I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 7: Getaway

By S X Meagher





They decided to go to the PCH Grill for lunch, and Ryan brought all of the brochures and documents that Catherine had been given at check-in. She pored over the material as though she was drawing up plans to invade a foreign country, finally coming up with a master plan that she was happy with.

Ryan folded her hands on the table, looking at each of her adult companions with an expectant look on her handsome face. "Well?" Jamie asked, knowing that her partner wanted to share, but that she liked to be cajoled a bit.

"Well, what?" The dark head cocked slightly, bright blue eyes shimmering with impish pleasure.

"Spill it, General Schwartzkopf! I know you have every minute planned."

"Not every minute," Ryan huffed. "I’ve allowed for one hour a day for personal time. You may spend that as you wish."

"Buffy…" Jamie threatened, narrowing her gaze.

"Okay," Ryan said excitedly. "Here’s the plan. We wait until Bitsy is ready for her nap. Then we go on the ‘Welcome to Disneyland Tour’ that’s part of the package. I don’t think the baby would like it, and it’s only an hour and a half, so we could go and be back while she sleeps. This presupposes that you don’t mind watching her," Ryan said, addressing Catherine.

"Of course not," Catherine agreed. "I could use a nap as well."

"Okay, we’re set," Ryan declared, smiling at the server as lunch was delivered.

"That’s it?" Jamie asked. "That’s all you’ve planned?"

"Nope. The rest is on a need-to-know basis," she decreed, giving her partner a fiendish grin.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Caitlin was pretty riled up after lunch, and Ryan decided that she needed some cuddling and calming to get ready to nap. So she took the baby into their room and sat on a comfortable chair to read to her from one of her storybooks.

The Evans women sat in the living room and chatted while Ryan performed her "sand man" act.

They had been chatting for just a few minutes when Catherine’s cell phone rang. Finding the little device, she hit the button and said, "Hello."

Jamie’s brow furrowed when her mother’s face fell, a pained look crossing her features for just a moment before a familiar mask of studied indifference settled there. "I didn’t have plans to do this before, Jim," she said as she got up to go to her room. "You don’t need to speak to me in that tone," she snapped as the door closed, preventing Jamie from hearing the rest.

She was gone only a few minutes, her composure back in place when she re-entered the living room. "I’m sorry about that, Honey. I don’t like for you to hear that type of bickering."

Jamie looked up, focusing her eyes on her mother’s face as the older woman sat back down. "Mom, will you level with me?" she asked softly.

Catherine blinked a few times, finally nodding her head slowly. "Of course, Dear. What do you want to know?"

"Is my relationship putting stress on your marriage? I…I couldn’t stand it if I thought you were having trouble because of me."

"Come here, Jamie," Catherine said softly, patting the cushion next to her. The younger woman crossed the room and sat next to her mother, automatically leaning her head on her shoulder. "Yes, your father and I are having problems. No, it’s not because of you."

"But it certainly seems more than coincidental, Mom," Jamie insisted. "I mean, I’ve never heard you argue about things…"

"Jamie, just because we didn’t argue doesn’t mean that everything was all right. A little arguing is a good sign, Honey. It shows that you care enough to feel hurt."

"Are you hurt, Mom?" she asked with concern, reaching over to grasp her mother’s hand.

"Yes, Dear, I’m hurt, and I’m sure that your father is, too. He wouldn’t behave as he has been if he wasn’t acting out of fear and pain."

Jamie’s brow furrowed as she thought that her father had no reason to feel anything other than shame for the way he treated Ryan. "Why is he hurt?"

"I doubt that you look at it this way, Dear, but he’s had to deal with some very big changes in the last six months, and he hasn’t handled them well. I think it really shook him when you broke up with Jack, even though I doubt that he ever told you that."

"No, no he didn’t," she said, shaking her head a little. "But why…?"

"I think he liked the path you were on, Jamie. It mirrored the choices he would have made for you. I think he felt that he’d done his job as a parent, and now you would go on your way and give credence to his choices by making the same ones for yourself."

The younger woman nodded, realizing for the first time that her breaking up with Jack might have seemed like a slap in the face to her father.

"Your falling in love with Ryan put a fine point on your decision to follow your own path, Jamie. This isn’t what he wants for you, and it isn’t who he thinks that you are. It’s made him question your entire relationship, Honey. As angry as I’ve been with him, I still have some empathy for how this has hurt him, and I hope that you can find some of that in your heart, too, Jamie."

"It will take a while, Mom," she said, feeling the need to be totally honest. "He’s going to have to back off from harassing Ryan, or I’ll never forgive him."

Catherine nodded slowly, knowing that Jamie had just as hard a time forgiving people as her father did.

"So why is he angry with you, Mom? You didn’t encourage my choices."

"Of course I did, Honey," Catherine corrected. "Not at first, of course, but as time goes on, and I’ve realized how right this is for you, I’m very supportive. I would honestly say that this is the first time in our relationship that I have openly defied him. It’s not easy for him to take, Jamie, and he’s lashing out."

"So it is my fault," the younger woman moaned. "I knew that he was angry with me and taking it out on you."

"Not true, Dear," Catherine assured her. "It’s about time we had a disagreement. We’ve been like business partners for years now, but I was the silent partner, letting him make all of the decisions. I think this will either make us examine our marriage and try to fix it or…" she trailed off, not wanting to say the words, but knowing that Jamie understood her message.

Jamie released her hold and slumped back onto the sofa. "I just didn’t have any idea…" she said slowly. "I thought you were happy."

"We weren’t unhappy, Dear," she assured her. "We’ve each played our part, and kept up the façade, but we haven’t had any emotional spark in a long, long while."

"How long?" she asked tentatively, not having any idea when things had changed for her parents..

Catherine looked like she was not going to answer but she finally said, "I’d say at least 15 years."

"15 years!" Jamie cried. "You’ve only been married 22 years! What happened? How does the emotion just leave a marriage?"

Catherine patted her thigh in a comforting manner as she said, "Maybe some day we can talk about this. But I don’t think this is the time."

Jamie looked over at her with her face full of unanswered questions. "But hearing this makes me worry, Mom. Now I feel that I need to be the peacemaker so that you and Daddy don’t divorce." Her stomach was pulsing in a knot of tension, and she knew that she was moments from being sick.

Catherine saw the warning signs on her daughter’s pale face with the slightly green cast beneath her pallor. She knew that she needed to reassure her, but she didn’t want to lie to her, so she was torn about what to say.

Not getting her answers fast enough, Jamie tried again. "You say that you’ve had trouble for over 15 years, Mom. Do you think you got married too young? Is that part of the problem?"

"I’m certain of it, Dear," Catherine said in an unguarded moment, the truth of the question hitting her hard. "It was too soon, and too rapid, especially for your father."

"Then why did you do it so soon? It’s not like you had to…"

Catherine didn’t respond directly. She just gazed at her daughter's pain-filled features and felt like her heart would break at the anguish she saw reflected in the watery green eyes. Jamie held her gaze until the answer became obvious to her. "You…had to."

An almost imperceptible nod was her answer. Catherine looked down at the floor with a look of shame as she admitted, "I think he’s always blamed me for that."

Jamie was too stunned to move at this point. She heard Ryan open the door from their room, but it closed again just a few seconds later. Catherine scooted closer and slid her arms around her daughter as she whispered, "You were the best mistake I’ve ever made, Honey. Both of us were overjoyed to have you. It was just a little earlier than we had planned."

Jamie took a deep breath and asked the question that was burning in her mind. "Did you ever consider…aborting me?"

Catherine sat up in alarm as she cried, "NO! Not for a second! We never even discussed that with each other, Jamie!"

There was something in her mother’s statement that niggled in the back of her mind, and Jamie finally asked, "Who did discuss it? Did someone try to talk you into having an abortion?"

Catherine mentally cursed her daughter’s perceptiveness, wishing that she could lie and answer in the negative. But she knew that her face would betray her lie, and she didn’t want to perpetuate any more lies or half-truths with her daughter. She nodded slowly, her head moving almost imperceptibly.

"Who?" Jamie asked, her voice quiet, yet determined.

"My mother," Catherine finally whispered. "She felt that I was ruining my life to get married so young. She…she didn’t think of you as a person, Jamie, please believe that."

The younger woman nodded, understanding that an unplanned pregnancy could seem like nothing more than an inconvenience. "You thought of me as a person, didn’t you, Mom?’ she asked softly, somehow knowing the answer.

"From the first day," Catherine whispered, wrapping her in a bruising embrace. "As much tumult as it caused, I knew from the first day that you were going to be a gift to us, Jamie. I’ve never—not for one minute—regretted my decision to give birth to you." She sniffed a few times, her composure shot, as she added, "Neither has your father, Honey. He wasn’t really ready to get married, but he was never unhappy about you. It was just the timing that was hard for him."

She closed her eyes and nodded as she took in a deep breath. "I believe you, Mom. It’s just a shock for me. One of the things I always believed was that you were both very much in love, and that your decision to have me was just that…a decision. It’s hard to hear that my arrival caused you to decide to marry."

"You caused us to decide to marry sooner than we might have," Catherine corrected, "but I believe we would have done so anyway, Jamie, I really do. I loved your father and I really wanted to build a life with him. I can’t speak for him, but I believe he loved me too."

"Do you still love him?" she finally asked.

"Yes, I do," she replied without hesitation. "But I don’t like him much at the moment."

"I don’t like him much either," Jamie agreed, "but I don’t think I could ever stop loving him."

"He doesn’t make it easy sometimes, Jamie. He can be a difficult man to love."

They were quiet for a few moments, their arms still wrapped around each other, when Ryan’s dark head poked through the door again.

"Come on in, Honey," Jamie said, sitting up and extending a hand in Ryan’s direction. When the tall woman settled her frame onto the couch, Jamie leaned into her, placing her head on Ryan’s chest to allow for a much needed hug. The silence was uncomfortable, but Ryan wasn’t about to ask why both women had been crying. She just offered as much comfort as her body could convey, knowing that Jamie would tell her what was wrong when they were alone. "We’d better get going if we’re going to make it back before Caitlin wakes," Jamie reminded her partner as she regretfully pulled out of her grasp.

"I’m ready," Ryan said. "Are you sure you don’t mind this, Catherine?"

"I not only don’t mind, it’s what I choose," she assured her.

As they headed for the door Jamie reminded her, "I’ve got my phone on and I left the number right on the table. Call us if you need anything. Promise?"

"I promise," she said, sparing a fond smile for her daughter. "Now, go have fun!"

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As they hopped onto the monorail for the short ride to the park, Ryan tried to contain her enthusiasm over the transportation in order to gently ask, "Wanna talk about it?"

A small nod preceded her answer. "My parents had to get married, and now they might get divorced," she said flatly.

"What!?! Did she say that in so many words?"

"Which part?" Jamie inquired.

"About getting divorced!" Ryan replied with alarm.

"Yes, basically she said that in so many words." After a beat she asked, "You’re not surprised that she was pregnant?"

Ryan blushed a little as she conceded, "Not really. I thought as much when you told me how young she was when they got married. I also saw those pictures of their wedding, and it looked like it was the middle of the summer. That didn’t add up to having you in February."

Jamie slapped herself in the forehead, muttering, "I’ve never known them to celebrate their anniversary. I have no idea when they got married."

"No big deal, Love. I also didn’t think it was that common for wealthy young women to get married when they’re 19 without some mitigating circumstance. But I’m shocked that they might get divorced! She just seemed so accepting of your dad’s behavior—like she was used to it."

"I think she is used to it, Ryan, but I also think she’s had enough. I think she’s finally trying to be an equal partner, and he doesn’t like it."

Ryan looked at her as she bit her lip anxiously. "Jamie, I care very much about how all of this affects you, but there’s a great big flower bed in the shape of Mickey’s head, and I can see Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and it’s getting to be too much for me to stay focused." The look on her face was nearly pleading, asking for permission to lose herself in the fantasy, and Jamie happily acceded to her wish. She decided that a couple of hours of fantasy was what they both needed, and she resolved not to think about the whole mess until they returned to the hotel.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Against all odds, the pair spent a totally enjoyable hour and a half on their tour. Summoning powers of denial that she didn’t know she had, Jamie was able to lose herself in the moment, likely aided by Ryan’s boundless enthusiasm for the entire experience. The larger woman hopped around on the tram like a three-year-old, bubbling with excitement as they were shown nearly every part of the park along with a good bit of the behind the scenes workings of the enterprise.

As soon as the tour was finished they rushed back to the room, the monorail expediting their journey. Ryan regaled Catherine with minute details of nearly everything they had seen, while Jamie went in to check on the baby. When she emerged from the bedroom 15 minutes later, she carried a gurgling infant with her. The baby wore a fresh diaper and nothing else as she held out her little arms to her cousin. Ryan gladly accepted the bundle and spent a few minutes talking softly to her, filling her in on the tour and their plans for the evening.

Jamie brought Catherine up to date simultaneously. "We thought we could go over to the park and have dinner and just walk around. They have a big parade at six that I think Caitlin would enjoy, so we’d like to do that. Then we thought we’d bring her back here and put her to bed. If we did that, would you be averse to watching her while we went back to go on some rides?"

"Not at all," Catherine said agreeably. "There are a couple of movies on pay-per-view that I’d like to see, and I’m in the middle of a fantastic book. I can easily entertain myself."

"Great. Let’s go over around five so we can be sure to find a space to see the parade. You don’t mind just grabbing a hot dog for dinner, do you?"

Catherine gave her daughter a fond smile as she teased, "You know how I love hot dogs, Honey." At Jamie’s droll grin, Catherine suggested, "Let me take care of dinner. I have an alternative to hot dogs that I think you’ll be happy with."

"Um...okay," Jamie agreed as she joined her companions on the floor. Ryan was lying flat on her back and Caitlin was climbing all over her like she was a living jungle gym. Both the gymnast and the human apparatus were giggling as they played their little game. Before long Jamie had joined the game as an auxiliary gym, lying shoulder to shoulder with her partner as Caitlin expanded her territory. She poked and prodded and teased her big baby-sitters as she explored their faces with a thoroughness that amazed Catherine when she came back into the room to watch. Whatever part Caitlin grabbed, they would identify it for her verbally and then touch her corresponding part in a more gentle fashion. Her concentration and enthusiasm seemed endless as they continued for nearly an hour, accompanied by Caitlin’s frenzied laugh.

As they rode back to the park on the monorail, Catherine could not help but ask, "How did you learn how to treat Caitlin with so much patience, Ryan? Is that how you were raised?"

"I think so," she agreed reflectively. "I think my Aunt Maeve was the truly gifted one. She taught my parents a lot about raising children, according to my father."

"She’s your father’s sister?"

"No, she’s my mother’s older sister. According to my father, Maeve spent a terrific amount of time sharing her gifts when they had my brother Brendan. Her youngest was three or four when Brendan was born, so she had the opportunity to help out a lot."

"How did she learn?" Catherine asked.

"My father says it surely was not from my grandmother, and I’m inclined to agree," she said with a laugh. "I’ve spent a lot of time with my grandmother, and I must admit that her childrearing techniques are mostly along the lines of ‘children should be seen and not heard’."

"That amazes me," Jamie said. "You’ve told me that she was strong willed, but I guess I assumed that she was the force behind all of the love in your family."

"No, I don’t think so. I think my grandfather was the one who made the girls feel loved and enabled them to express it so well."

"I would not have guessed that, Ryan," Jamie said thoughtfully. "I picture your grandmother as an older version of Maeve…all cute and sweet and loving."

"Lord no!" Ryan laughed. "And if you told them both that, I’m not sure who would be more insulted!"

"Are you serious, Honey?" Jamie gaped. "I’ve never heard Maeve say a bad word about anyone."

"Oh, she’d never say a bad word about my grandmother, but it’s pretty obvious they have their struggled. It doesn’t take too much intuition to guess why a young woman would leave her home mere moments after she graduated from secondary school. She had no obvious skills, only enough money for the plane fare, and had never been farther from home than Dublin. She had to be as interested in the leaving as she was in the adventure."

"Did she come alone?" Catherine asked, amazed that a young woman would be so bold.

"No, she came with a friend from school. My mother stayed in Ireland until she was 18, then she followed her, as every one knew she would—even though she was fairly happy in Ireland." Ryan smiled at Catherine and said, "You’ll really like my aunt. She’s quiet and very loving, but she has an inner strength that I envy. She had the misfortune of choosing the wrong man to marry, and she was in a loveless marriage most of her life, but none of her personal troubles ever seemed to dim her spirits. She’s the epitome of a survivor, Catherine. She just has a pure heart that can’t be dimmed, and I must say we’re all lucky to have her."

"Is she still married?" Catherine asked.

"No, her husband died a little less than two years ago. They'd been separated for many years but they never divorced." A shy smile lit up Ryan’s face as she revealed, "She is going to marry again though."

"Really?" Catherine asked. "You must be very happy for her."

"Oh I am, but the rest of the family doesn’t know yet. She’s a bit afraid of the reaction she’ll get when she informs everyone of her selection."

"Why would that be?"

"Because it’s my father," she said simply.

Catherine looked puzzled for an instant but the light quickly dawned on the root of the problem. "Are they afraid that it looks odd to marry your deceased sister’s husband?"

"I think that’s most of it," she conceded. "Plus, it will be odd to get used to the two of them being in love. Da has been single since we were small, and Aunt Maeve has been alone for so long that you just don’t expect that to change. But we all love her like a second mother, so I hope it will go well."

"Will they live in your house?" Catherine asked, not having any idea of the size of the O’Flaherty manse.

"That’s a big issue. My cousin Kevin lives with Maeve, and Rory and Conor live with Da. Plus, Jamie and I live there on the weekends. Our house is pretty big," she said, nearly causing Jamie’s eyes to bug out of her head, "but it’s full at this point. Maeve’s house is quite small, so it’s going to be hard to come up with a solution."

The monorail had reached its destination, and they spent the next few minutes getting through the crowds to reach Main Street and stake out a place in line. Catherine and Ryan sat on the curb to save spaces while Jamie carried Caitlin around in her baby sling to keep her occupied.

Catherine continued the earlier conversation by asking, "Could your father buy a new house?"

"He would have to use the proceeds from the sale of the old one, and he swears that he will never throw any of us out. What we need is at least one big house to use as a gathering place for family events. Jamie mentioned that I have 14 male cousins in America, but only Tommy is married. We hardly fit in our house now. When they all start having kids it will be mayhem!"

Catherine had a hard time imagining what a house full of boisterous young men would be like, but then she remembered her days at Stanford and tried to recall what the fraternity houses had been like, drawing an apt comparison. "What do you two want to do when you graduate? Do you want to stay in the East Bay?"

"No, I don’t," Ryan said quickly, her face showing her discomfort with the idea. "I can’t imagine living away from my family permanently. I really love Noe Valley and I want to make it our permanent home. I guess buying a house is something for the distant future, now that it looks like Jamie won’t be able to control her money for quite a while."

"Ahh, now don’t even think like that, Ryan. My husband has more than his share of faults, but he’s not intentionally cruel. Just give him some time."

"We’ve got that, Catherine. I’d be happy to live in my room until we decide to start our family."

Catherine looked askance and asked, "Will that be a while, Ryan?"

"Oh, I think so, Catherine," she assured her. "I know how much work kids are. I want to enjoy being with Jamie for a good long while before we add to our responsibilities."

"That’s good to hear, Ryan," Catherine said, beaming a smile at her. "Don’t make the same mistake I did in having a child before you’re both fully ready."

Well, well, I guess she doesn’t mind if I know the family secrets, Ryan mused. Actually, she’s really treating me like a member of the family. Her pleasure was short lived as she added, Now I only have to win Jim over!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Much to everyone’s pleasure, Caitlin turned out to be a big fan of parades. She sat on Ryan’s shoulders and babbled away as she kicked her little legs so frequently and so enthusiastically that Ryan was sure she would be a mass of bruises. But she gladly suffered for her little cousin, happy beyond measure that the baby was enjoying herself so thoroughly. In truth, it was a tossup as to who was having a better time. Ryan repeatedly turned to Jamie to point out some little tidbit that caught her watchful eye, and Jamie also enjoyed the extravaganza. Catherine was a bit overwhelmed to be surrounded by so many people and so much noise, but she handled it well. She was having so much fun watching her daughter that she eventually ignored all of the noise and just focused on her.

For the thousandth time, she felt the sting of regret for having missed out on all of the chances to do things like this for Jamie when she was young. Once again she thanked the heavens for providing a second opportunity, even one coming this late in her daughter’s youth.

When the parade was finished, they strolled along Main Street for a few minutes as Catherine started to get into the experience a little more. Shopping always got her involved, and she would have stayed in the stores a lot longer if Ryan hadn’t finally put her foot down. By the time they started for dinner, Caitlin had a new navy blue swimsuit with little Mickey heads across the chest, a cute little yellow canvas hat to keep the sun from her eyes, 101 Dalmatians pajamas, a white T-shirt with Goofy embroidered on the pocket, and a matching pair of shorts in a blue and white check. But her most adorable gift was a pair of pink mouse ears with her name embroidered on the back. Unbeknownst to her partner, Jamie had purchased a matching pair for Ryan, and she snapped an adorable picture of both cousins with their ears on—Caitlin sitting happily on Ryan’s shoulders. Ryan stared right into the camera with her relaxed, confident smile, and Jamie thought once again that Ryan could have easily made a very good living as a model. She was so completely comfortable with the camera, looking past the device to gaze into the photographer’s eyes when she was photographed, and Jamie knew that was not a skill that was easy to teach.

Catherine expertly led them over to Adventureland as Jamie and Ryan paced along behind her. More than once Jamie informed her that there weren’t any restaurants listed for that part of the park, but Catherine blithely ignored her warnings with the reply, "Trust me, Dear."

When they reached the Pirates of the Caribbean she looked around carefully until she spotted a small gift shop called Pieces of Eight. Right next to the shop, an etched glass door bore the legend, ‘Club 33’. Catherine rang the nearly hidden bell, and moments later a tuxedoed gentleman opened the door.

"Good evening," he said with a smile. "Have you dinner reservations?"

"Yes, we do," she answered. "Catherine Evans."

He scanned his list and quickly found her name. "Very good, Mrs. Evans," he responded. "Come right this way." Jamie and Ryan shared puzzled glances as the man led them up a staircase to a very elegant dining room on the second floor. The room was small, but each of the tables was generously sized. He pulled out chairs for each of them and quickly signaled someone to bring a seat for Caitlin. A large booster chair was brought out and properly secured to the wooden backed chair. Caitlin liked the freedom of the padded chair and didn’t seem to mind having to be strapped in. As the menus were presented she began to babble quite loudly, but Jamie quickly stilled her with one of the biscotti that she still carried in her bag.

"Mother…" Jamie asked, drawing out the word, "how did we wind up here?"

"I told you I have some contacts, Dear." Catherine continued to scan the menu, her mouth curled up in a small smile.

"What is this place? And who did you have to call to get us in?" the younger woman demanded.

"This is a private club for members and guests of the Disney organization, Dear." Catherine sighed, put her menu down, and came clean. "I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but the new symphony hall is to be named for Walt Disney. His widow Lillian was one of the driving forces behind the idea. Well, Lillian died two years ago, and the hall has been mired in political and financial trouble. I got busy and rallied some support from some of my friends at home, and it looks like construction might finally begin soon. Walt’s daughter Diane and I have become good friends, and when I mentioned once that I had never been to Disneyland she practically had a fit! She made me promise that if I ever wanted to come that I would call her and let her handle the accommodations, and you know how I like to keep my word, Honey," she said sweetly as she batted her eyes at her daughter.

Jamie just shook her head as she gave her mother an amused smirk. "You are certainly full of surprises today."

"I like to preserve an air of mystery," she replied archly.

They glanced over at Ryan, who was eyeing both of them suspiciously. "Please don’t think I’m complaining, but traveling with you two is like being in a foreign country for me. There is nothing about this experience that I am familiar with," she admitted, shaking her head slowly.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It was 8:45 when they finally reached their room, and Caitlin was drooling down Ryan’s back as her sleeping head poked out of her sling. They got her changed and placed in the crib, with Ryan sitting next to the bed for a long while, making sure that the child didn’t wake.

Catherine decided to read rather than watch a movie, and she was settled comfortably in her navy blue silk pajamas when they were finally ready to leave. "We’ll be home by midnight," Jamie promised. "If you get tired, please go to bed, okay?"

"Yes, Dear," Catherine nodded obediently.

"No, really, Mom. If Caitlin wakes up you’ll hear her, no matter how soundly you sleep."

"I’m not sure that’s true," Ryan amended. "Jamie can sleep right through a full scale tantrum!"

"You laugh now, Ryan," Catherine informed her, "but I took her to the doctor because of that when she was small. I thought she was deaf!"

"You did?" Jamie asked in shock, never having heard this story.

"I certainly did. We were having some work done on the house in Pebble Beach. You were asleep in your little cradle when one of the workmen dropped an entire pallet of river rocks from a crane. The crane was right outside of your room, and the house shook so hard I thought windows would break. All the car alarms in the neighborhood went off, but when I ran upstairs, my little princess was still sound asleep. I was relieved until the foreman came up to talk to me and said, ‘That’s not normal, lady, you’d better make sure she can hear.’ I, of course, panicked and took her in the next day, but the doctor assured me that she was just a heavy sleeper, so I stopped worrying."

"Well it looks like I’m going to have to bear all of our children," Ryan decided. "If I’ve got to get up anyway, I might as well be able to nurse them!"

"You can be my wet nurse," Jamie teased as she stuck out her tongue. Ryan chased her from the room, pausing to wink at Catherine before she took off.

I’ve never been attracted to a woman before, but that Ryan O’Flaherty could certainly turn my head if circumstances were different. Jamie never had a chance with that one, she smirked to herself. Ryan could likely turn the straightest of women gay if she tried hard enough!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Three hours later they returned to the room, carrying a four-foot-tall stuffed Pluto that Ryan had won at the shooting gallery in the arcade. Catherine was still up, and she gave them an amused smile when she spied their prize. "Should I call the airline for an extra seat?" she asked.

"Okay," Ryan agreed, "but I think he can fly coach. No sense in being extravagant."

She stood the doll up in the corner and informed Catherine, "I tried to give the darn thing away 20 times. But parents look at you like you’re a lunatic when you try to give their kid a toy. I guess I understand their suspicions, but it worries me," she admitted. "I think it’s sad that we’ve over sensitized our kids to potential harm. If I’d tried to give that doll away in Ireland I’d have 20 takers!"

"I sure think it’s cute," Jamie grinned. "And I think it’s terribly sweet that you won it for me," she said as she gazed up at her lover with admiration. "She won it with one shot," she informed her mother proudly.

"My Aunt Deirdre’s brother is a police officer," Ryan informed them. "When I was younger, he used to take me to the shooting range on Saturdays. I really enjoyed it. Nice to know I’ve still got the touch,’ she said, acting like she was lining up the sights of an imaginary weapon.

"So did you have a good time?" Catherine asked.

"We had a fantastic time," Jamie said with a big smile. "We went on seven different rides, and we saw the big light parade and the fireworks. It was really cool!"

"Was Caitlin any trouble?" Ryan inquired.

"Not a bit. She didn’t make a sound."

"We thought we’d take her over to the park for her breakfast with the characters if you want to sleep in tomorrow," Ryan offered.

"Okay, I’d like that. I’m not much of a morning person," she admitted. "After breakfast you can leave her with me the rest of the day if you wish. I can take her swimming and I know that will entertain her for a few hours!"

"Okay. We’ll probably be back here around ten. See you then?"

"Sounds great. Sleep well, you two," Catherine called as she went into her room.

Jamie had been teasing her lover with seductive looks and touches all night long, and once Catherine’s door was closed Ryan decided it was payback time. She charged Jamie and scooped her up in her arms, allowing the smaller woman to wrap her legs around her waist. Roughly pushing her up against the door to their room, Ryan began to kiss her deeply, running warm hands all over her body.

The playful teasing quickly turned serious as Jamie joined in and began to escalate the intensity. Her hands went to Ryan’s face, holding her tight while she kissed her everywhere, her heart starting to beat wildly. Ryan could feel her partner’s pulse throbbing, and she knew that her own beat was racing in tandem. A small, sane part of her told her to stop what was rapidly moving beyond their control, but it felt so compelling—so right—that she couldn’t get her body to listen.

Their legs grew weak, and slowly but inexorably they began to sink to the floor, having nearly reached it when Catherine started to open her door to clarify a piece of information about their schedule. Luckily, her hearing was quite sharp, and she detected the unmistakable sounds of passion coming from the living room. As quietly as possible, she closed the door without disturbing the young lovers. I will never, ever open a door on those two again without calling out an alarm!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"Well, that was…interesting," Jamie observed, picking up her discarded shorts from the floor.

"Too sudden?" Ryan asked solicitously, slightly concerned that her week of abstinence was causing her to push Jamie a little too far. She placed her fingers under her partner’s chin, gently lifting it to be able to look into her eyes.

"Huh-uh." The smaller woman spared an impish smile for her partner, crinkling her nose. "I wouldn’t like a steady diet of it, though," she decided. "The carpet burns would likely be a major barrier to my long-term happiness."

Ryan held her at arm’s length and carefully assessed her body. "You have an owie?"

"No, Babe. You didn’t hurt me—but only because we were quick and quiet and tame…for us, that is. I don’t want to make a habit of any of those things." She gave Ryan a saucy grin accompanied by wildly waggling eyebrows.

"Lord, I lucked out with you!" Ryan cried, tossing Jamie over her shoulder to carry her into their bedroom. Once there, they quietly checked on the blissfully sleeping baby and got ready for bed.

While they snuggled in the big bed, Jamie sighed heavily, and Ryan guessed that she was thinking about her parents and the circumstances of her birth. "Want to talk about it?" she asked softly, placing a few light kisses along her partner’s jaw line.

"How do you know what I’m thinking?" she asked, her voice low and laced with amusement.

"I know your sighs," Ryan assured her. "That big one you let out meant, ‘I’m worried about my parents.’"

A small chuckle met that assertion. "Hmm…if you really know me that well, I’m in trouble. I’ll never have a private thought again."

"It’s true, Babe," Ryan assured her. "I can see the gears grinding away in there." She tilted her head until she could press her eye right into Jamie’s ear. "Yep, there goes another thought." She paused a moment as she deciphered the message. "Hey, I am not crazy!"

Wrapped her lover in a hug, Jamie murmured, "Well, I’m crazy about you, and I’m appreciative that you’re trying to make me feel better. That means a lot, Hon."

"I’m happy to listen if you want to talk," Ryan reminded her. "You don’t have to censor yourself with me, Babe."

"I know, Love. I just feel kinda numb right now. I’m trying to summon all of my powers of denial until we get back home, since there’s not much I can do down here. I want to talk to my father, but I need to do it in person."

"Makes sense. Do you think you can manage to keep the thoughts from intruding?"

"Only with your help, Baby. I need to see your sweet face to remind me that everything vital in my life is already within my grasp." She tightened her hold on Ryan’s body, emphasizing her point.

"Absolutely true, Jamie," Ryan whispered. "I will always be here for you."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Caitlin did everyone a favor and not only slept through the night, but also stayed in her crib and quietly played with her new stuffed toys until seven a.m. The blackout curtains made it seem like the middle of the night, and Ryan had not bothered to set her alarm since she assumed the baby would dictate their schedule. Once her eyes had adjusted, she disentangled Jamie’s body from hers with some difficulty and crawled out of bed. Leaning over the crib she was greeted by bright green eyes blinking up at her with interest.

"How’s my precious one this morning?" Ryan whispered as she lifted her from her little bed.

Caitlin leaned against her bare chest and snuggled in for a long morning cuddle, one of her absolute requirements. She looked around happily as Ryan grabbed what she assumed were her discarded clothes from the night before and struggled to slip her shorts on. The shorts were tough enough, but getting her shirt on and buttoned was no small feat. She managed by shifting the baby from one arm to the other and deciding that all of the buttons weren’t strictly required this early in the morning. Grabbing a clean diaper, the pair went out into the living room to rustle up a little breakfast for Caitlin. After heating the bottle under warm water, they sat on the couch snuggling for at least 20 minutes while the milk slowly took the edge off her hunger.

Ryan enjoyed nearly every aspect of being with her little cousin, but as they sat together on the couch she decided that this was, by far, her favorite activity. The baby was quiet, almost introspective, in the early morning. The scientist in Ryan knew that Caitlin’s busy brain was so frenzied while she slept—building neural pathways and making all sorts of connections--that she needed to adjust a bit in the morning. Cait’s brain was basically reordering itself every day, and the potential and promise of her adult self were occurring right before Ryan’s eyes. The mere thought of that was overwhelming for Ryan, and she spent a long time stroking the baby’s head, daydreaming about the kind of person that Caitlin would grow up to be while the infant sucked rhythmically from her bottle.

Ryan managed to satisfy her own growling stomach by dipping repeatedly into their fruit basket. Quite a while later, Jamie quietly emerged from their room, spying an apple core, the stems from a bunch of grapes and an orange peel all littering the table.

Ryan didn’t seem to hear her coming, and she gave a start when Jamie sat down next to her and cuddled up against her side. "You two look so adorable," she murmured, placing a kiss on Ryan’s cheek. Caitlin didn’t notice that Jamie was in the room, her self-involvement being all-encompassing this morning.

"This is my favorite time with her," Ryan said, bending to kiss Cait’s golden head. "Her little brain has been busy all night, and now she’s taking in all of the nutrients she needs to live from her mother’s body. I feel honored just to be able to participate in nourishing her this way."

Jamie had never thought of the process of feeding the infant in quite that way, and she gave her partner a grateful hug for reminding her how special the experience was. "Why does Annie still breastfeed her?" Jamie asked. "Isn’t eleven months an awfully long time?"

"No, I don’t think so," Ryan said. "There’s new research that indicates babies do better the longer they’re nursed."

"Is there a point at which it’s detrimental?" Jamie asked slowly, an image of Ryan breastfeeding their child before her high school graduation leaping into her mind.

"Detrimental?" Ryan gave her a very puzzled look, not having any idea what Jamie was getting at.

"Yeah…um…I’d think at some point it would hurt the baby’s emotional development. I mean, I can’t imagine that it’s healthy for a three- or four-year-old to still be nursing."

"Oh…you mean nursing toddlers." Ryan nodded and said, "I don’t know if there’s much research on that, but I think a well-adjusted baby eventually weans himself. There comes a point at which they want the independence."

"I take it that you plan on letting our kids make that decision for themselves?" Ryan’s position was fairly obvious, but Jamie wanted to mentally prepare herself for having her favorite body part be someone else’s meal ticket for a good, long while.

"Yep," she said decisively. "If they’re secure and healthy, they’ll stop on their own. Cait’s just eleven months, and she’s already down to two feedings a day."

"How did Annie produce enough to give us enough for four days? Doesn’t her supply diminish when the baby takes less?"

"Yep. But she pumps two or three times a day. She keeps a little supply in the freezer, and she donates the rest at the hospital."

"She what!"

Ryan shot her a look, reminding her that the baby was not in the mood to be startled. "She’s a breast milk donor," Ryan explained. "The best milk is obviously from the mother, but some highly allergic or very ill babies benefit from donated milk. She started doing it as soon as Caitlin started to need less."

"I had no idea," Jamie gaped.

"There’s one kid at the hospital that has some rare auto-immune disease. His mother can’t produce milk for some reason, and donated milk is the only thing keeping him alive. Annie’s been supplying his food for a couple of months now." A fond smile settled onto Ryan’s face and she needlessly added, "I’m really proud of her."

"She’s a good person," Jamie agreed, having developed quite a bond with the good-natured woman.

Pulling herself from her self-imposed daze, Caitlin beamed up at Jamie and extended her arms, cooing excitedly until Jamie snatched her up and gave her some kisses. Looking over at her grinning lover she remarked, "There is nothing in the world nicer than waking up to your two sweet little faces."

"Well, this little face is still hungry," Ryan decided. "Let’s go meet the big dogs!"

Continued in Part Four

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