Disclaimers: See Part 1.

Thanks again to my beta readers, Alina, Kimly, MyWarrior, and Wendy.

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Take Time Out

Part 8

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 23

Robin was sitting in her office, staring at her computer screen without really seeing, when she heard a knock on her door. "Come in," she said dully, without turning her head from the computer.

"Professor Grant?"

Robin swiveled slowly around in her chair and looked up at her visitor.

"Heather?" She was surprised to see the basketball player in her office. Although Heather was in her introductory economics class, she always sat to the back of the room and never asked questions. "What can I do for you?"

Heather looked nervously down at her feet, which were shuffling back and forth on the floor. "Well…um…I’m worried about the test on Thursday. I, like, didn’t do too well on my last homework, and I don’t think I really understand those indifference curves, you know?"

Robin smiled sympathetically at the young woman and told her to sit down. "What exactly don’t you understand?"

"Well, like, I don’t get how you know where to draw them on the graph, when they represent those ‘utils,’ you know, which are just some made-up idea, and not, like, real."

Robin chuckled and got out a piece of graph paper and slowly worked through a few examples for Heather. Finally, it looked like the light went on, and Heather’s eyes widened a little.

"So, you mean, like if I prefer oranges a lot more than apples, then my indifference curve would be steep, like this?" she said as she drew the example on the paper.

"Exactly!" Robin said emphatically, while giving Heather a congratulatory smile.

"Cool, I think I get it," Heather replied, looking relieved. "Can I keep this?" she asked while picking up the piece of paper with the examples on it.

"Sure. And don’t be afraid to come back, or send me an e-mail, if you have questions later, OK?"

"OK, thanks," Heather said while getting up and starting toward the door. She stopped midway and turned back around. "Professor Grant?"

"Yeah?" Robin looked up again.

"I think it’s really cool that you come by to watch us practice. Will you go to the games, too?"

Robin felt her heart clutch as she thought about watching Jess at practice, but she quickly recovered and replied, "I’d like to. Do you think you’re going to have a good season?"

Heather’s face took on a look of excitement as she replied, "Oh yeah, I think we’re gonna kick butt this year! Coach Peters is really working us hard, but we’re learning a lot of new stuff, too. I’ve never seen everybody so excited about practice before!"

Robin paled a little as she tried not to think about what had happened just hours earlier. "That’s great, Heather," she said weakly. "Now if I can just get you that excited about your economics homework…"

Heather looked a little guilty, but Robin smiled at her and wished her luck in the coming season, and the player cheerfully walked out of the office.

Robin couldn’t help feeling left out – she had so looked forward to sharing the experience of the upcoming season with Jess, and now she would be on the outside looking in…if she could even bring herself to do that.

 

Robin somehow went through the motions of the next few days, teaching her classes and grading homework, but could do little else. Her e-mail and voice-mail went unanswered and her fitness was suffering as well. Finally on Thursday she managed to drag herself to the gym at noon for a workout. Stopping at the Union to pick up lunch on her way back to her office, she ran into Capi.

"Hi stranger! Where have you been? Didn’t you get my messages?" Capi asked with a smile.

"Hey. Sorry about that. I guess I haven’t been keeping up with my messages. Things just seem to be so busy lately…" Robin did her best to smile and act like everything was OK, but Capi was much too wise to let it slip by.

"Say, do you have time to join me for lunch?" the administrator asked.

"I was just going to get something to go…I’m pretty busy at work…" Robin started to make an excuse to avoid having to tell Capi about her and Jess.

"Come on, just a quick bite to eat? I haven’t talked to you in ages!" Capi pleaded.

Robin couldn’t resist her good friend’s request and gave Capi a weak smile and an affirmative nod.

Capi smiled broadly in return, trying to lift Robin’s spirits. "Great! What do you want to have – pizza, Chinese, or burgers?"

"Chinese, but you can get whatever you want and I’ll meet you back at a table over by the window." Robin pointed to an area well away from the table where Jess had broken her heart three days earlier.

"Chinese is fine with me," Capi replied while the two women got in the Panda Express line.

Arriving at the table, Capi looked gently into Robin’s eyes and said, "So tell me what’s wrong."

"Who says anything’s wrong?" Robin said defensively.

"Is it personal or professional?"

Robin gave Capi an exasperated look. "Why can’t I hide anything from you?"

"Because I’m your best friend and I love you," Capi said seriously. "So give! What are you so upset about that you can’t even return your best friend’s messages?"

Robin sighed heavily. "I feel like I’m always running to you when things go bad, and it doesn’t seem fair that you always have to listen to my problems."

"Hey, that’s what friends are for. You’d do the same thing for me, right?"

"Of course, but you never ask me to," Robin protested. "It just seems so one-sided."

"Well, when I fall for someone besides you, I’ll be sure to bring all my problems your way, OK?" Capi said with a wry grin on her face. Robin blushed and smiled back. "So let’s hear it. I’m assuming it’s not professional, so tell me what’s gone wrong between you and one basketball coach."

Robin couldn’t help it – the tears immediately sprang to her eyes and she looked down at her lap.

"Hey," Capi said gently, putting her hand on Robin’s arm. "It can’t be that bad, can it?"

"It’s worse," Robin replied dismally. She proceeded to tell Capi the details of the past week, going from elation to depression.

"I’ve never felt as wonderful as I did last Friday, and I’ve never felt as horrible as I have since Monday. How can one woman make me feel both of those in such a short time?"

"Well, it’s obvious that she has many skills," Capi said sarcastically. "Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that honesty and integrity are two of her better traits."

As bad as Robin felt about what Jess had done to her, she couldn’t keep herself from defending the coach. "That’s not fair, Capi. She was perfectly honest with me. She just changed her mind…or maybe she had to experience being with a woman to know that it wasn’t right for her."

"Oh bullshit! Being with a woman is exactly what’s right for her, she’s just too chicken, or too stupid to admit it. I’ve seen the way she looks at you – there’s no question she feels more for you than just friendship!"

"But she’s not denying how she feels," Robin protested. "She’s just saying that her career is more important than her feelings…than me." The tears fell from her eyes as she looked down at her lap.

Capi could feel Robin’s pain in her own heart. "Awww, Robin, please don’t cry. She’s not worth it – not if she can’t see how lucky she is to have someone like you that cares about her. Just give it some time…you’ll get over this, you’ll see."

"I don’t want to get over it!" Robin said vehemently. "I want her to come back to me."

"But how can you take the risk of having this just happen again in the future? She might come back when she realizes how she really feels about you, but then at the first sign of trouble with her career, she’ll be gone again! You don’t deserve to be jerked around like that."

"But what am I supposed to do, give up?" Robin pleaded. "Lose this chance to be with her? Isn’t it worth staying and fighting for? I really believe that I can get through to her if I can just spend more time with her." Robin looked away wistfully. "If you could have felt what I did that night we were together, you’d know that she feels something for me, and that’s not going to go away just because she wants it to."

Capi looked earnestly at Robin, gauging the depth of the young woman’s feelings. "Well, maybe it would be a good thing to put a little distance between you for awhile. Give you a chance to get yourself together, and give her a chance to see how much she’s lost."

"You’re probably right," Robin sighed. "But I don’t know how long I can do that. I can barely get through my day now, and it’s only been three days since I’ve seen her."

"Hey, you just give me a call whenever you’re having a bad time, OK? Anytime, day or night. I’m there for you," Capi said sincerely.

"Thanks – I really mean that. And even though I owe you for all the times you’ve listened to my problems, I really hope that I never have to return the favor," Robin said with a little smile.

"Me too," Capi replied, reaching over and patting Robin’s hand.

 

Chapter 24

It had been two weeks since Robin left Jess sitting in the Union, and it wasn’t getting any easier for the young economics professor. Robin told Capi that she wasn’t even sure she wanted to go to the women’s basketball games in the upcoming season.

"But Robin, you love basketball. You always get season’s tickets," Capi admonished her. "If you stay away just because of your feelings for Jess, you’ll only be punishing yourself."

"I know that, Capi, but I’m just not sure I can stand watching her for that long. Maybe if we get tickets behind the visitor’s bench I won’t really have to look at her while I’m watching the game."

"Oh great, then we have to watch people like the Oregon and USC coach throw temper tantrums instead! You’re asking a lot."

"Well, let’s just go to the first preseason game and see how it goes. Then we can buy season’s tickets after that if we want to."

"I guess that would be OK," Capi acquiesced. "It’s not like the games sell out or anything. I’m sure there will still be plenty of good seats available."

"Thanks Capi. And if I end up not going anymore, I’m sure there are lots of other women on campus that would love to go to the games with you."

"Yeah right. Name two."

"Debbie and Laura," Robin immediately replied.

Capi laughed. Debbie and Laura were the two people that seemed to be perpetually single and available in Comstock, and whenever anyone complained about the lack of women in such a small town, their names always came up.

"Well, for my sake, let’s just hope that you decide to keep going," Capi said with a grin. "When is the first preseason game, anyway?"

"Next Monday. I think they’re playing some traveling team from Australia. I don’t know how those international teams do it. They’re on the road for a month straight, getting beat up by all these Division I schools. I can’t believe they get that big of a paycheck out of it."

"Well, at least the Australians will be able to understand the referees. I always love it when the Lithuanian National Team comes and the coaches are yelling at the refs in their language and the refs are yelling back in English, and nobody knows what the other one is saying," Capi laughed.

"The Australians might be able to understand the refs, but I’m not sure the refs will be able to understand the Australians," Robin joked. "Anyway, it should be a good game. I’ve heard that the Australians have some pretty good teams."

"I just hope we’re as good as we were last year," Capi replied. "We kind of lost a recruiting year with the untimely departure of our previous coach. I guess it will be a good test of Jess’s coaching abilities."

Regardless of the rift that had developed between them, Robin wanted to see Jess succeed. She still had strong feelings for the coach, and it would hurt her to see anything bad happen to Jess. I just wish I could be sharing the ups and downs of the season with her…be there to support her, and celebrate with her…Oh Damn, why am I thinking about this again!?

"How about if I pick up the tickets for the first game?" Capi offered. "You can buy the beer afterward."

"Sounds like a deal. I’ll call you on Monday to arrange a time to meet."

 

Jess was becoming increasingly frustrated with each day that she went without seeing Robin. Little things started to annoy her, and her temper was on a very short fuse. It seemed like her team was getting worse instead of better, and practices had become tense for everyone involved.

"Deny! Deny! Meg, you’ve got to deny that pass!" Jess yelled at her wing player. "If you’re too lazy to do it, I’ll get someone else in there who will! Now set it up and run it again." The team hung their heads and slowly shuffled into their positions to start the defensive drill again. After receiving the ball on the wing, Heather threaded a neat pass into the post player for an easy turn-around.

"Natalia! You’ve gotta beat her to that spot! If you let her get that kind of position on you in the key, she’s gonna kick your ass! Go again, and I want to see some defense this time or you’ll all be running suicides!"

Jess dropped her forehead into her hand and took a deep breath. What is the matter with me? I sound just like all those coaches I hate. She looked up and blew her whistle. "Take five and then shoot 25 free throws. Meet at the bench when you’re done." Jess took the time to settle herself, and to think about how she’d been acting for the past couple of weeks. I just haven’t been having any fun. Life hasn’t been fun. How can one person…or should I say the absence of one person…make such a difference? Jess shook her head and made her way over to the bench to talk to her team.

Looking around at the sweaty and tired faces, Jess saw a mixture of indifference and resentment – not what she was used to seeing from one of her teams. "Look, I know I’ve been pretty hard on you for the last few weeks. Probably too hard," she acknowledged. "I just want to let you know that I appreciate how hard you’ve been working, getting in shape, and learning a new system. And I’m making a promise to you right now, that it’s going to get better, for all of us." Jess saw a few of the players look up hopefully at her words. "Next Monday we’re going to get a chance to beat up on somebody besides ourselves…a team that won’t know all our plays…that won’t be cheating on defense because they know exactly what we’re going to do. I know it’s hard to practice against ourselves every day, but you’re all doing a great job of challenging each other. And it’s going to pay off in the long run, believe me." Jess paused and walked up and down in front of the bench, looking at each player, some who refused to meet her eyes.

"So let’s make this the beginning of a new season for us, OK? From now on, we think positively, we work hard, we help each other, and we get better. As a team, OK?" The players’ expressions had become filled with positive anticipation, and heads were nodding. Jess smiled broadly at them, and said, "OK, one more time through the match-up zone defense. Let’s go!"

The players ran onto the court with renewed energy and the sound level in the gym increased dramatically. The players were talking on defense, calling out the cutters, and encouraging each other. Jess smiled and felt immeasurably better about herself. She realized that smiling wasn’t something that she had been doing very much of lately and vowed to change that.

After practice, Jess went back to her office and reflected on the past couple of weeks and her estrangement from Robin. God, I miss her so much. All the good times we had together…how happy I was just to see her smile…how easy it was to talk to her. I want to call her so badly, but I feel like I need to wait until she’s ready to see me again – as a friend. If she ever wants to see me again. Jess sat in her office staring dejectedly at the wall until she could muster up the energy to go home. She hated to go home now…home to the place where she had experienced the most incredible night of her life, only to throw it all away two days later. She had taken to sleeping on the couch in the den, unable to bear spending the night in her bed – the bed she had shared with Robin that one glorious time.

 

"Starting for the Australian National Team, at forward, number 22, Jane Lattimore. At center, number 43…."

"Wow, they’ve got some size," Robin noted while looking over the game program. "I wonder how we’ll match up."

"Well, as long as Natalia stays out of foul trouble, we should be OK," Capi replied.

The two women were sitting 4 rows behind the visitor’s bench, among a group of rowdy Australian fans.

"I think every Australian in Oregon must be here tonight," Robin mused.

"Yeah, and I think they’ve all been to the bar ahead of time," Capi laughed, looking at a group of young men who had the Australian flag painted across their bare chests.

"…and the head coach for the NOU Bobcats, in her first season, let’s welcome Jess Peters!" The crowd got to its feet and gave Jess a rousing welcome, which the coach acknowledged with a smile and a short wave. Robin watched and felt her heart ache once again at the sight of the tall, good looking woman. Capi, knowing how hard this was for Robin, reached over and patted her on the leg, giving her a little smile for encouragement.

The Australians came out ready to play, and quickly got an 8 point lead on NOU. Jess’s players were clearly nervous and tight, missing easy shots and making turnovers. Jess called a 30-second time-out with only 5 minutes gone in the game. The players sprinted over to the sidelines and huddled around the coach, panting heavily, many with dazed looks on their faces.

"OK, everybody take a few deep breaths and relax," Jess told them calmly. She waited a moment until she could see a few of the expressions change. "Now we’re not trying to do anything out there tonight that we haven’t done a hundred times in practice. We’ve seen the defense they’re playing; we’ve practiced against their offense. I want you to forget about the crowd, forget about the fact that this is our first game, and think about how hard you’ve worked in practice over the last month, and how successful you’ve been. Those same things that worked in practice are going to work now, you just have to concentrate on executing." She could see a renewed sense of purpose in the players’ eyes as she looked around the group. "OK, let’s get out there and play with confidence!" She raised her hand up in front of her and the players around her joined their hands to hers. "Team," Jess said, and the players repeated it loudly and broke the huddle, sprinting back on the court with a new energy.

On the next possession, Bennie beat her player at the top of the key and drove into the lane. As the post player came to help on defense, she flipped a pass around her to an awaiting Natalia for an easy lay-up.

As the Australians brought the ball back upcourt, Heather anticipated a long pass down the sideline and intercepted it in front of the bench. Jess jumped to her feet, yelling encouragement as Heather raced back the other way for the lay-up.

On the next Australian possession, NOU played good defense for 28 seconds, forcing a long shot to try to beat the 30-second shot clock. The shot missed badly and Natalia rebounded it and made the quick outlet pass to Bennie. As they ran the controlled fast break up the court, Bennie stopped at the free throw line, not seeing either of the wings free on the side. Just as she was about to throw the ball back out to set up the offense, Natalia yelled "trailer!" as she sprinted past Bennie on the right, Natalia’s defender a good 5 feet behind her. Bennie lobbed the pass into Natalia as she neared the basket, and NOU had quickly gotten within 2 points.

Jess was going crazy on the sidelines, cheering her team on, and especially encouraging Natalia for hustling on the fast break. The tall German couldn’t help but give a little smile toward the bench, knowing that she never would have been in on a fast break in previous years.

"Wow, I wonder what she said to them during that last time-out," Capi said in awe.

"I have the feeling that motivating her players is something Jess is very good at," Robin replied, thinking about the powerful presence of the tall coach. Robin was secretly delighting in seeing the enthusiasm that Jess was displaying on the bench. She can seem so reserved and in control – I’m sure the players love it when they see her like this. And the fans kind of like it, too, she thought wistfully.

NOU continued to play solid basketball for the remainder of the half, and left the court up by 6 at the break. A couple of the Australian players had gotten into foul trouble, obviously not being used to the tighter foul calls of the American referees. Midway through the second half, the Australian’s big, talented post player had fouled out on what their coach thought was obviously a bad call.

"You were so far away, that call was long distance!" the coach yelled at the ref. "Get your bloody ass into position before you make a call like that!" Which, of course, drew the coach a technical foul and two more free throws for NOU. Jess’s team finished the game ahead by 15, and all the players got to see some playing time. Smiling faces were in abundance as the Bobcat players and coaches shook the opponents’ hands and gathered in the center of the court for a final cheer and wave of thanks to the crowd before heading to the locker room.

Jess went over to the press table and put on some headphones for a post-game interview with the local radio station. As she was adjusting her microphone, she looked up and saw Robin looking back at her from behind the visitor’s bench. Her throat tightened and she managed a weak smile before diverting her eyes and trying to concentrate on what the play-by-play man was asking her. Robin also offered a little smile, knowing that whatever else happened between them, she would always be happy for Jess and her team’s success. Maybe that’s a sign of true love, Robin thought wistfully, that I care more about her happiness than my own.

Robin and Capi slowly made their way out through the crowd, and headed for the parking lot.

"Do you want to go get a drink?" Capi asked.

"You know, I’m kind of tired," Robin replied. "Would you mind if I took a rain check on it?"

"Of course not. As long as you promise you aren’t going to go home and mope around," Capi admonished.

Robin smiled back at her good friend. "You know, I really don’t feel as bad as I thought I would. I loved watching the team, and I was really happy for Jess – to see all of her hard work pay off. I can’t just change my feelings for her, but I think I realized that there’s a real, solid friendship that we had between us, too. Maybe there is a way we could get that back, even if we can’t be more than that."

Capi looked skeptically over at Robin. "I don’t know…I don’t want you setting yourself up to get hurt again. Do you really think you could be happy with just being friends?"

Robin sighed. "I guess I don’t know either. All I know is that I’m miserable with the way things are now, and I feel like I have to try something."

"Well, just be careful, OK? Don’t go giving your heart away to somebody who’s going to break it."

Robin reached over and gave Capi a hug. "Always looking out for me, aren’t you?"

"Oh, I don’t know…I suppose some would say I’m just looking out for me," Capi laughed, returning the hug.

 

Chapter 25

Jess unlocked her apartment door and stepped into the empty, quiet space. She went to the kitchen and got a beer out of the refrigerator, returning to the living room to watch the game tape. After a few minutes of staring at the TV screen and not writing a single thing on her notepad, she realized her mind wasn’t on the tape. Instead she was thinking about seeing Robin for the first time in over two weeks, how good she looked, and how good it made Jess feel when the young woman smiled at her.

I just had my first win at NOU, my first real test at this level, and all I can think about is that I wish she was here to share it with me. When did my happiness get so tied up with someone else? I’ve never let anyone interfere with my career before, and now it seems like success in my career isn’t enough. Jess closed her eyes and sighed, thinking about the irony of it all.

Across town, Robin was pacing back and forth in her living room, gripping her own bottle of Sierra Nevada pale ale. Just call her! You know you want to – what’s stopping you? I mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Inspired by that age-old argument, Robin went over and picked up the phone.

"Hello?"

"Hey, it’s me," Robin said softly. "Great game tonight."

"Hey," Jess replied with surprise in her voice. "Thanks." She paused awkwardly. "It was good to see you there - thanks for coming to watch."

"Sure…I enjoyed it."

When Jess didn’t immediately reply, Robin felt an urgent need to fill in the silence. "I like how up-tempo you played. I’ve never seen Natalia run that much in the three years she’s been here."

Jess laughed. "Yeah, well we had a little talk when I first got here about what I expected out of a post player, and she’s done a really good job of getting herself in shape."

"I thought they all looked like they were in good shape," Robin complimented. "You’ve really done a nice job with them, Jess."

 

"Thanks," the coach replied softly. "That means a lot to me."

Another awkward silence ensued and Robin plunged ahead with the conversation. "And Bennie looked great tonight! It looks like you’ve gotten her to play within the offense."

"Yeah, she’s really improving in that area. And she’s done everything I’ve asked of her, even if it is a little reluctantly sometimes," Jess chuckled.

There was another long pause as both women thought about what subjects they could safely discuss.

"You know, Bennie’s been coming to class regularly, too," Robin offered.

"On time?" Jess queried.

"Well, for the most part," the young professor said with a laugh. "And she’s doing well on her homework and exams. It’s obvious that she’s a lot smarter than she likes anyone to know."

"That’s pretty clear on the basketball court, too. I’ve never had a point guard that adjusted so quickly to changes in the opponent’s defense. It’s like having another coach out there on the court. Of course, I’ll never tell her that because her ego is already out of control," Jess chuckled.

Robin laughed, too, and both women started to relax a little.

"So why aren’t you out with Capi tonight?" Jess asked, having noticed them at the game together.

"Well, it is a school night," Robin noted, "and I just didn’t feel much like going out and being social." She cleared her throat. "But…umm… the truth is, I wanted to come home and call you…I…I’ve missed talking to you, Jess," she finished softly.

Jess drew in a deep breath that could clearly be heard over the phone line. "I’ve missed you, too. But I didn’t know if you still wanted to be friends, after…well, everything."

"I wasn’t sure myself," Robin sighed in return. "But tonight I realized that I was missing your friendship more than anything else. So I guess I’m willing to try just being friends…that is, if you still want that."

"Yes! Yes, I still want that," Jess said, trying not to sound too desperate.

A comfortable silence ensued, while both women felt the tension and frustration of the past few weeks drain out of them.

"Jess?" Robin said softly.

"Hmmm?"

"Can I come over there for a little while? Just to talk!" she added quickly.

"Sure," the coach replied with surprise. "But don’t you have to get up early tomorrow for class?"

"I’ll only stay for a few minutes, I promise."

"Hey, it’s OK with me, I just don’t want you to be tired in the morning," Jess said with concern.

"I’ll be right there," Robin said, the excitement evident in her voice.

Jess hung up the phone, feeling better than she had in weeks. She quickly picked up her papers, which were strewn across the coffee table, and went to the kitchen to put 2 days worth of dishes in the dishwasher. She was just wiping down the counters when she heard the doorbell ring. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she walked to the door and opened it up to the woman she had been missing. She had an overwhelming desire to wrap the smaller woman up in her arms, but she resisted, not knowing how it would be received.

Robin stood there, smiling a little uncertainly, until Jess finally stepped aside, saying, "Sorry, come on in." She turned and Robin followed her into the living room, both women taking opposite ends of the couch. Jess jumped up and offered Robin a beer, which she graciously accepted, and then they sat there for a moment, sipping their drinks and trying to get comfortable with being in each other’s presence again.

"So how does it feel…"

"So what did you think…"

They both started at the same time, and then laughed as they each waited politely for the other one to continue.

"You first," Robin said with a smile.

"I was just wondering what you thought about the other team tonight," Jess replied. "They had a real nice inside game, and their point guard could really light it up from the 3-point line."

"Yeah, but they didn’t adjust very well to how the officials were calling the game," Robin noted. "I think you could learn a thing or two from their coach about how to bait the refs, though."

"I really can’t see myself saying ‘Get your head out of your bum’ to a referee anytime soon," Jess laughed.

"No, I suppose that’s not your style, is it?" Robin smiled over at Jess, grateful beyond words that they could be sitting there and talking like friends again.

Jess looked back for a few moments, and finally said, "What?"

"I was just thinking about how much I missed this."

"Me, too." Jess looked down at her hands, and decided that they really needed to clear up some things if they were going to make this work. "You know, I’m really sorry that I can’t be what you wanted."

Robin felt the tears immediately spring to her eyes and she looked away quickly.

"But I don’t want to lose you as a friend," Jess continued. "I don’t think I could stand it. I’ve been miserable these past few weeks."

Robin looked back at Jess, the tears rimming her eyes, and said, "I have been, too. I’d rather be just friends than not have you in my life. I can’t promise that my feelings for you will ever change, but they don’t have to get in the way of us being friends."

Jess looked guiltily at Robin’s tear-streaked face, and wanted to try to make her understand why she couldn’t be the lover Robin wanted.

"I know you don’t understand why I feel the way I do," Jess began. "But I had something happen to me in Montana that changed my life...forever, so it seems. I didn’t want anyone here to know about it, but I think I need to tell you so you can maybe understand why I would give up what we could have had."

"Jess you don’t owe me any explanations…"

"Yes I do!" Jess interrupted. "I want to tell you this…please," she said softer.

Robin realized that this was something very important to Jess, and she simply nodded her head in encouragement.

"My first job after college was coaching basketball at a high school in Kalispell. I was barely older than the players, and we got along great. Looking back, I see now that I should have kept more distance between me and them, but at the time, I think I was just flattered that they liked me." Jess paused and took a sip from her beer. "There was one girl, Julie, that was the classic coach’s ‘pet.’ She was always the first one to practice and the last to leave. She’d help me close up the gym, and sometimes I’d give her a ride home after practice. I knew she kind of had a crush on me, but I thought it was just one of those harmless things that all kids go through."

Jess was facing Robin, but looking at the back of the couch as she told her story, a faraway look in her eyes. "Well, towards the end of my first season, Julie’s mom comes to see me in my office. She accuses me of being a pervert and seducing her daughter. I was shocked! I told her that simply wasn’t true, and asked her what Julie had told her. She said that Julie told her she was in love with me. Her mother said that Julie wouldn’t feel that way if I hadn’t seduced her. I was incredulous – all I could think about was that it wasn’t true, and that my very first job was going to end in some sordid scandal that I wasn’t even responsible for."

Jess pushed her hair away from her face in a gesture of frustration. Robin waited patiently for her to go on.

"Well, I knew we had to clear this up, so I told her to bring Julie into the office the next day and we could figure out what the truth was." Jess shook her head resignedly. "I didn’t even think about how hard that would be for Julie. All I could think about was my own innocence. Well, they came in the next day, and I asked Julie if I had ever done anything to make her think that I was attracted to her. The poor kid was so scared she could hardly speak, but she shook her head no. I told her I wasn’t gay, and that she was risking my reputation by saying things that would make people think I was gay." Jess sighed. "I was so worried about people thinking I was gay, I made it seem like the plague or something."

"Well, the mom was embarrassed, and she took it out on Julie, too. I was so relieved to have the truth out that I didn’t even think to defend her. I mean, all she had done was tell her mother how she felt! She never lied about me; it was just her mother that had jumped to conclusions."

Jess shifted on the couch, her eyes finally coming into focus on Robin’s. "Julie didn’t come back to practice," she said sadly.

Robin couldn’t help it – she reached over and took Jess’s hands, rubbing her thumbs over the back of them soothingly. "Jess, you were young then. You were just protecting yourself. No one can blame you for that." She looked sympathetically at the coach. "We all had crushes on our teachers in high school. I’m sure Julie got over it."

"Julie’s dead. She committed suicide the day after I met with her and her mother."

Robin’s mouth dropped open as she stared at Jess. She recovered from her shock after a few seconds, and realized how devastated Jess must have felt – must still feel.

"Oh, Jess, I’m so sorry," Robin said sincerely. "But you’ve got to know that it wasn’t your fault!"

"I believed that at the time. I had no reason back then to think I was gay. I could honestly say that there was no reason for this girl to be attracted to me. But now…don’t you see…now if it turns out that I am gay, maybe was gay, I might have been giving her some mixed signals that I didn’t even know about."

And I thought she didn’t want to be with me because she was worried about losing her job, Robin thought ruefully. She was starting to understand Jess’s fear of her own sexuality, and she was overwhelmed by a feeling of fierce protectiveness for the coach.

"Jess, listen to me...It doesn’t matter if you are, or were gay...What matters is that you never acted inappropriately toward her. It’s no different than having a man coach a girl’s team. Some of the players are going to fall in love with the guy, but that doesn’t make him responsible for their feelings." She softened her tone and said, "It’s awful that someone wasn’t there to support Julie…that our society is so sick that it would condemn a young girl for her feelings. But you can’t blame yourself for not being the one to support her. She needed someone to validate her feelings, and her sexuality, and you were in no position to do that. You were young and struggling with your own issues."

"But my actions made it seem like I was condemning that lifestyle – that I was telling her there was something wrong with her. I was as much to blame as the rest of society for making her feel worthless. Here I was the object of her affection, and I became her adversary," Jess said hopelessly.

Robin moved over on the couch and gently wrapped her arms around Jess, cradling her head in her shoulder. She could feel the older woman crying, and she rubbed her back soothingly, whispering words of sympathy and compassion. When Jess’s breathing finally returned to normal, Robin pulled away, but didn’t move back to the other end of the couch.

"Thank you for telling me," Robin said while looking into Jess’s eyes. "Maybe you needed to talk about it. Maybe this will give you a chance to see another perspective, and to see that you don’t have to be so hard on yourself after all these years. Have you ever talked to anyone else about it?"

"The Athletic Director at the high school talked to me about it, and we both agreed that it would be better if I just left after the season, and no one else would have to know what happened. He wrote me a nice letter of recommendation, and I went off to be an assistant college coach. I’ve never talked to anyone else about it, because I just wanted to put it all behind me."

"Well, I’m no psychologist, but it doesn’t seem like something that you just ‘get over’ without a little help," Robin said gently. "Maybe you’ve been letting something that happened over 10 years ago keep you from finding happiness in your personal life."

"I don’t know...I’m not sure I could talk to anyone else about it," Jess said uncertainly.

"Yeah, I know how hard that can be," Robin replied sympathetically. "But you can talk to me about it anytime you want, OK? I’m no professional, but I can listen and maybe I can help you find a way to forgive yourself."

Jess looked up at Robin and saw nothing but compassion and acceptance in her green eyes. She had been afraid that if she told Robin about what had happened, that the young woman would be ashamed of the way Jess had acted, just like the coach had been ashamed of herself. But that’s not what had happened, and now Jess could see just a glimmer of hope that maybe she, too, could learn to accept her actions of so long ago. Not justify them, or make excuses, but just accept that it was the best she could do at the time.

They sat together on the couch in companionable silence for a long time, shoulders leaning against each other and just thinking about all they had talked about. Robin was reluctant to push Jess to talk anymore that night, knowing that the experience had already taken a lot out of the coach.

She should be celebrating her first big win tonight, and instead she’s reliving a nightmare from the past, Robin thought sadly. But maybe this can be the start of a healing process for her. I just hope that I can be what she needs to help her through this.

Jess shifted on the couch and looked over at Robin. "I’m sorry to keep you up so late," she said with a faint smile. "I really didn’t intend to spill out my life story to you tonight."

"Hey, I’m fine," Robin responded with a reassuring look. "How about you? Think you’ll be able to sleep tonight?"

"I haven’t been sleeping very well lately anyway, so I’m sure it won’t be any worse."

"I could stay with you if you want – just as a friend, I promise," Robin offered.

Jess laughed lightly. "It’s not like I think you’re going to force yourself on me, you know." She added more seriously, "I miss the closeness we had, and I don’t think we have to lose that if we’re just friends. At least I hope not."

"Me, too," Robin said, although she couldn’t help but be worried about how much ‘closeness’ she could stand and not go crazy with desire. "Come on, I’ll give you a nice backrub and see if I can’t put you to sleep," Robin offered while standing and holding her hand out to help Jess up. The coach didn’t hesitate, and the two women made their way to the bedroom.

After finding a t-shirt and shorts for Robin to wear, the two women slipped into the bed that had not been slept in for weeks. Suddenly it seemed like a very welcoming place to Jess, and she quickly relaxed under the gentle massage of Robin’s fingers. In no time, she was fast asleep. Robin gazed at Jess’s face for a few moments before snuggling up close to the tall woman’s side and drifting off herself. It was the best night’s sleep either of them had in a long time.

Continued in part 9


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