Until Soon

by indigal

Part VI

* please see disclaimers in Part I

Chapter 28

"Step," warned Andi. She paused as she reached the wide stone platform that led to the eye doctor's office. CJ walked to her right, just slightly behind her. The injured athlete's left hand was firmly wrapped around the grad assistant's bicep. Andi watched as her friend reached forward with her toe to gage the distance to the step.

"Just one?" CJ asked.

"Yes, then about six feet to the door, all flat." She glanced to her right, watching the younger woman step hesitantly up and then pause, waiting for her guide to give her further directions. Andi moved forward slowly, leading the woman towards the entrance. "Here, let me get the door." She pulled the heavy glass open with her left hand, then moved her right hand to the small of CJ's back, guiding her through the doorframe that was too narrow for them to pass through side by side. Once inside, the ex-swimmer reached for her friend's hand and replaced it on her bicep.

Pausing at the office window, she gave the smiling assistant CJ's name then moved slowly across the waiting room to claim two chairs for them. Just as she was about to help the younger woman to sit, the examination room door opened and Dr. Erroll poked her head out.

"Come on in," she invited. The doctor smiled and nodded a greeting to Andi, which the grad assistant returned. The middle-aged woman watched as the dark-haired guide carefully led her younger charge into the room. With a wave of her hand, Dr. Erroll silently directed Andi to where she wanted CJ to sit. She smiled as she heard the whispered encouragements that Andi offered as she guided her friend into the seat.

As CJ began to sit, she slid her grip from Andi's bicep to the swimmer's hand, clenching it tightly as she sat. The gesture was not unnoticed by the doctor, who smiled at the women.

"Andi, you could take that chair," Dr. Erroll directed. "I need to move around a bit where you're standing." She smiled apologetically at the tall, dark woman.

"I'll be right across the room, CJ," Andi said, bending close to her and speaking softly. She gave the hand another squeeze before releasing it and moving to her seat.

"So, CJ," began Dr. Erroll, "how'd your week and a half of bed rest go?" She took out her folder and began scribbling notes. "I didn't get any messages from the receptionist that you called, so I take it that there were no problems?"

"It went fine," CJ replied. "I was more than a little stir crazy, but it was a hundred times better than being at the infirmary." Her face lit up with a smile, directed at her friend whom she knew was sitting across the room. "Andi made sure I was horizontal nearly all the time, right Andi?"

The swimmer's dark eyebrows shot up nearly to her hairline at her blonde friend's last remark. She could feel a blush color her face and she desperately wished the doctor didn't read too much into the comment. She managed to offer a half-quirked grin at the smiling doctor, who swiveled in her chair to look at grad assistant as she waited for the confirmation to CJ's statement.

"She was very good," Andi choked out. Good comeback, she chided herself silently. That'll certainly clear the air. She sighed deeply, glad when the doctor turned back to her patient.

"No pressure? No pain? No headaches?" the doctor inquired.

"Nope. Other than this patch over my eyes, I feel pretty good."

"Well then, let's see how all that expert care helped you to heal." She shot a quick glance back at Andi, grinning at the dark flush that quickly returned to the grad assistant's cheeks. Before turning back to her patient, she dimmed the lights in the room, casting them in shadowy darkness.

CJ held her breath as she felt the doctor's fingers removing the patch. Her heart was pounding so fast she could hear the rush of blood pumping in her ears and racing through her body. She could feel her stomach clenching and churning. Her hands maintained a white-knuckle grip on the arms of the chair. Please... oh, please, she prayed silently.

Andi leaned forward and shifted to the end of the chair as she watched the doctor slowly remove the patch from her friend's eyes. Her heart raced in anticipation, anxiously awaiting a reaction from CJ that would indicate her vision was restored. Although the room was cool, she could feel her body begin to perspire as she waited nervously. She linked her hands as in prayer, pressing them together as if to squeeze out the pent-up energy for which she had no release.

"Keep your eyes closed when I take this away," the doctor directed. "I'll tell you when to open them." She lifted the eye patch from CJ's face then put it off to the side. Turning back to her patient, she placed her hand gently on the tense muscles of CJ's forearm. "OK. I want you to open your eyes slowly. Just raise your lids a bit," she instructed. "You'll be very light sensitive after so many days with the patch, even though I dimmed the lights."

CJ's eyelids fluttered perceptibly as she lifted them slowly for the first time in ten days. Their weight felt heavy to her, as if during that time she had lost control of the muscles whose job it was to shade the emerald eyes that they protected. Through the filter of her eyelashes, she slowly became aware of brightness that initially was not associated with a specific person or object. The shapes were just that, abstract, undefined matter. Her vision was blurry, as if she was looking at the world underwater. Despite the lack of clarity, she felt encouraged.

"When you're ready, you can open your eyes a little more," the doctor encouraged. "Go slowly, though," she warned, "and blink a little, to keep your eyes moist."

CJ fluttered her eyelids, each time raising them a bit more. Gradually, the nondescript shapes and fuzzy objects began to sharpen as the muscles in her eyes, so unaccustomed to functioning properly, were finally called on to do their job.

"Look up at me," the doctor directed. CJ raised her head at the request. Her eyes strained to focus on the face of the doctor who remained seated in front of her. The doctor smiled, noting the recognition that slowly registered in her patient's eyes. "The blurriness will go away in a few days," she explained. "You're friend here," she began, indicating Andi by pointing her thumb over her shoulder, "she did a good job of helping you heal."

CJ leaned to her left, straining her blurry vision and willing her fuzzy eyes to focus on the woman whom she knew sat across the room. Looking around the doctor, who remained in front of her, the image of her beautiful, dark-haired friend slowly came into view. The picture wasn't clear, but even so CJ knew it was Andi. An electric smile lit up her face. For the third time since walking into the office, Andi's faced reddened, betraying her emotions.

"Let me get a better look at those eyes now," requested the doctor. She opened the drawer of her examining table and removed the instruments she would need to complete CJ's eye exam.

*       *       *       *       *

      "How about we celebrate with lunch, my treat?" asked CJ. She turned to look at her friend through the lenses of the dark glasses that the doctor insisted that she wear, even though the sky was overcast.

"Sure. I don't have to be back to my office 'til 1:00," replied Andi. "But you don't have to treat."

"Are you kidding? After all the meals you cooked for me, this is the least I can do. Where do you feel like going?"

"Hmmmm." Andi frowned in thought, trying to gage her hunger. "How about Eat-a-Pita? They always have good food."

"Yeah! I could go for a Southwestern Chicken wrap with spicy fries," CJ responded. She rubbed her hands together and licked her lips in anticipation.

"Are you ever not hungry?" Andi teased. She bumped her shoulder gently into CJ's, being careful not to off-balance her.

"Nope," she replied honestly.

Andi shook her head and smiled at the blonde athlete as they walked back to her car.

*       *       *       *       *

      The popular campus lunch spot was crowded by the time Andi and CJ arrived. As they stepped inside, the ex-swimmer walked close to her blonde friend, protective of the injured woman's tenuous balance and still-blurry vision. Spotting a table off to the left, Andi lightly touched CJ's elbow and steered her over to the spot.

"How about you save this table and I'll go order the food?" stated Andi.

"Sure," CJ replied.

"Still goin' for the Southwestern Chicken wrap with spicy fries?" Andi grinned.

"You bet," she replied, nodding. "My mouth's been watering for the past fifteen minutes."

"I'll be back in a few," Andi replied, smiling. The older woman headed for the counter while CJ remained at the table.

Andi waited on the order line, noting the influx of students who arrived right after she and CJ. Checking her watch, she concluded that the last morning classes had just finished up and students were eager to eat and relax before beginning the afternoon sessions. She turned around to check on the basketball star, smiling as she spotted her across the room. CJ was facing toward her, her eyes obscured by the sunglasses, so Andi waved once. The blonde woman gave no indication that she saw the motion, which Andi attributed to her still-blurry vision. She sighed deeply then shuffled forward on the line when the counter person got her attention.

A few minutes later, Andi made her way back toward their table, carrying a try of food and trying not to bump into other customers in the crowded restaurant. As she neared their spot, she noticed that her younger friend was engaged in a lively conversation with two women who were seated in the empty chairs at the table. She walked up to them and placed the tray down near CJ, nodding at the women.

"Hey Andi," announced CJ. "These are two of my friends from the dorm. I'd like you to meet Marci and Ellen." She pointed to each of the women as she spoke.

"Hi," replied Andi. She shook their proffered hands.

"Well, your lunch is here," acknowledged Marci. "We'll let you get to it."

"You're welcomed to join us," offered Andi.

"Thanks for the offer," replied Ellen, "but we're headed over to the library. I just stopped in to get a soda."

"When we saw CJ, we came over to say hi," Marci piped in. "Anyway, it's great to see you around, CJ. I'm really glad that you're OK."

"Thanks," CJ replied. "It's good to be back. I'll catch you gals later." The two women vacated their seats and, with a final goodbye, headed out of the restaurant.

"Here you are," said Andi. She took CJ's sandwich off the tray and placed it in front of the basketball player. "I got you a Diet Coke, too. I thought that's what you prefer."

"You remembered correctly," CJ grinned. "I'm starved!"

"Well there's a surprise," the blue-eyed woman teased.

"Mmmmm," murmured CJ as she chewed her food. "This is great! And it's nice to be able to eat my lunch and not have to worry about making a mess of myself because I can't see my food."

"You never made a mess of yourself," Andi chided.

"How about the vegetable fried rice?" CJ reminded. "I had an impossible time keeping that rice on the fork long enough to make it to my mouth. I know I had it all over my lap."

"Oh... yeah... but that was my fault. I should have know better than to choose rice," she replied sheepishly. "But I helped you eat it, didn't I?" she offered, quick to make up for the error.

"That you did. How could I forget?" CJ replied softly. She was close enough to Andi to noticed a hint of red color her cheeks. The younger woman smiled, remembering how she and the grad assistant shared one spoon and one big bowl of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

"So," began Andi, "what are your plans for the "

"CJ!" exclaimed Coop, bellowing across the small room. Grinning broadly, the wiry basketball player strode over to where CJ and Andi sat. "Hey CJ, how the hell you doin'?" Coop asked. She patted the blonde athlete firmly on the shoulder a few time in greeting. "Hi Andi," she added. The ex-swimmer nodded her hello. "So, are you incognito with those glasses there, or what?"

"Hi Coop," CJ replied. "Good to see you, and I mean that literally." She smiled at her teammate. "Who'd have thought I'd ever be glad to look at your goofy face," she teased, "but I am."

"And that's supposed to be a compliment?" replied Coop, feigning insult. She stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at CJ for all of five seconds before she busted out laughing. "Jeez, it's good to see you, too. I guess things went well with the doctor?"

"Yup. I'm good as new, thanks to Andi's expert care." She shot an affectionate glance at the blushing brunette across the table.

"She still has some restrictions," Andi chimed in, addressing Coop.

"So you won't be joining us for a game of pick-up this afternoon?" Coop asked.

"Unfortunately, no, but maybe I'll wander by just to say hi to everybody."

"Great! We'll be meeting around 4:00. Maybe I'll see you later." She clapped CJ on the shoulder again in farewell. "See ya, Andi," she added as she made her way across the room.

"Your adoring public can't seem to get enough of you," Andi teased. This time CJ's face darkened from the remark.

"Yeah, right," she quipped. "So, how's your sandwich?"

"Pretty good. Want to try?"

"Sure, if you're sharing." She took the sandwich that Andi offered, had a bite, then returned it to her blue-eyed friend. Chewing thoughtfully, she nodded her head slowly then swallowed. "That is good," she acknowledged. "I'll have to get that one next time."

"Welcome back, CJ," said a sandy-haired guy who was walking past their table with a tray of food.

"Thanks, Tom," CJ replied as he continued on to his way. "He's in my Sociology class," CJ explained as Andi looked up at her. "So, what are your plans for the rest of the day?"

"Back to my office for a few hours, then off to the library for some work. Nothing exciting. And you?"

"I'm going to head over to my afternoon class, I think. If I get a seat up front, I can at least hear the professor even if he is a little blurry. It'll give me a chance to see if there's any other work I need to make up. Thanks to you getting notes for me, I feel like I'm in pretty good shape with most of my schoolwork. Thanks again," she added, placing her hand gently over Andi's for an extended moment before removing it to continue eating.

Andi looked down at CJ's hand before glancing up quickly to her eyes, still obscured by the sunglasses. Her whole body tingled from the warmth of the younger woman's touch. God, I wish I could see her eyes, she thought.

CJ continued to chatter while Andi sat listening, enjoying the liveliness of her voice. The blonde basketball star had a joie de vivre about her that Andi both enjoyed and admired. She smiled at the beautiful woman, her heart filled with a mix of warm affection and building desire. After a short time, they both finished their food.

"How about I drop you off near your class?" suggested Andi. "I have to move my car anyway. No sense wearing yourself out on your first day back."

"Sure," replied CJ. She was eager to find any excuse to spend more time with her blue-eyed friend.

They walked out to the car then drove the short distance across campus to the building where CJ's afternoon class was held. Andi pulled up to the front of the old, brick building in order to shorten the distance her emerald-eyed friend would have to walk. Putting the car in park, she shifted in her seat, turning to face the blonde athlete. CJ likewise turned.

"Thanks for the ride, and for joining me for lunch, and for ten days of the best, most healing attention I could have ever had," CJ stated. Her voice, soft and sincere, reached out and touched Andi's heart. "I don't even know how to begin to thank you, Andi." She placed her hand on the ex-swimmer's thigh.

"You already thanked me about a hundred times in the last ten days, CJ," Andi chided gently. "You've very welcome," she whispered. "It was my pleasure." She patted the younger woman's hand before resting hers on top of it. Searching through the dark sunglasses, she attempted to catch a glimpse of the emerald eyes behind the shades. "Want me to walk with you to the classroom?" she offered.

"Nah, I'll be OK from here." She sighed, not wanting to exit the car and walk away, ending what had become a pattern of life that was intertwined with Andi's. "So, can I call you later?"

"I'd be disappointed if you didn't," Andi replied softly. She smiled and was rewarded with a beautiful smile in return.

"Well then, until soon?" asked CJ.

"Until very soon," answered Andi.

CJ turned forward in the seat and gripped the door handle, then turned back abruptly and threw her arms around Andi's neck. Squeezing gently, she buried her nose in the soft, ebony locks, breathing in the aroma of Andi's perfume mixed with her earthy scent. The grad assistant's arms wrapped around her in return and pulled her close for an extended moment before reluctantly releasing her. With one final glance into the pools of Andi's aqua eyes, CJ exited the car and headed off to her class.

Andi sat in the car, watching her friend walk away. You might be walking off to class, CJ, she thought as she silently addressed the retreating figure, but you won't be walking out of my life. Not this time around. She shifted the car out of park and pulled out of the lot.

*       *       *       *       *

      "Knock knock," called a familiar voice. Andi looked up from her desk to see Martha's head poking out from around her partly open door. "Can I interrupt?"

"Always," smiled Andi. She stood up from her work and stepped quickly across the small office. Embracing her friend warmly, she continued. "I've been thinking of you."

"Good things, I hope," Martha countered.

"But of course." She stepped back and waved her friend in. Offering Martha the chair in front of her desk, she sat on top of the desk facing her friend. Her feet dangled as she spoke. "So, how's Karen?"

"Same old. Good, but busy. How's CJ? That's what I came over for, not that I don't always love to see you," she teased.

"She's OK," sighed Andi. She briefly summed up their morning appointment.

"Bet you're relieved," Martha commented.

"Quite," Andi replied. She inhaled deeply then exhaled slowly. "I didn't realize how tense I was the whole morning up until the visit." She rubbed her neck a bit, kneading out the knots that lingered following the doctor's positive report. "I think I held my breath from the moment we walked into the doctor's office until she finished her exam." She shook her head slowly side to side. "I don't know what I would have done if "

"Don't even say it," Martha interrupted. She held up a hand as if to stop the words. "Don't make yourself more tense. It's over and it's good news. Enjoy it, OK?"

"Yeah, you're right," Andi acknowledged.

"How about joining us for dinner tonight?"

"You sure? You just told me how busy Karen was."

"It was her idea. You can fill her in on everything and we can catch up with you, too. I feel like it's been a while since we talked."

"That's my fault," Andi apologized. "I've been busy-- "

"No blame necessary. I didn't mean it that way at all, just that we missed you." She smiled and was answered by a grin from the grad assistant.

"Sure, I'd love to have dinner with you both. What time and what can I bring?"

"Six o'clock and just your smiling self." She stood from the chair and turned to leave. "You know, if you think you want to invite CJ..."

"Not that I don't want to, but I think she probably wants to see her roommates and catch up with her friends," she replied. A hint of disappointment colored her voice. She opened her mouth as if she was about to speak, hesitated, then stopped.

"What?" asked Martha.

"I was wondering... could I ask you a favor?" Andi replied.

"Sure, but ask while you walk me downstairs. I have to be across campus in fifteen minutes for a meeting."

Andi smiled and grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair before following Martha out the door, closing it behind them.

*       *       *       *       *

      "Hey CJ, can you pass the chow mein?" asked Kim.

"Uh huh," she mumbled in affirmative response with a mouth full of food then handed the white cardboard box to her roommate. Kim nodded her thanks.

"Bet you haven't had Ming's in a while," stated Maria. She dug her fork into a big plateful of food then looked over at the blonde athlete.

"Actually, Andi ordered take-out one night," replied CJ. "This is great, though. I really appreciate you girls getting this tonight."

"We're glad to have you back," said Kim. "Not that it wasn't a whole lot easier to share a bathroom with just one other person..." she teased.

"But the bathroom was a lot cleaner when that third person was around," Maria quickly added. She focused an exaggerated glare in Kim's direction, then smiled and winked at CJ.

"What can I say? I never claimed to be the cleanest... but at least I don't snore," Kim quipped. She returned Maria's teasing glare from across the table.

"I can see that things haven't changed much in my absence," noted CJ. She looked from one roommate to the other, clapping them both on the shoulders. They broke their stares to look at their blonde friend. "It's soooo good to be home," she added sarcastically.

"Now that you're all spoiled from Andi waiting on you hand and foot," mocked Kim.

"But don't think you're going to get that kind of service from us," warned Maria in a half-teasing, half-serious tone.

"I wouldn't dream of it," replied CJ. I only want that kind of attention from one person, she thought to herself. An image of a tall, dark swimmer appeared in her mind's eye.

"So, we wanted to have a little welcome back party for you here tomorrow night. You up for some company?" asked Kim. She continued chewing her dinner as she waited for a response.

"Sounds like fun," CJ replied. "Who's coming?"

"The usual suspects," responded Kim. "You know, some of your teammates, the softball and lacrosse gang, Sue, Jo... who am I leaving out, Maria?"

"Coach, or Jen?" inquired CJ. She looked at her roommates for a reply.

"Neither, but if you want "

"No," CJ interrupted. "Just friends would be great. I'd like to ask Andi, too."

"Sure," shrugged Kim. "I figured you'd invite her so I didn't bother to call."

"Thanks for arranging everything," CJ acknowledged.

"No problem," answered Maria. "It'll be fun, and I'm sure you're anxious to 'see' everybody. Get it?" she joked, elbowing CJ gently as she grinned.

"I get it," the basketball player groaned. She rolled her eyes at the pun.

"If you think of anyone else you want to invite, let me know. We told everybody to come by early 'cause we didn't know if you'd be up for a late night."

"Yeah, I'm out of practice for that. I don't think I've been up past eleven in nearly two weeks," CJ commented.

"That's just when I'm getting rolling," stated Maria. "But if you're tired, you can duck into your room and "

"And we'll continue the party without you!" exclaimed Kim. She laughed as CJ rolled her eyes.

"You're real pals," CJ affirmed. She grinned and shook her head slowly as she looked back and forth between her two roommates.

"No need to thank us," jested Kim. "We only want what's best for you." She smiled and batted her eyes at CJ.

"I'll try to keep that in mind," she replied, sarcastically.

*       *       *       *       *

      "So, glad to have the apartment all to yourself again?" Martha asked. She sank down deeper into the soft cushions and propped up her feet on the coffee table. Sipping at the steaming mug of coffee, she looked up at Andi, who sat across the small living room on the other sofa.

Andi slowly sipped her own coffee, enjoying the strong taste of the hot café au lait. She looked from Martha to Karen, debating about how to reply to the question. Her half-hearted smile revealed the answer.

"You're pleading the fifth, I take it," smirked Karen.

"Oh, stop with the lawyer lingo, will you," teased Andi. "No, I can't say that I'm glad to see her go," she sighed. "I mean, of course I was sorry that she had the eye injury that was keeping her there, but... I have to admit that I really enjoyed her company." She shrugged and continued to sip her coffee.

"So did you tell her you've got the hots for her?" Martha blurted.

"Martha!" Andi exclaimed. Karen snorted in laughter, nearly spraying her mouthful of coffee across the room.

"Well? Why not? Weren't we all sitting here about two weeks ago while you lamented not kissing her back? Seems to me like you probably had several prime opportunities to tell her how you feel about her, with her sleeping in your bed and all..." she added sarcastically.

"It wasn't good timing," Andi replied, defending herself from Martha's onslaught. "I was worried about her, and she had other, more important things on her mind, like wondering if she'd ever see again."

"True," Martha agreed. She nodded her head in agreement and sipped her coffee. "So, now that all those worries are off both of your minds, when are you going to tell her you have the hots for her?"

"You're incorrigible," jested Karen. "And they call lawyers barracudas." She poked Martha playfully. The shorter woman sat with her arms crossed over her chest, a smug expression playfully lighting up her face.

"She just needs a little encouragement," Martha replied, nodding to indicate Andi. "I'm only trying to help." She grinned at the ex-swimmer, who squirmed on the sofa across the room.

"Just ignore her, Andi," Karen defended. Continuing to address the ebony-haired grad assistant, she added, "Take your time and do what feels comfortable."

"I noticed you didn't say 'do what feels good'!" Martha chuckled.

"Maybe they're one in the same," acknowledged Karen. She looked at her partner and raised her eyebrows. The couple grinned at each other.

"Oh, you two," frowned Andi. She shook her head slowly as a half-grin appeared on her lips. "I plan on telling her soon," she replied. She fidgeted on the cushions, staring into the light brown liquid in her mug. "I don't want to take a chance of losing her again," she added softly.

"Does this have anything to do with that favor you asked me earlier?" inquired Martha. A knowing grin appeared on her face.

"Kind of," Andi replied sheepishly.

"Could be the perfect opportunity," confirmed Martha.

"Let's hope so," Andi sighed.

*       *       *       *       *

      CJ reclined on her bed, making a concerted effort to block out the noise from the stereo down the hall. The deep bass buzzed in her ears like the annoying hum of an insect. So good to be back in the dorm, she thought ironically. I wish I were at Andi's... with Andi. She sighed deeply and closed her eyes. I wonder what she's doing now. She smiled, recalling what had become a familiar routine for the two women. Looking at the blue digital numbers on the alarm clock near her bed, she linked the hour to the previous ten days' routine. Hmmm. She's probably just finishing up her papers, or maybe sitting on the sofa writing in her journal. She thought back to that first night, when Andi read part of her journal entry out loud, in which she revealed her feelings. I guess by now a phone call won't interrupt her too much, she thought. She reached over and picked up the receiver, then dialed the number she had memorized months ago. After the fourth ring, the grad assistant's answering machine picked up. A wave of disappointment filled CJ as she waited for the announcement to finish.

"Hi Andi," she began. "It's CJ. I just called to see how the rest of your day was. I'll be up for a little while yet, so if you're not too tired when you get in, please give me a call. Don't worry about waking me. I was just thinking about you and I'd really..." She hesitated, not quite sure if she should complete her thought. Deciding against it, she concluded her message. "Well, I guess I'll talk to you later."

She pressed the off button and put the cordless phone back on the base. Turning on her side, facing the phone, she snuggled down deeper under the blanket as she focused on the blue numbers of the clock. Hope Andi doesn't miss her T-shirt, she thought. She lifted the fabric to her face and inhaled deeply, enjoying the earthy scent of the ex-swimmer as her mind's eye filled with images of her cerulean-eyed friend.

*       *       *       *       *

      Andi pushed open the door to her apartment and was greeted by an unaccustomed silence. Out of habit, she glanced over at the mattress where her flaxen-haired friend had stayed for the previous week and a half, but was saddened to see the vacant spot. The emptiness of her apartment mirrored that of her heart with CJ no longer there. She stepped into the room and sat on the sofa, sighing deeply.

A flashing light to her left drew her attention to the answering machine blinking a red number one. She shifted over on the cushions and hit the play button. The first sounds of CJ's voice caused her heart to accelerate even as a smile formed on her lips. The smooth, melodic tones of the basketball star's voice helped fill the void of the athlete's absence.

Andi checked her watch then headed to her bedroom, deciding to get ready for bed before returning the call. As she took a quick shower and brushed her teeth, she allowed the sweet anticipation of talking with CJ to build, filling her with both the warmth of affection and the heat of desire. Less than ten minutes later, she crawled under the covers and stretched out on the mattress that remained in the living room. She immediately missed the warm presence of her blonde bedmate so she rolled onto her side, hugging CJ's pillow close to her body as she picked up the phone to dial.

*       *       *       *       *

      CJ was just drifting off when the ringing phone jolted her awake. She shook her head to clear the haze of sleep from her brain then quickly cleared her throat before lifting the receiver.

"Hello?" she said, speaking softly into the phone.

"Hi CJ. It's me," Andi replied. The basketball player closed her eyes in sensual pleasure as the deep, rich tones of the grad assistant's voice washed over her. "I hope I'm not calling too late."

"No, not at all," she hastily replied. "I was hoping you'd call."

"I just got in a few minutes ago," Andi continued. "I was at Martha and Karen's for dinner. They were asking about you," she added. "They said to send you their regards."

"That's nice. I hope you returned the greeting."

"Yes, I did. I filled them in on your doctor's visit. I hope you don't mind," Andi added quickly.

"No, that's fine," CJ replied. "What'd you have for dinner?"

"Always thinking of food, huh??!!" Andi teased. "Some burgers on the grill with a big salad. We just hung out and talked. It was a relaxing night."

"Sounds good."

"How about you? How'd you enjoy your first day back?"

Andi listened as CJ chattered about meeting up with some of her classmates and professors, hanging out at the gym while watching her friends play a pick-up game, and finally eating dinner with her two roommates. CJ's lively voice inflections made it easy for Andi to picture her younger friend smiling and moving her hands in animated gestures to accompany her stories. Just hearing that voice created a virtual three-dimensional image of the golden-haired athlete in Andi's mind. She smiled, completely content to listen to the basketball player talk as long as she wanted.

After nearly thirty minutes of conversation, most of if coming from CJ, Andi heard the younger woman stifle a yawn. The grad assistant turned and glanced at the wall clock across the room, noting the lateness of the hour. As much as she didn't want to end their phone call, she knew that CJ must be tired from her long day. She sighed and reluctantly decided to do what she knew was best for her friend.

"I heard that yawn," she chided gently. "I think your long first day back has worn you out."

"Yeah," CJ replied. She tried in vain to stifle another yawn. "I'm too used to being horizontal, I guess. Being vertical for most of the day just took it out of me."

"Then I better let you get some rest," he ex-swimmer sighed. She wished that she could simply roll over and say goodnight to the beautiful athlete, and maybe give her a hug, too, she thought, smiling.

"Hey, I almost forgot," declared CJ. "Kim and Maria are having a little party for me tomorrow night and, well, I was hoping that you would come."

"You sure you're not tired of me?" Andi jested, though a bit of insecurity crept into her heart. "You haven't seen your friends in nearly two weeks but you had to put up with me for the last ten day."

"I'd hardly call that putting up with you," CJ emphasized. "I enjoyed every minute of it." She blushed at her bold admission, glad that her ebony-haired friend couldn't see her. "So no, I'm not at all tired of you, and I'd really love for you to be there... if you want to," she added softly.

"Then I'll be there," Andi replied simply. As if I could say no to you, she added silently.

"Great! They'll be starting early, since they know I'm out of late-night shape. You can come by anytime, though. I'll be here."

"Then I'll be seeing you tomorrow," Andi replied. "So, until soon?"

"Yes, until tomorrow," CJ whispered.

Chapter 29

      CJ awoke slowly from her interrupted and restless sleep. Rolling over and focusing her fuzzy, green eyes on the blue digital numbers near the bed, she noted the early hour before closing her eyes with the hopes of reclaiming more sleep. At least I can still see, she justified, comparing her immeasurable gain of vision to the annoying loss of sleep. Less than five hours ago she was nearly bounced out of bed by the blasting stereo down the hall and it was only with much concentration as well as a pillow over her head that she had been able to fall back to sleep again.

She sighed, wishing for the hundredth time that she were at Andi's apartment with the dark, lean woman who made her heart race. Last night's phone call helped to ease her separation anxiety, and she was glad that the grad assistant's voice was the last one she heard before finally falling asleep. The purloined T-shirt that she slept in, however, had been a poor substitute for the woman she would have rather had wrapped around her body. You better get a grip on that wishful thinking, she warned herself.

Raising the soft, cotton material to her face, she breathed deeply and inhaled the scent that was uniquely Andi's. It held a mix of CK One, her favorite perfume, as well as an outdoor, earthy scent that immediately helped conjure the blue-eyed woman's image in CJ's mind. She smiled as she remembered past nights waking up next to the lean swimmer, curling up against her, or draping an arm across her in the unconscious gestures of sleep. She never pulled away, she affirmed. Maybe she liked it, too. But she's got to make the first move this time, she asserted. I already put my heart out there once. Why should I do it again and risk getting rejected? she asked herself silently.

Because you want her, that's why! her honest alter ego replied . Admit it, you want to hold her and touch her and kiss her and

OK, OK... I confess. I do want all that. I just need to be sure that she does, too, this time. If I wait for her, then I'll know for sure. I can wait... I can be patient...

Ha! So patient that you planted a kiss on her when she wasn't expecting it and scared her away?!

All right, all right... I learned my lesson from that one. I've been good, haven't I? And now that I can see again, it'll be easier. I was lost before when I couldn't look at her face or read her eyes, but now I'll know better how she feels. I won't be so in the dark.

Ugghh! Now who's using the corny puns? You better get back to sleep. Your brain obviously needs more rest.

She breathed in deeply then exhaled slowly, making a concerted effort to relax her body and shut out the warring voices in her head. She replaced the internal noise with a picture in her mind's eye, that of Andi's beautiful face framed by the pastel backdrop of sunset. The last image that she saw before she drifted back to sleep was the blue pools of the ex-swimmer's eyes.

*       *       *       *       *

      Footsteps approaching from down the hall quickly drew Andi's half-hearted attention away from the papers she was correcting. As the noise grew closer, she envisioned a certain flaxen-haired basketball star striding into her office with an electric smile that could light up the room. Her heartbeat accelerated and she found herself shifting to the end of her chair, ready to pounce out of it to welcome her friend's visit. With what, a hug? she asked herself. Are we at that point where we hug each other hello and goodbye? She smiled at the image. I'd like that, she acknowledged to herself, nodding her head slightly. She snapped out of her daydream as the footsteps echoed just outside her partly open door, then gradually became softer as the person continued down the corridor.

Disappointment painted Andi's face as she dropped the pen on her desk and slumped back in her chair, forgoing even the slightest attempt to feign interest in her work. She sighed deeply and remained immobile for another minute or two before finally harnessing enough motivation to get back to work.

Admit it, you miss her like crazy, she observed silently. Her eyes popped open and two dark eyebrows arched high onto her forehead as the truthful reality of that confession sunk in.

It's true, she confirmed. I can't deny it. I don't want to deny it. I just hope I didn't blow my opportunity.

You had ten days of having her all to yourself, her alter ego countered. What the heck were you waiting for?

The timing wasn't right, she challenged. She had other things on her mind.

And so did you, some of the time. Sensual things... erotic things...

OK, OK... But only some of the time. The rest of the time I was worried about her vision --

And also worried that maybe she changed her mind about you. That maybe, now that she's out of your apartment, she'll realize she doesn't miss you so much after all. Maybe she'll just go back to her life before you dissed her. You're still worried about that, aren't you?

Andi's mind remained silent, ignoring the battling thoughts in her head. She worried that perhaps her subconscious thoughts were more on target about her deepest fears than she was willing to admit. She rubbed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose as she tried to regain control of her thoughts again.

Soon, she sighed, ending the battle. I'll talk to her soon.

*       *       *       *       *

      "Knock knock," said CJ. She stuck her head around the partly open door.

"Come in," replied Leslie Malardie, the women's head basketball coach. She swiveled her chair around to face the blonde woman then stood, extending her hand. "So it's true," she smiled. "I ran into Coop yesterday afternoon and she told me the good news."

"Yeah, Coop's not one to keep secrets," remarked CJ with a grin. "Not that this is a secret," she added. "It's good to be back."

"I'm really happy for you, CJ." Coach Malardie returned to her seat, motioning for CJ to take the chair across from her desk. "I've had to deal with a lot of players' injuries over the years, but nothing like that before." She shook her head slowly from side to side. "The possible repercussions were so much worse than the typical broken bone or a torn ACL. I'm really glad that you're OK." She looked up at CJ with sincere brown eyes.

"Thanks, Coach," CJ replied. She could see that the auburn-haired woman was genuinely relieved. The basketball player not only liked her coach but also had great respect for her. The woman in her mid-forties had taken a down-and-out team and turned them into a conference powerhouse in the seven years since she first signed on as head coach. Leslie Malardie had an uncanny eye for seeing her players' potential as well as for helping them achieve that potential. CJ never regretted her decision to forgo a shot at a Division I school for the sake of playing for Coach Malardie.

"So, do you have a few minutes to talk, or do you have to run to class now?" Coach checked her watch, noting that the afternoon classes began nearly forty-five minutes ago.

"No, I'm free for the rest of the afternoon," CJ replied. "You said that you wanted to talk to me the other day..."

"Yes, I do." Her tone became more serious as she shifted forward to rest her elbows on the desk. She steepled her fingers as she spoke. "You'll be graduating soon," she began. "Have you decided what you'll do after that?"

"Grad school, I hope," the younger woman replied. "But I kind of put it out of my mind for the last few weeks, you know? First there was the tournament, and I really needed to focus on that, and then, well, my whole eye thing." She paused and looked at her coach, who nodded in silent understanding. "I had one really good offer for a school out west tuition, housing, stipend..." She paused as she was reminded of her impending deadlines for committing to that school. To think I was this close to packing up and leaving here two weeks ago... just to run away... from her. And now all I want to do is run back to her, she mused. She shook her head to dislodge the daydream, then looked up at her coach, whose concerned expression confirmed that she did in fact notice that CJ had zoned out. "So, to finally get around to answering your question, I haven't made any final decisions."

"Well, I hate to add complications to what is obviously a big decision for you, but..." she paused, looking directly at CJ, "I was wondering if you'd consider staying here."

"Staying?"

"Yes, as in doing your graduate work here."

"But I wanted to go to school where I could coach, too."

"Ahhhh, but that's where I come in," Coach Malardie added, smiling.

*       *       *       *       *

      You can't walk in with flowers, Andi reprimanded herself. She looked at the small bouquet that she picked up after work, now soaking in a small vase on her kitchen sink. It's a party, not a date, you know. Everybody else will walk through the door and hand her a six-pack, and you want to hand her flowers? Jeez, why don't you just wear a sign that says 'I love CJ'? She stopped dead in her tracks as the words echoed in her mind. Her eyes flew open and her mouth gaped as the silent thought registered in her brain. Reaching for the counter, she leaned against it for support as a tremor rippled through her body. Love? Do I...? Could I...? She blew out an audible breath of air and tried to rein in her senses. How did that happen? she wondered.

It just sneaked up on you, she replied silently to her thoughts. She knocked down all your defenses with one look into those emerald eyes then it was all over for you. Huh! she laughed at herself. And you think you're so tough.

She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose with her fingers, concentrating. Although her initial reaction to the revelation was certainly shock mixed with fear, the more she thought about it, the more she warmed up to the idea. Love? Love. She rolled the word around in her mouth, sampling its flavor and finding she enjoyed it. In fact, if she was honest with herself, it felt really nice. Her heart thumped deeply as a picture of her heart's desire appeared in her mind. She smiled, nervously at first as if the image could read her thoughts and sense her fear, then more confidently as her eagerness grew. Love! But I'll just keep it to myself for now, she mused. A smile lit up her face. She picked up the beer and walked across campus toward CJ's dorm.

*       *       *       *       *

      "Hey Joanne!" called CJ. She stepped across the crowded living room to greet her friend.

"Hiya CJ," Joanne replied. She smiled broadly then handed the basketball star some wine coolers. "I'm glad we've got something to celebrate here tonight," she added. "You feeling OK?" she asked loudly, projecting her voice above the conversation and music that filled the small room.

"Still a little light sensitive," CJ replied. "That's why the lights are dimmed."

"Ahhh," she nodded. "And I thought you were just trying to create a little ambiance," Joanne smirked.

"It's either this or wear sunglasses inside, so dimming the lights seemed like a better idea."

"Whatever works."

"Want one of these?" asked CJ, referring to the wine coolers.

"Sure," Joanne answered. She took one out of the pack and unscrewed the cap.

"Can you put the rest of these in the fridge for me? I think I hear the door." She handed the drinks back to Joanne and reached over for the doorknob. Pulling open the door, she greeted the small group of friends who were waiting to gain entrance. "Hey Sara, Jude, LaShawna, Becky!" she sang, smiling at each woman and returning hugs from all her teammates. "I'm so glad you gals could come."

"Last time, we saw you but you didn't see us," Becky jested, "so we wanted to even things out."

"We didn't want to deprive you of the view," joked LaShawna. She struck a pose in front of CJ then dissolved into laughter with the rest of the women.

"Go!" stated CJ, pointing to the kitchen. "I can tell you all need a beer." She smiled at her friends as they headed across the crowded room. She turn back to shut the door and nearly closed it on Andi, who stood motionless and silent at the threshold.

"Change your mind?" Andi teased. "I could go back home..." She pretended to turn around.

"No you don't!" replied CJ. She grabbed the grad assistant's hand and pulled her into the living room before hugging her warmly. "I've been waiting for you," she said. All my life, she added silently. "Don't be doing a disappearing act on me," she scolded. A flicker of insecurity crossed her heart so she squeezed Andi tighter, extending the hug.

"You don't have to worry about that, CJ," Andi whispered. Her lips brushed up against the silky flaxen tresses as she spoke softly into CJ's ear. She could feel the younger woman tremble at the contact.

"I..." CJ began, "I really need to talk "

"There you are!" announced Coop. She stepped up to the two women, who quickly broke off their hug. "I found the guest of honor," added Coop. She wrapped her arm around CJ's shoulder and offered a big grin to her teammate. "Courtney was just saying how she hasn't even seen you yet." She reached over and grabbed the assistant softball coach by the arm, pulling her toward CJ. "See, Courtney," Coop continued, "I told you I could find her."

"Hi CJ," replied Courtney. "Sorry I didn't get over to see you after the accident. We had two-a-days for softball and I was working on a project for my psych class."

"Don't worry about it," CJ assured. "I had other guests and lots of good company." She turned to Andi and smiled, noting the blush that colored her dark skin.

"I'll go put this beer in the fridge," Andi stated softly. "You catch up with your friends here." She tore her eyes from CJ then nodded her greeting to Courtney and Coop before heading toward the kitchen.
 

*       *       *       *       *

      CJ's friends drifted in and out of the dorm throughout the evening. The small living space was filled with women who had come not only to celebrate the basketball star's restored vision, but also to kick back and unwind as the spring semester drew to a close. CJ was constantly surrounded by well-wishers and acquaintances who were eager to laugh with the personable woman and enjoy her company. Andi was glad to find that she recognized several of the women there, including her friend Sue, the lacrosse grad assistant whom she had not seen since their night out at the Oasis many weeks prior.

Although both CJ and Andi appeared to be preoccupied with their respective conversations throughout the evening, each visually sought out the other across the crowded room. Emerald eyes danced when they scanned the room and met Andi's eyes, who were returning the attention. Aqua eyes relaxed and smiled when they searched the crowded room and locked on CJ eye's, who were already reciprocating the gaze. The fleeting glimpses were accompanied by shy smiles and coy grins, a continuation of the nonverbal expressions that ached to be spoken.

As the evening wore on, Andi looked around but could not spot the golden-haired woman amongst the sea of friends. She stood up on her toes, adding two inches to her six-foot frame, but still did not spot her friend. Before she had time to wonder where the young athlete was, CJ slipped up behind her. Placing her hands on the ex-swimmer's slim hips, she leaned against Andi's back and whispered in her ear.

"Can I monopolize your attention for a few minutes?" she requested. Andi's ebony locks tickled her face as she inhaled the swimmer's aroma.

"Of course," Andi replied. CJ's warm breath tickled her ear and the heat of the younger athlete's body caused her own body to tingle. She turned to face the woman who made her heart race and found herself mere inches away from the beautiful visage. She silently cursed the dimmed lights that made it difficult for her to see CJ's verdant eyes. Arching one dark eyebrow in silent question, she invited her blonde companion to speak.

"It's too noisy here, though," CJ replied. "Come on," she added, taking Andi's hand. "Follow me."

After a quick stop in her room to retrieve their jackets, she and Andi walked out undetected and headed for the fire escape stairs. The swimmer followed silently, curious about where CJ was leading but willing to follow her without question. The blonde athlete mounted the steps two at a time, with Andi at her heels, until the two women emerged on the roof of the dorm. The basketball player pushed the door open then looked back over her shoulder at her companion, who stood right behind her.

"It's quiet out here," CJ stated in answer to Andi's questioning glance. She walked silently across the tarred roof with the dark-haired woman at her side, stopping when she reached the waist-high cement wall that rimmed the rooftop. She leaned her palms on the flat surface and looked out across campus. Andi stood so close that their shoulders brushed up against each other.

Some of the buildings on campus were lit up, their windows glowing like jack-o-lanterns on an autumn night. Small clusters of students walked across the gravel paths along the green. The crunching of their footfalls and the sound of their laughter drifted up to the rooftop as their silent observers stood watch. Stars glittered in the heavens, adding to the soft glow of the moon, whose light was obscured by a cloudbank drifting through the inky, indigo sky.

For long moments the two women stood motionless, as sentinels of the night. Finally, Andi turned to face CJ, leaning her back against the low wall. The blue-eyed woman wanted to reach out and touch her companion, run her fingers through the younger athlete's golden hair, lean against her anything to establish a physical connection. Instead, she waited to hear what the basketball player brought her up to the rooftop to say, burying her hands deeper into her pockets and away from the nearly irresistible temptation before her. She turned her head to face CJ, raising an eyebrow in silent question. Feeling the weight of the swimmer's gaze, CJ returned the eye contact. Once again Andi regretted the dimness of the moonlight, which obscured the beautiful emerald eyes from her scrutiny.

"I spoke with Coach this afternoon," CJ began.

"Oh?" replied Andi. She stood up straighter, her complete attention focused on the woman before her. Her heartbeat raced as quickly as her mind. She anxiously wondered if her fears about Jen's threats had come to fruition.

"I kind of wanted to talk to you about "

"Does this have anything to do with Jen?" Andi interrupted.

"Kind of, I guess," CJ replied. She looked quizzically at the dark-haired woman, curious about her friend's change in posture and body language since she mentioned her conversation with the coach.

"Crap," fumed Andi. She turned her head away from CJ and raked her fingers through her ebony hair as an outward gesture of her inner turmoil. "You should have heard it from me first," Andi began. "I should have spoken to you when Jen first "

"Andi, what are you talking about?" questioned CJ. She moved to stand directly in front of the grad assistant. Placing her hands on the swimmer's broad shoulders, she forced the dark-haired woman to return her gaze. "Did you know that Coach was going to offer me an assistant coaching position because Jen's leaving?"

"What?!" Andi exclaimed. "Coach offered you a position? Jen's leaving?" She stood up straight, no longer leaning against the wall for support. Her hands had popped out of her pockets and her mouth was agape. She feared that the basketball star would hear the rapid thumping of her racing heart.

"Yes to both questions," replied CJ. She removed her hands from Andi's shoulders but kept her eyes locked on the blue orbs before her. "If you're so surprised to hear that, then what is it that you think I should have heard from you first?" She tilted her head and arched honey-brown eyebrows, her face open and questioning.

Andi released the breath she had been holding, silently wishing she'd had enough sense to keep her mouth shut. Instead, she found herself with two seconds to reply and nothing to say to the woman before her.

"Never mind?" the grad assistant offered weakly. "Just forget I said anything. It's just a little misunderstanding." She looked away from CJ, embarrassed and unable to maintain eye contact.

"Oh no you don't," CJ snapped. "You've dodged your last question. Just say it." She stood before Andi with her hands on her hips. Her eyebrows were pinched together in annoyance, an expression Andi had rarely seen on her striking face.

"But CJ"

"No buts!" interrupted CJ. She held up a hand to forestall further talk then rubbed her fingers across her temples, clamping her eyes shut to think. She then opened angry, emerald eyes and glared at Andi. "After all this time, after everything, you still don't feel comfortable talking to me?" Her voice rose to a higher register, the hurt clearly coloring her words. When the grad assistant didn't immediately reply, the flaxen-haired woman turned as if to go.

"Wait!" cried Andi. She reached out and grabbed CJ's arm, preventing her from moving further. CJ's head dropped as she looked down at her feet, waiting to hear what the dark-haired woman had to say. "I do feel comfortable talking to you, CJ," Andi spoke softly. "Please believe that," she whispered. "It's just... I don't know... It's a long story and "

"Just start with the Readers' Digest version, then," CJ requested. She still had not looked up from her feet as she stood in front of Andi.

The grad assistant's heart was saddened at the thought that she was the cause of the hurt that her friend was feeling. She wanted to reach out and hug the younger woman and to tell her how much CJ meant to her. Instead, she continued holding her arm, although her grip lessened to one of mere physical contact, a connection Andi really needed at the moment.

"A while ago," the swimmer began, "when I started going to your games and we were hanging out together, Jen kind of... threatened me "

"What?" CJ interjected. Her head snapped up and she looked directly at Andi. "What'd she say to you?"

"That fraternizing with students isn't allowed. And...," Andi paused.

"And what?"

"And my grad assistant position could be in jeopardy." She looked deeply into CJ's eyes then turned away sadly. As much as she hated having to tell her young friend about Jen's threat, she found that she was greatly relieved at finally being open. She sighed at feeling unburdened.

"That bitch!" fumed CJ. Her eyes were squinted in anger and her cheeks were flushed with heat. She tore her eyes away from Andi's face and looked out across campus, balling her fists as she stood.

"I didn't say anything to you because I thought she was all talk," Andi continued. She looked up at CJ's profile as the angry younger woman continued to stare into the night. The muscles in her jaw jumped as she clenched her teeth in an attempt to clamp down on her anger. "And she was your coach, too. I didn't think it was right to say negative things about her to you, especially during the season." Her voice got softer as she continued. "Besides, she was just trying to hurt me "

"Hurt you?" asked CJ. She focused her gaze once again on Andi, the anger boiling just beneath the surface of her control. "Why?"

"About a year ago, she expressed interest in... wanting to get involved," Andi began. She dropped her eyes from CJ's scrutiny. "I really wasn't interested, so I kind of ignored her come-ons. Once she started getting more direct with me, I had to be more direct with her. She took it very personally." She looked up again at CJ, who hadn't shifted her gaze. "I didn't want to hurt her feelings," she defended. "But I know when it feels right," she paused, looking deeply into the basketball player's emerald eyes, "and it didn't feel right with her." She arched her dark eyebrows, asking a silent forgiveness. Looking once more at her feet, she kicked an invisible stone with her toe. Meekly she looked up again at her younger friend. "I'm sorry, CJ. Can you understand how it wasn't easy for me to tell you all that, and why I didn't bring it up sooner?"

CJ sighed audibly and looked back over Andi's shoulder to the lights across campus. Her friend's words had penetrated her heart and she tried to make some order out of her mixed feelings. She was bitterly angry at Jen for being so conniving and spiteful, and she found herself balling up her fists again in reaction to that feeling. Then she thought of Andi and the swimmer's obvious unease at having to tell her about the assistant coach, whom Andi knew she liked. Used to like, she amended silently.      

"I didn't want you to get hurt," Andi continued, her voice half-pleading. CJ's silence left her uncomfortable and she desperately wanted to make things right between them again. "Nor did I want to be the one to cause you that hurt," she added softly.

"I appreciate that, but you can't always protect me," CJ stated quietly. She turned to face Andi again. "All you can do is speak honestly, and then be there for me after."

"I can do that," Andi replied softly.

"You already have, many times over," CJ quietly responded. She sighed deeply and released her fists, letting the mounting tightness in her shoulders slip away. The tension between her and Andi during the past few minutes made her uncomfortable and she was anxious to resolve the issue and get past it. She stepped closer to Andi and reached out, placing her hand on the swimmer's forearm. She hoped that reestablishing the physical connection would bridge the emotional one as well.

"I'm really sorry, CJ," Andi whispered. Her eyes filled up then glistened with tears that threatened to fall.

"Listen, if we're going to get --" CJ broke off suddenly before the presumptuous statement crossed her lips. A quick glance up at her dark-haired friend left her unsure whether or not her companion had filled in the incomplete sentence. She continued, before the ex-swimmer had a chance to think too much about her implication. "I really need for you to be open with me, OK?" She squeezed Andi's arm and was answered with a nod of the dark head. "Do you trust me enough to do that?" she asked softly.

"Yes," Andi replied. Her voice was soft yet filled with conviction. As she heard herself utter the single-word reply, she knew in her heart that she believed it, totally and completely. She smiled shyly at the basketball star, hoping that her answer would touch the athlete's heart and eradicate the last remaining tension between them.

CJ simply nodded in acknowledgment at Andi's sincere response. Somehow she understood the depth and significance of the blue-eyed woman's reply and her heartbeat increased. She sighed deeply, relieved to have overcome that emotional challenge and still feel connected to the woman of her heart.

"So, are we OK?" asked Andi. She placed her hand over CJ's as it rested on her forearm.

"Yeah, we're OK," CJ replied. She grinned at the swimmer as her heart filled with warmth for the attractive woman.

"So, since we're out here where it's quiet, I was wondering if"

"Here she is!" shouted Coop. The wiry basketball player came bouncing over with her other teammates in tow. "Becky was right. She was star-gazing." She approached CJ and Andi, grinning, then tilted her head back to look up into the heavens. The other team members struck a similar pose.

"Yeah, we were just star gazing," CJ fibbed. She looked at Andi and winked quickly. "Andi here bet me that I couldn't name ten constellations." She indicated the tall swimmer by her side with a thumb gesture in her direction.

"Oooohhhh! Bad bet," lamented Jude. She shook her head slowly from side to side. "CJ knows all the star patterns by heart."

"I'm beginning to learn that CJ knows a lot more than she lets on," Andi replied. She arched a single dark eyebrow and smirked at her blonde friend.

"So what'd you lose?" asked Coop, addressing the grad assistant.

My heart, Andi though to herself. She smiled.

"I believe that I owe CJ dinner," Andi replied aloud to Coop's question. She looked over at the blonde athlete and grinned.

"That's not too bad, " Coop replied. She continued to address Andi. "A least you'll get a dinner out of it yourself." Andi nodded in acknowledgment.

"Jeez, I'm cold out here," complained Jude.

"Me too," added Becky. "I didn't bring my jacket."

"I'm going to head back in. Aren't you cold?" Jude nodded in CJ's direction.

"Just a little," CJ replied. "You go on in. We'll be there in a minute."

"Yeah, CJ here still needs to identify a few more constellations before she earns herself that dinner," teased Andi. She rolled her eyebrows up and down as she looked at her emerald-eyed friend.

"OK. We'll see you downstairs," replied Coop. She rubbed her arms briskly to warm herself as she walked quickly across the roof. Her teammates followed, then all of them disappeared behind the fire door. Once again, the two women were alone on the darkened rooftop, surrounded by the soft sounds of the night.

"You were about to say something before," began CJ, "right when Coop and the others came out. What was it?" She tilted her blonde head and smiled softly, waiting for Andi to reply.

"I was just wondering if you had any plans this weekend," Andi answered. She looked down at her feet then back up at CJ. "Do you?"

"Just laundry and school work," the basketball player replied. "Why do you ask?"

"Well... I was just wondering..." Andi paused, dropping her eyes once more from CJ's expectant gaze. She took a deep breath and looked back up at her emerald eyes. "I was hoping you might spend the weekend with me."

"With you?" CJ smiled broadly. "What do you mean with you? Doing what?"

"I'd rather it be a surprise," Andi answered. "It involves a little road trip, though."

"A road trip?!" exclaimed CJ. "To where?" She wrung her hands excitedly and stepped up closer to her blue-eyed friend.

"If I told you that, it wouldn't be a surprise," Andi teased. "I can get you back early on Sunday, if that'll help." She was willing to make any compromise necessary, just as long as CJ agreed to go.

"Hhhmmm," CJ wondered. "I'm intrigued by the mystery." She stroked her chin as she continued to grin at her dark-haired friend.

"So...?"

"Of course! I'd love to go."

"Great!"

"What should I bring?"

"Just an overnight bag and casual clothes. Can you meet me at my place around 3:00 on Friday?"

"Sure, I'll be done with classes by then."

"Good. We'll leave that afternoon." She smiled at CJ, her heart glowing at the prospect of spending the weekend together.

"No hints?"

"Nope," Andi replied. She crossed her arms over her chest and grinned. She lingered over CJ's dancing eyes, enjoying the strengthened emotional connection that she felt between them. Several minutes passed in silence as they got lost in the intense eye contact.

"So, I guess we better head back inside before they come looking for us again," CJ sighed. She began to step across the rooftop when a hand on her shoulder stopped her in her tracks.

"Not so fast, star-gazer..." drawled Andi. She turned and leaned against the cement wall, facing her younger friend. "If you expect dinner, you better show me the secrets of that inky sky."

CJ smiled at her friend. She stepped back to her side and, placing a hand on Andi's shoulder, tilted her head upward and began to point out the astral patterns in the heavens.

Chapter 30

      The tree-lined, one lane dirt road obscured what little daylight was left as Andi drove the car slowly over the washboard surface. Similar dirt roads cut off to the left and the right as they rolled forward, and CJ could make out small cabins through the canopy of trees. Driveways were marked discretely with small signs attached to tree trunks. Andi's Jetta traveled slowly down the bumpy lane, kicking up dust in its wake, then turned right into the driveway with a wooden sign, "M & K's Place" tacked on the large white birch at the foot of path.

Half way down the long dirt driveway, the tree-darkness gave way to the brightness of an evening sunset as the small, lakefront cabin came into view. Through the partly open car windows, CJ could smell the fragrance of pine and balsam needles mixed with the scent of the lake water. She breathed in deeply, filling her lungs with the wonderful aromas. Andi pulled the car near the house then slipped it into park. She turned in her seat to face her younger friend.

"We're here," she announced.

"It's beautiful!" CJ enthused. She bestowed a full smile upon Andi.

"You should see the front of the cabin," she replied, rolling her dark eyebrows upward. "That's were the real view is. Come on." She winked at CJ then opened the car door, stretching as she exited the vehicle. She waited for the basketball player to walk around to her side before she headed toward the front of the house. "We'll bring the stuff in this door," she pointed, indicating the door in the back near where they parked. "I'll show you the view first, though."

The two women rounded the pine needle path leading out to the front of the cabin and the lake. The dark, wooden building was a mere one story high, but because it was built on land slightly elevated from the water, the view was panoramic. A screened porch offered protection from seasonal bugs while the small deck adjoining it provided an unobstructed view of the wide lake. Twenty wooden steps led down to the dock, which reached out over the water. The sun was just ducking below the mountains that rose up and guarded the far side of the lake. The sky was painted red, orange, pink, and purple in its wake. Both women paused on the deck, enveloped in silence, to enjoy the view.

"Is that what I think it is?" asked CJ. She pointed to a covered Jacuzzi in the far corner of the deck.

"It is, " Andi confirmed. "If Martha filled it last weekend, perhaps we'll get a chance to use it. Interested?" Her dark eyebrows rose in invitation.

"Definitely!" The flaxen-haired woman grinned. "Can we walk down to the dock?" She touched Andi's arm and moved off the deck toward the steps leading down to the lake.

"Sure," she replied. "I need to turn on the hot water heater first, though; otherwise, you'll be taking a cold shower." She smiled at CJ then nodded her head, indicating the steps. "You head down. I'll catch up with you in a minute."

CJ turned and walked down the wooden steps leading toward the dock. As she descended, the colorful sunset filled her vision. The pastel sky was iridescent overhead and was equally glowing in the mirrored surface of the still water. The green band of trees on the mountains across the way was the only sign of verdant color in the otherwise dazzling scene before her. As she stepped out onto the dock, the vibrations from her footsteps sent small ripples out into the water, blurring the pastel reflection on its mirrored surface. To her left, the shore of the lake curved about a hundred feet from the dock, which blocked her view of the neighboring house and dock. To her right, the shoreline stretched out as far as she could see.

The cackle of a loon echoing across the lake drew her attention to the black and white diving bird as it ducked under the water then surfaced several yards away. Its cacophonous noise was answered by another loon, possibly its mate, which was not too far from it. Their boisterous calls rolled across the water, amplifying the sound. CJ stood on the dock and smiled at their diving antics.

A chill rose off the water as the evening sun nearly disappeared behind the tall mountains. CJ could feel herself shiver as goose bumps rose on her skin. She crossed her arms over her chest and vigorously rubbed her arms through the long sleeve T-shirt, hoping to create enough friction to warm her chilled skin. So distracted was she by the view, the birds, and the cool evening air, that she didn't hear Andi approach. The ex-swimmer silently moved up right behind her, not wanting to disturb her younger friend's obvious enjoyment of the view.

"Cold?" she whispered. She spoke softly, placing her mouth very near CJ's ear.

The basketball player could feel the warm breath as the grad assistant spoke. She shivered again, but this time from Andi's closeness. Leaning back slightly, she could feel her companion's body a hair's breadth away.

"Good thing I turned on the hot water heater," the blue-eyed woman continued, purring into CJ's ear. She placed her hands lightly on the basketball player's hips before leaning gently against her.

CJ felt dizzy from the sensation. Through the light cotton of her T-shirt, she could feel the press of Andi's breasts against her back as well as the heat of older athlete's skin so near her own. She inhaled sharply at the contact, the previous chill quickly replaced by rising heat coursing through her body. The warmth against her back caused by Andi's closeness was in sharp contrast to the coolness of her face and chest caused by the night air blowing off the lake. Impulsively, she grasped each of Andi's hands in her own and drew them around her stomach, effectively wrapping herself in the arms of the woman behind her. She left her hands over Andi's and soon relaxed into the embrace. CJ stepped back slightly, fully pressing her body against that of the woman behind her. Andi responded by resting her chin on the basketball player's shoulder. The two women remained silent as they looked out across the lake, watching the dazzling sunset unfold before them.

"What are you thinking?" Andi whispered softly.

That my heart might explode if it beats any faster, CJ thought to herself. That I want to turn around and face you in this embrace, and look into your eyes to know what you are thinking.

"The sunset reminds me of that evening after we went sled riding," CJ began, "when we stood on your porch at the end of the day." When I wanted so badly to kiss you, she added silently. "Remember, I described that picture of you that I carried in my mind? The one I envisioned when I couldn't really see you? That's what this sunset reminds me of. Only in that image, the sunset was behind you."

"Then if you turn around, I'll have the same view of you as you had of me that night," Andi replied, "with the beautiful sunset behind your face."

The tall ex-swimmer loosened her arms enough to allow CJ to turn and face her. Slowly, the basketball player moved around, her heart racing. Andi's hands dropped gently to the younger woman's hips as she turned, keeping her a short arm's length away. CJ's golden hair shone against the backdrop of sunset pastels. The beauty of the evening sky and the radiance of the mirrored water paled in comparison to the face before her. The glow of the sky illuminated Andi's view enough to reveal the younger woman's emerald eyes lightly flecked with gold.

Andi gazed into those verdant orbs, her eyes lighting on each eye in turn. With attentive care, she studied the patterns of kaleidoscope colors that blended to form the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. Her mouth opened slightly, as if poised to speak, but no words were uttered as she gazed at CJ's open face. She could feel her face flushed as the blood coursed through her body and desire rose in her heart.

CJ couldn't tear herself away from Andi's azure eyes. She felt the weight of their attention as they focused solely on her. The light touch of Andi's hands on her hips served to maintain her connection to the dark-haired woman as well as to tease her with physical contact. She feared that the sound of her rapidly beating heart would betray her feelings. The heat of passion rose in her body and she locked her eyes on Andi's to stay grounded in the blueness before her.

"And what are you thinking?" whispered CJ. Her hands rested lightly on Andi's forearms. The ex-swimmer first responded to her question with a smile that lit up her eyes. CJ gazed deeply into crystal orbs whose cerulean hues reflected the dazzling purples of the setting sun. She tilted her head and arched a honey-brown eyebrow, inviting further explanation for the smile.

"I'm just enjoying the view," Andi replied. Ignoring the sky, the mountains, and the lake, she kept her eyes locked on CJ's. "For far too long I've missed this," she whispered. "It's so wonderful to look into your beautiful eyes again." Her words brought a smile to CJ's face.

"What do you see there?" CJ asked softly.

"The verdant green of an earth coming back to life after a New England winter... the iron will of a determined heart... the passion of a soul not afraid to experience life's fullness... the kindness of a woman who tempers strength with gentleness..."

"Your words are poetry," CJ whispered, smiling. Reaching up, she stroked Andi's soft cheek before gliding her hand down and resting it on Andi's upper chest near the swimmer's heart. "Your heart's racing," she remarked.

"It's beating for you," Andi replied. "It has been for some time now."

Azure eyes smiled and spoke silently to the emerald eyes looking back. May I? the blue eyes pleaded wordlessly, accompanied by arched eyebrows and a tilt of her head. Her body leaned forward slightly, her mouth parted as she waited for a sign.

Green eyes twinkled, not blinking for fear of breaking the almost palpable connection. A slight, nearly imperceptible nod of her head conveyed her response before she leaned forward, pressing her hand more firmly against the swimmer's heart.

Their bodies moved together with their lips a mere breath away. They moved slowly, but not the slowness of hesitancy; rather, it was the certainty of finally being sure. With one more gaze into each other's eyes, both women slowly lowered their lids to replace the contact of their eyes with that of their lips.

CJ's body was electrified by their first, soft kiss as Andi's moist, full lips tentatively touched her own. Her body tingled with the promise of anticipation finally being realized, yet the sensation surpassed even her wildest dreams. She wanted to laugh, sing, jump and wave her arms, celebrating her long-held desire finally coming true. Instead, she channeled all those feelings and emotions into the kiss, hoping that the object of her desire would feel it, too.

Andi's body nearly vibrated from the touch of CJ's warm, soft lips pressed gently against her own. The world faded away around her as the spotlight of her attention focused solely on the woman she didn't ever want to stop kissing.

Softly, gently, they came together and lingered, as one would savor the first taste of a much-desired meal. Light lip-touches, like small samples of food, introduced them to the first taste of shared pleasure. Their lips met, embraced, then parted briefly before they reconnected to taste each other again and again. Each soft meeting whet their appetites for further feasting as their kisses lingered and lengthened. After waiting so long for this moment finally to arrive, neither woman was willing to rush through their banquet of delicate kisses. After several minutes of delighting in gentle, sensual kisses, they paused for a moment to digest their newly shared passion. Their bodies remained pressed together with foreheads lightly touching. Racing hearts and rapid, shallow breathing were outward signs of their mutual ardor. Andi was first to break the silence.

"I've been wanting to do that for a long time," she revealed. Her forehead continued to rest against CJ's. Azure eyes remained hidden as she focused all her senses on the woman before her.

"What took you so long?" the blonde athlete chided playfully. Her smirk went unnoticed by the swimmer, whose eyes remained closed.

"I was afraid," Andi admitted shyly.

"Of me?" CJ questioned. She moved her forehead away from Andi's then lifted the older woman's chin, inviting her to make eye contact once again. A flutter of long, dark eyelashes preceded the emergence of the cerulean eyes.

"No, not of you," Andi reassured. She smiled kindly and touched CJ's cheek.

"Of what then?"

In the past, this type of direct, personal, emotional question would have made the reticent ex-swimmer dodge the inquiry or retreat into silence; however, the openness and honesty that she saw on CJ's face deserved nothing less in return.

"At first, I guess I was afraid of Jen's threat," Andi replied. She shrugged as if to downplay her anxiety.

"Still?"

"No. I realized she's all talk. She's just bitter."

"Is there more?"

"I used to be worried that I'd lose my position for getting involved with a student, but..."

"But what?"

"Technically, you're not my student. They might frown on what's between us, but I don't think they could dismiss me. Besides, you'll graduate in a few weeks and it would be easy to be discrete until then."

"Anything else?"

Andi's eyes dropped to look at her feet as she nodded her head slowly. Might as well just say it, she thought to herself. You've come this far. She looked up to meet CJ's emerald eyes, which were gently inviting her to continue.

"I thought I blew it. After that night when you... went running out... Well, I thought that after that, you might have changed you mind about... me." She spoke the last word in a mere whisper then paused before speaking again. "I was afraid of... falling..." She tilted her head slightly, arching her eyebrows in a gesture that begged for understanding and gentleness for her vulnerable heart.

"Was? As in, past tense?"

"Mostly..."

"If I promise to catch you if you fall, will you trust me enough to let go?" CJ whispered softly.

Andi's heart skipped when she heard the impassioned plea. Her lips parted as if poised to speak, but rather than use them for that purpose, she leaned in again and answered the blonde athlete's question with a passionate kiss. Her hands moved up to cup CJ's cheeks, drawing the younger woman's mouth firmly to her own.

A soft moan rose from CJ's throat as Andi deepened their kiss. Her right hand remained against the swimmer's heart while her left hand tangled itself in her soft, dark tresses. Their bodies pressed against each other once more as their kisses continued. Another soft sound erupted from CJ as she parted her lips, inviting Andi to further intimacy.

Andi's tongue responded to the invitation by licking lightly against CJ's lower lip. The basketball player's lips were warm and moist under her touch. Hesitantly at first, she moved her tongue across the surface of the younger athlete's lip before pulling back again to kiss her deeply. When the younger woman responded in kind, once again parting her lips in invitation, Andi obliged by trailing her tongue slowly across CJ's upper lip. Her ministration elicited a soft moan from her partner, which further inspired her passion. Drawing her own tongue back, she opened her kiss to the blonde woman and was answered by an exploring tongue.

Their warm, wet tongues continued the dance that their bodies envied. Delving deeper into each other's mouth, they intimately explored with lips and tongues. With racing hearts, they surrendered to the feelings that each woman had unsuccessfully tried to control. Their hooded eyes no longer noticed the deepening colors of the sunset and their skin no longer was chilled by the cool night breeze. Instead, soft moans filled their ears as their bodies became heated by their rising passion. After several moments of reveling in passionate kisses, their lips parted, their bodies breathless. Blue eyes gazed deeply into green eyes as their rapidly beating hearts pounded in unison.

"Wow..." CJ whispered.

"Wow indeed," Andi agreed. She leaned forward to press her forehead against her companion's. Reaching down to CJ's waist, she wrapped her arms around the muscular athlete, enveloping her in a warm embrace. The basketball player responded by wrapping her arms around the ex-swimmer's neck and holding the taller woman firmly against her own body.

"I could stay like this all night," CJ sighed.

"Mmmmmm," Andi purred. "But then we'd both be frozen in the morning." She pulled back slightly to kiss CJ's forehead. "How about we build a fire in the fireplace instead?" As if on cue, the basketball player's stomach growled loudly. "I think I better feed you, too," Andi added grinning. Taking CJ's hand, she led them off the dock and back up the stairs to the cabin. "Let's unload the car and make dinner. I'll start a fire," stated Andi.

"You already did," CJ smirked. She squeezed the swimmer's hand more tightly and followed her up the steps.

*       *       *       *       *

      "I'm impressed," CJ grinned. "You keep telling me that you don't know how to cook, but that soup was fantastic!" She stood at the sink with dishcloth in hand, drying the bowls that Andi was washing.

"I have to confess, Karen coached me," the ex-swimmer replied. She added more soap to the sponge then rubbed aggressively inside the pot. "Not only did she write down the recipe, she also talked me through all the steps for assembling it. I'm definitely not a creative cook, but at least I can follow directions." She rinsed the pot and placed it in the rack to drip.

"Well, thanks for going through all that trouble," CJ added. She smiled, touched that her dark-haired companion had planned such a wonderful get-away. She looked around the small cabin, which was warm from their cooking as well as from the fire in the hearth. Andi had set the dinner table to include beautiful flowers that the ex-swimmer had presented to her. CJ lifted up the pot from the rack and began to dry it, still smiling as she daydreamed about their kisses on the dock.

"That's the last of it," Andi proclaimed. She grinned mischievously, arching a dark eyebrow as she looked at CJ and continued to splash her hands in the soapy water.

"I don't like the looks of that," CJ protested. She held up her hands in front of her face. "Whatever it is, don't."

"OK," teased Andi. "But you don't even know what I was thinking..."

"Well then, what were you thinking?" CJ replied, going along with the tease.

"I was just going to splash you with water as an excuse to touch you," Andi shrugged. She took her hands out of the water and dried them on the towel.

"You don't need an excuse," CJ assured. She stepped closer to the blue-eyed woman and poked her playfully in the stomach.

"Come here, then," Andi responded. With a quick twist of her wrists, she rolled the dishtowel and gently looped it over CJ's head and around the back of her neck. With slow deliberation, Andi tugged gently on both ends of the towel, drawing her blonde companion nearer. All the while, her twinkling eyes never moved from the emerald orbs before her. When the younger athlete's body was pressed up against her own, she leaned in and placed a slow, lingering kiss on CJ's slightly parted lips.

"You definitely don't need an excuse for that," CJ confirmed.

"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind," Andi replied, grinning at her blushing friend. "Come on," she added, nodding her head toward the living room, "let's go sit in front of the fire."

*       *       *       *       *

      More than an hour had passed since they finished dinner and stretched out on the couch in front of the fireplace. Andi had kneeled down at the hearth and added several seasoned logs to the flames, including some pieces of apple wood, which smelled pleasantly smoky and sweet. The fire was blazing with the logs glowing brightly, bathing the room and the women sitting near it in light. Their cheeks were pink from its warmth.

"So, have you thought more about Coach Malardie's offer?" inquired Andi. The two women sat facing each other, leaning back against the padded arms of the small sofa. Andi's long legs, bent slightly at the knees, stretched out along the inner cushions and pressed up against the basketball player's body. The blonde athlete rested her forearm on the swimmer's knees, lightly stoking her thumb against the muscular quads.

"I still can hardly believe it," CJ replied. Her legs were extended on the outside of Andi's body and held securely from sliding off by the swimmer's powerful arm, which was wrapped around the younger woman's calves. "I can't believe she offered the assistant coach's position to me."

"And why not!" Andi chided.

"There are a lot of talented people out there. I've never even coached before."

"Hey, don't sell yourself short." She squeezed CJ's leg for emphasis. "You're a student of the game, and those type of players make good coaches. Combine that with your people skills... and you're a winner! I think you'd be perfect for the position. Question is, will you accept?" She asked with trepidation, desperate to know the answer but afraid of how she'd feel if CJ decided to decline the Coach's offer.

"Well," began CJ, using her fingers to count off her points, "firstly, I'd get to work on my Masters and not have to pay for it. I know the professors in the history department and I think I'd enjoy continuing to work with them. Secondly, I'd get to coach, which I always wanted to try. And I really like Coach Malardie. We worked well together when I played for her, so I think it'll be OK being her assistant. Our philosophies are the same, you know?" She paused while Andi nodded her understanding. "Thirdly, I know a lot of the returning players and I'm really comfortable on this campus, so that level of familiarity feels good, too. Fourthly, well, there's something else that makes me want to stick around..."

"Oh? What's that?"

"More like, 'who's that'." She paused. "You." She pointed at the swimmer.

"Me?"

"Surprised?"

"Flattered," Andi replied, smiling. "But those other reasons you listed, those things are important to you, aren't they? Because as much as I want you to stay "

"You want me to stay?"

"Of course. Now more than ever." She leaned forward and caressed CJ's cheek. "But those other factors have to be a good fit for you, otherwise you won't be happy here."

"But they're all a good fit. Don't you think? Based on all those reasons I listed?"

"Yes, I do. But I can't pretend to be completely objective," she added, grinning. "I can't ignore my own reasons for wanting you to stay."

"And what might those reasons be?" CJ replied playfully.

"The adventure of us," Andi replied with twinkling eyes.

"Sounds intriguing..." CJ responded playfully.

"I was hoping you might think so." She winked and smiled at her blonde companion, who returned the grin.

Both women sat in companionable silence, listening to the roaring fire and the crackling wood. The sofa was comfortable and CJ felt totally relaxed by the warmth of the blaze as well as by Andi's physical nearness. She smiled to herself, wiggling down deeper into the cushions as her eyelids grew heavy. After a few moments, she stretched and yawned, reaching out to the sides with her arms.

"Sorry," she said, quickly covering her mouth. "This fire is just so relaxing."

"That's OK," replied Andi. "We can call it a night."

"I don't want to move from in front of the fire, thought," CJ replied. She wrapped her arms around Andi's leg and leaned against her muscular quad.

"The good news is that you won't have to," Andi stated. "This is a pull-out sofa bed. Quite comfy, I might add. I often sleep out here when I visit Martha and Karen. Why don't you take the first shower, and I'll set up the bed?"

"I could help," CJ offered. She slid her legs over the side of the sofa and stood slowly, stretching again as she rose.

"Nah, it'll only take me a minute. You go on, but leave me some hot water!" she added. CJ grinned over her shoulder as she walked towards the bathroom.

The flaxen-haired woman emerged ten minutes later to find the bed made with the sheets turned down in invitation. Candles of various shapes and sizes were placed around the room, adding their soft glow to that of the blazing fire. She stood in the center of the room and turned slowly, looking at the candles as well as the flowers, which had been moved to the mantle above the fireplace. A shiver of anticipation rose in her body.

"How was your shower?" asked Andi. She emerged from the kitchen and walked over to the younger woman. Slipping up behind her, she gently kneaded the muscles in her neck and shoulders.

"Mmmmm. Great," CJ replied. "I left you some hot water, too." She smiled and turned, looking into her companion's blue eyes.

"Climb in," Andi directed. She pointed to the bed near the fire. "I'll be out in a few." She turned toward the bathroom then spun around abruptly and kissed CJ soundly on the lips before turning on her heels once more. By the time the basketball player had opened her eyes, the bathroom door was closing. Her body shivered involuntarily before she climbed into the bed and burrowed under the comforter while she waited for Andi's return.

Moments later, CJ's attention was drawn away from the fire as the dark-haired ex-swimmer stepped out of the bathroom. She wore a large, white T-shirt that hung mid way down her long thighs, revealing bare legs that appeared to go on forever. The younger woman swallowed hard as she stared unashamedly at the older athlete's thigh muscles as they flexed when she walked toward the bed. CJ's beating heart pounded in her ears.

"Is there room in there for me?" Andi questioned. She stood at the side of the bed, head tilted to the side with one dark eyebrow arched.

"Perhaps a little," CJ teased. She pulled back the covers to allow the tall, ex-swimmer to climb into the bed.

Andi slipped beneath the comforter and snuggled up next to CJ. For the first time since they had shared sleeping space, the bare skin of her legs touched the basketball player's similarly naked skin. The skin on skin contact sent tingles throughout her body, causing her to quiver.

"Your skin feels cold," noted CJ.

"I guess it's still a bit damp from the shower," replied Andi.

"Come here, then. I'll warm you up."

CJ rolled on her side to face her bedmate. Although there were no lights on in the room, the firelight cast enough brightness for her to see Andi's face clearly. The swimmer's pupils had grown larger while the blue of her eyes darkened to that of the sky in early evening. The glowing firelight twinkled in the blue irises, creating the effect of starlight in an evening sky. Only the desire for more physical contact caused her to look away from Andi's captivating eyes. CJ closed her own eyes and slowly wrapped her arms around the lean swimmer, eager to continue what they had begun earlier on the dock.

As Andi was pulled into an embrace, she buried her face against CJ's neck. The silky, flaxen tresses tickled her as she snuggled in closer. She lingered there for a moment, reacquainting herself with the perfume that was CJ's essence. Breathing in deeply, her senses tingled and she felt drunk on the aroma. The fair-skinned woman's scent was a woody, herbal combination that reminded Andi of an autumn day in the forest. She inhaled again, filling herself inside and outside with the woman enfolded in her embrace.

Lying beside CJ, with the younger woman's arms wrapped securely around her, Andi was reminded of the last few nights in her apartment when she slept beside her blonde friend. The feel of the athletic body beside her flooded her again with a renewed wave of desire. As Andi's cheek rested against CJ's skin, she could feel the pulse point in the young athlete's neck begin to beat faster, revealing that her companion, too, was enjoying the embrace. Turning her head slightly, the dark-haired woman placed her lips gently on the beating pulse.

Feeling CJ's heart beating against her lips only served to heighten her desire. She kissed the rapidly-beating skin softly, then again, before gently nipping the tender skin beneath her mouth. A moan escaped CJ's lips as she tilted her head back, offering her neck to Andi.

"You like that," Andi purred. Her words were more a whispered statement than a question. CJ responded with another guttural moan. "Mmmmm," Andi continued. "Me too." She continued to kiss and nip her way up CJ's soft neck, following her beating pulse until she reached her companion's jaw. As she raised her cheek up and gently rubbed it against CJ's, she whispered very softly into the ear that was so near her mouth.

"I love the way you smell," Andi murmured. Her statement elicited another moan from the basketball player. Andi's breathy whisper released warm air against CJ's ear, causing her to shiver. The tip of Andi's tongue flicked out against the warm earlobe, drawing forth a whimper from the object of her attention. She licked the soft lobe again, then sucked it into her warm mouth, triggering a muttered cry from CJ.

"You like that, too," Andi stated softly. Her breathy voice tingled against the moist lobe near her mouth. CJ's rapid breathing was audible. "Tell me what else you like," she whispered.

"Your lips. Kissing my lips," CJ gasped between breaths. The younger woman turned her head to meet Andi's mouth. Wrapping her arms around the swimmer's neck, CJ drew her closer, searing her lips with kisses. Warm, wet lips pressed together again and again while tongues continued to reacquaint themselves after the late afternoon kisses on the dock. Playful bites intermingled with deep passionate kisses.

CJ's hands rubbed up and around Andi's broad back, alternating between flat hand and fingertip touches. The ex-swimmer's long fingers tangled and teased their way through CJ's blonde locks, occasionally lowering to the younger woman's neck to draw her even closer for a deep kiss. Their roving hands continued to explore even as Andi pulled back slightly from their kisses. Her breath was jagged and her molten eyes locked on CJ's as the firelight danced in the emerald orbs.

Andi could feel herself being swept up in an avalanche of emotion that was quickly neutralizing her self-control. Her passion, having been dormant for so long, was erupting through her veins, tingling her body, and heightening her senses. She knew the power of that passion and didn't want her companion to be frightened by her arousal if CJ wasn't ready for taking that next step. Looking deeply into the emerald eyes, she searched the other woman's soul for a sign.

CJ attempted to catch her breath as she watched Andi's face hovering right next to her. She watched as the ex-swimmer drew air through open, moist lips made even deeper red from their passionate kisses. As she looked at those lips, she wanted desperately to pull Andi's face back down to her own and continue to lavish attention on her moist, inviting lips; however, she hesitated, shifting her gaze upward to light on the swimmer's eyes.

Andi irises were darkened with passion, and CJ felt them boring into her soul, exposing her heart completely to the woman beside her. They looked at her with longing and desire, with a promise of unsurpassed passion that CJ had never felt before. The younger woman quivered with anticipation. Then CJ saw the blueness change slightly, revealing a softening, almost questioning plea. Two dark eyebrows raised up slowly as she tilted her head slightly. The combination of passion and reverence that mixed within the blueness stirred CJ's heart. She smiled, finally understanding.

"Yes," CJ whispered.

Andi closed her eyes briefly as a smile lit up her face. Slowly, she lowered her mouth once more to capture CJ's lips in a slow, passionate kiss.

CJ slipped her hands down to the hem of the ex-swimmer's T-shirt and sneaked them beneath the thin material, lifting it up to expose her broad back as she drew it over her dark head. Andi shifted her body to allow the basketball player to disrobe her. After the shirt was removed and tossed carelessly to the floor beside the bed, Andi similarly doffed CJ's sleep shirt, dropping it over the side of the bed to join the other one.

The two women snuggled, for the first time completely naked together. Hands rubbed against backs and feet rubbed against legs while their tongues and lips continued similar explorations. Andi delighted in the firm, well-developed muscles of the younger athlete. Her toes traced the outline of heart shaped calves, tight and strong from sprints up and down the hardwood. Her hand stroked down CJ's side, gliding sensuously across her hip before sliding around to stroke her firm, round gluts. CJ reciprocated by stroking Andi's lean, flat stomach before gliding up and brushing fingertips across her ribs. She felt the ex-swimmer momentarily tense from the tickle spot before relaxing once again under her gentle hand.

Emboldened by CJ's soft moans, Andi skimmed her hand across the outside of CJ's abs before gliding up slowly to her ribs. As she stroked the firm skin beneath her hand, she softly touched the side of CJ's breast with her thumb. A sharp intake of breath followed by a soft murmur betrayed the basketball player's pleasure.

"I love touching your body," Andi purred into CJ's ear. "The first time I saw you on the court, sprinting and jumping, I couldn't take my eyes off you." Her voice was a deep, throaty whisper. "And now, finally to touch your body... Do you know what it does to me?"

"What?" gasped CJ. She could barely focus her mind on the verbal response because her body was going mad with the desire brought on my Andi's caresses.

"It turns me on. You... turn me on." She nipped once again at the base of CJ's neck before returning her attention to the blonde woman's waiting lips.

Andi kissed her way from the basketball player's lips and across her chin before dragging her tongue slowly down the side of her neck, stopping to nip at the soft skin beneath her lips. As she traced her tongue over CJ's collar bone, her hand glided up to cup the younger woman's small, firm breast. The touch elicited a whimper from the blonde woman, who threw back her head, further exposing her body to Andi's gentle caresses. As the grad assistant slowly stroked circular motions around the small swell, she could hear CJ's breathing quicken as the woman panted with her lips slightly parted. Emboldened by the response, Andi softly dragged her thumb over the nipple, which instantly grew hard from her touch. A louder moan emanated from the athlete as she arched into Andi's hand. Using her thumb and forefinger, Andi rolled and teased the pink nipple as it pebbled beneath her touch.

"I love the way your body responds to my touch," Andi purred breathily in CJ's ear. She returned her mouth to meet CJ's, devouring her lips with passionate hunger.

CJ's body was brimming with desire that was slowly pushing her over the brink of control. With strength driven by ardor for the dark-haired woman lying next to her, she wrapped her arms around Andi and rolled the ex-swimmer over, pulling the lean body on top of her own. The weight and press of Andi's skin all over her own body was electric. Her fingers danced over the broad back while her mouth delivered fervent kisses to they woman lying on top of her. A soft moan escaped CJ's lips.

"God, you feel so good," the basketball player panted. Bending one knee slightly, she pressed it between Andi's straddling legs.

This time it was the older woman who's desire expressed itself with a moan as CJ's thigh pressed against her hot center. She was swollen with arousal and the pressure of CJ's muscular leg against her clit nearly sent her over. She bucked her hips against the athlete's thigh as if finally scratching an itch that she had been trying to ignore. She moaned again as she climbed higher.

The feel of Andi's hot wetness on her leg made CJ's own clit throb. Sliding her hands down Andi's back, she pressed them against the swimmer's gluts and pulled the firm cheeks harder against her own body in an attempt to satisfy her peaking desire. Andi responded by pressing her thigh more firmly against CJ core. The younger woman could feel her wetness gliding on the swimmer's toned thigh.

The two lovers rocked their hips in unison, creating a rhythm of passion that spiraled them higher. Whimpers escaped their mouths when their lips parted momentarily as both women ached for release.

Sensing CJ's need, Andi moved her hand between their slick bodies, which glistened with desire. Pressing through the damp, blonde curls, she slid her fingers over CJ's swollen clit. The moment she touched that bundle of nerves, the young athlete cried out, pressing her hips toward Andi's hand.

"Ohhhh," Andi moaned in response. "So wet..."

"For you," gasped CJ. She continued to buck against Andi's long fingers trying to accelerate the swimmer's slow and deliberate pace.
Andi continued to stroke in rhythm with CJ's grinding hips. She could feel the basketball player's clit growing harder from the stimulating touch while at the same time the muscular body quivered and tensed as CJ neared the edge. Sensing the impending climax, Andi accelerated the stroking, her hand now coated with CJ's wetness. Faster and faster the younger woman's body drove against Andi's hand, her breath coming in rapid, panting gasps. Just as Andi thought CJ was going to peak, the basketball star stopped.

"Together," she gasped. She slid her hand down and grasped Andi's wrist then looked deeply into the blue eyes hovering above her own. "I want. To come. Together." The words spilled off her tongue in gasping breaths as she fought her body's urge to give in to the desire that she barely had strength to contain much longer. A look of understanding passed between them before CJ released Andi's wrist and threaded her fingers through dark, curly hair made equally wet from Andi's mirrored desire.

When CJ's fingers found Andi's engorged clit, the ex-swimmer cried out and leaned heavily against the younger woman's body as her hips once again continued the rhythm of passion. Their gasping whimpers echoed as their hands sought out intimate pleasures that escalated them higher and higher until they could no longer hover at passion's peak. Powerful orgasms rocked them simultaneously as each woman's body jolted and quaked from the powerful aftershocks. They lay in each other arms, fingers still pressed against the other's sex, as their bodies shuddered their mutual release.

They remained that way for several minutes, too spent to move and lacking the desire to separate from one another. Gradually, their racing hearts and rapid breathing subsided while their bodies, glowing with dampness, began to cool. Each woman withdrew her hand but they remained locked in an embrace that neither wanted to release. Andi's face was buried in the hollow at the base of CJ's neck as she breathed in the younger woman's heady scent.

"You're incredible," Andi murmured into CJ's ear. She followed the pronouncement with soft kisses on her cheek.

"It was you," CJ replied. She lifted Andi's hand to her lips and kissed it softly.

"I guess it was us "

"Together," CJ added.

"Yes, us together. An excellent idea." She lowered her lips once more and sealed her words with a kiss before rolling off the basketball player's body and onto the mattress.

The crackling fire once again became the loudest noise in the small cabin. Its warming heat felt sensually pleasant against their glowing skin as both women lay naked and prone before the blazing hearth. Neither wanted to relinquish physical contact so their bodies were still pressed next to each other, fingers intertwined, as they lay side by side, completely sated. The blanket, kicked off in the heat of passion, was mounded in a heap at the foot of the bed.

CJ sighed softly before rolling on her side to face Andi. She reached down to pull up the comforter then snuggled against her lover. Her head was tucked against the swimmer's broad shoulder while her leg was tossed possessively over Andi's thigh. Her hand rested gently on the bare skin over the older athlete's heart.

Andi stroked the soft, flaxen hair, weaving her long fingers through its silkiness. Occasionally her hand drifted down to CJ's back, lightly touching the athlete's soft skin. She could feel the basketball player's warm breath against her skin as her companion's breathing became deep and regular. After a few moments, she looked down at CJ's face. The softness of sleep had returned to her features and her lips parted slightly as she breathed. The sight reminded Andi of those night in her apartment when she watched her beautiful blonde friend fall asleep, wishing so desperately that she could be right where she ended up. Without disturbing the sleeping woman, she leaned over and kissed CJ's forehead. Andi fell asleep with a contented smile on her lips.


Continued in Part VII (conclusion)

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