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 email@example.com
Jamie rushed home after her morning classes and dove into her work. She didn't cook elaborate meals very often, but she really enjoyed doing so when she got the chance. She actually enjoyed making something difficult a lot more than just making an ordinary dinner, especially when she was feeding someone who really enjoyed food...and she didn't know a soul who enjoyed eating more than Ryan.
Methodically, she assembled all of the ingredients that she would need. She placed them on the counter neatly and then organized all of her utensils. Next she got out her stainless steel pasta machine and began to make dough. Her mother had taken her to a tiny little restaurant in Bologna where she had the most extraordinary lasagna imaginable. She was terribly pleased to find the recipe in an Italian cookbook and it was now the only kind of lasagna she would eat. Jamie remembered that they had used green noodles so she decided that she must also.
She began to clean the fresh spinach, and when she was finished she wilted it quickly. She took the wilted spinach and gently dried it as much as possible with a thin kitchen towel. After chopping it coarsely she set it aside.
Next she went to a small dedicated baking counter in the corner of the kitchen. The counter was made of a dark green marble and was set 4 inches lower than the rest of the counters. She mounded 1 1/2 cups of flour and scooped out a hollow in the center of it. She broke two eggs into the hollow and added the chopped spinach. She beat the eggs with a fork, as though making an omelet, for about a minute. She began to draw some of the flour over the eggs, just a little at a time, until the eggs were no longer runny. Discarding the fork she began to work the mass with her hands. She worked the dough until the ingredients felt fully integrated. After washing her hands again, she tested it by pressing her thumb firmly into the center of the mass. After her thumb came out clean, she put the dough aside and cleaned the work surface.
Now came her favorite part. Sprinkling a little flour on the marble she began to knead the dough. She pushed the mass forward with the palm of her right hand, then she folded it in half, gave it a half turn and repeated. She continued in this fashion, always turning in the same direction. After about 8 minutes of steady work the dough felt as smooth and supple as a babies' bottom.
Satisfied that the dough was perfect she clamped the heavy pasta machine to another part of the counter. After adjusting the rollers to their full width she inserted the handle. Then she cut the dough into 6 roughly equal parts. She rolled each little piece through the rollers, one piece at a time until all six had been slightly flattened. She then ran each strip through another two times, folding each in thirds after each pass through the machine.
She had cleared all of the counters and spread kitchen towels on them in preparation and now she lay each flattened strip on a separate towel. She closed the rollers a notch and repeated the entire operation until the towels were covered with very long very thin strips of green dough.
Now came the hard part. She stuck each strip into a large pot of boiling water for mere seconds, then scooped it out and dropped it into a bowl of ice water. After several strips were in the ice bath she removed them one at a time and ran cold water over them. Then she delicately wrung them dry, treating them rather like fine lingerie. She lay each strip back onto its respective towel to dry.
Well that was a quick 2 hours, she thought as she looked at her watch. Ryan was coming over at 5 and she felt like she just had enough time to finish the lasagna and the desert and wrap a few little presents. But first she ate an apple and a few pieces of cheddar cheese, just as Dr. O'Flaherty had ordered.
She began to prepare a Béchamel sauce, slowly stirring the milk, butter and flour together until it was smooth and luxuriantly creamy. Ohhh, that looks perfect!
Now she was ready to assemble. She took out a large enameled cast iron lasagna pan and smeared the bottom with the bÈchamel sauce. She lined the bottom of the pan with a single layer of green noodles, cutting them to fit, edge to edge with just a tiny overlap. She took the warmed Bolognese meat sauce that she had prepared on Wednesday and mixed it in with the béchamel She then spread this mixture in a thin layer over the first layer of noodles, sprinkling it with a bit of grated Reggiano Parmesan to complete the first layer. She repeated this process until she had 9 layers of pasta and sauce. She had just enough sauce left to spread a thin layer on the topmost noodles. She again sprinkled Parmesan on the top and added a few thin pats of butter at various strategic locations.
She stood back to look at her creation with satisfaction. Not bad for a WASP, she thought with pride.
Now comes the true test of my prowess, she thought. She put 6 egg yolks into the bowl of her Kitchen Aid mixer. She added 3/4 cup of granulated sugar and beat the yolks until they were a beautiful pale yellow and formed soft ribbons.
Next she put 2 cups of very fresh milk in a saucepan and added the peel of half of an orange. She heated the milk until it reached a slow simmer. She then added the hot milk to the eggs, running it through a fine strainer as she did so. She stopped periodically to run the mixer again, being careful to thoroughly beat the mixture together. Finally, she added a tablespoon of Grand Marnier, and stirred it well.
She put the whole mixture into a saucepan set on a medium flame and beat it with a whisk for a couple of minutes, making sure to not let it reach a boil. She took it off the heat and set it to chill in the refrigerator.
Her next task was to clean the enormous mess she had created. When she had done most of the dishes the custard was chilled. She put it into her electric ice cream maker to freeze and let the machine do all the work.
By now it was 4:45 and she knew Ryan would be on time. She flew around the house and assembled her wrapping paper, tape and scissors. The last little gift was just barely finished when the bell rang. As she dashed over to the door she quickly hid the small presents and ran her hands through her hair to order it.
She was greeted by a broadly smiling Ryan who leaned over to give her a hug. They had recently begun to hug each other when they hadn't seen each other for a few days. Jamie felt very comfortable with the increased intimacy, and found that she missed the contact on the rare occasions Ryan didn't offer it. She was a bit surprised today only because they had seen each other earlier at class.
"You certainly look happy," she told the beaming face.
"You are cooking, aren't you?" she asked logically.
"Yes, I most certainly am," she replied.
"Then I am most certainly happy," she stated with an even bigger grin. She leaned over again and gently brushed her thumb across Jamie's cheek a few times. Holding her hand up close to her eyes she nodded her head and thoughtfully said, "Flour."
"I get a little wild when I cook. God knows what's hiding in my hair!" God, one smile from her and I would cook like this every day. The world is lucky that she uses that smile for good, and not evil.
"It smells very good in here," Ryan stated as she twitched her nose reflectively. "I smell something sweet. Do I get dessert, too?"
"Yes, you get dessert, too. I don't believe in making a partial thank you dinner."
"Far be it from me to turn down a special meal, but you don't owe me any thanks, Jamie," she stated sincerely. "We're friends, and I take my friendships very seriously. You were really out of it on Tuesday and I felt responsible for you. I know you would do the same for me."
"Well, conceptually you are right, Ryan. But I was thinking about that night and I don't remember walking on my own volition at any time after that phone call."
"You walked to the car, but I had to carry you in."
"And did you not also carry me up that huge staircase?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
"Yeah, I had to. You were about to go out again and I couldn't leave you on that little sofa. I was afraid you would fall and hurt yourself. I thought your bed would protect you better."
"Okay, now let's switch roles. Where would we be if you had passed out that night?"
"Um, still lying on the floor of the building, I guess," she admitted with a twinkle in her eyes. "It would take two men and a strong boy to pick me up."
"My point exactly. My spirit would be willing, but my flesh is weak. So the bottom line is that I'm very thankful not only for your friendship, but your big muscles are awfully nice to have around too."
"So you're just replenishing all of the calories I expended, huh? I guess that does seem fair," she grinned. "I will admit though, I wished we had the Range Rover that night."
"Why's that?" Jamie asked, a trifle confused.
"I had to power you up from a deep squat to get you out of the car. I'm gonna have to do some more work on my quads if I'm going to continue to pick you up off the floor," she teased as she slapped her ample thigh muscles.
"Maybe you shouldn't try to get my weight back up. It might be to your detriment."
"I think I would rather make sure you don't get that stressed out that badly again," she replied as she slipped her arm around Jamie, and they wandered into the kitchen together.
Ryan offered to help with the last of the dinner preparations. Jamie set her to work on setting the table and choosing some music. Ryan bustled around the large kitchen, finding out for herself where everything was kept. She was just about finished when Jamie asked," How do you feel about anchovies?"
"I feel very kindly toward them, so long as they lie still while they're being eaten," she replied with a laugh. She walked up behind Jamie and enthused, "Ooooh, Caesar salad, my favorite."
"Ryan, I swear that almost everything you eat is your favorite," she admonished her.
"Well it is," Ryan gamely defended herself. "I have tons of favorites, but what I choose to eat at any particular time becomes my favorite. Caesar salad is my favorite Italian style salad, particularly when served with anchovies and followed by lasagna."
Jamie gave her a narrowed glance as she asked, "How much time do you spend thinking about food?"
"A lot," she admitted. "Okay, a whole lot," she amended when she caught Jamie's dubious glance. "Food really is the highlight of most of my days. An hour or so before lunch I start thinking about what I will have. I do the same at dinner. It really gives me a great deal of pleasure."
"I guess the pressure is really on me to perform then, huh?" Jamie asked.
"Nope. Not at all. You get tons of points for the effort even if the execution isn't perfect. Where do you get your recipe for lasagna, anyway? Is it a family secret?"
"I come from a family of diners, not cooks. My mother could probably make a peanut butter sandwich, but I've never actually seen her do so," she admitted. "And come to think of it, I'm certain she would never eat peanut butter, so it really would be a lost exercise."
"Are you really being serious?" Ryan asked as she stopped in the middle of the kitchen and stared, absolutely dumbfounded.
"Completely," Jamie replied. "I have never eaten a meal that my mother prepared for me. Come to think of it, I wasn't even breast fed," she laughed.
"Not even tea and toast when you were sick?" Ryan asked.
"Nope. I had a nanny who took care of me when I was sick. My mother didn't really get involved in the day to day caretaker stuff."
"God, Jamie, I find that so hard to believe!" Ryan was truly shocked.
"Well, it's true. Our relationship has always been friendly and pleasant enough, but distant. She traveled and spent time on her hobbies, but child rearing wasn't really one of them," she admitted.
Friendly?? Pleasant?? What kind of words are those to use for your relationship with your mother?! "So how did you learn to cook?" Ryan asked, trying to change the depressing subject.
"We had a great cook, named Marta. She's still with us as a matter of fact. She's from Spain but she can cook anything. She does a lot of Northern Italian cuisine because that's my mother's favorite. But she can also do classical French and some great spicy Spanish dishes for my father and me."
"Did you just watch and learn?"
"No, she was a really good teacher. She knew I was interested and she spent a lot of time with me, teaching me the fundamentals. My mother found it odd that I wanted to spend my time chopping vegetables into julienne, but she didn't mind much as long as I was entertained. Actually, Marta was one of the best teachers I ever had. She didn't have any children and we spent a ton of time together just talking and hanging out."
Ryan was enormously saddened to hear her friend speak of this emotionless upbringing. The thought of young Jamie having to get her parenting from the hired help was just too much to consider. She tried to change the subject again. "So, you know my favorite food, what's yours?"
Jamie turned thoughtful as she finished tossing the Caesar salad. "I think my favorite is a good steak and pomes frites from a French bistro. I have had some extraordinary meals at Chez Panisse," she named a local Berkeley institution. "Have you been there?"
"No, but Conor has. He said he liked it, but the portions weren't big enough. Not that that is surprising!" she laughed.
"I think we are ready to eat. Hungry?" she asked needlessly.
"I was hungry when I got here. But smelling that lasagna cook has put me into a whole new classification of hunger. It's beyond famished...bordering on starvation, I believe."
"Then have a seat and get ready. I'll take the lasagna out so it can cool for a minute." She went to the oven and pulled out the pan, using hot pads. Ryan did not sit down as instructed, but trotted right behind Jamie, looking over her shoulder, mouth watering.
"God, Ryan, you look like a hungry wolf with a wounded animal in its sights," she said of Ryan's intense gaze.
"That's exactly how I feel at the moment," she replied, never taking her eyes from their bubbling target. "I think I'm willing to risk the burns to my mouth to eat that right now," she threatened as she leaned over her prey.
But Jamie grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her firmly around to face the kitchen table. She gave her a little push and said firmly, "Sit. Now."
Ryan complied, grumbling the whole time. "Would a Caesar salad placate you for a few minutes?" Jamie asked, taking pity on the poor creature.
"I suppose," she moaned as she let out an aggrieved sigh.
Jamie filled two salad bowls and deposited them on the table. Ryan dug in and in moments her face became a study of various levels of pleasure. She started at mere happiness and by the fourth bite had progressed to ecstasy. "My God, this is good," she moaned from her state of bliss. "You have ruined me for life, Jamie. All other Caesar salads will be but pale imitations. I'll never be satisfied with another!"
"Then you'll just have to come here when you need a fix," Jamie replied, terribly pleased at the effusive compliments.
Ryan mopped up every bit of dressing with a piece of crunchy Italian bread. "Is it considered rude to lick the salad bowl?" she asked.
"There is just a tiny bit left, but I don't want you to be too full for your entrée," Jamie warned.
"My physiology is just like a cow," Ryan informed her. "I have six stomachs, all in different stages of digestion. I'll just put the entree in another stomach." She was already on her feet, moving toward the salad bowl. As she passed the cooling lasagna, she leaned down and gave it a hearty sniff. "You're next," she growled.
Jamie laughed heartily at her antics. Ryan was so full of life, so immersed in the pleasure of whatever she was involved in that it was impossible not to enjoy being with her. Jamie thought of all the women that Ryan had been with and felt a little sorry for them. She knew how much they must crave further contact, and how few of them got that wish. She considered herself very lucky to be able to be close to Ryan and receive so much of her time.
Ryan was polishing off the remnants of the salad right from the serving bowl. She used more bread to capture every bit of dressing and every tiny green leaf that tried in vain to escape.
"I don't think I have ever met anyone who enjoys food as much as you do. You just seem so immersed in the whole experience. It's fun to watch!"
Ryan's face grew serious. "Honestly, that's my whole philosophy of life, Jamie. I try to be fully involved in whatever I'm doing. The simplest task is made beautiful if I'm fully in it. When I eat I try to feel it with every sense. I try to really taste and smell the food. That's why I love to eat with my hands. I love the feel and the texture of food. I love to look at food before I eat it. I love the colors and variety of textures. I even really enjoyed the crunch the croutons in the salad made." She grinned up at Jamie from a slightly embarrassed smile. "I know that sounds kinda nutty, but that's how I approach life."
"That is the least nutty thing I've ever heard," Jamie replied. "You're really teaching me a lot about savoring life, Ryan, and I want you to know how grateful I am for that," she said simply.
"I didn't realize that Jamie, but I'm glad it's helpful for you. I made up my mind when I was a teenager that I wasn't going to let life pass me by. I knew that every day we have is a gift and I intend to make the most of those gifts."
"Well, speaking of gifts," Jamie said as she rose and walked to the counter, "Happy Birthday, Ryan." She lit the candle that she had placed in the lasagna and carried the large pan to the table. She leaned over her shoulder and gave her a small kiss on her flushed cheek.
Ryan was truly stunned. "How did you know?" she asked delightedly. "I'm sure I didn't tell."
"No you didn't, you big dope. And I'm a little miffed I had to find out from Conor."
"You know, you're right Jamie. I should have told you. I usually spend the day with my family and sometimes I forget to include other people. I kind of hate to have a big deal made out of it, but I should have included you. I'm really glad that Conor told you."
Jamie served up a steaming plate of the lasagna and Ryan took a hearty bite. She was silent as she closed her eyes, deep in concentration. Jamie could just imagine each of her senses kicking in, feeling and tasting and smelling the delectable bite.
"If I didn't believe in God before today, I would now. This," she waved another forkful of the dish at Jamie, "is a clear sign that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
"I'm so glad I could make you something that you enjoy so much," Jamie replied as she tried to control her beaming smile.
"I have eaten lasagna at least 200 times in my life. I order it every time it's on the menu. But I can truly say, I've never tasted lasagna before today."
Jamie just grinned in response.
They ate in silence for a few minutes to allow Ryan to concentrate. Finally, she looked up from her plate. "I need to know how you made this. There is nothing about this that I recognize, not the noodles, not the sauce, nothing! Most of the time lasagna is heavy and overly rich. This is just so light and delicate tasting."
Jamie explained the entire process, while Ryan watched her in rapt fascination. Finally she shook her head and locked her clear blue eyes on her friend and asked, "You did that all just for my birthday?"
"Yep. And I'd do it again in a minute to see you enjoy yourself so much," she replied truthfully.
"Do you cook like this for Jack?" Ryan asked after a moment, a bit off topic.
"I do cook for him, but I don't think I've ever done anything very elaborate. He doesn't care about food a lot. He thanks me for cooking, but in the same way he thanks me for vacuuming. I think he eats to live, and that's about it."
"Well, anytime you need an enthusiastic taste tester, you know where to find me."
"I'll keep your name on file," Jamie replied with a grin
After Ryan had eaten much more than Jamie thought wise, they sat together in the living room with large cups of cappuccino. "Is there anything you don't cook well?" Ryan asked as she sipped her coffee.
"I'm sure I've screwed up my share of meals. I just had a good day," she replied. "But I must admit, cooking for an appreciate audience is really pleasurable."
"If I were any more appreciative I'd be on the phone to the Vatican petitioning you for early sainthood," Ryan said.
"I was thinking about the teen talk line," Jamie said after a few minutes. "Yvonne said you were the volunteer who logged the most hours. When did that happen, and how did you get involved?"
Ryan was silent for a few moments. She looked down at the floor as she said softly, "It's a long, sad story. Are you sure you want to hear it?"
"Only if you want to talk about it," Jamie replied.
"I like to reflect on my life on my birthday. It's a good way to appreciate all of the gifts I've been given. So I don't mind. But I guess I've got to go back to high school to make it make sense. Did I ever tell you about Sara?" When Jamie shook her head, Ryan continued. "She was my best friend all through grammar and high school. It was kind of like the caller you helped the other night. I was totally in love with her. She was my whole world. I have never felt like that about anyone--before or since," she admitted, her hooded eyes dark.
"I went to an all girls Catholic high school. I knew that I was different from my friends but it didn't bother me. I thought I was just unique," she said as she gave Jamie a crooked little grin. "I didn't ever have a crush on a guy or have any desire to go out with one. Luckily we didn't have the pressure of having guys around all the time, so the issue was never forced. I honestly never considered that I might be gay, though. I just thought I was...me I thought everyone had crushes on their girlfriends and teachers. I honestly thought everyone scheduled their week around 'Cagney and Lacey'," Ryan said with a small laugh at the memory.
Jamie didn't understand the reference but she nodded to encourage Ryan to continue.
"Anyway, as the years passed I began to feel more than close to Sara. I wanted to be 'with her', even though I didn't really know what that meant or how to go about it. I was really naive when it came to sex. That was one area that Da did a crummy job with. And the boys were certainly no help. It might have been different if I was a little worldlier but my whole universe was sports and Sara. I didn't watch TV very often or go to many movies or participate much in community events so I was just not clued into lesbianism."
"You must have been so confused," Jamie empathized.
"In a way I was, but in another way I assumed Sara felt just like I did. We were so close it was like we shared a soul." Ryan dropped her head a little, but continued. "I was finding the temptation overwhelming just to touch or kiss Sara. She was all that I thought about. I wanted to let her know how I felt, but I was so confused about what this thing was, that I didn't feel able to."
Jamie nodded to encourage Ryan to continue.
"One night I was staying over at Sara's. We did that a lot. It was the end of my junior year. She was a year older and she had already decided to accept a soccer scholarship at Cal. Her graduation was in a couple of weeks and she was going to go to a soccer camp in San Diego as soon as school was over. I was panicked at the thought of her going away and I let my fear of losing her override my fear of expressing myself."
Jamie cringed, knowing right where this was heading.
"We got into bed and I started talking. I told her that I didn't think I could live without her. I told her everything--how much I wanted her, how I dreamed about her, how she meant everything to me. She was kind of quiet, but I thought she agreed. After a minute I reached for her and I kissed her. I had never kissed another person in my life and it was kind of overwhelming," here she shook her head and stared at the floor.
"I was shaking so hard she must have heard my teeth chattering but I could tell she was nervous too. But God, Jamie," here she took a deep breath and let her head drop back against her shoulders. "Nothing since has ever felt that good to me."
"I thought she was enjoying it as much as I was," she said with a rasp in her voice. "No, I know she was enjoying it. I know it," she said firmly as she closed her eyes tightly.
Jamie had moved closer to her for comfort. She didn't touch her, but she was so close she could feel the heat radiating off her body.
"In my fumbling, terrified way I continued on. I don't know where I got the courage but I got more and more aggressive. I guess all those years of yearning for her propelled me forward. I explored every inch of her body with my hands. After a long time of totally tender touches we began to get more passionate. And it wasn't just me. She didn't touch me intimately but she kissed me with so much emotion..." Ryan closed her eyes again stared up at the ceiling. "I can still taste her lips," she whispered as she shook her head and took in a deep breath. She seemed on the verge of tears but she gathered herself and continued on. "Eventually I discovered what she liked and brought her to orgasm. I cannot tell you how that made me feel, Jamie. I can honestly say that was the happiest moment of my young life. I felt closer to her than I thought possible. I had used my hands and my body to give her such pleasure. She seemed so satisfied, and a few moments later she kissed me with so much love in her eyes. As she fell asleep in my arms, I held on to her with all the strength and the tenderness that I possessed."
Ryan blew out a big breath and Jamie steeled herself for the inevitable.
"I didn't sleep much that night. It felt so wonderful to be that close to her. I can't describe it as anything other than feeling like I was finally home. I watched her sleep and occasionally would give her a light kiss. I was planning our lives together. I decided that night that when I followed her to Cal we would live together and start our lives together," she smiled sadly at the memory.
"In the morning, Mrs. Andrews came to wake us up. Sara acted very flustered when her mom was there and I figured she was uncomfortable about us getting caught. She came up with some lame excuse and told me she had to go somewhere with her mother. I felt a little funny about it, but I wasn't really worried. I should have been. That was the last conversation we ever had."
Jamie sat in the still room with her hand on Ryan's knee. She knew the depth of the hurt, could see it on Ryan's face, and hear it in her voice. But she had no words to heal the old pain. Instead, she just patted Ryan's knee in sympathy and understanding.
"She would not return my phone calls. On Monday at school she would not even make eye contact with me. I honestly almost lost my mind that day. After school I went to her house. Her mom told me that she didn't want to see me anymore. She asked me to never call their house again."
"How unspeakably cruel!" Jamie shouted in indignation. "How could she do that to you?"
"Actually that was what made it even harder. I was really close with her mom. She was one of my mother substitutes, but I never saw her again after that day. But I don't blame her." She gave Jamie a small grin as she admitted; "I can't say the same for Da or the boys though. Sara was obviously really upset and I guess her mom didn't want it to get any worse. Sara must have told her what had happened, because her mom told me that she hoped things worked out for me but that Sara wasn't like I was. I don't know," she said softly. "If my daughter was in the same situation I might have done the same thing."
"I don't believe that for a minute, Ryan," Jamie said firmly. "If you were her mother you would find a way to be supportive of a child that was going through a very difficult time. You would not turn your back on a child that needed you!" Jamie continued to stroke and pat her leg and Ryan finally gave her a small smile.
"It was a terrible time for me. After the loss of my mother this was the worst thing that ever happened to me. It screwed up the way I felt about myself for a very long time. It was the only time in my life that I felt bad about being gay. I believed every bad thing I had ever heard about gay people. If someone as wonderful as Sara and as great as her mother thought I was sick, I assumed that I must be. I started doing some crazy stuff. I started hanging out in The Castro and going to bed with older women. I was almost 17 but I looked older. I would be with anyone who wanted me. But I didn't really get anything out of the sex. I just wanted the contact. I wanted to be with other freaks like me. But that's what's so hard for so many gay kids. We don't get a chance to develop like straight kids do. Not many of us get to have normal dating relationships. We often go from a crush to having sex like I did. And I realize now how harmful that is for kids. It's too overwhelming to have your first kiss followed by your first time making love."
"How did you come out of it?"
"It took a while. The next school year things got quite a bit worse. I'll save the details for another day. Sara obviously told some people about what I did to her and everyone started to treat me like a freak. I spent the whole year just trying to survive. It was an unbelievably tough year."
"Didn't you talk to anyone?" Jamie inquired gently as she continued to run her hand up and down Ryan's leg.
"After my first semester grades came out over Christmas break Brendan sat me down and said he was worried about me. The boys didn't know what I was doing, but they knew that I had changed. I never came home drunk when Da was home but he was gone 3 or 4 nights out of the week. Brendan was away at school and Conor and Rory had their own things so they didn't keep a very close eye on me. Brendan told me that I could tell him anything, and after a good bit of prodding he pulled it out of me. "He was so wonderful, Jamie," Ryan smiled at the memory. "He was so completely understanding. He really reassured me that there was nothing wrong with me. He said that as I got older I would find lots of women who wanted to be with me. A little while after we talked I made myself tell Da and the other boys. I've never asked Brendan, but I think he told them first so they'd be prepared. They were all super. Da told me that I was precious to him no matter who I loved."
"I'm so glad they were all supportive of you, Ryan. That must have really helped."
"More than I could have imagined. I didn't feel like I was bad for being this way any more. My self image got a lot better and I stopped being with people just because they wanted me. Brendan did some research and he hooked me up with the Teen Talk Line. I talked to someone really nice who was very supportive. She told me about 'Daughters of Sappho' and some other places that young women could go. After a while I went to the talk line and got trained as a peer counselor. Talking to other kids helped me realize how good things really were for me. By second semester my grades were back up, but I had screwed up at the worst time. My scholarship to Cal was withdrawn and I had to come up with another plan."
"What did you do?" Jamie asked.
"Conor started taking me to the gym with him and I really got into it. After I graduated I spent the summer taking classes to become a trainer and I worked every possible minute that I could. I had been accepted at the University of San Francisco as my fallback school, but it was really expensive, so I had to work full time to be able to afford the tuition."
"But why go somewhere so expensive? Couldn't you have gotten in somewhere else?"
"Getting in places wasn't a problem," Ryan assured her. "But I had such a hard time during my senior year that I couldn't bear to live away from home. I really needed their support that year. Besides, after all of the problems I had in school that year taking a couple of years off seemed really appealing. So I worked for 2 years and I really enjoyed it. I could really focus on what was important to me. In retrospect it was a foolish decision to waste 2 years and have to pay my own way, but I was so heartbroken over not being given my scholarship that I just couldn't bear to attend Cal. And the thought of seeing Sara around campus was just something I couldn't risk. After I completed two years at USF I decided that I had sulked long enough and I transferred. It's where I'd always dreamed of going and I finally decided that I was only hurting myself by not going there."
"Wow, you sure have been through some hard times," Jamie said as she patted her back.
"Yeah, but I got through them. And I feel pretty darn good about myself now. I mean, I must be doing something right to merit a friend like you, don't I?" she said sincerely as she looked over at Jamie with those clear blue eyes.
Jamie just soaked in the words of friendship that Ryan so easily offered. I do not understand why she isn't in a relationship. It seems so easy for her to open up and show her feelings. Is she really that different when sex is involved?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
After Ryan had digested enough of her dinner to allow for dessert Jamie led her back into the kitchen. "I hope you like what I made for dessert. I know you say you like everything, but this is a little different," she said with a smile at Ryan's interested expression. "The last time my mother and I were in Bologna we had this at the same restaurant that made this style of lasagna. It's really the prototypical dessert of the region and I thought it would be a perfect compliment to dinner."
Ryan watched as Jamie took the frozen insert of the ice cream maker from the freezer. She removed two pale green milk glass bowls from the cabinet and scooped the frozen concoction into the bowls. Next she removed some delicate little orange and chocolate flavored cookies that she had purchased from a fabulous craft bakery on the way home from school. As she looked at Ryan she saw her eyes go wide.
"You made ice cream?" she asked very tentatively. "I thought you had to be Ben or Jerry to make ice cream," she said slowly.
"No, it's a feat that is easily accomplished if you have a good ice cream maker," Jamie replied.
"You know, you are the last person in the world who should be underweight. You obviously don't cook much for yourself," Ryan observed as she playfully tried to pinch her waist.
"No, I really don't," she giggled as she tried to dance out of the way. "I prefer to cook for others I suppose."
"If you don't stop saying that you're gonna find me on your door step every evening," she threatened. Ryan was focused on her bowl as she took her first big bite of the custard. Her eyes closed and she dropped her head to her chest. Both hands came up and balled into fists as she lightly pounded on the table for a few beats, then looked up at Jamie in wonder. Her hands opened and rose halfway to her face. She shook her hands lightly as she wagged her head from side to side.
Not a word had been spoken, but Jamie knew that she was being lavishly complimented. After every bite Ryan would look at her with a delighted expression of amazement and another little shake of her head. Finally, when her bowl was clean Ryan finally muttered softly, "I have no words." She shook her head again and looked rather helpless as she said, "If I could have another bowl I'd be forever grateful."
As her second bowl was presented Ryan predicted, "I'm sure I'll be more erudite after my second helping." She dug in again, but was once more totally silent. Her brows knit in concentration and she looked very reflective a couple of times; as if she had a point to make. But she would again shake her head lightly and shrug her shoulders in a small sign of defeat. She regarded her friend once again and admitted, "I just can't form a cogent thought. I truly want to do justice to that ambrosia but I am unable to come up with a compliment that is representative of my feelings."
"None needed," Jamie replied as she gently patted her cheek. "Just watching you eat is the supreme compliment." As she spoke, she rose and crossed the room to retrieve the hidden presents. She brought the small pile over to a still dumbstruck Ryan who gave her a delighted smile.
"Jamie, you certainly didn't have to buy me presents after all this!" she protested.
"I know I didn't have to. But I wanted to. It really gave me a lot of enjoyment to be able to buy you a few little things," she replied.
"Okay, you win. If you get pleasure out of doing this, then I'm going to shut up and just let myself enjoy it," she decided as she grabbed the first little box.
Jamie watched her face take on a childlike glee as she shook each box in turn. "I like to guess. Can I?" she asked.
"Of course, birthday girl. You can do anything you want."
"What I want is for you to be my personal chef," she said with a grin. "But I'll settle for opening my presents. She shook a box that was about 9 inches square. This one gave a funny little rumble. "Hmmm," she mused. The next box was small, about 2" by 3". A muffled wooden clicking sound emanated from it. The last gift was about 7 inches long and 4 inches wide. It was no more than a quarter inch thick and made no sound when shaken. "I think I'm ready," she finally pronounced. "I believe there is a common theme?"
"Yes," came the answer.
"So one box will lead me to guess the others?"
"Okay," she said as she waved the long thin package. "I think this one is a golf glove," she stated with authority.
"How did you do that?" Jamie inquired, quite amazed.
"Well, you did just buy me one. I remember the shape of the package it came in. And I can detect a leather aroma. See?" she offered the package up to Jamie's nose.
"Wow, how good is your sense of smell?" Jamie wondered.
"It's pretty good, I guess. I don't realize how good it is until I can catch a scent several minutes before anyone else. Sometimes I even beat Duffy," she said proudly. "And I'm the official smeller of anything suspect in the refrigerator." She quickly tore open the little package. "Oooh a white one. Now I won't clash when I wear another color." She opened the cardboard cover and slipped the glove on. "You remembered my size!" she said with delight. "Thanks, Jamie," she said as she half got out of her seat and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.
Jamie knew that she should not feel a flash of pleasure tear up her spine, but she quickly convinced herself that the excitement of watching her friend's joy had just become contagious.
She tore through the rest of the neatly wrapped presents, correctly guessing the two dozen golf balls and the little box of tees. She had not guessed that the tees were personalized however, and this little detail delighted her to no end. "These are the bomb, Jamie," she said as she shook the little box. She hopped up once again to kiss the other cheek and Jamie briefly wished that she had wrapped each of the tees separately. "I'm gonna feel like a pro with all my cool stuff."
Her glee continued when she opened the last little box. It was a small set of ball markers and a divot tool in a gold tone. Each was neatly monogrammed with 'S.R.O.' Ryan jumped up and came over to Jamie's side of the table. She grabbed her hands and pulled her to her feet. "This is all so nice," she enthused. "I can't thank you enough." They stood toe to toe, Ryan's hands on Jamie's shoulders, smiling faces locked onto each other. Ryan bent to kiss her cheek just as Jamie turned her head slightly. Their lips brushed just a tiny bit, no more than a quarter inch. The kiss was way beyond chaste but Jamie felt a jolt of feeling shoot down her spine and she had a much more difficult time explaining this one away.
Ryan didn't seem to notice her reaction as she wrapped her in her powerful arms for a generous hug. But Jamie felt her body noticeably stiffen in the middle of the embrace. She pulled back and watched Ryan's face close as she backed away. Just then the kitchen door opened and Mia walked in.
"Wow, what smells so good?" she inquired brightly. "Hi Ryan, Jamie".
"Hi, Mia, " they both replied, nearly in unison.
Mia walked over to the pan of the now cooled lasagna. She grabbed a knife from the drawer and carved off a piece. She stuck the whole big bite in her mouth and mumbled around it, "This is great. Did you make this?" she pointed at Jamie.
"Yeah, I did," Jamie replied.
"What gives?" Mia asked as she looked at the gift laden table. "Is it your birthday or something, Ryan?"
"Yep, it sure is."
"That's cool. Happy birthday," she said as she surprised Ryan by walking over to her and giving her an awkward hug.
"Thanks. It has been a very happy birthday so far," she conceded as she grinned at Jamie.
"Oh, that reminds me," Mia added. "Jamie tells me that you've got available time on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. I think she has started to look great, and I don't want her to get too far ahead of me in the looks department," here she shot Jamie a grin. "Would you be willing to work with me?"
"Absolutely, Mia. Do you know what my rates are?"
"Yeah, Jamie told me. That's not a problem. Can we start on Monday? I want to look good for this summer when I go to L.A."
Ryan marveled at the financial freedom these women had. Dropping $375 a week on a whim was not something she could ever imagine doing.
After Mia left Ryan gave Jamie another winning grin as they sat back down at the kitchen table. "You couldn't stand not to have me get paid for those hours could you?" she asked with a twinkle.
"Nope. You're gonna be swimming in dough when I get through with you," she laughed. "Hey, I forgot to ask why you were available today?" Jamie asked. "I figured you'd be with your family."
"Da had to work tonight, so a bunch of my relatives are coming over for a barbecue tomorrow." After a moment she looked at Jamie and asked, "Would you like to come? I'd love for you to meet the rest of my family."
Jamie was very tempted to immerse herself in a whole sea of O'Flaherty's. But since Jack had been none too happy about her absence this evening she thought she had better not . "I wish I could, Ryan. But I need to go down to Palo Alto," she said.
"No big deal. You'll have plenty of opportunities. Actually, I was a little surprised that you were available tonight. I've never seen you spend Friday evening in Berkeley."
"That's because you never had a birthday on a Friday evening, silly," she said as she grinned over at her friend.
"Did you really stay in town just for me?" she asked with a shy little smile.
"Well, yeah," Jamie replied as if the answer should be obvious. "I was going to have you over next week to celebrate but when I found out you were free on your actual birthday I decided I had to move it up."
Ryan gazed at her for several minutes, her intense sapphire eyes never wavering from their hold on Jamie's. "You are so thoughtful and so giving...I hope Jack appreciates you like he should," she said as she patted her friend's hand.
"I...I...think he does," she stuttered as she tried to appear casual. She fought to regain her composure as she said, "My birthday wish for you is that you find someone who truly appreciates how special you are."
"Thanks, Jamie," she said as she continued to hold her gaze. "I hope so too."
"So what are the rest of your plans for the evening?" Jamie inquired, trying to lighten the mood. "Surely you will not be without female companionship?"
"I guess I could be wrong, but you certainly seem like a female to me," Ryan replied innocently.
"That's not the type of companionship I mean, and you know it," Jamie scolded.
"Okay, okay. I did have tentative plans to meet someone later," she admitted.
"Anyone special?" Jamie inquired lightly.
"No, not really," Ryan said casually.
"Gee, that must make her feel good," Jamie chided her now blushing friend.
"That's not what I meant," Ryan said, clearly embarrassed. "I just mean, well, you know what I mean," she looked to Jamie for understanding, but found a blank face instead. "I'm still seeing that woman you saw me with at the coffeehouse. I like her, I really do. I don't sleep with people I don't like," she defended herself. "But I don't see this progressing very far. It's just fun."
"Why?" she asked simply.
"Yeah, why won't this last?"
"One big reason...and I think it's a good one," she replied with a chuckle. "She doesn't think she's gay."
"Really?" Jamie asked, rather shocked.
"Really. Robin has a boyfriend that goes to the University of Washington. He's actually on the football team so I hope he never finds out about me!" she said with a crooked smile. "I don't think I'd look good with two black eyes and a few broken bones!"
"Um...doesn't that bother you at all?"
"What? That she's bi-sexual or that I'm cheating with some guy's girlfriend?"
"Um...either, I guess," she said hesitantly.
"Well, it doesn't bother me a bit that she's bi-sexual. I think we're way too caught up on labels for people. And two...she claims that they both date others during the school year. They're just monogamous when they're in the same city."
"Would it bother you if she was really cheating?" Jamie asked, knowing that she was treading in waters where she did not belong.
"Um...I guess it depends. I would never try to get someone to cheat and I would never seek out someone I knew was in a relationship, but I have slept with women who were involved with someone else and it didn't really bother me. It's their relationship and if they want to screw it up I feel like it's not my business. But I will admit I could never be serious about anyone who cheated. If they do it to someone else they'll probably do it to me."
"Yeah, I can see that would prevent you from trusting someone," Jamie agreed. "So it doesn't bother you a bit that she has a boyfriend?"
Ryan pursed her lips and gave the question some serious thought. "Well, I guess if I'm completely honest there is one thing that bothers me. I don't mind that she has a boyfriend but it does bother me that she doesn't really want to be seen in public with me."
"WHAT? She's ashamed of dating you!?"
Ryan gave her a delightfully crooked grin and said, "That outraged tone was a very nice compliment, Jamie. Thanks for the props."
"Well, really, Ryan," she scoffed. "What kind of idiot wouldn't want to be seen with you?"
"Well, I think her concern is that she doesn't want her boyfriend to find out about me. He doesn't know that she dates women," she advised.
"Ohhh," Jamie replied with a slight head nod. "So he doesn't know she's bisexual."
"Correct." Ryan stood and extended her hand to Jamie. "Enough of this serious talk," she said with a wide smile. "I think it's time we went to our respective lovers and had some fun!" As they walked to the door Ryan started to sing an old Stevie Wonder song, "We are strangers by day, lovers by night. Knowing it's so wrong. Feeling so right!"
Jamie gave her a hard bump with her hip as they neared the door. "You get a lot of pleasure out of being bad, don't you?"
"Go with your strengths!" she said with a confident leer.
"You are incorrigible, Ryan."
"Well, I certainly hope so," she replied with a grin.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
When Jamie walked into Jack's apartment a little before 10 p.m. the look on his face said more about his displeasure than she wanted to know. "Hi, Honey," she called out in greeting as she placed her overnight bag on the floor.
"Hi," he replied, barely looking up from his book.
"Did you have dinner? I brought you some lasagna," she offered.
"Yeah, I made myself a sandwich," he said without elaboration.
"Is everything okay, Jack?" she asked, even though she absolutely did not want to know.
"Sure, why wouldn't it be?" he coolly replied, again not lifting his head to look at her.
She was already sick of this act so she turned the tables on him a bit. "No reason," she said with a sweet tone. "I'm going to get ready for bed. Be back in a minute," she said lightly as she passed by and kissed his cheek. She could feel his eyes burning into her as she walked down the hallway but she refused to goad him into talking if he didn't want to.
She brushed her teeth and washed her face, both with a leisurely pace. She stripped off her clothes and put on one of Jack's T-shirts, then picked up a novel by Djuna Barnes that she had to finish by Monday.
As she walked back into the living room she asked if he needed anything while she was up. He definitely muttered something under his breath, and it sounded like 'a full time fiancée, but she acted as though she had not heard a word even though she was seething inside. She gave him a completely fake smile and sat down on the end of the couch to read. Just to piss him off she put her feet up on his lap and refused to let his cold disregard penetrate her outer demeanor. Luckily, her novel was mesmerizing and she was fully engrossed for almost two hours. True to his always stubborn form Jack did not loosen up one bit. He did not touch her in any way and he completely ignored her feet on his lap.
At around midnight he stretched and announced flatly, "I'm going to bed."
She couldn't have passed a polygraph test on the issue but she 'inadvertently' dug her foot into a sensitive place as she lifted her legs from his lap. He grunted a bit but still said nothing. The rigors of the day caught up with her and she decided to turn in also. She turned off the lights and followed him into bed where she expected the tension to remain.
Much to her shock as soon as he got into bed he started to make sexual overtures. Oh, please! You can't say a civil word to me but now you want to screw me?! And for the first time in their relationship she found herself intentionally trying to hurt him. "Jack, I have something to tell you," she said in a matter of fact tone.
He lifted his head from her breast with a quizzical look, but still said nothing.
"I had a pregnancy scare this week," she informed him. She honestly had never seen an erection deflate quite so quickly. He shot up into a sitting position and stared at her with a look of pure horror.
"What happened? Why? What..." he stuttered.
"I haven't been feeling well for over a month and I've been queasy in the mornings. But on Tuesday I passed out and that made me take action," she related, leaving out every pertinent piece of information.
"I went to my doctor on Wednesday and she gave me a pregnancy test. Obviously it was negative," she said without further elaboration.
"Where is your doctor?" he finally got out.
"Palo Alto," she said with a small smile, knowing that he would be hurt to find out that her doctor was 3 minutes from his campus.
He gave her a look of total disgust as he said, "And you didn't call me to go with you? Need I ask who did?" he added with a snarl.
"Maybe if you tried really, really hard you could be more self centered," she said with yet another false smile. "I'm feeling sick for a month, unable to eat in the mornings because of nausea. I faint twice in one night and vomit all over greater Berkeley. I have to skip a day of school to go to the doctor. I find out I've lost 10 pounds without wanting to. The doctor takes my blood and runs a bunch of tests to determine God knows what. But I can see that your most pressing concern would be who took me to the doctor!" she snapped.
"You have the nerve, the unmitigated gall to bust my chops and try to make me feel sorry for you!" he shouted. "How the fuck can I feel sorry for you when I don't know any of this!! I'm your fucking fiancé Jamie! And you don't tell me that you've been sick, you don't tell me that you're losing weight and you don't tell me that you pass out! How in the fuck can I feel bad for you!!"
He leapt from the bed and started pacing in a straight line, back and forth across the carpet. He was becoming more agitated by the minute and Jamie was almost afraid of him. In 3 years she had never even heard him raise his voice, much less curse at her.
"I can only imagine why you didn't tell me about your pregnancy scare," he growled. "You and your buddy would just decide what to do about it. You two could have gone behind my back to abort my child!!" Now he stopped abruptly and stared at Jamie with cold fury, but when he saw the frightened look on her face every bit of his anger evaporated. He looked like he had been punched in the solar plexus as his shoulders dropped along with his head. All of the fire, all of the spark were just....gone. He came back to the bed and sat on the edge, facing away from her. He looked like a thoroughly defeated man, and as mad as she was Jamie felt sorry for him. She crawled over to him and put her arms around him from behind. He stiffened at first but as she murmured into his ear he began to relax.
"I would never do that Jack. I would never, ever abort a child, especially yours. I love you, I don't want to hurt you," she whispered.
He pulled her arms from his neck and got fully onto the bed. His last words were, "No matter what your intent is, you're hurting our relationship, Jamie. You need to make some choices."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
They kept a very cool distance in bed. She was a bit dismayed to wake up at 7 and find him gone. There was a note on the kitchen counter that read, "Law Review deadline on Monday. Be back late, Jack." Well, that says it all, she thought glumly. No, 'love, Jack', no 'I'm sorry', no 'I'll call you later'.
Jamie booted up his computer and his printer. She sat down to compose her thoughts and then began to write.
I'm sorry that I hurt you last night. I didn't mean to upset you. I know that I should have told you what was going on with me, but I didn't. I don't know why I didn't but I will try to figure it out.
Something is bothering me, and I need some time to work it out. If I stay here this weekend I know I'll be angry that you're gone. So for both of our sakes I'm going home. Feel free to call me at home or on my cell phone. If you don't feel like talking today or even for a few days, it's okay.
I'm not angry with you, Jack. I know you're really busy and I don't want to make things any harder for you. Whatever is bothering me is about me. So don't worry. I'm sure I'll feel better soon.
I love you,
She printed off the note and signed it. After a few minutes of just staring into space she picked up the phone and dialed Ryan's pager. When she didn't get a return call immediately she got in the shower and spent a long time letting the hot water clear her mind. She was just finishing drying her hair when her cell phone rang.
"Jamie?" asked the deep voice.
"Hi, Ryan. I didn't wake you up did I?"
"Heck no, Duffy and I were running on the beach. He won, of course, but we still had fun. What's up with you at this time of day?" she inquired.
"Is that invitation to your party still open? I'm unexpectedly free today," she stated the partial truth.
"Absolutely. I'd love to have you," she replied easily. "Are you okay? You sound kind of down."
"I am, but just a little. Jack's tied up all day, but I didn't learn about it until this morning. I just don't want to sit here alone all day."
"Well, you're never alone at the O'Flaherty's," she replied. "Not even when you want to be."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan gave her all the details of the party and steadfastly refused her offer to bring anything. Jamie signed off and immediately felt better. I've known her for 2 1/2 months. She can tell in two sentences that something is bothering me. I've been dating Jack for 2 1/2 years and he can never tell when something is wrong. Do I just need more than he is able to give me? Can any guy make me feel understood like Ryan does? Maybe I just want things I can't have.
She drove onto Ryan's street at 2 p.m. sharp. She had a difficult time finding a parking spot and finally wound up down the street and around the corner. As she climbed the stairs to the front door she could hear a din of voices. Ryan answered the door and gave her a delighted smile, showing those incredibly white teeth. Wow! Jamie marveled, she looks absolutely fantastic. She mused that she didn't often step back and just look at Ryan objectively anymore. They had grown so close that she saw her inner self more than her package. But occasionally she just looked at her and enjoyed the wrapper and this was one such day. Her beautiful friend was wearing a black knit silk t-shirt which clung to every curve. Black linen pleated slacks and soft black loafers completed her monochromatic outfit. She looked exactly like Ryan should look, tall; sleek; graceful; athletic; and terribly, terribly sexy. "Hi, I'm really glad you decided to come," Ryan said enthusiastically as she gave Jamie a big hug.
"You did say 2 p.m. didn't you?" she looked around the house which was bursting with people.
"Yeah, that's when we wanted people to come. But in this family they show up when they want to. We've had people show up at 9 a.m. for Thanksgiving dinner," she laughed.
As Ryan guided her into the teeming mass of people, Conor swooped down from his place on the staircase. "My, my, my, don't you look lovely today," he said as he looked Jamie up and down. "Isn't that a gorgeous outfit?" he said to Ryan as he continued to appraise Jamie like a new Ferrari. Jamie was wearing a very slim fitting sleeveless shell of nubby silk in tangerine and gold that just brushed her waistline. Slim fitting slacks of the same material showed off her trim legs. A silk knit sweater in the same tangerine was draped around her shoulders. Delicate leather woven loafers in a dark tan graced her feet.
Jamie blushed a little as the two siblings conferred. "Yes, Conor, I would agree that Jamie looks marvelous today, " Ryan said with a big smile, "But I've yet to see her look less than lovely," she added with a twinkle in her deep blue eyes.
Conor boosted the wattage of his smile and asked, "Have you been given a proper tour of our home, Jamie?"
"Um, not really," she replied warily. "I just saw this floor and Ryan's room," she admitted.
"Ryan's manners are so atrocious, sometimes," he scoffed as he gave his sister an aggrieved little shake of his dark head. "Please allow me to make up for her faux pas," he stated as he held out his arm to escort her.
She giggled at his exaggerated gallantry and gamely took his arm. As he led her off she turned to give Ryan a little wave. Ryan had narrowed her eyes in mock anger, but quickly broke into a smile.
Conor escorted her up the staircase that rested at the rear of the small living room. He did not stop to introduce her to the many people that they climbed over and she noted with a smile that they all continued their conversations as though they did not notice the interruption. They walked carefully up the stairs to the 3rd floor. This floor consisted of two good sized bedrooms and one small bath in between. He pointed out a room filled with instruments cases, open luggage and clothes strewn about.
"Rory's getting ready to go on a bit of a tour," he explained. "He and the band are leaving tomorrow for a month."
"Really?" she inquired. "Where is he going?"
"I believe they'll just be on the west coast," he replied. "He does a lot more traveling in the summer. They're playing in Ireland and Scotland this summer as a matter of fact."
"I would really love to hear him play," she admitted. "By the way, Ryan says you all play an instrument. What is your specialty?"
"I spent most of my youth playing the fiddle and the bouzouki," he replied. "But now I spend most of my practice time playing the mandolin."
"I have no idea what a bouzouki is," she admitted. "But I know a mandolin when I see one. Do you practice often?" she inquired as she turned from Rory's room to face him.
"I play for enjoyment more than I do to become more proficient. I usually play for an hour or so in the evening. It really relaxes me after a day pounding a hammer. " He touched her arm lightly at the elbow to lead her into his room. "Would you like to hear a bit?" he said with a grin, as he walked over to his instrument lying on a small table by his bed.
"I would love to," she enthused as she sat down on the edge of his bed. Conor picked up the carved wooden instrument and tuned it for just a minute. He adjusted it against his body and began to play a lovely haunting melody. Jamie was not familiar with the piece, but it was eerily beautiful and Conor played it with a depth of emotion that truly astounded her.
When he was finished Jamie sat transfixed for just a moment. She slowly said, "I can't tell you how beautiful that was Conor. Thank you for sharing it with me." She stood and touched his arm in a friendly gesture.
Come to Papa, he thought to himself. I'm not gonna let you have this one Ryan. She's staying on my side of the river.
After the short tour was complete they began to make their way down the stairs. Ryan was sitting on the 3rd step, leaning casually against the wall with her long legs effectively blocking their path. "Did our house just get a lot bigger or did you show Jamie the roof?" she asked sweetly.
"No, the house is the same. Jamie was just interested in my mandolin, and I played a bit for her," he replied casually.
"Um hmm," she replied suspiciously. "Well, I've been working on my atrocious manners while you were gone, and I realized that Jamie has not been properly introduced to the rest of the clan," she said as she removed Jamie's hand from Conor's arm and placed it on her own. "I plan to rectify my error immediately," she gave Conor a twitch of her long black hair and moved off with her friend firmly in tow.
"You two never stop do you?" Jamie asked her with a giggle.
"No, we don't, " she admitted with a little embarrassed grin. "We've always been competitive. I guess you just stick with familiar patterns as you grow up. But it's funny," she reflected. "We all played together growing up but only Conor and I were ever really competitive with each other. It really doesn't make sense but that's the way it worked out."
As they moved through the house Jamie mused that when she was with Ryan and her brother they treated her like some prize they were fighting over. Ryan seems much more aggressive when Conor's around. And it feels a lot more like she's flirting with me, she thought. No, that's not it, she corrected herself. She's not flirting...she acts like she's already won! She actually acts like I'm her little prize. Hmm, that would piss me off if Jack did that. I wonder why it doesn't bother me in the least when Ryan does it? she mused.
They maneuvered through the small house and eventually broke through the crowd in the kitchen to reach the tiny porch that overlooked the small back yard. There were about a dozen men in the yard, all gathered around two big Weber kettles. Ryan began to point them out. "I thought I would give you an overview before I boggle your mind with introductions," she explained. "This is the male side of Da's family," she said as she indicated the men gathered on the lawn. "That's my Uncle Patrick," she indicated a man slightly smaller than Martin, but just as handsome. "That's my Uncle Francis," here she pointed to an equally handsome but slightly older looking man who was very muscular and brawny looking. "And that's my Uncle Malachy," she indicated the youngest and best looking one of the bunch. He looked just like a slightly older Conor although he was not quite as tall as the younger man.
"Wow!" was all that Jamie could say.
"Now for the next generation." She ticked off her cousins one by one. "Uncle Patrick has Niall, Kieran, Colm and Donal," she indicated each of the dark haired men in turn. "Declan, Dermot, Liam and Padraig belong to Malachy," she said as she pointed them out. "And Frank, Sean, Seamus and Brian are Uncle Francis' boys."
"Is anyone in your family less than gorgeous?" Jamie finally uttered as she shook her head in amazement.
"Ummm, what do you mean?" Ryan responded with a little blush.
"Do you mean to tell me that you don't know how beautiful everyone is your family is?" she asked in bewilderment.
"Ummm, well, ummm, no, not really," she finally replied. "I guess I never thought about it," she said as she fidgeted a bit in obvious discomfort.
"You never thought about the fact that your uncles and cousins and brothers all look like Calvin Klein underwear models?" she had to laugh at Ryan's perplexed expression.
"Well, no, I never did," she finally said. "Looks are not a big deal in my family. I mean, I know that we're not exactly ugly," she said with a grin, "but we were never encouraged to feel good about ourselves because of how we looked." She looked thoughtful for a moment before she continued, "Da always told us to never feel proud or ashamed of your gifts or liabilities. He said that what you did with those gifts and how you overcame your liabilities was all that mattered. Everything else was just genetics," here she shrugged her broad shoulders slightly and looked to Jamie for comprehension. "He also told me to be very suspicious of someone who spent a lot of time complimenting my looks. He said if someone was very focused on the outside of me they wouldn't have any time to look at the inside."
"That is a wonderful view of the world. It's very different from how I was raised, but I like it a lot better," she grinned in appreciation at Ryan.
"Were looks a bit deal in your family?" Ryan asked with concern.
"Not just looks, although that was important, but appearances were the big thing for us," she replied. "You know, wearing the right clothes, being seen with the right people, driving the right car. That sort of thing." She grew thoughtful for a long moment. "I'm going to try to adopt your philosophy for my children," she told Ryan sincerely.
"You can thank Da for that bit of philosophy," she replied. "Speaking of Da, I know he wants to see you," she said as she guided Jamie down the stairs to the gaggle of O'Flaherty men.
Ryan's immediate family had joined the outdoor crowd and Jamie was warmly welcomed by each man. She was properly introduced to each of the uncles and cousins next. She received a friendly greeting from each and a few polite questions about her background and after a bit they left the men to continue tending to the barbecues.
The return trip was more difficult than the outbound had been. Rather than try to negotiate the interior staircase Ryan led her out the front door, down the stairs and past the two car garage to a door on the ground floor. "This way is easier today," she announced as she produced her key chain and unlocked the frosted glass paneled door. Jamie's head was spinning when they entered Ryan's room after a short trip down a narrow hallway that took them past the length of the garage. "I don't think I can remember one person's name," she moaned. "There were so many of them. And they look so much alike!"
"Well, there are two sets of twins," Ryan said matter of factly.
"Yeah. Sean and Seamus and Declan and Dermot are twins."
"At least I'm not totally losing my mind," she laughed.
"Do you really want to remember them all?" Ryan asked with a puzzled look.
"Yeah, of course I do. Will you go over them again and quiz me?"
They knelt at the head of Ryan's bed and looked out the big windows at all of the assembled men. After 4 or 5 tries Jamie had them all pretty well sorted out. "Okay, Ryan. I want you to lean over and quiz me all day. That's the only way I'll learn. But it might help if you wrote them down for me too. I remember things better when I see them."
"I'm not sure that will help you," she advised. "Take Padraig for example. How would you spell that?"
"I guess it would be Poric?"
"Nope. P-a-d-r-a-i-g." She smiled as Jamie tried to get her mind around the odd spelling.
"Are they all that bad?"
"No. I'd say Kieran, Padraig, Niall and Siobhan are the worst of the bunch."
"I don't believe you've told me your mother's name," Jamie asked softly.
"Fionnuala," Ryan replied even more quietly.
Jamie placed her hand on Ryan's shoulder and forced eye contact. "It's beautiful," she said sincerely.
Ryan was totally charmed and touched by how interested Jamie was in her family. After they completed a few more rounds of 'guess the cousins' she pronounced Jamie ready to meet the rest of the family. "You need to meet the O'Flaherty aunts and the Ryans. "But don't worry," she reassured her, "there are far fewer of them, and their names are more American," she teased.
"If there are fewer of them why is your house so crowded?" she asked in amazement.
"Oh there's people from our parish here, some of my aunts families are here and even a few neighbors. But I'm not even going to introduce you to any the ancillary people. It's hard enough just to get the key players memorized..especially given the difficult names."
"I must admit, I've never heard so many Irish names in one place." She paused a moment to reflect. "You've never told me about how your family came to America. I mean, were your parents born here?"
"Not hardly," Ryan replied with a laugh. "As a matter of fact, I wasn't born here."
"Are you serious?" Jamie was shocked. She assumed that most Irish people were 3rd or 4th generation Americans even though she had to admit that Martin's accent was far from American.
"Quite," Ryan replied. "But that was a bit of a fluke. My mother came to this country in about 1965 or so. She met my father and they married a couple of years later. The boys were all born here, but when she was 7 months pregnant with me her mother in Ireland became very ill. She felt like she had to go home even though it must have been hell on Da to be left with 3 little boys. And I suppose it was pretty bad for her, too, having to travel that far when she was huge with me. After she was there for a month I surprised everyone by arriving almost a month early."
"So are you an Irish citizen?" Jamie asked, not sure of citizenship requirements.
"Actually, I have dual citizenship. They boys could have it too, and Rory went through the process, but Conor and Brendan don't have much interest."
"So your father was born here?" Jamie asked.
"Correct, but with an explanation," she teased. "He and all of his brothers were born here. Their parents had immigrated during World War II. But after the war my grandfather could not keep a job because of all the returning vets, so they eventually went back home. I think they left here in 1950 or so."
"So is your father a citizen?" Jamie asked, still a little confused.
"Yes he is. But my mother was illegal. She was just here on a tourist visa which had long expired when she met Da. His brothers still tease him that she married him only for his citizenship status."
"I never thought of Irish people being illegal aliens," she mused.
"Last time I checked we were the 2nd largest group of illegal aliens in this country," she admitted. "But we look like Americans and people are charmed by Irish accents so there is very little prejudice against us anymore."
"That's pretty neat that you are an Irish citizen, though. Could you move there if you wanted to?"
"Yeah, but I don't see that happening. I feel totally American," she said as she gave a little salute. "Even though I've spent a ton of time in Ireland I'm always ready to come home."
"What happened with your grandmother? Did she die?" Jamie asked tentatively.
"Nope. She's still kicking--along with my grandfather. She'll be 80 next year and my grandfather will be 85. They're both pretty spry," she said affectionately.
"Do you have many other relatives there?" Jamie asked.
"Yeah, my father has tons of cousins and a few uncles and aunts still living around Tralee. And my mother's younger sister Moira still lives in the town they grew up in. Aunt Moira and her husband James have 4 kids, Aisling, Cait, Brenna and Cormac."
"More Irish names and I bet I couldn't spell one of them," Jamie teased.
"Yes, you could use a good course in Gaelic just to hang out with my family," she admitted. "But speaking of family let's go meet the rest of them."
It took nearly 20 minutes for Ryan to introduce Jamie to her Aunts Eileen, Deirdre and Peggy. Each woman attentively asked Jamie about herself and her family but something caught Ryan's eye and she pulled her away from the small group of women. "You must meet my favorite relative," she said as she wiggled an eyebrow and led Jamie through the growing mass of people and finally found the prize that Ryan had been searching for. "There she is!" Ryan said with delight as her eyes locked onto the object of her affection, a pair of equally delighted green eyes.
Ryan held out her strong arms and a tiny face beamed up at her. The cutest baby that Jamie had ever seen clearly knew who she wanted to be with. She continued to squeal until Ryan had grasped her firmly in her arms. Both beautiful faces wore broad smiles that made Jamie's heart melt.
"Is this the most perfect child you have ever seen?" Ryan asked in a tone that brooked no dissent.
Jamie studied the little person. She was very small, maybe a month old, fair skinned with a shock of blond hair. Beautiful light green eyes were framed with long blonde eyelashes that batted at Ryan a bit shyly as she nestled her little head in the crook of her broad shoulder. "I would have to agree with you on that one, Ryan. What is this little beauty's name?" she asked as she tickled a perfect little foot.
"This is Caitlin," Ryan pronounced as she gave the precious bundle a kiss on the cheek. "She's my cousin Tommy's baby." She looked around the room for the proud parents. "That's Tommy, there, and his wife Annie is right there," she pointed in one direction, then the other as Jamie confirmed the sightings. "But when they're here, they never get to see Caitlin. We're always fighting over who gets to hold her. Ryan wins, huh Caitlin?" she whispered conspiratorially into the tiny ear.
Jamie was delighted to see Ryan interact so lovingly with this tiny child. Boy, she would be a good mother. I wonder if she plans on having children?
"You know, Jamie," she said as she held Caitlin up next to Jamie's face. "I've always thought there was something familiar about the way you look. She looks more like you that anyone else here."
Jamie looked at the tiny face and then gave another long look at each of the child's parents. There were little pieces of Caitlin on each face, but neither matched the child quite as well as she did. She looks just like my baby pictures, she marveled.
Various members of the Ryan clan agreed with the assessment. As Jamie was paraded around Ryan would hold the baby next to her face and ask for an opinion. But when she was introduced to the baby's grandmother, Ryan's aunt Maeve, the agreement was beyond enthusiastic. Maeve made over Jamie as if she were sent directly from heaven. She looked at her from every angle and finally wrapped her in a big hug and said that Caitlin would be lucky indeed to continue to resemble Jamie as she got older.
To get away from the crowds they decided to go downstairs to play with the baby. She was still a little young to be able to do much but she loved to be talked to and held. They took all of Ryan's pillows and made a safe little nest for the baby. When they got her settled Ryan lay face down on the bed and rested on her arms as she held up a little rattle. She entertained little Caitlin by holding it up and quickly hiding it in her large hand for several minutes. The baby was having a very good time but after 5 or so minutes she started to slump over even with the generous support so Ryan picked her up to cuddle her again. Ryan continued to gently bounce the tiny baby up and down. After a few moments her little head dropped to Ryan's shoulder as she grasped small little handfuls of black t-shirt material rhythmically. Ryan smiled down at the still form and kissed her gently on the head.
"Do you want to put her down on the bed?" Jamie asked. "She must be getting heavy."
"She's not heavy at all," she disagreed. "She's clearly a Ryan. She went to the doctor the other day and Annie said she's only in the 20th percentile in weight and the 25th in height. Besides, I really like holding her," she replied a little sheepishly. "I see her a lot, but still, she's different every time. She's growing so fast; I won't be able to do this for long. I really want to enjoy it while I can."
Jamie approached and patted Ryan softly on the shoulder. "You are such a sweet person. You're just a mass of contradictions," she said with a smile. "You look all strong and confident, like a real loner. But you're such a tender person when you're with people you trust."
Ryan replied with just a sweet crooked grin.
"So little Caitlin is a Ryan?"
"Well, technically she's a Driscoll," she admitted. "Maeve was married to Charlie Driscoll and they had 3 sons, one of which was Michael. After Michael got sick Charlie just went off the deep end. They wound up separated and they remained so until he died about 2 years ago. It was really hard for Maeve and the boys, but he was just not able to open his mind to his son," she said sadly.
After a few moments of watching Caitlin sleep Jamie asked quietly, "Do you want to have children?"
"Yes. I do," she said confidently. "I actually can't imagine not having them," she admitted. She paused for a moment, "I'm not sure how I will do it, though," she added.
"Do you mean technically?" Jamie asked tentatively.
"No, I mean whether I would physically have them or adopt or just co-parent with another woman," she laughed.
"How would you do it, umm, physically," she persisted.
"Lesbians have the same parts that you do, Jamie," she teased.
"That's not what I mean, and you know it!" she said as she gave her a little slap on the head. "I mean would you um...use somebody that you know? Would you do it the old fashioned way or what?"
"I don't really have any desire to experience that particular union," she said with an involuntary shudder. "I would probably either be inseminated from a known donor or use a sperm bank."
"Would you want the um... donor to have a role in raising the child?"
"That is where it becomes tricky for me," she admitted. "I would not want to deprive my child of having a wonderful father like mine. But I'm not sure how to do that in a way that makes everyone happy. I must admit, that's the only part of being straight that I envy," she teased. "Well, that and the marriage laws."
"That is one of the perks," Jamie admitted. "But the downside is that you have to use birth control most of the time." Jamie made a sour face at this.
"I guess having kids is a big deal for everyone," Ryan agreed. "What about you? I assume you and Jack are planning to reproduce, although you made it clear you're not ready yet."
"Yeah," Jamie agreed. "I think we both want a few kids. But I want to be significantly older before I do that."
"What do you want to do before you have kids?" Ryan asked.
"I'm not sure. But I want to do something for myself, like graduate school or maybe I'll write for a while."
"I don't know, Jamie. A little one of these," here she tipped the sleeping baby toward her friend, "can be awfully tempting."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
After a few minutes Ryan offered to go upstairs and fetch some drinks and something to snack on. To avoid waking Caitlin Jamie sat down on the bed as Ryan transferred the precious cargo to her lap. Caitlin stirred just a little as she adjusted to her new home. Her little blonde head was comfortably resting on Jamie's breast as she slowly moved a perfect little thumb into her mouth. "I see your point about the temptation, Ryan," she admitted as she gazed down at the baby. "I can feel my ovaries aching already."
Ryan smiled sweetly as she took in the scene. "I think motherhood would suit you, Jamie. You two look perfect together," she said with a big smile as she turned to climb the stairs.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan had been gone just a minute or two when there was a quiet knock on the door. Caitlin's grandmother poked her head in and said, "I just wanted to check to make sure you didn't need anything."
"Nope. Everything's just perfect," Jamie said as she smiled up at the proud grandmother. "I must say, this is one lucky baby," Jamie stated.
"Well, I do know that she's loved beyond words," Maeve agreed as she retrieved a clean diaper from the bag she carried. She placed the cloth on Jamie's shoulder to protect her blouse as she casually asked, "How long have you and Ryan been seeing each other?"
Jamie knew that her blush was rapidly traveling up to her hairline. "Umm, Maeve," she finally said, "Ryan and I aren't together.... in that way," she quietly stated. "We're just close friends."
"Oh dear, I hope I didn't embarrass you. I'm sorry for making assumptions," she patted Jamie's arm reassuringly. "It's probably just wishful thinking on my part," she admitted sadly.
"What do you mean?" Jamie asked, her interest piqued.
"I was so pleased that Ryan had brought someone home to meet the family," she explained. "She's never done so before, and I just assumed you were someone special to her."
"She is," came the quiet voice from across the room. "She's very special to me." Ryan was crossing the room now, with a small smile on her face. "Regrettably she's not my girlfriend, though," she stated as she shot a grin at Jamie.
Jamie was terribly pleased at this expression of their growing bond. She grinned up at Ryan broadly. "You're pretty special yourself, kiddo."
"I'm sorry for jumping to conclusions, Ryan," Maeve said sincerely. "I just hope that when you do bring someone home, she's as special as young Jamie here."
"Regrettably, the odds of that are not good," Ryan intoned seriously. "Jamie is truly one of a kind," she said as she watched the blush rise on her friend's face.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
After Caitlin woke Ryan changed her diaper and the 3 of them went back upstairs. Jamie was charmed at how Ryan just claimed the small child as her own. The baby was very content to be carried around all day, and Jamie found it cute that most of the cousins teased Ryan about when she would have a child of her own. They certainly seem comfortable with her sexual orientation. But maybe that's because she seems so sure of herself. It's hard to be uncomfortable around someone who seems so comfortable with themselves.
Dinner was ready at around 5 o'clock. Martin had roasted a huge turkey and a ham on the barbecues. The aunts had each brought a dish or two and the feast filled the dining room table. Since everyone was now inside the noise was really increasing. Jamie felt her cell phone vibrate from its place on her waistband. Uh oh, that's gotta be Jack. She briefly debated just letting it ring, but she thought better of it and stepped outside through the front door. She could still hear the muffled din coming from the house, but she fervently hoped that Jack could not.
"Hello?" she said as she answered on the 5th ring.
"Hi," Jack replied, sounding a little small.
"How are you sweetheart?" she said with surprising warmth.
"I'm okay. Where are you?" he asked.
"I'm back in the city, honey." She knew that she was intentionally misleading him, but she did not have any intention of continuing the fight. "Are we okay, or are you still mad at me?"
"I'm not mad, Jamie. You've just been so different lately, I'm just really confused."
Jamie was dismayed to hear him sounding so sad. "Do you want to be alone, or would you like me to come back down?" she offered.
"Would you do that?" he asked hopefully. "I really do want to see you, Jamie. I miss you, sweetheart," he added quietly.
"I'll be there by 8 o'clock," she promised. "What would you like me to bring for dinner?"
"I don't care about dinner. I just want you," he said wistfully.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie didn't eat much of the celebratory feast. She was working over in her mind how she was going to avoid Jack's questions about why she was dressed up. I know, I'll stop at the Nordstrom on Market and buy a new outfit. My pants are all falling off anyway. I could use another pair of jeans until I gain the weight back.
Ryan was watching her as she picked at her food. They were sitting nearly at the top of the staircase that led to the 3rd floor, all of the other stairs already being occupied. The baby was still being held by one strong arm while Ryan tried to get a bite or two of dinner into her own mouth. "Was that Jack on the phone?" she eventually asked.
"Oh, yeah, it was. I think I'm gonna go back down to Palo Alto," she replied.
"Are you two having trouble?" she asked with concern.
Jamie regarded her for a minute before answering, "Yeah, I guess we are. Things just haven't been great for awhile now."
Ryan looked at her with sympathy and said, "If you need someone to listen, I'm always here for you."
"Thanks, Ryan. I appreciate that more than I can say." She removed Ryan's plate from her hand and said, "If I don't help you out here, you're going to starve." She balanced Ryan's sturdy paper plate on her knees and cut up her turkey into small pieces then she speared bites of turkey and vegetables and fed them to her friend, one at a time.
"I guess this is why it's so hard to be a single parent," Ryan stated as she removed Caitlin's little hand from her hair.
Conor and Rory sat on the other side of the room with a few cousins. Conor leaned over and quietly asked his brother, "So what do you think about Jamie?"
"I like her a lot. She seems like a good friend for Ryan," Rory replied.
"No, I mean do you think Ryan's going to make a play for her?" he explained.
"Why do you want to know?" Rory asked suspiciously.
"Because I think she would be perfect for me," he said smugly.
"I'll make you a friendly little wager on that Conor," Rory replied with a glimmer. "If young Jamie is swayed by any O'Flaherty I'm putting my money on Ryan."
"You're on, Rory. Let's make it interesting, say $50," he said as they shook hands to seal the bet. Rory cast a glance at the pair and watched Jamie carefully feeding his sister. It would be a lot easier for Jamie to just hold the baby while Ryan fed herself, he thought to himself with a smirk. I think my money is as good as won.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie had to leave well before the party was over. Caitlin was asleep on Ryan's chest again and Jamie leaned over to kiss her sweet smelling little head. "I had a great time, Ryan. Thanks for letting me meet your family."
Ryan pulled Jamie back down by gently placing her hand behind her neck. She kissed her cheek lightly as she said, "Thank you for coming, Jamie. You made the day special for me."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
On the short drive to Nordstrom's Jamie tried to remind herself that it was perfectly normal to feel affectionate with her female friends. But a little voice kept asking, Is it normal to feel tingles down your spine when they kiss your cheek?
She dashed into the store and purchased a new pair of jeans and a fleece long sleeved shirt. She asked the sales clerk to remove the tags and while the clerk rang up the purchase she went back into the dressing room and changed into the new clothes. The clerk put her other outfit in a bag and handed it to Jamie with a little puzzled look.
She arrived at Jack's just before 8 p.m. She had stopped and bought dinner from a favorite deli. Jack was very glad to see her as he wrapped her in a big hug. He had his face pressed against her neck for a long time. Finally he released her and asked sadly, "Do you still love me, Jamie?"
"Of course I do, Jack," she said with feeling. "I'm unsure about a lot of things, but I know that I do love you," she said fiercely. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he bent to kiss her. As they progressed in their intimacy they stumbled toward the bedroom, dinner left to cool on the counter.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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