“Players up for Allocation”- Ali reads it again, hands shaking. There’s her name.
It’s clear as day, right there with the other goalkeepers, as if she’s not bound by contract to Duisburg until 2014.
“You should call her,” Kyle says. Megan agrees with him.
Ali drops her head and ups her pace until she’s far enough ahead of him on the sidewalk that he can’t see that she agrees with him, too.
Ashlyn dreams of Ali.
It’s not the first time, of course, but it feels like it. It feels like how she would have wanted things to go; feather-light kisses and the curve of Ali’s spine, soft skin at her fingertips, just at the reach of her lips, a smile she knows too well. In the dream she holds Ali like she’s never held anyone before and when they’re finished the girl in her arms breaks into a thousand tiny pieces, and she wakes with a dry mouth and the sheets twisted around her ankles.
Ali calls Ashlyn twice. The first time it doesn’t even ring before she hangs up, and from across the room she knows Kyle is watching her. She tosses the phone at him and burrows down into the blanket nest on her side of the couch, slightly dislodging Apollo who only grunts at her in his sleep.
The second time it’s 2 in the morning and she knows Ashlyn’s probably just now getting up to ‘make’ herself a breakfast of coffee and whatever pastry the place down the street from her Duisburg apartment has fresh. She lets it ring once, twice, then hangs up before she thinks the ringing will go through.
Ashlyn lists DC as her priority. She knows nobody will be expecting that, and she’s banking on that making a difference in where she gets allocated- not that she’d mind the Flash, just that she has an agenda this time- and marks down her lists as carefully as possible.
She pauses at the next question, chewing the cap of her pen until it snaps in her mouth.
She doesn’t bother listing the other two. There’s nobody else.
Sky Blue FC.
Chicago Red Stars.
She knows where they’ll put her; they’ll want her back in DC to draw crowds. It’s what she’s good for, especially now that she’s the miracle player who’s back after injury, after missing an Olympics; the starter without a gold medal. They’ll put her where she wants them to, and she’ll be home free. Even if she occasionally has to play with Ashlyn across the field, watching her between goalposts.
The allocation list goes up in the middle of Ashlyn’s dinner and her phone explodes with texts. She’d been so engrossed in trying to make a decent grilled cheese- and finally succeeding- that she’d forgotten all about it, and she scrambles for her phone so fast she knocks her water off the counter and barely catches it in her other hand, spilling only a little on the floor.
When she sees the result she forgets about the grilled cheese and the water and everything but the three names under the headline ‘Washington Spirit’. For the first time in what feels like forever, she smiles and Ali has something to do with it.
Ali doesn’t even have to heart to be anything but lost when she sees where Ashlyn’s been allocated.
Nobody even calls her, though she expects someone to, and it’s only after fighting her way through a sparse lunch of a salad she doesn’t really want that she tries for a nap in hopes that when she wakes up she’ll know how to feel.
It doesn’t work out that way, of course, and she wanders through her apartment like a ghost until she remembers that she has a Skype date with Kyle and rushes to get ready for it. It’s a tradition of theirs, when they’re apart- once a week they’ll both get the same dinner and pretend they’re in the same room- and she’s not going to let something like this keep her from participating. She’s still not sure how she feels, at any rate, and the longer she avoids really thinking about it, the better.
When he asks her about it, she paints like Ashlyn moving to DC doesn’t faze her at all. “I saw that you tweeted her,” he says, and she shrugs, digging into her fried rice. Although this rendezvous is a tradition, lying to him is not, so she takes her time convincing herself that it’s really what she wants to do. “I tweeted my teammates. Maybe this’ll be good for us.” She almost believes it for a moment, too. Kyle raises an eyebrow and taps his chopstick on his webcam like he’s tapping her forehead. “What’s going on in there, ABK?”
She figures it’s not really lying if he won’t believe her, but still tries not to look up at the screen when she answers him. “Working together. Playing together. Maybe it’ll help.”
“Help her...get over herself. Help her figure out what she wants. Help her let me go.”
The thing is, though, she never really expects it to come true.
When Ashlyn signs officially, it changes everything.
Seeing her name on that line makes her realize how stupid she is to chase Ali back across an ocean in hopes that it’ll change her mind. Ali isn’t impressed; that much is clear just from the silence on the other end of the phone when she shoots Ali a text. Without Ali, Germany is unfamiliar and cold and Duisburg’s back line isn’t getting any better. Ashlyn’s glad to think she might be able to play for a better organized team, even if the idea of being Ali’s goalie is suddenly daunting, but her urge to chase Ali down has suddenly started to morph into an urge to reinvent herself, and that throws her.
DC doesn’t seem like the right place to do that, so close to the girl she’s now pretty convinced she’s in love with who coincidentally hates her guts. She’s met Diana once or twice, but never really spoken to her, and right about now she’s regretting not spending more time with Lori.
She spends the next couple of weeks training, throwing herself into the defense of a team that’s going to lose her soon and realizing how many of them are only now understanding how much they rely on her. All the while, she keeps an eye on the free agents, hoping that she’ll get lucky and DC will snag a Tarheel and put her out of her misery.
“I thought she retired?”
“Just from the national team, I’m pretty sure.”
Lori lifts the ball onto the laces of her cleat, juggles it a few times, then sends it Ali’s way. Ali traps it with her chest and settles it, chewing at her lip in consideration. “I think I’d almost put money on Kai,” she decides, and Lori makes a noncommittal noise, bending down to retie her cleats.
“I won’t bet you money on it, but I’ll buy you a drink if you’re right.”
It’s an invitation. Lori’s always subtle about that stuff, but Ali’s perceptive enough to catch it this time, and glad that she does. THey’ve never been close, really, but she’d like them to be. Lori’s observant and smart but up-front about things in a way that’s refreshing without also being a jarring change.
“What’d you have in mind?”
Going out keeps her occupied, and she knows that’s the best thing for her. As long as she’s busy during the day, training or reading or being interviewed, she’s fine. It’s only once she sleeps that the memory of Ashlyn seeps back in, taining her dreams with something sickly sweet that nauseates her for how far it is from the truth. In her dreams she never sees Ashlyn’s face- just the faint and blurry idea of a body- but she knows who it is. Nobody’s ever kissed her the way Ashlyn kissed her, and the best she can do now is try not to convince herself that nobody ever will again. There has to be someone.
They get a booth at a place called Rumor, a combination bar and grill with slightly better than average food and more TVs than staff members, and immediately Ali sees the waitress that catches Lori’s eye. She’s tall and willowy, with a smatter of freckles, a cascade of reddish-blonde hair and a laugh that carries through the room. Immediately likeable; the kind of girl everyone is drawn towards no matter their orientation.
But with Lori it’s obvious.
“I like this place,” Ali supplies, as Lori flips absently through a laminated menu, too fast to actually be reading it, “although I think I’ve only been here once before.”
“I go here a lot. It’s...convenient. You know, close to my place, not too far from a field. Friendly. Family-run.”
The waitress in question whisks over, all elbows and perfect teeth, and Ali watches with barely contained amusement as Lori stumbles through her order. When they’re alone again she leans forward and mimics Lori’s words from earlier- “it’s convenient”- earning a kick under the table. Lori’s definitely blushing a little and Ali’s having too much fun to give up just yet, so she waits for eye contact and adds with a grin, “she’s cute.”
Not her type, though. Not Ashlyn. She can see Lori think it and feels a wave of relief when it’s not in her reply. “She’s fresh out of a relationship with a guy,” Lori says, which is a way of suggesting how hopeless her situation is. “What about you. Better luck than me?”
Ali leans back, straightening out the napkin on her lap. In all honesty she’s not sure how to answer that. Stephen’s called her once or twice from Baltimore, convention-hopping or something else video-game related that she doesn’t quite understand, but two phone calls don’t mean anything and she’s not sure if she wants them to.
“Not yet,” is what she says, but somehow she knows that Lori hears the truth.
She’ll be alright on her own.
Ashlyn goes over to Niki and Sarah’s the night that the signings start getting announced, and it’s there that she realizes for the first time in a long time that she’s jealous of someone. She’s usually more than happy with what she has. The things she loves- soccer and her family- have never been kept from her. The things she wants- respect, girls, the ability to make what she loves be her job- have always come easily to her. Friends have always fallen into that category, too, but she’s understanding now that something’s missing.
Sarah and Niki have the kind of friendship Ashlyn’s only ever seen in movies. They have separate lives- hobbies and friends- but they cohabit perfectly, even though based on their personalities it seems like they wouldn’t be able to. Where Niki’s never been the type to shy away from confrontation, Sarah’s a peacemaker until she’s on the field. Niki can be hotheaded; Sarah, as long as Ashlyn has known her, is very rarely caught without a smile on her face.
They move around each other easily for two relatively tall people. Niki shows affection by physical bullying, and she’s not gentle about it, but Sarah takes her shoves and nudges with an unwavering grin. They speak in shorthand sometimes when they speak to each other, and Ashlyn is reminded so vividly of Ali that she feels an almost visceral pang of loss.
“We picked up Chapman this afternoon.”
She was surprised but pleasantly so- the Spirit is starting to stack up- and now she’s trying to guess at who else might sign, waiting for her phone to vibrate with a Twitter update. Niki reaches over the counter to grab an hors d'oeuvre from the tray Sarah’s just taken out of the oven and gets a slap on the wrist for her effort before she turns back to Ashlyn, leaning against the island.
“Jesus. Your back line is going to smother everyone.”
Ashlyn laughs, tapping her fingers impatiently against her knee. “Even Sinc and Alex,” she agrees, but she’s thinking of Ali, not Candace. Her phone buzzes, then, and she almost loses it when she scrabbles to turn it over and refresh her Twitter feed.
Yes, the rumors are true! Let’s welcome UNC graduate and forward-turned-defender Whitney Engen to the Spirit!
She drops the phone.