“The way she’s been glued to you all night, I thought we were going to have to use a crowbar to pry you two apart.”
Jordan looked over at Dan, who had a teasing grin on her face. Leah had gone to get more drinks and Dan had immediately jumped at the opportunity to indulge in her favorite pastime — bugging Jordan to finally ask her out. She looked around the table carefully, worried someone would hear too much, but all of her teammates were involved in other conversations, in various states of inebriation. It was their weekly “bonding” night at the local pub after training, which really just meant the team got collectively wasted on the club’s dime.
“Sod off, DC,” Jordan waved her off, but kept smiling nonetheless. Dan wasn’t wrong — Leah had been noticeably clingy all night, constantly draping herself over the smaller midfielder and never missing a chance to laugh with — or often, at — Jordan. Maybe Jordan's efforts were finally getting somewhere. After all, she had been trying to flirt with Leah for months now, slowly edging their friendship closer and closer as she searched for a sign that her feelings were mutual.
But before the conversation could go much further, Leah returned, letting out a dramatic groan as she dropped down unceremoniously into the chair next to Jordan, who began rubbing her back absentmindedly by instinct.
“What’s got you in such a state?” Beth asked, reaching over the table to poke at the blonde defender. “DJ wouldn’t play your favorite country song?”
Leah just held up her middle finger as the table laughed. “Ha, ha, Meado. No, I just ran into James, you know, the new bloke on the coaching staff?”
“Oh right,” Katie chimed in. “Aren’t you two friends? You’re always talking together after lifting. Looking for something more?” She waggled her eyebrows suggestively for emphasis. Jordan frowned. She had also seen the two of them together, often finding Leah chatting with the young, fit new strength trainer before Jordan unsubtly beckoned her away so that they could go home. She hadn’t suspected anything, though, and was now beginning to wonder if she should have.
“Yeah, he’s given me a lot of tips on how to train and we got coffee once or twice in the lounge together but it was always football talk. Now he’s just gone and tried to kiss me, and everything’s going to be weird now. This always happens to me — first Mason and then Evan and now James, it’s getting bloody annoying. God! Can’t I just make one proper friend who doesn’t have to go and catch feelings for me? ”
Jordan felt as if a bucket of cold water had suddenly been poured over her. Her whole body went numb and the arm she had so effortlessly slung over the back of Leah’s chair just moments earlier now felt clunky and forced. As she sat, frozen, the conversation continued.
“Yeah, must be awful being so attractive and having people liking you,” Dan deadpanned. “What a difficult life you lead.”
“Oh, shut up,” Leah waved her off. “You know what I mean. Look, I’m flattered, I’m just saying it would be nice not to have to second guess every bloke’s intentions all the time so we can have a nice, normal, friendship.”
“Can’t really blame them, girlie, you’re such a catch!” Lisa pointed out, as Viv nodded next to her girlfriend. Her arm around Lisa was a painful reminder of the crucial difference between the two pairs. “Really, you could have anyone in this bar. Don’t let a few bad experiences getcha down!”
Leah shook her head. “I’m not looking for just ‘anyone’, though. I’m tired of people wanting me just because they think I’m pretty or a footballer, and I’m not going to fall into someone’s arms just because they confess they think they love me or some rubbish like that.”
Jordan stood up abruptly. “I’m going to get some water,” she mumbled. Not that she really needed it, since she already felt significantly more sober than she had at the start of the conversation, but she needed something to do. At the bar, she saw Caitlin lean in to whisper something to Lia, who looked back at the Australian with a shy smile and clearly smitten eyes. How the new transfer had managed to sweep in and instantly charm the usually calm and quiet Lia was still a mystery to Jordan. Was every damn player on the squad in a relationship, she thought to herself.
Leah’s words ran on repeat in her mind: I’m not looking for anyone. Of course she didn’t want a relationship. Really, Jordan should’ve seen it coming. It wasn’t the first time Leah had complained about having to turn down yet another clueless would-be suitor. Besides, out of all the people falling at her feet Jordan would probably be the last one she’d choose.
She took a long sip of her water before rejoining the table and tried not to be affected when Leah lit up, beaming at her and immediately molding herself to Jordan’s side when she sat down. Across the table, Daan raised an eyebrow at her questioningly. Those Dutchies could be more observant than Jordan gave them credit for, but she shook her head anyway. Just friends, Jordan reminded herself. Even with the blonde half sprawled across her lap, Jordan realized Leah would only act like this if she felt comfortable enough with Jordan — as a friend, who she trusted not to the unforgivable mistake of catching feelings and fucking everything up. All these people falling for Leah obviously bothered her in some way — Jordan could sense the frustration earlier in her voice. If all Leah wanted from her was a friend, then she would be the best damn friend the blonde could ever need.
As Jordan tried to wrangle Leah into the Uber Beth had called for them, she realized the blonde had gotten more drunk than she’d thought over the course of the night.
“Jord,” Leah slurred, stumbling slightly as she ducked into the backseat of the car. “M’tired.”
“Yeah, Lee. Me too,” Jordan rubbed her back encouragingly as she helped her in. “We’ll be home soon.”
“Your home,” Leah mumbled into Jordan’s shoulder. She frowned questioningly, searching Leah’s face for any indication of what she meant. Had she completely forgotten that they lived together? But Leah had her head pressed against her side, practically folding herself into Jordan, with her long legs curled up in the backseat. She was just drunk, Jordan thought. And half-asleep, from the looks of it, saving her from having to respond. Not that she’d really know what to say, anyway. All Jordan could think about was that Leah was right, in a way, even if she didn’t know it. Leah was home to Jordan.
Finally, Jordan was gently guiding Leah into her bedroom in their shared flat. She quickly scrubbed off the sleepy blonde’s makeup and helped her change into her pajamas, a routine that was becoming slowly more familiar each time the team went out for drinks. As always, although she had seen Leah’s body plenty of times before in dressing rooms and team showers, she pointedly kept her eyes on her face. As she tucked her into bed, though, Leah grabbed her arm in a vice-like grip. “Stay?”
Jordan paused. In another world, she would already be beside her. It wasn’t like they hadn’t shared a bed before, holding each other on particularly hard nights after losses or setbacks. But they never talked about it in the morning, and Jordan wasn’t sure she could take any more blurring of the lines. “Lee…”
“Please?” Her blue eyes were wide and pleading. Jordan sighed. She never was good at saying no to Leah. “Budge over, then.” The soft, half-lidded smile Leah gave as she made space for Jordan under the covers was enough to make it worth it. Soon, Jordan lay there, staring at the ceiling, her arm still under Leah’s neck and the sleeping defender’s leg draped over her own. Only then did it occur to her that perhaps she had misunderstood Leah in the Uber. Maybe she had said, “You’re home.” Was it possible that Leah returned her feelings? No. Jordan squeezed her eyes shut. In this position, it was easy to pretend that it was real. Easy to pretend that she could wake up with Leah next to her every morning and lean in for a kiss, make her breakfast, hold her hand, all the things that Jordan wanted. Hell, they already did half the things she dreamed of — but all, of course, only as friends. Better to have her like this than not all, she thought. Now she just had to find a way to get over the part of her that would always be longing for more.
When Jordan woke up, Leah’s leg was still on top of her own and the defender was loosely gripping her shirt. She was a deep sleeper, though, and Jordan managed to quietly extricate herself before padding into her own room across the hall, where she finally changed out of her clothes from last night into comfier sweats.
Jordan was already on her second cup of tea and just beginning to dig into some pancakes when Leah finally emerged, rubbing her eyes and yawning. She took the aspirin and water Jordan had left out on the counter eagerly. “Thanks, Jord.”
Jordan just nodded, not trusting herself to open her mouth and say anything just yet. She still had the scent of Leah’s sheets in her mind. Just friends just friends just friends, she repeated to herself, as if the words would burn into her mind and she could somehow believe them.
At training, Jordan let herself become absorbed in the drills, running until the feeling of the ball at her feet was all she could focus on. She was playing well, even earning an approving nod or two from Joe, but it just felt like her body was going mechanically through the motions. At water breaks, she made sure to casually keep her distance from Leah, standing instead by Katie, who was surprisingly sprightly for the amount of pints Jordan had seen her chug last night.
“Irish blood,” Katie boasted when asked, “I can handle a little Guinness.”
“But a Littlejohn and you’re gone, eh?” Louise quipped, a sly grin as the team’s laughter drowned out her fellow Irish teammate’s spluttering. Jordan chuckled along, but still felt a slight pang as she resisted catching Leah’s eyes like she normally would. How was she supposed to get over her when she couldn’t even hear a joke without immediately looking over to watch Leah laughing too?
Back at the flat, Jordan was relieved to remember that Leah was going out with Keira for the night, the two of them having a “besties” dinner in London. Some time alone would be good — she would make some pasta, maybe work on her coaching badges with a Premiere League rerun in the background, and try to think about something else besides a certain blonde defender for a while.
She tried to stay casually unaffected as she waved Leah out, assuring her that she looked ready for a night out — that was no lie, as Leah was dressed fashionably as usual in a chic black dress that ended at mid-thigh and, as Jordan learned when she turned to go out the door, was backless.
Jordan shut the door behind her quickly, hoping Leah didn’t look back to see her face suddenly heating up furiously. Letting out a deep breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, Jordan moved into the kitchen to begin making dinner. Just as the pasta was almost done, though, her phone rang. She frowned, looking hesitantly away from the boiling pot to the vibrating screen. Leah would probably still be driving to meet Keira right now. But it wasn’t Leah’s name on her caller ID: it was Lucy Bronze.
“‘Ello?” She picked up. “Lucy? Everything alright?”
“Hey, Jord,” Lucy’s voice filtered through the speaker. “Is Leah with Keira right now? They’re going for dinner tonight, aren’t they?”
“Yeah,” Jordan nodded absentmindedly as she strained the pasta. “She just left about 15 minutes ago, probably be meeting her soon. It’s their ‘besties’ night.”
“Right, right,” Lucy said. “Look, I’ve driven up from Lyon to surprise her for the weekend, but she’s gone and locked her flat before leaving — first time in her life, I swear, she picks now of all times to be responsible.” Even through the phone, though, Jordan could hear the fondness behind her exasperation. “I can’t be waiting out here all night for those two to come back. Would it be alright if I waited it out at your place? Once Leah comes back, I’ll get out of your way and head right back over to Keira’s.”
Jordan didn’t hesitate. “Of course, Lucy, come on over. I’ve just made some pasta, too, if you haven’t eaten yet. You’d better just stay the night, you know it’ll be some ungodly hour by the time those two get back.”
“God, Jord, thanks, I owe you one. Are you sure, though? I don’t want to interrupt... I mean, impose on you and Leah…”
“Luce, really, it’s no problem. I didn’t have any plans anyway, it’ll be good to have someone to keep me from eating all this. There’s nothing to interrupt, I promise.”
There was a pause from the other end of the line, and Jordan somehow had the inexplicable feeling that Lucy was judging her through the silence.
“Right. Well, thanks, Jord. I think I still have your address in my phone, I’ll be over soon. Save me some pasta, alright?”
Jordan agreed, and then the call ended. She thought back to Lucy’s words. What had she meant by "interrupt"? Did she think Jordan and Leah were… what? Sleeping together? Well, she wasn’t technically wrong. But the Lyon right back had seemed to have the impression that Leah and Jordan were some kind of couple. Jordan thought carefully about their past interactions.
She and Lucy weren’t close, necessarily, but the two had had a kind of unspoken understanding ever since Jordan had caught Lucy staring at Keira a few too many times at one of the Lionesses camps. Lucy later admitted to Jordan, her roommate that camp, that ever since playing together at Man City she had been unable to get the talented young midfielder off her mind. Jordan knew what she meant, herself often thinking of the other young blonde attached at the hip to Keira.
They had never discussed their respective love lives again, although they had gone on a few joint outings when Lucy and Keira had started officially dating and Leah brought along Jordan so that she wouldn’t have to third-wheel. Nobody ever referred to them as double dates, but they admittedly did feel like that, especially as they unconsciously tended to mirror the other couples’ position — Leah resting her head on Jordan’s shoulder, as Keira did the same with Lucy, across from them. Maybe Lucy had assumed that Jordan, like her, had sealed the deal with the teammate of her affections.
Before she could muse on this further, the buzzer rang. Within a few minutes, Lucy was kicking off her Nikes by the front door, overnight bag slung over her shoulder.
“Hey, Jordan,” she said. “Thanks again for letting me crash.”
“‘Course,” replied Jordan. “What are-” she started to say teammates, but felt it wasn’t quite fitting, “friends for?”
“Right,” Lucy flashed her signature easygoing smile, giving no indication that she had sensed Jordan’s stumble. “Dinner smells great. Pasta, you said?”
“Yeah, here, serve yourself,” Jordan handed her a plate. “I’ll toss your bag in the guest room.”
“Thanks,” Lucy said, passing off the small duffel. “Are you sure there’s enough for both of us? I know you were probably only planning to cook for one tonight.”
Jordan waved her hand. “I always cook extra, better to use the whole pot and have leftovers than not enough. Honestly, I’m glad you came so we can finish it off tonight. Usually I have to separate the portions, with and without sauce, because Leah likes it practically plain.”
Lucy just nodded amusedly. “Well, say no more,” she chuckled as she began spooning the cheesy baked pasta onto her plate. Jordan quickly ducked away to drop the duffel in their guest room before joining her. As she filled her own plate, she blurted out, “We’re not dating, you know. Me and Leah.”
Lucy looked up, confusion flashing briefly across her face. “Oh. Sorry if I implied, earlier... I mean, I wasn’t sure, but…”
“Right, yeah. It’s fine, we’re not- I mean, we’re fine. And not dating. And it’s fine.” Jordan wished she could stop talking.
Lucy looked at her carefully. “Not to pry or anything, but… is everything alright?”
Jordan sighed, unable to help a rueful smile. Although they had never explicitly acknowledged it, she knew Lucy was aware of her feelings for Leah. “Yeah, sorry. I’ve just been, er, a little stressed lately. I’m trying to finally accept that Leah’s not interested in, you know, dating. Or me.”
Lucy was surprised. “What? You’re giving up?”
“This isn’t- it’s not like that,” Jordan insisted. “She just wants to be friends, I’m not going to fuck that up.”
“She told you that?”
“Well- not exactly. She turned down the new strength trainer the other night at the pub and went on this rant about how she’s sick of rejecting people falling all over her who only like her for her looks and how she’s not looking for anyone. I figured I’d pick up the hint.”
Lucy frowned. “But you’re not like all those idiots, Jord. You and Leah have known each other for ages. I mean, you do like her for more than her looks, don’t you?”
“Of course,” Jordan said, mildly offended. “She’s so much more than that, she-”
“Okay,” Lucy said, holding up her hands. “You don’t need to convert me, I was just checking. Well, your feelings for her are obviously deeper than some regular chav, and she’ll see that. But really, it’s odd that she said that. Every time Keira tells her about something we’ve done, Leah’s always saying how she wished someone would do that for her, or how she wants someone to do romantic things with, or how jealous she is of our relationship — I mean, can’t blame her,” Lucy grins, “but really, I can’t believe she said she’s not looking for anyone.”
At Jordan’s odd look, Lucy explained: “Keira hates holding the phone up to her face. She always has it on speaker phone. I’m not trying to listen in to this stuff, it’s mostly all ‘remember at u14s when Molly did this or that’ anyway. But it’s not like I can avoid it in her tiny flat.” Lucy’s face takes on a small, seemingly unconscious smile, and not for the first time Jordan finds herself envying the tanned full back’s easy confidence and the security of her relationship with Keira.
Lucy sensed that Jordan was at a loss for words while she was processing what Lucy had said. “Well, just something to think about, Jordan. Maybe you’ve still got a chance. This pasta is really good, by the way. Will you send me the recipe? Maybe I’ll make it for Keira.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jordan replied, shaking herself out of her daze. “Enough about me, how are you and Keira, anyway? Driving all the way up from Lyon to surprise her, I never thought you were such a romantic.”
“Me either,” Lucy laughed. The conversation quickly turned light again, with Lucy taking her chance to talk about Keira — reservedly at first, but increasingly more passionately as Jordan encouraged her. As the night went on, Jordan found she didn’t mind hearing about her teammates’ relationship as she thought would have. She found herself genuinely happy for Lucy and Keira. Regardless of whatever happened between her and Leah, these two clearly loved each other and Jordan couldn’t fault them for that. Eventually, the pasta and a bottle of wine gone, the two retired amicably to their own respective rooms for the night, and Jordan knew that she could now call Lucy a friend without hesitation.
In the morning, Jordan was the first to wake, as usual, and set about her routine of making the first cuppa of the day. Surprisingly, though, she had only begun putting on the kettle to boil when Leah stumbled into the kitchen, much earlier than her typical time.
“Morning, Lee,” Jordan greeted. “Fancy some tea?”
“Who’s the girl?” came the response. Jordan looked up, surprised. Leah’s face was hard. “What?”
“Don’t play dumb, Jordan. The shoes. In the hallway,” Leah gestured accusatorily. “Look, it’s fine- ” Jordan privately thought that it was sounding like quite the opposite of fine “-I just thought we agreed we’d tell each other when we were going to bring someone home.”
Now it was Jordan’s turn to be indignant. They’d never had such an agreement — not that Jordan would ever need it — but now Leah was acting like Jordan had betrayed her somehow. “I don’t see why you’re so bothered,” Jordan snapped, “it’s not like-” Not like they weren’t what? Exclusive? For a second, she thought she saw something like hurt on Leah’s face before Lucy walked into the kitchen, bag in hand, completely unaware of the sudden tension into the room.
“Morning, guys. Oh hey, Leah, you’re back.”
Jordan had to stifle a laugh into her mug at the pure surprise in Leah’s eyes.
“Morning, Lucy. Er, what are you doing here?” Her voice was tight.
Lucy caught Jordan’s eye for a split-second, minutely raising her eyebrow as if to say “see?” before smiling easily at Leah. “Oh, Jordan didn’t mention? I drove up last night to surprise Keira but she actually locked her flat for once so Jord let me crash here for the night instead. I’ll be leaving now, don’t worry.”
Leah visibly relaxed, slipping back into her usual self as she aimed a mock annoyed glare at Jordan. “No, she must’ve forgot to text me-” Jordan had the decency to look sheepish “-but of course, Luce, you’re welcome anytime.”
“Thanks, guys. Well, I’d better get over there. Cheers!” Lucy grabbed her keys and was gone with a quick wave goodbye. Maybe she had noticed the tension. Leah and Jordan were left standing there in the same position, neither of them saying anything for a moment.
“They were Luce’s shoes,” Jordan eventually said, although clearly unnecessary now.
“Right. I got that, funnily enough.” Leah’s voice, although no longer harsh, seemed somehow distant. “I’m going to go back to bed.”
Jordan watched her walk away, and suddenly realized she never wanted to feel like that again — like she was helpless while everything slipped away, like she had lost something by trying to save it.
“Leah, wait.” As Leah turned, Jordan felt everything move in slow motion, and took a deep breath. She was terrified of what might come next, but she knew now she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t risk it. “Can we talk?”
Leah, to Jordan’s weird relief, looked as nervous as Jordan felt.
“About what?” she said, but did come closer, so that they were only a few metres away.
Leah frowned. “For what?”
Jordan felt a lump growing in her throat and silently cursed her inability to keep her emotions controlled. Still, her voice was calm as she continued.
“Remember the other night at the pub? When James asked you out?”
“I... I think I’ve made the same mistake. I’m so sorry, Leah. I’ve gone and fucked everything up. But I can’t hide anymore.” This was the point of no return, Jordan knew.
In just a few long strides, Leah closed the space between them. She was standing right in front of Jordan now, staring at her intently.
“What are you saying, Jord?”
Jordan swallowed. “I think I’m in love with you, Leah.”
And then before she could continue and say something like Just reject me and be done with it or I know you don’t feel the same way or Please don’t hate me, Leah’s lips were on hers and Jordan’s brain, for once, went silent. She leaned up, pressing desperately into Leah, who in return tilted her head to deepen the kiss.
When they finally pulled apart, Jordan was the first to recover: “I- what? I thought you said you weren’t looking for anyone.”
“You idiot,” Leah smiled tearily. “I said I wasn’t looking for just anyone. You’re not just anyone, Jord. All those boys I rejected — I wasn’t upset because they liked me, I was upset because they weren’t you. You’re the only one I want.”
Jordan couldn’t stop smiling. They had both been such idiots. “Well, next time maybe don’t hint at it by saying you wish your friends would stop catching feelings for you.”
Leah shook her head, mirroring Jordan’s smile. “It’s true, really. I don’t want my friends catching feelings for me, that’s just awkward. But that doesn’t apply to you — because I don’t want to be just friends.”
Instead of replying, Jordan just kissed Leah again. What more was there to say? All this time, she had been worrying about the labels on their relationship — just teammates, just friends, just lovers. But she had only ever needed one. They were just Jordan and Leah, like they always had been.