I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 14

Nurture

By SX Meagher

Part One

"Oh, fuck me!"

Jordan Ericsson's eyes flew open, and she oriented herself enough to roll towards the sound. A pathetic creature was lying next to her, and she tucked an arm around her as best she could.

The poor woman was curled up in a ball, holding on to her head with both hands. "Jordy?" she moaned, her voice hoarse and raspy.

"You were expecting someone else?"

The soft, gentle voice miraculously eased some of the pounding that threatened to blast a hole through the side of Miaís head. "God, what did I do to myself?" the curly- haired woman asked.

"You were upset, honey, and you Ö uhm Ö self-medicated, a lot."

"Great. Now Iím upset and hung over." Mia swiped at her forehead, the weight of her hair too much pressure to bear. "Jesus, will I never learn? I always get a lethal hangover when I drink hard liquorówhy do I do it?"

Jordan snuggled down a little and moved her lips close to Mia's ear so she could speak quietly. "I think it was worth it for you last night. You were too upset to be inside your own skin. But I can see why you donít think it was a good idea now. Iím sorry you feel so bad."

"God, I must look like crap!" Mia turned her head and breathed into her cupped hand, then made a face. "Well, at least I couldnít look any worse than I smell." She grasped her head with a great deal of pressure, compelled her feet to slide from the bed to the floor, and then ordered her body to rise. Teetering on rubbery legs, eyes tightly closed, she started to make her way to the bath. "Where the fuck are we?" she grumbled after running into an unexpected wall.

"Weíre in Ryanís room, babe." Jordan was immediately at her side, guiding her into the bath. "Let me help you."

"No way," the determined brunette said. "God only knows whatís gonna come out of me. I donít even want you to hear meómuch less see me."

"But you might hurt yourself," Jordan insisted. "Iím worried about you."

"Well, Iím worried that youíll dump me if you spend two minutes in that bathroom. Now, put on some clothes and go upstairs. Iím sure our chipper hosts are already chowing down on a big breakfast Ė the bastards!" With that, she grabbed the door handle, hanging onto it to gain her balance, then closed the door, the lock snapping into place with a thud.

Great! Now if she falls and splits her head open, Iíve got to break the door down! I guess I might as well go upstairs. Maybe Jamie knows how to cheer her up when sheís hung over. I bet sheís got tons of experience!

* * * * * * * * * * *

By rummaging through Ryanís closet, Jordan found some acceptable sweats and then headed upstairs. As predicted, the cheerful clan was gathered at the dining table, with neither Jamie nor Ryan looking any the worse for wear. Martin jumped up at first sight of the blonde and offered, "Whatíll it be, Jordan? I can make anything your heart desires."

She beamed a smile at him, then gave a shy head nod to Kevin, Conor, and Maeve. "Uhm Ö Iíll take whatever is easiest, Martin. Iím not very particular."

"Will Mia be up soon, darliní?"

"Not if she can help it," she said, giving Jamie and Ryan a pointed look. Jordan sat down next to her friends and asked, "Do you have any remedies for a hangover? Miaís feeling very, very bad."

"Iíll fix her up," Ryan said, going into the kitchen. She returned a few moments later, carrying a giant glass of diluted Gatorade, two pieces of dry toast, and three acetaminophen tablets. "Your breakfast is just about ready, bud. Iíll take this down to her."

With a startled look, Jordan said, "Oh, you donít wanna do that, Ryan. Sheís grouchy today."

"I donít mind," Ryan said, undeterred. "You should eat while itís hot. Be right back." And with that, she took off.

Jordan gave the remaining guests a sheepish look. "I should have argued more, but I wasnít really looking forward to going back down there."

"Ryaníll fix her up," Jamie said, giving Jordan a pat. "If nothing else, sheíll give her one of her famous knock-out massages, and you wonít have to deal with her for a few hours."

"My flightís at 3:00, and we have some pretty important things to discuss, so I hope sheís not out all day," Jordan said.

"Depending on how grouchy she is, you might prefer to spend the day looking at her while she sleeps," Jamie suggested. "She has a tendency to bite your head off when sheís hung over."

Jordan gave her a surprised look. "Sheís never said one cross word to me."

The smaller blonde threw her head back and laughed. "God, you two are on best behavior, arenít you?"

"I thought she was just even-tempered," Jordan said, looking nervous.

Martin came in with Jordanís breakfast as Jamie was speaking. "No oneís even tempered all of the time, love. Even my beloved Maeve can rain down fire and brimstone if the mood strikes."

His beloved wife grabbed his belt loop and pulled him close, then hauled him down by the ear and whispered.

"My mistake," he said, looking as innocent as an altar boy. "I was thinking of another."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Much sooner than Jordan expected, Ryan returned, a disheveled Mia in tow. "I tried to get her to go back to sleep, but she insisted that she has too much to do," Ryan said.

Jordan raised a questioning eyebrow while swallowing her bite of pancakes.

"I have to go home and pack," she said, giving Jordan a very perturbed look. "I was the one who got drunk, not you; you should have remembered a thing like that."

"I Ö I Ö I thought that was the tequila talking," Jordan stuttered. "Were you serious?"

That comment made every head rise, but only Conor had the nerve to ask, "Why are you packing?"

Narrowing her eyes, staring at her partner, Mia said, "I thought I was moving to Colorado, but maybe Iím not wanted."

Stuffing the remaining half of her last pancake into her mouth, Jordan got up and took Mia by the hand. "Letís go downstairs and talk this out, okay?"

The rest of the crowd heard a very unhappy sounding Mia say, "Thereís nothing to talk about, Jordan. Either you want me or you Ö"

As her voice drifted away, Conor gave his sister an outraged look and demanded, "What in the hellís going on? Arenít you guys still in the middle of the term?"

Ryan gave him a blank look and said, "Yes, weíre in the middle of the term. If you want any more information, youíll have to ask Mia or Jordan."

"Donít be a jerk, Ryan. Iím asking a simple question."

Ryan looked at her brother, surprised that he was so agitated.

"Jordanís in Colorado Springs, right?"

"Right," Ryan said.

"Sheís on the Olympic volleyball team, right?"

"Right," Ryan, slightly perturbed, said again. "You know this, Conor."

"I know that Jordanís supposed to be there. But why in the hell is Mia going there? Especially now! That doesnít make any sense!"

Conorís voice had risen along with his color, and Martin gave him a disapproving look. "Keep your voice down, son. This has nothing to do with you."

"The hell it doesnít!" he growled, before pushing his chair away from the table and storming up to his room.

"Whatís bothering him?" Martin asked, turning from Jamie to Ryan.

Jamie didnít say a word, and Ryan just shrugged her shoulders. "PMS?" she suggested ingenuously.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Mia was once again locked in the bathroom, and when Jordan knocked, the brunette curtly ordered, "Go away."

In a quiet, obviously wounded voice, Jordan said, "I hafta leave in two hours. But, if you want me to, Iíll go now."

"I Ö I Ö thought you wanted me to be with you!" Mia cried, her sobs echoing loudly in the small, tiled room. "I gave up my family for you!"

"Mia, youíre talking crazy! What have I said to make you think I donít want you? I want you more than Iíve ever wanted anything in my life!"

The lock turned, and soon the door opened just a crack. "You didnít even believe that I was serious last night," the brunette mumbled. "Did you think I made up the whole story?"

"Jesus, Mia, why would I think that?" Jordan pushed the door open and latched on to the T-shirt Mia was wearing, pulling her into an embrace. "Look," she murmured into the tousled curls, "I know youíre hung over and that you feel like crap. I also know that youíre very, very sad about what happened with your parents. But Iím on your side, sweetheart. I love you, and I want you with me more than I want air!"

Looking up at her partner with red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes, Miaís angry faÁade began to crack, and soon she was crying piteously. "I love you, too," she choked out, her words hard to understand because of her tears.

Hugging her even tighter, Jordan nuzzled her face into Miaís soft brown hair. She spoke quietly, but clearly. "I love you enough to do the right thing for the future, even if it's not what we want right now."

The smaller woman froze in her loverís arms, then slowly pulled back and stared up at her. "What do you mean by that?"

"I meant just what I said." Jordan took her by the hand and led her back to the bed. Getting in first, she pulled Mia onto the mattress and settled her between her long legs. Starting to slide her fingers through the tangled curls, Jordanís soft, soprano voice soothed, "I want to make sure that weíve thought this through, thatís all. Weíre making some very big decisions here, and I want to make sure weíre doing the right thing at the right time."

"So you donít want me to come," the brunette said, starting to cry again.

"No! I donít mean that at all! But it does mean that I care for you too much to have you make a decision that youíll regret."

"How can you even say that I might regret a decision to be with you? You sound like my mother!" The smaller woman was starting to get agitated again, and she struggled to get up.

"Unh-uh," Jordan said, tightening her hold around her lover. "Youíre gonna stay right here and listen to me."

"Do you want me in Colorado or donít you? Thatís all that matters!"

"Yes, I want you in Colorado, but thatís not all that matters. I want you to think about this for a minute."

Mia gave up her struggle and relaxed a bit, trying her best to listen to her partner.

"Okay, hereís the deal. Youíve got about eight weeks of class left. I know that sounds like a lot, but if you finish school now, youíll never have to worry about it again."

"I donít want to finish; I want to be with you!"

"I know that, and I want that, too, but does it make sense? We both have to finish at Cal because of the residency requirement. That means that weíll both have to spend a full semester here at some point, and my guess is that weíd want to do that at the same time."

"Yeah? So?"

"So, if weíre both in school full-time, how will we live? Weíll both have to have part-time jobs just to be able to afford rent, honey. But if you were already finished, you could work at a decent job while I finished school, and that would let us have our evenings togetherórather than both of us working our butts off for minimum wage."

Mia nodded, having to admit to herself that she hadnít thought past the next few months and her desperate need to be with Jordan immediately.

"If you come to Colorado and get a job, youíre gonna need your car. And if you come with me today, weíre gonna have to make another trip back here just to get it."

"So, you want me to stay and finish school, then drive to Colorado, right?" Mia asked glumly.

"No," Jordan said. "Iím pointing out the downside of your coming right now." She leaned over so Mia could see her eyes. "I donít tell you what to do. I never will. Iím just telling you my thoughts, so thereís no misunderstanding. Weíre gonna make this decision together, sweetheart, but weíve gotta hurry since I have to leave for the airport by 1:30."

"Youíre right," Mia said, her voice sounding much more normal. "There are a lot of things to think about, and itís crazy to think we can figure everything out in a couple of hours." She turned in Jordanís embrace and kissed her on the cheek. "Iím sorry Iíve been such a bitch this morning." Her lower lip began to quiver, and soon tears were pouring down her cheeks again. "Iím scared, Jordy."

Smoothing the hair from Miaís eyes, Jordan looked at her with total empathy. "Tell me what scares you."

"Iíve never been this alone before," Mia sniffed. "Iíve always had my parents behind meóalways! No matter what Iíve done, theyíve stuck by me. It hurts so much to have them turn their backs on me." Her whole body shuddered as she said, "To think of your leaving without me terrifies me. I was only able to be strong with them because I knew you and I would be together. But if I have to stay here Ö" Overcome with emotion, she buried her face against Jordanís chest and cried until she began to hiccup. "Oh, fuck, this makes my headache worse."

"Let me go get you something to drink. Youíll feel better if you stay hydrated."

"Donít leave me," Mia begged. "Just lie here and hold me."

Jordan did as she was asked, holding her lover until Mia calmed down. Finally, her hiccups were gone, but her headache hadnít improved, and she asked for help. "I do need something to drink. And I need a shower. That usually helps."

Jordan untangled herself from her lover and started for the stairs. Turning to give Mia a small smile, she said, "Weíll work it out. I promise."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Standing under the shower revived Mia a bit, and she was starting to feel a little more like herself when the door opened. "Uhm Ö when did you dye your hair?" she asked as she peered at her visitor through the clear shower curtain.

"Itís always been black," Ryan said, leaning on the vanity.

"Why are you in the shower with me?"

"Iím not. If I were, Iíd be wet," Ryan assured her in her usual, annoyingly logical style. "I'm in the bathroom with you."

"Spill it, OíFlaherty. Subtlety isnít your strong point."

"Well, Jordan gave us a synopsis of your dilemma, and we thought maybe we could help you reason this out. Jordanís getting you something to drink, Jamieís making you something to eat, and Iím Ö well, Iím not sure why Iím here, but this is where they told me to go. Iíll wait outside."

Mia turned off the water. "Nah. You can dry my back. Itís not like you havenít seen me naked."

"More times than I can count," Ryan said, laughing. She took a towel and handed it to her friend, then took another and proceeded to dry the smaller womanís back. "Are you dating a woman or a leech? Youíve got marks all over your body."

"I like it when she bites me." Wrapping herself in her towel, she gave Ryan a half grin. "Iíve seen more than a few on Jamie, wise guy. And I bet I could find a couple on you after the way you two were carrying on last night."

Clutching the placket on her shirt, Ryan wrinkled up her nose and said, "Youíll never know." Then she leaned over and kissed Miaís wet head. "Itíll be okay, buddy. Itíll all be okay."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan emerged from the steamy bathroom, Jamie was sitting on the bed, one eyebrow raised to dangerous heights. "Uhm Ö I was just showing her where the hair dryer was," Ryan said, giving her partner a charming grin.

"Likely story," Jamie sniffed, but her smile betrayed her. "Good thing Iím not the jealous type."

"I thank God for that every day," Ryan said, getting onto the bed and lying next to her partner. "I have a tendency to get myself into some pretty incriminating positions."

"Iíd like to get you into a certain position right now," Jamie said, dropping a section of orange into her loverís mouth. "You revved my motor so high last night that itís still in the red zone."

"Mmm Ö mine, too," Ryan purred. "Letís help these two figure this out and head right back to bed. I hated having to be quiet last night so that Conor didnít hear us."

"Better us than Mia and Jordan. If heíd heard them howling like they usually do, he might have stabbed them!"

"Heís outta control," Ryan agreed. "Iíve got to have another talk with the boy. He seems quite delusional."

Jamie tweaked her loverís nose. "I think heís just like his sister. Heís so unfamiliar with rejection that he doesnít know how to react."

"Hey, I had a pretty serious rejection, babe. Donít forget Sara."

"Oh, I didnít. How many since?" Jamie asked, eyes twinkling.

"Iím sure I would have had a few if Iíd kept going," Ryan said. "Heís four years older than I am. I would have had one by the time I was twenty-nineóthirty-nine. Somewhere around there." She grinned and hoisted herself up to place a soft, moist kiss on Jamieís lips. "Luckily, the only woman who ever mattered didnít reject me. I would have been a hundred times worse than Conor is. Hell, I was worse than he is when you were seeing Jack again. The boys were afraid to come downstairs."

"Well, thatíll never happen again. Weíre stuck together like green and grass."

"Hey, thatís my expression!"

"Whatís yours is mine," Jamie said, leaning over once more to claim the lips that were hers alone, even though they were to be found on her partnerís lovely face. As she pulled away, she asked, "Mia okay?"

"Yeah, I think so. I donít think sheís gonna be with us long, though. I canít see her staying Ďtil the end of the term.

"You never know. Jordan might be able to work on her this week."

"Uh-huh. And I might be able to change into a couch potato this weekóbut I doubt it."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When the foursome was all present, Jordan laid out the situation. "What would you guys do if it were you?"

"Iíd quit school and fly to Colorado this afternoon," Jamie said. "But Ryan would stay in school and finish her degree. By the time she came to Colorado, sheíd have a list of places to interview, and sheíd have a job by the end of first afternoon. While she was in Berkeley, sheíd have me looking for an apartment for us, and sheíd expect it to be ready by the time she got there. Oh, and sheíd drive the car, rather than fly."

"Must be a jock thing," Jordan said, giving her former teammate a wry look. "Thatís just what I think we should do."

"Am I that transparent?" Ryan asked.

"Yes," all three women answered.

"Fine," Ryan said huffily. "But that doesnít mean thatís what you two should do."

"No, but maybe thereís a middle ground." Jordan looked at Mia. "Why donít you do a little investigating and see if you can explain the situation to your professors? They might let you skip classes if you showed up for the final. I know itíd suck to try to finish from Colorado, but wouldnít it be better than wasting half of the term?"

"Yeah, I guess," the brunette grudgingly agreed.

"Then youíll at least be making a more informed decision," Jordan said. "If your professors wonít cooperate, then you can look at the whole picture and decide what to do."

"If I canít get íem to work with me, Iím leaving," Mia said, a determined look in her eyes.

Jordan held her hands up in surrender. "Thatís fine. You can drive your car and be there for the weekend."

"This coming weekend?" Mia asked, her mood brightening.

"Yeah, this coming weekend." Jordan leaned forward, resting on her hands and knees on the bed. She kissed Mia tenderly, then murmured, "Iíd love to have you in my bed by next weekend."

"Itís a deal," Mia said. "Iíll see if I can work my magic on my profs. But one way or the other, Iím gonna be in Colorado Springs by Friday night. Youíd better rest up, girlfriend."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Part Two

 

Mia sat in the OíFlaherty living room, with Jamie at her side. The brunette was still a little teary, but she had come to accept that Jordan was taking the proper long-term view of their situation. "I hate being an adult," she muttered.

Jamie put her arm around her friend and pulled her over for a long hug. "It does suck sometimes, doesnít it?"

"I made such a big deal about how mature I was when I was freaking out with my parents last night, and an hour later I was ready to go to Colorado with no plans at all. I hate it when theyíre right. I am just an immature jerk,"

Hugging her tighter, Jamie placed a kiss on her temple. "Youíre not immature or a jerk. You were upsetójustifiably upset last night. But as soon as you and Jordan talked it out, you decided to slow down and think it through. That was a very mature thing to do."

"I only did it because Jordy talked me into it," Mia admitted. "That shouldnít count."

"Sure it should! If you were immature, youíd stick to your guns no matter what. Donít cut yourself down, buddy. You donít deserve it."

Mia gave her a half-hearted smile. "Iím just pissy today. I canít bear to have my Jordy leave me."

"I know," Jamie said. She turned and looked into the dining room, seeing Jordan and Ryan standing in the corner speaking quietly. "You guys had better get going. Itís 1:30."

"Damn," Mia sighed. She got up and saw her lover. "What do you think they talk about when theyíre alone?"

"Oh, I think they have their own little jock way of saying goodbye. Iím sure weíll never know."

* * * * * * * *

Ryan leaned against the wall, deep in thought. "I donít know, Jordan. I guess we could have improved if one of us had been a middle-blocker last year, but I still think having a dominant pair of outside hitters is the way to go."

"I did, too," Jordan said. "But seeing what kind of damage weíre doing with our middle-blocker cheating on the weak-side has convinced me that we could have done better against schools with a big girl in the middle."

Ryan caught sight of the other two women getting up. "Time to go," she said.

Jordan wrapped her arm around Ryanís neck, getting her in a good headlock. She roughly pushed her around, with Ryan laughing rather than trying to extricate herself. For good measure, the blond thunked her head like a cantaloupe before letting go.

Ryan stood up and pushed her hair out of her eyes before diving for Jordanís knees and sweeping her off her feet. She stood, holding her friend in her arms. "How much do you weigh?" she asked, while Jordan squawked indignantly.

"Not enough," Mia said as she and Jamie walked into the room. "Sheís skin and bones."

"Put me down," Jordan demanded.

Ryan placed a loud, wet kiss on her cheek then deposited her onto the floor. "Donít they feed you?" she asked.

"Yes, they feed me," Jordan said, a little embarrassed at how easily Ryan could pick her up. "About six people tell me what and when to eat. I feel like a lab rat."

"Tell Ďem to finish their studies before the rat dies of malnutrition," Ryan said, her tone more serious than it had been before.

"Iím fine," Jordan said. "The point is to be in peak shape in September, not now. They pay a lot of people to think for us. Donít try to upset the system." She was smiling, but it was clear that there was an edge to her comments.

"Iím sure they know what theyíre doing," Ryan said, clapping her on the back. "Maybe theyíre trying to make you into a stealth outside-hitter. Youíll be so thin, your opponents wonít even see you."

"Thatís probably it," Jordan said. She knew that Ryan could razz her all day, but she wanted to spend her little remaining time with Mia. "Weíve gotta go, guys. Thanks for everything." She opened her arms and Jamie nestled in for a hug. Jordan kept her arm around Jamie, and the foursome walked to the front door. Ryan squeezed her shoulder, then ruffled her hair a little. "You two take care of yourselves," Jordan said.

"We will," Jamie said. She moved aside and felt Ryanís arm encircle her waist. Leaning against her, she waved goodbye, and Jordan and Mia walked down the open staircase, Duffy escorting them to the sidewalk.

"Címon back, Duff," Ryan called out, and the obedient pup trotted back up and sat at her feet, waiting for a head-scratch.

"Yes, youíre a good boy," she said. They closed the door, and Ryan made for the loveseat, stretching out as well as she could.

Jamie leaned against the front door, looking pensive and a little down. "Iím worried about them."

"Yeah," Ryan said. She arched her back and let her head dangle for a moment. "I hate to see Mia act so impulsively, but I can really understand wanting to get outta town after the way her parents treated her."

Jamie stuck her hands in her pockets and pushed against the fabric with her fists. "I know her parents, Ryan, and they love her as much as your father loves you."

Ryan looked up, surprised.

"I know it sounds like they were assholes, but thatís not that odd. She and her mom yell at each other, but it always blows over quickly. I think she should try to work things out with them before she leaves town."

"Hey! I thought you said youíd leave today if you were Mia."

"Yeah, Iíd want to, but Iím not sure if I really would. Iím afraid sheís really gonna damage her relationship with her mom, and her mom means an awful lot to her."

"But so does Jordan."

"Of course she does," Jamie agreed. "But whatís she gonna do in Colorado? Jordanís busy all day. Mia doesnít know anyone there. You know how social she is. Sheíd freak if she were alone all the time."

"Damn, itís hard raising a family," Ryan said, chuckling at her own joke.

Jamie laughed while she walked over to her partner. "Iím beat."

"Long morning."

Jamie sat on her thighs, making Ryan giggle. "I think we need a long nap and Ö" She slipped her hand up the long expanse of thigh to rest right on the seam of Ryanís sweats. "A little more loviní."

Ryan pumped her hips, a happy grin on her face. "Sounds good." Jamie got up and held out a hand to help her partner to her feet. "But I promised Tommy weíd watch the baby this afternoon."

"What?" Jamie gave her partner a puzzled look. "When did you do that?"

"Yesterday Ö I think. Iím not sure. He and Annie wanna go look for new apartments." She returned her partnerís look. "Why? Donít you wanna see Caitlin?"

"Well, sure, I always wanna see her," Jamie said, "but I thought we could have some down time today. Iím kinda beat."

"Oh." Ryan looked a little confused, as she often did when she and Jamie didnít share an agenda. "I could watch her by myself."

The blonde barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. "I wanna chill with you," she said. "I wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon just napping and making love."

Ryan looked a little sick. "I guess I could cancel Ö but itís a little late for that."

Jamie shook her head. "Itís fine." She patted Ryanís waist. "No big deal. Let me get my phone and put my shoes on."

"You sure?" Ryan asked. "íCause I could cancel."

Youíd rather shoot yourself, Jamie thought. "No, itís fine, honey. But tell me when you make commitments like this. I can adjust my expectations."

"Iíll try," Ryan said. "I just donít think sometimes."

"Oh, you think all the time," Jamie said. "You just donít always think of yourself first."

* * * * * * * *

Theyíd been at the Driscoll house for a few minutes, and Ryan was already on the floor with Caitlin, chasing her through the small house. "Where are you guys going to look at houses?" Jamie asked.

"We canít afford a house if weíre gonna stay close," Annie said. "Weíre just gonna try to find a two-bedroom apartment that we can afford."

"But Caitlin loves her little back yard," Jamie said.

"I know she does," Annie agreed. "But weíre really gonna be strapped if we stay here. The rent went up $300 a month. $3600 a year is a big bite for us."

"Damn," Jamie said, looking around the tiny house. "Theyíve got some nerve."

"They sure do," Tommy agreed. "All of my friends in the department are moving way, way out so they can have a decent-sized house, but then weíd have to put Cait in daycare."

"And your mother would kill you," Jamie added.

"So would mine," Annie said. "My mom threw a fit when I said we might try the Mission. Everybody wants us to stay in Noe, and so do we, but itís getting harder and harder to do."

"Niall says there are still some bargains in the Mission," Jamie said. "But theyíre all fixer-uppers."

"Hey, why donít you guys buy the first house that the cousins are gonna fix up?" Ryan asked.

"They wanna make money," Tommy said. "And I donít blame Ďem. Itíll be out of our price range when theyíre finished."

"Arenít you gonna help?" Jamie asked.

"Nah. I would if we didnít have Caitlin," Tommy said, "but I canít be working on a house every weekend I have off. Besides," he laughed, "Annie wonít let me."

She bumped him with her hip. "Caitlin needs to have time with her daddy. Thatís more important than having a nicer place to live."

"I agree completely," Jamie said. Of course, I can afford to agree since Iíve never had to worry about having a nice place to live.

* * * * * * * *

Three hours later, Jamie sat in the little living room, idly reading the Sunday paper while Ryan lay on her back on the floor with Caitlin sprawled over her body. They were both sound asleep, and Jamie was tempted to join them. But she wasnít much for sleeping on the floor, and the sofa was too short for her to stretch out on. She considered going to nap on Annie and Tommyís bed, but she thought that was a little forward even for the casual OíFlaherty/Driscoll clan. So she fished one of her books out of her purse and tried to do a little reading to get a head-start on her class work for the week. Iíve gotta figure out how to get comfortable enough to sleep anywhere if Iím gonna be a successful member of this family, she thought, a little jealous of Caitlin for being able to fit entirely on Ryanís body.

* * * * * * * *

At 6:45 that evening, Jamie sat in her car, revving the engine while she waited for her partner. Finally, Ryan jogged down the stairs of her familyís home, uncharacteristically late. "Whatís up with you?" Jamie asked when the taller woman was seated and buckled in.

Ryan gave her a slightly confused glance, then looked out the windshield. "Nothingís wrong. Why?"

"Well, you were poking around for a good fifteen minutes, then you didnít want to drive, even though your carís right across the street, then you took forever to come down. Thatís not like you."

Giving her a cherubic smile, Ryan said, "Maybe itís the real me Iíve kept hidden for all these months. From now on, Iím gonna be late and inconsiderate."

Knowing that Ryan was not going to give her a direct answer and not feeling like playing detective, Jamie put the car into first gear. "Who should run this meeting?"

"Niall, I guess," Ryan said, "even though Brendan would do a better job."

"Then why Niall?"

"Mmm Ö" Ryan made the soft, musical sound she made when she had an opinion, but wanted to edit it before she spoke. "I think the lads will be more amenable to listening to Niall than they would Bren."

Jamie snuck a quick glance at her lover, trying to read her face. The strong features were impassive, so the blonde let it slide. "Youíve got something going on in that pretty head," Jamie said. "But youíre gonna make me work for it, arenít ya?"

Ryan turned and smiled at her partner. The guileless, open expression always melted Jamieís heart. "Iím as blank as a slate," she said. "You always think Iíve got a million things going in my mind. But sometimes the only things going on up here," she tapped her temple, "are the basic requirements for existence. No thoughts Ö no feelings Ö just breathe in, pump blood, digest food."

When Ryan turned up the power of her smile, Jamie wasnít fooled. She knew her partner was indeed working something over in her head. But she also knew that Ryan shared her feelings when she was good and ready, especially when they concerned her family.

"Forget I asked," the smaller woman said. "But this deal is pretty complex, and if your cousins are on the ball, theyíll have a lot of questions."

"Iíve never claimed that my cousins were on the ball," Ryan said. She laughed soundlessly, then leaned back against her seat and watched the sights as the Boxster worked its way to the Sunset District.

* * * * * * * *

When everyone had arrived, Niall took a swig of his beer and tried to explain the details of the plan Jamie had come up with. Brendan and Maggie had worked on the raw idea, making it as simple as possible, but when Niall talked about it, it didnít seem so simple after all.

Ryan was sitting on the floor in front of Jamie and fidgeting so badly that the blonde wanted to pinch her. But her stoic partner kept her mouth closed when she wasnít sucking on her beer like a baby bottle.

When everyone was thoroughly confused, Jamie couldnít stand it any longer, and she had to step in. "If I can say a few things?" she asked, finding herself surprisingly tentative. All eyes turned to her, and she looked at her notes then said, "This is really simple, guys. We form our own company to buy distressed homes, fix íem up, and sell íem. Niall will make $200,000 from the sale of this place, and heís agreed to use that money as the seed money for all of the houses we buy. So all we have to do is take out construction loans to pay for materials. When the place is finished, we sell it, use the $200,000 as another down payment, and use the profit to pay for materials on the next house. By the time weíve done a few houses, we should have enough money to start distributing income."

"But how do we split up the money?" Donal asked.

"Thatís what we have to agree on tonight," Jamie said. "Since everyone has already agreed on the idea, we just have to hammer out the details. The big one is how to pay out profits."

"I didnít understand the stuff Brendan gave us," Declan said. "It didnít make sense at all."

"Yeah," Padraig said. "Why are the girls and Brendan not getting paid? Arenít you all part of this? And why does Rory only get a half-

share?"

Jamie shot a look at her partner, but Ryan didnít come to her rescue. She was looking at her with the same blank stare that nearly everyone else in the room had. Jamie could see that Brendan wanted to chime in, but he didnít speak either, leaving her to carry the ball. "Well, weíre in school and both doing our sports until June. Then weíre getting married and going on a honeymoon."

"Thatís the last thing you two need," Kevin mumbled, just loud enough to be heard. "Youíve been on a honeymoon since you met."

All of the boys laughed at that, and Jamie tried not to blush. "True," she said, "but weíre taking one anyway. So we wonít be able to help until fall. We thought weíd meet again in September and see how things stand. Weíll help out before then, but I donít think itíll be very often."

"But if you work, you should get paid," Colm said.

"Colm, I helped you work on Niallís kitchen," Jamie reminded him. "Would you have been happy to give me half of your pay for that day?"

"Sure," he said, always gallant.

"Well, thatís because youíre generous," Jamie said.

"Thatís because he thinks youíre fine," someone from the back of the room said.

Ryan got to her knees and scowled in the direction of the comment, making the boys laugh even harder.

"Anyway," Jamie said loudly, trying once again not to blush. "Weíre not skilled in any of these jobs. We like to hang out and help a little, but weíre not even good enough to be day laborers."

"You would be if you kept at it," Colm said. "And Ryanís plenty good enough to be paid a wage."

"Thereís a big difference between lending a hand once in a while and being part of the team," Ryan said, finally breaking her silence. "If we drop by to have lunch and drink a few beers, thatís one thing. If we commit to giving up our nights and weekends, thatís quite another. Weíre still at the beer and lunch pointóso itís not fair to pay us."

"And Iím gone for half the year," Rory said. "So I should only get a half share."

"Why couldnít you work full-time for half the year?" Dermot asked. "What else have ya got to do?"

"Well, nothing really," Rory said. "But itíd have to be an 8:00 to 4:00 kinda thing, since I play a lot of gigs at night."

"You should get a full share," Dermot said. "Síonly right."

"Okay," Rory said. "You fellas can make sure Iím pulling my weight."

"None of that!" Frankís deep voice carried over the crowd. "Nobody keeps track of nobody else! Youíre in or youíre out. And if youíre in, you keep an eye on yourself, nobody else."

His proclamation was met with heads nodding and mumbled agreement.

Jamie smiled, thinking back to Ryanís prediction that the cousins would behave in just such a manner. "Okay, so everyone who wants to commit his weekends and some nights to the project gets a full share. That makes it very, very simple."

"Why not you, Brendan?" Kevin asked.

"I could use the money," Brendan said, "but I canít commit to evenings. I have to work late too often."

"And Iím in charge of him on the weekends," Maggie said, wrapping her arm around his neck. "Heís off limits."

"Women ruin everything," Niall said, giving Maggie a wink.

"How would you know, when youíve never had one?" another man called out also from the back of the room.

"I know youíre back there, Kieran. Youíre the only one I canít see, you moron."

Kieranís dark head popped up from behind Frank. "Just trying to keep the party lively," he said.

"So, are we finished?" Niall asked.

Jamie was quite sure that almost nothing had been discussed, but she knew that was the OíFlaherty way.

Frank piped up again. "Is everything in these papers, Bren?"

"Yeah. Maggie and I worked on it together to make it as simple as possible. Weíll file the papers to get a D/B/A and all of the other details. But you should all read and understand everything before you sign."

"You read it," Frank said. "Thatís good enough for me." He got up, took the bunch of papers from the dining room table and found his name, signing every place indicated, then handing the pen to the next cousin in line.

Jamie watched, amazed that no one questioned anything. It seemed they were more concerned with taking advantage of each other than they were of being taken advantage of.

Ryan looked up at her and smiled. "This bunch would be a great target for a swindler, wouldnít it?"

Despite her words, Jamie could see the pride in her eyes, and she knew that Ryan valued harmony much more than keen business sense.

* * * * * * * *

Just before the meeting broke up, Maggie pulled Jamie aside. "I saw the comments your father made about prohibiting gay marriage." She paused, looking a little unsure of herself. Even though Maggie had been at all of the recent family gatherings, she and Jamie hadnít had any alone time to speak of, and it was clear she was unsure of what she should say.

Jamie squeezed her arm and gave her a warm smile. "My father is Ö" She trailed off, shaking her head. "Heís a series of contradictions. I never know what heíll say next."

"I just wanted to say that I can imagine itís hard for youóbeing the daughter of a politician. If you ever want to talk about anything Ö"

"Thanks," Jamie said. "It is hard sometimes, and itís probably worse for me since I didnít grow up around politics. Iím not used to it."

"I donít know how you get used to your fatherís saying you donít have the right to marry," Maggie said. "Thatís gotta hurt, no matter who you are."

"It does," Jamie said. "And thanks for saying something to me about it. Itís always nice to know that people understand."

"We do," Maggie said.

Jamie smiled at her, charmed that she was using the plural pronoun to refer to herself and Brendan. I think there might be two weddings in the OíFlaherty family.

* * * * * * * *

When they got into the Boxster, Jamie asked, "Wanna go get your car?"

"Nah. I donít need it this week. Besides, Iíd rather go home with you."

"Wanna drive?"

"Iím good." Ryan rolled her seat back and let out a sigh. "Chauffeur me."

"Okay." She put the key into the ignition and started the car. Checking the traffic, she pulled out and headed for home. "I had a little chat with Maggie right before we left."

"I saw you talking," Ryan said. "I know where you are every minute, so donít get any ideas."

Laughing, Jamie said, "How can I get tired of you when I hardly ever see you?"

"You see me now," Ryan said. She put her hand on Jamieís thigh and gave it a good scratch. "Whatís up with Maggie?"

"Nothing. She just wanted to empathize about my dad. Said she figured it must be hard for me to have him be such a jerk."

Ryanís eyebrows shot up. "She said that?"

"No, of course not. That was the messageónot the words."

"Whew! We like to be honest, but thatís a little too honest."

Jamie snatched a quick look at Ryanís face. "He is a jerk, isnít he?"

Ryan didnít like the tone her partner was using. She turned and studied the sad, wistful look on Jamieís face. "Sometimes he does some pretty insensitive things. He usually thinks heís right, and he can be single-minded. But I donít think heís a jerk."

"Sounds like youíre describing a jerk."

"Not really," Ryan said. "In my book, a jerk is someone who hurts people and doesnít care. Cassieís a jerk. Your dad does some dumb things, but I think he feels bad when he sees that heís hurt people."

"But that doesnít stop him from doing the next dumb thing."

"No," Ryan agreed. "He doesnít seem to learn from his mistakes."

"So he can hurt me and hurt you and hurt my mom, and we all just have to forgive him, huh?"

Ryan looked a little uncomfortable, and she fidgeted in her seat. "You have to make that decision for yourself, Jamers. Itís a tough one."

"I have to set some limits, Ryan. I canít let him come to our wedding if heís gonna parrot the administrationís stupid position on gay marriage. I just canít."

Ryan didnít say anything. She just let her hand rest on Jamieís leg, silently showing her support.

* * * * * * * *

The couple walked into their house just as the phone started to ring. Ryan looked at the caller I.D. and said, "I donít recognize the name."

They waited to hear a voice on the answering machine announce, "Hello? Iím trying to reach Jamie Evans. This is William Fisher from the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgendered and Queer Defenders Against Defamation."

Giving Ryan a puzzled look, the smaller woman picked up. "Hi, this is Jamie."

"Hi, Jamie, as I said, this is Will Fisher from GLBTQDAD."

"Uh-huh?"

"Weíd like to make you a proposal."

"A proposal?" she asked slowly. "To me?"

"Thatís right," he said, sounding much like the people who called to beg her to switch long-distance service. "Even though weíre a national organization, we realize that state propositions can have a significant impact on the entire country. We think that the defeat of Proposition 22 has to be our most important fight right now."

"Uhm Ö Will? I already donated to the fund for the state effort to defeat the proposition, and itís a little late toó"

"Weíre not looking for money," he interrupted. "Weíd like you to write an opinion piece concerning your feelings on the proposition and the administrationís support for ĎDonít ask, donít tellí as well as the Defense of Marriage Bill."

She let his message sink in, then gave a puzzled-looking Ryan a wry smile and said, "Are you calling all of the gay people in California to offer them this opportunity? Just at the Es now?"

He laughed nervously and admitted, "No, youíre the only person weíve called. Your fatherís comments sparked the idea. I donít know you personally, but I canít imagine that you were very happy about his position."

Ignoring his statement, she said, "Iím not the politician in the family. And if youíve paid much attention in the last few months, you would have noticed that I donít like to make my private life public."

"I realize that, Jamie, really, I do. Actually, your name came up in discussions we had in January, but we decided not to even ask. Itís just that your fatherís comments are going to hang out there if we donít respond to them. We have a hell of a time getting coverage in the mainstream press, but if you were to write the articleÖ"

"The legitimate press would print it because of my celebrity," she finished wearily.

"Thatís about it," he said. "Look, I know this is asking a lot of you, especially after all youíve been through this year, but if thereís any part of you that feels strongly about making a public reply to your fatheróhereís your chance. We have sources at the Chronicle, and theyíre confident they can position the article on the opinion page on Monday. Weíll help you write the piece if you want, or you can take a stab at it yourself. Just give the idea some thought, will you?"

"Okay, I will," she said. "Give me your number and Iíll call you tomorrow."

He did as she asked, and Jamie hung up, giving Ryan an aggrieved look. "Some days I wish my father and your father could change jobs."

* * * * * * * *

After discussing Willís proposal with Ryan, Jamie decided that she needed to think the issue through on her own. "Iím going to have to live with this no matter which way I go, so I need to let this settle for a bit. But Iím not in the mood to do it tonight. Letís go to bed and forget the whole thing, okay?"

"Works for me." Ryan scratched her head and gave her partner an intentionally befuddled look. "What thing?"

* * * * * * * *

Continued...

 


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