Three weeks into Alex’s rehab, Kelley is finally getting used to getting sporadic phone calls a couple times a week and sleeping in the office upstairs because the bed she shares with Alex feels much too big.
On their first phone call, Alex tells Kelley she already knows that the world knows, but that she’s not worried, saying that she’s trying to let go of the shame. Every phone call after is mostly catching up, so casual and light-hearted that Kelley almost forgets the situation.
She can’t forget it when she gets on Skype for their first family therapy session, though. It’s her first time seeing Alex, who isn’t wearing any makeup but looks healthier and more glowing than she has in ages.
“You look beautiful,” Kelley says, ignoring the therapist in the room.
“You do too,” Alex says, her lip trembling. “I miss you so much.”
“I miss you too, baby,” Kelley says.
“Um, this is Dr. Meyer,” Alex says.
“Yeah, we spoke on the phone,” Kelley replies. “Nice to meet you for real.”
“It’s nice to meet you too,” Dr. Meyer says. “Thank you for taking the time to meet with us. I’ll let Alex fill you in on some of the things we’ve been working on, but one thing we’ve discussed is how she feels her addiction has impacted you negatively. I’d like to get your input on that.”
“All I want is for Alex to get better,” Kelley says. “I’m not worried about myself.”
“Of course,” Dr. Meyer says. “That’s what we all want. But before we can get there, everyone needs to be on the same page. Alex, why don’t you tell Kelley what we’ve been working on?”
“We’ve been setting goals and talking about my motivation to get better,” Alex says. “A lot of them are career-oriented, but the main ones have to do with being a better partner to you and not holding you back.”
“I know about France,” Alex says. “I found the card in your bag and I was curious, so I called him saying I was your agent.”
“You what?” Kelley exclaims.
“I’m sorry,” Alex continues. “I know it was wrong. I was worried, though. It was right after we moved and I knew you didn’t trust me and I was scared that you’d lose interest or get tired of my baggage. But he told me you turned him down, and I know it’s because of me.”
Kelley sighs. “It wasn’t just because of you.”
“But at least a little bit,” Alex says. “Enough where you didn’t even talk to me about it.”
“I was never considering it.”
“Yeah, because you didn’t want to leave your drug addict girlfriend alone in another country while you went,” Alex says. “I don’t want to be the reason—even if I’m just one of the reasons—for you not to do something that could really help your career. Or something that you want to do for the experience.”
“Okay,” Kelley says. “That’s fair. Maybe I would have considered it in a different situation.”
Dr. Meyer scribbles something on her notepad. “That’s good,” she says. “This is a safe space. As long as you aren’t using attacking language, it’s important to acknowledge the way Alex’s addiction affects you both. That will empower Alex to keep her sobriety and it’ll empower you, Kelley, not to enable her addiction.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever enabled that,” Kelley says, furrowing her brow. “I wanted her to get better, I always have. She knows that.”
Dr. Meyer smiles gently. “We can enable our loved ones even when our intentions are pure,” she says. “Sometimes the people we love most are the hardest to help. That’s how we end up letting their falsehoods go unchecked and we fail to hold them accountable. That’s what these sessions are all about. Do you understand?”
Kelley nods, looking toward Alex, who’s chewing on her lip. “Yes.”
“Great,” Dr. Meyer says. “Alex, why don’t you go ahead and talk about your goals in a little more detail?”
The first therapy session goes as well as can be expected, but it also fills Kelley with a sense of dread for what comes next. She’s been so entrenched in Alex’s life and addiction in the past two years in so many ways she didn’t even realize, and while the session gave her a ton of insight into Alex’s progress and how to help keep her on track when she comes home in a few weeks, it also made her wonder why Alex would even keep her around.
It doesn’t help that she has to go straight to National Team camp after, where everyone wants to know how she’s holding up. “Not well” isn’t the answer they want to hear, so she has to lie.
Not only that, but every reporter has her first on their media availability requests. She takes great joy in declining everyone who has written anything about Alex in the past few weeks.
Her saving grace is rooming with Christen, one of the only people who knows the full extent of Alex’s situation.
“You did the right thing,” she reminds Kelley over and over. “So did Alex. In a few years you'll look back on this and not believe this was real life.”
“I kind of don't believe it now,” Kelley admits.
Kelley doesn't start either one of the friendlies, but she subs in at halftime for the first and in the 75th minute for the second, allowing her some solid minutes, including an assist on a first cap goal for one of the rookies in the second game, a day that marks Alex’s 30th “official” day of sobriety. She got to rehab on Friday the 13th, and because her favorite number is 13, she decided to roll with it.
In the media scrum after the second game, she flinches hearing Alex’s name, but she clearly and confidently answers all questions about the game and how proud she is of her NWSL team for their championship while pointedly ignoring the others.
She has a voicemail from Alex that she listens to when she gets back to the hotel.
“Hi, baby, it's me,” Alex says. “We watched you play again tonight. I'm so proud of you. Oh, you'd be so proud, I was explaining the offside rule to everyone here, remember like two years ago when I was completely oblivious about soccer? I tried to get them to let me call you later than usual, but it was a no go. Hopefully I get to hear your voice tomorrow. I had a good weekend, I think I'm making really good pull-up progress in the gym. Maybe we’ll have to have a competition when I get back.” She laughs. “You'll always crush me I'm pretty sure. Well, anyway. I should get going, but I miss you and I love you. I can't believe how soon I get to see you. I'm almost nervous, is that weird? Okay, really gotta go. Love you, bye.”
Kelley listens to the voicemail ten times before finally going to sleep.
Kelley can’t remember the last time she didn’t spend Thanksgiving at home. They hadn’t finalized their Thanksgiving plans this year, but because they spent last year with Kelley’s family, it was likely they’d spend this one with Alex’s. Kelley would take that over what they’re actually doing any day, but she gets to spend Thanksgiving with Alex, and that’s what matters.
It’s an eerie feeling to pull up to the same place she dropped Alex off six weeks ago without Alex, and weirder still that Alex isn’t right where she left her, standing in the foyer of the main building.
“Kelley!” Trista greets her with a hug. “I’m so glad to see you again.”
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Kelley says, shrugging her overnight bag over her shoulder. “Where should I—”
“Oh, I’ll take that, we can put it in your room for you,” she says, trading Kelley’s bag for a visitor’s badge to pin on her shirt. “Are you hungry? Dinner isn’t ready yet, but everyone is enjoying hors d’oeuvres on the porch, and I think there might be someone out there who’ll be excited to see you.”
Kelley’s heart is pounding with nerves, but she smiles at the prospect of seeing Alex as Trista leads her through the halls toward the back porch, the one with the amazing view she had seen online and visualizes every time she talks to Alex on the phone.
She has tunnel vision as soon as she steps outside, though, because she can’t see anything but Alex, who’s smiling as she drinks from a water bottle and talks to a man Kelley thinks must be Kyle or Ben, two of the guys Alex has befriended from group therapy.
When Alex looks toward her, her entire face lights up and she excuses herself, pointing toward Alex, who the guy grins at knowingly.
“You’re here,” Alex breathes, wrapping her arms around Kelley’s neck and pulling her in tight to her body.
“I’m here,” Kelley murmurs into her neck. “You look so good, sweetheart.”
“I feel so good,” Alex says, but her breaths are uneven as she tries not to cry. “I never want to let go of you.”
“Me neither, baby,” Kelley says, kissing her cheek before pulling back to look Alex in the eyes. She wipes a tear from Alex’s cheek and smiles. “Are you going to show me around and introduce me to all your friends?”
To nobody’s surprise, Alex is apparently the most popular girl in rehab, not only among the other residents, but also the entire staff. She manages to sweet talk the chef into giving her an extra slice of pie after their Thanksgiving feast and convinces Trista that Kelley should be able to use the gym without signing a waiver because she’s a professional athlete.
Alex shows Kelley her new pull-up talent, and even though she can only do two at a time, her form could give most of Kelley’s teammates a run for their money.
“I didn’t know you were getting ripped in here,” Kelley teases as they run next to each other on the treadmills. “Are you gearing up to challenge me to a fight or something? I think you could take me.”
“Oh yeah,” Alex laughs. “I could definitely pin you down.”
“You could do that before.”
“Only because you didn’t fight.”
“I’d never fight a beautiful girl on top of me.”
“Never?” Alex asks. “That’s a little concerning.”
“You’re the only beautiful girl I see.”
Alex smirks, looking over her shoulder as the door opens.
“Sorry to interrupt, ladies,” a staff member named Lauren says. “It’s almost time for lights out.”
Alex pouts as she towels off, putting her arm around Kelley’s shoulders while they walk down the hall. “I hate sleeping without you.”
“Me too,” Kelley says. “Just one more night, though. Tomorrow’s the big day.”
Alex forces a smile. “Yeah,” she says.
“Are you ready?” Kelley asks softly.
Alex nods. “I’m ready to be home and be with you and get back to work. But I’m a little scared too.”
Kelley nods. They’d talked about that a little bit in their last family therapy session, but now that she’s actually seen the way Alex’s life in here looks, she understands a little better.
“This is my room,” Alex says, motioning to the door.
Kelley smirks. “I’m right down the hall. Want me to sneak over later?”
Alex shakes her head, smiling. “I wouldn’t be able to contain myself,” she says. “And my bed is kind of creaky.”
“Darn,” Kelley says. “Well… good night, I guess.”
“Good night,” Alex replies, dipping down to kiss Kelley softly on the lips. “I love you.”
Before Alex can check out the next day, she has an exit interview with some of the staff and her therapist while Kelley meets with one of the family-specific therapists on the deck outside.
“I’m sure you’re ready to get home,” says the doctor, who asked to be referred to by her first name, Piper. “This can be exhausting for a lot of loved ones, being out of the normal routine.”
“We don’t really have a normal routine,” Kelley confesses. “I mean, we both travel a lot for work, but when we’re both home we get to spend a lot of time together, so I do miss her a lot.” She pauses for a second. “Can I ask you something?”
“Of course,” Piper replies. “That’s what I’m here for.”
“I’m worried that we’re going to get back and she’s going to associate me with her old life and not want to be with me anymore. I don’t want to put any pressure on her or make her adjustment back to real life any harder than it has to be, but that scares me, and I just don’t know what to do.”
Piper smiles gently. “It’s true, a lot of people leaving rehab find it helpful to change up their surroundings so they aren’t tempted, but I personally don’t see it as often with the people who actually brought them in for help. One of the things we emphasize here is that you don’t have to be a completely new person or start a completely new life unless you want that. Most people find consistency to be much more helpful. It’s about being a better version of yourself every day and surrounding yourself with people who can help you do that.”
“The main thing I can tell you is that people don’t realize how many problems can be solved just by talking,” Piper continues. “We work on communication here a lot, how to ask for the support you need, how to be a better friend, partner, family member. The best thing you can do for Alex—and for yourself—is make sure those lines of communication are always open. If she tells you something that’s hard for you to hear, listen and ask questions about how you can solve the problem. If she’s talking to you, she wants you to either just know or help. Ask her what she needs and do whatever you can to meet that need.”
“Do you think she’ll really stay better?” Kelley asks softly.
“I’m not her doctor, so I don’t have that sort of insight,” Piper says. “I’m not going to pretend recidivism isn’t a concern, but again, communication is key. You know Alex better than even her therapist does, probably. Have you ever seen a therapist?”
“Uh, I’ve done the sessions with Alex.”
Piper smiles. “Some family members find it really helpful to talk to someone.”
Kelley shrugs. “I just want Alex to be better.”
“Of course, but don’t you think it would benefit her for you to take good care of your own mental health?” Piper asks. “It’s certainly not a requirement, just a suggestion.”
“I guess,” Kelley says. “If it would help her, I’d try anything.”