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“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.

 

“Yes?”

 

“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.”

Chapter Text

Apparently the confirmation that Kelley absolutely would have hooked up with her had the stars aligned is all it takes for Alex to step completely over the line into heavy flirting territory. And Kelley doesn't do anything to stop it.

 

For weeks, their conversations get steamier and more suggestive. Alex alludes to “next time we see each other” a lot, peppering her texts with stories about her wild nights out and the people she goes home with. If she’s trying to whet Kelley’s appetite, it’s working.

 

She's FaceTiming with Ann the first time Alex ever sends her a scantily clad photo—that is, a poolside bikini selfie with only her arm covering her breasts—toward the end of August. The caption reads “bye bye tan lines,” and Kelley almost drops her phone in her hurry to screenshot it.

 

“Delete that!!!!!!!” Alex texts her seconds later. “Or I'll never send you another. And trust me, they get better.”

 

“I'm sorry, reflex,” Kelley replies, blushing furiously as she deletes it.

 

“Kel? You there?” Ann asks. “You've been paused forever.”

 

“Sorry,” Kelley says, switching back to FaceTime, where Ann is eating her lunch. She tries to swallow the lump of guilt in her throat, but she can't. Most of the time she doesn't feel like she's doing anything wrong with Alex—it's harmless flirting at best—but in moments like these, her conscience screams and screams until she goes on a five-mile run to shake it off.

 

That night, true to her word, Alex sends Kelley a better snap, which she clearly took in her bathroom as she was getting ready to go out.

 

“Jesus,” Kelley replies. “Are you trying to kill me?”

 

“Never,” Alex answers a few hours later. “I need you alive for what I plan to do to you next time we’re in the same city for a night.”

 

“Is that a threat or a promise?”

 

Alex sends back a freshly showered mirror selfie, smiling with her hair in a towel turban on her head while the rest of her nude body glistens in the light of her bathroom. “Who says it's not both?”

 

The next night, while FaceTiming with Ann, Kelley can't stop thinking about Alex, even with her girlfriend murmuring dirty things in her ear. When she finishes, she’s thinking about Alex’s snaps, barely hearing Ann’s moans and whimpers on the other end.

 

“Fuck,” Kelley breathes.

 

“I know,” Ann says softly.

 

“I gotta go.”

 

“Same.”

 

“Talk later?”

 

“Sure.”

 

They hang up without saying I love you. Kelley’s next call is to HAO.

 

“Hey!” HAO answers brightly.

 

“I think I'm cheating on my girlfriend.”

 

“What do you mean you think?”

 

Kelley lets out a long sigh before unloading everything that's happened over the past two months, from the messages after the World Cup to the beer pong to the near-sexting to what happened just now.

 

“Kel,” HAO breathes. “I don't know what I can tell you that you don't already know.

 

“Can you just tell me I'm not the worst person ever?”

 

HAO is silent a beat too long.

 

“God dammit.”

 

“It's not great, Kelley,” HAO says. “Of course you aren't the worst person ever, but I'm not exactly proud of you right now.”

 

“What do I do?”

 

“Do you love Ann?”

 

“Of course,” Kelley replies immediately.

 

“Then you have to tell her. And apologize and grovel and cut off all contact with the other girl.”

 

Kelley is nodding along until HAO gets to the last part. She can't do that. “What if I just tell Alex about Ann? And tell her it's inappropriate and we shouldn't talk like this anymore?”

 

“And not tell Ann?”

 

“Well…”

 

“No, Kelley,” HAO says. “If you love her, you tell her. If you want to be with her, you tell her. If you don't tell her, your relationship is going to go downhill so fast. And you can't talk to Alex and be with Ann. You can't, Kelley.”

 

“HAO,” Kelley whines. “What if the relationship is already over?”

 

“I can't tell you that,” HAO says with a sigh. “You know I'm going to be here for you no matter what. And I love you and support you no matter what. But if you’re asking my advice, I’m going to tell you to do the right thing, and I think you know what that is.”

 

-----------

 

Kelley doesn’t know what the right thing to do is because she doesn’t have a time machine to rewind back to March when she should have ended it to begin with. She can’t undo anything that’s been done with Alex. She can’t miraculously fix whatever is broken between her and Ann. All she can do is stop the bleeding, minimize the impact on everyone.

 

She calls Ann the next morning. She paces the floor of her bedroom, chewing on her lip as the phone rings, tries to build up the courage to say it as Ann fills the air with small talk. Finally, it bubbles to the surface in a quiet moment.

 

“We need to talk,” Kelley says, cringing as the words leave her mouth.

 

“Oh.” Ann knows already.

 

“I love you,” Kelley says. “So much. Our time together has been… I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. But—”

 

“The distance,” Ann sighs. “I know.”

 

Kelley stops pacing. “Yeah,” she says. “It’s just…”

 

“I know it’s hard,” Ann says. “I promise I’m going to try to be better about texting and I think I’m going to take a few days off next month so you can come visit when the season is over and I’ll actually be there to show you around.”

 

“Ann,” Kelley sighs. “That’s not—you’re already good, that’s not the problem. I’m the problem. I can’t be the girlfriend you need me to be.”

 

“You are,” Ann says. “We can both do better.”

 

Kelley squeezes her eyes shut. “I just think the relationship is coming to its natural end,” she says. “I don’t want either one of us to waste our energy trying to revive something that’s already dead.”

 

Ann is silent on the other end. “You don’t want to even try?”

 

“We’ve been trying.”

 

“No, Kelley, I’ve been trying,” Ann says sharply. “You’ve been busy with the World Cup and then busy with Sky Blue and busy with appearances and your roommates and your teammates and the Victory Tour. If you want to admit you haven’t been trying and that it’s you who wants to end it over the phone with your girlfriend of two and a half years because you’re too selfish to get on a damn plane and do it in person, then fine. But don’t make this a we thing because I still love you and I still want to make this work.”

 

“Don’t call me selfish!” Kelley exclaims, even though she knows that’s exactly what she’s being.

 

“You’re allowed to live your own life, with or without me,” Ann says, her voice breaking. “But I’ve tried. So at least own up.”

 

“I know,” Kelley says. “I know you’ve tried. I’m just… I’m ready.”

 

“Got it,” Ann says, hanging up the phone.

 

The tears filling Kelley’s eyes surprise her, because she really thought she could get through this without crying. She knows she loves Ann as much as she knows it’s time to end the relationship, and she doesn’t know which one wins out in the end. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but what if she just spoke to the person she loves for the very last time?

 

Without thinking, she dials Ann back. It goes straight to voicemail. She tries twice more before finally leaving a message. “I’m sorry,” she says, her voice cracking. “I’m so sorry.”

 

---------

 

Kelley handles the break-up worse than she anticipated. She doesn’t play well in training for a week straight, and she bails on family dinner with her roommates in favor of walking on the beach alone till sundown. She doesn’t answer HAO’s calls after texting her “we broke up,” but she texts back to assure her that she’s okay, or she will be anyway.

 

She beats herself up more for being upset because it just means Ann was right: She is selfish. She wants to avoid the pain of ending a relationship but won’t give up her friendship with Alex (the one Ann will never know about, if Kelley has it her way).

 

Ann unfollows her and every one of her friends on social media, which doesn’t surprise Kelley, but it still catches her off guard. Even if she wanted to reach out to her, how quickly would Ann completely erase her from her consciousness? How soon until Kelley becomes an “oh yeah, I dated an athlete once… those egos, am I right?” anecdote on a first date?

 

The only thing in her life that isn’t impacted by the break-up is Alex. Their conversations are mostly surface level, but they make Kelley feel light and carefree.

 

“I’ve never met anyone like you,” she says one day while she's on the team van to the airport for their trip to play Seattle. It's a diversion from the usual casual flirtation, but Alex rolls with it.

 

“Oh God,” Alex replies. “Why’s that?”

 

“You’re just so confident,” Kelley says. “You’re gorgeous and talented and driven and you know your worth. You intrigue me.”

 

“It takes a lot to make me blush, but that did it,” Alex replies with a blushing emoji. “You intrigue me too. I also have a working theory about you.”

 

“Care to share?”

 

“I think you're probably really great in bed, but it will take a couple tries for me to see the full extent of it.”

 

Kelley’s heart picks up in pace as she tries to come up with a breezy way to respond. “Already planning for more?”

 

“Absolutely,” Alex says. “A one-night stand would be wasted on you. I only have those when I'm desperate. When I'm really attracted to someone (Exhibit A: you), I like to take my time. You know, fully appreciate everything you have to offer ;)”

 

Kelley’s stomach tightens as she shifts in her seat, crossing her legs and lowering her head so nobody in the van sees her blush. “So when can I expect to see that in action?”

 

“ASAP if not sooner… I’d fly to you right now if you'd have me.”

 

Kelley smiles to herself, lifting her head again. “I think I have a better idea.”

 

---------

 

Giving up a late goal for a Seattle draw is the farthest thing from Kelley’s mind when she lands at LAX just after midnight. She texts Alex when she gets into the Uber to take her to the hotel she booked before the game, her stomach pulsating partly with nerves and partly because she's starving.

 

Alex is there when she arrives, waiting at the hotel bar in a short dress, her long legs dangling off the seat. She's stirring a drink that's mostly water now and making friendly conversation with the bartender, who looks none too pleased with Kelley’s arrival, especially when Alex hops off her chair to embrace her in a tight hug.

 

“You're here,” Alex murmurs into her ear. “I’d kiss you, but I don't want an audience.”

 

Kelley smiles at the bartender over Alex’s shoulder before pulling away. “Can I take care of your tab?”

 

Alex smirks. “What tab?” she asks. “If you're paying for drinks in this city, you're doing it wrong.” She turns her head to wink and wave at the bartender, who seems to be accepting his fate. “Let’s go upstairs.”

 

Kelley has already resigned herself to waiting for a kiss till they're in her room, but as soon as the elevator doors close, Alex is pulling her in for a soft, wet, filthy kiss that takes her breath away.

 

“God I can't wait to see what else you can do with that tongue,” Alex murmurs when she finally pulls away from a stunned Kelley.

 

She doesn't have to wait long to find out because she wastes no time slipping out of her dress when they get to Kelley’s room. Kelley is still mostly clothed when she makes Alex come for the first time, gripping at the sheets and screaming like there's nobody trying to sleep in the next room. She might be putting on a show, but Kelley isn't complaining as she slips her fingers out of Alex and brings them to Alex’s lips for her to suck on hungrily.

 

“My God,” Alex breathes, her chest heaving as she tries to come back down. “Fuck. Holy shit.”

 

Kelley moves so she's lying beside Alex, kissing her shoulders softly before moving to her neck and nipping it with her teeth between kisses. Her hand moves over Alex’s stomach and up to her breasts, playing with them mindlessly.

 

“They feel real, don't they?” Alex laughs.

 

“What?”

 

“My boobs,” Alex says.

 

Kelley can't tell if she's joking, and her face must show that judging by how Alex laughs again.

 

“I was like 23,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I was such a naive little idiot for letting my manager talk me into it. But he paid for them, so whatever.”

 

“Is that not a weird thing for a manager to suggest to his client?”

 

“Oh, totally inappropriate,” Alex says. “But so was fucking him, and I did that a few times too.”

 

Kelley raises her eyebrows.

 

“He was 35 when we met,” Alex says. “I was in way over my head. But that's over. The sex and the being my manager thing. He was so focused on me being this major sex symbol and didn't really care what I wanted. Our contract ended in January, and I told him I was going in a different direction.”

 

“That seems like a complicated breakup.”

 

“You have no idea,” Alex says, rolling her eyes. “He was the one who, like, discovered me or whatever. But he took it fine, I guess, minus telling me I would never get half the success I would if I stuck with him. But then my first gig under my new management ended up being Coca-Cola, and clearly that worked out well. I got to meet you.”

 

“You aren't sleeping with your new manager, are you?”

 

“God no,” Alex says. “She's very straight. As is my agent, whose husband I can't stand, but they have the cutest twin babies. I'm still working on nailing down a publicist, and to be fair the one I'm considering is a super hot lesbian, but I think I'm done mixing business with pleasure.”

 

“Too bad, I was going to ask you for a job,” Kelley teases.

 

“I would hire you to do what you just did to me all the time if it weren't illegal.”

 

“Don't worry, I’m happy to do that for free.”

 

Alex murmurs, shifting her body so she's straddling Kelley’s hips. “I can think of better ways to repay you anyway.”

Chapter Text

Kelley and Alex only find a stopping point when both of their stomachs are growling and they decide to make an In ‘N’ Out run. As much as Kelley likes sleeping with Alex, she enjoys watching Alex inhale a burger and fries (her own and what’s left of Kelley’s) and talking with her till the sun comes up even more. As soon as Kelley touches down in New Jersey after a whirlwind 12 hours, she has a text from Alex.

 

“So… turns out I have an event in NYC this weekend… Round 2?”

 

“I think we’re well on our way to losing track of ‘rounds,’” Kelley replies. “But I could definitely make myself available for you.”

 

“Good,” Alex says. “I’m going through withdrawals already.”

 

“Was it that good?”

 

“I’m still testing my theory on you,” Alex replies. “But if it gets much better, I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it.”

 

“Well, if it’s for science…” Kelley concedes.

 

---------

 

“Am I naive for thinking we could work?” Kelley murmurs against Alex’s neck in her hotel room in Times Square.

 

“I don’t think you’re naive,” Alex whispers. “Out of your mind? Maybe.”

 

“Why?” Kelley insists, propping herself up on her elbow. “My season is over. Other than National Team camps, I basically have the next six months off. What better time to get to really know each other?”

 

“Maybe when my life isn’t a chaotic mess,” Alex laughs. “You don’t want to be with me.”

 

“Well I know I want to keep sleeping with you.”

 

“I sleep with a lot of people,” Alex laughs.


“So you just don’t want to be exclusive.”

 

“I don’t know,” Alex says. “Not really. I like you, don’t get me wrong. But why don’t we just… roll with it?”

 

“I’m not asking you out,” Kelley says, her face flushing. “I’m just trying to get inside your head a little bit.”

 

“You sure you want that? It’s a scary place,” Alex says, turning her head to kiss Kelley on the lips.

 

“I like it a lot,” Kelley assures her. “You’re brilliant. And funny.”

 

“And hot.”

 

“That much is clear.”

 

“And my brilliance isn’t?”

 

“Not unless you get the chance to really know you,” Kelley says.

 

“Fine,” Alex sighs. “You caught me. I like you a little bit.”

 

“I like you more than a little bit,” Kelley replies. “But this is good. You know, the sex. The non-exclusive sex.”

 

“You make it sound so crude.”

 

“You literally sent me a naked Snapchat from someone else’s bed the other night.”

 

“She was in the shower!” Alex exclaims. “And you definitely weren’t complaining at the time.”

 

Kelley smiles to herself, tracing patterns over Alex’s arm. “I just don’t want to be some girl you hooked up with a few times and never think about again.” She doesn’t say the full truth out loud, but her thoughts are screaming inside her head: I want to mean something to you.

 

“That’s ridiculous,” Alex says. “I don’t think our paths were meant to cross just once. Even the fact that you get my lifestyle is a huge bonus. I’m back in bed with you for the second time in a week, aren’t I?”

 

“Yes,” Kelley says, smirking. “Have I told you how much I appreciate that?”

 

“You’ve showed me a few times,” Alex says. “But I wouldn’t mind if you showed me some more.”

 

-------

 

“I got my Halloween costume today,” Alex texts Kelley the Tuesday before Halloween. “I have a feeling you're going to love it.”

 

“Haha, send me a pic!” Kelley replies.

 

“No can do,” Alex says. “Top secret. You're just going to have to come visit this weekend.”

 

The last two months have been just like this—one of them making up a reason the other should visit pretty much every weekend. Alex has been to the East Coast far more than Kelley has been to see her, but Alex has meetings and work in New York way more often than Kelley has any reason to be in LA.

 

Their visits have evolved from hours and hours spent in bed and ordering room service to holding hands in Central Park watching the leaves change over the course of several weeks, sipping hot chocolate on the cooler days and iced pumpkin spice lattes on the days when New York forgets what season it is.

 

Alex has warned Kelley about crazy Hollywood parties, but the two times Kelley has been in LA, she’s spent the majority of the time drinking green juice and sunbathing by the rooftop pool in Alex’s building. She has a feeling Halloween weekend will be different.

 

“I can be there Saturday night,” Kelley replies with a screenshot of the flight she's about to book. All it takes is a thumbs up emoji from Alex for her to press “Book Now.”

 

After a missed connection and two too many flight delays, an exhausted Kelley finally collapses into the front seat of Alex’s car around 10:00 on Saturday night.

 

“You poor thing,” Alex says, leaning over the console to press a small kiss to Kelley’s lips. “Are you sure you want to go out?”

 

“I know I want to see your costume,” Kelley says, squeezing Alex’s knee. “And meet your friends. And drink.”

 

“Perfect,” Alex says with a smirk. “I can definitely arrange for all of that.”

 

-----

 

“I change my mind. We’re staying in.”

 

As soon as Alex steps out of the bathroom in her Halloween costume, Kelley doesn't even want to think about other people or drinking. She's pretty sure she's never been as high as she feels looking at Alex all dolled up with her hair in a high, tight ponytail and wearing ridiculously short black shorts and a black and white striped referee jersey, a whistle dangling from her neck.

 

Her tan legs stretch for miles under her shorts until they reach her platform heels that leave her towering above Kelley, who felt pretty solid about her Wonder Woman costume till now.

 

Alex laughs. “We’re going out,” she insists. “Then you get to take me home. But you have to be good or else…” She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a yellow and a red card.

 

Kelley’s jaw drops. “You're ridiculous,” she laughs. “A piece of work.”

 

“Come on, Wonder Woman,” Alex says, dropping a kiss to Kelley’s lips. “We’re already late.”

 

-----

 

Kelley is perpetually on time (and therefore early) to parties, and unless she's already drunk and/or surrounded by close friends, she always feels a little awkward, but when she strolls into the club where apparently Alex is actually hosting the party (read: getting paid a lot of money to be there), she feels like part of the “in crowd” for the first time.

 

Being Alex’s date means no cover, bottle service, and a wristband to get into all the VIP areas that she never would have even known existed if she just walked into the club on her own.

 

The first person Kelley meets is Amy, Alex’s manager, a nice petite blonde who basically tells Alex where to go and what to do to fulfill all her obligations at this event. Then she meets Nina, her publicist, a fast-talking woman with a Brooklyn accent who is only really at the party for fun because most of her work is behind the scenes on a day-to-day basis. Then she meets a whirlwind of A-listers, B-listers, and so on, though she's not quite sure who's who. She tries to stay by Alex’s side as much as possible throughout the night because she was right: overwhelming doesn't even come close to describing this party.

 

Alex gets up to take some fan photos, and Kelley watches her out of the corner of her eye while she chats with Allie, a blonde with a Long Island drawl that mostly makes her sound like her tongue is stuck in molasses when she talks. She’s apparently Alex’s closest friend here, though, and she's really sweet, so Kelley plays nice.

 

Kelley watches as Alex gets intercepted by a guy in a suit who looks like he should be on Entourage. His fedora, fake tan, and goatee really solidify the douchebag vibe, but the cigar in his hand would do it otherwise. He has a tiny platinum blonde girl on his arm who seems to be going for Marilyn Monroe with her costume, but Kelley isn't entirely sure. She's probably just going with “whatever I look hottest in,” and to be fair, it's working. He kisses Alex on both cheeks before they part, and Alex rolls her eyes toward Kelley when she walks back and sees Kelley staring.

 

“That's Jonathan,” Alex says. “I’d introduce you, but I promise you don't want that.”

 

“Jonathan?”

 

“My old manager,” Alex says. “Complete dick, and he knows it. Apparently his date-slash-client landed a recurring role on some CW show. I think he was just trying to show me what I'm missing out on.”

 

“I think you're doing pretty alright for yourself,” Kelley says, leaning in for a quick peck.

 

“I agree,” Alex replies, pulling Kelley back in for a longer kiss. Kelley has a feeling this wouldn't be the case if they weren't in the VIP area, but she doesn't question it. “I need to go talk to a few more people before I'm officially off duty and can hang out like a normal person and dance with you. Are you good here?”

 

“Yeah, Allie’s taking good care of me,” Kelley assures her. “I'll be right here.” She gives Alex a final peck before she goes off to do her thing and turns back to Allie.

 

“You like her,” Allie says in her drawling monotone. “Good luck with that.”

 

“Excuse me?” Kelley’s cheeks turn pink.

 

“It's fine, she likes you too,” Allie says. “I just don't think she’ll know what to do about it unless you make the first move. Just saying.”

 

“I already—you think she really likes me?”

 

“Yeah, she talks about you all the time,” Allie says with a shrug. “Plus, since I've known her, the most I've ever heard about her having sex with someone is like five times, and that was over the course of like, three years.”

 

Kelley’s stomach flips the way it always does when she knows Alex is with someone else.

 

“I promise she didn't tell me to say any of this. I just thought you should know. Do whatever you want with that.”

 

Kelley nods, taking another sip of her drink as Allie effortlessly shifts the conversation to some new juice cleanse she's going to try for November. People in LA love their juice, Kelley is quickly learning.

 

------

 

Thirty minutes pass with no Alex, and Kelley feels herself getting antsy. “I'm going to go to the bathroom,” she says, standing up to excuse herself from the growing crowd of Alex’s casual acquaintances. She tries to text Alex, but there's no service in the crowded club. She curses herself for turning down the wifi password earlier (‘who needs wifi at a party?’ she had asked herself).

 

“Have you seen Alex?” she asks Mana, one of the girls she was briefly introduced to before.

 

“Oh, yeah, I think she's in the lounge,” Mana says without meeting Kelley’s eyes. She looks like she's scanning the room for someone herself, and she motions lazily behind her to signal where the lounge in question is.

 

“Thanks,” Kelley mumbles, walking down the hallway and trying not to stumble in her heels when they get caught on the sticky floors. Turns out fancy Hollywood bars aren't so different from the ones she goes to back home.

 

She hears faint talking and laughter down the hall beyond the bathrooms, so she heads toward it only to find a bouncer in her way.

 

“Sorry, miss, you can't go in there,” he says gruffly.

 

Kelley narrows her eyes and lifts up her wrist to show him her VIP wristband, which she was assured would give her access to everything.

 

“Oh, I'm sorry,” he says. “I didn't recognize you. I apologize for my mistake, Miss…”

 

“O’Hara,” Kelley says as he opens the door for her. “Thank you.”

 

She can't mistake the smell of marijuana when she walks in. In LA the scent almost lingers everywhere, but now it's so strong that she worries she could get a contact high and fail a surprise drug test. Still, this must be where Mana said Alex was, and Kelley just wants to check on her.

 

The room is dimmer than the rest of the club, and the first thing she sees clearly is a table lined with drinks that presumably belong to the people smoking pot and cigars.

 

Her brain can't exactly process what's happening when she finally sees Alex, who's sitting next to the douchey Entourage guy on a couch in front of the table and leaning forward to take a sip from the straw in front of her. Before she can process what she's just walked into, Alex takes a long, deep inhale through her nose before lifting her head and looking straight at Kelley.

 

She looks like a deer caught in the headlights, and when Kelley finally looks around, she understands why. Along with the drinks and joints and cigars, she catches a glimpse of what else is on the table: a white powder she's only ever seen in movies and heard about through friends much wilder than she is.

 

Kelley’s mouth goes dry, and she fumbles for the handle on the door to leave. She feels guilty, like she just got caught doing something she shouldn't.

 

“Kelley, wait!” Alex calls, standing up to run after her.

 

Kelley stops in the empty hallway, pacing back and forth in front of the bouncer, who doesn't look too concerned.

 

“Kel,” Alex says breathlessly, emerging into the hallway. “I'm sorry you had to see that. I didn’t—this isn't—”

 

“Was that cocaine?” Kelley hisses.

 

Alex glances at the bouncer, who now just looks slightly amused, and grabs Kelley’s arm. “Let’s go outside.”

 

Kelley feels like she's hyperventilating when she gets outside to the balcony, and she doesn't want to breathe deep anyway, still concerned about all the pot smoke in the air.

 

“Hey,” Alex says softly, stroking Kelley’s hair. “Relax. You're okay. It's okay. I'm sorry I didn't—I should have prepared you for something like that.”

 

“You're on drugs?” Kelley gasps, finally looking at Alex in the eye.

 

“Right now? I think that's obvious,” Alex says, laughing a little. “I'm sorry. Not funny. I'm not like—this isn't a regular thing for me.”

 

“Then why were you doing it?” Kelley exclaims.

 

“Baby,” Alex sighs.

 

Kelley clenches her jaw, none too happy that this is the first time Alex is calling her that.

 

“This is what I meant when I said Hollywood parties are a lot,” she continues. “I didn't want you to feel pressured or uncomfortable.”

 

“I'm a professional athlete, Alex! You aren't going to be able to pressure me into doing cocaine.”

 

“Well, I wasn't planning on trying,” Alex says defensively. “I know it's… jarring. I remember the first time I ever saw a drug harder than pot. It freaked me out entirely. This is honestly just Hollywood culture, you know? You get used to it.”

 

“Does Allie know? Does your manager?”

 

“Yeah,” Alex says. “I don't do it that much anymore. It's just Halloween, and everything's on a higher level than usual. I'm sorry I didn't talk to you about it before.”

 

Kelley holds the railing on the balcony to keep herself steady, finally feeling the alcohol she's been consuming all night.

 

“Let’s go home,” Alex says. “We can talk there. Are you mad at me?”

 

“No,” Kelley says instantly. It's the only thing she knows for sure. “I'm just confused. Really confused. And thrown off.”

 

“I know,” Alex says softly, lifting Kelley’s chin for a kiss.

 

Kelley pulls away. “I don't want to accidentally—”

 

“Catch my high?” Alex laughs. “It doesn't work that way. Come on, just a little kiss, no tongue even.” She pecks Kelley softly on the lips, keeping her promise. “Let me take you home, pretty girl.”

 

------

 

Kelley and Alex don't talk in the car back to Alex’s place, but Alex’s thumb rubs over the back of Kelley’s hand soothingly the whole time.

 

“Want to go to the Jacuzzi?” Alex asks, halfway done with stripping off her costume and changing into her bathing suit before she even gets an answer. “You can borrow a bikini.”

 

“Yeah, sure,” Kelley says absentmindedly, her head still spinning.

 

“Good, I think we could both use some fresh air,” Alex says. She grabs two bottles of Perrier from her fridge before leading Kelley to the roof, which is empty thanks to all the Halloween parties going on elsewhere.

 

Kelley slides into the hot tub opposite of where Alex sits. “I don't really know where to start.”

 

“Me neither,” Alex says. “I know seeing that bothered you, and I get that. Are you concerned?”

 

“I don't know,” Kelley says. “Like an hour ago I was talking to Allie about wanting you to be my girlfriend, and now I'm just so confused.”

 

“You want me to be your girlfriend?” Alex asks softly.

 

“I did,” Kelley says.

 

“Wow, it's that much of a deal breaker for you?”

 

“It's illegal!” Kelley exclaims. “I mean, I don't know! It just… it does sort of change my perception of you a little.”

 

“I'm the same person,” Alex says, hurt evident in her voice. “You liked me before you saw that.”

 

“Can you just say it?”

 

“What? Cocaine?”

 

Kelley cringes. “Yeah.”

 

“Here's what you need to understand,” Alex sighs. “I was 21 when Jonathan signed me and moved me here. Everything happened so fast, and this world was so new to me. I'm not blaming anyone but myself—I am an adult and I can make my own choices—but it was a lot of pressure to be cool and fit in. I had never felt that in high school or college, and suddenly it was everywhere. I tried pot, coke, ecstasy… if I was at a party and trying to impress people, I had to act like I'd been there before. Nobody ever knew I was completely new to it and totally in over my head.”

 

“Why didn't you leave?”

 

“Are you kidding? This is everyone’s dream. I had just graduated college and some guy thought I could be a model? I'm 5’7”! But he was right. I'm never going to be walking in New York Fashion Week, but I can do catalogue and commercial and whatever anyone wants to hire me for. And he has the connections. But it's also the 21st century and I can cultivate my—God, it's so gross to say it out loud—my brand on Instagram and social media and whatever. And obviously it worked out for me.”

 

“You're so smart and confident,” Kelley says, shaking her head.

 

“I wasn't always,” Alex says. “It was just last year I realized how toxic Jonathan was and started looking for a new manager. Amy is a godsend. Jonathan would take 25 percent of everything I booked, which is absolutely ridiculous, but he justified it by saying he was basically my agent and manager all in one. Amy takes 15 percent and my agent takes 10, which still adds up to 25, but I don't feel like I'm being taken advantage of anymore.”

 

“You didn't think you were being taken advantage of when he bought you new boobs and had sex with you?” Kelley asks drily.

 

“If you're going to be judgmental, why are we even having this conversation?” Alex asks, looking wounded.

 

“I'm sorry,” Kelley says, closing her eyes and leaning her head back to take a deep breath in. The air and steam from the hot tub feel so much cleaner entering her lungs than the air from the club did. “I'm not judging, I just don't like that guy. And I don't like hearing about what he did to you.”

 

“Water under the bridge,” Alex says. “We’re friendly, you saw.”

 

“I know,” Kelley says. “But he was also the one next to you when you were doing a line of cocaine. I feel like that's not a coincidence.”

 

Alex smiles sadly. “It's not,” she says. “I stopped doing it at all when I stopped working with him. Now it's just social. If it bothers you, I won't do it around you. I promise.”

 

“I'd rather you not do it at all,” Kelley says. “That's where I'm having reservations about the girlfriend thing. Not that you even—I mean, I'm not assuming—”

 

“Kelley,” Alex laughs. “I think it's kind of obvious that I'm into you in a big way. But I think tonight showed us that there's a lot we don't know about each other.”

 

“Is that a bad thing?” Kelley asks. “You know everything about me.”

 

“I don't know a single one of your exes’ names,” Alex says. “When you had your first kiss, who you lost your virginity to. I know you have a sister named Erin, but even that is just from Instagram stalking.”

 

“You don't know my parents’ names or where I went to college,” Kelley says. “I didn't know you did class A drugs. I feel like there's a bit of a difference there.”

 

“Stanford.”

 

Kelley groans. “I wish you weren't so cute.”

 

“You know, there's this new trend I heard about,” Alex says, scooting across the hot tub bench so she's by Kelley’s side. “It's all the rage, actually. It's this thing where you get to know the person you're interested in better before you dive headfirst into some ‘girlfriend’ craziness. I think it's called dating.”

 

“I think I might have heard of that,” Kelley murmurs, turning her head to kiss Alex softly. “Can I still do this if we date?”

 

“And so much more,” Alex says. “Maybe if you play your cards right I’ll put my referee outfit back on so you can take it off me after I give you a yellow.”

 

“You know, I'm not convinced you actually know how referee-player dynamics work.”

 

“So you're saying you've never hate-fucked a hot ref?”

 

“Is this the kind of thing you were talking about getting to know about me?”

 

“You're being awfully evasive.”

 

“Gonna give me a yellow for that?”

 

“That's not a bad idea.”

 

Kelley's laughs are swallowed by Alex’s lips as she straddles Kelley’s lap, her hands tangling in Kelley’s wet hair.

Chapter Text

Kelley makes it a personal rule not to check her phone on Thanksgiving due to the mass quantities of “Happy Thanksgiving!” texts that come through from everyone she's ever met (and some people she doesn't recall meeting, at least not well enough to have their numbers saved). Then there's the matter of the nonstop drinking that her family does after they complete their annual Turkey Tennis match. Irish Catholic family gatherings are no joke.

 

In addition to the 400 other texts Kelley has when she returns to her phone after dinner (part two), she has five from Alex.

 

“Hey, when will you be in Hawaii?”

 

“Happy Thanksgiving btw!”

 

“Never mind, just Googled. I could use a vacation next week…”

 

“Okay please confirm that this is okay with you so I don't look like a crazy person”

 

“Then again I guess sending five texts in a row would do that just as well”

 

Kelley can't help but smile as she presses the button to call Alex back.

 

“Hello?” Alex practically sings into the phone.

 

“Hey, Happy Thanksgiving, crazy lady,” Kelley laughs. “Sorry, my phone was upstairs all day.”

 

“What about all the people you haven't spoken to since high school waiting on the edge of their seats for your answer to their Thanksgiving texts?”

 

“See, you understand,” Kelley says.

 

“So, thoughts on Hawaii?”

 

“Uh, it sounds great to me,” Kelley says. “I'm just going to be practicing a lot and I'll have to stay with the team. But I can hang out with you when I'm off and let you know where we’re staying if you want to get a room there. And I can get you a ticket to the game, of course.”

 

“That would be awesome,” Alex says. “My friend Mana—remember, you met her on Halloween? She's from Honolulu, so I think we’re both going to go and just stay with her family.”

 

“Oh, that's awesome,” Kelley says. “I can get as many tickets as you need, just let me know.”

 

“Yay!” Alex exclaims. “I miss you.”

 

With both of their schedules picking up in pace just to slow down toward the holidays, they haven't seen each other in person since Halloween weekend, but that hasn't stopped their new dating venture. Every few days they set aside time for a FaceTime date, and Kelley finds herself falling harder for Alex every day. Just yesterday they had a coffee date where Kelley treated Alex by texting her a screenshot of the barcode in her Starbucks app. Modern romance.

 

“I miss you too,” Kelley says, settling into her pillows with her phone nestled between her ear and shoulder. “How's your holiday?”

 

“The usual, almost killed my sister over a card game,” Alex sighs. “I guess it's better that than talking politics, am I right?”

 

“Tell me about it,” Kelley laughs. “Jerry’s soon-to-be fiancée is for sure a Republican. I think he secretly is too.”

 

“Stay strong,” Alex says. “You looked cute in your little tennis outfit.”

 

Kelley laughs. “I'll make sure to bring it to Hawaii if you like it that much.” She can almost hear Alex’s nose scrunch up on the other end of the line, that's how familiar she's become with her reactions.

 

“Maybe not that much,” Alex laughs. “I'll take the Wonder Woman costume again though. That was fun last time.”

 

“Don't get me all worked up before I go back to hanging out with my family.”

 

“But that's the most fun,” Alex pouts. “I'll be nice because it's a holiday.”

 

“I'll see you soon,” Kelley says. “The game is Sunday the 6th, but I’ll be there on the 1st.”

 

“Then I'll see you on the 1st.”

 

-------

 

When Alex suggests they have dinner together on Kelley’s first night in Hawaii and their first night together in a month, she's not exactly expecting to be joined by Mana and her entire family. Still, if it weren't for them, Kelley probably would have opted for the hotel restaurant or something that looked safe and decent on Yelp, not the place where all the locals eat, which is where they end up.

 

Alex has wasted no time adjusting to island life, as evidenced by her bare face and strapless sundress. Kelley doesn't think she's ever looked so beautiful, and she tells her so, smirking as Alex blushes deep crimson. Kelley wears a short-sleeved button-up shirt with a Hawaiian pattern that she joked about wearing every day (but might actually mean it).

 

Mana orders for everyone, and they share their dishes family style. With apologies to Karen O’Hara, it's probably the most delicious meal Kelley has ever had, made even better by the company.

 

With the notable exception of Halloween, this is the first time Kelley has really seen Alex in her element around other people. She's just as witty even when she's toning herself down to a PG-13 level, and as soon as she finishes her dinner (and what's left of Kelley’s), her hand finds Kelley’s lower back, which she scratches mindlessly while they talk.

 

“Do you have any fun hometown tours planned for Alex?” Kelley asks Mana. “If I have time off, I’d love to get a tour from a local.”

 

“My friend actually has a surf competition on Maui this week, so I'm heading that way tomorrow for a few days,” Mana says. “But I can definitely show you around when I get back!”

 

“That means you're stuck with me during all your free time,” Alex teases, leaning in to kiss Kelley on the cheek.

 

“I guess I'll survive,” Kelley sighs, grabbing Alex’s hand under the table.

 

Their first chance to be alone comes when Alex goes back to the hotel with her to take a walk on the beach to watch the sun set. They walk hand in hand down the shore, and Alex carries her flip flops in her other hand and dips her feet in the water. The night is so quiet that they barely talk about a whisper the whole time.

 

“I wish I could stay with you tonight,” Alex murmurs, leaning her head on Kelley’s shoulder.

 

“Me too,” Kelley agrees. “Sadly, HAO might not love being kicked out of our room on the very first night.”

 

Alex pouts. “I'm sure she'd understand if we asked really nicely.”

 

Kelley smiles. “Who could say no to that face?”

 

“Exactly!”

 

“I want you to meet my teammates,” Kelley says, stopping for a second to dig her toes in the sand and look over the horizon.

 

“Yeah?” Alex hums. “I did meet a few of them, remember?”

 

“Yeah,” Kelley says. “But not as my girlfriend.”

 

Alex turns to face her. “Oh?”

 

“Do you think that's okay?” Kelley asks. “If that's how I introduce you from now on?”

 

“To your teammates?” Alex asks, a teasing smile spreading across her face.

 

“To everyone,” Kelley answers, blushing. “Will you be my girlfriend?”

 

“Absolutely,” Alex says, wrapping her arms around Kelley’s shoulders and pressing her lips to Kelley’s. “I love the sound of that.”

 

------

 

When the game in Honolulu is canceled due to turf conditions, Alex is bummed to miss her first time watching her girlfriend play, but she seizes her opportunities over the next few weeks to watch every game on TV. It pisses her off when Kelley doesn't start and when Kelley starts but  gets subbed off halfway, and she pretty much knows nothing about the game, but coming back to Alex’s live texts from the game always puts a smile on Kelley’s face.

 

“One of these days I'll learn the rules, but I don't like how that girl pushed you,” Alex says one night on the phone once Kelley is back home in Georgia for Christmas. “I do like when you push the other team though. That's pretty hot.”

 

“Noted,” Kelley laughs. “What do you want for Christmas?”

 

“Hmm,” Alex murmurs, pretending to think. “How does that Mariah Carey song go again?”

 

“Funny,” Kelley says. “My parents would not like it if I ditched them on Christmas to be with my girlfriend of three weeks.”

 

“Hey, it'll be three and a half by then!” Alex insists. “Besides, you can just tell them we've been together since July, which is basically true.”

 

Kelley chews on her lip, figuring right now probably isn't the best time to explain to Alex why that's not a good idea either. “So your Christmas gift.”

 

“Ugh,” Alex groans. “You're just like my mom.”

 

“Hot.”

 

“I want you to come to me for New Year’s Eve,” Alex says. “That's all.”

 

“Okay, done,” Kelley says. “That was easy.”

 

“The thing is, I'll be in London for an event.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Not so easy?”

 

“Hmm,” Kelley hums for a dramatically long time. “No, I'm still in. What good is having a girlfriend if you still don't get a New Year’s kiss?”

 

“My thoughts exactly,” Alex says. “I don't need any help shopping for you, by the way. I'm the best gift giver I know.”

 

“You’re setting the bar awfully high, my dear.”

 

“I know exactly what I'm doing.”

 

“I know you do,” Kelley says.

 

Kelley finds out she was right to trust Alex when she gets her present in London a few weeks later. Alex looks pretty good in just a few strategically placed Christmas bows, and she's way more fun to unwrap than a normal gift.

Chapter Text

Kelley thinks Alex might be more nervous for Olympic qualifiers than any of her teammates, which is mostly cute, but also a little stressful. They successfully completed a 5-0 rout of Costa Rica just a few days ago, but Alex reads up as much as she can on Mexico, and she feels less good about today’s game, she announces while Kelley is brushing her teeth in the bathroom.

 

“I just want to go to Rio,” Alex whines from her place lying on her stomach on Kelley’s hotel room bed.

 

“Me too, baby,” Kelley laughs, flopping down on her back beside her, close enough that she can pucker her lips and Alex will grant her a kiss, which she does. “But let’s focus on what we can control, which is what the hell we’re doing tomorrow for Valentine’s Day.”

 

“I've got that covered,” Alex promises. “You just focus on your game. Okay?”

 

“Yes, ma'am.”

 

------

 

It isn't their best game, but they do beat Mexico, much to Alex’s relief (she's now confident they will win the group), and Kelley manages to sweet talk her roommate into covering for her while she sleeps in Alex’s room a few floors up.

 

She wakes up to room service breakfast in bed and a girlfriend clad only in a bathrobe. Needless to say, the breakfast gets cold.

 

“I'm pretty happy you're my girlfriend,” Alex says with a grin as they walk through town. They hold hands every few minutes, but there are so many fans in town for the tournament that they usually keep a safety distance when they're in public. They've discussed it a few times, how open to be with the world, but aside from a few private Snapchat stories here and there, they keep it to themselves. Kelley’s family knows she's seeing someone, but only Erin knows the full story (and she's probably the only one who would know or care who Alex is anyway).

 

They finally settle on a cute, uncrowded coffee shop, and Kelley grabs a table outside while Alex goes inside to order.

 

Kelley smiles at her daily pump-up text from HAO about kicking ass and taking names and having a nice Valentine’s Day with Alex. It's her first camp without her Irish soul sister in as long as she can remember, and it's not easy for either one of them, nor for most of the team. She texts Alex back about wanting almond milk with her coffee because they don't have soy and smiles contentedly. She's only really been with this girl for two months, most of which has been long stretches of distance, and yet Alex knows exactly how she takes her coffee and which pastries to order that they'll both enjoy.

 

“It's so good, dude,” Kelley types in response to HAO. “I love her. I know it's weird and soon to say, but she's incredible.”

 

Alex comes out a few minutes later with a bag of goodies and two coffees. “To us,” she says, touching her plastic cup to Kelley’s before taking a sip. “It's so nice out here.”

 

Kelley can't stop smiling at Alex, can't say anything without breaking into a toothy grin.

 

“What are you smiling about, weirdo?” Alex laughs. “Do I have something on my face?” She pulls out her phone to look in the selfie camera, but her eyes narrow as she reads something. Then they widen again and she looks up at Kelley. “Did you, um—”

 

“What?”

 

“I don't think you meant to send me this,” Alex mumbles, placing her phone in front of Kelley to show her the text Kelley had meant to send to HAO. The one where she says she loves Alex.

 

“Oh, golly.” Kelley feels a little silly for saying that, but she feels like she doesn't have control over her brain or her tongue right now.

 

“I mean, I guess it's a day for love,” Alex says playfully. “I just thought it might be a little cheesy to do on Valentine’s Day.”

 

“Do what?”

 

“Tell you I love you,” Alex says.

 

Kelley knows right then and there that she's going to win this tournament for Alex.

Chapter Text

Between pre-season and National Team games, Kelley’s schedule isn't very Alex-friendly for a little while, but Alex has enough going on that she's not too concerned. They talk every day, and FaceTime most mornings while Alex is getting ready or in the car on the way to meetings.

 

When Alex calls Kelley excitedly in the middle of a double day, Kelley doesn't even care that she's being woken up from her nap.

 

“Remember how I told you Amy was finalizing some things for a really big deal with J. Crew?” Alex exclaims, barely pausing for niceties. “It’s final now. I signed on the dotted line.”

 

“That's incredible!” Kelley says. “I'm so proud of you, bud. You're going to look so cute and preppy. I don't think I've ever bought anything there before, but I would definitely stop in if I saw you in the window.”

 

“Thanks,” Alex says. Kelley can hear her beaming through the phone. “I know you're so busy, but Nina is hosting a party on Friday to celebrate, and you're obviously invited.”

 

“Aw, baby, I wish,” Kelley says, grabbing her laptop to look up flights. “We have practice every day except for when we have preseason games.”

 

“I know,” Alex sighs. “But I'll get to see you soon, right?”

 

“When are you coming to me?” Kelley whines. “I'm always available for you.”

 

“I know,” Alex laughs. “I'm sure I will soon. Amy is setting up some meetings with the creative team in New York next week or the week after, so I'll tell you when I'm coming.”

 

“I'll be ready.”

 

------

 

Going straight from a double day to a cross-country flight just to see her girlfriend for one night is perhaps the craziest thing Kelley has ever done for love or to her body, but she sleeps on the plane and feels like a new woman when she touches down and hails a cab to Nina’s place (thanks to Allie, who texted her the address and agreed to keep her lips zipped).

 

It's a mansion so enormous that Kelley wonders how much Alex is paying this woman, but then she remembers that Nina lives with her partner of 10 years, an A-list movie actress who's mostly starred in those Oscar-nominated movies that Kelley always means to watch but never gets around to.

 

Part of her expects to walk in through the front door and for her eyes to lock on Alex’s and for Alex to come running and leap into her arms, but it's mostly just crowded with hundreds of people Kelley either doesn't know or vaguely recognizes either from one of her previous LA visits or maybe a Bravo reality show.

 

She finds Mana first, pouring a drink in the kitchen.

 

“Hey!” Kelley exclaims.

 

“Oh, hey!” Mana says, furrowing her brow. “Alex didn't say you were coming.”

 

“Yeah, it’s a surprise,” Kelley says. “Have you seen her?”

 

“Um, yeah, I think she and Allie were going to the bathroom last I checked…” Mana replies. “I'll text her, that way you don't ruin your surprise.”

 

“Perfect,” Kelley says, pouring herself a drink.

 

A few people come in and out of the kitchen and say hi to Kelley before Alex wanders in looking for Mana.

 

“Oh my God!” Alex exclaims, almost knocking Kelley’s cup out of her hand in her excitement to hug her. “I can't believe you're here! How?”

 

“Of course, I wouldn't miss this,” Kelley says, kissing Alex’s cheek and then her lips. “Allie helped.”

 

“This is the best surprise,” Alex says, clinging to Kelley’s neck.

 

“You look beautiful,” Kelley says, taking in Alex’s long-sleeved backless dress with sequins all over.

 

“You too,” Alex says, kissing Kelley again. “How long are you here?”

 

“Just for the night,” Kelley replies, much to Alex’s disappointment. “Don't pout, that's one more night together than we’d have otherwise.”

 

“Come outside with me and take a picture,” Alex insists, tugging on Kelley’s hand.

 

There's a professional photographer outside (naturally), and Alex pulls Kelley into a tight embrace, kissing her firm on the mouth.

 

“Your heart is racing,” Kelley murmurs against her lips.

 

“I'm just so excited that you're here,” Alex says, and Kelley can feel her pulse quickening in her hand when she says that. “Now an Instagram appropriate one,” she laughs, wrapping both arms around Kelley like she would any of her friends. She presses her cheek against Kelley’s and grins. “I love you so much,” she whispers after the picture is taken. “Can I introduce you to some people? Then we can go home.”

 

“We don't have to go,” Kelley insists. “This is your night.”

 

“Yes, and all I want is to spend it with you.”

 

Alex doesn't let go of Kelley for the rest of the night, constantly kissing her and nuzzling into her neck until they finally get away. She edits their photo in the back of the Lyft, resting her head on Kelley’s shoulder.

 

Kelley can still practically hear Alex’s heart beating out of her chest. She rubs the back of her hand as if to soothe her, but she has an uneasy feeling in her stomach that it isn't excitement or nerves.

 

“How's this?” Alex asks, angling her phone toward Kelley. She's chosen a more candid photo where Kelley is looking up at her, eyes scrunched up in her most genuine “Alex smile,” as her teammates now call the look on her face when she's with Alex. Alex is looking back at Kelley and laughing about something. It's a beautiful picture that Kelley wants framed in her bedroom, but the caption deals the deal. “Nothing is better than when your favorite person surprises you on a special night. Thank you for being an angel @kelleyohara.” There's a champagne emoji and a lipstick kiss, and maybe it's a little coupley, but if Alex isn't concerned, neither is Kelley.

 

“Love it,” Kelley confirms. “Love you.”

 

-------

 

Alex wastes no time at all shimmying out of her form-fitting dress to reveal an almost entirely nude form, with the exception of a tiny thong.

 

“Jesus, woman,” Kelley says, taking in the sight of Alex stark naked in her kitchen.

 

“Fuck me right here,” Alex says, hopping onto the counter. When Kelley hesitates, she smirks. “Don't worry, my housekeeper is coming tomorrow.”

 

“I hate how well you know me,” Kelley laughs, stepping in between Alex’s legs to capture her lips in a searing kiss before biting and sucking her way down her neck and collarbones.

 

It doesn't take long for Alex to come (loudly, with a host of expletives), with Kelley simply pulling her underwear to the side so as to not waste any of their precious time taking it off, but Kelley feels out of sorts about the way it feels, especially when Alex collapses against her chest, arms wrapped tightly around Kelley’s neck.

 

Kelley rubs her back for a minute before Alex catches her breath and lifts her head for another kiss. She backs up as Alex hops off the counter and backs Kelley up toward the island, her fingertips gently running down Kelley’s abs.

 

“Hang on,” Kelley says, taking one of Alex’s wrists to find her pulse still racing. “You're freaking me out. Your heart has been racing since I got to you hours ago.”

 

“You just gave me an amazing orgasm, what do you expect?” Alex laughs, shaking free of Kelley’s grip. She tries to return her hands to the path they were on before, but Kelley pulls away again. “Baby,” Alex whines. “Let me make you feel good.”

 

“Did you do drugs tonight?” Kelley asks, her voice calm but firm.

 

“What? Kelley, come on.”

 

“Where were you before I got there?” Kelley asks. “Mana said you were with Allie, but Allie texted me and said she left with Bati before I even got there.”

 

“She just made a mistake,” Alex says, not meeting Kelley’s eyes.

 

“Before I got there,” Kelley says again, taking Alex’s face in her hands. It's warm to the touch. “Did you take anything?”

 

“Yeah,” Alex says, exasperated. “I didn't know you were coming. If I had, I wouldn't have…”

 

“Alex,” Kelley groans.

 

“I'm sorry!” Alex exclaims. “If I had known…”

 

“I get that,” Kelley says. “I just—God, it can't be healthy for your heart to beat that fast for so long.”

 

“Like when you're doing one of your insane workouts?”

 

“You know that's not nearly the same,” Kelley says. “I know I don't know anything about drugs, and I know you think you're being safe, but this scares me! I don't like it.”

 

“I mixed them,” Alex confesses. “I never do that, but I did tonight, and it made me feel worse than usual. I probably would have just felt like shit and gone home if you hadn't come.”

 

“You mixed what?”

 

“Coke and ecstasy,” Alex says. “That's why my heart is beating so fast. When it's just one or the other it's—”

 

“Ecstasy?” Kelley exclaims. “Isn't that, like, a sex drug?”

 

“No,” Alex groans. “I mean, some people—I'm just saying, you're right about it being unhealthy. To mix them. It is.”

 

“I wouldn't feel better if you were just doing one or the other!” Kelley says. “Nothing about this makes me feel okay or comforted about you doing drugs.”

 

“We've talked about this,” Alex says calmly. “You know it's something I do every now and then. Like, not even once a month, I swear. I'm not addicted, I'm not doing it around Jonathan or people I don't trust. I don't even buy it myself. Even Amy doesn't freak out like this about it, and she's the most straight laced person I know.”

 

“You pay her!” Kelley says. “As long as you're booking work, she doesn't really have a vested interest in your long-term health.”

 

“You don't know her,” Alex says sharply. “She's not him. She cares about me.”

 

“How about your friends?” Kelley asks. “Allie? And Mana? Do they care? Because Mana seemed to know she should lie to me about where you were tonight.”

 

“They know you aren't cool with it,” Alex says softly. “I'm sure she just didn't want my night to get ruined because of a fight with you. That worked out well.”

 

“We aren't fighting!” Kelley yells.

 

Alex raises an eyebrow.

 

“I'm just concerned,” Kelley says. “I figured we’d eventually, like, end up together. I don't know how that can happen if there's this whole part of your life that happens away from me. Where do I fit in?”

 

“I'm 26,” Alex sighs. “Of course you're in my long-term plans, but this is my life right now. I'm not here to tell you it's great and you should try it, I'm telling you that I'm an adult and I can handle myself perfectly well, just like I did for all the years before you came into my life.”

 

“So what, I should just stay on my coast and leave you alone till you've figured things out and you're ready to give up something so important to you?”

 

“Of course not!” Alex says. “But you also shouldn't make some grand plan to save me from myself by moving across the country so I have no choice but to ‘figure things out.’ I know it freaks you out because you've seen movies and read news articles that just show you these worst case scenarios, but if you did live here and you spent time with the same people I do and you saw what I see, you'd know it's not like that. It's possible to have fun at parties and live it up without being a junkie. I've been at hundreds of these parties and never once seen anyone overdose or get into a life-threatening situation from doing a party drug. I've seen plenty of people drink and drive, though, and not get home alive. But you don't seem overly concerned about alcohol.”

 

Kelley sighs, running both hands through her hair in frustration. “I just don't know how to be a good girlfriend in this situation,” she says. “My instinct is to protect you, but you're so sure that you don't need to be protected, so I don't know what to do.”

 

“Just love me,” Alex says softly. “You're really good at that.”

 

“I do love you,” Kelley says. “That's why this is so hard for me.”

 

“I know,” Alex says. “And I love you for that.”

 

“I don't think I'll ever be okay with it.”

 

“I understand.”

 

“If I asked you to stop for me, would you?”

 

Alex sighs.

 

“Forget I asked.”

 

“No,” Alex says. “That's not—I get why you'd ask that. I do. But right now that's not fair. This industry… I don't expect you to understand. I don't even want you to understand. You're my breath of fresh air. You're my escape from it all. I love that you aren't Hollywood. But I am. Sometimes I hate it, so I get why you do too. This is just my reality right now.”

 

Kelley hangs her head in defeat. She's not even close to done arguing this, but she can hear the clock ticking in her head, counting down to her flight. “Can we just go to bed?” she asks finally.

 

------

 

When Kelley’s alarm goes off at 7, alerting her that she needs to get ready so she can be at the airport by 10, she’s surprised that Alex is already up and out of bed.

 

“Babe?” she calls, pulling on a T-shirt from Alex’s dresser and sliding on a pair of running shorts.

 

Alex is sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, twirling her spoon mindlessly between sips. “Hey,” she says, her voice raspier than usual. “Sorry, I couldn’t sleep.”

 

“It’s okay,” Kelley says. “Everything alright?”

 

“Yeah,” Alex says, looking up at her. “Do you know an Ann?”

 

Kelley freezes in the middle of reaching for a mug from the shelf above the coffee maker. “Um… why?”

 

“Your ex?” Alex asks. She stands up and brings her mug with her to sit at the bar so she’s facing Kelley.

 

“How—”

 

“She messaged me,” Alex says. “Instagram. I know you’re familiar.”

 

Kelley sighs. “What did she say?”

 

“Here.” Alex hands Kelley her phone.

 

Kelley glances down and rolls her eyes internally when she sees the huge block of text.


“Hey Alex,” it reads. “We don’t know each other, but I think you’re dating Kelley O’Hara now. First of all, congrats. She’s really great. I should know, I dated her for two and a half years, lol. I don’t want to seem like a crazy ex, but I felt like I should let you know, I’m not sure how long you guys have been hanging out or whatever, but I know she started talking to you at the end of our relationship (see her pics from around the World Cup if you want proof, haha). She ended things with me at the end of August. We aren’t on the greatest of terms, but there’s definitely no bad blood, so I don’t want you to think I’m coming from a place of ill intent. I just feel like women should look out for other women and that if someone cheats with you, they’re a lot more likely to cheat on you. I know I may be way out of line here, and Kelley could have already told you all this, and if so, more power to you both. Like I said, she’s great, and—”

 

Kelley stops reading. “Jesus.”

 

“It’s true, isn’t it?” Alex asks, her voice even.

 

“It’s not completely untrue,” Kelley says. “We technically did hang out that one time we played beer pong at the Taylor Swift concert, and I was still with her then.”

 

“When you told me you would have definitely hooked up with me if I’d had the night to spend with you.”

 

“I didn’t say definitely—”

 

“She said you broke up at the end of August,” Alex says. “When?”

 

“I don’t know—”

 

“Just be honest with me, please!” Alex exclaims. “I’m just trying to figure out what happened and what kind of apology I owe this girl!”

 

“You don’t!” Kelley says. “I do. I broke up with her because I felt more strongly about a girl I’d only met once and only ever spoken to over text and Instagram—”

 

“And naked Snapchats.”

 

Kelley lowers her eyes.

 

“I never would have sent those if I had known,” Alex says. “I’m not that person. Now I just feel so dirty for it, and that’s not fair to me. Do you understand that?”

 

“Of course I do,” Kelley says. “I’m sorry. I should have told you.”

 

“You think?”

 

“We had been having problems for months,” Kelley says. “She used to live in New York, but then she moved to California. We rarely got to see each other because our schedules were so hectic, and when we were together we fought, and…”

 

“Sounds familiar.”

 

“Alex, no,” Kelley says. “It’s not the same. I promise.”

 

“But if it were, would you tell me?” Alex asks, her eyes filling with tears. “We fought last night. Then we just went to bed without really resolving anything. What happens now, the visits become few and far between? You slide into another girl’s DMs and call me in a few weeks to break up over the phone?”

 

Kelley looks back down at Alex’s phone. Yep, Ann had included that tidbit too. Great. “I’m not worried about us, Lex,” Kelley says. “I know I was upset last night, but I thought we both needed to sleep on it, and I think we had a productive conversation. I listened to you and I understood what you were saying. I woke up feeling so much better.”

 

“You’re just saying that to get out of this one!” Alex exclaims. “I don’t want to bicker and barter and trade get out of jail free cards. I don’t want you to get tired of me and just fade away.”

 

“That will never happen,” Kelley insists. “You aren’t her. There was so much more going on. I fucked up. I should have told you at the time that I was with someone. I should have told you after we broke up. I dug myself into a massive hole, and I know that I’m going to have to do a lot of crawling out of it to earn your trust, but I’ll do whatever it takes.”

 

“I know you will,” Alex sighs. “I wish it didn’t have to be this hard.”

 

“It’s not,” Kelley says. “I don’t want to make this hard on you. My mom always says love is about choosing to love each other every day, when it’s easy and even more when it’s hard. The way I feel about you makes it the easiest choice ever, even when I can’t get inside your head.”

 

“I really didn’t want it to be true,” Alex says in a small voice. “I wanted her to be some crazy person because I was scared of what it would mean if she was telling the truth. But I’m more scared of what it means that the truth doesn’t matter to me.”

 

“What do you mean?” Kelley feels like the walls are caving in around her.

 

“I don’t want to be the girl who’s so stupidly in love that she gets lied to or taken advantage of. I got enough of that with my old manager, and that relationship wasn’t romantic at all. I was just blinded by all the promises of being rich and famous and living the Hollywood dream, so I ignored all the warning signs.”

 

“But look at you now, Ms. J. Crew model,” Kelley says teasingly, leaning forward across the counter on her elbows.

 

“I came to my senses,” Alex says, laughing wryly. “But those are still years I wish I could get back, decisions I wish I hadn’t made, money in his pocket instead of mine. I don’t want to regret you.”

 

Kelley’s mouth tastes like metal suddenly, and she realizes how hard she’s been chewing on her bottom lip. “I don’t want that either.”

 

“No more secrets,” Alex says.

 

“Okay,” Kelley agrees, holding out her pink for Alex to clasp before leaning in to kiss her softly. “I’m really sorry, baby.”

 

“Maybe if you’re lucky I’ll let you take me out to dinner when I’m in New York later this week.”

 

Kelley’s eyes light up. “When?”

 

“Wednesday to Sunday.”

 

“I just get a lunch?” Kelley asks, pouting dramatically.

 

“If the dinner is good enough, maybe you’ll get a nightcap too.”

 

“I guess I’ll have to get planning,” Kelley says with a smirk.

 

“Guess so.”

Chapter Text

It's 2:46 a.m. when Kelley is shaken from her sleep by the incessant buzzing of her phone on her nightstand. “Hello?” she grumbles into the phone, only having seen that it was Alex calling.

 

Alex doesn't respond. All Kelley can hear is gasping sobs and staggered breaths on the other end, and she wakes up immediately.

 

“Sweetheart?” she asks. “Baby, are you okay? What's going on?”

 

“I'm sorry,” Alex says. “I know it's late, I just—” She breaks down again, and each sob breaks Kelley’s heart more.

 

“Honey,” Kelley says. “I need you to take deep breaths. Can you do that for me?”

 

“Uh-huh,” Alex agrees, taking a deep breath and letting it back out with a body-wracking sob. “I needed to call you so you could hear it from me before waking up and seeing it online.”

 

The worst of the worst case scenarios flash through Kelley’s mind. Alex was arrested. She said she never carries drugs on her, but fuck, Kelley still isn't sure about all the laws on that in California. And would she be calling from her cell if that were the case? Someone died. But why would Alex be the one calling her about it? Alex cheated. Kelley’s heart sinks, realizing the only reason she would have not to think that is her complete trust in Alex.

 

“Jonathan—”

 

Kelley feels like she's going to throw up.

 

“There's a video.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Kelley asks, her heart racing.

 

Alex sounds like she's about to collapse in another round of tears, but she takes a long breath in. “I was so fucking stupid,” she cries. “I told you, I was so naive to trust him.”

 

“Baby, can you please just tell me what's going on?” Kelley begs. “I'm freaking out over here.”

 

“He leaked a video to TMZ,” Alex says. “Of the two of us having sex.”

 

Kelley feels like she's going to pass out, but adrenaline takes over her body instead. “Oh my God,” she says. “Did you… did you know it existed?”

 

“Yes,” Alex cries, sobs overtaking her again. “I let him—”

 

“Shh,” Kelley says. “This isn't your fault, you didn't let him do anything. He took advantage of you. This isn't your fault. I'm so sorry, baby. I'm so—God, what can I do?”

 

“I don't know,” Alex cries. “Amy told me about an hour ago, and she's working with a lawyer. Nina’s on damage control, but it's too late. Everyone is going to see it.”

 

“I'm buying you a plane ticket,” Kelley says. “One way, just come here, and you can stay as long as you need. I can't come to you because I have a game this weekend, but you can come here and get away. Does that sound good? Do you think you can do that?”

 

“You don't have to—”

 

“All I want to do right now is hug you,” Kelley says. “You aren't going to stop me. Please come here and let me take care of you. Please.”

 

“You're too good,” Alex cries. “I'm so, so sorry.”

 

“Don't be sorry,” Kelley says. “You have nothing to apologize for, sweetheart. I just want you to rest and get on a plane to me as soon as you wake up tomorrow, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Alex says, taking a few more gasping breaths. “I love you.”

 

“I love you too, baby,” Kelley says softly, gripping the sweatshirt she sleeps with that sometimes still smells like Alex if she gets it in a certain place. “I love you so much.”

 

------

 

Alex lands in Newark at 3 p.m., so Kelley goes straight from training to pick her up. She parks so she can intercept Alex as soon as she comes down the escalator from her terminal, and she’s glad she did when she sees her.

 

She’s seen Alex with no makeup first thing in the morning and with smeared makeup late at night, but she’s never seen her look bad until now. Her eyes are red and puffy, and her hair is up in an actual messy (not just fake messy on purpose to look cute) bun on top of her head. She’s carrying a simple Louis Vuitton overnight bag and nothing else, so Kelley isn’t sure how long she’s actually planning to stay.

 

Alex forces a smile when she sees Kelley, but as soon as Kelley tries to smile back, she bursts into tears.

 

Kelley rushes toward her, taking away her bag before wrapping her arms around her girlfriend. “I’m here,” she says. “You’re okay. You’re safe.”

 

When Alex finally speaks after a long stretch of silence in the car, it’s without any inflection. “It worked,” she says. “J. Crew dropped me.”

 

Hearing those words is like a knife through Kelley’s heart. “Oh, baby,” she says, gripping Alex’s hand harder. She can feel Alex start to shake again as she tries to watch the road. All she wants is to pull over and squeeze all the pain out of her, but that didn’t work at the airport, so Kelley doesn’t know what she can do.

 

The next few days are filled with tears, some bright spots, bad news, and more tears. Kelley does everything she can to distract Alex, but nothing works.


Alex wakes up on Saturday morning excited about getting to watch Kelley play in person, but she panics at the prospect of being in public after a teammate who doesn’t live with Kelley drops by unexpectedly.

 

“Everyone knows,” Alex cries from her go-to spot on Kelley’s bed. “My parents have seen it—not the actual video, but the news and stuff. When I was in the airport, every time someone looked at me, all I could think is ‘what if they’ve seen me naked?’ and it had only been out for a few hours at that point.”

 

There’s nothing Kelley can say to that, because they both know she’s right. It’s all over the internet, and the ones defending Alex, saying she did nothing wrong, are just as bad as the ones sharing it with all their frat bros in how they’re letting the topic spread like a virus. Kelley Googles Alex on a whim, mostly to help quell Alex’s fears about how much the video had permeated the internet, but it only serves to do the opposite. Searching “Alex Morgan + J. Crew” only brings up news stories about J. Crew “parting ways” with the “up and coming beauty” because of her “sex scandal.”

 

Kelley wonders if she made a mistake, allowing Alex to hide out with her in Nowhere, New Jersey, but when she wakes up to Alex’s tears staining the collar of her pajama shirt, she doesn’t ever want to let her out of this room ever again. Kelley wants to protect her from it all, even though she knows she can’t. The damage is done, and she worries Alex will never be the same.

 

Whenever Nina or Amy or Alex’s new lawyer, Rosa, call, Kelley is grateful that Alex gets some fresh air. She’s constantly worried about bothering Kelley’s roommates with her crying fits, and she doesn’t want to add conference calls to the list of bothersome things she makes them listen to.

 

All Kelley’s roommates want to know is how Alex is doing—they invite her along to everything they do, but Alex still doesn’t want to go out for more than a quick run to the grocery store, where she stays far away from the tabloids ever since the first time they went when she saw her face on In Touch Weekly.

 

The rumor mills online run rampant with theories ranging from “she’s just a slut” to “she leaked this video herself for publicity.” Nina waits for the initial outrage to die down before she leaks information about who the man in the video is and when it was filmed, but even that comes with mixed reactions, some saying Alex slept with her manager to advance her career while others shame him for taking advantage of an impressionable girl 12 years his junior.

 

Somewhere along the way, between Alex’s photo of “her favorite person” and the Instagram stories they’ll post every so often when the other happens to be around, Kelley must have missed the part where her fans (and Alex’s) started to put two and two together about their relationship. She’s shocked when she opens her Twitter for the first time in days to see a host of fan accounts sending her questions about how Alex is doing and other accounts sending far nastier questions, comments, and “concerns,” which she promptly blocks.

 

“I’m going back home,” Alex announces one morning over breakfast. She’s barely had an appetite, but she’s nibbling on a piece of bacon, which is progress.

 

“You don’t have to leave,” Kelley says. “You can stay as long as you need.”

 

“I know,” Alex says, nodding. “But I need to face the real world eventually. That’s what you’ve been saying.”

 

“Yes, but when you’re ready.”

 

“Amy wants me to see a therapist,” Alex says, rolling her eyes.

 

“That’s not a bad idea.”

 

“I’m not depressed!” Alex insists. “I’m just pissed off. But we’re suing the shit out of him and TMZ, so everything is going to be fine.”

 

“You don’t have to be depressed to benefit from seeing a therapist,” Kelley says gently. “You’re traumatized.” Alex won’t even undress in front of her right now, despite the fact that she’s been living in Kelley’s room and wearing all her clothes for the past five days.

 

“You’re being dramatic,” Alex says. “I’m fine.”

 

“You don’t go from panicking at the grocery store to fine in a snap,” Kelley says. “I really think you should talk to someone.”

 

“I have you,” Alex says. “And Amy and Nina and Rosa and Allie and Mana and my sisters.”

 

“We aren’t professionals,” Kelley sighs. “I can’t force you to do anything, but—”

 

“You’re right,” Alex says. “I’m sorry I brought it up. My point is I’m going back to LA. I need to get back in the swing of things and keep busy, not keep dwelling on shit I can’t change.”

 

“Okay,” Kelley says, stroking Alex’s soft, freshly washed hair. “I’m going to miss you. I wish this visit had been under better circumstances.”

 

“Me too,” Alex says, leaning in for a peck on the lips. “The next one will be, I promise. In Colorado for your game.”

 

Kelley had gotten a call a couple days prior from Jill Ellis, the National Team coach, inviting her to their upcoming friendlies with Japan. Alex had attempted to show excitement, but even that was a stretch.

 

“And then in Rio?” Kelley says with a smile.

 

“Um, hello, my birthday,” Alex scowls.

 

“Oh, you’re still having that thing?” Kelley teases. “Just making sure Princess Alex was still alive and well in there.”

 

Alex leans forward to rest her forehead against Kelley’s. “Thank you,” she says. “For letting me crash. Seriously.”

 

“You’re my girlfriend,” Kelley says. “I kinda have to if I ever want to get laid again.” She closes her eyes as soon as she says it, cringing internally.

 

“You will,” Alex says seriously. “This week has been… I promise I’ll be in the mood next time.”

 

“I know,” Kelley says. “Whenever you’re ready.”

 

Alex nods. “I love you.”

 

“I love you more.”

 

“Seriously not possible.”

 

“Don’t you doubt me.”

Chapter Text

Alex does as promised back in LA, jumping right back into work like nothing happened. She addresses the video once in a long Instagram caption before going radio silent because her lawyer advised her not to discuss it publicly while the lawsuit is going on.

 

On the phone she seems so lighter and more carefree, and when she comes to Colorado, she has more color in her face than she did last time Kelley saw her. After the game, she drags Kelley to a tattoo parlor with her, where she gets a small arrow tattoo just under her left breast, where nobody will see it even if she wears a bikini.

 

“My shrink thinks I need to take back ownership of my body,” she tells Kelley casually, surprising her because she hadn’t mentioned seeing a therapist before.

 

She decides not to press, figuring that if Alex wants to discuss it, she will. She also isn’t complaining about the “shrink’s” advice when Alex’s next step in reclaiming ownership of her body involves Kelley’s body as well.

 

Kelley doesn’t get many days off from NWSL play, but she buys herself some unplanned free time by getting ejected from a game, earning a suspension for the following week, which was supposed to be her last game before the Olympics. It’s a completely deserved red card, but that doesn’t stop Kelley from making an ass of herself yelling at the ref while Christie tries to pull her away.

 

In the 67th minute, a Seattle player pissed about a completely fair tackle brushed past Kelley, muttering something about her “slag” of a girlfriend. Kelley had turned around and grabbed her arm, asking if she wanted to say something to her face, and the player had taken the opportunity to actually get in her face and double down on her comment, this time with some free biphobia thrown in.

 

“You stupid fucking bitch,” Kelley had gritted through her teeth as she shoved the player to the ground. “I will fucking end you.”

 

The ref saw and heard, but only Kelley’s part, so she was the one seeing red as the rest of her team came to her defense and called for the other player, who was already on a yellow, to get another for her comments.

 

After stopping to talk to the press (which was like pulling teeth with her club’s handlers) to address the card and suspension, she goes home and packs her things so she can head to LA the next morning. Her official statement, (mostly) vetted by the club, was, “I’m sorry for the way I handled the situation. I could have controlled my temper better, and I apologize to everyone who expects better from me. That said, if you’re going to verbally abuse other players and their loved ones, I personally don’t think you should be on the field.” (The second part wasn’t cleared, but they couldn’t get her away from the microphone’s before it was all out.)

 

She doesn’t tell Alex what happened on the field, just that a player got saucy with her and deserved way more than what Kelley did to her, which Alex accepts, probably knowing she doesn’t want to know the full story. She looks happier and healthier every day, and outside of meetings with her lawyers, Jonathan doesn’t come up at all. Kelley doesn’t want to set her back in her progress.

 

People do look at Alex differently, and fans approach her a bit more cautiously, but if she notices, she takes it in stride, holding her head high and taking pictures with anyone who asks, whether they seem to have good intentions or not (and a lot of them do not, as evidenced by the tweets and captions of the Instagram posts they tag her in later).

 

Alex talks about doing a low-key birthday drinks thing with friends followed by dinner and a night in with Kelley, but Nina has other ideas, arranging a party for Alex to host at an exclusive bar as a natural sort of step back into the spotlight.

 

She hasn’t been a hermit since her return to LA—far from it—but going anywhere Jonathan might be is completely out of the question, which eliminates the majority of the “see and be seen” social functions. For Alex’s birthday, though, he’s blacklisted not only from the bar where she’s hosting, but all surrounding bars for the night.

 

Kelley takes her out to dinner the night before her birthday, getting a reservation at a quiet white-tablecloth restaurant that is never too crowded outside because everyone knows they can't get a reservation anyway.

 

“This is so perfect, honey,” Alex sighs, taking a long sip from her glass of red wine and squeezing Kelley’s hand. “Thank you.”

 

“Anything for you,” Kelley says, kissing her quickly as to not get too much of Alex’s red lipstick on her own lips.

 

“We need to talk about tomorrow,” Alex says. “The party.”

 

“Okay,” Kelley says, narrowing her eyes.

 

Alex sighs, closing her eyes as if to brace herself before opening them again and speaking. “There are going to be drugs there.”

 

Kelley feels her grip tighten on her fork, so she sets it down to force herself to relax. “Yeah,” she says. She's been to enough parties here to know that it's more of a rarity when you don't find a room of people doing coke and pills and God knows what else.

 

“And I'm probably going to partake,” Alex says. Kelley opens her mouth, but Alex puts up a finger to signal that she isn't done talking. “I'm just trying to prepare you so you aren't caught off guard tomorrow night. Again.”

 

“Why—”

 

“Kel,” Alex groans. “I just wanted to tell you so you wouldn't get all freaked out again. I haven't done it around you, just like I promised. I don't need you to be there—”

 

“I don't want to be.”

 

“I know,” Alex says. “It's my birthday, though. It's my party, and it's going to be stressful enough to host without worrying about if we’re going to fight. That's all I want for my birthday. No fighting with you over this. Please.”

 

“Yeah,” Kelley says shortly. “No fighting. Sure. Whatever you want.”

 

“Kelley.”

 

“I'm serious,” Kelley says. “You're a grown up, I'm not going to babysit you. You can make whatever decisions you want. I'm not going to pretend I like it, and I'm not going to encourage it, but if you think you need it to get through the stress of hosting the party you're getting paid thousands of dollars for, sure. I'll look the other way.”

 

“Don't be like that,” Alex says. “Don't talk to me like I'm some addict, like I need it to get through the night. Sometimes it's just fun, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Kelley says. “I'm not going to fight with you. You said no fighting, let's drop it.”

 

“It still feels like you're mad.”

 

“I'm not,” Kelley says. “I'm glad you prepared me. That's really thoughtful of you. Let’s not talk about it anymore.”

 

“Okay,” Alex says, her voice small as she pokes at her salad.

 

------

 

Their conversation stays at the back of Kelley’s mind through dinner and into the next day, Alex’s actual birthday. She makes waffles with the waffle maker Alex asked for (but will never use… it's there for Kelley to use when she's in town, and that's about it) and delivers it to her in bed. Alex scarfs it down and even allows Kelley a few bites, much to everyone’s surprise.

 

“Happy birthday, angel,” Kelley says, kissing Alex before clearing the tray from her bed.

 

“Angel? I can't say I've ever been called that before,” Alex says, quirking an eyebrow. “Most people find me rather devious.”

 

“Hmm, I’m just not seeing it,” Kelley teases. “Just so innocent and angelic.”

 

Alex pulls her down on top of her for a long kiss, her teeth pulling at Kelley’s lip. “How's that for angelic?”

 

-------

 

Walking hand in hand with Alex through the party where every attendee is there to celebrate Alex is a new feeling of importance. She's the one who Alex is looking for as soon as she's not by her side, the one who is making sure the drink in Alex’s hand is strong, but not too strong, the one who's there to dance whenever Alex gets a whim.

 

“I'm going to head upstairs for a minute,” Alex says in the middle of one of those dances, her hips pressed tightly against Kelley’s. She pecks Kelley on the lips and smiles like she's waiting for some sort of reassurance.

 

Kelley nods. “Don't leave me alone too long,” she says, scanning the crowd for someone she can hang out with.

 

“Never,” Alex says with a wink, sauntering away.

 

Kelley finally lays eyes on Amy, who smiles and waves when she sees her.

 

“Having fun?” Amy asks. “I know this is kind of madness.”

 

“I think I'm starting to get used to it,” Kelley says. “I just want to be a part of Alex’s world.”

 

“I think she likes that you aren't,” Amy says. “She needs people to keep her grounded, and you know she isn't going to find that in Hollywood.”

 

“How about you?”

 

Amy grins. “Honestly, Alex is the first person from this world I've ever represented. My other clients are two female country singers, a Christian rock band, and a couple of child actors. I've never been exposed to anything like this.”

 

“How the hell did you end up with Alex, then?” Kelley asks.

 

“I think she got my name through the grapevine,” Amy says. “God knows why she called me. I'm glad she did, though. When I first met up with her for coffee, she just seemed like she needed help. Someone to talk to, someone to actually look out for her. My husband told me to stay away, but I prayed about it, and I just knew I had to do it.”

 

“So how could you let her do this?” Kelley asks.

 

Amy looks surprised. “What do you mean?”

 

“The drugs,” Kelley says. “I know you couldn't have prevented Jonathan, and I know Nina is the one who sets up this sort of thing, but the rest of it. If you wanted to help her so bad, why aren't you?”

 

Amy sighs. “I wish there were more I could do for all my clients. I love them like family. And Alex knows I'm here for here any time she needs me. She does come to me still, about things even you probably don't hear about. But I learned very early on with Alex that she won't take help she doesn't ask for. She's a smart woman, she knows when she's in over her head and when she isn't.”

 

Kelley shakes her head, trying to wrap her mind around how different this world is. “Am I ever going to understand any of this?”

 

“Probably not,” Amy laughs. “I sure don't. But you don't have to. Listen to Alex. Learn how to understand her. That's all you need to survive around here, I promise. And it will mean the world to her.”

 

“Even the drugs?”

 

Amy takes a deep breath. “I'm not saying you should encourage her,” she says. “She knows I will never approve of that, but I know she’ll never lie about it. We've established that I'm looking out for her and not judging or condemning or babying her. That's our understanding.”

 

“Baby!” Alex exclaims, wrapping her arms around Kelley’s waist from behind. She places a kiss on Kelley’s cheek. “See, I told you I wouldn’t leave you hanging.”

 

Kelley smiles, turning so she can put an arm around Alex in return. “Missed you anyway,” she murmurs.

 

“What are two of my favorite ladies gossiping about?” Alex asks, with a glint in her eyes.

 

“You,” Kelley answers.

 

Alex narrows her eyes playfully, tugging on Kelley’s hand. “Stop that and come dance with me.”

 

Kelley wraps her arms around Alex’s neck to dance closely with her to the beat of some pop song whose artist is apparently a guest tonight, nestling her head in the crook of Alex’s neck.

 

“Love you, birthday girl,” Kelley murmurs, kissing Alex’s jaw.

 

“Love you,” Alex replies. “Thanks for making my birthday so special. I know you have a lot on your plate with the Olympics and everything.”

 

Kelley smiles. “You’re my No. 1 priority.”

 

Alex blushes, ducking her head so it’s resting on Kelley’s shoulder. “Your career should come first,” she says softly. “I’m here to stay no matter what. Plus, I kind of like dating a hot soccer star.”

 

“What if I told you I can balance both?” Kelley asks. “Because I can. That’s why I got you plane tickets to Rio for your birthday.”

 

Alex pulls away, her eyes lighting up. “No way!”

 

“Yep,” Kelley says, grinning. “You can come cheer me on to gold.”

 

“Will you come kiss me in the stands when you win like Abby did with her wife?’

 

“They’re, like, split up now, so I’m gonna not do that,” Kelley laughs, her hands rubbing over the small of Alex’s back. “But I will kiss the crap out of you all night long after.”

 

“Can I wear your gold medal?”

 

“Shh, don’t jinx it,” Kelley says, propping herself up on her toes to kiss Alex.

 

-------

 

On the day the Olympic roster is released, Alex sends Kelley a bouquet of red, white, and blue flowers with a card that says “I’m so proud of you, my little Olympian! I can’t wait to watch you shine. I love you so very much. GO TEAM USA!”

 

Kelley doesn’t get the chance to see Alex again before she departs for Brazil, but when she lands, she has a text from Alex.

 

“I know you’re in the air, but wanted to tell you ASAP. Express offered me a contract and I think I’m going to sign. Amy is finalizing everything. Love you.”

 

“ALEX!” Kelley replies. “I’m so excited for you!!!!! I’m about to go through customs and all that, but when I’m back at the hotel I’ll FaceTime you. SO proud, baby!”

 

“Thanks,” Alex says.

 

Kelley furrows her brow at Alex’s response, which lacks her usual enthusiasm. She tries not to let it bother her, but her stomach turns and clenches all the way back to the hotel until she’s finally able to call Alex and hear her voice.

 

“Hey,” Alex says. “How was your flight?”

 

“Fine,” Kelley says. “So Express? That’s big, right?”

 

“Yeah,” Alex says. “I guess.”

 

“What do you mean, you guess?” Kelley asks.

 

“I feel like they just did it to stick it to J. Crew. Or because they felt bad for me and wanted to take pity on the girl whose sex tape got leaked.”

 

“Babe, you can’t think that way,” Kelley sighs. “You’re a hard worker, you’re charismatic and smart, you’re drop dead gorgeous. Anyone would be lucky to sign you.”

 

“And they get good publicity for their feminist platform.”

 

“Do you not trust them?” Kelley asks. “If you think they have some ulterior motive, don’t sign with them.”

 

“No, I do,” Alex groans. “I’m just frustrated that this is going to follow me forever. Even Kim Kardashian still has to hear shit about hers all the time, and she runs like twenty companies. I’ve worked too damn hard for my every accomplishment to be undermined by that.”

 

“Then stop undermining yourself!” Kelley exclaims. “Be proud of yourself for once. If you talk to yourself like that, you’re going to kill your own confidence. And without that, what do you have?”

 

“I don’t know,” Alex says. “Maybe I need to do something else.”

 

“Absolutely not,” Kelley says. “You’ve worked for this. You’ve earned it. Log off of Twitter or wherever you’re seeing this shit, because not only is it untrue, it’s sexist and mean. And I’m not going to let you be mean to yourself.”

 

“Okay,” Alex says, but her voice is still flat. “I will. You’re right. It’s fine.”

 

“I’m really proud of you,” Kelley says again. “I can’t wait to see you in a couple weeks when you get here.”

 

“Me too. Listen, I have to go. I have a call with Rosa in like five minutes.”

 

“Let me know how it goes.”

 

“Spoiler alert: boring and not very productive.”

 

The judge in the case put Alex’s lawsuit on hold while the criminal case is pending, leaving Alex frustrated as hell. Kelley is frustrated for her, but Rosa has assured them that this is a good thing because Alex has a strong case that can only be made stronger with a guilty verdict. Even if he isn’t found guilty, Alex still has the ability to sue for damages. Thanks to J. Crew, there are a lot, but Kelley knows Alex would feel far more vindicated if Jonathan spent even one night in jail.

Chapter Text

The team wins its first game in the Olympics on the day before Kelley’s birthday, and she leaves her start as a surprise for Alex, who sends her dozens of excited texts before, during, and after the game as she watches from Ohio, where the Express headquarters are located.

 

“One down!” Alex says when she gets on the phone with Kelley. “You were such a badass today.”

 

“Just trying to keep up with you,” Kelley says.

 

Alex sounds happier than she has in days as she chatters Kelley’s ear off about how great her meetings are going and how good she feels about this partnership, a total 180 from her tone a week ago. They stay on the phone until the clock strikes midnight Eastern time on Kelley’s 28th birthday and Alex eagerly tells her to check her Instagram, where she’s already posted a tribute to “the most badass member of Team USA” under a photo of Kelley asleep on a pool raft that Alex must have taken last time Kelley was in LA.

 

“It’s really just an excuse to show the world how insane my girlfriend’s abs are,” Alex teases. “More wiping sweat with your jersey next game, okay?”

 

“You bet,” Kelley promises, and it’s an easy promise to fulfill, as she starts the next three games.

 

Alex is back in LA for the Sweden game, presumably packing up her things, which is what she had been doing when she and Kelley FaceTimed the night before.

 

Kelley texts Alex on the bus to the stadium, a quick “Morning baby! One more game, two more sleeps till I see your pretty face.” She anxiously checks her phone every few minutes before taking the field, but she doesn’t get a response. It’s not super unlike Alex to forgo texting before she’s really awake, but she’s usually pretty good at settling Kelley’s nerves with a “love you” or “go kick ass!”

 

Nothing comes, though, and when they’re still even at the half, Kelley doesn’t have a chance to check again because the coaching staff is frantically drawing up plans to break down Sweden’s defense when they go back out. She pumps herself up for the second half by imagining Alex’s reaction when Kelley scores or assists on the game winner, but that winner never comes. After a Sweden goal in the 61st minute, the result of a bad giveaway in midfield, the U.S. can’t come back. They’re out of the Olympics. No medal. No Rio. Nothing.

 

And no text from Alex when Kelley comes back to the locker room, so furious she wants to punch a locker (and she gets close, HAO being the only thing stopping her). Kelley’s head is spinning with sadness and anger and confusion and, with the lack of any communication from Alex since last night, fear.

 

She resorts to Instagram, where the first thing she sees is a photo Mana posted of her, Alex, and Allie, all dressed in crop tops and skirts at some house party that Alex didn’t tell her she was going to.

 

Finally, her phone rings on the silent bus ride back to the hotel. Alex.

 

“Baby, I am so sorry,” Alex gushes as soon as Kelley picks up.

 

“Where were you?” Kelley asks, her voice weak from crying.

 

“I was sleeping,” Alex says. “I feel like the worst person in the world right now. I was having trouble sleeping, so I took Benadryl at like 2 a.m. and just woke up. God, I am so sorry. I don’t even know what to say.”

 

“How was the party?”

 

“What?”

 

“When you lie to your girlfriend, you might want to give your friends a heads up,” Kelley snaps. “Mana posted a picture of you guys. Looked fun.”

 

“I’m missing the part where I lied to you, Kelley,” Alex says evenly.

 

“You didn’t tell me you were going out.”

 

“I go out a lot of places without telling you,” Alex says. “I didn’t realize I had to run everything by you.”

 

“I guess I’d just rather be prepared when you’re going out and doing stupid shit so I can prepare myself to wake up to a call from a cop saying you’re in jail or dead.”

 

“I said I’m sorry,” Alex says. “Not for having fun, I’m allowed to do that. But I am sorry for sleeping through your game and not being there for you.”

 

“It’s not your fault,” Kelley says. “We weren’t good enough.”

 

Alex is silent. “I’m sorry,” she says again. “I know how hard you worked.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I know how excited you were for Rio,” she continues. “I was too.”

 

“Yeah, it’s not going to be the same without going to play for a medal,” Kelley says. “I guess we’ll have to get tickets to all the track stuff. Or whatever.”

 

“You’re still going?” Alex asks, surprised.

 

“Of course,” Kelley says. “It was your birthday present. Plus I deserve a vacation after this.”

 

“Oh,” Alex says quietly. “I, um—”

 

“What?”

 

“I just… I was really looking forward to it, but I don’t— I can’t—”

 

“What, Alex?” Kelley says sharply. “Can you just spit it out?”

 

“I can’t come to Rio,” Alex says. “I’m sorry, I know you bought the tickets, but—”

 

“What do you mean you can’t?” Kelley asks. “You were packing last night. This was the plan.”

 

“It was the plan when I was coming to support you,” Alex says, her voice soft. “But I have so much going on with the Express campaign and the lawsuit and…”

 

“You’ve had a vacation planned since before Express,” Kelley says. “Didn’t Amy plan for it?”

 

“Of course she did, but—”

 

“I’m having the literal worst day I can remember and you’re just… not going to come.”

 

“Kelley,” Alex sighs. “Baby.”

 

“Fuck you,” Kelley says. “No, I don’t want to hear it. You’re being selfish. I can’t believe you. You literally sleep through my fucking game then call me to tell me you’re not even coming to Rio and the plane tickets I bought you for your birthday are just going to waste.”

 

“I’ll pay you back,” Alex says.

 

“That’s not the point!” Kelley exclaims. “For fuck’s sake!”

 

“Please don’t be mad at me.”

 

“Too late,” Kelley says. “Don’t call me. I’ll call you when I’m ready to talk.” She hangs up the phone while everyone else on the bus pretends they heard nothing.

 

------

 

HAO is the first one to break the silence. She’s in Rio as an alternate, but Kelley is glad she’s here at all.

 

“Hey bud,” she says once Kelley has opened the door for her. “You wanna talk?”

 

“No,” Kelley says stubbornly, knowing she will soon.

 

“Okay,” HAO says, sitting on the bed across from Kelley’s.

 

It takes mere seconds of silence for Kelley to break, spilling her heart about everything that’s happened with Alex in the past year, from Halloween to the sex tape to her birthday to right now.

 

If HAO is shocked by any of it (and Kelley has to imagine she is), she doesn’t let her face give her away as Kelley unloads it all. She just nods and hums sympathetically while tears streak Kelley’s face.

 

When Kelley finally stays silent for a few moments, HAO takes a deep breath. “Major tournaments, dude,” she says. “They’re a bitch. Especially heartbreaking ones like this.”

 

“Am I overreacting?”

 

“To which part?” HAO asks. “The Rio thing? Maybe a little. The drugs? I’m not sure. Even you said that part was complicated.”

 

“It is,” Kelley sighs. “I always thought it would be a dealbreaker for me, then I fell in love with Alex, and it’s not. But it scares the shit out of me.”

 

“Maybe that’s what you have to tell her, then,” HAO says. “It sounds like you’re angry and upset with her, not concerned. That’s probably why she’s defensive. Nobody wants to be told what they’re doing is wrong, it’s human nature to respond negatively to that kind of feedback. But Alex loves you, and if she thinks what she’s doing is somehow hurting you, I think she’d be more likely to listen.”

 

“And what about coming to Rio?”

 

“I think that ship has sailed, my friend,” HAO sighs. “I know how you feel, but put yourself in her shoes. You know she’s stressed about the lawsuit and work. It’s really hard to ask someone to step away from that during a busy time. If she’s seeing a therapist, that’s a good sign that she’s trying really hard to manage her stress and anxiety about everything that’s happened lately. I don’t think it’s fair to pile onto it by guilting her into taking a vacation at a time that’s really not good for her.”

 

Kelley squeezes her eyes shut, laying on her back. “How do you do that?”

 

“What?”

 

“Make me feel like a shitty person in a really nice way?”

 

“You aren’t a shitty person,” HAO says. “I’m not friends with shitty people. You’re the most kind, loving person I know. You also have a temper that I never want to be on the wrong side of. Everyone has their thing.”

 

“God, why couldn’t we have just won?” Kelley groans. “Then I’d be in a good mood and my girlfriend would be on her way to see me and I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this.”

 

HAO shrugs. “You could always go see her.”

 

------

 

Kelley slaves over her text for hours before finally settling on what to say in a message that Alex probably won’t get until Kelley is halfway to LA. “I’m sorry for flipping out. It wasn’t fair. I love you. I’m getting on the next flight to LA. I love you for wanting to support me, now I get to support you.”

 

She had considered surprising her, but last time that didn’t go so well, so Kelley figures she’ll prepare her. When she lands in LA, she already has the Lyft app open on her phone when she looks up from the escalator to see her mom, her dad, her sister, Erin, her brother, Jerry, her future sister-in-law, Kristy, and Alex standing there, all wearing O’Hara jerseys and holding a banner that says “Welcome Home, Olympian! We Love You!”

 

“How did you—” Kelley just manages to get out while enveloping Alex in a hug.

 

“I know people,” Alex says, kissing Kelley’s forehead. “I got your text late last night and got the airline to change their flights to LA instead of Rio. Kristy, Erin and I threatened some printer at 8 a.m. today trying to convince him to put a rush on the banner.”

 

Kelley feels her eyes fill with tears as she hugs her whole family. She can’t believe she called Alex selfish when this is the kind of thing Alex does for her.

 

“You’re unreal,” she tells Alex, squeezing her in a tight hug. “I’m so in love with you it’s ridiculous,” she whispers into her ear.

 

“The feeling is mutual,” Alex promises, kissing Kelley on the lips. “I’m so proud of you, my little Olympian.”

 

-------

 

Kelley’s whole family spends the night at Alex’s, so the first moments they get alone are in the shower that night.

 

Kelley isn’t usually a proponent of shower sex, but she’d rather that than waking her parents up in the next room while she and her girlfriend have sex for the first time in a month and a half.

 

“Have you lost weight?” Kelley asks once Alex is fully undressed.

 

“I don’t know,” Alex says, pressing her body against Kelley’s. “You know I don’t weigh myself.”

 

“Yeah,” Kelley says, but as her hands glide over Alex’s torso, she can feel her ribs and hipbones more prominently than she ever has before. “Maybe you should, though.”

 

“Excuse me?” Alex asks, stepping back from Kelley’s embrace.

 

“I didn’t mean—I mean I know sometimes stress and anxiety can lead to weight loss, and I know everything with the lawsuit and Jonathan…”

 

“I don’t want to hear that name, particularly not when I’m trying to be intimate with you,” Alex snaps, stepping out of the shower and grabbing a towel. “You can shower. I’ll be in bed.”

 

When Kelley gets out of the shower, the bedroom lights are already off, and Alex’s back is turned to her. “Sweetheart,” she says softly. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”

 

“It’s still rude,” Alex says, rolling onto her back.

 

“I’m sorry,” Kelley replies, thinking about what HAO said. “I’m just worried about you. That’s all.”

 

“I love you for that,” Alex says, finally turning toward her. “I really really do.”

 

“I don’t want him to win,” Kelley says softly. “I don’t want him to have the kind of power over you where you aren’t eating enough and you’re stressed and having to distract yourself from it all the time. That’s not fair.”

 

“He’s not going to win,” Alex says. “My therapist says it’s a process. Honestly, you being here is already making me feel calmer.”

 

“Really?”

 

Alex nods, leaning forward to nuzzle into Kelley’s chest. Kelley wraps both arms around Alex’s shoulders, kissing her on top of her head. “Having a routine is good for that,” she says. “That’s part of why I didn’t want to go to Rio. I wanted to cheer you on so bad, but going just for a trip when I have all these things going on with work and the lawsuit…”

 

As she speaks, Kelley can literally hear HAO saying the exact same thing in the back of her head. She tilts Alex’s head up to kiss her lips. “I know,” she says. “You don’t have to explain. I understand. I’m here.”

Chapter Text

Rumors of expansion spreads like wildfire around the NWSL, and Kelley never pays much attention. As the only allocated U.S. player on her team, she never has to worry about being protected or unprotected or whatever. But when she hears “LA,” her ears perk up.

 

“What do you know about LA expansion?” she texts Christen. If anyone would know for sure, it would be her.

 

“Happening,” Christen replies. “Why?”

 

“This year?”

 

“Yes, why???”

 

“We’ll talk at camp,” Kelley replies, already onto her next phone call to Alex.

 

“Hey, babe,” Alex answers. “You okay? I’m about to head into a lunch interview.”

 

“Very fancy,” Kelley says. “I’ll be quick. Remember when I was in LA last month and we talked about how nice it would be if we lived in the same place?”

 

“Of course,” Alex laughs.

 

“That could be a possibility.”

 

“Okay, can we discuss this later?” Alex sighs. “You know I would love to live in New York, but—”

 

“No, I mean me moving to LA,” Kelley says.

 

“Like in the offseason?”

 

“No, like for good.”

 

“Oh,” Alex says. “Wait, what? Can you explain?”

 

“I just need to know,” Kelley says. “In December we’ll have been together a year. Is moving out there too fast?”

 

“No, not at all!” Alex exclaims. “Are you serious? Is this really a thing?”

 

“Maybe,” Kelley says. “I need to talk to some people. I just wanted to gut check with you first.”

 

“We should still probably have a longer conversation,” Alex says. “But of course I want you here. That’s a no-brainer.”

 

“Good,” Kelley says. “Have a good interview. I love you.”

 

Once she hangs up, she scrolls through her phone to find her coach, Christy Holly.

 

“Hello?” he answers, sounding concerned.

 

“Hey, Coach,” Kelley says. “I, uh, was hoping I could talk to you about something. Maybe tomorrow before training?”

 

“Um, yeah,” he says. “Sure. Anything I should be worried about?”

 

Kelley takes a deep breath. “I don’t know.”

 

------

 

She shows up to training half an hour earlier than she told her coach she’d meet him and does wind sprints for the hell of it till he shows up, mostly to work off her nerves. Still, when she sits next to him on the bleachers, her heart races.

 

“I just wanted to thank you for everything this year,” Kelley says. “I know your first year being head coach was probably intimidating and there was a lot of pressure, but I think the season has gone really well, for what it’s worth. I think you’ve done a great job.”

 

“Thank you, Kelley,” he says. “That means a lot coming from you.”

 

“I’ve been thinking,” she says. “About my future, and my career, and well, everything.”

 

He nods.

 

“I heard about LA,” she says. He nods again, slowly beginning to understand. “I know you don’t have any reason to leave me unprotected, but I wanted to talk to you about it. We don’t talk about our personal lives, really, but my girlfriend lives in California.”

 

He smiles. “Just because we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean I know,” he says. “I’ve kind of been expecting this.” Kelley raises her eyebrows. “Pearcie told me about what that player said to you. That’s why I never asked you about the red card. I figured it was better to leave it in the past.”

 

Kelley’s chest tightens remembering it, but she nods. “I love this club,” she says. “I love my teammates and the staff and the ownership. I love playing soccer here, and I don’t want to be that person. But right now I feel like I need to be there. I know I don’t have control over that, that’s part of the nature of my job, but it would mean a lot to me if we could work something out.”

 

“You’ve given a lot to this club,” he says. “But I think you know I can’t leave you unprotected.”

 

Kelley’s heart sinks, but she nods. “Sure,” she says. “I couldn’t just let this go without—if you never ask, you never know, right?”

 

Christy smiles sadly. “Right,” he says. “I appreciate you coming to me. I hope that level of trust you have in me doesn’t go away.”

 

“Yeah,” Kelley says, willing away the lump in her throat. “Thank you for hearing me out.”

 

She’s on the verge of tears for the rest of practice, dreading the call to Alex she knows she’ll have to make later that night. She was so excited when Kelley told her the night before about the possibility of an expansion team that would let them both have the best of both worlds.

 

Alex takes it well—she’s understandably disappointed, but she knew it was a big maybe. Kelley had prepared her for that but didn’t prepare herself. She let herself get her hopes up knowing what a long shot it would be for her coach to part with one of his star players, and she brought the crushing disappointment on herself.

 

-----

 

The next week, Christy calls Kelley into his office after practice. When she showers off and gets changed, she walks into his office to find him and the general manager, Tony, talking in hushed voices.

 

“Uh, hi,” she says. “Should I come back?”

 

“No, sit down,” Christy says, smiling. His strong Irish accent brings Kelley comfort as she tries to ignore the gaze of the GM. “I wanted to let you know before the news gets around to the rest of the league. The LA women’s side is going to be announced a week after the final.”

 

Kelley nods. “Thanks for letting me know.”

 

“We’re trading you to Portland on the same day,” Tony says. “They’ll leave you unprotected, and you and Christen Press will play for LA next season.”

 

Kelley’s eyes widen as she looks between them. “Wait… what?”

 

“I told you I was expecting it,” Christy says. “We’d already had meetings to discuss contingency plans if you or Christie were to leave us for some reason. This is a best case scenario. You aren’t retiring or going abroad, so we can get our money’s worth. No offense.”

 

“None taken,” Kelley breathes. She tries to contain her emotions, but she can feel her face heating up and tears pricking the back of her eyes.

 

“You can decide how or if you’d like to tell the team,” Christy says. “Christie has assured us she’s sticking around for at least one more season. We’ll miss you terribly, but the club will be in good hands.”

 

Kelley can’t stop the tears at that point. “Thank you,” she says, standing up to first hug him, then Tony. “Thank you so much. You don’t know what this means to me.”

 

“We’re thankful for everything you’ve done for Sky Blue,” Tony says gruffly, sticking out his hand.

 

“And Kelley?” Christy says. “Go easy on us next year, okay?”

 

She smirks. “Not a chance.”

 

“Worth a shot,” he says with a shrug.

 

------

 

On the day LA’s NWSL expansion team and Kelley’s trade to Portland is announced, she’s apartment hunting in LA with Alex and Christen.

 

Christen’s family lives less than an hour away from and she eventually wants to buy her own home on the beach somewhere in between, but she isn’t sure where yet. Moving across the country is enough change for Kelley, who wants to live with Alex eventually but doesn’t want to smother her, so for their inaugural season, she and Christen decide to get a short-term lease together in Hollywood.

 

The apartment they decide on is about 20 minutes from their new stadium and 20 minutes from Alex’s apartment in Beverly Hills with the understanding that yeah, Kelley will probably be spending a lot of her time there.

 

The rumors about Kelley’s trade to Portland being convenient for the expansion draft are already flying, and everyone is already expecting Christen to be the unprotected one from her team in Chicago, which has its fair share of US internationals. She’s never been exactly subtle about her intentions to move back home, and she’s one of the very first to follow the LAWFC Twitter account and retweet news of the expansion.

 

This time, Kelley’s airport goodbye with Alex is less heavy and far more hopeful. After she spends two weeks on the road with the National Team, she’ll head home to New Jersey to pack up her apartment, drive its contents to Georgia, fly back out for more National Team games the last of which will be in Carson, California. From there, Alex will fly with her to Georgia for Thanksgiving before Kelley whisks her away to an undisclosed location for a week to celebrate their anniversary.

 

“So soon,” Alex murmurs against her lips. “So soon till no more goodbyes.”

 

Kelley doesn’t ruin the moment by reminding her that they both have annoyingly travel-heavy schedules that will more likely than not result in a lot more goodbyes because that’s something they both know pretty well.

Chapter Text

“I’m officially trading you in for Alex,” Karen announces after Alex downs her third slice of pie at Thanksgiving dinner.

 

Alex gives Kelley a smug smile while Kelley sticks her tongue out at her.

 

“Suck up,” Kelley says.

 

“This has been the most amazing dinner,” Alex says, resting a hand on her belly. “I don’t say this lightly, but I’m stuffed.”

 

“Babe? Are you feeling okay?” Kelley teases, pressing the back of her hand to Alex’s forehead.

 

“I hope you aren’t too stuffed for our O’Hara sibling binge drinking tradition,” Erin says, smirking toward Karen, who rolls her eyes.

 

“If you said bar hopping instead of binge drinking, I might be more cool with it,” she replies.

 

“We don’t hop, Mom!” Kelley says, tossing a balled-up napkin at her. “That would be misleading.”

 

“Find a new name,” Karen deadpans. “And call your dad and wake him up if you need a DD. I’ll be asleep, thank you very much.”

 

“Noted,” Jerry says. “Dad, you’re on call.”

 

“Alex is like a Lyft celebrity,” Kelley announces.

 

“Stop,” Alex murmurs, her face turning pink.

 

“Okay, whatever, the point is she gets free rides,” Kelley says. “So you can sleep, Dad.”

 

“I’m with your mom,” Dan says. “Totally trading you in. Alex comes with perks.”

 

-------

 

Kelley always hesitates to compare Alex to her exes, but Ann had never gotten along as well with her siblings as well as Alex does already. Even Kristy, who Erin and Kelley both struggled to become close with, seems to hit it off with Alex.

 

“You’re like sunshine,” Kelley slurs as she pulls Alex toward her at their table in the corner of the bar. “You’re so warm and radiant and you make everything brighter.”

 

“You’re the cutest,” Alex murmurs, leaning in to peck Kelley on the lips.

 

“Damn,” a male voice curses. “I guess I’m shit out of luck then.”

 

Kelley pulls away to see a guy approaching them.

 

Jerry sits up a little straighter, tilting his chin up as he assesses the unfamiliar man.

 

“I wanted to buy the tall one a drink,” the man says. He looks back at his buddies a few tables over, who are all watching. “As a thank you.”

 

Alex looks confused. “For what?” she asks.

 

“You’re one of my favorites.”

 

Kelley angles her body so she’s standing in front of Alex too. “Yeah, she’s my favorite too,” she says. “Seeing as she’s my girlfriend.”

 

“So you must have seen her video too?” he asks with a smirk, looking back at his friends again.

 

“Back away, buddy,” Jerry says, standing up and putting a hand on his chest. “Go back to your pals.”

 

Kelley reaches behind her to grab Alex’s hand and can feel her pulse racing.

 

The guy pushes Jerry’s hand off his chest and looks at Kelley. “Your girl has kept me warm on some cold nights,” he says.

 

“I’m sure you have a lot of those,” Erin retorts.

 

The guy isn’t fazed. “How much for a lap dance, baby?” he asks Alex. “It would literally be a dream come true.”

 

“I told you to back away,” Jerry says, louder this time.

 

Kelley lets go of Alex’s hand, and before Alex can react, Kelley is swinging and making direct contact with his nose. “Fuck!” she exclaims as her knuckles start stinging.

 

At the same time, the guy steps closer, forcing Jerry to get in between him and Kelley and push him away. His friends finally get up to pull the douchebag away, but the damage is done. Kelley can feel Alex shaking as she tries to will the pain in her knuckles away.

 

“Go,” Jerry says, looking at Erin. “I’ll get the tab.”

 

Erin links her arm through Alex’s and Kristy grabs Kelley’s good hand before they pull the women out of the bar.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Alex says, her voice high-pitched like she’s trying not to cry.

 

“That was not your fault,” Erin says. “Not even a little bit.”

 

Kelley rubs Alex’s back, wincing at how badly her hand hurts.

 

“Are you okay, baby?” Alex asks, moving away from Kelley so she can gingerly take her punching hand and look at it.

 

“I’m fine,” Kelley grits out, but it’s obvious she isn’t. When she looks down and sees it already starting to bruise and swell, she curses under her breath.

 

“We need to go to the hospital,” Kristy tells Jerry when he comes out of the bar finally. “Kelley broke something.”

 

“I hope he did too,” Jerry mutters. “Come on.”

 

Alex is quiet on the way to the hospital and as they sit in the waiting room among all the people in for various Turkey Day-related injuries. She holds ice against Kelley’s hand and taps her foot incessantly, looking around the room, everywhere but at Kelley’s right hand.

 

Erin and Kristy go on a cafeteria run for crappy snacks while Jerry paces the waiting room until Kelley’s name is finally called.

 

“Jesus, am I going to have to see the other guy before the night is over?” the doctor asks.

 

“I wish I had gotten to throw another,” Kelley grimaces.

 

“Kel,” Alex says softly, shutting her up.

 

“I can pretty much confirm that you have at least two broken knuckles, but we’ll have to do some X-rays,” the doctor says. “The good news is, it’s not that hard to fix. I know this isn’t how you wanted to spend your holiday, but I assume the other guy deserved it.” He winks.

 

“You have no idea,” Kelley mumbles, squeezing Alex’s hand with her left hand.

 

As the doctor had predicted, Kelley’s middle and fourth knuckle are broken and the other two are badly bruised. Kelley refrains from making any sex jokes while the nurse splints them, figuring that Alex isn’t exactly in the mood one way or the other.

 

“I’m going to prescribe you Tylenol with codeine,” the doctor says.

 

Kelley glances at Alex out of the corner of her eye. “Um, no that’s okay,” she says. “I’ll be okay with the over-the-counter stuff. I’m an athlete, I’ve had surgeries and stuff.”

 

“Are you sure?” he asks, furrowing his brow. “I think for the first few days at least you’ll want something stronger, and that's an approved drug.” He flips through her chart and looks back at her.

 

“Kelley,” Alex says. “Just take it.”

 

“I’m not—”

 

“Can you give us a minute?” Alex asks.

 

The doctor looks between them both and nods. “Uh, yeah, let me just… I’ll come back in a few.”

 

As soon as he leaves, Alex crosses her arms. “I’m not a druggie,” she says.

 

“We’re not having this fight right now.”

 

“We’re about to go away for a week, and I don’t want you to be in massive pain because you’re worried I’m some drug addict who won’t be able to resist your narcotics.”

 

“I just have a high pain tolerance.”

 

“Bullshit,” Alex says. “I saw you look at me when he said codeine. That’s not how this works. Just take the drugs. Don’t be a hero.”

 

“Alex, I don’t—”

 

“You’re in pain!” Alex exclaims. “You’re an idiot if you don’t at least get the script. Get it filled or don’t, but I don’t want you writhing in pain on our anniversary vacation because you were being a martyr for me.”

 

“Fine,” Kelley sighs. “But I’m not getting it filled.”

 

-------

 

It isn’t even Day 1 of their romantic getaway when Kelley is on the hunt for a pharmacy that can fill her prescription in the few hours they have left before taking off. Kelley doesn’t tell Alex about the prescription, figuring it’s just better for everyone involved if she doesn’t know. She disguises her pre-flight errands as just that, travel toothpaste and deodorant and snacks, and Alex doesn’t question her as she finishes packing.

 

Even sleeping sucks because Kelley can’t get her right hand under her pillow how she likes it, nor can she get it underneath Alex’s body when they spoon. In reality, it does affect their sex life in that Kelley can’t use her hands at all (her left is useless when it comes to that), but they find creative ways around that hindrance.

 

The airbnb in Belize is right on the water—literally, because it’s “a fucking yacht,” a direct quote from Alex when Kelley did her big reveal on the plane. It’s technically a catamaran, as Kelley is quick to explain, but it’s also the most intimate vacation possible, as it’s only them and their captain, Jesse, and first mate/chef/bartender/hostess, Cassie, on the open sea for an entire week.

 

They spend most of their days lying on the deck in the warm sun because it is the most beautiful weather they’ve ever experienced, but Kelley lets Alex pick out anything she wants to do from their list of excursions, which ends up being snorkeling (twice), kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and one evening on shore at a marina, dancing and drinking (there’s a lot of drinking on the boat as well). Kelley will probably have a sick tan line from the splint on her hand (that was a fun story to tell Jesse and Cassie), but she hardly notices the pain after a few days.

 

Kelley doesn’t think she’s ever seen Alex completely unplug and relax, but any fears she had about The Big Move are quelled after spending a week in near-solitude, away from the business of Hollywood and the the stress of anything else going on.

 

“Do you think they’ll sponsor me?” Alex teases, sipping Cassie’s latest concoction as the sun goes down on their final night. “I want to do this every week.”

 

“How about every year?” Kelley laughs. “I can see it being an anniversary tradition.”

 

“Oh?” Alex asks, quirking an eyebrow. “You’re planning on keeping me around for another year?”

 

“I’m planning on keeping you around as long as you’ll let me,” Kelley answers, leaning in for a coconut-flavored kiss.

 

-------

 

Alex doesn't reach for her phone until they're waiting at their gate at the airport. “Ready for this?” she asks Kelley as she powers it on.

 

Kelley sees what she means almost instantly as the texts, calls, voicemails, and emails roll in. She put an “on vacation” message on every social media platform and her email, but that doesn't seem to have stopped anyone from contacting her.

 

“God, you're popular,” Kelley says, kissing Alex on the cheek as she listens to voicemails.

 

“Oh my God,” Alex breathes. “Oh my God!” She turns to Kelley, eyes lit up, and grins before putting down the phone. “They convicted him,” she says. “It's bullshit, he doesn't even have to go to jail, just pay a fine and be on probation, but it's over! Well, the criminal case is. And Nina said his lawyer wants to settle with us and they're going to meet after the holidays. Then it'll all be over.”

 

“That's amazing, baby,” Kelley says, squeezing Alex’s knee.

 

“I know we still have a few more weeks of 2016, but I think 2017 is going to be amazing,” Alex says, leaning her head on Kelley’s shoulder. She opens Instagram to take a selfie for her story, and when the camera opens, Kelley sees Alex smiling wider than she has in months.

Chapter Text

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.”

 

“Worse how?”

 

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.”

 

“Why?”

 

“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.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“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.

 

“What?”

 

“Your therapist.”

 

“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.”

 

“And you?”

 

“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.”

 

“Have you?”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“Tell me the truth,” Kelley says. “Before Ellen, did you take something in the bathroom?”

 

“Jesus, Kel.”

 

“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.”

Chapter Text

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.”

 

“So smooth.”

 

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.”

 

“Wow.”

 

“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.”

Chapter Text

They close on the house in mid-August, at the height of Kelley’s away season, so they don’t move in right away, opting instead to spend several nights “sneaking into” their unfurnished new house to go skinny dipping.

 

“I’ve never had as much fun with anyone as I do with you,” Kelley mumbles against Alex’s lips, her body wrapped around Alex’s as her girlfriend holds her up in the part of the pool where Alex can stand touching the bottom but she can’t.

 

“I think you’re my favorite person,” Alex replies.

 

“You think?” Kelley teases.

 

“Fine,” Alex sighs dramatically. “You’re my favorite person in the entire world and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Would I be buying a house with you if I didn’t?” Alex asks. “I’m pretty sure we’re, like, meant to be.”

 

“I could definitely think of worse ways to spend the rest of my life.”

 

“God, you know how to romance a girl,” Alex says, pretending to swoon.

 

“Wait till you see what I can do to you on the new granite countertops,” Kelley replies, nipping at Alex’s neck.

 

“I knew those were a good investment.” Alex pulls back to grin at Kelley. “I think we should throw a housewarming party.”

 

“Yeah? We'd have to be wearing a lot more clothes.”

 

“Not necessarily.”

 

“Gross.”

 

“We should do it before we move all our furniture in and just get people to bring their own chairs and booze. That way they don't trash the place right off the bat.”

 

“See, when you say housewarming party, I'm envisioning a small, low-key get-together with our close friends and family. Not a blowout.”

 

“You're no fun. What's the point of such an incredible house if you aren't going to throw ragers?”

 

Kelley’s brow furrows in concern. “Um, to make memories with your favorite person in the world and have a place to cook out and swim without fear of anyone drowning and being liable for that?”

 

“Fine, our housewarming party can be chill,” Alex says, rolling her eyes. “But eventually we’re going to break it in for real.”

 

“I know you're going to call me a wet blanket, but I don't want to have crazy parties here, Al. I don't think that's good for you.”

 

“Kelley, I'm not using—”

 

“I'm just saying, I want this to be a fresh start for both of us. You have memories—hell, I have one in particular—of drugs at your apartment. This place isn't tainted with that.” Kelley stops herself before she says “yet.”

 

“If you think nobody's done cocaine in this house before…”

 

You haven't, Alex. You're the only person I worry about.”

 

“You worry too much.” Kelley pouts, letting Alex kiss her. “I love you for caring about me even when I don't deserve it.”

 

“You always deserve it.”

 

------

 

They don't talk about Alex’s “sobriety,” mostly because Kelley follows Alex’s lead, and Alex doesn't talk about it. Everything else is normal, they still drink and go out, the main difference being that Alex is glued to Kelley’s side all night, which is certainly not something Kelley complains about.

 

Kelley brings it up once or twice, but she quickly learns how easy it is to bring a nice time to a screeching halt when she brings up drugs. Alex insists that, like a lot of things, she’d rather keep that to her twice-weekly therapy sessions and actually enjoy “real life” with Kelley.

 

Once they move into the new house, Alex all but forbids any talk of it, turning around Kelley’s words about this place being a “fresh start” and using some jargon she got from her therapist about leaving the past in the past and choosing to be the New Alex every day. Kelley’s just happy she's seeing the therapist, along with a psychiatrist who prescribed her anti-anxiety medication that seems to do the trick, especially during high-pressure business waves like the one she's in now, designing a line of bathing suits for some brand that Kelley’s never heard of but Alex couldn't be more excited about.

 

The first completely finished room in the house is the guest bedroom that doubles Alex’s upstairs office, where she spends most of her days making conference calls and answering emails. When she's not up there or out doing shoots and traveling for meetings, she's at the dining room table with Amy and Nina, sketch pads and fabric strewn everywhere.

 

Sometimes Kelley will come home to find half a dozen people she's never met (and whose names she promptly forgets upon introduction) who are part of the creative team for the new venture. She usually kisses Alex hello before excusing herself to shower and nap, electing to stay far away from the madness. Anything that keeps Alex busy and happy is something Kelley fully supports.

 

On the rare occasion that Alex’s car is in the garage but nobody else is around, as is the case when Kelley comes home from one of her last road trips of the season, Kelley seizes the opportunity for a midday skinny dip and/or snuggle (she prefers the “and” option, always).

 

“Alex!” Kelley calls, her voice echoing through the house. “Babe? I'm home!” She doesn't get a response, and Alex isn't by the pool or in their room, so she climbs the stairs to the office, where she can picture Alex napping on top of the covers, spent after a long day of answering tweets about how pretty she is. Alex would kill Kelley if she actually thought that or said that out loud, but she never would.

 

“Sweetheart?” Kelley calls, knocking on the door lightly before opening it. Alex isn't there, but her laptop is on the desk by the window, so she can't have gone far.

 

She pads across the carpet to the desk, where she takes a pen and Alex’s pad of pink sticky notes to write a note to her to find later.

 

“I LOVE YOU!” she writes, signing her name with a heart. As she sticks it on her laptop, something on the desk catches her eye.

 

A few specks of what looks like white dust stand out against the dark wood of the desk, and Kelley feels her heart stop before picking up in pace.

 

“No,” she says to herself, reaching for the top drawer. “Please no, Alex.”

 

The top drawer is neatly organized and filled with pens and highlighters and a few loose paper clips. The second drawer is much the same, with a little more junk, but the bottom drawer, the one that doubles as a filing cabinet, houses a small lock box a little bigger than Kelley’s hand. The lock requires a four-digit code, and Kelley tries all of Alex’s normal numbers before giving up and slamming the box onto the table.

 

“Honey?” Alex asks from behind her. “What are you doing?”

 

Kelley almost jumps out of her skin, as if she's the one being caught doing something wrong. She turns to see a sweaty Alex, probably coming back in from a run if the sports bra and running shorts are anything to go by.

 

“What's in this box?” she demands.

 

Alex raises her eyebrows. “Nice to see you too.”

 

“What's in it, Alex?” Kelley asks again.

 

Alex crosses her arms, leaning against the doorway. “Why?”

 

“Because there's white fucking powder on your desk, Alex.”

 

“If you're accusing me of something, just say it.”

 

“I think you know what—”

 

“I don't care,” Alex says. “Say it.”

 

“Are you doing drugs?”

 

“You know my doctor pres—”

 

“Cut the bullshit, Al, it's not cute. Are you doing coke again or not?”

 

“I'm not,” Alex says.

 

“Prove it.”

 

“Are you kidding?”

 

“What reason do I have to trust you? I didn't even know this box existed, but it clearly has something in it, and it's locked.”

 

“How much do you think cocaine weighs?”

 

“A lot if you're stocking up!”

 

“It's our fucking anniversary,” Alex says.

 

“What?” Kelley asks. “That's in December.”

 

“The code, Kelley. Twelve zero one. Open it.”

 

Kelley turns the numbers on the locks, and sure enough, it opens. To reveal more sticky notes in Kelley’s handwriting, along with pictures (actual printed pictures) of the two of them, receipts from places they've been together, and more.

 

“Happy?”

 

“Alex, I'm—”

 

“Amy brought over powdered donuts,” Alex says. “I saved two for you, but I ate one. The one left over is still downstairs in the kitchen. I went for a run so I would stop fixating on it because I knew you'd enjoy the treat after such a long plane trip today.”

 

“Alex—”

 

“I have work to do if you don't mind.” Alex steps out of the doorway, her arm gesturing for Kelley to get out.

 

-------

 

Alex doesn't come down from her office until after dark, freshly showered from the mostly finished bathroom upstairs.

 

Kelley looks up from her book when Alex opens the French doors from their bedroom out to the pool. “Hey.”

 

“Hi,” Alex says softly, stepping toward Kelley as if she's unsure about how close to get.

 

Kelley answers her unspoken question by putting her book down and touching her lap gently, enough for Alex to get the hint and smile as she sits down, wrapping her arms around Kelley’s neck and kissing her on the lips.

 

“First of all,” Alex murmurs. “I missed kissing you.”

 

“I'm sorry, baby,” Kelley says. “For jumping to conclusions, for not trusting you…”

 

“You were right,” Alex says. “I haven't given you very many reasons to trust me. And I'm so sorry for that.”

 

Kelley nods, swallowing loudly.

 

“I'm not super happy you were going through my stuff,” Alex says. “But I understand. I just… I don't know, we talked about this house being a fresh start, and I thought it was a sign that maybe you were willing to put all that in the past. Clean slate and stuff.”

 

“You have a clean slate with me,” Kelley says. “But not with your brain or your body. That's what scares me. I'm not as worried that you're sneaking around or lying to me, even though I hate the idea of that too. I'm worried that you're going to have your friends over and someone is going to have drugs or you're going to go somewhere and drink too much and just forget it and then you're back to square one.”

 

“I’m better,” Alex insists.

 

“You were better before the video, too,” Kelley says. “And then you got way worse. And then better again, and then worse. How many times?”

 

“I don't want to hurt you,” Alex whispers. “And I don't like when you worry.”

 

“It doesn't hurt me for you to talk about it,” Kelley says. “I want to know how you're doing all the time, even when the answer is ‘not good.’ At least then I know. I want to help when I can and listen when I can't.”

 

“Okay,” Alex says. “I'll try.”

 

“But Alex, I'm serious. I don't think I've said it before, but no more. I don't want your friends coming within a mile of the house with that stuff. Not even Mana or Nina or…”

 

“My friends aren't pressuring me.”

 

“I would hope not,” Kelley says. “But I’m not taking my chances. You're too important to me. You're too important to your family and friends and all those people out there who think you're cool for some strange reason.”

 

“I am totally cool!” Alex retorts. “After all, I’m the one who got us dinner reservations for tomorrow night at the new place in the Grove.”

 

“No you didn't,” Kelley says, gawking.

 

“It's a Monday night, don't get too excited,” Alex laughs. “I'm supposed to review it on my Instagram.”

 

“Thank God for the ‘Gram,” Kelley teases.

 

Alex rolls her eyes, but she kisses Kelley’s forehead anyway. “I do every day,” she says. “It brought me you.”

Chapter Text

Clinching the very last playoff spot after a long week of travel isn't easy, but LA manages to sneak into the fourth-place spot after a hard-fought battle in New Jersey. One thing that might be slightly harder is captaining your team to a semifinal win in Portland while on your period, but that's exactly what Kelley is able to do with her team as Alex cheers in the stands.

 

“I'm sorry we can't celebrate the good way,” Kelley pouts when she and Alex get back to the hotel room Alex got for the night. It's a suite with a full kitchen they both know they won't use (why else would room service exist?) and a California King bed that they will only use a small sliver of (Kelley gets cuddly on her period).

 

“I'll call the front desk and see if we can get a heating pad,” Alex says.

 

“I think I'm going to take a bath,” Kelley says.

 

“Poor baby.”

 

The bathtub is big enough for two easily, and Kelley considers inviting Alex to join her for a split second before she's doubled over in pain from cramps.

 

“Baby, did you happen to bring Midol?” Kelley calls as she unzips the pink and white polka-dotted toiletry bag on the counter. She rummages through it for medicine, pushing aside orange bottles and tampons till she finds the box she needs. “Never mind, got it!”

 

She places the scattered items back in neatly, but before she zips the bag, she reads the writing on the orange bottle nestled on top. Then she reads it again, because surely it can't be right. Once she's absolutely positive she's reading this and not having a complete mental breakdown, she sets it down calmly on the counter and runs the bath to drown out the sound of her tears.

 

She takes her time scrubbing and shampooing and washing her face when she gets out of the tub, appreciating the last few minutes of normalcy she’ll have maybe in her entire life before slipping into the fluffy bathrobe hanging on the back of the door. She takes a deep breath looking in the mirror as she grips the orange bottle from before in her hand.

 

“Babe?” she calls as she walks into the main room, where Alex is painting her toenails. “Do you remember where I was on September 18?”

 

Alex looks up. “Um, no? Should I?” Kelley stays quiet as she thinks. “Wait, wasn't that when you were gone for the New Zealand friendlies?”

 

“Oh yeah,” Kelley says. “You're right. That's so weird.”

 

“Why, did you get your period then?” Alex asks, furrowing her brow.

 

“No, no,” Kelley says. “I'm just trying to figure out how I managed to fill a prescription at a CVS in Santa Monica while I was in Cincinnati.” She holds up the half empty bottle to a silent Alex, who stares at it in dread.

 

Alex stays glued to her spot, staring at the bottle instead of Kelley until finally Kelley slams it down on the kitchen counter.


"Are you going to say anything?" Kelley demands. "This is a new low, even for you."

"Kelley," Alex breathes.

"What did I say?" Kelley asks, her voice shaking. "Last time you lied to me, what did I tell you?"

Alex's lip quivers. "Kelley, please."

"I don't think you understand," Kelley says, picking up the bottle just to slam it down again. "This is how people end up on heroin. This is how they end up dead in bathtubs with needles still in their arms. This shit right here."

Alex is shaking now, her head buried in her hands.

“I didn't even take half of the original prescription,” Kelley says. “Did you finish that and half of this?”

 

“Not all at once,” Alex says, her voice small.

 

“Well yeah, you'd be dead if it were all at once,” Kelley says. “How long have you been doing this?”

 

“I'm sorry.”

 

“I don't care if you're sorry!” Kelley exclaims. “You've been sorry a million times! I care if you're alive. Do you know how many times I've woken up in the middle of the night panicking because I'm scared you could be dead?”

 

“I've never—”

 

“Just because you've never ODed doesn't mean you never will,” Kelley says, her chest tightening. “That's literally how it works. You're in control until you aren't, and then it's too late. You're just having some fun at parties until you're stealing your girlfriend’s prescription to get your fix.”

 

“I didn't mean to.”


"I know you didn’t mean to,” Kelley says. “Nobody means to become a drug addict.”

 

“Don't call me that!”

 

“You are!” Kelley shouts. “You're an addict! Can you just admit it? You got screwed by a few shitty things and don't know how to cope. You're a high-functioning drug addict, and you need help!"

"Maybe I am!" Alex yells back. "Maybe I do! But screaming at me isn't going to change anything."

"And letting you spiral out of control is?" Kelley retorts.


Alex's body continues to tremble with sobs.

"I've let you get this far because I've been terrified to confront you and take the chance I might lose you, but now I'm pretty sure I'll lose you anyway."

"I'm not going anywhere," Alex cries. "You could never lose me."

"Don't make promises you can't keep!" Kelley exclaims, opening the bottle and pouring its contents into the kitchen sink. She turns on the water and the garbage disposal, watching as the pills disappear. She buries her face in her hands, resting her elbows on the counter. "What am I supposed to do, Alex? How am I supposed to do this? I don't know how to help you anymore!" She runs her hands through her hair roughly, not even caring when her hand catches in the tangled ends she hasn't had a chance to brush out yet. "Maybe I never did."

"I don't even know what to say," Alex says. "You deserve better."

"So do you, Alex!" Kelley exclaims. "I've tried everything to give you better. I don't know what else to do. I've given you chances, I've been glued to your side because I figured if I was always around you could never slip up, I've driven you to a therapist twice a week for the past month. Where could I have been better? Why is nothing working?"

"You don't think I ask myself that every day?" Alex cries. "I haven't deserved you in a long time. I can't figure out why you stay, but I love you for staying. I don't know what to do either, and I'm so scared all the time, but when you're here, I'm not scared. I feel like my head is above water with you and I can breathe."

"So why?" Kelley asks, her voice breaking. "Why is that not enough to stop?"

"I don't know," Alex says.

“What are we going to do, baby?” Kelley asks, sitting on the corner of the bed. “I can't help you if I don't know what you're dealing with.”

 

“Maybe you can't help me,” Alex says. “Maybe nobody can.”

 

Kelley moves to wrap her arms around Alex’s shoulders as she breaks down in tears. She rests her chin on Alex’s head, rubbing her back as she sobs, lacking any words to say.

 

Alex cries herself to sleep in Kelley’s arms, but Kelley can't fall asleep to save her life. She tucks Alex in gently before moving to the couch, where she pulls out her laptop and types in the words she's been avoiding for over a year.

 

------

 

Kelley wakes up pinned into the crease of the couch with Alex tucked into her side.

 

“Hi,” Alex says, her voice gravelly like someone who just spent the night crying.

 

“Hey,” Kelley replies. She places a kiss on Alex’s warm forehead. “How are you feeling?”

 

“Like shit,” Alex says. She sits up to grab Kelley’s laptop, typing in her password to bring up what Kelley fell asleep looking at. “Can we… talk about this?”

 

“Rehab?” Kelley asks.

 

Alex nods. “Something has to work eventually, right?” she asks with a weak smile. “Amy knows people. You don't have to Google.”

 

“Did you ask her?”

 

“She's talked to me about it before,” Alex says. “Just not since I told her I quit.”

 

“Did you?” Kelley asks quietly. “Quit, I mean.”

 

“I tried,” Alex says, staring at her hands as she plays with her fingers in her lap. “I had really bad headaches, and I went looking for painkillers, and…”

 

Kelley nods.

 

“I'm really sorry,” Alex says. “I thought I could stop by myself.”

 

“I know you did, sweetheart,” Kelley says, kissing Alex’s temple as she starts to cry again. “You're okay.”

 

“Are we?” Alex asks, her blue eyes glassy with tears.

 

“We will be,” Kelley answers. “Promise.”

 

------

 

The flight home is weirdly normal, even with the dark cloud hanging over their weekend. Amy picks them up from the airport and, without saying a word, gives Kelley the comfort that maybe everything will actually be okay.

 

Amy speaks calmly as they drink freshly brewed coffee at the dining room table, explaining everything to Alex the way Kelley has heard her explain why the sky is blue and why the witch from Snow White won't sneak into his bedroom as soon as Mommy leaves.

 

Kelley had laughed it off way back when Alex described Amy, who's less than two years older than her, as “like my mom,” but now it makes sense.

 

“I'm going to call a couple places,” Amy says gently, placing her hand atop Alex’s. “I'm really proud of you, Al.”

 

Kelley barely has a moment alone with Alex before Nina bursts through the door, ending their peaceful silence with her booming voice talking logistics and “how we’re going to tackle this with the press.”

 

“They're not going to ask,” Kelley says, exasperated. “It's not like she gets followed around by paparazzi.”

 

“No, but—”

 

“So what, we work with the brands that sponsor her and schedule posts? Amy can post for her. Hell, I can post for her. This is Alex’s business.”

 

“I’d rather not make an announcement,” Alex says. “Just tell the people who need to know and be done. People can just think Kelley and I went on a postseason vacation.”

 

“I think we need to get ahead of it,” Nina insists. “We say you're being treated for stress and exhaustion.”

 

“Everyone knows what that means,” Alex says. “Can't we just take the week to think about it?”

 

Amy clears her threat, holding up her phone from the doorway. “I don't think so, babe,” she says. “The place in San Jose has an opening on Friday they're willing to give you because this qualifies as an emergency, but if we don't take it, they'll give the spot to someone on their non-emergent waiting list.”

 

Alex looks at Kelley, her eyes filled with panic.

 

“We’ll take it,” Kelley says. “Tell them she's coming.”

 

“Baby, the final is on Saturday,” Alex says. “After that, that's what you agreed.”

 

“I don't care,” Kelley says.

 

“I do!” Alex insists. “I want to be there when you win. I can't miss that.”

 

“She's coming,” Kelley says. “I'll drive her up on Friday.”

 

“What the hell, Kelley?” Alex exclaims. “You aren't doing that.”

 

“Please don't argue with me,” Kelley says, lowering her voice. “We agreed that you needed to do this. The timing isn't great, but you're the most important thing right now.”

 

Alex clasps Kelley’s outstretched hand and nods toward Amy. “Yeah,” she says. “I'll take it.”

 

------

 

The drive to San Jose should only take about five and a half hours with such light traffic, but Kelley barely goes above the speed limit, knowing this is going to be her last chance to be alone with Alex for the next month. It could be longer, warned the kind woman they spoke to over the phone, if Alex doesn't feel that she has a good grip on things at the end of the first six weeks.

 

Alex goes between crying soft weepy tears to laughing to staying completely silent for long stretches of time. Kelley stays mostly quiet, simply enjoying the ability to touch Alex, keeping a steady grip on her thigh.

 

“This is beautiful,” Kelley says, an attempt at levity when she hears Alex’s breath hitch as they turn onto the winding path that leads to the facility.

 

“Yeah,” Alex agrees, taking Kelley’s hand.

 

“I'm really proud of you,” Kelley says for probably the fifth time today. Alex just nods and swallows hard, staring out the window.

 

Kelley is the first one out of the car when she pulls it through the circular driveway in front of the main building. From the pictures they saw online, she knows the campus spreads far beyond what she can see and overlooks a beautiful forest and lake, but every part of it looks pristine, starting with the cobblestone walkway to the front door.

 

She opens Alex’s door to help her out before walking around to the trunk to grab Alex’s luggage, fighting her off playfully.

 

A petite redhead who can’t be much older than Kelley and Alex walks out of the front door, flanked by two young men who take the bags from Kelley. “You must be Alex,” she says. “Welcome home.”

 

Alex shakes her hand as Kelley’s stomach clenches at her words, even though she knows they’re supposed to be reassuring.

 

“This is my girlfriend, Kelley,” Alex says.

 

“Welcome, welcome,” she says. “I’m Trista, we spoke on the phone. We are so glad to see you.”

 

Alex doesn’t say anything, and Kelley knows she mainly doesn’t want to be rude because the feeling is certainly not mutual.

 

“You can leave your car out here,” she says. “You’re our only arrival today, so as long as you have all your belongings, I’ll go ahead and get you all checked in.”

 

Kelley holds Alex’s hand the entire time they’re checking in, to the point where Kelley wouldn’t be surprised if Alex is just doing it for her benefit.

 

Alex is kind and polite to everyone she meets, not that Kelley would expect any different from her, but she wonders how much of it is Alex’s insistence that she’s not a real addict, just that she somehow woke up in this parallel universe where she’s someone else.

 

Trista talks evenly about the expectations over the next few weeks, but she doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Alex cringes when Trista reads the information she has on file about Alex’s addiction, which reads like a rap sheet.

 

The program will last six weeks (more if needed, she reminds them), and for the first week, Alex will not be allowed to contact anyone. After that, she can send and receive mail, and she’ll have limited phone access at certain times of day, but their only real chance to talk will be during the two family therapy sessions scheduled in the middle and at the end of the program.

 

Reading the schedule, it kind of feels like summer camp between all the outdoor activities and creative workshops, but Kelley keeps that thought to herself as Alex asks questions about her room and expected level of participation in group therapy.

 

Kelley manages to put the reality of the situation out of her mind and ignore the fact that she’s literally about to leave her girlfriend alone in the hands of strangers for more than a month while she does what? Keeps living life? Acts like everything’s normal? Nothing about this is normal.

 

“Are you ready to see your room?” Trista asks gently, looking toward Kelley even though the question seems to be directed at Alex.

 

Kelley realizes pretty quickly that this is where she’s sugarcoating. Kelley won’t be allowed to see Alex’s room. It’s time for her to go.

 

Alex doesn’t catch on quite as fast, standing up with Kelley’s hand still in her own. “Sure,” she agrees.

 

“I’ll give you two a few moments,” Trista says, standing up with Alex’s file and disappearing into a room.

 

Alex looks at Kelley with pure fear in her eyes. “I change my mind,” she says. “I can’t do it.”

 

“Yes you can,” Kelley says, grabbing Alex’s other hand. “You are so brave, Al. You can do anything.”

 

Alex’s eyes well up with tears, sending Kelley right over the edge. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t make me do this.”

 

“This isn’t a punishment, my love,” Kelley says, wrapping her arms around Alex’s waist and leaning back so she can look into her eyes. “You’re here because you’re strong. You’re here because I love you and I’m proud of you and I want everything good for you.”

 

Alex lets out a wail unlike anything Kelley has ever heard from her, and she squeezes Kelley tight, sobbing into her neck.

 

“You’re okay,” Kelley says, her refrain to both Alex and herself for the past week. She rubs Alex’s back to soothe her, waiting for her gasps to subside. “I’m going to hit the road,” she says. “I’m not going far. I’ll be just down the road, okay?”

 

She hasn’t really planned that far yet, but she knows she won’t be able to get more than 15 minutes away without worrying herself sick over Alex, so she’ll look for a hotel nearby to camp out for a few days just in case she has to rush back.

 

Alex nods. “I love you,” she says. “I’m so sorry.”

 

“Say you love me again,” Kelley says. “I want that to be the last thing, not an apology.”

 

“I love you,” Alex says, finally releasing Kelley from her grip.

 

“I love you too, baby,” Kelley says. “So much.” She stands on her tiptoes for a salty kiss and gives Alex’s hands one final squeeze before walking out.

 

She contains herself until she’s out the door, but she barely makes it to the car, parked ten feet away, before losing it entirely.

 

------

 

When she finds a hotel, she calls Alex’s parents first to update them on everything and reassure them that Alex is safe. Then she texts Nina and Amy, then Mana and Allie, then her own family.

 

Against her better judgment, when she finally finishes informing the tight-knit group Alex okayed, she checks Twitter, where it seems news of her absence from the upcoming final has just broken via her coach.

 

@LAWFC: BREAKING: Kelley O’Hara to miss @NWSL final. We’ll miss you, Captain. This one’s for you.

 

She takes a deep breath before opening her Notes app and screenshotting the statement she typed out last night after Alex fell asleep.

 

“Growing up in club soccer, I never questioned when sport took priority over life. If someone wanted to schedule a wedding for a weekend I was away for a tournament, so be it—I wasn’t missing that tournament. Soccer was the most important thing in my life, so surely the world must revolve around it, right? Imagine my surprise when I found out life has very little respect for my soccer schedule.

 

“I am so thankful for the support of my coaches, teammates, and fans as I take time to handle some personal matters. I am heartbroken to miss a game that we have all worked so hard for, but I have complete confidence in my team and my co-captain to bring home the trophy. I will be cheering them on the whole way.

 

“As for you, my fans and friends, all I ask is that you respect the privacy of me and my loved ones at this time and believe me when I say my dedication has never wavered, but some things are bigger than football. All my love, KO.”

 

-----

 

She's barely been away from Alex for an hour, but her absence is palpable, particularly when she lies down and attempts to take a nap. She knows the first few days of Alex’s stay will be low-key to ease her physical aches and pains, but she still wonders what she's doing, who she's talking to, if she's missing Kelley.

 

Her attempts at napping continue to be thwarted by the buzzing of her phone, likely the result of her family group message, but when she opens it, she sees text after text from Amy.

 

“Call me,” says the first.

 

“Seriously, need to talk now,” says the next.

 

“Just left you a voicemail. Listen to that before anything else.”

 

Kelley's heart races as she listens to the voicemail from Amy.

 

“Hey,” Amy says, her voice short. “I don't know how, but it's out there. About Alex. If you get any calls or emails asking for info, just ignore them till I can get to the bottom of this.”

 

Kelley's heart sinks as she hears the worry in Amy’s voice, and she texts back quickly. “Alex cannot know.”

 

“I know,” Amy replies. “Don't worry. We’re on damage control.”

 

Out of curiosity, Kelley powers on Alex’s phone, which is inundated with texts and calls and emails. She isn't planning to look at or read any of them, but when she sees “Jonathan Gill” flash across the screen, she can't help herself.

 

“Hey babes,” it says. “Mana told me about the rehab. Shitty stuff. Get better soon so you can come back out with us all x”

 

Kelley deletes the thread, mostly out of anger, but also because she doesn't want Alex to know how this spread to him, from Mana, one of her best friends, one of the only ones who made the exclusive group that got to know.

 

She scrolls through the other messages, and while they don't all say where they heard it (the more recent ones got it from TMZ or Twitter), Mana seems to be a resounding theme.

 

Kelley's blood boils as she dials her number.

 

“Hello?” she answers.

 

“Who did you tell about Alex?” Kelley demands.

 

“Just a couple people who were asking,” Mana says. “Why?”

 

“Because it's on the fucking internet,” Kelley says. “Alex trusted you. I trusted you!”

 

“It's no big deal,” Mana says. “It's rehab. Everyone does it.”

 

“I don't care!” Kelley exclaims. “I swear to God if I hear anything else in the press coming from you, you'll never speak to Alex again.”

 

“Okay, Jonathan,” Mana scoffs.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“You're just as possessive as he was,” she continues. “You don't own Alex. She's a grown woman. She can make her own choices.”

 

“Well she made the choice to get clean, and she’ll make the choice to stay that way,” Kelley retorts. “Do the right thing. Be a good person for Christ’s sake.”

 

“I didn't tell TMZ, for the record.”

 

“Well someone you told did,” Kelley says. “So you get to live with that now.”

 

She hangs up the phone without another word, shaking so hard her teeth are clanging against each other.

 

“Mana told the world,” she sends in a group text to Amy and Nina. “I'm so angry I can't even speak.”

 

“God help her,” Nina replies. “Don't worry, we’re handling. Just don't confirm or deny publicly.”

 

Kelley handles it the way she knows Alex would want her to: staying off the Internet and ordering far too much room service.

 

The next time she even opens Twitter is the morning of the final, sending out a tweet that says “GAMEDAY! So proud of this team. Let's get it @LAWFC. Can't wait to see @christenpress rocking that captain’s armband.”

 

It doesn't surprise her to see Alex’s name on her timeline when she scrolls through, but she is surprised about who it comes from.

 

TheDanLauletta: Presented without comment… RT @PerezHilton: Sources say Alex Morgan has checked into rehab for drug abuse :( bit.ly/CHAz5d

 

Then, of course, he fucking comments.

 

TheDanLauletta: For those asking, yes, the minor celeb referenced in my last RT is Kelley O’Hara’s rumored significant other

 

TheDanLauletta: As a reminder, we broke news yesterday that O’Hara would not be in today’s @NWSL final, citing “personal matters.”

 

TheDanLauletta: We don't publish unsubstantiated rumors, but O’Hara was unable to be reached for comment

 

Kelley can't help herself.

 

kohara19: @TheDanLauletta really? You don't publish rumors? Then what do you call your entire TL right now? Get a life, dude

 

Her next move is screenshotting her recent calls and emails, none of which came from any reporter or unknown number.

 

kohara19: @TheDanLauletta weird how I couldn't be reached for comment when nobody attempted to contact me

 

kohara19: Any Qs about rumors going around can be answered w/ my post yesterday about privacy. Thanks all for the support, it means the world.

 

She texts Christen “Don't talk to this asshat, and tell the rest of the girls they shouldn't either. Good luck today, love you” and blocks Dan before powering her phone off.

 

-----

 

LA wins the NWSL championship on a wonder strike from Christen, a huge feat for an expansion team, especially one that was barely in playoff contention in the middle of the season.

 

After the game, Christen tells the press that even though she wore the armband, Kelley was still leading the team from afar and they won it for her. Then she swiftly evades Dan’s creepy ass, and Kelley feels everything on the human spectrum of emotion at once.

Chapter Text

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.”

 

“You’re not—”

 

“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.”

 

Kelley nods.

 

“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.”

Chapter Text

The first few days at home are anything but normal. Kelley loves sleeping next to Alex again, but she knows it’s going to take a little bit of time for everything to feel quite the same.

 

Kelley isn’t even going to mention their anniversary until Alex brings it up a couple days after they get home.

 

“We don’t have to do anything,” Kelley says. “I’m just glad you’re back.”

 

“No way,” Alex says, shaking her head. “We agreed last year we’d have a tradition.”

 

“Yeah, but those things are booked months in advance,” Kelley says.

 

“Well it’s a good thing I booked it in August,” Alex says with a smile. “I had Amy make some changes while I was in rehab, so it’s going to be a dry cruise, but I really hope you still want to go.”

 

Alcohol, while not Alex’s vice, is something her therapist warned her to be cautious of in her first few months of sobriety, especially given that the majority of her drug use happened while she was drinking.

"Of course I still want to go, but—"

"No buts," Alex says, leaning across the kitchen counter to kiss Kelley on the lips. "We're doing normal, right? Normal couples celebrate their anniversaries.”

 

Alex's insistence is how Kelley ends up lying on a deck chair on a catamaran in Belize, sipping a virgin pina colada, eyes closed while she listens to Alex laugh—really laugh—for the first time in ages.

 

“I love that sound,” Kelley murmurs. “I've missed your laugh.”

 

“Try being funnier,” Alex teases. “Then maybe I’d laugh more.”

 

“I'm hilarious,” Kelley insists. “Now that you're around to laugh at my jokes, I think you'll remember.”

 

Alex giggles, but then gasps.

 

“Dolphins?” Kelley asks, her eyes flying open to look out at the water.

 

“No,” Alex laughs. “I just remembered your anniversary present is below deck and I wanted to give it to you. Hang on, I'll go grab it.”

 

“I thought this was my present!” Kelley exclaims. “Anything more is absurd, Al.”

 

“Too late!” Alex calls, her flip flops slapping against the deck as she heads toward the stairs down to the living area.

 

Kelley hears her coming back before she sees her, so she sits up in her chair and turns back to see Alex grinning and holding a wrapped gift.

 

“Here,” Alex says, sitting beside her.

 

Kelley unwraps it carefully because it looks painstakingly wrapped, and Alex doesn't wrap presents for just any occasion. Her office closet is filled with tissue paper and gift bags for any occasion because wrapping is such a pain in the ass, but this was probably easier to hide in her luggage.

 

When Kelley finishes, she finds a scrapbook with a picture of her and Alex from a year or so ago slotted into the front frame.

 

“I made this in rehab,” Alex explains. “This is my favorite picture of us because it was the day we went apartment shopping in LA with Christen, and it was the first time I really felt fully confident that we were going to last.”

 

“I love it,” Kelley says, flipping open the book to find a page with pictures that Alex must have saved off Snapchat, though they actually aren't terrible quality, and a copy of Alex’s plane ticket to New York the first time she flew in to see Kelley (which she later admitted was totally not at all a business trip).

 

The following pages are filled with little snippets of life that Kelley recognizes from the lock box she found in Alex’s desk drawer that one time. There are still plenty of pages to fill, but the last one has a letter Kelley has never seen before pasted to it, dated just a few weeks ago.

 

“Kel,” it reads. “It's day 10 of sleeping without you, and I don't think I'll ever get used to it (and not just because this twin bed kind of sucks). I really hope I never have to do it again, but right now I know I deserve it.

 

“I haven't given you a reason to trust me in a long time, and I don't deserve your trust right now, but I want you to know I love you more than anything. You're the best thing in my life. You're the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning even when you're thousands of miles away. You're the last thing I think about at night even when you're hours ahead and you said good night a long time ago. If you don't believe anything else I say (I can't blame you), I hope you believe that.

“I also hope you believe me when I say I'll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back your trust. I hate the way you look at me when you're trying to figure out if I'm telling the truth or not. The pain in your eyes breaks my heart, and it breaks me even more knowing I was the one who put it there.

“Thank you for loving me so hard even when it hurts us both. I'm forever grateful for your hugs and your smile and your all-consuming love. I promise I will work hard to earn your forgiveness and to show you the same love you've shown me even in my darkest days. I love you to the moon and back. Forever yours, Alex.”

 

Kelley looks up at Alex, tears glistening in her eyes. “This is the sweetest thing,” she says. “The whole scrapbook, but—”

 

Alex smiles, leaning in for a quick kiss. “I just wanted you to know what was going on in my head. And every word of that is true. It'll always be true.”

 

“It means a lot to me,” Kelley says. “Before you went to rehab I was scared about a lot of things, but when you were there, I got scared about us.” It's not the first time she's confessed this to Alex, but her stomach turns anyway.

 

“I know,” Alex says. “I went through a lot of changes in there. And I still am, but even if everything else in my life has to change, you're the one thing I want to stay the same.”

Chapter Text

Kelley doesn't think she’ll ever get used to the flashing lights that follow Alex everywhere she goes, but she's learned not to take anything about Alex for granted.

 

The flashing lights are a direct result of Alex’s growing fame, for better or for worse. Nobody is completely sure what to make of it, but people are interested in her, and that interest begets opportunities like the one she took to be a red carpet correspondent for E! this awards season, which begets opportunities like her current venture as a literal Cover Girl.

 

Alex straightens her back and shoulders, taking Kelley’s hand as she smiles shyly while strangers with cameras shout “happy birthday, Alex!”

 

“Thank you!” she calls, letting Kelley pull her toward the restaurant where they're having an intimate birthday dinner. “Sorry,” she whispers when they finally get through the door. “Nina must have called them.”

 

“I'm never going to complain about being photographed next to the most beautiful girl in the world,” Kelley assures her. “Oh, but I did use your name to get this reservation.”

 

Alex laughs and rolls her eyes, following Kelley and the waitress to the back.

 

“Your waiter will be right over,” the hostess says. “Can I tell him any drinks to get started for you besides water?”

 

“Sparkling white grape juice, please,” Kelley says, winking toward Alex. “It's her birthday, so we’re celebrating.”

 

Alex turns pink, but the hostess just nods and smiles. “Happy birthday! I'll see what we can do.”

 

“Honey, they don't have that,” Alex whispers across the table.

 

“Don't doubt me,” Kelley says. “Only the best for my girl.”

 

Sure enough, when their waiter comes out, he playfully “uncorks” the juice and pours it into champagne glasses for them and wishes Alex a happy birthday.

 

Once he's gone, Kelley lifts her glass. “To another year around the sun,” she says. “And many many more.”

 

The meal comes out in courses that Alex scarfs down while Kelley eats a few bites here and there. When dessert comes out and Kelley only takes a bite before putting her fork down, Alex places a hand on top of Kelley’s.

 

“Are you okay?” she asks. “You've barely touched your dinner.”

 

“Yeah,” Kelley says. “My stomach hurts a little, but I'm fine.”

 

“Are you sure you still want to go out?” Alex asks. They don't go out to party much these days, preferring to have a few trusted friends over to hang out and drink (everyone but Alex) and play cards (mostly Alex because nobody else wants to play her after a few rounds) by the pool. But Alex said she wanted to dance tonight, and Kelley isn't going to say no on her birthday.

 

“I'm sure I'll be fine by then,” Kelley assures her. She signals the waiter. “We’ll take the final course now.”

 

Alex looks down at the plate she practically licked clean of cheesecake remnants and back up at Kelley. “Another one?” she asks. “I swear I'm going to explode.”

 

Kelley laughs. “That's never stopped you before.”

 

When the waiter comes back out, though, he only brings Kelley a covered plate. “Enjoy,” he says with a knowing glance at Alex, who looks to Kelley in confusion.

 

Kelley removes the cover to reveal a small black velvet box nestled among chocolate-covered strawberries.

 

Alex's eyes widen as she starts to process, but before she can fully internalize what's happening, Kelley starts to speak.

 

“The past two and a half years with you have been the best of my life,” Kelley says. “Even the hardest times have been made sweet knowing there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is you and me together for the long haul.”

 

Alex’s hands fly to her face, and her eyes well up with tears that roll down her cheeks, luckily not streaking her waterproof (Cover Girl, obviously) mascara as Kelley opens the box to reveal a sparkling diamond ring.

 

“Will you marry me, Alexandra?”

 

Alex nods as fast as she can, taking a long gasping breath before saying “yes.”

 

Kelley moves her chair so she's sitting adjacent to Alex and slides the ring onto her left hand. Alex is still gasping for air and crying when Kelley kisses her lips, but Kelley thinks it might be a good thing.

 

“Baby,” Kelley laughs, her own eyes tearing up as she wipes Alex’s cheeks with her thumbs. “Don't cry.”

 

Alex shakes her head, staring at the ring, then back at Kelley, then back at the ring. “I can't believe this,” she cries. “I just can't—a year ago I didn't think we would make it through the end of last year.”

 

“Sweetheart,” Kelley says softly.

 

“No, I didn't,” Alex insists. “I was already trying to prepare myself for what I would do when you left because you couldn't take it anymore, but then you stayed. And you just kept staying, even when you could have run. And I don't know when I stopped questioning it, but… God, I want to be with you forever and ever.”

 

Kelley laughs. “Good, because I want to be with you forever and ever, and I hear having that in common is a good place to start.”