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Falling in love with your friend is the best worst thing ever

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     Kelley has a bad habit of falling in love with her friends.

     Okay so maybe love is too strong a word. In lust? But with fuzzy feelings? The defender shies away from the word crush. That’s just too juvenile for a two-time World Cup winner now on the wrong side of thirty.

     It’s happened an embarrassing number of times over the years.

     It started even back before she had her “big gay awakening” during college. Back in Georgia surrounded by sweet southern tea and cloistering southern homophobia.

     The first time Kelley dreamed about kissing a girl, about kissing anyone, was at age eleven after spending the weekend at a lake house. That in and of itself wasn’t too remarkable but for the fact that she had gotten to bring a friend this time. Mostly so she would stop annoying her older sister Erin so much.

     She had spent almost 72 glorious hours with her best friend. Lounging in the hot summer sun, swimming in overly warm water, and wandering through woods dappled in shade. Apparently 72 hours of constent exposure was enough. Kelley caught feelings and she caught them hard.

     It’s amazing that no one in her family had called her out for being gay that summer. In hindsight, she had spent the majority of those months before sixth grade following her friend around like the most obvious lovesick puppy. At the time, she had just thought that’s what friendship was.

      Of course, she wanted to spend every minute with her best friend. Making mental plans to go to college together and then live together forever? Totally normal. And, if she had repeated nocturnal visions of kissing the other girl, well that was just her mind practicing for when she finally met a boy who wasn’t gross.

     Kelley is really, really gay.

     She had grown out of that original…. crush, Kelley shudders at the word. But not before having her childish heart broken when her friend started “dating” Mike from math. At the time, nothing was as devastating as having to listen to how sweet it was that Mike had walked her friend to class every day for a week.

     By the time Kelley hit high school she was too busy with soccer to spend time with old friends and they naturally drifted apart. Besides, that was the stage of the brunet’s life where she was clinging to heteronormativity with two hands. She had her own Mike’s and John’s, and Declan’s (barf who names their son Declan anyway?) to date.

 

     The second time it happens Kelley is older. She’s a Sophomore at Stanford and pushing everything just a little too hard. After finding her feet as a freshman, this is going to be Kelley’s year. She takes a few too many classes, attends a few too many parties, and drinks way too much beer. She also kisses a few too many pretty girls after impressing them with some good old Southern Charm.

     On the field, her drive is only helping her gain attention from coaches and pundits alike. She is on the Herman Trophy watch list and everyone is saying that this team has a chance to do well in the tournament. Of course, that’s not just because of Kelley. Christen Press has a lot to do with it too.

     Christen Press. Kelley is well on the way to being in love with the speedy freshman by the time they have their first real game of the season. Christen just has this aura around her. Even as a freshman she has a way of making people she interacts with feel brighter. Kelley is drawn to her like a dog to a bone. She takes crap from some of her older teammates for spending so much time with a freshman but she can’t help herself. Christen is brilliant, beautiful, and deadly with a soccer ball. Kelley, poor gay mess college Kelley, never stood a chance.

     The problem is, Christen seems totally uninterested in being anything other then teammates and than after months of Kelley’s persistence, friends. She will chat with Kelley as they wait for the bus or laugh at Kelley’s locker room antics. But she never seems interested in going to parties with her. And no matter how much Kelley flirts, Christen never responds beyond a blush. She would have assumed Christen was intractably straight if not for the forward being totally open about her flexible sexuality. As it turns out, Kelley doesn’t mind that the freshman forward doesn’t seem to return her affections. It allows her to moon over the girl in peace without the pressure of expectations.

     Their friendship only deepens through Kelley’s junior and senior years. They destroy other soccer teams, hang out together watching shitty tv instead of studying, all while Kelley flirts outrageously. Christen never seems bothered by Kelley’s obvious obsession with her. She also makes a surprisingly good wing-woman the few times Kelley does manage to drag her to parties. So Kelley keeps herself distracted with soccer and occasional hookups with random girls and resigns herself to being friends with the California native. And when Stanford loses to stupid UNC in that final, horrible game of Kelley’s college career, Christen is Kelley’s emotional rock.

     By the time Christen meets Tobin and starts her years long dance with the midfield maestro, Kelley is mostly over her obsession. Sure, she’s still aware that Christen is stunning, what with her green blue eyes, bouncing hair, and smoking bod. Luckily, Kelley is no longer day dreaming about fielding a U5 team filled with their adorably chaotic children. Her relationship with Christen has calcified into an unshakable friendship and she is content with that.

     And anyways, Kelley is spending a lot of time on the periphery of the USWNT now. She is entering the orbit of another star striker, Alex Morgan. Alex Morgan.

     

     Becoming friends with Alex is easy. They have soccer and a love of California in common. Alex like’s attention and Kelley likes to give it freely. They sit together on bus rides and play too much UNO Draw.

     Once Kelley’s heart gets involved though she has never felt so out of her league. Christen was so unassuming about her beauty that Kelley had never been intimidated by her attraction to her. It had also helped that Kelley had been very secure in her role as star Stanford striker when she fell a little in love with Christen.

     Alex is a completely different story. She is already a rising superstar while Kelley is struggling to even be named to camps. Everyone knows Alex Morgan’s name. She is going to be the face of US soccer for years to come. She is also beautiful, aware she is beautiful, and totally straight.

     Kelley desperately tries to hide her feelings for the slightly younger woman. She is only semi successful. It’s pretty clear that Alex knows that Kelley is attracted to her. That’s basically unavoidable because of how much time Kelley spends staring at the striker. And the blushing. Kelley still has a disturbing tendency to blush if Alex even does something as simple as hugging her.

     However, Kelley works very hard to make sure that Alex never catches on to the fact that feelings are involved. She never lets herself tell Alex all the things she loves about her. Or how, if she would just give Kelley a chance, the Georgian knows she could spend her life making Alex happy. Kelley holds her tongue. She focuses on battling for a spot on the team, knowing that fighting for Alex’s heart will only end in defeat. Alex would be gentle letting her down but it would still be crushing.

     Time passes, as it generally does, and Kelley finds it gets easier to listen to Alex talk about boys. They are friends, good friends by now, the sort that stand by each other.

     Besides, Kelley think’s maybe she is just not destined for that big, fated love that is featured in every Hallmark movie. Maybe her life will be filled with lots of little loves. Love for her family, her teams, and a close-knit group of friends. That’s not a bad life. And if, sometimes she is lonely for the physical intimacy that a partner could bring, well Kelley’s never had trouble finding a willing woman to temporarily fill that void.

 

     There are a few big turning points in Kelley’s life. Times when, her future could have gone one way and then was suddenly diverted. Being drafted by FC Gold Pride only to have the team fold. Missing the 2011 roster only to be called in because Tarpley tore her ACL. The 2012 London Olympics.

     The London Olympics is probably the biggest such nexus. So much happens in those few months surrounding the tournament. Pia, having to replace an injured Ali Krieger, decides to upend Kelley’s career by repurposing the striker as an outside back. That in and of itself is insane. You don’t go from being one of the top strikers in the college game to a defender overnight. And it is basically overnight.

     Kelley almost gives up more times then she can count trying to break a life time of attacking habits in a few short weeks. But at the end of the tunnel there is a tournament, on the world’s stage, that she is playing every minute of. It’s the best of feelings and the worst of feelings. Why wasn’t she good enough to be here as a striker? What could she have done differently? And now, now that she is reshaping herself into an entirely different player, is she going to be enough?

     Then to make the situation even more complex there is the wrinkle that is Hope.

     Hope Solo. Kelley had been warned about Hope before she started getting called in to the full team. It was well known that the keeper could be volatile and was not in the business of making friends. That said, early in Kelley’s USWNT days she hadn’t had too much to do with the terrifyingly competent goalie. They were on different ends of the field a lot of the time and were both focused on doing their own thing.

     That changes abruptly along with Kelley’s position. To this day, she is not sure if Pia asked Hope to take Kelley under her wing. It’s possible that Hope decided to do it herself not wanting a liability on her back line. Either way, the pair go from spending basically no time together to spending all their time together. The results are predictable. They become friends.

     Kelley is the one person on the team that can draw Hope out a little. Sometimes she can even get her to laugh. Meanwhile, her friendship with Hope seems like the only thing that is getting Kelley through the tournament. Her attraction to the keeper is an inevitability.

     Kelley thinks that this time, this time it’s the real deal. She is older now, an adult with an adult job and adult friends. What she feels for Hope seems more intense that what she has ever dealt with before. It’s a combination of attraction, constant exposure, and extreme pressure. Sometimes, Kelley isn’t even sure if she likes the keeper. But she loves her.

     Kelley may be a defender now but she is still a striker at heart. She does what she was made for. She attacks the situation head on. She thinks maybe Hope feels something for her. The keeper doesn’t seem opposed to spending basically all their time together and even seems like she might be attracted to Kelley. It’s enough for Kelley to think she has a real chance.

     The relationship, if you want to call it that, is an ongoing disaster. Kelley is a horrible combination of gut-wrenching insecurity and booming overconfidence. One minute, everything’s perfect and the defender can do no wrong. The next, Hope is withdrawn or angry and Kelley has no idea why. The Georgian is young enough to think that if she was better, if she could just be good enough, the two of them will work out.

     She doesn’t care that Hope clearly has issues. Kelley is nothing if not a loyal friend and a deeper relationship only brings her devotion out further. She would have stayed through anything. Would have put up with anything. Because that’s what love is right?

     The problem is, Hope loses interest. Or was never really interested to begin with. She sees Kelley as a teammate first, a friend second, and an amusing distraction third. The further the tall keeper withdraws, the harder Kelley clings on. In the end, Kelley makes big declarations. She opens her heart and says this is me, I’m here to love you. Hope shoots her down with a laugh.

     Kelley wins a gold medal in 2012. It should be the best year of her life. And it is. But it’s also the year when something in her breaks.

 

     Kelley O’Hara. It’s a different Kelley that meets Emily Sonnett in the fall of 2015. Kelley has had three years to anneal herself back together. She’d like to think that she is stronger now. If anything, Kelley has reverted more towards her early Stanford days. Pushing everything and everyone in her life just a little too hard. Seeing how far she can go before something breaks. She is too loud, too competitive, too everything.

     At first, Sonnett is just another new face in the revolving door which is the USWNT. It’s a constant battle to stay on the team. One that Kelley is intimately familiar with. The 2015 World Cup fresh in her mind, Kelley is not looking to make friends of rookies. She is here to focus on football, stay healthy, and hopefully convince Jill that she is impossible to leave on the bench let alone off a roster.

     Kelley knows three things about Sonnett before she meets her. She is from Georgia, she plays for UVA, and she is also a repurposed defender. Kelley is ready for the usual blend of awe and fear normally displayed by college players brought into the full national team. In some ways, Sonnett meets those expectations. She is quiet in groups and seems unwilling to meet Kelley’s eyes for more than a second.

     At the same time, she is also one of the most obnoxious people Kelley has ever met.

     The second training session of the camp Sonnett strips Kelley of the ball. It’s no big thing. It happens to the best of them from time to time. What makes this different is Sonnett. Sonnett who, after playing the ball up field, turns back to Kelley and chirps at her. Like the most obnoxious bro playing in a hockey beer league.

     She starts with something simple, it’s an off the cuff, “have you been playing for long? I just ask because it seems like a long time to be doing nothing.” And runs by.

     Kelley stares after her in shock.

     The next set that they match up against each other, Sonnett is still talking trash. “Do you like to write letters or something? You seem a little stationary.”

     Kelley is so surprised by the audacity that Sonnett manages to toe poke the ball out of bounds. Kelley is getting mad now. The next time the blond has the ball, Kelley comes in with a crunching tackle. To be honest, it’s probably pushing the boundaries of what is appropriate in a pre-friendly training camp. Sonnett goes down in a heap but she pops up smiling.

     “Wow O’Hara, if you wanted to take me out, all you had to do was ask.”

     Then she winks.

     The brunet makes it through the rest of the session without any more interaction with the annoying little shit known as Emily Sonnett. In the locker room Kelley complains loudly to Alex about the whole situation.

     Alex is bemused more than sympathetic. “So you’re annoyed because a kid used playground taunts on you?”

     “I’m not annoyed,” the pointless denial rolls easily off of Kelley’s lips. “I just don’t think it’s very professional.”

     Alex, only willing to put up with Kelley shit to a point says, “well you sound annoyed. Besides, you were dancing on the table last week with Krieger. Was that your definition of being professional?” Alex flounces away, happy with the knowledge that she has left Kelley speechless.

     The defender watches her go, irritated to have clearly gotten the worse of the exchange. She turns to go back to her locker and almost runs into Sonnett of all people.

     The blond gives her a broad grin and a little half wave. Kelley decides she needs to nip this sort of behavior in the butt immediately. She is one of the veterans on the team now and all that.

     “Look kid, you have to cut the crap. This isn’t college practice with your little friends. No one will be impressed by your bad sense of humor.” There, clear and precise. Kelley has established her dominance.

     Emily looks momentarily surprised. Then she grins that stupid grin again saying, “Oh. So you won’t Standford it? Get it? Stand for it?” Emily laughs at her own joke.

     Becky, standing near enough to hear the exchange snorts a laugh.

     Kelley, deciding discretion is the better part of valor at this point makes a hasty retreat.

     Behind her she hears Sonnett saying to Becky, “If she had gone to an Ivy league school she would understand my sense of humor.”

 

     Over the next few camps Sonnett continues to be around the edges of Kelley’s awareness. After that first fateful engagement she is clearly giving Kelley a wide birth. The older defender would have thought Sonnett was just acting like a normal, shy rookie, if not for the fact that Emily had apparently made friends with everyone else on the team except her.

     The other younglings were quickly in cahoots with the sassy blond. They were constantly loud, boisterously planning pranks and dance routines. That wasn’t uncommon though. Young players getting called in at the same time tended to form little niches. It helped to have friends who were dealing with similar aspects of their careers. Kelley had her own such group with Alex and Tobin and Alyssa.

     What was surprising was how many older players Sonnett had managed to make friends with. She discussed books with Becky and cats with Crystal. Even Lloyd, generally uninterested in anything other than practice, games, and ice baths, had been won over. Sonnett could be seen chatting happily with Carli at meals and the number ten was chatting back. It was bizarre.

     Worse, Alex and Allie, two of Kelley’s closest friends on the team, wouldn’t shut up about the rookie. In part it was probably because they knew it got a rise out of the fiery Stanford alum. But they also honestly seemed to like Sonnett. When Kelley pushed them on the matter, she wouldn’t call it interrogation regardless of what Allie says, Alex had just smiled.

     Kelley just can’t understand what the appeal is. She decides she should investigate for herself. She will just have to buck up and spend time with Sonnett. See what makes her tick and why everyone seems to like her. No matter what though, she is not becoming friends with the annoying twerp.

     Little does she know, it will only take Emily one day to change her mind.