I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 5: Entwined

By S X Meagher


See Part 1

Part 5

As they flew across the Bay Bridge on Monday morning, Jamie commented, "There sure isn’t much traffic this morning."

Glancing at her, Ryan commented, "It’s 5:45, Love, most people aren’t stupid enough to be out at this hour."

"Good point," Jamie chuckled. "I guess I’m even stupider than you are since I run with you voluntarily."

"Nah," Ryan disagreed. "You’re just crazy about me, and you can’t stand to let me out of your sight for two hours."

"You’re right on the money, as usual, Sport," Jamie agreed wholeheartedly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Morning, girls." Jordan Ericsson tossed her long blonde hair and leveled a cool gaze at Jamie. They were standing in front of the Recreational Sports Facility, stretching lightly before the morning run. Ryan was bent over, getting the kinks out of her back, but she managed to grunt out a hello.

"Wanna stretch it out a little today, Ryan?" Jordan’s tone was casual, almost bored, but Jamie could detect a note of challenge that she assumed would not go unanswered by her mate.

"I suppose I could take the clamps off," she agreed, matching Jordan’s tone exactly. "You don’t mind if we take off for a little bit, do you, Honey?"

Oh boy, I’m not gonna see either of them for the next hour. "No, that’s fine. I’ll be waiting for you in my usual place," Jamie said, knowing that little tests like these were the types of challenges that Ryan thrived on.

Before Coach Placer even gave them the signal, Jordan flashed a taunting smile at Ryan and called, "Normal route–twice!" Before Ryan could even blink, the laughing woman took off, leaving a muttering Ryan in her wake.

Grumbling the whole while, she bent to place a kiss on Jamie’s cheek and unnecessarily advised, "You might want to go at your own pace, Love."

Jamie gave her a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-to-even-say-that look and nodded somberly. "Right. I’d hate to kick your butt in front of your teammates."

Oblivious to the joke, her blue eyes locked on Jordan’s departing form, Ryan muttered, "Good. See ya."

She took off after her new teammate, grumbling audibly, while Jamie smiled at the pair, thinking, Of all of things she needs in the world, the very last one is another person in her life to bring out her competitive side!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie finished her single lap of the normal route with the more moderate members of the team, then spent a few minutes lying on the grass and stretching. She was just about finished when Jordan came loping up, looking far cooler than she should have after a ten-mile run. Barely breathing hard, she approached Jamie and flopped down on the ground next to her. "Ryan must have stopped for coffee," she commented blithely.

"Uh-huh," Jamie murmured, deciding it best to remain neutral in what she assumed would become a chronic contest.

A few seconds later, Ryan came barreling over to them--face flushed–chest heaving. "Holy shit!" she cried, dropping like a rock to land next to Jamie. "Why are you wasting your time in school when you could be with the Olympic track team, training for Sydney!"

Jordan gave her a very confident smile, getting to her feet to stretch her hamstrings. "Oh, I will be in Sydney," she advised, "but I’ll be on the volleyball team." With that, she stood and gave Ryan a wink, adding a little wave as she jogged back to the facility to shower.

Ryan didn’t say another word, focusing on her post-run stretching. After a little while she extended her legs and bent from the waist, asking Jamie, "Sit on my back, will you?"

"That’s an innovative change," she quipped, trying to wrest a smile from her partner. "You normally like me coming at you from the other direction."

"Uh-huh," Ryan murmured, obviously still mulling over her defeat. Jamie dutifully sat on her back, helping her reach the very deep stretch that she liked to get out of her hamstrings. "Maybe I wasn’t warmed up enough," she said, more to herself than Jamie.

"Does it really matter if Jordan is faster than you are, Honey?" Jamie wasn’t trying to be insensitive, but she thought it best to have a little perspective. Ryan and Jordan were not competing for spots on the track team–they were teammates in a sport that didn’t require blinding speed, so the entire issue seemed rather silly to Jamie.

Ryan obviously did not see the issue in the same light, however. She focused her ice blue eyes on her partner and said slowly, "She is NOT faster than I am. Ten miles is a little long for me, to tell you the truth. Let me get that little greyhound on the track, and I’d kick her ass so bad she couldn’t sit for a week." Ryan’s eyes were nearly burning in their intensity, and Jamie immediately decided that this was not the time to try to inject a dose of reality.

"I’m sure that you’re right, Honey. I’ve seen how fast you are at the shorter distances…"

"I’m plenty fast at the longer distances, too," Ryan decreed sharply. "I just have to spend a little time working on my stamina."

Jamie pasted on a smile, thinking to herself, Great. Just great. It’s bad enough she has to compete with her brothers and all of her cousins. Now she has to beat Jordan, too! It’s gonna be a loooong summer.

* * * * * * * * * * *

On Tuesday morning, Jamie negotiated a plan that she hoped would satisfy both of their morning needs. "I’d like to go with you to work out in the gym this morning, Babe, but I really need my wake-up routine. Can you keep yourself occupied until nine?"

Ryan mulled over the request, finally agreeing to an accommodation. "I think I’ll go over to the track. If I’m gonna be in top shape, I need to work on my speed. I’ll meet you in the weight room at 9:30. That okay?"

"It’s great, Honey." She took her latté and her newspaper and headed for the backyard, musing, Did they change the rules of volleyball since I last watched it? I was certain that you didn’t have to sprint from one end of the court to the other before you were allowed to hit the ball! Thanks, Jordan, thanks a lot!

* * * * * * * * * * *

The day was cool and brisk, so Jamie decided to sit on the steps of the Recreational Sports Facility to wait for her partner. As expected, a very soggy looking Ryan came bounding up, right on time. "You don’t look like you’re going to a workout," Jamie smiled in greeting, rising to place a small kiss on Ryan’s flushed cheek.

"I’m good to go," she proclaimed happily. "I got some good work in this morning, working on my form. I discovered that I’ve been clenching my fists a little, and a flaw like that can really slow ya down."

She looked completely serious, and Jamie didn’t have the heart to tell her that her hand position could not possibly have accounted for her second place showing against Jordan the day before. Jordan just plain dusted her–by a lot! Instead, she offered an encouraging smile, grasping Ryan’s hand as she did so. "You’re dangerously fast, Buffy. And I should know." As they walked through the quiet halls of the RSF, Jamie continually bumped her partner with her hip, turning it into a little game that quickly got out of hand. By the time they reached the door of the weight room, Jamie was shrieking and laughing hysterically. She flew into the room and grasped the horizontal bar with both hands, bracing her body against the other half of the double door which had luckily been bolted shut.

Ryan yanked on the door with all of her might, managing to pull it forward a few inches. "You know I’ll get in there eventually, Jamie," she bellowed, "and when I do…" She left the threat uncompleted, trying to let Jamie’s imagination conjure up what the punishment would be.

"You’ll never break me," the smaller woman yelled through the heavy steel door. "I can hold you off for hours."

Ryan laughed evilly, deciding to let go of the door handle completely for a few moments, knowing that her partner would tire quickly. She shoved her face against the small, oblong window, smashing her normally attractive features into a gruesome-looking mask. Her laugh rang out again, and she thanked the gods that every office they had passed was empty.

"You don’t scare me, Buffy," Jamie called out. "Hit me with your best shot!"

"Winner gives the loser a massage," Ryan proposed.

"Deal!" called out the smaller woman.

"Limber up your fingers, Babe, you’re gonna need ‘em!" Ryan braced her foot on the locked portion of the door and grabbed the handle with both hands. She depressed the lever to unlock the latch, then yanked with every bit of her considerable strength….only to have the door move less than an inch. Time and again she yanked, letting out a frustrated groan as she did so. On her last try she barked out a loud growl, and slid to the floor in defeat when the door again failed to budge.

"Give up?" called a very amused voice.

"Yes," she muttered, slumped against the locked half of the door.

Jamie opened the door tentatively, expecting her partner to leap at her, looking for vengeance. Instead, she was still sitting on the floor, looking totally defeated. "Maybe I’m just too old for this," she mumbled when Jamie squatted down next to her.

"Oooh, Honey, why do you say that?" Jamie immediately felt bad about her little game, realizing too late that Ryan needed a little ego boost this morning.

"I’m not as fast as I thought, I’m not as strong as I thought…" She trailed off weakly, looking more discouraged than Jamie had ever seen her.

"You’re as strong as three women," Jamie assured her, leaning in for a kiss.

Ryan replied with a bitter laugh, grumbling, "I think I’m just fooling myself. I can’t even beat one. Any one," she muttered, recalling Jordan’s trouncing of the day before.

"Honey, you can beat three…believe me." She ruffled Ryan’s hair as she stood and yanked the door open, revealing Jordan and a freshman teammate named Heather who were both trying, and failing, to look innocent. "I had a little help," Jamie revealed hesitantly, hoping Ryan wasn’t angry with her.

Very amused blue eyes twinkled up at her, a pleased grin replacing her frown. "Three, huh?" She barked out a little chuckle as she got to her feet. "Not bad," Jamie heard her mutter under her breath. "Not bad at all."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The foursome worked out together for about half an hour. Technically, "together" wasn’t the correct word, but they were in the same space for that amount of time. Heather was the first to fall by the wayside, mumbling a quiet "See ya" as she made her escape.

Jamie held out a good while longer, matching the jocks exercise for exercise. She was quite proud of herself, even though she was pumping half of the weight of the other two. But when they dropped to the floor to start banging out one-armed pushups, she allowed her good sense to take over and pulled out a mat to start stretching.

"Box jumps?" Ryan asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Umm…sure," Jordan said, "I’ve got a little juice left in my tank. I was here for quite a while before you two showed up," she said, revealing a tiny chink in her self-confidence as she shot a surreptitious glance at Ryan’s pumped thighs.

Jamie wasn’t familiar with the term "box jumps," but she got the idea when Ryan pulled out three sizes of sturdy wooden boxes and placed them a couple of feet apart. Jordan followed suit, placing her boxes well away from Ryan’s to avoid their running into each other. "Wanna make a game of it?" Ryan asked casually.

"If you must," Jordan said with a much more studied aloofness. "Whatever gets your juices flowing."

Ryan refrained from making the graphic joke she would have made before Jamie, or BJ, as she privately referred to the time prior to their pairing. She was happy to save her naughty sense of humor for her partner, but she did have to police herself a bit. She had been teasing and playing with other women for six years and it had become second nature to her, but she didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea–especially anyone as fabulous looking as Jordan. That kind of temptation she just did not need.

"Follow the leader." Ryan called the challenge, waiting for Jordan to complain. When she did not, Ryan started on the smallest step. She jumped onto the step and back to the floor, her feet close together, arms flexed slightly at the elbow. Several repeats of this motion led her to the next box, and she ran off an even dozen crisp repetitions. Jordan was keeping up with her, but Jamie could see the signs of fatigue on the thinner woman’s face. Her mouth was slightly open, and her chest was moving quicker than Ryan’s. Who wouldn’t want to trade places with me? Jamie smirked to herself. I get to watch two fantastic looking women work out, and nobody notices when I stare at their bouncing breasts!

Ryan picked up the pace, going to the tallest of the boxes and launching into a blistering set of reps. Jamie stared at the pair, amazed that they were both able to continue with the grueling test of stamina. Jordan’s alabaster skin was now a deep pink, beads of sweat flying off her face as she leapt in concert with Ryan.

For her part, Ryan still looked pretty good, given how long they had been jumping. Her face was darker than normal, and she also perspired freely, but she wasn’t gasping for air like Jordan was.

"Shit!" Jordan gasped, withdrawing from the competition. Both hands flew to her waist, massaging what looked to be a painful stitch in her side.

"You okay?" Jamie asked, approaching her gently and placing a hand on her bent back.

"Fine. Fine." Her voice was muffled and strained, and she seemed more annoyed than in pain. "Just have to work this cramp out."

The rhythmic "thump, thump, thump" that continued in the background finally distracted Jamie’s attention and she turned her head to gaze at her partner. "Honey," she called, "you can stop now."

"I’ve…got…a…little…left," she huffed, her sweat drenched bangs flopping into her eyes with each jump.

Jordan was finally able to stand, and she wiped her body down with a towel while she watched Ryan bang away. "I’m guessing she sleeps on a bed of nails," she grumbled, obviously irritated that Ryan could continue.

"Nah," Jamie laughed, "she’s actually kind of a hedonist." They spent a moment staring at the straining woman, both impressed, though only Jamie would admit to it. "She does have a lot of determination, though."

Jordan mumbled something indecipherable and sat down to stretch. Jamie joined her, and after another minute Ryan finally gave out. She flopped down with a wet "plop," stretching out fully on the mat next to Jamie. The smaller woman could feel the moist heat radiating off her body, smell her rich, earthy scent, see the sweat rolling down her skin in tiny rivulets. She wanted nothing more than to strip off her clothes and rub her body all over Ryan’s, but she thought that might be considered slightly rude, so she controlled herself with some difficulty.

After an amazingly short time, Ryan said, "I was gonna do a little ab work. Anybody wanna join me?"

Jordan mumbled an epithet that caused Jamie to gape and Ryan to giggle. "A ‘no’ would be sufficient," the dark woman laughed.

"You’re not human," Jordan groaned, dropping back onto her mat.

"Just what I thought about you when you were kicking my butt yesterday morning," Ryan agreed, as she hooked her feet onto a slant board to do some sit-ups.

Jamie was very pleased that her partner and Jordan were starting to acknowledge that each had some unique talents, for she knew that Ryan would loosen up considerably if her interactions with Jordan became more playful.

Soon Ryan was lost in her own little world, and Jordan continued to sneak quick looks at her as she worked. "So…what’s the story with her?" she finally asked. "She’s obviously a gifted athlete--she certainly doesn’t seem to have a problem with training–why is she a walk-on as a senior?"

"Long story," Jamie said, shaking her head to indicate that she was not going to share the story at the moment. "Ask her sometime when you have an hour."

Jordan didn’t pursue the issue, continuing to cast surreptitious glances at her new teammate. "She’s gonna help us so much this year, Jamie. I’m really glad she decided to join us."

"Why don’t you tell her that?" Jamie asked logically.

Jordan laughed softly, sparing a glance at the smaller woman as she said, "Yeah…I’ll do that sometime."

"So, did you mean it when you said you expect to make the Olympic team?"

Now the cool blue eyes took on a definite fire. "Oh, I’ll make it, all right. I’ve dedicated my life to this, Jamie, and if Ryan can help us nail a few more wins, I should be a lock."

"I hope you make it, Jordan," she said sincerely. "I’ve never known an Olympian."

"Maybe you and the masochist can come to Sydney to watch us," she said with a big smile that chased away every shred of reserve from her face. "Well, I’ve gotta get going," she said, struggling to her feet. "I’ve got a shoot this afternoon."

"Shoot?" Jamie asked, and as the very tall woman looked down at her, a light bulb went off in Jamie’s head. "That’s where I’ve seen you before! You’re in a Gap ad!"

Jordan gave her a devastatingly sexy smile, along with a rather demure nod. "It’s a living," she tossed over her shoulder as she grabbed her gym bag and left the room.

"Ryan," Jamie said as soon as the blonde departed. "Jordan did one of those Gap ads that are up and down Market St. That’s why she looked so familiar to me!"

"Huh," Ryan mumbled, grunting out a few more sit-ups. "Makes sense. She’s got the body and the looks for it."

"You’re right about the body," Jamie mused, thinking back to the leggy blonde. "She’s fine."

"Ooh, are we discovering an affinity for blondes? I thought you were a fan of brunettes?" It was clear that Ryan was teasing, so Jamie felt free to be honest.

"Does it bother you that I um…notice other women?" she asked, fairly certain that it did not, but wanting to be reassured.

"Nope. Not a bit," Ryan decided, throwing her legs to the ground and leaning in to place a sweaty kiss on Jamie’s head. "As long as I get to take you home at night, you can look all you want."

"Not a worry, Tiger," Jamie laughed. "You’re stuck with me."

"I don’t know that I’m stuck with you," Ryan disagreed, playfully tweaking her partner’s nose, "but I’m definitely stuck on you."

"I prefer to think that we’re stuck on each other." Jamie wrapped her arms around the steaming body and took a deep breath, inhaling her comforting scent. She looked up and crooked a grin at her partner, "You’re so hot and wet, we might be stuck permanently."

"I’ve really gotta stretch after this workout," Ryan advised. "You can help me get finished quicker, though."

For the next fifteen minutes, they worked together, pushing, pulling, stretching and bending Ryan’s flexible body into a series of contortions. The larger woman finally finished by going to the wall and lying down with her head about a foot from the wooden dowels that could be used to hook a slant board onto. She tossed her legs in the air and let them fall to the floor above her head, her now-loose hamstrings allowing her to achieve the position that would normally be difficult for her. "Hook my heels under the fourth bar," she grunted, her voice constricted by the pressure of her body. The bar she indicated was about two feet high, and Jamie managed to get Ryan’s heels under the bar, as instructed. After letting her lats and hamstrings get used to the increased stretch, she asked Jamie to lower her feet down another two rungs. To Jamie’s amazement, the straining woman continued to grunt out, "Down," until her toes touched the ground.

Jamie shook her head, staring at her partner in amused wonder. Ryan’s head was poking up from between her own thighs, her face red from the strain, but otherwise looking perfectly relaxed. "You can do this–and you still felt the need to have a girlfriend!"

Releasing her legs, Ryan stretched out and smiled up at her lover. "No interest," she scoffed. "Besides," she decided, placing a tender kiss on her own hand, "Lefty would get jealous!"

* * * * * * * * * *

Jamie spent the afternoon working with the pro at Olympic that her father had so enthusiastically recommended. Mark was a good teacher, and she was quite pleased with his very positive comments about her chances of making the team. She was humming a little tune when she entered the house, and she looked around for a moment before venturing outside to find Ryan in what was obviously becoming one of her favorite spots.

Her long body was curled up on the wooden arbor bench, her left foot resting on the seat. A notebook was open, resting on her raised leg, and she wore a studious expression on her face as she made notes.

"Hi, Love," Jamie said as she approached, not wanting to startle her.

Ryan let out a sigh and placed the notebook and her pencil on the seat, rising to greet her partner. "Have a good day, Baby?"

"I did. I worked with Mark for a long while at the range, and then we played a round. It’s really starting to click for me, Hon. My confidence is really starting to rise."

"That’s very good to hear," Ryan said, giving her a squeeze.

Jamie picked up the notebook and took a seat, motioning Ryan down beside her. "You seem a little flat today, Babe. What’s on your mind?"

Ryan was absolutely silent for a minute, obviously trying to gather her thoughts. "I talked to Sara today," she said quietly.

Jamie flinched visibly, her whole body recoiling reflexively from the mental image of Sara kissing her partner--an image she had not been able to remove from her memory even though she had only seen the kiss in her imagination. "Talked?" she managed, her voice thin with tension.

Ryan snaked an arm around her partner, pulling her close against her body. "Yes, Babe. I spoke with her on the phone. I wouldn’t think of seeing her again if you weren’t with me."

Surprisingly, Jamie sat up and placed a hand flat against Ryan’s chest, her eyes flashing. "No. That’s not necessary, Sweetheart. I trust you, Ryan. You can see Sara, or any other person that you want to see. I don’t ever want you to feel that you have to get my permission to live your life."

With a slow, gentle smile curling her mouth, Ryan gave her partner a grateful hug. "I appreciate that, Babe. But I don’t have a need to see Sara again. I just called her to try to get a little more info out of her. The good news is that I am pretty confident that she was telling the truth, and that she wasn’t the one who told the girls at school."

"That must be a relief," Jamie said, leaning her head against Ryan’s shoulder.

Just sitting together and listening to her strong, slow heartbeat calmed Jamie, and she felt her equilibrium returning.

"Yeah…though I was already pretty sure I believed her. We just talked about the other girls on the team, and tried to figure out who could have started the rumors."

"What did you come up with?"

"Nada. I’m beginning to think that Mrs. Andrews was right. Maybe the other girls just guessed."

"So are you gonna give up?"

Ryan laughed softly, shaking her head. "Hardly. My mind is made up. I really am going to get to the bottom of this, Jamie. It might take me a while, but somebody knows what happened–and I’m gonna find out. I think my next move is to talk to my old coach."

Jamie tried to recall what she knew about this woman, finding that she didn’t even recall her name. "Have you kept up with her?"

"Nope. The day she told me that it was best if I quit was the last time we spoke privately. She’d say hello when I saw her in the halls, but our relationship was basically over at that point."

"Are you just gonna show up and try to talk to her?"

"No. I don’t want to waste a trip. I called the school after I spoke with Sara, and the person I spoke with said that Coach Ratzinger was running a clinic for high school girls on Friday. I thought I’d go over when it was finishing up. Then she won’t be able to duck me."

"Do you want me to go with you?" Jamie was certain that this was going to be a tough visit for her lover, and she fervently hoped that Ryan would allow her to go along for moral support.

"Sure. I’m a little nervous about having you see me if I act stupid, but you might also be able to help me stay calm."

"Uhh…who’s gonna keep me calm?" the smaller woman queried, just the hint of a smile playing at her mouth. "You’re always more in control than I am."

"Good point," Ryan mused, a matching smile beginning to bloom. "Oh well…if I’m gonna be in jail for assault, there’s nobody I’d rather share a cell with than you."

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

As soon as Ryan finished with her last client on Friday afternoon, they took off for the city, managing to get home quickly for once. The soccer clinic was scheduled from one until six, so Ryan wanted to arrive a little after that in hopes of catching the coach alone. Regrettably, it wasn’t even four, and Ryan was already antsy. "I need to blow off some energy, but I don’t want to run again," she complained.

"I can help you expend some energy," Jamie offered, quirking an eyebrow in her improving mimic of Ryan’s habit. Ryan was wearing a blue and white checked cotton camp shirt, and Jamie teasingly slipped her hand between the top two buttons, scratching the smooth fabric of Ryan’s sports bra.

The larger hand grasped the interloper and gently removed it. "I don’t say this often--in fact, I don’t remember the last time I said it--but I’m not in the mood, Honey. Do you mind?"

"Of course not," Jamie assured her. "I’m not really in the mood either, Babe. I just thought it might relax you a little."

"Have I told you what a wonderful partner you are?" Ryan laced her hands behind Jamie’s neck, gazing at her fondly as she did so.

"You have, Love. You tell me and show me all the time. But speaking of show and tell, I’d really like to get a feel for the person you were when this was all going down. Do you have some pictures from your senior year?"

"I can do much better than that," Ryan assured her. Minutes later they were in Martin’s room, the home of the only television in the house. No one else was home, so they had the place to themselves for a change. Ryan bent before the bottom shelf of the built-in cabinets that held the TV, running her finger across the neatly labeled videotapes that rested on the shelf. "Here we go," she said as she pulled a tape out. She removed it from the sleeve and handed the cardboard to Jamie. "State Championship-Soccer 1992" read the legend.

Ryan popped the tape in, and jumped onto the bed with the remote. Jamie climbed up next to her and cuddled up against her warm body. "We didn’t have a video camera, but every time Da thought the occasion merited it, he would borrow one from one of the guys at work. I think the fellow regretted ever making the offer because Da had the darn thing every other week," she said with a laugh. "This tape is from our final game of my junior year." Jamie noticed that her face had taken on a certain sadness, so she cuddled up a little tighter to offer some comfort. "Now you’ve got to remember," Ryan said with a chuckle, "that the videographer has a certain prejudice."

As the tape began to roll Jamie had to laugh at Ryan’s assessment. She imagined that most videos of a soccer game would show the whole field, or at least try to follow the ball. But this one was of nothing but Ryan. It was impossible to tell what was going on until the ball came near the goal since Martin had filled the frame with nothing but his daughter. But in Jamie’s view, he had made exactly the correct choice.

Needing to see every detail, Jamie climbed off the bed to stand near the TV. Time and again she turned to look at her smirking lover, going back and forth between the image on the screen and the reality lying on the bed. In a way, Ryan looked just like she had in 1992. Her hair was in the same style it had been up until her recent haircut and her face was clearly recognizable. But in other ways, the young woman pacing around in the goal looked like a completely different person.

Even though her face was similar, the young Ryan had a softness to her features that the adult version lacked. It was as if her current strong features were hidden under a layer of baby fat, and after a few more glances, Jamie decided that’s exactly what the difference was. There was a roundness to her cheeks that was completely adorable, and Jamie decided immediately that if they had met when Ryan was 17 and she 14, she would have skipped the heterosexual interlude that kept her occupied for so many years.

She guessed that Ryan had weighed no more than 150, a good 40-50 pounds less than her ideal weight now, but she also looked several inches shorter, so the lower weight was expected. The young Ryan was very slim through the hips and thighs, with none of the definition that she now had. Her shoulders were so remarkably broad that she looked a bit like she had left the hanger in her shirt, but there was no visible musculature there, either. Jamie had never considered this term for her partner, but she had to admit that she looked almost willowy at this young age. It was quite a surprise to her, and so different from her current image, that Jamie was almost nonplussed. Thank God she’s not just a math nerd, Jamie silently mused. I’m sure I’d still love her, but I would SO miss those muscles.

As she stared at the screen, she recognized that the thing that both impressed and saddened her was the guileless enthusiasm that the young Ryan radiated as she ran around in her goal. Even though her lover was often childlike and joyous, there was a purity of spirit that she'd had at 17 that was likely lost forever. The young woman looked like she expected nothing but good things to happen to her, while today Ryan had a certain reserved cynicism that clouded her features from time to time. This young woman had no idea how tumultuous her life would become in a few short months, and Jamie doubted that she would have believed anyone who tried to tell her differently. She was full of energy and optimism and enthusiasm for life, and Jamie immediately felt her anger focus on the adults who had taken that from her.

As the game wound down, the video captured the joyous celebration as the team emerged victorious. But the most touching moment was when the camera focused on Ryan and Sara hugging each other with unbridled elation. When their hug ended, they each kept an arm around the other’s shoulder as they grinned into the camera for a full minute. Eventually their heads tilted until they rested against each other in a playful fashion. The video ended with the image of their joyous faces etched into Jamie’s mind. When she turned to look at her lover again, she caught a heartbreakingly sad look on Ryan’s handsome features, and she leapt onto the bed and cuddled her furiously for a long while, finally lifting Ryan’s tear streaked face to promise, "We’ll find out what happened, Baby. I swear."

* * * * * * * * * * *

An hour later they were sitting on the ground watching a group of hopeful young girls work out on a small field in Alta Plaza Park. Jamie had no idea that Ryan’s school was in such an elegant neighborhood, but she was afraid to ask the obvious question of how the O’Flaherty’s could have afforded to send Ryan there.

The school was located in the middle of Pacific Heights, the most elegant neighborhood in San Francisco, just a few blocks from the park they were currently in. The school itself was housed in a massive old mansion built for the Flood family in 1916; Ryan explained that, since the school had no athletic facilities, they had reached agreements with the public and private parks and schools in the area to use various facilities for different sports

As if she could read Jamie’s mind, Ryan volunteered, "I could only attend because of scholarships. When I was in grade school, I assumed I’d go to the local Catholic high school that my brothers had attended. But Sara’s mom convinced her to go to Sacred Heart, and I spent all of eighth grade badgering Da to see if we could afford it too. Of course we couldn’t, and my heart just about broke. I can honestly say that was the only time it bothered me that we didn’t have money," she said sadly.

Jamie gazed at her pensively, trying to imagine what it would be like to want something so desperately but be unable to attain it because of a lack of money. She realized that there would always be a chasm between their experiences, and that at some level she could never really understand what it would feel like to have money limit your dreams. She was just happy that it would never be an issue for Ryan or any of the O'Flahertys again–she would see to that.

Ryan continued her tale. "Sara made the soccer team when she was a freshman and I hopped on the bus every time I could to come watch her play. She introduced me to the coach and before I knew it, one of the admissions counselors called Da and said they wanted to offer me a scholarship. I think that was one of the happiest days of my life," she said winsomely.

Ryan leaned back on her braced arms and looked up at the sky while she reflected on those days. "You know," she said as she pulled a long blade of grass and stuck it between her teeth, "I don’t think I’ve ever considered why it meant so much to me to get that scholarship. But I think it’s the same reason that the scholarship to Cal meant so much."

Jamie sat up a little straighter and stared at Ryan, but she seemed to need to focus on the sky to concentrate. "School had always been easy for me. I don’t think you know this, but I was treated like I was really special because of my abilities in math." Jamie did in fact know just how special Ryan was, but she decided not to reveal what Martin and Conor had told her. Instead she nodded when Ryan turned to catch her eye. "But Da had always stressed that gifts like that shouldn’t make us feel good about ourselves. He said that we should be happy with whatever we got from God. So it bothered me a lot to have people make such a fuss over my math abilities. It just seemed wrong, you know?" she asked as she tilted her head and gazed at her partner. Jamie gripped her shoulder and nodded her head again in understanding.

"But even though I had a lot of God-given talent in sports, the biggest reason for my success was because of hard work. I don’t think I’ve ever made it clear just how hard I worked to be good at soccer. I would honestly say that I spent a good three to four hours a day working on my footwork and my passing. I was there for an hour before practice, and I stayed for at least an hour afterward. Since I was a midfielder when I was young, those skills were really important to my game. No matter what season it was, I worked on my soccer skills for at least an hour a day, even when I was actively playing softball or field hockey."

Jamie brushed the hair from her face and said softly, "I don’t think I realized how hard you worked. I thought it came naturally for you."

"It did," Ryan agreed. "I had talent–and that’s not something you can learn. I also had the body to be good at the sports I played. But the people who succeed are the ones who take their talent and work their asses off. And that’s the part I’m proud of. The scholarship to Cal was based on my efforts, not on my gifts, and to have my coach turn on me and take that away was a hurt that I don’t think I’ll ever get over." She turned onto her stomach and gazed at Jamie with a cold fire of determination in her sapphire eyes. "I’m going to find out what happened today if I have to skin her alive to get her to talk!"

Jamie felt her body jerk backwards as Ryan uttered those words. She had never seen her lover get truly angry, but she was seeing it today. She knew that they would not leave this field without some degree of satisfaction. She just hoped that it came peacefully.

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

Continued in Part 6

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