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The basketball hit Shae full in the chest, knocking the breath from her. In dismay, she watched the ball roll out of bounds. The fact that it was the third time this half that happened did not escape Coach Killebrew.
"Grant!" Coach K yelled. "Bench! Now!"
With her head down, the 5'7" star point guard hustled off the court. On her way past the bench, Coach K grabbed her arm. "I don't know what is so fascinating court side, but I suggest you get yourself back in the game. Do you hear me?"
"Yeah, Coach, I hear you. Sorry." Shae walked halfway down the bench before sitting down between two of her teammates. "Jesus, Grant, get it together," she said to no one in particular. Grabbing her towel, she draped it over her head and pulled the ends together under her chin, trying to focus her attention on the game being played in front of her.
"Hey, Shae, you thirsty?" Shae heard the soft voice from behind her left shoulder. Turning her head she saw the reason for her frequent distraction. The blond team manager, Jesse, held out a bottle of Gatorade X-Factor. Shae pulled the towel off her head, leaving her short brown hair sticking up every which way. Jesse smiled at Shae's tousled look.
"Yeah. I am. Thanks." Shae grinned at Jesse.
Noticing the bottle, Shae added, "Hey, this is my favorite. They never have this at games or practice. They just give us the generic stuff."
"Well, yeah. I kinda noticed you like to bring in your own at practice and stuff, so I made sure I had some for you. It's really cold; just how you like it."
Touched by the gesture, Shae felt herself blushing. "Thanks, Jesse. That was really nice of you."
"No problem. Here, I brought you a clean towel too," Jesse said, smiling at the other girl. "Give me that one; it's been out all game." She handed Shae the dry towel in exchange for the used one.
"Jesse, get back here," the senior manager who was filming the game called the blonde.
"Well, I gotta go. Duty calls and all that," Jesse said to Shae.
After the blond had left, Magdalena Perez, Shae's best friend, teammate, and roommate, leaned into Shae and nudged Shae's shoulder with her own.
"That was smooth, Casanova," she teased and then added with an exaggerated southern drawl, "Thanks, Jesse. 'That was really nice of you.' At this rate, you'll work your way up to asking her out, sometime after .never."
"Oh, shut up," Shae answered, her face sporting a grin from ear to ear.
For the first time in two years, Shae was enjoying basketball again at Tulsa University. After graduating from high school, Shae played college ball for two years at Tennessee under Coach Pat Summit. Both years, the Lady Vols made it into the final four, and last year they won the national championship. Shae was the unanimous choice for Final Four MVP. At Tennessee, Shae should have been ecstatic; after all it was the culmination of everything she had thought she wanted since she was eight years old. However once there, she found herself at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. She was miserable. Not being a quitter, and hoping that time would improve things at Tennessee, Shae forced herself through two years at the school.
While at the basketball power house, the game had ceased to be fun. Although Coach Summit's teaching methods were meant to be motivating, they had the reverse effect on Shae. Shae spent the summer break between her second and third year of college, talking to those she respected about her life in Knoxville. A few tried to convince her to tough it out for her final two years in order to give herself the best shot at going pro. The majority however, knowing Shae as they did, encouraged her to follow her heart; they were sure success would find Shae wherever she chose to go.
Lena knew for a long time Shae was unhappy and lobbied hard for Shae to return to the smaller Tulsa University. At TU, Shae could still get a complete scholarship, a shot at conference and the NCAA championships, and a great education. More importantly, she would be near her friends and her family. Once she made the final decision to transfer to Tulsa University, Shae felt relief pour through her body. With her choice finalized, Shae and Lena quickly found a small apartment within walking distance of the school and moved in, bringing along Shae's tomcat Buzzard and Lena's cat Repo.
Shae and Lena had been best friends since they were in kindergarten. One afternoon when both girls were five, they bonded over the shared experience of running off some boys who had been harassing other girls. Quickly, they discovered they lived around the corner from one another, and a life long friendship was born. Beginning with community basketball leagues and continuing through their school years, the two played basketball on the same team since they were little. Both were thrilled to be playing together once again.
The sounds and smells of basketball filled the gym where the Tulsa University Women's Basketball team, the Golden Hurricanes, was practicing. The ball being dribbled on the hardwood floor, leather bouncing off the backboards, shots hitting nothing but net and the shouts of the women was a symphony to Shae. The smell of leather, mixed with the musky smell of sweat, beat out any perfume one could buy. Shae was enjoying life. Basketball was fun once more, and lately, well lately, there was Jesse.
At practice, Shae and Lena sat on the bench watching the scrimmage. At least Lena was watching practice; Shae on the other hand was more involved in her recent favorite activity: watching Jesse. From the first day of practice, Shae had fallen hard for one of the freshman managers of the basketball team. Shae's crush on the young blonde was the source of much enjoyment to Lena, who good naturedly ribbed Shae about it.
"She's so perfect," Shae sighed to her best friend, her eyes still glued on Jesse.
"Well, ask her out," Lena encouraged Shae for the thousandth time.
"How do you know she's gay?" Shae asked turning her attention to her friend.
"How do you know she's not?" Lena countered, "Ask her out for coffee, or to study."
"We aren't even in the same classes, how can I ask her to study? That would make me look like an even bigger idiot than she probably already thinks I am."
"She doesn't think you're an idiot. I think she actually likes you. She didn't bring special drinks for anyone else on the team last game did she?" Lena asked.
"She was just being nice 'cause I'm the only one who drinks that kind. Everybody else just drinks the green stuff," Shae tried to shrug it off.
"Well you have to do something, because Coach is noticing you've been distracted," Lena pointed out.
"I know," Shae said dejectedly. "I'll probably just end up watching her from afar for the next two years."
"Nah, we'll come up with something. Don't worry, ok?" Lena was smiling at her friend. Before Shae could ask her what "something" might consist of, she heard the coach's whistle.
"Grant, Perez, get in here," Coach K called. "Let's go, you two."
As the duo stood, Shae turned her head for one last look at the object of her affections. To her surprise, Jesse was looking back with a smile on her face. After smiling and giving a quick wave, Shae turned away from the bleachers and the two girls ran onto the court.
Shae threw a miniature basketball against the far wall every forty-five seconds as she and Lena sat on the couch in their apartment. Lena knew this, because she had been timing it for an hour.
'Would it be too much to ask for you to stop doing that some time soon?" Lena pleaded having finally reached the end of her patience." Otherwise, I'll have to either pop the ball or kill you."
"It's ok. You know, it's really not good for you to sit around moping about Jesse all the time," Lena advised her friend.
"I'm not moping, I'm thinking. There's a difference you know." Shae's voice sounded irritable.
"Fine, what were you thinking about?"
"Gee, who would have thunk it?"
"Oh shut up. This is serious. She's so sweet, not to mention adorable. Did you see her in that skirt today? Have you seen her legs? And those dimples? What am I going to do?" Shae finished just before dramatically throwing herself against the back of the couch.
"I know, I know. Yes, I've seen her legs. Yes, she's adorable. She's very sweet. Loooove the dimples. We'll figure something out, I promise," Lena said patting her friend on the shoulder. "Meanwhile, do you think you could possibly stop tossing that ball around the apartment? Please?"
"Yeah, no problem. I guess I'll go shoot some hoops or something for a while."
"Good idea," Lena encouraged Shae. "Be careful, and don't kiss any boys," Lena laughed at her own joke.
"I think I can manage that." Shae smiled back at her old friend before heading to her room to change into running clothes. Quickly changing into them, Shae grabbed her basketball, told Lena good bye and left the apartment.
Walking into the empty gym, Shae was taken with the silence. Without all the usual accruements, the athletes, athletic equipment, and fans, the gym seemed less imposing. Since student athletes were frequent visitors to the gym for extra practice, the University kept the gym open until ten each night. Shae had plenty of time before security would come and usher her out.
The gym had always been the place that Shae went to when she needed to lose herself for a while. Tonight, Shae tired of thinking and not coming up with any ideas on how to get close to Jesse, came to the gymnasium, to shoot hoops, practice the game she loved, and perhaps most importantly exhaust herself so she would have one dreamless night without Jesse in it.
The physical exertion helped clear Shae's head, and after a few minutes of shooting, Shae's focus narrowed to just the basketball and the basket. She dribbled up and down the court practicing her cross overs, spun for lay ups, shot three pointers from all around the basket and worked on her free throws. Lost in the physical effort, Shae was blissfully unaware of any world that existed outside the one right there in the gym.
Finally she began to tire and slowed down. After one particularly long shot that hit nothing but net, she heard clapping. Turning around, she saw Jesse applauding. Not sure if she was actually seeing her or if it was just wishful thinking, Shae closed her eyes briefly and opened them. Yup, she wasn't seeing things; Jesse was there, walking towards Shae, a smile on her face.
In Jesse's hand was a bottle of Gatorade X-Factor. Smiling, she handed it to Shae. "That was quite a workout. You must be thirsty."
Nodding her head, trying to catch her breath from the physical exertion, Shae took a drink of the ice cold Gatorade. "Thanks. What are you doing here?"
"After practice the three managers take turns rounding up equipment and doing the team laundry. Tonight was my night," Jesse informed Shae.
"That's a drag, I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry, I'm glad I was here tonight. I haven't seen you here at night before."
"I'm around on and off. I guess we must have missed each other." Shae felt her breathing finally beginning to calm. Looking at Jesse, a grin broke out on her face.
"What?" Jesse tipped her head to the side, looking at Shae's smile.
"What, what?" Shae couldn't stop beaming.
"You're smiling," Jesse told the other girl.
"So are you," Shae replied and Jesse was. As Jesse's grin grew, her dimples became more pronounced which caused Shae to smile more.
"I guess I am." Um, um, do youwannagetacokeoranotherGatoradeorcoffeeorsomething?" Jesse asked nervously.
Shae's smile grew even bigger. "Yeah, sure, that would be great. Give me a second and I'll help you finish up with whatever you're doing here."
"Ummm, actually, I'm finished. I was done a while ago, but I wanted to watch you." Jesse blushed.
"Yeah, really I I like to watch you play," Jesse admitted.
"Uh, Thank you?" Shae managed to get out, surprised by Jesse's words. "Uh can you give me a few minutes to shower? I must smell like a goat."
"Yeah, sure. I'll go grab my stuff, and meet you back here in ten?"
After Jesse left the gym to collect her belongings, Shae did a happy dance all the way to the girl's locker room. Quickly she picked up her phone, and dialed a familiar number.
"You are not going to believe what just happened," Shae skipped over the usual polite greetings.
"Jesse asked you to marry her?" Lena laughed.
"Not quite, but she did ask me out for coffee." Shae's smile was reflected in her voice.
"What are you talking about?" Lena asked, certain her friend had finally lost her mind.
"Jesse Asked Me Out!" Shae told Lena again. "Tonight! Right now!"
"Are you high?" Lena's tone was teasing. "Where are you?"
"The locker room. I have to go. Jesse is going to be back any minute. I have to shower."
"But, wait," was all Lena managed to say before Shae hung up the phone.
Quickly stripping off her sweaty work out clothes Shae jumped into the shower to get ready for what she wasn't quite sure was a date. However, the fact that it could be a date was enough for now.
A few minutes after the two girls parted, Shae was standing in front of the mirror in the locker room, trying to coax her wet hair into some semblance of style. Digging through her locker and backpack had not produced a hair brush, so Shae was using the finger comb method of hair dressing without much success. "That's as good as it's gonna look," she finally told herself.
With each passing second, Shae grew more and more nervous. Twice, she applied deodorant and the lavender body spray she always used, just in case they didn't work the first time. "Get it together, Grant," she said out loud to the girl in the mirror. With a final deep breath, she walked out of the locker room.
In the gym, Shae found Jesse waiting for her.
"Hey you," Shae said walking over to Jesse.
"Hey, back." Jesse grinned. "You ready?"
Shae thought Jesse's grin was adorable. "Absolutely, let's go."
The pair walked towards the gym doors, which Shae hurried to open for the other girl. "After you," she told Jesse. Walking to the outside doors, Shae again held the door open for Jesse, an act which widened Jesse's smile.
"Where do you want to go?" Jesse's nervousness had apparently passed. Walking next to Shae, she looked for all the world like the cat who swallowed the canary.
"Anywhere at all, I'm good with wherever you want to go," Shae assured her.
"Umm, let me think." Jesse hummed aloud. "How much do you trust me?" She looked over at her companion.
Hearing a deeper question in Jesse's voice, Shae stopped walking. Her hand touched Jesse's. With her other hand, she reached out to lightly touch Jesse's face. Turning Jesse's face to her own, Shae said softly, "I'd trust you with anything."
"Anything?" Jesse asked just as softly.
"Anything," Shae repeated, trying to make sure Jesse understood. "I swear."
"Why?" Jesse wanted to know.
"Because you're . you." Shae's fingertips gently mapped their way over Jesse's features, memorizing them, praying Jesse wouldn't turn away from the touch. She didn't. "Jesse, I I..." Shae's voice abandoned her.
"It's ok, Shae." Jesse's lips turned up in a smile. She covered Jesse's hand with her own. "It's ok," she repeated. With her free hand she gently brushed Shae's hair from her forehead.
"Yeah, it is. I promise."
"Do you know?" Shae's voice was husky with the effort of trying to get Jesse to believe in her.
Jesse nodded her head, "Yes, I know."
The touch of Shae's hand gave Jesse the courage to tell Shae everything. "I didn't know for sure until tonight. But I've hoped."
"Yes. I've hoped for a long time."
"But, we just met a few weeks ago." Shae's confusion was evident on her face.
"Yes, but that wasn't the beginning. Let's go in here." Jesse turned into the coffee shop they were passing.
Once the two were seated, Jesse continued. "I I have a confession to make."
"Yeah. Oh God, I can't believe I'm telling you this." Jesse's hand was trembling.
Shae covered Jesse's tremulous hand, gently rubbing the soft skin. "It's ok, Jesse. Whatever it is. You don't have to tell me if it makes you uncomfortable."
"No, I want to tell you. Ok, here goes. I saw you play when you were a senior." Jesse locked her fingers with Shae's.
"Yeah, I did. I need to go back a couple years." Jesse paused to take a deep breath. "Like you, I grew up with basketball except I didn't actually play. My sisters and my brothers did though. They all played for Broken Arrow. So, when you played us at home, I was at the game. You scored 35 points and went four for four from outside the circle. You were amazing. There was just something about you. I don't know how to describe it."
"I remember that game. I don't remember seeing you though."
"You wouldn't have. I was just one more person in the crowd. But seeing you, Jesus, it felt like being hit by lightning. I..I had to see you again."
"I don't understand."
"I started going to your games. I just wanted to see you. It wasn't just the way you played. It's the way you handled yourself. You have so much passion for everything. It shows who you are." Jesse looked down at the table and then shyly back up at Shae.
"After you graduated and went to Tennessee, I watched you on TV. I loved it. Watching the interviews was so cool. I don't think you know how impressive you are."
"Jesse, I didn't " Shae's voice trailed off.
"Of course you didn't know, Shae. There was no way that you would have. But, I was at the final four last year and watched you play. I was hoarse for a week from cheering for you." Jesse locked eyes with the other girl. "Oh God, you must think I'm a stalker."
"Oh no, I don't. I just wish I had known," Shae hurried to reassure her.
The waitress appeared at their table. Once she had taken their order, Jesse resumed her story. "I'd pretty much resigned myself to the fact that there was no way to actually meet you. I'd just watch you in awe like the rest of the world. Then, I heard you were transferring. I couldn't believe it. I'd already gotten the manager gig to help with my tuition, so all of a sudden I could see you every day at practice and games. I could even talk to you, and watch you up close. Get to know you. I couldn't believe my luck."
"Once I actually met you, I just fell harder. I mean, Jesus. You're smart, funny, loving, gracious, persistent, and if you don't know it, you are very, very sexy." Jesse's cheeks reddened as she made the admission, but her eyes never left Shae's. "You turned out to be everything I wanted. My best dream coming to life."
This time it was Shae who blushed. "The first time I saw you, I couldn't breathe. You were so beautiful."
Jesse's eye's lit up; it seemed her dreams were becoming reality. "The more I watched you, the more I wanted to know you, all of you."
Shae knew she had to come clean. "I've been driving Lena crazy all year, trying to figure out a way to talk to you."
"I've been trying to get closer to you. I've known I liked girls forever, but you were the first one I ever fell for." Jesse paused in her story as the waitress brought them their coffee. As soon as the woman left, she began again.
"I wasn't even sure if you were gay or not. I just did whatever I could think of to get closer to you without freaking you out. It was so cute, the way you got so shy around me. Sometimes I would catch you watching me when I wasn't looking. I thought maybe you liked me, but, I just wasn't sure if it was wishful thinking."
"Oh yeah, I definitely like girls. Actually, one girl in particular. I couldn't keep my eyes off you. I about got kicked off the team for being so distracted from watching you .I wanted to find out everything about you. I'm I'm crazy about you."
"I'm crazy about you too. When I found you tonight in the gym, I decided this was it, and I'd ask you out."
"I'm glad you did. Otherwise, we might have kept muddling around and not getting anywhere."
"So, is it ok?"
"Are you kidding? This is wonderful, amazing, beyond my dreams."
"Whew " Jesse let out a huge breath. "So, tell me everything about you." Both girls smiled at the possibilities that now existed.
Walking into the room where two six year old twins were jumping on the bed throwing a basketball back and forth, Shae grabbed the ball from mid air. "Come on, you two. It's past your bedtime," Shae announced.
"But, Mom, you just got home. Can't we stay up?" the two girls asked in unison.
"You already stayed up late. The season is over. So we'll have lots of time to spend together," Shae reassured them. Lifting them one at a time, she tucked each girl into bed.
"Will you tell us a story?"
"Uhh, I'm not too good at stories. That's more Mama's forte."
"You tell us. Tell us how you met Mama. Pleaassee." Erin and Bailey put on their cutest faces, the ones they knew Shae was never able to resist.
"Hmm, I'm not sure I remember that. How does that story go?" she teased.
"Once upon a time," Erin started.
"There was a basketball princess, who wanted to find a fairy princess," Bailey took over.
"Oh, that story. Ok. The basketball princess was lonely and wanted to find the one fairy princess that would make her life perfect. She couldn't find her. So she went to Volunteer Land, but she didn't find her princess there either."
"What did she do, Mom?"
"Well, she decided to go home, and look there for the beautiful princess she wanted. One day, she walked into the magic gym where the basketball princesses would go to play. And what do you think she found there?"
"The beautiful fairy princess," the girls said together.
"She saw the beautiful fairy princess," Shae confirmed. For the next 10 minutes she told them the same fairy tale she had told them from the day they were born.
At the end of the fable, she asked. "What do you think happened?"
"They lived happily ever after." Erin and Bailey knew the story well.
"They sure did," said a voice from the doorway. Looking over, Shae saw the woman of her dreams standing there, leaning against the door jamb. "You spoil them," Jesse teased her wife. Coming into the room, she joined Shae in tucking in their daughters
"And you don't?" Shae teased back. "Ok girls, off to dream land with you. Give me and Mama a kiss goodnight."
After kisses and hugs and several "I love you's" the girls settled down. Leaning over, Shae turned on their angel night light. "Good night, my girls."
After Shae pulled the door closed, she took hold of Jesse's hand. "Hey, you," she said softly.
"Hey, back," Jesse gave Shae a brief kiss, and led them into the living room. The room was lit by candles, and a fire was burning in the fireplace. Taking off her robe, Jesse revealed the black teddy she was wearing.
"Oh, my." Shae whistled.
Jesse took her hand and led the two to the couch facing the fire. Laying them down, she whispered, "The girls aren't the only ones who missed you." She leaned in to give Shae a long, very passionate kiss.
"I think you kinda like me."
"I think maybe I do."
"Well, I might need some convincing."
"I can be very convincing," Shae's hands were roaming over Jesse's back, moving around to caress Jesse's face.
"You certainly can be," Jesse affirmed, her breath starting to come harder. "I love you,"
"I love you too," Shae answered back. "We're so lucky."
"Tell me the story, please." Jesse gasped in response to Shae's touch. "Tell me while you're touching me."
"Well, Once Upon a time " Shae began, losing herself in the beauty of this moment.
It was a long time until the two were still, peaceful in what they shared. "And they lived happily ever after," Shae whispered.
"They lived happily ever after," Jesse said again, as the two drifted off to sleep wrapped in each other's arms.
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