I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 10:  Journeys

By SX Meagher


Part Five

Jeez, Jamie, could you make this more inconvenient?  She didn't have a lot to carry, just her gym bag and her backpack, but she didn't really appreciate having to traipse all over the airport just to snag a ride home.  She didn't mind that Jamie was concerned for her own comfort, but she wished she had been able to get comfortable somewhere in the Southwest Airlines terminal.  Come on, Ryan, she reminded herself, there is no place comfortable in these terminals.  She deserves to stretch out and drink an espresso with her paisans in the international terminal.  Don't be such a baby!

It took her twenty minutes to make the long trek, and she had to go through security again…opening her backpack and booting up her laptop just to make the ordeal take longer.  She was wrestling with her mood for the last ten minutes, and she thought that she had a pretty authentic smile pasted on by the time she got to the lounge.  Of course, she wasn't able to enter, since she wasn't a member.  The uniformed man at the door actually sniffed when he saw her, attired in her volleyball warm-ups with a backwards Cal baseball cap on, but he agreed to test her claim that she actually knew a member of his little club.  Moments later, Jamie came out and wrapped her in a big hug, immediately dispelling Ryan's bad mood.  Her mood lightened even more when she saw the look of outrage on the doorman's face, and she gave him a wink as she grasped Jamie's hand to leave.

"Come inside for a minute.  I just ordered a cappuccino, and my stuff's in here."

Forcing herself not to roll her eyes, Ryan did so, breezing past the doorman, who continued to glare at her.  "Can we get going soon?" Ryan asked, just a note of anxiety in her voice.

"Yes, love.  I just have to get something very important that I left here.  Then we can go."

"Why would you leave something that was important?" Ryan groused as they made their way through the sumptuously appointed lounge.

"Because we wanted to surprise you," she announced as they rounded a corner and came upon a small, auburn-haired woman sitting at a table sipping a cappuccino.

"Aunt Moira!" Ryan gasped, collapsing heavily into a chair as her knees betrayed her.

"The one and only," the older woman smiled, tossing her arms around Ryan and enveloping her in a hug.

"How in the world…?"  Ryan looked from her aunt to her partner and back again, clearly confused as well as totally delighted.

"This young woman of yours certainly knows how to get things done," Moira smiled.  "I still don't know how she convinced me to leave my family and sneak off to America…but here I am."

"She has that effect on people."  Ryan smiled at her partner fondly, still shaking her head in surprise.  "Was your mother involved in this little caper, Jamie?"

"Yes, dear.  I told you that she had three vouchers for international travel.  Maeve used one, your father used the second…it seemed silly to let the third go to waste."  She was blinking up at Ryan innocently, not quite able to pull that ruse off any more, but Ryan wasn't complaining.

"I did well for myself, didn't I, Aunt Moira?"  Ryan was beaming with pride, her blue eyes sparkling with affection as she gazed at her partner.

"If she's half as special as Maeve and your father say, I'd have to wholeheartedly agree with that claim, Ryan."  Moira stood and smoothed her dress into place as she said, "Let's hitch the pony to the wagon, girls.  We've got a wedding to prepare for!"

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Moira's arrival threw the house into a tizzy, and wedding plans were largely ignored for the better part of the afternoon.  All of the other aunts had to come over to greet the visitor, and she and Maeve eventually escaped back to Maeve's house so Moira could take a much-needed nap.

The children had planned a rehearsal dinner at a small neighborhood restaurant, so everyone agreed to meet back at the house before the seven o'clock rehearsal.  Ryan's suit was ready for pickup, and she and Jamie left to run that errand as soon as Moira left.  "I can't get over how thoughtful it was for you to bring my aunt over for the wedding, Jamie," she said as they drove along.

"I knew how much it would mean to Maeve," Jamie said simply.  "If I can do a little something to make her happy, why wouldn't I?"

"You've really come to love my family, haven't you?" Ryan reflected quietly.

Jamie paused for a minute and said, "I don't think of them as your family anymore, Ryan, I think of them as mine.  Even though I've never met Moira, I feel a bond with her because of you.  She's very special to me, because she's so special to you."

Ryan reached over and clamped her hand upon Jamie's thigh, the emotion of the moment causing her to squeeze a little harder than was prudent.  "Thank you, sweetheart."  Her voice was a little shaky as she said, "Moira is truly a wonderful person, Jamie.  She's been there for me when I really needed her, and she's protected me just like my own mother would have."

Jamie recalled that Ryan had gone to stay with her aunt after the debacle with Sara, and she assumed that's what she was speaking of now.  "She sure seems comfortable with us as a couple, and I can't imagine she has a lot of experience being around gay people."

"Yeah, she's generally very accepting, but she's known about me since I was seventeen, so it's not surprising for her."

"Still, knowing something and seeing something can be very different things," Jamie reminded her partner.

"Yeah, I guess I forget that sometimes.  It would never dawn on me that Moira would be anything but totally accepting of me and the woman I love.  That's just who she is."

"That must be a wonderful gift," Jamie said softly.  "To know that your family will support and embrace you--no matter what."

"It is," Ryan agreed.  "I have that from almost everyone in my family.  I really have been blessed."  They were close to the tailor's, and Ryan shook her head at the dearth of parking spaces.  "We're gonna have a hike," she muttered.

"There is a pay lot close to the place," Jamie said, knowing that she was wasting her breath.

Ryan shot her a look and offered, "I'm happy to drop you off, but it'll be a cold day in hell before I pay ten bucks to park for an hour.  Ain't gonna happen."

"I'll hike with you," Jamie decided.  "It wasn't a serious suggestion anyway.  I know you better than that by now."

"I should hope so," Ryan chuckled.  "Pinching pennies is one of my core traits!"

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

It was just four when they returned home, and Martin was out running a few of his own errands, accompanied by Rory.  Conor was working at a house in Atherton, and he was going to have to rush just to make it to the rehearsal, so Ryan and Jamie had the house to themselves for a change.  "We've got three hours," Jamie said, "How about a nice, long nap?"

"Only if you'll agree to put me to sleep the fun way," Ryan teased, her blue eyes dancing merrily.

"It has been a while, hasn't it, Tiger?"  Jamie peered up at her partner, trailing her fingers up and down her arm as their eyes locked.  They hadn't been intimate in over a week, Ryan's fatigue--coupled with her bad mood--having conspired against them.

"Yeah, it has," Ryan agreed, placing her arms on Jamie's shoulders and clasping her hands together behind her neck.  "But I'm feeling much more normal now that I finally got my period.  I think the old Ryan's back, ba-bee."

"Ooo, I like the old Ryan," Jamie teased.  "'Of course, any old Ryan's fine with me.  I'm crazy about all of her incarnations."

"Yeah, but you mated with the old one-I'll try to keep her front and center."

"Sounds like a deal.  Do you need a little snack?  We won't get to eat until 8:30 or so, you know."

"Ya know, I could stand a snack.  I think I'll make myself a big bowl of ice cream."  As she walked into the kitchen, Jamie could hear her mumbling to herself, "What flavor goes best with, and on, Jamie?"

Ooo, she is back, thought the smaller woman with delight.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Ryan was still sensitive to cold, and the large dent she had put into her enormous bowl of ice cream had her shivering by the time Jamie emerged from the bath.  The comforter was pulled up almost to her ears, and when Jamie saw her she couldn't help but tease her a little.  "Hey, Tiger, where are those hands?  Come on, let me see 'em.  I don't want you to start without me."

A frighteningly dark look flashed across Ryan's face, and for just a minute Jamie thought that her guess had been wrong and that the new and unimproved Ryan had returned.  But just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished, and the dark woman composed her face and seemed to force a smile.  "I won't start without you, Jamie," she said, a little too brightly.  "You're the guest of honor."

"Hey," the blonde said softly as she slid into bed, "why did my teasing upset you?"

Ryan shook her head, and tried to slough off her reaction.  "No biggie.  It just reminded me of something."

Jamie cuddled up close, and started to draw neat little designs on Ryan's bare skin, gazing intently at the patterns as she spoke.  "You don't have to tell me when things bother you.  I just want to make sure you know that I'm always interested in what you have to say.  So, if you want to keep it to yourself-that's one thing…but if you don't tell me 'cause you think I'm not interested-you're dead wrong."

Ryan gave her a squeeze and said, "I uh…I should talk about this a little, 'cause it's obviously on my mind."  She sighed heavily and said, "I guess it's what we talked about earlier about my Aunt Moira," she admitted.  "I'm totally glad that you brought her here, Jamie, but Moira is entwined with my Granny in my mind, and little memories have been bombarding me all day.  As a matter of fact, that's been true ever since Da and Aunt Maeve went over to Ireland.  I just had a flashback to a really hard time when you made the comment about my hands."

"But, I didn't mean anything…"

"Shhh…I know you didn't mean anything by it, love," Ryan insisted.  "Don't give it another thought.  It's just a bad memory…nothing to do with you."

"Wanna tell me about it?" Jamie asked softly, her hand still gliding over Ryan's skin.

"It's…it's kinda embarrassing."  Jamie could hear her swallow, and could tell by her tense muscles that Ryan was really uncomfortable.

"Sweetheart, you never have to be embarrassed to tell me anything.  I would never judge you…don't you know that?"

Ryan bit her lip and admitted what the real problem was.  "I don't want to make this into a bigger deal than it was, and I also don't want you to think less of my Granny because of this.  It sounds pretty harsh, Jamie."

"Baby, I won't think less of her.  I tend to make up my own mind about people.  Don't let that influence you.  If you want to tell me about it, please do."

"Okay."  Ryan sighed and closed her eyes, obviously trying to remember the event.  "I'm not sure how old I was…oh, wait…yes, I am.  I was in third grade.  I was staying with Granny for the whole summer, and it was the first time I went alone."

Jamie still struggled with the fact that Martin had let his precious daughter fly to Ireland alone at such a young age, but she knew he must have had his reasons.  "Granny and I always…and I do mean always…had our disagreements," Ryan revealed.  "I wasn't an obnoxious kid at all, and I was polite and respectful of my elders.  Of course, I was always pretty active, and I was, as you would expect, pretty hardheaded, and Granny didn't like that.  I got swatted pretty hard when I did something that she didn't like, and I received more than my share of spankings, mostly because I just couldn't be the kid that she wanted me to be.  I had to run around like a banshee, and I had to question things-I would have gone mad if I couldn't do that!"

"Of course you had to be yourself," Jamie soothed, continuing to rub her gently.

"I learned to deal with her rigidity, and I thought I knew how to stay out of trouble.  I'd learned that she had a real thing about lying.  It was…a real hot button for her, and I knew that no matter what, I couldn't lie to my Granny."

Jamie's eyes had narrowed, and she knew her heart rate was picking up at the mere thought of someone hitting the vulnerable child that her precious lover had been.  She tried her best to control her reactions, though, because she knew Ryan would not be open about her feelings if she reacted badly.

"We had this ongoing fight about taking an afternoon nap.  I was in third grade, and I hadn't had an enforced nap since I was four…but that didn't matter to Granny.  She made me lie down on the sofa in the living room every afternoon.  There were two rules…you had to close your eyes, and you had to keep your hands outside of the blanket."

"Because…?"  Ryan just raised an eyebrow, and the implication dawned on her.  "So you wouldn't…touch yourself?" Jamie asked slowly, amazed that someone would supervise a young girl's personal habits so closely.

"I assume so," Ryan said.  "She didn't explain herself, and I didn't ask, 'cause I knew I wouldn't get a straight answer.  She didn't really like to offer reasons for her rules," she said.

"That must have been hard for you, honey.  With your quick little mind, it must have driven you nuts to be forced to do things that made no sense."

"Yeah, it did, but I wanted to be in Ireland, and staying with her was the price of admission," Ryan related.  "Anyway, one day it was kinda cold, and I pulled the blanket up to my chin…you know…like I always do."

"Yes, I know," Jamie said, finding the habit one of Ryan's most adorable traits.  Coming into the bedroom to see nothing but that shock of jet-black hair and those vibrant blue eyes peering out of the blanket always put a smile on her face.

"I had forgotten the rule until I heard Granny come into the room.  I whipped my arms out, but she saw me.  She marched right over to me and demanded to know if I had been 'interfering' with myself.  Now, I had no earthly idea what she was talking about, but I assumed she was asking if I had broken the rule about my hands.  Since I had my eyes closed I wasn't sure if she had seen me or not.  But even though I knew I'd get in trouble for breaking the rule--lying wasn't an option-I knew that was a capital crime in Granny's world."

"My God, she sounds like a tyrant!" Jamie cried, unable to control her reaction any longer.

Ryan shook her head and insisted, "No, no she wasn't, Jamie.  She's an older woman from a very different time.  She's just a product of her environment.  If you don't know the influence that the Church had with that generation, you really can't understand this."

"I'm sorry, honey," the smaller woman offered, closing her eyes briefly while she struggled with her emotions.  "I don't want to criticize her.  Please, go on."

"You're not gonna like the end of the story," Ryan warned, but she continued anyway.  "She grabbed me by the arm and hauled me to my feet and gave me a lecture about how touching myself was the most sinful thing a little girl could do, and that doing it would send me straight to hell.  God, she scared the shit out of me…and I still didn't know what she was talking about!"

"You poor little thing."  Jamie was about to cry, but she wanted Ryan to finish, so she bit her tongue to keep from interrupting again.

"She demanded to know how long I'd been doing it, and whether my father knew.  Knowing her, she probably thought he told me to do it," she scoffed.  "It finally dawned on me that she was accusing me of doing something that I hadn't done, even though I wasn't sure what it was.  I tried to explain that I had just been trying to stay warm, but I'm sure my excuse didn't sound very convincing at that point."

"I take it that she didn't believe you," Jamie said quietly.

"No."  Ryan shivered at the memory, and related, "She went to her room and came back with this leather strap."

Jamie's whole body tensed, and she willed herself not to comment.

"She gave me one chance to tell the truth…but I had been," she said softly.  "I wasn't going to lie…no matter what.  I didn't care if she beat me to death."  Ryan's voice was hard and bore the marks of years of bitterness over the false accusations of her grandmother.  "She made me hold out my hands, and she gave me a dozen lashes on each one," Ryan related quietly.  "It hurt…God, did it hurt…but what hurt worse was that she didn't believe me."

Unable to hold herself back any longer, Jamie wrapped her partner in her arms and began to cry softly as she hugged her fiercely.  "That's so wrong, Ryan.  That's child abuse!"

"Yeah, it would be here," she admitted.  "I could hardly hold a fork the next day, my hands were so swollen.  I was eating lunch at my Aunt Moira's, and she saw that I was having trouble feeding myself.  I still remember the look on her face when she saw my hands.  She didn't even ask me what happened.  She stormed out of the house and didn't come back for the longest time.  I wouldn't tell Aisling what was going on, but I think she knew…she had been at the wrong end of Granny's temper a time or two, also.  I was so worried that I couldn't eat, but when Moira came back she was carrying my little suitcase.  She squatted down in front of me and said that she and Granny had decided that I'd be happier staying at her house from then on."

"I like Moira better and better," Jamie said, sniffing her tears away.

"Yeah…she's a great mom," Ryan said, feeling very much like all three Ryan sisters had co-mothered her.  "She held me on her lap that night, even though I was nearly as big as she was by that time," she laughed gently.  "She told me that it was perfectly all right to touch my body any way that I wanted…that it was my body, and no one had the right to tell me what to do with it."

"Good for her," Jamie whispered fiercely.

"Yeah.  I told her the whole story, mainly because I was so confused.  She tried to explain what she thought Granny had been trying to do--that she believed it was wrong for little girls to touch certain parts of their bodies.  But Moira clearly told me that she thought Granny was wrong, and she told me that she knew my mother would feel the same way."

"You still must have been horribly mixed up about the whole thing, Ryan."

"Yeah, I was.  But the important part is that I understood that my aunt would look out for me…that she wouldn't let anyone, even her own mother, hurt me.  That was worth getting a beating for," she said softly.

"I wish you could have learned that lesson in a gentler way, sweetheart," Jamie sighed, still reeling from the thought of the woman beating a small child for such a ridiculous thing.  "I can't think of what I'd do if someone beat our children."

Shivering at the mental image, Ryan assured her, "That will never happen.  I'll never leave our children with anyone that I don't trust implicitly."

"Were you angry with your father for placing you in her care?" Jamie asked, a note of hesitation in her voice.

"No.  He didn't know.  I'm sure my mother never told him that they were beaten when they were kids.  It's really humiliating," she said quietly.  "It's not the kind of thing you like to talk about."

"Do you think your father ever knew?" Jamie asked, wondering why the older woman was still alive if Martin knew she had struck his daughter.

"Yeah.  He knew.  We never talked about it, though.  When I got off the plane that fall, he squeezed me until I thought my ribs would break, then he looked at my hands.  I swear he studied them for three minutes, obviously making sure there were no permanent marks on them.  It was never an issue where I would stay from then on, though.  I've not slept in my grandparents' house since."

"I hope your granny lives to a very ripe old age," Jamie said, her voice filled with emotion, "but our children will never be with her alone.  She's lost that privilege."

Ryan nodded, agreeing with her partner completely.  She thought it wise to not tell Jamie about the other times she had been beaten for even more inconsequential reasons.  Like when she was whipped with a switch for not being home by dinner, or the time she had been spanked so hard she couldn't sit down for a day for trampling some of her Granny's flowers.  As humiliating as those incidents had been, they hadn't stuck with her long, since she thought that each was somewhat deserved.  It was the injustice of the accusation that she had never been able to forgive, and she pledged once again to always try to listen to her own children, no matter how compelling the evidence against them.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

They made love for a very long time that afternoon, even though they didn't technically have sex.  The story had cooled Ryan's ardor, and Jamie was much more interested in expressing her love for her partner than in slaking her desire.

Jamie took out a bottle of moisture lotion and rubbed and stroked nearly every inch of Ryan's body, whispering loving sentiments the whole time.  When she was finished, Ryan returned the favor, both of them feeling refreshed and very well loved by the time their alarm went off.  "Well, we didn't get that nap, and we didn't get to put each other to sleep the fun way, but I'm very pleased with how we spent our afternoon," Jamie said when they got up to shower.  "Knowing everything about you--good and bad--is always a positive thing for our relationship, Ryan.  Thanks for sharing this with me…even though I know it was hard for you."

"You make things easy, Jamie.  Ya know," she said speculatively as she regarded her partner fondly, "your listening style reminds me very much of my Aunt Moira.  I wonder if that's one of the reasons I was instantly attracted to you."

"I'd like to be like your aunt," Jamie decided.  "Actually, I'd like to be like any of your relatives.  Even Duffy is worth emulating!"

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

The restaurant was only about seven blocks from the church, and the entire group walked down 24th Street together.  The crowd was smaller than usual, with just the happy couple, their children, Moira, and Catherine in attendance.  Jamie was pushing Caitlin's stroller, and her mother was walking alongside her, her hand loosely wrapped around her daughter's arm.  Just in front of them, Ryan was holding her Aunt Moira's hand, the two women chatting companionably during the entire trip.  Ryan stood a good foot taller than the diminutive woman, and they did not share a single common feature--hair color, texture, and wave all strikingly dissimilar.  Moira's eyes were a pale green, nothing like the startling cornflower blue with which Ryan had been blessed.  Moira's bone structure was slight and delicate, two words that had never been uttered about Ryan.  Still, there was something about the pair that would make even a stranger assume they were mother and daughter.  Ryan had speculated that part of the reason she felt so close to her aunt was because the woman bore such a striking resemblance to her mother, but Jamie thought it went deeper than that.  She had a sense that this woman embodied some of Fionnuala's personality in a way that Maeve did not.  Moira seemed to have a fire to her that the placid Maeve did not possess, and Jamie guessed that Ryan's mother might have shared that trait-especially since Ryan surely had more than her share of spark in her own determined personae.

Whatever the reasons, it was clear that Ryan was very fond of the woman beside her, and that fact alone was enough for Jamie to make a little room in her heart to gladly welcome in yet another member of her family of choice.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"Honey, are you sure you don't want to go to the Dubliner with your father and all of the guys?" Jamie asked, once they were snug in bed.

"No," Ryan said thoughtfully.  "I want to be well rested for tomorrow.  It's gonna be a long day, and I don't want to have a hangover," she admitted.

"I've never seen your father drink more than one beer," Jamie laughed.  "Surely he won't have a hangover tomorrow!"

"No, he won't," Ryan agreed.  "But all of the cousins will be there, and at some point one of them would challenge me to some sort of drinking game, and I'd give in, and…well, you know the rest."

"Honey, you don't even like to drink much.  Why would you do that?"

Ryan shrugged and said, "It's part of being a member of the clan, love.  Group dynamics, I guess you'd call it.  I don't always use my brain when I'm around the cousins."

"Then I'm glad you didn't go.  I want you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed tomorrow.  You're going to look so pretty in your new clothes…I'd hate to see bloodshot eyes and a greenish pallor to that pretty face."

"It'll be fun to be the only one in the crowd who feels just ducky," Ryan smiled.  "Nine hours of cuddling by my best girl, and I'll be on top of the world."

"You're on, love.  I'll race you to sleep," she teased, a race that Ryan, for a change, won hands down.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"Morning, cuddle bear," Jamie murmured into her pillow early on Saturday morning.  Ryan was wrapped around her so tightly that she was quite sure they had finally reached the limits of human connectedness.

"Hi," a wide-awake voice replied.  "I'm gonna go for a run.  You can stay in bed if you want."  Ryan started to disentangle, but her partner reached behind her and placed a restraining hand on her hip.

"Want me to go with you?"

"No.  I need a little time to myself today."  There was a long moment of silence, and then Ryan added, "I need to talk to my mom for a while."

Jamie sighed and rolled onto her back, regarding her partner with gentle care.  "I know today is going to be hard for you.  Do you want to talk about it at all?"

Ryan's dark head shook.  "No.  I'm fine, Jamie.  I just want to feel Mama's presence this morning.  I do that best when I run."

"Okay, Ryan.  I'll wait for you to have breakfast."

"Good deal.  I'll try not to stay out too long."

"You stay as long as you need to.  We're not in any rush."

Ryan started to roll out of bed, but she impulsively drew her partner into another hug and placed several kisses on her exposed neck.  "Thanks for understanding," she whispered, then rolled away and hit the floor, all in one smooth move.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Ryan managed to stay close to home, satisfying herself with running up and down the hills of her immediate neighborhood.  She had covered about five miles and had just passed her Aunt Maeve's house when a familiar voice said, "How about slowing down a bit and giving your aunt a chance to catch up?"

Turning to greet Moira with a grin, Ryan ran back to the house and waited for her to come down the stairs, pausing to wipe her sweaty face with the hem of her T-shirt.  "This is quite the coincidence, eh?" Moira asked.

"Not really," Ryan chuckled.  "This is the fourth time I've been by this morning.  I was hoping you'd come out for your usual walk."

With an exasperated look Maeve asked, "Why didn't you knock, Ryan?  You know we've been up for a while.  My poor sister is so nervous, I don't think she slept a wink!"

"I don't know," Ryan said, gazing at the street with an adolescent expression on her face.

"Doesn't matter," Moira assured her, taking her hand.  "I've got you now."

"It's kinda wet," Ryan said, looking pointedly at her hand.

"Oh, please!  Like a little sweat would bother me?  I've changed a few dozen of your diapers, Siobhán," she said with a big smile, switching back and forth between her niece's names as she often did.  "Sweat is a definite improvement!"  They walked along the quiet street, their footfalls the only sound.  "How are you feeling about today, sweetheart?  I haven't really had the opportunity to talk to you about the whole thing."

"I'm okay," Ryan said, pausing just a second to reflect on her mood.  They merged their strides into a brisk pace, Moira quite used to an invigorating walk every morning.  "Is it okay if I tell you what's on my mind?" Ryan asked.  "I've got a lot of things floating around upstairs that I can't get comfortable with."

"Of course," Moira said, squeezing her hand.  "Tell me whatever you want to share."

Ryan nodded and took a breath, her thoughts organized after her run.  "The biggest part of me wants both Da and Aunt Maeve to be loved, and to have them find that with each other is absolutely fantastic.  But that's the 23…no…24-year-old that feels that way.  There's a younger part that doesn't want anybody…not even my beloved aunt…to take my mother's place.  And even though I know Aunt Maeve doesn't want to do that…it's a bit unavoidable."

"I can see that," Moira said.  "It's understandable that would be hard to get used to."

"I think it will be a little easier because they'll be living in Maeve's house," Ryan said thoughtfully.  "On the other hand, I don't want Da to move out.  That's really going to be hard for me," she admitted.  "I know that sounds silly, since he's going to be two blocks away, and I only live here on weekends…but it really bothers me."

Seemingly switching topics completely, Moira asked, "I assume you know about Aisling's boyfriend?"

"Uh…yeah.  She's told me all about him," Ryan agreed, wondering why they were discussing her cousin at this point.

"I just bet she has," Moira laughed.  "And don't you give me that look, Ryan, I know you two tell each other everything."

"Well, she is my best friend," Ryan reminded her.  "Besides, Jamie, that is."

"Well, he's a perfectly lovely young man.  John Houlihan.  She's brought him to the house several times when she comes home from school."  Moira turned to her niece and gave her a deceptively innocent look.  "I'd like to crush his head with a brick!"

"What!" Ryan cried, stunned at this uncharacteristically violent wish.

"He looks at her with those big doe eyes, Ryan.  He honestly looks like he'd like to have her for tea!  Every time he touches her, I want to go over and slap him silly!  'Get your hands off my baby!'  I want to cry, but of course, I don't.  I behave myself very well, thank you.  I offer the man a good meal, and polite conversation, but I'm secretly plotting his demise," she added, a fiendishly satisfied look on her face.

Ryan had been chuckling through this whole revelation, and by the time her aunt was finished, she was laughing out loud.  "I can just see you bumping off Aisling's first serious boyfriend, Aunt Moira.  That's priceless!"

"Her father's worse than I am," Moira assured her.  "The first time we met him, he leaned over to me as they came up the walk and said, 'I think I saw him on the telly.  I think he's an escapee from the county gaol.'"

Ryan was laughing heartily by this time, and her aunt insisted,  "I'm not pulling your leg, Ryan.  Eamon calls him 'Beady Eyes' or 'Pasty Face'."

"Since I've never known you to tell a story without a point, you might as well get to it," Ryan smiled.

"It's a simple point," Moira assured her.  "We all have roles for the people we love.  Your father and your aunt are both changing their role, and it's going to take some time for you to get used to it.  Just like Eamon and I have to.  Aisling isn't our baby any longer.  She's a 24-year-old woman who has probably been thoroughly kissed a time or two."  She gave Ryan a gentle elbow to the ribs and said, "Agree with me, darlin'."

"Yes, Aunt Moira.  Aisling has been kissed a time or two.  I don't think she enjoyed it, though," she lied outrageously.

"Good girl!  Now, we've all got some adjusting to do, but we can do it, because we all love each other.  This is truly the best thing that could have happened, Ryan.  And just for the record, I am 100% certain that your mother would give her wholehearted approval.  I actually think she'd be disappointed in your father for going so long without love in his life."  She turned to Ryan and said, "I know she'd want him to share his love, darlin', and what better person to share it with than her beloved sister?  This is truly a time for celebration, Ryan.  Let's do our best to put our mixed feelings aside and show them how happy we are for them."

"I will," Ryan said, sniffing as she brushed a tear away.  "I will."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

They walked for a while longer, and by the time they passed by the O'Flaherty house they had discussed every little detail about the wedding.  When Moira told Ryan all of the elements of Maeve's costume, Ryan had an idea and dashed into the house to fetch something, calling out, "Be back soon," when Jamie stuck her head out of the bathroom, fresh from her shower.

After changing into a dry T-shirt, she escorted Moira back to Maeve's house.  Her aunt was a nervous wreck, just as Moira had described.  "Oh, Ryan!  If I had any idea this little wedding would take this much out of me, I swear I'd just live in sin!"

"Over my dead body!" Ryan decreed, laughing softly at her aunt's obvious distress.  "My poor father would never recover from the mere suggestion!  No, Aunt Maeve, you're in too deep now.  Just try to relax, and in a few hours it will all be over."

"That's what they told me when I gave birth to Michael," she scoffed.  "30 hours later I was begging for a pistol!"

"This will definitely be over in a few hours," Ryan assured her.  "Besides, you've done this before.  Wasn't it scarier the first time around?"

Maeve shared a look with her sister.  "Oh, the innocence of youth," she smiled.  "No, dear, it was not scarier the first time.  When you're young, you don't have enough sense to know how hard it is to be married.  You just assume that everything will turn out fine."

"Well, call me innocent, but I know that everything will turn out just fine.  I've been living with your groom for 24 years now, and I can assure you that he's one of the easiest people in the world to get along with.  He's neat, clean, doesn't drink to excess, clearly doesn't chase other women, and he can cook!  How many men have that many good traits?"

Maeve gave her niece a hug and said, "You're right, of course.  I'm just being silly.  I think I'll feel better when I can start doing something.  It's too early to get dressed."

"How about a nice long bubble bath?" Ryan suggested.  "Put on some good music, light some candles, and relax in the tub.  Jamie has convinced me of the relaxing properties of a good soak, and if I can do it, so can you."

"Ooo, that does sound nice, but I don't have many candles," she advised.

"You will when my father moves in," Ryan informed her.  "We've got enough to provide light for the whole neighborhood during a power outage.  I'll have Jamie bring some over."

"Oh, don't go to so much bother," Maeve insisted.

"No bother.  I think we women should stick together today, anyway.  I think I'll have Jamie bring our clothes over, and we can get dressed here.  Can you feed us?"

"Of course!  I'll start breakfast, love.  That will give me something to do!"

"All part of my plan," Ryan muttered to herself as she went to call her partner.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

After Jamie arranged an idyllic setting, Maeve soaked for a solid hour, and her mood was much improved when she emerged from the tub.  "I honestly do feel calmer," she decided.  Jamie had insisted on giving her a spa-like experience, and she set about removing the mud masque she had applied before the bath.  She was about to help Maeve with her makeup when Catherine arrived, carrying Maeve's wedding suit and a selection of jewelry that she thought would provide the proper accent.  She was long-skilled in the artful application of make-up, and she took over from her daughter.

While Ryan showered, Jamie got all of their things organized, and when Ryan emerged she offered to do her hair.  Ryan's hair had grown out since her summer cut and was now much closer to her original length.  Jamie decided that she needed a little something special today, so she parted it off center and created two long braids, which she secured at the back of her head with bobby pins.  "I don't think I have any hair clips here," she commented to the crowd.  "I'll have to run home and get something."

Catherine looked over and said, "I brought a little something for Ryan's hair.  Look in the kitchen."

Jamie found a sprig of tiny sterling silver tea roses woven around a simple silver hair clip, and she shook her head at the thoroughness of her mother's planning.  If she ever needed a job, she'd be a natural as a wedding planner, she mused.

Ryan looked lovely with the delicate display of roses in her hair, and she even allowed Jamie to apply a bit of makeup to her normally cosmetic-free face.  Then the tall woman sat on the bed and watched Jamie and Maeve's transformations.  Jamie was finished first, and Ryan wished she could nibble all of the soft pink lipstick off her luscious lips, but she didn't think Jamie's careful application should be ruined this early in the day.  There's always time for that at the reception, she decided.

Catherine did an excellent job making Maeve look absolutely lovely for her big day.  The makeup she applied was understated and very tasteful, just perfect for a morning wedding.  They decided that Maeve should not put her suit on until she was ready to walk out the door, but Catherine wanted to decide on jewelry.  Everyone gathered around and looked at the selection she had brought.  Moira and Jamie were in favor of a sterling silver necklace with a matching bracelet, but Maeve decided that she wanted to wear her one piece of nice jewelry.  "I have a pearl necklace that was my grandmother's," she said.  She pulled it out of its case, and everyone agreed that it was just perfect…a single strand of cultured pearls that would hang down just to the second button of her jacket.

"I thought pearls would be nice," Catherine agreed and pointed out a lovely pair of pearl earrings in a setting of tiny diamonds.

"I have something you might fancy, Aunt Maeve," Ryan said, pulling out a small box lined with tissue paper.

"Oh, Ryan," Maeve said, looking like she was on the verge of tears.  In the blink of an eye, all of the other women left the room, allowing Maeve and Ryan a moment alone.  "Are you sure, sweetheart?" the older woman asked.

"Of course I'm sure," she said as she bent over to fasten the tear-shaped pearls onto her aunt's ears.  "You got the necklace, Mama got the earrings.  I think the set should be reunited on your wedding day."

Maeve wrapped her niece in a tender hug, holding on for a long time.  "It's nice to have something of Fi's with me," she whispered.  "Besides her Marty, that is," she added with a small laugh.  She looked up at Ryan with a hint of doubt in her green eyes and asked, "Are we doing the right thing?"

"Yes," Ryan said, her voice strong and full of conviction.  "You are most definitely doing the right thing.  You're going to make my father a very happy man, Aunt Maeve, and I know he'll make you happy, too.  This is absolutely as it should be."  Ryan placed a tender kiss on her aunt's cheek and said, "You know, I'm a little afraid of being too greedy today.  I'm going to walk Da down the aisle and be your attendant.  Don't you think maybe we should share the wealth?"

The older woman blinked up at her and asked, "What do you mean?"

"I think Aunt Moira should stand up for you, " she said decisively.  "I think it would mean a lot to her."

Maeve gave her niece yet another hug, and whispered, "That would mean a lot…to both of us.  Thank you, Ryan.  Thank you for being so thoughtful."

"Just trying to be fair, Aunt Maeve," she assured her.

The older woman sniffed a little, smiling when Ryan handed her a tissue. "Sweetheart, do you still want to refer to me as your aunt?"

Ryan smiled back and said, "I found myself referring to you and Da as my parents the other day," she admitted.  "It sounded right…strange, but right."

Maeve gave her another fierce hug, on the verge of losing the war with her composure.  "I'd be proud to call you my daughter," she sniffed, "and I'm honored that you feel comfortable calling your father and me your parents.  But what about just me?  You could drop the 'aunt' and call me Maeve," she suggested.

Ryan nodded, smiling the whole time.  "I'll give it a try," she agreed.  "It will take a while, and I might not do it in private, but it would be nice not to have to explain why I call my father's wife 'Aunt Maeve'."

"I'm sure we're not the oddest blended family in the area, love.  This is San Francisco, you know."

"Indeed it is, and you're going to be the loveliest bride in the whole city.  Now let's get you dressed and prove it!"

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Maeve was just slipping into her jacket when Annie and Caitlin showed up, and befitting her years of experience with toddlers, Maeve took the jacket right off and went out to greet the pair in her robe.  After receiving a sloppy kiss, she went back into her room and got dressed, this time with Moira's assistance.

The pair came out a short time later, and everyone made over Maeve's striking appearance.  Moira said, "My lovely sister has just asked me to stand up for her!  Isn't that grand?"

"That's wonderful," Jamie agreed, having had a feeling her partner was going to bow out.

"I just wish I had something to wear that fit in better," she said.  "I only brought a dark dress."

Catherine went to her large suit bag and looked into its depths.  "Aren't you close to my size?" she asked speculatively.

"Yes, I suppose so," Moira replied.

"Well, I couldn't make up my mind this morning," Catherine related, "so I brought a few things.  Why don't you see if one of these outfits pleases you, Moira?"

The stunned woman blinked at Catherine as she pulled out three absolutely gorgeous suits, each completely complementary to Maeve's outfit.  "How…how…?"

"Don't ask, Aunt Moira," Ryan warned.  "Catherine works in mysterious ways."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

While Catherine and Maeve fussed over Moira, Jamie took Ryan into the bedroom to finish getting dressed.  "Some sweet little girl offered up her spot in the wedding party to her aunt, didn't she?" she asked as she wrapped her arms around Ryan's waist.

"Uh-huh," Ryan murmured.  "And I think some sweet woman brought some extra outfits, knowing that my aunt might not have a very extensive wardrobe."

"That's a definite possibility," Jamie agreed, smiling as she thought of her mother's planning for the day.  "She's pretty sly, isn't she?"

"She's adorable," Ryan insisted.  "Just like her daughter."  The dark head tilted as Ryan said, "If this had been left up to us, poor Aunt Maeve would be wearing her one nice dress, I'd be in jeans and a T-shirt, and we'd be having the usual barbeque in the back yard afterward."

"There's nothing wrong with that, if that's what you want," Jamie reminded her.  "But I don't think that's what Maeve really wanted."

"No, it's not.  I think the little touches the Evans women have provided will give her years and years of fond memories."

"I haven't done anything," Jamie demurred.  "This is my mom's work."

"Uh-huh…and who went out and bought Da that beautiful new shirt and tie?  Who talked me into buying this lovely suit?  You've had your sweet little hands in this affair, too.  And I appreciate it…very much."

"It's been fun," Jamie said.  "And seeing how excited your aunt is makes me really glad that I could help a little bit."

"She is excited, isn't she?" Ryan asked.  "It's great to see her this way, Jamie.  Her first marriage was really rough.  She deserves some sunshine in her life."

"I agree completely, Tiger.  Now let's get dressed and get this show on the road."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

The pair emerged to a series of "ooohs" and "aaahs".  Everyone except Caitlin expressed their pleasure over the young women's attire, but they didn't hold her abstention against her.  Fashion was just not Caitlin's thing, even though she looked divine herself.  To everyone except Annie's surprise, Catherine had a dress made for the child in fabric that perfectly matched Maeve's dress.  The sterling silver color looked fantastic on the toddler, with her pale skin and white-blonde hair, which had recently been trimmed for the occasion, courtesy of Conor's latest trip to Giancarlo.

Moira was beautifully attired in a pale mint-green suit, and Annie had decided to jump on the Evans' fashion bandwagon as well.  She wasn't quite as small as the other women, but so long as she didn't breathe very deeply or eat much, the third suit, an ice blue silk, looked marvelous on her.

Jamie and Ryan were the only ones who did not exactly mirror the cool colors theme, although Ryan wore a sterling silver top under her elegant black suit.  The top was a heavy satin, showing her broad, bare shoulders, with tiny spaghetti straps holding the garment in place.  The loose fabric flowed attractively when she removed her jacket, which Jamie was sure she would do at the first opportunity.  Her blue diamonds were nestled against her earlobes, and the maiden appearance of her platinum necklace was a definite success.

Ryan's suit showed off her long, slim body perfectly.  When Jamie told the tailor that Ryan was twenty-five pounds underweight, he agreed to leave room to let the pants and jacket out but to tailor the clothing to her current size, and he had done a beautiful job.

For her part, Jamie chose a completely different look, deciding on a peach suit in a soft, rich Ultrasuede.  The jacket was long, coming to mid-thigh, and the skirt was a little shorter than she normally wore, extending just a few inches below the hem of the jacket.  Ryan thought she looked absolutely scrumptious, and her wandering hands had been teasingly slapped quite a few times while they were trying to get dressed.

"Well, I suppose we're off, eh?" Maeve asked as she looked around.

"Do we have enough cars?" Catherine asked.  "I found a parking space just a block down.  I can take three people."

"Oh, we'll walk," Maeve decided.  "It's only a few blocks."  Everyone agreed that walking was just as easy as trying to fit into the available cars, but as they exited the door they all stopped abruptly at the sight of a huge white limousine double-parked in front of the house, taking up most of the narrow street.

All eyes turned to Catherine, but she protested, "Don't look at me!  This wasn't my doing-although it's a fabulous idea!"

Now all heads turned to Jamie, but she shook her head too.  "Not me."

Ryan piped up and warned, "Don't even ask!"

The driver got out of the car and asked, "Maeve Driscoll?" horribly butchering her first name.

"That would be me," she agreed, approaching the car cautiously.  "May I ask who arranged for this?"

The driver pulled some paperwork from his pocket and looked at it quickly.  "Martin O'Flaherty, ma'am."

Maeve nearly fainted at the thought of her notoriously frugal fiancé throwing money away so frivolously, but she was thoroughly pleased with the gesture.  "He never ceases to surprise me," she sighed as she allowed the driver to help her in.

"That's what being married to an O'Flaherty is all about," Jamie laughed as she made eye contact with her grinning partner.  There was room for all, but Ryan didn't want to bother with the trial of securing Caitlin's car seat, so since she was the only one wearing flats she volunteered to take the baby in her stroller.  Receiving only token complaint, she and Cait set off, with Ryan reminding herself that she had to act like an adult today, and so should not challenge herself to try to beat the limo to the church.

Even though she didn't try to, they nearly did beat the big car, mostly because it was too big to turn around and had to go down to 24th Street to do so.  They all gathered in a small room in the nave of the church, just out of view of the still-arriving guests.

Ryan peeked into the church to see her three uncles serving as ushers.  "Ooo…Uncle Malachy has a new suit," she whispered.

"Get back in here and behave," Jamie said, tugging on her suit jacket.

Kevin and Tommy poked their heads in, and Ryan gasped as she said, "Hey, I'm not supposed to be here!  I've gotta go find Da!"  Jamie kissed her goodbye, and Ryan paused just long enough to give her aunt a tender hug before she took off.

Ryan dashed around the side of the church and found her father and brothers huddled around the side entrance, fussing with each other's ties.  When Martin spied his daughter, his face broke into an enormous smile as he said, "Well, if it isn't the second-prettiest girl in the whole county."

"Smart, Da, very smart," she smiled, kissing him on the cheek.  "Aunt Maeve should always be the first."

He looked down the walk, and asked, "Where's Jamie?"

"Oh, she's going to hang out until they're ready, then go in with Catherine."

Martin gave her a look that seemed to question her sanity.  "Why isn't she with us, Siobhán?  I thought my whole family was going to escort me."

Ryan blinked at him and said, "She didn't walk with us during rehearsal, Da.  Why didn't you say something then?"

"She was running around with her mother and the florist," he pointed out.  "I assumed she could figure out her part without extensive practice.  It is just walking down an aisle, ya know."

"I…I had no idea you'd include her, Da," Ryan said, a little embarrassed that she hadn't even considered the thought.

"Oh, for the love of Mike!" he cried.  "I'll go get her myself."

"No, Da, you aren't supposed to see Aunt Maeve.  I'll go get her."  Ryan took off before he could say another word, and got to Jamie just as her uncle Malachy was set to escort her to her seat.  "Jamie!" she whispered loudly from the door of the church.  The blonde head swiveled, and cocked in question.  Ryan made a frantic gesture, and Jamie released Malachy's arm and dashed over.

"What's wrong, honey?"

"I screwed up," Ryan revealed.  "Da just assumed you knew you were supposed to walk down the aisle with us.  I don't know why, but that didn't even dawn on me."

"Ooo…that's so sweet!"  She gave Ryan a hug, but pulled back abruptly.  "Are you okay with that, honey?  It's fine with me if you want it to just be you and your brothers."

"Did you get into the Communion wine?" she asked with falsely solicitous concern.  "Don't be ridiculous!  Of course I want you there.  Let's go!"

When they approached the men, Martin looked at his daughter and gave her the bad news, "I'm afraid you've dropped down to the third spot on the prettiest girl contest, Siobhán.  Jamie has you beat by a mile!"

"Thanks for including me, Martin," Jamie said as she hugged him.  "It means a lot to me."

"I'm so sorry I didn't make myself clear, love.  It never dawned on me that you wouldn't know you were part of the group."

"I do now," she smiled.  "The music has started.  I think that's our cue."

They walked around to the entrance of the church, and lined up in birth order.  Brendan led the way, with Conor and Rory behind him.  Ryan and Jamie each took one of Martin's arms and escorted him up the aisle to the whispered greetings and bright smiles of the assembled guests.  When they reached the front pew, each of the children kissed Martin and slid into their seats.  Martin's brother Francis emerged from the side door and stood beside him, clapping a firm hand onto his shoulder for support.

When they were all in place, the music changed, alerting all to the procession that was about to begin.  Annie led the way carrying Caitlin, who was determinedly trying to remove the small satin pillow with two simple gold wedding bands sewn onto it that had been secured to her wrist.

Moira was next, looking absolutely elegant in her flattering suit and the sterling silver jewelry that she had easily been convinced to wear.

Last in the procession was Maeve, flanked by her two sons, both looking handsome in their dark suits and silver ties.  When they reached the front of the church, both of them kissed Maeve, and then Tommy placed her right hand in Martin's and the beaming couple stood next to each other in front of Father Villarreal.

The priest made a few brief opening remarks and then began the Mass.  The Catholic tradition required a full Mass as part of the wedding ceremony, but it didn't seem as though many people were able to concentrate on it.  All eyes were on the pair who stood next to each other, unable to stop the furtive smiles and little handclasps that they continued to share, their attention focused solely on each other.

Father Villarreal had the grace to keep his homily short, spending just a few minutes reflecting on the path that had brought the couple together.  As soon as his remarks were finished, he questioned Martin and Maeve on their decision, asking if they were prepared for this lifetime commitment.  When they had answered the questions, Moira and Francis stood next to their siblings as witnesses while the couple spoke the traditional vows, neither being the sort of person who thought they could do a better job than had already been done in the scriptures.

Following the Irish tradition, Martin's hand shook visibly as he partially slipped the band sequentially onto Maeve's second, third and fifth fingers, as he pledged his love in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Letting his eyes lock onto her mist-green orbs he whispered, "Amen," as he slid it onto her ring finger, where it nestled comfortably.  Maeve repeated the ritual, then Father Villarreal blessed the couple and said a final prayer, officially marking them as husband and wife.

To the surprise of the non-Catholics in the crowd, now the heart of the Mass began, clearly an anti-climatic event.  The church was still buzzing with excitement, the couple was brimming with joy, and their families couldn't wait to shower them with affection, but that all had to wait while the most solemn part of the Mass was celebrated.

Catherine privately mused that anyone with an iota of theatre or opera knowledge would know not to put the focus of the piece so near the beginning of the performance, but she'd never pretended to understand Catholic traditions, so she kept her opinions to herself.

The rest of the Mass proceeded apace, and after the recitation of the Lord's Prayer, Father Villarreal gave a blessing to the couple and invited the congregation to offer one another the sign of peace.  That was the opening the families had been awaiting, and they all poured out of the front pews to hug and kiss the bride and groom.  This normally short element of the Mass took a good ten minutes, but once again, they all had to return to their seats for Communion.  Catherine was quite surprised when Jamie got up with the rest of the O'Flahertys to participate in the ceremony, and when her daughter returned to the pew she leaned over and asked, "Have you joined the Catholic church?"

"No," Jamie smiled.  "But I believe in a lot more of the elements of the faith than Ryan does, so I think I'm entitled."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

When the Mass finally drew to a close, the newly married couple exited the church, followed by the attendants, then the immediate families.  They decided to stand on the front steps and have a quick receiving line, since some of their guests would not make it down to Hillsborough for the reception.  All of the children, both attendants, and Martin and Maeve lined the stairs, with the line getting slowed repeatedly as Ryan doggedly introduced every stranger to her partner.

Ryan and Jamie were standing near the entrance to the church, so they were the first ones to spot Bryant.  He gave them both a sheepish look and said, "Sorry I didn't get here in time to say hello before the service.  I just barely made it."

"It's great to have you here, no matter when you got here," Ryan said, wrapping him into a hug.

Maeve spotted his tall figure and reached across Jamie to draw him close.  "You get right into this line, young man," she said.  "You're a part of my family."

"Oh, Maeve, you don't want to do that," he said, trying to beg off.

"Nonsense," she insisted.  "It's like having Michael here with us, Bryant.  Please stay."

He looked into those warm green eyes and felt all of his excuses fade away.  "Where do you want me?" he asked.

"Right here," she indicated, drawing him next to her.  Martin greeted him warmly, then Kevin and Tommy added their hellos, and they settled down to meet the rest of the guests, some of them slightly perplexed to find a tall black man, and a small blonde woman tucked among the O'Flahertys and Driscolls.

After a quick stop at the rectory to sign all of the appropriate documents, the couple entered their limousine for the trip down to Hillsborough.  Maeve wanted some of the children to ride with them, but Martin gave her a look that quickly made her rescind the offer.  As the door closed, he raised the window between the driver and the passenger compartment, pleased to see that the glass was heavily smoked so they had complete privacy.

"Do you really think I'm going to spend the next hour in this car with a bunch of kids babbling away, Mrs. O'Flaherty?  I don't part with my money easily, ya know, and I want my full value for renting this boat."  Maeve just beamed at him, too overjoyed to even bring herself to tease him.  He leaned over to the refrigerator, extracted a split of champagne, and opened it with more skill than Maeve knew he possessed.  He was giving her a sly grin the entire time, and it was only as he clinked his glass with hers that his face grew serious.  "I've had more happiness in my life than any man deserves, Maeve, and you've been with me through most of the best days of my life.  First as a sister-in-law, then as a second mother to my children, but always, always as the best friend that a man could ever wish for.  Our relationship will be very different in some ways after today, but the essence of what we have remains exactly as it's always been," he pledged.  "I've always considered that you were one of the greatest blessings of my life, and our marriage will only serve to enhance that feeling."  He leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss upon her lips, moving just a few inches away as he said, "I love you, Maeve.  I always have, and I always will."

They drank from their glasses, and she snuggled up against his broad chest.  "I don't know what I've done to deserve a man like you, Martin, but I'm forever grateful that you've chosen me."

"Now, that's where you're wrong," Martin decided.  "You're the one who chose me.  I've been under your spell for years, Mrs. O'Flaherty, and I'm quite sure that enchantment is permanent."

*   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Continued in Part Six

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