See part 1 for disclaimers. NOTE: New e-mail address!

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

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Take Time Out

Part 15

By RJ

DoctorJ22@home.com

April, 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 45

The next few days were hectic for Jess, overseeing travel arrangements and preparing her team for a game that was only five days away, one of which would be taken up almost entirely by travel. Due to the quarter system of NOU, the players would be taking final exams for winter quarter that week, which made scheduling practices difficult. There were also hours of film to watch in an effort to scout a team that played at the opposite end of the country.

In the midst of all this, Jess was progressively more preoccupied with thoughts of Robin. She missed the unwavering support that Robin had offered her, the relaxing times that they could spend talking or just lying around with each other, and she especially missed the intimacy that she’d waited 34 years to find, only to risk losing it so quickly. She found herself more depressed with each passing day, realizing how much the young professor’s presence meant to her. On Tuesday night, she was up late reviewing scouting reports at her kitchen table when she found her thoughts on Robin once again. Is she having as hard of a time with this as I am? What if she’s discovering she doesn’t really need me… or even want me around? She obviously has friends like Capi that accept her for what she is and don’t make her live some kind of double life. Maybe she’s discovering that she could never really be happy living with a basketball coach… Jess’s head dropped into her hands and she couldn’t stop the tears that started. Soon her shoulders were heaving with sobs, and she finally just let the emotion overtake her, crying until the tears would no longer come.

 

After a fitful night of little sleep, Jess was back in her office early on Wednesday. She logged onto her computer and her heartbeat picked up when she saw that she had a new message from Robin.

 

Jess –

How are you doing? I hope all your preparations for the playoffs are going well. Things must be really hectic for you.

I wanted to see if it was still OK with you if I went to Louisiana for the game. If it’s going to make you worried about what people will think, or distract you in any way, I’d be willing to stay home. Things seem to be going pretty well for you right now, and I don’t want to do anything to change that.

I’d be making the trip with Capi, so hopefully no one would think I’m there to be with you. I’m sure you’ll be so busy you’ll hardly even see me.

It’s really OK for you to ask me to stay home, so please be honest about what is best for you.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Robin

 

Jess felt a mixture of relief and despair. She was thrilled to hear from Robin, and glad that she still wanted to go to the game, but she was distressed by the overall tone of the letter. How could we have become so distant from each other in such a short time? She realized that Robin was just following their agreed upon course of ‘cooling things off’ for awhile, but reading her words that were so distant and formal had a depressing effect on the coach. Nevertheless, after a few moments of thought she composed a message in reply.

 

Robin –

I would love for you to come to Louisiana and watch our games. I’m sorry if I gave you the impression you wouldn’t be welcome. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if you remember, this trip is supposed to be on me. I have two tickets for you – I’ll put them in campus mail. And if you tell me which flight you want to take, I’d like to get that for you, too.

You’re right that things are going well for us right now, and I’m busier than I’ve ever been. As much as I’m looking forward to these playoff games, the end of the season will bring some welcome relief. Hopefully it just won’t come too soon!

Good to hear from you –

Jess

 

She sank back in her chair and stared at the computer screen. Why didn’t I tell her that I miss her? Why didn’t I tell her how miserable my life is without her? Am I just being stubborn, or am I afraid that she doesn’t want to hear it anymore? Could her feelings have changed for me that quickly? Jess didn’t want to think too much about that last thought, and was relieved when the computer notified her of another new message.

 

Jess –

Thanks for the offer on the plane ticket, but I think it would be easier if I just got it myself. It was nice of you to get the playoff tickets, though – thanks! I know Capi will really appreciate that, too.

Best of luck in your first game (not that you’ll need it)! See you in Louisiana –

Robin

 

Jess sighed, wishing Robin’s letter didn’t sound so much like a "friend," but knowing that it was all she could expect under the circumstances. It will probably be easier this way for the trip – for both of us.

 

Chapter 46

Robin and Capi flew into Baton Rouge on Friday, arriving with just enough time to check into their hotel room before heading off for the game. They would have liked to have flown in the day before, but grades needed to be turned in before Robin left, and that meant grading sixty-five final exams in less than 24 hours. The young professor was exhausted by the time they landed, but she got her second wind when they entered the arena and felt the excitement surrounding playoff basketball.

Although the arena wasn’t very crowded yet, the NOU cheerleaders had made the trip and were making up for any lack of noise from the crowd. It was still early and the home team, LSU, wouldn’t be playing until 8 o’clock, so many fans would arrive midway through the first game.

Jess’s team was going through warm-ups and looked more than a little pumped up for the game. Everybody seemed to be running a little bit faster, jumping a little bit higher, and encouraging their teammates a little bit more than during the regular season. Robin thought they displayed a good combination of excitement and confidence and decided that Jess had done a masterful job of preparing them for the game.

Her eyes drifted over to the coach, who was standing on the sideline watching her team go through their pregame routine. Jess looked just as intense as the players, her mind clearly focused on the upcoming game. So Robin was surprised when Jess turned and looked into the stands, their eyes meeting for what seemed like minutes, but was clearly only a few seconds. Robin could see a gamut of emotions run through the blue depths, changing from the intense game look, to a genuine happiness at seeing her there, and finally to a pained look of profound regret before she quickly looked away. Robin’s heart ached with the desire to just hold Jess in her arms and bring back the look of happiness that she had seen there only weeks ago.

Jess led her team off the court for a final pep talk, returning with about 10 minutes left in the warm-up. The excitement was building in the arena - spectators, players and coaches all knew that the season would end for one team that night. Finally, the teams were introduced, the players took the floor, and the referee tossed the ball up in the center circle. After a few times up and down the court where both teams either missed shots or made turnovers, the nerves seemed to settle down and play improved.

NOU had a decided advantage inside, and Jess’s game plan obviously called for the offense to focus on post play. The guards pounded the ball inside, and when Florida finally started double-teaming the posts, they would kick the ball back outside for open shots. By half-time, the Bobcats led by 12 and the Gators had not found an answer to NOU’s inside game.

Jess didn’t change her strategy for the second half, but Florida got more physical on defense, pushing the post players out beyond their comfort zone before they could get a pass. Despite her strident protests to the referees, no fouls were called and it was obvious that tempers were flaring on the court, as well as on the bench. The crowd was back in the game, cheering loudly as the Gators inched their way back into contention. The lead was down to five when Jess finally called time-out. As her team ran over, she strode out on the court to plead her case to the referees.

"My post players are getting beat up out there! How can you not see that?!"

"That’s enough, coach. I don’t want to hear anymore," one of the male referees said patronizingly.

Jess’s nostrils flared and her eyes narrowed. "I don’t care whether you want to hear anymore or not! I’m going to tell you when I think my players are getting cheated by the officiating!"

The whistle for the technical was quick in coming and LaTeisha grabbed Jess and turned her back toward the bench before she could get her second technical, which would result in ejection. Jess took a few deep breaths to regain some semblance of control and moved over to where her players were huddled. Once again, she noticed a hint of pride in the players’ expressions, and even though her temper had cost them two points and possession of the ball, the added determination by the players more than made up for it. When they returned to the court, they matched Florida’s physical play and proceeded to go on an 8-0 run that gave them a commanding lead they never relinquished. As the final buzzer sounded, the bench swarmed the court while Jess and her assistants walked down the sidelines to shake hands with the opposing coaches.

"Nice game," the Florida coach said sincerely while clasping Jess’s hand in both of hers. "That was a very strategic technical you staged there," she added with a smile.

Jess smiled back a little sheepishly. "I wish I could say it was planned, but I’m afraid I just lost my temper."

"Well, whatever it was, it worked! Congratulations and good luck in your next game."

Back in the stands, Robin and Capi were celebrating with the Martins, who had also made the trip.

"They really picked up the intensity after that technical, didn’t they?" Jim Martin commented. "I didn’t know Coach Peters had such a short fuse, but the team really responded in a positive way."

"Well it was hard to watch our players get beat up like that!" Robin retorted. "If it had been me, I would have gotten the technical about 10 minutes earlier!"

"You’re probably lucky you didn’t get one from the stands," Capi replied, referring to Robin’s spirited advice to the referees throughout the game.

"Hey, she was just sticking up for her partner," Patti defended. "I can certainly understand – I was about to go out on the court myself and defend Heather from that big goon that was pushing her around."

Robin smiled, even as she paled a little from Patti’s reference to Jess as her "partner." I should correct her – this is just what Jess doesn’t want to have happen. She was interrupted from her thoughts, however, when Jim suggested they go down and wait for the team to come out of the locker room.

"Come on, you two, we’ll be back in plenty of time for the next game," he said, motioning to Robin and Capi to join them.

The four of them went into the hallway near the locker room entrance and only had to wait about five minutes before the players started coming back out. Patti and Jim went off to talk to Heather, leaving the other two women to wait for Jess. Robin was nervous about seeing the coach, but she kept telling herself that a true friend would be there to congratulate her, and she hoped she’d always be at least a true friend.

"Are you going to be OK with this?" Capi leaned over and whispered to her.

"Yeah, I think so. I just hope she’s OK with it."

"Of course she will be," Capi reassured her.

Robin smiled gratefully back at her friend, and then her attention was drawn to the door where Jess and her assistants were emerging. They stopped to say a few things to the other fans that were milling around, and then Jess saw Robin and Capi and quickly walked over.

The coach gave Robin a dazzling smile, obviously happy with her team’s performance, and equally happy to see the young woman there.

"Congratulations Jess! Your team played great!" Robin said, offering her hand somewhat awkwardly. Jess took Robin’s hand and held it along with the young woman’s gaze a little longer than was probably expected.

"Thanks – I’m really glad you guys could make it," she said sincerely, looking over to include Capi in the conversation.

"Hey, we wouldn’t have wanted to miss that awesome display of referee baiting," Capi teased, easing the tension that seemed to be surrounding them.

"Oh geez, is that all anybody is going to remember about the game? I’ve already had three reporters ask me about it," Jess replied.

"Well, you have to admit it seems a little out of character for you," Robin said with a smile.

"And it did seem to make a difference in the game," Capi added. "Are you sure it wasn’t just a little bit premeditated?"

"Believe me, I would never have said that if I’d actually stopped to think first," Jess assured them.

Just then Carmen walked over and the three women turned to greet her. She gave Capi a big hug and an extra squeeze of the hand before releasing her.

"Are you guys staying for the next game?" Carmen asked.

"Of course! We have to check out the competition for tomorrow," Robin replied. "Aren’t you staying?" she asked, turning to direct the question at Jess.

"We’re staying too," the coach answered. "I have to scout, and I think it’s important for the team to see who they’ll be playing and try to pick up on some of their strengths and weaknesses. Besides, I want them to have the whole tournament experience while they’re here – you never know when you’re going to get back again."

"Oh, you’ll be back next year," Carmen said confidently. "I’m counting on the Final Four by then!"

Jess laughed. "Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, OK?" She turned to Robin with an apologetic look on her face, and lowered her voice. "I’d better get out there before the game starts. Thanks for being here – it really means a lot to me."

"I wouldn’t have missed it," Robin replied with a bittersweet smile on her face.

Jess turned and headed back out to the court, while Robin waited for Capi to make plans with Carmen for later in the evening. Robin watched the coach’s back as she walked away, fighting an irrational urge to run after her and somehow make the past few weeks just go away.

 

After the second game of the evening, which LSU won handily, Robin, Capi, Carmen, and the Martins were having a drink in their hotel bar when the coaches arrived. Jim waved them over to their table and rounded up a few more chairs. Capi quickly moved her chair over and made a space between her and Robin.

"Hey Jess, come on over here and tell us what you think we’re going to have to do to beat LSU on Sunday," Capi called out to the coach.

Robin blushed a little at Capi’s obvious manipulation of the seating arrangements, but was happy to see Jess smile and relax into her chair.

Conversation resumed around them, the Martins quizzing the assistant coaches about their scouting report of the next opponent. Capi and Jess were discussing how to handle LSU’s transition game, and Robin took the opportunity to just sit back and think about why this level of companionship seemed fine if she and Jess weren’t lovers, but somehow unacceptable if they were. I just don’t understand it. It’s not like I’d be draping myself all over her, or saying inappropriate things. But if we were lovers right now, she probably wouldn’t have even wanted to sit with us.

"…don’t you think, Robin?" The young woman was startled out of her thoughts and realized that Capi had asked her a question.

"Huh? Uh, sorry Capi, I spaced out there for a minute, what did you say?"

Capi laughed. "Are we keeping you up past your bed time?" she teased. "I said, I think Bennie should have an advantage against their point guard, what do you think?"

"Oh, yeah, Bennie is a lot quicker than she is," Robin agreed.

"Well, as long as I can keep Bennie playing within the system, I think she’ll do fine," Jess added. "But if she takes it as some kind of one-on-one challenge, it’s going to be a problem."

"It seems like she’s really settled down in the last couple of games though," Robin noted.

Jess gave a little smirk as she replied, "I think Heather has had a little bit to do with that. I talked to her about her role as a Captain on the team, and she seems to have taken a personal interest in getting Bennie to be a little more of a team player. Sometimes teammates can be much more effective than coaches," she noted wryly.

Robin nodded her head, amazed once again at how Jess was able to bring together this group of players in her first year as head coach, and lead them all the way to the NCAA playoffs. Even if I didn’t love her, I’d think she walked on water, Robin thought to herself. She raised her eyes to find Jess’s looking back at her, and she blushed, thinking Jess had somehow read her thoughts. Capi had turned to talk to Carmen once again, and the two women were left to their own conversation.

"Have I told you that I think you’re a great coach?" Robin asked quietly.

Jess smiled shyly. "Maybe once before, but I think you might be biased."

"Well I’m not the only one who thinks so, but you’re right, I might be a little bit biased."

Jess shifted uncomfortably in her seat, wishing they weren’t in the middle of a bar with seven other people. She wanted to touch Robin in the worst way – to hold her hand, touch her face, wrap her arms around her – and she clasped her hands together to keep them from wandering without her permission.

"I’m really glad you made the trip," Jess said again. She glanced around to see that no one was paying any attention to them, and lowered her voice even further. "If you weren’t here, I’d just be thinking about you all the time, and then I wouldn’t be focusing on my team."

"But I thought having me around was a distraction to you," Robin said, somewhat surprised at Jess’s words.

"No!" Jess protested. "You’ve never been a distraction, Robbie. I admit I worry about what other people think, but I’ve always been more distracted when you’re not around."

"If only I could figure out a way to be invisible," Robin joked, but regretted it when she saw the hurt in Jess’s eyes.

"I’m sorry you can’t just be yourself around me," the coach said, looking down at her hands.

"Hey, I was just kidding," Robin tried to explain. "I know that what other people think is important for your job."

Further conversation was interrupted when Jim Martin called out to Jess from across the table.

"Hey Jess! How are you going to keep your team from being affected by the hometown crowd? You could hardly hear yourself think in there during that second game tonight!"

"I’m counting on you to be louder than them, Jim," Jess replied with a smile. "And Robin’s got to count for at least a hundred of them, don’t you think?"

Everyone around the table laughed at that, and the conversation returned to a group discussion of Sunday’s game. After a little while, LaTeisha looked at her watch and said that they were way past curfew. The curfew didn’t apply to the coaches, of course, but they decided that they should head back to their rooms and make sure that the team had settled in for the night. Everyone said their goodbyes, and Robin watched Jess walk away, wishing they had more time to talk privately.

As Robin was looking wistfully after the departing coaches, Patti moved over into the seat next to her.

"So, you want to talk about it?" Patti asked, gently putting her hand on Robin’s forearm.

Robin looked at her, startled. "Talk about what?"

Patti smiled understandingly and said, "It doesn’t seem like things are going so well between you and Jess. I know it’s none of my business, but I just thought you might want someone to talk to."

"Uh, look Patti… I think maybe you’ve got the wrong idea about Jess and me… I mean, I can’t really talk about it…" Robin found herself flustered and unsure of what to say.

Patti’s eyebrows furrowed as she tried to understand what Robin meant. "But Heather told me you two were… you mean you’re not?"

Robin blew out a breath in frustration. She couldn’t just lie to someone she had come to know as a friend, but she didn’t want to say something that would implicate Jess at the same time.

"The truth is that I would like nothing more than to be with Jess, but she doesn’t think that’s possible with her job. She says that other coaches would make an issue of it in recruiting, and parents wouldn’t want their kids to play for her."

Patti looked outraged. "You’ve got to be kidding! What parents wouldn’t want their daughter to play for a coach like Jess? She’s taught Heather more about basketball, and life for that matter, than any other coach she’s had!"

"I know, and I keep telling her that, but I’m sure there’s some truth to what she’s saying. There are plenty of homophobic people out there," Robin said with resignation. "So, the truth is, Jess and I aren’t partners, we’re just friends right now." Robin decided that really was the truth, and she didn’t have to say anything about whether she and Jess had ever been more than that. She thought it was the best she could do under the circumstances.

Patti had a look on her face that told Robin she was trying to think of ways to "fix" this problem, and Robin worried about where that effort might go.

"Please, Patti, don’t say anything about this to anybody else, OK? Jess is already sensitive enough about it."

Patti’s eyes came back to Robin’s and she looked sympathetically at the young woman. "This must be really hard for you, isn’t it?"

Robin felt the tears start to sting the back of her eyes and she quickly looked down at her lap. "Harder than anything I’ve ever been through," she replied quietly.

Patti put her hand over Robin’s and said, "You just hang in there, OK? Things will work out – you’ll see."

With that, she got up, retrieved her husband and said goodbye to the three women still at the table. Capi noticed that Robin was feeling a little down, and suggested that they all head back to their rooms. After saying goodbye to Carmen, Capi put her arm around Robin’s shoulders and they headed off to bed.

 

The next morning, Jess was up at six, sitting at a corner table in the hotel coffee shop and reading the paper when Patti Martin approached her.

"Hi, Coach, mind if I join you?"

Jess looked up, surprised that anyone else was up that early, but quickly motioned for her to have a seat.

"You’re up early," Patti observed. "Have trouble sleeping?"

"I always get up this early," Jess replied, "but… the truth is, I did have trouble sleeping last night. Must have been all that excitement from the game."

"Yeah, I suppose so." Patti looked away as if in thought. "I’ve never really thought about how hard it would be to be a coach. You know, late nights, working on weekends, pressure from fans… it must be really hard to have a personal life, isn’t it?"

Jess narrowed her eyes, wondering where Patti was going with this line of conversation.

"Yeah, it can be hard, but we all know what we’re signing up for when we become coaches," she replied.

"Still, it seems like it’s easier for the men coaches, don’t you think? They have wives that can follow them around to games, and if they have kids, the wives seem to take care of the family."

"Well, there are a few women coaches who have husbands that do that," Jess said somewhat defensively.

"Yeah, but what if you don’t have a husband? What if you don’t want a husband? Then how are you supposed to have any kind of personal life?"

Jess looked the older woman squarely in the eye, raising one eyebrow. "Patti, what exactly are you getting at? Just say it, OK?"

Patti smiled back in return. "OK, you got me. I never was any good at beating around the bush… Look, I just want to tell you that we, Jim and I, and lots of other parents, think you are the best thing that could have happened to this team. We’re going to support you for what you do on the court – for how you treat our daughters, and how you give them a role model they can strive for. And because we care about you, we want you to be happy in the rest of your life, too. And we’re going to be there to support you, no matter what." She paused and looked sheepishly at Jess. "I guess that’s what I really wanted to say."

Jess just looked at Patti for a long time, a mixture of emotions running through her. Finally, she just said, "Thanks, Patti. That means a lot to me. I wish all parents could be like you."

"Hey, there are more like me than you think," Patti replied. "Trust me, I talk to them."

Why do I find that frightening? Jess thought, but she managed a weak smile. Patti got up to leave, giving Jess a pat on the shoulder as she walked by. The coach sat there for a long while, staring ahead and thinking, What in the Hell just happened here…

 

Chapter 47

Robin and Capi were returning to their hotel room after dinner on Saturday night when they ran into Carmen in the hall. She invited them both out for drinks at a nearby pub, but Robin declined, saying she was tired from the night before and just wanted to spend the night reading and relaxing. She encouraged Capi to go, however, knowing that she had been monopolizing her friend’s time. It was obvious that the other two women were desperate to spend some time alone together, and Robin was happy that they would finally get the opportunity.

She went back to her room, changed into a t-shirt and boxer shorts, and had settled onto her bed with a good book when there was a knock on her door. She got up and was surprised to see Jess standing on the other side. She quickly opened the door and stood aside for her to come in.

"Hi… are you busy? I probably should have called first…"

"No, no… come on in! I was just reading a book."

Robin walked back over to the bed she had been lying on and sat on the edge. "Have a seat," she said, motioning to the other bed across from her. Jess sat down and looked around the room.

"Where’s Capi?"

"She went out with Carmen. They were going to check out that pub down the street. They just left, so I don’t expect her back anytime soon. In fact, I’m not sure I expect her back at all…" Robin said with a wry smile.

Jess smiled back. "Carmen seems pretty stuck on her – she hardly even flirts with other women anymore!"

Robin laughed. "I think the feeling’s mutual, although Capi is a little scared about playing with fire. She’s definitely going to be cautious about giving her heart away too soon."

"Well, she probably still has a little bit of her heart set on you, too."

Robin blushed a little. "Oh, I think she’s been over me for awhile now."

"You’re not that easy to get over. I should know – I tried once…" Jess lifted her eyes to meet Robin’s. "I… I guess that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I know you said you wanted to wait until after the season was over, but I was hoping maybe we could talk about it now…" Jess looked over at Robin hopefully.

"Are you sure, Jess? You’ve got the biggest game of the year coming up tomorrow…"

"That’s exactly why I’m sure I want to do this now," Jess said emphatically. "Robin, all I do is think about you… about us… about how I want things to be different. And… and I know that I worry too much about what other people are going to think about our relationship."

Robin looked at Jess skeptically. "So how are things going to be any different for us in the future?"

Jess looked down at her hands. "I think I’m slowly beginning to understand that having my career doesn’t mean that I can’t have a personal life. I know I’ve said this before, but I obviously didn’t feel it in my heart, or I wouldn’t have been so paranoid."

"And what makes you think you can really mean it this time?" Robin asked, trying not to sound harsh or accusing.

Jess looked Robin squarely in the eye, trying to show the sincerity in her words. "Well, for one thing, I think I finally recognize the support that I have from a lot of different people associated with my program. And I don’t think those people would just stop supporting me if they knew I was having a relationship with a woman."

Jess got up and moved over to sit next to Robin. She put her fingers under the young woman’s chin and brought Robin’s eyes up to meet hers. "But more importantly, I’ve learned that I care more about you than I do about my career. I desperately want to have both, but I know now that my career wouldn’t mean a thing if you weren’t there to share it with me."

Robin blinked away the tears that were starting to form in her eyes, wanting so much to believe that Jess meant it this time… that the coach would be able to accept their relationship, and not be ashamed of what they had. Oh God, how do I know whether to believe it or not? How many times can I give her my heart only to have her break it again?

Robin looked away and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I don’t know Jess… I don’t know what to believe anymore…"

"Believe in me, Robbie." Jess reached over and gently turned the young woman’s face back toward hers. As she lowered her lips toward Robin’s, she looked at her through half-closed lids and whispered, "Please believe in me."

Robin closed her eyes and felt the incredible softness of Jess’s lips. Then the coach’s hand moved to the back of her head, pulling her more forcefully into the kiss. Robin hesitated for a moment, but then wrapped her arms around Jess’s neck and returned the kiss with a passion built from weeks of frustration.

The kiss seemed to last for an eternity, and when they finally parted slightly to catch their breath, Robin searched Jess’s eyes for any sign of doubt, but found only sincerity. She closed her eyes leaned her forehead on Jess’s, sighing deeply.

"I love you," she whispered. "I love you so much it hurts, and I won’t be able to stand it if we have to go through this again."

"We’ll never have to go through this again… I promise," Jess whispered back, moving her lips across Robin’s temple and then over her sensitive ear. "I love you, too, and I’ll never be ashamed of what we have."

Jess’s low voice in her ear inflamed Robin’s senses and she threw her head back, exposing her neck for Jess’s eager kisses. She leaned back on the bed, pulling Jess down with her, and their legs and arms became entwined as their bodies searched for more contact between them. Jess lifted up long enough to pull Robin’s t-shirt off, a soft moan escaping her throat when she saw there was nothing underneath it. She slowly bent her head to kiss the soft swells of Robin’s breasts, and the young woman arched into the caress. Jess increased the intensity of her kisses, and Robin tangled her hands in Jess’s thick hair, gently pushing her further down her body. Jess put her fingers under the waistband of Robin’s shorts and slowly pulled them off her legs, her lips following the path with a trail of kisses. She then worked her way back up the insides of Robin’s legs, which parted willingly in response.

"Now Jess, please," Robin pleaded while gripping the sheets of the bed and writhing in anticipation. When she finally felt the warmth of Jess’s lips and the pressure of her tongue, she moaned loudly. "Oh God, yes!" she cried, and Jess’s own passion took hold, driving her insistently until she heard Robin scream her name and felt her convulse one last time. Jess held on tightly while Robin slowly relaxed, the aftershocks continuing for minutes. Finally, Jess pulled away and started to kiss her way back up Robin’s stomach. The young woman couldn’t wait, and she reached down and pulled Jess up, claiming her lips in a searing kiss. When Jess broke away for a breath, she saw the tears in Robin’s eyes and moved her lips to kiss them away.

"Are you OK?" she asked softly.

Robin nodded her head, not trusting herself to speak.

"I love you," Jess whispered. "And I love making love with you." She continued to place soft kisses on Robin’s face, and the young woman’s emotions finally settled down.

Robin kissed Jess back and then held her out at arm’s length. "What are you doing in all those clothes?" she asked with an accusing look.

Jess looked down at herself sheepishly, realizing that she hadn’t even taken her shoes off. "I guess I just got too carried away to notice."

"Well, I think I might have to do something about that," Robin said as she pushed Jess over onto her back and started to unbutton the coach’s shirt, making sure to follow the path of her hands with her lips. The pile of clothes next to the bed grew steadily larger as the moans became louder. Before long, Jess was also calling out to a God that she didn’t know she believed in.

Afterward, Robin buried her head in the warmth of Jess’s neck and hugged her tightly. The tall woman rubbed her hands across Robin’s back soothingly, and before long, exhaustion overtook them and they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

 

Capi quietly slid the key card into the hotel room door, trying not to wake Robin. She and Carmen had stayed out until around 11, and then had gone back to Carmen’s room for another few hours. But Capi didn’t want to leave Robin alone for the night, knowing that the young woman was struggling with her feelings toward Jess, and in need of a good friend.

She tip-toed into the room and nearly fell over a pile of clothes at the end of Robin’s bed. What the hell! she cursed to herself, barely catching her balance. The light from the moonlight was just enough for her to see a lump in Robin’s bed that was clearly too big for the small woman alone. Oh shit! Who in the heck would she have brought back to her room?! It’s gotta be Jess, doesn’t it? And if it is, what’s she going to do if she wakes up and sees me here?! I’ve gotta get the hell out of here…

Capi turned around and snuck back out of the room, stopping to get her toothbrush on the way. She quietly closed the door behind her and sank against it with a sigh. Man, she’s gonna owe me big time for this one!

 

The click of the door closing caused Robin’s eyes to blink open. She wasn’t aware of what had awakened her, but she was eminently aware of the warm body that was entwined with her own.

Oh my God – we fell asleep! She looked over at the nightstand and saw that it was 2 am. How could we have done that? Jess is going to have a fit!

"Jess… Jess, honey," Robin said while gently nudging the sleeping woman.

"Hmmm… what… what’s wrong?" Jess blinked her eyes a few times, trying to figure out where she was and what was happening.

"I’m really sorry! I guess we fell asleep… I should have woken up sooner…"

"Robin…"

"I don’t know what I was thinking! I shouldn’t have let you fall asleep…"

"Robin…"

"I hope no one has been looking for you. I’m sure you can get back to your room without running into anyone…"

"Robin!!"

The young woman finally stopped babbling and looked at Jess. "What?"

Jess gave the young woman a reassuring smile. "It’s OK… I’m not worried about it." She leaned over and gave Robin a gentle kiss, which immediately eased the young woman’s fears. "It’s not like I’m out cheating on my spouse or anything."

Robin couldn’t believe that Jess was so calm. Maybe she really meant it when she said things would be different now. So why do I feel like we did something wrong?? She shook her head at the irony of it all. "I guess I’m the paranoid one now, aren’t I?" she laughed.

"Well, I probably should have told one of my assistants where I’d be, but I’m sure no one has sent out a search party looking for me. I should probably get back to my room, though, just in case I have any messages waiting for me."

"OK," Robin replied, extricating herself from Jess and sorting through the clothes on the floor.

Jess made herself presentable enough for the unlikely situation of being seen in the hallway at 2 in the morning, and gave Robin one last kiss before slipping out the door.

 

Capi returned to their room about 10 on Sunday morning, wondering if she should knock or just use her key. She has to be gone by now, doesn’t she? She decided it was probably safe just to go in, and she looked up to see Robin sitting by the window, reading the morning newspaper, looking like nothing was out of the ordinary.

Robin smirked at her and said, "Just getting home? Must have been a good pub you two found."

"Hey, I don’t want to hear another word about what I did until you tell me who was in that bed with you when I came home last night."

Robin looked horrified and her hand covered her mouth. "You didn’t come home last night…"

"Of course I came home last night! Surely you didn’t expect me to spend the night with someone else when I had you waiting here. I certainly wouldn’t expect you to desert me for somebody else," she said with mock indignation. She couldn’t keep the smile from reaching her lips, though, and soon they both broke into laughter.

"I can’t believe I didn’t wake up when you came in."

"Oh, you must have been exhausted from… well, from talking all night, right?"

"Right. How did you know?"

"Come on, spill it! I want to hear every detail," Capi commanded, and the two of them spent the next hour trading stories of the previous evening.

 

Chapter 48

Robin and Capi arrived at the arena about an hour before game time. They didn’t want to miss one minute of the excitement and suspense of the evening’s match-up, and this gave them an opportunity to compare the two teams during warm-ups. The arena was already more crowded than it had been for NOU’s first game, and the LSU band was there in force. Although the seats immediately surrounding the two women were full of Bobcat fans, they were a very small minority in a sea of purple and gold.

Jess’s team was shooting around at their basket, the organized warm-up not starting for 20 more minutes. Robin noticed that Bennie and Heather were working together, one rebounding for the other and making sharp passes for spot-up shooting practice. When they switched roles, they would give each other a high-five and a few words of encouragement. After 10 minutes of this, they started working out one-on-one, and it was obvious to Robin that the physical nature of the play was half the fun for them. She thought it was a good sign that the players could be laughing and having fun while obviously working hard and being competitive. She had been worried that the team would come out too serious and end up being tight for the game. She was just thinking about what a master Jess was at preparing her team for games, when the tall coach walked up the aisle and sat down in the empty seat next to her.

"Hi," Jess said, giving Robin one of her drop-dead gorgeous smiles as she sat down. "Sorry I didn’t get a chance to call you this morning. Things got pretty hectic with all the game preparations."

"That’s OK," Robin reassured her. "Capi and I have been pretty busy ourselves, seeing as it was the last day to shop for souvenirs, right Capi?" Robin said while giving her friend a nudge.

"Oh… yeah, right," Capi replied, her attention being brought back from the court. "Hey Jess, how are you doing? I hope you weren’t as tired as Robin was this afternoon…" she said with a smirk.

Robin elbowed Capi hard in the ribs, but Jess just gave Capi one of her half-grins accompanied by a raised eyebrow.

"I felt great this afternoon, but then I made it back to my room for at least part of the night."

Robin blushed furiously and couldn’t believe that this conversation was going on around her.

"Hey, is your team excited for the game?" Robin asked in an obvious attempt to change the subject.

Jess and Capi both just sat back in their seats and smiled smugly, allowing Robin to breathe a sigh of relief.

"Well, I’d better get back down to the bench," Jess said, returning her attention to Robin. She lowered her voice and said, "I just wanted to say that I’m really glad you’re here, and I’m really glad about last night."

Robin smiled shyly and replied, "Me too. Good luck in the game!"

The coach made her way back down to the sidelines and watched the remainder of the warm-ups. By the time player introductions were made, the arena was nearly at capacity and Robin could hardly hear herself think. She could see the level of nervousness increase in the NOU players, but after Jess huddled with them for the final time, they came out looking confident and relaxed.

NOU pushed the pace at the beginning of the game, Bennie passing the ball ahead to Heather at every fast-break opportunity. Even when they couldn’t get a breakaway lay-up, they often ended up with a player advantage and at least got an open jump-shot. After eight minutes, NOU was up by seven and the LSU coach called time-out to adjust her transition defense. The Lady Tigers responded and Bennie had to start setting up their half-court offense. NOU had a size advantage in the middle, but the LSU players were quick and able to knock down many of the entry passes. LSU ended up getting some fast-breaks of their own off of steals, and soon the game was tied again. The teams traded baskets until half-time, and when Jess’s team left the court at the break, they were up by only one.

She looked at the faces surrounding her in the locker room and saw the openness and trust that she had worked so hard to earn during the year. She knew that she could give these players the motivation and strategy they needed to face an opponent like LSU, but she wasn’t sure they had the horses to pull off the upset. Their advantage was their underdog status, though, and Jess knew they had to go out there with a "nothing-to-lose" attitude. She rallied her team with a reminder that there was no tomorrow – no reason to save anything for another day. She urged them to leave everything they had on the court that night, and the team charged back out for the second half, hungry for the chance at an upset.

Of course, the LSU coach had years of coaching experience on Jess, and she was not about to let her team come out unsuspecting of NOU’s desire. The Lady Tigers were even tougher in the second half, determined not to see their season end on their own home court.

The game stayed close for the first fifteen minutes of the second half, NOU able to capitalize on some power moves by Natalia, and LSU able to take advantage of their quickness to get some open shots. Unfortunately, Natalia was prone to reach over the back of the smaller LSU post players rather than move her feet to get position, and she ended up getting her fourth foul with five minutes left to play. Jess took her out for a short rest, but knew that she was going to have to go back in quickly if NOU was to have a chance. By the time Natalia returned at the three-minute mark, NOU was down by four.

The next time down the court, Bennie spread the offense out and made a move on her defender at the top of the key. As she drove down the right side of the lane, Natalia’s defender came over to help, and Bennie wrapped a pass around the LSU post to Natalia who was now left with an open lane to the basket. As she went up for the lay-up, she was fouled hard, but kept her concentration and put the shot in. She added the free throw and they were within one.

As LSU in-bounded the ball, Bennie put full court pressure on their point guard. She overplayed her to the right, forcing her to dribble toward the sideline. Heather recognized the opportunity for the double-team, and as Bennie cut off her player at the sideline, the LSU guard reversed her dribble right into Heather who neatly stole the ball away. Bennie was already heading downcourt, and Heather lobbed her the ball for the easy lay-up.

As Bennie set up for the full-court pressure again, the LSU guard smartly passed the ball ahead to one of her forwards and the Lady Tigers set up their half-court offense. The ball went to the wing and the low post player moved to the free throw line to get the pass. The rest of the LSU players cleared out of the lane, leaving Natalia to try to stop the post player one-on-one. While this would have been an easy task if the player had stayed in the low post, out at the free throw line, Natalia was vulnerable. The smaller LSU post faked the outside shot, and when she got the big center off her feet, she quickly drove around her to the left. Natalia did what every player does in that situation – whether they have four fouls or not – she reached out and fouled her before she could reach the basket.

The referee signaled to Jess that Natalia had fouled out of the game, and the coach took the full thirty seconds to decide on a substitute, hoping to ice the free throw shooter a little. When the teams lined up for the one-and-one, the handful of NOU fans were doing their best to disrupt the shooter, but the stands behind the basket were full of quiet LSU fans and she calmly sank them both.

Jess could see a little of the wind go out of the sails of her players after Natalia fouled out, and she called time-out to try to keep the momentum from swinging too far the other way. But when they went back onto the court without their dominant center, the offense floundered and they ended up with a 30-second shot clock violation. With only a minute left in the game, LSU had the ball and a one-point lead. They used up 28 seconds off the shot clock before heaving up a desperation three-point attempt… that went in. The fans went crazy which seemed to rattle the NOU players, and the result was an off-balance shot from the baseline that missed badly. LSU rebounded and Bennie immediately fouled the player. But with a four point lead and only 10 seconds to go, the pressure was off and the player sank both free throws. LSU allowed Bennie to dribble the length of the court for a meaningless basket and the game was over.

Jess stood and stared out at the court for a moment, watching the pandemonium surrounding the LSU players. Next year that’s going to be us, she vowed, and she turned with purpose and went to shake the LSU coach’s hands.

Robin watched Jess congratulate the LSU coaches, then shake the hands of the LSU players, and then finally gather her own players around her for some final words before letting them go off to talk to friends and family. Despite the loss, Robin could see the pride in the head coach’s actions, and she knew that the players had nothing to be ashamed of. Jess would find a way to turn this loss into a learning experience, and they would be stronger next year when playoffs came around.

After the brief team huddle, Robin and Capi walked down to the court. Jess was talking to some reporters, and Capi went off to find Carmen. When the coach finished with her interview, she saw Robin standing by the bench and their eyes met across the court. Jess slowly started to walk over, getting intercepted repeatedly by parents and fans, but her gaze always returned to meet Robin’s. Finally, she made it over to where the young woman was waiting and saw the questioning look in her eyes. Knowing what Robin was asking, and not thinking twice about who might be watching, Jess enfolded the smaller woman in her arms and hugged her tightly. From different places across the court, a player’s mother and a Director of Student Affairs were watching with identical smiles of satisfaction.

 

 

Epilogue

 

"This is beautiful, Jess," Robin exclaimed, looking out over the valley from the end of the road where they had parked. The two women got out of the car and walked to the edge of the road. "How did you ever find this?"

"My real estate agent brought me up here last week. I couldn’t believe the view when I saw it – I felt like I was in an airplane!"

The patchwork of the valley was laid out before them, sunlight through the clouds adding patterns of light and dark. On the horizon, Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens loomed above the foothills.

"Can you imagine living someplace like this and waking up to this view every morning," Robin said wistfully.

"I couldn’t have imagined it before, but I can now," Jess said, taking Robin’s hand and turning to face her.

Robin looked at her quizzically, and waited for Jess to explain.

"I had a meeting with Butch today… He offered me a contract extension and a substantial raise."

"That’s great, Jess! He must be worried that you’re going to get snapped up by some bigger school." Robin’s smile faded a little as it hit her that maybe Jess did have offers from other schools. "You… Did you accept it?"

Jess smiled back at the young woman’s uncertainty. "Of course I accepted it! I don’t have any interest in looking at other schools right now. In fact…" Jess tilted her head to look directly into Robin’s eyes, "I’d like to settle down here a little more." She shifted her feet nervously. "The truth is, I brought you out here because… well, I thought maybe… I wondered if you might consider building a house with me."

Robin looked at her with a mixture of shock and disbelief. "Are you serious?"

Jess smiled and pulled Robin in for a hug. "Completely serious," she whispered in the ear next to her lips. "I want us to live together, and I want it to be in a home that we both feel is our own."

Robin pulled back a little and looked up at the coach. "But Jess, I could never afford to live in a place like this," she said, looking around at the large view lots.

"Neither could I, by myself, but if we live together, we can. I already talked to my agent about it and she said it shouldn’t be a problem." Jess started to get a little nervous as she realized that Robin hadn’t accepted her proposition yet. "But if you think it’s too early to move in together, or you want to live by yourself, I’ll understand, really…"

Robin halted Jess’s words by pulling her head down for a reassuring kiss. Their lips parted just slightly and Robin murmured, "Nothing could make me happier…"

 

The End

 

Acknowledgements: There are many people that I would like to thank for helping me make it through this first-time writing experience. First of all, I would like to thank everyone who wrote me with such encouraging words along the way. I doubt I would have persevered if I hadn’t gotten such nice feedback. Thanks to MaryD and Fanatic for hosting my story and giving me encouragement. I’d also like to thank my "official" beta readers, Alina, Kimly, MyWarrior, and Wendy, and my "unofficial" beta readers, Deb, Lisa, Fanatic’s mom, and Kimiko. I’ve met some very special people who have written me with their feedback, and I hope our friendships last long into the future. And finally, I’d especially like to thank Marlys, who has graciously learned to share me with the internet during this whole process, and who has given me unfailing support no matter how many times I asked her to read the same page over and over again.


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