I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 5: Entwined

By S X Meagher


See Part 1

Part 2

The holiday weekend over, Ryan was back into her routine on Tuesday morning, leaving for her weightlifting session while Jamie was still trying to pry her eyes open. When she returned home, she was pleased to see that her partner was dressed and waiting for her, an expectant look on her face.

"Good morning, Princess. I trust that you slept well?" Ryan looked relaxed and happy this morning, and Jamie realized that it was the first time in days that there were no signs of tension on her face.

"I did indeed," she said, a sunny smile lighting up her features. "My fabulously talented lover put me to sleep nice and early, she let me sleep in this morning, I’ve had breakfast, read the paper, listened to the news–I’m ready to rock!"

"And just where do you plan on rocking?" Ryan asked, bending over to greet her with a proper kiss.

"It’s time to pay a little visit to the bank," she declared, much to Ryan’s immediate dismay.

"Aw gosh," Ryan said in her most adolescent manner, her lower lip sticking out just a tiny bit. "Do we really have to?"

"Honey," Jamie said as she got to her feet and scratched Ryan’s belly in a soothing gesture, "my parents know about us now, so there is no reason not to start acting like what we are…permanently partnered. I want you to be able to write checks for things around the house and for emergencies. And I want you to have an ATM card so you can get cash when you need it."

"But I never need it," she complained. "I like the way I have things set up now. I know how much I can spend, and that’s what I keep with me."

"Ryan," she insisted. "You’re going to be traveling all over the country with your team. You need to have an ATM card, Honey. I’ll travel with you as much as I can, but if I make the golf team I’m sure our schedules will conflict at times. I will worry about you unnecessarily if you don’t have the ability to get money in an emergency."

Letting out a sigh, Ryan sidestepped her partner and sank into the cushions of the loveseat. "There is one little detail of my discussion with your father that you need to know about." She had an odd look on her face, and Jamie wasn’t sure what it meant.

"What is it, Baby?" she asked, sitting next to Ryan as she scanned her face for further clues.

Ryan’s knees were spread, and as she leaned over, her hands dangled between them. Slowly, she slid her hands together, fingers interlaced, and stared at them for a moment. "I told your dad that I was going to start paying rent, since I was taking Cassie’s spot in the house. He thought that was a good idea," she added quietly. Her only reason for not bringing this up earlier was because she knew Jamie would not take the news well. Her hunch proved correct when she saw the determined headshakes begin.

"No…no…no. That is unacceptable." The perturbed blonde hopped to her feet and paced across the well-polished redwood plank floor. "You are not a tenant. You are not a roommate. You are my spouse, Ryan, and I will not tolerate your being treated with this kind of disrespect!"

"Jamie," she soothed, the lines of tension now renewed on her forehead, "Don’t make a big deal about this. Let’s see where things settle and revisit it in a few months. I can easily pay the rent until I quit my job. Heck, if I tried, I could probably work another five or six hours a week, and that would give me a little breathing room."

Jamie turned and stared at her for a long minute. "You don’t need breathing room, Ryan. I have enough money to support your entire family for the rest of their natural days. I happen to know that my father makes close to a million dollars a year, so he clearly doesn’t need your rent money. He’s just trying to make it clear that he’s withholding his approval of our relationship." Her tone was calm, measured, but there was a steely determination to her voice that Ryan had no interest in trying to break.

"Sweetheart, we both knew this would be hard for one or both of them to accept. I think they both behaved really well, and we need to support that by giving in a little now. Let’s just pay the rent and let this rest for a while."

Jamie sat down next to her on the loveseat and grasped Ryan’s hand in both of her own. They sat in silence for a few minutes as Jamie slowly traced each of the tendons and veins in the strong hand. "I know that you don’t want to cause trouble, Babe. And I know that you sometimes wish I didn’t have this much money." She looked up and caught the acknowledgment in the clear blue eyes. "It’s going to be a struggle for us to figure out how to live in a way that makes both of us happy."

Ryan nodded, leaning over to kiss the top of Jamie’s herbal-scented hair. She detected a note of lilac, and decided that the fragrant flower was a perfect complement to Jamie’s natural scent. With a start, she realized that she had completely zoned out, and she shook her head a little to renew her concentration. "I uh…I know that it’s gonna be hard, Jamie. That’s why I think we should wait."

"I can see that’s one way to look at it, Ryan, but I want you to consider the alternative. Taking a few small steps towards merging our lives makes it clear to all concerned that we are a partnership. If we treat each other like roommates financially, it makes us complicit in demeaning our relationship. I don’t want that, Honey. I want to take a stand on this one small element. I want to add you to my checking account–get you an ATM card, and tell my father that I don’t want you to pay rent."

"And if I don’t want to do any of those things just yet?" Ryan’s gaze was unwavering, and Jamie knew she had to allow her partner to take these steps at her own pace, even if it was maddeningly slow for her pleasure.

"Then we wait," she agreed. "I only want to do this if you feel comfortable."

"Damn!" Ryan leaned her head back against the back of the loveseat, and let out a heavy sigh. "I was hoping you’d be unreasonable and insist we do it your way. Then I could refuse to go along with it and feel like I was justified." Her eyes held a hint of mirth, but Jamie knew there was an equal measure of sincerity in their clear blue depths. "Okay, Jamie," Ryan said, in clear, measured tones. "I see your point, and I guess I agree with it. I don’t really want to throw away $1500 a month if I can avoid it, and I can understand that you want me to be able to write checks for things around the house. I give." She held her hands up in surrender, and Jamie grasped her around the neck and pulled herself onto her lap.

"That was a longer, more involved discussion of finances than I had in three years with Jack," she murmured, placing whisper soft kisses all along Ryan’s salt-flavored jaw. "I really appreciate that you try to see my point of view, Honey."

"I do, Jamie. I think I understand your position better. It’s gonna take us a long time to agree on everything, but as long as we keep talking about it, I’m sure it will work out eventually." She pressed a grateful kiss onto Jamie’s lips and patted her on the butt. "Hop off, Babe. I need a shower if we’re gonna go to the bank."

With a final nibble on Ryan’s neck, Jamie slid off. "I guess not everyone likes you sweaty and salty, huh?" Her expression was one of pure fun, and Ryan grabbed her nose between two fingers and gave it a tug.

"Not many are among that number, Sport, and it surprises the holy hell out of me that you are!"

"That’s my goal," Jamie insisted, grasping Ryan’s hand to accompany her upstairs. "I like to keep you guessing."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Jamie entered Cal she had visited the local branch of Bank of America to introduce herself, and to switch her account from the San Mateo branch to the Berkeley office. The pleasant young man who had been assigned as her account manager had recently left the bank and his replacement, Richard Merriman, now gazed across the desk at them. "Okay, now what did you want to do today?" he asked in a slightly distracted tone.

"I want to add my partner onto my checking account," she repeated.

"Okay, um…you do understand that by making her a joint signer you in essence would allow her to close the account by withdrawing all of the money for her personal use if she so chose?" He looked at Jamie to make sure she understood the ramifications of her actions, ignoring the rather outraged look from the blue eyes that bored into him.

"Of course I understand that," she said carefully. "She’s my partner, Mr. Merriman, no different than if we were married."

"Right," he said with a thin smile. "Well, let’s see," he mused as he looked at his computer screen to find her accounts. "Hmm, is this your only account with us?" he asked as he looked at her checkbook to ascertain her account number.

"Besides my trust, yes, the checking is all that I have here."

He looked at her face, then back at his screen. "Are you the Jamie Evans who is the income beneficiary of the William A. and Phoebe Dunlop Smith Trust?"

"That would be me," she said with a small smile.

"Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Evans," he said, now sitting up straight in his chair and gracing her with a broad smile. "Is this the only thing I can do for you today?" he inquired brightly.

"Yes, just add Ms. O’Flaherty to the checking account," she patiently replied.

"Well, that will take a few minutes," he mused. "And then you’ll need to order more checks. Would you like me to bring the paperwork to your home so you don’t have to wait?" His now eager face reminded Ryan of Duffy’s need for approval when he performed one of his few tricks.

"We have time," Jamie replied.

"Here are the styles of checks you have to choose from, Ms. Evans. I’m sure you’ll find something you like," he enthused, pushing the big binder in her direction.

"The account is now for both of us," she reminded him firmly.

"Right…right…no offense, Ms. O’Flaherty," he said sincerely as he now smiled eagerly at Ryan.

She gave him a cross between a smirk and a smile and looked through the book with Jamie while Mr. Merriman went to find the papers they had to sign.

"Are people always like this?" Ryan whispered when he was out of earshot. Like what?" Jamie asked in an intentionally obtuse manner.

"Like they want to lick your boots," Ryan said with a deep chuckle. "He jumps to attention faster than I do around you!"

"I wouldn’t go that far," Jamie playfully scoffed, gaining a bemused smirk from her partner. "You’ll get used to it after a while, but I agree that it’s disconcerting at first," she granted "If they personally benefit from pleasing you they act like you’re a goddess, but if they don’t benefit you often get the very cold shoulder."

"That’s so odd," Ryan mused as Mr. Merriman came scampering back.

"Okay, Ms. Evans and Ms. O’Flaherty," he obediently addressed them both, "you need to sign these new signature cards, and then I’ll need I.D. from both of you."

They followed the instructions, then Ryan informed him that they had chosen the "Hi Tech" series of checks. He put all of the papers together and promised that the new checks would be delivered in a few days. "I could have them messengered to your home," he offered.

"The usual delivery will be fine," Jamie assured him. "Now, Ryan will have an ATM/debit card too, won’t she?"

"Absolutely," he stated. "Do you need me to expedite delivery for you, Ms. O’Flaherty?"

Ryan was taken aback by his obsequious attitude, having never experienced anything remotely close to this in her own business dealings.

"No, not at all," she assured him hastily. "No big deal."

As they walked to the door, Mr. Merriman offered CD’s, money market funds, lines of credit and every other possible product the bank had to offer. Jamie practically had to close the door on him but he finally waved goodbye, looking after them rather longingly.

"This is a whole new experience for me, and it’s not one I think I’m gonna like," Ryan muttered as she got in to drive the Boxster home.

Jamie’s gentle touch upon her arm caused her to make eye contact before she drove off. "Are you okay with this, Baby?" she asked softly. "I had a long time to get used to it, but I’m asking you to just jump in as an adult. I know it’s hard."

Ryan smiled over at her sweetly. "Thanks for understanding, Hon. It’s gonna take me a while."

The reassuring touch continued as Jamie lightly ran her hand up and down Ryan’s leg. "Do you want to start using this account for your paycheck and things like that, Honey?"

"Nah. I’ll stick with my normal way."

"You haven’t explained what your normal way is," Jamie reminded her.

Ryan gave her a smile and informed her, "It’s quite simple, and very low-tech. I take the checks I get during the week and go to the bank on Saturday. I just keep the amount that I need for the week and deposit the rest into my savings account."

"Okay," Jamie nodded, seeing that such a process could work as a general rule. "But what do you do when you need more? Isn’t it a drag to have to go to the bank to make a withdrawal?"

They were at a stoplight so Ryan was able to turn slightly to face her. "If I want to do something or buy something and I don’t have the cash, I wait until the next week when I get paid again," she explained patiently. "There’s rarely anything that is that urgent."

"Don’t you ever charge things?" she asked, still stunned by this 19th century style of finance.

"Don’t have a charge card," Ryan informed her.

"Not any charge cards?" They were inundated by offers for charge cards at school, and she personally knew several people who were already tens of thousands of dollars in debt from the readily attainable credit. It seemed incomprehensible that Ryan had never succumbed to the lure of the credit card companies, but Jamie didn’t want to show just how odd she thought it was.

"Nope. And when Da finds out you got me one, he’ll throw a fit! He thinks debt is the work of the devil!"

"Wow," was the only word the startled woman was able to get out.

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

Over lunch Ryan asked rather absently, "How will we manage our checking account if we’re both making withdrawals?"

"What do you mean?" Jamie asked as she swallowed a bite of her turkey on rosemary bread.

"I want to make sure we don’t get overdrawn," Ryan explained, furrowing her brow a bit at Jamie’s lack of understanding of this basic tenet of finance.

Jamie blinked slowly. They had discussed that Ryan would use the account to make household purchases, but she couldn’t imagine how they would ever be overdrawn. "How much are you planning on taking out?" she asked with a surprised look on her face.

"I don’t know, Hon, but we’ll need groceries and gas for the car and all sorts of things. Da’s right, you know. It costs a pretty pence to keep me fed," she added with a worried look.

"Honey, you can write as many checks as you wish. My accountant balances the checkbook at the end of the month."

"But Jamie…" she insisted, but her partner cut her off.

"Ryan, my last statement showed I had over $100,000 in that account. Chill, Baby," she insisted as she patted her hand.

"$100,000!" Ryan shouted. "Are you crazy?! That money should be earning interest!"

"I know it’s a lot," Jamie soothed, "and it is earning interest. We earn a little bit on that account."

Ryan took a very deep breath and let it out slowly. "How much do you know about your financial picture," she finally asked.

"Not much, other than that it’s rosy," Jamie kidded gently.

"I don’t think you’re being advised very well if they let you earn a measly 2% on that much money," Ryan said seriously. "With the market the way it is, you should have the vast majority of that in a mutual fund."

Jamie was even more surprised to hear Ryan speak so knowledgeably, having had the impression that she was a financial Luddite. "Do you know much about investments?"

"Not a lot, but I understand math, and finance is really an offshoot of that. Would you like to understand your finances better?"

"I really would," Jamie agreed. "Maybe you can help me."

"I’d be happy to," Ryan said as she collected their plates. "But for now, it’s off to work for me and practice for you, Little One."

"Okay, Big One. Want a ride?"

"Nah, I think I’ll take my bike. Gotta keep those spark plugs clean."

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

On Wednesday evening, Jim called Jamie just as they were clearing the dinner dishes. "Jamie, did I catch you at a good time?" he asked.

"Sure, Daddy, we just finished dinner. What’s up?"

"A couple of things, Dear. But primarily I’d like you to come down for the weekend. I have a few things to discuss with you, and I’d prefer to do it in person."

"I suppose we could come down," she considered, furrowing her brow at Ryan. They exchanged glances, and Jamie gave a slight nod as Ryan mouthed, "Your father?"

"Um…I would like to see you alone, Honey," he said with a hitch in his normally assured voice. "Is that possible?"

Since she was on her cell, she stepped onto the front porch so Ryan could not hear. She knew that she would reveal anything that transpired, but she also knew that hearing one side of this type of discussion was a little unsettling. "Daddy," she said clearly, "I know this is hard for you, and I promise I’ll try to give you time to adjust, but Ryan’s my partner. I share everything with her. Now I understand that you don’t know her well, and that you probably feel a little uncomfortable around her. I’m willing to spend time with you alone, just as I did when I was with Jack, but I won’t stay overnight without her."

She could hear the heavy sigh he let out as he took this information in. It took him a second, but he silently acknowledged her position by changing his request. "How about golf on Sunday?"

"Sure. How about eight?"

"That’s fine, Honey," he said. "See you then. Oh, and Jamie?"

"Yes, Daddy?"

"This really isn’t that hard for me, Sweetheart. I truly want you to be happy, Jamie, and if this relationship is what you want, I really don’t have any objections."

Wishing desperately that she had her father on speakerphone so that Ryan could confirm what he had just said, she managed to stutter, "Th…thank you, Daddy. That means a great deal to me."

"You mean a great deal to me, Jamie. Always remember that."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The course was crowded, but Jim managed to convince the starter to let them go off as a twosome. They chatted about their respective weeks for the first few holes, both managing to get over their slight discomfort with each other in a short time. Jamie was playing so well, Jim spent another five holes just marveling over her increased skills.

On the 16th tee he finally got to his agenda. "I was dismayed when I was notified that you had converted your checking account to joint status," he said rather gravely.

"Why were you notified?" she asked, a bit perturbed that Mr. Merriman would notify her father.

"I am your trustee, Jamie," he reminded her. "Your monthly allowance goes into that account so I receive confirmation of all changes."

"Daddy, you know I would have gotten a complete distribution if I had married Jack. The funds Ryan and I are sharing are truly a drop in the bucket! Even if you don’t trust her, I would hope that you would trust me," she said with a note of hurt. "I want her to have some spending money and this is how I choose to do it. Please don’t second-guess me."

He strode to the tee and hit his drive, remaining silent until she was finished with her shot. "I certainly don’t mean to second-guess you, Jamie. I’m just concerned."

"There’s absolutely nothing to be concerned about, Daddy. Ryan is the most trustworthy person I’ve ever met."

Jim looked at his daughter carefully as they got into the cart and drove to the fairway. "She might be, Honey, and I truly hope that she is, but I don’t know her. You have to understand my position here."

Trying her best to soften her attitude, Jamie patted him lightly on the knee. "I can see that you don’t have a good feeling for her yet, Daddy. I guarantee that over time you’ll come to agree with me, but I acknowledge that it will take a while."

"I just have one question," he said slowly, making sure that he had her attention before he stated it. "Did Ryan, in any way, try to talk you into this?"

Jamie tossed her head back and laughed heartily at the question, causing her father to react with a very puzzled look. "I’m sorry, Daddy," she gasped. "The thought of Ryan doing that is just too funny. I practically had to drag her into that bank to make the change." Giving her father a confident smile she insisted, "I think money is going to be an issue in our relationship–but only because she wishes I didn’t have so much of it!"

He nodded slowly, honestly wanting to believe his daughter, and hoping, for her sake, that her impressions were correct.

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

After the round, they decided to have lunch together in the grill. Jamie wished she didn’t need to bring up the topic, but since her father had made it clear to Ryan that he wanted her to pay rent, she knew she had to approach it sometime. "Daddy," she began, fidgeting a little in her seat. "I…uh…Ryan told me that you want her to begin to pay rent to live with me."

He paused, mid-bite, and gave her a serious look. With a sigh, he replaced his fork and pursed his lips. "I think it’s best, Jamie. Having her pay her own way will reassure me that her intentions are honest."

Jamie cocked her head a little and asked the question that had been lingering in the back of her head. "Would you have done the same for Jack? If he had been attending Boalt," naming the law school at Cal, "would you have expected him to pay to live with me?"

Jim gave the question a moment’s thought, deciding that he had to be honest with his daughter, even though his honest answer weakened his position. "No, I wouldn’t," he admitted.

"I didn’t think so," she said, looking directly into his eyes. "Daddy, the bond I have with Ryan is deeper than what I had with Jack. If she was a man, we’d already be married. It’s important to me that you eventually come to realize that."

He nodded briefly, acknowledging her wish. "I promise to try, Jamie. That’s all that I can do." Running his hand through his hair, he nodded once more. "I would feel better if she would continue to support herself the same way she had been before…but since this means so much to you, I agree to withdraw my request. She doesn’t have to pay rent."

She graced him with a sunny smile, terribly pleased that he was so willing to listen to reason. "She lived with her family before, Daddy, and had no living expenses to speak of. So, in essence, she is supporting herself in the same way she was before."

He laughed a bit at this and said, "Not really what I had in mind, Sweetheart, but again, I defer to your judgment on this. You’ve always been very levelheaded, and I have no reason to believe you’ll not continue to exhibit that trait."

Jamie reached across the table and squeezed his hand, beaming a smile at him. "I’m very glad that you’re my father," she said softly, the hint of a tear playing at her mist-green eyes.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Jamie pulled into the tiny driveway of the O’Flaherty home, she heard two sets of feet scampering down the stairs to greet her. "You look like you could use a hand," Ryan smiled, grasping Jamie’s huge golf bag with both hands and yanking it out of the passenger seat.

Duffy decided to run around to the more interesting side of the car, and as Jamie pushed the door open, his sturdy body shuffled backwards just enough to give her the bare minimum for clearance. "I’ve gotta say, you two always make me feel welcome," she sputtered as Duffy put his paws on her thighs and struggled to reach her face. Looking over at Ryan’s bemused smirk she playfully demanded, "Did you ever give any thought to teaching your boy not to jump on people?"

Her tone was light, and she was obviously teasing, but Ryan’s brow furrowed and she commanded in a sharp voice, "Duffy! Off!" Shooting her a puzzled glance, he immediately rested all four feet on the ground, his curly black tail thumping loudly against the concrete. The dog’s big black eyes darted from Jamie across the car to Ryan, who still looked a little cross. "I didn’t know that bothered you, Jamie." Her voice was quiet, and there was a definite shadow in her normally open gaze.

Walking around the car, Jamie placed her hand on Ryan’s back, giving it a little rub. "Everything okay, Love?" she asked softly.

Ryan looked a little embarrassed and nodded. "Yeah…fine. I guess I just wish you had told me before that Duffy’s jumping bothered you." A hint of a pout played around her lips and even though Jamie’s fervent wish was to be able to grab her and kiss the adorable little face, she knew that wasn’t the wise choice since Ryan was obviously in a snit over something.

Ryan had shifted the golf bag onto her shoulder, and the three of them made their way onto the deck. "Let’s sit outside for a bit," Jamie suggested, noticing a glass of lemonade and a book lying on a table.

The big bag rattled when Ryan set it down, and not for the first time Jamie wished she had a smaller bag to tote her clubs in. The large bag allowed her to carry the multitude of items she might need on the course, but now that she had to transport it in her small car, it was as much a hindrance as a help.

The two of them sat on the cushioned loveseat, Duffy looking around for a way to be as close as possible to Jamie while being as comfortable as he could manage. He chose to lie at her feet, hoping for a bit of a head rub if the opportunity presented itself. To his complete pleasure, Jamie’s hand was almost at the perfect spot to do just that, and she tangled her fingers in his jet-black hair, pleasing him completely. "I’ll deny it in public," Jamie mused, "but I have to admit that Duffy is my second favorite O’Flaherty."

The tone of her voice was very gentle, and Ryan immediately knew she was teasing. "I think everyone knows that already, Jamie," she said, smiling at the look of rapture on her dog’s face. "Although Duffy thinks he’s your absolute favorite."

"Nope. He’s a distant second. But he is very dear to me, and I think you know that I love having him jump on me to welcome me home." Her free hand was trailing up and down Ryan’s khakied thigh, and she smiled when she realized that both O’Flahertys were leaning in for more pressure on their respective parts.

"I thought so," Ryan said, a confused look on her face, "but your tone was really sharp, and I thought you meant it."

Jamie knew that her tone had not been the least bit sharp, and she suspected that she knew the source of the problem but did not want to bring it up directly. One of the things that she absolutely hated about Jack was his irritating habit of attributing every show of bad temper to her period, and she had decided that she would never do that to Ryan. Deciding that it would serve no purpose to disagree, she gave a little scratch to Ryan’s thigh and soothed, "I’m sorry if I sounded sharp, Honey. I certainly didn’t mean to. I love Duffy, and I love you, and I want both of you to jump on me and wag your tails when I come home for many, many years."

Her tone combined with her sincerity did the trick, and Ryan snaked an arm around her, leaning over to nuzzle her neck. A few gentle kisses followed, with Ryan finally lifting her head to murmur, "Somebody was in the sand today."

"Just once," Jamie laughed softly, rubbing her head against Ryan’s chin. "But I got a face full when the wind shifted."

"It goes well with the salt on your skin," Ryan teased, allowing her tongue to swipe across her partner’s neck. She shifted a bit on the seat and leaned in heavily, pinning her partner to the seat back. When her leg moved between Jamie’s, the smirking blonde knew how they would spend the rest of the afternoon. Ryan was practically straddling her, but Jamie didn’t have any intention of complaining. Their lips met softly, but the softness quickly progressed to firm, and then rough, kisses, Ryan’s desire clearly in overdrive. Her kisses were nearly consuming, and Jamie managed to wedge her hands between their bodies and push her back just an inch or two.

"Slow down, Tiger," she soothed, smiling as Ryan continued to kiss and nibble on her lips. "We’ve got all day. We don’t have to rush."

"I like to rush," Ryan’s deep voice rumbled, as she pushed back against her lover, trapping her hands between them. "First I wanna rush," she murmured, capturing Jamie’s lips in a flurry of hungry kisses. "Then I wanna go slow." Another round of kisses followed, this time slow and soft and delicate–so different from the first, but just as heavy with the promise of an afternoon of lovemaking.

Ryan’s determined hand slipped between Jamie’s thighs and as she felt the humid dampness underneath the thin cotton shorts, she considered having their first round of passion be al fresco. No one was home, and even though they were facing the street, their position atop the garage made it impossible for pedestrians to observe them. She knew that the house directly across the street could see the entire deck, since a friend from grammar school had previously lived in the little Victorian, and he and Ryan had spent many hours in his room playing with his Sega video games. She didn’t know the current occupants very well since they had only lived in the house a short time. They were a young couple with a new baby, and Ryan guessed they had better things to do on a Saturday than sit in their bedroom looking at her. Still, Jamie wouldn’t like it if we could be observed…

All of these thoughts flitted through her mind as Jamie lay quietly beneath her. The smaller woman had a hunch that Ryan wasn’t going to allow her to enter the house without some satisfaction, and even though she didn’t really enjoy being intimate when they could be discovered, she thought she could give Ryan a little pleasure without much risk of exposure. She shifted beneath her heavier partner, wedging her leg tightly between Ryan’s thighs, smiling to herself when Ryan groaned, twitching her hips to intensify the contact. "Oooh, you read my mind," the dark-haired woman said.

"Your intentions couldn’t be more transparent if you tried, Tiger," Jamie murmured as Ryan started to push against her. She was almost at a good rhythm when Duffy let out a low growl and scampered to his feet. He was standing at the top of the stairs, tail wagging hesitantly, ears up, head cocked, by the time Ryan heard the first footstep on the stairs.

"Shit," she growled, rolling off Jamie to compose herself as much as possible. "Duffy, sit!" she ordered, and without hesitation he did so, now looking very happy at the prospect of greeting their guest.

"Um…hello," called out a hesitant voice, seconds before Mary Elizabeth Andrews’ dark brown head peeked up from the staircase.

"Mrs. Andrews," Ryan gasped, hopping up from the chair as though she’d been pinched. "Uhh…hello." Ryan strode across the deck, her hand extended.

The older woman grasped it as she reached the deck, allowing Ryan to give her a firm handshake. "I’m sorry I didn’t call first, or let you know I was coming…" she trailed off, looking at the stairs rather helplessly, and Ryan mentally cursed Conor for failing to put a doorbell at the bottom of the stairs as he had often promised to do

"No problem," Ryan said, with a cordial smile affixed to her face. "You remember my partner Jamie, don’t you?"

Jamie hopped up and shook the older woman’s hand, adding a practiced smile that did not include her eyes. "Good to see you again," Jamie said, all of her normal warmth absent.

"Yes, yes, it’s good to see you too, Jamie," she murmured, looking like she would rather be almost anywhere else. Returning her eyes to Ryan she asked, "Do you have a few minutes, Ryan?"

"Sure," she said graciously. "Have a seat." The hesitant woman did so, casting a quick glance at Jamie to determine if she would join them. Ryan grasped her partner’s hand, pulling her down next to her on the loveseat, settling that question rather decisively. "I was planning on calling you sometime this weekend," Ryan stated. "I suppose your visit is for the same purpose."

The older woman nodded briefly. Her brow was knit, her expression contrite and earnest. "Sara told me what you two had discussed, and even though I have much to regret, I wanted to assure you that I did not tell anyone about what happened, Ryan. I would never do that to you."

Ryan’s expression grew chilly, and she fixed the woman with an ice blue gaze. "Haven’t you caused me enough harm, Mrs. Andrews? I would think that after all of this time you could admit your role and be done with it."

Their visitor looked completely taken aback. She sat up a little taller in her chair and leaned forward, returning Ryan’s gaze. "Ryan, I’ve known you since you were a small child. I knew your mother…I’m proud to say she was my friend. I would not tarnish the relationship she and I had by hurting you intentionally. I know that my actions hurt you, and I’m terribly sorry for them. But I did not--I swear--tell anyone about you."

Ryan gazed deeply into her warm brown eyes and let the memories of their long relationship flow through her mind. She remembered how close she had been to the woman who now faced her, and she acknowledged that it wasn’t in her character to do what she had suspected her of. In fact, one of the reasons that she had been so stunned by her betrayal was because it was so completely unexpected. "So who did?" Ryan whispered, a stab of pain lodging in her chest when she hit upon the only other possibility. Her eyes filled with tears as she considered that Sara must have been the one lying to her. Jamie’s arm came to circle her waist, providing much needed support, and Ryan leaned against her heavily.

"I don’t know," the older woman muttered, her own eyes now filled with tears. "I know I didn’t, and I know Sara didn’t. Please…please believe me, Ryan."

"How can I?" Ryan said in a loud voice as she jumped to her feet, causing Duffy to scramble behind the loveseat in alarm. "I certainly didn’t tell anyone! It wasn’t written on my forehead! Either I told, you told, or Sara told."

Mrs. Andrews closed her eyes tightly, her lips pressed together as she tried to come up with a possible explanation for the rumor. "I’ve been thinking about this constantly since Sara told me, Ryan, and I think that it might have been written on your forehead." At Ryan’s shocked look she hastened to explain. "I don’t mean that literally, of course, but when I think back to that time I’m amazed that I didn’t put a label on the way you behaved around Sara."

Ryan flopped down onto the chair, her legs feeling too weak to hold her any longer. She dropped her head into her hands and rubbed her face briskly, an unconscious habit indicating complete frustration that Jamie had seen far too often lately. "What do you mean, Mrs. Andrews?" Jamie asked softly.

The older woman looked a little uncomfortable to be discussing this in front of a near-stranger, but Ryan obviously wanted the woman by her side, so she gathered her courage and said, "In retrospect, Ryan had begun to act more like a…a boyfriend towards Sara than a girlfriend. She hung on her every word…laughed uproariously at the slightest joke…" She looked at the embarrassed blush that was suffusing Ryan’s face and assured her, "I don’t mean to embarrass you, Ryan, and I swear it didn’t register at the time…but looking back on it, I have to acknowledge that it was fairly obvious. You treated Sara much like you treat Jamie now."

The younger women were holding hands, and Jamie unconsciously tightened her grip around Ryan’s waist.

"I just wish that I had spoken to you about it then…to save you both so much pain," Mrs. Andrews added. "Maybe you wouldn’t have…" she left the statement unfinished, not knowing how to characterize Ryan’s physical overtures towards her daughter.

Ryan wasn’t sure how to respond to the comment. Since she was sure that Sara had not come out to her mother, she obviously couldn’t state her wish that Mrs. Andrews had brought it up–so that she and Sara could have admitted their love and worked through the problems associated with it. Instead, she just nodded briefly, deciding that saying nothing was the best option at this point.

"So…" Jamie led, "you think what--that other people just guessed?" The skepticism in her voice was blatant, and Mrs. Andrews wished she had been able to speak to Ryan alone, to avoid being questioned by both of these strong-minded women.

She nodded quickly, saying, "Something like that. Sara and Ryan were much more than friends, Jamie, you have to remember that. They were absolutely inseparable–they never had the usual fights that most girls do. I can only imagine that when they stopped seeing each other so abruptly, some of the other girls might have guessed what had torn them apart." She looked at Jamie rather helplessly and said, "It’s the only thing that I can think of."

Ryan let out a massive sigh, causing both women to turn their attention to her. Jamie was just on the verge of telling Mrs. Andrews that her idea was ridiculous, when her partner surprised her by saying, "It’s a long shot…but I guess it’s within the realm of possibility." She looked at Mrs. Andrews for a full minute, the older woman’s gaze never wavering. "I wish I could let this rest…but I can’t. I’m going to find out what happened–if I have to track down every girl in that school."

A small smile played at the corners of Mrs. Andrews’ mouth and she nodded her head slightly. "I’ve never seen you back down from a challenge, Ryan. I’ll help you in any way that I can. I let you down once…I promise I won’t do it again."

Jamie couldn’t help but ask the obvious question. "If you didn’t spread the rumors about Ryan, what do you feel so guilty about?"

Her brown eyes fluttered closed, and a look of genuine pain crossed her face. "I can still see the look on Ryan’s face when I sent her away." She stared at her folded hands, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I regret that more than anything I’ve ever done. Ryan needed somebody to help her get through that troubling time–and I abandoned her." She lifted her head and stared directly into Ryan’s red-rimmed eyes and whispered, "I’m so very sorry, Ryan. Just because Sara didn’t feel that way towards you was no reason to turn my back on you. I just didn’t know what to do–and I let my fear take over. Can you ever forgive me?"

Ryan got to her feet and closed the short distance, squatting down in front of the sobbing woman who threw her arms around Ryan’s neck. "I forgive you," she whispered, just loud enough for Jamie to hear.

Jamie was moved by Ryan’s enormous capacity to forgive, but she was still not convinced of their visitor’s veracity. She held her tongue while the two women embraced each other and cried a bit, finally going into the house to fetch a box of tissues. When she returned, Ryan was standing, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand. She gratefully accepted the box, and they both spent a few minutes composing themselves. When it seemed safe, Jamie asked the question that had been lingering in the back of her mind. "Why have you avoided Martin and Brendan and even Maeve all of these years, Mrs. Andrews?"

Ryan rolled her eyes, wishing her little district attorney would give this one a rest, but the older woman didn’t seem offended in the least. "At first, I didn’t know if Ryan had told her family about what had happened," she offered. "I certainly wasn’t going to say anything if she hadn't. I guess I just started going out of my way to avoid them, and after a while they started avoiding me," she admitted. "I felt guilty enough to know that I deserved their anger, and I suppose I took the coward’s way out. I just hate to cause a scene," she murmured self-consciously, and Ryan had to acknowledge that while Mrs. Andrews had many good qualities, she was never one to stand up for herself. Thinking back, Ryan also had to admit that seeing a pair of cold blue eyes boring into them was not something that most people would seek out, and she acknowledged that once Da knew about the issue he would not have been very welcoming when he encountered the woman.

"That makes sense," Ryan admitted, sparing a small smile for the obviously relieved woman. "What’s done is done," she said. "Let’s try to start over. Jamie and I are going to start attending Mass regularly, and I’d really like to feel like we can all be friends once again."

A warm smile lit up Mrs. Andrews’ face and she said, "I can’t tell you how much I’d like that, Ryan. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll stroll down the street and try to make amends with your aunt right now."

"She’s the easy one," Ryan laughed gently, not bothering to add that her father would be a tougher sell.

"Practice makes perfect," Mrs. Andrews smiled. "By the time I work up to your father, I should be pretty good at this."

"Don’t worry," Ryan assured her. "I’ll put Jamie on the job. She has him wrapped around her little finger."

A teasing grin preceded her rejoinder. "You’re going to run out of little fingers, Jamie, with Martin around one and Ryan around the other."

"Is it that obvious?" Ryan wailed, dropping her face into her hands. "I’m older, I’m taller, I’m bigger…it just doesn’t make any sense!"

Mrs. Andrews rose and placed her hand on Ryan’s shoulder. "Love doesn’t make sense, Ryan," she said softly. "I’m just very glad that you’ve found it."

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


Continued in Part 3

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