They fall together naturally, really.
In many ways it’s like learning each other all over again. Hope quickly realizes that the person that someone is as a child is not the person they are as an adult, or whatever Kelley is now that she’s old enough to stay at home on her own and make terrible sex jokes and worry about her own future. She doesn’t mind. She likes this version of Kelley more than she thought possible, and in catching up on lost time she feels that she is finally settling some part of her life back into place, some puzzle piece that was missing without her ever noticing.
Their first phone call lasts for three hours. Hope would be lying if she said she didn’t feel a little more at home like this, with her back against the wall behind her bed, her good knee pulled tight to her chest and her bad one stretched out in front of her, phone pressed into the crook between her shoulder and her ear, smile hanging loosely and easily across her lips.
They talk about nothing at first. Hope doesn’t mention the knee. She asks Kelley about her family and about school, and somehow the conversation gets twisted around and they’re now talking about book-to-movie adaptations and Kelley is doing her best to defend the Great Gatsby movie despite the fact that Hope has laid out multiple plot points and numerous errors that the movie failed to carry over from the book. And she’s laughing, a good type of laugh that fills her lungs and makes her chest feel light.
It's not until much later, when the sun is hanging heavily beneath the tree line outside of Hope's window, that Kelley asks.
"Why?" She doesn't preface the question, doesn't fill the awkward silence that follows. Hope knows what she's asking. She's not sure exactly what to answer, but Kelley also doesn't seem to shy away from waiting, and they sit in a steady quiet for several minutes before Hope finally finds her voice again.
"I got hurt." Hope runs her fingers along the brace, just along the edge where it always chafes the worst in the Carolina heat. "Twice. The first time was when I—"
"When you stopped talking to me." Kelley's voice rings with a type of old hurt, something that she seems to be trying to dampen as much as possible. "I know. I remember the lines."
"It happened again," Hope murmured. "You probably saw. I'm done. With soccer, I mean, they say I'm done for good. And I just— I needed you."
"You don't know me." It doesn't sound like an insult when Kelley says it, just a fact, one of the many uncomfortable truths of their relationship. "How did you know I'd pick up?"
She was right, of course. This had been the fear that hung on every movement Hope had made — as she scribbled the frantic message to Kelley, as she asked for her number, as she dialed the number and heard the girl's voice for the first time in her life. What was she to expect from her soulmate? That after years of silence, they would fall together perfectly? Of course not, because Hope was a realist and most of her expected to hear a reflection of herself across the phone, to hear a voice that was hesitant and judgement or perhaps just angry. But Kelley's joy was thick with hope, her voice was deeper and richer than Hope had expected, her wit sharp and her humor gentle and God it was just what she needed.
"I trusted you," Hope said, and it was a half truth. She had trusted Kelley because she didn't know what else there was for her to trust anymore. She fell back on the last resort, on the one thing that she was pretty sure she was always supposed to be able to count on.
"I'm glad." Kelley's voice is warm, in a way that a 15-year-old really shouldn't be warm yet. Hope doesn't mind. She smiles when she hangs up the phone, and the smile stays somewhere deep in her chest for the rest of the night.
They fall into a pattern, an easy give-and-take that makes more sense than most other things in Hope's life. She calls in the evening, most often after physical therapy and dinner with a mug of tea in one hand, hair just-washed and falling damp over one shoulder. Kelley is normally in the middle of working on homework, just back from soccer practice, and sometimes she just listens to her talk her way through homework, analyzing a book or trying to memorize Spanish verb conjugations.
Kelley provides something that Hope never had before — comfort. It's a gentle type of relationship, talking in low voices so that Kelley doesn't get in trouble for not doing her schoolwork, running the gamut of conversation topics and somehow never doubling back, never getting bored. They fit, in a way that makes Hope feel a little cheesy and a little awkward, especially as the older variable in the equation, but she shrugs off any taint of discomfort because for once she wants something that's goddamn simple.
It's different for Kelley.
She asks questions. Lots of questions. Mainly, she's just curious, always has been and always will be, and she feels she's been cheated out of years of Hope's life. So she asks, and when she's not satisfied she asks again, she asks more. It doesn't really make up for the time. But it fills in the holes, the gaps, the question marks hanging over her head for years.
When she saw the words scribbled on her skin, she'd been unsure what to feel. Her chest had blossomed with excitement and she had scrambled for something to write back with, but even as her smile grew, even as she grabbed for her phone the first second it lit up, something else clawed hesitantly at her ribs. After they talked, she shoved her face into her pillow, something beyond happy but also something beyond angry.
She had left. Hope had left, and Kelley had been too young to understand, too young to even ask why. It was an old hurt, like a bruise that had faded, that she had become used to poking and prodding, a dull pain that was expected and easy to ignore.
And Kelley wasn't one to hate. She wasn't the type to hold a grudge, to stay mad for long. It was, perhaps, one of her greatest weaknesses — the fact that she forgot old fights easily, that she forgave even more easily. But part of her didn't want to forgive Hope.
The way her mother described it to her, a soulmate was a constant. She wasn't ever supposed to fade away, or leave, or forget. She was there, and she wasn't going anywhere. Which was the opposite of Hope, who left for years without any sign of ever coming back.
She tells her this the next morning over breakfast, running her fork through her eggs. Her mother smiles softly, running a hand through Kelley's hair, and she ducks out of the embrace with a small smile.
"Don't lose yourself in idealism, Kell." Her mother turns away, straightening her dress. "Not every person is perfect. Sometimes you have to take your time to find your person."
"But I've found her, mom," Kelley mutters, and the bitterness is impossible to hide from the way she bites at each word. "She just—"
"She just needed space." Her mother's voice is firm. "She needed you to take a few years to grow up. She needed to find herself. She needed— I don't know what she needed Kelley. But she's here now. That's what matters."
"It's not fair."
"Life isn't fair."
Kelley sighs. She's right, of course, and the anger is already dissipating by the time she leaves school for the day. She checks her phone as she slides her backpack off one shoulder and a message on her screen sends a small tremor through her hand.
"You're still wrong about Gatsby. Utterly and terribly wrong."
The bitterness fades completely in days. They text. They call. And Kelley finally gets to meet Hope for real.
"What's your favorite book?" she asks one day, her hand wrapped around a pencil as she scratches out an answer to a math problem. "Like, your actual favorite. Unwavering."
"Unwavering?" Hope's voice is a little higher than she expected, a little raspier. She likes it, especially when she's amused and her laughter begins to bleed into her words. "I don't know if I can commit to that, Kell. That's a big one."
"Take a crack at it." Kelley rubs her eraser harder into a numeral, flipping her pencil around to change a three into a seven. "Or a top five."
Hope laughs, but she answers. Kelley pauses from her writing and scribbles the answer down — Harry Potter, This Side Of Paradise, Cloud Atlas, East of Eden, some Dave Eggers novel with an impossibly long name — in a red notebook that she bought the second day of talking to Hope again.
It's her Hope book, a small collection of what she knows about Hope, because even though they've talked for hours every day for the past five weeks she somehow feels that she's missing so many pieces of the other girl. Perhaps it's the time they lost, but Kelley feels more that it's the lack of connection, the distance, the fact that all she has to hold onto of Hope is her voice over the phone.
Hope has ground rules. She still insists that they can't meet until Kelley is 18, and she takes that to mean almost anything besides talking on the phone. She doesn't tell Kelley her last name. She says it's not a good idea for them to follow each other on Facebook, or talk on Facetime, or even to see pictures of one another. So Hope is, in many ways, just a sketch of a soulmate.
Kelley doesn't mind. She doesn't care. Her voice over the phone is enough, night by night. Waiting is easy when the deadline is close and the in between is filled with joy. But nonetheless, she collects little details of Hope and writes them down in her book, collecting them like flowers to be pressed and marveled at later.
"What color is your hair?" she asks one day, and then when Hope says it's dark she asks how dark, how long, until Hope gets annoyed and tells her she'll shave it all off if that will get her to stop asking questions.
"What's your major?" she asks a week later, and when Hope says it's PR she asks after her classes, her favorite projects, her goals for the future.
This was, in fact, the only thing that Hope was really focused on besides Kelley at this point. She had become so used to soccer being the one-word response to the question of what her future would hold. Now two ruler-straight lacerations in the skin of her knee are rewriting that answer, making it much longer and more complex.
She's lying on her bed one day, punching a ball into the air and then catching it and then punching it again, when Carli walks into the room they share in a big house with five other girls from the team. She drops her bag, turns to Hope and plants both hands on her hips.
"We're figuring your life out." She pulls a chair up to sit next to Hope's bed. "Now. We're doing this."
"Why?" Hope rolls over, cocking one eyebrow. "I have a plan. McDonalds. I'll make minimum wage, I'll work my way up through the ranks. It'll be amazing."
"Shut up you asshole." Carli leaned her arm against the mattress and rested her head in her palm. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know." Hope's voice is small, and that fear is tangible for just a second. "I mean, my GPA is fine, I'll graduate on time, but I just don't know. I loved soccer, I love soccer and I can't bring myself to think of it in the past tense. I don't know what else I love."
"I know." They sit in silence for several moments, and then Carli stands, walks to Hope's desk and pulls out a sketchbook. It's broad, pages warped with ink and paint, and Carli brandishes it like a weapon.
"What about this?" She tosses it onto Hope's bed. "If there's anything you do as well as you did soccer, it's this."
Hope opens the sketchbook slowly, traces her fingers across each page. It's almost full now, the fifth one she's filled since entering college. Some of the sketches are tiny, just a little detail, an unfinished idea. Others are filled with paint, sloppy in places and immeasurably detailed in others. They aren't consistent in design or content, but they are, inarguably, good.
Hope's art isn't something she talks about really, and Carli only knows about it because they've spent so many years sharing the same space day in and day out. But it is, perhaps, one of the few things that brings her the same level of joy as soccer, although that joy is much different, more subdued, more patient, more calm, a fire that simmers low rather than blazing white hot. But it is love, of some kind or another.
"Look." Carli sits on the side of her bed. "There's a ton of visually-based jobs in the PR market. Design stuff mixed with marketing. You get to create ideas and use your hands and it's not gonna be the nine to five type thing, my dad's company has a ton of jobs like this opening up."
She looks at her friend, the excitement that's lighting up her eyes slowly seeping into Hope's countenance.
"Do you think I could do this?" Hope barely has time to ask the question before Carli is already nodding excitably.
"I'm gonna call my dad tomorrow." Carli checks her watch. "No, I'll call him tonight. Maybe you can shadow someone, or intern? I don't know but it's something.
It's something, which is more than she had about 15 minutes ago. Hope nods slowly, a smile forming slightly. She glances down at her phone as it buzzes and smiles even wider when she sees a text from Kelley — "There's a woodpecker on my house and I'm scared to death my dad is going to go shoot it because it's keeping us all up, send help" — before she turns back to Carli.
Soccer is over, and it's not okay. But she has a friend who cares enough to figure out her future, and she has a hope, a chance at something different. And she has Kelley. That might just be enough.
"Where's your favorite place in the world?" Kelley asks a few days later, and she grows quiet when Hope says that it's on a soccer field, her voice pained and breathy. For awhile they sit in silence, and Kelley thinks she might hear a slight sob, but she lets it be. Eventually, Hope speaks again, and her voice is stronger and Kelley decides to stop asking questions for the night.
"It doesn't hurt as bad anymore," Hope says, quietly, much later, as Kelley's voice is growing softer and sleepier. "Just— it hurts, but I can handle it."
"What changed?" Kelley's voice has that softness to it, her words gentle. Hope wonders what she'll be like in person, whether she'll be the type who gets touchy or brings coffee or just sits and listens. Something in her says that, no matter what, she'll somehow do what's best without Hope even knowing what she needs to feel better.
"You." Hope laughs. "Which is dumb, but— I don't know. Talking to you reminds me that I have a future that's, I don't know, that means more than soccer. That has always meant more than soccer."
They're quiet, but it's a comfortable type of silence. She can practically feel Kelley smiling, even from here.
"I can't wait." Hope doesn't ask for what, because she knows exactly what Kelley is talking about. They haven't said "I love you" yet. It seems both a little sudden and a little unnecessary given their circumstances. But Hope has to admit that these words feel about as close as possible to the real thing.
She hangs up with Kelley a few minutes later, and she can't shake the warm feeling she gets every time they talk. This is, without a doubt, the happiest she can imagine being, the happiest she could ever imagine being without soccer.
They're having a girls night with the team — Hope is still part of the team, still there at every game on the sidelines, still included in every groupchat and outing, because God do they know how much she needs them — and she gets ready slowly, not minding much how her hair looks, throwing on a sweater and jeans before walking downstairs to meet the rest of the girls.
It's a Thursday night, not the type of night that means anything all that special to anyone, and Hope lingers at the bar for a moment after her fourth beer, messing with the label of the bottle.
"You look way too good to be sitting alone." The voice from beside her is low and gravelly, and when Hope turns she meets the face of the type of guy who clearly isn't used to being shot down often.
"If I had tried to look good tonight, I'd be flattered," she shoots back, and the smile that fills his face is infectious, surprising.
"Well then, I'd love to see you on a night you're actually trying." He sticks out one hand. "Jerramy."
Hope swallows, rubbing the dampness of her palm onto her jeans before shaking his hand.
"I'm Hope." Jerramy smiles at her, turning back to flag down the bartender.
"Nice to meet you Hope." He smiles again and her chest swells slightly. "What can I get you?"