I Found My Heart in San Francisco
Book 17: Quandary
By S X Meagher
At 8 o'clock In the morning the doorbell buzzed and Jordan ran down the stairs to open it. The opened door found a wanly smiling Catherine in front of her, bearing a cardboard carrier filled with coffee cups. "I didn't know if you all needed a boost, but if you don't, I'll drink them."
Jordan took the carrier from her and leaned close to give her a kiss on the cheek. "I'm not drinking caffeine these days, but I'm sure that Jamie and Mia will take all of these that you have. We had a little graduation party last night," she said, smiling wryly.
"Really? Jamie didn't mention that you girls were having a party."
"I think it was a little last minute. All I know is that it was going strong when I went to bed."
Catherine smiled. "Since Ryan wasn't here to supervise I assume Jamie stayed up late."
Jamie came walking down the stairs as her mother said that. "I'm still up," she said, with a lopsided grin. "It's great to have you home again, Mom." She went to her mother and hugged her and kissed her on both cheeks. She turned her head towards Jordan while still hugging Catherine and said, "I'll give you $1000 for one of those cups of coffee."
Mia came down the stairs, a little more slowly than Jamie had. "I don't have that much money, but you can have anything I have Catherine. Anything."
“I have 4 large lattes. That is what you like, isn't it?"
"That's exactly what we like," Mia said. She went to Catherine and kissed her, then grabbed one of the coffees from Jordan. "Don't get in my way," she growled.
Jamie took one of the coffees too and took a big first sip. "Everything about this is perfect."
“I'll say," Mia agreed. "This is probably the best coffee I've ever had, Catherine."
"I didn't know such a simple gift would be so appreciated. I'll have to bring coffee each time I come."
"Timing is everything when it comes to coffee," Mia said. "I guess we'd better get rocking. I'm supposed to be there in 15 minutes."
"How are we going to do this?" Jamie asked, looking a little befuddled. "There won't be any place to park and we'll never get there if we walk."
"I have what I hope is a good solution," Catherine said. "I got in late last night and knew I wouldn't be up to traffic or deep thoughts this morning, so I called the service I use and got a limo for us. It's waiting outside."
"You have the best mom in the whole world," Mia said to Jamie. "She should get some sort of award."
Jamie went to Catherine and put her arm around her waist. "I have to agree with that."
It took longer than 15 minutes, but not having to park did save a great deal of time. Mia saw her parents and brother standing right where they had agreed to meet. As they approached she saw that her grandparents were absent. She was still a few feet away when she asked, "Where is everybody?"
She hugged Peter robustly, then did the same for each of her parents.
"It's just the three of us," Adam said. They all then spent a few minutes greeting one another, but Mia hadn't been put off so easily. "Why aren't my grandparents here?" She looked irritated, and Anna Maria almost immediately adopted an identical expression.
"It's too early in the day for them."
"Are you kidding? They're up at five. Why aren't they here?"
Adam tried to intercede. "It's a lot to ask of them, Mia. They came to your convocation and they had a nice party for you. We all thought that would be enough for them."
"Bullshit," Mia snapped. "Why aren't they here?"
Jordan went up to her and put her arm around her waist, giving her a quick squeeze.
“You're going to be late, honey." She spoke just loudly enough for only Mia to be able to hear her.
Mia looked like he wanted to fidget away from Jordan's grasp, but she stood there for a few moments and then said, "Okay. See you later." She leaned her head back and puckered up and Jordan placed a gentle kiss on her lips. With a final scowl at her mother and a quick wave for the rest of the group Mia took off for the area where the graduates were assembling.
Anna Lisa was still scowling. She said to Jordan, "Does she doubt everything you tell her?"
Jordan had obviously learned a few things about speaking to your girlfriend's parents. She just smiled and gave them a vague shrug, not commenting further.
The ceremony was fairly brief, and once it was over Mia's rooting section all gathered in one place. Jamie looked over and saw Juliet headed towards a man and a woman. The woman looked a lot like Juliet, and, just to be feisty, Jamie walked quickly over to them to speak. As soon as she did Juliet took off running, and she reached her parents side right as Jamie was saying, "It was a real pleasure being on the golf team with your daughter. Oh! Here she is now. I just wanted to compliment your parents on the fine job they've done in raising you," Jamie said, her facial expression not matching her words.
"Why did you run all the way over here?" Juliet's mother asked.
Three sets of eyes landed on Juliet who looked like she wanted to turn and run in the other direction. "I'm just excited," she said lamely.
"You shouldn't run in a crowd like this," her father said. "You could trip and break something."
He didn't give this warning as most parents would have. Jamie got the distinct impression he issued its only with concern for Juliet's golf game, not her person. She felt a little small for trying to trick the woman into thinking she was going to cause a scene, but, as Ryan reminded her, even though Juliet obviously had a strange family background the choices she made were her own responsibility.
When Jamie went back to her own group Jordan said, "I was a little surprised to see you talking to her."
Jamie said, "I saw her walking towards her parents and I just wanted to screw with her. Not a very noble gesture," she said, giggling unrepentantly.
"That's the girl on your team, isn't it?" Catherine asked "Isn't she the one that was with you when you broke your arm?"
"She's the one," Jamie said.
"You act like you dislike her," Catherine said. "I remember your introducing me to her, and I thought you were friends."
"I wanted to be friends with her, but it didn't work out," Jamie said, figuring the less said about Juliet, the better.
While they were waiting for Mia, Adam handed Jamie an envelope, and said, "Here's a little gift for you. It's not much," he warned, "but I talked to Mia, and it's what she suggested."
"Thank you, Mr. Christopher." Jamie turned to Annalisa and said, "And to you too, of course, Mrs. Christopher." She opened the envelope and saw a handwritten note saying that the Christophers' had made a donation in her name to the class gift. "Thanks very much," Jamie said, giving each of them a hug. "I really do appreciate this. I think it's nice for our class to leave its mark on the campus."
"It certainly didn't seem very personal to me," Annalisa said. "But Mia insisted that's what both of you wanted. I never know what will come out of her next," she said shaking her head. "She's a series of confounding gestures.”
Mia, who had been stopping to say hello to all of her many friends, finally reached them. "I stayed awake the whole time. Woo hoo!" she said, giggling. "Jamie and I pulled an all nighter," she said proudly.
"Our last act as students," Jamie said.
"But not the last time we stay up all night. We've got decades left of partying to do."
Adam said, "Why don't we all go to breakfast together?"
"Jordan and I can go, but Jamie and Catherine are going to Fresno to see Ryan play softball," Mia said. "Where are you guys parked?"
"It seems like miles from here," Adam said. "Actually, we might be closer to your house than we are to here. Why don't we meet you girls over there?"
"That sounds great. Catherine gave us a ride," she said not revealing exactly how they'd gotten to the ceremony.
All four of them rode back to the house, and after they'd idled in traffic for a few minutes Catherine reached into her large bag and pulled out an envelope addressed to Mia and Jordan. Mia wiggled her eyebrows a few times, saying, "I know you didn't give me a contribution to the class gift." She wrinkled up her nose "I can't believe my dad actually did that. I thought he'd add something a little personal."
"That's what I wanted," Jamie said. "And I'm sure it made it a lot easier on him."
"I want to call the alumni association and find out how much he gave," Mia said. “I bet it was a lot just to make sure he gave more than your dad did." She busied herself opening the envelope, and when she read the letter inside her eyes grew wide and her mouth dropped open. "Catherine, you can't do this!" She handed Jordan the letter, and when she read it she had the same reaction.
"It's not that big a gift," Catherine said. "And it's only for a few months."
"What did you do, Mom?"
"I know the girls are unhappy where they're living, and I found a nice place that's close to the Olympic training site that rents apartments on a monthly basis. It's fully furnished and has all of the amenities you'll need. You can get away from all of your roommates and have some time to yourself. I'm sure you'll need it, Jordan, as you get closer to the games."
"That's incredibly generous, Catherine," Jordan said, "but it's really not necessary. We're doing fine with our roommates."
"It's just a little something I wanted to do. It would really please me if you would accept."
Mia took Jordan's hand and looked up at her. "You don't want to break this poor woman's heart, do you, honey?" She batted her brown eyes seductively. "Things like this make Catherine happy."
Catherine laughed at Mia's antics but insisted, "It's true. I know how hard Jordan is working, and I know how difficult it must be for you to be in an apartment with strangers. I think you'd both be happier if you have a little space."
"We would definitely be happier," Jordan said. "It's just so generous."
"Nonsense. It's nothing compared to how I feel about both of you. Let's just say it's a contribution to our nation's Olympic effort.”
“You're quite a patriot, Catherine.” Mia grinned impishly. “That's what I like best about you.”
When they reached the house Jamie patted the soft leather seat. “I'll be sorry to see you go,” she said, laughing softly. “There's something sumptuously decadent about having someone drive you around.”
Catherine blew out an audible breath. “ Oh, I was hoping you'd think that. I'm not in any mood to rough it today, so I arranged for the driver to take us to Fresno and bring Ryan home with us. I have another car ready to take you back down to Fresno later tonight.”
“The whole way?” Jamie's eyebrows had risen to their full height. “Wouldn't it be cheaper to fly?”
“Yes, it is. But that's only if we flew commercial, and there isn't a flight that would get us there in time. I'm more than happy to charter a plane…”
Jamie reached across and grasped her mother's hand. “A limo seems moderate compared to a chartered plane. Ryan will only have a minor heart attack when she sees this.”
Jamie went upstairs to change clothes. Catherine stayed downstairs with Jordan to wait for Mia's parents, while Mia followed Jamie into her bedroom. “Your mom's gift was so friggin' cool!”
Smiling, Jamie went to her dresser and pulled out a pair of jeans. “Sometimes I forget how I used to live. Two years ago it would have seemed perfectly normal for me to think taking a limo to Fresno was the best idea. But I think it's kind of cute that my mom called riding in Ryan's car roughing it,” she admitted. “ Most people would think a Lexus SUV was pretty darned nice.”
“You aren't most people.” Mia lay down on the bed and crossed one leg over her raised knee. “I think it's nice that your mom goes along with the way you and Ryan like to do things. You can tell she really wants to hang with you guys.”
Jamie looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. “ I guess that's true. I don't think of it that way very often, but you're right. I had my grandpa as a moderating influence, but my mom didn't have that. Everyone in her family liked to use every convenience to make life more comfortable. My dad says he was always afraid to go to the bathroom at my mom's house for fear that one of the servants would come in with him.” She laughed briefly. “ It's good to remind myself of the little sacrifices she makes to spend time with us.”
Mia gave her an evil grin. “Take your camera with you to get a shot of Ryan's face when she sees that you're going home in a limo. That could be priceless.”
Once they were back in the car Jamie stretched out and yawned. “ Even if I were rested I wouldn't be able to stay awake in this car. You do know that, don't you?”
“Few people know that better than I,” Catherine said, fondly stroking Jamie's cheek. “I might have to join you in a nap. It seems like it takes me longer and longer to acclimate to travel. One of the many dubious benefits of aging, I suppose.”
“You haven't had much time to rest, Mom. What time did you get in last night?”
“It was late enough that I felt bad for having Conor come to the airport when he had to be at work this morning.”
“You know the rules. Once you're in the O'Flaherty network you can only take limousines to softball games.” She grinned impishly. “So tell me about your trip.” Jamie did her best to appear excited and interested.
“It was lovely. The weather was just fantastic and everything just…worked out well.”
Catherine looked to be a little ill at ease, and Jamie wanted to move on to another topic, but she tried to honor her pledge to normalize the topic of Giacomo. “ Did Giacomo enjoy the week?”
“ I should think so,” Catherine said, surprising Jamie when her cheeks turned pink. “He, or whomever he had make the plans, did an excellent job. We went to Capri for a few days and stayed in a lovely home with a fabulous pool.” She put her hand on top of Jamie's and said, “I just wish I hadn't been gone this particular week. I would have given anything to be with you at your graduation.”
Before the words were fully out Jamie could see her mother cringe and she knew they were both thinking the same thing. Catherine wanted to be with her, but she wanted to be with Giacomo more. Jamie reminded herself that she had urged her mom to keep her plans, but she had to admit that she was still surprised and hurt that Catherine had done so. But she didn't have any desire to share that feeling. “ The convocation was a lot more impressive. Although our speaker was good. We had Armistead Maupin.”
“ Oh, how nice! I remember when he first started to write his column that became ‘Tales Of The City.' It's all anyone talked about.”
“That's pretty cool. You grew up in an interesting time.”
“Sometimes it was too interesting,” Catherine said, smiling coyly. “I assume Ryan is very excited about being in this tournament.”
“I think she is. She's a little concerned that her teammates aren't as positive as she thinks they should be, but that's not odd for her. She seemed very up after their win last night.”
“ You missed her game?”
Jamie nodded. “Yeah, I had to. I would have given anything to be there…” She trailed off, hoping her mother didn't notice the color rising in her face. The truth was that Mia's event was more important to her than Ryan's was, but she hated to think of putting it in such stark terms.
“ I'm sure Ryan understood,” Catherine said. “You two have had so many events the last few weeks you must be exhausted.”
“ No, I'm exhausted because I stayed up all night,” Jamie said, grinning sheepishly. “Mia and I start talking and before you know it…”
“I'm very glad you have her. I didn't have anyone like Mia when I was your age. I think more of my friends were like Juliet,” she said, her smile looking a little sad.
“What do you mean?”
“ My friends were more topical. You know, sorority sisters and the like. More like acquaintances.”
“Yeah, Juliet is definitely an acquaintance.”
“Is she gay?”
Jamie blinked in surprise. “ I don't think you've ever asked me that about anyone.”
“I didn't mean to intrude. I just assumed she was, and I wanted to see how my skills were at guessing.”
Jamie laughed, shaking her head. “Your skills are good. Juliet doesn't want to be gay, but gay she is.”
Traffic slowed as they neared Fresno, and Jamie slowly woke. “I'm a fascinating travel companion, aren't I?” she asked, making a face. Her neck was stiff and one of her arms felt like it had been at an odd angle the whole way.
“You've been the perfect companion. I woke up about five minutes ago.” Catherine yawned, covering her mouth with her hand. “I feel like I've been awake for three days.”
“It's awfully nice of you to come down here with me, Mom. I know you'd rather be home in bed.”
“Not true. I might not have made it to Mia's graduation, much as I love her, if I'd known I'd be this jet lagged, but seeing Ryan's big game means a lot to me.”
“It means a lot to her, too, even though she wouldn't say a word if no one came.”
“You're both generous women.” Catherine reached across the seat and captured Jamie's hand, caressing the back of it with her thumb. “I have to apologize again for missing your graduation. I...put myself first and that's something I've been trying not to do.”
“You don't do that!” Jamie's voice rose in astonishment. “You're remarkably generous with your time.”
“That's not true. I wish it were, but it's not. I don't want this to sound like I'm blaming her, because I'm not. But I've had to teach myself how to be a parent. My poor mother truly didn't know the first thing about it. I've been trying since we've had our rapprochement, but I slid back into a old habit, and I wish I hadn't.”
“What habit, Mom?”
“The habit of pleasing myself at your expense. I've told you that one of the factors that created the distance between us was my idiotic decision to go to Europe when you were a baby. And now...” she struggled to stop tears from falling, “I've done the exact same thing.”
Scooting across the seat, Jamie wrapped her mother in her arms. “That's not true. Not true at all. I'm an adult now, and I don't need for you to prove your love every minute. Yes, I would have preferred to have you here. I won't lie about that. But you were here for the more important ceremony. And I know that you would have cancelled your trip if I'd even hinted that I was unhappy you were going.” She pulled away and showed a full, rich smile. “I mean it, Mom.”
“I love you,” Catherine said, her eyes red and damp. “You're such a loving person.”
“So are you. And I really appreciated that you sent Elizabeth as a stand-in. It was nice to have her.”
Catherine's expression changed in the blink of an eye. She looked positively horrified. “A stand-in? Is that what...”
“I don't mean that I think of her and you as...”
“Oh, Jamie, I didn't send Elizabeth for you. I sent her for herself.”
“Yes. She's been very down since the carjacking. She's written to me a number of times, asking how she can persuade you to forgive her.”
“What? Why didn't you tell me that?”
“Because you had too much on your plate, sweetheart. I didn't want to add another thing you had to worry about. Besides,” she added, a half smile on her face, “I thought it was good for her to examine her actions and decide that having a relationship with you was worth putting aside her prejudices.”
“You...were behind her...?”
“Behind her what?”
“Her transformation! I've been trying to convince myself she was the same woman!” Jamie started to laugh, and soon she found herself doubled over. “My God, I couldn't understand why she acted like she was eating lemons most of the time, but didn't criticize me once!”
Catherine smiled, but she didn't share Jamie's laughter. “I wouldn't have allowed her near you if she hadn't vowed to be supportive. I'm sure she kept her word, but I'd be surprised if she seemed comfortable.”
“Oh, she was a long way from comfortable, that's for sure. But she was very nice to Ryan, and she seemed genuinely happy to see me.” She leaned over and kissed her mother's cheek. “That was very nice of you.”
“It doesn't seem right to have hired her to play such an important role in your life and then cut her off because you're an adult. I know she loves you, honey, and I wanted her to be able to tell you that.”
“I love her, too. She's not quite like family, but she's close. I'm really glad she got to spend some time with me, and not feel like I was angry with her.”
“So you sorted that all out?”
“Yeah, I think we did. But I told her we were getting married and she didn't say she'd kill for an invitation.” Jamie's smile was devilish and Catherine's looked much the same.
The limousine pulled onto the Fresno State campus at around 1:30. Jamie had taken the time to find and print off a map of the campus and she directed the driver to the proper spot. The game had been scheduled to start at noon, and she was afraid they would miss most, if not all of it. But as she and Catherine hustled across an open area next to the softball stadium she caught a glimpse of the scoreboard and saw that it was just the third inning. “They must've started late,” she said.
Ryan had dutifully left tickets for them, and they managed their way up to the stands, but were unable to find anywhere to sit. It seemed as though everyone in town was at the game, and after futilely trying to find a place to wedge in they went back down to the field level and found a space where they could stand. Cal was in the field, and Jamie was surprised to see a woman named Lisa catching. “I wonder where Julie is?” Jamie asked. “I don't think Lisa has played many innings. This doesn't seem like an ideal time to go with a substitute.” She took another careful look at the scoreboard. “It hasn't hurt them, though. They scored two runs in the first inning, and Fullerton hasn't scored.”
Catherine nodded, and Jamie fought the urge to laugh at her mother's obviously sincere attempt to look interested and involved. At most of the games they had attended Jennie had been with them, and Catherine could get by with daydreaming while the girl babbled details at them. Jamie thought of how many football, basketball, baseball and now volleyball and softball games her mother had attended in her life, and how few of them she would've gone to if she hadn't been such a good sport.
They'd only been standing there a few minutes when Ryan's dark head popped out of the dugout. Jamie saw her eyes narrow as her head slowly scanned the crowd. “Ryan's looking for us.” She and Catherine both raised their arms and waved and Ryan's eyes locked on them.
Her expression turned into a dazzling grin, and Catherine said rather wistfully, “Is there anything nicer than having someone look so happy to see you?”
She wanted to ask if Giacomo looked like that, but Jamie censored herself once again. They both waved enthusiastically at Ryan and Jamie blew her a kiss, which was quickly returned.
In the top of the fifth inning, Cal still led two to nothing. A Fullerton player nicked a foul ball, and Lisa, the catcher, reflexively stuck her hand up and yanked it back in pain. Ryan was sitting next to Coach Roberts, as she often did, and he bumped against her hard as he jumped to his feet, crying, “She better not be hurt!”
It didn't look like much of anything. Lisa wasn't writhing around in pain; she just shook her hand rapidly as she looked skyward. Just to be safe, Coach Roberts told the student trainer to go take a look at her. He grumbled aloud, “I don't think we even have third place on the depth chart at catcher.”
“ Yeah, you do,” Ryan said. “Me.”
He turned and looked at her as though she were speaking gibberish. “ You? You're almost too tall to be a first baseman!”
She shrugged, looking unconcerned. “When the season started and they were filling out the depth chart I was the only other person on the team who'd ever caught.”
“How old were you? Six?”
“ No. I've really never caught softball, but I used to catch all the time when I played baseball with my family.”
He rolled his eyes and turned back to the field, grumbling under his breath, “She better not be hurt.”
Ryan could hear the coach begin cursing as the student trainer led Lisa back to the bench. “Her index finger is jammed pretty bad,” the trainer said.
The coach looked down the bench and signaled to the senior athletic trainer. “Get down here and unjam this kid's finger!” he demanded. He and the two trainers along with all of the other coaches huddled around Lisa while Ryan went and dug through an equipment bag to find the mitt she'd bought with her own money after she'd volunteered to be third string. She asked Heather to help her warm up, and they took their places right in front of the dugout. By the time she and Heather had thrown the ball twice Coach Roberts was yelling at her. “ Sit back down O'Flaherty. She's gonna be fine.”
Ryan wanted to ignore him, but she obeyed and sat back down. A couple of minutes later Lisa tried to play catch, but each time she threw the ball with any velocity it veered off in wild directions. “ God damn it!” Coach said, probably far louder than he intended. “ I lose both catchers in the same game?” He let out a big sigh and turned to Ryan. “ We don't have all day O'Flaherty.” He made one last plea to the bench in general. “Has anybody else ever caught?”
Timidly, Jackie raised her hand. Coach Roberts looked at her 200 pound frame, closed his eyes and said, “We're waiting, O'Flaherty. Make sure you smile when some reporter wants to take a picture of the tallest woman to catch a softball game in the history of college sports.”
“Will do,” she said, grinning as she went back onto the field to warm up. “UCLA's catcher is almost my height, but I'm probably the only lefty,” she added, giggling when he winced and clapped his hand over his face.
“I had no idea she could catch,” Jamie said. “I mean, I assume she can do anything except fly, but she's never mentioned catching.”
“She seems a lot taller when she has all of that gear on,” Catherine said.
“I think that's because it doesn't fit her. That chest protector went down a lot further on Lisa. My sweetheart looks vulnerable. There's a lot of exposed belly there.”
“I'm sure she knows how to protect herself. She can't play with those boys for all of these years and not have learned that.”
“I'm sure that's true, but accidents happen and I'm fond of every inch.”
Ryan wasn't the ideal catcher. She was, in fact, too tall, so her body didn't naturally make a low barrier like the short, stocky prototype. But she was quick, and agile, and her long arms let her reach balls that a normal sized woman would never have been able to catch. She economized her movements, throwing the ball back to the pitcher while she stayed on her knees. But she looked graceful and calm as Jamie knew she would.
Jamie actually wasn't sure if the rather short umpire would be able to see over Ryan's head to call balls and strikes, but once the game began again she saw that the umpire just moved a bit to Ryan's right, and adjusted for the change.
They got through that half of the inning with no damage being done. Ryan was scheduled to bat third, and she stood past the end of the dugout to begin warming up. Her searching eyes found Jamie and she grinned as though she were the happiest woman on earth. “ She's going to get a hit,” Jamie predicted. “When she has that confident look on her face there's no stopping her.”
“She used to look like that quite often when she was playing volleyball, but I haven't seen that expression very often this spring.”
“She hasn't played often enough to see any expression. I hate to see anyone get hurt, but, no matter how much she claims it doesn't bother her, it has to drive her crazy to sit on the bench.”
“Knowing Ryan, she won't waste an opportunity.”
The first batter hit a sharp single to right field, and Jamie was surprised when they immediately walked Jackie. Jamie looked at the scoreboard and saw that Jackie had been intentionally walked the last time she was at bat, also. Jackie was one of the best power hitters in the country, and she was a threat to hit a home run every time up. But it still seemed dangerous to Jamie to give a player a base when there were no outs.
Ryan strode up to the plate and went into her usual routine. She spit on her batting gloves, a practice Jamie found just short of revolting, rubbed her hands together, then gripped the bat, swinging it viciously a few times. Then she tapped the dirt from her cleats with the bat and stood in the batter's box. She adjusted her long body, shook her butt a few times, held the bat in proper position, wiggling it a little bit by clenching and unclenching her hands. When the pitcher went into her wind up the bat was still and poised. Ryan let the first two pitches go by, and both balls were out of her strike zone. Jamie swore that she saw Ryan's eyes grow wide at the next pitch, and she sliced it right over the second baseman's head. The runner on second scored easily, but Jackie was only able to lumber around second base, where she stayed. Ryan motored around first, then jogged back to the bag and clapped her hands together, letting out a “whoop” that Jamie could hear in the stands.
“ She rocks,” Jamie said, clapping and cheering.
Soon, Cal had the bases loaded, but they were unable to capitalize and the inning ended with them leading three to nothing.
In the top of the 6th, Fullerton threatened when Stephanie walked the first batter. The pitcher looked flustered, but she righted herself and got the next batter out. Fullerton's cleanup hitter was up next and Jamie's stomach began to feel as though it were tied in knots. The batter was quickly behind in the count, but the pitcher made a mistake on next ball and she paid for it— with the pitch flying over the left-field fence. Just like that, Cal led by just one. Coach Roberts trudged to the mound and took the ball from Stephanie. The whole infield gathered around the mound, waiting for Heather to approach. “Ryan doesn't look as tall now,” Catherine commented.
Heather was not quite as tall as Ryan, but when she stood on the mound she looked imposing indeed. She hadn't been used much during the season, but Jamie had noticed that Coach Roberts seemed inclined to bring her in when they had a lead in late innings. Heather was still shy and she clearly didn't like to have a lot of attention focused on her in social situations. But she had matured as a player, and the pressure of a big game didn't seem to rattle her.
Ryan slapped Heather on the butt with her mitt and went back behind the plate. Jamie watched with rapt attention as Heather managed to strike out the next two batters on a total of six pitches. As soon as the last out was made, Ryan dashed out to the mound to give Heather a congratulatory swat, then led the players to the bench, looking like a proud parent.
Heather took the mound again in the seventh and final inning, and Jamie and Catherine watched the action as though their fortune were riding on the outcome. Luckily, Heather was up to the task, and Cal escaped with their second win. The players were exuberant in their celebratory hand slaps and hugs, and Jamie and Catherine shared a hug that was just as enthusiastic. “They've won two games!” Jamie exclaimed. “ I bet Ryan's absolutely giddy.”
Catherine pointed to the field, where Ryan had slung Heather over her shoulder and was carrying her to the locker room. “ I think that's a safe bet.”
They met up with the victorious players just outside the locker room. Ryan was, as predicted, jubilant, and she wrapped Jamie in a rough hug. But she let go in just a second and gave Catherine a more gentle version. “ We've missed you,” she said.
“And I've missed you.” She straightened her clothing when Ryan let go of her and said, “We nearly lost our voices yelling for you today. We had to make up for all of your usual fans who couldn't make it.”
“I could hear you a couple of times,” Ryan said. “ Didn't Heather do a great job?”
“She really did,” Jamie agreed. “ But she didn't drive in a run like my big slugger did.”
“Their pitcher was tiring,” Ryan said, sloughing it off. “ I'm really glad you were both able to come. Are you able to stay for dinner?”
Jamie looked at her watch. “No, we've got to get going if we're going to make it back by seven.”
“Oh, right.” Ryan looked down and Jamie could see her lower lip stick out a little. “You're going to go to another one of my graduations.”
Jamie put an arm around her waist and said, “We are all going to go to another one of your graduations. We're going to drive like heck, and hopefully get there just in time. Then Mia and Jordan are going to come with me and we're all going to drive you back down tonight.” As Ryan's expression grew more stunned Jaime grasped her by the shoulders and shook her. “ It's all set, baby!”
“ Really? Are you sure it's okay?”
“ I talked to Coach Roberts earlier in the week. He said it's fine as long as you're able to play tomorrow.”
“ Oh, I'm able,” Ryan said, her smile luminous. “ Let's rock!”
Jackie was the only other senior who hadn't yet had her departmental ceremony, but hers was the next night, so she declined their offer to come along. They went out to the front of the stadium and a big black car slowly pulled up in front of them. “No,” Ryan said, looking at Jamie and Catherine who both looked guilty. “ You didn't.”
“ We did,” Jamie said, slapping Ryan on the butt. “ You'd better get in before anyone sees you.” Ryan practically dove inside the car, muttering her disapproval as her compatriots entered.
It was about a three hour trip to Berkeley and Ryan was so high from the game that she barely paused in her recitation of every element of the event. Jamie was curled up against her, fast asleep, but Catherine soldiered on, raptly listening to her young daughter-in-law who was still flushed with happiness.
As they drew near Berkeley Ryan was fidgeting around in the back of the car acting like she had an itch she couldn't get to. Neither Catherine nor Jaime shared her nervous energy, but both of them envied it a little bit. “Aren't I young enough that I can still stay up all night and not have to pay for it?” Jamie asked.
“I sure can't,” Ryan said. “I used to think I did fine on five or six hours, but in retrospect I was fooling myself. Now that I get seven or eight I have a lot more energy.”
Catherine smiled. “I don't think there are enough hours in the day for me to sleep to have your energy.”
“I'm just excited,” Ryan admitted. “I don't understand people who don't want to go to graduation. Why would you skip a party given in your honor?”
“I didn't go to mine,” Catherine said. “Since I didn't graduate with my class it didn't have much impact on me.”
“Didn't your family want to throw you a party?” Ryan asked, regretting her question as soon as she saw the sad look on Catherine's face.
“My mother was gone then, and my father wasn't the type of man to organize something like that. I think it was a relief for Jim and me more than anything.”
Ryan recalled that Catherine had finished her degree after Jamie's birth. She wasn't sure it was appropriate, but she said what she felt. “ I would have had a party for you. And I would have had a little cap and gown made for Jamie. It would've been cool,” she said with her usual certitude.
Catherine's slightly melancholy expression turned into a full, rich smile. “I have no doubt about that, Ryan.”
They had just enough time to get Ryan showered and changed. By the time the car dropped them off on campus Ryan had to run to get to the area where the graduates were assembling. Jamie and Catherine went to look for Martin and Maeve, who were, as expected, in the first available row.
“ I was sure you would miss it,” Martin said, his face lined with worry.
Jamie snuck a quick look at her watch and saw that they still had 20 minutes to spare, but she knew that to Martin that was the same as being late. “We made it,” she said. “But it was close. If the game had gone into extra innings we would have been toast. Especially because,” she added with dramatic flair, “Ryan not only played, she drove in what proved to be the winning run.” She beamed at the assembled group of Brendan, Maggie, Rory and Conor.
“Oh, for the love of Mike!” Martin cried. “The one game we can't get to and herself is the star. Was she desperately disappointed that we weren't there?”
“No, not at all. I honestly don't think she expects anyone to come to her games, even when they're local. Except for me, of course,” she added, smiling. “It's required for me.”
“We've always come to her events,” Martin said. “But she's not the type to complain.”
“This is true,” Jamie agreed. “But she's so happy today that I'm not sure she could be much happier. The team played really well, and you know that means everything to her. And her friend from volleyball, Heather, got the save. That was a big deal, too.”
“It sounds like a fantastic day,” Maeve said. “ I'm so glad you two were there for her. You must be tired from all that driving.”
Jamie snuck a quick look at her mother, then said, “It was surprisingly relaxing.”
The speaker at the molecular and cell biology department graduation was not nearly as entertaining as the speaker at Jamie's graduation had been. But that probably didn't explain why both Catherine and Jamie found themselves jerking awake several times during the speech. At one point Catherine leaned over and whispered, “If I promise to pinch you when you nod off will you do the same for me?”
Fighting the urge to giggle, Jamie said, “I will if I'm not asleep. No guarantees.”
When Ryan's name was announced her rooting section got to their feet and cheered lustily. “Did you get highest distinction?” Conor asked Jamie when they sat down.
“No,” she said glumly. “I got with distinction, which is only two levels below your brainy sister.”
“ I tell you, it's only math and stuff that she's good at.”
“ This isn't math,” Jamie said, dryly. “ That was the other night. This is biology.”
“Right. Right,” he nodded. “Well, math and biology.”
“I agree with you on one point. Some of the other subjects don't come as easily to her. But, even if it's something she isn't interested in, she works her tail off. She deserves highest distinction for effort alone.”
“They don't give awards for working hard,” Conor scoffed. “Nor should they. Why bother if you're not going to do your best?” Jamie snuck a look a him, seeing his strong jaw set just as his father's would have been if he'd said the same thing.
After the ceremony Ryan met the little crowd and let them make over her for a few minutes. Mia and Jordan ran up to them, holding hands and laughing. “That was the most boring speech in the history of…speech!” Mia said.
“Where were you two?” Jamie asked.
“We got here right on time, but it was so crowded we had to stand.” Mia giggled impishly. “Actually, we went into the corner and laid on the floor. I fell asleep.”
Ryan pinched her on the cheek. “Then how did you know the speech was boring?”
“I could just tell.” She stuck her tongue out like a child. “But I woke up when they called your name. Did you hear us yelling?”
“You know, I did. I heard my family up close, but there was a definite howl from the back of the room. That must've been you two.” She draped an arm around each woman. “Thanks for coming, guys. I know this was the most boring ceremony ever if you're not into biology.”
“We're into you,” Jordan said, kissing her cheek.
The videographer who had captured Jamie's ceremony on tape showed up once again and memorialized many permutations of poses with the graduate. Jamie and Catherine were standing to one side watching Ryan pose with her brothers. “It was so nice of you to arrange for this, Mom. It will be nice to have to bore our kids with.”
“If you catch them young enough, children find their parents fascinating.”
“I don't think there's an age limit to that. At least there isn't for me.”
After the videographer left, Ryan said, “I guess we've got to get back on the road.”
“I hate to see you girls have to drive that far.” Martin was scowling as he said this. “What time it is your game tomorrow?”
“ It's a night game. Seven thirty. I probably could have talked coach into letting me go down tomorrow, but I think the drive will tire me out and let me sleep. And if I get tired, Mia and Jordan are going to be with us. They can take over.” She wrinkled her nose at Mia. “They've had naps.”
“I should go with you. I can take a turn at the wheel.”
She put her arm around her father. “ Don't worry, Da, we'll be fine.”
“You're graduating from college, sweetheart, not from my care.” He hugged her tightly, and Jamie was certain he was on the verge of tears. “I'll never stop worrying about you.”
Ryan, Jamie, Jordan, Mia and Catherine met up with the limousine driver for the short trip back to the house. “ I hope nobody sees me get into this,” Ryan said.
“ I think the coast is clear,” Jamie said, closing the door. “Besides, if anyone comments you can just say that Mom always has a driver.”
Giving an outraged look, Catherine said, “Why do I have to take the blame?”
“Not to put too fine a point on it, but it was your idea,” Jamie reminded her.
Looking at Ryan, Catherine said, “I arranged for a different driver to take you two back down to Fresno, but Jamie wouldn't hear of it.”
“Really?” Ryan asked suspiciously. She playfully poked Jamie several times. “ You wouldn't hear of it?”
Giggling, Jamie admitted, “I knew you'd kill me. I'd much rather lounge around in the big back seat than drive.”
“ At least you're honest,” Ryan said. “You know, I was really surprised that Jennie didn't want to come tonight.”
Jamie's eyes grew wide and she looked at her mother quickly. “Did you ask her?”
“No! I thought you had. Actually, I was so tired last night that it didn't occur to me.” She put her hand over her mouth, looking flustered. “ I feel terrible.”
Ryan looked thoughtful. “Jen isn't shy. If she wanted to come I think she would've called one of you. Maybe she forgot it was tonight.”
“That's possible,” Jamie said. “We didn't make any firm plans, but the other night I said I would see her at your graduation and she agreed.”
Ryan gave her a puzzled look. “Did you see her when you took Elizabeth to the airport?”
Jamie slunk down in her seat. “No. Elizabeth thought we were running late and she was already outside when I got there. Did I screw up?” she asked sheepishly. “You said you thought it could wait.”
“No, you didn't screw up,” Ryan said, patting her absently.
Jamie ran her hands through her hair. “I think I really screwed up. I should have gone to her school and picked her up that day. I could have had ten or fifteen minutes to talk to her.”
“That's not the way to get Jen to open up,” Ryan said. “You've got to spend time with her and let her talk when she's ready.” She met Jamie's eyes. “It's not your fault.”
“I'll talk with her when I get home,” Catherine said. “The poor child is staying at my house, I'm the one who should have made sure she got here.”
“No,” Ryan said. “I'm the one who's been dropping the ball. She's my little sister and I've been letting her down.”
“ You're supposed to be her mentor, Ryan, not her mother,” Catherine said gently. “You're too young to be responsible for a high school student.”
“I might be too immature, but nobody made me take on more responsibility for her. I did that voluntarily, but I haven't done a very good job.”
“Yes, you have,” Catherine insisted. “You've done much more than anyone would expect of you.”
Ryan slumped down into her seat. “Anyone except Jennie.”
When Catherine got home, Marta came out of her room to greet her. “How did everything go?”
“It all went marvelously. Ryan's team won, and the graduation was lovely.”
Marta looked at the front door. “ Where's Jennie?”
Catherine gasped in surprise. “She's not home?”
“I thought that she was going to the graduation. Isn't that right?”
“Did she tell you that?” Catherine asked, looking at Marta intently.
“No, she didn't. She left the house just after you did this morning and she said goodbye as usual. I thought she was going to the the graduation because Jamie said something about it the other night.”
“It's almost 10 o'clock,” Catherine said, her face pale. “Is there any chance she went back to the group home?”
“She didn't say anything about that. Her things are here. Why would she have done something like that?”
“I don't know, but she has to be somewhere.”
A half hour later, Jennie arrived, surprising Catherine, who was diligently searching the Internet for suggestions on how to locate a missing teenager. “Hi,” she said. “How was Ryan's graduation?”
“Jennie!” Catherine jumped to her feet and went to the girl, surprising her with a robust hug. “We've been worried sick about you.”
“ Me?” She asked, pointing at herself. “Why me?”
“ We didn't know where you were, and we didn't have any way to reach you. I've got to get you a cell phone.”
“ I don't need a cell phone,” she said, dropping her book bag to the floor. She was still wearing her school uniform, but she didn't look as crisp and neat as she had that morning after Marta had sent her off. “ I didn't know anyone would be looking for me.”
“Not looking for you?” Catherine put her hand on Jennie's cheek and pressed on it until the girl looked her in the eye. “ You're not even 15 years old. Of course we're concerned about you when we don't know where you are. Don't you know that?”
Jennie shuffled uncertainly. “Yeah, I know you guys like me and everything, but I knew you were gonna be gone all day so I didn't think it mattered.”
“You didn't think what mattered, honey?”
“ I didn't think it mattered if I went to one of my friend's houses after school.” She looked decidedly uncomfortable. “Ryan wasn't gonna be at the graduation...”
“We picked her up in Fresno after the game and brought her back. She was very pleased.”
Jennie looked like she was about to say something. Catherine noted that her skin turned pink and she seemed to forcibly stop herself from speaking. She took in a long breath. “I didn't know that.”
“How could you know, honey? I arranged for it after you went to bed.”
“Right.” Jennie nodded, her forehead wrinkled in thought. “I couldn't have known.”
Catherine put her hand on the girl's forehead. “Are you all right? You look very tired.”
“I'm fine. Just...I wish I'd known about Ryan being there. But...” she shrugged her narrow shoulders. “I couldn't have gotten there anyway.”
“That's my fault. I should have arranged to have a car pick you up.” She tried to make and keep eye contact. “Do you forgive me?”
Jennie smiled the almost-perplexed smile she often used. The one that seemed to say “Why do you care about me?” “It's not your job to look out for me.”
“I know it's not my job, but I still care. You know that by now, don't you?”
“ Sure. But I don't know who's supposed to be in charge, you know? Like at school everybody knows who the boss is. I'm not sure outside of school.”
Catherine nodded. “I think I do know, but we're going to get this all sorted out. Why don't you go up to bed, and I'll go tell Maria you're home.”
“I didn't mean to make anybody mad,” Jennie said, looking uncertain.
“No one is angry with you. Now go to bed and get some rest. You look as tired as I feel.”
Jennie nodded, then made her way to the guest room she'd been using. Catherine watched her leave, pondering her affect. There was something about her that didn't look right. Perhaps she was just tired, but she was usually a ball of energy. As she thought, it struck Catherine that Jennie hadn't asked about the game. She considered that the result might have been on the news, but the girl's lack of interest was odd and a little unsettling.
At midnight, Ryan was still driving and still chatting away, with Mia sitting next to her, listening. Mia's seat was reclined as far as she could get it, but her dark eyes were sharp and focused on Ryan. “Why do you think so many marriages end in divorce?”
Ryan blew a thin stream of air out, making her lips flutter. “There are probably as many reasons as there are marriages.” She was quiet for a moment and Mia could see that she was thinking. “Actually, I think most couples fight about four or five things. Money, kids, sex, and how they share household responsibilities. My guess is that most arguments center around one of those big things.”
“I think most marriages end because the people didn't know each other very well. I think people get married too soon, and for the wrong reasons.”
Ryan was intrigued by the seriousness of the topic, an unusual one for Mia to bring up. “What do you think are the right reasons?”
“Oh, they probably change depending on the couple. For me, I think the most important thing is having the same goals for the kind of life you want to live.”
“ I thought you would have said that having similar sex drives was most important.” Ryan turned just enough to be able to wink.
“That goes without saying. But I'm being serious. Jordan and I both want the same kind of life. We both want to be professionals, we both want to have enough time and money to travel, and we want to find some way to help other people— after we get everything we want, of course,” she added, giggling.
Ryan kept a straight face. “Of course. You've got to have your priorities straight. I think that's true for Jamie and me, too. I don't care much about travel, but Jamie loves it, so I'll have to be flexible enough to let her do what makes her happy. I think I want to raise more kids than Jamie does, but I think we can reach an accommodation on that, too.”
“I think kids are gonna be an issue for us, too. I definitely want to have a baby, but Jordan is certain she doesn't want to. I hope she'll change her mind after a while, since it would be a crime to waste those genes.”
Ryan smiled and nodded. “She's pretty special.” She was quiet for a minute, clearly thinking. “Jamie's not sure she wants to give birth, either. I wish I didn't have such an urge, since it's pretty selfish to add another body to the planet, but I don't think I can resist.”
“ Me either. I've always dreamed of having a baby. You and I can reproduce while our partners go out and support us.”
“That's a whole different issue. I want to have a baby, but I also want to work. I'm going to have to figure out how to raise a child and work at something that stimulates me.”
“If you figure that out, you could make a zillion dollars by selling your secret to all of the working mothers.”
“No, that wouldn't stimulate me,” Ryan said, looking completely serious. “Money doesn't motivate me that much. I think I need to do something in math or science. I just don't know what.”
They were about 10 minutes away from their hotel when Mia raised her seat and turned around. “Oh, isn't that cute? Jamie's got her head on Jordan's shoulder, and Jordan's resting hers against Jamie's. They'd make a cute couple,” she said thoughtfully.
Ryan's voice was playfully firm. “No, they most definitely would not.”
“Use your imagination. They'd be adorable. Wake up, sweetheart,” Mia said softly. Almost immediately, Jordan's eyes blinked a couple of times and she lifted her head.
“Are we there?”
“We are. If you start slapping Jamie now she should be awake by the time we get to the motel.”
Jamie's long nap had given her a second wind. After putting away their clothes and brushing her teeth she sat down at the desk and used a sheet of paper to write a note. When she was finished she went to the door and affixed it with the tape she always carried in her traveling bag.
Ryan had been watching her, but hadn't commented. Still brushing her teeth, she crossed over to the door and opened it, chuckling softly. After she finished in the bathroom she started to take off her clothes. “That note looks like the sort of thing my mother would've written for me…before I could write.”
“ I don't want your teammates to wake you up. You need your rest. Besides, it's a night game and you do better when you have fewer hours to kill before you play.”
Ryan flopped onto the bed and placed her hands behind her head, holding it up so she could watch Jamie. “This is all true.”
Jaime walked over to sit beside her, holding a card in her hand. Ryan could tell she had something important to say, because her face wore an expression that always reflected a serious topic afoot. “I have a little graduation present for you,” she said, handing the card to Ryan.
Lifting an eyebrow, Ryan took the card and shook it, trying, as always, to guess the gift before she opened it. “My gift fits in here? I hope it's not a check.”
Jamie pinched her hard on the cheek, making her wince. “When I start giving you a check for an important occasion it's time to break up.”
Eyes widening, Ryan said, “Then I doubly hope it's not a check!”
“You're so silly.” Fondly, she stroked the cheek she had just pinched. “Your silliness is one of your best qualities.”
“Good thing. I'd really hate to have to act serious all the time.” She blinked her eyes fetchingly. “But I would, if that's what you wanted.”
Dryly, Jamie said, “I'm sure that's true. Now open your card.”
Ryan shook it again. “ I only get a card? I'd think a woman with your kind of money could—”
Jamie fell on her, kissing her neck and tickling her in a frenzy. “Open your card!”
It took both hands, but Ryan swept Jamie across her body and placed her on the bed next to her. “You're making a big deal out of a little card,” she tsked, shaking her head. Her eyes were playful as she neatly ran her fingernail under the flap. Inside was one of Jamie's standard correspondence notes, dark blue lettering embossed on cream-colored paper. “You can buy nice graduation card for two bucks,” Ryan muttered, sneaking a sidelong look at her partner who smirked back at her.
She finally opened the note and read:
Our time together at Berkeley has been indescribably important to me. I wanted to leave a physical mark on campus to commemorate the mark you've left on my soul.
Ryan put the note over her heart and leaned over to kiss Jamie gently. “I feel the same way.”
“I know you do. That's why I knew you'd like what I did.” She pointed at the paper. “Read on.”
Sitting up straight, Ryan continued:
I still think about the time we spent after every class, and how desperately I looked forward to those few minutes. One of the nicest days was the first time we went down to Strawberry Creek. I remember feeling completely at peace being with you, and I think I started to fall in love that very day.
So, I arranged to have a bench placed right where we sat, and a plaque with our names and this inscription: The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. Carl Jung.
You've transformed me, Ryan, and the chemistry between us is pure magic.
As expected, Ryan's blue eyes were damp with unshed tears when she looked up. She lifted the note to her lips and kissed it, then put it aside and kissed the writer. Jamie hugged her and whispered, “See how I got a science thing in there? Cool, huh?”
“The coolest,” Ryan said, shivering when the usual chemical reaction that occurred when their bodies touched swept through her.
Continued in Part 6
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