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 10

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 30

Jess emerged from the locker room twenty minutes later and saw Robin and Capi in their seats. She motioned for them to join her, so they walked back down to the edge of the court.

"There are some seats at the press table for coaches, so why don’t you two join me?" Jess offered.

"Are you sure that’s OK?" Robin questioned.

"As long as you help me scout, it shouldn’t be a problem."

"Well, you’ll have to tell me what to do, because I’ve never scouted a team before, " Capi replied.

"No problem. We’ll put you to good use," Jess said with a smile as she led the two women over to the press table. There were 4 empty seats at the end of the table and they took the last three. Jess handed out scouting sheets and told Capi to just help Robin with the shot chart.

"Aren’t your assistants going to need to sit here?" Robin asked.

"No, they’re taking the team to get dinner, and then I’ll meet them back at the hotel later. I was hoping I could catch a ride back with you, but if you’ve got other plans, I can just call one of them to come back and pick me up."

"Sure, we can give you a ride. Right Capi?" Robin looked questioningly at her friend.

"No problem," Capi replied easily. "I think that women’s bar we wanted to go to is pretty close to the hotel, so we could drop you off on our way."

Jess’s expression changed noticeably as she took in that information. Are they going to a gay bar? The little voice in her head answered with impunity. Of course they’re going to a gay bar! What did you expect? You wanted to be ‘just friends,’ remember? Did you expect her to never look for another girlfriend, just because you’re not willing to fulfill that role?

Jess looked crestfallen as she returned her attention to the court. She shook her head and tried to get her attention back on the game. She was recording the starting line-ups as they were being announced, when Carmen slipped a piece of paper in front of her.

"Here are the final stats, Coach. I faxed them back home to the newspaper and talked to the reporter after he finished your post-game interview. I think they have everything they need. If you’re still around after the end of this game, the local TV sports reporter would like to talk to you about tomorrow’s opponent."

"Thanks Carmen," Jess said distractedly. "We’ll see how this game goes. I probably won’t need to stay till the end of it, but I will if it’s close."

Carmen nodded in acknowledgement and moved around to the empty chair that was left next to Capi and sat down to watch the next game.

"Hello again," Carmen said with a smile as Capi looked up from her scouting sheet.

"Hey, do you have to work this game, too?" Capi replied, returning the smile.

"Not really. Somebody else will provide all the statistics, but I wanted to check out the opposition for tomorrow. And I have to phone back the results to our local paper when it’s over so they can say a few things about tomorrow’s match-up in the morning story."

"Sounds like a job with a lot of late nights," Capi remarked.

"Yeah, it can be. The hours aren’t regular, that’s for sure. But I like traveling with the different teams and getting to spend time around the students. You must get to spend a lot of time with students in your job, too, don’t you?"

"Probably more than I want to," Capi said with a short laugh. "Actually I love the time I get to spend with the good students – the ones that are trying to make a difference and help their peers. It’s the ones that make trouble that I could stand to see less of."

Carmen gave an understanding smile as she laid her hand on Capi’s forearm. "Well, I’ll bet even the bad ones are glad that they have someone like you who cares about them."

Capi was blushing slightly and about to make a modest reply when Robin interrupted.

"Hey, who took that last shot? I couldn’t see her number."

"Uh-oh. Sorry, I didn’t see it either," Capi replied sheepishly.

Robin gave the administrator a mock glare and said, "Try paying attention to the game, OK?"

Capi leaned over to Carmen and surreptitiously whispered, "I think I’m in trouble. We’ll have to continue this conversation later."

Carmen grinned back. "OK, maybe at halftime the boss will give you a break."

Washington got off to a quick start against Montana State, dominating inside and pressuring their smaller guards into numerous turnovers. Jess was trying to concentrate on ways to defend the Husky post players, but her mind kept returning to the thought of Robin going to a gay bar later that night. Capi called it a "women’s bar" – I wonder what that’s like? I’ve never been to any gay bar. Are they different than any other bar? Will women be hitting on Robin all night? Do they just talk and play pool, or is there dancing? At the thought of Robin dancing with another woman, Jess blanched noticeably. Oh God, how am I going to handle this? I’ve never felt so jealous in my life and nothing’s even happened yet!

The horn sounded at the end of the first half, jolting the coach out of her distressing thoughts.

Robin looked over at Jess’s pale face and asked, "Hey, are you alright? You don’t look like you’re feeling so well."

"Oh…no, no, I’m fine. Probably just a little hungry since I haven’t eaten since lunch," she offered lamely.

"Do you want me to get you something from the concession stand?" Robin offered.

The thought of food actually made Jess blanch even further, but after giving Robin the excuse about not eating, she couldn’t say she wasn’t hungry.

"No thanks. I really don’t like to eat that junk food. I’ll be able to pick something up when I get back to the hotel."

"You sure? How about a soda just to settle your stomach?"

"OK, that’d be great, thanks," she replied and managed a small half smile towards Robin.

Robin smiled back with a concerned look on her face, and got up to go to the concession stand.

When she returned with a soda for Jess and a big bag of popcorn for herself, she saw the tall coach sitting with her forehead in her hand, looking at the table in front of her. As she approached, she noticed that nothing was on the table in front of Jess, and her eyes were actually closed. Robin walked over and casually put her hand on Jess’s back. She leaned over and asked gently, "Are you sure you’re OK? We could take you back to the hotel if you want."

Jess slowly raised her head and managed a weak smile. "No, really, I’m fine. Just tired, I guess. And where did this headache come from? she thought as she could feel her pulse pounding behind her eyes. Stress, that’s where it comes from. And nothing has ever stressed me out like the woman sitting next to me, and my own damned inability to figure out what I really want. Oh hell, who am I trying to kid? I know exactly what I want – I want her, in every way imaginable! But I also want my job, and my reputation, and I don’t want to feel guilty about my past…She stole a glance over at the attractive professor, who had sat back down and was talking with Capi. Robin laughed at something Capi said, putting her arm around the administrator’s shoulders as they shared a private joke. Jess felt her chest tightening, as if someone was squeezing her heart. I don’t think I could stand it if she was with someone else. I couldn’t stay around here. I’d have to find another job – move to the east coast or something. Or maybe I could catch on with that Australian team… Jess thought ruefully.

The teams had come back on the court for the second half, and Jess tried to return her attention to the scouting sheets. She had already gathered most of the information she needed, and now she was mostly waiting to see if Washington would continue their dominance at the start of the second half. If Montana State didn’t make a run early, the game was as good as over.

"Hey babe, feeling any better?" Robin asked softly.

Jess was startled by the term of endearment, but unmistakably heartened by it. She gave Robin a crooked smile and said, "Yeah, a little bit, thanks."

"I talked to Capi and we agreed that we can leave anytime you want. So just say the word and we’ll get you back to the hotel so you can get something to eat and get some rest. You really look like you could use it," Robin said sympathetically. She was dying to touch the taller woman, to stroke her hair, rub her shoulders, and try to make her feel better, but she knew that it would be a risk to display even the most casual signs of affection, so she kept her hands to herself.

"I just want to see the first 5 minutes or so," Jess replied. "Then we can go. Are you sure you don’t mind missing the end of the game?"

"Nah, we’ll see Washington tomorrow night, and I’ve been in this gym long enough for one day." She turned to Capi to find out if she’d be ready to go soon, but found the administrator deep in conversation with Carmen once again. Robin rolled her eyes as the two women leaned together laughing about something.

She nudged Capi, who turned around to see what Robin wanted.

"Think you can tear yourself away from the game in a few minutes?" she asked with sarcasm dripping from her voice. "Jess said she’d like to leave soon."

"Oh…um…actually, I was going to ask for a favor," Capi said with a pleading, puppy dog look on her face.

Robin sighed. "You want me to come back and get you later because you’re so fascinated by the game you can’t tear yourself away, right?"

Capi’s face lit up. "Right! How did you know?" She smiled gratefully at Robin and added quietly, "How would you feel about Carmen going out with us later?"

"It’s OK with me," Robin replied easily, "but are you sure she wants to go out to a women’s bar?"

"Well, I guess I’m not positive, but come on! Look at her! What do your instincts tell you?"

Robin discreetly looked over at the SID who had returned her attention to the game. She had a compact, athletic body and was wearing tailored black pants with a crisply-pressed white shirt and black Italian loafers. Her black, curly hair was cut just above the ears and collar, and helped to set off a strong jaw and high cheek bones. She was unadorned by jewelry, other than a functional watch and diamond stud earrings. Pretty androgynous, but with a definite sense of style, Robin thought to herself. She couldn’t help but compare the small woman with herself, thinking that the only thing they seemed to have in common was that they were both short. I guess it’s egotistical to think that Capi is going to go looking for a clone of me!

"OK, I suppose you’re right," Robin finally replied. "Well, I’ll leave it up to you to make the big move and ask her out," she teased. "Do you remember any good pick-up lines?"

"I don’t think I’m going to need any. She’s not exactly shy. I’ll bet you tomorrow’s dinner that she asks me before I even get a chance."

"Mmmm, pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you? OK, you’re on," Robin agreed with a smile. "I’ll expect a full report when I get back."

"Deal. How about if I call you on your cell when Carmen’s done with her post-game duties? Can you keep yourself occupied till then?"

"Sure. If Jess doesn’t want to stay up, I’ll wait for your call in the hotel bar."

"Great…and Robbie?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"Anytime, my friend. I’m very happy for you," Robin said sincerely as she briefly laid her hand over Capi’s before turning back toward Jess.

Jess looked up from her work and said, "You about ready? I could leave anytime."

"Yeah, let’s get out of here," Robin said while gathering her papers and standing up.

The two women headed for the exit when Jess stopped to ask why Capi wasn’t accompanying them.

"She has a sudden fascination with the world of sports information," Robin replied dryly.

Jess looked confused for a moment, but then her expression cleared as she realized what Robin meant.

"Oh, I see. Well, she couldn’t have asked for a more attentive teacher," Jess replied with a smile.

It was raining hard as they left the arena, and Robin insisted on going to get the car so that Jess wouldn’t get her good clothes wet. She pulled up at the curb a few minutes later and the tall woman folded herself into the front seat.

Jess found herself immediately relaxing now that the two of them were alone in the car, and her headache was reduced to a dull throbbing.

"Have you eaten dinner yet?" she asked the younger woman.

"No, I had some popcorn at the game, but that hardly counts. You know me, I’m always ready to eat!"

"There’s a pretty good restaurant at the hotel if you’d like to get something," Jess asked hopefully.

"Well, I’ve probably only got about 45 minutes before I have to be back at the arena, so I don’t think I have time for that. But I wouldn’t mind grabbing something quicker. Do you think you could stomach some Taco Bell or McDonald’s?"

"I think there are a couple of items at Taco Bell that won’t kill me," Jess chuckled.

Robin pulled into the drive-through lane and they got their order and went to park in a corner of the parking lot. They finished their dinner in silence before Robin spoke up.

"Does a little food help? Are you feeling any better?"

"I’m feeling much better, thanks. I can’t seem to shake this headache, though."

"Here…give me your drink and put your seat back a little," she suggested as she took Jess’s cup and put it in the holder. She put her own seat back as well so that both of them were slightly reclined. Robin turned on her side and reached her left hand over to brush Jess’s bangs off her forehead. "Close your eyes and relax, OK?"

"Mm-hmm," Jess replied as the smaller woman started to massage her forehead and temples. "Oh God, that feels good," Jess groaned.

Robin watched the muscles in Jess’s face slowly relax as the tension drained out of the coach. She worked her fingers back farther into the thick, dark hair, and eventually made her way down to the neck and shoulder muscles that were within reach.

"Damn bucket seats!" Robin cursed as she tried to reach over to Jess’s far shoulder.

Jess chuckled and said, "So you’ve got some experience with bench seats? Or do you usually just head right for the back seat?"

Robin blushed and replied defensively, "No, I’ve never had bench seats."

"And…?"

"And what?"

"You didn’t answer the second part of the question."

"OK, so I might have had a couple of occasions to test out the back seat of a car, but that was many years ago."

Jess turned to face Robin, smiling at the young woman’s embarrassment. She reached over and gently touched her cheek. "You know, you’re really cute when you blush."

"It’s too dark for you to tell whether I’m blushing," Robin replied indignantly.

"Yeah, but I can tell anyway," Jess said self-assuredly, causing Robin’s cheeks to flush even more.

Robin reached up and held Jess’s hand to her cheek, closing her eyes at the feelings that were quickly rising to the surface. I can’t believe what a simple touch can do to me.

"Robin, I…"

The cell phone rang loudly, startling both women. Robin’s eyes flew open. Oh shit, I’m going to kill you for this, Capi…

Robin dug her phone out of her jacket pocket and returned her seat upright. Jess did the same as Robin quickly finished her call, telling Capi that she could be there to pick her up in another 20 minutes.

Robin looked over at Jess, wondering what might have happened if they hadn’t been interrupted. "Sorry about that," she said apologetically.

"Hey, it’s no problem. I should be getting back anyway to check on my team."

They drove to the hotel in silence, Robin thinking about how much she wished she were going to stay with Jess that night, and Jess thinking about how much she wished Robin wasn’t going out to a women’s bar. By the time they arrived at the hotel, Jess’s earlier depression had returned.

Robin pulled up in front of the lobby and turned to Jess, noticing the sad expression on the coach’s face once again. "Is your headache back again?" she asked as she reached across and put her hand on Jess’s shoulder.

Jess flinched noticeably, and Robin removed her hand. "Yeah, I guess it is. I’d better go take some aspirin." She couldn’t bring herself to look at the professor, and just wanted to get out of the car before things got any more uncomfortable. She opened the car door, and with a brief glance back at Robin, said, "Thanks for the ride, and I hope you have a good time tonight." She smiled weakly and got out of the car before Robin could reply.

Robin just sat there, dumfounded at the change that had come over Jess during the ten-minute car ride to the hotel. What just happened? Everything was fine – great, even. Half of her wanted to run after Jess and find out what was wrong, and the other half was telling her to give the coach some space. Since Capi and Carmen were waiting back at the arena, she decided she’d have to figure out what went wrong some other time. If she’ll even talk to me about it.

 

Chapter 31

Robin, Capi, and Carmen were sitting at a table near the dance floor, which exhibited the normal Friday night crowd for Seattle. The fact that a major women’s basketball tournament was going on at the same time didn’t hurt the bar’s attendance. They recognized a number of women that they had seen earlier at the arena, and many were still sporting clothes in various shades of purple and gold.

"How about another round? I’ll buy," Carmen offered, getting out of her chair.

"Sure, but the server will probably be around in a few minutes if you want to wait," Capi replied.

"I don’t mind getting them. Besides," Carmen gave a little sly smile, "I think the bartender likes me so maybe I’ll get a free round."

"I’d like you, too, if you tipped me $5 for a $6 order," Robin quipped, having been at the bar earlier with the SID.

"Hey, just maintaining good relations with people that count," Carmen replied with a big grin. "It’s something you learn in business school."

Capi just shook her head as she watched Carmen walk to the bar. It’s not exactly a ‘swagger’ but she’s not lacking for confidence, that’s for sure. She looked over to Robin, who was smiling back sympathetically at her. "I think this might be more than I can handle," Capi said ruefully.

"Oh, come on. It’s good for you! Get you out of your comfort zone for a little while," Robin teased.

"Well, at least I’m going to get a free dinner out of it. You’ll be buying tomorrow night."

Robin just raised her eyebrows with an admiring look on her face. "I think you’re going to like having someone pay attention to you for a change. See if you can just enjoy it, OK?"

"I’ll try," Capi replied as Carmen returned to the table. She set three pints of beer down, then held her hand out to Capi, asking her if she’d like to dance. A slow song had started and the dance floor was quickly filling with couples. Capi blushed slightly, but took the offered hand and got up to join Carmen. Robin just watched with a smile as they made their way onto the dance floor.

Carmen took Capi’s hand and held it to her shoulder while putting her arm around the taller woman’s waist. They maintained a very small distance between them, talking and smiling as they moved easily in time with the music. Robin was just thinking they looked good together when her attention was drawn to someone that was standing beside her chair.

"Hi there, I’m Melinda. Are you here by yourself?"

Robin looked up to see attractive blue eyes smiling back at her.

"Uh…no…actually, my friends are just dancing. They’ll…uh…they’ll be back in a minute," she stammered.

"Would you like to join them? On the dance floor, I mean?"

Robin wanted to say no in the worst way, but couldn’t think of a reason to turn down the invitation. Melinda was a nice-looking woman, probably in her late twenties, and had an open, sincere, look on her face. Robin smiled and said, "Sure, that would be nice."

They found a small opening on the crowded dance floor and Melinda took one of Robin’s hands and laid her other hand lightly on the small woman’s shoulder. Robin returned the gesture and relaxed a little, not sensing any predatory motives on Melinda’s part.

"You didn’t tell me your name," Melinda said, smiling down at the shorter professor.

"It’s Robin." Why is everyone in the world taller than me? "Do you live here in Seattle?"

"Yeah, I’m an engineer at Microsoft. I’ve lived here for about 5 years now. How about you?"

"I’m from Oregon – Comstock. I teach at Northern Oregon University."

"Really?" Melinda asked, impressed. "You don’t look old enough to be a professor."

Robin laughed. "I hear that all the time, but really, I’m older than I look."

"So what are you doing in Seattle? Just come up to enjoy our night life?"

"No, we’re here watching the Thanksgiving tournament at the UW."

Melinda looked questioningly at Robin, obviously not knowing about the tournament.

"Basketball?" Robin prompted. "You must not be a fan, huh?"

"Actually, I hate sports. I’m more into the theater and the arts."

Robin felt an irrational sense of relief at that revelation. Well, this would have been a short courtship, if it ever even had a chance in the first place.

"I’m afraid I know next to nothing about the theater and arts," Robin replied.

Melinda looked surprised, but didn’t pursue the subject further.

The song ended, and Robin quickly said, "Well, I’d better get back to my friends. Thanks for the dance."

Melinda smiled and nodded, and didn’t look overly disappointed that Robin wasn’t inviting her back to the table.

As she neared the table, she saw Capi and Carmen watching her with big grins on their faces.

"Whaaat?!" Robin asked, trying to look innocent.

"Oh, nothing," Capi replied. "We just leave you alone for 2 minutes and the next thing we know somebody’s picked you up and has you in their arms on the dance floor. You were never that easy for me."

"You never asked me to dance, as I recall," Robin retorted.

Oh, well, in that case, would you like to dance?" Capi said, one eyebrow raised in challenge.

"I’d love to," Robin replied seductively, holding her hand out to Capi.

They both laughed and Capi got up to join Robin on the dance floor. Carmen looked a little confused at the banter between the two best friends, but quickly started a conversation with a group of women at the next table and soon had them all charmed into buying her another drink.

"So, how was she?" Capi asked Robin once they had found a space on the dance floor.

"She was very nice, thank you. Her name is Melinda, she’s nice-looking, very smart, has a good job, and hates sports."

Capi laughed. "That must have ground conversation to a halt."

"Yeah, that was pretty much the end of it. So how is it going with you and Carmen?"

"She’s sweet, she’s charming, she’s funny, and she scares the hell out of me."

Now it was Robin’s turn to laugh. "How long has it been since someone has really made you feel special?" She looked more seriously at her good friend. "You deserve that, you know? You make people feel special all the time."

Capi smiled back gratefully, and said, "Thanks. I have to admit it does feel good."

"Then just go with it, OK? There’s nothing to be afraid of."

The three women stayed late at the bar, talking, laughing, and dancing. Robin was approached a number of times while Carmen and Capi were off together, but she politely refused any more offers to dance. As the night wore on, she started thinking more about Jess, and was worried about how the coach was feeling. Maybe I shouldn’t have left her alone like that. What if she’s really sick? Yeah, but what if she really just wanted to be alone? Maybe I’m pushing her too much. Robin looked around at the multitude of women in the bar, wondering why she wasn’t the least bit interested in any of them. There’s only one woman I’m interested in, and she’s not here. But how long can I keep hoping for something that probably will never happen? How many opportunities do I turn down in the meantime? Robin sighed deeply, knowing she wasn’t going to be interested in anyone but Jess for a very long time.

"Hey Robin, you’re looking a little tired over there," Carmen noted, bringing Robin out of her thoughts. "It’s pretty late, maybe we should be getting back."

"Yeah," Capi agreed, noticing the tired look on Robin’s face. "I can see that I’m going to have a hard time getting you out of bed in the morning."

The three women finished their drinks and made their way out of the bar, groaning as they encountered the ever-present winter rain. It was only a short ride to the hotel, and in no time Robin was asleep in her room. Capi was in the next bed over, having a more difficult time finding sleep, thinking about the evening’s events and how she was feeling about one small, attractive, dark-haired woman she’d left down the hall. Carmen had thanked her for a wonderful evening, and had reached up to give her a small, sweet kiss before going into her room. Capi could still feel the soft lips on hers and the unmistakable tingling that reached to her fingers and toes.

 

Jess awoke the next morning feeling restless and unsettled. She searched her half-awake brain for the source of her discomfort, upset once again when she found it. She looked at the clock and saw that it was 6 am, and decided she needed to get out of her hotel room. She donned her running clothes and shoes, and headed for the elevator. Once out on the dark streets, she pushed herself until she was breathing heavily, finding some perverse solace in the punishment.

I wonder how late they stayed out last night? Of course, that’s assuming they even came back…Oh, stop that! Of course they came back. Give Robin a little credit, will you? She’s not exactly the type to go home with some stranger from a bar! No, but she’s certainly the type to make new friends easily, and the ‘going home’ part might be just a few weeks away. Jess increased her speed up a hill, mad at herself for not being able to control her negative thoughts.

This could all be avoided if you’d just figure out how to make a place for her in your life, you know. Robin’s made it pretty obvious that she wants you, and not anyone else. Jess relaxed a little at that thought, and slowed her pace to something she could maintain for an hour. By the time she got back to the hotel, she was feeling exhausted, but better and more relaxed.

As Jess was walking through the hotel lobby, she saw Carmen sitting off to one side, drinking coffee and reading the morning paper. She detoured over toward the SID, who looked up from her paper as she approached.

"Hey Coach – how was your run?"

"It was good. In fact, I’ll bet I feel much better than you look this morning."

Carmen looked a little guilty as she replied, "Yeah, I think we stayed out a little too late last night, and probably drank a little more than we should have. I’ll be surprised if we see Capi and Robin before noon."

Jess paled a little and asked, "Did they have a good time last night?"

"Oh yeah! I suppose that after living in Comstock for awhile you go a little crazy when you finally get out to a real bar."

"Yeah, I suppose so," Jess replied half-heartedly. "Well, I’ll leave you to your recovery. I trust you’ll be in top form by game time."

"You can count on it," Carmen replied, giving the coach a confident smile.

Jess walked off toward the elevators, her good mood that she’d found by the end of her run long gone. She spied the door to the stairs next to the elevators and took them two at a time for the 8 flights to her floor. She could barely breath by the time she got there, the punishment once again seeming fitting for her complete failure in her personal life.

 

Robin awoke with a headache and a foul taste in her mouth from too many beers and too much smoke in the bar the previous evening. She groaned as she turned over and opened her eyes.

"Hey Sunshine," Capi teased. "I thought maybe you were going to sleep all day."

"What time is it?" Robin asked grumpily.

"Eleven fifteen."

"Why are you so chipper? Did you already get coffee?"

Capi’s smile broadened. "As a matter of fact, a secret admirer of mine sent coffee and rolls to our room this morning, along with a paper." She pointed over to the table where a carafe of coffee was sitting with a plate of cinnamon rolls.

"And a rose??" Robin said incredulously, pointing to a single stem in a glass vase sitting on the table. "Did something happen last night that you didn’t tell me about?"

"Hey, what makes you think something had to happen? Maybe some people are just more romantic than you."

Robin groaned and sank back on her pillow again. "Man, you have it bad, don’t you?"

Capi laughed and said, "You’re just jealous. Come on, get up and have some coffee – you’ll feel better."

 

Jess was running her team through the defensive scheme she wanted to use for the Washington post players for the fifth time. Their "shoot-around" had started at 11 and it was now 12:30 and they hadn’t covered nearly as much as Jess had hoped they would. Her headache had returned, and she felt like nothing she said was getting through to her players. I guess we’re just going to have to rely on what got us this far. If I work them any longer they’re going to be too tired for the game tonight." Even though the team was running through the drills at half-speed, Jess could sense their fatigue, both mental and physical. She blew her whistle and called them over.

"OK, let’s call it quits. Everyone make 25 free throws and meet back on the bus in 20 minutes. We’ll go back to the hotel, check out and go to dinner at 2:30. Then we’ll come back here and watch the first game until it’s time to get taped. Any questions?"

No one had any, so they dispersed to the baskets to shoot their free throws. Jess went over to get a drink and asked the trainer for some aspirin. She sat down to watch her players shoot free throws, and found herself thinking about Robin. I wonder what she’s doing this afternoon. Will I get a chance to see her before the game? Probably not. And probably not after the game, either, because we’re going to have to get going right away. She took a deep breath and blew it out. How can I miss her when I just saw her last night? And why am I always thinking about her when I should be concentrating on my job?

Jess looked around the arena at the banners of the Pac-10 schools. How many of them have women coaches? All of them! She was somewhat surprised at the realization, not having thought about it before. And how many of those women are gay? I have no idea. I don’t even know for sure if some of them are married. So why am I so sure that everyone would know I was gay?

She was staring into space when LaTeisha came over and snapped her fingers in front of Jess’s face.

"Hey Coach, everybody’s on the bus waiting for you."

Jess jumped to her feet with an embarrassed look on her face. "Sorry. I guess I just spaced out there for a minute."

"Yeah, I guess so," LaTeisha replied with a concerned look. "Are you worried about the game tonight?"

"No…I mean, yes…Yeah, I’m worried about how we’re going to defend those damn post players," she said, quickly thinking of something to say, since she couldn’t tell her assistant that she had actually been lost in thought for over 15 minutes because of a young, attractive economics professor.

 

Chapter 32

Capi and Robin arrived at the arena just in time for the start of the five o’clock game. They took their seats behind the visitor’s bench, although they could have sat just about anywhere they wanted. Most Husky fans wouldn’t start arriving until about half-time. Robin looked around and saw the NOU team lounging in the bleachers at one end of the court. Some were reading homework that they’d brought along, but most were just talking and watching the other teams warm up. The assistant coaches were sitting nearby, but Jess was nowhere to be seen. Robin felt a wave of disappointment roll over her, since she was hoping to get a chance to talk to Jess before the game. She was still worried about how the coach was feeling after her abrupt departure the night before.

"Hey there, is this seat taken?" The low, sensual voice sent a shiver through Robin’s body and she looked up to see deep blue eyes looking down at her. She couldn’t help the full smile of relief that broke out on her face.

"Actually I was saving it for someone special," Robin replied while motioning for Jess to sit down.

The tall coach sat down partially facing the younger woman and put her arm around the back of Robin’s seat.

"Did you guys find something fun to do all day, or did you spend the time recovering from last night?"

Robin blushed slightly, thinking about how she had barely gotten dressed by early afternoon. "Well, we wanted to make sure we got our money’s worth out of the hotel, so we stayed there till we had to check out."

Jess smiled knowingly at Robin and shook her head.

"Are you feeling better today?" Robin asked with a look of concern. "I was worried about you last night."

Too worried to have a good time at the bar? Jess thought hopefully. "I’m feeling OK. It’s just been a stressful weekend." You have no idea how stressful.

"Yeah, I’ll bet it has been, " Robin replied sympathetically. "But just think how good it’s going to feel when it’s over and you’ve won your first tournament."

Jess smiled at Robin’s optimism. "We can’t afford to get ahead of ourselves," the coach warned. "I’m worried that we might be a little too comfortable after last night."

"Well, I’m sure if anyone can get them mentally prepared, you can," Robin said confidently.

Why does she believe in me like that? Jess searched Robin’s eyes for a reason, and saw admiration and affection looking back at her. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but now I feel like I can’t live without it.

"Hey Coach," Carmen interrupted them from the aisle, "they’re ready for the pre-game interviews."

Jess let her gaze linger on Robin for just another moment, a silent understanding passing between them.

"Good luck," Robin said softly. "You’ll do great."

"Thanks," Jess replied, and let her hand fall down to Robin’s shoulder for a brief moment before getting up and following Carmen out to the Press Room.

 

"…and coaching for Northern Oregon University, in her first season, Jessica Peters," the Washington announcer intoned in a somewhat nasal monotone reserved for references to the opposing players and coaches.

Robin looked down at the imposing figure of the coach, towering over her team as they sat in front of her listening to last minute instructions. Jess was wearing a black shirt with very subtle white vertical lines running through it, and a pair of black pleated pants that seemed to go on forever down her long legs. Oh my, how am I going to keep my eyes on the game, Robin thought to herself. She took her program and fanned her face a couple of times, drawing a smirk from Capi.

"Oh, like you’re any better," Robin challenged. "I was about to hand you a napkin a minute ago when you were staring over at the press table."

Capi laughed and said, "Some pair we are, huh?"

The game progressed through the first half with NOU staying just a couple of points ahead of the Huskies. They were clearly playing at their best, hustling after loose balls, helping on their match-up zone defense, and hitting over 50% from the field. Jess was worried that they could be playing so well and not winning by more. At half-time, she praised her team for their solid play, and told them to just keep playing the way they were. The zone defense was controlling the Huskies inside game, and as yet, they hadn’t been hurt too badly by outside shots.

The teams were equally well-matched in the second half. The Huskies tied the game a couple of times, but each time NOU would make a small run and get back up by 4 or 5. With two minutes left, the Bobcats had their biggest lead of the game at 8 points. Washington called time out and Jess’s team came sprinting over to the bench.

"OK, we’re going to stay in our match-up zone, but you need to pay more attention to their three-point shooters now. If the ball goes into the post, everyone can’t collapse at once to help, OK? And we need the weak side defenders to rotate around and cover the open shooters."

Unfortunately, in the other huddle the Washington coach was a step ahead. "I want the ball to go into the post from the left wing. They’re going to collapse on you like they have all game, so I want you to kick it back out to the point, OK? Now their weak side player is going to be rotated over to the point, so you need to move it quickly to the weak side wing, who will be open for the three-pointer, OK?" Heads nodded vigorously and the players sprinted back out onto the court.

The next two times down the court, the Huskies ran the play to perfection, cutting the lead to two with 45 seconds left. Jess called time out to regroup. She huddled up with her assistants on the court to discuss strategy.

"I think we need to go back to player-to-player," Pam insisted. "We can’t keep giving them those open looks."

"And their posts really haven’t been hurting us that badly," LaTeisha agreed.

"Yeah, but that’s because the zone has been double teaming them the whole game," Jess countered. "We just need to move our feet faster on defense, and anticipate where the pass is going."

The assistants knew their role, and knew when to stop arguing and start supporting the head coach. They nodded in agreement and Jess went over to talk to her team for the 30 seconds that were left in the time-out.

"We’re getting burned on the weak side, so we need to keep our weak side defender home. If the ball goes into the post, I want the person defending the passer to make a move toward the post as if you’re going to double-team, but then I want you to pop back out to cover your player, OK? Hopefully, they’ll pass it back out when they see the double-team coming, and if not, you posts are just going to have to play solid one-on-one defense."

The teams returned to the floor and Jess’s team brought the ball upcourt. After a few passes around the perimeter, the ball went into the high post at the free throw line. She looked for the high-low pass to the low post, but hesitated a second too long before throwing it. The defender knocked the pass away and the Huskies had it back with 20 seconds left on the clock. They worked 10 seconds off the clock, then threw the pass into the post from the wing. The wing defender faked the double-team, but before she could get back to her player, the post had passed it back and the three-pointer was on it’s way.

"IT’S GOOD!! IT’S GOOD!!" the partisan announcer yelled as the final horn sounded.

While Jess’s team was in shock on the floor, having blown an 8-point lead in two minutes, the coach was striding down the sidelines to shake the Husky coaches’ hands. Her eyes were blue chips of ice as she returned to her bench, grabbed her clipboard and strode off the floor. A reporter intercepted her half-way, and in an amazing display of self-control, Jess tersely answered a few questions. The reporter could tell that he was walking on thin ice, and quickly let the coach go.

Jess got to the locker room and threw her clipboard against the wall. God Dammit! I have never been so out-coached in my life! What an idiot! ‘Stay in the zone, let them take the three-pointers,’ she mocked herself. Why the hell didn’t you listen to your assistants? You don’t pay them not to think, do you?

A few of the players were straggling into the locker room, and Jess composed herself enough to offer some condolences. The post-game scene was quiet and depressing, and everyone hurried to get on the bus and get out of Seattle.

 

The ride home was dark and quiet. They didn’t get away from Seattle until 10 pm, and still had to stop and pick up dinner to-go at the nearest Subway. The coaches were occupying the front rows of the bus, while the players congregated toward the back. Many of the players fell asleep quickly, while others were staring dejectedly out the windows while listening to music on their headphones. Jess was in the front seat by herself, reliving the end of the game over and over again in her head, and wishing the bus could go faster.

Behind her, Pam was working on some statistics from the game when Carmen approached and slid into the seat next to the assistant coach.

"Hey Carmen."

"Hi, how do they look," she asked, nodding toward the stat sheet Pam was working on.

"They actually look pretty good. It’s one of the best games we played all year if you go strictly by the stats."

"Too bad they don’t give the trophy to the team with the best statistics, huh?"

Pam chuckled. "I guess that would take away a little of the excitement, wouldn’t it?"

"Yeah, I suppose so." Carmen tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.

"What’s the matter, didn’t get enough sleep last night?" Pam asked teasingly. "I heard the bar was hopping."

"Who’d you hear that from?" Carmen asked, surprised.

"The Washington trainer is an old friend of mine from my college days, and she was out last night, too. She said you guys were having quite the good time."

"Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never seen so many good-looking women in one place before. Not that I was looking at more than one of them, of course," Carmen added quickly with a smile.

"Yeah, right. I heard that Robin was quite the babe-magnet. Had women asking her to dance all night, huh?"

"Well, she did a pretty good job of fending them off, although I did see her getting up-close and personal with one nice-looking woman on the dance floor."

In the seat in front of the two women, Jess felt her stomach clench and she thought she might be sick. Jesus, this weekend just gets better and better. She jumped out of her seat and stormed to the back of the bus where she found an empty seat among her sleeping players.

 

The bus pulled into the NOU arena parking lot at 1:30, and the players quickly unloaded their gear and took off for their dorms and apartments. Jess went into the deserted arena, dropped off her briefcase in her office, and then headed down to the locker room to make sure everything was closed up. Her headache had returned, and she was becoming increasingly depressed that she was going home to an empty house instead of getting to see Robin. So it was with great surprise that she opened the door to find the young professor sitting on a bench, leaning against the lockers.

"How did you get in here?" she asked, startled.

"It’s nice to see you, too," Robin replied with a little smile. "I was waiting in the parking lot and Carmen told me you’d be making a final stop here before you left. I thought maybe you’d like some company."

Jess looked at the young, attractive woman sitting in front of her, who always seemed to be there when she needed her. She couldn’t help herself. Despite the tournament loss, despite her worries about Robin at the bar, despite the headache that kept hounding her all weekend, all she wanted was to wrap the small woman in her arms and never let her go.

Jess walked slowly toward Robin, the look in her eye a smoldering testament to her feelings. Robin stood up to meet the taller woman, her eyes darkening as she looked up into the face of desire.

Despite the signals she was getting from Jess, and despite the fact that every fiber of her being was straining to be with the coach, Robin waited for Jess’s touch. She couldn’t afford to be wrong again – to push Jess into something she wasn’t ready for.

She didn’t have to wait long.

Jess reached her hand behind Robin’s head and drew her face closer. Her other hand found the small of Robin’s back, as their bodies pressed together. Slowly, Jess lowered her head to Robin’s slightly parted lips, blue eyes never leaving green until they fluttered closed at the first soft contact.

Robin groaned and her lips parted further, eagerly accepting Jess’s passionate kiss. Her hands were caressing Jess’s back and reaching up to tangle in long, thick hair. She felt her knees growing weak, but Jess guided her backward, pinning her against the lockers, the coach’s strong thigh pressing between her legs.

Jess’s lips never left Robin’s, while her hands were frantically working to unbutton the younger woman’s shirt. She felt the silk fabric of Robin’s bra and her breathing picked up. Pushing the shirt off her shoulders, Jess slowly kissed her way down Robin’s neck, her hips and thigh keeping a steady rhythm between the shorter woman’s legs.

Robin threw her head back as she felt Jess nip at her neck and shoulders. Her chest was heaving and she wanted nothing more than to feel Jess’s lips on her breasts. In answer to her prayer, Jess unclasped her bra and tore the offending garment away, replacing the warmth of the silk with the warmth of her mouth.

As Jess slid down Robin’s body, she unzipped the loose-fitting jeans, sliding her hands inside the cotton Jockeys and around the slim hips, drawing the small woman even closer.

Robin was gasping for air, and trying to maintain consciousness under the assault on her senses.

"Jess," she whispered. "Are you sure this is what you want?"

Jess didn’t even pause. "This is exactly what I want," she said between kisses. "This is exactly what I need, and I’ve just been too stupid to admit it." She rose up to look Robin in the eye again. "I’m so sorry I turned you away before. Please let me make up for it now," she said, her eyes darkening even further.

Robin wrapped her arms around Jess’s neck and pulled her close again. "Just don’t make me regret this later," she said, her mouth millimeters away from the coach’s.

"Never again," Jess whispered, and her lips seared the truth of that statement into Robin’s soul. Jess pressed Robin even harder against the lockers, one hand slipping between them, down to the unzipped jeans and into the warm, wetness that awaited.

Robin gasped and her body arched in response. In what seemed like seconds, but surely must have been minutes, her hips were jerking and she was crying out Jess’s name, wrapping her legs around the tall woman, pinned between the strong body and the lockers.

Jess’s face was buried in the small woman’s neck as she felt Robin respond. She held on to the trembling woman, maintaining contact for as long as she could, before her own legs gave out and they sank to the carpeted floor together. Jess held Robin in her arms, rocking her gently, saying, "Never again, never again."

 

Continued in part 11


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