See part 1 for disclaimers.

As always, thanks to my beta readers Alina, Kimly, MyWarrior, and Wendy.

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Take Time Out

Part 9

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 26

Jess awoke the next morning with a feeling that something good had happened to her, but not yet conscious enough to remember what it was. As she blinked her eyes open, she saw Robin’s tousled blond head poking out from under the covers and it brought a smile to her face. God, I hope we can find a way to work this out. I’m miserable without her yet after one evening together, I feel like I’m alive again!

Jess crawled out of bed, showered, dressed, and made coffee before deciding that she needed to wake Robin so that the professor wouldn’t be late for her first class. Jess couldn’t help but laugh at Robin’s groggy appearance in her kitchen as she stumbled in for her first cup of coffee.

"I thought you said you were going to be fine without much sleep last night," Jess teased while leaning against the counter, sipping her own coffee.

"I lied," Robin growled, casting an evil glance at the grinning coach.

Jess raised her eyebrow with a smirk. "A little cranky when you don’t get enough sleep, hmm?"

"You haven’t seen the beginning of cranky yet," Robin warned. "Wait till it gets to be 3 pm and some student is telling me he didn’t get his homework done. There will be no sympathy from me today."

"Well, I’ll make sure I’m nowhere near you at the end of the day. Unless you manage to take a nap sometime beforehand."

"I think that would be a wise strategy on your part," Robin replied.

"But if you think you’ll still be civil at lunch time, we could meet after your workout and grab a bite to eat," Jess said hopefully.

"Sure, that sounds great. I could meet you at the rec center at one. Right now, I’d better get my butt in gear and get ready for work. Can I wear these clothes home and get them back to you later?"

"No problem," Jess smiled.

Robin gulped down the rest of her coffee, gathered up her other clothes, and set off for home, relieved that they seemed to have been able to pick up their friendship where they had left off. Well, sort of where they had left off, if you didn’t count that one night they spent together…

 

Jess and Robin fell into a comfortable routine – meeting for coffee, having lunch occasionally, and spending many evenings together. They avoided talking about their one night together and their different aspirations for their relationship, preferring to focus on less emotional topics that allowed them to reestablish their friendship. They both had more things they wanted to say, but neither could seem to find the right time or place to bring them up.

Jess’s team had won its first three games against relatively easy preseason opponents, but the schedule was about to get tougher. And then the conference season would start in January, and things would be anything but easy then.

In mid-November, the weekend of the Wisconsin-Washington game arrived, and Robin looked forward to cashing in on her birthday present from Jess. Since the coach had a limited amount of time available, they decided to drive up to Seattle after Saturday morning’s practice, stay overnight, and return in time for Sunday afternoon’s practice. It would be a quick trip, but it would also be the most uninterrupted time Robin would have with Jess since basketball practice had started.

Robin arrived at the NOU arena about a half hour before Saturday practice was over and took her usual seat in the upper stands. While the team was working on a shooting drill, Jess was on the sidelines talking to a Hispanic woman holding a notepad who was considerably shorter than the coach. She laughed at something Jess said, revealing a dazzling smile that was set off by her dark curly hair and dark eyes. Robin couldn’t help but feel just a little twinge of jealousy as she watched Jess smile back at the attractive woman. The woman wrote a few things on her notepad, and then headed out of the arena.

Robin’s eyes were drawn back to the court, where Jess was setting up a rebounding drill for the team. As one of the assistant coaches shot the ball, the defensive team would work on boxing out, while the offensive team would work on their moves to get around the defenders. As often happens with these types of drills, the play got very physical as everyone scrambled to grab the rebound. Some of the players found this fun, laughing with their opponent as they grabbed and held each other, but others lost their temper at what they considered "cheating" by the other player. The thing about these types of drills, though, is that there is no such thing as "cheating" – however the players can get the job done, they do it. Of course, the players wouldn’t always get away with this in a game, but Jess thought it was good practice to have a few drills where no fouls would be called. There were plenty of times in a game where someone would blatantly grab a player’s jersey or hold a player’s arm down without getting a foul called, and Jess wanted her players to be able to handle those situations without always looking to the officials to make a call. In practice, however, she had to make sure that things didn’t get out of control, resulting in a fight or, worse, an injury.

After a few rounds of the drill, Jess blew her whistle.

"Bennie, Tara has gotten around you the last three times," the coach called out. "Just because you’re a point guard away from the basket, doesn’t mean you don’t have to box out. I want to see your butt in her stomach for at least 5 seconds after this next shot," Jess challenged. The other players were smiling and trying not to laugh at the coach’s choice of words, knowing that they could easily be next to get singled out.

As the next shot went up, Bennie turned toward the basket and stuck her rear into Tara’s midsection so hard that the smaller player went sliding 5 feet backwards on her butt. Bennie looked over at Jess with a big grin on her face and the coach couldn’t help but smile back, saying under her breath, "Well, I guess that works, too." Louder, she said, "Try to be just a little more subtle next time, OK?"

The team finished up practice with some sprints and free throws, as Robin made her way down to the sidelines. Jess gave her a big smile as she walked over and the professor couldn’t help but grin back.

"They’re looking better all the time," Robin commented.

"Do you think so? I see them every day, so sometimes it’s hard to notice the improvements," Jess replied.

"Oh yeah, I can see a lot of improvement from that first game, and it shows in the confidence they seem to have on the court."

"Well, they’re going to need it next weekend in the Thanksgiving tournament. Washington and Colorado State are going to be a far cry from what we’ve seen so far."

"At least you’ll get a chance to scout Washington tonight – that should help," Robin said encouragingly.

"Yeah, I hope you don’t mind that I’ll be taking notes during the game instead of cheering on your beloved Badgers."

"Hey, I’ll be enough of a fan for the both of us," Robin replied as she held open her jacket to reveal a red sweatshirt with white "WISCONSIN" emblazoned across the chest.

Jess grimaced. "Well, just don’t wear that around here, because it really clashes with the orange."

"Oh, I have another complete wardrobe of NOU clothes," Robin warned, "although they lean more toward the black than the orange."

Just then, the small, dark woman that Jess had been talking to earlier appeared at her elbow, saying, "Sorry to interrupt Coach, but I need the probable starters for the next game to give to the newspaper."

Jess turned a charming smile on the woman, eliciting another twinge of jealousy in Robin, and replied, "LaTeisha’s got that information for you – she probably just forgot to give it to you earlier today."

"OK, no problem!" the woman said, as she turned and sped off toward the assistant coach. Jess watched the small bundle of energy, and shook her head with a smile.

Robin couldn’t stand it any longer – she had to ask. "Who is she?"

Jess turned back to Robin with an open look on her face. "Her? That’s Carmen Ricardo, our sports information director, and let me tell you, she’s very good at her job."

Robin didn’t like the way "very good at her job" rolled off Jess’s tongue. "She does seem to have lots of energy," Robin replied dryly.

Jess just looked at Robin questioningly, wondering what the tone of Robin’s voice meant, but then shook it off and changed the subject.

"Well, we’d better get moving if we’re going to get there in time for the game. Let me run and get my bag from the office, then I’ll meet you back here."

"OK," Robin replied, while Jess headed off the court. Robin went to sit on a chair along the sideline, watching a few players that were getting in some extra shooting practice. After a few minutes, Heather approached the economics professor.

"Hi, Dr. Grant!"

"Oh, hi Heather. How’s it going? You looked great in practice today."

"Thanks," she replied shyly. "Things are going really well."

"You did a really nice job on that rebounding drill – you were about the only one who was consistently boxing out your opponent."

Heather looked a little surprised that Robin would notice something so subtle, and asked, "Do you play basketball?"

"Well, I try to play a few times a week, but I don’t get to play as much as I’d like."

"Did you play in college?"

"Yeah, I played at Wisconsin, but that was a long time ago."

"Really?" Heather asked, obviously impressed. "When was it?"

"Trying to embarrass me, huh?" Robin asked, chagrined. "I graduated 8 years ago."

"That’s not that long ago!" Heather admonished. "Wisconsin usually has a really good team."

"Well, I hope they have a good team this year, because we’re going up to Washington to watch them play the Huskies tonight, and I’d sure like to see those ‘dawgs’ get beat."

Heather looked surprised. "You and Coach Peters are going?"

"Yeah, she got me tickets for my birthday. I’ll bet you didn’t know she could be so nice, did you?" Robin said teasingly.

"I think I’d better not answer that," Heather replied, blushing a little. "Well, I should get going. See you in class next week!"

Jess had entered the gym again and looked over to see Heather and Robin talking and smiling. She came to a stop, her first reaction one of fear that somehow her player was going to think that she and Robin were together. But she quickly shook those feelings off as paranoid, and found herself glad that one of her players seemed to like Robin. She saw Heather wave good-bye to Robin and come running off the floor in her direction. As she neared, Heather grinned and said, "Have a good time at the Washington game, Coach!" and quickly ran off to join her teammate Chris before Jess could reply.

Jess looked bewildered and watched as Chris and Heather put their heads together, talking excitedly and giggling. She shook her head as she turned back toward Robin, thinking I’ll never understand 19-year olds.

 

Chapter 27

"Come on, Red! Play some defense! Front her! Yeah – way to come from the weak side to help!" Robin stuffed another handful of popcorn in her mouth. "That’s an illegal pick!" she yelled, slightly muffled by the mouthful of popcorn. "Come on, ref, quit sucking on that thing and blow it!"

Jess was leaning back in her seat and looking on with amusement at Robin’s display of enthusiasm. The young professor had been yelling all night, one of the very few Wisconsin supporters in a sea of purple and gold. Since the Badgers were winning by about 10 points late in the game, the Husky faithful were none too happy with Robin’s vocal support of her team. This, of course, just made Robin yell all the louder. Jess was just hoping that they’d get out of there without a confrontation and was relieved when the horn finally sounded, the Badgers still up by 8. Robin stood up and yelled "Go Badgers!" a few times while turning around to the opposing fans.

Jess smiled and got up, taking Robin by the elbow and saying, "Come on, Bucky, let’s get out of here before someone takes their frustration out on you."

"Hey, how did you know the Badger mascot’s name was Bucky?" Robin asked with an incredulous look at the coach.

"Lucky guess," Jess replied, grinning. "Come on, let’s go."

They gathered up their things and walked out to the parking lot. Traffic was slow getting away from the arena, but eventually the two women made their way to a restaurant for dinner and were seated in a quiet table by the window. They were both tired from the long day and glad to just sit and relax for awhile. Jess ordered a bottle of pinot noir and they sipped their wine with a view of the lights reflecting off Lake Washington.

Jess leaned over the table and tilted her glass toward Robin. "Here’s to the end of a very successful, and very drawn out birthday present," she offered. Robin brought her glass up to meet Jess’s and looked into the coach’s smiling eyes. She took a sip of the wine, raised her glass again and said, "And here’s to friendship…our friendship." Jess smiled in return and they found themselves staring into each other’s eyes for a long moment.

"Are you two ready to order?" the server interrupted them.

Jess quickly returned her eyes to the menu. "Uh, yeah…let’s see…I think I’m going to have the alder smoked salmon."

"Baked, whipped, au gratin, or French fried potatoes?"

"Au gratin."

"Salad or clam chowder?"

"Salad."

"French, Italian, bleu cheese, thousand island,…"

"Bleu cheese," Jess interrupted before the server could get any further into her rote response.

"And for you?" the server turned toward Robin.

"That all sounds pretty good. I’ll have the same thing, except for Italian dressing instead of bleu cheese." The server looked relieved at not having to recite the same litany of choices again, and took their menus and went off to place the order.

Both women grabbed their wine glasses and took a drink, thinking about the moment before the interruption, and not wanting things to be awkward.

I have to behave myself tonight, Robin admonished herself. I can’t sit here and stare into her eyes with a lovesick expression on my face! Just lighten up and everything will be fine.

Across the table, Jess was also having a little talk with herself. Come on, I can’t say I want to be just friends and then look at her like I want to undress her right here! She’s been so good about not pressuring me, so I can’t start sending her mixed signals now. Jess looked up at Robin again, grateful to find the young woman looking out the window. She couldn’t help but stare again. She is so beautiful…how am I going to do this??

Robin turned back from the window and Jess looked away before she could get caught staring.

"So, how do you think you’ll match up with Washington next week?" Robin asked in an attempt to steer the conversation to lighter topics.

"Well, I think we’ll be OK inside, but I’m a little worried about our perimeter defense and our ability to handle their press. Sometimes Bennie thinks she can just do everything herself, and we end up using too much of the shot clock just to bring the ball up the court. But we’ll work on those things in practice this week, and I think we’ll have a real good chance against them."

"That would be a big win for you, wouldn’t it?"

"Yeah, it sure would," Jess said wistfully. "I’m a little nervous about it because it’s our first real test, and it’s on their home court. If we don’t at least make it competitive, it could really have an effect on the players’ confidence."

"From what I’ve seen, you’ve done an incredible job with their confidence in the short while you’ve been here," Robin complimented. "I don’t think one loss will make too much of a dent in that."

"Thanks, I hope you’re right. We sure work on that aspect of the game a lot, because I really believe that the mental aspect is at least as important as the physical skills that they have."

"Well, according to Heather, you’re very good at preparing them mentally."

Jess blushed a little and replied modestly, "She probably just knows you’re a friend of mine and she wanted to be sure to say the right thing. I have to admit that there were a couple of weeks there when I was a complete failure at building their confidence." She looked up sincerely at Robin. "I couldn’t believe what an effect our separation had on my professional life. I was a total bitch, ask any of the players." Jess looked guilty at the admission. "Luckily I finally snapped out of it, and realized not only that I needed to change my attitude, but that I needed to somehow find a way to make our friendship work again. I can’t tell you how happy I was that night when you finally called me."

Now it was Robin’s turn to blush. "I’m just sorry I waited so long, because I was pretty miserable, too. I think I just needed a little time to be sure that I could adjust to being friends again, without pushing you for something you can’t give me." She looked up with a worried expression on her face, afraid that she was going to make Jess feel guilty by her last statement, but was relieved to find only understanding in the coach’s eyes.

"I know it must have been really hard for you, and I’m so sorry that I put you through all of this," Jess said sympathetically. "I should have known myself well enough before I ever let our relationship go that far. That was so unfair to you."

"I would never regret that night we spent together, Jess, no matter how things turned out," Robin said with complete sincerity. "Please don’t think of that as a bad thing that happened between us."

"I don’t," Jess said emphatically. "I just thought that it made things more difficult for you and I felt badly about that."

"I suppose that if I’d never gotten to experience it, I wouldn’t be able to miss it, but that seems like a bad argument to use for depriving yourself of all the pleasures in life," Robin said with a half smile.

Jess smiled back, thinking it amazing that Robin could always make her feel better, even when she had done something to hurt the young woman.

Their food arrived and they used the opportunity to take a break from the serious discussion and enjoy their meal. When the server returned later with a dessert tray, Jess put her hand over her stomach and said, "Not for me – I’m stuffed."

Robin’s eyes lit up at the array of tempting dishes on the tray. She pointed at a tall glass cup of chocolate mousse covered with whipped cream and said, "I’ll have one of those, please."

"Any coffee for either of you?" the server asked.

"Decaf, please," Robin replied.

"Me, too," added Jess.

Minutes later the server came back with the coffee and dessert, and Robin eagerly plunged into the chocolate mousse. A look of pure bliss crossed her face as she closed her eyes and savored the mouthful of chocolate and whipped cream. Jess couldn’t help but smile at the sight. She reached over with one finger and wiped off a bit of whipped cream that was lingering on Robin’s lower lip. Robin opened her eyes in time to see Jess licking the whipped cream off of her finger, and she felt her heart beat pick up. She took another spoonful of the dessert and moved it toward Jess’s mouth, her eyes silently asking if the coach wanted to share. Jess’s eyes were locked on Robin’s as she opened her mouth to accept the spoon. As Robin slowly withdrew the spoon, she saw Jess’s eyes mirror her own earlier look of bliss. Robin smiled and said, "Can you think of anything more decadent?"

"Mmmm, maybe one thing," Jess replied sensually.

Robin blushed and looked away. What is she trying to do to me?! She took a deep breath and felt her cheeks return to their normal color. I can do this…keep it casual, she admonished herself.

"More coffee?" the server interrupted, then refilled both their cups.

This woman’s timing is impeccable, thought Robin, grateful for the distraction. She finished the rest of her dessert, Jess declining any further offerings, and the server brought the bill. Robin reached for it, but Jess clamped her hand over Robin’s wrist, saying, "Oh no you don’t. This is part of your birthday present, remember?"

"The tickets were the birthday present, if I recall, and it seems only fair that I should pay for dinner."

"The tickets are just part of the whole package, and there’s no way I’m letting you pay for part of your own birthday present," Jess said firmly.

Robin didn’t want to argue, so she acquiesced with a smile and a sweet thank you. "I hope you realize you’re setting a pretty high standard for when your birthday comes around," she warned.

"Well, I don’t believe in standards or expectations for presents," Jess replied. "The only thing that matters is that someone wants to get you something, no matter how big or small it is. And besides, doing something for you on your birthday made you so happy that I feel like I got the present just to be able to watch you."

Robin smiled back at Jess. "You’re way too nice to me. Come on, let’s get out of here before you make me cry."

Jess laughed and the two women gathered their coats and left the restaurant. It was raining, making the underground parking at the hotel a welcome relief. They checked in and took the elevator to the 15th floor, where they found a spectacular view of the Space Needle from the window of their room. Jess closed the door behind her but didn’t turn the lights on right away, and instead moved over to the window where Robin was looking out at the lights from the city.

"It’s beautiful, isn’t it?" Robin asked, looking over her shoulder at Jess.

"It sure is," the tall coach replied, never taking her eyes off of Robin.

Robin turned back to the view and leaned into the taller woman behind her. Jess put her hands on Robin’s shoulders and softly kneaded the muscles there, eliciting a soft moan from the younger woman. Jess found the scent of Robin’s hair and the feel of her body intoxicating, but her mind was sending a warning signal. Careful how far you take this! You can’t afford to lose control again, and you definitely don’t want to hurt Robin again.

Jess decided to be safe, and asked, "Is this OK?" giving a little squeeze of her fingers to let Robin know what she was talking about.

Robin turned slightly to look at Jess. "It feels wonderful, and I promise that I won’t get any false expectations from it. I’m not going to push you, Jess – I promise."

"I know, and I appreciate that, I really do," Jess replied sincerely.

Robin turned back to the window and put her hands over Jess’s on her shoulders. They stayed like that for a few minutes, before Robin gave a big yawn, prompting Jess to release her and suggest they get ready for bed.

The room had two queen size beds, and Jess pulled the covers back on the one facing the TV and sat down to wait for Robin to finish in the bathroom. When Robin came out, Jess grabbed her bag and took her turn in the bathroom. She reentered the room to find Robin in the other bed watching the TV she had left on. A wave of disappointment rolled over the taller woman as she slipped back into her bed. She turned off the light and asked Robin if she wanted the remote control for the TV.

"No, you can turn it off. I’m really tired, anyway."

Jess clicked off the TV, sending the room into darkness, lit only by the glow from the city lights. She turned on her side facing the other bed, but could only make out Robin’s silhouette.

"Goodnight," Jess said softly.

"Sweet dreams," Robin replied.

But Jess’s eyes didn’t close for a long time. She looked over at Robin and tried to sort out her feelings, which were becoming more confused with every day she spent in the young woman’s company. Am I just kidding myself that we can be friends? Is it OK for friends to hug like we do? Is it OK for friends to sleep together? Friends kiss each other sometimes, but I know if I felt those soft lips on mine again, it wouldn’t feel like I was kissing just a friend. How am I going to draw the line here? Jess thought with frustration. And why am I so intent on drawing that line in the first place? I thought I knew exactly what I wanted three weeks ago, and now I’m not so sure anymore.

Jess sighed loudly and turned over to her other side. She continued to wrestle with her thoughts, and her body took its cue from her mind and refused to settle down. After tossing and turning for an hour, Jess got up to get a glass of water from the bathroom and then felt her way back to the bed in the dark.

"Hey," Robin said softly. "Can’t sleep?"

"Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you."

"You didn’t. I couldn’t sleep either. I’ve been listening to you turn somersaults over there for the last hour."

"Sorry," Jess repeated. "I should have tried to be more quiet." She had worked her way around the bed and was standing next to Robin. She could just barely make out the green eyes in the dim light.

Robin extended her hand toward Jess. "Join me? Maybe I can help you get to sleep."

Jess worried for all of a second that she was getting close to that line she didn’t want to cross again, and then took Robin’s hand and slid in between the sheets as the smaller woman moved over to make room for her. Jess settled onto her back and Robin snuggled in close to her side. Robin’s hand was gently caressing Jess’s arm, shoulder and neck, but instead of putting her to sleep, it was rapidly arousing her senses. She self-consciously turned over, her back to Robin, and took a few deep breaths to try to slow her heart rate down. Robin continued to stroke Jess’s back, kneading the tight muscles she found there, and eventually the taller woman relaxed. Soon she was breathing deeply in sleep, and Robin joined her moments later, her hand still resting on the coach’s back.

Sometime in the night, Jess returned to her back and she awoke in the morning with Robin snuggled up against her side, sleeping soundly. A sense of peace came over her as she looked at the smaller woman, feeling like everything was as it should be.

 

Chapter 28

The following weekend was Thanksgiving, Robin had 4 days off and Jess’s team was playing in a preseason tournament in Seattle. Robin talked Capi into going to watch, and on Friday, the two women embarked on a road trip. They stopped at Starbuck’s for coffee and cinnamon rolls before heading up I-5.

"So it seems like things are going pretty well for you and Jess," Capi remarked.

Robin couldn’t stop the smile that crossed her lips at the mention of the coach. "Yeah, it’s been great."

"Has it been hard to just be friends when you’d really like to be more than that?"

"Sometimes, I guess. There are times when she smiles at me, or looks at me a certain way, that my heart nearly does flips in my chest, but I do my best not to look completely lovesick."

"Well, you show remarkable restraint, if you ask me. Do you still think there’s a chance that she’ll come around and realize what a mistake she’s made?"

"I can’t help but believe that," Robin said emphatically. "I know the feelings are there, it’s just a matter of her working through a few issues that she’s got. One of which is the fear of losing her job. I just don’t know how to convince her that it’s possible to be a gay woman and be a successful basketball coach. Hell, I’ll bet more than half the woman basketball coaches are gay!"

"Do you think she knows that? It seems hard to believe she wouldn’t know it," Capi said thoughtfully.

"I think she’s made it a point to keep a certain distance from other coaches, so I’m not sure she really knows much about their personal lives. And she’s definitely not the type to speculate, given that she doesn’t want people speculating about her."

"Hmmm, I suppose that’s true. It’s too bad you don’t know any of those coaches – maybe you could talk to them about how they handle it."

Robin’s eyes lit up. "Hey, I do know one! Sara Graebel was an assistant my first year here and was going out with my roommate, Ellen, at the time. Since my roommate was a little flaky, Sara and I spent many long nights talking about how she could get Ellen to be more serious about her. I think Sara and I ended up being closer than Sara and Ellen," Robin laughed.

"So where is she coaching now?" Capi asked.

"She’s at Cal State Monterey as the head coach. It’s not Division I, but I’m sure the same issues about recruiting and job security would be there. I’m going to give her a call." She turned and gave Capi a big grin and a high five. "Way to go, partner! This just might help!"

"Whoa, hang on a second," Capi warned. "If you’re going to tell Sara about Jess, are you sure you can trust her not to tell anyone else?"

Robin thought about that for a minute, because the last thing she wanted to do was violate Jess’s trust. "You’re right, but I know I can trust Sara. Not only would she respect my confidence because of our history, but she’s also a professional with a lot of integrity. There’s no way she’d go spreading rumors about another coach."

"OK, I just didn’t want you making a mistake you’d regret later," Capi replied.

Robin smiled and said, "Always looking out for me, aren’t you?"

"I try, but it’s a pretty hard job sometimes."

Robin got out her cell phone and address book, and dialed the coach’s number in California. She was somewhat surprised to actually reach Sara, thinking that she would have either Thanksgiving weekend plans, or coaching responsibilities over the holiday.

"No, I gave the team two days off to see their families," Sara explained. "Most of my kids are from around here, so they can drive home and still be back for Saturday practice. How are things going with you? It’s been awhile since I’ve talked to you."

"Things are great," Robin replied. "My classes are going well, and I’m still finding time to play basketball, so I can’t complain. How is your team doing?"

"Oh, we’re rebuilding a little bit this year. I lost my two senior post players, so we’re having to adjust to a different style of play. But I think we’ll do OK, and I’ve got a couple of new recruits that are coming along faster than I thought they would. So we might surprise a few people."

"Well, I’m sure you’ll find a way to make them play above their potential – you were always really good at finding ways to motivate your players."

Sara laughed modestly. "Thanks…I guess that degree in sports psychology has paid some dividends. So are you still living by yourself or have you found that perfect woman you’ve been waiting for?"

"I’m still single, thank you very much, and there’s nothing wrong with being picky," Robin said indignantly.

"Well, it’s not like there’s lots of opportunities in Comstock, so you can’t be too picky," Sara laughed.

"Actually there is a new ‘opportunity,’ as you put it, that I’m interested in, but it’s not going as well as I’d like. In fact, that’s why I’m calling you – I need a little advice."

"What kind of advice would you need from me? You’ve seen how successful my relationships have been…I’m not exactly a role model, you know."

"Yeah, but this is a coach, so I thought you might be able to relate."

"Oh really," Sara said with interest. "What kind of coach?"

"This has to be completely confidential Sara, OK?" Robin asked seriously.

"Hey, you know me better than that. You don’t even have to ask - my lips are sealed."

"Well, I’ve been spending a lot of time with the head basketball coach…"

"Whoa!" Sara interrupted. "Jess Peters is gay?! You’ve got to be kidding me – the way she keeps her distance from everybody I didn’t think she even had feelings."

"Oh, come on. She’s really nice," Robin protested.

"Not around other coaches she’s not," Sara replied. "It’s not like she’s mean or anything, she just ignores everybody else – never socializes."

"Well, she seems to have some issues about whether it’s possible to be gay and be a successful coach, and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. How do you handle the whole recruiting thing if people know you’re gay?"

"I don’t think that many people do know I’m gay. It’s not like I advertise it, you know. It just hasn’t been an issue to my knowledge."

"But you always hear about how opposing coaches will use it against you in recruiting. Doesn’t that happen?"

"Yeah, I’ve heard that, but I’ve never actually seen it happen. I suppose there are a few severely homophobic parents out there that would respond to that kind of thing, but most athletes want to play for the best team they can get on, and are going to look at the coach’s credentials, not some rumor about their sexuality."

"Well, what do you do if someone comes right out and asks you?"

"It depends on who it is," Sara replied thoughtfully. "I won’t lie about it, but if it were a parent of a recruit, I would probably say that my private life was private, and that I hoped they would help their daughter make a decision based on the integrity and quality of the program. If that made somebody choose not to go to my school, then I wouldn’t want them in my program anyway. But if my athletic director asked me, I would tell him the truth, because I really believe he’d support me. But the reality is, it just doesn’t come up, Robin. As long as a coach is discreet and doesn’t get involved with her players, it’s just a non-issue."

Robin sighed heavily. "I wish you could tell Jess that," she said ruefully. "How am I ever going to convince her?"

"I’d say that Jess Peters is crazy if she’s turning down a chance to be with you because she’s worried about her job," Sara said emphatically. "Doesn’t she know that every lesbian in Comstock would have given their right arm to go out with you?"

Robin laughed. "You mean all three of them? Come on, it’s not like they were lining up at my door."

"You’re way too modest. I would have asked you out in a heartbeat, but your roommate would have killed me."

"Ah, so it’s Ellen’s fault that I’m still single. I didn’t realize that she was acting as the gatekeeper all that time."

"Well, there’s no excuse now, so I think you’d better turn those considerable charms of yours on that basketball coach and see if you can’t get her to lighten up a little."

"OK, I’ll see what I can do. You’ve given me a few things that I can talk to her about, so maybe things will get better."

"I’m sure they will. Keep me informed, OK?"

"OK, I promise. It was great talking to you. Keep in touch."

The two women hung up, both deep in thought about what they’d learned.

Capi, who had been patiently listening to one side of the long conversation while driving, couldn’t remain quiet any longer. "Come on, I’m dying here! What did she say?"

Robin was startled out of her thoughts, and smiled over at Capi’s frustration.

"She said Jess is a fool not to marry me tomorrow," Robin teased.

"Well, you could have saved a long distance cell phone charge - I could have told you that!" More seriously, she asked, "What did she say about the coaching issues?"

Robin proceeded to relate the other side of the conversation.

"Well, that sounds pretty positive, don’t you think?" Capi replied.

"Yeah, but now I have to convince Jess," Robin said somewhat despondently. "And then there’s another related issue that I haven’t even told you about yet."

"What’s that?"

"Well, I can’t give you the details, but basically Jess had one of her high school players fall in love with her many years ago and it didn’t turn out well. She feels responsible for what happened, and she associates all that guilt with being a gay coach. I think she knows in her head that what happened had nothing to do with whether she was gay or not, but she hasn’t learned to get over her negative gut reaction to the thought of being gay." Robin put her head in her hands. "God, this is complicated!"

"No kidding," Capi replied sympathetically. "But it sounds like maybe you’re making some progress if she’s talking to you about these things. That’s a sign that she’s at least willing to deal with the issues, rather than just shut you out."

"Yeah, that’s true," Robin said hopefully. "I know it’s probably going to take a while, but I swear she feels the same way about me that I do about her. You should see the way she looks at me sometimes – it’s everything I can do not to throw myself at her on the spot."

Capi laughed. "Well, if talking doesn’t work, maybe you should try that next."

Robin smiled back at her good friend, wondering again why she couldn’t have fallen in love with some less complicated – someone like Capi.

 

Chapter 29

The two friends arrived at the arena a good hour before game time. Jess’s team was scheduled to play Colorado State in the tournament opener, and then Washington would play Montana State in the prime seven o’clock spot. The tournament organizers expected Colorado State and Washington to advance to the championship game the following night, which would be a good draw for the fans. Jess’s team had other ideas, though.

The arena was practically empty, most fans not arriving until a half hour or less before game time, and most Husky fans not arriving until the second game. Jess’s team was shooting around, getting used to the lights and the court, while the coach was standing off to the side talking to Carmen Ricardo again.

"Who’s that with Jess?" Capi asked as they found their seats behind the visitor’s bench.

Robin’s face clouded as she replied, "That’s the sports information director, Carmen something or other, and every time I see her she’s making eyes at Jess."

Capi looked over at Robin with surprise. "She’s hardly making eyes at her – they’re just looking at a piece of paper!" Capi looked over at the two women again. "And besides, she’s really cute – she can make eyes at me any time she wants."

"You think so?" Robin asked skeptically. "She’s a little short for my taste."

"Well, I happen to like them short. I guess I don’t have to tell you that. Let’s walk down there, maybe we’ll get introduced."

Robin rolled her eyes, but got up and headed over toward Jess. In truth, she was dying to talk to the coach, and if Capi could divert the SID’s attention for a few minutes, all the better.

Jess saw them coming and gave Robin a big smile, which immediately warmed the smaller woman’s heart and made her forget all about Carmen what’s-her-name.

"Hi Capi, did you guys have a good ride up here?" Jess asked.

"Yeah, Robin entertained me with stories of all the hearts she’s broken, so the time went fast."

Robin blushed and swatted Capi on the arm. "Do you think you could tell the truth just once in your life?" she admonished her friend.

Jess noticed Carmen smiling at the banter between the two good friends and realized that her manners were lacking.

"Carmen, this is Robin Grant, an economics professor at NOU, and this is Capi Morgan, the Vice Provost for Student Affairs." She turned back to Carmen. "And this is Carmen Ricardo, our new Sports Information Director."

The women shook hands, and Robin noticed Capi holding hers just a little longer than necessary while smiling engagingly at Carmen.

"Ah, you’re someone I’ll probably be dealing with in the future," Carmen said, smiling back at Capi. "There’s always some athlete getting into trouble and ending up in your office, and some coach wanting me to control what gets said in the local papers. In fact, I’m surprised I haven’t met you before now."

"Well, the football season did seem a little too quiet this fall. Are you sure you guys haven’t been hiding some things over there in Athletics that I should know about?" Capi replied teasingly.

"I’ll never tell," Carmen said with a wink.

"Hey, I’ve gotta get back to the locker room for last minute preparations," Jess interrupted. She turned to Robin with a hopeful look on her face. "Are you staying for the next game? I have to scout both teams for tomorrow night and I could use some help if you’re going to be around."

"I’d love to," Robin replied immediately, and then remembered that she was there with Capi and quickly turned to her friend to see if it would be alright with her.

"Yeah, sure, we’ll stay," Capi replied easily.

"Great! See you after the game," Jess said as she headed off to the locker room.

"Good luck!" Robin called after her, which earned her another smile over Jess’s shoulder.

"Well, I’ve got to go make sure things are all set up at the press table," Carmen said. "It was very nice to meet you both, and I hope we get another chance to talk soon." This last part was definitely directed at Capi, who had a silly grin on her face as she watched the small woman walk away.

"God, you’re easy!" Robin said with mock disgust as she grabbed Capi by the arm and dragged her back to their seats.

"Whaaat?! I was just being polite," Capi protested.

"Sure you were."

Thirty minutes later, both teams took the floor for their pre-game warm-ups. Jess strode onto the floor behind her team, looking stunning in a black suit with a white silk shirt underneath. Her loafers had a slight heel, making her stand out above most of her players. Robin found herself mesmerized by the sight, until Capi elbowed her and said, "Hey, snap out of it! It’s not like you don’t see her every day."

"Not like that, I don’t," Robin said reverently. "God Capi, what would she want with me? Look at her – she could have anybody she wanted, male or female."

"Stop that right now! How am I ever going to convince you that you are just as attractive as her or anyone else? And besides, she doesn’t want anybody else, she wants you."

Robin sighed. "I want to believe that, really I do, but it’s just so hard for me."

"Well, I’m going to keep telling you that until you do believe it, so you’d better get used to it."

Robin smiled gratefully at Capi. "OK, I’ll do my best."

The game started at a furious pace, both teams pushing the ball up the court after a steal or a rebound, and by the first official timeout at the 16-minute mark, the players were sucking wind as they ran over to the bench.

"OK, listen up," Jess shouted over the noise of the band. "The defense looks great and we’re getting some good shots off the break. But we’ve got to cut down on the turnovers. I want to see a ball fake before you try to pass it into the post. The posts are working hard to maintain their position, so they can’t always move to your pass - make sure you give it to them where they’re calling for it, OK?" Heads nodded as Jess looked around the huddle. She then proceeded to diagram a defensive adjustment to counteract a screen that was being set on the baseline, and the time-out was over.

Robin looked up from the huddle that she had been watching to see Capi looking across the court. She followed her gaze to the press table and saw Carmen smiling back at the administrator. Geez, what is this – love at first sight? Robin felt that irrational sense of jealousy that one gets when something is being lost, even though that something wasn’t really wanted in the first place. But she quickly scolded herself for wanting anything but happiness for her friend that had always been there for her.

She leaned over and whispered in Capi’s ear, "You know, you’re right – she is pretty cute."

Capi blushed furiously and returned her attention to the action on the court.

The NOU team cut down their turnovers and continued to play relentless defense, leading to a 6-point half-time lead. After the break, the Bobcats came out even more determined to prove the oddsmakers wrong, and ended up cruising to an eleven-point victory. The players from the bench ran onto the court to congratulate their teammates as Jess walked down to shake hands with the opposing coaches. Jess was able to maintain her professional decorum until that formality was taken care of, and then she sprinted onto the court with her players and joined in the celebration.

Robin was grinning from ear to ear while she watched Jess let down her guard as she congratulated her players, giving them big hugs and high fives. This was Jess’s first big win against a top-ranked opponent, and Robin couldn’t be happier for her. She and Capi made their way down to the floor and stood by the corner where the teams would leave the floor. The two teams for the next game were waiting patiently for the celebration to end before taking the court for warm-ups. Soon, Jess’s team came running off the court, still shouting and laughing as they headed for the locker room. The coaches were trailing behind, and when Jess saw Robin standing there, her smile got even bigger.

Robin couldn’t stop herself – she reached up and gave Jess a big hug, and to her surprise, the coach returned it without pulling immediately away.

Robin took the opportunity to whisper in Jess’s ear, "You guys were great! I’m so proud of you."

"Thanks," Jess whispered back into the ear that was dangerously close to her mouth. "And thanks for being here to share it with me."

Robin released her hold and smiled back at the coach. "Always," she said aloud.

 

Continued in part 10


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