I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 9: Intentions

By S X Meagher

Part Six

For some reason, Jamie woke early and found that she could not get back to sleep. She was tired of lying in bed, so despite Ryan's incoherent protest, she got up and tugged on her sweats.

A soft voice whispered, "You getting up?"

Jamie snuck over to the other bed and leaned close to Jordan. "Yeah. I can't sleep this morning." Mia was tucked up close to the taller woman's back, and Jordan gently disentangled herself from the warm embrace and stood, stretching a little.

"Wanna go scrounge up some breakfast?"

"Good idea. I'm absolutely famished!"

Jordan smiled and said, "Maybe that's why you can't sleep. Whoever was responsible for that pizza should be arrested."

Jamie shuddered as she recalled the dreadful concoction. "You're probably right," she mused. "My stomach's been rumbling for hours."

"Hey, maybe that's what woke me up!"

"Watch it, Jordan," Jamie whispered. "I'm used to dealing with big girls. I know your weaknesses."

"Point taken," she smiled, zipping up her warm-ups. "Let's go, before I pass out from hunger."

Once in the hall they surveyed their options. There was the hotel dining room, but the menu didn't look appealing to either of them. Striding outside, they looked up and down the busy street but saw nothing in the immediate vicinity. "We came from that direction last night," Jamie said, pointing north. "We passed a lot of fast food. Maybe there's a grocery store."

"Grocery store?" Jordan queried.

"Yeah. I know it's bugging Ryan to pay room-service prices for cereal."

Jordan agreed and they started off on the walk. "I think I know why I can't sleep," Jordan said quietly.

"Why's that?" Jamie asked. Needing to be close to her, she slipped her hand around Jordan's arm and shared a smile with the taller woman, who reached over to clasp the hand against her arm..

"I'm pretty freaked out with what's happening between Mia and me," she admitted. She shot a sidelong glance at Jamie. "Is it okay to talk about this?"

"Of course, Jordan. I've been dealing with the same thing this past year. I have a lot of empathy for what you're going through."

"What do you know about my story?" the tall blonde asked.

"Mmm…not a lot. Ryan tells nothing," she laughed wryly. "Mia's actually been pretty close-mouthed too. I know that she likes you, and that you're having some trouble adjusting to this. I take it that you haven't been with women before?"

"No…well, not anything more than kissing," she corrected. "Surprised?"

"Yeah, a little." Jamie admitted. "I got big-time lesbian vibes from you when I first met you."

The tall woman shrugged. "One of my personas. I have more than I'd like," she said softly.

"We all have different personas, Jordan. Don't be so hard on yourself."

"I'm just being honest, Jamie," she insisted. "I'd like to know who I am, so I don't have to act like the person I think people to want me to be."

"Been there, done that," Jamie agreed. "It's a hard thing to change, but it's sure worth it."

"Are you happy?" Jordan's question was very simple on its face, but Jamie knew that she meant it on a variety of levels.

"Yes. I'm happy that I went through the painful process. I'm happy that I stopped trying to be who I wasn't. I'm happy to get to know myself for the first time. And most of all, I'm happy that I got Ryan in the bargain. She's the grand prize."

Jordan nodded, giving Jamie's hand a squeeze. "I had a feeling that you felt like that." They walked a little farther and she said, "It's a little different for me, Jamie. This comes up at a bad time for me, what with invitations going out for the Olympic team in another two months. This is not a good time for me to be exploring my sexuality."

Jamie shrugged and gave Jordan an encouraging smile. "Maybe your sexuality has a mind of its own. God knows that mine wouldn't listen to me!"

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

After a long morning spent watching cartoons while they ate an entire box of Frosted Flakes and sliced bananas, the athletes took off for practice while Jamie got on the phone and tried to find a rental car. Most of the large companies had a policy against renting to people under 25, but she finally found one that was more lenient. It was a long cab ride to Santa Monica, but she finally procured a sexy, dull gray 1996 Ford Escort with 135,000 miles on the sporadically functioning odometer.

Determined to get a decent meal, the roommates settled upon Ocean, one of the better spots along the water, just a few buildings down from Mia's summer rental.

After a delightful dinner of fresh oysters, salmon carpaccio, and seared ahi, they hopped back in the car and returned to the hotel to check out and then dash over to USC. Luckily they were there forty-five minutes early, for to their surprise, they found that North Gym seated only a couple of hundred people. It was an old facility right in the heart of the campus that had formerly been the gymnasium for the whole school. Now the basketball programs used the Sports Arena, a large, privately owned 11,000-seat facility, but volleyball was still relegated to the far-too-small campus gym.

Jamie caught Ryan's eye and the tall woman loped over to her, informing her, "I left Bryant's name at the door, and the guard assured me he'd let him in if they're sold out. Tiny place, huh?"

"My high school gym was twice this large," Jamie scoffed.

"Welcome to NCAA Division One college athletics," Ryan grinned, running back to warm up.

The pair managed to secure seats at the end of one of the sections so that Bryant wouldn't have to climb over too many people to join them. The place was packed, made even more so by a sizeable percentage of the USC band that was wedged into a tiny spot, the musicians so close together that they had a hard time turning their sheet music.

From their vantage point about halfway up in the stands, Mia was intently watching the cheerleaders warm up before they took the floor. Jamie finally elbowed her and said, "Hey, someone you want to sleep with is on the court, too. Stop drooling over the cheerleaders."

Mia shook her head briskly and informed her, "First of all-they're not cheerleaders. Well, the men are, but the women are song leaders."

Jamie peek over and observed the gorgeous, well-built blonde women, clad in short, tight white turtleneck sweaters with microscopic white pleated skirts. "Oh yeah, they look like their purpose is to lead songs. They all have very nice…lungs," she observed popping her eyebrows a few times.

The women took the court just as the players went back into the locker room. Jamie and Mia watched them carefully, but not a song was sung. Instead, the women danced to a choreographed number designed to show off their beautiful bodies to good effect, and they did not disappoint. "Well, they sure can sing," Jamie decided. "Where do they get these girls, anyway? Central casting? They look like Hollywood's vision of the perfect woman!"

"Are you gonna argue?" Mia chuckled. "They look pretty perfect to me."

The song leaders ran back to take their places along the front of the stands, ready to lead a song at a moment's notice. They were replaced by a group of women in sparkly black spandex tops and tights, and as they struck a pose and waited for the music to start Jamie leaned over and asked, "What's this group called?"

"I don't know," Mia mused. The music began and after just a few bars of the piece Mia turned to Jamie with wide eyes and said, "The women didn't dance this provocatively at that strip club you guys took me to on my birthday!"

Jamie just nodded, amazed that a college needed two sets of dancers in the first place, but even more so that one set was clearly meant to inflame the loins of the young men and an interested minority of the young women in attendance. "I can't get over this," the blonde mused. "The dancers at Cal look like escapees from a convent compared to these women!"

"I came down for the USC/UCLA basketball game last year when I was dating Jason," Mia recalled. "The game was at UCLA, and the whole band was there and they were really rowdy. While these poor girls were dancing the band kept doing this cheer asking how much for a lap dance. I felt sorry for them."

"Ewww!" Jamie pulled a face and said, "That's just gross."

"Melissa Johnston really wanted to come to 'SC and be a song leader," Mia said wistfully.

"Your Melissa?" Jamie asked, surprised at the revelation.

"Yeah. Remember Ryan said she was a cheerleader at USF? Well, that was her second choice-by far. She really wanted to come here, but she didn't make the cut. They asked her to try out for this group, but she says it's viewed by the students as the song leader rejects. She just wasn't up for it."

"Wow! That would've been cool to know one of the cheerleaders!"

"Oh yeah," Mia grimaced. "Just what I need right now is to see Melissa again. Jordan's got me screwed up enough without asking for trouble."

Just before the game was scheduled to begin, six muscular young men ran onto the court to whip the crowd into a frenzy. They were clad in white oxford cloth button-down shirts, white v-necked sweaters with a large "SC" on the front, pleated white shorts, white crew socks, and white deck shoes. Jamie raised an eyebrow at the military-style haircuts the pristine men wore and just shrugged her shoulders. The cheerleaders at Cal were a motley crew of two or three people in blue and gold rugby shirts who ran around during time-outs trying to drum up support to actually lead a cheer. Now having seen the regimented end of the spectrum, she decided she was much more comfortable with Cal's laid-back, informal style, although she wouldn't mind having a few of those song leaders to leer at during game breaks.

The game was almost ready to start when a tall, handsome man caught Ryan's eye, and she waved enthusiastically. Turning to find Jamie in the crowd, Ryan pointed at the man and sent him on his way. Jamie's eyes met his across the crowd and she immediately saw something familiar in him, even though Ryan had never described him. There was a warmth in his eyes and his wide smile that made him look like the kind of guy that Ryan would be fond of.

"Bryant?" she asked needlessly when he reached them. "Jamie Evans. This is my friend, Mia Christopher."

"Good to meet you both," he said, his friendly smile infectious. "You know, I haven't seen Ryan in a little over a year." He looked at the woman down on the court again, checking her out thoroughly. "Has she eaten during that time?" He gave Jamie a slow grin and she smiled back.

"She eats, Bryant. Lord knows she eats. She just uses as much energy as she takes in. She got sick a few weeks ago and lost over fifteen pounds. I don't know how she'll ever put it back on."

"Well, she looks healthy enough now," he smiled, watching Ryan enthusiastically go after a ball as the game began.

"Yeah, she's fine now. Still a little tired at the end of the day, but who wouldn't be!"

They settled down to watch the game, with Jamie filling Mia in to the full extent of her volleyball knowledge. Bryant didn't know much about the game either, but it was clear that Jordan and Ryan were the keys to the Cal attack. Their names were called repeatedly by the announcer, and some of the surrounding fans began to grumble whenever one of them recorded a kill. The match was much more lopsided than Ryan had predicted, and Cal won, three games to one.

Ryan hugged Bryant enthusiastically when they all met up after the game. He stayed for just a few minutes, since the women had to leave for Malibu, but they made plans to see him the next morning at Mass.

As they walked to the car Jamie looked up at her partner and said, "I'm surprised that you never mentioned he was black."

"Hmm…didn't I?"

"Nope. I didn't have any mental image of him, so I'm pretty sure that you never described him. It's funny, he looked so familiar," she said thoughtfully. "Something about his eyes and his smile makes it seem like you know him."

"Yeah," Ryan agreed. "He's a great guy." She smiled down at Jamie and said, "Our baby would be lucky to have him for a father."

"Well," Jamie said, wrapping an arm around Ryan's waist. "I think I'd like to spend more than two hours with him before we decide, but from the little I know of him, I like him a lot."

"We have a few years to make up our minds," Ryan reminded her. "A lot can change between now and then. I just think it's a good idea to talk about it and make sure we agree. It's a very, very big decision, Jamie."

"Of course it is, Babe. And luckily, we can put it off for a long time."

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

As Jamie led the foursome to the car, Jordan asked, "Is this the least fashionable car you've ever been in, Jamie?"

"No, Jordan, I'll have you know that my fiancé had an old Accord," she proclaimed.

"Well, that explains why you dumped him," Jordan laughed.

"Hey, if money meant anything to Jamie I'm the last person she would have picked," Ryan said gallantly. "I didn't even have a car when she met me."

"Good point, Tiger," Jordan agreed. "I still don't understand your allure. It must be very well hidden."

"It wasn't very well hidden last night," Mia jibed. "It was downright obvious!"

"Hey, you were the little voyeurs," Ryan reminded them. "I wasn't in the bathroom watching either of you."

"Also a good point," Jordan said. "I suppose you have endured enough torment for one day." As they rolled along on the interstate Jordan asked, "Do you know how to get to Malibu?"

"I just stay on the ten, right?" Ryan asked.

"Yep. When we get close there's a Hughes Market that's open all night. Let's stop there and get some supplies."

"How rustic is this place?" Mia asked, visions of log cabins dancing in her head.

"Oh, it's not rustic. But his girlfriend neither cooks nor eats, so all they ever have in the house is salad dressing and wine."

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

After buying enough food for snacks and breakfast, they ascended a narrow, winding road off Malibu Canyon until they reached a sprawling glass-walled ultramodern home. From the entryway, all that they could see was the deep black of the ocean, and they could just detect the thrum of the waves. "Wow, some view, I bet," Ryan mused.

"Yeah. It's nice." Jordan searched in her wallet to find the code for the door. "Key in 11-15-78," she instructed Ryan.

"Cool," Ryan said as the door opened. "Jamie's parents use her birthday too."

"That's the girlfriend's birthday. I'm six months older," she added dryly. Ryan shut her mouth immediately and decided that she would not make another personal comment about any of the occupants of the house.

The place was beautiful in a spare, industrial sort of way. There were no mementos or family pictures around, but Ryan did see a couple of shots of a ruggedly handsome blonde man with a much younger, silicone-enhanced, model type. Jordan went out to the balcony that ran the width of the house on the ocean side and sat on the railing to breathe in the salt-laden air. It was obvious that she needed a few minutes alone, so everyone else went into the gorgeous but nearly empty kitchen. They finally found a knife and some forks and spoons, and they took the large fruit salad they had prepared out to the living room.

Jordan had come back in and put a calming CD on the player, and for several frenzied minutes she and Ryan ate in silence. When a sizable dent had been put in the platter, Ryan relaxed in the modern leather chair that wrapped around her, and a few moments later she was joined by her always cuddly partner. Mere moments later, Jordan and Mia were wrestling on the couch in a passionate tangle. Ryan patted Jamie on the butt, and they quietly got up to find a guest room. They were halfway down the hall when Jordan gasped out, "Third door on the left."

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

Ryan was too tired even to notice if, or how, the room was decorated. All she saw was a big empty bed, and after she peeled her clothes off and went to the bathroom, she made a dive for it. She let out a pleasure-filled hiss as her bare skin hit the cool cotton sheets, and she lazily mused, "Sometimes when I'm really tired, it boggles my mind how good it feels to lie down. This is definitely one of those times."

Jamie snuggled up next to her and molded her body to fit tight. "It feels so good to lie next to you, I hardly notice how the bed feels," she admitted. "But I will agree that being horizontal right now is a very good thing. I love you, Baby. Sleep tight."

"Mmm-hmm," Ryan murmured and was asleep within seconds.

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

When Mia blinked her eyes open to the bright sunlight of a warm Malibu morning, she turned her head to see Jordan, wide awake, her head resting on a braced hand. "You are so pretty when you sleep," the taller woman murmured, tracing a fingertip along Mia's jaw line.

Mia rolled onto her side and smiled up at her. "Why, thank you. You've never told me that you think I'm pretty."

Jordan visibly blanched. "I…I haven't?"

"No…but it's okay, Jordan. You show me that you find me attractive."

"Well, I do," she stuttered. "Think you're pretty, that is. Very much so."

"Thanks," Mia sighed. "I think you are, too, but I bet you hear that constantly, don't you?"

"No, not really," she said thoughtfully. "When I work, I'm much more likely to hear a bunch of people standing around criticizing different parts of me-like I'm a group of body parts unconnected to a person."

Mia chuckled softly as she said, "What could someone possibly criticize you for? You're perfect."

"Ha!" Jordan rolled onto her back and started the list. "Hair is too pale to work against light colors; eyes can look too cold; dark lipstick makes me too pale unless I have a tan; a tan makes me look too dark to sell the 'ice princess' look; shoulders are too 'mannish'; arms are too long to wear anything tailored; thighs are too muscular to look feminine…"

"My God! They say things like that to your face?"

"Mmm…sometimes, but even if they don't want you to hear, you do. The people from the ad agency are there, people from the product are usually there, and then the creative people. They argue while you're standing there trying not to feel like a piece of meat. It's really no fun."

"Why do you do it?" Mia asked softly.

"Two reasons. It's great money for a pretty short amount of time. I just do local stuff, like Gap and Levi's, so I never have to travel. Plus, it's good for my image. I think USA Volleyball might like the idea of having one of the members of the Olympic team also be a model. They love to be able to categorize you like that," she said dismissively.

"Volleyball means a lot to you, doesn't it?" Mia asked softly, looking up into Jordan's pale blue eyes.

She nodded somberly, and said, "I need to talk to you about this, Mia."

"Okay…go ahead."

Jordan sighed, and linked her hands behind her head as she gazed up at the ceiling. "Volleyball is more than something I like. It's what I've structured my life around. Since I was…oh…eleven, I'd guess, I've had this goal. That's ten years, Mia, ten years out of 21 that I've been working for this. I've been to every major national tournament, played on the best club teams in southern California, gone to clinics all over the world. I've missed Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family for most of those years, since there are always holiday tournaments somewhere. I've sacrificed so much-and now it's close…it's really close, and I can't screw it up now."

"Why are you worried about screwing it up now?" Mia asked, feeling like she was missing an important clue.

Jordan turned to her and said, "Because of you."

"Me? Why me?"

"Not you, per se," Jordan admitted. "But I'm worried about going further with this, Mia. I guess I want to make sure that we're on the same page before we get any deeper here."

"Okay," she said hesitantly. "We can do that. Tell me where you are."

"I'm focused on my sport and on my goal of making the Olympic team. If I can make it this year, that's great. But if I have to play in Europe for another three years, to get a chance at 2004, that's what I'll do. It's my priority, Mia. It's a much bigger priority than my sexuality, or my infatuation with you. I'm sorry if that sounds cold, but I have to be honest with you."

Mia rubbed her hand up and down Jordan's arm a few times in a reassuring fashion. "I think I knew that, Jordan. I don't want to distract you from your sport."

Jordan chuckled as she said, "No, you're distracting me from school. I'm actually playing better than I have since I hurt my shoulder four years ago. Why, I don't know, but even Coach Placer has noticed it. I guess I'm happier," she said shyly. "You make me feel like I can jump higher and spike harder."

"Well, that's a good thing then, huh?"

"Yeah, it is for me. But is it what you want, Mia? I don't want this to just be about me getting my needs met. What do you want?"

"I'm not sure what I want, Jordan, other than to be able to make sure we stay friends. I like you a lot, as I'm sure you can tell, but even though I'd like to have sex with you, I want to make sure we keep our friendship."

"I want that too," Jordan insisted. "That's vital for me."

"Sounds like we have the same goals," Mia ventured.

"But what about the big picture?" Jordan persisted. "I don't think I'm in any position to be in a relationship, Mia. I don't want to come out to my family or my friends. I don't want the people at USA Volleyball to know about me." She looked up at Mia rather helplessly and said, "I'm not like Ryan. It's going to take me a long time to feel comfortable being out."

"Jordan," she soothed. "I'm not a lesbian, and I'm not at all sure that I want to be in a lesbian relationship. I like you-a lot. I'd like to sleep with you, yes, but I'm not planning on making this a lifetime commitment. I don't think that's who I am."

"I think that's who I am," Jordan mused. "And I think it more and more when we're together. I can't see myself dating men after being held and touched by you. I really think I'm a lesbian, Mia."

Mia stroked her face, smiling over at her. "That's good to hear. I think you'll be happier once you make some decisions for yourself. I just want you to know that I'm not going to be jumping into lesbian land with you. That's not me."

"That's cool," Jordan agreed. "I just want to make sure that you're not going to expect me to come out and tell everyone about us."

"No thanks," Mia said, her eyes wide. "This is private, Jordan. I'm not ashamed of being attracted to you, but I have no interest in my family finding out. I don't want to take you home for Christmas," she chuckled.

"I'm sure I'll be at a tournament, anyway," Jordan laughed gently. "So let's summarize, shall we? I'm probably gay, you're probably not."

"I'm definitely not," Mia insisted, while laughing softly.

"Okay, you're definitely not. Neither of us wants this to be public, so we'll keep it low key."

"Yeah. No kissing on the steps of the library like Jamie did not two days after pledging that she and Ryan were just friends," Mia scoffed, still a little hurt by Jamie's deceit.

"Got it. No kissing in public. Also, no family introductions," Jordan decided.

"Correct. No coming out to friends, either."

"Check. No friends-except Ryan and Jamie. I think they've already gotten the hint."

"Yeah, they're both pretty quick," Mia smiled, and added to the list. "No long-term commitments."

"Correct. Day-by-day commitment is enough for me."

"Fair enough. I'll give you 24 hours notice if I don't want to see you any more." Mia was clearly teasing.

"Good deal. One last big one," Jordan said, smiling broadly. "No falling hopelessly in love with me, then giving up school, family, and friends to chase me all over the world while I pursue my dream."

Mia acted as though she was considering all of the elements of the statement. "Hmm…that's gonna be tough. Can I fall hopelessly in love with you if I don't give up everything to chase you around the world?"

"Nope. I'd rather you didn't," Jordan teased.

Mia sighed and rolled her eyes a little. "That's a tall order, Jordan, but it's a deal." She shuffled closer and rested her head against her friend's chest. "I can't guarantee that I won't fall hopelessly in like with you, though. I'm only human."

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

When Jamie and Ryan emerged from their room a little after nine, Jordan and Mia were sitting in the living room staring at them with concern. "I thought you guys had died in there," Mia said. "I assumed you were having sex, but when I listened at your door I didn't hear a sound!"

"Do you always listen at our door?" Ryan asked with a smirk, not putting it past her roommate.

"No. Don't be silly. I've never been up before you, so I haven't had the opportunity," Mia said smugly.

"I will have to admit that this is a new able-bodied record for me," Ryan said. "I guess I didn't realize how tired I was."

Jamie sat on the couch and pulled her lover with her. "I'm beginning to get worried about you, Honey. You've been much more tired than usual."

Ryan yawned deeply, still fighting the lethargy that seemed to have settled into her bones. "I guess you're right. I haven't had my same spark since I had the flu. Maybe I should go to the doctor."

"When do you have time?" Jamie asked, a little frustrated. "You're busy every minute of the day."

"I'll go during break if I don't feel better," Ryan promised. "Even though I'm tired, my appetite is perfectly normal. Let's eat!"

"What about Mass?" Jamie asked.

"Shit!" Ryan ran for the shower as she exclaimed her dismay. "We've got to leave in ten minutes, Jamie. If you're not ready, I'm going without you!"

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

Just because she loved Ryan more than she cared about making a good impression, Jamie spent her ten minutes making a little snack that they could eat in the car. She looked decent enough, having put on a clean pair of chinos and a polo shirt, but her appearance did not live up to her usual crisp standards.

When Ryan emerged from the bedroom, she showed enough concern for how she looked for both of them. She was wearing a pair of black slacks that Jamie had never seen before, a crisp, white, banded collar blouse, and a black cotton sweater vest, every tiny button neatly fastened. "My, but you look nice," Jamie said. "Where'd you get those slacks?"

"Oh, they're really old-from high school. My proportions have changed since then, but these are long enough now that I'm thinner. My hips were a lot narrower then, so my waist wasn't much smaller than my hips." She pulled up her sweater, and Jamie could see that they rode rather low on her waist. "They should be up here," she indicated, pulling them up to the proper spot, "but then they're too short."

Jamie noticed that Ryan's sleeves were rolled up, as usual, and she asked, "Is that why you always roll your shirt up, Love?"

"Yep. Haven't been able to find a shirt with sleeves long enough since…oh, I'd say sophomore year in high school."

Jordan and Mia had been watching this interplay and Jordan piped up, "I never wear shirts with long sleeves. I stick with sweaters."

"That's just not right," Jamie said. "Lots of women are as tall as you two."

"No, they aren't, Hon," Ryan laughed. "You're just hanging around the tallest of the tall. Manufacturers would go broke trying to make clothes to fit Jordan and me."

"Well, it's still not right," Jamie grumbled. "Big girls need to have their wrists and ankles covered, too."

"My champion," Ryan smiled after her partner as she grabbed the keys and made for the car.

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

The Sunday morning traffic was light, allowing them to make the journey to south central L.A. in a relatively short time. Jamie found one of the last parking spaces in the lot and trotted along behind Ryan, who was striding along the blacktop at full speed. They entered the church just as the previous service had concluded, and they found Bryant in the midst of setting up for the 10:30 Mass.

"Right on time, Ryan, Jamie," he said, a bright smile lighting up his face. Jamie hugged him and Ryan gave him a kiss and pitched in to help, expertly setting up the keyboard that Bryant had been working on. Since Jamie had no skills in this area, she secured seats for them in the front row right next to the choir, as Ryan suggested.

Various members of the choir entered, wearing long black robes with bright white trim. There was an enthusiasm and energy to the group that Jamie found infectious, and she sat watching patiently as Ryan finished with the organ and played a few bars to test the sound.

"Do you want me to accompany you, or do you want to play?" Bryant asked as he came up behind her.

"Either way," Ryan said, but then she reconsidered. "Actually, I think I'd rather accompany myself. Gives me something to do with my hands," she grinned.

"Okay by me," Bryant said. "Are you nervous?"

"No, not really. I don't get nervous when I sing. Never have." She laughed wryly and added, "My only problem is that I get too into the music sometimes, and I tend to cry during emotional songs. I hate that."

"Michael would have liked that," Bryant reminded her fondly, giving her a hug.

"Yeah, he sure would have," Ryan agreed. "He thought crying was as important as laughing."

"He'd have been proud of you, Ryan," the tall man said softly, "and very happy that you've found a partner."

"I know that he would have been happy that I've found love," Ryan agreed. "Come to think of it, he and I would be stepbrother and sister when Maeve and my father get married. Wouldn't he have gotten a kick out of that?"

"He would indeed," Bryant agreed. "Any idea of when the wedding will be? I'd love to come."

"Probably January," Ryan said. "As soon as we know the date, I'll let you know."

"Good deal. You all set here?"

"Yep. I'll see you after communion," she said, kissing him on the cheek.

When she settled into the pew next to Jamie, the smaller woman said, "What do you two have planned? This looks like more than a casual Sunday Mass."

"A little surprise," Ryan said with a smile. "Don't worry, you'll like it."

"You seem to know your way around that keyboard pretty well, Ms. O'Flaherty. Have you been holding out on me?"

"Nope. I play a little when I get the chance. I just don't own a keyboard, and I hate to borrow Rory's."

"Oooh, Christmas is coming," Jamie teased.

"And I don't want any presents," Ryan teased right back, tapping the tip of her partner's nose.

"Okay, Babe," Jamie said agreeably. But your birthday comes before Christmas, and all bets are off then.

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

The church was full to bursting by 10:30, and the choir had quickly filled the available seats, spilling into the row with Jamie and Ryan. Bryant stood and welcomed the crowd, then began to play a soft tune on the keyboard as he urged everyone to join hands and prepare to hear the word of God.

The crowd fell into the obviously familiar routine, and as the music increased in volume the entire congregation began to sway to the slow beat as Bryant called on each part of the choir to join in, one at a time. The sopranos led off, followed by the altos, tenors, baritones and basses. The melody was simple, the words simpler still; each group adding to the previous, the sound building as more and more voices joined together. By the time the entire group was singing as one, Jamie felt a chill chase down her spine at the power and the enthusiasm that she felt rising up from the crowd. Everyone was singing-everyone was swaying to the gentle beat. As many times as she had attended services, she had never felt such an outpouring of feeling, and certainly not five minutes into the endeavor.

Now the voices continued to sing, but in a much quieter tone as Bryant called upon the Holy Spirit to enter their souls and make them receptive to the word of the Lord. He spoke simply, but so eloquently that Jamie found herself hanging on every word, closing her eyes as the sound of his warm, powerful voice merged perfectly with the choir. Oooh…he is special. I can see why Ryan loves him.

When the crowd was fully receptive, the priest entered, coming up the main aisle, shaking hands and hugging as many people as he could get his arms around. When he reached the sanctuary, he gave a few welcoming remarks, then launched into the Mass, following the traditional lines that Jamie had grown used to at St. Phil's. Everything seemed as usual until the Offertory. At St. Phil's, they sang a quiet, traditional song as the congregation presented their financial gifts to the church. It was very orderly and very proper, and lasted just a few moments as well-practiced ushers passed baskets around the church in a precise pattern.

Here at St. Agatha's, however, a very different practice was followed. Bryant stood and invited everyone to share their bounty with the Lord, and as people stood, he launched the choir into a very spirited rendition of "Jesus on the Main Line."

Everyone joined in to sing, most people clapping and swaying to the rhythm.

Jesus on the main line, tell him what you want.
Jesus on the main line, tell him what you want.
Jesus on the main line, tell him what you want.
Call him up and tell him what you want.

Call him up…call him up…tell him what you want.
Call him up…call him up…tell him what you want.
Call him up…call him up…tell him what you want.
Call him up and tell him what you want.

It was certainly different from anything in Jamie's experience. The songs that were sung at her grandfather's church were considered modern if they were from the 19th century; and the music at St. Phil's, while more contemporary, never conveyed this much joy. At least half of the crowd left their seats, getting up to welcome friends and neighbors, greeting most with hugs and warm handshakes. Jamie and Ryan kept their seats, but Ryan was beaming greetings at everyone who ventured anywhere near her, her face so happy that Jamie felt her heart clench with emotion when she had a moment to spare a glance at her. She leaned over and said, "Thank you for bringing me here, Honey. This was worth the entire trip!"

"We'd be members if we lived anywhere near L.A.," Ryan decreed.

"No arguments," Jamie smiled. "This place rocks!"

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

There was another prolonged mass greeting during the kiss of peace, most of the congregants again leaving their chairs to tour around the church. It seemed like most of the people knew one another, but the greetings were just as enthusiastic for strangers. Jamie felt like she had been wrapped in a warm cocoon of acceptance and community, and even though the service had been going on for over an hour, she had no desire to see it end.

The Communion service was just winding down when Ryan leaned over and whispered, "Wish me luck."

Jamie squeezed her hand, which she realized she had been holding for the entire service, and sent her on her way. The tall woman slipped around the back of the choir and took her seat in front of the organ, looking up at Bryant as he introduced her.

"This week marks the anniversary of the death of someone who meant the world to me," he began. "AIDS has affected many of us here in this congregation, and it continues to be a scourge upon our cities. My friend, my lover, Michael, had a favorite song that he took courage from. When people questioned his belief in his creator, he just smiled and sometimes he'd quote a phrase or two from this song. In honor of his memory, I've asked his cousin Ryan to sing that song for us today." He nodded to Ryan and she began to play, her long, elegant fingers moving about the keyboard as though she was born to the instrument.

She closed her eyes, tossed her hair back from her face, and started to sing the song that had meant so much to her cousin.

They say that heaven is ten zillion light years away
And just the poor at heart will walk her righteous streets someday;
They say that heaven is ten zillion light years away
But if there is a God, we need him now.
Where is your God?
That's what my friends ask me.
And I say it's taken him so long, 'cause he's got so far to come.

Tell me people, why can't they say that hate
Is ten zillion light years away?
Why can't the light of good
Shine God's love on every soul?
Why must my color, black,
Make me a lesser man?
I thought the world was made for every man
He loves us all.
That's what my God tells me. And I say it's taken him so long,
'Cause we've got so far to come.

Ryan tossed her head back and took in a deep breath, her deep, smooth voice rising up strongly-the emotion of her statement evident on her face and in her words.

But in my heart I can feel it.
Feel his spirit.
I can feel it.
I can feel his spirit.

As she reached the chorus, the choir joined in, along with the rest of the musicians, the warm, melodic voices joining with Ryan's to form a perfect harmony. One of the women took over the lead, her powerful voice calling out to proclaim God's spirit.

The large group continued to sing, the words lost to Jamie as she focused intently on her partner, seeing the deeply felt emotions flitting across her beautiful face. Her voice never wavered, and not a tear escaped from her blue eyes-instead, she harnessed her feelings into her voice, the tones stronger and more powerful than Jamie had ever heard come from her lips. Chills chased down her spine as Ryan expressed her belief in her God as well as her dismay over the current state of the world, coming back time and again to her belief in the power of His spirit.

The woman who had shared the lead with Ryan closed the song, her voice building to such powerful levels that Jamie feared for the stained glass. She enunciated the final line clearly, making each word stand out. "I can feel his spirit!" she cried to the heavens, and Jamie shared a meaningful look with her partner, both of them acknowledging that Michael's spirit was fully present along with the Lord's at that moment.

Bryant wrapped Ryan in a massive hug as the congregation gave her and the choir a heartfelt round of applause. Jamie had to restrain herself from running up there, but she forced herself to wait for her lover to return, grabbing her and holding her tenderly for a long while. "That was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard," she whispered. "He heard you, Ryan. I know he did."

They sat down, holding hands through the end of the service, then Ryan stood by Bryant, accepting hugs and kisses from so many people that her head spun. As the last of the people left the church, the tall man gazed at Ryan and said, "My God, when did you develop that voice! You should be singing professionally, Ryan."

"No, I don't think so," she said quickly. "I would join this choir if I lived down here, but I only get pleasure out of singing songs that really mean something to me. I love singing too much to do it to please other people, Bryant. I know that sounds odd…"

"No, no it doesn't," he said. "Michael was the same way. He played so beautifully, but he did it mainly for himself, or me. He said it was too personal to share with strangers."

"Yep. That's it," she agreed. "I don't mind doing it once in a while, like for Rory, but I know my limits."

"Thanks so much for singing today, Ryan. I can't think of a better way to mark the anniversary of Michael's passing."

"It was my pleasure, Bryant," she assured him. "Now I need the pleasure of lunch. Where should we go?"

"Do you like chicken?" he asked.

"Sure do," Ryan said.

"How do you feel about waffles?" he continued.

"Great. Love 'em."

"Excellent. Roscoe's Chicken 'n Waffles, here we come."

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

Neither Ryan nor Jamie had ever considered the merits of adding a waffle to a fried chicken dinner, but both were raving about the combination as soon as they were served. "I'll never be able to eat fried chicken without maple syrup again!" Ryan cried, trying to decide if she should order another breakfast or just eat Jamie's leftovers.

Since it looked like Bryant was slowing down too, Ryan decided to scavenge rather than order more, and she was just one bite short of bursting when she had finished off both of her companions' meals. "I see what you mean about her eating," the amused man said to Jamie. "Where do you put it?" He leaned over and pinched the trim waist, not finding enough loose flesh to get a good handle on.

Ryan shrugged and said, "Maintenance. I've got a big plant to fuel."

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised," he mused. "You ate like a hungry wolf when you were a kid. I don't know how your father kept you all fed."

"Thankfully I could sponge off Aunt Maeve and my friends," she smiled. "He would have gone bankrupt if he'd had to pay for every bite of food I consumed."

"I wonder if it's genetic," he mused, looking at Jamie with a little grin. "Maybe you should be the one to have the children, Jamie." Turning to Ryan he said, "I assume you still want to have your own baseball team."

"Nah. We've scaled back," she informed him. "I might be satisfied with a basketball team." Cocking her head slightly she asked, "If we decide to go with a known donor, would you have any interest in contributing a little genetic material? Jamie's very talented, but she can't seem to manage a Y chromosome."

His eyes grew wide as he looked from one young woman to the other, seeing that they were serious about the question. "Gosh, Ryan, that's a very nice compliment." He looked a little uncomfortable as he said, "Are you at that point now?"

"No…far from it. We're just pre-planning," she said. "We haven't made any decisions at all. It'll probably be five or six years before we're at a point to do that." She looked at him carefully and said, "You don't look like you think it's a good idea."

He sighed and leaned his head back, unkinking his neck for a minute. "No, that's not it. I think you'd be a fabulous mother, Ryan. That's not an issue." He sat up fully and faced her. "I just don't know how I feel about creating a new life when there are already so many unwanted babies." He looked at Jamie and said, "I teach in the inner city, and I see so many kids languishing in the foster care system. I'm currently on the waiting list to become a foster father-I feel like I have to do something to help the problem."

Ryan reached across the table and squeezed his arm. "I think that's wonderful, Bryant. To be honest, even though I want to have one baby myself, we've talked about adopting the others."

"I'm not ruling it out, Ryan, so don't take this as a firm no. But I wouldn't want to do it if I wasn't involved in raising the child."

"If we use a known donor, we'd want that too," Ryan assured him. "If we just want genetic material we'll go to a sperm bank."

He laughed for a minute and said, "Michael used to say that his dream job was being a teller at a sperm bank."

Jamie rolled her eyes and said, "If they had the equivalent for women, Ryan would be first in line. It must run in the family."

"It's a good family," he said warmly. "Let's see where we all are with the topic in a few years, okay? I'm actively pursuing being a foster father, but if that doesn't work out I would consider moving back up to the city to do this, if we all agree. I really want to help raise a child."

"Whoever that child is will be very blessed," Ryan assured him, giving his hand a fond squeeze.

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

As they left the restaurant to get into the rental Jamie said, "He's a doll, Ryan. So warm and open. I can see why he's on your list."

"He always has been," she said softly. "As soon as I decided I was a lesbian I started planning how I'd have children. There was a part of me that always saw Bryant being the father of my kids."

"I'm gonna have to adjust my mental picture, but I might just start a little fantasy of a Ryan/Bryant combo myself," she grinned.

"Adjust your mental picture?" Ryan tilted her head in question.

"Yeah," Jamie explained. "I always imagine that the baby you give birth to will look like you. I think my imagination believes in cloning," she chuckled. "I picture the face from that photo of you from when you were about two. But if Bryant is the father, your baby probably won't share your features."

Ryan cocked her head even further and asked, "That doesn't bother you, does it?"

"No, not at all," Jamie assured her. "As I said, I just need to adjust my mental image. I do think we'd need to have a serious discussion about having an interracial child, of course, but I'm certainly not opposed."

"I agree that there are issues to consider if we use a donor of a different race," Ryan concurred, "but as a biologist, I'm all in favor of mixing up the gene pool. Racial purity is the road to extinction," she declared.

"Conceptually, I'm sure you're right, Honey, but we're not having a science experiment-we're having a baby. There are more issues here than improving the gene pool."

"One more good reason to wait a few years," Ryan agreed. "We'll have time to argue and plan and discuss and argue some more." She smiled brightly and decided, "It'll be fun!"

Jamie just rolled her eyes, believing that her partner could make nearly any discussion fun.

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

When the pair arrived back in Malibu, Jordan and Mia were in their beach attire. "Let's go!" Mia demanded. "The beach is calling me."

"Can we at least put on our suits?" Ryan asked with a smile.

She considered the request and granted permission with the proviso, "You've got five minutes…then we're taking the car!"

The day was very warm for early October and for a change there was no marine layer, so it was warm even by the ocean. Jamie had remembered to bring Ryan's suit, and Jordan had swiped one from Candy, so they were all set. Since it was too far to walk and they had to drive anyway, they headed quite a few miles further up Pacific Coast Highway to Zuma beach. The big surfing beach was not as crowded as they had feared, given the time of year, and they were even able to park in the convenient lot.

By the time they got all of their gear down to an acceptable spot, Ryan was ready for a nap. She smoothed the sand carefully, then created a small depression for her butt and built up a little sand pillow for her head. Her deep concentration was interrupted by Mia's chuckle. "What?" Ryan asked as she looked up to see three pairs of eyes staring at her. "I like to be comfortable."

"It's not brain surgery, Hon," Jamie reminded her. "Just toss your towel down and scoot around."

"Nope. Too much invasive sand. I've studied this, you know," she said firmly.

"I just bet you have, Tiger," Jamie said fondly as she patted her cheek.

Ryan was just about to lower herself into her custom made depression when Jordan said, "You aren't really just going to sit in the sun are you?"

"Ahh, yeah, that's exactly what I was planning on doing."

"But you can do that anywhere. You don't need the ocean to get a tan. That's a waste of a precious resource."

A deep sigh preceded the question, "What do you have in mind?"

"Wind-surfing," Jordan said with a glimmer in her light blue eyes.

"I don't know how," Ryan informed her.

"Even better!"

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

Jamie and Mia decided that watching wind-surfing sounded a lot more interesting than actually wind-surfing, but Ryan reluctantly agreed after Jordan reminded her that they did not have a game until Friday and that Jamie would be gone for two nights, so she could catch up on her sleep. They were able to rent the equipment right on the beach, but they would have to go without wetsuits, which Ryan was not at all happy about.

"Come on, Ryan, don't be such a wimp! It's 69 degrees, for God's sake!"

"Hey, everybody has quirks. One of mine is that I don't like cold water."

"I guarantee you won't notice it once you start working. This is really pretty tough to do right, and you work up a sweat pretty fast. Come on, trust me!"

Ryan rolled her eyes and let Jordan have her way. They decided to rent just one board at first so that Jordan could train her properly. Jamie and Mia came down by the edge of the water and watched the lesson, but neither woman would go for a turn on her own.

As expected, Ryan was a very quick study. Her balance, strength and fearlessness allowed her to grasp the mechanics quickly, and within 15 minutes she was skimming along atop the gentle waves. Jordan ran back to rent another board, and Mia and Jamie sat on the wet sand by the water's edge to watch them play.

"She's pretty hot, isn't she?" Mia asked as she tilted her head to get a better look.

"They both are," Jamie agreed, feeling the stirrings of desire. Watching the women sail along side by side, it was easy to compare their radically dissimilar bodies and styles. Ryan looked powerful and strong as she clung to the sail, A wild look on her face evidenced her desire to tame the ocean to suit her purposes. Jordan looked light and graceful, almost like she was resting on the board. She looked absolutely serene as she skimmed along and, rather than fighting with the sea, she appeared to be a part of it.

Their personality styles carried through to their body styles also. Even though Ryan outweighed Jordan by only 20 pounds now, that entire 20 pounds was muscle, most of it in her rock-hard thighs, round butt, and cut arms. Jordan's body was muscular, but in a softer, smoother form. There were small dips and indentations here and there, but mostly her muscle was invisible, even though it was obviously present. She looked like a more compact woman who had been stretched to her full 6'3" with all of her muscles elongated at the same time. Ryan, however, looked like every robust muscle belonged right where it lay. Actually, when viewed from a distance or in a photograph, one might have guessed that she was 5'8" or so, she was so perfectly proportioned.

Jamie decided that no matter what look a person preferred, it was undeniable that these two women were strikingly beautiful. In Jamie's assessment, Ryan was like a wild mountain stream, while Jordan reminded her of a deep blue pool nestled in a fjord. Both beautiful, both alluring, but only one called to her.

"Yo, Jamie, where'd you go?" Mia asked as she nudged her side with an elbow.

"Oh, sorry, I was just looking at their bodies and my mind wandered."

"Yeah, mine is about to wander down there too."

Jamie aimed a half-hearted slap of rebuke at Mia's midriff, but the topic had been broached. "So…how is it sleeping with her? Did she get any more adventurous?"

"Well-yes and no. She let me touch her breasts a little bit, but we really didn't get that involved. I was worried about making noise with you guys there, and I knew it would freak her out if you heard us messing around." She smiled serenely as she admitted, "I didn't mind a bit, though. It was so nice to cuddle up behind her and hold her all night." Giving Jamie a proud grin, she related, "She slept like a baby, and so did I."

"I'm married to the world's biggest cuddle-bunny," Jamie laughed. "She's quickly made me an addict."

"I think Jordan likes it, but she's wide awake awfully early. I think this is really weighing on her mind."

"She does seem pretty confused," Jamie agreed, unwilling to tell Mia about the conversation she'd had with Jordan the previous day.

"It seems clear to me that she's gay, but she has a really tough time facing it, Jamie. I think I believe her when she says it's not sex that frightens her. I think it's the label, and having other people know. Even on the night we met she was very evasive about being gay."

"Well, what about you, Mia? Where do you fall in the equation?"

"Me? I'm just an open-minded straight girl," she said innocently.

"I don't know, Mia. I think there might be some cutoff point at which you're at least bisexual."

"Like what?" she asked, her curls tossing in the breeze.

"I don't know. Maybe there should be some objective standard. Like if you've touched a dozen breasts…"

"Pairs or individual breasts?" Mia asked, just to clarify the parameters.

"Pairs," Jamie allowed.

"I'm still straight," she decreed happily.

"Well, I've only touched one pair, and it's enough to convince me that I'm gay," Jamie declared.

"Not me," Mia insisted. "I can actually feel the withdrawal pangs when I think of never touching a penis again."

Jamie patted her cheek and said, "I guess maybe you are just an open-minded straight girl."

"Well, whatever you call me, I've got to admit that Jordan makes me throb," Mia sighed. "She's so soft and smooth; her skin just feels like satin. I loved lying in bed and just talking last night. Her breasts felt so soft when they were rubbing against mine. Whew! I had to force myself not to pop one of those little beauties into my mouth."

"Departing straight girl land," Jamie announced dramatically. "You are now entering bisexuality country."

"Get off the label fixation, James! If you must have a title for me, you may say that I'm Mia-sexual. That's the only one that fits!"

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

They were allowed to drop the rental off at LAX, which made matters much easier, at least from a logistics standpoint. Emotionally, it was still very difficult for Jamie to leave. As much pleasure as she got from being on the golf team, she dreaded the time away from home. It wasn't so bad once she was actually playing in the tournament; then, she could give her complete concentration to the match. But leaving Ryan was horrible for her-and even though Ryan tried to put on a good face, Jamie knew it was nearly as hard for her.

Tonight was tougher than usual. They had shared so much emotion during the day that they both felt particularly close, and the thought of parting felt like a physical blow. Jordan and Mia were waiting in the Southwest terminal, giving their friends a little time alone. Ryan had insisted on taking Jamie to her Alaska Air gate, even though it was quite a long jog back to meet the others. To avoid making a scene, they found an empty restroom and spent a few long, tender minutes. Their good-bye kisses were always sweet and filled with emotion, and Ryan felt her composure start to slip as Jamie held her face and reverently kissed every inch.

"That makes me feel so treasured," Ryan murmured as she leaned in to the touch.

"You are treasured," Jamie sighed. "The more I know you, the more I love you, Ryan. Thank you for sharing your heart with me today. I'll always remember your face when you sang that song."

"I'll always remember yours when we locked eyes after I was finished. The love you were sending my way felt like the warmest embrace I've ever experienced."

"This weekend was special, Ryan. Thanks for sharing it with me."

"Thanks for going out of your way to come. I'm really glad that you got to meet Bryant."

"So am I," Jamie smiled. "I'll be home as soon as I can, Love."

"It won't be soon enough. I'll count the minutes."

One final kiss and Jamie was off, striding confidently across the waiting area and into the line to board. As usual, she did not turn around, and Ryan thought it best that she protected her composure that way. Sighing heavily, she made her way back to their friends, already feeling Jamie's absence pervade her senses.

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

Jordan decided to go home and catch up on some sleep, and as Ryan lay in bed she studied the room, feeling like something was missing. It took her a long while, but she finally realized what it was. The stuffed tiger she had given Jamie was not on her usual space on the loveseat. She looked all around the room, finally deciding that Jamie must have taken it with her. That's my girl, she sighed. Only Jamie would have the nerve to sleep with a stuffed tiger that says "I love Jamie" on its little shirt. Her roommate's gonna think she's a whacko!

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

Continued in Part Seven

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