I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 4: Disclosures

By S X Meagher



See Part 1

Part 6

Jamie flew in the front door at 5:20, struggling with two large grocery bags. Ryan jogged over to relieve her of her burden, and she gratefully relinquished both bags, ogling her partner as she did so. Ryan was wearing a red baseball cap which was backwards, as usual. Her hair was clipped loosely and stuck out beneath the bill of the cap. Only faded overall shorts covered her long frame. "Nice outfit," Jamie commented as Ryan turned to take the bags into the kitchen.

"Thank you," she responded over her shoulder. "It was as close as I could get to your request of this morning."

Jamie thought about that for a second and then laughed as she followed her lover into the kitchen. She recalled mentioning that she wished she could keep her partner naked at all times. Slipping up behind her visual delight as she put two six-packs of beer in the refrigerator, Jamie slid her hands in the unbuttoned sides of the jeans and tantalizingly stroked the nearly naked body for several minutes. Ryan's eyes fluttered closed, and her head fell back against Jamie's shoulder as she luxuriated in the feel of her lover's hands. "I love the look, Tiger, but you didn’t quite follow orders."

"It's cold today!" Ryan protested. "I was naked until the fog rolled in and my nipples got so hard they could have snapped off!"

"Oh, you poor thing." Jamie’s voice dropped to its lowest register as she moved around to the front of her body and locked eyes with Ryan. She slowly unhooked a shoulder strap, smiling seductively as one pink nipple was revealed when the oversized garment sagged down Ryan’s body. A fervid stare caused it to pop up immediately, and Jamie bent over to pull it into her warm mouth. Ryan’s hands immediately rose to rest on her partner’s head and a soft moan fell from her lips. After a few minutes of attention, Jamie pulled back to inspect the object of her affection. "It doesn't seem to have gotten any softer," she said with a questioning glance. Her index finger flicked over the pebbled flesh, creating goose bumps all over the taller woman’s torso. "Is it still cold?"

"Uh-uh," Ryan said slowly, her own voice taking on a seductive tone. "It's warm, and getting warmer all the time. The other one's still cold though."

"We can't let the other one feel left out," Jamie purred as she unhooked the second strap. The overalls dropped to the floor as her mouth warmed the other hard nipple. After a few minutes of this loving care, she straightened and looked up at her lover, a playful grin flitting across her features. "Are any of your other parts cold?"

Ryan slowly shook her head. "All of my parts feel very warm right now. Actually, some of them have grown decidedly hot in the last few minutes."

"Is there much we have to do before your family gets here?"

"Huh-uh," she said as she shook her head again. "I've made a salad, I've shucked the corn, and I just started the fire. We've got a good 30 minutes to kill."

"Hmmm, I wonder what we should do....30 minutes....Maybe we should lie down for a little nap. Would you like a 30-minute nap, Love?" Her hand had traveled to Ryan’s bare ass, and she lightly patted the smooth surface with her open palm.

"I think I could do with a five-minute nap," Ryan growled as she bent down to bestow a series of torrid kisses upon her lover.

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

30 minutes proved to be more than enough time for Ryan’s favorite kind of nap. Jamie ignored her invitation to make it speedy, and she teased the poor woman until she was nearly mad with arousal. When she finally allowed her release, Ryan actually needed a more conventional nap, but she struggled to stay awake and luxuriate in the delicious sensation of being held in Jamie’s tender embrace. At six o'clock sharp they hopped in the shower, and by quarter past they were both dressed and in the kitchen tending to dinner.

The family wasn't due until seven, but since they were never late, there was a good chance they would be early. Martin always liked to allow for a few major accidents and a natural disaster or two when he planned his departure time; true to form, he rang the doorbell at 6:30 on the dot. Ryan looked at Jamie and gave her a little shrug along with an adorable grin, having warned her partner that the proposed time was the outermost limit of when the family would arrive. They went to the door hand-in-hand to welcome the clan to their house.

Brendan and Martin stood on the deep porch wearing smiles and bearing a bottle of wine. They were pulled inside and welcomed with a surfeit of hugs, Ryan providing more than her share. Just when they were about to go into the kitchen, Conor arrived and was treated to the same welcome.

"Isn't this just grand," Martin said as he looked around the living room. "How many of you are there living here, girls?"

"Just us this summer, Da. One of Jamie's roommates is in L.A. right now, but she'll be back this fall."

"My, but this is a large home for three girls," he commented as he continued to look around. "I don't mean to pry, but however will you afford it, Siobhán?"

"Jamie's father owns the house, Da," she said by way of avoiding the direct question.

"Oh, I see," he said, although he obviously didn't. "Well, but you'll be paying your share of the rent then, won't you?"

"Let's talk about this during dinner." Ryan dodged an answer once again as she led them on a quick tour. Connor was particularly effusive about the redwood covering the floors and the exposed beams in the craftsman-style home. He pointed out a number of elements that Ryan had never noticed, making her a little uncomfortable when he went on and on about the quality of the workmanship. It was becoming obvious, even to Martin, that this was not a rental home that a trio of typical Cal students could afford, and she noticed that her father grew more pensive as they continued the tour. When they were done making appreciative comments, they all went out into the small, enclosed yard and watched while Ryan got the grill ready.

Martin went back into the house to offer his help to Jamie. "Would you be needing any assistance?" he asked, blue eyes sparkling.

"No, Martin. Everything's set. Your daughter is quite proficient in the kitchen, I've come to find out, and she got everything ready while I was playing golf this afternoon. But you could set the kitchen table with the things I laid out."

As he walked by her he asked in a low tone, "How is she faring?"

Jamie turned and smiled up at him. "She's doing great. I think the hardest part was leaving on Monday. Since then she's been fine. I've been keeping a close eye on her, though. We actually went running together today–Of course, I had to ride my bike to keep up with her."

Martin laughed at the accuracy of that statement. "She’s as quick as they come," he admitted, smiling fondly as he spoke of his daughter.

Jamie caught the hint of sadness in his deep blue eyes and grasped his arm lightly. "How are you doing, Martin? This is really hard for you, isn’t it?"

He turned his back, appearing to study the detail work on the redwood cabinets. "The child is 23 years old, Jamie. I have to let go of her some time."

The sad tone of his voice indicated just how much he hated that prospect, and Jamie flashed on the difficulty Ryan would have letting their own children leave the nest. Jamie came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist for a hug. He patted her linked arms, grateful that she couldn’t see the tears in his eyes.

Ryan came bounding up the stairs announcing, "The fire is ready. Let's rock." When she entered the room, Jamie was just pulling away, and she immediately guessed that her father was having a tougher time than she was with this adjustment to their living situation. "I knew it!" she cried, trying to lighten the moment. "I knew you were using me to get to the prize of the O’Flaherty family!"

Jamie laughed at her efforts, protesting her accusation. "If I had remained on the straight and narrow, Martin would have to fight me off," she agreed, "but I’m pretty happy with the distaff side of the O’Flaherty clan."

With a heavy sigh, Martin turned and joined in the teasing. "Jamie’s already claimed the prize of the family, Siobhán, and though I have not met the Evans family, I predict you’ve done the same."

"Well, the latter part of that statement is true for sure, Da." She wrapped her partner in a hug from behind and gave her a flurry of kisses, tickling her neck and ears thoroughly. "Hey, why didn’t you bring Duffy? He usually handles this for me."

"I didn’t want to confuse him, Darlin’. I think it would be hard for him to see you, but not have you go home with us."

"That makes sense," she agreed, wishing once again that Cal was in San Francisco.

"Let’s get dinner started," Jamie suggested as she handed Ryan a big platter of chicken and a bowl of barbeque sauce. "Would the boys like a drink?"

"Hey, fellas," Ryan called down the stairs, "would you like a beer?" Receiving two enthusiastic affirmatives, she turned back to Jamie and indicated the tray. "The boys are thirsty, Love. Put three on here, will you?"

"I’ll carry the drinks," Martin insisted, always the cautious parent. Ryan was greatly aided by all three men giving her advice on the proper way to grill chicken, and she accepted and ignored the advice with good humor. Jamie had come down to join them, and they all stood by the grill, soaking up the last rays of the weak sun while the hot fire warmed them.

When the chicken was ready they sat down to dinner, where everyone made appropriately glowing comments on Ryan's abilities as a grill cook. They tried to compliment Jamie, but she had to admit that she hadn't done a thing. "She really is a fabulous cook, though," Ryan said with pride.

"I'll second that," Conor said. "That meal you made down at Pebble Beach was killer!"

"You were starving, Conor," she reminded him with a chuckle. "It was just an Italian omelet."

"Whatever it was, it was killer," he insisted, unwilling to back down from his praise.

"So tell us how you’ve been spending your days, girls?" Martin asked.

"Yeah, Ryan." Conor’s mischievous blue eyes twinkled, and it was clear that he was about to put his sister on the spot. "Tell us how you’ve been spending your time."

"Don’t you go prying into your sister’s business," Martin warned.

"I just asked the same question you did, Da." The handsome face was the epitome of innocence as he gazed at his father.

"It’s not the question, lad, it’s the inference." He narrowed his gaze and reminded his son, "The girls are still on their honeymoon, and they don’t need to be cross-examined about their sex life."

"Sex? Who said anything about sex? Jeez, Da, that was the furthest thing from my mind."

Jamie was ready to crawl under the table, and Martin backhanded his son across the shoulder. "You’ve embarrassed Jamie again, boy. Now behave yourself, or they won’t be invitin’ us again."

"It’s okay, Martin," the still-blushing woman assured him. "I’m getting used to being teased almost around the clock. Your daughter is the worst one of the bunch."

"Hey! I…" Ryan started, but then decided that she may as well be honest. "You’re right." She beamed a smile at her partner and added, "But you love me anyway."

"This is true." Jamie gave her hand a squeeze and directed the conversation back to the original question. "Ryan gave me quite a little surprise yesterday morning," she informed the men, sparing a grin towards her lover.

"How so?" Martin asked, turning to his daughter.

"Well, I wasn’t going to say anything until I’d made up my mind, but I had a tryout for the soccer team."

"Soccer team?" Martin’s features grew dark, and his voice took on a low, rough tone. "With the phantom Coach Greene?"

Oh-oh…I guess absence did not make the heart grow fonder. "Come on, Da," Ryan urged. "I hadn’t signed my letter of intent yet. We really weren’t bound to each other."

"Letter of intent?" Jamie asked, trying to keep track of the conversation.

"Yeah." Ryan cast a quick glance at her partner, then another at her father. Deciding to answer Jamie’s question, she informed her, "Once a high-school athlete signs a letter of intent, you’re bound to that school. If you decide not to attend, you can’t go to another school and participate in your sport. I hadn’t signed with Cal when they dropped me, so I was free to play somewhere else if I wanted to. The bottom line is that they didn’t actually harm me by dropping me as a prospect."

Martin looked like he was going to burst, so Ryan quickly turned back to him. "They did, in reality, hurt me a lot, Da. But it was my feelings and my self-confidence that they hurt. All I’m saying is that they didn’t take anything tangible away from me."

"I’d kick a soccer ball right up her butt," Brendan growled, his dark face mirroring his father’s.

"Hear, hear!" Martin agreed, shocking everyone at the table with his approbation of Brendan’s uncharacteristically salty language.

"Hold on, guys," Ryan urged, trying to get the conversation under control. "I love soccer, and I’ve missed it…a lot. I know I could play in a rec league, but the competition is really good in the Pac-10, and that’s what I love. It’s only hurting myself to let my anger keep me from doing this."

The assembled men let her words sink in for a minute, finally agreeing that she had a good point. "Are you sure you can trust her, Darlin’?" Martin still wasn’t sold on the idea, but he wanted his daughter to feel free to do whatever gave her pleasure in life.

"No. I’m really not, Da. Before I give her an answer, I’m going to check out a few other sports and talk to some of the players on the team. I promise I won’t agree to do this if it will give her a chance to hurt me again."

Jamie piped up helpfully, "Since they don’t have a scholarship for Ryan, she might choose to play one of the non-scholarship sports."

"NO SCHOLARSHIP!!!" all three O’Flaherty men cried at once.

Ryan cast a sickly smile at her partner and muttered, "Thanks, Pal. I owe you one."

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

When dinner was finished, and everyone had been calmed about the scholarship issue, Brendan and Conor got up to start on the dishes. Ryan stood too, but Jamie insisted that since she had done the cooking, she couldn't clean. Martin had not been able to hide his worried frown for most of the night, so Ryan took the others up on the offer and asked her father to join her for a beer in the back yard.

The night was really too cold to be called pleasant, and the fog obscured every star, but neither of the naturally warm O’Flahertys were bothered by that fact. They each sat in a comfy chaise and acted as though they were watching the stars for a few minutes. "Jamie certainly has a lovely home," Martin finally said.

Here it comes…three…two…one…

"I don’t know much about this side of the Bay, but in the city a place like this would cost a very pretty pence."

"Umm-hmmm," Ryan agreed, waiting to see where this train was headed before she decided if she wanted to ride it to the end of the line.

"I can’t imagine that Jamie’s father bought the house to provide free housing to her friends, Siobhán."

Ohh…now arriving at "Guilt Trip Station" ! I think this is my stop. "I’ve offered to pay for half of the …incidentals, Da." She didn’t think this was the best time to bring up the cadre of service personnel affiliated with the house.

"Aren’t you taking the place of one of the girls who was here before, Darlin’?"

"In a sense," she agreed. "But I hope my position is a little bit more permanent than ‘housemate’." She said this in a light, joking tone, but there was a note of hurt in her voice as well.

"Now, now," he soothed, understanding the tone. "I didn’t mean to make light of your commitment to one another, Siobhán."

"But you are, Da. That would be like you asking Jamie for money to live with us on the weekends."

He mulled that over for a moment, but had to disagree with his daughter. "That’s not so, Sweetheart. We’ve welcomed Jamie into the family. The Evanses haven’t had the opportunity to do that for you. Living here without their permission or even their knowledge is not how I would expect you to act."

"But I’m not creating any more expense for Mr. Evans…"

"No, but you are taking income away from him, Love. If not for you, Jamie would likely find another roommate to take the other girl’s place. Mr. Evans is losing that income by having you here."

Ryan thought about that statement for quite a while, mulling it over in her mind from every angle. Try as she might, she could not really punch a hole in the logic. "Okay," she finally sighed. "I see your point."

"Don’t sound so glum, Sweetheart," he urged. "You’ll feel better about being here if you do everything aboveboard. Once they know about you, you can all come to some agreement about finances."

"So….you wouldn’t be disappointed in me if I let Jamie support me this year?"

"Completely support you?" The surprise in his voice was evident. "Siobhán! Do you know how much it costs to support you?"

"Yes, Da, I know," she insisted. "But it’s the only way I can play a sport and keep my grades up."

"But she doesn’t work! How on earth…"

"She has family money, Da. It’s more than enough to support both of us."

"Ohh…I see…" he said slowly.

For the second time in the evening, Ryan was quite sure that he did not.

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

"Da’s worried that feeding me will send you to the poorhouse," Ryan murmured into her partner’s sweet-smelling hair. They were snug in bed, the chill in the house forcing them to cuddle for warmth as well as emotional succor.

"Oh, I think I can handle you," Jamie murmured, almost asleep. "I’ll apply for government cheese if things get too bad."

"We do need to work out some finances, Baby." Ryan was still wired from her evening, and she couldn’t let the issue go.

"We will," Jamie mumbled. "G’night, Sweetie."

Ryan placed a soft kiss right above her ear and pulled her limp body even tighter against herself. " ‘Night, Love," she whispered, hoping that they could come to an agreement over the financial issues that were beginning to cast a cloud over their lives.

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

"Jamie?" Receiving no answer, she raised her voice and tried again. "Jamie?" Ryan looked around on the first floor, trying to find her elusive lover. From the scent of espresso wafting through the house, it was obvious that she was up, but exactly where she was up, Ryan did not know.

A faint voice reached her ears. "I’m outside, Babe."

Ryan walked out onto the rear landing to see her partner sitting on the attractive wooden garden bench, The New York Times spread out over the small wrought iron table that was pulled up to her knees. She was wearing headphones, and her Walkman lay on the seat beside her. A cup of coffee, or more precisely latté, if Ryan’s guess was correct, shared space with the remaining sections of the newspaper.

"Now this is the picture of a woman starting her day out in the manner to which she has become accustomed." The truth of the matter was that Jamie did, in fact, look absolutely content. A short discussion had taken place when they woke, and she had admitted that, as much as she loved being with Ryan in the morning, she was beginning to miss her pre-Ryan routine. Seeing the contented look on her face, Ryan was very happy that her partner had decided to get back to it this morning. "Are you listening to music?" she asked, leaning over to kiss Jamie’s cheek.

The tousled blonde head shook briefly, and she removed the headphones to reply. "I listen to ‘Morning Edition’ on National Public Radio. The day doesn’t feel like it officially starts if I don’t hear Bob Edwards say good morning to me." Her sunny face was crinkled up in a playful grin, and Ryan got an even better indication of how important this routine was to her partner. Jamie started to get up, offering, "Let me make you some breakfast, Tiger. You look like you’ve burned off a couple of thousand calories already."

"No, please," Ryan insisted, lightly touching the tops of the terrycloth clad shoulders. "I want you to sit right here and enjoy your coffee. I still need to stretch, and then I prefer to take a shower before I eat." Jamie smiled up at her and sank back down onto the bench, tucking her mint green robe around her legs to ward off the morning chill. "Anyway, since breakfast is the meal I do best, why don’t I cook in the morning, and you can handle the evenings?"

A soft laugh and a teasing smirk were Jamie’s reply. "That would be fine, Buffy, but you’ve cooked every night so far. If that’s gonna be the plan, you’ve got to let me do my part, too."

Ryan lay down on the dew-soaked grass, a hiss of pleasure escaping as she let the cool moisture absorb some of her body heat. She started on her stretching routine, looking thoughtful as she did so. "On second thought, maybe you should be in charge of lunch," she suggested. "I get home before you do if you play a full round of golf in the afternoon, and I really do need to eat by six or so. Think you can stand my cooking?"

"I love your cooking," Jamie assured her, "but let’s see how it goes for a while. I don’t want you to wind up doing too much around here. You’re already in charge of laundry…If you add breakfast and dinner to your list of chores I won’t have a darned thing to do."

"Hey," Ryan grunted, nearly pulling her leg over her head in a painful-looking stretch, "being my sex slave takes a lot of time too, ya know. That’s your most important job around here."

Jamie grabbed the section of newspaper that she was working on and held it up close to her face. "If I don’t stop watching you stretch, we’re gonna miss another meal, Buffy. That routine of yours is definitely rated NC-17!"

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

Over breakfast Ryan commented, "Did this morning work better for you, Babe? You looked pretty darned content out there, reading your paper."

"Yeah…it did work better. I mean, I kinda feel bad to want that time to myself, but I’ve been doing that since I was six, and it just feels right."

Ryan cocked her head, her spoonful of cereal stuck halfway between the bowl and her mouth. "What part of your routine did you perform when you were six?"

"All of it," Jamie blithely replied.

Ryan laughed, thinking of her partner sitting at the kitchen table, tiny little feet dangling high off the floor, reading The New York Times. "What…you read one of your little story books while you ate breakfast?"

"Noooo…I read The New York Times."

"When you were six?" The disbelief was evident in Ryan’s tone, if not the question.

"Yeaaaaah…is there an age limit that I’m not familiar with?" Jamie’s green eyes were dancing, obviously enjoying the teasing.

"So you’d sit at the table and read the paper while you had your juice and your cereal?"

"Noooo…I’d read the paper while I had my latté and my jam and bread. While listening to ‘Morning Edition,’ that is." Now she was unable to hide her grin, finally breaking into a laugh at the astounded look on Ryan’s face.

"That’s…that’s…Are you serious??"

"Yes, Babe. I didn’t understand ten percent of what I read, but my father read the Times while he ate, so I read the Times while I ate. It was a nice time for us," she said softly, looking rather wistful. "I’d ask him questions about words I didn’t understand, and he’d quiz me on different things that he thought I should know about. I was probably the only six-year-old who could have competently cast a vote in the 1984 presidential elections." Ryan was staring at her with a rather stunned expression still gracing her face. "I just find that unbelievable," she muttered, thinking of the thick-paged, small-word picture books she'd read at age six. "That doesn’t explain why you were eating bread and drinking latté though. That sounds like some strange form of yuppie child abuse!"

Jamie laughed at her partner’s hyperbole. "That was one of mother’s eccentricities. She thought breakfast cereal was a horrible thing to put into a child, so we ate more like the French. Marta would go to the bakery in the morning and buy brioche or a baguette, and we’d just have some fresh bread and a little jam. I guess I started drinking latté to imitate mother. I couldn’t drink espresso, because it was way too strong, so Marta added steamed milk until it suited me. I probably had a half-ounce of espresso to twelve ounces of milk, but it made me feel very sophisticated." Her smile faded as she admitted, "Both of my parents paid more attention to me when I acted like an adult."

Ryan grasped her hand and chafed it a bit between her own hands, "How do you want to handle breakfast with our kids?" She knew that talking about their future family always lightened Jamie’s mood, and today was no exception.

"I’m not sure," she admitted, her smile returning. "I kinda liked being treated like I had a brain. They never treated me like a dumb kid, and that really helped my self-confidence and independence. But I think I like breakfast at your house a lot better."

"Let’s compromise," Ryan suggested. "We can have porridge and back bacon with latté and the sports section of the Times."

"Best idea I’ve heard all day," Jamie agreed happily, picturing their future family sitting around a breakfast table that looked amazingly like the one in the O’Flaherty manse.

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

"I will never understand how taking a shower together takes three times longer than showering separately." Ryan was grumbling, mostly under her breath, as they jogged through the corridors of the brand-new, partially finished Haas Pavilion. Jamie didn’t take her grousing very seriously, knowing that her partner loved their communal clean-up. Ryan just hated to be late, no matter how pleasurable the reason for the delay.

They arrived at the office they were looking for less than five minutes after their scheduled time, but Ryan was apologizing to every person she made eye contact with. "Hi, I’m Ryan O’Flaherty," she said to the receptionist, speaking her name with just the barest hint of an Irish accent. "I’ve an appointment with Coach Placer, but I’m late. Is he still available?"

The woman looked at the large clock on the wall, then glanced at her appointment book. "It’s 9:03, Honey. Take a chill pill."

Ryan shoved her hands into the pockets of her chinos, and started to rock back and forth. She looked about ready to jump out of her skin, and Jamie placed a calming hand on the small of her back, giving her a light scratch. Ryan took in a breath and held it for a moment, feeling some of the tension leave her body. "I…um…I just hate to be late," she admitted.

"Three minutes is not late, Honey," the woman laughed. "Three hours…three days…three weeks…now that’s late." Her laugh floated behind her as she walked down a short corridor and poked her head into an office. Stepping back towards the reception desk she motioned Ryan and Jamie forward. "Come on, Honey, he’s on the phone, but you can come in."

Ryan gave her a grateful nod, and strode into the office, Jamie right at her side. She smiled at the man sitting behind the desk, and they both sat when he motioned them to. Rich Placer was a good looking, dark-haired young man, about 28 years old. He had been hired the year before to take over from the coach who had wooed Ryan when she was in high school. He finished his call and stood, extending his hand. "Ryan?" he asked.

"Good to meet you, Coach. I've brought someone with me. Is that okay?"

"Sure," he said easily, offering his hand to Jamie. "Rich Placer."

"This is Jamie Evans, Coach. She’s my life-mate."

"Life-mate, huh?" His eyes were twinkling as he sat down and regarded the pair. "I like that term, Ryan. Life is a lot more pleasant with a mate to help you through it, isn’t it?"

Ryan grinned at him, his stock rising dramatically in her book with just those few words. "Life is wonderful with the right mate," she said, sparing a meaningful glance at her partner.

The coach pulled a legal-sized manila folder into the center of his desk and tossed it open. He started thumbing through the two-inch-thick pile, smiling to himself as he scanned the notes. "So, I read the file that Coach Nichols made about your high school career. He was obviously very impressed with your game to recruit you when you only played his sport for one year."

Ryan nodded, thinking about her reply to that comment for a moment. "It always bothered me that I had to choose between sports, but when two of them are at the same time, you have to pick. During my freshman year, I got a slight head injury playing soccer. They wouldn’t let me play the rest of the season, so I finagled my way into an open spot as an outside hitter. I really only played six games, so I was surprised to learn that Coach Nichols was interested in me."

Rich Placer smiled at the self-effacing, confident young woman who smiled back at him. "Well, I remember you from U.S.F, even though you only played one year there too. You tend to make a rather lasting impression on a coach, Ryan." He smiled at the slight blush that traveled slowly up her cheeks, charmed to be able to speak to an athlete who did not think they invented their sport. "I don't think there's any question that you can play. Check that. There IS no question that you can play. Obviously your grades have been superb since you've been in college, but I'm really puzzled by the path you've taken. Tell me what happened in high school."

Ryan took a deep breath and decided to tell it all. It wasn't really much of a risk at this point in her life, but she still felt a little nervous about talking about her personal life with a stranger. "As you can probably tell, I had three great years at Sacred Heart. But during the summer after my junior year, I fell in love. With another woman." She waited for a beat, then continued, "Things didn’t work out quite like I had hoped, and she …freaked out," Ryan said, minimizing the incident as much as she could. "She stopped speaking to me and that was really hard, but I could have lived with it. However, I guess she told someone at school that we had sex, and within a week the entire school knew."

Coach Placer looked puzzled by this part of the story, and he asked for clarification. "Why would she do that, Ryan? If she was freaked out, why tell everyone?"

"To this day I have no idea, Coach. All I know is that everyone knew, and she and I were the only people involved. I know I didn’t tell…" She shook her head sadly, still unable to understand the betrayal. "It’s actually worse than it sounds, to be honest," she said softly. "I don’t know what she said, but the other girls definitely had the impression that our time together was not entirely consensual."

Ryan looked like she was about to cry, and her voice had grown so quiet that Jamie had to lean towards her to hear the last of her sentence. She reached out and grasped Ryan’s hand firmly, shocked at this stunning revelation. Ryan’s face was set in a grim mask of pain, and most of the color had drained from her skin.

"That’s not uncommon, Ryan," the coach said softly. "Sometimes kids deal with their own guilt about something like this by trying to blame the other person. I’m sure that the people who knew you didn’t believe it."

Her dark head lifted slowly and Jamie could see every bit of pain and dismay from those days settle onto her face. "That’s what nearly destroyed me," she whispered. "Everybody did believe it. Within days there wasn’t one girl who would take the risk of talking to me in public. This happened at the end of junior year. I got through the end of the term, and spent the summer in Ireland with my family. I honestly thought things would blow over after the summer. But after the second game of the soccer season, some of the most talented players accosted me in the locker room and told me that they wanted me to quit. They said that they didn't want to have a predator watching them get dressed and taking showers."

The color was back in her cheeks now, but it was the deep flush of shame that showed on her face. "I relied on these women. We were teammates," she said simply, still unable to process the hurt. "We had won the state championship the year before, and we still had an excellent team. But they were so afraid of being associated with me that they demanded I quit."

Both Jamie and Coach Placer were taken aback by this revelation. They both stared at Ryan for a long time, until Jamie silently reached for her partner’s hand again and grasped it tightly. Ignoring the coach, she lifted the hand and brought it to her lips, placing a gentle kiss on the soft skin and whispering, "I’m so sorry, Sweetheart. I’m so very sorry that happened to you."

Ryan just nodded her head briefly, her lower lip caught between her teeth in her characteristic effort to stave off tears. "It was horrible," she agreed, her voice no more than a whisper. "In one of the most gay-friendly cities in America, in 1993…It still boggles my mind."

"It makes perfect sense that you quit," Jamie murmured, still holding Ryan’s hand close to her face. "Nobody should have to put up with that kind of treatment from their teammates."

"I didn’t quit immediately," Ryan amended softly. "I guess I was still naïve about the ways of the world. I went to the coach of my soccer team. We had always been close, and she had made me the team captain at the end of the previous year. I told her that the other girls wanted me to quit, and I asked her what she thought I should do. She said that she couldn't 'take the risk' of standing up for me. She said that it would probably hurt the team if I stayed on, so I finally realized that I couldn’t stand up to the whole school by myself, and I quit."

"Did it eventually get better?" Coach Placer asked, causing Jamie to gasp as she remembered where they were.

Ryan shook her head again, defeat clouding her features. "Once I gave in, it actually got worse and worse. I had disgusting notes taped to my locker and my bike was vandalized more than once. I couldn't concentrate in school and my grades just plummeted. I was considering dropping out and just getting a G.E.D., but my family finally got me to tell them what was happening, and they were a tremendous help in getting me back on track. By second semester my grades were back to normal, but I was never treated any better by the students. Only two or three girls were openly hostile to me, but nobody else had the guts to talk to me in public. I spent the entire second semester without a single word being said to me socially."

Coach Placer asked, "The file I have here says that you decided not to pursue playing for Cal. Why was that?"

Ryan barked out a bitter laugh. "That’s a lie, Coach. I desperately wanted to come to Cal, but every one of the coaches here dumped me. I hadn’t signed my letter of intent yet, and my soccer scholarship, which I thought was a lock, disappeared. I was pretty bitter about it for a long time, but I think I'm over it now. I decided to not let my animosity rob me of my goal of graduating from here. I’m happy that I transferred, and now I want to play a varsity sport. Mostly I want to do it for myself, but partly, I want to show those coaches that they should have taken a chance on me."

Coach Placer silently stared at the ceiling for a long minute. Finally, he gave Ryan a big smile and said, "You do know that my predecessor is now at U.C.L.A."

She found this an odd path for the conversation to take, but she acknowledged his statement. "Yeah, I do."

"There's no team I'd be happier to beat," he said with another grin.

Ryan understood his point immediately, and answered him with a beaming smile. "Death to the Bruins!"

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

As they left the office, Ryan reached over and took Jamie's hand. They walked together down the long corridors until they found their way back to their car. "He certainly seemed excited about having you play...whatever sport it is that we're talking about," she said as she pinched Ryan in the ribs.

"I thought you were a detective," she teased. "Use your deductive reasoning."

"I could, but I might as well wait until you go back to work out for the whole coaching staff. I guess we'd better get to bed early tonight, huh, Tiger."

"I wonder what poor souls he's going to make show up to play against me at seven in the morning?"

Jamie squeezed her hand and offered, "I could play against you. You'd look a lot better if I was your competition."

Ryan laughed a little at Jamie’s offer, but reminded her, "You don't even know what sport we're talking about, remember Babe?"

"I know. But whatever it is, I'm sure you could whip me at it."

"Maybe," Ryan agreed, "but you get to whip me when we play golf on Saturday. Did you make arrangements?"

"Yeah. I called the club and got us a tee time for 8 a.m. Is that good?"

"Perfect. I’ll call the boys and let them know."

"Do you mind if I play on Sunday with my father?"

"No. I can spend the day with the baby. We have a week’s worth of bonding to make up for."

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

Ryan slipped her key into the lock and slowly opened the back door, sticking her head in tentatively. "Anybody home?" She turned to Jamie, who was right on her heels and instructed, "Now you ask the same thing in Spanish."

"You goof!" Pushing her partner into the house, Jamie restated the schedule. "Maria Los comes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Babe. The others are Mondays only. We’re completely alone on Thursdays."

"Can’t be too sure," Ryan insisted. "I’m still sleeping with one eye open just in case you’ve given out any other keys to the house."

Jamie laughed at her exaggerated caution, but suddenly stopped short. "I think Cassie still has a key," she recalled.

Without a word, Ryan stood and walked to the door, noting the manufacturer of the lock. She purposefully strode to the small desk by the telephone and pulled out the yellow pages. Thumbing through the listings, she found what she was looking for and made eye contact with a puzzled-looking Jamie as she dialed.

"Hi, I need a locksmith to come over and change out some Medeco locks for me."

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

Jamie pulled into the parking lot of Women Power at 3:30. Ryan wasn’t expecting her, but since her partner was planning on working out after her last client she knew that she would still be there.

They hadn’t had the opportunity to discuss the revelations Ryan had made to Coach Placer, and although she had put on a happy front, Jamie knew that the issue would linger in the background until they could speak about it. The gym wasn’t the place to have this discussion, but Jamie thought that Ryan could use some extra attention, so she cut her time at the golf course short to be with her.

The gym was fairly deserted at this point in the afternoon, and Jamie spotted her partner immediately upon entering. Ryan had removed her gym-issued black polo shirt and was working out in a black sports bra and a pair of long, black Lycra tights. She was obviously in one of her little "zones" because she did not notice Jamie enter, and the smaller woman indulged in the guilty pleasure of watching her lover for a few minutes.

Ryan was apparently working her trunk today, and Jamie marveled at the single-minded determination that she brought to the task. She dropped to a mat and began to perform a horribly tough-looking series of crunches. Ryan had grabbed a 45-pound weight plate from a rack, and as she prepared to work she grasped it with both hands and held it a few inches above her breasts. Her knees lifted a few inches and she crossed her ankles just to help hold her legs together, then she began to perform the crunches, using just her torso to move the upper and lower halves of her body together. It didn’t take long for the veins near her temples to start to throb, and Jamie was actually a little concerned by the flush that covered her face and neck, but she assumed that Ryan knew what she was doing, so she continued to watch silently.

After a few sets of that exercise, she hopped to her feet and went to a pull-up bar. The bar was hung almost six feet up the wall, and Ryan had to stand on one of the conveniently placed wooden boxes to get to the right height. She slipped her forearms into a pair of heavy black slings which supported them in the correct position, then she crossed her feet at the ankle and lifted her knees until her thighs were parallel with the floor. Supporting her body weight with just her upper arms, she began to torture her abs by twisting her lower body until her knees nearly touched the wall behind her–first to the right, and then to the left. Jamie watched in fascinated silence as beads of sweat trickled from nearly every pore of her lover’s body as she put herself through this self-inflicted torture.

She had no idea what was going through Ryan’s mind, but her partner was obviously trying to exorcise some internal demons. Jamie had seen Ryan work out on numerous occasions, but she had never seen the dark woman look so determined to inflict pain upon herself. Ryan didn’t look like she was even keeping track of how many of the contortions she did. It looked to Jamie like she was just going to continue to torment her body until she dropped. Ryan was now grunting audibly with each rep, and the few other women present were giving her surreptitious glances as they worked. Turgid blue veins were standing out sharply against her flushed skin as her arms shook heavily, obviously nearing failure. She completed her last rep in an uncharacteristically ragged fashion, letting out a strangled groan as she did so. Her legs searched for the step and she stood atop it for just a moment, clearly trying to make sure that her legs would hold her before she slid her arms from their supports. She took a few deep breaths and hopped off the step, finally making eye contact with Jamie as she did so.

"Been here long?" she asked quietly as she crossed the short distance between them.

Jamie just nodded, unable to conceal the worried look that she knew was betraying her concern.

"Wanna toss the medicine ball at my gut while I do some crunches?"

It took a second for Jamie to realize that her partner was serious. "No, I most certainly do not!" Her hand came to rest on Ryan’s slick arm, and she said in a low tone, "I think you’ve done enough, Honey. How long have you been working?"

Ryan checked her watch and nearly did a double take. "Wow! I guess 45 minutes is enough time for just my abs, huh?"

"Yeah…I think it’s more than enough." She grabbed a towel from the stack near the wall and handed it to her lover. "Do you have any other clothes here?"

Ryan looked down at herself and noticed that her clothes were nearly dripping with sweat. "Yeah. I’ve got a pair of shorts and a T-shirt or two."

"You go change, Babe. We’re gonna go pamper ourselves a little bit."

Ryan dutifully went to do her lover’s bidding, not even asking for clarification before she walked into the office.

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

A half-hour later they were relaxing in a eucalyptus-scented hot tub located in one of the new day spas that had opened up in North Berkeley. They were the only two women in the large tub, since it was too late for the lunch crowd and too early for the after-work crowd. "Wanna talk about it?" Jamie asked after ten minutes of silence had passed between them.

" ‘Bout what?" Ryan asked lazily, the warm water rendering her nearly unconscious.

" ‘Bout what you were thinking about while you were trying to burst a blood vessel at the gym." There was no accusation in her tone, but it was clear that she was determined to get an answer.

"That obvious, huh?" Ryan sat up a little and looked like she was trying to make up her mind about something. She finally turned to Jamie and said, "It pisses me off that I’m still so pissed off."

Jamie shook her head a little, not getting her partner’s point.

"I’m mad at myself for still being so upset about things that happened six years ago!" The frustration in her voice was building, and Jamie was afraid she was going to start yelling.

"Okay, Baby, it’s okay," she soothed in a calming tone, trailing her hand down Ryan’s arm. "

"No, it’s not okay," Ryan growled, her building anger clearly evident. "I’m letting a couple of small-minded kids still get to me over something that happened when I was barely old enough to drive, for Christ’s sake! It pisses me off that I can’t control my mind any better than that! Jesus, Jamie, I practically cried today in front of a total stranger that I was trying to impress!"

"Honey, honey." Jamie spoke in a very low, soft voice, trying to let her reassuring tone reach the angry part of her partner. "It doesn’t do you any good to try to minimize what happened. You were treated terribly by the girls in your school, and when you add the betrayal by your own coach, it makes it twice as bad. But I know you, Babe, and I believe that you would have gotten over those wounds quickly if the whole thing hadn’t been started by Sara. The fact that she was the source of all of your trouble had to be a hurt that you just can’t let go of."

Ryan took a deep breath and scooted forward a little. She leaned back and lowered her head into the steaming water, letting her dark hair float around her for a moment before she sat up abruptly, water streaming down her face. She didn’t verbally acknowledge the truth of Jamie’s statement, but she turned to her and asked, "So…how do I let go?"

Jamie gave her a sad smile and palmed her cheek, tenderly brushing her lips with her thumb. "I’m not sure, Baby, but I know that it can be done. Have you spent much time talking about how it felt?"

A very rough headshake indicated that very little time had been spent in this pursuit. "Since I had no friends left, that wasn’t an option." She let her head loll back against her shoulders, finally adding, "Bringing up Sara’s name at home wasn’t a real smart idea. I was truly afraid that Da or one of the boys might go ballistic."

Jamie nodded slightly, acknowledging that the O’Flaherty men had a very hard time remaining passive when Ryan’s happiness was threatened. "They let their love for you get in the way of being there for you to talk about things sometimes, don’t they?" she asked gently.

"Yeah…" Ryan started to slap at the water with the flat of her hand, trying to see how hard she could hit it without having it splash her in the face. Jamie recognized this as another nervous habit that she used to distract herself while talking about painful issues. "I wind up keeping things to myself because they get so angry. I almost had to physically restrain Da from going to Sara’s house to berate her." She shivered with the memory of the terribly tense scene, and recalled how out-of-control the whole house was on the day she revealed everything that had happened. "To this day, he doesn’t know that my soccer coach told me to quit for the good of the team, he doesn’t know about my bike being vandalized, and he doesn’t know about the vile notes I got at school."

Jamie felt her heart clench with sadness for the young girl who'd had to keep her feelings bottled up to protect the people who loved her the most. She slipped her hand underwater and lightly rubbed Ryan’s thigh, trying to send a supportive message that Ryan should keep talking if she wanted to.

Ryan let out a bitter laugh and revealed, "He doesn’t know this, but the biggest reason I didn’t go to Cal was because I couldn’t bear to be there and know that Sara was on that soccer team, and that I wasn’t. It didn’t matter that I could have gotten an academic scholarship. I know this never made sense to him, but I just couldn’t be on the same campus as she was. It just hurt too badly."

"Why not Stanford, Honey?" Jamie had long wondered why her lover didn’t accept the scholarship to play soccer at Stanford.

Ryan looked at her like she was crazy. "And play Cal twice a year? See Sara in the blue and gold uniform that I’d been dreaming about since I was a kid?"

"I’m sorry, Love, I didn’t think it through. Of course you couldn’t do that."

This obviously sincere apology ameliorated Ryan’s pique and she relaxed again, the tension visibly leaving her body. "I couldn’t bear the commute either, Hon," she said softly. "And I just couldn’t leave home to live in Palo Alto right then. I needed Da and the boys too much. I just turned inward and stayed close to my family. That’s why I decided to take time off from school–It just seemed like the only way to put it behind me."

"But you haven’t really put it behind you, Baby. You’ve just stopped talking about it. That’s not the same thing." Jamie was a little afraid of setting Ryan off again, but she felt strongly about this issue, and she felt that she needed to make her views known.

Ryan nodded, realizing that her partner had a very valid point. "I’ll try to talk about it more, Jamie. Really I will. It’s much easier to talk about with you than it is with Da, and that will really help."

"Okay, Love," Jamie agreed quietly. "We don’t have to do it all at once. I just want you to feel that you can talk to me when the issue comes up."

"I do." Ryan stood, the water sluicing down her body in rivulets. She extended her hand and pulled her partner to her feet. "I’m getting lightheaded from being in here too long. Let’s go before I pass out."

"Can I interest you in a massage?" the smaller woman asked as they climbed out of the tub.

"Sure." Ryan’s grin indicated just what she would like to have massaged first.

"I mean a professional massage, you goof. I think both of us could use a little attention on our sore muscles."

"But I could…"

"I know you could, Tiger. But I can’t do a competent job on you. So just relax and let me pamper you a little bit." Without a moment to allow for argument, she grabbed a towel and went to arrange for the massages.

Have I won an argument yet? She paused for a beat, and answered her own question, smirking to herself as she did so. Do I care?

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

Continued in Part 7

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