See part 1 for disclaimers.
As always, thanks to my beta readers Alina, Kimly, MyWarrior, and Wendy.
Take Time Out
© April, 2000
No part of this text may be reproduced in whole, or in part, without the express consent of the author.
Robin was laying on her couch late Saturday night after listening to the basketball game on the radio. She had the latest Indigo Girls CD playing in the background, and she was staring at the ceiling.
One of these times, Jess is going to win a close game. She works so hard and I just feel so bad when things dont go right for her. Especially when shes on the road and has to go back to her hotel room by herself. She sighed heavily. What I wouldnt give to be there right now
The phone interrupted Robins thoughts and she flew off the couch to answer it.
"Hey, are you still awake?" Jess said softly.
"Mmmm, I was hoping it would be you," Robin replied, settling back down on the couch. "How are you doing?"
"Im doing much better now than I was a few minutes ago."
Robin smiled. "Really?"
"Youre incredible, you know that? How did you know Id be coming back to my hotel room in a state of near depression and would need something to cheer me up?"
"Believe me, I was hoping those roses would be for a celebration, not condolences. But Im really glad if I could make you feel a little better."
"You always make me feel better Just talking to you can make me almost forget about losing that game in overtime after being ahead by 3 with 30 seconds to go OK, I admit I havent forgotten about it at all."
Robin laughed and Jess couldnt help but join in.
"One of these times the luck will go your way, Jess."
"Well, I hope so, because Im really getting sick of telling the team how much we can learn from these losses."
"Just wait, therell be a close game that really counts down the road, and youre going to come out on top. In the end, things are going to go your way because youve earned it."
Jess was quiet for a moment before responding, "You know, it really means a lot that you believe in me like that. Ive never had that before I always thought I had to do it on my own."
"Hey, Im here for you anytime you need me," Robin said with conviction.
Both women were silent for a few moments, the power of their words sinking in.
"I miss you," Jess said softly.
"I miss you, too. Will I get to see you tomorrow?"
"I sure hope so. We get in around eleven. Can I stop over on my way home?"
"Ill be here waiting."
"Great! You know, I think I might even be able to sleep tonight now," Jess said, realizing how much better she felt.
"I hope so Ill be thinking of you."
"Mmmm, me too."
"Ill talk to you tomorrow, Jess Sweet dreams."
"You, too." The coach paused for a minute, sucking in a breath. "And Robin?"
"I love you, too."
The end of the conference season was shaping up as a race for second place between NOU and Oregon, with Stanford remaining a game ahead and likely to win the conference title. NOUs conference didnt have an end-of-season conference tournament, so the final standings were especially important for determining who would be selected to the NCAA tournament. Although the NCAA selection committee often went at least three deep in their conference, Jess didnt feel confident that third place would be good enough. Since the Bobcats hadnt made post-season play in a number of years, and also had a fairly weak non-conference schedule, the only way they could guarantee making the playoffs was to place second in the conference. Oregon would be their last regular game of the season, and the outcome was likely to decide their fate.
The week before the Oregon game, NOU hosted the southern California schools and was able to maintain their tie for second place by beating both teams. Since Saturday night was the last home game of the season, there was a reception following the game for family and friends of the team. Robin was delighted when Jess invited her, and even more delighted when she said that Capi could come, too.
The reception was held in the Alumni Room of the arena, and a nice spread of appetizers, pizza, and soft drinks were laid out when Robin and Capi arrived. There were around 25 others there, although the team and coaches had not yet returned from the locker room. The two women filled their plates, grabbed something to drink, and found a place at one of the tables. After a few moments, they were approached by Patti and Jim Martin, Heathers parents.
"Mind if we join you?"
"Mmmph!" Robin tried to respond with a mouth full of pizza while gesturing to the empty seats at the table.
"Good to see you again," Capi quickly filled in. "What did you think of the game?"
"I thought it was great!" Patti replied, sitting down next to Robin. "I was really glad it wasnt so close, because Ive had enough of those nerve-wracking games this year."
"Well, I think winning a close one might have been a better tune-up for next week, " Jim replied while taking the chair next to Capi. "Theyre going to have to play better than they did tonight if they expect to beat the Ducks on their home court."
"Oh, youre always such a spoil sport!" Patti admonished. "Cant we just be happy they won and enjoy it?"
Robin couldnt help but smile at the banter, but decided that a little intervention wouldnt hurt.
"Well, Im happy they won, but I do agree that next weeks game is going to be tougher. Are you going to be there?"
"Are you kidding?!" Patti responded. "We wouldnt miss it! How about you?"
"Oh yeah. As much as I hate going down there to that old dungeon they play in, and having to put up with those Duck fans, I wouldnt miss it either."
Capi and Jim had started their own conversation and Robin and Patti concentrated on their food for a few moments. Robins attention was caught by the arrival of the coaches and players, who were quickly monopolized in conversations with parents and friends. Patti looked over at Robin and saw the look of open admiration on the young womans face.
"Coach Peters has really done a wonderful job, hasnt she?" Patti said with an indulgent smile toward Robin.
Robin blushed when she realized shed been caught staring. "Oh yeah, the team is doing great."
"Well, its basically the same team they had last year, and theyre doing much better, so I think the coach can take the credit for that, dont you?"
"I think so, but youll probably never hear Jess say that," Robin said, thinking of how much emphasis the coach put on the "team" concept.
"Well, Heather cant say enough good things about her," Patti replied, looking over at the tall woman who was working the room like a politician. She turned back to Robin with a serious look on her face. "Did you know that when Chris left Heather a few weeks ago, that Coach Peters was the one who helped Heather get through that? Shed probably still be moping around today if the coach hadnt been so compassionate."
Robin nearly spit her soda out her nose. She managed to swallow and then started coughing violently. Capi slapped her on the back a couple of times, asking if she was alright. The young woman managed to nod, although her face was getting darker from lack of oxygen. Finally she managed to take a deep breath and her color started to return to normal.
"Sorry," she croaked, "that just went down the wrong way I guess." She took a few more deep breaths and then returned her attention to Patti. "So Heather is doing better now?" She managed to not look completely dumbfounded by the news Patti had just sprung on her. What did Jess think when Heather approached her about that?! And why didnt she tell me about it?
"Oh, yes! Much better. You know how kids that age are they think theyve found the love of their life, until the next love of their life comes along. Heather is already looking back and wondering what she saw in Chris."
Robin managed to smile and nod, but for once in her life, was having trouble maintaining a conversation. She was saved when Heather came bounding over to their table, hair still wet from the shower.
"Hey mom! Did you like the game?" Heather then noticed who her mother was sitting with and somewhat shyly added, "Oh, hi Dr. Grant. How are you?"
"Fine, Heather. You did great tonight! Your ankle seems to be fully recovered and your scoring average has really picked up in the past couple of weeks."
"Thanks. Coach Peters has been helping me with some stuff, and I think Ive got a lot more confidence in my shot now."
"Well, it seems to be working keep it up for next week, OK?"
"Ill try," Heather replied, then sat down to talk to her mother.
Since Capi was still talking to Jim, Robin took the opportunity to watch Jess make her way around the room. The tall, attractive woman towered over most of the parents she was talking to, and Robin could see the respect and admiration in their faces. As Jess finished one conversation and turned toward another couple, her eyes met Robins across the room. For just a moment, the professional façade softened and a little smile quirked her lips. Robin smiled back, feeling a warmth spread throughout her body that was out of proportion with the small gesture from the coach. God, I love her. The thought startled Robin, and for a moment she worried that shed said it out loud, but since the other conversations were still going on around her, she relaxed and thought more about her feelings.
Ive never felt anything like this. I was sure I was in love with other people before, but it never felt like this. Shes all I think about anymore. And I want to be with her all the time to fall asleep every night and wake up every morning with her. But Im afraid shes never going to want to live together. Shed be too worried about how it would look. Robin sighed sadly. Is there any future in a life with a basketball coach?
"Hey, what was that deep sigh about," Capi said quietly, leaning over toward Robin.
"Oh, nothing just doing a little pre-worrying about the future."
"Hmmm, well maybe we should just stick to worrying about the present, what do you think?" Capi asked with a reassuring smile.
"Yeah, youre right. And the present looks pretty damn good, so I think Ill just quit worrying altogether."
"Thats my girl," Capi smiled.
On the other side of the room, Jess was talking to a group of parents when she noticed that Bennie was sitting off by herself, eating her pizza. Jess excused herself and went over to talk to the young woman. She sat down next to her and gently placed her hand on the players shoulder.
"Hey Bennie, you did a great job tonight."
"Thanks," the player mumbled, giving the coach a quick glance.
"You know what I was most proud of?" Jess asked with a little twinkle in her eye.
"Mm-mm," Bennie replied with a little shake of her head.
"That you worked so hard that you actually had to ask to come out of the game."
Jess saw a very small smile work its way onto Bennies lips. "Ill never penalize you for that, Bennie. Ill just let you catch your breath and get you back in there as soon as youre ready, OK?"
Bennie nodded, and Jess realized that she wasnt going to get any real conversation out of the point guard. If theres one thing this job makes you good at, its one-sided conversations, Jess thought ruefully.
"Try to have a little fun tonight, OK? You earned it." With that, Jess got up and gave Bennies shoulder a little squeeze before she walked away.
Before anyone else could corral her, Jess quickly strode over to Robins table. The young woman gave her a warm smile as she approached and the coach looked down self-consciously. Jess greeted them all, and then leaned down to say a few things in Heathers ear. The player nodded while looking across the room, and then got up. Jess said "Thanks," and then took the seat that Heather had vacated.
"Congratulations on the win tonight, Coach," Jim boomed in his best fatherly voice. "Do you think youre ready for next week?"
"Well have to play a lot better than we did tonight if expect to beat the Ducks," Jess replied, while Heathers father beamed at the confirmation of his earlier observation.
"Well, Im sure if anyone can get them ready, you can," Patti said with complete confidence.
"Thanks, but its ultimately up to the team to decide how much they want it."
Robin was mentally rolling her eyes as the conversation went exactly according to script. She checked out for a few minutes and looked around the room again. She saw Heather approaching Bennie with two drinks in her hand, offering one to the point guard. Bennie looked surprised at the gesture, but graciously accepted the drink. Robin saw Heather motion to the chair, and Bennie nod before the blond woman sat down. Robin watched for awhile longer, while Bennie began to lift her head more and more, looking up and smiling at Heather, and eventually they seemed to be settling down into a relaxed conversation. Robin realized that there was a lull in the conversation and she brought her attention back to the table. When she looked at Jess she saw that the coach was also looking over at Bennie and Heather with a rather satisfied smirk on her face.
Later that evening, Robin and Jess were lying together on the couch in Jesss living room, watching the late edition of Sports Center. Robin was fading fast, and rested her head on Jesss shoulder and closed her eyes. The tall woman hugged her tightly and clicked the TV off with the remote.
"Am I keeping you up?" Jess asked.
"Am I still up?" Robin quipped. "Feels like bed to me." She nuzzled her face in Jesss neck and started to kiss her softly.
Jess chuckled and kissed Robins forehead in return.
"Hey, I forgot to tell you what Patti Martin said to me tonight," Robin said, pulling away and looking somewhat accusingly at Jess.
"What?" Jess replied innocently.
"Right in the middle of a gulp of soda, she says Jess really helped Heather get through her break-up with Chris. I nearly spewed my soda across the table. How could you not have told me about that?!"
Jess got a worried look on her face. "So her mother knows, too. I didnt know she had talked to her mother about it." Jess looked away, her mind racing with a million thoughts at once. What did she tell her mother about me? Does her father know, too? Did they talk to any other parents? Do all the players think Robin and I are together?
Robin gently touched Jesss cheek and brought the coachs gaze back to meet her questioning eyes. "Whats wrong?"
Jess looked down uncomfortably. "Its just something Heather said when she first came into my room she said that she thought I would understand because of you and me."
Robins eyes opened wide as she looked in disbelief at the coach. "Youre kidding!"
"How would she know about you and me?"
"Thats what Id like to know. How did LaTeisha know?" Jess looked at Robin with frustration written on her face. "How can it be so obvious when I try so hard to be discreet?"
"Hey, theyre just making assumptions, Jess. They cant really know," Robin tried to reassure her.
"Yeah, and maybe it wouldnt be a problem if the assumptions werent true, but in this case, they are. I couldnt exactly deny it if someone came out and accused me."
Robin pulled away from Jess with a hurt look on her face. "What do you mean, accused you? Do you think youre committing a crime or something? I thought you werent ashamed of what we have."
A look of distress came over Jesss face. "You know thats not what I meant Robin, you just dont seem to understand the implications for my job if everyone knew that I was that you and I were "
"You cant even admit it to yourself," Robin said with more disgust than she had intended. "Everything was fine when you thought no one knew about us, but its obvious you still think that this relationship is wrong somehow."
"I dont think its wrong," Jess protested. "But other people do, and some of those people could influence whether I keep my job or not."
"I thought we had gone beyond this choice between me or your job," Robin accused.
"We have! But I didnt think it was going to mean that everyone would suddenly know about us." Jess looked to the ceiling and pushed her hair back off her forehead with a sigh. "I just need some time to think about what all this means, I guess."
Robin stood up abruptly. "Fine. Take all the time you need." And she headed for the door.
"Robin! Wait! Where are you going?"
"To spend some time with friends who arent ashamed of me."
"But " The door slammed behind the young woman, leaving Jess to collapse on the couch in frustration.
After a fitful night of little sleep, Jess finally got up at 6 am Sunday morning and put her running clothes on. She went out for a grueling 5 mile run, finding as many hills as possible to punish herself.
Why does this have to be so hard? God, I feel like weve been through all this before. In fact, I know we have. I thought we agreed that we didnt want people to know, and now it seems like everybody knows. Why would she be surprised that I got upset about that? And what does she want me to do now? I cant just pretend I dont feel this way
Jess finished her run feeling drained and depressed. She walked back into the apartment and immediately felt stung as she remembered Robin walking out the night before. She quickly walked through the living room to the bedroom, not even looking at the couch.
Thirty minutes later, Jess was in her kitchen, finishing her first cup of coffee and fidgeting by the phone.
Well, I might not know what to say to her, but Ive got to try to say something. Im not going to get anything else done today until we work this out. If we work this out That thought made Jesss stomach clench in despair, and she vowed to not even consider that outcome. She took a deep breath and reached for the phone.
Jess looked at the clock and saw it was only 7:30 in the morning. She never gets up early on a Sunday how could she be gone already? Unless she didnt go home last night
Jess paced around the kitchen for 15 minutes before she finally gave in and grabbed her car keys. She made the short drive to Robins apartment and confirmed that the young womans car was not there.
Oh come on - quit being paranoid! She probably just couldnt sleep and got up early to get some coffee or something. Jess rummaged through her glove box to find a piece of paper and a pen. She scribbled a quick note and wedged it into the door knocker on Robins apartment. With a heavy sigh, she turned around, got back into her car, and headed for her office.
"So I finally get you in my bed, and all you want to do is talk about another woman," Capi said with a teasing smile.
Robin rolled over and gave her good friend a hug, burying her face in the taller womans shoulder. "Im sorry," she said, and started to sob again.
"Hey, I was just kidding," Capi reassured her, rubbing her back soothingly.
"I know, I just cant stop crying! What is the matter with me?"
"Youre in love its a common ailment that turns women into blubbering idiots."
"Oh, thats helpful," Robin replied.
The two women had been up all night talking, and even though Robin was completely exhausted, she couldnt stop thinking about Jess. And thinking about Jess made her upset all over again, which would lead to more talking. The sun had finally come up and Capi was wondering if she was going to get any sleep at all.
"Robin, why dont you just give yourself a little time to think about things. You dont have to figure everything out right now. Just relax and try to get some sleep, and then we can talk again later, OK?"
"OK. Im sorry Im keeping you up, Capi. I should have just gone home last night "
"No, Im glad you came over here," Capi said reassuringly. "Ive told you before, Ill always be here for you, and I meant it."
Capi worked her fingers into Robins hair and started to give the young woman a gentle massage. Before long, the exhaustion took over and Robins eyes finally closed. Capi sighed with relief and quickly followed Robin into sleep.
Capi awoke four hours later and got up to make a pot of coffee. She was just pouring two cups when Robin appeared in the kitchen, hair wildly out of place and eyes barely open. Capi couldnt help but grin at the sight.
"So this is what Ive been missing every morning, huh?" she teased.
"Hey, youre not looking so hot yourself," Robin retorted, shuffling over to get her cup of coffee.
Capi laughed and steered Robin over to the kitchen table where the toaster, bread, and peanut butter were waiting.
"Maybe some peanut butter toast will cheer you up," Capi offered.
"I dont think so, but thanks," the young woman replied, sipping her coffee but ignoring the food.
"How about half a piece? You have to eat, you know."
"Oh, alright," she gave in. "Ill try, but no guarantees."
Robin nibbled on her toast, her thoughts clearly somewhere else. "What am I going to say to her when I see her again?" she blurted out.
Capi looked up, startled by the change in topic. She took a deep breath and tried to focus her thoughts back on Robins personal problems.
"Well, what do you want to say to her?"
"Other than how crazy she makes me?" Robin sighed. "I really dont know. I guess I want to let her know how I feel, and make it clear that I cant be in a relationship that she thinks is somehow wrong."
"That seems perfectly reasonable to me. Its one thing to recognize that other people might have a problem with your relationship, and another to just to give into that sentiment as if you agree with it."
"I just dont see why she thinks she has to deny it. If other people want to make assumptions, just let them," Robin said with frustration.
Capi reached over and rubbed Robins arm reassuringly. "You know, maybe the two of you should just take time out for awhile until the season is over. The pressure on Jess right now is probably pretty intense, and maybe shell be able to see things more clearly in a few weeks."
Robin looked at Capi with a mixture of hope and despair. "Youre probably right, but I dont know if I can get through a few weeks feeling like this."
"You dont have to look at it like things are over between the two of you. Youll just be taking a little break while things are really stressful for her."
Robin sighed. "I guess youre right. At least I can have hope that things will work out."
"Of course they will," Capi said confidently.
Jess was in her office, trying to concentrate on some scouting reports for the upcoming Oregon game, but her thoughts kept straying and finally she just threw her pencil across the room.
"Goddammit! Why cant I keep my mind on my work?!" She sighed heavily, leaned back and closed her eyes. She nearly jumped out of her chair when the phone rang, and she grabbed for it as fast as she could.
"Arent you supposed to say NOU Basketball, Jess Peters?"
Jess exhaled audibly with relief. "Hey, thanks for calling me," she said softly. She was dying to ask Robin where shed been all morning, but she bit her lip. "Are you OK?"
"Ive been better, but Im OK."
"Look, Robbie, Im really sorry about last night I didnt mean to upset you. I I guess Im still struggling with some things that I thought Id gotten past."
"I know, Jess. I guess I was expecting too much to think that you could just instantly change the way youve thought about these things for years and years. So I thought maybe we should just cool things off until after your season is over."
Jess felt her heart start to break. Cool things off What is that supposed to mean? Is this just a nice way to let me down? Is she just going to wait until the season is over to tell me?
"Are you still there?" Robin asked after a few moments of silence had gone by.
"Yeah," Jess choked out, finding her throat suddenly constricted. "What What do you mean by cool things off?"
"Well, I just thought Since youve got a lot of pressure on you right now, with your job and the end of the season and everything Maybe it would be better if we just backed off for awhile, you know? You wont have to worry about people seeing my car at your apartment, or seeing you leave my place in the morning that kind of stuff."
"Oh well yeah, I guess that might be a good idea," Jess said without conviction.
"OK then good I guess thats what well do," Robin said awkwardly.
Jess didnt respond.
"You know, its not like we cant see each other, or talk to each other, Jess."
"Yeah, I know. Itll be fine, Im sure. Youre right that things are pretty intense for me at work right now, so a few less distractions would be good for me," Jess replied, not wanting to let on how upset she was.
"OK then Well, I dont want to keep you from your work, so Ill talk to you soon, OK?"
"Sure. See you later."
They hung up, neither one knowing how upset the other really was.
The week went by with neither woman calling the other. The thought of trying to have a conversation that would somehow appear casual, and that wouldnt slip into a discussion about their relationship, was enough to deter them both.
Finally on Friday morning, Robin couldnt stand it anymore. Jess was going to leave for Eugene early that afternoon for their most important game of the year, and there was just no way that Robin wanted her to leave without at least wishing her luck. After stalling and fidgeting in her office for a good twenty minutes, she finally reached for the phone and dialed.
"NOU Basketball, Jess Peters."
"Now thats how I expect you to answer the phone," Robin said with a smile in her voice.
After a slight pause, while Jess was obviously composing herself, she replied, "Hey, its good to hear from you."
"I just wanted to call and wish you luck tonight."
"Thanks, a little luck never hurts, but Im hoping were so prepared that we dont even need luck on our side."
"Im sure you are," Robin said. "Im going down there with complete confidence that we can finally stand up to all those Duck fans and tell them whos really number one in the State of Oregon."
Jess couldnt help but laugh at Robins sense of rivalry. "If my players are half as motivated as you are, it shouldnt be a problem."
There was an awkward pause as both women tried to decide whether to leave the conversation casual or try to talk about what was really on both their minds.
Youre the one who wanted to cool things off for awhile, so dont go bringing up other subjects now, Robin admonished herself.
"Well, Id better let you go Im sure youve got lots of last minute details to attend to. Ill see you at the game, OK?"
"OK Thanks for calling."
They hung up and each felt just a little bit better than they had all week.
Robin and Capi were seated in the section behind the visitors bench, and recognized a number of other people from last weeks reception. The arena was packed almost entirely with green and yellow-clad fans, although there were two or three small pockets of orange and black visible. The teams had returned to the court after the National Anthem and were now waiting for player introductions. Robin nervously rolled her program in her hands, looking at the two benches and trying to assess the relative intensity of the teams. Her attention was drawn to the coaches, who were standing off to the side while players were introduced.
Jess was dressed in black pants and black silk shirt, with only a few gold accents in her earrings and bracelet. Robin thought she looked almost dangerous, and suspected that was probably the intended message. The opposing coach, on the other hand, was wearing a mini skirt that barely covered her rear, and a tight-fitting jacket with nothing apparent underneath. Dark stockings over impossibly long legs and three-inch spike heels completed the outfit and Robin thought the whole thing screamed "hooker!" Well, we know who the straight men in the crowd will be rooting for
After player introductions, which included an extended tribute for those seniors graduating from the Oregon squad, the game finally got underway.
Natalia won the tap and Bennie brought the ball up against tight player-to-player pressure. She looked inside, but the Oregon post players were big and denying the easy entry pass, so she passed the ball to the wing. The weak side post player popped up to the free throw line for the pass, and executed a perfect "high-low" pass to Natalia for the easy bucket. The Oregon coach was screaming at her post defender to "watch that high-low!" as they ran back up the court on offense, stomping her foot for good measure.
Robin leaned over to Capi and said, "I hope she doesnt break one of those heels. I dont think those shoes were meant for that kind of stomping."
Capi laughed and slapped Robin on the arm. "Hey, were here to watch the game, not the coach!"
Both teams continued to push the ball inside to their post players, each having success. At the first officials time-out, NOU was up by 3 as the players sat on the bench in front of Jess.
"Listen up!" she shouted over the noise of the band that had been conveniently located in the endzone facing their bench. "Were going to switch to our match-up zone, OK? I want to see a lot of help on the post players. And lets anticipate those passes! Weve seen everything theyre running and we should be able to get into the passing lanes and get some steals." Jess finished the time-out by setting up an in-bounds play under their basket. The team ran it to perfection, setting a double-screen for Bennie who nailed the three pointer from the top of the key.
On Oregons next possession, the match-up zone surprised them, and by the time they recognized it and adjusted, there were only seven seconds left on the shot clock. They ended up taking a desperation shot that rebounded long off the iron, setting up a fast break for NOU. Bennie dribbled to the top of the key, hesitated as if passing to Heather on the wing, and then blew by the defender for the reverse lay-up. The lead had grown from three to eight in under a minute, and the Oregon coach called a 30-second time-out.
"Man, Im glad Im not in that Oregon huddle right now," Robin said, looking at the team getting chewed out by the coach that towered over all of them. In contrast, Jess was smiling and congratulating her players on their execution, encouraging them to continue to work hard for the rest of the first half. The players responded and NOU left the court at half-time up by ten.
Robin relaxed in her seat for the first time since the game started. "I dont know if I can take another half of this," she said to Capi, fanning herself with her program.
"Maybe you should walk outside and cool off for awhile," Capi replied. "It does get hot in here, not to mention loud."
"Im afraid to walk alone in hostile territory," Robin joked. "Especially since were up by ten."
Capi looked at her black jeans and orange NOU sweatshirt. "What makes you think theyd know you were rooting for the Bobcats?" she quipped.
Just then, Carmen walked up to their seats and Capis smile got bigger. "First half stats for you," the SID said, handing each of them a sheet of paper.
"How do we rate this V.I.P. treatment?" Robin asked.
Carmen leaned in close, putting her hand on Capis thigh as she did so. "I cant resist two such beautiful women, and I thought maybe it would improve my chances of getting a date with you after the game."
"Ahh, flattery will get you everywhere," Robin replied, while Capi just rolled her eyes. Carmen smiled seductively at them both and bounded off to return to the press table.
"Geez, you shouldnt encourage her," Capi said, feigning exasperation.
Robins attention was diverted to the court where NOU was running back out for the second-half warm-up. The coaches walked out after the players, with Jess the last one onto the court. Robin found herself drawn to the sight of the tall coach, her heart aching from the lack of contact over the past week. She does seem to be pretty focused on the game. Maybe this little separation has been a good thing for her. That thought made Robin distinctly uncomfortable, wondering if they would ever be able to get back what they had before. Is this just proving that she does better when she doesnt have to worry about her personal life? That maybe our relationship is incompatible with her job?
"Hey, are you OK?" Capi interrupted her thoughts, looking at her pale face with concern.
"Oh Sorry. Yeah, Im fine. Just thinking about some things, I guess."
"I thought you were going to give that a rest for a couple of weeks and not think about it," Capi admonished.
"Its just not that easy," Robin protested. "We dont talk about it with each other, but that doesnt stop me from thinking about it just about every minute of the day."
Capi patted her on the back. "Well, its only another week until the tournament starts, so maybe the problem will be over soon."
Robins expression turned even more depressed. "What am I supposed to do now about her invitation for me to come to the first round of the tournament?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, she invited me when everything was fine, but now that shes worried again about what people think, she probably doesnt really want me to go."
"Hmmm, well, lets not worry about it until we have to, OK? Something tells me I might want to be going to that tournament, too," Capi said, looking suggestively over at the press table. "So we can just go together and you wont have to interact with Jess if she doesnt want you to."
Robin nodded, but her shoulders slumped in defeat.
It wasnt long, however, before Robin was back into the game, all thoughts of her personal crisis behind her. NOU came out in their match-up zone at the start of the second half, but Oregons guards were starting to find their range from the outside and were making NOU pay for their double-teams of the post players. With only five minutes left in the second half, the lead was reduced to two and Jess took a time-out.
"Were going to go back to the player defense, OK? But we still need to get that weak-side help when the posts are fronting their players. I also want you guards to start picking up their ball handlers full court. Have you got enough left in you for that?" She looked specifically at Bennie to see if the player would be willing to put out the effort necessary for a full-court, player-to-player press. The point guard just nodded confidently and Jess gave her a very slight smile in return.
The change in defense disrupted the Oregon offense for the next couple of times down the court, and the lead increased to four. The teams then traded baskets until there was a minute and a half left to play. On Oregons next possession, Bennie got screened by one of the big posts when her player cut down the lane, and Natalia was too late in coming to help. Bennie scowled at her teammate, obviously mad that the pick hadnt been called out. She took the inbounds pass and ran the ball up the court, stopping at the top of the key and launching a quick three-pointer. It missed badly and Oregon converted the long rebound into a fast break basket. With 40 seconds left and a tie game, Jess called time-out. She pulled Bennie aside while the assistant coaches talked to the rest of the team.
"Bennie, you dont have to do everything yourself out there. If you give the ball up and work to get open, youre going to get a better shot than that last one you took. And if you all work together, it wont matter who gets the shot, because its going to be an easy one. Do you understand what Im saying? Youve got to trust your teammates, OK?"
The point guard nodded, her eyes never leaving her shoes. Jess led her back to the huddle and quickly diagrammed the play she wanted them to run on the next possession.
NOU worked twenty seconds off the thirty-second shot clock before advancing the ball toward the basket. Bennie dribbled to the wing position, waving Heather through the key to the other side of the court. Natalia was posted up at the free throw line on the ball side, and the other post player cut up toward the free throw line on the weak side, drawing her defender away from the basket. Bennie tossed the ball into Natalia at the high post and took a step toward the top of the key. As her defender turned her head to watch the pass, Bennie took off on the back-door cut to the basket. Natalia threaded a perfect bounce pass around her defender and Bennie went in for the open shot.
And missed it.
Oregon grabbed the rebound and with 8 seconds left on the clock called their last thirty-second time-out. Jess went out onto the court to meet Bennie and put her arm around her while walking back to the huddle.
"Thats OK, Bennie. You ran the play just like we drew it up and you got the shot we wanted. They dont always go in." She stopped and turned around to look at the dejected point guard. "Look at me, Bennie." The player reluctantly brought her eyes up to meet Jesss. "Youre never going to think about missing that shot again, you hear me? The next time, youre going to do nothing but focus on that rim, and the shots going in, OK?" Bennie brightened up a little and nodded with determination. The two joined the rest of the team in the huddle and Jess set up their defense for the in-bounds play. As NOU broke their huddle, Heather grabbed Bennies arm and pulled her close to whisper something in her ear. Bennie looked up and gave her a little smile, and Heather slapped her on the butt as she returned to the court.
As Oregon lined up to throw the ball in from under the NOU basket, the Bobcats matched up with them. Natalia was guarding the player throwing the ball in, her height and long arms making it difficult for the player to see the court. The Oregon guards were side by side at the free throw line and Bennies player took advantage of a good screen to get open for the pass. Bennie worked her way around the screen and quickly got in the face of the ball handler. As the Oregon player made a crossover dribble to change directions, Bennie got her hand on the ball and sent it about five feet away from the two players. Without a moments hesitation, Bennie dove for the ball and got there just before the Oregon player. She looked up to see Natalia still near the end line and managed to flip the ball over her head to the tall post player, who laid it in as time ran out.
The stunned Oregon crowd went silent, while the few Bobcat fans erupted in cheers. Robin was jumping up and down, and hugging everyone around her. The players had run out onto the court and Bennie had collapsed under a pile of celebrating teammates. Jess had also shot off the bench when Natalias shot went in, but she quickly regained her professional demeanor and went down the sideline to shake the Oregon coaches hands. Afterward, though, she nearly sprinted onto the court to join her team in the celebration. She finally made her way to Bennie, and the two of them looked eye-to-eye and saw the mutual respect there. After a brief pause, Jess grabbed the small guard and hugged her close.
"You made the extra effort, and you trusted your teammate. Im really proud of you, Bennie," she whispered in her ear.
"Thanks," was all the player could choke out, overcome by the emotion of everything that had happened.
Robin watched the celebration from the stands, happy for Jess and the players, but feeling a sense of loss at not being able to really share the moment with the person that meant the most to her in the whole world. She thought about all the tournament games shed seen on TV, where the coaches happily kiss their spouses after the big win, and couldnt help but be a little angry at the unfairness of it all. But the worst part was, even after they were out of the limelight tonight, things would still be difficult for them.
Whose idea was it to cool things off for awhile, anyway? she thought dejectedly. But I cant deny that the results were pretty good for Jesss team, can I? I wonder if shes going to think that our separation had anything to do with tonights win. Or if maybe just maybe, shes wishing she could celebrate with me as much as I wish I could celebrate with her
As Robin was watching the team slowly make their way off the court, Jess turned and looked up at the stands behind the visitors bench, searching for someone. When her eyes met Robins, there was an unmistakable connection, but Jesss elation over winning the game was clearly dampened by her recognition that things werent the same between the two of them. Robin did her best to give Jess an encouraging smile, not wanting her disappointment in their personal life to mar this special occasion for Jess.
"Hey, you about ready to go?" Capi called out to her.
"Huh? Oh, sure, just let me get my coat," Robin replied, bending over to gather her things. She straightened up and looked around the arena with satisfaction. "Well, for once we get to walk out of here without getting heckled by a bunch of Duck fans gloating over their win!"
"Yeah, in fact Ive never seen a place this big empty out so fast," Capi chuckled.
The two women wandered over toward the press table to make arrangements with Carmen, and then headed for the exit. Robin looked back at the court one more time and sighed wistfully before turning to leave.
Saturday morning Jess was relaxing in her kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper account of last nights game. She hadnt slept well, whether because of the excitement over the game, or the distressing situation with Robin, or both.
Why do things have to be this way? I just cant believe theres not a middle ground somewhere. She thought more about her feelings, and realized that she was the one reluctant to meet in the middle. It only takes one person the wrong person to know about us, and then my job my whole career could be history. All these things Ive worked so hard for She sighed audibly. But on the other hand, I know Im not going to be happy without Robin in my life. Could it possibly be like Sara describes it that even if people think they know about me, they wont care? Could I really just tell someone who asked that my personal life is not their concern, without panicking and giving everything away? Maybe I do need a couple of weeks to sort this all out
Sunday afternoon the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee was to announce the pairings and locations for the first rounds. Jess and her team were going to meet at the Alumni Room in the arena to watch the selections on ESPN, and friends, family, and fans were invited. Jess knew they werent going to be hosting the first-round games, since those were allocated to the first and second seeds in each region, but she was hoping that they wouldnt be sent all the way across the country to the east. And she was really hoping to avoid the games hosted by Tennessee and UCONN, knowing that those teams would be virtually impossible to beat on their home courts.
When she arrived at the Alumni Room, her players were scattered about, talking with friends and family while waiting for the show to begin. Jess looked around, hoping just a little that Robin might show up. But she knew that this was exactly the kind of event that made her nervous about being seen with Robin, and she was sure the young woman knew that, too. And, after all, thats the point of all this, right? To not have me worry about these awkward situations while were trying to make it through the playoffs. But which is worse, to worry about how it would look if she were here, or to worry about why shes not here?
A few minutes before the selection show was to begin, Jess called her team up to the two tables at the front of the room to watch together. The players huddled together nervously, many of them holding hands while they listened to each pairing as it was announced. Finally, they heard their own name:
" and in the second game hosted by Louisiana State University, eleventh seed Florida will take on the sixth seed, Northern Oregon University."
A cheer erupted from the crowd and the players started to talk excitedly among themselves. Jess was pleased with their seeding, but not thrilled with the prospect of traveling to Louisiana, two time zones away from their usual routine. However, she set aside those worries for a few minutes and just sat back to reflect on the fact that they were one of 64 teams to make it into the NCAA tournament, and shed done it in her first year at NOU. There was only one thing that could make her life better right now
Continued in part 15
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