When Kelley fills Christen in on everything that happened when she confronted Alex (a few weeks later, as Alex is still smarting from the knowledge that Kelley told her and HAO everything), Christen is skeptical at best. Kelley can't blame her, but she's grateful that Christen gives Alex a chance.
The season kicks into gear faster than anyone expects, and soon Kelley is off to Europe for National Team friendlies while Alex stays in LA, by herself for the first time in months.
“I'll be okay,” Alex promises when she drops Kelley and Christen at the airport. “Amy and I are going to take Ryan to Disneyland, and I might go stay with my parents for a few nights after that. And I'm going to force whoever I'm with to watch your game.”
“Good,” Kelley says. “I love you, okay?”
“‘Kay,” Alex says with a smirk, accepting Kelley’s kiss on the cheek. “Go kick ass, buddy.”
The difference between Coked-Up Alex and Clean Alex has been remarkable. The worst fight she and Kelley have gotten in since is over whose turn it was to do the dishes (it was Kelley’s), and even that ended in a sudsy makeout session on Alex’s counter. Kelley spends more nights at Alex’s than at her own apartment (not that Christen complains), and just last week Alex mentioned her lease being up soon and that maybe possibly Kelley should come house-hunting with her (they table that discussion till Kelley gets back).
Something about being in Europe feels romantic without the actual romance. Maybe it's the freshness of the air in comparison to LA smog, or maybe it's just the break from the day-to-day grind of club training, but Kelley almost feels like she's on vacation. She feels herself playing freer in training than she has in years, and her club chemistry with Christen carries over big time and gets recognized with starts for both of them over Sweden, where they combine for a few big chances and one big goal in the 72nd minute.
The cross feels perfect when it hits the inside of Kelley’s foot, and when she sees Press’ face as it falls to her, she knows it's going in the back of the net.
“Yes!” Kelley cheers, pumping her first in the air as soon as the ball is over the line.
Christen runs to her and jumps in her arms. “Best teammate ever!” she shouts as the rest of their team gathers around to hug them.
In the post-game press scrum, Kelley beams as reporters ask her about the assist and her chemistry with Christen.
“I'm always excited to get on the score sheet, but when you've got Christen Press waiting on the end of your crosses and always ready to make the runs she needs to make for the team, it's always just a matter of time,” Kelley says.
“How do you think your move to LA has impacted your game?”
“Oh wow,” Kelley exhales. When she thinks about LA, she thinks about Alex. “Moving to LA has changed everything,” she says. “Not just for me as a player, but as a person. I had such an amazing experience in New Jersey, and I'm so grateful for my time there, but sometimes you just need a change in scenery, you know? I don't think anyone should stay in one place for too long, really. There's no such thing as a plateau when the competition is this high. If you aren't growing, you are falling back.”
“That’s all, guys, thanks,” Aaron Heifetz, their team media coordinator, says as he shuffles Kelley back toward the locker room.
“Thanks, everyone,” Kelley says, waving.
“Good game today,” says a man Kelley doesn’t recognize. He has an accent—French maybe?—and he’s dressed in a suit. He extends his hand for her to shake, and Heif doesn’t pull her away, so she accepts it. “I liked what you said about growth in your game.”
“Oh, thanks…” Kelley has to physically stop herself from saying “dude.”
“My name is Jean-Michel Aulas,” the man says. “I know who you are.”
“Oh,” Kelley says. “Um. Thank you?”
“Have you heard of a club called Olympique Lyonnais?”
Kelley laughs. “Yeah, of course,” she says. Lyon is only one of the most successful sides in women’s football.
“I’m the president,” he says. “We have a use for a player like you. If you’re looking for a chance to… change your scenery, like you said? I would be pleased to invite you for a trial.”
“Oh, wow,” Kelley says. “I’m, um, a bit committed right now—” She looks over her shoulder, but Heif is onto flirting with Christen somewhere in the tunnel.
Naturally, part of her explodes at the possibility of going to France and playing for Lyon, but the realistic part knows that talking to another club while still committed to her NWSL team is probably a no-no. Not only that, but she can’t leave Alex for that long to go that far. Like HAO always says, major tournaments are a bitch, and while some of that is the stress and pressure to win, most of it is plain and simple distance, something she and Alex only recently got rid of.
“Give me a call at the end of your season,” Jean-Michel says, handing her a business card. “I will be watching your play.”
“Thank you,” Kelley says again, looking down at the card, which is written in French with English translations. She rubs her thumb over the embossed letters and lets herself imagine for a moment what it would be like to play in France.
LA is comfortably in the middle of the table this season. They could make playoffs, and Kelley is competitive enough to make that push no matter what, but the team could get by without her next season, at least for a little while. She tries to remember what the French season is, but she comes up short, making a note to herself to look it up when she gets back to the hotel.
By the time she gets back to the hotel, though, Alex has free time to talk, and any thought other than “Alex Alex Alex” has fled Kelley’s mind.
“Hang on, I gotta go sit on the balcony, Ryan’s napping,” Alex whispers.
“Are you having fun?”
“Yeah,” Alex says in a more normal voice. Kelley can hear a sliding glass door shut behind her. “I love hanging out with him, but when he gets cranky I remember how happy I am to be able to give him back to his mom.”
“He loves his Aunt Alex,” Kelley says with a smile. “Have you flirted with any princesses?”
“Hmm,” Alex pretends to think. “Just a few. But I'm talking to the prettiest one now.”
Alex laughs. “We cheered for you,” she says. “I love watching you play.”
“I love when you watch me,” Kelley says, which she knows is corny, but that doesn't stop it from being true.
“I moved my trip to New York so I'll be home for your next game,” Alex says. “It's been so long since I got to see you all hot and sweaty in person.”
“Really? I feel like that was just a few days ago.”
“Ha ha,” Alex deadpans. “You're cute.”
“Tell me something I don't know.”
“Okay,” Alex says. “How about… I made an offer on a house today?”
“You what?” Kelley exclaims.
“Don't be mad,” Alex says. “I was talking to a realtor and she drove me and Allie and Amy around yesterday and we saw this gorgeous house in Calabasas and I chatted with the owner, who said it's going up on the market tomorrow. It's in our price range, and—”
“Our price range or yours?”
“Kel,” Alex sighs. “My price range is your price range, you know that.”
“You're the best for that, but I don't want you paying a ridiculous amount more for things we’re both using. We’re supposed to be partners.”
“You drive my Range Rover.”
“But I have my own car,” Kelley laughs. “I want to live with you, and I'm so excited to buy a house with you, but I don't want you being my sugar daddy.”
“But I like treating you,” Alex pouts.
“Taking me out to a nice restaurant is one thing, baby,” Kelley says. “Buying a whole house is another.”
“Will you at least come look at it with me?” Alex asks. “When you get back.”
“How much do you love it?” Kelley asks. “On a scale from like, decaf coffee to me.”
“What's supposed to be the high end?” Alex teases. “I don't love it quite as much as I love you, but I love it more than the way your biceps look when you flex in the captain’s armband.”
“Yeah, it's pretty serious.”
“I'll come look at it,” Kelley agrees. “But no promises. If it's too extravagant, you pull your offer and we look for something else. Together.”
“Deal,” Alex agrees. “But I know you're going to love it.”
“More than you in a bikini?”
“Mmmm, considering the pool in the back is very conducive to me being in a bikini all the time, I'm thinking a strong maybe.”
The house is pretty much perfect, which Kelley knows the second she walks through the door, her fingers intertwined with Alex’s. It's completely empty, but it somehow still feels like a home among the echoes.
It's modest by LA standards, but Kelley would never have even dreamed of living in a house like this when she was younger. It's an open floor plan, spacious but cozy, with high ceilings and a large kitchen and downstairs master bedroom with French doors that open up to the pool. The two guest bedrooms and bonus room upstairs mean their families will never have to fight over weekends to stay with them, and the pool area has a built in bar and grill, perfect for hosting an end-of-season team party.
“Can't you see me crushing you in gin rummy over a glass of wine out here?” Alex teases, kissing Kelley on the cheek as she takes in the sun setting on the lake behind what she knows will soon become their home.
“Yeah, and I can see myself throwing you in the lake when you talk too much shit.”
Alex giggles, wrapping her arms around Kelley’s shoulders. “You would never. You love me too much.”