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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.

Chapter Text

     Emily is amazing. She is amazing in a multitude of ways. However, one of the most amazing things about Emily is how quickly she managed to win Kelley over. Years later and the brunette is still trying to work out how the younger player went from being Kelley’s ultimate source of annoyance to someone that she basically can’t go a day without texting, calling, or facetiming.

     It goes something like this.

     They are in California for the USWNT’s 2016 January camp. Kelley approaches Sonnett while she is sitting alone at a breakfast table. She had timed her move carefully, waiting for the other rookies to be in line for food before crossing to where the blond is sitting. She doesn’t need an audience for this.

     Standing in front of Sonnett, who is cheerily munching on Cheerio’s and looking at something on her phone, Kelley can’t help but notice how adorable the girl looks. She is still sleep rumpled with her hair in a messy bun and slight bags under her eyes. Just because she finds the younger Georgian irritating doesn’t mean Kelley’s blind.

     Shaking herself out of her musing Kelley abruptly says, “Sonnett, we’re leaving in 20 minutes.” Kelley is gratified to see Emily’s eyes widen as she half chokes on a spoonful of cereal. Kelley turns and heads back to her own table, leaving Sonnett spluttering behind her. She gives herself a mental pat on the back in congratulations for a job well done.

     Nineteen minutes later Sonnett strolls up to Kelley, both hands in her pockets, a Cavilers hat helping to contain some of her fly away hair. When the younger player reaches Kelley, she greets her with a simple, “sup”.

     Kelley rolls her eyes. This is such a bad idea. Sonnett is clearly a literal child. Wordlessly, she motions the blond to follow her, and heads out the door. Somewhat surprisingly, Sonnett does. They cross the hotel parking lot in silence and Kelley unlocks one of the team vans. She gets in the driver’s seat and turns on the engine. Sonnett climbs in the passenger side, taking her cap off and smoothing her hair as she does.

     Kelley pulls up the GPS on her phone and starts the route she already had set. Reversing out of the spot she glances out of the corner of her eye at Sonnett. The younger woman seems completely nonchalant about essentially being kidnapped by her teammate. A teammate who hasn’t exactly been the most welcoming either.

     Exiting the parking lot Kelley finally says, “don’t you want to know where we are going?”

     Sonnett shrugs, “does it matter? I’m assuming you have some sort of plan.”

     Kelley is surprised by the level of trust the younger defender is showing. Maybe she is just naïve. The pair drive in amazingly comfortable silence for almost fifteen minutes. Sonnett is looking casually out the window, not playing with her phone like Kelley half expected.

     Finally, Sonnett breaks the silence, “do you mind if I play some tunes?”

     Deciding this will work as a decent test of character Kelley says, “not as long as they don’t make me want to puke.”

     Grabbing the aux, Sonnett connects her phone and pulls up a Spotify playlist. The music is also not what Kelley expected. It’s an eclectic combination of country music, current pop songs, and some more folksy songs that Kelley doesn’t recognize. She is surprised to find herself bobbing her head along with them. The playlist fits the quiet winter morning drive through California traffic better then she would have imagined.

     Finally, Kelley reaches over, turns down the music, “why aren’t you talking? Did Carli cut your tongue out or something?”

     Sonnett gives Kelley a soft smile, “I thought we were conversing pretty well. You’re not actually as extraverted as you seem, are you?”

     Kelley, stymied and mildly indignant says, “of course I’m extraverted. I’m literally the life of the party, of every party.”

     Emily hums thoughtfully but doesn’t directly respond, now watching Kelley carefully. Finally, in a complete change of topic she says, “do you ever miss how formulaic social interactions are back home?”

     Kelley glances over at the blond before turning back to the road. “What like the social niceties and stuff?” At Sonnett’s nod Kelley continues. “I guess. It’s nice to know everyone is on the same page. Like, everyone knows if you’re asked to bring the alcohol to a social function that means you can’t cook.”

    Emily smiles, “are you asked to bring the alcohol then?”

     Kelley, offended, is quick to reply, “of course not! I’ll have you know I’m an excellent cook. Not all of us are still eating out of college dining halls.”

     Emily, laughing, says, “it’s just that Alex said something about you setting of the fire alarm. A lot.”

     “Why were you talking about me with Alex?” Kelley is genuinely curious. She doesn’t understand how the young blond would have any reason to discuss her cooking, or really baking, failures with the USWNT star striker.

     Emily, shrugs, not making eye contact says, “it just came up once that’s all. Besides, I can cook too you know. I’ll make you some tacos with homemade flour tortillas some time. They’re to die for. Everyone says.”

     “Clearly not everyone since I haven’t weighed in yet but sure, bring them on.” Kelley is surprised to find herself essentially agreeing to hang out with the blond again. She supposes that Emily isn’t the worst company. Besides, she’s not going to turn down good homecooked food.

     “I don’t really eat meat you know. I’m not sure if you can handle the complexities of veggie tacos,” Kelley is teasing Sonnett now. Trying to see what sort of reaction she will get.

     Emily, nonplussed says, “I know.” Seeing Kelley’s startled expression, she turns to look out the passenger window and mumbles, “Alex mentioned it.”

     Shut up and Dance by Walk the Moon is playing now. Sonnett turning up the volume, does as the song title suggests and starts moving with the music. She is not a horrible dancer. Even restricted mostly to upper body movements by being in the car. Kelley finds herself distracted watching the blond swaying. She shakes herself out of it and focuses on her driving.

     After another few songs this time it’s Sonnett who turns down the music. Hesitantly she says, “you know I’m not good enough to take your spot, right? Not for at least a few more years anyway.”

     Kelley is surprised. Both by the fact the blond is bringing this up and more so that Sonnett seems comfortable in admitting she is going to be second fiddle to Kelley.

     “Well yeah, I’m like one of the best right backs in the world.” Kelley aims for cocky. No need to reveal any of her own insecurities to this rookie. Sonnett is already too perceptive by half.

     Smiling at Kelley, Sonnett says, “the best.” And her tone brooks no room for debate. “I’m not going to ride the bench for anyone but the number one in the world.”

     Kelley is blushing. She should not be blushing. Stupid kid and her stupid half complement. Trying to distract Sonnett so she doesn’t realize how much it means to Kelley to have the younger woman’s vote of confidence the brunette says, “why are we discussing this anyways?”

     Now it is Sonnett’s turn to look bashful. She says, “just wanted to clear the air. In case you like, hated me because you thought I was gunning for your spot or something. Because, yeah one day maybe but now I’d kinda just like to learn.”

     Kelley pauses, assessing Sonnett. The young woman honestly looks perturbed by the thought that Kelley hates her. That’s interesting. “I don’t hate you…. Not for that anyway. Your sense of humor on the other hand…” Kelley trails off, trying to convey with her tone that she is mostly joking. She wonders when it became important to her to avoid hurting Sonnett.

     “My jokes are fire. It’s not my fault you are just too old and grumpy to understand.”

     “I’m not old! You’re just a literal child.” Kelley knows she sounds petulant. But come on, she is hardly old.

      Smiling Emily says, “I’m only like five years younger than you. You know that right?”

     “Whatever, you’re still in college,” Kelley says dismissively.

     Emily is silent for a moment. Then she says, aiming for nonchalance, “not any longer actually.”

     “What did you fail out or something?” Kelley notices that Sonnett is looking nervous now.

     “Um actually Portland is going to draft me and they want me in time for preseason. I’m leaving UVA early, I’ll finish up some classes remotely. I was mostly done anyway.” Sonnett seems to run out of steam and stops rambling.

     Kelley blinks at the road for a second. The only way Sonnett could know in advance that she is being drafted is if…. “you are going to be the number one pick?!?” Kelley doesn’t mean to sound accusatory but that is a big piece of news. She knows Sonnett is good but being drafted first overall is huge.

     Sonnett winces and looks away. “Yeah. Well I guess Portland needs a defender or something so…. Anyway, don’t tell anyone okay? Nobody knows yet.”

     Again, Kelley is surprised. “You didn’t tell any of the other kids? Why tell me then?”

     Sonnett shrugs, “maybe I just thought you would understand.” Sonnett is now looking down and fiddling with her phone. “I don’t know. You’re a defender, I mean now you are anyway, and from Georgia. I just thought you would get it. Being drafted to play far from home and all that.”

     Sonnett pauses and then ploughs ahead, “plus you were the first pick in your year, right?” Now Emily is grinning, clearly making fun of Kelley.

     Kelley pouting says, “hey! I graduated in the same year as Tobin. Of course, she was going to be picked ahead of me. She already had a freaking Olympic gold medal.”

     Sonnett, feigning understanding says, “I guess that’s fair. Being picked second isn’t that bad.”

      Kelley is now sure that Sonnett is messing with her.

     “Shut up, you totally know I went third, don’t you? Cheney got a medal from China too. Same rules apply.”

     Emily is openly laughing now. Reigning in her mirth she eventually tells Kelley, “I would have drafted you number one.” After a pause she adds, “Georgian solidarity and all that.”

     “Whatever, I did all right for myself even if I did go third. Being the number one pick is a pretty big deal though, are you excited?”

     Sonnett shrugs, reticently she murmurs, “I guess. It seems kinda crazy. It hasn’t really sunken in yet. Maybe after the draft.”

     Kelley eyes the young blond. Trying to reassure her she says, “hey, it’s a big honor but the Thorns won’t expect you to come in and be perfect or anything. They know it will be a bit of an adjustment. Besides, I think you’ll do great.”

     “You do?”

     Sonnett’s voice is so incredibly hopeful. And she is looking at Kelley with wide grey blue eyes. Suddenly, Kelley wishes they weren’t in this van so she could give the younger player a tight hug.

     Clearing her throat, Kelley says, “yeah. I think you’re one of the best defenders to come in to the team in a long time okay? Even Becky says so.”

     Now Sonnett is blushing all the way down her neck. Kelley thinks that it’s probably because the young woman hero worships Becky. I mean, who can blame her really? Becky Sauerbrunn is basically a defensive god.

     Kelley decides to allow her words to sink in and let Sonnett’s face cool down. She is quiet for the final few minutes as she pulls into a small lot and parks the van. Looking over at the kid and finding Emily watching her, Kelley smiles and says, “come on. We’re here.”

     Here is the beach.

     It’s not crowded, what with the fact that it is fairly early in the morning on a Monday, and a Monday in January at that. Both Georgians kick off their shoes and roll up their pants. They walk down the beach talking about nothing and everything. About soccer and home and their respective families. Kelley can’t get over how nice it is. Maybe it’s because she hasn’t made a new friend in a long time. Sonnett is just so easy to be comfortable with. Probably because of their similar backgrounds. Possibly just because of who she is.

     Whatever the reason, Kelley finds herself censoring surprisingly little. She doesn’t bare her soul or anything like that, but what topics she does open up on she is completely honest about. No matter what she says, Emily is there, peaceably accepting it. She’s never judged. Even when she admits how frustrating the world cup had been for her. Emily is just calmly walking beside her, listening and nodding.

     It’s maybe the best morning Kelley has had in a long time.

     Eventually they end up sitting together in the sand. The wind has done a number on Kelley’s hair and she finds herself constantly trying to get it out of her face. After watching her struggle with it for a long second Sonnett takes the hat off her head and drops it on Kelley. The brunette grabs it and scowls at the name embossed on it.

     Emily laughs at her, “you know you won’t lose your super special Stanford status just because you wear another college’s gear, right?”

     Kelley is amazed that Sonnett is here teasing her. She is more amazed that she is allowing it. Making one last face at the hat Kelley smashes it on her head.

     Sonnett is smiling softly at her. She has a really gorgeous soft smile. One that reminds Kelley of being home. Of Georgia where everything is slower and sweeter.

     Suddenly, Kelley feels like she wants to know everything about this woman. She wonders abstractly how long it would take to learn her inside and out. A lifetime maybe.

     Eventually, the need to find food and get back to the hotel for an afternoon film session drives the women back to the car. They stand, dust off the worst of the sand and trudge back. At the van, Kelley takes a second before unlocking the vehicle.

     She holds out a hand and demands, “give me your phone.”

     Sonnett, looking mildly concerned that Kelley is going to chuck the device in the ocean, hands it over none the less.

     Kelley opens up the camera app. She pulls Emily towards her so that they stand, back to the ocean. She takes a picture and then frowns at the result. Kelley grabs Emily’s arm and pulls it around her shoulder, keeping a hold of her hand. Sonnett half stumbles, surprised by the move, and ends up pressed against the shorter woman more than Kelley had intended. She rolls with it though. It’s not exactly a hardship to have the blonde’s strong, slightly taller body pressed up behind her, blocking some of the wind. Kelley takes another photo.

     Looking at the results she is pleased. Sonnett is squinting slightly into the sun but she is also smiling. Her cheeks are pink either from the sun or embarrassment at being manhandled. Either way, she looks, well, cute. Kelley is wrapped under her arm and giving a saucy grin of her own. Still wearing Sonnett’s cap and with the way they are positioned with the ocean in the background it’s a surprisingly intimate looking photo. Kelley has a moment where she thinks maybe she should try for a third time, aim for something a little less. This has already gone on long enough though and besides, it’s not a bad look for either of them.

     With a few more taps Kelley enters her number into Sonnett’s phone. For the name she puts Kel followed by a peach emoji. That seems on brand for her, casual, nothing too serious. She sets the photo of them as the contact pic. Then, hesitating only for a second, she sends herself that photo. She hadn’t originally meant to do that. She was just going to send ‘Hi” or something so she would have Emily’s number. But, she really likes that picture of them. She wants to remember this day, this moment.

     Sonnett is still standing nearby somewhat awkwardly. Kelley shoves the young woman’s phone back to her. She aims for disinterest as she says, “now you can text me or whatever. If you have questions about the league or something.”

     Emily is smiling down at her phone now. She looks up, mirth in her eyes, “so I can ask you how it feels to lose to the Thorns you mean?”

     “Shut up, that’s not happening.” After a very slight pause Kelley decides to go for it, “just, don’t be a stranger. If you are going to be around I may as well keep an eye on you. Anyway, you owe me tacos too.”

      Emily breaks into yet another smile, “Miss Kelley, if you wanted to be my friend you could have just asked you know. No need to kidnap me first.”

     “Whatever.” Kelley is blushing. She knows she is. She tries to hide it by rolling her eyes at Emily and getting into the van. Watching Emily climb into the passenger seat Kelley says, “We are not friends. I’m just mentoring you or something. So you don’t end up a total disaster. It’s basically community service.”

     Emily, laughing replies, “well it’s too late now. I’m attached. We are friends even if you won’t admit it.”

     Rolling her eyes again, Kelley starts the engine and begins the drive back to the hotel. This time, Sonnett doesn’t even ask if she can play music. She plugs in her phone and scrolls through songs for a second. Kelley doesn’t recognize the tune at first, when it clicks, she groans. It’s Carole King’s ‘You’ve got a friend”.

     “Seriously Sonnett? Could you get any more ridiculous?” Kelley is mostly pretending exasperation. She can’t help but be amused by the blonde.

     “Emily.” Sonnett says succinctly.

     Kelley is confused, “What?”

     Sonnett, staring straight ahead says, “you can call be Emily you know. If you want.”

     Still floundering somewhat, Kelley wants to ask why she should call her Emily when literally no one else, not even the coaches, does. She holds her tongue though. Emily is looking all nervous and shifty. Kelley mentally shrugs. It’s not like she hasn’t been calling the young woman Emily in her head. Kelley is also self-aware enough to know that she likes the idea of being special, of being the only one asked to use Sonnett’s first name.

     “Emily then.” Kelley tries out the moniker. She says the name slow and sweet, letting a little bit of the south come out in her voice. It sounds good to her ear, maybe a bit too much like an endearment.

     Emily glances at her and then back away. Her smile now seems almost hopeful.

      The rest of the ride back to the hotel passes with each of them lost in their own thoughts. Queen’s ‘You’re My Best Friend” plays in the otherwise silent car.

Chapter Text

     In general, the 2016 Olympics are something that Kelley would rather not remember. In the years following what is essentially a disaster played out on the global stage, the defender tries not to think about that period of her life. She flat out refuses to watch the film from their loss. She was there. She remembers it.

     She takes three things home from Rio instead of a medal.

     First, a bright burning hatred for Sweden. She hates the team, the country, and it’s stupidly over dramatic national anthem. She goes so far as to hate that stupid shade of yellow and all blondes. Okay most blondes.

     Second, she finally feels some closure about Hope. Kelley hadn’t been in love with the keeper for some time. Getting your heart stomped on after your self-worth is torn to shreds is apparently the cure for tender feelings. However, she had still believed deep down that their failed relationship was her fault. Seeing the goalie self-destruct and lash out at everyone in her path had really hammered home that Kelley wasn’t the only problem. She may have been young, naïve and overly needy, but clearly Hope played her own role in that shit storm.

     The third thing Kelley takes home with her is Emily.

     Okay so she doesn’t like physically take the young woman home or anything. That would be weird, because they’re just friends. But Rio solidifies Emily as Kelley’s best friend. She will never admit this fact to Alex or Allie because the fallout from her jealous friends would be epic. But it’s true. Emily is there for her the whole trip. In actuality, Sonnett is there for the whole team.

     Kelley has immense respect for the way the young woman handled what is an incredibly difficult situation. Kelley has been an alternate on past rosters. She would like to think that she was a good teammate, but she knows that she probably was obviously sullen and bitter. The older defender is therefore intimately aware that this whole experience sucks for Emily. Maybe more than for anyone else on the team. To be here, have to do all the training, put in all the work, deal with all the mental stress, and then never even get to step on the field? That’s a special type of hell. If they had won, Sonnett would have had to watch them get medals. Because they lost, Emily had to sit in the stands and feel impotent as her team, one that she had sweat and bled for, fell apart.

     Emily does it all with a smile though. Somehow, it’s always a genuine smile. She honestly wants every player on the roster to do well, even those who beat her out for a spot. Sonnett is the teams hype man and energy woman. She dances, jokes, and DJs her heart out, all while still training at the same high level as the rest of the squad. Kelley thinks it must be exhausting. Emily is literally always on, never letting any of her own emotions negatively impact the team. It’s incredible to watch.

     On a more personal level, Emily is the glue holding Kelley together so she doesn’t shake apart under the intense scrutiny and her own festering insecurity. Emily refuses to let her dwell after she has bad practices. She makes Kelley laugh at stupid jokes and bad dance routines. The younger woman also is perfectly happy to steal Kelley away from the team and just be quiet with her. Kelley never feels like she has to act any way in particular when she is alone with Emily. She can just exist. It’s so different then how Kelley feels around anyone else, even Alex.

     They don’t get to be roommates. As an alternate, Emily ends up with other alternates. But Kelley still finds herself in the blonde’s room until curfew most nights. It’s the only thing that gets her calm enough that she can sleep. Mewis, who is often Emily’s roomie, looks at them funny sometimes. It’s probably justified. They must paint a pretty amusing picture.

     Half the time they just lay around in piles of tired tangled limbs, not talking, with Sonnett stroking Kelley’s hair. Kelley preens under the open affection. It’s something that she always has wanted more of. It probably stems from years where Kelley had carefully censored her physical displays of affection out of fear that people would know she was gay. Or, after she was more out, think Kelley was hitting on them and act uncomfortable. Regardless of the cause, Emily apparently picked up early in their relationship that Kelley is desperate for friendly physical contact. The young Thorn has made it her unspoken mission to try and correct years of deprivation with all the hugs and cuddling Kelley can take. It’s amazing.

     The time they are not spending in happy snuggle piles of quiet contemplation they are razing absolute havoc. Kelley discovers that Emily is an excellent coconspirator for pranks. She also doesn’t mind taking the fall when teammates come seeking righteous retribution. They successfully execute jump scare after jump scare and generally end up rolling around on the ground laughing more times than not. It feels so good to act like a kid, to pretend that not everything in the world hinges on a few brief hours under stadium lights.

     All told, Rio sucks some serious ass. But not as much as it would have if Emily wasn’t right there with her. Kelley has confusing feelings about higher powers. Georgia combined with homosexuality will do that for you. But if there is something bigger out there, Kelley thinks that bringing Emily into her life is perhaps the thing she is most thankful for.

 

     When they get back to the States, Kelley finds that she misses Emily fiercely.

     Before the Olympics, they had texted fairly regularly and spoke on the phone a few times. Emily had seemed hesitant to initiate any serious conversations not directly involving soccer. Kelley, for her part, hadn’t wanted to seem too needy or overbearing. They mostly sent a series of memes and dog pictures back and forth with some good-natured teasing thrown in. They were friends but it was a light sort of relationship.

     In Brazil, they spent basically every minute when they weren’t sleeping together. After the loss, they cried on each other and Kelley got totally trashed while Sonnett took care of her. Their friendship became deep, unshakable, and intimate. There is no denying that.

     Now home, being across the country from each other, is not exactly a favorable state of affairs. It’s giving Kelley something like emotional whiplash. Couple that with the fact that Sky Blue is having a stop start sort of season and Kelley finds that her mood is often sour. Talking to Emily on the phone is the only thing that can raise her spirits.

     The problem is, Sonnett is often busy with her own stuff. It’s her rookie year at Portland and she is already making a difference, justifying being the number one draft pick with consistent excellence. The Thorns as a whole are having an amazing season and seem like they are going to be the team to beat in the run in to the playoffs.

     Kelley doesn’t begrudge Emily’s focus on football, it’s literally her job and the brunette understands how much time and commitment is needed to excel. What she isn’t happy about is how much of Emily’s time Lindsey Horan takes.

     It’s pretty clear that Sonnett has a massive crush on the Denver native. Kelley thinks that Emily is acting like a love-sick puppy. During many of their phone calls, Kelley listens to her friend wax poetic on all the wonderful things that Lindsey does on and off the field. Objectively, Kelley knows that Lindsey is not a bad person. They have been teammates on the USWNT plenty at this point and she genuinely likes the passionate midfielder. The problem is, Horan is literally the definition of a hopeless straight girl crush. Kelley should know, she has certainly had her fair share over the years. Kelley tells herself she hates Emily’s obsession because it will only end in heartache for the young defender.

     Clearly, it has nothing to do with Kelley being jealous. Even if she is… resentful, of the two young Thorns friendship, that’s just because it means Emily has less time for her. There is nothing remotely romantic about her feeling left out. Nothing at all. And if Kelley has some disquiet watching Emily run into Horan’s arms after scoring in the semi-finals against the Flash, that’s just because she is sad that she isn’t participating in the playoffs. Certainly not because it isn’t her that Emily is running to.

     When the Thorn’s end up losing to WNYF in that crazy semifinal game, Kelley inexplicably finds herself looking at plane tickets. If she catches a redeye, she can be with Emily by tomorrow morning and give her a giant hug. Steal her away from Horan and cook her breakfast and listen to Emily complain about the abrupt end to her season. Comfort her if she needs to cry.

     It’s at that moment that Kelley realizes she has a problem. Not like a, your tire air pressure is low, minor issue. No, this is a life changing, no going back, clusterfuck of a problem.

     Kelley is in love with Emily.

     She repeats it in her mind, still staring blindly at the southwest app on her phone. When did this happen? Was she already falling in love in Rio? On the beach in California where Emily forced her friendship on Kelley?

     In the past, when she started having romantic feelings for someone she had always been aware of the process. This time, her feelings for the hilarious and sweet meme that is Emily Sonnett have completely blindsided her.

     The question is, what does she do now?

     This feels different then past times she has formed romantic attachments to her friends. Her and Emily are so much closer already. Emily knows so much more of who Kelley truly is. The brunette has already been so open and intimate with the younger defender. And Emily, perfect, wonderful Emily, has been so stalwart in supporting Kelley in every possible way. Messing up their relationship would be an absolute disaster. One Kelley can’t even comprehend allowing to happen.

     She needs to play it cool. She absolutely can’t let Emily know how she feels. That would be a catastrophe. Emily totally sees her as a mentor and friend. They pull pranks together and shoot the breeze. They’re like best buds. Even when they are serious together it is clear that the younger Georgian would never see Kelley in that way. Never as a potential romantic partner.

     Kelley is not even 100% sure that Emily is gay. I mean, okay so she knows it. It’s pretty clear from the way Emily watches women. Or the fact that she doesn’t talk about cute boys. And then there is Horan and Emily’s clear fascination with the other blond. Kelley frowns just thinking about that little aspect. Anyway, Emily has never actually come out to her and Kelley refuses to make a move based on an assumption. Not that Kelley has explicitly said anything either. But everyone on the USWNT knows she is a flaming homosexual. It’s part of the fallout of the 2012 Hope mess. Regardless of Emily’s sexuality though, it is glaringly obvious to Kelley that she doesn’t stand a chance. Emily would never pick her, why would she? None of Kelley’s other friend/crushes have.

     So. What to do. She can’t fly to Emily’s side just because she lost. That’s clearly not something you do for your friend. Kelley, glances longingly at the flight that is leaving in less than three hours. She really wishes she could be on that plane. Slowly, she closes the app. Instead, she opens her messages and finds Emily right at the top. She opens the thread and rereads her messages from earlier in the game. Now that she has realized the depth of her feelings, she is worried that they come off as too lovestruck. Had she really used that many heart emojis? And the kissing face?

     She tries to compose a completely platonic, ‘I’m sorry you lost, I’m here for you’ message. It doesn’t go well. She writes and deletes several variations of, ‘it doesn’t matter that you lost you are still the best player and person I know. Let me know if you need me to come and take care of you.’ That is way too lovey dovey right? Finally, after much contemplation she types, ‘tough match. You’ll get ‘em next time kid. Brilliant goal.” It feels totally inadequate but she sends it anyway.

     Sonnett doesn’t respond.

     Kelley, lying in bed alone that night, tries not to think about Horan being there, comforting the young defender. Pretends she doesn’t wish it was her holding the Emily, the woman who she is now pretty sure is the love of her life.

     2016 is just really not Kelley’s year

Chapter Text

     Emily was in Georgia for the offseason. Kelley knows this because the blonde had told her that was her plan months ago. Kelley may also closely monitor Emily’s Instagram feed. So Emily is definitely in Georgia. The problem is, now Kelley doesn’t know what to do with that fact.

     A few weeks ago, the older defender would have thought nothing about hanging out with Emily while they were both home. She would have loved to see more of her quick-laughing friend. In fact, they had already made tentative plans to train together.

    That was before Kelley realized she was a dumb idiot who had fallen for her best friend.

      So now Kelley is stuck. She doesn’t want to give Emily the cold shoulder just because Kelley isn’t in control of her own emotions. Kelley also misses Emily and wants to spend more time with her, like every day.

     At the same time however, Kelley is worried that if she is alone with Emily she’ll blurt out her feelings for the younger woman. Or kiss her. Or just fall more deeply in love with her. None of these are feasible options given the brunette’s prime directive right now is to not, under any circumstance, let Emily know how she feels.

     Luckily for Kelley, Morgan Brian is actually the best person ever. Kelley feels mildly guilty using her other teammate as a buffer, but not enough to not do it anyway. She invites Moe to train and then, only after confirming a time and place with her, contacts Emily.

     She feels brilliant for coming up with this plan. Kelley will essentially have a chaperone to keep her from doing anything stupid. And Emily will act differently with another person there. She will be a little funnier and a little less open. Basically, she will be more the Sonny that everyone on the team adores and less the sweet Emily that only Kelley gets to see. The one that Kelley fines totally irresistible at this point.

     Kelley is surprised when she shows up for their first training session, to find that Emily is subdued and almost withdrawn. It’s noticeable enough that even Moe, not the most observant of people, points it out. The midfielder attributes it to Emily’s recent semifinal defeat.

     Kelley’s not so sure. She torments herself with thoughts about how Emily is unhappy because she is pining for Horan. The older defender doesn’t want to push Emily on why she is upset and risk exposing the blonde’s crush to Moe. Kelley isn’t entirely sure if Morgan even knows that Emily likes girls or not.

     So Kelley bites her tongue and tries to cheer Emily up by engaging her in increasingly ridiculous conversations and telling silly jokes. Before Emily took over the role of team hype man Kelley had held the spot for years, she has jokes, good ones!

     Another unexpected problem of training with Moe is that Kelley finds herself feeling jealous. Which is totally ridiculous. She knows for a fact that Moe is completely straight. Like, has never even considered women romantically straight. Kelley doesn’t totally understand heterosexuality but she respects it. Also, Kelley doesn’t think that Emily is at all romantically interested in the other Georgian. It’s not like Emily is even nursing a crush on Moe that Kelley could be understandably envious off. Stupid Horan.

     Anyway, Kelley still manages to be jealous of how close their friendship is. They went to college together and it is clear they have shared experiences that Kelley can’t be part of. Kelley also is used to being the center of Emily’s attention. But now, when all three of them are training together, Emily is clearly focusing a lot on Moe.

     That kinda sucks more than Kelley expected.

     Maybe her brilliant plan isn’t so brilliant after all. The one upside is the three of them are actually having some productive training sessions. Probably more so then if it had just been Kelley and Emily. It helps to be able to play two on one. And to not get lost staring into your teammate’s eyes.

     Kelley knows that if she asked to hang out just the two of them, Emily would agree. Well, Kelley is pretty sure. Emily is acting so un-Emily-ish, it’s a little hard to judge. But no, they are best friends, Kelley believes that. If she let on at all that she was feeling neglected, Emily would make certain to remind Kelley of how much the blonde values their friendship. That’s not an option though. Because of the prime directive.

     A couple unsatisfying weeks pass in this fashion. Training under weak winter sunshine with Moe and Emily. Kelley tries to focus on soccer and not how much she wishes she could take Emily home with her, sit her down and figure out what is going on with the younger woman. At night, Kelley dreams of Emily on a regular basis. It’s like now that her conscious has accepted her feelings, her unconscious is free to plague her with constant dreams.

     She dreams of playing with Emily and of walking on a beach with her hand in hand. More concerningly, she dreams of a house with a porch swing and weathered crab apple trees, and of Emily dancing barefoot around their kitchen. Honestly, Kelley is almost relieved when she has more X-rated dreams of Emily. She wakes up wet and horny, but at least she can pretend that she isn’t completely gone on her teammate.

     Eventually, the trio get ready to break up their miniature training camp to go to their respective family’s houses for the holiday. The day before their last session Emily texts Kelley asking to hang out just the two of them. Kelley knows it’s a bad idea but she is unable to resist Sonnett’s request. Besides, Kelley is really starting to worry about the younger woman. Emily is still not her normal playful self and she seems almost wane.

     They end up going to get coffee together. Emily is already at the café when Kelley arrives. Kelley spots her blond head standing in line at the counter. Taking a second to appreciate how beautiful Emily looks wearing real clothes not the endless procession of soccer stuff, Kelley eventually shakes herself out of it and makes her way over.

     Sonnett, seeing her, smiles brilliantly and says, “you want a cortado right? I’ve got it. Will you snag us a table? Maybe one over by the plants? They have a really cool monstera, I was in here last week.”

     Kelley is surprised that Emily knows her coffee order. They’ve gotten coffee together before of course but the last time was months ago. Glancing over her shoulder at the blonde, Kelley goes to reserve them a table. And if she quickly googles what a monstera is and then picks the table closest to the plant that looks most like the pictures, well that’s just being a good friend. Totally not because she is sweet on Emily. Nothing like that at all.

     Kelley is still reading about monsteras on her phone when Emily comes over. Her hands are full with two to go cups and a pastry bag tucked under her elbow. Kelley jumps up and pulls out a chair for her. Only after Sonnett looks questioningly at her does Kelley start blushing.

     That was probably not something she should have done. She wouldn’t have pulled Alex’s chair out for her. Kelley should have just made fun of Emily struggling or offered to take one of the drinks. Kicking herself, the brunette tries to play it off.

     “Miss Sonnett,” Kelley gives a ridiculous little half bow, playing the fool a bit.

     Emily sits, still watching the older defender with raised eyebrows.

     “What? My momma raised me to be a gentlewoman! Do you think I’m an uncouth heathen or something?” Kelley aims for indignant. She is not flirting, totally not at all flirting.

     Emily blinks at her slowly, “I mean, yes? On the field you act like a blood thirsty savage, you know that, right?”

      “Hey! On the pitch is different! I know how to treat a woman right.” Whoops. Kelley may have veered into the area of flirting.

     Emily however seems to focus on only one part of that statement, “a woman?”

     Oh. Looks like they are finally going to have this conversation. Kelley wishes briefly that they were at her apartment. Or literally anywhere not in Georgia. Even though it’s unlikely that anyone in this café will care about this discussion, Kelley still always feels awkward talking about her sexuality in the Peach State. Probably because sometimes homophobia seems so ingrained into the culture here that it’s like a constant oppressive force.

     Emily is asking though and Kelley isn’t ashamed of who she is. Not anymore. Not most of the time anyway.

     Aiming for nonchalance, Kelley says, “yeah a woman. I’m gay. You knew that right?”

     Emily is staring at her intently, her face a mask that Kelley can’t crack. “I had maybe heard some things to that effect, yeah. But I wasn’t going to assume.” The reply is marked and even.

     Kelley suddenly is unsure. Is Emily not gay? Is she offended that Kelley is? Is she thinking that Kelley has been hitting on her? Trying not to let her thoughts overwhelm her, the shorter woman says with a little more aggression then is probably warranted, “well I am. Are we going to have a problem?”

     Setting down her cup Emily makes a placating gesture, “whoa there. Don’t bite my head off. Kelley you’re my best friend in the world. I love you and your sexuality is part of you. So I promise that you being gay isn’t a problem, nothing could ever change how important you are to me, okay?”

     Deflating somewhat Kelley murmurs, “sorry. I’m never sure how to do this, how to like, come out. I keep waiting for it to get easier and it never does. Being here, it kinda makes me more on edge about it too. I know you wouldn’t like, be an asshole about it.”

     Softly, looking at her hands, Emily replies “yeah I get it. I’m never sure how to have this conversation either.” Then she looks at Kelley meaningfully.

     Oh shit. Oh wow. That’s a piece of news right there. Fantastic, amazing news. Kelley had thought it was likely Emily favored women. More recently, she had desperately hoped that Emily was at least a little queer. But that right there sounded like Emily confirming it.

     The younger woman is now nervously ripping up a napkin.

     Belatedly, Kelley realizes that while she was gloating mentally she hadn’t actually responded verbally to what was clearly a pretty big statement. She hurriedly takes Emily’s hand across the table, halting the stressful fiddling.

     “Emily, if you are gay, or bi or whatever, you know I don’t care right? I mean it would be really hypocritical of me if I did. Plus, we’re like best buds forever.” Kelley gives Emily’s hand one softer squeeze before she drops it.

     She then tries to subtly wipe her sweaty palm on her pants. She knows she is blushing. Hopefully Sonnett will think it’s just from general embarrassment and not because holding Emily’s hand give’s Kelley all sorts of wonderful feels.

     Letting out a deep breath, Emily says, “I am, a lesbian I mean.” She just lets her statement hang there.

     “Brilliant,” Kelley sighs out. Then she freezes. That’s not something she should have said. Backtracking frantically, “we can like totally talk about hot actresses together now. Or like share tips on straps.” Okay so that wasn’t much better.

     Luckily, Sonnett is laughing. “Dude, you are such a bro, you’re aware of that, right? Also, you’re like thirty, do you really need tips on how to use a strap-on? Because, if so, I’m a little bit concerned for the unlucky women you’ve manage to sweet talk into your bed.” Sonnett then takes an overly dramatic pause and raises her brows comically, “wait, you’re not like a thirty-year-old virgin, are you?”

     “What, no! I meant like on good brands and shit! I totally know how to use a strap! Sonnett! I’m not a virgin!” Kelley, realizing that her voice is overly loud in the quiet café tones down the volume slightly. Still indignant she demands, “stop laughing, this isn’t funny. Also, I’m not thirty! Take it back.”

     Even protesting fiercely, Kelley can’t help but smile as she watches Emily’s mirth. The blond gets these adorable little smile lines at the corners of her eyes when she laughs. And her pale eyes seem so luminous. Kelley really loves when Emily laughs, even if it’s at her expense.

     Emily, finally settling down to the occasional giggles says, “sorry, it’s just too easy. I’m sure you’re a lady killer.”

     And then Emily winks.

     Kelley, caught taking a soothing sip of her coffee, starts spluttering. Deciding she desperately needs a topic that doesn’t involve Sonnett talking about strap-ons, Kelley blurts, “now that the big gay elephant is out of the bag, what’s going on with you and Horan?”

     Now it’s Emily’s turn to freeze. Not meeting Kelley’s eyes, she says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s nothing going on.” There is a very telling pause and then Emily tags on, “she’s straight.” Kelley huffs.

     “Okay first of all, cut the crap, you totally like her. Also, there is no way she’s 100% straight. She gives off total bi-curious girl vibes.”

     Emily is frowning now, “We’re friends. I don’t like her like that. Anyway, like I said, I don’t make assumptions about people’s sexualities.”

     “Okay fine,” Kelley is quick to move onto the meat of the issue, “ignoring whatever her deal is, there is no way you aren’t crushing on her at least a little. You talk to her all the time and you’re always like, whispering in her ear and shit.”

      “Wait what? I don’t talk to her all the time. I probably talk to you just as much if not more and I….” doing an abrupt about face Emily exclaims, “And I don’t whisper in her ear!”

     Kelley, grinning gleefully now, pushes further. “Okay but you’ve totally thought about it right? Like you’ve totally gotten off picturing being between Horan’s strong thighs?”

     Kelley is being a little crude now, maybe a lot crude. But weirdly, the way Emily is acting is actually reassuring the brunette that nothing is going on between the two Thorns players. For some reason, Kelley thinks that if Emily really was in love with Lindsey, she would be protecting the other blonds honor more or something. The fact that she just seems embarrassed seems like a good sign.

     “I haven’t,” Emily lowers her voice to a vehement whisper, “masturbated while thinking about Lindsey! I swear! I don’t even like her like that. I don’t even like blondes.”

     Kelley, loving every second of this declares, “I think you protest too much. Besides, she’s not a natural blonde. You’ve totally dreamed about her haven’t you.”

     “Okay, that’s not fair! I can’t control what I dream about!” Emily is clearly grasping at straws.

     Smiling like the cat who caught the canary, Kelley goes for the kill, “oh my god, you’ve actually had wet dreams about Horan. Don’t be shy now, you can admit it.”

     Kelley’s glee doesn’t last for long though because Emily abruptly turns the table on her.

     “Okay, you know what? Fine, maybe I have. But there is no way you’ve haven’t had a wet dream about a teammate at some point. Actually, I bet you’ve had at least one about me.”

     Emily is silent for a second. Then she stares into Kelley’s eyes, lowers her voice, and purrs, “were you a good girl? When you dreamed about me?”

     Kelley promptly knocks over her coffee. And then half falls off her chair trying to right it.

     Wow. Just um wow. Kelley’s mind can’t process that Emily just said… that. And with her voice all deliciously dripping sex. It’s more than the older woman can handle. Even if she wasn’t in love with Emily, Kelley is way to gay for this situation.

     Emily, laughing, leans back in her chair, smug now that she has clearly gotten the upper hand. “Are you okay Miss Kelley? You look a little flushed?”

     “Evil,” Kelley breathes, “you are pure evil.”

     Emily gives her trademark soft smile, “awe thanks Kel, I’m glad you noticed.” Then she proceeds to gather up their trash and take it to a bin.

      Kelley watches her go. Loving this woman is going to be the death of her.

Chapter Text

     The last session with Moe and Emily after the not date is interesting. Emily, after almost three weeks of being withdrawn, seems to have suddenly bounced back to her normal perky self. She is laughing and joking, all flashing teeth and bright eyes. If allowing the blonde to humiliate her was all it took to restore Emily’s spirits, Kelley would have let her friend go to town way earlier. It’s worth looking like a complete idiot in front of the younger woman if it means Emily is happy.

     Kelley doesn’t really know how to act around Emily now though. She hides behind Moe and tries not to dwell on their earlier interaction. Or how pretty Emily looks. Or anything at all about Emily knowing how to use a strap. Soccer, focus on the soccer.

      Because Emily is overflowing with joy the session flies by. Kelley generally enjoys impromptu training with her friends but it’s rarely outright fun like this. When they finally break, Moe hurries off needing to get ready to head to her parent’s house. Kelley and Emily linger on the field awhile longer.

     Sonnett is half juggling a ball and half dancing. She keeps losing control of her touch and then goes laughing to collect it. The sun is just starting to set and everything has a slight reddish tinge to it. Kelley sits on the field just watching Emily fool around. She decides that she could happily do this forever. Then she mentally backtracks. This is a crush at most, no need for her to get sappy. It’s probably just a side effect of being home in Georgia.

     Finally, Emily tires of her game and flops down on the semi-dead grass next to Kelley. She lays flat on her back and closes her eyes. Kelley is close enough that she could reach out and touch Emily’s face. She resists the urge but can’t help staring at Sonnett’s freckles.

     She loses herself in her observations and is therefore surprised when she realizes that Emily’s eyes are open and considering.

     Emily quirks her lips and asks, “are you okay? You look kinda zoned out.”

     Kelley, trying to cover up for staring like a creeper says, “yeah just thinking, about camp and stuff.”

     Emily gives her a dubious look but doesn’t call her on it. Instead she goes back to staring at the slowly darkening sky.

     After a very long pause Emily quietly says “we’re good right?”

     Kelley is still a little off balance and she’s confused by the question. “What? Of course we’re good. Totally. Gay BFFs”

     Rolling up on an elbow, Emily checks Kelley’s face for sincerity. Kelley’s not sure what Emily see’s in her expression but the blonde drops the topic. Playing with blades of grass Emily asks, “are you ready? For camp?”

     “Yeah. I mean I’m glad I’ll have the holidays first, but I’m feeling pretty good. Ready to start a new year and all that. Training with you and Moe was nice.” Kelley’s feeling more self-assured now that they’re back to the safe topic of soccer.

     She can do this, discuss camps and rosters with Sonnett. It’s probably what Emily is looking for anyway, a little reassurance and mentorship. Kelley had certainly needed that when she was Emily’s age. It’s hard sometimes to remember how young Sonnett is really, only 22. The blonde comes across as almost cocky sometimes. She’s not though. Kelley knows that Emily uses her humor and self-deprecation to hide a deep well of insecurity. It’s not unlike how Kelley hides her own concerns behind her hyper competitiveness.

     “You’re going to do great in camp you know? You had a really good season. The coaches appreciate that.” Kelley tries to make sure that Emily knows she’s being honest and not condescending.

     “I hope so.” Emily’s voice is soft and she’s laying back again, staring at the sky with a soft smile teasing at the corners of her lips. The light is mostly gone now and it’s getting cold. The younger woman seems totally unbothered by the chill.

     Kelley, wrapping her arms around her knees says, “you’ll do amazing. You’ll be like my perfect protegee, just wait.”

     This time, Emily doesn’t answer. Her smile is suddenly halfhearted at best. The shadow that’s only just been banished by their not date returns to linger behind her eyes.

     Kelley curses herself internally for somehow saying the wrong thing. Maybe Emily is more worried about camp then she’s letting on. Maybe Kelley shouldn’t have tried to be encouraging. So much of Emily is still a mystery to Kelley. She’s got hidden depths that Kelley’s only starting to dive into.

     “Thank you for earlier. I missed hanging out with you, even though we’ve been training together.” Kelley knows it’s a non sequitur but she’s trying to get Emily to be bright and shining with happiness again.

     Apparently, this time she picked the right course of action because now Emily is bouncing to her feet and offering Kelley a hand up. She’s not as openly joyful as she was before but Emily’s mouth quirks up at the corners. “You just like hanging out with me because it makes you feel young again. Come on Miss Kelley. It’s getting dark, I’ll give you a ride home.”

     Kelley let’s Emily pull her to her feet, trying to memorize the feel of her hand without making it weird and holding on too long. She almost misses the dig at her age but when it sinks in she exclaims, “hey! Don’t start. I’m not old you’re just a child. Are you even old enough to have a license?”

     Chuckling but not answering, Emily shoulders her own gear bag and then scoops up Kelley’s. She heads to a SUV, probably her parents really. Kelley watches as Emily stows the bags and gets in behind the wheel. Belatedly realizing she should be getting in the car too, Kelley hurries to do so. Once she’s buckled, Emily gets the address to Kelley’s apartment. After the younger defender has entered it into her GPS, Emily hands Kelley a cable.

     “Here, you can pick the music. Just know I’m totally going to judge you based on your selections.” Emily matches her words with a quicksilver smile.

     Emily’s teasing, Kelley knows that, but part of her still wants to be impressive. She scrolls through her phone debating. Finally, she settles on something, the Wailin’ Jennys’ Glory Bound. Kelley likes them even if they’re more bluegrass then she normally listens too. She feels like the lyrics fit her mood being home, even if they’re a little churchy. Emily’s got a cross tattooed on her neck, a tattoo Kelley already has an unhealthy obsession with, so maybe churchy will be okay. Kelley hopes she’s not about to get mocked.

     Emily is silent, listening while she drives. When the song ends she says, “who was that?” When Kelley tells her, Emily ponders briefly then asks, “play it again?”

     Kelley does, watching as Emily hums along, already learning the lyrics. The blonde had pulled the car visor down but she’s still squinting into the dregs of winter sunlight. Kelley’s so preoccupied watching she doesn’t realize that the songs ended again and Sonnett’s glancing at her. Diving for her phone, Kelley pulls up the album and puts it on shuffle. The rest of the drive goes quickly, too quickly for Kelley’s liking.

    Emily drops her off, getting out of the car and pulling her bag out of the trunk. She hands it over, then darts in close to give Kelley a quick hug. Kelley, mildly surprised by the gesture, still manages to lean into it. When Emily steps back, Kelley wishes she could’ve made the moment last longer.

     They exchange casual goodbyes, Kelley trying to remind herself that Emily’s just a friend. No different then any of her other friends. There’s absolutely no reason to be upset that they won’t get to see each other for a few weeks. Heck, during the past season they’d gone longer without being together in person.

     No matter how much she bolsters herself, Kelley still ends up morosely watching out her window as Sonnett drives away, something dangerously close to her heart aching.

 

 

     Kelley is one of the first to arrive at camp. She’d been itching to leave her parent’s house and had booked the earliest flight she could get away with. Most of the afternoon is thus spent hanging around the hotel, greeting friends as they trickle in. Kelley is rooming with Carli so she’s not exactly eager to hang out in her own room anyway. In no way is Kelley waiting for Emily to arrive. She just happens to be down in the lobby when Emily comes in, rolling a suitcase behind her and looking adorably tired.

     When she’d booked her flight, Kelley had debated trying to organize with Emily so they could fly out together. After thinking it through though, Kelley had decided that was too much. Kelley’s not sure she could’ve handled hours in an airport and on a plane alone with Emily. Sonnett probably wanted more time with her family anyway. Kelley was trying to carefully curate how many times a day she texted Sonnett. Really, she was trying to limit how much she thought about the younger woman but that was something of a lost cause.

     Kelley just needs to get through camp. Soon enough she’ll move on and catch feelings for somebody else. Then her and Emily can continue to be friends. It’s worked for Kelley in the past and she’s damn sure she’s going to make it work this time. Kelley can’t lose Emily over something as stupid as daydreaming about kissing her under a canopy of cherry blossoms.

     Sonnett of course didn’t get the memo that Kelley’s trying not to have feelings. Therefore, Kelley is greeted by a smile that crosses right over from soft into exuberant. It’s a smile that make’s the brunette’s heart rate skip into a faster rhythm. Before Kelley has time to recover from the smile, Emily pulls her into a hug. Because apparently, they’re hugging friends now. Kelley hugs her friends all the time though, she’s very touchy feely in general. There is no reason that having Emily’s arms around her is any different.

     Kelley doesn’t break the embrace. She probably should but it feels so good and Emily smells like something sweet that Kelley can’t quite place. When Sonnett releases her, Kelley manages to step back rather then swaying into the taller woman. She’ll count that as a win.

     Scrambling for something to say, Kelley blurts, “so I have a pack of 50 fake spiders.”

     Sonnett, laughing too loudly for the quiet lobby, says “say no more. Who do you want to get first? Personally, I think Tobin’s hilarious when she’s scared but then we’ll have to worry about Christen.”

     “I can handle Press. Besides, if we do this right, nobody will ever guess it’s us.” Kelley throws herself into planning mischief, putting all troubling thoughts out of her mind.

 

 

     Kelley has a really good handle on her traitorous emotions for most of camp. She doesn’t do anything stupid like kiss Emily after she finishes the Pacer Test and looks all sweaty and delectable. She also doesn’t think about Emily adjusting a harness to fit around her slim hips. Okay, maybe she thinks about that a couple times. And does more than think about it once. But really, she’s been very good.

     Kelley’s only failing is that she maybe spends a little more time with Sonnett then she should. But it’s not that noticeable. Not to anyone except for Horan. Well Horan and Alex. And also Press.

     Okay so maybe it’s a little noticeable.

     In her defense, Lindsey probably only noticed because Kelley is taking some of Emily’s attention away from the midfielder. Even though Emily had been adamant in her denial about liking Horan, Kelley’s still not totally convinced. She’s pretty sure that Emily is nursing a crush, one that Lindsey is totally aware of. Kelley would go so far as to say that Lindsey probably likes the attention, even if she is straight. That would explain why Horan picks up on how Sonnett is plotting trouble with Kelley instead of following Lindsey around like a love-sick puppy. Some sort of straight girl jealousy also would fit with the fact that Lindsey sometimes seems to glare at Kelley.

     Horan is (justifiably) scared of Kelley though. So, the Colorado native isn’t going to say anything about Kelley monopolizing Sonnett. They settle into a silent battle over Emily’s attention, each trying to get as much time with the young Georgian as possible.

     Alex notices because, like Lindsey, she’s unused to not being the center of attention. That sounds bad even in Kelley’s mind. It’s not that Alex is that self-centered. It’s just for years Kelley has always been sort of at her beck and call. It’d started back when Kelley had been crushing on the speedy forward and had never really stopped. Kelley had never minded giving Alex attention. Some part of the brunette like having someone to try to spoil or show off too.

     Alex is use to a geocentric model where she’s the earth and Kelley orbits around her. The thing is, since Kelley realized that her feelings for Emily are what they are, Kelley’s embraced a more heliocentric lifestyle. Emily is the sun and Kelley’s whole universe revolves around her. And isn’t that terrifying?

     Alex isn’t scared of Kelley. However, for whatever reason Alex also doesn’t acknowledge the shift in Kelley’s worldview. Kelley had expected teasing and maybe she gets a little. Mostly, Alex occasionally pulls her away from Sonnett to force her to get coffee or go to lunch. The superstar will also occasionally raise one manicured eyebrow in Kelley’s direction if Kelley is being too ridiculous while hanging out with Sonnett.

     Of all her teammates, Kelley’s a little surprised that it’s Christen who actually broaches the subject of her newfound infatuation. Christen is nice about it at least, waiting until she get’s Kelley alone. They’re hanging out in Kelley’s room, Carli is probably off in an ice bath somewhere. Christen is letting Kelley do most the talking, listening while the fiery defender rants about the stupidity of doing the various fitness tests smack dab in the middle of camp.

     Kelley, mid rant, is caught by surprise when Christen says, “you talk about her a lot you know.”

     “I talk about who a lot?” Kelley plays dumb, mentally trying to evaluate how many time’s she’s accidently brought up Sonnett through the course of her rambling.

     Giving her a stink eye, Christen says, “Sonnett. How long have you liked her for anyway?”

     Kelley, sweating now bites out, “not as long as you’ve liked Tobin for.” She immediately regrets it. Bringing up Tobin with Press is always a little hit or miss. Sometimes, Christen get’s a dreamy expression in her eyes and smiles a secret little smile. Other times, the mere mention of Tobin’s name will cause Christen to withdraw, expression snapping closed. Kelley honestly tries to be a good friend so she mostly avoids bringing up the New Jersey native. Desperate times call for desperate measures though.

     Unfortunately for Kelley, Press is not going to be sidetracked. The forward gives Kelley a half glare that practically screams ‘really? That’s your lame attempt to avoid this conversation?’. She doesn’t say anything more, waiting Kelley out.

     Kelley, cursing herself for being unable to stand strong in the face of Christen’s withering gaze, caves. “I don’t like her; not like you’re implying.” Kelley tries to keep her denial succinct. Nothing to see here.

     “Oh, so you talk about her constantly because what, you dislike her?” Christen’s voice is teasing but her eyes are dark and serious.

     “We’re friends and all. I’m mentoring her. Because we’re both from Georgia and defenders and so on.” Sometimes Kelley wishes Press was a little less intelligent. Or at least a little less intuitive.

     “Kelley, you just spent the last ten minutes talking about how well Sonnett did in training. At most, half of that was about soccer. The rest was you talking about her calves.” Press is starting to sound exasperated now.

     “I’ve been meaning to ask her about her lifting regimen?” Kelley winces, hearing the questioning tone in her own feeble excuse.

     Press scoffs. “Seriously? Kelley I’ve known you for years. I can tell when you like someone. You’re not even remotely subtle.”

     Whelp. That’s awkward. Kelley’s always wondered if Christen knew that Kelley was crushing on her during college. That seems significantly more likely now. Trying to hide her embarrassment, Kelley says, “so maybe I like her a little. It’s not a big deal. She’s an attractive woman and I’m hella gay. It’s not ridiculous for me to notice she’s hot. I’ll get over it.”

     Christen makes an unconvinced hmmm noise. Looking hesitant, the striker says, “you’re not seeing anyone right? You could ask her out you know.”

     Forcing a semi realistic sounding laugh, “ha yeah right. I’m not going to mess up the team dynamic.” The not again goes unsaid. “Besides, Emily doesn’t like me like that. I’m totally a big sister figure.”

     Christen’s expression softens, probably remembering what a disaster mess Kelley was after Hope put her through the wringer.

     Kelley avoids eye contact, uncomfortable with anything resembling pity.

     “Are you sure that’s how…. Emily feels? You realize you’re the only one who calls her that right?” Press is watching Kelley closely, assessing.

     “I mean of course. Why would she feel anything else?” Kelley chooses not to address calling Emily by her first name. She likes that she’s apparently worthy of that honor but she refuses to dwell on it. That privilege doesn’t mean that Emily wants to have babies with her or anything.

     “Oh Kelley. You’re worthy of love. You know that, right? Just because you’ve had some… trouble with past relationships, doesn’t mean anything. Anybody would be lucky to date you.” Christen’s voice is filled with compassion.

     Kelley feels both warmed and embarrassed by Press’s stalwart support. Playing it off, she says, “what relationships? I’m not interested in relationships. I like being single and ready to mingle. Down to get down and all.” Kelley leers at Press a little, trying and failing to wiggle her eyebrows provocatively.

     Press sighs but she’s also smiling slightly at Kelley’s antics. “Someday Kelley you’re going to end up loving and being loved like you deserve. I hope we’re still playing together when it happens because I’m going to enjoy watching some lucky woman dote on you.”

     Kelley wishes she had Press’ confidence. It doesn’t matter though. Kelley’s happy with life as it is. She just needs to get over this pesky crush. Also, maybe she should try giving Tobin another little nudge. Christen deserves to be happy too and it’s criminal the way her and Tobin have been dancing around each other. Kelley briefly considers if Emily would be down to lock Tobin and Press in a closet together. Shit, Kelley definitely needs to stop thinking up things which will involve spending time with Emily. It’s just too much temptation.

     Just a few more days and then Kelley won’t see Emily until the season starts. Kelley pretends like that seems like a good thing.

Chapter Text

     For Kelley, the 2017 NWSL season is a study in frustration. She’s pretty sure that they have a good team. Sam Kerr is scoring all sorts of crazy goals up front and Sheridan is keeping them in games. The problem is, even with the best keeper in the league, they leak goals like a sieve. Actually, more like a sieve that someone has kicked a hole through. Sky Blue is also apparently allergic to ties. They lose games that they should have at least gotten a point out of and it shows in their low position in the standings.

     On a personal level, Kelley is getting to be more involved in the attack. That’s satisfying even if the teams results aren’t. As much as she’s committed to being the best right back in the world for the USWNT, she still loves to get forward.

     Off the field, life could be worse. Kelley’s rooming with Sam and Sam’s girlfriend Nikki. It’s an ideal situation. Kelley has company when she wants it but can also hole up in her room when she feels anti-social. Sam and Nikki are very caught up with each other in an adorably if sickeningly sweet way. It’s nice to see, women loving each other fairly openly while still playing at a high level. It’s something a young Kelley hadn’t thought was possible. An older, world-wearier Kelley tries not to be too morose that she’ll never have something like their relationship for herself.

     Living with the couple is also nice and safe. Kelley doesn’t get dragged out to meet people as much and there is far less of a chance that she’ll catch feelings for one of her housemates. Of course, Kelley almost wishes she could form a new crush on one of her Sky Blue teammates. For once it might actually make her life easier.

     Her feelings for Emily haven’t waned. She’s still catching herself daydreaming about Sonnett’s pale eyes. And her broad shoulders. And the way Emily will sometimes stroke Kelley’s hair while they talk.

     An annoying side effect of being in love with her best friend is not being able to talk to said best friend about being in love.

     If Kelley had unrequited feelings for literally anyone else, she would immediately turn to Emily for advice and support. Sonnett would commiserate with Kelley and probably even try to bolster Kelley’s confidence. If she closes her eyes, Kelley can almost imagine Emily’s low voice telling her it’s okay for her to want a relationship. That Kelley is worthy of love.

     Problematically, Kelley doesn’t even want Emily to know that Kelley likes someone. Too much of a chance that Emily will put the pieces together and come up with the totally correct solution, that Kelley is sweet on her. Kelley can only keep her mouth shut and pray that Emily never catches on.

 

 

     Sighing, Kelley tries to push back the clouds of unhappiness that seem to haunt her. She’s lucky. She knows she is. Kelley gets to play professional soccer with some pretty awesome women. She has amazing friends, Emily first amongst them. Who cares if Sky Blue looks unlikely to make the playoffs and Kelley will never know what kissing Emily feels like?

     Sliding her phone out of her pocket, Kelley pulls up Sonnett’s Instagram. She’d creeped on it way too much recently. She probably should get a life of her own and stop scrolling back through Emily’s. She can’t seem to help herself though. Even filtered through Sonnett’s public mask, Emily is adorable. Kelley is very careful to never like or comment on any of the photo’s that predate their friendship. She also has a private pact to only comment on every third post Emily makes. She mostly follows it.

     One recent post constantly grabs her attention. It’s a candid photograph of Sonnett, hair pulled back in a customary bun, wearing sunglasses. Of course, it’s more what Emily is not wearing that catches Kelley’s eye. Because Emily, surely in an attempt to make Kelley pass out, had posted a picture of herself in shorts and a modest bikini top.

     When Kelley manages to redirect enough blood to her brain, she can acknowledge the fact that Emily riding an avocado inflatable is adorable. It’s also mouthwatering. Kelley really wants some avocado toast now… She can be the bread and Emily can be the avocado that gets spread all over her. Mentally, Kelley facepalms. Worst analogy ever. Those abs though. And the way Sonnett’s shoulders look with her arms spread behind her.

     For about the 100th time, Kelley opens the comments under the tasty photo. The caption is so dumb. Maybe Kelley would find it funny if Emily hadn’t credited it to Horan. Lindsey has absolutely no business noticing anything about Emily’s abs. The fact that Emily had used Horan’s stupid joke and then backed it up in the comments makes Kelley’s stomach sink. Here she is, far away from Emily in New Jersey, only her phone for company. Meanwhile, Horan gets to train with Emily, see her every day, and probably is the one making her smile.

     Tossing her phone onto the coffee table, Kelley glares at it. Stupid Horan. Stupid Sonnett for crushing on Horan (even if she claims she’s not). Stupid Kelley for having stupid feelings and getting into this stupid situation.

     Hanging her head off the back of the couch, Kelley stares at the ceiling. It, like most of the rental house, is an ugly eggshell white. It’s not a shade Kelley would ever have chosen. It doesn’t really matter though, this is just another in a long line of temporary houses. Not a home. Sometimes Kelley worries that she’ll never really put down roots, something she’s always wanted. A home, she doesn’t really care where, that she could fill with people she loves.

     Her forgotten phone lights up and she glances at it, face breaking into a wide grin when she sees the familiar picture of her and Emily.

     Grabbing for the phone, Kelley hits accept, greeting Emily, “hey, long time no talk!” She probably sounds overeager as she pulls out the tried and true joke.

     They’d talked earlier, before the Thorn’s game versus Chicago. Emily had seemed nervous on the phone but she certainly hadn’t looked it on the pitch. She was, in Kelley’s only somewhat biased opinion, having an excellent season for Portland. Kelley had watched because Christen was playing. Not so she could moon over Emily running around looking all intense. It’d been a good game for the Thorns and they’d ended up with a well deserved 3-1 win. Kelley knows Emily’s likely beating herself up for not keeping a clean sheet, even if the goal hadn’t directly been her fault.

     Kelley, trying to reign in her buoyant enthusiasm can’t help but praise the younger defender. “Hey you had a great game. Press only got by you like twice. That’s got to be some sort of record.”

     Emily, voice moderately rough, makes a non-comital sound. Then adds, “we won I guess.”

     Kelley, determined that Emily take a complement for once, says, “yeah you won. Because you were awesome. Don’t sell yourself short, Kid.”

     Kelley internally winces at calling Sonnett kid. She’d wanted to use an endearment, ‘love’ maybe. It’d been on the tip of her tongue and she’d barely bitten it back. Calling Emily Kid is safer. It just also shoots any minimal chance Kelley could have in the back but whatever.

     Emily, ignoring the praise and the nickname, says, “guess what?”

     “What?”

     “Tobin totally took Christen home after the game.” Emily sounds too pleased to be relaying this seemingly benign piece of news.

     “Okay… this is exciting how? Press already told me they were probably going to get dinner after the game.” Kelley slouches back onto the couch, closing her eyes and focusing totally on the timber of Emily’s voice. The younger woman had definitely been yelling and her voice reflects that. Part of Kelley really wants to hear Emily’s voice roughened from less PG activities then directing a back line.

     “No Kelley! You don’t understand, Tobin took her home. Like, waited for her outside of the locker-room with flowers and held open the car door, took her home. I think she was even going to cook. Dude, it was totally a date. Or a hook up. Either way, progress has been made!”

     Emily’s bubbly with the gossip and Kelley can feel the way her own face aches with how much she’s smiling. “Wait are you serious? Pics or it didn’t happen.”

     Almost before Kelley can ask, her phone is buzzing with incoming pictures. The grainy photos she receives were clearly taken somewhat unobtrusively from awkward angles. The first one is Tobin hovering anxiously outside of a door, fingering an honest to god bouquet of sunflowers. There is a candid shot of Press smiling blindingly as Tobin hands the flowers over. The final photo is of Tobin apparently flipping the photographer, Emily, off while shutting a car door. Kelley can just barely make out Press sitting in the passenger seat.

     “You totally got caught! Emily we’ve been so successfully sneaky! What happened?”

     “It’s not my fault!” Emily declares indignantly. “They were being so lovey-dovey they didn’t even notice me following them! I knew you’d want proof. It was just bad luck Tobin saw me at the end. Besides, it doesn’t matter at this point. Mission New Jersey Rainbow has been achieved.”

     “That name is still stupid. Nutting Nutmegs is totally better.”

     “No way, that’s too gross.”

     Even without seeing her, Kelley knows Emily’s nose will be wrinkling just the tiniest bit in displeasure. She’s so freaking adorable. The conversation lapses into a comfortable pause. Kelley can just barely hear Emily breathing on the other end of the line. Unconsciously she changes her own respiration to match.

     Tentatively, Emily says, “it’d be pretty great, to have something like they have.”

     “Maybe. I mean the distance is going to suck. It’ll be complicated for sure.” Kelley feels herself growing more somber, thinking about the length of the country separating her from the focus of her own affections.

     “Yeah distance isn’t ideal but it’ll be worth it. They totally love each other like crazy.” Pausing briefly to inhale, Emily presses, “and they’re perfect for each other and have so much in common. Plus, they’ll see each other for games and camps and stuff. They’ll make it work, don’t you think?”

     Kelley’s not sure why Emily is being so insistent. Part of Kelley wants to agree that the power of love will triumph and all that. But her own experience has her hesitating. She’s wanted to see Press and Tobin finally get together more than almost anyone. And not just because of various bets! Still though, so much could go wrong.

     Not to mention, as much as she hates herself for it, Kelley can’t help but feel a little jealous. Christen and Tobin are apparently going to have what Kelley secretly wants. The chance to actually be with someone who loves them more than anything. And what if Emily is asking because she’s imagining a similar relationship with Horan?

     Kelley hmms noncommittedly. “You’ll have to keep me updated. But be sneakier, okay?”

     Jokingly, Emily says, “I’ll be like a dandelion, they’ll never suspect me.” More seriously, “butyou don’t think it’s a problem, do you? Teammates dating each other?”

     “I think it’s… it’s complicated. I hope it works out for them.” Kelley is weighing her past against her dreams and coming up confused. She desperately would like the chance to find out if her and Emily could make it work. But that’s just her stupid optimism talking. There is no way anything between them would end in anything but disaster. Not that it would ever even happen in the first place.

     “I want it. I want what they're gonna have. I want the deep love and the sweet moments. I want to share all the little things with somebody who understands me completely. Does that make me naïve?” Emily’s voice doesn’t waiver but there is an almost pleading quality to it that has Kelley sitting straighter.

     “Oh Emily. No, it’s not naïve. You deserve that, you deserve everything.” Kelley is certain of very few things but one of them is that Emily Sonnett is worthy of the world.

     “I’m just jaded I guess.”

     “Is it because you’re still in love with her?”

      Emily’s question catches Kelley off guard and has her blurting, “in love with who?”

     “Hope.”

     Oh shit. Kelley had realized there was a decent possibility that people still talked about her disaster of an experience with the Keeper. She’d clung to the hope that Emily wasn’t aware of her checkered past though. Certainly, they’d not discussed it before now. God, Emily probably thought she was an idiot. And hypocritical.

     “Um no, I don’t have feelings for her. That was, well it was a long time ago. And it wasn’t like what Christen and Tobin have okay? It wasn’t good. For anyone. It was just a mistake.”

     Emily is silent and Kelley tries to not fill the quiet with babbling. Kelley kinda wants to tell Emily more about that tumultuous period of her life. But at the same time, she really doesn’t want to rehash it right now. Not over the phone where she can’t read Emily’s reactions.

     “Would you do it again, date a teammate?”

     Nonplussed, Kelley doesn’t think, “no of course not. I’m never going to mess up the team like that again.” She doesn’t add that there is only one teammate she’d even want to date. A certain blonde defender who will never even consider Kelley as an option.

     “Oh.” Emily’s exclamation is soft and she fails to add anything else.

      Trying to steer them back to safer waters, Kelley instructs, “keep me posted on any developments? I want to be able to tell their kids that we got them together someday.”

     Emily’s not as enthusiastic as Kelley would have expected. She agrees readily enough but is then quick to end the conversation entirely. “Look I should probably go. Lindsey and I were going to go get something to eat and she gets impossible when she’s hungry.”

     Stomach clenching, Kelley tries not to let her distaste color her tone. “Yeah of course. Go get some avocado toast or something.” Trying to shake off her Horan induced funk, Kelley adds, “you really were great today Emily. Actually, you’ve been pretty fucking awesome all season. And I’m not just saying that.”

     Inhaling audibly, Emily says, “thanks. That means a lot, especially coming from you. I really… well you mean a lot to me. Your opinion means a lot to me.”

     There is another pregnant pause. Kelley focuses on her breathing and trying not to expose her love.

     “I’ll call you once I’ve gotten the details out of Tobin? And we can make plans?” Emily is hesitant with the offer but Kelley jumps on it.

     “For sure. Or just call me whenever. I’ll be here.” Kelley winces at how desperate that makes her sound.

     “Okay. Bye Kel. I’ll talk to you soon.”

     “Yep. Bye Emily.”

      Kelley ends the call and places her phone gently back on the table. Moodily, she goes back to her appraisal of the ceiling. Tomorrow she’ll pester Christen, get her side of what ever is going on with Tobin. For now though, Kelley replays her conversation with Emily over and over. Picking at it mentally, looking for any meaning she could have missed.

      Coming to the conclusions that she is, and always will be, an idiot. Kelley closes her eyes. Unbidden, the picture of Emily floating in an avocado enters her thoughts. Again.

     Sighing, Kelley gets up. Maybe a run will help work off some of her feelings.

Chapter Text

      Kelley’s known she was going to get traded to Utah for a couple months now. It hasn’t been announced and she hasn’t told anyone except for Erin about it. She’s… tentatively optimistic.

     Sky Blue has been good for Kelley and she’s enjoyed living in New Jersey. However, despite having her personal best season in 2017, Sky Blue had never looked like they were going to really be in the race for a championship. Kelley is competitive enough that she really wants to add a NWSL shield and cup to her CV. Maybe a change will be good, both for her soccer and for her personal life.

      It’s not exactly going to be the ideal place to live. Kelley’s pretty sure she never would have picked Utah if she had her choice. She’s a little concerned that she won’t feel comfortable there, but at least she’ll have her teammates for company.

     Utah does have one massive advantage. It’s closer to Emily.

     Kelley can’t wait to tell Emily about the trade. She’s been holding off until the official papers are inked but that’s finally done. She’s pretty sure Emily will be as enthusiastic as she is. In truth, they probably won’t see each other that much more. They’re both going to be busy with their respective clubs and national team duties on top of that. Maybe Kelley will be able to sneak away to Portland occasionally. The time difference will be so much better though. Not to mention, Kelley feels soothed just from the thought of being only a short(er) flight away. Like she could be there for Emily, if she was ever wanted.

     She’s already plotting having Emily come help her find a place to live. She has to remind herself that it’s not going to be the same as looking for a house as a couple, but still. She can imagine Emily helping her pick out paint and plants. Plants that Kelley will probably kill unless Sonnett comes and helps her with them. Maybe that can be an extra reason to entice Emily into staying with her sometimes.

     Mentally, Kelley decides she better get an apartment with a spare bedroom. She wants Emily to stay with her whenever possible and sharing a bed at this point would probably be unwise. Kelley has enough trouble controlling herself when she’s awake. Unconscious, well, best not risk it.

     Kelley figures that the mini camp before their November friendlies will be a good time to talk to Emily about it. She wants to do it in person, wants to be able to see Emily’s face. Kelley feels giddy thinking about the offseason to come. It’s going to be amazing. They’re on the slow side of the cycle so even national team will be less intense. Okay it won’t actually be less intense, but it’ll be less stressful. More focus on working on experimental things and less putting a fine hone on their skills.

     Kelley can’t wait.

 

 

     This camp, Kelley is probably the latest to arrive. There had been a mechanical issue with her plane so she’d gotten to the hotel after 8 pm. She’s not anal about being early, not like Sam is, but she hates that she’s coming into camp behind. It makes her feel wrong footed, like she’s missed a quickly taken short corner.

     By the time she’s unloading her luggage from the taxi Kelley is tired and just wants to shower and go to bed. She missed the welcome team dinner though so she probably has to go check in with the coaches. As a result of her preoccupation, Kelley fairly levitates when a warm hand brushes her own on the handle of her suitcase. Spinning around, Kelley is preparing to rebuke some poor overeager bellhop. She’s happily surprised to find Emily instead.

     Kelley freezes, still startled but also just drinking Emily in. The taller blonde is smiling softly but also holding her hands up placatingly. Without speaking, Kelley drops her suitcase and throws herself into Emily’s arms. As she collapses into the taller woman, Kelley can feel the soft puff of an exhale Emily lets out. Not wanting Emily to read the emotions that are probably obvious in her eyes, Kelley buries her head against Sonnett’s neck. Her forehead fits perfectly, right in the space above Emily’s collarbone. Suddenly delayed planes and tardy arrivals seems so insignificant. Emily is here.

     Before Kelley can get too self-conscious at basically leaping into Emily’s arm, the younger woman is slowly easing a hand up to cup the back of Kelley’s head. Kelley can’t help the slight shiver when Emily’s fingers brush the skin at the back of her neck. Hopefully Sonnett will just assume that she’s cold.

     It’s time for Kelley to step away now. It’s past time really. But Emily’s warm and the hand on her head is brushing back some of Kelley’s fly away hairs. Swallowing thickly, Kelley eventually manages to lean back, detaching herself from the younger woman.

     To Kelley’s pleasant surprise, Emily doesn’t let her go right away. As Kelley eases back, Emily’s hand trails feather light over Kelley’s cheek. Only when Kelley completely breaks contact does Emily let her hand drop. Kelley watches it, sees the way the blonde clenches it by her side. Maybe Emily actually is cold.

     “Hey.”

      Emily’s voice is rough again. Enough so that Kelley wonders what sort of tomfoolery Sonnett’s been getting up too. Stupid plane being late. Belatedly, Kelley realizes that words would be a good thing to use right about now.

     Clearing her own throat, Kelley says, “hey you. I missed you.” Kelley bites her lip, regretting how hoarse and needy she sounds. It’s probably just the dry airplane air messing up her throat.

     “I missed you too. Like a duck misses the water.” Emily’s smile has progressed from soft into teasing.

     Falling into the playful interchange, Kelley asks, “doesn’t water roll off ducks back’s? Isn’t that the expression? Are you saying I am repellent to you?”

     Laughing, Emily reaches around Kelley to grab her suitcase. “No silly goose, you’re like the water beneath my wings, holding me up.”

     “Pretty sure it’s wind beneath my wings.” Kelley let’s Sonnett purloin her suitcase, instead grabbing her duffle from her feat and checking her pockets to make sure she’s got the essential. Once she’s sure she has everything, she leads the way into the hotel

     “Whatever. Not all of us got an Ivy league light education, Miss Stanford.”

      Kelley can’t see Sonnett’s face but she can picture it perfectly right down to that stupidly beautiful playful smile. The one that does terribly good things to Kelley’s insides.

    “Whatever. You’re impossible. Lay off the bird puns before I tell you to duck off.” There is no malice behind Kelley’s words. Both she and Emily know that she loves the playful side to their friendship. Of course, Emily’s not clued in on exactly how much Kelley loves it.

     Repressing a sigh, Kelley makes her way over to the elevators. She pauses there, assessing. The team will have already checked her in but she needs to find out who she’s rooming with and what the room number is. Also, she really should find Jill, or at least one of the assistants. Preferably one of the assistants.

     Seeing her indecisiveness, Emily offers, “you’re rooming with me. 304. I even left you the bed by the window so I wouldn’t have to listen to you gripe about it. I can take your stuff up if you want to go check in with the staff. They’ve set up a command center in 202/203.”

     “That would be amazing actually. Thanks. I’ll have to figure out who I pissed off to end up stuck with you though.” Kelley’s heart is already beating faster than it should be, imagining multiple nights of seeing Emily all sleepy and soft.

     Emily looks sheepish and is suddenly very interested in the ugly patterned carpet. “I uh, actually asked to switch with Sam. She was technically your assigned roommate.” Now looking worried, Emily adds, “she’ll switch back if you’d prefer?”

     “Emily, chill. It’s fine. I can totally put up with your snoring for the short term. Besides, now we can catch up. Who was your roommate anyway? I can’t imagine Sam wanting to switch if she was going to end up with Carli or something.”

     “Hey! I don’t snore. Besides, you go to sleep too early to be bothered anyway, you’re like an old woman.” After only a slight pause, Emily adds, “and, um, I was paired up with Lindsey, so Sam was fine to trade.”

     Now Kelley’s blinking stupidly. Emily traded away from Lindsey to sleep with her? Not like, sleep with her, sleep with her. But still. Emily picked her! Suddenly in a far better mood then a day of delays should have put her in, Kelley reaches out and tags the up button.

     Trying to hide how happy Emily’s made her, Kelley teases, “so are you going to kill me in my sleep? Take my spot by force?”

     Rolling her eyes, Emily mutters, “if anyone is going to die from rooming together, it’d be me. I didn’t have nefarious intentions. I just wanted to talk to you actually. I have some news.”

     Entering the elevator, Kelley unleashes a megawatt smile, “I’ve got some news too. Good news. Let me just go register my presence and find something to eat? Then we can talk?”

     Running a hand over the back of her neck, Emily follows Kelley into the elevator and leans against the far wall. “Yeah sure. I saved you some food too, in case you were hungry, it’s in the room.”

    Unable to resist Emily being both sweet and adorable, Kelley leans over and brushes a kiss low on Emily’s cheek. She’d been aiming for just a friendly playful peck but her (limited) height had resulted in her lips brushing closer to the sharp curve of Emily’s jaw. Half jumping back to her side of the elevator, Kelley tries to focus on not hyperventilating. That was stupid. She doesn’t want Emily to be uncomfortable. Or think Kelley is hitting on her. Or worst, be uncomfortable because she thinks Kelley is hitting on her.

    Chancing a glance at Emily, Kelley is surprised to see the younger woman blushing lightly. Kelley watches as the color rises up the blonde’s face until even her ears have a slight pink hue. Luckily for Kelley, the elevator dings indicating their arrival on the second floor. She makes a hasty exit, leaving her suitcase with Emily.

 

 

     Kelley’s done with the coaches shortly. Collecting the information packet and schedule she makes her escape. It’s not like any of the information is new. She’s an old hat at this by now plus there had been an email with identical stuff earlier this week.

     After even the brief interactions, Kelley’s feeling her exhaustion again. She’s more then ready to go eat something and crash. Maybe if she’s lucky she can convince Emily to snuggle with her and watch a movie or some shitty television. That actually sounds heavenly about now.

     Kelley locates the room and manages to convince the key card to work (on only the third try too!). She shoulders into the room and is greeted by the pleasant sight of Emily and food. Kelley’s not certain which she is happier to see. Emily has laid out a selection of different things, all food that Kelley would have chosen for herself. Sonnett really is an amazing friend.

     They chat lightly while Kelley eats. Emily picks at some fruit, clearly keeping Kelley company more then anything else. Kelley should probably tell her that’d it be fine if she wanted to go hang out with some of the other kids. There is no real reason Emily needs to be here, watching Kelley have dinner. Selfishly, Kelley doesn’t want to. She likes having all of Emily’s attention to herself. It doesn’t happen often and Kelley justifies her motives by thinking about how Lindsey probably monopolizes Sonnett most of the time.

     When Kelley’s full enough that she’s now mostly just sleepy, Emily tidies the room. Kelley makes a brief protest but lets it go when it becomes clear Sonnett is going to insist. They take turns in the bathroom, carrying out nightly routines and changing into PJs. Kelley regrets only bringing a worn Stanford shirt and baggy shorts to sleep in. Not exactly her most enticing look. Not that Emily would be enticed by even her raciest of sleepwear.

     To Kelley’s disappointment, apparently cuddling is not in the cards for tonight. They climb into their respective beds and Kelley absentmindedly flips through TV channels. She finally settles on some cooking challenge, letting it play in the background as she turns to Sonnett.

     Emily’s reclining on a side, propped on her elbow facing Kelley.

     Kelley, settling back in her bed, murmurs, “hi again.” Then she watches the formation of one of those patented soft smiles.

     “Hi. Can we talk now? Or are you tired. It’ll keep if you want to go to bed.” Emily’s rambling is equal parts cute and worrying.

     Regretting being too far away to reassure Emily physically, Kelley tries to show with her body language that Emily has no reason to be stressed. “Now is fine. I’m not tired. Besides, I have news for you too. Do you want me to go first?” Kelley feels her excitement building already. Once Emily knows about Utah, they can start making plans. Maybe they can go directly from camp even.

     Emily half nods her agreement and Kelley ploughs on. “So, I’m going to Utah.” When Emily doesn’t respond beyond looking confused, Kelley adds, “I’m getting traded, to the new Utah team? The Royals?”

    Looking flummoxed, Emily says, “oh. Is that… Are you okay with that?”

     Kelley, not understanding why Emily isn’t sharing her excitement, throws back her covers and moves to sit on the edge of the bed. “I mean, I’m not thrilled to be uprooted again and the team is probably going to be terrible. But it’s in Utah!”

     “Um, Utah is good? It has skiing and stuff?” If anything, Emily seems more confused.

     “Okay so Utah’s not exactly where I would have chosen to base a team. I mean clearly LA would be a much better market. But that’s not what I’m trying to tell you. Dude, we’re going to be so close to each other! Basically neighbors.”

     Sonnett’s not smiling. In fact, her face is fairly expressionless.

     Unwilling to be subdued by Emily’s lack of response, Kelley lays out her plan. “So, I was thinking, maybe you could come help me look at apartments? We could hang out, visit some national parks, maybe train a little? It’ll be great!”

     Now Emily’s frowning and Kelley doesn’t understand what’s going wrong. She’d thought, well she’d hoped that Emily would want to spend time with her. She doesn’t understand why Emily looks like crying over the fact that they’ll no longer be on opposite sides of the country.

     “Kelley, Kelley I’ve got to tell you something.” Sonnett’s eyes have never looked so blue. Or so lost. “Kelley I’m going to Australia.”

     Wait, what?

      Kelley’s mind isn’t processing right. “What, like for vacation? Why would you go to Australia?” The questions come out half accusation. Not really what Kelley intended but this is completely out of left field.

     Emily lays back in the bed, no longer looking at Kelley. Gazing at the ceiling she says, “I haven’t played all year you know? Not even a few minutes. So, I talked to Jill. She… she’s looking in some other directions right now. I was last on the list for this camp, just scraped in. I’m not going to play in the friendlies.”

     Kelley, instantly indignant, “is she blind? You’ve been playing incredible. Hasn’t she been watching Portland?”

     Emily doesn’t respond. Continuing in a despondent tone, “I asked her how I needed to improve. What I could do. She said she needed to see more from me. I didn’t know what else I could do, I’m already playing every minute with the Thorns. But Sydney FC? In the W-league? They want me. Only for a loan, but it’ll give me another chance. I just, I had to try something right?”

     Now Emily is glancing over at Kelley. Just a quick peek but it’s enough that Kelley sees the glimmer of wetness in the corners of Emily’s eyes.

     Fed up with the space between them, Kelley slips out of her bed and tugs at Emily’s blankets. Gently, she instructs, “scoot over”. Emily complies, swiping at her face with the back of her arm. Kelley carefully doesn’t mention the tears, instead climbing under the covers right up into Emily’s personal space. Giving Emily the chance to pull away, Kelley slowly wraps both arms around the crying woman. She molds their bodies together and holds on tightly, trying to reassure both Emily and herself that everything will be okay.

     Emily sniffles a few times and wriggles around so that her back is to Kelley. Accepting the repositioning, Kelley spoons Emily from behind, anchoring her with an arm over her waist. Neither of them speaks for a few long moments. Kelley listens intently to the rough sounds of Emily breathing. She matches it, trying desperately to think.

     “Australia’s… nice.” Kelley’s voice is a hesitant whisper. Not getting a response, Kelley rests her face on the side of Emily’s neck. “They have good beer. And egg laying mammals. And veggie spread stuff.” Kelley can feel more then see Emily squeeze her eyes shut.

     When she speaks, Emily’s voice is flat, “it’s on the other side of the world. All my friends, my family, you… everything that matters, it’s here.”

     Stymied, Kelley let’s that statement occupy the dark room. It’s certainly big enough to dominate the space.

     “Emily, I know this sucks. I’m not saying it doesn’t but, it’s just a loan, right? Just a few months and then you’ll be back and I’ll, I’ll be here. I mean we all will be here, of course. Lindsey isn’t going to abandon you the second you leave the country. If she tried, I’d kill her.”

    That’s enough to startle a half laugh out of Emily.

     Building momentum, Kelley adds, “so, if you think this is what you need to do, then you’re going to do it. You’ll kill it over there too. Those Aussies won’t know what hit them! I’ll talk to Sammy, she’s been doing both leagues for years and she knows all the Australians of course. Oh, and maybe you’ll get tan!”

     Now smiling despite her tears, Emily interlaces their fingers and pulls Kelley’s arm further around her waist, up against her chest.

     She whispers, “I’m sorry we’re not going to be closer. I would’ve liked picking out a place with you. I’d have made sure you ended up someplace hip. Not in like, a retirement community.”

     Snorting back a laugh, Kelley is still not ready to let Emily hide her emotions behind jokes. “Emily, you’re going to be amazing and everything is going to work out. Jill’s an ass but she’s not typically stupid for long periods. She’ll see reason eventually. Besides, before you know it, you’ll be back in Portland pretending to be a hipster and I’ll be coming to town with the Royals to kick some prickly Thorn ass.”

    “In your dreams, baby. No way will ‘da Thorns lose to a team from Utah.”

     Emily’s voice has finally regained a little of its usual pep. Enough that Kelley finally feels herself starting to relax. She also pretends that Emily calling her baby, even jokingly, didn’t just cause her heart to ache.

     Emily falls quiet and Kelley keeps still, listening to the sound of Emily’s breathing even out and eventually slow with sleep. Closing her own eyes, Kelley tries to focus on the now. Australia is tomorrows issue. For tonight, she’s going to enjoy this. Being with Emily again, getting to hold her, being able to comfort her. Right before drifting off herself, Kelley is hit by one last thought.

      She’s always wanted to go surfing in Australia.

Chapter Text

     Kelley had assumed that Emily would have a harder time settling into a new club then Kelley herself would. She’d seemed so torn up about the loan that night at camp. Also, the younger blonde has to deal with being on the opposite side of the world after all. It’d be perfectly understandable if Emily struggled to adjust in Australia.

     As it turns out, that’s not at all the case.

     Joining midseason, Emily immediately makes an impact for Sydney FC. She’s playing like a woman possessed. Maybe it’s the lack of pressure, playing in the W-league doesn’t really attract the same notice as being in the NWSL does. Or maybe it’s just something about the Australian football culture that really suits Sonnett. Either way, Kelley can’t help but be impressed.

     Kelley has been staying up way to late (to early?) to watch bad streams of games whenever she can find them. It’s almost an addiction, peering at her computer screen scanning constantly for that familiar bun. It makes Kelley feel a little better if she can watch Emily play at least. Her heart still feels uneasy with Emily’s absence, but seeing Emily running around a pitch smiling helps.

     Off the field, things are apparently going great?

     Kelley’s not there, so she doesn’t know for sure, but everything Sonnett relays about life in Australia sounds amazing. Emily loves where she’s staying and has temporary custody of some apparently fascinating plants. Her fellow Georgian keeps sending Kelley adorable selfies of herself posing with different foliage. Kelley has maybe been carefully saving them to an album. One that she’s hopefully hidden well enough that nobody will ever be able to find or question. Emily also says that she’s enjoying the sights and even likes the food. Most notably, she’s already made friends. Friends that Kelley is not jealous off.

     All told, Emily is apparently having the time of her life.

     Meanwhile, Kelley’s been making the long trip back and forth between Georgia and Utah. She’s trying to finish moving into her bland apartment in her drab neighborhood. She’s trying to get excited for preseason with a team and coach she doesn’t know.

     Sourly, Kelley thinks that really, she doesn’t know anyone in the whole city. Okay so that’s not entirely true. She has Christen, who is preoccupied with Tobin, and Becky, who’s still in Oregon with Zola. But other then that, she’s on her own.

     Basically, Kelley is struggling to find things to occupy her time. There’s a Sonnett sized hole that she can’t fill. She spends a lot of her days moping around feeling sorry for herself. She can only snap out of it by either pushing herself too hard working out or by talking on the phone with Sonnett.

     Thank goodness that Kelley’s cell phone service doesn’t charge outrageously for out of country calls. They would have run up an absolute monstrosity of a bill otherwise. The time difference makes things challenging. Kelley doesn’t know how they would have coped if she’d had more normal commitments. As it is, she happily reorders her days around when Emily will be free to talk.

     In some ways, the distance is a good thing for Kelley. She’s able to quietly pine for Emily without the risk of doing stupid things like hugging her tenderly. Or kissing her lovingly. The brunette still has to bite her tongue sometimes to keep from letting her feelings slip but in general, it’s easier to hide her attraction at least.

     If she occasionally comes across as overly complimentary, well they’re friends after all. And Emily’s confidence needs to be bolstered. The young woman really doesn’t seem to understand how amazing she is, both on and of the field.

     As the days in Utah drag on, Kelley focuses on how many hours it will be until she gets to talk to Emily again. It’s the only thing that’s getting her through the separation.

 

 

     It’s after one such long phone call that Kelley realizes she may have something of a problem. It had started innocently enough, Emily had been talking about one of her new teammates/friends, a young Australian named Caitlin Foord. They’d apparently become close and Emily was hanging out with the speedy forward a lot.

     This isn’t new information to Kelley. She’s known about the budding friendship for a few weeks. She’d even guiltily asked around a little, trying to find out anything she can about the woman.

      Sam Kerr had proved to be an enthusiastic source, talking eagerly about Foord and how great she was. Apparently, they were old friends from the Australian national team. Kelley had been reassured that Sam at least thought that Foord was a good person. That was until Sam, always something of a loudmouth, had mentioned that Foord shared something in common with Sam and Kelley both.

      She liked women.

      That tiny fact had put Emily and Foord’s friendship in a completely new light for Kelley. Because what if it wasn’t just a friendship? What if there were romantic feelings involved? Emily has already told Kelley that she thought teammates could work out together. And if Emily did like the Australian, well Foord would be crazy not to return Emily’s affections.

     Since this disturbing thought had taken root in her mind, Kelley has been carefully probing, trying to determine where Emily’s intentions lie. It’s been slow going. Emily doesn’t know that Kelley’s aware of Foords sexuality. And Kelley knows for a fact that Emily’s not the type to out people. Especially not to somebody they’ve never met.

     On top of that, Emily always seems to get extremely cagey when it comes to matters of her own heart. The young woman will happily talk about the topic of love in general. She’ll argue with Kelley about what is and isn’t romantic. She’s also been a willing accomplice in their plot to get Pressy and Tobs together. Emily is also really good about asking Kelley if there is anyone special in her life. Not that Kelley’s ever going to admit the truth of course. Still, when it comes to her own heart, Emily remains tight lipped.

     So now Kelley finds herself in a hard spot. She’s worrying constantly that she’s going to lose Emily to a woman she’s never even met. And there is nothing she can do about it. Kelley hasn’t even thrown her hat in the ring. She has no claim to Emily. It’s like the Horan situation but worse because Foord is apparently both perfect for Emily and gay.

     Being away from Emily in the States has made the whole mess even more miserable. If Kelley could see Emily, even for a few minutes, she’d feel better. She’d be reassured that even if Emily doesn’t love her, their friendship is still special to the younger woman. Not to mention without an ocean between them, Kelley could meet this Australian interloper and try to determine what her relationship with Emily actually is.

    The thing is, if Emily does fall in love with Caitlin, Kelley knows she’ll be supportive. She’s too in love with Emily not to be. If Emily wants, Kelley will listen to her talk about how wonderful Foord is. She’ll help the blonde pick out date outfits. Hell, she’ll even attend their wedding if Emily asks her too. But oh man, every second would be agony.

     That’s why Kelley is really struggling to hide her distress as she listens to Emily right now. Because Emily is talking about how she’s trying to convince Foord to follow her back to the US. Okay she’s not saying it that plainly. The blonde is explaining that she’s trying to talk up the Thorns so that Foord will come and play for them. Still, in Kelley’s mind it all means the same thing. Emily must have feelings for the Australian. Maybe they’re already dating and in love. It’s only been a short while but lesbians are known for getting serious fast.

     The worst part is, apparently Foord is seriously considering the move.

      When they eventually hang up over an hour later, Kelley is not floating in her normal Sonnett induced bliss. Instead, all her angst and general ennui coalesce into one big wall of depression. She promptly tries to self-destruct using familiar patterns.

     First, she goes on a too long run, pushing herself until she feels faint from lack of oxygen and her muscles burn. Then, because she’s nothing if not a stubborn masochist, she runs another two miles at breakneck speed just to prove to herself that she can. By the time she gets back to her stupid, barren apartment, she’s struggling to walk without limping. She takes the stairs anyway, two at a time, hating every step but still forcing herself to climb them anyway.

     Then she takes a cold shower, eats some cold and tasteless vegan soup, and climbs into her cold and empty bed. She pulls the covers over her head, shutting out the wintery sunshine that’s coming in her windows. She’s not in the mood for the sun.

     To punish her mind so it can match her aching body, Kelley proceeds to stalk Caitlan Foord’s social media accounts. And Emily’s. She searches desperately for any sign of what their relationship might be.

     Finally, she messily cries herself to sleep.

     In the morning, Kelley decides that she’s done feeling like this. It’s too much and it’s too hard. She needs a distraction in the worst way. So, she does the only logical thing. She creates an account on a dating app and starts trolling through different women’s profiles.

     Even looking at other women with romantic intent makes something in Kelley stomach flip uneasily. She does it anyway, brushing aside the feeling of disquiet. She messages with a few different people distractedly, not really trying that hard. Still, by mid afternoon the day after listening to Emily talk about Foord moving to America, Kelley has a date set up for early next week. She pretends that it’s nerves about meeting somebody new that she’s feeling instead of heartbreak.

     The date, when it happens, goes better then Kelley expected. Actually, it goes better then Kelley deserves. The woman, a law student who loves antique books and spends her free time hiking, is actually pretty wonderful. She’s kind and smiles at Kelley gently as they go through the awkward getting to know each other conversations. Honestly, she reminds Kelley a little of Emily. Not physically, but in the way that she manages to make the people around her feel special.

      Kelley hates herself all the more after the date. Hates herself for not staying true to Emily even though she’s never been asked to. Hates that she’s using a perfectly nice human to try and distract herself from her own feelings.

     Kelley still sets up a second date.

     The woman, her name is Sarah, agrees eagerly. Apparently, Kelley had done a better job hiding her emotional turmoil then she thought. Almost accidently, Kelley falls into a third and then a fourth date. Without realizing it at first, she finds her mood improving. It’s hard to be a ball of depression when she’s got plans to go on walks exploring Utah’s natural beauty. Or reservations to try a new vegan place that has a mishmashed esthetic that Kelley doesn’t hate.

     Suddenly Kelley finds herself talking to Emily less often. She’s trying desperately to give her heart a little bit of a break. The brunette doesn’t think she can handle finding out if Foord really is going to come to the States. Or worse, if Emily’s with her by now. Kelley’s got less free time now too. She has a not-quite girlfriend to date.

     Kelley goes home for Christmas. She spends only a few days in Georgia, not long enough for her family but too long for Kelley’s current emotional fragility. Something about the state makes her miss Emily more. It’s as if every step she takes on the red clay soil brings her further from something she’ll never have.

     When her Mom asks about Emily, it’s all Kelley can do to stop from crying. In a different world, one where Kelley wasn’t such a mess, she’d be worthy of Emily. Maybe then, she and Emily could come back here together. Take on both the good and bad of the South as a unit. Find happiness and home and family. That’s not the world Kelley lives in though.

     Kelley runs back to Utah and the distractions she’s found there as quickly as possible.

      On New Years Eve, Sarah and Kelley go out to a bar. It’s not a gay bar but it’s liberal enough that Kelley feels pretty comfortable. They dance, bodies closer then friendly but far enough apart to maintain some semblance of propriety. By midnight, they end up back at Sarah’s apartment. Standing in front of it, breath visible in the cold air, Kelley’s surprised when Sarah kisses her. It’s been coming for weeks and still Kelley hadn’t really expected it.

     It’s a good kiss. Kelley tries to lose herself in the sensations, letting go of emotions. She doesn’t love this woman. She may never love this woman. Still, nothing in Kelley’s life has shown her that she’s worthy of love. Why should she wait for something she’s never going to truly have? Here is a beautiful woman who wants her, why shouldn’t Kelley take what she can get?

     When Sarah leads her upstairs Kelley follows.

Chapter Text

     Kelley’s not sure she’s ever been this excited for a January camp.

     She’s been around the block enough that she only feels a slight twinge of nerves. She knows she’s going to have to work hard to fight for a spot, that’s a given. But she doesn’t feel the overwhelming pressure as much as she used to. Because she’s less anxious, it’s easier to focus on the good parts of the annual camp. Mainly, that she’s going to see her friends again.

     Alex is already planning some sort of excursion for just the two of them. Kelley hopes it’ll involve something other than shopping. She doesn’t mind stroking the forwards ego a little, but sitting around dressing rooms isn’t exactly her idea of fun. Kelley would like to think she’s got a decent fashion sense but she certainly not as interested in the runway style stuff that Alex gravitates towards. No matter what they do, it’ll be a good chance to catch up with the Californian. It’s been too long.

     Of course, the person that Kelley is most excited to see again is Emily. It’d been uncertain if the younger defender would be at camp at all. Not that Jill hadn’t called her up. It seems like Emily’s sacrifice is working and Ellis is finally recognizing her skill. It’d just been a matter of it Sonnett’s team in Australia would release her to make the long trip back to the US for the camp. In the end, Emily’s absence gets approved and Kelley is going to see her in just a few more days.

 

 

     Arriving at camp, Kelley falls quickly back into the regular rhythem. She hangs out with teammates and jokes around, trying to pretend everything is normal, because it is normal. It works fairly well until Alex finally gets her alone. Unfortunately for Kelley, Alex’s plan does involve shopping. However, luckily that part only lasts a couple hours and then they are successfully ensconced at a little French Bistro style restaurant that the California native had wanted to try.

     The striker is initially preoccupied by catching Kelley up on the happenings in her own life. Things that her and Sev have been doing and complaints about the Pride. However, by the time they are finishing up with dinner, Alex has moved onto interrogating Kelley.

     “So, how’s Utah?”

     Alex’s generic question still has Kelley’s palms sweating slightly. She’s very carefully not mentioned Sarah to any of her friends. If she tells them about it, suddenly it will become less of a distraction and more of a relationship and Kelley’s not ready for that. Besides that, she knows that somebody, Christen if not Alex, will ask questions Kelley doesn’t want to answer about Emily.

     “Utah’s good. The teams good. I’ve been settling in, figuring out my apartment. You know how it is when you get traded.”

     There, a nice generic response. Nothing that should trigger deeper investigation.

     Looking supremely unimpressed, Alex says, “come on Kel, a few weeks ago you seemed about as down as I’ve ever seen you. Now your… betterish? Is this about Sonnett? Did you two finally work things out?”

    "What? Emily doesn’t have anything to do with my mood! Why would you think that? And work what out? There is nothing to work out. She’s in Australia.”

     Eventually Kelley’s protest dies off. She’s pretty sure she’s only made things worse. If Alex didn’t know Emily was a bit of a soft spot before, she does now. Kelley’s probably going to get teased mercilessly.

    Alex looks contemplative for a second. “Look Kelley, I know somethings going on between the two of you. Honestly, I think the whole team knows. But if you aren’t ready to talk about it, that’s whatever. Just don’t lie to me and say everything is fine, because you’ve sounded miserable since Emily went to Australia.”

     Alex puts extra emphasis on Sonnett’s first name, clearly implying something.

     Frantic now, Kelley ekes out, “Sonnett has nothing to do with… there is nothing going on between us. I have a girlfriend!”

     Whelp. That is a gross overstatement of her and Sarah’s, Kelley doesn’t even really want to call it a relationship. Too late now.

     “A girlfriend who isn’t a blonde centre-back with a questionable sense of humor? Because the way you and Sonnett look at each other…”

     “We’re friends. Just friends.” Kelley’s voice sounds hollow, even in her own ears.

     Alex sighs. She folds her hands over each other on the table top and waits Kelley out.

     “Look, Emily,” Kelley corrects herself, “Sonnett, is an amazing friend and I love her.” Kelley can feel her eyes and throat burn. It’s nothing but the truth but also an incredible understatement. She loves Emily. Loves her in a way that makes her stupid heart stutter.

    “But we’re not like that. And I’m dating this woman I met online actually, her name’s Sarah. She’s nice.” Kelley finishes a little feebly.

    The consummate predator, Alex strikes at the weakest part of Kelley’s explanation.

     “She’s nice? How long have you been dating her for exactly? And why am I only hearing about her now?”

     “I don’t know, a few weeks? A month and a half? I just wasn’t really ready to talk about it.”

     Alex picks up her water glass, tilts it from side to side, the melting ice clinking in the silence.

     “Okay.”

     Confused, Kelley parrots back, “Okay?”

     “Okay. If this is what’s making you happy right now, I’m glad. I’m pretty sure it’s going to blow up in your face but whatever, I’m your friend even when you’re being an idiot. I do have one question though, what did Sonnett say about it?”

     Kelley, who’d been relaxing slightly with Alex’s easy acceptance, freezes. Her stomach pitches. It’s not that she’s keeping it from Emily. Not exactly. She’s just not brought it up. She and Emily have both been busy and Kelley hasn’t been talking to her fellow Georgian as much recently.

     “Um, I haven’t mentioned it to her yet.”

     Rolling her eyes, Alex asks, “do I want to know what your excuse is for keeping your dating life a secret from your best friend? Your best friend other than me, of course.”

     Bitterly, Kelley says, “it’s not like we tell each other every little thing. Besides, Emily’s been preoccupied with her new boo. Do you know Caitlan Foord? The Australian?”

     Eyebrows rising, Alex calmly states, “Emily Sonnett is not dating some Australian she just met.”

     Darkly, Kelley murmurs, “yeah, she is.”

    “Kelley, please tell me that you didn’t start dating some random woman because you were jealous?”

     Kelley stays silent. It sounds bad. She knows it sounds bad. Hell, she knows her behavior hasn’t been the best. It’s not really jealousy driving her towards Sarah. More like a general despondency over ever being loved. Not that she’s going to admit to that embarrassing fact. Especially not to her happily married former crush.

     The striker sighs again when it’s clear Kelley’s not going to answer.

     “Kelley, I love you, really I do, but you are such an idiot sometimes. I hope you know what you’re doing because right now, I can only see this ending in heartbreak, probably for the both of you.” With that ominous statement made, Alex adds, “Come on. We should get back, I’ll buy dinner.”

     Kelley lets the striker pay because, one, Alex makes way more then her, and two, after that conversation, Kelley feels like she deserves something nice. Her mind is still reeling, trying to acclimate to the different things Alex had said. Heartbreak for both of you? Both being her and Sarah? Then there is the way the Californian had casually dismissed the very idea that Emily could be dating Foord. Does Alex know something Kelley doesn’t?

     However, as they make the trip back to the hotel, one thought echoes relentlessly through Kelley’s mind. How is she going to tell Emily about Sarah?

 

 

    Kelley still hasn’t figured out how she’s going to broach the topic when the blonde who occupies the lion's share of her thoughts finally arrives.

     The team is in the middle of a morning session when Emily shows up, directly from the airport. She looks tired and so beautiful. Kelley can’t help but smile at the younger defender widely from across the field. Emily is catching up with the coaches, getting instructions before joining training. Still, when she looks up and sees Kelley watching her, Emily gives a little half wave paired with a brilliant smile of her own. Teeth shining and dimples making an appearance.

     Suddenly, Kelley feels like she could easily conquer the world. Or at least the soccer field. She redoubles her effort, pouring her energy into training. She manages to cling to her focus when Sonnett joins in. Now is not the time for a reunion, even if Kelley aches to hug the blonde tight and never let her go. There will be time for that later. And preferably a slightly more private location. One hopefully not under the smirking gaze of Alex Morgan.

     When training finishes, as it always eventually does, Kelley feels tired and sweaty in the best way. Her muscles are loose and the grin Emily’s appearance had sparked hasn’t diminished. She heads to the locker room happily, kicking off her slides and dancing to the music that is only slightly quieter then pounding.

     It’s even better when Emily, entering shortly behind Kelley, joins in the fun. Emily’s adorable when she dances. Not maybe the most natural in her movements but surprisingly good all the same. Not to mention the younger woman is always trying to get others to laugh and doesn’t seem to mind if that sometimes means they laugh at her awkward moves.

     Kelley, overwhelmed by the general joy of seeing Sonnett again, can’t help but take advantage of the situation a little. She strips off her damp practice top, twirling it around in one hand as she gyrates to the beat. She turns her back on Emily and slowly encroaches on the younger woman’s space. Glancing over her shoulder, Kelley can see that Sonnett is still dancing and has even removed her own shirt. Kelley's eyes linger too long on the sweat spot of Emily’s sports bra and the definition in her stomach.

     Biting a lip, Kelley pushes a little further, it’s what she does after all.

     Facing forward so she doesn’t have to see Emily’s expression, Kelley presses her ass back into the younger woman. They’re not grinding, not really, but the feel of Emily’s body dancing so intimately near, gets to Kelley all the same. It only gets better when one of Emily’s slightly damp hands comes up to brush over her bare shoulder.

     Kelley shivers, trying to keep her pleasure from showing on her face. They are still in the locker room after all and their teammates are all around them. Most of them aren’t really paying attention, too use to the antics the Georgians regularly engage in. Still, she can’t help but enjoy this moment and its emotional release. She’d missed this, just being with Emily.

     Suddenly, Kelley hears a sharp inhale from behind her. The hand that had been ghosting over her skin firms and a thumb presses against a spot on her shoulder blade.

     At first, Kelley is pleased by the touch. She always loves when Sonnett is like this with her, she still craves physical intimacy like a touched starved animal.

     Then, everything abruptly goes wrong.

     Emily’s not dancing anymore, just standing, hand on Kelley’s skin. Then the younger woman is stepping back, letting the contact drop. Confused, Kelley pivots, still moving to the beat. She slowly grinds to a halt when she gets a good look at Emily’s expression. Or really, Emily’s lack of expression.

     Concerned, Kelley asks, “Em? Are you okay?”

     Jaw clenching, Emily says, “yeah fine. I just didn’t know you were seeing someone. I guess I was surprised.”

     “Wait what? I’m not… what makes you say that?” Kelley’s thrown, both by the assertion and by the cold note to Emily’s voice.

     “O’hara, you have a hickey on your back. So, clearly you’re seeing someone in some way.”

     Kelley’s hand jerks up to her shoulder, reaching for a mark she can’t feel. She’d told Sarah no marks. How had she not noticed?

     Eyes wide, Kelley fumbles, “um it’s not serious? We’ve only been dating for a couple months…”

     “A couple of months?” Sonnett turns her back on Kelley now and tugs her sweaty shirt back on. She crosses her arms, fingers digging into opposite elbows.

     “Yes? Her name is Sarah, we met in Utah and it just sort of happened.”

     Kelley is kicking herself. Why hadn’t she told Emily about this earlier? Or better yet, why had she just never started dating someone else in the first place. She suddenly feels far more exposed then she actually is. And far smaller.

     “Oh.”

     Emily’s voice is soft. So much so that Kelley struggles to make out what she’s saying over the music. Still, the blonde’s next words punch a hole straight through Kelley’s chest.

    “Why didn’t you tell me?”

     Emily sounds confused, lost even. She’s also not making eye contact with Kelley, instead looking off towards the far end of the locker room. Kelley instantly hates it. Emily has never looked away from her. Even before they became friends, Emily had watched her with almost challenging eyes. Not adverted her gaze uncertainly.

    “Emily, I didn’t… I just didn’t know how. I guess, well you’ve been busy and I wasn’t sure how to tell you.”

     Voice flat, Emily says, “Kelley we tell each other everything. Why would you keep this from me?”

     “You didn’t tell me about Foord!” The accusation slips out before Kelley can hold it in. Her breathing is too fast now, chest rising and falling rapidly. She feels wild, demented.

     “What do you mean? I didn’t tell you about Foord? What’s there to tell?”

     Emily’s apparent confusion only lights Kelley’s temper. How dare Emily act all righteous about Kelley not telling her about Sarah when Emily’s literally doing the same thing?

     “That you’re dating her of course.”

     Kelley says it almost dismissively. It’s been such a constent worry in her mind that it’s progressed from a hypothesis to a fact. Obviously it’s true, how could it not be?

     Seemingly irate, Sonnett says, “I’m not dating Caitlan fucking Foord. And if I was, I would have fucking told you about it Kelley. You’re my best friend. I wouldn’t keep that sort of shit from you.”

     The fact that Sonnett is swearing is what makes Kelley realize how badly she’s fucked up. It’s not that the younger woman never uses profanity. But to hear her drop multiple f-bombs off the field… that’s bad.

     Backtracking, Kelley mutters, “but I thought… you’re trying to get her to move to Portland with you!”

     “Seriously? I’m trying to get her to come play for the Thorns. Because she’s freaky fast and good at football. Not because I’m sleeping with her.” Pausing to glare down at the shorter woman, Emily adds, “and again, if I was? I would have told you about it. Not kept it some dirty secret. Dammit Kel, grow up.”

     With that parting blow, Sonnett grabs her bag, shoulders it roughly, and fairly steamrolls out of the room. The room that Kelley now realizes has grown uncomfortably still. The music is still playing but there are a lot of eyes locked on her. Alex’s in particular seem to be peering into her wounded soul.

     Trying not to cry in front of the team, Kelley frantically scrambles to dress and gather her belongings. She tosses everything into her bag haphazardly and makes her escape.

     Kelley doesn’t go back to the hotel. Instead, she finds an out of the way corner of the training facility and lets herself slide to the floor. She doesn’t want to run into anyone, not now. Not when her emotions feel so all over the place. She’d been so sure… How had she gotten it wrong?

     Part of her also feels a little hurt. How could Emily act like that? Emily’s been teasing her since day one, but never has the younger woman actually tried to wound Kelley. On repeat, Kelley relives the last few minutes. Emily’s stormy expression and the spike of pain her rebuke had caused. Grow up.

     Eventually, Alex finds her. The striker doesn’t say anything at first, only sighs and sits on the ground next to the shell-shocked defender. Alex, in a somewhat out of character move, slings an arm around Kelley’s shoulder in a half hug.

     Kelley sniffles, trying not to cry as her old friend comforts her. She’s only mostly successful.

    “Well wormy, what are you going to do now?”

     Kelley doesn’t respond. She doesn’t know. All she knows is she fucked up, big time.

Chapter Text

     By the next morning, Kelley feels a little better. She’d gotten a good night’s rest (after crying herself to sleep) and is ready to make amends with Sonnett. She’s even got a three-part plan of how to win Emily back.

     Part one, apologize. Grovel even if that’s what it takes. Emily is worth having to beg a little for forgiveness. Part two, explain what she’s been thinking. Admit to Emily how lonely she’s been in Utah without her and how Sarah has been kinda filling that void. Also, try to figure out how she’d gotten it stuck in her head that Sonnett and Foord were an item. Now that Emily has so violently rebuked the notion, Kelley thinks maybe she’d been a little off base with her assumptions. Part three, well Kelley’s not sure what part three is yet. Kiss and make up? Not literally! Just figuratively of course.

     Kelley’s up and out of the hotel early. She’s on a mission. She’s going to find the most badass apology gift ever. Something that will hopefully calm Emily’s ire enough that the younger woman will give Kelley the chance to explain herself.

     Not bothering with one of the team vans, Kelley sets out on foot. The hotel’s not too far from some artsy shops and Kelley wants to walk. She thinks better in motion. Part of the problem with being in Utah is that she’d gotten almost stagnant. No more!

     It’s early enough that stores are still mostly closed so Kelley stops at a little café for breakfast. Their coffee’s average at best but it’s got caffeine and it’s hot so she’s not going to complain. While she eats, Kelley distractedly looks through her phone, making sure that Emily hadn’t tried to contact her in any way. It’s been total radio silence since yesterday’s locker room blow up. Kelley had wanted to try and confront Emily last night but luckily Alex’s cooler head had prevailed. The striker was probably right to force Kelley to think before rushing in.

     Once done with breakfast, Kelley ducks in and out of the winter sunshine, looking through various stores for anything that screams Sonnett. She wants to find something perfect. Something that says ‘I’m sorry’ but is also something Emily will cherish.

     Kelley’s eyes linger over jewelry, trying to picture how Emily would look wearing different pieces. Rings in particular attract her attention but she forces herself away from that folly. Chains of different weights also draw her in. Kelley think’s that some sort of necklace would look really good around Emily’s elegant but strong throat. Something simple and not too flashy. For all that Emily acts outgoing and boisterous, Kelley doesn’t think she’d really want to wear something too eye catching.

     Eventually, Kelley stumbles upon a thin gold chain with a simple bar as a pendent. She thinks it’s just the right length to settle right at the level of Emily’s collar bones. It’d look good there, Kelley can picture it, can see herself tracing fingers along skin warmed metal just under the collar of Emily’s shirt.

     Swallowing back the wave of concerning emotions such daydreaming brings, Kelley buys the neckless. And then immediately regrets it. She almost returns the jewelry twice before she even makes it back up the street. It’s too much really. To expensive a gift to give a friend randomly. And too intimate. It’s the sort of thing she’d buy her girlfriend.  

    Despite her reservations, Kelley can’t actually bring herself to take it back. She’s fixated on how Sonnett will look in it. How pretty she’d be. In the end, Kelley hedges.

     She stops at a flower shop and spends almost twenty minutes pestering the florist about which flowers say ‘I’m sorry for being an immature idiot, please forgive me?’. As it turns out, there isn’t a specific blossom for that which Kelley honestly thinks is a bit of an oversight.

      After much deliberation, Kelley walks out of the shop in proud possession of a hedgehog aloe plant in it’s very own terracotta pot. The mildly exasperated woman Kelley had been hassling ensures her that the aloe plant is hardy and can be used for sunburns and such. Surely it will be a good gift for Emily, who’s always talking about plants. And it’s not too much. It won’t give away any of Kelley’s deeper feelings. A nice, prickly, apology gift.

     By the time Kelley makes it back to the hotel with her purchases she’s running late. She barely has time to dump the plant and jewelry box in her room, hiding the latter in a pair of balled up socks, before she’s herded with the rest of the team onto the bus. It’s a quick trip to the training facilities and Kelley forces herself to refocus on practice. It won’t do to allow her current spat with Emily to disrupt their work. Even if Kelley spends a lot of the afternoon following Emily with her eyes.

     Emily seems withdrawn, not as playful and boisterous as normal. She’s also not seeking Kelley out. The brunets not sure if she’s being avoided really, but it’s certainly not normal to go through a whole afternoon without Emily at her elbow. She misses the younger woman fiercely even though their now finally in the same place. Kelley again curses her own foolishness. She should have told Emily.

     After practice, Kelley is fairly vibrating with anticipation. She’s ready for this weirdness between her and Emily to be done with. Tucking the plant under her elbow and shoving the little box into her back pocket, Kelley heads for Emily’s room. Squaring her shoulders, Kelley knocks firmly on the door and waits. When the door is pulled open, Kelley’s face to face with a blonde. But it’s the wrong one.

     “What do you want Kelley?” Horan’s voice is sharp and she’s holding the door partly closed. As if Kelley might try to force it open.

     Caught off guard by the iciness in the midfielder’s tone, Kelley says, “I was looking for Sonnett? I thought this was her room…”

     “It is. We’re roomies for camp,” Horan says shortly. She also doesn’t make any move out of the door.

     “Okay…” Kelley says uncertainly, “well is Sonnett around? I want to talk to her.”

     Snorting, Horan mutters under her breath, “now you want to talk to her?”

     Before Kelley can ask what the Colorado native means, Horan declares, “she’s not here. She doesn’t want to talk to you.”

     Now starting to get frustrated by Lindsey’s interference, Kelley spits back, “which is it? Is she not here or does she not want to talk to me? Also, I didn’t know you were Emily’s keeper.”

     “I’m not her keeper, I’m her friend,” Lindsey puts extra emphasis on the title, glaring at Kelley as she does so.

     Kelley can feel her temper fraying. She’s about to retreat to regroup before she does something rash when Sonnett speaks up from inside the room.

     “Lindsey, chill. I don’t need you to like defend me or whatever. I’m a big girl, I can take care of myself,” Sonnett says softly.

     Emily’s voice is wonderfully familiar. Kelley finds herself leaning towards it, edging closer to Horan in the process. It’s been too long since she’s gotten to listen to Emily without the interference of a phone. Yesterday’s brief interaction had only been enough to remind Kelley of how desperately she misses her younger teammate.

     Emily comes to the door and nudges past Horan into the hallway. Horan doesn’t retreat, instead watching Emily and Kelley closely. Kelley shoots a glare in her direction, not happy to have the midfielder intruding.

     “Do you need something Horan?” Kelley asks sharply.

     “Yeah actually, I need you to not be a dick to my friend,” Lindsey says bluntly.

     Offended, Kelley says, “what did I do?”

“You know exactly…” Lindsey cuts off what she was going to say when Emily shoots her a glare.

     “Linds, we’re good okay? Can you give us a minute? Please?” Emily’s voice is soothing as she tries to talk Lindsey down.

     Kelley wants to say something, argue on her behalf. She knows she fucked up, but that’s between her and Emily. Linds can mind her own business. Kelley holds her tongue though when Emily sends a placating glance in her direction.

     Giving the pair one last look, Lindsey huffs and says, “whatever. I’m going to go find Rose. Text me Son if I need to make myself scares while you make up.

     Kelley furrows her brow, catching that Lindsey is implying something but not really understanding what. She lets it go though, happy to just see the back of Horan. When Emily retreats back into the now vacant hotel room, Kelley is quick to follow.

     The heavy hotel door shuts behind them with an audible click. Other then that, the room is silent. Kelley frantically tries to remember her plan. Apologize, she needs to apologize.

     Rushing to get it out, Kelley says, “Em, I’m so sorry.”

     Ignoring her presence for the time being, Emily goes to her suitcase on the ground and starts folding socks of all things. Kelley watches for a second, seeing the way Emily’s nimble fingers complete the task with more precision that she would have ever bothered with.

     Breaking the silence, Kelley hesitantly asks, “Em?”

     Kelley observes Emily, hating the way the younger woman’s shoulders jerk up in response to the nickname. Normally, when Kelley calls Sonnett Em, it brings out a soft smile or a fond look. Kelley kicks herself again.

     “You’re sorry for what Kelley?”

     Emily’s voice has some bite to it and Kelley’s almost surprised. She shouldn’t be though, not really. She knows that Emily’s not exactly a wilting wallflower. Thinking about plants reminds Kelley of what she’s been holding this whole time.

     Awkwardly, Kelley extends the plant in Sonnett’s direction saying, “for being an idiot? I got you this. It’s a hedgehog aloe. Because you like plants? I named it Pigwidgeon. Like the owl from Harry Potter? The woman said that they’re useful for like, sunburns. I thought that’d be good because, well, Australia is sunny. Oh and you can use them as a base to make lube. Not that you’re going to…”

     Kelley flushes as she stumbles through her explanation. This is not going at all how she wanted. Emily isn’t smiling or taking the plant like Kelley had hoped. Instead she’s just staring expressionlessly as Kelley fumbles around talking about making organic lube. Shit.

     Kelley’s about to withdraw the plant when Emily’s hand finally comes up to claim the small pot. She watches as the younger defender holds the plant up, investigating a spiked leaf (is it a leaf?) with a finger.

     Cradling the plant against her hip, Emily asks, “Kel, do you understand why I’m mad at you?”

     Feeling a little reassured by Emily’s use of her shortened name, Kelley says, “because I assumed you were dating Foord? And um, because I had, have, a hickey?”

     Thumb tracing the edge of the pot, Emily sighs. Then says, “Kel, it’s not about Foord though you were an idiot about that. I’m mad because you kept a pretty major secret from me.” Tremulously, Emily adds, “I thought we were friends.”

     “We are!” Kelley rushes to reassure Emily, hating the uncertainty in Emily’s voice. “We’re best friends. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Sarah, I just… I didn’t know how to tell you.”

     “Kel, you can tell me anything. Have I ever done anything to make you think you couldn’t?” Emily’s voice is low, slightly raspy. And her eyes seem sad, a deeper blue then normal.

     “No! I’ve just been feeling kinda eh, about Utah and stuff. And then I met Sarah and things just sorta happened.” Kelley shrugs her shoulders helplessly.

     Still fiddling with the plant, Emily asks, “so are you just hooking up, or dating, or what?”

     Hesitantly, Kelley admits, “dating I guess? She’s not like, my girlfriend, but we’ve been, you know… seeing each other.”

     Emily makes a noise, something Kelley can’t quite place. Her expression is also inscrutable.

     “I promise I was going to tell you. I just wasn’t sure how and I missed you so much. And I didn’t want you to think I wouldn’t have time for us, for our friendship I mean. Because I do! You’re so important to me Son. And I’m sorry I’ve been a shit.” Kelley reigns in her pleading, adding, “so um, yeah an apology plant. Please forgive me?”

     Emily’s quiet for a long moment. It’s enough time for Kelley to realize how fast her heart is pumping and feel the way her blood pounds in her ears. She feels mildly nauseous.

     Placing the plant on the desk, Emily says, “you know I can’t take a plant with me to Australia, right?”

     Kelley blinks, totally confused by the shift in conversation.

     Snorting in apparent humor, Emily says, “Kel it’s like a 20-hour flight and Australia’s really strict about bringing things into the country anyway.”

     Kelley deflates. She knows she does. She hadn’t thought about that at all. She’d just wanted to do something to make Sonnett realize Kelley cared about her and paid attention to what she liked. She was trying to be thoughtful and she’d completely overlooked all the obvious logistical problems.

     Kelley’s hand drops to her back pocket, fingers slipping inside to find her other gift. Giving Emily the neckless feels like admitting too much. Kelley thinks there’s no way Emily won’t realize she’s feeling all the feelings if she gives it to her. Still, maybe that would make Emily more likely to forgive her?

     While Kelley debates, Emily keeps speaking.

     Lips quirking into a half smile Sonnett says, “I guess I’ll just need somebody to pet sit until I’m back huh? I suppose I could ask Lindsey…”

     Sensing an opportunity, Kelley leaps for it, “I’ll do it!” she gasps, with far more enthusiasm then watering a succulent warrants.

     Smiling with slightly more verve, Emily says, “I don’t know. Can you keep a plant alive? I’m attached to Pigwidgeon. I wouldn’t want you to overwater him.”

      Blushing slightly hearing Emily use the dumb name, Kelley grasps at straws, “you can teach me! And we can facetime a lot and I’ll send you pictures of him as like, proof of life.”

     Now chuckling, Emily says, “I suppose that could work. You’ll have to get better at communicating with me though. If we’re going to be co-parenting.”

     Slightly floored by the idea of co-parenting, even if it is only a measly cactus, Kelley nods in agreement. Then she looks at Emily hopefully.

     Sonnett must see what she wants in her face because she spreads her arms and gestures for Kelley to come in for a hug. Kelley steps in rapidly and with slightly too much force. Her overenthusiasm has Emily rocking back a half step but the younger woman is also laughing next to Kelley’s ear so she doesn’t care. Honestly, Kelley doesn’t care about too much when she’s pressed up against Emily like this. The only thing that matters to her is that Emily never lets her go.

     Blinking back the wetness from her eyes, allergies probably, Kelley asks, “you forgive me? We’re good?”

     Emily squeezes her tighter and rubs a hand over her lower back. Even through her shirt, the soothing touch feels amazing.

     “We’re good Kel. Just… don’t keep things from me? It doesn’t feel good. If there’s something you don’t want to go into detail about, your relationship or whatever, that’s fine, I’ll leave it alone. But trust me okay?”

     Kelley nods, pressing her forehead hard into Emily’s neck. She missed this, the way Emily arms encompass her and the way the younger woman smells. It makes Kelley feel so safe, so right. In a way that hugging Sarah doesn’t come close too.

     Obviously, Kelley’s got a lot more growing up to do. She can’t risk losing Emily over something dumb like this ever again. She also can’t hurt her. Not to mention, Kelley’s clearly not really in a place where she should be dating somebody. Not when Emily’s basically holding her heart hostage.

     Still, all of that can wait. Right now, Emily’s here and in her infinite kindness, she’s forgiven Kelly. Life's good. 

Chapter Text

     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.