Author's note: This story is based on characters from my series, I Found My Heart in San Francisco. If you're not familiar with the characters, you might be more than a little confused by this tale. That doesn't mean you shouldn't read it - just be prepared to wonder who in the heck these people are.
San Francisco, California
February 13, 1999
Conor O'Flaherty's fork paused half-way to his mouth. "Where are you headed?" he asked, giving his sister a head-to-toe assessment. "You're awfully dressed up. Taking Tracy out?"
"Yeah. My first real date for Valentine's day."
His fork completed its trip and he chewed contemplatively. "How's it working? Do you like seeing the same girl?"
Ryan sat down and crossed a foot over a knee. Seeing a scuff mark, she removed her shoe and inspected it. She got up and went to the kitchen, found a shoe brush in the cabinet, and began to buff the shoe. "I like it."
"Ooo. . .don't let your enthusiasm knock you out."
Strolling back into the dining room, Ryan gave him a droll look. "It's pretty good. I like not having to go trolling to find a girl on a Friday night. And Tracy's fun to be with. But I guess I believed what I've always heard. . .that it's easy to tell when you're in love."
"Not working for you, huh?"
"No, not so far. I don't know if that's normal, or if I haven't given it long enough."
"Don't ask me. Da's the only one around here who's been in love."
"You were in love," Ryan said, looking at her brother with a questioning gaze. "Weren't you?"
"Not enough to get married. I don't know if it counts if you're not willing to take the leap."
"Mmm. . .I guess that's true. But Da's not the kinda guy I'm interested in asking for advice on love. It's been a long time since he fell. Besides," she said, putting her shoe back on, "I don't know how much experience he has. He's never talked about a woman before Mama."
"He never will," Conor predicted.
"Right. So he might have met Mama, snapped her up, and didn't think twice about it. I'm coming from a very different perspective."
"I hear ya. I always think the next one's gonna be just a little bit better. There's a whole lot of grass out there, and it all looks really, really green when I'm closed in a yard."
Ryan laughed and walked over to her brother. She kissed his head and said, "I wish I didn't feel the same way, but I do. Tracy's great, but is she great enough to be the last woman I sleep with?" She shook her head, her eyes wide. "A girl's gotta be super-great for that!"
"Super-super-great. Ridiculously great. So great that. . ."
Ryan waved goodbye, her brother continuing with his list of superlatives.
Arriving at Tracy's apartment in the Marina, Ryan buzzed and waited to be let in. Tracy hit the release button for the door. Ryan sighed; she had reminded her a half-dozen times not to do that without asking who was buzzing. It bothered her that her girlfriend let anyone who asked into the building, though she slightly envied Tracy's obliviousness to how much danger there was in the world. It had become clear Tracy wasn't going to listen to her warnings, and Ryan resolved not to caution her again.
As she often did, Tracy left her apartment and met Ryan halfway. As soon as she caught sight of her, Ryan stopped and cast a very appreciative look up and down Tracy's long, lean body. As she often did, Tracy was wearing a dress. It was beyond simple, just a form-fitting navy blue sheath, but its simplicity allowed Ryan to fix her gaze on Tracy's lovely body, rather than being distracted by color or ornament. "Do you dress to please me, or is it just a coincidence?" Ryan asked, staring openly.
"Both," Tracy said, bending from her higher stair to place a gentle kiss on Ryan's lips. "You just happen to like my style."
As Tracy turned, Ryan reached up and put her hand on Tracy's very shapely ass. "I like a lot of things about you," she said, sighing dreamily while she squeezed the firm, yet pliable, flesh.
Tracy shook her ass seductively, giving Ryan the first of what she anticipated to be many tingles.
After Tracy closed the door, Ryan extended one of the gifts she'd brought. Getting up early, she'd gone to the wholesale flower mart and purchased a single, unique rose. It was a red so deep that it had a blue cast to it, and it was barely in bloom. Tracy took the flower and kissed the petals as she breathed in the light scent. "This is beautiful," she said. She took the stem between her teeth and leaned forward, kissing Ryan playfully.
Ryan handed her another gift, a nicely illustrated libretto of "Cosi fan Tutte," the opera that Tracy had taken her to in the fall. Ryan found it in a used bookstore a month earlier and thought it would be perfect.
Putting the flower on the table, Tracy held the book to her heart. "You're so thoughtful." Both arms around Ryan's neck, she pressed her hips against Ryan's, then pulled her close and kissed her tenderly. "And so beautiful," she whispered.
"Thanks," Ryan said. As usual, she seemed the slightest bit uncomfortable with the compliment. She pulled away and looked at the table, appearing very interested in the few things lying there.
"Humble, too." She patted Ryan's cheek. "That's a nice combo." Reaching over to the table, Tracy grasped a small box and handed it to Ryan. "This isn't much, but I really hope you enjoy it."
Grinning, Ryan opened the box, pausing in puzzlement when she pulled out a pair of black, lacy panties. "These are. . .nice. Very pretty."
Tracy wrapped an arm around Ryan's waist and pulled her even closer. "They might be a little small on you, so I thought I could wear them. . .if you wanted."
She looked up at her with such a seductively sexy smile that Ryan felt her clit pulse. "Uhm. . .okay. They'd probably look great on you."
"Wanna see?" Tracy hooked a finger into the panties and tugged on them. "Then you could see if they fit me like you like them."
Her big, brown eyes were looking into Ryan's so soulfully that Ryan felt her head moving in a nod. She caught herself when Tracy turned and grasped her hand, heading to the bedroom. "We have dinner reservations," she got out, sounding slightly strangled.
"We can eat any time," Tracy said as she moved forward. "I've been waiting for this for months."
"Wait!" Ryan said, so loudly that Tracy stopped abruptly, turning to see what had caused the outburst.
"What?" Her tone reflected her growing annoyance.
Seeing that she'd reacted too harshly, Ryan put her hands out and pulled Tracy close. "Don't rush, baby. Let's go have dinner and some wine and chill a little." She bent and kissed all around her mouth, resisting Tracy's attempts at catching Ryan's moving lips. "Unh-uh," Ryan said, shaking her head. She increased the strength of her hold, crushing Tracy's breasts to her own. "Let me guide you."
Snapping her teeth together, just missing Ryan's lip, Tracy muttered, "Letting you top me is what you want, hot stuff. You can't stand to follow, can you."
"Guilty," Ryan said. "You've got my number."
"I've had your number since you asked me out. I just thought you'd have mine by now. Most women who want to top me would have topped me a long, long time ago."
"True," Ryan said, grinning sexily. "But we agreed we were gonna do more than just have sex. Remember that discussion? We agreed, Tracy. No sex until we were both ready to make a commitment to each other."
"And I told you that you didn't have to stick to that any more. Remember?"
"Yeah, yeah, I do." Ryan shook her head, and brushed her hair back over her shoulder. "But I'm starving right now and I've been dreaming about dinner all day." She took Tracy's hands and started pulling her towards the door. "A nice, romantic dinner. Just the two of us. A good bottle of wine. Maybe some warm chocolate cake. How can you resist?"
Smiling reluctantly, Tracy said, "I can't and you know it. You always get your way, you big, tough top."
"I'm not so tough," Ryan grinned. "Well. . .maybe I am a little tough."
"And not so humble. I take back my earlier compliment."
"Well, you are still gorgeous and sexy, and you look fantastic, so you can keep all of mine."
Tracy stuck out her tongue and Ryan dove for it, catching it in her mouth and sucking on it delicately. Giving in, Tracy put her arms around Ryan's shoulders and let herself be kissed to Ryan's content.
Accepting the bite of chocolate cake that Tracy placed into her mouth with her fingers, Ryan tried not to think of how she'd love to have those talented digits dancing across her clit. She wasn't sure if Tracy was the most sensual woman she'd ever dated or if her self-imposed celibacy was making her overreact, but Ryan could barely sit still. The entire dinner had been a mild torture session, with her body wanting to rush back to Tracy's to put those panties on her and take them off as quickly as possible. But her brain was stubborn as usual, and compelled her to bring up the topic they'd been dancing around for weeks.
"Can we talk about where we are?" Ryan asked.
"We're at a nice, Italian restaurant, and we're about to go back to my apartment and make love," Tracy said, as though it were a foregone conclusion.
Ryan couldn't help but smile at her perseverance. "That's what I'd like to talk about. I know you say you don't care if I stick to my half of the promise, but I'm not the kind of woman who makes promises lightly."
Tracy put her hands in her lap and raised an eyebrow. "That's an understatement. Believe me, Ryan, if I'd known you were the type to hang herself before she would give into temptation, I never, ever would have asked you to promise that. I just wanted to make you wait a date or two before you started pressing me for sex!"
Falling back against her chair, Ryan gazed up at the ceiling and silently counted to ten. "Tracy," she said evenly, "I've always been honest with you. I don't like to be manipulated, and I'd guess you don't either. I've told you nothing but the truth from the very beginning, and if you only wanted to have a few dates before we had sex, why didn't you tell me that?"
Tracy reached across the table and took Ryan's hand, a hand which clearly wasn't being offered willingly. "Hey, I've really enjoyed being with you. If I just wanted a quick lay, I could have gotten that anywhere. But it seems like you're on some kind of mission here. This doesn't have to be a big deal, Ryan. Why can't we just have sex? I'm not sure you're the woman for me. How can I know that if I don't know if we'll click?"
Ryan nodded. "I understand. But we wouldn't be having this discussion if you hadn't made me promise to hold off until I was sure I wanted to be in a relationship with you."
Cocking her head in confusion, Tracy asked, "Have you been seeing anyone else?"
"Have you had sex with anyone else?"
"It's been months! If this isn't a relationship, I don't know what is!"
Obstinately, Ryan shook her head. "I understand this isn't important to you anymore, but it is to me." She turned Tracy's hand over and held it. Looking into her eyes, she said, "I've never held off on having sex; I've never tried to be faithful to one woman. This is important to me, Tracy. It means something."
"What does it mean? I really don't get it, baby." Her brow was furrowed and her dark eyes were clouded with confusion.
"I can't explain it. I wish I could. . .but it's not something I understand very well myself. All I know is that I agreed that we wouldn't have sex until we were committed to each other, and we're not there yet." She shrugged helplessly. "We're just not."
"But how do we get there? You seem like you're into me. What are you waiting for?"
Ryan fidgeted uncomfortably. "I dunno." Her eyes darted everywhere but at Tracy's intent gaze. "I. . .I have some things that worry me. I'm not sure you'll fit into my world, and I'm not sure I can fit into yours."
Making a dismissive gesture with her hand, Tracy said, "What world? We're in school together, not members of some feuding tribes."
"I know, but I haven't met your family or anything. . ."
"What? You won't sleep with me until you meet my family? Are you some kinda religious nut?"
"No," Ryan said, mildly annoyed. "We've discussed this. I'm your average semi-Catholic, and I clearly pick which elements I agree with and which ones I don't. I don't blindly follow any dictates from the Vatican. It's not a religious thing, Tracy, it's a moral issue."
"You've slept with every lesbian at Cal except me! How moral is that?"
"Could you keep your voice down?" Ryan whispered. "The whole restaurant doesn't need to know my history."
"Sorry," Tracy said in a lower tone. "But this has me so confused. Why can't we sleep together and keep dating until we're tired of each other?"
"Because that's not what I said I'd do," Ryan repeated. "I'm true to my word. Even when it's uncomfortable."
Crossing her arms over her chest, Tracy gave Ryan a penetrating look. "So, you don't wanna stop seeing me, but you aren't ready to marry me, right?"
"Uhm. . .I guess that's close to the truth. We don't have to get married, but I want to be sure we're both ready to be committed to one another."
"Even if waiting is not what I want?"
"Yeah. I'm afraid that's about the size of it. I didn't know it at the time, but now it's what I want." Ryan dropped her head and looked at her empty plate for a moment. When she looked up again, she fixed Tracy with her gaze. "I wish you would have told me what you really wanted when we first met. This would have been a lot easier."
"I would have if I'd known you'd rather take a bullet than go back on your word. I thought you were a nice, loose woman." She smiled warmly as she said it, and that took some of the sting out of it.
"I am," Ryan said, grinning wickedly. "But you have to tell me you want me loose. You told me you wanted me faithful and chaste. Your bad."
After nearly an hour in Tracy's apartment, Ryan felt like she'd been assaulted. As soon as they'd arrived, Tracy claimed she'd eaten so much that she had to put on more comfortable clothes. When she came out, Ryan considered rushing for the front door. Tracy had put on a silky, form-fitting robe, with a lacy camisole peeking out from the shawl collar. Grinning sexily, she touched Ryan's shoulder, making the larger woman scramble to land on the seat of an upholstered chair.
Tracy slid onto Ryan's lap and spent the next few minutes clearly trying to convince Ryan to commit to her based solely on her hot kisses and hotter body. She'd nearly succeeded, but Ryan found that her resolve was barely. . .barely able to withstand Tracy's seductive persuasion.
Ryan was in bed within minutes of returning home, and a few minutes after that, she was breathing heavily from a quick orgasm. Her hand was still between her legs when her beeper went off. Hoping it wasn't Tracy trying to get her to return to her apartment, she looked at the "Jamie" readout and noted her friend's cell number. "That's weird. Why's she calling me at this time of night?" Sitting back on the bed, she dialed, and waited for Jamie to pick up.
A few minutes later, she was still trying to sort out all that Jamie had said. All she was sure of was that her dearest friend was in a tremendous amount of pain. And that Jack Townsend was a prize asshole.
Hours later, Ryan lay in bed again, this time tenderly holding Jamie and trying to contain her anger at Jack. She had no idea what his side of the story was, but she knew he had to be a jerk. No decent guy could be in a relationship with a woman like Jamie and toss her aside for such flimsy reasons. He seemed like a self-involved jackoff who had to have everything his way-no matter who he hurt. She knew Jamie was better off without him, but she would never have admitted that; Jamie didn't need to hear her opinions. Plus, she didn't want to say anything bad about Jack in case Jamie took him back. Stranger things had happened, and Ryan had once become a persona non grata when she'd told another friend a similar truth.
So she held Jamie in her arms and tried to be still while her friend settled into a deeper sleep. It was hard staying awake, but she was putting up a good fight. She kept thinking about how hard the next weeks and months would be for Jamie, and resolved to spend more time with her-even if Tracy didn't like it. Oh, shit. I've got a date for brunch this afternoon. Tracy'll kill me if I cancel, but I can't leave Jamie. I know today's the actual Valentine's Day, but last night was our real date. I can make it up to her later.
Ryan was winning the battle with the Sandman, but she was losing the war. Her thoughts were filled with concern for Jamie and she tried to stay awake by thinking of ways to make her feel better. Holding her and rubbing her back had really seemed to help, but there must be more she could do. . .there must be more. . .
Feeling more comfortable and much more awake, Ryan snuggled up against Jamie's body, stroking her back with her cheek. Hearing a small sound, Ryan lay still, pausing until Jamie said, "You're supposed to be helping me sleep, not waking me up."
When she turned over, her eyes were clear and her cheeks were pink and healthy-looking. It looked like she'd just applied a little makeup, which was odd, since Ryan had had an eye on her since she'd been in the bathroom vomiting just a short time earlier. But for some reason, Ryan didn't want to think about the inconsistency. She just wanted to look at her friend and let herself really take her in. All the way in.
Time seemed to pause, just enough to let her absorb all of the parts that combined to make Jamie so thoroughly attractive: her thick, golden hair, sections of which draped perfectly across her forehead, making her look both young and casual; those green eyes, deeper in hue than usual, thanks to the dim lamplight; her delicate features, which were so expressive. . .so filled with emotion.
Ryan was gazing at Jamie's sweet smile, fixated on the coral tint to her lips when those lips opened and Jamie said, "What are you thinking about?"
Feeling no discomfort, no embarrassment, Ryan said, "You."
"What about me?"
It seemed that Jamie was now just inches from her face, and Ryan let her eyes close, the better to detect her scent. "I was thinking about how beautiful you are."
Warm, moist breath floated past her cheek. "You think I'm beautiful?"
Ryan didn't have to open her eyes to know that Jamie was directly in front of her. She could smell her clean, fresh, vaguely flowery scent, and feel the heat from her body. She honestly didn't need to open her eyes. It was as though she could see as well with them closed - feeling. . .sensing Jamie move even closer, until they were cheek to cheek. The laws of physics had been suspended, since the bed hadn't moved and there was no way they could be so close together without lying down. But that didn't faze Ryan. Everything seemed right, no matter how implausible.
A tiny shred of time passed, and they were lying side by side. The sun was streaming in the window, making Jamie's brows and lashes glow as if lit from within. Her eyes, which were gazing peacefully at Ryan, were a color that Ryan could only associate with Ireland. A warm summer's day lying in long, thick grass, the sun's rays turning the blades into a green color-wheel - deep, deep green at the roots, changing bit by bit to a pale, almost golden color. Somewhere in the spectrum was the color of Jamie's lovely eyes. Not just one spot, but many-perhaps dozens. Flecks of dark, light, and everything in between. And all of that verdant color was focused on her at that moment, luring her in.
They were kissing. Kisses so sweet that Ryan could not only taste them-she could smell them, see them and feel them. They suffused her senses, threatening to overwhelm her. But inside, deep inside, she felt calmer and more centered than she could ever recall feeling. Her mind flashed to Tracy and the fire that burned between them. It all seemed so hard, like so much work - when to give in, when to pull back, how much frustration would be too much. But it wasn't that way with Jamie. There was no tension anywhere in the world that Ryan could conceive. Everything was right. Serenity.
There was a gentle to and fro between them, a give and take that felt like the swaying of a hammock in a breeze. Unhurried, but relentless. They kissed with only their mouths, the weight of their bodies not hindering them. The sweet, sweet caresses continued until they became Ryan's whole world. She was certain, with a sureness she'd never felt, that Jamie's kisses would keep her, sustain her, as surely as food and water.
The warmth of the sun grew stronger until she kicked off the comforter and let the cool air waft over her body. Ryan stretched as she always did when she woke, nearly hitting Jamie when she turned her body to the side. She gasped audibly, startled to find Jamie in her bed. Then the facts of the previous evening assailed her. Her stomach flipped at the thought of how devastated Jamie had been. She'd cried for hours, and had finally fallen asleep from exhaustion.
What puzzled Ryan was how unaccountably happy she felt, despite Jamie's pain. It made no sense to her, but she had a hard time keeping from jumping out of bed and going for a swim in the ocean with Duffy. She was filled with a sense of optimism which was extreme even for her.
Ryan snuck out of bed and went into the bathroom to clean up. She was unable to wipe the smile from her face, but she made herself consider the situation. Jamie was her dearest friend and she'd go to any lengths to help her. If it was possible to bind another person's broken heart back together, she would do it. Jamie was going to be sad, but she'd get over Jack; Ryan was sure of that. And once she did, she'd be able to open herself, really open herself, to being loved by someone who could reach inside and touch her heart. Jamie deserved nothing but the best, and some lucky person would, without question, realize that. Ryan knew it would happen. For some reason, she'd never been so sure of anything.