I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 17: Quandary

By S X Meagher


Part Six


At noon on Saturday Catherine finally gave in to Jennie's dogged but quiet entreaties, and they departed for Fresno. The game wasn't until 7:30, but Jennie insisted that the best parts of the experience were batting and fielding practice.

Catherine still felt jet lagged and slow, but when she saw how important this was to Jennie she decided to ignore her own need for sleep and quiet. When Jim had left for Washington he left his BMW in Catherine's care, asking her to merely start it occasionally. She'd been very lax in doing so, and she thought the car might enjoy a long outing. So she and Jennie got into the large, heavy sedan and she spent a few minutes getting reacquainted with the car and its plethora of switches and buttons.

“This would be a nice car to learn to drive in,” Catherine said, smiling over at the girl. “It's as sturdy as a tank.”

“My friends at school talk about driving all the time, but I don't care if I learn or not.” She shrugged her narrow shoulders amiably. “ I'll never have a car.”

Catherine decided not to correct her. She assumed that Jamie and Ryan would take care of teaching Jennie how to drive, but she didn't want to commit them. Instead, she said, “One never knows. It's probably best to learn.”

“ I guess.” Jennie was on the small side of her age group and she looked lost in the generous leather seat. Catherine noticed that her feet weren't on the floor, and she said, “there's a switch on your door that lets you adjust the seat any way you want.”

But Jennie just sat there, the way she often did when she was in a situation that wasn't part of her usual world. Catherine considered that the girl had trained herself to not expect too much. She often acted as though she expected Catherine, Jamie and even Ryan to disappear, and she was loath to get used to their way of life.

Catherine carefully backed the car out of the narrow garage and started off. After a few moments she said, “We were all concerned about you last night.”

“I'm really sorry. I thought you'd be gone…” Her voice was soft and she sounded unsure.

“ No, not because you were with your friends. We were concerned because we thought you were going to want to go to Ryan's graduation. Did we let you down, honey?”

“ Huh? Let me down? How would you do that?”

“We thought one of us should have made sure you had a ride if you wanted to go.”

“Nah, it didn't sound that interesting, especially since Ryan wasn't gonna be there. The other one was kind of boring, to tell you the truth.”

Catherine smiled at her. “ Graduation speakers don't tend to enthrall.” When Jennie didn't laugh Catherine discreetly said, “They're not very entertaining.”

“ Not even a little,” Jennie agreed. “ Are you sure nobody's mad at me?”

“Not a bit. We merely wanted to make sure you didn't feel left out.”

It took a few seconds for her to answer, but Jennie finally said, “No, I didn't. I'm just happy that you guys let me hang out with you.”

Surprised, Catherine's snuck a quick look at her. “ It's more than that. We all care for you. I was pleased to see that you were at my house when I got home from Italy. It was a very nice surprise, and I'm glad you felt comfortable enough to tell us you needed a place to study.”

Chortling, Jennie said, “I didn't ask if I could stay at your house. I'd never do that.”

“ Why not?”

“ I dunno. I just wouldn't.”

It was clear she wasn't going to elaborate. “Well, I hope it helped you. I can only imagine that it must be fairly noisy at your house, with all of those teenaged girls.”

“ It's okay.”

“ Maybe we should talk to Sandy and suggest having quiet time, especially during finals.”

“ No, no, you don't have to. It's fine.”

There's something about the way Jennie replied that piqued Catherine's curiosity. “ Why was it bad this time if it's usually fine?”

Jennie shifted around in the big seat and suddenly became interested in the seat adjustment buttons. She seemed very intent, making the little motor whir every time she moved the chair up or down an inch.

Once she was finished, Catherine asked her question again. “Why was it hard to study this time?”

“I dunno. It just was.” Jennie turned and gave her a childlike grin while shrugging her shoulders. Catherine hated the fact that she immediately sensed that Jennie was either lying or trying to evade the question by putting on the charm.

Unwilling to let it drop, Catherine was quiet for a few minutes while she negotiated her way onto the freeway. Jennie's posture had relaxed, and she was gazing out the window when Catherine said, “ If there's something going on at your house I want you to know that you can tell me about it. No matter what it is.” She paused to let this sink in, then said, “Something is wrong, isn't it.”

Jennie's narrow shoulders rose and fell, and she continued to stare out the window.

Her voice was soft and gentle, but it was clear Catherine was determined to to get an answer. “Tell me what it is.”

“ It's no big deal. My roommate's kinda…” She seemed to search for a word. “Annoying.” Then she fell silent again.

“Tell me about her.”

“ She's stupid,” Jennie said. “You wouldn't be interested.”

“ Yes, I am. I'm very interested. Tell me how you two get along.”

“ We don't. I don't like her.”

There was a quiet fury about the girl that Catherine had never seen before. She was determined to get to the bottom of this, no matter how difficult Jennie made it.

“ Why do you dislike her?”

“ I dunno.” She crossed her arms over her chest, looking defensive. “She's like a big stupid ape.”

Catherine almost laughed at the description, but she could see how troubled Jennie was. “ How do you mean, dear?”

“ You know how apes are.” Jennie dropped her head and put her hands down by her knees and moved them back and forth slowly. “They're big and…stupid.”

“ But why does that make you dislike her? Can't you avoid her?”

It was clear Jennie was at her limit. Her voice was higher and louder than it had been. “ No, I can't. I've been trying to since the day she moved in.”

Catherine was quiet, watching a swirl of emotions pass across Jennie's youthful face. Finally, the girl spoke again. “We almost got grounded last week because Sandy thought we were fighting.”

“ And you weren't?”

“I couldn't fight her. She'd smush me like a bug. She's huge! I was just trying to get away from her.”

Catherine's alarm grew. “ What do you mean, ‘Get away from her'?”

Jennie shook her head roughly. “ It's no big deal. I can take care of myself.”

Catherine's slipped her hand off the wheel and put it gently on Jennie's shoulder. “ I know you can, but we'd like to help you. But we can't do much if we don't know what's happening. I'd really like it if you'd tell me exactly what has happened between you and this girl.”

Jennie met her eyes, and the hopeful innocence on the girl's face nearly made Catherine cry. “ Really? You really want to know?”

“ I really and truly want to know.”

Looking out the window again, Jennie slumped down a little lower in her seat. “ Like I said, she's like a big animal. She's bigger than Jamie, even though she's my age. Ever since she got there she's said she likes me, but…” She broke off, tightening her arms, seeming like she was hugging herself. “ I don't like her.”

“ Does she try to touch you, Jennie?”

“Kinda. But not… nothing real bad.” She looked up again, seeking understanding. “ You know what I mean?”

“ No, I don't think I do.”

“Like she comes into the room and puts her arms around me. When I tell her to let me go she throws me on the bed and falls on top of me. Then she stays there, and I can't get her off me.” She thumped the door hard with her fist. “It makes me so mad. She picks me up all the time, like she owns me. I hate it!”

“What else?” Catherine asked, being very careful to keep her tone neutral.

“ She watches me get dressed, and she's always telling me how cute I am, and how she wants to...” She shivered. “It's like a pervert's in your room. She's like a creepy guy, and she pisses me off!” Her cheeks were flushed and Catherine tried hard not to look as surprised as she felt.

“ Have you talked to Sandy about this?”

“ No. She doesn't do anything really bad. It sounds stupid when I say stuff.”

They had just crossed the Bay Bridge, and Catherine wasn't familiar with the neighborhood. Nonetheless, she put on her blinker and exited. Jennie was staring at her as she put the car in park. Catherine reached over and took Jennie's hand. The girl looked at their linked hands, and tentatively shifted her gaze to meet Catherine's.

“ Anything that upsets you. Anything that worries you. Anything that bothers you, bothers us. This is important, Jennie. Very important. I'm proud of you that you were able to figure out a temporary fix. But you don't have to do that. We're your friends and that's what friends do for one another. They help them when they need it.” She squeezed her hand firmly. “Do you believe me?”

“Yeah,” she said softly. “I do.” She looked away again. “ It's just that…what I said yesterday. I'm not always sure who's in charge.”

Catherine took in a breath, having to admit she wasn't sure who was in charge either. “ Well, for something at your house I suppose you should talk with Sandy first. But you should also talk with Ryan or Jamie or me. Especially if Sandy can't fix your problem.”

“ You guys are kinda on the bench, huh?”

Catherine was proud of herself for catching the softball allusion. “ Yes, we're on the bench, and you know how important the bench is.”

“If Ryan's on it, it's real important,” she said, her hero worship blatantly obvious.


On Saturday evening a Fresno ice cream parlor was filled with seven O'Flahertys, Jamie and Catherine, Jennie and four other players from the softball team. For the most part people were upbeat and having fun. Only one person seemed disconsolate and Ryan was sitting next to her trying to let her see the bright side. "It's not that big a deal, Jen. Each of us has one loss now, so Florida and Fresno State are in the same position we are.”

“With both you and Heather playing you would've won."

Ryan met Heather's eyes and they shared a smile. "I'm not sure that's true, even though Heather and I are an awesome due," Ryan teased, making Heather giggle. “We didn't have many opportunities today. I told you before the tournament that Fresno State is a very, very good team. For us to get past them is going to take a great game tomorrow."

"A great two games," Jennie reminded her. "You guys have to play two and Fresno only has to play one. That's not fair."

"Yes it is. We've all had to play the same number of games. We just have to play a pair tomorrow.

"They should make them play two tomorrow, too."

"That wouldn't be fair to them. There was one day that we played one game and they played two. That's just the way the schedule goes, and it's part of what you have to put up with in sports.”

“It's gonna kill me if you guys don't win," Jennie said, looking down at her mostly uneaten ice cream. "You've worked so hard."

"Everyone here has worked hard, including Florida and Fresno State. That's another thing you learn in team sports. You have to do it for more than just winning. You have to do it because you enjoy it." She looked over at Heather. "Isn't that right?"

"Yeah, but I really want to win," she said, smiling.

"Nobody wants to win more than I do," Ryan said, her eyes glittering with determination.

They went back to their hotel rooms, and Ryan, Jamie, Catherine and Jennie sat in Catherine's room rather absently watching the local news. Ryan looked as though something had just occurred to her, saying, "Now that school is over are you heading back home tomorrow night Jen?"

Catherine gave her a look that was hard to discern, but Ryan felt something odd. Some silent warning coming from her mother-in-law. Catherine said, "I haven't gotten a chance to visit with Jennie. We've been driving and watching softball games, but we haven't really talked. I'd like it if she could stay a while longer."

She looked at Ryan intently, and Ryan replied, "Okay. That's fine. I'll call Sandy tomorrow as soon as I get a chance and ask her if it's okay if Jen stays a bit longer. How long were you thinking of, a day or two?"

Catherine shook her head a tiny bit. “Could we make it open-ended?"

Ryan really wanted to know what was on Catherine's mind, but it was clear she didn't want to say anything with Jennie still in the room. “Sure. I don't think Sandy will mind. Since school's out it's hard for her to keep the girls busy anyway."

“It's after midnight," Catherine said. You should probably go get your bed ready, Jen. Are you sure you want to sleep on the floor in Heather's room? I'm more than happy to get you your own."

"No, I like sleeping with the guys."

Catherine couldn't help but smile at her. "All right, dear. You get going now and I'll come get you for breakfast in the morning. Sleep well."

Jennie got up and went to the door and nodded her goodbyes to everyone. After she walked out, Ryan said, "She's so upset about our loss today. I think having her get involved with the team was a mixed blessing."

"It won't be mixed if you guys don't pull it off tomorrow," Jamie said. She moved over to the bed and sat by Ryan and put her arm around her. "How's that for added pressure?"

“I thrive on pressure," Ryan said, grinning. She looked at Catherine and said, "You looked like you were trying to send me a very quiet message when I asked about Jennie."

"I didn't want to say anything while she was here, but we do need to discuss something. Things aren't going well at the group home."


It was almost 1 a.m. after they've finished discussing Jennie and her situation. "I'm sorry to keep you up so late," Catherine said. “We probably should have discussed this tomorrow.”

Ryan yawned noisily, then smiled and excused herself. "Tomorrow won't be any better. We've got two big games, and they'll take all day. I'm glad we talked about it tonight. I don't know what we're going to do about it, but I'm glad we talked about it."

Catherine got up and Jamie rose with her and put her arm around her shoulders, hugging her gently. "I'm glad you were able to figure out what was going on, Mom. Both Ryan and I have tried, but you're the one who got it done. Thanks."

“It was just because we were in the same car for such a long period. I didn't turn the radio on, so she had nothing to do except talk."

“Being with an adult in a closed car for a long time is one of the best ways to find out what's going on with a kid," Ryan said. “I've just been neglecting her so badly..." she trailed off.

Jamie released her mother and walked over to Ryan touching her on the cheek. "You're doing everything you can. Don't beat yourself up about it."

"When a kid relies on you have to make them the priority. I haven't done that with Jennie, and that's not something I can just brush off. She's not like a pet hamster."

“You wouldn't ignore a pet hamster, either," Jamie said fondly. "You're doing all that you can. You just have a lot of responsibilities."

"I know that. But Jennie should be at the top of my list, and she hasn't been.”



Continued in Part 7


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