“I really can’t. I promised Aunt Dot that I’d help with dinner. Another time?” Ava wished she could take her words back as soon as they fell from her lips. Then as if on cue there was a flash of lightning behind her followed almost immediately by the rumble of thunder. She had paid enough attention in her science classes to know that meant the storm was right over them.
In front of her Sara tilted her head so she could look up at the sky beyond the porch. “You should really watch a weather report before going for a run.” The shorter blonde’s gaze returned to Ava. “Come on, stay. I can’t with good conscious let you go back out into that storm. Call Mrs. Heywood and let her know you’re here. If it’s a big deal they can come and pick you up, but I think she’ll be more upset if you go back out it this storm.”
Ava glanced over her shoulder at the dark clouds of storm before she finally conceded and entered the Lance home. “Thank you.” She paused in the foyer not wanting to track water through the house.
She heard the door close, followed by rapid footsteps as Sara brushed past her. She disappeared into a door off the hallway the Ava had recalled being the half bath. “I’ll have to run upstairs.” Sara’s arm extended from the room towards her as she held out a hand towel. “This is all we have down here.”
“Hey Ava!” Ava’s gaze was drawn up from the towel to the top of the stairs to catch Laurel’s approach. As she stepped off the final stair tread, the older Lance sibling held something towards her. “Here, these are Ollie’s so they’ll probably be a little large on you, but they should fit better than anything Booster could offer.” Ava noted the bath towel on top of a dry tee shirt, sweatpants, and a hoodie.
Ava’s brow furrowed as she thought about Laurel’s statement for a moment. “Booster?” She gave Laurel a questioning look.
“No!” Sara’s arm dropped and her head shot out of the bathroom. “Come on, Laurel!” Ava noted that her tone seemed to fall somewhere between annoyed and a desperate plea.
Laurel didn’t miss a beat as she responded to Ava. “Nickname.” There was a slight pause before she elaborated further. “She hit her growth spurt a little late.” She spoke without even acknowledging her sister’s mortified groan. Laurel raised a shoulder as she continued. “Booster seat.” Laurel gave that trademark Lance smirk as she finished her explanation.
Ava couldn’t completely stifle the snort that escaped her. A hum of disapproval drew her attention to the look of faux betrayal Sara shot in Laurel’s direction. Seizing the moment, she quickly took the offering from Laurel. “Thank you.” Once the dry clothes were secured in her hands she slipped past Sara into the bathroom to get dry and change. As she emptied her pockets, she flipped her cell phone open and dialed her aunts' number.
“Ava?” Dot answered on the second ring. Her tone was concerned, but at the same time didn’t read as worried.
“Hey, I went for a run and got caught in the storm.” She paused a beat to see if the older woman would say anything, when she didn’t Ava continued. “I was close to the Lances’ so I stopped to wait it out. I can head back as soon as the weather lets up to help with dinner.”
“That’s fine. Don’t worry about dinner.” There was a sense of relief in her voice. “So, you just happened to be near the Lances?” She picked up on the accusation, but before she could try to mount a defense Dot had already moved on. “If it gets to be too late or Quentin and Pam want you out of their way just call and we’ll come pick you up.”
“I will, I promise.” After they exchanged a few more pleasantries Ava closed the phone and sat it on the vanity top. She took a moment to consider if she should just ask if Laurel could give her a ride home now. Not home, to the Heywood’s. She decided not to waste any additional time on that line of thought, and stripped out of her wet clothes'. After toweling off, she changed into the dry garments Laurel had loaned her. The thick material of the sweatpants felt soft and warm, it forced her into awareness of just how cold she had gotten after being soaked by the storm. For the final touch she pulled the hoodie over her head. She fought the urge to flip the hood up and just hide in the oversized warmth it provided. It wasn’t until she had gathered up her soaked outfit that she caught that the word Mustangs was emblazoned down the leg of the borrowed pants.
As soon as she stepped out of the bathroom Sara met her with a plastic grocery bag. “Here, we’ll just leave those by the door for now.” She then jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Come on, I have the next episode ready to go.”
After she dropped the bag on a chair that sat next to the door as instructed, Ava followed Sara into the living room. “Fair warning, I know the show, but I haven’t seen all of the episodes.”
Sara grinned. “Season six?” Ava shook her head. “You are in for a treat, Sharpe. I’m on episode 7.” Sara’s eyes took on a distant look for a moment before she looked to the ceiling. “I mean, I could start over?” Ava saw it as an offer to allow her to interfere with Sara’s life yet again. “I do have all them on DVD if you want-”
“No.” She shook her head and held up her hands. “I don’t want to disrupt your rewatch .”
Ava watched as Sara grabbed the remote and let out a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness. This is honestly one of my favorite episodes and it’s taken a while to get here.” Sara flopped on the couch and turned on the television. As soon as the screen lit up, she looked back to Ava expectantly before tapping the cushion next to her. “Sit down, get comfortable. Because, let’s be honest that storm isn’t letting up any time soon.”
Ava joined Sara on the couch as she started the episode. Her back stayed ramrod straight as she maintained some distance between them. It wasn’t until Sara had settled in and focused on the tv that Ava turned slightly to study the other girl. Her gaze lingered on Sara’s profile a little longer than it should have, but she couldn’t bring herself to look away. After the way she behaved she knew Sara had every reason to never speak to her again. The worse part being Ava hadn’t even known how appalling her behavior had been until Sara called her out on it. Yes, she had a lot going on, but she had not right to treat the other girl the way she had. Ava had been so caught up in her thoughts that it wasn’t until Sara Michelle Gellar started to sing that she shifted her focus on the screen in front of her. “Wait, is she singing?”
Sara nodded. “Mmhmm. This is the best.” Her eyes remained forward as her hand brushed against Ava’s. As soon as they touched Sara’s attention shifted from the screen to her face. “You cold?” Before Ava said anything, Sara jumped off the couch and disappeared into the hallway. She returned with a blanket and sat next to Ava so she could cover their both of their legs with it. Now that she was right next to Ava, Sara must have noticed her rigid posture. “Relax, how often do you see the slayer singing as she sends demons back to hell?”
At the request Ava finally allowed her posture to soften a bit. By the time she was turned her attention back to the show Buffy was walking through a book shop of some sort. She recognized the red head and goofy boy from what she had already seen, but there were several other characters that she didn’t recognize. “Wow, the Scooby Gang has grown.” Sara shot her a quick smile and hummed in agreement. At least that was a reference she could throw out, because truth be known she hadn’t seen a single episode past the first season.
Sara’s hand found hers under the blanket, but she forced herself to stay focused on the show. “I know, they kept picking up people as they went along.”
Ava watched as Willow, the nerdy redhead, and one of the girls that she didn’t recognize left the bookstore. They seemed to be close as they started strolling through the park. Then two boys walked past them, and Willow made some comment about them checking the girl out. ‘ Oh My God, I’m cured. I want the boys .’ Then Willow followed up with something about not being butch. “Wait, who is that?” Ava pointed at the screen.
“Tara?” A song cued up and the girl was clearly singing to Willow. Sara stole a glance at Ava as if she were checking to see if she was being serious. “Willow’s girlfriend?”
Ava’s eyes grew wide as she processed the fact that a lesbian relationship had been represented on television and she somehow had no idea that it had even happened. “Willow has a girlfriend?”
“Yeah, Willow had-” Sara stopped herself from continuing. “has a girlfriend.” She paused the show. “Wait, what’s the last episode you saw?”
“I watched the first season.” Ava offered a pathetic smile along with the admission.
“Nope.” Sara shook her head and waved the remote towards the television. “We shouldn’t watch this.”
“Come on.” Ava rolled her eyes and made a move to snatch the remote from Sara, but she was able to toss the remote from hand to the other and hold it out of Ava’s reach. Ava groaned and sat back down. “I don’t want to interrupt your show. Besides they seem happy and they’re an actual couple. How often does that happen?”
Sara rolled her eyes. “Okay, but that’s my point.” Sara shrugged her shoulders then restarted the episode. “How often does that happen?”
They watched to rest of the episode in silence, Ava had so many questions as it progressed but didn’t want to interrupt again. As the episode ended Ava leaned back into the couch and shook her head. “So, Willow cast a spell on her to forget?”
“Yeah.” Sara stopped the playback. “Ironically, they were fighting about her overuse of magic. So, when she used magic to make Tara forget it’s a pretty big deal.”
“They breakup?” Sara gave her a sad smile. “But do they figure things out, right? They get back together?”
She noticed Sara’s neck bob as she swallowed. “Did you want to keep watching?” That wasn’t an answer and it left a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. Which after a moment felt a little ridiculous to worry about a couple on television with everything going on in her life. Ava opened her mouth to answer, but the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs pulled her attention before she had a chance to respond.
Laurel strode into the living room. “Heads up you two, mom and dad are home.” Ava caught the pointed look she shot towards Sara.
Sara had just hopped off the couch when the door swung open. “Sara, baby girl, give us a hand with the groceries.” Ava rose to follow her lead as a man soaked by the storm stepped into the house and held out several grocery bags. “Take these to the kitchen and I’ll bring the rest in.” Sara moved to help, as he looked up and caught Ava’s eyes. “I didn’t know you had company.” He offered her a warm smile as Sara took a few of the bags.
Without missing a beat Ava looked to Sara. “I got caught in the storm and she offered to let me wait it out here. I hope that’s okay?”
“Of course.” He stood a little straighter and shook some of the water from his jacket.
A second figure backed in beside him as she shook out the umbrella she was holding. “It’s absolutely pouring out there.” The woman then lowered the umbrella and closed it before turning into the house to lean it against one of the corners of the entryway near the door. She looked up as she unzipped her jacket. “Oh, hello.” Her attention landed on Ava. “I didn’t know you invited someone over.” The woman’s voice was friendly enough, but Ava could tell from her tight-lipped smile that it wasn’t entirely honest.
Ava had to swallow before she spoke under the older woman’s scrutiny. “Hi Mrs. Lance, I’m Ava.” She started to understand what Oliver had meant when he warned her about Dinah.
“Mom, relax.” Ava could hear Laurel’s approach from behind her, but she couldn’t move. The woman’s intensity held her in place.
When Laurel spoke Ava could see the woman’s face shift to a genuine smile, Dinah looked beyond Ava and Sara into the living room. “Laurel, I didn’t think you would be able to make it home for dinner tonight.”
“I didn’t think so either, but I needed to grab a few things anyway. So, I just figured why not stick around and get a good meal.” She quickly walked into the foyer and grabbed the remaining bags from Quentin. “Hey, dad.” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek before she turned to her mom. “Come on, let’s get dinner started.” She touched her mother’s shoulder to steer her towards the kitchen.
Quentin ran a hand through his hair absently as Laurel and Dinah left. “I’m going to grab the rest of the groceries.” He looked up to Ava. “Would you care to stay for dinner?”
Dinah’s forced smile popped into her head, and she knew she wasn’t ready for that interaction yet. “Maybe another time. I should probably go.” After everything that had already gone down Ava just wasn’t prepared for a dinner with a woman that had deemed Oliver Queen unworthy of her eldest daughter.
“Let me get these to the kitchen. I’ll get Laurel’s keys and take you.” Sara was walking backwards away from them as she spoke.
“Eh. I’ll drive you.” Quentin crossed his arms across his chest. “Sara, I don’t want you driving in this storm.”
She shook her head, while still moving towards the kitchen. “Oh no you don’t. I’m a better driver than you and you know it.”
Quentin chuckled to himself as Sara disappeared into the kitchen. “She’s right about my driving.” His focus was now solely on Ava. She could tell he really didn’t want Sara to drive her home. “Do you live nearby?”
She didn’t normally feel nervous around adults, but something about this conversation seemed so much more importance to her. It didn’t take her long to conclude that this was the first time that she was talking to one of her girlfriends’ parents that could be aware that they were seeing each other. “I’m actually staying with the Heywoods for the time being.”
He hummed in response and she noticed that the tension in his shoulders seemed to relax and his expression softened. It didn’t seem like he felt sorry for her, but maybe more apologetic towards her. Which just made her wonder even more what had happened between the two fathers. “Your aunt and uncle are great folks.” Ava nodded and looked in the direction that Sara had disappeared.
“They really are.” Ava nodded in agreement as she looked back to Quentin. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other feeling way more awkward as it started to sink in that her father had picked a fight with this man and she still only had a vague idea about what happened between them to cause it.
“I should get the rest of the groceries.” He half turned towards the door before he stopped and reached into to his pocket. “Here.” He held out a card towards her. She looked it over as she accepted it from him, his work business card. “If you ever need anything, you can call me, any time.”
She looked at it before she tucked it into her pocket as he disappeared out the front door. Now her imagination started to get the best of her. At a minimum this interaction confirmed that whatever terrible thing her father had said, it was most likely about her. Before she could go too far down that rabbit hole of thought Sara reappeared holding up a set of keys.
“Let’s go!” Ava was barely able to grab the plastic bag with her wet running clothes before Sara snagged her free hand and pulled her onto the porch. “I’ll unlock the car, as soon as the engine starts come on down.” She released Ava’s hand and ran down the stairs towards the late model sedan at the end of the driveway.
After a moment Ava followed her down the stairs and joined her in the car. The car was quiet as Sara backed out of the driveway. “So, you dance and love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What’s the future look like for Sara Lance? Music videos or demon slayer?”
Sara snorted at the question as she glanced at Ava briefly. “I have to choose?” Once Sara’s eyes returned to the road Ava saw her smile slowly fade. “I’ve been working on my audition tape, but it’s not going great. So, Ray has been helping me with an application essay.”
Ava did some quick math in her head. “Where are you thinking about going to school? Juilliard starts taking applications soon. They only accept 24 students a year, you should submit as soon as possible.”
“Juilliard?” Sara chuckled.
Ava kept her eyes forward. “Yeah, you can start submitting applications September 1 st . Deadline for applications, essays, and pre-screening is December 1 st . Live callbacks in February.”
“Ava, Juilliard isn’t really for me.” Sara cleared her throat. “But you seem familiar with the process.”
"Yeah, I guess.” She could feel it every time Sara looked in her direction. “My instructor sent me a few reminders last year.”
“Your instructor recommended that you apply to Juilliard?” Sara arched a brow. “That’s pretty intense. I was thinking more along the lines of Metropolis Performing Arts Academy.”
“That’s a great school.” Ava looked over at Sara. “I could take a look at your solo if you want. I started work on mine before I decided it wasn’t for me. Obviously, our styles are different, but I’d be happy to try and help.”
Sara pulled the sedan up to the front of the Heywood’s house and shifted it into park. “Yeah, I’d appreciate it. As long as it’s not too much trouble.”
“Not at all.” Ava smiled at the other girl as she picked up the bag from the floor. “Set up some studio time and let me know.” She gestured to the house. “Right now, all I really have going on is football. Just schedule around practice and I should be good.” Sara nodded, but then there was an awkward moment of silence before Ava exited the car. “I’ll see you soon.”
Ava exited the bus with her gear bag slung over her shoulder. It had been over a week and she was still staying with the Heywoods. She hadn’t held a real conversation with anyone in her immediate family since the night her father’s true colors had been revealed. She had spoken with Carly and her mom, but it was just check in’s nothing of any actual substance.
She was slowly starting to find what could be a new normal, helping her aunt with meals and Nate with his chores. She did miss being within walking distance of Darhk Roast and the dog park, but she had managed to talk Nate into leaving for practice early enough to stop by for coffee in the mornings. That had initially been dependent on her picking up the bill. Although now that she wasn’t staying with her mom and dad, she wasn’t sure where her spending cash was going to come from. She had started to consider getting a part time job, but she knew it would be difficult to juggle sports, school, and a job.
She had to put those thoughts aside and she picked up her pace to catch up with Coach Hunter. He led the team across the parking lot. When he caught sight of her, he waved her up to join him. “Welcome to Southridge, home of the Sharks.” He continued across the field. “There’s a field house where the cheerleaders get ready. It’s across from the locker room we’re going to use. Once you get geared up Coach Bennett will be outside of the locker room and we’ll meet up on the field.” He shot her a smile. “You were right about that not being an issue.”
Ava simply shrugged a shoulder at him. “Been there, done that.” She stayed with the rest of the team until it was time for her to break off with the cheerleaders. She followed closely behind Sara and the rest of the squad into the field house. She didn’t waste any time changing quickly without paying attention to the other girls in the room. She pulled on her jersey and made her way towards the door, but a hand caught her wrist halting her progress.
Surprised she looked over her shoulder to see Sara holding her helmet. “You’re probably going to need this.” Ava closed her eyes and shook her head. Her nerves were starting to get the best of her, and Sara saw right through it. “Hey, you’ll be great.”
“I know.” She took her helmet and nodded. “I’m just nervous, first game with a new team. New opponents.” She slowly exhaled. “But if I’m being completely honest, I’m less concerned with the team than the new crowd. Some people just aren’t all that receptive.”
“You let us worry about the crowd, your job is to focus on the field.” Sara released her wrist and backed away. “See you after the game.”
It didn’t take long for Sara to understand what Ava meant by worrying about the crowd. As soon as the team took the field, she could see the wave of whispers that ran through the home section bleachers. At this point she was sure there was enough talk around Star City that Ava’s presence on the team wasn’t a surprise, but it was obviously new information to most of Southridge.
After kick-off everything seemed to settle down with Jax taking the field. The first quarter both teams seemed evenly matched, but Star City managed to score 7 unanswered points on a pass to Nate. At the start of the second quarter Jefferson ran in a quarterback sneak for 6 more points, but the kicker missed the extra point. As the quarter progressed the Southridge team began to slow down. With less than two minutes left in the half Sara saw the offensive line gear up to take the field out of the corner of her eye. This time Jax remained on the bench and Ava pulled on her helmet.
Sara continued to lead the cheer for the defense to hold the Sharks from getting a first down. Once the ball was back in the Mustangs possession the offense line took the field with Ava under center. The energy from the crowd was all over the place, but that quickly shifted to excitement when the team rolled down the field and scored on a pass to Carter.
The rest of the game was more of the same with Mike even getting some play in the fourth quarter. The final score wound up at 41-0. Sara noted that Jax and Ava wound up with an equal amount of play time. It wasn’t the most exciting game in the world, but it was encouraging for how the rest of the season could go.
After the game Sara pretty much stuck with her squad, at least until they disembarked the bus back in Star City. The cheer squad said their goodbyes and Sara leaned against the brick school building to wait for the football team to wrap up. After a few minutes as predicted Ava made her way over to where Sara stood. “Not a bad debut.”
“Eh, maybe.” The athlete just shrugged. “I think we were lucky that Jax wore them out for us.”
“Take the compliment, Sharpe.” Sara wrinkled her nose. “Also, can you not refer to you and Mike as ‘us’?”
“Gross.” Ava mock gagged at the suggestion. “Not Mike, us. Like the rest of the team on the field with me, us.”
Sara laughed and looked at the ground briefly before looking back up at Ava. “So, what are you doing now superstar?”
“I’m not sure.” Ava gestured over her shoulder. “Nate’s my ride.”
“ Waverider’s ? I’m meeting a few girls from the squad to celebrate.” Sara noticed that ever since the incident at the Heywood's Ava was very careful about maintaining some sort of distance between them. She could tell that Ava still felt guilty about what happened. She didn’t want to push, but she also wanted to reassure Ava that they were okay. Someone had once told Sara that her ‘love language’ was physical touch. At the time felt absurd to consider that you expressed love in one of five specific ways, but now as she fought the urge to reach out and grab Ava’s hand it made some sense. “If Nate doesn’t want to go then I can always drop you off after.”
“I don’t know.” Ava held up her cell. “Mom sent me a text on the way back. Carly told her about the win and that I got to play.” Sara saw her chew the inside of her bottom lip. “She wants to talk to me later.” Sara caught her eyes as she heard the worried tone in her voice. “Like really talk.”
“Oh.” Unwilling to resist any long Sara pushed off the wall and stepped closer to Ava. Initially she just brushed the back of Ava’s hand with her fingertips. She was a little disappointed when Ava took a step back to maintain her space. “Ava?” She struggled not to grab her hand and pull her closer. Instead she gestured over her shoulder. “Come on.” Once she was sure Ava would follow, she ducked around the corner of the building away from any prying eyes.
As Ava came around the corner, she spoke Sara’s name in an exhale of breath. “Sara.” Ava’s head dropped. “Everything just feels so complicated. I’m supposed to be starting my senior year with the same people I’ve spent most of my life with. Preparing to start college. Instead I’m trying to figure out where to live. What am I going to do?”
“Well, since you are stuck with me...” Ava’s head shot up and her mouth opened. Sara gave her a warm smile. “I know what you meant.” Normally she would be the first to admit that she was out of her depth, but that wasn’t going to help. “I think the first thing you should do is come with me and have some pizza.” She held out her hand towards Ava. “Just be a quarterback that won a game 41 to nothing. Most of the team will probably be there too.” She wiggled her fingers to encourage Ava to take her hand. “Come on. Victory date, my treat.” Once Ava finally took her hand Sara led her towards the parking lot.