Disclaimers in Part 1

Chapter Seventeen

The muted but insistent stirrings of the huge camp woke Ryan just before dawn. She felt surprisingly good considering that she had cramps, had slept on the ground, and had ridden 90 miles the day before. She had an insistent need to go to the bathroom again, but before she did so, she gently woke Jamie by lightly rubbing her all over her body. Jamie nestled up against her, muttering a small protest. "Come on, Jamie. You've gotta get up. There's a cute little orange bike that wants you to take it to King City."

Jamie pried her eyes open and yawned. She stretched every muscle and joint before she sat up, blinking her eyes groggily. She turned to Ryan as she ran a hand through her wild hair and asked solicitously, "How are you feeling?"

"Pretty good, all things considered," she replied. "I can't believe how much better I feel just sleeping next to you."

Jamie gave her a big smile and leaned over to offer a hug. Ryan gladly accepted, and they held each other lovingly for a few moments, allowing themselves to wake up fully. Ryan let go reluctantly as she slid out of the tent. She pulled on her sweats and dragged her gear bag out with her. After rummaging through the bag for a few minutes, she found the outfit that she wanted to wear and then got ready to head to the shower. "Are you going to take a shower in the morning, too?" Jamie inquired.

"I normally don't," Ryan replied. "But it's probably good for my cramps."

Jamie kissed her goodbye and gently patted her seat. "I'll take the tent down and get us packed, then we can go eat breakfast and get you some more pills."

"I'm going to try to do without any more pills," Ryan said. "I'll bring some along in case I really need them, but they make me feel a little lightheaded and I don't want to lose my concentration."

"Can I give you a little tummy rub during our pit stops?"

"I can't think of anything I'd like better," Ryan replied with a big grin. "Oops, one thing I forgot," she said, digging into her bag again. "Bring your swimsuit!"

After they pulled their bikes out of Madrid, Ryan worked on their water bottle mix. They were all loaded up by just before seven, but right before they left Ryan had to make another pit stop. Jamie patiently waited for her, getting a sheepish little grin when she returned. "I have to go constantly when I get my period," Ryan admitted.

"Speaking of periods," Jamie said as they left the campground, "After I get mine this month, I'm going to stop taking the pill."

Ryan looked at her quizzically, "I didn't know you were still taking them. I guess I assumed you would stop after you broke up with Jack." Ryan felt her stomach do a little flip as she considered the only obvious reason Jamie would continue to take the pill.

"Yeah, I stayed on them because I wanted to regulate my period so I would be sure not to get it during the ride. I thought ahead for a change," she said proudly, causing Ryan to let out a sigh of relief.

"That's pretty darn smart, Jamie. I wish I had done that." Jamie didn't understand why this little discussion had caused Ryan's face to light up with delight. As the grinning woman surged ahead of her, singing a happy tune, she forgot the question entirely and just took in the view.

The first 15 miles of the day were problem free. The road was well paved, and they were both able to make good time. The first pit stop was at the Monterey Bay Academy, overlooking Sunset Beach and the stunningly beautiful Pacific Ocean. It was a memorable setting and caused Jamie to pull her tiny camera from her seat pack to take a few pictures.

"I've got to get a shot of this gorgeous vista," she said as she focused on her partner.

"Uh…Jamie, the ocean is that way," Ryan jerked her head in the correct direction.

"Ocean? What ocean? You're the only scenery I'm interested in," she said sincerely.

After the photo session, they enjoyed the view longer than they normally would have at the first stop of the day. Ryan even agreed to lie down and let Jamie work on her abdomen for a while, and she had to admit that she felt better. After forcing down two bottles of water, they took off again.

Pit stop two was also along the ocean, and they removed their helmets and let the breeze dry their hair as they rested on the ground. Ryan lay with her head on Jamie's lap while she worked her magic on her still tender tummy. After the stop they continued on Highway 1 for quite a while, and then cut inland through fields of flowers and artichokes. They were no more than a few miles from the ocean when it became obvious that early June in California farm country was pretty darn hot. They followed some little-used agricultural roads, riding smoothly until they reached their lunch stop.

They pulled into a very shady state park and got in line to pick up lunch. Ryan looked at Jamie and asked with a twinkle in her eye, "Are you really hungry?"

"Yes, I'm starved, Ryan. Go ask them for another lunch. I plan on eating all of mine," she said as she narrowed her eyes and placed her hands around her bag protectively.

"That's not why I asked, Jamie. There's a neat spot not too far from here where we could have a more private picnic, so I thought we could eat a little now and a little later."

"Don't you mean a lot now and a lot later in your case?" she teased.

They ate half of their lunch, but stayed until they could force enough fluids down before continuing. They had to manage a long, rather steep slope to climb into the Salinas Valley. It was slow going, but they both managed it well. When they reached the crest of the hill, they sped down it until they crossed a one-lane bridge. Ryan was in the lead, and she motioned for Jamie to pull over. They peeked over the edge to see about a dozen people in the Salinas River, skinny dipping.

"Uhh, Ryan?" she asked slowly.


"Is that where we're going?"


"It looks awfully cold," Jamie worried.

"How can you tell that from here?"

The smirk that greeted that question soon turned into a full out smile as Jamie teased, "You really don't know much about men, do you."

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

They walked their bikes down to join the other riders, then continued on foot for about forty yards until they came to a more protected little spot. Ryan yanked off her jersey and shorts, revealing a totally hot suit that made Jamie's mouth water. Her top was a Lycra sports bra in a brilliant white. The bottom, of navy blue Lycra, began just under her navel. From the front it had the appearance of a thong, as it was cut up very high on her legs. As Jamie slowly walked around to the back she saw with some regret that both cheeks were covered by the fabric. Only about an inch of material held the front and the back panels together at her waist, and Jamie spent a moment wondering how long it would take to chew through the barrier. "I take it you like my suit," Ryan said teasingly as she regarded Jamie's open-mouthed stare.

"I'd like it better if I could take it off you," came the sultry reply as she ran her hands over the firm abdomen.

"You are the randy little one, aren't you?" Ryan asked fondly.

"I...I guess I am," Jamie said, as her hands stilled immediately. "I never thought of myself that way, but it's practically all I think about when I'm with you," she admitted with a good bit of embarrassment.

"I think it's adorable," Ryan said soothingly as she wrapped her arms around her and gave her a firm squeeze. "Hey, I showed you mine, now show me yours," she taunted as she tried to remove Jamie's jersey.

"I don't have mine on yet. Give me a minute," she insisted as she pushed the darting hands away. "Turn around," she chided as Ryan tried to peek. When she had finished she declared, "All ready," and Ryan turned around to perform her own little staring ritual.

"Wow," was all that Ryan could get out, and even that one word was a little strangled. The suit was absolutely perfect for Jamie's body. It was made of a shimmery deep blue and emerald green material that almost looked metallic. The top was a skintight tank top with tiny little spaghetti straps, and it stopped just above her navel. The bottom, in the same fabric, covered her rather modestly except on the sides, where two tiny little ties were all that held the suit on her body.

"I have never," Ryan said in a whisper, "ever, wanted to pull a string as much as I do right now." Her hands roamed over the slick material, and her fingers paused on the little ties. Jamie removed the tempted digits and placed them firmly on her waist. Ryan gave her a brilliant smile as she said, "I had no idea I would benefit so personally when I offered to train you. I really should give you back every dime I took from you." She ran her hands up the tautly muscled abdomen, feeling each dip and curve with her thumbs. "I just can't believe how hot your body is," she said with admiration. "I knew you had the potential to look really good, but I didn't foresee this," she said as she continued to run her hands lightly all over the firm body.

Jamie wrapped her arms around Ryan's neck as they kissed tenderly for many long minutes. She finally pulled back as she asked, "Are we gonna swim or make out?"

"I guess we're gonna swim," Ryan replied glumly as she dropped her head to her chest. Jamie lifted her chin with two fingers to see the twinkling eyes as Ryan yelled, "Let's get wet!" and, throwing Jamie over her shoulder, jumped into the ice-cold river.

They both screamed in shock from the cold as they tried to catch their breath. When Jamie recovered she jumped onto Ryan's back, dragging her under the water. When she shot back up a second later, she sputtered and dove for her friend. The next few minutes were spent dunking each other and playing wildly in the cold water.

After they had burned off their excess energy, they took turns floating on their backs. Jamie had to support Ryan's effort since her body was too dense to float on its own. They lazed about in the water for a good half-hour before they regretfully decided they needed to get back on the road.

Ryan had brought her swimmer's towel and a set of underwear. She got dried off quickly and dressed, then she gave Jamie the towel as she went to collect the rest of their lunch. Jamie dressed in private, and when she emerged from the trees she saw Ryan sitting on the ground with a happy little smile on her face. "I'm gonna think about you in that suit all day long," she said slowly. "It's gonna be a long forty miles," she added as she shook her head.

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

As predicted, the last forty miles were very hard. They fought a headwind most of the way, and by the time they arrived at camp they were both totally exhausted. They were too tired to even think of a shower, so they set up camp together and stripped to their underwear for a nap. Mere seconds passed before they were both soundly asleep.

After waking, they were relieved to find that the shower line was quite short since most people were at dinner already. They were clean and refreshed when they joined the crowd just before six p.m. Ryan went through the line first, and when Jamie finished she looked around to find her standing by a table full of people. "Hey, Honey," Ryan called out, waving to her to join her.

Balancing her heavy plate, she walked over to the group and stood patiently while Ryan made the introductions. There were twelve people at the table, an even mix of men and women. Jamie tried to catch all of the names, but her hunger was winning out over her politeness. "Can we join you?" she asked, sitting down before anyone had the chance to say no.

"Of course," a pleasant looking woman named Naomi said. "We were just telling Ryan how much we miss her at the "Y,"" she said.

"Y?" Jamie replied through a mouth full of food.

"I worked at the YMCA for a few years while I was in high school," Ryan said as she shoveled her own dinner into her mouth.

"Ryan got us all involved during the second ride," Naomi informed Jamie. "She dragged us all over the hills of the city. The ride was nothing compared to her training!"

"Don't I know it!" Jamie agreed wholeheartedly.

They spent the meal chatting about friends they had in common and the ride in general. Jamie was charmed to watch her partner in this setting, and she realized that she had never seen her around a group of people that she wasn't related to.

When Ryan was in public, or with people she didn't know well, she maintained a rather dignified air. She wasn't stuffy or remote; even with strangers, she invariably exhibited a polite interest. There was a definite distance that she obviously felt more comfortable with. With this group of former coworkers and training partners, she was just like she was at home-- funny, relaxed, outgoing and constantly teasing everyone at the table.

After they finished their spaghetti dinner, they took their leave to walk around the perimeter of the camp. They found a picnic table far away from the other campers, and they sat on the bench to chat. After a few minutes Jamie began to get cold, so Ryan sat on the table, scooting back as far as she could while Jamie snuggled between her legs.

She rested her head back against Ryan's shoulder and let out a heavy sigh. "This is bliss," she mumbled. "You know, I had no idea how it would feel to be with you 24 hours a day."

"And?" the deep voice rumbled behind her. "What's your verdict?"

"Twenty-four hours a day isn't nearly enough," she said decisively.

"Is that right?" Ryan drawled as she quickly leaned forward and kissed her partner on every inch of exposed skin she could get her lips on. Jamie giggled and squealed wildly, but stayed right where she was, determined to weather the pleasurable assault.

"YES!" she yelled as she jerked away from the ticklish torture. "I need more! Much, much more!"

"I do too," Ryan's now soft voice floated by her ear as she wrapped both of her strong arms around Jamie's waist and squeezed her tightly. "A lifetime with you isn't going to be nearly enough."

Jamie rested her head against Ryan's shoulder and languidly stretched for a moment. "I feel so good," she murmured.

"You're not stiff?" Ryan asked.

"Oh yeah! I'm stiff and my butt feels like it's pounded veal, but I'm so happy to be out here with you that none of that matters at all." Ryan's arms were still holding her firmly, and she spent a moment gazing at the muscular appendages. Tilting her head slightly to nestle more closely, she began to trace the protuberant muscles and tendons with the tip of her finger. A surreptitious grin crossed her lips as she felt her buff partner unconsciously tense the already firm muscles. Showoff, she laughed to herself. She secretly loved the fact that Ryan was proud of her hard earned muscles and liked to display them.

"Ryan?" she finally asked, breaking the peaceful silence.


"Do you mind if I want to talk about Jack's phone call?"

"Of course not, Honey," she said, even though she could have very happily lived the rest of her life without ever hearing that particular name again.

In fits and starts Jamie finally related the story of her former fiancé's call. It was hard for her to organize her thoughts, but she got it all out eventually. "Boy, that was a generous thing to do," Ryan said with genuine admiration. "I can see why you picked him, Jamie. He sounds like a really decent guy in many ways." She privately thought there were ways in which he was also a total jackass, but she didn't think this was the proper time to bring that up.

"He is, Ryan, and that's why I felt so guilty about how I treated him. He deserves someone who can really love him fully."

"Everyone deserves that, but not many get it," Ryan said sagely. "We're both very lucky in that way," she added with a winning grin that Jamie could just see a corner of.

"Would it bother you if I went to his graduation next Saturday?" Jamie asked with a note of hesitation in her voice.

"Bother me? Why would that bother me?" Ryan asked, truly perplexed.

'Well, it's our last day in Pebble Beach, and I hate to take time away from us," she admitted. "But I was with him all through law school, and I just feel it would help me get some closure on the relationship."

"I don't mind a bit, Jamie. I respect you for wanting to make a gesture like that. Losing one day is not that big a deal," she said as she gave her a gentle squeeze. "We do have the rest of our lives to spend together." I sure didn't do the math on that one, she grumbled to herself. I didn't realize she wanted to knock a day off our honeymoon! But now that she was committed she could hardly turn back.

Turning around more completely, Jamie pulled back just a few inches and stared directly into Ryan's eyes for several minutes. Ryan didn't say a word, although she felt like an impressionist painting as the perusal continued. "Sometimes I can't believe how generous you are," the smaller woman finally murmured. "You honestly amaze me."

As she leaned forward to offer a heartfelt kiss, Ryan thanked her mouth for having stayed shut at just the right time.

"You know," Jamie said reflectively, after they separated, "I wanted to ask you about your cousin and why the opening ceremonies affected you so strongly. Do you mind talking about it?"

"No, I don't mind," Ryan said softly. She was quiet for a long time, obviously gathering her thoughts. As her face clouded with long held pain, Jamie deeply regretted bringing up the topic, but it was too late to pull back now so she snuggled closer, trying to offer solace with her body. Ryan finally began, "As you know, my mother died when I was seven. The family found out about Michael's illness just a few months before her death, although we found out later that Michael had known for several months before he told anyone."

"He was afraid, huh?" Jamie asked solicitously.

"No, he wasn't. That's not how he was at all, Jamie. He was the most self-confident guy you'd ever want to meet. He knew his mother would be supportive and that his father would go ballistic, but he held off because my mother was so sick. He didn't want to add to the burden." A few tears rolled down Jamie's cheek and Ryan sniffed a few times. She kept her head so close to Jamie's that she could feel her words coming through her body.

"He finally had to tell because he had to be hospitalized. The adults didn't tell us at the time. They said he was going on vacation." She laughed bitterly at her own words. "I freaked out just because he was gone for a couple of weeks. When my mother was in her last months, either Aunt Maeve or Michael was at the house around the clock. He was twenty-one at the time, just starting his senior year at USF, and we all idolized him. He did whatever Da asked of him—babysitting for me and Rory, helping us with our homework, making a meal for us, anything," she said.

"Even though the adults knew, my brothers and I were clueless that he was ill. He had Kaposi's Sarcoma, and even though he had lesions, they were hidden under his clothes. As the year went on, it became clear that something was wrong—especially to me. Even though I was young, I had become hypersensitive to everyone's physical health. I watched over every person in the family, looking for signs that there was something wrong with them. A few months after my mother died, they told us he was going on vacation again, but I knew they were lying. I totally freaked! I can remember screaming at Da and Aunt Maeve, begging them to tell me the truth." She took in a few deep breaths, trying hard to maintain her composure. Jamie stayed as still as she could, knowing that revealing this pain was a very difficult thing for Ryan to do, and not wanting to break the moment.

"After a few minutes they looked at each other. I can still remember the look on Da's face when he told me that Michael was going into the hospital. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was dying, and I was inconsolable." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before she could continue.

"They kept telling me that he would come home and be all right, but I could tell from their eyes that they were lying." She paused for several lingering minutes, and Jamie thought she might stop talking, but she finally shuddered slightly and continued. "I think the hardest thing was that I stopped trusting the adults to tell me the truth. They hadn't told me he was ill, and I didn't trust them when they said he would get better." She gave a sad little smile as she added, "I guess I was right on that one."

Now Jamie couldn't help herself. She pulled away from Ryan's embrace and climbed onto the table, taking the position that her partner had just held. She sat up as tall as she could and clutched Ryan's head to her breast, gently kissing the top of her dark head. Ryan sucked up the affection like a sponge, and it seemed to help as she got her second wind and continued. "Anyway, he did recover from that bout of K.S., and he had a good year or so. He just began to fall apart, one piece at a time. Even after all this time, it still boggles my mind," she whispered. "It was like his body was decaying while he was still walking around. Like his brain was alive, but his body was already dead." She shook her head slowly as she tried to erase the images from her mind but, as usual, she was unsuccessful. "He lived for five years after his diagnosis, which was remarkable for that time; but he was truly unrecognizable for the last year. During his last months, he didn't even know any of us," she choked out as she began to cry. "It was so horrible, Jamie!" she cried in pain. "So horrible."

Jamie held on as tightly as she could, but Ryan was nearly limp with her grief. She ended up collapsed against her small partner's chest, great heaving sobs wracking her body. Jamie was gently rubbing her legs, giving her silent support.

To her surprise, when Ryan calmed a bit she continued with her tale. "Hearing those words when they brought in the riderless bike just took me back to that time," she whispered. She hugged Jamie's arms tighter around her body as she added, "I know that Da and Aunt Maeve thought they could spare us the pain of knowing about Michael, at least for a little while. I learned something very valuable through that experience. Kids know. They are very intuitive little beings, and hiding things from them just backfires. I hope I have the guts to be honest with my children even when difficult issues come up."

"Our children," Jamie gently reminded her as she kissed her tear-stained cheek. "Our children," she added for emphasis. "I feel the same way, Ryan," she vowed. "I would try my best to be honest with our children, even with painful issues."

"I'm not angry with Da for what he did," Ryan said. "I was only seven, and I had just lost my mother. He was having a heck of a time with me, anyway."

She sighed deeply, and Jamie couldn't resist the urge. "Why was he having trouble with you, Honey?"

"Jesus, Jamie," she muttered, blowing out a frustrated breath. "I was a little girl, and my mother had been desperately ill almost my whole life. Losing her and having Michael get sick sent me into a tailspin. I had to be attached to someone around the clock! Aunt Maeve had a dying son at home, but she nearly lived at our house. Aunt Moira came for almost a month, and it was another blow when she left. My other aunts helped out a lot, but they all had kids around our age so it was really hard for them, too. I just attached myself to Aunt Maeve. I couldn't sleep unless she sat on the edge of my bed and rubbed my head to comfort me. I know that it was hard for Da, but I just couldn't trust him to be there every night! It must have been so hard for him to know what to do with us. And he loved my mother so much, it had to be devastating for him to go on without her. I just can't imagine," she said softly as she started to cry against Jamie's shoulder.

After a while Ryan lifted her tear-streaked face and looked at Jamie with a forlorn expression, "It makes me think of losing you," she choked out as she began another round of sobs.

Jamie just patted her and spoke soothingly into her ear. She knew there were no words to assuage Ryan's sorrow, so she tried to comfort her with her mere presence. Ryan quieted down after a long while and sat up slowly to get the kinks out of her back. Turning to her partner, she delicately captured the tears on her face as she gazed up at Jamie with a look of pure love on her face. "Thanks for just letting me get that out. You're the only person outside of my family that I've ever let see that side of me." She dropped her head to Jamie's chest again as she added, "You just make me feel so safe." After a minute she picked her head up and stared at Jamie in wonder, "You made me feel like I felt when my mother held me!"

"Pardon?" she asked confusedly.

Ryan sat up abruptly, then got to her feet and started pacing. "That's it!" she said excitedly. "I get it! I really get it!"

"Get what?" Jamie asked, thoroughly confused. "What do you get?"

"The reason that I never let anyone get close enough to really love me!" she said excitedly. "I was afraid to let another woman make me feel that way!" she nearly shouted. "But I trusted you; I really trusted you! I knew you wouldn't hurt me, and I let myself feel that deep connection again with you. Thank you, Jamie. Thank you!" she said with an overwhelming sense of relief as she grasped her by the shoulders.

Jamie was dumbfounded. She knew how Ryan felt about her, but she had no idea what an important role her love for Ryan was serving. As she thought about it, she realized that it made perfect sense. Ryan could only love someone who she trusted to reach her in that dark, broken space. She wouldn't let most people try, because she was so afraid of being hurt by another loss. Only because she trusted Jamie implicitly, was she willing to risk being this vulnerable, and it was only through sharing her pain that she was able to let in the comfort that she so desperately needed.

Jamie felt so honored to be trusted so thoroughly that she was at a complete loss for words. Ryan had obviously used up all of her cogent thoughts also, because she just wrapped her arms around her and held on tight. They sat on the table top in a solid embrace for a very long while. It was fully dark when Ryan pulled back and gave her several small kisses, finally taking her hand and guiding her back to the tent where they snuggled tightly until morning.

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

Just like clockwork, Ryan's demanding bladder woke her up at two a.m. She lay there for a moment trying to get her bearings and to remember to put the light stick out. She searched around for a tampon and was just starting to crawl out of the tent when she stopped to look at her lover. Jamie was sound asleep with a look of quiet contentment on her face. Ryan thought of how much she loved the gentle, caring woman, and how she would do nearly anything for her. She smiled sweetly as she thought of how freeing it had been to talk about Michael so openly. I love you more than I can say, she thought with another fond gaze. But I'm not going to let you wake me up two minutes after I get back to sleep! Love has its limits! She gently woke her partner and said, "I'm going to the bathroom. Why don't you go with me?"

Jamie just nodded mutely and crawled out of the tent compliantly. Not bad, Ryan thought with satisfaction. Not bad at all.

Chapter 18

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