“This is the best champagne I’ve ever had in my life!” Kelley screams, her voice feeling raw. She’s done a lot of screaming in the past hour—that and drinking. A lot of drinking.
“Champagne tastes better when you’re a World Cup champion,” her captain and mentor, Christie, aka Captain America, aka Pearcie, says with a wink.
“No kidding,” Kelley replies, taking another swig from the bottle.
Around them, their whole team is celebrating their decisive victory over Japan in the World Cup final. The floors of the locker room are sticky with champagne, and everyone is half-naked and running around in sports bras. It feels like a U-20 camp all over again, even though the youngest of them is 23 so they’re all actually legal this time.
After their heartbreaking defeat four years ago to the same team, winning feels sweeter than ever. The only high Kelley can compare it to is the one she felt scoring the winning penalty kick against Canada in their Olympic semifinal, but even that doesn’t begin to measure up to this. World Champions.
“Hey O’Hara, your bae is at it again,” Syd calls, holding up her phone.
Kelley laughs, walking toward her. “Oh,” she says when she sees what’s on the screen. “That bae.” Her girlfriend, Ann, is waiting with her family and friends at the afterparty, so she probably won’t post an Instagram until after Kelley gets there (and it’ll probably be one of 400 posed cheek-kissing photos that Kelley’s sister, Erin, is forced to take until they find one they both like).
This one is from the girl who all the lesbians (and honestly, some of the straight girls too) on the team have been thirsting over for the last month. Alex Morgan. It almost feels too girl next door, like the fake name a porn star who plays the girl next door would choose.
Ashlyn had followed her first, way back during January camp, and one night when Kelley was up late on the Explore tab on Instagram, Ashlyn was going on a liking spree of all Alex’s bikini photos (and there are a lot). Kelley had screenshotted it and sent it to their group message with dozens of crying laughing emojis and the caption “When Jill doesn’t let you room with your gf and you go to bed thirsty.”
While the rest of the team dragged Ashlyn to hell and back for it, Kelley found herself months deep on Alex’s Instagram. The next morning at breakfast, she confessed that she totally understood the thirst.
The obsession had really picked up at the start of the World Cup, though, when Alex posted an Instagram about her travels to Canada for—you guessed it—the freaking World Cup.
It was a sponsored trip, clearly, judging by the way Alex, who might weigh 110 pounds soaking wet, looks like she’s throwing back a Coca Cola every twenty minutes in her Snapchat stories (yeah, Kelley has no shame). Kelley kind of loses track of how many sponsorships Alex has, honestly, because she posts ads for everything from yoga pants to nail polish to mattresses.
Her most recent post, the one Syd had called her over for, is another picture of Alex holding a Coke over her head like it’s a World Cup trophy. Her caption reads “USA! USA! What an amazing time in Canada watching these badass ladies CRUSH life! Who else cried a little when they won?? #shareacoke #ad”
“You won’t DM her though,” Syd teases.
“I would if I didn’t have a girlfriend,” Kelley assures her, rolling her eyes.
“Oh my God, that is rich,” Syd laughs. “You think she’s not going to be able to resist you if she takes one look at your Instagram. How many thirsty DMs do you think she gets per day? I will pay you a hundred bucks if she even replies.”
“You’re on!” Kelley says, reaching for her own phone in her locker. “HAO, you heard that right?”
“Yeah, hundred bucks, got it,” HAO says distractedly, giving them a thumbs up as she throws her things into a bag. “Can you guys hurry up and get ready? I’d like to see my husband one of these days.”
Kelley spends an embarrassingly long time on the bus figuring out what she should write. She feels like she’s back in middle school passing a note to a girl she wanted to ask to the sixth grade formal. The girl had scrunched up her nose, said “ew, I’m not a lesbian ,” and turned to the boy next to her to ask him to be her date. Kelley had never heard the word lesbian before that, but she knew by the way the girl said it that it was something she should never want to be.
Lucky for Kelley, she played soccer, and soon she was surrounded by plenty of girls who wore that label with pride. Eventually, she became one of them and never looked back. She hasn’t wasted her time on crushes since high school, though, figuring it was usually best to get the “I’m gay and you’re hot” part out of the way before putting too much of her heart into it.
Still, she knows she shouldn’t be overthinking this. All she needs is a reply.
“Loved seeing your World Cup posts!” she settles on. “We’re so thankful for your support. If you ever find yourself around New Jersey, I’d love to have you at a club game.” And then, because the champagne buzz really is so much stronger when you’re a World Cup champion: “By the way, you’re absolutely gorgeous.”
Waking up next to Ann for the first time in over a month is nice, but becoming $100 richer is even nicer.
“Aww, thank you!” Alex had written back sometime after Kelley fell asleep. “You’re so sweet.”
It is a total brush-off, and Ann gives herself hiccups from laughing so hard, but Kelley holds Syd to her bet, posting a tweet that says “O’Hara: 100 Leroux: -100 #champion” which makes both Syd and Ann laugh even harder because it’s clear Kelley is being sly on the off chance Alex ever reads her tweets or, like, ever thinks about her again.
Between interviews and making time for every single person who made the trip to Vancouver to watch her, Kelley thinks the day after the World Cup might be more exhausting than the tournament itself.
“You okay?” Ann asks, leaning over to rest her chin on Kelley’s shoulder while her brother’s girlfriend blabbers away about the final at lunch. “You were so tired last night, but I feel like you barely got any sleep.”
“I’m good,” Kelley says, turning to press a kiss to Ann’s forehead. “Sorry I passed out. Our reunion was probably supposed to be more romantic than that.”
Ann smiles sadly. “You needed your sleep,” she says. “And sleeping next to you and cuddling for a little bit this morning was enough for me. I just wish we had more time together.”
“Me too,” Kelley says, feeling a familiar pang echo through her heart. It feels like a bad mixture of homesickness and deja vu. It’s the same feeling she’s gotten every time she’s been with Ann since she moved away from New York. Now every time they are together, it just means one of them is about to leave, and Kelley hasn’t quite gotten used to that yet.
“I’m so proud of you.”
“I love you.” Kelley is halfway to Ann’s lips when she gets an elbow in the ribs from Erin. “Fuck, what—” She follows Erin’s eyes to see a bunch of teenage girls in USA jerseys gawking. She presses her lips together tightly and waves, leaning away from Ann, who pretends it doesn’t bother her. It shouldn’t, really, as Ann has always been the low-key one who wants to stay as far from the spotlight as possible. “Kiss you later,” she murmurs, making Ann blush and smile.
She doesn’t get to, though, not really, because Kelley has back-to-back interviews non-stop leading up to Ann’s flight, so the best she gets is a quick peck in the hotel elevator because the rest of the hotel is flooded with fans.
Ann lands just as Kelley’s charter plane with the team is about to take off, in the first few seconds of calm she’s had all day. “It was nice hanging out today,” she texts. “It felt like old times. When things quiet down a little, maybe you can come visit for a few days and I can show you around my new stomping grounds.”
Kelley sighs at the irritating formality of the text. If it hadn’t been for the World Cup, she’s sure the move and their ensuing fight would have been the end of their relationship, but they tabled the tough stuff till after the tournament. Every time Kelley has seen her since the tournament started, for just a few moments here and there, she has felt glimmers of hope and normalcy, but she knows Ann probably doesn’t feel the same, so the thought of spending a whole weekend together in California fills her with anxiety.
“You okay?” HAO asks from her seat across the aisle. “You seem down for a World Cup champion who got a message from her Instagram crush this morning.”
Kelley rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “I’m okay, just… Ann.”
“It’ll be okay, bud,” HAO says with a sympathetic smile. “Major tournaments suck for relationships, even when you win. Davey and I almost broke up in 2007 and 2008. He had to lock it down in 2011 to keep it from happening again.” She wiggles the fingers of her left hand, adorned with her sparkly engagement and wedding rings.
Kelley laughs. “Smart man.”
“Are you kidding me, Kelley?” Ashlyn exclaims from a few rows back. Kelley pops her head over her seat back, furrowing her brow. Ashlyn and her girlfriend, Ali, are gawking at her as some others gather round. “She followed you? If I had known it was as easy as sending her a thirsty message…”
“Then you’d what?” Ali teases with a dramatic scowl.
“Wait, who?” Kelley asks, her head spinning. “What?” She fumbles for her phone and opens Instagram to see a new message from Alex, who—yep—is now following her. “Holy shit!”
“Let me see!” Syd exclaims from the row between Kelley and Ashlyn. She grabs for Kelley’s phone, but Kelley pulls it away.
“Leave me and my new girlfriend alone,” Kelley says, smacking Syd’s hand. She burrows under the hoodie she packed for the plane to read the message in private.
“You’re gorgeous too, by the way,” Alex had written. “Sorry for the lame-ass message last night. Sooo jet-lagged. P.S. Congrats on the sick goal… I literally know nothing about soccer but that was amazing.”
“We’re taking off, ladies, airplane mode!” Dawn says, walking down the aisle.
Kelley grabs the wifi information from the seat back in front of her and quickly types it in before flipping her phone to airplane mode. No way is she passing up this opportunity.
“You could have fooled me,” Kelley replies. “You have the lingo down pat!”
“Lol,” Alex answers a few minutes later. It feels like hours to Kelley as her heart beats out of her chest. Getting a shoutout on Twitter from Tom Hanks was good, but getting to talk to the objectively (well, at least according to the small sample size on this plane, anyway) hottest girl on Instagram (330,000 followers strong) has to be better. “Confession… the brands usually write the captions for me. I promise I’m literate, they just have so many rules!”
“Secrets of the stars ;)” Kelley replies. “Are the brands writing these messages?”
“I’ll never tell,” Alex says almost instantly. Kelley is still thinking about something clever to say back when another message comes in from Alex. “Your team puts on a good show, though. I especially loved when that #5 lifted her shirt up to wipe her sweat. Any chance you can get me her number? ;)”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Kelley replies, her face turning bright red.
Alex doesn’t reply for almost an hour, but when she does, Kelley is nowhere near ready. “FYI, that was my not-so-smooth way of asking for your number. Haha.”
Kelley quickly taps out her number, followed by another message. Now the flirting comes a little more naturally. “Don’t waste it.”
The next time she hears from Alex, it’s via an unknown number sending her an iMessage. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” it says.
The next few days LA are a whirlwind of activity and cross-country flights and very, very little sleep. Kelley has to stop herself from texting Alex every day like she wants to (whenever she gets a free moment to breathe), but she doesn’t want it to fizzle out. Girlfriend or no girlfriend, the feeling of the most popular girl in school paying attention to you is an addiction like no other, and Alex Morgan certainly fits the bill.
Alex, for her part, tends to be most responsive in the evenings, when her day starts to settle down. Kelley is never sure what time zone Alex is in, but she knows she’s traveling a lot and doesn’t have much time to herself, much like Kelley herself. Kelley finds herself going to bed earlier, embracing the few minutes she gets every night to just relax and answer emails and texts from Erin and Ann and her roommates back home. And Alex, of course.
She’s funnier than Kelley expects, and a bit sassier than her online persona would suggest. Kelley loses count of the number of times she’s blushed in public about something Alex has said. She never crosses a line into overtly sexual or inappropriate, but she’s always just a hair away, and it makes Kelley’s mind run wild thinking about Alex’s personal life. Someone that gorgeous has to have plenty of suitors, but Kelley has never asked.
It’s not like she has exactly been forthcoming about Ann, anyway.
And it’s not like she expects to run into Alex in real life ever, let alone as soon as she does.
If Kelley loves anything about her team, it’s their shameless love for pop music—namely, Taylor Swift. The squeals that went around the breakfast room the morning of the ticker tape parade in New York upon finding out that Taylor had reached out and invited them to her concert—and to come backstage—kept ringing in Kelley’s ears well after the meal ended.
They ride over in a limo, every woman with her phone out in an effort to capture every single moment of magic. One of their sponsors bought them all external battery packs with the note “so you can soak up every minute,” and they are absolutely doing that.
When they go backstage, they don’t expect Taylor herself to greet them. They certainly don’t expect her to invite them onstage during one of her songs, but of course that’s exactly what happens. Kelley’s ears are still ringing and her heart is still racing from being on stage with Taylor freaking Swift when she sees her.
“Is that—” Ali says, staring right at Alex Morgan, who is taking selfies with two Victoria’s Secret models. “Oh my God! Go say hi!”
None of the girls know anything more about Kelley and Alex, just that Alex likes her photos on Instagram. She hasn’t even told Syd about the second message, where Alex called her gorgeous, even though that should be worth at least $500.
“Nah,” Kelley says, looking away. “I don't want it to be awkward.”
“Oh come on, she follows you on Instagram, she totally knows who you are!”
“Yeah, but…” Before Kelley can make another excuse, Alex looks up and catches her eye, her face lighting up.
She looks to be excusing herself from her crew as she walks toward Kelley and her friends. Ashlyn looks dumbstruck as the leggy brunette approaches.
“Kelley, right?” Alex says, casual as if Kelley hasn't sent her daily Snapchats for the past week. She leans in for a hug without hesitation.
“Yeah,” Kelley says, trying to keep it cool, which is remarkably harder to do when breathing in Alex’s jasmine perfume. “It's nice to finally meet you.”
“Hi, I'm Alex,” she says, turning to Ashlyn to shake her hand. “Your sleeve is sick.”
“Th-thank you,” Ashlyn says, stammering until Ali elbows her. “Oh, I'm Ashlyn. This is Ali.”
“Girlfriend,” Ali says with a tight smile, reaching out to shake Alex’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“I was looking for a beer pong partner,” Alex says, smiling at Kelley with a glint in her eye. “You game?”
Alex makes a phenomenal beer pong partner, even though she turns her nose up at the beer, making Kelley drink at least half of each cup. Luckily, their opponents aren't all that great, so Kelley doesn't get more than a nice buzz.
“I wish I could stay longer and defend our title,” Alex says with a pout, her fingers grazing Kelley’s forearm to get her attention. “I have a flight home in like an hour, so I'm definitely already late as hell. But text me, okay?” She leans in and kisses Kelley on the cheek quickly.
“Uh, yeah, definitely,” Kelley says, nodding. Internally, she blames her heated face on the alcohol.
Alex smirks. “Nice meeting you all. I'll see you around.”
She's barely out of earshot when Ashlyn explodes. “Text me?” she exclaims.
“She probably meant Instagram DM,” Kelley says, shrugging it off. She doesn't know why she's so hesitant to tell the truth, but she suddenly feels fiercely protective over whatever relationship they now have. It feels special now.
“I really am so bummed I had to go,” Alex texts a little while later, probably sitting on the plane ready for takeoff based on the time. “You're even hotter in person, just so you know.”
“You're about the same,” Kelley replies. “Meaning that I already thought you were incredibly beautiful, and you just proved me right.”
“I have an important question,” Alex says.
“If we had had more time… and your friends were otherwise occupied… and I had another night in the city… do you think we might have hooked up?”
Kelley is in her bed—her actual real bed—alone in the dark, but she still looks around as if someone might be looking over her shoulder. “I really hope so.”