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time and too much (don't belong together like we do)

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I know I could be spending a little too much time with you
But time and too much don't belong together like we do
If I had all my yesterdays I'd give 'em to you too
I belong to you now
I belong to you

 

 

****

 

 

Allie is tired.

It’s a deep-in-the-bones sort of exhaustion. She flew 13 hours to Turkey in the hopes of escaping it, but even once the jet lag wore off, it lingered. Even after winning a title, even after winning MVP of that title game, it still lingers in the corners of everything she does. It’s a touch on her shoulder, a sharpness in her chest.

She’s flying home again for what she’s sure is the last time.

A recap — she sank every single ounce of herself into a move to Seattle and a fresh start with a new team, only to get cut mid-season in a phone call because she wasn’t even worth an in-person meeting. It took her a full three weeks to even attempt a shot again. That’s when she knew she was sick, in a way that felt deeper and heavier than anything she’d felt before.

When Allie was little, she spent more time on their driveway hoop than anywhere else. She had a temper, the type that little girls get teased for, but she couldn’t really help it. She just felt everything, at all times. There wasn’t a way to turn it off.

Basketball didn’t shut that temper off. But it channeled it, helped her feel like she could control something — one ball, one hoop. How did that one cheesy line from Hoosiers go? Same height, same width, same rim anywhere you go. So she’d take a ball to the driveway and spend however long it took to calm herself down.

Her dad was always the one who stood under the basket, wordlessly tossing the ball back to her, not needing to ask or hear an explanation. Eventually, he was forced to install a floodlight so that she could keep it up at night.

Allie squeezes her hand tighter, nails cutting into her own palm. Thinking about her dad makes it worse, now. Everything makes it worse.

She closes her eyes, tips her head back against the back of the chair, which is somehow just an inch too short for comfort. The terminal is quiet, and she prays — well, not really — that she can catch a few minutes of sleep before the flight. Thirteen hours from Budapest to Chicago felt a lot shorter going the opposite way.

If she’s being honest, Chicago doesn’t even feel like home anymore. She’s not sure how that happened, either.

***

“Hey.”

Allie’s head jerks up and does her best to fight back the grimace that almost effortlessly scrunches up her features.

“Oh, uh—” She should be embarrassed by the way her voice croaks as she tugs out her earbuds, but the emotion escapes her for the moment. “Hey.”

It’s Vandersloot, the point guard. It’s strange that this is their first interaction given how much Allie knows about her — the No. 3 overall pick in 2011, 5’ 8” and plays bigger, smooth with the ball in an unshakeably confident way.

Allie knows all this, of course, because they just played each other three days ago for the Hungary title. Because she scouted her for weeks ahead of that, mainly on her own, mainly because she knows she’s the main target Allie has to size up and beat out if she has any chance of making it onto her hometown team this month.

“I’m Courtney.” She sticks a hand out in an overly serious way, her face a little scrunched up and hard to read. “Sorry, this is weird.”

“No, it’s good,” Allie says, shaking her hand quickly and pushing her suitcase away from the seat next to her to open up space. “Nice to finally actually get an introduction after you gave me a souvenir the last time we met.”

Both of their eyes flit down to Allie’s knee, where a bruise is finally beginning to yellow after Courtney shoved her into a pick — and, consequently, onto the floor — to earn a flagrant foul in game three of the series. Not that either of them were keeping track.

When Courtney looks up, she’s grimacing, that same solemn look filling her face. But Allie just smiles, gestures to the seat next to her.

“You sure?” Courtney looks a little surprised, and Allie notes that, tucks it away for later, that in all her confidence she seems genuinely surprised for someone to invite her company.

“Of course.” Allie leans her head back again, still seeking out a comfortable position. “Trust me, this flight never gets any shorter.”

***

The tryout was going well.

It wasn’t even a formal tryout. Allie showed up for preseason the same as anyone else, received the same bag and practice jersey, traipsed all over for physicals and introductions.

But nonetheless, she was doing okay. Nothing too crazy, but she was keeping up, which she figured was the most important test of bringing her in to train like this — to see if she fit the team chemistry and dynamic at all. And it had been awhile since Allie could describe herself as "confident" playing in the W but damn if this wasn't as close as she'd been in a few years. 

And then Pokey called her into her office on the fourth day of practice.

“You’re doing well,” she said, and her smile was so warm and affectionate, too much for Allie to handle. “Just keep this up a few more days and I think we’ll be having a really positive conversation soon.”

Just like that, it all dried up.

Every ounce of luck or excitement or maybe even skill that had been going for Allie seems to flee her body overnight. She feels it the moment she laced up her sneakers, the moment she fumbled a ball during warmups. By the time she bricks her fourth shot of open scrimmage, Allie is all-but-ready to just leave all of her new Sky gear in the locker room and get the hell out of this gym.

It takes two straight turnovers for Courtney to finally call her out.

“Quigley.” Courtney’s got both hands on her hips. It’s a stance Allie has taken plenty of times in her life, that captain-taking-charge look, except this is some goddamn first-rounder and Allie is just a washed-up guard who can’t hit a damn shot. It’s unfair and it’s stupid and Allie swears if the ball was still in her hands she’d throw it straight at Courtney’s head. “Talk to me for a minute.”

She follows Courtney off the court, lets her lead them out of earshot from the rest of the team and prepares for whatever pointless lecture she’s about to receive.

“I know, I know—” Allie holds up her hands, doing her best to pass it off as if she doesn’t care, as if she’s unaffected.

“Stop it.” Courtney’s voice is soft. Too soft. It doesn’t match the way her eyes are burning into Allie, pressing something solid and warm and intangible through her chest. “Whatever this thing is that you’re doing in your head, shut it off right now.”

“I don’t—”

Courtney holds up a hand, cutting her off before she can even get started.

“You’re acting like you’re a shit shooter.” That same hand drops, faltering midair before it brushes lightly against Allie’s elbow and she—

She shivers. She’s surprised by it.

“And you’re not,” Courtney says, dropping her voice even lower. “I saw you in Hungary. I know how you can shoot. But you’re hesitating every damn time you get the ball and it’s making you play like shit.”

Allie’s been doing her best to remain disengaged — hands on her hips, eyes trained on the hardwood beneath her sneakers — but the last few words of Courtney’s little speech forces her to look up, forces her to meet her eyes.

Courtney looks at her. There’s really no better way to explain it. She’s just looking, hard, completely and totally focused on Allie in a way that probably should be unsettling but instead just feels comforting.

“Okay.” Allie hates how soft her voice is, how chastised she sounds. “Got it.”

“Hey.” Courtney’s hand is soft on her hip for a moment, and then she’s tugging at her jersey in a way that’s all too familiar, like they’re longtime teammates or something, not just half-strangers who were opponents on the court a few weeks ago. “You’ve got this.”

And she does.

The scrimmage restarts, another six-minute drill. Courtney gets cycled out onto the bench, but she stays standing, a Gatorade towel slung across her shoulders. Allie presses her palms into her shorts, dries them twice as she cricks her neck.

She follows the play carefully as it restarts, sagging off into help defense and tracking quickly into a box out when the next shot goes up.

It only takes a second. As she takes off down the court, Allie glances toward the sideline and catches Courtney watching her right back. Her eyes remain trained on Allie as she rotates off the ball, sets a down screen, rolls out into open space in the corner. She chances another glance, and Courtney nods once, gentle and intense all at the same time.

Allie takes the next pass, and she’s too busy thinking about Courtney to reconsider anything about her form. She just takes the shot, her wrist snapping naturally through the motion she’s practiced and honed for every year of her life that she can remember.

The ball arcs — up and up and up — and then it snaps through the net with her favorite sound in the world.

(On the sideline, Courtney lets out a low shout of praise, and Allie happens to think for a second that this could be one of her favorite sounds, too.)

It’s weird. It works, but it’s weird.

Courtney subs back in soon enough, and then she’s all up in Allie’s face, her hands fidgeting and stretching constantly in an attempt to disrupt Allie’s flow. It’s weird and it’s annoying but it also, somehow, works. Allie goes 8-for-9 the rest of the scrimmage.

On the single shot that she missed, Courtney had been all the way stretched up with a hand gliding just past Allie’s ear. It was probably a foul, but Allie wasn’t one to complain and Courtney wasn’t one to admit fault on the court.

“That the best you got?” Courtney said under her breath as they jogged back. Allie hip checked her a little too hard, earning a wide grin. On the next play, she took the ball directly out of Courtney’s hands and passed down court for Ty to finish easily.

She knows she has to thank Courtney. This went from the worst to the best of her trials days with the team, and on her last practice before the decision it was pretty much life or death. If it hadn’t been for Courtney’s intercession, she’s pretty sure she’d be safer skipping the night out and booking a flight back to Hungary.

So Allie stays behind after practice, watching Courtney and Ty joke around about something on the bench as they slowly toe off their sneakers.

Allie waits until they’re both done talking. Ty stands and stretches her lanky frame and rolls her neck before giving Allie a friendly pat on the shoulder. It only frustrates her more. She’s older than both of them, feels patronized by their encouragement even though it’s meant just as that — encouragement.

But now she’s left in the gym alone with Courtney, so she sucks down all of that pessimism and lack of vulnerability.

“Thank you.” She means it, and she’s frustrated by the way Courtney seems intent on avoiding her gaze as she stands here, opening herself up in the middle of the gym for the first time since— well, too long. “You didn’t have to and— that just, it really helped. A lot.”

“No problem,” Courtney says, ducking her head down further, fingers worrying at her laces even though she already retied them once.

“Cool.” Allie pauses a moment longer, shifting her bag a little higher onto her shoulder, studying the way Courtney’s jaw ripples slightly as it clenches and releases, but her chin remains tucked firmly against her chest. “Yeah, okay. Cool. I’ll see you.”

The gym is empty as Allie walks across it, the faint sound of music filtering through the door from the speaker in the locker room. Her bag is digging a little too heavily into her shoulder blade, and the noise it makes as she shifts it to the other arm obscures the sound of Courtney standing up, a little too quick.

“I want you on my team.” There’s a slight echo to the way Courtney says the words, the way they fill up the entire space of the court separating them. “Just— that’s why. Why I said all that.”

“You do?” Allie only half-turns, mainly because she’s terrified that this kid will see her actually, stupidly full-on blushing at the compliment, like some cartoon version of herself.

“Yeah.” Courtney coughs, and she kicks at the court lightly, just enough to get a little squeak out of her sneaker. “I think you’re great.”

There’s no hope of hiding the way her whole face flushes at that. Allie drops her head, digs her teeth into the inside of her lip to keep from grinning.

“See you tonight?” Courtney’s voice is too hopeful to keep from smiling at, and Allie nods a little too enthusiastically.

“Yeah.” Allie looks back at her for a moment, tries to keep her smile as soft as possible. “See you there.”

***

“Oh God, we’re gonna get kicked out of this place so fast.”

Allie feels lucky when she pulls up to the bar to find Ty and Courtney waiting outside. It’s wordless and comforting, like they both knew she’d be nervous walking in on her own. Ty sees her first, grinning and tucking her phone into her pocket, waving her over a little enthusiastically given the fact that they’re only a few steps apart.

Courtney looks up a second later, and it’s the same. The same strange way of looking, the same rush to her gut.

“Quigley.” She’s looking right at Allie, mouth quirking up at the edges. “You clean up nice.”

Ty doesn’t even seem to notice the comment. Allie rolls her eyes in her best attempt to deflect it.

“On occasion, I put away the sweats,” she says, bumping into Ty. “We going in?”

She’s answered by a dramatic sigh as they both look toward the door of the bar.

“Just trying to delay the inevitable,” Ty mutters, shaking her head with a grin. “This isn’t our normal place and we are definitely getting kicked out.”

When Allie blurts out a surprised “why?” Ty decides the best response is to just bundle her inside, at which point she gets it. Like, immediately.

“A damn mess,” Ty mutters as they rejoin the rest of the team, which is currently spilling out of a corner booth that is quite literally littered with empty bottles and glasses.

Shay is perched on the back of the booth, a beer bottle in one hand and an empty shot glass in the other, and her eyes are glassy as she grins at Allie.

“Sharpshooter!” Shay’s hand claps down on Allie’s shoulder, tugs her into an open slot in the booth while Sylvia shoves a shot into her hand. “We got celebration shots, because you got a lot to—”

She yelps with Courtney smacks her thigh, cutting her off before Allie can even think to ask what the hell she’s talking about, but it seems to wear off immediately when Allie downs the shot and then extends her hand for another.

The things about playing abroad in Europe is that most players only do two things — hoop and drink. So even though she’s one of the smallest in the group, Allie catches up and then keeps pace with the group almost seamlessly.

She’s trying to do her best to ignore the fact that Courtney — who is inarguably the smallest of all of them — might be outdrinking even Sylvia. It’s sort of easy to ignore, given the fact that Courtney appears to be ignoring her. They’re on opposite sides of the booth after Courtney clambered into Michelle’s lap to force her to scooch aside, and they haven’t talked since they came in, but every now and again Courtney will look up and fix a smile on her, sloppier and softer as the night stretches out longer.

At some point, Ty yells that it’s time to dance and at some point Allie is half-carried onto a makeshift dance floor. At some point, the bartender finally acquiesces to their song requests and seems to resign himself to the cacophony of the evening. And at some point, Courtney is next to her again and then a little too close, their hips bumping once, twice.

“Hey.” She catches Allie’s wrist, slowing her half-swaying dance moves completely down. “You want some air?”

All of the sudden, Allie is a little too warm, gulping in several quick breaths, and she nods her head quickly. They make another pass by the bar, where Piph is attempting to engage the poor bartender in some sort of debate, freeing him long enough to make them both another round of whiskey cokes.

The wind surprises Allie, which in turn makes her flush with embarrassment at forgetting her hometown so quickly. Winter doesn’t fully leave Chicago until early May, and early March might as well be the middle of December in most other places. She tugs at her jacket, pulls it closer and steels herself with another long pull of whiskey.

“Money on who’s going to get kicked out earlier?” Allie asks, leaning against the railing of the deserted patio. Courtney leans in next to her, grinning at the asphalt. “That bartender looked ready to throw Piph ass-first out the back door.”

“Let me tell you, Piph can get someone to convert religions if she’s drunk enough.” Courtney shakes her head. “I’m saying Ty, my girl’s gonna break that pool table if she keeps getting up on it to take trick shots.”

They laugh, and in laughing they both shift closer, their heads dipping in unison. Allie figures out what’s happening about a second before Courtney does. They’re too close, their shoulders brushing as they lean into the railing and also into each other.

Allie turns toward Courtney, and she’s surprised to feel a hand on her forearm, messing nervously with the sleeve of her jacket. She drops her gaze for a moment, just to check and make sure that she’s not imagining the touch, and when she glances back up Courtney’s eyes are fixed on her own hand as well.

She notices, but she doesn’t say anything. They stay quiet, Courtney’s thumb tracing a mindless pattern across the leather cuff. After a moment, the same hand roams again, loosening its grip on her sleeve to settle on the edge of her jacket, messing with the zipper for half a breath before pulling them both even closer.

“So uh—” Allie starts talking because she’s scared of the quiet. She’s drunk enough to be solely focused on Courtney’s eyes and the way they keep dipping low. She’s sober enough to know that all of this is a no good, very bad idea.

“We shouldn’t.” Courtney still has a hand latched on the edge of Allie’s jacket, and she tugs on it slightly, undermining her words with the way she sways slightly closer. Her eyes are dark and a little downcast and for a moment Allie gets completely distracted by her eyelashes — they’re longer than she remembered, and they look soft, casting gentle shadows across her cheekbones.

“Right.” She’s trying her best to be the adult here, but Courtney’s throat bobs when she swallows and Allie is just drunk enough to admit to herself that it’s driving her kind of crazy. “Obviously.”

“Um, just because it would be bad for the team and—”

Courtney’s doing this thing where she says one thing while she inches up into Allie’s space, and that hand keeps tugging her closer and maybe that’s why Allie blurts it out all at once.

“I’m not going to make the team.”

For her part, Courtney looks at Allie as if she just said something absolutely absurd — like soccer was better than basketball, or the sky was purple. Something ridiculous. It makes Allie feel a touch enamored and flustered all at once.

“Shut up,” Courtney says.

Allie takes it like she takes most things — as a challenge.

“Make me.”

She’s forgotten their current predicament for half a second long enough to let the words slip out. Which is stupid. All of it is sort of stupid, she thinks, but especially the way Courtney’s eyes visibly flick down to her mouth for a moment before she lets out a frustrated sigh. They’re close, so close that Courtney can drop her chin a little further and brush their foreheads together for a half-second, pulling back the moment they both feel the contact.

“We really, really shouldn’t,” Courtney mutters.

There’s a clipped tone to the way Courtney says it. Allie notices haphazardly that the younger woman is gritting her teeth, that it’s making her jaw clench in a way she really wishes she hadn’t noticed.

“Right.” She tries her best to smile. “But if I don’t make the team—”

Allie doesn’t finish the sentence. Doesn’t risk it. It’s late and she’s not as drunk as she was even ten minutes ago and she’s tired, God is she tired. It’s late and the last shot of whisky is sour in the back of her throat and she can’t believe she came all the way back home just to get shot down again. Twice, apparently.

“Tell you what.” The hand lets go of her jacket (finally) and then it’s pressing into her hip bone, and for a moment Allie can’t even fucking breathe, not to mention look at Courtney as she speaks. “If you don’t make the team, I’ll take you out on the fanciest date in the world.”

Allie laughs. She’s not even sure why she’s laughing, but it bubbles up in a way that’s sort of out of control and sort of wonderful. She lets herself laugh, lets herself suspend in this moment where Courtney is grinning back at her and not really saying anything.

“Okay.” Allie sticks her hand out, and their handshake is just over-dramatic enough to force her to choke back another laugh. “A sympathy date. I can get behind that.”

“You know why I’m offering that, right?”

Courtney tips her chin up a little higher, and Allie is suddenly conscious of their difference in height. Not self conscious, just — aware. She already has the edge by an inch or two, and Courtney is leaned against the railing enough that she’s having to crane her head up to meet Allie’s eyes.

It’s infuriating. Allie has no idea why but she’s — mad isn’t the word. Frustrated. Tired.

“Uh-”

She’s cut off by the glass being half-dragged out of her hand, does her best to keep from shaking when Courtney’s hand brushes hers for a half second.

“You’re going to make the team.” There’s a flash of that cocky grin again. “That’s why. No sweat for me.”

It shouldn’t make her angry. It really shouldn’t. Allie isn’t even sure why the feeling rushes through her. It’s a quick rush, heat flushing her cheeks as she turns away, resting both elbows on the railing and letting her shoulders slump a little more into it.

Maybe it’s just the fact that Courtney is so goddamn sure about all of this — what to drink, what they should do, what’s going to happen next. It’s just her third season in the league. She’s only 24, which somehow to Allie feels like a decade’s difference from being 26 with one foot already out the door of any hopes of a career in America.

(She can’t admit that this thing she’s feeling is jealousy. Of Courtney’s confidence, of her roster spot, of the way she’s got everything Allie could want. Of her casual, relentless belief, something that Allie herself has lost. She’d hate herself a touch too much if she admitted all that.)

“Thanks,” Allie huffs out. “That’s great.”

The words are flat and hollow. If Allie turned her head to the right, maybe she would see the way Courtney hesitated, deflated slightly, an empty whisky glass in either hand preventing her from reaching out. If she looked up, maybe the night would go differently. Maybe.

“Uh, yeah.” Courtney straightens up, cocks her head to the side. “I’m gonna— you wanna go inside?”

It’s loud in the bar when they walk back in, but there’s a silence aching in Allie’s stomach.

***

The call comes the next day, just when Allie’s hangover appears to have fled her body entirely.

She’s feeling— decent, she guesses. In a good way. It’s been awhile since she went out with a team like that. In Hungary, there was always an edge of desperation to it all, everyone drinking to drown their homesickness. Here, it was just all fun and games, just a night off with a team that she was somehow being counted as a part of now.

So when the call from Pokey comes in, Allie considers letting it ring through, just to preserve her morning of contentment for just a moment longer. She doesn’t, of course, but she lets it ring three times before picking up, terrified as ever of coming across as if she cares even half as much as she actually does.

“Quigs.” Pokey’s voice is warm, and Allie grips at her wrist. “I know it’s an off day, but you got some time to come in?”

The main thing Allie is grateful for as she jogs up the steps to the training center’s back door is the fact that at least this time she’ll get cut face-to-face. It was the informality of it that really stung in Seattle, the feeling that she’d impacted the team so little that she could just get tossed aside in a phone call that ended after two minutes and 43 seconds.

(The worst thing about that had been the final words — “It’s nothing personal, it’s just the business of it, you’re a professional so I’m sure you understand.” Of course it was personal to Allie. Without that team, she wasn’t a professional anymore.)

So in the end, Allie is just thankful to Pokey for having the grace to do things this way. In person is better. Maybe if she hears the words in person, she’ll finally have the closure needed to let her dreams of playing in this league drift away.

“Quigs.” Pokey doesn’t even look up when she raps on the doorjamb with her knuckles. “You like the number fourteen, right?”

Allie stops. Her body is doing this weird thing — skin prickling with heat even though a wave of cold just rushed her body, making her shiver.

“Coach?” She takes a small step in, and Pokey finally turns to smile at her, wide and warm. “I—”

“We’d like to sign you, Allie.” Each word hits Allie in the gut like a cinder block. “Can you get your agent in here on Monday?”

For a moment, she’s speechless, and then suddenly she’s the exact opposite.

“Coach, my trial week wasn’t very good, and I know that and I’m sorry—”

Pokey shuts her up wordlessly, holding up a hand.

“It was never about the tryout,” she says. “You deserve to be here.”

Allie barely gets down the hall before she makes her first phone call. Each one lasts a little longer — first her mom, then her brother, then her sister, all the way down the list until she’s spent two hours wandering the empty facility’s halls and finally coming to a rest in the locker room.

Eventually Allie runs out of numbers to call. The quiet in the locker room is deafening. She’s still a little out of breath from it all, and she begins to feel something out of control building in her chest, happiness and nerves and disbelief swirling and ratcheting her heartbeat up into a too-fast pattern.

It’s natural to grab a ball, fishing a hair tie out of her locker and pulling her hair up into a bun as she guides herself on autopilot to let shooting drown out the chaos going on in her head.

It’s only midday, sunlight spilling into the gym. Allie shouldn’t be surprised to see Courtney on the opposite side of the court in an old penny and sweats, moving easily around the arc to launch threes. She dribbles a few times, mainly for the noise, letting it alert Courtney to her presence.

What Allie is surprised by is the way Courtney reacts to seeing her.

“Hey.” Courtney’s smile is immediate and warm. “You’re late.”

“I made the team.” Allie doesn’t even have time to crack a joke or follow Courtney’s teasing. She says it with both fists still clenched, the ball tucked snugly to her chest as she watches the reaction flicker across Courtney’s face.

“Fucking finally,” Courtney says with a grin, and it’s not lost on Allie how quickly she drops her ball, how quickly she moves across the court and folds Allie into a hug, crushing her and dragging her up onto her toes. Allie ditches her own ball in the process, and it kareens off her foot and halfway across the gym. “Man, what did I tell you?”

They’ve never been this close — not off the court, at least — and for a second Allie sinks into it completely, lets her eyes close and breathes in everything about the proximity. But then she feels what she thinks is Courtney’s heartbeat fluttering close to her own chest, and she pulls away a little too quickly, hands lingering for a half-second across the slope of her shoulders.

“Are we still cool?” Courtney's eyes flit across her face, and her expression is inscrutable. “You know, after—”

Allie waves her hands uncomfortably. Saying “last night” would mean acknowledging that it actually happened, and that it actually meant something — more than just something, if she’s being honest — and Allie still has no way to gauge if it meant the same type of something to Courtney. Or if it meant anything.

(Jesus, even in her own mind she’s rambling.)

“Of course.” Courtney smirks, but there’s something soft in her eyes and it makes Allie ache. “Just glad I’m not having to foot some ridiculous dinner bill.”

Allie laughs at that, of course. She finds herself laughing at half the things Courtney says, even when everyone else stays quiet or rolls their eyes or tells her to go to hell.

“Is this—” She gestures awkwardly again, and Courtney’s hand reaches out suddenly, touching her wrist to settle the motion. “Is this going to be okay?”

“Of course it’s okay.” Courtney smiles at her, and Allie feels it somewhere just beneath her rib cage. “You’re on my team. That’s all I could want.”

And it hurts, oh it hurts, how those words fill Allie’s chest.