Disclaimers: This an "alternative" uber story (although I’m not sure what it’s alternative to), which means that if you don’t want to read about two women who might fall in love, you should read something else.

Thanks again to my beta readers, Alina, Kimly, MyWarrior, and Wendy. Also thanks for all the nice feedback from readers!

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Take Time Out

Part 4

By RJ

cappaert@proaxis.com

December, 1999

No part of this text may be reproduced in whole, or in part, without the express consent of the author.

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Chapter Nine

Move, damn it! Move! Jess was vaguely aware of a voice in the back of her head telling her to do something, but her consciousness wasn’t registering it. With a glazed look in her eyes, she started moving down the trail, blindly putting one foot in front of the other. She was oblivious to the treacherous footing, which turned out to be advantageous since she wasn’t trying to brake on the slippery rocks. Within minutes she had reached the plateau and her head was starting to clear. When asked later, Jess would have no memory of how she made it down the trail to the plateau.

She quickly looked around for the best path back to the place where Robin had fallen and set off at a dead run. When Robin’s body came into sight, there was still no movement. Oh God, please be OK! Jess knelt down next to Robin and saw a pool of blood spreading out from the back of her head. She could see no other obvious injuries, such as compound fractures, and put her face next to Robin’s to see if she was breathing. Just then, Robin groaned, and Jess felt a wave of relief rush over her.

Jess had enough first-aid training from her coaching career to know that Robin shouldn’t be moved until she was sure there wasn’t a spinal cord injury. However, she also knew she had to stem the bleeding from whatever cut Robin had on her head. Robin groaned again and rolled slightly to her side. Jess noted with relief that Robin’s hands and feet had both moved.

Jess decided that her priority had to be the head wound. She pulled her handkerchief out of her back pocket, folded it into her palm, and very carefully slid her hand behind Robin’s head. Unfortunately, the first-aid kit was in the pack on the prone woman’s back, and Jess was not yet prepared to turn her over. Oh geez, what am I gonna do? We’re a good three miles from our camp, and another two miles from the cars. I can’t leave her here to go for help, but the chances of someone else coming by are slim to none. Oh God, Robin, please wake up! Jess settled herself behind Robin, holding her head in her hand, trying to think of anything else she could do. Just then, Robin groaned again and her eyes slowly blinked open.

"Robin! Can you hear me? Try not to move!" Jess said worriedly while scooting around so that Robin could see her better.

"Ughhhhh… Jess? What happened?" Robin whispered while squinting her eyes at the light. "My head hurts. Everything hurts."

"You fell a long ways, and you have a cut on your head. But I don’t want to move you until I’m sure that you haven’t hurt your back. Can you feel your hands and feet?"

Robin closed her eyes and wiggled her toes and fingers. She felt an excruciating pain in her right ankle and gasped loudly.

"What?! What’s wrong?" Jess asked, leaning closer to Robin and trying to figure out what was causing her pain. She wanted so badly to be able to help the injured woman, to ease her pain, and she had never felt so frustrated in her life. She put her palm on Robin’s cheek and gently stroked her thumb over lips that were pursed in pain. "Tell me what hurts, Robbie," she pleaded.

"My ankle!" Robin gasped. "It feels like it’s broken."

Jess looked down at Robin’s foot, which was still securely held in her hiking boot, and didn’t see any obvious sign of dislocation. She decided that the compression offered by the boot would be the best thing for Robin’s ankle until they could get some ice on it. She returned her attention to the head wound, which seemed to be most in need of immediate attention. "Robin, do you think you could sit up? I need to get the first-aid kit so I can take care of the cut on your head."

Robin nodded weakly and began to struggle to sit up. Jess got her arm around Robin’s shoulders and helped her to a sitting position, keeping the pressure on the back of Robin’s head with her other hand. Robin swayed a little, and her head hung down, but she remained conscious. Jess wedged her body behind Robin’s for support and dug the first-aid kit out of the pack. The pack was torn in a number of places, and Jess realized that it probably provided some padding for Robin during her fall. With her free hand, Jess opened the first aid kit and found some gauze pads. She then grabbed a water bottle and drenched one of the pads. Taking the handkerchief from the back of Robin’s head, Jess started gently wiping the blood away from the hair, looking for the extent of the wound. She found about a one-inch gash and it appeared that the flow of blood had already begun to slow. She took another gauze pad, soaked it in cold water, and pressed it against the wound.

"How are you doing?" Jess asked when she realized that Robin hadn’t made a sound for the last two minutes. She leaned her head around to look in Robin’s eyes and found them glazed over. God, she must have a concussion on top of everything else! This only gets better and better!

"Robin! Talk to me! How does your head feel?"

Robin groaned again and blinked her eyes, seeming to bring things into focus again. "My head hurts," she repeated.

"I know, but you’re gonna be OK. I found the cut on your head, and the bleeding is slowing down. You’ve just got to stay awake and try to keep talking to me, OK?"

"OK," she mumbled in reply. "How did I fall? I don’t remember falling."

"You slipped on a rock and lost your balance. I tried to catch you but I couldn’t." Jess looked crestfallen. "I’m so sorry, Robin," she whispered. "But we’re going to get through this. You just stay with me, OK?"

Jess’s soothing voice was having a calming effect on Robin, and she was starting to think more coherently. Unfortunately, that meant that she was also becoming aware of all the places on her body that hurt, and the tally was getting longer and longer. Most of them were just bumps and bruises, overshadowed by the pain in her head and ankle.

"Do you have a handkerchief? I need something to tie around your head to keep this bandage in place."

"I think it’s in my back pocket," Robin replied.

Jess wiggled her hand into Robin’s back pocket and found the handkerchief. "Do you think you can hold the bandage in place while I tie this on? Here, just put your hand right here," Jess said while guiding Robin’s hand to the bandage. She finished tying off the handkerchief, which freed her to look more closely for other injuries. She moved around to face Robin and looked closely at her face. She wasn’t bleeding from her nose or ears, but her pupils were definitely dilated and she had a slightly blank stare on her face. Jess grabbed the water bottle and helped Robin to take a drink of water. Once again, Robin’s eyes seemed to focus, and she grimaced in pain. Jess carefully looked at Robin’s arms and legs, and didn’t see anything other than a few scrapes. She couldn’t see whether Robin’s ankle was swelling inside her boot.

"We’re going to have to figure out how to get you out of here. Do you think you can stand up?"

"I can try, but I’m pretty sure I can’t walk on my ankle."

Jess looked around for something to use as a splint on Robin’s ankle, but there was nothing but rocks for about another quarter mile down the slope. She was reluctant to leave Robin alone to go get something, and decided that she could try to carry her that far. She’s so small – how much can she weigh?

"Robin, I’m going to pick you up and carry you down to the tree line so we can find something to use for a splint and a crutch. Put your arms around my neck and hang on, OK?" Robin did as she was told, and Jess very carefully lifted her up, trying not to jostle her ankle. Nevertheless, Robin grimaced in pain at the movement and clutched even harder at Jess’s neck. Tears were streaming down her cheeks, and Jess felt heartbroken that she couldn’t do more to help her companion. She started off down the trail as quickly as she could, but the steep, rocky terrain made the going slow. By the time they hit the first trees, Jess’s arms and legs were screaming with fatigue and she unceremoniously dropped to the ground with Robin in her lap.

"How are you doing?" Jess said between gasps for air. She looked into Robin’s eyes and thought they looked better and more alert than before, despite the tears that were coming from them.

"I’m OK. I can’t believe you could carry me all that way. I’m not exactly a lightweight."

"It was all downhill, and it wasn’t that far," Jess replied modestly. "I’m sure you would have done the same for me."

Robin looked skeptically at that, but decided not to respond. She was just grateful that Jess was holding everything together, and it looked like they might actually find a way back to their campsite.

Jess carefully moved Robin off her lap and got up to find some sticks that could be used as a splint and a crutch. Within a few minutes she was tying a splint to the injured ankle with a cord that she had stripped from the top of the pack. Even though she was as gentle as possible, Robin gasped in pain a number of times during the ordeal.

"Let me take another look at your head before we start back," Jess said. She carefully removed the bandage and saw that the wound was barely seeping. She got a fresh gauze pad out of the first-aid kit and replaced the bandage. Satisfied that she had done all she could with the supplies they had, Jess was anxious to get started back to the campsite. She had found a tall, sturdy stick that could be used as a crutch, and she helped Robin to her feet. It took the groggy woman a moment to gain her equilibrium, but she gave Jess a determined look and said, "I’m ready – let’s go!"

The trail had much better footing in the trees, but still had a fairly steep grade. Jess went in front of Robin, and stayed close enough to catch her if she should stumble. They had only gone about 100 feet when Robin said she needed to stop. It was obvious that her ankle was killing her, but her eyes seemed much better. Jess found a log and helped Robin down onto it, holding her steady with her arm around her shoulders.

"Hey, you’re doing great, Robbie," Jess said encouragingly. "We’ve got plenty of time so there’s no need to rush." Secretly, Jess was a little worried about how long it would take them to get back at this pace, but there was obviously no alternative. "Do you want to try some ibuprofen for your ankle?"

"Yeah, anything that might help I’m willing to try," Robin replied. Jess retrieved the water bottle and gave her three tablets. After a few minutes, Robin said she was ready to go again, and they started off down the trail. This time they got to the bottom of the switchbacks before Robin needed to stop again. After that, the trail leveled out and they slowly made their way toward the lake, Jess watching Robin carefully for any signs that she might be getting worse. The trip was going excruciatingly slow, and Jess was worried about whether Robin was going to last. Just when Robin was dragging to a halt for another break, Jess heard some voices up ahead.

"Robin! Did you hear that?" she said excitedly. "I think someone’s coming!"

Around the bend in the trail appeared Capi and Sara, laughing and talking until they saw Robin and Jess. Capi’s expression changed to one of shock as she sprinted over to Robin.

"Robbie! Are you OK? What happened?!" Capi said with concern while grabbing Robin’s arm and helping her to sit down.

"It’s OK, Capi. It’s not as bad as it looks. Just a cut on the head and a sprained ankle," Robin replied while trying to catch her breath. Capi glanced over to Jess for confirmation of Robin’s account and saw a raised eyebrow and a look of skepticism.

"We were just coming out to give you guys some company for the walk back to the lake. I’m so glad we found you," Capi said while looking over Robin’s injuries and rubbing her back reassuringly. "How far have you had to hobble on that crutch?"

"She fell about half way up Three Fingered Jack, so we’ve probably gone about a mile so far. I was beginning to wonder if we’d have enough energy left to make it the rest of the way, so I’m really happy to see you guys, "Jess said gratefully. Capi was busy tending to Robin and wasn’t listening, and Jess found herself feeling a little left out.

"Capi, between the two of us we can make a ‘chair’ and carry Robin the rest of the way. The sooner we get back to the lake, the sooner we can do something about that ankle," Sara said with concern. She and Capi helped Robin to her feet once again and Robin put one arm around each of their shoulders. They then each grabbed Robin under one of her thighs and made off for the lake. Jess trailed behind, watching Robin’s two friends take over. Now that she was no longer solely responsible for taking care of the injured woman, she felt the stress of the day come crashing over her. She could have been killed! What if she’d never regained consciousness? What would I have done? And why didn’t I catch her before she fell? All I had to do was reach out and catch her… Jess could feel the tears stinging the back of her eyes, and blinked furiously, willing herself not to cry. She slowed down to distance herself from the other three, not wanting them to see her emotions. What do I have to be crying about? I’m not the one who got hurt. What the hell’s the matter with me?

It took the group another hour and a half to go the remaining two miles, having to stop frequently to rest and reposition Robin. Jess offered to take a turn carrying Robin, but Capi wouldn’t let her, saying she had already done her part and should take it easy. When they finally made it back to the camp, Jess quietly stood to the side while the other four women hovered over Robin, discussing what their next step should be.

"I think we need to get her to a hospital and make sure her head’s alright, and get her ankle x-rayed," Capi stated firmly.

"What do you think is the best way to get her back to the car?" Jennifer asked.

"We could make a stretcher," Sara offered. "There are plenty of long sticks around here, and we could use one of the ground cloths."

"Good idea," Capi replied. "Sara, why don’t you and Jennifer work on that while the rest of us pack up camp. Jess can you pack up Robin’s things? We can tie her pack onto the stretcher and take turns carrying it."

Jess just nodded and turned away from the group, walking over to where she and Robin had pitched their tent. Jess felt like she was running on autopilot as she quickly dismantled the tent and stuffed everything into their packs, not bothering to fold or organize anything. She returned to the others to find Robin sitting alone, leaning against a tree, while the others were busy breaking camp.

"Hey, c’mere," Robin called out when she saw Jess lugging both of their packs. Jess set the packs down and walked over, dropping to the ground beside Robin. "Are you OK?" Robin said with concern when she noticed that Jess was looking a little depressed.

Jess looked down with a chagrined look on her face. "Yeah, I’m fine. I just wish I could have done something to keep you from falling."

"Jess, I don’t remember falling, but I’m sure you did everything you could. And I’d really have been in trouble if you hadn’t done such a good job of taking care of me afterward. I’m just sorry that you had to be put in that situation."

Before Jess could reply, Capi interrupted to tell them that they were ready to go. "Jess, where’s Robin’s pack? We need to tie it onto the stretcher."

Jess took the pack over to Sara, who strapped it onto the head of the stretcher. Capi and Sara then helped Robin onto the stretcher and the rest of the women donned their packs. Capi and Sara took the first shift, carrying Robin for about a half mile. Once again, Jess was left out, the other women pairing up to take their turn.

The sun was just going down when they arrived at the parking lot. Capi insisted on driving Robin’s car and taking her to the nearest hospital in Salem. All the other women wanted to make sure Robin was alright, and they followed along in their own cars. Jess rode with Sara, but couldn’t find the energy to engage in conversation. Sara seemed to sense that Jess wanted to be left alone, and they made the hour and a half drive in silence.

 

Chapter 10

Capi was allowed to accompany Robin into the emergency room, while the others sat in the waiting room. After about a half hour, she came out to inform them that Robin had a slight concussion, had needed ten stitches in her head, and had strained ligaments in her ankle. Amazingly, she had no broken bones.

"She’s just about done in there, and the doctor said it was OK for her to go home tonight. He wants someone to wake her up about every two hours, so I’ll stay with her. Why don’t the rest of you head back and get some rest? It’s been a really long day."

You think it’s been a long day, Jess thought sarcastically. She was getting a little annoyed at the way Capi had just taken over responsibility for Robin’s welfare. But then she remembered that Capi was Robin’s best friend, and was probably who Robin wanted looking after her. With a profound sense of regret, Jess followed the others out the door to the parking lot.

 

Jess tossed and turned all night, worrying about Robin, and wishing she had been the one to stay with her instead of Capi. Around 5 am, she finally gave up trying to sleep and got up and put on her running shoes. She headed north from her apartment, and before she knew it she was within a block of Robin’s apartment. She couldn’t help herself, she detoured into the parking lot and ran past Robin’s apartment. Her Outback was parked in its space and the shades were drawn in the front window. Jess slowly jogged past, her stomach tightening at the thought of Capi and Robin in bed together. I’m just worried about her – it’s a perfectly natural reaction to yesterday, Jess tried to convince herself. Still, she felt unusually depressed as she ran back to her apartment.

 

Robin awoke for the fourth time that night, Capi shaking her gently and calling her name.

"Hmmm.…yeah, I’m awake," Robin said groggily.

"Let me see your eyes," Capi said gently, putting her hand on the side of Robin’s face and turning it toward her. Robin blinked sleepily and squinted into the light, her pupils contracting properly. "Hey, you seem much better," Capi said with a half grin at Robin. "Do you have a headache?"

"My head hurts, but I think it’s mostly from the swelling around the cut. Do we have any ibuprofen handy?"

"Yeah, I’ve got it right here on the nightstand," Capi said while retrieving three ibuprofen tablets and a glass of water.

Robin downed the tablets and sank back into her pillow. She sighed deeply and closed her eyes. "Capi, do you think Jess is OK? It had to be awful for her yesterday, and I didn’t get to talk to her at all after we left the lake."

Capi reclined on her elbow next to Robin. She hadn’t even thought about Robin’s feelings for Jess during the hectic events of yesterday. I guess I just kind of took over, didn’t I? And I didn’t even tell Jess how grateful I was that she rescued Robin. I wonder if anyone did? We were all so concerned about Robin that we just kind of forgot about the heroic effort that Jess made. I definitely owe her an apology.

"Well, she seemed OK when she left the hospital last night, but I actually don’t remember her saying much of anything after we found you guys on the trail," Capi said. "Now that I think about it, she was probably suffering from a little bit of shock herself. It must have been really scary for her to be all alone when she found you. She really did a great job of first-aid, though, didn’t she?"

"I’m sure she saved my life," Robin said solemnly. "I wish I could have told her that last night."

"You’ll get another chance," Capi said gently. "Why don’t you try to get some more sleep now? I’ll wake you up again in a couple of hours, and by then it will be time for breakfast."

"Breakfast?!" Robin perked up. "I didn’t even get dinner last night!"

Capi laughed and put her hand on Robin’s belly. "Well, you’re nothing if not predictable. Try not to keep us awake with your growling stomach!" She started to rub her hand in small, soothing circles on Robin’s stomach, and soon she could hear Robin’s breathing slow down into the steady rhythm of sleep.

 

Jess heard the phone ringing from the deck of her apartment. It’s probably John. I just don’t feel like talking to him right now. She had been moping around in a funk all morning, and didn’t seem to want to do much of anything. She thought about calling Robin at least ten times, but didn’t want to disturb her in case she didn’t feel well. I’m sure Capi is taking good care of her, Jess thought sarcastically.

After five rings, Jess relented and got up to answer the phone.

"Hello?"

"Hey, how are you doing?"

"Robin?! I should be asking you that question! Are you OK?" Jess asked, relief flooding her voice.

"Yeah, I’m fine, thanks to you. I didn’t even get a chance to say thanks for saving my life yesterday," Robin said with a smile in her voice.

"Oh, I certainly didn’t do anything as dramatic as that," Jess protested. "I just did basic first-aid – what anyone else would have done in that situation."

"Yeah, well it wasn’t anyone else, it was you, and if you hadn’t been there and kept your wits about you, I would have been in serious trouble. Anyway, I just felt bad that I didn’t get a chance to tell you that last night."

"I was sorry I didn’t get to talk to you last night, too," Jess replied softly. "I was really worried about how you were doing, but Capi seemed to have everything under control."

"She was a little overprotective, wasn’t she?" Robin replied with a small laugh. "I know she was just worried about me, and was trying to do what she thought was best."

"I know that, too. And I’m sure it was comforting for you to have your best friend there with you."

Robin thought that she could sense some resentment in Jess’s voice, and wondered if Jess might be jealous of Capi. Now that would be interesting, wouldn’t it?

"You know, I’m really feeling a lot better today. I’m supposed to take it easy, but I could cook us some dinner tonight if you’d like to come over," Robin said hopefully.

Jess thought about that for a moment and decided she really wanted to see Robin and make sure she was doing alright. "I’ll tell you what, I’ll come over for dinner if I can do the cooking and you promise to relax."

"Ohhh, that sounds like an offer I can’t refuse! How about 6 o’clock?"

"Sounds great. Is there anything you don’t eat?"

"Are you kidding? I like everything!"

"Of course, what was I thinking?" Jess laughed. "OK, I’ll see you at six."

Both women hung up the phone with a smile on their face, looking forward to the evening.

 

Jess arrived promptly at six, arms laden with groceries. Cooking was not her forte, but she was pretty sure that she could make a decent stir-fry, and fresh vegetables from the local farmer’s market would enhance her chances of success.

She and Robin sat at the counter that separated Robin’s kitchen from her dining room and chopped vegetables while Robin recounted her experiences at the hospital. "The doctor said I was very lucky to have such minor injuries after falling 50 feet." Robin paused in her chopping and looked up at Jess, catching her attention with a smile. "And, he said you did an excellent job of splinting my ankle and treating the cut on my head." She reached out and covered one of Jess’s hands with hers and said seriously, "I’m really glad that you were there with me, Jess. I would have been in real trouble without you."

Jess felt her throat constrict with emotion and said, "Hey, c’mere," reaching over and drawing Robin’s head into her shoulder. "I’m just sorry that I didn’t catch you before you fell." Her voice cracked as she said, "I was so scared, Robin. You weren’t moving and there was all that blood around your head…"

"Shhhhh…" Robin stroked Jess’s back soothingly and said, "Jess, you did everything you could. You did everything right. If you were scared, you sure didn’t show it to me. You made me feel like everything was going to be alright, and it was."

Jess held on to Robin until she felt her emotions come back under control. She cleared her throat and pulled away, saying, "Well, let’s just not do it again anytime soon, OK?"

Robin accepted Jess’s attempt at humor as a way to ease the tension, and gave her a big smile in return. "It’s a deal. The next time I invite you on a camping trip I promise the most excitement will be when you catch a twenty inch rainbow on a dry fly."

Jess laughed and got up to begin her stir-fry. The next hour was spent in easy conversation while enjoying Jess’s cooking. Afterward, they moved into Robin’s living room and turned on the TV, although neither of them was very interested in watching it.

"Are you sure you shouldn’t be getting to bed early? What did the doctor say you should be doing for your head?" Jess asked.

"He basically said that if I got through 24 hours without any problems that I could resume my normal activities…within reason of course. I’m probably not supposed to play tackle football for awhile, but with my ankle, I don’t think I’m going to be playing much of anything for a long time," Robin said sadly.

"That’s going to be hard for you, isn’t it?" Jess said with a sympathetic smile. "How do you feel about swimming?"

"Ughhh. You mean other than to reach the shore from a sinking boat? I hate putting on a swimsuit and I hate jumping into cold water, but other than that, swimming’s fine," Robin joked.

"Well, it’s probably going to be the best thing you can do to keep in shape for awhile. And look at the bright side, you won’t have any run-ins with Glenn in the pool!"

"Yeah, well there are probably lots of other lecherous old men that go to the pool just to leer at women in swimming suits," Robin retorted.

Jess just laughed in response. "Speaking of your sprained ankle, aren’t you supposed to be icing it and keeping it elevated?"

"Yeah, I was pretty good about icing it during the day, but I should probably do it again before I go to bed."

"You lie down there on the couch, put your foot up, and I’ll go get you some ice," Jess offered. Before Robin could protest, Jess was off to the kitchen for a bag of ice. She returned to the couch, putting Robin’s foot in her lap, and placing the bag of ice on Robin’s ankle. Just then the phone rang, and Robin reached over to the end table to answer it.

"Hello?"

"Hey babe, how’s it going? You sound pretty good!"

"Hey Capi. Everything’s fine. Jess is here and she just coerced me into icing my ankle again," Robin said while smiling at Jess.

"Well, Jess is a very smart woman and you should do whatever she says," Capi said with mock seriousness.

"Oh great. All I need is for you two to gang up on me, like I can’t take care of myself," Robin retorted.

"Well, I think you pretty much proved that yesterday," Capi teased. "Do you want me to come and stay with you again tonight? I don’t mind, if you’re worried about your concussion."

"Thanks Capi, but I think I’m going to be fine tonight. I haven’t had any dizziness, and my headache has really gotten better."

"Ah, but I’ll bet the real reason you’re going to be fine tonight has something to do with six feet of dark and beautiful, right?"

Robin could feel the blood rush to her face and it made her head pound. She looked away from Jess, hoping that she wouldn’t notice her discomfort, and replied, "Yeah, it was nice talking to you, too, Capi. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye."

Before Capi got a chance to reply, she reached around and hung up the phone, hoping that she didn’t look as flustered as she felt.

"Is Capi worried about you?" Jess asked while rearranging the ice bag on Robin’s ankle. It was too cold to rest her hands on the ice bag, and Jess had found herself wondering where to put them while Robin was talking on the phone. She had hesitantly placed one on Robin’s shin and the other on her foot, and now she was unconsciously lightly rubbing Robin’s leg and toes.

"Mmmm, that feels good, thanks," Robin said while closing her eyes. "Yeah, she was offering to stay here again tonight, but I think I’ll be fine."

Jess was startled by Robin’s response and almost jerked her hands away, but recovered quickly and put more thought into her impromptu massage. She carefully avoided the swollen ankle, but gently worked the tight calf muscle while adding some warmth to the cold toes.

"I distinctly remember that I promised you a massage, not the other way around," Robin said, smiling contentedly with her eyes still closed.

"Yeah, well that was before your whole world turned upside down, and now I’m sure that you need it more than me. Why don’t you just sit back and relax for awhile?" Jess offered.

"Hmmm, twist my arm," Robin replied while snuggling down into the couch. She let her mind wander while Jess’s movements took her attention away from the cold ice on her ankle. Within minutes, she was softly snoring.

Oh great! What am I gonna do now? Jess thought to herself. She carefully removed the ice bag from Robin’s ankle and checked to make sure that it wasn’t leaking before placing it on the floor. I hate to disturb her because I know she needs her rest. She’ll probably wake up pretty soon, Jess thought as she leaned her head on the back of the couch and shut her eyes.

 

Jess awoke with a sharp pain in her neck. She slowly lifted her head from the back of the couch, neck and shoulder muscles complaining at the awkward position they’d been left in for hours. Damn that hurts! I can’t believe I fell asleep like that. She looked over to see Robin sleeping soundly. Jess’s stomach contracted with a feeling of intense longing, and alone with her thoughts, she allowed herself to consider what it would be like to physically be with a woman. Do I want to kiss her? And what would come after kissing? Jess started to feel distinctly uncomfortable at the thought. No, that’s not what I want. When I think about physical attraction, I think about men, not women. But she could not deny the intense emotional attraction she had for Robin. She thought about her all the time and loved being with her. Maybe I’ve just never had such a close friend before and that’s why this seems so different to me.

Jess felt a sense of great relief that she had ruled out a physical attraction to Robin. That train of thought, however, had reminded her of her relationship with John. She found herself with an intense curiosity about whether she had a physical attraction to him. I enjoy kissing him, although it’s not like fireworks go off or anything. And we’ve certainly had a couple of times where things have heated up to the point where I know he wanted more. Maybe I just need to let it happen – to see what I’ve been missing all these years. And maybe it would put to rest these doubts I’m having about an attraction to Robin. Convinced with this line of reasoning, Jess decided that she would invite John over for dinner in the very near future, and would encourage things to go farther than they had in the past. If it doesn’t happen, so be it. But I’m pretty sure that John will be more than happy to accommodate me!

Right now, however, Jess had to decide what to do about her present sleeping arrangements. She decided not to disturb Robin, but she thought she should stay for the remainder of the night just to make sure that Robin was alright. She carefully lifted Robin’s feet and slid out from under them. She grabbed the blanket on the back of the couch and gently spread it over Robin’s sleeping form. She took one last look at Robin’s peaceful face, turned out the light, and made her way to Robin’s bedroom. She shucked her jeans and socks and crawled between the covers, sleep claiming her quickly.

 

Robin was slowly returning to wakefulness, thinking about strong hands on her legs and feet. As she awoke, however, that thought was quickly replaced by a throbbing in her ankle and a distinct sense of emptiness as she realized she was alone on the couch. The early morning light was streaming in through the front window, and she squinted at her watch to see that it was 6 am. I can’t believe that I slept on the couch all night. And when did Jess leave? I never even heard her. Some hostess I am – I fall asleep in the middle of conversation and don’t even thank her for dinner!

Robin groggily got to her feet, grabbed her crutches, and made her way into the bedroom to access the attached bathroom. She abruptly stopped in the doorway when she saw Jess’s long frame stretched out on her bed. She had shed the covers during the night, and long, bare legs were sprawled across the mattress. Robin’s eyes made their way up the legs, somewhat disappointed to see that the rest of Jess remained clothed. Her lips were parted slightly and she appeared to still be deeply in sleep. God she’s beautiful! Even if she were gay, there’s no way I’d have a chance with someone like her, Robin thought dejectedly. She knew that was really her mother talking in her head again, but she had never even dreamed of falling in love with someone like Jess. Wait a minute…falling in love? Come on, Robin, let’s not go overboard here. Yeah, you’re attracted to her, but you can’t set yourself up for a major heartbreak. Get a grip! She gave a quiet sigh and turned away from the bed.

Robin quietly went over to the bathroom and shut the door behind her. After brushing her teeth and taking a quick shower, Robin returned to her bedroom. The running water must have awakened Jess, because she was sitting on the edge of the bed, fully clothed once again.

Robin gave her a big smile and said, "Hey, sorry I fell asleep on you last night. Believe me, it was no reflection on your company – I just must have been more tired than I thought."

Jess laughed lightly. "No problem. I hope you don’t mind my crashing in your bedroom. I didn’t feel comfortable leaving you alone last night, so soon after the accident."

"That was thoughtful of you, Jess, but I’m sure I would have been fine. But now that you’re here, the least I can do is make you some breakfast. How about a cheese omelet?"

"Sounds great, but you don’t have to go to any trouble. I can always just stop at Starbuck’s on my way home."

"It’s no trouble at all, and it will only take me a minute. Do you have to go to work today?"

"Yeah, but I don’t have to be there too early. I have a meeting with my assistant coaches at 11, but nothing before that."

"Great! I’ll go get breakfast started. You’re welcome to take a shower, and I’d offer you some clean clothes, but I don’t think they’d fit," Robin said with a wry grin.

"That’s OK, I’ll just wait until I get home." Jess followed Robin out to the kitchen and helped her get the coffee started. Jess retrieved the ingredients for the omelet, and then the two of them sat at the counter grating cheese and beating the eggs. What a nice thing to wake up to. I’m usually so cranky in the morning, but today I really feel good. It’s so pleasant here, Jess thought peacefully as she looked around at the soothing earth tones of Robin’s kitchen, and the contagious cheerfulness of the woman herself.

Robin interrupted her thoughts with an offer of coffee. "Do you need cream or sugar?"

"No, black is fine. I think it gets into the bloodstream faster that way," she quipped.

Robin laughed and replied, "Well, I always thought that a little cream might help protect my stomach lining, but I’m sure I’m kidding myself."

Robin returned to the stove, and in no time, she put two plates with steaming omelets on the counter and moved around to join Jess. They ate in a relaxed silence, each thinking about how nice it was to spend the morning with the other. When they were finished, Robin insisted that she could clean up on her own, and that Jess could head back home. Jess drove herself across town, thinking about how different it felt to start the day in a good mood.

 

Chapter 11

Jess looked up at the knock on her office door and saw John’s head poking around the edge.

"Hey baby, I missed you this weekend! How was your camping trip?" John walked over to Jess’s desk and gave her a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek, before sitting on the edge of the desk.

Jess leaned back in her chair and gave him a big smile in return. "Well, it was actually quite eventful. Robin and I were on a hike when she fell off a 50 foot cliff, and I ended up having to practice my first-aid skills."

"You’re kidding! Is she alright?"

"Surprisingly, she only had a gash on her head, a slight concussion, and strained ligaments in her ankle. The hard part was getting her back to the campsite."

"Wow, it sounds like more excitement than you wanted, huh? It’s amazing she wasn’t hurt worse than that. Fifty feet is a long way to fall."

Jess felt queasy thinking about that, and her great mood that had been with her all day threatened to flee. She took a deep breath and decided to change the subject. "So what did you do all weekend?"

"Other than mope around because you weren’t there?" John asked with a pouting look. "A couple of other coaches and I went to a Mariner’s game up in
Seattle, and decided to stay and taste the nightlife in the big city."

"Oh yeah, it sounds like you were really moping around missing me," Jess said sarcastically. "And how was the nightlife?"

"It was great! We must have hit three or four different clubs before closing time. Luckily they were all within walking distance of our hotel, because we certainly weren’t in shape to be driving."

Men are so proud of their drunken exploits. I wonder if they think it’s charming. Before her mood changed, Jess remembered her resolve to make things work with John, and turned another smile on him. "Hey what are you doing for dinner tomorrow? I was thinking maybe you could come over and I’d cook something for a change. And if you want, you could bring a video to watch after dinner."

John seemed startled by the offer, but quickly accepted. "That sounds great! Anything in particular you want to see?"

"No, you can surprise me. But how about if you get something romantic, instead of those blood and guts movies you like?" Jess said with a seductive smile.

Whoa, what’s gotten into her? I should encourage her to go away for the weekend more often, John thought, his mind running away with the possibilities for tomorrow night. "OK, I’ll pick out something good. What time should I come by?"

"How about 6?"

"Great. See you then – I can’t wait!" John leaned over and gave Jess another quick kiss, then got up and left the office with a distinct spring in his step.

Jess just sat in her chair and shook her head. Men are so predictable. Her smile faded though as she thought about what tomorrow night might bring. Is this really what I want? Or am I just trying to convince myself that I’m not attracted to Robin? I guess it doesn’t matter. I’ve waited too long to find out if what’s been missing in my past relationships has been a physical connection. If nothing else, at least I’ll get this milestone in my life over with. Jess felt a little regret at having that attitude toward losing her virginity, but she had gone enough years waiting for that magical someone that would make her glad she had saved it. She no longer believed it happened like that – Mr. Right, falling in love at first sight and knowing that ‘this is the one.’ Now she believed that you had to work to fall in love in with someone, and part of that meant being willing to give of yourself physically. At least it was worth a try – nothing else had worked in her past.

 

Robin went into her office on Tuesday after having spent Monday continuing her recuperation. Her headaches had mostly disappeared, and she was getting along pretty well on her crutches. She needed to get over to the library to pick up some journal articles that were related to one of her research projects. I’ll be glad when the whole world is on-line and I won’t have any need to ever go to the library again, she thought as she made her way across campus on her crutches. She decided to detour past the Java Connection and grab a cup of coffee on her way. As she walked in the door, she was surprised to see Jess and John sitting at one of the tables drinking coffee. Jess looked up and saw her and gave a big smile and a wave.

"Hey Robin, come on over and join us!"

As happy as Robin was to see Jess, she felt almost nauseous at the sight of Jess and John together. Nevertheless, she mustered up a smile and said, "Sure, I’ll be right over," and headed off to the counter to place her order. She was just trying to figure out how she was going to carry her coffee and use her crutches at the same time, when Jess appeared at her elbow.

"Here, let me get that," she said smiling, taking the coffee from Robin.

Robin looked up into the warm blue eyes and felt her heart melt all over again. Oh, geez I’ve got it bad! She quickly looked down before the blush could start, and said, "Thanks," while following Jess over to the table.

"Hey Robin, I heard you took quite a tumble," John remarked. "You don’t look bad for someone who fell 50 feet!"

"Thanks, John…I think," Robin replied with a smirk. "I was just lucky Jess was with me and she knew a thing or two about first aid," Robin said with a shy smile toward Jess.

Jess smiled back, but didn’t reply. She felt a little uncomfortable having both Robin and John at the table with her, and found herself comparing her feelings toward the two of them. She was more than a little surprised when she realized she was hoping John would leave so that she could talk to Robin alone. Maybe I just want him to leave so that he won’t say something to make a fool of himself in front of her, she thought wryly.

"Well, I should be getting back," John said. "I have to meet some athletes in the weight room in about 10 minutes. You coming, Jess?"

"You go ahead, John. I still have half a cup of coffee."

"OK, I’ll see you tonight then?" John said with a wink and a big grin on his face.

Jess felt herself blushing and quickly said, "Yeah, around 6. See you then."

John walked out of the coffee shop and Robin noticed Jess’s blush. "So, you’ve got a big date tonight?" she asked, trying to keep the disappointment out of her voice.

Jess looked up shyly and replied, "Yeah. Remember when we were talking that night at Miguel’s, and I said that I didn’t think I tried hard enough in the past to make relationships work?" Robin nodded but didn’t say anything, not liking where this conversation was heading. "Well, I decided that I need to try harder with John. I think I need to find out if what I’ve been missing is the physical part of a relationship, and that’s why I’ve never been successful in the past. So I invited him over for dinner tonight, and if events end up heading toward the bedroom, I’m not going to stop it this time."

Robin felt like someone just punched her in the stomach. She swallowed hard, and clenched her jaw, trying hard not to show her reaction to Jess. Somehow, she managed to get out an appropriate reply before getting up out of her chair and saying that she really had to get to the library.

Jess was startled by Robin’s abrupt reaction, and asked if she needed any help carrying things.

"No, thanks, I’ve got my backpack," Robin replied while gathering up her crutches. As she turned to leave, she said, "Have a good time tonight. I hope everything works out the way you want." And then she was out the door, heading for the nearest rest room she could find. She barely made it there before the tears started falling from her eyes, and she locked herself into a stall, sobbing uncontrollably.

 

Robin made it through the rest of her day in a severe state of depression. When Capi called her at the end of the day and asked if she wanted to join her for dinner, she quickly accepted, knowing she didn’t want to be alone with her thoughts.

Robin met Capi at Mazzi’s, a local Italian restaurant. Capi could immediately see that something was wrong, but waited until they were seated with a glass of wine before gently asking Robin what had happened.

"Who says anything happened?" Robin said defensively.

"Oh come on, Robin, you’ve got heartbreak written all over your face! Now spill it! What happened between you and Jess?"

"Oh Capi, nothing happened between us. It’s what’s happening between her and John that’s the problem."

"Uh-oh, this sounds bad. Do you mean to tell me she’s actually getting serious about him? As much as I teased you before, I didn’t really think she was that interested in him."

"That’s the really awful part. I don’t think she is that interested in him. She’s got this crazy idea in her head that the reason her relationships with men don’t work is because she won’t go to bed with them."

"You’re kidding! Isn’t that supposed to be the guy’s line?"

"Capi, it’s not funny!" Robin protested. "She feels like she’s been holding back and now she wants to see if having sex with the guy will make a difference. Why couldn’t she have experimented with her last boyfriend, before I even knew her," Robin lamented.

"Hey, come on Robbie," Capi said gently. "Maybe she’ll come to her senses before it’s too late."

"I don’t think so. She’s invited him over for some romantic dinner tonight, hoping that he’ll ask to spend the night."

"Oh God, what a way to ruin my appetite!" Capi said with disgust. They both sat there in silence for a few minutes, not wanting to think about what Jess and John would be doing tonight, but unable to think about anything else.

"You know, I’m not really hungry either. Would it be OK if we just finished our drinks and went home?" Robin asked hopefully.

"Sure, Robbie. Do you want me to come over and keep you company for awhile?"

"No thanks, I think I’m just going to try to go to bed early. The sooner I fall asleep, the less time I have to think about it."

The two women finished their drinks and walked back out to the parking lot. Capi took Robin in her arms and felt Robin give her a ferocious hug in return. She could tell that Robin was crying, and she just held her tight, oblivious to the other patrons walking to and from their cars. After a few minutes, Robin broke away and wiped at her tears with the back of her hand. Capi gave her a reassuring smile and said, "You’ll make it through this. If you and Jess were meant to be, this will all work out, you’ll see. Have faith, Robbie."

"Thanks Capi, and thanks for putting up with me. I’m sorry you always have to listen to my troubles."

"Hey, I love you, Robbie, and I’ll always be here for you."

Robin smiled up at Capi through her tears and said, "I love you, too, Capi. You’re the best friend I could ever ask for."

They both knew that ‘I love you’ meant different things for each of them, but they were also both comfortable with that. Capi helped Robin into her car, and gave her a wave good-bye. With a deep sigh, she headed for her own car and her empty house. I want Robin, Robin wants Jess, and Jess wants John…or at least thinks she wants John. Why does love have to be so complicated?

 

The unconsciousness of sleep that Robin hoped would claim her never came that night. She tossed and turned in her bed, trying not to think about Jess and John, but failing miserably. Finally, at the first light of dawn, Robin gave up and crawled out of bed. I know I shouldn’t do this, but I have to know. I can’t go another minute without finding out for sure. She threw on some sweats, grabbed her crutches and her car keys, and headed out to her carport. No one else was on the road as she made her way toward Jess’s apartment. She slowly drove past, hoping beyond hope that she wouldn’t see John’s truck parked next to Jess’s car.

 

Continued in part 5


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