Two months into the year, Alex looks to be pretty correct about 2017. In January, she reaches a settlement with Jonathan’s lawyers to end the case once and for all. On paper, anyway. She insists that she wants to leave it in the past, but Kelley still wakes up some nights to Alex in a cold sweat beside her because she has nightmares, and other nights Alex can hardly sleep at all.
She spends the rest of the month researching non-profits to donate the money to, telling Kelley and Amy she felt “skeevy” about accepting anything from him.
Her Express campaign launches in February, and Kelley takes a picture every time she walks past an Express store and adds a cheesy caption before sending it to Alex, which never fails to make her smile.
Even getting crushed in their own tournament at the beginning of March can't dampen Kelley’s excitement about the coming year. New team, new home, new start.
When Alex gets invited to be on Ellen as the main interviewee, Kelley feels like she's going to pass out. Alex has been on the Today Show and Good Morning America in little segments here and there, but Ellen is something new entirely. She's doing an episode about revenge porn, her assistant explains, and now that Alex’s case is over, she wants to give her the platform to tell her story. Her team assures Amy and Nina that it will be handled sensitively and they'll have some say in the final product, as it's not a live show.
Kelley used to come home from high school and watch Ellen while she was doing homework. When her dad would come in and watch with her, she would hold her breath if her wife or her sexuality ever came up, but her dad always laughed at her anecdotes and never made a single snide comment about her being gay. Kelley doesn't know how long it would have taken her to come out to him if it hadn't been for Ellen, which she gushes to her when she meets her backstage in Alex’s dressing room.
“That was literally Ellen!” Kelley squeals as soon as the icon leaves.
“You're literally the cutest,” Alex says, taking Kelley’s cheeks between her hands and kissing her lips. “But you're at, like, level 11 out of 10, and I need you to bring it down to a 7 or else I'm going to lose my mind with nerves.”
Kelley laughs. “You're going to be great,” she says. “I promise.”
“I just keep thinking about him watching,” Alex says. “And I freeze up.”
“I'm going to be right here watching you,” Kelley says, pointing to the monitor in the room. “Just pretend you're talking to me.”
Alex nods, wringing her hands nervously as they watch the opening segments. She gets up and goes to the bathroom twice, and Kelley pretends not to notice that she brings her purse the second time, or the way her heart speeds up when she comes back.
Finally, after a quick makeup touch-up, Ellen is introducing Alex, who's ushered onto the stage to upbeat music and an excited audience.
Kelley misses the first few seconds because of the madness going on backstage to get everything set, but she and Amy settle onto the couch to watch the interview begin.
“What was your first reaction when you found out this video had been made public?” Ellen asks gently.
“Um, panic,” Alex says. “It was like that freeze-frame moment after you get into a fender bender or drop your phone where you're just like ‘no no no no no’ and you try to figure out ways to turn back time to a few seconds ago and get a redo. But for me, the thing was five years ago.”
“And it was your ex…”
“Not my ex,” Alex says. “He was my manager, which I felt made the breach of trust that much worse. But I'm not really—I try not to give him any more airtime than he's already gotten.”
“Sure,” Ellen says, taking the hint to pivot. “So, you said it was five years ago, obviously a long time when you're as young as you are. Five years to me is like, a long nap.”
Alex giggles along with the audience.
“But what do you wish you had known then? That you wish you could tell other girls who find themselves in the same situation you were?”
“See, the thing is I think a lot of girls are in that situation without knowing it at the time,” Alex says. “I never thought ‘wow, this guy who technically works for me but makes me feel like I work for him, who's a decade older than I am and wants to have sex with me is probably a predator.’ I was excited that someone was interested in me as, like, talent, but also sexually. I felt like I was a pretty sexually liberated feminist, and I still feel that way, but that doesn't mean I was comfortable putting that on camera. I certainly wasn't comfortable with the world seeing it.
“I would say if any young woman, or anyone, finds themselves in a situation where they don't feel 100 percent safe or comfortable, just get out. I know it's easier said than done sometimes, but do everything you can to find someone you trust who can help you. And also, you'll have better sex in the future. Unless it's your job, there's never a reason to tape it. It doesn't look as hot as you think it does. Trust me, I watched the video.” She smiles, signaling that it's okay to laugh, and Ellen does her outro to the commercial break that will be added later.
Kelley can't tell what they're saying when the crew is touching up their hair and makeup, but Alex laughs and nods as Ellen chats with her. Kelley wants to pinch herself to prove this is really happening.
When they go back “on air,” Ellen lightens the mood, showing Alex some old cringeworthy photos from her Instagram and asking for explanations while Alex laughs and tries to remember.
“I have another question,” Ellen says. “Do you like soccer?”
Alex turns pink. “Umm,” she says, like she has no idea why Ellen is asking. She bursts out laughing when the picture on the screen changes to a collage of Kelley photos from Alex’s Instagram, including the one from Alex’s J. Crew party, the one Alex posted on Kelley’s birthday, and a selfie of a red-faced, sweaty Alex with Kelley doing pull-ups in the background from when she tried to work out with her last month. “Oh my God,” she says, her face blushing redder every second.
“This soccer player follows you around a lot, huh?” Ellen says, smirking.
“I’ve, uh, never really thought of it this way,” Alex laughs. “I guess you're right.”
“I really want to focus on this one here,” Ellen says, and the photo of Kelley’s abs on the pool float fills the screen. “Those aren't drawn on?”
“Oh my God,” Alex says again. “I guess the water would have washed it off if so, right?”
“Well maybe it was permanent marker.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Alex nods, wiping a tear from her eye.
“You don't know?”
“I mean, I know,” Alex says, biting her lip.
“So to answer my original question… you like soccer?”
“Yeah,” Alex laughs. “I love soccer. My favorite sport these days.”
“Was that okay?” Alex asks nervously as Kelley hugs her after the show. “She told me she was going to bring up a surprise topic and that if I wanted to edit it out we could.”
“It was perfect,” Kelley assures her, kissing her cheek. “I'll have to tell my parents to tune in.”
Kelley and Christen get home from training just as Ellen is starting the next day.
“Your bae is coming on now!” Christen calls from the living room as Kelley finishes toweling off her hair.
Kelley rushes to the couch just in time to see Alex’s smiling face settling onto Ellen’s. Alex is just as charming on TV as she is in real life, and Kelley feels her cheeks hurt from smiling just looking at her.
“Wow,” Christen says when it's over. “That was so cool.”
“Yeah,” Kelley agrees, tapping out a caption to her Instagram story about “basically being on Ellen???”
“I don't want to bring it up with her because I'm sure she doesn't like talking about it, but she's so impressive. I would be so fucked up if that happened to me, and it's just really cool how she's handled it. I'm sure it doesn't hurt to have you for a support system.”
Kelley snorts. “She puts on a good show,” she says.
Christen furrows her brow. “What do you mean?”
Kelley feels guilty right away. “Nothing,” she says. “It's just not all sunshine and rainbows all the time.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes,” Kelley says immediately. “We’re fine. I just worry about her sometimes, like she's really good at hiding her feelings.”
“Maybe she should see a therapist.”
“She has one,” Kelley says, though now that she thinks about it, she can't remember the last time she heard Alex talk about her. “She started seeing her after the video.”
“Okay,” Christen shrugs. “So maybe she’s working things out with her instead. I don’t talk to Tobin about everything that’s going on with me.”
“Yeah,” Kelley says softly. “I just feel like she’s gotten worse in the past year instead of better.”
Kelley squeezes her eyes shut, weighing her options. She’s too far down a path to just stop now without Christen suspecting something fishy, so she can either make something up or tell her the truth. Lying would be easy—Kelley is good at thinking on her feet—but the thought of telling someone, anyone about all of her worries fills her with a wave of relief.
Maybe she’s the one who needs to see a therapist.
“You can’t tell anyone this,” Kelley says. “Not Tobin. Not even your therapist.”
“My therapist and I have a—”
“Nobody,” Kelley says seriously. “I’m not kidding.”
“Kel, it’s me,” Christen says softly. “We’ve told each other everything since college.”
“I’ve never been in a situation this bad.”
“Kelley, what the hell?” Christen asks. “What’s wrong?”
“I think Alex has a drug problem.”
“You what?” Christen exclaims. “What are you talking about?”
“I know she does drugs,” Kelley says. “Like… I’ve seen her snort cocaine, and sometimes ecstasy I think.”
“Wait, you’ve seen her do that and didn’t stop her?”
“You say it like it’s easy,” Kelley says. “When it first happened she made me feel like I was crazy for being so upset. And she’s kind of right, I don’t think I’ve met a single person in her LA circles who doesn’t do it every now and then, except maybe Amy, but she like, goes to church and has a kid and stuff.”
“When it first happened?” Christen asks. “How many times has it happened?”
“I don’t know,” Kelley sighs. “We don’t talk about it.”
“You spend like every waking moment with her, how do you not talk about it?” Christen asks, incredulous. “Are you there when she does it?”
“No! It’s not like that,” Kelley insists. “She’s not addicted, she just does it like, socially.” The more she talks, the more she feels like Alex’s mouthpiece, and her stomach twists into knots. She’s just repeating excuses she doesn’t even believe. “She knows I know that when she goes somewhere at a party I’m not supposed to follow her. I’d just rather not be around it.”
“What do you mean why? Would you want to?”
“Of course not,” Christen says. “But I can’t for the life of me understand why you’re okay with someone you love being around it if you wouldn’t… let alone actually doing it!”
“I know,” Kelley says, her voice small. “But after the tape and the J. Crew drama and everything, I didn’t want to add to her stress. Every time I bring it up she gets so upset.”
“And you just think she has a drug problem?” Christen asks.
“I don’t know!” Kelley exclaims. “I know she got worse after the video, but then I felt like she was getting better when she got the Express deal and the lawsuit ended and we had that amazing few weeks with Thanksgiving with my family and then Belize and then Christmas with her family.”
“When she wasn’t around the people she does drugs with.”
“But then you came back to LA, and…”
“Life got busy,” Kelley says. “She’s always running a million miles an hour and we’re both traveling and…” She chews on her lip. “She told me she never buys it and only takes it at parties with people she trusts. But I think she carries it now. I saw—well I didn’t see, but that’s because I didn’t want to go through her purse and be that crazy snooping girlfriend.”
“You’re not crazy for being worried.”
“No, but what if I’m overreacting?” Kelley asks. “She wants me to trust her, and I want to trust her, but…”
“I’m not a doctor, but this seems pretty cut and dry,” Christen says. “Get that girl some help.”
“Chris,” Kelley sighs.
“Kel, you can’t just love her better,” Christen sighs. “I know you want to, but it doesn’t work that way.”
“Why not?” Kelley asks, her eyes filling with tears. “It’s so easy when it’s just us.”
“When you love someone, you don’t just let them self-destruct. I understand that you want to be there for her, but you can’t walk on eggshells because you’re afraid she’ll be mad at you.”
“I’m not afraid she’ll be mad at me,” Kelley says, even though she knows it’s mostly a lie. “I’m afraid I’ll make it worse.”
“If you need a list of reasons why this is really really bad, I’m happy to sit here and go through them all with you,” Christen says. “But I have a feeling you already know that.”
Alex is half asleep on Kelley’s bare chest the next night when Kelley finally works up the courage to say something. She looks so soft and angelic like this, her back rising and falling with every long, deep breath. Kelley runs a hand through the hair splayed across her back, and Alex hums with pleasure, nuzzling her nose into Kelley’s neck and kissing it softly.
“Love you,” Alex murmurs.
“How’s Julia?” Kelley asks.
“Oh,” Alex says, lifting her head to look at Kelley. “Um, good. Why?”
“I just haven’t heard you talk about her much lately.”
“Well, she’s fine.”
“Babe, what’s going on?” Alex laughs. “I’m great. You just made me come twice in under thirty minutes, so I’m a little spent, but I couldn’t be happier if I tried.”
“I’m just making sure,” Kelley murmurs, kissing the top of Alex’s head. “Your happiness is the most important thing to me.”
“You make me happy.”
Kelley smiles. “You make me happy.”
“Why are you being so gushy? I don’t want to be proposed to naked, just so you know.”
Kelley laughs. “Noted.”
Alex settles back into Kelley’s chest, and Kelley works up her nerve again.
“Have you ever talked to Julia about the drugs?” Kelley asks, her voice barely a whisper.
Alex is silent, and for a second Kelley thinks she might have fallen asleep. “No,” she says finally.
“Do you think maybe you should?”
“If I had a problem, I’m sure I would,” Alex says impatiently.
“Don’t get defensive, I was just asking,” Kelley says.
“You’re never just asking,” Alex snaps, moving away from Kelley and onto her own side of the bed.
“You caught me, I’m worried,” Kelley deadpans.
“What reason could I have possibly given you today to be worried?”
“I’ve been worried about you since the first time,” Kelley says. “You know that.”
“And I’ve been fine this whole time.”
“Tell me the truth,” Kelley says. “Before Ellen, did you take something in the bathroom?”
“No secrets,” Kelley says. “I don’t ask where you go at parties because neither one of us wants to talk about it. But if you’re carrying it on you and taking it when you’re stressed or nervous or whatever, I want to talk about it.”
“I did a line,” Alex says. “That’s it. It calmed me down.”
“But you had it on you,” Kelley clarifies. Alex doesn’t respond. “Do you get why I’m not super thrilled about this?”
“Because you’re a square?” Alex says teasingly.
“That’s not funny,” Kelley says. “Why can’t I be worried about you? Why can’t you accept that I want what’s best for you?”
“Because part of wanting what’s best for me is trusting me when I say everything is okay.”
“Well I don’t.”
“You don’t have to be a bitch about it.”
“When I’m nice you ignore me!” Kelley exclaims. “If we had kids, would you want them doing cocaine?”
“We don’t want kids.”
“That’s not the point! If I told you I was going to go out with some friends after dark and drive the wrong way on the highway, you’d think I was fucking crazy. And I hope you’d do everything you could to stop me.”
“How is that at all the same thing?” Alex asks.
“I only do it once a week,” Kelley says, putting on an affected voice that sounds nothing like Alex but gets her point across. “I didn’t pay for the car or the gas. Nothing has ever happened to me before. All my friends do it. It’s no big deal, why are you freaking out?”
“You sound like such an asshole,” Alex says, her lip quivering. “You don’t have to be mean to me. You know how hard last year was for me.”
“Enough excuses,” Kelley says. “I was there for you through everything. Even when you slept through my game because you were on a fucking coke bender.”
Alex’s eyes widen.
“As if I didn’t know,” Kelley scoffs, sliding out of bed and fumbling around for her clothes. “Wake up, Alex. You’re an addict. I bet if I look in your purse right now—”
“Don’t!” Alex shrieks, grabbing Kelley’s wrist to stop her. “Please stop!”
“What are you so scared of?” Kelley exclaims. “That I’ll find out you’re a liar? Christen was right, you’ve been manipulating me for—”
“Christen?” Alex asks. “You talked to Christen about me?”
“I clearly can’t talk to you!”
“Go home,” Alex says. “Get out of my apartment. I can’t believe you would do that to me. It’s not enough that the entire world thinks I’m a slut, now you have to make it your mission to get all your friends to think I’m a drug addict?”
“Think?” Kelley exclaims.
“Get out!” Alex screams, throwing Kelley’s bra at her.
Kelley is shaking when she closes Alex’s door behind her, crumpling to the ground in tears.
“You were right,” comes Alex’s text at 4:43 a.m. Kelley is still awake, but Alex is still typing. “I have a problem. Please come back.”
“I need the night,” Kelley replies.
“I did a lot of coke and I’m freaking out,” Alex says. “I’ve never been this bad, please come back.”
Kelley doesn’t bother to put her bra back on before she’s speeding down the highway back to Alex’s.
“I flushed the rest,” Alex cries against Kelley’s chest when she bursts through the door. “I’m so sorry.”
“Ali Cat,” Kelley says softly, using a nickname reserved for the most tender of moments as she rubs Alex's back. “I’m scared.”
“Me too,” Alex sobs. Her heart is racing, and no amount of circles Kelley can rub into her skin can slow it down.
“I’m taking you to the hospital.”
“No!” Alex insists. “I promise I’m okay. I’m just coming down and everything hurts.”
Kelley holds Alex tight against her, willing her heart to slow down. “Can I run you a bath?”
Alex nods into her neck, her fingers gripping at Kelley’s shoulderblades. “I’m sorry I yelled at you,” she says between sobs. “I love you so much.”
“I know,” Kelley says. “I love you too. More than anything.”