I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 4: Disclosures

By S X Meagher


Disclaimers: See Part 1

Part 13

Jamie heard the bell ring at 7:05. She shot down the stairs, calling out, "I’ll get it!" as she ran. She flung the door open and quickly stepped outside as she closed the door behind her. She was puzzled to see Brendan’s truck pulling away, but her attention quickly reverted back to her lover. She threw her arms around her neck, pulled her down for an emotion-filled kiss, and hung on to her tightly, squeezing her until Ryan’s back started to ache. She finally let her go and backed up a step to survey her. "You look really nice, Honey," she said sincerely. Ryan had donned a pair of slim-cut white chinos with a side zipper, a banded collar, long-sleeved white cotton blouse, very crisply ironed, and her sleeveless black v-necked cardigan, neatly buttoned. She looked absolutely perfect for the setting--not too dressy and not too casual. Jamie marveled at her ability to always look appropriate for the occasion. She must just have an innate sense of style. I know that no one taught her these things.

"Are you really all right?" Ryan asked with concern, running her hand through Jamie’s hair.

"Yeah, I’m fine now," she said as she leaned in for another hug. "I guess we’d better go in. Are you ready?" she asked tentatively.

"Yes, I am," Ryan replied. "But I want you to remember something. Your parents don’t have any real power over you any more. And there’s nothing they can do to me. Their approval only means anything to me because it’s important to you. So if this doesn’t go well, we’ll just regroup and try again later, okay?" she asked as she leaned over a bit to stare directly into Jamie’s eyes.

"You’re right, Honey," she said with a small smile. "I’m just worried because I want them to love you too."

"That’s not going to happen right away, Baby. I’m kind of an acquired taste, like blood sausage," she said with a wink, referring to one of her grandfather’s favorite cold cuts.

"I’m so glad you’re here," she said as she rested her head on Ryan’s shoulder. "I feel like myself again when you’re with me."

"Let’s go in, Honey. They’re probably getting anxious."

"I don’t want to hurry. That’s a strategy I learned from my father. Keep them waiting. It shows you have the power," she said with an eyebrow wiggle as she turned to open the door.

Ryan didn’t really have the opportunity to notice the gorgeous foyer they walked through, because as soon as they were halfway through it, Jim was upon them. He stuck his hand out and said, "Thanks for coming, Ryan. I appreciate your responsiveness."

"You’re welcome," she said with a smile. She felt uncomfortable calling him ‘Jim’ given the circumstances, but she did not want to revert to ‘Mr. Evans’ since she knew that Jamie was right that she shouldn't relinquish any advantage she had, so she decided to avoid calling him anything, if possible.

He escorted her into the living room, and Catherine rose as they entered. She gave Ryan a dazzling smile and strode over, extending her hand. "Catherine Evans," she announced confidently. "It is a delight to finally meet you, Ryan."

Ryan gave her a dazzler in return as she said, "The pleasure is mine, Mrs. Evans."

"I would feel more comfortable if you called me Catherine, Dear," she said, still holding Ryan’s hand. As she was being led over to the sofa, Ryan took a moment to assess the woman who pulled her along. Catherine looked almost nothing like her beautiful daughter, but she was mighty beautiful nonetheless. She was at least two inches shorter than Jamie, but she looked much smaller, probably because her bone structure was so delicate. She actually looked like a strong wind could blow her away, and Ryan offered up a silent prayer of thanks that Jamie had inherited a much sturdier build. I would be worried about crushing her when we made love if Jamie was that tiny, she mused.

Catherine indicated that Ryan should sit beside her, giving her a chance to study her face for a moment. To Ryan’s surprise, she noted that Catherine honestly did not share one feature with her daughter. Her nose was smaller and her lips were thinner than Jamie’s pouty ones. Her eyes were a warm dark brown rather than Jamie’s misty green. Catherine’s cheekbones were stronger than her daughter’s and her forehead a bit wider, giving her a look very demonstrative of her English heritage.

Ryan had to admit that Catherine was truly lovely, despite her outward fragility. Her skin was flawless, much like Jamie’s, but the coloring was very fair and it looked like she spent very little time in the sun. It was hard to tell if her hair color was natural, but it looked so perfectly matched to her skin tone that Ryan assumed she was a real blonde. Her hair was longer than Jamie’s, and cut in a style that Ryan would not have chosen for her. She was a very youthful looking woman, but her mid-length cut didn’t emphasize her youthfulness. Rather, it was the style Ryan saw so often on the photos of wealthy society matrons in the Examiner. She could look 30 with the right haircut, she mused.

Catherine looked at her with a friendly but reserved smile and asked solicitously, "What can I get you to drink? Jamie and I are having Campari and soda, but I can get you anything you want."

Ryan’s playful side considered asking for a Guinness Stout, but she didn’t think the attempt at humor would play well with this audience. "That would be fine," she said hoping that she liked Campari, whatever that was. While Catherine fixed the drink, Ryan shot a quick glance at her partner. I’m glad I’m driving home, she thought. I wondered what I tasted on her lips. I guess that explains why she looked a little dazed.

"Have you had dinner, Ryan? We’ve waited for you."

"No, I haven’t," she admitted, hoping her stomach did not start to growl.

"Superb," Catherine said with real pleasure, then got up and strode toward what Ryan guessed was the kitchen. As she walked, Ryan took a moment to gaze at Catherine’s elegant clothing. The buttercream yellow slacks and short, square cut jacket looked a bit like suede, but Ryan reasoned that there was no animal that had a hide as soft and supple looking as this, so she assumed the fabric was Ultrasuede. The unbuttoned jacket was collarless, and an even paler yellow silk shell peeked out. The entire ensemble was so perfectly tailored to Catherine’s slim body that Ryan assumed it had been custom made. Gee, I wonder if she changed into that when she got home…I can just imagine what that little number would look like if I wore it during a flight from Italy. You would be able to name the entire menu just from looking at my clothes! she thought, as she considered how easy it was to spill food and drink on your clothing during a bumpy trans-Atlantic flight.

Catherine emerged a moment later and announced that dinner would be ready in half an hour. "Do you have any dietary restrictions or preferences, Ryan?"

I’m sure you mean, besides Jamie, she thought, a small smile curving her lips. "No, ma’am," she said.

"Excellent. I’m certain that Jamie told you why Jim wanted you to join us. He has some concerns that he wants you to address. But I want us all to have a nice meal and get to know one another first. Is that all right with you?"

"Yes, ma’am," she said with a smile. "That would be lovely."

"Tell us a little bit about yourself, Ryan. Are you from the Bay Area?"

"Yes, my family lives in Noe Valley," she began, but Catherine’s puzzled glance made her elaborate. "That’s a neighborhood that’s also called Eureka Valley. It’s between Castro and Twin Peaks."

"I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the area," she replied, gracing Ryan with an interested smile.

"There’s not much there unless you’re visiting someone. It’s just a small residential neighborhood. No historical significance."

"I’m sure it’s lovely," Catherine said. "Do you still live with your family, Dear?"

"Yes ma’am. Although Jamie and I have been staying at her house in Berkeley during the week, as I’m sure you know."

Catherine had not known this since neither Jim nor Jamie had shared the information with her, but her unflappable gaze did not reveal this to Ryan. "I see," she said. "Who is at home with you?"

"My father and two of my brothers. I have another brother who lives in an apartment nearby."

"What about your mother?"

"She died when I was seven," Ryan replied neutrally, not one shred of vulnerability showing.

"Oh dear! That’s so young to lose your mother. Who raised you?"

Ryan looked a bit perplexed as she replied, "My father did."

"Without help?" Catherine could not imagine a man being able to raise four children without significant help.

"My brothers are all older than I am. Brendan was thirteen when my mother died, so he and the other boys helped a lot. I also have four aunts and several older cousins who were always available to help. But mostly it was my father."

"That’s a terrific responsibility for a man to take on. Was he able to be at home a lot?"

"He’s a firefighter, so he worked two days and was off three. Until I was ten or so, one of my aunts would stay with us on the nights he was gone. But after that, the boys were in charge."

"Didn’t that leave you unsupervised a lot, especially during summer breaks?" Even though Catherine herself hadn't spent a large amount of time with her daughter while she was growing up, an adult had been in the immediate vicinity at all times. She could not imagine leaving four children alone much of the time, but she reasoned that some people had few options due to circumstances just like these.

"Yes, I suppose it did. But my oldest brother was very responsible at a very early age. I suppose he had to be responsible since my mother was sick on and off from the time I was three. He kept good track of me during the school year. And during the summers I went to live with my maternal grandparents."

"Where do they live?" she asked.

"In Ireland," Ryan replied. "Both of my parents are immigrants."

"How fascinating," Catherine enthused, making it sound like a very exotic state of being. In fact, she found the young woman who so effortlessly responded to her questions to be very charming indeed.

Jamie piped in. "Ryan was actually born in Ireland, also."

"Really, Dear?" Catherine asked, cocking her head in question.

"Yes, my mother had to visit her mother because of illness when she was pregnant with me. It got too near her due date, so she had to stay. We left when I was about two weeks old. So I have dual citizenship."

Hmm, Jim thought to himself, I guess I can’t have her deported. I wonder if her father is legal. "How did your father gain citizenship?" he asked cordially, trying for a neutral tone of voice.

Ryan resisted the impulse to smile, recalling Brendan’s comment about deportation, knowing Jamie’s dad was headed down a dead-end trail. "He and his brothers were actually born here, but their parents couldn’t make a go of it and they returned shortly after World War II." If Jim was disappointed, it was not evident from his carefully schooled, polite expression.

"Have you many relatives in Ireland?" Catherine asked.

"Yes, besides my grandparents, my mother’s younger sister and her husband have four children. And then I have cousins too plentiful to count," she said with a laugh.

"She has 14 cousins who live in Noe Valley, too," Jamie added.

"15, Jamie," she corrected. "You forgot the most important one."

"How could I forget her?" she laughed. "Ryan has 14 cousins, all gorgeous men, and a precious little one-year-old named Caitlin."

"How nice," Catherine said. "She must be terribly spoiled."

"About as bad as I was," Ryan admitted. "I’m the only girl in my generation in America."

Just then an attractive older woman emerged from the same direction that Catherine had previously traveled. "Dinner is ready," she announced in a clipped Spanish accent.

"Thank you, Marta. We’ll be in momentarily."

"Would you like to freshen up before dinner, Ryan?" Catherine asked.

"Yes, thank you, I would."

"Jamie, Dear, show Ryan the powder room, will you?"

Jamie stood and waited for Ryan to rise. In a pointed move she took her hand and led her to a small but elegantly appointed powder room, far from the dining room. She walked into the tiny room and gestured for Ryan to follow. She had to squeeze a little, but was just able to close the door. "How do you know I don’t have to go?" Ryan teased, referring to Jamie’s penchant for privacy.

"You can hold it until I leave," she said with a smile. "I just needed another kiss before dinner." She slid her arms around Ryan’s neck and pulled her head down. Several kisses followed and Ryan felt a familiar flush building up.

"Baby, that’s about all I can take," she whispered. "I’m at my peak of sexual receptivity."

"Really? Why’s that?"

"I’m due to get my period. Right beforehand, I’m hotter than a firecracker."

"So that’s why you’ve been so needy," she said with a grin. "You were actually grinding against me in your sleep the other night. I almost woke you, but I decided to let you have your erotic dreams."

Ryan flushed a little at this news. "Why didn’t you tell me that?"

"I forgot about it. I was half asleep myself. It was actually the day we got our hair cut. You were holding my hips and rubbing yourself against my butt in the most sensual way; I really almost woke you up and had you."

"That must have been the residuals from your pony ride," she said with a smirk. "I wanted to go for a ride too," she whispered into her ear.

"Let’s get through this evening and we can ride all night," she promised with another kiss.

Ryan turned and washed her hands. She grabbed the doorknob and they both nearly tumbled out. "Your house is beyond spectacular," she observed. "Should I ask for a tour?"

"Maybe next time. Mother could easily spend all day extolling all of her treasures."

Hand in hand, they walked into the ornate dining room. The table was made for 16 and they looked a little lost, clustered at one end. Ryan wondered why they didn’t have a more casual set-up for family dinners, but she decided that they certainly did not consider her family, and perhaps they never would.

The food and the wine were so incredibly good that Ryan had a hard time staying focused on the conversation. Jamie spared a few teasing glances her way, acknowledging the look of absolute pleasure on Ryan’s lovely face. Ryan noticed that Jamie accepted a half glass of wine, but did not take more than a token sip. Ryan had more than usual, finishing off two good-sized glasses of the extraordinary merlot that they enjoyed. To her amazement, Marta brought out another bottle of the wine when they were no more than halfway through dinner, and the Evanses made quick work of it also.

The meal was so sumptuous that she wanted to compliment someone, but she knew that no one at the table had anything to do with the preparation so she didn’t quite know what to say. She considered her options, but decided that, "You sure do know how to hire a cook," was probably not the correct avenue, so she said nothing.

During the meal, they spoke of Ryan’s athletic career, and then Jim told Catherine all about Jamie’s desire to try out for the golf team. As Ryan watched him relate the tale, she had to smile at his rampant enthusiasm. It occurred to her that Jim was awfully invested in Jamie’s plans, and she hoped that her partner was being honest with herself when she said she was playing as much for herself as for her father.

Ryan was eyeing the last bit of coconut cake that remained on Jamie’s plate when Jim stood up and indicated that Ryan should join him for their discussion. Jamie stood also, but he shook his head firmly. "I want to speak to Ryan alone," he said in a tone that normally would not allow for dissent. To her own surprise, she found herself staring directly into her father’s eyes, saying, "I don’t see the need for you to speak to Ryan alone, Daddy. She’s not interviewing for the position, you know." There was a touch of humor in her voice as well as a pleasant smile on her face, but Ryan knew that both were a thin cover for her determination.

Jim stopped and stared at his daughter for a full minute. As the managing partner for a very large law firm, he was familiar with unblinking obedience to his requests, and he found that he did not appreciate this sign of disrespect from his own daughter. "I thought we had covered this, Jamie," he said evenly. "I wanted Ryan to come down here to answer some questions…What part of that request did you not understand?"

Ryan could see that this little contretemps could easily get out of hand. She hated to show a lack of support for her partner, but she was perfectly comfortable answering Jim’s questions, and she let him know that. "It’s really all right, Jamie," she assured her. "I don’t mind speaking to your father alone."

Jamie shot her a grateful look, glad to be spared the fight that she feared would ensue if she held her ground. "Okay, Honey," she said softly squeezing Ryan’s hand as she left.

Jim led her back through the living room and down a long hall until they reached a wood paneled library. It was a very imposing room, and as he walked around the place he seemed very much in control. "I’m having a brandy. Will you join me?"

Ryan had never had brandy in her life, but she wasn’t going to admit that. She knew that the power imbalance between them was massive, and she wanted to appear as cool as she could manage. "That would be nice," she agreed, figuring, if nothing else, that her first taste of brandy would be the good stuff.

He handed her a snifter, then sat behind the huge, ornately carved desk. His chair was a deep burgundy leather, enormous in scale. He rocked back and placed his feet on the desk and gazed at Ryan with an inscrutable look on his face. The only chair available for her was directly across from the massive piece, and to her amusement she noticed that it was just a hair too small for most adults. It was leather also, but straight-backed, and it required her to fidget quite a bit to attempt to get comfortable. Isn’t this subtle? she thought. I wonder if the KGB helped with the design?

He reached behind his desk and took a massive cigar from a humidor. Don’t laugh! she chided herself, forcing the jokes about Monica Lewinsky and the president from her mind. He fussed with the cigar for a few minutes, and when he had it lit, leaned back again and narrowed his eyes as the smoke wafted into them. "You don’t mind if I’m direct, do you?"

"I’d prefer it," she replied.

"Good," he said as he rocked back and forth, sucking on his phallic symbol. "You seem like a fine young woman, Ryan."

For a blue-collar, working-class, immigrant lesbian, that is, she added for him. She responded civilly to the statement, deliberately taking it at face value. "Thank you, sir," she said as she waited for the ‘but’.

"I believe that you love my daughter, and I’m certain that she believes that she loves you."

Here it comes, she thought. 3-2-1-

"But....I’m absolutely convinced that she does not belongs in this type of relationship."

No, you would have much preferred that she marry Jack, even if she would have been miserable in the end. Ryan resisted her impulse to deliver a scathing retort and struggled, but maintained her composure. "What type of relationship would you prefer that she be in, sir?" she asked politely.

"I believe that you know what point I’m trying to make. I do not believe that my daughter is a lesbian."

Knowing that Jamie did not style herself as a lesbian, Ryan could not dispute his statement, but she was willing to let Jamie be in charge of that discussion. "Don’t you think she’s in a better position to judge that, sir?"

"No, I don’t!" he said with his voice beginning to rise. "She’s in a very fragile state, Ryan, and I mean no disrespect, but I believe you’ve taken advantage of that."

He is implying that I seduced her when Jack broke up with her. That sonofabitch. Ryan took a deep breath, controlling the anger that roiled within her. This is Jamie’s father. He’s important to her. I can do this…for Jamie. Completely under control, she finally responded. "Why would I be offended by that characterization?" she asked calmly.

"I’m not implying that you’ve done so intentionally. I can imagine that your feelings for her are genuine, but I think you’ve put ideas into her head that do not belong there!"

"I mean no disrespect, sir, but that is not true. I would never try to influence anyone who had just gone through an upsetting breakup. Jamie was very, very thorough and careful every step of the way, sir. This is not a whim for her. And I assure you she made up her own mind. I certainly have not had much luck in changing her mind when she’s determined about something. Have you?"

"No," he reluctantly admitted. "I haven’t. But my point remains, Ryan. Do you mind if I ask you some personal questions?"

"I’m happy to answer anything about my life. But I’m uncomfortable talking about our relationship out of Jamie’s presence."

"Fine," he said. "My questions are about you."

I was afraid of that, Ryan thought, having a good idea of the direction his questions would take.

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

"I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so nervous," Catherine remarked, slightly puzzled by her daughter’s restlessness.

Jamie had stacked, scattered, stacked, and scattered again the coasters that sat upon the coffee table in front of the sofa, and she looked like she was about to repeat the cycle but stopped on hearing her mother's comment. "I just don’t like it, Mother." She ran a hand through her hair, partly to stop herself from playing with the coasters, now that her little compulsion had been noticed. "She doesn’t have to answer to Daddy for anything that’s happened."

"I know, Dear," Catherine soothed, placing her hand upon her daughter’s back. She added a few gentle pats, surprised at the sturdy muscularity that she encountered. "He forgets sometimes that there is a difference between home and the office. I wouldn’t worry so, Jamie. Ryan seems very able to handle herself."

"She is." Jamie dropped her head, letting out a heavy sigh. "She’s just…sensitive, Mother." Turning to face Catherine she added, "I don’t want him to hurt her feelings."

"There is always that possibility," Catherine agreed. "He can be a little overbearing." Now a small frown caused a few faint lines to appear in Catherine’s forehead. "If you want me to, I’ll go poke my head in to see how things are going."

Jamie considered the offer for a moment, shaking her head briefly to refuse it. "I don’t think that will help. Once Daddy decides he wants to know something, I don’t think either of us can stop him."

"Are you worried about anything in particular, Dear?"

Hmm…her sexual past, the disparity in our finances, our plans to have me support her…. She decided not to share her specific concerns with her mother, irrationally worrying that giving them voice might make them come true. "Not really," she said. "I just know that Daddy has the ability to make people feel small and insignificant, and it would really upset me to have him do that to Ryan."

Catherine gave her another pat on the back, adding, "I can see how significant she is to you, Jamie. That’s what’s important."

The Evans women shared a warm smile, with Jamie offering up a silent prayer of thanks that her mother was being so understanding.

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

Jim took several deep puffs on his cigar, nearly blinding Ryan, but she refused to give in to her urge to cough. "I take it that you consider yourself a lesbian?"

"Yes, sir."

"How old were you when you had this realization?"

"At some level I’ve always known. But I was certain when I was 17."

"Have you had much experience with men?"

"Only with living with them," she smiled. "But no, I’ve never had a sexual relationship with a man."

"Have you dated a lot of women?"

Ryan spent a moment looking at her shoes. She was certainly not going to reveal the extensive numbers of women she had slept with, but she decided that she needed to be truthful. "Yes, sir. I have."

"And have you ever dated a woman who was roughly in my daughter’s situation? Someone who had previously considered themselves heterosexual but nonetheless was attracted to you?"

"Yes, sir." Ryan could see the paint beginning to surround her as he edged her closer to the corner.

"And did those women stay in the lesbian community to your knowledge?"

"No, sir, they did not," she replied as she drank the last of her brandy. He rose from his chair and poured another two inches for her, stopping to replenish his own snifter with a prodigious amount of the amber liquid.

"Why do you suppose that happened?" he continued with his back turned as he replaced the bottle.

"I don’t believe they were lesbians, sir. I think they were just experimenting."

"Precisely!" he said triumphantly. "That’s exactly what I think Jamie is doing."

"I beg to disagree, Sir. I got a different feeling from Jamie from the beginning. I never thought she was just playing, and that’s why I was reluctant to move forward with her."

He considered her statement as he sank back into his chair, the leather squeaking in the otherwise silent room. "How many seemingly heterosexual women have you dated, Ryan?"

She looked down at the floor again. She knew this was a sure-fire loser argument, but she felt that she had to answer. "About ten or so."

"Ten?" he replied with a look of amazement. "You did say ten, didn’t you?"

"Yes, sir. I said about ten."

"You did understand my question didn’t you, Ryan?" He tilted his head and furrowed his sandy blonde eyebrows together. "I didn’t ask how many women you had been with in total. Just the ones that you thought were heterosexual."

Oooh, Jamie, only for you…"I understood your question," Ryan said, giving him a steely gaze.

He shook his head and stared at her for a few long minutes and finally blinked his eyes slowly. "All right," he finally said. "You claim the number is about ten. So it could even be more?"

"Yes, sir. Or fewer," she added, for the record. She thought to herself, If I get confused I can always have the court reporter read my last statement back to me.

"And not one of these women remained involved in a lesbian lifestyle?"

"No, sir. To my knowledge, not one did."

"But you’re confident that out of all the straight women you’ve dated, my daughter is the only true lesbian."

She fidgeted in her seat, wishing that she did not feel the need to be completely honest. "I didn’t say that, sir."

"Pardon?" He blinked slowly, thinking that she was giving in awfully quickly.

"I didn’t say that Jamie was a lesbian. I do know that she’s in love with me, and I’m confident that we are permanently partnered, but I think it’s premature to affix that label to her."

He sat back in his chair and took several more deep puffs. He looked very satisfied with himself as he said, "Well, that’s an interesting admission, Ryan. Very interesting indeed." He rocked a few times, smiling at her the entire time, finally adding, "I shall defer to your expert opinion on that."

His smirk gave Ryan her first tinge of regret for having slept with so many women. But she realized that if she had only one such woman, he would have used that to say she didn’t have enough experience, so she let the point slide.

"Time will tell, Ryan. Time will tell."

* * * * * * * * * * *

As Jamie handed her mother a just-mixed drink, Catherine held onto her extended hand for a moment. She didn’t say a word–instead, she pointedly glanced at the third finger of her daughter’s left hand, then lifted a perfectly curved eyebrow in question.

Jamie didn’t need to look at her hand to understand the silent inquiry, but she did, nonetheless. It gave her a great deal of pleasure to look at the ring Ryan had given her, and she found that she did so several times a day. "It was Ryan’s mother’s wedding band," she said softly, deciding to let her mother ask for further details if she wished them.

A look of pain crossed Catherine’s face, and she found that her voice cracked a bit as she asked, "Did you have some sort of ceremony?" She held her breath, hoping that her only child had not seen fit to exclude her parents from such a meaningful event in her life.

Jamie gave her a gentle smile, squeezing her mother’s hand as she sat back down beside her. "Not technically," she revealed. "We sat by the sea down in Pebble Beach and pledged our love to each other, but it was very impromptu. We would like to have a formal ceremony some day, but we decided that we’d wait until everyone we love was able to celebrate with us." She gave her mother a slow, sweet smile, adding another squeeze of her hand. "I wouldn’t dream of having a ceremony without you and Daddy and Poppa being there."

In a very unexpected move, Catherine took her daughter’s hand and lifted it to her lips, placing a gentle kiss there. For once in her life she decided to allow the feelings to come without concern, the tears sliding down her face with abandon. "I’m so happy that you decided to wait for us," she whispered on a ragged breath.

Jamie’s composure fractured at this display, and once again she sobbed in tandem with her mother. "We’ll wait, Mother. We’ll wait for you. I promise."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jim rocked slowly in his massive chair, nodding to himself as Ryan sipped her brandy. "Jamie tells me that you’re on scholarship this year," he said conversationally.

"Yes, I am. I was lucky enough to make the varsity volleyball team, and they had a scholarship to award."

"You won’t be able to keep your job while you compete, will you, Ryan?" he asked in the same conversational tone.

DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! All of the alarms went off in her head, but she had to answer. "No, I was planning on quitting at the end of the summer."

"What will you do to pay for entertainment or to keep up your car? Will your father be able to support you?"

"No, sir. He won’t."

"Well then?" he asked in a silky tone.

Ryan just barely kept herself from wincing, the raw subject of money and the lack of it being the only discord she and Jamie had experienced thus far. "Jamie was going to pay for our living expenses during the school year."

"So you were going to live at my house and have my daughter support you?" he said slowly, as if he was trying to let the information sink in.

"Well, actually, I was going to offer to pay Cassie’s part of the rent since I’m taking her place in the house. I thought Jamie was going to mention that to you." She knew that this was stretching the truth quite a bit, but since it had been their intention to do so, it didn’t feel like a complete lie.

With what she thought was a glimmer of respect in his tone, he commented, "I think that would be best. It would set my mind at ease to know that you were paying your own way, Ryan."

She nodded briefly, regretfully acknowledging that she would be unable to allow Jamie to pay the rent for her, as they had agreed. "What are your plans after graduation?"

"I’m in the process of applying to graduate school." Although if I have to pay rent and expenses this year, I’ll have to live on bread and water.

"Really? In what field?"

"I’m applying to Ph.D. programs in chemistry, biology, and math as well as medical school."

"Very impressive," he said with a smile. "I trust that your grades are good?"

"Yes, sir. They’re excellent." That last sentence got out without conscious thought and she reminded herself, The worst thing you can do is brag or taunt him. Stick to the facts, damn it!!

"Are you planning on receiving a scholarship for these programs?"

"Possibly. I’m certainly going to try for one."

"And if you are not awarded a scholarship, what will you do?"

If the choice had been hers, she would have turned and run from this line of questions. But the choice, was most definitely, not hers. Taking in a breath, she looked him straight in the eye and replied, "Jamie has offered to lend me the money for tuition, books, and fees."

"Did you say, ‘lend’?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then why not take out a student loan? I’m sure you would qualify."

"I’m not comfortable weighing myself down with that much debt," she said, but wished that she could pull it back in immediately. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! she screamed to herself.

"If you borrow that money from Jamie, isn’t that still debt?" he asked pleasantly.

"Yes, sir."

"But I assume you would have a more generous repayment plan with my daughter," he said with the same pleasant smile.

I didn’t know that ‘repayment plan’ was a euphemism for stealing! Ryan shouted to herself. Aloud she answered, "Yes, sir. Jamie doesn’t want to put a due date on the note."

Switching gears for the fifth time he asked, "What kind of car do you drive, Ryan?"

"I don’t have a car, sir."

"No car? Have you ever had one?"

"No, sir."

"As much as you love them, that must be difficult."

"Not really. I love cars, but I can appreciate them from afar."

"Um hmmm," he said with that same deadly pleasant smile.

"Would I know anyone in your family, Ryan, from a club or organization?" he asked in that same pleasant, conversational tone. He seemed interested, but Ryan knew this was code for ‘Are you anybody?’

Deciding to play his game, she answered, "My father is in the Knights of Columbus," naming a Catholic fraternal organization. "Are you a member?"

"No, I’m afraid not," he said with a thin smile.

"We belong to the YMCA," she added helpfully.

He gave her a slightly puzzled glance, trying to figure out if she was just incredibly naïve or was trying to be obnoxious. But the big blue eyes that gazed back at him seemed completely innocent, so he let it go. Deciding that their chat had set the proper tone for their future interactions, he stood and said, "Well, I think I know you a bit better, Ryan. I appreciate your honesty. You really do seem like a fine young woman, and I hope that your future plans work out."

As long as they don’t include Jamie, she thought. She started to stand also, but he came around to the front of the desk and stood in front of her, making her feel not only small, but young. She looked up at him, seriously wondering if he had been trained in his intimidation tactics, or if they came naturally.

"Ryan," he said softly, sitting down on the corner of the desk. "I don’t want to see you hurt. I know that Jamie cares for you a great deal, but I’m convinced that she’s confused that caring with love. I urge you, for your own protection, to take things slowly and see what happens."

She nodded, showing that she had heard him. She was not going to dispute his opinion, since it was just his opinion. Deciding not to express her own thoughts, she offered a smile and he seemed to accept that as a reply. He stood and backed away from the desk, giving her room to move. She stood and paused for a moment, trying to get her sea legs after the uncharacteristically large amount of alcohol she had consumed. Oh, Jamie…please be sober, or we’re gonna have to stay over, and I don’t want to be introduced to the servant’s quarters tonight!

* * * * * * * * * * *

"There’s one thing I really need to apologize to you for, Mother," Jamie said after they had both composed themselves again.

"What’s that, Dear?"

"I’m so sorry that this is going to be all over the gossip mill down here. I know it was hard to hear this from Mrs. Martin, and I’m very sorry that it happened this way." She was genuinely sorry that the revelation had come from her mother’s closest friend, and her feelings showed clearly on her face.

A gentle laugh floated up from Catherine’s chest, and Jamie shot her a very puzzled look. "Oh, Dear, that’s sweet of you to be concerned, but don’t give it another thought."

"But Mrs. Martin…"

"Jamie, Laura and I have been close since you and Cassie were in grammar school. Do you really think that in all of that time I have not gotten a very clear impression of exactly who she is?"


"Dear, Laura and I share a number of things…but she lives to gossip about others. She’s done it to me and to every other person we know. You are certainly not going to be immune from her wagging tongue."

"I don’t care about me, Mother, it’s you and your relationship with her that I’m concerned about."

Catherine let out another small laugh and patted Jamie’s knee. "If this is the worst thing she ever has to say about our family I’ll be eternally grateful," she said. "We have friends whose children have died from drug overdoses, who’ve spent time in alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers, who’ve gone through sizeable fortunes by the time they’re 25 years old. Having a daughter whose only detour from the usual path is to enter a loving relationship with another woman is a very, very small variation, Dear. Don’t give it another thought."

Jamie was stunned at her mother’s reaction. She was certain that the views of her friends would have been very important to her. With a shake of her head she realized that there were parts of her mother that had been very well hidden–and that she would have to work at to be able to access. "This is … surprising … yes … surprising," she managed to get out.

"The bottom line is this, Jamie. My social circle loves to hear a juicy bit of gossip. You will be the hot topic for a while, but as soon as a hotter topic arises–and believe me, it will–you and I will revert back to our usual anonymity."

"I just thought…" she said weakly, "that you might be treated differently by your friends…"

Another laugh startled her and Jamie gaped at her mother’s blithe response. "Have you really not experienced the almost total acceptance that our money buys, Dear?" Catherine’s head was cocked slightly, and a very amused grin covered her face. "No one on the Peninsula can afford to be on my bad side, Jamie. I’m on the board of nearly every important charity in the Bay Area. If any of these women want a dime–and believe me, they want far more than that--they know not to shun me."

Jamie nodded slowly, understanding that their wealth put them in a strange social position, but honestly never having thought about the automatic acceptance that it carried. The thought that most struck her, though, was the detachment that her mother exhibited towards the people Jamie thought were close friends to her. If she feels that way about Laura Martin, who is she close to?

She was startled from her musings by the sound of footsteps coming along the long hallway. Grasping her mother’s hand quickly, she gave it a squeeze for luck and took a deep breath, waiting to see the look on her partner’s face. When Ryan and her father entered the room, Jamie hopped to her feet, sliding an arm around Ryan’s waist, pleased to find her calm and collected. She asked quietly, "Are you all right, Honey?"

Ryan smiled down at her and gave her a small wink to show that she had emerged unscathed. "I think we’ll be off now, Catherine," Ryan said, extending her hand. Catherine returned her shake and got to her feet, looking surprisingly steady.

"Are you sober enough to drive?" Jim demanded, noticing that Ryan looked a little loose-limbed.

"I’m driving us both, Daddy," Jamie informed him. "Ryan’s brother dropped her off."

"Are you completely sober, Jamie?" he asked, stooping a little to look into her clear green eyes.

"Yes, I am. I had a couple of drinks before dinner, but that’s been hours. I’m sober now."

"As long as you’re sure, Honey. You know you can stay the night if you want." Jamie was touched by the offer, knowing that it would be hard for him to have her and Ryan sleeping together in his house.

"I’m fine, Daddy. I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine." She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him good-bye, and then gave her mother their standard kiss. Ryan shook both of their hands, and they escaped into the night without further incident.

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

Jim Evans stepped away from the front door and surveyed his domain, drawing comfort and reassurance from being surrounded by the evidence of the obvious rightness of his world. His wife was sitting on the couch, collapsed into its cushioned comfort, obviously tired from the events of the evening and from her trip. He crossed to her and placed a perfunctory kiss upon her drawn cheek. "I just realized that I didn’t even welcome you home." The semi-apology was extended readily, from years of practice. "This thing really caught me totally by surprise. I hardly know if I’m coming or going," he admitted, running a hand through his stylishly cut hair.

Catherine could plainly see the fatigue on his face; the fine lines that years of excessive sun exposure had etched were carved more deeply than normal. "That’s all right, Jim," she said easily. She was as skilled at accepting his excuses as he was at offering them. Her rigid self-control had been tenuously re-established, and any softening that she had shared with Jamie did not extend to her husband. "We did have a rather disruptive day."

He walked over to the well-stocked bar that rested on a beautifully crafted bird’s-eye maple cart. "Brandy?" he asked, holding the bottle aloft.

It isn’t only ‘sleep’ that knits up the raveled sleeve of care. "I’d kill for one," she replied, adding a gentle laugh at her exaggeration.

They sat beside one another on the sofa, quietly reflecting on the events of the day–together, yet separate. Letting out a ragged sigh, Catherine allowed a few tears to roll down her cheeks, only slightly irritated with herself for showing her feelings so openly. Unexpectedly, Jim scooted closer and wrapped his muscular arm around her shoulders, feeling a little surprised at how small she felt when she cuddled up against him. She hesitated just a moment, unaccustomed to receiving comfort from him, then rested her head on his shoulder, draping her other arm around his waist. After a few minutes, she felt more composed, and murmured, "I just wish it wasn’t true."

He was running his hand up and down her arm reassuringly, and when she expressed this wish, with its tacit acceptance of Jamie’s revelation, he stopped and grasped the painfully thin appendage, giving it a gentle squeeze. "It’s not, Cat." He rarely used this pet name anymore, and she gave a start when she realized she had not heard it in years.

He reacted to her gasp, assuming that she disputed his words, rather than his rare use of the diminutive. "She’s just going through a phase." His confidence was so complete that for a moment she doubted her own observations.

"But, Jim…"

"No buts, Catherine." Now his voice was firm, resolute. "No one knows Jamie better than you and me. We would have seen some sign of this before now. Ryan seems like a fine young woman–a good person to have as a friend--and I can see how Jamie would have relied on her to get through a tough time."


"She’s not a lesbian, Catherine. Even Ryan admitted as much to me."

"She did?" Now she was truly confused. She had not had the opportunity to speak with Ryan alone, but none of this made sense, and the alcohol she had consumed did not make figuring it out any easier.

"Ryan is a lesbian–that much is clear. I think Jamie just has a bad case of hero worship, to tell you the truth. I think we need to just let this play itself out for a while."

Ah, ignore it and the problem will go away. Well, that is an approach that has worked for him in the past. "Play itself out? I don’t think that is going to happen, Jim." She was certain that the determination she had seen in her daughter’s eyes was genuine, and the love they reflected when she spoke of Ryan could not be denied.

"I know my daughter, Catherine. This is a crush that will resolve itself. We just need to be patient with Jamie until she comes to her senses. Trust me."

Trust. Such a simple word for such an important thing. She could tell that Jamie and Ryan shared it. With a weary sigh she dropped her head again, relaxing into her husband’s embrace. I might not know Jamie as well as you think you do, she thought, but I know her well enough to know that she’s irrevocably in love with Ryan. We may as well get used to the idea, Jim, because that young woman is here to stay.

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

"So, what do you think, Tiger?" The question was deliberately open-ended, but Jamie was anxious to hear Ryan’s assessment if she chose to share it. Jamie had dropped the top of the Boxster, hoping the brisk wind would keep her alert as well as help to sober Ryan up. Her partner wasn’t really drunk, but she was tipsier than Jamie had ever seen her. They were cruising along 101, the traffic quite light on this Saturday night.

"I thought the Irish were the drinkers," Ryan said slowly, with a rather hazy gaze. "Your parents sure don’t like to see the bottom of a glass."

Jamie nodded, knowing that Ryan was not trying to be unkind, but her words still stung a bit. Both of her parents, but particularly her mother, had an enormous capacity for alcohol, and she had often wondered if she should make a comment to either of them about their drinking.

"Other than the profusion of alcohol, what did you think?" Jamie repeated, hinting at her interest in the content of Ryan's conversation with her father.

Ryan tilted her head up to stare at the murky gray/black sky. There were no stars visible, not an uncommon occurrence in the Bay Area. "I think," she drawled, "that we’ve got our work cut out with your dad. He seems to be pretty focused on the lesbian label," she revealed.

"Yeah, he focused on that pretty heavily," Jamie agreed. "Not a good sign."

"It’s funny," Ryan mused. "If he had a friend that even looked at another man in the locker room, I bet your dad would think the guy was gay. But you tell him that you’re having sex with me and totally loving it, and all he can focus on is whether or not you admit to being a lesbian. It’s just incongruous."

Jamie shook her head, her lips beginning to purse as she did so. "I tried to get him to see that the title doesn’t matter, but he doesn’t seem to want to listen to my reasoning." She took in a deep breath and held the wheel with her left hand while the right rubbed up and down Ryan’s leg. "What matters is that I love you. I think I’d love you just as much if you were a man," she said thoughtfully. "But we’ll never have to find that out, because you’re a woman. You’re a wonderful, gorgeous, fabulous woman, and I’m madly in love with you!"

Ryan gave her a dazzler of a smile, her blue eyes sparkling as the oncoming traffic reflected off of them. "I couldn’t agree more, Love," she said, running her hand in a similar manner up Jamie’s thigh. "It’s gonna be hard for them to accept that you’ve chosen to spend your life with me, but we need to remember that no matter what they think, we’re a part of each other now–for better or worse ."

"I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re gonna have more better than worse," Jamie smiled, then glimmer of concern passed across her face. "Do you want to tell me what he said when you were alone?"

"No, not really," Ryan decided. She didn’t want Jamie to be angry with her father, and she didn’t think anything had transpired that merited discussion. "It was nothing that we didn’t expect, Love. He said some things that might upset you a little bit on my behalf, but he was just being your dad." She recognized that Jim was just flexing his lawyerly muscle with his interrogation, and she felt that she had done as well for herself as could be expected.

Jamie spared a glance in her direction that indicated she needed some more detail from her partner. "He didn’t hurt your feelings, or upset you, did he, Honey?"

Ryan gazed back at her partner lovingly. It made her heart swell to know that Jamie was more concerned about her than about herself, and she had to admit that her own desire to shield her partner from Jim’s inferences sprang from the same wish. "Nah," she said lightly. "He just asked a bunch of questions about me and my plans for the future."

"What else?" Jamie asked, fixing Ryan with a look that warned her to reveal what she was hiding.

"Look, Jamie," she said calmly, not surprised that her light tone didn’t fool her lover. "He’s a big-time attorney. What he does for a living is try to make people feel uncomfortable under questioning. He did that with me, but it wasn’t really a big deal. The bottom line is that he thinks you’ll eventually break up with me when you discover this is not right for you."

Jamie would really have preferred to hear what her father had to say so that she could be fully prepared for any future encounters, but she trusted her partner’s judgment and respected Ryan’s decision not to disclose the particulars. She chose to let the subject drop and responded lightly, "Well, if that’s what he’s waiting for, everything will be just fine, because we both know that’s never going to happen. I love you and I always will." Ryan favored her with a full wattage smile, then closed her eyes and rested her head back against the seat.

As they drew nearer to the city, the traffic became increasingly heavy until they were finally at a complete standstill due to some sort of problem ahead. This allowed Jamie to do what she had been wanting to almost since they had left the house--reach across the car and grab Ryan by the shoulders, pulling her close and planting a very hot kiss on her brandy-flavored lips. Her voice was low when she released her partner, smiling slightly at the stunned look on her face. "You’ve ruined me for anyone else, Tiger. I could wander the face of the earth looking, and never find anyone who could even come close to making me feel the way you make me feel."

Blinking her eyes slowly, Ryan reached up and touched her lips, the tingle still fresh. "Wow!" Her natural arousal at Jamie’s touch surged to the fore, and her lips weren’t the only part of her body that felt the tingle from even that brief contact. Another slow blink and she said, "You uh…wanna take me home and do that again when we’re dressed more appropriately?"

Jamie spared a glance at Ryan’s outfit and gave her a seductive smile. "You look perfectly fine to me. What would you rather be wearing?"

A waggling eyebrow punctuated the reply. "Just this," she offered, sharing a luminescent smile with her partner.

A light flush suffused Jamie’s cheeks as she assessed what she was being offered. "Why Ms. O’Flaherty," Jamie drawled, "I do believe you are propositioning me."

Only every day of your life, Ryan thought, but kept her response light in turn. "I do believe you are absolutely correct, Ms. Evans. It’s been far too long since I’ve experienced your munificent charms."

Jamie patted her partner’s leg, smiling at her hyperbole. "I guess two days is cruel and unusual punishment for your throbbing libido, isn’t it, Tiger?"

Ryan captured the errant hand considering, for a fleeting moment, the advisability of directing it to where Jamie could judge the truth in that statement for herself. Instead, she cocked her head, seemingly considering the comment for a minute longer. "That would be a good porn name, don’t you think? Throbbing Libido…"

Well aware of the beating pulse in the thigh resting beneath her palm, Jamie was distracted for an instant, then pulled her attention away from the rising heat and back to the question. "Porn name?" Jamie quirked a grin at the odd direction the conversation was taking.

"Yeah." Ryan shot her a lopsided smile and admitted, "Ally and I used to come up with porn star names for each other. It was a…competition."

"And what was your favorite, Hot Stuff?" Jamie’s hand flexed on Ryan’s leg, fingers splayed.

"Not telling." Ryan’s head shook slowly, indicating her refusal. "Porn names are in the eye of the beholder. You have to come up with your own."

"I’ll try to think of a few when I have you in your costume," Jamie agreed, giving her partner a bemused smirk, and with a final squeeze she reclaimed her hand and placed it firmly back on the wheel.

"Oooh, I like that costume," Ryan agreed, having a pretty good idea which one Jamie was referring to,

They rode along in silence for a few minutes, mulling over the events of the night so far, while a certainty of the more pleasurable events that were still to come teased at the edges of their thoughts.

"I thought your dad’s comments about you eventually leaving me would upset you," Ryan mused as she gazed thoughtfully at her partner, "but you seem really happy."

A brilliant smile lit up Jamie’s face as she turned and admitted the truth of Ryan’s observation. "I expected them to flip out, to be honest. Obviously, it would have been nice if they had shouted for joy, but their reactions were really pretty tame compared to what I had envisioned. One thing Anna told me is that coming out usually is a multi-step process. She cautioned me not to expect too much, and I really tried not to."

Ryan smiled at her fondly, acknowledging Jamie’s gloom and doom predictions of the previous days.

"Starting from where we left it tonight is a pretty darned good place, don’t you think, Honey?"

Ryan considered the events of the evening. No voices had been raised, no tearful pleas to return to the heterosexual fold, no threats, no intimidation. Okay, some intimidation, but only towards her. All in all, she had to agree that it had been very civilized and calm. "I think it went quite well," she agreed. "I think you handled yourself beautifully, Babe, and that was the winning element."

Jamie shot her a grateful glance and insisted, "I was very proud of you, too, Honey. You were so polite and well spoken--you didn’t let any of their questions or comments get to you…you were just a pleasure to watch all evening."

"I felt surprisingly at ease with your parents," Ryan agreed. "I had some catastrophic thoughts too, but mostly concerning how they might treat you after you told them. I would have had trouble dealing with it if they had done anything to hurt you. It is nice to know those fears were unjustified."

Jamie nodded, her mouth curling into a slow smile as she recalled, "It went better for you than it did for Jack."

"Really? With all of the things he had going for him? How so?"

Jamie shivered as she remembered the excessively long time the poor man had been held hostage in her father’s office. "I never did find out all of the details, but Daddy had Jack in that office for the better part of an afternoon! When he came out, he looked like he’d been through the Star Chamber!"

Ryan laughed at what she assumed was an exaggeration. "It didn’t feel like the Spanish Inquisition to me, Babe. But he did try to make it clear that he knew who you were…and that I didn’t."

Jamie jutted her chin out a bit in a defiant gesture. "I know who I am, Ryan. I am the same person I was this morning when Daddy was telling me how proud he is of me. I’m the same person I was when Mother showed how terribly happy she was that I came down to welcome her home. Nothing about me has changed–and nothing has to change for them if they don’t let it. They have a wonderful new daughter-in-law who I know they will love once they get to know you. Other than that, everything is the same."

Everything is the same for you, Love, but their image of you has forever changed. "You seem…I don’t know…" Ryan gazed thoughtfully at her partner, trying to put a name to the emotions she was seeing. There was relief, yes, but also, "You seem…almost giddy."

Jamie laughed and nodded enthusiastically. "I feel giddy! I was prepared for the worst and it didn’t happen. I really feel that we will eventually build a relationship with them, Ryan. Even if it’s no more than what we had today, that will be okay. They were polite to you and pretty much normal with me. That’s more than I hoped for, and it’s such a relief that I want to shout with joy!"

Ryan grasped her thigh, giving it a little squeeze. "I’m really happy for you, Babe. I’ve known a lot of people who did not have such a pleasant experience. I think we’ve got a lot to be thankful for."

"I let them see me more fully today, Ryan. Now they can start to know me as I am."

Her confident expression was absolutely beautiful to Ryan’s appreciative eyes, and she realized that she had unconsciously begun to hum a song that fit the occasion perfectly. With an impish smile she offered, "Jamie, a couple of weeks ago I showed you the secret handshake." Twinkling green eyes gazed at Ryan, causing her breathing to catch for a moment as she felt herself drawn in by their seductive charms. She shook her head to clear it and continued, "Would you like to learn the theme song?"

"There’s a theme song, is there?" She smiled broadly at her partner, continually seduced by her charming, playful manner.

"Oh, yes." Ryan was nodding seriously, calling to mind the earnest young girl that Jamie had seen in pictures and had a very clear mental picture of. "Every group needs a theme song."

"Is this a lesbian theme song?" Her tone was light, teasing, and Ryan took it as such.

"No…it’s definitely not for lesbians alone. Although I have a song for that too," she admitted, continuing her unbroken string of being able to come up with a song for every occasion. "I’d say this song is for anyone who has come to terms with who they are–and are happy with their discovery." Leaning over in the seat, Ryan kissed her partner on the cheek, and whispered in her ear, "Someone like you." Sitting back in her own seat, she was gazing at Jamie with an absolutely delighted smile, and the smaller woman was terribly pleased that Ryan was with her to share in her self-discovery, in oh-so-many more ways than one.

"Let’s hear it, Babe. It sounds like perfect music for a traffic jam." They had finally begun to crawl through the worst of it, and both could now see that there were a number of flashing lights up ahead, indicating a serious accident of some sort.

"Okay," Ryan agreed happily. She cleared her throat and started off slowly, almost speaking the words. She intoned the first verse dramatically, capturing Jamie’s rapt attention:

I am what I am, I am my own special creation

So come take a look, give me the hook

Or the ovation.

It's my world and I want to have a little pride in

My world and it's not a place I have to hide in

Life's not worth a damn

'Til you can say I am what I am

Once the first verse was out of the way, Ryan started to move her body in the seat, her shoulders and hips starting to twitch in accompaniment to the song obviously playing in her head. Her eyes fluttered closed and Jamie could see her lungs fill with air. She knew the next verse would be sung–and she had a feeling it would be sung at full voice. Her prediction came true as Ryan tossed her head back and belted out the next verse:

I am what I am

I don't want praise. I don't want pity

I bang my own drum. Some think it's noise, I think it's pretty

And so what if I love each sparkle and each spangle

Why not try to see things from a different angle

Your life is a sham until you can shout out I AM WHAT I AM!!

The last line of the song burst forth from her body with unrestrained joy. In that moment Jamie realized exactly why she loved the marvelous woman at her side. It was because that line was the essence of Ryan–and she hoped that, some day, those words would define her as well. Ryan was essentially … completely … herself. She put herself out there for the world to see, and if they didn’t like her, that was their problem, not hers. She had plenty of friends, and plenty of family members who loved her unconditionally; she didn’t need to curry the favor of the unfortunate few who did not appreciate her "Ryan-ness."

They reached the scene of the accident and realized why traffic had been so horrible. A truck had lost a load of baled hay onto the roadway, and Caltrans workers, firemen, and California Highway Patrol officers were scattered across the road, trying to clear the lanes. Only one lane in their direction was open, and as they crawled along Ryan started the last verse. With the open top, her head nearly stuck out the top of the small car. Every person they passed stopped and stared at her, most smiling at the exuberant display.

I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses

I deal my own deck; sometimes the ace--sometimes the deuces

It's one life and there's no return and no deposit

One life so it's time to open up your closet

Life's not worth a damn 'til you can shout out I AM WHAT I AM!!!

By the end of the song, they had passed the congestion and were cruising along at a good clip. The slow traffic had allowed Jamie to pay close attention, and by the time they reached the Bay Bridge she felt confident enough with the words to reprise the last few lines.

The brisk breeze whipped their hair around their heads, adding to the exhilaration of the song. Jamie had to pay attention to her driving, but Ryan was dancing rather wildly in her seat, the beat she heard in her head providing all of the accompaniment that they needed. Her arms were stretched out above her head, thrusting into the air as their voices joined together to sing,

It’s one life and there’s no return and no deposit

One life so it’s time to open up your closet

Life’s not worth a damn, ‘til you can shout out I AM WHAT I AM!!!

As the final notes were carried away on the wind, Jamie captured Ryan’s left hand and brought it to her lips, bestowing an almost reverent kiss on her palm. Ryan subsided into her seat, reveling in the sensation of that intimate caress. Rather than releasing her grasp, Jamie drew Ryan’s hand to her chest and pressed it over her rapidly beating heart. She smiled as a sidelong glance at her love took in the raised eyebrow that presaged a question. Ryan did not disappoint.

"So," she asked with a smile, "you like the theme song?"

Jamie nodded. "I did, Love, but that’s not all."

Her hand still clasped over Jamie’s breast, Ryan gave the slightest of squeezes. "So then, what was this for?"

Jamie sent her a quick gaze so filled with love that Ryan felt like she’d taken an elbow to the solar plexus. The short look was all she could spare, since she had to focus on her driving as they passed from one section of the bridge to the next. Even though her body was fully engaged in the act of driving, her mind had been composing the thoughts that she now shared with her spouse. "For loving me enough to give me the space and the support I needed to discover for myself more of who I am and what I am about. For loving me so much that you would risk losing me to Jack, if it would make me happy. For subjecting yourself to my parents, just because you knew it was important to me. For making me a part of your family…and your life." Her hand softly pressed Ryan’s where it rested against her chest, and she shared another love-filled look with her partner. "For being my heart."

Ryan absorbed the loving warmth of Jamie’s words, then took the hand that covered hers and brought it to her lips for a kiss of its own. Mirroring Jamie’s gesture, she settled it over her heart, clasping it firmly while she gathered her own thoughts. "I know that you think you have learned from me, Love, but I have learned so much from you. You have helped me to be able to give up control, to feel safe even when I am most vulnerable. From you, my heart has learned the truth about love and the wonder of what a relationship can be. I know that my heart is safe with you, Jamie, and I hope you know that your heart is safe with me." She gently relinquished the hand that she held, knowing that its rightful position, for now, was on the steering wheel, but also knowing that she would find other, more interesting occupations for it later. Leaning over, she delivered an almost chaste kiss to the wind-chilled cheek, then settled back in her seat and closed her eyes again, anxious to get home.

Despite money disagreements, the differences in their upbringing, past hurts and former lovers, their deep, abiding love for one another would always keep them together. And, as long as they were together, wherever they were would be home.

Jamie glanced over at Ryan’s beautiful profile and a happy smile played around her lips. It wouldn’t be much longer now. They were speeding across the bridge, their home city spread out beneath them in the distance; twinkling lights, like beacons, welcoming them home once again.

End of Book 4

Thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope you enjoyed the book.

Stay tuned for the next installment Book 5: Entwined.

Comments are welcome at sx_meagher@yahoo.com

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