I wanna be the bottle,
You’ve been drinkin’ with your eyes,
Or the road you run away on,
You’ve been runnin’ all your life.
The third-row pew that you last knew
As a child in church.
I wanna be the one you reach for first.
She knew the knock on her door wasn’t Amazon; they don’t knock. She only knows a package has been delivered because of the telltale bum-bump of a toss from a few feet away, a box hitting her door and then the ground. This knock was a soft, almost hesitant. It could have been the neighbor kid upstairs selling Girl Scout cookies; she knows Kelley will buy her out of nearly all her boxes. It could have been the little old lady next door whose cat frequently hops from her balcony to Kelley’s and won’t go back home. She almost went to check there before she opened her front door, but she needed to get to the office.
It wasn’t supposed to be Emily standing at her door, looking a little disheveled, a little worse for wear than when Kelley left her a few weeks ago. Kelley knows that look, the same look that she saw when she first met Emily in camp all those years ago - the sleep deprivation, the worry, the anxiety of a fresh-faced newbie just trying to hang on. All sorts of memories she thought were gone forever come flooding back, a reminder of how much Emily overcame, a lot of it with Kelley by her side. They got so good at managing all her big feelings together. And now, undoubtedly because of Kelley, all the fear and self-doubt has returned. All those emotions are standing at her doorstep now, and there’s nothing else to do but let them – let her – in. “How did you-” she starts, even though she knows that the blonde is standing in front of her is aching for a hug, for acceptance, not an interrogation.
“I know people who know people,” Emily shoots her what she intends to be one of her charming grins, but it comes out as a half-smile, a forced one, and she can even force a wink.
“What are you doing here, Em?” she asks. They don’t play each other anytime soon. She shouldn’t be here. Then again, she knows Emily well enough that she should have known better than to truly believe she’d stay away.
“I thought I was losing you.” The words are as raw as her voice, and it knocks the wind out of Kelley, how she cuts to the chase like that when she typically hems and haws and twists her fingers as she toys with the words in her head.
That’s how Kelley knows this is serious, not because Emily is a few feet in front of her instead of a few thousand miles away like she should be, but because she doesn’t bother to hide how scared she is, how much she’s hurting. She steps aside and lets her wheel her suitcase into the entry. It’s there Emily stops, choosing not to go any farther because everything about Kelley’s reaction is, unfortunately, what she expected, and nothing about it says she wants Emily there. “What are you talking about? You’re not losing me,” Kelley sighs, too tired for this and whatever it’s about to turn into.
“We don’t talk as much anymore.”
“We talk literally every day. We talked last night. And you can text me anytime you want to,” Kelley sucks in her bottom lip and bites down out of frustration because she knows what Emily’s getting at and she knows the younger woman is right.
“And get a one-word response from you? Feels like I’m losing you. Or that I lost you already. Thought I should come check either way. Because if I am, I want to hear it from you in person.”
She could have just called. She could have just asked. Kelley would have told her.
Ok, probably not.
She would have said what she just said - you’re not losing me - nothing more, nothing less, and Emily wouldn’t have believed her because she couldn’t see if the little tells on her face were there and maybe because she’d be able to hear the uncertainty in her voice like she can right now. They would have ended up exactly here, with Emily asking her in person so she has nowhere to hide.
There are things to hide though, perhaps most importantly, the deep hurt she’s been dealing with because of Emma’s reaction. Predicting exactly what it would be did nothing to lessen the impact it had on Kelley. This was never going to be easy, but she held onto a little hope that some things wouldn’t go wrong. Hope is a dangerous thing, often leading to even greater disappointment. It’s only ever brought her pain. The Olympics. Their baby. Their marriage. This reunification. She doesn’t want to keep doing this if the person closest to Emily - who is basically Emily - thinks this such a horrendous idea.
Emily toned down the version she passed on to Kelley when Kelley asked how it went with her twin. Kelley knows this because she got the version straight from Emma first. It started with “I already told you to stay the fuck away from my sister,” and ended with “You ruined her life once. Wasn’t that enough for you?” and there was a bunch of yelling and a whole lot of shitty truths in between. So no, Emily hasn’t lost her, per say, but Kelley’s also too beaten down to fight for their relationship, to fight off her own demons, and to fight Emily’s family. So she didn’t mean to push her away, but she guesses she’s been unknowingly creating some space between them over the last week. It’s hard to see them going anywhere like this. To see a future without Emily’s family in it. It’s easier to fathom the rest of her life without Emily if she slowly extricates herself from this slowly-repairing bond now, not later.
She’s younger, but she’s not stupid. She knows. Or if she didn’t, she figures it out in that moment, waiting for Kelley to say something. “Give her time. She’ll come around. She’ll see.”
She used to love how perceptive Emily was. Maybe one day, if they make it, that will serve them well again because there are a lot of things she needs Emily to know that she can’t begin to fathom saying aloud. But right now? Right now, she wishes Emily couldn’t see right through her. “She’ll see what, Em?”
“That we’re still us. We can forgive and we can love and if we were meant to be then, we’re meant to be now. That not everyone has this ideal, straight-forward path to forever. Not everyone’s love story is like hers and it’s ok.”
“It’s not ok. Nothing that happened was ok.”
“I just mean it’s ok that we’re not perfect. Kell, trust me that she’ll come around. She loves me. She doesn’t have a choice.”
But she does have a choice, Kelley wants to scream. She has a choice and she has the right to make it, to feel all the anger in the world towards her former sister-in-law, and honestly, Kelley doesn’t think Emma will ever come around. But she doesn’t have time for this argument. “I’ve gotta go to the office. Can you just…” And what’s she going to do? Ask Emily to leave? “Just stay here I guess?”
“Can I come with you?”
Once again, how fundamentally different Emily is breaks through whatever brave front she’s tried to keep up. She’s never been needy. She’s never looked so small. And Kelley hates it. “To my work? Like… you know what I do, I can’t have you there.”
Five minutes later, they’re in Kelley’s car on the way to the stadium because Emily promised she’d spend the whole time in the weight room, out of the way and away from any confidential draft and trade talk. Kelley couldn’t say no to the childlike hope in her eyes that belied the apprehension never present before. Both leave a desire to protect her, to give her everything she wants, surging through Kelley. And she’d be lying if she if she said there weren’t some butterflies in her stomach at that thought of someone flying across the country for her. Wanting her. Needing her. Needing her with the same intensity that she needs Emily right back. At the thought of someone worrying over her, as twisted as she knows that is. Emily showing up on her doorstep makes her feel fought for in the way she was desperate to feel before. It makes her feel worthy for the first time in a long time. Right now, better late than never could be enough. “Your hand’s cold,” she grips tighter around slight fingers slid against her palm.
“Your city’s cold. Should come back to sea level.”
“You’re dumb. Atlanta’s not sea level.” Kelley steals a glance at her at a stoplight. She’s really here, flesh and blood and lemon shampoo mixed with a lavender lotion. Even with the grounding nature of Emily’s hand in hers, it still feels surreal. Without warning or fanfare, or much planning judging by the hurriedly packed suitcase Kelley saw her open on the tile of her entryway as Emily rushed to change into workout-appropriate clothes. She flew across the country in this gesture that she’s trying to downplay now. It was borne out of uncertainty, but it feels grand nonetheless, now, with Emily beside her. Maybe it’s the way it reminds her of their one season together in Atlanta. Of traveling to the stadium together holding hands, just like this. Kelley making fun of her, just like this. Emily beside her feels like… well it feels like what her life was supposed to feel like.
“What?” she grins, almost totally at ease now, like the fact that it took such little effort to talk her way into Kelley’s car, into her work life, and into her home, permits for a little confidence. Kelley doesn’t have to answer her for her to know that Kelley realizes it too.
It’s hard to remember that this is just temporary – today only, perhaps – when it feels like it should be forever.
Laura hugs Emily before Kelley, before Kelley can even offer up an apologetic justification for why the enemy is in her office. It’s not a small hug, either; it’s a full-on Laura Harvey bear hug, the kind that crushes your ribs and lungs all at once and leaves you gasping for air but never wanting it to end. The kind that she reserves for Kelley when she hasn’t seen her in a while – like now – or when Kelley needs to know there’s someone who still loves her hanging out in her corner every day just in case she ever decides she needs them. “Bloody hell, what are you doing here, Sonny? I’ve missed you!”
“And me?” Kelley pipes up.
“I saw you a couple months ago,” Laura turns to Kelley, but keeps her arm around Emily.
“Yeah, which is about when you saw her last.”
“Ah, c’mere, O’Hara,” Laura grins, throwing her other arm across Kelley’s shoulders. “To what do I owe the pleasure, Son?”
“I just came to visit her for a few days. For her though, not to spy. Promise,” Emily nods to their draft board, already slinking away. “Kelley says I have to stay in the weight room.”
“Ah, yes. Always takes the job so seriously, this one,” Laura says with a wink. “Make yourself at home, Sonny. Pitch is looking pristine if you want to have a go.” And with that offer, Emily’s gone, and Kelley’s left with Laura staring her down, a twinkle in her eye. “Something you want to tell me, O’Hara? You two friends again?”
“Something like that,” Kelley mumbles, knowing there’s no way Laura’s going to let her off the hook and no way they’re going to get started on their actual work until she knows everything. Laura turns the kettle on so she can make tea for both of them. By now, Kelley would normally be on her third cup of coffee; by the looks of it, and the way she’s cracking her knuckles, Laura decides she doesn’t need another today.
“So, we’re trying,” Kelley finishes her flyby summary of their reunion. It feels good to recount it aloud to someone. She feels oddly lighter – optimistic even – after telling it. “We’ll see.”
“Sounds like she’s trying. A lot.”
She is, Kelley realizes. She’s trying and Kelley’s not and it’s not really fair to Emily, to let her believe she’s in when she’s got one foot out the door, just waiting for it to fail, looking for any excuse to end it before it has even the chance to take flight. Emma’s an excuse. Being scared is an excuse. Being apart is an excuse. She’s fought through a lot of it before. She could now if she’d just choose to. “She is,” Kelley confirms aloud. “She joked about coming here to play.”
“Do you think it was a joke?”
“I think she thinks if she’s not all in, it’s not going to work. I think she doesn’t know how to do anything half-assed, so she wants to pick up like nothing changed. I think she’s better at forgiving than I am. And it’s not that I don’t forgive her, I do, I just…”
“You don’t know how to forgive yourself.”
“Have you told her?” Kelley shakes her head. It’s not a conversation that she’s ready to have. Maybe she’ll never be ready to have it. Maybe she can do without having it. “You know she’s not the only person who doesn’t know how to do anything halfway. You’re two peas in a pod. Wanna work out what picks we’re going to trade to get her?” Laura knocks her on the shoulder. And it’s a joke, but it’s a half-joke, and Kelley knows Laura would do It if she asked her to. She loves Kelley like her own daughter and she’s not even keen on building up rookies. “She’s terrified, Kelley. That’s why she’s here.”
Maybe Laura’s right. It’s going to kill her if it doesn’t work, whether that happens now or later; there’s no protecting her heart at this point. But if she can do one thing right, it’s give every bit of everything she has left to make Emily feel safe again.
She needs to figure out if she can be all in.
But she’s certain all in can’t include living in the same place.
They’re not there yet.
Yeah. It’s a not yet, not a never.
Kelley leans against the wall that leads down the hallway to her bedroom, watching Emily sprawled out on her couch, chucking lightly at SpongeBob. She’s been there like that for over an hour while Kelley cleaned the kitchen and tidied up a bit around her. She asked if she could help; she listened when Kelley said no.
She’s not pushing, patiently letting Kelley’s walls crumble instead of trying to tear them down. Her presence changes everything. Her laugh changes everything. Kelley closes her eyes and she can hear that laugh echoing through elevators and hallways, busses and airplanes, on fields and in change rooms. That laugh filled their kitchen and their screened-in porch, their bathtub and their bedroom. It interrupted every TV show Kelley ever tried to watch. It was there on the good days and the not-so-good, when she didn’t think she could get out of bed and when she was laughing right alongside her. A constant, until it wasn’t. That laugh changed her life forever, as much in its absence as in its presence. She never thought she’d hear it again, but by some miracle, it’s here now, bringing a sense of peace and joy to her home. It’s quiet, but it’s the same, and it’s the sweetest music Kelley has ever heard. It’s the soundtrack to their life – their love – just in reprise.
“Come here,” Kelley says softly. For this woman who flew all the way here, who came without even being asked to because she knew she needed to, the least she can do is not make her spend a night - several nights, perhaps - on her couch. Maybe Kelley will have to remind herself of what’s right in front of her for a long time going forward. Maybe she’ll have to remind herself of it forever, that this woman has no intention of giving up on her. If that’s what it takes so she doesn’t let her thoughts slip towards the darkness, to all the things that could go wrong, she’s going to try her best to do it. To make an effort to focus on the belief that if something could go wrong, it could also just as easily go right. The way Emily’s eyes light up when she says it proves that her decision is absolutely worth it.
Besides, her couch isn’t comfortable for sleeping like Emily’s is. She’s spent enough nights on it to know. And her living room gets cold at night. Emily never liked the cold.
Reaching across the bed to find Emily’s hand feels like reaching across a chasm and falling, but falling into a safety net below. It shouldn’t be scary; this isn’t the first time. Emily squeezed her hand into Kelley’s in the car this morning. Emily held her hand all night a few weeks ago. But it feels terrifying being the one to initiate the contact instead of waiting for Emily to. “You gonna stay all the way over there all night, or?” she questions, bravado filling her voice to hide the way she’s trembling in her chest.
“I thought you’d kick me out when I got here. I didn’t want to push my luck.”
“But I didn’t kick you out, Em,” Kelley rolls onto her side, putting them just a little closer.
“I- I- I can hold you?” she asks timidly.
“You holding me for those few days back in Georgia was the best thing I’ve had in my life in years.” And she means that. It took her so long to learn how to fall asleep alone again when she moved across country years ago. Emily’s arms instantly felt like coming home, no adjustment period needed. And she missed them just as much after a few days as she did when she lost them after years. “I want you to more than… well more than almost anything. What’d you think? That I don’t want you to?”
“Dunno,” Emily mumbles before seeking more clarity. “If you had to choose between your NWSL Championship or me holding you, what would you choose?”
Kelley holds her breath, waiting as Emily scoots just a little bit closer. “You. I’d choose you over that even if it was only going to last a minute.”
“What about if you could win one as a player instead of as a coach,” she presses, because it’s the only team award Kelley never won and Emily knows how much it bothers her, “or have me hold you for a minute.”
“Still you,” Kelley whispers, nestling her head under Emily’s chin and letting the familiar weight of an arm drop over her shoulder. “Always you.” It’s muffled against Emily’s breastbone. There’s part of Kelley – a small part – that hopes she didn’t hear it. There’s a bigger part of her that hopes she did and “always” will ring true forever.
“Your last World Cup medal or me holding you for two minutes?” Emily asks with a sleepy grin as Kelley opens her eyes.
She’s run, showered, and come back to bed just to get a few more minutes of snuggle time, but judging by the bright light streaming through her windows, she seems to have fallen asleep again. And that’s the thing – her body knows even if her mind is racing and still so uncertain. Her body knows peace with Emily beside her. Her body has always been the most trustworthy part, knowing when she could push harder, crying out to her when she was injured. She’s not exactly been good at listening to her body ever, letting the thoughts in her head overpower the signals of pain, letting the wants in her heart overcome the truth right in front of her in bruising and scarring and attrition. “Still you. Em, there’s nothing I have in this world that I wouldn’t give up to feel your arms around me even if it were just for thirty seconds.”
“You know you don’t have to give anything up, right?” Emily brushes Kelley’s hair out of her face, the sincerity suddenly making her feel guilty for continuing this game. “I meant it when I said I’d stay forever.”
Kelley doesn’t feel like getting into the fallacies of forever again. “Yeah, but you do. You have to make a choice and I don’t want that. I’m not going to let- ”
“Is this about my sister again?” Kelley nods silently. Emma’s words fueled her pre-dawn run, pushing her every stride, farther than normal, faster than normal, until every time her foot pounded against the pavement, the white-hot pain blocked out any memories of those words for the duration. “You know I’m all grown up, right? I know you’ve always looked at me like I’m a child, but I’m not. I can make my own decisions.”
“Yeah, I know you’re not. But I’m not going to let you choose me over her. And your whole family. I’m just not.”
“Ok, first of all, since when do you let me do anything? And secondly, relax. She just needs time. I told Sam and Rose and they didn’t freak out.”
There’s a part of Kelley that’s shocked Emily would tell anyone else because she’s not ready to tell anyone outside of her family, who thanks to Karen, weaseled their way in, and Laura, but that’s Emily’s fault. There’s a bigger part of her that hones in on the fact that one of the people she told isn’t Lindsey. “What’d they say?”
“Sam said we should go to couples counseling, and I think she’s right.” Kelley can’t stop from glaring at her after couple’s counseling is exactly what she suggested years ago when she knew they needed it. “Rose said ‘fucking finally,’ which is kinda shocking considering how cynical she is about love. But…” Emily’s voice trails off and she shrugs.
But it is kinda big. It’s not Lindsey big. It doesn’t fix the fact that there’s a reason – a glaringly obvious reason – that Emily won’t tell Lindsey and she will tell the other two. They don’t know everything. They never saw Emily at her worst. But it’s something. People on their side. People who aren’t biased.
If Kelley thought she could make a habit of sneaking back into her apartment in the quiet darkness every morning, she was wrong. The third morning, Emily catches her hand as she passes in front of her couch. “Fuck!” Kelley jumps back, her chest heaving in panic. Her eyes adjust to the shadowy figure with her legs tucked under her. “You fucking scared me, Em!”
“You scare me,” Emily says, completely serious, and she grips Kelley’s hand tighter. “Do you always run this early in the morning, or is it because I’m here?”
“I always do. There’s a marathon coming up and…” her voice fades. “I just need to get my day started.” She was never very good at lying. What she means by that is there’s no point in staying in bed. What she means by that is she can’t sleep. What she means by that is she needs to feel this pain daily as a reminder that she’s still alive.
“While it’s still dark outside?”
“So anything could happen to you. You could get hit by a car. Attacked. It’s not safe.”
She’s terrified. Kelley hears Laura’s words clear enough that the older woman could be right next to her.
Emily reaches into the waistband of Kelley’s yoga pants and pulls out her phone. “Share your location with me.”
Emily pulls Kelley down into her lap, pressing their foreheads together. “Share your location with me,” she repeats slowly. “I’m not going to stalk you, Kell, I don’t care what you’re doing when I’m gone. I just need to know you’re not dead in a ditch somewhere if this… if this is your thing now.”
It takes her a minute to add Emily back as family, but she does and then tosses her phone onto the cushion beside her. She’s left staring at Emily, not that she can make out much except her light eyes. And there’s not much left to do except…
Kiss her. Deeply.
To show Emily that she knows. To thank her. For coming, for caring, for trying, for knowing, for hoping right alongside her, for loving her all over again. For being who she always was and what Kelley needs her to be right now. Exactly what Kelley needs her to be because she’s always known just how much to push and just how much to support, when to be quiet and when to be loud. She’s always been the perfect complement to Kelley, and better able to read her than anyone else.
“What’s wrong with me touching you there, Kell? You let me hold, you but every time I touch your stomach, you move, or you move me, you flinch. What’s wrong?” Every night since she arrived, Kelley has welcomed Emily’s arms around her and her hands on her – provided they’re in places that Kelley considers safe. Around her shoulder on the couch is harmless, Emily knows, because Kelley buries herself deeper into Emily’s side when she pulls her closer. On her hip is fine. Kelley jumped the first time Emily touched her there as she was cooking, but she apologized, needlessly, and put Emily’s hand right back where it was, and as she watched, Emily dug her chin into Kelley’s trap until Kelley pushed her away with a happy chuff so she could move about the kitchen freely again. Enveloping her, slowly scratching her back over her shirt as they fall asleep with Kelley’s cold nose tucked into the notch her neck is perfect. But the minute Kelley turns over and Emily drapes her arm across the older woman’s midsection, Kelley can’t handle it.
“Nothing,” Kelley mumbles.
“Please don’t do this,” Emily pulls softly on Kelley’s shoulder, asking her to roll over, and when she does, she pulls Kelley into her chest so the older woman doesn’t have to make eye contact with her if she decides to open up. “Please talk to me. I know I didn’t listen when it mattered, but I’m trying not to make that same mistake again.”
“Em, this isn’t a big deal,” Kelley can’t hide her exasperation. “It’s not something we need to talk about.”
“You flinching when I touch you is a big deal. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. But I also want to know the why.”
“The last time you put your hand there…”
Kelley can’t finish her sentence, but luckily, she doesn’t have to. Emily gets it. The last time she put her hand there, Kelley was pregnant. The last time she put her hand there, the life they made together had a heartbeat and little fluttery kicks. The last time she put her hand there, they had shared dreams, and now they have none of it. “Ok,” she says softly. “Ok. I get it.”
But Kelley doesn’t think Emily gets it. Not all of it. “I’m not the same,” her voice breaks.
And that, Emily knows isn’t possible. She wasn’t far enough along to have had permanent changes to her body, but all these years later, she still feels the physical difference that only existed for those precious, but fleeting months. “Will you try with me?” Not for her, Emily knows the difference. The progress they make – if they’re going to make any – has to be together, under both of their hands.
That feels like something so impossible, a vulnerability so unattainable, that Kelley hasn’t even allowed herself to dream of it. “I can’t.
“Because you don’t trust me.” It’s not a question when Emily says it.
“I don’t trust that you’ll stay forever. I don’t trust that I won’t push you away.”
“I don’t trust that I won’t push you away again if things get hard,” Emily finally admits, and it’s to herself as much as it is to Kelley. Maybe she shouldn’t, maybe contributing to Kelley’s doubt is just going to knock them down a peg or two, but she also feels like she owes the woman in her arms complete transparency.
And Kelley seems to open up to it. “Well if you do, how bout you come find me this time.”
“Would that have made a difference if I had done that last time?”
“I don’t know. I would have come back, probably. But it wouldn’t have worked,” she continues definitively. “We were too broken. We needed to work on ourselves.”
“What if we take our time?”
“I don’t think there’s enough time in the world, but what’d you have in mind?”
“There’s plenty of time,” Emily kisses her hairline. “There’s the rest of our lives, Kell.”
“You’re not going to wait that long.”
Emily squints at her. “This isn’t about sex. Is that what you think this is about?”
Kelley just shrugs. “What’s it about then?”
“I want you to fall asleep in my arms and know that I'm going to be there in the morning so you can actually sleep, not toss and turn all night. I want you to feel my arms around you and believe me when I say that I love you with every fiber of my being. I want you to believe me so much you don't have to ask why anymore. I want to feel your skin on my skin, your heart against my heart with nothing in between us. No walls. No fabric. I want the rhythm of my heartbeat to be strong enough that it eventually calls you home, because this isn't your home. I want to feel like we’re one person again. I just want to lay with you. I want you to trust me enough to lay with me. That's all I want.”
“What if we just keep moving forward? Little more each day. Maybe every day, you’ll learn to trust me more because you see that we’re working out. Maybe you’ll force yourself to take a leap of faith and trust me blindly.”
“So what do we do tonight?”
“Turn over.” She lifts her arm so that Kelley can readjust, then finds her hand and covers it with her own, lining up their fingers. She sets their joined hands down over Kelley’s stomach. Kelley’s entire body tenses under her, but this time, Emily doesn’t move. “I’m not touching you. Breathe, baby. I’m just here with you. Next to you. Breathe, Kell.”
“But this isn’t enough.” Kelley’s voice is panicky and anguished, her breathing shallow.
“Enough for who?”
“I can’t even let you touch me and I’m supposed to let you love me. You’re just going to get tired of dealing with all my problems, my scars. You’re going to leave.”
Emily sits up and turns the bedside lamp on, shocking Kelley not just with the brightness but with the sudden realization of how much she doesn’t want Emily to let go of her. “I’m never leaving you, Kell. Ever.”
Night after night, they work towards a common goal, Emily propelling them forward, Kelley with barely enough wherewithal to breathe through the resistance her body tries to put up. The promise Emily made to her is on her lips. Emily can’t see her – her back to the blonde’s front – as she silently mouths the words with every gasp in. “She’s not going to leave.”
From her hand directly atop Kelley’s, to her fingers splayed, filling in the gaps between the older woman’s fingers. In those small spaces, Emily’s fingertips make contact with the fabric coving Kelley’s stomach, and she survives.
From fingertips barely touching her shirt, to her hand flat against Kelley’s stomach, and Kelley’s hand now covering hers as an anchor that also doesn’t let her leave.
From her hand over Kelley’s shirt, to the pads of four fingers finally touching Kelley’s skin. Her thumb stays tethered to safety, hooked around Kelley’s t-shirt. But Emily’s fingertips on her skin make her feel like she’s floating away.
From fingertips, to her entire hand flat against Kelley’s bare stomach, where she’s most vulnerable, emotionally and physically.
Some nights, they’re stuck in quicksand. Some nights, they sink deeper into that near-deathtrap. But with patience, and faith, they find a way out, even if they have to go backwards to go forwards. Kelley still sneaks out of her arms every morning, but every run along the dark access road of the highway by her apartment feels easier when she gets to wake up feeling rested each morning.
“Preseason’s starting soon. You gotta get back to Atlanta.”
“Preseason can start without me,” Emily didn’t even bother looking up at her from where her head was in Kelley’s lap, Kelley’s fingers running through her hair. Before a complaint could escape Kelley’s lips, Emily cut her off. “I don’t care how unprofessional it is.” No one knows where she is. She told them she needed time. They can take it or leave it for all she cares.
“I’m not gonna let you- ” Kelley stopped herself. “We’re not gonna do this. You’re not just gonna not go back and not play.”
“I’ll go back,” Emily finally rolled over and looked up at her. “I’ll go back when we’re ok. When we’re ready. I promise I’ll go back.”
“You can’t keep coming up and using our facilities. We’ve got players arriving day after tomorrow. You can’t be there. I can’t-”
Emily knew what she’s going to say: no one can know. “That’s fine. But I’m not ready to go home.”
“There’s a time limit to this, to you being here. You know that, right? You have to be back in-market. I can outlast you.” Kelley didn’t mean for it to come off as a challenge – it’s more her own frustration with how slowly their progress is plodding along – but it did nonetheless.
Emily pushed herself up enough to wrap her hand around the back of Kelley’s neck, pulling the brunette down towards her. “You never could,” she whispered, closing her eyes and meeting Kelley in the middle.
Kelley didn’t know how they were supposed to know when that was, or how Emily could just feel that it would be anytime in the foreseeable future, but she supposed that trusting this woman meant trusting her gut again too. She shook her head, let out a huff, and went back to rubbing Emily’s head.
When Kelley steps out of the bathroom, Emily is sitting on the edge of the bed, nervously bunching the sheets in her hands. She watches Kelley dry her hair, trying to muster up the courage she needs. “Do you trust me?” She doesn’t have to ask; she can feel the answer. It’s not the same as before – nothing may ever be again – but the trust is there between them, growing under the surface. It holds them close every night. Stops Kelley in her tracks every time she considers pushing Emily away. Keeps Emily’s thoughts of Kelley leaving at bay. Still, she needs to hear the words, the uncertain yes that falls from Kelley’s lips as she steps between her legs and rests her arms on the tops of Emily’s shoulders. Kelley looks down at her with this mixture of curiosity and faith, much less fearful than she has been. And Emily nervously plays with the hem of her own tee for a beat. “Do you want to…” she starts, raising her eyes to meet Kelley’s. But Kelley quickly shakes her head. Do you want me to?” That, she gets a single, firm nod to.
Kelley’s eyes don’t leave Emily’s face as she lifts her shirt over her head; they don’t need to. She knows every inch of this woman’s body. Every line. Every freckle. As she runs her hands along Emily’s neck, her shoulders, her clavicles, everything is the same. Same soft, warm skin. The way Emily closes her eyes under Kelley’s touch, the way her breathing slows, is the same. For someone who was – is – known for being so high, she’s been able to steady herself in Kelley’s presence since their beginning. “What are we doing, Em?”
They may be out of the quicksand, but they’ve only worked their way to the thick undergrowth of the forest. Cutting their way through it isn’t easy, but there’s a glimmer of light up ahead.
“The next thing that feels right.”
That’s all they can do.
Kelley sink her knees into the mattress on either side of Emily, her hands now solely focused on running down the tight, stringy muscles of Emily’s neck, and Emily digs her thumbs into the creases of Kelley’s hips. For a moment, they hold eye contact, and then the force of her lips on Emily’s topples them both back into the mattress.
There’s just a quarter millimeter of fabric separating their hearts now. Half as much as yesterday.
The next right thing.
Kelley watches her sleeping so peacefully in her bed and she can’t stop her heart from aching for Emily to stay. She belongs. And Kelley belongs with her. To her. There was no way she was ever going to move on, that wasn’t some lie she told Emily to make the younger woman feel guilty or better. She ducks back into her bathroom, hangs her towel on the rack, and returns to watching Emily. There’s a part of her that wishes Emily would feel her eyes boring a hole into her bare back in her sleep. Would stir. Would stop her. She wonders if there will ever come a time when her wishes and what’s best for her line up so she can feel more settled. She pads over the hardwood to the edge of her bed, staring down at the pale, freckled expanse of Emily’s skin, the sheet draped haphazardly over her bottom half. The rise and fall of her lungs is mesmerizing. Comforting. Familiar.
Kelley lays down on Emily’s back and it’s enough to rouse her from her slumber. A satisfied hum escapes as her lips curl up into a smile. Kelley’s robe is soft and warm. The weight of her body is safe. “Mornin’, baby.” Emily’s voice is low and scratchy from sleep, but so content.
“Hi.” Kelley leans forward to kiss her cheek. She thinks about apologizing for waking her, but the longer she hesitates, the less sorry she is.
Emily reaches back, her thumb finding the dimple in Kelley’s thigh, and when she does, her hand brushes the robe’s sash. She hesitates, grabs the end, and pulls. She didn’t really expect anything. Certainly not Kelley pushing herself up just enough with her left arm that the tug unties the sash. Not her robe falling open and their skin finally meeting as Kelley rests back against her.
Their fingers intertwine against the mattress above Emily’s head.
Their breathing syncs.
Their hearts line up.
Nothing physical separates them anymore.
Feels a lot like nothing can stop their love anymore.
Kelley runs the fingers of one hand along Emily’s side, hesitating over each rib, taking her time, feeling Emily shift under her. “What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing,” Emily chokes out.
“Em…” Kelley breathes her nickname into her ear and Emily shifts again. “Do you want me to move?”
“No. God no, don’t. Stay. Forever.”
“I wanna know what you’re thinking about.”
“I can’t… I can’t tell you,” Emily stammers.
“You can tell me anything.”
Emily knows this, or at least knows she has to. She can’t hold back when she’s asked Kelley to trust her. She owes that to her. “I- I don’t want you to think this is about sex,” she rushes out. “I told you it wasn’t about sex and- and it’s not. I just…”
“It’s ok. Tell me.” For once, Kelley gets to be their calm.
She wishes there were another exercise in trust she could participate in right now. Anything else seems preferrable because she’s thinking of Kelley in a strap-on, the silicone pressed against her ass. “Fuck,” she mutters into the pillow, and she forces out a hard breath through her nose. “I was thinking about you wedging you knee between my legs,” she starts and then hesitates, wondering if Kelley will stop her right there. She doesn’t. “Slowly spreading them apart. Enough for your other leg to fit and spread me wide open.” She squeezes her eyes shut and bites down on her lip, waiting for what feels like will be an inevitable freak out that never comes. Instead, Kelley presses her knee between Emily’s tightly closed legs, separating them, spreading Emily’s legs wide enough that she can fit between them. It takes a second for Emily to reconcile the disbelief in her mind with the reality that is between her legs, but when she does, she continues, more turned on, and more sure of herself. “I’m thinking about you inside of me. Filling me. I wouldn’t be able to see you, but you’d be so close. Like you’d never let go of me. Swirling inside of me.” As Emily speaks Kelley slides down her body, just enough. Just enough that if she was wearing a strap-on, she could do exactly what Emily is describing. By now, she can feel Emily moving beneath her more consistently, rubbing herself against the bed, and it turns her on to know that she has a hand in this. That she can still do this. “So close.”
“I don’t have one…” Kelley says, because she doesn’t want Emily thinking that she doesn’t want the same thing, that she wouldn’t. Maybe now tonight, but she would. It’s not a never; it’s just another not yet.
“No! I know. I don’t- I didn’t mean… I just… ohhhh,”
“I just want to be next to you, Kell, I’m sorry.”
Kelley can tell that Emily is on the verge of hyperventilating. “Em…”
“I know we’re not there yet. I’m not trying to pressure you. I don’t even need-”
“I could go my whole life without-”
“Emily, stop talking.” Emily rolls over under Kelley, afraid of what she’s going to find on her face. Afraid that she’s ruined everything. “I love you, too,” Kelley kisses her softly.
Emily removes her hand from the small of Kelley’s back and intertwines their fingers. She places Kelley’s hand on her heart. “Yours,” she whispers, letting go and pausing to see if Kelley will leave her hand there. She does. She slides her hand over Kelley’s hot skin, up between her breaths, careful not to touch them, and stops on her heart. “Mine.” There’s no ours for them anymore, but this is enough for now, hearts racing against each other’s palms.
They could get drunk on the power of the love flowing between them. It’s addictive, the heat between them, like Icarus and the sun. Except maybe this fire flowing from Emily to Kelley and back again won’t be their downfall if they continue to let it build slowly, and burn even slower, fighting off the instant gratification calling to them.
“I can go back now,” Emily brushes Kelley’s hair out of her eyes, finally tucking it behind her ear because it won’t stay back. “We’re gonna be ok. We are ok.”
Emily's finally ready, and it's the last thing Kelley wants.