By the time Emily is back in Portland for the NWSL season things are… better. Maybe not normal, Kelley still feels like their relationship is slightly strained, but they’re back to talking to each other on the phone constantly. And texting endlessly. Sonny’s been really understanding too, clearly not pushing Kelley to talk about things she’d rather not. Mainly, that topic being Sarah.
Despite her good intentions, Kelley hasn’t actually broken up with Sarah.
It’s a combination of factors holding her back. Sarah’s just… good. She’s an honestly decent person and spending time with her is a bright spot in Kelley’s life. Then there is the fact that Kelley can’t bring herself to be an ass and break her almost girlfriend’s heart. Even though Kelley herself isn’t too invested emotionally, she’s not naïve to the fact that Sarah is probably in love with her. It’s wrong to string the other woman on, but Kelley also doesn’t want to hurt her. Finally, Kelley is enjoying being loved. Even if Sarah’s not Emily, Kelley still savors the feeling of being the center of someone’s world. She likes being doted on. Adores feeling like she’s worthy of love. It’s intoxicating and Kelley can’t quite make herself give it up.
Kelley is very carefully treading water. Giving enough of herself to Sarah to keep the law student happy while still keeping herself a bit apart from the relationship. She’s well aware that eventually she’s going to have to commit or get out, but for now, she’s managing.
With her personal life still a messy ball of chaos, Kelley is extra glad she can distract herself with football. She’s desperate for the Royal’s to get off to a good start as a franchise and willing to push herself to the brink to make that happen. Not to mention, the World Cup is already looming, only a little more then a year away now. Kelley needs to be in top form, especially given the way some of the younger players are performing.
Emily in particular is flying. She’s come back to the league with a quiet cockiness and is doing great things with the Thorns. Kelley’s so proud of her it hurts sometimes. She loves the way Emily looks leading Portland’s backline. She’s even managed to get her jealousy under control enough to appreciate the way Sonnett is linking up with Horan and Ford. Honestly, the Thorns look like the team to beat, even early in the season.
Predictably, just when Kelley feels like her life is getting back on track, she’s thrown a curveball. The Royal’s had started out okay, picking points up off some ties and even a win over Washington where Kelley had managed to net a goal. Then Kelley had pulled her hamstring.
It was such an annoying injury and Kelley had pushed way to hard to rehab it. Utah needed her. Not to mention, Kelley without the outlet of football had way too much time to think. And daydream about Emily. And feel guilty about Sarah. Her head was a mess.
She’d been out for almost four months. Sarah, continuing to be just generally an amazing human, had put up with Kelley being moody. She’d been encouraging and supportive, everything a girlfriend should be. She was perfect except for the fact that her name was not Emily Sonnett.
By the time Kelley is back on the field, the Royal’s are in a desperate scramble to try and make the playoffs. Knowing how dire things are, Kelley works herself into the ground. Her ankle, which had occasionally given her problems dating as far back as her Stanford days, starts to ache in a concerning way. Likely she’s overcompensating for her still recovering hamstring but there’s nothing else for it. She pushes through the pain, trying to ignore the way each step sends agony shooting up the outside of her leg.
When Utah ultimately fails to advance to the post season, Kelley’s left to root for Emily (and Tobin) and the Thorns. Kelley watches Sonny leading the backline, taking the Shield winners all the way to the final against North Carolina only to lose in embarrassing fashion. After this loss, it’s a little easier for Kelley to resist rushing to Emily’s side. Mostly because they’ll see each other soon for some upcoming friendlies with the USWNT.
That plan gets derailed too though. In Utah’s post season wrap up, the team doctor finally manages to force Kelley to admit how much her ankle is bothering her. Doing his due diligence, the doctor relays the state of Kelley’s gimpy ankle to the national team. Before she has time to process it, Kelley is scheduled for surgery and unable to play for the next 2-3 months.
Kelley’s devastated both by the lost chance to impress Jill and more personally, because it means she won’t get to see Emily. Trying to make the best of the situation, Kelley decides to have the surgery done at home in Georgia. Both Sarah and her family offer to help during her recovery, but Kelley is too proud. Plus, she feels like she needs some distance from Sarah. Things are getting too serious and Kelley is finding it harder and harder to stay engaged in the relationship. Her heart just isn’t in it. She’s hoping that some time alone will let her ground herself.
Once the surgery happens, Kelley instantly regrets her self-isolation. Ultimately the procedure isn’t a big deal. The doctors go in, clean things up in her ravaged joint, and Kelley goes home the same day. The problem is in the aftermath, Kelley is on crutches with a walking boot and unable to do much of anything. And her apartment in Atlanta is barely livable. She’s basically only been using it for storage and a temporary escape from her parent’s house when she’s home in Georgia. She has basically no kitchen supplies and her cupboards are bare. Worse, she’s almost out of coffee.
Not knowing where else to turn and feeling trapped by her own fragility, Kelley texts Emily in a panic late the night after her surgery. Her whole foot feels weird and the lingering effects of whatever they’d given her during the procedure are making her loopy.
Rather then texting back, Sonnett facetimes her instantly. Kelley hesitates for a long time before picking up. She looks a mess right now and she knows it. She’d had to be at the clinic early this morning and she’s been indulging in some self-pitying tears this evening. Her hair looks like it’s never seen a brush and she’s wearing her baggiest comfort clothes. Kelley’s pretty sure she’s never looked less attractive but her desire to see Emily’s face outweighs her self-consciousness in the end. Turning off the lamp by the couch so her face is shrouded in darkness, Kelley picks up.
Sonnett’s beautiful, concerned face appears and the young woman is peering into the screen assessing Kelley closely.
Softly, Emily says, “oh Kel.”
Suddenly Kelley feels any lingering strength collapsing. Despite her best attempt to keep a stiff upper lip, Kelley’s eyes start to water. She bites her lip, trying to keep from crying.
“Oh sweetheart,” Emily whispers.
It’s the tender endearment that does it. Kelley’s crying messily, tilting the phone away so that Emily can’t see her break. She can’t quite manage to hang up. Not when Emily is murmuring sweet encouragements and looking so loving.
When Kelley’s cried herself out and subsided to sniffles, she feels burning shame and embarrassment. She’s supposed to be the strong one. The one Sonnett can rely on. She’s not supposed to break down and allow herself the luxury of weakness.
Regaining control of herself, Kelley mutters, “shit Sonnett. Sorry. Fuck. I’m good. Sorry to blubber on you. I guess they gave me strong drugs or something.”
“Kel,” Emily’s voice makes her name a caress, “you’re fine. You can be upset. It’s okay to cry or yell or do whatever helps.”
Kelley tries to focus on how beautiful Emily looks, even with her brow furrowed in visible concern. She also works hard not to start sobbing again. Emily being so kind and understanding is amazing, but Kelley feels really alone right now. She wishes desperately that Emily was here. With her. Holding her. Kissing away her tears. That’s not possible though so Kelley swallows hard, forcing the waves of depression back.
“Can I see you Kel? You don’t need to hide from me,” Emily reassures.
Snorting, Kelley says, “I’m a mess. I look like shit, you don’t need to see that.”
“Please? I miss seeing your beautiful face,” Sonnett’s eyes are pleading as she makes the request.
Unable to say no to Emily, Kelley hastily scrubs her face with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. It’s disgusting and realistically doesn’t do much to improve her appearance. When Kelley readjusts her phone so that she’s visible, she winces at how terrible she looks. If she’d ever had even a half chance of winning Emily’s affections she’s surely blown it now. Kelley is not a pretty crier.
Emily’s face breaks into a slow smile when she sees Kelley though. Softly, the younger woman says, “hey. There’s my girl.”
Kelley feels her face redden. Sonnett doesn’t mean anything by it. She’s just trying to be a good friend. But her words still spark joy despite Kelley’s current woes. She wants to be Emily’s girl. She wants it so bad.
Clearing her throat, Kelley mutters, “hey. Sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize for anything Kel. What can I do?” Sonnett asks.
Love me. The thought is so strong it almost galvanizes Kelley into action. She almost parts her lips to ask. It’s what she wants most after all.
Shaking her head both at herself and the question, Kelley replies, “nothing you can do Sonny. I’ll be okay. I just need sleep probably. And to go shopping. I’m like, out of food.” Kelley is trying to inject some levity into the conversation but she ends up just sounding pathetic. Internally she’s cursing herself.
Lips pursed adorably, Sonnett asks, “have you eaten?” She glances at her watch and adds, “it’s late Kel and you need food to recover.”
Trying to shake off her funk, Kelley says, “I’m fine, really. I’ll get something in a bit.”
Jaw jutting in an obvious display of mule headedness, Emily says, “I’m ordering you dinner.”
“Em, you don’t have to do that. I can manage…”
“Kel, shut up. Let me take care of you a little. Please?”
Kelley bites her lip and shuts up. Once again, she finds that she can’t say no to Emily. Especially when having the younger woman take care of her, even from across the country, sounds amazing.
Sonnett ends up ordering Kelley a ridiculous amount of food from Kelley’s favorite Thai place. Somehow, the restaurant that normally takes forever, manages to deliver a hefty bag of food in a remarkably short period of time. Kelley’s pretty sure Sonnett bribed someone.
Emily had stayed on facetime the whole time. Even after the food arrived, she keeps talking, relaying Thorns gossip and different prank plans she’s working on. She watches Kelley eat like a hawk, rambling the whole while. Afterwards, Kelley’s left surounded by the detritus of her meal that she’s too exhausted to deal with. Her ankle aches fiercely and Kelley just really wants to sleep right there on her couch.
With more coaxing from Sonnett, Kelley manages to drag herself to the bathroom to wash her face and take her meds. The crutches echo loudly in her empty apartment as she makes her way to collapse onto her bed. The sheets feel scratchy as she climbs under them carefully propping her phone on a pillow so that she can still see Emily’s face.
“Bedtime?” Emily asks softly.
Noncommittally, Kelley hums.
“You’re tired Kel, you should sleep. Tomorrow will be better,” Emily promises.
Kelley sniffles once and admits, “I really miss you. I thought I could do this but I just… I’m scared Em. What if I can’t play again? Or if I suck?”
Seriously, Sonnett says, “Kelley O’hara, you are going to be back on the field making forwards cry before you know it. But even if you weren’t, you’re so much more than your ability to play soccer. Do you know that?”
Kelley gives a tiny shrug. Sometimes it feels like her whole self-worth is centered around kicking a ball.
“Kel, you’re amazing. And you’re so loved. I know that this is going to be tough for a bit, but I promise you can do it. You’re so strong.”
“It doesn’t feel like it right now. I just… I feel really alone I guess. Sorry, I shouldn’t be whining. It’s not even a big injury really,” Kelley fingers the edge of her blanket, not looking at Emily’s image on the screen.
Slowly, Emily asks, “do you want Sarah to come out for a few days? I bet she would if you asked? Or your folks maybe?”
Shaking her head, Kelley says, “my parents will just drive me insane even if they’re trying to help. They still treat me like a kid, you know? And Sarah… I don’t know Em, I just, I didn’t want her here. Is that bad?”
“You’re allowed to decide what will make you happy Kelley. I’m sure Sarah understands,” Emily offers.
Kelley’s not so sure if Sarah really understands. But selfishly, Kelley can’t make herself care right now. She needs to figure out what she’s going to do about Sarah but currently, she’s already got more then she can handle on her plate.
Refocusing on Sonnett, Kelley asks, “can you just, talk to me? About anything? Until I fall asleep. I… I don’t want to be alone and I miss you Em.”
“’course. Hold on a sec, let me get in bed too.” Emily disappears briefly and then she’s back, wearing a Stanford hoody that looks suspiciously like one of Kelley’s.
“Hey! I thought I lost that!”
Smiling crookedly, Emily says, “oh this rag? Yeah, I guess it got put in my suitcase rather then the trash where it belongs. I mean who would wear crimson red?”
“It’s Cardinal!” Kelley says indignantly.
Emily’s smirking in amusement now, clearly enjoying teasing the older woman.
Her exhaustion making her bold, Kelley says, “you look good in my clothes. In Stanford gear I mean.”
Sonnett briefly gets an odd look on her face but it resolves back to mirth and she declares, “I look good in anything.”
Kelley doesn’t argue both because her eyelids are heavy and because, well Sonny’s not wrong. She does look good in anything.
Sleepily, she murmurs, “talk to me?”
Already half asleep, Kelley hears Emily say, “sure beautiful. Close your eyes and try and sleep. Did I tell you about what Rose and I convinced Sam to do?”
Kelley drifts off before Sonnett’s even halfway through her story.
When Kelley wakes up in the morning, it’s to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and a dull throb in her ankle. Only one of those things makes sense given how yesterday had gone. Uncertainly, Kelley slips out of bed, hopping awkwardly on her good foot as she pulls on the already hated walking boot. Then she goes to investigate the pleasing aroma.
Kelley crutches into the kitchen only to freeze in the doorway. Her kitchen, which had been something of a disarray last night, is now sparkling and smelling slightly of a citrusy cleaning product. It’s also not empty. There is a blond head bobbing in rhythem to some music that Kelley can’t hear.
It’s Emily. She’s here. In Georgia. In Kelley’s kitchen. And apparently washing Kelley’s dishes?
At that moment, while Kelley is still struggling to process, Emily glances over her shoulder. Seeing Kelley, she jerks in surprise, dropping a plate into the sink of soapy water. The resulting splash wets the front of Kelley’s purloined Stanford sweatshirt. The same one that Emily was wearing last night in Portland. Sonnett hastens to remove earbuds looking vaguely guilty.
Flummoxed, Kelley asks, “how are you here? You were in Portland?”
“I uh, decided to come home early? Just like, for a bit before camp. Also, side note, your landlord is way to willing to give out keys to your place. You should look into that.” Emily is smiling but also seems very uncertain.
Suddenly, Kelley realizes that Emily Sonnett is in fact actually here and the logistics of how or why can wait. Almost frantically, she limps to Emily, grateful when the younger woman moves to meet her halfway. Emily’s arms feel more like home then Kelley’s Atlanta apartment ever has.
Voice full of wonder, Kelley asks again, “how are you here?”
Hesitantly, Emily asks, “is it okay? Because if you don’t want me here, I can just go hang at my parents place but I thought…”
“NO! I mean, yes, I want you here! No, you’re not leaving. I just, when did you even get here?”
Shrugging, Emily says bashfully, “I don’t know, an hour ago? I stopped and got some groceries but no judging, all the good stores are still closed. I’ll get some better stuff later. I thought maybe I could make you some of my kickass tacos tonight?”
Kelley, realizing she’s still leaning her full body weight into Emily, carefully pulls back enough that she can see the blonde’s face.
“Em, you didn’t have to come. Or buy me groceries. Or clean my kitchen.”
Eyes clear and bright, Emily says simply, “I wanted to.”
Kelley’s heart melts. This woman. This sweet, kindhearted, fucking amazing woman. Kelley has no idea what she did to deserve having Emily in her life.
It’s at that very belated moment that Kelley realizes that she’s not actually wearing pants. She’d kicked her shorts off prior to bed and had wandered into her kitchen wearing only an overlarge sweatshirt and underwear. Feeling almost bashful, an odd feeling for her, Kelley tugs the hem down, trying to protect her modesty.
Emily’s eyes are drawn by the motion and sweep over Kelley’s bare legs. Suddenly the kitchen feels overwarm and both women are left blushing.
Carefully, Kelley says, “I’m gonna go put pants on. But um, then coffee? And an explanation of how you ended up in my apartment please?”
Sonnett nods and Kelley swears she can feel the younger woman’s eyes on her naked legs as she retreats from the room. Emily’s probably just making sure she’s got the boot on correctly though. Still, Kelley silently curses the fact that it’s physically impossible to look good on crutches. And that her face is probably a total disaster from last night.
Kelley takes 15 minutes to try and get herself in order. She brushes her teeth and washes her face with cold water. Her eyes are bloodshot and red, and her hair is a rat’s nest. A hurried brushing and a messy bun take care of the second part at least and Kelley slips on some jean shorts. She still looks… not good. Honestly, she probably resembles a waif straight out of a Dicken’s novel but she’s too eager to see Emily again to worry overmuch. Besides, it’s not like she actually has a reason to impress Sonnett. Not a legitimate one anyway.
Back in the kitchen, Emily’s apparently finished the dishes and moved on to making some sort of omelet. Her phone is now playing music aloud and she’s half dancing, head bobbing and hips shaking. Kelley pauses, savoring the way the young woman fills her kitchen with happiness.
Emily, seeing her freezes slightly before slowly relaxing. She asks, “coffee?” And passes Kelley a mug. Then the young Thorn adds, “I’m making omelets. And biscuits and grits. But it’s all vegan so I make no promises.”
“Son, you really didn’t have to do all this,” Kelley takes the mug, smiling fondly at Emily as she drinks.
Shrugging, Sonnett says, “it’s not a big deal Kel. Like I said, I was going to come home anyway.”
“You what, got on a plane in the middle of the night? So you could cook me breakfast?”
“Maybe? Is that weird? I’m sorry if it’s weird. You just seemed… not happy last night. And I’d rather you were happy so…” Emily turns her back on the conversation, focusing on the stove like it’s nothing special to fly across the country with no notice and break into your friends house to cheer them up with food. But then maybe to Sonnett that’s just what it means to be friends?
“And you got into my place how exactly?” Kelley’s mostly asking to get Emily talking again. She doesn’t want the younger woman to second guess her impulsive kindness.
“Oh. Um so your landlord knows who you are? And that you play for the US? And I guess he’d like, heard of me or whatever. So he knew I knew you. And I uh… may have signed some stuff for his daughter? In exchange for a key to your place? Which now that I say it, seems like a really creepy thing to have done. But I didn’t want to wake you up if you were resting and the milk was gonna get warm!”
At this point, Kelley can’t help but burst into laughter. Emily’s just perfectly adorable.
“Relax Em. I’m not mad. I’d have given you a key in any case. I’m just a little impressed you capitalized on your fame. How’d it feel big shot?” Kelley teases.
“Shut up. It wasn’t like that. I’m sure he barely knew who I was. I’m not nearly as famous as the Kelley O’hara.”
Kelley can’t help but really like the way Emily says her full name. Even if she’s being teased.
“I’m hardly Alex Morgan level and you shouldn’t sell yourself short either Son.” Mood darkening, Kelley adds, “besides, the teams gonna need a new starting right back now.” She glares angerly at her booted foot.
Emily leans over and rubs Kelley’s back soothingly once. “Don’t worry Kel, I’m sure you’ll be back before you know it. No measly ankle can keep you down for long. Now go sit and drink your coffee. I’ve got to finish breakfast.”
Kelley does as instructed. Suddenly, football seems less relevent to her overall happiness. Emily’s probably right, she’ll rehab and be back soon enough. For now, she gets to spend time with her favorite person in the whole world. And Emily had literally dropped everything to come and take care of her. In her heart of hearts, Kelley can’t help but wonder if just maybe, Emily might have feelings for her. It’s probably just wishful thinking, but…
Kelley can’t help but smile as Sonnet cranks of the music and resumes her dancing. Maybe everything is going to be okay.