I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 16: Paradigm

By: Susan X Meagher

 

 

Part One

Jamie Evans opened her eyes slowly, hoping sheíd be greeted by the quiet stillness of the dark of night. Instead, she noted bright, clear light peeking through the curtains. Curtains?

There was no sound save that of cool air blowing from the air conditioner. Air conditioner?

Quicker than she would have liked, her mind cleared and she recalled they were in Los Angeles, at another nondescript hotel. She turned her head and saw that Ryan was wide awakeólying on her back with an ankle crossed over her raised knee. She didnít move, which indicated to Jamie that she was lost in thought.

Shifting the tiniest bit, Jamie blinked to clear her eyes and looked at her lover for a few moments. Her hair was severely mussed, long strands draped over her forehead. Normally clear eyes were a little puffy and slightly bloodshot. But those little imperfections didnít diminish the pure, unadulterated beauty that nearly always caught Jamie by surprise when she spent time gazing at her partner. Even though Ryan was, by any account, a beautiful woman, Jamie knew that her true beauty wasnít in her features or her form. It was the indefinable "Ryanness" that made her so incalculably lovely. And no matter how many years passed, Jamie knew that the Ryanness would only grow more attractive to her. She wasnít sure how she knew this to be true, but she would have staked her life on it.

As usual, she couldnít look at Ryan for long before her loverís senses detected her wakefulness. Head turning, eyes brightening, Ryan leaned over and kissed Jamieís forehead. "Morning, princess."

"Hi. Been awake long?"

"Eh." Ryan shrugged. "Not sure."

"Was it dark when you woke up?"

"Nope."

Jamie checked her watch. "Itís just 7:00. Iím not sure when sunrise was, but it couldnít have been too long ago. Whatcha thinking about?"

"School."

Seeing that her lover was rather monosyllabic this morning, Jamie prodded, "What about school?"

Ryan looked at her and said, "The end."

"Like graduation?"

A small, firm head shake was Ryanís preliminary answer. She looked blankly into the distance. "The end, in general. Iím not sure Iím ready for it."

Pulling herself up towards the head of the bed by using her good elbow, Jamie arranged a few pillows behind her back and leaned against Ryan. "More, please."

Ryanís head swiveled and she showed an off-center grin. "Not verbal yet."

"Okay." Jamie started to rub her partnerís bare belly, smiling when goose bumps appeared immediately. "Let me guess; Iím getting pretty good at that." She pressed her lips together and thought for a minute. "Is it creeping up on you too fast?"

Ryan nodded.

"Do you feel unprepared?"

Another nod.

"Worried about your French exam?"

A dismissive shake of the head.

"Sorry," Jamie said, sliding her hand up to pinch Ryanís side. "I forgot you donít have scholastic worries like the rest of us dopes."

Ryan gave her an evil look.

"Well, you donít!" She thought for another few seconds and tried again. "I assume this feels like a big transition for you."

The nod was a little more pronounced this time.

When Jamie saw that, she knew the answer. "Cal feels a little like home for you, doesnít it, baby." Immediately, she could see tears form in Ryanís eyes. She sat up and put her arms around her and gave her a squeeze. "Itís gone too fast for me too. Especially these last two years."

Ryan pulled away from the hug and fell back against her pillows. "Yeah. Too fast. I barely noticed the time flying by. I hate that."

"Itís hard not to have the time fly by when you fill every moment, honey."

Jamieís voice was soft and didnít contain a shred of judgment, but Ryan shot her a quick look. "Meaning?"

"Just what I said. You pack your days so full that each one seems long, but they kinda run together, donít they?"

"LikeÖwhat exactly?"

Her expression was closed and Jamie couldnít tell if she was going to snap at her or if she sincerely wanted to hear her opinion. "LikeÖuhmÖ" She looked around the room. "Ölike this. Weíve both woken up in so many anonymous rooms this year that I can never tell where I am. The first night we slept together I remember waking up and knowing we were at The Osprey Inn. It was special. Being with you was special. The whole thing is etched in my memory. But thisÖ?" She moved her hand around, pointing at the universal armoire, table and two chairs. "We could be in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine and it would look the same. The games are all pretty much alike. The meals are all alike. They blur, babe."

"AndÖthat meansÖwhat, exactly?"

Jamie still had no idea if Ryan was perturbed or curious. "It means nothing much. Just that weíve both been busier than most college students. Weíve played more sports, participated in more things, gotten involved in more conflicts and had more traumatic things happen to us in two years than most people have in a lifetime."

"So what?"

Now it was clear than Ryan was miffed. Jamie wasnít sure why, but she didnít back off from making her point. "So, nothing. You said the time had flown by, and I offered my view on why that happened. College went five times faster than high school did for me and I think itís because stuff started happening to me once I met you. High school was just the same old stuffóday after day."

"SoÖitís good that weíreÖthat Iím so busy?"

Ah, she thinks Iím blaming her. "It is what it is, baby. I was honestly just speculating." She put her hand back on Ryanís belly and rubbed it gently. "Whatís wrong, Tiger? Feeling grouchy?"

Ryan rolled her eyes, always hating to be caught in an off mood. "A little. I got my period this morning. Iíve got cramps and my back hurts."

"My poor punkiní." Jamie kissed her cheek and stroked her arm. "Lie on your tummy and Iíll rub your back."

"You donít have to," Ryan grumbled.

"I know I donít have to. I like to. Gives me a chance to touch you."

That brought a reluctant smile to the deep pink lips. "You touched me a lot last night."

"I know. But this time I wanna comfort you, not drive you mad."

The reluctant smile turned enthusiastic. "You did drive me mad. Iím glad we didnít have my toys, ícause I would have used that pile driver to make myself come again. And I donít wanna spend the day itching while I have cramps."

"Come on, my little lamb. Lie on your tummy." Ryan rolled her eyes again, giving Jamie the "you donít have to make over me" look. But Jamie had learned that right behind that look was the "if you donít make over me, Iíll be even grumpier" persona that Ryan would never admit she had.

Ryan pushed the pillows out of the way and rolled onto her belly while Jamie got up and retrieved some moisture lotion from the bathroom. "I should have brought a heating pad," she said. "I knew you were due right around now. Did you take some pills?"

"Yeah. But the cramps woke me up. It always takes longer to get rid of íem when they get a head start."

"I know, baby. But weíll try." She warmed some lotion in her hands and applied it to Ryanís back, then started to work on her lower backóalways the site of her discomfort.

"Umm, feels good," Ryan mumbled into the mattress.

"Weíll fix you up. Want me to order some breakfast for us in the room?"

"Nah. Itís always cold."

"Whenís your bus to UCLA?"

"9:30. Breakfast is at 8:30."

"No offense to the hotel, but buffet breakfasts suck. Weíll go somewhere nice. Thereís a good place in Westwood."

"Aww, Jamie."

"Donít give me the Ďaww Jamieí routine. You know you love a good breakfast, and you love it more than usual when youíre not feeling well. Now just play along. Tell your buddies that I insisted and youíre too nice to refuse me."

Ryan peeked over her shoulder. "I am."

Leaning over, Jamie kissed the back of her neck. "Youíre a living saint."

Scooting around on the bed, Ryan put her hands under her forehead and relaxed, letting Jamie work on her spasming muscles.

"Youíre right, you know," she said, grunting out the last word when Jamie pressed hard on her.

"That youíre a saint? I know, honey."

"Ha. Ha. Youíre right that I try to put too much stuff into a day."

"I canít be right if I didnít say that," Jamie said, her tone playful.

"You meant it. I know you."

"Then I suppose I donít need to talk. Iíll just let you guess what Iíd say."

"Thatíd work," Ryan decided, which earned her a hard pinch on the waist.

"Watch it, Tiger. I have a lot of bare skin at my disposal."

"You know Iím teasing. You didnít specifically say I do too much, but we both know I do. And when Iím forced to step back and assess a certain time period, I realize that I didnít slow down enough to enjoy it." She twisted her neck to meet Jamieís eyes. "It woulda been nice if weíd spent the last year sitting in the library trading kisses all day. I donít think weíve spent more than an hour all year walking around campus together." She dropped her face onto her hands. "Where did the time go?"

"It went into four sports, one carjacking, one troubled teenager, one pair of divorcing parents, one pair of marrying parents, one Putnam competition, one broken elbow, trying to spend time with about forty family members, and as much sex as we could manage."

Ryan turned and met her gaze again. "Not nearly enough of that. We had a long dry spell."

"Weíre getting back to normal, sport. Weíll catch up."

Sighing deeply, Ryan flexed her back muscles and said, "I feel like Iím always in a hurry. I should be lying here just feeling your hands, but Iím thinking about how soon I have to get into the shower to get to breakfast, how weíll get from breakfast to the field, all kinds of details are just zooming through my head."

Jamie leaned over and pressed her body against Ryanís. "I understand. I do the same thing. Letís shower and eat, and thatíll take a couple of things off your list." She rolled off and Ryan turned over and grasped her, holding on tightly.

Nose to nose, they gazed into each otherís eyes. "Iím gonna try my best to focus today. Really try to enjoy it. This is my last trip to UCLA and I wanna remember it."

"After breakfast, weíll walk to the softball field. Itís not far. We can stop and smell the flowers."

"Youíve got a deal." Ryan released her and slipped out of bed. "Thanks for reminding me to take it a little slower."

"Me? I swear I didnít say any such thing," Jamie protested, trying and failing to look innocent.

***

Jamie was sitting in King Student Union on Monday morning, sipping a tepid cup of coffee to force herself to stay awake. While she was glad she was learning things that would help her manage her money and organize the boyosí building project, she wasnít, in her heart, a business major. She missed the long class discussions of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, finding the intricacies of the economy a very poor substitute. But she was determined to learn as much as she could, and figure out ways to apply her knowledge to achieve her goals.

Her ringing cell phone provided a very welcome distraction. She opened it immediately. "Hello?"

"Hi," Catherine said. "Are you home?"

"We are. We got home late last night. How was your weekend? Did you do anything fun?"

"Fun?" Catherine hesitated, then said, "Nothing to speak of."

It was the pause that did it. That slight pause made Jamie think of the things that her mother might have done, but was unwilling to share with her. It was her turn to speak, but all that filled her head were images of her mother with Giacomo: sitting on the terrace of her Milan apartment, strolling around Chelsea looking at galleries, having breakfast by the pool in Hillsborough. Catherineís voice snapped her back to the present.

"Did you two have fun in Los Angeles?"

"Sure," Jamie managed. She was quiet for a moment, finding herself unwilling to talk about the nice dinner theyíd had. She knew her mother was involved in Ryanís finding a trendy restaurant and securing reservations, but she couldnít thank her. She felt as though she was unable to speak her mind, resorting to a trite, "LAís always fun."

"Did you have any time alone with Ryan?"

"Oh, we snatch a few hours away from the crowd whenever we can, but itís not really a pleasure trip."

"No, no, I suppose it isnít."

A good half minute passed in silence. "Iím trying to stay awake today," Jamie said. "Even though LA is in the same time zone, I always feel a little jet-lagged after these trips."

"Itís probably just the travel. And traveling with a group has to be more tiring than going alone."

"Yeah, I guess it is. Iím drinking coffee, but it doesnít seem to be working."

"Maybe you can take some time out for a nap."

"No, I donít think so. Finals start soon. Iíve got a lot to stuff into my head."

"Well, Iíll let you get back to your work, honey. I just wanted to make sure you got home all right."

"Yeah, we did. Thanks for calling, Mom."

"Weíll talk soon, okay?"

"Sure. Iíll give you a buzz in a few days."

"Donít work too hard."

"I wonít. Bye." She clicked off the phone, but couldnít stop thinking about her mother and the distance that still remained between them. She desperately wanted it to end, but she didnít feel able to be unguarded with her. It reminded her of how theyíd interacted when she was trying to hide her sexualityÖand she hated it.

***

Jamie pressed the door latch and entered the house, waiting a second for Ryanís greeting. When one didnít float down the stairs, she assumed her partner had left early for practice. She laughed at her disappointment, finding it amusing that sheíd grown so fond of such a small thing. After checking the mail that Ryan had laid out neatly on the table, she dropped her book bag and trudged upstairs, wishing for a nap but determined to study for an hour and then start dinner. She was still a little unsettled from her chat with her mother, but she didnít have any idea of how to make things right between them again.

She was lost in thought when she reached the landing and she stopped abruptly when she looked into the bedroom, shocked to see Ryan flat on her back with her sweatpants and underwear bunched around her ankles. Her feet were planted on the bed and her legs spread wide apart. Her industrial-strength vibrator was pressed against her and her eyes were tightly closed. For a second, Jamie wasnít sure what to do. She felt like a sneak, but she hadnít been stealthy in her actions and sheíd had no way of knowing Ryan was at homeómuch less masturbating. She considered slipping back down the stairs, but she didnít want to disturb Ryanís rapt concentration. So, she stayed where she was, but averted her eyes. She wasnít sure why she did so, but it felt wrong to watch her partner do something that was in every way a deeply private act.

Luckily, she didnít have to wait long. She heard Ryanís breathing, then a few soft moans and an expulsion of air. Then the vibrator was turned off and thunked onto the bed.

Now Jamie had to make another decision. Did she try to sneak away or announce her presence? She guessed that Ryan would hear her, now that she was finished, so she cleared her throat and said, "Knock. Knock."

Head snapping towards the door, Ryan stared at her with wide eyes. "Oops!" she said, giving what Jamie perceived as a guilty grin.

For some reason, her response triggered something in Jamie and she felt herself beginning to get angry. "Oops?" she asked, frowning. She went into the room and walked to her dresser to change clothes.

"Umm, no kiss?" Ryan asked. She quickly pulled up her pants and stood.

"You were busy." She felt Ryanís hands on her waist and mouth near her ear.

"Did it bother you to see me doing that?"

"Bother me?" Jamie turned and looked at her lover for a second. Unaccountably, she felt as if she didnít know her, and she wondered who this woman really was. One thing she was sure of: she didnít want to talk to her about this and she didnít want to be near her. "No. But I wish youíd closed the door or gone into your own room."

"Why?" Ryanís head was cocked like Duffyís and her open expression conveyed the same level of ingenuousness.

"Because thatís a private thing. I donít want to watch you go to the bathroom or scratch your butt or pick your nose. Private things. Do them in private." She turned and considered her dresser for a moment, then changed her mind about a new set of clothes. Scooting away from Ryanís gentle grasp, she started for the door. "Itís no big deal. I just donít want to feel like Iím sneaking up on you."

Staring at her back, Ryan said, "I donít feel like youíre sneaking up on me." She followed Jamie from the room and added, "You love to watch me masturbate when weíre making love. Whatís the difference?"

Jamie sighed heavily as she turned the corner and headed for the kitchen. "If you donít see the difference, I canít explain. Itís no big deal. Forget it."

Clearly stunned, Ryan stood right where she was. After a minute she went into her room and got ready for practice, stopping by the bed to unplug the vibrator and put it away. Five minutes later she went into the kitchen. Jamie was sitting at the table, munching on a bowl of raw vegetables while she read a book entitled, "Financial Management of Residential Real Estate."

Jamie looked up and gave Ryan a half smile. "I canít make practice tonight. Iíve got a lot of reading to do. Mind if we get carryouts?"

"No." Ryan sat down and looked at her lover. "What happened upstairs?"

Sighing dramatically, Jamie said, "Nothing. Give it a rest, will you? Every little incident doesnít deserve dissection. I was surprised to see you doing that in plain view; I asked you to do it in private. Thatís it."

Ryan reached across the table and touched Jamieís hand. Her voice was low and soft. "If I could understand why it bothered you, Iíd have a better chance of not upsetting you next time."

With a faux smile, Jamie said, "Go in your room and close the door and there wonít be a next time. Itís as simple as that."

As quickly as a slamming door, Ryanís guileless expression closed. She stood up and went to the refrigerator and took out a container of yogurt. Then she searched for and found a plastic spoon. As she walked out the door, she said, "Carryouts are fine," then left the room. Seconds later Jamie heard the door closeÖhard. She winced, then slammed her hand against the table and uttered a curse.

***

Ryan got home a little later than usual. For once, she didnít offer to stop for dinner on her way home from practice, so Jamie had ordered food from a local Thai place. Dinner was displayed on the kitchen counteróstill in the takeout containers. Ryan took a look, let her gaze wander to Jamie, and said, "Are we going to eat together?"

"Iíve been picking at it since it got here. I timed the order so itíd be here when you usually get home."

"So, thatís a no?" There was still not a hint of emotion in Ryanís expression.

"Iím really swampedÖ"

Ryan nodded and took the plate that had been set out for her. She didnít wash her hands, which were obviously dirty even from Jamieís distance. She picked up one container at a time and turned it upside down, letting about half of the contents fall onto her plate. When her plate was piled high she turned and left the room, pointedly ignoring the utensils and the napkins.

Jamieíd been staring at her, trying to get her attention with a glare, but Ryan had ignored her completely. For a moment, she was tempted to jump up and follow her, but she really did have a load of work to do and she decided to let her anger fuel her concentration. She got up and took the remnants of the honey ginger duck back to the table and carefully speared a few pieces with her fork, chewing thoughtfully while trying to concentrate on her work.

***

Ryan didnít make another appearance in the kitchen, and by ten oíclock Jamie had had her fill of real estate. She got up and packaged the leftovers for Ryan to snack on the next day, then washed her dinner dishes and turned off the lights. Heading upstairs, she noticed that their room was dark and she wondered if Ryan was already in bed. But when she turned on the light she saw that Ryan was in neither the bedroom nor the bath. The door to Ryanís room was closed, giving Jamie one more small indication of her loverís mood. She didnít want to have another extended discussion over something so unimportant, so she knocked on the door and waited for Ryan to reply.

"Yeah?"

Jamie opened the door halfway. "Iím going to bed. Coming soon?"

Slowly, Ryan looked up. She was lying on her stomach on the bed, reading what looked like a magazine. "Probably."

Her expression gave away nothing and Jamie felt her ire rising, but she tamped it down and nodded. "Okay. See you soon."

As she turned she heard an icy voice say, "I still donít merit a kiss?"

Grinding her teeth, Jamie paused to control her voice and reaction. Turning, she said, "Of course you do. I assumed youíd be coming to bed soon and Iíd kiss you then." She started to move towards Ryan but she was waved off dismissively.

"Fine. Go to bed. See ya."

Barely managing to stop herself from shaking the stuffing from her partner, Jamie closed the door and mumbled obscenities while she brushed her teeth. By the time she got into bed she was still fuming, but she found that she was remarkably tired. Her mind flashed to all of the unsettled fights she and Jack had gone through and how sheíd always fallen asleep quickly when she was particularly angry. She tried to assess why this happened, but she was sound asleep before she could give it any serious consideration.

***

The morning sun warmed her face and Jamie turned to snuggle up to Ryan, but the other side of the bed was cool to the touch. Blinking her eyes open, she was hit with a wave of anger mixed with dismay. God damn it! If she wonít sleep with me over something so minor, whatíll we do when we have a big fight? Every fucking thing has to be beaten to death!

Her feet hit the floor with a thud and she marched into Ryanís room, ignoring her need to use the facilities. Ryan was right where sheíd left her, but her magazine was on the floor, open to the article sheíd been reading when sheíd fallen asleep. Her hands dangled off the bed and they were dark with pooled blood.

Sighing, Jamie picked up the magazine, noting the title, Chaos, Solitons & Fractals. The article that Ryan had stopped on was Chaotic motion of magnetotactic bacteria, but neither title helped Jamie figure out what kind of magazine or journal it was. She recognized the word bacteria, which pointed to biology, but she was pretty sure that chaos and fractals were math things. And she knew this was leisure reading since Ryan had only one exam to prepare for. And no matter how much things had changed since sheíd learned the language, she was sure this wasnít assigned reading for French class. For no logical reason, the fact that Ryan read things like this for fun pissed Jamie off.

Ryanís interests usually didnít bother her, but today they seemed to widen the gulf she felt between them. She thought back to the previous afternoon and felt a small wave of panic when she considered how much she didnít know or understand about Ryan, yet sheíd pledged her life and her entire future to her.

Her heart was beating loudly in her chest when Ryan made a sound that was partly a cry and partly a whimper. "My hands," she mumbled, turning onto her back. She stretched her arms up into the air and cursed under her breath.

Jamie sat on the edge of the bed and asked, "Do they hurt?"

"Theyíre asleep." Ryan looked like she was sucking on a lemon. Her eyes were closed tightly and her mouth was twisted into a grimace. She shook her hands, which made her grimace worse. Jamie didnít say anything, sitting quietly until Ryanís expression returned to normal. "I must have had them hanging over the bed all night. Theyíre almost completely numb."

Her first instinct was to try to comfort her partner in some way, but Jamie couldnít make herself do it. She was still so torn between anger and confusion that she didnít feel safe offering up any part of herself.

Ryan blinked a few times, then pushed her hair from her eyes. "What in the hell is going on between us?"

Jamie lifted and dropped her shoulders, partially avoiding Ryanís eyes. "I dunno."

"Youíre obviously mad at me. Why wonít you tell me whatís pissing you off?"

Temper flaring once again, Jamie said, "Iím not pissed off! Or at least I wasnít at first. I asked you to do something in private and youíre the one who got all huffy. I donít like to beat things to death and you do."

Ryan didnít respond immediately. She shook her right arm again and then rested her head on her braced hand. The intensity of her gaze made Jamie feel like she was being x-rayed and she got up and went to the window. But that didnít make Ryan talk. After feeling the blue eyes burn her back, she turned and snapped, "Will you stop staring and say something?"

Seemingly not flustered in the least, Ryan shook her head. "No."

"Fine. Iíve got to use the bathroom." Jamie strode from the room and closed the door. She was biting her lower lip to avoid cursing, but she relieved herself and then turned on the shower. She felt unaccountably lonely getting into the warm water when she knew Ryan was just a few feet away, but she was certain her partner wasnít going to say another word until she explained why sheíd been angry in the first place. And she did not want to discuss the whole matter. She just wanted to move on.

She lingered in the shower, hoping the warm water would soothe her emotions. But other than pruning her fingers, all she managed to do was waste water. She got out and dried her hair, then went into her room and got dressed. When she went downstairs, she found a note from Ryan on the kitchen counter.

I donít understand whatís bugging you and I need to. I canít ignore things like this, even though you want me to. Call me when you want to talk. I canít ignore the tension when Iím at home and I need to study. If I donít hear from you Iíll go home tonight.

R

Jamie ripped the note into strips, then crumpled them together and threw them in the trash. Emotional blackmail! We have to do it her way or sheíll run home to the people who really love her. She kicked a chair, then grabbed her foot and hopped up and down, growling from the pain. "Fuck!" she cried loudly enough to wake the neighbors.

***

Ryan was sitting on a wide expanse of concrete on the side of Koshland Bioscience Library, forcing herself to conjugate verbs when she caught sight of Jamie walking on one of the paths that crisscrossed the campus. Her gaze sharpened and her stomach flipped when she recalled seeing her partner look just like that so many times when things were going badly between her and Jack.

Ryan was angry, but she was much more puzzled than mad. She knew there was probably a very simple explanation for why Jamie had been upset with her, and she knew that the only reason her partner didnít want to discuss it was because she was embarrassed about her feelings. Ryan knew she could guess and probably come up with the answer, but she didnít want to do that. She wanted Jamie to be able to tell her when things bothered her, even if they didnít make sense.

But seeing her partnerís head dip and her shoulders a little slumped made her heart hurt, and she suddenly didnít care about the fight. She just wanted to make that lovely face smile. Leaving her books, Ryan jumped up and started to lope across the grass, making a beeline for her lover. When she reached her, she touched her lightly. "Hey. Are you in a hurry?"

A bit startled, Jamie stopped, forcing a dozen students to veer around her. She moved towards Ryan and looked into her eyes for a moment. "Are we speaking?"

"Yeah." Ryan leaned her head in the direction of the library. "My stuffís over there. Do you have time to sit with me?"

"Uh-huh. Iím finished for the day."

Ryanís eyes grew large and she looked at her watch. "Damn! No wonder my butt hurts! Iíve been sitting here since ten oíclock!"

Jamie smiled, shaking her head. "Five hours on concreteíll do that to ya. Letís sit on the grass."

"Deal." They went over to where Ryanís books were and found a sunny bit of grass located far enough from the paths and the entryway to the library to let them talk in peace. Ryan took Jamieís hand and said, "Iím sorry for being such a jerk. I heard what you asked me to do and Iíll do that. Iím sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable." Ryan wasnít sure that this tactic would work, but she knew that if she opened up, Jamie would likely do the same. Ryan couldnít help but smile as she watched, fascinated, as Jamieís posture straightened, her head rose and her lips began to form a delighted grin.

"Really?"

"Yes." Ryan nodded somberly. "Really. You asked me to do something and I should have just agreed."

"Thatís it?" Jamie asked once more, looking tentative.

"Thatís it." Ryan slapped her hands together, dismissing the argument.

It was clear that Jamie had her doubts. "We donít have to discuss it?"

"No."

"I donít have to go over every possible thing that went through my mind when I saw you?"

"No."

"Youíre not gonna bring this up again when I let my guard down?"

That stung a little, but Ryan hid her reaction. "No. Itís over."

"Youíre really gonna let this drop." This time it wasnít a question, but Jamieís voice held a good bit of trepidation.

Forcing herself to smile, Ryan said, "I was doing something you donít want to see. You asked me to do it in private. I will. Weíre done."

Slowly, Jamieís cautious smile began to droop. "So, you are going to do that again?"

Ryan was caught by surprise. This wasnít where she thought things were headed. "Uhm, if the situation warrants it."

Frowning, Jamie asked, "What situation?"

Ryan closed her eyes and scratched her head with both hands, mussing her hair severely. "I thought you didnít wanna talk about it."

"I donít! Or I didnít until you admitted that youíre gonna do that again."

"I didnít say that," Ryan insisted, flummoxed. "I said Iíd do it in private if the same situation came up." Now her expression matched Jamieís, and her voice became strident. "What business is it of yours, anyway?"

"I thought our sex life was both of our business!"

Ryan shook her head rapidly. "Our sex life? What does a quick orgasm have to do with our sex life?"

"Do I have to explain everything?" Blonde eyebrows were raised as high as they could go.

"Yeah, obviously you do. íCause I canít figure out how my getting rid of cramps affects our sex life."

Jamie leaned back on her hands. "What? What are you talking about?"

Ryanís gaze sharpened and she stared at Jamie for a few seconds. "Do you want me to explain what happened?"

Staring back, Jamie said, "Yes, Ryan. I want you to explain what happened."

"Fine. I just donít wanna be accused of beating something to death." The crack didnít cause a reaction, so Ryan continued. "All right. I was getting ready for softball and started to feel crampy. Iíd taken some pills just an hour earlier and I didnít wanna take more, so I gave myself a quick orgasm. It really helps the pain if I come when I have cramps."

"You werenítÖdoing that rather than making love?"

"Hell, no!" Ryan stared at her, clearly puzzled. "I just wanted my uterus to stop contracting. Shit, I had like ten minutes until I had to leave. If I was gonna do myself rather than make love, Iíd spend a little more time."

"Oh, damn." Jamie lay down on the ground. "Iím sorry. I just assumedÖ"

"Assumed what?"

Wincing, Jamie said, "I assumed you were doing that in lieu of making love."

"Well, what if I was? Do I have to ask permission to touch my own clitoris?" Ryan was clearly steamed, and her voice was loud enough to travel to a few students walking by.

Jamie gave her a withering glare. "No. But weíve just barely gotten back into a good rhythm. Iím hot for you like Iíve never been, and it hurt me to think you got more pleasure out of touching yourself than letting me touch you."

"Damn it, Jamie! If you thought that, it really sucks that you not only wouldnít tell me, you made me promise not to bring it up again! Why in the hell would you rather ignore something like that than find out a perfectly reasonable explanation?"

"I donít know," she growled. "I just get sick of talking about everything."

"Fine," Ryan said, starting to get to her knees. "Iíll start to act like Jack and ignore you whenever something emotional comes up."

Jamie grabbed her waistband and yanked it, dumping Ryan onto her seat. "Thatís not what I want and you know it. Youíre just trying to hurt me now!"

Gathering herself, Ryan sat quietly for a minute, then lay on the grass. "Youíre right. Iím sorry for snapping at you. It hurt my feelings when you said youíre sick of talking. Thatís the thing that makes our relationship work."

Jamie lay down next to her partner and took her hand. "Youíre right. But sometimes itís tooÖtoo. I feel like youíre looking into me with a microscope."

"Sometimes I have to. You close up like a clam."

"So do you. When I close up, you do the same thing. You follow me with those cold blue eyes and make me feel like youíll never open up until I do it your way."

Ryan sighed, then tucked her arm around Jamie and tugged her up against her side. She put her feet on the grass and Jamie put the fronts of her thighs up against the backs of Ryanís thighs, just as though they were in bed. Chuckling softly, Ryan said, "It was just a year ago that you didnít want me to kiss you when anyone might see us. Now weíre cuddling on the lawn."

Laughing, Jamie reached up and planted a long kiss on Ryanís lips. "A year ago people in Uzbekistan didnít know we were lesbians. Iím not sure weíd get a second glance around here if I went down on you."

"Wanna try?"

A warm, inviting grin lit Ryanís face and Jamie had to kiss her again. Jamie slipped her hand down the front of Ryanís khaki shorts, making big blue eyes bug out.

"Shit!"

Giggling demonically, Jamie pulled her hand out. "Itíll be a cold day in hell before I do that, Tiger. But I could squeeze you in at home."

Ryan hugged her tightly. "Know what I was thinking about when I had my quickie yesterday?"

"Do I wanna?"

Ryan pinched her. "Yes, you do. I was thinking about making love to you. Iím hornier than usual when I have my period and Iíd been thinking about you all afternoon. I really wanted to make love. The orgasm I had was just a tiny snack."

"But we couldnít have had sex last night without pulling out the pile driver," Jamie said, still a little miffed.

Giving her a puzzled look, Ryan asked, "Says who?"

"You have a hard time coming twice. Donít act like thatís not true."

"No," Ryan explained patiently. "I have a hard time coming twice in an hour or two. But I can always have sex in the afternoon and again in the evening. And if I just use the vibrator for a minute or two, Iím even hungrier for sex. If I donít have much foreplay Iím ready for seconds pretty soon. I wouldíve been ready and willing last night."

Jamie sat up and stared at her. "You wouldíve been?"

"Yeah. I was just having a therapeutic orgasm. That doesnít affect me like making love does. Itís like making myself sneeze or something. Just a vasodilator."

"So I got pissed for nothing."

"Nothing at all," Ryan agreed.

"And you wanted to have sex last night."

"I was dreaming about it all afternoon. The dream stopped when you came home, of course. Nobody feels sexy when sheís in trouble."

"Arggggh!" Jamie slumped back into Ryanís arms. "How do you put up with me?"

"Itís not easy. But your money makes it all worthwhile." Ryan started laughing and after a short delay Jamie joined her; both of them laughing so hard that a few students finally noticed the pair of women lying on the grassóbodies intimately entwined.

***

They walked home together, holding hands and enjoying the warm, sunny afternoon. "Mind if we clear up one little thing?" Ryan asked.

Jamie looked up at her and gave her a sly grin. "I release you from your promise. You can express yourself."

"Good. íCause I wanna talk about expressing myself. How do you really feel about my having myself if Iím in the mood?"

Her arm was around Ryanís waist and Jamie let her hand drop to pat her butt. "I think itís cute that you call it Ďhaving yourself.í AndÖI guessÖhmmÖIíve never given this much thought. I always assumedó"

Ryan saw the look on her face and jumped in. "I like making love a lot more than I like having myself, Jamers, but I donít like having to ask your permission if I ever feel like doing myself. Itís one thing if I turn you down for sex ícause Iím always doing it alone. But if I just feel sexy and Iím aloneÖI donít wanna feel like Iíll get in trouble for scratching an itch."

Jamie was nodding throughout Ryanís comments. "I know, I know. UhmÖI guess that I kinda feel like I did yesterday. I donít wanna know if you masturbate. Itís really a private thing and I donít want to catch you doing it. Even if you donít feel caughtÖlike any woman properly embarrassed about her sex drive would, by the way."

Ryan knew the teasing was genuine and she tucked her arm firmly around Jamieís body. "Iím sorry Iím not more guilt-ridden. Iíll try harder."

"I thought I could count on a good Catholic girl to agonize about masturbation."

"Sorry. If I feel the need, Iíll make sure to do it in private, but Iím not gonna feel guilty about it. So if my doorís closedÖdonít open it. Iím either working on something that I need to concentrate onÖor working on myself. You can assume whichever you want."

"Iíll assume youíre doing something with chaos. That is what you were reading last night, wasnít it?"

"Yeah. Something along those lines. Hey, does this mean you donít wanna have phone sex again?"

"Oh, no! If weíre apart, phone sex is good. I like to think of you lying in bed having yourself while I talk dirty to you."

"Huh. So itís only when youíre in town that it bothers you."

"Yeah. And thatís only because I donít wanna miss an opportunity. Iím wild for you, honey. I donít want you throwing away orgasms when theyíre a precious resource for you."

"Got it." They walked along for a while, then Ryan said, "Was anything else bothering you yesterday? You seemed kindaÖeasily annoyed."

"Nothing much. I guess Iím a little stressed about exams."

"Yeah, thatís always a bitch. But you seem pretty prepared. You worked a lot harder this term than last."

"Iím prepared," Jamie admitted.

Ryan slowed down and gazed at her partner for a minute. "Something else is going on. I can see it in your pretty face."

Jamie shook her head. "Nothing. Really. WellÖmaybe Iím a little down about my mom. Weíre building the dam back up that weíd just managed to demolish. Pisses me off."

"Giacomo?"

"Not really, but kinda. She called to ask how our trip went and I acted like a big baby and refused to tell her anything about it. I know Iím being a jerk, but I donít like talking about my life if she wonít talk about hers. Know what I mean?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

Jamie shot her a look. "Do you understand, or not?"

"I do. I mean, I donít share things with people who donít share with me. Christ, look at all of the stuff I didnít know about Ally. For me to risk something, Iíve gotta feel that the other person risks something. But your momÖyour mom is only trying to keep one little part of her life private. Itís a lot like when you werenít ready to talk to her about me."

"Exactly!" Jamie said, looking triumphant. "And that really hurt her feelings because she was interested and ready to help if I needed it."

"Right. But you werenít ready, and that was the important part."

"Nope. Not gonna fly." Her lips were set and Ryan knew Jamie wasnít in a receptive mood. "She was guessing, Ryan. She didnít know what was going on. I know sheís been having sex with Giacomo. Weíve discussed it and sheís told me she feels like sheís accepting crumbs. Itís more like she doesnít want me to remind her of that. She doesnít want me to support her decision to break up with him. She wants to keep it going and act like itís good enough for her."

"Thatís her decision, honey. Even if you donít like it. Even if it isnít great for her. Even if she could do a thousand times better."

"How do I support her doing something that sucks?" Jamie asked, glaring at her partner. "What if she starts drinking all day long? Should I mix martinis for her?"

Ryan rolled her eyes. "Thereís a difference between drinking too much and dating the wrong guy. Sheís over forty, honey. Sheís really old enough to choose her own companions."

"Fine! Then she should have the courage of her convictions! If sheís proud to be with him, she should admit it!"

Ryan could see their discussion was getting nowhere, so she backed off and tried to put it to bed. "I predict this wonít last long. I canít see your mom doing something sheís ashamed of. Once she makes up her own mind, sheíll talk about it or break up with him. I think sheís just on the fence right now."

"Iíd like to knock that Giacomo character off the fence with a mallet," Jamie grumbled. "Heís so damned charming and oozing with compliments. I hate guys like that."

"I know," Ryan said. "He doesnít seem particularly sincere."

"Sincere? He seems like heís auditioning for a part as a gigolo!"

"Your mom wonít be happy with a gigolo," Ryan said, hoping that she was right.

***

On Wednesday morning, Ryan was lying on her bed, flipping flashcards over one by one. She was doing pretty well, but she had a rule that she couldnít stop until sheíd gotten fifty cards in a row correct. Sheíd amassed over five hundred cards over the year and she was more than ready to stop for the day, but the most sheíd gotten in a row was forty-two. The phone ringing was a welcome respite.

"Hello?"

"Ryan?"

"Hi, Catherine. Boy, itís nice to hear from you!"

"Goodness! I wish Jamie sounded as happy to hear from me as you do."

"Jamieís always happy to hear your voice. Iím just extra happy because I can take a break from doing my flashcards."

"Flashcards?"

"Oh, havenít you seen me toting my box of cards around with me? Itís how I pound some French into my thick head."

"Oh, you poor dear. Iíve never had to learn a language as an adult."

"Your mom got you started when you were young, too, huh?"

"Not as young as Jamie, but she wanted to take me to France when I was fairly young and she got me a tutor. I did very well and she decided I had a gift for language. Little did she know that children pick up language very easily. So, I studied Italian after Iíd mastered French. Whenever I needed an easy class, Iíd take French or Italian and breeze through. It certainly came in handy."

"Iíd pay good money to be able to take a nice differential equations class right about now," Ryan said, laughing. "I could do that in my sleep!"

"We all have our strengths. I doubt that I could pass seventh grade algebra."

"Iíd tutor you. Itíd be a snap."

"My offer still holds to help you with French, Ryan. Any time."

"Thanks. But I do better just cramming the words into my head. I donít even try to delude myself into thinking Iím learning French. Iím just trying to learn enough to be able to pass a proficiency exam, so I donít care about pronunciation or any of that stuff. I just want to know enough words to be able to make sense out of written passages."

"Well, Iíd hate to clutter up your mind with speech if you donít need it," Catherine said, chuckling softly.

"I try to keep my hard drive as clean as possible. I assume you called to talk to Jamie, but sheís at the library. Want me to have her call you?"

"To tell you the truth, I called to talk to you."

"Cool! Whatís up?"

"Iíd like some advice, if you have any to spare."

"Iím your woman, Catherine. Iíve got an opinion on everything, even if itís based on nothing but a guess."

"Oh, Iím sure you have an opinion on this, Ryan. Itís about Jamie."

That caught Ryan up short. "Youíre right. I always have an opinion about Jamie. What do you want to know?"

"Iíd like to know how sheís feeling about our relationship. I can tell sheís uncomfortable with me, but I canít tell if this is a passing phase or if itís hurting us at a deeper level."

"UmmÖyeahÖthatís a big one. Iím not sure what to say."

"As much as I would like your input, I donít want to make you uncomfortable. I know you have your secrets."

"Well, sure we do. But Iím not sure if I know whatís going on. I canít tell if sheís really angry with you, or if her feelings are just hurt. I kinda think sheís just hurt because youíre shutting her out a little bit."

Catherine sighed heavily. "Parenthood can be tricky, Ryan. There should be better courses before you get involved."

"Iím sure thatís true. Of course, being a child isnít always easy, either. Iím still getting used to having Aunt Maeve be my stepmother, and sheís been in my life forever."

"Good point. Good point," Catherine said contemplatively. "Do you have any advice for me, honey?"

"I donít know if Iím the best person to give advice about this. Iím sure not unbiased."

"Iím not asking for an unbiased opinion, Ryan; my therapist can give me that. I want to know what I can do to make sure I donít cause a rift with Jamie that will be difficult to heal."

Ryan was quiet for a minute, thinking of what she could say that wouldnít betray Jamieís confidence. "Iíd say that Jamie would be a lot happier if she felt you werenít hiding something. I think she could handle not liking what you do if she didnít feel you were embarrassed about it or felt that she wasnít mature enough to hear what you had to say."

"Uh-huh. SoÖyou think thatís her perspective?"

"Iím not sure, honestly. Itís just a guess. But she always handles things better if she feels like sheís being treated as an equal."

"Yes, that sounds like Jamie." Letting out another long breath, Catherine said, "Iíve always had a hard time judging how to treat Jamie. Iím not able to guess how like a parent I should be. It seems like Iím either telling her too much or too little. Itís frustrating!"

"Iím sure it is. And if you were my mom, Iíd rather not know about your private life. Jamieís not like that. You two started getting close again when you started being more like friends and backing off from thatÖ"

"I see what you mean. I do."

"Iím not criticizing you, Catherine. I know youíre doing your best to be a good mother. And I donít think kids should know everything about their parentsí lives. But Jamie doesnít agree with me. I think she feels that you and she and Jim are all about on the same level."

"At various times, sheís been the adult," Catherine admitted. "I can hardly blame her for feeling like our equal."

"Well, I think sheís the kid and youíre the mom, but Iím sure thereís some equilibrium you two can find. Someplace where you donít tell everything and she doesnít feel too shut out."

"Iíll give it a try. I have to do something to break the ice."

"Donít worry too much, Catherine. Your relationship is very dear to her. Sheíll meet you more than halfway if she doesnít feel cut off."

"Good. Very good. Thanks so much, Ryan. Youíre a good sounding board."

"Anything else you want to talk about? Iíd love to stay on the phone for a few hours."

"Get back to work," Catherine said in a forceful tone that made Ryan giggle.

"You so canít pull that off. Thank God you didnít dream of being a Marine drill sergeant!"

Continued in Part Two

 


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