Disclaimers in Part 1

Chapter 16

They arrived at Fort Mason at around 5:15. Even though Jamie usually got up early, and considered morning her favorite time of day, she had never claimed to be a morning person. Today was a perfect example of that dichotomy. What she loved about mornings were periods of quiet contemplation while watching the sunrise or writing in her journal, but the scene that greeted them when they disembarked from the truck did not in any way remind her of the thing she most liked in the morning—stillness. She was completely unprepared for the overwhelming number of riders, bikes, families, volunteers, news trucks, police officers, and spectators that greeted them. The noise level and general anxiety that flowed from the crowd was actually a little overpowering for the inexperienced woman, and she found herself gripping Ryan's hand much harder than normal.

"Nervous?" a calm voice whispered in her ear.

She managed a quick nod, a little embarrassed that such was the case.

"It is a big deal, Jamie," she assured her. "We've worked really hard to be able to do this and it's only natural that you have butterflies in your tummy." Looking around she added, "It is pretty overpowering, isn't it?"

"I was in St. Peter's Square in Rome on Easter morning once," she replied thoughtfully, feeling a little better since Ryan agreed that her anxiety was expected, "but this is a close second."

They finally found the gear drop off point. After they checked that the bags were properly tagged, they went to their designated meeting place to say hello to the rest of the family. Maeve and Kevin were already there, but Tommy had yet to arrive. "Do you think you can eat yet?" Ryan asked Jamie solicitously. "I know you don't like to eat very early, but you have to today."

"Yeah, I could get some cereal down," she agreed. "Let's go get some now, so we can watch the opening ceremonies with everyone." They found the breakfast line and settled on oatmeal, bananas and raisins. Jamie agreed to forego coffee and settled for apple juice. Ryan added two bagels and some cream cheese to her selections. They sat at a long table, chatting with the other riders. Ryan knew a lot of the participants, and her meal was continually interrupted by people stopping by to greet her.

"Do you know most of these people from before the ride?" Jamie asked when they had a minute alone.

"No. I met them all on one of the previous rides," she replied.

"I can't believe how you can remember all of their names," Jamie marveled. "How do you do that?"

Ryan looked thoughtful for a few minutes. While she thought, Jamie mused about how she loved the fact that her partner took even a simple question so seriously. "I only know the names of people that I bonded with for some reason. I've had five different tent mates, and I've ridden with different teams through the years. This is actually the first time that I'm not with a team."

"How does that work?" Jamie asked.

"There are a lot of different groups that train together, and are sometimes sponsored together. Bike shops, hospitals, small businesses and even schools sponsor teams. I don't like to stick with a team for more than one year though," she admitted. "I like to get to know a lot of people, and that's harder to do if you're with the same group all of the time."

Just then a very attractive woman, who looked like she knew Ryan rather well, approached and straddled the bench, facing her. "Hi, Ryan," she said in a very friendly tone. "Long time, no see."

Ryan smiled easily and greeted the woman. "Hi, Carly" she said. "It has been a long time. How did your training go this year?"

"Not nearly as well as last year. You brought out the best in me on those training rides," she said with a suggestive smile. "So what have you been up to?"

Ryan gave her a brilliant smile and put her arm around Jamie's shoulders. "I've been busy falling in love," she said proudly. "Carly, this is Jamie."

Carly looked a bit taken aback, but she rallied and extended her hand to Jamie. "I've got to admit, I'm a little surprised to meet the woman who actually tamed this little cat," she said as she patted Ryan's leg.

"Oh, she isn't that wild," Jamie said with a forced smile.

"That's what you think," Carly purred as she got up, pausing just a second to pat Ryan's cheek in a familiar fashion. "Take care, girls," she said airily as she walked away.

"You don't know everyone you've introduced me to as well as you know Carly, do you?" Jamie asked suspiciously, as they both watched the attractive woman saunter away.

Ryan blushed deeply as she replied, "Um, not all of them."

Jamie just laughed as she shook her head, "I don't know how I'm going to keep you interested in me after all of the other women you've known."

Ryan slipped her arms around her waist and kissed her deeply for several minutes. "I don't even notice other women any more," she said sincerely. "You're more than enough woman to satisfy me for the rest of my life," she added emphatically.

Jamie's blush rivaled Ryan's as she whispered, "We're in a pretty public place, you know."

"I know. I'm just trying to stop any more old flames from disturbing us," she grinned as Jamie pinched her hard on the side.

"So you just kiss me to keep people away?" she asked with a mock glower.

"No, I kiss you to make my knees weak," she replied as she gave her another series of knee-weakening kisses. "What people do with this informative display is their choice," she said with a satisfied smile.

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

When they returned to the meeting spot, everyone was there. Caitlin immediately reached for Ryan, who gladly accepted her. The baby was wearing her new t-shirt, and she looked positively adorable. She had on a little baseball cap that Ryan had bought her not long ago, and after she gave Jamie a sloppy kiss, she happily sat on Ryan's shoulders to watch the parade of people.

Another ex-lover happened by, this one much more polite. Ryan introduced Jamie and, as the woman looked from Caitlin to Jamie, she finally asked in surprise, "Is this your baby?"

Ryan laughed as she introduced the rest of her family and indicated Caitlin's parents. The woman finally wished them well and went to find her riding partners. "Well, that went better than the last one," Jamie decided.

"I really tried to date nice women, but once in a while I didn't screen them properly," she admitted sheepishly.

"I've seen you in action, Ryan. I think your screening process was a little lax," she said as she playfully jabbed her riding partner in the stomach. "Unless you think an eyebrow wiggle really is a sufficient screening tool."

"Ohhh, you really do have my number, don't you?'

"I most certainly do. So don't try any funny business," she said, poking Ryan in the chest for good measure.

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

At 6:30 the Opening Ceremonies got underway. Willie Brown, the Mayor of San Francisco, and a large number of the Board of Supervisors were in attendance. The gay and lesbian community was a big supporter of the mayor, and the elegant, handsome African-American man genuinely returned the affection. He spoke extemporaneously for a few minutes, then various members of the ride team and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation said a few words. After the speeches were finished, a hush settled over the crowd as the directors of both the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Gay and Lesbian Center of Los Angeles came onto the stage. Six volunteers somberly guided a riderless bike up the center aisle through the throng. The quiet grew heavier as the assembled crowd paused to remember exactly why they had dedicated themselves to participate in the ride.

The speaker began, "This morning we begin a magical journey. A journey of exploration, a journey of wonder, a journey of commitment. A journey we make together. To see what exists beyond what we thought we could accomplish as individuals. To see what exists beyond the limits commonly ascribed to humankind.

"To open the treasure chest that is ours when we meet on common ground.

To find a new horizon that will give the world a glimpse of a different, kinder, magical way to live.

"Please turn your eyes to the center lane, and witness the bicycle being led down the path. This bicycle has no rider. See the empty space above the seat and the pedals. See the empty space behind the handlebars.

"The empty space inside the helmet that hangs at the side. See that empty space, and remember.

"Let us together remember the friends, and the loved ones, that we have lost to AIDS. This year, last year. Years ago. All of them, still in our hearts and our minds. Remember their faces. Remember their laughter. Remember their lives, their hopes, and their dreams."

Jamie looked up sharply when she heard a small quiet cry, almost like a wounded animal. Turning quickly she saw her partner bent over, obviously trying to compose herself, but having absolutely no success. Before she could move toward her, Maeve put both of her arms around the crumpling body and pulled Ryan's head up to her shoulder. Her body shook with deep, wracking sobs as she allowed herself to be comforted like a small child.

As much as she wanted to reach out to Ryan at that moment, something stopped her. She took a few deep breaths feeling Annie's arm drape around her waist, and in that moment, she knew what it was. She hadn't known Michael and neither had Annie. As much as the two women might empathize with the pain of losing a beloved young man, neither of them could know how that loss had felt to their loved ones. This was a pain that could only truly be shared by those who had experienced it.

The speaker continued; "Remember their love. Let us feel all of them with us right now. Among us. Looking over us. Their hearts overflowing with joy this morning, and proud that we were their friends; as we embark on this courageous endeavor, let us use this moment to invite them to come with us, to keep us safe, to carry us up the difficult hills. Through the rain. And against the wind. To be there with us when the road is difficult.

"To be there with us, when we feel like giving up. Let them give us strength, let them give us joy, and let them give us the courage to continue. Their spirit is here to ride with us. Let us carry it, keep it, and let it fill up the empty space, until there is no empty space.

"It's time, everyone; the moment is here. Make this everything you have ever hoped it could be. With our brothers and sisters who have been lost to AIDS, together, we begin California AIDS Ride 6."

As Jamie stood in the throng, she felt a swelling of emotion in her chest that became almost painful as these last words were uttered. In that moment, she felt prouder of herself than she ever had in her life. Not just because she had worked so hard, although that was part of it. Rather, she was proud that, for once in her family's history, someone had tried to make a difference in someone else's life. Not with money, since that was no sacrifice at all for a family such as hers; this was a sacrifice of her time and her effort and her safety and her will. She was about to challenge herself to do something that was going to be terribly difficult, and she was doing it out of love for people that she did not, and probably never would, know. She was doing it for the tens of thousands of people in California who were affected by this deadly disease. Yes, she was doing it for Ryan and the rest of the O'Flahertys, to show her support for their loss, but she was primarily doing it to show that people with AIDS mattered, and would continue to matter, until the scourge was completely and irrevocably destroyed.

There was not a dry eye amongst the O'Flahertys, as each of them focused their thoughts on their beloved Michael. Ryan lifted her head as Maeve fished out tissues from her purse, and they all spent a few moments composing themselves. Ryan leaned in close to her aunt and whispered something that was greeted by a smile and a kiss on her cheek as the smaller woman reached up and captured the last few tears with her fingertips.

Ryan indicated with a nod of her head that it was time to get in line to retrieve their bikes. Another round of tears accompanied their departure, and this time Jamie was a full participant. When Martin hugged Jamie, he leaned over and whispered, "Take care of my little one, Jamie. This is very hard on her."

"I will, Martin," she promised fervently.

They were just about to sneak away to join their assigned group when they heard a pathetic "Nooooooo," come from Caitlin's little mouth. Ryan dashed back to kiss her soundly and give her a firm squeeze, and then she jogged back to Jamie's side. "God, that's hard to do," she muttered as she looked back to see a screaming Caitlin frantically trying to extricate herself from Tommy's grip. Jamie was still too choked up to reply, so she merely gripped Ryan's hand more firmly.

After they retrieved their bikes, they checked their tires, made sure all of their tools and supplies were in their packs, and put on their helmets. Ryan actually did most of the work since Jamie's hands were shaking too badly to be of much use. Ryan made her stand still as she applied another layer of sunblock to her face and neck, Jamie felt a little like she was receiving final inspection from her commanding officer before the big battle began.

At 7:15 the first riders pulled out to the strains of blaring, inspirational music and the cheers of the assembled throng. Because of the huge number of riders, it took quite a while before they could move. Ryan kept giving her encouraging glances, but she knew her body would not calm down until they were underway. Jamie's heart was nearly beating out of her chest by the time they started, but once they started riding, she began to feel better when her rubbery legs could actually propel the bike. Hundreds and hundreds of people lined the street leading out of Fort Mason, all of them waving and cheering the riders on. The thought crossed Jamie's mind that riding a bike in a huge crowd was not really easy to do in the best of circumstances, but with her eyes continually filled with tears in an outpouring of emotion, it was nearly impossible. Luckily, they were going quite slowly and no decisions had to be made. They just moved with the crowd and let the energy and the positive vibrations carry them along.

After a few minutes, the riders started to separate, and it became easier to concentrate on maintaining proper position and pedal cadence. Jamie lost herself in the process of riding, letting her mind go blank except for the sensation of pedaling. She kept a low level of awareness for the condition of the street and the distance she was from other riders, but for the first time that she could recall she was in a deep level of concentration, where everything just flowed. Every fifteen minutes her watch alarm buzzed, and she grabbed a water bottle and guzzled as much as she could get down; even this interruption didn't disturb her focus. As they left the city, her concentration started to flag, and she spent some time just looking around.

Ryan was just ahead of her, and she focused on her for a few long minutes. She quickly learned that watching Ryan from this vantage point was not a good idea. She found herself being nearly hypnotized by the twitching of Ryan's butt when she stood on her pedals, and she was forced to jerk her attention away. Are you suicidal? she chided herself, as she focused on the other riders and passing scenery.

They stopped at the first pit stop about thirteen miles out. It was terribly crowded, but Ryan assured her that this was an anomaly, and that subsequent stops would be less hectic. The crowds didn't dampen the cheerfulness of the volunteers who handed out snacks and water. They greeted each rider with a smile and offered encouraging words. Ryan methodically took the water bottles and added powdered drink mix from her pack. After she was satisfied with the mix, she poured them into the three bottles that each of them carried on their bikes. "You're going to be a fanatic about that stuff, aren't you," Jamie smirked as she watched her little scientist work away.

"You betcha," Ryan agreed, her mouth curling into a tiny smile as she concentrated on pouring. "And as proof, we're not leaving until you drink every little drop of this down." She handed her partner the bottle and supervised her consumption with a smile at her compliance. The day was still very cool, but Ryan knew that dehydration could occur during the coolest weather, and she was not going to let that happen to her partner on her watch.

Jamie started to get onto her bike, but Ryan insisted that they move away from the crowd and take a few minutes to rest. "But it's only thirteen miles," Jamie complained. "We've done lots more than that without a break."

"I know. But this is different. Now sit down here and let me massage your thighs for a minute."

The little orange bike was dropped like a hot rock. "Why didn't you say so in the first place?" she laughingly asked, as she dropped to the ground.

Ryan started to work on her thighs, smiling to herself when Jamie's lids started to droop almost immediately. "Boy, you're easy," she grinned as she picked up the pace, trying to invigorate her.

"I know," she moaned. "You start rubbing me, and I'm powerless to stay awake. It's just so calming."

"It's good to be calm when you're riding in a huge pack like this," Ryan observed. "How are you doing with the traffic?"

"Umm, pretty good," she decided. "It was a little dicey coming out of the city, but once the road started to open up a little I kinda got into it. It just makes you feel like you're part of something, you know?"

"I do indeed," Ryan agreed as she gave her a little slap on each leg. "Let's rock!"

They took off again, riding in a fairly large group until they reached the second pit stop. The first thirty miles of the ride was through dense urban clutter, but as they arrived at Stop Two they could see more rolling, open scenery before them. Jamie knew that one of the worst hills of the ride was coming up, and she wanted to ask for a little reassurance, but she would feel childish doing so. Ryan went to wait in the long line for the Porta-Potty, giving Jamie a stern glance when she said she did not need to join her. When she returned, Jamie was working on her second bottle of her drink mix. Ryan began her lecture, but Jamie held up her hand to stop her, "If you don't have to go to the bathroom at every pit stop, you're not drinking enough!" she said sternly. They both laughed as she forced herself to drink three bottles of her drink mix and eat a banana and some trail mix. When she had finished, she trotted over to get in line for the Porta-Potty.

When Jamie returned, she gave Ryan a kiss and said, "Thanks for taking care of me."

"I've never had a more pleasurable job," Ryan assured her as she began to rub the tension from her shoulders. "Big hill coming up, huh?" Ryan asked softly as she continued to rub.

"Yeah," Jamie replied noncommittally.


"Umm…a little."

"No need to be," Ryan said firmly as she leaned over and kissed her cheek. "It's strenuous, but not nearly as bad as some of our training up in the hills. Guaranteed," she assured her.

"Thanks," Jamie murmured as she turned and wrapped her arms around Ryan's damp waist. "You can always tell when I'm nervous, can't you?"

"Ohh, I don't know if 'always' is the right word. You give off some physical cues that are pretty telling?"

"Really?" she asked in surprise. "Like what?"

"One big one," Ryan said as she hopped back on her bike, "you stop talking!" Her laughter flowed back over her shoulder as she stomped on her pedals trying to avoid the dreaded pinch.

The four-mile climb up Highway 92 was tough going for almost everyone. The day was beginning to heat up, and the highway was quite narrow. As they labored up the hill, Ryan dropped back to ask if Jamie minded if she let out a little speed on the way down. "You go right ahead, Speedy," she panted. "I'll catch you later." As she gave her a smile she added, "I want you to have fun today, Ryan. So you do what you need to do to get your juices flowing."

"Well then I'd better hold back, because the quickest way to get my juices flowing is to stay very close to you." The flashing white smile that accompanied this sentiment made Jamie wish they could stop for a moment and share a kiss, but she didn't want to interrupt her momentum, so she satisfied herself with blowing a kiss to her grinning partner.

Following Ryan up the long, steep grade, she gave silent thanks for all of the hours of hard training that they had put in. She was actually quite proud of herself and spent a few minutes just feeling the power of her legs as they propelled her continually uphill.

They reached the crest after what seemed like an hour. Jamie heard her partner let out a whoop of pure excitement as she stomped on her pedals, hurling herself down the steep hill. She followed at a much saner rate of speed; nonetheless, she was flying down the hill at 38 m.p.h.

After they had leveled out a bit, they turned onto Highway 1. Ryan pulled over and stood just off the wide bike lane, waiting for Jamie with a huge grin on her face. Jamie pulled up next to her and watched her grin turn to a smug little smile as she wiggled one eyebrow at her. "You're the fastest, you're the coolest," Jamie opined in a sing-song fashion.

"I'm glad you think so," Ryan said smugly as she gave her a hug.

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

After the successful scaling of the big hill, Jamie was more than ready for the next twelve miles before lunch. As she quickly found out, the seemingly flat terrain was deceptively hilly. She began to dread every dip since she knew that a hill would quickly follow, but she concentrated on her cadence and let herself enjoy the lovely scenery, trying to take her mind off the effort she was expending. They arrived at the lunch stop and practically wrestled to be first in line. For the very first time in their relationship, Jamie ate everything on her plate and was actually looking around for more. Ryan stared at her as she finished off her second apple with a flourish. "I've created a monster," she said sadly.

There were still plenty of snacks available, and Ryan grabbed a couple of energy bars to tide her over. After three more bottles of water, a short thigh massage, and a few kisses, they were ready to go again.

The ride down the homestretch was aided by a nice tailwind the entire way; even though they had to cover 50 miles, the distance seemed much shorter. Nonetheless, it was 3:30 by the time they rode into the large city park in Santa Cruz, their home for the night. The volunteers had prepared the area beautifully, clearly marking every area.

Their first task was to find the security area for the bikes. Jamie was impressed by the system they had installed to keep track of all 3,000 bikes, obviously not an easy task. The area was segmented into large sections, with each one named after an international city. They picked Madrid, one of Jamie's favorite spots, and quickly hung their bikes from the tall saw horses placed there for that purpose. Actually, Ryan hung both bikes, as the sawhorses were really quite tall.

Jamie was ready for a long nap, a hot Jacuzzi and an hour-long massage; however, before she could partake in two out of three, they had to find their assigned camping spot. They were given #J-22, and Ryan showed Jamie how to find the spot by using the small markers placed near the ground. After locating their spot, Ryan generously offered to go wait in line and get a tent and all of their gear. Jamie considered the offer for less than a second before she gratefully accepted. She wandered off to look for the shower trucks as Ryan gamely stood in line for a tent.

She finally found the shower truck after spotting a number of people with wet hair and scrubbed skin coming from one direction. Regrettably, the line was long, but she knew that she would feel better once she got the road grime off so she stayed in line. It moved rather slowly, and there were still five people in front of her when Ryan jogged up carrying her toiletries, a swimmer's towel and a change of clothes. Jamie smiled brightly at her thoughtfulness. "I was just standing here knowing I should leave to get my stuff, but I was too tired to move," she admitted.

Ryan helped her pull off her bike shoes and socks, when it became obvious that Jamie's legs were too weak to support her in an off-balance position. With a kiss, Ryan went to the rear of the now very long line and waited patiently while Jamie neared the front. Luckily, moments after she gained her spot, a buddy from the first ride got in line behind her.

"Pretty early to already be waiting on your tent mate hand and foot, isn't it?"

Ryan turned and barked out a laugh, hugging the grinning woman who stood behind her. "Melinda!" she cried. "I haven't seen you since the last ride! How have you been?"

"Good, very good in fact," she admitted. "Jared started school this year, so Stacy and I have been able to start working the same shift."

"Wow, I can't believe that," Ryan mused. "I still remember how anxious you were on the first ride. I've never seen someone search out public phones like you did."

"Well, waiting for your lover to have your first child was a pretty big deal," she reminded her with a grin.

"Is Stacy here?" Ryan asked.

"Oh yeah, she's around here somewhere. Jared is with my mom for the week, back home in San Jose. I'm sure he'll come back thoroughly spoiled, as usual," she conceded good-naturedly. "So, who's the cutie you were waiting on?" she asked.

"I can't disagree with the description, but she's a lot more than my tent mate," Ryan said rather proudly. "She's my," Ryan paused for a moment, trying to decide on the proper term, "partner," she decided. "Jamie is my life partner."

"YOU! You're in a relationship?!"

"Hey," Ryan objected, a little hurt by the amazement in her voice, "I need love too, you know."

"Umm hmm," she said suspiciously. "You've never seemed to be lacking in that department, Ryan."

"Oh yes, I have," Ryan assured her seriously. "I've been starved for love, Melinda, but I tried to satisfy that need by having sex. There's no comparison," she stated firmly.

"You really are in love," she said slowly, still slightly amazed.

As she was considering this unexpected development, Jamie came back and gave Ryan a tiny kiss. "I feel so much better," she said wanly.

"Hon, this is an old friend," Ryan said as she indicated Melinda. "Melinda, this is Jamie Evans. Jamie, Melinda Stone."

"Good to meet you," Jamie said as she extended her clean hand.

"Amazed to meet you," Melinda murmured, still astonished that Ryan had entered into a committed relationship.

Ryan shot Jamie a glance and said, "Melinda has known me for six years. She's seen the annual changing of the guard."

"I see," Jamie drawled good naturedly. "Did she ever introduce any of them as her lover?" she asked Melinda.

"Nope," she replied immediately. "It was always more like, 'This is…what was your name again, Honey?'"

Ryan gave her a playful cuff for that comment. "I have never, in my entire life, referred to a woman like that," she insisted.

"Just kidding, Sport," Melinda agreed. "But it was always obvious that they were just passing through. I get a completely different feeling from this one, though," she conceded as she smiled at Jamie's proprietary hold on Ryan's dirty, sweaty body. "If she can hug you when you're that grimy, she must be in for the long haul."

"The longest," Jamie heartily agreed as she kissed the dirt-flecked lips smiling down at her.

After a brief chat Ryan asked Jamie for her dirty clothes, which she dutifully handed over. "I'm going to do laundry when I'm finished," she said with a smile. "Do you remember where our tent is?"

"J-22," she replied decisively.

"Very good," Ryan said as she patted her on the head. "Go take a nap after you drink another bottle of water," she ordered.

After her showering and laundry duties were done, Ryan headed back to the tent. She found Jamie sprawled across both sleeping bags right in the middle of the floor. She didn't have the heart to wake her, so she went in search of something to do, or, even better, something to eat. An hour later she opened the tent flap and crawled in next to her sleeping partner, cradling her close. After a few moments Jamie started to awaken. She sniffed a few times, then she rolled over and sniffed again. "I smell..." she licked around Ryan's mouth for a moment as she pronounced, "Mexican food," she said proudly. After a moment she sat up in surprise, "Hey! Did you eat dinner without me?"

"Only my first course," Ryan replied happily. "I've got plenty of room for seconds," she said as she patted her flat tummy.

"C'mon," Jamie said as she crawled out of the tent. "I'm starved!"

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

The long dinner line snaked along all too slowly for Ryan's unsated stomach. Jamie smoothly diverted her attention when she asked, "How do you think today went, Babe?"

As was her fashion, Ryan paused and considered the question, and her answer, thoroughly before she replied. "I was very, very pleased with how today went," she pronounced. "The day just flew by, mostly because I was so focused on you. I've had a lot of friends and a few bedmates that I cared about on the ride, you know. But none of them captured my attention like you did today. It was a very, very pleasant diversion," she decided with a big grin.

"You're too sweet," Jamie beamed as she stood on her tip toes for a kiss. "But I don't like the inequity of attention you've been lavishing on me. I want to make you feel better, too."

"But I feel fine," Ryan assured her. "I'm used to this kind of pace, so it's really not that big of a deal for me."

"Nonetheless," Jamie insisted, "tomorrow we share shoulder rubs and leg rubs. You're not getting out of here without some pampering."

"Oh, all right," Ryan muttered in mock disgust. "You are so hard to live with!"

"I know," Jamie soothed. "And you're such a saint to put up with me."

"It's just an act of mercy," she innocently replied. "You're like the little dog who followed me home. If I don't take you in, no one will."

"Ggrrrrr," the feisty little stray replied.

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

"Was today like you expected?" Ryan asked, as they worked on their desserts.

"Yeah, I'd have to say that you prepared me beautifully for the physical aspects," Jamie replied, after taking a minute to consider her answer. "But you didn't give me any idea of how...well...gay it was," she said with a chuckle.

"You didn't know most of the people would be gay?" Ryan asked, having assumed that Jamie would guess the event would be largely gay.

"No, no," the smaller woman laughed. "I mean gay! Like festive!"

"Ohhh," Ryan laughed. "Well, it is pretty darned festive."

"Yeah," Jamie agreed. "I didn't realize that so many people would decorate their helmets, and wear costumes. I swear I saw a bunch of guys dressed like flamingos!"

"Yeah, that's pretty common on the ride. That's one of the nicest things for me. People can really be creative. A lot of guys even dress in drag."

"I can't imagine doing this in full make-up," Jamie laughed. "But whatever floats your boat!"

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

They finished dinner by seven o'clock and spent a little time wandering around the tent city, Jamie marveling at all of the amenities. People were diligently working on ailing bikes in the repair area, every available masseuse was hard at work, and the medical trailers had a long line of people seeking relief from various minor injuries. There was even a small general store selling necessities. The entertainment started just as it was getting dark. Jamie was interested, but also very willing to go to bed right then. So they compromised by deciding to watch for half an hour, and then go to sleep.

After only a few minutes, Ryan excused herself. "I've got to go do something. Can you find the tent?"

Jamie nodded her assent as Ryan took off. After twenty minutes she made her way back to their temporary home. It was just 8:30 when she crawled in to find Ryan lying on her side in a fetal position. "Ryan, what's wrong?" she asked in alarm as she crawled up right next to her.

"Cramps," was her monosyllabic reply.

"Oh, you poor baby," she replied solicitously. "Did you take anything?"

"Yeah, I just took some ibuprofen. I'll be okay in a while."

"Do you usually hurt like this?" she inquired.

"No, not very often. I felt a little twitchy earlier, and I should have paid attention and taken some pills then. If I knock them out right away, I don't have any trouble. When I let them really get to me, it's much harder to get rid of them."

"Isn't there anything I can do?" she inquired, feeling helpless. "How about a massage?"

Ryan rolled over onto her back as she smiled up at her partner. "You'd really like to help, wouldn't you?"

"Yeah, it's hard to see you in pain and not be able to do anything," she admitted.

"Well, sometimes it helps if you can just put your hand here," she said as she placed Jamie's hand right above her pubic bone. "And then kind of rock me."

Jamie did as instructed, rocking her very gently as she put firm pressure over her uterus. Ryan let out a deep sigh as the pressure began to relieve her cramping. After a long while Jamie asked, "Does one of your ovaries hurt more than the other?"

Ryan nodded, "Yeah, the right one." Jamie moved her hand over to the right side of her abdomen. She probed with her fingers for a moment until Ryan let out a little gasp. She then applied pressure to this area and kneaded until Ryan's face relaxed and she looked much more peaceful. "Boy, you have a great pair of hands there," Ryan said gratefully as Jamie climbed into her outstretched arms.

"Do you feel better?" Jamie inquired.

"Much," Ryan said as she kissed her tenderly. Jamie responded to the kiss, and slowly the intensity began to escalate.

"I thought about sleeping with you all day," Jamie murmured into her ear as they took a break.

"I thought about you too, but sleeping wasn't involved," Ryan replied with a leer as she placed more searing kisses on Jamie's smooth lips.

"For a sick girl, you sure do kiss good," she observed with admiration. After the passion between them rose another notch, Jamie began to notice that Ryan's body was relaxing in direct proportion to the increased beating of her heart.

Jamie wrestled the sleeping bags from under her now limp body and tossed the joined bags over the two of them. Placing one last tender kiss on her moist lips, she wrapped her arms around her. "Good night, Ryan," she whispered into her ear.

Ryan forced one eye open and looked at Jamie with a questioning glance and a little tilt of her head. "That's enough playtime, Sweetie. We both need to get to sleep. We've got a long day tomorrow."

"Okay," Ryan sleepily agreed, "But I don't think I can sleep before it's even fully dark out."

"Okay," Jamie soothed, whispering into her clean pink ear. "Just relax for a little while." Moments later she felt Ryan fall into a deep sleep in her arms.

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

Just after two a.m. Ryan woke from an insistent pressure in her bladder. She struggled out of Jamie's embrace, as well as the sleeping bag, and searched for her sweats with her hands. When she found them, she slid out the tent opening and fumbled her way into her clothes. She had left her sandals outside the tent, and she stepped into them on the way to the bathroom. It was quiet at the campsite, but the ever-present security personnel were on duty. She made it a point to walk by each person she saw to say hello and thank them for their vigilance.

As she approached the medical trailer, she realized that more than her bladder was causing her pain, so she stopped in to request some more ibuprofen. The woman on duty gladly fulfilled her request, also giving her a tampon. When she was finished she made her way back to the tent, realizing that she had not put her normal beacon on the top. She had learned through experience that finding your tent out of 1,500 identical ones on a dark night was no picnic. She usually put a light stick on the top of the tent when she left, but she'd been so groggy this morning that she had forgotten. She used her innate sense of direction and eventually found the 'J' section. To her relief, finding #22 was not too hard. She undressed outside and kicked her shoes off before climbing back in and settling down next to her lover.

She was moments from sleep when she heard a soft voice grumble, "I have to pee."

Using every bit of her self-control, she took a deep, even breath and asked, "Do you want me to go with you?"

"Do you have to go, too?" Jamie asked hopefully.

"Yeah, I have to go too," she replied, out of nothing but love.

After they completed their pit stop, Ryan stopped at the medical trailer again to snag an energy bar. The ibuprofen wasn't sitting well on her empty stomach, so she munched on the bar on the way back. This time the light stick was clearly in place, signaling them home.

As they climbed back into their little nest, Jamie automatically put her hand over Ryan's uterus and began to rock her gently. Ryan gazed at her sleepy green eyes in appreciation as Jamie mumbled, "You don't look like you feel so good." Ryan just nodded and closed her eyes, willing herself to focus only on her partner's healing touch. Within minutes she was sound asleep.

Chapter 17

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