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The Golden Cage

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Emily is deep in thoughts, a book in front of her.
Her eyes are not really focused on anything. She sometimes finds herself getting lost in something she is reading. Her mind trailing of from one initial thought. She is sitting in a library.

She is not new to this university - she doesn’t feel disconnected anymore like when she first started studying there. As a psychology major she felt a lot of pressure to keep up with all the other students. And although she knew she was smart enough to belong there, that she worked really hard for everything she achieved, she couldn’t help but feel like a misfit.

Her parents and everyone else in close family relation to her has merely graduated high school. No one before her even thought about going to university. She was the odd one out. Which leads her to sometimes struggling to feel like a misfit in her family as well.

The first year of university she always felt like someone might jump out of the bushes and just yell at her “you don’t belong here” and she would gladly agree and leave. She knew that was irrational. But she fought her way through those feelings. Now having graduated she can look back at those memories and laugh about all of it. She spent the best years of her life so far right here. She feels at home on campus, especially in this library. That’s why she finds herself coming back from time to time. Felling at peace between the high bookshelves. She always grabs herself a book that looks interesting. The topic is irrelevant. She can get lost in any information she can get her hands on. Mostly she comes here for inspiration though.
Her mind piking something up she is reading about and letting her thoughts wonder from there.

Right now, she is holding a book about a woman having a stroke in her late thirties. The book being the memoir of said woman. Although she got a basic understanding of the brain and the functions of the different parts thanks to her cognitive psychology lessons - she is till fascinated at the description of the woman’s feelings right as she realized she is having a stroke. She didn’t feel the physical boarders of her body anymore. She describes it as a feeling of energy – so big it couldn’t possibly be contained in a small human body.
Inspired by these descriptions Emily gives in to the more spiritual side of herself and wonders if this might actually be the case. Humans being connect in so many more ways than we can see with our eyes or register with our rational explanations. That fact that everything is made out of atoms that themselves are only build with electrons, protons and neutrons as little as an orange in a full-size soccer stadium. Everything, every surface, every wall, the air we breathe and even our own body’s - build out of 99.9% nothingness. How can we possibly feel the difference between water, air and bricks? It’s all just energy – Her mind is blown by revelations like these.
She enjoys the feeling of being so small in a world whose whole existence seems like a miracle to her.

She is pulled out of her thoughts when the place on the table next to her is not empty anymore. A young, stressed looking student settling in next to her and pulling a ton of papers and binders out of his bag. She feels sorry for the guy. Remembering how stressful the weeks leading up to the final exams were for her. She can’t help but feel relief she doesn’t have to do it anymore.

After graduating nearly two years ago she found herself faced with the decision in what direction she wants to take her life. Being a psychology major everyone thought she would go into becoming a therapist. Given that a she has the kind of aura that seems to have the effect on not only family and friends - but also strangers to open up to her in a way they often don’t with others. She has thought about it. She thought about it every time an Uberdriver had spilled their worries, past regrets and hopes for the future to her without her even trying or encouraging people to get talking to her. Her best friend jokes about it a lot. Emily is known for getting to know the whole life story of strangers without even asking. She doesn’t mind it though. She is fascinated by people. By the different reality’s every single human on this earth is living. That’s probably why she finds herself with a memoir in her hands once more right now. She is drawn to the story’s life is writing. She doesn’t really like fiction books because the story’s always feels fake and molded. She really considered going in to therapy – she looked up all the options but one night after she found herself wide awake think about how she could help the old lady she met at the coffee shop a few days ago - the one who spilled her heart out about her loneliness ever since her husband died - she realized that she always gets way to invested in the life of those who share theirs with her. The pain and suffering of others often leaves her exhausted. And although she is sure she would have learned methods how to keep distant to a patient she didn’t see herself taking that rout.

What she did instead, was a surprise even for her. She found herself working for a small team of documentary makers. They regularly sell their stories to big channels all over the country. The focus on telling stories of everyday people. She thinks about giving the kid next to her some heartfelt advice but she realizes he has already put his headphones in and seems like he is trying his best to focus on the paper he is reading. His brows are furrowed and he is biting the backend of his pencil. She doesn’t want to disturb him further and with a quick look at the clock on the wall she decides it’s probably time for her to get going.

She is meeting up with her old roommate in one of the Starbucks on campus. Ali basically never left the campus life – she took a position as a post doc researcher and teaching a bit here and there. Meeting her on campus makes her feel both nostalgic about the old times and like she still belongs to this place that feels so much like home. Sometimes she wonders if it is healthy she still feels so connected to this place. Like somehow, she couldn’t move on like all her other friends did. Which makes her even more grateful for Ali. She puts the book back and gets lost in her own headphones still thinking about the energy the woman in the book talked about.

Chapter Text

Ali is already sitting on one of the tables outside and typing away on her laptop. Emily smiles to herself – being very familiar with the scenery. She goes over to the table and takes a seat. Ali looks up and seems surprised to see her.

“Hey there overachiever, how long have you been here?” Emily asks her with a grin that gives away her intentions on mocking her old roommate. Ali plays right in to it though –
“kind of have to be an overachiever to do anything with a sociology degree don’t ya think?” “Still aiming to become one of the youngest professors?” “Never not aiming to be the best” Ali winks at her. “I’ve gotten here about an hour ago to catch up on some work – didn’t think I’d meet you so soon? I must have lost track of the time again” “Nah your all good – I’ve been in the library and left a little earlier” “Still reminiscing about the old times, are we?” Ali says with a somewhat challenging smile.
“Still one of my favorite places to get the creative juices flowing” Emily says while pointing at her head. Ali chuckles “You might be the only person that has ever gone to this university and actually found creativity in those huge gray shelfs – are you working on something at the moment?”
“No, not at the moment - we actually just finished a story about this amazing teacher who has been disabled her whole life and still fought her way to a stable life and a regular job while the odds were against her – we are starting a new story next week though – so time for me to give my mind a fresh start” Ali just nods, forever impressed how highly Emily speaks about all the people she worked with. She knows how involved her blond friend gets not only in the stories themselves but with her goal to do those stories justice in the way she is telling them. She is equally invested in the lives of these people. She will always admire that about her. She just doesn’t seem to stop at the surface when she is getting to know people – she is always diving in deep.
When she first got to know that side of her roommate she was quite surprised because on the surface Emily seems more like the live of the party – she is funny, witty and always there for an adventure. But she quickly realized that Emily is also a deep thinker and feeler. She became the first person in her new college life she talked to about her own problems.
Emily never seemed to judge her. She loves the quirky blond one for all those late-night talks.
She was there when she was overwhelmed with herself, when she cried in the middle of the night, when she fell in love and when she struggled with falling in love. Emily somehow always knew what she was feeling. She seemed to know things about Ali, before she even knew them herself.
Emily has this gift of looking at a situation from an outsider’s perspective. She somehow knows how everyone involved is feeling and meets them on their level. Ali cherishes her perspective as much as she cherishes her for the quiet moments where she just let her be and held her.
She would go through hell for that woman – and she couldn’t be happier to still have her in her life.

“What are you up to right now?” Emily asks nodding towards her laptop.
“We are trying to get a paper finished and approved until Wednesday” Ali sighs, finally closing her laptop and feeling a bit guilty she didn’t do it right away. “So - busy and on a deadline as always” Emily chuckles. “Let’s get you another coffee so I can tell you about Jill Taylor and her recovery from a stroke.
Alis face falls “O god! Do I know her?” she asked concerned - never really good with names especially not with all those loose friendships Emily has had all through college.
“Oh! No, no” Emily loughs out loud – “she is a neuroanatomist that had a stroke and kind of wrote a book about her experience from her perspective while she also gives scientific insights on the brain. I’m reading her book at the moment – and can’t stop myself thinking about her perspective”
“Of course you can’t” Ali leans back “You know – I might have actually watched a TED-Talk a couple of years back on her and her story.
“You and those TED-Talks” Emily takes of her jacket “you always sound so educated when you talk about them” she jokes.
“Well they are more efficient than reading a whole book on the topic, and you can watch them while having breakfast” “So efficient” Emily teases her “the same as usual?” Emily askes while she takes the empty cup Ali must have already downed while she was working.
“Actually, I would like an Iced Tea or something– if I have any more coffee today, I’m going to be bouncing from wall to wall tonight instead of getting some much-needed sleep” “Iced Tea coming right up”

A few minutes later Emily places the glass in front of Ali who is scrolling through her phone and looking up as Emily sits down taking a large gulp of her coffee.
“So what’s new?” Emily just shrugs her shoulders – keeping eye contact with her brown-haired roommate. She knows where this question is heading but she doesn’t want to give in just jet
“well … working, eating, sleeping, reading, meeting up with friends…” she points toward Ali, giving her one of her brightest smiles.
“come one Emily – how are you doing? Is there anyone special?” Emily can't help but roll her eyes. She knew this question was coming – everyone always seems concerned about her love life. She’s basically been single all her life. The fact, doesn’t border her – she is just always amused that everyone else seems to care so much.
“You know I would tell you if there would be someone” She is leaning back in her chair, taking another sip of her coffee.
Ali is still looking at her. She can’t really decipher what Ali entails with that look, she almost looks like she is feeling pity (?) for her. She knows that her answer isn’t going to change – she isn’t really meeting anyone new. She is also not really invested in finding someone. She decides to interrupt the silence and Alis gaze

“How is Ash doing?”
“She is great! Actually, she just started talking about opening her own Daycare Center.” Ashlyn has been working in a nursery for over three years. When Emily first met her she was still studying early childhood education. But soon after she started working in a nursery just of campus. She is compassionate and loving, and although she doesn’t look like a typical Kindergarten teacher – she is amazing around kids.
Sometimes she wonders how they manage a relationship between their careers. But admittedly these two might have the most stable relationship Emily knows.
Ali is beaming at her, still talking about the steps Ashlyn would need to take to actually open her own Daycare Center and Emily realizes she might have zoned out a bit. “Sounds awesome!” Emily concludes after Ali finished talking. “So, you said you’d be working on a new project soon? – Who is it about?” Emily cringes internally – of course she already knows who they are documenting next.
When Sue came to her with the Idea she was beaming. She wanted Emily to take over most of the researching and interviewing. The only problem is - Emily has never really been into sports. Of course she watches the super bowl and has been in some kind of stadium once or twice – but she just doesn’t really feel the hype. Plus, she likes talking to authentic people and something about the success this woman has had seems to her like she might be quite up tight. She hasn’t really met anyone who was successful in sports and not kind of arrogant.
“How much do you know about Soccer?” she looks at her friend with a helpless expression in hopes to somehow get the research off to a good start with a quick rundown from Ali.
“Depends – I know how the game works – Kyle played all through our childhood, and I played till High school – mostly because I wanted to be like him. But I haven’t really followed the leagues except for the woman’s world cup. The men are just useless in large tournaments” she chuckles. “Why are you asking? Are you covering a soccer player?!” she looks genuinely surprised.
Ali has known her and her work long enough to know that they are not really the Sports-Covering-Type of Team. “You might need to get me some basic information then! I have to lead the production on a female soccer player – and to say the least I’m helpless!” “Oh dear! Let’s see – should we start with the basics...? There are 22 players and one ball” “Ali, I know that much – I didn’t grow up behind the moon!” Emily laughs and finds herself listening to the detailed monolog Ali is giving her about all she knows about tactics and teams and the league that folded and on and on and on…
Although she sure is thankful for all the information – it doesn’t really get her anymore excited about the upcoming project. She leans further back in her chair. Eyes focused on Alis to show her she is listening although she finds her mind wandering from time to time. Later they find a smooth transition away from the topic of soccer and talk about Alis work some more.

When they have to get going Emily gives Ali a big hug and sticks her pinkie in the other woman’s ear. Ali squeals ”OMG! Are you still five?! My ear feels invaded“ Ali shakes her head to get rid of the feeling. Emily laughs wholeheartedly at her disgusted facial expression. Sometimes she just can’t control her impulses – and around friend that are as close as Ali is – she doesn’t even try to.

Chapter Text

Emily was meeting her at a Café – she liked it that way. She wanted the first meeting to be outside of all the places they will cover while filming. She usually met them on a somewhat neutral ground.
Most people she was meeting under those circumstances were very nervous. Often having had no experience in front of a camera – and kind of shy as to why their story would be important enough to be told like that. She was in constant awe of how oblivious so many of them were about the extrodinarity of their own stories and personalities. They were humble and kind, intelligent and inspiring.
She was sure the woman she would be meeting in a few minutes would be nothing like that. She knew athletes. They were the popular kids at school, self-confident and often a little full of themselves. They didn’t prioritize their academics and were still treated like heroes. She just didn’t get it. It all seemed so superficial and shallow.

Emily tried to prepare herself – she watched all the interviews she could find about the soccer player from Georgia, that grew up in a stable household and had a brother and a sister. She watched the highlights of many games and nearly fell asleep while doing it. She was reading article after article about her workout routine and her cooperations with big brands.

And here she was. Sitting in her car outside the Café and admittedly being a little bit nervous. And she hated it! She usually was confident and excited when meeting a new Person – especially for work! She kind of always has the upper hand - she is the one steering the conversations. She likes to joke a lot and tries to loosen up her counterpart with her humorous side. The people they interviewed are nervous when they first meet. Because her team focuses on everyday stories - the subjects of which are often very reserved - it is up to Emily to make sure that they warm up and show themselves authentically. Emily was sure that the woman she was about to meet would be neither nervous nor authentic.

She didn’t want to play in the whole idea of the produced persona she could read all over the internet about. She wanted to have a clean sheet, a clear mind – she wanted to meet her on an eye-level. Which means she now has to take a few deep breathes while trying to remember what she would usually do. She can’t help but take a last look in the mirror to pull her hair back in a messy bun, straighten her shirt bevor stepping outside the car and a few moments later inside the cafe.

Kelly will later tell her that she didn’t expect someone like Emily to show up. The people working on similar projects with her in the past were mostly older man –full of wrong assumptions about the female soccer world and the reasons they were successful.
And although they had exchanged E-mails and Kelly knew she was expecting a woman she didn’t think she would be so young. The female producers making sports documentaries were often retired athletes themselves – making them at least thirty-five years old. But the blond woman approaching her table couldn’t be a day older than twenty-five.
She gave her a quick wave before standing up and shaking her hand.

“Hey! Thanks for meeting me here – I’m Emily – do you mind if I call you Kelley – I’m just not really god with the formalities of the polite way to address people I guess. I hope you didn’t have to wait long? I thought I was on time, but maybe I lost track – sorry about that!”

Is she nervous? The blond woman she had only known from quite professional emails seems to be rambling a bit. Kelly can’t help but smile at that.

After Emily finished talking Kelly motioned for her to take the seat across from her “Let’s see – of course you can call me Kelley I hope I’m still a bit too young for people calling me Miss O’Hara or something similar, I just got here so you didn’t have me waiting – and last time I checked you were still early. Was that all or did I miss any question?” Emily feels like she is blushing a bit - she also can’t help but laugh “For now I think you answered them all but I’m sure I’ll have more questions later – that’s kind of my job here”

They fell into an easy conversation after that. Kelley seemed to be way more laid back than Emily expected. They were joking back and forth until the waitress brought their coffees. After the first few sips Kelly looked at her more seriously “So what kind of questions are you going to ask me?”

“To be honest – I’m not sure jet. I really have never portrait an athlete – but I can assure you that we are not really looking into being another best of Kelley O’Hara Montage”
“Oh, so you don’t like the montages you saw then?” She said while raising an eyebrow. “I mean – yes – but – no – it’s not like its anything bad, I just don’t think you get to see a lot of personality in those – and that’s kind of what we’re looking in to portraying usually – I’m rambling again aren’t I?” She is laughing at Kelley’s expression telling her that much.

“kinda – yeah” She said laughing too.

Emily really enjoys the way Kelley laughs so genuinely. The noise of it is vibrating through the whole café – it makes her want to laugh right along with her. She is looking at her, making a conscious decision about keeping eye contact. It’s like an underlying challenge. Because Kelley seem to be doing the same thing. She isn’t shy or reserved. It’s not really forced. It’s a question and an answer. It’s the dance of first figuring out someone you don’t know. Getting to know them. It’s the way you are presenting yourself, your values and respecting your opponent. It’s a conscious decision at first – and then it becomes natural.
They keep talking until their cups are empty and the blank sheets about each other get fuller. They talk about sport – mostly.
About collage – a bit.
About books – surprisingly.
And after that they start to talk about their lives – personally.
They order a second coffee each. And after Emily told her about her decision to study psychology – about the challenges she was faced with because of her family life – and the uncommon path she took after finishing her degree.
Kelley finds herself talking about her path outside of soccer. Naturally.
Emily feels familiar to her without them ever meeting before. She doesn’t even think about the line she usually draws while giving interviews. She doesn’t even dance around it. She is not sure how they got there but when she tells Emily about her girlfriend she registers the faint look of surprise in the blondes’ face. And that’s when she realizes she talked more than usual - way more personal than usual.

And she crossed the l line.

She stops talking – which she realizes only puts a spotlight on what she just said.
And for the first time in their conversation she is the one rambling. “I – sorry – I mean – I never went public with that part of my life – not because I’m ashamed or anything – I mean I had a hard time coming to terms with it – but I’m good now. It’s just – I like to keep this private.”

When she realizes why Kelley seems nervous all of a sudden Emily decides to stop her – “Don’t worry – whatever we talk in these meeting without the cameras keeps between us. I’m not looking to scandalize anything you are telling me. Actually, we strive to do the opposite of that. We want to portrait the authentic version of you – not butcher something for a big media outlet. And you decide what parts of yourself you want to show.” She pauses – Kelley is still looking at her hands holding her coffee instead of looking directly at her like she did up to this point.
Emily can’t help but feel like she is not as comfortable with the topic as she tried to say she was. Her heart breaks for anyone who went through the struggle of being ashamed of who they are - and for anyone still going through it.
She was unbelievably fortunate that these kinds of struggles were never anything she was faced while growing up. Educated or not – her parents always made an effort for her to be herself – and unapologetically so. She decides to cross the line too – to make Kelley feel better – or to lift some of the shame – maybe just to keep the openness of their conversation going.

“Kelley I’m going to be honest you seem a bit uncomfortable just now. I just want you to know that I would be the last person to judge you - about your sexuality or anything else. When I came out I kind of didn’t understand why I had to do it. Why that seems to be a part of me I need to announce. I still don’t get why this is any different than other parts of our personality that we talk about. So, I always make an effort to take everyone as they come. People are so different – in every aspect. I don’t judge any of it. You could be a serial killer and I’d still try to understand who you are – and how you got here.” Kelley is looking at her again – even laughing a bit. “So tell me about her! Only if you want to of course!”

And so she does.

She tells Emily about how they met at Stanford, how she is training to become a doctor. How that very fact helped while coming out to her family.
The O’Haras are a ambitious family as far as Emily can tell by the way Kelley talks about them. And the fact that Kelley was dating a girl who was top of the class in medical school helped accept the “lifestyle” that Kelley “chose”.
“They always expected us to do our best – I think that has shaped me in more forms that I have jet to admit to myself” she said with a smile that Emily could swear horded some sort of sadness inside.

It was that smile that she kept thinking about on her drive home.

The first meeting went way better than expected and they talked longer then Emily could imagine herself talking to an athlete before. But Kelley was funny and genuine and seemed to sometimes be a deep thinker. She kept replaying that sentence in her head over and over again.
She felt like she was let in on a secret that Kelley didn’t even realize she told her. She looked hurt and guilty. But in a way that she might have dealt with for a long time.

And then again – Emily was probably overthinking that whole thing. She knew she had a tendency to do so – still. She couldn’t help it.
And the worst part was – she felt intrigued – she felt that tingling in her fingers to find out about all the corners of Kelley O’Haras mind – about her approach to live, - and in that case love.
She knew the documentary wouldn’t even cover that part about her story.

But it was important to her.

She wanted to get a grip on the full picture.