“Tell me everything.”
Hope flopped onto her back, grinning as Kelley ran her through the entirety of her first homecoming. She wore a blue dress that was “low-key kind of hideous but whatever” with black pumps which, as Hope had warned, rubbed three blisters into Kelley’s feet. They went to a kind-of-fancy Italian restaurant and her best friend dropped a full forkful of lasagna onto her dress — which was light pink, of course — and almost started crying in front of the waiter. Her date was tall and gangly, one of the best freshmen on the soccer team, and he tried to kiss her at the end of the night but didn’t know how and ended up with both hands pressed flat on her hips and a nervous, stuttering question bumbling on the tip of his tongue.
“Poor guy!” Hope laughed, rolling on one side, and she could hear Kelley’s amusement on the other line. “What the hell did you do?”
“I just— I freaked out.” Kelley burst out laughing, and for a moment they were both just laughing together. “I feel like I knew what to do but like, I didn’t really want to kiss him? I mean if he had gone for it I would’ve been like, whatever. But he just stood there and looked at me.”
Her laugh was sweet, a little raspy around the edges, the type of laugh that came deep from her stomach. It made Hope laugh, without fail. Every time that Kelley cracked up — and it was often, so much more often than Hope could’ve expected — she couldn’t help herself from joining in.
Carli walked in as Hope burst out in laughter at the next episode in the homecoming saga — Grant, the boy who took Kelley, had point-blank asked if they could “make out” and then practically ran away from their after party — and raised her eyebrows in mock surprise.
“Kelley?” she mouthed, and she grinned openly when Hope nodded in response.
Carli liked Kelley, who was often on speakerphone when she came home so that Hope could work on designs while retelling her day to her younger soulmate. She felt that she knew the girl at least a little bit, especially since it was her job to keep Kelley entertained whenever Hope left to go to the bathroom or get a snack. And even though she didn’t normally hang out with overly-energetic high school freshmen, something about Kelley’s quick wit and easy-going joy made Carli feel like she wouldn’t really mind in this case.
“So did you guys go crazy at the afterparty?” Hope hit the “speakerphone” button, knowing that Carli would want to listen in, even if she would never say so out loud.
“Oh god no.” Kelley’s voice sounded slightly disappointed, but Hope was honestly relieved. “There were, like, six sets of parents upstairs. We just chilled out, I guess, which was why the whole making out thing was even more—“
“Making out?” Carli looked at Hope, her eyes glittering with amusement. “Hope’s got some competition, eh?”
“Well, making out with Grant is actually legal, so…” Kelley’s voice trailed off and Hope could practically hear her smirk. “I think he’s got you beat.”
Her jaw dropped in fake amusement as Carli roared with laughter.
“You can’t see her, but she’s doing a classic Hope-Solo-death-glare right now,” Carli said, leaning in towards the phone, and Kelley burst out in laughter as well, Hope finally joining in with a shake of her head.
“I’m leaving you,” Hope muttered, crossing her arms and rolling onto her back. “I hate you both.”
It was fall, and outside the trees were beginning to glow red and orange, the air biting crisply in the mornings and evenings. Hope and Carli had moved to Charlotte after graduation, renting out a one-bedroom apartment with a surprisingly spacious kitchen and a toilet that only flushed half of the time. Carli had a job working in sports management for the Panthers, a job that she’d been offered only two days before receiving her diploma.
Her dad had offered Hope a summer internship at his marketing firm, which quickly turned into a full-time job when her boss — a tall, slender, intimidating woman who rarely doled out compliments — informed Hope that she had more raw designing talent in her pinky finger than most of her past interns had in their whole life.
Hope wasn’t used to being good at much besides soccer. She had always been a straight-A student, but she had seen that as a necessity, a way to ensure that her life and her future would be better. And while she knew that her drawings often earned gasps of surprise whenever her friends caught an accidental glimpse, she had never before had someone tell her that she was talented and actually believed them.
It awoke that fire of competition, of dedication, the thing that had kept Hope one step ahead on the field. She woke early in the mornings, poring over new magazines — she'd subscribed to at least 20 at this point — with a cup of coffee before work. When she returned, normally at the request of her boss because she was already staying two or three hours late, she would open up her computer and design small side projects, small ideas to pitch to her boss or maybe someone else, sometimes just playing around with concepts she'd seen online.
Her sketches and designs began to take on a similar style, a trademark look that was easily distinguishable among the work of her peers at the firm.
"You're turning into a crazy little artist," Carli said one day when she came home to find Hope sitting on the floor in leggings and an oversized plaid shirt, hair pulled up sloppily into a bun on top that sagged on top of her head, threatening to spill loose over her left shoulder. Pieces of sketch paper — thicker cut, only available from a store half-way across the city, which she bought in bulk packages twice a month — were scattered across the floor around her. Hope was bent over a sketch of an eye, carefully filling in part of the iris.
"I needed a break from the project I'm working on," Hope murmured, her fingers tight around her pencil. "And this calms me down."
"To each their own." Carli stopped to stand over her shoulder, looking down at the three or four drawings that Hope had completed this afternoon. "These are beautiful, Hope."
She glanced around and sighed contentedly. They were, and she knew it, but she just shrugged at Carli, going back to retrace the eyelid as her best friend moved away.
It was strange to her, in some ways, how easily her world had pivoted on its axis, realigned with a new focus. She'd always loved to create, to draw, but it had never been this all-consuming, this obsessive. Hope didn't mind, really, but sometimes she thought back to where she had been a year before and the ground under her feet felt a little less steady.
Hope paused her sketching and picked up a pen. She doodled a small flower on her wrist, a peony, Kelley's favorite type of flower. As she was filling in one of the petals, her phone vibrated and she grinned at the text.
A few minutes later, she was on speaker phone with Kelley, who was studying for finals for the first time. Her anxiety over the tests — she only had three — was the source of constant amusement and teasing from Hope's end of the line. But Kelley was a perfectionist, something Hope understood and loved.
"Hey, I have a question." Hope hummed her response, busy with a new sketch, this time of Carli's profile as she drank tea and watched a football game with the sound muted. "So Grant asked me out."
"Homecoming Grant?" She tried to mask her surprise, keeping her voice as even as possible and avoiding the look that Carli shot her. "He finally got the guts up?"
"Well, yeah and—" Kelley stutters for a moment and Hope stops her drawing to look at the phone, wishing she could physically look at Kelley now. "It's not like I'm going to marry him or anything, right? So I was just wondering, like, what's the— the rules for that?"
Hope flushed, keeping her eyes firmly away from Carli, who was clearly fixing her with an accusatory glare. She could practically feel the question burning in the back of Carli's throat — "You haven't told her?" — but she remained thankfully silent.
She had, in fact, spent several months dating Jerramy — "We're really just talking," she had defended at first, but talking had quickly turned into kissing — towards the end of senior year, before he left for Seattle and she moved to Charlotte. It hadn't really been much, just a fling, nothing more. But that didn't stop the pit of guilt that built up in her stomach every time she thought back the way he looked at her, a smile on his lips, reaching out his hand to take hers.
Because Jerramy was unfailingly kind, almost doting, and because he made her laugh without even trying, and because the way his smile broke jaggedly when she told him she had no interest in Seattle, or long distance, or anything more than a fling — well, it broke her heart a little. But he wasn't Kelley, and she knew that, and she knew they had nothing in the future.
She had tried to explain that to Jerramy, to explain the writing on her skin, the girl miles away who already held her heart. He didn't get it. He didn't have this connection — his skin had never been covered in someone else's writing. He didn't know his match, didn't know if they were dead or uninterested or just non-existent. But he let her go, as best as he could, and she tried to mask her hurt with gentleness, just as she tried to obscure her guilt from Kelley.
"You can date him, Kell." Hope's voice was soft. "It's okay."
"But he's not—" Kelley's voice cracked slightly. "I always thought you would be my first, you know, just everything."
"That's not realistic," Hope murmured, picking up her phone and turning off speakerphone, cradling it between her ear and her shoulder. "You know that."
"Yeah, but—" Hope interrupted her, a smile slight and heavy on her mouth.
"Go on the damn date, you idiot." Kelley laughed at that, although it was a nervous laugh, the type that didn't quite fill Hope up.
Kelley, to her credit, didn't tell her anything, except for fleeting details that she knew Hope would laugh at, take lightly and move on from without issue. From what she could tell, Grant was shy and a little awkward but also eager to win Kelley over. She mentioned a few dates they went on, typical coffee dates and awkward freshman parties and ice skating outings — Kelley fell flat on her face and Grant, in his own fear of falling, didn't even attempt to catch her, although he ended up flat on his ass laughing at her.
And it was natural, they were natural. Life for Hope began to feel, in some ways, hopeful.
For Kelley, high school was a whirlwind. She kept three goals in the forefront of her focus — making straight A's, becoming the star of the soccer team and making sure Hope fell incurably in love with her. The second two items seemed to be going fairly well, but the first one seemed like it might actually kill her.
It wasn't that she was a bad student. In fact, Kelley was an exceptionally good student, the type who lingered after school to chat with teachers and always high-fived the principal on her way out of the building. But she hit junior year and it all kind of fell apart.
She had somehow dated Grant for two years, growing comfortable and affectionate towards him in a way that somehow still felt casual. But junior year was different. Junior year was pulling the first, second and third all nighter of her life in the span of two weeks. It was attempting to take six AP classes at the same time as playing for her school's soccer team and it just didn't quite work.
Kelley spent more time in her room and in the gym, the two places she felt most comfortable. And when Grant made a snide remark about how she didn't seem to care to make time for him anymore, she cut him out of her life as easily as if he'd never been there in the first place.
(well, it came from more than that, it came from the fact that he held her hand a little too tight and made off-hand comments about going to college close together and jokingly told her that she should really stop calling Hope so much.)
She called Hope that night, like every night, to tell her the news.
"I'm sorry," Hope said, and her voice was genuine and it made Kelley's heart ache in the best kind of way. "He seemed like a fun guy."
"He really was," Kelley said, underlining a passage in her chemistry book with red ink. "But he didn't get me, you know? He didn't get what I want out of life."
"And what is that?" Hope asked, even though she knew, and Kelley smiled into her answer because she loved the joy that came whenever she told Hope about her hopes for the future.
"I want to go to a great school, a really great school," Kelley said. "I want to go into research, get really rich, move to the city, get one of those apartments that's kinda small but just ridiculously extravagant."
"Ridiculously extravagant," Hope laughed. "That sounds about right."
"And I want to marry you and get a cat and name it something stupid," Kelley continued. "And be that couple everyone's jealous of when they walk down the street."
"That won't be hard," Hope replied, and Kelley playfully told her to shut up.
"I want to be somebody," Kelley said, her voice slightly breathless. "Someone, I don't know, someone important. Not too big or anything. Just somebody who means something."
"You will be," Hope said, and Kelley believed her, believed in herself because seemed to have such an unfailing faith in her future. "Just you wait."
Hope was always Kelley's first call. When she was tired, when she was stressed, when she needed a break. The first time she got drunk — at a house party, on cheap beer and vodka bought from Costco by an older brother — she called Hope in the dead of the night.
"Hope, I love you," she drawled into her voicemail, accent a little stronger due to inebriation, and it was the first time she'd ever said it and meant it this way. "You are so— you're so cool, you know, and I just— I love you. You should be—wherever I am, because I don't know— I think you're just so much."
She returned the call the next morning, laughing before Kelley even picked up, groaning her apologies at the same time as she complained about the coffee she desperately needed to drink.
"Fun night?" Hope asked, and she laughed as Kelley muttered darkly in response. "You're cute when you're drunk."
"No need to flirt with me yet, Hope." She just laughed again, and finally Kelley had to concede and laugh along, even though it made her head throb painfully.
They worked. And as the year plodded on for Kelley and swept almost too quickly by for Hope, neither of them could help but realize — again and again and again — just how close they were to finally meeting.
Kelley was six months away from turning 18 when she called Hope, her breath coming out in excited pants.
"Hope, she breathed the second that she picked up. "I got into Stanford."
She wasn't one to scream. But nonetheless, Hope let out a whoop, a single excited shout, before she started yelling her excitement back to Kelley.
"Are you kidding me?" Hope's voice cracked slightly and they both laughed. "You are incredible, you hear me? Incredible."
It was only later, after Kelley had hung up to go to a celebratory dinner with her family, that Hope thought about where Stanford was, and how much farther away that take Kelley from her. She sighed as she sat at her desk, fingers idly twiddling her pencil, unable to draw.
She thought about her promise from so long ago — that they could meet in person, follow each other on social media, be normal after Kelley turned 18. She thought about how Dave had moved to North Carolina for Heather, how Carli planned to move to New Jersey for her soulmate, how that expectation seemed both too much and too little for Hope all at once. She thought about the fact that none of what they were could be normal, could be whole, until they were together. About the fact that if they had waited a lifetime, perhaps four years wouldn't be too much.
But mostly, she wondered what good it was to know this much and love this much about someone she was beginning to think she might never get the chance to meet.
It was melodramatic and stupid. She pushed the thoughts from her head, drowned them out with pride when Carli got home and she could finally tell her Kelley's good news. But that night, she thought about Kelley, about the girl she knew she was meant to love, and the truth she had known since the first day she'd seen a name written on her skin.
Someday, something had to give. Hope just hoped that day wasn't coming soon.