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poison and wine

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"Are you sure you need this many t-shirts?"

Kelley's mom thumbed through the stack of clothes on her bed, eyeing the glaring disparity between the amount of workout clothes and the number of "normal" clothes her daughter has amassed over the last three days of packing for college.

"Yes." Kelley steps through the doorway with a laundry basket filled with socks on one hip, reaching out to slap away her mother's hand. "I'll need a lot."

"But you're not even playing soccer," Karen muttered, folding her arms. "You'll want to look nice for your classes and have something to go out in—"

"Mom, just because I'm not playing soccer doesn't mean I won't be working out." She set the basket down and began tossing socks onto her bed. "I'll probably need to work out more. And stop worrying about me looking nice, okay? I packed my good clothes."

Karen's mouth twitched at the corners as she sat down in Kelley's chair, watching her daughter continue to pack one of the three blue suitcases lined up next to her bed.

"What does Hope think of you going to Stanford?" she asked after several moments of silence. Kelley's shoulders twitched up and down, but she saw the trace of a smile interrupting the curve of her jaw.

"She was really excited." Kelley paused. "It's just far. It's... I don't know. It's far."

"Is she going to come see you?" She clenched her jaw in response. After several seconds of silence, Karen dropped the question.

Three mornings later, Kelley jolted awake as the wheels of her plane touched down onto the tarmac of the San Francisco airport. It took two full hours to unload the entirety of the O'Hara family from their plane, collect an impossibly large bundle of suitcases and load the entire mess into their rental cars — plural, because they somehow decided that the whole family was necessary for moving Kelley into college, and that the whole family required two vehicles.

The whole process was slowed down even more by Dan, who was wearing a bright red "Stanford Dad" shirt and proudly informing every flight attendant, Starbucks barista and Enterprise employee along their path that he was dropping off his youngest daughter for college.

"At Stanford," he added every time, as if that wasn't made clear by his shirt, reaching out to wrap an arm around Kelley's shoulders. "She's a real smart cookie."

She would have been more embarrassed, but her stomach was roiling with nerves and it was all Kelley could do to plaster a wide smile on her face, attempting to drown out the rest of her thoughts with anything else — and that anything included being completely and utterly embarrassed by her dad.

They stayed a night downtown in San Francisco, and Kelley ended up on the floor in the shared living room of their hotel suite, talking idly with Hope.

"You're nervous." It was a statement, not a question, and it was somehow more reassuring to Kelley than any gentle hand on the shoulder or reassuring smile that her parents had doled out since they began packing up.

"Of course I am!" Kelley shook her head, dropping a hand onto her eyes. "This is scary shit, you know?"

"Of course." When Hope comforted Kelley, her voice became fierce. She wasn't exactly gentle or nurturing, but the physicality of her words and the ferocity of her belief in Kelley's worth was somehow exactly what she needed. "Of course it's fucking scary. Like, honestly, when I first got to North Carolina, I took one look at my dorm and that empty bed and the shitty carpet and I was ready to just walk on out and go back home."

"But you didn't." At this point, she was practically goading Hope into giving a pep talk, but the older girl was eager to fill that role.

"I sure as hell didn't." Kelley rolled onto her side, shutting her eyes and focusing only on Hope's voice. "I worked my ass off and I made sure that I got the most out of every day. Even when it was hard. Even when it sucked. And most of it didn't suck. Most of it was fucking awesome, okay? I promise."

Kelley smiled, letting out her breath slowly.

"How'd you get through it?" She shifted, moving her phone to the other ear. "When it got hard?"

"I drank a handle of vodka, ordered Domino's and binge-watched Parks and Rec."

Kelley burst out laughing — Hope's deadpan sarcasm always bit through her nerves, forcing her into laughter even when she wanted to remain serious. She could almost imagine the girl on the other line, her face still stone cold but the corners of her mouth twitching upwards with her own joke.

"No, seriously though, you just get through." Hope's voice softened. "Find what makes you happy, who makes you happy, and hold onto that for dear life. Don't let yourself get so caught up in the work that you forget to go on a run just for fun, or go try some new breakfast place, or randomly drop everything and go camping with your friends. Just don't forget to actually live."

Leaning her head back against the floor, Kelley smiled. From anyone else the advice would sound pretty stupid, like something on a Pinterest board. But coming from Hope, it was exactly what she needed.

The first week was a rush — literally, actually, because Kelley decided to join a sorority — and she reached her first Saturday before realizing that she hadn't called Hope once. She picked up the phone almost sheepishly, dialing Hope's number and holding her breath as she waited for the answer on the other line. But Hope was almost unrealistically understanding — "Kelley, I get it, I've been to college" — and asks questions contentedly for over two hours.

By the time she's finished updating Hope on her new sorority (Kappa Kappa Gamma, which is apparently a top house) and her classes (they all look like they're going to kick her ass and she couldn't be more excited) and her new friends (Sydney, Christen and Tobin, each of whom are apparently insane and therefore a perfect match for Kelley) and her plans for the night (a round trip of every single frat house on campus, which is fondly referred to as "Blackout Saturday" by the seniors in her house), Kelley feels out of breath with excitement. She hadn't truly realized just how much had happened in the last week, but telling it all to Hope is filling her with a tangible warmth.

"I wish you were here," she groaned, and Hope laughed in response.

"So do I."

She could hear movement in the background, some type of quiet clattering.

"What are you up to?" Kelley moved her phone to the other ear, clamping it between her shoulder and her head as she opened her laptop.

"Getting ready to go out, believe it or not."

Hope had been a frequent patron of a variety of frat houses, bars and clubs as a college student, but the urge to forget her responsibilities for a night had drastically decreased when she started her new job. Several promotions later — she was now an assistant project manager — and she found that she barely had the time, not to mention the energy, to survive drunken nights and hungover mornings.

"You?" Kelley laughed, mimicking shock, her voice amused. "Are you actually gracing the dance floor tonight?"

"Yes, I am." There was more rustling in the background. "Is the dougie still an acceptable move to whip out?"

Kelley groaned again, muttering something about Hope being old, which earned a quick response about Kelley's plans for the night — "We're getting fucked up!" she had crowed proudly — followed with a warning about how much the next morning would suck. The teasing only lasted a few more minutes before Hope admitted that she needed to go, and Kelley said she understood and promised to call more, and a smile stayed on her face for long after she hung up.

College only sped up, and Kelley didn't call more, but when she did it was worth it. Hope rarely initiated a call, trying to give Kelley space to enjoy her experience, taking time to cherish the time that Kelley did set aside for her.

"I joined the rocket club," Kelley said excitedly one Monday evening, sounding out of breath as always as she spoke quickly into her phone. "We build rockets. And shoot them. Into space."

"You're not serious, right?" Hope wanted to roll her eyes because that was just so Kelley. "You're a nerd."

"I'm a nerd that's going to build a rocket," Kelly responded defensively. "And shoot it. Into space."

"Whatever, Stanford." Her voice was gentle though, and Kelley could hear the pride in her voice even if she wouldn't verbalize it.

A week later, Kelley called her in tears.

"I can't do this," she murmured, her voice ragged. "It's so damn hard, I don't know how I ever thought I could get through any of this. I'm failing my classes, I'm barely making it to all my club meetings, I'm not around the sorority house enough, I'm not sleeping, I feel like I never work out anymore, I just—"

"Kell." Hope's voice was firm. "You can do this."

"But I don't—"

"Shut up." They sat in silence for minutes, until Kelley's shoulders stopped shaking. "You can do this. You can."

"I know." Kelley sniffled pathetically, almost embarrassed at the depth of her breakdown. "But it's hard."

"It's the hard that makes it great," Hope quipped, and Kelley spewed a friendly stream of curses.

"Don't quote Tom Hanks at me in the middle of my breakdown," she muttered, but she was smiling again. "It's not the time nor the place."

She didn't cry again for awhile.

The next week Kelley didn't call. She went camping with her friends and she had a chem lab and club meetings every night and there really wasn't time. Hope understood, and more importantly Kelley knew that Hope understood. She stopped feeling quite as guilty for the silence.

And Hope, for her part, was just as busy. She was in the midst of finishing two separate projects with completely different teams, and the work of delegating and managing and simply keeping track of all the moving parts between the two was driving her a little bit crazy. Carli commented more than once that she was continuing to devolve down the "crazy artist" path, spending most of her time at home in oversized sweaters with coffee in hand.

Hope didn't mind. She was happy, even if that happiness was tinged with insanity.

They settled into this new type of existence comfortably. Kelley's birthday — the one she used to count down to as a child — had come and past without much of a mention from either of them. Stanford changed things. They knew that. But drunk Kelley didn't always know that, and on random Friday and Saturday — and occasionally Tuesday or Wednesday or even Monday — nights, Hope's phone lit up with misspelled pleas that made guilt swirl hot in her stomach.

im drunk and its dumb bcaeus youre not here, you know??

theres a pupy here I feel like you like puppiess we've talked about this??

come see the ppuy pls

why aren't you here

She tried to be sweet, maybe even funny, when they talked about it the next week. But it wasn't particularly funny and she knew it and Kelley knew it, and it hurt badly enough that neither of them said a word about it, avoiding the pain like a sore tooth at the back of the mouth.

It was spring of Kelley's freshman year when Hope got a call that made her rethink the pain.

"Jerramy?" she asked in surprise as she picked up the phone.

"Hope Solo." His voice was rich, warm, and she was even more surprised at how much she'd missed it. How much she'd missed him. "What are you doing tonight?"

"Um, I'm— what?" She stood, walking quickly to the hall.

"I'm back in Charlotte," he explained. "And I would love to buy you dinner whenever you're free."

"I'm free tonight." She said it before she had time to think. "I get off work at 6, I can be ready at 7?"

"Perfect." Hope could feel him smiling at the other end of the line. It was contagious. "I'll see you then."

They ate dinner at an upscale Spanish restaurant that Hope had always talked about wanting to visit. Dinner turns into coffee afterwards, and a good night kiss, and a promise to call the next day. He did call, asking after her weekend plans and asking her to go to coffee with him.

Hope quickly learned that if Jerramy could do anything, it was surprise her. He brought flowers to their third date and took her sailing on their fifth. He remembered her favorite foods and her coffee order from back when they were in college, and he somehow kept track of each project she took on even if she only mentioned it in passing. He was kind, thoughtful, caring in a way she hadn't expected. His presence calmed her, filled her in when she felt hollow. He was just what she needed.

She mentioned Jerramy to Kelley after they'd been seeing each other for about a month. She didn't seem phased — Hope was fairly certain that Kelley's active social life wasn't entirely platonic, although the younger girl never mentioned any flings she might be pursuing — but she didn't ask any details. Hope quickly understood. Their private lives were private, even from each other, and for the time being Kelley wanted to keep it that way.

It wasn't necessarily the most pleasant compromise, but this situation wasn't pleasant in general. Hope had learned to live with it however she could, caught in a waiting game. But she was happy, even though she dreamed of a future that was happier.

It settled into a routine. Lunch dates, mornings at brunch and evenings at baseball games and movies with Jerramy. Long phone calls with Kelley in the space in between, waiting up for her drunk calls on Saturdays, stepping out of meetings to talk her down after failing a chemistry lab, calling her first when she gets a text of a perfect score on a physics test.

It works. It’s comfortable. And if the idea that she’s dating two people at once, that she’s trying to love two people at once, ever crosses her mind — well, she just shrugs it off.

Because for now, well, for now this is all she wants.