I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 4: Disclosures

By S X Meagher



See Part 1

Part 10

"Mmmm, that feels nice," Jamie murmured as Ryan slid back into bed behind her. "Hey!" she said as she shot straight up, "are you home already? It seems like you just left."

Ryan gave her a gentle smile as she checked her watch. "I’ve been gone for over three hours, Sweetness."

"How did it go?" she asked excitedly. "Were the other girls nice to you?"

Ryan’s mouth quirked into a grin as she related, "I didn’t actually meet everyone. Six a.m. isn’t the best time to get to know people. But Coach introduced me and I’m sure I can meet everyone by the end of the week. I ran by myself today but I think I’ll try to be a little more social the rest of the week."

"So what did you think of your teammates?"

"They all seemed to be able to run five miles," she said as she gave a little shoulder shrug. "You know how I am when I run, Baby. I just focus on my breathing. It’s going to be hard for me to pay attention to my teammates, but I think I need to do it just to feel part of the team."

Jamie’s mouth turned into a pout as she admitted, "I thought you’d be able to describe everyone and tell me what you thought. I’m disappointed. Did you at least meet Jordan?"

Ryan gave a slightly embarrassed laugh. "I met her all right. Then I spent almost ten miles staring at her back. She’s fast!"

"Oooh…faster than you, huh, Tiger?"

"I wasn’t prepared," Ryan scoffed. "I was just trying to get comfortable." Jamie loved the fact that Ryan could not admit that another athlete could beat her at anything. It was part of the confidence that she found particularly sexy.

Turning the conversation away from any possible weakness she might have, Ryan started to nuzzle her partner’s neck. Turning quickly she sneezed violently after her nose was tickled by the flyaway strands of Jamie’s hair.

"I need a haircut," Jamie needlessly admitted as she ruffled the long bangs that hung loosely in her eyes.

"It is getting a little long," Ryan agreed as she leaned back in to nuzzle again. "I have to push it out of the way to kiss my favorite place."

"Oh, now that's your favorite place?" she teased with a wide smile as she turned around and slid her arms around her lover's waist. "Last night it was the small of my back. If I’m not mistaken, the back of my knees was the winner on Saturday. Come to think of it, I seem to remember that you were very fond of my earlobes on Friday…"

Ryan opened her blue eyes very wide as her face broke into a big grin. She shrugged her broad shoulders and said, "I have lots of favorite spots. But the back of your neck is my favorite of all the backs of necks I've ever tasted."

"I think I understand," she said as she hugged her tightly. "I couldn't pick one place on you that I love the most, either. Hey, If I can get an appointment do you want to go with me? I know I said you couldn't cut yours, but out of humanitarian concerns I have reconsidered."

"Really? Why is that?"

"After seeing how hot you got when you were working out for the various teams, I decided that it was inhumane to keep your hair that long. I think you could take off four or five inches and still have it look the same."

"So, is that your biggest concern? You want it to look the same?"

"Partly, but I still think my biggest requirement is that I can grab it and run my fingers through it when we make love. There's nothing I like better than to have you moving over me with that sexy hair tickling my breasts."

"You, my dear, are sounding more like a lesbian every day," she said as she tweaked her nose.

"Nope. I’m still not ready to jump into the pool. I think I'm a Ryanian, or a Rynaholic, or a Ryanaphile."

"I kinda like Ryanaphile. It's got a nice ring to it."

"I don't believe you answered my question, My Sweet," Jamie reminded her as she nuzzled her neck. "Do you want to go if we can get appointments?"

"Sure. I just need to be at work by noon. Can we manage that?"

"I’ll do my best," she promised as she crawled out of bed in search of her cell phone.

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

An hour later they were entering the cozy confines of Giancarlo. Jamie had originally found the shop when she decided to cut her long hair during her freshman year. Giancarlo was the owner and he was a genuine delight. Terribly gay and rather authoritarian, he was also playful, impetuous and generous to a fault, and Jamie adored him. He was about 35 or so, and Ryan immediately noticed his stylish dress. A black silk T-shirt and elegantly cut pleated black pants draped tastefully over his muscular body. He was very attractive, with thick jet-black hair that had just a hint of curl to it brushing his collar in the back. His dark brown eyes were framed by long black eyelashes, and his eyes conveyed every emotion that he felt. When they walked in, he looked up from the head he was cutting and called out, "Cara Mia! I've missed you!"

Jamie smiled and waved and took Ryan over to have a seat while they waited. She decided that Ryan should go first in case it took a long time, then went to the receptionist to check on the schedule. "When is Carlo's next appointment?"

"You're his last two until after lunch. It's slow in June with most of the students gone for the summer."

"Great. We might take extra long today."

When he was finished, he waved Jamie over with a flourish. They kissed dramatically on both cheeks and chatted away in Italian for several minutes. Ryan stood openmouthed as she took in this new piece of information about her lover. Jamie noticed her shock and said something to Giancarlo that made him howl. As he was doubling over with laughter, Jamie turned to her lover and just winked. She pushed Ryan down into the chair and continued her conversation in Italian. After a moment, Ryan had had enough. "Hey, don't I even get introduced?"

"Of course, Sweetheart," she said as she bent down to kiss Ryan on the cheek. "I was just updating Carlo on my lifestyle change. He's very impressed, aren't you, Carlo?"

"Yes, yes," he said in a nearly incomprehensibly accented voice. "I always knew that Jamie had romance in her soul. I think you help her bring that out, no?"

Ryan blushed furiously as her companions laughed at her embarrassment. Jamie stood behind the chair and spoke in English for Ryan's benefit. "You can’t take too much off, Carlo, but she's very active and her head gets terribly hot. What do you suggest?"

He walked around Ryan, deep in thought. He lifted her chin with his fingers and brushed the hair off her forehead, staring intently at her face the entire time. Then he grabbed it into a ponytail and pulled it away from her face and studied her facial structure without interference from her hair, commenting to Jamie in Italian throughout the entire inspection. Occasionally she would agree with some point and would touch Ryan's face or her neck. Sporadic bouts of laughter made Ryan feel that she was the butt of some joke, but she knew that even if the humor might concern her, it wasn't be malicious.

After Giancarlo made one suggestion, Jamie looked at him in horror. "No, No, No!" she cried. She looked down at Ryan and explained. "He has one client who has hair as long as yours. She hates to be hot, so he shaves her head from just above her ears on down. When she leaves it down it looks perfectly normal. But when she pulls it up in a ponytail, she's nice and cool."

"Hmmm," Ryan said. "That sounds like it might work."

Jamie leaned down and put her face right in front of Ryan's. "No, Baby. That's not going to happen."

Giancarlo laughed at this interchange and continued to debate, in Italian, with Jamie, their discussion getting more and more heated. Finally, he stormed off to get a bottle of Pelligrino while Jamie explained the problem. "He says that your face is too beautiful to hide behind all of this hair. He insists I must allow your chiseled features to receive the acclaim they deserve. He says it's like putting a coat on the Venus de Milo," she said, shaking her head with a laugh.

Ryan surveyed her face in the mirror. "I think he has a point," she mused as she swiveled in her seat.

Jamie shot her a disbelieving glance and was reassured when Ryan broke into a smile. "Can't he just take a few inches off? I could go to Supercuts and be done in three minutes."

Jamie leaned over and whispered, "If you let him hear you say that, we'll be banished!"

Moments later Giancarlo returned. He looked rather depressed as he picked up Ryan's long tresses and lethargically pulled them from her face again. He shook his head sadly as his fingers delicately traced her high cheekbones and her strong jaw. "So sad," he muttered.

Finally, Jamie played her trump card. "Giancarlo, how long is Pietro's hair?" she asked innocently. Pietro was Carlo's much younger, incredibly good-looking partner. He pursed his lips and gave a small shrug as he indicated that his lover’s hair was about two inches shorter than Ryan's. "He has incredible bone structure also. Why not cut his hair short?"

Fire glowed in his dark eyes as he whirled around to stare at Jamie. "Never!" he nearly shouted. "His hair is....it is...." he trailed off as he tried to make his point with wild gesticulations of his hands. Immediately his expression softened and he threw his arms around Jamie. "I see! I see! It is for the love that you need the hair. Why didn't you say so, cara mia? For love--I understand!"

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

By the time Giancarlo was ready to proceed, all of the other stylists had gone to lunch. The front door was locked and they were alone in the small shop. Most salons such as this would never close during the middle of the day, but Giancarlo marched to his own drummer. He needed at least a two-hour lunch to relax and spend time with Pietro. Jamie had learned long ago not to rush Carlo or accept the first appointment after lunch. He could be 20 minutes late, or they might have had a fight--either way, you didn't want him to be angry with a scissors in his hand.

After he had washed Ryan's hair with some fabulous-smelling herbal shampoo, he finally began to cut. After 15 minutes he had barely removed two inches. Now the dark hair just reached the bottoms of her scapulas, but there was little real difference from her previous length. He and Jamie both walked around Ryan slowly, assessing the change. Pursed lips and sharp headshakes indicated that more must come off. Another 15 minutes saw another two inches fall to the floor. The same process was repeated until they were both satisfied. Ryan was surprised that Jamie had let him take so much off, but she was very pleased with the look. Now her dark tresses fell only an inch or two below her shoulders.

Carlo rubbed some great-smelling product into her hair and pulled out his blow dryer. When he was done, the stylish cut looked absolutely fantastic. Her hair shone brightly due to the conditioner, and it bounced around her shoulders when she walked, which she was forced to do several times so that both of her critics were sure they were satisfied. To Jamie’s surprise the normally straight hair had a bit of curl to it at this new length, and it curled under attractively with just the turn of a round brush as it was blown dry. Ryan could still gather it up in a ponytail, and when it was up, it would be off her neck completely.

"Okay, sit back down," he said to Ryan. "Jamie must perform the final test."

He said something to her in Italian and she roared with laughter, but she did as he asked. She climbed up on to Ryan's lap and leaned in for a deep kiss as she slid her fingers through her shorter tresses. She ruffled her fingers through her hair repeatedly as she pulled away and proclaimed, "Magnifico!"

Giancarlo gave them both a courtly bow and a very big smile, "I am inspired by love!"

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

It was nearly 12:30 and very clear that Jamie could not get her haircut as well as make it to the golf course, so she opted for the decadent choice. "Carlo, can I buy you lunch?" she asked.

"Si," he replied. "Pietro is at the beach today, working on his tan. I am alone for dinner. Let me cut your hair, then we will be off."

She tossed the keys to Ryan and said, "Go on to work, Honey. I'll take a cab back if we finish while you’re still at work. If not, I'll page you and you can come get me, okay?"

"Sure," Ryan said as she bent down to kiss her. She turned to Giancarlo and extended her hand, but he wrapped his arms around her in a firm hug and then kissed both of her cheeks. She looked a little shy, but she gingerly returned a kiss to one of his cheeks.

"She is so beautiful and so strong," he said as he ran his hands down her arms. He made another joke in Italian that had Jamie gasping for air. Ryan just waved and walked out the door, hearing their laughter as she started down the street.

"The rich are different than us," she grumbled as she hopped in the car.

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

Later that night Ryan was getting ready for bed when she commented, "We didn’t get anywhere near a bank today, Babe."

"I know, Hon," Jamie called from her room. "We’ll get there sometime this week. The days just get away from us, don’t they?"

"Sure do," Ryan agreed. Stepping into the bath, she noticed some of the shampoo and conditioner from that afternoon lying on the counter. "Did you buy this for me?" she asked with a delighted grin as she came out of the bathroom holding one of the bottles aloft.

"Yeah. It made your hair shine so nice and smell so good, I couldn't resist."

"What did today’s little escapade set you back?" she asked as she went back into the bathroom.

"Ummm, it was more than Supercuts," she said weakly.

"That bad, huh?"

"Well, Honey, we took up the space of three clients. I had to tip him really well for that."

"And you had to buy him lunch?"

"No, I wanted to buy him lunch. I really like Carlo and I wanted to tell him more about you. He knows all the best restaurants and I had a fabulous meal. What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing is wrong with it, Baby," she said as she sat down on the edge of the bed. "It's just that sometimes I feel really different from you. Do you know what I mean?"

"Not really," she admitted, scooting over to sit close to her partner.

"Like the fact that you can just start speaking Italian without an accent. Were you in Italy so much that you just picked it up?"

Jamie shook her head. "No, I had an Italian tutor when I was little. Mother speaks Italian too, but she didn't learn until she was older and she has an accent. She was determined that I would speak like a native, so she hired a tutor for me when I was about three. I studied until I was in high school. It was kind of neat to be able to take Italian in high school and have some easy As’," she said, remembering her difficult course load in high school.

Ryan nodded her head up and down a few times. "That's exactly what I mean. Your money lets you do things that I could not even begin to fathom. Granted, I've been to Europe at least 15 times, but I stayed with relatives and we had to save all year long just to cover the airfare."

"Honey, I know you didn't grow up with money, but what bothered you today?"

"I don't know," she said as she flopped down on the bed. "It bothered me a little that you could speak Italian and I didn’t even know that you could do that. I guess I just felt like you were taking your uncultured servant girl into town to have her hair cut. I couldn't understand a thing you said to each other. You were laughing the whole time, and I assume some of it was at my expense. I didn't even get a vote on how my own hair was to be cut."

"Oh Ryan, I'm so sorry," she said sincerely, suddenly seeing the experience through Ryan’s eyes. "I never meant to hurt your feelings or make you feel left out. I guess I just got carried away with Carlo." She leaned over so that they were face to face. "I’m truly sorry, Honey. That was terribly insensitive of me. Do you hate your new haircut?" she asked as she ran her fingers through the shiny tresses.

"No, I love it. I might not have gone this short, but I'm really glad he did. I worked out after my client and it felt so much better, it was amazing. I haven't had my hair this short since I was little, so I had no idea how much better it would feel."

"So are you more upset about feeling left out?"

"Maybe. I really didn't like that you were speaking a language that I couldn't understand. It just made me feel kind of stupid and coarse."

"I'm truly sorry, Ryan. I should have at least translated for you. That was really rude of me."

"It's okay," she said with a small smile. "I'll get over it."

"No, it's not okay. You don't have to go back there if you don't want to. We can find some other place to keep you trimmed."

Now Ryan felt like she had made too big of a deal out of the incident. She tried to back off from her harsh assessment of the day. "No, I really like the way he cut it. But I would like it if you would speak English."

"I'm not sure that would be an improvement," Jamie mused. "I find him very easy to understand in Italian, but I think he's incomprehensible in English. You might have to translate for me!"

"What the heck were you laughing about the whole time?" she asked, still a little cross at being left in the dark.

"Most of the jokes don't translate well," she admitted. "He makes a lot of plays on words that are very funny in Italian because of the sounds of the words. But the English words don't make the same sound, so there is no joke." She ran her hand along Ryan's taut belly as she recalled one little joke. "Remember when he was talking about how beautiful and strong you were?"

"Yeah," she said, her voice a little higher than normal from the teasing touch playing across her tummy.

"He said something about you being carved out of stone, but having breasts and hips made from goose down. Not at all funny in English, but the words themselves are funny in Italian."

"That really isn't funny," she admitted. Giving in to her insecurity, she asked, "Was he making fun of me at all?"

"No!" Jamie sat up abruptly. "I would never allow that, Ryan! I'm shocked that you would even think that!"

"Well, you were laughing so much, I just felt really left out. I couldn't help but feel self-conscious."

"He was making jokes about your body, but they were all very complimentary. He said he bet I got lost in your big strong arms, and he guessed that a strong woman like you could make love all night long." She began to run her fingers up the firm belly again. "I didn't feel the need to correct him," she said with a sultry laugh. "Then he said if he could have you in bed he might not even miss a penis."

Ryan blushed a little as Jamie kept rubbing her belly. "Maybe it was best that I couldn't understand him," she admitted a little weakly. "I would have been mortified."

"He asked me if I grabbed your hair and rode you like a pony," she whispered into Ryan's still-pink ear.

"What did you say?" she gulped.

"I said, 'Thanks for the suggestion'," she breathed as she slowly turned her over onto her belly and slid across her firm butt until she was straddling her, then laced her fingers through her hair and began to grind against her in a sensual rhythm.

"Maybe he's not such a bad guy," Ryan choked out with her last lucid thought.

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

Their nighttime frolics had kept Ryan up far too late for her to even think of getting up to run on Tuesday morning. She cracked open one reluctant eye and snapped it shut tightly against the glare of the fully-risen sun. As usual, Jamie detected her movement and snuggled up even tighter against her body. "Go ‘way," the grumpy blonde growled at the sun, pulling the pale blue sheet over her face.

Ryan’s desires matched her partner’s perfectly, and she clambered to her feet and crossed the room to pull the window shade down, closing the marine blue curtains just for good measure. "And stay out," she grumbled before falling heavily onto the bed and snaking her long arm out to pull Jamie close. "Are we alone today?" she asked through a massive yawn.

"All day," Jamie murmured as she rolled over to face her partner. She burrowed her head against the junction of Ryan’s arm and shoulder until she had created a comfortable pillow for herself, and was asleep before Ryan could express her contentment with that state of affairs.

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

Jamie was just about to indulge in her morning ritual when Ryan came bounding down the stairs. She was bristling with energy after her nine-hour rest, and she quickly wore out her welcome badgering her partner. "Wanna go to the gym with me?"


"Bike ride?"


"Wanna go down to the marina and rent kayaks?"

A much longer pause before the same answer was given. "No…are you nuts?"

"I feel good!" she proclaimed, stretching her long arms straight out from the shoulders. "It’s a beautiful day, I’m well rested, nothing hurts, nothing’s broken, I have the most wonderful woman in the world sitting just a few feet from me. How can I not be happy?"

Jamie gave her an aggrieved smile and said, "Could I have just a few minutes to catch up with you, Sport? I promise I’ll get there if I can have my coffee and eat my toast."

"Sure, Love." Ryan leaned over and kissed her grumpy partner on the head. "I’ll do better than that. I’ll go over to the weight room and work out with some of the people from the team. They get together on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for an informal session."

Jamie offered a guilty smile to her partner. "Am I pushing you away, Honey? I promise I’ll be chipper soon."

"Not at all," Ryan assured her. "This will give me a chance to meet some of the guys. You take it easy, and wake up as slowly as you need. Don’t give it another thought. I know I can be a little much to take in the morning."

Jamie grasped the hem of her T-shirt and pulled her close. Her hands climbed up the shirt, pulling Ryan towards her with each handhold. "You were a little much to take last night, Tiger," she whispered seductively. "But I’m not complaining. I just have to build up my stamina." A kiss filled with gratitude underscored her words, and she sent Ryan off with a playful swat on the seat. "Go work off some energy, Love. I’ll be waiting for you with open arms."

"I bet no one else in the weight room will have as much motivation to finish as I do!" And with that, she was off, scampering down the front stairs with glee.

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

"Hi, Babe!" Jamie was in very bright spirits when Ryan came home two hours later. Regrettably, she was already in her golf clothes and had her car keys in her hand. "I talked to Scott and he gave me the name of another woman who’s trying out for the golf team. We’re gonna go play Tilden this afternoon, but I’ve gotta go if we’re gonna make our tee time."

"That’s okay, Love," Ryan said agreeably. She was a little disappointed, but she knew this was important to Jamie so she focused on being supportive. "I know this means a lot to you, so you go play. I should really catch up with my e-mail anyway. I haven’t checked it in so long, it’s a shame."

"Thanks, Babe," Jamie said, standing on her tiptoes for a kiss. "I’ll be home as soon as I can, but Tilden takes forever to get around. Don’t expect me before six, okay?"

"Fine, Hon," Ryan agreed. "Let’s just order in since it’s not clear when you’ll be home."

"It’s a deal. Wish me luck."

Ryan watched her trot down the stairs, a slow smile crossing her face as she watched her muscular body move down the front path. Well, I’m ready, she thought with a smirk at her rambunctious libido.

* * * * * * * * * * *

She was changing into her work clothes when her pager went off. Checking the number, she failed to recognize itand decided it was one of the many wrong numbers she received. After she finished dressing she went down to the living room to return the call. The area code was from the Peninsula, and she was certain that she didn’t know anyone down there, but she dutifully punched in the 11 digits. The phone was answered on the second ring by a woman's soft voice. "Hello?"

"Hi, this is Ryan O'Flaherty. Did you page me?"

There was a slight pause as the voice grew even softer. "Hello, Ryan."

All of the blood drained out of Ryan's face and she found herself blindly grasping for a chair to support her rubbery legs. Seconds passed as she tried to collect herself enough to answer. After what seemed like a lifetime, she was finally able to rasp out, "Hello, Sara."

"Is it all right to call you, Ryan?" The mere sound of her melodious soprano voice carried Ryan back to her youth, and she was buffeted by images of her best friend and first love.

"Of course it’s all right," Ryan replied, surprised at the strength of her own voice.

"I know I'm six years too late, and I won’t blame you if you tell me to go to hell, but I’m calling to apologize, Ryan."

"Apologize?" Ryan was too stunned to do much more than parrot Sara’s statement. She knew she sounded slow-witted, but she could not make her mouth behave.

"Yes…I want to apologize, Ryan. My mother told me a little bit of what you said on Sunday, and I can’t let another day pass without owning up to how I wronged you."

"Wronged me," Ryan repeated dully, simultaneously slapping herself in the head for her inability to form a cogent thought.

"Ryan," Sara soothed in the voice that had calmed her fears and bolstered her ego for so many years, "let me come over and talk to you in person."

"In person?" Her eyes grew wide and she actually pulled the phone away from her ear to stare at it for a moment. "You want to come over?"

"If you’ll let me," she said. "I deserve to be kicked in the teeth, but if you’ll let me, I’d love to apologize in person."

Despite her rapidly beating heart and weak knees, Ryan had to smile at her former friend’s self-deprecating comments. "I would never be cruel to you, Sara. I couldn't be," she said softly. "I loved you too much to hurt you."

She heard her former friend draw in a deep breath and thought she could detect her struggling with her composure. "I should have known you'd be too generous to be cruel to me, Ryan, but it's what I deserve, nonetheless. Mother says you're living in Berkeley, now. I can be there in an hour if you’ll let me. I promise I won’t take much of your time."

Ryan closed her eyes and considered the situation. She had time this afternoon, but how would Jamie feel about having this woman in her home? She decided to follow Jamie's clear instructions and treat the place as though it were her own. If Sara had called her when she was home, she had no doubt that she would have invited her over. Her genuine compassion and overwhelming curiosity took over, and she heard herself answer, "I'm home after 3:30 today. Could you make it then?"

"I’ll be there," she said firmly, refusing directions after Ryan told her the address. "I know Berkeley well, Ryan," leaving unspoken the fact that she had attended school there--without her best friend.

It took several minutes for Ryan to feel confident enough of her body’s responses to risk standing. She actually felt too confused to ride her motorcycle, but she was now running late and felt that she had no choice. Luckily, she was able to guide the bike to the gym without incident, and she spent the next three hours struggling with her concentration. She knew that she had not been her usual self, but the clients didn’t seem to notice, or perhaps they were just too polite to mention it. Nonetheless, when three o’clock rolled around, she practically ran from the gym to return home.

She got home in time to change, and she shimmied into a clean, faded pair of 501's and a red cotton tank top. The day was warm and she was quite overheated from the stress of worrying about the meeting. As she brushed her teeth, she took one final look in the mirror. "I sure don't look 17 anymore," she thought wryly, as she walked downstairs to get a cold drink.

She had just finished gulping down a liter of Gatorade when she heard a light knock on the front door. Padding over in her bare feet, she took a deep breath and opened the door. Her mouth dropped in shock when she gazed at the woman on her doorstep. Sara had matured from a rather gangly, but attractive, girl into a truly lovely woman. Even though Ryan would have recognized her anywhere, in a way she looked completely and utterly different, which threw Ryan for a loop.

Her glossy chestnut brown hair skimmed the tops of her shoulders. It was parted on the side and she had a few long bangs that trailed above her chocolate brown eyes. She had grown taller, and now stood 5’8"or 5’9", but still evidenced a delicate bone structure that carried no more than 120 pounds. Even though she was thin, thinner than Ryan remembered, she looked healthy and fit. As Ryan’s eyes trailed down her body, she noticed distinct muscle definition on her bare arms, and saw that she still carried the posture and confident attitude of the athlete that she used to be, and possibly still was.

A sleeveless cotton T-shirt, in a shade of brown that exactly matched her eyes, topped slim-fitting white denim jeans that hugged her long legs, the cut of the jeans accentuating her lithe body as well as her height.

After staring at each other for a long moment, Ryan rediscovered her manners and moved away from the entryway so that Sara could enter. She stood rather awkwardly, waiting for Ryan to indicate whether or not she should sit, but Ryan was feeling much more like the child Sara had met in peewee soccer than the woman she had become. She fidgeted and shifted from one foot to the other until Sara reached out with her delicate hand and placed it on Ryan’s shoulder. "I’m very nervous," she said softly. "It’s been so long." That simple statement broke the dam that Ryan had so carefully constructed around the wound that Sara had seared into her soul. Hot tears began to trail down her cheeks, and she began to shake from the emotion she was trying to hold inside.

Sara was swept right along with her, and before she knew it she had wrapped her arms around Ryan’s waist and was hanging on for dear life. They held each other through the worst of their tears, until Sara pulled back and asked, in the most winsome voice Ryan had ever heard, "When did you get so tall?" Her hands lifted to brush the wetness from Ryan’s cheeks, and the gentleness of her touch caused another bout of tears to fall.

Sara took Ryan by the hand and led her to the love seat, sitting next to her and resuming their hug. Wave after wave of emotion passed through each woman: as soon as one would begin to calm, the other would once again fall apart. Back and forth, each comforted the other until they were both relatively composed. Ryan had pulled a box of tissues onto the love seat during one of her calmer moments, and now they both dried their eyes.

Neither made a move to separate, needing the comfort of the other to journey through their shared pain. Ryan drew in a ragged breath, a solitary tear slipping down her face. She had used the last of the tissues, and as she reached up to wipe the tear away with the back of her hand, Sara captured it with her thumb, brushing gently against Ryan’s flushed skin.

They were face to face now, looking deeply into each other's eyes. Neither woman planned what happened next–neither would have believed it if they had been warned--but it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Another tear fell from Ryan’s eyes, and Sara again captured it, but this time she kissed the tear from Ryan’s cheek.

Ryan remained completely still, not sure what was happening, but powerless to stop it. Another gentle, whisper-soft kiss followed the first, then another, and another. Each touch lighter, softer, sweeter than the last, the velvety soft lips blazing an invisible path across Ryan’s face. She paused for the barest of milliseconds, hovering just above Ryan’s lips, then her head tilted just enough to allow her to reach the deep pink flesh.

Her lips were softer than Ryan remembered, her touch much more gentle than it had been in the re-creation of that moment that had played itself in Ryan’s mind night after night for so long. As Sara’s lips began to kiss away the years of pain, all conscious thought left Ryan’s disoriented brain. All that she knew was that it had all been a mistake–a horrible, horrible mistake. Sara had loved her. Sara had wanted her. They did belong together. A low groan sprang from Ryan’s chest as the truth of these statements finally hit her. It was all a mistake!!! It will be all right. We can finally…We? WE???

Ryan yanked her body from Sara’s tender embrace and fought to regain her equilibrium. She rose on shaky legs and gasped out, "NO! NO! I CAN’T!!!"

Sara was completely and utterly stunned. She reached out for Ryan, trying to draw her back into her embrace, but the taller woman looked as though she had been hit with a jolt of electricity. "NO!" she cried, backing up until she ran into the hall table. "I’m married!" she shouted, loud enough for passersby to hear.

"You’re married?" Sara gasped out, feeling more confused than she had ever been in her life.

"Yes, I’m married," Ryan insisted. "And you’re engaged!"

"Engaged! Ryan, what’s wrong with you?" She was approaching her very slowly, much as one would a frightened animal. "How can I be engaged, I’m a lesbian! For that matter, how can you be married?"

"But your mother…" Ryan began, now feeling overwhelmingly confused herself. "She said…"

"Ryan," Sara soothed. "My mother believes what she wants to believe. She is convinced that my roommate is my boyfriend, and in her fantasy world she is certain that we’re going to get married now that we’ve graduated."

Ryan sank onto the dark oak surface of the sturdy table. "You’re a lesbian?" she asked softly.

"Yes. I am," Sara declared for one of the few times in her life.

"Your mother doesn’t know?"

"Almost no one knows," she admitted, a slow blush traveling up her cheeks. "My roommate doesn’t even know. None of my friends from school know." She looked up at Ryan with deep pain infusing her features. "Only the women I’ve had sex with know."

Ryan took a deep breath and ran her hands through her hair, surprising herself when she realized how short it was. She slowly massaged her temples, trying to lessen the nearly debilitating throbbing of her head. "I need something to drink before I pass out," she muttered, shuffling into the kitchen on autopilot.

She returned with two bottles of Gatorade and tossed one to Sara, unwilling to come close enough to hand it to her. "Can you explain the married thing?" Sara asked, after taking a healthy swig of her drink.

"It’s to a woman, Sara. I haven’t changed that much."

Despite the sense of loss she was feeling, Sara gave her a small smile, glad to see that Ryan’s sense of humor had grown with her. "Tell me about her," she said, genuine interest reflected in her gaze.

A radiant smile lit Ryan’s face, and Sara knew in that instant that the woman who now looked at her had given her heart to another.

"She’s…she’s…everything to me," she said simply, unable to put her feelings into words. "I love her completely, Sara, and I will do anything and everything to safeguard our relationship." Her tone left little doubt where Ryan thought the threat to her marriage might lie.

"How long have you been together?" she asked, her curiosity getting the better of her pain.

"Technically, I guess I’d have to say a little over two weeks, but we’ve been exclusive since April."

"Were you with someone before this?" Ryan was far too attractive to be single for long, and Sara assumed she had been snatched up the moment she became available.

"No," Ryan said quietly. "Jamie’s the first woman that I’ve loved since…you."

"Do you mean to tell me that you've been available for the past six years, and it's only been three months since you've found someone?" Sara asked incredulously.

"Yeah, pretty much," Ryan admitted, startled by the irony of the situation.

As if on cue, a distinctive tread hit the front steps. Ryan took a deep breath and went to the door to intercept her partner. When she opened the door, Jamie was on the top step, and Ryan’s eyes widened as she realized what her lover was going to do. She looked up at Ryan with a huge smile and shouted, "Catch me!" as she ran the remaining few feet and jumped into Ryan's arms.

Ryan's lightning quick reactions signaled her arms to grab her lover and hold on tight. But her legs didn't get the same message and she collapsed onto her back, sliding across the floor with Jamie still nestled in her arms. "Are you all right, Baby?" Jamie asked with concern, as Ryan stared at her in shock.

Her slowly nodding head was the only answer that she could manage.

"Well, as long as I've got you on the floor, I think I'm going to take you right here," she growled, as she straddled her lover's hips. She dipped her head and began to kiss Ryan with a day’s worth of unexpressed passion.

For the second time in an hour, Ryan tried to fend off a woman's attentions. She finally put her hands around Jamie's waist and physically lifted her off of her hips in an amazing display of power. "Honey," she gasped out, "we've got company."

Jamie's face became stark white in the instant it took to register this statement. She slowly turned her head and met Sara's bemused gaze. "Oh, my God," she moaned as Ryan lowered her and she rolled off her hips. She got to her feet and held a hand down for Ryan to grasp. "I am so sorry for that little display," she said, her color returning. She strode over to the sofa and held out her hand, "I'm Jamie Evans," she said with a smile.

Sara stood and extended her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Jamie. I'm Sara Andrews."

Jamie dropped her hand as if it were on fire. Her face slowly lost its smile as she turned to look at Ryan, startled to find her lover's lips scrunched up in a guilty-looking grimace. Ryan looked down at the ground for a moment, hoping that Jamie's eyes would leave her, but when she looked back up they were still burning into her with an incandescent intensity. Jamie took in a breath and said in an even voice, "I need something to drink. I'll be right back." As she walked towards the kitchen, over her shoulder she added, "Could you help me, Ryan?"

Ryan now gave Sara a little shrug and took off after her lover. When she entered the kitchen, however, Jamie was nowhere to be found. Looking around, she saw that the back door was open. She peeked out the door and saw her partner pacing in a tight circle in the back yard. Before Ryan's foot hit the step Jamie glared up at her and asked in a strained voice, "What is she doing in my house?!"

Ryan bit her tongue to stop herself from coming back with a sharp retort. She walked down the stairs slowly, staring at the ground as she did so. "I thought it was my house too, Jamie," Ryan said slowly. "She’s here because I invited her."

Letting out a deep sigh, Jamie straightened her shoulders and said, "It is your house too, Ryan. I'm just so taken aback that I don't know what I'm saying." She took another deep breath and said, "Let's start again. How did it happen that Sara Andrews is a guest in our home?"

Ryan gave her a small smile and answered as best she could. "Her mother spoke with her sometime after we met in church last Sunday. Sara called me right after you left and asked if she could come over to apologize. I agreed, and she showed up a little while after I got back from the gym."

"Do you want her here?"

Jamie’s penetrating gaze was still boring into Ryan, who fervently wished that it would ease off so she could collect her thoughts. "Yes. I do want her here. Are you okay with her being here, Jamie?"

"If it's okay with you, it's okay with me," she said slowly, with her eyes closed, obviously trying to control her visceral reaction.

"Thank you, Honey. I know this is hard for you, but I need for you to trust me on this," she said, holding her arms open for Jamie to fall into.

After she nuzzled against Ryan's chest for a few moments she pulled back and asked, "Is that perfume you're wearing?"

"Um...no, I'm not wearing any perfume," she said haltingly.

"Then why do you smell like perfume, Ryan?" she asked as her eyes began to flicker with anger.

Ryan put her hands on her partner's shoulders and stared into her eyes. "Jamie, I'm asking you to trust me. I've had a really tough day, and I can't take any more emotional scenes. Please just let us get through this afternoon and I'll explain everything."

Jamie let out yet another heavy sigh as she stood to her full height and blinked her eyes slowly. "I have one question, Ryan. Do I have anything to worry about?"

The question was so simple, and Ryan knew in her heart that Jamie never had to worry about her fidelity. But she was certain that her partner would view the events of the afternoon in a very harsh light, and that knowledge caused her to hesitate.

A hesitation that was misinterpreted with disastrous results. A panoply of emotions crossed the smaller woman’s face, each one driving a stake into Ryan’s heart. "Let’s get this over with," she said stoically as she started to walk back into the house.

"No!" Ryan grasped her shoulders and held her still, staring into her eyes as she summoned her confidence. "You have nothing to worry about, Jamie." The relief that flooded her partner’s features nearly caused Ryan to lose her composure again, but she was truly out of tears. "I love you with all my heart, and I always will."

"I believe you, Ryan." The confidence in her voice matched the look in her eyes, and Ryan thanked God for blessing her with such an extraordinary woman. Jamie extended her hand and Ryan grasped it as they walked back into the house, together.

Jamie remembered to snag a Pepsi on the way back to the living room, just to give the impression that she really had been seeking a beverage. Sara was sitting right where they had left her, looking terribly uncomfortable. When she caught sight of them, she stood and addressed Jamie. "I know you would probably rather have just about anyone else in your living room right now, but I just came to try to apologize to Ryan. If you want me to leave, I will."

"No…no, I'm sorry for the way I reacted, Sara. It was just a shock." She reached out and took Sara’s hand again, shaking it firmly. "I’m usually housebroken," she added with an abashed smile.

Ryan sat down on one of the upholstered chairs, and her partner perched right on its arm, hovering over her lover protectively. Ryan looked up at her and gave her an indulgent grin as she placed her hand on Jamie's thigh.

"What did I miss?" Jamie looked from one woman to the other, a bit unhappy to see guilty looks flash between them.

Ryan pointed to the pile of spent tissues on the table and said, "Mostly you missed an emotional meltdown. I think I’m at least a quart low," she added, taking a gulp of her Gatorade.

Now that Jamie looked more carefully at both women she could see that they had been crying. "Do you want me to leave you alone for a while?" she asked. "I know you’ve got a lot of things to talk about, and I don’t want to interfere."

Ryan squeezed her knee and gave her a grateful smile, but she declined her offer. "I want you to stay, Honey." She paused a bit and let her insecurities show for a second. "I need you to stay."

Jamie nodded, sliding her arm around Ryan’s shoulders as she leaned over. "I’m here for you, Ryan," she said softly, just loud enough for her partner to hear.

"Well…" Ryan addressed Sara, giving her an encouraging smile. "I think we’re both cried out–let’s start at the top."

Sara nodded and took in a breath, trying to form her chaotic thoughts into coherent sentences. "I suppose I need to go all the way back," she finally said. "I need to talk about what happened…that night."

Ryan nodded her encouragement, rubbing Jamie’s thigh as she said, "Jamie knows all about this, Sara. We don’t have any secrets."

"Okay," she said, letting out a ragged breath. "I was a mess when we woke up the next morning, Ryan, as I’m sure you detected." Ryan gave a short nod, not wanting to interrupt. "A very large part of me wanted to lock the door and spend the rest of my life in your arms." A look of shock crossed Ryan’s face and Jamie tightened her hold when she felt her partner tense. "I know I didn’t give that impression, but it was true," she said softly. "But I was also terribly confused. I had known you since you were seven years old, Ryan," she said plaintively. "I felt closer to you than anyone on earth–much more like a sister than just a friend."

Ryan considered that and had to agree that Sara had been as dear to her as her brothers were.

"I didn’t know what it meant to have you touch me that way," she said softly. "Were we still friends? Was I a lesbian? It was just too much for me, and I needed to figure it out before I could face you again. I know, in retrospect, that I should have talked to you about it, but I didn’t. I talked to my mother."

"Did you tell her everything?" Ryan asked softly, still remembering the look of pity on Mrs. Andrews’ face when she told her that Sara no longer wanted to see her.

"Yes…yes I did," she murmured, staring at the floor. "I thought she could help me sort things out. It took me a long time to understand that she just made it so much worse."

"What happened, Sara?" Jamie’s voice floated past Ryan’s ear, filled with so much compassion that Ryan was a bit startled.

"She convinced me that it had been a big mistake," Sara muttered, obviously angry with both herself and her mother. "She said that Ryan had acted really inappropriately with me, and she stressed that I was not like that." Thinking that Jamie had probably been taken in by her mother’s delusions about a fiancé, she added, "I was, and I am, like that, Jamie."

Jamie nodded slightly, now even more disturbed by the perfume that still lingered on Ryan’s body. As she felt her partner tense, it was Ryan’s turn to comfort Jamie, squeezing her thigh gently.

"I honestly thought that if I could get away from Ryan, I could get away from these feelings." She dropped her head into her hands and mumbled, "Part of me still believes that."

"Is that why you’ve never tried to contact me?" Ryan’s face was an unreadable mask, but Jamie knew her well enough to know that she was consciously trying to hide her hurt.

Sara nodded, her brown hair barely moving across her shoulders. "I didn’t…I don’t…want to be gay," she sighed.

Jamie gave her a look that was filled with empathy, having been through the same dilemma just a short while before. Sara straightened her shoulders and looked at Ryan once again. "I didn’t come here to talk about myself. I want to know about you. Tell me what happened after…the incident."

Ryan took a breath and decided to tell the unvarnished truth. "I went off the deep end," she admitted. "My father sent me to Ireland for the summer and by the time I got back, I had gotten it clear in my mind that I was a lesbian. But I so was ashamed of myself that I kept it secret from my family. I started to hang out on Castro and I got in with a much older crowd. I started drinking and having sex with a lot of strangers. It was the lowest point of my life," she said, looking up at Sara with sad blue eyes.

Jamie reached out and laid her hand over Ryan's. She slowly closed her fingers and held Ryan's hand in hers in a show of support.

Ryan gave her a slow smile and continued, "My first semester grades came and this was the first tangible sign that Da could use to get through to me. I had a C minus average that term and I thought he would die of shock."

"But Ryan, you were always a straight A student! School was so easy for you!"

"I didn't do any homework, Sara. I didn’t turn in papers or study for tests. Actually a C minus is pretty good considering how little I did. I honestly didn't care if I finished school at all at that point. I just wanted to drink and screw the pain away."

Sara gazed straight into her eyes and said, "I'm so sorry, Ryan. I can't say it enough, even though I know it doesn't change anything."

Ryan smiled gently and continued with her story. "Brendan finally got through to me. I honestly think he saved my life. He sat me down and would not let me leave until I told him what was wrong. He was so supportive and soon afterward I told the other boys and Da and Aunt Maeve. They were all great about it, and I started to get back to my normal self. But none of the coaches that were recruiting me felt confident enough to waste a scholarship on me, especially after I was forced to quit every team. I still don’t understand why I didn’t make an attempt to get an academic scholarship to Cal or even Stanford, but I just didn’t. Da thinks I was punishing myself, but in retrospect I think I was clinically depressed. The thought of going to Cal and not playing on the soccer team was just too painful, so I didn’t even try to get a scholarship. I worked full time for two years and then I enrolled at USF. I transferred to Cal last year, and now I'm on track to graduate this June."

"You worked full time right out of high school?" she asked incredulously. "What kind of job can you get in San Francisco without a college degree?"

"I went to school to become a personal trainer," she said with a justifiable amount of pride. "I've done well with it, too. I still do it at a gym here in Berkeley."

Sara looked confused for a moment and asked, "Something just registered. Did you say you were forced off your teams? What do you mean by that?"

"Because the girls didn't want me on them anymore after they found out I was gay. I just didn't have the strength to fight anymore, so I quit."

"After all that had happened, why did you tell everyone?" she asked, clearly confused.

"I didn't tell a soul, Sara. You did," she said somberly.

Sara jumped up from her place on the sofa. She stood above Ryan, shaking from head to toe. "Ryan! I did no such thing! I never told anyone at school or any of my friends. I would never betray you like that!"

"Then how did they find out?" she asked, unsure if her friend was telling the truth.

"I swear I did not tell one other soul, Ryan." Sara was shaking from a combination of shame and rage. "There's only one other person who knew. If you didn’t tell, it had to be my mother."

Ryan looked as puzzled as Sara did angry. "But why?" she asked sadly. "Why would she do that to me?"

A cold fury settled on Sara’s face and she vowed, "I don’t know why, but I’m going to find out." She turned on her heel and strode towards the door, surprised when Ryan caught up to her before she got a hand on the doorknob.

"Don’t." Ryan’s tone was firm and Sara stopped completely, her shoulders sagging as she let the feelings in.

She turned and fell into Ryan’s arms again, another round of tears on the way. Ryan shot a helpless glance at Jamie, who gave her an encouraging nod, now feeling somewhat satisfied that Sara’s perfume clung to her partner because of Ryan’s desire to comfort her.

"I’m sorry," Sara gasped. "I just…I’m just so damned sorry!"

"It’s okay, Sara," Ryan soothed, guiding her back to the love seat. Sara dropped down rather gracelessly, wiping her eyes with her hands. Ryan dashed into the kitchen and brought her a fresh box of tissues and a Pepsi. "Are you still a Pepsi fan?" she asked softly, offering the drink.

A fresh round of tears met this small remembrance, and Sara reached out a shaking hand to take the can. After a few long sips she regained her composure and looked at both Ryan and Jamie with a good deal of embarrassment. "I know it must seem like I’m emotionally unstable, but I swear this is an anomaly for me."

"I can vouch for her, Jamie," Ryan said with a fond gaze in her friend’s direction. "I’ve only seen her this way once before."

Sara gave her a puzzled glance and Ryan smiled back at her. "When Fluffy died," she reminded her, referring to Sara’s beloved Himalayan cat that had passed away when she was in seventh grade.

A fond smile greeted this memory. "I think this is worse than that, Ryan," she said with a small laugh. "Although Fluffy was pretty special," she added for the record.

A fond, meaningful gaze passed between the two women, and Jamie realized with a stab of regret that these two would always have a bond that she would never be able to share. She fervently wished that it was she who had known the young Ryan, who had watched her mature into a young woman. She felt a sting of anger at Sara for letting the opportunity to love this extraordinary creature slip through her fingers, but she stopped short when she realized that if that had happened, Ryan surely would not have been available to her. In a completely selfless musing she thought, I would give her up if that could spare her the pain that Sara caused her. If I could turn back time, I swear I would make Sara face the truth and love Ryan like she deserved to be loved. But she knew that she could not change the past. All that she could do was help her lover get through the pain–and promise that she would never cause her similar sorrow.

"I know you want to confront your mother about all of this, Sara, but please don’t do it while you’re so upset. Give yourself some time to calm down first. Please."

Sara nodded, agreeing with Ryan’s advice. "I don’t relish the thought of bringing all of this up while I’m supposed to be studying for the bar exam anyway," she said with a shudder. "It’s in less than a month!"

There was an uncomfortable silence that stretched on for a few minutes. Looking down at her partner, Jamie could see that Ryan was deep in thought. After a moment the pensive woman looked over at Sara and asked, "Something doesn’t seem right here."

Sara’s brow furrowed and she cocked her head slightly, looking to Ryan to elaborate.

"If your mother intentionally spread the information about me, why would she tell you about seeing me in church? That just doesn’t make any sense." One thing Jamie had learned long ago was that Ryan could not tolerate situations that did not seem logical. Knowing Ryan, this lack of logic would bother her nearly as much as the betrayal.

Sara paused as she considered the question. It didn’t make any sense, viewed from that perspective, and she had to admit that the inconsistency bothered her. "You’re right, Ryan," she said slowly, twirling a lock of hair around her index finger, in a gesture achingly familiar to Ryan. "When I think about it, though, she didn’t tell me voluntarily."

"What do you mean?" Ryan asked.

"Well, I was at her house on Sunday. I chose not to go to Mass with her, and when she came back, she was acting so upset that it was obvious that something momentous had happened. She didn’t want to tell me what it was, but she was so upset that she couldn’t stop herself."

"What did she say?" Jamie asked, sitting on the edge of the chair.

"She said," Sara looked up to the ceiling, trying to remember the exact words. "She said that she had seen Ryan in church. I must have looked as shocked as she did, because we hadn’t really spoken your name since that horrible week."

Ryan did not have to ask for clarification on which week that was. "Go on," she urged.

"I jumped in and started asking a million questions, but all she said was that you were living in Berkeley and were still in undergrad."

"She didn’t tell you any of the details I told her?"

"No. She said that things had been tough for you, but that you seemed fine now."

"Why wouldn’t she tell you about Jamie?" Ryan mused. "I would think she would at least mention her."

"I don’t know," she muttered, "but I am going to find out, Ryan. For both of us."

"Hey," Ryan said, in a no-nonsense tone. "I don’t need for you to fight this battle for me, Sara. I’m perfectly able to go to your house and ask your mom directly. And I plan on doing just that." Her entire demeanor was resolute, and Jamie knew that her partner would get to the bottom of the story, one way or another.

"I know you can take care of yourself, Ryan. You always could." The look Sara gave her old friend was filled with warmth, recalling the many escapades that Ryan had seamlessly extricated them both from.

"I’ll get to the bottom of this, Sara. I’m the one that was harmed–I’ve got to be the one to figure it out. Besides, you’ve got your hands full right now. Studying for the bar must be a real grind."

She blew out a breath. "Yeah, it’s hard, but once it’s over I can relax for a couple of weeks."

"What are you doing after the bar exam?" Jamie asked, trying to keep up her end of the conversation.

"I'm going to work for a firm in the city," she said. "Morris and Foster."

Jamie's mouth dropped as Ryan squeezed her thigh and said, "Jamie has some connections to Morris and Foster."

"Really?" Sara asked. "Do you know someone who works there?"

Jamie was still not able to speak so Ryan continued. "A good friend of hers from Stanford is going there. Do you know Jack Townsend?"

A look of complete understanding crossed Sara's features. "You did say your name was Evans, didn't you?"

"'Fraid so," she admitted with a blush.

"And your father is James Evans, right?"

"Yep," she said with a shrug.

"I guess we all know more about each other than we thought, huh?" she finally said with a chuckle. "Although I would not have guessed the real reason that you and Jack broke up was because you were in love with my Ryan," she said with a laugh. Seeing the fire flare up in Jamie's eyes, she quickly backtracked, "I didn't mean that the way it sounded, Jamie. I just....I ....well, there's no excuse for referring to Ryan that way. She could have been mine once, but I blew it, and Ryan’s made it clear that I'll never get another chance. I really hope everything works out for you two," she said as she stood to leave.

Ryan came over and gave her a small hug and said, "I really appreciate that you came over, Sara. I mean that," she said sincerely.

Sara looked up into her deep blue eyes and returned the hug. "I still can't get over how this all worked out, Ryan. I hope you can forgive me, and I hope that you realize I never meant to hurt you."

She took Jamie's hand and shook it lightly, "It's good to meet you, Jamie. Take care of Ryan, she's…well, you obviously know how lucky you are." With that, she turned and left through the door that Ryan had opened.

Ryan crossed over to the sofa and threw herself down on it. Jamie followed her, but before she could speak, Ryan made a request. "Can I have a few minutes?" she asked. "I just need a little time to gather my thoughts."

Jamie went to the kitchen without saying another word, taking a bottle from the refrigerator. Walking out into the yard, she sat in the watery sun sipping her beer as she contemplated the events of the day. What's that prayer I used to like? God gives us this day as a gift. We'll never have another gift just like this one again. She smirked to herself as she thought, And to that I say, Amen! Another day like this would kill me!

About a half hour later Ryan wandered out into the back yard with her own beer in hand. Jamie smiled up at her as she patted the seat of the large wooden bench that sat beneath the arbor of white roses.

Ryan sat down and draped her arm around her partner's shoulders. "Some day, huh?" she asked, taking a long pull on her bottle.

"Let's just say that if we are expecting any more like this, we had better order in some more beer," she warned with a wan smile.

Ryan squeezed her tighter and said, "Are you ready to hear my tale?"

"I'm all ears," she said as she dropped her head to Ryan's chest.

Ryan took in a deep breath, the barrage of thoughts and feelings nearly overwhelming her ability to stay focused. "I’ve got a lot to tell you, Babe," she acknowledged. "The things that happened today cleared a lot of things up for me, and gave me some answers to questions that have haunted me for years." She shook her dark head, reminding herself to get to the most important issue. "I think some things are going to be easier for me now, Jamie," she said thoughtfully.

Unexpectedly, she placed her beer on the ground and slid off the bench, landing on her knees. Her large, strong hands reached out to grasp Jamie’s, holding them gently while she looked deeply into her eyes. "Even though I think the events of this afternoon will help heal some wounds for me, I swear that I would have turned Sara away if I had any idea that her visit would hurt you. I would take back the confusion and the hurt ten times over to avoid seeing this pain in your eyes." Her guilt-filled blue eyes blinked shut, and she struggled to hold her tears inside. "I’d do anything to spare you pain, Jamie, and I despise that I didn’t consider that you could be hurt by this. I’m so very sorry." She hung her head in shame, the dark tresses shifting forward to shroud her face.

Reaching out to lift her chin, Jamie leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on Ryan’s lips. "You haven’t done anything wrong, Ryan."

"But you don’t even know what happened…" Ryan began, but Jamie silenced her by placing the tips of her fingers to her lips.

"It doesn’t matter what happened, Sweetheart. No matter what you did, I know you wouldn’t do anything to hurt me–I trust you, Ryan."

Ryan’s head dropped into Jamie’s lap and she nuzzled her head against her muscular thighs for a few minutes, soaking up the overpowering feeling of complete love that her partner offered her so willingly.

"Come sit by me and tell me what happened," Jamie said softly.

With a deep sigh, Ryan got to her feet and snuggled back against her lover. "Okay," she began, obviously still trying to sort her thoughts out. "When Sara came to the door, she broke down in tears nearly the second I opened it. Something about those tears broke something in me, and I swear we cried together for what seemed like forever. I was so drained that I finally sat down on the couch and we held each other until we could get control of ourselves again."

Jamie looked up with a big smile and let out a sigh of relief. "That makes perfect sense, Ryan. I know you don't have it in you to be unkind to anyone. I should have known that you had a perfectly innocent explanation for why you smelled of her perfume."

Ryan wished that she could leave it at that, but she couldn't. "That's not all that happened, Honey," she admitted. "I don't want to tell you this because I know it will hurt you, but I can't lie to you, Honey."

She sat up straight on the bench and faced Ryan directly. "Tell me," she said softly.

"After we calmed down, she…she leaned over and kissed me," Ryan said softly. "And I let her."

Jamie looked at her with wide, unblinking eyes. She concentrated on keeping her breathing even as she asked the only question that mattered, "Why?"

Ryan closed her eyes and let her mind focus on the question. After a long pause, she finally answered, "I honestly felt like I was 17 years old," she admitted. "I've never had a flashback like that in my life. I felt like we were in Sara's room and I was making love to her. But this time she wasn't reticent about it. She wanted me as much as I wanted her. When she kissed me, I swear I could feel some of the pain and the betrayal just flow from my body. I have no other way to explain it, Jamie. It was a deeply healing moment for me. I just despise that I've caused you pain because of it."

"Did you want her to make love to you today?" she asked in a wavering voice.

"No, Baby, no!" Ryan’s head was shaking forcefully. "I wanted her to make love to me six years ago. When it dawned on me that this was 1999 and you were my spouse, I pushed her away immediately. I told her that I was married to you, Jamie. I told her that I could never do anything to hurt you, and she immediately backed off. It was over as soon as I told her that, Honey. I just wish that I'd had the presence of mind to tell her sooner."

A very heavy sigh left Jamie’s lungs, and she struggled to focus on obviously contrite Ryan was. "I wish you had, too, Ryan. I…I’m having a hard time getting my mind around this. It’s gonna take me a little while."

"I know this sounds crazy, Jamie, but I was in some sort of fugue. I never thought I’d say this, but I felt like I had temporary amnesia for a minute. I was truly out of my mind."

Jamie reflected on her partner’s statement. It made sense, in a way, even though it was terribly hurtful. Nonetheless, it was understandable that Ryan would be confused and thrown off her stride by Sara’s unexpected visit. But something was eating at her, and she couldn’t resist asking, "Ryan, I have to ask you this, and I want you to be honest with me. I want you to search your soul before you answer, so please consider this carefully. If you were not with me now, would you have made love to Sara today?"

The speed with which Ryan replied took Jamie by complete surprise. "I don't have to look very far for that answer, Jamie. I would have made love with Sara today if I were not committed to you." She saw the stunned look on her lover's face and added, "But that's not the important question. The important question is: who would I choose if both of you existed in my mind?"

She could see that Jamie was holding her breath, so she answered quickly, "I don't have to look very far for that answer either, Honey. I choose you. I choose you for today, and tomorrow, and for all of the days of my life. I love you, Jamie. I always will love you and I want nothing more than to wake up next to you until I never wake up again."

Jamie's lower lip began to quiver as she fought for control, "But if that's true, why would you have made love with her today?"

"Because I loved her," she said simply. "She was the only other woman I had ever loved–and I would have jumped at the chance to be with her if I didn’t have you. She meant more to me than anyone ever had, Jamie." Ryan gathered her partner into her arms and gave her an emotion-filled hug. "That’s all in the past now, Jamie. What I felt for Sara was love–I admit that freely. But that feeling, as powerful as it was, is nothing compared to what I feel for you. Only you can reach that hidden part of my soul that I show to no one else." Ryan dropped from the bench and knelt in front of her partner. "I love only you, Jamie. You're the last woman in my life," she whispered fervently as she laid her head in Jamie's lap. "I’m so very, very sorry that I’ve hurt you," she whispered, her voice ragged and thin. "I’d do anything to take back what happened today."

Jamie ran her fingers through the ebony tresses as they both shed a few more tears, neither able to change the events of the past hours, no matter how they wished they could. After a long while she pulled Ryan to her feet as she stood up on shaky legs. It was nearly nine o'clock, but for once in her life Ryan was not hungry. Jamie looked up at her and asked, "Can we go to bed?"

"There's no place I'd rather be," she agreed.

They crawled into bed together, after hastily stripping off their clothes. Ryan held her partner in her strong arms, rocking her slowly as she ran her fingers through her hair. She rocked her until she felt her begin to drift off, murmuring the whole while, "Only you, Jamie. I love only you."

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

Continued in Part 11

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