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The Heart Has Many Winters (The Earth Cannot Keep Us Still)

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Amy’s pissed. She has twenty solid minutes to sit her team on the bleachers and talk strategy for their next meeting before they pass the gymnasium to the next team. It’s week three of their practice schedule and they have one solid win under their belt, so Amy wants to get a routine in place so the team carries the right momentum.

But five minutes before Amy relieves them of the suicide sprints, an entire 18&under boys team invades the unused line in the gymnasium. The coach is loud, barks orders around the whistle dangling grossly from his lips. The girls have the gym reserved for another full half hour, but the coach won’t stand still long enough to reason with Amy.

Amy stomps back to their side of the court, where all her youths are lined up recovering from their last sprint that was cut short at the opposite free throw line. She tries to be cool, but her voice shakes when she tells the team they will meet in the hallway today. Amy swipes her clipboard from the bleachers and heads right for the double doors. The girls have never seen Amy lose her cool; it’s always scary when an adult flips a switch. Becky steps up quickly though, a flawless assistant coach, and calmly directs the girls to pick up the orange practice cones.

“Water at the fountain after the meeting, ladies,” Becky reassures them.

They file out to Coach Amy where she’s firmly planted her feet, shoulder width apart, in front of a bulletin board of watercolors on display. It’s a funny juxtaposition. Becky can practically see the steam blowing from her ears.

But Amy gets her act together, delivers a cogent, accessible pep talk. The next time the team will meet is Saturday for their second game. She doesn’t use the clipboard, even though her knuckles are white as she’s explaining her notes from practice. Parents, confused as to why the girls are in the hallway, keep opening the gym door and leaking just a moment of the skidding, deep sounds of the invading boys practice. But Amy keeps her cool, gives Becky a chance to make any closing remarks despite the noise. They circle up, hands in, and break for the day.

“You think we can talk to the director?” Becky says quietly.

She hands over the practice cones she collected from the girls. Amy opens the mesh bag and drops the stack in.

“What are they going to say?” Amy retorts.

It’s a rainy, gross day outside, so none of the parents hang around to speak with Amy.

“They can’t kick us out if it’s reserved,” Becky reasons. The hallway clears out, no lingering parents or players.

“We’ll just have to see if he does it again. Hang the schedule on the doors if we have to,” Amy says.

She stoops to drink from the water fountain. From the side angle, she can see the very edge of the reception desk where it opens into the hallway.

“Whatever you think is best, Coach,” Becky agrees.

Amy straightens to let Becky have a sip. Amy doesn’t want to talk about it anymore, wants to put it behind her.

“Damn right I’m your coach,” Amy assesses playfully.

Becky’s doing her a favor, stepping in as assistant when the ridiculous youth volunteer who Amy originally recruited bailed in the middle of the team’s first practice. They met as freshman, roomed together as sophomores before Becky went abroad her junior year. Becky laughs a little, into the stream of water.

“Come on, Becky. Hygiene. Make it a priority,” Amy jeers.

Becky swipes at her mouth with the back of her wrist.

“Wait, so, you don’t put your entire mouth on the spout?” Becky asks, mocking.

They walk side-by-side to the reception desk where Alex and Liz are organizing the office supplies. Usually it’s the other way around, Alex and Liz peeking through the narrow window on the gym doors, waiting for practice to end so they can all ride the green line home together.

“You’re going to need to move those post-its,” Amy continues her mock orders. Liz blushes, absently does as she’s told.

“Oh my god, it’s a joke, you freak,” Alex insists. She snatches the pad and tosses it to the ground. “We’ll make Steven crawl around the wires to find it tomorrow morning. Ha!”

“Is this how you treat all patrons of this establishment?” Becky asks. Her voice delivers a certain air, like a misplaced impression.

“I can’t be responsible for my actions after six o clock. Speaking of, where are all your children?” Alex turns. Becky defers to Amy, unsure how to explain.

“Decided to let practice out early. Give them a little leeway after their win,” Amy lies.

“Not judging your coaching decisions,” Alex says, like an aside to herself.

“Reacting appropriately,” Liz puts in.

“Getting Becky a Sprite. Buying Cheetos for Becky,” Becky tries to convince them, plays along with their stage directions.

“Giving Becky the finger under the front desk,” Liz counters.

The sound of the front door actually opening makes Liz jump. She straightens her shoulders, like it could be her boss coming for a performance review or something.

It’s not. It’s just a slender, androgynous figure who pulls a black beanie off her head to reveal a shock of blond hair.

“WHOA!” Alex notes.

The woman shoots Alex a bright smile.

“You like?” she asks.

“Kick ass,” Liz exclaims. The woman flicks her head back and forth, combs through in a quick attempt at style.

“Still getting used to seeing it in the mirror,” she explains. “Hi, I’m Megan,” she introduces herself, suddenly.

“Becky!” Becky chirps.

Megan comes around the front desk with purpose. She shakes Becky’s hand assuredly. Megan looks at Amy with a wide expression, expectant. She’s titling her head so that it’s obvious she’s craning her ear inwards, inviting conversation. Amy can’t figure out how to talk.

“This is my Coach Amy!” Becky fills, not letting Amy skip a beat. Amy offers her hand.

“Hi Becky’s Coach Amy,” Megan says, shaking her hand too. “Oh, you’re Alex’s roommate, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Amy manages. “I like your hair,” she adds.

“Thanks! Hope they recognize me in there!” Megan kids.

Liz and Alex chuckle. It makes Alex look at the old clock on the wall above their heads.

“Quitting time, partner,” Alex says to Liz.

Liz smiles, but ducks under the desk to retrieve those post-it notes.

“Invitation is always open to join me,” Megan says with a sweeping lilt to her voice.

She moves around the desk, backs away before throwing Amy and Becky a wide smile.

“Thanks!” Alex says, noncommittal.

“Nice to have met you, ladies,” she bids.

She lifts her hand solidly in the air. The rubber soles of her combat boots make a different kind of squish against the economy tile. Amy catches the woman stuff the beanie into the back pocket of her jeans.

Liz and Alex clock out at the computer and gather their things. Alex changes her shoes quickly, stuffing her flimsy flats into her backpack for favor of her sleek sneakers. They clash something awful with her navy-printed pencil skirt.

“I don’t think La Hacienda serves victims of fashion,” Liz notes.

The four of them file out of the glass doors and head north for the 2 block walk to the metro station. The weather’s let up, giving way to an overcast, grey sunset.

“I’m actually a champion of awesome ideas,” Alex corrects. “And they will serve me with pride,” she tacks on.

+

“So, what was um, Megan? Talking about?” Amy asks, stalling in Alex’s doorway.

Alex is hunched over her laptop at her desk. She’s writing again, trying to finish an edit on her resume since her one-act was accepted to a drama festival that ran last spring. She’s trying to get involved in a new production at a local playhouse, provided her resume falls in the right hands.

She doesn’t remember the conversation from yesterday.

“What?” she looks up, but not at Amy. Just at the wall, her calendar pinned directly above her desk.

“About joining her. For what?” Amy presses.

She pretends to rub at a smudge on the doorframe. If she were to treat each inch of their 2-bedroom with the same care, she’d be scrubbing for days.

“Oh. She runs the uh, you know, the gay club. The GSA. Or whatever,” Alex explains.

“I think that’s only in high schools,” Amy says.

“You know what I mean. The LGBT support group du jour,” Alex responds.

She looks like she’s calculating as she scrolls up on her computer screen.

“You guys talk about me a lot, or?” Amy lets her voice trail off.

“What?” Alex checks.

She rolls her chair back. The plastic wheels glide over the old wooden floors after some coercion from Alex’s strong shins.

“She knows we live together,” Amy notes.

It hangs in the air for a moment. Alex furrows her brow.

“Yeah, she asked me if I wanted dibs on a room for rent when her housemate bailed. That’s all there is to that,” Alex says.

“I mean, I don’t care. You just never mentioned her before,” Amy shrugs.

Alex looks her up-and-down. Amy messes with her bangs, sticks her tongue out to wet her lips.

“She’s cool, I guess. I don’t really, you know, know her. She’s always saying the group needs more allies. I mean, if, you know, you wanted me to go with you, I would,” Alex suggests. She adds, as an afterthought. “For solidarity. Girl power.” Alex always knows how to break the tension. It’s her writer’s mind, her improv training in supplementing thin air.

Amy has to laugh.

“It’s not,” Amy starts. She leans her shoulder casually against the doorframe. “It’s not that I want to join her club. I mean, maybe more figuratively,” Amy settles.

“So talk to her,” Alex says. Like it’s that simple.

“Well, I just, sort of thought the pieces might be fun to put together,” Amy finds herself saying.

“I don’t understand what you want from me,” Alex sits back in her chair.

“I mean, do you think we’d be a good match?” Amy pushes. Alex shrugs.

“Maybe? Like, I know more about Liz, so,” Alex dangles.

“Maybe I will go to a meeting. Just to, you know, see what it’s about,” Amy resolves.

“Invite Liz with you,” Alex supplies.

“Really?” Amy levels. It’s Alex’s turn to shrug.

“It’s a nice gesture. Camaraderie. Or whatever Ellen DeGeneres is doing these days. I don’t know. You’re the lesbian, not me. Maybe it’ll be a sign she’s been waiting for,” Alex says dreamily.

“Go to bed. You’re not making sense,” Amy dismisses.

“Mmm, I wish I had an Atavan,” Alex gives Amy a sneaky look. She bats her eyes.

“I’m not sharing anything with you again until you set me up with someone sexy,” Amy jokes.

She still goes into her room to dig one from the prescription bottle stuffed into a secret storage drawer. Alex bubbles in her desk chair when Amy brings it to her.

“You should take half, oh, nope, you’re just gonna, okay,” Amy narrates while Alex knocks it back dry.

“Can you wake me up when you leave tomorrow? I want to get a morning run in,” Alex requests.

“Are you going to slap my hands like last time or am I free from risk of assault since I’m medicating you?” Amy whips.

“We’ll see how the night goes, I guess,” Alex taunts. She goes back to her keyboard. Amy pauses at the doorframe.

“I’m serious, don’t hit me tomorrow morning,” Amy says.

“You don’t know my matchmaking methods,” Alex hints. “We need to see if she can handle it,” her voice has a dark rasp to it. She mutters the phrase like she’s leading an imaginary confederacy inside of her.

“Too far, Morgan. Too far,” Amy dismisses, pulling the door behind her. “I’m locking you in til sunrise,” Amy explains.

“Goodnight!” Alex calls through the thin divide.

+

Alex does swat at Amy when she wakes her up. So, in repayment, Alex has to keep Amy’s books for their game on Saturday. It’s an away game not but four stops away along the metro.

“They’re 13. Why are you keeping stats?” Alex whines. She sips her homemade fruit smoothie from her Nalgene as the tram halts.

“They need positive role models to take vested interest in their successes. Seriously, isn’t this like, in the creed?” Amy lectures. She moves her bag between her legs to make room for boarding passengers.

“Not the secretary’s creed. That’s all I’m good for, isn’t it? Diligently recording the facts. No interpretation needed. Don’t let want my feeble mind getting filled with ideas,” Alex bites. She takes an aggressive sip from her straw. The oversized sunglasses complete her sour look.

“You can think about that next time you bite the hand that…wakes,” Amy finalizes.

“Who’s bringing snacks?” Alex asks.

“I have a granola bar if you need it,” Amy offers. She unzips her bag and pulls out the shiny pink wrapper.

“What is your thing with gluten-free?” Alex asks, annoyed. She snatches the bar from Amy’s outstretched hand. “What did gluten ever do to you?”

“It’s not me. It’s my job. You know Riley can’t have that stuff,” Amy says, gently.

“If those kids need snacks, you need to ask Christie. Spend your money on things that you like, not the kids you nanny for,” Alex riles.

“You mean things youlike,” Amy supplements. Alex tears into the wrapper.

“Well, I have your best interest in mind,” Alex insists, chewing.

They get off at the next stop. Alex tosses the wrapper into the rubbish bin before speed-walking up the stairs to the pedestrian overpass. Becky’s already watching the preceding 10&under game from the bleachers when Alex and Amy find the right gym. It takes a while for the teams to clear out, but Amy and Becky check in at the score table not long after they queue the warm up CD over the PA.

Amy gets her team gathered, inspects their uniforms and informs Becky how to help them execute a dribble-and-shoot warm-up. She sets Alex up in the second fold-out metal chair, provides a sharp pencil and everything. She turns to Alex, dramatically with “Pump Up the Jam” playing tinny over the speaker.

“Please don’t mess up my books. I really need accurate numbers for the first few games. I’ve got to have a game plan for the practice drills we’ll work through for the rest of the season,” Amy instructs. She offers the thin spiral book tenuously.

“It’s not my first rodeo,” Alex reassures her. “I did this, like, all the time in my athletic training days.”

“That’s not important today. What’s important is the Lightning versus the Thunder,” Amy reinforces.

“Seriously? Lightning versus Thunder? Lightning and Thunder are the opposing teams?” Alex asks, incredulously.

“It’s a youth league. I’m not handing out merchandising contracts. Can we please focus on the game at hand? My game, with my team, where I need you to pay excellent attention to assists and attempts. Please. Please pay attention,” Amy begs.

“Oh my god, Coach Amy, I’ll handle it. If I didn’t get such an excellent sleep a few nights ago, I’d probably be much more irritable but I’ll be the bigger man, nay, WOMAN here,” Alex boasts.

“I cannot stress this enough: I. Do not. Care. Please, take my stats and do not ask any of my players who their favorite feminist is,” Amy says.

Amy makes her switch seats at the first foul of the game. She has to sit Becky in between her and Alex because Alex starts making puns around the opposing player’s names. Amy’s completely into the match after that. Alex finds Amy’s In-Charge voice charming, even though she’s overusing the phrase “post up.” Amy looks calmly authoritative, consulting with Becky when she wants to switch players around in the zone. Becky nods, remains supportive.

Amy’s team, the Lightning (for the record), win by a nail-biting two baskets. Alex only misses five assists but Amy glosses over it. She’s too busy congratulating the girls.

A few parents come up to speak to Amy, to thank her for allowing all the girls to have some playing share in the match. Amy’s humble, appreciative. Alex tries to meet Amy’s eyes when they’re doing a final sweep for trash before the next team takes the court, but Amy won’t let it happen. Becky sees, intercepts Alex and shakes her head.

“She’s too good for her own good,” she says privately to Alex.

“Psh, seriously. What are we going to do with her?” Alex jests.

“She’ll fetch us a lot of camels on the silk road. Look at those strong shoulders,” Becky says, louder.

Amy’s oblivious, lifting up the chairs by their warm metal back rests to check under them for any lost articles.

“Her sturdy hips guarantee ample offspring for many generations,” Alex narrates. Amy turns to them, wide-eyed.

“Sorry?” She hasn’t been paying attention.

“Ineffable!” Alex exclaims.

Amy shoulders her bag from its hidden spot under her chair. She shakes hands with the next coach as they pass. Becky decides to ride home with them, persuades them to call ahead for take-out pizza before they get on the metro. The pie’s still hot when they climb the three flights to Amy and Alex’s place.

“You like House Hunters International?” Alex checks with Becky as she flips on the cable.

“Yeah, sure,” Becky agrees.

She perches on the floor cushion she’s pulled up under the coffee table. They’re all cramped around it, Amy and Alex next to each other on the couch. Becky cuts into her slice first; she’s the first to place a bet on which house the affluent couple will pick.

And she’s right. Becky heads home after two more episodes because Amy’s got to get ready to babysit. Amy picks up their cups and plates, straightens up the countertops and wraps the leftover pizza. Alex tags around with her, following Amy from kitchen to living room and back again. She doesn’t offer to do anything, but it doesn’t bother Amy.

“You know, Christie asks a lot of you,” Alex supplies.

“She’s my employer. Doesn’t your employer ask a lot from you too?” Amy asks, smart-assed.

She’s washing dishes in the sink. Alex leans her lower back against the counter.

“Well yeah. But they don’t ask me to come in on Saturday night,” Alex says. “After I’ve already been working all week.”

“They need a break,” Amy says, referring to the couple who has employed her as a nanny since she graduated. She loves her job, loves caring for the girls she’s responsible for.

“From what? You’re the one always looking after her kids,” Alex defends.

Alex takes the last swig of diet soda from her glass and places the empty thing in the sink. Amy washes it without making a fuss.

“At twenty dollars an hour, I’ll watch her kids anytime,” Amy reasons.

She shuts off the faucet. Alex scoffs at her.

“Will you at least come meet me at this theater party tonight?” Alex offers.

“I don’t know. I’m gonna be so tired,” Amy starts to weasel out of it.

“Abby invited me. She’s, you know, working at the Square Playhouse,” Alex explains, nonchalant.

“Cool,” Amy dismisses.

“Think about it,” Alex insists.

Amy gets to Christie’s house just in time to intercept a Reece tantrum. The rest of the night is a blur of dress up and feeding them dinner and putting them into bed after five episodes of Tinkerbell. Amy’s nodding off on their couch when Alex texts her.

“Just got here. Tons of girls. Pls come!” Alex’s message reads.

Amy sips her Coke, trying to stay awake. She finds a bottle of nail polish and gives herself a quick pedicure before Christie and her husband return, half-soused, and hand Amy two crisp one hundred dollar bills.

Amy decides she might as well. She gets off at the Kings station like Alex directs. She tries not to make eye contact with anyone until she has to knock on the door of the walk-up. Abby answers. It’s her place, of course she would.

She takes Amy into an easy hug. They’ve known each other on the fringe for so long, never really becoming close. But since they finished school, since Alex finished school, this past spring, Abby’s been around more. Catching movies with Alex. Helping Alex move furniture or driving Alex to Target.

“How the hell are ya?” Abby pats Amy’s shoulders.

Amy’s wearing her grey hoodie, feeling less at ease being stared at by Abby’s glowing eyes.

“Not bad. No complaints!” Amy insists. Abby leads her in.

“Drinks in the kitchen, smokes on the balcony. Make yourself at home,” Abby lilts over the boppy music playing over the sound system.

Amy spots Alex perched on the couch. There are a lot of ladies here, yet she’s not hard to find.

“Thanks Ab,” Amy tries. Even she feels lame when it slips out. Abby chuckles, understands.

“Aight, aight,” she squeezes Amy’s shoulders as she slithers by.

Amy comes right up to Alex, who crooks her arm around Amy’s midsection, pulling her into a side hug and letting her forehead fall on Amy’s oblique. Amy’s arm drapes over Alex’s shoulders.

“Hey rooms,” Alex says, mellow.

“Hey,”

“How are the kids?”

“Exhausting,” Amy sighs. “But always good,” Amy smiles.

Alex shifts over in her armchair, lets Amy perch on the arm itself. Abby’s got a blue-jean slip cover on the thing.

“I’m drinking scotch,” Alex says, smoothes her voice.

Amy gives her an arched look.

“Why?”

“To sip,” Alex demonstrates. Amy purses her lips. Downers, most likely. “Some?” Alex offers.

“Let’s go out for beer instead. Better yet, let’s get beer and go home,” Amy ducks to mutter it in Alex’s ear, just a shave below the music.

The women on the couch aren’t paying them any mind. They’re scrolling through the iPod plugged into the stereo.

“You think Abby would come?” Alex asks, a hollowness to her expression.

“Probably not. S’her house,” Amy explains.

Abby comes in from the porch just then, someone calling dibs on a beer pong game outside.

“I can find you beer,” Alex says.

With a spurt of sudden energy, she drags Amy up and into the kitchen. Alex sidles up to Abby, dons the rouse of a dramatic embrace.

“Sup?” Abby says.

She’s remaining calm. Amy can see through it though, that whipped tenacity. It’s Abby’s weakness: Alex.

“Can Amy have a beer?” Alex asks, sweetly.

“Yeah, sure,” Abby agrees.

She opens the crummy fridge and hands Amy a lukewarm can. Amy cracks it open, more to avoid watching Alex hang off of Abby.

“What’s up outside?” Alex probes.

“Oh, you know, general idiocy,” Abby articulates.

The whole thing feels like it’s happening in slow motion. Amy’s used to Alex’s dreary eyes in the early morning, but it’s different now, seeing her so misleadingly loose.

“You’re just so above that,” Alex mocks.

There’s a thick, lazy sarcasm to her voice. Amy takes a big swig, feeling obligated.

“Yeah. I’m a high-functioning idiot. One who maintains an illusion of control,” Abby chances.

She delivers like she’s rehearsed, like there’s something disingenuous about her.

“And that’s why you lost in beer pong?” Alex asks rhetorically.

“Exactly,” Abby concedes. “I mean, in like, three turns.” She hangs her head.

Alex looks like she wants to pull her back into a hug, but she settles on a gentle pat to the shoulder.

“I’m sure it was tough competition,” Amy tries to butt in.

“Just the worst. Poor sports, too. Taunting, gloating. Just awful,” Abby plays.

“You need a better partner, partner,” Alex offers. She means herself.

“Next round,” Abby dismisses. Amy watches the joy drain from Alex’s face. It’s prudent, like a wave retreating from the shore.

“Sure,” Alex whimpers.

Abby excuses herself to socialize with someone else, and then Alex wants to leave. Amy doesn’t get much further into that beer. She leaves it on the countertop unattended.

Luckily, Alex doesn’t mention booze once more on the way home. They ride the metro together, and Amy even lets Alex’s forehead fall sideways onto her shoulder. It’s the first night Amy feels like she really needs to get her coat out, put scarves and gloves back into her wardrobe. The wind is biting, but it works to Amy’s advantage. Alex picks up her feet with a precise attention that only the chill could bring, like nature’s elements crack the pharmaceutical haze.

Amy marches Alex into the elevator of their building. Even though it’s old and scary, Alex doesn’t freak out like she usually does. She’s complacent; Amy feels brave.

“Why do you like Abby?” Amy blurts.

Alex blinks slowly.

“She’s an amazing person,” Alex delivers.

“How so?” Amy presses.

The cab stops at their floor. Amy gets her keys ready, digs them out of her messenger bag. Alex is silent, watching Amy jimmy the lock. Alex follows her in, deadbolts the door behind them.

“Her drive for success. How she can read a script once and bring her part to life,” Alex says, facing the door.

Amy hums. She drops her bag where she kicks off her shoes, folding her phone into her pocket. Alex follows into the kitchen where Amy starts making macaroni on the stovetop.

“I like how accepting she is,” Alex continues. Amy sets the water to boil.

“Of what?”

“Just being around other people. How she attracts a diverse group,” Alex says.

“You weren’t even talking to anyone when I got there,” Amy observes.

She doesn’t mean to hurt Alex, but it looks like it stings.

“It was a lull. It was, just, you know, one of those chill atmospheres,” Alex explains.

Amy turns up the burner, wants to get on with it.

“Don’t let her influence you to, whatever,” Amy mutters.

“I know,” Alex insists.

Amy can’t help but notice how she widens her eyes on purpose. Amy doesn’t mean to scold, to question Alex’s discretion.

“She’s cool, but, I mean,” Amy trails off. She has a bad habit of biting back her tongue.

“She doesn’t know what she wants,” Alex whispers.

“How do you know that?” Amy checks.

The water starts to boil. Amy pours in the macaroni.

“She, like, won’t freaking act,” Alex insists.

“Act on what?” Amy feels like an advocate, but lost.

“Never mind,” Alex dismisses. She juts away from the stove. “Sorry it was a lame party,” Alex apologizes.

“I had fun,” Amy says. Alex scoffs, rolls her eyes. “I did,” Amy reinforces.

They eat macaroni on the couch, sharing one huge serving bowl with two utensils—a fork for Alex and a spoon for Amy.

When Amy’s locking the front door, as she always does, Alex stalls in the dark living room. Amy can’t see her, but she knows she’s there, knows the lilt of Alex’s sincere voice.

“Thanks for bringing me home,” Alex mumbles.

Amy can’t calibrate their bodies in the empty space, can’t tell where Alex stands in the darkness. The sound of her voice bounces hopelessly against the thin apartment walls.

“Anytime,” Amy lobs into the atmosphere.

Alex is beside her embarking down the hallway. She splays a hand between Amy’s shoulder blades, rubs her back for a moment. When Amy falls asleep, there’s lingering warmth there that reminds Amy of her spine. How it is composed of tiny bones and cords, only viable when they communicate, when they work in sync. It reminds her of her mouth, the teeth inside that feel like rejected vertebrae, forced to settle their calcium deposits into her curved, cramped smile. When Amy’s drifting to sleep, she imagines pressing her lips to vertebrae, waxes on the poetic disposition of the body’s chemistry, the amalgamation of the same matter into woefully distant caverns.

Chapter Text

They get pushed off the court twenty minutes early again that next Tuesday at practice. Amy’s less resentful about it. She makes the girls run up and down the bleacher stairs while the older boys try to run a lay-up drill across both baskets. Even though Amy’s girls are barely teenagers, they sound like a riotous pack barreling through the aisles. Amy smiles. The footsteps of the girls drown out the sound of the coach’s whistle.

The girls are whooped after the drill, a dozen red faces panting when she gives them the end of practice wrap up just outside the water fountain again. This time, some parents want to discuss schedules with her, so she’s diligent, records appropriate notes on her clipboard.

As soon as the area clears out, Megan appears down the hallway. She flits past the front desk, turns the corner with enthusiasm. Amy spots her before Becky does.

“Is that your team?” Megan asks, crooking her thumb vaguely behind her.

“Yeah,” Amy says, sheepish.

“That’s adorable. Holy shit. Sorry. I mean, holy cow. I thought, I don’t know. I don’t know what I thought. Maybe that you were in a rec league or something,” Megan blabbers.

Amy knows her face burns pink, but hopes Becky’s got a similar blush.

“No, 13 and Under girls,” Amy nods.

“When do you guys, girls, when do you girls play?” Megan corrects herself.

“Uh, Saturdays. Usually here, but sometimes we have to travel,” Amy says.

Megan shifts her weight around in her combat boots. She’s got some carpet-looking backpack slung around her shoulders, fiddles with the straps.

“Oh cool. This Saturday?”

“Our game is at eleven. Right in there,” Amy points to the gym doors.

“Well I’m working for the blood drive here this weekend. Maybe I’ll pop in,” Megan offers.

Amy nods, digs the edge of the clipboard into her side.

“It’ll be a good game, you know, considering,” Amy just leaves her sentence there.

“Considering you’re not playing?” Megan supplies.

Amy doesn’t have a good reply. She just stutters. Becky takes up the slack, coming alive.

“Amy’s pretty entertaining despite not being allowed to play,” Becky jokes.

“Oh really?” Megan asks, playfully.

Amy shrugs.

“She’s the sixth man, I swear. The girls wouldn’t know which way is up if Amy wasn’t coaching from the bench,” Becky says.

“That’s awesome,” Megan says. Her smile stretches wide. She pats Amy’s bicep as she passes. “I’ll be there,” she assures.

Amy ducks to the water fountain as soon as Megan’s gone. Becky’s waiting for her reaction, lumbering over Amy with that friendly, yet imposing sense of openness that she has perfected. Amy resigns, wipes the silvery water from her lips with the cuff of her jacket.

“Could be a little less obvious,” Becky advises, unprovoked.

“Me?” Amy checks.

“No, her,” Becky notes seriously.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Amy says.

They start moving towards the front desk where Liz and Alex are leaning elbows-first on the counter, chatting with the single person relieving their post.

“You really don’t think she’s hitting on you?” Becky asks.

She stops, catches Amy’s elbow. Amy looks a little bewildered, confidence drained.

“I don’t know. I mean, does it matter?” Amy asserts.

She pulls her elbow from Becky’s loose grip. Amy wishes she didn’t see Becky eye the front desk. Like Becky’s response is a predilection of someone else’s feelings. Maybe that’s a response enough, to know that everyone seems to be looking out for Liz.

“Depends how you deal,” Becky answers honestly.

Amy just wants to keep moving.

“I know,” Amy settles.

It’s enough for Becky; she doesn’t press any further. Becky tries to get the group to sit down for coffee and sandwiches, but their dissolution is evident. Becky and Liz live just a block from each other, so they go south where Amy and Alex continue west.

Amy really can’t fall asleep that night. She brushes her teeth twice, repeats her whole pre-bed routine mechanically and with full conscious. It’s something she hasn’t done for a few years; at least since her honors thesis caused her to have a slight hiccup of sanity. At the height of it, she’d floss her teeth until her gums bled. She’d be up for hours in the hall bathroom, staring with dead eyes at her reflection over the sink, counting the exhausted strokes over her bicuspids.

It’s too late to take a whole pill, so she halves it with the edge of her library card against her bedside table. In the dark, she runs her tongue over her smile’s slick, clean enamel. Tonguing at her gums makes them sting in that lovely, dull way. It reminds her to squeeze her eyes shut, to prepare for sleep’s illusive seduction.

+

Alex tumbles from her bedroom as Amy’s brushing her teeth that Saturday morning. Literally, Alex almost falls to ground because she doesn’t round the corner with enough birth.

“Up early,” Amy notes, ducking to spit.

Alex just grumbles. She crosses her arms, dances lightly on her feet at the doorway to the bathroom, expectantly. Amy washes up, tries to be quick and not-in-the-way. But Alex still glides behind Amy while she’s rinsing over the sink, still pats her ass in a friendly manner that also says please get out so I can pee. Amy heads for the kitchen.

“You’re such an old person,” Alex scoffs when she emerges, voice still bedraggled. Amy’s perched on the couch, drinking coffee and scrolling through the Times on her tablet. Alex pours some orange juice into a mug and sits next to Amy.

“Saturdays have mornings too,” Amy excuses. “Why are you up early?”

“Wanted to catch you and ask if I could keep the books again this week,” Alex deadpans. Amy doesn’t know what to say, just levels a bewildered look across the couch.

“Really?”

“No,” Alex shoots back. Amy rolls her eyes. “Wanted to get a head start on a little cleaning,” Alex answers.

“Don’t know which is less believable,” Amy ponders.

Alex goes to swat Amy, but misses.

“Abby’s gonna come over and run lines with me. Then I have an audition in the afternoon,” says Alex.

“That’s exciting,” Amy says, genuine. “What’s it for?”

“An ensemble part at Square. You know, I sent my resume to them the other day. ” Alex shrugs. “It’s not a big deal. It’s just, you know, for fun.”

Amy nods, doesn’t want to commit to any piece of advice. The screen on her tablet dims. She raises her mug to her lips and takes a sip, trying to eye Alex to explain herself further. Alex is silent, an empty stare exaggerated by the morning lag.

“Good luck,” Amy wishes. “What time does it start?”

“Three. Abby’s coming over at noon,” she supplies.

Alex takes a gulp of her juice, closes her eyes when she does.

“Cool,” Amy continues.

“Is it cool if, like, you give me and Abby a little time this afternoon? You know, if your game, like, ends early or something. Is that, I mean, I’m sorry to ask,” Alex blurts out.

Amy blinks at her, trying not to get annoyed.

“Yeah, whatever,” she brushes it off.

“Thanks,” Alex mutters, quietly.

She bends forward to turn on the television with the remote, which makes Amy groan.

“No, I can’t get stuck watching morning shows. I have to leave,” she draws out.

“Come onnnn. Big and Rich are playing live!” Alex says.

“You’re ridiculous. I’m not gonna let you drag me into such idyllic pleasures,” Amy responds.

She stands, stretches her arms in the air.

“Your loss. Pretty soon I’ll have a recipe for fat free fajitas and you’ll be sorry. You’ll want for me and my fajitas,” Alex teases.

She’s not even watching the show, just observing Amy scuttle to the kitchen.

“Maybe. Or you’ll write down the recipe and I’ll make it for you. Whatever comes first,” Amy explains.

The coffee mug makes an empty ding against the harsh metal of the sink.

“Can you toast a bagel for me?” Alex calls.

“Nope,” Amy responds, hustling down the hall, “Gotta get dressed.”

“Please? I have so much to do today. It would really help!” Alex calls.

Amy’s already in her room, changing with the door open.

“Where’s your Big and Rich now?” Amy calls back.

Alex groans with immense hyperbole as she clanks around the kitchen, dragging the toaster from the bottom cabinet.

“Look at you!” Amy encourages, rounding the corner so that’s she’s closest to the front door.

She’s wearing dark wash jeans and her team’s t-shirt with a blue hoodie shrugged around her frame. She fastens her watch to her wrist with practiced ease. Alex pumps the lever down on the toaster.

“I never knew what I was capable of,” Alex intones, mock bewildered.

Amy smiles, pulls her duffle onto her shoulder.

“I’m so proud,” Amy nods.

“Good luck today,” Alex says.

“You too,” Amy looks her in the eyes.

She can tell Alex is nervous, can see the combination of terror and perfectionism stirring there. Alex succumbs, rushes over for a quick hug. She’s not crying, but Amy diverts her eyes politely all the same.

“You’ll do great,” Amy assures her. “Just be yourself. Be fun, and show them that you’ll work hard for them.”

Alex nods against her shoulder. She’s a shave taller, but slighter, easier to get lost in the folds. Amy’s solid, but feels grateful for the winter, and the thick layers between her and Alex’s skin.

+

They lose, but not by much. Amy feels like she’s just emerged from underwater when the final buzzer sounds. She’s been so intent on the game, her tunnel vision fine-tuned, that she didn’t even realize Becky’s got a pallid look on her face. Amy tries to not let her sadness show, amps the girls up to smack hands politely with the other team. They weren’t rough or rude, just better, and that hits Amy like freezing rain.

She gathers the team together just to the side of the bleachers for their meeting. It pains Amy to see her point guard, one of the natural athletes on the team, shed a frustrated tear. It’s a tough debriefing; Amy’s mind is racing with drills to run at practice. She makes it clear that she’s proud of the team, even though she couldn’t get everyone into the game this time.

Becky passes on the opportunity to say anything, but still chants loudly when the team dismisses with a cheer. One parent has brought snacks, so Amy and Becky hang back when the group shifts. Becky comes right up to Amy, places a trusting hand on her shoulder.

“I have cramps something awful,” Becky explains discretely.

“I’m sorry,” Amy squeaks.

“I just, need to duck out. Is that okay? I’m sorry,” Becky backs away a little when she says it.

“It’s fine. I’m sorry you feel bad but thank you for staying. Good game,” Amy bids.

Becky squeezes her into a side hug and ambles away, the slightest hint of a wince to her brow.

Amy sees Megan clomping down the bleachers from the corner of her eye. Amy fusses with her clipboard, and a wave of hesitation washes over her. She’s not embarrassed by her team, but she hates to let anyone down.

“Hey, tough loss, Coach,” Megan says, bunches her mouth in a sympathetic purse.

“Thanks, yeah, but they played great, don’t you think?”Amy says.

“Oh yeah, absolutely. Hard fought battle. I mean, they had great direction,” Megan notes.

Megan says it in a way that’s joking, but it’s not a joke. With her hands shoved in her jean jacket pockets, she gestures outward, opening the jacket along with her. Her dynamic expressions draw Amy in, like Megan’s already broken down something between them. Amy wants to catch up.

“What’s direction without talent?” Amy counters.

“Really though, I had no idea it would be that fast paced. It was thrilling,” Megan declares. Amy laughs, tucks her teeth behind her lips when she licks them.

“Of course it is. It’s basketball,” Amy excuses.

Megan stands smiling but silent. The crowd of parents and players breaks up as more people file into the gym for the next match beginning behind them. The kids leave, disperse into their Saturdays. Amy shifts her weight, feels directionless for the first time in a while.

“Still working the blood drive?” Amy asks. Megan shakes her head.

“Nah. I’m finished,” she says.

“Cool,” Amy says. She fiddles with the zipper on her duffle.

“You hungry?” Megan asks.

Amy flinches at the loud whistle from the court. She realizes it’s barely 12:30; she can’t go home just yet.

“Yeah, actually,” Amy agrees, crooking her eyebrow.

“Oh cool. Well, later,” Megan starts, makes to turn away from the conversation.

Amy’s speechless, but Megan pivots around, shit-eating grin rampant across her chin. Amy feels her face relax, melt into a smile.

“Hey, don’t be mean,” Amy defends.

“Nah, just joking around,” Megan levels.

She jabs the broad side of her elbow against Amy’s arm as they walk abreast out of the gym. Megan does a comical once-over of the hallway before darting across it quickly, making her way to the lobby area.

“Don’t want to get roped into more volunteering?” Amy asks.

“Pretty much,” Megan says.

“Are you even supposed to be leaving yet?” Amy presses.

Megan throws open the front door, vaults into the fresh air. Amy’s not far behind.

“Doesn’t matter because I’m already gone,” she hollers.

 

Megan marches her for a few blocks, weaving through streets according to which crossing signals beckon them first. It’s a small place, but they get to sit at a high table next to the window.

They decide to split an order of pad thai. Amy learns that Megan went to a neighboring city college where she earned her BS in Chemistry the same year Amy graduated, and she’s insanely talented with chopsticks. But Megan doesn’t have the guts to brave the DAT just yet; she splits her time between the community center and a part time research lab gig, taking odd volunteer opportunities when they come along. Amy feels incompetent, but Megan’s beyond interested in Amy’s half-hearted lecture about her interdisciplinary field, sports psychology.

It makes Amy feel a little bit at ease, Megan’s open ear. Amy gets a little lost recounting her athletic training internship with the Cubs. Megan doesn’t let the noodles hinder her conversational obligations; she chimes in amicably when Amy gets her words twisted up. It’s still barely 1:30 when the check comes. Megan pays for her half in cash, but maybe there’s hesitation evident in Amy’s hands as she folds her debit card into the book.

“I know this sounds, like, so bougie and you’ll probably laugh. But I’m supposed to make an appearance at this art gallery this afternoon. It’s a collaborative show-type-thing and my friend is one of the artists. I was gonna go alone but like, that sounds dumb now. You think you’d want to like, I don’t know, just come and make fun of liberal arts people with me?” Megan offers.

Amy takes a too-long gulp, finishes the end of her water. She checks her watch under the table.

“It’s fine if you don’t. Just thought, I don’t know,” Megan shrugs; the denim shoulders move with her.

“It’s okay. I’ll, yeah, I’ll go,” Amy stammers.

Megan plays it off, juts her chin forward.

“Cool,” she intones.

On the metro, there’s an entire row next to Amy. Yet Megan still chooses to sit right next to her. Amy tries not to read into it, attempts a casual stance with her duffle bag on her lap. Megan forgets to get off at the right stop, so they have to backtrack when they emerge onto the sidewalk. The direct sun has made the afternoon air the smallest bit warmer, denser. Amy pushes up the sleeves on her hoodie, hating the way they itch against her elbows but loving the pleasant air.

Megan’s one of those people who walks with purpose and direction. The boots allow a commanding tremor with each confident stride. Combined with her speed and sharp features, most people on the sidewalk politely move out of her way. Amy feels like a guppy trailing in her wake. Maybe she imagines it, but she swears the gaze of onlookers feel different. She’s never been the type to garner much attention from strangers, but she can tell Megan is electric even in the sunlight.

“Are you sure I’m dressed okay?” Amy asks.

They stop at a busy intersection, and Megan gives her a friendly once-over.

“You’re fine, girl. I mean, you look fine,” Megan says.

The light changes suspiciously fast.

“Okay. I guess there’s nothing I can really do about it at this point, anyway,” Amy reasons aloud, tries at a joke.

Megan laughs.

“It’s Saturday! Like, who has an art show during the day, right? Artsy dirt bags. I’m sure it’s brimming with artsy dirt bags,” Megan jokes.

She’s pretty much right, though. The gallery space is surprisingly full. Amy sticks close to Megan as she weaves through the crowd. Photographs dot the white walls, glossy under the track lights. Amy’s cautious of her duffle bag being in the way, taking care not to bump anyone. Megan stops abruptly, and Amy barely halts on her tiptoes to avoid crashing into her.

It’s loud, so Amy doesn’t hear the beginning of Megan’s conversation when she greets someone in the crowd, pulling them into a hug. Amy looks over, becomes present in the moment, and immediately sees Abby, deer in the headlights, standing next to the person Megan’s untangling from.

“This is my friend Amy,” Megan introduces her.

It’s Hope Solo. She sticks out her hand with practiced assurance.

“Hope,” she says.

They were in an educational psych class together. Amy’s too stuck on Abby’s presence to say so. She watches Abby take a miniscule step away from Hope.

“Hi,” Amy squeaks.

It dawns on Hope then, though. Small world, and all.

“Ah, Amy! Didn’t know you still lived here!” Hope bids.

“Yep,” Amy chirps.

She looks over to Abby and they do a weird wave. Megan picks up immediately with Hope.

“Let’s see ‘em!” Megan calls.

“This is my whole wall,” Hope uses both hands to gesture to the area behind her. “They gave me all of it!”

Hope leads the group closer to her section of photographs. They are all matted on black, arranged in a straight line at eye-level. Mostly black and white, they’re obscure, like they’ve been taken in the rain. It’s a dark palette, shimmering slate and silver. Some are hard to distinguish from the others. Amy’s not much of a critic, but she knows they’re beautiful. Hope was an acclaimed addition to her undergraduate institution, a locally recognized artist of all mediums with equal hype and skill.

Abby tags along quietly behind Hope. She’s a bit awkward, lumbering off to the side, but Hope’s height makes her stand out less. There is a hint of music being pumped through the gallery. It’s hard to hear, to make out, but Abby bobs her head along with the bass. There’s no explanation offered, no note as to why Abby isn’t running lines with Alex. Amy’s not sure what to think of it, knows that Hope and Abby could have been a thing, back in school.

The dots maybe connect a little in Amy’s mind. But she pushes it out of frame, makes herself zone in on Hope’s mousy voice, scurrying under the crowd noise. Bless her, explaining the aperture to Amy like she’ll enjoy the photograph any differently. Megan nods along, does that gesturing thing with her fists balled in her jacket pockets.

“Let’s see what these other losers brought to the table,” she says, noting the rest of the walls.

“Yeah, absolutely, take a lap,” Hope agrees.

Amy and Megan pair up; Abby stays at Hope’s side, stoic. Hope squeezes Megan’s shoulder as they pass, throws Amy a pinched but genuine smile. Abby does the same, like she’s imitating Hope’s passivity.

“Ooh, that’s kinda cool,” Megan remarks to Amy.

She admires another artist’s image of a delicately focused snowscape. The city in the photo looks like a miniature town; the flurries cover every visible surface there. Megan’s eyes dart around the poster-sized canvas.

“Yeah,” Amy agrees, breathless.

“You ever do this kind of stuff?” Megan asks.

She turns away from the wall, the illusion broken. Amy adjusts her grip on her bag’s handles.

“Photography?” Amy checks.

“Or art. Any art. Thing,” Megan shrugs.

“Um, not, so much. No. I did take a drawing class freshman year,” Amy responds.

Megan leads them in their ambling. It’s the slowest Amy’s seen her move all day. Megan ducks her head down, like she’s putting her ear closer to Amy’s timid voice. Megan slowly places one foot in front of the other.

“That’s cool,” Megan claims.

“I wasn’t that great. I did one cool drawing of a building on campus. But that’s, you know, that’s really all,” Amy finishes.

“Yeah I did a pottery class once and broke all my stuff. I think I might have a key bowl left but like, what am I gonna do with that?” Megan rambles.

They casually glance at other works. Nothing else really pops out, but Amy likes the easy wandering.

“Keep your keys,” Amy says, a beat later.

“What?”

“You’d use a key bowl to keep your keys,” Amy repeats. “You know. Where you can find them.”

“Right,” Megan starts. “But then I’d have to fire my butler, you know? I couldn’t put him out like that.” Megan deadpans, dismisses the idea with a headshake.

“Oh, sure,” Amy plays along, “not on such short notice.”

They circle back to Hope and Abby. This time they sneak up on them mid-conversation. Hope’s got her hand on Abby’s bicep; Abby’s wrist disappears behind the silhouette of Hope’s side. They’re whispering to each other. Hope’s eyes are cast out over the crowd, the middle distance there. But Abby’s completely focused on Hope, like she’s a bodyguard or something more. Amy’s pissed, suddenly; angry that Abby would be so shameless in front of all these people.

Megan approaches without regard to her interruption of the conversation between Hope and Abby.

“Think we’re gonna head out,” she speaks for Amy too.

“Thank you for coming,” Hope says.

She pulls them both into a hug.

“Your stuff is the best,” Megan assures Hope.

“You’re so sweet. Thank you so so much,” she repeats.

“Great job,” Amy supplies.

“Thanks! It was so good to see you again,” Hope says to Amy.

“Bye!” Megan calls, more to Abby this time.

Abby does a kind of salute to them both, eyes Amy with a fake smile on her face. Megan breathes an exaggerated sigh of relief as she leads Amy out of the gallery.

“Social obligations complete,” Megan announces.

“Awesome,” Amy says.

She switches the duffle bag to her other shoulder, finally feeling fed up with it. Megan can tell.

“Aw, I’m sorry. I forgot you had your luggage with you,” Megan apologizes.

“It’s cool. I want to, uh, ditch it though,” Amy explains.

“Oh, okay,” Megan leads.

Amy checks her watch. It’s a quarter till three; she should be safe.

“Yeah, I’m gonna head back to my place,” Amy says.

“Oh, okay,” Megan repeats.

“Thanks for culturing me,” Amy notes.

“Oh yeah, anytime. I’ve got culture spewing from my ears,” Megan counters.

“That’s-” Amy starts, nose crinkled.

“Not like, cultures. Not. Ugh. You know what I mean. I’m always a source of entertainment. For you,” Megan stutters.

“Right,” Amy agrees with an open laugh.

“Hey, so, give me your number,” Megan says.

She pulls her cell phone from her jean jacket pocket, thumbs the buttons to light it up. Amy dictates it to her, realizes that Megan is standing really close. Amy can see the screen, can hear the soft press of the keys. Amy’s phone vibrates in her bag.

“That’s me,” Megan says.

She ends the call.

“Cool,” Amy says.

“So, yeah, let’s do this again. Well, not this art stuff. But, yeah, you know,” Megan offers.

“Sure, that’d be, yeah, that’d be cool,” Amy agrees.

“Can I, uh?” Megan asks. She opens her arms.

“Yeah,” Amy allows.

Megan holds her for three solid beats. Amy can’t look at her in the eye when they pull apart though; she smiles at the area just to the left of Megan’s face. Megan giggles, smiles, but bites her bottom lip at the tail end of it. Amy knows she blushes, tries to play it off by turning towards the metro stop.

“Are you going back on the Green Line?” Megan asks.

“Well, yeah,” Amy responds.

“I know we had our goodbyes back there, but uh, yeah,” Megan says.

She falls in line with Amy’s steps.

Amy rehearses a variety of potential conversations with Alex on walk home from the station. But when Alex comes home later, in a daze of tension from her audition, Amy can tell she doesn’t want to talk about the afternoon.

Amy makes fajitas, predictably, and Alex jockeys the DVR, switches between House Hunters and Chopped. Amy doesn’t mention the art gallery. She wants to, feels bubbly with the day’s events replaying so vividly in her mind. It’s hard to resist, but the stern slope of Alex’s nose stirs something selfless inside of Amy. Alex doesn’t say anything about Abby cancelling with her either, never mutters her name once, even when Amy thanks Alex relentlessly for dusting and bleaching the kitchen.

They call it a night early, but not before splitting a sleeve of Oreos on the couch, anticipating Ted Allen’s final cut. When Amy’s trying to fall asleep that night, it begins to rain. They’re on a middle floor, so she can’t get much satisfaction from the drops hitting her roof. But the beating against the window is enough to thrum her to sleep. It’s easy with the images from the gallery reanimating against her eyelids. She feels the chill in the air drop with the same tender focus, the same shades of wonder.

Chapter Text

Megan starts texting Amy that Sunday. It’s mostly conversational things, funny thoughts that cross her mind or awkward situations she’s trying to ignore. Amy’s game; she responds when she’s got something to toss back. Amy grows accustomed to an unopened message from Megan—when she’s waiting for Rylie’s dance class to end, or putting Reese down for a nap. It’s a new part of her routine, which is a positive thing since she doesn’t catch Megan in the hall that Tuesday. The team has an away game the next weekend, a solid win to put the team back on track.

At their last practice for the week after, on Thursday, it’s Becky’s birthday. Amy cuts practice short, lets the girls take the last twenty minutes to play Horse. She and Becky take turns overseeing the game while the other changes in the locker room. Becky emerges wearing a flirty red dress with her blue jean jacket and cowboy boots. The girls stop their game to throw teasing cat calls at Becky, a gesture Amy didn’t know thirteen year olds were aware of.

Of course, no one really whistles at Amy in her dress pants and green blouse. It’s something new, that Alex picked out for her at Target. The sleeves are loose, a little too trendy for Amy’s taste, but Alex assures that the jewel tone brings out Amy’s eyes. Amy’s not as accessible to the girls, not chummy like Becky can be with them. The team does visibly react though, the shooters take a few extra beats to catch up to the sight of Amy beautified.

She’s not interested in traditionally feminine things; Amy’s always felt that other women judge her for it. Sometimes Amy thinks the players will reflect back on Amy’s coaching and know, later in life, that Amy was doing her best to hide something. Throughout college she was safe in sports; women didn’t mind or ask, either way. Meeting straight girls who accept her as she is, like Becky all those years ago, has made Amy breathe easily off the court, feel at home in her skin.

Her youth team is vulnerable to the skewed ideas of gender; she doesn’t want to upset the balance. But she’s still not sure how she can impart her happiness to the team without causing the inevitable line of questions. She knows she can’t say anything, knows it’s better to let them wonder. She’s afraid they’ll confront her, weirdly; like they’ll call her ambiguity for a bluff.

Becky smiles at her in that amicable, reassuring way that makes her feel less underwhelming. It unties Amy’s stomach just a bit, enough to calm her down. A few parents compliment Amy’s attire when they come to pick up their girls, though.

Alex and Liz are waiting in the bleachers when the last player leaves. Amy tries to look down the hallway towards the multipurpose rooms when they’re all leaving through the lobby, just to see. It’s not Tuesday; there’s no reason to expect Megan or anyone, for that matter. But it’s too crowded with some sort of tour group passing through for Amy to definitively say.

Becky’s picked the same tapas place for her birthday dinner for all the years Amy has known her. It wasn’t until after her semester abroad in Spain that she began to bemoan the inauthenticity of the plates. Liz slides into the booth with Amy at the restaurant, lightly smacks her wrist on Amy’s thigh when they’re settling in.

“You’re wearing earrings,” Liz states.

“Oh,” Amy touches her lobe, “yeah.”

“Are they…turtles?” Liz speculates, delicately raises her hand.

Amy holds her breath. The touch of Liz’s fingertips to her ear is quick, cool.

“Oh. Flowers,” Liz settles.

“Yeah, flowers,” Amy repeats. She flicks at her bangs; the motion makes her shoulders open up, her hand floating towards Liz.

“And this blouse is cute,” Liz continues, fingers pushing stray hairs behind her own ear.

“You can thank Alex for styling me,” Amy notes. Amy pulls off her jacket, lets it bunch into a pool around her waist.

“The color is perfect for you,” Liz says. She touches the sleeve, the gauze too thin to conceal her cold hands.

Amy flinches a little, but Liz kind of rubs her fingertips. It feels good; Amy’s all too responsive.

“Thanks,” she says.

Liz releases a guilty smile.

It’s a small bench, really only meant for one person. So Amy excuses the brush of Liz’s hand whenever Liz drops her arms to the side. Amy just angles her body to lean partially against the wall, opening the space between her and Liz.

“Can we do family style?” Alex begs.

“Hell yeah,” Becky enthuses, “No holds bar. Full on, birthday tapas.”

“Music to my starving ears,” Liz agrees.

They all get sangria. Deliciously, devastatingly strong sangria. Amy hates to admit that alcohol makes the dinner much more enjoyable, but it does.

They get to talking about old times, people they used to know from school who have moved on. Amy wants to say something about seeing Hope Solo, but decides against it. Doesn’t want to chance anything. Liz excuses herself to the restroom midway through their ambling meal.

“So,” Alex levels.

Amy hiccups into her fist.

“What?” she checks.

“You know what,” Alex accuses.

Amy swirls her sangria glass by the stem.

“I don’t think I do,” Amy answers.

Becky and Alex both share a glance, not even bothering to hide it from Amy’s view.

“Come on,” Alex insists.

Amy just shakes her head, lifts her shoulders.

“I think, and I mean, I’m trying to be objective here,” Becky chimes in. She checks the surroundings, continues with a stealth angle to her eyes. “I think you might, maybe unintentionally, be, you know, leading,” she pauses, winces at herself for saying the words to Amy so directly, “like, leading Liz on?”

Amy rears into the booth’s tall back. She closes her eyes. The world doesn’t spin, but her stomach does. She opens her mouth to say.

“I don’t—”

“Amy, she’s sending you signals. You can’t tell me you don’t see it,” Alex challenges, interrupting.

“I really haven’t. I thought we were having a nice time. I mean, a nice time with friends,” Amy mutters.

“Well maybe you need to, you know, say something to her. About what’s going on between you two,” Becky reasons.

Amy’s not trying to be dramatic, but she can’t look at them. She stares off at the restaurant’s bustling river, the ambiance pulsing.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. There’s nothing going on,” Amy counters.

“Maybe that’s what you need to say then,” Becky squeaks.

Amy’s silent, doesn’t dignify anything with a response. She downs the rest of her sangria, a sickeningly sweet gulp amidst alcohol-laden fruit. Liz returns and Amy considers herself pretty lucky to be able to pass the conversation off to her friends. She’s unsure where to jump in, afraid of anything hidden in her voice that she might not mean to unfurl. Her thighs ache with the stress of not letting them touch Liz’s in the proximity of the booth.

They split the tab and decide to drink red wine at Alex and Amy’s place. The metro ride is almost too hilarious to bear. Becky nearly wipes out heading down the stairs, but gracefully continues to make conversation with nearly every person in her path. Of course, she’s got to tell them it’s her birthday.

And of course, some graduate students in their tram agree to serenade her when Alex suggests it. Amy records the performance on her phone. She pretends she doesn’t care that Liz leans on her shoulder the whole time. Passes it off as if she’s just trying to see the screen.

Becky has a minor fight with the turnstile at their stop. It’s then that Amy knows she’ll be crashing on their couch.

Alex uncorks a cheap Malbec, but they don’t get much farther than half a glass each. Amy catches her head drooping when she’s not included in the conversation for a moment. Alex isn’t much of a host, so Amy has to gently task her, send her for water and tissues to set beside the couch. Alex drags her feet, begrudgingly pulls out blankets and a spare t-shirt while Amy helps Becky shuck the boots. Becky gets the hiccups for a moment before settling into the cushions. Amy bids her a happy birthday again and Becky just hums in thanks, wraps the felt blanket around her shoulders.

Of course, if Becky’s staying over, they can’t send Liz home alone. They have a blow up mattress, miraculously, but the only place with enough floor space is next to Amy’s bed.

“You’re not going to step on me in the middle of the night, right?” Liz checks.

Amy flips on the motor pump, drowning out any answer. She leaves the room to brush her teeth. She takes her time, doesn’t wince when her drunken hands pull the floss heavily against her gums.

“Ready?” Amy asks Liz, hands poised at the bedroom light switch.

She feels self-conscious sharing the room, something she hasn’t done since sophomore year of college—with Becky. So she’s wearing long pj pants and a sports bra under her t shirt. Liz is already in the bed covers, in a borrowed tee, with her dress clothes folded neatly in a pile next to the bed. Amy doesn’t want to pay attention, doesn’t want to realize that Liz is half naked and she doesn’t seem to mind.

“Wait, yep,” Liz responds.

Amy flicks it off; the darkness falls quickly. Liz holds up her cell phone, but the light is dingy at best. Amy fumbles a little, shuffles past the air mattress and falls gracelessly onto her own bed.

“Ever think about trying your hand at pole vaulting?” Liz asks.

“Not once,” Amy answers.

Amy gets settled under all the layers, wishes there wasn’t the strange pressure of falling asleep at an appropriate time.

“Wish I had a joke about your position on poles as sporting objects,” Liz chances.

“I don’t think there exists such a joke,” Amy replies.

She still laughs though, maybe out of obligation. Amy’s phone dings on the nightstand. She pulls it closer, mindful of the charger cord.

It’s Megan, something idle and misspelled. Amy wonders if she’s drunk, or if the typos are attributed to impending sleep.

“Who is it?” Liz asks.

“Alex. Needs condoms,” Amy lies, obviously joking.

She types back something noncommittal to Megan, ends with “g’night.”

“I didn’t hear anyone come in the front door,” Liz plays along.

“That’s the sad part,” Amy zips. “Never live with a nympho,” she says.

Amy puts her phone into bedside mode just as Megan’s replying with “sweet dreams ;).”

“Sounds like good advice for someone staying on this side of the wall, though,” Liz notes.

She yawns loudly. Amy gives a halfhearted chuckle.

“It is. I give amazing advice. The best is ‘stay on this side of the wall,’” Amy continues.

“Okay,” Liz answers, all too serious.

Amy turns over, back facing the rest of the room, and Liz. The conversation’s dead after that, the soft ticking of Amy’s watch on the nightstand growing audible. Amy licks at her teeth, sticks her tongue into the crevices of her molars. It’s a fitful sleep, especially with the sports bra clinging to her ribs like a restraint, but she manages to drift off thinking about zone defense.

+

Amy’s the first one up the next morning, but only because she has to be at Christie’s at 7:30. Stepping gingerly over Liz, she decides to brew a pot of coffee before jumping in the shower. When she’s towel drying, there’s a soft knock at the door.

“One second,” she says, just a shade above a normal speaking voice.

She’s expecting Alex, roused by the smell of coffee and the need to pee. She decides to not bother with her robe, just wraps her nakedness in the tiny bath towel.

It’s Liz.

“Oh,” she says, rasped.

She’s not wearing pants, of course.

“Uh, sorry,” Amy mutters.

Her head feels hot, a rush of blood there. She develops some kind of death grip on the tucked in edges of the terrycloth.

“I’m sorry. Did you-. I didn’t hear the shower at all,” Liz excuses, voice warming up.

“Yeah, just, uh, just got out,” Amy says, lamely.

They stand there for a second, trying not to look at each other. Liz doesn’t seem bothered by her state of undress, just the visibility of her breasts through the cotton tee. She has her arms crossed there, covering a broad swipe of her chest. The spell breaks; Amy crouches down modestly to snatch her pajamas from the crumpled ball on the floor, taking care to secure the towel’s precarious flaps. She steps out of the bathroom then.

“Give me, uh, just give me a second in my room to get dressed,” Amy says.

“Sure,” Liz consents.

Liz is waiting there in the hallway, pantsless, when Amy comes out. She looks cold, Amy thinks. Liz has slight muscles, an athletic build like Amy, but none of the swagger that Amy expects from such a svelte woman. She looks so gaunt, so uncertain. Amy smiles at her, trying to push the psychoanalysis out of her head for a moment. Liz smiles too, in a tense way that Amy sees so clearly.

“You want some coffee?” Amy asks.

“Yeah, sure,” Liz nods.

“Cool,” Amy responds. “I’ll make a cup for you,” she says.

“Thanks,” Liz says.

Becky’s less difficult to wake up than Amy expected. But she falls right back down into the couch cushions when Amy tells her the time.

“You want coffee?” Amy asks.

“No,” Becky calls, voice muffled by the throw pillow.

“Don’t you have work?” Amy asks. She pours two cups.

“No. I scheduled a personal day,” Becky responds.

Amy perches on the armchair, sips at her mug.

“Must be nice,” Amy commiserates.

“The wonderful world of finance? Yeah, it’s a cake walk. Except everyone’s shoving each other and there’s no cake. Just day old donuts,” Becky says.

“Have you ever put a donut in the microwave?” Liz asks, picking up the tail end of the conversation in the entryway.

“Oh, for sure,” Becky assesses. “I can’t believe we didn’t get cake on my birthday,” she realizes.

Liz picks up her mug in the kitchen.

“We’re terrible friends,” Amy observes, struck by the oddity of it then too.

“God, that’s awful,” Liz says.

She motions for Becky to move her feet. Becky obliges, still sprawled as much as someone of her height could manage.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Amy asks Becky.

“Probably because I was too busy eating the sangria fruit. Why did you all give me yours? You know it’s all booze,” Becky lectures.

She absently rubs at her eyes.

“You don’t say,” Liz leads.

She winks at Amy. Amy smiles back, easy but cautious.

“I have to get going pretty soon,” Amy levels.

She stretches, all languid and slow. It rouses a yawn.

“Do you get to take naps too?” Becky asks.

“Not really. Sometimes I fall asleep waiting for the dryer,” Amy admits.

“Do you ever think about like, how you’re getting paid to be a mom? Like, that’s got to throw feminism for a doozie,” Becky says.

Apparently morning is the best time for deep thoughts with Becky.

“Of all the things I think about, that’s really not one of them,” Amy answers.

“Really though! You’ve cracked the paradigm. You’ve made a career out of making a home,” Becky continues.

“It’s Christie’s home. Plus, feminism is about being what you want to be. And I want to be employed,” Amy reasons.

She carries her coffee with her down the hall. Alex stumbles out of her room just then.

“Leaving?” she asks Amy.

“Yeah, in a minute,”

“They still here?”

“Yes, lecturing me about gender inequalities,” Amy jokes.

“Hmm?” Alex squints.

Amy just shakes her head, sets her mug on her desk. She shrugs on a hoodie, unplugs her phone from the charger.

“I, uh, just heard from the Square, for the play,” Alex offers.

Amy’s not facing her, but she hesitates before turning. She finishes the last gulp of coffee.

“Yeah?” she asks, still not direct.

“Got called back for a minor speaking, you know, like, background part. But I’m in the ensemble. So, even if, you know,” Alex shrugs, “at least there’s that,” she says.

Amy looks up at her then. Alex looks groggy, sure, but in a way where she’s buzzing with hope for the day. Alex has her arms crossed over her torso, her eyes half lidded with sleep but maybe relief.

“That’s amazing!” Amy says.

“I’m, yeah, I’m happy,” Alex smiles drearily.

“When’s the call back?”

“Tonight. They sent a different script to look over,” Alex says.

“You’re going to be great,” Amy reassures, “I’m sure they loved you the first time; they just want to be absolutely certain.”

“Yeah, hope so,” Alex agrees.

Amy’s watch goes off, her little reminder to leave soon, in time for the scheduled tram.

“Can you buy me a car with your acting riches?” Amy asks, out of the blue.

It’s a game they play, who will be whose sugar daddy first.

“I’d rather buy your salary,” Alex admits, “keep you here to make breakfast and, like, coach the NBA team I own.”

“We can have an NBA team but no car?” Amy asks, incredulous, “If I’m making you breakfast every morning, you’re buying me a car. That’s my bottom line.”

Amy flicks off the light, pulls her door nearly closed. Alex smacks her ass soundly as she heads out down the hall.

“I’ll show you a bottom line,” Alex notes.

Amy smoothes her hand over the back of her jeans. Alex follows to the living room.

“And to think, I was this close to offering to scramble your eggs before I left,” Amy says aloud.

“No, please,” Alex grabs her elbow, continues, “I’m begging you, please.”

It alarms Becky and Liz, who are still chatting about third wave feminism.

“Please, it only takes a second to make a positive difference,” Alex reiterates.

“Oh my god, turn on the stove and I’ll be there in a second,” Amy commands.

Alex does as she’s told.

“Holy shit,” Becky observes.

“I don’t think I’ve seen her move that fast since she left her lip gloss in the bathroom that one time,” Liz adds.

“That was a health risk! The dirty klepto child from Art Camp was in there! She could’ve taken it!” Alex defends from the kitchen.

“That’s gross,” Amy notes.

“I’m kinda hot and bothered by your disciplinary voice,” Becky admits to Amy, loudly.

“She totally bosses me around. Like, I bet she’s a thousand times worse to those kids,” Alex exaggerates, flopping onto the recently emptied armchair.

There’s an open space between the living room and the kitchen; it’s easy for Amy to converse from there over the stove. She cracks the eggs into the pan.

“Don’t you hear it all the time at practice?” Liz asks Becky.

“I guess. It’s shocking to hear without the whistle as a preface, though,” Becky says.

“The whistle gets hung up with her house keys now,” Alex emphasizes the last word.

“Okay, it was one time,” Amy starts.

Becky and Liz crack up at the prospect of Amy, literally, blowing the whistle on Alex. Amy tilts the saucepan, uses the spatula to get the texture Alex likes. A fluffy, light scramble, which takes a few extra minutes.

“One time!” Alex repeats, “Try three times!”

“Whatever, I saved you from salmonella,” Amy says, “If you can’t thank me after all this time then it’s your loss,” she dismisses.

Becky slaps her knee through the blanket. Amy shoves the eggs around in the pan, breaking them up.

“There was just no need for that,” Alex says, like it’s been practiced.

“I am a natural protector,” Amy rations, “It was a fight response.”

“Oh god, here we go,” Alex moans, rolls her eyes.

Amy turns the burner off.

“I’m going to make breakfast for my other family, now,” Amy jokes.

She slams the front door in the middle of Becky’s request for toast.

Chapter Text

“Can’t believe I haven’t seen your face since the gallery,”

Amy reads the text from Megan in her head. She’s lost the cadence of Megan’s voice, the ability to mimic Megan’s tones on the internal playback.

She’s on the floor of the playroom, cross-legged with Reece. Reece sets a plastic figurine in Amy’s lap. They’ve been playing with the firehouse play set for nearly forty-five minutes. Reece dictates the same intangible storyline, tells Amy to move her figurines around the station in a mechanical order.

Amy picks up her phone, moves her thumbs quickly. Reece keeps babbling, unaware.

“Yeah, it seems so long ago,” Amy types.

Reece takes a break for a long swig of water from her sippy cup. Amy’s phone buzzes.

“Wass’at?” Reece asks.

It’s her new catchphrase.

“Telephone,” Amy says.

“Let’s change that,” Megan texts.

Amy puts the phone down. Reece tries to repeat Amy’s word, but it’s jargon.

“Yep,” Amy agrees.

She picks up the figurine from her lap and waddles it over the fire station floor. It takes a minute for her mind to put her response together, but she wants to make Megan sweat a little. She moves her fireman onto the truck.

“Wass’at?” Reece asks again.

“Fire truck,” Amy supplies.

“Coming to the game tomorrow?” Amy asks, hits send.

“Actually can’t. Have to check my cultures at the lab,” Megan replies quickly.

“Too bad,” Amy responds.

“Wass’at?” Reece asks.

Amy has to look up. Except not really.

“Fire truck,” she repeats.

“Go out to dinner with me instead?” Megan proposes.

Amy hesitates.

Somehow, in a split second, Reece unscrews the lid. She turns the sippy cup over, water cascading down her chest and into her lap. She looks up at Amy guiltily; her lower lip starts to tremble.

“It’s just water,” Amy coos.

She snaps into problem-solving mode, moves swiftly. She commandeers the cup and lid, hauls Reece up by the underarms.

It’s not until Reece is settled on the living room couch, new sippy cup and fresh clothes, that Amy gets a chance to respond to Megan’s text. There’s already another one waiting.

“Just us,”

“Ok,” Amy types back. Megan responds with an emoticon, smiling wide.

+

It’s a tough win, but the team secures it sweetly in the fifteen minutes of overtime. They delay the start of the boy’s game, and the audience’s captive cheers make Amy blush, just after the final buzzer.

Amy gloats a little on the metro ride back with Becky. She’s thrilled that their hard work is paying off. Becky fans the flame, shows her a bright, unwavering smile.

Alex is shut up in her room when Amy gets back from the game. Amy can hear the rhythm of Alex typing through the door. So Amy leaves her own door open, settles onto the bed with her laptop and a cup of coffee. Alex pads softly out of her cave moments later, leans at Amy’s door with a rigid line to her spine.

“So?”

“We won,” Amy pumps her fist up.

“Yay!” Alex cheers.

“It was awesome. Overtime, buzzer shot. The works,” Amy recaps.

“Excellent,” Alex says.

She drags the syllables out; Amy can tell she’s distracted.

“What’s up with you today?” Amy asks.

She clicks around her email, scrolls through a J.Crew ad. She hopes the attempt at disinterest will disarm Alex, cut the wait time.

“Just working,”

“On?”

“A script. A few applications. Just, whatever,” Alex mumbles. She lifts her left shoulder in a shrug, arms crossed.

“Applications for parts?” Amy clarifies.

“Writing spots, like, for news rolls or comedy bits or whatever,” Alex attempts. It’s too vague for Amy to pursue.

“Any word from the Square?”

“Gonna be an ensemble offer for me,” Alex intones.

Amy lowers the screen to an acute angle.

“You still in?” Amy asks.

“Yeah, I’m just,” Alex shrugs again, that lop-sided roll, “Disappointed in myself I guess.”

“Don’t be,” Amy says simply.

“I really should have warmed up my voice more before the call back,” Alex criticizes.

“What happened?” Amy asks.

She remembers how Abby ditched Alex that afternoon, knows that she was waiting for Abby’s blessing before the audition. Alex chews her lip for a second.

“I, it just wasn’t my day. My voice was,” Alex shakes her head, “it just wasn’t my day.”

“Don’t beat yourself up. You’re going to do well, no matter what,” Amy encourages, moving on.

“Yeah,” Alex nods. She closes her eyes dramatically. It’s like the façade cracks. Her face explodes, open-mouthed smile. “HA!” she laughs, but it turns into a squeal.

Amy’s motionless, confused.

“What the hell?” she asks.

“BLAM-O! ACTING!” Alex yells, follows with, “I got the part. And you. I got YOU,” Alex emphasizes.

“Oh my god,” Amy deadpans. “That’s twisted.”

Alex is too busy dancing in the doorway like a dork. She does the running man, and everything.

“Who’s the best? Who’s the best? I have a solo! I have a solo!” Alex chants aloud to herself.

“I don’t know what’s real anymore,” Amy commiserates. She hauls the laptop open, flops back against her mountain of pillows.

“I’m real! Real awesome!” Alex declares. She claps her hands, laughs aloud. “Whew! Feelin’ the energy in here!” Alex yells.

“Is this how you’re going to treat me when I make a beautiful home for you?” Amy teases.

“My jokes are only gonna get better,” Alex reassures her.

“Because they really can’t get any worse,” Amy zings.

“So, are you hungry?” Alex changes gears.

“Are YOU hungry?” Amy counters.

Alex smiles, sheepish.

“Yeah,”

“I’m not, but I’ll make you something if you want,” Amy offers.

“Well, if you insist. I’ll queue up Top Chef, as inspiration,” Alex explains.

Amy lobs her throw pillow towards the door, but Alex dashes out of the way at the last second.

“You know I can’t concentrate with Padma on screen,” Amy calls.

“You’re a kept woman in training. You’ll have to learn to deal with distractions,” Alex calls back.

“Just preheat the oven and pause before the Quickfire challenge,” Amy instructs, climbing off her bed.

+

They meet at a pub midway between their apartments. Turns out Megan can sweet talk her way into a secluded corner booth just before a rush pours through the door. The menu of the place is extensive, and Amy can’t concentrate with the building noise, can’t remember what she’s read and hasn’t.

“Pretty intense, huh?” Megan intercepts.

“Yeah. Any suggestions?” Amy poses.

Megan has the menu turned over, her hands folded casually on top.

“Well, what are you in the mood for?” Megan says.

The booth is small, a little curve, so they’re sitting close. Amy shifts, their ankles brush devilishly. Megan hardly notices, but it makes Amy nervous, suddenly. She feels overdressed in her black slacks, paired with the same green blouse from Becky’s birthday. Megan looks so at ease, the familiar jean jacket rolled up at the cuff. Amy bites her lips, out of habit.

“Beer would work,” is all she can manage.

“It would work,” Megan repeats to herself, like it’s a joke Amy doesn’t get. There’s a sage tone to her voice. She opens the menu with tantalizing speed. “You like light or dark beer?” Megan asks.

“Light, I guess,” Amy says.

Megan bites her lips too, looks right at Amy.

“Would’ve pinned you as a dark brew,” Megan admits.

“Why?”

“Something about you, I guess,” Megan says.

“Something good, I hope,” Amy blurts.

Megan suggests a couple local brews, the kind that Amy can’t really pronounce. Either way, she orders for herself effectively.

Megan’s an animated story-teller; she’s constantly pivoting in her seat like every line is a new revelation to her sole listener. Their knees, their shins—they’re so close that they can’t help but touch. Amy wishes she was wearing something that didn’t feel so delicious against her shaven legs. It’s a bit distracting, the silken wave when their knees brush lightly; so Amy digs her heels into the floor, attempts to be steadfast instead of stiff. Megan notices, tones down her voice and cradles her glass, palm flat on the silo.

“So, since the art gallery, I’ve been meaning to ask you something,” Megan leads.

“Okay,” Amy says. Her voice barely rises over the roar of the crowd.

“How do you know Abby Wambach?” Megan says, lilting.

Amy has a strange urge to laugh; the smile creeps up. It’s breathy, but she chuckles to herself. Hands poised on her glass, she twists it around on the coaster.

“Through Alex,” Amy explains. “And they met in theater at our undergrad. I think Abby was Alex’s senior mentor or whatever.”

“Cool,” Megan nods, appraising.

“She and I don’t really have, like, a friendship like she and Alex. If I ever hang out with her it’s because of Alex. I guess I went to a party at her house not too long ago, though,” Amy ponders.

“Oh,” Megan notes, a weird tone to her voice that Amy can’t recognize. “What’s your impression of her?” Megan dares.

“I, uh, think she’s friendly and can be fun to be around,” Amy shrugs. “I’ve known her for a few years, but I can’t get a real read on her. Sometimes she’s cool, other times I think she acts like she’s too cool. She and Alex kind of, dance around this thing--”

“Alex?” Megan interrupts, incredulous.

“Nothing’s ever happened! They just, I don’t think they can like each other at the same time. They keep see-sawing. I don’t know. I feel like I shouldn’t be telling you this,” Amy says, blushing.

“It’s okay. I had, I guess, ulterior motives in asking,” Megan admits, bites both lips like she’s been caught.

“Why?”

“You can’t guess?” Megan prods.

Amy shifts, uncomfortable with being called out on some perceived inattentiveness.

“No?”

“We were hooking up,” Megan says.

“Recently?”

“Semi-recently. This year-ish,” Megan offers.

“Oh,” Amy manages, embarrassed about bringing up Alex earlier.

“I mean, it was for fun. But she,” Megan pauses, signals her thought process with her hands hanging midair, “she got weird about it.”

“Weird how?” Amy presses.

“I couldn’t tell if she was into me or not. Like, she would be shady about introducing me to her friends,” Megan furthers.

“That sucks,” Amy commiserates, takes a sip as she listens.

“And I didn’t always, like, know what was going on with her? She never wanted to talk when we were together,” Megan shuts herself up abruptly, like she realizes how leading her last comment sounds.

“Oh, well, yeah. She’s kinda guarded,” Amy agrees.

“Maybe you know her in a different context, but she’s,” Megan rolls her eyes suspiciously, “been around the block. At least amongst other women I know.”

“Oh,” Amy says.

“It’s just weird to see someone after the fact, you know?” Megan proposes.

“After seeing them naked?” Amy checks. Megan laughs, caught in her own web.

“Maybe. I don’t know. I’m not painting myself in a very positive light,” Megan excuses.

“I disagree,” Amy says. She feels brave when she delivers.

The waiter comes up just then. Megan gets fish and chips; Amy just echoes her order.

“I shouldn’t have said anything about Alex. I mean, that’s, just gossip. I’m sorry,” Amy apologizes once they’re alone.

“I’m just as guilty of gossip,” Megan clarifies, almost proudly.

“I don’t want to give you the wrong impression,” Amy reasons.

“I talk to Alex too,” Megan reminds her. “I mean, she’s not the only one confused about Abby.” Megan gives a funny look, rolls her eyes.

“Sometimes even big cities feel like small towns,” Amy notes sagely.

“Queer communities are a mess of partner-swapping anyway,” Megan adds. “Ladies and our games of seduction,” Megan jokes with a shake to her head. Amy’s response dissipates; she just nods.

Amy can’t help but feel like Megan’s broken the tension between them, like Megan’s letting Amy get closer. Megan’s got an easy laugh, listens earnestly. She notices Megan’s knee resting firmly against her own, a touch that feels casual but curious. It’s steady, present through their dinner and another glass of beer.

Megan shrugs off her jacket sometime in the middle of it all, revealing a sheen sleeveless top. Amy can see her bra; it’s obvious that Megan wanted it that way. The easy curve of Megan’s chest distracts Amy; the dim light in the pub takes the rough edges off Megan’s frame. She’s no longer an impish tomboy in the hooded dark. Megan’s complexion glows along with the beer signs over the bar like the neon surges from her own electric buzz.

Megan takes care of the bill when they’re finished. Somehow, Amy doesn’t expect that. It takes her by complete surprise and she’s afraid it’s obvious on her face. Megan slides her arms into the jean jacket when she proposes they go back to her place. Amy’s piqued, feeling indulgent. Megan holds the door open for her when they leave the pub.

It’s gotten quite cool in the dark. When they turn towards the metro station, Megan assertively slips her arm through Amy’s. Amy almost shakes her off, some strange instinct. But Megan’s honest, creeps for Amy’s hand. Amy makes it available, almost missteps when their palms press together. They make eye contact sweetly, side-by-side. Amy knows she blushes, but Megan looks deep and confident. She flashes an enticing, wordless smile.

They have to break apart to swipe their metro cards. Megan hops over the turnstile instead. The metro cop is facing the wrong way to catch her. Amy just shakes her head.

“Hooligan,” she antagonizes.

Megan laces their fingers together again and Amy has to remember to breathe.

Megan lives in a duplex, an upstairs unit she splits with two roommates who are, obnoxiously, playing Mario Kart in the living room. Megan leads Amy directly into her bedroom. Amy swallows nervously, takes in her surroundings. The duplex has ancient, scuffed wooden floors that moan with each timid step.

Megan’s room is an eclectic mix of music and photography paraphernalia. There’s a huge embroidered tapestry covering the wall behind her bed. It’s a small room, like all apartments in the city, but there’s enough space for the two of them to dance around each other.

Megan acts like she’s straightening something, makes a hurried apology for the mess. But the room’s not dirty. Amy can tell she’s cleaned it recently. The prospect makes Amy’s stomach flutter, the thought of Megan preparing her room in a flurry, hoping.

Megan takes off her jean jacket, hangs it on short bedpost of her full bed. Megan sits down on the mattress, a little robotic.

“Sorry I don’t have any other, uh, seating options,” Megan says.

Amy sits at the foot of the bed gingerly.

“I don’t care,” Amy says.

Megan maintains her balance on the bed as she leans over the nightstand, reaching towards the guitar propped up precariously. She hauls it by the neck, a deceiving ease compared to the size of the instrument. She positions it on her lap like it was made for her, plucks slowly without looking up.

Amy is afraid to break the illusion, appreciates Megan’s loss for words too. The air is thick; Amy wants. Her mouth is watering; she can feel her heartbeat in her throat. The guitar blocks Amy’s view of Megan’s see-through shirt, but her arms flex deliciously with each meandering note. Amy wonders how she got so lucky; to have someone so desirable within arm’s reach.

It’s a soft melody, but it’s still abrupt when Megan backs off the strings. There’s a light scratch, the steel against her fingerprints.

“Sorry,” Megan says, for no reason.

“It’s okay,” says Amy, “You’re good,” she compliments.

Megan smiles, clutches the fret board suspiciously tight. Amy feels silly, her attraction to Megan spiking with the addition of the acoustic. But it’s been building, the unspoken dynamic that Amy confirmed with every step closer to Megan’s room.

“Come here,” Megan motions with her head.

Amy scoots closer, is careful not to drag the blanket with her. She gets close, almost touching. Megan sets the guitar on the floor, slides it out of the way along the rug. Suddenly it’s just Megan’s open lap, legs angled apart. Her shirt can’t hide the heave in her chest. It makes Amy feel a little better, urges fresh, lusted blood down to her fingertips. Megan’s eyes close like a lush curtain. Amy catches the desire simmering there.

Megan leans forward, captures Amy’s lips gently. Amy wants to do the right thing, soften where Megan’s pressing forward. It must be obvious, the uncertainty.

“It’s okay?” Megan asks. The breath behind the words hits Amy’s lips before the sound registers.

“Yes,” Amy affirms.

Megan approaches from the other angle, but their necks don’t crane right that way.

“Relax,” Megan says aloud. Amy’s not sure who needs the advice more.

She kisses back, chases the warmth of their lips sparking together. Megan tongues her mouth first, lures Amy in with a slow tease. It is lovely then, the velvet friction. Amy can feel Megan opening, loves the way Megan’s hands find the crook of her elbow, the bend behind her ear. Megan’s tender, so gentle. Amy’s not an expert, but Megan’s assured approach gives Amy a sinking, glorious feeling in her abdomen.

Megan lies back; she pulls for Amy to fall on top of her. Amy kneels between Megan’s spread legs. They’re the same height, but the positions give her an advantage. She surges; spells the unspoken directly onto Megan’s mouth. Amy gets stuck on the foreign feeling of Megan’s muscles, the intimacy of her lips. It feels like something melts in Amy’s mind. Maybe it’s the way Megan adores her lips, the way Amy's gums ring in a rewarding, not punishing, pitch. They kiss for what feels like hours, but it can’t really be too long. They tousle, playfully, noting the girth of each other’s thighs, the width of a spread hand across the chest.

Amy’s the first to break the kiss; she does a weird stretch to get the blood to flow back down her arm. They need a break anyway; Megan’s hairline beads with slight perspiration. They try to find a position to cuddle next to each other, but Amy’s elbow bugs her.

“Here,” Megan gently turns Amy on her other side. She slides her right arm under Amy’s head, wraps it across Amy’s chest. Her left arm curls around Amy’s side; she sidles up behind her. Their bodies are flush, so contiguous amidst the rumpled clothes. Megan’s so powerful, like Amy’s been ensconced in a shell of hot, but delicious energy.

They don’t mean to fall asleep, but it happens.

When Amy sits up suddenly, it’s nearly one in the morning. Megan wakes up too, jolted by the loss of Amy’s warmth in her arms.

“Are you okay?” Megan asks, dreary.

“Yeah, just. Shit,” Amy curses.

“It’s fine. Are you supposed to be somewhere?” Megan checks.

“No, I just. I think,” Amy stops, has to force herself to breathe before something happens.

“It’s okay,” Megan sits up beside her. She rubs her back through the top.

The makeup on Megan’s face is smudged, dulled with sleep. They forgot to turn off the light—Amy can see every beautiful inch.

“I think I need to go to my place,” Amy whispers heavily.

Megan’s touch is steady.

“Okay,” Megan agrees.

She’s closer to the wall, so Amy’s surprised when Megan crawls out of bed behind her. Amy pulls on her shoes while Megan scrambles around for her cell phone.

“You don’t have to,” Amy says.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Megan responds. Her voice is clear.

She laces up her leather boots expertly. There’s a militaristic quality to it that transfixes Amy. Maybe it’s the way Megan crouches, something serene and swift. It makes Amy feel safe, like a hit of serotonin to her bloodstream.

“But what about you?” Amy says, evident.

“I’ll take the bus back. The night loop women will drop me off anywhere I want,” Megan says, sleepily confident.

Amy chuckles.

But she can’t fall asleep once she’s home.

Chapter Text

Practice on Tuesday is nothing short of terrible. The girls are dragging ass, disruptive. Amy whistles almost constantly to keep some chatty girls in line. Finally, about an hour into practice, she gives up.

“Ten full court laps. No talking!”

The disdain is palpable. Becky’s wide-eyed, also flustered. She gathers the basketballs at the half court, avoids the paths of the angry preteens.

“Not so hot and bothered this time,” Becky clarifies.

Amy doesn’t laugh, but her eye roll isn’t threatening. Amy crosses her arms and watches the team shuffle, cutting corners. She takes one of the balls from Becky’s flock and starts dribbling.

There are not many moments where Amy demonstrates her own physicality. In practice, she gives tactical instructions, performs drills in slow motion. But it’s obvious when she takes the ball that she’s a natural. Just dribbling, maintaining seamless possession of the ball, she’s fascinating. Becky’s not the only one watching, either. She can see Liz’s face peeking through the narrow window on the gym door.

Amy calls the girls in to a huddle after only five minutes. The girls are still silent as they hustle towards her though. Released from their incomplete assignment, they are ready to be compliant. Amy starts refocusing the team, begins again with the edge of exhibited discipline. Becky looks towards the door again, but it’s clear.

Turns out that Alex has to go to the Square for her first practice, which means she’s not taking the same metro line. And Becky, by a weird chance, has plans to meet up with work friends at a bar for trivia.

There’s a moment of reckoning with Alex, as she shoots Amy an emphatic look once they’ve cleared the front doors.

Liz and Amy pair off, get on the usual line towards their neighborhood together.

“You maybe want to get some dinner?” Liz asks.

Amy looks off distantly down the platform. She blinks, their tram rounds the corner. As the tram slows mechanically, the wind sends a chill right through Amy’s track jacket.

“I’m thinking I’ll make tomato soup and grilled cheese,” Amy excuses.

“Oh,” Liz mutters.

They file into the car, but are unable to get two seats together. They silently decide to stand. Only Amy grabs onto the balance pole.

“You could come over,” Amy says, quietly.

The tram starts suddenly and Liz quickly grabs the pole, grazes Amy’s hand. She retains her composure, just barely.

“I’d, yeah, that’d be awesome,” Liz says.

Amy hooks her elbow over the brass. She digs her phone from the front pocket of her jeans. There are a few texts from Megan, noncommittal. Amy reads them, but doesn’t remember the content. The station comes quickly.

Amy met Liz during Amy’s junior year, in a 200 level French class. Amy was laughably terrible with her accent, but her commitment to the language made her an excellent test taker and therefore, a superb study partner. Liz was much less confident. She probably wouldn’t have made a B in the class had it not been for her time with Amy in the library’s deserted annex, translating paragraphs together and comparing workbook answers. Amy wouldn’t say she knew, then, but her sexuality unveiled itself soon after.

Amy and Alex became friends through work study for the athletic department. Amy didn’t realize it at the time, but Liz and Alex lived in the same suite as freshman. Amy knew them each separately, though her friendship with Alex was deeper, less academically inclined. Yet Amy and Liz remained on the fringes of each other’s social groups up through Amy’s senior year. Amy was focused, churning out her honors thesis maniacally. Liz could never seem to get her foot in the door, would attempt conversational French when she caught Amy in line at the bookstore, or racking her tray in the dining hall.

Amy remembers seeing Liz and Alex hanging off each other, wasted in Alex’s room, the first night of the school’s spring concert during Amy’s senior year. Alex had said something that night, slurred an unconvincing argument for Amy to kiss someone she’d never expect. She remembers Liz’s blitzed eyes hanging on Amy’s response, which was a flustered but firm “I’m set.” She’s known, is the point, about Liz’s attraction to her for a few years now. Amy might’ve realized it then, might’ve let it drive her to silence and invisibility; she threw herself into her thesis, won a departmental award for her work.

When Amy graduated, she was scarcely around campus. She made appearances at Alex’s apartment for post-show theatre parties, at Becky’s 22nd birthday. Being the same age as Alex, Liz stayed close with her during their senior year. So it was no surprise that Liz called Alex the moment her coworker quit at the YMCA just three weeks after graduation. Alex quit her retail job and started as the co-receptionist that summer. It was a strange happenstance that the rec league moved to that particular complex during the fall. So when Amy began coaching, the dust stirred up between her and Liz.

When they get home, Amy’s hyperaware of the silence as she strips off her shoes and socks. Liz has been over a dozen times, but it feels different to be alone. Amy’s not sure if she does the right thing, if there’s a right thing to be done.

Liz makes herself useful, fills two glasses with ice and water.

“How’s your other family?” Liz asks.

Amy heats up her griddle pan on the electric stove.

“They’re good. Reece talks my ear off. And I’m a Dance Nanny now,” Amy jokes.

Liz sips at her water, steps out of Amy’s way when she makes for the fridge.

“For the older one?” Liz asks.

“Yeah, the ballet/tap combo class. It’s very advanced,” Amy says with a tone of mock importance.

“Sounds fun,” Liz says.

“You like provolone?” Amy checks.

“Love it,” Liz lets her consonants roll. “So you have a routine to show me? I mean, I know you have to practice.”

Amy laughs, shakes her head. She pops the butter dish in the microwave for a five-count.

“Not a chance,”

“Come on. You’re quick; you’d be a good tapper,” Liz encourages.

“Oh, I’m a fantastic tapper,” Amy teases.

She drops two slices of bread onto the hot Teflon.

“So you’re more of a…private dancer?” Liz teases back.

“Sure. I’ll pirouette for you right now for no less than four figures,” Amy guards.

“No wonder Alex has you spoken for. She must’ve gotten an exclusive IPO,” Liz commiserates.

“I don’t speak finance,” Amy excuses, “you’re thinking of my assistant coach. Will you hand me the can opener from that drawer?”

Liz retrieves it, shuts the drawer with her hip. She stands right next to Amy at the counter while she opens the can.

“You need any help?” Liz asks just as Amy punches through the aluminum top.

“Don’t think so. You could find something on the DVR if you wanted?” Amy suggests. She dumps the soup into a heated pot, adds milk.

“I’d rather just talk to you. If that’s, I mean, if you’re okay,” Liz clears her throat, “with that.”

Amy knows she’s being avoidant, not making eye contact like she should. She knows that her body language speaks louder, and with more punch. All of her psych courses rush back, the tell-tale physical indicators of liars and thieves. She wonders if Liz knows the cues like Amy should, if each word is baited, or treasured.

“Sure,” Amy says.

Liz finishes a rant about her boss when they sit at the table with their plates and bowls.

“I know this is a surprise, but being someone’s secretary isn’t, you know, my grandest aspiration,” Liz complains.

“Yeah, babysitting was my first job. Hopefully not my last, though,” Amy adds.

“Well, sure. But you have your team. Coaching,” Liz says. She blows air onto a spoonful.

“Yeah. It’s not, I don’t know. It’s just to help the girls get better. It’s not a viable career for me,” Amy explains. She dips her sandwich into the bowl.

“If you could get your dream job tomorrow, what would it be?” Liz asks.

“I don’t know,” Amy admits, more sincere.

She decides to look Liz in the eye. Liz has the slightest look of delight, of relish in probing Amy’s brain.

“Just throw something out there,” Liz encourages.

She bumps their knees under the table on purpose, in an urging gesture.

“Maybe, like, someone who helps athletes rehab after injuries. I could have my own firm and help professionals get their heads around their recoveries. Get them ready to get back on their rosters,” Amy spews.

“So, your ideal career is helping people get back to their careers,” Liz analyzes.

“Sounds dumb when you say it that way,” Amy mutters, puts a bite of sandwich quickly in her mouth.

“It’s not dumb. It’s noble,” Liz says.

She has her elbows on the table, hands clasped in the air. Amy traces the bend of her arm through the long sleeved top. Her vision comes to rest at Liz’s wrist, focuses on the warm smile just behind it.

“Just the first thing I thought of. I mean, Christie’s got a cool job. I’d be a personal trainer for some baseball players and their wives, if I could,” Amy switches.

“Well, yeah,” Liz agrees, waits a beat. “You’re not going to ask me now?”

“What?”

“What I’d be?”

“Oh. What do you want to be when you grow up?” Amy counters.

“Ha ha,” Liz fakes. “I’d probably want to be a personal assistant to someone cool. Like, I don’t know, Leisha Hailey or something.”

“Oh,” Amy stirs her soup. “Yeah, cool.”

“You don’t know who that is, do you?” Liz challenges.

“Not really,” Amy admits.

Liz just shakes her head.

Amy starts the dishes before Liz can offer. So she fishes a clean rag from the drawer, starts drying.

“I, uh, was thinking. Well, there’s something that’s been on my mind,” Liz gulps. Amy’s washing the last two things—her plate, her bowl. “Something I want to talk to you about,” Liz picks up her own plate from the drip rack, runs the cloth around the perimeter.

“Okay,” Amy says, eyes on the drain.

“It’s, I mean,” Liz forces out a gusty breath. The sentence fades.

Amy looks up, cuts the faucet. She puts her wet hands on the sink’s silver rim. She’s already tonguing her top teeth, jaw tight. Liz sets the plate on the counter, the rag in a pile next to it.

Amy remembers the neurological courses the most clearly. She likes the certainty associated with biology, the nearly divine presence of nature’s absolute truths. They make sense, the courses where her professors explain feelings in terms of chemical reactions; the ones where she learns the anatomic rationale for acting on one’s impulse.

When Liz grabs her hand at the sink, says “Everyday I think about how much I want to kiss you,” all Amy can see are MRIs, black and white nebulas talking in pulses. A few words escape Liz’s mouth, but Amy’s ears are buzzing; she doesn’t catch what she’s saying. Liz looks like she’s moving forward, so Amy cuts her gaze to the side. Liz lands her tense lips on Amy’s temple.

It doesn’t last; Amy’s stiff and rearing.

“I’m sorry,” Liz says when she jerks back, letting go of Amy’s hand like it scalds.

Amy puts her wrist to her mouth, presses into the skin. It’s then that she realizes she’s trembling.

“Shit,” Liz curses under her breath.

She grabs the ends of her hair, pulls them into angry handfuls. Something about the gesture flips a switch for Amy. So she opens up, touches Liz’s forearms. They’re so tense, so classically defensive.

“Sorry,” Amy whispers.

Liz lowers her arms, looks anywhere but straight ahead. It’s dim in the kitchen, but Amy sees the tears all the same.

“It’s not, you know, it’s nothing personal,” Amy assures her.

Liz shoves at her cheeks, pulls the sleeves over her wrists.

“It’s,” Amy clears her throat. “It’s okay,” she hates herself for saying it.

“You knew?” Liz asks. It’s more of an assertion though.

“Yeah,” Amy says as she nods.

“Alex?”

“Yeah,” Amy repeats.

Liz nods.

“It’s not, I mean, I’m seeing someone,” Amy blurts out. She feels like she’s belittling Liz’s feelings by placing the blame on something external. She feels pathetic, wavering. It upsets her how easily she backtracks, rearranges the facts so she doesn’t feel so guilty.

“Oh,” Liz says. She sniffles, blinks hard. “S’it serious?” Liz asks, almost despite herself. She crosses her arms over her chest, just like Amy remembers from the morning after Becky’s birthday. There’s the guarded uncertainty. The nakedness, so to speak, or the pretense for it.

Amy shrugs. It doesn’t make Liz feel any better though; that much is obvious.

Liz laughs, in that breathy, flustered way.

“You probably think I’m an idiot,” Liz reclaims her voice.

“I don’t,” Amy says, quickly.

“Accosting you in the kitchen,” Liz recounts.

Amy touches Liz’s bicep; she looks her in the eye, backtracking.

“I don’t think any less of you,” Amy levels.

It makes Liz cry again. Amy can’t help but pull her into a hug.

She doesn’t stick around much longer. Liz leaves quietly, with a parting hug at the door. Amy tries to watch the news, but it’s all weather and local election coverage. She’s flossing her teeth aggressively when Alex gets home from practice.

Alex wants to chat, elliptical and somehow centered on Abby, her subtle power in the full cast read-through. Amy lets her babble at the doorjamb, winds another thread around her forefingers. Alex won’t let her though, puts a steady hand on Amy’s wrist.

“You okay?” Alex asks.

Amy hates how Alex can see through her, can pick up on the stupid shit Amy never could.

“Yeah, totally,” Amy lies.

She makes the decision to take a whole pill. It’s late, but she’ll probably feel worse in the morning if she doesn’t. It doesn’t mean that sleep comes easily, though. Counting slowly with each breath, she resists the urge to tongue her tender gums. She forces her eyes closed, can’t get her mind to focus on any meditative mantras. But she keeps minimal guilt from flooding her brain, slides into slumber before she decides if she’ll tell anyone.

+

There’s not much of a choice though. The next day, when she strides towards the front desk en route to the gymnasium, she can tell Alex already knows what went down.

The phone rings before Amy can say a word. Alex answers it, voice professional and level. Liz gets up, file folder in hand, and chances a brief smile at Amy before turning on her heels.

Amy feels pretty shitty after that.

“Who’d you kill?” Becky asks.

Amy’s retying her shoe on the lowest bleacher, waiting for the previous practice to finish. A few of her girls are already there, after-school instructors or nannies eager to pass them off for the afternoon. Even if they can’t hear her for the noisy gym, she doesn’t want to chance much.

Amy fishes the orange cones from her mesh bag. “Very funny,” she says.

“Oookay,” Becky hums.

“Set these up along the three point line when the court’s clear,” Amy instructs. She hands Becky a stack of cones.

“Aye aye,” Becky says.

The girls get a water break after the first half hour. They walk with a strange limber, already sore from the shuffling exercises.

“Alright, debrief me, quickly,” Becky says, low.

Amy looks up like she’s going to tell Becky to gather the cones, but Becky waves the stack of orange cones with pride.

“I guess, technically, I shot Liz down. Kind of big time,” Amy explains.

“So you guys talked? How? When?” Becky pressures.

“Yesterday, at my apartment. She came over, after you guys, you know, went on your way,” Amy says.

Becky lifts her eyebrows.

“Continue,” Becky coaxes, urgency in her voice.

“She said, you know, she likes, liked, me,” Amy shrugs. She bounces a ball, absently.

“And you said?” Becky says.

Amy tilts her head, pains a long stare at her assistant coach.

“That I’m seeing Megan,” Amy says, direct.

Becky’s eyes go wide.

“You’re serious?”

“Not in so many words. I guess, I didn’t really say it, like that,” Amy backtracks. She realizes she hasn’t said the full sentence aloud yet. Seeing, not just someone, but Megan. Amy realizes why Alex behaved so tersely, realizes that she’s done more than just brush off Liz’s affections. She’s kept Alex in the dark too.

“Shit,” Becky exclaims.

Some players returning from the water fountain get wind of Becky’s curse. Their uproar gets drowned by Amy’s whistle, as she tries to focus the gaggle for the 3-on-3 scrimmage.

Their practice, ultimately, is cut short by the boys’ team. Amy doesn’t have the energy to argue with the coach when he’s adjusting the basket height without Amy’s permission. She just ushers the girls into the hallway, lets the parents become a part of the quick meeting. They only have a handful of games left before league playoffs, so Amy briefly goes over the big picture goals for the second half of the season.

Becky’s almost twitching when the meeting’s adjourned. Some girls try to engage Becky in silly conversation, but she’s not having it. It’s almost comical, how Becky’s gaze floats over their heads as she ignores them completely. Their team thins out into the evening.

“So, like, what’s gonna happen? Are you guys cool or do you need more time apart? Like, what, what should I say to her?” Becky spills.

“I don’t know,” is all Amy can manage. She pinches the clipboard absently, looks over her attendance grid.

“Are you, I mean, is this a thing or a thing?” Becky goes on.

“That’s a terrible sentence;” Amy points out, “What does that even mean?”

When Amy looks up, Megan’s in the hallway, passing the last of Amy’s players in approach.

“Hey,” Megan says, warmly. She pulls Amy into a hug.

“Hey. Sorry, I’m gross,” Amy says, knee-jerk.

“I don’t mind a little sweat,” Megan rubs Amy’s back quickly, a gesture that could be twisted as supportive, not seductive.

Becky’s a bit obvious, eyes darting between them. Amy gives her a look like be cool.

“Hey!” Becky says to Megan.

“What’s up?” Megan squeezes Becky’s shoulder, an assertion of their distance. Megan kind of laughs when she does it though, like she knows she’s being a little condescending.

“Not much,” Becky starts. She doesn’t get a chance to elaborate.

“Is today the day you join my club?” Megan asks Amy.

“Unfortunately, no,” Amy says, rather short.

“Ah, alright,” Megan fake punches Amy’s shoulder.

Becky wordlessly exits the conversation, lurches towards the water fountain.

Megan shows Amy a deep smile, so bright.

“Call you later?” Megan proposes, so quiet.

“Yeah,” Amy chokes. Her heart rate is roaring; she can’t stop herself from rubbing her lips together, anticipating.

“S’alright,” Megan hisses. She wraps Amy into a quick hug again. “They’ll get over it,” Megan says into Amy’s hair.

Amy’s internal monologue incites anger, frustration with herself for being so oblivious, so imperceptive to the way her friends can read her easily. But the warmth of Megan’s breath, the nearness of the words to her ear makes things seem less suffocating.

The walk to the front desk makes her chest feel heavy. Liz is polite, but Alex is terse at best. They don’t really talk at all. Becky tries to crack at Liz, attempts to be a neutral party. Amy stuffs her ear buds in when they’re waiting on the metro platform.

Becky gives Amy a secret squeeze on the shoulder when they split up. The winter settles into the night. They haven’t gotten snow yet, but the wind is whipping down their block like an impending flurry.

Alex is silent, two steps ahead without concern for Amy’s progress. Amy can feel a conversation blowing in, so she removes her headphones by tugging on their cord. Alex keys them into the building; she stomps pointedly loud in the stairwell.

But the silence doesn’t break until much later, over the bathroom sink. Amy’s swishing half a gulp of Listerine when Alex emerges from her room, finally.

“I can’t believe you didn’t say something to me first,” Alex stomps her feet.

Amy spits into the sink. She lets the water run.

“I’m sorry,” Amy says, immediately.

“A head’s up would’ve been nice. A text maybe. BTW,” Alex spells, “Got a girlfriend. LOL!”

Amy dries her face on the hand towel. She pushes her wet hair aside.

“It slipped out. With Liz, I mean,” Amy flicks off the light, but she’s stuck in the doorway. Alex blocks her, plants her hands on the frame.

The shimmer of Alex’s skin hits Amy’s eyes gently in the thickening dark. Her arms flex just right. Amy won’t look anywhere else.

“So you’re together. Officially,” Alex checks.

Amy resists the urge to shrug. The reflex makes her shoulders tense.

“I’d, yeah, say we are,” Amy confirms.

“Are you, like, confident she’s the kind of person you want to date?” Alex presses.

“What does that mean?” Amy rears.

“Like, she’s not hiding a knife in those combat boots. Like, she’s not gonna recruit you for a cult or anything?” Alex surmises.

“That’s ridiculous,” Amy says, gently pushes her body against Alex. Amy’s being playful, holding back her weight when she leans in like a defender. Alex keeps her hands up, lunges to the side.

“I just…have heard,” Alex leads.

Amy knits her brows together, moves her body forward with a firm, weighted throw. Alex stumbles back; the impact forces her arm to bend and she looses her grip on the doorframe. Alex flings her arms in the air dramatically as Amy breaks free into the hall. It felt very much like a bullfight, similarly confusing and affronting. Alex scoffs.

“Ow,” Alex bites.

Amy doesn’t say anything. It’s like tussling with a sibling, but it’s something Amy sort of regrets until she realizes what Alex was inching towards.

“Heard what?” Amy says. She tries to act annoyed instead of brash.

Alex shrugs. She stretches out like she’s working out a kink, not shaking off an injury. Her neck cracks when she rolls it on her shoulders. Amy notes the fighting stance, the subtle incitement of force. They play-fight sometimes; it’s not really Amy’s thing but she cares for Alex, knows that animals do the same to show they matter to each other. Amy gets ready, anyway, involuntarily steadying her feet shoulder-width apart as she waits for Alex’s answer.

“That she’s, like, a controlling bitch,” Alex lobs.

Amy’s too stunned to respond at first. Her jaw drops; Alex’s words are piercing and vile.

“Where the hell did that come from?” Amy snaps back.

She means Alex’s tone more than the opinion.

“Abby just told me some shit-” Alex starts.

“Oh my god, don’t even go there,” Amy interrupts, throws her palm out.

“What’s your fucking problem? I’m just saying she’s not all you’ve chalked her out to be,” Alex tries to defend herself.

“Yeah, well same goes to you,” Amy counters.

Amy’s phone rings in the distance. Alex’s eyes narrow.

Amy shuffles into her room, shuts the door forcefully. She stands in the middle of the room, chest heaving. Alex slams her door too. It seems juvenile, the thin wall as the only thing separating them. Amy lets the voicemail pick up, catches her breath. She starts to cry, allows only a few tears to escape before she cuts herself off. She nudges at her cheeks with the back of her wrists, closing her eyes and counting to ten while she recuperates.

She calls Megan back in a few minutes, after she’s swallowed her Atavan. It’s not something she tells Megan, but it is something Megan notices.

“You, um, you’re kind of slurring,” Megan chirps.

“Sorry,” Amy excuses, “I, uh, take something. To sleep,” she says carefully.

“Oh,” Megan says.

“I take a couple things,” Amy offers.

“Me too,” Megan says quietly.

“A lot of people. Modern,” Amy sighs, “psychiatry. Lots of people do.”

“Yeah,” Megan agrees.

“It’s, uh, nothing scary. Anxiety. Mostly,” Amy tries to explain. “Bouts of compulsive behavior,” she delivers like she’s revealing something. It’s not a secret, though, she thinks. It’s something she’s known since cognition; her gears didn't turn just right.

“Okay,” Megan says like she understands.

“I have issues,” Amy deadpans.

“I can deal with issues,” Megan responds.

The simple pivot, the ease with which Megan acknowledges and supports Amy’s honesty, is more than Amy expects. It renders her, maybe not speechless, but timid.

“Good,” she utters.

“You’re, just, there’s more to you than…that. Yeah?” Megan checks. It’s more of an assertion, though.

“Yeah, of course,” Amy hisses.

“I want to know all of you, all parts of you,” Megan says.

When Amy yawns a few minutes later, in the middle of her list of favorite picnic foods, Megan gracefully encourages her to go to sleep. Amy stares into the blackness of her ceiling, decisively ignoring the disruption in her routine—that she didn't bid Alex goodnight or ensure the lock on the front door. The argument with Alex wafts a sour air through the apartment, but Amy can’t indulge. She feels brave, justified in standing her ground, but in that strangely apathetic way. Megan sends a text goodnight, even though they’ve just spoken. It’s a new way to trust, Amy thinks; a new reason to break free.

Chapter Text

Amy tap-dances around Alex for the rest of the week. Their schedules get out of sync with Alex rehearsing at the Square until late. The foursome becomes a strange trio at the end of the day; there’s the sense that every conversation excludes one of them. The rhythm seems off, depressing. Amy’s walk home gets chillier; it’s often pitch black when she gets there, alone.

Every night during the week, Amy waits for the bold sound of Alex’s key in the lock while she’s in bed. She doesn’t get up to acknowledge Alex’s presence, but she has to know Alex is home before she can fall asleep.

Even though Amy’s being avoidant, immature, and distant, she has to trust Alex to deadbolt the front door and turn off the living room light. It’s an extraordinary measure of relinquishment that Amy’s amazed at herself for sticking to. Especially since it means she goes an entire week without a conversation with her roommate. Maybe Amy’s letting their co-dependence weaken, or maybe Alex is finally ready to be self-determining, autonomous without Amy’s partnership.

+

The team has an away game that weekend, which turns out to be the first day of snow in the city. Only a little bit of it sticks, but the game’s still delayed nearly an hour. Amy and Becky have a hell of a time keeping the girls corralled; it’s a cramped gym with hardly any space to warm up. The girls are stiff and scatter-brained when they finally take the court. It’s hard for Becky to watch the team struggle, especially when she can tell the other team, with the home court advantage and one fantastically selfish point guard, isn’t as good as the Lightning at their best.

The weather, the chaos of the day, brings the team down. Amy tries to liven up the squad, sends in subs at the half. They bring a surprising freshness and tie up the score after the third quarter. Just a few minutes into the fourth, something bad happens.

There’s one player on the opposing team, with a majority of the points under her belt, who makes a nasty defensive gesture towards one of Amy’s girls. There isn’t any blood, but the girl has to fall to the ground to recover. Amy doesn’t balk, or wait for the whistle to blow, before she’s out on the court at her player’s side. She’s not allowed to be there, sure, but the girl is hurt. The opposing team sprints to the opposite basket. The offending player dribbles pompously as she lobs a shot up and into the net. The whistle blows then, after the points are logged.

Amy’s player cries, reels in shock from the blow to her face. Her cheekbone is swollen and she paws at her face. The girl’s parents join Amy on the court, take the player to the sidelines gingerly. They decide to go to the emergency room, grabbing coats and boots and her duffle bag.

Amy doesn’t even notice that Becky’s arguing with the ref at the score table. The crowd is loud, echoing a thousand sentiments both ways. She catches the tail end of a curse, spat from Becky’s lips, before her stomach drops out. Amy can’t tell what she said, can’t hear with the blood rushing through her head, but she knows the words are in defense of Amy, of her alleged disregard for the official’s time clock.

But Amy definitely notices the referee’s furious motion, ejecting Becky from the gymnasium.

Becky throws her arms out, palms up.

“Are you freaking kidding?” Becky’s nostrils flare, rage reddening her cheeks.

There’s no appropriate response from the ref, just a cold stare. Becky swipes her bag from under the fold-out chair, slings her coat over her arms. She passes the referee silently on her way out, not looking back towards the bench. Amy’s mortified, dizzy with the chaos happening instantaneously.

“You need to get your bench in order, coach,” the referee says to Amy.

“Yes sir,” is all Amy mutters.

She sends in another sub. They lose the tie, and then the game.

Afterwards, Becky perches on a bench in the hallway with her bag clutched in her lap. Most of the parents commiserate with her; some players hug her on the way out.

Amy approaches Becky like a flame.

“Are you, cool?” Amy asks.

“Yeah,” Becky stands. “I want to apologize.” There are tears in her eyes.

Amy just hauls her into a hug, and buys her lunch when they stop for burritos near their neighborhood.

The cloudy, grey sky provides a cold atmosphere that makes it seem later than it is. When Amy gets home, it’s still early in the afternoon, but Alex is already in character. That is to say, she’s moving around the living room in that measured, sure way that means she’s practicing her blocking.

Abby is there too, dictating another character’s lines from the couch. Alex responds to the line, even though she glances at Amy as she enters the front door. The scene moves with a swift rhythm, like the timing is ingrained in their parlay. It amazes Amy that Alex can hold the tempo despite Amy’s distraction.

The scene is a light, quick conversation that turns one character on another, and Alex is full-bodied, boisterous in a way that throws Amy off-guard. She’s used to the talk about transformation, but Alex’s dominance of the dialogue’s pace is impressive in person. It’s another side of her, one with which Amy is disappointingly unfamiliar.

Abby throws Amy a quick, closed smile, but turns her vision back to the script. She gives Alex the next cue. Amy slips quietly into her room.

Something about the peek behind the curtain, the sneak preview that Amy’s happened upon, makes Alex reach out. Alex knocks on Amy’s door to tell her goodbye, that they’re heading to their first full run-through of the play. It’s cordial and kind, something reminiscent of their relationship before Amy put up her emotional barricade. They hug goodbye, even, when Alex says she’ll be late, but quiet, she promises. Abby wraps her arms around Alex’s shoulders as they retreat down the hall, grabbing their coats on the way out.

Amy tries not to read into it. She takes a shower and specifically tries to push the image of Abby’s shameless hands out of her mind. She knows honesty is best, especially now that there’s something tenuous and strange between her and Alex. But the memory of the night at the art gallery is fuzzy, clouded by her memories of desire for Megan. She wants her relationship with Megan to blossom in private. Yet the accident of letting Abby in before Alex has shown her hand, in a sense. She’s not sure what Alex thinks anymore, what Abby might’ve divulged.

Despite the refreshing shower, Amy still doesn’t feel much better. Megan calls on her way home from a mandatory weekend data collection at her lab. The sun’s gone, an eerily premature evening settles in. Amy’s not hungry, but Megan arrives with a cheesesteak and onion rings to split. Megan suggests Ghost World from Amy’s Netflix selection. Amy’s never seen it before, something Megan bemoans. Megan bops goofily in her seat to the opening song and Amy has a bit of trouble following the first few minutes of the movie because of the dance.

+

A few days later, Amy gets a text from Megan. She’s cooking, semi-watching Reece watch a DVD.

“You’re going out with me tonight,” it reads.

It’s Tuesday.

“I have practice,” Amy types.

Reece repeats something on the television, prompted.

“After practice,” Megan responds.

Amy cuts an apple, gives herself time to think. She spreads the slices on a tray, doesn’t get too fancy. She sets them on the breakfast table, juxtaposes a cup of water.

“Come have some fruit,” Amy tells Reece.

She stands motionless, transfixed, even though Amy’s phone dings with a message.

“You’re lucky I have an extra ticket,” Megan sends, urging.

“What’s it for?” Amy asks.

“A ska band. Familiar with any?” Megan clarifies.

“No,” Amy can’t lie.

Reece repeats something else to the screen. Amy decides to let her entertain herself, to enjoy the stillness. She smells the chicken then, pulls the tray from the oven.

“So come. Do something new,” Megan makes it so simple.

“I only have practice clothes. I have to go right there from here,” Amy leans her hip against the counter. She stares down at the screen, waiting.

“What are you wearing now?” Megan asks back.

Reece demands chicken from her perch in the living room. Amy can see the back of her head when she says it, so Amy rolls her eyes without an audience.

“Almost done. Come have apples,” Amy suggests again.

“No!” Reece says.

“The big girls are eating apples,” Amy lobs.

It’s ridiculous how fast Reece runs to the table. Why shouldn’t she? She can see the television from her chair.

The chicken needs another minute to rest, so Amy types.

“Jeans and a t shirt,” long sleeved, from Alex’s closet. “Sneakers,” she sends, as an afterthought. Like it would illustrate the situation better.

“Sounds great,” Megan responds.

“Sure?” Amy checks.

“Yes. Also, you have to come to Queers and Allies meeting tonight ”

Amy’s head snaps up to the clock. Just four more hours.

+

Amy stashes her duffle in the corner of the room beside a bookshelf. She’s changed back into her jeans, but the sweat from practice makes them feel tighter, scratchy. Becky’s the only one who knows she’s at the meeting. Amy assumes she’ll tell Liz, maybe Alex if she’s running late leaving for practice. She feels covert; she’s not sneaking but she certainly didn’t want to invite anyone else.

With one last swipe to her brow with the back of her hand, she turns to face the room of strangers. She approaches Megan timidly, easing into her conversation. Megan has set up the chairs into a conglomerate, a hazy circle. It’s a multipurpose room, one with horticultural pamphlets stapled to the bulletin boards across the walls.

The spread of characters is less dynamic than Amy expected. Mostly, it’s a group of post-collegiate adults, evenly mixed genders. There’s one girl with unnatural hair dye—soft pink on the underside of a platinum blonde crop. It’s Megan’s best friend, apparently. As evidenced by the territorial glare she gets from the pink-haired girl when Amy nabs the spot next to Megan.

She rushes around to the other side of Megan like they’re playing musical chairs.

“Claimed,” the girl calls. She slithers in quite clumsily.

“Just ignore Lori,” Megan says loudly, but to Amy, “She’s a jealous bitch.”

“With Mustard Plug tickets,” Lori clarifies, bending forward, “So shut your face and be my friend.”

Megan shrugs, blushes in Amy’s direction, like can you believe this chick? She plays with her earlobes, smiles wide but thin. Amy bites her lips. Her back bows when she slides her hands into the tracksuit pockets.

It’s a short meeting, led by Megan but supplemented by Lori. Megan passes around a volunteer sign-up sheet for another group’s fundraising banquet, introduces a couple event ideas she’s sketched since the last session. It’s not the outing spree, like Amy somehow convolutedly expected. The small group, about 10 others, seems fine to taper off into conversation rather than formally end business.

Amy, Lori and Megan to traipse out excitedly, avoiding small talk. Lori palms a flask to Megan in the metro car. They’re speeding through the dark, in a tunnel, so it’s easy for Megan, then Amy, to hide a swig behind the ad board.

Lori likes her cinnamon whiskey. Amy can’t help the distinct pinch to her expression.

“Gets the heat to your bones,” Lori says. She’s unapologetic to the others in the car, unabashedly boisterous and transparent with excitement.

“That’s not even an expression,” Megan argues.

She and Amy are seated, Lori hovering over them clinging to the metal rail.

“It’s a play on trite clichés,” explains Lori, “so I didn’t expect you to understand anyway.”

“’Trite clichés’ is a redundant phrase,” Megan makes a playfully offended face.

“The woman knows her clichés,” Amy observes, joining in and jutting her thumb in Megan’s direction.

“Yes!” Lori fist pumps. She high-fives Amy, inaugurating her into their banter. Lori acts like she’s pleased to have another mind up against Megan.

Megan laughs too, despite herself.

“I can’t even argue, that’s the sad part,” Megan jests, shakes her head.

She pulls once more from the flask. The car lights rouse as they screech towards the platform.

“Let’s roll, gang,” Lori pushes off the pole. She tucks the flask into her jacket pocket, does a silly dance while waiting for the doors to open.

Amy hauls her duffle onto her shoulder, adjusts it across her back to cling like a knapsack. It’s busy, the downtown station. Having the weight close to her body makes it easier to move through the evening crowds. They have to fall in line, but Megan still crooks her hand back, grasps Amy’s fingers when they’re moving forward. Amy’s the tail end, feels childish but free that way.

There’s a short line at the venue; Lori’s got a plus two at will call. The second band is playing to a thumping house. It’s an upbeat tempo, music that Amy can get into, but it’s still unfamiliar and therefore she’s timid and stiff. Lori gets the first round, shamelessly calling a bartender by name.

They post up at a table shoved towards the corner so Amy can set down her duffle. They’re off to the side of the stage with a direct line of sight. Amy’s not used to drinking bourbon, so the first drink takes a while. The band on stage ends and even though the house lights are up high, the atmosphere pulses with anticipation.

Lori keeps fingering her hair, combing through the pink underside as if she’s still getting used to the length.

“Amy’s basketball team is named The Lightning!” Megan exclaims out of the blue.

“No way,” Lori squints at Amy.

“Yeah. The girls picked it. I don’t think there’s any meaning behind it,” Amy jokes.

“She’s the Lightning,” Megan juts her thumb at Lori.

“Oh really?” says Amy.

“Yeah, for now. Soon to be Doctor Lightning. BAM! FLASH!” Lori verbally illustrates, splays her hands theatrically in the air.

“Doctors are such nerds,” Megan says.

“So out of touch,” Amy adds.

“Say all you want now. But, once I pay off my student loans, I’ll be the laughing all the way to the bank,” Lori sasses.

“Yeah, in your rocking chair. During your retirement,” Megan spits.

Amy has to bite her lip at that one; it looks like it stings Lori so badly.

“You twist the knife, Pinoe,” Lori mocks pain.

“Nah, I’ll be hitting you up for a midlife crisis loan. I already know this,” Megan recovers.

“Glad it’s all about the Benjamins for you, then,” says Lori.

Megan glows with refined life in Lori’s company. Even though their repartee is built on sarcasm, on measured pestering, Amy can tell they’re a perfect match. Lori thrums with potential energy, shaking her wristwatch down her arm each minute to watch the seconds tick by. The crew sets up the stage agonizingly slow. The wait doesn’t bother Amy one bit, especially since Megan’s touch settles on Amy’s lower back, just out of sight for the tabletop.

There’s a crowd, sure, but the place doesn’t fill like Amy half-expected. It’s mostly older couples and women in swinging dresses. Amy feels like she’s been transported back in time, almost, with the dozens of bright red lips passing by their table en route to the floor. Amy should know better when she sees the tech guys sound check a saxophone, a trombone. Lori leaves to get a second round of drinks only when Amy promises to be finished with hers when she comes back.

She gets back just in time for the place to go dark. When the lights cut, Lori loses her shit. She jumps around on her feet, shifting her weight back and forth eagerly. Megan goes right along, raises clenched fists and hollers along with everyone else.

Amy’s bag is safe against the corner, the crowd fervent and hospitable. So Megan pulls Amy towards the floor. Megan puts herself in the middle to buffer Lori’s frantic dancing as the band flows seamlessly into the first song.

The show is unlike anything Amy has ever seen before. Even though she’s never heard the music, the band is mesmerizing. Lori knows all the words, but she’s not singing along as much as she’s dancing along. At first, Amy feels kind of dumb and awkward. Everyone around them moves easily. Women twirl their full skirts, shuffle on heeled dancing shoes. Amy’s never seen so many couples dancing at a show, whirling and kicking their legs everywhere.

Megan nudges Amy, does an impression of the wild motions. Amy smiles, isn’t afraid to stretch it wide with the energy pulsating around them. The light from the stage is bright on Megan’s face. The contrast makes Megan look like a figure from a photograph, a certain flatness that makes Amy feel like she’s gazing at a tantalizing mirage.

She doesn’t want to blame it on the bourbon, because she wants to think that the energy, the pervasive feeling of community, facilitates her to let go. Maybe it’s both, one enhancing the other, but either way, Amy starts dancing with her head down during the third song.

At some point, Megan grabs their empty cups to toss. When she comes back, hands free, all she wants to do is touch Amy. Lori’s lost in the pit, making her way through to the front, so there’s no threat of being seen. Amy’s not used to being led, and neither is Megan by the uncertain sway of her hips. They don’t break from each other between songs. Instead, Amy leans back, lets Megan slide her thumbs in the space between Amy’s shirt and jeans. Megan’s fingers are cold, somehow. It’s deviously satisfying, Amy’s warmth escaping through Megan’s hands.

When the encore ends, and the house lights come up, Megan kisses Amy’s cheek. Amy wants to say something self-deprecating, but Lori emerges from a group of swing dancers clambering for the set lists. Megan doesn’t give her a chance to comment on the kiss because she launches herself at Lori and they dance maniacally to the roar of the stunned crowd for a brief few seconds. Once Amy has retrieved her duffle from its hidden spot under the table, they file out of the venue.

Lori lives downtown, invites them over to her loft. Amy’s impressed by the bookshelf, first off, so she doesn’t notice what Lori’s hauling into the living room. There’s a busy moment of quiet. Amy has her back to the room, reading the spines stacked on each shelf.

“See anything you like, Amy?” Lori asks from the couch.

Amy turns around, twists to peer over her shoulder. Lori’s raising a joint to her lips, licking the gummed side closed. Amy’s thoughts gape, just for a moment.

“Uh, yeah. Lots of uh,” she clears her throat, resets herself. “I thought you were in med school?”

Lori makes a wordless sound around the click of the lighter.

“Ha! Yeah, right. I wrote Lori’s Bio 2 lab report so she wouldn’t fail again,” Megan cracks with a laugh.

Once Lori inhales, and passes the joint to Megan, she sinks back into the couch.

“No, no, I’m getting my doctorate in Clinical Psych,” Lori chokes, then coughs.

Amy’s eyes must widen.

“That’s, yeah, I figured no one in their right mind would own all this Freud,” Amy jokes.

Lori laughs thunderously.

“Stop feeding her ego,” Megan croaks. She jerks her head away from Amy, like come here.

“Chemist makes a Freud joke. Good for you, microscope-gazer!” Lori praises.

Amy does, sits a safe distance from Megan like they might still be shielding something. But Megan puts her hand on Amy’s shoulder when she bends forward. They lock lips, and Megan breathes smoke in around her tongue.

Amy feels juvenile for coughing, but Lori doesn’t seem to care. Megan hands the joint back to Lori.

“Megan’s trying to be a dentist so her patients have no choice but to listen to her jokes. They’re, fucking, disarmed and sedated,” Lori cracks at Megan. She inhales deeply, proud of herself.

“You’re so fucking loud,” Megan chastises Lori.

“No one here to wake up!” Lori yelps.

“Maybe the neighbors,” Megan shoots back.

Lori hits the joint again instead of responding.

“So have you seen her disgusting room?” Lori asks Amy, unexpectedly direct.

Amy stalls, looks to Megan for direction.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Megan answers for her.

“Oh my god, you cleaned it. You’re such a romantic,” Lori teases.

Megan blushes and it makes Amy’s stomach flip.

Amy’s never seen Megan look more youthful, more rebellious than with the crimson spread across her cheeks as she puffs on the smoke. Amy refuses it when Megan tries to pass. They share a smoldering moment, both realizing the immediate satisfaction of being unabashedly and fearlessly together.

The two girls finish the joint while Amy looks on, asks Lori about her experience at the graduate level. They’re all a little fuzzy, too loose to be impartial. Megan puts her hand on Amy’s thigh at some point during Lori’s rant about a research paper assignment. Lori glances down briefly, almost bats her eyelashes and their contact. She forages on with her train of thought, doesn’t falter. Amy finds it hard to concentrate after that, and Lori’s sentences are punctuated by suppressed yawns.

“You’re gonna be shit in class tomorrow,” Megan interrupts.

Lori’s slipped down into the cushions, bent at an angle that doesn’t seem comfortable. Her shirt rides up; her pink hair falls flat around her neck.

“Screw class, work is what’s going to kick my ass. I’m not going to be able to hear my patients at all. They’re gonna hate me,” Lori moans.

Megan catches a yawn of her own, bowing her back with the exhale.

“Alright, alright. Get out of here before you miss the last train,” Lori continues.

Lori hugs Amy at the door, amicably and easily.

“I’ll see you soon,” Lori bids her, so confidently, before squeezing Megan too.

Megan holds Amy’s hand the whole way home. Even though the station’s nearly empty, Amy still feels bold with Megan’s fingers in hers. Their tram is occupied by other people, but the ride is entirely quiet. It’s eerie in a way Amy’s always found comforting, the silence of strangers in a shared space. It’s an interesting display of humanity, of respect for the peace that comes with darkness.

Amy notes the contrast from the crowd at the venue earlier—the same prevalence of energy, just now reserved. It’s too dark to read, but some people flip through their cell phones. Some passengers are motionless, earphones like white rivers streaming over winter coats. No matter the time of day, Amy’s grown to expect the quiet presence of strangers, of subtly coexisting with them. It’s something she’s learned to love about the city, only after she realized her own presence in the herd.

People are inescapable. In her freshman year, Amy struggled with sharing a room, with arranging her life around the comings and goings of other students, with scavenging for open tables in the library. When she met Becky, she met the first person she didn’t mind seeing every day. Living with Becky during sophomore year restored Amy’s faith in her peers, made her curious as to how everyone fights their daily battles. Becky inspired Amy to reach outwards for stability instead of in, to her friends instead of her own neurosis.

So when Becky studied abroad junior year, Amy was devastated. Her constant source of calm, her sounding board, was four thousand miles away. It was only for one semester, but when Becky returned, Amy was knee-deep in her compulsive tendencies. She was brushing, flossing, licking at her teeth, constantly. Becky saw right through it, interfered when Amy least expected and most needed it. Amy started her therapy again, then, under Becky’s constant, loving intervention. Amy knows she slips, allows herself to indulge when she shouldn’t. But she’s been through enough hours, on both sides of the table, to know what’s happening in her brain. Maybe that’s why she loves the quiet crowd of a city—the invisibility, the blurring around the edges.

The lights in the tram flick on as they approach the platform for Amy’s stop. Megan asks if she can stay at Amy’s place, just moments before they halt. It’s a mousy request, so timid especially given the context of Megan’s brazen night. Amy nods, flustered but handling it well.

On their short walk from Amy’s stop, it starts to snow. Amy’s heart begins to pound. The flakes are tiny, and they disappear when they hit the ground. Megan loops her arm around Amy’s elbow, lets her body sway into Amy’s stride. Amy doesn’t lose her balance, uses the weight of her duffle bag to propel each step’s momentum.

Amy’s stupidly happy to drop the duffle on the hallway floor when they get in. Alex is home, poking loudly around the kitchen when Amy locks the door behind them.

“Hey,” Alex says. The greeting drags out a little when both Amy and Megan round the corner. “Hi,” Alex says again.

“Sup?” Megan asks. She runs a hand over her hair, melting the remaining snow there.

“How was the meeting?” Alex asks, more towards Amy.

It takes Amy’s mind a second to catch up. She knocks off her shoes, wiggles her toes in her socks.

“Oh, it was really good. How was rehearsal?” Amy turns.

Alex swivels her water glass, clinks the ice.

“It’s uh, you know, challenging. Always good and bad things about it,” Alex leads. Amy feels bad, not wanting to engage. But it doesn’t seem like Alex expected Megan to be there. She still seems cautious about exactly what’s supposed to happen between her roommate and Megan.

“That’s cool,” Amy settles.

Megan launches a whole-hearted smile at Alex.

“Hey, is it alright if I crash at your apartment tonight?” Megan asks Alex.

Alex blinks in her direction. She’s definitely not confused, surely she knows Megan’s already been given the proper permission. Amy would describe her gaze as calculating, maybe. Alex twists her hair absently.

“Yeah, it’s cool with me,” Alex looks at Amy, tries to bring her in.

Amy won’t interact though, can’t figure out the dynamic shifting between the three of them.

“Thanks. I promise, I’ll be out of your hair when Amy leaves for work. I won’t bum around all morning,” Megan jokes.

Alex cracks, magically. She smiles at Megan, maybe out of exhaustion.

“Cool. I just, uh, yeah,” Alex looks down at her glass, “wanted to make sure you guys got home safe.”

Amy bites her bottom lip. It’s an olive branch, she knows this. It’s an acknowledgement from Alex that she can’t sleep until they’re both home and accounted for, either. Amy tries to stifle the yawn that burgeons in front of her throat.

“Thanks,” Amy says, but the yawn still comes.

It’s an awkward dance, three bodies heading down the hallway at once. Megan waits in Amy’s room while Amy brushes her teeth. Alex is refilling her water glass at the sink when Amy comes into the kitchen for her nightly rituals, flicking off the lights and double-checking the dead bolt, the stove. Alex catches Amy at the archway between the kitchen and living room. The newly darkened hall still rings with killed electricity.

“You good?” Alex asks without context.

Amy doesn’t really know what she means.

“Me? Yeah. Going to be shit at work tomorrow,” Amy echoes Megan’s words from earlier in Lori’s apartment. It works on Alex.

“Yeah,” Alex chuckles, “Reece is going to wear you out.”

“She always does, sleep or no sleep,” Amy commiserates.

Alex pats Amy’s shoulder blade when they split at the edges of their doorways. It’s an open smile, the one they share before they enter their own rooms, but the softness of it reassures Amy that there’s a secret trust in the curve of Alex’s lips. They exchange goodnight wishes, and Alex closes her door softly.

Megan’s got the bedcovers pulled back at the corner, waiting for Amy. The overhead light is already off, so it’s just a soft orange glow from the bedside lamp that casts a playful shadow across Megan’s face. Amy’s a little nervous to undress with Megan’s gaze on her. She feels like she’s on stage; the feeling makes her jealous of the pieces of art, the bands, of everything that has captured Megan’s beautiful attention before this moment.

But Megan’s clothes, all but the tank top she’s sporting, are in a loving pile on the floor near the end of the bed. The thought of Megan shucking them quickly, anticipating, makes Amy warm.

It’s easy for Amy to remember the feel of Megan’s lips against her own. She’s learning to predict Megan’s moves, to lean into the rolling touches all over Amy’s body. They’re both almost undressed anyway, panties and shirts without anything inhibiting their legs from tangling together. Amy’s legs are smooth, which Megan appreciates wantonly. She’s touching Amy’s knees, then her thighs, then the soft parenthesis of her hips. Megan’s fingers hover at Amy’s underwear, lightly stroking the soft band.

Amy’s been withholding information all day, and it makes her break their kiss. She noses her way under Megan’s head, presses their heated cheeks together. Megan kisses her neck, her ear; the touch around Amy’s middle becomes bolder, more urging. Amy shifts, neither away nor closer.

“Yeah?” Megan poses.

Amy exhales an airy laugh. Megan’s fingers dip, move the band just fractions of an inch.

“I’m on my period,” Amy blurts out, finally. She expects Megan’s hand to falter but it doesn’t.

She keeps kissing, mouthing Amy’s tender neck.

“Oh,” Megan mutters.

“Sorry,” Amy says.

“It’s okay,” Megan responds.

She draws back so she can land her lips on Amy’s again. She kisses her for a long minute, sincerely and with her hand still planted on Amy’s skin.

“I don’t care,” Megan says into Amy’s breath.

It’s more than a sentiment, Megan wants. Amy laughs startlingly.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Megan continues. “If it doesn’t bother you.”

“I don’t know,” Amy admits. Then softly, “I’ve never.”

“Sometimes it’s better,” Megan gulps, “More intense, when you’re…”

Her voice trails off.

“Um, I mean, it’s not that I’ve,” Amy cuts herself off. “Just never…let another person,” she says.

“Oh, well, yeah,” Megan stutters.

The moment’s kind of dead after that. Amy laughs sleepily again.

“I, just, you know,” Amy says. She shrugs against the pillows.

“Okay, maybe next time,” Megan supplies.

“Yeah, maybe,” Amy lilts.

Megan’s smiling, turned sideways.

“You’re fucking beautiful,” Megan says, smoothly.

Amy blinks, bites her bottom lip.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Amy says.

+

Amy wakes up before her alarm. She’s amazed at herself for making it that long, especially with Megan clinging to her. They must’ve gotten warm during the night, because the top comforter barely hangs onto the foot of the mattress. Megan shifts when Amy does. She rolls onto her back and her steady breath gets louder with the changed airway. Amy lets herself take a mental picture. She waits a few deliberate moments before climbing out of bed.

She practically giggles to herself with pride when she pops open the tube of cinnamon rolls. Megan and Alex both rise shortly before the pan is finished in the oven, and it’s hard for Amy to decide which girl looks like she wants to kiss Amy more.

Chapter Text

They wake up to two inches of snow. It’s enough to set the city back a few minutes, so Amy’s late bringing Riley to school in the morning. Riley gets a tardy, her second this semester. Even though Riley has two more chances before receiving a formal warning, Amy gets a strange lecture from the school’s front desk attendant. Reece is busy throwing her gloves onto the office floor, so Amy doesn’t compute the necessary adult responses to stand up to the woman. She sends Riley to her classroom on her own, lunchbox in hand.

Amy spends rest of the day in a similar state of bewilderment. Practice at the Y is a confusing chain of emotional teenage girlish tantrums. Amy doesn’t know how, but one of the girls starts to tear up during a drill. Becky takes her to the water fountain in the hallway and accompanies her back just a few minutes later, a renewed spring the girl’s step. Amy eases off the pedals, lets Becky direct the drills as a cautious kind of social experiment. The team executes a fast-paced three-man-weave drill with decent agility. Amy feels, quite literally, sidelined, but she doesn’t want to disrupt the pace. It’s easy for Becky to make small tweaks to the machine, because Becky is always ready.

The entire mood of their practice changes when Becky takes the reins. The girls push themselves harder. They stay focused and on-task for the rest of the afternoon.

Becky’s a natural leader, something innate in every aspect of her life. She’s a stealth athlete, a woman of grace and poise despite her bout with the referee. Becky loves to be entrusted, loves to encourage and challenge all the same. Some days, Amy thinks, the girls just need a friend. And that’s Becky, without a doubt.

Amy makes it home alone just fine. She showers, and then watches old episodes from the DVR. The snow picks back up and it makes Amy feel bleak and introspective. She calls Megan when she pops the frozen pizza into the oven.

“I’m sure Becky’s just taking her cues from you,” Megan tries to comfort her.

“I just felt helpless,” Amy looks out their living room window while she can. “Like, I had no authority over the practice.” The temperature difference clouds the glass; Amy creeks her neck out to eye the front of the building, watching for Alex.

“You’re a really good coach,” Megan says.

“I guess,” Amy concedes.

“Becky just understood the vibe today. Most days she’s more helpless than you think,” Megan speculates.

“Becky’s always on point,” Amy says.

“Then you’re the better coach for having her on your team,” Megan replies.

The timer on the oven beeps three times.

“That’s a nice way to say it,” Amy flicks on the kitchen light and cracks the oven to check inside.

“For once, the truth doesn’t hurt,” Megan’s voice gets cut off by a siren.

“I thought you were home?” Amy asks. She puts Megan on speaker and sets the phone face-up on the counter.

“Just getting here,” Megan says. The oven releases a warm wave into the kitchen. Amy lets it the pizza on the stovetop.

“Where were you?” Amy asks, meekly.

“Helping set up for a banquet,” Megan explains.

“Oh,”

“It’s the HIV group I work with. Their annual fundraiser,” Megan says. “Remember the sign-up sheet?”

“Yeah, I do,” Amy says. She cancels the speaker phone and cradles the device to her ear.

“Is your silence a sign of how impressed you are that your girlfriend is a selfless, humble community member? Volunteering her time to worthy causes?” Megan supplies goofily.

“Nailed it,” Amy responds.

“Wow, that was so beautiful, Amy. From the heart, totally,” Megan jokes.

“Yeah,” Amy plays along. “I’m pretty much a wordsmith.”

“Captivating,” Megan furthers.

“Welcome home,” Amy says. She can hear Megan’s door slam behind her.

“Pleased to be here,” Megan responds dryly.

“Are your roommates playing Mario Kart?” Amy supplies.

“How’d you know?” Megan retorts, clearly mindful of their presence.

“Hunch,” Amy intones. There’s some movement, silence, then Megan’s bedroom door shutting too.

“Damn, when do I get to come home to your face?” Megan asks with a tone of mock-whimsy.

“I, uh,” Amy stutters, like she realizes mid-sentence that she doesn’t have an eloquent response.

“Such a wordsmith,” Megan notes.

“Yeah,” Amy says breathily.

Amy lets Megan go, so she can shower while it’s free. Amy cuts herself a slice of pizza and settles onto the couch. At the first commercial break, when Amy’s reaching for the remote, Alex comes home. She strips off her top layer at the entryway and walks right up to Amy in the living room to give her an envelope.

“Tickets,” Alex says before Amy can open it, “For you and Megan and Becky,” Alex clarifies. She holds up another envelope, “Going to give Liz her own tomorrow. I picked your seats so I’ll know which general direction to act towards.”

“Awesome! Thank you,” Amy says sincerely.

“Hope I don’t screw it up!” Alex says optimistically.

“You’re working hard. You won’t screw up,” Amy assures her.

“Well, dress rehearsal is this weekend and then…” her eyes widen dramatically.

“Showtime!” Amy calls out.

“Well, a week of late rehearsals and sewing and painting and crying and THEN showtime,” Alex says. She sniffs the air. “Oh my god, can I have pizza?”

“Duh,” Amy says, sweetly.

They settle into a dusty routine—sharing dinner and projecting dialogue onto Chopped scenes. Alex retrieves another slice for Amy without being asked. Amy feels strangely cautious; she tracks the shifts in Alex’s presence like a seismograph. Every simple movement from the distance of the kitchen rattles around Amy’s eardrums as if Alex was catastrophic, as if her timid care-taking should be recorded as evidence that Alex is somehow different now, more aware. People don’t change immediately; personality is fluid and fuzzy all the same. These shifts can’t be felt, like the silent contraction of the soul’s source. And the subsequent quivers. Amy feels everything, is the problem; even the immeasurable distance to the vanishing point of independence.

When the episode ends, Amy thumbs through the recordings and tidies up the archived shows. There is at least an inch of snow on the window sill, and the weather doesn’t appear to be letting up. A big gust roars down their block like an empty, ghastly train. Alex takes a big breath that whips through the space between them with similar impending force.

Alex looks over, “What did you mean?”

“What?” Amy checks. She lowers the remote but continues to look forward. She wonders if Alex can hear her heart pounding, if she can detect the subtle magnitude surging.

“When you said Abby isn’t everything I think she is. What did that mean?” Alex presses.

Amy fiddles with the hem on her shirt. The air between them is intimate, unguarded, but uncertain, still.

“That wasn’t something I meant to say,” Amy admits, falsely. “I didn’t want you to obsess over that.”

“Too late,” Alex says lightly. “Just, don’t keep it from me anymore,” Alex encourages. She drops her gaze, preparing for something grave.

“I saw Abby with someone else,” Amy lets it go. “With Hope,” she stresses, trying not to let it mean anything more than it is.

“When?” Alex wants to know.

“Right after the party when I met you at her house. They, I don’t know,” Amy pauses, eyeing Alex. There’s a stern line to her edges, like she’s skating on a meniscus, waiting to find the breaking point. “It made me uncomfortable. So I didn’t say anything. To you.”

“Okay,” Alex says slowly. Amy counts to five.

“Are you upset?” Amy says, carefully.

“No,” Alex’s voice waivers. “I think I knew-” she stops herself. “I think things are different now.”

“How are they different?” Amy asks, courageously. She wishes she could reel the words back in.

“We, uh,” Alex stops, corrects herself. “I’m trying to figure that out,” she shrugs.

“Yeah,” Amy doesn’t know what she’s agreeing to. The snow makes an empty sigh against the window panes as it piles in the corners.

“Are we okay?” Alex asks in the quiet air.

“I, yeah,” Amy swallows, “I didn’t know we could both be that stubborn.”

“Seriously,” Alex breathes in agreement, “I didn’t mean to make you feel guilty. Like, you know, about Megan.”

“I didn’t want to screw it up,” Amy whispers, finally. It’s a direct mimicry of Alex’s earlier sentiments about the play, but it weighs so much more.

“Well, don’t. Because you have a good thing, I think,” Alex braves.

Amy nods in that appraising, floaty way that mimics the waves in her brain bouncing back and forth. Cortex to lobe, back through the folds.

“Thanks,” Amy says. She didn’t think she needed Alex’s blessing until she has it.

It’s not terribly late, but they both yawn when they make eye contact. One influences the other, as they often do in such shared moments. Amy pulls her hair to the side, subconsciously checks her watch.

“Ready?” Alex asks, noticing.

“Yeah,” Amy says, again.

Alex fills the water glasses; Amy shuts the blinds, dead-bolts the door. She lets Alex get halfway down the hall before she flicks off the light. Alex carries the glasses so carefully it’s almost reverent, the tension between her shoulder blades. Each step is measured; each movement is sincere. There’s something childlike about her frame, vigilant in a perfunctory haze of simple truths and lies.

Amy wants to think in black and white, wants to be certain that the truth has been spoken and settled, even though something bitter sinks into her tongue that makes her think she’s grayed the boundaries between them. Maybe there’s more; maybe Alex is seething inside. But she doesn’t show it. She’s an actor. She can stifle and summon anything. That fact alone scares Amy—how anyone could unstop the floodgates at their will and whimsy, how Alex can manipulate the fault lines.

Amy crosses her threshold as Alex sets the glass on the bedside table. She turns and there’s silence, but it means more than all the words they’ve said tonight.

And even though Alex is still holding her own water glass, Amy puts both her arms around her. There are layers, always layers of fabric and grime and maybe self-preservation. But the hug is honest, more direct and intentioned than every sentence leading up to it.

“I don’t know if this is okay to ask,” Alex mumbles at the door, clearly not asking.

Amy makes Alex turn around while she fishes through her bedside drawer for the neglected bottle. Amy spills out two capsules into her palm and takes four steps towards her roommate. Alex pinches one between her thumb and forefinger, and with their drinks in hand, they entertain their psyches into synchronizing for the night, deadening the hotspots pulsing around their heads. It’s nice in a demented way, partaking inconspicuously and, heartbreakingly, together.

+

The Lightning have their last regular season game that weekend, before they’ll proceed to sudden-death tournament play. So Amy wants to celebrate the team’s success thus far at their final practice for the week on Thursday. She leaves Becky in the dark too, just for fun. Because when she announces that their final hour will be spent playing five-on-five, with the coaches included, the girls (and Becky) screech excitedly, and in unison.

In lieu of choosing teams, Amy splits the group by birth months until they are approximately even. Amy and Becky are on different teams, of course. Amy holds a dance battle in the center circle for possession instead of lobbing a jump ball. It’s Becky against the tallest player facing off at the half court line, and, according to crowd response, Becky wins the ball with her rendition of the shopping-cart-transitioning-into-running-man. Becky tries to bump a slow chest pass to a player in their first possession, but Amy’s too quick. She steals the ball midair and hits a solid lay-up—alone at the other end of the court.

After that, it’s on. Everyone rotates sportingly around the paint, giving each other a chance to play a new position with a fresh start. Amy doesn’t take many more shots; she lets the girls lead the pace of the game. Becky’s there along with her, hands high, shuffling down low with exemplary form. The game is idyllic but purposeful—a nice change of pace that feels like a good note to strike before the weekend’s game. Amy feels like the boundaries get broken, maybe, as Becky’s shoving into her from the back and calling to the girls to take note of how she uses her body to defend against the forward motion of an opponent.

The best part of it all is that, when the boys team arrives, they respectfully conglomerate on the sidelines. The girls have the entire court, for the entire practice. They even get some spectators—parents, nannies, and Liz. There’s no score on the board, but the small crowd follows with animation and enthusiasm. One of the girls banks a three-point shot, all net, and Amy knows it’s the best place to end. She gathers the girls into a post-practice huddle amidst a round of applause that echoes in the gym. And even though it’s a little thin, Amy knows it happened, in a grand sense, because of her hard work, because of her leadership despite the obstacles. And because of the team.

Becky palms that hot space between Amy’s neck and shoulder after their dismissal. They stand that way for a few minutes like a steadfast duo amidst the straggling players awaiting pick-up. It’s predatory in a way that Amy can feel, but only because Becky’s so close. Her nearness means protection; not intimidation but defiance. The boys’ coach mingles around them, setting up his team in the center circle to stretch so that he can raise the hoops.

Liz bounds down the bleachers awkwardly, hand gripped tight around her coat and messenger bag. She winds a scarf around her neck when she approaches Amy and Becky. It’s a slight display of mirroring, the way Liz calls attention to her own neck, while being mindful of Becky’s determined hand still resting on Amy’s skin. Becky drops her hold, not long after.

They agree that the occasion merits a drink, or some sort of celebration that does not involve the youths.

“You should see if Megan can come,” Liz says, quietly. Amy straightens up from the water fountain and blinks hard as she consciously remembers to swallow.

“Okay,” Amy spells. She makes to turn around but her spine stiffens. “Where, uh, are we going?”

Becky emerges from the washroom then, and jumps right into the conversation.

“Pint Night at the Saucer, just saying,” Becky says, excitedly.

Amy excuses herself and tucks against a far pillar down the hall. The inevitable sound of persons shuffling through the hallways makes a hum in Amy’s other ear. She cups her hand over it lightly, presses the phone close like a shell.

“Hey!” Megan greets her.

“Hey, what are you up to?” Amy launches.

“I’m leaving the lab,” Megan answers.

“Nerd,” Amy jokes.

“Is this the jock calling? Are you still throwing a ball through a hoop?” Megan counters.

“Yeah, and I ran with the team today, so my legs look great,” Amy says, half-innocently.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Megan entices.

“Do you want to meet us at the Saucer?” Amy suggests. Becky’s bouncing on her toes in the distance, anxious to leave and drink. She’s starting at Amy, so Amy pivots so she can’t read her lips.

“Us,” Megan repeats.

“Me and Becky and Liz,” Amy lists. She counts a beat, gives Megan a chance.

“Four ladies on Pint Night. This is gonna be good,” is Megan’s way of agreeing.

Megan’s waiting inside, hawking a table from the bar. She already has a pint glass in hand, but she flags down one of the waitresses the moment she spots the others. They get in at a high, square table just before another group of four meanders through.

Megan is all smiles, seat claimed next to Amy silently. She looks much more professional that Amy expected; somehow she anticipated Megan’s work clothes to resemble scrubs. The layers on top are soft yet crisp, a nice mix of navy and grey, and they complement her understated skinny jeans and relaxed loafers.

“I know it’s unorthodox, but you should get a flight,” Megan suggests to Amy.

“What’s a flight?”

“It’s a sample of beers on a theme,” Becky interrupts.

Megan tips the rim of her glass towards Becky, who’s directly across from her at the table. Becky continues on.

“I’ve had the German flight and the Hops Along flight,” Becky taps the items on the menu.

“That’s a lot of beer,” Amy observes.

“What do you have there?” Becky peers into Megan’s amber glass.

“It’s an Abita brew,” Megan waves her hand vaguely towards the large chalkboard above the bar with innumerable taps.

Becky narrows her eyes.

“Purple Haze?” Becky tries. Megan’s smile cracks warmly.

“All in my brain,” Megan finishes.

Becky slips Amy a look like where have you been hiding this woman? Megan settles back into her chair, and pint, with a relaxed sparkle to her eyes.

The drinks come shortly after they’ve been ordered. Amy looks away from the Bulls game on the big screen to taste her own Purple Haze. Once they’ve gotten a few sips in them, and made enough mundane observations about the crowd and the atmosphere, the four women seem to gel. Liz is quiet, like Amy, while Becky and Megan discuss their favorite bars for specialty drinks. Becky’s been inundated by her financial sector; she appears so professional enumerating her business lunches. But Megan is polite, eagerly asking about Becky’s office job, how she juggles volunteering for the team too.

The conversation somehow drifts to Becky’s perception of the gay community in their city. It’s obvious that Megan is on the verge of disagreeing, the way she puts her weight on her elbows. Amy’s never seen her as confrontational, but she knows now that Megan isn’t someone who needs defending. She lets Becky make her point, which, unknotted, isn’t as biased as it started. Amy watches Megan enumerate her response on her fingers, arbitrarily counting pad-to-pad when certain turns of phrase illustrate her response best. Liz eyes Amy in a curious but empty way. When she raises her eyebrows, Amy feels like Liz is judging. But Megan scores high, because Becky admits, boldly:

“I’ve never thought of it that way, I guess,” Becky poises. She takes a short draw on her glass; blinks hard when she nods along to Megan’s explanation.

“You should honestly come to the QA meetings. I think you’d be really happy with the discussion there,” Megan offers Becky. She looks to Liz like an afterthought. Liz takes a sip too, maybe for comfort.

“I’d be willing to give it a shot,” Becky says.

“It’s not so bad, right?” Megan elbows Amy.

“No, it’s chill,” Amy sputters.

“After the tournament, I guess I’ll have my Tuesdays free again,” Becky notes, half-frowning in Amy’s direction.

“And your Mondays, and your Wednesdays, and your Thursdays, and your Saturday mornings,” Liz exaggerates.

“I took a philosophy class with Becky once,” Amy offers.

“That’s true!” Becky exclaims. “I forgot about Epistemology!”

“Was she well-liked?” Liz asks, deviously.

“I will say,” Amy pauses, “that she was an exceptional conversation leader.”

Megan takes a break from her pointed focus and cracks a smile.

“If you’re not going to do the reading, you just shouldn’t talk,” Becky defends herself without context.

“I see what you mean,” Megan fake-whispers to Amy.

They all get one more round, and when the waitress brings it over, Megan announces to the table:

“I wanna go outside for a cigarette,” Megan looks right at Amy. “Come with?”

“Uh, sure,” Amy agrees. She shrugs on her coat, and finishes the last gulp of her glass. Megan leads them through the thinning crowd, and outside into the sharp air. Next door is a financial building, all windows and long blocks of granite facing the eerily quiet street. Megan balances her ass on an empty bike rack. Her hands grasp the cold bar to steady herself.

“I didn’t know you smoke,” Amy says as she approaches. Megan puts her feet up on the low bar, so her legs bend an obtuse, devious angle.

“I don’t,” Megan responds. She reaches out for Amy’s coat sleeve, and pulls her close. They kiss, chilled lips and curiously fermented tongues, right there, openly in the dark public. Amy’s too buzzed to be shy, too thrilled to think of modesty. She’s cold all over. Except the heat from their contact goes right to Amy’s head; their kiss starts deep, so it’s precarious but trusting—just like Megan wavering on the bike rack, grasping Amy’s jacket like a safety wire.

There’s no reason Megan should ride the green line to Amy’s stop, just to backtrack to her own apartment. So their goodbye in the metro tram is short and divided. Megan gives Liz and Becky a hug before the train lurches to a stop. She hugs Amy for as long as she can before the doors begin to close. Amy feels stupid, watching Megan’s figure make for the exit.

Amy realizes she’s a bit tipsier than she originally thought by the way the rapid passing of the window panes makes her head spin. It’s like a deliberate film strip, steady but building speed. Megan’s body streams through the platform in time with the tram as they pull away. Megan’s face isn’t hard to see, smiling bright against the dark coats of the crowd, the seeped ink of the ad boards behind the waiting benches.

When Amy deadbolts her apartment door, she feels like she's sinking into a haze. That night, home alone, Amy slips. She doesn’t understand why she can’t turn away from her reflection in the mirror. But she sees that refracted look in her own eyes like something sinful, always lurking in a shapeless place in her mind. Dragging the floss heavily across her gums, Amy can’t summon anything.

She’s a blank slate, when the weave turns red; she divorces herself from the ties to an exterior world, a displaced center of loci. And that feels, not good, but important. A discreet instance of power over the surface tension, maybe. Transcendence in its purest, egoless form, some will say, is intoxicating. It rocks Amy to sleep, phone beeping in her hand with an unread message from Megan.

+

Friday takes the wind out of Amy. She takes the girls to the children’s museum in the late afternoon. Initially, as she’s corralling them both in the miniature grocery store, she regrets her decision. But, ultimately, when they both nod off after dinner, Amy knows it was the right choice for the week’s end. Christie’s husband is away for a training camp, so when Christie comes home, it’s from dinner and drinks with some colleagues. So she’s incredibly thankful that Amy tuckered the girls out, and sends Amy home with a bottle of wine from their cellar.

It’s still on her desk when Amy wakes up on Saturday morning, twenty minutes before her alarm. Becky’s already texted her though, so Amy knows she’s not the only one with nerves about the game. Liz shows up to the home gym with two coffees in her hand. She passes one to Amy, and then silently settles into the bleachers right behind the team’s bench.

In an unfortunate chain of missed phone calls and message-relaying from other parents, Amy finds out that the team’s leading point guard came down with the flu. There’s nothing Amy can do but put her alternate in the starting five and cross her fingers. It works, in the long run, because, even though they have a tense final five minutes, the Lightning sneak by with the win. The other team isn’t terribly upset to be knocked out the tournament; Amy can tell just by shaking hands with their haggard coach.

“I think Kaitlin got a double-double,” Becky says to Amy as she’s stuffing the scorebook into the mesh bag.

“I’ll look at the notes today,” she affirms. “I feel like it would have been more apparent in the score,” Amy mumbles.

“Lunch?” Liz asks when she approaches. Becky pats the passing shoulder of a player leaving with her family.

“I’ve actually got to, uh, get on home,” Becky excuses.

“Oh,” Liz tries to hide her curiosity.

“Yeah, but, you know. Next time,” Becky says.

“Sure,” Amy agrees, like she shouldn’t have to.

Becky feels awkward, that’s apparent, and slinks away with a weird, terse smile.

“Good game. I’ll, uh, talk to you before next practice,” Becky bids to Amy, squeezing her shoulder as she withdraws.

Liz suggests burritos, so they get them to-go and set up in Amy’s living room. Even though they’re on the same couch, Amy can feel the measured distance. It’s cool, easy like studying in the annex. They get through two episodes before Alex whisks into the living room.

“I knew I smelled something delicious!” Alex accuses.

They kick around in the living room, not really watching TV, until Alex realizes how close it is to 3pm—when she needs to leave for all-evening rehearsal. Amy’s a sucker, of course, because she makes Alex both a turkey wrap for her train ride and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for her break. Liz does Alex’s hair into a tight bun in a strange display of affection and skill. Amy folds the paper bag precisely, biting her bottom lip.

It feels entirely too domestic to stand with Liz while they send Alex out the door and onto practice. Not much would ebb the terrifying implications from Amy’s mind, but it turns out that a picture message from Megan is one of those things. The photo is Megan’s chest; the crisp lines of her button-up shirt press together with a purple bowtie nestled under the collar.

“Banquet ready?” the text reads below the picture.

The question is vague, but Amy knows that her heartbeat changes because of it.

“Looking good,” Amy types back.

It’s like Liz can sense the change in the atmosphere. Somehow, Alex’s presence, even when undetected, made their solitude safer. Now, without the buffer, it feels too intimate. Like too much is at stake. Liz leaves around 4, when Megan’s sending Amy a play-by-play text stream of the idiotic conversation of her video-gaming roommates. Amy thanks Liz for coming to the game, deadbolts the door behind her.

Alone on the couch, Amy hauls her legs up so she stretches across all the cushions. She opens the picture of Megan again, takes note of the soft, pale skin and how she wants to taste her there. She reaches down to unbutton her jeans, and, like an excuse, her hand lingers at her zipper. Slipping beneath the waistband, Amy’s hand doesn’t tremble. The security of the door, the sudden quiet of an empty apartment—it all contributes to how her muscles relax, how her legs flop open easily.

It’s insane, Amy thinks, how indulgent her mind can be when she lets it. She hasn’t thought about sex with Megan yet, like this. She hasn’t played it out in her mind so wantonly. Amy thinks about Megan’s hips, reinvigorates the memory of their torsos rubbing together. The angle of her flexor, the dip below her bellybutton, all the distances Amy makes a note to measure; she supplies herself with test numbers, trial images. And they take Amy there, jerky and coming by her own hand. Even though Megan’s face is out of frame, Amy still feels watched as she rouses the screen alive again and the picture greets her.

Maybe she’s feeling guilty, or just lazy, but either way, Amy stands up, resolute, and decides to make something of the afternoon. The texts continue, so Amy can track Megan from her commute to arrival at the community center for the fundraiser.

“I’m getting assigned a station. I think it involves placards,” Megan informs her. Amy’s elbow-deep in 409, scrubbing the bathtub, so she doesn’t have too much to say, after the fact.

“Best not to mess with seating arrangements,” Amy advises.

“Advice I could have used before I was forcibly reallocated to napkin folding,” Megan commiserates.

“I don’t understand how you’re being helpful,” Amy types back.

“Please, I’m here to drive up the silent auction bids,” Megan excuses.

Amy gets an interesting slew of overheard snippets of conversation from the early-arriving banquet attendees while she’s sweeping the hallway. Megan sends an update on some auction prizes, and drama with the volunteer staff regarding aforementioned seating chart. Amy wipes down the kitchen counters and cleans the microwave. She gets the sense that the cleaning kick is some kind of subconscious preparation. It’s like she’s expressing an underlying desire that she realizes, ostensibly, as nerves. Even though she woke up so early, her adrenaline beats hard like Megan’s already in her bed, already unsheathed around her.

Around 10, after a short radio silence, she gets a more direct text from Megan:

“So when are you going to crash this party?”

Megan’s standing alone on the sidewalk outside of the community center when Amy approaches. It’s not their home gym, but it’s a familiar neighborhood—mostly due to its proximity to a slew of bars glimmering in the distance. Megan’s as dapper as Amy expected despite the bitter cold. Her black loafers pop against the grey sidewalk, their soles coated in a neon, purple color. Her trousers are slim-legged, flattering as they draw the eye up to Megan’s slender frame. Her coat hides the dress shirt, but Amy can’t mistake that bright purple bow tie resting at Megan’s thin neck.

And the smile, ever warm, cracks long before Megan’s catching Amy’s lips there in the yellow light from the streetlamps.

Megan holds Amy’s hand and motions for her to follow. Amy gets a peculiar grin thinking of Megan’s fingers on her own, as if the pleasure from earlier was still evident, still radiating from her. They walk through the main hall, decidedly away from the noise of the banquet.

“Are you, uh, finished in there?” Amy asks, more like a joke.

“They won’t miss me,” Megan says.

“You’re always running away from volunteer opportunities for me,” Amy notes.

Megan turns the corner, towards a pair of doors that look more like an emergency exit than an entrance to anywhere. But Megan depresses the bar like she’s been there before. They get inside the dark space and Megan drops Amy’s hand. When Megan locates the light, and the industrial fluorescents kick on in that dim, twilight way, Amy realizes that Megan has been there before, definitely for planning purposes.

Megan stands just a few feet in front of Amy, arms out, presenting the half court like a prize.

“Thought we could play a little game,” Megan offers.

Amy tongues her teeth deviously behind a smile. She blinks hard, realizes she’ll have to cooperate.

“With what?”

Megan makes a quick move around Amy, towards a set of squat bleachers. She bends down and procures a basketball from a hidden spot under a row. The ball bounces spritely, all inflated.

“Should I ask?” Amy dares. Megan strips off her coat and tosses it on the bleacher. Amy follows suit, openly leering at Megan’s chest in the crisp white button-up.

“Only if you want to hear how good I am at picking locks. Especially when the coach leaves them unlocked after practice,” Megan jokes. She tucks the ball under her arm and crowds Amy’s space like she’s going in for her lips. Instead, Megan makes a quick turn and shuffles towards the basket, pointedly not dribbling the ball. She lobs up a shot, and misses.

“You’re dead if we get caught on the court while you’re in those shoes,” Amy warns. Megan gets her own rebound, poises a chest-pass.

“You might think you’re talking sense, but all I’m hearing are excuses,” Megan taunts.

Amy laughs, a short burst. She steps forward, less timid and more cautionary. She holds her hands out for the ball.

“What’s the game?” she asks.

Megan flips the ball the few feet across the court.

“I ask a question, you take a shot. Miss it and you have to answer,” Megan poises.

“And when I make it?” Amy turns.

Megan’s eyes sparkle when she smiles; she can detect the mounting confidence and it makes Amy’s stomach drop.

IF you make it, then it’s my turn. And you get to ask until I make one,” Megan clarifies.

“Okay,” Amy says. Her voice breaks just above a whisper.

They’re at the three point line, relatively askew to the basket. Amy lets the ball drop in a slow, initial dribble.

“Well?” Amy asks, bouncing the ball slowly.

“Have you ever kissed a boy?” Megan starts off, boldly.

Amy snickers, blinks away a response. She takes a small step back, eyes up and judging the distance to the net. Megan puts her hands up, waves them messily. Amy dodges Megan’s lunge, steps to the side as she shelves the ball above her head and into the air.

She makes it, ridiculously.

“Shit,” Megan mutters aloud.

“So, I don’t have to answer,” Amy asserts.

“I mean, I still want to know,” Megan says. She jogs to the ball and sweeps it up into her arms. She makes her way to the free-throw line, dribbling robotically. Amy faces her, holds her arms wide.

“No,” Amy says simply.

“Okay,” Megan says, maintaining the tenuous rhythm.

“Have you ever kissed Lori?” Amy counters.

It’s an air ball. Megan puts her head down, and it’s still down when Amy turns around with the ball.

“Yeah,” Megan admits.

Amy checks the ball back to Megan.

“When?” is Amy’s next question.

Megan breaks away, takes the newness of the game to her advantage. She banks an uncontested but formless layup.

“Yes,” Megan pumps her fist. She leaves the ball bouncing alone, falling to the ground. “Now you’ll never know.” Amy scoffs, playfully. She jogs to the ball and returns to the three-point line.

“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me, eventually,” Amy leads.

Megan grins. She pulls at the material on her thighs so she can spread her legs a little bit wider.

“Does Alex know about me and Abby?” Megan asks.

Amy’s silent. She puts up a shot but it’s not lined up right. It bounces off the rim. Megan turns for the rebound, like giving Amy the space to respond heightens the sincerity of the game.

“Possibly,” Amy shrugs. “No from me but uh, maybe from Abby.” Amy voice dies off there, like she’s trying to remain impartial.

“Yeah,” Megan says, filling the quiet air. She bounces the ball to Amy in a display of fairness, showing her consideration above all else.

Amy’s grateful, suddenly, for how easily Megan can let things go.

“When did you stop playing?”

Megan’s question is vague, but Amy knows what she’s getting at. Amy takes a couple seconds to dribble, so Megan puts up her hands. It strikes Amy then, the physical manifestation of their repertoire. It’s stunningly sweet, how Megan holds her arms up like she’s defending against Amy’s ego, coaxing her out of her shell like Amy won’t appreciate the risk until she fails on her own.

The shot’s still off.

“Junior year of college,” Amy answers, more immediately than she plans. Megan blinks in her direction, looks honestly at Amy’s stoic face. “I had to take a mental health leave,” Amy braves. She leaves it out there, unexplained. Megan turns for the ball.

It’s in Amy’s hands when Megan responds.

“What happened?” Megan’s voice is low and soothing.

Megan gets a hand on the shot and deflects it just right. She stands still when her feet land, like she’s unsure how Amy will react. Amy steps to the side, goes for the rebound herself.

“My routine changed. My best friend studied abroad. My counseling class was really demanding. I guess I kind of,” Amy pauses, breathes, “lost my footing.”

“Becky?” Megan responds. Amy bounce-passes the ball, checking.

“Yeah,” Amy admits. “She knew, knows, me well enough to notice how far off track I’d gotten.”

“She’s hard to hide from,” Megan observes. Amy walks back up the key.

“I was hiding from a lot on the court,” Amy quips, self-aware yet sure.

“When did you know you liked women?” Megan asks, then passes the ball back.

Amy flicks up a perfectly arcing ball; it drops easily through the hoop.

“Yes,” Amy hisses, smiling once again.

Megan gets the ball and resumes her dribbling.

“Not gonna tell me then?” Megan asks.

“That’s part of the game,” Amy says, simply.

Megan laughs through her teeth, rolls her eyes. She taps her foot on the three point line, trying to draw Amy closer as she measures her potential shots.

“Why aren’t you applying for dental school?” Amy asks.

The ball doesn’t stop bouncing, but Amy can detect the slightest hesitation in the way Megan curls her wrist around the ball.

Megan’s objective is to get as close to the basket at possible, as to reduce the likelihood of a random burst of wind or any similarly mid-air interference. It means turning, putting her body between Amy and the ball. Megan acts out of imitation more than skill, pushes her ass back against Amy’s front. Her shoes scuff, make a sharp sound as they drag across the wood. But Amy stays close, keeps her hands up like a wide parenthesis around Megan’s body.

Megan gets too close to the baseline, almost out of bounds, so the shot ricochets off the corner of the backboard.

“I’m not ready to go,” Megan volunteers. “I don’t know if I want to stare into the void for my whole career,” Megan adds dramatically.

Amy nods, appraising the slant to Megan’s shoulders. Megan tugs on her collar; Amy can imagine the bowtie is beginning to bug Megan’s throat with the heat building up around her neckline.

She meets Megan with the ball back at the three point line. Amy holds it, tantalizingly, at her chest.

“Biggest fantasy,” Amy levels. The way her phrase twists between them gives Amy a renewed flutter in her chest. Somehow the seriousness and the curiosity mingle to form the perfect wave of seduction. And it washes over Megan too, as evident by the warm, red color to her face.

The body-to-body contact is reckless, somehow unhinged and raw despite the clothes between them. Amy would probably be called for a foul, but there’s no one there to judge. Megan’s shot isn’t even close, anyway.

“Honestly, my biggest fantasy right now is you,” Megan croaks. Amy lets the ball fall dejected.

She’s being coy when she gets right in Megan’s space. Amy tucks her fingers in the expanse between the buttons, just below her bust. Megan must be insane, to go without an undershirt in such a cold snap. But Amy’s fingers touch the skin there, surprisingly, and she’s almost simmering. Her body’s insulated by the fabric; the gym’s high ceiling hogs the atmospheric warmth. There’s a slim chance of a bra that brushes across Amy’s fingers when she wiggles them. It’s very erotic, the intrusion so deceptively innocent.

Megan responds by lifting her hand to the nape of Amy’s neck. She gets a loose hold on a few thin strands of hair, but she doesn’t need the steadiness.

Their kiss is a whirlwind, desperate and urging. Amy pulses with desire, drawing closer to Megan. Megan maneuvers their bodies, clumsily, to the lowest bench of the bleachers, right by their discarded coats. Her own brazen wanting surprises Amy, but she finds herself climbing on Megan’s lap. The plastic surface is far from easy on her knees, yet she finds support by leaning her weight forward and fully into Megan’s lap.

And it’s possibly a little too much, because Amy has just enough time to snap her wrists to catch their fall backwards. Somehow, she gets an arm awkwardly between Megan’s spine and the hard surface to minimize the pain for both of them.

Amy pinches the two bowed loops of the purple bowtie between her forefinger and thumb. Megan preens towards Amy, cranes her neck so that the skin there stretches taut and tempting.

“I’m tired of the fantasy,” Megan delivers, just a few spare inches between their mouths.

 

-

 

Even though they’re out of breath, they kiss in the hall. Amy’s head rushes, dizzying in a dangerous way. Megan pushes her forward with her body, urges Amy closer towards the apartment. Amy can feel it, the certainty of their mutual desire pulsing between their bodies. Every touch seems leaden, so purposeful and striking.

Amy’s surprised at her own smoothness. The ease, with which her key slides into the lock should be deceiving, should be suspicious. Megan’s grabbing at Amy’s hips, shuffling in behind her. They make it past the threshold, but not much further. Amy digs in her heels, stops dead at the sight in the living room.

Amy is sure it’s Alex on top, with the waterfall of her hair curling down her back. She’s straddling someone on the couch, rolling her hips obscenely. Alex’s shirt is roused up, bare legs snaking out from underneath.

She stills, more due to Abby pushing her off of her lap. Abby holds one hand between them delicately, like evidence of her sins.

Alex turns, too exaggerated though. There’s a sickening loll to her neck, pupils constricted with heavy lids. She crumbles into a pile near the armrest, but her legs stay splayed over Abby’s jeans.

“Shit,” Amy hisses.

“What the fuck?” Megan jumps in.

“Fuck,” Abby curses, pulls a hand through her hair.

Alex remains silent, crestfallen at least. She doesn’t seem to mind that she’s flashing everyone, her panties are a shock of pink around her thigh. Amy crosses the living room in a rush.

But Abby’s closer, anticipates Amy’s movement. She grabs Alex’s wrist.

“You want to come home with me?” Abby asks Alex, quickly.

“Absolutely not,” Megan bites. She doesn’t give Alex a chance to answer.

Amy looms over the couch, barely a foot away but still afraid to reach out. Alex and Abby share a look in which Alex shifts her hips devilishly. Her hand is still caught up in Abby’s.

“Whatever,” Alex says, drowsily.

She lifts her shoulders as if to shrug, but it turns into a deliberate roll of her sockets. Abby’s hand retreats up Alex’s arm.

“Get the fuck out already,” Megan shoots.

“Calm down,” Abby mutters, standing.

Alex’s legs clomp to the cushions and Amy’s kneeling on the floor next to her the moment after.

“Calm down like Alex is calmed down? You think that’s a good idea?” Megan retorts, sarcasm and accusation thick.

“S’ not like that,” Abby grunts, rolls her eyes.

Alex’s hair is a wreck, so Amy tries to gather it to the side. Alex is watching the confrontation, but her eyes are glassy, skimming over the middle distance.

“What’s it fucking like then?” Megan raises her chin, gets in Abby’s space, “Try and tell me she’s sober.”

“She’s a goddamn adult. Doesn’t need your fucking protection,” Abby spits.

“Because you’re protecting her, right? Taking advantage of--” Megan’s interrupted.

Amy turns with just enough time to see Abby shove Megan’s shoulders.

“Shut your fucking mouth,” Abby grits.

Megan stumbles back, just a bit, but snaps her own arms at the elbow to challenge Abby’s weight. Alex is no help, stupefied. Amy stands quickly; her voice is sharper than she expects.

“Stop it, now,” she stresses the last word.

Abby backs off, hands in the air incredulously.

“Don’t try to pin this like it’s all on me. We’ve been talking. She’s fine,” Abby’s voice rises.

“She’s not fucking fine,” Megan starts.

Abby opens her mouth to argue, gets a few muffled words out. Alex gradually stiffens, like she wants to say something. But Amy puts her hands up, palms to Abby’s face.

“Just leave,” Amy pipes up.

Abby pivots on her right foot, shoots Amy a suddenly complaisant look.

“Hey, Ames, come on. You know me,” Abby pleads.

Even Alex hangs on Amy’s response. Amy realizes her arms are splayed behind her, angled out like wings in front of Alex. The body has an uncanny way of acting without words, of anticipating how the brain needs it’s vessel to behave. It’s a bizarre turn, Abby’s appeal to Amy. Maybe because Amy never considered herself a matriarch but it’s so obvious now, so clear that Amy’s constantly guarding, continuously holding her hands high in the air before the things she loves. Megan’s pulsing, tense like a rubber band. Amy gulps, bites hard on her lips in a satisfying display of anxiety.

“You,” Amy hesitates, “You should just leave,” she’s so quiet, almost trembling. Everyone can see, she’s sure, the way her biceps quiver at the release of her own words.

“Alright,” Abby concedes, her hands up.

The room is eerily quiet as Abby folds into her pea coat. She looks down when she passes Megan, who has her chest puffed out in a stable stance. Abby says goodnight on her way out the front door, like an afterthought.

“G’night,” Alex says from the couch, voice cracking.

Megan’s neck swivels down to Alex the moment the door closes. Amy stands there, self-evident, with her back to Alex as her arms drift down, towards her sides.

“You should take a shower,” Megan asserts.

“You think?” Alex asks.

Amy turns to her roommate, finally. Alex lifts her hair with a limp wrist, like she’s inspecting the ends. Her legs have closed, since, but it’s so obvious that her panties are half-on, still clinging to her thigh far below the hemline of her shirt.

“Yes,” Amy says, “You’ll feel better.”

“I already feel fine,” Alex argues without conviction.

“Tomorrow,” Amy adds.

Amy offers her hands to Alex, who takes them coolly. Amy takes her by the elbow to lead her down the hall. Alex isn’t very graceful, but she manages to kick her panties towards her door as she turns into the bathroom.

“Cute,” Amy notes.

“Hidden talent number four-hundred and twelve,” Alex slurs.

“I’m gonna leave the door cracked,” Amy says.

On her way out, she hears the whoosh of Alex’s shirt being shucked and the creak of the building’s pipes when Alex loosens the faucet.

Amy huddles around the doorway, waits for the metallic scratch of a closing curtain before she shuffles to the living room. Amy checks her cell phone for the time, realizes it doesn’t matter as much as it should. Megan’s perched, with a worried look on her face, in the armchair.

“I’m sorry,” Megan says as soon as she hears Amy’s approach.

“For what?”

“Losing my cool,” Megan turns, grips the armrest, “I just, uh, wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” she explains. Her eyes are wide like maybe she’s alarmed, or just confused.

Amy nods, scratches at her bangs.

“Me either,” Amy tries.

Amy turns to the couch, gives it a once-over. She pulls the tangled throw blanket from between the cushions. Megan shoots up then, sweeps the opposite corners of the knit from the floor. It takes a second to straighten out the direction, but when they come together in the middle, Megan lines up just right.

She lets Amy drape the blanket over the couch before grasping her into a hug. Amy sighs, squeezes back. She runs her tongue over her gums, self-consciously.

“I still want you to stay over,” Amy whispers.

“Okay,” Megan whispers back.

They stand in the living room holding each other, Megan’s hands on Amy’s sides, until the shower cuts off with a loud squeak.

“You get the water and I’ll get the girl,” Amy says.

“The girl from the water,” Megan clarifies.

Her hand slopes down Amy’s torso; she triggers a rolling wave through Amy’s body.

“Yeah,” Amy breathes.

Alex towels off in the bathroom quietly while Amy waits in hall. She emerges naked, hair still dripping. Amy tries to be subtle, keeps her gaze above the shoulders by blinking furiously. Alex slides past her with the slightest body contact in the narrow hall. Amy fishes the towel from the floor and attempts to hang it on Alex’s shoulders. Alex wipes it off, but lets Amy pat her hair dry.

Amy feels like the background servants in Versaille, wordlessly grooming a dreamy Marie Antoinette. Alex has an austere quality to her, a royal tilt to her nose. She pulls back her bedcovers, still nude, and climbs in. Except she doesn’t lie down.

“There’s a brush on the desk,” Alex lifts her chin.

Amy folds the handle in her palm. It’s nice, expensive, evenly weighted. It glides like silk through Alex’s hair. Amy’s gentle, doesn’t test Alex’s tenderness. The tangles loosen under Amy’s hand. She coaxes broad handfuls of hair over her palm and through the bristles. She catches Alex’s neck a couple times with her hands. She wants to think Alex preens towards the touches because of the pills, the rush of chemicals in her blood blurring her own boundaries.

It doesn’t matter though. Alex can hardly keep her head up much longer. Amy circles over the bed as Alex’s skin disappears under the Pima.

“Delivery,” Megan says, at the door.

She’s got three glasses balanced precariously in her hands. Amy takes the one in front, the unsecured one, and lowers it to Alex’s nightstand. Megan heads out, smiles briefly at Amy.

“You’re all set,” Amy says.

“Thank you,” Alex says, eyes closed, “I’m not mad at you for getting burritos without me,” Alex adds.

It takes Amy a second to understand, then another two to realize it’s a joke.

“We’ll talk about it in the morning,” Amy jokes.

“Good night,” Alex wishes.

She rolls over; Amy turns off the light. Amy says it back in the darkness.

“What’d she say?” Megan asks, leaning against Amy’s door.

Amy shrugs, pivots into the bathroom to wash her face.

“Nothing really,” Amy explains.

She waits for the water to warm before cupping handfuls onto her face. Megan stands by, waits.

“I’m glad we showed up when we did,” Megan admits. Her voice is small, weaker than Amy’s ever heard. Megan palms the small of Amy’s back.

“I guess,” she muffles into the hand towel she presses to her face.

Amy’s somewhat cautious of Megan watching her, but she reaches into the medicine cabinet for the floss.

“Do you,” Megan lowers her voice, “You know what she took? Did she say?”

“I can guess,” Amy says as best as she can with the floss around her bicuspid.

“So it’s like, a regular thing?” Megan pries.

Amy lowers her fists, feels like a boxer conceding. Her gums itch, but she feels like she has to make a point.

“She takes things, yeah,” Amy says, more to the mirror.

Megan doesn’t let her hide though, meets her eyes in the glass.

“But not like that,” Megan hangs her sentence there

“No,” Amy resigns.

Megan picks at her fingernails, gives Amy the slightest hint of privacy in her downcast vision. Amy brushes her teeth quickly, staring at the white foam as it disappears down the drain. She fishes another brush, still in the packaging, for Megan from the cabinet.

While Megan’s in the bathroom, Amy does her rituals around the front of the apartment. She locks the door and closes the living room curtains. It feels a little bit like surveying the damage, noting the way the foundation has been shaken. She knows she’ll walk with baited breath for a little while, at least until she can be reassured into stability and, maybe, ecstasy. Megan’s standing in the dead center of Amy’s room when she gets there. She’s got her loafers off already, socks stuffed into the empty shoe. The bowtie is crooked now, unkempt.

Amy just watches, because it’s what Megan wants. Megan undoes the tie—it’s a clip-on, who would’ve guessed—and throws open the topmost button with a huge gulp of air like she’s surfacing.

“Come here,” Megan beckons.

Amy does. Megan wraps her arms around Amy’s ribs.

“Sorry,” Amy whispers. She flattens her cheek on Megan’s shoulder. “Stupid theater kids,” she mumbles.

Megan chuckles from her diaphragm, heaving into Amy’s chest.

“All about the drama,” Megan commiserates.

She runs her hands over Amy’s back, pressing firmly across her spinal cord. Amy rolls into it; her elbows lock up when Megan hits a bundle of tension. She hisses; Megan pulls back.

“I’ll, I can…” Megan offers.

“Okay,” Amy releases her grip.

She turns, wordlessly. Amy drops their contact when she climbs onto her bed, but Megan’s not far behind, cracking her knuckles in preparation.

Amy flattens out, turns her head towards the wall. Megan starts to touch her, kneads her thumbs along the muscles. She’s warm, through the t-shirt, and Megan’s fingers drag the fabric without concern. Megan uses her left hand too much, compensating for their perpendicular tilt. The angle’s all wrong, makes her wrist hurt.

“Steady,” Megan says, like a warning.

She’s sitting on Amy’s butt before there’s time to question. Her legs support her slightly, but the weight of their bodies together gives her the most purchase. It’s a strangely intimate pose, playful yet grave. It does give Megan a better approach.

Megan’s actually quite good at massages, has the right tenacity and weight to her motions. Amy feels like putty in her hands, feels the heat transfer sparking with each touch. Megan’s hands slide under the fabric, smooth over the warm skin of Amy’s sides. She still presses her thumbs along Amy’s lower back, but it’s more distracted, less intended to satisfy.

She lifts the shirt more, gives Amy’s lower back all the naked attention. The light is still on, but Amy’s eyes are closed shut. Not out of fear, maybe, but something like acquiescence. Megan moves upward, stops when her hands ghost over Amy’s bra. The band is a soft jersey; something simple and thin. Amy feels her stomach drop, her hips tingle. She’s aware of Megan’s thighs, the pull from Megan’s dress pants across Amy’s ass.

Megan drops down, presses her front into Amy’s body. Megan tucks her chin into Amy’s neck, kisses the back of her ear, her hairline, feather-light. With Amy’s back half-exposed, the cool press of the buttons cuts harshly against her skin.

“Fuck,” Megan whispers. It’s so quiet but Amy’s right there; she feels it.

Amy hums, but it turns to a silent moan when Megan rocks her hips. Amy can tell Megan’s on fire, can feel her restraint thinning. It’s a little bit like dancing, like swaying together, but with gravity’s help, not hindrance.

“God,” Megan growls, “Your body,” Megan says, like she’s in awe.

“Yeah,” Amy settles, eyes pressed shut.

Megan’s knees are sinking into the bed, straining her muscles. She still humps into Amy as she dismounts, gracelessly. They’ve done this before; Megan’s body fits into Amy’s curves without adjusting much, back-to-front. Megan puts her hand on Amy’s naked hip; her palm rests on the crease between Amy’s jeans and her skin.

Megan trails her mouth over the delicate slope of Amy’s neck. She flutters over her short hairs there, the expanse of tender flesh exposed. Amy’s focusing her mind, trying to balance the sensations of Megan’s velvet lips and the heated hand against her skin. She knows she’s boiling, but her stomach tenses like she’s jumped into ice when Megan kisses the shell of her ear. Megan slides her hand across Amy’s stomach, so bold, and spreads her fingers out over her abs.

Megan lands a solid kiss to Amy’s temple. Her hand is there, skimming. Amy feels the resistance solidifying, the practiced angle at which Megan’s elbow stills. She knows it’s going to stop.

“Everything, earlier,” Megan swallows, unable to make sense of it all, “I don’t want to disappoint you, now.”

“I know,” Amy concedes. She wraps her fingers around Megan’s.

“Are you mad?” Megan whispers.

“No,” Amy levels. She pulls Megan’s arm around her, tighter.

“I’m-,” Megan hesitates, “I love what I have. With you.”

Amy’s so grateful that she’s got her back to Megan. Even though she knows Megan can trace her outline, can see her silhouette change with the smile, she still makes herself breathe, count to five, and then muster her words.

“I love what I have with you too,” Amy admits.

Megan smiles, a trace of insecurity bubbling under. The silence settles, beautifully.

“I know you don’t sleep in these,” Megan thumbs Amy’s fly.

“No,” Amy sings.

“Wanna?” Megan mumbles on Amy’s skin.

“Well, yeah,” Amy answers like it’s obvious.

Getting out of their clothes isn’t so difficult. It feels good for Amy, like she’s been incubating something sour between her shoulders. It’s satisfying in that way that she knows will have to suffice for the evening, stripping off Megan’s shirt and bowtie. She climbs off the bed, t shirt skimming barely past her panties.

“Do you want a shirt?” Amy offers, nodding at Megan in her bra and underwear.

“Not really,” Megan says, honestly. She reaches behind herself, undoes the clasp while maintaining eye contact. Amy’s been waiting, stupidly, for this sight for the longest time but it pains her that it’s simultaneously everything she wanted and nothing she can have.

Megan’s breasts bounce forward in a gracious, gorgeous wave that shores on her chest. They’re perfect, delicate handfuls that Amy knows she’ll admire, knows she’ll want to palm. Amy, overcome with a strange shyness, averts her eyes when she snakes out of her own bra from under her shirt. Then she goes to switch off the light. Megan takes a drag of her water glass from the bedside table.

“Ready?” Amy asks, about to flip.

Megan stalls in the false light, clings to the last stills of Amy’s stripped frame.

“Absolutely,” says Megan.

And maybe Amy is imagining things, relying on the templates in her brain to supply the illusion of memory, but she swears can still see Megan in the dark. Like some like of incandescent visage, her face beams across the distant sea of Amy’s loneliness. Maybe allowing Megan’s aura to light her edges could erase the illusions of isolation, could push back a border she never considered fallible. It becomes much closer just then, the idea of happiness. It seems, at least for Amy, surmountable.

Amy gets lost in the rolling cotton, the crests of Megan’s bare breasts pressing through, crashing into Amy’s shoulders. Amy only thinks about her lips as they felt with Megan’s against them. It’s the first time she’s, consciously, felt so at peace. That night, falling asleep feels natural—sinking and free.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Amy discovers she has pancake mix, but no milk. She bundles up with Megan and shuffles to the nearest corner market for a gallon. The sky is metallic grey and threatening; Megan squints looking upward as they wait for the crosswalk to clear. It’s a four block walk to the store and back, but Megan’s cheeks are still red when the elevator doors close. Megan smiles, open-mouthed in a crazy kind of way. It’s not that Amy can’t laugh in the morning, but it’s not usually that effortless.

When she unlocks the door, she’s surprised to see Alex in the kitchen, making a sandwich. They exchange hellos, the three of them, but Alex already has her bag at her feet. She’s out the door without much else. It’s not rude, just brief. Amy can’t cull anything from the exchange, and she knows there won’t be another for some immeasurable time.

“Some people go to church, some people go to theatre,” is what Megan has to say about that.

There’s a sweet moment of reckoning though, when Amy sets the milk in the fridge. Megan hesitates, like maybe she thought pancakes would be coming next. The fridge door closes, but only after Amy’s crowded into Megan’s space, landing her lips square on Megan’s mouth. Megan blooms, wraps her arms around Amy. The kiss gets deeper, doesn't break or pause like Amy’s half-expecting. But there’s a lovely, pervasive freedom, with the apartment all to themselves, when they carry over their dropped momentum from the night before, like the lust becomes unearthed again.

Their coats are suffocating; they are shed like exoskeletons to the floor. Amy’s vibrating inside her clothes; her body crawls with goose-bumps and her blood throbs recklessly under her skin. Amy walks backwards as she lets Megan take her turn delving into the soil. It’s a willful combination of familiarity and balance, but Amy backs into her room as seductively as she can while preserving the echoed twang of their kiss.

Megan gets Amy’s shirt off first. Amy stalls for a second, a quick hibernation, as Megan’s letting the fabric slip from her hands to the floor. The change is clear on Megan’s face; Amy may be rusty but she knows when she’s being adulated. Megan dives for the bra too, because it’s just another layer she needs to shed.

Amy’s completely topless, still in her shoes and sweats, like some strapping, dynamic statue. Megan moves her fingers to the bare skin around Amy’s waist. She can feel Amy’s deep breaths rattling within, singing out into the room. The door’s open, the apartment is empty; it’s their heat to trap inside.

Megan grows impatient and takes her own shirt and bra off. It feels different, beholding each other in the same light of Amy’s bedroom. Somehow the angles have shifted; it’s so early but Amy feels absolutely alive. Amy’s pants are next and they’re both in only their panties before they make eye contact again. Megan bites her bottom lip, tucks a thumb under the lace at her waist. It’s as inviting as hell and Amy can feel herself tightening at the jaw, making note of the square inches inside her mouth as they surge with want, with a sensory hunger.

Amy’s bed is pushed against the wall to get the most floor space, but they don’t need any of it as Megan sits firmly on the edge of the bed and pulls Amy down onto her lap. A wave of chill shivers, inspired by Megan’s cold hands, ripples through Amy’s back. Her muscles flex and slack with each crescendo of movement.

“Wow,” Megan mouths against Amy’s breastbone. Amy puts her hands on the broad of Megan’s bony shoulders. They’re a taciturn kind of tense, like Megan can barely contain herself.

Amy ends up on top of Megan, legs splayed around Megan’s hips. The angle’s awkward, especially with the addition of Megan’s hand rubbing circles at Amy’s crotch.

“What do you like?” Megan tries her voice and it rings with a different level of intimacy.

Amy breathes a short laugh. Megan presses her fingers firmer, insisting.

“That’s, yeah, a good start,” Amy says.

“Then I’ll start here,” Megan emphasizes.

She moves the underwear aside and slides her finger between Amy’s folds. Amy doesn't close her eyes, but that doesn’t mean she can see. Megan’s touch is bold, almost expert in the quick way that she discovers how Amy likes to be stroked, pleasured. Amy’s legs are strong, but they can barely keep her steady as she arches into Megan’s touch like a clever defensive block.

“Oh,” is all Amy can manage at first. And then, she feels herself loosening into a mindset she’d been precariously pushing to the back of her mind. She doesn’t want to think in linear ways, ways that enumerate the reasons Amy’s been aching to be touched like that, ways that remind her of firsts and lasts and, maybe, ways that make her want to be irrevocably, unabashedly, here in the present.

“Oh my god,” is where Amy ends up.

-

Amy has a square flat-pan, so her pancakes are triangle-shaped as she drops the batter into opposite corners. Megan doesn’t care so much, because Amy’s sprinkling chocolate chips into them too.

“You might actually be perfect,” Megan says, wrapping her arms around Amy from behind. Amy’s hands smell like handsoap and Bisquick, washed of any traces of reciprocation.

“Might?” Amy repeats incredulously.

When she flips the pancakes, they are the perfect shade of toasted brown.

“Oh my god, you are perfect,” Megan revises.

“That’s what I like to hear,” Amy settles cockily. “Will you get the butter out to soften?” she asks Megan.

“I’m going to have to show you my kitchen skills too,” Megan says as she retrieves the dish.

“I like it more when you take me out, buy me stuff,” Amy intones heavy with a joke. She flips the pancakes one last time before setting them to cool on one plate. She drops two more pools of batter in the pan.

“You are better suited to make a loving home, I guess,” Megan agrees.

“Actually, I’m going to have to tell you about a little arrangement that I have with Alex,” Amy leads with a smile, genuine and easy.

+

Since the tournament is single elimination, the games have been scheduled in a compressed format. With their next game landing on Wednesday, Amy’s vigilant about giving the girls an intense, focused practice for the two days prior. On Monday, the team executes the drills they’ve mastered in practice, but seem to lack a certain confidence in their play. The full squad is back, and Becky’s visibly on edge, worrying that the others might be getting sick. The team has no fire in their step, all stuttering shuffles and defensive hands held at half-mast.

That’s why, on Monday, Amy makes the girls do suicides at the end of practice. She gives them 45 seconds to rest after the first set, but at the sight of their low, furrowed brows, she lines up with the team at the baseline. Becky joins too, silently, at the other side of the court. They run the next four sets with the team, so really they get about a minute to rest in between sprints.

The gesture must make a profound impact on the girls, because Tuesday’s practice is smooth and encouraging. Each player works seamlessly with her peers, like fantastic, moveable parts in a well-oiled machine. Amy’s buzzing by the end of the practice, so she makes the girls do some suicides again, just so Amy can run off a little energy with them.

Becky doesn’t join in though, just practices dribbling through her widespread legs behind the basket. Amy doesn’t think much of it, because she has to debrief the players and parents on the special game circumstances.

When the team breaks, Becky’s grinning, ear-to-ear.

“Do I look okay?” Becky asks off-handedly. She releases the cones into the mesh bag that Amy’s holding open. Amy fumbles and drops the bag, as if momentarily disarmed by the question.

“Yeah,” Amy says, unsure as to why it matters.

“Sweet,” Becky responds.

When Becky leans into the water fountain, Amy catches Liz bopping down the hall, approaching them.

“It’s Tuesday, isn’t it?” Amy asks Becky, staring into the middle distance just over Liz’s shoulder.

Becky makes a formless grunt of agreement.

And that’s how Amy finds herself leading the other two into the all purpose room where Megan and Lori are kneeing the chairs into a circle.

“Oh my god!” Megan yelps, exaggeratedly excited. “Welcome!”

The whole thing feels a little bit like a party where Megan is the hostess.

“Hi, I’m Lori,” Lori playfully shoves Megan out of the way. Megan steps back, around her best friend’s crooked stance.

“This is Lori,” Megan echoes, “Watch your panties,” Megan mumbles comically.

“Becky,” she introduces herself like she’s deliberately ignoring Megan’s sentiments. Lori lingers, clasps her opposite hand over Becky’s when they shake hands before moving on to Liz.

“Not every day that two beautiful women just waltz in here,” Lori observes, so forward.

It makes Megan roll her eyes. They land on Amy and it’s subtle, sure, but Amy can piece together what Megan means when her facial muscles skew in an intentioned way. Amy becomes aware of her own bodily presence; she feels the cool remains of sweat at her brow, the fabric clinging to her frame. The look on Megan’s face doesn’t mirror Amy’s uncertainty though. Wordless and intimate, the comforting exchange passes when a commandeering sense flitters through Megan’s lashes.

Amy sits next to Megan, even though it makes her feel self-conscious again when Megan’s reading a thank you note written to the volunteers at the banquet the previous weekend. Megan leads easily into a discussion about the rewards of working with the HIV community. Becky doesn’t jump in as early as Amy expected, but when she does, it’s big.

“I guess I’m conflicted about the emphasis on living with HIV in lieu of prevention,” Becky settles her words steadily.

There’s a shift in the room. Even Liz moves in her seat, like she’s not certain how she wants to be associated to the woman closest to her. Amy’s unsure how the point will shake out in the group. She’s still relatively inexperienced with this environment after all.

“Do you mean on the social level?” Lori helps her get out of snooker.

“Yeah, cultural perception of how to communally coexist. I guess there’s also the element of tension between social progress and scientific progress,” Becky muses.

There’s a collective intake of breath, like everyone’s about to respond at once. Megan senses the group dynamic and leans forward with a stiff back, asserting some kind of moderator stance.

They go around the horn, and Amy’s surprised by how civil and insightful everyone responds. It’s nothing like being in class with Becky in undergrad, splitting hairs over reading assignments. Becky actually smiles along, listens with a pointed focus like she’s collecting data, not plotting her next turn. Lori has worked with HIV-affected families before, and Amy swears she can see a distinct twinkle to Becky’s eyes when Lori speaks.

A girl mentions cultural stigma and uses the Real World as a point of reference, specifically an HIV-infected participant. It’s a sobering discussion, all in all, so Becky shouldn’t be smiling like she is. But Amy can tell that Becky’s thinking something else, can see her body language reflect the disassociation from the present.

At the end of the meeting, most people want to talk to Megan, so Amy stays quiet. She’s off in the fringes of the loosely formed group. It’s a vantage point worthy of preservation, because, even though they’re trying to be sneaky, Amy can see Becky and Lori passing their respective cell phones to the other. Becky types something robotically, nodding while Lori talks. Except Lori looks right at Becky and fidgets with the pink part of her hair nervously.

Becky and Lori try to join the group around Megan, but Amy can tell that they’re both holding themselves differently. Lori’s all open angles, wholly aware of the slightest shift in Becky’s weight. Becky leans onto Lori’s shoulder to adjust the athletic sock in her shoe. The difference in height works in Becky’s favor. Lori’s hand connects with Becky’s elbow, providing an extra contact of support. Amy knows her own face flushes red, like some kind of proximal butterflies. Empathy. It gets the best of Amy all too often.

The brief encounter puts a film on Amy’s brain. There’s something to be said about the implicit social contract of a secret, of a brewing emotion hidden behind niceties and polite glances. Amy has a bounty of career role models, professors and bosses alike, and they’ve all been honest about the solitary nature of accepting a counselor’s role. Amy knows that she’s right for the field, has the hawkish insight that comes with her withdrawn tendencies. She likes to think that she can see through guises, can encourage those around her to be open and honest. But the notion of confidentiality, of being unable to be wholly known, makes her nervous, like she can’t keep herself buttoned for very long.

Even though it’s nothing, the exchange between her best friend and Megan’s, Amy still feels uneasy. Lori’s a new addition to her social orbit; Amy doesn’t want to betray that by telling Megan what she saw as they drop back behind the others en route to the metro. Megan’s hands are a tacky kind of warm when they cradle their palms together. Amy clenches her jaw, tongues the gum line along her molars like reassurance, like she’s almost there.

+

All day on Wednesday, Amy’s distracted. Traveling to the station near Christie’s house, with the bleak snow visible in the pregnant air, Amy feels like she’s on the edge of something gut-wrenching.

The game is at an away gym and is scheduled to start at the same time their practice would have. So there’s no reason that Amy should be the only coach there when the girls take the court for warm-ups. Amy tries not to panic, calls Becky’s cell phone while grinding her teeth. She gets a voicemail after five empty rings. Her voice shakes and she doesn’t really remember what she says, because even though she’s spewing words, she’s using her presence of mind to scramble for some semblance of order.

One of the dads notices that Amy’s practically twitching with tension as she starts the players on a three-man-weave combination drill. That dad ends up standing next to Amy when she shakes hands with the refs and opposing coaches. When they make back for the bench, he gives Amy a pat on the shoulder that feels, weirdly, amicable. It feels like he considers Amy a peer, a fellow adult just trying to do her job.

A few players ask about Becky as they huddle before the game and Amy ignores the questions all together, focuses on facts more tangible and present.

Amy doesn’t ask her stand-in assistant to keep the books. She realizes it’s not important, really; because the girls need the support more than they need the statistics. The first possession is a give-away, a chest pass right into the hands of the Lightning’s point guard. The player rushes to the basket and lifts a clunky lay-up straight into the hoop.

The first half if a whirlwind; the momentum from the opening shot carries Amy into a hovering calm. Halftime is too short; the girls are excited about their solid lead. Amy substitutes three players and, even though the change allows the opponent to chip at the lead for the first few possessions, the fresh legs adjust to the pace of game swiftly.

In the final few minutes, the Lightning’s center gets fouled. The gym stills in observance of the free throw. It’s not that there is total silence, but maybe the timing of the door’s opening, just after the ball bounces off the rim and stalls in the air, combined with the image of Becky, red-faced in the doorway, captivates Amy’s entire focus. Amy keeps one eye on each advance—Becky, sheepishly into the gym, and the shot, tantalizingly, through the hoop.

It’s a split screen, dizzying and somehow sensible. The girls notice Becky in her office attire, but the other team is slow to organize a rebound in, so there’s a slight pause in the moment. Becky shuffles past the opponent’s bench with her shoulders hunched, head down. She slides into the bleachers behind Amy to watch the game without a word.

They win. Amy doesn’t hold a team meeting. The girls are too excited, and Amy has nothing to say. She simply lets them cheer, hands in, and branch off towards a parent with snacks. Rice Krispies. Becky shrugs off some players when Amy gets a square treat in her hand. Becky waits until then to approach her.

“I’m really sorry, Amy,” Becky starts directly.

Amy has her duffle bag slung across her body, snug like a backpack. It’s a comforting weight, even though she can feel the dull edge of the plastic cones against the ridges of her back.

“Alright,” Amy says.

“It, uh, doesn’t make anything better, but I sent you a text,” Becky tries. She puts her hands, palms out, at her waist, accentuating an empty point. It’s not a shrug. Amy doesn’t know what it is.

“Okay,” Amy says, deciding to let Becky determine the approach.

There isn’t a next game in the gym, so the straggling attendees are loping into the hallway, slow to wind scarves around their necks and shrug coats onto their shoulders. Amy takes a step towards the exit and Becky moves easily with her. Amy finishes the snack in a few bites, in the distance it takes them to get outside. Becky doesn’t respond until they’re walking past the parking garage, moving towards the metro.

“I got held up at work. Actually, uh, was on the phone with some people from the headquarters in San Francisco,” Becky says. Her words feel weighted.

“Really,” Amy asserts.

“Yeah,” Becky surges with some kind of guile, “I made the final interview for a corporate spot. They want, uh, I might be able to work there.”

Amy’s still holding the crumpled napkin from her dessert deep in her jacket pocket. Her hand clasps around the ball and, like a reflex, her jaw tightens noticeably.

“Wow,” Amy smiles, even though it seems tense. They’re still moving, but she knows Becky is watching with her peripheral vision for a reaction. “That’s amazing,” Amy says.

“It’s, yeah,” Becky breathily laughs, “I still can’t believe I made it.”

It’s evident there, all laid out in the winter’s thin atmosphere. The night’s still new but it’s already dark outside. Yet Becky’s thrumming. Amy has a passing thought of auras, of how vibrant Becky’s would be if the world was infrared.

“Of course you made it. You work hard. You deserve the recognition,” Amy insists.

“Thank you. And again, I’m sorry,” Becky clears her throat, “For the confusion,” Becky utters a level below normal.

“It’s alright,” Amy allows, finally.

“I don’t want to jinx my interview though. So, it’s, I guess, hush-hush for now,” Becky says.

“Sure,” Amy agrees, as simple as that.

Alex isn’t home to share the excitement of the victory, and even though Amy’s thoughts are racing with half-connected ideas, the pill kicks in before anything gets too detailed.

+

If they win on Friday, the Lightning will go to the semifinals. It also happens to be Alex’s opening night. The thoughts are prominent, but somehow distant in Amy’s mind until that day, when she’s a cacophonous mess. Luckily, there are enough art supplies to keep her hands busy at the kitchen table with Reese for most of the morning. She gets to leave work in the early afternoon, unusual for a Friday, but Christie wishes her good luck with a hug.

The game is at their home gym, so Liz and Alex are still at work at the front desk when Amy gets there.

“Any messages?” Amy asks, jokingly, as she lifts her weight up onto the counter with her forearms. She leans over the desk just slightly because of the effort, peering towards a silent phone.

“Just your gynecologist, who needs you to call her immediately regarding your special order medication,” Liz says, loud and on purpose.

“It’s for a roommate, I mean, friend,” Amy tries to tease back.

Alex rolls her eyes and keeps her lips sealed. She goes back to clicking around on the desktop computer.

“She’s on vocal rest,” Liz explains, “so you can imagine the pot shots I’ve been taking.”

“I'm sure she’s been a great asset today in her customer service position,” Amy speculates sarcastically.

Alex does flip her off, but only before pulling a grocery bag from under the desk. She unwraps a big box of fruit snacks from the plastic and places it on the counter near Amy.

“Is this for the team?” Amy asks, even though the answer is obvious.

Alex rolls her eyes again, makes a frustrated noise that indicates she wants to bite something clever back.

“She says ‘yes, of course,’ in a sweet, kind way,” Liz interprets.

Alex comes around to the front of the desk and pulls Amy into a hug. Amy’s squeezing back before she has time to contextualize, to remember the last time this happened or the next time she’ll expect it. The outliers aren’t important, Amy realizes; their spats are based from respect, from a deep care that probably terrifies them both equally. It’s unfortunate that Alex retracts her standoffishness when she’s on self-imposed silence, Amy thinks. But the words aren’t important, is the point. Even if they are fighting, or freeing, Amy knows they come from a place of love.

“Busted,” Becky says, bursting through the glass doors. “I’m telling,” she taunts.

“She’s on vocal rest,” Amy says, quickly. She drops contact with Alex but Alex tightens her grip. She loosens her legs, so she’s sort of hanging on Amy.

“That’s low, Amy,” Becky delivers.

“I know, she’s such a dirtbag,” Liz joins in again.

With Alex still clinging on, Amy plants her feet firmly in place, supporting her roommate for exaggeration’s sake. Amy relinquishes and puts a steady hand in the middle of Alex’s shoulder blades. Amy can’t recall the distinct angles at which everyone’s face changes in the subsequent silence. It’s like a peace, a pervasive calm that’s present in the huddle before a match-up. If there was a compass, each woman a distinct direction, this desk would be the pivot, the place where everything conjoins. It’s togetherness, buzzing in the air as if it was echoing off of each woman. What a lovely hive, Amy thinks; what a comforting sense of purpose.

The Lightning draw a fair crowd to their home gym; parents and siblings filter into the stands as the girls warm up. A poppy soundtrack murmuring through the PA system provides the ideal buffer of the crowd’s chatter. Amy fingers the whistle around her neck while she watches the simple lay-up drill. The team looks eager, ready to play.

It’s a slow start, though. The girls connect passes, but aren’t following through on their shots. Rebounds fall into the hands of the other team, and even though they’re less athletic than the Lightning, they gain a lead over the hosts by halftime.

During the break, Amy feels weirdly calm, almost indifferent. The team has fight in them; it’s obvious in the way they cheer each other on once the second half begins. Becky slowly slacks in her bookkeeping, tapping the eraser nervously when a player lifts a shot. Maybe there’s something in the air that’s sedating, because Becky’s knee slowly drops against Amy’s like they’re unwinding, letting go.

Amy catches sight of Liz settling into the bleachers closest to the door. Just moments later, Megan enters the gym in a much more obvious way. Amy tries to stay focused on the game, but Megan spots Liz in the bleachers and waves amicably from foul territory. Amy can’t turn her head without being too obvious, but Megan scoots into the seat next to Liz and the gesture flutters in Amy’s throat.

She snaps back to the game just in time to catch her point guard fouling an opponent. It’s not flagrant, but the player gets two shots without question. Amy doesn’t want to blow up at her player because it’s not necessary; she doesn’t want to fuel the unsportsmanlike fire. She waits until both shots are taken to call a time out. And she benches the point guard for the rest of the game, even though she knows she sacrifices a solid chance to close the score gap. The player stomps to the end of the bench and sits with her arms crossed for the short moments that Amy keeps an eye on her. Amy gets the sense that her teaching moment has made its impact, and it doesn’t feel good like she hoped.

Amy makes several more substitutions, hoping the deluge of changing players will confuse the other team’s defense and open up some holes. Amy sees the opportunities, the narrow passageways between her players and the basket. But it’s not up to her to take their shots; she can only train them to spot the chances themselves. And even though there are a few stand-out shots, a dazzling show of confidence and improvement in so many alternate players, the Lightning unfortunately end the game trailing the visitors by fifteen points.

The end of the game is like emerging from a movie theater into daylight. Amy feels somewhat disoriented, unsure what she’s supposed to do. She stays positive, and strangely, the girls act light and impish—just proud to be together, Amy guesses.

Some parents emerge with cupcakes when Amy’s giving her last post-game talk. The girls muffle their own uproar out of respect for Amy’s comments, which mostly consist of thanking the girls for their hard work. The parents gather around the team huddle so Amy takes the opportunity to thank them too for their commitment.

There’s a round of applause and then the team cheers one more time, hands in. They move to the side of the bleachers and mingle close to the door. The scoreboard begins a countdown to another game--the older boys who have practiced after Amy’s team for the entire season. It’s not hard to tell that the Lightning have been eliminated from the tournament by the way they’re celebrating, retiring a jersey.

The boy’s coach approaches Amy stiffly.

“Sorry to hear about the loss,” he booms, sticking out his hand.

Amy grasps it firmly.

“Ah, yeah,” Amy mutters, keeping her grip.

“It was great to see your team improve this year. I’m happy to see a talented coach working with the girl’s program,” he continues.

Amy keeps her cool, accepts his praise gracefully.

“Thank you. Good luck tonight,” Amy says, simply. She doesn’t want to indulge his ego, so she remains diplomatically grateful. Becky’s more obvious about her surprise when the coach ambles away, having heard every encouraging word. She smacks Amy’s arm repeatedly.

“What just happened?” Becky begs incredulously.

Amy has no time to answer though, because Megan and Liz approach them, each with a flower bouquet in hand. Megan sweeps right up to Amy and presents hers in the way some might hold a baby. Liz does the same for Becky, smiling wide. The whole group is watching them, so Amy keeps her gaze on Megan buttoned back and Megan does the same, politely blushing. One of the players presents Amy and Becky with two envelopes containing an end-of-the-season gift from the whole team.

Everyone stays around to socialize with the parents and players alike. Megan and Liz hang off to the side, murmuring inaudible things to each other as the players joke around with Becky. One of them asks, in a slew of other questions, if Becky will be a coach next year. Becky pauses, makes eye contact with Amy.

“Actually, girls, I have some exciting news. I’ve been offered a promotion in my company and I’m going to be moving this spring,” Becky says, voice carrying to the edges of the group.

Liz’s eyes expand with surprise evident on her face. She looks over to Amy immediately, and it makes Amy so self-conscious. The crowd lets out their congratulations in a chaotic, loud burst. Some of the girls make sad noises, begging Becky to stay.

“Where to?” a parent calls out.

“San Francisco,” Becky answers, showing her teeth.

Amy puts on a smile, but she feels like the day’s stress hits her like a ton of bricks. Somehow, maybe, she had expected Becky to refuse the offer, or, more awfully, to be passed up. But the reality of the plans, the concrete nature in which Becky has decided, clearly, that the move will happen, makes Amy’s stomach drop.

Amy musters the courage to be sociable with the team until the next game begins. The girls hug Amy, one-by-one, as they leave with their parents. With only a few people left, Megan sidles up next to Amy. She keeps a friendly distance, like an illusion, but speaks low, only to her girlfriend.

“What a bag of tricks that one is,” she observes.

“Yeah, s’crazy,” Amy mumbles. She sticks her nose into the bouquet. The wrap crinkles slightly as it brushes against her neck.

“What do you want to do tonight?” Megan asks under her breath.

“You,” Amy says, direct, mouth hidden by the petals. She does it on purpose though, because Liz approaches just then.

“I have a box of wine in my fridge,” Liz offers. “Plus, you didn’t give out your gummy bears,” Liz reminds her.

Amy’s jaw drops.

“Oh my god,” Amy commiserates.

“You’ve been holding out on us this whole time?” Megan stiffens in mock hurt.

Amy smacks her free hand into her forehead.

“I’m awful,” she says.

“We’ll just have to hide the evidence,” Liz reasons.

“And wash it down with boxed wine,” Megan adds on.

Amy can tell Liz doesn’t want to smile, but it’s hard to resist Megan.

“This one gets it,” Liz concedes, jutting her thumb in the blonde’s direction.

+

 

Alex claims that the best show will be Saturday night--not the first (when they work out the kinks), not the last (when they go off-script for fun). The theater hums with polite chatter. Megan gets the aisle, as shuffles into the row of seats last. They’re perched in the second row with a perfect view of stage left, where Liz has been told Alex appears in the opening and closing scene. Amy buffers between her girlfriend and her friends, but there’s a quiet that comes with their seating arrangement anyway. Amy holds the flowers for Alex on her lap, but she regrets it as soon as the lights go down and Megan grabs for her hand. Liz is sitting right next to her and the flowers brush Liz’s pant leg when Megan tries to make space near Amy’s thigh. Amy knows Liz is being reticent, choosing not to notice. The music starts all the same, so Amy forces her focus elsewhere with three deep breaths that are muted by the overture.

Abby delivers the opening monologue with a vexing power that makes Megan’s fingers flex. Amy turns her head as the scene changes quickly and shoots Megan an engaging look. Megan purses her lips and raises her eyebrows, like she’s already impressed. The play is quick witted, something modern and intricate that Amy’s never heard of before. There’s no intermission, so Alex’s big scene comes in the middle of the play. Amy remembers it vaguely, but it throws her off to hear someone other than Abby rattling off the cues.

Alex delivers her lines flawlessly, and even gets a fair crowd response when she makes the characters shift. Alex didn’t prepare her friends for her second scene though. No one knows she’s involved in this part of the plotline, and Amy thinks she can see Alex break, just a little, when she looks for them in the crowd just before her character gets slapped. Becky’s mouth drops and Amy can see her smack Liz in the arm in emphasis.

Liz bites her lips and shoves at Becky’s hands. The scene goes on with all the characters on stage in a fast interchange that Amy, admittedly, misses. Abby’s exchange with an off-stage character is the final scene of the play, Alex had told them as much. But in the dialogue, riddled with dramatic pauses and a wide array of emotions traceable on Abby’s face, Abby’s character admits to her faults and, in her own way, apologizes for the daisy-chain of events they caused. It’s too little, too late, is the point. And Abby looks like she knows this as she stares into the spotlight, pausing for two beats before delivering her last line. And then she’s gone, into the darkness behind the curtains.

Alex gets to bow with another character, but they both garner a spike in applause. Abby bows alone and Amy tries not to dwell on the shameless grin that stretches across Alex’s face, accentuated in the stage lights. The cast bows together twice before the curtains close. As soon as the folds crash together, the actors let out a disembodied cheer of their own.

They wait for Alex in the lobby afterwards. There’s a bitter wind passing through the city, and it gusts into the lobby space when the doors open with each exiting patron. She walks out of the stage door in her street clothes, and it’s obvious that the stage makeup has been scrubbed off in a hurry. Alex’s eyes are smoky but they sparkle when she sees the group.

“Thank you!” she squeals when Amy hands over the flowers.

“You were fantastic,” Amy says sincerely.

Becky rears her hand back at Alex’s face-level, like she’s going to recreate the scene. It makes everyone explode with surprise.

“You’re freaking sneaky. I can’t believe you didn’t want to practice that move at work,” Liz notes.

“I had to keep something under wraps,” Alex reasons. Her voice is the slightest bit raspy, just worn and tired.

“It was so awesome,” Megan compliments. “I can tell you’ve put in a lot of hard work,” she says.

“Thank you,” Alex croons. Everyone echoes the same sentiments at once.

Abby comes over to the group like a weightless apparition, wrapping an arm around Megan first. Megan clearly doesn’t want to be the one singled out, but she gives Abby a side-hug nonetheless.

“You guys have plans tonight?” Abby asks everyone simultaneously. She lands a hand on Amy’s shoulder, curving her arm further around Megan. Amy knows she’s just being friendly, overcompensating, maybe.

“Not much,” Amy speaks on the group’s behalf.

“Come to my place for our after party,” Abby exclaims, “Because Sunday matinee be damned! Tonight we drink,” Abby resolves.

Turns out Alex wants them to hang back and wait for more theater people to get there first. Becky knows of a place that serves fishbowls, so the four non-actors partake for a good hour. They hobble through the cold to Abby’s place, but Amy feels the heat from the liquor insulating her skin.

When they get to the party, Alex is different, somehow. She pours punch for Amy and Megan looking alert but unfocused at the same time. Amy’s smile feels too easy; her gums feel bright and sticky. Lori shows up not long after Amy’s first drink. Turns out that Lori and Abby are close, close enough to have introduced Megan and Abby some months ago. Lori is the reigning beer pong master at Abby’s parties, so Lori moves bodies off the porch to make room for the table. It makes Amy wonder if Lori had been outside that last time she’d been in Abby’s kitchen, when she convinced Alex to leave the party, and Abby.

The crowd inside makes the living room seem stuffy, so Amy and Megan decide to be spectators for the first game. Liz and Becky follow behind, like maybe they’re interested too. Lori’s drafted a techie with acclaimed 1-cup accuracy, and they’re playing two lead actors Amy recognizes. It’s an easy win for Lori, being sober and using the cold to pinpoint her arm muscles.

Amy catches Liz looking at Megan, not staring, just looking like one might behold a sculpture or something similarly roped off. She catches Becky doing the same thing when Lori dives after a stray shot. It makes Amy’s head hurt. So she ducks inside, looking for the bathroom.

Alex finds her in the hallway.

“Hey, come in here,” Alex shoves at the door handle inelegantly.

And that’s when Alex shows Amy what she’s been doing. The bass thumps through the crack in the bedroom door.

“What’s this?” Amy asks, out of obligation.

She doesn’t want to admit that she already knows. It’s stupidly cliché, to watch Alex unpack a pill from the plastic baggie stuck inside her bra and crush it against a hardback book from Abby’s desk. She piles the powder into four tiny lines and makes it evident to Amy that it’s for them to share.

“You want?” Alex asks, voice level and normal. Alex carries the book to the bed side and pulls Amy down next to her. The covers are disheveled in a way that makes Amy think Alex is all too familiar.

Amy does one line, because it’s there and she can’t say she hasn’t thought about it before. But Alex made it so easy, and she does the two of the other lines smoothly, shifting the book to make it happen. She holds the tip of her nose expertly, blinking hard as she tilts her head back.

“Yeah?” Alex furthers.

“S’nice,” Amy admits, sniffling. Her vision does that strange spacious thing that happens when she changes a light bulb, or stares at the gym ceiling for too long.

She’s trying to separate the stimuli, the distinct highs and suppressions. That’s why she jumps like she’s been caught when the door opens behind them.

“Here you are,” Abby comes in, footsteps heavy. The music crescendos but dulls when Abby shuts the door again. There’s just one line left, so tiny and innocent on an autobiography. Amy doesn’t have to wonder who Abby was looking for, because she clomps over to the floor beside the bed and falls to her knees in front to Alex. Her torso is so long, she’s at a perfect level to converse with them without seeming overbearing.

“Here you are,” Alex imitates, passing the book. Abby snorts the pill just like Alex, and it pains Amy to wonder who the imitator is.

And also, Abby’s feeling generous, because she smashes another pill clumsily into the book jacket.

“So, Ames, are we good?” Abby doesn’t make eye contact when she first starts talking.

“Oh, yeah, I feel great,” Amy plays it off. She can tell Alex is nervous, not merely twitching. She’s trying not to look at anything, twisting the stud in her earlobe.

“No, I mean, are we cool? You and me?” Abby asks. She looks up from cutting the lines. Amy wants to say the right things.

“I-I think so,” Amy lets her eyes dart to Alex and back again.

“I’d never hurt Alex,” Abby says directly.

Amy thinks she’s the only one who can see Alex’s back stiffen uncomfortably.

“Don’t,” Alex warns.

Abby shuts herself up, snorts the thickest line. She passes the book to Alex who snuffs one too. Amy gets caught up, manages one more herself. Amy’s eyes start to tear up a little. She rubs at them for a moment.

“Alex thought you might’ve been asleep in your room already,” Abby continues.

“Abby, stop!” Alex demands.

“You don’t, uh, owe me an explanation,” Amy supplies.

Abby and Alex share a long, wordless look. Abby shakes her off first, still overly animated and maybe compensating for some other shortcoming.

“We need new drinks?” Abby asks.

“Yeah,” Alex agrees first, offering a hand to help Abby stand up.

When they get downstairs and into the living room, Hope Solo is surveying the party with her hands on her hips. Abby goes right to her, wraps her in a hug. Alex wants to linger, press in between them. Amy’s not as interested in stirring something up, but Alex loops her arm through Amy’s. So she considers herself stuck.

The conversation between Hope and Abby continues, despite the proximity of Alex. Abby keeps her shoulders turned square towards Hope, looking her right in the eye.

And Hope’s not particularly amicable, more pointed in her social focus. She’s got that knowing smirk on her face like she’s aware of Alex’s proximal distress. Truthfully, Alex’s guard is down. That’s why she doesn’t have the best grip on her cup. Alex untangles her arm from Amy’s and goes to switch her drink to her free hand. She’s wearing some dumb heels and Amy sees it happen in slow motion: Alex’s drink (or what’s left of it) spilling into Hope’s general direction as Alex stumbles to regain her tenuous balance, everything happening, and crashing, all at once.

Something snaps in Amy’s brain like a reflex. Maybe it’s her nanny training, her extrasensory instincts, that help her retrieve the roll of paper towels off the kitchen counter faster than Hope can get her hands on Alex. She’s not going to throw a punch over something so stupid. At least, not with Amy in the way.

Alex backs off, wobbling like a colt.

“Party foul,” Abby declares.

Amy tears off a handful of sheets and ghosts towards the dampness on Hope’s clothes. Nothing stops around them, but Hope looks right through Amy when she bites.

“Fuck you,” right at Alex.

“I-, I’m sorry,” Alex stutters.

“Alright,” Abby butts in diplomatically, “It’s over.”

“It was an accident,” Alex says.

“Tell this clutzy bitch to get out of my face,” Hope snaps at Abby.

“Look, come upstairs and I’ll get you a towel,” Abby takes Hope’s bicep and stands between her and Alex as they pass.

“Abby, wait,” Alex whines with uncertainty. Abby either doesn’t hear her, or doesn’t care, because she’s clomping up the stairs with Hope in tow without a word.

Amy diverts Alex onto the porch, steadies her again as they step down through the doorframe.

Becky and Lori are taking down some opponents in a clear lead at the table. Liz lingers next to the table with Megan a solid arm’s length away. Megan thumbs through her phone, nibbling on the lip of her cup. Amy and Alex squeeze behind the opponents and to the other side of the table to join Megan.

“Sup?” Megan asks. Amy takes care to measure out her breathing, steadies her hands.

“Not much,” Amy lobs.

“Hey,” Liz leans over, into their space, “Where’s the bathroom?”

Amy’s embarrassed that she can’t remember, that she didn’t care to.

“Upstairs,” Amy says, vaguely. She watches Liz’s cup when she’s gone.

“You look kicked,” Megan notes of Alex.

“What?” Alex breaks from her silence.

“You alright?” Megan lowers her voice, conspiratorially.

“Yeah,” Amy answers for her, “Hope’s here and making a fuss,” it comes out as if Amy’s filter didn’t quite catch the accusation.

Megan cranes her neck looking inside.

“She’s, uh, upstairs,” Amy tries to remain centered.

“Did you tell her I’m here?” Megan asks, jokingly.

“You know Hope?” Alex butts back in.

“Yeah, she’s an old friend,” Megan says easily.

Amy’s eyes go wide, maybe anticipating what Alex is thinking. There was a very distinct reason she didn’t mention Hope’s emergence to her friends that night of Becky’s birthday. Something dawns on Alex’s face and Amy gets the sense that she’ll have to come clean.

“So you haven’t mentioned that, then?” Alex asks Amy, stressing the syllables.

“Not exactly,” Amy mutters.

The confusion is evident in Megan’s brow. She looks sideways to Amy for some kind of clarity but Amy’s trying to avoid eye-contact. The blurred edges around everyone’s profile make Amy believe that her eyes are blown, a give-away. She can’t let herself be that vulnerable.

There are too many people on the porch. Becky sinks the final cup, mirroring Lori’s perfect arc from the shot right before. The other team makes a fuss about their loss, but Becky and Lori are louder, unsportsmanlike but unabashed. Amy turns her head so that no one can read her lips.

“Not here,” Amy begs, even though Megan hasn’t asked.

“Alright,” Megan allows. Amy’s looking for a stern line, but Megan’s lips are easy, a comforting smile. She’s not saying much but Amy can hear the trust implicit in the silence, like a subtle tick of a clock.

Her head is still rushing when Megan wants to leave. Lori and Becky are planning something that looks like an effort to ditch Liz on Lori’s part. Megan just wants to crash at Amy’s place, but Amy can’t get Alex to budge.

“I’m gonna stay here for a little longer,” Alex insists, stubbornly rooted in an armchair. There’s a game of Fuck the Dealer going on and Hope is said dealer. Alex isn’t playing, but it doesn’t look like she wants to either.

“Just come back now,” Amy says easily.

“No thanks,” Alex passes it off.

The pills are wearing thin, the high passing. After a night of keeping tabs on Alex, timing the breaks where she’s gone and likely partaking, Amy doesn’t feel like arguing. Mostly, Amy just doesn’t have the proper patience to ignore her instinct to protect Alex. She genuflects next to the armchair.

“This isn’t the way you want to do things. Remember?” Amy uses the fact like leverage. She doesn’t care if it’s condescending, if Alex stomps through the party with a scowl in search of her coat. It’s a good thing too, because that’s what happens.

Alex leads the way home, breaking through the cold just steps in front of Amy and Megan. Her bouquet is droopy, starved. Even though she’s angry, Alex still carries the flowers like a tender obligation. Amy has gloves but Megan doesn’t, so they share the pair on their free hands and keep their bare ones clasped together.

Amy thinks Alex has let it go, maybe, or just resigns the night to the successes on stage, nothing more. She doesn’t get the sense that Alex might be resentful, plotting, until they’re all three alone in the old elevator.

Alex waits until the cab is moments from stopping at their floor before blurting out:

“Amy slept with Hope in college,” Alex hisses. She must think she’s ruined another night but Megan doesn’t appear to falter. Of course, Amy’s not looking at her girlfriend, because she’s more shocked at Alex’s gauche saltiness.

The elevator doors are so loud when they open, one of the disadvantages to the ancient building. There’s a moment of complete stillness before Megan breaks it. She leads them into the hall silently.

“Real mature,” Amy notes to Alex under her breath. “Thanks for that.” Amy hates sarcasm but it soothes the burn somewhat as it rolls off her tongue.

Alex has her keys out, but she’s too fucked up to get the key in the slot on the first try. Megan has nothing to say about it, even though she notices. There’s something foreign in Megan’s frame, something Amy’s never seen before.

When she finally lets them in, Alex immediately shuffles into her room.

“Really?” Megan waits to ask until Amy’s facing the door, hand on the deadbolt.

“Yeah,” Amy knows her voice shakes.

“Hope’s the other woman you’ve been with,” Megan assesses, confirming a fact that Amy has politely avoided admitting.

“She’s, yeah, my first,” Amy locks the metal into place. She takes a quiet breath before turning around.

Megan’s profile is backlit by the hall light, the one Amy tries to leave on in the apartment when she knows it’ll be dark when she returns. There’s a soft, accepting slope to Megan’s face, like she just wants to be on the same page again.

“That’s not a huge deal in and of itself, I guess,” Megan contextualizes.

Amy can’t tell what Megan wants, expects her to say. She moves into the kitchen to fix two glasses of water at the sink.

“I mean, I slept with Abby so, that’s kind of, not, equalizing but,” Megan forces herself to pause. She still seems to trip over all the things she wants to say. “Just, when did it happen?” she settles her hand on the lip of the counter top.

“We took that educational psych class together. I was a junior,” Amy stalls, like grave reverence towards the darker time in her life, “She was a senior, I guess. We got paired together for a group paper but our third mind bailed. We just,” Amy shrugs, “wrote the paper. Then it happened.”

“I’m glad you made sure to tell me about your assignment,” Megan says sarcastically, but lightly. “Because that’s what I’m more interested in. Did you get a fair grade? What were the comments?”

Amy cuts off the sink.

“Hope wanted a one-time thing,” Amy iterates.

“And you didn’t?”

“I didn’t know what I wanted,” Amy lets the break emphasize the echoes in her heart, “at all.”

"So she was weird afterwards?" Megan offers.

"Not weird," Amy tongues her gums, as she thinks. "She was the only woman I'd been with. I wasn't, I didn't know how to deal afterwards. I felt, I don't know, chewed up and spit back out," Amy poses.

“That must have hurt,” Megan comforts her. Amy picks up the two water glasses, and maybe the meniscus does it’s job--reflects and refracts the obvious so that Amy can see clearly, through the tired water and the crisp atoms.

“I think I made out alright,” Amy resolves.

Megan wants to take a shower together, claims the chill sweat will stick to her skin like gold leaf if she lets it settle overnight. And of course, she also wants the company. Amy’s never done that before, either, so she lets Megan be saccharine and lead with her hands. The shower isn’t that large, but they don’t break apart for very long.

There’s that awful moment of course, the embodiment of winter’s powerful insistence, just after they’ve turned off the shower’s spray and the avalanching cold swallows their naked bodies. Amy’s skin shivers under Megan’s palm; Megan bites at her lips from inside, curling them into the warmth of her mouth. Amy brushes her teeth quickly, staring at Megan through the mirror all the while. Something about the sheer beauty of Megan, the sirenic and raw attraction emanating between them, makes Amy feel inexplicably brave.

“It used to be hard for me to do this,” Amy lobs.

“Do what?”

“This,” Amy gestures towards the brush, the traces of paste clinging onto the bottom. She runs it under a stream of water. “I used to have a taste in my mouth that I was always trying to scrape out,” Amy tries.

Megan knows it’s not literal. There’s nothing between them, so she allows Amy the filter of the mirror. She meets her girlfriend’s eyes in the reflection.

“You’re doing better then,” Megan asserts, kindly. It’s more encouraging, like she knows exactly how Amy means.

“So much,” Amy breathes.

Even though they’re freezing, they don’t pull on any clothes once they’ve darted into Amy’s room, towels lagging behind. Amy’s hair is wet, not dripping but so very damp, when she hops into bed excitedly, and nude. Megan sidles up next to her and presses their bodies close, closer. Lying flush next to Megan, feeling her muscles like waves against her own shores, gives Amy the sense that she’s weightless. The sheets envelop them sweetly like a spotlight’s direct, relentless warmth.

“There’s so much,” Megan exhales, “So much I want to do to you,” Megan admits.

“You can,” Amy offers, breathily; pushes back. “If you want.”

And Megan does.

+

Amy knows Alex has to get up at noon in order to make the midday train to the theater district. When she wakes up, it’s a weird kind of sun streaming into her room. White seems grey; the light particles bend in loving arches around Megan’s tousled hair and freckled, pale shoulders. The warmth between them has been incubating, reverberating around Amy’s body. She doesn’t want to untangle from Megan, but Megan’s down hard. She barely notices Amy’s absence, her limbs heavy and pressing into the cotton. Amy slips on some pajama bottoms and a hoodie, just something to keep the heat close.

Alex is up, surprisingly, and flicking through her phone on the couch. There’s a half-full glass of orange juice raised partway to her lips.

“Supposed to get three inches this afternoon,” Alex says as a way of greeting.

“Shit,” Amy squints towards the window.

“Coffee’s up if you are,” Alex doesn’t look away from the screen when she says it.

Amy makes a cup quietly, adds a dash and dallop to suit her morning palate. Joining Alex on the couch feels weirdly foreign, but also resolutely familiar.

“I remember being a real jerk last night,” Alex brings it up immediately, like a burden sitting heavy on her chest. “That wasn’t cool,” she says.

Amy just nods, lets her roommate talk.

“But you were right. I need things to be on my own terms again,” Alex admits.

“You’ve forgotten why you like them that way,” Amy vocalizes.

“Yeah,” Alex agrees, quietly.

“Watching you on stage, I could see it in your face,” Amy says.

“See what?”

“Your tenacity. How you hold everyone’s heart in the palm of your hand,” Amy murmurs against the ceramic cup like she’s praying.

“I keep forgetting,” Alex tries.

Amy furrows her brow, question hanging there unspoken.

“How much smarter you are than me,” Alex finishes.

“Every day of your life,” Amy asserts.

Alex finishes her juice and bustles through the apartment, picking up her things as she goes. Amy fishes a pack of peanut butter crackers from the cabinet for Alex. Her roommate twists her mouth when Amy hands them over.

“We’re going to need to talk about your housewife duties when I return,” Alex winces.

“Sure, let me spend the day with my girlfriend and then we can talk about whatever you want,” Amy smiles when she jokes back. “Good luck,” she bids to Alex.

“Thanks,” Alex says, pulling Amy into a deep hug.

Amy feels a bit like a parent, or someone on a dock as a ship sails away. Amy knows that the protective instinct she feels is partially attributed to chemical tricks assuaged by her body’s proximity to other bodies. A kind of instinct to guard those around her is ingrained. But Alex trusts in a way Amy could never pinpoint; Alex cares in a way that reiterates the fraternal, encompassing spirit of an optimist to offset Amy’s miopic realism. And Alex has that kind of depth, that playful glow that beckons towards something intricate, something begging to be explored like a wide, smiling ocean. Morning turns over in Amy’s heart, the bright promise of a better day, a healthier day, through the thick clouds. Even though her coffee’s half finished, and her body’s half awake, she retreats back into her bedroom, to the bedside where her girlfriend rests.

The winds are in perpetual, archaic motion across the globe forever. They recycle into each other, continue to press even though cities, streets, faces all change in the rush. But there’s an inexplicable stillness in the four walls of Amy’s bedroom, like for one moment the eternal currents have stopped swirling, or at least paused in reverence. Megan’s half-asleep, liminal between aware and subconscious. So it’s completely natural, unrehearsed, when she rolls over and grabs for Amy to fall into the bed with her.

And maybe that’s what Amy wanted, all along--a love that turns a weary eye in the rise of morning and, without second-guessing, reaches outward, insisting on being embraced. Though the winds bring fronts of cold doubt, frosts of painful self-awareness, so do they rouse the dust from old bones of contentment. Amy feels ready to take on her demons, prepared to grow in a world that whispers a new chance with every celestial rise. The desire for happiness, for elation in life’s euphoric, infinite pleasures, is afire in Amy’s heart. In the air is change, a movement towards an inexplicable good, unfathomable in its depths. And that air grows all around them; Amy can taste it in her breath like a gentle morning.

Chapter Text

Megan’s surprised to see Amy waiting outside. She hastens to a clumsy jog as she rounds the corner, onto Amy’s street. Megan calls from a distance.

“I’m sorry, I know,” her boots thud against the sidewalk, “I’m sorry.”

The messenger bag flops awkwardly at her hip.

“It’s fine,” Amy murmurs. She stands, but turns to head inside.

“Wait, we’re late. We gotta-” Megan insists, but stops.

A quick read of Amy’s face tells of a veiled smile.

“You just wanted to hear me admit it,” Megan assesses, holding out her hand for Amy to grab.

Amy’s eyes sweep Megan’s frame with practiced adoration. Megan’s a softer shade of blonde than when Amy first caught sight of her in the reception area all those months ago. The color of her locks is natural, much less shocking and attention-seeking. It’s a subtle change, something she’d been lowlighting during the cold winter. Though Amy appreciated the unmistakable platinum amidst a crowd, the darkening of Megan’s hair to a dusty goldenrod feels much more intimate. Like only Amy could pick out Megan’s crown in the chaos, like Amy’s familiar enough to discern the minute slopes and crests.

Megan’s outfit is ambitious for March--some opaque tights connecting her combat boots to the eyelet hem of her shorts. With her body covered in the dainty floral print of a romper, the jean jacket around her shoulders is a solid security blanket. Amy hasn’t known Megan in the springtime, but the curious introduction of girlish silhouettes to her wardrobe gives Amy pause when her girlfriend dares to mix in such delicate pieces. The combat boots though--Amy’s not sure when those will be rotated out for favor of something lighter, less industrial.

“I want you to admit you look like someone in the Babysitter’s Club,” Amy says with mock gravity.

“You say that everytime I wear the romper,” Megan rolls her eyes.

“Then you should just embrace it. Add a floppy bucket hat,” Amy reasons, folds her hand into Megan’s as she steps down.

Megan pulls her into a quick kiss, all loud but compact. Amy’s dressed modestly for the occasion--black slacks, sensible flats, and a light blue blouse under a comfortable, jersey blazer. And a gauzy scarf that Megan tugs like a line she’s unwilling to slacken.

“If I were in the Club, I’d be Kristy,” Megan ignores the jeering fashion advice.

“You have Claudia’s fashion sense, though,” Amy supplements. She leads the way to the familiar metro station, though their steps are in sync.

“Maybe I like the nineties,” Megan jokes.

“Maybe I’m a better Kristy. Athletic, quick-witted, a go-getter,” Amy voice trails off with her list.

“A babysitter,” Megan supplements in the same airy tone.

“Who leaves for a paid vacation next week,” Amy tacks on with an air of superiority.

“We’re calling it a vacation now?” Megan asks with a joke. Just when they round the last corner, station gates in sight, a gust of chill wind barrels between the buildings.

Amy tenses her shoulders, lets the shiver run down her center. The chill is stubborn in the city--all industrial shadows and winds that echo off the lake.

“Anywhere warm is vacation enough for me,” Amy bemoans the cold, and flexes her fingers into the back of Megan’s hand when she pulls the lapels closer to her body.

Amy’s to watch the Rampone girls in Arizona for two weeks while they visit their father at Spring Training Camp. She’s heard stories about the atmosphere from Christie, the attraction-style parading of the Cactus League and the fanatic baseball culture. Christie’s family has attended the locale before, so she’s more than capable of enjoying the time there with her own family. It wasn’t a shock for Amy to pencil the dates of the family’s trip in her planner, because she’s been accustomed to the time off. But it did stun her to when Christie suggested Amy join them at the villa, with the express purpose of rubbing shoulders with Chris’ team psychologists.

It’s only to network, Amy keeps telling herself; maybe nothing will come from it.

But there’s the distinct, nagging possibility that something might.

When they arrive at Lori’s building, there’s an adorable hand-lettered sign proclaiming the graduation party’s location posted above the callbox. Amy recognizes the handwriting as Megan’s by the way her lines slope downward towards the end margin. They don’t need the instructions there anyway; Megan knows the apartment code by heart.

Lori’s wearing her hood on top of her dress when she answers the door.

“Wow. You are not going to let anyone forget, are you?” Megan asks dryly of the regalia.

“It’s my special day,” Lori sounds defensive, but she accepts Megan’s hug warmly.

“Gradzilla,” Amy plays.

Doctorzilla,” Lori corrects.

Amy’s the last one in the apartment, but she’s just in time to catch Becky slurping the last ounce from her cup. There’s a small crowd in the kitchen and dining area, so Becky’s alone next to the gift table in the front room.

Megan fishes a small box from her messenger bag and adds her gift to the collection splayed on the white tablecloth.

Lori immediately picks it up to examine.

“What could this be?” she rattles the package.

“Stop,” Megan insists, prying it back.

“I have to wait until I have a pen and paper handy to open any gifts,” Lori delivers, looking right at Becky like she’s reciting the phrase.

But Becky doesn’t seem to be paying much attention by the way she’s stabbing her straw at the bottom rim of her glass.

“For correspondence purposes,” Lori explains, gesturing her palms up.

“I know what a thank you note is,” Megan says.

“Great, so you’ll be understanding when you don’t receive one until July,” Lori asserts with an eye meandering on Becky. Gauging a reaction, Amy realizes, when Becky picks up a stern expression.

“Thirty days. No exceptions,” her timbre indicates familiarity.

Lori’s face weaves into a smile, all focused on Becky.

“Right,” Lori agrees. She pinches the lip of Becky’s cup and raises her eyebrow.

Becky fits her pointer finger over the top of the straw as she removes it. She catches the bottom end in her mouth, suckling a tiny drop of the liquid onto her tongue.

“Help me carry,” Lori loops her elbow through Megan’s as she leads them away, into the kitchen on the understood quest for refreshments.

In the heat of the apartment, Amy pushes up the cuffs of her blazer when she steps closer to the gift table. The sun’s slipping behind the skyline, indicative of the building twilight. Becky’s chewing on the straw as she absently stares through the living room window; the street below is already dark with shadow.

“How was the ceremony?” Amy asks.

Becky wets her lips before she speaks.

“Lori’s parents really know how to tailgate,” Becky leads. There’s a self-effacing shake of her head. Amy realizes Becky might still be buzzed.

“Where are they?” Amy looks towards the kitchen, where a wall of sound begins it’s echo through the space.

Amy can pick out Megan’s voice in the midst, but not the words she’s saying. Even though that’s a bit disorienting, like stumbling into sleep, Amy finds comfort in that unspoken familiarity. They’re apart, but Megan’s tone still neutralizes Amy’s nervous energy.

“Taking a disco nap,” Becky yawns, almost on cue. “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this family.”

Amy giggles while she loosens her scarf. It hasn’t been long, but it has been fast for Lori and Becky. Amy expected a bit more resistance from her collegiate best friend when Lori became openly forward and flirtatious around Becky. Lori always nosed her way into their inner circle, showing up for happy hours and suggesting concerts where she’d only scored one other ticket with her eyebrows signaling for Becky’s attention. But Becky slipped graciously next to Lori, accompanying her to the auditoriums out of genuine flattery. And soon enough, Lori began to slip her arm around Becky’s shoulders; began to casually address her unveiled attraction. And Becky began to feel an entirely untapped level of friendship with this witty, charming doctoral candidate.

And Megan’s vehement, if not blunt, support didn’t hurt Becky’s actualization of this crush either.

“So you talked?” Amy emphasizes, referring the implication that Becky’s in this relationship for the long haul. Becky’s a mere week away from leaving herself. To San Francisco, that is. Her corporate job begins with the summer, but an incentive to enroll in the spring accelerated training has enticed her westward sooner than she expected.

“She’s still not really considering her offer here. Talked about July Fourth fireworks from Twin Peaks,” Becky delivers like such exact phrasing has been ruminating in her mind.

“That’s frustrating,” Amy crooks one corner of her pink lips.

“I’d feel terrible if she passed up the offer here and regretted it when she moves to California,” Becky breathes heavily. She eyes the sudden beam of a streetlight through the window as it warms up to full glow. There’s a delicate sheet of light refracting off of distant buildings, some orange hue of a farewell on Becky’s cheeks.

“It sounds like you aren’t trusting her on the same level that she’s trusting in herself,” Amy makes an effort to relax her tongue against the back of her bottom teeth.

She lets the words settle. A look crosses Becky’s face like a relented dawning, but she sets it straight when she meets Amy’s eyes.

The relinquishing exhale through Becky’s nose falls like the chorus of laughter from the distant kitchen.

Megan’s voice carries over the ruckus, clear that she’s the one continuing her crowd-pleasing tale.

“Yeah,” Becky’s voice is familiar, vinegar and whole.

“But you said when she moves,” Amy points out. It’s not accusatory, just factual. Honest, just like Becky’s always been with Amy.

“Yeah,” she repeats.

Amy allows her molars to touch, her jaw to align. Becky’s admission lingers more than Amy’s reflections.

“It sounds like you’ve supported her up to this point,” Amy furthers.

“Maybe I expected her to back out,” Becky chokes on the last word.

“I think she’s leaning in, dude,” Amy counters without mulling it over.

She bites her lips like she wants to take it back. Almost like she’s worried Becky will become wary of her tone.

But the casual intimacy makes Becky smile; her grin is sly, like it escaped.

“Leaning in,” Becky repeats.

“There’s this general thing called ‘U-hauling,’” Amy leads, voice trailing off.

“We’ve had more than two dates, so that doesn’t apply,” Becky settles back into her playfulness. “Plus, I’ve got movers. I will haul nothing.”

Amy breathes a silent sigh of relief, knowing Becky’s taken the encouragement in stride. It makes Amy feel like she’s been more than helpful. Therapeutic, almost.

Megan and Lori don’t return anytime soon, but Amy and Becky’s freshly mixed drinks are sitting on the countertop when they meander into the kitchen.

Lori’s the perfect center of attention, serving as the common ground for some otherwise unentangled peers. There’s an openly endearing moment where Becky adjusts the fabric hood around Lori’s shoulders, like one would adjust a collar. Instead of letting her hand drop back down, Lori catches Becky’s fingers for a quick, but not covert, squeeze.

The bulk of the guests leave as the windows grow dark. They’re deep into the evening when Lori’s parents arrive, rejuvenated and unsatiated by the hors d'oeuvres. Amy expects to duck home with Megan, but they actually end up bookending Becky when they join Lori’s family for tapas.

They treat Becky like one of Lori’s friends, but that doesn’t mean Lori’s parents aren’t open and inquisitive. The interest is genuine when Becky details a story from her study abroad experience; the gesture is earnest when they kiss Becky’s cheek in parting. They’ll meet Becky and Lori in the morning for brunch, but they’re devastated at the prospect of missing Megan and the city likewise. Lori hasn’t made her final decision, as she stated at dinner, but the desire to relocate is obvious. Megan looks incredibly deflated, admitting that Lori plans to move away in a long hug to Lori’s mom. She steps back on the sidewalk, into Amy’s orbit, so she can watch Lori and her parents bid goodbye with her eyes downcast. Amy positions her body just so, allowing her to touch Megan’s shoulder in secrecy.

Lori’s parents pay for their cab home, and Lori rides with her hand stuck out of the rear window. Her palm is parallel to the street, and it dives and rises in their wake of spring air.

+

Amy unlocks Megan’s text message from Lori in the dampened darkness of her bedroom later that night. Megan’s in the bathroom putting herself back together, readying for sleep when she returns to Amy’s bed. Maybe.

The caption reads a simple “thanks” but the picture indicates that maybe it’s not just about the graduation gift she’s wearing.

Lori’s got the bowtie on--it’s a print of dots in a rainbow array on a navy background; Amy had helped Megan narrow down her options, but Megan made the final order. But the neckwear is a minor feature of the shot, because Amy’s eyes get stuck on the connection of Becky’s lips to Lori’s bright, smiling cheek. It’s evident that Becky’s arms are wrapped around Lori too; but nothing restrains the glow of Lori’s smile.

It’s darling, but something pangs in Amy’s gut. Maybe awe, or dread. Amy still dims the screen when Megan hustles back into the room. Her steps are familiar, measured with practice. She’s in a minimal state of dress, so the darkness and intuition aids her stealth.

Until she stumbles over a discarded garment.

“Every time with the romper,” Megan commiserates.

+

The next morning is Sunday, and surprisingly, Alex is out of the apartment when Amy and Megan wake up just before noon. Megan’s in the mood for lunch food, not brunch, so it’s less difficult to decide which deli they’ll order from. They’re in the midst of planning which TV recordings to slug through when they get home with their sandwiches. But Alex is already sitting on the couch chewing on the side of her thumbnail.

Amy recognizes the outfit immediately--Alex’s go-to audition ensemble. She’s in a red dress with simple pleats at the drop waist. Tied together with a tortoiseshell belt, tights and a scarf draped across her chest, Alex looks much wiser than her years. The perfect kind of deception, that of alacrity.

And the expression on her face shows a kind of wear that Amy never expected to recognize this early in her life.

“How’s it going? Oh, no fair, you got Tina’s?!” Alex says all at once in greeting.

“Hell yeah. Italian cold cuts all over this fine-ass artisan bread,” Megan responds.

Amy knits her eyebrows in mock confusion.

“Who even are you?” Amy asks as a way of a joke.

“Yours forever,” Megan assures.

Alex moves from the couch to the armchair without being asked, like she’s settling into the designated spot for a single person in their living room. Megan takes no note of this, plops down on the couch to begin unpacking the contents of their canvas bag.

“Do you want, uh, I have some pasta and like, veggies, maybe,” Amy doesn’t finish much of a thought, but it’s directed at her roommate.

Amy stalls in the middle, equidistant from both spaces in the apartment.

“Oh, no, don’t, I’m cool,” Alex excuses, flapping her wrist blindly over her shoulder.

“So what’s with the get-up?” Megan’s not afraid to be direct. She’s comfortable with Alex now, understands her sense of humor from this amicable distance.

Amy walks lightly to the couch, listening.

“Audition. You can’t, like, say anything though,” Alex answers.

“Why not? To Who?” Megan asks concurrently.

“To Whom,” Amy corrects.

“To Nobody,” Alex says.

“To Noone,” Amy corrects again, just to be insistent.

Megan sighs with insincere exasperation.

“It’s a lead role across town,” Alex pauses, swallows, “It’s just a reach.”

“That’s good though,” Amy encourages. Her voice is quiet, cautious. She wants Alex to unfold but has a hunch that Megan won’t be that patient.

“They weren’t, like, I don’t know, impressed by my packet,” Alex gestures to an imaginary stack of papers in her hands.

“Your resume?” Amy sounds incredulous.

“Well yeah, and my headshot,” Alex compiles.

“I could shoot you,” Megan offers, since her mouth’s already open.

“You’d take portraits for me?” Alex checks, perking forward.

Megan has just taken the first, large bite of her sandwich, so the words she tries to add become muffled through the contents of her mouth.

It’s near disgusting, the sight she is. Certainly short of flattering. She makes an effort of chewing with purpose.

“Just stay behind the camera, Dear,” Amy bids while rearranging the toppings on her own lunch.

“I’m serious! I’ll make the prints for you too,” Megan says once she’s audible.

“That’d be awesome. I’ve been needing, you know, something fresh and new,” Alex appraises of herself like she’s trying to beat a critic to the punch.

“Yeah, let’s do it while this loser is away,” Megan juts her thumb towards Amy.

“Definitely. We can take our time,” Alex plays along.

Amy just shakes her head, selects Top Chef on the DVR.

“Padma Lakshimi when Amy’s feeling spiteful. No surprise there,” Alex observes, crossing her arms and sitting back.

Megan holds up a hand for a high-five.

“Thank you,” she celebrates.

+

Amy’s still working during the week leading up to her trip, but she devotes the evenings to hanging out with Becky. They cross items from Becky’s bucket list, give her one last impression of a city they’ve all shared as students, and then again as adults. As friends.

They take the bus to their university campus, the four of them, on Becky’s last Friday. Liz fills two large water bottles with white wine, but the first ten minutes on the bus are too crowded to sip covertly.

The passengers thin out as they head south, and most tumble out at their stop as it’s closest to the library.

Even though they all live in the same city as their university campus, they still rarely make the trip to their old stomping grounds. Alex and Liz recognize a few more faces than Amy and Becky do as they’re walking the main thoroughfare between academic buildings. The architecture surrounds them again, like a familiar skyline. They pass the water bottles back and forth, and let the crisp wine filter their reminiscent sighs.

Becky doesn’t cry until they’re eating dinner at a burger place frequented by university students. She wells up without shame during a comfortable pause in their chatter. She lets the tears roll fat lines down her cheeks as she sputters to catch her breath back. She blows her nose into her napkin, tucks her body close to the booth and the wall while it happens.

Amy rubs her back through her cable knit sweater, but she can still feel Becky’s bones shake through the soft braid.

Alex uses her sleeve to mop at the edges of her own eyes. It’s a black shirt, so her make up smudges a perfect imprint of her quivering profile into the charcoal fabric.

The moment is heavy. It speaks for itself. A silence falls over them and something seems to snap.

“I don’t wanna be sad about this. I want to enjoy myself,” Becky resolves aloud.

“Yeah, enjoy our company,” Liz tacks on.

“Yeah, yeah,” Becky agrees, nodding fervently.

She picks up a french fry and chews, dryly at first, but then warming up to the motion.

That fit kind of breaks their spell, as if everyone got a chance to wallow in the finality of the occasion. Amy thinks about the social contract there, where they agree to laugh easily and stay in the moment with each other. Amy takes some deep, centering breaths.

Later, when they’re on the bus home, Becky drops her head to Amy’s shoulder. It reminds Amy of some evening rides home in the past, of a distant, fuzzy collection of memories. Too many to distinguish one from the next, so many that she knows the weight of Becky’s head like a welcomed presence.

Alex is sitting in one of the bus seats that’s perpendicular to Amy and Becky’s row. She has an unfiltered view of the moment, the endearing display of closeness. Becky’s eye are closed when Alex looks over. Amy knows this by the way her roommate tosses a shameless, weary look her way like how is this not going to hurt?

Amy knows this city isn’t for everyone. It isn’t everyone’s idea of forever, of settling. She knows that people can’t stay in the same patterns of life. People are curious about the world; they seek improvement and challenge. But there’s a lingering comfort that she doesn’t want to shake. Something having to do with Becky, her dear friend from college, becoming a facet of Amy’s routine as they both navigated the plight of making one’s own way in the world. They grew up together, in a different way. Amy feels like she’s losing that safety net too, someone who has known her through the unpredictable tides of life, someone who has been nothing if not influenced by Amy’s proximity. They’re adults now; they have to decide where they’re most needed, where they want to end up.

Amy realizes that not everyone can make the city their permanent home. The call to move onward and outward rings differently for each woman.

But at least, for some sweet, incalculable time, the city was theirs to conquer.

+

Amy was asked to coach other girl’s sports teams at the rec center once the basketball season concluded. She considered it for a few weeks, combing the municipal volunteer postings, before deciding against it. She continues to help Megan with the Queer Allies meetings, becomes something of a facilitator by compiling a contact list of gay-friendly adult sports clubs for the group. Since Amy’s had more time to herself, she’s taken to more deliberate activities. Like walking home from Christie’s instead of riding the Metro. Like cooking in the late afternoons.

Megan’s contract at the lab is renewed for another year, and she usually joins Amy for dinner at the end of her shift.

Most days, Megan’s still there when Alex comes home. Alex lands a modest role in early January for the same theater company. It’s an ensemble part, again, but this time she’s an understudy for a leading role. Which means she comes home rather late each night after rehearsal.

Alex takes a shower while Amy heats up food for her, and they all three watch television for as long as they can prop open their eyes. It’s all quite domestic. It’s all quite comfortable until the week before Amy leaves for Arizona.

Until Abby comes home with Alex on Thursday night.

Megan’s arm stiffens around Amy’s shoulders when Abby’s frame appears behind Alex in the doorway. There’s something intrusive about the way Abby turns the deadbolt, like they’ve all got the same idea.

It’s a little bit awkward, but Abby doesn’t accept Amy’s offer for some of the lasagna she baked. She does sit on the floor at Alex’s feet when Megan unpauses the recording, though. The scrape of Alex’s silverware against her bowl is homely, encouraging. It’s a compliment, Amy thinks, even though the noise is so high pitched that her gums pulse. She sets her lips firmly there, counts pedantically in her head.

During the silence of Megan fast-forwarding through a commercial break, Abby makes a comment about Alex’s performance during rehearsal. But something about the way she says it, ‘turn away from each other,’ makes it seem like Abby’s not on stage with her.

“So you’re Abby’s understudy?” Megan asks, aware of Alex’s conversations with Amy about her part.

“No, I’m Pat’s understudy,” Alex blinks.

“Whose understudy are you?” Megan’s voice is light, like she’s just checking, as she looks at Abby.

Abby doesn’t skip a beat, hardly lets one pass at all.

“I’m the director,” Abby has her arms wrapped around her loosely crossed legs, her shoulders broadened and stiff.

Amy’s elbows burn. Megan speeds through the show, past the commercials.

“Are you?”

“Yeah, my cast is pretty set,” Abby replies.

Amy snatches the remote from Megan’s hand. It’s not a loud gesture, but the show’s laugh track is enough to interrupt.

Alex scrapes her fork across the china.

No one watches the TV, but they’re all afraid to look at each other. Only a few minutes go by before Abby’s touching the back of Alex’s shin through her jeans. Alex carries her bowl to the kitchen, places it with a noise in the sink. Megan eyes the kitchen entrance with a peripheral flatness. Abby has her head down, watching the floor for Alex’s shadow. When she emerges, Abby stands and silently leads Alex into the far bedroom.

When the door closes, Megan retracts her arm from around Amy. Amy’s hair flutters at the contact’s fleeting heat.

They finish the recording, and another. There’s no peep from the bedroom down the hall.

Amy goes to make two glasses of water, but when she’s finished at the sink, Megan’s standing there with her boots dangling from her fingers.

Her socks on the floor have rendered her stealth, silent.

“Is, I mean, are you going to bed here?” Megan prods.

Amy purses her lips.

“Yeah,” she looks Megan up and down, “Aren’t you?”

“Do you want me to?”

Amy stares hard at Megan. The hesitance, almost like rebellion, in Megan’s shoulders is confusing.

“Yeah,” Amy says, slowly.

“Alright, I’ll,” Megan doesn’t finish her sentence, just turns to place her boots at the mat in the entryway.

Climbing into bed feels tense, like Amy’s trying to be too quiet. When Megan’s in the bathroom, Alex emerges for water from the kitchen. Amy had tried to think of a reason to go into the hallway, but Alex retreats into her room before Amy can throw herself in the way.

“You’re not creeped out?” Megan asks, standing without bottoms in the middle of the room.

It’s just the lamp by the bed that casts any light on Megan, so she shouldn’t be this incandescent, this aflame.

“I’m out of all of this,” Amy breathes with measured silence.

No sooner than Amy can finish her sentence does Abby walk through the hallway, out of Alex’s room, with a leaden, Alex-shaped shadow behind.

Amy holds her breath, stares at Megan, and waits to hear which locks turn.

There are two clicks. Alex appears in Amy’s doorway just moments later, and her eyes are unfocused, hardly open.

“G’night,” Alex says, turns to leave.

“Hold up,” Megan boils over.

Alex stops, looks lazily at Megan’s skinny, bare legs. It’s like Alex hasn’t quite processed that Megan’s nearly naked, like she doesn’t recognize what she might be interrupting.

But no realization graces her face. Amy sighs heavily, wishing for Megan’s discretion. The subtle shift in the air makes Megan turn to her girlfriend.

Amy’s sitting up in bed, arms crossed over her chest. With the thin tank top she’s grown accustomed to sleeping in, her body catches cold so much easier without Megan’s warmth to balance her out. She must look uneasy, just wanting for a calm, accordant evening. Megan takes a moment to pause, to gauge the way Amy’s body looks as it’s frontlit in her cozy bedroom.

Amy just wants to keep the peace. Her frame might seem tense, but Megan knows it’s just wired, just precautionary against the friction. There’s no need to intervene, no reason to die on a hill of supposition. Megan builds another inhale, raises her left arm to finger through her own hair.

“Brush your teeth first,” Megan guides.

With Megan’s movements, her shirt rises, and Alex’s eyes linger there without repose. Amy’s arms drop to the blanket that covers her lap. She can see the difference between her roommate and her girlfriend. Megan, in her most caringly obliged voice, treats Alex like a charge. And Alex, with her devious lilt, bucks towards sultry slinking against the doorframe. It’s clear who wins--she with the most diluted blood coursing through.

“What?” Megan asks, innocently tugging down her hem.

“Yes ma’am,” Alex sings.

+

Becky leaves town, for good, on Monday. That afternoon, Lori picks up both Megan and Amy from their respective workplaces, and drives them to the closest bar. Amy finds herself staying there far past happy hour. It turns out to be a late night for Alex too, because she’s still not back from rehearsal when Amy and Megan get home.

They fall asleep cuddled on the couch with the television on, and both startle awake to the sound of the shower running. There’s no energy to meet with Alex; Megan narrowly avoids tripping over Amy’s up-turned suitcase as it is. But it’s difficult for Amy to fall asleep at first, even with the firm hold of Megan’s sleepy embrace. Alex’s noises are muffled in the kitchen, but Amy can tell that she’s reheating something in the microwave. Amy shouldn’t care, shouldn’t worry if Alex remembers the parmesan cheese or not. She stares into the darkness and feels guilty.

Amy gets Tuesday off from work to prepare for her trip, for her flight the next afternoon. She still has to arrive at the Rampone’s house in the morning, so the girls can get ready for the plane ride while Christie squeezes in a few personal training sessions. Amy spends most of her day gathering her things, another great portion of it updating her resume. Shortly after borrowing Alex’s printer for several crisp copies, and placing them perfectly in her carry-on bag, Amy heads to the community center.

Amy discovers a missed call from Alex after the Queer Allies meeting. There’s no voicemail, but a text that all but begs for Amy to visit Alex with some semblance of caffeine for her unexpectedly long evening. Amy’s mostly packed, but despite her preparedness, she still wants to spend time with Megan before she goes. Nonetheless, Amy pulls two sodas from the convenience store’s cooler while Megan snags something sweet.

Alex is waiting for them outside of the theater, all twitchy and covered in a pale dust. Even through her grungy clothes, her eyes look fragile and glassy in the lengthening streetlamps and shadows.

“What’s going on?” Amy asks, anticipating something grim.

“Hope’s in there,” Alex blurts out, breath quickening yet shallow.

“Why? What’s-” Megan cuts herself off as Alex sinks down to her haunches on the pavement. It’s a terrifying descent, but one that Alex completely controls. So Megan doesn’t need to reach out like she’ll be catching the her, but instinct compels her.

Amy touches her forehead, gathers her thoughts.

“She’s the set designer,” Alex explains.

Megan bites her lips, sizes up Amy for a reaction. Even when Alex stands up from her crouch, she still doesn’t meet their eyes.

Amy opens one of the soda bottles and offers it to Alex.

“Okay, so, unforeseen but manageable,” Amy preempts.

Alex takes a small sip, moves her mouth a little more than necessary when she swallows.

“I’m sorry,” Alex mumbles, more to Megan than Amy. She wipes at her cheeks, pushing away a single set of tears.

“You’ve got what, an hour left?” Megan asks.

“Two,” Alex stares into the ground. “I hate watching them together,” and the words slither from her mouth.

Amy clears her throat, unwraps the package of candy strategically.

“What’s the professional thing to do?” the wrapper crinkles alongside Amy’s tone.

She hands a Twizzler to Alex.

“Finish rehearsal,” Alex sighs, then bites down.

“Show them that you’re working hard,” Amy furthers.

Alex nods, chewing.

“Yeah, don’t let her presence bother you. Let it energize you,” Megan adds, pumping her fists in front of her like a boxer.

“Without hitting anyone,” Amy says.

Alex holds out her palm for another piece of candy.

“I wouldn’t,” Alex insists.

“How many rehearsals does it take to put up a set anyway?” Megan says dismissively, helping herself to a Twizzler.

Alex just sighs in mock exasperation.

“Sorry, for, I mean,” Alex stumbles, finishes chewing. “Thank you,” Alex intimates.

Amy’s smile is tight-lipped, encouraging.

“Yeah. Here, take these with you,” Amy hands the rest of the candy to Alex. “Get back in there.”

Megan acts like she’s racing the clock on their walk home, even opting for the stairs in Amy’s apartment building as to avoid the wait. Megan’s panting when Amy finally unlocks the front door.

“A little work out for you?” Amy teases, proceeding first.

Megan wraps her arms around Amy so she’s hugging her from behind. She kicks the door closed with her heel, and digs her hands into Amy’s jean pockets.

“More like a warm up,” Megan growls.

Amy only breaks contact to bolt the locks, but she still leads Megan right where she wants her.

“Oh, really?” Megan checks, but she’s certainly being pushed into the armchair.

“Mmhmm,” Amy grunts, unzipping her hoodie and letting it fall to the floor.

Megan sits with her legs splayed, with her hand rubbing up and down her own thigh. She wants a show, and Amy gives it to her--stripping her shirt off too. There’s a certain bra that Megan’s grown to like on Amy, and Megan’s face softens to a smirk when her girlfriend reveals it to her then.

Amy removes her jeans, and Megan saves the time by doing the same for herself. The armchair seems a little wider then, with the way Amy’s toned shins straddle Megan’s thighs. Amy’s kiss is always different, like she’s spelling something new with each point of contact. That’s part of the fun for Megan, decoding the messages by roaming over Amy’s nearly-bare torso.

Megan dares to dip her hand between Amy’s legs first. The angle is odd, more mirrored and uncertain, but Megan finds her way to Amy’s sensitive spot with a growing ease. She’s soft, at first, tipping just shy of where she knows the movements will resonate. For all of her reservations, Amy’s learned to be outwardly responsive to Megan in these moments of extreme closeness. Megan’s very sensory, loves for Amy’s touch to mirror the intimacy in her head.

So Amy’s careful where she plants her hand, finds the slope between Megan’s neck and shoulder out of sheer memory with her eyes scrunched. She wraps her palm around Megan’s pulse, puts tiny pressure on her collarbone. Megan flattens the pad of her middle finger across Amy’s center, relishing the way Amy shivers around it.

With the position, Megan’s at the right place to touch her forehead to Amy’s breastbone. She kisses the skin there, Amy’s breasts, marking small spaces of each delicate inch. Amy makes tiny grunts, small moans that she can’t control. Her heartbeat thrums underneath, inaudible, but acknowledged by Megan all the same.

Amy threads her other hand through Megan’s hair, but doesn’t guide her mouth anywhere different. It’s more a gesture of affection, of Amy just wanting to feel the strain in Megan’s muscles. Amy feels her body weight shifting closer to Megan, but lightening in pressure all the same. She’s close, she knows, so she rolls her hips to meet the pressure on her clit. When she comes, she tugs on Megan’s hair like some kind of silken reigns. Her hips jerk in graceless waves; her voice cracks as she climaxes into Megan’s hand.

Megan’s going for the bra just a moment after, wanting to kiss Amy there under the fabric, wanting to keep the attention funneled towards her girlfriend in light of their anticipated time apart.

But Amy has a different idea, one that she’s not used to initiating just yet. She feels slinky, devious, as she slouches down and off of Megan’s lap and onto the floor in front of her. Amy skirts her hands over Megan’s thighs, seeming uncertain how to best coax them open.

Megan gets it, though; understands what Amy’s suggesting when her palms meet Megan’s kneecaps. Megan can’t help but smile as she spreads her legs, slowly. Amy fits her lips against Megan’s knee, then moves up the inside of her thigh.

The chair’s oddly deep, so Megan has to all but slouch to make it easier for Amy to kiss her way up Megan’s legs. Amy takes her time, enjoying the temptation she’s exacting. Soon, Megan’s slipping off her panties, trying to be coy but also enticing. It’s Amy’s idea for Megan to hoist her legs onto Amy’s shoulders, and Megan would be a fool if she didn’t admit that the sight drives her wild.

Though Amy’s eager, and making tiny, hot noises of pleasure as she fits her mouth against Megan’s lap, she’s not being loud. Neither of them are. They haven’t yet turned on the air conditioning, so the atmosphere in the apartment is crisp but still, absent of any white noise.

So the sound of the key fitting into the front door’s lock, and the subsequent ruckus from the deadbolt preventing Alex from entering the apartment, fills the living room with immediate panic.

Megan’s heels slam down into the floor as Amy shakes her off. Alex knocks with the brunt of her fist, seeming frantic, seeming endangered. Megan’s not happy to get dressed so quickly, to leave her desires unsatisfied. She’s still so wet, so thrilled from the prospect of Amy’s boldness. But Alex’s interruption, though thankfully less embarrassing than it could have been, is all the more frustrating when Amy spins away from Megan’s attempt to kiss her once they’re redressed.

Amy’s hair is wild, and Megan thinks that there’s no way Alex won’t say something snappy until Amy opens the door.

Megan can’t quite see Alex, but that’s because Alex is crouched in the hallway, gasping in some uneasy sobs.

“What’s wrong? What’s happening?” Amy asks in a flurry, scooping Alex up and into the apartment.

Alex can hardly catch her breath to explain.

“I caught her, Abby, I caught-” Alex shivers as a fresh stream of tears roll down her cheeks. “her kissing Hope,” Alex finishes, sniffling.

Amy’s heart beats faster than she can trace, with the sexual energy and now her distraught roommate’s outburst compounding in her chest.

“Backstage?” Amy questions, hand hovering above Alex’s shoulder like she wants to touch but needs to know, first.

Alex nods, sputters out another audible cry.

Megan makes eye contact with Amy, and Amy already knows that Megan’s barely holding back anger.

“Look, I’m sure it’s not,” Amy gulps, tries to rest her hand on Alex’s shoulder.

But Alex stiffens, shies away from the comforting touch.

“Fucking skank,” Alex blurts out. “Hope’s just,” Alex wipes at her eyes, shakes her head in lieu of finishing her sentence.

“What did Abby say to you?” Amy crosses her arms.

“I left. I couldn’t-. I don’t know if they saw me,” Alex breathes out in a gust, trying to compose herself.

“So you, I mean, are you quitting? Why didn’t you stay?” Amy tries to encourage Alex to think outside of this exact moment.

“I can’t stay on the cast. It’s, I don’t know. I can’t,” Alex worries her lips between her teeth. Her posture is awful, loose but crumbling. She won’t stop touching her face.

They’re all three standing in the middle of the apartment, liminal between the kitchen and living room. Though Amy still feels like she’s wrapped in Megan’s warmth, there an inevitable chill in the space between them--three independent bodies, shuddering in the wake of such cold, isolated anger.

“I can’t believe she’d do this to me,” Alex says with gravity.

Amy feels a familiar, creeping dread. Her mouth twitches, like she wants to fall back into an old, nervous habit. She can’t ascertain the right words first; Megan beats her to the punch.

“Don’t you fucking dare say that,” Megan bites into the tension.

Alex drops her hands, lets the hurt and confusion unfold in her brow.

Maybe she thinks Megan is going to coddle her too, give her a reason to sway with her emotions.

“I’m so tired of watching you fall apart over this. Amy’s done nothing but hear you out and yet you’re so, I don’t know, consumed by your own pity,” Megan’s voice rises. The spaces between her words are wild, unpredictable like she’s spilling them from her mind without appraisal.

“You know Abby’s bad news. Stop playing her game. Stop burdening your best friend with this shit!” Megan’s fists annunciate her point, falling at her sides once she’s spoken.

“I- I’m sorry,” Alex stutters, lip quivering.

Amy’s stunned, eyes wide. She’s panting, can still taste Megan on her lips when she presses them together.

“Stand up for yourself,” Megan grabs Alex’s shoulders then, almost shakes her like she’ll make her own words ring true there. “You’re not anyone’s back-up, okay?”

Alex meets Megan’s eyes, reluctantly at first considering the tears brimming at her lids.

Alex only musters a nod, lets out a stumbling sob as the words resonate in the air.

Megan wraps Alex into a hug. Alex is unwilling, at first, but the smallest bend in her wrists to wrap around Megan causes Amy to look up. Megan’s eyes are closed, almost serene like she’s recoiling.She rubs at Alex’s back in long, comforting strokes, before releasing her.

“I’m sorry I yelled. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” Megan covers.

“I know. I’m,” Alex takes a deep sigh, “I’m gonna take a shower. Recover, a little,” Alex rakes her fingers through her hair.

“You deserve that much,” Megan agrees.

Alex smiles, not only at Megan, but also, warmly, in Amy’s direction. Like she’s equally grateful, like she knows Megan’s presence is all but attributed to Amy’s sheer goodness.

It’s the strangest sensation, for Amy, because even though that lust is still burning inside of her, there’s a prevailing sense of companionship and trust in Megan. Maybe it’s from watching Megan take the burden of comforting Alex off of Amy’s shoulders. Maybe it stems from that kind of togetherness, that special way of caring for someone without romanticizing her. Maybe it’s the way Alex stops in the hallway, turns to face them again.

“I’m really lucky to have you both,” she relies on the hallway’s echo to carry her words to the living room.

Amy shouldn’t feel like a parent, but the effortless coupling, the seamless way Alex acknowledges and treasures Amy’s girlfriend, warms her heart to a slow, deliberate beat in her chest.

“Likewise,” Amy says aloud, but all she sees is Megan.

With the start of the shower, Amy knows her time alone with Megan is dwindling. It’s not that Alex demands their attention, but Amy won’t feel the same when she crawls into bed with Megan tonight. The immanence of her departure is real, right at her fingertips like a bright, new morning. Megan doesn’t need to say anything, just stands beside Amy in the kitchen while she sets water to boil. Amy moves around her girlfriend, but keeps looking up to find her smiling with sad eyes.

Amy realizes that Megan doesn’t want her to leave, but knows that the opportunity is far too good to pass up. Even though Alex is involved in her own headspace, maybe she’s been tense too, preemptively missing Amy. It’s a different kind of closeness, another way of loving. But together, even in Amy’s absence, they can lift each other through such valleys, can be that beautiful promise on each other’s horizon.