Disclaimers: see part 1

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Take Time Out

Part 2

By RJ

cappaert@proaxis.com

December, 1999

No part of this text may be reproduced in whole, or in part, without the express consent of the author.

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Chapter Four

Robin raced into her apartment from the carport when she heard the phone ringing. "Hello?" she said, breathing hard from her mad dash.

"Hi Robbie. You sound like you just ran a marathon. Did I catch you at a bad time?"

"Oh, hi Capi! No, I got tied up at work grading papers, and I just got home when I heard the phone ringing. What’s up?"

"I wondered if you wanted me to pick you up for the softball game tonight. I was thinking that we’d probably go out afterwards, and I remember what happened last time when you had your own car."

"Thanks for reminding me, friend," Robin said sarcastically. "I’ll be ready in about 15 minutes, can you wait that long?"

"Sure, no problem. I’ll see you then."

Robin hung up the phone and made her way into the bedroom to change. I hope I remembered to wash my softball shirt after the last game. And where are my favorite black shorts? I hope I didn’t leave them at school. God, look at my hair! I must have forgotten to comb it after the gym today. Suddenly Robin stopped and looked at herself in the mirror. OK, why am I obsessing about how I look for a softball game? As if I don’t know. Robin knew that it made no sense to lie to herself about her feelings. She was already nervous about playing Jess’s team that night. In fact, if she was honest, she’d been nervous about it for the last two days. Not only was she worried about getting beaten badly by a team that was much better than hers, but she was also worried about how Jess had left so abruptly from their last meeting at the Java Connection. I hope I get a chance to talk to her. Maybe she was just having a bad day or something, and we can just pretend that it never happened.

Robin found her shirt, which was clean and neatly folded, and her favorite black shorts, which were in her gym bag, and quickly changed for the game. She then raced into the kitchen to wolf down a power bar and a soda before Capi arrived. She grabbed her softball bag out of the trunk of her car, and climbed into Capi’s SUV, throwing the bag in the back seat.

"Well, do you think we have a chance tonight?" Robin asked. "They’re kind of loaded with all those coaches playing for them."

"Yeah, but we’ve got experience and wisdom on our side," Capi said grinning.

"You mean we’re old and slow," Robin said dryly. "Speak for yourself!"

"Well, you do tend to bring the average age of our team down. It might be in the mid-thirties now. But unfortunately, you can only play one position at a time, and they do make the rest of us bat. So, to answer your original question – no, I don’t think we have much of a chance."

"Well, you’re just going to have to believe in miracles, then, because I think we’re going to win," Robin said triumphantly.

But when they got to the field and saw the other team warming up, Robin found her optimism waning. Well, at least they have a mercy rule, so maybe we’ll only have to play five innings.

Robin looked over at the other bench and saw Jess changing her shoes. Just then, Jess looked up and their eyes met. Robin immediately broke into a smile, and although Jess hesitated for an instant, she smiled back and nodded. Robin’s heart rate seemed to pick up a few beats, and she had newfound energy as she sprinted out to the field for the first inning.

The game went pretty much as expected. Robin’s team usually went three and out, while Jess’s team managed to score at least one run in every inning. Robin did make some nice plays at third base, including snaring a line drive of Jess’s that would have gone for a double. It was hit so hard that Robin really didn’t even have time to think about it, but just stuck her glove up and there it was. Jess had just grinned at Robin and yelled, "happy birthday!"

The only thing that really detracted from the game was the constant, obnoxious banter that was coming from one of the Woodstock’s fans. Robin was appalled when she finally looked closer in the third inning and saw that the perpetrator was none other than John. Oh God, what does Jess see in that guy. He’s such a…a…man! Robin knew that was completely unfair to half the population, but John just seemed to have what she thought of as all the negative male traits. Obviously he can’t be all bad, or Jess wouldn’t be going out with him. Would she?

Robin managed to tune John out for the remainder of the game, but couldn’t help but gag a little when he greeted Jess after one inning with a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.

After the game, there were no hard feelings. The players on Jess’s team were gracious winners, and Robin’s team took the loss good-naturedly. They all agreed to meet at Woodstock’s for a few beers, and made their way to the parking lot.

"Well, Robbie, you did all you could tonight," Capi said sympathetically as they climbed back into the SUV and headed for Woodstock’s. "It’s hard when you have to carry the rest of us."

"Oh, don’t talk like that. Everyone did great. They’re just stronger, faster, and better than us. It’s just city league, anyway. It’s not like it really matters whether we win or not."

"Yeah, right. Like you’re not one of the most competitive people I know!" Capi said teasingly. "I think you’re going to need that competitiveness if you’re going to try to sway one tall, dark, and beautiful away from one tall, dark, and handsome. They looked like quite the couple tonight."

Robin felt her gut tighten at the thought of Jess and John together, but tried to maintain a nonchalant face for Capi. "I’m not sure there’s much chance of doing that, but you never know, Capi. Maybe Jess has just never really thought about being with a woman before, so she’s just settling for some guy who happens to be available," Robin said hopefully.

Capi raised a disbelieving eyebrow at Robin. "How can anyone be in collegiate athletics and not have thought about the possibility of two women being together? She’s gotta be in her thirties, so it’s hard to believe that she wouldn’t have found herself attracted to a woman by now if she’s really gay. Unless, of course, she’s homophobic and won’t admit to ever being attracted to a woman."

"She doesn’t seem like the type to be homophobic," Robin said defensively. "Maybe she’s just never met the right woman."

"Right. And I suppose you know who the right woman is?" Capi challenged her with a grin.

"Alright, enough of this conversation. There’s Jess now, so try to pretend like we weren’t just talking about her," Robin admonished as they got out of the SUV in the Woodstock’s parking lot.

"Hey, Jess, glad to see you could make it," Robin called out to her. The three of them made their way into the pizza parlor, and Robin was delighted to see that John didn’t appear to be anywhere in sight. Leave it to Capi, of course, to bring the subject up.

"Where’s John tonight? Did he wear himself out yelling at the umpire?" Capi asked with a smirk.

Jess looked embarrassed, and said, "He was a little loud tonight, wasn’t he? I think he gets into the game and forgets that it’s city league softball and not Pac-10 football. Anyway, he had to meet some other coaches to discuss a recruit, so it looks like it’s girl’s night out!"

For some of us, every night is girl’s night out, Capi thought wryly. "I’ll order the pizza and beer, why don’t you two go grab a few tables, OK?" Robin and Jess gave Capi some money for the order, and went to find some tables.

"You really played well tonight, Robin," Jess said. "Did you play softball at Wisconsin, too?"

"Yeah, but just for my junior and senior years. It was a new program, so we were kind of at a disadvantage in the Big 10. I got to play because they were just starting to recruit and had a lot of openings for walk-ons. I’m sure I’d never make the team now that they are fully funded and recruiting nationally," Robin said modestly.

"Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that," Jess countered. "There’s always room for good infielders, and you sure played a great third base tonight."

Robin felt herself blushing again, and cursed her fair coloring for making her discomfort so obvious. Remembering what she had told Capi earlier about handling compliments, she just smiled and quietly said "Thanks." She really wanted to add but I really just got lucky on a few of those, but controlled her automatic urge to put herself down.

Capi and the rest of the players soon arrived with pitchers of beer, and the noise level rose considerably as everyone bantered back and forth about the game. Robin made sure to pace herself with the beer, not wanting a repeat of the week before. She was really enjoying the easy conversation around the table, especially the relaxing effect it seemed to have on Jess. There was no hint of the dark withdrawal that Jess had displayed at the Java Connection, and Robin decided that she must have just hit on some bad topic of conversation. What were we talking about that day when she abruptly got up and left? I think it was something about Montana, or Idaho. I wonder what happened there that she doesn’t want to talk about?

Robin was abruptly pulled out of her musings when Capi said, "Hey Robin, I’ve got an early morning meeting tomorrow, so I should probably get going. Are you about ready?"

Robin hesitated, because she was having a good time talking with Jess, and didn’t want to miss this opportunity, but then said, "Uh, sure Capi, I can leave now if you need to."

Jess picked up on Robin’s reluctance, and quickly said, "Hey I can give you a ride home if you’d like to stay a little longer, Robin."

Robin looked at Capi to see how disappointed she’d be if she didn’t go with her, but Capi only looked reassuringly back at Robin and raised her eyebrows questioningly.

"OK, that would be great, Jess, if you’re sure you don’t mind," Robin replied.

"Not at all. I don’t have to be anywhere in the morning, so we can stay as late as you want."

Robin tried very hard not to think of all the possibilities that statement implied. She then got up to follow Capi to her car so that she could retrieve her bag.

"Well, it looks like this might be your big chance to see if your theories about the ‘right woman’ are correct," Capi teased. "Try not to do anything too drastic, just in case you’re wrong! And if it does happen to work out, you can thank me later for giving you this opportunity."

Robin narrowed her look at Capi and asked suspiciously, "Do you even have a meeting in the morning?"

"You’ll never know! See you later, hotshot." And with that, Capi was off and Robin made her way back into Woodstock’s, wondering how Capi could possibly be so gracious in what had to be a very difficult situation for her. It made her wonder again about why she wasn’t falling in love with Capi, but quickly forgot about it when she saw Jess waiting for her at the table. Most of the other players had cleared out by then, and there were just a few of them left talking in groups of two or three.

"Everything ok with Capi?" Jess asked as Robin sat back down next to her. Robin nodded and Jess added, "She sure seems like a good friend. How long have you known her?"

"About three years – ever since I got here, but we really didn’t start hanging out together until last year. She’s my best fishing buddy, and just a great friend to talk to. She has this way of always making me feel better, no matter how bad things might get," Robin said with a wistful look on her face. Jess wondered why Robin seemed kind of sad about that, but decided not to pursue it.

"Well, everybody needs a best friend, so I’d say you’re pretty lucky to have found one here."

"How about you? Is John your best friend?" Robin said, even though she couldn’t imagine Jess confiding in John the way she confided in Capi.

"I guess I don’t really think of him as a best friend," Jess said thoughtfully. "I don’t really know him that well yet, but I’m trying to give this relationship a chance without messing it up like I have all the other relationships in my life."

"What do you mean, ‘messing them up?’" Robin asked. "How do you know the other person didn’t mess them up, or maybe they were never meant to be?"

Jess noted the use of ‘other person’ instead of ‘guy’ or ‘man,’ and wondered if Robin was making assumptions about her sexuality just like everyone else. Well, just to be sure…"All the other men were really nice guys – not like there were that many of them – but I just always had something else in my life that was more important than them. Usually basketball. I don’t blame them for looking for someone who would put them first in their life."

"Well, if they really liked you, they would have found a way to make what was important in your life, important in theirs, too," Robin replied earnestly. At least that’s what I’d do, she added to herself.

"Well, thanks for the support, but I think it needs to go both ways. And I guess I haven’t really been that interested in their lives." Jess then gave a laugh, and said, "Listen to me talk like I’ve had tons of boyfriends in my past. Really, we’re only talking about a few casual, very short-term, relationships. In fact, the thought of really getting serious with John is pretty scary to me, but it seems like it’s time to give it a chance. Maybe it won’t work, but I don’t want it to be for lack of trying."

Robin thought Jess’s whole approach to the relationship with John sounded a little analytical, and predicted spectacular failure in the near future. Of course, she didn’t share that thought with Jess, and only smiled and nodded instead.

"But hey, enough about me. How can someone as smart, fun, and attractive as you still be single? Don’t tell me you’re bad at relationships, too?" Jess said with a smile toward Robin.

"Well, I’ve had a couple of relationships that have lasted for a few years, but then it seems like I move away and the other person doesn’t want to come along with me. First it was moving from Wisconsin to Minnesota for grad school, and then it was moving out here for this job. I suppose I could have decided that the relationships were more important than the moves, but I think I was hoping that they would follow me after a year or two. At least that’s what we talked about," Robin said with a far-away look in her eyes. "But it seemed that it didn’t take long for them to forget about me once I had left, because they both went onto other relationships and I was left to start over." Robin had a wry smile on her face, and she added, "But I believe things happen for a reason, and I’m sure that I’m going to find someone else that is perfect for me, and I’ll wonder what I ever saw in those people!" Robin looked up at Jess and raised her glass to toast her optimism. Jess grinned back and said, "Here’s to the future and perfection! May we both find it!"

Oh, if only you were thinking about me when you said that, Robin wished.

They continued to talk for another hour, trading stories about playing basketball in college, going to grad school, and dealing with the psyches of college students. Before they knew it, they were the only ones left at the table, and midnight was fast approaching.

"Oh, look at how late it is," Jess gave Robin a worried look. "Do you have an 8 o’clock class tomorrow?"

"No, it’s finals week, and I gave my last final yesterday. So I just have to grade about 200 exams before next Monday. But I don’t need to be in the office at any particular time, so I can sleep in if I need to. What about you?"

"Things are really flexible for me right now. So getting in late isn’t a problem. But we should probably be going before they kick us out of here," Jess said with a smile.

"Yeah, you’re right. I really appreciate you giving me a ride home. I hope it’s not too much out of your way," Robin said as they made their way out to the parking lot.

"Well, unless you live in another town, nothing in Comstock can be too much out of the way," Jess joked. "I think I can drive from one end of town to the other in about 10 minutes."

Jess stopped at a late model Toyota Camry with dealer’s plates on it and unlocked the door for Robin.

"I hope you don’t mind riding in my ‘family car.’ It’s not exactly what I would choose to drive, but all the coaches get complimentary cars from the local dealers, and we have to agree to drive them around town. I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to go buy a Toyota just because they see me driving this around," Jess laughed while shaking her head, "but I suppose the dealers get to write it off as an advertising expense, and they get lots of free tickets to all the athletic events for their ‘donation.’"

"Well, at least they do it for both the men’s and women’s sports now. It sure didn’t used to be that way," Robin replied.

"So where to?" Jess asked for directions as she left the parking lot.

"Go right and head up to Elm Street. I live in those townhouses that are just up the hill from the shopping center."

"Hey, those look nice. They were all full when I moved here, so I ended up over on College Hill. It’s a little too full of students for me, so I’m looking for something else. I think I might try to buy something small, but I want to wait until I learn the area a little more."

"Well, real estate is pretty expensive here, but I suppose a basketball coach makes a whole lot more than an assistant professor," Robin said with what she hoped wasn’t too much sarcasm in her voice. "But I’m an economist, so I know how the laws of supply and demand work, and it’s perfectly clear that basketball coaches are in much more demand than economics professors! And apparently football coaches are in much more demand than university presidents, since our football coach makes about three times what the president makes."

"Yeah, it does seem like we’ve lost some perspective when it comes to athletics, but as a coach, I have to play with the rules that are given to me. If we want to be successful at NOU, we have to be able to compete with the other programs."

Jess thought she was sounding a little defensive, and Robin was feeling bad for bringing the subject up. They both turned and looked at each other with apologetic expressions, and said "Sorry I…" at the same time. Which caused them both to laugh and relax again.

"Maybe there are just some topics we should avoid, huh?" Jess offered.

"No, I agree completely with what you’re saying, Jess. I think I was just feeling envious, or something. You know, I always wanted to be coach when I was younger, but I thought it wasn’t a ‘proper’ career. Of course, that was really my mother thinking for me, but I’ve always had some regrets that I didn’t follow my heart. Not that I don’t like what I’m doing, because I do, but I’m not sure that I could say with a straight face that I have a passion for economics!" Robin laughed.

"I’ll bet you’re passionate when you teach, though, aren’t you?" Jess asked with a knowing grin.

Robin blushed and said, "It’s definitely the part of my job I like best."

"It’s the part of my job that I like best, too," Jess replied. "Unfortunately, in collegiate athletics today, there’s more emphasis on recruiting than teaching."

"Well, I’m sure you have an advantage in that department, too," Robin said with a smile. "You certainly do make a good first impression. I remember that day I first met you in Butch Dockman’s office, you had the whole committee eating from your hand!"

Now it was Jess’s turn to blush, and she noted with relief that they had arrived at Robin’s apartment complex and she could change the subject by asking for directions to Robin’s apartment.

Robin didn’t want the evening with Jess to end, and debated with herself about inviting Jess in for another beer or some coffee, but decided that she shouldn’t push her luck.

"Jess, thanks so much for the ride home," Robin said while turning toward Jess in the seat. "I was really glad that I could stay longer to talk to you tonight."

"Yeah, me too. I feel like we’re already old friends," Jess said with a laugh.

"You know, if you’re not doing anything at noon tomorrow, you should come by the recreation center," Robin offered. "We could show the boys a thing or two on the basketball court!"

"Well, maybe you could show them a thing or two, but I’ve been spending a lot more time coaching than playing in recent years. I’d hate to embarrass myself! Besides, everyone loves to get the opportunity to "beat the coach," and that often leads to a bunch of ‘wannabe’ basketball players trying to win at any cost, and I end up taking the brunt of it," Jess lamented.

"Yeah, I suppose that’s true. I’ve never really thought about what it would be like to have everyone on campus know who you are," Robin said understandingly.

Jess laughed and said, "Well I sure wouldn’t go that far! I’m sure there are plenty of people on campus that don’t even know we have a women’s basketball team, let alone know who the coach is."

"Well, speaking from experience, once they met you, they’d never forget you," Robin said sincerely. God, I hope I didn’t just go too far. I don’t want to scare her away now. But Jess just smiled and their eyes met for a long time, before Robin looked down and said, "Well, I guess I’d better get going. I don’t want to keep you up any later. Thanks again for the ride." Robin reached out and gave Jess’s hand a squeeze before climbing out of the car and shutting the door.

Jess sat there for a long moment, looking at her hand and wondering why such a casual gesture had felt so significant. I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve had a good friend. Someone I can talk to and feel comfortable with. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I let someone get that close. Closeness also means being vulnerable, though, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Ironically, Jess had never had any of these thoughts about John, but that fact did not seem to register with her.

 

Chapter Five

Robin made it into work by 10 am the next morning, having spent a leisurely morning drinking coffee and grading papers. Most of the students had already left campus for the summer, and things were very quiet around the department. As much as she loved teaching, it felt like such a relief when the students were gone. No more lines at Starbuck’s, plenty of parking spaces, and an uncrowded gym were just a few of the benefits.

Robin fired up her e-mail and found only five new messages waiting for her. I guess even e-mail knows that summer break is here. The first one was from Capi, and Robin opened it quickly, wondering what type of teasing she was going to have to endure from her good friend.

Hey Robbie – How did it go last night??? If you’re reading this before noon, it’s a bad sign. Does she still need help in figuring out who the "right woman" is? Want me to call her? I could give a great testimonial to your wit and charm. I could also tell her that there are plenty of women waiting in line if she doesn’t have enough sense to know a good thing when she sees it.

Are you going to the gym later? Maybe I’ll see you there.

Your not-so-secret-admirer, Capi.

Robin smiled and hit the ‘reply’ icon.

Capi, you are so thoughtful - willing to act on my behalf in this matter. I hope you won’t be offended if I respectfully decline your offer of assistance. I’m sure I’ll be able to mess it up just fine on my own, without any help from you.

We did have a good time last night. We talked at Woodstock’s until about midnight, and then she drove me home. I don’t think she has a lot of close friends, but she seemed pretty comfortable talking to me. I’m certainly not going to push for anything more at this point. Besides, she made a few comments that made it pretty clear that she’s straight. Or at least she thinks she’s straight! So I don’t want to go scaring her away before we’ve gotten a chance to know each other better. I don’t know how I’m going to handle the ‘John’ thing, though. She seems pretty intent on having a relationship with him. When I think about the two of them being intimate, it makes me want to throw up!

Well, I’ll probably see you at the gym – I’m going over around noon.

Robbie

 

Jess was sitting in her office, looking at yet another tape sent in by a high school player looking for a scholarship. She had already started the tape twice, found herself daydreaming each time, and stopped to rewind it. What is wrong with me this morning? Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep last night. What she really couldn’t figure out, though, was why her mind kept transposing Robin into the basketball player on the tape. Yes, they were both small, blond, guard-types, but she’d never even seen Robin play before. In her morning’s fantasy, however, Robin was a dazzling point guard, flashing down the court and delivering no-look passes to a cutting power forward. Jess looked at her watch and saw that it was almost twelve-thirty. Maybe I should just take a break and go see what the real thing looks like on the court. Jess turned off the video unit and headed for the recreation center.

The gym at the rec center was on the lower level, but had large openings all around the main level so that spectators could look down on the courts. Jess ordered a smoothie from the food vendor on the main level, and headed over to one of the openings. Two of the three courts had games going on, and Jess quickly spotted Robin playing on the court nearer to her. She was the only woman playing, and definitely the smallest player on the court. She was being guarded by a much older man, probably in his fifties, and was clearly way too quick for him to keep up with. As a result, he often resorted to grabbing and holding Robin as she blew by him. Jess could tell that Robin was getting frustrated, as she threw her arm out to try and disengage herself from him. The next time down the court, Robin faked one way, and quickly reversed directions for a back door pass. As she was about to leave her defender for a wide open lay-up, he reached out desperately to grab her again. Robin took the ball and slammed it down on the court.

"Goddamnit, Glenn!! If you grab my breast one more time I’m gonna kick you in the balls so hard they come out your ears!" she screamed for the world to hear.

Everything went very quiet for a long moment, and then the other guys started snickering at Glenn’s obvious discomfort.

"Well, that would make me stop," one of them said with a wry grin at his teammate.

"Hey, Glenn, why don’t we switch – you take Bill and I’ll take Robin," one of Glenn’s teammates offered in an obvious attempt to smooth things over.

Robin let out a deep breath and looked up to the ceiling, obviously trying to calm herself down. It was then that she saw Jess up at the opening. Oh my God, why today? It’s not like Glenn hasn’t been doing this for weeks now. Why did I have to choose today to lose my temper? Robin put both her hands over her face, and looked at Jess through her fingers. Jess was smiling broadly, not only at Robin’s embarrassment at being "caught," but at the feistiness she had displayed with Glenn. She gave Robin a thumbs up sign, and went back to drinking her smoothie.

Robin continued with the game, now being guarded by a much more skilled, and therefore cleaner, player. The next time she looked up at the opening, Jess was gone. Robin realized that she had lost interest in playing anymore, and decided to quit after the game was over, even though her team had won the right to stay on the court for the next game. She noticed that all of the guys made a point to come over and slap her hand, saying "nice game, Robin," and "he deserved it, Robin." Glenn apparently had enough sense to realize that his actions were completely unacceptable, even to the other guys, and had disappeared quickly after the game.

Robin slowly made her way towards the locker room, only to run into Jess coming out of the weight room.

"Hey, slugger, does Glenn still have all his private parts?" Jess asked with a big grin on her face.

Robin just groaned and said, "Why do all the slimy guys have to guard me? Just because I’m ‘the girl’ they think the oldest, slowest guy out there can guard me."

"Well, if it’s any consolation, it was pretty clear that he couldn’t guard you," Jess said sympathetically.

"Thanks. I just hope he never shows up again, although I suppose that’s not likely," Robin replied. "Were you lifting weights?" Robin asked, nodding her head toward the weight room that Jess had come out of.

"No, I just saw a couple of my players in there and came down to talk to them. It’s good to show up unexpectedly every once in awhile so they think I’m keeping track of them," Jess said with a conspiratorial look. "Well, I should let you get to your shower, and I should get back to work."

"Hey, you know it’s Friday, and it’s the last day of finals week, how would you like to go out for a celebratory drink after work today?" Robin ventured. "Most of the students should be gone, so things won’t be crowded."

Jess thought for a moment and then said, "Yeah, I think I can do that. Where do you want to go?"

"Well, Miguel’s is just across the street from my office, and there’s plenty of parking nearby."

"Robin, there’s plenty of parking everywhere in Comstock," Jess replied with a smirk. "That would be great – see you there around 5?"

"Sounds good – see you then!" Robin waved a hand at Jess as she turned and made her way to the locker room. She had only gone a few paces when her friend Flaxen appeared at her side.

"Whoa Robin, who is that gorgeous woman you were talking to," Flaxen said in a low voice while leaning into Robin.

Robin gave her a playful shove and said, "Back off, Flaxen. She’s straight." But then she leaned close to Flaxen once again and whispered, "But I’m hoping to change that."

"Well, if anyone can, I’m sure you can. Is she new around here?"

"She’s the new women’s basketball coach. I can’t believe you haven’t seen her before now."

"Well, I’ve read about her, but believe me, her picture in the paper doesn’t do her justice. I suppose it’s hard to pack six feet of ‘presence’ into a newspaper mug shot. How do you know she’s straight?" Flaxen asked.

"She’s going out with this goon from the football coaching staff," Robin said while rolling her eyes. "Oh, I shouldn’t be so harsh. He’s actually a very good-looking guy, who just has a little too much macho in him for my taste. I suppose he’s a nice enough guy, though, and she seems to like him."

"Well, if my gaydar is in working order, I’d say he’s in for a heartbreak," Flaxen replied.

"We can hope, can’t we?" Robin answered with a smile, and they headed off to the showers together.

 

At 4:45 that afternoon, Robin was just starting to shut down her computer when there was a knock at her door.

"Come on in," she called.

Jess opened the door and stuck her head in. "Hi, I was walking over to Miguel’s and thought I’d stop and pick you up since it’s on my way. She looked around the small office and said, "So this is how professors live."

"Well, it’s how fairly new assistant professors live, anyway," Robin laughed. "There are actually some pretty nice offices in this old building, but you have to build up seniority before you get one of those."

Robin’s office was long and narrow with a window at the end, making it difficult to arrange the desk, computer table, and filing cabinets in the room. Nevertheless, she had done a good job of making the office seem warm and comfortable. She had a number of posters with seascapes and mountain scenes from Oregon, as well as several posters of the men’s and women’s basketball teams from years past. Prominently displayed above the computer table was the poster of next year’s team, which just happened to feature a big picture of Jess in the middle. Jess blushed when she noticed it, saying "Geez, couldn’t you find some better artwork for your office?"

Robin smiled back at her and said teasingly, "Ah, the price one must pay for being famous." She felt a little self-conscious about having the poster so prominently displayed over her computer where she spent most of her time, but hoped Jess didn’t notice the significance of the location.

"Boy, the titles of these books are enough to make my head spin," Jess said while looking over Robin’s bookshelves. "Microeconomic Theory, Econometric Theory and Applications, Welfare Economics…it’s a far cry from John Wooden’s ‘They Call Me Coach.’"

"Believe me, I’d much rather be reading John Wooden’s book than those. Most of those are from my grad school days, but they cost so much that I can’t bear to get rid of them. Occasionally, I actually even use one," Robin laughed. "Are you ready to head out? I’m getting hungry!"

Having seen Robin polish off five pieces of pizza at one sitting, Jess figured that Robin didn’t lack for appetite. She couldn’t help but also notice that Robin’s body didn’t show any ill effects from her diet. I guess she must work out enough to burn off all those calories. I just can’t believe she doesn’t have a long line of men waiting to go out with her – she’s incredibly attractive, and a nice person, besides! Jess felt something weird in her stomach in response to her thoughts, but her mind couldn’t quite put a name to what she was feeling. She decided she’d have to think about it more later, and said, "OK, let’s go before you waste away from lack of food."

They quickly made their way across the street and found a table in the back room of Miguel’s. Miguel’s was a popular Mexican restaurant, and had a great selection of microbrews. A server came over after a few minutes to take their order.

"Have you tried any of the brews from Deschutes Brewery?" Robin asked. "I really like their Bachelor Bitter, and they have some great seasonals, too."

"No, I haven’t tried them, but if you recommend it, I’ll have a Bachelor Bitter," Jess said with a smile toward Robin. After the server left, she added, "Why would someone name a beer after a grumpy unmarried man?"

Robin laughed and said, "It’s named after Mt. Bachelor, the ski resort. Didn’t you ever go there when you were a student here?"

"No, I was really kind of a gym rat back in those days. My weekends were spent looking for pick-up games. Besides, our coach would have killed us if we’d injured ourselves skiing during the basketball season." The server returned with the beers, and after taking an appreciative swallow, Jess asked, "Do you ski?"

"I love skiing, but I probably do more cross-country than downhill. It’s such a great workout, and you can really get into some spectacular backcountry in a couple of hours."

Jess was wondering just how much energy Robin had to burn in any given day. "How do you find time for all your hobbies, anyway? I feel lucky to find the time to take in a movie every once in awhile."

"Well, I’d say you need to do something about that," Robin said with mock seriousness. "It’s all a matter of priorities. I want to enjoy things like skiing and fishing and basketball while I’m still young and full of energy. Besides, who knows if I’ll even make it to retirement age?" Robin finished off her beer and looked sternly at Jess. "I can see we’re going to have to do something about your workaholic tendencies."

"I think it goes with the job. I don’t think there’s an hour of the day that you could go into the athletic offices and not find some coach watching films or working with athletes. There’s just no nine-to-five about being a coach. I think that’s why it’s so hard to build good relationships and marriages. A lot of the men have wives and kids that they hardly see during the season. Somehow, I don’t think husbands would be as understanding. At least boyfriends haven’t been in the past," Jess said with chagrin.

Robin looked intently at Jess for a few moments, before saying, "Is being in a relationship something that’s pretty important to you?"

Jess seemed startled by the question. "Well yeah, I guess so." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Maybe I’ve just always assumed that I wanted to be in a relationship because it seems like everyone else is. The truth is that I’ve almost always been on my own, and it can get kind of lonely. Unfortunately, the few times I’ve made attempts at relationships have never turned out to be the way I envisioned them in my head."

"How do you envision them in your head?" Robin asked gently, hoping that she wasn’t pushing Jess too hard for personal details.

"I don’t know," Jess stalled for time. "I guess I think of them as being equal partnerships, with lots of respect for each other, common interests, and, of course, a lot of passion." Jess smiled shyly at the last part, and Robin’s heart nearly skipped a beat. Jess returned the question to Robin. "How do you envision the perfect relationship?"

"Well, I’m pretty sure I haven’t experienced it yet," Robin laughed. "But I agree with all those things you said. I’ve never understood the couples that don’t seem to have anything in common and basically only see each other in bed every night. They must be having some kind of great sex to make them stay together!" Robin laughed.

"Yeah, well I wouldn’t know about that either," Jess said, looking down at the table. "I’ve been unwilling to jump into bed with someone that I’m not really serious about, and I haven’t ever gotten really serious about anyone yet. I know a lot of people appreciate good sex without any strings attached, but I’ve never been able to feel comfortable about that. I just don’t see how sex can be that good if you don’t have a close, trusting relationship with someone." Jess looked up at Robin and blushed. "I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking to you about sex. I never talk to anyone about this stuff!"

"Well, I think I probably brought it up," Robin said, smiling apologetically at Jess. "You can just tell me if I’m getting too personal. I know I have a tendency to just blurt out whatever’s on my mind."

"Yeah, I kind of noticed that today at the gym," Jess teased.

"Oh God, that was so embarrassing," Robin said while the color rose on her cheeks. They both laughed lightly, and the somewhat uncomfortable moment before was quickly forgotten. "’What’s funny about it is that I hardly ever stick up for myself like that. I’m much more likely to just assume that somehow it’s my fault and meekly let it go on. Yet another trait I attribute to my mother," Robin laughed. "Isn’t it great to become an adult and be able to blame all your shortcomings on your mother? I wonder why fathers get off the hook so easily?"

"Well, I think they’d have to be around more in their kids’ lives if they were going to have as much influence as mothers do. I can hardly remember my dad interacting with us as kids. He’d come home from work, eat, and disappear into his den for the evening. I always wondered what he had in that den that was so much more interesting than his family. I guess I’ll never know," Jess said wistfully.

"Don’t you see your dad anymore?" Robin asked, hoping again that she wasn’t prying too much into Jess’s personal life.

"Both my parents are dead. My mom died pretty young – I was just 16. Then my dad went into a major depression and basically drank himself to death ten years later. My brother and I tried everything to get him some help, but he just wouldn’t accept it. I think maybe he felt bad about not being a better husband and father while my mom was alive, and the guilt just drove him to his death."

"I’m really sorry to hear that, Jess. It must get really lonely for you without your parents. Is your brother nearby?" Robin worried a little that she might be treading dangerously close to whatever topic set Jess off at the Java Connection a week ago, but Jess didn’t seem to be withdrawing.

"No, he lives on the east coast. He’s six years older than me, so we were never very close. I probably talk to him twice a year, and I haven’t seen him in about four years." Jess felt like everything she had to say was kind of depressing and was hoping to lighten the conversation a little. She looked up at Robin and asked, "What about you? I’d guess you were probably the youngest of three children, and you were so cute that you always got your way."

Robin laughed and said, "Not even close! I was in the middle of five kids and I can’t remember ever getting my way. My two older brothers got whatever they wanted because they were older and they were boys, and my two younger sisters were everything my mom wanted in little girls, and could do no wrong. I pretty much tried to remain invisible, since there was no way I could please my mom anyway. Being in the middle of a big family did make me appreciate food, though, because it never seemed like I could get enough. Which reminds me that I’m really hungry! How about if we order some nachos and get another round of drinks?"

Jess laughed at Robin’s appetite and said, "Sure, sounds good. Do you want chicken, beef, or vegetarian?"

"I like veggie, but I’ll eat anything, so why don’t we get what you want?" Robin said while motioning the server over.

"Well, I probably would order beef, but I can live with veggie," Jess replied.

"I don’t want you to just ‘live with it,’ I want you to enjoy it!" Robin grinned back at Jess. She turned to the server and said, "Can we get an order of beef nachos and another couple of beers?"

They continued to talk as they made their way through the order of nachos and another round of beers, and then Jess said that she should probably be going.

"Don’t tell me you have to work tomorrow – it’s Saturday," Robin said sternly.

"No, it’s just that I told John that I’d be home tonight so he’ll probably be looking for me. I hope he wasn’t planning on going somewhere for dinner or drinks, because I think I’ve had enough of both!"

"Yeah, me too." Robin tried not to show her disappointment, but she was having a hard time accepting Jess’s relationship with John, especially after having such a good time talking with her for the past two hours. "Well, I suppose you shouldn’t keep him waiting. After all, you are trying to change your ways about relationships, right?" Robin hoped her smile didn’t look as fake as it felt.

Jess thought Robin sounded a little sarcastic, but couldn’t think of a reason for Robin to feel that way so she dismissed the thought. "Did you park near your office? I can walk you back that way since it’s on the way to where I’m parked," Jess offered as they left the restaurant.

"I think I’ll just go back to my office for a little while. I probably shouldn’t drive right now anyway. I can spend some time surfing the internet and sobering up. Are you sure you’re OK to drive?"

"Yeah, I don’t think three beers over two hours is enough to put me over the limit. I’ve probably got an extra forty pounds over you, too, so it doesn’t affect me as much," Jess said with a chuckle.

"Well, I don’t see any fat on that frame of yours, but you are a lot taller, Robin said, looking up more than a half foot into Jess’s eyes. She got lost there for a few moments and realized that she was staring when Jess gently took her arm and said, "Watch your step over this curb." Jess smiled when she saw Robin blush and look quickly away. Maybe she’s more drunk than I thought. She looks a little glassy-eyed. Maybe I shouldn’t leave her alone. Jess felt a little sense of elation at the thought of staying longer with Robin, but then remembered her commitment to John. Her mind clouded with irritation at that thought, and she wondered, what is going on with me lately? I’ve got all these feelings I can’t explain. She decided that she needed to spend some time alone in the near future to try and sort out what was happening in her life.

They arrived at Robin’s building, and Jess asked, "Are you sure you’ll be OK? I could drive you home if you’d like."

"No, no, I’ll be fine," Robin reassured. "I spend lots of evenings working in my office, and I feel perfectly safe there."

"And you call me a workaholic!" Jess retorted.

"Yeah, well it takes one to know one," Robin replied with a grin. She reached for the door and said, "Thanks for joining me tonight. I really had a great time. Maybe we can make it a regular Friday event."

"I’d like that," Jess said sincerely. "I’ll see you around, OK?"

"OK, drive carefully tonight."

"I will. You too."

"I will. See you."

"Bye."

The lingering good-bye left both of them with a profound sense of regret, but only one of them knew why. Robin slowly made her way up to her third floor office and sank into the chair in front of her computer. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the poster with Jess’s picture prominently featured in the center. Why am I so attracted to you? Do I want you so badly because I know I can’t have you? Is this just some kind of big, competitive challenge for me? Robin didn’t believe that was true, but she had never felt so obsessed about anyone before, especially anyone that she had known for such a short time. Why don’t I just quit torturing myself by doing things with her? She’s made it perfectly clear that she wants to be with John. The more I hang around with her, the worse I’m going to get hurt. But Robin knew she couldn’t give up that easily, no matter how bad the heartbreak might be in the future. She sighed deeply and reached for the computer mouse. There must be something on the internet that can take my mind off of this. She then gave a chuckle and thought, It’s a good thing that I don’t dare access any lesbian erotica sites from my work computer – although I’m not sure that would really take my mind off of it. More like ‘feed my fantasy!’

 

continued in part 3


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