Until Soon

by indigal

Part IV

* please see disclaimers in Part I

Chapter 22

      CJ sniffed the air in a state of half-sleep. Coffee. She stretched her arms and legs, then yawned as she attempted to rouse her body to wakefulness. Her failed attempt at opening her eyes to greet the morning sun reminded her of her injury as well as her location. Raising up on her elbows, she gradually adjusted to being awake then moved to a sitting position while shifting her legs off the mattress. She paused to yawn again, then pushed off the mattress to stand. After regaining her balance, she used the sofa and chair backs to guide herself toward the bathroom.

She emerged from the bathroom and heard noises to her left, coming from the kitchen. Enticed by the smells of coffee and the sizzle of something frying in a pan, she tentatively stepped in the direction of the kitchen, keeping her left hand touching the wall for guidance. The clanging grew louder as she neared the kitchen, followed by a crash and a muttered curse.



"Oh... sorry. Morning CJ. Did I wake you?" She looked up at CJ's disheveled blonde hair and wrinkled clothing, and grinned broadly. The blue sweats rode low on her hips and the white T-shirt was untucked. The younger woman yawned again and stretched slowly, reaching up her arms over her head and exposing her smooth, flat stomach to Andi's view. Dark eyebrows arched up appreciatively.

"Nope. I smelled the coffee," the blonde woman replied.

"Want some?"

"Nah, never touch the stuff. Love how it smells, though."

"Here, let me help you to the stool at the counter," Andi said. She stepped over and grasped the blonde woman gently by the arm. "You can sit over here and keep me company while I finish breakfast."

"You didn't tell me you could cook."

"Well, the jury's still out on that one. I wouldn't exactly call making an omelet cooking."

"Smells great to me."

"How about some juice?"

"OJ is great, thanks."

"So, how'd you sleep last night?" She poured the juice and moved toward CJ, placing the glass in her hand.

"Great," she replied. She couldn't stop the grin that appeared on her face when she remembered the whispering that awakened her. Hearing Andi reveal her heart in the quiet of the night made CJ feel much more comfortable around the blue-eyed woman. Prior to that midnight confession, the blonde woman could clearly sense her friend's concern about her injury and she appreciated the offer to stay at her apartment, but CJ was very glad to discover that Andi's motivation seemed to involve deeper feelings than pity. " I feel really good this morning. Your mattress was very comfortable. But how about you? I feel bad that I displaced you."

"Actually, I was fine on the sofa." She wiped her hands off on the dishtowel, then turned to face CJ. "So, are you feeling brave?"

"Hmmm... Depends on what you're talking about," she teased.

"My cooking. Are you hungry?"

"You have to ask?"

"Coming right up!" She slid the mini omelet out of the pan and sandwiched it between two English muffin halves. After placing it on a plate, she put it down in front of CJ. "Here you go," she announced. "It's my version of an Egg McMuffin except that the eggs, cheese, and bacon are all combined. This way, you can pick up the muffin to eat it without a fork."

"Super idea!" the injured athlete responded. "Smells great." She picked up the breakfast sandwich and took a bite, then chewed and swallowed.


"The jury's back and a verdict's been rendered," she intoned seriously. "You're a great cook!"

"I'm not deserving of such praise. You'll soon see that after about the third day my meager cooking repertoire will be exhausted and then the food's all downhill from there."

"Then you should let me help."

"I can use all the help I can get, as long as it doesn't involve you using any sharp knives," she joked.

"Very funny," she replied, grinning. "I could teach you to cook, even with my eyes closed. I've got the recipes all up here," she added, tapping a finger to her head.

"I'll take you up on your offer, then. You're in charge of dinner on Saturday night. You can dictate a shopping list to me and I'll pick up the ingredients, then you can talk me through the procedures."

"Sounds good to me," she affirmed. She took another bite then swallowed before continuing. "So, what are your plans for the day?"

"Let's see... I've got to assist with a class at 9:00 this morning, then I'll make a quick stop at my office before heading back here to meet you for lunch. In the afternoon I have office hours from 2:00 - 3:30, then I need to pick up some journals from the library. I should be back here before dinnertime. Need me to do anything for you while I'm out?"

"Not that I can think of," she responded. "I was going to call one of my roommates to see if she can bring over clothes and some other things. Would that be OK?"

"Of course. I'll leave the bottom door unlocked. Tell her to walk right up." Andi noticed that CJ had finished the last bite of the muffin sandwich. "Can I make you another one? More juice?"

"I'm good, thanks," she replied. Patting her stomach she added, "I've got to watch what I eat since I can't workout for a while."

"I don't think you have to worry too much about that, CJ. Your metabolism is still in high gear, and you'll be back to your routine in no time."

"Think so?" she asked, hesitantly. Her voice was soft and reflected apprehension mixed with a little doubt. Her blonde head was tilted to the side.

"Definitely," Andi declared. "I'm sending you lots of positive, healing energy. You're the one who says I have lots of it."

"You do... and thanks for sending some my way."

"Anytime." She looked at her watch. "Cripes! I've got to get out of here." She stacked the dishes in the sink and wiped off the counter quickly while CJ remained seated. Once she finished, she moved next to CJ's stool. "How about I help you back to the mattress, since you've strayed from the marked path," she offered. "You should be horizontal, or at least reclined."

"Sure," CJ agreed. She thought that she could probably make her way back by herself, but she was actually looking forward to Andi's nearness. She had barely touched the dark-haired woman at all this morning but she was eager for some physical contact, especially after the previous night's truths were revealed. She stood and waited for Andi to reach out to assist her. The warmth of the blue-eyed woman's touch tingled CJ's back as Andi wrapped her arm around her, the ex-swimmer's hand resting gently on the younger woman's hip. CJ responded by draping her arm around Andi's shoulder. They moved slowly and in unison back to the mattress. CJ noticed how their rhythm and stride were completely in synch. A smile crept onto her lips.

Andi propped up some pillows and helped CJ to recline on the mattress. She sat on the edge of the padded surface, facing her injured friend. Being in the younger woman's company was always so comfortable, and she was reminded again just how much she missed her during their recent lack of contact. Well, she's here now, she thought. I just have to work on keeping her around. The previous night's journal confession to the slumbering CJ was a warm-up for the conversation that she hoped to have with the injured athlete as soon as she was out of the woods with her eye trouble. Andi had admitted her feelings on paper and then dared to whisper the words out loud, so surely those were the first steps to baring her heart to CJ. Whispering it to her in the stillness of the night definitely made her feel better.

Eager for a connection to the younger woman, she reached out her hand and gently grasped CJ's forearm. Her companion responded by returning the grasp. Andi could feel the warm, comforting pressure of CJ's hand wrapped around her forearm. A smile spread on CJ's lips.

"I better go or I'll be late," Andi sighed. Her voice held a note of reluctance, which CJ picked up on.

"I'll be fine here," she insisted. "Don't worry, OK?"

"Can I get you anything before I go?"

"The phone and the clickers would be great."

"Of course," she replied. She leaned over and removed them from the top of the coffee table and put them on the floor next to the mattress. "I'll bring you a glass of water before I go, too."

"Thanks Andi. Go, I don't want you to be late. See you for lunch?"

"I'll be here."
Andi gave CJ's arm a lingering squeeze, which the blonde woman returned. She reluctantly stood and moved toward the kitchen, returning with a glass of water. She then headed toward the door, picking up her laptop bag on the way and pausing as she reached the door.

"See you soon," she called

"Bye, Andi."

CJ heard the door click open and closed, then she was left alone in the apartment. She sighed audibly. Her arm still tingled from the warming contact of Andi's touch. Reaching across with her other hand, she gently rubbed the skin on her arm where Andi had last touched her. A smile formed on her lips. I know at least one of your secrets, Andi, she thought to herself. A chuckle escaped her lips. My dream. Hmmmm. How ironic. From the first moment that I looked into your beautiful blue eyes I knew that you were the woman of my dreams, and last night you proved that to be true.

*       *       *       *       *

      Andi looked down at her watch as she walked up the porch steps to her apartment. It's 5:30 already, she thought to herself. Where did the day go? After her morning work, she returned home to have lunch with CJ. Normally she ate lunch at her desk while she did paper work, but she found herself looking forward to her food break with her ward. The hour-long lunch passed much too quickly, and she reluctantly said goodbye for the second time that day.

To her surprise, the afternoon passed quickly as well, with a steady flow of students visiting her office to discuss projects or to request assistance. The first time she looked at her watch it was already 4:00, so she locked up her office and headed to the library. She collected the journals that she needed, arranged for some materials to be left on reserve for one of the classes, then packed up her bag to head home. Her usual routine might have included a work-out before returning home for the evening, but with CJ awaiting her, she didn't feel her usual pull to the gym.

Her long legs mounted the stairs two at a time, and she found herself smiling as she opened the door.

"I'm home," she announced. She stepped into the living room and put down her bag.

"Hey there!"

"Hey yourself," she teased. "How you doing?" The blue-eyed woman made her way across the room with several long strides and lowered herself to the edge of the mattress.

"Better now," CJ replied.

"Why's that?"

"The company," she responded. A grin spread across her face, accenting her dimple. A flush of color darkened Andi's face. She reached out and stroked the blonde woman's forearm.



"It'll take me a half-hour or so to make dinner. Will that be OK?"

"Whenever you want is fine," CJ replied. "Can I ask a favor?"

"Of course."

"Can I move over to the counter and sit for a while? I could keep you company while you're cooking and besides, it's much easier for me to eat sitting on the stool or a chair than on this mattress."

"But the doctor said that --"

"I've been laying flat or reclining all day. I swear. It'll just be for a little while. I'm getting stiff from not moving." She reached out her hand until she touched Andi. Gently dragging her fingers up and down Andi's arm, she tilted her blonde head to the side and spoke. "Please?"

Tingles shot through Andi's body from the fingers gently dancing on her skin. She could no more deny CJ's request than she could deny her own increasing attraction to this woman. Feeling a bit off balance as her self-control wavered, she took a deep breath to rein in her emotions.

"I suppose it'll be OK for a little while, but only if you promise to rest for the remainder of the evening," she bargained.

"Deal!" exclaimed CJ. "Help me over there?"

She swiveled around and moved her legs off the mattress. Andi stood up and moved in front of CJ, facing the blonde woman. She reached down and grasped both her hands and slowly lifted the younger woman to her feet. Their hands remained clasped for a moment longer as CJ adjusted to her vertical position. The blonde woman wavered a bit to her left.

"Whoa," CJ muttered. "Head rush."

"You OK?" asked Andi. Her voice reflected concern. "Here, let me help you." She moved to CJ's side and slipped her arm around CJ's waist. "Just stand still for a minute."

CJ remained still as her head spins abated. Once the threat of falling was no longer imminent, she could enjoy the feel of Andi's arm around her. She moved her arm up, placing her hand on the ex-swimmer's broad shoulder.

"I'm OK now. It passed. Maybe I'm hungrier than I thought."

"No surprise there," she joked. "I'll hang on to you 'til you get to the stool." CJ was not about to refuse.

The basketball player sat at the counter while Andi banged around the kitchen preparing dinner. The injured woman could hear water filling a pot as well as the grinding of a can opener. Soon after, the enticing aroma of herbs and olive oil greeted her nose.

"What's for dinner?" she asked. She sniffed the air again.

"Pasta. That's one of the few meals I can cook. I picked up a box of shells so that you could eat them with a spoon, no twirling necessary. The water's nearly boiling and the sauce is just heating up. Should be ready in a few more minutes." She stirred the pot on the stove. "So, what'd you do the rest of the day?"

"Maria brought over some of my clothes this afternoon. I asked her to put the duffel bag in your room. Is that OK for now?"

"That's fine," she replied. "So, I guess her visit was a nice distraction."

"Yeah, it was. She didn't stay long because she had to go to class and then practice. She said some of my friends on the team have been calling the dorm asking for me. They want to know if they can visit."

"Fine with me," Andi replied. "You up for company?"

"I think it would be fun to see everybody... well, not exactly see everybody..." She paused and dropped her head. "You know what I mean," she added softly. Andi reached over and rested her hand on CJ's shoulder.

"Why don't you call Maria later and see if some of the gals can stop by tomorrow. Dr. Erroll said short visits were OK, and I certainly don't mind if your friends come by. In fact, I'll clear out of here for a while so you can be --"

"No! I don't want you to leave. I'm anxious for my friends to meet you. Would you... want to stick around?"

"Sure, if you'd like," Andi replied. She was glad to see a smile reemerge on CJ's face.
Shortly after, Andi helped CJ move to a chair at the table. She returned briefly to the kitchen then emerged with their bowls of pasta. Placing both of the bowls on the table, she chose a seat next to her friend.

"So, your bowl of pasta is in the middle of the place mat, your water is at the 2:00 position, and the bread plate is at 10:00." Andi smiled, pleased that she arranged the place setting in a way that would allow CJ a measure of independence while eating. "Want some grated cheese on the pasta?"

"Sure, a little would be great," CJ replied. She slid her right hand up the fabric of the place mat until she touched the water glass, just where Andi said it would be. A slight grin lifted her lips. "This smells great, Andi. Thanks so much for cooking."

"You're on deck for Saturday, don't forget."

"I didn't. So, how was the rest of your day after lunch?"

"Busy, actually. The time passed quickly." She spoke between mouthfuls of food. "I got email responses from your professors about your classes."

"You contacted them for me?"

"Yes. I hope you don't mind, but you seemed worried about missing classes and I wanted to help. I wrote them about your injury at the game. Most of them heard about it already -- the good and bad news about small campuses where everybody knows everybody's business -- and were quick to offer whatever help they could. I asked if they could forward lecture notes to me, so I could pass them on to you. I got the first batch of responses this afternoon."

"I can't believe you went through all that trouble," she replied incredulously.

"No trouble. I knew they'd send it to me as kind of a professional courtesy. Plus, everybody knows that you're the basketball superstar --"

"Stop with the star stuff," she protested.

"It's true. Anyway, I printed out copies at my office so I could read the notes to you later, if you'd like."

"That would be great, Andi." She hesitated, then continued. "Today, when I was sitting around by myself, I got to thinking about how far behind in my work I'd be getting while I was just laying around waiting for my eyes to heal. There are only a few more weeks before I'm supposed to graduate. I don't want to blow it at this point. If I can at least keep up with the class notes, I'd be a lot less worried about falling completely behind." She smiled at the thought of Andi's kindness and shook her head slowly. "You are just too much," she praised.

"It's nothing, CJ. I'm happy to do it for you. I know what it's like to be an injured athlete. I understand the pressures of juggling sports and academics, and trying to live up to everyone's expectations." She paused and reflected on a thought, then continued in a softer, more serious voice. "It's during those times that you learn who you can count on and who you can't."

"I didn't know that you were injured," CJ replied. "Sounds like there's a story behind that."

"There's always a story, right?"

"Will you share it with me?"

"Sure, but another time, OK?" Her tone was nearly pleading, not one of rejection. If she hoped to bridge the distance between her heart and CJ's, she knew that one day soon she would have to reveal the ghosts of her past to her younger friend. However, the story of her career-ending injury, with its inextricable link to Liz, was not a topic she was ready to broach yet.

"OK Andi. Whenever you're ready. I'm not going any where.. I mean.. uhhh... unless I'm... in your space too much and you need for me to... leave." Her voice dropped to just above a whisper.

"No, CJ," Andi assured. She reached out and placed her hand on the blonde woman's shoulder. "You're not in my space too much." Moving her fingers underneath CJ's chin, she raised her head up. "I really enjoy having you around," she added softly.

"Thanks. You've made me feel very comfortable being here. I've enjoyed being around."

"So then you were right the first time. You're not going anywhere." She tilted her dark head slightly and arched an eyebrow up as she waited for a reply.

"OK. I'm not going anywhere. But you've got to promise to tell me if I start to get on your nerves."

"You're a very perceptive and sensitive person, CJ. If that's happens, which I doubt, I'm sure you'll know." She smirked at her friend. "Let me clear away these dishes, then I'll read some class notes to you, how's that sound?"

"Great. Can I help?"

"Nope. Time for you to get horizontal again." Andi stood up from the chair and helped CJ move back across the room. Her arm began to feel quite natural wrapped around the younger woman's back.

Later that night, as she lay on the sofa watching CJ's rhythmic sleep breathing, the blue-eyed woman wished that her arm was wrapped tightly around the younger woman's body once again.

Chapter 23

      The next day passed with the same, comfortable routine as the previous one. The two women shared breakfast muffins, then parted for a few hours until midday when Andi returned. Following a leisurely lunch of sub sandwiches, the dark-haired woman departed once again with the promise to return by 4:00, when CJ's teammates were due to arrive.

After lunch, Andi returned to her office to review students' papers and to prepared for upcoming lectures. Lost in her work, she did not hear the footsteps that grew louder as they approached her office.

"Knock knock," called Martha. She poked her head around Andi's partly open office door, smiling as she spotted her friend.

"Hey!" Andi exclaimed. She moved around from behind the desk and greeted her friend with a warm hug. "What a nice surprise," she added, grinning. "Were your ears ringing? I've been thinking about you."

"Honey, my ears are always ringing from the sheer volume of noise at the Registrar's office lately." She held Andi's shoulders at arm's length and looked over her friend from head to toe. "You look good, girlfriend. Much better than the last time I saw you."

"Yeah, well I was a bit stressed then," she lamented. "How's Karen?"

"Work's still crazy, you know? Some days she comes home frazzled, but for the most part, things are OK."

"You both are workaholics," chided Andi.

"Only nine to five, but when the day is over I leave it all behind. In fact, we're headed up to the cabin this weekend. It's been cool, but we thought we'd open it early this season and hope the weather holds."

"Oh," Andi frowned. "But I won't be able to go and help you if you're going this weekend. I've got CJ -"

"Don't worry about it," Martha assured. "We've appreciated your help when you could come, but don't worry about it when you can't. You'll be missing a few good meals, though."

"I'm sure," she confirmed. "I couldn't leave CJ alone though."

"Of course not, Andi. We understand. Once things settle down, then you'll come out for a weekend. I'm sure you could use some down time and a little R&R."

"Yeah," Andi concurred.

"Everything OK? How are things so far?" asked Martha.

"Great," replied Andi. She tilted her head and paused, envisioning CJ in her mind's eye. "Everything's been really... I don't know... comfortable."

"Not feeling crowded?"

"No, not at all, actually. I admit I was a little worried about that, since I'm so used to being by myself and having my own space, but I've really enjoyed having her around. I know that she's real worried about her eye, and sometimes she gets kind of quiet and I can tell she's thinking about it. But mostly she's smiling and talkative and upbeat - much more so than I would be, that's for sure. We sit around and talk a lot, you know? About her family, and my family, sports stuff, music, movies - she's a big movie fan. So, she's fun to be around."

"While you're doing all that talking, have you talked to her about the kiss?"

"No, I haven't brought that up yet," Andi replied sheepishly.

"How come?"

"Lot's of reasons."

"Such as?"

"Dr. Erroll said CJ should stay relaxed and calm. What if I bring up things and she gets upset? I mean, she seems to be comfortable around me now, but what if it's a friendship kind of comfort? What if I tell her how I really feel about her but she's gotten over me and doesn't feel that way any more?"

"Then I think you'll be the one who's upset, not CJ," smirked Martha.

"Wise ass," scoffed Andi.

"You know I'm right."

"Yeah, well..."

"Well what?"

"OK, so you're a little bit right," sighed Andi. "Now that I've admitted to myself how I feel about her, I'd be upset if she's changed her mind and isn't interested in me. There. I've said it, OK?" she glared momentarily at Martha then softened her eye contact as Martha's expression remained unfazed. "I think she still is, but I just can't be sure. Before, when we were spending time together, I could look into her eyes and know how she felt, even if I didn't consciously acknowledge it back then. Now, I listen to her words and read her body language but that key is missing. I need to see her looking back at me to know for sure." She paused, then continued. "Besides, Dr. Erroll really doesn't want her to get upset."

"Chicken shit," teased Martha.

"Guilty," confessed Andi.

"You really should talk to her, Andi." Martha's tone was kind, with all hints of teasing gone. "Wasn't it only about a week ago that you were telling Karen and me how much you just wanted the opportunity to talk to her in person? Well, you've got that opportunity now. Shit, she's a captive audience. Don't you think she deserves to know how you feel? She put her heart on the line, Andi. It's your turn now."

"I have every intention of telling her," Andi replied. Martha looked at her skeptically. "Really," Andi insisted. "Every day I spend with her I grow more fond of her. It's sometimes a little scary, you know? I'm not used to feeling this way. I don't know... she makes my heart happy, really happy."

"All right, let me get this straight. You're going to wait until she gets the OK from the doctor before you lay your heart on the line, because you really want to look in her eyes to be sure she still feels the same way you do. Does that about sum it up?"

"More or less."

"Have you considered that she might never-"

"Don't even say it!" Andi interrupted. "She's going to be OK. She'll see again. She's done everything the doctor has asked her to do. Why shouldn't she make a complete recovery?"

"Easy there, Andi. I'm not wishing any bad luck on her, you know that. I'm just asking if you've considered what you'll do... in the event that things don't go quite as smoothly as we all hope they do, that's all."

"I can't even think about that, Martha. It won't change the way I feel about her, if that's what you're wondering -"

"I didn't mean to imply that -"

"Fine. I just wanted to be sure you understood. I... I'm really fond of CJ, and that won't change if..." She paused and looked at her hands. "It won't change, ever."

"Ever, huh?" Martha chuckled kindly. "Sounds like you've got it bad, my friend."

"I don't know," Andi grinned. "I think it feels pretty good."

"What am I going to do with you?" chuckled Martha.

"Be patient," suggested Andi. "You're better at this kind of stuff than I am."

"What kind of stuff?"

"You know... talking, communicating, being open - relationship stuff."

"Seems to me that CJ is pretty good at those things, too. You better start taking notes, my friend," she added, smiling. "Here, give me a hug goodbye. I've got to get back to the office before all hell breaks lose." She stepped up to Andi and embraced her.

"Thanks for stopping by," Andi responded. "Your friendship means a lot to me," she added softly.

"See? You're not so bad a it."

"At what?" questioned Andi. Her dark eyebrows were pinched together.

"At talking, communicating, and being open," Martha elaborated. Andi blushed at her remark. "Practice makes perfect, you know."

"I'll try," she promised. "Call me when you get back, OK? I'm going to miss not going with you gals."

"I will. You'll come next time. Oh, I nearly forgot." She slid her bag off her shoulder. "Karen made some banana nut bread for you and CJ. She knows how you hate to cook and thought poor CJ might need some snacks." She smirked at Andi as she handed over the loaf.

"Easy there," teased Andi. "I've been doing OK so far in the food department. She hasn't complained yet."

"She's way too polite, my friend." She winked at Andi. "I'm just teasing you."

"I know. Tell Karen thanks for the bread. We'll enjoy it for breakfast."

"Bye. I'll call you in a few days." With a short wave, Martha disappeared down the hallway.

*       *       *       *       *

      True to her word, Andi walked through the apartment door at 3:50. As she sat on the sofa, sharing her day's events with her blonde companion, the doorbell echoed through the room.

"I'll get it," announced Andi. She strode quickly across the living room and headed down the stairs. Opening the wooden door, she greeted the six women who stood on the porch.

"Hi," she said. She pushed open the storm door as the women responded with hello's. "Right up the stairs." She motioned as she held the door open while the women passed through. "CJ's been looking forward to your visit." She closed the doors behind the last woman and followed the group up the stairs. As she entered the living room she could hear the women greeting CJ, who was dressed in sweats and lying propped up against pillows on the mattress.

Andi walked toward the group. Some of the women looked familiar to her, having seen them at the basketball games that she attended. She immediately noticed Kelly, the woman who organized the sledding day. Heading toward her, she then sat on the floor, cross -legged, between Kelly and the mattress where CJ reclined.

"Hey, Kelly." She extended her hand in greeting to the woman.

"Hi Andi. Long time no see."

"Kelly," piped up CJ, "would you introduce Andi to the rest of the gang?"

"Sure." She pointed one at a time to the woman whose name she announced, all of whom were sitting in a circle on the floor around CJ. "This is Sarah, Jude, LaShawna, Becky, and Coop." She then motioned to Andi and addressed the women. "And this is Andi."

The women all smiled and waved or nodded their greeting, added to hello's. Andi glanced over at CJ, who was smiling at the company. She was glad that the basketball player's friends came by to inquire about their teammate and to break up the long, boring hours of CJ's day.

"How the hell are you?" exclaimed Becky, addressing her injured teammate. "We've been pretty worried about you."

"Yeah, tell us what happened," added Kelly. "Coach said it's your eye."

"Heard you got whisked off to the infirmary," interjected Coop, "with mean old nurse Whipple and Mr. Bennett. I went there once when I thought I had the flu, but I left there quick, let me tell you. I almost --"

"Coop!" blurted Sarah. "Let the woman talk, will ya?" She turned to CJ and spoke. "So tell us, CJ."

"Well, I took an elbow to my eye when she banged into me, then I knocked my head on the floor when I landed." Talking about the incident with her teammates who witnessed it made the injury seem all the more real to her. With her friends sitting around her, she was reminded that they were free to leave later and go shoot hoops or walk across campus or go out dancing, while she was limited to lying on her back, hoping the situation didn't get worse. Her spirits drooped.

"So why the patch over your eyes?" asked Jude.

"To rest my eye. I have some bleeding in there. The doctor said I have to keep it covered for a week to ten days and remain 'neutral' as she put it. No laughing, crying, coughing -- anything that would increase the pressure behind my eyes." She felt trapped by her restrictions and suddenly became very warm.

"Or else what?" Jude inquired.

"I... I could lose..." CJ's voice became soft as her words faltered.

"Everything's going to be fine once she rests her eyes for a while longer," interrupted Andi. She could sense that CJ was getting upset as she voiced the potential consequences of her injury. "That's why she's here. So that she can follow the doctor's orders and give her eye a chance to heal." CJ's head was drooping and her mouth no longer held the grin that it did when her friends first arrived.

Andi looked up and made eye contact with each woman in the circle. Her no-nonsense stare offered a silent warning not to press the subject and make her injured friend upset. The women nodded in silent agreement.

"Sure, you're young and in good shape," Coop offered. "After a little rest, you'll be fine, I'm sure."

"Coop's right," added Becky. "The doctors who work at the infirmary come from the University hospital near Hanover. They really know their stuff."

"It was nice of you to offer to let her stay with you, Andi," Kelly noted. She thought back to their day sledding and remembered the chemistry that seemed to exist between the two women. She smiled at the attractive, dark-haired woman and silently complimented CJ's good taste.

"I would have been stuck in the infirmary otherwise," said CJ. She turned her head toward where she heard Andi's voice. "She's been a great help." She smiled sweetly at Andi, which caused the blue-eyed woman to blush.

"Anybody besides me need something to drink?" asked Andi. She stood abruptly and strode toward the kitchen, anxious to remove her flushed face from the view of six pairs of inquiring eyes.

"Well, the dorm's certainly quiet without you," stated Sarah. "I miss hearing your goofy stories about your professors, or the bus rides, or that guy who shows up at all the home games with his face painted with the school colors. What's his name?"

"Stanley Limpet," Coop answered. She pinched her nose to add a nasal sound to the name. "But you can call me 'Sly'," she mocked, her tone still nasal. The women all laughed at her impersonation. Andi returned to the circle with her glass of water just in time to catch the end of the laughter. She looked over at CJ and noticed her grinning, too. She exhaled slowly, relieved that her blonde friend appeared to be a bit more upbeat.

"Did I overhear you gals taking about CJ stories?" teased Andi. She smirked at the women in the group, silently encouraging them to keep the stories casual and upbeat. "I wouldn't mind hearing one of --"

"Oh no you don't," CJ interrupted. "We're not going to talk about me. Come on, gals! Fill me in on what's new," pleaded CJ. "I've been out of the loop for four days now. What's been going on?"

"Well, we won the game where you got clobbered," Kelly declared. "There's no way were going to let them beat us after what that bitch did to you." Her teammates chimed in their agreement.

"I heard you kicked their ass by fifteen points," CJ exclaimed. "That's the best revenge I could ask for."

"But we lost in the Conference Finals," LaShawna added. Her tone was apologetic. "Coach said that probably ruined our shot at a Tournament bid." She sighed audibly and shook her head back and forth slowly. The smile slowly faded on CJ's face.

Andi shot daggered looks at LaShawna, then around the group once again. She was frustrated that the topics of conversation seemed to keep coming back to a subject that was upsetting to CJ. When the purpose of the teammates' visit was to cheer up their injured friend, Andi was not about to have those friends bring down her spirits. As she made eye contact, each woman looked away quickly, anxious to avoid her stare.

"Coach said to say hi," announced Kelly, who was impatient to fill the uncomfortable silence. "She had a meeting with the A.D. and couldn't come with us, but she said she'd stop by soon, if that's OK."

"Sure," responded CJ. Her voice remained flat and held none of the energy and enthusiasm that Andi had grown to enjoy so much.

"Well..." bragged Coop. "Let me tell you what I heard." The other girls leaned forward so as not to miss any of the gossip. "My roommate's girlfriend does some filing in the A.D.'s office, just a few hours a week. She's on one of those work-study programs to help pay her tuition, which sounds like a good deal to me. I'd like to get involved --"

"The point, Coop," said Sarah. "Get to the point."

"Oh. Right. Well, anyway, she overheard that Jen was offered the head basketball job at some Division III school in western Massachusetts. Can you believe it?"

"When'd you hear that?" asked Becky. "Why didn't you say anything sooner?"

"Yesterday. I forgot until just now."

"Think she'll take it?" asked Jude. She looked around the room addressing her teammates.

"Why not?" asked LaShawna. "Why be an assistant when you can be a head coach?"

"True," agreed Kelly. "You can tell she doesn't like when Coach tells her what to do."

"She doesn't like when anyone tells her what to do," added Coop. "In fact, she's been damn moody lately, even though we were winning."

"It'll be interesting to see what she does," commented CJ. Andi could tell by the way the blonde woman pursed her lips that she was thinking intently about the information she had just received.

"You gals have to promise not to say anything," implored Coop. "My roommate will kill me."

"We won't say anything, Coop," replied Becky. "Besides, if it's true, we'll hear about it soon enough."

The conversation shifted to schoolwork, friends, off-campus parties, and the spring sports season. The women made sure not to bring up topics that might cause CJ to get upset. After nearly an hour had passed, the guests stood and began their good byes. One by one they either patted CJ's shoulder or hugged her, then headed for the door.

"Call if you need anything," said Kelly. She stood by the door as the other women walked down the stairs in front of her. "I'll see you in a few days, OK?"

"OK. And thanks for coming by," CJ called out.

Andi followed the women downstairs and let them out, then locked the door before returning to the apartment.

"Your friends are nice," said Andi. She sat on the edge of the mattress and placed her hand on CJ's forearm.

"Yeah. They're good people. I really miss not wrapping up the season with them." Her voice, tinged with sadness, became soft.

"I can understand your disappointment, CJ," Andi acknowledged. "You worked so hard to do well, and it's difficult not to see that through. I wish there was something I could do for you."

"You've already done so much, Andi." She reached out and rested her hand on Andi's leg. "You've made a difficult situation infinitely better. I hope you know how grateful I am."

Andi placed her hand gently on CJ's, intertwining her long fingers with those of her friend. The younger woman's hand was soft and warm, and Andi's skin tingled from the contact. She could feel her pulse quicken as their hands lingered in the embrace. An energy connection flowed between them, powerful and alluring. She closed her eyes and focused all her concentration on their interlocked fingers. She felt drawn in by the spirit of the affectionate, emerald-eyed woman. With every rapid beat of her heart, she felt her self-control slipping. An expectant silence lingered between them.

CJ felt Andi's pulse quicken as their fingers remained linked. She smiled. You've had that effect on me for a long time, Andi, she thought to herself. She gently squeezed the blue-eyed woman's long fingers and felt the pressure returned. In her mind's eye, she could see the older woman's hand covering her own, wrapping around her fingers. Many times she had noticed Andi's strong, sensual fingers and imagined how they would feel touching her. The tingling she felt as their hands remained joined only hinted at the pleasure the other woman's touch could bring. I took a chance a few weeks ago, Andi, but I can be very patient. Next time, the first move will have to come from you.

After an extended moment, Andi opened her eyes and shook her head slightly to release the spell.

"So, have you thought about dinner?" Andi asked.

I have a lot more than dinner on my mind, the blonde woman thought to herself.

"I'm ready when you are," CJ grinned.

*       *       *       *       *

      The evening passed quickly as the women slipped into what had rapidly become a pleasant routine during CJ's convalescence. Andi was surprised at how easily she adjusted to sharing her time and space with the younger woman. Dinner was followed by an hour of cable news. Conversation and background music filled the remainder of the evening until yawning replaced talking. First CJ bathed then Andi showered, then both women settled into their sleep spots to end the long, busy day. CJ drifted off quickly while Andi remained awake for another quarter hour on the sofa, enjoying the rhythm of CJ's sleep breathing. Hypnotized by the cadence of CJ's rising and falling chest, Andi soon fell asleep.

"No!... No!"

Andi sat bolt upright as the crying-out reached her ears. She shook her head, temporarily disoriented at not being in her bed, but quickly regained her bearings. Looking over at her sleeping friend, she discovered the source of the noises that awakened her.

CJ was tossing around in the bed, as if struggling to free herself from a captor. Tormented sounds emerged from her lips as a nightmare haunted her sleep. Andi quickly moved off the sofa and sat down at the edge of the mattress, near the still-sleeping woman. She gently placed her hand on CJ's shoulder and softly called her name.

"CJ," she whispered into the darkness of the room. "CJ, it's OK." The thrashing woman became still but continued to moan softly. Her body shook and her breathing was rapid. "I'm here, CJ. It's only a dream." She grasped her friend's shoulder more firmly, then gently stroked the woman's face with her other hand. When the whimpering ceased, she removed her hand from the softness of CJ's cheek.

"Andi?" CJ gasped.

"It's me, CJ. It's OK, I'm here."

The basketball player reached out her hands into the darkness until she touched Andi, who sat beside her, facing the blonde woman. Grasping the dark-haired woman by the shoulders, she pulled her down into a frantic embrace, wrapping her arms around her back and squeezing tightly. Andi could feel the flaxen-haired woman's heart racing. Her warm breath panted against the grad assistant's neck as the younger woman clung to her fiercely. A small cry escaped CJ's lips as her body trembled.

"I can't see!" the blonde woman cried out. "It's so dark. Everything's dark. I couldn't find my way. I got lost and couldn't find anybody. I was trying to look for you but I was blind. Forever." Her words became choked off by weeping, and she hugged Andi more fiercely.

"Shhhhh... It's OK now. It was only a dream."

Andi's arms, locked down to her body by CJ's embrace, moved slightly to stroke CJ's side. She whispered soothing sounds to the distraught woman in an attempt to calm her. Slowly and gently, her hand traveled up and down CJ's side, over the cotton T-shirt she slept in. As Andi's caresses continued, the rapid rise and fall of CJ's breathing abated and her trembling decreased. Her power-hold on Andi's arms eased up enough for the dark haired woman to lengthen the path of her stroking.

"I wasn't supposed to cry," CJ whimpered. She sniffled loudly then exhaled. "What if I made it worse?" She reluctantly removed her arms from around Andi's shoulders. Laying back, she clasped her own hands tightly as they crossed her stomach.

"You didn't cry for very long, CJ. You couldn't help it. It was a bad dream." Once released from CJ's powerful hold, Andi moved next to CJ. She reclined on her side and faced the younger woman. Her arm was bent at the elbow and her hand supported her head as she watched her blonde friend.

"But what if --"

"No 'what ifs,' CJ," she interrupted. Reaching out, she covered the injured woman's hands with her own. She intertwined their fingers then squeezed gently. "Focus all your energy on healing, not worrying, OK, CJ?"

"I'll try," she responded. After a few minutes her breathing returned to its regular rhythm.

"You OK now? Want to talk about that dream some more?"

"No," she blurted out quickly. "Not tonight. Maybe... maybe tomorrow, if I need to."

"Sure, CJ. Whatever makes you comfortable." She stifled a yawn. "Ready to try and get back to sleep?"

"I think so," she replied.

"OK." Andi unlaced her fingers from CJ's and began to move. "If you need any --"

"No!" protested CJ. "Don't go." Her hand quickly tightened around Andi's to prevent the dark haired woman from removing it. When she spoke again, her voice was soft, and almost pleading. "Would you... stay... with me... in case the dream comes back?" CJ held her breath as she waited for Andi to respond.

"Sure," she said kindly. "I'll be here for you." She stroked the top of CJ's hand with her thumb as their fingers remained intertwined. "Try to relax now and rest."

CJ reached down and pulled up the blanket, draping it over both their shoulders. Andi move an extra pillow under her head. She remained on her side with her hand still holding CJ's. In the moonlight that beamed through the living room window, she could watch the rhythm of the blonde woman's breathing. The muscles in her young face slowly relaxed, appearing to erase her earlier anxiety. Her mouth parted slightly as she drifted back into sleep.

Andi eyes memorized every feature of CJ's beautiful face, mere inches away. The moonbeams danced off her light skin, highlighting the downy hairs that covered her cheeks. The muscles in the blonde woman's face, so relaxed as she slept, hid the dimple that magically appeared whenever her young friend smiled. Even though the dimple crease was smooth, Andi could reach out and touch the exact spot where it would appear. So many times she had admired it. She breathed in slowly and smiled. The basketball player's skin and hair smelled slightly of soap and conditioner mixed with the unusual muskiness that was uniquely CJ. Andi closed her eyes to focus her senses. She breathed in deeply one more time, absorbing CJ, then exhaled slowly and relaxed. Her eyelids, heavy from sleepiness, blinked several times before staying weighted down for the remainder of the night. A peaceful smile graced her lips.

Chapter 24

      CJ awakened to the smell of coffee. Slowly she emerged from her slumber and stretched, straightening out her legs and reaching out with her arms. As her hand touched the mattress next to her, she noted the absence of her blue-eyed friend. Rolling on her side, she rubbed her hand up and down the mattress where Andi lay just a short time before. She smiled. Best sleep I've had in a long time, she thought to herself. I could get used to this. She pulled Andi's pillow close to her, then buried her face in it. The aroma of Andi's shampoo, mixed with her own earthy scent, lingered on the pillowcase. Pressing the cloth to her nose, she breathed in deeply.

For several moments she lay there, embracing the pillow and burying her face in the material's surface. She reveled in the sensual pleasure of knowing that Andi recently slept touching that same pillow. She sighed deeply, wishing she were hugging the person instead of the pillow.

Suddenly she stopped and rolled onto her back, releasing the pillow. What if she's watching me? she thought to herself. She could be standing near by, watching me hugging this stupid pillow with a goofy grin on my face. How embarrassing. She breathed in, then exhaled. So much for playing it cool, CJ. Jeez... You better get a grip and not make a complete fool of yourself. She lay motionless, hoping to hear a tell-tale noise that might indicate the grad assistant's presence, but she heard nothing. After several seconds, she heard the sound of a spoon clinking against the inside of a coffee cup and she felt somewhat relieved that perhaps Andi didn't see her after all.

She smirked, shaking her head slowly from side to side. Don't lay it all out there so soon, CJ, she reprimanded herself. Sitting up slowly, she swung her legs over the edge of the mattress and stood up gradually. Using the sofa and chairs as a guide, she made her way towards the bathroom. After a few minutes she emerged, her cheeks pink from the cold water she had splashed on them. She moved towards the kitchen with her hand on the wall to guide her. Before she could take her third step, Andi was at her side. The dark-haired woman gently took her arm and walked her toward the stool at the counter.

"So, how'd you sleep?" she asked. She waited as CJ settled herself on the seat cushion. Reaching for the glass of OJ on the counter, Andi then handed her friend the drink.

"Much better, after..." She paused. "Thanks for... ahhhh... "

"No problem. I'm glad you slept better."

"I didn't crowd you, did I?"

"No, not at all," Andi replied. She smiled. I rather enjoyed it, she thought to herself. "So, you hungry?"

"I'm sure I could be tempted" she teased.

"Martha stopped by my office yesterday to see how you were doing. She dropped off a loaf of banana nut bread that Karen made. Want some?"

"You bet!" CJ replied. "I love nut bread."

Andi brought out the bread and placed it on the cutting board. She sliced several thick pieces then placed two on a plate for CJ.

"Want more OJ with that?" she inquired.

"I'd prefer milk, if you have it."

"Coming right up," she replied. Andi poured a tall glass of milk for CJ, placing it near her friend's left hand. She refilled her own coffee mug then joined the blonde woman at the counter, breaking off pieces of the nut loaf and washing them down with the her drink. "So, have you thought up a menu for tonight?"

"Yup," she answered, still chewing. She swallowed the bread then continued. "Let's see... you'll need soy sauce, peanut oil, fresh ginger -"

"Hold on a minute," Andi interrupted. "I better write this down." She got out a pen and paper from the junk drawer then returned to the counter seat. "OK. I think I have soy sauce, but I need peanut oil, fresh ginger... what's next?"

"A package of dried Asian noodles, scallions, fresh bean sprouts, broccoli, peanut butter --"

"Peanut butter?"

"Yes, peanut butter. You did tell me you liked peanut butter, didn't you?"

"In cookies, yes, but I don't think I ever had it in the main course."

"You're in for a treat, then," CJ assured. "Also get some mirin, that's sweet rice vinegar, and dried shiitaki mushrooms, garlic, and red pepper flakes. That's it, I think."

"That's some mix of food," Andi commented. "What's this going to be?"

"I'm not sure it has a name," CJ answered. "I call it spicy noodles with shiitake mushroom sauce."

"Sounds complicated."

"Piece of cake. I'll walk you through all the steps." She paused. "Unless you've changed your mind. I don't want to make you-"

"No! I didn't change my mind," she reassured. "I'm just a little intimidated by the prospect of cooking something so elaborate."

"It's really not that bad."

"Easy for you to say," she joked, "but I trust you." She popped the last piece of her nut bread in her mouth then drained her mug. "Would you like more milk or bread?" she asked.

"Nope," she replied. "Be sure to tell Martha and Karen I said thanks, and that it was delicious."

"I'll clear these plates and head out to the store," Andi said.

"Wish I could go, too," CJ replied glumly. Her head dropped and the corners of her mouth tilted downward. "I'm getting a little stir crazy just laying around all day."

"I wish you could come, too, CJ," Andi replied. "But we promised Dr. Erroll that you'd follow her directions and rest." She stepped over and stood next to CJ's chair, then placed her arm around the blonde woman's shoulder. "Just hang in there a little longer, OK?"

"OK," she sighed. "I'm sorry if I sound like I'm complaining. It's just that... I guess now that my head's starting to feel better, I'm feeling really frustrated that I still can't do anything, you know?"

"I know what you mean, CJ," Andi sympathized. "I'm a really bad patient when I'm sick or injured since I usually don't sit still for very long." She paused and thought back to when she twisted her ankle on an ice patch around Thanksgiving, and how she hobbled around campus for nearly two weeks because she refused to be on crutches. Shaking her head slowly, she sighed at her own stubbornness. "But hey," she added, tousling CJ blonde hair, "at least today's Saturday and you won't have to be by yourself most of today or tomorrow. Maybe that'll help the time pass more quickly and keep your mind off feeling frustrated."

"You don't have to hang around here to keep me company, if you have other things to do. I don't want to monopolize all your free time."

"You're not monopolizing anything, CJ," Andi reassured. "Besides, I didn't have any plans for the weekend."

"You sure?"

"Positive. It'll be fun to just hang out and relax. I don't do that enough." She gave CJ's shoulder one last squeeze, then stepped back into the kitchen to collect their breakfast dishes. CJ could hear the clatter of plates as Andi stacked them in the sink. She washed them quickly and put them in the dish drain before moving back to her companion. "So, did you think of anything else you want me to pick up at the store?"

"That was a long enough list, don't you think?"

"Just checking. How about I help you back to the mattress now."

"Sure." CJ swiveled toward Andi on the stool, then stood. Andi gently took her arm, then transferred her hold to around the blonde woman's waist. The basketball player draped her hand over the grad assistant's shoulder as they walked. After a few steps, Andi took CJ's hand as she lowered herself to the mattress. Still holding it, the ex-swimmer squatted near her friend and spoke.

"I'm going to get out of these sweats then brush my teeth before heading out. Can I get you anything before I go?"

"Just the TV clicker so I can listen to news," she replied. Andi placed the remote in her hand then stood.

"I'll be back in about an hour, OK?"

"OK. Well then... until soon?"

Andi's heart danced at the long unheard expression. A smile tugged at her mouth and a lightness filled her heart.

"Yes, until soon," she replied. A smile lit up her face.

*       *       *       *       *

      CJ reclined on the sofa with her back against some pillows and the armrest. Her legs were stretched out across the cushions and her fingers were laced across her stomach.

"I'll be there in a minute," called Andi from the kitchen. "I just want to unpack the rest of the groceries."

"Take your time. I'm not going anywhere," CJ replied. She wiggled her socked feet back and forth in time to the rhythm of a song she couldn't get out of her head. Suddenly, she felt a warm hand wrapped around her foot and abruptly stopped moving them.

"Just me," said Andi. "I didn't want to sit on your feet while you were sofa dancing."

"Sorry. I'll move them," she replied. She bent her knees to make more room at the end for Andi.

"No need," the blue-eyed woman responded. She sat at the end of the sofa and drew CJ's feet back down to where they had been. The blonde woman could feel Andi's thighs against the soles of her feet. "There's plenty of room for both of us," Andi added.

Andi's leg felt warm and firm, and CJ enjoyed the sensation of touching the dark-haired woman, even if it was only with her feet. She moved her feet side to side again, in the same way she had before, but this time it created a pleasant friction against the ex-swimmer's denim-clad leg. The blonde woman heard her friend chuckle.

"So, where do you want to begin?" Andi inquired.

"How about with Professor Wallington's notes," she replied. "His class is always challenging."

"Wallington it is." She heard Andi shuffling through papers to find the correct ones. "Hmmmm, America Between the Wars, huh? Sounds like an interesting class."

"It is. I really like American history and besides, Professor Wallington really knows his stuff. Actually," she giggled," I think he lived through most of that time period so it's probably first-hand knowledge. But don't tell him I said that."

"My lips are sealed," she replied, smiling "I enjoy American lit., which is often linked to the history and politics of the times, so I can understand your interest in American history." She paused as she scanned the notes. "OK, these notes are titled, "Prohibition: The Government's Attempts at Citizen Control. Ready?"

"As I'll ever be," CJ replied.

Andi launched into the material, intonating her voice so that the notes read more like a story then a lecture. CJ smiled at her friend's reading, enjoying the subject matter even more than she did with Professor Wallington. Andi, too, found herself caught up in the information and wishing that she had paid a little more attention in her history classes while she was in school. After nearly forty-five minutes of reading, she stopped and put down papers.

"That's all for today's episode," she spoke in a deep, serious voice. "Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of, 'As the Country Drinks'." She reached over to the end table to get her water, then drained half the glass to relieve her parched throat.

"Bravo!" CJ clapped loudly and laughed. "Well done!" Andi smiled at the blonde woman's enthusiastic response. "Your students must love it when you deliver the lecture."

"I don't recall ever hearing clapping, if that's any indication," she smirked. "Want me to read you notes from another class?"

"How about we take a break from school work for a while," requested CJ. "After all, it is Saturday."

"Sure," Andi replied. "We can finish tomorrow, if you'd like." Her mind wandered to the sensation of CJ's soles pressed against her leg, and she smiled. She thought back to the previous night, when her sleeping companion gripped her hand so closely while she slept. Her body tingled at the thought of the blonde woman's nearness and a blush darkened her face.

"What are you thinking about?" asked CJ.

"Nothing," she replied quickly. She was glad that CJ couldn't see her blush; otherwise, her persistent friend might not have accepted her hasty reply. Andi held her breath, expecting CJ to push the question as if the younger woman could read her thoughts. After a moment of silence, she exhaled silently. The two women sat in companionable silence.



"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," she replied, but feeling less confident than the one word answer suggested.

"The other day you told me that you know what it's like to be an injured athlete." Her voice was soft and hesitant. "Could you tell me about how you know?"

The ex-ex-swimmer's heart began to beat rapidly as she listened to CJ's request. A hint of fear crept into her heart, for she knew that a story about her injury would be incomplete without including the part about Liz. What to do? she thought to herself. Things are going so well. O.K. Don't panic. Just open up a little and trust her. Start the story and see how it goes. You can leave the last part out. CJ's question was met by silence as Andi's mind quickly weighed her options.

"I'm sorry," CJ stammered, uncomfortable with the silence. "I didn't mean to make you feel-"

"It's OK, CJ," Andi replied. "If we're trying to build a...," she paused, "a friendship, then it's OK for you to ask. It's not you making me feel uncomfortable, really. It's me. I'm afraid I'm just not as open as you are so --"

"Then you don't have to tell me."

"But I want to, CJ," Andi implored. "Your openness is one of the things that's so wonderful about you, and you deserve that type of openness from me in return." She wrapped her long fingers around CJ's foot as it rested against her thigh. The skin beneath the sock was warm and she rubbed her thumb against the blonde woman's toes. The motion elicited a slight moan from CJ, which caused Andi to smile.

"You sure?" CJ asked.

"Yeah, I am," Andi replied. She took a deep breath then launched into her story.

"I was recruited during my senior year in high school," she began. "The swim coach here has a great reputation and she convinced me that it would be a better fit for me here than at a Division I school. I was kind of a loner in high school, and I didn't want to get lost on a large campus anyway. Plus, I didn't want to swim for a Division I coach who was more concerned with winning than with grades. So, I signed on here. I was fairly successful in high school, and I knew that this coach could bring me to the next level. And she did.

"Although I was initially shy and homesick as a freshman, I soon met Martha, who introduced me to other people on campus, so I made a few friends. Once swimming practice began, I met other gals on the team so I had enough of a circle of friends to make me feel more comfortable here. Not that I had much of a choice about leaving, really. My mother certainly couldn't have afforded to send me to school, so it was this or go to work. I stayed. Don't get me wrong, once I adjusted to college life, I really liked it here. I still do, which is why I'm still here.

"Anyway, during my freshman year I did OK in terms of swimming. I had several wins, which made the coach very pleased, but after being the star in high school, I guess I was expecting a little more. My coach was great, though, and she helped me come up with an off-season plan to help me improve.

"I worked my ass off from the moment that first season ended until the start of the second. I spent hours upon hours in the weight room, lifting and getting stronger. My shoulders and back got so broad that I had trouble finding shirts that fit me. But I didn't care. All I cared about was swimming faster and those stronger muscles helped me to do that. I also ran to build up my wind and got pretty good at that, too. In fact, the track coach wanted me to join the spring squad, but I turned him down. It was not part of my plan for success.

"All that training began to pay off in my sophomore year. As my coach put it, I became the team's 'secret weapon' because none of the other teams expected a sophomore to swim as powerfully as I did. Most of the other teams recognized my name from the previous year but there was nothing spectacular about my swimming then, which disarmed them during my second season. I took them by surprise. I think I took my coach by surprise, too. Everyone was a bit surprised, but I wasn't. I was like a woman possessed. I had found something I was good at and I worked hard to be the best. Not for anyone else, mind you. It wasn't like I had something to prove to anyone else. I only had to prove it to myself. And I did. I went undefeated during my sophomore year. My coach said she never had a ex-swimmer do that before. I was on top of the world.

"Everything seemed to be working out great. Not only was my swimming going well, but my classes were, too. I made Dean's List four straight semesters, which made my coach even happier. My mother was happy, too. It felt good to make her feel so proud of me. I had also learned to enjoy the freedom of college life. I liked the fact that no one told me what to do, other than my coach, to an extent. I came and went when I wanted, which I certainly didn't do when I lived at home."

Andi paused to take a breath. She had been speaking for several minutes uninterrupted and wondered what CJ was thinking regarding everything she said so far. Usually Andi was much more comfortable as a listener than a talker, so her uncustomary openness put her out of her comfort zone a bit. She exhaled audibly.

"You OK?" asked CJ. Her voice expressed concern. She pressed the soles of her feet against Andi's thigh.

"I'm OK," Andi replied. She stroked her thumb back and forth several times across CJ's toes before she stilled her hand and simply rested it top of the blonde woman's feet. She feared that she would lose her nerve if she remained silent much longer, so she continued with her story.

"By that time, I was also involved in a relationship. My first real one, actually. Liz. We met during the second semester of my freshman year. She was everything I wasn't -- outgoing, adventurous, daring, popular. I couldn't believe that she was interested in me, especially since she was two years older. Up to that point in my life, I knew that I was attracted to women, but I never acted on my feelings because... well, for a lot of reasons, one of which was the fact that I had no privacy living with my mother. So, when I got up to school, with no one looking over my shoulder, I had the freedom to follow my heart. That led me to Liz."

CJ felt a jolt of jealousy rise up in her throat as she listened to Andi speak. She did not pick up on the sadness in the blue-eyed woman's voice, nor could she see her down-turned mouth or slowly shaking head. She held her breath as Andi continued.

"So, for a while, my life seemed perfect. I was swimming as well as I had ever dreamed of swimming, my classes were great, and I..." Andi's voice trailed off to silence. She closed her eyes as she thought back to that difficult time. CJ tensed as she waited for Andi to resume. Softly, Andi spoke. "I thought that it was real. We hung out together, went to the Oasis nearly every weekend with the whole crew to dance and drink dollar beers. At the end of my sophomore year, Liz graduated and moved into an apartment in town with two of her friends. I lived on campus that summer, through a work-study program, so I got to see her all the time. Everything seemed to be going well.

"I kept up my training routine, since it brought me so much success, and when my junior year rolled around I was out for records and national ranking. My coach named me captain that season and I knew the whole team looked up to me and counted on me. All their expectations didn't feel like pressure, thought. Rather, it pushed me even harder. By midway through my junior year, I owned all the school records in my events. I worked my body to near exhaustion every day.

"It was on one of those days that it happened. I was walking across the pool deck, like I had done a thousand times before, when I slipped. I fell forward and put my arms out to break my fall but when my palms made contact with the deck, they slipped, too. You know, there's both good news and the bad news with strong muscles. The good news is that strong muscles hold the joint nice and tight. The bad news is that those same tight muscles easily tear when the joint is stressed. I dislocated my right shoulder. The muscles tore.

"The pain was mind-numbing. I can still see myself lying there on the tile, writhing in so much agony I was afraid that I wouldn't die. My coach came running over, followed by the trainer, and he popped it back into place. Then I passed out."

CJ could hear the pain in Andi's voice as she related the injury. Having come off an injury herself only a few days ago, she could practically feel the pain, fear, and heartbreak that Andi was sharing. Suddenly, her foot-to-thigh contact simply wasn't enough. She sat up slowly and shifted on the sofa so that she was sitting cross-legged next to and facing the dark-haired woman. CJ tentatively reached out her right hand and touched Andi's arm. Caressing it softly, she slid her hand up toward Andi's shoulder then wrapped her arm around her, pulling the blue-eyed woman in for a hug. Andi stiffened initially at the contact, but immediately relaxed against her blonde friend, whose warmth and compassion shot right to the ex-swimmer's heart. Neither woman spoke for several minutes, yet their body language bridged the gap of silence. Finally, CJ broke the hug but kept her right hand around Andi's shoulder as the dark-haired woman continued to speak.

"When I woke up, I was in the infirmary. Even though I was heavily sedated, I was still really uncomfortable. More than the pain, though, I was scared. I could just tell that I did something really bad to my shoulder. When the nurse came in, I asked her what was going on but she only said that I'd have to wait for the doctor to come by. So I waited and I waited for what seemed like forever until he came. He said the MRI revealed three tears, which required surgery to repair. Three days later I had the surgery."

"I didn't know you had surgery," said CJ softly. Her arm was still draped across Andi's shoulders and she stroked her hand gently over Andi's right shoulder.

"Yeah, a couple inches of railroad tracks on my shoulder. Not very attractive," she shrugged.

"Can I... feel...?" asked CJ.

Andi hesitated, then took CJ's left hand and raised it up toward her shoulder. With her right hand, Andi pulled the neck of her T-shirt over far enough to allow access to the scar. She guided her companion's hand under her shirt until she felt the blonde woman's fingers make contact with her skin. CJ's touch was warm and tentative as she traced the raised scar tissue with her fingertips. The scar, still sensitive several years after the surgery, tingled as the younger athlete trailed her fingers up then down its length. Finally, CJ removed her hand from the warmth beneath Andi's shirt. Clasping her other hand, CJ placed them both in her lap, afraid that if she didn't hold them there they would reach out to touch Andi again. Her legs, still crossed as she sat facing the dark-haired woman, pressed against Andi's thighs to maintain contact.

"Wow," she whispered. "I didn't know."

"Needless to say, that was the end of my swimming career. I spent six weeks in a sling, then nearly five months in physical therapy in order to get back most of my range of motion. It's not too bad for day to day activities, but I can't throw overhand or play racket sports. And, of course, swimming competitively was out. I was stubborn, though. I had more records to break and races to win, and the injury was not part of my plan. I thought I could work myself back in time to have a season my senior year. All I had was chronic tendonitis that several cortisone shots wouldn't clear up. It was so sore I couldn't even brush my teeth. I finally had to resign myself to the fact that it was over. I never got to swim competitively again." She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

The words "it was over" rumbled around in CJ's mind, raising the blonde hairs on her arm. She knows exactly what it's like, she thought to herself. At least I had my four years. I would have been destroyed if this happened to me during my third season. Things started to click in CJ's mind as she remembered past conversations with Andi. The dark-haired woman would change the subject quickly if CJ asked about her swimming career or her scholarship. Back then, the blonde woman attributed Andi's reticence to her reserved personality, but now she knew the rest of the story. The younger woman marveled at Andi's emotional strength.

"Were you able to graduate on time, after missing school during the injury?" CJ asked.

"Yes, I graduated after four years with the rest of my class. The professors were good about letting me make up work. I only missed about two weeks of school from the injury and the surgery. After that, I carried my laptop to class to take notes. I learned to type pretty quickly using my left hand. Martha was a real pal, though. She typed all my longer papers for me because my one-handed method took so long."

"What about Liz?" CJ inquired. Her voice was soft and she held her breath waiting for the answer.

"She dumped me," Andi replied softly.

"What! She dumped you?!" Her voice was loud and almost angry. Andi smirked at CJ's defensive reaction.

"When I was going through all that rehab, I had major restrictions on what I could and couldn't do. Going out dancing and drinking at the Oasis was not on the 'to-do' list. Liz told me that things had 'changed' and that it just wasn't fun anymore."

"Bitch," muttered CJ. Andi grinned at her remark. "Sorry, I should mind my own business and keep my mouth shut."

"You're allowed to express your opinion any time you like, CJ," Andi invited. "And if I disagree, I'll tell you. In this case, you're right, though. She was a bitch, very controlling and manipulative. In retrospect, I can see all that clearly, but at the time, I was heartbroken. I had just lost my swimming career and a few weeks later I lost her, too. For a while, I thought..." She hesitated, then stopped.

"Thought what?" asked CJ.

"That I loved her," replied Andi quietly.

"You didn't?"

"No," she replied sadly. "Real love is based on trust, respect, and communication, sprinkled with genuine affection and mutual attraction."

"Sounds like a good recipe to me," CJ smiled.

"I think so, too," Andi replied. "But that's not what we had at all."

"So you're over her?"

"Yeah, I'm over her. What took me a while to get over was the pain of getting hurt, though, of giving my heart to someone I thought I could trust to hold it gently in her hands. But she didn't." She sighed audibly. "My heart is in one piece now, but I learned not to give it away that easily anymore."

The two women sat in silence, each lost in her own thoughts. Andi felt a surprising sense of relief at having told CJ about that difficult part of her past. While it was tough to begin the story, Andi found that she became more comfortable as she opened up to the blonde woman; consequently, CJ's spontaneous, affectionate reaction further compelled her to expose her feelings. Recalling and speaking about hurtful things in her past wasn't nearly as scary as she thought it might be. Andi had a feeling that her emerald-eyed friend was the one who helped make it feel safe.

CJ sat quietly, letting the impact of Andi's story settle. She never ceased to be amazed at the depths of what lay beneath the grad assistant's calm, steady surface. The blue-eyed woman's presence could be calming like the gentle bobbing of a raft on the ocean or powerful like an arching wave. There was so much for CJ to discover about Andi, and everything she learned made her yearn for more.

"Jeez," lamented CJ. "That's a lot to lose and a lot to deal with. How did you handle it?"

"I worked out a lot, rode my bike for miles and miles over half the state. Dove back into my schoolwork. Wrote. I keep a journal."

"I know."

"How do you know?" Andi looked quickly at the blonde woman. Her dark eyebrows were knitted together as she considered CJ's response. The journal had been sitting out the whole time CJ was there. As if she could read it, she chided herself. Even if she could see, she's just not like that and you know it.

"Ahhh," CJ stammered, "you must have mentioned it before." The blonde woman didn't want to reveal that she wasn't asleep when Andi was reading her journal aloud a few nights ago.

Andi easily accepted the explanation. "I also spent a lot of time by myself," she continued. "I think I needed to. For a while with Liz, I let myself get lost in being with her. It made me feel out of control, especially when she ended things. I'm OK being by myself now."

"Does that mean you don't want to get involved again?" asked CJ.

"Not with just anyone, and not just casually," Andi replied honestly.

"But if it felt real?" CJ persisted. "What if it was real?"
Andi looked at CJ, who was facing her. The younger woman was still sitting so close that her crossed legs were pressed against Andi's. Her soft lips were slightly parted after having spoken. The basketball player's blonde head was tilted slightly to the left, waiting for an answer to her question.

"That would be the only risk worth taking," Andi replied softly. Her eyes, still focused on CJ's lips, watched the blonde woman's dimple crease as her mouth moved into a smile.

Andi closed her eyes and imagined what it would be like to kiss those lips. Her own lips parted in anticipation and she leaned forward a breath. No! Not yet, she reprimanded herself. Her eyes shot open and she shook her head slightly to clear out the tempting vision. I want to look into her beautiful green eyes and see her say yes. Only then will I.

The air around the two women was teeming with barely contained energy and emotions. CJ sat transfixed by the sensations as she focused her concentration on picking up signals from Andi. At that immediate moment, she wished more than ever that she could see. The heat of Andi's body radiated from mere inches away. The blonde woman could hear the increased cadence of her friend's breathing and thought for a moment she even felt Andi's breath on her cheek. How she had taken her eyesight for granted for so long! Now that she couldn't rely on it to read Andi's body language, she felt the full impact of its loss. Please let me see again, she pleaded to any higher power who might heed her wish. I need to look into her blue eyes again so I can be sure. I think I know... but I need to be sure.

"What?" asked Andi softly.

"Hmmm?" replied CJ.

"You just looked like you were going to say something, like you had something on your mind."

"I have a lot on my mind," CJ replied honestly. "I... I'm very touched that you shared all that with me, Andi. I know that you're a very private person, so it means a great deal to me that you trusted me enough to be so open." She unclasped her fingers and reached out, tentatively placing a hand on Andi's forearm. "Thanks."

"Thank you for making me feel comfortable enough to speak openly. It takes two people to communicate." She placed her hand on top of CJ's and smiled.

The moment was interrupted by a loud growling from CJ's stomach. Andi laughed from the depths of her belly, half relieved that the tension was broken. CJ moaned with embarrassment and placed her hands over her face.

"Guess we better start dinner," Andi chuckled.

*       *       *       *       *

      "How long have the shiitake mushrooms been soaking?" CJ asked. She sat at the counter, keeping Andi company and talking her through the meal preparation. Her feet swung back and forth as they dangled from the stool.

"About fifteen minutes," Andi replied. "How much longer?"

"Until they're rehydrated. Pinch one and see how it feels."

"That's not going to help me much," she responded. "I have know idea what it's supposed to feel like."

"Bring it over here," she directed. Andi brought the bowl to the blonde woman and placed it on the counter. She lifted CJ's hand and placed it into the liquid containing the mushrooms. CJ pinched a mushroom. "There're done," she announced. "Drain the mushrooms, but save about a half cup of that liquid. Then, you've got to cut the mushrooms into thin slices. Cut off the stems though. They get tough." She heard the silverware clatter as Andi opened the utensil drawer.

"Slice them all?" Andi asked.

"Yup," CJ replied. She heard the sound of the knife as it cut through the mushroom and scratched the cutting board.

"So," began Andi, "now that you know most of my recent past, how about you do a little sharing?"

"What would you like to know?" the injured athlete asked.

"I don't know... How about what you do in your free time, aside from basketball."

"Let's see... I like to take road trips, you know, a day trip in the car, or an overnight. I love long weekends, too. There are so many beautiful places within a few hours ride that there's always something to do."

"Me too," Andi agreed. "One of my favorite trips is over to the White Mountains."

"Oh yeah!" declared CJ. "My car has done that trip so many times it can practically steer itself."

"You like hiking?"

"Very much. I love to be out on a trail amongst the pine and balsam trees. When the sun rises and warms the air, it gets fragrant from the tree needles. Their sponginess underfoot is so soft to walk on. No matter what is on my mind or what problem is getting me down, when I'm out there, surrounded by acres and acres of nature, my issues seem so insignificant. I walk out of the woods feeling rebalanced. Know what I mean?"

"Exactly. I spend a lot of time on the trails for the same reason. Being out there makes me feel like I'm part of the earth, not part of humanity. Ever climb Mt. Chickorua?"

"Hmmmm," CJ considered. "I don't think so. It's nice?"

"A steady climb for a few hours with the reward of a 360 degree view at the bald, rock top. It's spectacular."

"Maybe you could take me there sometime?" CJ requested.

"Count on it. It's breathtaking in the fall." She stopped speaking as she moved the sliced mushrooms into a bowl. "Mushrooms are sliced," she announced.

"Is the water boiling yet?" CJ heard the pot lid clink as Andi lifted it to look.


"OK, then it's time to make the mushroom sauce."

CJ proceeded to talk Andi through the remaining steps to prepare the rest of the meal. The grad assistant scurried around the kitchen, closely following her companion's directions, which she delivered from the counter stool. In between CJ's directions and Andi's working, the two women carried on their conversation.

"I have a confession," announced CJ. "Know what else I like about the White Mountains?"

"Hmmm," mused Andi. "Ben and Jerry's is in Vermont, not New Hampshire, so I give up." She chuckled.

"Very funny... but I did visit their factory once. Anyway, what else I like is the outlet shopping in North Conway." She ducked her head sheepishly as she waited for Andi to react.

"No way!" Andi exclaimed. "I thought you loved being out in nature?"

"I do, really," she implored, "but I don't like to hike if it's a rainy day, and there's always a bargain to be found. They have all the major retailers there. Ever go?"

"Well," sighed Andi. "I admit I stopped at the Nike outlet once, 'cause I needed a new pair of sneakers." She looked up to see CJ grinning. "And what are you smiling at?"

"Nothing," CJ drawled. "Can't a gal smile around here for no reason?"

"There's always a reason," she jested. "Come on, out with it."

"I was just thinking that, after we climb Mt. Chickorua, we could hit the outlets before we head back."

"Once we get to the top of that mountain, you won't want to leave... except maybe to have dinner at this charming old lodge that serves the best brick oven, roasted vegetable pizza."

"Food or shopping... my two weaknesses and you're making me choose?" CJ teased.

"Hey, life is choice," Andi teased back. "So, what do you want?"

"I'll tell you what I want," CJ replied. Her voice became soft. "Come here."

Andi looked up when she heard the change in CJ's tone. Her dark eyebrows creased together as she wondered what brought on the sudden change in their bantering. She left the pot that she was stirring and walked over to her injured friend, standing in front of the blonde woman who was still perched on the stool. The fingertips of her right hand touched the top of the basketball player's knee, letting the younger woman know she was there. CJ reached out and took both of Andi's hands, drawing the blue-eyed woman closer toward her until the ex-swimmer stood between her bent knees. Andi could feel CJ's inner thighs pressed against her legs.

"What I really want..." said CJ softly, "is a hug." She let go of the other woman's hands to wrap her arms around the ex-ex-swimmer's narrow waist. Her head rested in the crook of Andi's neck. Andi responded by encircling CJ's shoulders with her strong arms. She could feels the younger athlete's warm breath against the pulse point in her neck and wondered if the blonde woman could hear her racing heart. She rested her cheek against CJ's soft hair and inhaled slowly. After several moments, both women reluctantly broke off their embrace.

"Mmmmm," hummed Andi. A small smile played on her lips. "What was that for?"

"Do I need a reason?" CJ replied.

"No," she chuckled. "You definitely do not. In fact, you can do that anytime you like."

"Well thanks," CJ responded. "I just might."

*       *       *       *       *

      "I'm stuffed," CJ announced. She pushed her chair back from the table and patted her stomach. "I should have stopped after the first bowl."

"Me too," agreed Andi. "I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about this meal but --"


"Yes, skeptical. First off, the list of ingredients was a bit unusual, especially the peanut butter part. It's not at all what I'm used to eating. Second, I'm not exactly at home in the kitchen, and I wasn't sure I could pull it off, even with your expert coaching."

"But you did great!" proclaimed CJ. "It's as good as I've ever made it. Did you like it?"

"I loved it. It's a definite do-over meal, for sure. And you," she added, emphasizing the words, "you could be on one of those cooking shows. Your directions were perfect. Amazing." She smiled at her blonde friend, who was grinning shyly at the praise.

"You did most of the work, so how about we share the credit," CJ suggested. "I think we make a good team, don't you?"

"Yeah," Andi agreed. "We really do." She smiled as she considered the implications of that statement. "OK, partner, I think it's time for you to get horizontal again."

"I feel bad that you end up doing the dishes all the time," CJ admitted. "I wish there was something I could do for you."

"You don't have to do anything for me, CJ. I don't mind doing a few dishes. Don't worry about it, OK?"

"OK for now, but I'll think of something." She pushed away from the table then made her way back to the mattress while Andi cleared the table and washed the dishes. As she lay on her back, she could hear the sound of running water and dishes clattering. She reached over and located the stereo remote and turned on the unit. By touch, she managed to locate the play button, which started the disk that had been left in the unit. An Indigo Girls bootleg echoed from the speakers across the room.

"Good choice," called Andi from the kitchen.

"Just lucky," replied CJ. She chuckled to herself. Despite her eye injury, she was feeling pretty lucky. Things might not be perfect, she thought to herself, but they could be a whole lot worse. She whistled along with the Indigo Girls as "Closer to Fine" filled the living room. A few minutes later she heard the footfall of socked feet as Andi walked across the room then flopped on the sofa.

"All done?" asked CJ.

"Yup. The rest can dry in the rack." She stretched out along the length of the cushions with her back resting on the padded arm of the couch. Crossing her long legs at the ankles, she sighed deeply and patted her still-full stomach. "Mind if I lower that a bit?" she asked.

"Not at all. I had it loud so that you could hear it from the kitchen." She handed the clicker to the ex-swimmer, who leaned over and took if from her. Pressing the remote several time, she decreased the volume of the music so that they could carry on a conversation in a normal tone of voice.

"So, when was the last time you were in the White Mountains?" Andi asked. She looked over at CJ, who was reclined on the mattress near her. The blonde woman's hands were laced behind her head while her bent elbows pointed out to either side.

"Hmmmm," she considered. "I guess it was shortly after school began in the fall, but before basketball started. Once we start practices, I usually don't have time for a road trip, other than for games."

"What'd you do while you were there?"

"A short hike to Ripley Falls. The water was really flowing 'cause we had rain the week before. The leaves were just starting to turn so it was quite pretty. I got a great sweater at the Liz outlet, too." She grinned.

"So, did you go... by yourself?"

"No," replied CJ. Andi held her breath. "My two roommates went with me." Andi exhaled slowly. "Why do you ask?"

"Ahhh... I was, ahhh... just wondering who you hung out with, you know, who you liked to spend your time with."

"Kim and Maria, they're my roommates. We've all been friends since sophomore year. And Joanne. You met her at Martha and Karen's party that night. The four of us often go to Oasis on Friday or Saturday nights, depending on when we have games. I have to twist their arms to go hiking, though." She paused to think then continued. "Sometimes I hang out with a couple of the gals on the team during the season, mostly the ones who stopped by yesterday. We're together all the time on road trips, you know? We all sit together on the bus and tell stories and laugh to pass the time." She stopped again to think. "That's mostly it, I guess."

"Do you... I mean, are you... dating any of them?" Andi asked softly.

"No way!" laughed CJ. "I like them all, but not like that." She paused while images of all her friends' faces flashed before her, then she shook her head to clear the women from her mind's eye. "No, I haven't dated anyone seriously in a while, actually."


"Why does that surprise you?"

"Because you're attractive, intelligent, funny, creative, outgoing --" She stopped short as she realized how quickly she had rattle off the list of adjectives that very well might embarrass CJ. Sure enough, the blonde woman was blushing pink as she lay on the mattress. "Sorry, did I embarrass you?" Andi asked.

"A bit," CJ replied. Her cool hands were pressed to her cheeks to defuse the heat under her skin.

"Well, everything I said was true," she added.

"Thanks, " replied CJ softly. She removed her hands from her cheeks as the blush drained from her face. Andi's flattering comments echoed in her head as a small grin formed on her lips. As embarrassed as she was at hearing the flattering remarks, she was glad to know that the grad assistant felt that way about her. The fact that Andi was fishing around for her dating habits seemed to hint at the blue-eyed woman's interest. I'll have to wait and see, she thought to herself. Interesting choice of words. See. I wouldn't be lying here, hearing her say all of that if I could see, but my doubts about her interest in me might be answered if I could just look into her eyes and see. Interesting predicament.

"Earth to CJ," Andi jested. Her voice was raised a notch above the level of their previous conversation.

"Oh, sorry..." she replied. "I guess I drifted for a minute there. I was just wondering... when you were last in the White Mountains." She laced her fingers and rested them on her stomach.

"Around Christmas, actually. My mom wanted to do some shopping in North Conway so I agreed to drive her there and --"

"You went shopping?" CJ teased.

"I didn't say that I never shopped. I'm just not crazy about it, that's all," she replied.

"So where'd you go? What'd you get?" She stifled a yawn, covering her mouth with her hand.

"Well, my mom is practically a career shopper. You'd like her, in fact. She can sniff out a bargain at a hundred yards. She makes it her goal never to buy anything for full price. I kid you not. It's a matter of pride for her, I think. It's like her own personal victory over retailers who overprice. Anyway, we started at one end of the strip at a shoe outlet, then worked our way from one store to the next. We had to move the car after every few stores because she had too many bags to carry very far. She got sweaters for my cousins, baby clothes for the nieces and nephews, Levi's for my uncle, sunglasses for my aunt, kitchen gadgets for the Secret Santa run by her church -- the list seemed endless. As far as I was concerned, after the third store they all started looking the same to me. I told her that my being there and taking her around was part of my gift to her, because she knows how I feel about shopping. I'll admit that I did poke around in the L.L. Bean outlet, though. Upstairs, where the hiking and camping equipment is, I found a few things I was interested in. Most of the prices there were pretty good, too. Ever go there, CJ?" She paused as she waited for the blonde woman to answer. "CJ?" she asked again.

Andi sat up from her reclined position to get a better view of CJ, who was asleep on the mattress. The blonde woman's lips, slightly parted, allowed the sounds of her deep, sleep breathing to escape. Her hands, still gently interlocked, remained crossed on her stomach. The soft skin on her cheeks was relaxed, making her look even younger than her twenty-two years. Andi looked at her beautiful friend's profile and smiled. She finally gets me talking and what do I discover? I'm boring. She smiled to herself. That's OK, CJ. I'd much rather listen to you anyway.

Quietly, she moved off the sofa and padded over to the mattress. Without disturbing the sleeping woman, she lifted the blanket up to CJ's shoulders. She lingered for another moment, enjoying the peaceful beauty of the blonde woman's face, then moved across the room to switch off the lights.

Several minutes later she emerged from the bathroom, having changed into lightweight sweats and a T-shirt to sleep in. Her eyes needed several minutes to adjust from the bright bathroom light to the darkness of the living room. During the interim, she felt temporarily blinded so she closed her eyes to block out the sensation. She stood there, just outside the threshold, as a great sadness seized her heart. This is what CJ has felt every day, for the last five days, she thought to herself. Even if it was just temporary, I don't know if I could cope, but the possibility that it might not return... No! Don't even think that way. It will come back. CJ will be OK again. She opened her eyes, relieved that she could make out the shadowed objects in the room. Filtered moonlight shone through the windows, cascading enough brightness to guide her across the room.

She turned on the table lamp and picked up her journal before settling on the sofa. Her long legs stretched out to rest on the coffee table in front of her. She placed a pillow on her lap, then rested the journal on the pillow before opening the book to the ribbon-marked page. After reading silently for several minutes, she picked up her pen and began to write. Occasionally her eyes lifted from the page to glance at CJ, still fast asleep on the mattress near her. A gentle smile emerged on the blue-eyed woman's lips.

She filled the page recalling her conversations with CJ and the ease with which she spoke so openly and honestly. Her heart hadn't felt that light and at ease in years. Images of CJ's smile, their tag-team dinner, and personal revelations all came spilling out onto the page as she tried to capture in words the feelings that were beginning to overwhelm her heart. With one last glance at her emerald-eyed companion, she completed the entry then marked the page with the purple ribbon. She placed the book on the table, turned off the lamp, and stretched out on her temporary bed. Her last waking image was CJ's profile as she slept bathed in the moonlight.

*       *       *       *       *

Andi's peaceful sleep was interrupted for the second night in a row by CJ's tormented cries.

"No! No, no! Please! Not yet!"

Upon hearing the blonde woman's tortured pleas, Andi bolted off the sofa and sat on the edge of the mattress close to the distressed woman. One of her hands clasped CJ's while her other hand firmly held the woman's shoulder while she spoke.

"CJ!" whispered Andi. "CJ, wake up." She gently shook the younger woman's shoulder as she spoke. CJ's body was rigid and tense, then shuddered slightly as she emerged from her dream. Out of reflex, she squeezed Andi's hand and sat bolt upright on the bed, banging her body against Andi's as she moved. The dark-haired woman slid her arm around CJ's back to steady her as she trembled.

"Oh Andi," CJ cried. She wrapped her arms around Andi's shoulders and buried her face against her neck. The blonde woman's warm breath on her skin made her body tingle. Her chest, pressed against CJ's, echoed the other woman's racing heart. She tightened her arms around CJ's body and rocked her slowly.

"It's OK, CJ," she soothed. "It was just another dream. I'm here." She made soft, calming sounds as she comforted her friend. Her hand stroked a steady rhythm up and down the younger woman's back. After a few minutes, CJ's rapidly beating heart slowed as did her breathing. The blonde woman inhaled audibly then exhaled slowly before releasing her tight grip around Andi.

"Sorry I woke you again," CJ whispered.

"Don't apologize, CJ," Andi replied. She stroked the blonde woman's soft hair several times, enjoying its silky texture against her fingers. As she raked her fingers through CJ's hair then drew her hand slowly over the back of the basketball player's head, she could feel CJ leaning into her touch. "I'm glad to be here for you," she added. "Was it the same dream as last night?"

"Sort of," CJ sighed.

"Want to talk about it?"

CJ shrugged her shoulders and sighed again. The dream that was so intense just moments ago had faded already and she was loath to bring it back to her conscious thoughts and revive its intensity. On the other hand, the anxiety produced by the dream still lingered. She hoped that perhaps talking about it with Andi would exorcise the demon that haunted her sleep of late. She pulled away from the hug but continued to hold the blue-eyed woman's hand as she spoke.

"I think it's the waiting that's getting to me," CJ began. "Every day that I get closer to my appointment with the doctor, I get more and more anxious about what she'll find. I don't know how I'll cope if..." She paused and swallowed hard. "If I lose... my sight," she finished softly. "It's only been five days but it feels like forever. I can't imagine --"

"Then don't," interrupted Andi gently. "I know it's hard not to worry, especially when you're here by yourself during the day and you've got nothing but time on your hands, but that's when you've got to be strong and stay positive." She squeezed her friend's hand. "You're an athlete, CJ, so I know you know how to do it. Think of any game you've ever been in where your team's behind. I've seen you out on the court. I know you don't give up. In fact, you dig down deeper and try harder to win. Well partner, that's what you've got to do now. Attitude is everything, CJ, and you've got to keep your winning attitude with this eye injury. It's only a few more days before you see Dr. Erroll again. Let's take one day at a time until then, OK?"

CJ hung her head as Andi spoke to her. She realized that what the dark-haired woman was telling her was true, but she wasn't feeling especially strong at the moment after that nightmare. Some spark deep within her still smoldered, however, and she was intent not to let Andi think she would be so easily defeated, whether it was on the court or in life.

"I know you're right," CJ replied softly. "Sometimes, when I wake up scared but can't open my eyes to escape the nightmare... it's hard, then. You know?"

Andi placed her hand gently against CJ's cheek and lifted the young woman's face upward. She stroked her friend's cheek lightly with her thumb, enjoying the softness of the blonde woman's skin. After a moment, she could feel CJ leaning into her hand as it rested against her cheek.

"I know, CJ," Andi reassured. She reluctantly removed her hand from its warm resting place against the blonde woman's face. "So when you're feeling like you need a little help being strong and positive, all you have to do is ask and I'll be there for you, OK?"

"Like to give me a little kick in the butt?" she suggested.

"Maybe now and then. I've been known to kick some butt when it's necessary," Andi teased. "But with you, I was thinking that a hug might produce better results."

"Yeah, you're good at those."

"Think so?"

"Definitely." She unclasped Andi's hand so that she could hug the blue-eyed woman again. The feel of the ex-swimmer's body pressed tightly against her own, held securely by Andi's strong arms, made her feel safe. "You give the best hugs," she whispered. Her warm breath tickled Andi's ear, sending tingles throughout the blue-eyed woman's body. After a moment, CJ reluctantly untangled herself from the grad assistant's arms but continued to hold her hand.

"Andi? Can I tell you something else that's bothering me?"

"Of course. Anything."

"How did you handle... you know, when you got hurt and couldn't swim any more... it was unfinished. You never had the chance to find out what could have been. How did you handle that?"

Andi considered the basketball player's question. The fears that the younger woman expressed were not foreign to Andi and she sighed inwardly knowing that her emerald-eyed friend was going through a similar hurt as she had. She exhaled slowly and thought back a few years, trying to find words that would explain an ache that went beyond the physical pain of an injury.

"When I first got hurt," she began, "I thought the pain and rehab would be the worst part, and once I got through that, the rest would be easy. I was wrong. What was even harder was the loss of my identity. I defined myself as a swimmer, a successful swimmer. All my hard work in and out of season was directed toward achieving that goal. My coach, my friends, my family - they all saw me in that light. When I couldn't swim anymore, I lost my identity. I didn't know how to be anything else. That was difficult to deal with." She stopped briefly and looked down at her hand, which CJ still held, then continued. "It was like starting my life over. I had to redefine myself." She sighed audibly. "I'm still working on defining myself." She paused and thought back to that tormented time in her life when her world seemed to be falling apart.

"I also had to deal with losing nearly two years of an athletic career and never knowing what might have been. That was very hard. It still is." She inhaled deeply, then exhaled slowly. "There will always be a question in my mind of 'what if,' and that's tough to live with. What if I hadn't been injured? What would I have achieved? Where would swimming have led me after graduation? Would I still be here?" She looked again at her hand in CJ's. Andi squeezed the blonde woman's hand and was answered by a returned squeeze. She smiled. "I can't change the past, but I did learn from that experience. Whenever there's a situation in my life where I have to make a decision, I always remind myself how 'what if' feels. Then I decide what to do based on if it's better to suffer the consequences of going after something, even if I don't get it, or if I can live with never knowing what could have been."

"What do you usually choose?" asked CJ.

"To suffer the consequences," Andi replied. "To some extent, I still hate living with 'what if'."

CJ sat quietly, reflecting on the older athlete's words. She knew that her blue-eyed friend knew exactly what she was going through, and that alone offered her a modicum of solace. The fact that Andi's observations and assessment of dealing with the situation were so on target made her admire the dark-haired woman even more.

"When I lay here by myself during the day," continued CJ, "it's so quiet that all I can hear are my own thoughts and worries running around in my head. This is the first time that my team has made the playoffs. That was my dream all through college, and now it will never happen. My eligibility is gone. The WNBA doesn't draft from Division II schools. It's over. The chapter of my basketball career is unfinished and will never be completed. I'll always wonder how it could have been, and will never know the answer. I hate the lack of resolution." She paused to collect her thoughts, then continued in a soft voice. "I'm almost embarrassed to tell you that. I mean, what you went through was probably worse, since your career was cut short sooner than mine. Here I am complaining when I have no right --"

"You have every right to complain, or be upset, or feel unresolved, CJ. I expressed all of those things too when I went through it, you know. It's not like I always held it in. Ask Martha and Karen. I cried on their shoulders on more than one occasion. Many other times I just cried alone by myself. So no, you don't have to feel embarrassed about telling me how you feel. I hope... I'd like for you not to be embarrassed to tell me anything."

"You make that easy," CJ replied.

"Thanks," said Andi softly. "And I wish I had a better answer for you, CJ. I know how it is to feel that a situation is beyond your control. Personally, I hate that feeling more than I can begin to tell you. It's too... I don't know... passive. I wish that I could offer you resolution, or at least a sense of peace, regarding basketball. I'm afraid that I can't."

"I guess I'll have to accept the lack of resolution in my basketball career and just learn to find resolution and peace in other areas of my life where I do have that control."

"That, my friend, sounds like the best plan yet." Andi squeezed CJ's hand tightly. "You came to that conclusion way quicker than I did after I was injured," she chuckled. "I think I'm a bit more stubborn than you."

"You? Stubborn?"

"Are you teasing me?"

"Yes, just a bit."

"Well, I'll let it slide this time 'cause it's getting late," Andi replied, grinning. "Are you tired?"

"Kind of," CJ admitted.

"Why don't you lie back and try to --"

"Please stay," CJ pleaded, tightening her grip on the hand she held.

"I'm right here," Andi replied. She stroked her hand up and down CJ's back. "I'm not going anywhere." She hesitated, then continued. "I promise."

CJ lowered her body to horizontal once again. Andi followed suit, reclining on her side next to and facing the younger woman. She reached down and pulled up the blanket so that it covered both their bodies. The basketball star could feel the warmth of her companion's body lying next to her and she fought hard to stifle the urge to wrap her arms around the blue-eyed woman as she did around her pillow that very morning. She clasped her hands together tightly, resting them on her stomach to keep them in check.

"Why don't you roll onto your stomach," Andi invited. "I'll help you relax and fall back to sleep."

The young woman hesitated and parted her lips to ask why, then decided against inquiring and simply turned over. She could feel Andi scooting closer to her until the blue-eyed woman's legs were touching hers. CJ could distinctly hear the reassuring cadence of the grad assistant's breathing from mere inches away. The next sensation CJ felt was Andi's hand at her lower back. Slowly and tentatively, the dark-haired woman slid her hand under the younger athlete's T-shirt until her fingers were touching CJ's warm body. The blonde woman moaned softly as Andi's fingertips began to move sensually over bare skin.

"My fingernails aren't very long. Hope this feels OK," Andi offered.

"It feels wonderful," purred CJ. She continued to make soft purring noises as Andi skated patterns with her fingertips over CJ's back. Andi lightly and slowly dragged her fingers up the centerline of CJ's spine. She smiled to herself as her touch left a trail of goose bumps in its wake. Continuing her lazy, light touch, she zigzagged a path from shoulder to shoulder over the broad and muscular expanse of the basketball player's back. Andi felt the younger woman's ribs rise then fall as she inhaled deeply then purred audibly as the breath escaped. When she reached the small of CJ's back, she let the pads of her fingers gently brush the downy hairs that covered the skin. After playfully petting the downy softness, she once again glided side to side across CJ's back, working her way up toward her shoulders. Each time she swept across the broad surface, her fingers traveled further around the blonde woman's ribs until she approached the sensitive area near CJ's breasts.

All the while Andi's hand remained in contact with CJ's warm skin, the heat inside the dark-haired woman's body steadily rose. The grad assistant's objective of relaxing her injured companion had exactly the opposite effect on her own body. The sensation of soft bare skin against her fingers, the musky scent of CJ's body, and the warmth radiating from the woman lying mere inches from her, all served to arouse Andi. She found herself wanting to touch more skin than what her fingers were exposed to on CJ's back. She longed to nuzzle her face into the soft skin between CJ's shoulder blades. She wanted to roll the blonde woman onto her back and continue her gentle ministrations on much more sensitive spots on CJ's beautiful body.

CJ's soft moan snapped Andi out of her sensual dreaming. Stop! she warned herself. Not now. Not like this. Too many things are still left unsaid. She dragged her fingertips down to CJ's lower back and removed her unwilling hand from beneath the blonde woman's shirt. After smoothing down the hem of the material, she placed her open hand flat on CJ's back, gently rubbing the blonde woman's skin through her T-shirt before resting her still hand between CJ's shoulder blades.

"How'd that feel?" Andi inquired.

"Mmmm" CJ purred. "My words could never be adequate to describe how wonderful that felt." She rolled onto her side, facing Andi. "So how about I show you?" CJ reached over to touch Andi's arm. "Roll over," she requested.

Andi did as she was asked and rolled onto her stomach. Her injured right arm lay at her side while her left arm pillowed her head. The rapid beating of her heart echoed in her ears and she felt sure that her blonde companion, whose body was so dangerously close, could hear it as well.

CJ reached out and gently tucked her hand under the cotton fabric of Andi's T-shirt. The dark-haired woman inhaled sharply as the younger woman's touch ignited her bare skin. The sound was not lost on CJ, who grinned at the reaction that her touch inspired. Following the same zigzag pattern that Andi began, CJ leisurely worked her way back and forth across the blue-eyed woman's taunt muscles. The sensual touch of Andi's bare skin combined with the older woman's soft sighs continued the arousal that ex-swimmer's touch began. CJ found her body tingling from the stimulating contact. How long can I continue to torture myself with such sweet pleasure? CJ wondered silently. She was loath to remove her hand from Andi's skin yet she feared that her barely contained self control was slipping. She sighed then reluctantly removed her hand from the sweetness of Andi's skin, where she longed to remain.

"How'd that feel?" CJ asked.

"Like heaven," Andi responded. She rolled over so that she faced CJ, whose face was shadowed in the moonlight. "Your touch is very gentle," she added. "Thank you."

"My pleasure," CJ replied. You have no idea how that was my pleasure.

"Why don't you lie on your back now, and maybe you'll be able to fall back asleep. I'll be right here."

"OK," CJ agreed. She rolled onto her back as the dark-haired woman suggested while she scooted her body closer to Andi's as subtly as she could manage. The basketball player's leg lightly touched her ebony-haired bedmate's beneath the blanket. She reached out her hand and felt around on the mattress before she found the grad assistant's hand. She slid her hand beneath Andi's palm and wrapped her fingers firmly around her friend's. "Is this OK?" she asked.

"It's better than OK," Andi responded. She squeezed CJ's hand gently to punctuate her reply.

Andi felt CJ settle into stillness on the mattress. The younger woman's body radiated a comforting warmth beneath the blanket they both shared. Within moments her blonde companion's breathing became deep and steady, a pleasant rhythm that Andi had come to associate with CJ's sleeping. The emerald-eyed woman's breathing cadence, combined with the warmth and nearness of her sleeping body, served to relax Andi. In between long blinks, she gazed at CJ's face in the soft glow of the moon. Soon she closed her eyes to the beautiful image of CJ's profile only to have it reappear again in her dreams. A smile graced Andi's lips as she slept.

Continued in Part V

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