I Found My Heart in San Francisco
Book 17: Quandary
By S X Meagher
A cool, almost chilling breeze floated in through the open window, ruffling the crisp curtains. Ryan O'Flaherty malevolently shifted her wakeful gaze toward the offending air. She knew she could easily get out of bed without waking her lover. In fact, if their University of California Class of 2000 had awarded a medal for the soundest sleeper, Jamie Dunlop Smith Evans would not have had a single serious competitor.
But Ryan didn't want to get up. She had long subscribed to the theory that she would fall back to sleep more easily if she stayed in sleeping position. She was well aware that her theory was, at best, a postulate.
She knew it was either very late, or very early, but she refused to look at the alarm clock, abiding by the dictates of yet another unproven theorem. She had a big day ahead of her, and knew that her wakefulness was only serving to ensure that she wouldn't be at her best. Since logic didn't work well in such times, she tried another tack, one that she had learned from a therapist she had briefly consulted earlier in the year. She didn't like to have to resort to it, but had to admit that it was usually effective.
Ryan sat up, punched a pillow so that it provided better support, put her hands behind her head and laced her fingers together, assuming a favorite contemplative pose. She detested having her psyche trip her up, but she had learned the hard way that no matter how much she wished it could, logic did not always rule and there was little use in trying to fool herself.
Ryan's eyes fluttered closed for a moment or two as she forced herself to admit how something so simple was so difficult for her.
What wants to get out of my hard head?
Such a simple question, but one that she had great difficulty in facing. She knew the list of possibilities was very short; it always was. But the brevity of the list didn't have much to do with the effects.
Her lips pursed, Ryan absently chewed the inside of her cheek, distracted by thoughts of everything but what she needed to focus on. She felt more anxious as the moments ticked by without perceptible progress, so she gave in to her body's desire for activity. Her feet hit the floor with a thump and she nosed about the room in the dark, looking for something to put on. Finding a discarded tank top and some tight shorts she wore under her softball uniform, she dressed and went downstairs.
A few minutes later found Ryan doing some quick jumping jacks and starting to get loose. As her focus shifted from her brain to her body she started to feel more in tune, more in herself, a concept she had a difficult time explaining to herself, much less anyone else. But it had always been true for her: when her head wasn't cooperating, she had to approach it via the rest of her body.
After ripping off a few sets of crunches she started to hum, her mood improving as her muscles awoke and started sending out increased levels of oxygenated blood. By the time Ryan started to mindlessly perform push-ups, the thoughts bubbled to the surface. She was going to take her last exam in just a few hours, and Jamie was set to graduate that evening. She wasn't sure which event was more upsetting, finally deciding that they were about equal.
The prospect of not having school to define her was terrifying, and there was no use in denying it. And having a formal ceremony telling both of them in no uncertain terms that they were no longer students made her stomach turn. If she wasn't a student, what was she? She couldn't be an adult, because she didn't have a job. Adults worked. There was no way around that. Whether it was running a home, caring for children, volunteering for a special cause, or flipping burgers—adults worked.
She had no job, no intention of getting a job in the near future, and no fixed plans. The thought of spending the next year lazing about was too upsetting to give it any real thought, so she stuck with the more immediate issue: leaving the place that she had always dreamed of, the place she had clearly been meant to find. The road had been bumpy, but if it hadn't been she wouldn't have met the woman she knew Destiny had determined was the one for her.
She had everything she'd wanted. She had the woman, she had the education, she'd gotten more out of Cal in two years than she had any right to expect. And she didn't want to leave. Not now. Maybe not ever. She loved the school like it was a person, and she didn't have to remind herself how poorly she dealt with losing people she cared about.
Ryan shook her head, dislodging the perspiration that had started to form across her brow. The push-ups were having their intended effect. Now that her body was busy, her mind was completely open to her, but the feelings she was dredging up were universally unpleasant. And worse than the fact that they were unpleasant was the other truth—they were just...feelings. She couldn't control them; she couldn't change them; she couldn't fix them. All she could do at the moment was try to tire herself out. That almost always helped.
She put her feet on the seat cushion of a chair and did some more push-ups, finding the burn in her shoulders and belly deliciously satisfying. If only she could work her way out of her feelings. If only there were a mental exercise that would let her cleanse her head the way exercise cleansed her body.
Ryan wasn't keeping track of how many push-ups she was doing, but she knew it had to have been a lot. She grunted out two more, just to show her muscles that they always had more in reserve than they thought they did. She collapsed onto the floor, letting the thin, wool fibers of the Oriental rug serve as a towel.
"What demon are you exorcising?" Mia asked, her tone conversational.
If Ryan's muscles hadn't been so fatigued, she would have started. "How long have you been watching?" she asked wearily, knowing it would be a waste of time to ask her roommate to announce her presence.
"Not very long." She got up from the stair tread on which she'd been sitting and walked past Ryan on her way to the kitchen, returning a moment later with a glass of water. Extending it towards her friend, she asked, "Want some?"
Ryan waved her off, then rolled onto her side and stretched.
Mia sat in the chair that Ryan had been using as a foot rest and watched her. After a few moments, she asked what seemed a like a sincere, though totally incongruous question. "Why do you think we never had sex?"
Ryan spent quite a few seconds missing her simpler years of living with only men, men who rarely asked questions deeper than, "What's for dinner?", then she got to her hands and knees and eventually stood. "I'm not sure," she said, looking into Mia's gaze, the one that sometimes seemed so genuinely, innocently curious. "Maybe because I was desperately fixated on your roommate?" Ryan headed for the stairs, hoping to forestall further questioning.
"You had sex with other women, lots of them, and Jamie was engaged. I'm talking about fall semester, junior year, like right after we started working out together."
"Mmm, I don't know. I think you had a boyfriend, didn't you?" She tried to make sure Mia caught the teasing tone in her voice, but if there was one thing she had learned, it was that Hillsborough girls were very tenacious, so she had little hope that the discussion was over.
Mia got up and followed her up the stairs. "You had sex with other people who had boyfriends, even fiancés, as a matter of fact."
Annoyed, Ryan said, "I didn't have sex with Jamie while she was engaged."
"I wasn't talking about Jamie."
They were on the landing and Ryan's hand itched to turn the knob to her bedroom door. "I know people you slept with. You didn't seem to care whether they had boyfriends. And one girl who was in a class with me was engaged to a football player." She looked very satisfied with herself for having an answer for each of Ryan's protestations.
"I don't know why we didn't hook up, but I think it would have been memorable if we had." She showed the smile that had convinced many women to join her in bed and had just as slickly assured many others that Ryan's refusal to merge with them would be a regret they would carry to the grave.
Mia's indefatigable queries often annoyed her, but this one was particularly vexing. There was no benefit, no benefit at all to examining questions like this, but Ryan knew Mia well enough to know that she would not be easily brushed aside. The way Mia posed questions had always seemed invasive; her methods were nearly surgical. Ryan often felt as though Mia knew the answer to the questions she posed, and that she enjoyed watching Ryan's squirm to reply. That made Ryan all the more determined to not reveal her discomfort.
But Mia was just as good, if not better, at this game as Ryan was. ""There''s something you''re not telling me." She reached up and patted Ryan's flushed, damp cheek. "Never mind. I'll get it out of you eventually. G'night studly."
Mumbling a good night, Ryan went into her room and closed the door. She shucked her clothes and dried herself off with them, then went over by the window and let the cool air help turn down her internal thermostat. Mia's question kept intruding, ruining the tranquil high that her exercising had begun to build.
The breeze fluttered Ryan's hair, and she turned to see Jamie burrow further into the covers. Her lover had migrated across the bed, probably seeking out Ryan's warmth. Smiling at how adorable she looked, Ryan slipped into bed on Jamie's preferred side. She spooned up against her back, wrapped her arm around Jamie's waist and slid her thigh between her lover's. Ryan smiled when Jamie let out a heavy sigh and backed into her. She knew she hadn't solved anything with her frenzied exercise, but she felt significantly better. The heat flowed from her and in just a minute or so Jamie's chilled skin was warm where it touched hers. She nuzzled her face into Jamie's sweet smelling hair, and in just another minute both were soundly and contentedly asleep.
The alarm began to chirp at 7:30, and Jamie reached out to slap it into silence. But her flailing arm didn't catch the clock or even the bedside table. Instead, it bounced off a warm body that was, unexpectedly, behind her. As always, it took her brain a few seconds to catch up with the physical sensations her body was experiencing. "Why are you behind me?" she asked, clearly perplexed.
Ryan snuggled closer and draped an arm over her waist. "You encroached on my territory, so I made a land grab."
Turning her head, Jamie got a look at Ryan's face. "You look like you've been up for a while. Have trouble sleeping?"
"Yeah." Ryan yawned lustily. "I was up for a while around two. Then I woke up again about an hour ago. I've been conjugating verbs."
Shifting her weight while disentangling herself from the sheet, Jamie managed to turn and face her partner. "Sweetheart," she said, running her hand up and down Ryan's chest, "you know that doesn't help. You've been studying like a madwoman for this test. It's all in there." She tapped Ryan's temple with a finger. "You need to relax and clear your mind, not stuff more into it."
"I tried that. When I couldn't sleep I went downstairs and did push-ups until I burned off some energy."
"Did that help?"
"Yeah. I guess so." She threw off the sheet and started to get up, but Jamie grasped her arm, rendering her off-balance.
"Don't get up yet."
"My exam's in a little over an hour. That's just enough time to get breakfast and run to school. If I don't make myself do something physical, I'll just keep trying to cram more into my short-term memory."
Giving her a seductive smile, Jamie took Ryan's hand and threaded their fingers together. She scooted closer so their nipples touched when she inhaled. "I can keep you busy for a while." Ryan's fleeting look of annoyance brought Jamie's seduction to a grinding halt. "Go study," she snapped, rolling over and letting her feet hit the floor with a thump. "But don't ever tell me I never make the first move."
"What did I do?"
The high pitch that Ryan's voice often took on when she knew she was in trouble made Jamie's ire rise. Her eyes flashed with anger and her color rose. "Nothing. But this is why I don't like to approach you for sex. You know it's hard for me to do, and you'd go out of your way to be receptive if you really wanted to encourage me."
Ryan could almost see the ammunition being loaded into the chambers of her partner's mind. "I didn't do anything! Why are you upset?" She patted the bed in the most inviting way she could muster. "Come back to bed, baby."
"No. No way. I think I'm onto something here." Jamie's eyes narrowed and she stared at Ryan with an intensity that was never a sign of good things to come. "You say you want me to make the first move, but I think that's a lie. I think you need to be in control, complete control. If you want to have sex, we do. If you don't, we don't."
"That's not true and you know it. You're being silly."
"No, I'm not. Why else would you look annoyed when I tried to start something? When you look annoyed, you're annoyed. You're remarkably transparent."
Ryan looked as though she'd tasted something sour. "I do not...I am not. I'm not!"
"You were definitely annoyed. Admit it." Jamie climbed onto the bed, her knees splaying apart as she sat on her haunches. "Admit it."
Ryan assumed the same pose and they faced off for a few tense seconds. "I'm not annoyed." Her expression morphed into a slow, sexy smile. "I'm turned on." She reached out and put her hands on Jamie's hips and pulled her close, but Jamie turned away, keeping her mouth well out of Ryan's reach.
"Too late; I'm not. Go to school."
Ryan wasn't so easily dissuaded. "Yes, you are," she said, her pitch dropping lower with each word. "You're ready to go." Her fingers flicked Jamie's nipples. "Look at these ripe berries… and that beautiful flush across your chest. Don't lie to me, Jamie Evans. I know when you're turned on. I'm gonna put you on your back and bury my face between your legs, then we'll see who's turned on."
As Ryan expected, her partner didn't utter a word in protest, but she kept her head turned, refusing to make eye contact. They grappled with each other for a moment, with Ryan being very careful to avoid bumping the splint on Jamie's left arm. In seconds, Jamie was on her back, looking up at Ryan with a blend of anger and arousal. "I'm not turned on," she insisted, but Ryan could see a hint of a smile behind her glare.
"You will be." Ryan slid down Jamie's body, grasped her legs and slung them over her shoulders. In a flash, she opened Jamie with her thumbs and pressed her mouth into her, smiling when she heard the heavy sigh. Taunting, she pressed a kiss against Jamie, barely touching her warm, tender skin with her lips.
Jamie grasped handfuls of Ryan's hair and pulled just a little harder than she needed to. When Ryan gasped in pain, she eased off but still maintained her controlling grip. "Get busy," she growled, sliding her hips forward to rub herself into Ryan's receptive mouth.
"Mmm," Ryan purred, leisurely swiping her tongue along Jamie's simmering sex. Slowly lifting her head, Ryan smiled at seeing Jamie's eyes shut tightly, her jaw clenched. Ryan playfully circled the opening with a finger, watching Jamie's flesh constrict at the sensation. "I can't imagine how wet you're gonna be once you finally get turned on."
Jamie opened her eyes and met Ryan's amused gaze. "Don't mess with me, O'Flaherty. I know all of your weak spots."
A cocky smile settled onto Ryan's face as she slid two fingers into her lover, hard and fast, making Jamie gasp. "And I know yours," she murmured, bending to possessively suck Jamie's sensitive flesh into her mouth.
Five minutes later, Jamie chased Ryan into the bathroom, slapping at any bare flesh she could find. "Stand still for two minutes, you little rat. That's all it'll take."
"I don't have time," Ryan protested, giggling under the assault. "I'll be late for my test."
Jamie lunged, just missing cornering her dodging mate. "It's not even eight. You've got plenty of time. I'll drive you to your exam."
"As soon as my exam's over, we can go back to bed." Ryan dashed into the bathroom and tried to close the door, but Jamie wedged her body in so she couldn't.
"Now," Jamie insisted, sliding into the room when Ryan relented. "I need a little taste. Come on, baby. You know how addictive you are."
"I've gotta jump in the shower. Come on, now. I promise I'll play with you later."
"Oh, all right, fine." Jamie held her arm out and Ryan dutifully removed her splint. "Will you start the shower?"
"Sure." Ryan got into the shower and started to adjust the temperature, which was often balky in the dated pipes. As soon as she backed away from the taps, Jamie got in and put her arms around her waist.
"Hi there. Wanna wash my back?" She handed Jamie the soap and turned to face the wall.
Jamie lathered her hands and started to wash Ryan's back, incorporating a soothing massage, which soon had Ryan purring with pleasure. "Feel good?"
"Very. But don't use that left hand too much."
"It's fine. I'm gonna go see the doctor this week. I think it's pretty much healed."
"You can't be too careful, honey. Fractures are nothing to fool around with."
"You should know. I'm sure you've fooled around with more than one of them." She expanded the boundaries of her massage, moving down to include Ryan's ass.
"Feels good," Ryan murmured. "My butt's been a little sore. I was doing some sliding drills and must've gotten carried away."
"Can you imagine that?" Jamie lathered her hands again and started to probe the sore muscles. "The thought of you getting carried away is so un—"
"Yeah, yeah. Go ahead. Make fun."
"Who, me? I'm just doing my job here." Jamie slid her hands from Ryan's ass to wash her flanks, then her belly. "Trying to get my dirty girl clean."
"You're doing great." Ryan leaned against the wall, resting her cheek against the warm tile.
Leaning against Ryan's body, Jamie let one hand delicately caress a breast while the other slipped down to burrow between Ryan's lips. "Hmm, I don't have much soap on my fingers," Jamie mused. "I wonder why you feel so slippery."
"That's good," Ryan purred, pushing down on Jamie's fingers. "That's very good. Keep doing that."
"Doing what? I'm just helping you get clean. I don't want you to be late."
Ryan turned her head and gave her partner an indulgent smile. "I can spare a minute or two. I'll let you know when I'm…clean." She covered Jamie's hand and urged it to give her breast a good squeeze. "It won't take long."
"You know best, sweetheart," Jamie said, giggling. She kissed along Ryan's back, nibbling on the clean, wet skin. "You're the boss."
"That'd be nice. Let me know when that happens, okay?"
"You'll be the first. Now stop twitching so I can get this little spot clean." She rested her head against Ryan's back, listening to the steadily rising thrum of her heartbeat, loving the sound in ways she couldn't begin to express.
Since Ryan hadn't had time to make coffee, Jamie double-parked in front of their favorite espresso shop. "Get me a double tall, okay?"
"Sure. Any food?"
"No. I'll have cereal when I get home."
Ryan jogged across the street and got into the line that thankfully wasn't too long. She was gone less than five minutes, and when she returned, Jamie said, "I'm sorry I was so prickly this morning."
Ryan grinned. "Is that a play on words?"
Jamie took a sip of her coffee and breathed a sigh of pleasure. "Delicious." She put the cup into the cup holder and put Ryan's car into gear. "No pun intended, I'm just apologizing for being short-tempered. I always thought I'd be happy to graduate, but I have very mixed feelings about it. It's got me feeling irritable."
Ryan gazed at her profile and quietly marveled at how effortlessly Jamie was able to face her feelings. It was a huge change from how she'd been when they first met, and Ryan knew that it was only hard work that had enabled the change. "Wow, you're good. I had to do a few dozen push-ups in the middle of the night to come to that same conclusion." Turning briefly to look at her, Jamie said, "Really? Why didn't you wake me up?"
"I don't even like to admit to myself that things are bothering me; it takes a lot for me to admit it to you."
Sharing an understanding glance, Jamie nodded. "I wish that weren't true, but I know that's how you are. Do you think that's why this test has been worrying you so much?"
Ryan shrugged, what she always did when she didn't want to talk about something.
"You do acknowledge that you've probably studied more than everyone else in your class put together, right?"
"That doesn't influence me. I don't care what anyone else does. I try to do my best, not just beat the curve."
"But you've told me you're not really interested in French. You've rebuffed every one of my many offers to help you learn the language, so you're not really doing your best this time." Jamie's tone was soft and soothing, and it was clear she wasn't judging her partner. Still, she held her breath, hoping that Ryan didn't take umbrage.
Ryan's eyes narrowed and she appeared to consider the argument for a minute or two. "I've never had a class like this before," she admitted. "I'm not interested in French at all. You know I only took it because I thought I needed to, and once I found out that wasn't true... I'm just playing out the string."
They were near the intersection closest to Ryan's classroom, and from the corner of her eye Jamie could see that Ryan's hand was already on the door handle. "Kiss me goodbye before you leap out of a moving car."
Smiling guiltily, Ryan brushed her lips across Jamie's cheek. "Wish me luck."
"Cinq lettres pour ton exam. Je suis sûre que tu vas réussir haut la main."
Ryan jumped out of the car then leaned her head back in, a sour look on her face. "We didn't cover that. I hope."
At eleven a.m., Ryan burst in through the front door and called out, "Come down here and kiss the scholar."
Mia tentatively poked her head around the wall. Her smile was, as usual, devilish. "I don't think Jamie likes it when you make that offer so general."
Ryan gave her friend the aggrieved grimace that often took the place of a smile. "Where is the woman I intended that for?"
"If you mean Jamie," Mia sniggered, "she's in the shower."
Ryan headed for the stairs, taking them two at a time. "Thanks for your help," she muttered. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"I know that about you," Mia said, as Ryan went into Jamie's room and quietly closed the door.
Quickly removing her clothes, Ryan then hopped into the bathroom on one foot, pulling on a recalcitrant sock with her hand. Jamie, singing in the shower, didn't hear her lover enter the room. She gasped in surprise when Ryan slid the shower door open and said, "You were here just two hours ago. Is this all you do when I'm gone?"
Jamie smirked. "Is that one little part all dirty again? I thought I scrubbed it really well."
"Nope." Ryan's mood was clearly ebullient. "I'm perfectly clean, but I wanted to be with my sweet girlfriend." She kissed the top of Jamie's head and her nose twitched for a few seconds, a quizzical look on her face. "Grass?"
"Yes. Grass." Rolling her eyes, Jamie explained, "I was outside reading one of my new books and the gardeners came. They obviously didn't see me because after they cut the side yard, they started to blow the cuttings off the shrubs. All of that damp, sticky gunk blew right onto my head!"
"Ooo. Did you yell at 'em in Spanish?"
"Of course not, you silly thing. They were just doing their job." She put her arms around Ryan's waist and hugged her, relishing the warm spray as it showered down on them. "You seem like a happy girl. The test must have gone well."
"Real well," Ryan said, grinning.
"How do you know?"
"I begged the TA to scan it." She grinned like a child. "I got a hundred."
Jamie slapped at her playfully, making Ryan cover up to defend her sensitive skin. "I knew you'd kick ass! You've been studying like a lunatic."
"That's why I got a hundred," Ryan said, straight faced. "I'm really proud of myself."
Jamie stopped pummeling her and studied her face. "You are. That's rare for you."
"No, it's not. I'm always proud of myself when I do well at something that doesn't interest me. It's easy to do well when I'm grooving on something, but I detest French," she said with an expression far past distaste. "It's got so many goofy rules. What kinda language has a numeric system that only goes to 69?"
Smiling sexily, Jamie said, "I'd think that would be your favorite language. And French has perfectly reasonable words for numbers greater than 69; they're just more creative than English."
"Having to say sixty plus ten for seventy is goofy, not creative. Four twenties for eighty is even goofier. Must drive their mathematicians crazy."
"No, it doesn't, my silly girl." She was still holding Ryan loosely around the waist, and she leaned her head back and let the water wash her hair from her eyes. "We have zillions of odd rules for English. They just don't seem odd when you grow up with them."
"Well, I didn't grow up with French, and now that I've mastered the very rudimentary elements, I'm going to do my best to forget it all." She laughed evilly as she shook her head vigorously. "All gone!"
Jamie slapped her sharply on the ass. "Knowing you, every word you ever learned will be rolling around in that cute head when you're ninety."
"Probably true," Ryan agreed. "Ready to get out?"
"Sure. Let's dry off and go back to bed. Having you naked and clean is just about my favorite combination in the whole world."
Sighing wistfully, Ryan said, "Boy, somebody's gonna slide right into this life of leisure." "You'd better believe it, baby. To the manor born."
An hour later, Jamie and Ryan opened the door to their bedroom and started down the stairs. "What time does your father arrive?" Ryan asked.
"He's in town already," Mia called out. "He's going to his apartment, and he'll see you at the ceremony tonight."
Ryan reversed direction and strolled into Mia's room, with Jamie bringing up the rear. "Did he call you, or do you just know that?"
Smiling, Mia said, "He called while you two were having sex."
Clearly flustered, Ryan said, "How do you know we were having sex?"
"The same way Maria Los, who's in the kitchen, knows. If your window was open, the gardeners know, too." She got up from her bed, where she'd been instant messaging with friends, and patted Ryan's flushed cheek. "You're loud, dudes. You especially, James. I heard you order Ryan to do you again at least three times. You've gotta give her a rest." She smiled sweetly and passed by the startled pair, snickering as she went down the stairs.
A muted buzzer sounded, and Jamie said, "The washer must be done. I'm doing some laundry."
"That's the dryer chime. It's higher pitched." Ryan paused on the stair. "Why isn't Maria Los doing it?"
"Now that school is over, I'm sure you'll want to start doing your own again. I just thought I'd help out this time."
Smiling, Ryan said, "You're just doing mine?"
"Yep. I'm perfectly happy with how Maria Los does mine."
"I am, too. I'm very particular, and she's just as picky. But you're right, I'll want to start doing it myself."
Jamie laughed. "There really isn't much complexity involved. Throw the clothes in, add some soap, and let it go."
"Sort the clothes, choose the right temperature, choose the correct cycle and the right spin speed, put in the appropriate soap, throw the clothes in, and let it go. The beauty is in the detail."
Looking guilty, Jamie said, "Uhm, I didn't do any of those details."
Ryan's eyes widened. "You didn't sort?"
"I sorted darks and lights."
"No, no, no. It's much more complex than that." Ryan hurried into the laundry room and bit her lip when she saw that all of her dark clothes were in the washer and that the temperature was set on hot. "Did you wash my white clothes on hot, too?"
"Yeah. The machine says you should use the hottest temperature you can."
Ryan struggled to not sound like a scold. "That means the warmest temperature you can use safely," she said. "I only wash my socks in hot. Everything else is either warm or cold."
"Uh-oh. Make it stop."
"You can't," Ryan said glumly. "Your fancy machine can't be stopped. I think we might have to buy me some new jeans, because the ones in there were just barely long enough as it was. I wash them on cold, and then I stretch them as much as I can before I dry them just long enough to get most of the water out of them. Ten minutes max."
"Maria Los does all of that?"
"I've gotta give her a raise."
Ryan opened the dryer and pulled out one of her white tank tops. It was much shorter than usual and looked at least a full size smaller.
"I guess I've gotta buy you some new underwear, too. Good thing there are few things I enjoy more," Jamie said, grinning slyly.
After lunch, Ryan headed for her room, with Jamie close on her heels. "Why do you have to leave so early?"
"I might be finished with school, but I'm not finished with softball. We're playing on Thursday, so if I work my legs really hard today they'll feel fresh for the game."
Even though it was frequently frustrating, Jamie had to admit that she admired Ryan's tenacity. The poor woman had done little more than serve as an all-purpose substitute for the entire season, but that didn't change how she prepared for each game. Ryan approached softball the way she did most things, focusing one hundred percent of her abilities.
When they got upstairs, Jamie sat on the bed in Ryan's room and watched her change. "We haven't talked about your upcoming games. You know my allegiances are torn, right?"
"I do. You know I'd love to have you with me, but you can't miss Mia's graduation." Ryan made a face, wrinkling up her nose. "It's bad enough that I have to miss my own."
"That just sucks." Jamie threw herself onto the bed, face down. Her voice was muffled when she said, "Why couldn't they start the playoffs after everyone is finished with graduation?"
"There are an awful lot of teams in the NCAAs. They'd probably have to wait until the middle of June to make sure everyone was done, and that would penalize the people who finished in the middle of May. I'm just glad I'm finished with finals; I'm sure some of the girls aren't."
"Mia is really upset that you're not going to be here for hers. She understands, but…" "I feel terrible about it. I'm glad Jordan's going to be here. That'll take her mind off almost everything," she said, chuckling.
"I'm being tugged in a lot of directions. Jennie has called me six times asking if I can get her approved to take a make-up exam so she can go watch you play. I'm not quite sure how she plans on getting there, since I'm not going."
"Maybe she's talked Marta into taking her."
"I doubt that. Marta's not used to having a kid in the house. Didn't you hear how nervous she sounded when she said she'd watch Jen for the week? She wouldn't do anything like that without talking to us."
"I feel bad for Jen. I know that being at the games means a lot to her, but I don't think it's a good idea to condone her skipping exams. She's doing well in school, and I don't want her to think that softball is number one on her list of priorities." Ryan was struggling to get into a pair of compression shorts and Jamie watched her avidly. "Don't get any ideas," Ryan ordered, her tone serious, even though she was smiling.
"Ideas about what?" Jamie asked innocently.
"You look like you're about to lick your lips."
"Is it my fault that you look so remarkably hot?"
"No, that's my fault. And it's just become clear to me how much of your concentration went towards school. We've never been together when you weren't enrolled in at least two classes. I don't know if I can handle you when you don't have other focuses."
Twisting quickly and grabbing Ryan's arm, Jamie pulled her off balance and was soon lying face to face with her surprised lover. "I don't think you can, and I know you can't refuse a dare."
Ryan put her arms around Jamie, being mindful of her splint. She started off slowly and sweetly, barely kissing all around Jamie's tempting smile. As soon as she heard the first moan, she turned up the heat, probing Jamie's mouth with her tongue. When a hand slid into her hair and a leg wrapped around her thighs Ryan twisted just enough to be able to press her hip between Jamie's legs and burrow against her.
"Oh, that's good." It was hard having only one hand at her disposal, but Jamie used it to good effect, palming Ryan's Lycra encased ass so hard she made her squeal.
Ryan slid a hand between them and fumbled around, trying to get her hand up the leg of Jamie's shorts. She'd just hit pay-dirt when the phone rang. They both shot the instrument an evil glare, then their eyes met and they laughed. "I'm not gonna answer it," Ryan said.
"Good call." Jamie wrapped her arm around Ryan's neck and pulled her down. They'd both forgotten about the phone by the time it finished ringing, but both were reminded when Jamie's cell phone began to chirp. "If we can ignore one, we can ignore the other."
Ryan looked at the phone, her eyebrows knit with worry. "Maybe we should get that one." "I've got voice mail. Forget about it."
Relaxing when the second phone stopped ringing, Ryan did her best to get them back into the mood. It wasn't hard, particularly when her fingers found the spot they'd been seeking. She grinned, loving the feel of the warm humidity she found. Her fingers played on the outside of Jamie's panties, and, as she expected, Jamie started pushing back against her hand. They were just getting into a nice rhythm when Ryan's cell phone began to ring. She withdrew her hand, muttered something to herself and got up to inspect her discarded pants. The phone was in a pocket and before she opened it, she said, "It's Marta." Now Jamie wore a worried look that matched Ryan's. "Hi, Marta. Sorry we didn't get to the phone sooner. Do you need to talk to Jamie?"
"No, it is good. I am going to Jennie's house to pick up some things and I thought I would come by your house, if it's not too much trouble. Will you be home?"
"As far as I know, Jamie will be." She looked up to see Jamie gesturing for the phone. "Hold on a moment. I'll let you talk to her." She handed the phone to Jamie and proceeded to dress.
Jamie hung up after just a few seconds. "Come back here." She held out her arms and made kissing motions at Ryan.
"Heck, yes. Come on."
Ryan knelt on the bed and said, "I thought maybe you'd be out of the mood." "Nope." Jamie put an arm around Ryan and pulled her back down. "I liked you better without your top on, but that's not gonna stop me."
Smiling fondly, Ryan said, "My little spitfire."
"Yes, you sexy thing. I am your spitfire." She hugged Ryan tightly. "But I love you, too." She kissed her again, making the touch tender and filled with warmth. They were nose to nose, with Jamie gazing into Ryan's eyes. "I don't want you to think this is just about sex. I'm…" She pursed her lips, considering her feelings. "I'm rabidly in love with you, and when I'm not busy with school, I have time to think about you without distraction."
"I know what you mean. I'm not there yet, since I'm obsessing about softball this week, but next week I'm gonna be focused." Her index finger motioned back and forth from her eyes to Jamie's. "Completely focused on you."
"No, you're not. You're gonna be in Omaha, playing in the College World Series."
"I love a woman with a positive attitude." Ryan smiled brightly. "But it's Oklahoma City, not Omaha."
"I'm pretty sure."
"Wherever it is, you'll be there."
"I wish my teammates had your confidence."
"They''ll get into it once you win a few games."
Eyes shining, Ryan nodded. "Exactly! If we go on a tear, nobody can beat us."
"That's my girl. When you get over there today, you spread some of your positive thinking on those girls."
"I will." Ryan bent to kiss her, and as their kiss grew in intensity their bodies began to move, one against the other. "I love you." She kissed along Jamie's jaw, down along her throat, stopping when she reached the buttons on her shirt. Her mouth followed her fingers, kissing each bit of skin that was revealed as each button was opened. "I love you," she kept repeating.
In a few minutes, Jamie felt very loved, and very naked. Ryan was still dressed, which always made her feel more bare in comparison. She knew she could have convinced Ryan to get undressed, but she could tell that her lover was in the mood to give rather than receive, and she'd come to believe there was nothing wrong with that.
Ryan touched her with a nearly reverential focus. It seemed as though her hands were everywhere. Each part of her body that Ryan touched felt as though it were tingling with electricity. Jamie would have loved to have stayed right at this level for hours, if not days. But she could tell that Ryan was getting lost in the mood, and she knew she'd be upset if she didn't get to the gym to work on her legs. Jamie urged her forward, kissing her hungrily while she took Ryan's hand and slid it between her own legs.
It didn't take long, only a few minutes, and Ryan looked a little disappointed when Jamie climaxed so quickly. "I want to taste you," Ryan growled, her eyes hazy with lust. She started to slide down Jamie's body, but she was summarily stopped.
"Later, sweetheart. You have things to do now."
Ryan looked up at her as though she were speaking another language. "Huh?"
"I've got all afternoon, but you said you wanted to get over to the gym."
In a shot, Ryan was standing up. "Shit! I completely forgot." She dashed into her bathroom and washed her hands, then came back into the room, brushing her hair. "Thanks, baby. I lost my mind."
"I could see that," Jamie said, giggling.
Ryan bent down and kissed Jamie tenderly. "That's one more reason that I love you. You keep your head when I'm losing mine."
"I wish. I was just maintaining a grip on my sanity because I know Marta's coming over."
"Where was she when she called?"
"I have no idea," Jamie said, laughing. "She could be here any minute. I just wanted to hang up so I could get back to you." She accepted Ryan's extended hand and got to her feet. "I'm gonna take a quick shower."
"I'll stick around until you're done, in case Marta's close by."
Jamie reached up and kissed Ryan. "One more reason why you're the best girlfriend." She took Ryan's hand and held it under her nose, sniffing delicately. "Besides that, there's these talented hands."
Ryan had only been gone a few minutes when the doorbell rang. Jamie ran downstairs to answer it, threw the door open, and gasped in surprise and amazement. "Elizabeth!"
"Happy graduation!" The elderly, very proper looking long ago nanny smiled broadly, her pale blue eyes shining with happiness and a touch of nervousness.
Jamie's gaze swept to Marta, who was beaming at her. "Marta! What a fantastic surprise you've pulled off!"
"No, no, I cannot take the credit. This was your mother's idea."
"No matter how it happened, I'm delighted that you're here, Elizabeth. Come in, come in." She took her hand and led her inside. "Can I make you a cup of tea?"
"That would be a delight. My body believes it is very late."
"When did you get in?"
"Just an hour ago. Marta picked me up at the airport, then we drove here. Your house is lovely, Jamie. Simply lovely."
"Thanks. You two have a seat and I'll make tea. Coffee for you, Marta?"
"If you have any, but don't go to any trouble."
"It's no trouble. I'll be right back." Jamie went into the kitchen and started water for tea, then used the coffeemaker to brew a pot for Marta and herself. She was delighted to see Elizabeth again, but she had a feeling the visit wouldn't be without tension, and she needed a little caffeine infusion.
Jamie walked into the living room, carrying a tray. Marta and Elizabeth were chatting in exactly the way they had since Jamie was a baby. It was clear they liked each other, and respected each other professionally, but Marta never displayed her usual warmth when she was in Elizabeth's company. Observing them for a few seconds, Jamie saw that nothing had changed.
Elizabeth looked remarkably good for her age, which Jamie was fairly sure had crested seventy. She was dressed formally—for San Francisco—wearing a jersey silk dress and a fitted jacket. Very sensible, one inch heels topped her out at about five foot two. She looked a little thinner, a little more wrinkled, and her posture wasn't quite as erect as it had once been, but, all in all, she didn't look much different than she had when she'd left Hillsborough.
"How did this visit come about?" Jamie asked, pouring Elizabeth's tea and Marta's coffee, recalling how each woman took hers.
"Your mother called me not long ago," Elizabeth said. "Of course, she apologized for waiting until the last minute, but she said that I had played such an important role in your upbringing that she thought it only fitting that I attend your graduation. I didn't have anything pressing on my schedule, so, here I am. "
Still getting used to having Elizabeth in her home, Jamie tried to convey enthusiasm she didn't yet feel. "Having you here is a wonderful graduation gift. I'll go get your suitcase and put it in the guest room."
"Oh, thank you, Jamie, but I'll be staying at your mother's new home. Marta tells me it's quite lovely."
"It is," Jamie confirmed. "But we have a guest room if you'd rather stay here."
"No, I'm sure I'd be in the way here. With your mother absent, Marta and I will keep each other company. Just like in the old days," she said, smiling at Marta.
"That's more true than you know," Marta said. "A young friend of Jamie and Ryan's is staying at the house this week. She goes to high school not far from us, and she needed a quiet place to study for her exams."
Elizabeth cast a puzzled glance at Marta. "Where is her family?"
"That's a long story," Jamie interjected. "Jennie had a difficult situation at home and she's been living in a group home for the last year." She could tell that Elizabeth didn't understand the nomenclature, so she added, "It's like a small orphanage. They have anywhere from ten to twelve girls living there."
"Oh, I see." She fussed with her handbag and smoothed out her skirt, nervous gestures that Jamie recognized as Elizabeth's prelude to changing the subject. "Even though I won't be staying here, do you think it's possible for me to have a nap?"
"Of course. You can stay here and have dinner with us before we go to the graduation ceremony."
"That's a good idea," Marta said. "Then I can run home and pick up Jennie."
"The logistics are very complex," Elizabeth said, her laugh soft and polite.
"It's always like that," Jamie said. "We all live too far away from one another, a situation Ryan and I would like to remedy as soon as we can find a house in San Francisco."
"Will Ryan be home soon?" Elizabeth asked.
"No, she'll probably run in here with thirty seconds to spare before we have to leave for graduation."
"Then would you mind if I have my nap now?"
"Not at all; that's a great idea. I'll go get your suitcase."
"I have a small carry-on that has everything I need. Could you get that, Jamie?"
"Sure. I'll be right back."
She started for the door which was opened before she reached it. Mia walked in and dropped her bag on the floor.
"One more fuck—"
The rest of her statement was cut off when Jamie clapped her hand over Mia's mouth. "Look who's here," Jamie said brightly, smiling at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth started to giggle, but she put her hand over her mouth to suppress it. "I'd recognize her and her colorful vocabulary anywhere. Hello again, Mia."
Elizabeth was settled in Ryan's room, taking her nap, and Marta had gone to pick up Jennie. Mia and Jamie sat in the library, making a dent in a nice bottle of white Bordeaux. "You had no idea she was coming?"
"I would have mentioned it," Jamie said. "I'm sure my mom wanted to do something very nice for me, but I'm not sure this is what I would have asked for."
"She's a nice old broad. What's the problem? "
Laughing, Jamie said, "I bet not many people call her a broad. And she is nice. I just think I'd rather have seen her in England. With Mom gone, I'm gonna have to spend a lot of time with her, and that could get old fast."
"Put Ryan in charge. She can charm anyone."
"I think Ryan might be the problem. Mom didn't tell me what she said, but Elizabeth wrote to her after the carjacking and apparently said something unflattering about my being a lesbian."
Mia made a face. "Eww. I forgot she was kinda prudish."
"I didn't," Jamie said, hoisting her glass for another drink.
As expected, Ryan flew in the front door minutes before they were due to leave, calling out for assistance. "Gonna need some help here!" She kicked off her shoes and started up the stairs, peeling off her T-shirt as she went. She had her hands on her sports bra and was starting to yank it up when she sensed someone's presence and then heard a polite, deliberate cough. Ryan's eyes opened comically wide when she locked gazes with the woman who had discreetly cleared her throat. Jamie and Mia ran out of their respective rooms and all four women stood in the hallway: two of them looking surprised and flustered, one merely flustered, and one enjoying the show.
"Ryan, we have a visitor. Mother arranged for Elizabeth, my nanny, to be here for my graduation. Isn't that wonderful?" Jamie's expression did not, in any way, support her avowed pleasure.
As Jamie performed the introduction, Ryan was slipping back into her T-shirt. As soon as her head popped out she was smiling and nodding, appearing genuinely pleased. "That's fantastic! I've wanted to meet you ever since Jamie told me about you. It's a true pleasure." She extended her grimy hand and Elizabeth shook it gingerly.
"It's lovely to meet you."
"I'm sorry for the way I look, but I just finished softball practice."
Jamie put her hand on Ryan's back and pushed her toward the bathroom. "I made a sandwich for you and I laid out some clothes on our bed. Is it okay if we leave without you?"
"Sure. Sure. You guys get going. Just leave a ticket for me on the table in the hall."
"I will. The ceremony doesn't start for an hour, so you can take your time."
"No, I'll rush. I'm sure my Da will already be there and I can help him corral everybody so we can sit together."
Jamie leaned toward her and Ryan bent down to accept a kiss on her cheek. Elizabeth let out a very faint sound and recoiled slightly. Jamie, who was hypersensitive to Elizabeth's cues, noticed it, but she steeled herself and repeated the mantra she had been rehearsing. Live your life and let her deal with it.
Continued in Part 2
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