grunts greeted her touch but she was so focused that she did not need feedback. When both hamstrings were loose she slid off and instructed, "Roll over for me." Ryan did not question her plan, meekly complying with the edict. She began to work on the stressed quads, making both legs as pliable as possible. After a very long time of very loving connection she realized that she had not heard a sound out of Ryan for a long while. She abruptly lifted her head and she saw it: an unguarded look of pure desire on that beautiful face.

 

Ryan knew from the look on Jamie's face that she had been caught. Nonetheless she tried her best to adopt a neutral expression as Jamie slid off her leg and lay down next to her. Without allowing herself to form a conscious thought Jamie placed her hand on Ryan's soft cheek and turned her head until they were breathing the same charged air. As though guided by a magnetic force she dipped her head and closed her eyes as she began to place delicate kisses on her forehead, across her cheeks, her chin and even the tip of her nose. She pulled back for a moment to gather her thoughts and to her horror she saw not the desire of moments before, but wide eyed fear clouding that beautiful face. She shot bolt upright and leapt to her feet in a near panic. "Oh, God Ryan, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I thought..."

 

In the next instant Ryan was on her feet wrapping Jamie in a strong embrace, cooing into her ear, "It's okay Jamie, it's all right." She rubbed her back and ran a hand through her hair as she continued to reassure her shaken friend.

 

Jamie was crying softly against her chest. "I'm so ashamed," she whimpered. "I don't know why I did that. I promised myself I wouldn't...."

 

Ryan pulled back and stared at her shaking friend for a long minute, "What do you mean, you promised yourself that you wouldn't?" she asked gently.

 

This brought on a new flood of tears as Jamie shook from head to toe. Ryan guided her to the bed and urged her onto her side. She got in right behind her and wrapped her arms around her quivering body, murmuring comforting words the entire time. After a few minutes Jamie finally had the ability to speak. "I am so sorry Ryan. I just assumed that you might feel the same way," she murmured with her voice filled with grief.

 

"Is this something that you've felt before tonight?" Ryan asked softly.

 

"Yeah," she said shyly. "It's one of the reasons that I started seeing Anna. I was so confused about how I felt about you that I just needed to talk to someone about it. She told me I wasn't ready to act on my feelings," she said glumly. "I guess I should have listened, huh?"

 

Ryan turned her friend over so they were face to face. "Jamie, I want you to hear me carefully," she solemnly intoned. "You are the most desirable woman I have ever been near. If we were not such close friends you would be on the way to your third orgasm right now." She gave her a little eyebrow wiggle, "At least."

 

This brought a little chuckle from Jamie as Ryan continued. "You just broke up with your fiancé 4 weeks ago, and it wasn't your idea. You are under an incredible amount of stress and it's manifesting itself in physical symptoms. Anna is right, Jamie, you need some time to know what you want. To introduce sex into our relationship could destroy it and I'm not willing to take that risk," she said fiercely. She grasped Jamie's chin in her hand and stared directly into her eyes, "You are far too precious to me to risk losing you over a passing urge." Adding after a pause, "Even if it is the most tempting urge I've ever resisted."

 

"So, are you saying that you might be interested in me if I was sure that this was what I wanted?" she asked timidly.

 

"If I could make you my lover, without losing you as a friend, there isn't a doubt in my mind," Ryan said decisively as she gently kissed her forehead.

 

"So what do we do now?" Jamie asked, afraid that the revelation alone might affect their friendship.

 

"We stay just like we are," she soothed, gently stroking her face. "You continue on in therapy. You take as long as you need to figure out what you want. When you make up your mind, you just let me know. If you want me, I'll be waiting for you. But if you don't, I want you to feel like you can tell me. I want what's best for you, Jamie. If you're a lesbian I'd love to build a relationship with you. But if you're not, I want to be your best friend for as long as you can stand me," she said with a twinkle in her vivid blue eyes.

 

"You'd really be okay if I told you that I was straight?" she asked tentatively.

 

Ryan chuckled a little at the question. "I thought you were straight 15 minutes ago, Jamie. I think I've been getting by all right."

 

She blushed furiously as she realized how her question had sounded. "No, that's not what I mean. I mean could we go back to how we've been? Wouldn't it change things too much once I've told you how I feel?"

 

"Not for me," Ryan said firmly. "I love you, Jamie," she said with a tear in her eyes. "Whether I ever express that love sexually is another issue. But no matter what, I love you. And if you are straight I want you to find a man who will love you like you deserve to be loved."

 

"I love you too, Ryan. Very, very much," she said as she closed her eyes and sank into a welcome hug. The hug turned into a full body cuddle and after a few minutes Jamie felt herself begin to relax fully. All of the sexual tension between them had dissipated and she felt herself drift off into a contented sleep just minutes later, relishing the feeling of being wrapped in that comforting embrace.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

The following Friday afternoon Ryan returned a page between clients at the gym. "Hey, Ally," she said when her friend answered.

 

"Do you have my phone number memorized?" she asked with a chuckle.

 

"Yep. I tend to remember things that I associate with pleasure," she replied happily.

 

"I know this is late to ask, but would you like to have dinner with me tonight?"

 

"Dinner?" Ryan asked, a bit surprised.

 

"Yes, dinner. I know that's not normally how we use our mouths but I want to talk to you about something."

 

"Um, yeah, I can do dinner. But I have something to talk to you about too," she admitted. "I'm not able to stay over tonight."

 

"That's okay, Ryan. I'm actually not calling for sex this time. I really want to talk."

 

"Okay, what time should I come by? I'm off work at 5."

 

"Just come over when you can. We'll decide where to go when you get here."

 

"Okay, see you then." That's weird. She sounded like she didn't want to have sex. That's a first!

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

At 6:15 they were seated at a casual little place in the Castro. The restaurant was small, rather dark and very quiet. Ally was obviously a regular since she was greeted by nearly every employee. They were shown to a small table in the back of the room where they could speak in private. After they placed their orders Ally cleared her throat and started to speak. "I...ah...I want to talk a little bit about some changes I'm making," she finally got out. She looked very nervous and Ryan reached up to cover Ally's cold hand with her warm one. She gave her an encouraging look, but didn't respond verbally.

 

"I have decided to try to change some of my sexual um...phobias," she said as she looked down at the table. "Um I have...some...issues that I...um," she looked at Ryan helplessly as she was unable to find the words to express herself.

 

"It's okay, Ally," she said gently. "I know you've got some things that get in the way a little bit. Tell me as much as you want to."

 

"Okay," she said as she let out a breath. "I don't know why I feel so nervous talking to you about this. You obviously know I have some hang ups," she added with an embarrassed look.

 

"Everyone has some," Ryan reassured her.

 

Ally looked up at her with a quizzical glance. "Even you?"

 

"Yep. Most of mine don't come up when I'm with you, but I've got my share. My big issue is being in control. I normally can't let anyone be in charge...it really freaks me out if someone is too aggressive."

 

"Um, Ryan," she said gently. "That's exactly what I do to you."

 

"I know!" she laughed. "But I swear you're the only one! I'll have you know that most people think I'm a total top!"

 

"You!? You're the biggest bottom I've ever been with!" Ally cried as she howled with laughter.

 

"Hey! Keep it quiet! I've got a reputation in this town," she scolded.

 

Ally laughed long and hard at this revelation from her friend. But it seemed to relax her quite a bit and when she resumed her story she was much more calm. "I know you're pretty perceptive, Ryan. So I guess you've figured out that I was sexually abused."

 

Ryan gave her a small nod as Ally continued. "My oldest brother raped me when I was 11," she said softly. "He continued to molest me until I was 13. That's when he left home to get married," she said with a disgusted look on her face. "Anyway, there's all sorts of reasons why I couldn't go to my parents or anyone, but that's not important right now. What is important is that I'm going to try to open myself up to be with one person. And because of that, I'm not going to have casual sex any more." She looked up at Ryan and gave her a shy smile. "Even though I don't want to stop, especially with you."

 

Ryan gave her a luminous smile in return and squeezed her hand tightly. "I'm so glad that you're trying to feel more comfortable with yourself, Ally. I think you'd be a wonderful person to be in a relationship with. And please don't feel bad about us. I ...uh...I wanted to tell you that you were right about Jamie, my straight friend. She's not quite as straight as I thought," she said with a deep blush.

 

"Ah ha!" she crowed. "I knew it! So are you two an item?"

 

"Not really. She made an overture but I don't want to get involved until she works out some issues in therapy. She's too important to me to ruin our friendship before she's sure this is what she wants."

 

"Anyone in their right mind would want you, Ryan," she said sincerely. "You are one perfect little prize."

 

"I don't know about that," she said as she blushed again. "But thanks for the compliment."

 

"So do you think we could still see each other once in a while? I like you a lot, even outside of bed," she asked with a very shy smile.

 

"I would love that," Ryan said sincerely. "And I'm really honored that you called me to tell me this, Ally."

 

"Well," Ally blushed deeply. "I do like you a lot and I trust you totally, Ryan. I knew you'd be safe to talk with. But um...the other reason was that I didn't want you to call me to have sex. I feel confident about this now, but I was afraid that an invitation from you would blow my resolve to hell!"

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Through an unspoken but mutual agreement they didn't speak of the details of Jamie's progress in therapy. Jamie was pleased beyond words that the incident did not seem to have an effect on their relationship. Ryan treated her exactly the same as she had before and she felt herself settle back into their old patterns as well.

 

What impressed Jamie the most was how honorable Ryan was about the whole episode. She loved her all the more for her fortitude in being able to rebuff her advances in order to preserve their friendship. Even if we never become lovers, I know I'll never have a better friend, she thought of her fondly.

 

Just as March was winding down Jamie asked her one day how she felt about baseball. "I would have to say that baseball was my first love," she reflected thoughtfully. "Conor was a big fan and since I did everything he did I became one too. How about you?" she returned the question.

 

"Football is a much bigger deal for me but I like baseball a lot," she replied. "How would you like to go to opening day next week?" she inquired lightly.

 

"Do you have tickets?" she inquired gleefully. At Jamie's sly nod she enthusiastically accepted.

 

Jamie did indeed have tickets. Her father was a big supporter of the group that had bought the Giants from the Stoneham family years earlier. When the team was struggling just to draw 8,000 fans he had purchased 4 sets of box seats for the law firm, and a set for himself. He didn't go to a lot of games, preferring to give the tickets to young associates and their friends. But he was always willing to let Jamie use them when she wished.

 

Since they had 4 seats it was obvious that they had to invite Conor, but they were not sure who the 4th should be. Martin had to work, and he would sooner die than take a day off for pleasure; Brendan wasn't much of a fan; and Rory was out of town. Jamie asked Conor if he had a friend he would like to bring. "Sure, I've got dozens of friends and cousins who would love to come," he said easily. "But it's hard to choose just one. Don't you have any great looking friends you could bring, Jamie?"

 

Jamie and Ryan looked at one another and laughed. "I've got one, Conor, but she's a handful," she replied teasingly.

 

"Bring her on Jamie. I'm up to the challenge," he said confidently.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

The game was on a Tuesday afternoon. Conor was going to work in the morning and Mia needed her car for an appointment in the city so Jamie and Ryan agreed to meet them in front of Gate A at 1:00 o'clock. The day was perfect for baseball. 75 degrees with a crystal blue sky and a light breeze off the bay. Jamie drove the Boxster down into the underground parking garage of her father's law firm at noon. She hopped into the elevator that led to the main reception area where she patiently waited for him to come down. After a few minutes he arrived, with a big smile and a hug as a greeting. "I'm glad you wanted the tickets today, Honey. I like to think of you at the park on a beautiful day like this, playing hooky," he teased. "It reminds me of my own misspent youth."

 

"I really appreciate the tickets, Daddy. Thanks for saving them for me," she said sincerely.

 

"It's my pleasure, Cupcake. Hey, I've got mothers new car here. Do you want to see it?" he asked.

 

They went back down in the elevator together. He led Jamie to a brand new brilliant red Mercedes CLK320 convertible. She whistled appreciatively at the sexy car as she walked all around it, admiring it from all angles. "I didn't know you were such a fan of cars, Jamie," he said with a grin.

 

She blushed a little as she said, "I'm really not, but I'm taking Ryan and her brother to the game and they are both fanatics. I was just thinking of how much they would like this one," she admitted.

 

He reached into his pocket and handed her the keys. "Take it, Honey. I'll be here until at least 10 o'clock tonight. Bring it back on your way back to Berkeley."

 

"Are you sure, Daddy? Would mother mind?" she asked tentatively.

 

"She barely knows which car is hers, you know that. Now go have fun. Feel free to let your friends drive, Jamie. I know the lure of a hot car," he said knowingly.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She pulled up in front of Ryan's home at 12:30. As was her habit she was sitting on the porch waiting when the new red car pulled up. "Hey little girl, want a ride?" she said seductively as Ryan trotted down the stairs.

 

Ryan's mouth gaped open as she slowly walked around the car. She lightly touched the paint with loving hands as she made three complete circuits before she uttered a word. "Is this yours?" she finally said in wonder.

 

"No. It's mothers'. Daddy is driving it while she's out of town this week." She turned off the car and got out to stand next to Ryan. "Wanna drive?" she asked with a leer.

 

"You're kidding, right?" she asked as she gazed longingly at the keys dangling from Jamie's extended hand.

 

"I would never kid you about something as serious as a car," she stated seriously.

 

"Is it okay? I mean, this is your mom's," she warned.

 

"It's fine, Ryan. Daddy insisted that I take it, and he insisted that you drive it," she revealed.

 

That caught Ryan by surprise. "Did you tell him I was going?" she inquired, realizing at that instant that it was important to her that Jamie not be ashamed of their friendship.

 

"Yes, I told him that you and Conor were going and that you were both car nuts. That's when he told me to take the car," she said, proud of her own candor with her father.

 

"You know Jamie...." she began, but stopped short. "Never mind," she added quickly.

 

"What were you going to say Ryan?" she inquired seriously.

 

"Um...I was going to make a joke about being your best friend again, but I just decided that our friendship means too much to me to joke about," she replied frankly.

 

Jamie gazed up at her with respect and admiration, "You are just about the sweetest woman I've ever known," she said slowly.

 

"Oh yeah?" she grinned as she snagged the keys from her outstretched hand and hopped into the convertible, "Let's see how sweet you think I am after I peel the rubber off these tires," she grinned as she laughed maniacally.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Ryan pulled into the line for valet parking as they approached the stadium. "I think I'm beginning to have a small appreciation for why rich people don't give all of their money away," she said thoughtfully. "Having money really does make life easier in terms of creature comforts. I don't think I ever realized the seductive nature of it."

 

"It really is seductive, Ryan. It's so easy for forget how little most people have when you have a lot. You can be so insulated that you just never get in touch with normal people." After a moment she added, "I hope that never happens to me."

 

"I'll give you a dose of reality anytime, kiddo. I'll show you my bank statement if you really want a shock," she teased.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

After their car was taken from them they had just a short walk to the front gates where they saw Conor waiting. He was wearing faded blue jeans; a white golf shirt and an authentic Giants warm up jacket. Black wool with black leather raglan sleeves, with 'Giants' across the chest in bright orange script. "Gee Conor, you really do look like a fan," Jamie said as she gave him a hug.

 

"I know the opening day roster of every team back to 1976, I'll have you know," he said with a grin. "Did you have a hard time parking? It really is a zoo here," he said.

 

"No, we didn't have any trouble at all, did we Jamie?" Ryan replied innocently.

 

"Spill it, Ryan. You never could keep a secret," he said as he wrapped his arm around her waist and began to tickle her.

 

Through her giggles she admitted that they had driven the new Mercedes to the game. Conor was crestfallen. "I've never been in a CLK," he moaned. "Could I come to the parking lot with you after the game to drool on it?" he begged.

 

Ryan took pity on her big brother and generously offered, "I'll take your truck home and you can go with Jamie. I know how insidious the addiction is, and I empathize with you, Conor."

 

He gave her a big kiss on the cheek while he hugged her soundly. "You are my absolutely favorite sister," he enthused.

 

"Wow!" they heard from behind. They turned to see a startled Mia staring at them in shock. "There's two of her!" she said to Jamie as she walked around the still linked siblings.

 

"I prefer to think there's two of me," Conor said smoothly as he released his sister and grasped Mia's hand. "You must be Mia. I'm Conor," he said as he shook her hand. Within seconds he was guiding her to their seats, with a strong arm loosely around her shoulders. "Keep up, you two," he said as he turned around slightly to wink at Ryan.

 

"Boy, are you two ever related," Jamie said as she shook her head at a smirking Ryan.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

They had a marvelous time at the game. Their seats were directly behind the Giants dugout, just 4 rows back. Neither O'Flaherty had ever had seats that even came close to the quality of these. Ryan and Jamie sat in front, with Conor and Mia right behind. But Ryan was turned around for most of the game kibitzing with Conor about a particular player or a dubious strategy.

 

Jamie was impressed with Ryan's knowledge of the game. She seemed to understand the small details that made the game interesting. "I don't see half of the things you notice, Ryan," she admitted when Ryan correctly predicted that the Dodger first baseman would get a hit.

 

"Well, I used to follow the game very carefully," she admitted. "I could teach you a few things if you're interested."

 

"I'm very interested," she replied. "Teach away."

 

Ryan spent the better part of two innings showing Jamie some of the finer points of baseball. "When I see a team that I don't know I always spend some time watching the catcher," she revealed. "I see how he calls the pitches to each hitter and see where he positions himself behind the plate. You can learn a lot just by watching the catcher for an entire inning."

 

They proceeded to do just that. Jamie had never really noticed how much in control the catcher was. "I never realized he has to run down to first base on a ground ball," she admitted. "He's all over the place."

 

"Yeah, and he has to cover 3rd base also. It's funny, catchers are usually slow guys with bad knees but they have to run their tails off during a game," she observed.

 

After the 6th inning Mia and Jamie went to find a restroom. Ryan and Conor went with them to wait in line for more food. When they reached the privacy of the women's room Mia slapped Jamie hard on the shoulder. "Where have you been hiding him?" she shrieked.

 

"Hey, knock it off," Jamie said as she rubbed her shoulder as she laughed. "I haven't been hiding him anywhere. He's just Ryan's brother."

 

"Are you sure he's not why you broke up with Jack?" Mia inquired suspiciously.

 

"I'm sure I didn't break up with Jack at all, Mia," she replied. "And if I had it would not be because of Conor. He is a doll and a real sweetheart, but I'm not interested in him."

 

"Why wouldn't you be?" she asked incredulously. "He is a total babe!"

 

"I'm just not," she replied. "Besides she has two other brothers that are just as cute and about a dozen cousins, all good looking, and all unmarried. I wouldn't know where to start," she added with a laugh.

 

"Well, I do," Mia replied. "I'm starting with Mr. Muscle out there," she said firmly.

 

"I wish you the best, Mia. But aren't you forgetting someone?" Jamie inquired delicately.

 

"Who's that?" Mia responded blankly.

 

"Um...Jason, your boyfriend?"

 

"Jason who?" Mia asked innocently as she entered a stall and closed the door behind her.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

As promised, Ryan drove the big Ram truck back to the house to allow Conor the pleasure of chauffeuring Jamie in the Mercedes. "This is one sweet ride," he said through his wide smile. He was taking them home via side streets to make the ride last as long as possible. "And speaking of sweet, you friend is quite the little prize," he said appreciatively. "Is she dating anyone seriously?"

 

"Mia doesn't tend to ever date seriously," Jamie admitted.

 

"Oooh, a girl after my own heart," he said with a leer. "Would you mind if I asked her out, Jamie?"

 

"No, Conor, not at all. You'd be a definite improvement over her normal choices," she said with a grin. After a pause she asked thoughtfully, "Have you ever been serious about anyone?"

 

"Yeah, I have," he responded quietly. "I had a very serious girlfriend for almost 2 years. We were on the verge of moving in together but Da talked me out of it."

 

"Really, why?" she asked, a bit surprised that Martin would get involved.

 

"He convinced me that if I loved her I should marry her," he replied. "I'm only going to get married once, Jamie, and after I thought about it for a long time, I realized that I didn't love Melissa enough to commit to her forever." He looked at Jamie as he said, "Da made me see that living with her just took her off the market and prevented her from finding someone who really did love her enough to marry her. I can't tell you how hard it was for me, but he was right. As usual," he added with a laugh. "That was 3 years ago and she got married last year, and is going to have a baby soon."

 

"Do you want to settle down soon, or are you still enjoying your freedom too much?" she asked.

 

"If I could find the right woman, I don't think I would hesitate. But I am totally picky, so I don't know how soon that will be," he added. "Maybe Mia will be the one," he said wistfully.

 

"I think Mia is a long way from settling down, Conor. But you two could have a lot of fun together in the meantime," she grinned.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She was just leaving her last class on the first Friday afternoon in April when her cell phone rang. "Hello," she mumbled as she tried to balance the little phone against her ear while struggling with her text books.

 

"Jamie?" the familiar voice asked.

 

"Jack," she breathed, amazed to hear from him. "Uh...hi," she added hesitantly.

 

"Um..." he stumbled a bit, obviously unsure of himself. "Would you...um...what I wanted to know was...um...if you would have any interest in talking to me a little bit."

 

"Talking to you?" she asked, rather confused by his tone and his request.

 

"Yeah, Jamie," he said with a bit more confidence. "I've been doing a lot of thinking and I have some things to say to you."

 

"Uhh, well, sure Jack, I'd be happy to talk to you," she agreed even though her stomach was clenching. "What's good for you?"

 

"If you're free tonight I could come take you to dinner," he offered.

 

"Uh...okay," she said. "I'm free after 7."

 

"Great," he said happily, sounding very much like himself now. "I'll call and make reservations. Anyplace new you'd like to try?"

 

Is this Jack Townsend? she wondered warily. "Well, there's a nice little Northern Italian place called Cucina. I don't know the number though."

 

"That's okay," he said quickly. "I'll make a reservation and come get you at 7." He paused a moment and asked, "You aren't seeing anyone are you, Jamie?"

 

"Um, no...no I'm not," she replied somewhat honestly.

 

"Great!" he said. "See you then."

 

"Okay," she said slowly as she clicked the cancel button. What in the holy hell was that all about? she wondered as she stared at the phone in her hand.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She felt a bit off kilter during her workout and several times she glanced up at Ryan to find her looking at her with concern in her eyes. The hour passed quickly though, and at the end of the session Ryan asked, "Thai?"

 

"Pardon me?" Jamie replied with a very confused look.

 

"Wanna go out for some Thai food after therapy?" she said with a smile. They had been spending nearly every Friday evening together and it had become an unspoken agreement. Jamie went to therapy while Ryan worked out. Then Ryan rode over to her house and took a shower before they went to dinner. It all worked out beautifully even though they had never formally discussed it.

 

"Um...well, I uh...can't do it tonight," she said as she nervously scratched the side of her face. "Um...something came up and I uh..."

 

"It's okay, Jamie," Ryan assured her as she lightly squeezed her shoulder. "We don't have to have dinner together every Friday night." She smiled broadly, but Jamie could see just a tiny bit of disappointment on her handsome face.

 

"I know," she quickly agreed. "We just..."

 

"It's okay," Ryan said again. "Call you tomorrow?"

 

"Please do," she said with a smile as she went to the locker to pull her things out. As she walked out the door she could feel Ryan's piercing blue eyes follow her out to the parking lot. Why do I feel like I'm lying to her?

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She and Anna had decided to see each other 3 times a week since she was really ready to deal with her issues and needed all the support she could find in dealing with her feelings for Ryan. After settling down and briefly telling Anna what had happened Anna smiled neutrally, encouraging Jamie to explain her feelings about the issue. "I don't know what I think about it," she maintained. "I'm just trying to be polite."

 

"Hmm," Anna mused. "Do you normally feel like you're doing something wrong when you're just being polite?" She smiled again, and Jamie once more felt like Anna could see right into her soul.

 

"Oh crap!" she cried in frustration. "I don't know what in the hell I'm doing! He sounded like he just wanted to chat, but then he offered to buy me dinner in a real restaurant no less!" she gave an ironic grimace at that. "And right before he hung up he asked me if I was seeing someone," she finally admitted with an embarrassed look.

 

"And that makes you feel...?"

 

She threw her hands up in frustration; amazed that Anna could not see the problem. "I feel like I'm cheating on Ryan!"

 

"Cheating...? How exactly are you cheating?"

 

"I told Ryan I loved her!" she cried. "Now I'm going to have dinner with my ex-fiancé and I don't even tell her about it."

 

"Jamie," she said soothingly, "I think you're getting ahead of yourself here. Yes, you told Ryan that you were attracted to her, but she told you to take the time to figure out what you wanted. If what you told me is accurate she made no claim on you at all."

 

She nodded her head slowly, as her brow creased. "I told you the truth," she agreed. "But we've been spending all of our time together. If she's dating anyone else it's very late at night because she's with me most of the weekend. It just seems like we're slipping into a dating relationship even though we don't touch sexually."

 

"Oh, I see," Anna said as she nodded. "You think your actions have told her something that your words have not."

 

"Kinda," she admitted. She shook her head roughly, causing her thick blonde hair to bounce all around her face. With an annoyed move she shoved her right hand through her hair, brushing it out of her eyes and settling it in its normal casual style. "I was just starting to feel like I was getting close to making a move, Anna," she nearly moaned. "I really felt like I was on a path...do you know what I mean?"

 

"I think I do, but tell me more," she urged.

 

"I know it's been a tortured path," she said with a wry smirk, "but a path nonetheless. I feel like from the time I met Ryan I've made consistent baby steps towards being with her. This is the first time I've felt my desire waver," she admitted.

 

"What's the pull with Jack?"

 

"Oh, I don't know," she said after a deep breath. "I did love him, you know," she said a little defensively as she stared at Anna defiantly. "And I didn't break up with him. He dumped me. So maybe it feels good to have him make overtures to getting me back."

 

"Well, he did have a little help with the breakup," she reminded her gently.

 

"What do you mean by that?" Jamie asked swiftly, her hackles obviously rising.

 

"Only that Jack was worried about your relationship with Ryan. He told you he was threatened but you refused to let her go."

 

"He was trying to control me, Anna!"

 

"Maybe he was," she said gently. "But he was right about Ryan, Jamie. She was a threat and she did take your focus away from him."

 

"Are you saying that it was all my fault that we broke up?" she asked incredulously.

 

"Hardly," she assured her quickly. "I'm not sure that fault is the correct word to use, either. All I'm saying is that in retrospect I think you had a hand in causing your breakup. And it's possible that you feel a little guilty about that now."

 

"So what should I do?" she asked in frustration as her head dropped into her hands.

 

"I think you should have dinner and see what happens. Look Jamie," she said as she gazed deeply into her eyes and let her voice drop into a low, calming tone. "You have a hot button about anyone controlling you." Jamie nodded slightly, acknowledging the truth of the statement. "But you also have to be careful not to try to control yourself where your feelings are concerned. Try to stay open tonight and just see how you feel. Don't worry about Ryan, or even about Jack. Just feel."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She barely had time to shower and wash her hair, but she got both tasks accomplished before the doorbell rang. "Mia," she cried out.

 

"Yeah?" she asked as she ducked her head into the door of Jamie's room.

 

"I'm running late," she needlessly explained as she stood in nothing but a towel. "Would you go downstairs and keep Jack company?"

 

"Jack!?"

 

"Don't ask," she urged as she rolled her eyes.

 

Mia gave her a look but trotted downstairs and did as Jamie had asked. She stood in front of her closet with a critical eye; finally choosing an outfit that she was certain Jack had not seen her in. She chose a deep salmon dress in a fine linen, just short enough to be a little sexy but demure enough in cut and style to look sophisticated. The rich color showed off her golden tan and made her already sun bleached hair even paler. She dabbed on just a touch of makeup and found herself automatically putting on a dash of perfume, adding the fragrance to all of her pulse points. It's just dinner, Jamie, she reminded herself sternly as she found herself dabbing the perfume between her breasts.

 

She slipped on a pair of black pumps and trotted down the stairs, pausing in alarm as she got a glimpse of his lean body perched on the edge of the table by the front door and felt her pulse begin to quicken. What's that about? she wondered as she tried to regain her control. But she quickly remembered Anna's advice and she let herself just feel. She took a deep breath and let her eyes roam over his sandy blonde hair and his very attractive profile as he chatted amiably with Mia. Inexplicably, she felt just like she had when they had first started to go out. She was excited and a little nervous...wondering what the night would bring.

 

She descended the stairs slowly, taking him in the whole while. When she got to the bottom stair he turned and met her gaze. His bright blue eyes gentled into a warm smile as he walked over and gently took her hand, giving it a slight squeeze. Yipes! she cried in alarm as a jolt of sensation hit her deep in the groin. Where did that come from? But she knew exactly where it had come from. Jack was being his most attentive, engaging self and she had always found him extremely attractive when he interacted with her in that fashion. He had the ability to focus on her completely, making her feel like he could see deep within her. It was a little unnerving but also completely arousing.

 

"You look great," he said as his eyes slowly moved up and down her body, taking her in fully.

 

"So do you," she agreed as she surveyed his crisply pressed charcoal gray slacks, and bright white oxford cloth shirt with very thin navy blue and yellow lines running through it, creating a wide plaid. "Thanks for coming down, Mia," she said as she forced her eyes away from him to glance at her smirking friend.

 

"Anytime," she replied lightly as she leaned over to kiss her cheek on the way back upstairs. "Have fun, you two."

 

They watched her go and looked back at each other a little awkwardly. "Did you get reservations?" she asked to break the tension.

 

"They were booked," he said with a slight frown. "But I remembered that nice little place in the City that we went to with your parents a couple of years ago. So I made reservations for 8 o'clock at café Mozart."

 

Jamie was rather stunned by this development. cafÈ Mozart was a lovely little place but it was most definitely a romantic setting. The restaurant could only handle around 50 people but the tables were set well apart to allow for quiet, intimate conversation in the intimately lit space. "O...Okay," she managed to get out. "I guess we'd better go then."

 

He helped her on with her coat and grabbed his navy blazer, shrugging into it with his casual, graceful movements. He led her to his little sedan and held the door open for her, waiting until she was safely inside to close the door.

 

As he got in he looked over at her, once more locking eyes. "Thanks for agreeing to see me," he said softly. "I can't tell you how good it is to see you again." He blinked slowly and she allowed the sensations to fully enter her brain. He was just a foot or so away and she could see the smoothness of his cheek where he had obviously recently shaved. He smelled of a subtle after shave, likely one of the ones she had bought for him. His dark blonde eyelashes framed his blue eyes attractively, giving him an almost delicate, boyish look. But the intense gaze he fixed her with was anything but childlike.

 

Oh boy, I'm in trouble here, she mused as he smiled and started the car.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

They relaxed at the small table, waiting for the waiter to bring them the bottle of wine that Jack had confidently ordered. He seems more mature, more sure of himself, she mused as she watched him place both of their orders with the attentive server.

 

After their wine was delivered Jack touched the rim of her glass with his own as he toasted, "To self awareness," he said with a twinkle in his eye. He took a deep sip of the golden colored Chardonnay and said, "I've given more thought to our relationship and the problems that we had than I can ever remember devoting to any topic. And do you know what I've decided?"

 

She shook her head rather dully, her eyes never leaving his lips.

 

He leaned over slightly and enunciated each word. "You...were...right," he said simply. As she blinked slowly he quickly followed up. "You were right about how I had come to take you for granted. You were right about how unfair it was for me to be jealous of your friendships. You were right about my failing to see who you were and how you had changed." His voice lowered and he blushed adorably as he added, "You were even right about how one sided our sex life had been." He lifted his head quickly, as a cascade of sandy blonde hair tumbled into his eyes. "You were right about everything, Jamie. And I'm here tonight to ask for a second chance."

 

His eyes had not wavered from her eyes and hers had not wavered from his lips. Her heart heard his sincere apology but her head could not process the information. He was validating all of those months of struggle...agreeing with every point she had ever made...and it was just too much. Her hand reached rather blindly for her wine glass, grasping it firmly and lifting it to her lips to swallow a great deal of the contents down in one gulp. "I...I'm," she tried to get out. "I'm...amazed," she honestly replied.

 

"I don't doubt it," he said gently as he tenderly pried her hand from her glass and grasped it in his own warm one. "I never gave you much reason to think I was much for reflection," he said with a rather derisive chuckle.

 

"But why...?" she began but he immediately answered.

 

"You're just too valuable to let you get away without fighting for," he said decisively. "It's like throwing away a fistful of diamonds because you don't like the cut." He sat back in his chair, still gazing deeply into her eyes.

 

She let his words sink in for a moment, relishing the sincere compliment with a gentle smile on her face. It was exactly what she had wanted to hear him say for the past year. To acknowledge that she had been a very willing and receptive partner and that it was he who had the problem...it was he who had been wrong...it was he who caused her to look to Ryan for emotional sustenance. Yes! Sweet Jesus, yes! she cried to herself. I didn't try to find someone else. He pushed me into it!

 

She gazed up at his sincere, warm blue eyes and said, "That means so much to me." She was struggling with her emotions but he just held her hand more firmly and maintained his smile.

 

"Will you give me another chance?" he asked softly, still holding her gaze.

 

She blinked slowly and took a deep breath. Anna's words came back to her and she paused for a moment, letting herself feel the deep sense of relief and joy that his words had caused. "Yes," she said simply. "Yes I will."

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

On the way back to Berkeley she found her hand automatically drift over to rest upon his muscular thigh. He gazed over at her and gave her an encouraging grin, reaching down to gently pat her hand. She could hear the deep breath that he took, smiling to herself as he said, "That feels so absolutely right."

 

And she had to admit that it did feel right. This was exactly where 21 years of conditioning had led her. To the strong, secure embrace of a young professional who would love her and the children they would have together. Someone her parents and her grandfather would be proud to introduce in public. Someone that she could build a life with along with the full approval of society at large. She would never have to learn those painful lessons Ryan had told her about. She would never have to see the glares and snickers directed at her that they had suffered at the Tea Room. She would never have to explain to her children that mommy loves mommy and that the other children just don't understand. Wow, that was a big one, she thought as she blew out a breath. She actually felt a moment of compassion for Ryan. She has no choice, she thought sympathetically. But I do. I really do! And if I can love and be loved by a man I'm sure she would rather have that for me. She wants what's best for me, doesn't she? Surely she'd rather that I live with society's approval.

 

But even though she reasoned that her friend would support her she just didn't want to see her this weekend. "Jack? I think I'll go down to my parents tonight. Would you like to spend some time together this weekend?"

 

"Absolutely," he replied without hesitation. "I've done a lot of thinking about school too, Jamie. I'm not going to let it run my life any longer. I've already got a job and a clerkship lined up. What am I trying to prove at this point?" he asked rhetorically.

 

"Wow," she said slowly. "You have changed."

 

"I have," he said firmly. "In many, many ways." He placed his hand atop hers and squeezed it affectionately. "And I'll change in any other way that you need, Jamie. I'll do anything to make this work."

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

He insisted on waiting for her to pack a few things so he could follow her down to Hillsborough. She found it odd but also touching that he was so concerned with her safety so she graciously allowed him the honor of escorting her.

 

She could see his headlights right behind her on the whole trip and she found that it was, in fact, reassuring to see him there. She called her parents from the road but there was no answer...not an unusual result given their active lives. But when she rang the bell Marta informed her that her father was down in L.A. for business and that her mother had decided to go with him at the last minute. Marta was surprised and appeared pleased to see Jack with her but she followed protocol and quickly disappeared after offering to bring them a drink. They both accepted her offer and sat on the large sofas in the living room sipping cognac a little nervously.

 

After a few minutes Jack looked at her and asked, "Do you mind if I sit next to you?"

 

She just patted the cushion next to herself and smiled at him as he smoothly stood and switched places. They spoke casually about their respective school terms and he pointedly asked her about the ride in great detail. Ryan was not even off topic as he asked Jamie about Ryan's training and how they were working together. She bent to place her nearly empty glass on the table and when she sat back up his arm was loosely around her shoulders. She found that she liked the sensation and leaned against him, letting out a sigh that seemed to have been building for ages. He turned his head and gently kissed the top of her head in a friendly, affectionate manner. Almost unconsciously she found her head turning and then tilting upwards as she opened her mouth to accept his warm lips. Oh God, she moaned to herself. I forgot how good it felt to kiss him. God! I've missed this! She had in fact missed the tender intimacies with a lover. She had missed the casual way they had grown to know each other's bodies and the natural way they meshed together when they kissed. It was a heady, thrilling discovery as her hormones kicked in fully and she felt herself growing aroused. The deep, intense kisses were having an identical effect on Jack. One that she could feel as he gently pulled her into his lap to continue his passionate assault. What could it hurt? she asked herself as her vulva began to throb. It will just be like picking up where we left off. But there was a tiny part of her that wanted some time to reflect before she dove right back in to this relationship. She knew this was a momentous decision and she felt that she needed more time.

 

Obviously Jack had improved in his psychic abilities also because moments before she was going to halt the embrace he gently guided her back to an upright position. "I'm about to lose control," he whispered as he leaned his forehead against hers. "And I'm sure that you don't want to move this fast."

 

She nodded demurely, now feeling that maybe she did want to go farther just to show she could change too. But he placed another soft kiss on her lips and stood with some difficulty. "I'll call you tomorrow," he promised as he stole one more kiss and quickly walked to the door, leaving her throbbing and frustrated.

 

"Wow," was all that she could get out.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

The next morning she lay in bed for a very long while, just trying to be open to her feelings. She thought she was doing a pretty good job of it, but she found that she was really only able to concentrate on how she felt being with Jack again. Every time she tried to force herself to think of Ryan she felt her brain shut down and immediately turn to Jack again. But that didn't seem that odd to her at this point. It's been nearly a month since I've let myself think about him much, she reasoned. I have an awful lot of feelings to process about him.

 

After a leisurely breakfast she spent some time in the living room casually looking through the plethora of neatly labeled photo albums that chronicled her childhood. Mother sure wasn't very good at being involved in my life but she was great at memorializing it, she thought wryly as she perused the books.

 

The first book was labeled 1978' and showed several photos of her mother and father looking very happy together as they anticipated the birth of their child. Catherine was a very small woman and she obviously did not gain much weight during her pregnancy. Her belly was very protuberant but she actually looked like she was wearing a balloon under her clothing since the rest of her body looked exactly like it had before she was pregnant.

 

There were a number of shots of the shower that her mother's sorority sisters had thrown for her, the happy looking young women joining in the traditional rite of passage into motherhood. Jamie thought ahead to the future, picturing herself in a few years, surrounded by friends from high school and college, preparing to welcome her child into the world. It would be a far different experience if I was with Ryan, she thought wryly. For one thing, I'd have to get a whole new set of friends. Different parents wouldn't hurt either, she added with a grimace.

 

Jesus! she thought grumpily. It's easy for her with that fabulous family! They would probably think it was great that she was going to have a baby with a woman! No matter how society treats her she always has her family to remind her of how special she is. But most of us don't get that. And I don't want to have to lose my family if I don't have to! she thought defiantly. And if Jack is serious about the changes he has made, I don't have to!

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Jack called a little after 10, obviously trying to be considerate if she wanted to sleep in. "Hi," he said happily. "What would you like to do today?"

 

"Do?" she asked slowly, trying to understand his exact meaning.

 

"Yeah...do," he said with a chuckle. "You know, like normal people. I've actually heard that some people venture outside during daylight hours."

 

"You don't have to study?" she asked slowly.

 

"Whether or not I have to isn't the issue," he declared. "I'm not going to so it's a moot point. Now where would you like to go? The Giants are in town, we could drive down to Santa Cruz and hang out on the beach; we could even drive over to Napa for the day. We could have an early dinner and still get home at a decent hour."

 

She was silent for a minute, letting his words sink in. "You really have changed," she finally got out.

 

His voice deepened as he replied, "I've changed a lot, Jamie. Our breakup made me look at my life in a very critical way. And I did not like what I had become."

 

Her heart picked up a beat as she considered what this all meant. "Let's go to Napa," she said decisively. "Come on over and we'll take one of my parents cars."

 

"I'll be there in 30 minutes," he promised. "Wear something that you'll be comfortable in at a nice restaurant."

 

She hung up the phone and stared at it for a moment before she placed it on the table. Is it possible to do a brain transplant? That sure as hell did not sound like Jack!

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She decided on a casual print dress, short enough to show off her muscular legs but long enough to allow them to go to a nice place for dinner. The day was warm and she knew it would be warmer in Napa but she also brought a white knit wrap to keep her warm against the usually chilly evening.

 

Jack was right on time and he happily accepted the keys to Catherine's new Mercedes. They left the top up while they were on the freeway but as soon as they crossed over into Marin Jack pulled over and lowered it. They had been chatting about his law review duties on the way over and even though he seemed interested in his topic he didn't seem as obsessed by it as he had before. As they neared Napa he gazed at her briefly and said, "I've been thinking a lot about my decision to clerk for a federal judge next year. It would be good for my career but if we're back together I don't think I can tolerate being too far from home. I'm going to do my best to secure a spot in Northern California but if I can't I think I may just go directly to Morris & Foster."

 

Jamie nearly swallowed her tongue at this pronouncement. From the day she met him Jack had stated clear plans for his future, and clerking had been the keystone of those plans. To hear him casually dismiss this important step was absolutely stunning to her. "But why would you do that?" she finally got out.

 

He glanced at her briefly, and then pulled over onto a little used access road. He turned in his seat and reached over and grasped her hand as he gazed into her eyes. "I explained to you last night that my priorities have changed, Jamie. Being away from you for a year is just not acceptable to me." He chuckled as he admitted, "I've been away from you for 7 weeks and it almost drove me crazy."

 

She sniffed back her tears as she leaned against him, relishing the feel of his muscular torso, the spicy scent of his after shave and the rough starch in his crisp sky blue oxford cloth shirt. "That means a lot to me, Jack," she murmured softly.

 

He lifted her chin and leaned over to place a gentle kiss on her lips. "You mean a lot to me, Jamie. Much more than I knew."

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She had been to Napa many times, but never with Jack. This was only his second trip, his first being when he was a young boy. He was very interested in the wine making process so they went on a tour of the Christian Brothers winery since that the was largest big production winery in the valley.

 

It was so nice to walk along the tour, holding his large warm hand. As usual, he was focused on the details of the operation, something which didn't interest Jamie much. But she got a lot of enjoyment out of watching him try to digest the vast array of information that was fed to them. He asked several perceptive questions of their guide and she found herself smiling up at him as he spoke, admiring the clean, sharp planes of his face, and the bright, perceptive look in his eyes.

 

Their tour group was a mix of ages but she noticed that the older couples continually gave them appreciative glances. One elderly woman in particular stole a glance repeatedly and Jamie mused that her interest would not be so benign if she were here with Ryan, holding hands and whispering into each other's ears. This is just so easy, she thought to herself. I won't have to endure the sharp glances and whispered taunts that have followed Ryan her whole life. She's so confident, and self assured that those things don't seem to bother her. But I'm not like that! I want people to like me and smile at me when I go places. I really like that people look at Jack and me with appreciative glances rather than hostility. Is that so wrong?!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Their next stop was to the Schramsberg Winery for a nice little tour of their champagne caves. The winery was very cute and quaint and the tour they were part of was very small, only two other couples. The storage area for the filled bottles was quite cool since it was deep in the ground. Jack wrapped his long arm around Jamie's shoulders and she snuggled up against his body for the rest of the tour. She felt so warm and safe when he touched her like this, and she breathed in his scent with a lazy, contented feeling permeating her bones.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

By 5 o'clock they were both famished and she was a bit tipsy from the wine samples being consumed on an empty stomach. They decided to go to Tra Vigne in St. Helena for dinner, and since it was so early they had no trouble getting a table.

 

They were shown to a nice table and presented with the extensive wine list. Jack handed the list to her, always content to have her exercise the skills that he lacked. The server presented the bottle of Merlot that she had picked out and Jack indicated that Jamie would be the one to taste the wine. After pronouncing it acceptable they relaxed and waited for their appetizers to be delivered.

 

"Can we talk about Ryan a little bit, Jack?" she asked with just a touch of hesitation.

 

To her relief he did not tense up or look uncomfortable at the topic. He just tilted his head a bit to encourage her to continue. "I know that you said last night that you accepted full responsibility for our breakup but that's not really accurate." He furrowed his brow a bit as he stared at her intently, but still did not speak. "You were right about Ryan," she said firmly.

 

His eyes widened perceptibly and she realized how that must have sounded. "No, no, not like that!" she hastened to add. "You were right that she was part of the problem."

 

"How?" he finally asked.

 

"She was part of the problem because I turned to her for the emotional support that I didn't feel from you," she admitted. "Ryan is very available emotionally and she was always there for me when something was bothering me. Like when I had that pregnancy scare," she reminded him. "It wasn't that I didn't want you involved. I just thought you would be upset with me for not making sure we used a condom. I felt like she would be there for me without judging me. And I didn't feel that from you," she added softly.

 

"But that sounds like a good thing, Jamie. It's nice to have friends that you can count on like that."

 

"Yes it is," she agreed quickly. "And I want Ryan in my life permanently. The problem isn't with her. It's with me. Rather than trying to work out my issues with you I took the easy way out and just got the support that I needed from her. That was unfair to all of us, Jack. It didn't let you know what I needed from you; it got her involved in things that were really not appropriate for a friend to be involved in and it let me take the easy way out. In a way I used her, and I feel really badly about that."

 

He nodded briefly and gazed at the wine in his glass as he lifted it and swirled the deep red liquid around. "I'm glad that you admit that I wasn't imagining that she was interfering with our relationship," he said quietly. "And I'm sorry that I assumed it was sexual and that she was actively trying to interfere. I guess I owe her an apology."

 

"No, you don't," she said quickly. "I never told her any of the comments you made about her. I'm sure she doesn't know how you really feel."

 

He smiled gently and said, "Thank you. It makes me feel good to know you don't talk about me behind my back."

 

She rubbed the bridge of her nose nervously as she conceded, "I wouldn't exactly say that." A small chuckle bubbled up from her chest and she added, "I talked about how I felt about you and how hurt I was by you. I'm not sure she thinks you're a fabulous guy. I just never spoke about what you said about her. And I've never told my parents anything bad about you. I only said that we had some issues we couldn't get over."

 

"That's still pretty good," he admitted. "If I only have to repair my reputation with Ryan I think I'm in good shape."

 

She looked at him and asked directly, "So you won't mind if I stay close to Ryan? She really means a lot to me Jack."

 

"Jamie," he said confidently as he grasped her hand. "She can be your maid of honor at our wedding; she can be the godmother to our children; she can be your biking partner; heck, she can even be your personal trainer. I just want you back!"

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

It was late when they finally arrived back in the South Bay. He walked her in and they spent several minutes sitting on the couch and kissing rather innocently. But she could tell he was terribly tired so she suggested, "Why don't you stay over...in the guest room?" she added with a grin.

 

He sighed deeply and stretched before he nodded his head. "That's a good idea. I'm really beat."

 

"Come on, Sweetie," she urged as she got to her feet and tugged his hand. "Time for bed."

 

She got him settled in the guest room right next to hers. After a few tame kisses she walked to her room and got ready for bed. Just before she slid into the sheets she glanced at her cell phone that she had inadvertently left at home. There were 3 messages from Ryan on voice mail, each one sounding a little more concerned. God Ryan, she thought, don't be so possessive! Can't I have a day without my cell phone?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She woke at 6 a.m., still very tired but in dire need of the bathroom. After she had relieved herself she got a sly grin on her face and snuck next door and slipped soundlessly into Jack's room. He was sprawled out across the bed, consuming nearly all of the king sized mattress. He was sporting some cute navy blue and white checked boxers...and an erection. Oh oh, she thought, as she reconsidered her plan. I don't want to have sex just yet, but I'd really like some closeness. Well, maybe he'd be willing to just cuddle, she thought, deciding to go for it. She slipped in next to him and his body curled up on his side in immediate reaction. She snuggled up against his strong back, taking in his slightly musky scent and the smooth, lightly tanned skin that her cheek rested against. God I missed this, she mused as sleep claimed her almost immediately.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

As her eyes blinked open a deep voice whispered, "Good morning."

 

"Oh, hi," she said with a shy grin. "I hope you don't mind that I snuck in here this morning." He was lying on his back and she was curled up against his chest with her head resting on his muscular shoulder. His arm was securely wrapped around her shoulders and his large hand rested on her hip.

 

"Best surprise I've had in weeks," he replied as he placed a tiny kiss on her head. "But I need my arm back for a minute." She released him and watched his cute little butt as he padded into the bath. A few minutes later he emerged, with his face washed and a toothbrush sticking out of his mouth. "What do you want to do?" he asked through a mouth full of toothpaste. "Ready to get up or would you like a little cuddling?"

 

She was a bit surprised by that offer since cuddling was never his forte. "I'd love to cuddle if you really don't mind."

 

He gave her an adorable grin that lit up his whole face. He dashed back into the bath, spitting noisily, then ran a few steps toward the bed and launched himself at her with a wild look in his eyes. She laughed heartily at his antics, trying to remember the last time he was so playful. He grabbed her roughly and plastered his toothpaste smeared mouth against hers, making her giggle uncontrollably. She calmed down after a minute and he braced himself on one arm, leaning over her and saying in a very serious voice, "I missed cuddling with you, Jamie. After we broke up I would lie in bed in the morning and just ache to feel your body next to mine."

 

She gazed up at him in amazement both at the sentiment and his very successful attempts at emotional openness. Her face curled into a welcoming smile and he lowered his head to place a few delicate kisses on her lips. But true to his word he immediately flopped down next to her and wrapped her in a warm embrace. She turned onto her side and scooted up against his lap, relieved to find him flaccid. I don't think we've ever cuddled in the morning without him getting an erection, she mused. Maybe he really is serious about just being close. They were both still tired and after a few minutes of the tender embrace she slipped back into a contented slumber. They cycled through sleep and hugs for another half hour or so, turning from one side to the other several times.

 

At around 8 she woke on her left side, cuddled up against his back. She now felt rested and content and found herself start to nibble on his neck and shoulders. He stayed right where he was but he woke also, tugging her arm close against his chest as he relaxed and let her kiss him at her own pace. "Jack?" she asked softly. "Can we talk about sex a little bit?"

 

"Sure," he agreed. "What do you want to talk about?"

 

"Um...I've done a lot of thinking about how sex was between us and I think we need to make a few changes..."

 

"Oh, I agree," he said without hesitation. "I know you were not very satisfied, Jamie, and I take full responsibility for that."

 

"You do?" she asked, completely stunned.

 

"Yeah, I do. I was the more experienced partner and I should have made your pleasure my priority."

 

"Well you did...at first," she ventured.

 

"I know," he admitted quietly. "But that was another of my insecurities. I started to feel shut out and I reacted by trying to care less. Towards the end I admit that I was a total asshole! I still can't believe I acted that way, Jamie," he said softly. "Your pleasure is terribly important to me and I swear I'll work harder to focus on you."

 

"It's not that you didn't work hard enough, Jack, it's almost the opposite," she opined. "I think we both have to loosen up and be more experimental if we're going to make this work."

 

He rolled over onto his back and gazed over at her with a very serious look on his face. "Tell me what you liked and didn't like," he asked, his gaze never wavering.

 

"Gosh," she said as her eyes blinked slowly. "Um...I loved the way we were before we started having sex," she said tentatively.

 

"Why? What exactly did you love about that?"

 

"You used to just turn me on," she said with a winsome smile. "God! Some nights I could hardly walk when I left your apartment. Your kisses and your soft little caresses just drove me wild! But when we started to have intercourse a lot of that stopped," she said softly, still hurt by the withdrawal of her required intimacies.

 

"You're right," he said immediately. "I admit that I was having a great time and I didn't spend enough time making sure that you were also."

 

"Sometimes I did enjoy intercourse, Jack," she insisted. "But our schedules were not the same and our arousal patterns didn't mesh well. Like in the mornings, for instance," she explained. "You would wake up most mornings and be ready for action, but you seemed to just want to have a quick orgasm. That will never work for me," she maintained. "I can get aroused in the morning but it takes a while. And it's painful when you enter me before I'm fully aroused."

 

"It's painful?" he asked with a hurt look on his face.

 

"Yes, Honey, it's actually painful. And when you cause me pain it just makes me tense up the next time so it becomes kind of a vicious cycle."

 

"I swear I didn't know that, Jamie. I guess I figured that you would get aroused from having me inside of you."

 

"No, that doesn't work for me, Jack. It might for some women, but not me. I need slow, soft kisses and touches to get aroused in the morning but that's obviously not what you need."

 

"No," he admitted as he blushed deeply. "I wake up horny and I just want to have an orgasm." He pursed his lips together and said, "There's no reason that you have to satisfy all of my needs. We can reserve our lovemaking for when we both are in the mood and we have some time."

 

"That's not necessary, Jack," she assured him. "This is where we have to get creative. I'm more than happy to help you reach orgasm whenever you need it. I'm just not willing to have intercourse all the time."

 

"Oh," he said as he nodded slowly. "You don't mind fooling around a little when I'm aroused."

 

"No, I not only don't mind, I think it would be fun," she said happily. "But can you be satisfied with other kinds of stimulation?"

 

"Of course," he said immediately. "Any assistance you can offer would be appreciated," he said with a grin as he leaned up for a kiss.

 

She turned him over onto his side and cuddled up against his back. "Would you like a little help now?" she whispered into his ear.

 

"Well, um...I'm not really arou...oops! Check that," he laughed as he felt his shorts grow snug. "Uhh, yeah, I'd love a little help. What do you have in mind?"

 

"Well," she purred into his ear. "I could kiss you while you touched yourself..." He tensed up a little at that suggestion but he gallantly agreed.

 

"Okay...we could try that if that's what you want."

 

"No, Jack...It's not what I want, it's what would please you," she insisted. "I could," she suggested as she slid her hand down his abdomen and dipped into his shorts, "stroke you with my hand." She grasped his penis with her hand and took a few experimental tugs.

 

His eyes closed as his head fell back against her shoulder. "Ohh, that's nice," he growled.

 

"I could even touch you like this," she suggested as her hand slid lower and gently manipulated his testicles. His penis immediately got rock hard as he let out the breath he had been holding.

 

"Jeeesus," he murmured as his hips involuntarily pumped a few times. He turned to face her with a wide eyed look. "Where did you learn to do that?"

 

"Nowhere," she said honestly. "I'm just trying to get rid of some of my inhibitions. I'm also more than willing to try something else," she said as he locked eyes with him and started to kiss her way down his belly.

 

His eyes nearly popped from his head as he stuttered, "L...Let's take it one step at a time, Honey. Come up here and touch me with your hand again." He was lying on his back now and he smiled over at her as she slid his boxers off, revealing his fully erect member. She gazed at him for a moment as a slow smile crept across her face. There was something so obvious about his genitals that she found rather appealing. If his penis was hard, he was aroused. Once he had an orgasm, it became flaccid and he was satisfied. The simple, straightforward nature of his needs was reassuring to her as she tried to throw off some of her restraint and get more fully involved.

 

"Show me what you like, Jack," she whispered as her hand gripped him again.

 

He hissed out a moan of pleasure but did as he was told. Guiding her hand with his own, his eyes tightly closed, his excitement built quickly. Within minutes he was making his cute little pre-orgasm sounds. She wasn't prepared for his climax though, and she had to duck to avoid getting hit in the face. "Whoa," she giggled as he collapsed, a fine sheen of sweat covering his now musky smelling body. "You could poke somebody's eye out with that stuff!"

 

He turned his head languidly and gazed at her with a bemused smirk. "Are you sure you didn't date anybody while we were broken up?"

 

"Nope. Not a one. I was obviously waiting for you," she whispered as she leaned over him and kissed him tenderly.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

To her extreme pleasure they lay in bed for another hour, their soft, stroking caresses interspersed with tender little kisses. "This is exactly...and I do mean exactly, what I needed," Jamie mumbled into his chest. "I love touching you and kissing and hugging in the morning, and I really enjoyed helping you have an orgasm. But I really don't think I want to have intercourse in the morning."

 

"This is a perfectly acceptable alternative," he agreed as he snuggled up against her back and nuzzled her neck.

 

This is what I thought marriage would be like, she mused as his hand ran slowly up and down her leg. Nice long cuddles, lots of kissing and hugging, and when problems happen you just talk about them.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Marta was very surprised to see Jack saunter downstairs, hand in hand with Jamie, but she made no comment other than to ask what they wanted for breakfast. It was after 10 when they finally got out of bed and a quick check of her cell phone while Jack was showering showed that Ryan had called at 8 a.m. God, I don't want to have to go into everything with her right now, Jamie worried. I think I'll just call her house and leave a message on the machine. Her message was truthful as far as it went, but she knew that Ryan would be concerned. She merely said that she had unexpectedly decided to come down to her parents home and that she would see Ryan at their appointment on Monday afternoon. Oh shit, she thought as she hung up. She probably waited for me to take our long ride today. Oh well, this is a lot more important than a bike ride, she thought decisively.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

"You're being terribly generous with your time, Jack, but I know you have things to do," she said as she tried to keep her train of thought. They were sitting on a double chaise out by the pool after a lavish brunch and Jack could not refrain from kissing her on every exposed millimeter of skin.

 

"I don't want to let you out of my sight...or my touch," he whispered as he pinned her against the cushions with his chest and leisurely explored her mouth with his tongue. "Are you sure you don't want to go back upstairs and let me show you how experimental I can be?"

 

She pushed him away slightly by placing her hands flat on his chest. "I need some time to process this, Jack. I really feel a little overwhelmed right now. And besides," she added with a grin. "I don't have any condoms in the house and if you have one in your pocket I'll be terribly insulted."

 

He smiled back and stuck his hands in his pockets, pulling them inside out to show that they were devoid of birth control devices. "I understand, Jamie," he smiled. "I just want to make sure you get satisfied if you need it."

 

She kissed him gently and stayed very close, whispering right into his lips, "Oh, I need it, alright. You've been driving me wild with those kisses. But I can wait for what I want. And I think you need to go get your work done, Sweetheart."

 

"I won't be able to think of a thing other than your face," he pledged as he kissed all around her smiling face.

 

"You're too sweet," she said as she kissed him back. "But I've got work to do also, so I'd better go." She got to her feet and extended both of her hands to pull his lean body from the chaise. But instead of going along willingly he gave a sharp tug and pulled her right onto his lap.

 

"Just a few more kisses," he begged with his eyes closed.

 

She smiled at his dramatics but granted his wish, now more than ever regretting her decision not to go back upstairs...condoms be damned.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She arrived back in Berkeley at 2 o'clock, emotionally exhausted but very energized physically. A quick check of the list of messages in Mia's handwriting showed that Ryan had called twice. Does she keep tabs on all of her friends, or just me? she thought unhappily as she wadded up the note and tossed it into the trash.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *