DISCLAIMER: This is an "alt-uber" story that takes place in a fictional location with fictional characters. Any similarities to real people are purely coincidental (although they may physically resemble two of your favorite TV characters!)

LOVE/SEX WARNING: This story depicts an explicit love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story (or, perhaps, consider becoming more open-minded).

THANKS: My beta readers, Kimly and B. Iraca Smith, were great sources of support and encouragement, and for that I am truly grateful.

DEDICATION: For Sue... my heart beats for you.

FEEDBACK: Comments and constructive critiques can be sent to: indigal@optonline.net

Copyright © 2002 by indigal

This story may not be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of it may be made for private use only and must include all copyright notices, warnings, and acknowledgements.

Until Soon

by indigal

Part I

Chapter 1

"Andi! So glad you could make it," bellowed Dean Robarts, head of the small New England liberal arts college. The middle aged man stepped to where Andi was standing and greeted her with a warm smile. He shook her hand, patting her shoulder with his left hand. "We're happy that all the departments are so well represented on this special occasion." As he spoke, his eyes darted quickly around the room then back to meet hers.

"I wouldn't have missed it, Dean," she replied. More accurately, I didn't have a choice about missing it, she thought to herself. Her Chair insisted that all members of the English department be there, including the graduate assistants. She would have much rather been sitting at home on her overstuffed sofa and wearing sweat pants, instead of hobnobbing with big bucks donors. These donors help fund my tuition and stipend, she reminded herself, I should at least be social. "Excuse me while I mingle," she said. She left Dean Robarts and moved away from the crowded entrance.

She wandered through the large banquet room towards the string quartet in the corner. Most of the two-hundred or so guests she didn't recognize, but she smiled politely at the few familiar faces of other graduate assistants and professors. The perimeter of the room was lined with small, round cocktail tables. Tuxedoed staff milled around with champagne and hors d'oeuvres. The buzz of a hundred voices in conversation buzzed in her ears. In spite of the vaulted ceilings in the large old room, she felt claustrophobic.

"Don't you look nice!"

She smiled and turned toward the familiar voice.

"Hi Martha. I haven't seen you in weeks," said Andi. She and Martha had been friends since their college days when they were both students at the school where they now worked. Andi was happy when Martha took a job in the Registrar's office after graduation. Andi hugged the short, dark haired woman. Martha smiled broadly and returned the hug.

"Happy New Year, girlfriend!" said Martha. "When did you get back on campus?"

"Two weeks ago. I visited my mom until the seventh. It's good to be back, though."

"Why didn't you call? You're not still moping around, are you? I told you, I've got a few friends I can fix you up with. Just say the word." Martha looked appraisingly at Andi. She envied her tall, lean and athletic body. Andi's dress trousers and tailored silk blouse accentuated her broad shoulders and narrow waist. "Mmmm, you look good, girl!"

"It's my recycled Christmas outfit, and thanks for the offer, but no thanks." Andi appreciated her close friend's concern about her happiness and her social life, but she wasn't interested in Martha's matchmaking. "I'm glad you're here, though. I hate these forced social functions."

"Me too, but at least the food's good, and you never know who you might meet. Come on, let's get a drink and mingle." With that, Martha turned and headed toward the bar.

Andi moved to follow her when she spotted Jen across the room. Shit, she thought to herself. I'm definitely not in the mood to deal with her. She turned abruptly and bumped into someone, spilling half the woman's drink onto her sweater.

"I'm so sorry," Andi stammered. She stopped a waiter and took several napkins from his h'orderves tray. "Here, let me help." She made an attempt to blot at the spill, when the woman spoke.

"Really, it's OK. It's only seltzer. It won't stain."

"I'm terribly sorry," persisted Andi. She looked away from the spill and found herself face to face with a young woman matching her nearly six-foot frame. The woman had short, wavy blond hair and an attractive, androgynous face that looked decidedly more female due to the skirt, sweater, and heels she was wearing. Andi looked directly into the woman's green eyes. "I hope you're not one of the donors," Andi inquired, smiling sheepishly.

"Do I look like I have a million bucks to spare?" the woman laughed, her voice hearty and warm. "I'm a guest, but not one of the guests of honor." She extended her hand. "I'm CJ"

Andi accepted the firm handshake and returned CJ's penetrating look.

"I'm Andi. Pleasure to meet you."

"Andi?"

"Andrea, really, but my friends call me Andi."

"Nice to meet you, Andi."

"So, CJ, if you're not a million dollar donor, what brings you here?" She looked at the woman before her, guessing her age to be near Andi's 23 years.

"Social obligation. The A.D. asked the captains of all the sports teams to show up and pay homage to the guy who wrote a check for the new athletic facility," CJ replied. "So, here I am. And you?"

"My department Chair got the same memo as your A.D., so I'm paying my dues, too."

"Are you a professor?" She thought that the attractive woman before her seemed closer in age to the students than to the stogy professors at school.

"Graduate Assistant, English. I take classes part-time and do work in the department part-time."

CJ smiled and looked appraisingly at Andi's striking face and clear blue eyes, framed by shoulder-length ebony hair. "How long have you been doing that," she asked.

"I'm into my second year now. And you? You didn't say what team you played for."

"Basketball."

"Wait a minute. Are you the Cara Jane Lipinski I've read about in the school paper? The basketball star?" CJ blushed, seeming a bit uncomfortable with the complement and the attention.

"Basketball is a team sport, and the entire team is doing well," CJ replied. "I'm a senior - the home stretch."

"You must be looking forward to graduation."

"I'm hoping to end up in grad school, actually."

"What major?"

"History."

"My second favorite subject," Andi commented. CJ still hadn't looked away from her eyes. Andi admired someone who could lock eyes with her and not pull away. Most people were intimidated by her intense eye contact. "So, CJ, since you're now wearing your drink, thanks to me, can I at least get you another one?"

"I should probably get back." She looked at her watch, then back at Andi. "I've got a project to work on."

"It's still early. How about one refill first, my treat." Andi smiled.

"Your treat to get me a seltzer at the open bar, huh?" She grinned. "OK, big spender. You talked me into it."

They walked across the noisy room and over to the bar. Andi ordered two seltzers, then handed one to CJ. She raised her glass and held it up until CJ did the same. "Here's to mingling with important people." She clinked her glass against CJ's and smiled. CJ grinned, then lowered her glass.

They moved away from the bar and stood near a window overlooking the campus. The light from the room filtered through the glass, casting shadows from the bushes on the snow-covered ground. Across the way, the lights from the other buildings glowed in the darkness.

"So what kind of big project are you working on," Andi asked. She wondered if this attractive athlete had brains to match her good looks.

"A paper on little known yet important women in post Civil War America." She paused. "I saw you stifle a yawn."

"Not at all! In fact, I'd love to read it."

"That won't happen any time soon. I'm knee deep in journal articles but don't even know how I'm going to turn all of that information into a cohesive paper," lamented CJ, slowly shaking her head. "All I have now is a jumble of notes."

"If you need some help I could show you a method that I've used. In fact, I've taught it to other students and have gotten positive feedback from them."

"I could use all the help I can get. You sure?"

"No problem. It's the least I can do after dowsing you with a drink. My office is in Woodcliff Hall, second floor. Stop by sometime," said Andi.

"I might just take you up on it," said CJ. "But don't feel like you owe me anything. After all, you did buy me a refill." She grinned at Andi. "And now, I really do have to go." She put the glass down on a tray, then turned back to Andi and extended her hand. "I enjoyed talking with you tonight."

"Me too," said Andi. She shook CJ's hand firmly, looking once again into her beautiful emerald eyes.

"Goodnight," said CJ.

Andi watched her walk across the room and disappear through the hallway. She stood by the window for a few minutes, thinking about how nice it was to actually enjoy one of these receptions for a change. Martha was right, she thought to herself. You never know who you might meet. She found herself still smiling, remembering, of all things, the dimple in CJ's cheek.

Chapter 2

Andi was sitting behind her desk when she heard a knock on her half-opened door.

"Come in," she called, not taking her eyes from the paper she was grading.

"Am I interrupting?"

Andi looked up and saw CJ standing in the doorway. She was wearing worn jeans and a basketball sweatshirt. Her backpack, half-filled with books, was hanging over one shoulder. She smiled shyly at Andi.

"Not at all. Come in," Andi said. The smile that greeted her, accentuating that prominent dimple, was warm and friendly. Andi stood up from behind her desk and returned the smile.

"Remember me?" CJ asked, grinning.

"Of course. It's only been a week," Andi replied. "You look a bit more comfortable now, though. And not nearly as wet." A hint of a grin brightened Andi's face.

CJ, green eyes twinkling with amusement, laughed with the easy comfort usually reserved for close friends. "I hate heels and hose with a passion. Besides, jeans and sweats are far more comfy."

"I agree," Andi concurred. She held her arms out to her sides, indicating her own outfit, and added, "It's either chinos like these or jeans for me." A neatly pressed white cotton shirt was tucked into the tan pants. A braided leather belt completed the casual outfit.

CJ slid the backpack off her shoulder and set it on a chair. She moved her eyes off Andi and glanced at an Emily Dickinson poster hanging on the wall behind Andi's desk. She stepped toward the bookcase that filled the wall on the right.

"Mind if I look?" CJ asked. She turned her head to the side to read titles on the book spines. She pointed to a book of Mary Oliver poetry on the shelf, then looked over at Andi. "She's one of my favorites."

"Mine too." Andi was more than a little impressed that CJ even recognized the contemporary poet.

She continued reading titles, then after a few moments looked again at Andi. "You have a great office. It's very... welcoming."

"I wondered if you'd stop by."

"We had an out-of-state game, so I wasn't around the whole time. When I got back, I wanted to find some more journal articles so I'd have a lot to show you." She moved to the other side of the small office. "What's this?" A plaque leaned against some books on an upper shelf. CJ removed it, then silently read the inscription. "I'm impressed. Looks like I'm not the only one who's had her name in the paper."

Andi felt her face flush as she became uncomfortable with the attention. She looked away from CJ toward her desk.

"Now I'm simply an ex-swimmer drowning in paperwork," replied Andi. She waved her hand over her desk, indicating the pile of papers covering it. "Speaking of papers, how's your coming along?" she asked, quickly changing the subject.

CJ sighed and set the plaque on the shelf. "It's stalled. I have plenty of references and I've taken pages of notes, but it all sounds muddled. It's not blending together seamlessly, that's the problem."

"That's actually a common problem in research papers," Andi remarked. She walked around to the front of the desk, facing CJ, and leaned against the front edge. "Ever bake cookies?"

"Cookies?" replied CJ.

"Writing a research paper is actually similar, in a figurative sense."

CJ looked at her skeptically, but smiled. She was touched that Andi had taken a personal interest in helping her out. Since Andi had evidently been an athlete herself, she could probably relate to the challenges of juggling academic and athletic commitments. Besides, she thought, she's easy on the eyes.

"Think of your sources as ingredients, like milk, eggs, flour, sugar, peanut butter..." Andi stated.

"Peanut butter?" CJ interrupted.

"I love peanut butter cookies," Andi replied. She rolled her blue eyes toward heaven.

"Continue." CJ smiled as she spoke.

"So you mix all the ingredients together and put it in the oven, and when you take a bite you no longer taste milk or eggs or flour. You get a cookie! It's a product of the ingredients, yet doesn't taste like the individual parts anymore." She paused. "Get it?"

"Actually, I do," replied CJ. She smiled at Andi, impressed by the simplicity with which she explained the concept. "Maybe my brain's not a hot enough oven." She grinned sheepishly.

"I doubt that's the problem," Andi replied. "Want to try what I do?"

"Sure."

"Here's what you do. Get 3x5 cards and take notes on them."

"I already have pages of notes on notebook paper..." She reached for her backpack and began to unzip it, but Andi cut in.

"No good. Too hard to blend the ingredients that way."

CJ tilted her head back and sighed.

"Sorry," Andi sighed. "I know those notes took you a long time. Consider them a sacrifice to the Paper Writing Goddess. Trust me. This will be a lot easier."

"Do you ever trust someone who says, 'Trust me'?" asked CJ.

"Rarely, but I hope you will this time," Andi replied. She continued to explain the process to CJ, who listened attentively, occasionally stopping Andi to ask a question. She found Andi's confidence appealing and contagious. By the time Andi finished explaining what to do, CJ was convinced that it would work. "When you've done all this, we'll meet again and I'll tell you the next step. How's that?" Andi asked.

"Great." She stood up at attention, clicked her heels together and smiled. "I'll work very hard, coach. I promise." She saluted with her left hand.

"I'm sure you will." Andi enjoyed the fact that CJ could slip from serious to funny, yet still stay focused on what had to be done.

CJ retrieved her backpack and moved toward the doorway. Andi followed. They both paused at the doorway.

"I really appreciate your help." CJ's smile was genuine and sincere, with no trace of the silliness left over from the salute.

"It's my pleasure," replied Andi. She truly enjoyed working with someone who responded so positively to her suggestions, especially one with whom she seemed to click with so easily.

"Can I stop by again, if I have any questions?"

"But of course. And, if you don't have any questions, stop by to give me an update on your progress."

"Thanks. I will." CJ looked at her watch, then back at Andi. "I've got to run to class now. Thanks again." She smiled, then walked quickly down the hallway.

Andi remained standing in the doorway, eyes trailing CJ until she turned and headed down the staircase and out of Andi's view.

Chapter 3

Andi cursed under her breath as she struggled to balance the overhead projector. Next time, remember to fill out the AV work order form in advance, she reprimanded herself. The machine itself wasn't that heavy when she picked it up in the AV office a few moments ago; however, its weight increased significantly with each step across campus. As she got to Alexander Hall, her book bag was slipping off her shoulder and she didn't have a free hand to open the door. Shit. She paused for a moment, deciding how she was going to pull open the door without dropping the projector.

"I'll get the door."

Andi, relieved, rebalanced the projector again as the good Samaritan bounded up the stairs. Too weighted down to turn her head, Andi didn't recognize her savior until she pulled the door open wide.

"CJ! What perfect timing."

"Here, let me take that." CJ took the projector from Andi's hands. Once relieved of the heavy object, Andi let her hands drop, then sighed.

"You sure you've got that? It's heavy."

"I'm fine. Where do you want it?"

"Right down the hall in 106," Andi pointed. She walked ahead quickly to unlock the door, which she held open for CJ. She flicked on the lights to illuminate the empty classroom.

"Where?"

"On the desk is fine," Andi replied. CJ placed the projector on the desk carefully, then turned to Andi.

"Doesn't the school hire football players to do the grunt work around here?" She smiled and shot Andi a teasing look with her eyes.

"Yes, they would have, if I had filled out the work order in advance. The operative word there being 'if'." She dumped her book bag on the desk next to the projector. "I was running late, and decided to carry it myself. You came along at just the right time. Thanks." She turned and smiled appreciatively at CJ.

"Timing is everything. Glad to help." She sat on top of one of the student desks, swinging her legs, as Andi unpacked her book bag. "You teaching a class now?"

Andi looked at her watch, then back at CJ. "Assisting, actually, in about twenty minutes. I came early to set up the overhead. Do you have a class now?"

"Nope. I was just heading toward the library to work on my paper."

"How's that coming?" Andi continued to organize her papers on the desk, looking up frequently as CJ spoke.

"Quite honestly, I haven't done much work on it since we spoke last," CJ replied, sheepishly. Andi looked up, surprised, as CJ raised her hands in protest. "Don't be mad. We had an away game over the weekend, and this is the first opportunity I've had to get into the library. Some schoolwork I can do easily on the road, but I needed to work on this project here." Andi looked at her skeptically, and smiled. "Really, Andi." CJ's tone became serious. "I don't want you to think I'm a dumb jock "

Andi stopped what she was doing and looked directly at CJ. "I don't think that for a minute."

"Good, because I hate that stereotype." She looked at Andi and smiled again. "I really do appreciate your help, and I want you to know that I'll work very hard on this, I promise."

"I have complete confidence that you will."

"Complete confidence, huh?" She slid quickly off the desk and stood in front of Andi. "Then I better get to work. I don't want to disappoint you."

Andi looked up and opened her mouth to speak, but changed her mind. The timing didn't seem right to remind CJ that her goal was not to avoid disappointing Andi, but simply to learn a new method. CJ stood there, so eager to impress Andi with her hard work and dedication. Andi couldn't help being flattered. She smiled and walked around to the front of the desk, facing CJ.

"Don't ever worry that you'll disappoint me, CJ." She spoke softly and sincerely. "Just be yourself, and there'll be nothing disappointing in that."

"Thanks, Andi." She looked into Andi's blue eyes and smiled. "Can I still stop by your office if I have any questions?"

"I'll be there."

"Great!. Have a good class." CJ smiled and waved as she backed out the doorway. Andi returned the gesture. She was still smiling when the first student came into the classroom ten minutes later.

Chapter 4

"So, I think with a minor adjustment in your thesis statement and additional supporting evidence that directly defends your thesis, your paper will be much improved." Andi looked across her desk at the undergraduate sitting in the chair. He nodded his head, agreeing with her assessment. "Do you have any other questions?" He shook his head, thanked her, and rose to leave. "See you in class next week." Andi added. "Send the next person in, on your way out, OK?"

Andi turned in her chair and opened a filing cabinet behind her desk as he exited the office. She sorted through files, looking for the last student's name, then added some papers to the folder before turning around to face her desk again. There, sitting in the chair right in front of her desk, was CJ. Andi looked surprised.

"He..." CJ stammered, pointing out the door. "That guy who just left told me to come in. I didn't mean to startle you."

"Not startled, pleasantly surprised." She smiled warmly at CJ. "I've been meeting with freshmen from English 101 most of the afternoon, so you're a nice change of pace."

"I can come back, if this isn't a good time." She stood up and grabbed the handle of her backpack.

"Sit, please. " She motioned for CJ, who sat down again. Several days had passed since CJ had helped her out with the overhead projector and Andi was wondering when she would stop by the office. Seeing CJ's smiling face on the other side of the desk was a nice way to end a long Friday afternoon. "It'll be good to talk with someone who's crossed the two decade mark in age." She shook her head. "Those freshman keep getting younger and younger." She paused and looked quizzically at CJ. "You have crossed that two decade mark, haven't you?"

"Yes, I'm twenty-two." She sat back and crossed her ankle over her knee, a worn pair of high-tops poking out from her faded jeans. CJ's arms rested casually on the arms of the wooden chair. "I feel the same way about freshmen sometimes, especially the noisy ones in my dorm. They get a little taste of freedom and they carry on like fools."

"Ah, yes. Life in the dorms. I don't miss that or cafeteria food. Which dorm do you live in?"

"Grayson Hall."

"Hey, that was my dorm, senior year. A single?"

"Ah... yes." CJ paused. "I am single." A hint of crimson blushed her cheeks, yet she kept her eyes locked on Andi.

"No, I uhh... I meant do you have a single room. There's a couple on the third floor reserved for seniors." Andi felt the warm tingle of a blush on her own face as she stumbled to explain.

"No, unfortunately I don't. I'm in a triple, but we each have our own space and we share a bathroom. My roommates are other athletes, so we pretty much keep similar schedules. It's not that bad, really, but I'd rather have a single." They smiled, each aware of the flush of pink on the other's cheek.

Andi, feeling a little self-conscious, picked up a pen from her desk. CJ watched as Andi's long, elegant fingers twirled the pen from pinky to pointer and back again with a fluid, graceful motion. Short, neatly trimmed nails accentuated sensual long fingers and hands. To CJ, Andi's hands appeared delicate yet strong and certainly beautiful. Andi then grasped the pen gently between her pointer and thumb, taping it lightly on the desk, gliding her fingers slowly to the bottom, inverting the pen, and sliding down again. CJ found herself staring almost hypnotically at Andi's hands until her blush reemerged. She pulled her eyes away to meet Andi's eyes once again.

"So, how's your week been?" CJ asked.

"Long, and I'm glad it's over. And you? How'd you do at the library?"

"Great actually. I put a big dent in the work you gave me."

"Is it working out OK so far?"

CJ paused to think, her brow furrowing as she considered Andi's questions. "It's different, and it took me a while to get used to it, but now it's pretty smooth."

"No problems? Questions?"

"Nope. I just stopped by to touch base, as you asked. And, to say hi."

"Well, I'm glad you did." Andi smiled warmly at CJ.

CJ retrieved her backpack and slipped it over her shoulder. As she moved toward the doorway, Andi followed. Not aware that Andi was so close, CJ turned abruptly and stood face to face with her, CJ's emerald eyes focusing on Andi's. She paused for a few seconds, inches away from Andi's face, before speaking.

"Thanks again, for everything." Her smile was genuine and heartfelt. She looked, unblinking, into Andi's piercing blue eyes.

"I'm glad to help you, CJ. You really don't have to thank me," replied Andi. She maintained the eye contact, intrigued by the intense look.

"We have a home game next Tuesday. Want to come?"

"I don't think I have any plans." She paused, thinking about her upcoming schedule. "Sure," said Andi.

"Great! I'll leave tickets for you at the door." She hesitated, not taking her eyes off Andi's eyes. "Will you need one or two?"

Andi responded without breaking CJ's eye contact. "Just one."

"You've got it." CJ smiled, then stepped back to the open door. "I've got to run to a class. Thanks again, and I'll see you on Tuesday." She raised a hand to wave, then disappeared down the hall.

Andi paused in the doorway with her hand on the knob. Slowly she closed the door then leaned against it, facing her desk. She crossed her arms over her chest and smiled. "Well, Emily," she said, addressing the poster, "you were the one who said, 'I dwell in possibility a fairer house than prose.'"

Chapter 5

Andi stood in line for the ticket window, absorbing the sights and sounds of the noisy gymnasium. Students were standing in bunches, wearing t-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with their college name and emblem. Parents with young children in tow held bleacher mats, those butt-saving inventions so necessary for a few hours on the on the hard, wooden seats. Boyfriends and girlfriends, locals from town, the opposing team's fans, all milled around the lobby waiting to get into the gym.

The buzz of chattering and the tension before the competition brought back bittersweet memories for Andi. She glanced off to the left of the lobby at the foggy windows overlooking the pool in the basement below. She could practically smell the chlorine and feel the humid air of that pool area, a place were she spent years of her life. The pool bleachers used to be crowded with students, family, and friends, just like the people in the lobby now, all there to cheer on the team, her team. She pictured herself walking across the pool deck, feet slapping against the wet tile. Two steps led up to the starting block. She found herself taking deep breaths, as she always did to steady her nerves.

"How many?"

Andi was startled out of her daydream. She turned and faced a guy, most likely a student, behind the ticket office glass.

"How many?" he repeated.

"I'm picking up one that was left for me."

"Name?" he asked. He reached over and got a file box, then looked dully back at her.

"Andrea Marlow."

"Marlow, Marlow," he mumbled to himself. "Here it is." He slid the envelope under the glass to Andi. "Next," he called out, looking over her shoulder before she had a chance to move.

Andi stepped out of the way and opened the envelope. The ticket was folded inside a neatly-printed note, which read: Hi Andi, I'm really glad you're here. Can I meet you in the bleachers after the game? CJ Andi smiled, then slipped the note into her pocket. She walked across the lobby, then handed the ticket to the collector at the door. She climbed the bleachers filled with the home team fans and found a seat half way up at center court.

Both teams were running through their pre-game warm-ups when she settled into a seat. Two at a time, the players bounded toward the basket, one dribbling the ball and shooting, the other getting the rebound. The two lines of players stretched back to half court. Andi recognized CJ standing toward the end of the far line.

The officials moved out to center court, blowing their whistles to signal the end of warm-ups. The players, still dressed in their blue and white sweats, jogged over to the bench. As CJ headed off the court, she looked up into the stands and spotted Andi. Surrounded by her teammates near the home team benches, the basketball star smiled and waved. Andi waved back.

Then Andi spotted Jen. The assistant coach had been sitting off to the side of the bench. Evidently, CJ's wave caught Jen's attention as she looked over toward the group of players circled together around the head coach. Jen glanced up into the bleachers just in time to notice the wave Andi was returning. Jen glared at Andi and frowned, then turned her attention back to the court. Shit, thought Andi, so much for blending into the crowd.

The officials blew the whistle again to bring the players out onto the court. A muffled cheer broke the team's huddle then the players took their places around the circle at center court. CJ felt her palms sweating as she moved away from the huddle. She thrived on competition and expected her team to win this game tonight, but the anxiety she was feeling was new to her, and she realized it was not game related. She thought of Andi sitting up there in the bleachers watching her, and smiled.

Thoughts of the beautiful, blue-eyed woman had crept into her mind quite often since their last meeting in Andi's office a few days ago. CJ found her intelligence very attractive, a bonus added to the physically appealing package of her engaging face and lithe body. She was mature and confident, which CJ admired. CJ enjoyed being around women who knew what they wanted and were strong enough to make it happen. She sensed that strength in Andi. She glanced up to the bleachers once more, then the official's voice returned her attention to the game. She shifted emotional gears and grew serious.

When CJ removed her warm-up suit, Andi was pleasantly surprised and duly impressed to see her well-developed body. Neither the outfit that CJ wore at the donor reception nor the sweatshirt and jeans she usually wore hinted at a physique that was so taunt and well defined. Out on the court, in her sleeveless uniform and shorts, CJ's body was displayed in action. Her heart-shape calf muscles flexed as she ran up and down the floor. Strong shoulder and arm muscles, curving and defined, were visible to Andi from across the gym as CJ dribbled, passed, or shot the ball. Far from being masculine, CJ's muscle tone was beautiful, and Andi enjoyed watching her in motion.

The playful smile that Andi was used to seeing on CJ was gone, replaced by a determined look that was all business. The moment that ball was tossed into the air, CJ played with a single-minded focus. Whether she was shooting, dribbling, or encouraging her teammates, CJ was resolute. Recognizing her passion, her teammates looked to her as their driving force. To Andi, it seemed as if CJ was everywhere on the court, filled with boundless energy. She found herself sitting at the front of the bleacher seat whenever CJ got the ball. She joined the fans with rousing cheers when she scored. By halftime, CJ and the team held a ten-point lead. The players jogged off and disappeared into the locker room.

Andi stood to stretch during halftime, moving out of the way as others in the stands filed past her toward the lobby and concession stand. As she stood, she noticed Jen leaning over the scorer's table, reviewing the stats book and discussing it with the team manager. Andi quickly sat and shifted over to the left, dodging behind the two men standing in the rows in front of hers. She hoped that, if Jen didn't see her again, she'd forget that Andi was there.

The grad assistant thought back to September, when she and Jen went on their first and only date. She tried to explain to Jen that she wasn't looking to get involved, but Jen persisted and took personal insult when Andi wouldn't go out with her again. For two weeks she bombarded Andi with notes and phone calls, then she stopped abruptly. A few weeks later, when Andi saw her walking across campus she waved, to show that she wasn't completely cold-hearted, as Jen accused. Jen saw her, but turned her head away without any acknowledgement. From then on, Andi avoided uncomfortable moments by avoiding Jen.

A few minutes into halftime, the players emerged from the locker room, donned in sweats, then shot baskets to stay loose before the game resumed. Shortly after, the refs blew their whistles to signal the start of the second half.

The opposing team returned to the floor with a renewed sense of purpose, quickly cutting the lead to two points. The change in the game's tide seemed to ignite CJ's drive to win. With a nearly single-handed effort that was more resuscitating than selfish, she jump-started her team through her passing, scoring, and defensive intensity. Andi looked on admiringly at CJ's passion. She watched as the star player stepped up her own game while simultaneously inspiring her teammates to give more. CJ was enough of a team player to know that she couldn't carry her team to victory alone, and she knew just what to do and say to draw the best out of them. With ten minutes still remaining, the home team went on a scoring run that increased their lead to fifteen. By the end of the game, that number increased to twenty-one, with the home team victorious.

After the game, Andi remained in her seat as the bleachers emptied. Within moments, the loud buzz of a thousand voices in the gym became a faint hum in the lobby. Clean-up crews began their work of sweeping out popcorn and soda cups from between the rows. She watched their ant-like work as they weaved in and out of the bleachers. Movement across the gym distracted her from the workers. She looked over to see CJ walking across the floor. Andi sat up in her seat and returned her wave. CJ climbed the steps and sat down, straddling the wooden seat to face her.

"Thanks for waiting. I hope I didn't keep you too long," said CJ. Andi shook her head, returning the smile. CJ's blond hair was wet and much wavier than usual, with clusters of hairs forming ringlets all around her head. She was wearing sweats and sneakers, and smelled pleasantly of shower gel and conditioner.

"You were great!," Andi said. "No wonder your name's always in the paper." Andi noticed a hint of blush redden CJ's cheeks. She dropped her green eyes from Andi's to look down for a moment, clearly embarrassed by the compliment. She then returned her eyes to the other woman's.

"The team was great, that's why we won," she said. "I'm just part of the team."

"You're too modest."

"It helps me remember that there's always more improvement and more work to be done," CJ responded. "Speaking of which, I've been working on those note cards. I followed your directions exactly." She sat up straight and saluted Andi with her left hand.

"First you dazzle me with your prowess on the court, now you want to further impress me with your note taking skills?" Andi replied, then paused. "You amaze me." She watched as CJ averted her eyes and blushed deeply at the comment.

"To amaze is a good thing, although I'm really not deserving of that compliment, either." Her green eyes sparkled as she smiled. "I am anxious to get your feedback, though, just to make sure I'm doing the right thing. Then, I need to know what to do next."

"I'm sure what you're doing is fine. Once you finish notes on all your sources, then you'll be ready for the next step."

"I hope to finish up with note taking by Thursday.

"Good." Andi was discovering that CJ's determination to succeed was not limited to the basketball court. She admired CJ's ambition to do well and was equally flattered by CJ's desire to follow through with what exactly what Andi told her to do. She wished that the students in her classes listened so attentively. "Let's meet again on Friday, then. Think you'll be ready?"

"Definitely."

CJ's confidence made Andi smile. "OK. We'll meet then." She stopped a moment to think. "My office is too small to spread out and work." She paused. "Why don't we meet at my place? It's much less cramped than my office and we can work on the dining room table. How's that sound?"

"Perfect." CJ grinned broadly, accentuating her dimple. She was glad that Andi offered to meet her in a setting more casual than her office. CJ was hoping that their meeting might include socializing, and not just business. Andi intrigued her, and CJ wanted to learn more about her. "Where's your place?"

"On the other side of campus. I live on the second floor, above the administrative offices in Sanford Hall. Know where that is?" CJ nodded. "Ring the second floor bell on the front porch and I'll come down to let you in." She stood up slowly, stretching a bit. "I better get back," she sighed. "I've got a pile of papers to correct. You're probably tired after your game."

CJ stood up, still facing Andi. "I'm actually pretty up now. I always feel pumped after a good game." She moved out into the aisle and waited for Andi. Together they walked down the stairs, footsteps echoing in the empty gym. Few people were left in the lobby. One or two students lingered by the doorway while the people at the concession stand wiped the counters and cleaned up for the night.

CJ stopped when they got to the front doors, waiting while Andi zipped her jacket. The "click, click, click" of heels on the floor drew their attention across the lobby. Jen had emerged from the coach's office, and was making a bee-line for the exit on the other side of the lobby. CJ waved, but Jen, walking quickly, continued to look forward then disappeared out the doors. CJ shrugged. "She's usually happy after we win." The door banged closed and they both turned back to face each other.

"Well..." Andi stalled, hands stuffed into her jacket pockets. As she spoke, CJ reached out and touched her, resting her hand for just a moment on the ex-swimmer's forearm.

"Thanks so much for coming." CJ's lively green eyes shone in the dimming light of the lobby. Andi returned her smile, then the basketball star removed her hand. She opened the door and held it as the grad assistant passed through.

"Until soon," said CJ. She locked her emerald eyes on the other woman's.

"Until Friday," Andi replied.

Chapter 6

Andi spent much of Friday afternoon straightening up her place. She never let it get dirty, but frequently it was cluttered with textbooks and notes, students' papers and her own schoolwork, as well as the occasional magazine or newspaper that she left out to finish later. She even dusted the bookshelves, a chore she hated, because she thought CJ might browse the books here as she did in Andi's office. She debated about removing her collection of lesbian books by Rita Mae Browne, Katherine V. Forrest, and the rest of the "writin' gals," as she called them. Don't bother, she told herself. You know she knows, even if it's yet unspoken.

She dusted off a picture of Martha and her partner, Karen, embracing on the porch of Martha's family cabin by the lake. The three of them had spent a weekend there in August, before school started up again, and had a great time. I owe Martha a phone call, she thought. She hadn't seen her since the night of the donor reception, the night she met CJ.

She smiled to herself, envisioning CJ's emerald eyes, so expressive when she spoke. Admit it, she said to herself. You've been looking forward to seeing her again. You don't dust for just anyone. She chuckled to herself. It's not just her eyes, or that dimple that deepens when she laughs although there's nothing wrong with any of that, that's for sure. She paused and looked through the window towards the lights across campus. It's her openness and sincerity that's so inviting, and unfortunately so rare in a world where we're afraid to trust. She sighed, then shook her head slowly. Don't get caught up in this. Be careful, Andi. She tossed the dust rag into the hamper, then washed her hands and settled onto the sofa to catch the end of the TV news while she waited.

The doorbell rang promptly at 6:00. Andi bounded off the sofa, then headed down the stairs to unlock the door. Standing out on the porch was CJ, jacket unzipped, dressed in jeans and a Cape Cod sweatshirt, backpack slung over her shoulder. She was smiling, hands behind her back.

"Come on in," invited Andi. She held the door open while CJ brushed against her in the narrow doorframe. "Up the stairs," she indicated, directing CJ to her apartment. CJ stealthily moved what she was carrying behind her back to the front, then marched up the steps. She waited on the landing for Andi to open the door. As they moved through the doorway, CJ presented Andi with the package she was hiding.

"For you," CJ beamed. She held out a small brown bag.

"What's this?" Andi asked, smiling. She was flattered by the gift.

"Close your eyes, open the bag, and smell," CJ instructed. Andi looked at her skeptically, but did as she was told. She breathed deeply into the bag, then moved her face away slowly, smiling.

"Peanut butter cookies! You really do amaze me." She reached inside the bag and pulled one out. Glancing at it, then at CJ, she took a bite. "Mmmmm. These are great! How'd you make them?"

"There's a small kitchen in the dorm," CJ replied. "I love to cook and bake. It's a hobby, sort of. It relaxes me."

"You're very thoughtful," remarked Andi, smiling. She paused and looked at CJ. "Look at me, hogging them all to myself. Want one?" She extended the bag.

"They're all yours. Enjoy."

"Let me take your coat," said Andi. She finished the remainder of the cookie as CJ removed her jacket. While Andi put the coat away, CJ glanced around the room.

"This is a great place. How'd you luck out and end up here?" CJ scanned the large apartment that took up the entire second floor of the old house. She sensed a warmth from the place, a comfortable, safe vibe much like the energy she felt being around Andi.

"Come on. I'll give you the nickel tour. This is the living room." Andi waved her hand in front of her. A Berber rug covered the wood floor in the center of living area near the sofa, but the remainder of the floor was bare oak. The wall closest to the door held floor to ceiling bookcases, filled with books, pictures in frames, candles, and vases. Two large windows faced the front of the house, overlooking the distant lights of the campus. CJ turned to face a brick fireplace on the wall opposite the bookcases. Instead of a fire, five candles were burning in the hearth. "Unfortunately, the flue is sealed up," Andi explained, noticing CJ looking at the fireplace.

"Your bike?" asked CJ. She pointed to a mountain bike, suspended by a hook from the ceiling in the corner of the room. Behind it, skis and a large backpack leaned against the wall.

"My toys," replied Andi. "Old houses definitely do not have enough storage space." CJ smiled and nodded her head, admiring the charming place. "Here's the kitchen," Andi continued. "It's small, but it'll do. Over this way is the bathroom." She flicked the light on then off. "This is my bedroom." With her hand, she motioned for CJ to enter. The small room, neat and orderly, had very little furniture. A double bed with a flannel comforter was set up on the far wall, and next to it was a mirrored dresser. Ribboned medals hung around the corner of the mirror.

"Lots of gold here," CJ observed. She touched one of the medals, then turned to look at Andi. "Still swim?" Andi dug her hands deeper into the pockets of her jeans, then shook her head, indicating no. The basketball star thought she noticed a tinge of sadness color her azure eyes, but in the next instant it was gone. The ex-swimmer paused for a moment, then turned toward the bedroom door. CJ followed her out into the living room. This is a place I'd love to come home to, CJ thought.

"That's it," Andi stated. "It's not real big, but it's home." She stood facing CJ, hands still in her pockets. A large, burgundy corduroy shirt, untucked and half unbuttoned, covered a white t-shirt. She had slippers on her feet.

"I love it!" CJ exclaimed . Her green eyes danced as she spoke enthusiastically. "It's like your office, only better, It's so... you. It's great."

"Thanks," chuckled Andi. "Can I get you a drink?"

"Seltzer would be great."

"In a glass, or should I pour it directly from the bottle onto your sweatshirt?"

CJ laughed out loud, a hearty belly laugh so spontaneous that it was contagious. Andi laughed too.

"I'll take it in a glass," she chuckled.

"Coming right up. Make yourself at home." Andi walked into the kitchen. CJ moved toward the bookcase and browsed in front of the titles and pictures. She was right in front of Martha and Karen's photo when Andi returned from the kitchen with her drink.

"I thought you had a lot of books at your office," she noted, taking the drink from Andi. "You have twice as many here."

"It's great until you have to move them," the grad assistant replied. "So, how's your project going?"

"Notes are done," CJ responded. She walked over and picked up her backpack.

"Let's spread out on the table. The next step is to organize the cards." She took the thick stack of 3x5 cards that CJ had removed from her backpack and explained how to sort them. "Here," said Andi. "I'll take a few to help get you started. We'll work together." She handed the rest of the cards back to CJ.

"So we're mixing the ingredients, right?" The younger athlete grinned.

"Exactly," Andi confirmed. "You obviously listen very closely."

"You did ask me to trust you, remember?" She looked at Andi and smirked. It was true that she trusted her, which was unusual at such an early stage of getting to know another person. CJ trusted her own instinct though, and that led her to trust Andi.

The two women began sorting, leaning over the table and placing their cards in piles. They worked silently, reading the cards and distributing them to the right place. Now and then, CJ held up a card for Andi to read. After a quick glance, Andi pointed to a pile while CJ smiled and nodded, indicating that she understood. They worked closely, often making contact as one leaned across the other to place a card. After nearly a half-hour of sorting, CJ reached across Andi, her hip pressing against Andi's side. After a moment of contact, she followed it up with a playful bump that shifted Andi off balance. CJ laughed as Andi looked at her, surprised.

"What was that for?" Andi inquired, grinning.

"For fun," CJ replied. "All work and no play is no fun. There's nothing wrong with a little fun, is there?"

"Nope." Andi smiled, then looked at her watch. "Fun's over. Back to work." She feigned a serious look and resumed her pile sorting while CJ followed suit. A moment later, Andi leaned her hip over and bumped the younger woman off balance. She laughed out loud at CJ, whose surprised look turned into laughter too. An easy, comfortable energy flowed between them.

Once the piles were completed, Andi explained how to sort the piles, subdividing as necessary.

"Each pile represents information in one paragraph. So, you've got to sort the cards within each pile, then you have to order the piles. Understand?"

"Completely," affirmed CJ. The process, initially confusing and completely new to her, was becoming clear. It was as if clouds around her head suddenly blew away and she could see the end of the road in the distance. She finished her sorting while Andi, her personal guide, looked on, overseeing her work. Finally, the sorting was completed.

"I'm starving," CJ admitted. She glanced at her watch. "Geez! We've been at this for two hours."

"Time flies..." Andi said. "How about a pizza?"

"My treat, I insist. It's the least I can do to thank you for giving up your Friday night to help me."

"Giovanni's delivers on campus. I'll call," offered Andi.

She stepped into the kitchen to find the phone number, stuck to her fridge with a magnet, then turned back toward the living room, pausing in the doorway. With both palms flat on the table, CJ was leaning over her piles, looking at the last of the cards. Andi stared at her, remembering how supple and defined CJ's body was as she bounded up and down the court. She envisioned CJ's arm muscles under the sweatshirt, flexed and taunt as she leaned her weight forward on her hands. Her jeans hung loosely over her rounded gluts. She's a student, Andi. Don't look her that way, she reprimanded herself. CJ turned and caught her staring. A flush of red colored Andi's cheeks. CJ looked at her and grinned.

"I... was wondering if you wanted anything on your pizza?" stammered Andi.

"Plain is fine," CJ responded. She smiled, then finished picking up her note cards. Andi stepped back into the kitchen to call.

* * * * *

"How about some music, now that the serious concentrating is over?" asked Andi.

"Sure," replied CJ. She was sitting on the sofa, sneakers off, with her feet crossed in her lap. With the business of the paper done for the evening, she felt completely relaxed. She and Andi connected easily on the teacher to student level, but CJ was anxious to establish a connection on another, more equal plain.

"Any preference?"

"But of course..."

"Like what?"

CJ opened her mouth to speak, then changed her mind. She paused. "Never mind. Whatever you pick is fine."

Andi replayed the innuendo in her head while she searched the CD titles. Don't go there now, she warned herself. Just let it drop. She put in a disk, then returned to the sofa. She sat sideways on the cushion, only a few feet from CJ, with her back leaning against the heavily padded arm. The song, "Fugitive," rose through the speakers in the background.

"I recognize this," proclaimed CJ.

"Indigo Girls, Swamp Ophelia. Are you a fan?"

"Yes. I have a few of their CD's. You a fan?"

"A big one, actually. I've got all their albums as well as a pretty good bootleg collection."

"Why so enthusiastic?"

"They sing with passion and they write lyrics that speak to my heart. They don't mold their image to fit anyone's expectations and on top of that, they support a number of important causes. And if that's not reason enough, they both studied English in college, too!" The doorbell rang. "Probably the pizza guy."

"I'll get it." CJ leaped off the sofa before Andi could protest.

"I'll refill your drink," she offered. She went into the kitchen, returning with the drink, plates, and napkins just as CJ was walking back into the apartment. "Lay the box on these magazines," she directed. The flaxen-haired woman placed it on the coffee table near the sofa. They resumed their previous seats, eating from plates balanced in their laps.

"So how'd you end up coming to school here?" asked Andi.

CJ finished chewing her pizza, then responded. "The basketball coach recruited me. She offered me a good package so I came down to look at the school."

Andi nodded. "Scholarship money is a dangling carrot." She reflected on her own college athletic days, and continued to eat as CJ talked.

"You said it. I'm the youngest of four, so my parents couldn't afford to send me any place where the tuition was high. In fact, they wanted me to stay more local so I could live at home and commute to school." CJ shook her head slowly then silently stared out the window. Andi noticed a subtle change in CJ's body language, a slouching in her shoulders and a sadness in her eyes. CJ continued. "But, I really needed to get out on my own and live my own life, so I didn't really consider that an option, much to my parents' disappointment." Her eyes returned to Andi's again. A half smile tugged at the corner of her mouth as she tried to shake off the memory. "Once I got here, I liked what I saw, so I signed."

"And the rest is history, including your major." Andi grinned.

CJ rolled her eyes and smiled. "I thought English majors were too creative to be corny."

"Sorry. I'll try to be better." She reached over to open the pizza box, then motioned for CJ's plate.

"Sure," she replied. Andi slid another slice onto her plate, then took a piece for herself.

"And what about after graduation? It's right around the corner." Although Andi knew CJ for only two weeks, she almost felt sad at the prospect of her graduating and leaving. In such a short time she had come to enjoy her cheerful smile and optimistic attitude. You're also flattered by her attention, admit it.

"Grad school, I hope. I'd like to teach or coach on the college level."

"Any prospects?"

CJ rolled her eyebrows up and grinned at Andi. "What kind of prospects?" she asked playfully.

Another double entendre. Just ignore it. "Where have you applied?"

"A school near my parents, about three hours from here, two schools near here, and another on the West Coast, but that's kind of a last resort."

"What about here?"

"I spoke to my advisor last week about that. It may be another option."

Andi found herself feeling almost relieved. She rarely clicked with another person so easily, and was beginning to enjoy the friendship that was slowly developing between them.

"So how come I've done all the talking? How about you? How'd you end up here?" CJ asked.

"By the time I was a senior here, I decided that I wanted to be a college professor. I looked around at the teachers that I had here, and their jobs looked pretty appealing to me. Besides, I liked the idea of working in an academically stimulating environment all the time. It's fun to learn new things and to share that with students."

"Here, here!" toasted CJ. She raised her glass and clinked it against Andi's. "I think you're a great teacher."

"You didn't think I was so swell when I told you to redo all your notes," Andi teased. She balled up a napkin and tossed it at CJ.

"I've seen the light. You've saved me from the eternal damnation of research papers without focus, of unblended information and muddled facts. You, Andi, have made me a believer." She placed her hand over her heart and bowed her head in mock reverence.

"You should have been a drama major." This time CJ threw her napkin at Andi. They both laughed playfully, followed by a few moments of silence. Strains of "Power of Two" drifted from the speakers.

"This is such a great song," observed CJ.

"It's actually one of my favorites," Andi replied.

"It's exactly how a relationship should be when two people love each other."

"Unfortunately, life and love are never that simple."

"I believe that they can be. Don't forget, the 'hardest to learn is the least complicated.'"

"Oh brother! Now who's being corny?"

"I thought you'd appreciate the song reference, being that you're a big fan. Hey, how about popping in one of those bootlegs?" asked CJ. "I'd like to hear one."

"Sure," Andi replied. "I've got a couple really good concerts." She got up and chose a disk from her collection, then put in the CD. She returned to the sofa just as the music rose from the speakers.

All the while they talked about life, school, family, future plans a familiarity developed between them. It was a comfortable and surprisingly safe feeling of talking and being open with another person. They discovered that they had many similar interests, which made clear why they enjoyed each other's company. Andi hadn't felt this relaxed in a long time. CJ, with her legs stretched out across the sofa and nearly touching Andi, also seemed to feel completely at ease.

CJ stretched when the music from the last track ended. She glanced at her watch. "God, Andi! You'll never believe what time it is."

"Tell me," she replied. She reached out her arms in a big cat-stretched.

"It's nearly tomorrow."

"No way!"

"Way."

"See, time does fly."

"I'm sorry I kept you up so late."

"Don't worry about me. Tomorrow's Saturday and I can sleep in. How about you?" Andi inquired.

"Early practice," the basketball player replied

"Then I'm the one who should apologize for keeping you up so late."

"Not at all. I had a great time." She swung her legs off the sofa, then stood up. Andi got up as well, facing her. "So, got any big plans for the rest of the weekend?" asked CJ.

"Let's see... food shopping, two loads of laundry, a few chapters of reading, and a workout. That's the extent of my exciting life. And you?"

"Aside from practice and study session, I have plenty of schoolwork, including this paper."

"Here," offered Andi. She picked up a note card off the coffee table and wrote something on it before handing it to CJ. Andi looked at her and smiled warmly. "Take my home number, in case you have any questions. I'll be around most of the weekend." They walked toward the door. "I'll go get your coat."

Andi walked down to the porch door with CJ. "Thanks again for those great cookies." She looked at CJ, standing so close, her green eyes shadowed by the dim porch light.

"It was my pleasure." She focused on Andi's blue eyes as she spoke. "Thank you for all your help with this project." In a few hours her alarm would be ringing her off to practice, but she was completely wide awake now. "I'll call you."

"Ring once tonight, so I know that you were OK getting back to your dorm."

"Sure." She looked at her watch then back at Andi. "I can jog that half mile in under five minutes."

"I'll be waiting."

CJ smiled and paused, looking directly at Andi's eyes. I could get lost swimming in those pools of blue.

"Until soon," CJ confirmed.

"Yes, until soon," Andi replied.

Andi held the door open and CJ brushed by her. She closed the door as CJ reached the bottom step on the porch. Quickly she bounded up the steps to her apartment, then over to the windows just as CJ jogged across the green and out of view. She leaned her palms on the window ledge and continued to look through the glass until her breath fogged the pane. She remained there, motionless, until the phone rang once. Then, she picked up her journal and began to write.

When I opened the door this evening and she was standing there with that mischievous grin on her face and those dancing green eyes, I'll admit that my heart fluttered a bit. And then she whipped out this bag for me and told me to close my eyes. I can't even remember the last time someone brought me a surprise, but to present it to me with my eyes closed... well, shutting down that one sense seemed to heighten my other senses, that's for sure. How could I not like someone who makes me homemade peanut butter cookies??!! Her warmth and sincerity is infectious and I find myself smiling when I'm around her, or even when I think of her -- which is becoming more frequent...

Chapter 7

CJ never minded attending the mandatory athlete study sessions that her coach required of all the basketball players. She herself was disciplined enough to do her schoolwork without supervision, but she knew that many other athletes were not. In any team sport, it was important for all the players to do well not only on the playing field but in the classroom too, since poor grades resulted in academic probation and playing restrictions.

Male and female athletes filled the long tables in the study lounge. Textbooks and notebooks were spread over the workspace as the athletes busied themselves with their studies. Several students worked in small groups, discussing their assignments in hushed whispers. Two graduate assistants, employed by the school to supervise the sessions and to provide help for students, sat at desks in opposite corners of the room.

CJ sat at the far end of one of the long tables. To her right was Joanne, a senior on the lacrosse squad. She had met Joanne during freshmen orientation and they became fast friends and frequent off-season workout partners. CJ knew that sitting near her would probably result in more chatting than studying, but she was eager for some information and knew that Joanne might prove helpful. She looked up from her book and spoke.

"Is there a group going out tonight?" asked CJ. Joanne paused from her writing and looked at CJ.

"Probably. It's Saturday, so I would guess," replied Joanne.

"Where?"

"The usual, Oasis, I think. Kim said she heard that they had a girl band playing this weekend."

"Kim?"

"You know, she's a junior on the lacrosse team, plays middie. Not real tall, dark hair..." CJ nodded her head, recognizing the description. "Well, she's sweet on Sarah, who hangs out with the softball gang who goes to Oasis. She wanted some of the lacrosse gals to go too, so she could see Sarah there. I haven't talked to her since Wednesday though, so I'm not sure what's up."

"You going?"

"If everybody else is going. Should be a fun time if the band is playing. Why, need a ride?"

"Maybe. I haven't made plans yet." She smiled at Joanne. "So Jo, since you know everybody who's anybody on campus..." Joanne grinned broadly at the compliment. She put her pen down and placed her elbows on the table, chin in palms.

"At your service..."

"Do you know many of the grad assistants on campus?"

"Plenty! Obviously, I know Sue from the lacrosse team, Courtney with the softball team, and a bunch from other teams who go out with us sometimes." Joanne leaned closer to CJ and whispered. "You talking about someone in particular?" She grinned mischievously.

"Maybe, but keep this to yourself." CJ spoke quietly yet firmly, and pointed a finger at her friend. Joanne put her finger to her lips, then crossed her heart. She leaned in closer as CJ spoke. "I've seen this woman around campus. I found out that her name's Andi and she's a grad ass in the English department, used to be a swimmer here a few years ago. Tall, shoulder length dark hair, attractive..."

"Uh huh! Sounds interesting," Joanne interrupted.

"Yeah, it kind of is. Does she sound familiar?"

"Not really. Jen might know her. Did you ask?"

"Jen's been a real bitch lately. I don't want to ask her, nor do I want you to ask her, OK?"

"Fine. I'll check with my sources."

"Only if you're not obvious about it. I don't want it to get back to Andi or anyone else."

"What! You can't trust me?" said Joanne, faking insult.

"Of course I can. You're the best at this kind of thing, which is why I'm asking you." She winked at Joanne and smiled.

"So what do you want to know?"

"Find out if she's family, and if she's with anybody. Think you can do that subtly?"

"Piece of cake. There'll be plenty of people out tonight who I can chat with and, after a couple beers, they'll sing like canaries and then won't remember we even had the conversation. Consider it done." She smiled and ceremoniously brushed her palms together three times.

"Great. Thanks Jo." She looked at her watch. "My time here is up. Call me if you go out tonight. You talked me in to going." She packed her books up and stood up quietly.

"See you later." Joanne continued her writing as CJ left the room.

* * * * *

Andi slept until nearly 9:00 on Saturday morning. Her journaling had kept her up long past the time when CJ left, and although she was tired, she needed to write. Sorting out her thoughts and feelings on paper had become therapeutic for her. When she first entered college, she made time to write several days a week. It got her through homesickness, her grandmother's stroke, swimming injuries, and a painful break-up. She wrote about everyday problems, simple pleasures, unusual places, and interesting people. Last night she wrote about CJ.

She was out the door by late morning to start her errands. While at the laundromat, she read through three chapters in her literature book as she waited for her clothes to get washed and dried. The constant whirring and humming of the machines drowned out the noise of the people coming and going, making it surprisingly easy for her to concentrate. After a stop at the post office then the bank, she pulled into the parking lot of the food store.

The store was typically bustling for a Saturday afternoon, yet Andi was uncharacteristically patient among the crowded aisles. Thoughts of CJ's laughter made her smile, helping her to ignore both the child screaming at the end of the row as well as the woman who clipped her heels with her cart twice already. She walked down the produce aisle grinning, then stopped to pick out a cantaloupe, which was on sale.

"Hands off my melons, toots!"

She popped out of her daydream and turned toward the familiar voice. It was Martha. Andi laughed, then embraced her in a big hug.

"I've been thinking about you," Andi declared, smiling.

"Good things, I hope."

"Always. How's Karen?"

"Too busy at work, but other than that, fine. I haven't seen you since the reception. How've you been?"

Thinking about the reception made her think about CJ. She smiled to herself. "Pretty good," Andi replied.

"What's with that smile?"

"Nothing. I'm just happy."

"Come on, Andi. Spill it."

"There's nothing to spill. Can't a gal be happy?"

"Of course, but can't a friend know the source of that gal's happiness? Come on. I haven't seen you smile dreamily like that since..."

Martha stopped short of saying the name, but they both knew she was talking about Elizabeth. The smile on Andi's face quickly faded into a frown. Martha, felling badly, reached out and touched Andi's arm.

"I didn't..."

"You didn't have to. We both know who you meant," Andi frowned.

"I'm sorry, Andi. It was so long ago and you never really mention it anymore. I didn't think you thought about it."

"I didn't, until you mentioned it."

"Forget it, then. Tell me about what or who was making you smile. Please?"

"Another time, maybe. I've got to get back."

"I'm sorry, Andi. I didn't mean to make you upset."

"I know, Martha. I'm just being overly sensitive, I guess."

"How about coming over for dinner next week? We've missed you."

"Sure, that would be great." She forced a smile.

"Call, OK? Even if you just want to talk."

Andi nodded her head.

* * * * *

Andi subconsciously clenched the steering wheel until her hands grew cramped. Martha's mention of Elizabeth brought back all the painful memories to her heart with a full-force crash. Her initial annoyance at Martha faded, but she grew even more annoyed at herself. Elizabeth hurt me once, and I couldn't control that, but if I continue to let it hurt me, then it's my own damn fault. Nearly three and a half years had passed since their painful break-up but obviously her heart wasn't completely healed. As she drove, hypnotized by the lines on the road, she was unable to prevent her thoughts from going back to Liz, and for the hundredth time she relived those horrible weeks.

For so long up to that point, her life seemed complete and happy in every way. She was pulling mostly A's in her schoolwork, proving to her mother and herself that academics were top priority in spite of the heavy demands placed on her as a scholarship athlete. She was voted captain of the swim team by her peers. During her junior year, she had broken all the school records in her dominant stroke, the butterfly. She was later named All American for an unprecedented 3rd year in a row, the first time this ever happened to any swimmer, male or female at her school. She was also in love, for the first time in her life.

She and Elizabeth had been involved for nearly a year and a half. They had met during the second semester of her freshman year and quickly became friends. Liz, a junior, knew all the ins and outs of college life, like how to sneak back into the cafeteria without using a meal card, how to duck out of the athletes' dorm during pre-game curfews, and how to get into the pool for a midnight skinny dip. She also knew the most secluded spots in the library, the lookout spot near the lake, and a dozen other out-of-the way places where she took Andi. There they talked, laughed, teased, and had many heart to heart discussions about feelings, and about love.

It was in one of those spots, about 3 months after they met, that Elizabeth first kissed her. It was Andi's first kiss ever by another female, and the first time she felt completely alive in her life. That feeling intensified a few weeks later when she spent the night with Elizabeth in her dorm.

"I'm so nervous," she told Liz. "I've never been with a woman before."

Elizabeth kissed her. "You'll be fine," Liz assured. "Besides, practice makes perfect," she added, grinning.

Whenever Elizabeth's roommate was away for the weekend, Andi stayed with her new lover and quickly became comfortable with both of their bodies.

From then on, her life revolved around three things: school work, swimming, and Liz, but not always in that order. Never before had she been so happy. For a year an a half they hung out together, went to movies, worked out, and planned for the day when Andi too would graduate and be able to move into the apartment with Liz. Then the accident occurred.

Andi had just finished an especially difficult pool practice and was heading into the locker room. She had walked across that deck hundreds of times, but this time she slipped on the wet tiles. As her palms hit, they slid out in front of her and she landed flat out on the deck. At the moment of impact, she screamed so loudly and was in such pain that she felt outside of her body, as if it was someone else lying there on the deck and she was hovering somewhere above, simply screaming. She moved her left arm in an attempt to get up, but the least movement in her body brought excruciating pain through her right shoulder.

Her coach and the trainer came running across the deck, directing her to remain still. She whimpered softly, wracked with pain and fear. The whole episode, only a few seconds in duration, seemed to be moving in slow motion. Her coach's words were slow and muffled, the trainer's directions foggy in her head. When they stood her up, another cry, like that of a wounded animal, escaped her lips. The slow motion moved back into real time when the trainer popped her shoulder back in place with one jerky motion. She let out a third cry right before she blacked out, collapsing like dead weight into the trainer's arms.

A trip to the orthopedist revealed that her worst fears were coming true. The difficult workout prior to the fall had left her muscles tight and fatigued; consequently, instead of stretching as she fell, they tore. Three out of her four rotator cuff muscles ripped completely away from the bone, leaving her arm dangling limply in a sling. The pain was excruciating.

"I'm afraid I have some bad news, " the doctor said. Surgery was scheduled three days later.

Andi was devastated by the diagnosis and heartbroken by the prognosis. The doctors told her that their goal was to restore functionality to her shoulder so she could return to normal activities. Swimming competitively wasn't on the list. Her coach and her mother were especially supportive to her, but she turned to Elizabeth during this time of crisis. She believed that Elizabeth would be there for her, be her comfort and support, and help her deal with not only the painful surgery and rehab, but the realization that her athletic career was over. For a while, Elizabeth did fill that role, but then things changed.

Physical therapy sessions three times a week and sever limitations on her activities followed the difficult surgery. For the first few weeks, Elizabeth seemed happy to give up her free time to hang out with Andi. They rented movies, ate Ben & Jerry's pints, and talked; however, after a few weeks Elizabeth started to act restless and distracted whenever she was near Andi.

"When will you be able to do things again?" Elizabeth asked. Her voice was tinted with impatience.

"Soon, I hope," Andi replied. "I'm sorry to be such an anchor. If you want to go out dancing with the girls sometime, that would be OK with me. I'll understand."

Andi did understand why Elizabeth might want to go out and have the kind of fun they used to have, but she was a bit hurt when Elizabeth took her up on the offer and chose to go out to the local bar with some friends instead of hanging out with Andi on the following Friday night. The next week, Andi asked if she could go too, so they went together, but the jostling and crowded bar made Andi uncomfortable. She asked to leave the smoky hangout. Elizabeth clearly acted inconvenienced, and grumpily took her home. She didn't invite Andi to go dancing again.

Over the next few weeks, Elizabeth more frequently made other plans and spent less time with Andi. The injured swimmer rationalized and made excuses that Elizabeth shouldn't limit her life just because she had to, but she was deeply sadden by Elizabeth's choice. Then, a whole week went by without a visit from Liz. Andi phoned and left several messages asking her to call or stop by. Finally, Elizabeth did. She came by Andi's room, clearly uncomfortable and distracted, and told her that she didn't think things between them were working anymore. Andi was devastated. She reminded Elizabeth of the plans they made for their future together, but Elizabeth said coldly that things changed and she didn't feel the same anymore.

"Don't you love me anymore?" pleaded Andi.

"Not in the same way," Elizabeth confessed. "I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you."

Andi began to weep and Elizabeth made a feeble attempt to put her arm around her shoulder. It turned into a few pats on the back, which were worse comfort than no contact at all.

"I'll call you," Elizabeth said as she walked to the door. "In time, you'll see that this is the right thing to do."

Andi didn't know how long she sat in the car outside her apartment after having driven home, lost in that remembrance. She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. I'm better off without her, if that's how she treated my heart, she said to herself for the hundredth time. It's true, she continued to admonish herself. I need to be with someone who can take as much as I can give and give back as much as I need, she thought. Listen to me. I'm pathetic. I'm quoting Indigo Girls lyrics. She slowly shook her head. I've got to stop listening to love songs and become a character in one again.

She carried her groceries up to her apartment and set them down on the counter. From across the room she could see her message machine blinking. She walked across the room and hit the play button, and was greeted by Martha's friendly voice.

"Hey girlfriend! Karen's decided to cook a feast on Wednesday, and we'd love to have you join us for dinner. In fact, we won't take no for an answer. How's 6:00 sound to you? Bring your appetite and a bottle of wine. Call us when you get this message, OK?"

Martha's cheerful voice helped to squeeze out those memories from Andi's mind, and she found herself smiling. She unpacked the rest of the groceries before sitting down on the sofa and calling her friends.

Chapter 8

Andi drove the three miles from campus to Martha and Karen's house with a growling stomach. She worked through lunch to free up time for tonight's dinner, which she had been looking forward to all week. Karen was a wonderful cook and, based on past experience, their promise of a feast would indeed be accurate. She pulled into their driveway at 6:05, then walked to their front door with wine bottle in hand. She rang the bell and was greeted by Martha.

"Welcome!" said Martha. Andi stepped into the foyer and was enfolded in one of Martha's bear hugs. "We're so glad you came." Andi handed her the bottle. "Thanks. Let me take your coat." Andi had known Martha since their college days, when Martha had been the manager of the swim team. Although Andi was somewhat reserved back then compared to Martha's outgoing personality, she had taken a liking to the outspoken Martha, who was always the first to start cheering at meets. Even though they were the same age, Martha, who to Andi seemed so settled in life, was like a big sister figure, protective and always looking out for her. Andi had a great fondness for Martha. She smiled warmly at her friend.

"Hi Andi!" called a voice from the kitchen. Andi could see Karen standing in front of the stove wearing a cook's apron. "I'm in here," she added.

"Smells wonderful!" Andi enthused as she made her way into the kitchen. Pungent and spicy aromas greeted her nose as she stepped into the room. Karen turned from the stove to greet her guest. Although she was nearly six inches shorter than Andi, she was stocky and strong. The grad assistant knew that beneath her stalwart exterior was a soft heart. Karen gave her friend a bear hug that nearly crushed her. "I've missed you," Karen proclaimed. Andi had met Karen through Martha, and had quickly grown to enjoy her friendship.

"Me too," Andi replied honestly. "Thanks so much for inviting me tonight." Unable to resist the temptation, Andi turned toward the stove and lifted the lid on one of the big pots. With the steam rose a wonderful aroma, which Andi breathed in deeply. "Ummmm," she hummed happily.

"Homemade chile, with corn bread and salad," beamed Karen. "And a surprise for dessert."

"As much as I hate to see Karen stressed at work," noted Martha, "we all benefit from her cooking to blow off steam." She stood next to Karen and wrapped one arm around her waist, then planted a big kiss on her cheek. Andi knew that Karen's job as a lawyer in juvenile court was as difficult as it was stressful. In this, her second year on the job right out of law school, Karen was still optimistic about helping those kids. Andi admired her spirit and big heart.

"You gals are lucky I don't blow off steam by hightailing it to Los Vegas to gamble away my stress," Karen teased. She tried to keep a straight face, but laughed out loud at herself. Her smooth, round face was glowing pink from the stove's heat.

"You're not the gambling type," scoffed Andi. She smiled at Karen.

"I took a chance with Martha, didn't I?" Karen joked. She grinned and winked at Martha, whose arm remained around her waist.

"And look at what a great payoff you've gotten for the past four years," joked Martha. The three friends laughed, the hearty and comfortable laughter shared with longtime friends.

"How about some wine?" asked Martha. She removed her arm from Karen and motioned toward Andi.

"I'll wait 'til dinner. I've got an empty stomach now and I'll be a mess after half a glass."

"Well, we're ready to eat now," offered Karen. "Martha, why don't you pour the wine, then you gals can have a seat while I bring the food out."

"What can I do?" asked Andi.

"Here," directed Karen. She handed her a large salad bowl and dressing. "Pour some on then mix the salad for me, will you? Salad bowls are on the table. Fill them up when you're finished mixing."

As Andi worked on the salad, Martha poured wine and Karen brought out the rest of the food. Sounds of upbeat jazz music drifted into the dining room from the stereo in the living room. Several candles were clustered in the center of the table, around which the chile, cornbread, and salad were placed. Andi settled into a seat and breathed in deeply. She was famished and could hardly resist diving in. She waited while Martha and Karen took their seats.

"Before we begin, a toast," said Martha. She raised her glass and looked first at Karen and then at Andi. They too raised their glasses, waiting for her to speak. "Here's to wonderful friends, a gift to the heart."

"Here here!" cheered Karen. The three clinked glasses. "Now dig in!"

Bowls were passed and plates were filled. Lively conversation filled the room as they each discussed their jobs and told stories about events or people at work. Martha, who had quite a sense of humor, had them in stitches with her stories about life in the registrar's office. Andi and Karen were laughing so hard that tears were running down their cheeks. Martha laughed along too, then let out a big sigh as the chuckling faded. Andi smiled at both her friends. She hadn't had this much fun in a long time and she had forgotten how good it felt to laugh so hard that her stomach hurt.

After a round of seconds for everybody, they each pushed their plates toward the center of the table, then leaned back in their chairs. Andi patted her stomach a few times.

"I'm stuffed," she announced.

"Me too," added Martha. She glanced at Andi's lean, athletic body, sighing deeply and shaking her head slowly. "I just don't know where you put it. I wish I had your metabolism." She stood and began to collect the plates and silverware.

"Here, let me help," offered Andi. She lifted the chili bowl and carried it into the kitchen. "Where do you want this?"

"On the counter, near the stove," replied Karen. "Martha, just pile the dishes in the sink and we'll load the dishwasher later. Who wants coffee?"

"Sounds great," Andi reponded.

"Me too," added Martha. "I'll get a pot going."

They cleared the dining room table quickly, then Andi stood out of the way near the doorway as Karen and Martha packed up the leftovers and stored them in the fridge. She watched how her friends worked together, each seeming to know what the other was going to say or ask before the sentence was finished. Their playful and affectionate gestures, a touch or a glance, clearly reflected a deep fondness for one another. Andi enjoyed being in their company so much partly because of their comfortable relationship. Karen and Martha were like a rock amongst their circle of lesbian friends, all of whom admired and even envied their wonderful relationship.

"Let's eat dessert in the living room," said Karen. "Toss another log on the fire, will you?"

"Coming right up," replied Martha. She moved into the living room and poked the embers before placing two small logs on the pile. Within minutes, the fire was blazing. Andi walked over to it and held out her hands, feeling the warming glow on her palms.

"That feels wonderful," she remarked. Martha stood up and smiled at her.

"Come on back in here, gals, and get your dessert," called Karen.

"What's the surprise?" asked Andi. She and Martha stepped into the kitchen just as Karen handed them each a plate.

"Pineapple upside down cake! Hot out of the oven."

"My favorite!" Andi grinned.

"That's exactly why I made it," Karen admitted. "You need to be spoiled a little."

"Well, you've both done that tonight." She smiled warmly at her friends.

"Grab a coffee mug and then we'll go back into the living room," Martha suggested. "The fire's roaring."

They lounged in the living room in front of the fire, enjoying their dessert as well as each other's company. Martha told more stories and they all laughed again. The warming glow of the fire and the jazzy music filled the room, making Andi so relaxed that she stretched and yawned. She looked at her watch.

"Jeez! You'll never believe what time it is."

"Do you have an early class tomorrow?" asked Karen.

"No, but I know that you both have to get up early for work."

"Not to worry. We had a great time," assured Martha.

Andi got up and stacked their dessert dishes, then brought them into the kitchen. Martha gathered up the mugs, then followed her in. Karen took out a container from the fridge, then put it in a bag and handed it to Andi.

"Here's a meal for another night this week," she offered. Andi took it and smiled.

"You don't have to feed me twice, but thanks so much," she added. "I had a great time this evening. I really appreciate you gals having me over."

"It's our pleasure," assured Karen. "We'll see you Saturday, right?"

"Saturday?" Andi questioned.

"Our party," reminded Martha. "I sent you an e-mail."

"Remind me again?" Andi furrowed her brow to remember.

"It's a Hawaiian theme. We all need a hot summer night in the middle of the winter." She grinned broadly at Andi.

"Sure, I'll be here. You having a big crowd?"

"It always seems to turn out that way," noted Martha. "Karen invited a few friends from work, but it will mostly be people from campus, some grad students..."

"Jen won't be here, will she?" asked Andi.

"I doubt she'd come. She knows we're good friends and that you'll be here."

"You're right. What can I bring, and what time?" asked Andi.

"Bring whatever you're drinking, and come at 8:00 for the first round of Pina Coladas!" Karen grinned. "And don't forget to wear your Hawaiian shirt."

After a round of hugs goodbye, Andi drove back to campus with a full belly and a happy heart.

;

Continued in Part II

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