I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 14

Nurture

By SX Meagher

Part Three

On Monday morning, Mia was up early, determined to find a way to get to Colorado before the week was up. She'd had her cell phone turned off all weekend, and when sheíd returned to Berkeley, there had been at least a dozen messages from her parents, but she was determined not to speak to them until her plans were set. Mia knew that she was punishing them for the way they'd treated her, but that wasn't her primary motivation for the snub. Even though she was confident that she was doing the right thing, this decision was a major turning point in her life, and she didn't want their objections or disapproval to cause her determination to waver.

Her mind had been racing all night long, and though sheíd gotten very little sleep, Mia still wasnít tired. Sheíd used her sleepless hours well, coming up with plans, reworking some, scrapping others. She had a few ideas that she wanted to try out, and her first class was the perfect place to start.

Mia left home early and stopped by Sufficient Grounds for a large coffee. She was the first to reach her classroom, and she stood outside and made a list of everyone she knew by name. She had nineteen names on her list by the time the grad assistant arrived to begin the lecture. During the class Mia wrote out requests to each of the students she thought would cooperate, asking if they'd share their notes with her for a week. She figured there was a good chance that anyone she knew would flake out on her, so she asked two people to cover each weekóin hopes that one of the two would not only agree, but would actually attend the class and take notes.

Just before the class was scheduled to end, Mia snuck out the back door and waited. Her first victim walked out right after her, and she put on her most engaging smile. "Hey, Steve!"

"Hi," the young man said. "Whatís goiní on?"

"Iím not gonna be in town next week. Would you take notes for me?"

"Uhm Ö sure. Okay."

She handed him five dollars and an envelope that was pre-stamped with Jordanís address. "Hereís some money to pay for copying them and an envelope so you can send Ďem to me."

He looked surprised. "Send Ďem?"

"Yeah. Iím gonna be in Colorado."

"Canít I just give Ďem to you when you get back?"

"Well, yeah, you could." She saw another person on her list and tried to cut it short. "But I donít wanna fall behind. Can I have your e-mail address and cell phone number?"

He gave her a smile that was a little on the flirtatious side. "Sure." She dutifully wrote down his information, then kissed him on the cheek and ran to the next person, performing this ritual until her calendar was full.

She was breathless when she'd finished, but she had offers from several people to share notes for the whole term if she needed them. Since these people seemed the most willing to go out of their way for her, she asked if she could call them every week to obtain class assignments and get information about the final exam.

When she was finished, she was fairly confident that she would get the majority of the information sheíd need to take the final, and if she missed a little here or there, it wouldnít be fatal. Luckily, the graduate student wasnít very interested in running a tight ship, and attendance had never been taken. Given that class participation wasnít part of the grade, Mia knew she could handle that particular class from anywhere on earth.

Her well-laid plans went off without a hitch for her next two classes, and she called Jordan with the good news, unable to go more than a few hours without hearing her lover's voice.

"Being friendly has really paid off for you," the blonde teased. "I didn't know more than one or two people in any of my classes."

"It always pays to be friendly. If I hadn't been friendly with you, we wouldn't be together now, and God knows I'm glad we are."

"I'm glad, too, babe. Our lunch break's just about over. I'll call you when we're through for the day, okay?"

"Okay, sweetheart. Don't let íem work you too hard. You're gonna need your strength when I get there this weekend."

"If that's what you decide to do," Jordan added, ever the realist.

"You can believe me when you see me," Mia said. "Talk to you later, baby."

* * * * * * *

Her next class was the one she had been dreading, and as the professor began the class discussion, she realized she'd probably be lucky to even be able to arrange for an incomplete.

The teacher was a young man, and he believed that class discussion was the most important part of the learning experience. He allowed each student to miss two classes, and Mia had only missed one so far, even attending when she'd really been sick so she could use her last cut for something fun.

Getting class notes wasn't going to be very helpful or get her around the attendance requirement, so when class ended, she took in a breath and approached the man. "Hi, Professor Norris."

"Hello," he said, giving her a rather blank look. "What's up?"

Even though Mia was gregarious and exuberant in most settings, she kept a low profile in class. She'd learned long ago that the best way to get through college was to be neither seen nor heard, as much as possible.

"Something very unexpected has come up, and I'm going to be in Colorado for the rest of the term, Professor. Is there any way that I can complete the class if I'm not able to attend?"

Suddenly, Mia had his attention. "Not attend?" he asked. "How can you learn the material if you don't share your thoughts with your classmates? The free flow of ideas is what cements the concepts in your mind Ö" He trailed off, not knowing her name and not wanting to ask for it.

Nobody cements the concepts anyplace, she wanted to say. We just tack íem up at the last minute so we can stick íem in a blue book during the final and never think of íem again! But she was sure he wouldn't agree with her philosophy on higher education, so she tried another tack.

"I'd be happy to write a term paper, do independent research Ö anything, Professor. I've learned a lot so far, and I can show you how well I know the subject in another way."

"That's the problem," he said. "You can show me what you get out of the reading, but you can't hone your ideas with the input you get from me and the rest of the class. I'm afraid you wouldn't have a complete grasp of the subject, and I can't go along with that."

She looked at him for a minute, trying to determine any weakness she might be able to exploit. But she could tell he really believed in what he was saying. She didn't approve of it, but she could tell. "Okay," she said. "Is there any chance of getting an incomplete? Then I'd just have to attend class for eight weeks when I return."

"No," he said, shaking his head. "That won't work. Each class is different, and part of the experience is seeing how ideas develop over the term. I'm afraid you'll have to withdraw."

"No other options, huh?" She wasn't going to flirt with him, mainly because of Jordan, but also because she could see it wouldn't work.

"No, I'm afraid not," he said, looking genuinely regretful.

"Well, I'm not certain I'm going, but if I do, I'll withdraw. You'll get a note from the registrar."

"I hope you're able to stay Ö Uhm, I'm sorry, but what was your name?"

"Jessica Alba," she said, never one to give her real name when a pseudonym would do.

* * * * * * * *

Jamie was at home on Monday morning, getting ready for her afternoon classes. She answered the ringing phone, concerned to hear her motherís voiceósounding horribly upset. "Jamie, did you read the paper today?"

Thinking back a few hours, she replied, "Uhm, yes, I read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Why? Whatís wrong, Mom?"

With a heavy sigh, Catherine steeled herself and said, "The Chronicle had a gossipy little blurb about my divorce. Iím so sorry to pull you into the spotlight again, honey, but they mentioned your name, too. Then, just a few minutes ago, I had the television on, and they reported on it. Theyíre talking about my divorce, but they had to include a picture of you and Ryan."

She sounded so anxious and distressed that Jamie immediately tried to soothe her. "Itíll be okay, Mom. This kind of thing doesnít last long. Itíll blow over by tomorrow."

"Oh! Iím not upset about having my name mentioned," Catherine insisted. "Iím upset because theyíre dragging you two into the whole mess."

"Mom, donít be silly," Jamie said. "It doesnít bother us to have our names mentioned; we just donít want people chasing us. That hasnít happened to you, has it?" she asked.

"No, not at all. I just donít want you to be harassed any longer."

"Weíre fine," Jamie insisted. "Once youíve been the top gossip story in the country for a few weeks, you really do get used to it. Which brings me to the reason I was going to call you," she said.

"I donít like the sound of that," Catherine said. "Whatís wrong?"

"I might be jumping back into the limelight, and I wanted to talk to you a bit before I made up my mind."

"You might voluntarily jump back in?" Catherine asked, a note of incredulity in her voice.

"Yeah. Hard to believe, right?"

"So far, definitely."

Jamie told her mother the entire story, and at the end of her explanation, Catherine asked, "Do you want advice, honey, or are you just letting me know?"

The younger woman smiled. "Thatís such a perfect way to respond, Mom. When you put it that way, I guess I just wanted to let you know that Iím thinking about doing it. If you have any major objections Iím glad to listen to them, but if not, Iíd like to make up my own mind."

"Go right ahead. This is between you and your father."

"And my community," Jamie added. "I hate to be put into the role of representing the gay people of California, but I probably have more weight with the media than anyone else right now. I hate that, but I canít ignore it."

"I understand that, Jamie, but you donít have to let your notoriety run your life. You should only do this if you want to, not just because other people want you to."

"I know that, but itís hard to ignore the pressure. Say, speaking of communities, how has yours reacted to the news of your divorce? Have you heard from many people?"

"My phone has been ringing all day with condolence calls." She laughed mirthlessly as she added, "Most of them just want me to speak badly of your father, which of course I wonít."

"They donít know you very well, do they?" she asked, smiling when she considered how much sheíd learned about her mother in the past year, and how nearly every bit of information sheís gleaned had increased her love and respect.

Now Catherineís laugh sounded genuine. "I suppose thatís a good point. I donít really want that type of person in my life, anyway. Thanks for reminding me of that, Jamie."

"Thatís my job," she said.

* * * * * * * *

That afternoon, Mia shared the results of her struggles with Jamie. "It was kinda humbling to find a teacher I couldn't have my way with," she said. She was sitting at the kitchen table with her head resting on her stacked fists. Her normally bright eyes were a little dull, and she had been uncharacteristically listless since sheíd gotten home.

"If you could charm everyone in the world, that would make life way too easy," Jamie teased. "Isn't it more fun when you have to work for it?"

"No. This is a hell of a time to come up against a teacher who actually cares if I learn the subject. Why'd I have to take a class from a newbie?" She thought back for a minute. "I remember. This was the only class that fit my schedule, didn't require any papers, and just had a take home exam at the end of the semester." She sat up and banged on the table with her hand. "This woulda been so perfect!"

"Well, at least you can get out of your other classes. When you come back to Cal, you'll only have to take one class."

Mia nodded glumly. "You can bet your ass it's gonna be from someone who's about to retire."

* * * * * * * *

While Ryan was at softball practice, Jamie went outside to think. She sat in a chair in the quiet, cool yard, trying to sort through all of the ramifications that writing the article could have. It came down to the damage it would do to her relationship with her father, versus the good it could do for her community. In this instance, she decided that her community needed a boostóeven at the cost of more dissention between her and her father.

On a whim, she called Ryan, surprised to have her answer. "Can you talk?"

"Seems like it," she said, stating the obvious. "Whatís up?"

"Iíve got to do the article," she said. "I donít want to, but I have to."

"I understand," Ryan said. "Really, I do."

"Iíve got to call my father right now," Jamie said, sounding small and sad and defeated. "Iím not going to have a minuteís peace until I get it over with."

"Wanna wait for me? I canít be home until 7:00, but Iíd love to be able to hold your hand while you do it."

"Thanks, honey, but I have to get it over with."

"Iím just shagging balls in the outfield," Ryan said. "I could sneak away, and no one would miss me."

Jamie smiled at the image of her partner sneaking away from the field. "Thatís okay, honey. You go shag. Iíll see you when you get home."

"I love you," Ryan said. "I respect you, too."

Jamie could feel herself starting to choke up, and she whispered, "Bye." She walked up the stairs, head bowed. She was both pleased and disappointed when her father answered his cell phone. "Hi, Daddy," she said.

"Hi, honey," he said quietly. "Iím at a benefit dinner. Can I call you later?"

"Uhm Ö sure. Iíll be here."

She heard rustling and he whispered, "Hang on." A minute passed, and he said, "I stepped outside. You donít sound like yourself. Whatís wrong?"

"I, uhm Ö have something pretty serious to talk to you about, but itís not urgent or anything. I just wanted to ó"

"Jamie, I always have time for you. Iím not the guest of honor or anything here. Theyíll just think Iím conducting state business. Now, whatís the matter?"

They hadnít spoken since their fight over his comments to the San Francisco Chronicle revealing that he supported President Clintonís "Donít ask, donít tell" policy, as well as the Defense of Marriage Bill, and Jim could tell by his daughterís voice that this conversation was going to be uncomfortable.

"Iím sure you realize how upset I was over your comments in the paper," she began.

"Yes, you made your feelings very clear," he said. "And I hope I was clear about how sorry I was that I upset you."

"You were," she said. "But sometimes you have to do what you think is rightóeven when it hurts someone you love."

He paused before he spoke, feeling like he was going to cry. "You have no idea how it makes me feel to have you realize thatís true," he said, his voice filled with emotion. "Just because I vote a certain way or support a certain policy doesnít mean that I love you any less, Jamie. Iím very proud of you, and Iím very pleased to see that youíre creating a good life with Ryan. I can see how happy you are, honey, and I swear thatís all Iíve ever wanted for you."

"I know that, Dad," she said. "I hope you know that I love you, too."

"I do," he said. "I truly do." He was smiling, feeling lighter and happier than he had in days. He was just about to tell her again how happy sheíd made him when she spoke.

"You know, I hope you really do believe that I love you, Dad, and that Iím doing what Iím doing out of principle."

"What are you talking about?" he asked, trepidation in his voice.

"Some representatives of a major gay and lesbian political action committee have asked me to write an opinion piece concerning Prop 22. They want me to write about my feelings on the administrationís two-faced approach to gay rights. Iíve agreed to do it, Dad, and itís going to be published in the Chronicle next Monday."

She could hear the breath he exhaled, and she waited expectantly for him to form a reply.

"Are you just trying to get back at me?" he asked, his voice sounding weary and thin.

"No," Jamie said emphatically. "Not at all. Iíll admit to being really angry, and at first, I entertained the idea because I was so furious with you. But Iíve thought about it a lot, and this is something that I feel very strongly about. I wonít get many chances to reach people in this way, and I feel like I need to seize the opportunity."

"Will you at least send me a copy of the article so my staff can prepare a response? Iíd like to minimize my embarrassment as much as possible."

She wished she could think of something to say that would make him feel better but knew that she couldnít. "Iíll send it to your home e-mail account. Iíd really appreciate it if you could call me after youíve looked at it. Iím willing to make changes if thereís anything you find objectionable."

"All right. Iíll call you after I read it." He switched off without saying goodbye, leaving her feeling even worse than she had before sheíd called.

* * * * * * * *

Arriving at home after softball practice, Ryan went upstairs and found her partner lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling with a vacant look in her eyes. "Howíd it go?" she asked.

"It went briefly," Jamie said. "I told him, he asked if Iíd send it to him, then he said heíd call me after he read it." She turned to her partner. "He was really hurt."

"Makes sense," Ryan said. "Maybe heíll feel better when he actually reads it."

"Maybe," Jamie said. "Maybe not. Mind if I take a nap?"

"No, of course not." She ruffled her fingers through the soft blonde hair and asked, "Do you feel like going out to dinner, or would you rather just stay close to home?"

"Carry-outs," Jamie said.

"No problem," Ryan said. "Weíll just cocoon tonight."

"Okay. Thanks, honey."

"Want me to rub your head to help you sleep?"

"Nah. Iím fine. Go order dinner."

Ryan started to walk out of the room, but something held her back. Crossing back to the bed, she sat on the edge and placed her hand on Jamieís cheek. "Itís gonna be all right. Heíll be angry, but heíll get over it. This is politics, honey, and he understands that."

"You sure?" she asked softly, craving reassurance.

"Iím positive. I really am. He loves you, and he wonít let this little thing change how he feels about you."

"Ryan?"

"Hmm?"

"Could I have that head rub? And maybe a little cuddle?"

The larger woman smiled. "Absolutely. Thereís nothing Iíd rather do."

Jamie sighed when her partner curled up behind her and began to stroke her head.

"Go to sleep, sweetheart. Youíll feel better when you wake."

Jamie snuggled tightly against Ryanís warmth. "No, I feel better when you hold me. Thatís the key."

"That makes two of us," Ryan murmured.

* * * * * * * *

Part Four

Ryan had a short day on Tuesday and found herself with three hours between her last class and practice. There were a million things she could have done, but she found herself thinking about Proposition 22 in a way she hadnít done before. Something about the whole thing had been bugging her, and she wanted to get a few things straight in her mind. She made a call, set up an appointment, and raced across the Bay Bridge, considering while she drove what she wanted to get out of the impending discussion. By the time she arrived, she was resolved.

A short time later, she settled her long frame into the straight-backed wooden chair in Father Penderís small office. "Thanks for seeing me on such short notice," Ryan said. "I know how busy you are on Sundays, so I thought this would be a better time to talk."

"My pleasure, SiobhŠn," he said, then corrected himself. "I mean Ryan. I know itís what you prefer."

"It is, but as Iíve gotten older, Iíve come to like SiobhŠn again."

"I suppose Iíve always referred to you as SiobhŠn since thatís what your father calls you," the priest said, looking down at his hands. "How is he?"

"Heís good," Ryan said. "Married life suits him."

"Thatís hardly a surprise," the priest said. "Some men are born to be good husbands and fathers. Heís one of them."

"That he is," Ryan said. "I hope Iím half as good a spouse. I donít have much time to work on my skills, ícause Jamie and I are going to have our union blessed in August."

Having spent years listening to people reveal their secrets, it was relatively easy for Father Pender not to rise to the bait of Ryanís intentionally provocative statement. He just smiled at her and nodded politelyóleaving her room to expound on the thought if she chose.

Having a different agenda item in mind, she didnít pursue it. Her face grew serious as she posed the question that had been on her mind since sheíd heard the rumor. "Somethingís been troubling me, Father, and I wanted to see if you could shed some light on the issue for me."

"I will if I can, Ryan. What is it?"

"I heard that the bishops in California have pledged several hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Proposition 22. Is that true?"

He leaned back in his chair, a pensive look on his face. Rocking slowly, he finally nodded. "Yes, itís true." He waited a moment to see if she was going to follow up with a question, but her big, blue eyes were trained on him, and he knew her question without its being asked. "The Church supports many propositions, and itís perfectly legal to do so. Weíre not supporting a political party here, so itís not a question of separation of church and state."

With a puzzled look on her face, Ryan said, "I donít give a damn about the legality of the donation, Father. Iím sure the church knows what it can get away with. Yes, Iím questioning it, but not on legal grounds. Iím upset because my church is using funds that my family contributes to support a proposition that we strongly disagree with."

"I can see that it might bother you, Ryan, but the Church has to take stands that it feels are supportive of the greater moral goodóeven if theyíre unpopular. Our stand opposing the death penalty and abortion has taken a heavy toll, causing us to lose many parishioners. But we have to do what we think is right. Itís the only moral path."

"I donít disagree with that either, Father. I understand that the Church is in the business of taking moral stands. And I support that, even though the Churchís position differs from mine on things like abortion. My complaint isnít so much the stand youíre taking, even though Iím confident itís misguided at best and intentionally discriminatory at worst. My complaint is that youíre using our contributions to join up with the far right. This proposition is nothing but posturingóand I think you know that. If my guess is right, Iíd say itís probably Archbishop Levada whoís one of the biggest proponents of this contribution, and that just sickens me."

The priest nodded, knowing that there was little common ground between this fiery young woman and his very conservative spiritual leader. "I donít know what to say, Ryan. Archbishop Levada has some very strong views on the sanctity of marriage, and he believes that Proposition 22 will help strengthen the institution."

"I hope for his sake that heís not that stupid," Ryan snapped, reminding the priest of his old friend Martin, right down to imitating her fatherís facial expressions. "The guy is the leader of a city with more gay people than anywhere on earth, and heís more antagonistic to us than someone from the most remote backwoods village in the country."

"Thatís hardly fair," Father Pender said, scowling at her. "Calling him antagonistic to gay people is ridiculous. He loves all of Godís children. Just because he believes your conduct is against Godís will doesnít mean heís antagonistic to you as people Ö as Christians."

Her face flushed an even deeper shade of pink. "Heís not antagonistic, but heís willing to spend my money to deny me my civil Ö and I do mean civil Ö rights. This isnít about whether the Church will let me marry; this is a proposition to prevent the state from marrying me."

"Thatís true," he admitted. "But many issues cross into the secular." He leaned back in his chair and rocked slowly for a moment or two. "Look, Iíll admit thereís a large gap between your beliefs and his," Father Pender said, "but he comes by his beliefs from a position of prayer and contemplation, Ryan. You canít fault a man for disagreeing with you."

"Of course I can!" She got to her feet and paced behind her chair, too agitated to remain still. "When heís making decisions that I find not only offensive, but morally wrong, I most certainly can fault him." She stopped abruptly and gazed at the man, trying to remember how close they had all been for so many years. "Look, Father, I think itís obvious weíre never going to see eye to eye on this. I just want to make a few points."

"Of course," he said calmly. "Why donít you sit down?"

"I think better when I move."

"I know that, Ryan, thatís why I suggested it." He tried to suppress a grin.

She smiled back begrudgingly, but kept moving, covering all of the available ground in two long strides, then turning to go in the opposite direction. "Hereís the deal. I donít know of many groups that need the support of the Church more than gay people. So many of us are tossed away by our families, and because of that, we desperately need a place that accepts us and loves us unquestioningly. In my opinion, that shouldóno, that has to be the Church, if the Church has any intention of following in the footsteps of Jesus. But not only do you not welcome us, you go out of your way to discourage us from belonging. I know for a fact that you wouldnít be comfortable with my being a Eucharistic minister."

The accusation hung in the air for a moment before he answered. "No, I wouldnít," he said quietly. "Youíre in open dissent with the Church, and it wouldnít send a good message to allow you to dispense Communion when itís common knowledge that youíre a practicing lesbian."

"Iíve been practicing since I was seventeen," she said, making him blush. "I think Iíve got it right by now."

"Thereís no need to be snide," he said.

"Yes, there is! You allow single people who live together to hand out Communion. Why is their sin less grievous than mine? What about all of the people with only one or two children? Are they all infertile? Of course not! Theyíre using birth control, and everyone knows it! But thatís okay. Youíre willing to ignore those sins. Itís only homosexuality that rises to this level of censure." She stopped and gripped the back of her chair with her hands, her knuckles turning white from the pressure she applied. "Youíre singling out gay people for particular discrimination, Father. This is an archdiocesan-wide practice, and Iím sick of it!"

"I donít think we do that," he said quietly, his eyes locked upon hers. "Itís not the fact that youíre gay thatís the problem, Ryan. Itís that youíre so vocal about it. You introduce Jamie to everyone as your spouse, making it very clear that youíre sexually intimate. You canít expect to act like that and then have me ignore it. Of course I know that people live with their boyfriends and girlfriends, but they donít make an issue of it. Theyíre discreet," he insisted, puzzled that she didnít understand his logic. "The entire point is your discretion Ö or lack of it. You act like having Jamie around is perfectly normal, but itís not. Iíve gotten more than one complaint about the way you two behave in church."

"I have nothing to be ashamed of." Ryanís voice was quiet but full of anger. "I love Jamie with all of my heart. I desire her sexually. I express my love for her in a carnal fashion, and I will continue to do so until I am carted away by the anti-gay police!"

"Ryan, youíre taking this to extremes," the priest said patiently.

"No, Iím not," she insisted. "If youíre able to limit my participation in the Churchówhich is my birthright, as a matter of factóyouíre, in essence, supporting other institutions in their efforts to push homosexuality back into the deepest, darkest closet imaginable. You canít discriminate and then say that youíre opposed to discrimination; itís untenable!"

"Iíll admit that this is a complicated issue and that there are many views, Ryan, but I assure you that I do welcome you at Mass. I welcome you and Jamie. I wish youíd be more discreet, but even if you wonít, Iíll defend your right to attend Mass."

"Big of you," she snarled. "But you wouldnít bless our union."

"You know Iím not allowed to do that," he said.

"Youíre boxing me into a corner, Father," Ryan said, shaking her head. "I want to have a relationship with an organized church, but the Catholic church is making it very, very difficult for me to stick with them. Jamieís grandfather is going to perform our commitment ceremony. I think itís time we considered joining his church. It hardly makes sense to belong here and go to the Episcopal church to bless us before God."

His head cocked quizzically. "Her grandfather is an Episcopal priest?"

"Yes." She leveled her gaze at him and said, "Jamieís an Episcopalian, Father. She comes to church with me because Iíve been happy here, and because itís where the rest of the family goes. But weíre going to have to think long and hard before we continue to financially support this parish. I just donít think I can participate in my own oppression." With that, she nodded her head once, and left the room, leaving a befuddled, saddened man behind her.

* * * * * * * *

Pissed off and agitated, Ryan found herself automatically heading over to her Aunt Maeveís house. She knocked perfunctorily, then opened the door. "Anyone home?"

"Is that my SiobhŠn?" Maeveís soft, lyrical voice called out.

"Sure is," Ryan called back, smiling at the always-warm welcome her aunt had for her. "Am I disturbing anything?" She took off her jacket and hung it on the front door knob.

Maeve walked into the parlor and smiled. She put her hands on her hips and asked, "When will you believe thatís not possible? A visit from you is preferable to anything I could have possibly been doing."

Ryan went to her and hugged her tight, feeling a little ungainly when she felt her auntís much smaller and frailer body in her arms. "You say I throw the blarney around," she said, laughing. "Youíre not bad at it yourself."

"Every word is true," Maeve said. "Now go say hello to your father. Heís outside trying to make a vegetable garden out of that sorry excuse for a yard. I swear the Aran Islands are better suited to gardening."

"Oh, it canít be that bad," Ryan said.

"Yes, it is," Maeve insisted. "Thirty-odd years of the pounding of childrenís feet, and what seems like the remnants of a quarry. Your father says there isnít a wheelbarrow full of good soil in the whole patch."

"Iíll go give him my expert opinion," Ryan said. "He loves to be second-guessed."

Maeve laughed. "Oh, you know him well, sweetheart. Have fun." Ryan had only gone a few feet when Maeve asked, "Will you stay for dinner?"

"Thanks, but I canít. I have softball practice tonight. I just stopped by because Iíve been to see Father Pender."

Maeveís eyebrows rose. "Father Pender?"

Ryan made a dismissive gesture with her hand. "I had the crazy idea that I might be able to have a rational discussion with him about this ridiculous Proposition 22."

"Oh, dear," Maeve said. "Iím so embarrassed about that whole affair. They tried to get us to take signs for our yards after Mass on Sunday. I thought your father was going to take the whole lot of them and rip them to shreds."

"Then weíre probably in the same mood," Ryan said, smiling. "Ignore any cursing you hear, okay?"

Maeve playfully put her hands over her ears. "Hear no evil, SiobhŠn."

* * * * * * * *

Ryan saw her dad working on a small patch of the small yard, hefting spades full of dirt into a wheelbarrow. "Trying to grow rocks?" she asked.

Martin turned, and his determined expression immediately grew into a wide smile. "Thereís my favorite girl! What brings you to the western part of the bay?"

"I was visiting a former friend of yours," she said, her smile now absent.

He looked confused for a moment, then scowled. "Whatís your business with that blackguard?"

She put her hands into the pockets of her jeans, then rocked on her heels. "I was in a hurry to waste some time," she said. "Sometimes I think that reason and logic rule the world." She gave him an abashed smile and added, "They donít."

He wiped his brow, then took off his leather gloves and twitched his head towards the picnic table. "Take a load off, love, and tell me what happened."

She kissed him when he got near, smiling when her lips touched the fine dusting of earth on his cheek. Taking a seat, she said, "I went to talk to him about Prop 22." She shook her head in disgust. "I must have been delusional to think heíd see my point of view."

"Heís an idiot," Martin said. "I donít know how he hid it for so long, but the man is a complete and utter fool."

She smiled, knowing that her father didnít have the ability to see many shades of gray. "He acted that way today," Ryan admitted. "He wouldnít give an inch."

He looked at her for a moment, clearly puzzled by her attempt to connect with the priest. "Why waste your time, love?"

"I wanted to check something out," she said. "And even though I know heís not on my side, I knew heíd tell the truth."

Martin scowled again and scoffed, "You trust him more than I do. I wouldnít believe him if he told me it was raining during a monsoon."

"Heís not that bad, Da," Ryan said. "And I think he did tell me the truth. Not that it helped," she added. "Now Iím angrier than I was before."

"What now?" he asked, already getting angry himself.

"The archdiocese gave several hundred thousand dollars to support Prop 22," she said, getting ready for the fireworks. She actually flinched, but the blast didnít come. Her father was looking at her with a surprisingly calm expression on his face.

"Weíve got to leave," he said, and his tone indicated that the topic wasnít open to discussion. "I heard about a mostly Spanish parish on Mission Dolores we might try. They have an English service, but itís with a Vietnamese priest, and no one can understand a word he says. So even if heís spouting the same malarkey that Pender is, we wouldnít know it."

Ryan looked at him for a moment, trying to determine if he was serious. When she realized he was, she said, "Whatís the point, Da? If we have to find a Mass where we canít understand the sermon, we might as well quit altogether."

"Quit the Church?" He looked at her as if sheíd grown another head. "We canít do that!"

She nodded, understanding his position without his having to utter a word. "Can we let it ride for a while?"

"Why should we?"

She tried not to look as pathetic as she felt. "I canít take a lot of change right now, Da. Leaving St. Philipís would be a very big deal for me. and I donít wanna upset my apple cart." She smiled. "Iíve just gotten all of the apples into the damned thing, and itís still hard to keep it level."

He got up from his side of the table and walked around to stand behind her. Without speaking, he began to rub her shoulders, applying his usual firm, deep pressure. She felt her body relax, and within a few moments, her neck felt rubbery. "Iím okay," she said to reassure him. "I just donít want to ask for trouble. Iím trying to keep things simple."

He kissed her head. "Simple it is," he agreed. "We wonít talk about it again until you bring it up."

"Thatís a deal," she said. "Iíve gotta go soon. Do you think Aunt Maeve has any cookies lying around?"

"Thatís why Iím still here," he said, laughing when she nudged his stomach with her head.

* * * * * * * *

Martin took off his dirty boots at the door. He wrapped his arms around his wifeís waist and said, "Itís teatime, love. Want me to start the boil?"

"Thatíd be lovely," she agreed. "I was just making some scones."

Ryan snuck her head around her auntís shoulder. "What kind?"

Maeve reached behind her and swatted Ryanís butt with a wooden spoon. "If you had called to say you were coming, I would have made your favoriteóchocolate potato cake. But since youíre always a last-minute-lassie, youíll have to suffer with sultana scones."

"I love sultana scones," Ryan said, kissing her auntís cheek. "But I love chocolate potato cake even more. Iíve got to start coming by for tea more often." She went to the refrigerator and took out some honey, jam and butter. "We never have tea. Iím gonna have to train Jamie better."

Martin laughed at her. "You know how to make a proper tea, my little princess. You donít want to have an English girl mucking up the whole process."

"Sheís not very English, Da. Her people were in America when our people were still making peat fires in thatched-roof houses."

He laughed. "Thatís even worse. American tea is a travesty."

"Iíve just about finished the first batch," Maeve said.

She was cooking the scones on the stove top using a cast-iron pan, Ryanís favorite method. They were crisper and lighter than a baked scone, and her mouth was watering just imagining how good theyíd taste.

Martin was in charge of the tea, and he asked, "Irish Breakfast, assam or green pekoe?"

"Green tea?" Ryan asked, her brows lifting. "Since when do you drink green tea?"

"Even though it does taste a little like hay, weíre not above branching out a bit," he replied smugly.

Maeve smiled at her niece. "And Doctor Terry told him green teaís good for him. You know how compliant he is."

Ryan gave her father a fond look. He was remarkably independent and usually scoffed at every health fad. But if his doctor told him something might be good for him, he adopted the habit at once. "Iíll have the green," she said. "I drink espresso in the morning, but I like a nice cuppa green in the afternoon."

Martin started to make the pot, while Maeve asked, "So tell us what youíre working on now, SiobhŠn. Howís your independent study going?"

"Fine," Ryan said. "Iím making progress, but itís a lot of work."

"Tell us what the topic is again, sweetheart," Martin asked.

Ryan made a face. She loved to talk about her work, but she knew that her family didnít have a clue what she was talking about. She tried to give them a summary while not insulting their intelligence. "Well, itís pretty technical, but the bottom line is that Iím trying to use some physics principles to predict trends in the stock market."

Martin shot her a look. "Physics? Like gravity and things like that?"

Smiling, Ryan said, "Yeah, that kinda physics. Actually, itís a mix of physics and statistics and engineering and computer science, and of course, math."

"We know all about these things, donít we, darliní?" Martin asked his wife, giving her a sweet smile.

"Oh, my, yes." She set the piping-hot scones on the table, laughing when Ryan brushed her hand aside to get at them. "Donít act like a hungry dog, dear. I can make more."

"Youíd better," Ryan said. "Iím weak with the hunger." She tossed the scone back and forth, letting it cool just enough to be spread with butter. "Well, how about this?" Ryan asked. "I canít really explain how Iím doing it, but hereís what I want to do. The stock market has gotten so crazy that people are starting to doubt the analytic methods theyíve been using for years to predict trends. I mean, really unpredictable things are happening, and it looks like theyíll continue. I want to try to find a model that might work even in a crazy market."

"What sorts of things are happening?" Maeve asked. "We know about the ridiculous amounts of money people are making from the Internet, but the details are over our heads. Give us an example, dear."

The girl took a bite of her scone, then went through her usual paroxysms of delight, making her aunt laugh. When she could contain herself, she said, "Howís this? Thereís a company you probably know called 3Com."

"The idiots who put their name on Candlestick Park," Martin said. "Theyíd change the name of the country if someone offered enough money."

"Right," Ryan said, trying to avoid that particular discussion. "Well, they make a product called Palm. Thatís the electronic organizer that Jamie uses."

"Ah, yes. Sheís always looking at a tiny little thing, trying to decide if she has the day free."

"Right. Well, 3Com is spinning Palm off, making it its own company."

"Why would they do that, dear?" Maeve asked, looking befuddled.

"Thatís not the important part," Ryan said. "We canít get bogged down in details." Both Martin and Maeve nodded, waiting for her to continue. "Companies do things like that all of the time. But the funny part is that people expect Palm to be worth a lot more than 3Com was, even though Palm was only a part of the original company."

Martin stared at her for a minute, then said, "I must not understand. It sounded like you said that a plus b equals x. But a minus b is greater than x."

"Thatís exactly right," Ryan said, proud of her father for catching on so quickly.

"Thatís ridiculous," he said. "Itís not just ridiculous, itís not possible."

"But it is," Ryan said, her excitement showing. "Thatís why the market is so volatile. Things that seem implausible are happening every day!"

Martin took a bite of his scone, paused to kiss his wife for making them, and said, "Thatís not volatility, thatís insanity. And itís not implausible, itís impossible."

"Well, maybe," Ryan said. "But thatís what makes it excitingóyou never know whatíll happen next!"

"SiobhŠn," he said patiently. "The world has been spinning for a long time. In all of that time thereís never been a situation where something is worth more once itís been devalued. Just listen to the word, child! The only time you benefit from losing something is if that something is harming the host Ö like Ö a cancerous growth. Does losing Palm make 3Com a better company?"

"Well, no, not really."

"Does Palm benefit from not having 3Com associated with it? Is there some horrible 3Com scandal that makes Palm guilty by association?"

"No, no, not at all. Thatís why this is such a crazy market. Thatís the point, Da."

He pursed his lips and shook his head firmly. "It doesnít make sense. And when things donít make sense, youíre well advised to stay away from them."

Ryan scratched her head. "Well, when you say it like that, it does sound kinda silly."

"The emperor has no clothes," he said. "Just because everyone says he looks nice, doesnít mean heís not naked."

Deep in thought, Ryan ate some more and sipped at her tea. Her aunt and father knew better than to try to talk to her when she was in one of her trances, so they carried on their own conversation about the garden, waiting for Ryan to return to them.

* * * * * * * *

The next night, after sheíd returned from softball practice, Ryan ran up the stairs, calling out, "Hey, Mia! Your doppelgangerís downstairs. Want me to send her up?"

Mia leapt to her feet and ran over to Ryan. "Do you really think she looks like me?"

"Yeah," Ryan said. "I wasn't kidding. She doesnít look identical, but you could be sisters."

Mia threw her arms around Ryanís neck and kissed her. "Youíre the best!" she yelled, running down the stairs at breakneck speed.

Ryan stood in the doorway, scratching her chin while she tried to figure out what had just happened. She finally gave up and went back downstairs, deciding that she was just happy that Mia was showing some signs of life again.

* * * * * * * *

After her guest left, Mia went into the living room and collapsed into a chair, smiling smugly at her roommates.

"Iíd recognize that smile anywhere," Jamie said. "Thatís the ĎI got my wayí smile."

"I did," Mia said, giggling. "It cost me $250, but it was worth it."

"Can I be let in on this scam?" Ryan asked. "Are you paying someone to steal your identity? íCause I think most people are willing to do that for free."

"No, silly. I was paying her to finish a class for me. One of my teachers is being all honorable, and he wonít let me finish from Colorado. So I spent yesterday and today searching the campus for someone who looks like me."

She looked very satisfied with herself, but Ryan didn't grasp the full meaning of her story. "So? How does that help?"

"Sheís gonna go to class for me and tell me if anything unusual comes up. Sheís more like me than I thought, ícause she got me to increase my offer from $150 to $250. I shouldnít have let her know how desperate I was!"

"But how can that work?" Ryan asked. "Wonít she have to study and be prepared for class?"

Mia looked blank. "I never did. Why should she?"

The brunette smiled at her friend. "My mistake. I keep thinking like a real student."

"Don't put those weird values on me, O'Flaherty," Mia said, laughing. "College is just a way to keep us off the streets for four or five years."

"Right. Iíll make a note," Ryan said. "But how will you make sure she follows through? She might screw you."

"Nope. I have a friend in the class, and Iím gonna call her every week to check up on my employee. Iím paying Hannan by the week, in case youíre wondering."

"Hannan? Thatís an unusual name. I noticed she had a pretty thick accent. Where's she from?"

"Lebanon," Mia said. "Sheís only a freshman, but I think she has potential. She knows how to hustle."

"It must be nice to know you leave your reputation in such good hands," Ryan said.

"Sure is. And now Iím doubly glad I never spoke during class. Hannan sounds like sheís been taking English lessons for about fifteen minutes!" She got up and fluffed her curls, posing for her friends. "Iím gonna go call my woman and tell her to warm up the bed for me."

"When are you going?" Ryan asked, looking a little stunned.

Mia thought for a moment. "Well, Iíve got a lot to do to get organized, and Jordyís only day off is Sunday Ö I guess Iíll leave on Friday morning so I can get there on Saturday night."

"Thatís so soon," Ryan said, her voice higher than normal.

"Itís not soon enough!" Mia said. "Iíd leave tonight if I could possibly get ready." She scampered up the stairs, giggling with anticipation.

Jamie looked at her partner. "Our little girl is growing up, Ma."

"I liked it when she was little and still believed in Santa Claus," Ryan grumbled.

Jamie scooted over and snuggled up next to her lover. "Ohh Ö it wonít be so bad to be alone in the house. Weíll have a new room to make love in."

"Hmm Ö" The corners of Ryanís mouth curled into a reluctant grin. "I guess it wonít be all bad. We can finally have this place be clothing optional."

"Thatís my tiger," Jamie said, chucking Ryan under the chin. "Now letís get some dinner going." They got up and Jamie said, "You must be starving. I noticed you didnít eat all of the leftovers before softball practice."

"Oh, I went over to the city and stopped by Daís. Aunt Maeve made me a bunch of scones."

"What were you doing over there?" Jamie asked. She opened the refrigerator door and pulled out some cold cuts and condiments.

"I went to see Father Pender," Ryan said. She took the baguette that Jamie had purchased on her way home and started to slice it.

"I canít imagine why you did that," Jamie said. "Not getting enough frustration in the east bay?"

"Why donít I ask you about these things first?" Ryan said, looking disgusted with herself. "Sometimes Iím such a Pollyanna. I thought he would apologize for the Churchís giving so much money to support Prop 22."

Jamieís eyes opened wide. "Apologize? He was probably the chief fundraiser."

Ryanís head dropped and she mumbled something to herself.

Jamie walked over to her and put her arms around her lover. "Whatís wrong, babe? Did he upset you?"

"Yeah Ö no Ö I donít know." Ryan didnít turn around; her body was tense and unyielding.

"Come on," Jamie said, tugging on her. Ryan let herself be turned, but she immediately put her head against Jamieís, shielding her face. "Tell me whatís going on."

"Nothiní," the taller woman mumbled. "I just feel stupid. I shoulda known I was wasting my time." She took in a deep breath. "I donít know why I always think the best of people."

Jamie tightened her hold, squeezing her lover hard. "I love that about you. I hope you never get jaded. Donít feel bad about hoping for the best."

"Itís one thing to hope," Ryan said. "Itís another to expect it."

"Thatís whatís so sweet about you," Jamie said, rocking the larger woman in her arms. "Donít change, baby, and donít feel stupid. You just have a good heart."

Ryan rubbed her face against her loverís head, letting the soft strands and floral scent soothe her. "Maybe Iíll feel better after I eat."

"Thatís my girl," Jamie said, patting her butt. "A little food always makes the day seem brighter."

* * * * * * * *

After dinner, Jamie and Ryan retired to their respective study spots, with Ryan working in their room until 9:00. She went downstairs to get a drink and stopped by the library for a moment. "Howís it going?" she asked, looking at her partner lying on the sofa.

"Not well. Iím trying to write my opinion piece, but Iím clearly not in the mood."

"Can I help?"

"No. I donít think I need to talk about it; I need to get started. All Iíve been able to do is write an outline."

"Thatís something," Ryan said, giving her an encouraging smile. She walked into the room and sat down, putting Jamieís feet on her lap. "I didnít ask if youíve told your mom youíre doing this."

"Oh, yeah." She blinked. "Didnít I tell you that?

"Huh-uh."

"Damn, weíre both so busy weíre starting to lose track of each other." Jamie had a very glum look on her face, and her expression turned even more sour when she added, "I probably didnít say anything because she wasnít very enthusiastic."

"Really?" Ryan asked. "That doesnít sound like her."

"Oh, no," Jamie quickly replied. "Sheís supportive, but sheís worried about my drawing attention to myself after spending two months trying to get away from the press."

Ryan smiled and nodded her understanding. "That does seem a little counterintuitive, doesnít it?"

Jamieís eyes widened, and she got up on one elbow. "Do you think Iím doing the right thing? I know you said that I should do this if itís important to me, but you havenít said what you really think."

"Thatís a tough one, babe." Ryan started to massage her partnerís feet while she considered the question. "I donít like publicity, and my privacy means a lot to me, but making a statement about discrimination means a lot, too. I guess Iíd sacrifice my privacy to take a stand, even one that put me in the limelight again. So, if I were you, Iíd do it." She pulled Jamieís feet up and hugged them close, giving her a playful grin. "But Iíd feel bad about putting my father in an awkward positionóeven though heís the one who stirred this all up to start with."

With a small grin tugging at the corners of her mouth, Jamie lay back down and gazed at Ryan for a moment. "Are you sure youíre not me? íCause thatís exactly how I feel."

"Makes perfect sense," Ryan agreed. "Just because youíre angry doesnít mean you want to publicly humiliate him."

Wincing when she heard those words, Jamie asked, "Do you really think heíll be humiliated?"

Ryan nodded briefly. "Yeah. I think he might. Youíre going to officially come out very publicly, honey. And youíre doing it in the legitimate press. Iím sure all of the major dailies will pick up the story as well as the newsweeklies." She rolled her eyes and added, "MSNBC will probably devote a week to it. But youíre not just coming outóyouíre coming out to publicly chide him and all of the other lawmakers whoíve voted for these stupid bills. That combo is probably going to hurt and embarrass him."

The smaller woman made an unhappy grunt. "I think I need to talk to my grandfather about this. Maybe he can help me figure out if Iím doing this just to get back at my dad, or to do something that I feel is right."

"If youíre going to do that tonight, youíd better do it now. He goes to bed early."

"You look pretty tired yourself, stretch."

Ryan stood and twisted around, loosening her muscles. "I am. I was thinking about getting into bed and reading until I fell asleep."

"Go ahead, honey. Iíll call Papa and then try to write again. Iím not in the mood to sleep yet."

Walking to the door, the brunette raised an eyebrow. "Sure?"

"Yeah. Really. Iíll kiss you when I come to bed."

Ryan walked back to the sofa and kissed Jamie, their lips touching softly for a few seconds. "I need a kiss while Iím awake," she whispered. "But Iíll take one later, too."

"Itís a deal." Jamie waved at her, then got up to make her call.

* * * * * * * *

 

Continued....


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