I Found My Heart in San Francisco
Book 17: Quandary
By S X Meagher
With Elizabeth in tow, Jamie was forced to drive to campus. It was tough getting around Berkeley at any time, but with several departmental graduations going on at the same time and thousands of relatives from out of town driving around the clogged streets, it was nightmarish. “Do you still go for a long walk every day, Elizabeth?”
“Yes, I do. Why do you ask?”
“Because I'm going to get out of this mess and go to a public lot, if you're up to walking.”
“I'm not as fast as I used to be, but I still log 3 miles a day.”
“This will be less than that...I think. I'm not good at guessing distances."
"I can judge distances, but only in miles. I still don't understand why we were forced to abandon the imperial measure."
"You should move here," Mia said brightly. "We'll never change."
Elizabeth turned and gave her a sweet smile which didn't match the brevity of her response. "I think not."
Jamie had been on the phone for an hour earlier in the afternoon, trying to secure enough tickets to the ceremony. She'd only been allocated four, and she'd bought more from students who weren't planning on using their allocation, but she was fairly certain they were still one short. Instead of leaving Ryan a ticket, she left her a note explaining the situation and telling her she might have to use her charm or a bribe to get in. But as they walked briskly toward the campus Elizabeth pulled something out of her purse. “Your mother gave me this letter, Jamie. Perhaps it is something you need?”
Expecting something congratulatory, Jamie took the envelope and opened it. The letter inside was not from her mother, it was a letter from the Chancellor stating that everyone in Catherine Smith's party was permitted entry. Jamie laughed to herself, wondering how much that little single piece of paper had cost her mother, then she took out her cell phone to call Ryan to tell her that tickets were no longer required.
By the time Ryan got to the ceremony, her father and Mia had things well in hand as far as organizing the seating arrangements was concerned. Marta, Jennie, Elizabeth, and Maeve were all lined up in the second row of seats behind the section reserved for the graduates. Every other seat around them was taken and Ryan said, “What about Jim?”
Quietly, Martin whispered, “His Excellency has a seat of honor.” He pointed across the aisle and Ryan spotted Jim and Kayla and Reverend Evans talking with some functionary.
“Cool. Are we all set? None of the boys are coming?”
“They'll all be at the party. It's just too difficult for them to get over here after work.”
“Okay. We're good to go. Now we just have to listen to what I'm sure will be a boring speech.”
To Ryan's surprise, the speech was not at all boring. The speaker was Armisted Maupin, a San Francisco-based writer who was not only wickedly irreverent, he was very gay.
When Jamie's row stood to get their diplomas, there were cameras flashing everywhere, and Ryan smiled at her father's antics as he tried to get the perfect picture. “If that lummox in front would get out of the way, I could see her,” he grumbled.
“That's the Dean, Da. He has to give her the diploma.”
“Well, he could position himself better.”
Ryan noted at least a dozen people with video cameras, and she wished her father had borrowed one as he often did. But she had to admit the filming conditions were not ideal for an amateur. The auditorium wasn't well lit, and it was difficult getting a place near the stage. She hoped that the university or the department would release a DVD that they could purchase to document the event.
“Jennie,” Martin whispered, “slide your little self up there and see if you can take a close-up of Jamie.” He handed her the camera and she happily went to do his bidding. She returned a few minutes later looking proud of herself.
“I got some great pictures. She saw me and waved and stuff.”
“That's the good lass.” He reached over and ruffled her hair, the way he did for everyone he cared about—except Maeve. She received decidedly more delicate treatment.
After the ceremony, everyone went outside to enjoy the remarkably warm spring night. Jennie sought Ryan out, and after two seconds of small talk made her pitch, “I've only got two exams on Thursday and Friday, and neither one of them is important. If you talked to my teachers, I'm sure they'd let me go to Fresno with you guys.”
Ryan put her arm around Jennie's shoulders and gave her a squeeze. “I don't know which of your classes you think are so inconsequential, but I bet your teachers don't agree. I know I don't.”
Jennie's cheeks turned pink, and her voice got louder. “You were in high school once. You know how lame everything is. Besides, I'm doing good in these classes.”
“I assume English isn't one of them, or you would have said, ‘I'm doing well.'” Ryan smiled, showing that she was kidding, at least about the grammar.
Jennie wasn't easily deterred. “I'll do anything to be able to go—extra stuff, make up work, anything!” She looked so sincere and desperate that for a moment Ryan considered letting her go, but she knew that wasn't the right thing for Jennie. She had to learn that school had to come first. “No, I'm sorry, Jen. I'd love to have you there, but you can't miss your exams.”
Crestfallen, Jennie stared down at the ground, not saying another word. Marta, standing next to the girl, shot Ryan a look that was a little troubling. There was something about her expression that made Ryan wonder what was behind it, and she made a mental note to talk to her alone.
A videographer appeared and spent a few minutes interviewing Jamie and Jim. Ryan assumed this was part of the kid glove treatment Jim seemed to get whenever he was anywhere near the Cal campus. But when the videographer asked her to stand with Jamie and speak about graduating, she thought maybe this piece was something that Cal was doing. Always game, she and Jamie both grinned for the camera and said a few words about how important Cal had been in their lives, particularly the fact that they had met one another while they were students.
When the videographer approached Martin and Maeve, Ryan knew something was up. She approached the young man and said, “Who do you work for?”
“Videobrations,” he said, giving her a salesman style smile. “We can make any event last a lifetime.”
“No, no, who specifically hired you?”
“I have no idea. I'm one of a dozen people who record events.” He handed her a card that he fished from a multi-pocketed vest he wore. “You can call the office.”
She sighed, seeing that he didn't understand her question. “What did your boss tell you to record—the entire graduation ceremony?”
“Yeah, the entire thing. Jamie Evans and everyone who's with her.”
“Thanks. That's perfectly clear.”
She walked over to Jamie and said, “Your mother's work.”
“What's that?” Jamie was waving to a classmate, and she absently put her arm around Ryan's waist.
“The guy with the video camera. He doesn't know who hired him, but he was told to record you and everyone around you. Your mom is the only one who would have thought of that.”
“Oh, how sweet.” She looked at Ryan. “It's been bumming my high to not have her here.”
Ryan grinned. “Bumming your high? That's a new one.”
“One of my professors says that. She grew up in the Seventies. Every once in a while I find myself mimicking her.”
“Groovy,” Ryan said, flashing a peace sign.
Martin was standing at the edge of the crowd, his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes slightly narrowed. Ryan went up to him and said quietly, “You don't look like you're having fun. This isn't your kind of crowd, is it?”
He gave his daughter a half smile. “You know I'm not good with the small talk. I have nothing to say to him.” He twitched his head in Jim's direction. “And I don't much care for Jamie's nanny, but Marta's a good egg. I'd talk to her, if I could get her alone.”
“Why don't you like Elizabeth?”
“She has some highfalutin ideas. She seems to think it's inappropriate for a woman to come to an event like this and not have a dress on.”
That told Ryan all she needed to hear. Even though she knew that her father would love for her to wear skirts, having someone else mention it was not allowed. Ryan looked at the small gathering, noting that most people looked slightly uncomfortable. Her aunt was trying to make conversation with Elizabeth and Marta, but it didn't look like it was going well; Jennie looked like she was about to jump off a cliff. Mia was off talking to people she hadn't seen in a while, and Jamie was making the rounds and saying goodbye to classmates. Ryan thought it was probably best to round them up and get back to the house so they could have a proper party. Waiting until Jamie was finished talking to an elderly man, Ryan made the suggestion. “Do you think we should get going?”
“Sure. I don't want to keep everybody at home waiting. How should we do the transportation?”
“I'm not sure, but I don't think Jennie wants to ride with me. I told her she couldn't miss school to come to the softball games and she's in a funk.”
“Oh? I'm glad she talked to you. She was mad at me when I told her the same thing, but maybe I'll be out of the doghouse now that you're in it.”
Ryan smiled at her. “Is this how it's going to be when we have kids?”
“More than likely.”
They managed to convey everyone to San Francisco in three cars, and Ryan was pleased to see that the graduation cake named Jamie, Mia, and herself. She was unhappy at the prospect of missing both of her own graduations, but it was nice to be included in the party.
Ryan found her Aunt Maeve standing by the bar which had been set up on the dining room table. “Thanks a lot for trying to make Elizabeth feel at home.”
“I can't take much credit for that, dear. I don't think she likes me much. And, to be honest...”
Ryan's eyes bugged out. “I've never heard you say you didn't like anyone!”
“And I didn't say it now,” she said, laughing softly. “We just don't have much in common. She was telling me where she lived and when I told her I wasn't familiar with the area, she seemed quite surprised. I admitted that I've only been to England to change planes, and she seemed to think that was...lacking on my part.”
“Well, I guess it is reasonable for people to think you'd go to England just to have a look around. It is awfully close to Ireland.”
“ She's never been to Ireland,” Maeve said frostily.
Ryan was a little taken aback by her aunt's surprisingly cold demeanor, but she had to admit that neither Maeve nor her father had much patience with people who didn't show at least a modicum of praise for their heritage. They were both a little thin-skinned about Ireland, probably because they both came from relatively small, less sophisticated parts of the country. Whatever it was, Elizabeth must have really gotten under Maeve's skin to have her react so strongly.
Ryan scanned the room and found Jim talking to Jamie. They were near the stairs and Jim looked up and caught her gaze. Signaling her to come over, when she joined them, he said, “I've got presents for you two.” He reached into his jacket and handed Jamie a small box. Smiling with delight, the way she always did when she opened a present, Jamie took the top off and saw a partially filled charm bracelet from Tiffany's. It had about two dozen charms on it, and Jim explained some of them.
“There's a little horse from your equestrian training. That's a gymnast… Remember how long you took classes? A nice sloop, to recall our time sailing. A bike to remember the AIDS ride you and Ryan took. There's a graduation cap from today; there's a golf club...”
Jamie gave him a hug and a kiss on both cheeks. “This is so thoughtful, Daddy. And I know you picked it out yourself. You give the nicest gifts.”
“I did pick out every piece myself. It was like a trip down memory lane deciding which of the charms best represented the path you've taken to get to this point in your life. I know you won't wear this piece of jewelry all the time, but when you do, I hope you think about all those times with some fondness.”
She hugged him tightly, then pulled away and kissed him again. “I will.”
Jim turned to Ryan and gave her a smile that she had a hard time deciphering. “Well, Ryan,” he said, “you're a little harder to buy a gift for. I know you like technology and sports of all kinds, but I wanted to get you something that would have some sort of lasting significance.”
“No need,” Ryan said, holding up her hands as if to ward off his gesture.
“No, no, I put a lot of thought into this. I decided to do something I should have done a long time ago.” He reached into his briefcase and brought out a wrapped package the size of a big book. “I'm trying to be more open, both in mind and attitude.”
Ryan accepted the package and neatly removed the paper, not rushing even when Jim looked like he was losing patience. “What is this…” She read the framed document, her confused look slowly morphing into a wide smile. “This is very, very cool.” She handed it to Jamie, then read a separate document that was bound like a paperback book. She gave Jim a warm hug, not allowing his obvious discomfort to deter her. “Thanks for being proud of us.”
“Daddy! This is awesome!”
Jamie found Martin and showed him the document. He read it slowly, and, when he was finished, his lips were pursed, trying to hold back tears. “This is lovely, Jamie. Simply lovely.” He looked across the room and actually managed to smile at Jim. “Thank you,” he mouthed.
“What is it?” Maeve asked, coming up beside her husband.
He turned it around to show her. “Jim had the senate pass a resolution honoring Ryan for her accomplishments at school.” He sniffled and added, “Then he made a statement that they put into the Congressional Record talking about how proud he was of both Jamie and Ryan and how they were life partners.” He snuck a look at Jim and added, “Maybe he's starting to understand that things like this mean a lot more than his flashy, expensive presents. Siobhán isn't swayed by that kind of thing.”
Maeve hugged him, thinking to herself that Ryan might not be swayed, but she definitely enjoyed a new toy as much as the next young woman did.
Since Rory was the type of fellow whom older women always loved, Ryan had asked him to try to keep an eye on Elizabeth, but he came up behind her after an hour and said, “Help!”
“I can't make any headway with Jamie's nanny. She's not interested in music, or travel, or anything else I know anything about. And when I try to get her to talk about herself, she doesn't seem interested. Sorry I struck out, but she's tough.”
“Thanks for giving it a try, Rory. I guess I'll just hope she isn't having a miserable time and let it go at that.”
Ryan noticed that Jamie was absent, so she took over hostess duties. They had developed an unspoken agreement that one of them would always keep an eye out to make sure that everyone was having fun. Rory had taken Jennie aside and they were both smiling when Ryan caught his eye. She was just about to check on the guests in the dining room when Marta came up behind her and said quietly, “Can I speak to you privately?”
A little surprised, Ryan nodded. “You want to go to my room?”
“I think that would be best.” They walked downstairs and when they reached the lower level Marta said, “This is where you and Jamie live?”
“Yes, these are our San Francisco digs.”
Marta's look showed she didn't understand Ryan's reference.
“This is my old room. I think of this as our home, even though we spend most of our time in Berkeley.”
“I see.” She looked around at the very plain room and said, “I'm glad she lives here with you, Ryan. This is good for her.”
She didn't add any details, but Ryan thought she knew what Marta was hinting at. Ryan had always had the impression that Marta thought the Evans money was not always a blessing.
“I want to talk to you about Jennie's mood,” Marta said. She sat down on the love seat in her typical composed manner, and Ryan sat on the edge of the bed waiting for her to continue.
“I don't know Jennie very well, but I'm fairly sure something troubles her.”
“Troubles her in what way?”
Marta waved her hands, looking helpless. “I can't be specific. She just seems different than she did the last few times she's come to the house. Perhaps she's worried, maybe about school… I'm not sure what it is, but she doesn't seem the same.”
“She's been moody,” Ryan agreed, considering the last few times she saw Jennie. “I'm pretty sure there's something going on at the group home, but I have no idea what it is. I'll try to talk to her tomorrow.”
“She's usually home by 3:30.”
Ryan winced. “I have softball practice at 5. I'd never be able to make it back to Berkeley if I saw her then.”
“I'm sure it can wait a day or two. It's probably nothing important. Girls at her age change like the weather.”
“Yeah, they can, but it's still a good idea to keep a close eye on her. She tends to make unwise decisions when she doesn't have guidance.” Ryan chuckled, showing a grin. “So do I, for that matter.”
After spending an hour outside talking to the cousins, Jamie went back into the house. She'd been worried about whether Elizabeth and Marta would feel out of place; for very different reasons, neither woman was the type of person who fit in naturally with the O'Flahertys. While Marta was fun-loving and friendly, she had a difficult time relaxing at a party—especially when she wasn't allowed to help. Jamie had come to see that Marta was always a little uncomfortable socializing with people who were, in essence, her employers. Elizabeth didn't seem to be bothered by that problem, but she was very reserved, and not the type to enjoy being around the sometimes painfully loud O'Flaherty family.
A smile lit Jamie's face, and it grew in intensity as she caught sight of her lover, effortlessly entertaining Elizabeth. They were sitting on one of the love seats in the living room, and Marta was perched on the arm of the piece next to Ryan. Marta was gazing at Ryan with open affection, while Ryan's eyes were trained intently on Elizabeth, who was speaking. Wanting to know how Ryan had warmed her up, but not wanting to interrupt, Jamie stood a few feet behind her former nanny and tried to eavesdrop. Rory approached and whispered, “My sister obviously has a lot more charm than I do.”
James smirked. “You don't honestly think I'm going to argue with you, do you? Not that you're not charming, but…” She turned and gazed at Ryan for just a second, then faced Rory again. “She's on a whole different plane.”
Mia walked up to them and looked at Rory expectantly. “Ready to go?”
“Where are you two going?” Jamie asked.
“Not just us,” Mia said. “Some band Rory knows is playing in Berkeley. Some of the boys are gonna go. Rory said he'd give me a ride home.”
Jamie put her hand on Rory's arm, speaking with overly dramatic flair. “Keep an eye on her. Actually, keep both eyes on her. She can get into trouble faster than hyperactive triplets.”
Mia stuck her tongue out. “I know how to stay out of trouble. I hid in the corner when I saw you trying to recruit people to babysit your nanny.”
“You little rat! I thought you said she wasn't so bad.”
“She's not,” Mia said, smiling her devilish smile. “As long as I don't have to spend any time with her.”
After a while, Ryan excused herself and went to get a beer. Jamie caught up with her and said, “I'm gonna go talk to my dad for a bit. Poppa has Kayla occupied and he looks kinda serious.”
“Ooo…he does look serious. I wonder what's up.”
“Hard to tell. Maybe she wants to become an Episcopalian.”
Ryan chuckled softly. “Yeah. That's likely.”
She gave Ryan a salute. “I'll report back later.”
“Have fun. Let me know if you need backup.”
Jamie walked up beside her father and said, “Hey, Dad. Wanna go sit on the front porch? The fog isn't in yet.”
He tore his gaze from Kayla and focused on his daughter. “Oh. Sure. Lead the way.”
Jamie moved through the crowd, working it like a politician. She kissed a few cheeks, slapped hands with a cousin or two, and hugged some older people whom Jim had never seen before. She was giggling when they went outside, and her father said, “You're really one of the gang here, aren't you?”
Surprised, she looked at him and nodded. “Well, sure. I'm part of the family.”
“It just…surprises me. I mean, I know you consider the O'Flahertys your family, but I've never seen you interact with people like you do with them.”
Gingerly protecting her arm, she settled onto the low chaise. “How do you mean?”
He was thoughtful for a minute, then said, “You're more relaxed, more casual. Playful. Yes. That's it. You're playful. You weren't like that before you met Ryan.”
“Really?” Jamie cocked her head, smiling quizzically. “Not at all?”
His lips were pursed and he shook his head. “Not that I saw. Even when Mia was over you were pretty…adult. To be honest, I was always a little puzzled that you were such good friends. You two hardly seemed like you were the same age.”
“Huh.” Jamie fluffed her hair as she often did when she was considering something. “We had a funny relationship. I think she liked being around someone a little…a lot…more stable. And I liked being around someone a lot wilder. We kinda lived through each other vicariously I guess.”
“Is it still like that?”
Jamie laughed. “No, not much. I can still be a little too maternal, but we're about on par now. She's settled down a lot and I'm more like other women my age. We're meeting in the middle, I guess.”
“You seem much more like a twenty-two year-old now. I suppose that's Ryan's influence.”
“A bit. But I also feel more free now. Ever since I faced the truth about my sexuality, I've loosened up. But Ryan helps. A lot.” She smiled brightly, her eyes almost closing. “She's very mature about most things, but she's like a two year-old a lot of the time. It's a great combo.”
“She reminds me of myself a little,” Jim said, smiling in remembrance.
“She does?” The look on Jamie's face caught her father short.
“I didn't say she reminded me of Charles Manson. Can't you even try to hide your scorn?”
“Scorn? I didn't mean…it's just…I…I guess I never thought of that. But then, I didn't know you when you were her age…” She trailed off, realizing she couldn't dig herself out of the hole she'd fallen into.
“You probably think I've always been a jerk,” Jim said ruefully, “but I was a pretty nice guy when I was in school.”
Jamie touched his leg, trying to find the words to apologize. “I didn't mean anything…”
Jim waved her off. “Don't worry about it. You can't think less of me than I think of myself right now.”
“What's wrong, Dad?” Her words were soft and she sounded genuinely concerned.
“Oh, I'm just crying in my beer. Kayla's probably telling my father what a user I am, and I can't disagree with her.”
“What brought this on? Have you and Kayla been fighting?”
“No. Not a bit. But I told you that she's ready to move on. I've been trying to talk her into hanging on for a while, but I can't even guess whether she'll consider it. She's treating me just like I treated her predecessors.” He smirked, but his eyes were dull and sad. “I guess it's my turn to see how the women I dumped felt.”
“Have you been depressed for long?”
“I'm not really depressed. I can do my work.” He patted her shoulder. “Don't worry about me. I'm not ready to end it all.”
“God, I hope not!”
“I've just been more introspective lately. That's always dangerous when you've lived like I have,” he said, chuckling bitterly.
“If you want to have a relationship, you can start with someone new. Someone you don't work with, who doesn't stand to gain something from being with you.”
“I ruined the only relationship that's ever meant anything, Jamie. If I can't have your mother back, I'm always going to be settling.”
Wincing, Jamie said, “I think she's moving on, Dad.”
“I know, I know. She told me why she was going to Italy. Although why she'd want to be with that gigolo is beyond me.”
“Do you know him?”
“No. Your mother's known him for a while, though. She used to talk about him when she bought a new painting while she was over there, but I didn't pay much attention.” He laughed. “I thought he was another gay art dealer she was taking into her retinue. I guess I was wrong.”
“Yeah. I don't think he's gay,” Jamie said, wishing he were.
“No, not if he can keep a wife and a girlfriend happy.” He shook his head, pursing his lips into a bitter expression. “Why she'd date a married man is also a question for the ages. You think you know a woman you've been with for over twenty years…”
Jamie looked at him for a minute, trying to formulate the question that was fluttering around in her mind. “Do you think you really tried to know her?”
Clearly annoyed, he was silent for a few moments. “I'm sure you think I had no interest in your mother at all, but that's not true. I loved your mother, Jamie. I think I grew to know her pretty well over the years.”
The way he said that gave her pause. “You didn't know her at first?”
“God, no!” His annoyance vanished, replaced by a smile. “I didn't even know her middle name when we got married.”
“I know you got married because of me, Dad, but you must have spent a lot of time together before you got married.”
His head shook. “No, we didn't. We were dating, but we'd only known each other for a month or so when we…” He averted his gaze. “We'd probably been out five times.”
“I know Mom got pregnant, but you didn't know that right away.” She stared at him, trying to figure out what he was hinting at. “That gave you time to get to know each other better.”
Glumly, he said, “That was a miserable time for us.” He twitched, looking irritated again. “More for her, of course.”
“I don't know what you're talking about. You're being very obtuse.”
“I'm not trying to be. It's just hard for me to think of that time. After we…made love…your mother had second thoughts.” He scratched above his ear in a rough manner, his lips pursed. “Not that night, of course. But later…”
“When she was sober,” Jamie said, easily guessing the point.
“Yeah. When she was sober,” he repeated. “The next day I picked her up and we went down to a place her parents had on Half Moon Bay, a little fishing cabin her dad hid out in,” he elaborated, a fond half-smile on his face.
“I can't see Mom fishing.”
“No, no. She'd told me they had this place and I thought…” He left her to surmise his direction.
“You thought you could go have sex again.”
“Well, yes,” he said, looking strangely young, like he was twenty-five again. “I wanted it to be a little nicer than the backseat of my car.”
Jamie shook her head, thanking whatever force had compelled her to wait to have sex until she was ready for it. “So what happened?”
“We certainly didn't have sex,” Jim said. “It took me most of the day to pull out of her that she wasn't sure we'd actually had sex the night before. She was embarrassed and frightened. It wasn't a good day.”
“How drunk was she?” Jamie tried hard to keep the accusation from her voice, but she was fairly sure she wasn't doing a great job.
“I don't know. Even then she didn't appear drunk. It must be in the genes,” he added quietly. “Her mother was the same way. She'd look perfectly normal after five cocktails, and I wouldn't be able to feel my feet.”
“So, Mom was upset?”
“Very. I felt like a total ass, so I didn't even kiss her. Hell, I don't think I kissed her again until I asked her to marry me.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. I kept trying to reassure her that she wasn't pregnant, but she was terrified. It was a tough what…five or six weeks, I guess. They didn't have those pregnancy test kits then. She had to actually go to a doctor. After that…” He sighed heavily, his shoulders slumped. “I talked to my father and we both agreed that I had to ask her to marry me.”
Jamie tried to ignore his very lukewarm remembrance of his proposal. “Do you think you would have proposed later?”
He leaned back in his chair and took his cigar case from his inside pocket. “You don't mind, do you?”
“No, not when we're outside.”
“If we're gonna stay here on Memory Lane, I could use a drink. Do they have any Scotch?”
“No, I'm fairly sure they don't. But I can get you some good Irish whiskey.”
“Sounds good. Just a little ice.”
She got up and went into the kitchen where she knew the stash was hidden. When she returned, her father had his cigar lit and he was puffing reflectively. “Thanks, honey.” He accepted the glass, took a sip and nodded his appreciation. “Nice stuff.”
“Rory brings a bottle or two of the good stuff home when he goes to Ireland for the summer.”
“He said he's leaving at the end of the month,” Jim commented.
“He's usually gone by now, but he didn't want to miss Ryan's graduation. Now that Ryan's substituted softball for graduation, he's going to stay until her season's over.” Her smile grew. “He's a good brother.”
“They all seem like good boys.”
“So what's your verdict on Mom?”
“I know one thing,” he said, gesturing with his cigar. “Your mother's life would have been much better if she'd never met me. I know she loves you more than anything on earth and she wouldn't give you up for anything, but she would have been a different woman if she'd gotten that masters in art history and worked in a museum or a gallery. She was far too young to get married. And I was too immature.”
“What about your life?”
“I hate to admit this, but I'm trying to be honest—with myself and with you. Being with your mother was good for me on every level. She was a good wife, she helped my career immeasurably, and her money let us live like kings. And having a lovely woman like her on your arm makes you look like an important guy, even if you're not.”
“But did you love her, Daddy? That's what I want to know.”
He took a lungful of smoke and blew it out in a series of rings, the still, heavy air not disturbing the small circles in the slightest. “I didn't know her well enough to love her at first. I liked her a lot, and if we'd kept dating I probably would have asked her to marry me. But I can't know that. I'm just guessing.”
“Were you too young?”
“Not technically, I suppose. But I wasn't mature enough to take the ups and downs of marriage. When the going got tough—I cheated.”
Jamie ignored the flippant way he admitted that. “Tell me the truth. What made you want to see another woman?”
“The first time?”
“Yeah. The first time.”
“Damn, that's been a long time. I've gotta think for a minute.” He smoked his cigar, then took a few sips of whiskey. “I have a hard time admitting this,” he said quietly. “But I was afraid of being a father, afraid of being a husband. Your mother was afraid, too, and she was seriously depressed over her mother's death. I worked like a dog that first year, and I just…I just wanted to be with someone who didn't need so much.”
“Damn,” Jamie muttered.
“Yeah. Damn is right. I was a self-involved ass. I just needed a time out, someone to have fun with for an hour.”
“Who was she?”
“A secretary.” He gave her a dry look. “I've never learned that ‘don't shit where you eat' nostrum.”
“I guess not,” she said, feeling a little sick at the thought of her father hitting on a young secretary while her mother was struggling with grief and her pregnancy. “How long did it last?”
“Not very. I broke it off after you were born. Having a baby in the house is time consuming, even if you have a nanny. I couldn't juggle keeping three women happy, so I tried to concentrate on you and your mother.”
“But that didn't last long, did it?”
“Hmm.” He exhaled a long, slow stream of smoke that looked almost blue in the fog. “I'm not sure of the dates, but I had a pretty serious affair with another associate. You weren't in school yet, so I'd guess you were four or five.”
Jamie's gaze sharpened and she leaned forward. “Wasn't that about when Mom's father died?”
Jim's head tilted and he nodded slowly. “I guess so.”
“Did you cheat every time she was having a tough time?”
Her eyes were glittering with rage, but Jim stared back at her and answered her semi-rhetorical question. “I've never thought of it that way, but that's how it looks.” His eyes darted around hopefully, as if he were seeking a savior, but none came. “I don't think it was just that your mother was needy. That was probably part of it, but she was also distant and closed-off. You know she's not good at talking about her feelings.”
“She's getting better,” Jamie said. “Ryan and I encourage her to talk.”
He nearly sneered at her. “Well, I'll never be as perfect as you or Ryan, so don't even try to hold me to your lofty standards.”
“Knock it off,” she whispered harshly. “I'm just saying that it's hard for Mom to talk about her feelings. I don't think she ever felt safe enough to trust you with them.”
“True. Probably true,” he said, his ire waning. “So, she was distant and she seemed uninterested in most things. She was drinking more and sleeping more.”
“She was probably clinically depressed.”
“Mmm…probably. But neither of us recognized it. We drifted further and further apart.”
“Meaning that you cheated again.”
“Right.” He looked weary. “That's what I do; that's who I am. I thought we'd established that.”
“I'm sorry,” she said, closing her eyes briefly. “Go on. I shouldn't have interrupted you.”
“I don't have much to add. I think you know the rest. We went back and forth, and after a while she hardly seemed to care. We gave it a big effort after you left for college. But she was so withholding.” He looked out onto the street, his eyes not focusing. “Not that I blame her. But it wasn't fun…for either of us. There was no spark. So, I started seeing Kayla and your mother must have sensed something because she turned me down a few times and I never asked again. That was the end of our sex life.”
“I hate that you lost it, but I don't think I could forgive you once…much less several times.”
He looked at her for a long time, his green eyes flicking back and forth as he looked deep into hers. “Don't assume you know how things will work out. Marriage sometimes seems like a series of challenges that you have to conquer. It's sure as hell not easy.”
“Thanks for those encouraging words,” she said glumly. “I'm having a hard enough time getting over my fears and insecurities.”
His gaze sharpened. “Fears about what?”
“About Ryan,” she said, waiting for what she knew would be an overreaction.
“What's she done?” he demanded, his voice rising.
“Nothing. Nothing at all. But I worry that she might actually be like you. And, yes, I mean that in the worst way.”
Slackjawed, he stared at her for a few seconds. She didn't apologize or even acknowledge the cruelty of her words, which added to the hurt. It took him a few more seconds to gather himself enough to say, “Boy, you don't mind giving your father a swift kick, do you?”
She shrugged. “You can't tell me all of this stuff and expect me to think the better of you for it. And your behavior is exactly what I'm worried about. I'm worried that Ryan is not aware of what it'll be like to be with just me for the rest of her life.”
“It's not easy,” he said. “Obviously.”
“And she's had a lot of partners—as you well know.”
“Yes, she has, Jamie. Far more than I had.” He didn't need to add that bit, but he had an overwhelming desire to knock her off her high horse.
“Thanks,” she said, smiling insincerely.
“Just agreeing with you. She's sown several fields of wild oats. Frankly, I was amazed. I didn't know women needed as much variety as men do.”
Fixing him with another sickly smile, she said, “She's special.”
“It's probably not the same for her. I was sure I didn't want to get married until I'd been practicing for a few years. I had a plan all worked out in my head. Falling in love was not on my agenda.”
“It wasn't on Ryan's, either,” Jamie said, feeling her stomach start to roil. “She didn't want to be in a relationship until she was finished with school. Falling in love with me was definitely not in her plans.”
“Oh.” He cleared his throat. “I…didn't know that.”
“We haven't had many opportunities to talk about things like this where one of us wasn't trying to kill the other,” she said dryly.
“Good point. But we're okay now, aren't we?”
Her shoulders rose and fell. “Yeah. We're fine, Dad. I just wish that you could reassure me that Ryan's not going to regret falling in love with me before she wanted to. I wish…I wish you could tell me some ridiculous reason for your dating other women when you claim to love Mom. I wish I knew that Ryan would never get bored with me or that we'll have hard times that'll make her go to another woman for comfort.”
“I wish I could, too, honey. But I don't understand why I did it, so I sure as hell can't predict whether Ryan would. But you're in a much better place than your mother and I were. Ryan really wants to be with you. That's clear to anyone.”
Jamie gave him a smile that warmed slowly. “Is it really?”
His smile matched hers. “Yeah. It is. She looks at you like you're all of the supermodels rolled into one.” He chuckled, watching her blush. “You don't have to end up like I did. Just talk to each other and don't let things fester. Don't guess what she needs and wants; ask her. And if she seems distant, don't let her get too far away. That was my first mistake. I could feel your mother slipping away from me and instead of trying to pull her back, I ran away. I think Ryan has more guts than I do.”
“She's pretty determined,” Jamie agreed. “And I have no reason to distrust her. I guess I just have cold feet.”
“Cheating can go either way, you know. How do you know you'll never want a little variety?”
“Oh, please!” She threw her head back and laughed. “Being with Ryan is like being with fifty women. She has so many sides to her personality, she's more like a prism than a person. And she's so willing to do anything to make me happy. I can't imagine ever finding a woman who could attract me more than Ryan.”
He took a puff from his cigar, a faraway, contemplative look on his face. “Jordan would be my choice. Women don't get much prettier than her.”
Jamie put her hand on his knee and looked him in the eye. “If you ever so much as blink in Jordan's direction, I'll paint the bull's-eye on your back and Mia will shoot you.”
On the way home, Jamie rested her hand on Ryan's thigh. “I had fun tonight, how about you?”
“Yep. I think I'll have all of my graduation parties at that place. It's a good setup.”
“You're a silly girl. You're also a very charming girl. I appreciate how much time you spent talking with both Marta and Elizabeth.”
“It was easier once the crowd got a little smaller, but I thought we were going to lose both of them early on. I had this vision of Elizabeth hailing a cab.” She grinned and chuckled as she turned to meet Jamie's eyes.
“Marta would've stopped her. She's always been the levelheaded one. Hey, I've got to go to the doctor tomorrow morning to get the all clear on not wearing my splint anymore. Want to go with me?”
“You're not wearing it now,” Ryan pointed out helpfully.
“I'm not going to ruin my graduation pictures.” She tossed her head the way she always did when she was trying to look haughty.
“I can go with you as long as I'm home by about noon. I'm going to go swimming before practice.”
“I can't guarantee that. Actually, I was trying to trick you into spending the day with Elizabeth.”
Ryan shot her a quick look. “If I can't trust you…”
Getting in a quick tickle, Jamie said, “How about dinner?”
Ryan patted her belly. “Just ate, thank you.”
“Come on. Don't tease me. I have to take Elizabeth out for a nice meal.”
“Are you taking Marta, too?”
“I would, but I think Marta would rather Elizabeth and I went without her.” She smirked. “Marta is a very good sport, but she and Elizabeth were never good buddies.”
“I like Elizabeth,” Ryan said. “She reminds me of my grandmother. They both seem like good hearted people who are a little rigid.”
Jamie smiled at her. “I really want you to like her. I feel like I've told you a lot of things about her that make it seem like she was always difficult.”
“No, I don't think that. I've always had the impression that you were very fond of her.”
“I am. And I'll be just as fond of you if you'll go to dinner with us.”
“I'd love to. I wasn't anywhere near finished with grilling her about your childhood. I quickly figured out that's the only thing she seems to like to talk about.”
Jamie clapped her hand over her eyes, then peeked out from between her splayed fingers. “Maybe you should stay home, after all.”
For the rest of the trip Jamie was silent. Ryan assumed she was asleep, so she was surprised when she started to pull into the driveway and heard Jamie's sharp, alert voice say, “Leave the door open. Tomorrow's trash pick-up.”
“I thought you were asleep.” Ryan glanced at her as she got out of the car.
“No, I'm too wired up from the party.”
They put their bins out and went inside. Mia's room was dark, as expected. “I noticed Conor didn't go out with the boyos.”
Jamie laughed softly. “Is Mia a boyo now?”
“She's a bigger boyo than the rest of them put together. Except for Conor, of course. He's the biggest of the boyos.”
“I think it's best things didn't work out for Mia and Conor. They're far too much alike.”
“Yeah.” Ryan started to undress, neatly folding her clothes as she removed each item. “I think Con needs someone to slow him down, someone more mature.”
Jamie was standing halfway in her closet, and her voice was muffled, but audible. “He's a long way from being ready to be in a relationship.”
“That's what I thought about myself, too. But here I am today.” She patted her bare chest with both hands.
Closing the door, Jamie looked at her reflectively. “I think it's very dangerous to hope your partner helps you to grow up. If you're not sure you're ready, you're not.”
“Mmm.” Ryan walked into the bathroom and hunted around in the medicine cabinet, looking for the floss that Jamie mysteriously moved nearly every day. “Sounds like someone's been talking to her father. I hear some dark notes in the distance.”
Jamie came up behind her and swatted her softly, then reached into the cabinet and removed the floss, handing it to Ryan. “He does have the ability to darken an otherwise fantastic mood. We made the mistake of talking about my mother.”
“Usually not productive.”
Standing still and staring at the wall while Ryan wound floss around her fingers, Jamie said, “Tonight was revelatory, if not productive. He's still on his ‘I'm a jerk' binge, but this one seems like it might have some real thought behind it.”
“I hope that's true.”
Ryan started to methodically clean her teeth and Jamie sat on the edge of the tub. She had her hand on Ryan's leg but she didn't say another word, oblivious to the worried look her partner gave her.
Ryan finished brushing and went into Mia's bathroom to use the facilities. When she returned to their bedroom, Jamie was lying on her back, her knees in the air. She looked like she was deep in thought, but Ryan interrupted her anyway. “I have a present for you.”
Jamie's head snapped in Ryan's direction. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Two seconds.” She extended a package wrapped in the tissue paper that Jamie kept a supply of to keep her clothes wrinkle-free when she packed for a trip.
“Nice paper,” Jamie said, grinning as she accepted the package. “Do you get this someplace special?”
Putting her hands behind her back, Ryan rocked back and forth, looking a little shy as she often did when she presented a gift. “Yep. My girlfriend keeps a stash.”
“It would kill you to buy wrapping paper, wouldn't it?”
“No, not kill, but it might maim me.”
“I think it's nice you don't let me shame you into doing things you don't want to do.”
Ryan sat down on the bed, smiling placidly. “I let you talk me into plenty. And if it meant something to you to have fancy paper, I'd buy some in a second.” She waited a beat. “It doesn't mean anything, does it?”
“Nope. I like wrapping, though. Newspaper would be fine.”
Ryan watched expectantly as Jamie slid her fingernail under the tape. When she freed the gift she gazed at it for a second, then met Ryan's eyes. “This looks like the cool book you made me before the AIDS ride.”
“Stick with a winner.” Ryan showed her teeth. “I hope you like it.”
Jamie couldn't resist giving her a kiss. Then she started to read the book one page at a time. “Oh, my God! Our first assignment for ‘how to be a lesbian'!”
“I think the class had a different name, but that's it.” Ryan beamed at her partner, then watched her continue.
“A menu from the first place we had lunch together.” Tears sprang to her eyes and Jamie put the book down and climbed into Ryan's lap. “You have such a sweet, sweet heart. I can't believe you kept all of this.”
Ryan nuzzled her head into Jamie's neck. “I kept a lot. And when I was missing something, I went and got another one. It's all in there, baby. Both years we shared at Cal.”
Unable to resist, Jamie turned and began flipping pages. “Oh, look. The first time my name was in ‘The Daily Californian.'”
“I had several of those, so I could cut one up for the book.”
Jamie wiped at the tears spilling across her cheeks. “You took pictures of every place we hung out. Here's where we had juice all that first fall.” She sniffled as she tried to read the words Ryan had written. “Is that really how you felt?”
“It was.” Ryan kissed her gently. “It is. And it always will be.” Jamie closed the book and set it aside, knowing she'd devour it the next day. But tonight, Ryan was the delicacy that she had to taste, and she couldn't wait to start.
Jamie had just gotten to sleep when she felt Ryan twitch. She lay there for a second, assuming that her lover had just had one of those sensations of falling that sometimes happened as she fell asleep. But after another couple of seconds she felt her twitch again, and this time it felt purposeful.
All of her senses were alert while she tried to figure out if Ryan was awake or asleep. It seemed as though she was awake, but her body was twitching as though she was asleep. Ryan made a soft grunting sound and Jamie finally sat up and put her hand on Ryan's back. “Are you okay?”
It took a second for her to answer, and when she did she sounded slightly embarrassed. “Yeah, yeah. I'm fine. I was just thinking.”
“Thinking? What kind of thinking were you doing?”
“I was thinking about softball.”
That wasn't much information to go on, so Jamie tried another tack. “So you were awake?”
“Yeah. I told you I was thinking.”
Jamie put her hand on Ryan's shoulder and pushed gently until Ryan lay on her back and faced her. “What were you really doing? You seem a little evasive.”
“Do you really have to know everything that goes on in my head?”
Shaking her head, Jamie leaned over and gave Ryan a quick kiss. “No, I don't. You go back to thinking, and I'll go to sleep.”
She lay back down but after a few seconds Ryan tapped her on the shoulder. “I'm sorry. I was just a little embarrassed, and I didn't want to tell you what I'd been doing.”
Jamie lay on her back and looked at Ryan quizzically. “I know you weren't masturbating,” she said, laughing. “You can never reload that quickly.”
“No, you tapped me out. But even though I'm tired, my mind was still racing, so I thought I'd do some hmm... mental exercises.”
“You've taken me this far. Come on, tell me the rest.”
Ryan smiled grudgingly. “All right. When I'm getting ready for a specific sport I play it in my head,” she said with finality, as though that completely explained what she was thinking.
“I'm gonna need a little more information.”
“I thought that covered it. I think about the things that I have to do when I play softball, and I go through each fundamental piece by piece. It helps me relax.”
“So, it's kind of the mental imaging thing?”
“No, it's more like I'm really performing the actions. I think of what it feels like to have the ball in my hand and what muscles I use to throw to first base. Stuff like that.”
Intrigued, Jamie sat up a little taller. “I used to do some mental exercises where I imagined a golf ball landing on the green and going into the cup, but it doesn't sound like that's what you're doing.”
“No, it's different from that. I try to use muscle memory and really think about what parts of my body go into different actions. I was just thinking about sliding and I must've gotten a little too enthusiastic in my thoughts.”
Jamie laughed, shaking her head. “You were lying here imagining what it feels like to slide into a base. After I made passionate love to you for I don't know how long, you still have the energy to play softball in bed.”
Ryan shrugged, grinning guiltily. “I'm an over achiever.”
“You're a lunatic. And if you want to play any more softball, go do it on the couch and then come back to bed when you're done.”
“I know you love me, even when your words don't reflect it.” Ryan bent down and gave her several wet, noisy kisses. “You can't help it.”
Continued in Part 3
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