I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 4: Disclosures

By S X Meagher



See Part 1

Part 11

As Ryan’s eyes blinked open on Wednesday morning, she shivered a bit at the chill that pervaded the room. It was early, she reasoned, as the sky was just lightening to show a touch of blue at the base of the indigo darkness. She turned over and lay on her back, wriggling around quietly to stretch it out. Her right hand reached out automatically to make sure the sheet was covering Jamie, knowing that the chill would disturb her partner if she was not properly protected. To her surprise, a soft voice said, "Hi."

Turning quickly, Ryan felt a stab of pain hit her as she focused on her lover. Blood-shot green eyes blinked at her, tiny smudges of violet creating faint half-moons under the sleep-deprived orbs. A wave of guilt washed over Ryan as she realized that while she had slept peacefully and well, her partner had obviously been awake for some time, if not the entire night. The guilt and compassion she felt showed clearly on her face, and Jamie grasped the hand that moved to caress her. She placed a kiss on the fingers and whispered, "I’m okay, Honey. I just had a hard time staying asleep."

Ryan gathered her in her arms, unable to say anything to assuage the pain that she had caused. She held Jamie tenderly, running her hand through her hair while she stroked her bare back. They lay together, Jamie’s warm breath flowing over Ryan’s chest, for a long while, neither speaking a word. At 5:15 Ryan’s watch alarm began to beep, and she placed a gentle kiss on Jamie’s head and released her hold. She stumbled into the bath and took a quick shower, knowing that she had to get something into her stomach before she could go on her run.

To her shock, when she emerged from her room, Jamie was sitting on the bed, tying her running shoes.

"Are you going with me?"

Jamie gave Ryan a look that indicated her displeasure at her partner’s obvious amazement. "I have run before, Ryan," she said briskly, tugging on a tan cotton Cal baseball cap.

"I didn’t mean to imply that you couldn’t run with me if you wanted to, Jamie," she said softly, settling the cap squarely on her partner’s head. "I just didn’t think this was how you liked to spend your mornings. That’s all, Honey. Really."

Jamie grasped one of the hands that now rested on her shoulders and brushed the knuckles with a light kiss. "I’m a little grouchy, Babe. I’m just feeling a little sensitive."

"I’m glad you’re going with," Ryan said honestly. "I’d like to have you close today." Ryan dropped to her knees in front of her partner so that she could look directly into her eyes. "I’m gonna skip my run today, Honey. It’s obvious you had a very tough night. Why don’t we get back into bed and cuddle for a few hours." Her expression was one of complete empathy, and Jamie felt some of the chill in the room start to melt.

She ran a hand through Ryan’s dark hair, working out a few tangles that brisk drying had caused. "I appreciate the offer, Ryan, but we’re up now so we may as well go. I think it would help my golf game to increase the stamina of my legs," she replied, getting to her original reason for participating in the run. "I know I’ll have more determination to stick with it if I’m with the real jocks."

"You are a real jock, Stud Muffin," Ryan insisted, leaning in and ducking the bill of the cap for a small kiss.

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

They arrived at the designated meeting area at six a.m. sharp. Coach Placer and his assistants were already there, ticking off names on a clipboard. Ryan had been told that the runs were optional, but she had a feeling that the main option was whether or not she wanted to play during the season. The fact that the coach took attendance cemented that idea.

The other team members were slowly straggling over, most of them very bleary eyed. Jamie walked up to the coaching staff and reintroduced herself, greeting all three with poise. Coach Placer invited her to join the group whenever she chose, welcoming her to run at the back of the pack with him if the team members were too fast for her at first.

At 6:05 he decided that the latecomers would just have to catch up on their own. He marked off everyone in attendance and told them to get going, smiling to himself as the ragtag team members stumbled away in groups of two or three. About 12 women were present, and Ryan recognized a few of them from Monday’s run and Tuesday’s workout.

As they started off she said to Jamie, "What pace do you feel most comfortable with?"

"Evolutionary," she mumbled.

Ryan patted her gently on the back and said, "Okay, I can do that one."

They proceeded at Jamie’s preferred pace for a short while, but Ryan was not running like she normally did. Her gait was heavier, and Jamie could hear her foot strike, an anomaly for the normally light-footed runner. "How do you normally start?" Jamie asked.

"I like to do a very quick first mile to clear my head and find my pace. But this works, too," she insisted.

Jamie rolled her eyes and said, "I don’t need you to hang back here, Honey. I’ll get a workout at this pace, but you won’t. Now go on–shoo!"

"You sure you don’t mind if I take off?" It was clear that she wanted to go, but equally obvious that she wanted to stay and be supportive of Jamie’s efforts.

"Not at all. Just don't leave without me."

The wounded look that flitted across Ryan’s face made Jamie wish she could yank her last comment right back. She shook her head and tried to soothe the hurt away. "I meant that as a tease, Honey. Things just aren’t coming out right today."

Ryan nodded, adding a weak smile. "I know it’s hard today, Jamie. Let me go blow some energy out and I’ll be back in a few." She leaned over and gave her a little kiss. When Jamie looked up in surprise she said, "Might as well get them used to it right away." She shot her a grin and took off, gliding down the street in her inimitable style.

Now that’s better, she mused as she watched Ryan quickly become a blur in the distance. "Pardon?" she asked, snapping her attention back into focus.

The woman who was speaking to her was tall, and blonde, and drop-dead gorgeous. There was something familiar about her, and Jamie narrowed her eyes in contemplation, trying to recall if they had been in classes together. She looked a little like an L.A. surfer, tons of bronzed skin showing against the bright yellow running shorts and sky blue singlet that barely covered her body. The sleekly muscled body made a strong statement that she was an athlete, but the vaguely Nordic features and cool blue eyes gave the impression that they belonged to a high fashion model. "I said that I didn't think we'd met before," the woman said in a voice that was higher pitched than Jamie would have chosen for such an imposing figure. "I'm Jordan Ericsson."

"Nice to meet you, Jordan, I'm Jamie Evans. We spoke on the phone the other day."

"So we did," she said with the beginnings of a smile warming up her frosty countenance. "It’s good to meet you in person, Jamie," she said in a friendly, welcoming tone. They ran along for a few hundred yards, Jamie struggling a bit to keep up with the long, smooth stride of the leggy blonde.

Jordan cast a glance or two at Jamie’s heaving chest and finally asked, "Do you run often?"

"No," she admitted with a small laugh. "I'm trying to use you all to motivate me to run. It’s not my natural state," she said needlessly.

"I see," said Jordan, casting a smirk at the panting woman. "Did you want to run alone, or did Ryan abandon you?"

That particular choice of words did not go down well after the events of the previous night, but Jamie did her best to hide the pained look that tried to surface. "She’s far too quick for me to keep up with," she explained, thinking that phrase applied to many areas. "It didn’t seem fair to ask her to hang out back here."

"She did seem pretty quick," Jordan agreed. "But I think the view back here is much more pleasant." Her expression was still very cool, and Jamie was puzzled as she tried to reconcile the flirtatious comment with the impenetrable mask of her face.

Rather than even try to engage in the repartee, she quickly changed the subject. "Is this your first year on the team?"

Jordan gave her a quick glance as she tried to determine if Jamie was kidding. "Uh…no. I’m a senior," she revealed. "This is my fourth year on the team."

"I didn’t mean to imply that you looked immature or anything, Jordan," she said with a smile.

Jordan’s features softened, and she laughed a little at the comment. "No offense taken, Jamie. I’m used to most of the new people knowing who I am. I thought that Ryan might have mentioned me."

"No," she had to admit. "I don’t think Ryan knows a lot about volleyball, to tell you the truth. She’s more into soccer."

Jordan slowed down, staring at Jamie with a puzzled expression. "What do you mean, she doesn’t know much about volleyball? I heard she kicked butt in her tryout–and I know one of the girls she beat out from a camp I went to earlier this year. She can play!"

"I didn’t say that Ryan couldn’t play," she said with an impish grin. "I meant that she has been away from the sport for quite a few years."

Jordan’s face resumed its tranquil, unreadable expression. She ran in silence for a few minutes, obviously trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. "Is she from California?"


"Where from?"

"San Francisco," she supplied, adding, "She went to high school at Sacred Heart Academy."

Jordan shook her head. "Never heard of it. You say she’s been away from the sport–where’s she been?"

"Long story," Jamie huffed, having a devil of a time speaking while she ran. "She played for one year at USF. I think that was her freshman year–she’s a senior now."

"That’s it!" Jordan proclaimed, her face breaking into a sunny grin that almost seemed incongruous. "I knew I’d seen her before. We played USF when I was a freshman. We got our butts kicked, as a matter of fact. I think Ryan was responsible for the major part of that butt kicking, too." She grew quiet, running along for several minutes. Finally, she turned and said, "I need to pick up the pace a bit, Jamie. Nice talking to you." Before Jamie could open her mouth, the lanky woman kicked her body into a gear that Jamie did not possess and took off effortlessly, gliding along past her fellow teammates.

Jamie gave a little wave to her back as she settled down to a more comfortable pace. She was tiring, but all in all she felt pretty good about her performance so far. She was much more comfortable than she had been on the few runs she had taken with Jack, and she assumed that the long hours on her bike had paid off in both leg strength and cardiovascular fitness.

After about three miles Ryan appeared in the distance. She was chatting with one of the other women, and it was clear that she was running much slower than was typical for her. Jamie put on as big a burst of speed as she had in her and caught up with them. "Hey, Speedy," Ryan smiled.

"I'm dying," she gasped.

"Do you want to walk for a while?"

"No, I'm going to tough it out. But you don't have to go as slow as I do. I know you must be itching."

Ryan laughed and shook her head. "I'm fine, Jamie. I'm going to do a big workout at the gym today, so I don't need to leave all of my energy out here."

"That reminds me, I've got to get my butt back into the gym. I'm going to lose all of my hard-won muscle."

"You've got a ways to go before that happens," Ryan said with an admiring glance. "We do need to tailor your program to focus on your golf game, though. Why don’t you skip playing today and come with me?"

Jamie knew that the request was as much for her benefit as Ryan’s, and she appreciated that her partner was trying to look out for her. "Okay, but will I get in the way?"

"Of course not. My twelve o’clock is a really nice woman. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I worked you both out at the same time. We can go a little early and I’ll show you the exercises I want you to do, then I can just keep an eye on you."

"I’d like that, Ryan," she admitted. "I’m feeling a little shaky today."

"I am too, Babe," Ryan agreed. "I think you might feel a little less shaky if you got some more sleep. Why don’t we go home and take a long nap?"

She looked up at Ryan with a shy smile. "Would you do that for me?" She knew that as a general rule, Ryan hated to sleep in, and going back to bed at seven o’clock was even more out of character.

"Without question." Her expression was soft and gentle, the look in her eyes one of utter devotion.

Jamie nodded her acquiescence. "I appreciate that, Ryan."

"It’s gonna take a few days before we get over this, Jamie." She cast a long look at her partner and assured her in a voice filled with confidence, "But we will get over this."

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

By one o’clock Jamie was toast, but she found that she still had a need to stay close to her partner. Ryan did her best to devote as much attention to her as possible, and she decided to dedicate some time to getting in a good, long stretch to keep her muscles loose. Every few minutes Ryan would appear and help her get into a certain position, or gently move her body a few degrees in one direction or another, and Jamie spent a minute thinking about how odd it felt to experience those familiar hands touching her in such a public setting.

She recalled the first time she had worked out under Ryan’s tutelage, and how delicious it felt to have the cool, sure hands move her body like a poseable doll. She watched her lover move her client around the gym, observing the slight reserve that masked the open attitude she revealed at home. Considering the image she presented to the public, Jamie acknowledged that there was an inner fire mixed with a startling vulnerability that Ryan kept very well hidden from almost everyone. She was absolutely certain that none of Ryan’s clients, few of her friends, and even fewer of her lovers had ever seen the inner Ryan, no matter how much of her body they might have been exposed to.

Lost in these thoughts, she realized with startling clarity why she felt threatened by Sara. It wasn’t just that Ryan had allowed herself to be kissed. Jamie really did understand how that had happened, and she had to agree that it was sometimes surprisingly easy for your emotions to carry your body away. No, the kiss was not the issue. She knew that one kiss would never have a serious, lasting, negative impact on what she and Ryan had built together.

It was not the physical intimacy that Ryan had shared. Rather, it was the emotional intimacy that these women had experienced–an intimacy that, in some ways, she and Ryan would never share. The Ryan she knew would always have a hard, protective shell over some part of her soul. Jamie was actually glad that she had it because it served to protect her fragile psyche. But Sara knew Ryan before that shell had been so carefully erected. She knew the young Ryan who was just coming to grips with the recent death of her mother; she shared the experience of Michael’s illness and death. She had, in essence, been a member of Ryan’s family during those tumultuous years, and Jamie recognized that there were feelings shared between the two that she could never hope to understand or experience.

This, to her, was the threat. This woman, who was such an important part of Ryan’s life, had, in essence, risen from the dead. Ryan had resigned herself to the fact that Sara was lost to her, but here she was, seemingly being forgiven for her betrayal. Jamie’s mind reeled at the thought that Ryan would want to welcome her back into her life. She had no idea what such a development would portend, but she did not feel able to prevent Ryan from pursuing it. She knew her partner had a very difficult time when she felt she was being dictated to, and Jamie had early on resolved never to do so. Her mind scrambled around the issue–trying to come up with a way to allow Ryan her autonomy, while preventing Sara from invading their nascent relationship.

She was unsure how long she had been mulling the issue over when a warm presence at her side indicated that Ryan’s workday was complete. She looked into quizzical blue eyes, and smiled at the open gaze that greeted her. "You finished, Babe?"

"Yeah. Um…do you want to go home, or do you like snoozing on this mat?"

Jamie snapped back into the realization that she was lying prone on the thin mat, and that she had likely been in just this position for quite a while. A slight flush climbed her cheeks as she offered a thin cover for her actions. "I didn’t follow my morning routine today."

Ryan recognized the excuse for what it was, but gamely played along. "We don’t run tomorrow, Love, so you can relax and let the day approach more gently."

"It’s a deal," she agreed, getting to her knees and then her feet with the assistance of Ryan’s extended hand.

"Home?" Ryan asked, cocking her head slightly.

"Definitely." Jamie desperately needed a warm shower and a long nap before dinner, and she thought there was a good chance that she could convince her partner to join her for both.

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

A long, hot shower was the first order of business. When the water was at the correct temperature they entered the enclosure and stood rather awkwardly for a few moments. Ryan poured some shower gel into her hands and held them up in front of her partner. "Wash your back?" she asked with just a touch of hesitation in her voice.

The smaller woman leaned forward and kissed the taut skin that stretched against Ryan’s breastbone. "You don’t need permission, Love. That would be nice."

She turned to face the water and soon Jamie felt the stress in her body begin to melt away under Ryan’s firm touch. The large, smooth hands glided over her skin on a layer of lavender-scented bubbles as Ryan massaged each weary muscle.

The gentle rubbing continued until Jamie feared her legs would give way. She leaned back against Ryan, letting her partner's solid form hold her upright. Now the touch became even gentler and lighter as it moved to the front of her body. Ryan’s pace never wavered, her hands moving the entire time. They caressed every inch of skin until Jamie’s entire body tingled with desire. She slowly turned in her lover’s embrace and slipped her arms around her neck, the soap allowing their bodies to slide against each other sensually. A soft moan escaped her lips as Ryan bent to cover her mouth with a wet kiss. Within seconds they were wrapped around each other in a fervid embrace, their bodies grinding against each other as their shared passion grew. The thrumming water had rinsed them clean and Ryan reached blindly for the control, shutting it off roughly while supporting much of Jamie’s weight. She shook her head sharply, tossing her bangs back as she did so. Without wasting the time to dry off, she bent and lifted Jamie into her arms, smiling down at her partner as she laced her hands behind Ryan’s neck. "Careful, Love," Jamie whispered as the powerful legs stepped over the short lip of the shower stall.

"I’ll always be careful with you," Ryan murmured. "You’re the most precious thing in my life."

The heartfelt words, coupled with the earnest look in Ryan’s eyes, caused Jamie’s heart to soar, and she pushed every worry--every niggling doubt--from her mind and took Ryan at her word. She offered her body to the woman who possessed her soul, knowing in her heart that both would be guarded with the most tender care.

Their lovemaking was the epitome of gentleness this warm summer afternoon. They explored each other’s bodies with a slow thoroughness that seemed brand new, yet terribly familiar to both of them. They caressed each other simultaneously, never ceasing their attentions, until both were gasping for release.

Ryan’s body covered Jamie’s, her weight nearly squeezing the breath from the smaller woman. No matter what efforts Ryan made to slide off, Jamie resisted, holding her tight–desperately needing to feel the solid mass of flesh and bone press into her. Arms and legs wrapped tightly around Ryan, holding her with surprising strength until she looked deep into Jamie’s eyes and whispered, "Don’t worry, Love. I’ll stay right here for as long as you need me."

Sea green eyes fluttered closed, afraid to let Ryan see the consuming need that she felt for her. "I’ll always need you, Ryan. Always."

Ryan’s dark hair trailed across her throat as she nuzzled her face into Jamie’s neck. "I’ll always be here for you, Jamie. I promise you." Her words were clearly enunciated despite her position, the sound humming against Jamie’s skin. The sincerity in her voice, and the simple yet fervent vow reached the wounded part of Jamie’s soul, and she welcomed Ryan back into the place she had been shielding. Her eyes opened wide as Ryan’s head lifted, their eyes locking in an ardent gaze that never faltered as their lovemaking continued long into the afternoon.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie had been trailing her fingers through Ryan’s hair for a while when the dark beauty finally woke. Her head was resting heavily upon Jamie’s hip, but the smaller woman had no desire to evict her. It felt so comforting to have the normally hyper-alert woman lie upon her body in such unguarded vulnerability that she was certain she would never tire of it. Soft eyelashes tickled Jamie’s belly, and she knew her partner was coming into full consciousness. "Did you have a nice nap, Sweetheart?"

"God, yes," she moaned, stretching languidly. "I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be with, I can’t think of a time I’ve been more physically sated or emotionally fulfilled." She rolled over onto her back and looked up at Jamie. "How about you?"

"I didn’t sleep much," she admitted. "I don’t get many opportunities to hold you like this while you sleep. It was too irresistible to pass up. I do agree with all of your sentiments, though." She smiled down at her lover, her mist green eyes twinkling in the late afternoon light.

"I can’t believe how easily you put me to sleep," Ryan mused. "I cuddle up against that perfect little body, and it’s lights out!"

Looking down at Ryan, Jamie cocked her head slightly and asked, "You've never told me what you like about my body. Will you tell me now?"

Ryan was a little surprised at the question and, deciding to attack head-on, she replied, "I could spend all day singing the praises of your body. But I am curious as to why the question came up."

"Um...I don't know. I was just thinking about the women I know you've been attracted to. None of them look like me, so I was wondering what it was about me that you liked."

"None of them looked like you because no one else is as beautiful as you are," Ryan said sincerely. "The moment I saw you, I knew I had a new favorite type."

"Sure you did, Honey," she said as she patted Ryan's cheek. "That's why the woman you tried to make your girlfriend looked just like Sara."

Ryan sat up in surprise at this comment. She had never thought about it that way, but Sara and Tracy could have been sisters. Actually, from the back, it would have been hard to tell them apart. When she thought about it for a moment, she realized that one of her "types" had always been a tall, lean brunette with delicate features. While Jamie was many wonderful things, she was neither tall, nor lean, nor brunette. Her delightful features were certainly not coarse, and Ryan loved them just as they were, but she had to admit that Jamie didn't have the ethereal delicateness that she often was drawn to.

"I'm happy to talk about this, but I'd like to know what's going on in your head first," she said, refusing to back off without knowing what was on Jamie’s mind.

"I think it’s obvious that I’m feeling a little insecure, Honey," she admitted. "I can't get over how gorgeous Sara is, and when I think about it, Tracy was just as pretty. I know you think I'm attractive, but I also know that I'm nowhere near as pretty as they are."

Ryan pursed her lips and shook her head so roughly that her bangs flew around her forehead. "That's your opinion, Jamie, but it's not mine," she said firmly. "I might not be able to convince you of how attractive I find you, but I refuse to have you tell me who is and who is not pretty. Beauty is entirely subjective, and to my very experienced and rather hypercritical eyes, you are the most beautiful woman I've ever met."

"Thank you, Ryan," she said rather indulgently as a pink flush graced her cheeks. "But you have to admit that they both fit your type more than I do."

Ryan took a breath to frame her answer carefully. "That's true. If I had to choose my mate from a photograph, I would probably choose someone who was tall and thin and had dark hair and fair skin. That is my usual type." A quirky smile curled her mouth and she tilted her head a little as she asked, "Would you be insulted if I used a dog analogy to clarify my point?"

"Ahh, no, I guess not," she said warily, uncertain if she was about to be insulted.

"Okay, we didn’t have a dog when I was young, and in retrospect it was a wise thing because we would have driven the poor thing insane! But ever since I was little, I wanted a basset hound. I don’t know why that particular dog appealed to me so much, but I was absolutely wild about them. If I was running around and saw one on the street, or at the park, the owner had better have had some free time, because I was down on my knees petting that dog until they dragged it away!"

Jamie laughed gently at her partner’s description of her younger self. "When did your opinion change?" she asked.

"It hasn’t," she said firmly. "If I had to pick a dog based on their descriptions in a book, or just from a picture, I would still pick a basset hound. Now, imagine a basset and then compare it to my Duffy Boy," she said in challenge.

Jamie thought about this for a minute and decided that, except for brown eyes, there was no more similarity between those two breeds than there was between her and Ryan. They were the same species, but that’s about the only thing they had in common. "Well, if that’s true, why did you pick Duffy?"

"I didn’t," she explained patiently. "Duffy picked me!"

Jamie smiled at her sweetly, acknowledging Ryan’s often stated claim that Jamie had picked her. "But you love Duffy for lots more than his looks," she reminded her. "It’s not that big of a deal that he’s not what you really want your dog to look like."

"Exactly my point, although you’re entirely wrong about one major element. Duffy is what I want my dog to look like. I didn’t take him because I was settling for less, Jamie. I think Duff is the most beautiful dog I’ve ever seen. I absolutely love his coat and his big brown eyes and his big, sturdy body. He’s just perfect! In fact, I’d have to say that he is the dog I would choose over all others–I just didn’t always know it!"

"I think I’m beginning to understand your analogy," Jamie said with a smirk. "Sara and Tracy are basset hounds and I’m a big poodle/lab mix."

"Exactly! You’re my sweet puppy, and I would choose you over a thousand basset hounds!"

"But won’t your tail always wag when you see a really hot looking basset hound walking down the street?" she asked, rather tentatively.

"Well, yeah, probably," Ryan said thoughtfully. "I am just a dog, you know," she added with a smile. "But you’re the only one I want to hump." She spread her legs and climbed on top of her lover’s thigh, simulating a dog in heat for several enthusiastic thrusts.

"Okay, okay," Jamie gasped through her giggles. "I get your point, but I’m just afraid that I’ll be a little jealous every time we see one of those basset hounds."

"Well, this probably won’t ease your mind, but of all of the women I dated in the last few years, the woman you saw me with at the bookstore turned me on more than any of them. And she couldn’t be farther from my type if she tried."

Jamie considered this information and thought for a moment. The extremely dark-complected African American woman was rather short, had very wide hips, didn’t look very athletic, and her head was nearly shaved. "Is that really true? What was so compelling about her?"

"I don’t know. It was just chemistry, I guess. But I was wet and ready ten minutes after saying hello every time we went out. We just clicked, Jamie, and it didn’t matter that she didn’t possess one item from my usual list. Robin was tremendously attractive to me, and that’s all that mattered." Ryan rolled her eyes, finding the explanation for her reactions elusive. "It’s a waste of time to worry about one type of woman that I might be attracted to. I can find something attractive in almost every woman, and I can be terribly turned on by a wide variety of looks. Attraction and arousal are very, very complex, Jamie. All I know is that you are more than your outward appearance. You are the sum of all of your fantastic qualities. There is a glow that just radiates from you, and it pulls me right in. I can't explain it, because I don't understand it. But something about you calls to me like the sirens of ancient mythology." Ryan leaned in and wrapped her arms around her partner, whispering into her ear, "I honestly find you irresistible."

"I want to believe you, Ryan," she murmured, trying to accept her partner’s assurances.

Ryan sat up and wrapped an arm around her partner, drawing her tight against her chest. "Let me say it this way. I freely admit that I used to treat women like they were photographs. I admit that I used to just want to be with them for the packaging. I didn't spend nearly enough time getting to know most of the women I was with, and sometimes when I met someone who had a better package, I was more than willing to go after her."

Jamie nodded, the flyaway strands of her hair tickling Ryan’s chest. Ryan ran her hands over the silky wisps, brushing them tenderly into place. "That’s not how it is with you, Jamie," she insisted. "I got to know you, and I grew to love you. You're so much more than a body to me, Love. I love your body, but I also love your soul. You are everything to me, Baby. It hurts me when you don't believe that."

"I normally do believe it," Jamie said quietly. "I just got thrown off track by Sara showing up. I know you loved her too, Ryan. She wasn't just a body to you."

Ryan took a breath, nodding her head as she acknowledged the truth of the statement. "That's true. I did love her. I’m sure that part of me always will. The 17-year-old Ryan still loves the 18-year-old Sara. But that’s not who either of us is any longer, Jamie. It's impossible to go back and try to reclaim something from so long ago. We'd both have to be willing to throw those old images away and try to start over. It would be like dating a stranger in a way. So the question becomes, do I want to look at every woman that comes along and decide if she might be just a touch better than what I’ve already chosen?"

Jamie just looked up at her partner, still having a difficult time of it, desperately wanting to be reassured.

"That's not what I want, Babe," she said emphatically. "And as far as I am concerned, there is no one better than you. I have pledged my fidelity to you, Jamie. I want us to spend the rest of our lives trying to love each other better, day by day."

Jamie nestled her head up against her lover's chest and closed her eyes as she breathed in her reassuring scent. "You’re right, Babe," she murmured. "I want that too, but it’s gonna take me a while to get over my insecurities about this."

"If the situation was reversed, I'd feel the same. What happened with Sara scared me. I promise I'll try to never again be in a situation that has the possibility of being that dangerous."

Jamie gave her a firm squeeze, grateful that Ryan had not been defensive about her fears. "Thank you for acknowledging that it scared you. It really shook me, Baby, and I don't want to have to go through anything like that again."

"I guarantee that Sara was the only woman who ever had that kind of pull for me. I never cared enough for anyone else for them to even make me turn my head." She leaned over and placed a few kisses on Jamie's mouth. "I believe you asked me a question a while ago, and I'm ready to answer it now," she said with a grin.

"What's that?"

"I want to show you what I like about your body," she murmured, giving Jamie a look that suggested the little show-and-tell was going to be a very pleasurable experience.

Jamie flopped down onto the bed in a completely submissive pose, "Have at it!"

Ryan moved around until she was sitting cross-legged on the bed. She rubbed her hands together and licked her lips in an exaggerated bout of lasciviousness as she gazed at the expanse of golden-toned skin. "I guess I'll start with the wrapper," she said with waggling eyebrows. "I absolutely love your skin. I’m quite sure I’ve never known a woman that had such beautiful skin." She ran her hands slowly over her torso and down her legs. "I can't even begin to describe the color. It's not pink and it's not quite cream," she mused, staring intently. "I guess the closest color would be a soft peach. Where your skin is exposed, like here on your arms, it nearly glows. It honestly looks like spun gold in some light. I never tire of just looking at your skin and trying to describe it to myself."

"I never knew you felt that way," Jamie said shyly, blushing fiercely under the scrutiny.

"That's because I've been extremely remiss in telling you how I feel about you," she said sincerely. "But I intend to remedy that oversight from this day forward. Now let's start at the top. I've decided that I don't want you to grow your hair long. Even though wrapping my hands in it in a fit of passion does sound appealing, I just love the way it frames your face when it's short. It serves as a beautiful gilt frame for your lovely face." She ruffled her fingers through the short, blonde tresses and elaborated. "When I was little, there was a copy of a painting by Botticelli in our church. I don't know the name of the piece, but there were these gorgeous cherubs surrounding the Virgin Mary, who was holding Jesus. They had the most beautiful golden hair," she said, shaking her head at the memory. "I used to sit there and stare at them through the whole Mass." She lovingly ran her fingers through the golden tresses again. "Yesterday morning, when I came out of the shower, I took a quick glance to make sure you weren't up yet. The sun was just beginning to hit the bed, and it was glinting off your hair. I was immediately struck with the memory of those lovely angels," she said with a small smile. "So, you see, I haven't always been partial to brunettes."

Jamie sat up and wrapped her lover in her arms. "That was so sweet," she whispered tenderly. "I'll always remember that, Ryan," she said as she began to kiss her.

After several minutes of slowly building passion, Ryan pulled away and protested, "I've only gotten to your hair! I've got at least 35 more things I want to tell you about."

"Later," she breathed, desire beginning to suffuse her body once again. "We've got our whole lives to get through the list."

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

Thursday dawned foggy and cool, and Ryan shivered mightily as she slipped out of bed. It was just 5:15 when she checked her watch, and she reconsidered her morning run for just a moment. Her routine won out, though, and she decided to do a shorter-than-normal loop just to get the cobwebs out.

They had gone to bed early the night before. Actually, they had ordered Chinese food, and when it was delivered they ate it in bed, essentially not leaving the confines of the cozy king-sized space after 3:30 the previous afternoon. I have never spent so much time in bed, Ryan mused as she smoothed a pair of Lycra tights over her legs. Not that I’m complaining, of course. She felt pretty good, all things considered. Jamie seemed to have gotten past the worst of her anxiety, and the anger Ryan had expected had never materialized. Ryan was confident that they were back on track, even though she realized that they would feel the aftereffects for a long while. I learned my lesson through all of this, she thought with a shiver. I will never–ever–let an ex-lover in the house with me alone. If I see Sara again, I’m gonna have her come to the house in Noe Valley on a weekend with the entire family present!

She spent the first mile of her run saying her morning prayers, but her mind kept drifting to her old friend. She was unsure if she even wanted to see her again, given the pain that her visit had caused Jamie. But there were so many questions that Ryan had not had time to ask that she really wished they could talk again. Better to have a bucket full of questions than cause Jamie another sleepless night, she decided. At least I know the answer to the most important question. Sara did break my heart–there’s no denying that. But she didn’t betray me. That’s been the worst part of the whole incident for me to reconcile. Now that I know she didn’t tell the people at school, I think I can put it away and just forget about her role. A determined look crossed her face as she vowed, But neither Mrs. Andrews nor Coach Ratzinger is getting off that easy. Those two have got some serious explaining to do.

By six o’clock she had whipped out a quick three miles and was back in the kitchen, looking for nourishment. Not wanting to spend the time cooking a hot meal, she had a bowl of mixed cereal, one of her small quirks.. She liked several brands of cold cereal, but she didn't like any one of them well enough to make an entire meal out of. When she was young, her father bought industrial-sized boxes of cereal, often containing three different brands shrink-wrapped together. Since being a picky eater was never an option, she usually mixed them all together, a habit she continued, to Jamie’s amusement. Today she had Cheerios, Frosted Flakes and Kix with a sliced banana and milk.

Partially satisfied, she decided to take a shower in Mia’s bathroom to avoid waking Jamie, who was obviously trying to set some sort of record for lying in a horizontal position. Grabbing her shower supplies, she let the warm water rejuvenate her. She spent a few minutes brushing her teeth while the water beat down on her back, smiling a little when she considered how much her habit amused her partner. Ryan just didn't see the point of showering, then brushing your teeth, since there was a good chance of getting toothpaste all over your chin. Doing both at the same time just seemed more efficient. Even though Jamie teased her about it, she honestly thought that she like it, since she often licked her chest and stomach, trying to find a small hint of Crest on her body.

Ryan was debating going back to bed but realized that she was still hungry, so she went downstairs and ate a beautiful, ripe peach while she waited for some bread to toast. When it was ready, she spread it with some wild fruit preserves that Jamie had purchased. Ohhh, this is mighty tasty, she thought appreciatively. I know another few places that I'd like to spread this on, she added with a chuckle.

When she was fully fed, Ryan figured she may as well help Jamie set her record, so she went back upstairs and slid back into bed, barely causing a ripple in the sheets. Moments after her arms slid around Jamie she felt the first stirrings of wakefulness. As was her usual habit, Jamie made some cute little noises while she slowly stretched and opened her eyes. A delighted grin crossed her face when she realized that Ryan was still in bed. "Hey, it's almost light out. What gives?"

"Can't I choose to stay in bed once in a while?" she asked with a sweet smile.

"Sure you can, but you never do," she teased. "So, what gives?"

"You know too many of my tricks already," she said with narrowed eyes. "I can't get away with anything."

"Try to remember that the next time an ex-lover shows up at our front door," she said with a smile, but Ryan knew there was still some hurt behind the jest.

"I'll never even give my address to another ex-lover," she said sincerely. "They can go to Noe and let Da take over. They’ll never get past the front door with him on guard."

Jamie patted her partner’s cheek, pleased that her pointed comment had not dampened her mood, but gratified that Ryan didn’t just brush it off. "So, for the third time, why aren't you running? You aren't sick, are you?"

"Nope. I did go running, I’ll have you know. I was just about to start dinner, but you looked so cute and cuddly I just had to come back to bed."

"Very funny, Tiger. It’s not even seven o’clock, you goof."

"You’ve got me there," Ryan agreed, glad that the sparkle was back in her partner’s eyes. "I want to go work out with the team, but they’ve decided to start meeting at ten o’clock. They’re apparently not early birds," she said with a mock aggrieved look.

"So if we're not going running, what should we do for the next three hours?" Jamie asked, wiggling her eyebrows.

Ryan had actually been planning on catching up on her e-mail and newsgroups, but the unspoken invitation to stay in bed was not the sort of thing she was wont to refuse, particularly now, with Jamie still showing signs of uneasiness about Sara. "I was thinking of doing something horizontal," she replied softly, with a seductive gaze. She slid closer and placed several soft kisses on and around Jamie's mouth.

"Ohhh, you've already showered. And I think," she said as she licked all around Ryan's mouth, "that you've had breakfast."

"You are very perceptive," she replied with a grin. "Guess what I ate?"

Her partner set about tasting and licking every inch of her mouth and lips. After a few minutes of this thorough survey she dropped back onto the bed with her breathing slightly quickened. "I'm sure you had orange juice. And I got a real hint of fruit, like raspberry. So you must have had jam, cause that's the only thing we have with raspberry in it." She closed her eyes, deep in thought. "I tasted some kind of cereal, but I could never tell which kind with you," she teased. "So let's call that Ryan's Jumble. I couldn't taste it, but I know you put a banana on your cereal 'cause you always do." She sat up with a confident look in her eye. "How'd I do?"

"You've missed your calling, Sweetie. You should have been a detective."

As she trailed her fingers seductively over Ryan’s chest she asked, "If I take a quick shower, will you allow me to investigate the rest of your luscious body?"

"Absolutely," she said happily. "But it's okay with me if you wait until after we've finished the investigation. You'll need one then anyway if I have my way," she whispered.

"Nope," Jamie insisted, hopping out of bed before Ryan’s quick hands could grab on to her. "If I get to play with a nice clean body, so do you. Fair’s fair, Buffy." As she scampered into the bath she decided, "I think I’ll even brush my teeth in the shower today. We can play ‘Find the Crest’ all morning."

Ryan shot her a dazzling white grin, confident that tooth decay would be a thing of the past if everyone got to play that game on a daily basis.

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

Ryan was going to go straight to work after her weight-lifting session, so Jamie had the house to herself for the first time since they’d been back in town. A substantial pile of unopened mail had been building up, so she decided to tackle that little project and then go to the driving range to work on her middle irons for a couple of hours.

It was nearly noon when the ringing phone snapped her out of her absorption. "Hello," she said rather absently as she reviewed a statement from her trust fund.

"Jamie, it’s Cassie."

In less time than it took to snap her gaping mouth closed, Jamie’s defenses went up and she was spoiling for a fight. "And…" she said curtly, surprised at the coldness her heard in her own voice.

Strangely, Cassie didn’t rise to the bait. "And," she replied quietly, "I wanted to know if it would be all right if I came over to the house for a few minutes."

"Why on earth would you want to do that?" Cassie’s gentle tone was making her wonder about her motivations for calling, but Jamie had no desire to hide her wrath.

"Um…two reasons." Her voice was much quieter than normal, and there was almost a frail quality to it. "One, I left some things in the floor safe in the library, and I’d like to retrieve them."

"I can get them and send them to you," Jamie snapped.

"Well, um…you could, but you’d have to have a locksmith come," she reminded her. "I was the only one to use it, and I have the only key."

"I can afford to have a locksmith come, Cassie. It’s well worth the expense to avoid seeing you again. I’d rather blow the house up than have you enter the door again." She had never–ever–spoken to someone in such harsh terms, and it took her a second to understand that she would not have been so angry at Cassie’s actions if they were only meant to hurt her. But she had been cruel to Ryan, and Jamie could not tolerate that, under any circumstances.

Cassie sighed deeply and continued her request, in an even quieter voice. "I deserve that, Jamie. I really do. I’m not going to even try to defend myself. There is no justification for what I did. I treated you horribly, and I just want you to know that I’m sorry, and if there was any way to make it up to you, I would." She said this entire statement in a rush, the words tumbling out so quickly that she nearly stumbled over them. She sucked in another audible breath and said, "I’m sorry I bothered you, Jamie. I’ll send you the key so you don’t have to see me."

"WAIT," Jamie said, loud enough for Cassie to hear as she hung up. "Wait." Quieter this time, but firm and decisive. "I’m sorry for being so rude, Cassie. I…I…well, you do deserve a good kick in the pants, but it’s not my nature to be cruel. It doesn’t feel right, and I’m sorry I came across that way."

"It’s okay, Jamie," she said quickly. "I don’t blame you in the least."

"You said you had two reasons you wanted to come over. What is the second?"

"I want to apologize, Jamie. I’ve …um…I’ve had some time to think about things over the last few weeks, and I’m…um…I just have a different perspective…on life."

Jamie had known Cassie since they were in kindergarten. They were never best friends, but they had spent a lot of time together, both because of school and their mothers' friendship. In the sixteen years she had known her, she had never heard Cassie genuinely apologize for anything. A part of her wanted to just have her send the key back, but another part of her was curious about what had caused this apparent introspection. "What’s going on, Cassie?" she finally asked. "You don’t seem like yourself at all."

"I can’t explain it on the phone, Jamie. I’ll write to you if you are interested. It’s just…too personal to do on the phone. I kinda thought…well, never mind what I thought. I’ll send you the key, Jamie. Thanks."

"Cassie, hold on a minute," Jamie insisted. "Tell me what’s going on."

There was a pregnant pause as the woman on the other end decided how much to reveal. "Some things happened to me in New York that have really confused me, Jamie. I don’t know why I thought you’d be willing, but I had this notion that maybe I could talk about it with you." She let out a heavy sigh and said, "I don’t have any friends in New York, and…I just…I just thought you might be willing to help me through this."

"What about Chris?" Jamie asked, referring to Cassie’s boyfriend.

An even bigger sigh was her reply. "That’s why I’m here," she admitted. "Chris and I broke up. I came back this week to tell him. It just wasn’t fair to lead him on." She sounded nearly desolate, and Jamie felt a surprising amount of empathy for her former friend. There was something so fragile about her–a quality that Jamie had never seen before. Before she knew it, the words were coming out of her mouth: "I have a little time before I need to go out. Can you come over right now?"

"Yes!" Cassie jumped at the chance, and Jamie felt confident that she had done the right thing. She didn’t want to see the woman who had caused her so much pain, but she could not convince herself to be as cruel as Cassie herself had been. "I’m in Berkeley right now, Jamie. I’ll be there in ten minutes."

Jamie ran around the house, removing every visible sign of Ryan’s presence. There wasn’t much, actually, Ryan being perpetually neat, but she didn’t want to reveal any details of their living situation to Cassie. She certainly was not ashamed of Ryan, but she did not trust Cassie any further than she could throw her, and she did not want her to have any grist–whether or not she was in the mood to use the mill.

A few minutes later, Jamie answered the light knock at the door. Cassie looked about the same physically, long blonde hair parted down the middle, frosty blue eyes revealing little of her internal feelings. Cassie was a good six inches taller than Jamie, but today she gave the impression of a much smaller and frailer woman. She seemed almost meek–a term Jamie would never have though to use for the normally brash woman.

They did not hug one another--both knew those days were over--but Cassie stood patiently on the front porch, not making any overtures towards entering until Jamie stepped back and said, "Come on in, Cassie."

She did so, standing uncertainly in the entryway, waiting for a signal. As they made their way into the living room Jamie spied a pair of Ryan’s shoes on the floor near the heavy table near the stairs. She managed to silently kick them out of sight, thanking the heavens that Cassie had been in front of her.

Cassie sat gingerly on the edge of the love seat, while Jamie chose one of the upholstered chairs. "Thank you for this, Jamie," she said quietly, refusing to meet Jamie’s eyes.

"Tell me what’s going on, Cassie," she urged.

The taller woman looked over at her and hesitated before beginning her tale. "Ít’s been an interesting few weeks in New York," she ventured, fidgeting nervously on the chair. "Most of the people I work with at Time/Life are East Coasters, and they’re just so different from us. They’re…I don’t know…more artsy or something."

Jamie smiled at this comment, knowing that there were plenty of arty people at Cal–Cassie just didn’t hang around with them.

"One of the women that I work with goes to Smith," she explained. "She’s a New Yorker, and her parents own a gorgeous apartment in the Dakota." Cassie tilted her head, silently asking if Jamie knew the building near Central Park.

"That’s where John Lennon lived, wasn’t it?"

"Yes," Cassie confirmed, a little surprised that a left coaster had heard of it. "Anyway, Zoey’s parents are retired, and they spend most of their time out on the island."

Jamie rolled her eyes slightly, already tired of Cassie’s attempts to sound like a New Yorker. "Yes…" she led, hoping to get to the point.

"So…she offered to let me stay with her this summer."

Jamie furrowed her brow, thinking that she recalled some other arrangements. "Didn’t you agree to share a sublet with another intern?"

Cassie nodded perfunctorily. "Yes, I did, but staying with Zoey was going to be free, Jamie," she said, as though that explained why it was all right to pull out on well-established plans at the last minute. "It’s really expensive in New York, and I didn’t want to spend my whole allowance on rent."

Jamie shook her head in consternation, thinking, Same old Cassie.

To her surprise, Cassie once again grew pensive, a rather uncommon occurrence for the woman. "I thought this would be a nice, easy way to save a few thousand dollars," she said, nearing tears. "But it’s…it’s…confusing me so badly I don’t know what to do."

Jamie was sure that at some previous time in her life, Cassie had been moved to tears, but not in her presence. A few drops tumbled out of her eyes, not a torrent by any means, but a clearer sign of her humanity than Jamie had ever witnessed. "Tell me what’s happened," Jamie said, leaning forward on the love seat.

Cassie sighed, letting out a breath as she shook her head sharply, the long, golden tresses falling neatly against her shoulders. "Zoey is…she’s…I can’t even begin to describe her, Jamie. I’ve never met anyone like her."

Jamie’s brows knit closer together as she tried to guess where this path was leading. "Go on," she urged.

Cassie’s face broke into a gentle smile as she continued, "She’s so interesting, and bright. She can talk for hours about music or art…"

"She sounds like an interesting person," Jamie interrupted, "but what does that have to do with your problem?"

Cassie rested back against the chair, tilting her head until she stared at the ceiling. She let out the breath she held and revealed, "I think I’m falling in love with her."

Jamie nearly laughed in her former friend’s face, but the fragile, wounded look on Cassie’s face brought her compassion to the forefront. "Have you…told her this?"

Cassie shook her head so sharply that her hair flew around her head. "No. I haven’t said a thing. I don’t know what she’d do, or if she’d even be interested." Looking at Jamie with a plaintive look she asked, "What should I do, Jamie?"

There were many avenues that Jamie could take. With anyone else in the world, she would have revealed her own struggles with the issue and reassured Cassie that she should try to find out the truth about her own feelings first. But Cassie had never proved to be a very trustworthy person, and she honestly did not think she could risk it. Instead she said, "As you know, I took the class on ‘The Lesbian Experience’."

Cassie nodded, looking a little embarrassed. Jamie hoped her embarassment was over her role in torturing Jamie about the class, but she could never be sure with Cassie.

"I still have the reading list that gives resources on some books that might help you sort out your feelings. Would you like it?"

Cassie nodded, looking a little unsatisfied, but somewhat grateful. "That would be nice."

Taking pity on her, Jamie said, "I do know one thing, Cassie. Some of the best people I know are lesbians. There is no shame in it, if that is who you turn out to be. I’m sure it would be hard for you, but being yourself is really the only option."

She nodded again, her eyes blinking closed as she tried to hide her tears. Jamie got up to go to her room, patting Cassie on the shoulder as she passed.

"I’ll go get my jewelry from the safe while you find the list," she said quietly.

It took a few minutes for Jamie to find the reading list, but she pulled it from a binder just as she heard Cassie ascending the stairs. She looked around her room and saw the unmade bed, sheet and blanket thrown into a pile on the floor, two pillows neatly stacked atop one another next to the bed, used in an effort to provide a better angle and some cushioning for some of their morning activities, an open jar of raspberry jam on the bedside table, a damp washcloth stained with the deep red color of the jam, and the unmistakable aroma of sex–plenty of sex--from the very recent past. She practically ran for the door, jumping across the threshold just as Cassie hit the landing, and drawing the door closed after herself.

Cassie looked a little surprised by her actions, but merely said, "I think I left a few things in my old room. Can I take a look?"

"Uhh…." Jamie scrambled for a valid reason to keep Cassie from going into the room. Ryan’s unmistakable mark was everywhere–from the family photos atop the dresser to her clothes hung neatly in the closet. "There’s nothing left in there, Cassie. I had Maria Los clean the room thoroughly."

Cassie’s hand was on the knob, and Jamie considered grabbing her and propelling her down the stairs, but she knew she had to behave like a rational human, at least until she got rid of her former housemate.

"Maria Los was never very thorough, Jamie. I’d like to take a look around." She paused for a moment, tilting her head slightly. "Unless there is some reason you don’t want me to, that is."

"No, of course not," she said smoothly as she put one hand on Cassie’s shoulder and the other on the opposite arm. "I’ve been through the room with my normal thoroughness, though, so I know there is nothing in there of yours. I’m having the room wallpapered, so it’s completely empty now." She guided the somewhat surprised woman down the stairs, preferring to allow Cassie to have suspicions about her rather than facts.

When they returned to the living room, Jamie said, "I really hate to have to rush you, Cassie, but I’ve got some things I have to do this afternoon."

"No problem," she said, looking rather crestfallen. Jamie felt another stirring of guilt over treating her former friend so brusquely but, try as she might, she could not summon the empathy that she needed to treat her in a more compassionate way.

Extending the reading list she said, "Why don’t you e-mail me after you’ve looked at a few of these titles. I’m sure this is a hard time for you, and I’ll try to help you out in any way that I can."

"Thank you, Jamie," she said softly, a few more tears leaking out of her eyes. "You’ve been much kinder to me than I deserve."

She opened the door, still sniffing away her tears. Just as she stepped out onto the porch, a deliveryman came bounding up the stairs carrying a lovely bouquet of golden roses and sprigs of lavender. "Mrs. Ryan O’Flaherty?" he asked, looking from one woman to the other.

Her weeks of scheming were immediately fulfilled, causing a wide, satisfied grin to cross her face. "That’s your woman," Cassie said triumphantly, pointing at a stunned Jamie. The deliveryman handed the arrangement to Jamie and ran back down the stairs accompanied by Cassie’s haunting laugh. "For a minute there I thought you had finally gotten a brain, Jamie." Her glee was so great that she had difficulty forming words through her laughter. She snatched one of the roses from the bouquet and practically skipped down the stairs, adding, "When I tell you I’m gonna kick your ass, you can take it to the bank!"

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

Ryan came bounding up the stairs at 3:30, her helmet in one hand, the mail in the other. "Jamie?" she called, looking up the staircase as she juggled her burdens, puzzled that the Boxster was still in the driveway.

"I’m here, Ryan." A very small voice came from the upholstered chair to Ryan’s right.

One look at her partner’s face caused Ryan to drop everything with a loud clatter, and she dashed across the floor, covering the few feet that separated them in the blink of an eye. "What’s wrong? What happened?" She dropped to her knees as her hands frantically roamed across her partner’s face and body, looking for some something to explain the desolate look on her face.

"Cassie happened," she mumbled, leaning forward until her head rested on Ryan’s shoulder.

"Cassie…?" This made no sense at all, but Ryan held her questions, trying to provide the calming presence that her partner obviously needed.

"I got your flowers," she mumbled, nudging her head in the direction of the table. "Cassie was here when the delivery guy showed up."

It took a second, but the realization dawned on Ryan with a sickening thud right to her gut. She sank back onto her heels, gazing up at Jamie with a mixture of befuddlement and contrition. "Oh, Sweetheart, I am so, so sorry." Her eyes closed slowly, and she shook her head at her romantic gesture gone awry.

Jamie looked into her eyes as Ryan opened them, and she asked in a small voice, "You’re not mad at me?"

Ryan’s body snapped to attention as she got to her knees. "Mad at you? Why on earth would I be mad at you?"

"Because I invited her in," she moaned, still enormously angry with herself for letting the traitor into the house.

"I’m sure you had a good reason to let her in, Honey. Don’t give that another thought. We just have to decide what to do next." Ryan’s face held nothing but sympathy, making Jamie feel even worse.

"Mia said you wouldn’t be mad," she mumbled, unable to face her magnanimous lover.

Ryan got to her feet and extended a hand to her partner, pulling her from her chair and settling her onto the love seat. She wrapped her arms tightly around her and said, "Come on now, don’t tell me that Mia knows me better than you do."

Jamie shook her head, acknowledging that was not generally the case. "No, but…I was mad at you for letting Sara come over. This was the same thing."

Ryan laughed gently, smoothing Jamie’s hair off her forehead as she placed a soft kiss there. "No, it’s not, Baby. Unless you’ve omitted a very important part of your past, you were never in love with Cassie. My sin wasn’t that I let an old friend come to apologize. It was that I let someone that I cared for a great deal come over when I was alone. There was a risk of temptation there that I should have recognized."

Jamie sat up a little and rolled her eyes. "Not only haven’t I loved Cassie, I’ve often not even liked her," she agreed. "But one thing this incident did is let me see how easy it was for you to allow Sara to come over. It’s very tempting to have someone who hurt you try to make amends."

Ryan’s eyes closed briefly, and she hugged her partner tight. "Thank you for saying that," she whispered. "I was tempted, but I never will be again." They sat in silence for a few moments, letting the events of the day run through their minds. "I’m just a little miffed about one thing, though," Ryan admitted. "Why didn’t you page me?"

Jamie shrugged, knowing that she didn’t have a good reason. "I was embarrassed," she admitted. "I felt like it was all my fault."

"Jamie," Ryan soothed. "Having this come out doesn’t hurt me, Love. Everybody in my life knows about us." She paused for a moment, recalling that her statement was not technically true, then decided to rectify that oversight that very day.

"I know, Honey," she agreed. "Mia knocked some sense into me. She also agrees that Cassie and her mother are probably on their way to my mother’s house even as we speak."

Ryan sat up in shock, finally grasping the complexity of the situation. "What should we do?"

"Relax, Hon, I handled it."

Ryan cocked her head, waiting for the explanation.

"I called Marta and found out that Mother isn’t due home from Italy until Saturday afternoon. Marta agreed to hold any messages from Laura Martin until I came down there."

"How did you explain that little request?" Ryan wondered.

"It wasn’t fun, but I’ve never asked Marta to bail me out of trouble before. I guess she figured I was due. I just said that I needed to talk to my mother before Mrs. Martin got to her, and Marta promised she would help me out."

"No questions?"

"Nope. She’s not the type to pry."

Ryan nodded, figuring that attribute could go a long way to insuring longevity as a domestic. "So…we’ll go down on Saturday and tell them?"

Jamie gave her partner an immensely grateful look–terribly pleased that Ryan assumed they would do the deed together. "I appreciate that you want to go with me, Honey, but I think it would go better if I talked to them alone. I thought I could play golf with Daddy in the morning, and then go down to Hillsborough with him afterwards to tell Mother."

Ryan settled back into the love seat, pulling Jamie close. She nodded her head slowly, knowing that Jamie’s plan was wise, but wishing she could bear some of the burden for her. With a start, she realized that another vital member of Jamie’s support team was not available either. "Bummer of a time to have your therapist on vacation, Babe."

Jamie nodded, adding a wry chuckle. "Thankfully, my grandfather is in town. He’s coming over for dinner."

"Mmm, a therapist that makes house calls. Now that’s a good thing."

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

When Rev. Evans arrived they all spent a few minutes discussing the events of the afternoon. By prior agreement, Ryan left them to continue the discussion alone. She went to Jamie’s room and booted up her computer, mulling over the task she had assigned to herself.

I didn’t think it would take me this long to come out to my grandparents, she thought. I’m not even sure why I’ve delayed so long. She mulled the issue over in her mind, finally acknowledging that it had been easier to leave it unsaid.

John and Brigid Ryan were in their 80’s, and neither was very worldly. They lived in a very small town--a village, really--in County Mayo on the northwest tip of Ireland. Their village consisted of a Catholic church, a four-room National School, a "necessaries" store that doubled as a post office and bank, a pub, a take-away fish and chips shop, and one small store that seemed to change hands every time Ryan visited. It had been everything from a florist shop to a music/video store, but the town just could not support the ventures.

John Ryan had been a fisherman, working on various vessels in the commercial fleet that plied the cold sea that abutted their village . He had retired when Ryan was quite small, but his profession soon became his only hobby. Most days he could be found on one of the small streams and rivers that blanketed the region, fishing for whatever was running during that particular season.

Brigid Casey Ryan was clearly the force to be reckoned with in the Ryan family. She had an opinion on nearly every topic, and she was more than willing to share it with you, whether you wished to hear it or not. Her headstrong, rather closed-minded outlook had been the deciding factor in keeping Ryan from being honest with them about her sexual orientation, but she decided that if Jamie could do it, she could do it.

An hour and a half later her screen remained blank. When Jamie went to call her for dinner she was lying on the bed, hands laced behind her head, with a very contemplative look on her face. "Honey?" Jamie said, causing Ryan to start.

She shook her head and gazed at her partner. "Whoa…I was really out of it there." Getting to her feet she approached her partner and rested her hands on her shoulders. "Everything okay, Honey?"

A small nod accompanied by a gentle smile was all the reassurance that Ryan needed. "Yeah…I feel pretty good. Poppa has really calmed me down."

Ryan wrapped her in a hug and murmured into her hair, "I’m so glad to hear that. And I’m so glad you have him in your life."

"Me too," Jamie agreed. "We thought we’d grill some salmon steaks outside. Will you perform your usual grill duties?"

"My pleasure. Nothing I like better than showing off for my girl."

Jamie gave her a playful swat to the seat. "No wonder you’re in such a good mood all of the time, Buffy!"

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

Rev. Evans left early, at about eight o’clock. Jamie insisted on cleaning up alone, since Ryan had done all of the cooking, so Ryan decided to make another attempt at writing her letter.

Jamie came up to find her sitting at a blank computer screen, a faraway look in her eyes. "What’s up, Babe?" she asked, standing behind Ryan and giving her scalp a little scratch.

"I’ve decided that I need to finally write that letter to my grandparents. I want them to know all about you," she said with a smile as she turned her head to meet Jamie’s eyes.

"That’s sweet," she said, leaning over to kiss Ryan’s cheek. "Looks like you’re having a little trouble getting started."

"Yeah, I am. I write to them about once a month but I never really tell them anything personal. I’ve mentioned you before but not to an extent that would let them know what you mean to me," she admitted.

"Are you sure you’re ready to do this?" Jamie asked gently, letting her hands drop to Ryan’s shoulders to continue the rub.

"Yeah. Absolutely," Ryan said firmly. "I’m angry at myself for waiting this long."

"What do you want them to know?" she asked as she grasped Ryan by the shoulders and turned her around in her swivel chair.

"Hmm, I guess I want them to know that I’ve fallen in love and that I’m going to spend my life with you. I want them to know that I’m permanently committed to you, and that you make me happier than I had any expectation of being. And I want them to consider you to be my spousal equivalent."

Trailing her fingers through Ryan’s dark hair, she shared some of the advice her grandfather had just given her. "That’s asking a lot," she mused when she considered Ryan’s list. "I don’t think you can ask for them to consider me your spouse, Honey. I think all you can do is treat me like your spouse and hope they do the same."

Ryan leaned back in her chair and considered this for a moment. "I see your point. I can hope they are open-minded, but I can’t really demand that of them."

"Exactly," Jamie said as she kissed her partner on the top of her head. "You know, I don’t really know how you feel about your grandparents. How do you get along?" She sat down on the bed and kicked off her shoes, placing her feet onto Ryan’s lap on the off chance that her partner wanted to rub them for her.

Ryan smiled at her none-too-subtle move and acceded to the implied request. "Well, let’s say that the distance is not entirely unwelcome," she admitted. "If you didn’t see his chest moving you would think my grandfather was stuffed. He doesn’t get the opportunity to speak his mind very often when my grandmother’s around, and he obviously stopped trying long before I was born. We used to go fishing together in some of the little streams around the county and I really grew quite fond of him. He’s a very sweet man–I’m certain my mother and my aunts got their kindness and gentleness from him."

"He sounds nice," Jamie agreed, guessing that some of her partner’s gentle nature might have come down through the Ryan line, too.

"Now my grandmother is an interesting creature. She’s very headstrong and opinionated, and most people just give in to her. So in a way, she’s tough to be around for long. But she also cares for people very deeply, and she’s very generous with her time and her abilities. She has a really good heart, but sometimes it’s more pleasant to appreciate her from a distance."

"How about you? Do you stand up to her?"

Ryan nodded contemplatively. "I’d say that of all of the grandchildren she and I have the stormiest history. She always used to say that I was just like Aunt Maeve. To her that was an insult, of course, but to me, it was quite a compliment."

"She and your aunt don’t get along?"

"They were like oil and water, to be honest. As soon as Maeve was old enough, she lit out for America with a friend, and never went back."

"I got the impression that your father wasn’t a big fan, either," Jamie observed.

"I don’t think I had any idea that was true when I was young. But over the years he’s let a few things slip that make me agree with you. Aunt Maeve has told me that my grandmother was very unhappy when my mother left home, and her displeasure increased greatly when she fell in love and decided to stay. I think my grandmother thought she had married beneath her station, which is funny because she and my grandfather are as poor as church mice. I know she thinks that Mama got ill because she lived in the States. She seems to believe that the U.S.A. is one big carcinogen," she said with a smile.

"So how do you think they’ll react to your news?"

"Only one thing I’m sure of. Whatever her reaction, it will be unequivocal!"

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

Jamie lay down to finish looking over her bills for the month as Ryan stared at her computer. After a long while her fingers began to fly over the keys, barely pausing until she was finished with her draft. "What do you think?" she asked, handing the printout to her partner.

The letter read:

Dear Mamó and Daideó,

Jamie paused, turning to Ryan with a questioning look. "How do you pronounce the names you call them, Honey?"

"Oh," Ryan laughed, coming to stand next to her partner. "What did I use?"

Jamie handed the letter back and Ryan took a glance and nodded. "Those are kinda like Granny and Grandpa. They are pronounced MA-moe and DA-doe."

"That's cute," she smiled trying out the names on her own uneducated tongue.

"I've got a million of 'em," Ryan laughed. "I'll teach you as much as you want to know."

"Cool" Jamie grinned. "I've always wanted to be quadrilingual." She patted Ryan's back and said, "Let me get back to business here, my wild Irish rose." Holding the letter up to the light, she started to read:

I have some news to share with you about a very important part of my life.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve never brought up the subject of my love life with either of you. There have been two reasons for that omission. Primarily I’ve not had anyone special enough to talk about; but secondarily I’ve been reticent to talk about my love life because I thought you might disapprove, and I didn’t want to upset you unnecessarily.

I’ve known since I was 17 that I was only attracted to other women. I know that homosexuality is a difficult subject for many people and I can only assume that this might be hard for you to accept. I want to make it clear that I’m certain this is the life that I was born to live. I know that the church has a dim view of gay behavior but I feel strongly that God created me exactly as I am. I feel that I have a right to express my love in a physical way, so long as I do so in a loving fashion. I hope that you can accept my lesbianism, either immediately or over time. I want you to know that I am not only happy with my life, but I truly look at my sexual orientation as a gift from God.

My news is that I’ve recently been given another gift from God. I’ve fallen in love with the most wonderful woman it has been my privilege to know. Her name is Jamie Evans and she is a classmate of mine from the University.

As you can see from the enclosed picture, she is a truly beautiful woman. But when you meet her, I hope you are able to see that her true beauty lies in her soul. She is kind and loving and generous and very giving, and I can honestly say that she makes me happier than I had any hope of being. I am honored that she has chosen to spend her life with me, and I want to spend the rest of my life making her as happy as she has made me.

I hope that you are able to share in my joy at having found my life-mate. No matter how you feel about it, please know that I love you both and will continue to do so even if you are not able to give me your blessing.

The picture that I enclose is from this year’s AIDS Ride. Jamie did the ride with me this year and it was a very special blessing to be able to start our life together participating in such a moving experience. Even though she did not have the opportunity to know Michael, Jamie understands how much he meant to me, and it was wonderful to have someone that I could share my feelings with for the first time during the ride. It made the experience much more meaningful, but also much more emotional for me. As always, I made a stop at the small mission church named for his patron. It might just be wishful thinking but I swear I can feel his spirit every time I pray there.

Please let me hear from you when you have time to reflect on this news. I love you both and I hope you can be happy for my newfound joy.

Love always,



Jamie looked up with tears in her eyes as she whispered, "This is so beautiful, Ryan. It makes me think of your birthday when you told me about Sara. I remember thinking, ‘How can she be so open with her feelings?’ It just amazed me that you could be that loving and connected and yet never have a woman that you were connected to enough to love. It just seemed like an emotional oxymoron to me."

Ryan smiled down at her as she patted her cheek. "I wasn’t that emotionally open to everyone, Honey. I was just able to open myself up to you very early on in our relationship. I still don’t know if I was falling in love or if I just felt comfortable with you as a friend. But I guarantee that most people didn’t see that side of me."

"I’m eternally grateful that I get to see it," Jamie whispered, then stood and wrapped her lover in her arms.

"Being vulnerable is the best and the worst part of being with you," Ryan said softly. "It still scares me a little bit but I’m very happy that you get to see deep into my soul. It’s an intimacy that I’ve not had before but I’m grateful that I have it with you."

"We’re both doing something pretty scary here, Partner," she said, looking up into those clear blue eyes. "All we’ve talked about all day is all of the problems that we might have to work through. Why don’t we lie down together and remind ourselves of one of the wonderful benefits of loving each other."

Ryan linked her arms loosely behind Jamie’s neck, slowly bending to place a gentle kiss on her lips. "And you always say I have the good ideas."

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

Continued in Part 12

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