I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 5: Entwined

By S X Meagher


See Part 1

Part 15 (conclusion)

After dinner that night Ryan gave Jamie the high sign, and the smaller woman went back downstairs in accordance with their previously arranged agreement. Ryan decided that she may as well get a very unpleasant task out of the way, and she thought it best to do it alone. Conor was on a date, so it was just father and daughter left in the dining room when Jamie excused herself.

Looking at his daughter’s carefully composed face Martin cocked his head a bit and said, "If you were ten years younger, I’d guess that you’d either skipped school or broken something expensive."

"That bad, huh?" his daughter grinned. "I don’t know why I am so horrible at hiding my feelings."

"You know what I’ve always told you, Sweetheart," Martin said calmly. "Get the bad news over with and then figure out how to fix it."

She nodded slightly, taking a breath as she observed, "This one might be beyond my ability to fix."

Seeing the very serious look in her eyes, Martin reached across the table and grasped her hand, his gaze penetrating. "There’s nothing wrong with you, is there, Siobhán?"

You’re scaring the poor man, Ryan, just spit it out, will you? "No, no, nothing like that," she assured him, pleased when his shoulders relaxed visibly. "Actually, in a way, it’s good news."

"I presume that means that in another way, it’s bad news," he guessed, nodding at the confirmation in her clear blue eyes. "Well, let’s have it."

"Okay." Ryan exhaled heavily and said, "The good news is that I have finally figured out what happened to me in high school, and I feel immensely better about the whole affair."

"That’s wonderful, Sweetheart," he enthused. "Tell me all about it."

"I will, Da, but there are parts of my story that you’re not going to like one little bit."

Her ominous warning in place, Ryan began to relate her tale.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Nearly half an hour later, Jamie heard the dining room chairs scrape across the floor. Checking her watch, she considered, Not bad. A half hour to get all of that out is quite a feat. And I didn’t even hear Martin raise his voice. Maybe Ryan’s better at keeping him calm than she thinks. I think I’ll go up and check to make sure everything’s okay.

Opening the door, Jamiereached the first step when she heard Martin’s rage-filled voice cry out, "Of all of the low-down, dirty, stinking things I’ve ever heard in my life…" Okay, maybe she needs just a little more practice at this. She grimaced, closing the door even as every instinct told her to go rescue her partner. She wants to do this alone…I have to respect that. Damn, it’s hard to respect that!

* * * * * * * * * * *

"We’ve been friends with that man for twenty-nine years!" Martin cried, pacing back and forth across the living room floor. The small dimensions of the place made his trip very short indeed, and the quick changes of direction he was forced to make made Ryan tenser than she already was.

"I know that, Da, and I agree that he made a very poor choice, but I think you have to give him credit for doing what he thought was right, even though it wasn’t the best thing for me."

Martin stopped abruptly and glared at his daughter, and she had a brief flash of how the opponents of her great-grandfather’s bare-knuckle fights must have felt right before they were knocked flat. "You’re defending him! How could you, Siobhán?!"

His blue eyes were nearly white with rage, and Ryan briefly regretted not letting Jamie handle this discussion for her also. "Da," she said, as calmly as she could, "I was furious at first, too, but I think you have to at least give him the opportunity to explain his decision. He’s been a very good friend to you. Don’t let this ruin 29 years."

"I’ve ruined nothing!" he yelled. "This is his doing!"

"Okay, so it’s his doing," Ryan said. "Isn’t everyone entitled to a mistake?"

"Not when my daughter is involved!" He was breathing so heavily that Ryan feared he would pass out.

"Da, please don’t do anything while you’re this upset," she begged, afraid that her father would march down to the church and strangle the poor man.

"He made his bed, now he can lie in it!" With that he stormed toward the door, stopping only when Ryan dashed in front of him and placed both hands on his chest.

"Da," she said, her voice shaking, "I’m begging you not to confront him until you’ve had time to calm down. Please!" Tears were streaming down her face now, and to her great relief they were effective at causing the irate man to stop and consider her request.

He was so angry that his entire body was shaking, and he finally took in a breath and nodded his head. "I’ll be at your aunt’s," he said, sidestepping his daughter and stalking out the door.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Well that was two tons of fun." Ryan flopped down on the loveseat in their room, looking quite worse for wear. Her hair was mussed, probably from running her hands through it, and her eyes bore telltale signs of recent crying.

"I bet you have a headache, don’t you, Love?" Jamie asked softly, noticing the ungainly way that Ryan had moved about the room. Whenever she was very tense, she seemed to carry the stress in her neck and shoulders, and her posture reflected that fact.

"Yeah. A bad one." Admitting to pain wasn’t something Ryan did readily, so her immediate acknowledgment indicated it must be bothering her a lot.

"Let me rub your back, Sweetheart," she offered. "I can help get some of the tension out."

Without a word, Ryan started to strip off her T-shirt and bra, her compliance causing Jamie to fret even more about how much pain she must be in. Ryan lay face down on the bed, waiting patiently while Jamie retrieved the massage lotion from the bedside table. "We’re almost out of lotion, Love," she reminded her partner as she poured the last of the vanilla-scented lotion into her palms to warm it.

" ‘Kay. I’ll get more."

"It really upsets you when your father gets that angry, doesn’t it, Honey?" she asked softly, beginning to stroke the long bands of muscle along Ryan’s spine.

"Could you hear him?’ she asked.

"I think the neighbors heard him, Honey," Jamie revealed. "I didn’t have any idea he could yell that loud…or curse that much. Although I didn’t understand most of the cursing…thankfully."

That merited a small chuckle from Ryan. "The worse it gets, the more he throws Irish expressions in. He was practically screaming in Gaelic there at the end–and he doesn’t speak Gaelic!"

"He’s not angry with you, is he, Honey?" Jamie’s fingers were probing deep into the rigid muscles along the tops of Ryan’s shoulders, feeling some of the tension start to ease.

"No…well, maybe a little bit," she admitted. "He’s angry that I didn’t tell him some of this when it happened, but I think he’s more frustrated with me than anything."

"So where did you leave things?"

"He promised he wouldn’t talk to Father Pender until he calmed down. He’s headed over to Aunt Maeve’s right now. With any luck, she’ll talk him out of strangling him. I think it’s at least a double mortal sin to kill a priest."

"You really don’t think Father Pender told Sister Mary Magdalene about you with any animosity, do you, Love?"

"No…I really don’t, Jamie. We’ve had our go-‘rounds, but I think he genuinely likes me. He knows I’m headstrong, and that I have serious problems with the dogma of the Church, but I really think that he respects me and wouldn’t go behind my back just to hurt me. He was misguided–and what he did was wrong, but when I think about it, I can understand that he was trying to help, even though it was ineffectual."

"Why do you think he went to Sister Mary Magdalene instead of talking to your father?"

"If I put it in the best light, he probably didn’t want to tell Da if I hadn’t told him yet."

"But you don’t believe that, do you, Love?" Her gentle touch was helping to relax Ryan, even though the subject matter of their discussion was very upsetting.

"No…I don’t, and I know Da doesn’t either. I think he did it because he thought I was the aggressor with Sara, and that I might convince some of the other girls to go down my evil path with me."

Jamie’s hands stilled and she paused for a long while. "Why on earth would he think that, Honey?"

"I’ve always been too headstrong for him to really trust, Jamie. Even as a kid we had our troubles ."

The last of the lotion had largely disappeared, and Jamie’s hands were starting to meet with some resistance. "I need to go into the bath to get a massage lotion substitute," she added, starting to slide off Ryan’s hips.

Ryan grabbed her leg and held her in place. "No need. I feel a lot better now. Let’s just cuddle for a while, okay?"

"Hmm…cuddle, huh? I hope you know that I will never refuse to cuddle with you, Babe, so you really don’t even have to ask. Just get into your cuddle position, and I’m there." She leaned over and placed some warm kisses on Ryan’s vanilla-scented neck, breathing in the delightful scent along with warm skin and Ryan’s shampoo. She waited until Ryan turned over and held out her arm, snuggling up against her chest automatically. "What could you possibly fight with a priest about when you were just a kid, Honey?" Jamie asked.

"Have I not told you about the big controversy about Michael’s funeral?" Ryan asked softly.

Jamie was quiet for a moment, finally saying, "I’m pretty sure I’d remember that discussion, Honey. I can’t for the life of me think of how a funeral would be controversial."

Ryan’s chuckle caused Jamie’s head to bounce a bit on her chest. "You didn’t know Michael," she laughed quietly. "I know I’ve told you about how ill he was during his last year."

Jamie nodded silently, her cheek rubbing lightly against the baby-soft skin of Ryan’s breast.

"Months and months before he died, he asked me to do him a favor." She was quiet for a moment, obviously recalling the events. "He asked me to sing one of his favorite songs at his funeral." Her voice was barely a whisper, and Jamie cuddled up closer, providing warmth and support with her physical presence.

"Was that the cause of the controversy?" Jamie asked, knowing that Michael had an enormous love for all music, and guessing that perhaps the song was inappropriate for a church service.

"Kinda," Ryan agreed. "It wasn’t the content so much as the fact that it wasn’t in our hymnals. Father Pender doesn’t like to go outside the lines very much, and he was very reluctant to allow a contemporary song to be played."

"What was the song?" Jamie asked.

"It was a Stevie Wonder song from the 70’s. Do you know much of his work?"

"No, not really. Um…was it really popular? Maybe I’ve heard it."

"No, I doubt it," Ryan said. "It wasn’t a big hit, but Michael loved it. He said it summed up his feelings about religion in just a few verses."

"Will you sing it for me, Honey?"

Ryan nodded, "I will someday, Babe," then added, "but not now. I don’t think I could get through it today."

"That’s okay, Honey. No rush."

"I promised that I’d sing it, and shortly after that he lost his ability to recognize me." Hot tears started to fall, and Ryan wiped them away with the back of her hand as Jamie’s hold tightened. "That was so hard, Jamie," she whispered. "To have him lying there, wasting away before my eyes, and not be able to talk to him. It was just so hard."

Shrugging out of Ryan’s embrace, Jamie scooted higher on the bed and enveloped her in her arms. "Shhh," she murmured, "don’t cry, Baby."

Ryan sighed heavily, and rolled over to get a tissue. "It’s hard for me to talk about that time," she said. "I honestly think that was the hardest thing I ever went through. Harder even than when my mother was sick, because I knew what death was by this time."

"I can’t imagine," Jamie said, having never experienced the death of someone so close to her.

Ryan shook her head, trying to stop the images that still assaulted her memory. "Anyway, the bottom line is that when Michael died, Father Pender looked at his list of requests, and said that the song couldn’t be sung. I thought Da or Aunt Maeve would talk to him and set it straight, but Da sat me down and said that if I wanted to honor Michael’s wishes, I had to make it happen on my own."

Jamie was aghast that Martin wouldn’t go to bat for his young daughter, and her shock was clearly evident on her face.

"In retrospect, Da did exactly the right thing," Ryan informed her. "I was a wild little thing in most areas, but I was really, really shy when it came to expressing my opinion to authority figures. Having to do this myself was a wonderful lesson for me." She smiled slowly, her sadness still evident. "Years later, I found the instructions Michael had written for Aunt Maeve. He said he wanted me to handle everything concerning his musical requests for the funeral, and that he knew it would be a tough sell." She looked at Jamie with her watery blue eyes and said, "Even when he was dying, he was trying to help me grow up. He knew I’d have to come out of my shell and make a scene to get Father Pender to include that song–for all I know, the song wasn’t even important. He was just trying to teach me a lesson about standing up for things that were important to me."

"I can understand why you miss him so much," Jamie whispered. "He sounds like a wonderful man."

"He was," Ryan agreed softly. "He was everything I’d like to be."

"I assume you had trouble with Father Pender," Jamie said, continuing to lightly rub Ryan’s belly, and smiling when Ryan nuzzled even closer.

"I sure as heck did," she said with a very short laugh. "He finally gave in when I said I would stand on the steps at the entrance of the church and sing it a capella when they were bringing in the casket."

"Would you have really done that?" Jamie could easily picture her lover pulling a modern-day Martin Luther style protest as an adult, but she had a hard time envisioning a child taking a stand like that.

Ryan was quiet for a moment, finally pulling away from Jamie’s snug embrace to sit up enough to look her in the eyes. "I would have climbed up in the bell tower if I’d had to, Jamie. There was not a person on this earth that could have stopped me."

Jamie blinked slowly, the fire and determination in Ryan’s gaze so strong that it was almost hard to look at. "I’m so proud of you." Her hoarse whisper was accompanied by a few tears, which Ryan kissed away. They held each other tight for a long while, until Jamie reminded her partner of something. "We had a deal that you would try to remember the happy memories of Michael too, Ryan. Wanna give it a try now?"

Sniffling a little, Ryan rolled onto her back, slipping her arm around Jamie, and cuddling her against her chest once again. "Okay. I mentioned earlier that Aunt Maeve let me read his instructions about the funeral?"

"Yeah, I remember."

"Well, that was just one tiny bit of the volumes of writing he did." Ryan chuckled a little as she revealed, "He had diaries, journals, notebooks full of poems, essays on topics that interested him, a few short stories, and a good start on a novel that was really fascinating."

"Gosh, I didn’t realize that he was a writer."

"Oh yeah. I have some of his stuff here. I’ll show it to you sometime. Anyway, the funny thing was that there were two notebooks that Aunt Maeve didn’t show me until just a couple of years ago. They were both labeled, "Mam, for the sake of your sanity do not read these! Give them to Bryant, or Ryan when she’s old enough to drink."

"What?" Jamie was completely puzzled by this warning, and she waited with rapt attention for Ryan to reveal the reason for it.

"One book was all of his poems that dealt with sex, and the other was essays and short pieces about his sexual experiences."

"Were they really risqué?" Jamie had a feeling that Maeve would be fairly easy to shock, so she reasoned that the material might not be too scandalous.

"Wow!" Ryan fanned herself dramatically. "Bryant, Michael’s lover, couldn’t read any of his stuff for years. He couldn’t even stand to have it in his apartment, so Aunt Maeve kept it all. Not long after I turned 21, she gave me the notebooks. All I can say is, that boy loved sex more than I do!"

"Really? That’s hard to believe."

"Indeed!" Ryan’s eyes were wide, and her head nodded slowly. "I’d show it to you, but you’re still too young!"

"Oh, Ryan," she laughed as she slapped her thigh, "you’re exaggerating!"

"I most certainly am not," she insisted, jumping out of bed to go to her bookshelf. Grasping a cloth bound journal, she flipped through the pages until she got to the one she was seeking. She crossed back to the bed and presented the open book to Jamie, watching with delight as her green eyes grew rounder and her mouth gaped dramatically.

Wordlessly, she handed the book back, shaking her head roughly, as if to dislodge the images that the poem had left in her brain. "Well, he certainly had the ability to get his point across in just a few words," she mumbled, a deep pink flush creeping up her cheeks. She cocked her head just a bit and asked, "Is that even possible? I mean…jeez!"

"I have no idea," Ryan laughed. "And since neither of us has one, we’ll never know!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Much to Ryan’s relief, her father did not commit mayhem against the parish priest. In fact, he agreed that he would wait a few days to talk to the man, although he declared that he would have to go to another parish for Mass on Sunday, since it was obviously sinful to wish ill to the priest celebrating the service.

Things were fairly calm on Saturday except for the low-level of anxiety that Ryan had built up about the little excursion that she had Jamie were going to undertake that evening. After their dinner with Catherine, Jamie had called her father to apologize, and he immediately insisted they join him for a Giants game on Saturday. Remarkably, Jim suggested that they invite Conor also, which surprised the holy heck out of Ryan, but she was pleased that he was thoughtful enough to include a member of her family.

Even though she was pleased that Jim had made the offer, Ryan was still quite worried about what the evening would bring, and as they made their way to the stadium, her anxiety revealed itself when Conor seemed intent on driving her mad.

Ryan glanced into the rear-view mirror, a wry smirk covering her face. "Conor, if you don’t put your seatbelt on and stop bouncing around back there, I’m not going to let you play with your new best friend." Conor was sitting in the back seat of the Lexus, and Ryan had already warned him three times.

"The Lexus is supposed to be so safe, I figured I didn’t need it," he reasoned, continuing to bounce. "I can’t help it if I’m excited, Ryan. It’s not every day I get to go to the ball game with somebody who owns all of my favorite cars. If we get to be buds, he might invite me down to hang with him some time."

As Ryan pulled up to a stop sign she turned around and stared at Conor in amazement. "It’s not a date, Dude. Chill!" Turning back to the road, she rolled her eyes, muttering to herself under her breath.

"It’s okay, Conor," Jamie said, in her best placating voice. "He’s the one who asked us to invite you. I think you have a real chance with him." She was taunting him mercilessly, but he was so invested in making a good impression that he didn’t even notice.

"Do I look okay?" he asked in all seriousness. "I mean, I don’t want to look like a culchie or anything."

Remembering that the term meant "country bumpkin," Jamie surveyed his look and was quick to reassure him. "You look adorable, Conor. You’ll fit in just fine." He was wearing a sage green brushed cotton shirt, tucked into crisply pressed khaki’s, with a muted yellow cable-knit sweater lying beside him on the seat. The earth tones were very flattering to his dark complexion, and Jamie mused that even though her mother would be more impressed than her father, Conor would clearly pass muster.

"He’s already married, Conor," Ryan added.

"I don’t want to marry him," Conor scoffed, wriggling around in the back seat so that he could check his hair in the rear-view mirror. "I just want him to like me, so he invites me to hang around with him some time." Satisfied that his hair was just so, he sank back into the leather seating and checked his watch. "You did understand that we’re supposed to be there at seven o’clock, didn’t you, Ryan?"

"Yes, Conor," she replied testily. "We’ve got 20 minutes, so you just sit tight and check your lip gloss."

* * * * * * * * * * *

After pulling up into valet parking, the tall siblings got out and stretched a bit, with Jamie smiling at them both for indulging in their chronic habit. "This is probably our last time to see the Giants at the ‘Stick," Ryan mused, thinking of the many games she had attended with her brothers throughout the years.

"Yeah," he nodded somberly. "I think PacBell Park is a good idea, but I’m really gonna miss this old place." The Giants were scheduled to move to a new facility just south of Market for the 2000 season, and even though the park was reported to be well designed and was quite conveniently located, both siblings hated to say goodbye to an old friend.

"I’m not sorry to see them move," Jamie disagreed. "I’ve been frozen stiff out here in July! The ‘Stick’ is a ridiculously cold and windy place to put a baseball field. I still don’t know why they chose this site." The park sat at the tip of Hunter’s Point, and was exposed to an always brisk wind blowing off the bay. Once the sun went down it could be downright nasty, even in the middle of summer.

They had not had time to stop by Jim’s office and get the tickets, so they were forced to wait in a long will-call line to retrieve them. The line moved quickly, but Conor was still nervous about being late. To distract him, Ryan recalled, "Hey, remember the night we got the Croix de Candlestick?"

"You got one of those?" Jamie gaped in amazement. During a particularly bad period for the Giants, the team management decided to capitalize on the cold, windy conditions in their marketing campaign. To that end, they instituted the Croix de Candlestick pin, given to everyone that stayed until the end of an extra-inning game.

"We sure did," Ryan laughed. "It was kinda raining, and colder than all get-out. If I recall correctly, there were less than 50 people here at the end."

"Da was fit to be tied when we got home," Conor laughed. "The game lasted until about one a.m., and when we got home we were practically frozen stiff! To this day he fails to understand why we were so damned happy to have a little piece of metal to commemorate being frost-bitten!"

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

Much to Jamie’s surprise, when they settled into their seats Conor displayed none of the nervousness that had been so evident earlier. The younger man displayed his most confident side, speaking very knowledgably about the Giants, the new ballpark, and every other topic that came up. He was clearly entertaining Jim, and Jamie began to regret the fact that they had invited him. It wasn’t that she didn’t want her father to know and like all of the O’Flaherty’s–she did. She just wished that he could warm up to Ryan before he was charmed by her brother.

Uncharacteristically, Ryan was quite low-key through the evening. Jamie realized that this was her way of playing it safe, but she also knew that her father would not come to know Ryan if she remained this reserved around him.

By the third inning, Jim finally gave in to Conor’s repeated offers to buy him a beer or a hot dog, and the siblings left to stand in line. Jamie moved back to sit next to her father in the box, and since she knew she would be grilled later she casually asked, "Are you having a good time, Daddy?"

"Sure am," he smiled. "I’m always happy to be with you, Jamie."

Sharing his smile, she followed up on Conor’s earlier wish. "You should think about inviting Conor down to hang out in your garage some time. I think he’d really like it." Thinking about it during the game, she realized that having Conor break the ice for the O’Flaherty clan wasn’t such a bad idea. He and Ryan were quite a lot alike, and she reasoned that if her father grew to like him, Ryan might seem more palatable as well.

He furrowed his brow a bit and cocked his head. "Would he really? Why would a young guy like that want to hang out with me? I’d think he’d be out with some good-looking woman every chance he got."

"Oh, he does that too," Jamie assured him, "but he’s crazy for cars. Would you be averse to having him?"

"No! Of course not. I like Conor a lot. He’s really my kind of guy, Jamie. I’ll definitely do that."

She wanted to say, ‘Ryan and Conor are almost exactly alike, and if you like one, you’ll like the other,’ but she thought that her father would not appreciate those same attributes in Ryan at this point, so she held her tongue.

"I ahh…I had something I wanted to discuss with you, Jamie, but ahh…I wanted to do it in private," Jim said as he looked around at their neighbors.

"No one is listening to us, Daddy. Go ahead."

Casting another glance over his shoulder, he leaned in a little closer and said, "I got a very interesting phone call from John Podesta yesterday."

Jamie’s eyebrows popped up, recognizing the name of President Clinton’s chief of staff. "What did he want?"

Now Jim’s eyes lit up and he looked positively giddy. "He wants to know if I’d be interested in filling the remainder of the term for Senator Somers." The very senior senator from California had recently died after a lengthy illness, and speculation about his successor ran rampant. It was most common to offer the position to the wife of the deceased senator, but Jamie knew that the senator was a widower.

"Daddy!" she gasped. "Why…how…are you interested?"

"Yes, I think I am," he said, still unable to contain his excitement. "It would only be for a year or so, which makes it more attractive."

She sat in rather stunned silence for a moment until her civics lessons came back to her and she asked, "I thought the governor appointed people to fill positions like that."

"Oh, he does, but the White House is helping Gov. Davis come up with a list of names. He would make the final choice, but I think Washington has a pretty big say in who gets the nod."

"Would you have to run for office?"

"No, no, that I’d have no interest in. This is an appointed post. When the term was over, I’d come back home and return to the firm."

"Wow," Jamie said, still stunned by this development. "Why would you want to do this, Daddy?"

"Contacts, Honey," he said as if he couldn’t believe she would ask such a question. "I’d make very valuable contacts in that position. Lobbyists, big business…you name it."

I guess the public service thing is a thing of the past, she mused. "What do you think your chances are, if you decide to try for this?"

He pursed his lips, thinking for a moment about what he brought to the game. "I have no political aspirations, so that’s a good thing, because there’s no clear Democratic nominee for 2000 anyway. Senator Somers wasn’t up for election until 2002, so no one has been gearing up for a run. Putting me in would let a viable candidate focus on running a good campaign. Plus, I’m well liked by Clinton’s people and Davis’ people. I’ve given substantial contributions to both of their campaigns, and they tend not to forget a friend. I also think that I have the kind of foreign relations experience they want from working with so many clients in Europe and the Far East. I know a lot of people who could help get a new trade bill passed."

Hmm…no thoughts about who would be the best person to serve the voters. I suppose that’s another naïve concept. "If this is something that you want to do, I certainly hope it comes about for you, Daddy. I’d certainly miss you and Mother if you were in Washington for a year, but I’ll support your decision, no matter what you choose."

He looked a little puzzled at that and commented, "I can’t imagine that your mother would accompany me, Jamie. I wouldn’t think she’d want to give up her life here."

God, that’s sad! I’d never let Ryan go off for a year by herself. Of course, Ryan wouldn’t consider doing it, either! "Well, then we’ll both miss you," she amended, wondering if her mother had even been consulted about this rather major development. "How do you think your partners would feel about it?"

"Oh, they’d be fully supportive," he declared. "Again, it would undoubtedly be good for business, Jamie. That’s the important point."

"Of course, that’s all that matters," she lied.

Ryan and Conor were slowly making their way back to their seats, and as Jamie got up Jim whispered, "Don’t say anything about this to Ryan, Honey."

Her dramatically raised eyebrow quickly reminded him of the place Ryan occupied in her life and he amended, "I meant, don’t say anything to anyone other than Ryan."

She kissed him on the cheek and whispered, "Thank you, Daddy. I won’t breathe a word."

* * * * * * * * * * *

On the way home, Ryan muttered, "I can’t believe that Conor’s going home with your dad! That’s beyond weird, Jamie!"

She slapped her on the thigh and reminded her, "You make it sound like he’s gonna get lucky!"

"Hey, don’t put it past Conor," Ryan insisted. "I know he’d sell his soul for a classic Mustang. He’d give up his body without a second thought!"

"Well, I’m fairly confident that Daddy won’t fall for his considerable charms. Besides, I thought it was sweet of Conor to ride with him down to Pebble Beach. That’s a very long drive late at night."

"True. And there’s no way Conor would give up the chance to drive the NSX back up to the city tomorrow."

"I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head," Jamie laughed. "Daddy’s been wanting to bring that car back home so it gets a little use, but Mother has never wanted to drive the BMW all that way alone. This really worked out great." She laughed softly, shaking her head at the persistent mental image that kept popping up. "I can’t get the image out of my mind of the two of them in their jammies, playing CD’s, making popcorn, and talking about all the cute new cars."

Ryan’s head turned, making eye contact when Jamie spared a glance in her direction. "Conor…doesn’t…wear…jammies," she slowly enunciated.

"EEEEUUUUWWWW!" they cried concurrently.

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

True to his word, Martin attended Sunday Mass at Mission Dolores, since he was sure he would be unable to focus on the service at his own parish with his old friend presiding over it.

During their traditional Sunday morning brunch, Ryan noted that her father didn’t display his usual spark, and she realized that bottling up his anger was taking a toll on him. When the dishes were finished she went into his room and sat on the edge of the bed, gazing at him for a moment as he read the morning paper.

"This is really tough on you, isn’t it?" she asked softly, reaching out to place a gentle hand on his knee.

"What’s that, Love?" he asked, folding the paper onto his lap, his gaze interested.

"Trying to stop yourself from making mincemeat of Father Pender." She tilted her head to maintain eye contact as his head dropped a little.

Martin folded his hands together and stared at them as he slowly nodded. "It’s not my usual style," he admitted, in somewhat of an understatement. "But I keep my word." His gaze rose and locked onto his daughter’s. "You don’t ask me for many things, Siobhán. This is the least I can do for you."

"Can I amend my request?" she asked, cocking her head in question.

He nodded and waited, hoping that his daughter would not make the already difficult task any harder.

"I know I asked you not to talk to him while you’re still angry, but you don’t seem much calmer about this than you were on Friday. Why don’t we go over together and speak with him. If I can be there, I think I’d feel a lot better."

He didn’t look very happy with this suggestion, but considered it thoughtfully before he replied, "I’d rather talk to him alone, but if it would make you feel better, I’m willing to do it together."

She sighed in relief and stood, extending her hand to help her father from his battered old chair. "Let’s do it."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Blowing a kiss to Jamie along with a mouthed, "We’ll be back in a few minutes," Ryan scampered down the stairs, trying to keep up with her father’s longer strides. "Take it easy, Da," she warned. "We don’t have to run."

He slowed visibly, albeit reluctantly. His hands were curled into fists, and Ryan wrapped her left hand around his right, silently asking to hold his hand. Martin immediately complied, and she felt reassured to have his large, strong hand clasping hers. "We haven’t held hands in a very long while," she observed thoughtfully. "It’s nice."

"A certain green-eyed lass seems to have taken up permanent residence at the end of your arm," Martin joked, bringing his daughter’s hand to his lips to kiss the smooth skin.

"True," she mused, drawing in a deep breath of the warm summer air. "I remember walking up this hill when I was little, holding your hand on the way to church."

"I had to hold your hand to keep you from darting into traffic," he laughed, only slightly exaggerating. "Your mother gave up the fight when you were around four. She decided to take the easy way out and keep track of Rory."

"Ah, I wasn’t so bad," she scoffed, knowing that she had been every bit as bad as her father had indicated. "But no matter the reason, I have very fond memories of walking to church as a family. Sunday was always special, wasn’t it, Da?"

His eyes misted a little as he nodded. "It was, Darlin’." Memories of his young family attending church together and then returning home for brunch flooded his mind, the sweet tableaux causing a lump to form in his throat.

"I remember sitting at the dining table, talking about the sermon, and the scripture readings for the week," Ryan recalled. "I didn’t understand most of it, but I have a really clear memory of how important it was to Mama that we live what we learned."

"That it was," Martin agreed, a sad smile covering his face as he recalled his wife trying to inculcate the lessons of their faith into their four young ones. "Her faith was truly her rock." Memories of the devastating pain Fionnuala had been forced to bear flooded his memory, and he wiped at his eyes with the back of his free hand as he said, "Thank God that she had it."

"She lived her faith," Ryan said softly. "Even though I don’t have too many memories, that’s one thing that I know." Martin gripped her hand tighter, profoundly happy that his daughter’s memories included such a vital part of his beloved wife. "There’s another thing that I know, Da," she said.

He turned slightly, and was greeted by a confident look on his daughter’s face. "What’s that, Sweetheart?"

"I know that she wouldn’t want you to be too harsh with Father Pender." Her words were soft, so soft that he had to strain to hear her, and his heart clutched in pain as he saw his daughter’s face, but heard his wife’s quiet, yet decisive voice.

Without warning, he threw his arms around his child and gave her a robust hug, whispering into her ear, "You’re so much like her, Siobhán. You are so very much your mother’s daughter."

"That’s the nicest compliment I’ve ever had," she murmured, the emotion of the scene overcoming her. "Thank you, Da."

Releasing her, he pulled his clean handkerchief from his pocket and let her dry her eyes, then he did the same. Sniffing a few more times, he clasped her hand once more to continue their journey. "You sure do know how to take the fun out of a good shellacking," he muttered, his watery blue eyes belying his words.

"If it wasn’t me, you know that Aunt Maeve would have put her foot down," Ryan guessed, knowing that her aunt was quite persuasive when she wanted to be.

"Luckily, the good Lord blessed me with level-headed women to keep me on the straight and narrow," he smirked. "And I couldn’t be happier."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"I’m proud of you, Da," Ryan said as they returned home after their visit with the parish priest. "I thought you handled yourself beautifully. You didn’t even raise your voice."

He smiled at her, rather proud of himself, but still unhappy with the resolution. "I’m still angry with him," he said quietly, "but I suppose I have to let our 29 years of friendship count for something."

"I think his explanation was rational," Ryan decided, even though she had her doubts as well. "I hadn’t come out to you yet, and I don’t think I would have been very happy to have him do it for me. I mean, ideally, he would have come to me first, but it’s at least believable that he told Sister Mary Magdalene because he thought she would be the best person to control the situation if the rumors got out."

"But that one act caused you so much pain, Siobhán! It destroyed your dreams of playing soccer, it nearly ruined your academic career…so much happened because of it."

"All true, Da," she agreed, "but you can’t look at it like that. I’ve said this to Jamie before, but I think it bears repeating. Everything that happened to me culminated in my being at Cal last year. Losing the scholarship, being too depressed to play for Stanford, my reluctance to get involved in a long-term relationship–all of it led me to Jamie."

They were nearing the house now, and as they drew closer, Ryan could see a pair of sneakered feet resting on the ground, obviously coming from the stairway to her home. The owner’s body was hidden, but the big black dog sitting patiently next to the feet gave Ryan a pretty good idea who they belonged to.

They were on the opposite side of the street, and as they crossed 22nd Martin said, "I’m going to stop at the Necessaries to pick up a few things." Seeing the longing in the deep blue eyes, he playfully swatted her on the seat and ordered, "Go on with ya. Your lass is waiting."

Ryan placed a quick kiss on his cheek and took off running, covering the short distance in a few long strides. As soon as Jamie caught sight of her, she stood on the second step, throwing her arms around the strong neck when Ryan approached. Duffy jubilantly jumped up and tried to finagle his way into the hug, and his human companions welcomed him, both of the young women rubbing his head affectionately as his big pink tongue peeked out in a happy doggy grin.

Martin paused at the door of the convenience store, unable to tear his eyes away from the scene. His daughter looked as happy as he had ever seen her, and he knew that the young woman who stood on the step, gazing at her with loving eyes, was a very large part of her happiness.

Ryan was speaking animatedly, her hands gesturing as they only did when she was immensely pleased about something. Jamie’s arms were draped loosely around her neck, and she followed Ryan’s words intently, seemingly hanging on every one. A small smile was firmly settled onto her face as she gazed into Ryan’s eyes, and even from across the street Martin could see the love and affection that flowed between the two.

As Ryan finished her tale, Jamie released her hold and brought her hands up to gently cradle Ryan’s smiling face, placing soft kisses everywhere. The look on the taller woman’s face was nearly identical to the one on Duffy’s when he was being praised for some particularly good bit of behavior, and when Jamie was finished, she reached down and grasped Ryan’s hand. They walked up the stairs together, their bodies unconsciously drifting close. Their gentle laughter lingered in the air as they disappeared from sight, yet Martin stayed right where he was, letting the scene warm his heart.

The lass is right, he admitted. No matter what has gone before, she’s terrifically happy now, and that’s the important point. Looking up at the sky in a familiar gesture, he smirked and addressed his late wife, a habit that had helped to keep him sane through his devastating grief. I know you don’t have the power to make the world turn, Fi, but knowing you, you’ve worked your charms on a guardian angel or two. He laughed softly to himself, knowing that his wife could charm a celestial being as easily as a human. There’s just something that tells me that you used your influence to bring those two together. He sighed heavily as he pulled open the door to the store, thinking, Whoever is responsible, Fi, I think our little one has been blessed by the heavens. Gazing skyward once again, he winked and asked, Give my thanks to the proper authorities, won’t you, Love?

* * * * * * * * * * *

The End

Book Six: Fidelity


Since the efforts of my talented beta readers have helped me to bring this story to a close, it seems fitting to thank them here, at the conclusion. Working with Stacia and Day is a true pleasure, and I am enormously grateful that they are willing to share their gifts with me, and by extension, with you.

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