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poison and wine

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The thing about life is that, despite what she might have expected, it keeps going on even in the silence.

Every day is a tally, a number, and Hope keeps herself occupied with creating lists of what she knows and doesn’t know, rearranging her life into neat compartments that she can control and what she can't.

What she knows:

1. She blew out her ACL and MCL in one smooth motion. When her body hit the ground, hands flying to grab at her knee, the immediate fear for the future drowns out most of the pain ripping through her leg. Most of it.

2. The doctor says it’s not that bad. Not really. Nine months of recovery, tops. He says she can play soccer again. He says she doesn’t need to lose her scholarship. He says she’s going to be okay and she, of course, believes him.

3. North Carolina believes the doctor, too. A month later, she leans on her crutches as Marcus books a flight into Raleigh and a rental car to get them to Chapel Hill. Hope breathes in, then out. He says her life is about to get a whole hell of a lot better. She believes him.
Her mom doesn’t drop her off at college, just drives her to the airport and trusts Marcus to handle the rest. She kisses Hope on the cheek once, but it feels dry and her mouth reeks faintly of cigarette smoke. Marcus organizes her desk and makes her bed, then hugs her a little gruffly and a leaves a little abruptly. Her roommate doesn’t arrive for another day, so Hope orders a small pizza and falls asleep halfway through an episode of Friends, curled on her side on top of her sheets.

4. It has been 256 days since she stopped talking to Kelley. The silence is not silent. Not for Hope. It weighs heavy, tastes sour, a sickly dose of guilt that doesn’t yield, doesn’t fade, just grows.

Knowing these things really doesn’t help, of course. Freshman year is odd and it comes like a whirlwind, each day too different yet too filled with monotony to be described as anything but overwhelming.

The year is a rapid accumulation of firsts.

The first time she meets her roommate, she’s halfway through pulling her t-shirt off over her head. She hears the doorknob turn and freezes for a second, unsure of whether it’s better to keep tugging it off or let the fabric settle back over her torso.

The tall brunette who walks in doesn’t seem particularly phased that her new roommate is awkwardly wriggling out of a shirt. She slings her soccer bag off one shoulder and drops it onto the ground unceremoniously, shoving both hands into her pockets.

“Hope?” She gets the damn shirt off and nods, turning to face the other girl and mirroring her stance, hands in her pockets, one hip jutted out slightly.

“Yeah.” Hope hesitates, then sticks a hand out cautiously. “Nice to meet you.”

“I’m Carli.” She turns quickly, dragging in a black suitcase and a backpack from the hall. “Midfielder, freshman.”

“Goalkeeper.” Hope turns too, leaning over to dig a shirt out of her newly-filled drawers. After a second, she settles on a plain red one, pulling it on and leaning against her bed. “I’m a freshman too.”

“Cool.” Carli lifts the suitcase easily onto her bed, unzipping it and beginning to pull out what appears to be an unending supply of grey workout clothes. "I'm gonna unpack a bit."

"Cool." For a second, Hope hesitates, phone and headphones in one hand, watching her roommate. "I'm gonna go on a run I think."

"Cool." There's a small nod, but Carli doesn't turn. Hope nods unconsciously, then swings the door open. She starts her jog halfway down the hall.

She's not good at these things. Not good at introducing herself, at making a good first (or second) impression. She assumes the worst, pushes herself away before others can do it for her, creates a distance that is both comfortable and aggravating.

Hope runs three miles. She figures it's long enough to give Carli space to move in and get settled. Part of her hopes that her teammate will be gone when she gets home, but when she opens the door — with some difficulty due to a doorknob that requires an upwards twist of the wrist to rattle it open — Carli is lying across her bed, staring at her laptop.

It appears that she's unpacked, but most of Carli's side of the room is fairly bare. There's a U.S. soccer pennant on the wall and two picture frames on the desk next to a pile of textbooks and spiral notebooks. A soccer ball and several sets of free weights are heaped at the corner of the bed. On second glance, Hope decides that her new roommate will most likely be the type of person to wake up early to get in extra sets of squats and bicep curls before practice.

"Hey," she says softly as she shuts the door, and Carli looks up and nods before returning to her computer screen. Hope sighs and clambers into her own bed, picking up a book and settling in for what she expects will be a quiet afternoon.

She's beginning to get used to silence.

She figures this is how it's going to be for the rest of the semester. But two days later, she has her math homework propped on her knees when Carli comes in from class and decides to become her friend.

"Hey." The midfielder pulls out Hope's chair, flopping into it and opening her phone. "Classes good today?"

"Yeah." Hope pauses for a moment, realizing this is the start of a conversation. "Kinda hard."

"That calc?" Before she can stop her, Carli has grabbed Hope's book and is peering at a series of equations. "This looks like hell."

"It is hell." She hesitates, still guarded. "But it's a pretty type of hell."

Carli raises her eyes, studying Hope's face for a moment with a gaze that is just on the uncomfortable side of blunt.

"For you, maybe." She hands the book back. "You hungry?"

This is, Hope realizes, a habit of Carli's — asking questions in choppy sentences that lack verbs, her voice almost careless in its certainty. She puts her work to one side.

"Yeah," she says. "Thai food?"

Carli just nods in approval, already standing to leave. Hope follows, a smile soft on her lips.

A week later is the first time she practices with the team, and it all feels foreign in the best kind of way. Her new teammates are taller and clearly more fit than anyone she played with in high school, the upperclassmen carrying themselves with a bold faced confidence typically reserved for football players on college campuses. They are loud on the locker room and locked in on the field. They shout praise and critiques in the same breath, encouragement coming swift on the heels of brutal reprimands.

Hope loves it.

She's not even playing yet, just running through simple footwork drills in an unclaimed corner of the field with the only assistant coach not focused on the full-out scrimmage that's absorbing the rest of the team. She's doing her best to focus, but it's impossible with the sound of shots ricocheting off goalposts and wild whoops of celebration echoing across the field. Finally, the assistant she's working with holds up one hand.

"Do you want to watch?" Hope nods a little too eagerly, wiping her forehead, eyes already darting across the pitch. The assistant grins and jerks her thumb at the sideline, and Hope drifts over, hands on her hips as she watches.

They're good. They're better than good. And she should know this, because Hope has been watching them play for years, but it's different when she's wearing the same practice kit as the girls who are currently scrimmaging, grass stains streaking their socks and shorts, sweat coating their skin as they dive into tackles and slice shots towards the goal.

A particularly skilled upperclassman in the midfield streaks down the right flank, bobbing between two defenders before flipping a pass to the middle of the field for a perfect volley. Hope can't help it — she lets out a cheer, pumping her fist, grinning.

And yeah, she's not healthy yet and she's only a redshirt. And yes, at night she sometimes struggles to fall asleep because of that question, that stupid question — Am I actually going to come back from this? — but right now none of that matters. Right now, she is home.

Two weeks later is the first time that she throws up in a frat bathroom. The pulse of her heartbeat matches the pulse of the bass thumping throughout the overheated house, and she clenches her fingers around the rim of the toilet, relishing in the slight relief of cool porcelain.

She's a redshirt, which means she's not supposed to drink but she's really not going to get in trouble for this, but that doesn't stop her head from spinning as she drops her chin to her chest, wiping her mouth with one hand.

None of her teammates — who are now her friends, she guesses, although sometimes she questions what that is supposed to mean besides spending practically every free second together — could go out, so she had left with a handful of girls from her calculus class who claimed they needed to "blow off some steam."

This apparently meant sucking down several beers an hour and entering into loud, boastful games of slapping and then drinking from bags of wine held up by chanting frat guys. It wasn't necessarily Hope's speed, but then again it was a competition, and Hope didn't like to lose those. She didn't like to lose at beer pong, or at rage cage either, but she did both of those marvelously throughout the night, head growing lighter and stomach growing queasier with each passing loss.

In some ways, it's not as bad as she expected. She stands unsteadily and stumbles away from the party as quickly as possible, forgetting to even flush the toilet, navigating the three blocks back to her dorm in a series of almost-falls.

The next morning, her hands are scraped from cement she doesn't remember falling onto and her hair is smashed to her face and her head pounds like hell. It's her first real hangover and she curls into herself, refusing to move for hours, wishing she could melt back into sleep.

The next morning is the day that the numbers stop coming.

It's been almost a year, and every day, faithfully, Kelley had updated the number on her wrist, the always-shrinking tally of the days left until they might meet. It was her little touchstone of hopefulness, a soft reminder of what was to come.

Her teammates had noticed it one day in practice, the small numbers outlined on the inside of Hope's left wrist stark against the white of her wrist.

"Is that a tattoo?" Heather, the midfielder she had noticed on the first day, grabbed her arm in one hand, peering down at the ink.

"Not exactly." Hope bit her lip. She hadn't heard anyone here talk about soulmates, and at times she still felt ridiculous for bringing it up. "I didn't do it, it's from my, um, my—"

"Oh, you have one too?" There was a quick smile, followed Heather tugging up her sleeve to display a note written in block handwriting. "Same. Dave. He came here so we could be together. Who's yours?"

"Her name's Kelley." She tugged her arm out of Heather's grip, flushing slightly. "She's ten. Eleven in a month or two."

"Oh." Heather paused, then gestured at her wrist again. "Is that what the numbers are about?"

Hope nodded, and Heather smirked. She could already see a joke — most likely very inappropriate — brimming in her eyes, so Hope tossed a towel in her direction and hurried onto the field.

The numbers had kept coming for almost a year. Sometimes Kelley forgot a day, but she always corrected herself in the end. She never forgot. She never gave up, even though

And that morning, they stop. Hope pretends not to notice.

(she does notice, of course, and it hurts in a way she didn't expect, something that gnaws lightly at her ribs throughout the day and then pierces her at night. she notices every day, as the silence grows louder and the distance grows wider.)

Life goes on.

She's a sophomore and a starter and a possibility for the national team. She and Carli room together in a new apartment, fixing breakfast side by side and co-existing in their quiet, peaceful way.

She's a junior and a starter and a common fixture of the national and she's starting to think she's finally figuring out who exactly she is, as if before she was an empty page in a child's coloring book and now she's finally learning how to fill in the color between the lines.

That year marks the first time she sees Kelley.

She doesn't know it, of course, but she sees her.

The team is flying to an away game and they make a two-hour layover in Atlanta. Carli and Hope split off to find something to eat besides Qdoba and Burger King, and they end up in the line for an overly fancy bar and grill situated in the middle of the airport. She's on her phone, half-listening to Carli's analysis of a Leicester match, when she glances up and sees her.

The girl is beaming, glancing back over her shoulder at a boy who must be her brother as she tugs a hot pink suitcase behind her. She's around 13 and she's headed to California for the weekend and her smile is splitting her freckled face wide open. She pauses, and her eyes scan across the crowd, landing on Hope's face.

For half of a second, Hope's breath hitches and her eyes widen slightly and her grip on her carry-on tightens. For half a second, she can't hear what Carli is saying because she's too focused on the fact that her heart is hurting, actually hurting, over the way this girl is grinning.

Then a woman calls after the girl, and she turns and tugs that pink carry-on away, and Carli is asking Hope if she's been listening at all, and she's already forgetting the moment.

(she doesn't forget, of course. she carries the moment with her, something she pulls out to think about when her mind is quiet. because as much as she wants to pretend that she doesn't, she knows who it is. she knows the whole time.)

She's a senior and she's skipping North Carolina games as a starter for the national team and she knows who she is mainly because everyone else seems to know who she is now. She's a senior and her mother barely calls but Marcus comes to a handful of games a year holding handheld signs aloft. She's a senior and she sits in the back of classes with her teammates and goes out with them to shitty college bars on the nights they have free and forces freshmen to skinny dip as hazing. She's a senior and she's happy.

And then, yet again, she's not.

The second time she blows her knee out, it feels like the world has stopped and spun on its axis in the opposite way, sun rising in the west and setting in the east. It's peculiar, because it's not as scary as she would've expected. The pain is all there, and so is the numbness, the heaviness that coats the inside of her chest as she lays back and screams the same word, over and over, until she's hauled off the field and held still by her coach.

"No." She screams it until she's hoarse. She says it until she's not sure what she's even saying no to anymore.

They tell her what has to happen, the recovery process, the risks that vastly outweigh the rewards. Hope listens to the sound. It's muffled, but she listens anyways, because she needs these words, despite the fact that they cut like a knife.

Three days later is the start of her life without soccer. Three days later, she writes to Kelley.

She's not sure why she does it. But in her first minutes back in her apartment, her arms already raw from the crutches, she fumbles for a pen and shoves one sleeve up. She doesn't plan anything out, doesn't even apologize for what feels like half a lifetime of silence. She just writes.

"Kelley can you talk?"

It's seconds later when the response appears, on her thigh, in Kelley's favorite place to write, in handwriting she no longer recognizes.