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To The Man Who Let Her Go

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Kelley watches the slow rise and fall of her chest, steady and content and something she’s certain she will never tire of. This is exactly how she spends most of her mornings now, the dawn slowly lighting up their bedroom and gently rousing her, while Lindsey always manages to stay asleep for a little longer by burying her face in her arm or in Kelley’s neck, or dramatically turning away from the sun that threatens her slumber. Sometimes, Kelley can’t help but stare at her face, mesmerized by the way her lips and eyelids barely flicker as she dreams one last time during that remaining bit of sleep and those dreams start to infiltrate her wakening. Other times, Kelley runs her fingers through her wife’s long, blonde hair because it seems to settle her. Today, she’s fixated on Lindsey’s broad shoulders, and lets her eyes follow the muscular lines down her golden back, that smooth expanse of skin that she loves, left bare after she shucked the covers off sometime in the middle of the night. She lets out this little whimper, the one that Kelley learned long ago means she’s cold, so she cuddles close to the younger woman, throwing her arm and leg over her body. She squirms for a second then settles deeper into the mattress under Kelley’s weight, the soothing warmth easily lulling her back to sleep.

Kelley hopes she’ll stay like this, unbothered by the temperature of the air and the light creeping in through the break in their curtains. She hopes her wife will stay like this for hours, today more than ever, even though she knows she won’t be able to go back to sleep. Most times, she forces herself to calm her nerves, remember that she’s retired and she doesn’t have to get out of bed with the sun, and then she is able to drift off again for a little while. She should be exhausted – she couldn’t sleep last night any more than she can now – but she’d lie here, bored and restless, with this woman all day today if she could. Today she knows it’s hopeless. Today, the nerves will get the best of her.

From this moment forward, every night when they fall asleep will not be like any of their previous nights together. Every morning that comes after this morning will be markedly different. Nothing may physically change for a little while longer, but things will certainly shift before they climb back under the covers again sometime around midnight. So she passes the remaining minutes she gets now replaying all their moments, big and small, those they got right and the ones they got wrong, dreaming about what’s to come for them, fretting over tonight, thanking her lucky stars that this woman is hers.

Because she wasn’t always.

And Kelley still remembers the time when she wasn’t.


She waited for Lindsey. She waited before she even realized that what she was doing was waiting. In the background, never intruding, not when Lindsey was broken and crying because something he did devastated her. Again. She had good friends – her real friends – to lean on. She didn’t listen to them; she wouldn’t have listened to Kelley, either. That’s the thing about making difficult decisions: they don’t last until you’re ready. For change. To commit, to yourself most of all. It wasn’t Kelley’s place; it wasn’t anyone’s, really.

So she waited.

The next man was good to her, Kelley knew because she knew him. And because suddenly, Lindsey’s smile was real and her eyes shined again. She was happy, and after everything that Kelley had watched her go through, Kelley was happy for her.

As Lindsey’s friends jetted off to go play in Europe and Alex was focused on Charlie and he eventually moved across the Atlantic too, as they grew closer because they were left with each other, Kelley realized there was something else there. Something unnerving in the pit of her stomach when Lindsey was around. It wasn’t just her; something was different with Lindsey, too. Bigger smiles. Brighter eyes. Yes, he made her happy, happier than the man before him had, but there was an extra level to Lindsey’s joy when Kelley was around.

Unbridled was the way Rose described it once when she was thinking it to herself and accidently spoke the words aloud.

Kelley ignored that. It was Rose. Rose said shit all the time. For a long time, she told herself she was imagining it. For a long time, she denied even the possibility of a crush.

Until Alex called her out.

Until Sonnett just had to point out how utterly giddy and relaxed Lindsey was in Kelley’s presence.

Until their two best friends looked them dead in the eyes and told them to get a room and they were only half joking.

They laughed it off. Well, Kelley did, because what else was she supposed to do? Lindsey looked at her for a beat too long, turned bright red, and looked away, scuffing her toe on the lawn. They dropped it.

So Kelley waited some more. Until the distance between Lindsey and her boyfriend became too much, for him mostly. When he wanted her to go overseas and she countered with “why don’t you come back?” Neither would bend, so they broke. And Kelley was there, waiting with open arms and the patience of a spider while Lindsey first coped with the end of her relationship, and then acknowledged the feelings she had repressed.

 

She doesn’t think about him much anymore. Not like she used to when what they had was new and she was worried he’d want her back. He did, eventually. It was just a matter of time before he understood what he had done and realized that “the distance is too hard,” wasn’t worth losing her, wasn’t worth the “let’s see other people,” line he tossed her way. When he called her to apologize a few months later, Kelley was there, in Lindsey's condo, before a game. When she hung up the phone after saying very little, Kelley felt like she was having a heart attack the pain in her chest was so sharp. Lindsey just sat back down on the sofa and tucked Kelley into her side, eyes flicking briefly to her before they refocused on the TV, like nothing had even happened. Kelley stayed there, still as a statue and barely breathing until she thought her chest might explode. When she finally asked if Lindsey was leaving her to go back to him, Lindsey had looked at her, an expression of utter confusion on her face.

“Baby,” she muted the TV before turning to take her girlfriend’s hands in hers, “I love you, you know that. You didn’t really think that I…” her voice trailed off as hot tears streamed down Kelley’s face. “Oh, Kell,” Lindsey cupped the smaller woman’s face in her hands and wiped as many of the tears away with her thumbs as she could. “Baby, he wanted to date other people because I wouldn’t give up my team to move and be with him. And it took that, who knows how many women, for him to realize that he had, quote, lost the best thing that ever happened to him. I never doubt that I’m the most important person in your life. Not when we’re together and not when you’re on the other side of the country. Not when I've got you flying out here every chance you get and I don’t even have to ask. You’ve never expected me to give anything up. All you’ve done is push me towards my dreams. Why would I want him when I already have you?”

Kelley knew then. Despite all the times she had told first her grandmother and later her mother that she’d never get married, she knew that she would stand at the alter and promise those sacred vows to this this woman if that’s what she had to do to make sure she wasn’t the one who got away.

She would never make the same mistakes that he did – that they did. She wouldn’t hurt her. She would never be the cause of Lindsey’s tears. She would heal the wounds they had inflicted and help her find herself again, fix everything that they had done that might have knocked her slightly off-course somewhere along the way. She would be there for her, however she needed, wherever she needed.

Even if that meant at least for now, her retirement would be spent in the rainy PNW, not sunny Georgia, where red dust coated her windshield every May and the comfort of a church could be found on every corner. That had been home. Portland would be home for as long as Lindsey wanted it to be. 

 

She never really thought about him – about either of them – much after that morning on Lindsey’s couch. She thought about him the night she was going to propose, walking up Burnside after dinner, hoping her sweaty hand wasn’t giving it away, and hoping that Becky had had enough time to turn Lindsey’s apartment into the perfectly magical image Kelley had in her head. She thought about him when she woke up alone on the morning of their wedding, not a hint of butterflies in her stomach because she was more sure about this than she had been about anything in her life ever. She thought about him for a split second when they decided to start the IUI process, and yeah, the nerves were back in full force then, but not because she wasn’t positive they were ready, just because it can take so many tries sometimes and she didn’t want to wait any longer than 9 months to start a family with this woman. Whatever nerves were there, they were good kind that afternoon as they sat in the doctor’s office holding hands.

Those are the only kind of nerves she’s had in Lindsey’s presence for years now. Sure, they argue sometimes; it’s inevitable, really, with Kelley’s stubbornness and Lindsey’s fiery personality. But she’s never once thought of walking away, and she can’t bear the thought of watching Lindsey leave. If anything has motivated her over the years, to be better, to compromise, to love with everything she has and hold nothing back, it’s that image, of Lindsey's back. Of the sound of footsteps headed down a long corridor never to return. Of the pain of her own heart breaking if this woman ever left.


But every once in a while, on quiet mornings like this, when her sleeping beauty is so content by her side, she can’t stop thinking of him. Of how this – all of this – could have been his life if he hadn’t let her go.

She got lucky that he realized too late what he had lost. He should have known then. He should have known the second the words were out of his mouth. No, sooner, Kelley thinks. The whole time he had her should have been more than enough to convince him that she was worth every mile between them, every night spent apart, every celebration missed. She should have meant the world to him. She should have been his world.

She’s lucky he was a fool, that the one before him was, too. She’s lucky she got that window of time to show Lindsey how she felt. His loss has been her greatest gain, greater than any gold medal or trophy. Those are in a box in her closet; Lindsey is in her arms. Hers to have and hold, and she is Lindsey’s.

Sometimes, she thinks she should pick up the phone and call him. Text him. Send him an email. Find a way to thank him. He’s the reason that this is her life. The best life. A life she never dreamed could be hers. But she doesn’t want to appear to be gloating, to be an asshole, and she knows that’s how it would come off no matter how completely genuine she would be if she got the chance to thank him. But that’s irrational. So since she can’t thank him, she thanks Him instead, for whatever role He played in the events of their lives that led Lindsey to her and her to Lindsey. She thanks Him every night as Lindsey drifts off to sleep. She thanks Him every morning, usually before Lindsey opens those grey-green eyes. But sometimes, she gets so lost in looking at her wife as she sleeps that she doesn’t get to it until they’re brushing their teeth or Lindsey’s sitting on the balcony sipping coffee. But she always makes sure that He knows just how thankful she is.

And this morning, she’s more thankful than she’s ever been.

More thankful than she was when she leaned in and kissed her the first time and didn’t get pushed away. She fucking thought she would – she was sure of it – but Lindsey kissed her back.

More thankful than when Lindsey said yes before she even finished asking. She didn’t think she’d get a “yes,” more like a “not yet,” if she was lucky.

More thankful than when the words “I do,” were spoken from those sweet, trembly lips as they both fought off tears.

And today, she has something extra to be thankful for: the life growing inside her. A baby. Their baby.

 

They tried so many times that even if Lindsey knew Kelley had gone to that last appointment, she probably wouldn’t have remembered when it was time for her to take a pregnancy test. All the dates, the needles, the temperature tracking, appointments, peeing on sticks… after months and months, it all ran together. It hadn’t worked, hadn’t taken. They talked about needing a break for a few months, for their own sanity and for timing purposes with Lindsey’s schedule. They talked about IVF. But Kelley wasn’t getting any younger. Waiting wasn’t her game. Lindsey went away for a tournament; Kelley knew she’d be ovulating. She ordered one more tank to be shipped to their doctor’s office.

She knows that when Lindsey realizes it, that the one appointment she didn’t go to, didn’t even know was on the calendar, is the one appointment when Kelley got pregnant, she’s going to be pissed, but she’ll get over it.  Just like she’ll get over the fact that Kelley didn’t tell her about the positive pregnancy test. She couldn’t. After so many failures, something neither of them were used to, when it was time to take that pregnancy test, she couldn’t bear to put Lindsey through another negative. Then, once it was positive, she couldn’t bear the thought of something going wrong, of Lindsey experiencing all this joy only to have it taken away. She didn’t trust it. Didn’t trust her age. Didn’t trust her own body. So she waited as long as she could, until it was relatively safe and she was on the verge of showing.

And now she’s here. Fifteen weeks pregnant, hiding it under Lindsey’s oversized hoodies and using all the mental fortitude she gained as an athlete to try to bite back against the morning sickness. Here she is, fifteen weeks pregnant, cuddled up to her unsuspecting wife, living her best life, and all she has left to do is tell her.  That should be the easy part.

She’s cherished all the time she’s known that Lindsey hasn’t, for the simple fact that she knows as soon as Lindsey knows, everything will change. Lindsey will fuss over her, worry about her. It’s just who she is. She’ll not want Kelley lifting or running, she’ll probably freak out about Kelley carrying groceries up to their condo and make her use a delivery service, and Kelley hates delivery services. They always get something wrong. She’ll tell Kelley she needs to get off her feet and she'll try to cook, probably set off the fire alarm. But most of all, as soon as Lindsey knows, she’ll try to stop Kelley from doing all the little things that Kelley thinks make their marriage. That’s the part she’s not ready for. She can run when Lindsey’s training, get their OBGYN to convince her wife that she can still fly and still carry in the groceries. But she won’t be able to stop their dynamic from shifting – maybe not forever – but for now, at least. And that… that’s hard for her, because she has built this relationship, her life, around taking care of this woman, in all the ways, big and small. She knows what it’s like to be loved, but she doesn’t know what it’s like to have someone show it through acts of service. She doesn’t need it. Doesn’t want it, because the mere thought of letting Lindsey take care of her feels like it will diminish her own role.

But it goes beyond that, to the fact that soon, Lindsey won’t be the most important person in her life. There will be a baby girl or a baby boy in their arms who will take precedent. Who will become their number one. Who will be the one Kelley would give her life for if she were ever forced to choose. She can split her heart in two, or maybe it will just double in size when there’s someone else to love, she’s not quite sure how that works yet. But before she knows it, there’s going to be a little person in this world who she will love even more than she loves her wife. More love is more potential for pain. More fear. More to worry about. Another person to protect. That’s what scares her the most.

But it’s too late now, to be scared or to back out of telling her. She’s hidden it for long enough, turning the lights off before undressing, blaming the lack of definition across her stomach on the increased consumption of Salt & Straw that she ventures out for despite Lindsey’s raised eyebrow. Besides, the plans have been laid and by the end of the night, Lindsey’s going to know that in the blink of an eye, she’ll be a mother. That she already is, truly. And by the end of the night, they’ll both know if they’re having a boy or a girl.

She feels Lindsey begin to stir under her again, and this time she knows it’s for real. She props herself up on her elbow, just in time to catch her eyes fluttering open. “Mornin’, gorgeous,” she whispers against Lindsey’s lips.