Until Soon

by indigal

 

Part III

* please see disclaimers in Part I

Chapter 16

"Pardon me. Excuse me." Andi felt like a salmon swimming up stream as she tried to make her way against the tide of people emptying from the gym. She was determined to speak with CJ,and she knew she'd find her here after the game.

More than a week had passed since their last awkward phone conversation and she had been totally miserable because so many things were left unsaid. She missed her new friend terribly, too. Even though the basketball star asked her to give her time and space, Andi believed that, if she could just see her and talk to her in person, then CJ might understand. She needed to look in CJ's eyes to see if that spark was still burning or if it was extinguished. She hoped that she wasn't too late.

The bleachers were nearly empty as she entered the gym. Her heart thumped wildly as she climbed the steps to her usual spot in the stands, hoping CJ would notice her as she left the gym. It also gave Andi a good vantage point to spot the blonde athlete, in case she wasn't looking into the seats. She fidgeted with her keys, nervous about seeing CJ again. With eyes fixed on the locker room door, she sat almost trance-like, waiting for her to emerge. She was so distracted that she didn't hear the footsteps approach until someone was standing right beside her. Startled, Andi turned to find Jen.

"What the hell have you done to her?" Jen spoke in a hushed, jaw-clenched whisper. Her face was snarled in a frown. Her arms were crossed on her chest. Andi was so taken aback to see her that Jen's words didn't immediately sink in.

"What?"

"To CJ. What did you do?"

"Jen, I don't "

"You know exactly what I'm talking about. CJ's been distracted, moping around. She's not concentrating and her game is off. Even her teammates noticed." Jen uncrossed her arms and leaned forward toward Andi. She pointed in Andi's face as she spoke, barely able to control her voice. "You've done this to her. You're playing with her head like you tried to play with me."

"You're wrong "

"You've disappeared. You haven't been to a game in almost two weeks. That's exactly how long CJ has been a mess. What kind of games are you playing with her?" Her voice was increasing in volume, but Jen didn't seem to notice. Andi, uncomfortable with the accusations as well as Jen's tone, glanced around the gym, hoping that no one else was witnessing the scene. She knew that she needed to end the confrontation before it got louder and uglier.

"You have no right to accuse me of anything," Andi retorted. Her voice was rough yet hushed. She hoped that it would help to lower Jen's volume as well. "And, I resent the implication that I've done anything to her." Jen's accusations were sinking in, along with the guilt of hearing that CJ was an emotional wreck and knowing that she was the cause."

"The hell you didn't."

"You don't know what you're talking about, Jen. I know CJ didn't tell you this."

"She didn't have to. I have two eyes. I can see for myself."
The admission that CJ hadn't spoken to Jen was a relief, and fueled Andi's anger at her accusations. She was beginning to realize that Jen's tirade wasn't only about the star player being distracted.

"You're assuming you know information that you don't know, and that isn't even true," Andi countered. She didn't want to say specifically what Jen was accusing her of, since CJ clearly hadn't told Jen anything to begin with. Any details that Andi mentioned in her defense, Jen might turn around and use against her.

"Then why is she talking about going to grad school out West? She always considered that a last resort and now it's tops on her list. Why is she running away?" Jen's hands were on her hips, her voice under control once again.

"That's her decision, Jen. Butt out."

"You're the one who needs to butt out, Andi. If you start bothering her again, I'm going right to the dean." She turned and took one step then looked again at Andi. "Consider yourself warned." She turned and stomped down the steps.

Both Andi and Jen were too angry and distracted to notice CJ's head peeking through the locker room door, slightly ajar. As Jen turned and stomped away, CJ closed the door quietly. The basketball star could not make out clearly what they were saying, but their aggressive tone was clear. She stood alone in the locker room for a few minutes, deciding what to do, before she turned and went out the back exit, disappearing into the night.

Andi sat in the bleachers until the clean up crew cut off the gym lights.

Chapter 17

      CJ starred at the 3x5 card piles that were spread out on her desk. Like pieces of a puzzle laid out in front of her, they just didn't seem to fit together. No matter how she tried to arrange them, parts were missing. That seemed like the pattern of her life lately, too. No matter how she tried to distract her thoughts or busy her time, an important piece was missing there as well. That piece was Andi.

She thought back to Andi's analogies of the ingredients and the cookie, trying to make sense of the formula she was attempting to follow to complete the paper. However, her mind and heart were stuck on the words and images of Andi herself, not on the concepts the grad assistant tried to explain, and CJ couldn't seem to focus on her work. The harder she tried to block out thoughts of Andi, the stronger her presence became.

The argument between Andi and Jen the pervious night also piqued her curiosity, but she had no way of finding out its origin. She wondered about Andi's connection to Jen. Clearly, one existed between the two women, although the ex-swimmer had brushed it off as a casual acquaintance between grad assistants. Jen had been grumpy lately, and CJ didn't feel close enough to the assistant coach to speak to her about personal matters. Lately, in fact, when Jen inquired about CJ's noticeable distraction, the basketball player just brushed it off as play-off pressure.

Frustrated with the paper and her inability to concentrate, CJ pushed her chair away from her desk and got up. She walked over to the small dorm fridge in the living room and pulled out a soda. When the front door opened, she turned to face Kim.

"Greetings!" Kim grinned. "Check this out." She held up a bio lab with a red B+ in the upper corner. "Pretty impressive, huh?"

"Way to go," said CJ. She plopped down on the sofa and raised her soda can in a mock toast. "I'm glad you're doing well."

"Still struggling with that paper?" Kim asked. "Why don't you go down to the English department and ask for some help. They're pretty good about that kind of thing."

"I'll work it out." She sipped her soda as Kim removed her coat and tossed it onto her bed in the other room. Kim walked back into the living room and sat in an armchair across from CJ.

"You're still down, aren't you?"

"I guess not enough time has passed. You did say that was the answer didn't you?" A hint of sarcasm rose in her voice. "Well, I'm still waiting."

"Maybe you should do something to get if off your mind."

"Get if off my mind!!?? Do something!!?? Shit, that's all I've been trying to do is get if off my mind!" She slammed the soda can down on the end table next to her. "Do you have any idea what I have on my mind? Do you!!?? How about playoff pressure." Her voice rose in volume and intensity. "We're into the first rounds of the playoffs, something I've dreamed about my whole career. What a perfect way to end my senior year with a tournament bid. We're ranked in the top three and that means we're good enough to take it all! The coach, the team, they're all counting on me to be at the top of my game because when I'm flat, we lose. That's a lot of fucking pressure, you know? I obviously don't make the right decisions all the time and now's not a good time to mess up. And, on top of that, I've got commitment deadline for grad school positions. A school on the West Coast needs a final yes or no by the end of the month. They're offering me a great package, but do I want to pick up my life and move across the country? Some days I think so. I just want to run the hell away from here as far and as fast as I can go. But I don't want to make such a big decision like that for the wrong reasons. And if I ever finish this stinkin' paper, maybe I can impress someone around here enough to get a position for next year. But do I want to be here? I don't know. It's familiar, it's comfortable, but where's it leading me? Do something!!?? What the hell should I do?" She paused for a moment and looked at Kim. Here green eyes were sad and her voice softened. "Tell me, Kim, how the hell do I get her out of my heart?"

She sat back against the sofa and took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. Tears ran down her cheeks. Kim moved from the chair and sat next to her on the sofa, putting her arm around CJ's shoulders. They sat in silence for a few minutes while the basketball player fought back her tears.

"Sorry I unloaded on you," said CJ.

"It's OK," Kim replied. "That's a lot to deal with and I know that you've not been yourself lately." She shook her head slowly. "You really got it bad for her, don't you."

"So now what?"

"One step at a time, one day at a time. Concentrate on the playoffs, since that's going on right now. You've trained years for this, CJ! Focus on it and enjoy it. Just go out there and do your best. That's all your coaches and teammates expect of you, not perfection. Regarding the grad school out West let them wait 'til the end of the month. Tell them you're in the middle of the playoffs and you've got other things on your mind. They don't need to know all of what those other things are. As for the mystery lady who broke your heart, give that more time. Who knows? Maybe she'll come around. She'd be crazy not to." Kim bumped her playfully and winked. CJ forced a small smile.

"You're right, Kim. What you said makes good sense, but it's easier said then done." She stood, then walked across the room and tossed the soda can in the trash. "I'm really sorry I yelled before."

"Don't worry about it. My coach yells at me all the time, so I'm used to it."

"You're a good friend, Kim. Thanks."

"What do you say we head down to the cafeteria for dinner. Wednesday is pasta night and I could use the carbs. Practice has been killer lately."

"Sure. Just let me get my coat." CJ disappeared into her room then emerged wearing her jacket. Kim retrieved her coat from the bed, and the two of them left the dorm room.

Chapter 18

      "Know what bothers me?" said Andi. She slipped off her shoes and sat crossed legged on the sofa near the fire.

"What's that?" asked Karen.

"I'm afraid CJ thinks that her kiss freaked me out that night. She didn't know about the conversation that Jen and I had after the game, or that I was worried about Jen's threat. What freaked me out was Jen, not the kiss." She looked at Martha and Karen, who were sitting on the loveseat facing her. "Actually," Andi added, sheepishly, "the kiss was really nice."

"What are we going to do with you?" asked Martha.

"I'm sorry to make you hear all this again. I just don't know what to do. You gals see the whole picture more objectively than I do. Any suggestions?"

"You tried calling her, right?" asked Martha.

"Yeah, but her voice was cold and distant. I didn't feel comfortable and I didn't get the feeling that she'd be too receptive."

"How about e-mail?" asked Karen. "Better yet, how about a letter? You could send her a good, old fashioned love letter to melt her heart. You're good with words and -"

"No letter!" Martha insisted. "If that letter gets into the wrong hands, we might as well stick a fork in you 'cause you'll be done. You can't have that kind of evidence floating around. First, you don't know that she'll get it, unless you hand deliver it, and that's probably not an option. Second, and I hate to say it, she might not be receptive to the letter and might be so mad at you that she gives it to the dean or something just to get you in trouble "

"Martha! " interjected Karen.

"I'm sorry to be blunt, but she's got to weigh all the risks."

"CJ didn't seem to be the kind of gal to be running to the dean," Karen remarked.

"Heartbreak makes people do crazy things. You work in a courtroom, Karen. How many cases a day do the judges see that have to do with love gone bad?"

"Girls!" Andi interrupted. She put up her hands to stop their bickering. "Enough about a letter. I get the idea." She sighed deeply and shook her head. "So, no phone call, no e-mail, no letter. What communication option does that leave me?"

"Why don't you just try to talk with her again in person?" said Martha. "You've got nothing to lose. Maybe she'll soften up a bit and listen. Be prepared, though. She might just tell you in person what she said on the phone. Are you prepared for the kind of rejection that she felt?"

"I'm getting to the point where I have to try something," shrugged Andi. "I'm driving myself and you gals crazy. I can't concentrate on my work and my studies certainly have suffered, too."

"Aside from talking to us, which you're always welcome to do," remarked Karen, "are you doing anything else to manage your anxiety over this? Meditating, maybe, or working out?"

"Working out, definitely. I've also been writing, actually. It's always been my outlet. In fact, every night I've sat down at the end of the day and written in my journal. Writing helps me sort out my feelings, you know? It forces me to think about one thing at a time while I write, even though my head is swimming with a million things at once." Andi looked up and smiled sadly at her friends. "I wrote my first entry about CJ shortly after we met at the reception back in January. Lately, I've been writing entries to her, like in a letter. I guess I'm practicing what I'd like to say to her, if she'll ever talk to me again."

"She'll talk to you again," assured Karen. She got up off the loveseat and sat next to Andi. She put her arm around her shoulder and gave her a hug. "I'm getting a good vibe here," she added, pointing to her heart.

"Well, good vibe or not, don't lose that journal," muttered Martha. She shook her head slowly. "You really fell hard, didn't you?"

"It sneaked up on me, that's the funny thing. Her warm laughter and dimpled smile, a surprise visit, homemade cookies..." Andi's voice trailed off at the remembrances of CJ and her eyes welled up with tears. She sighed deeply.

"One way or another, things will be OK," Karen promised. "Things usually have a way of working out, but sometimes not as quickly as we'd like. That's the hard part."

"Whatever you need, we're here for you," added Martha. "Just be careful, Andi, OK?"

"Thanks, and I will." She leaned back and rested her head against the sofa, then stared into the blazing fire.

Chapter 19

      Andi climbed to nearly the last row of the bleachers before she chose a seat far off to the left of the court where the visiting team's fans were gathered. She pulled the baseball cap low over her eyes so that she wouldn't be recognized, especially by Jen. For the last few days, she struggled with the decision about how to speak with CJ, and this game seemed like the best option.

She had hoped their paths might cross on campus, as they did that one day when she was struggling with the overhead projector, but CJ was not around. Andi even spent extra time in her office, in case she decided to stop by, but that too lead to nothing. With the conference tournament finals playing in the gym that night, she knew exactly where she could find the basketball star. Andi was optimistic that the team would win, which might put CJ in a more receptive mood.

Having made the decision to speak with her, no matter the outcome, Andi felt relieved. For weeks Andi had been talking to the younger athlete in countless dialogues in her head as well as through numerous journal entries, and she felt hopeful that she could find the words to break through to CJ. One way or another, she was going to meet with her face to face after the game. She settled into her seat to watch and wait.

Although initially distracted by her thoughts of talking to CJ, Andi quickly got sucked into the excitement of the game. CJ's team was seeded number one, but the number six team was putting up a heck of a fight to upset the home squad. Their rowdie fans brought posters and banners, and roared with cheers every time their team scored. Andi felt out of place surrounded by fans who where hooting and hollering for the underdogs, but she felt confident that she could escape watchful eyes if she stayed amongst them.

As rambunctious as the fans were in the bleachers, the players on the floor were even more fired up. With the score fluctuating no more than three points in either team's favor, every point became crucial. The roughness of the game increased too, with post players physically shoving and boxing out in the paint, and players diving to retrieve loose balls. Fouls were abundant yet the refs seemed reluctant to stop the game with foul calls.

CJ was one of the more scrappy players on the court, and Andi watched, mesmerized, as the captain pushed herself and her teammates to try and pull out a victory. She could see the desire burning in the flaxen-haired athlete as she exhausted herself trying to do everything and be everywhere on the court. The challengers knew that CJ was their biggest threat, so they double-teamed her, bumping and shoving her to try and get her out of her rhythm. With every blow of the whistle, the basketball star bent forward and placed her hand on her knees, ribs heaving as she panted for breath. With the score so close, Andi realized that the coach was unlikely to take CJ out of the game to give her the breather that she needed.

With less than a minute left in the first half and the game tied, both teams aggressively tried to score to take the lead and the emotional edge into the locker room. Closely defended, CJ dribbled the ball to the top of the key before passing it off to the baseline forward. After dishing the ball, CJ cut hard to the basket with an opponent hot on her heels. She received the pass and leaned in for the lay up just as the defender leaped up with both hands to deflect her shot. The two players' arms became tangled in the shot, their bodies ricocheting off each other's in mid air. As they twisted to land balanced on their feet, the defender's elbow came crashing into CJ face, knocking her to the floor with a thud. She lay writhing on the ground, hands to her face, as the official blew the whistle.

Andi leaped to her feet as CJ hit the floor. The rambunctious fans grew silent and all eyes focused in the injured star. Her teammates gathered around her, then the trainer jogged out onto the court. The head coach and Jen also walked out quickly, then sent the players to the bench as they kneeled over CJ. The officials hovered near by. The crowd murmured their concern. Andi watched helplessly from her seat in the bleachers. Twelve seconds remained on the game clock, yet several minutes passed in the gymnasium without CJ getting up. Finally, the trainer stood up and spoke into a walkie talkie.

Moments later, rescue squad members burst into the gym rolling a stretcher, which they moved next to the injured athlete. They lowered the unit, then surrounded her and in unison lifter her onto the stretcher. Andi could make out what looked to be packing on CJ's face as they strapped her down onto the bed. They raised the unit and rolled it off the court as the crowd rose to its feel and began clapping. Andi stood and clapped too, yet her knees felt so weak that she nearly fell back into her seat.

The players came back on the court for the final twelve seconds, then the buzzer sounded for halftime. The crowd returned to their feet to stretch or to leave for the lobby area. Andi, still reeling from the effect of witnessing CJ's crushing injury, sat limply in her seat.

Andi's body remained inert, yet her mind was racing. She was worried about CJ's injury, which must be serious to warrant her being removed in a stretcher. Fighting back the urge to run down from the bleachers and across the court after her injured friend, she stood once again on shaky legs then descended the stairs. She walked past the scorer's table and the empty team benches, then headed toward the locker room. Fear and worry about CJ's injury clouded her mind as she moved trance-like toward the door. As she reached for the handle, the door swung open, nearly hitting her. The unexpected motion snapped her out of her mental fog. She looked into glaring eyes.

"What do you want?" snarled Jen. Her eyes narrowed.

"How's CJ?" Andi asked. Her voice was pleading.

"Hurt. They're evaluating her now."

"I need to see her," Andi insisted. She reached past Jen and tried to pull open the door but Jen blocked her attempt.

"No one's allowed in there, especially not you. You've caused enough trouble."

"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Andi tried once again, unsuccessfully, to get into the locker room. "Get out of my way," she snapped.

"Do you really want to make a scene here, with all the school dignitaries in the stands watching the game?" Jen crossed her arms over her chest and stood looking smugly at Andi. At that moment, the door swung open again, nearly hitting Jen, who was standing in front of it. One of the players poked her head out and addressed Jen.

"Coach said to tell you that they're moving her to the infirmary now." Jen, who had turned to face the player as she spoke, nodded and motioned with her hand for the player to return to the locker room. By the time Jen turned around to lace into Andi again, she had disappeared into the gym.

*       *       *       *       *

      Andi crept stealthily down the hallway of the infirmary, glad that she was wearing sneakers, not loafers, on the shiny linoleum floor. The night supervisor was seated behind her desk at the other end of the building, far out of sight, but Andi didn't want to alert anyone else of her presence as she made her way toward the patients' rooms. The glow of the exit signs as well as dim night lighting provided just enough illumination for her to see yet still blend into the shadows as she moved down the corridor.

Earlier that night, she had waited outside for nearly two hours by the back entrance of the infirmary before she was able to sneak in. She lurked behind a cluster of trees not far from the dumpster, waiting for an opportunity to get into the building. Finally, she saw a night shift custodian hauling out the trash. As he pushed his cart out to the dumpster at the far end of the lot, she sneaked out from the trees' shadows and crept inside the back door. She could hear banging as he tossed the bags into the bin while she made her way up the stairs leading to the main floor.

Sneaking into the building this way took her back to her college days and she smiled faintly at the memory. Liz used to lead similar midnight raids into the cafeteria kitchen. Once inside, she would invade the food pantry or freezer to provide midnight snacks for the gang waiting back at the dorm. Most of the time, she would sneak out the door with bags of cookies or a five-gallon tub of ice cream. Now and then, Andi accompanied Liz on these adventures. Who would have thought that Liz's sneakiness training would come in so handy, she thought to herself as she continued down the hallway. Liz. She stopped abruptly as an image of Liz entered her mind merely by thinking her name. She paused and waited for the familiar heartache to follow, but was pleasantly surprised when it didn't. Her dark eyebrows arched upward slightly as she considered the reason. The image of CJ's beautiful face filled her mind's eye.

Andi continued down the hall past the treatment rooms, storage closets, and rest rooms, until she neared the area where overnight patients were accommodated. The first door that she approached was shut completely. She dared not turn the handle and make noise that might either alert the floor supervisor or startle what might be the wrong patient inside the room. She hoped that CJ wasn't behind that door.

Several doors further down were cracked open slightly, so Andi silently poked her head in each one, looking for CJ's familiar face. The florescent light from the parking lot outside the rooms glowed brightly enough for Andi to recognize that none of the persons sleeping in those rooms was CJ.

For a moment she panicked. What if CJ's injury was so serious that she had to be transported from the infirmary to the local hospital? During the time Andi spent waiting out back, trying to sneak in, an ambulance could have pulled around the front of the building and whisked her away, completely unbeknownst to her. She shivered at the thought and shook her head quickly, as if dispelling the mere thought would prevent it from having taken place. She sighed deeply yet silently as she pushed the next door ajar just enough to peek her head inside the room. There, in the gray-white glow of the parking lot lighting, she saw a person lying face up on the bed, with thick white bandages covering the eyes.

She inhaled so forcefully that she feared the sound of her breath catching would alert someone of her presence. Without thinking, she stepped quickly beyond the threshold then pushed the door back to its original, nearly closed position. Slowly she turned to face the bed once again

Andi stood perfectly still, conscious of her shallow breathing and her racing heart. As first one, then two minutes passed, her eyes adjusted to the relative darkness of the room. From where she stood, only two paces from the bed, she confirmed that the person lying there was indeed CJ. Her short, wavy blond hair, pushed back off her forehead by the bandages, spilled out over the top of the pillow's surface. The cotton hospital blanket was pulled up and tucked under her arms, which rested near her sides on top of the blanket. An IV tube was hooked up to her left arm. Andi could see the slow and steady rise and fall of her chest as CJ breathed deeply in her sleep.

A lump rose to her throat as she fought back tears. She tilted her head back to prevent them from running down her cheeks and stared up at the ceiling. Now what? she thought to herself. What the hell am I going to do now? She took a big, silent breath then exhaled slowly as she lowered her head to gaze at CJ once again. Cautiously she stepped toward the bed until she was standing at her friend's side, looking down at her.

Andi's eyes took in CJ's image lying before her. She resented the fact that CJ's beautiful, dancing green eyes were covered by those bandages. The dark-haired woman looked at her friend's nose, remembering how it wrinkled up when she laughed. CJ's lips, slightly open as she breathed, looked dark and soft. Andi remembered how they felt on her cheek that fateful night nearly three weeks ago. That's why I'm here, she determined. She was the brave one the first time.

Tearing her eyes away from the blond woman, Andi looked across the room and spotted a chair near the window. She moved slowly so as to avoid making noise and crossed the floor, silently picking up the chair. She stepped back to the bed before lowering the chair noiselessly to the floor next to CJ's bed. Carefully she moved around to the front of the chair and lowered herself into the seat.

The blue-eyed woman cautiously leaned her forearm on the bed next to CJ's thigh, then reached tentatively to touch CJ's hand. Gently, she slid her right hand in place under the blonde woman's palm before lightly wrapping her fingers around the other woman's hand. CJ's hand, while warm to the touch, remained motionless in Andi's. The dark-haired woman squeezed it gently once and was surprised when the hand she was holding twitched back and momentarily returned the pressure before growing heavy again. Andi sat holding CJ's hand for several minutes, relishing the physical connection that she felt, which she had missed so much over the last few weeks.

"I'm sorry, CJ," she whispered into the darkness. "I never wanted to push you away. In fact, sitting here holding your hand, touching you, makes me realize what I do want." She shook her head slightly and frowned. "I just didn't know how to handle it at the time, and boy did I mess up." She paused and looked at the woman lying there, nearly motionless except for the rise and fall of her breathing. "That's why I came to the game tonight. I was hoping that, after the game, we could have talked. I know you said you wanted space and I tried to give you that, but I was kind of hoping... if you knew how I really felt... you might not want that space after all." She paused and watched CJ breathe again. After a minute, she continued.

"What I really felt was scared." She hesitated, then continued again in a soft whisper. "Earlier that night after the game, Jen had given me a not-so-friendly reminder that you were a student. She basically threatened my grad assistant position, is what she did." Andi took a breath in then exhaled slowly. "Her threat was on my mind when you kissed me." She paused and ran her fingers across her forehead and back into her hair, rubbing the back of her neck before placing her hand back in her lap. Her right hand continued to hold CJ's. "So, instead of kissing you back, like I've thought about doing a thousand times since that night, I panicked. I hurt you." Her blue eyes filled with tears, which trailed slowly down her cheeks.

"Know what else I was scared of?" She continued looking at CJ as if she expected her to answer the whispered question. As the silence continued, so did she. "How quickly you worked your way into my heart." She smiled at her remembered image of tobogganing with the blond haired woman. "I haven't trusted anyone with my heart in a long time, and when you kissed me, wordlessly asking for that trust, I ran." She paused then continued. "You never gave me a reason to be afraid, but I was. It wasn't your fault."

"But know what scares me even more than all that?" She paused again, as if waiting for a reply. "The thought of losing you, the idea of missing out on something wonderful that could happen between us. That's why I had to see you at the game, and that's why I sneaked in here tonight." She raised her left hand and placed it on top of CJ's, gently sandwiching her friend's hand between her own. "Forgive me, CJ. Please give me another chance."

Gently, Andi squeezed CJ's hand between her own and once again her pressure was answered by a twitch as CJ's fingers momentarily flexed around Andi's hand. The dark-haired woman smiled sadly to herself, then removed her left hand from on top of CJ's. Her right hand continued to cradle the blond woman's hand on the edge of the bed. Andi slid down the seat a bit so that her head was leaning on the back of the chair and continued to watch CJ breathe. She extended her long legs in front of her, then crossed them at the ankles.

Andi yawned silently, shutting her eyes closed tightly for an extended blink. I'm exhausted, she thought. She looked at her watch, which brightly glowed the hour. No wonder. It's tomorrow already. Stifling another yawn, she slid a little lower in the chair and fought to keep her eyes open. Within moments, she lost the battle.

*       *       *       *       *

      CJ was dimly aware of pressure around her eyes, but the strong painkillers that dripped steadily into the IV in her arm insured that she would sleep through the discomfort. She didn't know where she was but at the same time that didn't seem to bother her. She felt like she could step out of her body and hover in the air above it, knowing that the body below in the bed was hers but not quite feeling like she could control it. Everything felt heavy. In fact, she couldn't even raise her arms or move her feet, but in her mind, for now that was OK. Something made her feel safe, like she was being watched over. She felt like it didn't matter that she didn't know where she was or that she couldn't move. Someone else did and she was comforted by that feeling. Now and then some stimulus seeped through her consciousness. Was that a touch? Did she hear breathing? A voice? An indefinable presence surrounded her, wrapping her in a fog of security. CJ's hand twitched as her mind waves ebbed and flowed. A faint smile appeared on her lips as she drifted back into the drug-induced lassitude. Her guardian never noticed.

Chapter 20

      The next morning, CJ emerged from sleep as a diver rises toward the water's surface from the depths of the pool. Although vaguely cognizant that she was waking, she remained in darkness. She was conscious of a dull headache and pressure on her eyes, which increased as she awakened more fully. Her skin pinched under the adhesive tape that held the IV shunt in place. Gradually, she became aware of the air, warm and dry, which smelled like antiseptic. A deep inhale reminded her that her body was quite sore. She rolled her shoulders back, pressing her shoulder blades to the bed and squeezing her hands. One of them was not empty. She gasped and pulled it back toward her chest quickly.

"Who's there?" she asked. Her tone revealed fear and vulnerability.

Andi was startled from sleep. She sat up in the chair and quickly removed her hand from the bedside near CJ, clasping both hands in her lap. Shaking her head to clear slumber from her mind, she stared at the blond woman lying in the bed. Words stuck in her throat. The events of the previous evening came crashing back to her mind and she sat there, paralyzed by fear and indecision. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she could hear her own shallow, rapid breathing.

"Answer me," CJ repeated, her tone more confident. "Who's there?"

"It's me," she whispered, then paused, "Andi."

"Andi?" Her voice softened and she tilted her blond head sideways on the pillow, the gesture reflecting the questioning in her voice. She lowered her arms to the bedside once again.

"Please don't be mad," Andi pleaded. She shifted forward on the seat and gently placed her fingertips on the top of CJ's hand. Her heart continued to race as she studied CJ's face for a response. She watched the blonde woman's chest rise and fall rapidly. CJ's lips were parted as is she was poised to speak.

Slowly, CJ closed her mouth. Her full, dark lips gradually turned up as a small smile emerged on her face, highlighted by her dimple. Although she could not see Andi, she turned her head to face where she could hear the dark-haired woman breathing rapidly. Without losing skin contact, she turned her hand over so that her fingertips touched Andi's. The older woman breathed in audibly at the contact, then allowed a half grin to tug at her mouth.

"CJ... I'm so sorry that I --" She paused as a beam of light was thrown across the bed. Turning towards the door, she was shocked to see a middle-aged man dressed in green hospital scrubs marching into the room. His nametag read T. Bennett, R.N.

"What are you doing here?" the man demanded. "How did you get in?"

Andi stood up from the chair abruptly and turned to face the man whose forehead was creased with frown lines. He held a clipboard in one hand. His other fisted hand was pressed against his hip. The muscles in his jaw were clenched.

"I was just --"

"What's going on here?" The woman who spoke entered the room and stood to the side between Mr. Bennett and Andi. Her white lab jacket with clip-on nametag identified her as Dr. Erroll, M.D. Her kind, brown eyes looked from the nurse to Andi, then back again. She arched her dark gray eyebrows, which matched her wavy hair, as she waited for a response.

"That's what I'd like to know," Mr. Bennett replied. He turned to face the doctor. "I just came in to check on the patient and found this unauthorized visitor in the room." He turned back toward Andi and glared at her. "It's time for you to leave," he ordered. He turned and pointed toward the door with his clipboard, indicating that Andi should proceed him out. Andi hung her head and took a step toward the door.

"Wait!" As CJ spoke, both Andi and the nurse stopped and turned toward her. The doctor, too, looked at the woman who up until this point had remained silent. "I want her to stay," she insisted.

"Doctor, this type of intrusion is highly unorthodox," began Mr. Bennett. He spoke loudly and rapidly, indicative of his obvious annoyance. "If people are allowed to just waltz --"

"Nurse, --"

"into the infirmary anytime they like and --"

"Mr. Bennett!" The doctor's tone was a bit louder, but her eyes remained kind as she spoke. "If our patient..." She paused to look at her folder. "If Cara Jane --"

"CJ, please," stated the blonde woman.

"If CJ would like her to stay," she stated, nodding in Andi's direction, "then she can stay. I don't have a problem with it." She smiled at Andi.

"But I do!" the nurse insisted. "It's my responsibility to make sure the rules are followed and I --"

"I'll take responsibility for her being here, Mr. Bennett."

The nurse opened his mouth as if to speak again, then promptly closed it. He glared at Andi, then turned an impassive face toward the doctor before speaking.

"I'll be down the hall if you need anything." He turned and left the room.

"Thank you doctor," Andi replied softly. She looked into her dark eyes and returned her smile with a slight grin. "I... well... just thanks." She looked away at her feet.

"Why don't you move that chair over there," Dr. Erroll directed, indicating a spot near the window, "and you can have a seat while I talk with CJ." Andi nodded silently and did as the woman requested. She sat toward the edge of the seat with her elbow on her knees and her chin in her hands.

The doctor moved toward CJ and sat near her on the side of the bed. CJ felt the bed dip and she shifted to her left to give the woman more room.

"That's OK, CJ." The woman softly tapped her patient's forearm three times. "I don't need much room. I just want to get a look at those bandages."

"Were you the one who put them on?" the injured athlete asked.

"I'm the one," the doctor replied. "Don't remember me from last night, do you?"

"Don't remember much." Her mouth dipped into a frown.

"Well then, let me introduce myself." She lifted CJ's hand and shook it firmly. "I'm Doctor Erroll."

"Hi Doc."

She removed her hand from CJ's and gently touched the areas of her head near the bandages.

"Is the pressure from the bandages too tight? How's it feel under there?"

"The pressure I feel is from the inside out, doc. The bandages feel OK."

"That's to be expected, CJ." She stood and walked around to the other side of the bed to check the IV. "You took a pretty hard hit to the eye, then another hard knock on the head when you landed on the hardwood."

Andi found herself clenching her fists as she listened to their conversation. Having witnessed the assault herself, she agreed that it was intentional, designed at least to foul or possibly take out the home team's star player. She clenched her jaw in anger. I'd like to get my hands on that player, she thought. I'd kick her ass into the middle of next week. She could feel the blood rising to her face and she consciously took a deep breath to wash away her anger.

"Cheap shot," CJ sneered.

"Unfortunately, the cost to your vision might be anything but cheap."

"What do you mean?" asked CJ. A hint of fear rose in her voice.

"You have a Grade 4 hyphema," said the doctor.

"And that means?"

"Well, A hyphema is a bruise in your eye that is bleeding, usually caused by impact. They are classified in Grades 1-4, depending on severity. Unfortunately, yours is the most severe type. It occurred when that player elbowed your eye. Add to that a concussion, which happened when you landed on the gym floor."

CJ remained quiet as the doctor explained the injury. Her heart was beating quickly as the words "eye bruise" and "bleeding" seeped into her consciousness. After a lifetime of athletic involvement, she was used to scrapes, bruises, and bleeding, but she was smart enough to realize that the injury she had now, which had landed her in the infirmary, was quite a bit more serious. She clasped her hands together and rubbed her hands, an outward sign of her inner apprehension.

"Now tell me what all that means," she asked quietly.

"It means that you're not out of the woods on this, CJ." She paused and placed her hand gently on CJ's forearm. "I'll be up front with you. This is a serious injury. Because it's an internal bleed, the blood pools in the eye because there's no place else for it to go. Just as with any bruise, the body deals with that by reabsorbing the blood; however, if your eye continues to bleed faster than your body can absorb the blood... well, unfortunately, there's a risk of permanent loss of sight in that eye." She stopped speaking for a moment to let the impact of her words sink in, then continued. "It's imperative that the bleeding not only stops but that no rebleeding occurs. The big key to resolving a hyphema is virtual immobility. By that I mean bed rest, period. No walking around, no going to class, no driving in cars, nothing. Even a coughing or sneezing fit could cause a rebleed." The woman stopped speaking and studied CJ's face. The blonde woman's lips were pursed together tightly and her jaw muscles clenched beneath the surface of her cheek. Her hands were clasped together tightly, yet remained still.

"I realize that's a difficult request," the doctor continued, "but it's imperative that you follow my directive if you want to recover fully." She took a deep breath then exhaled slowly. "Do you live in a dorm on campus?"

"Yes."

"No good. How about your family? Do they live around here?"

"Near Norwich."

"Way too far," said the doctor. She shook her head slightly as she replied. "I can't have you riding in a vehicle that long, even if you were lying in an ambulance. OK then, I'll make arrangements with Mr. Bennett for you to stay here in the infirmary --"

"She can stay with me," Andi offered. The words came rushing from her mouth before she thought about their implications or repercussions. She had been sitting there, overhearing the doctor explain CJ's injury, her heart breaking for the fear and anxiety that she knew the injured athlete was feeling. Andi knew all too well the emotional agony of a career-ending injury. Hearing CJ get the disheartening prognosis from the doctor was like reliving her own dismal prognosis not that many years ago. Just as with her own injury, she felt completely helpless but this time she took the only measure of control she could think of by extending the invitation. She was determined to do what she could to help CJ get through it. The blue-eyed woman looked away from the doctor long enough to notice CJ's head turned toward her. A hint of a smile played on her lips.

"Where do you live?" inquired the doctor. She turned to face Andi.

"On the far corner of campus. I rent a converted apartment on the second floor of an administrative office. It's quiet, so she'd get a lot of rest. There's enough room for her. I live there by myself."

"But who'll be available for her during the day, if she needs something?"

"I work on campus. I'm a grad assistant so I'm always around. I could stop by between classes to check on her. She wouldn't be alone for more than a few hours at a time." She paused, then added, "I'm sure Mr. Bennett won't be with her 24/7." She watched as her comment brought a smile to the doctor's lips. "I'm perfectly OK with it as long as... well... CJ? Would that be OK with you?" Both Andi and the doctor turned to look at the blonde woman.

"I'd like that," she replied softly.

"I'm not completely sold on the idea," stated the doctor. She rubbed her chin and hesitated. "Tell you what. I'll see how your eye is looking after another twenty-four hours and then I'll make a decision. If the bleeding's bad, I'm afraid you'll be staying right here. I simply can't take a chance of moving you, even if it is a short distance. However, if the bleeding has stopped, then I'll consider letting you go."

The doctor turned her attention to the folder she had brought with her. She made a few notes about their discussion as well as CJ's condition, then checked her watch.

"On my way out, I'll tell Mr. Bennett to come by to remove your IV around noon today. If the pain becomes too much for you, buzz him and he'll give you something to swallow to get it back under control. I'll be by tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. to reevaluate your injury. Until that time, I want you to rest, and I mean totally and completely." She turned to face Andi. "And that includes no visitors... sorry." The woman's dark eyes were indeed sympathetic and Andi appreciated her empathy. She continued to address the blue-eyed woman. "You can meet us back here at 11:30 tomorrow and I'll let CJ know my decision. And no sneaking in before then," she added, winking at Andi. She turned to face her patient once again. "Any questions before I go, CJ?"

"No Doc, I don't think so."

"Fine. Well then, we'll both be going now and leave you to rest and heal." She turned toward Andi, tilting her head slightly to the side as she spoke. "Ready?" She took a few steps across the room and paused, waiting for Andi at the door.

Andi stood up from the chair and walked over to the side of bed. She gently placed her hand in CJ's and gave it a squeeze. Leaning down near her, she whispered softly in the blonde woman's ear.

"Everything will be OK, CJ. I'll be back tomorrow, I promise."

"Thanks Andi," she replied. She squeezed the dark-haired woman's hand.

Andi moved toward the door where the doctor was waiting. Before she crossed the threshold into the hallway, she looked back over her shoulder for a final glimpse as of her injured friend. Then the doctor pulled the door nearly shut before walking down the hall by Andi's side.

"Try not to worry about your friend," she said softly. "You look like you could use a little rest yourself." She patted Andi on the shoulder gently and smiled. "See you tomorrow." With that, she turned to find Mr. Bennett while Andi left the infirmary.

*       *       *       *       *

      CJ listened as the sound of footsteps and voices faded down the hallway, leaving her alone with her thoughts and fears. She clenched her fist, now empty after having held Andi's hand just moments ago. Her body and heart ached for that connection again, that feeling of protection. She felt so alone.

Do not cry, she reprimanded herself. Your eyes are already a mess. Don't make it worse. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Besides, you couldn't even find a tissue to blow your nose in. Shit.

Her head was throbbing and her body sore from hitting the floor so hard the night before. She thought about the game and the play leading right up to her collision with the other player. Envisioning her drive to the basket as well as her attempt to score, she watched a slow motion replay in her mind's eye of the moment of impact as her opponent's elbow came crashing into her face. It was as if she could see it coming but was powerless to move out of the way. She remembered the room spin a half turn as her view changed from backboard to blurry ceiling, concerned faces above her peering down. Beyond those few seconds, she didn't remember anything until she arrived at the infirmary. Bits and pieces of voices, images, and sensations flashed through her mind -- her coach, people touching her, lying flat yet moving -- but none of the pieces added up to a complete picture of the previous night. I'm sure the coach and the players will fill me in, she thought. I wonder if we won.

She thought about the game and her teammates. So, this is how it ends for me... my career as an athlete. She inhaled and held her breath, clenching her fists tightly as she once again fought back tears. Four long years I played for the championship title and now, this? This is NOT how it's supposed to be. She breathed in quickly several times and exhaled with such force through her mouth that the breath was audible. Well, it's not over 'til I say it's over.

Oh sure. What are you going to do? Just get up off this bed, march your ass out of the infirmary, and join the team for practice? Face reality, she admonished herself. Just take one step at a time, and one day at a time. Maybe the doctor will give you unexpected good news tomorrow. She smiled a little when she thought of the kind woman who had so patiently explained her eye injury. Dr. Erroll seemed as if she knew what she was doing and CJ trusted her care to the middle-aged doctor. Hopefully she'll let me leave here tomorrow... with Andi. A smile tugged at her lips as she thought of her blue-eyed friend. She was completely surprised to awaken and find Andi in the room with her. In retrospect, she thought she even had a dream of the Andi talking with her the night before, but she attributed it to the drugs as well as missing her new friend. Funny... for the past few weeks I've felt so embarrassed being around her or even talking to her on the phone that I totally avoided her. Then she shows up here and I'm so happy to see her that I forget all about that embarrassment. Hmmmm... Maybe she came because she just feels sorry for me.

She frowned at that thought, not wanting to believe that pity brought the dark haired woman to see her. Then what? You want to think that she likes you. Admit it.

Of course I admit it. I admitted it to her with that kiss, I certainly can't deny it to myself. She pursed her lips together as her mind raced with her thoughts. So now what am I going to do? About Andi? About the playoffs? About grad school? Shit! Grad school... That's one more thing to add to the list of things to think about. I have a feeling that the next twenty-four hours are going to be some of the longest hours of my life.

*       *       *       *       *

      Andi could hear the phone ringing as she reached the landing outside the door leading to her apartment. Quickly unlocking then opening the door, she raced across the living room and lifted the receiver.

"Hello?" she said, a little breathless from her sprint as well as the stress of the recent events.

"Hey, Andi," replied Martha. "I'm glad we finally reached you."

"I just walked through the door. Well, more like ran when I heard the phone ringing."

"Well you can disregard our two earlier messages then." Andi glanced at the answering machine, whose red message light was blinking. "We've been trying to reach you since last night." She hesitated, then continued. "Did you hear what happened at the game last night?"

"You mean CJ?"

"So you know."

"I was there." Andi paused and exhaled a large breath that she didn't realize she was holding.

"You were at the game?" Martha's voice registered surprise. "We didn't see you in the stands."

"I wasn't in the home bleacher section." Andi hesitated. Thinking about last night brought back all the painful emotions of why she was there to begin with as well as the horrible injury that she witnessed. She spoke softly into the phone. "I didn't want CJ to see me during the game. I was hoping to talk with her in person after the game..." She paused. "I saw the whole thing."

"Jeez, Andi. Karen and I have been worried about her, and about you since we couldn't reach you. She took a pretty bad hit, and then they had to carry her off. I hope she's OK."

"Her injury's pretty serious." Andi spoke barely above a whisper. As she closed her eyes, she could see an image of CJ lying in the bed with her eyes bandaged.

"How do you know?"

"I went to see her last night. She's in the infirmary."

"But how did you --"

"Long story," replied Andi. The dark-haired woman proceeded to relate the events of the previous twelve hours, ending with leaving the infirmary less than twenty minutes before. "So, I just got back."

"So now what are you going to do?"

"Wait for the slowest twenty-four hours of my life to pass," she replied.

"How about some company?" Martha suggested. "You could come over here, or we'll drive over to your place if you're not up for going out. How about it?"

"Thanks for the offer, Martha, but what I really need is a long nap. I didn't sleep much last night, and I think I'm just wrung out from seeing CJ like this." She raked her long fingers through her dark hair. "And it brings back such bad memories, too, you know?"

"Sure, honey. I understand. Catch up on some rest. We'll be home all day, so call us later and maybe we can do something, OK?"

"That sounds good," she replied. As she spoke, she leaned over and unlaced her sneakers, then slipped her feet out of them. She stretched out her long legs and crossed them at the ankles.

"If we don't hear from you by dinner time, I'm going to call you back. Consider that fair warning," teased Martha. Her tone was intentionally playful in an attempt to lighten her friend's spirits.

"Duly noted," Andi replied, with as much reciprocal lightheartedness as she could muster.

"Besides, the time will drag if you're there by yourself." She added in a self-mocking tone, "However, with our quick wit, charming conversation, and convivial humor, the time will simply fly by and it will be tomorrow before you know it." She chuckled on the other end of the phone.

"OK, OK... I get the message." She smiled to herself at Martha's thoughtfulness. "You both are such special friends. I hope you know that."

"The feeling's very mutual, Andi. We're here for you."

"Thanks. That really means a lot to me."

"Go. Take a nap and call us later."

"OK, Martha. Thanks again for calling. I'll talk to you soon."

Andi lowered the receiver back to the base, then sat forward on the edge of the sofa. With her elbows on her knees, she rested her head in her hands and closed her eyes in an attempt to wind down. After a few deep, slow breaths, she pushed herself up from the sofa and headed into the bathroom. She removed her clothes and tossed them into a pile in the corner of the small room. Turning on the water full force, she stepped into the shower and let the hot water cascade over her head and shoulders. For several minutes she just stood there, her tears mingling with the water. Finally, she emerged, dried off, and donned a pair of sweat pants and a long sleeve T-shirt before climbing under the covers of her bed. She slipped into the realm of Morpheus nearly as soon as her head touched the pillow.

Chapter 21

      Andi walked quickly across campus toward the infirmary. The late morning sun was just above the treetops but its rays did not sufficiently warm up the early March morning. The dark-haired woman turned up the collar of her jacket then pushed her hands deeper into her pockets as she moved across the green. The chilly air served to clear her head of the anxiety and apprehension of seeing CJ again, as well as of hearing the doctor's report. She breathed in deeply, filling her lungs with the cold blast until her chest tingled from the sensation.

The previous night was filled with fitful stretches of sleeping and wakefulness once she finally turned in at nearly 1:00 a.m. As promised, Martha did call her again around dinnertime, then she and Karen showed up at her door a half-hour later. They brought pizza, beer, and a video of Fried Green Tomatoes to help her pass the time. While it was true that her mind wandered to CJ many times throughout the evening, Martha and Karen's company proved to be a pleasant distraction. When they left just after midnight, she still wasn't tired enough to sleep so she journaled for thirty or so minutes before finally crawling under the covers.

She awakened well before the alarm, early enough to spend an hour and a half at the gym. A half-hour on the elliptical trainer followed by an abbreviated circuit on the weight machines took the edge off her anxiety just enough to get her through the morning. She returned to her apartment to shower and eat a late breakfast before heading out to meet CJ and the doctor at 11:30.

Entering through the front doors to the infirmary, she approached the nurses' station at the far end of the hall away from CJ's room. Mr. Bennett raised his head, then glared at her as she passed. She smiled broadly at him and waved.

"Good morning, Mr. Bennett," she said with exaggerated politeness.

"I see you're using the front door this time," he sneered.

Andi continued to smile as she walked past him, ignoring his comment. She continued down the hallway toward CJ's room. The corridor looked so different to her in the daylight, with the florescent lights glowing brightly and the sun streaming though the windows. It looked warmer and more inviting. No longer did she have to lurk in the shadows to see her friend. She slowed her steps as she neared CJ's room. The door was cracked open enough for her to see a blond, bandaged head as well as the doctor standing by the far side of the bed. She checked her watch, which read 11:27. Andi took a deep breath then exhaled slowly before knocking on the open door.

"Come in," invited the doctor.

"I'm back," Andi said shyly. She walked toward the bed and gently rested her hand on the blonde woman's shoulder. "Hi CJ."

"Hi Andi," she replied. She turned her head toward the voice and grinned slightly at her friend.

"You're just in time," said the older woman. "I just finished rewrapping CJ's bandages."

"How's it look?" inquired Andi. She held her breath waiting for a response.

"I didn't get the miracle I was praying for," interjected CJ, "but at least I don't have to stay here any more."

"The bleeding appears to have stopped, which is why I agreed to let her leave," the doctor added. "From my experience, most patients are more relaxed and therefore heal better when they're in a home environment. Have you made the necessary arrangements for CJ to stay with you?"

"Everything's all set," Andi replied.

"OK then." She scribbled some notes in CJ's file then moved closer to her patient, resting her hand on CJ's forearm. "Let me be very clear that you are not out of the woods with this injury, CJ. Although the bleeding has been arrested, the problem is still very serious. Partial or even complete vision loss is still a very real possibility. Additionally, you suffered a pretty hard blow to your head, resulting in a concussion." She paused to let the seriousness of her words sink in to CJ. "It's absolutely imperative that you rest and remain as motionless as possible. You'll have many restrictions placed on you when you're at Andi's place, and if you don't follow them to the letter, I'll have to move you back here immediately."

"Restrictions?" asked Andi.

"Yes. Like no unnecessary walking around. That means trips to the bathroom and that's it. No driving in cars. You also can't attend classes for a while. I can give you a note if your professors require one." She wrote on a pad then handed the paper to Andi. "Here, hold this for her." The doctor continued. "No coughing, sneezing, laughing, or crying -- nothing that will cause internal pressure on your eyes. I know it sounds nearly impossible to stay emotionally neutral, but that's about what it comes down to. Your two allowed positions are lying flat, as you are now, or lying on a slight incline, with pillows propped behind your head and back. If you need to sit up to eat, that's OK, but don't stay that way for more than thirty minutes. I'll give you a prescription for painkillers that you can take if you need them. It might be necessary for a few more days, especially at night if you can't sleep." She wrote on the pad once again then handed Andi the second slip of paper. "The most important thing you can do is rest, CJ. That means there shouldn't be a parade of people coming and going--"

"I'll be bored out of my mind, doc," protested CJ.

"No, you'll be giving your body the rest it needs to heal. I didn't say you couldn't have any visitors. A short visit now and then is fine. What I don't want is your entire team, your coaches, your friends all smothering you with so much concern that you won't get any rest. Got it?" Her tone was firm and brooked no compromise. "I have a print-out of restrictions that I'll give to Andi. She'll read it to you later and see to it that they are followed." She looked at the dark-haired woman. "I can count on you to follow these procedures, right?"

"Absolutely," the ex-swimmer replied.

"And CJ, I can count on you to go along with all those restrictions?"

"I promise," she sighed reluctantly.

"Good. I'll go find Mr. Bennett and have him arrange for transportation over to Andi's apartment. If you experience any problems, call me immediately. Otherwise, I'll see you in my office in ten days." She turned and left the room.

CJ could hear the footsteps fade across the room and out the door. For a moment the room was completely silent and she assumed that Andi had left with the doctor. She sighed deeply and audibly.

"You OK?" Andi asked quietly. She moved to the side of the bed and brushed her fingertips across her friend's forearm.

"I guess. Glad to be leaving here, that's for sure. I mean, they've been very nice to me and all but it's just so... I don't know... lonely?" She paused. "You know, you didn't have to offer to take care of me --"

"But I wanted to," she interrupted.

"Why?" She turned her face toward Andi.

"Well, you said yourself that you'd rather not be here and besides... I... I've really missed you, CJ."

The blonde woman's heart thumped rapidly in her chest. Her skin tingled from where Andi's fingertips were gently touching her forearm. She exhaled slowly and allowed a small smile to tug on her lips.

"I missed you, too," the younger woman replied softly.

Andi's heart jumped at hearing not only her words but also the sincerity in her voice. Dragging her fingers down the fine blonde hairs, she clasped her friend's hand tightly. Their joined touch was warm, comfortable, and safe.

"Thanks, Andi," CJ added. "I really mean that."

The squeaky wheels of the gurney interrupted their conversation. Mr. Bennett pushed the rolling table into the room and right up to CJ's bed before locking the wheels. He ignored Andi as he moved, intentionally focusing his eyes on the woman in the bed.

"OK, CJ. I've brought the gurney to take you to the ambulance. Then they'll drive you across campus to the apartment."

"I don't need a gurney," she replied impatiently. "I'm perfectly capable of walking."

"Doctor's orders. Besides, this one folds so you'll be riding it in the ambulance. When you arrive, they'll carry you upstairs in it, too. Doctor said it's not an option."

"Hrrummmfff," the injured athlete replied, clearly annoyed but acknowledging that she had no choice.

"Just scoot over to your right a little at a time and you'll be on it," he directed. He rested his hand on her shoulder and hip to guide her. "I won't let you slide off the other side," he joked.

"I wasn't worried," she answered.

"Your friend can't drive in the ambulance," he stated matter-of-factly. His eyes remained on CJ.

"I'll leave now and meet you there, CJ" replied Andi. "I'll probably beat the ambulance there anyway."

"That'll be great. Thanks again, Andi," CJ responded.

"See you in a few minutes."

*       *       *       *       *

      "What room am I in?" asked CJ. The two orderlies from the infirmary had just left after having carried her up the stairs into the apartment. Her gauze bandages had been replaced by eye patches, which prevented the blonde woman from opening her eyes.

"The living room," replied Andi. "Last night, Martha and Karen came over to keep me company, and they helped me move the mattress from my room onto the floor in --"

"You didn't have to give me your mattress!" the blonde woman interrupted. "Your offer of letting me stay here is a big enough imposition."

"It's nothing, really," she replied casually. "I've spent more then a few nights on the sofa after falling asleep watching a late movie. It's really quite comfortable. Besides, I can keep an eye on you better if I'm in here instead of in my room."

"You really didn't have to do that, Andi."

"Don't worry about it, OK? Besides, I thought you might enjoy being out here in the living room, since you can hear the TV and stereo better. The sun streams though those windows for most of the afternoon so it's really warm. In fact, I've taken a nap or two in just that spot on some lazy afternoons."

"I wouldn't want to take your favorite spot."

"I'm more than happy to share it with you."

The two women paused in their bantering to consider the implications of that invitation.

"I guess I'm going to owe you, big time, after all this," CJ joked. She faced the direction where she heard Andi's voice.

"Then I'll start writing up a list of how you can make it up to me," the blue-eyed woman teased. CJ laughed.

"Anything you want!" the younger woman replied.

"Anything?" Andi's voice was playful.

"Yes. Anything."

"Hhhmmmmm. I'll have to think long and hard about it, then." She chuckled to herself as she conjured up the list.

"What are you laughing about?"

"Nothing," she replied quickly, eager to change the subject. "How do those pillows feel behind your back? You comfortable?"

"Fine, thanks."

"Can I get you anything?"

"Well I... I hate to bother--"

"It's no bother. Please, what is it that you'd like?"

"Lunch?"

"Sure! That's easy enough." She stood up from the sofa and walked toward the kitchen. "It's a good sign that you haven't lost your appetite," Andi chuckled.

"Not much makes me lose my appetite," she replied.

"I've always been amazed about how much you can eat. You have such a great --" She stopped short of finishing her thought with a slight cough. Her face glowed bright red and at that moment she was very glad that CJ couldn't see her. "I mean, you certainly seem lean and fit." She covered her eyes with her hand, still embarrassed by her thoughts and verbal slip.

"Well, thanks," CJ replied. She caught Andi's comment and was secretly flattered that her friend even noticed her body. The blonde athlete wished she could see her companion's face, since she heard her stumble over her words and sensed her embarrassment. She smiled to herself. "You're in pretty good shape yourself," she added.

"Thanks," replied Andi weakly. Eager to talk about something else, she continued. "So, I stopped at the deli on the way back from the gym this morning. I've got rolls and the fixings for sandwiches. Is that OK?"

"Great!"

"What kind would you like?"

"Anything, really. Surprise me."

"What would you like to drink?"

"Do you have any diet soda?"

"Diet Coke OK?"

"Perfect."

Andi prepared the sandwiches then brought them and the sodas back into the living room, placing them on the coffee table near the sofa. She placed CJ's plate in the blonde woman's lap.

"Here's your sandwich," she stated. "I'll leave your soda on the table. Just let me know when you want a drink and I'll hand it to you." She sat down on the floor next to the mattress with her long legs stretched out in front of her, crossed at the ankles.

"Thanks," the basketball player replied. She took a bite of her lunch and grinned. "This is great! I love that spicy deli mustard."

"I kind of figured you for a spicy deli mustard kind of gal," joked Andi.

The two friends ate in companionable silence for a several minutes before CJ interrupted the stillness.

"The first night I spent in the infirmary," she began, "I had a dream."

"What kind of dream?"

"I dreamed that you were there in the infirmary, talking to me."

Andi stopped chewing and swallowed hard. She quickly grabbed for her soda and took a few sips to clear her throat. She had been wondering if CJ was coherent enough to know she was there that night, but didn't exactly know how to explain to her friend why she had sneaked in.

"What were we talking about?" the older woman asked. She held her breath as she waited for CJ to answer.

"I don't exactly remember," she replied. "I've been trying so hard to remember since then because... I don't know, but whatever it was that I dreamed you were saying made me feel less scared... about everything."

"So I guess it was a good dream," Andi said softly.

"Yeah, it was. I wish I could remember it."

"Maybe you'll have it again." CJ considered that thought and smiled, nodding her head.

"Maybe I will, especially now that I'm surrounded by Andi-vibes," she chuckled.

"Andi-vibes?" the dark-haired woman laughed.

"Sure. I'm here with you, in your apartment, on your bed, eating your food... I'm surrounded by your energy. You do know that you give off a lot of energy, don't you?"

"Energy?"

"Yeah, energy. I noticed it right away, the first time we met. You practically pulse with energy, this inner strength that kind of flows out of you. It's all beneath the surface, almost hidden... but I can feel it. I know it's there."

Andi didn't quite know how to respond to CJ's observations. Hearing herself described this way was indeed flattering and she was touched that her friend was so willing to share such a personal feeling with her.

"Thanks, CJ," she responded softly.

The younger woman noticed Andi's hesitation and quiet response. A thought occurred to her and she paused, then turned her head toward her quiet friend.

"Did I just make you uncomfortable by saying that? I'm so used to blurting out what I'm thinking or feeling that I didn't even consider how it might make you feel."

"No," Andi replied quickly. She placed her hand gently on CJ's forearm. "Your openness is one of the things I like so much about you, so please, don't ever worry about being that way. I can't say that I'm used to it, since most people aren't like that, but I really do like it." She paused and continued in a lighthearted tone. "Maybe I'll pick up on some CJ-vibes and learn to be more like you in that regard." She grinned at her friend.

"I'm sure we could learn a lot from each other," she added, laughing.

They finished their lunch quietly, each woman delighting in the thought of the shared intimacy of learning from the other. Andi smiled to herself then stretched.

"Can I get you anything else?"

"I'm good for now," CJ replied.

"Let me clear these plates out of here," the older woman said. She collected their plates and glasses and headed off to the kitchen, then returned to the living room after stacking the lunch dishes in the sink. She sat down on the floor next to CJ and gently touched her arm, as had become her habit, to let the woman know she was there.

"Would you mind if I went into my office for a few hours this afternoon?" she asked.

"Of course not, Andi. You do what you need to do and don't worry about me."

"I had posted my office hours last week, before this happened, and I really do need to make myself available in case any students stop by."

"That's fine."

"I'll leave the phone right here on the floor by your bed, so if you need me just call. Do you remember my number?"

"Of course. I didn't bang my head that hard," she replied, grinning.

"And the TV clicker's here, too, and the remote for the stereo. For both of them the power button is in the upper right corner." She placed them next to the phone. "I'll leave a glass of water on the coffee table, too. How about I walk you to the bathroom before I go, just to remind you of the path in case you have to go when I'm not here?"

"I suppose that's a good idea," CJ conceded.

"Here, let me help," Andi offered. She placed her arm around the blonde woman's shoulders and helped her to sit up slowly. "Put your arm across my shoulders so I can help you stand up." The younger woman did as she requested while Andi put her arm around CJ's waist. "OK, ready? One, two, three," she directed. The two women rose slowly and stood still for a minute so CJ could orient herself to being vertical. "Now, if you reach out your hand, you'll feel the sofa over here," Andi narrated. "If you walk slowly for a few feet with your hand touching the back of it, you'll come to one of the kitchen chairs." She walked next to CJ with her arm still around her waist as CJ felt for the objects. When the injured athlete touched the back of the chair, Andi continued. "I lined up all four chairs next to each other so that their backrests act as an aisle leading you to the bathroom," she said.

"Pretty clever," remarked CJ.

"I don't want you to wander around and fall," she replied. "I was trying to make it easy for you."

"You did a great job, Andi. I hope you know how grateful I am, for everything."

"It's my pleasure, CJ. Besides, you told me I can make a payback list, don't forget," she joked. "So, once you get to the forth chair, just reach your hands straight out in front of you and take one small step and you'll be at the bathroom door." CJ continued to follow her directions and could feel the doorframe at her fingers. "The light switch is on the left --"

"I won't need that for a while."

"Oh... right. Sorry."

"It's OK."

"The bowl is on the left, and the sink is directly across from it. If you take one small step, you'll be right in between both."

"Might as well take advantage of the room while I'm here," said CJ.

"I'll wait outside," replied Andi. She closed the door and paced until the door reopened a few minutes later. "Ready to head back?"

"Sure," she replied. Andi reached to take her arm. "I should try this once by myself," stated CJ. "If I have to go later, you might not be here. I should make sure I can do it alone."

"You're right," replied the older woman. She reluctantly removed her hand from CJ's arm. "I'll be right next to you," she offered.

The blonde woman felt her way back using the chair and sofa guides that Andi had arranged. When she made it back to the mattress, Andi praised her efforts.

"That was great, CJ! I'll feel a lot better being gone for a few hours knowing that you can at least get back and forth to the bathroom."

"Thanks to you," the younger woman replied. She reached out her hands toward where she heard Andi's voice. "Where are you?"

"Here," Andi replied. She stepped toward the younger woman, taking her hands as she moved. CJ squeezed her hands then pulled the dark-haired woman towards her, enveloping her in a warm, lingering hug. The full lengths of their bodies were pressed together and Andi could feel her heart thumping in her chest. She rubbed her palms slowly up and down CJ's back a few times before gathering up the woman into a deeper embrace. They remained locked in the hug for a few moments longer before Andi sighed and begrudgingly stepped back, still holding CJ's hands.

"I better go," the ex-swimmer said. Her voice was flat and she wanted desperately to wrap her arms around CJ once again. "Any requests for dinner?" she asked, trying to get her mind off the hug.

"Anything is fine," replied CJ. "Other than filter organs." She smirked.

"Don't worry. I didn't forget," chuckled Andi. "I'll be back in a few hours, OK?"

"OK. If I'm not here, I'll be over at the gym shooting hoops --"

"CJ! Don't you --"

"Just kidding." She grinned broadly, deepening the dimple in her cheek. "I'll be here when you get back. I promise."

*       *       *       *       *

      CJ heard the lock click, followed by muffled footsteps.

"Andi?"

"It's just me," the older woman replied. "I thought you might be sleeping." She removed her coat and walked over to the mattress. Squatting down, she reached over and touched CJ's arm.

"Nope. Just hanging out," she replied. She sniffed the air a few times. "What do I smell?"

"Chinese from Mings. Hungry?"

"Silly question. What did you get?"

"Hot and sour soup, General Tsao's chicken, crispy fish with black bean sauce, and vegetable fried rice." She grinned. "How did I do?"

"All excellent choices! You did great, Andi."

"Then let's eat while it's hot. I'll go and make up some plates." She stood and carried the bag of food into the kitchen. "So what'd you do while I was out?" she asked, calling to CJ from the kitchen.

"I listened to MSNBC to catch up on the news a bit, just to pass the time. I also called my parents, to let them know what was going on. I hope you don't mind. Let me know when the bill comes in so I can pay you for the calls."

"Don't worry about a few phone calls, please," she insisted. "What'd your parents have to say?"

"My mom was worried, of course. She always worries. All while I was growing up, she always gave me a hard time about being a tomboy. She tried to put me in dresses and frilly clothes -- she really wanted a girlie-girl, you know? I wouldn't have any of it, though. My only concession to 'suitable behavior for young women,' to quote my mother, was my interest in cooking. And my only real reason for that was my interest in eating." She shook her head slowly as she thought of her mother. "Mom didn't get the daughter she always dreamed of with me," she added sighing.

"Don't buy into that, CJ," called Andi from the kitchen. "You're an excellent student, a super athlete, and from what I've seen so far a really great person. How could she possibly be disappointed?"

"Thanks, Andi. I do think she recognizes all that, but it's still not the way she pictured my life."

"It's not her life to picture," replied Andi. She walked into the living room carrying their food then set it down on the coffee table. "It's your life, CJ."

"Yes, that's true. I've been working on that 'letting go' stage since I went away to college. That's part of the reason I decided to go away to school."

"I remember you telling me," Andi said. "And I'm certainly glad you did. So, what can I get you to drink?"

"Water would be great," she replied.

Andi walked to the kitchen and returned with two glasses of water. She helped CJ sit up, then propped several more pillows behind her so she could eat comfortably. The grad assistant woman sat cross-legged on the floor next to the mattress and handed CJ a bowl.

"How about we start with soup?"

"I'm ready," she replied.

Andi handed her the bowl, which the blonde woman raised up close to her face so as to have a short distance to lift the spoon to her mouth. She consumed more than half the bowl in that manner before switching tactics.

"Would you mind if I just drank the rest?" the injured athlete asked.

"Go for it," replied Andi. "I promise not to report you to Miss Manners."

CJ put down the spoon and dispensed with the remaining soup in a few swallows before lowering the soup bowl to her lap.

"That was delicious," she replied. "My tongue's still tingling."

"Here's your dinner," offered Andi. She put the plate on CJ's lap.

"Smells great!"

Andi placed the fork in CJ's hand then looked on as she blindly poked it at her plate in the hopes of spearing a piece of food. The older woman watched as three times the rice slipped off CJ's fork before she was able to get it to her mouth. The grad assistant could see her frustration.

"I'm sorry, CJ," offered Andi. "I wasn't thinking when I picked this food." She put her own plate down and shifted to sit on the end of the mattress, facing her friend. She took the fork from the blonde woman's hand and the plate off her lap. "Here. Let me help you."

"No Andi," CJ replied. "You've helped me enough. You don't have to feed me, too."

Andi could sense her friend's frustration and embarrassment at not being able to feed herself, and she knew that she had to diffuse the situation quickly so as not to hurt her feelings.

"Come on, consider it a decadent indulgence, CJ," she purred. "The ancient Romans reclined as they were fed their meals. Sounds like fun to me," she added. "I'll put this on my payback list. Once you're feeling better, you can return the favor. Deal?"

CJ hesitated. She didn't like feeling helpless or dependant on anyone, especially for something as basic as eating. At the same time, she did appreciate Andi's efforts to lighten the awkward situation. She sighed audibly.

"Deal."

"Good," Andi grinned. "So, do you like a mixture of foods on the fork at the same time, or are you a purist?"

"A little of both," she responded. "I'll leave it up to you."

Andi was relieved that CJ was going along with it. She knew that this wasn't going to be the only meal that her friend wouldn't be able to feed herself, so it would be easier and more comfortable for both of them if they got over the awkwardness right away. She picked up the fork and speared a piece of General Tsao's chicken, then raised it to CJ's lips. The blonde woman could smell the food near her nose and opened her mouth. Andi slowly inserted the fork then CJ closed her lips on the utensil to take the food as Andi removed the fork. She chewed several times, then swallowed.

"Ming's makes the best Chinese food," the younger woman stated "We order from them every few weeks."

"Me too," the blue-eyed woman replied. She scooped some vegetable fried rice onto the fork and raised it to CJ's lips. "Ready?"

"Part of this 'deal' is that you have to eat, too," she insisted. "I'm not going to have you feed my whole meal to me while yours gets cold. We alternate forkfuls, that's the 'new' deal." Her voice was playful yet insistent.

"You drive a hard bargain," Andi played along. "But if you insist..."

"I insist."

Andi lifted the rice to her own lips and ate it herself. As she chewed, she refilled the fork with the rice and vegetable mixture and offered it to CJ.

"Your turn," she said. CJ opened to receive the food. She closed her mouth slowly around the fork while Andi unhurriedly removed the utensil. CJ made happy food noises as she began to chew the rice. The older woman raised one eyebrow nearly up to her hairline as she listened to the sounds emanating from her friend. "You like?" she asked.

"I like," she murmured.

The meal continued at a leisurely pace, alternating forkfuls of food. As they ate, Andi told the blonde woman about the students who visited during her office hours that afternoon. Sensing that her friend was eager for any link to the world outside the apartment where she was stuck for the next few days, the older woman entertained her with stories of nameless students who sought out English assistance. Before they knew it, first CJ's plate and then Andi's were emptied by the hungry women.

"I'm stuffed," commented Andi. She stacked the empty plates on the coffee table and patted her stomach.

"Me too," replied CJ. "However..."

"However what?"

"According to your Roman feast analogy, isn't this the part where you're supposed to peel me grapes?" she teased.

"Forget the grapes, kiddo. I've got Ben & Gerry's! Those Roman's didn't know what they were missing."

"Flavor?"

"Chubby Hubby," she replied. "It's as close as I'll ever come to having a fat husband, I can guarantee you that."

"I'll second that," she agreed.

"Let me clear these plates and I'll scoop us some." She picked up the dishes and carried them into the kitchen. As she got out the bowls from the cabinet and began scooping the ice cream, she found herself grinning broadly. Things are going better than I thought, she mused. There's still so much more to say... but at least the door is open now. I wish it didn't have to happen like this, though, she thought. The smile faded from her lips as she looked out across the room at CJ's eye patches. She sighed sadly. Looking down at the two ice cream bowls on the counter in front of her, she made an impulsive decision. Lifting up one bowl, she dumped its contents into the other bowl. She returned the second spoon to its holder in the drawer then headed back out to the living room carrying one spoon and one bowl loaded with ice cream. By the time she reached CJ, the smile had returned to her lips.

*       *       *       *       *

      Andi had spent the two hours after dinner grading papers and going over her research notes. A mug of honey and lemon tea on the table steamed fragrantly. From where she sat working, she could watch CJ as she lay quietly on the mattress across the room. Soft piano strains from Liz Story's Solid Colors CD filled the room with tranquil sounds. The evening was typical, like one of a hundred past evenings spent on schoolwork with instrumental music and a hot mug for company. Only CJ's presence changed the scene.

She put down her pen and paused in her work. Looking over at CJ, she considered how much in her life had changed since she met the attractive blonde woman. For many years she had been content to be alone. Initially, she chose social isolation as a way to heal her broken heart, but after many months of solitude she grew accustomed to her disconnection and built her life around solitude. Schoolwork and grad assistant responsibilities kept her extremely busy, and any free time in between work and school was filled with working out or reading. There was always something for her to do to avoid thinking about loneliness. Even years after Liz, she often rejected dating or any type of social situation simply because she wasn't willing to risk the hurt of trusting and loving another person. In her mind, she had likened her present life to her life as a swimmer. Although her successful race efforts earned points for the team, she considered swimming a solo sport since she had no one but herself to rely on as she powered her way across the pool. Ever since the heartbreak of Liz, her life had become a solo sport.

For years she had existed as emotionally neutral, quietly enjoying her work and classes yet never risking opening her heart to another person. Have I really been happy? she thought to herself. Well, I wasn't unhappy... but something was missing. Something was always just short of wonderful. She pondered what measured the distance between seemingly happy, and wonderful. Before she could intellectualize the answer, it simply popped into her head. CJ. Andi realized that without the presence of green-eyed woman, her aloneness turned quickly back into loneliness, and a void was left in her heart.

"Andi?"

The ebony-haired woman blinked hard and shook her head to return her focus from daydreaming. She quickly stood and moved across the room to the mattress, then squatted down beside her friend.

"Do you need something?" Andi asked.

"You've been so quiet over there... I was just wondering what you were doing."

"Just correcting papers, the usual," she replied casually. She smiled to herself as she realized that the mere physical presence of CJ so close by made her heart feel wonderful, which confirmed her previous daydreaming.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt you."

"It's OK. I could use a break."

"Would you mind if I took a bath? They washed me up at the infirmary, but I think I'd rather soak for a while and wash up more thoroughly."

"Sure. Will you be OK doing that?"

"Taking a bath, yes. Taking a shower, I don't think so. I won't lose my balance if I'm sitting on my butt for a few minutes." She chuckled.

"Did Dr. Erroll say it was OK?" Andi reached toward the coffee table for the typed instructions that the doctor left with her. "Let me check the list." She scanned the directions silently, then found what she was looking for. "It says that you can bathe in a tub and wash your hair as long as you don't move around too much."

"Move around too much? How the hell do you move around too much in a tub? Maybe if it was a hot tub..." CJ grinned mischievously.

"I'm just reading what's on the paper," Andi replied. She stood up then headed toward the bathroom. "I'll start filling up the tub."

The grad assistant woman stepped into the bathroom and began running the water. Once the water became comfortably hot, she stopped up the drain to fill the tub. As she stood up and turned to leave the room, she nearly bumped into CJ.

"Oh! Sorry," she said. "With the water running, I didn't hear you walk over."

"Didn't mean to scare you. Rather than wait out there I thought I'd make my way over here. Don't want the water to get cold," CJ said.

"I'll put a towel on the floor right outside the tub. Can I get you anything else?"

"Could I borrow a pair of sweat pants and a T-shirt? No sense in taking a shower and putting on the same clothes. I'll call one of my roommates tomorrow and ask her to bring some of my clothes over, but until then --"

"Of course. Lord knows I have enough to outfit the whole women's athletic department. I'll be right back." Andi stepped out of the room then returned shortly with the clothes. "I brought the sweats, a T-shirt, and a pair of socks," she announced. "I'll leave them on the side of the sink for you. Let me turn off the water. The tub's just about full." She shut off the knobs and the room suddenly became silent in the absence of the splashing water. "Anything else?"

"Nope. That's it."

"Are you sure you'll be OK?"

"I'm sure. If I'm not out in twenty minutes, you can send in the scuba search and rescue team," she chuckled.

"Very funny," she responded, smiling. "I'll be working at the table. Holler if you need anything." She turned and stepped out of the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

Fifteen minutes later, CJ emerged from the bathroom, her blonde hair wet and disheveled from toweling it dry. As she stepped into the living room, she reached her right hand toward the chair backs to guide herself across the room.
She stopped when she heard Andi speak.

"How'd the bath go?"

"It felt great, actually. Hey, did I put on any of these clothes backward or inside out?" She motioned to what she was wearing.

"Nope. Everything's on the right way," she responded.

"What colors am I wearing?"

Andi paused at the question. She looked at CJ, whose blonde head was tilted slightly to the side to reflect the question she just asked. Her hands were pushed into the side pockets of the sweat pants. The dark-haired woman's brow creased as she considered the seemingly unusual question.

"Navy blue sweats with white socks and a white T-shirt," she responded. "Are those colors OK? I mean, they're not our school colors but --"

"They're fine, Andi. I was just curious." She paused and dropped her head as if she were looking at her feet, then she raised her head and spoke again. "It's hard to explain, but I feel left out of things a bit."

"I'm sorry, CJ." She got up quickly and stepped to where CJ stood. Reaching out, she placed her hand on her friend's shoulder. "I should have asked you what you wanted to wear before--"

"No, it's not that, Andi. I don't feel left out because of that." She stopped speaking as she gathered her thoughts to articulate with words what had simply been a feeling. "It's more like I'm missing things, like I'm not aware of everything that's going on around me. Like, it feels weird to be standing here wearing clothes and not know what they look like. It's like life is still happening all around me but for right now I'm left out of it." She paused and added softly, "Does that make any sense?"

"Yeah, it makes sense," Andi replied softly. "I feel that way sometimes even with my eyes open," she added. She surprised herself at the frank, openness of her response. The implications of that admission did not go unnoticed by CJ, who stored them away for a future conversation.

"I knew you wouldn't dress me in wacky, mis-matched colors. That's not why I asked."

"I know that, CJ." She gently squeezed the woman's shoulder. "I'm glad you told me how you feel, though. I'll try to be more sensitive to it."

"Please don't think that you did anything wrong, Andi." She placed her hand over the other woman's, which remained on her shoulder. "It's the situation. It's not you." She lifted her head up and smiled at her friend. "In fact, you're making it better than you are probably aware." Andi was glad that CJ couldn't see her blushing.

"It's my lucky T-shirt," Andi elaborated. She tugged gently at the sleeve then lowered her hand from CJ's shoulder. "It's got a picture of Garfield jumping off a diving board in a cannon ball, holding his nose. Martha got it for me right before the States."

"How'd you do?"

"I won."

"Well then, thanks for letting me wear your special shirt. I hope it brings me as much luck as it brought you."

"Me too." She smiled sadly then reached up and gave CJ's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "It's after 10:30. Are you getting tired?"

"Actually, I am," she replied. She covered her mouth as she yawned. She reached out with her right hand and made her way back to the mattress using the chair backs and sofa as a guide. Andi looked on as she moved, following her.

"Want me to get you one of those pain pills?"

"I'd rather not take them," CJ replied. "They make my brain feel fuzzy even after I wake up. The pain's not real bad and besides, I'm pretty tired and will probably fall asleep without much trouble."

"If you change your mind, let me know and I'll bring you one. I have a little more paperwork to do, then I'll be turning in, too. I'll be right on the sofa. If you need anything, just wake me. I'm a light sleeper."

"I'll try not to have to do that."

"Don't worry about it. I'm used to getting up at night. The slightest noises around this old house wake me. I fall right back to sleep though, so it's fine."

"Thanks, Andi." She lay back on the mattress and pulled the blanket up to her chest. She rested her arms outside the covers and across her stomach. "I really am very grateful for everything you've done."

"I'm happy to help you, CJ," Andi replied. She reached out and clasped one of CJ's hands. "I'm here for you if you need anything, OK?"

"OK. Goodnight, Andi."

"Goodnight, CJ." She gave her hand a final squeeze then released it. The blue-eyed woman stood and turned off the stereo using the remote. Moving across the room, she resumed her seat at the table and returned to her papers.

For the next half-hour she forced herself to concentrate on her work, but frequently found herself looking across the room at the blonde woman who reclined on the mattress. Taking out her day planner, she reviewed her schedule for the following day then added more notes on her to-do list before she closed the book and put down her pen. Pushing away from the table slowly and quietly, she walked to the bathroom to prepare for bed. She emerged a few minutes later and padded softly to the sofa, turning out the overhead light as she passed the switch.

When she reached her temporary bed, she turned on the small table lamp. She lowered herself onto the cushions then leaned back against the pillows that were propped up against the arm of the sofa. With her long legs stretched out along the length of the couch, she reached over and picked up her journal and pen from the table that held the lamp. A purple ribbon marked the page of her last entry and she flipped the writing tablet open to that spot. She reread her last entry, then bent both of her knees to rest the book on them as she began to write.

The apartment was mostly dark except for the halo of the table lamp, which illuminated Andi's journal. The moonlight peeked through the living room windows, glowing dimly and casting faint shadows on the objects inside the room. From where Andi sat stretched out on the sofa, she could watch CJ clearly. The blonde woman remained on her back with her arms outside the blanket and her hands still crossed on her stomach. Her mouth was slightly open and Andi could hear the cadence of her sleep breathing, which matched the rise and fall of her chest. The younger woman's face, slightly shadowed by the room's darkness, was calm and relaxed. Andi looked with longing at her face, the softness of her lips, the slight crease where her dimple formed. I miss looking into those beautiful green eyes, she thought. I've missed that so much. She sighed heavily, thinking back to that night in the infirmary when she first saw CJ's bandaged eyes and worried so much that her friend was seriously injured. Remembering that night in the infirmary made her think back to the conversation that she and CJ had over lunch earlier that day, when the blonde woman told about her comforting dream of Andi talking to her.

"It wasn't a dream, CJ," she whispered aloud. "I was there that night, just like I am now. But just like then, I'm still afraid. " She watched to see if her whispering had any effect on the woman lying there but noticed no change in the rhythm of her breathing. "I guess the cover of darkness and sleep give me courage that daylight and wakefulness chase away... I'm trying, CJ. I want to be able to say these things to you when you can hear me and can respond. Maybe by the time you recover your vision I'll recover my courage and I can look into your beautiful green eyes and speak to you from my heart. Until that time, I'll talk to you as you sleep and hope that you continue to dream happy, safe thoughts of me. I am here watching over you, as you imagined in your dream. I'll always be here for you, if you let me."

She flipped back a few pages in her journal and opened to a page she had written weeks before. Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she exhaled slowly and began to read, her voice barely above a whisper.

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 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.

I'm afraid, CJ. I consider myself to be a strong person and it makes me feel weak to admit that, but it's true. Once before I trusted someone with my heart and she broke it. I was so overcome with such aching sadness that I thought I'd never let anyone ever get close enough to hurt me that badly again. Then I met you, and your sincerity and warmth climbed over that wall I had built around my heart and for the first time in years I found myself actually welcoming an emotional and physical connection with another person. Still, I was afraid, but not of you; rather, it was the ghosts of my past that continued to haunt me.

I'm also afraid of losing my graduate position for being involved with a student, even though you're technically not my student. I've already been warned -more accurately threatened - by someone who suspected my interest in you. That fear weighed heavily on my mind that night you came over, the night when you ran away. My reaction to your kiss that night reflected that fear; otherwise, I would have welcomed your kiss as I did your intense gazes, your warm touches, and your sensual hugs. In my heart, I wanted to take that next step with you, but my head wasn't ready to deal with the consequences of doing so. I'm so sorry that I pulled away and hurt your feelings so badly. I was reacting to my own demons and not your wonderful kiss. I wish I could have said that to you before you left that night, but putting my fear into words isn't easy for me.

Mostly I'm afraid of losing you, CJ. Since that night when we met at the reception, nearly two months ago (how did the time pass so quickly?), I've grown so very fond of you. You came into my life and have become my sunshine. I feel like I'm glowing on the inside whenever I'm with your or thinking about you. You once said that perhaps our meeting was just meant to be. I believe that now, but I don't believe that it was meant to end this way. Please say it won't.

My fear has paralyzed me into indecision, CJ, and now I don't know what to do to make things right again between us. There's so much that I want to say, but my words on this page are inadequate. At best, they allow me to sort out my feelings and help me to cope with missing you. I can only hope that they will one day reunite us as well.

She sighed deeply then closed her journal and replaced it on the end table near the sofa. After turning off the light, she stretched out on her side and pulled the blanket up. From this position, she had a clear view of CJ's profile in the dim moonlight. She looks so peaceful... almost smiling, she thought to herself. The idea made her smile and she drifted off to sleep with that image seared into her heart.

*       *       *       *       *

      She was right. It's back. The fuzzy thought lingered in the recesses of CJ's sleepy, subconscious mind. Awareness spread slowly like the circling arcs on water when a pebble is dropped in. Don't move. You'll scare it away. She lay perfectly still to fool the dream into staying. Soft whispering pulled her from the depths of a deep, healing sleep. She surfaced hesitantly, motionlessly, as her body and senses slowly became revived.

"... I am here watching over you, as you thought in your dream. I'll always be here for you, if you let me," the voice whispered.

Andi's apartment... Andi's bed..., she remembered as the light of consciousness grew brighter. Andi's voice... Had her eyes not been covered, they would have flow open at the realization of her thoughts. She was my dream.

She emerged into complete awareness yet her body remained motionless. With her heart racing, she fought to maintain her steady, slow breathing so as to remain unnoticed. Don't frighten this waking dream away, she warned herself. Her lips parted slightly as if they wanted to speak of their own volition. She willed her voice to silence and her racing heart to stillness as she listened to the voice of her dream.

"... I want so badly to talk to you, not on the phone or in a note, but in person. I need to see your 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..."

She listened as the dream whispered to her, and a lightness grew in her heart. Can this be real? she asked herself, yet she knew that her asking simply confirmed her conscious awareness. A slight, peaceful smile spread across her lips as she listened to the words of her waking dream. The moonlight reflected softly on her peaceful face and her heart was filled with contentment.

Her dream continued to read, unaware.

Finally, the whispering stopped but the words and the sentiments lingered in CJ's mind and heart. She slipped back into the arms of Morpheus, safe in the reciprocal feelings of her dream.

Continued in Part IV

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