I Found My Heart in San Francisco
Book 17: Quandary
By S X Meagher
Catherine had traveled over the Atlantic for two hours before she found her thoughts beginning to drift toward reality. It struck her rather sharply when she realized how she had completely ignored her usual life for the duration of her trip, but when she was with Giacomo all she thought of was the present, the moment they were sharing. There was something magical about their time together. Magical and dream-like and so alluring that she mourned the fact that it had ended. But it had, and she wondered if that was part of its charm.
She recalled her grandmother talking about her love of their garden in Rhode Island. One of the things she'd most loved about it was springtime when her garden was filled with jonquils and hyacinths. The best thing about the flowers, her grandmother had told her, was both their unpredictability and their evanescence. The fact that they would only last for a short time, and one was never sure how long that time would be, was a large part of their allure. Her relationship with Giacomo was very much the same. She was never sure when she would see him, or for how long, but when she did spend time with him, she was intoxicated by his mere presence.
She had been charmed by the young Jim Evans, and she had, in time, grown to love him, an emotion that still occasionally made its presence felt. But she had never, ever felt as full of life and love as she felt when she was with Giacomo. He was like a drug for her, and she knew that her withdrawal would be painful.
Everything about her trip had been perfect. Simply perfect. Each day had been filled with the promise of unmitigated joy, and each had, in different ways, met that promise. But as the plane sailed above the unending blue of the Atlantic she felt the magic dim. Focusing Thoughts ofn California forced her to admit how little she had considered her more grounded life while she was gone. She felt a sharp pang of guilt as she recalled she'd promised herself she'd call Jamie an hour or so before her graduation. But on the day in question, Jamie never entered her thoughts. Being perfectly honest with herself, she had to admit that she had barely thought of her daughter the entire time she was away. That realization hit her like a blow to the chest, and she felt a headache coming on. She didn't in any way doubt her love for Jamie. What troubled her was how cut off one part of her life was from the other. She didn't think that was good for her, but the only way to end the dichotomy was to stop seeing Giacomo, a thought that was unbearably unappealing. The fact that Giacomo was distant and largely unavailable was clearly part of his appeal. Having him in her life was like planning and dreaming of an upcoming vacation to a tropical paradise. Everything about it revolved around pleasure; there wasn't a hint of the usual, the workaday routine. And who would willingly forego a lovely, stress-free vacation that gave nothing but physical and emotional gratification?
In Fresno, Ryan felt herself becoming more anxious and fidgety as the day wore on. She understood why the NCAA did things in a certain way, but that didn't mean she had to like it. First, half of the team and all the coaches had to spend over an hour in the press room being interviewed by no one more important than student reporters from Cal and Florida and a bored looking local from the Fresno Bee .
In Ryan's opinion, interviewing a coach about an upcoming game was a waste of everyone's time. No one had any idea how the game would turn out, and everyone said nearly the same thing—that they were pleased just to be there, and if they played well they would be happy. She personally thought that sentiment was a load of bull, but she understood why it was universally adopted. No one in his or her right mind would say, “We're a heck of a lot better than the other team, and so if we don't win it's because we screwed up.” Still, sitting in the underwhelming press conference, she wasn't able to stop squirming. She wanted to play the game rather than talk about it.
They were finally released but even then they weren't able to warm up, or start preparing for the game. There were so many teams in the tournament that practice times were rigorously scheduled. Their game began at 5:30, and they were scheduled for batting practice at 3 and infield practice at 4:30. It was just 2 PM, so they had a full hour to kill.
One of the assistant coaches offered to take anyone who was interested over to the student cafeteria, but Ryan preferred to play on a relatively empty stomach. Instead of snacking, she opted to sit in the stands and scope out the team she thought would be their toughest opponent. As she neared the playing field, she almost regretted not going for a hotdog. It was only the fourth inning and Fresno State was beating the University of Maryland—Baltimore County by nine runs. College softball scores were usually more similar to soccer rather than baseball scores. It was typical to have highly competitive games end at 1-0 or 2-1. Watching Fresno State dismantle their first opponent drove home just how difficult getting beyond their regional was going to be.
As it turned out, getting past Florida did not prove to be difficult. The Cal players seemed to have gained some confidence and Ryan was very pleased with the way they performed. She was also secretly thrilled when she was called to go in as a defensive replacement for Jackie in the fifth inning. She only got to bat once, but she worked the count effectively and drew a walk. There were quite a number of Cal fans in attendance, and it was hard to hide her smile when she heard her name called enthusiastically from the stands. She was left stranded, but they wereCal was ahead 2-0, and she tipped her cap at the fans who cheered lustily for her.
As soon as the game was over, a young woman stood up from her seat and surveyed the crowd. She needed a ride home and was hoping to find someone who looked vaguely familiar, but not familiar enough that they would know her name. The Cal fans were pretty a small group, and most of them had been at nearly every game. She had been very careful to avoid sitting close to anyone she actually knew, and also tried to be quieter than usual. Nonetheless, she'd had a few close calls where someone might have recognized her and she didn't want to get caught now that she was almost home free.
Tentatively, she approached a couple who had been cheering lustily for the catcher. She thought she'd seen them before, but she was certain they weren't regulars. “Hi,” she said softly, smiling. “Are you headed back to Berkeley?”
“Yes, we are.” The woman looked at her for a moment and then a glimmer of recognition showed in her eyes. “Oh, I know you. You come to all the games, don't you?”
“Most of them,” Jennie agreed. “The people I came with are going to go out with the team, but I wanted to get home sooner. I was hoping that maybe…”
“We'd be happy to give you a ride,” the woman said, standing up. “Let's go down and congratulate our girls.”
“Uhm… I've got to go tell the people that I came with that I won't be riding with them.”
“That's fine, honey. We'll meet you down by the locker room.”
“It's gonna take me a while,” Jennie said, gesturing vaguely in the direction opposite the locker room. “Are you in that big parking lot over there?”
“Yes. But don't you want to talk to your friends on the team? You're a friend of Ryan's, aren't you?”
“I know her, but I'm friends with just about everybody,” Jennie said, showing her most winning smile. “I'm kind of like the mascot.” She started to walk away, calling out, “See you at the parking lot!”
“What's your name, dear?” the woman said.
Jennie had been working on that little detail for over an hour. One of the players had a sister who was roughly Jennie's age and size. She wasn't in the stands today, but Jennie saw that as a plus. “Mariel,” she said, taking off down the bleachers at remarkable speed.
The U.S. women's Olympic volleyball team was gearing up for their upcoming trip to northern Europe. The coaches had been riding them hard, and on their Thursday afternoon practice Jordan had been yelled at three times. She hated making mental mistakes, especially in her situation. None of the coaches had given her reason to think that she would be the player chosen to be the second starting outside hitter. As a matter of fact, she thought she'd been criticized more than the other women competing for the same spot. She was always hard on herself and she would've let the coaches' criticism drive her mad, but it seemed as though this particular coach, Doug Grace, didn't waste his time on people who he thought would be cut.
She and her roommates had given him the unaffectionate nickname of Bobby Knight, because his language was always foul and often very harsh. But she had played for tough coaches before, and she wasn't going to let him mess with her focus. She wasn't sure what color her cheeks turned when he caught her sneaking a look at the clock on the wall, but she was fairly certain they were pretty pink. "Sorry if we're screwing up your schedule, Ericsson. I know going to Los Angeles means a lot more than making the Olympic team, but the rest of us would appreciate it if you could at least try to act interested."
Jordan wasn't going to be the one to correct him about her destination. She just nodded grimly and promised herself that she would not look at the clock again, no matter what. She regretted telling Bobby that she had a plane to catch. Practices usually let out in plenty of time for her to make the flight, and she knew that he, more than any of the other coaches, didn't have any patience for a player who didn't devote 100% of her energies towards the sport, but as much as she wanted to make the team, Jordan was not going to give them 100%. She gave her all when she was on the court, but she had a life outside of the sport, and she wasn't going to mess it up.
When the practice was over, she had almost two hours to make it to the airport, plenty of time given the relatively light traffic and their proximity. Toni had agreed to drive Mia's car to give Jordan a quick ride to the airport, and once they'd showered and changed they were on their way. "Bobby beat your ass pretty good today, didn't he?" Toni gave Jordan a sympathetic look.
“Yeah, but he had a right to. I wasn't all there.”
“I've got to hand it to you. You've got more confidence than all of the other girls who're fighting for a spot."
“Why do you say that?”
Toni gave her the sardonic look she often favored. “It's just that I can't remember anybody else ever asking for one day off, much less…what is it? Three? Four?”
“They didn't give me a hard time about it,” Jordan said, starting to sound perturbed.
"I didn't mean to piss you off. I just meant that, you know, you're not a lock. So you must be uniquely confident.”
"I don't want to be unique. I'm just not going to miss Mia's graduation. It should be my graduation day, too, and giving up my degree for this chance is enough of a sacrifice. I'm not going to make Mia suffer, too."
“Nobody says you have to. But if you think the coaches aren't ticked off at you, you're wrong.”
Jordan glared at her "What have you heard?”
"Don't get mad. I haven't heard anything myself, but a lot of the girls have said that the coaches aren't sure about you. I think you would have had the position locked up if they were sure you were as committed as the rest of them are."
"Are you serious?" Jordan could almost feel the blood drain from her face. She felt a little sick to her stomach, but she didn't want to let Toni know that.
Her silence didn't stop Toni from continuing. “You're better than the other girls who're trying out for outside hitter, but they seem more focused."
“That's just not true. I'm 100%,” she said hotly, “and the coaches know it.”
“I hope they do, because the other girls don't.”
The flight to San Francisco was relatively short, but had a tendency to be fairly rocky. Still, it wasn't the roughness of the flight that made Jordan have to run to the bathroom and vomit three times during the trip. Her fear of flying and anxiety about her talk with Toni had done that. She wasn't very popular in the small cabin, either, since she had occupied the restroom far longer and more times than was polite. The last time she returned to her seat, she heard two women talking about her rather brazenly as she passed by.
"She has to be a model. She's probably bulemic.”
“No, she's too tall to be a model," the other one said. "She's almost freakish."
Improbably, their discussion about her took her mind off her anxiety and let her focus on coming up with witty retorts that she'd never take the time or waste the energy to deliver.
When they finally landed, the jetway door opened and Jamie made eye contact with Jordan, who let out a sigh of relief.
Jamie went up to her and put her arm around her waist. "You don't look so good."
“I don't feel well. Can we stop at the gift shop or something so I can get something to settle my stomach?”
“Sure. What's going on? Have you been sick?”
“No. One of my roommates was giving me a hard time about taking tomorrow off and I let myself think about that. Plus, I despise flying, and the trip was a little rough. So I guess it's just nerves of all sorts.”
“You should be fine now that you're home.”
Jamie's smile was so genuine and warm that Jordan could feel herself perking up already. “I'm really glad you came. Mia would be all over me, trying to make sure I wasn't seriously sick. Where is she, anyway?”
“She and her buddies decided to have a party tonight. They're running around like mad trying to get it organized.”
“Great. Maybe she'll be too busy to notice I look like death.”
“Small chance, buddy. She watches you closer than I watch Ryan.”
Despite Jordan's complaints, Jamie insisted they take the time to get her some food to settle her stomach. A bagel and some tea did the trick, and by the time they got home, Jordan looked pale, but almost normal. On the way up to the front door, Jordan pinched her cheeks several times, then asked, "Do I look healthy?"
Jamie laughed. “You look like you've been slapped.”
“Good enough,” Jordan said, pasting on a smile and breaking into a jog to get to Mia more quickly.
When Mia had mentioned that she and her friends wanted to have a blowout party, Jamie insisted they have it at the house. Mia had argued against her own interests, but Jamie had been insistent. Exams were over, the whole town was celebrating, and they were on good terms with all of their neighbors.
Mia had visited every house on the block, telling them that they were having a party and if they were too loud they should call them before they called the police. She even took the trouble to make up cards with her phone number on it, something that took Jamie by surprise. She had noticed that Mia was maturing in many ways, and going out of her way to make sure the neighbors were accommodated was another indication of that.
Another indication of her maturity was her decision to invite Conor, Rory, and the rest of the O'Flaherty cousins. It was clear to Jamie that Mia and Conor were still not entirely comfortable around one another, and she thought it reflected well on Mia to invite him despite that.
Mia and her buddies were unloading kegs of beer when Conor, Rory, Declan, and Colm arrived in Conor's truck. Jordan was helping to direct traffic, but, as usual, she avoided physical labor. They had all learned that Jordan treated her body like a race car, and she tried not to wear it out by using it to run errands around town.
The lads took one look at the frail young men helping Mia, and they stepped in to quickly and efficiently carry the kegs into the backyard. They had significant experience in setting up kegs, so they did that as well, freeing the party organizers to go back into the house and get the snacks organized.
When Jamie heard the boys were out in the backyard, she went out to say hello. She was approaching Conor from behind when she heard him say, “How did Mia expect those guys to help out with all those limp wrists?” Not only did no one laugh, but Colm had a look of warning on his face.
“Jamie?” Conor greeted nervously.
She swatted him as hard as she did his sister, and she laughed along with everyone else when he jumped a few inches. “That's really rude of you,” she said quietly. “You'd hurt their feelings if they heard you.”
He turned around and gave her his “how can you be mad at me” smile. “Trust me. I wouldn't be the first to notice those guys are a little on the girly side.”
“We didn't come all the way over here to hang out with…other guys,” Declan said, just barely stopping himself from getting in trouble. “Where are the girls?”
“They'll be here. You'll be glad to know that most of Mia's friends are women.”
“The women aren't like Mia, are they?” Declan asked, looking concerned. “I mean, just in that one way.”
“Most of her friends are straight,” Jamie said, realizing that no matter how many times she reminded them, the boyos were never going to be very sensitive.
“I hope you just mean the girls. It's perfectly okay with us if all the guys are gay. As a matter of fact, we prefer it,” Conor said, flashing his charming grin again.
Jamie and Jordan stood on the back steps watching new arrivals enter from the driveway. “I like to see the look on girl's faces when they first get a look at the cousins,” Jordan said. “Every single one of them does a double take. It's hilarious.”
“Well, you've got to admit, it's pretty rare to see that many guys who are that big.”
“Not in Colorado Springs.” Jordan chuckled. “All of the guys seem tall, and the basketball team isn't even there.”
“Mia's been giving me a daily update since she's been here. Are things going as well as she says they are?”
“I guess, but it's really hard to say,” Jordan said thoughtfully. “There are three of us trying out for one position. The fact that I'm still there is good news, but it's not very reassuring. We're not certain when the next cut is going to be, so it's certainly not relaxing.”
“That's a heck of a lot of pressure to put on you guys.”
“Yeah, it is, but that's true for most of the sports. We're all just chasing a dream.”
“I think you'll make it,” Jamie said, looking up at her friend with an expression full of confidence.
“And I hope you're right.”
Catherine's plane touched down at San Francisco International at 10:30 p.m. The flight from Frankfurt had been uneventful, but Catherine had been traveling since morning in Milan, where it was now 6:30 a.m. She was not only tired, she felt a little achy, as though she were coming down with something. She attributed that to feeling mildly depressed about leaving Giacomo.
She was one of the first to disembark, and when she exited the jetway, she looked for one of the black suited men holding up a card with her name on it. Instead, she was both delighted and annoyed to see Conor, nattily attired in a blue and white checked shirt and dark gray slacks. She approached him and found herself kissing him lightly on both cheeks, then pulling away, slightly embarrassed. “Sorry for the European affectation. I'm so tired I've forgotten which continent I'm on.”
“I kind of like it. But to be honest, you don't look thrilled to see me.”
She touched his shoulder, hating that he could read her so easily. “It's not you. I'm just exhausted, and I was looking forward to collapsing in the back seat of a town car.”
He put his hand behind her elbow and started to guide her down the concourse toward baggage check. “No problem. My truck isn't as comfortable as a town car, but you don't have to talk. I'm always grouchy when I come back from Ireland, so I know how you feel.” He gave her his always charming smile, then continued to walk briskly, not saying another word.
She broke the silence after a few moments. “I'm not ever going to see the inside of another airport limousine, am I.” Her smile was sly, and the one he returned was equally so.
“No, I think those days are over. Jamie called the house yesterday to say she'd canceled your limo and asking which of us had time to come get you. I won.”
“I still think it's funny that Jim was so certain that Ryan was as much interested in our wealth as she was interested in Jamie. If anything, Jamie has become more of an O'Flaherty than Ryan has become an Evans.”
“The O'Flaherty brand is not easily diluted,” he agreed, eyes twinkling.
They reached the baggage area and Conor found a place for Catherine to sit. “What do your bags look like?”
“They're off-white,” she said. “Fabric-covered.”
“I'll wait by the carousel.” He was gone before she could stop him and she sat quietly, stretching her legs and rotating her ankles to get the stiffness out. The bags arrived and Conor retrieved them, then extended a hand to help her stand. When she put her hand in his, she was once again reminded of how remarkably large and strong his hands were. She felt a little like a child putting her hand in her father's. He led her out to the short term parking area and stowed her large suitcases in the extended cab of his truck.
While Conor was respecting her desire for quiet, Catherine found herself unable to honor her own request. “I trust that everyone is well?”
“I didn't hear from Jamie. Did her graduation ceremony go well?”
“ It did.”
“Talk to me!” Catherine said, giggling in exasperation. “I can't treat you like a limousine driver.”
“Sure you can, if that's what you're in the mood for. It's fine with me.”
“Well, it's not with me. I've gotten a burst of energy and I feel like babbling. Do you mind?”
“Not a bit.” His smile was warm and generous. “Tell me about your luggage.”
“My luggage? What about it?”
“I've never seen luggage with fabric covers.”
“Oh. Those are to protect the leather. I prefer leather bags, and the covers make them look new longer.”
“But they're covered in canvas,” he pointed out. “No one can see the leather.”
“Well, you have a point.” She leaned back in her seat and giggled, exhaustion making her sound a little drunk.
“How was the trip?”
“It was great. The weather was fantastic, and I had a lot of time to relax and enjoy myself. I even got to spend the better part of the morning looking at one of my favorite paintings.”
Just giving a few details made her smile, thinking about how luxuriously decadent her time with Giacomo had been. She had every intention of stopping there, the place she would stop when Martin or even Jamie asked her about her trip, but there was something about Conor that resonated with her. She wasn't sure why, but she knew he understood her better than many people in her life. He was one of the few who had immediately sensed the part of her that wanted to break free, to refuse to follow the rules. Maybe it was because of his own refusal to follow the stereotype of the brawny carpenter, but, whatever the reason, she knew that he saw through her veneer of impeachable respectability. Conor hadn't yet commented, clearly waiting for her to continue, so she did.
“To be honest, it was one of the nicest trips I've ever had.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Because of Giacomo?”
“Yes, largely because of him.”
“What is it about the guy? Why do you like him so much?”
She sat quietly for a few moments, knowing that Conor wouldn't interrupt. He was a fantastic listener, and she briefly wondered if he had learned that from Ryan or if she had learned it from him. She forced her thoughts back onto Giacomo and said what she felt in her heart. “We like so many of the same things. I can't think of anything that truly appeals to me that Giacomo doesn't also like. It's lovely to spend time with someone who appreciates the same things in life that you do.”
There was so much more to say, but even though she felt comfortable with Conor, she didn't want to talk about the real lure of Giacomo. She felt silly telling Conor about Giacomo's charm and sex appeal, and she knew it would be inappropriate, regardless, so she stopped before she said anything indiscreet.
When it was clear she wasn't going to add anything, Conor said, “You said before that you were open to seeing other people. Is that still true?”
She could see the concern in his eyes and she knew that he, like most of the other people she loved, thought it was a very bad idea to keep seeing someone in Giacomo's situation. “There's only so much he can give me, Conor, so if I met someone who was fully available I'd definitely be interested.” She didn't feel the need to add that a new man would have a very high wall to scale to be Giacomo's equal.
By 11 o'clock the party was loud and the guests were loose. Colm, Niall, and Padraig had disappeared, and Declan was clearly trying to talk one young woman into something. Jamie saw them in the corner of the yard; the woman slowly shaking her head while Declan kept pointing at the driveway.
Most of the guests were dancing, and Jamie noted that Mia had talked Jordan into it. Jordan was graceful and elegant, but she didn't let go and dance the way Mia did. Jamie had seen them dance together before, but it had been to slow songs. Watching Jordan try to keep up with Mia was actually kind of funny. After a while, Jordan seemed to give up and she moved very little while Mia danced around her. One thing was clear: both of them looked truly happy to be with one another. Mia clearly had eyes only for Jordan, something that Jamie had never observed when Mia was dating men. Back then, Jamie had often caught Mia flirting with someone else while her date was in the bathroom. But not now. Now she seemed perfectly content, a fact that made Jamie very happy for both of them. Her only disappointment was that Ryan couldn't be at the celebration. She had talked to her briefly earlier in the evening, but she'd been rushing around to get things done and she hadn't gotten much emotional punch from their conversation. As if Ryan could hear her thoughts, her cell phone rang, and she almost squealed with delight when she saw Ryan's number. She dashed into the house to speak to her in private.
Jamie had been on the phone for quite a while when Jordan started up the stairs and tried to climb over her. Playfully, Jamie grabbed her leg and wouldn't let go. She held up the phone and said, “Say goodnight to Ryan.”
The athletes exchanged a few words, then Jordan handed the phone back. Jamie said goodnight to Ryan, then got up and followed Jordan into Mia's room. “Do you have everything you need?”
Jordan grinned. “I could use my girlfriend, but I don't think I'm gonna see her for quite a while.”
Jamie looked at her watch. “Probably not. I think I'm going to say goodnight and go to bed, too. Will you be able to sleep with the noise?”
“I have ear plugs. Do you want a pair? I have extra.”
“I probably need 'em, but I don't like them. I'll turn on some music to try to drown out Mia's hip-hop.”
“I'll leave another pair in the bathroom. Just come on in and get them if you need them.”
“Thanks.” Jamie gave her a quick hug and a goodnight kiss. “I'm glad you're home.”
“Not half as glad as I am.”
The abrupt absence of noise woke Jamie up. She looked at her clock and saw that it was just after three. Just to be safe, she thought it best to go downstairs and make sure there were no strangers passed out in the yard. Even though Mia seemed to be more mature, she wasn't very good at keeping track of her friends.
Jamie put on a pair of sweats and a T-shirt and went downstairs. There was no one in the house, and the backyard was empty as well. The place was a wreck, but she didn't mind. She had scheduled Maria Los for an extra day, and Jamie knew the place would be sparkling clean by tomorrow afternoon. She locked the deadbolt and was halfway upstairs when someone banged on the back door. Running back down, she heard Mia calling out, “You can't get rid of me that easily!”
Unlocking the bolt, Jamie said, “I thought you were already upstairs.”
“Sure, sure. That's what they all say.” She took Jamie by the hand and led her to the porch, where she sat down and tried to make Jamie join her. “Sit down and talk to me.”
“Talk? It's after three.”
“Is there a curfew?”
Laughing, Jamie said, “No, but if I don't get back to bed, I'll never be able to wake up later this morning.”
“Then we'll stay up.” Mia flashed a big smile. “Staying up isn't that hard, you just don't know the tricks.”
Jamie shrugged and sat down, putting her arm around Mia's shoulders. She tilted her head and the two of them sat there quietly, heads touching. “This is nice. It's so quiet.”
“This is the best time of the day,” Mia agreed. “A lot of people think I like to party, but that's just an excuse to be up at this hour.”
“You don't seem very drunk.”
Mia pinched her. “Nice thing to say. You're not as ugly as you used to be.”
Jamie giggled. “You know what I meant. You're usually crazy drunk after a big party.”
“Your little girl is growing up.” Mia reached into her pocket and pulled out a tube of lipstick. To Jamie's surprise, she pulled off the top and took out a joint. “Get high with me.”
“Get high? At 3 a.m.?”
“Best time of day. Trust me.”
Mia lit a match and took a deep hit. She passed it to Jamie who demurred. “You know Ryan doesn't like me to get high.”
“Ryan's not here,” Mia said blithely, exhaling a long stream of smoke.
“Did I promise her I wouldn't smoke anymore?”
“You mean that time when we were on vacation?”
“I have no idea. I was blazed.” She smiled serenely. “They had some good shit in the Bahamas.” She put the joint up to Jamie's lips, but Jamie shook her head.
“I can't remember if I promised I wouldn't do it, or if Ryan just lectured me about it.”
“Probably both,” Mia said dryly. “She can be a real buzz kill.”
Jamie bumped her shoulder. “She doesn't like drugs. She thinks they really screw with your brain.”
“Haven't you heard that we only use half of our brains? That gives us another half to screw up.”
“Who can argue with that logic?” Jamie sat quietly for a few seconds, then said, “I think Ryan just lectured me. She's not the type to forbid me to do something.” She took the joint and inhaled briefly to avoid coughing. “Wow,” she said as she blew it out. “That's not harsh at all.”
“Do you think I'd offer my best friend sticks and twigs?” Mia took another hit and Jamie followed suit. Then Mia carefully put the joint out. “Moderation is the key.” She got up and went into the kitchen, coming back with two cold beers. “We'll get drunkish and stonedish.”
“You're a very bad influence,” Jamie said, as they tapped their cans together.
“I bet your mom has been saying that since we were fourteen.”
“Not my mom. Elizabeth. My mom never said a bad word about you.” She giggled. “Elizabeth more than made up for it.”
“Here's to Liz.” Mia held up her beer. “A very perceptive woman.”
As much and she wanted to sleep in, Jordan had trained herself to be up at five. It took her a moment to get her bearings, and when she did she realized she was alone. Slipping into her clothes from the night before, she went into the hallway and heard music playing. Steeling herself for the worst, she was pleased to see only Jamie and Mia sitting on the floor of the living room.
“You two are up early,” she said as she walked down the stairs.
“Yea! Jordan's up. We've been dying to go get coffee, but Mia insisted we had to wait for you.”
“Okay. I'm game. But I think I'd better drive.”
“Why do you say that?” Jamie asked. “We're being moderate.”
“I can see that,” Jordan said, noting the beer cans and the small pile of discarded wrappers from various forms of junk food. “I'm just in the mood to drive.”
“I'm in the mood for love,” Mia moaned, collapsing bonelessly to the floor. “Let's skip coffee and go back to bed.”
Jamie got to her feet and tugged on Mia's hair until her friend sat up. “No way. You talked me into staying up all night, and now we're gonna stay up all day—together.”
Conor easily hefted both of Catherine's suitcases up the stairs to her house in Pacific Heights. As soon as Catherine put her hand on the knob, it opened to an anxious looking Marta.
“Oh! I didn't expect you so quickly!” Marta said.
“Marta,” Catherine said fondly, “you didn't have to wait up for me.”
Her concerned expression easily slid into a smile. “Then I will tell you the truth. I wasn't waiting for you. I was waiting for Jennie.”
Catherine and Conor entered the house, each of them receiving a hug. “Why are you waiting for Jennie?” Catherine asked.
“Didn't Jamie tell you? Jennie needed someplace quiet to study for her tests, and I knew you wouldn't mind if she came here.”
Catherine moved through the entryway and into her living room. She spent just a moment looking around, and she said, distractedly, “Of course I don't mind. She's welcome any time.” She took a quick look at her watch. “Do I have the right time? My watch says it's almost midnight.”
“That is right. That is why I am worried,” Marta said. “She's at a friend's house, studying, but I didn't ask for a telephone number.” She broke eye contact, and looked down at the floor. “It's been so long since we've had a young person in the house that I forgot the rules.”
“Don't worry about a thing,” Catherine assured her. “I'm sure Ryan knows Jennie's friends names and numbers.”
“Ryan's in Fresno with the softball team,” Conor said. “And I'm sure she's asleep. Maybe we should try Jamie.”
Catherine put her hand up to her face and briefly massaged her temples. “My brain thinks it's eight in the morning. I feel like I'm missing a lot.” She turned to Conor. “Why isn't Jamie with Ryan?”
“Because Mia's graduation's tomorrow.”
“Of course it is! I promised Jamie I'd pick her up to take her to the ceremony. Thank goodness you reminded me. I thought it was on Friday.”
“It is,” he said, giving her a puzzled look. “Tomorrow's Friday.”
“Oh, it is.” She looked confused.
“This was a ridiculously busy week, Catherine. Everybody's mixed up. I felt bad because nobody went to Fresno for Ryan's game. We all had to work, and Maeve had to watch Caitlin.”
Catherine shook her head. “I really shouldn't have left when I did. I missed Jamie's graduation and Ryan's big game.” She looked disgusted with herself, so Conor reached over and squeezed her shoulder.
“Nobody can show up for everything that Ryan's involved in. It's a full-time job keeping up with her. She really understands. And Jamie had a great graduation. Don't worry about it. Really.”
“I should have been here to look after Jennie.”
“Don't be silly,” he said. “You didn't know she was going to be here. To be honest, they shouldn't have asked Marta to watch her.”
“It was no trouble,” Marta insisted. “But I should have done a better job.”
The door opened and Jennie stood there, her pale eyes darting from one person to the next. She looked both happy and frightened, and for a second she didn't move. But when Catherine met her eyes and smiled at her, Jennie broke into a grin and dashed through the entryway to wrap her in a robust hug. “I'm so glad to see you!”
Catherine returned the affection, stroking Jennie's fair hair. “We were worried about you, dear. Marta had no idea how to reach you.”
She pulled away and the look she gave Marta was surprisingly guilty. “I don't have a cell phone or anything. We were studying and didn't notice what time it was.”
“How did you get home?” Catherine asked. “Did you get a ride?”
Her face brightened. “Yeah, I got a ride.”
“Good. It's not safe to walk around the city by yourself. If you ever need to, call a cab or a limo. I'll gladly pay for it.”
Jennie laughed as if Catherine had just told a hilarious story. “Okay. I'll call a limo.” She looked like she was going to have a fit of the giggles.
“I mean it, Jennie.”
“It's late,” Marta said. “We can talk about this tomorrow. You have a big test.” She patted Jennie on the back and the girl nodded her agreement. After hugging Catherine and Conor goodnight, she went upstairs with Marta.
“I never had to give Jamie a curfew,” Catherine said quietly.
Conor looked at the staircase, his eyes narrowed in thought. “I think Jennie needs a heck of a lot more supervision than Jamie ever did. And I don't think she's getting it.”
“I certainly don't mind having Jennie here, but I don't know what rules Sandy has for her at the group home. I wish Jamie or Ryan had made things clear to Marta. It's not very thoughtful to put the child here and expect Marta to know how to handle her. I wonder why they did that.”
“I don't know. The kid has a dozen babysitters; she just doesn't seem to have a home.”
Continued in Part 5
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