The first day at campus is a whirlwind of paper signing, tours, dorm assignments, introductions and broad accents that takes more effort to understand than Jess wants to think about. Jules is by her side of course, a constant source of security, but her stomach still knots. Her heart is thumping awkwardly and she wonders if this is how her family felt when they arrived to England, adrift and unsure. If this is how she'll feel until she returns home. She catches the arm of a students' representative, asks her if there's a gurdwara nearby. The woman only stares at her blankly and refers her to the internet. This isn't home.
That night, Jules comes to her room and they sit on her impersonal bed in her impersonal room, devoid of all that would give it a touch of home, and fantasize of what will come, what they will learn, who they will play against. Jess doesn't mention the way her stomach is roiling, the way her breath gets stuck in her throat sometimes. Jules doesn't mention the way she shivers when Jess touches her, the way she looks longingly out the dark window.
When the dorm checks come, Jules hugs Jess in the doorway, whispering low enough in her ear that the RA won't hear: "Meet me at the field later?" Jess doesn't really think that breaking the rules on the first night is that good an idea, but her heart beats faster at the thought of a ball, the field and Jules. When the time comes, she sneaks out with the ball in her backpack and her shoes laced tight.
They play until early morning, the grass wet under their feet and the air so different from back home, as if cleaner and dirtier at the same time. It doesn't matter though, not when the ball rolls between them, slams into the net and flies across the field as they run back and forth, choking at their laughter in their attempts to keep quiet. Jess can breath freely now and that thickness in her chest is gone.
"We're living our dream," Jules tells her as they wander back to the dorms, the sun stretching her fingers above the horizon.
Jess only laughs and impulsively knocks Jules' fist with her own before they have to put on their stealth skills to get back in. This is a beginning and this is their dream. She can feel it now, in the way the smile feels on her face, the way Jules look at her with cheeks flushed and eyes bright. This isn't home and yet it's so much more than that.
Jess jogs around the field doing touch-and-pass exercises with the rest of the team. The air doesn't bother her anymore, it's just how it is. She's got used to the way girls playing soccer isn't unusual here, but also to how she still stands out due to her foreign status.
Jules is always standing opposite of her, but they aren't looking at each other any more. Barely a month into their dream and they're drifting apart.
The first email from Joe appeared five days after their arrival. Jess opened it with a fluttering heart in one of the computer labs. Jules read it over her shoulder, making a snorting sound as she reached the end. "Same old Joe," she said, but something in her voice sounded weird. Jess turned around to frown at her. Her face said nothing and Jess tried to bury the worry in her chest with the words in the letter. Jules went away and she forced herself not to wonder why.
Today, coming back to the dorms newly showered and still out of breath, Jess opens the laptop and reads the last email from Joe. It's the end of what lies between them and still it feels like relief. Flopping back on her bed, she stares at the ceiling and wonders where things went wrong. She misses Jules.
Two months have gone by since their arrival, Jess and Jules' friendship has come, gone and come again. Jules blames the change in surroundings and Jess doesn't disagree, only smiles and makes sure to snag her for her partner during stretching sessions and pinpoing exercises.
She googles for a gurdwara and badgers Jules into coming along as she braves the unreliable buses to go there. Stepping inside hits her like a warmth in her chest. Jules doesn't comment, only sits at the back of the temple while Jess joins her fellows. She hasn't done this for months and months, but she still should've come earlier. While she isn't a strict believer, this is part of her and coming back, no matter how much time has passed, will always feel slightly like coming home.
"I didn't think it would be this way," Jules says quietly as they walk out afterwards and there's a look in her eyes that says she's reevaluating things she took for given.
Jess smiles brilliantly and takes her hand impulsively, tangling their fingers. Jules' hand is warm and that warmth seems to spread to trace the feeling of home the gurdwara had given her. "Thank you," she says and they share a smile before the trials of getting back wipes it firmly off their faces. Jules' decision to try to get a driver's license is looking more and more wise.
Coming to the US, Jess would never have thought she would get tired of football, but three months later all she wants is to walk away and not as much as look at a football ever again. There's matches, there's practises, there's more practises and if she thought Joe had been stern, that's nothing against how their coach here is. Jules takes to it like a fish to water, of course.
Even as Jess determinedly pounds along the track, air burning in her lungs -- "One mile! And anyone that doesn't better their time will get one more mile!" -- she glares at Jules' back and the way her skirt is clinging transparently to her skin, letting it drag her on and forwards.
"Tiring?" Jules says over her shoulder with a lopsided grin that makes Jess' chest ping a little.
Jess doesn't have to fake the smile as she lengthens her step. "Never," she says and her heart skips a beat when Jules reaches out to nudge her shoulder before speeding up.
It feels like all this time has lead up to this, Jess thinks blurrily as she leans against Jules, fighting for her breath as a hand slides down her back and then up again beneath her shirt. Distance, closeness, friendship, all of this.
"Jess," Jules breathes in her ear. Shivers run down her back as she tangles her fingers in Jules' hair, dragging her back to her mouth while trying not to bang her head against the door.
Soccer, Jules and living her dreams -- this changes things, with her family, with her life. This is not about regretting though, this is about living.
She pulls lightly on Jules' hair until they're face to face again. Jules' eyes are completely blown, her breath hitching against Jess' lips. Without thinking, Jess makes a low noise and Jules' hands tightens on her waist.
"Jess?" Jules asks, fingers digging into the skin of the small of her back, making Jess arch every so slightly even as she scrambles for words.
"I want this," she finally gets out, looking into Jules' eyes. "I want all of it." All of it. Football, family, Jules.
Jules understands, Jess can see that. See that in how her eyes drops momentarily, her shoulder's slumping. She realizes as well as Jess does that it won't be easy, but when she looks up again, there's pride in her eyes. Pride and resolution.
"We will get it."
We. Jess smiles, then give in to the want and drags Jules back in. We.