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Ring Ring

Chapter Text

August, 2016

 

In can be infinitely easier to say something over the phone. Losing big has a sucker punch impact, and in-person words and looks and sentiment can be like needle pricks and sometimes like a big numbing wallop. 

 

You can forget it for stretches of time, you can read a good book and laugh at something on your phone, before it crashes back down to knock the breath out of your lungs, and sends you spiraling. Nothing will ever quite be the same again, and you have to figure out a way to be okay tomorrow.

 

Somehow the loss landed on Christen, someone who never should have been put in that circumstance in the first place. She was really a wreck, but Alex almost wasn’t allowed to grieve, and in some ways that was just as hard. Kelley could see the pressure on both of their shoulders, the shattering feeling of missing a vital penalty, as well as the pressure to be a new leader, and to continue on with the fire from the year before. No one was happy.

 

They’d gone home, flights back to their respective places, definitely not the way they’d wanted. When Kelley got home, Sam wrapped her up in her arms and they cried. It felt silly, sometimes, because it was both just a game, but also such a big game, too. Regardless, she sat there on the couch, snotty and sniffly and Nikki cleaned up the tissues later. They do say that the higher the rise the harder you fall, and this was a nosedive.

 

Sam was obviously disappointed, too, but she’d grown accustomed to the taste of smaller victories, which made the big losses a little easier to swallow. No one was expecting Australia to win gold, just like no one was expecting the US to lose in the quarter-finals of the Olympics, a year after a blowout World Cup win.

 

Kelley shuffled towards her room, wearing the same pajama pants and Stanford tee she’d been in the last two days, and she honestly didn’t care. The window in her room was open, optimistically hoping for some breeze to cut through the New Jersey humidity. The sun was barely set, and she sat there in the blue haze. She tried to lay down and rest, but it was truly too early for bed and too late to do anything else. 

 

She felt a buzz under her pillow, and grabbed for her phone, noting a few missed texts and some new emails she was committed to deal with later. 

 

Alex: How are you?

 

Kelley: bleh

 

Alex typed for a few seconds, paused, Kelley watching the bubble pop up a few times. She stopped, and suddenly Alex’s kissy face contact photo popped up on her screen. Kelley swiped to answer, and sat back against the pillows, reaching around for the cable, to plug her phone in to charge.

 

“Hey Al.”

 

“Hey.”

 

Silence

 

“Do you want to watch something?”

 

Silence

 

“Okay.”

 

Kelley leaned over to the table on the other side of her bed, and grabbed her laptop, opening it and typing in Netflix in her browser.

“What do you want to watch?”

 

“I don’t know, something I don’t need to pay attention to.”

 

“Mmkay, let’s just pick up somewhere random in Friends.”

 

*

*

*

 

“Alright I could SWEAR I’ve never seen this episode. I think I remember Fun Bobby, but also… the one where Monica has an alcoholic boyfriend? No idea.”

 

“I don’t remember seeing it either. It’s like this weird, mid season 2 episode that didn’t have to exist but does.”

 

“Chandler always had the best lines, especially earlier on.” Alex could feel herself settle into the call, as if the stress of losing was just a little less painful, every time she could laugh about something else.

 

“Could I BE any funnier?” Kelley came in strong with her Chandler impression, and it made her feel a little more at home, curled up on her couch.

 

They watched another episodes.

 

“Ohmigod, babe, promise me if you get married you will NOT wear hats.”

 

“What? Ew. No.”

 

“Good. I’d boycott on purely fashion grounds.”

 

“I promise I will leave executive aesthetic decisions up to you.” Kelley yawned, snuggling in further underneath her bedspread, pulling it up and around her shoulders.

 

“Good. I am excellent at wedding planning.”

 

They let the silence sit comfortably between them, before Alex heard the garage door open.

 

“Hey listen, Serv is home, and I’m gonna go hang out with him for a bit. Are you going to be okay?”

 

“Yeah, you go. I should probably get to bed at some point.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Quiet again, neither really wanting to go.

 

“I think we’re going to be okay, Kel.” Alex threw the blanket she was snuggled under off of her legs, and pulled her knees up, picking at a stray bit of chipped polish on her toes.

 

“I think so, too.”

 

“I love you.”

 

The side door to the garage opened.

 

“I love you too.”

 

—————

 

Chapter Text

 November, 2016

 

Alex searched a couple of different places looking for her headphones, before finding them in the first place she thought she’d looked, which was her fleece pocket. She popped the buds into her ears, and connected them to her phone, sliding the device into her jacket.

 

Blue had been patiently trailing her around, so excited about their upcoming walk, that she carried her leash in her mouth, as Alex tore apart the house. 

 

“There we go, good girl.”

 

She clipped the leash to Blue’s collar, wrapping it around her hand before checking her pockets for keys, and her phone again. She locked the door behind her, and headed out into the neighborhood to get a nice walk in for Blue, now that the California heat had broken. 

 

She dialed Kelley’s number from the favorites list on her phone, just below her mom, and above her sisters. She never really called Serv.

 

The phone rang for a few minutes before she heard

 

“Hey-oh, it’s KO. Leave a message.” *click*

 

“Hey it’s me, just thought I’d call and say hi. I’m out taking Blue for a walk, so I have a few minutes. Talk whenever. Love you!”

 

She switched over to a playlist she’d made last month, and a few songs played before the music stopped, and her phone buzzed in her pocket. Kelley’s contact photo appeared, a glimpse of them from 2012, back at the Olympics in London. They were happy and goofy, and felt like they were on top of the world together.

 

She swiped to answer.

 

“Hey!”

 

“You rang, m’lady?”

 

“Haha, yeah, I’m just walking Blue and had a few minutes, and figured I’d call to catch up!”

 

“Hear that, world? The great Alex Morgan, soccer superhero and movie star misses me!”

 

“Yeah, yeah, okay don’t make me regret it.”

 

Kelley laughed, and it made Alex smile.

 

“So what’s up!?”

 

“Nothing too crazy. Trying to sort out some filming stuff for next year. They want to get it out in 2018, which means we need to get a lot done around my schedule which is not especially flexible.”

 

“Ah, the struggle of fame.”

 

“I will say, I definitely didn’t expect this when I was a teenager who missed junior prom because of a soccer tournament.”

 

“Shit, I would have gone to the dance.”

 

“Yeah,” Alex said. “Okay.” She knew full well that Kelley lived and breathed soccer, as much as anyone she knew. Maybe not quite as much as Tobin, but nobody really loved soccer like Tobin.

 

“So what’s it like being married again? You’re back in the wife life for 6 months.” Kelley always seemed to quiet down during conversations about Alex’s marriage, like it wasn’t something to joke about. And Alex appreciated it.

 

“It’s good. I always kind of forget what it’s like to live with someone for longer than a week or so at a time. We always kind of hold out for September when stuff is super hard in June. But it’s good.”

 

She could hear Kelley breathing gently through the phone, and switched the leash to her other hand.

 

“We started talking about kids, again.” Silence.

 

“Oh. I don’t know why I thought you weren’t “there” yet…”

 

“Yeah, I mean... we talked about it. That’s pretty much it. Not like, made specific plans of when, or whatever. But, I’m not gonna play forever, and I want to be able to be a mom at some point, and I just need to think about when that could happen.”

 

“That’s a good point. I think I always just thought that it wasn’t really something you were prioritizing.” 

 

“It wasn’t always, and it’s probably still going to be difficult. Obviously - BLUE, SIT! Sorry. Obviously, Serv will keep playing as long as he can, because guys don’t have to deal with their bodies being ripped to shreds like ours are, post baby. We’ve thought the next couple of years, probably after 2020. I wouldn’t necessarily retire, but I’d be open to having kids and taking some time off before we’re going again with the next World Cup. Maybe. I don’t know.”

 

Kelley leaned back into the couch, and stared up at the ceiling, off-white, and flat, and wholly unremarkable. 

 

“That’s a long way off to plan. I mean, we just got back from this Olympics.”

 

“Yeah, but - hold on.”

 

She could hear Alex open the door to her house, and the familiar scramble of Blue’s paws on the tile floor.

 

“Yeah, it’s a little ways off, but I also like knowing what’s ahead, you know? I like having a strategy.”

 

“You mean you like to win?”

 

“Well if you put it that way…” Alex settled in, sliding off her shoes, and curling up on the couch while Blue got a drink.

 

They let chuckles fade out on respective couches, thousands of miles apart. 

 

“I remember when you said you wanted to get a dog, and I was absolutely afraid you were pregnant or retiring or something.”

 

“Wait, really?” Alex strolled to the kitchen, and refilled Blue’s water dish, and then grabbed a glass for herself.

 

“Oh, yeah. It felt like such a big deal. Buying a house, getting married, adopting a dog... I was absolutely afraid that I was about to lose you, and it was rough.”

 

“Why didn’t you say something? You’re never going to lose me.” She hopped up on the counter, resting her phone on the granite beside her.

 

“You aren’t just my work friend anymore.”

 

“Well that’s a relief.”

 

“Seriously, you are one of my very best friends, and watching you grow and get better has been such a journey, and it started swirling around in my mind that if you quit playing, I’d stop getting to see you, and it was really, really hard.”

 

“You’re never gonna stop having me, Kell.”

 

“I know, and I believe that now, but also it can feel so real in the moment, at 2 am.”

 

“That makes sense. Well, breathe a sigh of relief, cause you’re stuck with me for life, sucka!”

 

“Ugh don’t remind me.”

 

“Hey!”

 

“You’re going to be a part of my life. I want you there when I have kids, and I’d better be there when you get married and move on to whatever.”

 

“Your kids are going to like me so much more than you.”

 

“Unfortunately, I believe that.”

 

“It’s not my fault that I’m effortlessly cool and super awesome.”

 

“Uh, duh, why do you think I chose you as my best friend?”

 

“Cause of my humility and modesty?”

 

“Yeah. Something like that.” 

 

It did cause Alex pause. She stared ahead at the fridge, lost in a swirling reality that she would absolutely lose Kelley when she stopped playing. Not that she’d do it intentionally, but global travel schedules are difficult enough to manage, let alone regular life stuff, like babies and staying put for any length of time. With the National team and NWSL, Alex saw Kelley more than she saw most of her family members, and she couldn’t imagine how that could continue on when one of the two of them were in perpetual motion.

 

“Earth to Janice.”

 

“Hi, sorry, just got distracted by something. I need to get dinner started. Text tomorrow?”

 

“For sure.”

 

“Kay, love you bye!”

“Love you bye!”

 

Kelley held her phone to her chest when the call ended, not quite sure how to handle, how to process a future without seeing Alex on a regular basis. She was more of a constant than most people in her life, and the reality of that future seemed to hit harder and harder every time they talked about it.

 

—————

 

Chapter Text

June 1st/2nd, 2017

 

It’s 9pm, and Kelley O’Hara has found herself once again, on dish duty. The Portland team had arrived earlier that night in preparation for the game, and the house had become a gathering place for various members of the US and Australian National Teams. They’d gathered to watch the Women’s Champion’s League Final, eventually Facetiming Alex, celebrating their friend’s success. Lyon had made their way to a bar (or few) and the Thorns had taken a Lyft back to their hotel, ready for practice the following morning.

 

She’d finished collecting all the cups and loaded the plates from dinner into the dishwasher, wiping down the counters and heading to her room where her phone was charging on her bed.

 

She had a few new messages, though most importantly one from Alex. She sits on her bed, and opens the message to see her best friend in a hot pink pushup bra, hair around her face, and a smoldering expression

 

There was one line of text underneath, and Kelley’s hands were shaking as she scrolled- It matches my pre-wrap.

 

Her mouth went dry, and she did everything she could not to not allow her phone to  scroll up and display the photo again. The last thing in the world that she needed to think about was Alex in a bra. Or out of a bra. Or Alex in any non-friendly context, really. Still, as she let her finger off the screen, the picture appeared again and there she was. 

 

It was kind of impossible to ignore. The way Alex had bunched up her t shirt, the way she stared at the camera, they way Kelley had done her best to completely ignore every magazine Alex had been in, politely replying with “Cute!” And she absolutely refused to acknowledge the shoot with the body paint. She believed in freeing the nipple, but not those nipples. No no no no no. Do not enter.

 

The picture had only arrived a few minutes before - she calculated the difference- at 3:09 am Alex’s time. She tapped call, and held the phone up to her ear, not sure if she was hoping for Alex to pick up, or not.

 

She answered.

 

The ambient noise wasn’t as crazy as Kelley expected it to be, almost as if Alex had stumbled outside.

 

“Hey, I think you sent me something by accident?”

 

“KELLEYYYYYY! Did you like it? I thought you might like it.”

 

I do, she thought, but not like this.

 

“Are you drunk?”

 

“Love you a lot.”

 

“Don’t do that to me.” Kelley was suddenly significantly more serious than Alex had heard her in quite some time. Her heart began to beat faster, and she was a boiling combination of turned on and infuriated.

 

“Do what???” Alex was there, but honestly nowhere to be found. Kelley couldn’t really hold it back anymore.

 

“It’s not fair and kind of cruel, and you just… let me! You let me love you, all the while knowing that this is just something temporary, but Alex, you’re my whole damn world at this point. You know I like you. You know I’ve spent most of our friendship trying to get over it. You know that when you say jump, I’m holding your hand and we’re doing it together.”

 

“Do you think I’m pretty?”

 

“Do you think I’m a toy?”

 

“I think you’re so beautiful.”

 

“Do you have absolutely no consideration for me, at all? Like, the fact is that you know you’re attractive, and that I’m attracted to you. Unfortunately for me and the rest of the world who can’t have you, you’re really fucking hot, Alex. And then you go and pull a stunt like this.”

 

“Yeah, and, but I thought you would like it. Please say you like it.”

 

“I can’t even… I can’t be this person for you. I’m not… available like that.”

 

“Yeah, and I’m married. You know I’m very married and we’re gonna have babies and I’m gonna be happy for more than a little bit. Just wait. You’ll see it. I’ll be happy happy okay?”

 

Kelley let out a long sigh, and put her phone down, rubbing her face as if she were trying to massage away the image of her best friend in a bra. She picked up the phone again, and said as calmly as possible, 

 

“I think you need to go back to your hotel and go to sleep, okay?”

 

“I’m at a pub.”

 

“It sounds like it. Alex, you need to find someone trustworthy to get you back to your hotel, okay?”

 

“Okeee. Is that a - is that a cab? I think I, oh, I need to get my purse first because I left it in the back inside.”

 

The noise amplified as Alex found something, and stumbled out again, bumping into a couple people. Her regularly raspy voice was exceptionally worn, and words slurred together. She made her way outside again, and Kelley heard each interaction, including the shouts Alex made as she saw a cab drive by.

 

“EXCUSE ME! HEY!” Alex waved one down, and shuffled her way over, breathing heavily into her phone.

 

“Okay, bonjour s'il vous plaît, I need to go to the MARIOTT!”

 

The Welsh cabbie grunted, and Alex pulled the door closed, laying across the back seats of the cab. The car began to pull away, and Kelley felt confident enough that Alex would wind up where she needed to be.

 

“Okay Alex, I’m gonna go, okay?”

 

“Bye bye.”

 

And the call disconnected.

 

Kelley deleted the photo before her judgment got the best of her, and headed towards the bathroom.

 

She did everything she possibly could to not go there. And yet, lying in bed a bit later, she let herself have just a bit, like a little sip. It couldn’t hurt, right? Without any effort at all, she could imagine a warm mouth, swirling and sucking on a sensitive nipple, long silky hair tickling her chest, teeth dragging across puckered skin, hands sliding down and everywhere… She pinched a nipple herself, and felt almost a shock between her legs. 

 

Feeling guilty, she rolled over, and decided to waste the last of her night on Instagram instead, scrolling and pretending like everything was fine.

 

*

*

*

 

Alex woke up, miraculously in her correct hotel room the next day, having slept in her clothes and shoes. She kicked off the trainers, and rolled over. Her phone was dead, so searched for the charger she’d plugged in two days prior, and sat up, head spinning. The light beaming from the window was impeccably bright, and she had no idea where her roommate was. Checkout was set for eleven, and they were due to meet their bus to the airport at 11:15. Breakfast was probably long gone.

 

After hopping into a scorchingly hot shower, she changed clothes and brewed herself a cup of watery, hotel room coffee. Sitting on her bed, she noticed a few texts from team members and friends from the night before, congratulating Lyon on their win. Towards the top of the messages was one from Kelley, and she tapped on it to see her own face looking up at her.

 

It looked like she’d taken a photo, shirt pulled up around her neck, breasts squished together to form something vaguely passing as voluptuous, only due to padding. Nipples pushed against the fabric, and her eyes stared straight at the phone camera, hair a mess around her face, flash illuminating her eyes.

 

Kelley hadn’t responded, and Alex hoped beyond anything that Kelley hadn’t seen it yet. The 6 hour time difference was in her favor, however, and as she glanced at the clock reading 10, she figured she’d do some preemptive damage control.

 

Oops, meant to send that to S. Sorry!

 

She had no idea if she’d meant to send it to her husband or not, but the damage was done, and hopefully minimal.

 

When Kelley awoke later that morning, she saw a new message from Alex, as if the phone call had never happened, pretending it was a mistake.

 

It caught in Kelley’s throat, this aggressive, persistent image, burned into her mind. Alex had definitely wanted to send her that photo. Alex had wanted Kelley to think about her in that way, wanted her to imagine all sorts of things, like unhooking that bra and taking a taste of her skin, or sinking to her knees to unbutton Alex’s jeans and slide them down. She wondered if the bra came in a matching set, satin and hot pink, and ready to be removed.

 

It bubbled, angry inside. It was truly the purest, sweetest, most horrific torture of someone completely unavailable and previously believed to be uninterested sending her photos like that. On purpose. Cruel. And a little devastating.

 

Still, she couldn’t hold the actions of drunk Alex to the same standards as she could when she was sober. It’s like asking for appropriate behavior from an off-the-rails twin. Kelley took a deep breath and replied as breezily as she could, hoping to put the whole incident behind them.

 

All good. :)

 

—————

Chapter Text

September, 2017

 

There reached a point where Kelley couldn’t do it anymore. She was almost literally torturing herself, watching her best friend be happy and in a relationship and moving forward with her life, as if Kelley were a buddy of hers. Which, of course she was. But… there was always something different. 

 

It didn’t start out that way. Kelley kind of… hated? Alex? She wasn’t exactly sure if she couldn’t stand her for stupid reasons, or was always just annoyed at the hot soccer girl who walked in to a room with a bit of a confidence issue, but secretly knowing she was hot and really talented. Strikers, man.

 

Alex had her fan club, and her puppy named Tobin, simultaneously sitting amongst the ranks of the Greats, while Kelley and Christen sat in the back. Kelley spent a fair amount of time “resenting” Alex, and Christen was forever pining for a girl who seemed to be perpetually interested in other people. 

 

There were moments where Kelley and Christen danced around the duo’s peripheral, and times when they went back to their room, licking their wounds. It was good that at least one of them saw their dream come true.

 

And then, Kelley moved on. She shifted her focus, and began working with the defensive part of the team, while Alex went off and scored all the goals. And then they’d sit at the same table, and Alex would laugh at her jokes, and then they started texting, and before they knew it, the two were in London chasing gold, side by side.

 

It reminded her of that first day of camp, where you meet a whole bunch of people, and then wind up close to some of the most unexpected ones.

 

For a while it was just a crush, something she perpetually tried to get over. And then she’d catch Alex staring at her lips, and they’d wind up holding hands, even in the the middle of discussion of menial things like stupid tv shows and boys. Friends hold hands, right? 

 

It’s why she came home from her trip to see Alex in LA, and downloaded a dating app. She refused to play victim to a girl dangling herself in front of Kelley like a carrot. She knew that she could probably reach out and touch, and see what would happen, but no one wants to be wanted purely for curiosity. At least, not by the girl of their dreams.

 

If Alex wanted Kelley, she’d need to use her words. Or maybe her hands, but that was a path she only peeked down in dark moments after photoshoots, or late nights when Alex was feeling cuddly and Kelley was feeling stupid.

 

*

*

*

 

It had been nearly two months, not with no contact, but with less. They both valued their time away from the game, and being stationary, even with the NWSL. Those trips were usually long weekends, with time to be home, which Kelley relished.

 

They’d be seeing each other in camp soon, and it was always easiest to get details out ahead of time, so they’d be less annoying in person. Kelley grabbed her headphones, and walked out to her car, as she headed towards the train station. Alex answered on the first ring.

 

“Hey!”

 

“Hellooo!”

 

“I feel like I haven’t talked to you since you were here, which totally feels like yesterday and also forever ago.”

 

“Eh- ha- yeah, that was…” That was the best and worst week of my life.

 

“So whatcha up to?”

 

“Um… WELL, I... started dating somebody, and it’s been really good, and I wanted you to know.”

 

“Oh! That’s… great!” Alex replied, and Kelley would have believed that she was genuinely happy for her, if she hadn’t answered just a beat too late. 

 

Alex was NOT going to ask for details

 

“Yeah, I’m really enjoying myself. It’s nice to be out there again.” Kelley pulled her car into park, and sat in the front seat, enjoying the air in contrast to a stuffy summer.

 

“So what does she do? Tell me all the deets!” Kelley rolled her eyes, and Alex picked at a spare thread on a throw pillow, trying to come up with ways to sound interested. 

 

“She’s an account executive at...” Kelley did her best to share a little about her new girlfriend, and was genuinely excited to be with someone fun and engaging, and actually available for once. And Catherine was genuinely cool. She had an old rescue dog named Remus, and was learning to play the drums, and had vaguely followed the US in their World Cup triumph, but definitely thought it was hot, now…

 

Their first date was to a Thai restaurant, and they wound up talking outside the train station for longer than either had intended, grabbing two mostly unbent metal chairs around a table, just outside of Times Square. Kelley kissed her that night, and felt little happy butterflies, before heading to the train, back to Jersey.

 

And maybe it wasn’t kind, and maybe it was a little manipulative, and maybe Kelley wanted a little bit of her power back. She was only human.

 

“…and the sex has been craaaaazy. We didn’t even leave her apartment last weekend.”

 

She heard Alex reply with an, “Oh! That’s cool.” In a slightly higher pitch than normal, and Kelley found herself looking towards an invisible camera man.

 

“You know, I didn’t think I was into bondage all that much, but apparently I’ve been missing out.”

 

“Huh.” checkmate, babe.

 

“Anyway! How are you?” Okay, maybe that was a little petty.

 

Good…” Alex wracked her brain to think about anything she’d done beyond argue with Serv about cleaning up his dishes, and binge watching Riverdale.

 

“Just… been here. Ready for camp in a few days. Maybe we’ll be roommates again!”

I hope so.

 

“Totally!” I hope not. “Hey listen, I gotta go- my train should be here in a minute… Date night.”

 

“Cool, have fun!”

 

“Thanks!”

 

“Okay! Love ya!”

 

“Yeah, you too!”

 

The both hung up the phone, and sat there, not exactly sure what had just happened, but trying hard not to imagine the vast world of possibilities.

-----

Chapter Text

July 2018

 

It’s been a long few months.

 

She’d taken each step of the process as it came; the trade, the breakup, the move… Still, those were generally positive, or positive enough. Kelley and Cat decided that dating cross country was impractical, so they cried, and wavered back and forth a bit, and then Cat helped her pack up the house, and then Kelley was back home in Atlanta, busy with holidays and ready for a fresh start. She’d joked about New Jersey for years, but in reality, she knew she’d miss it.

 

It was helpful, that while there were players carrying over from their new team’s previous club, everything was new to all of them at once. It was a chance to start fresh, and connect with a new community. New season, new Kelley.

 

And then she got injured.

 

Suddenly, in a moment, the dreams of a beautiful summer playing with the Royals and seeing her friends at camp again were smashed, and they didn’t know exactly how long it would be.

 

She’d been playing with the National Team since she was a teenager, four years of Varsity in high school, then a successful college run, and professional career. Even when the WPS folded, Kelley was on the National Team. They were each other’s family, really. Sometimes more constant than anything else. They’d travel, new cities every few days, back to their club teams, then traveling to see other friends- but the constant was each other, the big collective mass of them. Kelley saw Becky more than she saw her mom, and that had been pretty consistent for years.

 

This time, she was stuck. Stuck in one place, stuck not playing, stuck without the people who had been a constant in her life for so long. She’d known injuries were difficult and painful, but didn’t quite conceptualize that the pain could be largely mental and emotional, not just a physical experience.

 

She had to cut out soccer entirely from her personal life. She called Tobin a few times, who knew the struggle of missing out due to injury, but Tobin was better, now, and Kelley sat at home in her new apartment, in a new city, single and alone.

 

And so she read. She watched all the tv shows she’d wanted to see, but missed, she started journaling a little bit, and slowly her body began to mend. Laura promised to keep it a secret, but Kelley cried when she kicked the ball again with no pain during a practice. She wrapped Kelley in her arms, and let her weep, a coach who can so deeply understood the heartbeat of the sport, beyond a game, beyond a workout, and into someone’s very being. 

 

“You’re gonna be fine.” She wiped Kelley’s tears from her cheeks, and made a silly face, and they moved on. 

 

Alex had been busy, too. Her film was released, somewhere between red carpet obligations, National Team duties, and they’d been caught up in the chaos of everything. They were used to seeing each other in bursts, but when that didn’t happen, it wound up becoming little text conversations which were never especially deep.

 

Nearly every time Alex asked if she wanted to FaceTime at camp, Kelley said no. She liked saying hi, and seeing everyone, but it wasn’t easy. There was a little consolation, knowing that her injury was the only reason she wasn’t called into camp. Jill had been kind on the phone, assuring Kelley that she’d be back with them soon. She’s grateful she didn’t cry after that call, but she got close. She got smoothies instead with some of the other Royals, and they didn’t talk about it.

 

*

*

*

“Hey!” Kelley had been strolling through the chip aisle, browsing through seventy thousand varieties of popcorn, before her music paused at the sign of an incoming call. It was stupid and annoying and somehow the sight of Alex’s face on her phone perpetually made her heart flutter. She hated it and loved it and didn’t ever want it to stop.

 

“Hey dude!” what? “What’s up?” 

 

“I was just thinking about you, and wondered how you were… It’s been a while.” I miss you

 

“Yeah,” I know “been kind of busy, just… You know…” I’ve been bored out of my mind.

 

I missed you.”

 

“I’ve missed you too, Al.”

 

“No, seriously Kelley. I… It’s been hard.” 

 

Kelley paused and looked around, wandering towards the grocery store cafe chairs.

 

“I mean, it’s been hard here, too. I didn’t quite realize just how difficult it would be, actually living it. Recovery sucks.” She could hear Alex breathing slowly on the other end.

 

“Every time we’ve gone somewhere, I miss sitting on the bus with you, and having breakfast together, and… well.” Every meal.

 

I know. I’m sorry I’ve been distant. I just needed a little space.”

 

“From me?” Please don’t say from me.

 

“No, I think I just needed to be away from everyone, to be honest. This is the longest I’ve been completely out of commission and I… There’s a lot that I want to change.”

 

“Like what?” Alex scooted back on the hotel room bed, pulling the pillows under her head, and shifting around to be a bit more comfortable.

 

“Like… I need more of a life outside of this.”

 

She needs space from me.

 

“So… What are you…?”

 

“I mean, I just can’t find myself trying to build something when retirement hits. I need to do a little more work, and I didn’t realize just how much until everything else fell apart.”

I don’t know what I’m going to do when I lose you for real.

 

“That… makes a lot of sense.” I miss her so much it hurts. “So what kinds of things?” 

 

She did everything she could not to start spiraling, really. It was like her best friend was slipping away over the phone, and it was just a stupid chat about… nothing.

 

“I decided to buy an apartment in Atlanta, same building. I’ve rented places there for offseason, but I decided to buy a place, and renovate it a little… I want to put stuff up on the walls, and paint, and I want to have something permanent.”

 

“Wow. That’s… a move.”

 

“Not really. I got a two bedroom so I could have a space for people to stay if they needed to, and I’m excited about it.” Kelley bit at the corner of her thumb, looking down at the concrete flooring. They were quiet for a minute.

 

“So I can come visit?” Alex sounded so hopeful.

 

“Of course.” Please do.

 

Silence

 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be there.” And she was.

 

“I didn’t know how to ask for your help.”

 

“I know. Please, please, tell me when you’re struggling with something. I didn’t quite know what to do or what to think or how to react and so I just didn’t.”

 

“It’s okay.” It hurt.

 

“It’s not okay, though. UGH I wish you were here right now.”

 

“Where are you?”

 

“Houston.”

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever said this, but man, I wish I could be in Texas right now.”

 

Alex laughed, and felt herself relax on the bed a little more.

 

“Well, you don’t have to wait too long to see me. I’ll be up there in a few days.”

 

“Ugh, why can’t it be now, though?”

 

“Miss me?”

 

Kelley rolled her eyes.

 

“I mean, I guess. Everyone else is gone, so I might as well add you to the list.”

 

“Where are they right now?”

 

“Seattle.”

 

“Mmmm.”

 

“What are you up to?”

 

“Nothing, just lying here. We got in a couple of hours ago, and I’m going to head down to the pool, but wanted to call you first.”

 

“Who’s your roommate?”

 

“Alanna.”

 

“Cool.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Isn’t it kind of funny how you have your Australians and I have mine? I love how our worlds all kind of intersect.”

 

“It’s kind of great. And also makes playing them that much harder, knowing how much work they’re putting in to be successful.”

 

“Okay, bad American time, but I really want good things for them. I don’t necessarily want it at our expense,” They chuckled together. “But really, I want them to get more recognition.”

 

“I agree.”

 

“Hey listen, speaking of, I’m going to head down for a swim before dinner. I can’t wait to see you.”

 

“I can’t wait to see you either.”

 

“I’ll talk to you soon!”

 

“Yes please!”

 

“I love you.”

 

“I love you too."

 

And they both meant it.

 

—————

 

Chapter Text

October 2019

 

Life is the steady thread between the highs and the lows. No matter what, you just keep going.

 

The second in a row World Cup victory was the highest of highs, with perpetual awareness that life would happen again, and ultimately, it did. Some of the most thrilling and exhilarating moments were a swing in one direction, with a bold hit of reality the other way.

 

Alex said goodbye to Kelley after their final victory tour game, knowing it would be a little while. They’d done their best to recover some semblance of normal after that night. Alex fighting the perpetual pull to just give in and surrender, and Kelley holding on to every detail, the sighs and the groans and the way she tasted. They both couldn’t stop smiling, and couldn’t stay away from each other.

 

Then there was the trip to the airport, where Kelley rode with Alex for her early morning flight, and they got breakfast together past security. They drowned their feelings in coffees at 7:45, and when it was time for Alex to board her flight back to Orlando, Kelley hugged her tightly, the first time they’d really touched since then, and longer, knowing that it was likely longer than they’d like it to be again. 

 

Alex pressed her fingers into the corners of her eyes, desperate to not get emotional before boarding, and Kelley made the decision to turn around and walk away towards her terminal.

 

She didn’t expect the text to arrive once she’d landed in Utah, sounding much more serious than she’d thought it warranted.

 

Can we talk when you get home? 

 

Cue vomit.

*

*

*

*

 

She took a steadying breath to try and calm her nerves, heart racing in her chest. She felt like she was going to throw up, and she definitely considered it a strong possibility. She’d picked up Blue, and bought some groceries, and knew Kelley’s plane would be landing any minute now. 

 

 

Yeah, gimme a bit. I need to get home. I’ll call later.

 

 

Alex went out for a run, the only thing she could imagine doing to get her mind off of things. She came home and brought her phone in with her to the bathroom. The hot water poured down her skin, and all she could think about was what she could say, and how, and when, and hoping she’d hold on to enough resolve to actually do it.

 

It was after she’d gotten out, and towel dried her hair, and started to read three different magazines, and cooked some chicken and microwaved some frozen veggies for dinner, that her phone began to buzz, Kelley’s face shining up at her. She plugged in her headphones and answered the call.

 

“Hey.”

 

She had to take a deep breath, the only thing that would stop the tears which were threatening to fall.

 

“Hey Kel.”

 

“So what’s up? It’s been… eight whole hours.”

 

“We need to talk.”

 

She heard Kelley’s intake of breath, and put her fork down, Blue trailing behind Alex as she made her way over to the couch.

 

Alright.”

 

And they talked. 

 

Alex told her about how much she loved having Kelley in her life, and Kelley cried, and Alex cried, and then Alex finally plucked up the courage to get out the words she’d been dreading- 

 

“I think I need some space.”

 

And she did her best to explain that it wasn’t really space from Kelley, but it was just space from a lot of it. 

 

So, so many times she almost told Kelley in an official capacity that she was planning on asking for a divorce from Servando, but it felt dishonest and kind of cruel to let someone else know about the end of his marriage before he was informed himself. So instead, she just said that there was a lot to think about, and that she needed time away to process and to take it all in, and that there’s nothing that Kelley did or should have done, or could have done differently- it was just… how it needed to be.

 

And Kelley sat there, heart in her throat, desperate to say something and to get out of the conversation, and to rewind time, and to get her best friend back, and to jump at the chance to kiss her for real and to bite down her neck, and get a real taste of Alex like she’d only dreamed about. And she was desperate for it to just be over, and she was desperate to curl up in a ball and cry, and she was desperate to feel like she had any leg to stand on, instead of feeling exposed and vulnerable, and trying to adjust to the change in altitude.

 

It was fitting, really, that she couldn’t breathe well. 

 

And suddenly half her heart was gone, and Alex was asking her for some quiet, and that if they played each other again that season, that she should know that Alex didn’t hate her, but also wanted both of them to stick close to their teams, and that they’d talk again in a few months, maybe.

 

And she talked about how she’d spoken with Jill, and asked for a temporary leave of absence for the rest of the year, in order to sort some things out. Alex had prepared a statement already with her press team, and they planned to post something on Instagram after the NWSL season was over. They’d let the world know that Alex Morgan was fine, and that Alex Morgan was taking time to rest and enjoy life with her family after years of training, and that Alex Morgan was preparing for another robust year ahead with the upcoming Olympics, and it was all what Kelley had anticipated after many of their long chats, but she never quite expected that she’d be getting a break from Alex right along with the rest of the world.

 

And Kelley just sat there, tears rolling down her face, feeling a part of her split in two, watching the other half walk away. And she let Alex talk, and she let Alex say her piece, and promise it wasn’t going to be forever, and Kelley believed her, she really did.

 

But that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to suck.

 

—————

Chapter Text

December, 2019

  

Merry Christmas, Kel.

 

You too! :)

 

See you at Ash and Ali’s wedding?

 

Yeah, of course. :)

 

:)

 *

*

*

*

Alex was significantly more involved, of course, though Kelley was a part of the family, like the rest of their teammates.

 

  22 best friends.

 

Oh, what people didn’t know. The drama and the love and the deepest, darkest secret of all- the fact that they really did all love each other as much as they said that they did.

 

The last few years, the National Team had gone from being a team, and had become real, true friends, shielding each other from the noise of the outside world. Certain dynamics shifted, too. It wasn’t as though they weren’t silly anymore, but instead of just being a collective of goofballs, they got close. They’d watched Tobin and Christen fall in love, and were so fiercely protective of the two of them, it’s a miracle nothing got out, to be honest.

 

But that’s what love does, really. It protects and encourages, it lifts each other up, it’s the quiet smile they’d all exchanged amongst themselves when Tobin and Christen had begun to hold hands, and the thousands of other smiles, watching them fall in to each other, gently and carefully, and then no two people smiled bigger than they did.

 

Kelley flew down to Florida the day before, and checked into the same hotel as Tobin and Christen. The three of them rode together, Tobin happy to drive, and Kelley climbed in the back seat, fully aware that Christen would utilize the passenger seat mirror to do her makeup on the car ride over. You don’t spend nearly ten years of your life parallel to someone without noticing a few of their habits.

 

Mercifully, the two of them knew about Alex, and that whole drama already, and didn’t force any conversation that wasn’t already happening.

 

She would be fine. Kelley promised. It was just really fucking hard.

 

“I’m sorry, Kel.” And she knew they meant it. They’d been there, in their own way.

 

The three walked into the venue, happy to be there after years of wondering when that day would come, sometimes wondering if it would at all.

 

Alex looked good. Kelley hated it. She hated the way Alex seemed to glow, she hated her gorgeous dress, she hated the way Alex’s face lit up when they had made eye contact during dinner the night before, and she definitely could not stand the way Alex had made a speech about Ali and Ashlyn loving and honoring each other, hearing the words about love and commitment come out of her mouth, like watching a fountain drip water when you’re parched.

 

And they sat a different tables, and stood on opposite ends of the group photos they’d taken, and only once did they really speak, when they found themselves in the bathroom at the same time, and Alex had settled her arms around Kelley’s neck and the smell of her perfume nearly knocked Kelley over, arms twisting around Alex’s back just right, feeling her body- had it always felt this delicate?

 

Alex pulled away, and put her hands on Kelley’s shoulders, declaring - “You look absolutely beautiful,” before dropping them to her sides and letting out a gentle breath, returning to the mirror to check on her eyeliner, and to fix her lipstick, and to pack them both away in her clutch, and make her way out the door without another word.

 

It was sheer torture, and Kelley stood there a moment longer, unblinking in the mirror, before heading back out to her seat. The cake was delicious. The new year had arrived just in time.

 

————

 

 January 2020

 

Camp.

 

Alex was at the hotel already, and was rooming with Mal; Kelley was with Becky.

 

The ice began to thaw, ever so slightly. They were only brought in for a week, almost more of a checkup, really. Five days of training and some tests, a friendly with Canada, the closest neighbor who appreciated the friendly without having to cross an ocean, and then they were all gone again. Six months out from Tokyo.

 

It’s the second time Kelley receives the text message, though she had no idea what to expect, this time.

 

Can I call you when I get home?

 

sure.

 

It was a few hours later when the phone rang. The photo that popped up was a secret smile Alex had shared when they’d explored Paris one night. She was glowing, and it had taken Kelley’d breath away.

 

“Hey.”

 

“I need to- I,… I want to share something with you.”

 

“…okay.”

 

“Servando and I began the separation process in November.”

 

Those.. were big words. Not unexpected, but significant. Real.

 

“And we’ve come to the decision to pursue a divorce.”

 

Okay, realer.

 

Kelley didn’t realize she was holding her breath, until she tried to catch it again.

 

“And I wanted you to know, and to hear it from me, and to understand…  maybe a little bit more.”

 

“Understand what?”

 

“Understand why I needed some time away.”

 

“Because… you couldn’t have your best friend supporting you through the process?”

 

Okay maybe she was a little hurt.

 

“Is that really what you think that was about? I needed some time, Kelley.”

 

“Time for what?”

 

“Time to figure out me. And us. I needed to see if I was able to be happy without distraction, and I needed to see if it was broken, or just over.”

 

Silence.

 

“And what did you find out?”

 

“It’s over, Kelley.”

 

Silence.

 

“And what-“

 

“I can’t make any promises, I can’t predict, or… prepare, or ask anything of you… but you should know that it’s done with him.”

 

What the fuck do you say to that?

 

Okay.”

 

“Okay. I’ll probably be posting about in in the next week or so. It just felt like it needed to be something I shared with you directly.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Of course.”

 

Silence.

 

“Can I ask you something though?”

 

“Anything.”

 

“Why didn’t you tell me in person? We were in the same conference room this morning.”

 

“I… didn’t… I couldn’t know how I’d react. And you deserved to hear this clearly, and intentionally, and I’m working on sharing my feelings in an honest way.”

 

“Uh, Janice, are you in therapy?”

 

“Yeah. I started talking to someone late last year as I was sorting everything through.”

 

“That’s great. I’m proud of you for doing that.”

 

“Thanks, Kel.”

 

“Yeah, dude.”

 

Alex laughed a little, just a chuckle, and it felt like a glimpse of sunshine for the first time after a cold winter.

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Suuure.”

 

“Alright, I should-“

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I’m still processing a lot, and this is proving to be kind of a mess, if I’m honest, and I just hope you can be patient with me.”

 

Patient. Wait. Friends don’t have to… …

 

… not worth the energy.

 

“Always. Absolutely.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Okay. I should go. I love you.” 

 

It felt so good to say.

 

“I love you, too.”

 

“Bye.”

 

“Bye.”

 

And it was the way that Kelley felt the world spinning around her, desperately clinging on to the a whole host of unspoken potential. Patience could be her middle name.

 

—————

 

Four days later it was posted.

 

Just over six years ago, we said I Do.

 

It’s been quite the journey, and we have seen so much of the world together. You, our family, friends, and fans, have been by our side through that process, and we cannot thank you enough. 

 

It is with heavy hearts that we share that Servando and I have decided to end our marriage. The reasons for this remain deeply personal, and are only known truly between the two of us, but we want you to know that we part as friends, who will always deeply respect one another. Seasons change and shift and grow, and we came to realize that we are better as individuals than trying to remain a cohesive unit.

 

We do ask for privacy and space as we continue through this process. It is not easy, nor  was it a decision we came to lightly. Many nights of prayer and long conversations brought us here, and we really do believe it is the best path moving forward.

I, for one, will always cherish the times we’ve had together, and wish Servando the best of luck with his career, and future opportunities. Serv, you’ve always been a friend to me, and I’m so grateful for that day we met in college. Thank you for all this time we shared together. Here’s to bright futures ahead.

 

Alex.

 

Kelley liked the post, and replied with a simple heart emoji, knowing how hard they had fought, and how much time and energy they’d spent into building a marriage that would last. The heartache of knowing that it wouldn’t be forever.

 

Alex had hit post, and decided to close the app, and curl up on the couch with her mom. She put on cooking shows, and let Alex cry.

 

They’d really tried. 

 

They’d called and texted,

 

They’d done their best, living cross continents,

 

And ultimately it came down to a question of future. 

 

Servando had been signed with Tottenham, and had actually done surprisingly well. The team offered him a two year extension, and he’d wanted to take it, truly and honestly. He didn’t want to say no, and Alex felt like it wasn’t a decision she could make. It wasn’t fair anymore.

 

But it had also meant something deeper and bigger than just football; it would mean three years of living apart, before another World Cup.

 

It would mean they would see each other for mere days, all pushing through with the hope of another achievement, a chance to qualify for the next tournament, for both of them, and it was an opportunity to grow, and neither of them could fault the other, not really.

 

They’d remained supportive and caring, kind enough to celebrate each other’s successes, without realizing that their marriage had all but died, and it seemed only fitting to put the both of them out of their misery. Pain for now, but with great hopes and care for the future. Kind enough, loving however it could be, but apart. And they said it, and they meant it, and they signed on the dotted line. 

 

—————

 

Nine days after the call, Kelley sat down for her first appointment with Dr. Sadler.

 

And when asked the question, she answered honestly.

 

“I am single, and I am in love with someone, and I need to learn how to not fuck this up.”