I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 3: Coalescence

By S X Meagher



See Part 1

***Part 10***

Jamie felt the nuzzling of her neck for many minutes before she could force her eyes open. "Mmmmm," she mumbled, rolling over languidly to kiss her bright-eyed partner. "You smell good."

"I wish I could return the compliment." Ryan delicately sniffed various parts of her lover’s body. "But you smell a bit like a brothel...or an ice cream parlor." Her gentle laugh rang out as she scooted out of the way of Jamie’s fingers, which were poised for another pinch.

"And whose fault is that?" the blonde asked petulantly, sitting up to offer a mock glare. "I’ll have you know this is your scent all over me."

"I’ve gotta admit, sex smells a lot better before it cures overnight."

Ryan’s grin was so infectious that Jamie could not maintain the guise of anger. "Okay, I’ll wash it off, but only if you promise to reapply it later," she conceded with a sleepy grin.

"I think the smell of sex is like sun block, ‘apply liberally and reapply throughout the day,’ " Ryan happily agreed.

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

Ryan was sitting at the counter in the kitchen eating an enormous bowl of oatmeal when Jamie arrived. "I’ll go fetch the car while you finish up," she announced, kissing Ryan’s cheek as she passed.

"I can do that," Ryan mumbled through a mouthful of her breakfast.

"Relax, Hon, I’ve got it covered. You need to get a proper breakfast if you’re gonna dazzle me today." Her waggling eyebrows showed just how much she was looking forward to watching her partner perform.

Before Ryan could say another word, Jamie was striding out the back door, keys in hand. Several minutes later she pulled up to the side entrance in a huge white Suburban. Loaded on the roof rack was her father’s longboard, which she had assured Ryan he would not mind lending out. After adding all of the "necessities" that Ryan insisted they take, they were on their way.

They stopped at the first Starbuck’s they passed so Jamie could get an eye opener. Ryan came back out with two huge lattes, two scones and three muffins of various flavors. "Fifteen bucks for a little breakfast," she grumbled.

"Some people would think this was a big breakfast, Honey." Jamie patted her leg fondly, shaking her head a bit at Ryan’s nearly insatiable appetite.

Ryan had a happy little grin on her face and she chatted away nonstop on the drive up. Jamie rubbed her leg as she grinned over at her. "You love this, don’t you?"

"What, surfing?"

"No, not just surfing. You seem to love anything that is risky or hard to do, or that really stresses your body."

"Yeah, I do," she admitted. "It makes me feel totally alive to do things where I really put myself out there. Do you understand that?" She cocked her head in question and spared a glance at her partner, hoping that she would understand this instinct.

Jamie was silent for a moment, considering her answer. "I don’t share that predilection, but I think I’m beginning to understand how important it is for you to satisfy that need. It seems pretty primal for you."

"It is, Jamie. I need to do things like this. I don’t think I’ll ever be the kind of woman who can always take the safe road. Do you think you can live with that?"

"I can live with almost anything, if I get to keep you in the bargain," she said as she flashed her a fond smile.

"Well, I’m yours forever," Ryan confidently assured her as she mirrored the smile.

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

The drive to Santa Cruz took a little less than an hour, and the surf report was absolutely correct. The waves were breaking just the way Ryan liked them: big enough to scare away casual surfers, but small enough to keep her safe.

Ryan pulled the car up to the shoulder of a surfing beach that she had visited a number of times. As she stripped off her navy blue sweatpants and white hooded "Cal" sweatshirt, Jamie had to stifle a laugh at the fight she had to put up to get into her wetsuit. Just before she zipped it all the way up, she twisted her hair up into a bun and stuffed it into the attached hood. Her tight sports bra/swimsuit top, and the absence of her long hair, actually did hide her sex very effectively, and the smaller woman now understood how people could fail to notice she was a woman when she was in the water. They worked together to get the board off the roof, and then Ryan hefted it over her head as they walked together to the shore.

Before she took off, Ryan squatted down to the beach chair where Jamie lounged and kissed her gently. "Promise that you’ll be careful," Jamie demanded as she placed her hands on Ryan’s shoulders. "I love every little piece of you, and I want them all back."

"I promise I’ll be careful," Ryan said somberly, staring into her partner’s eyes.

Jamie threw her arms around her and hugged her so firmly that Ryan had to gasp a little. "Now, go play," she said indulgently, patting her on the butt as a send-off. As Ryan reached the water, she turned and gave her a little wave and a very big smile, flashing all of her teeth. Just then, and for reasons that she didn’t fully understand, Jamie felt an overwhelming sense of sadness for Ryan’s mother.

My God, how unbelievably hard it must have been to see that sweet, trusting little face and know that you were going to leave her. How devastating to close your eyes for the last time, knowing that your baby would never feel your embrace again.

She watched Ryan cavort in the surf, furiously paddling out to sea. You did such a wonderful job in such a short time, Fionnuala. A few tears slid down her face, and she wiped them from her chilled skin with the back of her hand. You’d be so proud of the woman she’s become. I hope you can see her and know how happy she is now.

Staring out at Ryan, Jamie felt an odd sense of peace settle over her. For just an instant, she felt an eerie connection to a woman she would never meet, a woman who would always retain a vitally important place in her partner’s life. In that moment, she felt calm and centered, and she knew in her soul that Fionnuala approved of their union.

She realized that she was idly twirling the ring on her finger, and acknowledged that it had already become a habit. I’ll do my best to weave our lives together, just like you promised to do with Martin. Against all reason, she felt like every one of her words was clearly heard. I promise I’ll do everything I can to love her as much as you did.

As quickly as it appeared, the feeling vanished, leaving Jamie slightly confused but deeply relaxed. It took a moment or two to snap out of her reverie, but the sight of Ryan gracefully standing on the board and riding a couple of small waves did the trick. It looked like she was merely trying to get comfortable with the board and the waves as she took several short rides. Even though she got dumped numerous times, she looked blissfully happy, and Jamie was terribly pleased that she had been able to satisfy Ryan’s desire to come to the beach.

Ryan was in a group of about 20 other surfers, all jockeying for the same good waves. A really good set came along, but the guys to her right grabbed on before she could get in position. To avoid being left behind again, she paddled out a little farther and cut right, going to the far end of the group. When the next set came, she was ready. She hopped on the board and caught just the leading edge of the wave; balancing gracefully on her flexed legs, right foot well forward of her left. The wave gained height and speed as it came towards shore, but Ryan hung on, riding it for every foot that she could pull out of it. Jamie was struck by the mixture of power, strength, grace and daring that this act required. Ryan’s bold, confident style seemed to almost dare the wave to knock her off the board. But she won the round, and slid in towards the shore as the wave meekly ran out of steam.

Not willing to rest on her laurels, Ryan immediately paddled back out to begin the process again. She rode wave after wave--some large, some small–the size seemingly irrelevant to the graceful woman. A few tossed her forcefully off her board, and some lifted her gently and almost lovingly deposited her into the water. No matter the outcome of each little foray, the deeply satisfied smile never left her face. Most of the other surfers were either concentrating furiously, or trying to look bored, and Jamie was very grateful that her partner didn’t feel the need to affect a "look". She considered that one of Ryan’s most precious traits was her willingness to show her true feelings–in this case, abundant joy–even if it wasn’t the cool thing to do.

Ryan had been in the water almost an hour, playing ceaselessly, and Jamie was tired just from watching her. When the waves stilled for a bit, she paddled out farther than she had been all day and just sat on her board for a while. It looked to Jamie like her lover was tiring, and needed a break. At just that moment, a big swell headed right for her, and she shook off her fatigue and quickly jumped on the board and took off. She caught the wave just as it began to pass her, and it was a big one--a very big one, easily the biggest of the day. It rose dramatically as it raced towards the shore, and Jamie’s heart jumped to her throat as another surfer cut right in front of Ryan. Jamie watched in horror as the scene played out in slow motion before her eyes. His board caught the edge of hers, and they both flew skyward. Jamie’s heart nearly stopped as Ryan’s body flew end over end, resembling a rag doll more than a human. Her board flew off at an angle, safely out of the way, but the other board looked like it landed on top of her as her body and the board hit the water hard, almost simultaneously. Jamie’s mind raced, trying to decide what to do. She knew that if Ryan was unable to save herself, she couldn’t swim out to help and get there in time. Panic washed through her body as she stood, frozen in place, feeling completely powerless.

She felt a scream tear from her lungs but no one responded to her tortured cry. The lifeguards were not on duty yet, and none of the other surfers made a move to go towards the spot where Ryan disappeared. Without even knowing that she was moving, she ran to the edge of the surf, scanning the horizon frantically, searching for Ryan’s dark head as she fought to focus through her tears. After seeming hours had passed, she finally spotted her much farther down the shoreline, swimming in without her board. Jamie took off and ran faster than she ever had in her life, her footfalls pounding so hard on the packed sand that her heels ached.

Ryan was about ten feet from shore when Jamie grabbed her with a force that surprised them both. The smaller woman held on for dear life, her head buried against Ryan’s wet chest. Ryan soothed her and patted her back, giving up on her desire to try to keep her lover dry. After a long while, Jamie lifted her head and asked with a panic-laced voice, "W…w…what happened?"

Ryan tightened her hold, realizing how horrible the entire event must have been for her partner. She spoke in a soothing, low tone, trying to reassure her with her voice as well as her embrace. "I assume you saw that kid cut me off?"

Jamie nodded emphatically.

"My board flew away, but his came right for me. I don’t know how I got lucky enough to be in this position, but I was thrown onto my back and the board came right down on top of me."

Jamie stiffened at her words but Ryan quickly continued, "I grabbed it with both hands and prevented it from hitting me, but when I hit the water, I got the wind knocked out of me. Luckily I was strong enough to hold onto the board as I hit, but it took me a minute to be able to swim in."

"Where’s your board?" Jamie asked, as she tried to control her shaking voice and body.

"The surf will bring it in if somebody else doesn’t."

Jamie threw her arms around her again and squeezed her hard. "God, Ryan, I’m so relieved that you’re okay," she said into her chest. "I didn’t know what to do," she moaned as she continued to sob.

"I’m so sorry that I worried you, Sweetie. I really was careful, but not everybody else was today," she murmured into her damp hair. "But I’m fine, Jamie, I’m really fine."

"But you could have been ki…ki…killed," she gasped out, as the tears continued to stream down her face.

"I wasn’t hurt, Jamie," she soothed as she dipped her head to make eye contact. "You can’t let yourself imagine all of the bad things that might happen. That will just make you crazy. The fact is that I had a bad scare, but I got away without a scratch. You’ve got to focus on the reality, Honey."

It took a few minutes of struggle to gain control once again, but the fair-haired woman finally stood tall and took in a deep breath. "You’re right," she said, with as much composure as she could muster. "I’m just going to have to get used to watching you do things like this." She did her best to adopt a stoic demeanor, and looked up at Ryan with what little confidence she had. "I’m sure I’ll toughen up over time."

Ryan felt a pang of regret for the pain her partner was experiencing. "I don’t want you to be tough, Sweetheart. I really love how you care about me and watch out for me. Don’t ever stop that." She wrapped her arms around her lover a little tighter and nuzzled her face into Jamie’s hair. "Please don’t ever stop that," she murmured in a shaky voice. "I depend on it."

"I won’t. I promise I won’t," Jamie’s small voice choked out. They stood in the shallow surf, hugging gently, and as the shock eased from her body Jamie realized how cold the water was on her legs. Breaking the embrace, she grasped Ryan’s hand and started to walk back towards the car.

About 20 yards down the shore the errant board was bobbing around in the surf. Ryan dashed out to retrieve it, and as she tucked it under her arm Jamie could see her body tension change.

Sensing what the change signaled, she called in amazement, "Are you going back out?"

Ryan was now within touching distance, but a stoic nod was her only reply. Jamie could feel her guts clench, but she tried to sound as normal as possible. "Do you have to, Baby? I’m getting a little chilled." She was, in fact, freezing now that her clothes were drenched from her unplanned dip, and the fear that still gripped her wasn’t helping one bit.

"Go on back to the car," Ryan said gently. "I just have to take care of one little thing. Go on," she urged as she pushed her firmly in the correct direction.

Jamie was having none of it. She looked up at Ryan and begged, "Please don’t get into a fight with the guy who cut you off, Honey. It’s not worth it."

Ryan smiled and placed a gentle kiss on her trembling lips. "I have no idea who did it, Babe. Even if I did, I wouldn’t fight him. Surfing is dangerous and you have to learn to take your lumps. Now will you go back to the car?"

"No. If you stay, I stay."

From the set of her jaw, Ryan could see that she would not be dissuaded. "Okay," she said, acknowledging that Jamie’s mind was made up. "I’ll be as quick as I can." She was dashing along the shore before Jamie had a chance to say one more word.

As she ran along, she reached up and tugged off her hood. Since she had not affixed her hair with a band, it tumbled out and fell against her back, bouncing gently as she ran. Just before she lay on the board to paddle out, Jamie watched her inexplicably yank the zipper of her suit down far enough to expose her white sports bra. What in the hell…

As soon as Ryan got back to the pack and readied herself into position, she adopted a radically different attitude than she had previously shown. This time she did not play nice with the other children. She paddled out to the edge of the group and jockeyed for position, sticking her chest out and tossing her hair back out of her eyes repeatedly. She seemed to be trying to make sure that everyone knew she was there. This demeanor was so markedly different from her previous attitude that Jamie had a hard time making sense of it. Ryan seemed roughly aggressive, like she was trying to not only attract attention–she was trying to annoy the members of the pack.

After about ten minutes of impatiently waiting, a monster of a wave began to build. Ryan got to her feet and aggressively cut to the front of the pack, catching the leading edge of the cresting water and dropping down to begin carving it like a pro. The other riders tried to get into position, but no one could match the show she was putting on. She was too far away for Jamie to see her face, but she didn’t actually need to. She was absolutely certain that her lover looked cool, calm, cocky and oblivious to every other person fighting for position. When Ryan was really "into" something, she often looked like she was waiting for a bus. But Jamie had learned that the cool exterior was a mask that was easily misunderstood. She was, in fact, concentrating so hard and enjoying the experience so much, that she was no longer connected to the rest of the world. She transported herself to another place, a place that Jamie would truly love to visit, but she doubted she would ever be privy to the secrets that would lead her there.

Watching her lover masterfully carve the wave actually sent chills down the smaller woman’s spine, and when Ryan had exhausted the wave and trotted over to her minutes later, she knew that she still wore a big dumb-looking grin. "Now we can go," Ryan said matter-of-factly.

"Were you getting hot out there?" Jamie teased her as they walked away, hand in hand.

"No," she replied with a furrowed brow. "Oh…you mean because I unzipped?"

"Yeah, wasn’t it cold?"

"Freezing!" Ryan laughed. "But I wanted to make sure every guy out there knew that a girl was dusting their sorry asses!"

Jamie stopped dead in her tracks. "You did that just to make a point!"

"Partly," Ryan revealed. "That guy really dissed me by cutting me off so rudely. And I was really irritated that nobody paddled out to see if I was okay."

"Couldn’t you have stood on the shore and just taken off your wet suit?" Jamie couldn’t imagine going out in the frigid water with that much exposed skin just to make a point to a bunch of strangers.

Ryan laughed at the wide-eyed look her partner was giving her. "Sure. That would have made my point. To tell the truth, I was pretty scared by the whole experience, though, and I refuse to let my last run of the day scare me. I really had to go back out just to build my confidence back up. Unzipping let me kill two birds with one stone."

"Did it work?" Jamie asked unnecessarily, seeing the twinkle in the sparking blue eyes.

"Like a charm. I feel…electric," she decided. "My whole body is tingling."

"Mine too," her smaller partner revealed. "But my feeling is localized." Her own version of the wiggling eyebrow had Ryan in hysterics, and they walked the rest of the way laughing aloud.

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

Ryan opened the doors to the truck and sat on the bumper to remove her wetsuit. Jamie stood in front of her with a big beach towel to give her some privacy from passing cars. She peeled her wetsuit off and wriggled out of her wet bathing suit. As soon as she was naked, Jamie got a gleam in her eye and pushed her down onto the floor. "Oh-oh," Ryan said with a chuckle as Jamie crawled on top of her, pulling the towel over them both.

The Suburban’s third seat had been folded down, providing a nice, flat surface about the size of a double bed for them to play in. It was still quite cool, and Ryan was pretty chilled from being in the water for so long. As she scooted up to pull her legs in the truck, Jamie closed the doors with a thud. She climbed astride her hips as Ryan gazed up at her serenely. "Why do I think you have more in mind than helping me dry off?" she asked with a smile.

Jamie just gave her a knowing smirk as she crawled over her to put the key in the ignition, cracking the windows and putting a beach towel in each one. Privacy curtains now firmly in place, thethe she rolled the windows back up, then opened the windows on the highway side a few inches for ventilation, and crawled back into the back. She sat cross-legged on the floor next to Ryan as she pulled out two self-inflating air mattresses that she had stashed in the back. She watched the smirk form on Ryan’s face as their little bed became even more comfortable. When the mattresses were fully inflated, she motioned for Ryan to climb on top, which she willingly did. It was obvious that this was Jamie’s game, so she just relaxed into the sensation and let her drive.

Jamie shucked her sweatshirt and then her sodden pants, and started to remove her swimsuit, but Ryan just shook her head with a little grin. The blonde smiled back and left it on, letting Ryan decide when it would come off. She climbed onto her favorite place, astride Ryan’s hips, and felt the cool body underneath her. She bent from the hips to kiss her, and within moments they were grinding against each other passionately. The scare of the surfing incident was fueling Jamie’s desire, and she willingly threw herself into the maelstrom of her emotions. She wanted to consume Ryan, to prove to herself that her lover was right here with her and that she was whole and safe.

Ryan sensed that this was more than just sex. She could feel that Jamie needed to be reassured, so she did her best to do so. Jamie spent a long time kissing Ryan , starting at her mouth, then slowly working her way down her body. She tasted like salt and the sea, but her natural scent came through, and the calming power of her aroma slowly brought Jamie some comfort. She looked down at her lover. The loving smile on her beautiful face broke some dam in Jamie’s reserve, and she began to shed the tears that she had been holding in. She fell onto Ryan’s chest, sobbing and gasping for breath. Ryan patted her back and spoke to her in a low, calm voice. She reassured her that she was fine, that she knew how to protect herself. She pointed out that she was very strong and had very good instincts. She teased her a little bit by reminding her that even a lead pipe to the head hadn’t taken her out for long, so a little surfboard certainly wouldn’t.

Jamie looked up at her and gave her a small smile. "I just get so scared, Ryan. You mean so much to me, that I can’t bear the thought of losing you."

"I know, Sweetheart, I know," she soothed. "I promise I’ll try to take better care of myself. I know how much I scare you sometimes, and I’ll try to be more careful."

"I don’t want you to give up the excitement that you need, Ryan. I just want you to be as careful as you can."

"I know, Baby, and I do try to be careful. I need to keep in mind how much you need me to stay healthy."

Jamie slid off her hips and curled up next to her in a little ball. Ryan rolled their sweats up into a makeshift pillow and drew Jamie closer. She rocked her slightly and hummed a little lullaby to ease her into sleep, but she was too wired to join her partner. The near-constant hum of traffic and the calm, even breathing against her ear began to soothe her, but she chose to remain awake. The feel of Jamie in her arms was so satisfying that she often wished she didn’t need sleep at all, and could just hold her for hours at a time. Her musings grew less focused and, before she knew it, she had joined her partner in a well-deserved nap.

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

When they woke, Ryan was pleased to see that the sparkle had returned to her partner’s eyes. They spent a few minutes kissing while they awakened fully, and then Ryan ran over to the public shower to rinse off.

When she emerged, she was dressed in her running clothes, and Jamie gave her a startled look. "Ryan, you’ve been surfing since dawn! Don’t tell me you want to run now!"

Giving a sheepish shrug in return, Ryan tried to explain. "I got very agitated today, Honey. I thought the nap would calm me down, but I still feel antsy. A nice run will let me get my equilibrium back."

"Hard to believe we are of the same species," Jamie mumbled.

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

Ryan helped her partner carry their gear down to the shoreline, and Jamie sat down in her beach chair with a book. Bending to kiss her goodbye, Ryan lingered just a bit as she grinned through the kisses. "There is something so sexy about kissing your sweet, sweet mouth," she said with a seductive tone in her voice.

"Do you need to go back to the truck for a little love?" Jamie asked when she noticed her sparkling eyes.

"No, I’m just getting used to being aroused all of the time," she decided with a lopsided grin, as she gave her another little kiss and took off. Jamie watched her for as long as she could keep her in sight. Few things pleased her as much as watching her lover run. She mused that Ryan actually looked like running was her natural way of moving. She had a long, economical stride that just ate up ground as she moved along the asphalt path. Jamie had a demure little smile on her face, and she realized after a long while that she wasn’t going to read her book. She was so totally content to just sit and wait for Ryan, that she didn’t need the distraction of reading. My God, will it always be like this? She shook her head a little to try to clear it, but realized that the image of her partner rarely left her mind. How will I ever be able to concentrate on school? I can’t even read a book while she’s running!

The sun was finally starting to peek through the marine layer, but it was still too cool to remove her sweats. She leaned back in her chair and watched the still-weak rays fight to break through the clouds, and let her thoughts drift back to her lover. I still can’t believe that I was naïve enough to believe that I was in love with Jack. What a mistake it would have been to marry him! Our relationship was actually more like a business partnership than true love. Shivers chased down her spine at the thought of being married to him for the rest of her life. I would have never known what love could be, she thought with regret. Now that I know, I am determined to hold on as tight as I can to this feeling. It’s far too wonderful to ever let go. She closed her eyes and let her thoughts drift inexorably towards her partner. A very satisfied smile graced her face as she relaxed into the reverie. Now I just have to figure out a way to keep her alive, she mused, as she shook her head at the daunting prospect. It was a lot easier with Jack. With him I only had to worry that he’d get a fatal paper cut!

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

It was nearly an hour before Ryan returned. She was wet, but the day was so cool and breezy that the perspiration was drying fast. Jamie insisted that she put her sweats back on, which Ryan did after removing her wet shirt.

"Guess what I am?" she asked with a big smile, leaning over her partner like a predator.

"Either hungry or horny, I’d say," Jamie replied with a laugh. "Which oral craving do you need satisfied?"

"I’d like to start with eating, but I could easily be convinced to partake of the other later on," she said with a leer.

"I just bet you could," she replied as she patted her tummy. "Let’s feed the beast and then decide on the rest of the day."

There were still two muffins left from breakfast, and Ryan polished them off quickly. Now sated, she stretched for a minute and said, "I think I’m ready to shop."

Jamie was surprised by this suggestion, and she gazed at Ryan for a moment, trying to make sure her partner was serious. "You hate to shop, Honey."

"Uh-uh," Ryan insisted. "I love to shop–I just like to shop for the things that I really like. Ready to go?"

"Okay, you’re the boss," Jamie agreed.

"Don’t I wish," Ryan teased as she patted her on the butt.

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

They moved the car to a parking lot near the Santa Cruz boardwalk, but instead of heading back to the beach, Ryan led Jamie to the little shops that lined the streets of the town. Both women had slipped back into sweats and sandals and they strolled along the busy streets, hand in hand.

After surveying the neighborhood, Ryan finally informed Jamie of her objective. "I need new wheels for my skates," she said. "I wear them out pretty fast, and I’m sure the sand will chew up my current ones." Given the choice of three likely looking stores, Ryan chose the one that looked the grungiest. The salesclerks were dressed in big, black, baggy jeans and huge black T-shirts with logos of various bands on them. They were heavily tattooed and pierced, and Ryan thought they looked like they knew how to skate.

After chatting with one of the clerks for a moment, Ryan had her wheels, but a new toy caught her eye, and she had a hard time leaving the store.

"You look like a kid in a candy store," Jamie joked. "What'cha looking at?"

"It’s kind of cool," Ryan said with a crooked grin. She showed Jamie a shoe that had a steel-reinforced piece of plastic right at the arch. It sat horizontally in the thick-soled shoe, and looked like a piece of pipe cut in half.

"What in the world is the point of that?" Jamie asked.

"It’s hard to explain," Ryan said. "I’d have to demonstrate."

Their sales clerk heard the conversation and casually asked, "What size do you take?"

Ryan told him her size in both women’s and men’s, and he gave her a little smile as he went in the back of the store. He came back out with a pair in her size that had been returned due to a defect in the leather upper. "These have to go back to the company," he said as he looked her up and down. "You up to giving ‘em a try?"

Ryan knew a challenge when she heard one. She figured the kid didn’t think she would accept, but he didn’t know Ryan very well. She yanked them out of his hands and sat down to lace them up. They were a tiny bit snug, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her. "Where should I go?" she asked him.

"There’s a bank just down the street, and they don’t patrol it very well," he said casually, jerking his head in the proper direction.

Jamie had no idea what was going on. With a very confused look on her face, she looked from the clerk to Ryan, trying to figure out what they were talking about. Ryan turned to her and said, "Let’s go. I may need you to bail me out," she added with a grin.

Jamie trotted along behind Ryan, who was purposefully striding down the street. Grabbing her arm roughly to stop her, the smaller woman demanded, "Where are we going? And what are you going to do that can get you arrested?"

"I was just kidding. I don’t think I’ll get arrested. I’m pretty fast when I have to be," she said with a chuckle.

"Did that answer my question?" Jamie persisted.

"Wait and see, Jamie. I’m going to show you how I whiled away the hours of my misspent youth."

When they came close to the bank, she could see Ryan gazing all around, sizing up the layout. The cool blue eyes glanced around carefully, trying to see if there were any guards present. As they went around the bank to a side entrance, her eyes lit up with delight. She turned to Jamie and said with a twinkle in her eye, "This could be kinda cool, or I could split my pants or my head open." When Jamie’s eye widened, she added, "My insurance card is in my wallet," as she took off running up the stairs.

The bank was a big, impressive structure, probably 75 or so years old. There were about 20 steps up to a wide, graceful entry. This side entrance had obviously been modified to make it handicapped accessible, since there was a new ramp that curved up next to the stairs, making the incline less steep. When Ryan got to the top, she focused her eyes on the ramp, and Jamie saw her rock back and forth a few times, planning her attack. Finally, a small smile came over her face, and her posture took on an air of confidence. She went to the far end of the entrance, turned, and started running--first in small steps, and then in a few long strides--and finally leapt into the air with her feet tucked up under her body.

Jamie nearly passed out from shock and fear. Her heart was pounding in her chest, and her eyes were wide as she stared, open-mouthed, at the image of her lover, flying through the air.

When Ryan’s momentum carried her to the ramp, she lowered her feet and caught the handrail with the plastic inserts in her shoes. She sank down into a crouch, and rode the rail just like a surfboard, but when she hit the first curve, she lost her footing and started to fall. Jamie’s heart was in her throat as images of Ryan’s broken body flooded her head. The dark woman’s momentum was throwing her towards the concrete stairs, but just when it looked like she would crash, she pulled her feet back under herself and did a tight somersault in the air, landing neatly on both feet with a small stutter step to bleed off some of the force.

As soon as her feet hit the ground, a massive grin broke over her face, and she raised her arms like a gymnast and took a bow.

Jamie was too stunned to move. Her mouth hung open and she tried to force sound from her lips, but nothing would come. Ryan gave her a quick look saying, "I almost had it, Babe. Next time for sure!" as she bounded back up the stairs.

She repeated her little ritual, bearing that same confident look as she began her approach. This time she hit the railing with more force than her previous attempt. She got down lower in her crouch and leaned back a bit, centering her weight over her butt. As she hit the first curve she leaned into it like a racecar on a track. She settled her weight again as she careened down the straight section of rail. The next turn was at a 90-degree angle and Jamie assumed she would jump down. But when she got close she jumped in the air, still in her deep crouch and made a half turn, coming down the next section backwards. As she slid off the end of the rail, Jamie saw a bank guard come huffing out of the side door. "Hey!" he called. "Get off that rail!" As he came running down the steps, he stopped for a second, and with a look of surprise he shouted, "How old are you, anyway?"

Ryan shot him a grin as she ran past Jamie. "Run like hell!" she shouted as she blew by. Jamie heeded her advice and took off down the street; running as well as she could in her sandals. When she trotted into the store, completely winded, Ryan was already sitting in a chair trying on the shoes in her proper size. "I gotta have these," she said, with a look in her eyes that reminded Jamie of Caitlin with an ice cream cone.

The winded blonde plopped down next to her and admonished her firmly, "You have to warn me earlier when there’s chance we’re going to be arrested." She pulled in another deep lungful of air, "I could at least have worn my running shoes." When her breathing returned to normal, she looked at Ryan with concern, "Are you sure these are a good idea, Ryan? You know you can’t take many more blows to the head."

"I’ll be careful," she promised with a wide-eyed look of pleading.

"That’s a laugh!" Jamie said with a shake of her head. "You don’t have a careful bone in your body!"

Ryan just gave her a little shrug, along with a sheepish grin, as she handed the shoes to the clerk to ring up. She insisted on paying for the shoes herself, reminding Jamie, "If I do break my neck, do you really want to be responsible for purchasing the instrument of my demise?"

As they walked back to the car with their purchases, Jamie stopped and turned to her, giving her a big smile as she shook her head. "What was that for?" Ryan asked as they resumed walking.

"You just never cease to amaze me," she said simply. "I mean, I really don’t like you doing things like that. I love you so much that it frightens me to death to think of you getting hurt."

Ryan started to interrupt, but Jamie placed both hands flat on her chest, stopping her rebuttal. "You will get hurt, Ryan. You have before, and you will again. Let’s be realistic," she said firmly.

Ryan pursed her lips before giving her a reluctant nod. Jamie continued, "Despite that, your wild side is so much a part of who you are, that I can’t ask you to give it up just to keep yourself safe for me." She leaned in and gave her a small kiss on the lips, "To be completely honest, I think you look really hot when you do crazy things like that."

Ryan gave her a broad grin and hugged her soundly as people passed by, staring at them as they went. "Hot, huh?" she whispered.

"Very," Jamie whispered back. "You look all wild and untamed, and your face breaks into this sexy, confident smile that just makes me want to ravish you."

"I’d love to be ravished," she hummed into her ear.

"Um...Tiger?" she asked as she felt her knees beginning to weaken. "We’re kinda in a public place. Can I ravish you at home?"

"Well," she said with a grin as she pulled back. "I’d love to be seduced in public, but I guess home’s okay too."

Jamie gave her a firm pinch on the butt as they started up again. Ryan just casually tossed an arm around her shoulders as they sauntered down the street.

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

As they passed a good-smelling coffee shop Jamie looked into Ryan’s eyes and begged, "Can we stop here for a jolt? Getting up at 4:30 is hard on this little body."

"Anything you want, Babe. You run in. I want to check something out." Jamie did as requested and, just as she received her drink, Ryan sidled up to her, looking a little smug.

"Where’ve you been, Sweetie? You look like the cat that swallowed the canary."

Shifting a paper bag from one hand to the next, Ryan pursed her lips and puffed out her cheeks, feigning the removal of something from her even, white teeth. She gulped audibly, and smacked her lips together, looking at Jamie with dancing eyes. "Got a feather stuck between my teeth," she grinned, unwilling to reveal anything more.

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

Seeing Ryan’s purchase spurred Jamie on to buy a little something, so they walked around for a while, looking in the little shops. Jamie finally decided on a cute pair of board shorts for her long-legged lover. They were quite a bit shorter than the men’s style, and were a very bright red, with a white design of pineapples and palm trees, and a white waistband and lace that pulled steel grommets together to hold them up. She looked terribly cute in them, and Jamie was completely pleased with the purchase.

Heading back to the Boardwalk, Ryan decided she needed a little blow out to test her new wheels. She got back into her blades, kissed Jamie lightly on the lips and wiggled an eyebrow. "Back in a minute," she said with a twinkle in her eyes.

She took off down the path, heading away from the populated section. Within three strides she was bent forward at the waist, her extended arms crossing in front of her with each long stride. Surprisingly, she didn’t use her knees much at all. She had them flexed, but her real movement came from her powerful hips. She propelled herself by pushing out strongly toward the side with long, deep strides. When she was whisking along at her desired speed, she placed her hands behind her back, grasping one lightly with the other. Jamie watched her with amazement. Is there anything she can’t do well? She looks like every sport was just made for her. As she watched, she began to get a familiar tingling and she mentally rebuked herself. If you get hot every time you watch her do some activity, you’re going to spend your whole life turned on! After a moment she gave herself a mental slap and thought, What’s the problem with that?

Ryan returned after about 15 minutes, winded and slightly sweaty, but content. Jamie couldn’t help but give her a strong hug, smiling to herself at Ryan’s puzzled expression.

Ryan was starving by now, so they stopped at the first place that looked non-lethal and loaded up on fast food. Exhaustion overtook them both, and without a word they agreed to head home. As soon as they reached the house they collapsed into bed, fully clothed.

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

When Ryan woke, she slid out of bed and stretched for a few minutes. She was rested and ready to do something, but Jamie looked like she’d be out for a while. Rather than leave the room to look for entertainment, she decided to investigate the bookcases of her partner’s childhood room. There were a number of family portraits placed around the room, and Ryan spent a few minutes studying them. She was particularly taken with one of the whole family when Jamie was about a year old. The resemblance between her lover and young Caitlin was really astonishing, and Ryan barely moved for a few minutes, studying the photo closely. Jamie came up behind her and slid her arms around her waist, laying her head against Ryan’s back. "You were such an adorable baby," Ryan said as she turned and wrapped Jamie in her arms. "Of course, given how adorable you are now, that isn’t surprising," she said with a grin.

"Flattery will get you everywhere," she replied with a crooked smile as she stood on her tiptoes to kiss her partner. She continued the hug, nuzzling her face into Ryan’s chest for a full minute. "When do you want to start our family?" she asked casually, releasing her hold and stepping back to look at her lover.

Ryan stood stock-still and tilted her head before she asked, "Where did that come from?"

"There were quite a number of kids at the beach this morning, and it just started me thinking. How do you feel about having kids? I mean, I know you want to, but I don’t know when or how."

"Hmm," the dark woman said, addressing the issue seriously. "Well, being with you has changed my mind about that a little bit," she admitted. "Before we got together, I was pretty sure I wanted to have a child right after I graduated. But now I’m not so sure."

"I don’t understand why you would change your mind because of me?" Jamie asked, a small frown forming.

"I used to think that I would raise a child alone, and it seemed like a good idea to do it before I started a career. With you, I’m not in as big a rush. I won’t have the same worries about child care, being able to afford it, and things like that."

Taking Ryan’s hand in hers, Jamie led her to the window seat, where Ryan leaned up against the side wall, extending one long leg and bending the other at the knee. Jamie sat between her legs with her torso resting against Ryan’s chest. "Much better," the smaller woman sighed, as Ryan’s arms encircled her body. "Do you think it will bother you to let me pay for a lot of the expenses of child-rearing?" Jamie asked.

Ryan’s deep laugh rumbled through Jamie’s body. "I’m sure I’ll have a few issues," she admitted. "But if we’re going to have kids, my primary concern is to make sure they’re well cared for. I think I’ll be able to put my concerns aside to make that happen."

"That’s good to hear," Jamie said. "I’ve been afraid that we would argue a lot about things like that."

"Oh, we probably will," Ryan chuckled. "I have a sneaking suspicion that you and I have different standards about what constitutes the necessary expenses of raising a child. We’re going to have to come to some agreement about things before going forward."

"Details, details," Jamie assured her. "I certainly don’t need to raise our children in the style I was brought up, and I don’t think we need to stick with your family’s austerity, either. We’ll come up with our own little model."

"Sounds like a deal," Ryan agreed. "But, I would like to give you one little piece of reality, Babe. My youth was not austere. We were very average in our neighborhood, and I can’t think of anything I ever really needed that I didn’t have."

Jamie squeezed her partner’s arms as she quickly apologized. "Oh, Baby, I didn’t mean that like it sounded. I just meant that your upbringing was austere compared to mine. I was given everything–far too much, in reality. I don’t want to raise our kids like that. But I also don’t want them to have to work like you did for every little extravagance."

Ryan returned her squeeze and leaned over to nibble on Jamie’s ear, "We’ll see," she murmured, closing the door on the money issue for the time being.

"Given that, when do you think you’d like to start?" Jamie asked, returning to her initial question.

"I guess it still depends a little on what I want to do professionally. And of course, on what you want to do, also. I’m not in this alone anymore," she said with a smile.

"Is it important for you to give birth?" Jamie asked, assuming that it was.

"As selfish as it seems, yeah, it is important to me. I know I would love any child of ours the same, no matter which of us gave birth to it. I just feel that there is a connection to my mother that I can only have if I actually give birth myself. I want to feel that primal, instinctual connection that childbirth gives you."

"I can’t imagine how cute you would be pregnant," Jamie mused, picturing her partner’s perfectly flat tummy expanding to massive proportions.

"I feel the same way about you," Ryan replied, as she nibbled Jamie’s neck. "You would be devastatingly sexy."

"Do you find pregnant women attractive?" Jamie asked in a surprised tone, as she turned a little to make eye contact.

"Totally," Ryan said firmly. "And I’m sure you would be so completely hot looking that I’d be on you like flies to honey."

"So if our sex life gets boring, I could just get pregnant to spice it up?"

"Well, that’s one of the worst reasons I’ve ever heard of to have a child, but I bet it would work," Ryan conceded with a leer. She gave her a firm hug as she asked, "Is it important to you to give birth?"

"I’m certainly not averse to the idea," Jamie mused. "I always assumed that I would, since I would be married to a man, and they’re not very good at doing that. Now that I have a built in baby-making machine, I’m not so sure. I think I’ll just have to wait and see if I have a real need to reproduce. There is a part of me that might prefer to adopt a couple of kids."

"I’d be more than happy with that arrangement," Ryan agreed. "Although I have a very strong desire to have a cute little Jamie clone running around the house."

"I’d love to give birth if I could actually have a child with you, Ryan. But my desire is much less strong if I just have to use some stranger’s sperm."

"Well, there are a couple of near clones that you might be able to hook up with," she said with a wiggling eyebrow.

"Do you mean your brothers?" Jamie asked in surprise.

"Yeah. Conor has already offered. He told me years ago that he’d be happy to help out."

"Wow!" she replied with excitement. "That puts a whole different spin on the issue. That would almost be like having a child with you."

"It’s a close as you can get without cloning," she said with a twinkle in her eyes.

"Gee, I don’t know, Ryan," Jamie hedged. "Having Conor for a dad and you for a mom could be really dangerous."

"And just why is that?" she asked somewhat indignantly.

"You’re both so wild and full of energy! I don’t know if I could keep up."

"Yeah, but your moderating influence would be important, too. Maybe the baby would take after you."

"Have you paid any attention to the dominance of the O’Flaherty genes?" Jamie demanded. "Everyone but Rory looks like they came from the same mold. Even your cousins don’t look like their mothers. Those are some powerful genes, Baby."

"I guess you’re right, there. Maybe you would do better to just go to a sperm bank."

"Uh-uh," she said with a determined shake of her blonde head. "I love every little O’Flaherty gene," she insisted, as she turned to kiss Ryan soundly. "I would be pleased beyond words to bear a child that resembled you in any way at all."

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

Continued in Part 11

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