I'm gonna die the exact same day as you
Scrape the sky with tired eyes
And I will come find you
And I ain't scared cuz I'm never gonna miss you
Courtney is tired.
It’s more than just the exhaustion of playing in a playoff game, of losing a playoff game. There’s a weight to the disappointment, so heavy that it almost drags her to the ground. She’s not even sure how her legs keep her upright, how she makes it to the sideline.
This was supposed to be her year. Their year. And it was her fault, and she knows it — her turnovers, her absolutely shitty decision-making put them in this position.
Courtney does absolutely everything she can to keep from letting anyone see her cry. She pulls her jersey up half-over her face, bites down on it hard as she feels sobs beginning to rack up into her chest. There’s a roaring silence in her ears, drowning out any crowd noise, any words that any Vegas player says to her as they move through the line to high-five. She shrugs away from Kayla’s hug, drops her eyes to the court and does everything in her power to stay under control, just for the next handful of seconds, just until the locker room.
The only consistency through all of it is Allie’s touch on the small of her back. It stays, firm and gentle and subtle, prodding her forward and off the court. When their friends on the Aces try to stop them to say something, Allie presses her palm into her back with just a little more force, ultimately propelling Courtney toward the locker room when she sort of stalls at midcourt. She only lets go once they’re at the door to the locker room, grabs the handle and holds it open as they pile inside.
Allie stays silent through James’ postgame speech, which is equally quiet and frustrated. She doesn’t say a word when Stef offers up a corny speech, or when Diamond punctuates it with a simple statement — “Next fucking year, on my life, I promise y’all.”
She waits until they’re just starting to pack up, turning quietly and tugging the towel back until Courtney is forced to look her dead in the eye.
“Hey.” Allie reaches out, her fingers lightly twisting around Courtney’s. They’re never like this in the locker room, and the rare show of affection when they’re still in their jerseys is almost enough to make her start crying all over again, right there on the spot. “We never lose because of you. Only in spite of you. You’ve never let us down, not once.”
Courtney finally starts to cry, fully and without hiding it. Not because she’s sad, not because she’s angry or frustrated or tired. No, she cries now because Allie didn’t have to ask, didn’t have to hear one word to know what she was thinking and, at the same time, to know exactly how to fix it. It’s enough to actually bring on tears, and when Allie’s thumb lightly brushes across her cheekbone, it makes her cry a little harder.
It’s intimate, rare for both of them while they’re at work, but Courtney leans into it. For a moment, it’s just the two of them in a locker room, figuring things out like they always do.
Courtney ends up being the one who invites the team over to their house when they land in Chicago the next day. It makes Allie laugh a little at her — five years ago, Courtney would’ve needed a week to stop sulking over a loss like that.
“Yeah, well a lot changed since then,” Courtney mumbles, and it’s still loud enough for the whole group to hear as they slouch through the terminal. There’s this very specific way that their teammates smile at the two of them sometimes — sort of warm and soft and almost a little melancholy in its sweetness. When Courtney looks up she’s greeted by an entire team’s worth of those smiles.
Five years ago, they would’ve drowned their sadness at a bar. Hell, five years ago they’d already be hungover from drowning their sadness in the hotel last night.
Instead, they crowd around the fire pit in their backyard with beers and wine and about five bags of marshmallows. Gabby drops three consecutive marshmallows into the pit until Diamond forcefully takes the poker from her hands and cooks both of theirs at the same time. Stef convinces Gem to sit on her lap and spends a very animated couple of minutes holding her ears up and doing her best impression of the dog’s thoughts in a squeaky voice.
Allie tugs Courtney’s left hand between her own, cradling both between her knees and playing with her wedding band absently as she talks to Gabby on her other side. Courtney just watches, thinking of the first time they lost a playoff game together, thinking of every other first between then and now.
Hours later, their teammates begin to drift off to their own homes. Gabby cleans up all the trash, Jantel puts out the fire. They put an extra warmth into their goodbyes, an extra squeeze into their hugs. The offseason is long, and anything and everything could change in the coming months before they see each other next.
Finally, it’s just the two of them left, leaning their elbows into the kitchen counter to look at each other.
“Hey.” Allie’s smile is soft, growing wider when she sees Courtney holding back a yawn. “We should sleep.”
“Yeah,” Courtney says, but she moves in the wrong direction, stepping up into Allie’s space instead and pulling her closer, tight into her chest.
“I love you,” she says, burying her face in Allie’s neck.
“I love you too,” Allie says, and she can hear her smile, can feel it as she presses a kiss to the top of her head. “Always on your team.”
There’s no good way to write the end of a love story that doesn’t actually end.
That’s the greatest tragedy of every happy romance, of course. Because it doesn’t end. Not really. And the beauty of this particular story is that it’s going to continue on forever.
So instead, there’s just a future and a past that look remarkably similar and yet wholly different from one another.
Behind them are bruised knees and early morning exhaustion. Transatlantic flights and games in foreign gyms. FaceTime and phone calls that lasted too long and also too little. Games won, games lost. Shooting sessions on courts in Pécs and Chicago and Istanbul and Seattle and Yekaterinburg. Off day afternoons on the pier at Flathead Lake. Team dinners in their backyard. Taking pictures of Allie whenever she wasn’t looking. Morning after morning of coaxing Courtney out of bed with bribes of coffee intermingled with occasional threats.
Ahead there are medals and retirement ceremonies. A honeymoon that was delayed a full five years. Sleepless nights and first steps. Parent-teacher conferences and plane flights to Seattle. The first time they raise the hoop to the full ten feet for their daughter. The quiet hum of cicadas outside as they sink into chairs on the back porch after getting their son to sleep.
Weddings they wouldn’t miss for the world, funerals that bring them to their knees. A dog, and another, and another, each of whom love the kids more than the last. Kindergarten graduation and middle school graduation and high school graduation and college graduation. Weathered hands and knees that crack at every opportunity, that make them look at each other and joke, “Was all that basketball really worth it?”
Too many pictures to fit into frames. Too many memories to be held on their own, so many that they have to be shared, with nieces and nephews and children and grandchildren and, most important of all, with each other.
And in the middle, holding it all together — it’s just them. Courtney teases Allie for never changing, for never looking a day over 21, for being rock solid for decades. Allie loves Courtney for the opposite — the way she’s always changing, always learning, always surprising her with something new, nothing ever growing old or boring even when they themselves grow old and boring.
In the middle are countless moments like this one: the next morning as they wake up, no alarms set, no schedule crying out for them.
Allie wakes up first, as always, tries her patience for a while before nudging her way into Courtney’s space.
“Hi.” She smiles when Courtney shifts, tipping her head over to look up at her.
“Mmph.” Courtney scrunches her face up good-naturedly, smiling slightly as she leans over a little further to press her mouth to Allie’s shoulder. “Good morning.”
“‘morning.” For a moment they both roll on their backs into their own spaces, stretching languidly to a slight chorus of popping joints. Eventually, Allie turns her head back, looking at Courtney. “What’re you thinking?”
“Remember that bakery in Poland?” Courtney grins at the ceiling, then turns to look back at Allie. “The one in Zakopane?”
Allie groans in response, covering her face with both hands.
“Oh god, don’t remind me, I’m already hungry.” Courtney laughs at the overdramatic dip in Allie’s voice, rolling over to rest her chin on Allie’s chest, her hand absentmindedly drifting down to her ribcage. “I miss it.”
“We’ll go back.” Her voice is firm, and Allie loves her for it.
“This year?” Allie drops her chin down to get a better look at Courtney’s face as she nods seriously.
“For sure.” Courtney grins, her fingertips tapping against Allie’s ribs.
They’re quiet for a moment, Allie’s hand working through Courtney’s hair, scratching softly at the base of her neck to earn a breathy little noise in response.
“Remember that breakfast place in Milan?”
This time, it’s Courtney’s turn to let out a slightly yearning groan.
“The one with the pigeon?”
Courtney tips her chin up enough to look Allie in the eyes, wonders haphazardly if she’s ever going to stop getting that light fluttering in her chest when she looks at her wife this closely.
They go on like this for a while, quizzing each other on things they’ll both do their best to remember for the rest of their lives. At some point the questions cut off, because Courtney leans over to kiss Allie and neither of them are really in the mood to stop.
That’s not the end, or the beginning. It’s just somewhere in the happy middle. But it seems as good a place as any to stop, as sure of their love as we’ve ever been.
And that’s where we’ll leave them for now.