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This Little Teal Car

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2028

 

"Baby?"

 

That's exactly what she's being. A baby.

 

She's staring out the window of their bedroom, down on to the street below. Down to where her beloved little car sits on the road. Her old, ugly, rusty, but beloved little car. The first car she bought once she graduated college. She's had it over ten years, she doesn't want to get rid of it.

 

"Hmm?"

 

It gave up on her yesterday. For good. They don't even drive it much anymore, that's what's ridiculous; they've got an SUV, big enough to fit children, soccer equipment, and laughter, all at once. But yesterday she drove it, alone thank god, just to the store to pick up some more oat milk, some eggs so they could do waffles this morning (because they'd decided the kids deserved a treat), and some Kombucha, because Kelley had been on and on at her about gut health, serotonin, and introducing good bacteria into her diet.

 

It gave up just as she turned right, out of the parking lot, to come home. It spluttered and jerked and died beneath her and no matter how many times she turned the key in the ignition, the engine just wouldn't turn over. Normally, she had to turn it at just the right speed, rev the engine just the right amount simultaneously, and she was good to go, but not yesterday. Yesterday there was no sound, not even a whimper of hope from the vehicle below her as she tried, and tried again, to get it to start. So she turned on her hazards, called her wife, and then called the tow company.

 

A hand comes up and rubs between her shoulder blades as Kelley comes to stand beside her. She can hear the kids cackling in the driveway, below. She knows they've probably got a basketball out, that Jacob is probably trying to lift his two year old brother up so he can reach the kiddie net they've got propped up in the front yard, that Theo will be all red faced from the arms squeezed around his middle not quite succeeding in elevating him towards the hoop. Bagel will be watching on lazily from where she often lies, relaxed in the shadows of the small blossom tree they have. She can't quite see them from this angle, but if she opened the window a bit further and leant out slightly she'd have a clear view. Once again she finds herself grateful they chose this neighbourhood, the kids are safe here, and it's in a good school district, she doesn’t have to think or worry about the fact that the garage door is probably wide open, that they're out there unattended for the moment.

 

"You okay up here?" She smiles softly at her wife, leans in for a brief kiss.

"Yeah, I'm okay." She is, really, she's just a bit sad.

 

"How are you?" Her hand comes to rest on Kelley's hip she says it, fully turning to face the woman, fingers stroking over the edge of an old worn t-shirt. The way Kelley smiles as she asks makes her grateful. It makes her grateful for their life together, makes her grateful that she's the one that gets to see Kelley's laughter lines when she's happy, even grateful that she's the one who was up with Theo at 4 o'clock this morning because of a bad dream, that she's the one who will be forced into helping Jacob with his math homework later even though Kelley's better with numbers. And of course, it makes her grateful for the old, rusty, blue car. It makes her grateful for all the memories they got to have in it.

 

****

2017

 

She's been in Portland for a year by the time she decides she needs a car, that she can afford one and that she wants one.

 

She decides in the off season, because of course.

 

So she's in Atlanta, and she just figures she'll go look around at a dealership, get an idea of what she can get with the money she's got. She's not planning to actually buy anything because that would just be highly impractical. She's not driving all the way to Portland just because of an impulse decision to buy a car. She's going to be an adult about this. She's going to scope out the market, compare prices, mileage, road tax, mile per gallon of gas, all that kind of stuff.

 

And Kelley's here, which is great, she could use some guidance from someone who's not her overbearing Dad, so she invites the older player along. It's mainly just an excuse to see her.

 

They're friends at this point, not great friends because they haven't been able to spend that much time together beyond national team camps. But friends, who sometimes awkwardly flirt but don't acknowledge it, because they’re teammates and colleagues and this kind of thing needs to be taken seriously in that environment, and also because Emily is pretty sure Kelley sees her as a child, or at least as little more than an immature young-adult.

 

But Kelley comes, laughs at Sonnett’s jokes and allows the Portland defender to take her for a test drive in a car that neither of them could ever afford, because they're female athletes in a man's world.

 

They laugh, and flirt in a way that boarders non-platonic. They don’t acknowledge it, they let themselves enjoy it.

 

And then, just as they're about to leave she sees it.

 

"Lookit, Kel!" Emily kind of stops walking as she stares at the car. It's on the forecourt, hidden at the back behind some of the pricier, nicer cars, but for some reason she's drawn to it. "What am I looking at?" Sonnett just walks closer to the vehicle, peers inside the front passenger side window, fingertips pressed to glass, pleasantly surprised at the modern interior.

 

"What do you think?"

 

"It's blue."

 

 Kelley looks over her shoulder, Emily’s not sure if she's looking for a sales assistant to help them out, or trying to make sure no one sees them looking at this car.

 

"Not navy or royal blue like normal blue cars, Son. It's, like, teal or turquoise or some shit. It actually looks kind of radioactive." Kelley tries to keep a straight face as she says it, but the image of Emily pulling into providence park in this Teal-mobile has her smirking.

 

Emily buys the car that day. She drives it back to Portland even though she told herself she wouldn't. It takes three days. She drives it everywhere they move throughout their lives together. Kelley never stops calling it the tealmobile - "like the Batmobile, just crappier!"

 

***

2019

 

They share their first kiss in the tealmobile.

 

Sonnett has had the car for nearly two years at this point, but it’s always somehow felt like both of theirs. Whenever Kelley comes to visit, she’s often the one in the driver's seat. Or if not she's playing DJ, shuffling through the radio stations non-stop, settling only for a few minutes as they play a song she likes before moving on again.

 

They see each other a lot. In season Kelley comes and stays at her apartment when they have a match, off season if they aren't in Atlanta they visit each other at their respective homes.

 

They slowly become best friends, the type that rely on each other more than necessary, that miss each other and that feel the need to spend as much time together as possible, to absorb one another’s company when they’re in it.

 

It’s inevitable.

 

That’s what they’ll say in the future when people ask. They’ll call their love for one another inevitable.

 

The way they fall in love is gradual, they should be able to measure it, pinpoint each moment, each significant feeling, but it also occurs in such a way that neither of them can remember the before. Neither of them can remember what it was like to not feel this way about one another.

 

In the same way plants grow towards the sunlight, they grow into each other, gravitate towards each other, blossom with the help of one another.

 

Sonnett doesn’t necessarily believe in destiny or fate, but she does believe in things happening for a reason. The way her and Kelley’s fingers slot together like puzzle pieces, or like the way a certain key can fit specifically into a teal cars ignition, the way they make each other smile, well, they’re the best reasons she can think of. 

 

The way the sun shines down on them through the windshield as they park up in a gravel lot before they embark on some hiking trail through the woodlands. The way the gentle breeze tumbles through the window, floating through the strands of Kelley’s hair that have fallen loose from where it’s tied back. The way she smiles as the song ends and Sonnett pulls up the hand break. It all combines to confirm the inevitable.

 

And she lets herself pause for a moment, stop and ponder about whether the fact she is in love with a woman she hasn’t kissed yet is strange. But she also thinks it’s perfect. By now, she knows Kelley, she knows her flaws just as well as her perfections and she loves her because of them.

 

So when she leans forward and cups Kelley’s cheek and receives an even better smile in return, a softer one, a fonder one, one that confirms what she about to do is the right thing; she can’t help but connect their lips.

 

Simply and wonderfully.

 

It’s not heated, but it conveys all the emotions she can’t quite put into words yet.

 

Her favourite part is when they connect their foreheads afterwards, smiling into each other, and Kelley confesses “I’ve been waiting for you to do that for the longest time,”  in an excited whisper.

 

So she does it again. And again and again. She refuses to ever leave Kelley waiting for the rest of their lives.

 

***

2020

 

The tealmobile sees some of the happiest times in her life.

 

Some of the best reunions.

 

It resides in Atlanta now, sleeps in a secure parking garage under her apartment building. She wasn’t ready to get rid of it when news of the Orlando trade dropped - it already felt like she was losing so much. And this car tethers her to reality with it’s scratchy seats and reluctant aircon that’s a little to clunky, and a little to loud for Orlando life. She never gets round to driving it down to Orlando before the pandemic hits and she finds herself grateful, not for the first or last time in her life, for the little teal car.

 

Picking Kelley up from the airport is never fun, because airport traffic and, more often than not, a tired cranky girlfriend combined with her own road rage, but it’s been months since they’ve seen each other.

 

At this point Sonnett will sit in days of traffic, fight through as many bad drivers as it takes, she just wants to see her girlfriend, not through a phone screen. It doesn’t even matter to her that Kelley’s flight is getting in at ridiculous o’clock in the morning.

 

Kelley refuses to let her pay for short stay parking, insists on just hopping in the car at the pick-up point (“you’re not paying $15 for a parking permit just so you can come inside, that’s ridiculous Em! It’s enough that you’re coming to pick me up at that time when I could just get a cab”).

 

She at least manages to pull up and hop out the car to help Kelley stuff her bags in the tiny trunk. They hug, but it’s brief and before she pulls completely away she gets a peck on the lips, but it’s not enough.

 

She could wait until they get home, for limitless time and soft sheets, but it’s been months, and she wants to kiss her girlfriend properly God damnit! She’s loving the way that Kelley is tracing patterns on the back of the hand she’s placed on the older woman’s thighs, loves the comfortable quiet that’s enveloped them as she drives. It’s the kind of quiet that only occurs in moonlit hours, soft and fuzzy around the edges.

 

It’s that time of day when nobody is quite sure whether it’s nighttime or morning, the suns not up yet but the first signs of it’s presence are starting to show on the horizon line. The sky hombres from darkness to orange, pinpoints of starlight still shining.

 

Every time she glances over to Kelley, she finds she’s already being looked at, studied, as she navigates the virtually empty night time roads.

 

“What? What is it? Do I have something on me?” She would wipe her face, but one hand is occupied on the wheel and she doesn’t want to take the other away from Kelley.

 

“No.” Kelley just keeps looking at her, moving her eyes slowly, first over her face and then trailing her gaze down over Sonnett’s whole body.

 

“No?” She wishes she could spend as long looking back, starts actively searching for somewhere to pull over when the atmosphere turns warm and her skin pinpricks, keening under the attention of her loves gaze.

 

“No. I- you’re perfect, Em. I missed you so much.” She closes her eyes for the briefest moment when Kelley reaches across and winds her fingers into the back of her hair, scratching lightly at her neck, before she has to look back at the road. She wishes she could enjoy it more, let’s her fingers grip Kelley’s thigh, squeeze gently in warning. The older woman knows her neck is sensitive.

 

“Kel-“ she chokes out the woman’s name and her voice already sounds wrecked, just from a few looks, and a few touches in a place that’s not even that dangerous.

 

“I can’t wait til we get home, baby.”

 

Turns out, with the continuing attention to her neck, neither can Sonnett. The first parking lot she sees belongs to a seedy motel. She parks in the back, away from the light, doesn’t hesitate turning the engine off, doesn’t hesitate clumsily climbing over the centre console and into Kelley’s lap.

 

They’re both laughing as she does it. Giggling as Kelley asks what she thinks she’s doing. She knows Kelley doesn’t think she’ll go through with this, knows Kelley thinks that she enjoys taking her time too much to ever consider a quickie in the front seat of her car on the way home from the airport.

 

But she hasn’t touched her girlfriend in months, hasn’t been touched in months.

 

And the hands stoking up from her hips to her ribs and back down again as she shifts to properly straddle Kelley’s thighs feel so good.

 

Finally they kiss properly. It’s long and drawn out. Starts as a reunion embrace and turns dirty as they pant into each other’s mouths, as Kelley nips at Sonnett’s bottom lip and moves her hands around to play with the waistband of the shorts she threw on as she dragged herself out of bed.

 

One of the brunette woman’s hands moves up to cradle Emily’s neck as she leans in to deepen the kiss, the other remains playing with her shorts, teasing, not quite daring to go lower. Emily can't help the way she moves into the touch as she cups her girlfriends cheeks, pressing kiss after pouty kiss to open lips.

 

"Em-" Kelley gasps and cuts herself off as Emily moves her mouth to her jaw and trails a hand down to palm the woman’s breast through her clothing. The tease is dangerous, and the fact anyone could walk by and see them turns them both on more than they'd like to admit. "Baby, you really wanna do this? I've been on a plane for hours, I'm gross." Emily pulls back and looks at her for a moment before leaning in and connecting their lips again, speaking in broken sentences. "Not gross-" Kiss. "Never gross-" Kiss. "Beautiful-" Kiss. "So unbelievably beautiful, Kel. Missed you so much."

 

And that's all it takes. All the encouragement Kelley needs to slip her hand below the layers of clothing separating them. The angle is awkward but they move together to make it work, and she can't help release the choking moan that almost sounds like a sob when she finally gets to feel how wet Emily is for her. It's been so long, too long, and her girlfriend still feels so good, just as good as she remembers, if not better.

 

She spreads the wetness up to Emily's clit, circles teasingly once, twice, and then applies the much needed pressure. She watches Emily's face as she strokes, enthralled by the way the woman scrunches her eyes closed, parting her lips in pleasure. She loves the way her hips cant in her lap, moving against her hand, searching for more.

 

"want me inside?" Emily nods, but it's not enough. Kelley wants to hear her, hear how wrecked her voice will sound, how gravelly and wanton she gets. "Tell me. Tell me what you want Em."

 

"Please Kel- I- want your fingers. Need to feel you fill me up. It's been so long." Emily buries her face in the space between Kelley's neck and shoulder, moans lowly as Kelley does as asked.

 

"Fuck. Fuck baby, you feel so good. You're so wet, so warm."

 

Emily has to do most of the work. The way they're sat isn't conducive to much movement from Kelley, but she's more than content to let the blonde ride her fingers, to help her reach climax with the occasional brush over her clit with her thumb. It's so hot to watch Emily this desperate, she can feel herself slick in her own underwear, as the woman she loves becomes ridged and then relaxes in her arms, releasing breathy moan after breathy moan.

 

They almost consider paying for a shitty motel room but instead Sonnett drives the tealmobile as fast as she can home before morning light and they spend all day making up for lost time, limbs intertwined, smiles pressed close.

 

***

2021

 

They're not perfect by any means.

 

After so long not seeing each other they both work hard and get lucky enough to be traded to the same team. DC feels like fresh air. Like a new start for both of them.

 

The only constant left is the little teal car which travels with them all the way to DC. Everything that should be new is new and it should be exciting because they're finally together, exploring a new avenue together but they're way past the honeymoon phase, and it feels like somewhere they maybe took a wrong turn. Like maybe instead of the avenue being lined with fresh watered wild flowers, there are all these weeds coming up through the cracks in the pavement, and that maybe because of the weeds the cracks are getting bigger.

 

The way Kelley can't leave her competitiveness on the field irks Emily. The way Emily has to turn every plate of food she makes into a piece of art frustrates Kelley.

 

It’s been a stressful year- years; time seems to have lost all meaning at this point. It’s still a stressful year what with Olympics, and this seemingly never-fucking-ending pandemic and all the reactionary anxieties its caused.

 

They get on each other’s nerves. Sometimes it feels like that’s all they do.

 

And sometimes that feeling feels inescapable, the way they irritate each other feels so all consuming it can be hard to remember how much they love each other. The way both their tempers can flare hot can get the better of them. Can make them say things they regret.

 

The cracks sometimes feel cavernous.

 

Earlier it had boiled over in Kelley, in both of them really. The way Sonnett had carelessly forgotten to clean out the coffee grounds from the machine after using it had ended up in them bickering until it became unbearable. Until Emily had slammed her mug down with a little too much force and told her girlfriend she was going to sleep at her own place for a few days, but hadn’t moved because it had really intended to be an empty threat, until-

 

Until…

 

Until Kelley had let the silence stretch on for a little too long, panting deep in her anger. Until she had suggested that maybe it should be longer than for just a few days because clearly this wasn’t working. Because clearly all they do is fight. Because clearly they need some space.

 

“You’re seriously suggesting we break up right now? Over coffee grounds?”

 

Except it’s about more than coffee grounds.

 

“Kel-“ she tries to swallow down the lump in her throat.

 

It’s about the fact that Kelley has an irrational fear of being too much. She knows she’s a lot, that she can be loud for people, or too brash, or talkative. She has fears that Sonnett thinks she over communicates.

 

“Baby, no. C’mon-“ She wants to walk over to the other side of the kitchen island and take Kelley in her arms but Kelley’s still angry, arms folded, unshed tears clouding her vision.

 

 It’s about the fact that even though everyone thinks they’re similar (and they are in a lot of ways) they’re so so different. She worries she smothers Sonnett who’s prefers quiet a lot of the time, who communicates through raised eyebrows and extended limbs, more often than boisterous laughter and over-verbalisation. She prefers being the one to make people laugh, somehow believing it distracts them from really seeing her, from looking too hard or too long.

 

“We don’t have to do this Kel- I love you, don’t do this.” She wants to kiss her before she leaves, hug her, take her in her arms and try to show her how much she means to her through her actions, how well they fit together. She’s no good at words.

 

It’s about the fact that Sonnett also fails to communicate in the way that Kelley needs, but that just because she’s aloof sometimes doesn’t mean she doesn’t appreciate and love Kelley. She tries to say what she means through her body language and actions but sometimes she fails - like when she forgets to empty the coffee grounds from the pod in Kelley's new machine.

 



It's raining. It’s been raining for the past week, because, apparently, despite the bitter temperatures and wind it's not actually cold enough to snow, and also the universe decides that Emily hasn’t been shat on enough this past couple of years. It’s been nearly two weeks since the break-up, she’s heard from Kelley only once – a response to her multitude of messages saying she’d sort out a box of Sonnett’s stuff and drop it off at some point. Rain in the off season means watching crappy television under blankets as far as Sonnett's concerned. Especially when your girlfriend has just broken up with you. She's not going out and getting cold and wet unless she has to.

 

When the doorbell rings she drags herself off the couch like it requires more effort than playing a full 90. She wraps one of the many blankets round her shoulders as she goes, expecting it to be a delivery person with the wrong address.

 

Instead she opens the door to find her girlfriend- ex-girlfriend, literally dripping onto the tile floor of the entryway. She's not thinking about the stupid fight, when she ushers Kelley into her apartment. She first bundles her in the blanket from her own body, and then layers of towels she pulls from the linen closet.

 

"What are you doing here? You're soaked! You're going to get so ill.  I'll start the shower, just - don’t move, I'll get another towel and a change of clothes." A gentle hand, finger wrapping around her wrist stops her frantic movement.

 

For the first time since Kelley entered her apartment, she looks at the woman, really looks.

 

"Em-" It comes out as a whisper.

 

Kelley looks distraught, and Sonnett wants to bundle her up in her arms instead of blankets and towels. Wants to hold her and never let go. But she doesn't know where she stands, what's going on between them.

 

She sighs and lets her shoulders sag. "Kel…what are you doing here?" They look at one another for far longer than necessary. It should be awkward, the way they're standing, Kelley with layers of fabric piled on her shoulders, loosely wrapped around her back, slowly slipping off, in attempts to soak up some of the water dripping from her hoodie, but it's not – Emily feels like she could look at Kelley forever. Her hand is still wrapped around Emily's arm; she drops it and just asks "Can we go for a drive?"

 

She lets Kelley drive, figures the woman needs to channel her angsty energy into something so it might as well be driving. She’s always loved watching Kelley drive, sitting as far back as her limited limbs will allow, watching her hands grip the wheel, always placed at ten and two.

 

The way the rain is falling doesn't let them get too far, they can barely see out the window and it's really probably not very safe to drive. Kelley pulls them into the parking lot of the supermarket not far from Sonnett’s apartment block. They could have walked here quicker, but being in the car somehow felt necessary in more ways than to just escape the rain.

 

Emily's sure if she searches hard enough there's a metaphor somewhere about the fact that a car is a temporal space, that the impermanence of a car, the way you're both literally and metaphorically moving, the way you don't have to look at each other, all contributes to it being the perfect space for the most uncomfortable of conversations.

 

"I don’t want to break up." It's hard to hear Kelley over the rain. Emily thinks she'd hear that even if a choir was singing at full volume in the back seat.

 

She doesn't say anything. She doesn’t want to say the wrong thing, so she stays quiet, studies Kelley's profile. Studies the way her hands are still placed on the wheel, the way her jaw ticks as she thinks of what to say next.

 

"I-." Kelley clears her throat, scrubs a hand over her face. "I can't lose you." She looks at Sonnett, glances over and then forward again, finally puts her hands in her lap like she's only just ready to admit she's not driving. "You're my best friend. I'm a better person with you around. You make me better." Emily lets her eyebrows raise in surprise at that, she doesn’t agree but she still doesn't say anything, just watches Kelley pick at her cuticles.

 

It feels like the rain is almost enveloping the car it's so heavy. It's muffling the sound so they can't hear anything from the outside world apart from the sound of water hitting the body of the vehicle. Their collective breath has fogged up the windows and they can't see anything or anyone else. They're all alone with each other and this conversation.

 

Emily finally takes pity on Kelley, who clearly doesn't know what to say next, and directs the conversation. "Why are you here Kel? In my car? What are we doing?"

 

"...I love this car." Emily opens her mouth to protest when Kelley looks at her for the first time properly. "I mean, I don't – it's a pile of shit. But it makes me smile, so much." Emily can't help but smile at that. "Me too."

"That's why. That's why it makes me smile. Because it makes you so goddamn happy. Because for some reason this piece of shit, teal car is what makes you happy.

 

"But the thing is Em, I wanna be what makes you happy. For the rest of our lives, I want to make you smile first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I want to make you smile in ways a car can't make you smile." Emily is smiling, widely. She lets Kelley reach over and grab her hand.

 

"We've got a lot to talk about."

"I know. I know we do." Kelley frowns and tightens her grip, like she's afraid Emily might get out the car.

 

"We need to work out a better way to communicate." Kelley nods. Emphatically. "I need you to trust the way I feel about you or tell me if I'm not doing a good enough job of letting you know." Emily reaches forward and runs the pad of her thumb down Kelley's jaw. "Because I love you so much Kel, and I know I'm not great at saying it, but I promise going forward I'll do my best every day to show you." Kelley nods again, leaning into Emily's touch.

 

"Good, because I missed you."

"I missed you too, so much." Emily pulls Kelly in, connects their lips briefly, resting their foreheads together and breathing deeply as the sound of the rain surrounds them.

 

"Go on a date with me?" Emily lets out a little happy sound of surprise; they haven't been on a date since pre-pandemic. "I want to woo you again, apologise properly for being an idiot." She shakes her head. "You weren't an idiot, don't say that." Kelley ignores her.

"Go on a date with me, please baby?"

 

"What if I want to woo you?" Kelley smiles and Emily has missed it even more than she realised.

 

"Please do."

 

So she does. She moves her fingers up into Kelley's damp hair, leans forward connecting their lips deeply. Let's them move together softly over the middle console of the car. Only lets them finally break apart when she can't help herself but smile again.

 

***

2022

 

The tealmobile has a grey interior. On the seats there’s rows of diamonds printed in a lighter shade in an almost geometric pattern. There's a stain on the passenger seat from a to-go coffee that refused to balance like it should have, and a mark on the ceiling above the drivers head where Kelley once had bird shit in her hair without realising it.

 

The trunk is always full of fun. Whether it be cleats, or sweaters, old dog treats or soccer balls.

 

Emily loves that every corner of her little car tells a story. And she'll admit it's messy. Even admit it could probably do with a good clean but right now she doesn't care, because once again her little teal car has come to the rescue.

 

Kelley's bigger car is still linked up to the U-Haul trailer they've rented for the weekend on the driveway, which means they can't drive it down to the dog park right now, despite it having more room for Bagel in the back.

 

And honestly they’re all getting restless, not just the dog. The need to escape the place they now get to call home, the place they can’t quite relax in just yet because everywhere they look there’s a bed to assemble or a shelf to hang, is eating away at all of them.

 

The dog leans froward from the rear seats of the tealmobile happily panting away, leash stretched to the max from where it's attached to the seatbelt buckle from the harness, (no way Sonnett isn't strapping her pupper in) happy to get away from the chaos of movers and boxes even if just for a minute. They all need to feel grass under their feet, maybe kick a ball around.

 

They haven't been to this dog park yet, having only moved to this side of town today after finally getting a house together, but Sonnett is excited to check it out until she realises they're going to have to pay for the privilege to park.

 

"Seriously?" She groans out. "Did you bring your wallet?" Kelley is busy retrieving her phone from the centre console, removing the keys from the ignition, only half interested as she responds, "No, why would I? We're only going to be like an hour."

"I know, I didn't even think about bringing any money." She immediately begins patting her pockets, ignoring Bagel in the back where the dog is now standing and wagging her tail very enthusiastically.

 

Kelley opens her door, "C'mon we'll be able to pay on our phones. They’ll be an app link on the meter."

"Just wait a sec, we must have a few dollars lying around here somewhere." She checks the door well, coming up empty and thinks to the change she knows is in the cup holder of Kelley's car. Without hesitation she reaches for the glove box, startled by Kelley's sharp- "Son! C'mon, I'll just pay on my phone."

"I'm just gonna check if there’s any in here, you get Bitty, I'll be right-" Kelly's hand comes up and slams the door of the glove box shut before Emily can even properly open it.

 

"…Okay, what the fuck?" Bagel wines at her sharp tone.

"Baby..."

 

Kelley was half way out the car so when Sonnett looks over to her girlfriend it's to see her with one leg extended out of the vehicle, her upper body leant over from where she’s dived to stop Emily from opening the glove box, looking up at her with pleading eyes.

 

"...Em, just- please let me pay on my phone."

 

They both stare at each other, Emily slowly retreating away from the glove box and sitting back into her seat. Once satisfied that Emily won't try to open the box, Kelley also moves to sit properly, door still flung wide, ignored now there’s more pressing matters.

 

"You know I'm going to ask."

"Please don't."

 

"What's in there?"

 

Kelley closes her eyes and swallows, hand coming up to pet Bagel, whose is restless and now has her head poked in between them through the seats.

 

"Fuck, okay. I really thought I'd found a good hiding place. We hardly even drive this car any more. It was just for today, really. The car was going to stay locked on the driveway. And you were going to be able to see everything I unpacked at the new house. And it was meant to be more special than this. And I really was definitely not going to do it in the car, or at the dog park, probably. I mean I haven't really planned the how yet but-"

 

"Kel!"

 

They hold eye contact for a few seconds and Kelley nods permission for Emily to look inside.

 

There's the usual stereo manual, and a few other car-related documents, (some candy wrappers that no one needs to know about), and a box.

 

A little black box.

A ring box.

 

Emily slowly reaches for the box, looking between it and Kelley in disbelief. She brings it into her lap, not daring to open it, instead just staring at her girlfriend.

 

Kelley can’t help but smile a little at Emily’s reaction. At the flabbergasted look on her face.

 

They hold eye contact for a few seconds before Kelley speaks, both coming to the realisation of what is about to happen, plan or no plan.

 

“I love you Emily Sonnett.”

 

The way Kelley says it - like there’s no room for doubt, like it’s the thing she’s most sure of in the world. It’s like Kelley is the only other person in the world who understands how Emily feels. Like love - this tiny four letter word just isn’t enough, because how can four letters summarise this, summarise them. She just can’t believe how lucky she is that they feel the same way about each other.

 

Emily looks down again at the box.

 

“And I really wanted to do this somewhere more romantic than the front seat of our crappy old car but- go on. Open it…

 

“And please, marry me?”

 

***

2023

 

Sometimes when they’ve got nothing planned they go for a drive.

 

No destination in mind or errands to run. They just drive.

 

And if she let her self think about it for too long she’d feel bad about her carbon footprint, but she also likes to think she lives pretty sustainably where she can.

 

She loves just driving with Kelley. They sing and they dance. And they find random spots where they get out and hike for a while or sit on the hood and make out or just cuddle.

 

They talk. No distractions. No phones or tv. No emails or teammates with questions.

 

Just each other and wedding planning or life planning or catching up with each other’s weeks whilst holding hands and laughing together.

 

Sometimes it’s lighthearted and sometimes it’s serious.

 

Serious like let’s talk finances, or injury management and recuperation, or we need to plan a trip home because I don’t think Great Aunt Marge is going to get any better.

 

Or serious like:

 

“What if I retire? After the World Cup?” She tries to suppress her sharp intake of breath.

 

“Do you want to retire?” She lets her hand find Kelley’s, rests them conjoined on her fiancé’s lap, notices the way Kelley is staring out the window, almost as if she can escape the conversation by not fully engaging in it.

 

Neither of them want Kelley to retire, but there’s a reality that has to be faced. Kelley has been playing as a top level athlete for a long time, and her ankles are only getting worse. She has to have steroids injected every month and is doing constant conditioning in order to be able to play. Coping with it is almost more exhausting than the rest of their training regimes, combined.

 

They both knew this conversation was coming - it could only be held off for so long.

 

“No.” They sit in silence for a few more seconds, Emily letting Kelley sort through her thoughts, pick out the ones she wants to verbalise.

 

“Maybe, actually.” She shifts her hips in her seat so she’s turning towards Sonnett.

 

“I love soccer so much but when I picture the future I don’t picture soccer anymore, not like I used to anyway. I picture you…and,” Emily looks over to Kelley for as long as she can justify whilst driving, squeezing the hand in her own and bringing it to her lips for a reassuring peck on the knuckles.

 

She thinks she knows what’s coming so she just smiles and nods, encouraging Kelley to continue.

 

“I picture you and our kids chasing a ball around in our yard. I picture taking them to practice and teaching them how to lace up cleats… I dunno, is that crazy? We’ve not even got married yet.”

 

Emily shakes her head.

 

“I picture all that too. All the time.”

“Yeah?”

“Hmm, yeah. I picture you as a crazy soccer mom pacing the sidelines, I picture cutting up food into bite sized chunks on plastic plates and I picture panicking over them not wearing a helmet on their scooter… I even picture dirty diapers, Kel!” She whispers the last bit like it’s a secret; it gets the laughter she desires.

 

“So we wanna do this?”

“I wanna do everything with you, baby.” They’re both squeezing each other’s hands now.

 

“Okay, so I’ll retire.” Sonnett looks over to her again.

 

“Okay then.”

 

***

2025

 

There’s not been many times in her life that Emily has cursed the tealmobile. But right now, she could really do with a car that has a more powerful engine. Something in which she could speed to her destination without it reverberating to a worrying degree.

 

Of all days for training to overrun, it had to be today. She’d returned to her locker to find her phone alight with notifications, 8 of which were missed calls from her wife and 4 of which were messages:

 

10:03: They’ve moved the meeting forward two hours. You’ll still make it right? She said on the phone it would be fine if you were late but I need you there for this Sonnett.

 

10:38: I called the Spirit front office but no one picked up. I’ll keep trying. You have to make this Emily or I don’t know what I’ll do. What if they’ve changed their minds?

 

11:18: Baby I know this isn’t you’re fault but you have to come and see our boys with me. I’m so nervous. I need you there. Just please, answer your phone.

 

11:37: I thought training finished at 11:30? Call me back ASAP and let me know you’re on your way. I’m leaving in twenty, meet me there? Kathleen said we don’t need to bring anything.

 

She can’t remember a time she’s panicked as much in her life, immediately dialling her wife’s number and having to be talked into taking the quickest shower of her life, because personal hygiene is important when meeting your potential future sons.

 

She has never sprinted out of the locker room so fast, leaping in her car as though her life depended on it.

 

And now she’s trying to navigate downtown, find this play park that’s not too far from the social workers offices where she’s meant to be meeting Kelley, hoping beyond hope that she’s not too late.

 

When she pulls in to park she takes a second to collect her breath, glancing up and out the window.

 

She’s always drawn to Kelley. Kelley is always the first person that catches her eye. But this time it’s different. As Sonnett sits in her little teal car and stares out of the window at her wife it like she finally understands peace.

 

Kelley sits on an ugly picnic blanket with Kathleen, their social worker. She’s wearing a loose fitting t-shirt and her hair is all piled on top of her head in a way that accentuates the length of her neck.

 

She’s beautiful.

 

Kelley is always breathtaking to Sonnett, but Kelley cooing down at a chubby blue eyed baby, allowing it to play with her fingers and trying to get it to smile, all while simultaneously engaging a slightly older boy, a toddler, in what appears to be very serious conversation, this Kelley is the most beautiful version she thinks she’s ever seen.

 

And the boys.

 

Well they’re incredible too. They’ve met before. This will be their fourth interaction, after which they’re hoping to hear from Kathleen on the final decision of whether or not they’ll be able to take them home in a few months.

 

Both her and Kelley are already in too deep for it to be a no. She doesn’t know how they’ll cope if they can’t take them home. She knows rationally it’s basically a yes already but she also doesn’t want to get her hopes up, the anxious part of her trying to cushion her heart just in case.

 

Jacob is three and the gentlest soul Emily’s ever met. He frowns when he thinks and his messy brunette hair sticks up in every which way. He talks about his bio-mom in broken syllables, every one of which break Emily and Kelley’s hearts, and he is fiercely protective of his younger brother Theo who is only 8months and has already changed so much since they first met him.

 

They both have these grey eyes which if she’s lucky enough Emily knows she’ll never be able to say no to.

 

She’s so ready to be their Mom. So ready to watch Kelley be their Mom.

 

A big part of Sonnett just wants to sit and watch her wife interact with the handsome boys for a little while longer, but a bigger part of her wants to go and join her family.

 

So she gets out of the car and goes.

 

***

2027

 

They keep car seats in the tealmobile for this very reason. For just-in-case scenarios.

 

They try to plan, try to always make sure that whichever one of the is picking up the kids has the bigger, newer, (probably safer, Sonnett is loathe to admit), car. But Kelley had been called into a last minute meeting at JWS and had called Sonnett in a panic asking if she’d be okay to pick the boys up from nursery and school.

 

So here she was, driving home with her sons strapped into the back of the little teal car, trying to find a radio station that would please them all and desperately trying to get Jacob to describe his day at school with something other than just the word “good.”

 

“C’mon bud, what did you do today? Who did you play with?” He just shrugs at her through the rear-view mirror while Theo sings the incorrect words along to the radio.

 

Jacob’s a quiet kid, creative and intelligent but emotional in every sense of the word. Sonnett can tell something is bothering him, not that he is necessarily upset, just that he is thinking. His brow is furrowed as he stares out the window, fiddling with the Lego in his lap.

 

“What about you Teddybear? Miss Jennifer said you did some painting today?” Theo nods enthusiastically, briefly pausing in his singing to reply to his Mom.

 

“Uh-hu! I painted Bay-gul!” The evidence of his painting is all over his clothes and Emily is, as always, grateful they send him in old clothing, even if it is a bit on the small side.

 

“Wow! I can’t wait to see, we’ll be able to bring it home tomorrow when it’s dry and Momma and I can put it on the fridge! What do you reckon Jay?” Jacob just nods so Emily let’s it be, let’s the music play and listens to her youngest butcher the latest top-10 hit.

 

They’re not five minutes from home when Jacob finally speaks up. And Emily knew it was coming, kids can be mean. They pick up on differences in their peers and exploit them as weaknesses, vulnerabilities. It was her job to make sure Jacob knew that wasn’t true.

 

“Mommy?” He rarely called her Mommy any more, having changed it to Mom since starting school. “Yeah?”

“Daniel said today that the only reason you and Momma ‘dopted me was because my real Mommy didn’t want me.”

 

Emily is a pacifist. But in that very moment she has to remind herself of Daniels age. Because if Daniel wasn’t five Emily would go around to his house and slap some sense into him. Jacob sounds broken, confused and just sad.

 

It breaks her heart and she can’t help the little noise that escapes her.

 

She wishes she wasn’t driving so she could wrap her little man in a thousand layers of bubble wrap and protect him from the nastiness of the world.

 

“Oh Jay, you know that’s not true.” She tries to hold eye contact with him through the mirror but he looks away. Theo looks a bit lost but thankfully goes quiet.

 

“Sometimes parents just don’t know all the answers bud, sometimes we need to ask for some help. And your mommy, your first Mommy, needed a little more help than other people.”

 

“So you and Momma helped?” She wants to maintain his innocence so badly.

 

“Well, kinda. Jay, your mommy was very brave, it’s very brave to ask for help. And me and Momma are very grateful she did because if she hadn’t we never would have got to meet you. Just because she asked for help doesn’t mean she didn’t want you and doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you.” It feels clumsy but she thinks he understands. She wishes Kelley was here.

 

“Will I ever get to meet her?”

 

“Maybe. One day, when you’re older if you want to. Do you want to?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“It’s okay not to know.” He nods. “You know you can talk to me and Momma about her if you ever want to though right?” He nods again.

 

“We love you so much Jacob. You too Mr Teddybear!”

 

“Woo love!” Theo cheers and it makes both her and Jacob smile. She can’t wait to get out this car and hug them both for a ridiculous amount of time.

***

2028

 

It all felt so violent. The way they carelessly lifted and dumped the car onto the back of the truck with what was effectively a metal claw. They way the guy nodded gruffly and said they’d email her the scrap confirmation.

 

She can’t help but wonder if cars are really that impersonal for most people.

 

She also can’t help but smile at the glass of wine placed on the coffee table in front of her and the body that comes to slide in on the couch next to her, kisses peppered over her neck and cheek until she turns her face and connects their lips, humming into it.

 

Once again Kelley asks “are you okay?” slipping an arm around her waist and snuggling in further.

 

“Yeah…it was a good car.” The arm squeezes.

“It was the best car.”

 

She leans forward and grabs their wine glasses, handing one to her wife.

 

“To the teal-mobile.”