I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 5: Entwined

By S X Meagher


See Part 1

Part 9

The next night Ryan impulsively decided that she wanted to go out to dinner. "I want to talk to you about something over dinner," she announced when Jamie asked her what she would like to do for their evening meal.

A look of concern shot across Jamie’s face, since Ryan’s usually strong preference was to eat at home. "Is everything all right?"

"Yes, Baby," Ryan smiled, knowing it would be a while before Jamie wasn’t a little skittish about having an unplanned talk of any kind. "I want to talk about our future careers."

"Okay. I'll be down in 15 minutes and we can walk over to Telegraph and get something. Unless you have something else in mind, that is."

"Nope. A walk would be good. Gives me a chance to hold your hand," she said, grasping Jamie's hand and kissing it.

"You are such a romantic," the smaller woman replied as she stood on her tiptoes for a kiss.

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

As they walked along in the warm evening Ryan reflected, "I really meant what I said about loving to hold your hand. My hand fits so perfectly around yours, like they were made for each other."

"I think they were," she agreed as she squeezed Ryan’s. "Oh, Mother called when I was coming home from playing golf. Would you like to have brunch with her on Sunday?"

"Uh…sure. Just her?"

"Yeah. Daddy’s out of the country for another week."

"That would be fun," Ryan agreed. "I’ve enjoyed the time we’ve spent together so far." And if Jim’s not there, all the better!

"I’ll try to set it up around noon. I don't want to miss Sunday dinner with your family."

"You really do like that, don't you?" Ryan asked with a gentle smile.

"Yeah. It makes me feel all warm inside to be a part of the family."

"You're the first person I've dated who understood that," Ryan said as she squeezed her hand. "But in a way I'm glad no one else did. If Tracy had loved my family, I'd probably be with her right now, and I know I wouldn't be nearly as happy."

"And I'd be so jealous I'd probably have had to stop seeing you as just a friend," Jamie admitted, a look of true pain flashing across her face.

"I don't think I could have let you go," Ryan said seriously. "In retrospect, it's clear that I was falling in love with you even when I was with Tracy, but I sure was clueless. It’s funny, I was thinking about how--from the first time we were together--I began to depend on seeing you. Do you want to know a secret?"


"Remember how we used to stop and get juice after our psych class?"

"Yeah, that’s when I started to really get to know you."

"The first day we did that, I suggested we go right next door because I knew that's where the closest vending machines were. But my next class was clear across campus. I cherished every moment that we spent together, so I'd wait until I had to literally run the whole way to make it. People used to give me some very strange looks when I came barreling in, gasping for breath."

Jamie stopped and stared up at her with a delighted grin on her face. "Why didn't you tell me that? We could have gone somewhere else."

"I don't know. It didn't even occur to me. I just liked being with you and that was what we did. I certainly didn't mind, and it gave me a nice little boost. I'd have some juice and then do some sprints to keep the blood flowing," she laughed.

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

Over two big bowls of sizzling rice soup, Ryan brought up her dilemma. "I'm totally torn about what programs to apply to for graduate school."

"I thought you were going to apply to a bunch of them–and then pick the one that most appeals to you after you get your acceptance letters."

Ryan stirred her spoon absently, starting to speak several times, but stopping herself immediately.

"Tell me what’s bothering you, Honey. It’s obvious that something is."

She sighed heavily and placed her spoon next to her bowl, folding her hands in front of her. "I’m having a really tough time letting go of my dream."

"Your dream? Letting go…? Ryan, I have no idea what you’re talking about!"

She blinked slowly, staring at Jamie as she quietly stated, "I want to be a firefighter."

The blood drained from Jamie’s face and her nerveless hand dropped the spoon into the soup, splashing warm liquid all over the tablecloth. "You what?" she gasped, staring at her partner with round eyes.

"I knew you’d react this way," Ryan muttered, folding her arms over her chest. "That’s why I haven’t talked about it before."

"I’m sorry, Baby," Jamie said, regaining her composure. "I just had no idea! You’ve never even given a hint that you wanted to do that!"

"That’s why I started working out while I was in high school," Ryan revealed. "I’ve wanted this since I was a little kid, Jamie, and if we weren’t together I’d already be applying for admission to the academy."

Jamie’s brow furrowed, and she looked at her partner carefully. "Why is our being together stopping you?"

Ryan sighed and said, "Because I know it would make you crazy. Doing this would please me–it would satisfy a desire I’ve had since I was little. But I know it would be awful for you."

"What does your father think?" Jamie knew that Martin could always be counted on to give Ryan sound advice, and she was equally sure that her lover had already spoken to him about the issue.

"He’s always told me that it’s not a good job for a married person. It’s a hard life for the firefighter, but it’s much harder on their spouse. I used to think that the way I lived my life was just perfect for the career I wanted. I had brief flings with women and then moved on. Nobody was ever that attached to me so they wouldn’t be that invested in what I did for a living. But it’s not like that now. I just don’t think I can have you–and our children--worrying if I’m going to come home at the end of my shift."

Jamie’s heart was still racing, and she added her concerns to the ones Ryan had mentioned. "My God, Ryan! Knowing how focused you get, you'd be killed inside of a week! You'd go in after some poor soul even if there was no chance of getting them out. I just don't think you could distance yourself enough to be able to accept the loss of human life, Honey."

Ryan gave her a wry smile and admitted, "I never thought of it that way, but you're probably right. They spend a lot of time training to make sure they don't take unnecessary risks, but it would be incredibly hard for me to allow someone to die if I thought there was a chance I could save them."

"So are you willing to give up the dream?"

Ryan’s dark hair cascaded around her shoulders as she nodded her head slowly. "I think I have to, but it’s incredibly hard, Jamie. I've always thought that this is what I would do. I love the physical side of it--I love the adrenaline that runs through your body when you hear the alarm. And I love that the entrance requirements are so tough. They're basically the same for men and women, and that really stokes me."

"Wouldn’t the thought of actually going into a burning building freak you out?" she asked as she shivered a bit.

"Yeah, I think I’d be less than honest if I couldn’t admit that. But I was actually more interested in aquatic rescue. They have a swift water rescue team that I was really interested in."

"Jeez, like that would be much safer?" she moaned.

"Good point," Ryan agreed with a smirk. "I’m sure I’d be imprudent in the water, too."

"Aren't you interested in anything besides being a firefighter?"

"Yeah, sure I am. But none of the other possibilities have the visceral pull that firefighting does. Maybe it’s in my genes, but it just seems to fit my personality."

"I can see that, Honey," Jamie sympathized. "But it would make me crazy…and it would be hard for our kids. If this is something that you really need to do, I hope you know that I’ll support you. But it clearly would not be my choice for you."

"I knew that you’d feel that way, Jamie, and I don’t blame you. I just want you to know that firefighting is where my heart lies–so it might be hard for me to muster up much enthusiasm for any of my tamer interests."

"The most tame profession could get a little wild with you around. How about med school? Wouldn’t some of your interests be satisfied if you did something like be a trauma surgeon or something wild like that?"

"I guess that would suit me," she nodded.

"Would you let me pay for medical school if you decided to go?"

"I'd let you lend me the money. Maybe we could come up with a deal where I work off the debt," she said with a wiggling eyebrow.

"Hey, why buy the cow when you're already getting the milk for free?" she teased.

"Good point. Besides, you're about to suck me dry as it is," Ryan said as she slumped down in her chair.

Jamie laughed at her antics, and then asked, "Would you be happy being a doctor?"

"Well, the idea is kind of new for me, so I haven't given it a lot of thought. The positive side is that I would love to help people one on one. I love to touch people both physically and emotionally. I'm sure I'd love being a pediatrician, even though it would be hard to see kids who were truly sick or dying. And I think I'd like being a gynecologist or an obstetrician."

"Go with what you love," Jamie teased. "You could probably opt out of some of the classes based on life experience."

"Very funny," Ryan said, sneaking her hand under the table to pinch her thigh.

"Well, why not apply and see what happens?"

"I guess I will. I took the MCAT just for fun, but now I guess I’m glad I did. Getting in and paying for the degree isn’t what has me concerned right now. I’m more interested in talking this out to see if that's the kind of life we want."

"What do you mean, Hon?"

"Med school is four years. It's hard, but the hours aren't outrageous. A pediatric residency is at least three years. We would never see each other during that time, and I wouldn't want to have children until I was finished. That means we'd have to wait at least eight years to start our family. Do you want to do that?"

"I assume you would want to have the first baby?"

"Yeah. I'd be over 30 by then, so I’d probably go first. Ideally, I'd like to have kids at least three years apart. I really like the idea of letting the baby have its baby years all by itself. So if you had a baby three years after I did I'd be 34. That's nearly how old Tommy was when they had Caitlin, and he says all the time that he wishes they'd had her earlier. I mean, 35 isn't that old, but part of me would like to get started sooner. I think it's great that your parents are all finished with child rearing and they're still in their early 40's. They should have a long time to just enjoy each other."

"My big concern is that I never see a doctor who doesn't seem tired," Jamie said. "They do tend to work an awful lot, and I'm not sure that's the lifestyle I want us to have."

"Yeah, that really is a concern. I think I'd feel differently if this was a life-long goal, but it really isn't. I think I could do it, I think it would fit my personality, and I think it fits my intellect. But I'm not sure I have the passion. Do you know what I mean?"

"Yeah, I do. But remember, you don’t have to decide today. I like your original idea of just applying, seeing what happens and deciding based on that."

"Okay. I guess it's not a waste to apply."

"So what programs will you apply to?"

"I guess math, bio, chem and med school."


"Berkeley and U.C.S.F.," she said as though this was obvious, naming the two most selective state schools.

"Shouldn't you apply to some safe schools?"

"No, if I can't get in where I want to go, I'd rather wait and apply again."

"What are your grades like? You've never mentioned them."

"They're pretty good," she said with a blush. "Actually my grade report came today."

"Did mine come too?"

"No. Just mine."

"How did you do?"

She fished into her pocket and pulled out the little white slip. She held it tightly in her hands and looked over at Jamie with a shy, childlike expression on her face. "I’ve never shown my grades to another person. I don’t even tell Da," she said gravely. She slid it across the table and let Jamie unfold it. Whose mouth dropped as she stared at the paper for a few long seconds.

"Ryan," she said with a disgusted look, sliding the report back across the table, "that isn’t human."

Broad shoulders shrugged helplessly.

"I guess people like you don't need a 'safe school’." Jamie muttered.

"I learned in high school that grades mean a lot more to other people than they do to me. When I had that terrible senior semester, I was the same person that I was the semester before and the semester after. But people treated me differently at school when my average fell. I knew that was small minded, and since then grades don't mean much to me. I take the classes that interest me, and I try to learn as much from them as I can. As long as I stay interested in the learning process, the grades seem to follow."

"You are so mature sometimes that it's scary," Jamie said as she shook her head.

Ryan spent the next few minutes trying to hit sugar cubes with her chopstick, using the little wooden stick as a bat. She got a few good licks in, and Jamie had to dive for one so it didn't hit the waitress. The woman gave Ryan a stern look as she placed their entrees on the table. Jamie shook her head as she laughed at her chastised partner. "And the opposite is true, too."

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

As they walked home, hand in hand, Ryan said, "Since my travails have monopolized the evening, let's talk about you. Have you given much thought to grad school?"

"Yeah, I have. I know I could do English Lit and get a Ph. D. studying something that I really love. But I don't want to teach, so I don't know if it makes sense to spend the time. I used to think that I wanted to write, but I've been less interested in that since we’ve been together."

"Why do you think that is?" Ryan inquired, just then realizing that Jamie didn’t even seem to be writing in her journal.

"I’m not sure," she reflected. "I just don’t spend much time reflecting anymore. I've been spending too much time actually living my life," she said with a laugh.

"Maybe you needed your writing to help you work some things out before," Ryan guessed.

"You might say that," Jamie laughed. "I think every short story I've ever written has at least one really strong, sexually ambiguous woman in it. Could I be any more clueless?"

Ryan laughed at her characterization, but asked again, "So what else interests you? You don't have to stay in school if you don't want to, you know. You could start figuring out how to give money away."

"Yeah, that's true," she said slowly. "But there is something else I'm interested in."

"What?" Ryan said as she turned to her.

"Psychology," she said simply.

"Really?" she replied with a delighted grin on her face. "Did lesbianism 101 put that idea in your head?"

"No," she laughed. "Well, you know, being in therapy has shown me how neat it would be to help people solve their own problems. I've really learned a lot about myself in the months that I've been working on these issues, and I think I'd like to help other people do the same."

"Wow," Ryan said as a big smile lit up her face. "That would really be cool. And since you don't have to worry about money, you could work with people who can't normally afford therapy."

"Yeah, that would really be rewarding," she agreed. "So I think I'll apply to Berkeley and at least one other. I need a safe school," she said as she stuck out her tongue.

"Hey," Ryan warned. "Don't stick that out if you're not planning on using it."

"Who's gonna stop me?" she asked with an impish grin as she began to run down the street.

"Winner gets to go first!" Ryan declared as she loudly stomped for a few steps behind her racing lover. As soon as Jamie had a good head start she slowed down to a saunter. I prefer to go last anyway, she thought smugly as she watched her lover fly down the street.

* * * * * * * * * *

On Thursday morning, Jordan and Ryan were shuffling down the halls of the Recreational Sports Facility, their legs so sore neither woman could lift them to walk normally. "The season’s gonna be a breeze compared with the workouts we’ve been doing," Jordan commented.

"Mmm…this isn’t all that much different from what I normally do," Ryan said nonchalantly, stretching the truth a few miles.

"Uh-huh," Jordan commented, poking her sharply in the gut. "And that’s why you can barely pick your feet up?" It was clear that Jordan had Ryan’s number, but their boasting and teasing had become an important element in the way they connected, with both women enjoying the playful dynamic.

"I always walk like this," Ryan insisted, stifling a laugh. "You’re just so self-involved that you barely notice me."

"The third element of your statement is the truth," Jordan chuckled. "The first two–total lies."

Rounding the corner, they continued their banter until a woman’s voice called out, "Ryan…Jordan…hold on a minute."

They stopped and waited as a middle-aged woman jogged down the hall to greet them both. "A word with you both?"

"Sure," Jordan said, giving Ryan a quick glance.

"Any chance I could convince either of you to consider being two-sport athletes this year? We’re just two players away from being a force in the PAC-10."

More like five players, Ryan thought, considering the dismal showing of the basketball team for the last…well, forever.

"Not me, Coach," Jordan said quickly. "With any luck I’ll be in Colorado Springs before the year’s out. I’m sure you could talk Ryan into joining you, though. She’s got energy to burn. Our little workouts hardly affect her at all." Jordan shot Ryan a demonic grin, patted her cheek, and announced, "I’ve got to run. Catch you in the morning, Ryan." Extending her hand, she shook the coach’s and shuffled down the hall, leaving Ryan to continue the conversation.

"Bye, Jordan," both women called after her. The coach made no move to repeat her question, and Ryan reminded herself that Mary Hayes was a woman of few words. The older woman just tilted her head slightly, waiting for Ryan to answer her query.

"I uh…." she hesitated, considering the proposal. "I might be interested," she finally said. "This is my last year…"

Before she could even finish her sentence, Coach Hayes slapped her on her very wet back and said, "Four o’clock today good for you?"

Looking slightly confused, Ryan nodded.

"Good. Meet me at the court. I want to see if your skills have eroded since I last saw you play."

Ryan recalled the trouncing that USF had delivered to Cal two years before when she buried them with a season high of 27 points. At the time, she'd been decidedly miffed by the double and triple team that the Bears had tried to smother her with, and she remembered feeling that the game was more of a mugging than a fair contest. "I’ll be there," she decided, unable to resist the challenge.

Walking home from the gym she came to her senses and thought, I’d better think of a way to spin this with Jamie, or that last mugging I got will seem like a day at the beach!

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Jamie?" she called when she entered the house.

Receiving no answer, she went into the back yard, smiling to herself when she saw her partner stretched out on a chaise, sections of the newspaper spread around her and a large coffee mug resting on a table at her elbow. Her Walkman was also lying on the table, and Ryan checked her watch to confirm that "Morning Edition" was now over.

"Hi, Love," she said, walking to the foot of the chaise.

"What did you do?" her suspicious spouse immediately asked.

"Do?" she asked. "Why do you assume I’ve done something?" Her pure, innocent face was clear testament to her virtuousness, but Jamie wasn’t buying it for a minute.

"Dendrobium orchids are my favorite flower, Ryan, and the bunch you have in your hand must have cost you thirty bucks. For you to part with thirty bucks means that you think you have something very big to apologize for–so let’s cut to the chase and get it over with. Now…what did you do?" Her voice was serious, but the twinkling green eyes gave a clearer indication of her mental state.

"I didn’t do anything," Ryan insisted, sitting down on the end of the chaise. "I’m thinking of doing something…but I haven’t done it yet."

Grasping the flowers from her partner, Jamie played with the delicate blossoms with the tip of her finger, seemingly intent only on their form. "So these represent a peremptory apology?" she asked coyly.

"No, I wouldn’t say they’re an apology," Ryan insisted. "I just wanted to show you that I was thinking about you, and to tell you how important you are to me. I want you to know that I value our relationship more than anything, and that us having time together means a great deal to me."

Jamie head cocked and she stared deeply into Ryan’s eyes. "Are you moving out or something? This sounds bad, Ryan."

"Of course not!" she laughed. "We’re together for life, you goof, and don’t you forget it! I just got an offer today that I’m considering…"

"This better not be the type of offer you used to get." Now Jamie’s fierce gaze matched her tone of voice, and Ryan realized she’d better get to the point.

"Actually this was the type of offer I used to get, but it wasn’t sexual. The basketball coach approached me and asked if I might like to play this year."

"Play?" Jamie asked slowly. "This year?"

"Yeah. This year."

"But how would you…I mean you’ve already committed to Coach Placer, and …"

"Basketball is a winter sport, Babe. I’d finish the volleyball season and then start playing games. I did this at USF, too. It’s not that hard."

Shaking her flowers right in Ryan’s face Jamie mused, "Thirty bucks says something about this is hard. Now spill it!"

Ryan laughed gently, both pleased and chagrined that her partner knew her so well. "It will take a lot of my time, Honey," she admitted. "I might like to do this, but I don’t want you to feel neglected. Basketball has a longer, more grueling season than volleyball does, and there’s a lot more travel involved."

Jamie mulled that over for a few moments, finally asking Ryan, "Do you really believe that we’ll be together for the rest of our lives?"

Eyebrows shooting up dramatically, Ryan declared, "Of course I do! I made a vow to you, Jamie!"

Tickling her nose with the orchid blossoms Jamie agreed completely. "I do too, Honey. And given that we both believe that, there’s no reason to avoid things you want to do–even if they will keep us apart more than either of us would choose. I don’t want our relationship to keep you from doing anything, Ryan." Leaning forward to kiss her partner’s salty lips she added, "Well, other than that one thing, that is."

"No interest in doing that with anyone else," Ryan insisted. "You’re all that I can handle…and I’m still not sure I can handle you!"

"Come on, big talker," Jamie said, getting to her feet and extending a hand. "Let’s get you showered so you don’t stiffen up."

"Oh, I’m way past stiff," Ryan admitted. "And it’s gonna get worse. I told Coach Hayes I’d meet her this afternoon to demonstrate that I can still play."

"This afternoon?" Jamie was none too happy with the scheduling of this little demonstration, but she knew that complaining wouldn’t convince her hardheaded lover to put it off. "Grab a change of clothes, Hot Stuff. We’re going to the spa."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Two hours later, Ryan was simmering in the deep, herbal-scented spa, while Jamie lay on a chaise near the bubbling pool. The smaller woman had just had her nails done, so she couldn’t go into the spa until the polish dried. "I always thought you did your own nails," Ryan murmured, the deep relaxation of her sports massage combining with the 103-degree water to render her nearly unconscious.

"Not likely!" Jamie laughed. "I haven’t done my own nails since I was twelve!"

"Hmmm….I’ve never had a manicure. I don’t think I’d like it."

"I like the manicure," Jamie revealed. "But I loooove the pedicure."

"Hmmm…I’d love that too, but I don’t want a stranger to do it."

"You’re on, Tiger. I’ll be your own personal pedicurist. I think I’ll paint your nails hot pink…"

"No way, Babe. I want the nice, clear stuff you use on yours."

"You’re no fun," Jamie pouted.

"Let’s see if you think that after you play with my feet for a while," Ryan purred, suddenly shaking off her lethargy.

* * * * * * * * * * *

At four o'clock they were back at the Recreational Sports Facility. Jamie thought Ryan looked simply adorable in a black nylon sleeveless v-necked T-shirt and a pair of black nylon running shorts. She also wore thick white socks under black high-top basketball shoes, and to Jamie’s studied gaze she looked long and sleek and slightly dangerous, just the way she liked her.

As they entered the court, a woman of medium height and below-average weight strode over and extended her hand. "Good to see you again, Ryan," she said with a cool, intelligent-looking gaze.

"You too, Coach Hayes." Turning to her lover she made the introductions. "Coach, this is my partner, Jamie Evans."

The coach extended her hand and gave Jamie a smile that did not extend to her eyes. "Jamie, this is Mary Hayes." They shook hands but Jamie just nodded after getting no positive vibes from the woman. She didn’t look antagonistic, just looked very serious and businesslike.

"Well, Ryan," she said as she placed her hands on her hips and gazed at her long body, "Whether or not you play for us, it’s nice not to have you kicking our asses for USF." She made this statement with such a blank expression that Ryan was unable to tell if it was a compliment or a complaint.

"Yeah, I had a couple of good games when I played there," she admitted, looking a little uncomfortable.

"Well, let’s get to work," the coach said, clearly tired of what she considered excessive small talk.

Three assistant coaches took the floor as Ryan tightened her laces. Two were considerably younger than Coach Hayes, possibly as young as or younger than Ryan. They had all obviously been players at one time, given their height and their dexterity with the ball as they warmed up a little, but the third woman was a tall, middle aged, stocky black woman who looked like her playing days were long behind her. She walked up to Ryan and extended a hand, "Lynette Dix," she said with a big, friendly smile. "When I heard you had transferred to Cal, I thanked the Lord that we wouldn’t automatically have an ‘L’ on our schedule whenever we played USF!"

"I think you’re being a little generous," Ryan chuckled, but her cheeks reddened just a bit at the compliment.

"No, not at all," the woman enthused. "I was after Mary all last year to call you and see if you wanted to try out this year. Once we heard you were going to play volleyball, we decided to see if you’d consider two sports."

"Thanks," Ryan said, beaming a happy smile at the warm welcome. "I hope you still feel that way after I’ve worked out."

"No worries on my part," she said with a smile. "You can hoop!"

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

Coach Hayes was clearly running the show, and she decided to have Ryan show her defensive skills first. The head coach stood in the center of the floor and watched closely as the two young assistants played two on one with Ryan. They spent almost 15 minutes banging against her as they tried to score, with Jamie marveling as she watched her lover move fluidly around the court. Ryan seemed to know how to move her feet to keep her position between the scorer and the basket, moving easily when she chose, but absolutely refusing to be moved involuntarily. No matter how often or how hard the assistants slammed into her, she maintained her poise and her position.

On three separate occasions Ryan easily stole the ball from the other players. She would give them a half smile and gently toss it back to them, daring them to come at her again. Her hands were very quick as she slapped at the ball as they tried to dribble past her, but her quick feet were what really distinguished her. She just seemed to know which way her opponents would turn, even when they were in the air. She was never truly burned by a head fake, because once she started to fall for one she had the ability to correct her mistake and regroup. After one such play, the taller of the two assistants slammed the ball down hard, letting it bounce the length of the floor in a slowly descending arc. At this subtle signal of termination, all three bent over at the waist, gasping for breath. She must be dying if she's showing this much, Jamie thought with alarm, knowing that Ryan hated to show others that she was physically stressed.

To Jamie’s displeasure, the coach only allowed Ryan a few moments to catch her breath before she told her to run 50 full-court drives. With nary a word of protest, Ryan jogged to the end of the court, accepted the inbounds pass from Lynette and began to dribble it the length of the court while being guarded by both defenders. The point of the game was to stop and shoot over both women while making as many baskets as possible, of course. She missed as many as she made, but Jamie was terribly impressed by her ball handling skills as well as her shooting style. The coaches were clearly giving this exercise everything they had, and they were very aggressive in defending against Ryan. Jamie thought it was fantastic that she made any baskets at all given the relentless pressure she faced.

After another 15 minutes of this torture, the assistants flopped down on the bench to rest. Ryan grabbed a bottle of Gatorade and chugged it, looking over at Jamie and giving her a cocky wink. As soon as she was hydrated, she was told to stay in the key and take jump shots. This was normally not a problem, but she had to get her own rebounds. Jamie's eyes grew wide as she watched her set, shoot and run all in one fluid motion. She made at least 75% of her shots, but when she missed, she went after the rebound with a vengeance, showing nothing but a blur of motion for another 15 minutes. After a while, it hurt just to watch as her straining body ran continuously. Her bangs hung limply in her eyes, and even though her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, it stuck to her neck and shoulders. She wiped the sweat from her eyes every time she had the chance, but it was clear from her red-rimmed eyes that they were burning from the salt. Finally, the coach told her to stop, but rather than give her a rest, she immediately asked her to shoot free throws.

Wordlessly, Ryan stood on the free throw line and took a few deep breaths. She wiped the sweat from her eyes again and bent a bit at the knees as she dribbled the ball three times. She shot so many free throws that Jamie lost count. She did, however, have Ryan's free throw routine completely memorized. Each shot was a carbon copy of the previous one. She grabbed the ball from Coach Dix, who was snagging rebounds, and held it with both hands close to her waist. She wiped her eyes with the back of her left hand, and then dribbled three times with that same hand. She held the ball in both hands again, this time higher on her chest. One deep breath, a slight bend at the knee, and the ball was launched with the same fluid push, again and again. As the ball slid through the net her shooting hand would bend at the wrist with her fingers pointing towards the floor. Jamie was fascinated to see that on the rare shot that failed to hit its mark, the hand did not drop. It was obvious that Ryan knew whether the shot was good or not immediately upon release, and the little hand motion was her own unconscious way of signaling that the shot was good.

After a terribly long time Coach Hayes asked Ryan to come out to the three-point line. The fatigued woman actually asked for a moment to grab another bottle of Gatorade, which once again surprised Jamie. The Coach nodded and Ryan slugged a whole bottle down, not even stopping to breathe between gulps. There was no confident little wink this time, as Ryan didn’t even turn in Jamie’s direction. She did, however, grab a towel that one of the assistants tossed to her and wipe her face and arms thoroughly to remove the sweat before trotting back onto the court.

When she took her position again, Jamie noticed that Coach Hayes had positioned five rolling ball racks along the three-point line. Each rack held six balls, and as Ryan looked up at her, Coach informed her, "This is a little drill we do in practice. Start at either end you choose, but you need to go through the racks in order. You get one point for each one you make. It pays to work on your three pointers," she said with a chuckle. "The winner doesn’t have to run sprints after practice," she informed her with her first genuine smile of the day.

Ryan returned her smile a bit cautiously and walked over to the rack on the right side of the basket. "Oh, did I mention that you only get three minutes?" Coach Hayes added innocently.

One graceful eyebrow rose one half of an inch but it was enough for Jamie to realize that her lover was being challenged. Look out, she thought to herself. She’s gonna kick ass on this one.

Kick ass she did. As Ryan picked up the first ball, Jamie looked at the big clock on the wall with the sweep second hand. Ryan flew through the first rack, trying to get comfortable. She only made two, but as she ran to the next rack her eyes were fiercely focused on the basket. This time she made six of six and Jamie almost jumped in the air and shouted her approval. Three of six fell from the top of the key, four of six from the next rack, and as Ryan got to the last rack, she paused for the first time and set herself fully. Even though Jamie was sure she could not see the clock, Ryan seemed to know that she had time to do this set carefully. Swoosh! The first ball slid in so easily that it looked like it did not even touch the net on the way through. Five more swooshes followed, giving the smiling woman 21 points.

The coach was obviously satisfied as she broke into her second smile of the day and slapped Ryan on the back. Jamie could hear the wet "plop!" all the way over where she was sitting, a good 30 feet away. The other coaches all came up and slapped her in a similar fashion. What's with all the slapping? she thought irritably. That skin is sensitive…and it belongs to me!

She was too far away to hear exactly what they were saying, but it was clear that they were pleased and impressed with Ryan's performance. Ryan smiled and chatted for a few more minutes before she jogged over to Jamie. "How'd I do?" she asked with a wan grin.

Regarding Ryan’s wet hair, the nylon clothes literally stuck to her body, and the sweat dripping from the tips of her fingers, Jamie said, "Hold on a sec," and trotted over to the departing coaches.

She caught up with them just as they were exiting the court, speaking for just a few moments and pointing at Ryan, who rolled her eyes in embarrassment. She nodded and ran back, grinning at her with a shy little smile. "They're going to let you use the whirlpool and the showers. They said to meet them in the locker room. I'm going to the bookstore to buy you some dry shorts and a shirt."

"But..." Ryan started to say, but was cut off.

"Go on. The coaches are going to shower too. If they had any doubts about the shape you're in, you can dispel them as soon as you strip." She pushed Ryan in their direction as she gave her a hard slap on the butt. When her lover whirled to glare at her, she innocently remarked, "I'm just trying to be one of the girls."

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

It was seven o’clock by the time Ryan was loose enough to climb out of the Jacuzzi and put on the dry clothes that Jamie had left for her. She emerged from the locker room and was surprised to find a note on the door that said. "Come to room 115 at Haas" in her lover’s handwriting. Walking through the labyrinth of offices in the brand-new complex, she finally found the correct suite. Several offices ran along the back wall of the large space and room 115 was clearly marked as the office of "Lynette Dix, Assistant Head Basketball Coach."

Ryan poked her dark head into the office to find Jamie chatting with the coach in an animated, friendly fashion. "Hi, Hon," Jamie called out when she caught sight of her lover.

"Hi, yourself," she grinned as she grabbed a chair.

"I believe I’m being cross-examined," the older woman said to Ryan with a twinkle in her eyes.

"She does that to everyone, Coach, don’t let her intimidate you," Ryan said with a fond grin in the direction of her partner.

"I’d prefer it if you’d call me Lynette ," the older woman said.

"No problem," Ryan said happily. "So what’s going on here?"

"I didn’t like the vibes I was getting from Coach Hayes, and Lynette here seemed really approachable," Jamie informed her. "I thought I’d see if she would give me the straight story, since I knew you wouldn’t ask." She made this last statement with a pair of rolling eyes in the direction of her lover.

"I see," Ryan said thoughtfully. "And what did you find out, my little detective?"

"I think Jamie has some legitimate concerns," Lynette informed Ryan with a somber look on her face. "Mary does come across as being rather gruff and unyielding. I wish I could tell you that was an act, but it really isn’t. Mary is a true perfectionist, and she most definitely likes things done her way."

"Well, she is the coach," Ryan reasoned.

"She certainly is, and she likes her players to remember that," she said firmly. "If you’re looking for a place to play ‘playground style,’ this isn’t it. She likes a very formal, set offense, and she wants defense to be the most important part of the game. I honestly think she’d be happy if we won a game by a score of two to nothing!"

"That doesn’t bother me," Ryan said easily. "I like to score, but I love to play defense, and I can play on the playground any time I want with my family. I’d like to play on a nice, organized team."

"One other big thing," Lynette said slowly. "Coach Hayes doesn’t like to spend much time with the players on a personal level. If you need a lot of handholding, or a lot of feedback, you will not get it from her. She’s more like the general of a small army going into battle. She wants to come up with the game plan, and then she wants the assistants to implement it and get the troops ready to fight. When we go into battle she leads us, but it’s all according to the game plan. She’d rather lose and stick to the plan than win by having the players be creative."

Ryan leaned back in her chair and considered the coach’s words. "Are you this honest with all of your recruits?" she asked with a small smile. "’Cause if you are, I don’t see how you get five women to sign up!"

Lynette laughed at Ryan’s observation and said, "No, I’m not usually this honest. But you’re an adult, Ryan, and you’re not doing this for the same reason most of the girls are. I know you want to play to have fun and compete–that’s obviously the kind of woman you are. I just hate to see you devote a lot of time to this if it’s not going to satisfy your needs."

"I’m betting you have more personnel problems than you know what to do with, don’t you?" Ryan asked perceptively.

"Weeeeell," she drawled with a big grin, "I wouldn’t say it’s the happiest place on earth right now."

"You didn’t lose many players to graduation," Ryan reasoned, "I’d think things would be on the upswing, assuming your freshmen turn out to be as talented as I’m reading about."

Lynette smiled at this and said, "The Daily Californian only knows what we tell them about our freshmen, Ryan. As you know, everybody who plays at the Division 1 level was a very good player in high school. But this is a big leap in class, and we never know how a player will adjust."

"So what do you think your chances are of being competitive?"

Lynette thought for a minute and decided to be completely honest. "They’d be much improved with you, Ryan. We don’t have a consistent scorer at forward, and our defense was pretty poor last year. That’s usually the last thing a freshman learns, so without you, I think we’ll be near the cellar again."

"Winning is always important to me," Ryan admitted, "but it’s not my primary motivation for playing. I like to challenge myself, and helping a poor team become better would be exciting for me." She leveled a gaze at Lynette and asked the question that would have a very large impact on her decision. "One big question. Will I have a problem being open about my relationship with Jamie?"

Lynette sat for a moment, clearly trying to think of the ramifications of the question. "You would not be the only lesbian on the team," she said thoughtfully. "Coach doesn’t seem to have a problem with that, but I’m not sure I can give you an easy answer. The other lesbian isn’t very popular, but I don’t think it’s because of her sexual orientation." Her brow was knotted in concentration as Ryan waited patiently. "I just can’t answer you definitively, Ryan. All I know is that I’m a lesbian too, and Coach knows it. I’ve never gotten any flak from her, or the administration, but I’m not out to the other players, so I can’t say for sure how they would react."

Ryan nodded thoughtfully and stood, extending her hand to the coach. "You’ve been tremendously helpful, Lynette ," she said. "Jamie and I will discuss it, and I’ll let you know if I want to try out for one of your walk-on spots."

"Ryan," she said as she stood and clasped the strong hand with both of hers, "you won’t have to try out. You’d be the best player on our team if you’d agree to play." Ryan looked a little shocked, but she continued. "The best score on that three-point drill all last year was a 15!"

Ryan’s open-mouthed look caused Lynette to laugh long and hard. "We’d love to have you, and I truly believe that you could help make us competitive in the PAC-10. I hope you’ll join us."

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

Continued in Part 10

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