Until Soon

by indigal

Part II

* please see disclaimers in Part I

Chapter 9

Karen and Martha's driveway was full of cars by the time Andi arrived at 8:30. She parked on the street in front of their house in a lineup with other cars that she assumed belonged to the partygoers. Martha and Karen had purchased the house nearly two years prior, moving into the residential neighborhood that housed many of the college faculty. The older homes on the block were all moderately sized with well-manicured properties. The light glowing through Karen and Martha's windows cast shadows across the lawn. Andi could see people standing and talking in their living room, and music could be heard out in the street. She left her coat in the car and, wearing only a brightly flowered Hawaiian shirt tucked into faded jeans, strode up to the front door carrying a six pack of beer.

"Well, look who's here!" declared Karen, as she held the door open for Andi. Karen had on a pink and orange Hawaiian shirt and a grass skirt over a pair of shorts. "Aloha!" She gave Andi a big hug.

"Nice grass," teased Andi. She winked at Karen, then handed her the six pack.

"How about a lei?" Karen grinned mischievously at Andi, removing the flowered necklace from around her neck. Andi laughed at being one-upped.

"Maybe later," she chuckled.

"Feeling lucky tonight?" She grinned at Andi. "Hey Martha. Look who's here," she shouted across the living room.
The furniture had been moved to the perimeter of the room and about ten people were standing and talking. Most wore brightly colored Hawaiian shirts, shorts, and sandals. Jimmy Buffet music drifted from the stereo. Andi stepped across the room to greet Martha.

"Hey Andi!" Martha sang out. She was sipping a pina colada, which she offered to Andi.

"No thanks," Andi responded. "I brought beer."

"So, how was the rest of your week?"

"Busy, as usual. You?"

"Same. I could use to unwind tonight." Martha scanned the room. "I hear there'll be a good crowd."

"Nobody wants to miss your legendary parties," Andi remarked. "Are some of these people from Karen's work?"

"That group over there," she indicated, pointing to the fireplace. "Come on. I'll introduce you." She grabbed Andi by the arm and walked with her toward the people on the far side of the room. "Hey y'all. This is Andi, a very good friend of ours. Andi, this is Ken and Albert, Peg and Clare, and Barb."

Andi shook hands with each as Martha introduced them. She noticed that Martha had introduced them in twos, and assumed that the pairs were together, except for the fifth person, Barb. Andi suspected that Barb was single, and that the introductions were Martha's way of making that clear to Andi. Martha often tried to set up Andi with eligible women. Barb confirmed Andi's suspicions by making strong eye contact and smiling. Her hand lingered in Andi's as they shook.

For the next half-hour, Andi listened to juvenile court tales and lawyers' lingo while Barb made her interest in Andi known. The grad assistant could feel the weight of Barb's appraising stares not only when she talked, but when others in the groups spoke as well. Barb offered to get Andi a drink and, after returning with the beer, stood close at Andi's elbow, directing her questions and attention solely to the ex-swimmer.

*      *      *      *      *

"So, you coming or not?" asked Joanne. She was sitting on the sofa in CJ's dorm room with her feet up on the coffee table.

"Tell me again about this party?" CJ responded. Her bedroom door was open as she called out to Joanne. She sat on the end of her bed, putting on her socks and shoes.

"It's off campus, on the way to Oasis. From what I hear, a bunch of the girls will be there. You know, the usual crowd. We're going to stop there for a while, check it out, then go to Oasis."

"Who's throwing it?"

"Don't know."

"How'd you find out, then?"

"Courtney told me about it."

"Courtney?" CJ walked into the living room, threading a belt through the loops of her pants.

"Softball assistant coach." She paused and looked at CJ, who nodded her acknowledgement. "She's the one I spoke to about Andi the other night." Joanne arched her eyebrows up and grinned mischievously at CJ. "She said the women who are throwing the party are friends of this woman Andi."

"You talked me into it," grinned CJ.

"I thought so," Joanne replied. She winked at CJ. "Hurry up, then, and let's get out of here."

*      *      *      *      *

As more people arrived at the party and floor space became more limited, Andi found herself standing nearly face to face with Barb. Although their conversation was mildly interesting and Barb's dark features were certainly attractive, Andi grew uncomfortable with her exclusive attention. When she noticed Sue, the lacrosse grad student, across the room, she politely excused herself and squeezed through the crowd to catch up with her.

By 11:00 the party was packed with people, many of whom Andi didn't know. As she moved and mingled through the crowd, friends stopped her and introduced her to the people they came with. The list of guests grew exponentially that way, with each invited person bringing at least one other friend along to the party. Andi recognized many other grad students as well as a few college seniors. One or two of the younger professors were there, too.

In keeping with the theme, most guests wore Hawaiian clothing, each offering beer or wine coolers to the hosts. The din of conversation and the music from the stereo echoed throughout the house. The rooms were packed with guests.

"Having a good time?" asked Karen. She was making her way through the crowd with a huge bag of chips to augment the depleted supply in the living room.

"Great, as usual," Andi replied. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Just eat, drink, and mingle," replied Karen. "Can I get you another beer?"

"What I need is the bathroom first," Andi answered.

"You'll have to take care of that one yourself," chuckled Karen as she disappeared into the crowd.

Andi headed to the upstairs bathroom, hoping to avoid the long line for one on the first floor. The door was shut so she waited outside in the hall. She was glad to be removed from the commotion of the party below and sighed deeply as she listened to the muffled noise drifting up the stairs. Still facing the bathroom, she crossed her hands over her chest and tilted her head to the right, resting it and her shoulder against the wall. She closed her eyes and slowly exhaled.

Suddenly, she felt someone's hands softly on her waist. The person leaned against her back and whispered close to her ear.

"Guess who?"

Andi recognized the voice immediately, and her heart began to race. She turned to face CJ and was greeted by a broad, grinning smile and twinkling emerald eyes.

"What are you doing here?" Andi asked. She was surprised and genuinely happy to see CJ.

"One of my friends, Joanne, invited me to tag along. She said it was a bring-a-friend party, so here I am." She stood inches away from Andi's face.

"What a great surprise," Andi responded.

At that moment, the bathroom door opened and Barb emerged. She nearly walked right into Andi as she stepped into the hall.

"I'm sorry," Barb said. "Oh, hi Andi. I've been looking for you." She stared at Andi for a moment before looking briefly at CJ. "I'm Barb." She extended a hand to CJ.

"This is CJ," Andi noted. They shook hands then Barb locked Andi's eyes again. "I'll see you downstairs, OK?"

"Sure," Andi replied. She waved half-heartedly as Barb turned and walked down the stairs.

"Friend of yours?" asked CJ. She feigned a casualness she wasn't really feeling. CJ couldn't help but notice Barb's good looks as well as her obvious flirting with Andi. A twinge of jealousy tightened in her stomach for this woman she barely knew.

"We met earlier. She works with Karen, one of the women who's throwing the party."

"She seems interested in your company," CJ noted. She looked earnestly for Andi's reaction. "Am I keeping you?"

"Not at all, CJ," Andi reassured. She placed her hand on CJ's arm for a moment. "I always enjoy talking with you, and I'm glad you're here." She smiled and looked directly into her green eyes, her face only inches away. The grad assistant's heart was still beating rapidly, and she was aware of the tingling in her body that was brought on by seeing CJ. "If you'll excuse me for a second, though," she added, motioning toward the bathroom.

"Of course," CJ replied. "I'll meet you downstairs in the kitchen. Can I get you a drink?"

"A beer would be great, thanks. I'll be down in a minute."

Once inside the bathroom, Andi stood at the sink and looked at her face in the mirror. The bright light revealed a crimson blush that she hoped had been obscured by the darkened hallway. She turned on the cold water tap and splashed her face a few times, then toweled dry. Try as she might, she couldn't ignore her reaction to CJ or deny its cause. Something about this woman attracted her attention and touched her heart. She finished in the bathroom then made her way through the crowd and into the kitchen.

"Here you go," pffered CJ. She handed Andi a beer then clinked her own bottle against it.

"Thanks," replied Andi. "So, how long have you been here?" She leaned against the counter top in the corner of the room. CJ stood facing her, close to the dining room entrance.

"About ten minutes. I saw you in the hallway just after we came in, so I went up to say hi." Because the noise level was quite a bit louder than upstairs, CJ leaned toward Andi in order to speak and be heard. Her body was only inches away from Andi's as she spoke. The basketball player could feel the heat radiating off the other woman's body, which caused her own body to tingle. "I stopped by your office the other day, but you weren't in."

"What day was that?"

"Thursday afternoon."

"I had a meeting with my Chair," she answered. "Everything OK with your project?"

"Oh yeah, fine. I just stopped by to say hi." CJ smiled. Someone walked past CJ into the dining room, bumping her into Andi. "Sorry," she said. She placed her hand on Andi's shoulder to regain her balance. Although she was reluctant to remove it, she casually slipped it into her pocket.

"I'm sorry I missed you," replied Andi. Her shoulder tingled warmly where CJ's hand had touched her.

"So, who's your connection to this party?"

"Martha and Karen, the women who are throwing it, are good friends of mine."

"Oh, you're a first-generation invitation," CJ chuckled. "I'm like a second cousin, once removed." Andi laughed with her.

"Everyone's welcome here. Martha and Karen are great."

"How do you know them?"

"Martha was the swim team manager when I was on the team. We've been friends ever since. I met Karen four years ago through her." She scanned the room looking for the women. "I'll introduce you to them, if I can find them."

"Hey Joanne!" CJ said. She waved above the heads of the people in the kitchen to get her friend's attention. "Over here." Joanne sneaked her way through to where CJ and Andi were standing. "Joanne, this is my friend Andi. Andi, Joanne." They shook hands and exchanged smiles. Joanne gave an appraising look to Andi, followed by a wink to CJ. CJ cringed slightly, hoping that Andi didn't notice.

"I hate to say it, but I think we'll have to head out," warned Joanne. "Someone by the door said that the cops have driven by twice in the last ten minutes. One of the neighbors probably called." She frowned and shook her head slowly.

"What time is it?" asked CJ.

"Eleven forty-five," noted Andi. She was disappointed that the party might be breaking up and that CJ would be leaving.

"Why don't you come out with us," asked Joanne.

"Yeah!" agreed CJ. "A bunch of us were heading out after the party anyway. Why don't you come?"

"Where you going?"

"Oasis, a local hangout," CJ replied. "Ever been there?" She paused and looked at Andi, anxiously waiting for her response. Most people on campus knew that Oasis was a gay bar, and CJ wondered if Andi would admit to having gone to Oasis as well as to being gay. She hoped that Andi would trust her enough to be open, and to say what up until this point had been left unsaid.

"Sure, I'll go," replied Andi. She had dodged CJ's question, but CJ was happy that at least Andi would be joining them.

"Great!" CJ exclaimed.

"I need to find Martha and Karen, first," she added. She made a visual sweep of the kitchen once more, then spotted Martha. "Hey Martha," she waved. Martha moved through the crowded toward Andi. She looked distracted.

"Cops," noted Martha. She shook her head slowly. "The party's over."

"Sorry to hear that," offered Andi.

"Thanks for having us, though," added CJ. She extended her hand to Martha and introduced herself and Joanne.

"Glad you gals could come," said Martha. "Maybe next time we'll plan the party for when the neighbors are out of town."

"CJ and Joanne invited me to join a bunch of them. They're going out to Oasis," Andi added. CJ noticed Martha's knowing look, which was directed at Andi. Martha smiled.

"Good! Go and enjoy," Martha pursuaded.

"Why don't you join us?" suggested Joanne.

"Maybe. First we'll see what kind of shape the house is in after everyone leaves."

"You sure you don't mind?" asked Andi. "I'll stay and help clean up, if you'd like."

"Don't be silly. Go, have fun. Maybe the cops will go away if the house starts to clear out."

"Have you seen Karen?" asked Andi. "I want to say goodbye."

"Not in a while, but I'll tell her for you. Call us during the week, OK?" She looked at CJ and Joanne. "It was nice meeting you ladies. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to appease the cops." She turned and left the kitchen.

"Do you need a lift?" offered CJ. She looked expectantly at Andi.

"I have a car here, so I'll follow you," replied Andi. They made their way across the still-crowded living room and out the front door.

"I'll pull out and meet you at the end of the block," directed Joanne.

"OK," Andi replied. She jogged to her car and put on her coat, then pulled out and followed Joanne and CJ to the bar.

*      *      *      *      *

CJ and Joanne introduced Andi to their friends at Oasis. Several of the women Andi recognized, either by name or by face. Although she went out often in college, especially with Elizabeth and their group of friends, she went out very seldom these days and almost never by herself. With a group, the bar scene could be fun but by herself, she felt uncomfortable. The group CJ and Joanne met up with, upperclassmen and grad students, were a lively bunch, and Andi was looking forward to a fun night. She was also glad to see that others, who obviously came from Martha and Karen's party, were also wearing Hawaiian shirts.

Andi stood near the corner of the bar as her eyes adjusted to the pulsing lights of the dance floor. CJ and Joanne were across the room, talking to a group of women who Andi recognized as basketball players. She hoped that Jen wouldn't make an appearance, and scanned the darkened room to check. As she was looking, an arm slipped quickly around her waist. She turned her head and smiled, recognizing her friend Sue.

"I never see you out, Andi," remarked Sue. She smiled. "I'm glad you didn't change, either." She pointed to her own flowery shirt. "How about dancing?"

"Sure," Andi replied.

They stepped out onto the crowded dance floor and moved to the rhythm of the club music that blasted loudly through the speakers. Strobe lighting flashed, producing a slow motion appearance of dancing on the floor. Sue was a good dancer, one of the few who could keep up with Andi. They made good partners as the women moved rhythmically around the floor. Andi noticed that others nearby were watching them. She and Sue had met two years ago through mutual friends and saw each other often at many school functions. Andi felt relieved that Sue, unlike other grad students, never wanted anything more from her than a casual friendship.

After the second song, Andi could feel herself growing hot and perspired. She thanked Sue for the dance, then headed to the bar and purchased a bottled water. She consumed the small drink quickly, then turned back toward the dancers, enjoying the creative display of energy as they moved around the floor.

As she stood watching the dancers, she scanned the room looking for CJ. Over the past few weeks, Andi had sensed CJ's interest when they had been in each other's company; however, more strongly than ever she felt a connection between them at the party. She thought back to that moment when CJ touched her and whispered to her in the hallway at Martha and Karen's.

"How about a dance for me?"

Andi blinked hard and emerged from her daydream to find CJ standing next to her.

"I was wondering where you went," Andi replied.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to invite you and leave you by yourself. I ran into some of my teammates over there," She pointed across the room.

"Don't apologize. I was mingling with the people you introduced me to." It was true that she could keep herself entertained, but she appreciated that CJ was looking after her.

"Yes, I saw you dancing with Sue. You're good! So, want to dance?" She held out her hand.

"Sure," Andi replied.

She placed her hand in CJ's and they walked out to the dance floor. CJ squeezed her hand as they moved across the bar. A warm, tingling sensation radiated from that touch. The loud, pulsing music rocked her body as she and CJ joined the others on the crowded floor. Some of CJ's friends joined them and they all danced in a small circle. When the friends moved across the floor, CJ and Andi were once again face to face, smiling and enjoying the music.

For CJ, the night was just what she wanted ˝ an opportunity for Andi to see her as a peer, not as another one of her students. Surrounded by mutual friends in a setting other than school, their feelings toward one another seemed to be somehow different. So far, both at the party and at the club, CJ felt that connection to her, and she sensed that Andi felt it, too.

After two club mixes and a retro Madonna medley, Andi was once again in need of a drink. She motioned to CJ, and they walked off the floor toward the bar. Andi bought two bottled waters, one for each of them, then drank half of hers in one long sip.

"You never did answer my question before," CJ reminded. She moved closer to Andi to hear her above the noise of the bar. She locked onto her blue eyes with an open, questioning gaze, waiting for an answer.

"Which question?" asked Andi. She arched a single dark eyebrow that nearly became lost in the ebony bangs across her forehead.

"Have you ever been here before?" CJ looked at Andi and waited for her to answer. Andi could see that the expression on her face was sincere, that CJ was not trying to trick her into revealing any secrets or make her uncomfortable. This question was her attempt to create a more open dialogue between them, to speak honestly about what had been left unspoken. Andi looked at CJ and no longer saw the student who asked research questions, but the friend she was becoming. She smiled at her and felt ready to take a chance.

"Yes, I have. I came here a lot when I was in college, but less frequently over the last few years." She felt relieved, as if they were finally speaking to each other face to face instead of talking through a window that had been partially closed. She paused and waited for CJ to speak, and when she didn't, Andi continued. "I didn't think it was a secret, CJ. I kind of figured that you knew, that it didn't need to be said."

"I guess I did know," replied CJ. "I just didn't want to assume." She paused and looked intensely into Andi's azure eyes. "I was hoping that you felt you could trust me enough to be open with me. Do you?"

"I just did, didn't I?" She rested her hand on CJ's forearm for a moment and smiled as she looked in her eyes.

"Thanks, Andi. It's between us." CJ's eyes remained locked on Andi's.

"There you are!" Joanne interrupted. Her approach broke the trance-like stare between CJ and Andi. Joanne didn't seem to notice and continued talking. "Some of the gals on the team are leaving. They were looking for you to say goodbye." She turned to Andi and smiled. "Can I borrow her for a minute?" Andi nodded her head.

"By all means," she agreed.

"Do you mind, Andi?" asked CJ.

"I'll bring her right back," Joanne promised.

"It's fine. I'll meet you back here when you're finished."

Andi watched as CJ and Joanne walked across the room to meet their friends. Joanne's timing wasn't great, but it gave Andi a minute to think about what just transpired between her and CJ. She felt surprisingly comfortable after having just come out to a student. A friend, she corrected herself. She's my friend, and not my student. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

CJ thought better of reprimanding Joanne for dragging her away from Andi. She didn't want Joanne to know that what CJ presented to her initially as curiosity about Andi had developed into flat-out, head-over-heels attraction. She fought back her annoyance and said nothing to Joanne as they walked over to say their good byes.

As the last of their friends headed out, the DJ called the last dance of the night, a slow dance. CJ disappeared from Joanne's side without her knowing and went in search of Andi. Couples crowded onto the dance floor, locked in embraces so different from the frenetic dancing throughout the rest of the night. The basketball player weaved her way around and through the dancers to make her way back to the bar where she was supposed to meet the grad assistant. More than anything, she wanted to end this evening with her arms wrapped around Andi in a slow dance. When she finally emerged from the throng of dancers, the dark-haired woman was no where to be seen.

CJ was crushed. She cursed Joanne silently, annoyed that she left Andi there at the end of what had been a fabulous night. She looked around frantically, scanning over the heads of the women milling about near her. Wondering if the ex-swimmer got tired of waiting and left, CJ walked toward the exit but didn't notice Andi amongst the crowd leaving the building. She walked back to the bar and leaned against the barstool, annoyed at herself for allowing the evening to end this way.

"I've been looking for you."

CJ looked up quickly toward the voice and saw Andi standing before her. She smiled, heart racing, and stepped forward toward her. They stood face to face, looking into each other's eyes.

"It's the last dance," noted CJ. She held out her hand to Andi. "Want to..." Before she could finish, the song ended. The lights came up, exposing the dancing couples who lingered on the floor, loathe to move apart.

"Next time," Andi promised. She took CJ's hand and squeezed it gently, then smiled before releasing it. "I guess we better go."

They walked slowly and silently toward the exit. The lights were up, illuminating the people who were funneling out the exit door. Andi walked close to CJ and bumped her hip as she walked, throwing her off stride. Andi looked at her and grinned until a smile emerged on CJ's face.

"What was that for?" CJ asked.

"For fun," Andi replied. She winked at CJ.

Once outside, the brisk winter air chilled their damp clothing. CJ walked with Andi to her car. They both stood next to it, rubbing their hands on their arms to create warming friction.

"Need a lift back to campus?" offered Andi.

"Joanne will be waiting for me, but thanks for offering."

A long silence lingered between them as they shuffled around, attempting to keep warm. Something had changed between them that night. A connection was made that each woman felt personally and knew that the other felt as well. Neither knew how to put that feeling into words, however, so with silent eye contact and knowing glances they bridged the space between them.

"Will you be around this week?" asked Andi.

"We're leaving tomorrow for a two-game road trip. I'll be back on campus Wednesday." She paused and looked into Andi's blue eyes. "Can I call you when I get back?"

"Definitely," Andi replied. She smiled at CJ, never taking her eyes off the green ones that looked so intensely at her.

"I had a great time tonight, Andi. Thanks so much for being open with me, and for trusting me."

"You don't have to thank me, CJ. I had a great time, too."

CJ leaned toward Andi just as a car pulled up next to them, tooting the horn and coming to a stop. Joanne rolled down the window and smiled.

"Hey, gals! You must be freezing out here."

"CJ was just wondering where you were," Andi remarked. "I didn't want to leave her here without a ride."

"I wouldn't abandon you here, girlfriend," teased Joanne. "Hop in." CJ locked eyes once more with Andi before moving around her friend's car and getting in. Andi bent down toward the driver's window and waved to the women.

"Get into your car and start it up before we drive away," Joanne requested. Andi appreciated her concern and did as she requested. After starting the engine, Andi gave a thumbs up to Joanne and CJ in the other car. Joanne then rolled up the window and pulled away. Andi followed their taillights until they turned the corner and exited the lot. She pulled out of the lot behind them and headed back to campus.

Although Andi's body was tired, her mind was wide-awake with thoughts and feelings about the night. She hoped that her journaling would help her sort it out.

I'm really happy, a little confused, somewhat overwhelmed, and a bit afraid. How did this woman, whom I barely know, wiggle her way into my heart so quickly that I find myself thinking about her, daydreaming, and getting warm fuzzies when I'm near her? Lord knows that I've taken enough teasing about being aloof -- and I can't deny the truth of it -- but around CJ I don't feel that way. I don't want to keep her at arm's length, like I usually do with people I meet (most people, in fact!). I'm surprised at myself, actually. That's also part of what's so confusing and overwhelming at the same time. The way I'm feeling is so not me, but at the same time it feels so natural to be this way around her. It's not a conscious decision -- I'm just following my heart. That's the scary part. I haven't had too much success in areas of the heart. In fact, since my last attempt was a complete and total disaster, the idea of a repeat performance makes me want to run the other way. But CJ isn't Liz, and even though I don't know her that well, I get a good vibe from her, a safe feeling. Should I trust her? Should I trust my own heart?

Chapter 10

CJ stared out the window of the bus as it wound its way back to campus. The snow had been falling steadily for the last two hours and was beginning to accumulate on the road. She hoped it wouldn't delay their arrival. Hypnotized by the falling flakes, she gazed at the blanketed landscape and let her thoughts drift once again to Andi.      

She mentally kicked herself for leaving her cell phone in the dorm. Several times over the last few days she thought about calling Andi from a pay phone or the hotel room, but the lack of privacy prevented her from making the call. That, and the fact that she really didn't have a reason to call her. There was always something to talk about and conversation flowed easily between them in person, but CJ felt somehow uncomfortable about calling while on the road.

The party, followed by the evening at the Oasis, had gone so well that CJ found herself wanting more, but didn't know how to make that happen. Something clicked that night between them, but she feared that forcing it would ruin what was going so smoothly. The basketball player waited impatiently to arrive back on campus and call her.

"What do you remember?" asked Kelly. She playfully tapped the daydreaming athlete on the arm three times. "Hey CJ! Did you hear me?"

"What?" CJ inquired. She turned to face Kelly and another teammates who were engaged in a lively discussion. She hadn't even heard them talking all along, let alone heard the question that was just addressed to her. Gathering her thoughts, she emerged from her reverie and focused on the women sitting next to her.

"Where's your head?" asked Kelly.

"Sorry. I was looking at the snow."

"I said, what do you remember from when you were a kid playing in the snow?" Kelly and another gal looked at CJ expectantly. Although interrupted from her train of thought, CJ responded casually and jumped right into the discussion.

"Sled riding. We had a big hill at the golf course a few blocks from my house, and we used to go there after a snowfall. Not just my brothers and sister, but a bunch of the kids on the block. We'd bring our sleds and snow disks, then spend the whole afternoon sliding down that hill." She paused and smiled, lost in the remembrance. Kelly chimed in with a sledding memory, of huge hills and long runs. The story grew animated and laughter filled their part of the bus. CJ smiled as Kelly relived her childhood fun.

"We should go sledding!" Kelly urged, in a hushed whisper. Two pairs of mischievous eyes looked at Kelly, then at their coach to see if she heard. When the coach didn't respond, they expressed their interest in silent nods. "Over the weekend, after Sunday's practice," Kelly added. "Just a few friends, you know, so coach doesn't find out and have a fit. It'd be a blast! What do you say?"

CJ though about sledding down a big hill just like in her childhood. The image of carefree and unfettered fun was appealing, a relief from the stress of school, basketball practice, and games. She smiled at the thought of piling on a sled and racing down a hill with her friends, or even with Andi. That thought made her heart jump. Sledding was a great way to include the grad assistant in an activity that would align them as peers again, as they were at the party and the bar, instead of as mentor and student.

"Count me in," CJ concurred. She grinned and nodded her head. "I'll mention it to a few people who I think will be interested."

"Great!" exclaimed Kelly. "We can go to the big hill near Cloud Mountain after practice." She smiled, pleased with herself for coming up with the idea. CJ was happy too, for it gave her an even better excuse to call Andi when they got back to campus.

*      *      *      *      *

With CJ off-campus for a few days, Andi was able to concentrate more on her work. When she knew that that basketball star was on campus, she found herself searching faces as she walked across the green, hoping to spot the younger athlete's familiar smile. Every knock on Andi's office door quickened her pulse with the anticipation that CJ might be visiting. She admonished herself for getting so distracted so easily, but she enjoyed thinking of CJ and often didn't chase away those thoughts, even though they kept her from her work.

Both Andi and her students were half way through the second semester and the workload seemed to increase as the end of the school year loomed nine weeks away. In addition to meeting with her students to discuss their midterm grades, she had to meet with her own professors and advisor to chart her Masters degree progress. She anticipated three more semesters on campus to finish her degree. During the summer and the fall term, she would complete her course work, then in the spring, a year from now, she would complete her thesis. After graduation, her plans were still to be determined.

With books and papers spread out across her dining room table, Andi sat concentrating on the work before her. On days like this, her paperwork seemed endless and she questioned her decision to enter a career that promised a future filled with never ending editing and grading. Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing phone. Relieved by the excuse to leave the paperwork, she got up from the table and settled onto the couch before answering it.

"Hello?"

"Hi Andi. It's CJ."

"Hey! How are you CJ?" She smiled broadly at hearing the young athlete's friendly voice.

"Glad to be home. Am I interrupting you?"

"Not really. I could use a study break. How was your road trip?"

"One win, one loss. Kind of disappointing, really, because we should have won both."

"How'd you do?"

"I played well, I guess, but not good enough to pull off a second win."

"Seems to me I remember having a discussion with you once about how basketball is a team sport, remember?" A hint of playful sarcasm rose in her voice.

"I know, I know. I take things too personally sometimes."

"I'll be careful what I say, then."

"Please don't," replied CJ earnestly. "I thought we agreed upon being open and honest."

"We did, and I will be." Andi paused and thought back to their evening at the Oasis, and of coming out to CJ. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "So, how were the roads driving back? I had to go out before and brush off my car."

"The bus did OK, but some of the roads are covered. Hey, speaking of snow, are you doing anything on Sunday?"

"No, why?"

"A bunch of us are going sled riding. Interested? It should be a lot of fun."

"Sure." Andi could sense her enthusiasm. She envisioned CJ's dancing, emerald eyes as she chattered energetically on the other end of the phone.

"Why don't you invite Karen and Martha, too. They seemed like fun people."

"That's really nice of you to offer. I was going to call them later tonight, so I'll mention it to them."

"Great! It'll be in the early afternoon, after practice."

"Your coach won't mind?"

"Coaches and parents get information on a need-to-know basis, and this is something I don't think she needs to know. Sledding down a hill is not a high-injury activity. Besides, I could use a little fun."

"So could I."

"Excellent! It's a plan, then. How about I pick you up at one o'clock? Then, we can ride over and pick up Martha and Karen, if they decide to go."

"That's fine. I'll put in a little extra work between now and then so I can have the afternoon free."

"I'm really glad you're going, Andi. I had such a great time last weekend and... well... sledding will be a lot of fun."

"Me too."

"So, I guess I should let you get back to your work." CJ paused. She was not really anxious to end their conversation but didn't want to come on too strong or make a pest of herself.

"And I guess you have work to do too, after being away for a few days." She could hear the reluctance in CJ's voice about ending the conversation, and was flattered by her attention. She smiled. "If you're working on your paper and you have any questions, you could always stop by my office. Or, you could just call me. I'd be happy to help."

"Thanks, Andi." She appreciated her offer but was anxious to move away from the student and mentor rolls that they had taken on when they initially met. "I'll call you later in the week to confirm the time for sledding, OK?"

"Sure. Call me anytime."

"Well then, until soon," CJ said softly. She smiled, and her body tingled warmly.

"Until Sunday," responded Andi. She hung up the phone and leaned back against the sofa, grinning to herself.

Chapter 11

Andi's doorbell rang at exactly 1:00.

"Ready?" asked CJ.

Andi nodded then stepped out onto the porch dressed in ski clothes and winter boots. She was genuinely excited about their afternoon plans. CJ greeted her with a big smile and a playful pat on the back. They walked out to CJ's car, an old Volvo station wagon.

"Nice wheels," teased Andi.

"This baby has been in the family for sixteen years now," replied CJ, patting the hood with a gloved hand. "She's not shiny anymore and she has a few dings here and there, but on the inside she still runs great. You can't just dump something that's not perfect anymore, right?" CJ asked.

"Amen to that," Andi affirmed. Her expression became solemn as her eyes dropped to look at her feet.

"I was teasing, but you were not," CJ replied. Her familiar smile grew serious as she looked at Andi. "Want to tell me what you were thinking?" She sensed that Andi's remark hinted of a heartbreak deeper than that of an abandoned old car.

"What I'd really like is to get inside this old car and start out on our sledding adventure," she replied to avoid an explanation.

"OK then, hop in." She allowed the comment to drop, not wanting to make Andi uncomfortable before their outing even began. Andi climbed into the front passenger seat as CJ started up the engine.

"I brought my only 3 Indigo Girls CD's for the ride," CJ noted.

"Did CD players even exist when this car was born?" Andi joked.

"After-market, baby! I like tunes when I drive."

"Then you might like this. It's a bootleg of Indigo Girls at Radio City Music Hall. It was the first time I saw them in concert."

"Your first, huh?" She smiled at Andi.

"Yup." She handed the disk to CJ. "This copy's for you."

"I can keep it?" Andi nodded. "Excellent! My first Indigo Girls boot." She smiled at Andi with dancing blue eyes. "Pop it in, OK?" Andi put the CD into the player, then adjusted the volume.

      "Thanks so much for planning this outing," Andi began. "I've been looking forward to this all week."

"Me too. Remind me how to get to Martha and Karen's, OK?" Andi gave her directions and shortly they arrived at her friends' house. CJ tooted the horn twice to announce their arrival. Within seconds, the garage door opened and Martha emerged carrying a sled. Karen followed after her, shutting the garage door.

"Got room for this?" Martha asked.

"Sure," CJ replied. She got out of the car and opened the rear door. "We can put it in here with the toboggan and rest it on the back of the seat." She and Martha positioned the sled and toboggan, then they climbed into the car. "Ready?" asked CJ.

"Ready! By the way, I'm Karen." She leaned forward from the back seat and offered her hand to CJ. "We didn't meet at the party last weekend."

"Hi Karen. I'm glad you gals could join us," said CJ.

"I'm glad that Andi called," replied Martha.

"I love sledding! How long is the ride to the slope?" asked Andi.

"About thirty minutes," CJ replied. "I know what'll pass the time quickly, though. Ever play 'I love, I hate'?" Andi looked quizzically at CJ.

"I don't' know what you're talking about," the grad assistant replied.

"It's a game, kind of," continued CJ. She addressed the three women in the car, glancing at Martha and Karen in the rear view mirror. "You sit around, usually in a group, and each person takes a turn saying one thing that she loves, then on the next round, one thing that she hates, then loves, then hates, and it goes on. It's interesting to hear what people feel passionate about, and it's a good way to get to know somebody. When Andi said that she loved sledding, it reminded me of that. Want to play?"

"Sure, but I already went, so it's your turn." Andi turned a bit in the seat, as much as her seatbelt would allow, to face CJ. As she drove, CJ glanced off the road now and then to look at Andi.

"Hmmmm. I love... getting a greeting card in the mail, not just on a special occasion like a birthday or something, but just because the person sending it was thinking of me." CJ glanced at Andi and smiled. "Now Martha goes."

"I love a good, home-cooked meal. It's much better than the finest restaurant." She looked at Karen and smiled. "Especially since I live with such a good cook." She put her hand around Karen's shoulder.

"My turn?" asked Karen. "I love a day where everything goes right. No mistakes, no harassing phone calls, no forgotten paperwork."

"How often does that happen?" asked Andi.

"I'm still waiting for the first time," Karen chuckled. "But when it does happen, I know I'll love it."

"Good one," replied Andi. "Let's see... I hate... when I rip the cereal box liner trying to open it, then the cereal slips down between the liner and the inside of the box every time I pour it."

"I hate that too," added CJ.

"You've got to think of your own. No piggybacking," Andi teased.

"I thought you never played this game before? And now you know all the rules?" CJ joked. "Let me see... I hate when people make racial, ethnic, or sexual jokes that are insulting, and someone's feelings in the group get hurt."

"Aren't you sensitive," said Andi. She just keeps getting more impressive.

"Me?" asked Martha. "I hate when I forget to save something that I'm typing on the computer and the damn thing freezes, then I loose everything that I've just typed. Cripes! That happened to me on Friday afternoon, just when I was getting ready to leave the office. I had to retype the whole thing."

"That does stink," agreed Karen. "I hate when people drive in the left hand lane with their left blinker on. I mean, where the hell do they think they are turning? Hello?! Pay attention and drive."

"Back to I love, right?" asked Andi. "I love when the moonlight casts shadows and makes the snow look blue."

"I love to hike up to the top of a mountain on a clear autumn day," began CJ, "where the view at the top is 360 degrees, and I love to stand up there, without the crowds and noise and pollution and pavement, and just look out upon the blanket of color and know that I'm far away from the world below."

Andi nodded. "I've had a few days like that myself. I love that too." CJ nodded in return. "Back to you, Martha."

"I love finding an outfit on sale, reduced like seventy-five percent or something, and the only one they have left is exactly my size!"

"I love putting on an old coat and finding twenty dollars in the pocket," said Karen. "That happened to me a few weeks ago." She tapped Andi on the shoulder. "Now you again."

"Hmmm... I hate seeing dead animals by the side of the road. It makes me want to cry when I think about how scared they must have been right before they got killed." Andi smile faded as she thought of what she just described.

CJ reached over and patted her leg. "Don't worry. I drive carefully." She paused for a minute, then spoke. "My turn? I hate liver." She shivered at the thought of it. "I mean, how can anyone eat a filter organ, that's what I'd like to know, an organ filled with all the toxins it's meant to suck out from the body? Yuck." She paused and made a funny face, then glanced at the other women in the car. "Did I offend any of you? Do you eat filter organs?"

"I won't be eating them anymore, thank you very much," teased Andi. Unable to maintain her serious expression, she broke into laughter. The other three joined in and they laughed together.

"I hate wasting eight-fifty on a crappy movie," remarked Martha. "I can't believe that theaters get away with that kind of robbery."

"I hate going to the dentist," Karen noted. "My dentist is very nice and all, but I hate that drilling sound. It gives me the creeps."

"Is it my turn again?" asked Andi. CJ nodded. "I love to lay out on the beach late at night, when no one else is around, and smell the salt air, and listen to the waves crashing on the sand, and gaze at the heavens, looking for shooting stars."

"By yourself?" asked CJ.

"It depends." She looked at CJ and arched one dark, expressive eyebrow. "Your turn."

"I love to be touched. Massages, back scratches, hugs, you name it. I love physical contact. It makes me feel close to someone." She looked at Andi for a long second, trying to read her reaction. Andi's blue eyes remained locked on hers. CJ had to turn away first, for fear of driving off the road.

As CJ drove, the four women played round after round of CJ's game while the Indigo Girls concert rang from the car speakers. Andi looked over at CJ and wondered, What a shame that you and I have been on the same campus for three and a half years, but never met earlier. Andi shook her head slowly.

"What are you thinking?" asked CJ.

"Do you believe in fate?" Andi inquired.

CJ thought pensively before responding. "I'd like to believe that I control my own life through my decisions and actions."

"I agree with you there, but do you ever wonder about the seeming randomness of life, circumstances, people?"

"Like literally bumping into you at the reception?"

"Sure, that's a good example. That's certainly not something that happened as a result of carefully planned decisions and actions," Andi noted.

"Maybe that was just meant to be," CJ replied softly.

*      *      *      *      *

"We're here!" announced CJ, as she pulled into a parking lot dotted with a few other cars. The conversation and music made the thirty-minute car ride pass quickly. The sky was cloudless blue and sunny, and the temperature hovered around freezing. They got out and stretched. "Kelly's here already. That's her car over there, and the one next to it has a campus parking sticker on it, too."

"What can I take?" asked Andi.

"Why don't you help me with the toboggan," replied CJ.

"I've been sledding as a kid," began Andi, "but I've never been on a toboggan before."

"So you're a toboggan virgin," CJ grinned.

"Yes, but you will be gentle with me, won't you?" played Andi.

"But of course," CJ replied.

CJ and Andi carried the toboggan, while Martha pulled the sled. Karen walked at the front of the group, whistling. They marched up the path and came to a hill, where about a dozen people were sledding

"Here?" asked Andi.

"No, too crowded. There's another place that's usually less crowded because people don't want to walk farther," CJ answered. "Do you mind a little extra walk? That's where the rest of the gang is."

"Not at all," replied Andi.

They walked for another ten minutes on a path through the snow, then arrived at the top of a hill. They could hear the sound of laughter as sleders raced down the slope. Andi and CJ put the toboggan down near some logs that seemed to serve as benches near a fire pit surrounded by stones. Charred wood in the pit indicated that it had been used within the last few days.

"What a great spot!" Andi exclaimed. "How did you find it?" She looked around at the hillside blanketed with evergreens and white birch. An expansive white slope stretched out in front of them, leading toward a frozen creek nearly half a mile away. She could see some people walking back up the slope, dragging sleds behind them.

"I came to the first spot once and saw some footprints in the snow leading away. I followed them and found this place. I like it much better because it's usually empty, the hill is a bit longer, and the fire pit makes it easy to warm up," CJ replied.

"It's OK to start a fire?" asked Andi.

"No one's ever said otherwise, and I always smother the fire with snow before I leave, just to be safe," CJ answered.

"We're heading down," Karen announced. "See you gals at the bottom." She sat on the sled behind Martha and they pushed off, accelerating down the hill.

"So how does this thing work?" asked Andi, pointing at the toboggan.

"Easy. Lean right to turn right, lean left to turn left. It's that simple."

"Wouldn't it be easier to go straight?"

"Straight just isn't as much fun," quipped CJ. "And most of the time, you just don't have a choice." She smiled and winked. Andi blushed at yet another of CJ's innuendos. She looked skeptically at the toboggan and then back at CJ. "It is easier with two people on together though, more bodyweight, more stability. Toboggan teamwork," CJ added.

"That suits me fine," Andi replied, relieved. "I wasn't sure I could steer it by myself anyway. What do you say, then? Let's go!" CJ sat in the front seat, then directed Andi to sit behind her. "What should I do with my legs?" asked Andi. CJ grabbed each boot and lifted Andi's legs over the tops of her own thighs so that Andi's boots were in front of CJ.

"Once we push off, hold on to me," directed CJ. "That way, we can lean together. Ever ride a motorcycle?" Andi nodded. "It's kind of like that. Ready?" Andi nodded again.

They pushed the toboggan to the edge of the hill until it was gliding on its own. Andi put her gloved hands around CJ's waist. Just sitting close to her was making her heart jump, but putting her hands around her, albeit through many layers of clothing, too many layers, she thought, guiltily, felt wonderful. They built up speed as they flew down the hill. CJ leaned now and then to avoid bumps and obstacles, then they glided to a stop at the bottom of the hill not far from where Martha and Karen were. CJ let out a hoot.

"That was great!" exclaimed Andi. "Let's do it again."

"But first we have to walk back up," CJ grimaced. They both looked up the long hill. "I hate walking up the hill after a great ride down," CJ began.

"I hate when someone forgets to turn the shower faucet down, so when you turn on the tap, you get an unexpected spray of cold water on your back," Andi continuted.

"They do that in the dorm all the time. I hate that too. Hmmm... I love the smell of roses."

They continued the game after each ride down the hill as they took turns pulling the toboggan back up. CJ introduced Andi, Martha, and Karen to her friends as the sleders gathered at the top of the slope. Andi recognized some of the women from the Oasis. The sound of their laughter echoed off the frozen ground as they glided down the hill. Andi inhaled a chest full of the crisp winter air, then exhaled, smiling. She couldn't remember the last time she had such a great time. She felt like a kid again, far removed from the stress of teaching and studying, the pressure of bills, and the tension of deadlines and expectations. For now, there was no place else she'd rather be. As much fun as the tobogganing was, however, it was CJ's company that made the day really special. She turned to the younger athlete and smiled.

"Can I be up front for the next ride?" she asked her flaxen-haired friend.

"Sure, but that means you've got to steer. If I'm sitting behind you, I won't be able to see the bumps, so it's all up to you."

"I was hoping you'd help me out a bit."

"I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the ride." CJ grinned.

Andi got on the front of the toboggan, then CJ moved in behind her. Andi could feel CJ's body pressed up against her back, and it made her tingle warmly all over. She lifted up CJ's boots and legs over her own and into her lap. The idea of being enveloped by CJ's body made her feel safe, yet excited.

"Ready?" Andi asked. She turned her head slightly and brushed up against CJ's face, so close to hers. She felt CJ's warm, spearmint breath on her cheek.

"I was born ready," CJ whispered near Andi's ear. Tingles shot throughout Andi's body.

They pushed off and headed down the hill. As they approached the first bump, Andi leaned and could feel CJ holding on tightly and leaning with her. The speed of the ride and the touch of CJ's body were exhilarating. As the next bump neared, Andi became tentative, not sure how much to lean or shift her weight. She finally leaned to avoid the bump ahead, but not in time. The toboggan became airborne over the bump.

Andi hollered and leaned while the toboggan was still airborne. It twisted in the air and landed at an angle, tossing both of them out. CJ and Andi tumbled a few yards down the hill before coming to a stop. They were both covered with snow. The toboggan glided to a halt at the bottom of the hill.

Andi, disoriented, got up quickly and looked around for at CJ. She saw her about fifteen feet away, lying on her side in the snow. Panicked that CJ was hurt, Andi ran over to her. She fell to her knees, bending over CJ.

"CJ! Oh my God, CJ! Are you OK?"

Before Andi could react, CJ grabbed her around the waist, rolled her over in the snow, and sat on top of her, straddling her hips.

"You drive crazy, girl!" CJ teased. "You need to learn the rhythm and balance of being with another person."

"That's the story of my life," joked Andi. She was so relieved that CJ wasn't hurt that she could even be mad that CJ tricked her. Besides, CJ's smile was hard to resist. "Swimming is a solo sport."

"I guessed you never learned synchronized swimming," CJ replied. "Sometimes teamwork can be more fun than solo." She smiled and winked at Andi. "Come on," CJ added. She got up, then pulled Andi to her feet. "Let's go get the toboggan."

*      *      *      *      *

After nearly two hours of sledding, the group gathered around the fire pit to warm up and to rest after many walks up the hill. Wet mittens and gloves leaned against the large stones surrounding the pit. The air was filled with the talking and laughter of the dozen friends who were out enjoying each other's company as well as the beautiful day.

"Three cheers for Kelly," CJ cheered. "She dreamed up this plan on the bus ride home." The group hooted and hollered as Kelly stood and ceremoniously took a bow.

CJ then turned her attention to the pit, watching as Andi started the fire. The ebony-haired woman worked so efficiently layering the dry twigs and leaves that within minutes the flame was blazing brightly. CJ marveled that everything Andi did, she seemed to do effortlessly and well. The grad student's smooth confidence, far from being haughty or intimidating, was comfortable to be around. The younger athlete watched as her friend fed larger branches into the blaze. Once the fire was roaring, Andi backed away from it and sat on the log next to CJ.

"How's that feel?" asked Andi.

"Great," CJ replied. She held her hands out to the fire. "What a great mix of the elements ˝ fire, wood, ice." She smiled and looked around at the group of women relaxing around the fire. The crackling blaze drowned out their quiet talking, yet CJ could see their lips moving and their faces lighting up with laughter. Martha and Karen seemed to be enjoying themselves, talking with two women who were sitting near them.

"Hey Andi!" called Martha. "How about a song?"

"Yeah!" agreed Karen. "That'll warm us all up." She looked encouragingly at Andi, then briskly rubbed her hands together in front of the blaze.

Andi felt a blush rise to her face at hearing the request. She glared half-heartedly at her friends across the fire pit, then looked down at her feet, hoping their request when unnoticed. Out of the corner of her eye she could see CJ peering at her with a questioning look, her blond head tilted slightly to the side. Andi sat quietly, holding her breath for a moment until CJ nudged her in the arm.

"You can sing?" CJ asked.

"That's an understatement," Karen hastened to add. "You mean you've never heard her?"

CJ grinned broadly at Andi, whose face was flushed red from the attention she was hoping to avoid.

"She's obviously been holding out on me," CJ teased. "I haven't heard a single note." She bumped Andi playfully in the shoulder. Andi continued to look at her feet. "So how about it, Andi? Will you sing something?"

"Come on," chimed in Martha. The other women in the circle were adding their encouragement. "It'll be fun."

Andi was uncomfortable with the attention turned on her. Her hands were clasped in her lap while her long legs were extended out in front of her, crossed at the ankles. Her eyes were locked on the tips of her boots, which she was tapping vigorously. CJ leaned toward Andi, their bodies pressed together from shoulder to hip. Andi could feel CJ's warmth penetrating the layers of her winter clothes. She could feel CJ's warm breath as she whispered close to Andi's ear.

"Please?" asked CJ.

Andi's body shuddered at the word combined with the body contact. She turned her head slightly to look at CJ, whose honey-brown eyebrows were raised in invitation while her green eyes pleaded softly. There was no way she could refuse that look and she knew it. Andi let out the breath that she forgot she was holding.

"OK," she agreed. CJ reached out and squeezed her arm. "But only if everybody sings along." She glared at Martha and Karen again but her stare was met with laughing eyes that quickly softened her own.

"We could start with Happy Birthday," suggested one of the women. "Kelly's birthday is four days from now."

With that, the group of women launched into a rousing chorus of the birthday song. Andi joined in, pitching her voice just loud enough to add to the chorus without standing out. When that song was over, someone else began a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter. By the start of the second verse, the voices of the singers had softened enough so that Andi's rich, alto voice could be heard above the rest. Resisting the urge to turn and face Andi, CJ simply tilted her head slightly and watched her friend out of the corner of her eye. The grad assistant's sonorous voice, so powerful and in perfect key, made CJ's body tingle. After two or three more songs, Andi put up her hands in protest of another round.

"Where'd you learn to sing like that?" CJ asked quietly. She turned to face Andi.

"Just always could, I guess," she replied with a shrug.

"You should do it more often," CJ added. "It's beautiful."

The noise around the fire pit died down to quite conversation. Andi sat silently, staring at the flickering flames of the fire and feeling the heat of the blaze. The warmth radiating from the woman next to her was equally as strong.

Andi was having such a great day. She looked over at her flaxen-haired friend and smiled. CJ had a way of doing little things that made her feel very special. She was flattered by the attention, really. No one ever made her feel quite like this before. She reached over and clasped CJ's ungloved hand.

"I'm having so much fun, I want you to know," Andi offered softly. She turned her face to look into CJ's eyes as she spoke. Her companion's emerald eyes, flecked with gold from the fire, returned her gaze.

"I'm glad. Me too," CJ replied. She leaned toward Andi so that their shoulders touched, then both women shifted their eyes to the fire light.

Andi kept her hand in CJ's an extended moment before removing it to pick up her gloves. They lingered in the glow of the fire.

*      *      *      *      *

The car ride back to campus passed quickly as they listened to music and talked. Their cheeks were flushed bright pink from the wind and cold. Karen and Martha dozed quietly in the back seat. CJ and Andi were pleasantly relaxed from their many walks up the hill with toboggan or sled in tow. Despite this, neither woman was anxious for the day to end. Andi turned in her seat, to look at and talk with CJ as she drove.

"I've got a pile of paperwork waiting for me," Andi admitted. "I'd much rather be tobogganing down that hill, that's for sure."

"Is that your grad assistant work?"

"Yes, and my least favorite part. Correcting papers is a drag."

"Why'd you choose that route?"

"Financial reasons. I get a stipend, albeit small, and I get to take classes for free. If I didn't do it this way, I probably couldn't afford to go."

"That's pretty much why I want to go that route, too. I'll just have to wait and see what kind of deal I can get."

"Would you consider going far away?" Andi asked. In the few weeks that she'd gotten to know CJ, she had grown fond of her warm and outgoing personality. She also couldn't deny the emerging feelings of attraction to her.

"Why, would you miss me?" The basketball player's tone was casual, but her question sincere. She was growing fond of Andi, and was fishing to see if the sentiment was mutual. The older woman paused, then answered.

"Even though we've known each other only... let's see... a month and a half, yes, I think I would."

CJ smiled broadly, and her dimple grew deep. Andi couldn't help looking at it, or her lips. The younger woman noticed Andi staring at her, but couldn't take her eyes off the road long enough to return the ex-swimmer's intense gaze.

"Well, I'm not going anywhere, yet."

"I'm glad."

They dropped of Martha and Karen first, then arrived back on campus in the late afternoon. The sky was splashed with pink, orange, and purple hues, casting dark shadows across the front of Andi's building. CJ walked with her dark-haired friend up to the porch. As they reached the door, they turned and faced one another. Even in the dim light of setting sun, Andi could see CJ's eyes moving, searching her face. Her heart stirred as she looked deeply into her companion's green eyes.

"Thank you for a great day," Andi began.

"It was my pleasure," CJ replied. She slowly moved forward with her body then gently put her arms around Andi and hugged her.

The tentativeness of her movement gave Andi ample time to dodge the hug if she wanted to, but she didn't. As CJ drew their bodies together in the embrace, she felt her defenses melt away. The times earlier in the day when she had wrapped her arms around the younger athlete on the toboggan made her body tingle, but this face to face body hug, albeit through many layers of winter clothing, was electric. Her heart was beating so rapidly that she though her blonde companion would feel it.

CJ whispered in her ear, "I really enjoy being with you." She felt the basketball player squeeze her a bit tighter.

They remained in the embrace for a few seconds longer before Andi suddenly remembered that she was standing in plain view out on her porch with her arms wrapped around a student. The campus was mostly deserted on Sundays, but she still felt uncomfortable. She gently pulled back from the other woman's arms.

"Can I call you?" asked CJ.

"I'd be disappointed if you didn't," Andi replied.

"Good answer," CJ grinned. Her green eyes danced as she spoke. "Until soon."

*      *      *      *      *

Andi went upstairs and got changed out of her winter clothes. She boiled water for tea, then sat down in front of a pile of papers, but found herself unable to concentrate. Her thoughts kept returning to CJ, their wonderful day, CJ's innuendoes, the warm tingling that Andi felt when they touched. She walked across the room to a window that looked out toward the campus. From there, she could see the roof of CJ's dorm.

She's a student. What the hell am I doing? I could lose my G.A. position and be disgraced! She walked to the sofa and sat down at the edge of the cushion. With her head in her hands she sat for a moment, taking deep breaths, then leaned back against the sofa, squeezing a pillow close to her chest. I pretty much admitted to being gay, but I don't even know for sure if she is. She thought about CJ's many innuendoes and that unforgettable hug on the porch, then shook her head slowly. But she certainly acts like she is, unless she's just straight and curious, and if that's the case, forget it. That's a heartbreak waiting to happen.

She stood up abruptly and walked over to the window, arms crossed over her chest. Things are OK now. I haven't done anything wrong ... yet. I need to take it slow and see what happens. Maybe I'm just flattered by her attention. It's been a long time since I've had this kind of attention. What's not to like about it? She's charming. Why shouldn't I enjoy it, and her company? It's nice to have a friend who has similar interests. I need to give things time. Maybe nothing more will develop and then I'll feel foolish that I let myself get all worked up over how to avoid a problem when there wasn't a problem to begin with. Why complicate my life unnecessarily? God, I think too much.

*      *      *      *      *

"Anybody home?" called CJ as she entered her dorm suite. The aroma of Chinese food wafted through the halls, greeting her as she removed her coat. She was starving from her active day outdoors, and the wonderful smells made her mouth water.

"In here."

CJ followed the sound of the voice into the kitchen. There, sitting at the kitchen table, were Kim and Maria, her two roommates.

"Hungry?" asked Kim.

"Starved!" CJ replied.

"Like you had to ask?" quipped Maria, looking at Kim. She added, "She's always hungry." Maria turned toward CJ and addressed her again. "You're just in time for dinner. Get a plate and grab a seat. There's enough for one more."

"Is this from Ming's in town?" asked CJ. Her eyes flashed with anticipation.

"Of course," replied Maria.

"We needed a break from cafeteria food," Kim added.

CJ brought a plate and fork to the table then joined her friends. Maria offered her a small white carton filled with vegetable fried rice and then returned to eating. CJ took a spoonful of chicken lo mein that Kim passed, then leaned over her plate and breathed in the fragrant aroma.

"So, where you been all day?" asked Kim.

"Actually, I went tobogganing." CJ spoke matter-of-factly and didn't look up from her bowl, hoping that her remark would go unnoticed. Kim and Maria, clearly shocked by the disclosure, stopped chewing and starred blankly at her. CJ kept on eating, trying to ignore their surprise. She finally responded to their silence. "What?"

"Coach is going to kill you," stated Kim. She shook her head then ate another forkful of food.

"Oh, she is not," replied CJ. She tried to sound nonchalant, then looked up first at Kim and then at Maria. "It's not like skiing or anything. Injury risk is practically nonexistent." She looked back at Kim. "Does your coach tell you that you can't go for a bike ride during swimming season?"

"Honey, my coach doesn't let me do squat during the season, or before." She pointed at CJ with her fork for emphasis. "My body belongs to the team during the season," she added.

"Ain't that the truth, you heartbreaker!" teased CJ. Kim poked CJ playfully in the arm with her fork.

"Don't you go changing the subject. You know what I'm talking about," Kim remarked.

"A couple rides on a toboggan are not a problem," CJ insisted.

"Uh huh," Maria muttered. "So, I suppose you told that to coach before you went?" She paused and looked at CJ, who stared back at her, silently. "Thought so," Maria quipped sarcastically. "Otherwise, Jen wouldn't have called here looking for you this afternoon." She grinned at CJ, then dug her fork back into her dinner.

"What'd she want?" asked CJ.

"Didn't say. Just asked if you were around. She didn't leave a message," said Maria.

"OK," Kim interrupted. "Let's forget all that and get down to what's really important."

"Fine with me," CJ agreed. She pushed some rice onto her fork, then took a bite. Kim grinned at Maria and rolled her eyebrows up.

"So, who'd you go with?" asked Maria. Both she and Kim put down their forks and stared at CJ. The basketball star paused in her chewing, then looked first at Kim and then at Maria. She swallowed slowly.

"Kelly and some of her friends, Martha and Karen, who I met at a party last week, and... and that's about it."

"Who else?" asked Kim "I can tell you're withholding info."

"Just a friend," she replied.

"We're your friends, and we know all you other friends, so tell us who?" Kim pestered. She planted both her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her palms, staring at CJ. Trying to act unbothered by their prodding, the flaxen-haired woman scooped another forkful of rice and put it in her mouth. Kim and Maria silently waited for a response as she chewed.

"Well?" asked Maria.

"Listen," replied CJ. She put down her fork and looked at both women. "It's no one you know. In fact, she's someone that I'm just getting to know, so let's leave it at that, OK?" She picked up her fork again.

"It's not that cute new short stop on the softball team, is it?" asked Kim. "Maria, I don't know how you're going to concentrate out in left field with that view in front of you." Kim shook her head slowly and smiled.

"Is it?" asked Maria.

"No, it isn't, but no more questions, OK? Let me just keep this to myself for a while. I hate when everybody else knows my business."

"I can't even remember the last time you had the hots for somebody, and now that you do, you aren't going to tell?" Kim admonished. "Besides, we're not everybody." She crossed her arms over her chest and frowned.

"You know what I mean, though." CJ looked pleadingly at Kim, and then at Maria. "It's like a big little circle, and everybody in the circle knows everybody's business. You know it's true, too." She smiled at her friends. "Listen, give me a little more time on my own with this, and then I'll share some of it with you both, OK? It's kind of special so far, and I don't want to mess anything up."

Kim looked skeptically at Maria, and they exchanged silent eye communication while CJ looked on. After a few eye rolls and a head nod or two, they both agreed.

"OK, as long as you tell us first. Deal?" Maria insisted.

"I promise," agreed CJ. "And do me a favor? Don't say anything about this to anybody else, OK? I don't want people bugging me about it."

"We're not bugging you, we're just looking out for you," Kim countered. "There's a difference."

"I know, and that's why I love you gals." She reached over and touched each of them. She grinned at her friends until they smiled back at her. She knew that she could trust them to keep her secret, for now.

Chapter 12

Andi was working at her office desk when she heard a knock on the half-opened door.

"Come in," she called without looking up.

"Hey!"

Andi recognized CJ's voice before she looked up and saw her. A few days had passed since their tobogganing adventure and Andi was beginning miss her cheerful smile. Their occasional phone conversations were enjoyable but didn't take the place of seeing her expressive eyes and her lively bearing.

"Hey yourself." She smiled broadly as CJ entered, then stood up behind her desk.

"I brought you something." CJ whipped out a bag from behind her back.

"What?" She moved around to the front of the desk and leaned against it. The blonde woman stood facing her, an arm's length away.

"A mocha latte from the student center, quite tasty on a cold day like today," CJ grinned.

"Perfect! I could use a blast of caffeine, too." She removed the cup from the bag, opened the lid, and took a sip.

"Well?" asked CJ.

"Wonderful, really," Andi replied. "You're very sweet." She raised the cup as if to toast her, and winked.

"Coming to the game tonight?" asked CJ.

"Would you like a fan in the stands?" Andi inquired.

"If you're the fan, then yes."

"Then I'll be there. I've got to meet with my department head first, so I may not be there 'til the second half. Is that OK?"

"Whenever you get there is fine," CJ grinned. "Your ticket will be a the door."

*      *      *      *      *

Andi arrived during the last few minutes of halftime, when both teams were back out on the court warming up. The home team was up by fifteen points and the bleachers were half-empty. She chose a seat in the same section where she was during the previous game she attended, then removed her coat and sat down. The players were still wearing their warm-up suits, taking turns shooting the balls randomly near the basket. CJ glanced up toward the bleachers, scanning the seats. When she saw Andi, she smiled broadly and waved. The grad assistant returned her smile and gave her the thumbs up.

When the refs blew the whistle to end halftime, Andi glanced around the gym and over to the visiting team. As her eyes moved back toward the home bench, she made eye contact with Jen, who appeared to be starring directly at her. Andi, trying not to notice, pretended to be looking casually across the gym at something past Jen. However, she could still make out Jen's hostile glare. Andi turned and looked away.

The whistle blew and the second half of the game began. Nearly an hour later, the final buzzer sounded with the home team victorious. Both teams jogged off into the locker rooms as the fans exited the bleachers and milled about in the gym. While Andi waited in the bleachers for CJ to emerge from the locker room, Jen left the scorer's table and climbed up to where the ebony-haired woman sat. She stood in front of Andi, arms crossed, and looked at her coldly.

"So, have you become a fan of the basketball team, or just of one person in particular?" Jen sneered.

"I was invited," Andi retorted.

"You didn't accept any of my invitations."

"Jen, let's not go there. That was months ago."

"Employees of the school can date each other, but they can't date students."

"I don't need rule reminders, Jen."

"Since you didn't come to this game to see me, I'm guessing that you do. Just how much is that GA position worth to you?" She glared at Andi before turning and walking down the bleachers.

Andi's heart sunk to her stomach. Even though she hadn't crossed the line with CJ and done anything wrong, she felt like a guilty child who was being reprimanded. To be admonished by Jen, of all people, made her feel even worse. She didn't trust Jen, and now she had reason to fear her a bit too. Andi's good mood had been snuffed out quickly, replaced by an uncomfortable, anxious feeling.

CJ came out of the locker room just as Jen was walking down the last few steps. The assistant coach walked across the court and into the coaches' office without acknowledging CJ, who simply shrugged as she walked by. The basketball player climbed up the bleachers to sit next to Andi.

"Do you know Jen?" asked CJ.

"We've met at some grad school functions," Andi replied halfheartedly. She looked distracted and lacked her usual warm smile.

"And what do you think?" Her tone, like Andi's, was serious.

"I think you played one heck of a game!" replied Andi. She sat up quickly and smiled at CJ, trying to brighten up her voice and mood.

"Not about..."

"I especially like that behind-the-back pass to Thompson. Very slick."

"You're the one who's slick, if you ask me." Andi had dodged a few of her questions in the past, but she never took it personally. CJ had been told that her forthright manner made some people feel uncomfortable, but she preferred the direct and honest approach right from the start in a friendship. Since that night when she confronted Andi in the Oasis, she thought that their interaction had been more open and honest. However, at this moment she felt a bit uncomfortable with her blue-eyed friend's demeanor. She wondered about Andi's connection to Jen.

"Come on. Let's get out of this gym and take a walk." Andi stood up and pulled on her coat.

"Could we go somewhere and talk?" asked CJ.

"How about my place?" offered Andi. She was anxious to leave the gym and go anyplace where she could avoid Jen's accusing eyes.

"That'd be great."

They walked silently across campus.

*      *      *      *      *

"I'll take your coat," Andi offered as they entered her second floor apartment. "Can I get you a drink?"

"Seltzer would be great," CJ replied.

"Sounds like déjà vu," Andi joked. "I'll be back in a minute." She disappeared into the kitchen.

CJ sat on the sofa in the same place where she sat that Friday three weeks ago. She thought about that night often as an early turning point in their friendship. She sensed that Andi had opened up to her that night, that they interacted not as a teacher helping a student but simply as two friends. CJ enjoyed their laughter and their long talks, which had grown in frequency since then. She also noticed Andi making more intense eye contact with her, not just looking at her, although she noticed the ex-swimmer doing that too, but looking into her, as if her eyes mirrored her soul. CJ was drawn into those beautiful pools of blue. Something inside her stirred when Andi looked at her that way. It was that wonderful feeling that she wanted to talk with her about.

"How about some music?" CJ asked as the ex-swimmer returned with her drink. She was nervous about bringing up her feelings, although she was pretty sure that, at least on some level, they were mutual. In her typical direct approach, however, she was determined to make her feelings known to Andi and hoped to spark a reciprocal response.

Andi sorted through her CD's, trying to push Jen's warning from her mind. She had been in such a good mood for the last few weeks that she nearly forgot about the real world of hurtful people like Jen. Don't let Jen ruin this friendship because she's bitter, she lectured herself. She adjusted the volume, then sat on the sofa near CJ. Her shoulders were tense and she could feel herself clenching her jaw, so she made a conscious effort to relax. She took a few deeps breaths, rolled her head from side to side, then exhaled slowly.

"You OK?" CJ asked.

"Long day," Andi replied.

"Why don't you let me work on those tight muscles? Here." CJ put a pillow on the floor in front of her. "Sit here and I'll loosen up your shoulders." Andi, still distracted by thoughts of Jen, did as she was told. CJ placed her hands slowly on Andi and began to massage her tight shoulders. The feel of her hands on Andi's body was electrifying. She worked slowly and deeply, kneading Andi's muscles with strong and confident fingers. With long strokes, she glided her thumbs up and down on either side of the ex-swimmer's spine to loosen her stress. Andi responded with deep sighs, still aggravated from Jen's reprimand.

"So... we can talk to each other about anything, right?"

"Sure." Unlike Jen, who's a sneak.

"Good. It's important to me that I can be open with you. And honest. Are you comfortable with that?"

"Of course I want you to be honest. Are you having a problem with your paper? You can tell me if you are."

"No. It's nothing like that. Nothing bad. Just the opposite. It's something good. At least I hope you'll think so."

"You got a Grad Assistant offer?"

"No. It's nothing like that either. If you'll stop guessing, I'll just tell you."

CJ paused to make sure that Andi wasn't going to fire any more questions at her. She couldn't believe that her friend was so clueless regarding what she was about to tell her. This thought made CJ panic a bit. Maybe I misjudged her feelings. She squeezed out the rising doubt and took a deep breath before speaking.

"Well?" Andi inquired.

"I've really enjoyed spending time with you lately. Not only all the help that you've given me on my paper, but just getting to know you. I feel like I can be myself around you."

"You can."

"Good." With her hands still draped on Andi's shoulders, CJ leaned forward and kissed her softly on the cheek. Andi, startled and completely off guard, jumped up off the floor.

"I... I can't." She stepped to the window, still shocked at CJ's kiss. Visions of Jen's threat flashed in her head. Her heart was racing and in panic mode, as if she had just been caught doing exactly what she had been warned not to do.

CJ sat with her hands over her face, feeling hurt and embarrassed. Ashamed to look at Andi, she spoke with her face covered.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I thought... I didn't mean to assume..."

Andi moved back over to the sofa and gently moved CJ's hands away from her face. She longed to look into CJ's green eyes, but CJ would not look at her.

"It's not you, CJ. I just can't because..."

"Please don't." She got up quickly and grabbed her coat off Andi's bed.

"Where are you going?"

"I need to leave."

"CJ, please don't go."

"I've embarrassed myself enough for one day." She ran down the stairs, then paused as she reached the porch door. "I'm sorry, Andi." The door banged shut before Andi could descend the flight of stairs. As she reached the bottom, she could make out CJ running across the green then fading into the night.

She slowly shut the door, then dragged herself back upstairs. She sat on the sofa, head in her hands, and wept.

Chapter 13

"That's quite an earful you're laying on me," Martha remarked. Andi had just finished telling her about CJ, beginning on the night of the donor reception up through the previous night's fiasco. "It doesn't surprise me all that much though. I could see the way she looked at you when we were sledding." She finished the last bite of her sandwich, then sipped her coffee. She looked at Andi over the rim of her mug.

"I feel horrible, Martha." She pushed the uneaten portion of her lunch around the plate. Her blue eyes welled up with tears as she starred at her food. If she looked up at Martha, she feared that her eyes would overflow and she'd sob uncontrollably as she did the night before. She took a deep breath then slowly exhaled.

"Why didn't you talk to me sooner? Why'd you let it get to this point?"

"It got to this point last night. Before that everything was fine."

"She was still a student before last night, Andi. Isn't that why this is a problem?"

Martha's comment hit the bull's eye and Andi knew she was right. Andi wanted to believe that the situation wasn't her fault, that it wasn't anyone's fault; however, she reflected on a conversation that she had with CJ once, about fate versus personal control, and she knew she had to shoulder the responsibility. Martha was right. She should have seen this coming.

"But we were just friends..." Andi replied in a weak attempt to justify her position.

"Come on, Andi. You admitted that you were developing feelings for her. So nothing happened between you two ˝ yet, but from what you were describing, it was just a matter of time." She put down her coffee cup, then leaned forward with her elbows on the table. "What happened last night was inevitable. The problem was, you weren't expecting it at that moment."

"So now what do I do?" She pushed her plate to the middle of the table, then rested her forearms on the space in front of her.

"You thank your lucky stars that you didn't cross the line and get caught, especially by Jen, that's what you do. I don't trust that bitch as far as I could throw her. She'd march her behind right over to the dean and tell all kinds of stories then your grad ass position would be as good as gone." Andi could see that Martha was getting herself worked up as she spoke. Her face, usually happy, was red and frowning. The napkin was balled up in her fist.

"But what about our friendship? I've grown to really enjoy her company." She thought of CJ's surprise visits at her office, the wonderful day tobogganing, and their long conversations. The idea of having those things taken away ripped at her heart.

"Well, then this emotional distance will allow you to work on that friendship-"

"If I haven't already ruined it --"

"If it ruins that easily, maybe you should wonder how strong it was to begin with." She reached across the table and rested her hand on Andi's forearm. Martha's eyes softened and she spoke kindly to her. "Listen, girlfriend. I don't want to see you get hurt again. Take things slow. If CJ really likes you, then she won't run away. In a few more weeks she'll graduate, then she won't be a student here any more. Give your friendship those couple weeks to grow, and see where it leads." She patted Andi's forearm before moving her hand away. "You've got a lot to lose, Andi. Think long and hard about what you're going to do."

Andi looked at Martha's concerned face. She offered a sad smile to her friend, then sighed. She knew that Martha was right. Martha's insights and support had helped see her through the Elizabeth crisis. Martha knew Andi like a sister, yet she offered the advice of a close and loving friend.

"Thanks so much for meeting with me, Martha."

"You know I'm always here for you." She smiled, then looked at her watch. "I've got to get back to the Registrar's office now, though. You OK?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"I think fine is pushing it a bit." Martha smirked, trying to get a smile from Andi. "Things will get better. They always do." She stood up from the table and put on her coat. "Call us, will you? And don't wait until the sky falls in, OK?"

"OK." Andi stood and faced her friend. "Thanks again Martha." She gave her a long hug, which Martha returned sincerely. They walked out of the diner together, then drove off in separate cars.

Chapter 14

"Why don't you come with us?" asked Kim. She leaned against the doorframe of CJ's room.

"I'm just not in the mood," moped CJ. She lay stretched out, belly down, over her blanket bed spread, arms hugging the pillow that was balled up underneath her face. She looked at Kim, but made no attempt to move off the bed.

"But it's Friday and the whole gang will be going. It'll be fun."

"Thanks, but I'll pass."

"It'll do you good to get out and have some fun, CJ. You've been moping around for the past two days."

"I just don't feel like it."

Kim walked into the room and sat on the edge of CJ's bed. She placed her hand on CJ's back and rubbed it lightly up and down, as one would rub a puppy. The basketball player sighed deeply but said nothing. Her sad eyes focused on nothing in particular across the room. Kim sat quietly with her for a few moments, hoping that CJ might open up, but she remained reticent.

"Want to tell me what's bothering you so much?"

"I don't really feel like talking about it."

"You know you can trust me, don't you CJ? We've been friends since freshman year and I've cried on your shoulder more times than I can count. I hate to see you so sad. Won't you talk to me? What happened?"

CJ listened as Kim spoke and appreciated her friend's concern. It was true that Kim had turned to CJ often to discuss relationship problems in Kim's Heartbreak-a-Month Club, but CJ had always taken on the role of the strong advisor. Now she felt weak and hated to appear that way to anyone else, even her friend, yet Kim's interest was sincere. After bottling up her emotions for the last forty-eight hours, CJ was ready to burst.

"Rejection," CJ divulged. That was all she could bring herself to say before her eyes welled up with tears. She didn't want to break down into a sobbing mess so she stopped after that one word and squeezed her pillow harder.

"Someone rejected you?" Kim rubbed her friend's back again. "I'm sorry, CJ. I know how bad that feels. Do I know this person?"

"Let's not talk about that, OK?"

"Sure. I guess it doesn't matter. She's a bad judge of character, that's all I have to say."

"I'm the bad judge."

"What do you mean?"

"I really thought things were going well, that we clicked. When she looked at me or when I looked at her, I could see something ˝ or at least I thought I did. Maybe I just wanted so badly to believe it was happening." Tears flowed from her eyes and she turned her face away from Kim. "I feel like such a fool."

"Maybe it's not you, CJ. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to defend her or anything, but maybe she's just not ready now."

"Obviously."

"I mean, are you sure she's gay?"

"Yes, that I know."

"Maybe she just got out of a relationship. You sure she's not seeing anyone? Maybe she's just not emotionally available right now. Maybe ˝"

"Maybe I thought it was meant to be, and it wasn't."

"That might be the case, too," Kim acknowledged. She spoke softly and rubbed CJ's back gently. "Should I quote you, and give you the advice that you always give me?"

"Go ahead. I guess I deserve it." CJ turned to face Kim.

"Time. You've got to give it time. Then, when you step away from it, things come back into perspective."

"Remind me not to give you any dumb-ass advice anymore." She poked Kim playfully in the leg and forced a smile, albeit sad.

"You can give me advice anytime, girlfriend. You've always been a good listener, so thanks for letting me return the favor."

"Don't tell anyone what I told you tonight, OK? If anyone asks where I am tonight, tell them I had a splitting headache."

"You sure you won't change your mind?"

"I'll just stay here and give myself some time, just like you said I said."

"OK, girlfriend." She tussled CJ's blond hair as she got off the bed. "If you need anything, I'll be around over the weekend."

"Thanks Kim. Have fun tonight, and please, keep this between us." Kim faced her and put her finger up to her lips, then crossed her heart. She waved, then left the dorm room.

Chapter 15

"Hello?"

Andi had been trying unsuccessfully to reach CJ for the past five days. When she finally heard CJ's voice on the other end of the phone, she was more surprised then prepared.

"Hi, CJ. It's me, Andi." She paused, listening attentively not only for her reply, but for the tone in her voice. She longed to her the cheerful and peppy response that she had come to enjoy about CJ. Closing her eyes, she anxiously held her breath and waited.

"Hi," said CJ. Her tone was flat and lifeless. It lacked the spark, the enthusiasm that usually characterized her voice.

"I've... been trying to reach you."

"I was out of state. We had a game."

"How'd you do?"

"We won."

"When did you get back?"

"Saturday night."
Andi had called her Saturday night, as well as Sunday. CJ was either screening her calls, or simply not answering the phone. Andi's heart sunk. She wanted to cry.

"How are you?" Andi asked.

"Very sad and quite embarrassed, if you really want to know." Her voice was soft and hurt sounding, not angry.

"Oh CJ. I'm so sorry. Can't we meet somewhere to talk?"     

"I don't think I'd be comfortable with that right now."

"Please? Just for a few minutes? There are things I want to explain to you, things that need to be said." There was silence on the other end of the phone, and Andi waited anxiously, hoping that she'd convinced CJ to see her and talk. She could hear the younger athlete take a deep breath and sigh. Holding her breath for an answer, Andi waited.

"No, I can't. Not now."

Andi, anticipating a more positive answer, exhaled and slumped in her chair. She could feel a lump rising up in her throat and feared that she'd start weeping soon if she continued to hear CJ's sad voice speak.

"What about your paper? We could meet to talk about that."

"I can't see you about that either, Andi. Don't you get it? I feel vulnerable and exposed around you. Even just talking to you on the phone is difficultˇ"

"I just want to help ˝"

"Then give me some space."

Andi had heard that request before, and she was crushed. In her experience, space led only to further, unbridgeable distance. Her attempts to patch up and save their friendship were failing miserably. Short of begging, she didn't know what to say.

"Is there anything I can do? I'll do anything that you ask because I want us to be friends," Andi pleaded. Her entreaty fell just short of outright begging.

CJ was totally crushed to hear Andi say that she wanted them to be friends. After she had poured her heart out and felt romantically rejected, did Andi think that it would be so easy to forget that hurt and slip back into their comfortable friendship? Clearly, friendship was all that Andi was looking for. What little glimmer of hope lived inside CJ simply burst upon hearing Andi say that.

"You can give me time and space. I just need to think."

"Oh CJ ˝"

"Please Andi. You asked me what you could do and I told you. I've got to go."

"Wait! Don't' hang up yet. Will you call me... when you're ready?"

"I can't make any promises."

"Until soon?"

CJ heard Andi borrowing her expression. It hurt her to think about how excitedly she herself had said it not that long ago, how it could have never been soon enough before she saw the beautiful, blue-eyed woman again. She paused before speaking.

"Bye Andi."

Andi heard the phone line click and go dead. No longer could she contain the floodgates of emotion that welled up in her heart. With sobs that rocked her body she cried, tears streaming down her face. She rocked and sobbed on the sofa until she had no more tears to cry. With eyes so puffy she could barely see, she sat down at the table, took out her journal, and began to write.

Dear CJ-

I want so badly to talk to you, not on the phone or in a note, but in person. I need to see your beautiful green eyes looking into my eyes and into my heart so that you would know how I really feel, and how much I miss you. Words are inadequate, but I know that if we could meet, face to face, our hearts would reconnect...

Continued in Part III

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