Book 5: Entwined
By S X Meagher
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Ryan OFlaherty sat in the kitchen of her family home just after dawn on the 4th of July, sipping a cup of coffee while she thoughtfully surveyed the foodstuffs laid out in front of her. Her shoulder-length black hair was a little mussed from sleep, the long bangs that poked out from the more ordered strands giving her a slightly childlike appearance. Her father entered the room and placed a hand on her shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze. "Im telling you, Darlin, it doesnt matter how many ways you slice itwe cant get this all prepared in this kitchen by one oclock. I know youre a whiz with the math, but you cant make these numbers work for you."
She scratched her head lightly, the gesture causing the few well-behaved hairs to tumble across her forehead. Her father looked at her fondly, fluffing the long strands with his hand as he chuckled at the expression on her face. "I swear Ive never seen anyones hair get longer after a haircut," he teased.
"I dont know what that guy was trying to accomplish, but he sure as heck didnt do a darned thing to these bangs! I guess Ill have to do it myself," she grumbled.
* * * * * * * * * * *
A few minutes later, Jamie Evans poked her head into the kitchen, expecting to find breakfast preparation well under way. She squawked sharply when she spotted her lover sitting on a tall kitchen stool, a dishtowel draped across her shoulders, with her father brandishing a pair of scissors and a comb. "What are you two doing?" She scampered across the floor, placing a restraining hand on Martins arm just as he was about to make the first cut.
"The lass wants her bangs cut. I cut her hair until she was in high school, Ill have you know," he explained reasonably, showing Jamie that he had credentials in the field.
"I can hardly see, Jamie," Ryan complained, her crystal clear blue eyes peeking up through the glossy black hair.
Jamie took a breath, the images of Ryan from early photographs assaulting her brain. Her partner had always had fairly long hair, but Jamie had noticed in nearly every childhood picture that her bangs were perpetually off-kilter. She tried to be as diplomatic as she could, knowing that both OFlahertys--pére et fils--were a bit thin-skinned. "Um Honey," she soothed, quickly removing the towel from her partners shoulders, "Giancarlo left them like that intentionally."
Ryan cocked her head slightly, her brow furrowing in puzzlement. She met her fathers equally puzzled glance, and they turned to gaze at Jamie with identical looks on their remarkably similar faces. "Why would he do that?" Both dark heads tilted, waiting for an answer. If Duffy comes in here and assumes that same expression, Im gonna lose it! Willing the smile to remain off her face, Jamie explained. "He thinks the bangs detract from your features. He thinks you have a lovely forehead, and that you shouldnt hide it." Waiting a beat, Jamie added, "Hes absolutely right on that point, by the way." She brushed the hair from said feature and placed a gentle kiss there. Grasping Ryans chin with her fingers she tilted her head up, displaying her face to Martins gaze. "Dont you agree, Martin?"
His eyes narrowed a bit, and Jamie could see that he was giving the question his full attention. "Shes a lovely girl, thats true," he commented thoughtfully, "but if she wants the bangs cut thats really all that matters, isnt it?"
Hmm maybe I should get Duffy to come in here. Hell vote on my side, for sure. I know hed appreciate more exposed skin on his mommys face. "Okay, Hon, lets back into this. Do you like the way Giancarlo cut your hair overall?"
"Yeah, I already told you "
"Bear with me, Sweetie. Do you want him to cut it again?"
"Yeah, I said that I did "
"Okay!" She placed her hands on her hips, pleased that her argument had carried the day. "Then you cant cut your bangs!"
"Huh? Why the heck not?" Ryan was more confused than ever now, and Martin looked even more so.
"Because," Jamie explained patiently, "once you cheat on him, hell never take you back." This all seemed perfectly reasonable to Jamie, and it puzzled her a bit that the OFlahertys did not immediately grasp the logic of it.
"Getting my bangs cut is cheating?" Ryan gaped.
"Honey, Ive seen him ban somebody from the shop because she parted her hair in an unapproved fashion. Hes not very forgiving."
Ryan shook her head and stood up, removing the scissors and comb from her fathers hands. "Hard to believe Italy is so darned close to Ireland, isnt it?" she mused.
"Ive always thought so," he agreed completely.
* * * * * * * * * * *
After Jamie poured a cup of coffee for herself and replenished her partners, she came to stand behind her and look over her shoulder at the figures and boxes she was drawing. "You look like youre preparing for the invasion of Normandy," she whispered, causing the tiny hairs at the nape of Ryans neck to flutter while a shiver chased down her spine.
Martin was busy preparing omelets for them both, so he was distracted enough that Ryan felt comfortable engaging in some sexually charged banter. "If you keep blowing on my neck like that, youre going to be preparing for the OFlaherty invasion," she promised, blue eyes flashing in the early morning light.
"I was ready to surrender last night, Hot Stuff, but the allied commander fell asleep on duty." Jamie leaned over even farther and took a nibble from Ryans neck, sniffing at her always-alluring, earthy scent.
"Mmmm," Ryans deep morning-voice rumbled. "Im on duty now, and Im itching to see some action."
It became apparent that their banter had grown a little too loud and a little too obvious, as Martin started to hum a tune, the volume rising until their voices were obliterated.
The young lovers were so focused on each other that it took a moment for them to recognize Martins evasive tactic. When they did so, their blushes fought for supremacy, with Jamies winning out in the end. Giggling like schoolgirls, they retreated from the kitchen to the relative safety of the dining room to continue their play while awaiting breakfast.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Is this really the best idea, Ryan?" Jamie wondered aloud, struggling with the two grocery bags filled with mayonnaise, mustard, celery, eggs, parsley and onions.
"Do you actually think I WANT to carry a 50-pound sack of potatoes all the way to my aunts house?" Ryan replied, giving her partner an aggrieved look.
Knowing Ryan, the chore might just be one of her little fitness tortures, so Jamie was aware that her complaints were mostly teasing. Her eyes were twinkling with mirth, acknowledging that there were less cumbersome items on the list of foods to be prepared. "I guess I shouldnt have volunteered us for the potato salad, huh?"
"Ive been getting by for years with making deviled eggs," Ryan remarked. "Next time, dont volunteer for anything unless you check with me first, Hon. Ive learned where all the landmines lie in this family." She was actually a little out of breath, unaccustomed to toting such an ungainly load.
"Its a deal, Buffy," Jamie agreed. "From here on in, you make all the decisions."
At Ryans bemused smirk, Jamie amended her statement slightly. "About family picnics, that is."
"I suspected that blanket concession went a little farther than you intended." Ryans grin showed that she did not mind acceding to many, if not most, of her partners wishes.
* * * * * * * * * * *
They sat in Maeves sunny kitchen, peeling potatoes for what seemed like hours. "Are you sure this isnt going to be way too much food, Honey?" Jamie asked, as she dropped yet another spud into a kettle of cold water.
"I doubt it," Ryan mused. "We almost always run out of potato salad, and we usually use a 50-pound bag of potatoes. This looks like the bare minimum to me."
Jamie had never heard of a group that could eat two pounds of potato salad each, so she politely asked, "Are a few other people coming, Honey?"
Ryan tossed her head back and laughed heartily, the vibrations echoing off the walls of the small room. "Did you think this was just for us? Oh, Jamie, thats rich!"
"Well you didnt say who was coming "
"My bad, Sweetie, my bad. All of my aunts people come to this, a bunch of Driscolls come, a raft of people from the neighborhood, some people from church. Last year we had about 85, and this year Ill be surprised if we dont top 100."
Jamie rolled her eyes and shared in Ryans amusement. "That makes a little more sense! But, why will there be 15 more people this year?"
"Because of you," she smiled, offering no further explanation.
Jamie pointed her index finger and twirled her hand quickly, giving Ryan the usual sign for "Go on."
Ryan shot her a grin and revealed, "The boys hate the fact that Ive got a girl now. Ill be the most surprised woman in Golden Gate Park if every one of the rascals doesnt show up with a dateall trying to win the contest."
"Oh yeah," Ryan nodded. "Whenever theres an event like this, the fellas all compete to see who brings the best looking woman. But just to be fair, Im going to opt out of the game. Itll hurt morale to have me win, time and again and ag "
Her comments were cut off by a pair of coral tinted lips that latched onto her mouth firmly. When Jamie pulled away she promised, "You are gonna get soooooo lucky tonight, Buffy."
* * * * * * * * * * *
When the Boxster was loaded with as much beer and soda as would fit, they took off for Golden Gate Park. Finding a convenient parking spot was beyond fanciful, so when Jamie spotted the poster board signs that indicated the gathering was up ahead, she double-parked so they could unload before she took off again.
Martin and his three brothers were already on the job, five full-sized Weber kettles smoking away. A tall, cylindrical smoker had been called into service also, and the acrid aroma of mesquite hit Jamie as soon as she exited the Porsche. "Wow! Im hungry already," she proclaimed, even though it was only ten a.m. They worked together to unload the car, then Jamie fluttered a wave at the OFlaherty brothers and took off in search of a parking spot.
By the time she returned, Ryan had carted all of the beverages over to the plastic tubs that held bags of ice waiting to chill the drinks. Jamie stood next to Martin while Ryan organized all of the cans and bottles. She had been in the company of the senior OFlahertys several times, and all of the men had been cordial to her, but without the noise and the clamor of the rest of the family, she realized that she felt slightly uncomfortable. It wasnt that they treated her any differently than they did Ryan or any of the cousinsactually, her discomfort came from being treated just like one of the family. And where the brothers were concerned, it wasn't necessary to keep up a conversation just for the sake of politeness with family members.
Each brother tended his own grill, with Frank being in charge of the smoker and Martin having two kettles of his own. The grills were set in a circle with the men standing on the perimeter, arms crossed over their chests or hands in their pockets. No one said a word, since nothing was occurring that required speech. Martin slung an arm around Jamies shoulder, looking perfectly content. She shot him a smile and stood in silence, watching the chunks of mesquite begin to turn an ash-covered white.
Since the grills had been lit at the same time, they all reached a simultaneous state of readiness. All at once, the brothers became verbal, arguing briefly about who was to do what, and when each item should be put onto each grill. Jamie stood smirking at the group, while Ryan came up behind her and snuck her arms around her waist. "Oooh, decision time," she mused, placing a light kiss on her partners cheek. "The most vital part of the day."
Jamie turned and said quietly, "Nobody said a word for the longest time. Are they angry with each other?"
Ryan considered the question for a moment, seeing the men from Jamies perspective, and acknowledging that they were indeed a pretty quiet bunch. "The happier they are, the quieter they are," she informed her partner. "They talk when they need to, but theyre not into small talk. Youll know youre part of the family when they dont even acknowledge your arrival," she said with a wry chuckle.
Jamie laughed in reply. "Then Im clearly a member of the family. I didnt even get a grunt!"
Ryan gave her a gentle hug, holding on for just a minute longer than discretion called for. "I knew theyd love you," she whispered, genuinely pleased by her uncles ignoring her partner.
* * * * * * * * * * *
By eleven oclock most of Ryans generation was in attendance, and as correctly predicted, every cousin was in the company of a woman. In fact, Brendan was the only holdout, and Jamie commented on this to Ryan. "Does Brendan date?" she asked, having never seen him with anyone, nor having heard of him speak of a romantic entanglement.
Ryan chuckled at the way the question was framed and told Jamie all that she knew. "I dont think hes gay, and I dont think hes a hermit, but to be honest, you only know what Brendan wants to tell youand thats not much!"
This puzzled Jamie completely. "Are you serious, Honey? You really have not met any of his girlfriends?"
"Nope." Ryan shook her dark head, letting her hair bounce briskly around her shoulders. "I honestly have never seen him with a woman. Bren has always valued his privacy much more than any of the rest of us. Im not sure why, but youll notice that hes the only one the aunts dont tease. His personal life has always been personaland everybody knows it."
"Is that why he moved out?" Jamie was intrigued by the uncharacteristically individualistic behavior of Ryans oldest brother, and her interest showed in her inquisitive look.
"I suppose." Ryan shrugged her shoulders, clearly at a loss. "There wasnt a lot of discussion about it. When he came back home from law school I had moved into his room, since it was long past time for me to stop sharing a room with Rory. Rory and Conor offered to bunk together since Bren was the oldest, but he said he was getting his own place, and that was that."
"Your father didnt make a big deal out of it?" Jamie couldnt imagine Martin letting go that easily.
"Nope. If you try to force the issue, Bren will just blow smoke at you. Da knows better than to try to get him to say something he doesnt want to reveal. Hes always been like that, Jamie. Thats just Bren." She gave another resigned shrug, showing that her brothers tendencies were not something that she had any control over.
Jamie gave a short laugh, observing, "Kinda like his uncles, huh?"
"Kinda," Ryan agreed. "We used to tease him that he should be a priest since he didnt seem to need a woman, and he would never violate the confidences hed hear in confession."
"Maybe thats in the offing," Jamie observed, mulling over the fact that Brendan was the only regular churchgoer of his generation.
Ryan laughed at the thought. "You could be right, Jamie. All I know is that we wouldnt know a thing about it until he was wearing a roman collar!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
A short while later Jamie found herself sitting on a small rise behind one of the softball diamonds, surrounded by at least a dozen women, most of whom appeared to be in their early to mid twenties. On the field, 17 men and one woman stretched out their muscles, in a show that reminded Jamie of taking Duffy to the dog park. All of the cousins, Ryan and her brothers, and a few of the Driscolls were among the group, and as they sized each other up Jamie wondered if one of them might actually lift his leg on one of the bases, just to mark territory.
Ryan came trotting over, giving her partner a blindingly white smile. She wore a bright green softball jersey with "USF" emblazoned in gold block letters across her chest, black double-knit shorts that showed her prominent thigh muscles, green knee socks, and well-used knee pads. Black, low-cut cleats finished off her outfit, and as usual, Jamie was more interested in getting the uniform off of her than she was in watching her play, even though she enjoyed both pastimes. "Nice shorts, Tiger," she teased. "How many polyesters had to die to make those babies?"
Ryan took the teasing in stride, running her hands over the thick black material. "Not many," she laughed. "Theyre small."
"I like small," Jamie reminded her. "Id like to take all of your clothes and wash them on hot."
"I thought you had an ulterior motive in trying to get me to let Maria Los do my laundry." Ryans smirk was firmly in place, since she loved to tease her partner like this. Getting to her feet, Jamie signaled Ryan to meet her at the corner of the diamond, where they could talk in private.
Ryan jogged over and cocked her head in question. "Wassup?"
"I dont really want to sit with the girls," she complained. "I want to play with you guys."
Ryan looked a little uncomfortable, and she shifted her weight from foot to foot as she considered her reply. In a move that nearly made Jamie laugh, the dark haired woman spit rather forcefully into the pocket of her glove, rubbing the moisture into the leather, the smell of wet cowhide and dust just barely reaching Jamies nose. "Umm have you um played before?" Hesitant baby blues peeked out from the dangling bangs, adding to Ryans adolescent demeanor.
With just a touch of indignation Jamie assured her, "Many times, Ryan. I even have a position."
"Whats that?" Now the teasing was back in full force, and Jamie knew she was on the verge of getting zapped.
"I play second base," she informed her, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Tell ya what," Ryan suggested, "I normally play second, since Im the little one in this crowd. Let me play the first inning since Im warmed up. We can alternate after that." Ryan let her eyes wander to the spot on the grass that Jamie had vacated. She slowly checked out every other woman, letting her gaze linger on a couple of them for a moment. "Youre still in the lead in the best-looking date contest, Hon, but Conors entry hasnt shown up yet."
A quick backhand to the gut testified to the fact that Jamies reflexes were perfectly adequate for a second baseman.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ryans team took the field first, and Jamie spent more than a minute watching her partner toss the ball around the infield while Frank warmed up to pitch. She was so engrossed in staring at the lean, lanky second baseman, that she almost didnt notice the woman who sat down next to her. The cloying scent of Eternity reached her nose before any of her other senses became aware of the woman, and as she turned, she was stunned to find an absolutely knock-down-dead gorgeous woman smiling at her. "That good looking man over there told me that you could tell me where Conor OFlaherty is." She inclined her head in Malachys direction, and Jamie shot him a grin along with a thumbs up.
The woman next to her was tall, tan, blonde, and decidedly European. Her accent was Scandinavian, but Jamie wasnt sure which country. "Im Jamie Evans," she said, extending a hand.
"Bindi," replied the woman, nearly blinding Jamie with her smile.
"Conor should be here any moment," Jamie informed her. "Hes changing into his softball clothes." With a start, she looked up to see Ryan leaning into the chain link fence, blue eyes dancing.
"Everything okay, Jamie?" she asked, innocently keeping her eyes only on her partner.
"Yes, Dear, everything is fine."
"We could switch now if you wanted," Ryan offered, guileless blue eyes blinking slowly.
"No thanks, Honey," she smiled, ignoring the impish grin that now covered Ryans face. "I like it just fine right here."
"Okay," Ryan tossed over her shoulder, as she ran back to her position. "Just want to make sure youre happy." When she was about 20 feet away she turned and added, "The votes have been tabulated, Jamie. Youre still number one!"
"Youre a generous grader!" Jamie called after her, smiling sweetly at Bindi. "My lover, Ryan," she said pointedly. "Shes Conors little sister."
Bindi gave the lanky woman an appraising glance. "Shes not so little, is she? People are very large in this family."
A quick look at Jamie refuted her own statement, but Jamie caught the look and reminded her, "Im an OFlaherty by marriage."
"Oh, people of same-sex can get married in the United States, too?"
Jamie shook her head briefly. "No, not legally. Were married in every way that counts though. Where are you from, Bindi?"
"Denmark," she informed her. "Im just visiting some friends who are living in San Francisco. Im going home next week."
"Ooh, thats too bad. How did you meet Conor?"
"I was having a drink with my friends in a little club the other night, and he was just there. All of a sudden we were chatting like the oldest of friends. Hes a very nice man, isnt he?" she asked thoughtfully.
"Yes, he is," Jamie assured her. "Now his sister, on the other hand "
* * * * * * * * * * *
On her way back to second base, Ryan had stopped by the bench and snagged a black baseball cap which was now pulled down low on her head. Jamie smiled at the intense look of concentration on what little of her face she could still see, thinking it quite funny that Ryan would take a mere family softball game seriously.
Dermot was the first player to bat, and he beat out a single by laying down a bunt, catching the left side of the infield by surprise. There was a bit of grumbling from the team on the field, but they settled down and took their positions, waiting for Niall to take his turn. After letting a few pitches sail wide of the plate, he hit a grounder to short, and Kieran grabbed it and zipped it to Ryan to begin the double play. To Jamies amazement, Dermot slid in, spikes high, giving Ryan a good shot to the knees as she leapt into the air to make the peg to first. She landed heavily atop her cousin, and he immediately took umbrage, pushing her off roughly. Ryan scrambled to her feet, her face filled with fury, and pushed him as he tried to get up. There was a very brief pause as both decided how to respond, then each gave the other a strong shove and the melee was in full swing. All 18 of the players pushed and shoved, their voices rising as they shouted taunts and insults at each other. A cloud of dust swirled around the group, and the noise level rose dramatically as the fight seemed to escalate.
Jamie leapt to her feet and started to take off, not sure what she could do, but determined to protect her lover, who was at the epicenter of the scrum. She had barely reached the edge of the backstop when a strong hand gripped her shoulder, effectively stopping her progress. She whirled and cried, "Martin! Ryans at the bottom of that pile!"
"Dont worry about her," Martin soothed, maintaining his hold. "Theres always a fight, Darlin; this one just got under way a little early." Even as he spoke the brawl was breaking up of its own accord, the players slapping each other on the back as they returned to their positions. The last two were Dermot and Ryan, and Jamie watched in amazement as her smiling lover pulled Dermot down for a kiss on the cheek. He laughed and slapped her hard on the butt, grinning as he dropped his head and trotted back to the bench.
"Wha how did ?" Jamie was nearly sputtering, completely shocked by this development.
"Theyve been fighting since the first two of them were three years old," Martin assured her. "No ones ever been seriously hurt, Jamie. Dont give it another thought."
She shook her head, slowly, making eye contact with her partner who shot her a helpless shrug. "Ill never understand that woman," she muttered slowly.
"Dont even try, Jamie," Martin laughed. "Itll make you old before your time."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie prudently decided that being a spectator at an OFlaherty softball game was more her style, and she spent the rest of the game chatting with the women that the cousins had escorted to the picnic. By the time the contest was over, they were all quite companionable, and Jamie had answered the thousand questions Bindi had about the United States in general and San Francisco in particular.
Ryan was, as expected, a sweaty mess, but she managed to make herself presentable in the public restroom. She emerged in jeans and a peach French cut T-shirt, reminding Jamie of the womanly curves that had been hidden by her oversized jersey and unfashionable shorts.
As she met and held Jamies gaze, Ryan gave her an enormous grin and said, "Have I told you today how absolutely fabulous you look?" Her eyes trailed up and down Jamies body, taking in her pale yellow jeans and the Madras plaid cotton blouse in pink, purple and yellow.
Jamie tilted her head, considering the question. She looked towards the sky, pursing her lips as she finally gave a short shake of her head, tossing her blonde hair about. "You havent said word one."
"I swear I dont know how you put up with me," Ryan muttered. "I was watching you sit there on the ground with all of those other people Im not sure if they were men or women, you know," she lied. "And I kept thinking, How did I get so lucky to have such a beautiful woman fall in love with me?"
Jamie offered up a knowing smirk at the effusive compliment, patting Ryans flushed cheek while she was at it. "Even with the fight and the obvious attempt to take a look at Miss Denmark, youre still getting lucky tonight, Hot Stuff, so you can stop sucking up."
Letting out a heavy sigh, Ryan shook her head and gazed at Jamie with a completely serious look. "Im lucky every day of my life as long as I have your love."
* * * * * * * * * * *
It was late when they arrived back at the house, and they spent just a few minutes assembling their gear for the trip back to Berkeley. After Ryan carried Jamies travel bag out to the car, she came back in to find her hanging up her cell phone. "Mother called to see how we were," she said, a bright smile on her face.
"Thats nice," Ryan agreed. "Does she still seem okay about Saturday?" It was hard to believe that it had only been two days since Jamie had come out to her parents, and Ryan sincerely hoped that Jamies mom would remain as supportive as she had been on that night.
"Yeah she seemed fine. She asked how you were, but other than that it was just our normal conversation."
"Normal is good," Ryan smiled. "Business as usual is what Im hoping for."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie felt so completely and totally loved at the end of the long day that she was honestly too excited to sleep when they were tucked into their bed in Berkeley that night.
"I cant tell you how good it felt to have you parade me around introducing me all day," she said, her childlike enthusiasm bubbling out.
Ryan was charmed by her comments, but a bit puzzled as well. "Why is that surprising for you, Hon? I introduce you everywhere we go."
Jamie didnt answer with complete candor, since she didnt want to bring her own family into the discussion, but she knew that Ryan would never be offered the same level of complete acceptance that she felt from the OFlaherty clan. "I guess its not that its surprising, Honey," she admitted. "It just feels so darned good, that I want to thank you for making me feel so special."
Ryan began to nibble down her soft, smooth neck, pausing to whisper, "If youre that thankful for a few introductions, youre gonna build a shrine to me when Im done with you tonight!"
"I already worship at your feet," Jamie gasped out with a quavering voice as a spine tingling jolt of desire shot down her body. "Ooh yeah, I can picture the shrine already!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Part 2
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