Santa Clara University is as picturesque as the brochures. Jess Bhamra has never felt so alive as she does right now, her best friend by her side as they start their college careers together.
They’re on campus a week before classes start to move into their dorm room and start training with their football team, and she’s high on life.
Jules drags her enormous suitcase out of the elevator and down the hall in front of her, scanning the room numbers and checking it against the sheet of paper in her hand.
“Here we go,” she says at last. “403. Our new home.”
Jess grins at her. She takes her own key out of the envelope and inserts it into the door. There’s a click and then it swings open.
The room is tiny but it’s theirs, and that’s all that matters. There are two twin beds on either side of the room with dressers built into the walls beside matching closet doors on either side of the entrance. Two desks sit at the ends of the beds.
Jess drops her things and flops on one of the beds, exhausted.
“I’m so glad to see a bed you have no idea,” she sighs. Jules laughs above her, then flops beside her on the tiny mattress.
“I think I might.”
Their first football practice – soccer, Jess tells herself, you have to call it soccer now – is the next morning, and they both wake up way too early in excitement. They’d managed to unpack most of their things, at least getting sheets on their beds and clothes more or less into their closets, before they’d collapsed the night before.
They arrive and are immediately greeted by their new captain, a girl named Katie, and introduced to a few other freshmen. The coaches are a personable pair, and the head coach is a woman, which excites Jess. She squeals and squeezes Jules’ hand beside her. Jules grins back.
After their first practice, they all shower and then the older girls show the freshman the dining halls, descending in one raucous group on the main hall.
“So how are you liking California so far?” Katie asks them.
“It’s so warm!” Jess says. “How do you practice in this heat?”
Katie laughs. “You get used to it.”
“The campus is incredibly beautiful,” Jules adds.
“You get used to that, too.”
Jess laughs. It’s like coming home, being on a team again.
“So how long have you two been together?” A center named Hannah asks one day while they’re getting changed for practice.
“What?” Jess asks, looking up from where she’s tying her cleats.
“You and Jules! You’re such a cute couple.”
Jess looks at her for a moment but no, she’s serious. “We’re not a couple.”
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” Hannah begins, looking like she’s about to apologize fifteen more times.
Jess smiles and cuts her off. “It’s alright.”
And it is. She and Jules are close, and sometimes people see what they want to see. She really doesn’t mind.
It’s not an isolated incident. She asks Jules about it after the second time a teammate asks about them and Jules launches into a story about the goalie, Tonya, asking the same question in the most roundabout way possible that it took her a full five minutes to get just what exactly she was asking.
They laugh and fall on each other on Jess’ bed, the poster of Beckham pinned above them.
“We aren’t that bad, are we?” Jess asks after the giggles die down.
“Nah, it’s just these American girls don’t know a good friendship.” Jules teases. “Sometimes you just gotta cuddle your best friend, right Jess?”
“Exactly,” she agrees, curling around Jules. “They’re just jealous.”
By halfway through the semester, the team has almost stopped asking if they’re dating. One of the older girls helps them pick out their classes for the next semester and gets it in one final time as they sit pressed up against each other on the futon in her dorm.
“You guys really aren’t together?”
“We really aren’t,” Jules confirms with a smirk. “Why you wanna ask one of us out?”
Jen laughs and drops it and that’s the last either of them hears of it.
They do really well with their coursework, studying together at their mirror image desks after practices and always making sure the other is awake in time for classes. They eat most meals together in the dining hall, sometimes with other teammates and sometimes just the two of them. They’ve got a good routine.
Jess usually leaves Jules alone to Skype her parents but one day she comes back from class to find her on her laptop with her mom’s face on Skype.
“Oh, sorry, I’ll come back later,” she apologizes.
“Don’t be silly, come here,” Jules grabs her arm and scoots over on her desk chair to make room for Jess. She squeezes onto the seat and waves at the screen.
“Hello Mrs. Paxton,” she greets.
“Hello Jesminder,” she waves back.
“We were just talking about Christmas,” Jules tells her.
“Oh, when are you going? I’ll book my flight with yours.”
“Well, actually, we were talking about coming to visit you instead,” Mrs. Paxton says from the screen.
“You’re not going to go home?” Jess looks at Jules. She doesn’t want to go home without her, suddenly, her stomach twisting sourly.
“They want to see the campus and a game, they were going to come at the end of the semester and stay through Christmas.”
Jules must be able to see she’s uncomfortable, because she says, “You could stay, too, see if your parents want to come?”
Jess is putting off calling her parents. She doesn’t really want to go home for three weeks if Jules is going to be here, alone for two of those weeks, and she definitely doesn’t want to invite her parents here. It would be twice as much money, for one thing, and she doesn’t think they’ll want to fly anyways. Eventually, she writes them an email asking if they mind if she stays at Santa Clara for Christmas to save money and keep Jules company.
She’s nervous the rest of the day, even though knowing her parents were already asleep when she sent the email is the only way she was able to send it at all.
Jules notices, of course, that something is up. She doesn’t push, just declares an emergency ice cream date necessary.
“Ice cream cures all woes, Jess. Come on, up you get.”
As they eat their cones and wander back towards their dorm, Jess finally lets it out.
“I emailed my parents to see if I could stay here for Christmas.”
“Do they not want to come out with my parents?” Jules asks, confusion evident on her features.
“I didn’t ask,” Jess shakes her head. “It’s expensive and my mom hates flying.”
“You don’t have to stay just because I am,” Jules says gently.
“Maybe I want to,” Jess shrugs, studying her cone and not looking at her best friend. “Besides, it’s not like we celebrate Christmas.” She knocks her shoulder into Jules’.
“Well, let me know what they say, yeah?”
They say yes.
Jess wakes up to their answer the next morning and they say yes. They ask her a million questions about making sure she’s allowed to stay in the dorms and if the dining halls will be open and is she getting enough to eat and is she getting along with her teammates and how is Jules and all the other normal questions they ask every Skype call and email.
But they say yes.
Jess texts Jules, who’s already in class, and gets a long line of smiley faces in return.
Jules’ parents get in just before her last final but Jess is already done, so she shows them around campus until Jules can meet them for lunch. Their last game of the semester is tomorrow and the Paxton’s are excited to show off the school pride gear they bought when they first got in.
Jess thinks it’s adorable. Jules thinks it’s embarrassing.
The game goes well. Super well. They’re all coming off of finals week and have a lot of energy to let out, and Jess and Jules are on fire. Jules gets a goal off of Jess’ assist and even though Jules tries to play it cool, Jess knows she’s glad her parents are at the game.
They go shopping in downtown Santa Clara. Mrs. Paxton buys even more SCU gear; they try not to laugh. Mr. Paxton jokingly asks Jules if she wants to go see Santa and his wife gets dewy-eyed and then everyone breaks out in laughter. Jess and Jules lead Mrs. Paxton away while Mr. Paxton buys her a necklace she had been eyeing with heavy sighs, and later Jess deploys him to do the same with Jules while she purchases her own jewelry for her best friend, a charm bracelet with a little soccer ball charm to go with the biography of Mia Hamm she’s already bought.
They hear carolers and wander through fake Christmas trees in balmy California weather and the strange heat of this winter has them all in stitches when Jules points it out.
They have a good time, but Jess and Jules collapse each evening completely exhausted.
“Oh my God, I thought they’d never leave,” Jules whines on Christmas Eve. Her parents had insisted on taking them to dinner before heading back to the hotel and they had drug it out a bit longer than necessary. Finally, they’re back in their dorm room, flopped onto Jules’ bed together.
“They’re just sentimental,” Jess teases. “Their little Juliet’s all grown up and doesn’t need tucking in on Christmas Eve anymore.”
“Stop it,” Jules shoves her shoulder. “I haven’t been their little anything in a long time.”
“Eh, you know how parents get.”
“Yeah,” Jules sighs. She stole a glance at Jess then looked back up at the ceiling.
“What?” Jess studies her profile, trying to figure out the little lines in her forehead.
“My mom thinks we’re dating, you know.”
“Does she really?”
Jules nods. “Has since the whole thing with Joe.”
Jess chews her lip. “You know, I think Joe does, too.”
Jess nods back.
“I thought it was just the Americans who didn’t understand our friendship,” Jules teased, but her smile didn’t quite meet her eyes.
“Does it bother you?” Jess asks. “That they think that?”
“No, not really,” she shrugs. “Just odd, I guess.”
“Well last I checked you weren’t a lesbian,” Jules lets out a short bark of a laugh.
“Oh, and you are?” Jess teases, bumping her shoulder.
Jules shrugs. “I dunno. Maybe?”
“Wait, what?” Jess scrambles to sit up, looking down at her best friend.
Jules takes a deep breath. “I think maybe I might like girls?” Her face is flushed when she looks at Jess at last.
“Do you think you maybe like... me?” Jess asks, bold on the blush on Jules’ cheeks.
“Definitely,” Jess grins. “Jules, can I kiss you?”
“Definitely,” Jules grins back, sitting up.
Jess leans towards her, suddenly shy, and cups her cheek. When they get so close she can feel Jules’ breath on her lips she feels her eyes flutter closed and then their lips connect.
Jules’ lips are soft and taste like cherry Chapstick. Jess presses in, then gently opens her lips. Jules matches her and Jess feels a tiny noise escape her throat.
Jules grips her waist and pulls her in closer.
“Are we doing this?” Jess whispers when they pulled back, panting for breath.
“I’m in if you are,” Jules whispers back.
“I’m so in.”
They spend the rest of Jules’ parents’ visit giggling and blushing at each other and counting down the hours until they leave. In Jess’ opinion, she’s gotten the only Christmas gift she’s ever wanted and she would very much like said gift’s parents to leave so she can make out with her.
Christmas Day dawns sunny and warm like every day in Santa Clara. They meet up with the Paxton’s and exchange gifts in their hotel room. Jess and Jules cuddle up on the couch and watch Mrs. Paxton cry at the necklace they’d assisted Mr. Paxton in buying. They go out for Chinese food because it’s the only thing open and then go see “Catch Me If You Can” at the movie theater on campus.
In the darkness of the theater, Jules grabs Jess’s hand.
The Paxtons drop them off after a dinner of leftover Chinese food in their hotel room and Mrs. Paxton only cries a little bit at the parting.
“I’ll see you in May, Mom, it’s not that long.”
Finally, they leave and Jess flops onto her bed. Jules follows, curling herself around Jess.
“Happy Christmas, Jess,” she says, smiling down at her. She’s propped up on her elbows and holding out a small, flat box.
Jess sits up and opens the box carefully, her eyes bright as she sneaks looks at Jules. She gasps when she sees the tickets.
“Nighthawks tickets? Oh my god!”
“Thought we could see where we could go. We’ve got a hotel room that night, too. And train tickets there and back.”
“Jules, this is so much,” Jess says when she regains her senses.
Jules shrugs and smiles. “Nothing’s too much for you. You deserve everything , Jess.”
Jess just kisses her.
On Boxing Day, with the Paxton’s on a plane back to England and the campus peacefully empty, they don’t get out of bed because they don’t have to.
They’re laying on Jess’ bed, kissing lazily and holding each other loosely when Jules asks, “Do you want to tell the team?”
Jess blinks. “I don’t see why not? They didn’t have a problem with us when they thought we were dating. And Rhiannon is gay, too.”
“I know,” Jules says. “Maybe I want to keep you to myself for a bit, though?”
“We could just... wait to see how long it takes them to notice?”
“That is brilliant, Jess!” Jules exclaims, then pulls her in close and kisses her fiercely. They don’t get up for a long time.
The team isn’t noticing.
A couple of them do give them a sidelong look when they get back from break and show up holding hands to the first practice.
They are definitely holding hands more than they ever did before, though it’s not entirely new.
They have always sat together on the team bus to away games but now they hold hands and sleep on each others’ shoulders and still, no one says anything.
They steal food off each other’s plates. They text each other constantly. Jules even starts kissing her temple when Jess wraps an arm around her shoulders.
But each time Jess thinks one of them is going to ask, they change the topic to something else entirely.
It’s starting to get on her nerves, honestly.
Jules, on the other hand, thinks it’s hilarious. “It really says something about how close we were last semester that not a single one of them realizes we’ve gotten together.”
“It’s frustrating is what it is,” Jess pouts.
“What, should we just start making out at the next game?”
“That’s unprofessional, Jules.”
Jules raises an eyebrow.
“We could tell them, then. It’s clearly bugging you.”
“That’s just admitting defeat,” Jess smiles sweetly.
Jules laughs and kisses her.
Over spring break, they play the best game of the year so far and Jess throws it all in. They’re jumping around the locker room, singing the school’s fight song, and she just grabs Jules and kisses her hard.
Varsity fight for Santa Clara
There’s a collective gasp and then the entire team erupts in cheers, egging them on as Jules grabs her back and deepens the kiss.
Banners of red and white on high
Jules pulls back and grins at her. Jess thinks her face might crack with how wide she’s smiling.
No matter how great your foe, Women’s Soccer
Someone yells out, “Fucking finally!” And Jess dissolves into giggles, ducking her face into Jules’ shoulder.
Let your motto be "to do or die."
Jules lifts her chin and kisses her again.
Rah, rah indeed.