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Wake Me Up Slowly

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Today

May 2017

 

Kelley finished off her beer in the crowded bar, the sweat of the glass cold and damp against her fingers. She felt her lips turn up into a half-smile, trying her best to look interested in the conversation flowing around the small table. She was sitting with some of her Sky Blue teammates and the Spirit players who had invited them out for drinks after their game earlier that evening.

It had been a tough away match against the Spirit, resulting in a 4-3 loss for the New Jersey team. Despite Kelley scoring a goal and getting an assist, it was hard to be happy with her performance when her team hadn’t walked away with all three points. She was tired and her legs were heavy, and she found herself counting down the minutes until it would be socially acceptable for her to call an Uber and head back to the hotel. She wiped her now damp hand on her black jeans and leaned over to tell Sam she was heading to the bar. The Australian gave her a quick thumbs up, and then Kelley was walking away from the table, into the crowds of people. As she navigated across the busy dance floor, she told herself she’d only have one more drink and then call it a night.

Finally reaching her destination, she leant against the wooden counter and waited as the bartender made his way over to take her order. As her drink was being prepared, she let her eyes wander around the room, taking in the people who had also come out on the cool Saturday evening. Most of the tables were full and the dance floor was packed. There were the typical groups of students who barely looked old enough to buy drinks; the circle of middle-aged ladies who were probably having a well-deserved night out at the end of a long week, and the countless men and women dressed to the nines, all of whom were probably out with the intention to not going home alone tonight.

As she continued to people watch, she heard a loud laugh from a table behind her, sharp over the bass of the music in the room. Usually, she would have minded her own business, but for some reason the noise sounded familiar. It triggered something in Kelley and suddenly memories from years prior came rushing back; the wild giggle sounding just like the laugh of that one girl that Kelley used to know.

High-school-Kelley had made it her mission to hear that laugh as often as possible; on the soccer field, in the library, in the school halls. Kelley had sought this girl out every day and tried to make her smile however she could, even if it was at her own expense once or twice. Kelley hadn’t thought about this girl in a long time, but she couldn’t help the way her heart pounded a little harder at the idea of them both being in the same room, all these years later.

Before she could stop herself, her head spun to find the source of the giggle, and she froze when her gaze landed on the girl sitting there.

“No fucking way,” the soccer player whispered under her breath.

She blinked hard, not believing her eyes, as she watched the woman sat only a few yards away. She was on a small circular table, with two other girls. Her friends weren’t facing the bar, so Kelley didn’t feel quite as creepy as she studied the blonde woman across the room from her, knowing that at least her company wouldn’t pick up on her staring.

She looked a lot different than when Kelley had last seen her in person, but it was undoubtedly her. Undoubtedly the girl who was always on her mind when she was younger. Undoubtedly the girl who Kelley had not-so-secretly crushed on for most of their friendship. The girl who made teenage-Kelley realise that liking other girls in that way was possible, and that it was okay.

Her blonde hair was thrown up in that perfect messy bun she had always sported. As she smiled, her eyes creased up in the same adorable way they had since she was a teenager. Even from so far away Kelley could see the dusting of freckles over her cheeks and down her arms – the freckles that were always so prominent in the hot Georgia summers.

She was dressed casually, a white tee cuffed at the sleeves, with a pair of simple black jeans. Her arms were toned, and Kelley couldn’t help the way her eyes fell to the tight muscles of her forearm as she gripped her drink.

She’s beautiful, Kelley thought. Holy shit... she’s actually here.

Kelley wiped her palms on her jeans again, this time in a desperate attempt to calm her sudden nerves, and took a deep breath in, trying to slow her mind. She got dragged out of her thoughts by the bartender placing her drink down in front of her, and she quickly tore her eyes from the woman across the room to fumble in her purse and pull out a few bills to pay for her drink.

After taking a long sip of the cold beer, she turned her head back. Kelley felt relieved when she realised the woman was still sitting there - that she hadn’t been a figment of her imagination.

Her heart continued to pound in her chest, echoing the bass of the loud music in the room. Then, it practically skipped a beat when she realised that now those ocean blue eyes were staring right back at her.

Everything in the room seemed to slow down as they looked at each other, and Kelley felt herself smiling. The woman staring back at her lifted her own cup to her lips, raising her eyebrows in Kelley’s direction as she drank. Kelley could see her smiling behind her glass. As she set her drink back down, she sent Kelley a wink, before one of her friends caught her attention again.

Kelley was frozen, desperately wanting to go over and say hello to the girl she once knew, but before she could make a decision an arm slung over her shoulder, as a couple of her teammates joined her at the bar. She immediately got sucked into their conversation, as the girls talked about their plans for the following week.

A few minutes later Kelley glanced a look back at the table behind her, only to see the group of women now standing, finishing off their drinks and shouldering their bags, evidently ready to leave.

Disappointment washed over her, as she felt the chance to talk to this girl completely slip away. If she had stuck around for another ten minutes, the soccer player may have finally worked up enough courage to go and say hello. Kelley wanted to buy her a drink, to ask her how she’d been over the last decade since they’d last seen one another. To ask her how they had lost touch. To ask her how they had gone from best friends - from more than best friends - to strangers, so quickly once Kelley had left for college.

Kelley felt her shoulders sag in defeat. She drained her beer and placed the empty glass on the bar, before sulking behind her group of friends as they headed back to their table.

Just as she was about to sit down and pull out her phone to order an Uber, a soft hand settled on her upper arm, gently turning her around. Kelley froze, staring into those blue eyes which were now only inches away from her.

Those eyes were full of questions, full of nostalgia, and full of a little bit of hope. The fingers on her bicep dropped to find her hand. The gesture was so deeply familiar and felt so natural, even though it had been so long since they had held one another.

The blonde girl had always been a little bit taller than Kelley, even in high school, but the brunette now had to look up to meet her eyes when they were this close together. It was a painful reminder that they had been out of each other’s lives for so long.

Their fingers tangled together, and the contact sent a small shiver up her spine. Kelley just stared at the woman - she’s so beautiful, she thought again - before her eyes dropped to their joined hands. She felt herself start to smile. Soft and a little shy.

The woman tugged her hand gently, and then Kelley was being pulled away from her table, following her towards the edge of the dance floor, where they had a small amount of privacy in the crowd of people. Kelley’s eyes fell to the small cross tattooed on the back of her neck as they walked - the ink a further reminder of all the time that had passed. She wanted to relearn everything she could about this woman. It wasn’t until this moment that Kelley realised just how much she had missed her.

Once they had stopped walking Kelley pulled on her hand, so she was facing her again. They spent a long moment just looking at each other. Kelley let her eyes wander over the girl’s face, not believing she was still stood right in front of her, after so many years.

Almost urgently, Kelley pulled her into a bone crushing hug, her arms looping around the taller girl’s neck. She felt strong hands circle low around her waist, pulling her closer, holding her tight. Kelley relaxed into the embrace, burying her face into her shoulder, as they swayed to the R&B song playing over the sound system.

They hadn’t seen each other since they were teenagers, so the girl felt a little different than Kelley remembered. Aside from her taller stature, the curve of her hips and the swell of her breasts were a little more prominent than they had been all those years ago. Kelley was smiling into the crook of her neck. Her face a little flushed. Slowly, she took a tiny step back to look up into her eyes, finding her hand mindlessly drifting to cup her jaw as she pulled their foreheads together.

Kelley took a deep breath in, trying to compose herself before she finally spoke up.

“Emily…”

 

*

 

Eleven years ago

July 2006

 

“YES SONNY!” Kelley yelled as the ball finally bounced off the crossbar. Emily had been trying to complete the challenge for the last fifteen minutes, to the soundtrack of supportive cheers from her best friend. Kelley had been working on her juggling from across the backyard and would let out a dramatic groan every time the blonde’s ball hit the net or sailed into the fence behind the goalposts.

Emily punched her arms above her head in celebration and laughed wildly as Kelley charged towards her; the older girl’s brunette flyaways wild in the late evening breeze, her cheeks flushed red from exertion. Kelley reached her and jumped on the slightly taller girl with a shriek. Emily’s hands immediately found Kelley’s thighs, holding her up, spinning the girl around, as they celebrated. Emily eventually let Kelley down, but the older girl kept her hands locked around Emily’s neck, not letting her go too far.

They were both sweaty and exhausted after the hours they’d been kicking the ball around in Kelley’s backyard, but Emily treasured moments like this, so she didn’t let Kelley out of her embrace. Kelley was still laughing quietly as Emily’s hands smoothed down the hem of her shirt, which had ridden up a little in her excitement. She kept her hands on her lower back, thumbs just dipping under the fabric, hands cool against Kelley’s skin. The brunette exhaled into Emily’s neck, leaning heavy into her arms.

“Going to miss this,” she whispered. “Going to miss you, Em,” the seventeen year old quietly admitted. Emily’s heart ached at Kelley’s words, and she just held her tighter, unsure of what to say.

“Going to miss you too, Kell,” she responded. She felt tears prick at the back of her eyes when she thought about Kelley’s imminent departure.

It was stupid, Emily thought. She knew that Kelley was older than her, and she knew that she’d be heading off to college once she had graduated high school. She had been counting down the time they had left together since the soccer star had officially committed to Stanford the previous fall. It was stupid to be so upset about this.

Not wanting her emotions to ruin their last night together, Emily forced a quiet laugh.

“Ok Sweaty, time for a shower,” she joked, poking Kelley in the ribs, making the shorter girl squirm out of her grip.

Kelley laughed and turned to look at her friend. Emily’s hair was falling out of her messy blonde bun and Kelley lifted a hand to tuck a loose strand behind her ear. Emily leaned into the touch as Kelley spoke.

“I’ll be round yours in 10?” she questioned quietly. Emily nodded, running a hand softly over Kelley’s hip before she turned to head back to her own house.

-

Emily Sonnett had met Kelley O’Hara four years ago, when her family had moved into the house next door, in the quiet community of Peachtree City, Georgia. Their two families had become fast friends, and when Emily realised that the middle O’Hara child was also a huge soccer fan the pair became inseparable. They spent hours together kicking the ball around, doing anything to improve their game. 

When Emily started high school, at the beginning of Kelley’s junior year, their time in the backyard quickly turned into study sessions together. It wasn’t rare for Karen O’Hara to walk into her home to see the two girls sitting at the kitchen table, wearing practice shorts and soccer cleats, finishing off homework, eager to get their chores completed so they could play outside all evening.

They didn’t really hang out in school. Although Emily was only fifteen months younger than Kelley, the girls were two grades apart so had completely opposite schedules and different groups of friends. They would exchange pleasantries in the hallways, or when they saw each other in the cafeteria. Occasionally, they would meet in the library if one of them needed extra motivation to be productive, but typically their interactions were limited to the privacy of their own homes. They were both on the soccer team so they did get to see each other at practice.

Emily tried to keep her distance from Kelley at school anyway. She didn’t want the older girl to find her annoying – her goofy, younger neighbor who was always hanging around.

Emily can’t remember a time when she didn’t have a crush on Kelley O’Hara. Granted, it had taken her a good amount of time to realise that the feelings she had towards her older friend were the romantic kind, but she knew they had always been there. Early on in their friendship she had attributed those feelings to being a bad friend to Kelley; one who was always clingy and got jealous when Kelley wanted to spend her free time with other people.

She would feel the typical stab in her gut when she’d see the brunette laughing with her friends in the cafeteria or when she’d see her walking in the halls with the boyfriend she’d had in sophomore year - the one she’d dated for just under a year before she’d called it off.

It wasn’t until just after the pair had broken up that the sudden realisation hit the younger girl. The realisation that what she was feeling was because she was so unbelievably jealous of Kelley’s ex. She wasn’t jealous because he was taking up all of Kelley’s time and attention. She was jealous because Emily wanted to be him. She wanted to be the one to hold her hand in public and dance with her at parties. She wanted to be the one that Kelley kissed goodnight.

The knowledge that she was crushing hard on her best friend, honestly, didn’t come as a shock. Really, the understanding that she probably liked girls had explained a lot.

It explained why she was never bothered about boy talk, unlike her twin sister. Emma could spend all night gossiping about who she liked, and Emily had never been interested. It explained why she hated dressing up so much, always feeling much more comfortable in a pair of cleats than a pair of heels. It explained why she had been so obsessed with Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and why she had so many posters of the 1999 Women’s World Cup soccer team on her bedroom walls.

The realisation that she definitely wasn’t straight was a little bit scary and a little bit overwhelming, but Emily felt so much relief once she finally admitted it to herself. She knew she wasn’t going to tell anybody any time soon, not even Kelley – especially not Kelley – but once she had figured it out, everything made a little bit more sense.

She made a little bit more sense, and life became a little bit easier.

-

Emily was sitting on her bed, rifling through her DVD collection, when a freshly showered Kelley O’Hara walked into her bedroom, carrying a bag of popcorn for them to share. She was ready for bed, dressed in her favorite oversized Stanford tee and a pair of loose fabric shorts, with fluffy socks on her feet. Her hair was down, falling over her shoulders in soft waves. Emily eyed the bright red fabric of her shirt and let out a dramatic sigh.

“Don’t remind me, Kell,” she complained.

“I know you’re secretly really proud of me,” Kelley fired back, as she threw herself onto the mattress, picking up a handful of the DVD’s, helping Emily find a movie for them to watch together.

Emily looked at her, her eyes serious, and dropped a hand to her forearm, her fingers soft against Kelley’s freckled skin.

“I really am. So proud. You’re going to have such an amazing time, and you’re going to play so well,” Emily admitted softly.

Kelley pushed herself up, so she was sitting adjacent to the other girl. She rested her forehead on Emily’s shoulder.

“I’m nervous,” she quietly admitted. “What if I hate it there?”

“You won’t, I promise.” Emily reassured her, brushing her fingers through Kelley’s hair. “You’re going to have the time of your life,”

These moments had been happening between them more often in recent months. Their touches lingered longer than they used to, as both girls had grown to be comfortable with a new level of casual intimacy between them.

Emily isn’t too sure how it started, or who really initiated the moves that they were both not-so-subtly making on each other. Emily had no clue if Kelley returned her feelings – she was a naturally touchy person – but it felt like something was building between them. Something exciting, something unspoken, something new.

She wasn’t sure it mattered anyway. She had accepted that they’d run out of time to pursue anything together.

Even if Kelley did feel the same way, Emily refused to tie her down. Not when she was about to head to the opposite side of the country for college. Not when she didn’t know when they’d next be in the same place at the same time for more than a few days. It wasn’t fair to either of them. That thought made her chest ache, and she quickly pushed those emotions down. 

She busied herself by taking the movie that Kelley had selected, inserting it into the computer, keeping her eyes forward as she set up the film. Emily tried to stay present in the moment and appreciate the time they had now. If she only had tonight left in Kelley’s company, she wasn’t going to waste precious moments pining over the older girl.

-

Two hours later, they were sprawled out under the covers of Emily’s double bed, as the credits of the rom-com they’d been watching rolled across the laptop screen in front of them. Kelley leant forward, closing the computer and putting it safely on the floor before she rolled back towards Emily and snuggled deeper into her side. Emily pulled her closer and held her tight. In that moment she never wanted to let her go.

Feeling brave, she brushed the hair out of Kelley’s face, and pressed a soft kiss to her temple, letting her lips linger. This was new for the two girls. Sure, they’d kissed each other on the cheek before, but never this intimately… never alone in the privacy of Emily’s dark bedroom. Never with meaning.

Emily’s lips were on fire from the feeling of Kelley’s soft skin against them. She wanted to kiss her properly. She wanted it so badly. She had wanted it for so long.

The younger girl was pulled out of her attraction when she felt Kelley freeze underneath her as she pulled her lips away. The heat in her body was instantly replaced by ice cold fear. She immediately started to worry that she’d freaked the other girl out with her actions.

“Sorry,” Emily choked out.

She prayed that she hadn’t overstepped, or made things weird and ruined their night. Her mind was running a mile a minute, trying to come up with ways to change the topic so that the small action could be forgotten. She didn't want Kelley to feel uncomfortable sleeping next to her, in the same bed, for the next few hours. 

“It’s ok,” Kelley whispered back, holding her a little tighter as they settled to go to sleep “…it felt nice,” she added so quietly that Emily almost thought she had imagined it. Emily felt herself smile as she drifted off into a deep sleep in Kelley’s arms.  

-

Emily felt disorientated when she came to. A quick glance at her bedside clock told her it was a little after 3 am, so they had been sleeping for a few hours. It was dark in the bedroom, the streetlamp outside illuminating Kelley’s shoulder in front of her. The girls had moved in the night, so Emily was now pressed up behind the other girl, her front flat against Kelley’s back, her arm heavy over her waist. She could feel the steady rise and fall of Kelley’s chest as she slept.

Emily’s body was on fire, overwhelmed by the amount of contact between them. Their bodies were flush, their bare legs tangled under the covers. She squeezed her eyes shut, wanting to remember this moment, wanting to remember having this girl in her arms, since she had no idea when it would happen again.

She rested her forehead against Kelley’s back and placed a gentle kiss over the fabric of her shirt, her lips lingering in the small dip between Kelley’s shoulder blades. Her thumb was absentmindedly tracing patterns over Kelley’s forearm.

God, she wanted her so badly. She wanted to stay in this moment forever. So that they never had to get out of this bed. So that they never had to leave the bubble they had created for just the two of them. So that they didn’t have to wake up in a few hours and share one final goodbye before Kelley got on a plane destined for the other side of the country.

Emily felt herself drifting off again, her body just on the verge of sleep, when the arm underneath her fingertips moved. Emily felt the moment Kelley woke up; the brunette’s breathing got a little shallow and her body pressed back into Emily behind her, desperately trying to get closer. Kelley let out a content sigh as one of her hands found Emily’s, pulling their joined fists in towards her chest. The movement pulled Emily forward and her lips fell to the back of Kelley’s neck.

They breathed for a second, chests moving in sync, before Emily placed another kiss on Kelley’s back, this time letting her lips linger on the exposed skin just above the low neckline of Kelley’s shirt. Emily felt the shiver that shook through the older girl’s body.

“Em,” Kelley whispered out. Her voice was a little scratchy and the way she said Emily’s name with so much desperation made the blonde hot from head to toe. Emily leaned forward again, her lips finding Kelley’s neck for a second time, kissing the spot behind her ear, drawing a sigh from Kelley’s lips.

“Em,” she breathed out again.

Kelley let go of Emily’s hand, and for a split second, Emily thought she had done something wrong, thought she had taken this thing between them a step to far. But then, Kelley was spinning in her arms, rolling them further onto the bed, so they were now face to face, heads close on the pillow.

Emily scanned Kelley’s features in the dimly lit room, looking frantically for any clue as to what was going through the other girl’s mind in that moment. Kelley's hazel eyes were locked on hers with a level of intensity that she had never seen off the soccer field before.

Emily’s heart was beating out of her chest, and in a desperate attempt to settle her nerves she felt her eyes flutter closed.

It turns out that was a bad idea, since now all she could focus on was the push and pull of Kelley’s breath, warm against her lips.

God, she wanted to kiss her. She wanted to kiss her so badly.

“Em,” Kelley repeated for a third time, as the brunette lifted her hand to softly brush a loose strand of hair behind Emily’s shoulder. Emily opened her eyes, to find Kelley staring right at her, before the older girl’s gaze dropped to her lips.

Emily sucked in a deep breath. For a moment, she questioned if she was still asleep. She couldn’t believe that what she thought was happening was actually happening. She couldn’t believe that this wasn’t a dream. She couldn't believe that this was real

But the warm puffs of air falling over her lips felt real. The hand that Kelley was trailing down her bare arm felt real. The ankle that was twisting around her own, pulling their hips closer together, felt so real.

God, she wanted to kiss her.

Kelley’s eyes met hers once more, a silent request for permission lingering between them. A silent request to finally give in to this thing that had been growing between them for the last few months.

Emily let her eyes drop to Kelley’s lips for a split second longer, conveying to the girl in front of her that she wanted this too. 

“Kell,” she whispered, breathy and desperate, her hand finding Kelley’s jaw.

A second later, Kelley was closing the small gap between them, brushing their lips together. The touch was so soft that the blonde thought she had imagined it, but then Kelley was pressing in again, a little more insistent, and Emily found herself kissing back.

The first thought in her mind was how soft Kelley’s lips were. How they moved against Emily’s like they were made for one another. Kelley tasted of toothpaste and sugar - the popcorn they had shared a few hours prior still lingering on her breath.

Emily couldn’t get enough, and she smiled into the kiss as she caught Kelley’s bottom lip between her own, drawing a quiet sigh from the girl in her arms.

Emily had never kissed a girl before (she was pretty certain Kelley hadn’t either) and all she could think, as Kelley’s tongue traced over her upper lip, was why hadn’t she done this before? Why hadn’t she kissed girls before? Why hadn’t she kissed Kelley before?

Why had they left this until their last night, their last hours, together? This thing which felt so easy and natural and perfect. This thing which felt so goddamn good.

They parted for a second, just breathing into the inch of space between them.

“Wow,” Kelley said,

“Yeah,” Emily replied, just as breathless, before sliding her hand to the back of Kelley’ neck and dragging their lips together again.

This time there was no hesitation, and when their mouths met it was needy and passionate. Their lips were parted, and their tongues were dancing, and their hands were roaming.

Kelley nudged Emily slightly, rolling the other girl onto her back. Kelley moved to settle over her, nestling perfectly against her hips.

They kissed and kissed, loving the feel of their bodies moving together, taking the time to get to know each other in this way. A way in which Emily had only ever let herself dream about.

Kelley’s lips trailed down her jaw, placing light kisses on her neck, as they caught their breaths. Emily had a leg slung around her waist, and a hand buried in her hair, keeping the other girl close.

Her bedroom was cast in the pale blue morning light when Emily finally opened her eyes. Kelley was still on top of her, her head buried in her neck, occasionally placing light kisses to the bare skin there. Emily’s heart was racing, and her entire body felt like it was on fire. She combed a hand through Kelley’s hair, and smiled as the other girl relaxed at the sensation.

The older girl lifted her head, resting her chin on Emily’s chest and looking up into her blue eyes.

“Em,” she whispered out. Her hazel eyes were filled with emotion, and Emily’s hand reached out to catch a tear that had started to roll down her cheek.

“Hey, don’t cry,” Emily murmured, leaning down to place a kiss on her forehead. “I’ve got you,”

Circling her arms around Kelley’s waist she held her close, keeping her grounded as the older girl processed all the thoughts and feelings that were running through her mind.

“Sorry,” Kelley said, sniffling a little.

“Don’t apologise... you have nothing to be sorry for,” Kelley relaxed into her arms, and they fell into a peaceful silence.

Emily carefully rolled them, so they were side by side again, legs tangled and hips flush, and pecked Kelley’s lips lightly.

“Think I could kiss you forever, Kels,” Emily whispered, as her lips trailed down Kelley’s jawbone, her kisses joining up her freckles as if they were tiny constellations.

“Wanted this for so long… wanted you for so long,” Kelley sighed out, pulling the other girl back to her lips.

Emily readily kissed her again, her heart bursting at the knowledge that the feelings she had towards her best friend were actually reciprocated. That confirmation made this whole situation seem a little less scary - knowing she wasn’t alone in this... that Kelley was in it with her.

 

*

 

Today

May 2017

 

Kelley unfolded the napkin, her index finger tracing the new creases she had made on the soft paper. She took a deep breath in and raised her eyes to see Emily opposite her. They were separated by the tacky wooden table in the small diner that the blonde woman had taken them to. A server approached their table, and Kelley was surprised to hear her greet Emily by name. The middle-aged lady made friendly conversation with the girl in front of her for a minute before they placed their orders. Kelley opted for just a coffee, whilst Emily ordered the all-day breakfast. Kelley laughed at that, knowing Emily’s weakness for breakfast food.

As the waitress walked away, Kelley raised an eyebrow.

“You come here often?” she questioned.

“Oh yeah,” Emily nodded. “It’s the closest thing I have found to a Waffle House in the city,” she explained. “Their grits are to die for,”

The girls fell into an easy conversation, debating the best type of breakfast food, as they waited for their order. Kelley smiled, loving how effortless everything still was between them.

Sure, she knew they would probably have to address the elephant in the room at some point; discuss what had happened between them... how their friendship had fallen apart so quickly and why neither of them had bothered to fight for it. As she watched Emily in front of her, animatedly explaining the pros and cons of hash browns, she knew they had time. There was no rush.

-

Twenty minutes earlier they had been embracing on the dance floor, both woman not believing they had really run into each other again, after all these years. Kelley had whispered her name, before she took a small step backwards and offered to buy her a drink. Emily had barely heard her over the noise of the music on the dancefloor, having to lean in close to make out her words. Emily had smiled at Kelley, before dropping her own lips to Kelley’s ear.

“I have another idea,” she explained, before looking back into her eyes, gray-blue meeting hazel in the dark room. “Do you trust me?” Emily asked softly.

“Of course, I do,” Kelley had answered without hesitation. There was no doubt in her mind about it. She would always trust Emily, no matter how long they had been out of each other’s lives.

The taller woman had grabbed her hand again, leading Kelley back towards her table so she could grab her things, where they were greeted by curious glances from her teammates. Emily had hung back a little, obviously not wanting to intrude, or make things weird or uncomfortable for the older girl while she was around her friends. Kelley had nearly managed to avoid the questioning of her friends whilst collecting her bag and her jacket, when Sam spoke up.

“So, will I have the room to myself tonight?” she had asked with a raised eyebrow, nodding back to the blonde standing a few feet away. The implication that this was a hook up - that Emily was just some chick she was picking up in a bar - stung a little, but Kelley felt her cheeks flush regardless.

She was unable to stop her mind from drifting back to the last time she and Emily had shared a bed – the night before she had left for college, the night before they had unknowingly walked out of each other’s lives. If Kelley was being honest, those few hours were still some of the best moments of her life, even over a decade later.

The memory of that night used to hurt. Just after they parted ways it used to make Kelley miss the other girl so much that she would find herself in physical pain. As the days they’d been apart turned into weeks, which turned into months, which had then become years, the memories became less painful. They had become fond. Nostalgic. Calming.

Every so often when Kelley couldn’t sleep, when her mind was running a mile a minute, consumed with thoughts of soccer and rosters and pressure, or arguments and opposing schedules and break ups, she found herself closing her eyes and recalling that night she had spent in Emily’s arms. Not just the kiss they had shared – their first kiss, their only kiss – but how safe she had felt. How settled. How happy. Those memories settled her mind and quietened the noise in her head. Those memories helped her to relax. To think clearly. To sleep well. 

She often found herself wondering if Emily was it for her. If she had been so stupid to let the love of her life walk away so soon, at such a young age. She would wonder if she had blown her chances at having her perfect girl because she hadn’t bothered to fight for them. Because, she hadn't put in the energy to stay in touch after high school. She wondered why she had never made any effort to reach out.

Tonight, felt like the first breath of fresh air she had taken in a long, long time. The first time she had any hope that maybe it wasn’t the end of the road. Maybe tonight was the beginning of what had always been destined for the two of them.

Kelley shoved her phone into her purse and looked at her Sky Blue teammate.

“Um, I’m not sure,” she had responded, turning her head to meet Emily’s eyes a few feet away. She didn’t plan on returning to the hotel room she was sharing with the Australian, but she had no idea where Emily saw their night together going. “I might come back. I hopefully won’t,” she had quietly admitted. Sam shot her a wink as Kelley walked away, her hand finding Emily’s as they exited the building.

They had walked in relative silence. Emily had briefly explained that her friends had gone to hit up the next bar on their list for the night, and that she wasn’t intending on rushing off to join them any time soon. She had squeezed Kelley’s hand a little tighter as she spoke, showing the other girl she wasn’t going anywhere.

-

Kelley smiled as she took the fork that had been pushed in her direction, thanking her quietly as Emily moved her large plate of food towards the middle of the table. Kelley had immediately regretted not ordering food when Emily's meal had been delivered.

“I don’t usually share my food,” Emily warned, as Kelley chewed a mouthful of waffle. “So next time, don’t get any ideas, ok,” Kelley gave her a thumbs up, her heart jumping at the mention of a next time.

After a few minutes of quiet eating, Kelley leant back in her booth, her ankle easily finding Emily’s under the table. She hooked their feet together, causing the blonde woman to look up from her plate and into Kelley’s eyes.

“I’ve missed you,” Kelley said quickly, trying her hardest to maintain the eye contact. She wanted Emily to know that she was in this, that she was trying to have this conversation – the one which was probably years overdue.

“I’ve missed you too,” Emily responded. She didn’t say anything else, happy to let Kelley drive this.

“What happened, Em?” Kelley asked quietly. “How did we mess this up so badly?” she questioned.

“Life happened Kell,” Emily responded with a sad sigh. “We woke up the next morning, got dragged downstairs to have breakfast with our parents, and then an hour later I was hugging you one last time before you got on a plane to California,” Kelley processed her words, knowing they were true.

They had barely slept that night, completely wrapped up in each other, but when they woke, they had been hurried out of bed to join both their families for a final meal together and get ready for the day. They had shared a long hug on Kelley’s driveway - tight and desperate. Emily had dropped a subtly placed kiss onto Kelley’s neck, and then on her cheek, before Kelley got into her Dad’s car, and had driven off to the airport.

“I didn’t even get to give you a proper kiss goodbye,” Emily added, her blue eyes filled with regret.

They hadn’t intended on not seeing each other again. They had made plans for Thanksgiving, which then fell through when Kelley got called into a U20 camp which had been scheduled over the holiday. Then they’d made plans for Christmas, but Emily was away skiing with her family until a few days after Kelley returned west to Stanford.

A few months later at the beginning of the summer, Emily’s dad got a new job, so the Sonnett’s had packed up their house in Peachtree City and moved an hour north to Marietta.

At that point, both girls were unsure how to reopen their line of communication. They’d both been scared about seeing each other again now that everything was so different. They had shared the occasional phone call when Kelley was at Stanford, but they were always left with awkward silences or hurried goodbyes.

College-Kelley seemed completely different than high-school-Kelley, and honestly, Emily found her a little intimidating. She felt completely inferior to her old friend, who was now a national soccer phenom and had a million people vying for her attention. Emily was scared to get too close to her, because she knew she would fall in too deep. If Kelley found someone else at Stanford, someone who was probably way more interesting and way more accomplished, Emily knew she would be the one to get hurt. She knew she would be the one left heartbroken when Kelley inevitably moved on.

So as painful as it was, she had stopped calling. Then, after a while, she had stopped answering when Kelley called. And when she finally upgraded her phone the summer after she graduated high school, before she went to UVA for college, she didn’t bother to give Kelley her new number.

“I’m sorry,” Kelley said, breaking their eye contact to stop herself from getting emotional. “I’m sorry for not coming back, for not making the effort to come and see you afterwards. For letting you go,”

Emily just shook her head. “No, I’m sorry, Kels. I was the one who didn’t make the effort. For being too scared to get close to you.” She pushed at the food on her plate and decided to be honest. It was the least Kelley deserved and she, literally, had nothing to lose. “God Kell, I was crazy about you in high school, and after that night, I knew I couldn’t be just your friend anymore. I knew I couldn’t ask you to wait for me… that wouldn’t have been fair to you, and it would have killed me to see you with someone else. So, I took a step back. Pushed you away. I tried to forget about you. And that was so selfish of me, and I’m so, so sorry,”

Kelley reached a hand across the table to cup Emily’s jaw, her thumb brushing away the tear that was rolling down her cheek. That hand then caught Emily’s own on the table, their fingers entwining again.

“Did you?” Kelley asked quietly.

“Did I what?” Emily asked with a sniffle. Kelley found herself smiling at the adorable, confused expression that crossed the blonde’s face.

“Forget about me,”

“No. Of course I didn’t,”

-

“What’s your favorite pizza topping?”

“What?” Kelley looked a little confused at the random question. They been sat in a comfortable silence, finishing off their food when the blonde had spoken up.

“I haven’t seen you in over ten years Kell. I don’t really know you anymore. And I want to know you,” Emily explained, looking a little shy at the admission. “So, what’s your favorite pizza topping?”

Kelley smiled at Emily’s words. She couldn’t believe they were actually doing this.

“Pepperoni,” she answered. “Or just plain cheese. I’m pretty simple. Favorite TV show?” she fired right back.

“Gossip Girl. What’s your coffee order?”

-

They fired questions back and forth, enjoying relearning the little things about one another, whilst discovering that they hadn’t changed all that much since high school. Obviously, they now had over a decade’s worth of life experiences and plenty of new likes and dislikes, but deep down they were still the same. Emily was still a dog person. Kelley still loved country music. They were both still soccer crazy, even if Kelley was the only one who had made her passion her career.

Kelley had felt a little bit shy when she found out that Emily had been following her professional soccer career; that she had tuned into her games since college and watched her win major tournaments with the national team. Kelley had teased her endlessly when she found out that she had actually attended the Spirit-Sky Blue game earlier that evening.

“Mal and Rose, my two best friends – the people I was out with tonight, are huge Spirit fans. They go to all their home games, and I try and join them when I’m free and in town. They knew I had no plans, so had dragged me along tonight,” she had explained, while Kelley had jostled their ankles under the table.

She shot Emily a smug look, knowing that the younger girl definitely knew that Kelley was going to be playing, and had made the effort to come and see her on the field. Emily had just blushed, knowing the soccer player was right.

They had talked about their time at college – Kelley’s time at Stanford and Emily’s time at UVA. Kelley had quizzed her all about her decision to go there; why she majored in sociology, which classes were her favorite, how she had adapted to not having her twin sister nearby.

Emily had told Kelley about her career and the job she now had in marketing. She told her how she had bounced between various companies nationwide since she had graduated, and how she had moved to DC a year ago – a part of the country where she still had roots from her college days – after spending the last few years living in Portland.

“I love it here,” Emily said, smiling genuinely at the thought of how happy she was at this point in her life. “I love my job and I love the city. I get to travel a lot which is fun, and I’m often working in Atlanta, which means I’m able to see my family regularly.”

At they mention of family, they told each other about their parents and siblings, how they were doing and filling each other in on all the big family life events they had missed over the last decade. Kelley knew that their moms were still in touch; the O’Hara family still received a Christmas card from the Sonnett family every year. Her parents had always loved Emily, and all she could think about was how excited her mom was going to be when Kelley told her she had reconnected with their old neighbor.

They told each other about their friends, colleagues, and in Kelley’s case, her teammates. Then they spoke about their relationships. Both women were currently single but had each gotten out of long term relationships fairly recently.

Kelley knew that they had been out of each other’s lives for so many years. She knew Emily would have been in relationships during that time. There was no way she hadn’t. Kelley, herself, had also been with other people so she had no right to be jealous, but she couldn’t help the pain she felt in her chest when Emily was telling her about her ex-girlfriend – an athletic trainer who she had been with when she lived in Portland. They had broken up just before Emily moved across the country, but were still on good terms and made an effort to keep in touch. Kelley couldn’t help but be envious of this complete stranger, a woman she had never even known about until that minute.

“Tell me about your ex,” Emily prompted, once she had finished talking.

Emily knew about the girlfriend Kelley once had, the one who had been all over her social media pages for a couple of years. She had presumed they had broken up since the other woman had stopped appearing in her Instagram posts.

Emily hated that she knew that, that she had cared enough to follow along with Kelley’s personal life as well as her professional one. She remembered the hurt she would feel when she saw photos of the two of them together, and how Emily could only blame herself for letting Kelley go all those years ago.

But, Emily had to remind herself, that right now… Kelley was with her. Kelley was choosing to spend her evening with her. Kelley was sat across the table from her, playing footsie under the table with her. She told herself that this moment - this time together now - was all that mattered.

Kelley drained the rest of her now-cold coffee and sucked in a breath. Her last breakup wasn’t new by any means, but she still felt a little guilty about how it ended. How it was her career and her lifestyle which had ultimately ripped them apart. Looking across the table at the other woman, someone who also travelled a lot for work and spent a significant amount of time living out of a suitcase, she thought that maybe Emily would get it. Maybe Emily would understand.

She told Emily everything, and the blonde just listened. Once Kelley finished speaking, clearly chastising herself for not being a better partner, Emily reached her hand out, and entwined their fingers.

“You can’t blame yourself for how it ended, Kell.” She said softly, “She knew about your career before you got together. She knew that you travelled a lot, she knew that you’d be gone for camps and away games and she committed to you anyway. It’s not all on you. She should have been willing to compromise,” Emily said softly.

Kelley felt some of the tightness ease in her chest at Emily’s words. Emily did get it, and Kelley was so relieved that this one person, a person whose opinion Kelley valued so much, didn’t think less of her... didn’t think she was a bad partner or a bad person.

“Thank you, Em,” Kelley whispered into the space between them before they fell into a comfortable silence.

Emily’s phone buzzed on the table, her lock screen lighting up with a text message. The blonde quickly opened the text chain, and tapped out a quick response, before looking up at Kelley. She looked a little nervous, as if she were deciding what to say to the girl opposite her. Kelley just raised an eyebrow in her direction, silently telling her to just say what she was thinking.

“Um, my friends have headed home. From the other bar they were at. And this place is closing soon,” Emily looked around the quiet diner. “And I don’t want to say goodbye to you yet, Kell. I know you are flying out early tomorrow, but I live nearby, and I was thinking… do you maybe…” Emily was flustered, unable to spit out her words

“Are you trying to take me home, Sonnett?” Kelley asked. Emily blushed.

-

Emily felt shy as she sat at the edge of her bed, fumbling as she connected her phone to its charger. She was dressed down in a large, oversized shirt and a pair of boy shorts. The room was dark, just the light from the small bedside lamp illuminating the space. She heard the door creak open as Kelley emerged from the bathroom, dressed in a similar attire and looking equally as nervous. She had taken off her makeup and her hair had been thrown into a messy bun. She looked so soft and so beautiful.

Emily just shot her a smile as she placed her phone on her nightstand.

“Do you need anything else? Food? Water?” Emily asked the brunette, wanting to ensure she was comfortable staying here. They had walked the few blocks from the diner to Emily’s apartment and had quickly gotten ready for bed. It was late, and Kelley had to be back at her hotel early, in time for her morning flight home.

“I’m ok” Kelley said, shaking her head as she moved to sit on the mattress. “Thank you Em. For tonight. I’ve had a really good time,”

Emily smiled at the girl, moving to slide under the covers. She rolled over to turn off the lamp, and as she laid back down, she felt Kelley settle in next to her, the mattress dipping slightly under her weight. The room was now dark, except the moonlight streaming in through the small crack in the curtains, which illuminated Kelley’s face when Emily looked back at her.

“Kels…” Emily whispered into the quiet room, “Promise me that I’ll see you again. Promise me that it won’t be another ten years until we spend time together,” Kelley just snuggled in a little closer, dropping a hand to Emily’s waist. Their knees were knocking under the covers and Emily tangled their legs together, pulling the other woman closer to her. Kelley laid a soft kiss on her shoulder and nodded against the soft fabric of her shirt.

“Yeah, Em, I promise,” Kelley whispered, before she closed her eyes, held her tight and drifted off to sleep.

-

When Emily woke the following morning, the first thing she noticed was how relaxed she felt. Although she had only gotten a few hours of sleep, she couldn’t remember the last time she had felt this well rested.

She was lying right behind Kelley, her arm slung protectively around her waist, her face tucked into the gap between her neck and her shoulder. Emily smiled, and held her tighter as she enjoyed finally holding this woman in her arms. It had been something she had wanted for so long, but she had never truly allowed herself to believe it would happen. She never thought that she’d be able to be with Kelley like this again.

She had no concept of time since she was so focused on the girl in her arms, so, she was unsure if two minutes, or twenty, had passed when Kelley’s phone rang out – the alarm she had set chiming into the quiet room.

Kelley instantly woke and rolled forwards out of Emily’s arms to shut off the alarm, groaning a little at the noise. Emily immediately felt the loss, missing the other woman’s warm body against hers, but a second later the brunette was snuggling back into her arms, burying her face against Emily’s shoulder.

“Morning,” Kelley said, her voice muffled by Emily’s shirt.

“Good morning,” Emily responded, brushing her fingers through a few loose strands of Kelley’s hair, which had escaped their bun overnight.

The fell into a peaceful silence, just enjoying the contact and the company. Emily couldn’t help but think how much she wanted to wake up like this every day, how she never wanted this moment to end. It seemed like Kelley was thinking the same thing, judging by how reluctant she was to leave their embrace.

“Do you want any coffee? Or breakfast?” Emily mumbled, her voice still heavy with sleep.

“I’ll grab some food at the airport, but coffee would be great,” Kelley responded.

“Stay here… sleep some more.” Emily whispered, placing a light kiss on Kelley’s hairline. “I’ll be back in a second,” Kelley just hummed in contentment and snuggled deeper into Emily’s bed.

A few minutes later, Emily was crawling back into bed, pushing a warm mug of coffee into Kelley’s hands. The brunette sat upright and took a cautious sip of the beverage, smiling behind the cup as Emily settled next to her.

“This is nice,” Kelley told the blonde.

“The coffee?” Emily asked. Kelley just nodded.

“Yeah. The coffee is good. And this… waking up together. This is nice too,” Kelley responded.

The girls sipped at their coffee, sharing shy smiles from behind their mugs, as they enjoyed the time they got to spend together. Once Emily finished her drink, she placed her mug on the nightstand, before turning to look at the other woman.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you back?” Emily said, as her hand found Kelley’s under the covers.

“It’s okay. I’ll take an Uber. It’s a long drive, and it’s still early. I don’t want to ruin your morning,” Kelley said, moving their joined hands into her lap, her thumb gently stroking over the back of Emily’s hand.

“You could never ruin my morning, Kell,” Emily lifted her free hand to Kelley’s cheek, looking into her hazel eyes. “Never,” she repeated.

Emily felt the girl relax into her grip as she dropped her head to Kelley’s shoulder. The soccer player still had her coffee cup in her hand, and just leaned into her, wanting to be close to the younger woman for the short amount of time they had left together.

After a long moment, Kelley reached behind her, placing her mug down so she could use her other hand to pull Emily closer. The blonde lifted her head and Kelley’s gaze dropped to Emily’s mouth, before she looked into her eyes, trying to work out what was going through her mind. Emily smiled at her, lifting a hand to hold onto the fabric of Kelley’s shirt.

Almost effortlessly, their lips fell together. Even though it had been so long, and they had only done this together once before, the kiss felt practised and easy. They fit one another so perfectly and read each other so well. Emily’s body was on fire and all she could focus on was Kelley’s lips, gently dancing against hers.

The kiss stayed sweet, neither girl in a rush to deepen it. Emily buried a hand into Kelley’s loose bun, keeping the older girl close, never wanting to let her go. She wanted to kiss her forever. Wake up with her forever. Be by her side forever.

In that moment, as Kelley gently bit down on her lower lip, Emily only had one thought running through her mind.

I can’t let her go again.

 

*

 

Five years later

September 2022

 

She heard the scatter of feet on the wooden floor a second before the tiny dog jumped onto the bed, bouncing on the covers with way too much energy for a weekday morning. Kelley smiled into the pillow, reaching a hand down to find the puppy and gently scratching behind her ears. Bagel let out a yap as she clambered further up the bed and started dropping little licks all over Kelley’s face.

“Hi Bongo,” she cooed. A minute of tummy rubs and puppy kisses later, Kelley heard more footsteps as her girlfriend walked into the room.

Emily was wearing a loose tank and a pair of Kelley’s Spirit training shorts. She had a soft smile on her face, as she laughed at the pair rolling around on the king bed. In her hands, she carried two cups of coffee.

“Morning baby,” Kelley said, pushing herself upright. Emily set the mugs down on the nightstand before leaning forward to place a soft kiss on Kelley’s lips. Emily ran a hand through Kelley’s hair, which was messy from sleep, before climbing into bed next to her. She grabbed her own coffee, took a long sip and slipped an arm around Kelley’s waist, pulling her close.

Kelley stroked a hand over Bagel’s soft fur and felt herself relax into Emily – her girlfriend… her best friend… her everything.

She was so grateful for her life; so grateful for the knowledge that she got to wake up like this every morning… that she got to wake up slowly to the tiny barks of the best pup ever, and the hugs and kisses of her favorite person on the planet. 

-

The morning after they had reconnected in Washington DC – when they had shared coffee together and shared the best, second first kiss, Emily had hugged Kelley tight on the sidewalk as her Uber arrived. Just before she climbed into the car, Emily grabbed Kelley’s hand, pulling her close and kissing her gently.

“Didn’t get to kiss you goodbye last time,” Emily had mumbled against her lips. “Never making the same mistake again,”

The two women had finally exchanged numbers and had promised that this time they would keep in contact… that this time they would make an effort to see each other and get to know one another again.

They had started texting, slow and steady, and over the following months their consistent stream of messages had turned into regular phone calls. The calls had led to Kelley extending an invite for Emily to stay with her when she was next in the New Jersey area for work.

On the second night of that visit, they had gone on their first date. On the last night, they had finally fallen into bed, getting to be together in the way they had both wanted for so long. It was better than both of them could have ever imagined. 

A month later, Kelley had visited Emily in DC, managing to find time between league games and other commitments for a short trip. A month after that, when Kelley was home for the off season, Emily had visited for a weekend, taking the opportunity to see Kelley, as well as her own family. The night before she headed back north, whilst they were sat on the couch of Kelley’s downtown apartment, eating Chinese food and sharing kisses and secrets, Emily had turned to her. The blonde had a serious look in her eyes, but a soft smile on her lips.

“Be my girlfriend?” she murmured. Kelley had answered her with a breathy laugh and a nod, before leaning forward to kiss her hard, so unbelievably happy that this woman was now officially hers.

-

Now, five years later, they had built a life together. They had a dog and a beautiful house in central DC, that had become their home. They had celebrated holidays, and promotions, and world championships together. They had navigated years of distance and juggled their own busy, successful careers alongside one another, before a trade had bought Kelley to the city where her heart was. Where Emily was.

Kelley loved playing for the Spirit. She loved her teammates and the fans and the city, but what she loved the most was coming home – coming home to her girlfriend’s slow kisses and bad dancing and great cooking. Coming home to Bagel’s excited barks as soon as she walked into their townhouse… coming home to her perfect, tiny family.

Whilst Kelley was sitting under the covers, laughing as Emily wrapped Bagel up in a soft blanket and holding her to her chest like a new-born baby, she could only think about how she was so lucky. How she was so lucky to get this woman back in her life all those years ago. How she was so lucky that they had both put all the effort in to make this thing between them work. How she’s had the best five years of her life with the younger woman by her side.

Kelley’s mind drifted to the small black box that was currently buried deep in her training bag, holding the ring she had bought a few weeks prior. As she pressed a soft kiss to Emily’s bare shoulder, the brunette couldn’t help but feel so privileged be with her. She’d had the best five years of her life with Emily by her side and she couldn’t wait to do life with her forever.