Disclaimers in Part 1

Chapter Fifteen

Seven a.m. Saturday found Jamie and Ryan packing up their bikes in Conor's truck for the trip to Fort Mason. They had checked and double-checked that they had all of the necessary papers and forms, and when they were confident that all was in order, they took off.

Jamie was once again thankful that Ryan had done the ride so many times. She knew all of the shortcuts and all of the little tricks that would make the experience more enjoyable. Today, for instance, she parked a good half-mile away from the Pavilion at Fort Mason. Since they had their bikes, it was just a five-minute ride to their destination, with none of the attendant traffic.

The Pavilion was fully staffed with volunteers, but the riders were just starting to trickle in. Day Zero was the last day to complete all the required paperwork, attend a safety class, and drop off bikes. Ryan was pleased to learn that the first safety meeting would be held at eight a.m. They walked their bikes to the designated area and waited for the class to begin.

This experience was pro forma for Ryan, who had attended five of them, but Jamie paid such rapt attention that Ryan actually had to laugh at her. The main theme of the meeting was the inherent danger of the ride. They would be using heavily traveled highways and roads that would remain open to vehicular traffic. The riders received tips on how to safely cross the narrow bridges—some barely wide enough to accommodate two trucks—that were on their route.

After the meeting, they zoomed back to the Pavilion to pick up their packets, and found the hall pass that enabled them to go directly to registration. Once there, they picked up their registration materials and went directly to the tent assignment station. The line was still quite short, and they were processed in just a few minutes. Next they took their bikes over to the parking area. They affixed their numbers to the frames and handed them over to the very friendly volunteers.

Next stop was the merchandise area. Jamie bought a long sleeved t-shirt in each of the colors available. "I want to sleep in these all year to remind me of how we got to know each other," she said sweetly when Ryan expressed surprise at her purchases. Ryan had to buy a tiny little t-shirt in bright yellow for Caitlin, but that was her only purchase.

As they started to walk away from the merchandise area, Ryan spotted her partner trying to stuff another couple of items in her backpack. "What'cha got there?" she asked, knowing Jamie's tendencies all too well.

"Never you mind, Sweet Cheeks," she replied airily.

It was now only ten a.m., and they were finished. They walked around for a while just checking out all the people, but after a bit Ryan casually remarked, "Do you know what I would really love to do today?"

Jamie pursed her lips in thought. She looked up at the sky as if seeking the answer and finally replied, "Whatever it is, I bet it involves another blonde."

"You already know me too well," Ryan replied. "You're my favorite blonde, but Caitlin is a close second," she teased.

"Here's my phone, call and see if her busy schedule will permit a visit."

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

Their young playmate was indeed available. Tommy was at home alone with her, and he willingly relinquished possession of his daughter. They arrived at around eleven and whisked the giggling baby away moments later.

When they returned to the house, they decided to just stay close to home. They needed to pack and take care of any last-minute details and, even though Caitlin couldn't help, she was certainly entertaining. When they got into the house, Conor immediately snatched the baby away, tossing her in the air and carrying her all over the house as he sang one of her favorite songs. The girls took the opportunity to head downstairs and start to get organized.

Ryan had stressed the importance of taking as little as possible with them. Although their belongings would be carried for them, they still had to fetch them from the trucks each night and return them in the morning. Ryan warned that sometimes the truck was a very long ways away. They decided to take four day's worth of biking gear. They each brought one pair of padded ankle length pants. Jamie brought three pairs of knee-length padded shorts and four quick-drying jerseys, one long-sleeved and three short. Ryan wore padded cotton under shorts, so she brought three pairs of those and just two pairs of unlined bike shorts. She also carried four jerseys, one long-sleeved, two short and her new sleeveless jersey. Next came their thin sleeveless gore-tex vests and lightweight nylon shells. They each added a few pairs of underwear and four sports bras. They had purchased some new quick-drying thin socks, and these were added to the pile. Ryan had suggested that Jamie bring a swimsuit for the beach in Los Angeles, which she dutifully did.

They also needed some regular clothes for the time spent hanging around off the bikes. The weather was very unpredictable, so they each brought their fleece jacket and a pair of heavy sweats. Ryan packed two pairs of her baggy nylon shorts and a couple of tank tops. She added two t-shirts and a pair of Teva sandals, and she was set. Jamie had a harder time deciding, but she finally settled on a couple of pairs of shorts and four t-shirts. She agreed that the Teva sandals were a good choice, so she added hers to the pile. She packed an additional extra-large t-shirt to sleep in. She asked Ryan suspiciously, "What do you have to sleep in?"

"This is my last week wearing my underwear to bed," she intoned solemnly. "After this week, it's all nude all the time," she teased as she grabbed Jamie for a vigorous bout of tickling.

They decided to pack most things in heavy-duty trash bags first to insure that they wouldn't get wet. "I don't know how it happens, but the first two years, half of my clothes were wet when I put them on," Ryan said. "Nothing feels worse than clammy nylon on a cold morning."

Ryan had a checklist from previous years that she amended as needed. They carefully ticked off additional items one by one until she was satisfied that they would have everything they required. Finally they got out their gear bags and began to load them up. Jamie had a ton of experience in packing for long trips, and she even gave Ryan a few pointers. They were finished packing by the time Conor brought the sleeping baby downstairs. "Do you guys want some lunch? I was going to go down to the Italian deli to get a combo; how about you?"

"I'm in!" Ryan replied immediately.

"What's a combo?" Jamie asked.

Ryan slid her arms around her friend as she said to Conor, "She's been all around the world, but the poor little thing has never had a combo." They both shook their heads sadly.

"We'll remedy that oversight right now," Conor said as he handed her the baby. "I'll be back in half an hour."

With Ryan's help, Jamie sat back against the headboard with Caitlin nestled into her chest. Ryan lay down on her side, facing Jamie. She patted the soft little terry cloth covered back as she slowly said, "Lucky, lucky baby," while casting a sly smile up at Jamie.

"You're not treated so badly either, Ryan," she chided as she pushed her dark head down onto her lap. She stroked the raven locks as Ryan closed her eyes and let the contentment just seep into her. Seconds later Ryan joined her cousin in sleep.

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

Conor stopped abruptly in the doorway as he caught sight of the happy little group. "Should I come back later?" he asked in a whisper. Jamie just smiled and shook her head. "The big one will be up in a second, and the little one won't hear a thing," she said knowledgeably. As predicted, Ryan stirred as soon as she heard voices. She gazed up at Jamie with a look of pure love on her face, sat up and gave her a very tender, heart-felt kiss. Jamie looked a little surprised as she said quietly, "Conor's here."

Ryan turned around and caught sight of her somewhat embarrassed brother. "Get used to it, Conor, you're gonna see a lot of smooching around here from now on," she predicted.

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

Conor had brought plates, knives, napkins and sodas as well as the promised sandwiches. Ryan removed the wrappings from both of their combos as Jamie supervised. "You're dripping on your desk," she observed.

"It's worth it," Ryan replied. As she brought the huge tomato sauce-covered sandwich up to Jamie's mouth, she instructed, "Bite." Jamie did so and seconds later a pleasure-suffused smile covered her face. "Meatball and sausage together?" she asked with her mouth still half full.

"Don't forget the mozzarella," Ryan chided her as she took a big bite herself. They alternated bites of the same sandwich until Ryan popped the last bite into her partner's mouth. She then started on the second sandwich, very pleased when Jamie declined any more.

"I finally figured it out," Conor said with satisfaction as he watched Ryan eat.

"What's that?" Jamie asked.

"I figured out why Ryan's a lesbian," he said proudly.

"This I gotta hear," Ryan laughed.

"It's a clever ploy to get more than half of any meal. If you were with a guy, he'd want some of your food, just like you do with Jamie," he replied with a big smile.

"Okay, wise guy. That explains me, but why is Jamie gay?"

He looked perplexed, as he answered. "That one I'll never figure out," he said sadly. "But she clearly is, because if she was straight she could have had me!" he laughed as he successfully ducked a quick backhand from his sister.

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

Caitlin woke up shortly after lunch was finished. She was all hot and sweaty from her nap, and she cried and fussed as they quickly changed her diaper. Conor got up to fetch a bottle and warm it, as Jamie tried to calm her down. She stood up and bounced her on her hip, talking soothingly into her little pink ear. Ryan just watched with pleasure as she slowly quieted and began to play with Jamie's face with her tiny little hands. She was trying to insert her fist into Jamie's mouth when Conor returned. He gently removed her from Jamie's grasp and lay her back in his strong arm as he fed her the bottle. Caitlin crossed her little feet as she rested her head against Conor's chest and sucked lustily.

"You do have a way with women," Jamie observed as Caitlin gazed up at him adoringly.

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

Around five o'clock Ryan called Tommy to see when he wanted the baby back. "Oh, don't bother, Ryan. Annie can stop by on her way home from work. She can be there by 6. Is that okay?"

Ryan agreed, and she and Jamie took her out for a little walk. Rather, Jamie had a little walk. Ryan strapped Caitlin into her three-wheeled jogger stroller and ran up and down the hills of the Noe Valley with maniacal glee. As they passed her again and again, Jamie heard the wild giggles of the baby and the equally wild laughter of her partner. After a half-hour, Ryan was more winded than Jamie had ever seen her. She was forced to bend over at the waist for a long while, trying to suck air into her lungs. Jamie put a hand on her back and grasped the stroller with her other hand. Ryan was covered in sweat, and the heat radiated off her in waves. Caitlin was ready for more as she bounced in her seat trying to scoot the stroller forward.

Ryan finally stood up and raised her hands in surrender. "That's it, Caitlin. The express train is through for the day. We're taking the local from now on." She took the stroller handle from Jamie and started to walk down the hill in a more sedate fashion. Caitlin would have none of it. She continued to thrust herself forward, craving speed. Her little grunts turned to whines as she demanded that her needs be recognized. Ryan finally rolled her eyes and took off again. "You're turning her into a thrill seeker, just like you!" Jamie warned as they flew by once again.

After another fifteen minutes of frantic activity, they arrived back at the house. Ryan was surprised to see her Aunt Maeve's car as well as Tommy's. Jamie carried the baby as they entered the house, where they were all surprised to see Maeve, Tommy, Annie and Kevin. "Surprise!" they all yelled. Conor, Brendan and Martin all came out of the kitchen to join in the greeting.

Jamie looked at Ryan in puzzlement. Martin finally spoke up, "It's a send-off party for you two. We wanted to make sure you had a good meal before you start." After he got a better look at Ryan he asked in alarm, "What have you been doing, Siobhán?"

She did look a sight. Her face was a deep pink, her bangs were plastered against her forehead and her marine blue t-shirt was drenched with sweat. All eyes turned to Jamie, who looked like she had just been sitting in a chair. Ryan finally piped up, "Caitlin and I were doing wind sprints on the hills. She's obviously in better shape than I am, because she's as cool as a cucumber," she teased as she pinched her little pink cheek.

"You go take a shower, young lady, or you'll catch your death," he ordered.

Ryan happily nodded and went downstairs. Jamie entertained questions about their training and her nerves until Ryan returned, looking much refreshed. She wore a navy blue polo and a pair of khakis along with a well-worn pair of penny loafers. As soon as she entered the room she snatched the baby from Jamie and put her on her shoulders for a quick little horsy ride.

"You know, Ryan, you get her used to a level of activity that none of the rest of us can duplicate," Annie chided her.

"That's all part of my evil plan," she agreed. "She needs to come to me for her adrenaline rush," she said as she took off even faster around the house spurred on by Caitlin's giggles.

"Has she always been like that?" Jamie asked Martin incredulously.

"From the day of her birth," he admitted. "We were lulled into complacency by Brendan here. He was a perfectly lovely little baby, content to be cuddled and carried and cooed to. Then Conor came along and we thought we would lose our minds," he said as he shook his head. "He was in constant motion, every minute. Rory made us think that Conor was just a fluke. He was so much like Brendan, so calm and peaceful." He smiled at the memory. "Then we finally got our little girl. I assumed she would sit on the front porch in a little white dress playing with her dolls," he sighed heavily. "But I swear she was twice as bad as Conor ever was. She never showed fear of anything in her life, Jamie. I used to take her to the station when she was just Caitlin's age. All the guys would take turns sliding down the pole with her just laughing her head off. They'd all be tired, and she'd be begging for more."

They all shared a few more memories of the young Ryan, causing Jamie to smile broadly at her from across the room. Ryan came and stood next to her, putting an arm around her shoulders. Jamie leaned over and quietly whispered, "We're going to adopt. I can't take the risk that your energy level could be genetic."

Ryan just laughed as she gave her a little squeeze.

Conor had picked up some delicious homemade pasta sauce at the deli that afternoon as well as some fabulous crusty Italian bread. Dinner was pasta with meat sauce, a big green salad and the bread. As usual, Ryan cleaned Jamie's plate after she was finished with her own. "Do you do that in restaurants?" Conor asked out of curiosity.

"Yep," Ryan replied happily.

"Not always," Jamie corrected. "When we had lunch with my grandfather not only did she not eat off of my plate, she also carried on a lucid conversation. And she didn't once close her eyes and moan like she usually does when she eats something really tasty."

That brought a laugh from everyone, as Martin said, "I'm glad you can put on manners when you're out in public, Darlin'."

"Thanks, I think," she replied slowly.

Before all of the guests left, Jamie saw Ryan huddled in the corner with her aunt. She had a serious expression on her face, and she was nodding intently. After a minute, Maeve patted her on the cheek and leaned up to kiss her. Ryan reminded them all of the spot where they would meet, and everyone promised to be at The Fort the next day to see them off.

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

It was almost nine by the time everyone was gone and the kitchen was properly cleaned. Jamie had taken on Rory's tasks in his absence, and she found that within a day or two her little jobs seemed like they had been hers for years. As they made their way downstairs, Jamie heard her cell phone ringing from its resting place in her purse. She extracted it and hit the talk button on the fourth ring. "Hello," she said a little breathlessly.

"Hi, Jamie," responded the deep voice on the other end.

"Jack!" she said with surprise. "How are you?"

"I'm fine. Is this a good time to talk?"

"Um…sure, Jack. What do you want to talk about?" She made eye contact with Ryan, who went back upstairs to give her some privacy.

"Are you at home? I could call you on that line if you'd rather."

"No, I'm not at home. Let me call you right back," she said. He quickly agreed.

She took several deep breaths as she sat down on the bed and dialed the still-memorized number. He picked up on the first ring. "Are you at Ryan's?" he asked tentatively.

"Yes, I am," she replied, no longer concerned with his reaction.

"Are you living with her?" he asked quietly.

"Just this week, to get ready for the ride. I couldn't stand to be around Cassie another minute, so I came over here," she replied, knowing that wasn't his real question.

"Yeah, Cassie called me a few weeks ago," he admitted. "Ever since then I've been wanting to call you, but I've been kind of afraid to."

"What did she say?" Jamie asked, knowing the answer.

"The details aren't important," he said graciously. "But the bottom line was that you were with Ryan now." After a quiet pause he asked, "Is that true?"

"Jack, I'm happy to talk about my life with you, but I hope that you'll keep anything I tell you in confidence," she said after a moment's hesitation.

There was total silence for a long minute, then he said sadly, "I'm sorry you think you have to ask that, Jamie."

She sighed heavily as she acknowledged her paranoia. "I'm sorry, Jack. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. It's just that I'm going through kind of a difficult time, and people who I thought were friends have betrayed me. But you're right, I never should have assumed that you would hurt me."

"I never would, Jamie," he said quietly.

"I'm sorry, Jack. I would give anything to have avoided hurting you. I swear that as soon as I started to get a handle on my feelings, I was honest with you." She paused to gather her courage. "The answer to your question is that I am with Ryan now. And I hope I always will be," she said firmly.

"Are you happy with your choice?" he asked after a short, uncomfortable silence.

"You know…I feel like I'm beginning to be completely comfortable with myself for the first time in my life, Jack," she replied. "I'm just so sorry that I didn't know myself better before I met you. It would have saved us both a lot of pain."

"Did you know when we were together?" he asked a bit hesitantly.

"I didn't have a clue in my conscious mind, Jack. I must have had some pretty big subconscious clues. I mean, I was drawn to take that class, even though I told myself it was because of the time it was offered." After a beat she added, "That's another thing I'm sorry about. You knew something was going on, but I refused to acknowledge it. If I had, I think it would have saved both of us a lot of pain."

"I just had a cold terror in my gut the night Cassie told me about that class. I think I had some suspicions even before that happened, but I was afraid to admit them to myself."

"Why do you think you were suspicious?" Jamie asked, amazed that he was admitting his own doubts.

"Well, I'm certainly not the world's greatest lover," he said with a self-effacing laugh, "but you just didn't respond to me in the way that I was used to. I kept telling myself that you were just inexperienced, but you were just not passionate for me. That never made sense to me, because you were so passionate in everything else that you did." There was another silence as he added, "I hope you find your passion with Ryan, Jamie. I really do."

She fought back the tears as she replied, "I think that's the nicest, most generous thing anyone has ever said to me. Thank you for that, Jack. You don't know how much that means to me."

"I wish it could have been me, Jamie. No matter who you're with, I want you to be happy. I truly mean that," he said sincerely.

"If I was going to be with a man, it would still be you, Jack. I hope you know how much I did love you. But I couldn't commit my life to you and not feel that physical connection that people in love need to have."

"Do you have that with Ryan?" he asked tentatively, needing to know the answer even though he feared it.

She considered telling him that the question was too personal, but she felt that he deserved the truth. "I do, Jack. I really do."

"It's funny, Jamie," he said reflectively. "After I talked to Cassie, I spent a couple of days letting her get to me. I don't want to repeat what she said, but she's under the impression that Ryan has some kind of unnatural hold over you." As Jamie tried to interrupt, he continued, "But after a few days, I let reality in and really thought about who you were. Jamie, you couldn't be talked into ordering a dinner that you didn't want. You're nobody's fool, and I don't believe that even someone as appealing as Ryan could get you to do one thing that you didn't want to do."

"Thanks for acknowledging who I really am, Jack. Not only didn't Ryan push me, I really had to convince her that this was right for me. We're both really happy now, Jack. I just hope you find someone who loves you as much as she loves me."

"I do too, Jamie. And I hope I can find someone that I love as much as I did you."

"I hope so too, Jack. More than anything," she said fervently.

"I'll let you go, Jamie. The reason I called tonight was to wish you the best of luck on your ride. I just want you to know that I'll be thinking of you every day and sending you good thoughts."

Jamie lost her battle with her emotions this time. "Thank you, Jack. That means a lot to me," she said through her tears. "Thanks so much for calling."

"Anytime, Jamie. You tell Ryan to take good care of you next week."

"I will, Jack. Bye," she said as she hung up.

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

At 9:30 Ryan poked her head into her room and saw Jamie lying on the bed on her back, staring up at the ceiling. She approached her gently and sat on the edge of the bed. "Are you okay?" she asked as she lightly grasped her hand.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I'll tell you about it tomorrow. Now I just want to go to sleep," she said with a tired little sigh.

"Do you want me to go upstairs, and you can just stay here?"

"Okay, if you really don't mind," she replied sleepily. "I want to smell you on the sheets all night long," she said as she squeezed a pillow and was rewarded with the familiar scent.

"Sleep tight," Ryan said as she kissed her tenderly and rubbed her back. "I'll wake you up at 4:30, okay?"

"Is it just me, or does that seem a little early?" she asked as she sat up and started to strip out of her clothes.

"It is a little early, so you go to sleep quickly," Ryan ordered as she turned her head while Jamie slipped into a t-shirt.

"Would you lie down with me and hold me for a few minutes?" Jamie asked hopefully. "You always calm me down so fast."

"Of course I will," Ryan said as she climbed into bed and wrapped her in her arms. In less than five minutes, Jamie was limp and breathing rhythmically. She carefully extracted herself from the dangerously tempting spot and climbed the stairs to Rory's room.

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

At 4:35 a.m. Jamie felt a warm body slide into bed next to her. She scooted backwards until she was plastered up against the comforting form. "That was your last night of sleeping alone," Ryan said softly, "did you enjoy it?"

"No. I missed you all night," Jamie muttered. "I want you next to me for the rest of my life."

"That's a request that I'm only too happy to fulfill," Ryan said as she rolled her friend over and started to give her a brisk rub to get her blood moving. After a minute or so Jamie reluctantly struggled to her feet. She got into the shower while Ryan carried their bags upstairs. Fifteen minutes later, they were ready to go. They both wore the California AIDS Ride 6 official jerseys with the sponsor's logo brandished across their chests. Ryan was both pleased and slightly disapproving as Jamie handed her the jersey while they were getting dressed, but she swallowed her reticence about accepting the near-constant presents and thanked her sincerely. Martin and Conor were just finishing up their coffee as Brendan came in the front door. He gave Ryan a hug as he sleepily asked, "Could you guys take off at around nine, just once?"

Ryan laughed and hugged him back. "I know it's early, but it really means a lot to me that you come to see us off."

"You have to drag that bike 560 miles; getting up early isn't really much of a sacrifice," Brendan said, as he gave her another little squeeze.

Ryan got down on the floor to give Duffy a firm hug, "You take care of Da and Conor while I'm gone, Duff. It's gonna be just you boys all week, so try to stay out of trouble." Duffy looked up at her sadly, recognizing the signs of her departure. Jamie joined her, getting a lick on the face in the bargain.

They tossed their gear into the bed of the truck, and they all climbed in. "I'm glad I bought the crew cab," Conor said as Brendan climbed into the back with the girls.

"You know, I don't remember ever having a normal car. Did we Da?" Ryan asked.

"No, not during your lifetime," Martin said. "Your mother and I had a nice little normal Ford when we were married, but by the time you arrived, it was clear we had to switch to a bigger vehicle. We've had either a van or a truck ever since."

"Have you ever owned a car, Ryan?" Jamie inquired.

"Nope. All I've ever had were bikes. I got my first one when I was sixteen, and Da almost had a fit!"

"Yes, and I still blame you for that," Martin said as he poked Conor in the arm. "You're the one who had to start with the blasted things."

"It's not my fault that Ryan had to imitate everything that I did," Conor replied defensively. "Besides, she should thank me. I think she gets half her dates because of that bike."

"Then maybe we had better get rid of it," Jamie laughed, "because your dating days are over," she added as she squeezed a firm thigh.

"I've never given up anything so willingly," Ryan replied as she gazed down at her partner with a sweet look on her face.

Chapter 16

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