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 11

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 33

Robin lifted her head from where it was buried in Jess’s neck and looked the tall coach in the eye. "Where did that come from?" she asked breathlessly.

Jess smiled. "Weeks of frustration and the fact that you are absolutely irresistible," she replied as she bent her head and softly kissed the smaller woman’s forehead.

Robin returned her attention to the tender neck and began to nibble softly at the smooth skin. Jess leaned her head back, closing her eyes, and moaning softly. As Robin’s hand started to unbutton Jess’s shirt, the coach halted her by gently holding her wrist.

"Could we continue this at my place? I don’t even want to think about what we just did in my team’s locker room."

Robin laughed and said, "Don’t want to push your luck, huh? What time do the janitors come in, anyway?"

"I have no idea," Jess replied honestly, "and I don’t want to find out now."

Robin extricated herself from the coach’s strong body, and stood up to find the clothes that had been tossed off in the heat of the moment. Jess just watched admiringly as the young woman pulled her shirt back over her shoulders and then was pleasantly surprised and aroused as Robin took her lace bra and slowly pushed it down the cleavage of Jess’s shirt.

"Hold that for me until we get home?" she said seductively.

"I think I can manage that," Jess said, her eyes smoldering once again. She reached for Robin’s hand and led her out of the locker room, not releasing it until they left the outer doors of the arena.

They walked to Robin’s car and Jess stood outside talking to the young woman through the open window.

"Why don’t I follow you to your house, you can drop off your stuff and get a change of clothes, and then I’ll give you a ride to my place."

"OK," Robin replied, looking a little confused, "but I could just bring my own car over there and then you won’t have to worry about giving me a ride back tomorrow."

"I don’t mind, really," Jess said quickly. "I’ll see you at your place," she said, already halfway to her own vehicle.

Robin rolled up her window and started her car. I wonder what that’s all about. It would seem a lot easier if I just had my own car there. A look of realization came over Robin’s face. That’s it, isn’t it? You don’t want my car there – you’re afraid someone might see it. Oh Jess, you’re just not going to make this easy, are you?

In the other car, the coach was trying to rein in her emotions, which had been on somewhat of a roller coaster over the last 24 hours. She was ecstatic over what had just happened in the locker room, but still more than a little nervous about everything. I can’t believe we just did that in the locker room! What came over me? I don’t even remember thinking about it. I guess that’s good, because if I had been thinking, I never would have done it, and I’m definitely glad I did it.

But what is this going to mean for the future? For my job? Jess’s mind put a halt to that line of thinking. You already tried to put your job first, and look where that got you. You are not going to pull back from this again. So you’d better just find a way to make it work with your job.

They arrived at Robin’s and the young woman ran into her apartment to grab some clothes for the next day while Jess waited in the car. They then made the short trip to Jess’s apartment and unpacked what they needed from the weekend.

It was 3 am before they slid between the sheets of the queen-sized bed, and Robin snuggled in close to the taller woman, laying her head on her shoulder. Despite their earlier intention to continue things when they got home, as Jess’s gentle stroking of Robin’s back quickly put the young woman fast asleep. Jess followed soon after, the stresses from the weekend flowing out of her body to be replaced by the contentment of having Robin by her side.

 

Jess awoke earlier than she’d hoped, given the late hour they’d gone to bed. It was light outside, though, and she could see the peaceful look on Robin’s face as the small woman continued her slumber unabated, curled up close to Jess’s side. The coach gently moved some stray locks of blond hair off of Robin’s forehead and stroked her fingers lightly over the tousled head. She examined her own feelings and thoughts about the previous night, and found that she only felt happiness and relief, rather than the fear and panic that had accompanied their first time together. She knew that she needed this woman in her life like she’d never needed anything before, and although that thought held its own element of fear, it also brought a sense of peace that Jess could feel deep within herself.

Green eyes blinked slowly open, and seeing the look of open adoration on Jess’s face, quickly darkened with desire. Robin stretched her naked body, and slowly draped herself over Jess, the feel of skin on skin igniting her senses.

"Good morning," she whispered hoarsely, bringing her lips up to meet Jess’s.

"Mmmm, I never knew mornings could be so good," Jess replied, capturing Robin’s lower lip between hers.

"Well, I’d say you have a lot to learn then," Robin said, straddling the tall woman’s hips while kissing her way toward Jess’s ear. The coach was running her hands over Robin’s strong back, gripping her hips and pulling her closer to her.

"I seem to recall we left some unfinished business last night," Robin breathed into the hypersensitive ear, causing Jess to moan softly.

Jess tangled her fingers in Robin’s hair and brought the young woman’s mouth back to meet her own. Lips parted and tongues met in a slow, sensual exploration. Jess’s hands were running up and down Robin’s bare skin, softly brushing the sides of the young woman’s breasts that were pressed up against her own. Jess broke the kiss and gently pushed back on Robin’s shoulders, her hands trailing down to caress the soft breasts that were now exposed. Her heavily-lidded eyes were locked on Robin’s face, as the young woman slowly closed her eyes and tilted her head back, arching into Jess’s hands.

Robin’s hips starting moving of their own accord, pressing her wetness against the taller woman’s abdomen. How can I be so aroused so fast? Wasn’t I just asleep a minute ago? How can she do this to me? Taking a deep breath to regain some control, Robin gently grasped Jess’s wrists and pinned them beside the tall woman’s head, lowering her mouth once again to nibble on an earlobe.

"I want to make you feel the way you made me feel last night," Robin said huskily. "I want to make you lose control, to forget where you are, to think of nothing but my touch and how it makes you feel," she whispered between kisses to the soft neck just below the ear. "I want to make you think of nothing but the two of us."

Jess was writhing beneath Robin’s weight, desperate for more contact between them. Robin was more than happy to oblige, and soon the tall woman was gripping the sheets, head thrown back, and calling out the young woman’s name again and again.

Slowly, Jess returned to earth, her chest heaving and her breathing ragged. She desperately reached for Robin, needing to hold her close, and the young woman quickly covered the long body with her own, burying her face in Jess’s neck. They stayed that way for a long time, Jess stroking her hands over Robin’s back while the young woman murmured sweet words of reassurance in her ear.

 

It was noon before the two women finally lay exhausted in the bed, sheets tangled between their legs. Jess was on her back and Robin was on her side, tracing long patterns down Jess’s arm with her fingers.

"Jess?"

"Hmmm?"

"Are you sure you’re OK with this?" Robin asked, nodding her head toward their naked bodies in a gesture meant to capture the events of the past 12 hours.

Jess turned to face Robin, her expression serious. "I’m more than OK with this, Robin. This is what I’ve wanted all along, I just wasn’t willing to admit it. Or maybe I wasn’t able to admit it," she said with chagrin.

"But are you still worried that it’s going to affect your job?" Robin asked with a worried expression on her face.

Jess sighed. "I don’t know how this will affect my job, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about it. But not being with you was affecting my job, too. I don’t know where my head was at the end of the last game, but it certainly wasn’t where it needed to be." Jess reached up and stroked Robin’s hair softly. "All weekend I was thinking about you…how much I wanted to be with you – needed to be with you…how much I hated the thought of you being with someone else because I turned you away…"

Robin looked startled. "What do you mean, ‘me being with someone else?’" she asked incredulously. "Jess, there’s no one else! What made you…"

"I know, I know," Jess cut in. "But when you went out Friday night, I couldn’t help but think about how you would eventually look for someone else if I couldn’t give you what you wanted. The thought of you in someone else’s arms, even just on the dance floor, almost killed me."

"Oh Jess," Robin said sympathetically, reaching over to wrap her arms around the tall woman. "You know, I only danced with one woman Friday night – other than Capi, and she doesn’t count - and all it did was reinforce what I already knew – I don’t want to be in anyone’s arms but yours."

Jess hugged Robin tightly, hardly able to believe that this woman would really want her – only her – after what she’d put her through earlier that year. I promise I won’t mess up this second chance. There just has to be a way to make this all work out.

Jess pulled back from Robin a little. "You know, I…I need to be discreet about this…about us," she said somewhat apologetically.

"I can understand that," Robin assured her. "It’s not like I’m in the habit of broadcasting the details of my personal relationships to the world," she quipped.

"I know that, but you’ve probably been more open about your relationships than I can afford to be."

Robin looked a little concerned. "Well, I don’t need to offer the information to anyone, but if someone asks me directly, I don’t think I can lie. But Jess, I don’t expect anyone to be asking me questions like that anyway. Are you concerned that someone will ask you?"

"Not really, I guess," she said unconvincingly. "At least not if we don’t give them any reason to."

"Well, maybe we’re just worrying about something that isn’t even a problem yet," Robin replied with a reassuring smile. A small voice in the back of her head was sending warning signals that there was danger ahead, but she didn’t want to spoil the happiness of the morning with unnecessary worry.

"Hey, do you have any idea how hungry I am right now?" Robin asked, changing the subject.

"I’m sure I have no frame of reference for the bounds of your appetite," Jess said with mock seriousness. "Would you like me to make some French toast? You’ve got evidence that I can do that without poisoning you."

"Let’s go!" Robin replied enthusiastically as she climbed off the bed and held her hand out to Jess. As she saw the coach’s magnificent - and naked - body rise up from the sheets, she couldn’t resist taking her in her arms once again and kissing her until she had forgotten all about breakfast.

 

Jess and Robin saw each other every day over the next week, but not nearly as often as the economics professor would have liked. The coach was busy getting ready for a road trip to California over the upcoming weekend, and there was only one night that Robin was invited to stay over at Jess’s apartment. Robin’s rational mind told her that Jess was worried about being discreet and she should let the coach set the pace for awhile until she got more comfortable with their relationship. Her emotions, however, were screaming at her to find a way to spend more time with the busy coach.

On Thursday, the two women met for morning coffee at the Java Stop. Jess’s team was scheduled to leave that afternoon for their flight to southern California.

"So do you think your team is ready for the weekend?" Robin asked.

"Well, we’ve had a really good week of practice. It took them a couple of days to quit talking about the loss last weekend, but I think that’s ended up motivating them to work even harder."

"How do you think you’ll match up with the two teams you’re playing against?"

"We play Long Beach State on Friday night, and that will be a tough game for us. They’re looking pretty strong this year. But Sunday’s game should be easier for us. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win that one by 10 or more."

Robin looked down at her hands that were nervously playing with the stir stick from her coffee. "You know, flights to L.A. are pretty cheap right now. It wouldn’t be a very expensive trip for me to come and watch," she said, looking up with trepidation to see Jess’s reaction.

The coach quickly looked away from the table and cleared her throat. "You know…I don’t think that would be such a good idea," she said softly, returning her eyes to look pleadingly at Robin. "What are people going to think if you fly all the way to southern California to watch us play?"

"Who’s going to think anything," Robin said defensively. "The players? The trainer? The manager? We already know the SID wouldn’t have a problem with it."

"Some of my kids are from southern California and their parents are likely to be at the games," Jess argued.

Robin looked at her in complete disbelief. "How in the world would their parents even know who I was, let alone who I was sleeping with?" she asked incredulously. "Jess, don’t you think you’re being just a little bit paranoid here?"

"Look Robin, you agreed that we could be discreet about this, and I just don’t think that having you follow me to southern California is very discreet!"

Robin took a deep breath and willed herself not to lose her temper. She’s about to leave for four days and you don’t want her to leave while you’re mad at each other, she admonished herself.

"OK, I see your point," she conceded quietly, although she couldn’t quite look the coach in the eye when she said it.

An awkward silence ensued for a couple of minutes before Jess finally spoke up.

"I’m sorry this can’t be the way you’d like," she said softly. "But I’m doing the best I can right now."

Robin looked at her with genuine empathy in her eyes. "I know you are. And I’m sorry that I was pushing you too hard. Let’s just forget that I even mentioned it, OK?"

"OK," Jess replied, but both women knew that it wasn’t really OK, and each would spend much of the weekend thinking about whether there was any way to make it better.

 

Chapter 34

"What’s the score?" Capi asked, slightly out of breath from rushing into Robin’s apartment after picking up a pizza.

"It just started and it’s 6-4 Long Beach," Robin replied, turning up the radio.

Robin moved the papers she was grading off to the side of the table and got out plates and napkins for the pizza.

"You want a beer, or something else?"

"That depends…Are you going to make me help grade those papers?" Capi asked, nodding toward the stack of homework.

"Of course! You’re the one who calls yourself an economist trainee," she joked.

"Then I’d better have the beer!"

Robin got out a couple of microbrews and poured them into chilled glasses from the freezer. They dove into the pizza while listening to the radio announcer give the play-by-play. The game was staying close through the first half, although a few of Jess’s players were getting into foul trouble.

"Oh my!!! I can’t believe that call!!" the partisan announcer yelled. "That’s three fouls on Schmidt and that’s really going to hurt us. Let me tell you folks, that was one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen in my 20 years of broadcasting. Schmidt had perfect position and the offensive player just ran her over. I don’t know what…Oh no! Coach Peters has just gotten a technical foul! She is absolutely livid out there! Her assistants are trying to restrain her, but she’s halfway out on the court yelling at the official who made that call. She’d better be careful or she’s going to get thrown out of this game."

Robin put her head in her hands and groaned. "Oh geez, she’s going to hate herself for this later."

The foul shots and the additional free throws from the technical put Long Beach up by 8 with only a few seconds left in the half. They then inbounded the ball down low, where NOU was now missing the tall presence of Schmidt, and scored again at the buzzer. In a matter of seconds, they had gone from being within four points to being down by 10.

After a break for commercials, the play-by-play man came back on. "Well, that was a real killer at the end of the half. Coach Peters was still yelling at the ref as she was leaving the court. We’ll have to see how the team responds to this when they come out for the second half. Let’s look at the first half stats now, which have just been handed to me by Sports Information Director Carmen Ricardo, who we are very pleased to have helping us out with our broadcast tonight."

Robin smiled over at Capi, who was immediately blushing. "So how are things going with one very charming SID? You’re looking a little guilty over there…Is there something I should know about?" Robin asked teasingly.

"Things are going very well, thank you, and I think you know everything you need to know," she said smugly.

"OK, now I know you’re not telling me everything. Let’s hear it!"

Capi proceeded to tell Robin about a week that included fresh flowers, a candlelit dinner, and sweet notes and e-mails arriving at unexpected times.

"She’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. I can’t believe how she can make me laugh. When I hear from her I just forget all about the bad things that have happened that day and I’m instantly smiling. I think my staff is wondering if I’m on drugs or something, but they’re not going to complain about a good thing."

Robin laughed and reached over to give her friend a hug. "That’s great, Capi. She sounds really special, and the best part is, she obviously thinks you’re really special…Which you are."

"OK, that’s enough about me," Capi said self-consciously. "Let’s hear about you and the short-tempered basketball coach."

Robin sighed and proceeded to tell Capi about the events over the last week, ending with their unfortunate conversation at the Java Stop.

"The worst part was having to leave her for four days without really getting a chance to make up for that," Robin said with chagrin. "I sure hope she’s forgotten all about it by now."

 

Jess had sent the team and other coaches into the locker room for half time, and was standing outside the door trying to regain her composure.

What in the hell was I thinking? I guess that’s a stupid question, isn’t it? I hardly ever lose control like that. And of course, what I’m really mad about is that I made the mistake of leaving Natalia in there with 2 fouls and only a minute left in the half. So I go and take it out on somebody else because I’m mad at myself, right? Just another case of losing focus, which I seem to be doing a lot of lately. And do I even want to think about why I’m having trouble focusing? No, let’s not go there right now. I’m just glad she wasn’t here to see this.

Jess cleared her mind of the events at the end of the first half and strode purposefully into the locker room. To her surprise, she saw looks of pride and admiration on her players’ faces instead of the disappointment that she expected.

Well, maybe it pays to stick up for them once in awhile. Show them how much I care about what’s happening out on the court. Of course if I could do it without giving away 4 points, that would be even better…

"OK, listen up everybody. We’re only down 10 points and most of those we gave to them. So we know we can play with this team in the second half. We’re going to have to adjust to the officiating – we can’t have 2 or 3 people fouling out and expect to win. And we can’t be giving them free throws on technical fouls, either," she said with a little self-deprecating grin to let them know she was including herself in the people that had to adjust to the officiating. She went on to make a few defensive adjustments to give more help to Natalia and hopefully avoid further fouls, and then made sure that they were pumped up for the start of the second half.

Jess’s team came out strong and narrowed the gap to 3 points by the 10-minute mark of the second half. Natalia had picked up her 4th foul, and two other players had three. Unfortunately, this made them play more tentatively, and Long Beach immediately started pressing the action, driving to the basket in an attempt to draw fouls. The strategy worked, and with 4 minutes left, both Natalia and Bennie had fouled out. With their two best players on the bench, NOU was overmatched and ended up losing by 9. Overall, Jess wasn’t too disappointed, given the hole they had dug for themselves before the half, and she congratulated her players on a good effort as they came off the floor.

Jess was feeling better about her own second half performance, maintaining her focus and doing what she could to keep her team in the game. She was sitting in the locker room, going over the stats and reflecting on the game.

It was all so much easier when I didn’t have other things on my mind, like a personal life! But I know one thing for certain, I’m not leaving for a trip again while we’re mad at each other. All I’ve wanted to do since we left is call her and straighten things out somehow. Maybe I was wrong not to want her here with me. I mean, I do want her here with me, but I just can’t believe that others wouldn’t think it was strange and start wondering about our relationship.

"Coach?…Coach?!" Heather was standing next to Jess trying to get her attention from whatever thoughts she was engrossed in.

"Huh?…Wha…Oh, sorry Heather, I didn’t see you there," Jess replied, a slight blush creeping up her cheeks. "What can I do for you?"

"My parents wanted to know if they could join the team for dinner tonight."

"Oh, sure! Do they know where we’re going and how to get there?"

"I’m just on my way out there to tell them," she said, nodding her head at the locker room door.

"OK, no problem. I’d like to meet them and get a chance to talk to them," Jess smiled. Since she didn’t recruit most of her current team, she hadn’t met many of the parents yet.

"Cool," Heather replied, skipping out the door. After giving her parents directions, Heather and Chris were sitting together waiting for the others to make it back to the bus.

"You should have seen Coach in the locker room," Heather said. "She was like in some other world and I had to practically yell at her to get her attention."

"Really? Maybe she was daydreaming about strangling that official. Did she have a sinister grin on her face?"

Heather laughed. "Wasn’t that incredible to see her lose her cool like that? She’s always so totally in control – I wonder what happened?"

"I don’t know, but she’s seemed preoccupied since we left Comstock." She leaned over and whispered conspiratorially, "Do you think she’s missing somebody back home?"

Heather grinned and replied, "Do you really think they’re like, together? I don’t even want to think about Coach doing the nasty with my econ professor!"

"It sure beats a mental image of her with that assistant football coach that was hanging around earlier in the year, don’t you think?"

"Yuck! Did you have to say that??" Heather replied with a sick look on her face. "Actually, I think it’s kind of cute to think of Coach and Dr. Grant together, I just don’t want to think about it in too much detail, OK?"

"OK…Hey, shut up ‘cause here she comes!"

 

Robin and Capi were sitting at the table, grading the economics homework Robin had brought home.

"I guess they held their own in the second half anyway," Robin noted. "Too bad they got so far behind at the end of the first half."

"Well, those officials sounded terrible! They must have gotten them off a list of Long Beach State alumni," Capi said dryly.

"Yeah, but they’ve got to expect that kind of thing on the road and be able to adjust," Robin reasoned.

"I suppose. Hey, what should I give someone who labeled the axes on the graph wrong and drew the marginal cost curve upside down?"

"Well, did they at least label it as a marginal cost curve? You can give them a point for that."

Capi rolled her eyes at Robin. "You asked them to draw a marginal cost curve, Robbie, so of course they labeled it that way. Do you want me to give them a point for this mark over here where they accidentally dropped their pencil, too?" she asked sarcastically. "Maybe you should tell them that all marks on the paper will count for something and we’ll at least get some interesting art work to grade."

"Hey, just because I like to give students the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean that I’m giving away points," Robin said defensively.

"Whatever you say," Capi said unconvincingly.

"Can I ask you a question?" Robin said seriously.

"Since when do you have to ask that?" Capi replied.

"Would you feel OK if Carmen said she didn’t want anyone to know that you were seeing each other? I mean, would you think she was ashamed of you, or of your relationship?"

"I don’t think we’re going to be able to have this conversation if we use Carmen for the example, because I can’t imagine her trying to hide her feelings about anything! So let’s just talk about you and Jess, OK? How does it make you feel? Do you think she’s ashamed of you, or of what you have?"

"Well, I guess at some level she must be ashamed of it, because she’s willing to accept the standard of others that says there’s something wrong with it."

"I’m not sure that means she’s ashamed of it," Capi replied. "We probably all accept certain standards and regulations, even if we don’t agree with them, because we don’t think we have a choice. I think Jess is wrong though, about how much people actually care about her personal life. But I’m not in her business, so I can’t honestly say that I know what it’s like for her."

Robin took a sip of her beer and looked depressed. "I just don’t know how long I could live in some kind of secret relationship, always worrying about whether someone would find out about us. That’s just not me."

Capi looked sympathetically at Robin. "Nobody should have to live like that, Robbie. But hey, it’s way too early to be giving up. Give Jess a chance to get used to the whole thing. Maybe she’ll come around and find a middle ground somewhere."

"Yeah, maybe. You know, I think this stuff has me down right now because we left each other after a little fight on Thursday. All I can think about now is how stupid that was. I keep wondering if she’s still mad at me and if she’s going to want to see me when she gets back." Robin could feel the tears stinging the back of her eyes when the phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Hey, how are you?"

"Jess?"

"Were you expecting someone else?"

"Yes…I mean no! I…I just wasn’t expecting you to call. I mean…I thought you’d be busy with your team," Robin added hastily as she wiped the tears away with the back of her hand. Capi smiled knowingly at Robin and made a motion to indicate that she’d go wait in the other room.

"Well, I’ve only got a few minutes because we’re at a restaurant, but I was afraid if I didn’t call now that I wouldn’t catch you before you went to bed."

"Hey, you can call me anytime, you know. It doesn’t matter if you wake me up."

There was an awkward silence as both women wondered how to bring up what was really on their minds.

"Too bad about the game tonight," Robin said sympathetically. "But you did better in the second half anyway."

"Please tell me you didn’t listen on the radio," Jess said hopefully, cringing at the thought of Robin knowing about her tirade against the referees.

"Every minute of it! Even the part where the visiting coach’s body was taken over by aliens and she went ballistic at the refs," Robin said teasingly.

Jess groaned. "How embarrassing. You must think I’m an idiot – that might have cost us the game."

"You may be a lot of things, Jess, but an idiot is not one of them."

"Well, sometimes I do some really stupid things…Like leaving on Thursday without calling to say I was sorry for getting mad at you," she said softly.

Robin felt the tears spring back into her eyes. "Hey, I’m the one who should apologize. I’m sorry that I’m always pushing so hard, Jess."

"No, you shouldn’t have to apologize for just being honest about what you want," Jess said emphatically. "Especially since it’s the same thing I want. I just haven’t figured out how to fit it all into my life yet. Do you think you can be patient with me, even when I’m completely impossible to live with?"

Robin sniffed and took a deep breath to steady her voice. "I’ll do my best to be patient, if you’ll forgive me when I fail." Her voice caught on the last word.

"Hey…you’re not crying are you?" Jess asked softly, concern lacing her words.

Robin couldn’t find her voice to respond.

"Please don’t cry, Robbie. I promise we’ll work this out when I get back, OK?"

"I’m sorry, Jess," Robin choked out. "I just wish you were here."

"Me too…More than you know."

Another silence extended for a few seconds, and finally Jess cleared her throat. "I’m really sorry, but I’m going to have to get back to the table. Are you going to be all right?"

"Yeah, I’ll be fine," Robin reassured her. "You’ve got enough things to worry about without worrying about me this weekend, OK? I’m here for you Jess, and I’ll be here when you get back, I promise."

"Thanks," the coach replied sincerely. "You don’t know how much I needed to hear that."

"Always."

"I’ll see you soon, OK?"

"OK…I can’t wait."

 

Chapter 35

Saturday was a day for the players to take it easy and visit some of the attractions of southern California. Jess arranged for Pam and LaTeisha to take a group to Universal Studios for the day, but the head coach couldn’t afford not to do a little recruiting while she was in the area. There was a high school tournament nearby with some great Division I prospects, so Jess headed there for the afternoon.

It wasn’t hard to spot the other college coaches in the gym when she arrived, armed with their notebooks and decked out in apparel announcing their respective universities. Jess purposely took a seat well away from the rest of them, not interested in the usual socialization between coaches at this type of event.

After watching for about a half-hour, she looked up from her notebook to see a young woman approaching with Cal-State Monterey emblazoned over her warm-up jacket. Jess didn’t recognize her, so was surprised when she sat down next to her in the bleachers.

"Hi, aren’t you Jess Peters from Northern Oregon?" the woman said with a friendly smile.

"Yes I am," Jess replied, somewhat warily.

The other woman extended her hand and said, "I’m Sara Graebel. I was an assistant coach there for a couple of years under Coach Thompson." Coach Thompson was Jess’s predecessor at NOU, but Jess didn’t recognize Sara’s name from his previous staff.

"You must have left before last year, then," Jess replied, and Sara nodded in acknowledgement. "And I take it you’re at Cal-State Monterey now," she said pointing at the school logo Sara was wearing.

Sara smiled broadly and said, "Yeah, I’ve moved up to the head coaching ranks and now I know how easy I had it when I was an assistant!"

Jess laughed and started to relax in Sara’s easy-going presence.

"I made a lot of good friends while I was at NOU. Do you like it there?" Sara asked.

"So far, I like it a lot. I think Comstock is just about the right size town for me. And being in L.A. this weekend has confirmed that even more," she said wryly.

"Yeah, southern California does take some getting used to, but I’m from here originally, so it doesn’t bother me too much. You know, I was talking to an old friend of mine from NOU the other day and she said your program was doing great. I think she might be a friend of yours – Robin Grant?"

Jess was clearly startled but tried hard not to show it. She desperately squashed the paranoia that was trying to rise to the surface and finally replied, "Yeah, she is a good friend of mine. How did you get to know Robin?" Please, please don’t let her be an old girlfriend of Robin’s!

"Well, I started out being friends with Robin’s roommate, Ellen, but we kept having so many problems that I would find myself talking to Robin all the time, so we ended up being closer than Ellen and I were. I probably don’t have to tell you how easy it is to talk to Robin – she just knows how to make you feel better all the time," Sara said with a wistful smile on her face.

Jess couldn’t help but smile in return, knowing exactly what Sara was talking about.

The game they were watching came to an end, and the next one wasn’t scheduled for another hour. Sara asked Jess if she wanted to go with her to get a latte at Starbuck’s, and Jess surprised herself by saying yes. She wasn’t sure if it was Sara’s friendly demeanor or the fact that she wanted to know more about Sara and Robin’s relationship that was driving her, but she got up and followed the Monterey coach out the door.

Sara and Jess spent the next hour comparing notes on the high school players they’d seen, and discussing the differences in recruiting between Division I and II. Jess found Sara to be intelligent, witty, and extremely easy to talk to, and she started wondering why she had always avoided socializing with other coaches in the past. I was probably afraid that some of them were gay and I’d be associated with them, Jess thought, and then immediately realized how stupid and narrow-minded that was. She took a discreet look at Sara as they were driving back to the gym and decided that there was absolutely no way for her to know whether or not Sara was gay, and that it wouldn’t have made one bit of difference in the conversation they were able to enjoy.

That afternoon, Jess and Sara watched another game while they compared their experiences of living in Comstock and working in the NOU Athletic Department. Jess was starting to feel like she’d known Sara for a long time, and was sorry to see that it was getting late and she needed to get back to the hotel.

"Be sure and say hi to Robin for me, OK?" Sara asked.

"Sure. Do you guys get a chance to talk to each other very much?"

"Not really. You know how it is once you move away – it’s just hard to find the time. But I wish I could find time, because Robin is really a special woman," Sara said sincerely.

"Yeah, she is," Jess agreed with a distant look in her eyes.

Just then another woman approached them and Sara’s face broke into a big smile.

"Hey, Char, you’re here early. Did you get all your work done this afternoon?"

The other woman smiled back at Sara, but the smile faded just a little when she noticed the tall, attractive coach that Sara was talking to.

"I got enough done so that I won’t have to go back in tomorrow, and that’s what counts," she replied to Sara. She waited expectantly for Sara to introduce her to the potential competition.

"Oh, sorry! Charmaine, this is Jess Peters, the new coach at Northern Oregon University. Jess, this is Charmaine Jackson – she’s an attorney in Monterey."

Take a lesson, Jess. She introduced her as "an attorney," not "my friend" or "my roommate" or "my partner." You’re so worried about what people will think Robin is to you, but she doesn’t have to be anybody but Robin, the economics professor.

The two women politely shook hands, although Jess felt like she was being scrutinized for any wrong move she might make toward Sara.

"You ready to go?" Charmaine asked Sara. "We’ve got dinner reservations at 7, you know."

"I remember, and I’m ready whenever you are." She turned back to Jess. "I can’t tell you how glad I am that we got to meet and talk for awhile. I really miss parts of Comstock and NOU, but I’m glad to see that the basketball program is in such capable hands," she said as she held her hand out for Jess.

Jess said, "Thanks," and clasped her hand warmly.

"And I’m especially glad that Robin has found someone like you for a friend. Be good to her, OK?" Sara asked, raising an eyebrow and looking knowingly at Jess.

Jess could feel herself blush a little as she replied, "OK, I will."

"See you at the convention?" Sara asked, referring to the annual coaches convention held in conjunction with the NCAA finals.

"Yeah, sounds good," Jess replied, giving a wave to Sara and Charmaine as they walked away.

I’m not sure what just happened there. It was like she knew that Robin and I were together. I didn’t tell her that, did I? Did I give it away by something else I said? Surprisingly, Jess didn’t feel the least bit panicked by the thought that Sara might know about her and Robin. In fact, she felt an overwhelming desire to talk to Sara more about it. She realized then, that she didn’t have anyone in her life that she could talk to about these things. Robin was her best friend, but who could she talk to about Robin? I’ve never wanted to talk to anyone about my personal life before. But deep down, I want some people to know about me and Robin. I...I guess I’m proud of it! That thought shocked Jess to her core, yet made her inexplicably happy to admit it. She smiled to herself as she gathered her things and left the gym.

 

Sunday’s game was scheduled for 2 pm so that Jess’s team could get a flight back that night. As expected, the game was much easier than Friday night’s had been, and NOU won easily. The coach maintained her focus and composure for the entire game, but when it was over, she couldn’t wait to get back to Comstock.

After showers, the team was bussed to the airport where they had an hour and a half wait before their flight. They used the time to get some dinner and then sat around the boarding area reading or talking. Jess had tried to call Robin a couple of times, but didn’t get any answer at the professor’s apartment. As she walked back from the phones the second time, she noticed Chris and Heather watching her with interested looks on their faces. Now what are they up to? I swear those two are joined at the hip, the way they’re so inseparable. The proverbial light went on over Jess’s head and she did a double-take at her two players. Do you think they’re...no, don’t even think about that! They’re children, for God’s sake! Of course, Jess knew that wasn’t true, but sometimes she couldn’t help but think of them as her own offspring, and you just didn’t think about your own kids having sex together! Jess shook her head and put the thought out of her mind.

She returned to her seat and tried to spend some time going over the stats from the weekend, but finally had to give up because she just couldn’t keep her mind on anything except the small, blond professor that was waiting for her back home. What is the matter with me?? I feel like I’ve been away for a month! I can’t remember ever missing anyone so much in my life. Is it going to be like this for every trip I make this season? God, I hope not, because I’m not sure I can stand it.

I wonder what she’s doing right now...Jess closed her eyes and leaned her head back on her seat. Maybe she’s at work, or maybe she’s out with Capi, or maybe she’s just taking a walk by herself and thinking about me...

 

Robin was just finishing up her hike in the school forest near Comstock. It was only 5 o’clock and already starting to get dark. I can’t wait until solstice so that the days can start getting longer instead of shorter. This is definitely the hardest time of the year to live in Oregon, she thought as the rain dripped off her hood. Despite the dreary weather, though, Robin couldn’t deny the sense of excitement that had been coursing through her body all day. Her inability to sit still had led her to the forest two hours ago to try to dissipate some of the excess energy. She brought her Walkman and listened to the second half of Jess’s game. The post-game interview with the coach had nearly done her in – hearing Jess’s voice and yet knowing that she wouldn’t get to see her until late tonight, and maybe not until tomorrow if their plane got in too late. She was hoping that Jess would come by no matter what time she got home, but was trying to mentally prepare herself for a different outcome.

Robin grabbed some dinner on her way home, and spent the evening watching Sunday night football. At 10, she finally gave up and went to bed, the earlier excitement having turned to disappointment. She tossed and turned in her bed for at least an hour, sleep alluding her.

Maybe their flight got delayed. Or maybe she just had too many things to do when they got back. There must be lots of things that need to get taken care of at the end of a road trip, right? Or maybe she was just too tired, and wanted to get a good night’s sleep. Lord knows she wouldn’t have gotten that over here, Robin thought wryly. Or maybe she just wanted to be by herself tonight. Just because you want to spend every waking minute with her doesn’t mean she feels the same way...

The knock on the door sent Robin flying out of her bedroom. She didn’t even think about the danger of opening her door in the middle of the night without checking to see who was there. She wasn’t disappointed, though, as she flung the door open and saw a travel-weary, but happy coach smiling back at her.

Robin couldn’t help it – she threw herself at Jess and wrapped her arms around her neck, burying her face in the dark hair.

Jess dropped her bags where she stood and returned the hug, holding the small woman as tightly as she could, and thinking that nothing had ever felt so right before in her life.

 

Continued in part 12


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