Disclaimers in Part 1

Chapter Nineteen

Just before dawn Ryan blinked her eyes open to the delightful sensation of being almost completely covered by Jamie's sleeping body. As she lay on her back, she reached down to run her fingers through the soft blonde hair that tickled her chin. Somehow, Jamie had wound up nestled between Ryan's spread legs, lying mostly on her side. The blonde head was resting on one plump breast, and her hand covered the other. Her hand twitched periodically, providing a nice gentle sensation that helped ease Ryan to full awareness. She softly stroked the golden head as she felt her begin to stir.

Jamie shivered and stretched as she slowly woke, looking up finally with a sly little grin on her sleep-creased face. "Do you think we make love while we sleep?"

"I think it's a distinct possibility," Ryan replied in her slightly raspy morning voice. "We do wake up in some pretty compromising positions."

"God! I wake up horny, I ride all day horny, I go to sleep horny. Then we roll around all night like bunnies, and I'm asleep! I miss all the fun!"

"Maybe this is the lesbian equivalent to wet-dreams, like we just have to let off some steam, so we touch while we're asleep."

"Speaking of dreams," Jamie said shyly, "have I told you about the dream I had on my birthday?"

"No, I don't remember you telling me about a dream that day."

"Oh, I wouldn't have told you then," she said with a blush.

"Oh...one of those kinds of dreams," Ryan mused as she nodded her head. "Do you want to tell me about it now?"

"Um...I don't think telling you about it in detail is a very good idea. I think I'd be too tempted to act it out," she admitted with a shy little glance up at Ryan. "Suffice it to say that it was the most erotic, sensual dream I had ever had in my life, and you, my love, were the featured player."

"How did you explain that to yourself? I mean, didn't it bother you that you were dreaming about a woman like that?"

"I have excellent powers of denial," she replied proudly. "I just convinced myself that seeing all the other women at the bar flirt with you put the idea in my mind. But I do remember feeling bad that I'd never gotten that hot with Jack." She looked up at Ryan with a crooked grin, "Do you think I had enough clues?"

"I think your mind just processes what it can handle, a little at a time. I really think it's a good thing that you can be in denial a little bit. It makes things less overwhelming for you."

"Speaking of overwhelming, we've got 95 miles to do today, so we'd better get shakin'," she said as she gingerly extricated herself from Ryan's body.

Ryan hopped up and started to get her gear ready. As she exited the tent, she looked over her shoulder with a sexy little smirk. "Don't forget your swim suit today. You might need it."

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

They were both feeling pretty good and the first few miles were quick ones. The initially flat terrain quickly became a long succession of hills and mountains, all leading to the coast. After the first pit stop they turned onto Old Country Road. They rode up and down some quick little hills, but Jamie was surprised by the three-and-a-half-mile, very sharp, very steep downhill that ended in a treacherous hairpin curve. Even Ryan took her time on this one, keeping her speed under control, staying just in front of her lover. As they leveled out they passed the Whale Rock Reservoir. They hopped off their bikes and spent a few minutes just enjoying the magnificent view. Jamie asked another rider to take their picture, and she carefully posed Ryan sitting on top of one of the rocks, then climbed up and sat between her legs. Ryan draped her arms around her neck, and leaned forward so their cheeks brushed as they smiled for the camera.

A short time later they came to another steep hill. They fought their way up and were rewarded with the pit stop being at the top of the hill for a change. Every day the crew at pit stop two had a different theme. Today's was White Trash Trailer Park. Everyone was cross-dressed in truly tacky clothes, with cigarettes dangling from overly made up mouths.

After the stop they reached the largest of the morning hills. They climbed steadily and were greeted at the top by Scott, a famous AIDS Ride cheerleader. He had made a large sign that read, "Halfway To L.A." which he hoisted up every time a rider crested the hill. Jamie got out her camera and took a picture of Ryan standing next to Scott with the glistening blue Pacific in the background.

After another hilly 12 miles, they came to the lunch stop. It was located in the parking lot of a typical mini-mall. The grocery chain located there had provided fruit and other snacks as a generous donation, but the most amazing thing to Jamie was the large number of local residents who had come out just to greet them. Three little girls walked around shyly with plates of home made cookies for the riders. Their mother watched from a distance as the girls were fussed over by everyone they encountered. Ryan, of course, got down on her haunches and spoke to each of the girls, asking them how old they were and thanking them for their gifts. Jamie snapped a picture while Ryan wasn't looking, thinking that her little gesture captured her personality perfectly. As Ryan stood, a woman approached her, reached into her purse and handed her a wad of bills. Ryan's mouth dropped open as the woman said, "It's all I have, but you people are worth every dime," and she leaned over and gave Ryan a kiss on the cheek.

Ryan turned to Jamie, her mouth still open, and a stunned look on her face. Jamie helped her organize the money, and they found the crew chief to ask her to hold the donation until they could give it to the ride staff later at camp.

Ryan was still a bit dumbfounded by this unexpected gesture, and as they ate their lunch she said, "One thing this ride does for me every year is that it lets me store little things like that in my memory. When people are jerks or worse during the year, I pull one of these little events out and think about it. It always makes me feel better, and it reminds me that most people really are nice."

"I'm going to have a nice surplus of sweet memories, too," Jamie readily agreed.

Leaving lunch they headed back inland to San Luis Obispo, a lovely little town that Ryan sometimes stopped in for a break. But this year she had other ideas in mind. After leaving S.L.O. they headed back to the ocean, but the typical cool breeze was absent this calm day. It was beginning to warm up, and as they reached the outskirts of town, Ryan asked over her shoulder, "Would you like a little break?"

Jamie knew that all of Ryan's breaks included some form of pleasure, so she happily agreed. To her eternal satisfaction, this stop proved to be far more pleasurable than most. They exited onto Avila Beach Drive and rode for just a few blocks before Ryan signaled and turned into the Sycamore Mineral Springs Spa and Resort. Jamie's eyes anticipatorily widened in pleasure as she gamely followed her partner. She pulled alongside and grinned up at her, saying, "Have I ever told you that you have the best ideas on earth?"

"I don't believe you have," Ryan mused. "But I guarantee that this will be one of the best hours of your life." She bent and kissed the tip of her nose, adding a happy grin as she asked Jamie to hold her bike while she went inside.

Curiosity got the best of the smaller woman, and she quickly secured the bikes and walked into the office after her partner. Ryan was deep in negotiations when she sidled up next to her. "A view is nice," the dark-haired woman mused, "but I'm more interested in tranquility today."

"The most tranquil spot we have is probably Oasis," the clerk opined. "But it's a big one. It can hold forty people."

"Sounds good," Ryan decided as she extracted a few folded, and quite damp, bills from the hidden pocket of her shorts. "You might want to let those dry out before your touch them," she politely informed the clerk, as she grasped Jamie's hand to lead her to their tub.

The smaller woman was bubbling with excitement as Ryan led her to the path that caressed the hillside. They climbed up a short distance into the dense undergrowth that nearly obscured the wooden steps leading to the individual tubs. Towering oaks and massive California sycamores fringed a lovely small garden, filled with roses and star jasmine. The beautiful plants emitted a sweet scent that diminished quickly as they continued to climb. By the time they reached the platform that held their tub, the strong, acrid scent of sulfur filled the air, and Jamie cocked her head and asked, "Natural springs?"

"Yep," Ryan agreed. "A hot sulfur mineral spring lies about 1,000 feet down." She opened the redwood door that guarded their haven, and Jamie gasped in surprise and elation.

"Honey, it's wonderful!" she enthused as she took in the gently flowing waterfalls that cascaded into the pool. The little room could have been lifted right from a tropical island with its in-ground rock walls and lush green plants. Jamie tossed her arms around her partner's neck and leaned back in the embrace, smiling up at her sweetly. "Wanna go naked?" she asked with just a hint of a flush covering her cheeks.

Ryan's slowly shaking head and gentle smile answered her question.

"No?" Jamie asked, perplexed that her bold partner would want to wear a suit.

"No. Definitely not," Ryan insisted. "That would be like taking a child to Disneyland and making her stay outside the park. Looking at your beautiful body without being able to touch it would be torture of the highest degree."

"You say the silliest, sweetest things to me," Jamie replied, standing on her tiptoes to bestow a kiss.

"All true, Hot Stuff, all true," she insisted as she patted her butt.

They modestly turned their backs to change into their suits and when they were ready they held hands to climb into steaming tub. Simultaneously, they let out a hiss of pleasure as they sank in up to their ears. "Ohh, God, this is heaven," Jamie purred as her eyes fluttered closed, and she dropped her head back against the wall.

"If this is what heaven is like, I can see why you have to be good to get there," Ryan agreed completely in a lazy, relaxed drawl.

The water was a little deep for Jamie so she eventually sat on Ryan's lap. Practicality quickly gave way to passion, and soon they were engaged in a torrid make out session that they were barely able to control. Leaning heavily against her partner, Jamie finally moaned, "Can you imagine the awesome sex that we're going to have?"

Ryan closed her eyes, letting her mouth quirk into a little satisfied smile as she slowly nodded her head. "I imagine it several dozen times a day," she murmured softly. "When I'm awake; when I'm asleep…"

"You don't have to imagine for much longer," Jamie whispered. "Monday will be here before you know it."

"The minutes will seem like years," Ryan gently corrected. "Maybe decades."

After they had soaked for a good long time, Ryan hopped out and laid a towel on the redwood deck. She reached into her little pack and pulled out a bottle of massage lotion. One eyebrow wiggle had Jamie climbing out of the tub, ready to be rubbed. Ryan worked on her partner's thighs, butt and lower back, effectively removing all signs of fatigue from the overstressed muscles.

Jamie just grunted in pleasure all through the session. When Ryan was finished, the smaller woman summoned all of her strength and managed to give Ryan a similarly thorough rubdown as grateful repayment. When her muscles were nice and loose Jamie lay down next to her, drawing her into her arms and kissing her for a few more minutes. They were deep into their enjoyment of each other when Ryan's watch alarm chirped. "Five minutes before our hour's up, Hon," she regretfully informed her blissfully relaxed partner.

"Buy us another hour," Jamie begged pathetically.

"Okay," Ryan dutifully agreed as she hopped up, but her progress was stopped by Jamie's hand gently grasping her ankle.

"We can go, Honey. I'm just…I'm so relaxed I can't imagine having to hop back on that bike."

"I know," Ryan agreed as she extended a hand to help her up. "You don't regret stopping, do you?"

"Regret? How could I regret the most wonderful hour of my life?" she asked with a wide grin. "You, a steaming hot tub, you, a tranquil tropical setting…did I mention you?"

"Yes, you did," she grinned. "I feel very appreciated."

"Well, you should," she reminded her. "Because I appreciate you more than words can express."

"The feeling is decidedly mutual," Ryan pronounced as they turned around to shimmy back into their bike clothes.

When they were finished, Jamie stood still for Ryan's chronic re-application of her sunscreen. "This little pink skin is too precious to burn," she said as she kissed her on the nose.

When they left the springs, they headed back inland. The terrain was very flat in this agricultural valley, and they were chatting contentedly until Jamie spied a very steep hill in the distance. "What's that?" she asked as casually as possible.

"That's Little Agony," Ryan replied with a grin.

"Um...where's Big Agony?" she asked nervously

"You'll see," Ryan said smugly. "I do want to warn you though, Jamie. This is a very, very steep hill. It's almost impossible to go more than five miles an hour, so I want you to consider just walking up it. It's only about a quarter-mile long, but it's narrow and heavily traveled."

"What are you going to do?" she inquired.

"I'm gonna bust my thighs," her buff partner said with an evil grin.

Ryan was right about the hill being very steep. It was about a 20% grade, the steepest by far of any they had encountered. The vast majority of the riders had chosen to walk up the hill, given the traffic and the narrow shoulder. But Ryan just put her head down and powered right up it. She actually didn't go a whole lot faster than the walkers, but her slow pace let Jamie ogle her for a while, so they both ended up happy.

At the top of the hill, many riders had gathered to cheer on their compatriots. Ryan was smiling broadly when Jamie finally crested the hill, and she gave her a kiss for her caution.

After the hill, another quick descent brought them to the last stop of the day. The sight of an entire Girl Scout troop that had come out to greet them charmed them both. Jamie caught an adorable interchange with Ryan and a whole group of the kids with her camera and then submitted to Ryan's order that she also pose. "Good thing you guys have on your uniforms," Ryan joked. "Or I wouldn't be able to tell which of you was my friend."

"Very funny," Jamie scowled as the nine-year-olds who surrounded her ineffectively tried to suppress their giggles.

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

The last 15 miles of the day were flat and blissfully quick. The girls pulled into the park to the cheers of hundreds of riders, crew, local residents, and community leaders all acknowledging their efforts. It was the largest welcome they had experienced yet, and neither could resist adding to the ranks. So, as tired as they were, they joined the crowd to welcome home their fellow riders, cheering them on for a long time.

They joined yet another of Ryan's old teams for dinner. This group, of almost 20 people from San Francisco General Hospital consisted of nurses, orderlies, technicians and a couple of doctors, all of whom kidded and teased Ryan unmercifully for finally finding a lover. During a fantastic tortellini dinner, they debated strategy for the next day. They only needed to cover 55 miles--quite a short distance compared with the usual 90+ miles--but 11 of those miles were devoted to just one hill. They also had to face "The Wall," a really steep climb, right at the end of the day. "So do you want to power through the day and get to the camp really early, or would you rather take it easy and slow?" Ryan asked.

"Are there any cool places we could spend an hour or two?" Jamie replied, knowing that if such places existed, Ryan would know of them.

"Yeah, we actually stop for lunch at the Zaca Mesa Winery. It's a beautiful spot with lots of trees and shade. We could go on a tour if you want. But I don't think we can afford to sample the fare," she added with a grin.

"What's tomorrow night's camp like?" Jamie asked, trying to gather all of the pertinent info before she made up her mind.

"It's the nicest one on the whole trip," Ryan said confidently. "Real showers and real toilets. And it's a beautiful setting, too. A gorgeous lake called Cachuma."

"Why don't we try to do both? Let's leave as early as possible, stop for a while at the winery, and then ride hard for the rest of the day. Then we should get back early to get one of those real showers."

"You are a genius," Ryan said reverently, giving her a sweet kiss.

"Don't eat my dessert," Jamie ordered, as she got up to stand in line for a Porta-Potty.

"Oh-oh," a nurse named Barbara said under her breath as Jamie walked away.

"What?" Ryan asked idly, still concentrating on Jamie's rear.

"Here comes trouble," she said a little louder.

The object of her concern made a beeline for Jamie, falling in right behind her in the slow-moving line. "Does your girlfriend know about your…uh…past?" Barbara asked Ryan as tactfully as possible.

"She knows the truth," Ryan nodded. "But my version of the truth and Tiffany's probably don't have many similarities." She turned to Barbara and said, "I think I'll have to do some damage control later. I'd better go get some more cookies. I might need my strength!"

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

The purposeful woman slipped into line behind Jamie and tapped her on the shoulder. "Tiffany Grable," she said, as though the name should mean something to Jamie.

The blonde regarded the confident-looking woman who stood before her. Dark wavy hair, cut to just shoulder length; very dark, almost black eyes that radiated heat but not warmth; attractive but sharp features that curled into a smirk as Jamie extended her hand. "Jamie Evans," she said.

"Are you the girlfriend of the week, or did you buy the line about going for a longer ride?" she asked, with sarcasm dripping from her words.

"Uhh, Tiffany, is it?" Jamie asked sweetly.


"Don't dis my lover," she snapped, green eyes flashing. She turned on her heel and stalked back to the table where 21 pairs of eyes tried not to let her see they were watching her. She flopped down heavily onto the bench and shook her head. "She must have had me confused with someone who gives a damn," she pronounced as she looked at the empty plate in front of her partner and demanded, "Where are my cookies?"

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

After a stop to replace the purloined cookies they strolled around the camp grounds, walking near a large duck pond in the center of the site. They sat on the ground and watched the ducks forage for dinner for a long time. They didn't speak much, being content to just be in each other's presence.

They hadn't discussed Tiffany's display, since there were so many other people around, but Ryan knew it had to be bothering her partner. "Wanna talk about it?" she asked gently.

"What, that idiot?" she asked, as she cocked her head.

"Yeah, didn't that bother you?"

Jamie sat and contemplated her reply. Finally she turned to Ryan and said, "Not really. I mean, to be honest, I'd be pissed if you made love to me and then dropped me as soon as the ride was over."

"But I never led her on…" Ryan began, but Jamie cut her off.

"That's how you are, Ryan. You weren't invested, and you told them the truth. But most women aren't that way. They believe your signals more than your words. And knowing you, your signals were pretty encouraging," she said with a smirk.

"So are you angry with me?"

"No, of course not," she said quickly. "I know how you behaved before we got together. I know you were honest, but I also know that a lot of women must not have believed you. I feel sorry for them because I know how easy it is to fall in love with you," she said as she gave her a sweet smile. "But just because someone is mad at you is no reason to get in my face," she said decisively. "That's completely uncalled for."

"She didn't know who she was tussling with," Ryan agreed as she gave her partner a squeeze.

After several moments had passed, Ryan lay down with her head in Jamie's lap. As the nimble fingers began to slide through her long black locks, giving her a little scalp rub for good measure, Ryan warned, "You'd better be careful, there, Jamie."

"Why, is this one of your erogenous zones?" she teased.

"Well, it can be," she admitted. "But it's a surefire knockout when I'm tired."

"This puts you to sleep?" she asked as she continued the rub.

"Like a blow to the head," she replied knowledgeably.

"And just how many blows to the head have knocked you out?" she teased, tapping her skull playfully.

Ryan silently counted in her head, finally replying, "Five, I think."

"Jesus, Ryan!" she nearly shouted. "How did they happen?"

"Gee Jamie, it's really not all that hard to knock yourself out," she explained logically.

"Ryan, I don't know another person who's been knocked out once! So how did you get so lucky five times?!"

"Well, let me think now. I got a doozy of a concussion when I was about ten. We were skateboarding down Lombard, and somebody cut me off. I flew over one of those little flowerbeds and landed right on my head. If I hadn't had on the helmet that Da made me promise to wear, I would have bit it."

"My God!" she said as she tenderly rubbed the skull lying in her lap. "Did you have to go to the hospital?"

"Oh yeah, paramedics, ambulance, the whole nine yards. I don't remember any of it, of course, but Da and the boys have never joked about it, so they must have really been scared."

"How long were you in the hospital?"

"Just overnight, I think," she mused. "But I was pretty out of it for a while. I had headaches and vertigo for a couple of weeks. It was really pretty scary. But the worst thing was that Da wouldn't let me use my skateboard for months! I had to run like the dickens to keep up with my buddies."

Jamie shook her head and rolled her eyes as she considered that Ryan's perspective and hers were quite different regarding the worst part of the incident. "When did he relent?" she asked.

Ryan chuckled as she related, "I had been saving up for something special, and I bought one of the first pairs of rollerblades sold in San Francisco. I really wasn't very competent on them, and he caught me trying to go down Noe on the darned things. He went right into his room and handed me back my skateboard! He said at least on a skateboard I could jump off and be on solid ground."

"How many sleepless nights that man must have gone through," Jamie muttered, patting Ryan's grinning cheek. "Now I'm afraid to ask, but what were the other times?"

"A couple of years later I took a flying kick to the head in karate class. That laid me out for a few minutes, but I didn't tell Da, so I didn't have to go to the doctor," she said proudly.

"We're definitely adopting," Jamie scolded. "Tell me the rest."

"I got kicked in the head playing soccer in high school. It wasn't that bad, and I didn't even lose consciousness, but the trainer wouldn't let me back in the game just because I didn't know what day it was," she grumbled. Jamie shot her a disapproving glance, but she added, "We were behind, Jamie," as if that explained everything.

"Okay, that's only three. Were the others from sky diving or cliff jumping?"

"Ooh, I've never sky dived, but I'd love to," she said with wide eyes.

"Number four?" Jamie scowled.

"I was playing basketball, and a girl from the other team was on me all night. I don't know what her problem was, but she was really harassing me. Near the end of the game, I got the ball and went right over her head for a basket. As I turned around, she took the ball and heaved it right at me. It hit me in the back of the head, which would not have been so bad, but I didn't see it coming and it knocked my head into the basket support. They said I fell like the building had dropped on me," she laughed at this image, but Jamie saw no humor in it at all.


"Yep. Just overnight for observation, though."

"Okay, give me number five."

"You sure?" she asked cautiously. "It's kinda bad."

"Yes, I'm sure, Ryan. If it happened to you, I want to know about it."

She took a deep breath and blinked slowly a few times, causing Jamie's heart to pick up in anticipation of the obviously distressing story. "I was gay bashed," Ryan finally said, her voice just above a whisper.

"What?!!" Jamie cried, her shocked gasp seemingly a hundred times louder than Ryan's small voice.

"About a year ago," she continued. "Actually, it was the week after Gay Pride, so that would make it the end of June. I was on a date with a woman I was just getting to know. We were down in SOMA, going to a bar. We'd taken my bike, and she had her arms around me, just holding on—nothing sexual at all. As we got off, a group of guys came out of the alley and started hassling us. We were only about a block from the bar, but there was nobody around," she shook her head sadly as Jamie began to rub her head again in comfort.

"I would have gotten back on the bike and run them over if I could have. It was obvious that they were going to hurt us if they could. But I knew I couldn't get Kelly on with me, so I tried to talk them out of it. She was a lot smaller than I was, so they tried to push her around first. Things started to get out of control, and I made a mistake that haunts me to this day," she mumbled. "I showed my trump card too early. I took out the guy who was shoving her, but when I went to get the second guy a third one pulled a knife and put it to Kelly's throat. He said he'd kill her if I didn't back off. Of course, I had to, so two of them grabbed me and made me watch while they beat her senseless," she closed her eyes and tried to blink back the tears.

"When they finished with her, they started on me. One of them had a pipe and they broke some of my ribs and bruised the rest, then they hit me on the head. That was the only time I was happy to be unconscious," she said as she shivered slightly at the memory of the pain.

"What happened then?" Jamie asked with a tremulous voice, terribly afraid of the answer.

"Luckily they found us too repellant to rape, so they left us lying in the street. Somebody called an ambulance, and we were both taken to the hospital." She shook her head as she added, "It was so hard to see Da's face when I woke up. I don't think I'd seen him that upset since my mother died," she said softly.

"How bad were your injuries?" Jamie asked, with a pale, frightened face.

"I had two black eyes, a small fracture to my skull, three broken ribs and a bruised kidney. They were afraid that my spleen was ruptured, but luckily it wasn't, and I didn't have to have surgery. I don't think there was a part of me that wasn't bruised. I looked like I'd been hit by a bus, and it took me most of the summer to really be pain free. That's when my Aunt and cousin Aisling came to see me. It was pretty bad, and they were all worried, so they came to reassure themselves that I was going to be all right. I was just getting back to normal when I met you."

"What happened to Kelly?" Jamie asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

"She was okay. She had tons of bruises, too, but nothing was broken. Obviously, it really freaked her out, and she wouldn't go out with me again. Not that I blame her," she added bitterly.

"But you tried to defend her!" Jamie said indignantly.

"I know," she said, in a comforting tone. "But I think I reminded her of what happened. Besides, I didn't feel like seeing anyone for a long time. I was afraid to let anyone touch me…well, no, that's not true," she amended. "I was afraid to relax enough around people I didn't know to let them get close to me. It really bothered me emotionally, so I finally had to see a therapist for a while. She helped me see how it was just a random act, and that there was nothing I could have done differently to prevent it."

"Now I understand why it was so hard for you when I was attacked," Jamie said quietly.

"Yeah, it was only about five months after this happened, so it was still pretty fresh."

"Your poor little head," Jamie murmured soothingly, stroking her hair again. "How could anyone hurt such a sweet woman?" she said, as she leaned over and kissed her all over her face.

"I don't know the answer to that, Jamie. Some people are just filled with rage. There's not much you can do except stay out of their way."

"How long were you in the hospital?" she finally asked.

"Three days. They did every test known to humankind on my head. I had to tell them the truth about how many times I had been unconscious. Boy, Da almost knocked me out again when he found out that I didn't tell him about those other times," she laughed.

"What did they find?" she asked a bit tentatively.

"Nothing much. There were a couple of spots that they could see had been damaged, but they're pretty confident that I won't have any future trouble. But I really try to protect my head now when I do anything risky."

"You'd better," Jamie said. "I love every little synapse in that pretty little head." She leaned down again to kiss her forehead. "But Ryan, I want you to promise me something," she said seriously.

Ryan sat up and looked at her squarely. "What is it?"

"Please promise me that you'll never keep things like that from me. I don't want to see you hurt, but if you ever do hurt yourself, promise me that you'll tell me."

"I promise I'll tell you, Jamie. And I already made that promise to Da, so I really have to keep it, or I'll have both of you on my tail," she said with a little grin.

"I can't imagine how hard it must have been for you to be laid-up for so long," Jamie said, unable to imagine her hyperactive partner sitting still for very long.

"Yeah, it was hard in some ways. I spent a lot of time in Lincoln Park, just looking at the water. I couldn't walk much because of the ribs, but there are some great spots out there where you can sit and contemplate life. When I could move around without too much pain, I started to go out to Land's End. I love it there—I think it's the wildest place in the whole city."

Jamie smiled to herself, acknowledging that her partner would logically seek out the wild parts of any locale. "What did you think about?" she asked softly.

"Oh, I don't know. I guess I thought about the randomness of life—and how lucky I am."

"Lucky?" Jamie asked, thinking she would probably not feel lucky to be beaten half to death.

"Yeah...lucky," Ryan mused. "I can think of 50 countries just off the top of my head, where every day is a struggle just to survive. I could have been born in Bangladesh and been sold into slavery as a young child. I could have starved to death in a Rwandan refugee camp. I could have been shot or crippled in any number of ethnic or religious civil wars. I was hurt...both mentally and physically...but I've been so blessed to be born in this country, in this age, and to my family, that I just couldn't let myself wallow in that pain. That's what got me through it, Jamie. I just counted my blessings."

They both grew quiet then, letting the story settle a bit. Jamie still ran her fingers through the dark hair, but her touch was even more loving and gentle than before. Ryan blinked up at her and asked, "What are you thinking?"

A heavy sigh preceded the answer. "I was thinking of how many times you've been hurt in your life. How often terrible things have happened that you did not deserve," she said as she shook her head.

"Bad things happen to everyone, Jamie," she assured her. "Nothing you can do about it."

The small hand stilled completely as her rough voice choked out, "There is when I'm the one who hurts you."

"What?" Ryan cried, jerking into a seated position. "What are you talking about?"

"I hurt you, Ryan. I hurt you worse than the people who beat you up because I knew you and loved you. I hurt you by going back to Jack," she gasped out between wracking sobs.

"Jamie, we've been over this," she soothed. "That was a hard time for you…"

"And it wasn't for you?" she asked with a bitter tone. "How does that make up for how I hurt you?"

"It wasn't easy," she agreed as she pursed her lips together in memory of the pain it had caused her. "But I'm glad you did it," she insisted.

"You can't be!" Jamie replied forcefully. "No one could be glad to have someone jerk them around like I did you!" She shook her head forcefully, eyes closed tightly. "I'll never forgive myself for doing that to you, Ryan. I used both you and Jack, and I did it only to make myself more comfortable. It just makes me sick when I think about it!"

"Jamie," she soothed, pulling the resisting body into her embrace. "Granted, you did hurt both Jack and me, but I don't agree that you did it with any malice. You were doing exactly what I told you to do," she insisted.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Look, Honey," Ryan said clearly. "I would rather be hurt that way before we got too involved, than to have you have doubts about your choice. Lesbianism wasn't a choice for me, Jamie. I was either going to have sex with women or be celibate. But you probably could have stayed with a man and been reasonably fulfilled sexually. If you had a guy who pleased you in every other way, it would have probably even made up for the spark that you lacked physically."


"And your short time with Jack showed you in the most compelling way that you were willing to take the risk to be exactly who you are…with no compromise. I honestly think that if you hadn't given it another try, you might regret your choice when things get tough—and I guarantee that things will sometimes be tough, Honey. It's not always easy to be different, as my poor fractured skull can tell you."

"You're really not disappointed or angry with me?" she asked in a tiny voice.

"Are you disappointed or angry with me for inadvertently leading women on?"

"No, I'm not, Ryan. It bothered me at first, but I'm okay with it now that I really know you."

"I'm definitely not angry or disappointed in you, Jamie. I was hurt, but sometimes you do hurt the people you love. Forgiving is part of loving, Honey. They both have to exist to make any relationship work."

"And I so badly want ours to work," Jamie agreed fervently.

"It will, Baby, it will."

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

While they lay in bed that night, Jamie traced the tiny knots on her lover's torso that marked her broken ribs. She bent and kissed each bump, then placed Ryan's head on her chest and began to rub it gently, soothing her to sleep.

Chapter 20

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