After they return to DC, Ali is immediately back in the swing of life with the Spirit. Ashlyn still makes as many home games as she can, as well as a match at Sky Blue, where Chris Rampone treats her to dinner to thank her for all she had done for Reece while they were in Japan. The girls were even more excited to see Ashlyn since she, as promised, brought them official US Army helmets to wear whenever they needed a little extra safety.
On this Saturday night, Ashlyn has just walked into the living room to meet up with Ken to drive to the game when her work phone goes off. She groans. Ken just lifts his eyebrows. She pulls up the text and sighs.
“Heading to Mexico.”
“That hurricane that hit?”
“Yeah. There’s a town in the mountains the locals can’t reach. We’ll be jumping in. I knew I’d come to regret going to jump school,” she jokes.
Ken smiles. “This will be your first jump into a situation like this, right?”
“Yep. Have descended a ladder from a helicopter but never anything like this.” She swallows hard. “It’s okay to be scared, right?” she asks nervously.
He places his hand on her shoulder. “I’d think it’d be crazy if you weren’t. Good luck, Ashlyn.”
“Thanks, Ken. Tell Alex good luck for me and I’ll let you all know when we land and what the communications options will be.”
He nods as she turns and heads back upstairs to get changed. With a sad heart, he leaves to get to the Spirit’s game on time. Twenty minutes later Ashlyn leaves, her car pointing up Route 1 to Belvoir to get her squad ready to leave.
Ali’s game day playlist pulses through her earbuds as she changes from her warm ups into her uniform. As she tightens her cleats and stands her mind is running down what she needs to do to keep balls out of the goal. She runs down what she knows about ARod and Lauren and what needs to be done to keep them from even getting a shot off. She feels hands squeezing her shoulders.
“Ready to kick some ass?” Lori asks.
Ali smiles as she pulls her earbuds out and tosses her iPod into her locker. “Definitely.”
The team gathers together for a quick huddle. Mark Parsons steps up to them.
“Okay, ladies, we know their two most dangerous weapons. We know their keeper is world class as are two of their defenders. But they are in our house, facing our world class players, and they are NOT taking 3 points away from us! RIGHT?”
“RIGHT!” the team cheers.
“This is OUR NIGHT! RIGHT?”
“And this game is OURS! RIGHT?”
“SPIRIT ON THREE! ONE! TWO! THREE!”
The team breaks and those on the bench the first half make their way out to the field as the starters, led by Captain Ali Krieger-Harris, make their way to the line-up area to meet their young escorts. From that area, Ali can see the seats her father and Ashlyn always occupy. She frowns when she sees Ken but no Ash.
“Fuck,” she mumbles. Normally she checks her phone just before the team huddle but hadn’t this time.
“Good luck, Kriegs,” ARod says.
Ali turns and sees ARod and Nicole Barnhart standing nearby. She smiles and nods. “You, too. But not too much.”
Barnie chuckles. “And I offer the same to you.”
They exchange hugs then get in line. As Lauren, Becky, and Amy LePeilbet walk up. Ali only has time to nod to them before the players are called to enter the field. Once they are in line for intros, she looks toward her father again. He notices the look and slowly shakes his head. Ali sighs. Her wife was at work. She stretches her neck then puts that thought out of her head to concentrate on the game.
In no time the players are on the field. FCKC won the toss and is kicking off. Ali has her eyes trained on ARod. The last few games she had kicked the ball back to Lauren then busted up the field to await a rocket strike from the middie. It had been successful one time and the other two times had led to early corners.
“Not on my watch,” Ali mumbles.
She had mustered the back line a little deeper than normal. Instead of chasing down the ball, they would be running up to it and had a plan of their own to counter. She grins as things play out just as she had hoped. Niki Cross sees the ball coming her way and races forward. Tori Huster drops back to a support position just in case but the height of the defender helps her easily beat the streaking ARod to the ball. A directional header to Crystal Dunn and the middie starts up the field. As she feels the Blues players closing in, surprised that their tactic has failed, she sends the ball deep.
“YES!” Ali cheers as Lisa De Vanna gathers the ball at the top of the box and lasers a shot at the goal before Becky or Amy can recover.
The crowd goes nuts and Lisa leaps into Yael’s arms as they celebrate the goal that came less than a minute into the match.
“Son of a bitch,” Lauren mutters as she jogs back to the circle to prepare for the second kick off of the game.
Ali can’t help but smile. The play she had drawn up for Mark had worked like a charm. As she runs up and hugs Lisa, the Aussie claps her face.
“Damn right!” Ali agrees.
As they race back into position for the ensuing kick, Ali glances at Mark and he gives her a big thumbs up. Ali can feel the crowd’s excitement. It is the earliest goal in Spirit history and people are pumped to see the team build on that for a win.
The next 25 minutes the game is hard fought. FCKC is desperate to get an equalizer while the Spirit are fighting to get an insurance goal. Ali had just played a give-and-go with Crystal and is now looking to send the ball in deep. She sees Lisa and Yael both pressing into the box. She lets the ball fly.
And is taken to the ground from behind.
Ken had leapt up in his seat when he sees his daughter flipped up in the air by a careless tackle from a young defender.
“THAT’S A RED, REF!” he screams, his opinion echoed by almost everyone in the stands.
The ref lets the advantage play for a moment until Becky corrals the ball. He then blows his whistle and jogs towards Ali, who is still on the ground. Lauren is the first to reach Ali.
“I’m...gonna kill...that idiot...if you’ll point out...who it was...” she grunts, still trying to catch her breath.
Lauren smiles and takes Ali’s hand. “Just breathe, Kriegs. Deep breath in. You can do it,” she encourages.
Just as the trainers arrive, Ali is finally able to sit up.
“What hurts, Kriegs?” Pierre asks.
“Just got the breath knocked out of me. I’m fine. Really.”
She sees a hand extended to her and takes it, allowing Yael to pull her up. Pierre walks Ali to the sideline as the ref extends a yellow card in the air for the girl that took the right back out. As play restarts, Pierre runs Ali through a few checks to make sure she is okay. He finally clears her to return to the game and she signals the ref she is ready to return. She is waved onto the field just in time to receive a pass from Crystal.
“Deja vu,” she thinks to herself as she again send the ball towards the goal. She quickly glances over her shoulder to confirm she is not about to get tackled again, then moves into a support position at the top of the box as Yael pops a pass over to Christine Nairn. Nairn winds up and lets a shot fly. It deflects off of Lauren, right to Ali.
“Oh, fuck,” Lauren mutters.
Ali one touches it...and sends it just over the cross bar. The crowd roars in amazement at the almost perfect shot. Ali jogs back into position, grinning as she thinks about how close she had come.
The games goes to half 1-0 to the Spirit. As the players jog off, Ali cuts so she can go close to the stands. Ken sees her and stands.
“MEXICO!” he yells out.
She nods and gives him a thumbs up. She and Ash had both seen the reports on the hurricane that had struck the central portion of Mexico. Neither had thought the blonde would be going. Ali can’t help but wonder what necessitated Ashlyn going. She only half listens to Mark’s half-time talk, her mind more on why her wife was on her way to help a country that usually doesn’t ask for their help.
As the team starts back to the pitch, Niki grabs Ali’s arm.
“Hey...she wouldn’t want you thinking about her instead of the game,” she reminds her fellow defender.
Ali takes a deep breath and nods. “Yeah, you’re right. Forgot that for a second. Just...didn’t expect her to be going where she’s going.”
“I’m sure it’s not the first time. Look, Ali, we need your head in the game. If you can’t be there 100% ask Mark for a sub. We’d all understand,” she says compassionately.
Ali rolls her neck. “No...no I don’t need that. Hell, she won’t even be there before the game ends. She’d be mad as hell if she found out I bailed on a game for no reason.”
Niki smiles. “That’s the Warrior Princess we all know and love.”
Ali chuckles and the two continue back to the field for the second half. Much like the first half, the second is a tough mid-field battle with a few quick transition chances for both teams. In a challenge near the baseline, Ali cusses as ARod bounces the ball off the defenders leg for a corner. As the Spirit gets set, Ali is directing people who to watch.
“CRYSTAL! Watch Amy!”
The middie nods and goes to cover the defender who had been slowly making her way towards the box, hoping no one would notice. Lauren sends the ball deep into the box. It is headed back towards Lauren by Erika Tymrak. Ali races towards it, planning to head it out of the box and upfield.
She is then looking up at a concerned Niki, who seems to be shimmering in and out of focus.
“Stay still, Kriegs. Just don’t move,” the defender says, her voice laced with concern.
Ali’s head feels weird. She lifts up a hand and touches her hair. She brings her hand in front of her face. Or is that two hands? Or three? What the fuck?
“Blood?” she mumbles.
“You and ARod smashed heads,” Niki explains.
Ali tries to turn to look for her friend but gets nauseated. Niki places a hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t move! Just stay still, Kriegs.”
Niki glances over at the FCKC forward, then back to Ali. “She’s moving her legs. That’s all I can see.”
Ali suddenly feels pressure on her head and notices Pierre and his assistant for the first time.
“Was...I knocked out?”
“Not totally. But you were pretty looped,” Pierre answers. “Game is done for you and Amy. We’ve got stretchers coming out for both of you.”
“I don’t need...ughhhh...” Ali had started to shake her head and figured out quite quickly that wasn’t a good idea. “So, uh, tell them I need to go to Bethesda. My i.d. card is in my locker. I’ll need that.”
Niki smiles. “I’ll let them know, Ali.”
Niki gets up and jogs to the stands and waves a security guard over. She sees Ken already making his way down to them. “Take that man there,” she points at Ken, “to the team locker room. He’ll need to get Ali’s military i.d. and stuff.” The security guard nods as Ken steps to them. Niki looks at him. “She needs to go to Bethesda. Cut in her hairline and definitely a concussion. She is insisting on Bethesda.”
Ken nods. “They are on military insurance. That makes sense. But is she okay for a 30 minute drive?” Then he hears the ambulance. “Oh.”
“They’ll get her there quicker. Go now so you can meet her there. And, Ken, she’s awake and mostly okay. More worried about Amy than herself,” Niki reassures him.
Ken nods and the guard leads him away so he can get his daughter’s things and make the 30 minute drive to the military medical center at Bethesda.
Ali’s eyes are scrunched closed even in the dimmed light of the treatment room. “So she is gone already?”
“May still be at the base or on her way to Andrews. She got the message as we were about to walk out of the house. She went ahead and got changed at home before heading to Belvoir.”
Ali sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. “Oh. Should I call her?”
“Would you want her to call if the situation was reversed?”
“No. Yes. Maybe. Fuck. Yes, I would,” she finally accepts.
Ken chuckles and pulls out his phone, hitting the speed dial for his daughter-in-law. It rings twice before it is answered. He hears Ashlyn giving an order to someone before she comes on the line.
“And, Mahoney, make sure the bumpers are securely fashioned. We can’t afford to lose anything because the boxes bust on impact.” She brings the phone to her head. “Ken, what’s up?” she asks hurriedly.
“Ash, you have to know I wouldn’t call without good reason,” he starts.
Ashlyn’s heart skips a beat. “What happened to Alex?”
“She’s okay. Mostly. A few stitches and a concussion from colliding head-to-head with Amy Rodriquez.”
“Fuck! Where is she?”
“She’s right here. We’re at Bethesda. They want to observe her for a few hours before releasing her. She just wanted to call and let you know what happened and assure you she is okay in case you saw anything online.”
Ashlyn takes a deep breath. She closes her eyes to still the rush of blood to her head; to quiet the voice that scolds her for working instead of being beside her wife.
“Ashlyn, you’re doing your sworn duty. Stop kicking yourself,” Ken says knowingly. “She’s okay. You of all people should know how hard my daughter’s head is.”
Ashlyn chuckles when she hears Ali protest that statement. “Yeah. So, uh, can she talk?”
“Of course. Here she is,” he says and hands the phone to Ali.
“Hey, baby. Heard you’re taking a Mexican vacation without me,” Ali teases.
Ashlyn smiles. That statement tells her Ali will be okay. But she still hates how weak the brunette sounds. “Well, I just thought I’d check out this remote village to see if you would like it.”
“Right.” Ali takes a deep breath. “I’m okay, Ashlyn. I swear. I’ve had worse concussions and figure I’ll be okay in a couple weeks.”
“You’re sure? Really?”
“Yes. The docs are just keeping me here out of an abundance of precaution. I’ll even remember the hard head comment Dad made so I can get my revenge later.”
Ashlyn chuckles. “I can bet you will.” She looks up as Andrews approaches her. “Fuck, Alex, you know I want nothing more than to keep talking to you...”
“But you have to go. I understand.”
“Yeah. We have to make sure everything is prepped for the drop. It’s going to be an interesting entry into this village and I don’t want anything screwed up because of me.”
“Okay. Be safe, sweetheart.”
“Always. Get well soon, baby. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too. See you soon, Ash.”
“Count on it, Alex. Bye, baby.”
Ali clicks off and hands the phone back to her father. She lays there a moment, then frowns.
“Drop? Holy fuck...is she...is...fuck...I don’t think I want to know,” she finally mumbles.
Ken just smiles, amazed at his daughter’s ability to live with the dangers of her wife’s job. He pats her on the leg.
“She’ll be fine, Alex. Just concentrate on that fact and on getting well.”
Ali just nods, knowing she’ll be combing through online news reports as soon as it won’t send spikes of pain into her head to do so.
Three days later Ali hits replay on the video. She is not sure whether to be impressed, terrified, or furious at her wife for not only sending it, but for also starring in it.
“Okay, here goes fucking nothing,” Ashlyn mutters loud enough for her GoPro to pick up.
She steps to the edge of the bay door on the plane. She leans out a bit, giving a view of other parachutes already dropping towards the ground. Some are people, some are large crates with 3 parachutes attached. Suddenly the toes of Ashlyn’s boots are over the threshold.
“GO, LIEUTENANT! GO!” someone yells.
“FUCK!” Ashlyn yells as she steps into space. “I LOVE YOU, ALEX!” she screams.
She free falls a moment, the GoPro filming the sky. Suddenly she is jerked up as her parachute deploys.
“WOOO HOOO! THIS IS FUCKING AWESOME!” she screams.
To Ali it seems to take forever for Ashlyn to land on the ground. She turns off the video at that point and shakes her head.
“I love you, you insane twit,” she murmurs, trying to remind herself that Ashlyn is obviously okay or she couldn’t have sent the video.
Two days later Ali gets home from practice, where all she can do is ride the stationary bike and help Mark coach for at least another two weeks. As grumpy as she is about that, she can’t help but feel her mood lift when she sees Ashlyn’s Jeep in the driveway. She hurries into the house, eager to check on her wife and make sure she came home without any injuries.
“Ash?” she calls out but gets no answer.
She makes her way upstairs. She opens the door to their room and can’t help but smile. Ashlyn, her hair still wet from the shower, is asleep on the bed. And she is gloriously naked. Ali quickly strips down and takes a shower, too. When she gets out, Ashlyn hasn’t moved. After braiding her hair so it doesn’t tangle as they nap, Ali crawls into bed and cuddles up to her warm wife. She kisses Ashlyn’s temple.
“I love you,” she whispers.
Her hands ghost over Ashlyn’s body as her eyes study what she can see for any bruises or cuts. Satisfied she sees no injuries, Ali lays her head on Ashlyn’s arm and closes her eyes to enjoy a nice nap.
The next time Ali opens her eyes, she is staring into beautiful hazel orbs.
“Hi. How’s your head?” Ashlyn whispers.
“Better than yours,” Ali says with a smirk.
“What?” Ashlyn asks in confusion.
“Despite the hard knock I took, I know better than to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.”
Ashlyn lets out a hearty laugh that is music to Ali’s ears. Ashlyn rolls onto her back and pulls Ali in close.
“Good point, baby. But you’ll be happy to know, we were able to get medical supplies as well as food and water to a remote village while another group of engineers rebuilt the road that was destroyed. Communications should be fixed by now but those of us who did the jump got to come home early.”
Ali snuggles closer. “Mmm, I’m glad. I missed you.”
“I missed you, too. Are you really okay? Your head and the cut and stuff?”
“I’m good. No more headaches or pain but no strenuous activity for another week and a half. So I’ve been riding the stationary bike and helping Mark coach.”
“Good. And Niki and Lori have been making sure you follow doctor’s orders?” Ashlyn asks.
Ali chuckles. “Yes, they have. Not to mention, Dad. Those three mother hens are worse than you.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Ashlyn laughs.
Ali thinks on that a second. “Damn it...you’re not going to make love to me, are you?”
“Baby, that would most definitely be considered strenuous activity. I won’t risk your health for my libido, so no I’m not going to make love to you. Or let you make love to me.”
“That sucks,” Ali mumbles and rolls away. “So then why lay here all naked and hot?”
Ashlyn grins. “Well, to be honest, I don’t even remember getting out of the shower. I was a little tired.”
Ali laughs and snuggles in. “Ah. Well, I forgive you then.” She thinks a moment. “There was a time I never thought this would be enough for me. You know, just holding you and snuggling with you. But it is now. I mean, I’d like to make love to you but I guess we’ve had enough scary shit happen that I can be okay with us just holding each other. I just treasure every minute with you no matter what we are doing.”
Ashlyn gives her wife a kiss. “I know what you mean. I love you, Alex.”
“I love you, too, Ash.”
The two continue to hold each other and catch each other up on what they had done over the past few days. It is a nice, peaceful afternoon for the both of them.
“But I’m FINE!” Ali yells into her phone. “I should be cleared to play next week! That is plenty of time before the October camp and Qualifiers!” she insists.
“How can you be sure, Kriegs?” Jill asks. “That hit was hard and word is you were out on the field.”
“No! I never lost consciousness! Neither did Amy,” Ali adds, wondering if the forward was under the same scrutiny. “It was ugly because we both ended up with split heads but I just had a minor concussion. The doctors only kept me a few hours out of precaution and they are definitely going to clear me to play next week.”
Jill Ellis sighs into the phone. “Would you be willing to have another evaluation outside the military? By a US Soccer approved specialist?”
“Uh, I guess. I’ll have to check with TriCare to see if- -”
“This would be on us, Kriegs.”
“Then set it up and I’ll be there. I’ll be fine, Jill. You’ll see.”
“Okay. We’ll arrange it to be after your appointment at DeWitt. It will be a second opinion and we’ll want both filed.”
“Done,” Ali agrees.
As soon as they hang up, Ali starts to pace. There has to be something she can do to prove to Jill that not only is she okay, but that she is committed to staying okay. She finally remembers the headgear a National Team member has been wearing after her own concussion. She quickly pulls up her contacts and hit send. She is about to resign herself to leaving a message when the call is answered.
“Hey, Carli. It’s Kriegs. I need some info from you.”
Carli smiles. “Let me guess: You’re interested in a concussion guard.”
“Damn right,” Ali confirms.
“Had a feeling you’d be calling. I can text you my contact at Unequal Tech. Their headbands are comfortable and give you peace of mind,” Carli tells her.
“I am more worried about Jill’s peace of mind. I need to show her I am willing to do anything to make the World Cup roster.”
“Good point. I’ll send your info over to them and have them contact you. Get well soon, Kriegs.”
“Thanks, Carli. See you in New York in a couple of weeks.”
They hang up. About 5 minutes later Ali is on the phone with the company, agreeing to promote their company if it works for her. She is sure Jill will appreciate that she took the initiative to order the headgear to reduce the chance of another concussion happening. As she hangs up, she sighs.
“And it would also help if I just avoid cracking my head against anyone else’s,” Ali tells herself. “But really, it’s not like those collisions happen all the time. And it was only so bad this time because Amy got my temple. I mean, any other place wouldn’t have hurt so much, right? Right,” she answers herself. “I mean, what are the odds- -”
“Oh crap...she’s talking to herself. Maybe the knock on the head has her seeing people who aren’t there!”
Ali turns around and sees her wife standing there in shorts and a tank top, an exaggerated look of fear on her face. The blonde then throws her hand up to her forehead, like a southern belle in an old movie.
“Oh, the horror! My wife has been knocked crazy. Whatever will the neighbors say when they find out she’s mad as a hatter?”
Ali rolls her eyes and grins. “Smartass.”
Ashlyn grins. “Oh, come on. That was funny and you know it...nutcase.”
Ali laughs and walks over to her, wrapping her arms around her waist. “Eh. Mildly amusing, maybe.”
“Freakin’ hilarious, more like!” Ashlyn insists. Ali rolls her eyes again. “Your lack of comical sophistication slays me, woman.”
Ali chuckles. “You’re insane.”
“Then we’ll be insane together. Now, want to tell me about that conversation you were just having with yourself?”
Ali sighs. “Jill is making me get a second opinion about being cleared to play. I feel like...like she’s trying to find a way to cut me from the team.”
“Alex, look at me,” Ashlyn says, lifting Ali’s chin up to look into worried brown eyes. “Jill knows it is win or it is failure next summer. You know that, too. She has to make 100% sure she takes the healthiest, strongest team with her to Canada. She is probably scrutinizing every injury very carefully, not just yours. I am sure if you talk to Amy you’ll find she’s being hounded, too. I’m sure she’s been getting weekly updates, if not more often, from Syd about her ankle. Can you blame her?”
“No, I guess not,” Ali concedes.
“And look me in the eye and tell me there is another right back as good as you in the pool? I mean, others have their strengths but you, Alex, are the best in the world at seeing the field, doing give and goes, and affecting offense as well as defense. And I’m saying that as a keeper who would want you anchoring her back line, not as a wife that loves you more than words can say. You’ll get cleared to play and you will help us qualify for the Cup and then you will help us WIN the Cup,” Ashlyn says with utmost confidence.
Ali studies her wife’s face carefully before pulling her into a hug. “Thank you. You always know what to say to me.”
“Part of the incredibly wonderful package, my dear,” Ashlyn says, loving when she feels her wife giggle against her chest. Finally Ash leans back. “We need a day for ourselves. You don’t have practice, I don’t have work: let’s go to the zoo or something. Just a day out with no worries about either of our jobs. What do you say?”
Ali smiles, her nose crinkling happily. “And take a picnic lunch, too?”
Ashlyn gives her a kiss. “Sounds perfect. Let’s do it!”
The two go into the kitchen and quickly put together a lunch of pb&j sandwiches, baggies of vegetables, a little container of ranch dressing for the veggies, and some bottles of water. They get it packed away in a backpack cooler with some plates and napkins.
“Anything else?” Ashlyn asks.
“Uh, let me add a couple cheese sticks. Those are good, too.”
“Perfect,” Ashlyn agrees.
The two women go upstairs and quickly get ready to go. In no time, they are on their way to the Metro for a ride on the Red Line to the zoo.
“Look! He’s totally playing pat-a-cake with me!” Ashlyn says excitedly as she stands at the viewing window of the otter enclosure.
Ali laughs as the otter on the other side of the glass does, in fact, seem to be responding to the playful blonde. She picks up her phone and snaps a quick picture. Ashlyn moves her hand all over the glass and the otter follows her movements, placing his paw on the other side of the glass. They do this for about 5 minutes, the blonde giggling the entire time. Ali stands back, watching as Ashlyn entertains not only the otter, but a group of school kids who laugh at the interaction, too.
“Um, excuse me?” a nervous voice says.
Ali tears her eyes away from her wife to look down at a girl, maybe 12 years old, in a Washington Spirit jersey. Ali smiles at her.
“Hi! You having fun today?”
“Yeah. Um, you’re Ali Krieger, right?”
“I am,” Ali answers with a smile.
The girl’s nervous face broadens into a hug smile. “COOL! Can you sign my jersey?”
“Sure,” Ali agrees. She digs in her purse for a sharpie. “So what’s your name?”
“I’m Melanie. I’m gonna be on the Spirit and the US team someday, too. My coach says I’m a natural!”
“That’s great! I was about your age when I decided I wanted to play on the National team. So if you set your goals and work hard, it could happen for you, too.”
The little girl turns around, showing her shirt is actually a Krieger jersey. Ali smiles and signs along the number 11.
Nice to meet you, Melanie. Work hard and someday I’ll be wearing your jersey. Ali Krieger 11
“There. All done,” Ali says.
“COOL! What’s it say?” Ali tells her and the girls eyes get wide. “Wow! That would be so awesome! Thanks, Ali!”
“No problem. See you at the next Spirit game.”
The little girl nods excitedly and runs to show off her signed jersey to her parents, who stand nearby smiling. Ali gives them a wave.
“Thank you!” the mother calls.
“My pleasure,” Ali assures her.
As the family walks away, Ashlyn wraps her arms around her wife’s shoulders. “That was awesome, baby. You made that little girl so happy.”
“She made me happy, too.” She turns and looks into Ashlyn’s eyes. “I’m making the roster. Nothing is going to stop me.”
Ashlyn smiles and gives her a peck. “Damn right, baby.”
“I knew this day would be a perfect mental break for me. I didn’t expect it to be a boost to my ego and to my drive to win. Thank you for suggesting this.”
“So, is your little friend bored with you?” Ali asks, gesturing to the tank.
“Yeah. The keepers came to feed him and I guess dead fish are more exciting than me.”
Ali laughs. “Well, if it makes you feel better, I much prefer you to dead fish.”
Ashlyn gives a hearty laugh and turns to start walking them up the path towards another exhibit. “Well, that’s good to know. I think.”
Ali smiles and takes Ashlyn’s hand. They had both needed this day out, both for their lives as a couple and for their individual peace of mind. It is a perfect day.
That night the women are sitting at a table in a nice Georgetown restaurant. After their day out they had gone home, cleaned up, and decided to treat themselves to a nice dinner to cap the day. In deference to Ali’s concussion, they are drinking sparkling water instead of wine. Ashlyn still holds up her glass.
“To the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. Both inside and out, you are gorgeous,” she says.
Ali blushes and lifts her glass. “To the woman who doesn’t realize she is as beautiful as she is.”
“Oh, so you’re not going to toast me?” Ashlyn teases.
“Jerk,” Ali says as they clink their glasses together, chuckling.
After they give their orders to the waiter, Ashlyn studies her wife a moment. “So...”
Ali lifts an eyebrow. “What?”
“So...we okay? I mean, I know today was great but...I guess...are we okay?” she asks again, unable to put her thoughts into words.
Ali frowns in confusion. “Uh, I think so. Do you think we aren’t?”
“No! I mean, I guess what I’m trying to ask is...I mean...crap...never mind?” she says hopefully.
Ali reaches across the table and takes her wife’s hand. “Talk to me, Ash. What’s going on in your head?”
Ashlyn sighs, her finger stroking over the wedding set Ali wears on her ring finger. She puts her thoughts into words.
“I wasn’t there when you got hurt. My job scares the hell out of you sometimes. And I sometimes cancel things we’d planned because I get called out. Are you...are we...shit...”
Ali squeezes her hand. “Stop, Ash. I knew what your job could mean when we got married. Does it sometimes upset me that you miss things? Yes. But I’m mad at the situation, not at you. And do I wish you could be by my side every time I get a bump or bruise? Of course. Just like I wish I could be there for you when you get hurt. I love you and that is the one constant in my life. In my eyes, we’re just fine. What about your eyes?”
Ashlyn slowly breathes a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad to hear you say that. I’ve been wondering for a while if...if you...regretted marrying me.”
“What the heck ever gave you that idea?” Ali asks incredulously.
Ashlyn shrugs. “I’ve always felt you deserved more than me. With me being gone all the time and it scaring you where I am, I just...wondered...”
“If we weren’t in a nice restaurant I would pop you upside the head to knock some sense into you,” Ali says with a grin. “You are so much more than you believe, Ashlyn. You are more than enough for me and I am thankful every day that you are not only in my life but that you agreed to be my wife when I asked. And someday, when I’m an old, retired footballer, I’ll be the happiest military officer’s wife the world has ever seen.”
Ashlyn’s heart soars at her wife’s words. Ali sees the relief in the green eyes. Ashlyn lifts their joined hands and gives Ali a kiss on the knuckles.
“I love you, Alex.”
“I love you, too, Ashlyn.”
They sit there and stare at each other, lost in their eyes and their own thoughts of their future. They finally break the look when their meals arrive. They have just dug into their steaks, when a man appears beside their table.
“Lieutenant Harris, right?”
Ashlyn is shocked she’s been recognized but quickly stands. “Uh, yes, sir.”
The man extends his hand. “I’m Phillip Baker, U.S. Ambassador to Japan.”
Ashlyn’s eyes widen. She knew the name, not the man. She shakes his hand. “Oh, uh, nice to meet you, sir. I hope everyone is okay and settled again after the earthquake.”
“They are, thank you. I just wanted to apologize to you for the actions of my former staff member. Sounds like Prothro gave you a hard time but you handled yourself very professionally. My wife was among those you helped evacuate and gave me a full report.”
Ashlyn blushes, never having considered the man’s wife was among the civilians. “Oh. I had no idea she was there, sir.”
“It’s okay. She told me maybe my staff needs more women and fewer blowhards like Prothro.” He grins. “I took her advice and replaced him with a woman. So far things are much better.”
Ashlyn chuckles. “I’m glad to hear that, sir.”
“Well, I will let you get back to dinner.” He nods to Ali. “Good luck with your season, Mrs. Krieger-Harris.”
Ali smiles and nods. “Thank you, sir.”
He turns back to Ashlyn. “If you ever find yourself back in Japan, either for work or vacation, let me know. I’d love to have you for dinner at the Embassy.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll remember that.”
They shake hands again and the ambassador returns to his party. Ashlyn sits down and gives her wife a wide-eyed look.
“Whoa,” the blonde breathes.
“That’s was awesome, baby! I know it will help to have a friend in high places as your career advances. Sounds like you have a fan.”
“I guess I do.” Ashlyn thinks a minute then chuckles. “Looks like we were both reminded we have fan clubs today.”
Ali thinks about the girl at the zoo. “I guess so. Just so you know...I’m your biggest fan.”
“And I’m yours.”
The two smile and go back to their meal. Afterwards they go for a walk along the waterfront, just enjoying their time together. It is a perfect end to a perfect day.