Disclaimers: See Part 1

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 5

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 13

The huge Dodge Ram parked next to Jess’s Camry could not be missed. Robin sucked in a breath and momentarily closed her eyes in pain. As she let the breath out, she felt empty. Not sick, not like crying…just empty. She wanted to be angry, to feel betrayed, but she knew that wasn’t rational. Jess has no emotional commitment to me. There’s no reason for her to think that sleeping with John would affect me at all. Oh God, why didn’t I tell her how I feel? Maybe she wouldn’t have run away. Maybe she would have felt the same way. Maybe this wouldn’t be happening, and my heart wouldn’t be breaking! It’s my own damn fault for being so insecure and afraid of rejection!

Robin made a u-turn and headed back to her apartment, but changed her mind on the way and drove to the trailhead at McHenry’s Peak, just out of town. There was a short, well-maintained trail to the top of the peak that afforded a 360 degree view of the valley and surrounding mountains. She noticed the "handicapped accessible" sign on the trail, looked down at her crutches, and thought, I guess now I can appreciate these trails. Twenty minutes later, out of breath and with a throbbing ankle, she was cresting the top of the small peak and watching the sunrise over the Cascade Mountains. The punishment of the walk up the hill, combined with the exhilaration of reaching the top and seeing the sunrise, seemed to cleanse Robin’s senses. It was like she had exorcized her demons and was now ready to take the next step. She knew that she wasn’t going to be able to see Jess for awhile, and they would probably never be able to regain the close friendship they’d developed. But I’m going to accept Jess’s choice and not let it ruin my life. Unfortunately, the feelings she had for Jess were not just going to go away because she wanted them to. But if I can just avoid her for awhile, keep my distance, maybe time will heal things. She could hope.

 

Jess awoke feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Something was crowding her, pinning her right arm to the bed. She slowly opened her eyes to see John’s semi-clad body sprawled across the bed, his right arm on top of hers. Momentarily shocked at the sight, she quickly recovered, remembering the previous night’s events. Poor John, I really didn’t mean to lead him on like that and then tell him ‘no.’ Jess had every intention of making love with him last night, but when they got to her bedroom, what had previously been only a thought in her head became a reality, and she knew immediately that it wasn’t right. They had talked and kissed, but when John started to unbutton Jess’s shirt, she stopped him. She said she thought she was ready, but she wasn’t, and hoped he’d understand. To his credit, he immediately backed off and told her that he would wait until she was ready – he didn’t want to pressure her into doing anything she didn’t want to do. Jess was profoundly relieved, and asked him to just stay with her for the night, which he did.

Now in the light of day, Jess looked at John and realized what a big mistake she almost made. She didn’t love him, and making love with him wasn’t going to change that. Maybe she would come to love him in time, but they needed to get to know each other better. If she’d had sex with him, she would have regretted it and the relationship would have gone no further. Thank God I came to my senses in time. What was I thinking, anyway? Reflecting back, Jess realized that part of her motivation was to prove that she was physically attracted to men, not women. Oh come on, be honest, you wanted to convince yourself you didn’t want Robin…Well, I’m pretty sure that if it had been Robin in my bed last night, the result would have been the same. She still couldn’t get her mind around the thought of having sex with a woman. And besides that, I just… can’t… be… gay. All the pain and suffering that poor girl, her family, and I had to go through ten years ago....No, the irony would be too cruel if it turned out Jess really was gay.

Jess extricated herself from John’s arm and slid out of bed without waking him. After a quick trip to the bathroom, she made her way to the kitchen to make some coffee. As she was pouring herself a cup, John appeared in the doorway.

"Hey, how’d you sleep? I’ve got some coffee here if you’d like some."

"Mmmm, sounds good," John replied sleepily. "Why are you up so early? It’s barely light out!"

"A little cranky in the morning, are we?" Jess teased. "It’s not that early – it’s nearly 7. And I’ve got to get to work early this morning because I’m meeting with the strength coach to plan our preseason workouts." Jess opened the refrigerator door and poked around for some breakfast. "I’ve got some bagels and cream cheese if you’re interested."

"Sure, sounds good," John said while making his way over to the kitchen table with his coffee.

"You want poppy seed or cinnamon raisin?"

"Cinnamon. And lots of cream cheese. Toasted," John said as he picked up the newspaper on the table and began reading.

A ‘please’ would be nice, Jess thought. Suddenly she had a flash forward to what life would be like with John, and it wasn’t a particularly pleasant thought. She couldn’t help but compare this scenario to the enjoyable morning she had spent at Robin’s two days ago. It had been so comfortable, and so easy to engage in conversation with the cheerful woman.

Jess finished preparing two bagels and gave one to John, who barely looked up from his paper to take it.

"I’m going to take a quick shower and get ready to go. Take your time – you can stay as long as you want."

John mumbled an OK, and Jess headed off to her room, munching on her bagel and anxious to get out of the apartment.

 

Robin managed to avoid Jess for the rest of the week, letting voice-mail answer her phone and not returning e-mail messages. She knew she couldn’t avoid her forever – they were sure to see each other eventually at a softball game, since all the women’s teams played on the same night. This week, her game didn’t overlap with Jess’s, and she declined Capi’s offer to go to Woodstock’s afterward. The weekend arrived, and Robin was feeling progressively more depressed. I thought it was supposed to get better with time. There’s not an hour that goes by that I don’t think about her.

Robin decided that she had to get out of town, and called Capi to see if she wanted to go to the beach.

"Do you just want to go for the day, or are we talking overnight trip here?" Capi asked.

"Let’s take overnight stuff so we can play it by ear. If the weather’s nice, we could make a fire and camp on the beach."

"Sounds great. When do you want to pick me up?"

"Can you be ready in a half hour? We can stop and get coffee on the way out of town."

"Oh, so now you’re bribing me with coffee…well, that usually works! I’ll see you in a half hour."

Robin drove up to Capi’s house, gave a quick honk on the horn, and saw Capi wave through the front window. Two minutes later, Capi was loading her things into the back of the Outback and they were off to Starbuck’s.

"Did you find somebody to take care of your cats?" Robin inquired.

"No, I figured they could just stay inside. It won’t kill them if they don’t get to go hunting for one night. Besides, I won’t have to come back to half-eaten carcasses this way, just a full litter box."

"Ah, life is full of trade-offs, isn’t it?" Robin quipped.

They arrived at Starbuck’s and found the line ten people deep, as usual on a weekend morning.

"Why didn’t I buy stock in Starbuck’s when they were first getting started?" Robin lamented.

"Probably the same reason we didn’t buy Microsoft, or Pfizer," Capi replied. "Who knew that so many men were impotent?!"

Robin laughed and found herself feeling better than she had all week. They retrieved their lattes and Robin put her arm around Capi’s waist as they headed back to the car. "You know, I love how you can make me laugh. I think that’s the best quality a friend can have – the ability to make you laugh."

Capi smiled back at Robin and returned the hug with her free arm. "Glad to be of service, friend."

 

Jess was feeling restless as the weekend arrived. Things had gone better than she’d hoped with John. He seemed content for things to slow down for awhile, and he had some traveling to do at the end of the week that would keep him away until Monday. Work had been fine - her team would be back on campus soon, and she should be excited and looking forward to the preseason. But something had been missing all week, and she knew that something was Robin. Why wouldn’t she answer my e-mails or return my phone calls? It just doesn’t make sense.

Jess thought back to the last time she’d talked to Robin. We had a good time when I stayed there last Sunday, and everything seemed fine when I left in the morning. Maybe something happened to her. But I talked to one of her teammates at Woodstock’s on Thursday night, and she said Robin was fine. I don’t get it!

Frustrated, Jess grabbed some money from her wallet and left her apartment. It’s such a nice day, I think I’ll just walk to Starbuck’s. She headed off for downtown and made the easy walk in about 15 minutes. When she was a block away, she saw Robin and Capi leaving the coffee shop, arms around each other and laughing. Jess froze as the sight of the two women made her stomach clench painfully. Could that be why Robin’s avoiding me? Did she and Capi finally get together, and she doesn’t know how to tell me?

Jealousy rose up in Jess like it never had before in her life. Capi’s not right for her. If she didn’t want to be with her for the last three years, why would she change her mind now? She’s just settling for something that’s easy and available. Her alter-ego could not remain quiet at that thought. Kind of like you, huh? So desperate to be with a guy, to prove that you’re not gay, you just settled for what was easy and available. Jess felt disgusted with herself, but it didn’t stop her from being angry with Robin. The alter-ego spoke again. Angry? How can you be angry with her? She has every right to be with Capi if she wants to. Do you wish she were with you instead? Even in her thoughts, Jess refused to answer that question.

Well, she could have at least told me she was gay. I thought we were friends. That’s not exactly something you would hide from your friend, is it?

No longer interested in coffee, Jess turned around and headed back to her apartment. She retrieved her car keys and headed to her office, determined to punish herself by working all weekend.

 

"What an incredible sunset! Makes me glad I live on the west coast instead of the east," Robin said while watching the wispy clouds on the horizon turn a brilliant shade of red as the sun sank below the Pacific Ocean. As usual along the Oregon coast in summer, it was twenty degrees colder than it had been in the valley, and the loss of sunshine added to the chill. Robin shivered and put her arms around herself, trying to keep her body heat in.

"Let’s get that fire started before we freeze to death," Capi said when she saw Robin’s discomfort. They found a spot among the dunes that was protected from the wind and gathered up driftwood. Within minutes, they had a roaring fire going, and they huddled together under a blanket they had brought along.

"So Robin, the subject of Jess has been noticeably absent from your conversation lately. Have you talked to her since her big date with John?"

"Oh geez, did you have to bring that up? I was having such a good time," Robin said sarcastically. "No, I’ve been studiously avoiding her because I don’t have any idea what to say to her. ‘So Jess, was he a good lay?’ I think I’d throw up if she said yes. Heck, I’d probably throw up if she said no, because either way I’d have to think about the two of them doing it," Robin said with distaste dripping from her words.

"Yeah, that’s a visual I’d just as soon avoid myself," Capi replied. "But if you don’t talk to her, how are you going to know what she decided about her relationship with John? Maybe she hated it and she’s come to her senses."

"It doesn’t matter," Robin said dejectedly. "I’ve already decided that I need to move on. Anybody that’s that hung up on being with a guy – any guy, apparently – isn’t going to be thinking about women any time soon. The longer I keep kidding myself, the worse it will hurt in the end."

Capi put her arm around Robin and softly rubbed her back. "Things will get better. Just give it time."

"That’s what I thought, but it only seems to be getting worse. How do I stop wanting someone who has consumed my thoughts for the last two months? I felt like we had something between us. But it seemed like the closer we got, the more obsessed she got about making her relationship work with John."

Capi seized on that thought. "Well maybe that’s it! Maybe she couldn’t handle getting that close to a woman and she freaked out."

"Like that’s supposed to make me feel better?" Robin did her best Jess impersonation: "Gee Robin, the thought of being with you gives me the creeps, so I’m gonna hop in the sack with the first guy I can find." Robin shook her head. "I don’t think I’ve ever had that effect on a woman before."

"Oh come on, Robbie, you know what I mean. Maybe she just needs a little more time to think about it – to get used to the idea," Capi said persuasively.

"Well, I can’t sit around waiting for something that might never happen. I just have to figure out how to get over her."

"Well, I can tell you that you don’t just get over it because you want to. I don’t know what it takes…maybe somebody else to come along…but don’t be surprised if you feel this way for awhile."

Robin looked sympathetically at Capi. "Some pair we are, huh? A couple of hard-luck love stories." She leaned her head on Capi’s shoulder and the two women stared into the fire, thinking about what could have been.

 

Chapter 14

The rest of the summer slipped by without Jess and Robin talking to each other. They would see each other occasionally, at softball games and on campus, but since neither one was interested in starting a conversation, a quick hello or a nod was as much as they shared. It probably didn’t help that Robin was usually with Capi when Jess saw her. Similarly, Jess was usually with John when Robin ran into her. Jess and John had mutually agreed that they made much better friends than lovers, and actually were enjoying spending more time together. Of course, Robin didn’t know this, and the sight of the two of them together always sent Robin into another bout of depression.

I wonder why Jess stopped calling and e-mailing me after that first week? It sure didn’t take her long to get over me, did it? But then I guess she’s got someone else to occupy her thoughts now, Robin thought sarcastically. Listen to me! I’m the one who wouldn’t talk to her, and now I’m mad because she’s not calling? Get a grip, Robin, she admonished herself.

Robin found herself wondering if she should just acknowledge that Jess wanted John instead of her, and try to reestablish their friendship in spite of that. I couldn’t be any more miserable than I am now, could I? But would I really be able to accept her and John together? I guess I wouldn’t have a choice, Robin thought while trying to imagine how she could initiate a conversation with Jess.

How would I explain my refusal to talk to her before? I can’t just tell her that I was jealous of John! Robin was frustrated as she tried to think of some way out of her current depression.

Jess was equally frustrated with her inability to figure out what went wrong between her and Robin. I know why I got mad at her, but why is she avoiding me? Does she really think I can’t handle knowing that she and Capi are together? Maybe she’s just embarrassed because she never told me she was gay.

Jess sighed deeply. I guess I could get some answers to these questions if I’d just swallow my pride and call her. But Jess couldn’t quite figure out how to start such a conversation, and procrastination prevailed.

 

The end of September brought the beginning of another school year. Robin was busy preparing for classes and trying to finish up a research project before the hectic term began. She was sitting at her computer, staring blankly at the women’s basketball team poster above her monitor, when Capi appeared in her doorway.

"Still thinking about her, huh?"

"Wha…Capi, you scared the shit out of me!"

"Uh-uh-uh," Capi said while shaking her index finger at Robin. "None of that kind of language now that the students are back on campus. You don’t want the head of Student Affairs after you now, do you?"

"I thought I already had the head of Student Affairs after me," Robin quipped. "Not that I’m complaining, of course," she quickly added.

"Yeah, well a lot of good it’s done me. I wonder if I’d have more luck if I got promoted to Provost. That way I’d be the one to decide on your tenure," Capi said mischievously.

"And give up all those days you get to spend with the juvenile delinquents on campus?" Robin teased.

"Well, believe it or not, I do have more responsibilities than dealing with bad fraternities, students that cheat, and athletes that get arrested," Capi replied. "Those are just the fun aspects of my job," she joked.

Robin laughed and said, "So what brings you down here? Some economics student gone bad?"

"No, I just wanted to talk to you about the Fall reception for the Faculty Women’s Group this Friday. You’re on the steering committee, right?"

Robin looked chagrined. One of the other members of the committee had decided that this would be a great opportunity to introduce the women faculty to the new women’s basketball coaches. The reception was going to be at the Alumni Center, and Robin was desperately trying to think of a way to get out of going. "I might be on the committee, but nobody asked me if I thought this reception was a good idea," she grumbled. "I think I might be sick that day. I feel a fever coming on," Robin said as she dramatically put the back of her hand to her forehead.

"Come on, Robin, you can’t avoid her forever. Maybe this will be a good opportunity for you to break the ice," Capi said while looking sympathetically at Robin. "I hate to see you so unhappy."

"What if she doesn’t want to talk to me? It’s not like she’s been breaking my door down."

"Well what do you expect? You gave her the deep freeze for a whole week. How persistent do you expect someone to be?"

"I know," Robin said resignedly. "And I have been trying to think of a way to approach her, but I don’t know if I’m ready yet."

"It may never seem like the right time, Robin, but the sooner you try, the sooner you’ll know whether there’s any chance that you can become friends again."

"OK, I’ll go to the reception, but I can’t promise I’ll get up the nerve to talk to her."

"Great! If it’ll help, I’ll go with you, and I promise to disappear at the first subtle hint you give me."

"Thanks Capi, but I doubt there’ll be any need for that."

"I’ll swing by and pick you up at 4 on Friday, OK?"

"OK. Thanks for stopping by."

"No problem." Capi gave Robin a big smile and said, "Chin up!" on her way out the door.

 

The Alumni Center was on the south end of campus, perched on a small rise that afforded a great view of the surrounding hills. Capi and Robin walked over at 4 pm on Friday, arriving well before the 4:30 start time for the reception. At Robin’s suggestion, the event was being catered by Meghan and Jennifer’s restaurant. Robin and Capi arrived in time to see the finishing touches being placed on an exquisite spread of appetizers.

"Hey, Meghan," Robin called to her friend. "You’ve outdone yourself! This looks great."

Meghan smiled broadly in return. "Thanks, but you know Jennifer’s the culinary expert – I just try to make everything look pretty on the table!"

"Well, I’d say you’re exceptionally qualified for your job, then," Capi replied while admiring the layout.

The two made their way over to a group of women standing out of the way of the last minute preparations.

"Hi Robin," one of the women called out to her. "We were just talking about how to introduce the coaches. We were thinking that we’d wait until about 5, so everyone would have a chance to get here and get some food first."

"Sure, that sounds good," Robin replied.

"Since you’re on the Athletic Advisory Committee, we thought maybe you’d like to introduce them. Aren’t you friends with the head coach?"

Robin paled noticeably. "I think it would be more appropriate for someone else to do the introductions," she said quickly. "Maybe someone who represents the administration?"

All heads in the group turned to look at Capi.

"Whoa, wait a minute!" Capi said while putting her hands up in front of her. "I’m not even on your committee."

"That doesn’t matter. You’d be perfect, Capi!" one of the women said.

Capi turned to look at Robin and saw an Academy Award-winning imitation of puppy dog eyes. "Oh, all right," she sighed. "Do you at least have some resumes I can work from?"

One of the women quickly handed her some papers, and Capi went off to prepare.

The basketball coaches arrived promptly at 4:30. Jess was accompanied by two of her three assistant coaches. Pam Campbell was her first assistant, and had followed Jess to NOU from Idaho State. She was in her late twenties and had been a standout guard for Washington before playing professionally in Japan for two years. Her second assistant, LaTeisha Bolton, played for USC and then served as a graduate assistant coach for Long Beach State for three years. She was Jess’s primary recruiter, especially of African-American players in talent-laden southern California. The third assistant coach, Jeff Walters, worked mostly with the post players, and he asked to miss this event so that he could catch up on some paperwork. Jess knew that the real reason had more to do with him being in a room full of nothing but women faculty members, and graciously let him off the hook.

The Steering Committee members were stationed near the doorway, greeting everyone as they arrived and directing them to the food and drinks. Jess was startled to see Robin in the receiving line. She knew that it would be possible that Robin would be a member of the Faculty Women’s Group, but given Robin’s avoidance of her, she didn’t expect to see her at this event. Jess recovered quickly, however, and returned her focus to the first woman in the line.

"Hi, I’m Jess Peters, and these are my assistant coaches, Pam Campbell and LaTeisha Bolton," Jess said while extending her hand and giving her a dazzling smile.

"Oh, we’re so glad that you could make it, Coach Peters," the woman gushed. "These are the members of the Steering Committee – I’ll let them introduce themselves," she said as she turned to fawn over the two assistant coaches.

Jess made her way down the line with characteristic grace and charm, making eye contact with each woman, and asking them what their role was in the University. Robin waited nervously at the end of the line, wishing she were anywhere else, yet desperately wanting to be right there waiting for Jess. As Jess finally got to the end, blue eyes turned toward Robin, who was looking up hesitantly. Jess’s eyes seemed to be asking a question as she extended her hand and simply said, "Robin."

"Jess," Robin replied while taking the hand and giving an equally questioning look back at Jess.

The moment became awkward as they stood with their hands clasped, neither one knowing what to say. Capi, standing nearby for just this reason, quickly stepped forward and said, "Hey Jess, it’s good to see you again!" while reaching out her hand toward Jess.

Their eyes broke away from each other as Jess turned to talk to Capi. Robin felt a dull ache at the loss of contact with Jess, but quickly realized that she needed to pull herself together to meet the other coaches. She turned back to find a very attractive woman smiling at her with what appeared to be a mischievous look in her eye. Oh my, what have we here? Robin thought while smiling back cautiously.

"Hi there, I’m Pam Campbell, and you look way too young to be a faculty member." Pam’s dark eyes were sparkling as she reached out to take Robin’s hand.

"I’m Robin Grant, and believe me, I won’t look this young by the end of the year. I still have that summer vacation glow." She smiled back at Pam, her gaydar pinging loudly.

"Let me guess…I’ll bet you’re an exercise physiology professor," Pam said while looking appreciatively at Robin’s toned body.

"Not even close," Robin smiled. "I teach economics."

"Hey Pam, move along – you’re holding up the line," LaTeisha said jokingly while giving Pam a little nudge.

Pam gave Robin’s hand one last squeeze and said, "I hope we get a chance to talk more later."

"Yes, me too," Robin replied politely. She then turned to LaTeisha and introduced herself, looking up a good 8 inches to meet her eyes. Wow, where does Jess find these assistants? Between the three of them, they could just as easily be models as basketball coaches. It’s going to make it hard for the fans to keep their eyes on the game instead of the bench! Well, at least some fans...

After completing her reception line duties, Robin made her way over to the food table. She watched as Capi got everyone’s attention and displayed her usual wit while introducing the coaches, giving a short bio for each one. The coaches stood with Capi, trying not to look self-conscious as she highlighted their previous accomplishments. Robin couldn’t help but take advantage of the opportunity to study Jess without reservation, since everyone else was looking at her, too. Jess let her eyes roam around the room, but when they made contact with Robin, she quickly looked away. Mercifully, Capi’s introductions were short, and soon everyone was mingling once again.

Robin made her way through the crowd, catching up on the summer activities of many of her colleagues. Eventually, she took refuge by the food table again, and looked around discreetly to locate Jess. She was surprised to find her still talking to Capi, and quickly turned away before she got caught looking. I sure hope Capi isn’t taking it upon herself to try to smooth things over between Jess and me. Her thoughts were interrupted by a touch on her elbow.

"Hey Robin."

"Oh, hi Pam. Did you get to meet everybody?"

"Well, probably not everybody, but you seem by far the most interesting economics professor here and I figured you’d be the perfect person to explain Greenspan’s latest tweaking of the interest rates," Pam said with a shyly seductive smile on her face.

Robin saw deep brown eyes appraising her, and couldn’t help blushing slightly. "Well, I’m the only economics professor here, and just about anything is more interesting than the Federal Reserve," she said dryly. She was starting to feel a little flustered by the blatant come-on from Pam. "Say, have you tried the food? It’s really outstanding! A couple of friends of mine have a restaurant in town and they catered this. Have you had much chance to get around Comstock and try out the restaurants? Geez Robin, slow down! What are you so nervous about? You’d think no one has ever flirted with you before. She realized that part of her discomfort came from the fact that Jess was nearby, and she didn’t want Jess to think that she was reciprocating Pam’s attention. On the other hand, maybe it would be good for her to see that at least someone thinks I’m attractive. It was also true that after going for months without making any headway with Jess, Robin’s ego needed a little boost.

Pam laughed lightly at Robin’s flurry of words, and said, "Well, I’ve been here for almost 5 months, so I think I know my way around town pretty well. How long have you been at NOU?"

"Three years now. I guess that makes me an old-timer compared to you."

"Yeah, I guess so." Pam reached behind Robin to grab a piece of celery off the food table, brushing her chest against Robin’s arm as she did so. She placed the celery stalk halfway in her mouth and twirled her tongue around it. "So how many classes do you teach?"

"I have a couple of the intro classes, and a grad class in labor economics."

"Well, I have to say that none of the economics professors where I went to school looked anything like you. Most of them were men over fifty with thick glasses and pocket protectors."

Robin smiled and felt herself starting to blush again. "Yeah, I had a few econ professors like that, too. We’re not all geeks, though."

"I should say not," Pam replied while giving an approving look up and down Robin’s body.

"Uh, if you’ll excuse me for a minute, I need to check on the caterer. It looks like we’re getting low on punch." Robin nearly ran from the room, taking refuge in the nearby kitchen.

 

Jess had been watching the interaction between Robin and Pam, getting progressively irked at her assistant coach for the way she was leering at Robin. Usually I can count on Pam to be discreet, but she sure is being obvious tonight. I guess it’s a good thing she’s flirting with Robin, who I know is gay, and not some straight faculty member. Before she could think twice about being glad that someone was flirting with Robin, Capi was introducing her to yet another professor. Jess once again smiled charmingly at the woman, offered some appropriate small talk that made the woman feel like the most important person on campus, and then politely excused herself to talk to Capi again.

As she turned back, she noticed Capi watching the interaction between Pam and Robin with a concerned look on her face.

Nodding in Pam and Robin’s direction, Jess leaned over and said, "I suppose that could make one jealous, watching people flirt with Robin all the time. She’s a very attractive woman – it must happen to you a lot."

Capi’s attention snapped back to Jess. "What did you say?"

Jess shrugged. "I was talking about Pam flirting with Robin. You must feel very secure about your relationship not to get jealous."

It took Capi a moment to make sense of what Jess had said. "You think Robin and I are…? I thought I told you on our camping trip that Robin’s not interested in a relationship with me. If that’s changed, no one’s told me yet." Capi looked questioningly at Jess. "What gave you the idea that Robin and I were together?"

"Well, I saw you…" Jess stopped and thought about what she had really seen that day outside Starbuck’s. Maybe it was nothing more than friends sharing a hug! "Uh…I don’t know, Capi. It just seemed like I always saw you two together. I’m sorry," she stammered, "I guess I jumped to conclusions."

"That’s OK," Capi replied. "I suppose a lot of people might assume that Robin and I are together just because we do so many things with each other. But believe me, we are just friends…unfortunately, for my sake," she added.

Jess needed some time to think, and excused herself to go to the restroom. She splashed some water on her face and looked at her reflection in the mirror. If Robin and Capi aren’t together, then why did Robin stop talking to me? And does this mean that maybe Robin’s not gay after all? Sighing in frustration at never getting any answers from the voice in her head, she decided it was time to quit acting like a teenager and go talk to Robin.

As Jess walked back into the room, she saw that most people had left the reception. She didn’t see Robin anywhere, and decided that she must still be in the kitchen where Jess had seen her disappear to earlier. She walked through the door and saw Robin sitting on a counter talking to Meghan. She hesitated, not wanting to interrupt, but Meghan waved hello to her and quickly said she had to start retrieving dishes from the other room. Jess watched her leave, then turned back to Robin. She slowly walked over to where Robin was sitting, the questioning look back in her eyes.

"Hey, can we talk?"

Robin looked up hopefully and said, "Sure…I’d like that."

Jess stood in front of Robin and tilted her head to look into the younger woman’s eyes. "I’m not exactly sure what happened between us…" Jess paused, taking a breath. "But I know I’d like to figure it out, because I really miss having you as a friend."

Robin waited for Jess to say more, but nothing else was offered. That’s it? Now it’s up to me? What am I supposed to say? Robin looked down at her hands resting in her lap, stalling for time. Well, apologizing usually works, she thought wryly.

"I’m sorry if I’ve been avoiding you Jess. I just thought that since you wanted to work on your relationship with John that I shouldn’t be monopolizing your time." Well, that was pretty close to the truth.

Jess’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. She gently placed her fingers under Robin’s chin, silently requesting Robin to meet her eyes. "John and I aren’t even dating anymore. But even if we were, that doesn’t mean that I can’t have other friends."

Robin tried to hide her surprise at Jess’s revelation, and she could feel her heartbeat pick up. "But you talked about how you wanted to do it right this time, to give the relationship the attention it deserved. I just didn’t want to get in the way."

"Oh, Robin, you couldn’t have gotten in the way. If John was the right guy for me, it would have worked out, but I realize now that ‘trying harder’ is not all it takes to make a relationship work. There has to be some chemistry there in the first place." This time Jess looked down at her hands. "I don’t know why I was so bent on having that relationship. Sometimes I wonder why I bother with romance at all, when friendship is so much easier, and from my experiences anyway, so much more rewarding." At that, she looked up again at Robin with a tentative half-smile on her face.

Robin smiled back, relieved beyond words that things might actually be working out between them. Well, not working out exactly in the way she’d like, but right now, having Jess’s friendship seemed like more than enough.

"Hey, don’t give up on romance. When you find the right person, it will all be worth it."

"Are you speaking from experience? Last time I looked, you were single," Jess teased.

"Yeah, well you know that saying about ‘those that can’t do, teach’? I think there’s a corollary there somewhere," Robin said laughingly.

The two women smiled at each other for a long moment, happy that some semblance of their previous relationship had returned, and with it, the easy banter between them.

There were still a lot of unanswered questions in Jess’s mind about how things had gone so awry between them, but she didn’t want to dwell on those right now.

"You know, if you didn’t eat too many appetizers, I’d be happy to buy you dinner," Jess offered tentatively. "That is, if you’re not busy."

"No…no I’m not busy," Robin quickly replied. "I’d love to get some dinner. Let me just find Capi and tell her I’m leaving." Robin gave Jess a big smile as she jumped down from the counter. She hesitated for a second, and then stepped over and gave Jess a hug. She intended it to just be a quick hug, but once she felt Jess’s arms go around her, she clasped the taller woman tightly, burying her head in her shoulder. Some unspoken understanding passed between them, and then Robin released Jess and went in search of her friend.

Jess stood there in temporary shock for a moment, wondering how things could have changed so drastically in such a short time. She shook her head and decided that she felt better than she had in weeks, and she wasn’t going to waste time wondering why.

 

Robin spotted Capi at the food table, helping Meghan stack dirty dishes. Capi couldn’t help but notice the big grin on Robin’s face as she approached.

"Is it safe to assume that you and one basketball coach worked out your differences?" she said while smiling warmly at Robin. "Maybe I’d better clarify that, since more than one basketball coach seemed to have their eye on you tonight," she teased.

"Oh please…what was that all about, anyway? Do I have some big sign on me that says ‘available and easy,’ or what?"

"You don’t need a sign. You’re just plain irresistible!" Capi laughed. "But seriously, I think the head coach was getting a little perturbed at her assistant and the attention she was giving you. Now I know she’s not supposed to be interested in women, but it looked a lot like jealousy to me!"

"She was probably just worried about the reputation of her program. Can’t have people thinking there are lesbians in the coaching ranks, you know." Robin said the word ‘lesbian’ like it was some dreaded disease.

"Say what you like, I say she was green with envy," Capi said emphatically. "You want to know what was really strange? She told me I should be jealous – she thought you and I were together!"

"You’re kidding! What gave her that idea?"

"I guess she just saw us together a bunch of times and assumed you’d finally given up trying to resist me," she joked. "Anyway, I think it kind of rattled her when I said we were just friends. She made a beeline out of here, and the next thing I know, you’re coming out of the kitchen with a ‘cat-that’s-got-the-canary’ grin on your face. So what gives?"

Robin couldn’t help smiling again. "I’m not sure we know exactly what happened between us yet, but we both agreed that we wanted to go back to being friends again. She offered to buy me dinner, so I wanted to see if it would be alright if I abandoned you for the rest of the evening."

Capi put on her best pout and sighed deeply. She then grabbed Robin around the shoulders in a one-armed hug and said, "Of course I don’t mind being left alone…again! Have a great time, and I hope everything works out. You deserve it!"

"Thanks, Capi. I’ll make it up to you, I promise."

"Yeah, sure you will. G’wan, get outta here!" she said with a smile.

 

Chapter 15

Robin and Jess walked over to retrieve the coach’s car from the Athletic Department lot, since it was closer than Robin’s car. They headed for the Green Dragon, a local Thai restaurant, and soon Robin was happily digging into her paht thai with abandon.

"I see you haven’t lost your appetite over these past few weeks," Jess said while watching Robin with amusement.

Robin looked up and smiled back at Jess, a noodle still clinging to her lower lip.

"Actually, I’ve just started to be able to run on my ankle again, and it feels so good to get off that stationary bike that I’ve probably been overdoing it a little. It does make for a healthy appetite, though."

"What’s the prognosis for your ankle?" Jess asked with concern. "Will you be able to get back to basketball soon?"

"Everything looks good, according to the doctor. It’s just a matter of slowly building up strength again before putting too much stress on it from jumping or cutting sharply."

"That’s great. I’m sure the boys at the rec center all miss you."

"Oh, I stop by all the time and shoot a few baskets, just so they know I’m still around. I think they’re happy they don’t have to deal with the ‘shirts and skins’ thing, though. It was always a hassle when I was supposed to be on the skins...the other team would pass me the ball by accident, and my team would never pass it to me. There were times when I just wanted to strip my shirt off and be done with it!"

Jess laughed, but didn’t share how much that thought intrigued her. She certainly didn’t want to give Robin the wrong impression…

"So how is your team looking, Jess? When do you get to start practicing?"

"We don’t start until the middle of October when we have our Midnight Madness event with the men’s team. But the players have been working real hard on conditioning. I don’t think anybody wants to be embarrassed at the first practice by sucking wind in front of the new coach," she said with a satisfied grin on her face.

"I guess there are some advantages to being new, huh?"

"A few, but they don’t last for long. The honeymoon is pretty short. I’ll have plenty of players cursing me behind my back after a few tough practices, and we all know how many losses it takes before the fans turn on you."

"Well, I, for one, promise to be loyal to the bitter end," Robin said confidently. "At least until they fire you, then I’ll say ‘I told you she was a terrible coach,’" Robin said with a mock scowl on her face.

Jess laughed and said, "With friends like you…"

"Hey, I’m just kidding. I think you’re going to do great! I predict an appearance in the sweet sixteen," Robin said, referring to the round of sixteen in the NCAA playoffs.

"Well, I’m glad you have such confidence in me, but really Robin, you don’t know anything about whether I’m a good coach or not. I still have a lot to prove."

"That’s not true. There are lots of things I know about you that tell me you would be a great coach."

"Oh yeah? Like what?" Jess challenged, half afraid at how embarrassed she was going to be with what Robin would say.

Robin started ticking off the points on her fingers. "One, you have great presence – you command respect, which all coaches need. Two, you’re very intelligent, and you obviously know the game inside and out. Three, you have great rapport with the alums and other fans, so you’ll get lots of support from them. Four, you’re honest – there are no hidden agendas and you won’t be playing mind games with your players. Five…"

"OK, OK, that’s enough!" Jess interrupted, laughing and blushing slightly. "I sure hope I can live up to the reputation you’ve just given me." Privately, Jess cringed at Robin’s last point. Well I’ve always prided myself on being honest, and I still am with others, but I’m starting to worry about whether I’m being honest with myself about some things.

Robin enjoyed seeing the self-confident woman struggle with her modesty. She’s such an interesting mix of contradictions. So competent and in complete control, yet obviously sensitive, and almost shy sometimes. It’s incredibly appealing! Robin decided she needed to change the subject quickly before her infatuation was seen on her face.

"Did you get enough to eat?" We could order some dessert," she added hopefully, not quite ready to have the evening end.

Jess wasn’t anxious to leave Robin either, and she seized upon an idea. "Hey, you know I’ve got some great Haagen Daaz ice cream at home. We could let our dinner settle and go over to my place for dessert instead."

"Let me guess, chocolate chocolate chip, right?" Robin asked with a mischievous smile.

Jess looked startled for an instant, but quickly recovered. "Well, I’ve got mocha almond fudge, too," she said defensively. Then she cocked her head and held her chin as if thinking hard. "I’d guess you’re a cookie dough kind of person."

Robin laughed, not wanting to think too hard about what kind of person that was. "Well, cookie dough is probably on the list of my top five, but number one has to be rocky road."

"Then we’ll stop at the store on the way home and get some rocky road," Jess stated emphatically.

Jess grabbed the bill and insisted on paying for dinner as promised, and soon they were on their way to dessert.

 

"You know, I’ve never been in your apartment before Jess. It’s really nice." Robin sank into an overstuffed black leather couch and sighed with delight. "Oh, I could get used to this!"

Jess headed for the kitchen and came back with two bowls of ice cream. Robin’s was piled high above the rim, while Jess had a small single scoop.

"What are you trying to do, fatten me up?" Robin joked, even while eagerly grabbing the bowl and digging into the generous serving.

Jess sank down into the other end of the sofa and stretched her feet out toward Robin. They ate their dessert in silence for a few minutes, Robin finishing hers before Jess was half-way done.

Robin looked at Jess’s long legs stretched out beside her and said, "Hey, if I remember correctly, I owe you a leg massage."

Jess stroked her chin in thought. "Well, it’s true that there was a deal made fair and square for a bag of M&M’s, as I recall."

Robin smiled and scooted over on the couch, lifting up Jess’s legs and resting them across her thighs. Jess was wearing a pair of light chinos, and Robin could easily feel the strong muscles underneath as she started to knead Jess’s calves.

"Mmmmm, I didn’t know those were so sore," Jess said while leaning back contentedly and slowly licking the ice cream off her spoon.

Robin saw the sensuous way that Jess was making love to her double chocolate chip, and could barely keep her mind on her task. If that’s the way she handles her ice cream, I’d love to see how she’d handle….Stop it! Stop it! Robin shook her head and took a deep breath, trying to will away the blood that was rushing to her face, among other places.

After spending a good ten minutes on Jess’s calves, Robin slowly made her way up to the thighs, stopping to gently probe around the knee on the way. She knew she was getting into dangerous territory here, and kept her hands well away from the sensitive inner thighs.

Jess had long ago closed her eyes and rested her head on the arm of the couch. She had a small smile on her lips, and every once in awhile would moan softly with pleasure.

"I can tell you don’t have this done nearly enough," Robin said with a soft laugh.

Jess raised her eyelids slightly and replied, "I can’t remember the last time. It always seems so self-indulgent. I guess I don’t feel like I’ve done anything to deserve such treatment."

"You don’t need to do anything to deserve it Jess. Everybody deserves to be pampered once in awhile for no reason at all."

"Hmmm, if you say so…" Jess closed her eyes again and wondered when she became such a hedonist.

Robin continued working the strong leg muscles until she noticed that Jess hadn’t made a sound for a few minutes. Worried that she had fallen asleep, Robin softly said "Jess?"

Jess blinked open her eyes and looked questioningly back at Robin. "Are you getting tired? I can take you home if you’d like."

"No, I’m fine, but I think you’re the one who’s tired," Robin replied with an understanding smile.

"Well, I have to admit that the combination of the massage and this couch was making me a little sleepy," Jess said sheepishly. "But I’m awake now. Do you want to watch a video?"

"Are you sure you’re not too tired? I don’t want to keep you up."

"No, I’m fine, really. But why don’t we get more comfortable on the floor, and then if I do fall asleep, at least I won’t wake up with a kink in my neck."

"That sounds good. Do you have a blanket and some pillows?"

"I’ve got better than that! Let’s get the mattress off the hide-a-bed in the den and be really comfortable."

"Oh, now you’re asking to fall asleep," Robin teased.

The two women dragged the mattress out to the living room, then Jess retrieved some extra blankets and pillows.

"I’m going to change into something more comfortable. Do you want to borrow some sweats or something?" Jess asked tentatively.

"Well, a t-shirt and some shorts would be nice," Robin replied. "Hey, if we’re going to watch a movie, aren’t we supposed to have popcorn and soda and candy and…"

Jess groaned loudly. "You’ve got to be kidding! How can you even think about more food right now?"

Robin faked a look of disappointment before relenting and saying, "Yeah, I am kidding. That ice cream ought to hold me for at least a couple of hours."

Jess smiled and headed into her bedroom. She came back with an NOU Women’s Basketball t-shirt that had TEAM written in 8-inch block letters on the back, and a pair of plaid flannel boxer shorts that looked only slightly too large for the smaller woman. Robin excused herself to use the bathroom and change.

Robin pulled the t-shirt over her head and smiled at the thought of wearing a shirt that was obviously made for Jess’s team. If I’d had a coach like her in college, I might have killed myself from working too hard to please her. Which was saying a lot, since Robin had worked harder than anybody else on her team anyway.

She emerged from the bathroom, boxers slung low on her hips, and found Jess throwing a blanket over the mattress. Jess had changed into an Idaho State t-shirt and a pair of athletic department-issue gray shorts. Noticing Robin looking at her t-shirt, she said, "Now that I’m at NOU, I can only wear these at home where no one will see me and think that I have split loyalties."

"Well, I won’t tell anyone," Robin smiled.

"What do you want to watch? I don’t have a huge selection, but there should be something we can agree on."

"Oh, I’m easy." Did I really just say that? Robin mentally slapped herself. "Whatever you want is fine," she quickly added.

"Do you like Sigourney Weaver? I’ve got Copycat."

"That’s the one with Holly Hunter, isn’t it? That would be great! I haven’t seen it."

"OK, Copycat it is," Jess said and popped the tape into the VCR. Robin had already settled back onto her pillows, drawing the blanket up to her waist. Jess lifted the blanket and slid onto her side of the mattress. She started the video and soon both women were engrossed in the thriller.

After about a half hour, Jess looked over to see Robin’s eyes closed and her lips parted slightly. Uh-oh, looks like we lost one. I wonder if she would want me to wake her up and take her home. Jess thought about how wonderful the evening had been up to now, and really didn’t want it to end. But I should at least give her the choice. I wouldn’t want her to wake up later and be mad at me for letting her fall asleep. Jess reached over and gave Robin a gentle nudge while softly saying her name.

Robin’s eyes slowly opened and a look of confusion crossed her face. Where am I…Who… Then she saw Jess gently touching her arm, and instantly became wide awake. "Oh geez, I fell asleep didn’t I? I’m really sorry."

"Hey, don’t worry about it. It’s fine if you want to fall asleep here, but I thought I should at least offer to take you home in case you want to sleep in your own bed," Jess said with a small half-smile on her face.

Whoa boy, what am I going to do with that offer? Robin thought worriedly. Is she going to sleep here with me, or go into her own room? If she stays here, can I trust myself to keep my hands off her all night? We just got back together, I sure don’t want to send her running off again. Robin looked up and realized that Jess was waiting expectantly for her reply.

 

Continued in part 6


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