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you know all my dreams come true.

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As a child, Christen always had the greatest pleasure in picking flowers. On the way to school, to friends, to training, even during a soccer match flowers were the most interesting thing for her. Instead of focusing on the ball, Christen sat on the sidelines and picked flowers. She proudly presented her little bouquet to her mother, who always accepted it with a smile and encouraged Christen to touch the ball at least once in the match.

It takes a whole season, until Christen's first touch on the ball. From then on, however, it goes steadily uphill. Christen goes through youth teams, wins prizes and is soon considered one of the best and the future in women's football. She doesn't get called up to the youth national teams, but Christen doesn't want to think too much of it.

Her mother tells her that Pele took 100 shots every day with each foot.

So Christen starts shooting.

100 shots with the right foot.

100 shots with the left foot.

 

2007

Christen goes to Stanford and all she wants to do is win a championship and earn a call up to the national team.

Stanford is, on the one hand, the best, and on the other hand, the worst that could happen to Christen. Physically she is in top form, shining with assists and goals, breaking records. Mentally, however, she is on a completely different spectrum. The fear of disappointing her team, her friends, her family dominates her, and hardly a game goes by without tears in the locker room and panic attacks. If she doesn't score in this game, she won't score enough goals by the end of the season, she can't prove she's good enough for the national team.. the pressure she's putting on herself is immense. Watching her teammates getting called up to their full national teams doesn't help.

 

Kelley helps a lot.

Kelley takes Christen in with her arms wide open, she shows her around, makes her feel welcome, takes her to awful frat parties and always makes sure Christen gets home safe. Kelley is her rock on and off the team. Whenever Christen has a panic attack, whenever she doubts herself, whenever she feels like letting the whole world down, Kelley does her best to make sure Christen knows how good and how loved she is. Christen doesn't stop feeling like every loss is her fault and like the weight of the world is resting on her shoulders, but Kelley helps and makes everything seem a little lighter.

Kelley, with her happy, bubbly yet fervid personality, her bright smile, her intoxicating laugh, her insane strength, her sense for shooting goals, her shining hazel eyes, her face that is still a little round and soft. Kelley, who enjoys Greek life, dragging Christen along, Kelley, who makes one-handed pull ups look like the easiest thing on earth, making every guy jealous and every girl question her sexuality. Kelley, who so easily makes everyone fall in love with her.

Sometimes Christen thinks, she's in love with Kelley.

 

Christen ends her first season at Stanford as leader in assists, second in goals, points and shots, with the fastest goal in school history and as Freshman of the Year. All should be good, but the only thing Christen sees is that they lost to Connecticut in the Round of 16.

 

2008

Kelley kisses her someday after training. She just grabs her hand in the lockerroom, after everyone left, pulls her close and kisses her. Christen is shocked, to say the least.

"Why did you do that?" She asks curiously.

Kelley doesn't say anything back, she just shrugs and moves closer again.

This time Christen kisses her first.

Christen knows she's not in love with Kelley. She loves her and she knows Kelley loves her too, but they're not in love.

Still, they keep doing whatever they're doing. They're kissing after games or after training. They're kissing at the awful frat parties Kelley still makes her go to. When Kelley, Ali and some others dress up as Spice Girls, Christen rips the Union Jack off of her and fucks her in the bathroom of some frat house, leaving Kelley a shaking mess, her hair messy and her lips swollen. They go to 80s themed parties together, Kelley often the centre of attention, but still sticking close to Ali and Christen, making out with Christen somewhere in the house, taking her home afterwards.

Christen doesn't think too much of it.

She's still a bundle of nerves, she still cries after every game, she still feels like everything bad is her fault. But being with Kelley helps her release at least some stress.

They never really talk about it.

They kiss, they have sex, they sneak away.

Sometimes they go three weeks without touching each other, without even needing each others touch. Then they can't keep their hands off each other for five days straight.

Kelley is amazing at everything she does, soccer, college, kissing, being a friend. Christen keeps being impressed by how intelligent Kelley is, by how much she knows and how smart she is, on the field and off the field.

Christen is the first person Kelley calls whenever something good happens. Or when something bad happens. It's the same the other way around.

 

When they play USC, Allison's shoe comes off during the game, in the middle of an USC attack. She defends one on one against the forward with her shoe in hand. Christen doesn't know if she should laugh, but she does it anyway. They win 3-1. Christen feels good.

Christen stays at Kelley's and Ali's room a lot. Ali doesn't say anything, she just smiles at them and goes to sleep. At night they often lay awake, staring at the ceiling, talking about everything and nothing.

 

"Do you think I'll ever be good enough for the national team?" Christen's voice is quiet.

Kelley sits up and stares at her. "You are good enough for the national team, Chris."

"But why haven't I gotten a call-up yet?" Christen sits up as well, tears in her eyes. "You've been on the youth national teams, gosh, Tobin has been too and she has an Olympic Gold Medal. But I.. I'm just not good enough."

"Don't say that, Chris." Kelley moves closer, wrapping her arms around Christen. "You are good, you are really, really good. It's just.. maybe it just takes time for everyone else to see how good you are. But trust me.. you are so, so fucking good."

Christen sighs and leans back down, pulling Kelley with her. "Thank you, Kell. I don't know what I would do without you."

 

Christen assists on Kelley's goal in their 1-0 victory over Rutgers in the NCAA third round. She scores in the 86th minute against Portland, making it a 1-0 win that sends Stanford to the College Cup. Kelley is the last person to let go of her after her goal celebration and the first one to hug her when the final whistle blows.

 

Kelley has started the habit of filming everything and annoying everybody with it. Bus rides, flights, training. Mostly it's people sleeping and other people drawing fake moustaches onto sleeping peoples faces.

"Ali McCann! How do you feel right now?" Kelley asks when they get off the plane before the semifinal.

"I'm.. I wanna go to bed!" Ali answers, trying to hide from Kelley's camera.

"Austinn Peggy Freeman, how do you feel right now?" Silence. "Why is noone talking to me?" Kelley laughs, running around, asking everyone the same question.

"How do you feel right now?"

"How do you feel right now?"

"I'm tired, I'm tired!" Is the answer she gets most of the time.

"Press, how do you feel right now?" Kelley asks, zooming in right on Christen's face.

"Uuhm, I feel great, thanks." Christen answers with a laugh, grinning into the camera and at Kelley. And she does feel great, when Kelley's looking at her with that smile, goofying around, making her forget that at the end of the day, the weight of the world is on Christen's shoulders.

 

"Preeess!"

"Hello."

"How do you feel about tomorrow?" Ali asks, holding a camera at Christen.

"I. Am. Soccer." Christen grins at her and Kelley quickly rushes to her, putting an arm on her shoulder.

"I am yo Mama!" Kelley says.

"We. Are. Stanford!" Christen says, throwing her arms up. They're gonna win this game and make it to the final.

 

They lose to Notre Dame in the semifinals.

 

"I hate losing."

"Nobody likes losing, Chris."

"I know, Kell, I just.. I can't stand it, I can't stand losing."

 

Christen ends her sophomore year with 16 goals and 11 assists, starting in every game, scoring in 19 matches, and as the only Stanford player named to the College Cup All-Tournament team. Kelley makes sure Christen is happy about the things she did accomplish and not too sad and angry about everything else.

 

2009

Her junior year, Christen scores 21 goals and has 16 assists, setting a record for assists and shots. She's third in the nation in points behind Kelley and someone from Portland, she's tied for the national lead in assists with someone from Milwaukee. Her and Kelley are Top Drawer Soccer's national Players of the Year. They combine on 19 goals and score 47 of Stanford's 80 goals. Christen is named to Teams of the Season, first teams, second teams, she's a semifinalist for the Hermann Trophy, is named Player of the Week, Performer of the Week and so much more.

 

When they play Washington State, Christen scores in the 87th minute, sending the match into overtime, with Stanford winning 2-1. Against BYU Christen sets another school record for fastest goal, scoring a goal only 23 seconds into the game.

They finally make it to the College Cup final, but Christen's tying goal in the 89th minute is called offsides.

 

After the game Christen doesn't have to say anything. Kelley immediately wraps her into her arms and holds her tight.

"It's not your fault, Chris. Don't you dare believe for one second that any of this is your fault. We're a team, we win as a team and we lose as a team."

"How do you know what I'm thinking?" Christen asks between sobs.

Kelley cups her cheeks with her hands and smiles at her. "Because I know you, Christen Press."

 

Her and Kelley are named to the College Cup All-Tournament team. Kelley wins the MAC Hermann Trophy and Christen is the first person she calls.

 

Christen gets called up to a U-23 camp the same year and hope sparks inside her. Maybe she'll get a call up to the full team. But while Pia takes others aside at the end of camp to talk with, Christen isn't one of them, no matter how many goals she scored and how good she was.

 

2010

Christen starts playing for Pali Blues in the W-League. Kelley plays for Pali Blues as well. And Lauren Cheney, Ashlyn Harris, Whitney Engen, Ali Riley.

Christen loves it, loves playing soccer pretty much 24/7, loves her new teammates and the games. It's amazing. The stadium of the High School they play at is surrounded by the Santa Monica mountains and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. They hike the mountains and paddle in the ocean after training and they all feel like they're the best.

 

Sometimes Christen lets Kelley drag her to the beach at 5am to catch the waves. Well, Kelley catches the waves. Christen just watches her. The sunrise from behind the Santa Monica mountains is stunning. Kelley gets upset anyway.

"It would be prettier if it came from behind the ocean." Kelley says, staring at the water, the sun casting their shadows towards the shore.

"We couldn't look out to the sea, the sun would blind us." Christen replies.

"Sunglasses." Kelley says with a firm nod of her head and Christen just laughs.

 

Kelley starts taking Christen to the beach in the evening.

"I haven't figured out yet if I prefer sunrises or sunsets." Kelley says. "But I love either with you." She presses a kiss to Christen's cheek and Christen feels like she's flying.

They're still not in love with each other.

 

Kelley gets drafted to FC Gold Pride. Lauren gets drafted to the Boston Breakers, Whitney to the Chicago Red Stars. Ali Riley gets drafted by FC Gold Pride as well and for a second Christen is jealous Ali gets to stay with Kelley again. It's a half an hour drive separating them, but with different training and game schedules it could as well be an ocean between them.

 

Kelley gets her first call-up to the full national team the same year. Christen watches her make her debut next to Alex Morgan in March, cheering her on in front of the tv, texting her simultanously.

Christen isn't jealous. She really isn't. She knows they're great and probably the best players out there. They deserve it. She's happy for them. She knows her time will come. At least she hopes it will.

 

It's Christen's last year at Stanford and she misses Kelley terribly. Playing without her isn't the same, but Kelley makes sure to text her before and after her games, calming her down enough so that Christen doesn't cry as much.

 

Like in her junior year, Christen is named to several first teams. She wins player of the year and player of the season awards. Like in her junior year, Christen is the best at what she's doing. She's breaking records for pretty much everything there's a record for. When Christen ties Kelley's single-season scoring record set the previous year, Kelley is the first one to congratulate her.

 

"You're amazing, Chris!" She screams excitedly on the phone and three hours later she's standing in front of Christen's door, flowers in hand and a smile on her face. When Kelley kisses her that night, Christen feels like coming home.

 

Christen becomes Stanford's all-time scorer in the NCAA Tournament and leads Stanford to its second consecutive perfect conference season, not losing once. She scores hat tricks, has several multi-goal matches. Like in her junior year, Stanford makes it to the final. Like in her junior year, they lose 0-1. It's the last game of her college career.

 

Christen is angry and sad. Kelley calls her, whispering softly to her as Christen cries herself to sleep.

She wins the MAC Hermann Trophy one year after Kelley did, beating Alex Morgan. Kelley is the first person she calls.

 

2011

When Christen leaves Stanford, she holds both the all-time scoring record and assists record.

She gets drafted by the Washington Freedom. She'll be on the other side of the continent, time zones between her and Kelley. Then FC Gold Pride folds and Kelley is signed by the Boston Breakers. Washington Freedom moves to Florida and is renamed magicJack. Christen enjoys playing for magicJack, even though the name makes her think of a newly invented drug. She plays with great players like Hope Solo and Abby Wambach and she feels like this could be the start to her professional career.

 

They play Boston four times, winning three times and tieing once. Kelley is the first one Christen hugs after the games. They spend the night after each game together.

"Three years ago today we had our first kiss." Kelley tells her after one game as they're lying in bed.

"You remember?" Christen asks with a smile.

"Of course. How could I ever forget that?" Kelley replies, her face soft, her smile honest, her hair messy, her eyes dark. "I've been kissing you for three years now." She whispers before leaning in.

 

There are troubles with coaching and suddenly players are stepping up to coach the team, first Christie, then Abby for the rest of the season. Christen starts to wonder if this is really how professional soccer should look like.

 

Kelley gets called up for the Women's World Cup, first as an alternate, but then Lindsey Tarpley tears her ACL and suddenly Kelley's on the full roster. It feels like half of magicJack is in Germany as well, with Abby and Hope and Christie and Becky gone. Christen watches every game on her tv, cheering on Kelley and the rest of the team. Kelley sends her pictures of German food ("That's a Bratwurst. I don't think, I should eat it."), tells her about Ali trying to teach the team some German ("I don't know, it sounds so harsh. All I know is Schnitzel and Sauerkraut.") and laughs on the phone, when she tells stories about what she did with Heather Mitts and Heather O'Reilly ("My irish soul sister, O apostrophe.") or Alex and Tobin. Christen feels like she's there with them, with Kelley telling her everything the minute it happens. She enjoys it though, hearing Kelley talk when she's so happy, it makes her happy too. Even if being at home and watching Kelley be in Germany sucks (also because she just misses her so much), Christen's excited for her. Christen texts Kelley at the end of the Semi-Final against Brazil.

Tell Abby I love her.

Don't tell her that!

Although I do love her.

Okay, rewind, tell Ali I love her.

 

Kelley calls Christen soon after they lose the final against Japan.

"Of course it sucks that we lost, duh. But you know, I'm just grateful I got the chance to be here. It was.. amazing, Chris."

"I'm proud of you, Kell." Christen tells her with a smile. "You're gonna win a World Cup someday."

"So are you, Chris."

 

MagicJack finishes the season with nine wins, seven losses and two ties and Christen is named Rookie of the Year. Kelley and Christen talk a lot and Christen knows that Kelley, who is usually so happy and positive about everything, is frustrated with her team and wants, simply, more, especially after the World Cup. So Kelley signs with Atlanta Beat during the offseason. She wants to go home, maybe then she would also feel at home.

"You should come with me." Kelley suggests and Christen doesn't think twice. She misses Kelley, misses playing with her and seeing her every day. She misses her smile and her laugh, her hugs and the stolen or not so stolen kisses and touches now and then. They never put a label on whatever they were and sometimes still are. Christen just knows that being with Kelley feels good, feels right.

Atlanta also has talented players, like Lori or Mittsy or Carli. Christen could see herself playing with them and she's excited to go to Atlanta. Mostly though because of Kelley, but she doesn't tell her.

She's still not in love with her.

 

2012

When the league folds, Kelley goes to Atlanta anyway. She wants to be home, wants to train here, stay in form. She is sure there is going to be a new league soon and being around could only benefit her.

Christen doesn't go to Atlanta. The league folding was probably a sign and even though Kelley keeps telling her to come to Atlanta and live and train with her, Christen says no. She feels like she's in a bad dream.

Record-breaker, award-winner, MVP and golden boot winner, one of the best at Stanford and all the clubs she played for so far. And now? Now she's unemployed and will probably go back to her parents and hope to find some boring job.. but the thing is, Christen loves soccer. Christen lives soccer. No matter how much pain comes with playing soccer, how much struggle, how much questioning herself, how much doubt, Christen knows, without it, she's not herself. And if she cannot play here, if she cannot play at home, if she cannot play in Atlanta or even the US...

Christen makes a few calls.

 

She signs with Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC and goes to Sweden.

 

Kelley is the first person she calls.

"I'll miss you." Kelley tells her on the phone.

"I'll miss you too." Christen can't stand the thought of leaving Kelley behind. "But I have to do this. For me."

"I know." Kelley sighs and Christen knows she's probably blinking tears away.

Christen doesn't even know what she could say. As soon as she made her decision to go to Sweden, she knew it was the right one. She knew she would miss Kelley, would miss all of her friends, her family, her home. But she also knew that this was what she needed to do. For herself. As a person and as a player.

She's sitting at the airport, goodbyes to her parents and sisters already said, when she listens to a voicemail from Kelley she received earlier.

"I love you, Chris." Kelley's voice is soft and calm. "I love you so, so much. I-I always have and I always will.. And I, I just want you to know, I'm proud of you. For stepping out of your comfort zone."

It's silent for a few seconds and Christen doesn't know if she should smile or cry.

"And I know we, we haven't ever, like, talked about it, but being with you, in whatever weird way, it-it helped me a lot. You always kept me grounded.. You still do. You're a good person, Chris. And you're probably the best player I know. You're so talented, don't you ever doubt yourself!"

Kelley's voice is louder now and Christen is laughing now as tears start to run down her cheeks.

"You'll do amazing things, trust me. We'll be on the national team and we'll be World Cup Champions and people will know our names all over the world and they'll want our autographs and.. I say we, 'cause, you know, I wanna be there with you. I wanna be next to you. I wanna be next to you when someone asks you for your autograph."

Christen can hear a few heavy breaths on the other side of the line and she has to press her lips together.

"I believe in you, Chris.. you're.. you're so talented, so fucking talented and you're so smart, like, you always say how smart I am, but you don't even realize how smart you are. You're like, the most talented person I know.. You're.. the best person I know, you're kind and good and how could someone not fall in love with you? You're so god damn beautiful, your, like, your whole face and, and your smile, like it could light up even the darkest of nights and your eyes, god, don't even get me started on your eyes.."

Christen can hear Kelley chuckle and she shakes her head with a smile. It's silent for a few seconds before Kelley speaks again, soft and gentle.

"I love you, Christen Press. And I want you to know that.. you're talented and good and beautiful and don't ever, please, don't ever doubt yourself. You're going to do amazing things in Sweden. I know it.... I'm proud of you, Chris."

The voice mail ends and Christen keeps pressing the phone to her ear for at least ten more minutes, afraid she'll start sobbing uncontrollably if she moves any bit of her body.

...

Chapter Text

Christen lands in Göteborg and when she gets off the plane she's freezing. It's less than zero degrees Celsius, something Christen has to get used to. The cold and measuring it in Celsius.

She gets picked up at the airport by Olivia Schough and dropped off at her new apartment. She cries herself to sleep that night, wondering, if it was the right decision to leave the US and just go to Europe, wondering if she'll ever be able to play at home again, if she'll ever get to play for the national team.

They have their first training session the next day and Christen is overwhelmed. There's a snowstorm and a rule says, you can't play if it's below negative 18 degrees Celsius, which is 0 degrees Fahrenheit. So they sit in the locker room in shirts and shorts and wait for the thermometer to climb to negative 17 degrees. When they finally get outside, Christen doesn't know if she's going to survive this. But even though she's a California girl who can't feel her feet anymore, she knows she did the right thing. She knows, she has to go all in. She has no other option, either play here or practically retire.

 

She doesn't understand a bit of what her teammates are saying or yelling during practice. They all laugh at her wide eyes and confused look and start to explain everything to her in almost perfect English. Christen has to take Swedish lessons though.

Her first game is in March against Arsenal, the quarter-final match of the UEFA women's Champions League. They lose 3-1. She starts the second game against Arsenal. They win 1-0.

Christen wakes up some day in the morning and stares at the ceiling.

"Holy fuck. I'm really in Sweden." She whispers, a small smile on her face. Sweden starts to be good for Christen.

 

When the Damallsvenskan season starts in April, Christen has already settled in. She knows her teammates, she knows the way from her apartment to the training facility and she starts to understand bits and pieces of Swedish. She takes lessons and her teammates help her a lot, translating and explaining everything to her more than once. Christen knows fika and she really likes the concept of it. It fits for her.

Then Christen finally gives up on the national team, she thinks to herself that that is just not something that's going to happen for her. She's 6000 miles away, nobody cares about her, nobody's watching her. She's just going to play for herself, for her team and try to be great. Christen has more fun than she's ever had and a constant smile on her face. She knows, going to Sweden was the right decision.

Her first regular game is against Djurgården, something she simply can't pronounce. She scores in the 5th minute. She scores again in the 81st. They win 2:0.

 

Christen always loved playing soccer, as a kid, as a teenager, at Stanford, with Pali Blues and magicJack. The difference to playing in Sweden though is, that here Christen loves herself playing soccer. At least she starts to.

 

Nilsson, her coach, walks the field with her every week, using charades and Google Translate to teach her everything. The style of play in Sweden is different than in the US. Americans call for the ball, in Sweden they don't do that.

"You're scaring all the players. You can't scream like that." Nilsson tells her and Christen tries to remember everything he says and incorporate it into her own game.

 

She scores again in their next game on Lydia Williams and Christen laughs when they unconsciously start to talk in broken Swedish with each other after the game until they realize they're both perfectly capable of speaking English. Whenever they play Malmö Christen hangs out with Ali Riley, who gives her a feeling of comfort and home, and they talk about Stanford and Sweden and everything in between.

They win games, they tie games, they lose games. Christen keeps scoring. It's the end of April now and the temperatures are slowly climbing up the scale. Christen starts to get the hang of Celsius and she knows she's not going to freeze to death when it's 15 degrees outside.

They win 6-0 and Christen scores two goals. Kelley texts her afterward, as she does after every game.

Kelley: You are on fire, Chris! The stream is blurry, but I know it was you who scored two goals! You da best! 8:27 pm

 

Christen misses Kelley, but it starts to hurt less. She always thought that she wasn't in love with Kelley, that Kelley wasn't in love with her. Sometimes she wonders if maybe they were and they just missed their chance, their opportunity.

One day she gets a call from Pia Sundhage and she's invited to national team camp.

 

At the end of May Christen truly feels like she belongs here. Her Swedish lessons pay off, she understands most of what's said during training and she gets better every day. Olivia shows her around Göteborg, drives to the countryside with her, takes her to the capital and watches Swedish movies with her. Christen falls in love with Gothenborg. Christen falls in love with Sweden. She falls in love with the language, she falls in love with the country, she falls in love with the culture, she falls in love with the people. Christen falls in love with soccer again.

In another 6-0 win Christen scores a hattrick. Her smile grows bigger every day and even her Mom notices the change when they're skyping or talking on the phone.

"You seem happy." Her Mom tells her and Christen just grins at her.

"I am, Mom, I truly am."

 

June comes and goes and Christen grows happier every day. She doesn't even notice she stopped worrying, stopped crying, stopped blaming herself for everything. She's too happy to think about anything from the past. She practices Yoga and watches the sunrise, thinking about Kelley with a smile. She texts her one day.

Sunrises. I definitely prefer sunrises. 5:27 am

 

Christen gets called in as an alternate for the Olympic Games in London. She knew she didn't stand a chance at being part of the full team. Playing in Europe and not having made a name for yourself isn't the best for a career on the national team. It is the best thing for herself though, so Christen is happy to help as an alternate, to finally be with the national team, to be there with Kelley and Alex and Tobin and everyone else. She's practically a nobody, no one's watching her in Sweden, no one knows her. She's got nothing to lose. Christen found a freedom playing in Sweden and she plays with the same freedom now with the national team.

They have their pre-Olympic training camp in Darlington, where they play golf on their day off. Christen ends up on a team with Cheney, Kelley, Mittsy, Amy LePeilbet, and Syd. A camera is following their every move, another thing Christen has to get used to.

 

"Anyone know how to play golf?" Someone behind the camera asks.

"So, I grew up in Peachtree City. It's a planned community, that's based around golfing, golf carts...never played a round of golf in my entire life." Kelley says with a laugh, practicing her swing.

"The first time I ever played golf, I got stitches, right here," Syd says, pointing towards the side of her nose. "When I was eight. Because I was behind someone when they did this.." She swings her golf club and everyone looks at her with frightened eyes.

"I think, Kell might end up killing someone or a small animal. Uuhm, Syd at least is gonna look good while she's out here, so that's all that matters." Mittsy says, as Kelley is practicing her swings again and Syd starts posing.

Cheney looks like the only one who has any idea of what she's doing. Her first shot lands in the pond. Her laugh is intoxicating.

Amy and Mittsy both manage to send the ball across the pond. Syd's also not too bad.

"Darn it!" Christen says after she sent the ball somewhere close to the water.

Kelley probably really is the worst. Her ball slides toward the pond and rolls into the water.

"I'm not that bad, at least I got it in the air!" Cheney says, happy she's not the worst. At some point most of their balls are in the high grass and Syd, Christen and Amy go looking for them.

"Found it!" Christen screams, when she finally finds one.

The longer they play the more they realize that they're all just really bad at golf. Except maybe Mittsy and Amy, but it's probably just luck. It's fun though, walking around a golf court in England while training for the Olympic Games.

"Poor grass," Christen whispers to Kelley when dirt and mud fly around after Syd's swing.

It's Kelley's turn now and she stands, preparing to swing.

"Wait, w-"

"What?" Kelley asks, looking up.

"You're not facing the hole!"

Everyone's laughing as Kelley moves her body so her ball might actually end up near the hole. They're all celebrating and dancing when they finally all manage to get their balls into the hole.

"I love the Olympics," Kelley says, wrapping her arm around Christen's waist as they're walking back to the bus. "And I love that you're here."

 

"It's leviOsa, not leviosA!" Becky says, waving about with a stick she found on the ground.

"You're a wizard, Harry!" Alex nudges Tobin's shoulder as they're walking towards Alnwick Castle on another day off.

"I'm a what?!" Tobin exclaims in fake shock.

"Okay, who here doesn't love Harry Potter?" Abby asks, looking around.

"How dare you even ask something like that?" Pinoe replies, horrified at the thought of someone not loving Harry Potter.

"Who's your favorite character, Christen?" Tobin asks, falling in step with her.

"Phew, that's a tough question. I always loved Hermione. But also Ginny. Especially in the books. And Dobby, of course. Hagrid. I'm sorry, I can't decide." Christen laughs, while Kelley starts whistling the Harry Potter theme behind her.

"Let's put everyone into houses!" Syd suggests, linking her arm with Christen's. "So I would be in-"

"Slytherin, definitely." Pinoe interrupts with a laugh.

"Yeah, probably." Syd agrees. "Who else is in Slytherin with me?"

"Pinoe," Pinoe says with a nod of her head.

"You talking about yourself in the third person now?" Christen laughs and Pinoe just nods.

"I think Abby and Mittsy would be in Slytherin. And maybe Alex?"

"Hey!" Alex exclaims, stopping in her tracks and turning around.

"What?" Tobin grins at her. "Sorry, Lex, but it's true."

"Becky would be in Ravenclaw." Pinoe states. "And Barnie and Buehler. Maybe Boxxy."

"And Christen," Kelley adds. "She's smart, she'd make a good Ravenclaw."

"What would you be, Kell? Gryffindor?"

"Maybe. But maybe I'd be an underrated Hufflepuff. Like Cedric Diggory. And all the girls would be into me."

"Oh, my god, Kell." Alex laughs. "Who's in Hufflepuff with you?"

"Both Amys," Kel says, deep in thought. "And Toby, a chill Hufflepuff. And Kling.

"Then who's left in Gryffindor?" Syd asks, looking around.

"Cheney, obviously," Tobin replies. "And Cap? HAO."

"What do we do with Carli and Hope?"

"Send them to Durmstrang."

 

"My ideal Quidditch team.." Kling starts, "is, I would be the Seeker. I'd be the captain, obviously, 'cause I'm choosing this team.. But I would choose Buehler and Abby as my beaters, Alex and Syd are definitely my chasers, and then the third one's up for grab, I'm thinking Press, 'cause she can score a lot of goals. And then I would pick Hope as my keeper to block all the shots."

As soon as the camera stops rolling, Kelley is right next to Kling.

"My team would beat yours!"

"What's your team, Kell?"

"I'm the seeker, duh. Barnie's my keeper, 'cause you had to steal Hope. Then Cheney and Mittsy as my beaters and Tobin and HAO and Carli as my chasers."

"Thanks, Kell!" Mittsy says, pressing a kiss to Kelley's cheek. "We'd so beat 'em!"

 

"Quidditch is weird if you don't fly," Kelley mumbles, grabbing the broom between her legs.

"You're used to flying around with a broom between your legs?" Alex asks, eyebrows raised.

Kelley nods. "Yes indeed. Now watch me, I'm still the best."

Everyone starts running, with brooms between their legs, and when they get the sign to stop, Kelley spectacularly lands on her back. Kelley laughing at herself, not being able to even get up because of it, is probably the funniest thing about it.

"I took off running, slash flying aaand I was well ahead of everyone else, I thought I was definitely a favorite to win, then I realized, I didn't, I wasn't wearing cleats, and, uhm, it's been raining a bit, so the ground was a bit wet, and I just ate it real hard, got sniped. Someone was up there, took me out and I went down hard."

Of course, Kelley's explanation for eating grass real hard is that she got sniped.

 

A few days later they're in Glasgow for their first game of the Olympics. Kelley starts against France as outside back.

"I'm gonna screw this up," Kelley says, head in her hands. "Chris, I'm a striker, not a defender. I can't do this! I'm not Ali. Ali should be here, she's, she'd deserve to be here, I-I can't replace her, I'm not as good, I-"

"Kelley!" Christen grabs Kelley's face and looks her in the eye. "Stop it. You are as good. That's why Pia chose you. I know that Ali should be here, but we can't change what happened. But I also know, that you, Kelley, are so good and so talented and I know that you practiced so much, Christie and Rachel and Mittsy have told you so much and I know that Hope puts her trust in you, because you are good, Kelley." Christen presses a kiss to Kelley's cheek. "You're gonna rock out there. I know it."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I know you, Kelley O'Hara."

 

The US wins 4-2, with two goals from Alex and one from each Carli and Abby.

Kelley also starts the second game against Colombia three days later and this time Christen doesn't have to calm her down.

"I got this," Kelley says more to herself than anyone else, nodding her head. "I got this."

Pinoe scores first and she pulls something out of her sock, holding it up high for everyone to see. "HAPPY B-DAY KREIGY. We love you."

Carli and Abby make it 3-0.

"Three games, three starts." Kelley stares at the board. "I can't believe it."

"I can," Christen says, putting her head on Kelley's shoulder.

Abby's goal makes it a 1-0 win against North Korea.

 

Christen and Kling are playing table tennis one day when members of the Brazil men's soccer team walk by and hover around the hotel ping pong table. Christen's sweating, she's embarrassed, because she is bad at ping pong and she doesn't like being bad at anything. Marcelo joins Kling's side of the table and to his "Habla Español?" Christen nods. He asks another question and Christen wants to answer in Spanish, but instead Swedish comes tumbling out. Apparently, her lessons paid off. They all look at her confused, before Christen just laughs and starts speaking Spanish, translating between Kling and the Brazilians. She's joined by Neymar and together they win the game. He probably doesn't even know who she is, Christen thinks, but somehow she found peace and doesn't care if he does or not.

 

The Quarter-Final against New Zealand is just one day before Kelley's birthday. Kelley starts again, Abby scores again and so does Syd. Christen watches Kelley run into Ali Riley's arms after the game and they're both grinning wide. Ali motions for her to come over and so Christen joins the hug.

Semi-Finals are only three days later. Against Canada.

"I feel like I should be scared," Kelley says the night before the game.

"Canadians. They're all like 6 foot tall with strong arms that could rip you in half."

"Uhm, Kelley?" Christen laughs.

Kelley laughs too and rolls her eyes. "I know, I know."

"You're going to win this game," Christen whispers into Kelley's ear as she brings her in for a hug.

 

Christen doesn't know if she's ever going to get her voice back. She doesn't remember the last time she screamed that much. Christine Sinclair scoring three times first, the US coming back each time. When Alex makes it 4-3 in the 123rd minute Christen doesn't know where she ends and the rest of her team begins.

The final is a rematch of the 2011 World Cup and this time, thanks to two goals from Carli, the US come up top.

Kelley is the only player besides Hope and Cap to have played every minute of every game.

Christen couldn't be prouder. Kelley puts her gold medal around Christen's neck and looks at her with bright eyes.

"Gold suits you," Kelley says with a sincere smile and Christen just shrugs.

"It looks better on you though." Christen takes the medal off and puts it back around Kelley's neck. "Olympic Gold Medalist. I'm proud of you, Kell."

Christen has to laugh when Kelley is blushing, so she just wraps her arms around her and holds her tight.

"I love you, Kell." She whispers into Kelley's ear and suddenly they're kissing and stumbling back to Kelley's room. The Gold Medal gets dropped on the floor between shirts and bras and then there's the familiarity of Kelley's body on hers, their hands everywhere and the soft touches that make her moan out loud and feel like she's twenty again.

 

When they wake up the next morning, they fall into the routine of getting ready together, brushing their hair and teeth next to each other.

"One day we'll be on the national team together."

They're sitting on the unmade bed and Kelley is playing with Christen's fingers.

"We'll be World Cup Champions. We'll both play in the US. Maybe on the same team. And we'll both be so sexy, no more baby fat..I know it, Chris. I know you, Chris. You're amazing and you deserve so much more. Pia's gonna see that too. She's from Sweden, I'm sure the other Swedes are gonna tell her everything about the pretty girl from Cali who's the best player in the whole Swedish women's league which I cannot pronounce the name of."

They're both laughing now and Christen puts her head on Kelley's shoulder.

"Thank you, Kell. For everything. For being there for me, for believing in me. Now as well as five years ago. I don't know what I would have done without you."

"I love you, Chris," Kelley says with a shrug. "I think, like.. you and me, we're like the kind of people who can't be together. You know.. maybe we're perfect for each other, maybe we'd have the prettiest babies on earth-"

"Uh, Kel-"

Kelley puts a finger on Christen's mouth and shushes her. "We'd have the prettiest babies if we could and you know it."

There's no denying that.

"But, you know, like.. I love you and I know you love me and we're great together, we have amazing sex, and yes, that's the first thing I mention, but we also, like, we're good together. You know what I mean?.. But maybe, even though we'd be perfect together, maybe we're just not supposed to be together. Maybe we're not supposed to fall in love."

Kelley is quiet for a few moments, just playing with Christen's fingers.

"You've seen me at my worst and you've seen me at my best and you're still here. You're one of the best people I know, Chris. And whoever you end up with is going to be so, so lucky."

A teardrop falls from Christen's face onto Kelley's hand and immediately Kelley starts wiping the tears away. Christen smiles at her.

"I know what you mean, Kell. And I hope you know I think the same of you. You're the best friend someone could ask for and the kindest person I know. I.. thank you for loving me, Kell."

"Thank you for letting me love you," Kelley says with a grin. "You're pretty great as my first love."

"First love?" Christen asks, one eyebrow raised in disbelief. "What about Adam?"

Kelley's face falls. "Oh. I forgot about him.. Uhm.." Kelley scratches her chin and bites her lip. "But you know, you're like, my first lady love."

"Oh my god, Kelley." Christen groans. "Why did I ever get involved with you? You know how to ruin every moment."

"You still love me though, do you?" Kelley asks with puppy eyes and Christen nudges her shoulder.

"Of course I do. You're my first lady love. I will always love you."

Kelley scoffs and takes Christen's hand again. "You know.. I hope life treats you kind. And I hope you have all you dreamed of. And I wish to you joy and happiness. But above all this, I wish you love."

"Did you.. Kelley, did you just quote Whitney Houston to me?" Christen asks with a laugh and Kelley just grins sheepishly. Everything is fine between Christen and Kelley.

...

Chapter Text

Christen returns to Sweden and she realizes she missed it a lot during her time in London. Cami Levin and Yael Averbuch join the club and now Christen isn't the only American, isn't the only one who has difficulties understanding everyone. She takes it upon herself to show them around and make them feel welcome and at home, giving them tips. Olivia is there too, helping with translating and inside tips.

Christen scores five goals in the next five games.

 

Yael and Cami have settled in pretty well and Christen starts hanging out with Olivia on her own again. Olivia is loud and fun and loves to be the center of attention. Christen loves being around her, spending time with her. One night the whole team is at Olivia's apartment, cooking together and playing games. Somehow eating pizza and playing monopoly turns into taking shots and playing spin the bottle. Christen prefers shots over kissing teammates, but then they play seven minutes in heaven and she's pushed into a closet by a bunch of laughing drunk Swedish soccer players, who push Olivia in after her. There isn't any place to move. The door is closed from the outside and they can hardly see each other. Christen blinks a few times, trying to make out Olivia's face in the dark.

"You smell good," Olivia says suddenly and twirls Christen's curly hair between her fingers.

"What are you doing, Schough?" Christen asks with a laugh, jokingly trying to push Olivia back a bit.

"You know how to pronounce my last name!" Olivia exclaims excitedly, grinning at Christen.

"Oh." Christen beams at her. "I do. Olivia Schough. Olivia... Schough. Schough.. Olivia."

"Stop saying my name like that," Olivia says with a groan and Christen chuckles.

"Like what?"

"Like.. that," Olivia says, leaning closer.

"Why?" Christen leans forward as well, a smirk on her face in the dark.

"Du vill inte veta.." Olivia mumbles close to Christen's cheek, sending a shiver down her spine. Christen, thankful for her Swedish lessons, reacts immediately and without thinking, pushes Olivia back against the wall.

"Maybe I do wanna know." She whispers, only inches from Olivia's lips, before taking a step back. The door opens before Olivia can say anything back.

Hours later it's only Christen and Olivia left. Olivia just has to raise an eyebrow and Christen nods. Olivia has her pinned against the bedroom door in seconds and it takes them only half a minute to strip down their clothes and crawl onto the bed together. When Olivia kisses down Christen's body, mumbling Swedish words into her skin, Christen is again glad she took all those Swedish lessons.

 

The season goes on and Christen keeps scoring goals and kissing Olivia. They made it to the quarterfinals of the Swedish Cup and Christen scored two goals in a 3-0 win. She scored another goal in the semi-final. She scores a goal and is involved in the second one during the final against Tyresö, winning the game and the Swedish Cup. Olivia fucks her in the ball closet afterward.

During the Round of Sixteen of the Champions League, Christen assists Olivia to her first of two goals before making it 3-0 herself. Christen scores a brace in the last game they lose before they win the last two games of the season. In the Round of Eight of the Champions League, Christen scores two goals and assists Olivia. They win 3-2.

 

Christen ends the year as the second-highest scorer in the Damallsvenskan with 17 league goals, behind only Anja Mittag, and a total of 25 goals in all competitions.

It's cold again in Sweden, but Christen loves it.

Olivia asks her to spend Christmas with her family and Christen says yes. Olivia introduces her as her teammate and Christen is okay with that. They didn't put a label on anything. In fact, Christen is sure Olivia is just trying to get over someone named Lotta. She doesn't mind though.

 

At New Year's she gets a phone call from Kelley, who's with Ali Riley in California. They're both drunk and laughing loudly, even though it's only early afternoon there, but Christen just joins the laughter, trying to listen to them talk over each other.

When Kelley says "So.. I met a girl." Christen is really happy for her. She grins and wants to know everything, listening to Kelley gush about Ann for almost half an hour.

"I'm happy for you, Kel." Christen says and she means it. Her and Kelley never put a name on what they had. Everyone else probably would have called it a relationship, at least Ali did several times jokingly. Christen doesn't care about a name though. She's always going to love Kelley in some way. And she's always going to be happy for her in every way.

"Happy New Year, Kel."

 

2013

Christen signs with Tyresö FC in January. She loves Göteborg and is thankful for everything the club and the city and her teammates did, for everything she became because of Göteborg. But Christen also wants to evolve and keep getting better and Tyresö seems like the perfect opportunity. After all, Christen really wants to stay in Sweden. She doesn't trust the newly founded US league NWSL. At least not yet.

Meghan Klingenberg comes to Stockholm as well and Christen helps her adjust to Swedish life.

For the second consecutive season, Christen scores in her regular season debut. Christen had an outstanding season with Göteborg, but with Tyresö she seems to be even more on fire. She scores four goals in a 10-2 win, a brace in a 7-0 win. Her hard work and determination seem to pay off, as she's also called up to the national team.

 

She makes her debut for the USWNT on February 9th against Scotland. Kelley wraps her into a bone crushing hug before they head out off the locker room, grinning at her.

"See, told you, we were gonna be here together."

"Yeah." Christen smiles, trying not to let her fear overwhelm her.

"It's okay to be afraid, you know." Kelley tells her. "But know that you deserve to be here."

Christen isn't afraid when she walks onto the field behind Abby, holding a little boys hand. When their names are called and the whole stadium cheers, Christen can't stop smiling. Being next after Alex and Tobin and Abby means you don't get the same amount of applause, but Christen doesn't care. She's here and that's all that matters.

When Ali sends in a free kick after twelve minutes Christen hits the ball just right with her left foot. Nearly twenty minutes later she makes it 2-0 with a beautiful header. She runs into Carli's open arms and Kelley jumps onto her back, screaming "I knew it, Chris!" into her ear. Ali jumps in and holds her tightly and they're both just so happy to finally be here. In the second half Christen assists Boxxy. They win 4-1.

The next game four days later is Abby's 200th cap. Christen scores the third goal.

 

"You know, you're the first US woman ever to score three goals in her first two games." Cheney tells her that night in their room. "I hope you stick around."

Christen does stick around. She gets called up to the Algarve Cup, plays in every game, she scores goals and they win the cup. Three weeks after the Algarve Cup they play two more games in Germany and the Netherlands. Christen sits on the bench for the draw against Germany, but four days later she scores two goals in their 3-1 against the Netherlands.

 

The rest of the team flies back to the US, but Christen goes straight to Sweden to her club. Playing for Tyresö feels so good. Christen feels free, she plays for the national team, she plays at an amazing club, she scores goals for both, but above all, Christen is just really happy.

 

Christen practices her Spanish with Vero and Jenni, her Spanish teammates and it happens more than once that they end up talking in Swedish instead of Spanish. She still practices Yoga and watches the sun rise and shine and set. Sometimes, when she finds the time, she meets with Olivia, drinking coffee, exploring Sweden, laughing, often kissing in the end. After practices (or even before) Marta often starts playing the guitar and Sara, Linda and Lisa are singing Swedish songs. Christen is happy in Sweden.

 

Most of her teammates go to play in the Euros, and Christen gets called up for three more games in June, one against Canada, two against the Korean Republic. Being with the national team starts to feel familiar. Christen knows everyone, she found new friends. At the beginning she was hanging with Kelley most of the time, feeling safe with her, but now she's comfortable spending time with pretty much everyone on the team. Christen loves painting her nails with Ali and Alex, loves talking about God with Cheney and Tobin. She loves talking about her favorite books with Becky and Barnie, loves sitting in silence with Hope or watching a movie with HAO. Christen simply loves being with the national team.

 

The Euros are in Sweden in July and Christen goes to some games, cheering on her friends and teammates. She got a Spanish jersey from Vero and Jenni, which she wears proudly, but also a Danish scarf from Line and a Dutch one from Kirsten, which she wraps around her neck and her arms. Her face she paints yellow and blue. Most of the time though she wears the Swedish jersey Olivia sent her a few weeks ago. And if she's being honest, she wants Sweden to win.

In the end, Sweden loses to Germany in the semifinal, as well as Denmark to Norway, so Christen watches Germany win their 8th title without anyone to really cheer on.

 

It's August when Ash, Ali, and Whitney join Tyresö for the rest of the season. Christen is beyond excited for three of her favorite teammates to come to Sweden. They all live in the same big house in the suburb, where a lot of the girls from the team live. They're having dinner one night, eating healthy pizza and drinking healthy wine. Ash and Whitney are telling some of their teammates about the time Ash made Whitney climb an RV at her birthday, Kling is playing some card game with Vero and Christen ends up sitting on the couch with Ali. Ali is kind and caring and Christen feels so at ease with her. Whenever Ali asks her something Christen knows that she truly cares.

There's a loud laugh suddenly and Christen turns her head to find Ash laughing at something Marta just said. When she turns back around, she notices that Ali is still looking at Ash with a silly grin on her face.

"You're so whipped." Christen states with a laugh and Ali blushes.

"I know, I know." Ali shrugs and focuses on Christen. "I'm going to marry her someday." She says quietly, but firmly.

Christen grins at her. "Are you engaged?"

"No!" Ali says a little too loud. "Haha, no. There's no need to rush. We both have our careers, play for club and country. There's enough time after that. I know I'll spend the rest of my life with her, I don't need to put a ring on it right now." Ali gazes back to Ash, who's animatedly telling a story. "But I will, someday."

"I'm happy for you, Kriegs." Christen says, putting her hand on Ali's knee, squeezing it lightly.

"Thanks." Ali looks back at Christen. "What about you, Pressy?"

"What about me?"

"Seeing anyone? Anyone caught your eye?" Ali smirks and Christen rolls her eyes. "Oh come on, tell me something. No one from college or here in Sweden?"

Christen opens her mouth and closes it again. Then she sighs and opens it again. "There was someone in college and someone in Sweden."

"And? What happened?" Ali has her head in her hands and her elbows on her knees and grins at Christen.

Christen shrugs. "Nothing. It was fun. That's all."

"That's all? Oh, come on. I want to know something. My life is boring, I've been with Ash for years-"

"And now you wanna know all about my love life?" Christen asks with a laugh and Ali nods with a smile. "Ugh. But what's there to tell? My love life at the moment is non-existent either way."

"Then tell me about the guy in college. Why did it end?"

Christen snorts at the word guy. "We never were together, we just had fun a.. few times." Maybe a little more than a few times.

"What's his name?"

Christen rolls her eyes with a laugh. "It's Kelley, Ali."

"Okay. Kelly, nice. What was he like?"

"No, Ali." Christen corrects with a laugh. "It's Kelley."

"You already said that."

"No, it's Kelley. As in, our Kelley." Christen starts to explain.

"Our Kelly?" Ali asks, brows furrowed. "We have a Kelly, you and me?"

Christen laughs. "You and me and Ash and Whit and Kling and Alex and Tobin and Abby.."

"Whaaa-" Ali stares at her with wide eyes. "Oooh! Kelley O'Hara is our Kelley!"

Christen nods. "Exactly."

"Okay, okay, so, what happened between you and Kelley?" Ali asks, smiling at Christen. "Oh, and sorry I assumed it was a guy."

"No problem." Christen says. "And, I guess.. a lot? I don't know. Kelley is just.. she's Kelley."

Christen thinks back, young Kelley O'Hara, twenty years old, soft face.

"God, she was amazing." Christen chuckles. "I wasn't in a good place, you know, mentally, at Stanford. Kelley made sure I never gave up, made sure I didn't feel like crying, made sure I felt loved and just.. worthy and good. She was always there for me. Still is. We started, I don't know, kissing and making out and stuff at some point. It was.. amazing. Kelley made me feel amazing. I don't know, she just was like, my person. Probably still is. The one you know will always, always have your back, always be there for you, no matter what.."

Christen shrugs and sighs. "We were never in love though. Not really, I guess. Or maybe we were?.. I don't know. Possibly we were. Anyway, we never really put a label on it. But it was good, it was fun, we loved each other and we still do and we've always been friends."

"So when did it end?"

"Hm, I guess.. it ended a few times? After Kelley graduated, but then we occasionally saw each other and, well.. Then when I graduated and moved to Florida and we played each other. I guess, I don't know, we texted and talked on the phone a lot, but like, just as friends, like I also did with, well.. okay, I only talked to Kelley that much, but our 'relationship' was never.. I don't know. But when we saw each other it just felt so good and like coming home and we always ended in bed together."

Ali chuckles and Christen gently nudges her shoulder with a laugh.

"Anyway, last year I moved to Sweden and, well, Kelley was 6000 miles away. And I didn't even think about her like that, I guess we never did after she graduated, but seeing each other maybe triggered something? And it just felt good, knowing that there was someone who knew you so well, who would always love you.. Anyway, the last time was after the Final last year and that's it."

Ali nods her head a few times. "Okay. Wow. Didn't see that coming, haha. But I see the way you and Kelley interact with each other. You'd be a cute couple."

Christen laughs. "Thanks. You're not the first Ali to say that. But seriously, I'm not in love with Kelley. She's with Ann and happy and I'm alone and happy and really, it's all good between Kelley and me, it always was."

"That sounds so.. kinda unbelievable." Ali says with a laugh and Christen nods.

"I know! But trust me, my 'time' or whatever with Kelley was great and I loved being with her, but it's not like any hearts were broken or stuff like that. We just stopped sleeping with each other and nothing else has changed."

"Okay." Ali shrugs. "And what happened in Sweden?"

"Oh." Christen laughs. "I had this teammate in Göteborg, Olivia?"

"Schough?"

"Yeah, that's not how you pronounce her last name, but yes. Anyway, we hit it off pretty quickly and at some point after the summer last year we just.. landed in bed together."

"Christen, Christen, Christen." Ali shakes her head and smirks. "Who knew, still waters run deep. What happened with Olivia?"

Christen shrugs. "She introduced me to Sweden and Swedish life and we had a lot of fun together, but then I transferred to Tyresö and we just kinda stopped."

"Kinda?" Ali asks with a smirk.

Christen rolls her eyes. "I mean, I wouldn't say no if the opportunity presented itself again. But it's nothing I really plan."

"So no dating for Christen Press?"

"Not really, no. I'm good alone, I'm so happy here, going to Sweden was the best decision for me. And I don't need anyone else to be happy. I also don't feel like I'm missing something, to be honest. I'm pretty satisfied with soccer, with football as my only love right now."

 

Christen finishes the season as the top scorer in the league with 23 goals, becoming the first American to do so in the history of the Damallsvenskan. Tyresö finishes the regular season second and qualifies for the 2014-2015 UEFA Champions League. Christen scores the only two goals during the Round of 32 of the 2013-2014 Champions League, securing a win over PSG and sending her team to the Round of 16. She scores another brace against Fortuna Hjørring in a 2-1 win. They win the second game 4-0 and qualify for the Quarterfinals.

Ali and Ash go back to the US after the season ends and after the Round of 16, but Christen, Kling, and Whitney stay with Tyresö.

 

Christen spends Christmas with her family in L.A. and while putting her feet into the sand, staring into the sunset, thinking about Sweden and her love for football, Christen gets a call and she makes a decision.

 

Her family surprises Christen with Morena, a puppy they rescued, for her birthday and Christen is immediately in love. She answers phone calls and talks to her friends and teammates from all over the world with the puppy in her lap, stroking her head. Olivia sends her a video of her playing the guitar and singing.

"You came to us in Gothenburg, you liked the taste of Kopperberg, we became fantastic friends."

Christen can't stop laughing at the lyrics and plays the video 37 times until she gets a call from Kelley, who screams rather than sings "Happy birthday" into the phone.

"I need to tell you something." Christen says a few minutes into the call.

"Oh-kay?"

"But I can't."

"Why not?"

"I just.. can't. Not yet."

"Oh come on, Chris!"

"It's a surprise, Kelley. And I have a feeling you're going to like it. At least I hope you do. You just have to wait for a few days."

 

2014

Kelley: YOU'RE COMING HOME???

Kelley's text is the first thing Christen sees in the morning in early January.

I am.

Kelley: ASDGALHMELAF!!! EXCITED!

 

Kelley is also the first one to jump onto her back at the start of January camp.

"I missed you!"

"I missed you too." Christen laughs, trying to walk with Kelley hanging onto her.

Christen rooms with Julie and they're both excited to be teammates in the NWSL soon.

They play Canada at the end of camp and of course, it's Syd to score the only goal.

A few days later in February, there are two games against Russia. The first is a 7-0 win with Christen and Carli scoring a brace each and HAO, Syd and Abby joining in. The second game is an 8-0 win. There are two own goals and then one from Amy and Abby and Pinoe and Cheney and when Christen comes on in the 81st minutes it takes only two minutes for her to assist HAO and three more for her to score herself.

 

They go to Portugal for the Algarve Cup at the beginning of March. Thinking back later, no one really knows what went wrong. The first game against Japan is a 1-1 tie. It sucks, sure, but it's Japan and they're the reigning World Cup Champions and tieing them isn't that bad. Then there's the second game against Sweden and Christen gets subbed in after 70 minutes. It's weird, seeing Pia on the other side, seeing her teammates, her friends, Lisa and Seger and Olivia, seeing them win.

Christen, Kling, Whitney, and Ali shake hands and exchange hugs with their Swedish teammates after the game. Olivia squeezes Christen tightly, pressing a kiss to the side of her head.

"Maybe next time, Pressy." She says quietly, and Christen just rolls her eyes, shoving her back with a laugh. They watch Hope and Lotta hug and Hope congratulates Lotta on her beautiful goal. It's nice to see that, even though they just lost and even though everyone's bummed and Sweden is the opponent, the 'enemy', that they all still can be friends. Seger's hands on her shoulders and her "Good game, Press." make her feel at least a little bit better.

The game against Denmark needs to be won. They all know it. They go into halftime and the score is 0-3. Finally, Christen manages to make it 1-3, only to have Denmark score another one shortly after. Even though Syd and Pinoe score right after that, an overtime goal from Denmark makes it a 3-5 loss. A 3-0 win against Korea and they finish the Algarve Cup in seventh place.

 

Tom gets fired, Jill becomes the new coach and Christen goes back to Sweden to play two Champions League games against SV Neulengbach. The first game ends in an 8-1 win for Tyresö. Christen scores three goals, Marta scores three goals, Christen assists three goals. They fly to Austria a few days later and players like Marta or Seger or Carola get rested and other players get a chance to play. Even though it's a 0-0 tie they've qualified for the semifinal.

 

Christen, Whitney, and Kling fly back to the US for two games against China, both ending in wins for the US. When they get back to Sweden they know for sure what they've been fearing. There are financial troubles with the sponsor and starting in the league seems impossible. There's a maximum of three Champions League games left and they definitely can play those, but with the season it's different. They go to Birmingham in the middle of April and a 0-0 tie makes the pressure for the home game big. At home, Christen scores twice and the whole team celebrates the fact that they made it to the finale, trying not to think about the fact that they're not playing in the league.

When Christen flies to Canada a few days later for a national team game, she's glad she signed with Chicago. The game ends in a 1-1 tie and of course, it's Syd to score.

 

Back in Europe, they go to Portugal for the Champions League Finale against VfL Wolfsburg. It's a tight game, with Marta and Vero scoring in the first half and Alexandra Popp and Martina Müller at the start of the second half. Marta makes it 3-2 only minutes later, but Wolfsburg manages to score two more goals. Christen and everyone else on Tyresö are proud though to have made it to the finale and played the way they did. Tyresö lost their spot for the next Champions League season due to their financial troubles and the players go to play all around the world. Kling and Whitney are going to Houston, Vero to Portland, Marta, and Line go to Rosengård, Carola and Lisa to Norway, Linda to Montpellier, Seger to PSG and Christen goes to Chicago.

 

Christen gets there two days after the finale, leaving behind new friends and a country she fell in love with, a country, that made her fall in love with football and herself again.

After only a few days of training Christen plays her first NWSL game against Seattle and even though they lose she enjoys every second of it.

Right after that Christen flies to Florida for two national team games against France. It's hot in Tampa, something the Cali girl in Christen loves, but the fact that she spent the last three years in Sweden makes her sweat more than usual. Training is good though and Christen makes sure to give her best every day.

"Do you miss it?" Ali asks one day after training.

"Miss what?" Christen asks.

"Sweden."

"Oh." Christen looks up, staring at the sky. "I don't know, to be honest. Three weeks ago I was still in Sweden, so I feel like I haven't really realized yet that I'll be flying to Chicago and not to Stockholm after our games. Do you miss Germany sometimes?"

Ali smiles. "Of course. Germany is such a big part of me and my career and everything I am and the way I play.. how could I not miss it? Playing there was the best decision I ever made. But coming back to the US was also the right decision. So, yeah, I miss it, but I gained friends I still have today, I learned so much, I fucking, sorry, learned a new language! I think we all miss the things that made us happy at some point, places, people. But missing it just shows us how much we still love it."

"I think I'm going to miss Sweden a lot."

"That's okay. But first of all, who says you'll never go back? And second, I'm sure you'll have the time of your life in Chicago."

Christen enjoys talking with Ali. She seems to be the one to get her the most, to understand her the most. Of course, Kelley has known her for years now and they have their history and Christen knows that Kelley knows and understands her. But Ali gets her on a deeper level. She gets the need to leave to grow and evolve, she knows the fear and the excitement of moving to a foreign country, she understands how you fall in love with said country after a while, how you learn to love its culture, its people, its language at some point. Ali gets how Christen feels, what soccer, what football means to her, what playing abroad and what coming back to the US means to her. And Christen knows, if she ends up like Ali in any way, as a person, as a player, as a friend, she made all the right decisions.

 

Training one day gets interrupted by a thunderstorm and lightning. The team is soaking wet in minutes and there's no way of continuing training. Christen almost slips on the wet turf, but Hope catches her with ease.

"Easy there, superstar." She says with a laugh. "Don't want you to get hurt."

"Thanks, Hope."

"You catching people now instead of balls, Hopey?" Kelley asks, sliding between Christen and Hope, putting her arms around their backs. Hope groans and rolls her eyes, squeezing Kelley's side. Kelley squirms and jumps into Christen's arms, holding onto her, jokingly glaring at Hope. When Hope sticks her tongue out and makes a silly face, Kelley laughs and grabs onto her arm again.

 

Christen gets lunch one day with Kelley and Ann, who flew in to watch Kelley play. First, Christen says, she doesn't want to interrupt their time alone, but Kelley says, she's being silly and she wants her there. Then Christen says, she doesn't want to be the third wheel, but Kelley says, she's being silly and she wants her there. So Christen sits through lunch, watching Kelley and Ann be ridiculously cute together. But Ann is nice and kind and funny and her and Christen really get along well. The most important thing though is that Ann makes Kelley happy and that's all Christen cares about. So she enjoys her time with them with a smile, not thinking about how it could be her instead of Ann if things had turned out differently a few years ago.

 

Christen starts both games against France, the first a win, the second a draw.

 

Back in Chicago Karina pushes a microphone into her face at training and a camera gets pointed at her.

"KK Cam", Karina explains.

It's sunny and the sky is blue and Karina is funny and Christen is smiling. So they talk about the weather and the city and Christen and then Karina interviews Emily and Christen is still smiling when she's standing with Julie and Abby Erceg, talking about New Zealand. Kiwis are not from New Zealand, so they don't eat a lot of them, because the Kiwis in New Zealand are actually birds, Christen (and Karina and Julie) learns. In-N-out is the best place to eat out, Christen then tells Abby.

"Burgers and fries, fresh as they come."

The sun is still shining and Christen is still smiling and her blue jersey has the same colour as the sky behind her.

 

When the Red Starts are in Kansas City for their away game. Christen gets coffee with Julie, Lori, ARod, Becky, Barnie, Cheney and Amy. Sitting at a cafe, drinking coffee, Christen realizes for the first time that she really isn't in Sweden anymore. She looks around, but only some of the customers and people around her are blonde, they're all speaking English, there aren't any words Christen can't read or pronounce..

"You okay there, Press?" Cheney asks, waving her hand in front of Christen's face.

"What?" Christen blinks a few times. "Sorry I just zoned out."

"You okay though?"

"Yeah. I feel great." Christen says and she really does mean it.

 

After the loss against Kansas City, they play two games against the Portland Thorns. The first is an away game and Christen is excited to get there. She wraps her arms around Vero before the game and Tanc ruffles her head afterward, telling her, with a laugh, that she shouldn't be fraternizing with the enemy. Christen doesn't mention the fact that Tanc and Sinc did the same thing earlier, she just follows after her with a smile. Thanks to two goals from Christen in the last fifteen minutes it's a 2-2 draw. Christen hangs with Vero, Tobin, Alex, and Allie after the game and they make plans to get dinner together next week in Chicago. The home game is a 1-1 tie. At dinner Christen and Vero unconsciously start to talk in Swedish, only realizing it, when the others stare at them with wide eyes.

"Oh, sorry, habits." Christen apologizes with a laugh, continuing in English. Without realizing it she and Vero fall into Spanish at some point, but Alex throws a napkin at them quickly.

"We don't understand Spanish either."

 

The last few weeks of July and August are spent with training and games, two away, the rest at home. Christen finally finds time to explore the city, on her own or with her new teammates, and she knows she's going to feel good playing here.

Kelley: I just now realized that we won't play each other this season. Sucks.

Christen smiles at Kelley's text. It's true, the Red Stars had their last game against Sky Blue before Christen arrived.

Sorry, Kell. But I enjoy playing with you more anyway :)

 

Christen scores in a win against Kansas City and again in their last game of the season against Houston. They finish the season in 5th place. Four days later she scores against Switzerland.

 

Christen goes to California for a few days, spending time with her parents and sisters and Morena, who has grown way too much since Christen last saw her. They go to the beach and get dinner at In-N-Out and Christen thinks, here she doesn't miss Sweden that much.

I'm at the beach we went to when we played for Pali Blues. Surfing isn't the same without you.

Kelley: You're surfing? Without me?

Trying to. Could use some lessons though.

Kelley: I volunteer! Have fun at the beach, even though without me that's hardly possible.

 

"You can't really surf in Sandy, Utah, but I figured, we could go skateboarding?"

Christen stares at Kelley with wide eyes when she pushes a skateboard into her arms in the lobby of their hotel.

"You want to go skateboarding? Jill's gonna kill us if we hurt us before the games."

"Yes, I do. And I'll look out for you, I'm pretty good at skateboarding, you know."

Christen scoffs at Kelley's smug look and grabs the skateboard, putting it onto the floor.

"Then come on, Kel." She says, stepping onto the skateboard and rolling out of the lobby. Christen ignores the disapproving look of the guy behind the reception and when she stops in front of the hotel, she sees Kelley, Tobin and Ash running after her with boards in their hands.

"Race to the coffee shop down the street?" Ash suggests and as soon as she has finished talking everyone's on their skateboards, trying to win their race. Christen is probably the most competitive, so she keeps pushing until she's way ahead of everyone else, and leans against the wall of the coffee shop with a grin like she's been waiting for ages when the others finally arrive. No one gets hurt and they win both games against Mexico.

 

A few weeks later World Cup Qualifying starts. There's a strange feeling at camp and Christen knows it's got to do with the fact that they lost in 2011. Even though it's just Qualifying and even though it's pretty certain that they're going to qualify, everyone's excited and making sure do give their best. It feels good, being with the team for a few weeks, playing a game every other day. It's a little bit like the Algarve Cup, but bigger. So much bigger. Christen wonders how big the World Cup is going to be and if she's even going to be playing in Canada. But for now Christen tells herself to focus on the first game, then the second, then the third and so on. There's enough time to think about the rest afterward.

They win against Trinidad & Tobago with 1-0. In the second game against Guatemala Christen comes on in the 42nd minute for Alex, who got hurt a few minutes earlier.

"Let's win this game, for Alex." Abby says in the lockerroom at halftime, and they score four goals in the first twenty minutes of the second half, winning 5-0.

Alex doesn't start any of the remaining Qualifying games. With even more fire and the simple need to win inside them, they defeat Haiti 6-0. The game against Mexico ends in a 3-0 win and the last one against Costa Rica in a 6-0 win with four goals from Abby.

Abby earns the Golden Boot, Carli the Golden Ball, Hope the Golden Glove and the whole team gets a trophy and weird medals. Kelley grabs Christen's hand during the ceremony, squeezing it. "We're going to the World Cup, Chris! Together!" She whispers so quietly only Christen can hear her and even though being on the Qualifying roster doesn't mean anything when it comes to the World Cup roster, Christen just lets herself enjoy the moment, repeating Kelley's words with a soft smile.

"We're going to the World Cup."

...

Chapter Text

After Qualifying for the World Cup, Christen has a few weeks off, before the national team heads to Brasil in December for a Tournament. She spends the first two weeks of November in California with her family. Somehow the whole family is there, even her little cousins who seem to grow up so fast. Christen goes skateboarding with Nick and Charlie, swimming with Channing, to manicure and pedicure with her Mum and Tyler and on long walks with her Dad. She practices Yoga every day and when Nima comes to visit, they hang out for a few days.

"I can't believe we used to date," Christen says with a laugh as they're sitting at the beach one day.

"Me neither." Nima agrees. "But you know, if we're both still single at 35, I'm going to propose to you."

"You're so sweet!" Christen gushes, pressing a kiss to Nima's cheek. "But you're going to have to fight Kelley over that."

 

A few days later Christen flies to Hawaii for a Nike shooting with Ali, Alex and Carli. Christen isn't the biggest fan of photo shootings and posing and getting all styled and dressed up, she doesn't enjoy it the same way Alex does, who is used to being in the spotlight, but with Ali by her side, who smiles and laughs and has fun with everyone and everything and who always makes sure to look after Christen, it's easy to forget the cameras and just have fun as well. Carli falls up and down the stairs a few times and glares at her teammates when they start to laugh, but Christen just wraps her arms around her shoulders and then Carli's laughing again as well. Apart from the cameras and the Nike people, it's like a vacation with three people Christen probably wouldn't have ever gone on a vacation with. But it's easy and comfortable and they all get drinks together at the beach, and sipping their cocktails they get to know each other even better. Christen only feels a bit left out when they start talking about their partners.

"What about you, Press?" Alex asks, taking a sip from her drink. "Are you seeing someone?"

Christen shakes her head with a smile. "Nope, not seeing anybody."

"Why not?" Carli suddenly asks. "You're gorgeous."

"Uhm, thanks, Carli." Christen blushes. "That's sweet, but, yeah.. I'm not really trying to see anyone? It's not that I don't want to, but, I don't know, there's no time and no right person and stuff."

"I still think you and Kelley would be perfect for each other," Ali adds quietly, only for Christen to hear.

Christen just rolls her eyes and Carli and Alex look confused. "No, Ali. I told you, she's happy with Ann and Kelley and I are in the past."

"What?" Alex and Carli ask at the same time.

"What?" Christen asks, smiling at them.

"You and.. Kelley?" They both stare at her with wide eyes.

Christen shrugs. "Back in college, yes-" Ali snorts and Christen glares at her. "-, but that's it. No Kelley and I. Now can we stop talking about me?"

"I didn't even know you were gay." Carli suddenly says and Ali almost chokes on her drink.

"Uh, I don't label myself," Christen explains. "But I'm not straight. And I think that everyone's a little gay or bi or at least not fully straight."

"I am!" Alex interjects and Ali starts laughing.

"Are you sure though, Al?" She asks, eyebrows raised. "Wasn't there the one time you and T-"

"Ali!" Alex shouts, staring at her friend with wide eyes.

"You and who? T? Who's T?" Christen asks with a grin, looking between the two Alexandras.

"Tobin," Alex admits, still glaring at Ali. "We made out during the 2011 World Cup and Ali caught us. And promised to never say anything to anyone."

"You and Tobin?" Carli asks with a laugh. "Sweet."

"So yeah, I guess I'm not fully straight," Alex admits, crossing her arms in front of her chest. "But I love Servando and he's the only one I love and want."

"Oh-kay." Ali turns towards Carli now. "What about you, Lloyd? Ever had any sapphic experiences?"

"Uh, no," Carli says, blushing slightly. "I've only ever been with Brian. I didn't even think about anyone else, no matter their gender.."

"You're boring, Carlos," Alex says, earning a glare from Carli. "Now Press, why don't you tell us more about you and Kelley?"

"Uh, no." Christen stands up. "I'll go get another round of drinks and when I'm back I'd like to talk about something else. Like how excited you are to finally be getting married in a few weeks?"

 

In December the national team flies to Brazil for a tournament. Spending almost three weeks before Christmas with the national team is somehow weird. Everyone's looking forward to Christmas and spending time with their families. 2015 is going to be wild from the start. No one knows who's going to be on the World Cup roster, so the last few games are also the last opportunity for everyone to show Jill and the staff that they want to be on the roster and that they deserve it. It's a competitive environment.

 

The first game is against China.

They know that they should win.

Still, the game ends in a 1-1 draw.

Four days later they lose against Brazil, with Marta scoring a hattrick in their 2-3 win.

Abby lost her voice at some point during the halftime of the Brazil game and hasn't really found it again. She doesn't need words though to let everyone know how they need to step up and finally win.

The next game is against Argentina.

Hope is leaning her head against her locker, eyes closed. Abby is trying to scream, her voice failing her half of the time. Christie is trying to calm down Abby. Carli puts her hand on Hope's shoulder, who immediately relaxes, turning around with a smile.

"Let's do this, guys!" Kelley then shouts. "Let's win this thing!"

She leads the team out of the locker room and when they walk out of the tunnel, Christen knows they're going to win.

And win they do.

Christen scores once, twice. Then Carli scores. Then Christen scores again. Then Carli once again.

Abby doesn't even try to talk during halftime, she just wraps her arms around Carli and Christen.

They both score again in the second half, making it a 7-0 win.

 

Two days later Christen gets a call from her Mom and then all she knows is Hope holding her in their room and Kelley coming over, packing her stuff and driving her to the airport, one hand always holding Christen's. Kelley only lets go of her hand when Christen has to check in.

"Call me, if you need anything. No matter, when, okay?" Kelley wraps her arms around her one last time, pressing a kiss to the side of her head. "I love you, Chris."

 

Christmas sucks when it's right after a funeral. No one in her family is really in the mood for celebrating, but they still eat together and unwrap presents. Christen's birthday a few days later and the days until after New Year's pass in a blur. There are careful texts from her teammates and friends and Kelley sends her a picture from Alex' wedding.

Kelley: We miss you. Alex misses you. I miss you. See you soon, Chris! xoxo

 

2015

And suddenly it's 2015 and Christen has to get ready for January camp. It's gonna be three weeks of intense training in California before the team heads to Europe in February for two weeks.

Christen shares a room with Cheney, which she's really happy about. Three weeks is a long time after all.

Camp starts with training in the evening of the first day. Ali's in shorts and a tank top, Carli in sweatpants and a long sleeve shirt. Christen just enjoys the chill evening breeze and the last rays of sunshine. The next few days consist of training twice a day, hours of sprinting, jumping, running, stretching, pushing, sweating, lifting. It's exhausting, really, but it's also so good to be back again and to have three weeks of consistent training in the best environment.

A few days into camp Christen is the last one to leave the field. The sun is starting to set, the golden hour is getting to an end. Christen just stares into the sky, taking it all in.

How did she get so lucky?

To be here, to play for the national team?

To do what she loves?

Not too long ago Christen was still in Sweden, watching the Swedish sun hardly set and hardly rise. And now she's here, months before the World Cup, on her best way to go to Canada in June. How did she get so lucky?

"You deserve it."

Of course, it's Kelley. She takes a few steps forward until she's shoulder to shoulder with Christen.

"You're amazing, Chris, always been. And a few months from now, you and I, we're gonna be World Cup Champions."

"Promise?" Christen asks, holding up her pinky.

"Promise," Kelley says, wrapping her pinky around Christen's and bringing it to her mouth to press a kiss to it.

 

Moe flies to St. Louis, where she receives the MAC Hermann Trophy the second year in a row. She gets back in time for the afternoon training session on Saturday and gets immediately wrapped into a hug from Crystal, Kelley and Christen, her fellow MAC Hermann Trophy winners.

 

Ashlyn starts making the weirdest smoothies one day, with kale, cucumber, avocado, lemon, banana, apple juice, pineapple and ice. It sparks a huge discussion between her and Kelley about who makes the better - and healthier - smoothie. Christen decides to not take any side, she just drinks both offered smoothies.

 

The team watches the NWSL draft together and Moe is the center of attention. Kling chants "We got Morgan! We got Morgan! We got Morgan!" and Carli simply squeezes her shoulder. Whitney and Abby both welcome Sam to the Flash, Abby rather loudly, Whitney rather calmly. Kristie is more than excited to have Steph with her in Boston.

 

In the middle of camp Christen, Ash, Pinoe, Whitney and Tobin have a photoshoot for the Summer issue of Darling Magazine. The focus of Darling Magazine is to empower women to embrace who they are and Christen is excited to work with them. They get to choose their clothes from a rack, they're told to wear whatever they feel comfortable and beautiful in. Christen ends up choosing a white cutoff shirt and a dark blue denim overall. The others are also wearing blue jeans and white shirts, each one owning their own style. In the end, the pictures turn out amazing.

 

At the end of camp, they're filming videos for the 23 stories for the World Cup. It's weird, somehow, because there are 29 of them, but only 23 of them are going to the World Cup and still, they all have to make their videos because the roster won't be announced until April.

 

Christen and Cheney are getting dressed in their room when Kelley and Tobin come in.

"You need a pop of color, Chen," Kelley says with a shake of her head, turning around and returning a few minutes later with a wide shirt with flowers of it, putting it around Cheney's shoulders.

"Yep, better." Kelley nods her head and leads the group outside and into the meeting room, where they're filming the videos. Tobin puts on her snapback, too lazy to brush her hair, and flops down on the floor, ready to roll.

Everyone's excited, applying makeup and arranging their hair and stuff. Christen just smiles and takes it all in, leaning her head onto Becky's shoulder.

HAO's story about her game face ends in all the other girls trying their best impressions of O'Reilly game faces. Christen is by far the worst at it.

"You're always smiling," Hope tells her. "I think your face isn't even capable of doing whatever Heather does with hers."

When Ashlyn talks about the time she hit a boy in the face with a dead fish, the whole team is in tears, laughing so hard.

Then Ali talks about the time she almost died in college and again the whole team is in tears, quietly sitting on the sofas.

Kelley talking about how she never wanted to leave home and how she couldn't sleep anywhere else, makes Christen grin and think back about the time Kelley told her that story in college. It must have been five years ago, in a hotel room somewhere, in the middle of the night. They were just lying in bed, talking about everything and nothing, telling stories from their childhood. Kelley told her about being in Russia with the youth national team, traveling the world and how she never would have imagined that she'd be the one to leave Georgia behind.

"I'm glad you're able to sleep somewhere that isn't home." Christen had said with a laugh.

"Me too." Kelley had replied, leaning closer to Christen. "Otherwise I wouldn't be able to do this.."

Christen's thoughts are interrupted by little Ryan running into her feet, begging to be picked up. Amy already finished her story, so Christen keeps him entertained until it's her turn. Moe comes over with her Plancton-cutout, joining them.

Next to them a few of the girls are looking at their childhood pictures. They can't decide who was the uglier kid - Syd or Carli.

Carli and Tobin keep tossing around a New Jersey cutout, with Rylie in the middle, trying to catch it.

When it's Christen's turn they finally let in Khaleesi and Morena and immediately everyone's gathered around the dogs, who are too excited to even listen to Christen.

So Christen talks about how much pressure she used to put on herself. How often she cried at college games. How hard she was on herself. Then Christen talks about Sweden. About how it changed her and made her a better player, how Sweden was everything she never dreamed of, but everything she ever needed.

Kelley's grinning at her from behind the camera, and when Christen is finished Kelley puts her arm around her, holding her close.

"I'm proud of you, Christen."

 

January camp ends and there's less than a week they have to themselves before they head out to Europe. Christen spends a few days with her family and then she's on a plane to France.

It's cold in France, they're in the North West and they can see the Atlantic from their hotel. Training is so much more fun with the waves of the ocean in the background. Her ears and fingers and her nose are cold, but Christen still goes down to the beach with Alex, Whitney, Julie and Tobin, sticking her feet into the ice-cold water for half a second before running back up to the hotel.

"Carli would have jumped in there immediately." Whitney laughs when they finally reach the warmth of the hotel.

 

One day they go out after dinner, bowling. They're split into teams and of course, it ends up as big competition·. Christen ends up in a team with Ali, Carli, Cheney and Alex and they call themselves "The Bowlin' Brunettes". HAO and KO (that's what she calls herself today, because, O apostrophe and Irish and stuff) keep chest bumping each other in the next line, Amy and Lori keep counting their points ("We're starting to have a stride!" - "Are we? I have.. five total points." - "Yeah, but, you started with zero."), while Carli hits nine after nine.

"There's nothing to do in Jersey but bowl." She explains and Christen wonders if that's true because the rest of the girls from New Jersey aren't nearly as good. Christen doesn't mind though and in the end, her team wins.

 

What they don't win is the game against France. Alex just can't seem to find the back of the net and even though Ash makes several great saves, France ends up winning 2-0.

They head to London the next day by train, focusing on the game against England. Training picks up again, the team goes out for dinner one night and to an Arsenal game the other night.

When they play England, Alex finally manages to score, her 50th international goal, making it a 1-0 win.

 

Again, there's less than a week left at home, before they fly out to Europe again, this time to Portugal for the Algarve Cup.

It's beautiful in Portugal.

The sound and the smell of the ocean is everywhere and stunning cliffs dominate the landscape around.

Training starts off easy, making sure no one is too jetlagged and everyone has adjusted. It doesn't take long though before training is as physical as it always is. It's the last big tournament before the World Cup and more or less a mini World Cup, a simulation of what's coming in the summer, so to speak.

Christen somehow doesn't have a hard time adjusting to being in Europe again.

"You're half European now, I'd say," Ali tells her when they walk to the beach together for some yoga. They're the only ones motivated enough to get up earlier and do yoga.

"You're crazy," Kelley tells them with a laugh. "No one in their right mind would get up earlier."

"If we'd be going surfing you'd be the first to come, Kel," Christen says.

Kelley's eyes widen immediately. "Do you think I can rent a board somewhere?"

"I don't think Jill would be pleased if you hurt yourself because you went surfing," Christen says with a laugh. "You're invited to do Yoga with us though."

Kelley's face says it all, so her and Ali go alone.

 

On the second morning, Kelley appears next to them when they're walking out of the hotel, coffee and a blanket in her hands. She doesn't say anything, just follows them to the beach, where she sits down on the blanket and just watches them.

"You're a creep, O'Hara," Ali tells her with a laugh on their fifth morning. "You could at least join us, you know."

"Nah." Kelley grins at her. "I'll stick to just watching you."

"Weirdo." Christen shakes her head with a laugh when Kelley sticks out her tongue.

 

A few days into camp they're called in for a fitness update.

Turns out, fitness update means teambuilding and a scavenger hunt, which makes the whole room erupt into excited laughter.

Christen's in a team with Tobin, Carli, Cheney and Cap.

"Come on, come on, let's go go go!" Tobin grabs Cheney's arm and drags her forward.

"You excited, Toby?" Cheney asks with a laugh, while the rest quickly follows.

"Yes! I love scavenger hunts! Now hurry up!"

There are several tasks they need to complete.

Hitting the crossbar ten times isn't very hard with Cheney, Carli and Tobin, who make it a competition to see who can hit it ten times the fastest. It's Cheney.

"Where do we get a fish?" Cap asks, staring at the sheet in her hand.

"Oooh, I know!" Christen says, grabbing the key to her room and leading them upstairs.

"You got a fish in your room?" Carli asks, eyes narrowed in confusion.

"Well," Christen starts. "It didn't say it had to be a real fish." She opens the door to her bathroom.

"Oh my god, that's brilliant!" Tobin says, letting her fingers glide over the fishes on the bathroom wall. "Now let's take a picture!"

They play with a beach ball, Cap swims the length of the pool, they find seashells, build a sandcastle.

Finally, they reenact a scene from scandal.

"Okay, Press, come here, you're Olivia, I'm Fitz," Cheney says, grabbing Christen and leading her towards a wall.

"Sorry for that." Cheney apologizes as she presses Christen into the wall. She clears her throat a few times before she motions for Carli to start recording.

"Kiss me, Olivia. You know you want to." Cheney says with her deepest voice as she leans closer towards Christen. "Kiss me. Kiss me."

She hovers only inches from Christen's lips who doesn't even know what to do know. She never watched Scandal.

"What am I supposed to do?" She whispers, staring into Cheney's eyes.

Cheney chuckles and steps back. "You were supposed to kiss me passionately."

"I'm sure she would have kissed you passionately if you were Kelley," Carli mumbles, only for Christen to hear.

Christen just glares at her, ignoring the smirking face.

"Okay, so that's it," Cap says, clapping her hands together. "Back to the hotel we go."

Tobin leads them inside, soccer ball under her arm.

"You guys done? We're done." She asks Pinoe, Hope, ARod, Kling and Kelley, who are standing in the lobby together. Kelley just has enough time to glare at Tobin, before Hope drags her forward to complete the remaining tasks.

When every team is finished they show their results to Dawn and half an hour later they get a text message to meet in the meeting room by 3:30 pm, where the winner will be announced. In the end, no one is surprised to find out that Lori, Becky, Ali, HAO and Whitney are the winners.

 

Christen and Ali keep going to the beach for some yoga while Kelley watches them. On the morning of their first game, Carli joins them on their way out for a run on the beach.

 

The first game of the tournament is against Norway. Ada Hegerberg scores right before the first half ends, which leads to another loud Abby speech in the locker room. Then Carli does, what Carli does best and scores twice.

There's only a day or two between the games, so the whole team piles into ice baths and recovery sessions and keeps training light.

The team wins their second game against Switzerland as well, with three beautiful goals by Alex, ARod and Abby.

The third game against Iceland ends in a 0-0 tie, thanks to Iceland's incredible goalkeeper.

Still, they made it to the final against France, which is more or less going to be a rematch for the game in February.

A few minutes into the game Julie heads the ball into the back of the net. A few minutes before halftime, Christen sneaks through five French players to make it 2-0. Hope saves a penalty in the second half to secure their win and their Algarve title.

 

Christen misses the Chicago Red Stars preseason due to more national team duties and games. The World Cup is just around the corner, with four more games to prepare. The team trains in California in March before the first game. There's a beep test and a trip to Catalina Island, a few days of intense training before they fly out to St. Louis for their game against New Zealand. There are people waiting for them at the airport when they land, wanting autographs and selfies, screaming and chanting, all dressed up in red, white and blue. It's loud and crowded, but the smiles on everyone's faces are so real.

 

"Christen!" Kelley whisper yells on the morning of their game, a weird yellow scarf around her neck and in her arms, standing in the lobby of their hotel. "Come here!"

Christen was just about to meet up with Ali for a quick pre-game walk. With narrowed eyes she walks to where Kelley is standing.

"What's up, Kel? What's with the-" Her eyes widen and she stops mid sentence when she sees what Kelley's scarf actually is.

"That's Pip." Kelley whispers with the biggest smile, staring at the baby Wallaby wrapped in a yellow Winnie Pooh blanket in her arms.

Pip is probably the cutest thing Christen has ever seen, especially in Kelley's arms. It's making soft high pitched noises and it's small nose keeps sniffing Kelley's fingers.

"Oh my god!" Christen gushes, leaning over Kelley's shoulder. "It's so cute!"

"He is, isn't he?"

"But Kelley, why exactly is there a baby Wallaby in your arms?" Kelley seems to ignore her, too preoccupied with Pip in her arms. "Kelley?"

"Oh, sorry!" Kelley apologizes. "So, Pip's mother Pipa died, right after giving birth to him. It's so tragic, poor little guy." She gets lost in the baby Wallaby for a few moments. "Uhm, where was I?"

"Oh my god, Kelley." Christen groans. "You know what, I don't care, it's cute and I should have known you would end up with a cute animal in your arms. Wanna go for a walk with me and Ali?"

"Nah, I'm good." Kelley grins down at Pip.

"Don't forget we have a game to play today." Christen reminds her with a laugh before walking away.

They end up winning 4-0 and Kelley keeps talking about Pip on the bench before she finally gets subbed in.

 

Christen flies to Chicago for three home games in a row, before she leaves for three last national team games in May and then the World Cup. The first game is against Seattle Reign. Christen scores twice, her second goal in 91st minute making it a 3-2 win. A week later they play the Portland Thorns. It's a 2-2 tie, with Christen scoring both goals. She becomes player of the week and player of the month April.

 

The World Cup Roster has been unveiled a few days prior, as well as the One Nation. One Team. videos have been released. Of course they already knew since the last camp, but now everyone knows and there are texts and calls from family and friends and former teammates and coaches, wanting to say something.

 

There's one last game against Sky Blue, which they win 1-0, before Christen, Julie, Boxxy, Lori and Alyssa are off to camp, that already started. They mostly sit on the sideline after a regeneration workout, watching their teammates, who didn't play 90 minutes the day before, scrimmage against each other. A few days later they eat dinner at the beach, selfmade BBQ, with Pinoe and ARod making smores for everyone. They're wearing pink hats with "Pirate Coast" on them and of course Kelley, Tobin and Ash are wearing them backwards. There's a photoshoot for sportsillustrated, before the team flies to San José for their game against Ireland. Kelley and Christen are probably two of the most excited players, being back here, where they played for so long.

 

"Do you remember when we played here?" Kelley asks, looking around the soccer field in front of her. It's evening and they took a team van to make the short trip to their alma mater. "We won. We lost. We had so much fun."

"We did." Christen says quietly, following Kelley's gaze. "I remember everything, Kelley."

"Everything?" Kelley wiggles her eyebrows at her.

Christen just rolls her eyes. "Yes, Kel, everything."

They're quiet for a while, just taking in the setting sun and the field where they used to play.

"You know, I don't know how I would have made it through all those years here without you." Christen admits.

"You've always been stronger than you thought, CP." Kelley replies.

Christen shrugs. "Maybe. But still. Thank you, Kel. For being there for me through literally everything."

"You're welcome, Chris." Kelley takes Christen's hand and squeezes it. "I love you."

"I love you too, Kel."

"Remember what I told you once?"

"That my body is a wonderland and you want to make love to me until the end of earth?" Christen asks smugly.

"I did say that, didn't I?" Kelley asks with a laugh. "Well, your body really is a wonderland. But that's not what I meant... I promised you we'd be on the national team together. We'd go to a World Cup together. We'd win a World Cup together."

"And we'd be sexy as hell and without any baby fat." Christen adds with a chuckle.

"I mean, look at me, Chris, I'm stunning, I'm breathtaking." Kelley says, motioning down her body with her hands, laughing loudly.

"You haven't changed a bit, O'Hara." Christen says gently, before quietly adding "We haven't won a World Cup yet."

"But we will."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

 

It's Mother's Day and of course it sucks to not be able to be with their Mom's. They record a video though, wishing their mothers a happy Mother's day, but it's not the same. In the evening they sit down for their pre-game dinner.

"Alright, ladies!" Jill starts at some point during dinner. "You've been working hard, so I wanna mix things up a little bit, so, uhm, I brought in a guest speaker, there's someone pretty special, so I'd like for you to give a big welcome, when they come through that door, so if you could just turn and face the door."

Christen sits down with her plate full of food next to Kelley the moment Jill stops talking and the door opens. And in comes Debby Krieger, arms wide open, shouting "Surprise!" in search of her daughter, leading all their Moms inside. As soon as their eyes land on their mothers they all start running around, with teary eyes and big smiles on their faces.

"I can't believe you're here." Christen mumbles into her Mom's embrace.

"Mama!" Kelley screams beside her, jumping up and down while still hugging her mother tightly.

It takes long for everybody to calm down and finish eating, all with their mothers right beside them.

The biggest surprise comes the day after, when it's their mothers who walk their daughters out on the field for the game against Ireland, that ends in a 3-0 win.

The team then heads back to LA for a game against Mexico in a few days. It's a good preparation for Canada, little time in between games, travelling a lot. They keep training and eating and playing together, getting tighter every day. Christen spends a lot of her free time with Ali, with Ash and Whit, with ARod and Cheney and Tobin. Tobin feels a lot like Sweden. She's calm and comforting, her voice and her eyes are soft and she brings peace to everyone around her. Meditating and Yoga are still part of Christen's daily routine, but so are talks with Tobin to keep her grounded and take her mind off of this huge thing called World Cup.

The game against Mexico is another win, this time 5-1.

At some point during training the next days HAO and Abby shoot a video where they're doing impressions of their teammates. There's Pinoe's obnoxious fall on the ball trick, when she gets fouled and Abby's shin slap. There's Syd's throwing her braid around while running and ARod's way of showing what she wants or trying to tell the referee that someone dove. There's Ali's running back after sending in a great ball and Carli's goal celebration, where she just stops with her hands pointing to the sides.

"What would their impression of me be?" Kelley asks, flopping down next to Christen.

"Jumping in the air and on everybody's backs, like you're actually flying." Tobin says with a laugh.

"And of me?" Christen asks.

"Smiling." Alex says. "Smiling at everyone and all the time."

 

A few days prior to their last send-off game against South Korea the team flies to New York City.

"Was it like this in 2011?" Christen asks after several interviews and a day full of media.

There's a moment of silence before Ali answers.

"No." She shakes her head, smiling. "No. 2011 was nothing compared to this. The World Cup was in Germany, across the world. It's different now, with the World Cup in Canada. It's like home for us. And the pressure, well, it was big in 2011, but now.. it feels like everyone is watching us."

"Is it hard? All the media, all the attention? All the pressure?"

"Of course. But pressure is what makes us. And media, a part of me will always hate it and it isn't easy, having everyone watch your every step and make their assumptions about you.. but just think about what the media and all the attention can do for the women's game. And you get to share your story. Inspire others, help others. I feel like now we can achieve so much more with just our voice, compared to four years ago."

 

Christen talks about Sweden a lot in all the interviews ahead of the World Cup. Sweden is what made her the player she is today. Sweden is the biggest piece of her story and she decides to share that piece with the world. To help others. To inspire others.

They're going to Good Morning America, taking the ferry there. They take pictures on the boat, making silly faces, screaming, the wind blowing their hair around. A few hours later they're at Central Park, where Ed Sheeran is playing. They're invited onto stage, Ed Sheeran gets his personal jersey and everyone sings Happy Birthday to Tobin. They take selfies afterwards and on the way back to the hotel everyone's listening to Ed Sheeran songs.

They tie South Korea 0-0 the next day.

Two days after that they're on a plane and off to Canada. Off to the World Cup.

...

Chapter Text

Christen takes the little girls hand and walks out of the tunnel and onto the field behind Kling. The flag falls out of her hand on the way to the middle of the field, but she just smiles and picks it up again, hurrying to catch up.

The smile that spread on her face the minute she stepped out of the locker room, never fades.

Pinoe scores after eleven minutes.

In the 27th minute Lisa de Vanna is wide open and ties the game.

It's the 60th minute, when Syd crosses the ball back and Christen gets her foot onto it, sending it into the back of the net.

Her arms are outstretched and she starts running, jumps into Cheney's arms, wraps her arms and legs around her. Then there's Kling and Ali and hands on her head and around her.

Christen smiles until she gets subbed out for Tobin a few minutes later, hugging her with a big grin on her way off the field. Then Kelley and HAO and Ash and everyone on the bench are highfiving her, patting her on the back.

Ten minutes later Pinoe scores her second goal, making it a 3-1 win.

It's a good start to the World Cup, but it's only just the beginning.

 

They have three days to rest and train and prepare for their second game against Sweden. Christen practices Yoga with half of the team, refocusing on what's next. She paints her nails with Ali and Alex and Becky the evening before the game. On game day ARod does what she does best and braids hair.

"Look good, feel good, play good." Is what she and Ali always say.

In the end, it's a game without any goals. There are chances on both sides, saves on both sides. Kling becomes an American hero, when she heads the ball off the goal line.

Afterwards it's friendly and both teams exchange smiles and hugs. Olivia wraps Christen in a bone crushing hug, not letting go. Sara wraps her arms around both Ali and Ash, Hope and Lotta grin at each other before embracing.

"Missed you, Pressy!" Olivia says with a laugh.

"Missed you too, Liv." Christen grins back at her.

A tie isn't the result they wanted, but a point is still a point. It just means they have to fight harder, do better in the next game.

 

They fly to Vancouver the next day for the game against Nigeria on Tuesday. They train for one and a half days, before a day off. Families and friends come to Vancouver for the game and to visit. Kelley spends every free minute with Ann, clinging onto her. Ali and Ash go out with Ali's brother Kyle. Christen's sister Tyler comes too and her and Christen drag Tobin along to explore the city and enjoy lunch together. Spending some time apart from the team and with their families is good for everyone before the last group stage match.

"Amyyyy." Alex whines in the locker room before the game and ARod just rolls her eyes with a laugh.

"What will you ever do when I'm not around anymore to braid your hair before every game?" She asks, parting Alex' hair with her fingers.

"You're not allowed to leave. Like ever." Alex says with a serious voice.

 A not given penalty, a beautiful volley goal by Abby and a red card for Nigeria later the US finish their group in first place.

 

They fly to Edmonton the next day, a chartered plane, and at the airport people are waiting for them, fans, reporters, everyone. Christen thought she finally got used to all the attention and cameras and media, after all they have cameras following pretty much their every move, documenting their journey. But somehow it still feels weird.

They mostly recover, spend time in the pool and doing yoga and getting massages, maybe some light training, for the next two days. Most of the team is piled into their rooms to find out who they're going to play in the knockout stage first.

It's Colombia.

 

"You run like a grandma." Pinoe tells Christen during training after she just scored on Ashlyn.

Christen tilts her head to the side and looks at the blonde. "I do hope to run the same way when I'm a grandma."

"Touché." Pinoe laughs before jogging off.

 

Two nights before the game against Colombia, Kelley knocks on Christen's door.

"Hey."

"Hey, Kell. Wanna come in? Tobin and I were just about to start The Lion King."

"No, thanks, uhm, actually I wanted to ask you if, uh, maybe you wanted to go on a walk with me?"

Christen raises her eyebrows, but Kelley's big bright hazel eyes are all it takes for her to walk back into the room to grab a light jacket. She tells Tobin sorry and to watch the movie without her if she wants. Tobin just shrugs and wishes her fun.

"So where do you wanna go?" Christen notices the small bag slung over Kelley's shoulder. "And what's in that bag?"

Kelley smirks at her. "That's a surprise."

They walk in silence for a few minutes. It's dark outside already, 40 minutes before curfew. Christen tries not to think about the fact that, especially with Kelley, there's a possibility they won't make it back in time. And Christen really doesn't like breaking rules, but it's Kelley, so Christen simply enjoys the almost chill night breeze. They can't see many stars due to the city lights, but it's beautiful nonetheless.

"We're here." Kelley says after a while and stops.

Christen looks around and turns to Kelley, confused. "We're at a small soccer field?"

"Yes, we are." Kelley says with a grin. "Come on."

She grabs Christen's hand and drags her towards the goal on one side of the small field. There she sits down in front of it and pulls a blanket out of her bag, laying it down beside her before crawling onto it. She pats the space next to her and Christen lays down as well. Their arms touch and it doesn't take long for Kelley to intertwine their fingers. Christen smiles at the familiar contact.

"I love looking at the stars." Christen admits quietly, finally breaking the silence. "I wish we could see more of them from cities."

Kelley turns her head and grins at her. "They're almost as beautiful as you."

Christen's body shakes with laughter and she smiles at Kelley. "I knew you were gonna say that."

"You know me too well."

"I guess I do." Christen says and gently looks at Kelley. "So, we're here for one of our deep conversations about life and football and winning and losing?"

Kelley stares at her for a few moments, while a smile spreads on her face. "You really do know me well."

Christen just shrugs.

"I don't want to talk about losing though, we're not gonna lose. I just.. we're at the World Cup." Kelley whispers. "Can you believe it? We're at a World Cup together and on our way to the finale.. I mean, okay, yeah, there are three more games on our way to the finale, but.. we're gonna make it. I know it. We.. I don't know if we gave our best so far, but I know that.. we're gonna give our best and we're gonna win this fucking thing."

Christen chuckles at Kelley's cute rambling and squeezes her hand. "You think you're gonna score?"

"Me?" Kelley asks, almost laughing. "I'm a defender and a bench warmer at the moment, I don't do goal scoring. That's your part, Chris."

Christen just smiles at her. "You're gonna score, I know it. One day you will. And you won't be a bench warmer."

Kelley turns onto her side and looks at Christen. "Do you sometimes think back and wonder how you got here?"

"To Edmonton?" Christen asks and Kelley rolls her eyes, while Christen just laughs. "No, I know what you mean.. I guess.. yeah, sure. I mean.. I'm completely different than I was a few years ago."

"Thanks to Sweden." Kelley adds, a fact Christen mentioned in almost every interview so far.

"And thanks to you." Christen grabs Kelley's hand. "You're the reason I loved being at Stanford. And you're the reason I made it so far. But you know all of that, right, Kell?"

Kelley nods her head. "Yeah." Then she laughs. "Even though I dragged you to Kappa Kappa Gamma parties?"

Christen joins in on her laughter. "To be honest, I had fun at all of them. Except for that one time you wanted so bad to win at beer pong that you ended up puking on my new shoes."

"Oh my god." Kelley groans and hides her face behind her hands. "Ali never let me live that down. God, that was awful."

It's an hour later when Christen realizes how late it is. "Kelley!" She sits up abruptly. "We have to get back to the hotel."

Kelley reaches out and tugs at Christen's shoulder. "It's too late now anyways. You think you can stay for a few more minutes?"

Christen tries to come up with an answer but she just ends up staring at Kelley, trying to form words.

"Awesome." Kelley grins before standing up and offering her hand to Christen. "Wanna play a little one on one?"

"Wh-what?"

Kelley opens her bag again and grabs a soccer ball. Of course there's a soccer ball. She throws it towards the middle and turns to Christen. "Come on, let's see who gets to the ball first."

Kelley gets there first.

Christen has to admit, playing one on one after curfew somewhere in Edmonton at a small field during the World Cup.. it feels amazing.

There's no pressure, there's no media, there are no fans.

It's just Christen and Kelley, kicking the ball in the middle of the night, like they used to back at Stanford. It's familiar.

They chase each other around the field and towards the goal and Christen has to admit that Kelley has the advantage of playing both defense and offense. She doesn't mind losing though. At least not to Kelley.

It's way after midnight when they get back, hands intertwined, both laughing the whole way to the hotel, and they know if they get caught, they'll be in trouble. Kelley pulls Christen down as soon as they enter the lobby and starts crawling towards the elevator, low so the guy at the reception can't see them. They realize he saw them when he grins at them as soon as they get to the elevator. Kelley makes a hush-gesture, holding her forefinger to her lips. The guy nods his head and sends them a thumbs up and they quickly press the button to their floor, while waving at him. They struggle with keeping quiet, especially when Kelley looks around every corner like she's a spy, but then they quickly run towards their hallway, where they tiptoe until they reach Christen's and Tobin's room.

Christen thanks Kelley for the beautiful evening or, rather night, and Kelley wraps her arms around her and kisses her cheek.

"Sweet dreams, Chris." With a wink she turns around and dances three doors down to her and Alex' room.

"Good night, Kell." Christen whispers, waving at Kelley, before they both slip into their rooms. Tobin's fast asleep with a book on her chest and her glasses hanging from her nose. Christen shakes her head with a laugh. She grabs both the book and the glasses and puts them on the night stand, before she slips under the covers of her bed and falls asleep immediately.

Maybe they're both, Christen and Kelley, a little too tired the next day, and maybe they both just shrug when Alex and Tobin ask them when they got back to the hotel, and maybe Dawn's workout is more exhausting than usual. They don't care though, because they're good, they feel amazing and they have their mind, their focus on the right thing.

 

Christen starts the game against Colombia between Kelley and HAO on the bench. There's a yellow card for Cheney and another one for Pinoe and they're both going to miss the next game, if they win. There's a foul on Alex, a red card for Colombia, a missed penalty by Abby and still now goal. Finally Alex scores in the second half and then there's another penalty. This time Carli takes it and it's a 2-0 win.

 

They fly to Canada's capital for the game against China the next day. It's the same procedure as it's been for the past few days and weeks. Spend a lot of time at airports, on planes, waiting, then slowly back to training, recovering, getting everything to move again. There's a certain routine now, but no one takes it for granted.

The closer the end of the World Cup gets, the faster time seems to pass and suddenly it's game day again.

It's Carli, again, in her 200th cap, to score a goal and Christen finds herself celebrating between Ash and Whitney on the sideline, before she gets subbed in for Kelley. Kelley, who accidentally got headbutted from a Chinese player and whose nose then started bleeding. Kelley, who - with blood on her face - didn't want training staff to come on because she wanted to keep playing. Kelley, who had a cotton swab rammed up her nostril and tried to convince Jill and Dawn that she could finish the game.

In the end it's a 1-0 win and Kelley's bruised nose gets iced and finally cleared as not broken.

 

Thankfully they only have to go to Montreal for the semi-final against Germany, so it's only a two hour bus ride to get there.

Playing against Germany is, well, it's different. It's Germany after all and they have some of the greatest players in the world on their team.

There's a lot of joking around before the game. Kelley and Abby are appearently checking out Silvia Neid, the German coach.

"She's a catch for her age." Kelley says and Syd and Christen both shake their heads.

"Don't let Ann hear you say that." Abby says with a laugh. "Although you're right, she really is."

Christen sits on the bench again between Ash and Kelley. The first few minute of the game are already nerve wrecking and Christen has to put her hand on Kelley's thigh a few times to stop it from jumping up and down.

"God, I'm in love with JJ." Kelley sighs at some point, leaning her head against Christen's shoulder.

"Don't let Ann hear you say that." Ash says with a laugh and Kelley just rolls her eyes. "I for one am in love with Mittag's sleeve."

"Don't let Ali hear you say that." Kelley says with a smug look and Ash just flips her off.

"Oh God, Jules." Chris whispers when she sees the yellow card issued against Julie.

Sasic misses the penalty.

"Get yourself together, Julie." Ash quietly says from Christen's right side. "You got this, we got this."

There's another penalty, this time for the US, and again it's Carli who takes it and scores.

Kelley gets subbed in towards the end of the game and Christen squeezes her shoulder when she gets up. "You got this, Kel."

Christen knew it would happen or at least could happen at some point, but for it to happen in a World Cup semi-final against Germany.. she doesn't even remember how exactly it happened, there was some sweet play by someone and then Carli with the right pass towards the middle and all Christen then sees is Kelley charging towards the ball like a flying squirrel, kicking the ball into the back of the net. Christen sees Kelley kling onto Carli and she herselfs wraps her arms around Ash.

"Your girl did good." Ash says with a wink and Christen just rolls her eyes.

"She's amazing." Christen replies with a grin, ignoring Ash's comment and refocussing on the game.

It's a huge Kelley celebration as soon as the whistle blows, with Kelley falling onto her knees and into Cheney's arms and the whole team piling onto them.

It's after midnight, when they're back at the hotel, that Christen finalls gets a hold of Kelley, who's sitting outside at the hotel pool.

"Hey."

"Hey." Kelley looks up as Christen sits down next to her.

"So, you scored a goal, huh." Christen grins at Kelley and puts her feet into the water. "How does it feel to be an American hero?"

Kelley shakes her head with a laugh. "I'm no hero, Chris. If anyone's a hero it's Carli, she scores most of our goals."

Christen just shrugs. "Well, sure. But seriously, Kel.. I know you haven't played that much this past games here, but the minutes you played, you had so much impact on everyone."

Christen gently nudges Kelley's shoulder.

"You're blushing, it's cute."

"I'm not!" Kelley tries to protest, but her red face and her grin give it all away.

It's quiet for a while before Kelley speaks again.

"I scored my first goal. Against Germany. In a World Cup Quarter final." She shakes her head and starts laughing. "Fuck, Chris. This feels amazing."

"I know." Christen replies with a smug look and Kelley splashes some water onto her.

"I mean, I scored a lot of goals at Stanford." Kelley says. "We both did, actually." She adds with a chuckle. "But this here, fuck. This shit is something else."

"Kelley!" Christen laughs and shakes her head at her friend. "I'm proud of you though. That was one hell of a goal."

"It was, wasn't it?" Kelley grins wide.

"Mh-hm." Christen humms with a smile. "You were amazing out there." She then points at Kelley's phone that has been vibrating every few moments. "Seems like some people want to talk to you."

Kelley shrugs. "It's just Ann and my Mom and Dad and Erin and Jerry and all of my family and club teammates and friends. They've been texting me congratulations and sending me photos of me jumping towards the goal or running into Carli."

"Wanna reply?"

"Nah. They can wait. I'd rather stay here with you for a while."

Kelley grabs Christen's hand and squeezes it.

"We're going to the finale, Chris." She whispers. "God, I want to win so badly."

"We all do." Christen chuckles and then adds: "And we will."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

 

The time until the final flies. A plane ride to Vancouver, recovery, media, training, some time spent with family and friends.

And then suddenly it's Sunday.

Gameday.

There are nails painted in red, white and blue.

There's Amy, braiding hair.

There's Abby, almost losing her voice before the game.

There's Carli, looking like she's planning on destroying Japan on her own.

There's Hope, pure concentration on her face.

There's Cheney, who isn't even Cheney anymore, calming everyone down with just her presence.

There's Kelley, running around with Pinoe, making everyone nervous that they're gonna break something.

There's Tobin with a cross in her hand, silently praying.

Then there's Cap, getting everybody together for one last huddle.

Then there's the tunnel.

Then there's the stadium.

The field.

The people.

The noise.

And then there's the anthem.

Kelley wraps her pinky around Christen's before she puts her hand onto her heart.

Then the whistle blows.

And then so much happens.

Christen feels like she hasn't even sat down.

It's the third minute when Carli scores her first goal.

It's the fifth minute when Carli scores her second goal.

It's surreal.

"Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit." HAO speaks for everyone on the bench, on the field, in the stadium.

It's the fourteenth minute when Cheney scores the most beautiful volley goal.

"Holy fucking Cheney!" This time it's ARod.

The whole bench is at the sidelines, screaming, celebrating, almost crying.

And then it's minute 15.

"Fuck." Kelley mumbles, grabbing onto Ash's and Christen's arms. "Fuck. It's going in, it's going in!"

Carli just scored her third goal of the match, from the centre of the field.

"This is surreal!" Syd screams and they all watch Carli run back towards the goal and into Hope's open arms.

"Shit, I think we're seriously gonna win." HAO says, shaking her head in disbelief.

Kelley grabs Christen's hand and squeezes it tightly and they both can't stop smiling.

Japan scores some time after and it's 4-1 in the first thirty minutes.

At some point in the second half they score another goal and it's 4-2.

"We're still gonna win." Alyssa then says with a certainty that makes no one even question her.

In the 54th minute Tobin gets on the scoreboard as well.

Kelley gets subbed in and almost scores and Christen can't stop smiling.

And then the whistle finally blows.

From then on everything's a big blurr.

Carli is on her knees and HAO slides into her, both crying.

Ali is on her knees as well, taking in the fact that she's a World Cup Champion now on the same field she tore her ACL three years ago.

Everyone's crying and hugging and smiling.

5-2.

Then there are flags and medals and a golden glove for Hope and a golden ball for Carli and a trophy and confetti and Abby kissing her wife and Becky and Kling running around the whole stadium and everyone's families in the stands and kids on the field and champagne in the lockerroom and a huge celebration afterwards.

Christen's family is there and her best friends and they're all dancing and singing and laughing and having the time of their lives. Between the adrenaline from winning a World Cup and drinking champagne the whole night seems to fly and suddenly it's the day after the finale.

 

The whole team seems to fly on clouds, packing their bags and piling into the bus to get to the airport. To go back to their normal lifes, to their club teams, to their families. All while being World Cup Champions.

 

Kelley insists on having Christen sit next to her on the plane. It's pretty quiet, everyone has sore throats from the night before and Abby isn't the only one who has lost her voice.

Kelley's touch is soft and calm when she grabs Christen's fingers and  holds them in her lap.

"We did it, Chris." She whispers, her voice a little raspy. "We're World Cup Champions."

"We're World Cup Champions." Christen repeats, squeezing Kelley's hand. "See? I told you we would win."

"You're the best." Kelley mumbles before she starts to drift off, her head falling against Christen's shoulder.

Christen grabs her pillow and arranges it so Kelley won't wake up with too much neck pain.

"You are the best, Kel." Christen whispers and presses a kiss to Kelley's temple, before falling asleep as well.

...

Chapter Text

Being a World Cup Champion is the best feeling in the world, Christen thinks.

It's two weeks in the middle of July, where the team is welcomed home to the US with a huge parade, with thousands and thousands of people celebrating them, screaming, cheering. There's so much media, so many interviews, there's LA Live and the ESPYS.

Then Cheney announces her retirement and suddenly being a World Cup Champion isn't the best feeling in the world anymore. Because what's the national team without Lauren Cheney?

Christen goes back to Chicago and plays her first game as a World Cup Champion against the Boston Breakers. Tancredi gives Chicago the lead, but the Breakers tie the game. Then Christen scores in the 90th minute and it feels so good.

Three days later they play the Washington Spirit and Christen scores again, the game ending in a tie.

A week later it's a 2-2 tie against Kansas City, where Christen scores yet another goal and complains to Cheney about her retirement.

It's August and back to the national team for the start of the 10-game Victory Tour. There's two games against Costa Rica in August, one ending in a 8-0 win, where Christen scores a hattrick, the other in a 7-2 win.

Four days later Christen scores and assists in a 2-0 win against Western New York Flash.

A week after that she scores yet another last minute gametieing goal, this time against the Houston Dash.

Christen goes to Rockin' Against Racism with Ali McCann before watching a Chicago Fire game and they send a few selfies to Kelley, who replies with a sad smiley.

Christen, Julie and Lori get honored at a White Sox game and receive their own baseball jerseys. Kelley texts her after they posted pictures on social media.

Kelley: You're quite sexy in your baseball outfit!

Did you tell JJ and Lori the same? ;)

Kelley: I did actually! We came to the conclusion that you're the sexiest.

You're idiots.

In September the Red Stars loose their playoff game against Kansas City, but Christen, who ended the season as top scorer for her club, wins two games with the national team against Haiti, one 5-0, the other 8-0.

There's even more interviews and television and Christen starts working with FOX College Hoops - The Buzzer.

Christen's sister Tyler is getting married and Christen attends the wedding with Nima. It's beautiful and she's only crying a bit and when some relatives ask her when she's getting married she just smiles and shrugs.

"You'll know when you get the invite." She says before turning around to go dance with Nima.

 

At the end of September, Christen, Kelley, Syd, Kling, Moe, Ali, HAO and Abby attend the EASPORTSFIFA launch party together.

After that it's three weeks of being at home, of spending time with her family, with Morena and Khaleesi, of morning runs and nightly Yoga sessions, of old friends and new hobbies and refilling the energy tanks with love from home.

 

ChenChen: Wanna be my date for Syd's wedding?

Cheney texts and Christen replies with a smile.

Nothing I would love more.

 

Syd's and Dom's wedding is beautiful. The sky is so clear and blue and Syd and Dom are so in love. Christen is happy for them, and for Ali and Ash, for Alex and Servando, for Becky and Zola, for Kelley and Ann, for Hope and Jerramy. She slow dances with Cheney for a few songs, then shakes with Pinoe and Crystal and it just feels so good to have friends and be loved and witness others in love.

 

A week later Christen's at the bachelorette party for one of her friends from home and somehow love really never feels old.

While being in California Christen goes to Stanford with Kelley. They train with the team and have fun, talk about old memories and the World Cup. Kelley almost spills too much when she's talking about a certain game and Christen has to hide her mouth behind her hands to keep from laughing.

"They don't need to know what we did offside the field, Kell." Christen tells her afterwards.

Kelley just shrugs. "I'm sure they're doing it the same way we did."

Christen soaks in the evening sun and stares at the lone field in front of her. Everyone left and it's just her and Kelley now.

"Do you miss it?" Kelley asks. "Stanford I mean."

Christen takes a few moments to think. "Sometimes, sure. I had good times here, I can't imagine not missing it occasionally. How about you?"

"Sometimes I miss scoring goals", Kelley admits. "But I also really love preventing our opponents from scoring."

"You're good at everything you're doing on the field."

"I miss the easiness of just being. Of just, being yourself and playing soccer every day and studying, learning."

"You were quite the nerd."

"You're one to speak."

"I know. And I know what you mean.. I love my life right now. Being a World Cup Champion. You know me, Kell. I try to live in the moment."

It's quiet for a while as they're both just staring at the field and the sky.

"Do you remember that one time, where it was just you and me-"

"Is this going to be a sex story, Kell?" Christen interrupts and Kelley grins sheepishly.

"Uuhm.."

"I remember everything, Kell, you made sure of that."

 

There's two games against Brazil later that month, which means the last games for not only Cheney, but also Lori and Boxxy.

It's weird.

Boxxy is talking with Christie before the game and from what it sounds like they're talking about their daughters.

Lori is sitting in the corner with fellow Tar Heels Ash, Kling and Whitney, laughing at something Kling just said. Lauren is standing with Tobin and ARod, the three of them just smiling at each other. They don't seem to have talk at all to communicate with each other.

"Boxxy, Lori, Cheney, come here!" Abby then shouts and the three make their way towards Abby. "This next two games are going to be the end of an era." She starts and everyone knows it's going to be an emotional speech. But then Abby just laughs, shakes her head and blinks a few times. She motions for Syd to hand out cups with champagne and then simply raises hers.

"To Shannon, Lori and Lauren!" Abby shouts.

"To Shannon, Lori and Lauren!" Everyone shouts back and drowns their champagne.

The first game is a 1-1 draw, the second a 3-1 win.

Both feel like losses because it means saying goodbye to legends.

 

But then there's the White House and everyone's speechless. The fact that Barack Obama himself called them after their win and congratulated them was enough to make everyone speechless, but being at the White House is something different.

"We so sexy." Pinoe states when they all head off the bus and into the White House.

"Yes we are." Ash says, looking Ali up and down. "So sexy."

Ali just rolls her eyes. "Not to forget talented and kind and fucking World Cup Champions."

Cheney grabs Christen's arm and links it with hers. "Wanna be my White House date?"

Christen nods her head with a laugh. "Always."

"You look gorgeous by the way. Maroon really is your colour."

"Thanks, Chen." Christen replies with a grin. "You look like the sexiest assassin ever."

"I take that as a compliment."

 

The team takes pictures together and with the paintings on the wall until Christen is so exhausted her and Tobin flop down onto a seat together.

"Are you stealing my date, Toby?" Lauren asks, looking down at them.

"I wouldn't dare." Tobin replies with a laugh, putting her arm behind Christen's back. "But sharing is caring, right?"

 

Obama gets his own jersey, with 44 on the back.

 

He gives a speech and talks and laughs with Carli and Pinoe and everyone.

 

"I'm so glad Obama's our president." Ali whispers at one point and everyone around her nods their head.

"Yeah, imagine we had someone like Donald Trump as president. He wouldn't invite us to the White House." Moe says and everyone scrunches their faces in disgust.

 

The White House ends with lots of memorable pictures and many memories Christen takes with her back to California. She enjoys a few days at home again - with the World Cup and the NWSL, with media and interviews and then the Victory Tour it feels like there's no time for anything and no matter where she is, there's always some place she has to be next. So being at home, and if it's just for a few days, is the best thing for Christen's soul. Her phone gets turned off most of the time and even though Kelley and Tobin and Ali complain about that she doesn't change or regret it.

 

In November there's the GlamourWOTY25 and Christen, Kelley, Ali, Alyssa, Moe, Kling, Julie, Christie, Alex and Abby attend it together. Christen meets Sophia Bush and Kelley klings to her the whole event, because "Ann couldn't make it", like Kelley had said with a shrug. "And we're an even number, so you are my date tonight. Right?" And Christen had seen no problem in being Kelley's "date", considering Abby led Alex around on her arm like her date as well.

 

Christen started working with Grassroot Soccer and a few days after the GlamourWOTY25 she's on her way to South Africa to work with young players there. Being there is one of the most inspiring experiences of her life and she meets so many incredible and talented young people.

"Every place has its hardships and triumphs. We are just people", fiveteen year old Yamkela says.

Lhala suggests "Since you love football maybe you can start your own academy. Then you can hire me." And Christen promises with all her heart, that if she's ever to start her own academy Lhala will be the first she's hiring.

Stanford, their trainer, talks about Nelson Mandela a lot. "During apartheid we were on the streets, fighting, fighting...for our rights, for our lives. We had a rule in the townships: during daylight, everyone would leave their front and back doors open. The police chased us after protests and we would run right through the houses; the people would slam the door just after I ran in so I never got caught. After apartheid ended, the whites thought that when given some freedom, the oppressed black majority would burn down South Africa in anger and spite... But we did not. Mandela not only changed our lives, he changed our souls. That starts with forgiveness.." He says one day and Christen takes that sentence home with her.

 

Christen may not want to leave South Africa, but she has to. There's three more games in December and even though she's exhausted from all the travelling she's looking forward to ending the year with her second family. With all the new faces on the team, now that veterans are retiring, it's also important to get to know each other.

 

They're in Hawaii where they're supposed to play Trinidad and Tobago in Honolulu. Kelley wears the weirdest hawaiian shirts there and puts a flower in her hair. She insists on taking a selfie with Christen.

"You look like your sister. And our eyes look the same color." Kelley says and smiles at her phone. "We're cute."

The game in Hawaii gets cancelled due to bad field conditions, so they fly to Texas, where they play Trinidad and Tobago instead. The game ends in a 6-0 win. The second game against China ends 2-0.  A week before Christmas the team plays the last game of the year, another one against China. It's Abby's final game.

The whole team was sad to see Boxxy, Cheney and Lori leaving, but letting go of Abby is something different. Alex is like a puppy, always hanging on Abby and everyone else seems to be drawn towards her too.

Even the younger players, who haven't played with Abby except for in training are sad, because Abby is like a literal legend on this team, record player, record goal scorer, amazing teammate and friend. She gives one last speech in the locker room, telling everyone to stay calm (though being the loudest herself) and just always continue to play their best game, before they head out onto the field.

They lose 0-1.

But no one really cares. It's all about Abby today and it doesn't matter if they win or lose, they're losing, at least it feels like it, a teammate, a captain, a friend and even a win wouldn't make it any better.

 

Christen goes home for Christmas with her whole family. It's pyjamas and singing Adele in the car and Morena and Khalessi running around a lot, it's old friends and weird presents and lots of laughing.

Then it's Christen's birthday and it's almost the same procedure again, plus a cake with candles for her to blow out.

 

2016

January camp starts on January 5th in Carson with perfect weather and sunshine.

 

kelleyohara: Best office in the world.

christenpress: what @kelleyohara said.

 

Christen goes to Justin's and Yuka's wedding and enjoys being a bridesmaid. Nima, Joe and Austin can't decide on who her date is, so she dances with all of them and simply has fun. She texts Cheney with a picture of her carried by the three guys.

When you're not my date I suddenly have three.

 

Back in camp Christen enjoys being with the team and preparing for the Olympics this year. She goes to breakfast with Whitney and Kling, does Yoga on her own and watches Kelley and Alex on "The Bachelor" with the whole team. On gameday against Ireland Alex gets celebrated for 100 caps. They win 5-0.

 

It's a few days at home and lots of time spent with Khaleesi and Morena before Christen is back with the national team for Olympic Qualifying.

 

The first game against Costa Rica ends 5-0, with Alex scoring after 15 seconds, then Crystal, Carli and Christen scoring and Alex once again. The next game against Mexico is another win, 1-0, with a penalty goal from Carli. There's one day between the Mexico game and the next against Puerto Rico, so it's recovering for everyone who played and light training for everyone else. Christen squeezes herself into the icebath next to Carli and Tobin and really tries to enjoy it.

The game against Puerto Rico sees so many goals. First it's Crystal, then Carli, then Crystal again. Right before halftime Kelley scores and back in the lockerroom she's so proud of her second international goal. The second half starts with an own goal from Puerto Rico, then it's Crystal again. Christen scores the 7-0. In the 85th minute Crystal makes it 8-0, two minutes later she scores yet another goal, her fifth of the game. A minute into stoppage time Sam makes it 10-0, the final score.

 

The semifinal against Trinidad and Tobago needs to be won in order to qualify for the Olympics. Alex scores a hattrick and both Tobin and Carli add a goal and with that they're qualified for the Olympics and the final against Canada.

 

The result against Canada doesn't change the fact that both teams are going to Rio, but it's Canada, so it's going to be a tough game, where everyone's going to fight hard for the win.

The US aren't giving them a run for their money and neither are they.

Christen knows that Tancredi is one of the sweetest people, but seeing her push players around makes her question that for a second.

Lindsey and Tobin finally score in the second half and the game ends that way.

After the game Tancredi hugs Christen tightly and all the blood bath like behavior is forgotten.

 

For a few days Christen goes back to California to spend time with her family before she has to be in Florida for the first She Believes Cup, where they're going to be playing England, Germany and France. Everyone's excited to play big teams from Europe who are a real competition.

Christen shares a room with Kelley, something that didn't happen for quite a while.

After the first day of training they lay in Kelley's bed together, watching tv. Then out of nowhere Kelleys sits up and says: "Ann broke up with me."

"What? Why?" Christen asks, sitting upright and staring at Kelley with wide eyes. "Oh, Kelley. What happened? Are you alright?"

Kelley shrugs before leaning back and staring upwards. "She said she couldn't do this anymore."

"Do what?" Christen asks carefully after Kelley doesn't continue for a while.

"Be with me when I'm clearly in love with someone else."

"You- what?"

"Her words, not mine. I.. I mean, the last few months haven't been perfect.. It was just a matter of time, to be honest.. But making up this excuse of me being in love with someone else.."

"Oh, Kelley." Christen says softly, grabbing Kelley's hand, laying down next to her.

"It was last week. When I came back home after the Olympic Qualifying." Kelley continues. "I-I-I.. It just hurts, you know? I mean, yeah, I've been thinking about this for a while now and I guess I wasn't really in love with her for a while now, but, you know, I still love her. Loved her. Whatever. We've been together for years, it's.. rough and weird, ending a relationship.. And I-I just don't get it. What does she mean, in love with someone else?" Kelley asks, looking at Christen as if she's got an answer.

"I don't know, Kel.." Christen says carefully, but Kelley just keeps talking.

"I mean, what, is she talking about Hope? I've told her about a million times that Hope is just my teammate and my friend and also super straight and super married." Kelley pinches the bridge of her nose, eyes closed. "Or did she mean you?"

"Me?!"

"But she knew that you and me were in the past, years in the past.. but then she just, you know, I come home and she's wondering why I'm appearently so happy after coming back from national team camps for the last few months. So she has to think it's one of you guys here, but that's just silly." Kelley stares at her with wide, confused eyes. "I mean, I love you guys and yes, maybe I've had a crush on Hope when I first got on the team, but come on, those killer blue eyes? And those guns? Who wouldn't have a crush on her?"

Christen thinks it's a rhetorical question, but when Kelley just stares at her as if she's waiting for an answer, she nods her head. "Totally. Agreed. Hope does have a certain appeal."

"Exactly." Kelley continues. "But it was just a crush, I was never in love with her. And yes, there was you, but I haven't been in love with you for years now." Christen's eyes widen at that statement. "I was so in love with you, but that was like..four years ago. Long before Ann." Kelley flops back on the bed with a sigh. "What does she mean, Chris? Did she mean Alex? She's my best friend. Or Tobin? Tobs is my bro, I've known her since I was like fifteen. What did she.. who did she.."

"Didn't she, like, tell you a name?" Christen asks. "Didn't you ask?"

"Of course I asked. But she just said I'm fucking blind and then she left." Kelley turns her head, looking at Christen with teary eyes. "She left me, Chris."

"I'm so sorry, Kell." Christen wraps her arms around Kelley, letting the smaller woman bury her face in the crook of her neck. "It's gonna be okay." Christen whispers, stroking Kelley's head. "I'm here for you. You'll be okay."

 

Kelley doesn't talk about it anymore.

Christen watches her joke around with Ash and Emily and Sam and pretty much everyone on the team. Kelley tells stories, makes people laugh, pranks Dawn and Carli. From the outside she may look like the happy, cheerful Kelley she always is. At night though Kelley grabs her pillow and, without even asking, crawls under Christen's blanket. Christen doesn't mind, she just pats the bed beside her, holding the blanket up for Kelley to get under it as soon as she's ready for bed.

"I'm going to tell Alex and Tobin and Ash and them tomorrow." Kelley says one night after their first win against England.

"Tell them what?" Christen asks, looking up from the book she was reading.

"About Ann." Kelley explains.

"You haven't told them yet?"

"No." Kelley admits. "I, uh, only told you."

Christen smiles softly, squeezing Kelley's thigh. "You mean a lot to me, Kelley. I'm here, if you need anything."

"I know, Chris." Kelley says with a smile before leaning into Christen. "I'm going to be okay."

"You're going to be okay."

 

"I can't believe Ann thinks I'm in love with any of these idiots." Kelley says, throwing her shirt onto the floor and falling onto the bed in just her sports bra.

"What did they do now?" Christen asks, closing her book.

"Alex said the best way to get over someone was to get under someone else. Tobin and Ash want to go surfing. To pick up some chick for me. Hinkle was there too and she said, and I quote 'well, maybe it's a sign from God and you should rethink your lifestyle'. God, she's awful." Kelley groans.

"What did Emily say?" Christen asks carefully.

"Emily?" Kelley looks at her in confusion. "Uhm, nothing really, just that she's sorry and that she's there for me if I needed anything and that she knows that I'm gonna find someone who's perfect for me."

"That sounds nice." Christen says with a grin. "Emily is so sweet."

"Yeah, I guess she is.." Kelley stares at the ceiling for a few moments. "Anyway, they're all morons. Except for you, Chris, you're cool."

"Thanks, Kell." Christen laughs. "You're cool too."

 

They end up winning all three games against England, France and Germany and becoming the first She Believes Cup Champions. Christen goes back home to California with another medal in her pocket. She spends two weeks there, walking and cuddling Khaleesi and Morena, going to the beach, meditating, spending quality time with her family, before the next camp starts in Florida. She's going to miss preseason for her club team, but have two games against Colombia.

Kelley seems to be fine. She tells Christen about spending some time in Atlanta with Moe and Sonnett, playing golf, training, hanging out, and then going to Jersey to get settled for the season and go stand up puddling with her Mom.

"You seem happy." Christen tells her with a big smile.

"Yeah, I am really happy." Kelley admits with a grin. "Life is good."

 

Training in Florida is good as well, even though it gets cancelled one day due to lightning, but then Crystal starts dancing and Kling and Alyssa play basketball and all is good. There's a photoshoot a few days into camp, Tobin is juggling the ball with her feet, Emily is juggling three balls with her hands. Christen keeps to smiling and silly dancing.

They play Dutch Blitz at the airport before they're flying to Connecticut for the first game against Colombia.

In Florida they had to plaster their faces in sunscreen, in Connecticut, where they're going for the games, it's freezing and 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Well, at least Carli and I don't have to compare our tan anymore." Mal says with a shrug, her face hardly visibly behind all the clothes she's wearing.

Most of the team has fun with the snow, building snowmen and snowwomen and throwing snowball at innocent victims. Kelley's face is wet and red after Hope rubbed a fist full of snow into her face. She tries to get revenge, but Hope is taller and stronger and ends up stuffing snow down Kelley's back. Kelley then starts walking like she's got a stick inside her, her arms stretched awkwardly to the side and her feet too far apart. She's stuttering and glaring at Hope, but then Alyssa throws a snowball at the back of her head and Kelley ends up chasing her around, forgetting about the cold snow melting down her back.

Christen starts her own little fight with Whit and Kling and they feel like they're back in Sweden again.

It's Julie's birthday when they play Colombia.

They win 7-0, with Christen scoring the last goal.

They go to Pennsylvania for the next game.

This time it's snowing during training.

Tobin tries to catch snowflakes with her tongue.

Kling hides behind layers of clothes.

Christen grins up towards the sky, letting the snowflakes land on her cheeks.

"You're a weird Cali girl," Carli says. "Shouldn't you be standing on the side, cuddled together like penguins like the rest?"

Christen just shrugs, eyes closed. "I'm a Swedish girl at heart. I love snow."

They also win the second game against Colombia with Christen scoring once and Julie twice.

 

Christen goes back to Chicago with Julie and Alyssa for the start of the regular NWSL season. It's going to be six games in a row with their club team before they have to be back for the next national team game and Christen plans on being the best captain she can be in the time she's there.

They lose the first game against the Dash, but after that it's wins against the Flash, the Pride, the Breakers, a tie against Kansas City and another win in Seattle.

 

There's two games against Japan at the beginning of June. The first ends in a 3-3 tie, the second one gets cancelled at 2-0 because of a storm.

 

After the games against Japan Christen goes to Malibu for a photoshoot for the ESPN body issue. She's a little bit nervous about being naked in front of so many people and a camera, but she convinces Tobin to come with her and her presence helps keep her calm.

 

Christen gets to play four more games with Chicago, two ties, one loss and a win, before she's with the national team until after the Olympics.

The game against South Africa ends in a 1-0 win, then it's a few days off where Christen spends some more time with her family. The last game before the Olympics is against Costa Rica and Christen scores in a 4-0 win. After that it's three more days in the US before the team is off to Brazil.

 

"You had to wear your snapbacks backwards, didn't you?" Christen asks at the sight of Tobin, Kelley and Ash carrying their bags at the airport.

"Of course." Ash replies.

"It's a gay sign." Tobin adds.

"Yeah, the straights wear their snapbacks, well, straight. Like Becky and HAO and JJ." Kelley explains. "We're the cool kids."

Tobin laughs and grabs her snapback and puts it onto Christen's head backwards.

"Gaaaaayyyy." Pinoe whispers when she's passing them from behind and Christen proudly adjusts Tobin's snapback on her head.

 

They sing Happy Birthday to Ali on their first day in Brazil.

 

Together they all walk through Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte and take pictures together. Pinoe takes one of the whole team, while Sonnett takes one of Pinoe's plumber's smile. Then Sam takes a selfie and posts it on Instagram, making the whole team laugh with her caption.

sammymewyy: Squad is straight.

mrapinoe: Squad is not fully straight Samuel. Not even close.

 

The US play their first game of the tournament against New Zealand. They win 2-0 thanks to Carli and Alex, Christen gets to sweat 10 minutes in the brazilian heat and afterwards her and Kelley hug Ali Riley.

 

They sing Happy Birthday to Kling and two days later two Kelley and then it's back to winning games.

 

They win 1-0 against France thanks to Carli. Christen doesn't like their rough play and Ash has to tell her a few times to stop glaring at them after they fouled Kelley yet another time.

"Kelley's tough, so stop trying to kill them with your eyes, Press."

 

Colombia takes the lead in the last group stage game, but they manage to get back to a 2-1 lead. Then somehow there are mistakes made and Colombia scores again.

A tie wasn't what anyone wanted, but it still means finishing first place and a Quarter-final against Sweden.

 

It's so hot in Brazil for the game against Sweden.

The game kicks off, the US in white, Sweden in blue.

It's a weird game.

In the second minute Alex sends a cross towards the goal, but it's headed away. Kelley sends it in again, but it's cleared by Sweden. Tobin takes a corner shortly after but it's cleared off the line, then sent in again and cleared again, just like the following corner taken by Tobin. In the 5th minute Lotta Schelin manages to get a corner for the Swedes, but it doesn't go in, Hope isn't even challenged. A throw in by Becky in the 9th minute almost gets in by Alex and after another throw in the Swedes try a counterattack, but they don't get through. Tobin sends crosses towards the goal, but no one gets a head on them.

Kelley takes a freekick and Tobin sends it in, but still no goal comes out of it.

In the 15th minute a swedish player is down, she winces in pain and stays on the sideline, getting treatment, while Tobin takes another corner. Mal tries to get through but doesn't succeed and before the next corner Sweden makes a change. Alex is down after the corner but she gets up again.

A few minutes later Alex is in front of the goal, but the ball gets cleared away by a swedish defender.

Becky gets another throw in, but still the ball doesn't go into the net.

In the 23rd minute the Swedes are near the US goal, but Hope never even has to touch the ball. She keeps getting booed at and Emily shakes her head angrily.

"She doesn't even do anything, why do they keep booing her?" She asks no one in particular and Christen puts a hand on her shoulder.

There are several chances, Tobin sends beautiful crosses in, Alex is in front of the goal often, but there's always a Swede between the US player and the goal.

 

In the 35th minute Lotta Schelin tries to make her way around a few defenders, but she gets a cornerkick. The corner gets cleared and kicked back, but Hope pushes it away. That was probably her first real touch of the ball, Christen thinks. The US start a counterattack, but Schelin defends it quickly.

"Schelin is everywhere." Sam says with a laugh from her space next to Ash.

A few minutes later the Swedes try it again, running towards the goal, but JJ kicks the ball away and Hope clears the following cornerkick.

Shortly before halftime Kelley sends in a wonderful service after a freekick, but unfortunately no one can get the ball in.

They go into halftime with zero goals scored.

 

Sweden is good, they are really good, usually, but today they play very guarded and reserved. It's efficient though, because it's appearent that the US hate their style of play and are getting impatient. It doesn't help that Stina Blackstenius scores in the 61st minute after Carli failed to score at several free kicks.

There are more chances, by Kelley and Carli and everyone else.

Kelley gets subbed out in the 72nd minute and Pinoe gets in, making her Olympic debut after being out for a while. A few minutes later a Swedish player is down when Alex finally scores the equalizer. There's a lot of booing and "Zika" shouting, but the whole bench jumps up in excitement.

The next chances all get cleared and suddenly they're heading into extratime. Christen gets on in the 99th minute for Pinoe, who appearently wasn't ready to play yet.

Extratime comes and goes and no goals are scored except one from Carli that's called offsides just minutes before the final whistle and one from Lotta Schelin just seconds after that's called offsides as well.

 

Alex is standing at the penalty spot, sliding back a bit.

She shoots -

and it's saved by Lindahl.

0:0

Hope takes her spot in goal, while Lotta Schelin steps forward.

She shoots left and Hope doesn't even have time to react.

0:1

Lindsey steps forward now, runs, shoots to the left side -

1:1

Hope takes her spot against Asllani who shoots and -

1:2

Carli's going to take the next penalty kick, she runs and strucks it beautifully towards the left side.

2:2

It's Hope against Sembrant now. A shot to the left, Hope jumps to the left and -

save.

2:2

Moe steps forward, shoots quickly -

3:2

Caroline Seger takes her spot against Hope. Hope guesses the direction, but Seger is better.

3:3

Christen's the final US player to take a penalty. She runs, shoots and -

misses wide.

3:3

Dahlkvist is the final Swedish player. She steps back. Takes a few steps - and scores.

3:4

 

...

 

Christen doesn't know how she got to her room.

It should have gone in.

It should have been a goal.

They should have won.

They should have made it to the final.

She should have been an Olympic Gold Medalist.

Instead she has nothing.

She tried to ignore the sad looks on everyone's faces. The tight hug from Olivia, saying "I'm sorry, Pressy." before heading back to her team to celebrate. She tried to ignore Ash holding Ali, wiping away her tears. Tobin and Julie and Whitney tried talking to her, but Christen just shook her head. She wanted to be alone, just for a few hours.

Tomorrow is another day and deep down she knows that tomorrow or at least in a few days everything's going to be alright again. It's not the end of the world, even if it might feel that way right now. At the moment though Christen doesn't want to smile or be happy, she just wants to lay in her bed and cry and hopefully just fall asleep.

 

There's a knock on her door, soft and faint, and Christen tries to ignore it, but then the knock is louder and Christen sighs, crawling out of the bed and walking through the dark room. She opens the door just a crack and there's Kelley, looking at her with big soft eyes. She smiles gently and quietly asks, if she can come in. Christen opens the door and steps back. She doesn't want to see anyone, but it's Kelley and Kelley has been there for her through it all. Kelley follows her to the bed and turns on the lamp on the night stand.

"It's not your fault." Kelley whispers and then she starts rambling, talking, about how amazing Christen is, as a player, a person, a friend, about how much she already achieved and how much there is yet to come. She's talking and talking, about Stanford and the World Cup and winning another one in three years and being so sure of it all. Christen doesn't hear half of it, she just watches Kelley, who at some point stood up and is now running in circles, rambling, with her hands gesticulating around. A smile spreads on Christen's face and she chuckles softly.

"What?" Kelley asks, stopping midwalk and staring at Christen, hands still pointing in different directions.

"Come here." Christen pats the bed beside her and Kelley flops down, looking at Christen with big, curious eyes.

"Thank you, Kelley. I.." She shakes her head and laughs. "There aren't any words to describe how thankful I am for, for everything you did for me throughout all these years we've known each other." Christen gently touches Kelley's cheek. "God, you deserve the world, Kelley." She whispers.

Kelley just smiles at her and then she puts her hand on Christen's cheek and moves her fingers behind her ear and leans forward while pulling her closer. And then their lips meet and Christen can feel Kelley's heartbeat on her lips and on the tips of her fingers. And then there's Kelley's hand, working itself under her shirt and Christen wraps her arms around her neck and falls back, pulling Kelley on top of her.

Kelley hands grab the hem of her own shirt and she pulls it off quickly, throwing it onto the floor. Christen takes in the sight of Kelley's chest, traces the freckles with her eyes, so similar and familiar to years ago and yet so foreign. She let's herself get lost in Kelley's touch and Kelley's kiss, enjoying every second of it. It's hard, putting an end to it, but Christen knows she has to.

"Kelley," she whispers against soft lips. "Kelley, sit up." She pecks her lips once. "Please."

Kelley sits up, eyes dark and confused. "Are you okay?"

"I'm okay, Kell." Christen says, sitting up as well.

"Why did.. why did you stop?"

Christen smiles. "Because that's not what you want-"

"It is!" Kelley interrupts and Christen laughs.

"You want to want it because you're used to it. And kissing you and making out with you is in fact very amazing, trust me. But you shouldn't be here with me, Kell."

"Wha-.. what are you talking about?" Kelley asks, taking her shirt of the floor and putting it back on.

"You really are blind, Kelley." Christen laughs. "I'm talking about the fact that you've been in love for months now and didn't realise it. Maybe you didn't want to, but I know you're going to regret this night if you spend it with me."

"In, in love? With.. who?" Kelley asks, her brows furrowed.

"Oh, Kelley." Christen chuckles. "In love with Emily."

"Em-, what? You mean Sonnett? W-why, why would I be, no, that's silly, that's, Christen, seriously, that's-"

Christen puts her finger on Kelley's lips, interrupting her. "Think, Kelley. Just, for a moment, think about Emily and all this past months."

Kelley looks at her, tongue peaking out between her teeth. "Are you thinking already?" Kelley slowly shakes her head and Christen sighs.

"You spend almost more time with Emily than with Alex or Tobin.. you bring her coffee, you wait for her before and after practice and dinner.. you and her play pranks on everyone.. I see the way you look at her. The way you talk to and about her.. I know how you are when you're in love, how you talk to and look at someone you love and want. I've seen it with Ann and I've experienced it first hand.. Just, it's okay to be in love with her, you know.. and with the way she looks at you and acts around you, I wouldn't be surprised if she felt the same way.. I love you, Kelley, you know that, and you're amazing and stopping this-" Christen motions between them. "-right now is hard, because kissing you is easy, even after years, but it wouldn't be right.. I'm not saying you should go and kiss Emily, but maybe just talk to her, be with her."

"Can you say something?" Christen asks after five minutes of Kelley just staring at her.

"Y-yeah." Kelley stutters. "I, uh.. what.. what do I tell her?"

"I'd start with the truth. Sonnett's a good girl, she'd want the truth."

"Yeah, you're.. you're probably right." Kelley buries her face in her hands and groans. "God, how could I have been so blind. Do you think that's what Ann meant?"

"Uuuh." Christen innocently bites her lip.

"You knew then and didn't say anything?!"

"I didn't know anything, I just had my.. suspicions. And I didn't want to say anything right after your break up, that wouldn't have been fair."

"Huh.. and here I thought we had an Olympic tradition." Kelley says with a grin.

"An Olympic tradition?"

"Having sex afterwards." Kelley says with a smirk and Christen rolls her eyes.

"Oh god, Kelley.. we didn't make it to the final and we have no medals, so it wouldn't be a tradition."

"Ah, Olympics are Olympics. Could have still been a tradition."

"You're unbelievable, O'Hara." Christen says, punching Kelley's arm. "Go, be with Emily."

"But, I, uh, should be there for you.."

"There's no need for that. I'm going to be fine. It sucks now, but it's going to be okay. Don't worry about me."

"I wanted you to win an Olympic Gold." Kelley admits quietly.

"If I ever want an Olympic Gold Medal, I'm just gonna call Karen and she's gonna send it to me. We're besties, you know." Christen laughs. "Go, Kelley. Seriously, I'm fine."

"Ugh, you just want to get rid of me."

"If getting rid of you means you get what and who you deserve.. then yes."

"Walk me to the door?" Kelley looks at her with puppy eyes. "Please?"

"Oh-kay." Christen sighs and gets up. "Tell me all about it tomorrow?" She asks, her hand on the handle.

"Of course." Kelley says and suddenly she's smiling shyly. "Can I.. it's okay, if you say no, but, uh, may I kiss you one last time? For old times sake?"

Christen can't help but smile and she leans in, slowly, taking in the orange dots in Kelley's hazel eyes and the freckles on her nose and cheeks and upper lip. There's no more baby fat and her face is sharp and edgy. Kelley isn't the soft faced sorority girl from college anymore that made Christen fall apart between the sheets and put her back together on the field.

Christen's fingers wrap around Kelley's neck and tangle in the baby hair that fell out of her bun. Kelley wraps her arms around Christen's waist and holds her close. When they kiss, they both feel the same warmth they did eight years ago.

Christen pulls back first after a few moments. She brushes Kelley's hair back and presses a kiss to her forehead. "I love you, Kell."

Kelley wraps her into a tight embrace, burying her face into her neck. She presses a soft kiss there before pulling back and taking a step back. "I love you, Chris."

They both smile at each other and Christen hears Kelley walk down the hallway. Then there's a knock and a door opening and Emily's voice, asking "Kelley? What are you doing here?" and then Christen closes the door and walks back to her bed. It smells like Kelley and Christen closes her eyes, still smiling, before taking a deep breath and turning of the light. She's asleep in no time. It's the last time she dreams of kissing that freckled face. In the morning she doesn't remember.

...

Chapter Text

Waking up after losing to Sweden in the Quarter Finals sucks. The room is quiet, Allie spent the night with Bati. When Christen opens the windows she's met with warm sunshine and birds and humid air. It's another morning, the sun still rose. A heavy sigh escapes Christen's lips and then she pushes the windows wide open and starts a few yoga poses, before sitting down to meditate.

A quick shower later she's dressed and on her way down to breakfast. Jill is saying a few words, but it doesn't look like anyone's listening. They'll be going back to the US tonight or they can stay if they want to. Christen is going to stay for a few more days with some of the girls and Nima and her family.

"Thank you."

Christen looks up and sees Kelley sitting down opposite from her. She looks happy.

"Thank you? For what?"

"For last night." She says with a smile, tugging her hair behind her ears. "You know, for.. making me.. realize things." She stops and looks behind Christen with a grin. Christen turns and finds Emily looking at her and Kelley. She shows her two thumbs ups and Christen smiles and waves at her.

"So.. what happened?" Christen asks, turning her attention back to Kelley.

Kelley shrugs coyly. "We.. talked." Her grin starts to get bigger. "And we.. well.. we.. uh.."

"Oh my god, Kelley, just spill it!" Christen rolls her eyes.

"We may have kissed, okay?"

"You may have?"

"Okay, we did kiss."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Kelley can't seem to stop grinning.

"Wipe that look off of your face," Christen says, pointing at Kelley's glowing face. "People are gonna think you're happy we lost."

"Oh." Kelley frowns. "Sorry, couldn't help it."

"I get it." Christen puts a hand on Kelley's arm. "So, you kissed?" Kelley nods, smiling again. "So you and Emily, huh?"

"Yeah." Kelley has to bite her lip to keep from grinning. "I.. She.. We.. we're gonna see where things go. Not try to rush anything, you know." Kelley sighs heavily. "She's so amazing, Christen."

Christen just shakes her head and laughs. "I won't tell anyone until you're ready.. But you know, happy looks good on you, Kell."

"Thank you." Kelley says again. "I.. for everything. Seriously, thank you, Chris."

Christen notices someone sit down next to her and there's Tobin, in shorts and a tanktop and a snapback. "What's up, guys." She says, taking a sip from her coffee.

"I'm gonna go, see if.. Mal and Linds and Sam want to.. go.. do stuff." Kelley says, standing up and walking towards the table where Emily is sitting. "Thank you." She mouths and squeezes Christen's shoulder.

"Soo.." Tobin starts, focusing back on Christen. "How are doing, Chris?"

 

Christen gets back to Chicago a week later. Everyone's coming back from the Olympics and their time off and they slowly start training again.

They're heading to New Jersey for their away game against Sky Blue the last Saturday of August. Christen holds her head high when she leads the team onto the field. People kept sending her cute dog pictures and videos after the loss against Sweden, to cheer her up. It made her miss Morena and Khaleesi, but it also made her really happy. It's good to know what she's not everyone's enemy now. There were enough people talking badly about her.

Steph scores, then Christen, then Sofia. Sam Kerr's overtime goal doesn't change the win.

Kelley is there after the game, hugging Christen tightly. "I've missed you, Press!"

"You saw me two weeks ago, Kell."

"Still, missed you."

They go out for dinner afterwards, just the two of them, and Kelley keeps talking about Emily 70% of the time. Christen doesn't mind though, she's excited about the fact that Kelley is so happy.

 

Only a week later they play a home game against Seattle.

"Do you think she's going to be here?"

"Did they also suspend her?"

"She didn't play their last game."

"I wonder if she's going to be playing today."

"Do you know anything, Alyssa?"

"Guys!" Christen has to raise her voice to calm everyone down. "Nobody knows if she's going to be here today. We'll see when we get out on the field."

Hope is not here.

Christen isn't surprised.

She still misses seeing her between the goal when she scores the final equaliser.

Three days later they play FCKC at home. Christen shakes Becky's hand before the coin toss. At least some things stay the same.

Christen scores again, but they still lose.

Four days later they play FCKC away. It's quieter than usual in the locker room.

"It's been fifteen years today."

"I still remeber it like it was yesterday."

"I thought this was some weird movie playing. But then it kept playing on every channel. I still can't believe it."

Maybe they all sing the anthem a little louder today.

Maybe they all grip their jerseys a little tighter today.

The game ends in a 0-0 tie.

 

Christen, Julie and Alyssa are on the way to Ohio the next day for a national team game against Thailand. It's gonna be HAO's last international game. 

Two nights before the game the whole team is gathered in HAO's and Pinoe's room for one last night together. Saying goodbye to HAO.. it's going to be hard. It was hard almost a year ago when Lori and Boxxy and Cheney retired. It was even harder when Abby retired.

And now it's HAO. The one and only Heather O'Reilly.

Everyone loves Heather O'Reilly, on the field, off the field. The way she sends in balls, the way she makes fun of someone for nothing, her game face, how she never says a bad word about anyone. She will be missed, that's for sure.

Everyone's telling stories, remembering HAO's time on the national team, laughing about things that happened.

"Do you remember us doing that tour in Sendai?" Ash asks with a laugh. "That huge statue?"

"The sixth tallest statue worldwide, Ash, twice the size of the statue of liberty." HAO explains. "You've got to remember the details."

"Or the time where you broke Lori's hand?" Becky laughs.

"You broke someone's hand?" Sam asks with wide eyes.

"Not intentionally." Becky tells her. "Her abs were just too hard."

"Her abs?" Sam raises both eyebrows in surprise.

"Rock hard abs." HAO laughs, showing off her stomach and punching it with her fists.

"You're so cut." Lindsey says with a laugh.

"I really liked when we were building sandcastles and all you did was play around and sing ABBA songs." Carli mentions. "I mean, no wonder we lost the competition."

"Hey, I made a great flower girl!" HAO defends. "And I'm a great singer."

Everyone chuckles and laughs at that, knowing damn well that she really isn't good at singig.

"Remember that time you were playing Wii Hoola-Hoop with Mittsy?" Kelley asks, hardly holding back a laugh. "Your hips, didn't know they could move like that."

"Why have I never seen you move your hips?" Crystal asks, nudging HAO's leg. "We could have head a dance off!"

Again everyone laughs, because HAO also isn't good at dancing.

"My favourite memory is still that time you tried to push me into the pool and Hope appeared behind you and pushed us both in." Tobin adds with a big grin and everyone laughs at the image of Hope pushing HAO and Tobin into a pool. They go on, telling memories and stories, laughing and smiling with each other, trying to forget the fact that in two days HAO won't be part of the team anymore until curfew comes around and everyone heads back to their rooms.

 

 The game is a huge HAO celebration. There are fans with selfmade posters and drawings and everyone's cheering and screaming even though the game hasn't started yet. It's written all over HAO's face that she's touched and when she gives one last speech before walking out on the field as captain she's not the only one quickly wiping away any tears.

Christen squeezes Kelley's shoulder on her way out. "Come on, Kell."

Kelley sucks in a deep breath and pinches her cheeks, before grabbing Christen's arm and following her out of the locker room.

Ash is in goal, her first game in over a year, with Ali, Becky, Julie and Kelley in front of her. Allie, Carli and Sam build the midfield and Tobin, Christen and HAO are on top. Before the game HAO is honored for 15 years with the USWNT, 230 international games, three World Cups, three Olympic gold medals and more. There's Mia Hamm, congratulating and thanking her. There are HAO's parents, brothers, her husband.

After the anthem and the team picture and a last huddle the game kicks off.

40 seconds into the game HAO sends the ball towards the goal and Carli heads it in.

In the 4th minute Tobin sends the ball into the penalty area to Carli who drops it in front of Christen who then sends the ball into the net.

Only thirty seconds later Carli assists HAO to her goal in her last game.

In the 36th minute Tobin does her Tobin thing and scores the fourth goal of the night.

Second half comes and subs are made. Alex comes on for Christen.

In the 60th minute HAO assists Carli to her second goal.

In the 64th minute Crystal comes in for Julie. In the 70th minute Crystal just simply scores a goal when no one was expecting it.

At one point Thailand almost scores a goal, both Emily and Kelley are on the goal line and Kelley manages to get the ball away.

In the 81st minute Carli gets the ball into the net after a diving header from Lindsey that didn't go in.

Four minutes later Carli releases Alex in a beautiful way and Alex scores.

It's the 88th minute when only a red number 9 appears on the sub board.

There are standing ovations and screaming and clapping and hugs and hardly held back tears when HAO hands the captain's armband to Carli and makes her way off the field.

Even though they're now playing one player down Alex scores a second goal two minutes into stoppage time.

The game ends 9:0 and HAO is wearing her Werry jersey.

 

The team goes to Georgia the next day, without HAO, for a game against the Netherlands.

Kelley is excited, as well as Moe and Emily, to be playing at home and she almost talks Christen's ear off on their way to the hotel.

But then she gets a call from her mother and she's crying and clinging onto Christen who texts Emily to come over and then Emily is holding Kelley and Christen is packing her bags again and arranging for her to get home.

"Hey, Kell." Christen gently touches Kelley's arm. "Come on, I've got a team van waiting in front of the hotel, I've already talked to Jill and packed your bags and told Erin you're coming."

Emily sends her a grateful smile and together they grab Kelley's bags and lead her down to the lobby. Kelley's eyes widen when she realizes that Christen is goin to drive her, but she doesn't question it. She leans against Emily in the second row and Christen focuses on the road and tries to follow the directions Erin gave her to get to Peachtree City.

Kelley's dad comes out of the house and stands on the front porch, waving at Christen and Emily. Kelley hugs them both tightly before grabbing her bags and walking towards the house.

Emily crawls in the front to sit next to Christen and they watch Kelley's Dad lead her into the house with one last nod towards them.

They spend the drive back to Atlanta in silence, just staring out of the window.

 

The game a few days later is another win, this time 3-1.

 

Christen goes back to Chicago for the last game of the regular season against Washington Spirit. It's a 3-1 win and Chicago ends the season in third place.

 

They lose the playoff game the following week against the Spirit. Christen scores, but she's more excited about Ali scoring, so she doesn't mind losing that much, even though it really sucks to always lose in playoffs.

 

christenpress: To my @chicagoredstars teammates & coaches, I'm very proud of how we fought ourselves back into that game. Thank you for believing in me and trusting me through it all. Already dreaming of the 2017 season!

Personally, I've disappointed a lot of people this year, especially myself. But throughout this journey, I remain proud. Not for goals or glory, but for getting back up after my failures & refusing to let any moment define my career.

My promise for the future is not so much about results, but resolve. In that, I will continue my pursuit to leave everything, but my hope, on the field.

 

Christen feels lighter the moment she's back with her Mom and her Grandma.

They go to California together and Christen spends the time until the next camp training on her own and walking with Khaleesi and Morena along the beaches.

 

The roster for the friendlies against Switzerland is full of new names. There's no Ali, no Julie, no Pinoe, no Kling, no Alex, no Mal, no Whitney. Instead there's eleven uncapped players coming into camp. Christen welcomes her club teammates Casey, Arin and Dani and she's happy for them to be here. It's weird though, seeing so many new faces. Not new, but new on the national team. Christen sticks to Tobin, Carli and Ash a lot, because she knows them best and they give her the most comfort.

 

Jill tries a lot with the line up, puts Allie in as a centerback and the two centerbacks Emily and Becky as outside backs. Christen, Kelley and Ash watch confused from the sideline and wonder if a threeback is going to be the future of their team.

"Is she gonna put me up front then?" Kelley wonders out loud.

"Nah." Ash shakes her head. "You're gonna be in goal."

 

It's 0-0 at halftime and there are several changes. Lynn scores only seconds after coming on. Tobin scores as well, then Christen and Sam.

 

The second game against Switzerland starts again with a threeback and Kelley in the midfield. Christen watches her run up and down from the sideline. Carli scores once in the first half, and then in the second. Christen comes on and scores just minutes after that. Then Crystal scores and when Kealia gets subbed in she breaks Lynns record for fastest debut goal only three days after it was set.

 

There's two weeks before the final friendlies against Romania and Christen goes to New York City to attend hearts of gold with Nima, Austin and Joe.

 

Then she's on her way to Florida for Allie's and Bati's wedding. There's a re-rehearsal dinner and Christen puts on a black dress. Kelley is wearing something with pink and purple and white and black in it and it is so weird and so Kelley that it puts a smile onto everyone's faces.

There's Kelley, Ali, Ash, Emily, Lindsey, Merritt, Tobin, Christen and Alex. Christen's sharing her room with Tobin and they laugh at the fact that they're dressed similarly. Tobin is a bridesmaid and Alex is maid of honor, so Christen spends a lot of the time thirdwheeling with Ali and Ash or Kelley and Emily.

 

It's warm outside, almost too warm, but it's going to cool down later eventually. The villa where the wedding is is decorated beautifully, with flowers and stuff and it somehow looks like from the 19th century. Like the villa Alejandro de la Vega lives in as Zorro. Some spanish touch. With the wide open arcades and the tiled floor and palm trees and plants crawling up the creme walls. The light bulbs hanging around, surely lighting everything softly after the sun goes down.

 

It's fitting though, the spanish touch.

 

And everything's just so beautiful.

 

Everything around, the villa and the plants and the tables and the music.

 

Allie in her long sleeve white dress. Bati in his black suit. The way they seem to be fitting together so perfectly.

 

And everyone around them, so happy and beautiful.

 

"So beautiful." Lindsey whispers from the second row, wiping under her eyes with a tissue when they start the wedding vows. When Bati starts to speak she's not the only one with a tissue in her hands.

 

"I, Jose Batista, take you, Alexandra Linsley Long, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."

 

There are tears streaming down Allie's face and Ash wraps her arm around Ali, pressing a kiss to her face, while they're both quietly crying as well.

 

When it's Allie's turn her voice is shaky and Bati wipes her tears away with his thumbs and she laughs and everyone sighs, crying more at the pure love in front of them.

 

"I, Alexandra Linsley Long, take you, Jose Batista, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."

 

Kelley has one arm around Christen now, who's shaking quietly and it's just so, so beautiful.

 

"Ugh, I hate weddings. There's so much crying and used tissues and no place to put them in afterwards." Lindsey complains afterwards and Emily shakes her head with a laugh.

"There's a garbage can just over there." She says and then they all walk over to throw away their dozens of damp tissues before they congratulate the newlyweds with hugs and kisses.

 

There's a round table reserved for Lindsey, Merrit, Amanda, a friend from Alli from UNC, Alex, Servando, Kelley, Ash, Ali, Tobin and Christen. The food is delicious and the drinks are neverending. They all take pictures together, Thorns pictures, USWNT pictures, pictures with just Allie, pictures in the photo box. Back at the table they all talk about weddings and Christen can see the way Kelley is blushing everytime her eyes meet Emily's. It's cute.

"You're cute, Kell." Christen whispers into her ear and Kelley flips her off with a laugh.

 

When it's time to dance Tobin grabs Christen's hand and drags her onto the dancefloor, spinning her round and round in circles. They're bumping into everyone else, because as good as Tobin may be at soccer, dancing isn't one of her strengths and Christen is afraid her nails might come off if Tobin steps onto her toes once again.

 

Turns out, more champagne makes Tobin better at dancing and after a few hours she's gotten really good at it and danced with everyone from the table.

 

Christen's sitting back at the table with Ash, watching everyone else dance with a soft smile, when Ash says:

"I bought a ring."

"You what?" Christen turns around and stares at her friend with wide eyes.

"I bought Ali a ring."

"Like, an engagement ring?"

"Exactly." Ash admits with a huge grin.

"When are you going to ask her?"

"I don't know yet. But I know she's the one. I don't care if I have to wait two more years to ask her. When the right moment comes along, I will ask her." Ash explains, watching Ali dance with Kelley with what can only be described as heart eyes.

 

The night goes on with more dances and drinks and laughter and cigarres and eventually Christen and Tobin fall into the same bed and are asleep in minutes.

 

Christen goes to California for the next few days until camp starts in San Jose. Tobin decides to tag along and to show Christen how to paint. Christen is impressed by how good Tobin and by how peaceful painting is. They spend a lot of time with Khaleesi and Morena and both dogs are happy to jump between Tobin's legs and lick her face and it's the best thing to ignore the fact that their worst dream just got elected president.

 

At camp there's again many new players, but also Julie, Ali, Kling, Pinoe and Alex are back. Only Carli is missing the last two games of the year because she's getting married.

 

The first game against Romania ends with three goals from Christen, two from Alex and one from Tobin and Moe. Christen scores again in a 5-0 win a few days later in Carson and she couldn't be happier to end the year playing at home with her whole family there.

 

Christen spends the next two weeks with her family, she gets invited to her old high school, they celebrate her sisters birthday, then her dads. She sends a text to Carli ("Congrats, Mrs Hollins!") and hikes the surrounding hills with Khaleesi and Morena and goes boldering and slack lining with her sisters.

 

At the beginning of December Christen goes to London for the annual grassrootsoccer gala. She speaks in front of hundreds of people and feels so amazing doing it. She plays tourist and takes pictures and then a flight to Barcelona. There she meets with Jenni, whom she hasn't seen in a while and they spend a few days together, exploring, having fun, before Christen's back in California with her family.

 

The days until Christmas consist of christmas parties with friends and more christmas parties with friends. At Christmas the whole family comes together, all the dogs and cousins and aunts and uncles and Christen is surrounded by love and happiness. They celebrate her birthday early together as well before Christen goes to New York with some friends.

It's cold.

It's beautiful.

Christen loves it.

 

Carli Lloyd: I saw your post on Instagram. Hope you're having a good time. New York's beautiful this time of the year.

Christen stares at her phone for a few seconds. She did post a picture on Instagram earlier, showing her in New York. And now.. Carli Lloyd just texted her.

Thank you! Any recommendations for what to do? Hope you're having a good time as well!

It takes a while for Carli to respond and Christen figures  she's on a run or training.

Carli Lloyd: Go on top of the Empire State Building. It's probably overrun, but around Christmas it makes you feel like you're in 'An Affair to Remember'.

Christen has to laugh at that.

Pretty cheesy, isn't it? Didn't know Carli Lloyd was into that.

Carli Lloyd: You don't know of a lot of things Carli Lloyd is into.

Damn.

So, what is Carli Lloyd doing on New Year's Eve?" Christen decides to ask. "Watching 'An Affair To Remember'?

Carli Lloyd: Probably. And watching 'Dinner for One'. And having it too.

Christen furrows her brow.

You alone on New Year's?

Carli Lloyd: Yes.

Where's Brian?

Christen really hopes she isn't overstepping.

Carli Lloyd: Out of town for work for a few days.

Carli replies and suddenly Christen feels sorry for her. Nobody should be alone on New Year's.

You should come to New York then. Hang out with me and my friends.

Christen nervously bites her lip as she hits send.

Carli Lloyd: That's sweet of you Christen. But I don't want to intrude. I'm gonna be fine alone. Thank you for asking though.

Christen doesn't know what to say after that, so she puts her phone into her purse and heads down to the lobby to meet with her friends.

It's Christen's birthday and she feels like she spends half of the day on her phone, replying to texts and talking to her Mum and Dad, her grandparents, her sisters, her friends, her teammates. Ali sends her a video of her and Ash singing "Happy birthday", Tobin sends her a picture of the ocean with the caption "Hope you're having a chill b-day.", Alex leaves a raspy voicemail, Olivia sings "Happy Birthday" in Swedish to her.

Kelley keeps her on the phone for almost an hour. They talk about everything and nothing, about the past few months since the Olympics, about Emily, about Christen's love life ("There's nothing to tell, Kelley." - "Oh come on, Chris. There's gotta be something. Or someone." - "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm just a boring old lady who prefers to read a book.") and finally Christen tells Kelley about her conversation with Carli.

"I don't know, Kel. I don't want her to be alone."

"You're too good of a person, Chris."

Christen groans. "I know."

"Maybe ask her again?"

"She's Carli Lloyd, she won't say yes."

"Hmm.. you're right. Maybe tell her there's gonna be an icebath!"

Christen rolls her eyes. "I don't think that'll get her to New York."

"Why do you even care so much?" Kelley wondered.

Christen shrugs even though Kelley can't see it. "I don't know. Maybe she needs someone. And maybe someone should be there for her."

"And you think you're someone?"

"Maybe?" Christen sighs. "Look, Kel, I.. I don't know. I.. she's my captain, I feel responsible for her."

"Shouldn't it be, like.. the other way round?" Kelley laughs.

"Maybe. I don't-"

"-know."

"Exactly."

"Ask her again. And if she doesn't want to come, I mean, what's stopping you from just driving down to Jersey? If you really feel like you need to be there for her.. New York to Jersey is the same way as Jersey to New York."


Christen takes a deep breath, adjusting her scarf, before knocking on the door in front of her.

Nothing.

She tries again.

Still nothing.

She knocks again, this time a bit louder.

There's a loud clashing sound from inside and Christen hears someone shuffling around and cursing.

"I'm coming, I'm coming! Who's knocking at my door at New Year's like a maniac?" Suddenly the door rips open and Carli is standing there, legs bare, in a wide band shirt with what looks like David Bowie on it, with a box full of ice cream in the hand that's not holding onto the door and a spoon in her mouth. It's a sight Christen wasn't prepared to see.

"Christen?" Carli mumbles behind the spoon, staring at Christen. "What're you doing here?"

Christen just stares back at her, at loss for words. "Uuh.." Her gaze drops to the ice cream in Carli's hand. "I don't think that's Dawn approved diet you're having here."

Carli's eyebrows shoot up and she takes the spoon from her mouth, pointing it at the woman in front of her. "Are you here to judge what I'm eating like you're Dawn's little spy?"

Christen blushes. "N-No, I just, I..I wanted to, to-"

Carli laughs and steps aside. "Come on in, Christen."

Christen nods her head and walks inside, Carli closes the door and then they both stare at each other.

"You wanna take your shoes off?" Carli asks, looking down. "Or your coat? You can hang it here." She hesitates for a second, pointing behind her with the spoon. "I'm, uh, just gonna put on some pants."

Carli rushes upstairs and Christen is left in the hallway, wondering why exactly she's at Carli Lloyd's house now. Three minutes later Carli is back down, this time in pants.

"Let's, uh, move to the living room?" She asks, leading Christen to the next room. She motions for her to sit down on the sofa, taking a seat herself next to Christen, leaving a good amount of space between them.

"Now tell me, Christen, what the hell are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be in New York with your friends, partying all night?" Carli asks, shaking her head. "Why are you here?"

Christen clears her throat and sends a small smile towards Carli. "I didn't want you to be alone."

"Huh?" Carli stares at her like she had two heads.

"You said, Brian wasn't here and you were gonna spend New Year's all alone." Christen explains. "So I, uh, thought, I'd come here. You know, together you're less alone."

The smile Carli sends her is something Christen has never seen on Carli's face before. "You seriously drove down here so I wouldn't be alone?"

"Yeah." Christen shrugs and smiles sheepishly.

"You.. you didn't have to. You- if you- you can still get back to New York and be there before dinnertime. You should be with your friends." Carli stumbles over her words a bit.

"I know, Carli. I know, I could be in New York and I know that I don't have to be here. And if you really don't want me here, just tell me and I'll leave.. But I'd really like to stay. Spend New Year's with you. You're my friend too."

"I guess.. it would be nice if you stayed." Carli says quietly.

"You guess?" Christen asks with a smirk.

Carli laughs. "Please stay, Christen. I can make up the guest room for you and you can stay as long as you want to."

"Thank you, Carli. And, uh.." Christen starts. "Do you, uh, have something more comfortable for me to wear? Skinny jeans and a tight top isn't very comfy."

Carli nods and stands up. "Sure, come on."

She grabs Christen's arm and drags her upstairs and into the first room on the left. Carli's and Brian's bedroom. Only one side looks slept in, the other is neatly made. It looks a bit sterile, only a stack of books on what seems to be Carli's bedside table and a few workout clothes on a chair in the corner. Carli opens a door to a walk-in closet and starts looking through some clothes. Christen stays right at the door to the bedroom until Carli turns around, laughing.

"Come here."

So Christen walks over, making sure not to look around to much and Carli throws some clothes at her.

"You're skinnier than me, so maybe my pants are a little bit saggy on you, and my shirts may be wide, but I guess they'll still fit you."

Carli shows Christen to the guestroom on the other end of the hallway so she can put the clothes on. Christen folds her clothes and leaves them on the table in the corner. Carli's clothes are indeed a bit too big for her, but she doesn't mind. They're comfortable and they smell weirdly good.

"So what do you wanna do?"

"I don't know." Christen shrugs. "What would you do if I hadn't showed up here?"

"Watched 'An affair to remember'."

"Right. Well, then, we could.. watch it together?"

It feels weirdly good, sitting next to Carli on her couch, a warm blanket draped over their feet, sharing ice cream straight from the box and watching an old movie.

"Dawn would kill us." Christen mumbles after her third spoon of ice, but Carli just pushes her hand back into the box.

"Eat and be quiet."

"You really love this movie, don't you?"

"Ssshh!"

Christen keeps quietly eating the ice cream, watching the movie and occasionally casts looks at Carli, who's eyes are fixed on the screen. She's mouthing the lines and now and then she groans or wipes a tear away. Christen finds her behaviour pretty endearing. Who knew Carli Lloyd could be like that.

"I really liked it." Christen says after the movie ends.

"Good." Carli nods her head. "Otherwise you would have needed to leave by now."

"So I got to stay?"

"If you, if you want to." Carli looks at Christen, her eyes unsure and worried. "I don't want to keep you here if you'd rather be somewhere else. I'd uh, understand. I'm really not the best company-"

"Stop it, Carli." Christen puts her hand on Carli's knee, squeezing it gently. "You're great company and I like spending time with you. So if you don't want me to leave, I'd prefer to stay here with you, maybe watch another movie or play a game, drink champagne or.. beer at midnight and wish you a happy new year."

"Gosh, you really are the nicest person I know." Carli laughs. "So, another movie or games? Do you want to eat something? Drink something?"

"How about we order pizza, open some beers and then just talk or play some games?" Christen asks with a smile.

"Sounds like a plan."

 

Carli orders their pizza and Christen grabs two beers from the fridge, setting them on the table next to the couch.

"Pizza's gonna be here in an hour. So what do you wanna play?" She asks, plopping down next to Christen.

"I googled some questions."

"You what?"

"I thought we could play a 'get to know each other' game and I googled some questions."

"Oh-kay."

Christen rolls her eyes. "I'm gonna start.. Carli.. Lloyd.. what's the first concert you attended?"

"98 degrees."

"That was quick."

Carli shrugs. "So now it's my turn? Give me your phone. Let's seeee.... what's your favorite 90s show?"

"Friends, duh." Christen takes her phone from Carli's hand and scrolls through the questions. "Hahaha, that one's good. If you could win an Olympic medal for any sport, real or fake, what would it be? Seriously? I'm sitting here with a two time Olympian, guys." Carli chuckles as Christen keeps scrolling. "If someone were to play you in a movie, who would you want it to be?"

"Mmh, good question. I don't know.. mmh.. what's her name, the one from the boxing film?"

"Uuuh..?"

"She also played in 'Boys don't cry'."

"Ah, you mean Hilary Swank."

"Yes!" Carli nods her head. "I'd want her to play me, she's cool, she's tough, I think I'd like that."

"That's cool. She's pretty."

"So she's not fitting because I'm not?" Carli asks, eyebrows raised.

"What?" Christen sits up abruptly. "No. No. I think she'd fit because she's pretty. You're pretty too. Prettier than her."

"You think so?" Carli asks with a smug look.
Christen groans and shoves her phone into Carli's hands. "Here, ask me your next question."

Carli takes the phone but doesn't look at it. "Do you really think that?"

"What?"

"That I'm.. you know.." Carli blushes a bit, all confidence suddenly gone.

"Pretty?"

"Yeah." Carli nervously bites her lip. "You don't have to answer though, it was a stupid ques-."

"No!" Christen interrupts. "No, its not a stupid question, Carli." She pauses for a moment before speaking again, taking Carli's hand between hers. "I.. I think.. you're beautiful. You're honestly.. so beautiful."

Carli stares at her with her mouth and eyes wide open.

"I'm, I'm sorry if I overstepped or.. I didn't mean to.. it's just, you asked and-" Christen rambles, but Carli just grabs her hand.

"No, no, it's okay, it's just.. I haven't been called beautiful in.. I don't even know, ever. So it's, uh, kinda hard to believe someone would actually think that of me."

"But you are, you really are beautiful, Carli!" Christen says, squeezing Carli's hand. "Doesn't.. doesn't.. Brian.. does he not.. I'm sure he, he.."

Carli shakes her head and sighs. "I can't remember the last time he told me something like that."

"I'm sorry, Carli, I shouldn't have brought it up."

"It's okay." Carli shrugs. "Anyway, you want another beer?"

Without waiting for an answer she gets up and rushes into the kitchen to get another two beers. On the way back to the living room grabs the pizza from the front door that just arrived in time.

"Do you want to continue to play?" Christen asks, taking the beer and pizza from Carli. "Or do you want to watch a movie?"

"Uhm.." Carli hesitates. "Maybe watch another movie?"

"Sure." Christen shrugs and starts to flip through Netflix, chosing a random title.

"Christen." Carli says a few minutes into the movie, her mouth full of pizza. "I don't like horror movies."

"Me neither." Christen admits, curling further under the  blanket, the space between her and Carli getting smaller and smaller.

"Then why are we watching one?" Carli hisses, moving closer towards Christen.

"I didn't know it was a horror movie!" Christen defends herself.

"Ah!" Carli screams, hiding her face behind the blanket. "I don't like it!"

Christen grabs the blanket from Carli's face and puts it down.

"It's not that bad, I'm sure it's getting - aah!" Christen throws the blanket over her and Carli. "Okay, okay. I'm sorry."

"What do we do?" Carli whispers, staring at Christen with wide eyes.

"We're grown women. We can do it." Christen says. "We can do it. Let's watch the movie."

Carli looks at her as if to say 'are you fucking serious?!', but Christen just moves the blanket down, grabs Carli's hand and looks back at the screen.

 

"I hate you for making me watch a horror movie with you." Carli grumbles, clinking her third beer against Christen's. "To making it through two hours of sheer horror."

"Cheers." Christen says, taking a look at the clock in the wall behind her. "Holy shit, it's already 11pm! One hour left of 2016."

Carli smiles at her. "Thank you for being here with me. It's not the same alone and if my boyfr- husband can't make it.."

"Not used to the word husband yet?" Christen asks with a laugh.

Carli shrugs. "Not really, no."

"How is married life so far?" Christen asks genuinely, smiling at Carli, who's face falls a bit before she takes another sip from her beer. Christen hesitates for a moment. "Are you.. are you okay, Carli?"

Carli shrugs again. "I don't know how I'm supposed to feel. Married.. I've been with Brian since we were sixteen.. I know I should be happy and I am, I love him so much, but.. I don't know.. sometimes it feels like something's missing.. I probably just need more time to getting used to being Mrs Hollis."

"Probably.." Christen repeats quietly. "It's okay, to have doubts and feel like somethings missing and suddenly not being totally sure. That's normal. At the end it's going to be okay though. You'll figure everything out and everything will turn out the way it's supposed to."

"You think so?"

"Of course." Christen smiles. "And don't worry too much.. You scrunch up your face when you worry and get a wrinkle right here." Christen gently touches the space between Carli's brows and the bridge of her nose. "I mean, I don't mind your wrinkles. Not that you have any wrinkles. You'd be just as beautiful with wrinkles though." Christen rambles, blushing a bit.

"You called me beautiful twice today." Carli says, staring at Christen, who just shrugs.

"That's because you are."

"I.." Carli starts, shaking her head. "I like you, Christen."

Christen laughs. "I like you too, Carli."

"Now", Carli claps her hands together with a smile. "We have roughly half an hour left. 'Dinner for one'?"

Christen mouths every line along, not noticing Carli looking at her with a fond smile.

 

"Can we see any fireworks from your house?"

Carli grins at Christen and grabs her hand, standing up and dragging her towards the stairs. "Blanket!" She runs back and comes back with the blanket, grabs Christen's hand again and drags her upstairs. Finally they end up at the attic of the house and Carli beelines towards a giant window with a bench in front of it.

"I often come here to read and just.. think." Carli opens the window and reveals their garden, a few trees and city lights in the distance. "We live pretty far outside, but I'm sure we can see some fireworks from here."

They sit down on the bench close together, legs dangling out of the window, blanket draped around their shoulders.

"Any new years resolutions?" Christen asks.

"Besides to finally stop biting my cuticles?" Carli laughs. "I don't know. Take more risks. Be myself. Keep getting better.. how about you?"

"The same. Except the cuticles. But yeah, taking risks, being myself, getting better.. those are pretty good resolutions, I'd say."

"Do you know how late it is?" Carli asks, looking back outside.

"No, I left my phone downstairs. You?"

"Well.. I guess, we'll know it's 2017, when we see some fireworks." Carli says, looking back at Christen. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Christen asks in confusion.

"Robbing you from getting a New Year's kiss."

"Oh, Carli." Christen laughs. "I prefer being with you over kissing someone I don't even know." She reaches out and takes Carli's hand. "Sorry you won't get a New Year's kiss either."

"Not your fault, Chris."

Loud noises and sudden lights in the distance startle them.

"It's 2017." Carli whispers.

Christen moves closer, her hand on Carli's thigh. "Happy New Year, Carli." She whispers before pressing a kiss that lasts probably longer than necessary to Carli's cheek. She feels Carli stiffen before smiling and relaxing.

"Happy New Year, Christen." Carli whispers, squeezing Christen's hand and letting her head rest on her shoulder as they continue to watch the fireworks.

 

2017

"So how'd it go with Carli the other day?"
Christen flops back on Kelley's bed and stares up at the ceiling, her arms crossed under her head.

"Honestly.. really good. I took your advise and drove to New Jersey."

"Yeah?" Kelley doesn't hide her surprise very well.

"Yeah. She.. it.. I don't know. We just hung out."

"What did you do?"

Christen chuckles, thinking back a few weeks to New Year's. "We watched 'An affair to remember' and 'Dinner for one', ordered pizza, played games, watched the fireworks.. it was really great."

Christen always liked Carli. She's a great player, that she proved with her hattrick and winning the FIFA player of the year award. But Christen never got to know her beyond the time they spend together for the national team at camps. There never was a need to. But now she feels like she's seen this other side of Carli, the more vulnerable, sensitive one. And some things you see you can't unsee.

"Carli is really great." She adds, locking eyes with Kelley. Kelley raises her eyebrows and smirks and Christen rolls her eyes. "No, Kelley. Don't."

"What? I didn't-"

"You don't have to say anything, Kell. I know what you're thinking. How.. why do you even.. I mean, come on, Kell, you can't just..why?" Christen's laughing though as she shakes her head at Kelley, who just shrugs.

"I just want you to be happy."

"I am happy, Kell. And do you seriously think that Carli Lloyd would make me happy?"

"Nah." Kelley shakes her head. "I mean, she's straight after all, so."

Christen laughs. "Not that straight apparently." Escapes her lips and she immediately covers her mouth with her hands.

"What?" Kelley stares at her with wide eyes. "What did you just say? What happened? Christen!!!"

"Okay, but no word to Sonnett or Alex or Tobin or anyone else, promise?"

Kelley rolls her eyes, but wraps her pinky around Christen's. "Pinky promise."

"She may have kissed me."

"WHAT???" Kelley's eyes look like they're going to explode any minute. "What do you mean, she may have kissed you?"

"Okay, she did kiss me."

"She..she..she.. whaaaat?" Kelley furiously shakes her head.

"You need to explain this, Chris."

"And you need to calm down, Kel." Christen says, pushing Kelley back with a laugh before shrugging. "There was a mistle toe hanging in her living room and somehow we both stood under it and Carli was like 'It's tradition, isn't it?' and I was like 'Tradition, right.', so we kissed. That's all."

"That's all? That's all?? Carli freaking hattrick Lloyd kissed you!"

"I mean, I kissed her back, so.."

"Did you enjoy it?"

"What?"

"Did she use her tongue?"

"Eww, Kelley! No, there was no tongue involved. And it lasted like three seconds."

"But did you enjoy it?"

Christen shrugs her shoulders. "I guess? I haven't thought about it that much, Kell."

"You plan on kissing her again?"

"No?! She's married and I'm not even into her."

"She's married, right, but-."

"Exactly, she is. To Brian, her boyfriend of like 15 years. So stop thinking about it."

"Okay, okay." Kelley puts her hands up in surrender. "I just want you to be happy, you know. Be with someone who makes you happy."

"I know, Kel, and I really appreciate it. But I'm not looking for anything. Or anyone. So stop talking about me kissing teammates."

"I could-"

"No! I also don't want to be set up with a friend of yours. Forget it, O'Hara."

"Ugh." Kelley groans, falling back. "You're boring, Press."

"I know." Christen laughs. "But you still love me."

"That I do." Kelley says, eyes closed and her fingers tangled with Christen's.

Being in camp with Carli after New Year's isn't weird. Carli just smiles at her and all nervousness leaves Christen's body. They don't talk about it, because, what's there to talk about? It's not like other players haven't kissed each other before. It happens. Christen kissed Pinoe once when the team played spin the bottle like eightgraders. She's sure Alex and Tobin kissed more than once. And Kelley may not ever admit it, but Christen knows for sure that Hope once kissed her. So it really isn't anything special and Christen shakes her head to get rid of the memory.

 

January camp brings back ARod and Tobin is the happiest Christen has seen her in a while. There are 30 players and everyone's competitive. It's lots of training and testing and Allie pranking everyone, or at least trying to, of laughing and having fun, of already preparing for 2019 and Kelley nailing the beep test again. At the end of camp Christen has almost forgotten about the kiss and is happy to spend three weeks at home with her family before she has to be in Florida for the She Believes Cup preparations.

 

The She Believes Cup means games against England, Germany and France. The team talks about what SheBelieves means to them and Christen says: "I think SheBelieves is about self love and self believe, I think it's about dreaming really big and never looking back."

The She Believes Cup brings more threebacks and confused looks on everyone's faces. The first game against Germany ends in a 1-0 win. Christen hits the crossbar and Tobin a German player before Lynn manages to get the ball behind the keeper.

Before the game against England Christie gets honored for more than 300 games with the USWNT in almost twenty years. The game itself sees only a last minute goal by Ellen White.

After the game against France Christen thinks it's really better to not look back. A 0-3 loss, the fourth place in the tournament and the loss of the first place in the FIFA ranking isn't what Jill or anyone expected or wanted from this tournament.

 

Christen goes back to Chicago and rents a new apartement with huge glass windows and a stunning few over the city and to the sea. She lets the sun shine in and practices Yoga before she heads to California for Tyler's 30th birthday. They dance hoola like they did at her 10th birthday and Christen feels great in her grin hoola skirt.

 

A few days later she attends Julie's and Zach's wedding in Santa Barbara with Sofia, Dani and Alyssa. Julie is a stunning bride and Christen thinks she's never seen a happier one.

 

After the wedding they go back to Chicago for one preseason game against Houston before going to Texas for the next training camp for two games against Russia. Christen gets coffee and a pedicure with Alex, Allie and Kelley.

 

The games against Russia bring four goals for Crystal and then some more for others and two wins.

 

Christen is back with Chicago for eight whole games in a row and she makes sure to enjoy being at one place for almost two months. They lose the first game against Houston, but win the home opener the next week against FCKC. Julie and Christen both get a yellow card when they lose to Portland the week after. Tobin makes fun of them after the game, but they can see how she hates having to sit out because of her back.

Christen scores and assists in the next few games. Her Mom comes to visit and they get donuts together and the Red Stars haven't lost another game when Christen has to leave for the national team friendlies in June.

 

The games against Sweden and Norway are in Europe and Christen's excited to go back there. The team is going to wear rainbow colored numbers in honor of pride month and they're all pumped to show their support. Christen, Kelley, Kling and Pinoe take a selfie with their rainbow jerseys and send them to Tobin, Ali, Ash and Emily with the caption "Missing our fellow queers! Screw your injuries and J***!"

They're all excited to play Sweden though, it's the first game against them since the Olympics and they're always a tough opponent. And maybe it's also a little bit about revenge.

Carli wears her rainbow captains armband with pride. There's rainbow flags everywhere in the city, the stadium, on the field. It's beautiful.

It turns out to be a good game with Sweden dominating lots of the game. There are chances on both sides but Rose is the only one to score, so the game ends in a 1-0 win.

After the game it's friendly hugs and handshakes between the game and Olivia jumps into Christen's arms. Kelley winks at them, but Christen just ignores her and concentrates on Olivia.

 

Christen enjoys the last few hours in Gothenburg and then the team heads to Norway on a ferry. Being on a ship of course the team has fun with recreating Titanic poses and joking around.

 

"You look lost without Alex", Christen tells Kelley, who's standing at the side, staring at the sea. "And without Emily."

Kelley laughs and wraps her arm around Christen. "I miss them. And Tobin. And Ash. They'd love it here. Skandinavia is so beautiful."

"It really is."

"Do you think you'll be back here playing one day?"

"For a club you mean? I don't know. Maybe? I'm happy at Chicago though."

"You've been their top scorer since you've joined them, they'd be stupid to let you go." Kelley says with a laugh.

 

In Norway Christen rooms with Carli and the few nights and hours they spend in their room turn into Christen educating Carli on stuff like the Stonewall Riots and everything queer and lgbt, because for some reason Carli is so interested in it.

"Why do you wanna know so much?" Christen asks her the night before the game against Norway.

"I figured I knew too little. And if I'm wearing a rainbow number and a rainbow captains armband I should know more. I should educate myself. And who better to teach me about something than the one and only Christen Press?" Carli replies, grinning at Christen.

Christen tries to ignore the memories coming back to her, but it's hard, with Carli smiling at her like that and talking about being queer.

"Have you ever questioned your sexuality?" Christen suddenly asks and she doesn't even know why she's asking.

Carli shrugs. "Maybe."

"Maybe?" Christen asks, eyebrows raised.

Carli looks smug now and Christen is confused. "I know that you don't have to kiss women to know that you're gay, but I never thought about it until I kissed a woman."

"Okay.." Christen replies, a little bit unsure.

"You're that woman." Carli then says, leaning forward and grinning at Christen, who just stares at her for a few seconds.

"When did Carli Lloyd become so flirty?" She asks, shaking the thoughts from her mind and Carli throws a pillow at her.

 

Christen gets to play 90 minutes against Norway and score the game winning nutmeg.

 

Back in the US the Red Stars play two home games against the Spirit and Sky Blue, earning four points. Christen treats Kelley to her favorite sushi place in Chicago, where Kelley talks about Emily and how she doesn't feel at home anymore in New Jersey.

After that it's four weeks of away games and travelling the country. They lose in Seattle thanks to two goals from Pinoe, but win in Orlando with Christen scoring the only goal.

There's two ties against Boston and then Sky Blue and Kelley insists on returning the favor from last time and takes Christen to a sushi place in New York.

Christen scores in the next game against the Pride, a win, before she has to report to the national team for the Tournament of Nations.

 

It's the first Tournament of Nations, with the US playing Australia, Brazil and Japan and everyone's excited about how it's going to turn out.

 

They lose the first game against Australia and celebrate Ali's birthday on the next day.

 

On the day before the game against Brazil Christen wakes up, her stomach pressed into the mattress, blanket low on her back. She turns her face, the sun shines through the window and falls onto the other bed, highlighting the face of Carli. Christen can't help the smile that spreads on her face and the sudden warmth inside her, even though she tries to ignore it. She studies the face a few feet from her, takes in her closed eyes, the soft wrinkles at the edges, the way her mouth is slightly open and her hair falls onto her cheeks and spills onto the pillow. Without warning Carli opens her eyes, slowly blinking the sleep away. When her eyes land on Christen, the corners of her mouth immediately turn upwards.

"Good morning, sunshine." She says, voice still raspy and low. The smile never leaves her face as she starts to sit up and opens the window.

"Good morning." Christen mumbles, her eyes fixed on the almost bare back in front of her, the muscles in her shoulders. Christen is staring and she knows it.

Carli turns around and she starts walking towards the bathroom while putting her hair into a messy bun. She grabs Christen's blanket and pulls it just so far down until it's hanging under the waistband of Christen's shorts.

"Slept good?" She asks, leaving the door to the bathroom half open.

"Mm-hmm." Christen says, nodding her head into the pillow. She sits up, but when she sees Carli in only her underwear in front of the bathroom mirror, sending a smile towards her, she immediately falls down again, pressing her hands into her eyes.

"Fuck." She mumbles quietly with a groan.

Even though she tried to, there's no denying she has a crush on Carli Lloyd.

 

Christen knows she has to talk to someone about her new revelation. She's about to knock on Kelley's door when she remembers that Kelley would probably tell Sonnett about it. And Sonnett wouldn't be able to keep her mouth shut, so Sam and Lindsey and Rose would know soon as well. Christen then thinks about talking to Mal or Alex or JJ, but Mal is too young and Alex and JJ are too straight.

"Ugh." Christen groans, turning around and walking down the hall towards the elevator.

Screw your stupid back problems, Heath! 8:17 am

She texts Tobin, pressing the down button. If Tobin would be here she'd be the first Christen would talk to. She'd be calm and would listen and make sure Christen wouldn't go crazy. But she's not here. Christen flops down on a sofa in the lobby when she gets a reply.

Toby: What did my poor back ever to do you? 8:20 am

You're not here and that sucks. 8:21 am

Toby: Missing me already, Press? 8:21 am

Yes. Tell your stupid back to suck less. 8:22 am

Christen turns off her phone and stuffs it into her pocket with a loud sigh, falling back and pressing her palms against her closed eyes.

"You okay there, Press?" A smile spreads on Christen's face when she hears the familiar voice from above.

"Hey, Kriegs." She opens her eyes and sits up, leaving enough space for Ali to sit as well.

"Are you alright? You seem a little..distraught." Ali's face is soft and full of concern.

Christen shrugs her shoulders and sighs. "Yes.. No.. I don't know."

"You wanna go for a walk, CP?" Ali smiles at her and Christen accepts the offered hand to help her up.

 

 "Huh." Ali nods her head a few times, staring ahead. "Okay. Okay."

"Ugh." Christen groans. "It's so stupid, I know."

"No, no, it's not." Ali reassures her. "It's just, I didn't see that coming.. Carli Lloyd, huh? You really are into teammates, aren't you?"

Christen shoots a small glare sideways, but Ali's smiling at her so genuinely she soon smiles back. "I feel like a teenager. Like I'm in high school again."

"'Cause you got a crush on the captain of your soccer team?" Ali asks with a smirk.

"I mean, I was the captain of my soccer team in high school." Christen laughs. "But, you know, just calling it 'crush', that sounds so.. young."

"You are young."

"I'm almost 29."

"Like I said, young." Ali grins at her, while Christen rolls her eyes. "No, but seriously.. it's okay to have a crush, no matter how old you are."

"Even on Carli Lloyd?" Christen asks with a chuckle.

"Even on Carli Lloyd." Ali says, putting a hand on Christen's shoulder. "I mean, she's a great player, she's not too bad to look at, she's really funny and has a cute Jersey accent."

"I know. I know. And she's kind and smart and.. so straight and so married. Having a crush on her is silly, Ali."

"Maybe. I don't judge though." Ali shrugs. "It's important that you don't let your crush impact how you play with Carli, with the team. You know, it shouldn't interfere with your work."

"I know." Christen nods her head. "And I promise you, it won't, I am a professional. I'm just going to.. not spend too much time alone with her or.. stare at her abs."

"Carli got abs though." Ali admits with a laugh.

"I'm her roommate, trust me, I know." Christen sighs. "I know."

 

Admitting to Ali that she may have a crush on Carli makes it so real. And it also makes her realise how flirty Carli is. She knows she shouldn't do it, but she sneaks glances at Carli and studies her, during training and at dinner and on the way to the stadium, to see if it makes her feel something.

It makes her feel weird in the stomach, but the good weird. She can't describe it, so she tries to ignore it.

 

The game against Brazil starts with a stupid mistake and suddenly it's a 0-1 lead for Brazil. Sam ties the game and until the second half it's 1-1.

Then Brazil strikes once.

And twice.

Two minutes later Christen bends the ball around the defender for a 2-3.

Five minutes later Christen assists Pinoe to the equalizer.

A minute before the game ends Julie sneaks the ball into the goal and within ten minutes they have turned around the whole game and won.

 

A 3-0 win against Japan a few days later secures them the second place after Australia.

 

Christen stays in California after the tournament. She's quick to say goodbye to Carli and ignores Ali's teasing smile. She hugs Kelley tightly and promises to call on her birthday. Then she's off to Palos Verdes to spend a few days with her family. She misses a game in Chicago, but she needs this now, time with her parents and dogs, spent walking along the beach and swimming in the ocean. She tries to clear her mind with yoga and meditation and when she gets back to Chicago she thinks it worked.

 

They lose the next three games against Portland, Seattle and KFCKC. Christen has friends and family come to visit her, her apartement is big enough to host a few of them at the same time. Her sister comes to Chicago, then her Mom, then a few friends from home. At one point it's ten guys fighting for Christen's attention.

 

Chicago wins against the Spirit and the Courage and ties against FCKC.

 

September means two games against New Zealand.

 

Tobin is back in camp and Christen is excited to have her as a roommate. Ashlyn comes up to her on their second day of training. She looks unsure and nervous when she approaches her.

"So.." Ash starts and Christen raises her eyebrows.

"What's up, Ash?"

"So.. Ali told me to tell you if you needed someone to talk to you can always talk to me."

"Uhm-"

"She just told me to tell you. She didn't say, like, what you may want to talk about, just so you know."

"Oh-kay." Christen narrows her eyes at Ash, unsure if she should believe that Ali didn't tell her anything.

"So.. do you want to, like, talk about something? Or, I don't know, tell me anything?"

Christen rolls her eyes, because she's sure Ali can't keep anything from Ash, so she decides to play with her a bit.

"Alex and I are having an affair."

Ash literally runs into the glass door they're trying to walk through. "Ouch. What??"

"Alex and I are having an affair." Christen repeats, trying not to laugh.

"Alex? But Ali said you and Carli, what do you mean, Alex? Alex Morgan?" Ash is seriously confused and Christen can't keep from laughing anymore.

"Got you there." Christen says with a grin and Ash stares at her.

"What?"

"Of course Ali told you! She can't keep anything from you."

"Uuh.. So.. you and Alex?"

"I'm not having an affair with Alex, Ash."

"Okay. But, uh, Carli?"

"I'm also not having an affair with Carli." Christen says and sighs. "But, yeah. Might fill you in, right?"

 

Kelley wears the captain's armband for the first game against New Zealand for her 100th cap. She gets celebrated before the game and her Mom and Dad and Erin and Jerry and Kristy are there. Her and Ali Riley hug before the coin toss, making the whole stadium smile.

After fivteen minutes Kelley sends the ball forward, Lindsey gets her head on it and then Julie shoots it into the goal.

Ten minutes later Julie scores again, smashing in the rebound. She grabs Kelley and picks her up bridal style in celebration.

Hannah Wilkinson scores in the second half. Kelley gets knocked down during the goal and subbed off.

A few minutes later Alex scores the final 3-1.

Kelley gets tested for a concussion several times after the game but in the end she's fine.

The second game against New Zealand is another win, this time 5-0. Tobin gets to finally play again for a few minutes and she's so happy it's intoxicating.

Christen goes to Houston with her club for the next NWSL game and scores in a 3-2 win. After the game Christen goes out with Cami Levin and she's glad and sad at the same time that Carli's not here.

A week later they're in Portland for the last game of the regular season. They lose 3-1.
The next morning a bunch of the teams get breakfast together and Christen listens to Tobin talk about how good playing felt and how she missed it. They go on a walk around town afterwards, just the two of them and Christen tells Tobin about her feelings or not-feelings for Carli. Tobin listens carefully, nods her head, asks if necessary. Then she decides they need a plan.

"A plan? For what?"

"To see if you really have a crush on her."

Christen grimaces and groans. "You make it sound like we're in middle school."

"You called it a crush, so you started it." Tobin retorts with a laugh. "So, our plan. We have two games against Korea coming up."

"Yep."

"Carli's gonna be back from her injury."

"Probably."

"I'm gonna plan something for the two of you. After.. the second game."

"Plan something?"

"Yes." Tobin rubs her hands together and grins at Christen. "Just trust me. I'll take care of everything."


The Red Stars lose the playoffs against the Courage the following week and with the season ending Christen goes home to California. Spending time with her family, even for just a few days, grounds and centers her and when she gets back to camp a week later she's at ease with herself.

Christen's rooming with Tobin which is both a curse and a blessing. A blessing because it's Tobin and being with her feels so good, a curse because shew appearently already has something planned and keeps pestering Christen with questions.
Christen's happy about every minute she gets to spend training and lifting, because it keeps her mind off of everything. She tries to dodge Tobin's teasing smiles and questions by spending time with Kelley and Alex and everyone else and it works.

They win the first game 3-1.

"Have you asked Carli already?"

"Asked her what?" Christen doesn't look up from her book.

"Asked her out." Tobin explain from her bed.

Christen turns her head and stares at Tobin. "I'm not going to ask her out. You said you'd take care of everything."

"I did!" Tobin exclaims. "Except the asking out, that's your part."

"You make it sound like a date. I'm not going to ask her on a date."

"Give me your phone."

"No."

"Christen."

Christen groans and throws her phone at Tobin who easily unlocks it and starts tipping around on it.

"What are you doing, Tobin?"

Tobin throws the phone back and looks at the text she just sent.


Hey, dude, was wondering if maybe you wanted to go out tomorrow after the game? Would be dope, let me know! Cya! 9:17pm


"Tobin, seriously? Dude? Dope? I don't text like that!"


Carli Lloyd: Will I be going out with you or Tobin? Or is she just a bad influence on you? 9:20 pm

Me. Tobin's stupid. 9:21 pm

Carli Lloyd: Haha, okay, whatever you say, Press ;) 9:22 pm

The game the next day is another win, 6-0.

Back in her room Tobin lays out some clothes for Christen to wear, but Christen just shakes her head at the black dress Tobin must have packed for her.

"I'm not wearing a dress, Tobin. I'm wearing black pants and a creme sweater. And my leather jacket."

"Okaaay." Tobin rolls her eyes, but when Christen's standing in front of her, hair curly and around her shoulders, eyes big and uncertainty, shw stares at her with her mouth open. "Carli's gonna have a crush on you at the end of the night."

Christen pushes her back into the bed and grabs her purse. "See you later, Heath."

Carli meets her in the lobby with a big smile and a warm hug. They walk towards the restaurant Tobin gave her the address of and talk about the games. Conversation flows easily and the restaurant is down to earth and discrete. They eat pizza and drink water and it feels way too good. They talk about their families and their childhoods and college and soccer. They even talk about their first kisses. Christen tells her about her first kiss with Nima with 15 and with Kelley with 18.  Carli tells her about Brian being her first everything.

"You know you're the first woman I ever kissed. And the only other person besides Brian."

Christen thinks if this was cheating, Carli kissing her and kissing her back. But then Carli says:

"I've told Brian and he laughed. Said it's cute and mistletoes are a tradition."

Carli doesn't sound very happy, but Christen decides to not comment on it. Instead they keep talking about themselves and about books they've read, about women that have inspired them. The more they talk the more Christen is drawn to Carli and she starts to ask herself why she agreed to this.

Carli insists on paying the bill.

On the way back to the hotel they pass an amusement arcade.

Carli leads them inside with determination and they end up at a dance game where they have to jump and turn and kick their feet. It's fun and loud and they're laughing and sweating so much. They hold each others hands for some poses and Christen feels like she's in a movie.

When they finally make their way back to the hotel they keep bumping into each other. Christen feels dizzy and her head is spinning from the music and the dancing and being so close to Carli.

"This was a bad idea", she thinks, but then she takes another look at Carli's big smile and thinks about how much she enjoyed tonight. Without thinking she links her arm through Carli's and they walk into the deserted hotel lobby together. They're on the same floor, Christen's room one of the first ones after the elevator, Carli's more at the end of the hall. They stop in front of Christen's room and unlink their arms. It's quiet for a few moments where they're just smiling at each other.

It isn't awkward.

"Thank you for tonight." Carli finally breaks the silence. "I don't know why you wanted to go out with me but I enjoyed it a lot."

"So did I." Christen replies sincerely. "And I just wanted to, you know, spend time with you."

It's quiet again.

"Good night, Christen." Carli says and she opens her arms and wraps them around Christen.

"Good night, Carli." Christen hugs her back and her nose touches Carli's neck. She tries to not think about how good she smells.

They both loosen the embrace at the same time, slowly and carefully. Carli's nose slides along Christen's cheek, making her breath catch in her throat. Christen keeps her eyes closed and she feels like her heart is going to beat out of her chest. She tries to tell herself to lean back, to stop whatever is about to happen. Instead she leans forward on her toes the moment Carli does the same. She can feel Carli's breath on her lips when a sudden ding announces the elevator door opening.

 

They jump apart and stare at the elevator. It's door opens and Alex and Pinoe come out with slushies in their hands.

"Hey, C and C." Pinoe greets with a smile.

"What's up?" Alex takes a sip from her slushie.

Both Christen and Carli just stare at them.

Pinoe links her arm through Carli's when she passes her and starts dragging her towards their shared room.

"It's almost midnight, we should be in bed. If anyone asks, we've never seen each other."

Christen stares after them, confused and dumbfounded.

"Night, Chris." Alex says, opening the door opposite from Christen's room.

"Uh, night, Al."

Suddenly it's quiet in the hallway and Christen's standing there alone, wondering what just happened.

...

Chapter Text

"How was your date?"

Christen isn't surprised to see Tobin sitting on her bed with a big grin. Of course she was waiting for her to get back.

"I wanna know everything! What did you do?"

Christen kicks her shoes off and hangs her jacket next to the door. "You planned it, you know what we did."

"So you're telling me you were eating pizza until almost midnight?"

Christen sighs and changes into sweatpants before falling down onto the bed next to Tobin. "There was this arcade hall we went to after pizza. Played some games, danced. It was fun."

"Did you talk about lilies?"

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Sounds a lot like Imagine Me & You." Tobin explains with a laugh and Christen slaps her thigh.

"Stop it."

"No, seriously. How was it? Did things become.. clearer for you?"

Christen grabs the blanket, puts if over her face and groans loudly.

"I'm sorry, what did you just say?" Tobin laughs and Christen groans again.

"We almost kissed, but then Pinoe and Alex interrupted us." Christen mumbles into the blanket, eyes closed.

"All I heard was Pinoe, but that doesn't make any sense", Tobin says. "Come on, Chris, let go of the blanket and look at me."

Christen throws the blanket off her face and stares at Tobin, lips pressed together.

"Would you be so kind to repeat what you just mumbled into your blanket?"

Christen tries to hide under the blanket again, but Tobin stops her from doing so.

"We need a new plan." Christen finally says, staring at the ceiling.

"A plan? For what?"

"A plan for how to not fall for Carli Lloyd." Christen turns onto her side and holds onto Tobin's knee. "Do something, Toby. Make it go away."

"Make what go away?"

"The fuzzy feeling in my stomach. Carli smiling at me. Everything."

"It was that bad, huh?"

Christen lets go of Tobin's knee and leans back a bit. "It was perfect, we talked and laughed and had so much fun. But I have to admit, Tobs, that this was a bad idea. Going on a "date" with Carli? To figure out if I really have a crush on her? Well if I didn't have one before I for sure have one now. So thanks."

"Hey, it's not my fault!"

"I know. It still sucks.."

"Okay, so, new plan." Tobin rubs her hands together and grabs a notebook and a pen from the nightstand. "Rule number one, no more kissing Carli."

"That's a stupid rule."

"Okay, rule number one, spend more time with Tobin instead of Carli." Tobin writes down with a grin.

"Yaayy." Christen says sarcastically and Tobin sticks her tongue out. "This feels like some Dana and Alice shit."

"I mean, your voice does sound a little bit like Alice's when your excited." Tobin adds.

"Fuck you, Heath."

"Christen Press, talking like that. If only the fans knew."

"If you keep saying stupid things they might soon."

"My rules of un-attraction aren't stupid!" Tobin exclaims. "Okay, just, maybe, like, spend less time with Carli? Like alone?"

"I won't see her until our games against Canada, Tobin. The next time after that will be January camp, so I think not spending too much time with her won't be a problem."

"Okay." Tobin claps her hands together. "If you don't see her I'm sure it's gonna go away."

"Ugh, I hope so."

"Now, wanna watch an episode of The L Word?" Tobin asks, already turning on the TV.

"Sure, but not the first one. And not the one where they're on that bike ride. And not the one with Dana and Alice. And-"

"Okay, Chris, we're watching Finding Nemo." Tobin decides with a laugh before they both lean back and focus on the movie.

 

After a few days of being at home and spending all her time with her family and friends and dogs and even training with friends or her Dad instead of on her Christen thinks that maybe Tobin was right. She thinks a lot about Carli, about the almost-kiss, but she tries so hard to ignore these thoughts. And after meditating with her Mom and doing Yoga at the beach those thoughts really do become less.

 

Coming into the next camp Christen's positive that everything will be fine. That there won't be anything warm or fuzzy inside of her.

But then she sees Carli at the team meeting and she's smiling at her and waving and Christen has to admit that she has no idea what Jill just told them.

Rooming with Ash is a bonus, because she knows about how Christen feels and she makes sure to stick close to her. That way they play the first game against Canada and Christen hasn't spent one minute alone with Carli. It's gametime, so Christen's focus is on the game and she doesn't care that Carli is sitting next to her on the bench and that she can feel her knee pressing against hers.

 

Ash is facetimeing Ali in their room after the game when Christen decides that she needs to get out. She grabs her bikini, goggles and a towel and holds both things up to show Ash she's going for a swim at the hotel pool. When she gets a thumbs up as a reply she grabs her keycard and slides into her slippers and heads off towards the indoor pool on the top floor. They aren't really supposed to use it this late, but Christen doubts that anyone will see her.

 

Christen has been in the water for probably twenty minutes, swimming up and down the pool, when she feels something hit her side. She stops in the middle of the pool, takes off her goggles and looks around to see who attacked her with a safety buoy.

"Of course." Christen mumbles. She puts her head under the water and dives towards the edge of the pool. When she gets there Carli already sat down and put her feet into the water.

"What are you doing here that late?" Carli asks.

"I could ask you the same thing." Christen replies, putting her arms out of the water and onto the floor next to Carli.

"Alyssa and Becky are having a discussion about some sci-fi-novel in the room, so I, uh, wanted to escape."

"And you decided to go swimming?"

"No, I was just wandering around, then I saw the door to the pool open and thought I'd take a look. And then I saw you."

Christen notices for the first time that Carli isn't wearing a swimsuit, only shorts and a t-shirt.

"How are you, Christen? I feel like we haven't talked in ages."

Christen grimaces slightly at that and lowers herself down in the water a bit.

"Yeah.. I'm good, actually. How are you?"

Carli raises her eyebrow and looks down at Christen with..concern? "Are you really? Good, I mean."

"Why-"

"Cause, you know.. if you're not, you can tell me. No matter if it's got to do with starting or scoring or not or, or something different. I'm here if you, like, wanna talk."

Christen smiles. "Thank you, Carli. And, well, I'm good, personally, but, yeah, to be honest.. not being a starter kinda sucks. Being some sort of super sub is cool, but I can go 90 minutes, I know I'm good 90 minutes, you know? But I can't change Jill's lineups, I can only give my best in training and whenever.."

"If it helps, I think Jill's stupid for not starting you every game."

"Carli!" Christen laughs, splashing a bit of water at Carli. "Never thought I'd hear you say something like that."

Carli shrugs. "It's true, you're amazing."

"Thank you, Carli."

"And I feel the same, you know. Good. And I'm starting to get used to being a second half sub, so, yeah. But I'm good." Carli says and her smile seems true.

"Yeah? That's nice. And apart from that?" Christen asks. "How's Brian and all the animals in your backyard?"

Carli laughs. "The animals are all good, deer and turkeys, all still jumping the fence and into the garden."

"You should train them."

"Haha, maybe." Carli says with another laugh, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes.

"You okay?" Christen asks. "You know what you said earlier applies the other way round as well. You can talk to me."

Carli shrugs. "Thank you. And.. I guess? I don't know. There's a lot I've been thinking about for the past few weeks and months and Brian isn't home much. When I was still in Houston it felt like he was always at home, at the house, but now I've been home for what, like five weeks and he's been gone half of them, like he's hardly ever there. And I don't think it's going to change soon, so, it just sucks to be at home alone, you know."

"I'm, I'm sorry, Carli." Christen says sincerely, putting her wet hand onto Carli's knee.

"Jesus, Chris, your hand is so wet." Carli exclaims, jumping back a bit.

"Sorry." Christen says with an apologetic smile. "And I'm sorry about, you know.. Brian and everything."

"Yeah.." Carli sighs heavily. "I'm here now so I don't have to worry about it.. Let's not talk about it, okay?"

"Okay." Christen nods her head. It's quiet for a while before Christen speaks again.

"Don't you want to get into the water? It's so pleasant."

"I'm not wearing a swimsuit."

"So?" Christen retorts with a grin.

"So? You expect me to jump in there fully clothed?"

"No, but you could, like, take off your, uh, clothes and, uh, jump in in your underwear." Smooth, Christen, smooth.

"I'm not going in there, Christen."

"Why not?"

"I just explained it to you!"

"Excuses."

"Christen, I'm not- what are you, Chris, stop it-" Carli's eyes widen when she realizes Christen has a mischevious grin on her face and grabs her ankles.

"Come on, Car, the water is amazing."

"I don't want to get wet."

Christen starts splashing water at Carli, who shrieks. "Too late for that."

"Christen!" Carli shields her face from the splashes. "Okay, okay, let go of my feet then I'll, uh, take off my clothes.

"What is wrong with me? Why am I doing this?", Christen thinks and she tries to tell herself to just get out of the pool and back to her room, but then Carli is standing in front of her in panties and a sportsbra, ready to dive in.

"I hate you for making me do this." Carli says with a laugh before jumping in head first.

Christen turns around and tries to make out where Carli is, but the soft light doesn't help her a lot, so she shrieks when suddenly something grabs her ankles and pulls her down under water. "This is so clichee." Christen thinks, opening her eyes under water to see a blurry Carli a few feet from her.

"What if I didn't want to get my hair wet?" Christen asks when they're both above water again.

"Your hair was already wet, Christen." Carli says. "And also, if you're making me wet, I'm making you wet."

Christen's eyes widen and she just has to laugh. "Wow, that sounded so wrong. But okay, I'm all wet for y-, nope, forget I said that."

Carli joins Christen's laughter and they're both just hanging at the edge of the pool.

"I'm in, so what now?" Carli asks, looking at Christen with the softest smile.

"Catch me!" Christen exclaims and pushes herself off the edge to dive away. She knows this really is a bad idea, but right now she also really doesn't care.

It takes a few minutes for Carli to finally get to her and they continue chasing each other around the pool like kids for a while. At one point Christen has her legs wrapped around Carli from behind, who carries her around the shallower parts of the pool. When Carli jumps them into the deeper water Christen slides off of her and leans against the edge of the pool. She watches Carli swim around for a few moments before she joins her at the edge. Instead of standing next to her though she puts her hands on each side of Christen and grins at her.

"Thank you for making me get in." Carli almost whispers with a gentle smile.

Christen doesn't know what's gotten into her when she wraps her hands around Carli's neck and her legs around her waist. Her gaze darts from Carli's eyes to her lips and back up. She sees Carli lick her lips and Christen feels like she's going to explode. They're way too close now, with Carli holding Christen so her back is pressed against the pool wall and Christen's arms around Carli's neck, her fingers digging into her back.

It would be so easy to just kiss her right then and there.

And Christen is so tempted to just do it. She notices Carli literally staring at her lips and she can't help but bite them. She feels herself leaning forward and Carli leaning closer as well when a loud noise from outside makes them jump apart.

"Christen! Christen, are you still at the pool? You've been gone for over an hour, I really hope you haven't drowned, Press."

Of course it's Ashlyn.

Christen and Carli swim towards the other side of the pool, closer to the door, when Ash opens the door.

"There you are, Chris! And, oh, uh, Carli, hey, hi. Christen and Carli, hi to you both. So good to see you, Christen and Carli." Ash stares at Christen with wide eyes, then looks at Carli and back at Christen. "It's, uh, one in the morning. You, uh, we should probably get back to our rooms?"

Both Carli and Christen quickly get out of the pool. Christen wraps the towel around herself and Carli just puts on her clothers over her wet underwear.

"Well, uh, goodnight, Ash. Goodnight, Christen." Carli says before walking out of the door.

"What the fuck, Chris?!" Ash whisper yells, punching Christen's shoulder. "What the fuck were you doing in here with Carli?"

"Uuuh...swimming?"

"Mmhmm, sure. Come on, let's get back to our room. Tomorrow morning you're going to tell me everything."

 

Christen leaves camp a few days later after a win against Canada and a promise to Ash to behave and "find some lady or some dude to not think about Carli".

And she really tries hard.

 Tobin comes to California and stays with Christen for a few days. They go to the beach and on walks with Khaleesi and Morena and Christen tells Tobin everything she already told Ash and Tobin tries to come up with more plans. Together with Christen's Mom they cook dinner every day and Tobin and Christen's Dad build a new bench for the garden together.

 

"God, I wish I could fall in love with you." Christen says one day after they trained together.

Tobin laughs. "Your family would love that."

"They love you so much."

"I know." Tobin says with a smug look.

"I love you too, you know?"

"And I love you, Chris, you know that, right?" Tobin starts massaging Christen's neck with one hand when they're driving back to the house. "But you also know that I'm really not the, like, relationship or sexual or anything like that kind of person."

"I know, Tobito." Christen says with a smile, squeezing Tobin's knee. "And don't worry, I won't fall in love with you."

"Yeah, I'd be a step down after our captain."

"Tobin." Christen warns and Tobin just laughs.

 

At the beginning of December Christen and Tobin go to London together to attend the annual grassrootsoccer gala, because Tobin joined grassrootsoccer a few months ago. It's nice, being in Europe and exploring London together, talking about soccer and it's meaning and how important grassrootsoccer is.


Christen goes back to California and after cold London she enjoys soaking up the cali sun. She goes sailing with some friends and then attends a high school reunion. It's weird, seeing some people she saw the last time ten years ago, and them asking about her life and her career and her plans. Thankfully there's Nima and some others and she hides mostly behind him and Joe to avoid more questions.

 

At Christmas the whole family goes hiking and takes obligatory christmas pictures in matching pyjamas.


Carli Lloyd: I'm wishing you the happiest of birthdays, Christen. Hope you're having a great day. xoxo, Carli 00:31 am

 

Christen is thankful she decided to turn her phone off for her whole birthday, so she sees Carli's text only after spending the day with her family. It sends her thoughts spiralling a hundred miles a minute. She texts everyone else back and then without thinking decides to call Kelley, even though she'll be in Georgia and it'll be 3am there.

"Christen?" Kelley picks up at the third ring. "Are you okay? Did something happen? Do I need to get you? Are you in jail? I can bail you out! Is your family okay? Oh my god, did something happen to Khaleesi and Morena?-"

"Kelley!" Christen interrupts with a laugh. "I'm fine and healthy and nothing happened to anyone."

"Oh thank God, you scared me, calling me in the middle of the night."

"I'm sorry, Kell, did I wake you?" Christen feels bad if she woke her up.

"Uh, no, I actually just went to my room for the night. We've had some friends over and me and Erin and Adam and a few others played games all night."

"Oh, good, I was scared  I woke you."

"Nah, don't worry, Chris." Kelley reassures her. "Why did you call though? It's midnight in Cali and you know I'm at home. What's going on?"

Christen sighs into the phone and Kelley chuckles.

"I, uh, need to tell you something."

"Are you pregnant?!"

"Uh, no, Kell? How would I be preg- you know what, no, you're just going to explain straight sex and biology to me, so I'm gonna stop right there."

"True that." Kelley interrupts with a laugh. "Then what's going on?"

"Imighthaveacrushoncarlilloyd." Christen quickly mumbles.

"You- What? I couldn't make out what you just said. Something about Carli?"

"Uuuh.."

"Christen?"

"I may have a crush on her."

"You WHAT?" Kelley shouts.

Christen holds her phone at arms length away from her. "What the fuck, Kell, don't scream like that."

"Than don't say stuff like that!"

"Sorry?"

"What do you mean, you might have a crush on Carli?"

"Okay, we actually already established that I do have in fact a crush on her." Christen says with a sigh.

"What? Who's we?"

"Tobin and I. And, well, Ash and Ali."

"Okay, you need to explain this, Chris, because I have no idea what you're talking about."

So Christen starts explaining to Kelley what happened the last few months and how she felt like she started to have a crush on Carli and how they went out together. She even mentions how they almost kissed twice.

"Holy shit." Kelley says after Christen's 15 minute monologue. "You and Carli? For real now?"

"No, Kelley. No Carli and me. Carli and Brian. Me alone."

"Wow, you're so eloquent." Kelley laughs.

"Shut up."

"But, like, Chris, what are you gonna do? I mean, from what you've told me it sounds like she likes you too."

"She's still married, Kelley." Christen says, trying not to think about Carli and Brian. "And I'm no cheater and neither is Carli. And she's my captain. My teammate-"

"I was your teammate too." Kelley interrupts.

"Yeah, but you're different. You're Kelley and I've known you since we were literally kids."

"We weren't kids."

"You get what I meant."

"I do."

"Anyway, it's not the same. Carli is.. she's Carli freaking Lloyd! I can't just have a crush on Carli Lloyd."

 

2018

January camp brings the team together for the first time after almost two months and it feels good to see everyone again. Christen is rooming with Ash again and she couldn't be happier about that. She sticks to her first rule "Spend more time with Tobin (or anyone else) instead of Carli" and stays with Ash and Kelley and Alex and Pinoe a lot.

 

Two days before camp ends Christen gets a call and finds out that she gets traded to the Houston Dash. Alyssa, Julie and Sofia come running to her room immediately.

"Screw them!" Julie screams, throwing her fist onto the table. "They can't do that, you're our captain. They can't just trade you to the Dash."

"She's right!" Sofia adds. "You're Christen fucking Press. You don't get traded to the lousiest club."

"Sofia." Alyssa says calmly, putting a comforting hand on Christen's shoulder.

"What? It's true." Sofia says, throwing her hands up. "Kerr and Stanton get to stay together and come to Chicago, Lloyd can go home to New Jersey, and you? You have to go to fucking Houston? That's not fair."

Christen sighs and shrugs. "What's even fair in life, Sof."

"I don't want you to leave." Sofia says quietly, looking at Christen with puppy eyes.

"Me neither." Julie adds, grabbing Christen's hand.

"I hate trades." Alyssa states and everyone nods their head in agreement.

 

Christen stays with Julie and Alyssa most of the time for the next two days, ignoring Kelley' and Ash's questions, Mal and Carli trying to talk to her and the looks everyone's sending her. As soon as their game against Denmark is over Christen takes the first flight home to California.

 

She doesn't talk to anyone outside of her family for the next few weeks. Tobin tries to call her several times, as do Alex and Mal. Ali and Ash leave voicemails. Julie and Alyssa send her her stuff from Chicago. One day Carli texts her.

Carli Lloyd: I'm sorry. I know you don't want to play for Houston. 09:37 am

Christen throws her phone onto her bed and goes for a run, not wanting to think about Houston or Carli or anything else.

When she gets back she has another text from Carli.

Carli Lloyd: I'm sorry. I hope you don't hate me now. 10:48 am

Christen rolls her eyes and presses respond.

I don't hate you, Carli. And you don't have to be sorry. It's not your fault. I'm happy for you that you get to be back home in Jersey. 10:52 am

Carli Lloyd: It feels like it's my fault. I got what I wanted but you.. I'm sorry, Christen. Let me know if I can do anything. 10:56 am

Stop apologizing and be happy. 10:57 am

When Christen gets down to the living room, her mother is already waiting for her.

"Christen! We have a guest!"

"Huh?" Christen asks, looking around for said guest.

"Hey, Chris."

"Kelley?" Christen just stares at her, not believing her eyes. "What are you doing here? Why are you not in Georgia? Or Utah? Or Portland?"

Kelley chuckles and shrugs. "Because I wanted to make sure you were okay."

Kelley looks at her with big bright eyes and a smile that could light up even the darkest of nights and suddenly Christen feels ten years younger. Kelley's face gets softer, rounder, part of her freckles disappear and suddenly they're on the field at Stanford again, Kelley holding her after their loss in the final, whispering into her ear, kissing her face and not letting her go.

Christen doesn't notice her mother leaving the room or Kelley wrapping her arms around her, holding her shaking body.

"It's okay, Chris." Kelley whispers. "It's gonna be okay."

 

It takes a while for Christen to calm down. She didn't even realize how upset she was, how sad, but one look at Kelley and tears started to fall.

"So, what are we gonna do?" Kelley asks, clapping her hands together.

"We", Christen says, motining between them, "aren't gonna do anything. I..I need to figure out what to do now."

"And what do you wanna do?" Kelley asks.

"I just want to play football, Kelley." Christen replies honestly. "But I just can't see myself in Houston. I don't even like Texas. Like at all. All those stetson wearing revolver swinging cowboys."

"Christen." Kelley laughs. "You sound like me."

"You're rubbing off." Christen says with a smile.

"If you're not going to play in Houston, then.. where are you going to play? Because, realistically, Houston is your only chance at the NWSL now."

"I know, Kell." Christen says. "I have to make a few calls, but I have an idea."

"I'm not going to like this idea, am I?"

"Depends on if you're okay with having more than a maximum of three hours between us."

 

Christen stays in California for the rest of February and spends her time with her family and friends, playing volleyball at the beach. She tells her family about her plans and organizes everything she needs. At the end of the month Christen goes to the national team camp for the She Believes Cup. She's the talk of the first day, everyone wants to talk to her and know what she's going to do now, where she's going to be playing. She spends what feels like hours in the lobby answering questions before she even gets a chance to take her stuff to her room.

Christen didn't check who her roommate was, she was just happy to finally get away from all the questioning. When she opens the door she steps into a dark room and hears Sinead O'Connors "Nothing compares to you" coming from inside the room. She turns on the light and is confused to find Carli lying on the floor between the beds, arms over her face with her phone blasting music from the nightstand.

"Turn off the light, roomie." Carli grumbles, not looking up.

Christen sighs and walks towards the nightstand to turn on the light there before she turns off the big light. She'd love to open the windows, let in the sunlight and fresh air, but instead she sits down on a bed.

"Are you okay, Carli?"

At the sound of Christen's voice Carli's head shoots up and she stares at her roommate. "Christen?!"

"Uh, yes."

"I didn't know you were my roommate."

"Same." Christen says. "Why, uh, are you on the floor? And what's up with Sinead?"

"I was just- I was.. I was.." Carli starts but she can't seem to finish. The music changes to "Take my breath away" and Christen grabs the phone and turns it off.

"As much as I love 'Top Gun', I think no depressing music is better." Christen sits down on the floor next to Carli. "Come on, sit up. What's going on?"

Carli sits up and they both lean against the side of the bed. It's quiet for a long time.

"What happened?" Christen finally asks carefully.

"Brian cheated on me." Carli's voice is so quiet Christen hardly hears her.

"Carli, I.. I don't know what to say."

Carli shrugs and sighs. "There's nothing to say, Christen."

"Do you, do you.. want to talk about it?" Christen asks, moving closer towards Carli.

"I don't know." Carli says. "Can you just.. can you just hold me?" Her voice is quiet and nervous.

"Oh, of course, Carli." Christen says, before standing up. "But let's move to the bed."

They settle onto the bed and Christen wraps her arms around Carli and starts stroking her back. Carli is awfully quiet and calm.

"He's had an affair with a friend of ours for the past two years. I caught them."

Christen doesn't know what to say, so she just holds her tighter.

"Two weeks ago. I threw him out of the house right after. You know where he went? Her place. Fucking asshole. God, I hate to have to get a divorce. But it's inevitable. And you know what's weird? I haven't even cried. Not once. I'm not even sad." Carli keeps talking quietly, her fingers tracing patterns along Christen's arm.

"I feel like I can finally breathe again." She adds.

"I.. I really don't know what to say." Christen repeats.

"You don't have to say anything." Carli says. "It's going to be okay."

 

"Is it true that Carli and Brian are getting a divorce?" Kelley and Tobin ask in hushed voices a few days into camp.

"Keeping secrets with this team isn't possible, huh?" Christen asks rhetorically. "But Carli is okay with people knowing, so yeah, they are."

"Wow." Kelley says.

"Fuck." Tobin says.

"I know." Christen says.

"You know.." Tobin starts with a slight grin, but Christen holds her finger up immediately.

"Uh! Don't even go there, Heath."

The first game against Germany is a 1-0 win.

 

Carli seems to be doing okay. Her and Christen talk a lot at night and share a bed way too much. Christen tries to push down all the feelings she has, but it isn't easy. She tells herself to be a good friend though and it seems to work.

When she's not with Carli Christen sticks to her usual group of people. Tobin and Kelley stopped talking about her now having a chance with Carli.

 

The second game against France is a 1-1 draw.

 

And the game against England is another 1-0 win.

 

"I have to admit something, Christen." Carli says after the final game when they're already in bed.

"Shoot." Christen says, turning onto her side to look at Carli.

"I really hope I'm not like overstepping or something. And I know it's, it's stupid. But I can't help myself. And I don't know, I just wanted to tell you? Although I guess I shouldn't. I don't, like, I don't have much experience with stuff like that, I don't know the, like, rules-"

"Carli." Christen interrupts, standing up and sitting down next to Carli on her bed. "Whatever it is, it's okay. You can talk to me."

Carli looks at her with vulnerability in her eyes. "I.. I really like you, Christen."

"I really like you too, Carli."

"No, you don't understand." Carli groans and rubs her face. "God, I'm awful at this. I more than just like you."

"What?" Christen is confused.

"I guess you could say I have a crush on you?" Carli looks so nervous and she's picking her cuticles.

Christen stares at her with wide eyes, mouth open. "You- You.. okay.. wow." She shakes her head and laughs to herself. "We really do need rules of un-attraction."

"What?" Carli asks.

"Nothing." Christen replies. "I, uh.. don't know what to say."

"Say.. I don't know.. something, nothing, anything."

Christen leans back and stares at her knees for a while. Then she grabs Carli's hand and intertwines their fingers. "I, uh, I.. I really wanted to kiss you that time at the pool."

Carli's head whips around. "For real?"

Christen chuckles. "For real."

"Cool. Cool."

It's quiet for a while before they both start laughing.

"So, what now?" Christen asks, still processing that her crush is mutual.

"I.. don't know." Carli says.

"I don't want to be a rebound. You've been with Brian for so long. I just, I.. I really want to kiss you? But I don't think we should right now."

Carli nods her head. "Yeah, you're right."

"I'm sorry, Carli, I.." Christen starts. "I don't know what to do."

"Me neither."

"I, uh, maybe we should go to sleep? We have early flights tomorrow." Christen keeps nervously playing with Carli's fingers. "And like, we won't see each other for a few weeks, so maybe we can.. think about everything? Think things through and you can sort out everything with Brian and I have.. stuff as well."

"Absolutely." Carli agrees. "I have never been in a situation like this before, so, yeah, thinking things through sounds good."

 

Christen hasn't stopped thinking when she's on the plane or at home or with her family. It's weird, thinking about Carli and knowing that apparently she likes her too. Eventually Christen mentally puts her thoughts and feelings into a box and imagines herself burying it. At least as long as she's home. It works. And everytime she starts thinking about it she imagines herself burying her box deeper and deeper.

It's three weeks in March where everyone's wondering what Christen is going to do. It's also three weeks of Christen just being with her family and shopping for warmer clothes and packing everything.

 

At the end of March Christen is on a flight to Sweden.

When she gets to Gothenburg she feels a calmness and a sense of coming home. It's different than the first time she came here all those years ago, but also similar. Olivia picks her up from the airport again and they fall into each others arms with big smiles. Christen recognizes everything on their way from the airport to the apartment and conversation with Olivia flows easily. They plan a trip to IKEA for the day after the next and decide to get brunch together the next day.

Christen takes one look around Gothenburg and she knows it was the right decision to come here again.

 

There's several texts from teammates and friends, wishing her a good time and many goals. Christen takes pictures and sends them to her family and Kelley and Tobin and Ash.

 

When training starts Christen has no trouble following the instructions and she knows many of the players. The weather is nice as well and they all enjoy the sun together afterwards.

 

Christen doesn't think too much about the fact that she hasn't been called up for the friendlies against Mexico. She enjoys being in Sweden way too much and when she gets texts from someone who's in camp about missing her she tells them she misses them too while she's smiling over fika with Olivia.

 

Carli Lloyd: Good luck for your first game in Sweden! I'll be cheering you on from afar. 02:57pm

Carli texts her on the day of her first ame against Rosengard. Christen goes into the game with a smile on her face and the number 15 on her back and when she scores it feels the same it did six years ago.

Thank you! It was a good game and I even scored, so mission accomplished. How are you? 07:21 pm

Carli Lloyd: I know, I've watched the game on some illegal website with swedish commentary. Nice goal! And I'm good. Brian picked all his stuff up last week, so now I have the house for myself. Did some redecorating to make it feel more like myself. It feels good to be in New Jersey though. How are you, how is Sweden? 07:30

Christen can't help but grin at her phone when she reads that Carli watched her game.

You seriously watched the game? I feel honored, you're the best :)

That sounds great! I'm happy you're good.

Sweden is amazing. It was definitely the right decision. 07:40 pm

They keep texting for a while after the game, until Christen is in bed and ready to go to sleep. It's easy, talking with Carli about games and soccer and Brian and home. They talk about everything except the one thing.

Carli Lloyd: I missed you at the last camp. 10:57 pm

Christen groans and rubs her face. Should she tell her that she missed her too?

I missed you too. 10:57 pm

A lot, tbh. 10:58 pm

Carli Lloyd: I hope it's okay to say this, but for me nothing has changed. 11:05 pm

For me neither. 11:08 pm

Christen feels brave so she adds:

I still want to kiss you. 11:08 pm

She feels like a teenager, lying in bed at night, texting your crush, telling them you want to kiss them, hiding under her blanket, afraid of the answer.

Carli Lloyd: I still want to kiss you as well. 11:09 pm

Carli Lloyd: Like really really want to kiss you. 11:10 pm

Maybe it's the fact that they haven't seen each other in a few weeks or that Christen has been in Sweden for three now. But somehow she feels really brave and starts to give into her feelings. The box she buried lies open and empty, with her thoughts and feelings freewheeling around.

If you still want to kiss me the next time we see each other.. I'd love to kiss you. 11:12 pm

Carli Lloyd: So you plan on kissing me? 11:13 pm

I at least think about it a lot. 11:14 pm

Carli Lloyd: You do? What do you think about? 11:15 pm

Christen hides under her blanket with her phone, staring at the screen with wet lips and wide eyes. She tells herself to stop it, to just go to sleep and don't talk to Carli about kissing her. But then she thinks Why?, because where's the harm in flirting with Carli and texting her.

 

Christen keeps playing games, she scores against Hammarby and Limhamn Bunkeflo and texts Carli after every game until she falls asleep with her phone in her hands. They only text on game days and always start with game talk, but eventually it always comes back to them talking about their feelings and wanting to kiss. It feels a lot like a teenage long distance flirtation, but Christen really doesn't care. She has no idea when she's going to see Carli the next time, there'll be games in June with the national team, but she doesn't know if she'll get called up. So she just enjoys it, talking to Carli like a 9th grader, flirting, teasing, having fun.

It doesn't help, because in the end it makes Christen fall only harder. Occasionally she texts or skypes Tobin or Kelley (and Emily) or Ali and Ash and somehow none of them tell her to put an end to it or that it's stupid or silly.

Christen spends her week with training and hanging out with Olivia and other teammates, with fika and practicing a bit of Swedish, and with looking forward to game days, because game days mean getting to talk to Carli.

After their first game in May there's a two week break and a few days off and Christen kind of hates it because it means two weeks of having to wait for the next game day to talk to Carli. In order to focus on other things she starts binge watching a Swedish-British series on Netflix and after that she just decides to rewatch Orange is the New Black, because it's going to last longer than two days. Turns out though that a series with quite a lot of lesbians doesn't help at all. In fact it rather has the opposite effect.

 

A week after their last game Christen's at home watching season four of OITNB and eating selfmade veggie pizza. She's contemplating wether she should treat herself to some Swedish chocolate when there's a knock on the door. Christen pauses the TV and walks towards the entrance. It's probably Olivia who needs to borrow a book, because she can't sleep or just wants to talk until 1 am.

 

Christen opens the door without looking through the peep hole, expacting one of her teammates. Her eyes widen when she realizes that it is indeed a teammate, but to her surprise an American one.

"H-Hi." Christen stutters, staring at Carli with wide eyes. She looks tired, there's a small bag around her shoulders and she looks like she came from training.

"What are you doing here?"

Carli just stares at her and opens her mouth, but nothing comes out for a few seconds. "I..I..I.."

Christen can tell the moment Carli starts looking at her lips and biting her own and she feels herself getting nervous and excited.

"Carli?" She asks, her voice just above a whisper.

Carli's eyes dart up and lock with Christen's. She opens and closes her mouth a few times, then she shakes her head and takes several steps forward until she's right in front of Christen. She looks at Christen's lips again, then at her eyes and with another soft shake of her head she leans forward and kisses Christen right under the door frame.

...

Chapter Text

As a child, Christen always had the greatest pleasure in picking flowers. Throughout the years and after many little bouquets and bundles of flowers Christen made it into Stanford, then onto the national team. She became a record breaker and a World Cup winner, she's won games, lost games, found love and friendship in and because of soccer. Picking flowers hasn't been on her mind for the past more than twenty years.

When Carli kisses her in the doorway of her apartment in Gothenburg, Christen is reminded of the feeling she had when she picked flowers, how beautiful they were, how good they smelt, how comforting and calming it was to pick one little flower after the other.

Carli kisses her and Christen tastes flowers on her lips.

Christen vigorously kisses her back, both hands cupping Carli's face and pulling her closer with each breath. She tastes like daisies and sunflowers, soft and strong at the same time.

Christen gets lost in the kiss. She doesn't notice walking backwards, pulling Carli with her or Carli closing the front door with her foot.

It's only when her back bumps into the edge of her kitchen counter that Christen opens her eyes and stops the kiss. Carli's hands are on her cheeks and her eyes dart all over Christen's face. Christen's like a mirror, cupping Carli's face with her hands.

"What are you doing here?" She asks, smiling at Carli. "Shouldn't you be in Jersey?"

"I don't care where I should be." Carli says, her voice soft and raspy. "I had to come here. I couldn't stand not..not.. not kissing you any longer."

Christen tucks Carli's hair back and grins at her, still not believing that she's really here. Then she leans forward again and kisses her, to make sure she's real.

"How long are you here?" Christen asks after several minutes of kissing, her forhead pressed against Carli's.

Carli groans. "I have to be on a flight back tomorrow around noon."

"Ugh. That's not long." Christen sighs and leans back. "I feel like we should, uh, talk about this." She points between them.

"Yeah, you're probably right." Carli agrees.

"But, to be honest, talking is overrated." Carli raises her eyebrows and Christen laughs. "No, I mean, it's not, of course not, and I really want to talk to you about this, but considering the fact that you're here for only the night I'd rather talk to you on the phone or via skype and make the most out of the time we have now."

"Okay."

"Okay?"

"Yes. I'd love that too. Kissing you feels way too good to stop now." Carli blushes and Christen gently touches her cheek.

"Come on, let's sit down." Christen takes Carli's hand and leads her towards the couch.

It doesn't take long for them to start kissing again, but Carli interrupts it after a while.

"Oh!" She exclaims. "I almost forgot, I have something for you."

"You do?"

"Yes!" Carli stands up and walks towards the bag she left behind the couch. "Close your eyes."

Christen closes her eyes and after a few moments she feels Carli sit down next to her again. There's a smell Christen can't assign, but it reminds her of something.

Carli takes her hand. "I saw this at the airport and thought of you. So, uhm, you can open your eyes now."

Christen opens her eyes and before her is Carli with a simple sunflower in her hand, just one. It's beautiful. She carefully takes the flower and touches its raw stem, before she puts it onto the coffee table next to her.

Then, without warning, she straddles Carli's hips and kisses her. Carli falls back against the couch and wraps her arms around Christen's back.

"Thank you, Carli." Christen mumbles against soft lips. "Sunflowers are my favorite."

It takes all of Christen's willpower to not grab Carli and carry her to her bedroom, but kissing her is enough to satisfy her for now. It's 3 in the morning when they both fall asleep on the couch and on the next day Christen takes Carli to the airport. They kiss in a hidden corner and part with a promise to talk soon.

Back in her apartement Christen stares at the sunflower and is reminded that it wasn't a dream.

She considers texting or calling Kelley or Tobin, but she doesn't know what she would even say, so she grabs a ball and her cleats and decides to walk to the park across the street to see if someone there wants to play some pick-up.

After hours of playing at the park and walking around town and training in the afternoon Christen gets home in the evening and realizes she forgot her phone at home the whole day.

Carli Lloyd: Was this a dream or was it real? 8:17 pm

Christen takes a photo of her and the sunflower and sends it to Carli.

It was all real. 8:18 pm

Carli Lloyd: It feels like a dream. 8:19 pm

Carli Lloyd: You're beautiful. 8:19 pm

Christen blushes and feels like a teenager again.

 

Christen's days continue to be like this. Training, texting Carli, games. The last two games in May are losses, but Christen gets called up for the friendlies in June and she's excited to see not only Carli but everyone else again.

Her and Carli have decided to take things slow and just see where it goes. It's a difficult situation with Carli being in the middle of a divorce and being the captain and the team and a World Cup ahead of them in a few months. And they're both professionals, so training and soccer comes first for both of them.

Christen play one last game against Kristianstads in June before she's off to the US for two games against China.

 

Being back in camp feels amazing and Christen is the center of a group hug as soon as she gets there.

It takes three hours of being with them until Ash and Tobin each grab one of Christen's arms and lead her out of the hotel for a walk.

 

"Spill it." Ash says, letting go of Christen's arm.

"Spill what?" Christen asks, confused.

"What's going on with Carli?" Tobin asks.

"What?" Christen stops in her tracks and stares at them. "What do you mean?"

"She looks at you with such heart eyes and you look at her like you want to rip her clothes off." Ash states and Christen's eyes widen. "Don't even try to deny it, Press, we're not blind."

"Okay." Christen finally says and then she tells them about how Carli came to Sweden and that they kissed.

Ash squeals and Tobin says "Sick." and Christen slaps both their shoulders with a laugh.

 

It's so easy, being in camp after everything. Christen knows they look at each other differently, but she's sure noone except Ash and Tobin notices anything and apart from that nothing has changed. They talk whenever they get the chance to and they sit closer to each other than usually. Christen is rooming with Tobin and Tobin offered to leave the room every once in a while so her and Carli could be alone. It's soft touches and gentle looks and innocent kissing and when they talk it's more about soccer and the upcoming games than themselves.

On their last day after two wins against China they hug tightly and Christen whispers "I'll see you soon."

 

A week later everyone knows how soon.

 

Kelley: WE'RE GOING TO BE CLUB TEAMMATES?! OMG!

Broon: Thank God I won't have to play against you anymore!

Ash: As Tobin would say - so sick to have you home again!

Kriegs: Aaah! Yaaas!

Tobs: So sick!

Carli: Are you seriously coming back next week? I almost can't believe it.

I am. I'll be playing against you in two weeks.

Carli: I can't wait!

 

Christen plays one last game for Göteborg and then Olivia drops her off at the airport and she's on her way to Utah. Leaving Sweden hasn't gotten easier and Christen knows she'll miss it and she'll forever be grateful for the opportunities and experiences she gained here. Still she's excited to go back to the US and join the Utah Royals.

The minute Christen meets with Laura and all the coaches and her new teammates and sees the stadium and how amazing everything is she knows coming back earlier than anticipated and going to Utah was the right decision.

Kelley is probably the most excited and she jumps onto Christen's back the minute she sees her and doesn't let go for a while.

Everyone makes sure Christen gets settled in quickly and only few days later she plays her first game against Seattle. Even though it's a tie without goals Christen is happy to have played a good game with 21 on her back.

 

A few days later the Royals play Sky Blue.

Seven minutes into the game Christen scores her first goal for the Royals. Katie Stengel adds two and then Carli scores the only goal for Sky Blue.

Afterwards Christen takes Carli to her apartement and kisses her the minute they close the door behind them.

 

Christen plays three more games in July with the Royals and they lose against Portland, Seattle and Orlando. Kelley has decided to show Christen around town and take her to the best coffee shops, so they hang out a lot in their free time. They go on hikes and bike rides and go swimming, they talk about their lives and about Emily, about Carli. Christen texts Carli almost everyday and they skype a lot. Carli has a habit of skyping in only pants and a sports bra and it's giving Christen a hard time. She may not know what this is or where it's going, but it's nice and she feels good and kissing Carli is amazing.

 

At the end of July Christen, Becky and ARod are on their way to the Tournament of Nations, where they'll be playing Australia, Brazil and Japan.

 

When they're alone on the elevator Christen tells Carli how she realized she might have a crush on her a year ago. Carli blushes and kisses her quickly before the door opens.

 

Alex scores a hattrick in their first win against Japan.

 

The game against Australia is a 1-1 tie thanks to Lindseys 90th minute goal.

 

The last game against Brazil is a 4-1 win and secures the US' tournament win.

 

Pinoe walks onto the stage with a pride flag in her hand and Christen squeezes Carli's shoulder gently when she lifts the trophy.

 

The next game for the Royals is against Houston in Houston. Christen knows it's not going to be an easy game for her, but everyone's surprised by how much booing there is. When Christen scores it's one of the most satisfying feelings ever.

 

It's August and Christen's Mom and her Grandma come to visit her. There's a few more games in August and on the last day of the month the national team play against Chile and Christen gets celebrated for her 100th cap with her whole family there with her on the field. Leading the team as a captain feels amazing, as does scoring the 3-0.

 

Christen spends the rest of September at home in California with her family and enjoys every moment with them.

 

October means World Cup Qualifiers and Jill makes sure everyone knows where their focus should be and how important winning and qualifying will be for them.

The first game against Mexico ends with six goals from Pinoe, Julie, Alex and Tobin.

The game against Panama has the whole team gushing about Yenith Bailey and her "sick saves", as Tobin put it, even though it was a 5-0 win for the US.

"Did Jill actually wonder about your chemistry with Carli lately?" Tobin asks after the game back in their room.

"What do you mean?" Christen asks, looking up from her phone.

"You've played great together today. You're awesome in training, you like have this sick chemistry. I was wondering if Jill noticed."

"She hasn't said anything."

Apparently we have sick chemistry on the field.

Carli: Tobin thinks so?

Yeah. Do you think so?

Carli: I think we have chemistry on and off the field ;)

Do you want to come over? I can kick Tobin out.

Carli: Be there in 5!

"Tobin." Christen starts sweetly and Tobin stands up with a wink immediately.

"I'll go see if Alex wants to do something." 

 

The game against Trinidad and Tobago is a 7-0 win and against Jamaica it's 6-0 again.

They play against Canada in the finale, which isn't a surprise at all. Neither is the 2-0 win.

 

Christen spends a few days with Tobin at a beach resort after the games as some sort of getting away vacation. They've decided to keep their phones away for most of the day and Tobin laughs everyday in the evening when Christen sends dozens of texts and pictures to Carli.

Carli: Don't post pictures like that or send them to me when you're so far away. That's not fair. 9:47 pm

Why not? ;) 9:48 pm

Carli: Because it's evil. 9:48 pm

"She wants to fuck you, Chris, that's why."

"Tobin!" Christen turns her phone around and bluhes a dark read. "That's private! And not true!"

Tobin shrugs. "Go ahead and ask her, I'm sure she'll say yes."

"I'm not going to ask her that!"

"Coward."

Christen glares at Tobin and takes her phone again. It takes all her courage to tipe what she's thinking and she ends up doing it bluntly.

Is it because you want to fuck me? 9:55 pm

Carli: Maybe? Would that be okay? 10:03 pm

"I see you blushing, did she say yes?"

"Fuck you, Heath."

It would be more than okay. 10:05 pm

When can I see you again? 10:05 pm

that sounded desperate haha 10:06 pm

Carli: Only a little bit ;) I'll be back from Europe in two weeks. We could meet then? 10:09 pm

I would love to. Do you want me to come to the east coast? 10:10 pm

Carli: If it's okay for you. I can't wait! 10:12 pm

"You're crushing so hard."

"Shut up, Heath."

 

Christen goes back to California and Tobin to New Jersey to her parents house, because they both have family matters keeping them from going to Europe with the team. Christen spends the next two weeks with her family and clings to her Mom every chance she gets. She enjoys not having to go to Europe but being able to have some quality time with her family.

After two weeks Christen goes to New Jersey.

"I don't know what to do." Carli says, as they're watching some old black and white movie.

"Huh?" Christen turns her head and pauses the movie. "What?"

"I want to have sex with you." Carli admits quietly, eyes fixed on her hands.

Christen blinks a few times. "Me too."

"I don't know what to do though." Carli repeats.

Christen smiles and stands up. She holds her hand out for Carli to take and says:

"I'll show you."

Turns out Christen didn't have to show her much and Carli is a fast learner.

They spend a week together, exploring the woods behind Carli's house and each other before Christen is on her way back home for Thanksgiving.

 

Christen tries to not cry, her Mom tells her not to, but she can't help it. It's five minutes of down time for everyone before they're back to being positive and thankful for the people they have and the time they have with each other.

Christen spends December with some friends and Allie and Tobin training together. Then it's Christmas and the whole Press pack together and Christen's 30th birthday and then New Year's. They keep it simple this year, just the closest family and they talk a lot, rewatch old video tapes of Christen, Channing and Tyler being little, watch old photo albums and tell old stories.

 

2019

Christen feels like when she started playing soccer and didn't want to leave her parents, when they now drop her off at the airport with long goodbyes.

 

Having January camp in France is different, but good. It's a preparation for the World Cup in June and they know they need to do everything to be at their best.

Christen enjoys being with the team again and is happy about the unconditional and limitless friendship and love of everyone here. She spends her time aside from training with Ash, Kelley, Tobin, Carli, Pinoe and Alex and tries to focus on the goal ahead and the next two games against France and Spain.

The game against France ends in a disappointing 3-1 loss.

The game against Spain is a 1-0 win thanks to Christen's only goal. After the game she exchanges jerseys with Jenni and talks Spanish with a smile.

 

Christen is on her way back to the US when she gets the call to come home as soon as possible.

She gets home without any sleep and her mind racing hundred miles a second.

Her Mom isn't awake when she gets to the hospital, but the constant beeping from the monitor next to her shows Christen and her family that she's still breathing.

Everyone is there, Christen, her Dad, Tyler, Will, Channing, the whole family. Christen was the last one to arrive and they all know they have only moments left with Stacy.

Christen is holding her Mom's hand and whispering softly to her. The only other noises are the beeping of the monitor and the sniffing of everyone in the room.

It's a milisecond from life to death.

One moment her chest is slowly rising and falling and her face looks, not painful, but uncomfortable. And then suddenly the rising and falling just stops and her face is calm and its features are soft.

Nothing could ever describe the moment Christen knew her Mom was gone.

But the minute she knew, a huge wave of relief washed through her. Relief that no more bad, no more pain could happen to her. That, whereever she was, there was no pain, only light and joy and happiness.

It's not easy.

There's crying, so much crying and Cody's arms aren't big enough to fit all his daughters.

The next few days are hard.

The whole family comes together and everyone wants to help somehow. There are texts and calls from friends, teammates, distant relatives.

It gets easier after the funeral.

It makes it real.

Christen misses her mother terribly, her whole family does, but they all know that she wouldn't have wanted them to mourn or miss out on anything just because she was gone.

 

So Christen goes into the SheBelievesCup with a bright smile on her face. The ache in her heart isn't gone, probably never will, but her smile is happy and real.

Christen gets more hugs than usual and she gets lost in everyone's arms every day. She's rooming with Carli, which earns her a few winks from Ash and Tobin and Kelley, but it also means falling asleep in Carli's arms and waking up next to her. It grounds her and makes her feel safe and comfortable.

They tie their games against Japan and England 2-2. The game against Brazil is a 1-0, but it doesn't change the fact that England won the Cup.

 

Christen spends March in California and it's weird without her Mom's laughter filling the house. But there's her Dad and Khaleesi and Morena and being with them and walking along the beaches makes her as happy as it always did.

 

When the roster for the friendlies in April is announced Christen almost runs into a pole.

OMG!!! I'm so happy and excited you're back!

Kriegs: sent a photo

It's a picture of Ali and Logan, cuddling on the floor, Ali with a huge grin on her face, apparently more than happy to get another chance.

 

Christen spends a few days before the next camp with Carli and then they're both back for two games against Belgium and Australia. At camp Ali is the first one Christen hugs and also the first one everyone else wants to hug.

It's two more months until the World Cup and it's apparent what this means to everytone.

The game against Australia ends in a 5-3 win, the one against Belgium ends 6-0.

 

"Here, for you." Kelley says and puts something onto Christen's head.

"What's this?" Christen touches the thing on her head and narrows her eyes at Kelley. "Why did you put a crown onto my head?"

"Because you're the queen of her heart!" Emily jokes, wrapping an arm around Kelley from behind.

"No." Kelley says with a laugh. "But you're the assist queen and I figured you deserved a crown."

 

Christen goes to Utah for two games and then the World Cup roster gets released.

Making the World Cup roster shouldn't come as a surprise to Christen, given she's been a fixture on this team for several years now. And she's been on the winning World Cup Team in 2015. Still she can't help but feel a mix of surprise, relief and excitement inside her. Christen calls her Dad and her sisters and they all laugh at the surprise about making the roster in her voice. After all Jill even told her at the last camp. When her Dad asks who else made the roster, Christen takes her first good look at all the names in the email. There aren't any surprises really. 23 players are going to France, Alyssa, Ash and Adrianna are the goalkeepers. (Christen wonders if it's helpful to be a keeper on this team if your name starts with an A) Then there are seven defenders, Kelley, Emily, Tierna, Becky, Abby, Crystal and - Christen is the happiest about this one, Ali. The midfield consists of Julie, Lindsey, Andi, Rose, Sam, Moe and Carli. Christen's fellow attackers are Mal, Pinoe, Alex, Tobin and ARod.

A smile spreads on Christen's face. Excitement fills her veins. She's going to France in June and she's going to win another World Cup with her team.

 

The last weeks before the World Cup consist of lots and lots of media. As reigning World Cup Champions the whole women's soccer world is watching them and there's a certain pressure on them, put there by media and fans as well as themselves.

Even though Christen knows that there's a lot of media, lots of interviews, television, radio during the last few weeks before the World Cup, even though she experienced it in 2015 and 2016, she hasn't gotten used to it. It's still weird to think that she's someone people want to interview, someone people want to see or hear interviews of. After all, she's just Christen Press.

Christen does a lot of media in Utah with Becky, Kelley and Amy, she gives interviews in LA, on her own and with Pinoe or someone from Portland. She knows the drill by now, knows the questions she'll get asked and the answers she needs to give. Christen replies to every question with an honest smile, she takes her time to find the perfect words, to still be authentic.

 

"You're good at interviews." Kelley tells her one day.

"You think so? Why?"

"You always smile. You're always nice. No matter the question, no matter who asked. And I'm sure you're one of the top five on the team to get the most media attention. And you're by far the best at it. I love Alex dearly, but she tends to get a resting bitch face when she's had enough, but you, you still smile."

 

Christen doesn't love doing all those interviews, but she starts to enjoy it.

"Christen, are you excited for the World Cup?" is the question she gets asked the most and her answer stays mostly the same. Of course she's excited, very much even.

 

"What teams would you love to play against at some point?" One interviewer asks and Christen takes her time to answer.

"Well, that's a good question, I think all of the teams are great and I would love to play against all of them. But, uhm, I've played in Sweden for so long and I have many friends on that team, so I would really love to play against Sweden at some point in the tournament."

"What if you miss a penalty again?" Another interviewer shouts from the back.

Christen blinks a few times. "Uh, it's not certain I would even be one of those who take a penalty. If I'll be taking a penalty I'd make sure to give my best. And missing the goal at all isn't on my mind."

 

"Asshole. He shouldn't ask stuff like that."

"It's okay, Kell. I don't mind it."

"But I do. It's like, even after three years people still think it's your fault."

"I know. But I'd rather have them talk and ask about me missing PKs instead of other things."

"Like your habit of sleeping with teammates, from me up to even your captain?"

Christen just stares at Kelley, who grins at her with a smug look, arms crossed.

"Shut up, Kell."

 

"Christen, how does it feel to be a veteran on this team?"

"Wow, veteran, that makes me sound so old. Well, I think I'm at the prime of my career, I'm the fittest I've ever been - thanks to Kelley O'Hara for making me run extra before and after every practice -, I'm so excited and motivated and whatever role I'm going to play during this World Cup I'll be sure to give my best and, uh, just, be supportive of my team and, yeah, make sure we win."

 

"Christen, what's your favorite soccer memory so far?"

Christen spins the ring on her finger a few times. "Hm, that's a very good question. There are just so many. Tieing the record at Stanford was pretty great, sorry, Kell. Also winning the World Cup, obviously. Watching Carli Lloyd score a hattrick, that was pretty impressive. And, well, playing in Sweden, both times I went there. I don't know, I can't even decide, there are so many."

 

"So all your favorite soccer memories have to do with teammates you slept with?"

"Shut up, Kell."

"Then what's your favorite soccer memory?"

"There was this game in like, 2009. I don't know who we played or if we lost or won. I just remember that I hated myself for the way I played and that I just wanted to cry. I went to bed early, tried to cry myself to sleep, but you came to my room at like, two in the morning with a pillow and a blanket and dragged me outside in nothing but shorts and a top. We went to Maloney Field and you grabbed a soccerball and made me play 1v1 with you. Barefoot and without a bra. Still I had so much fun, even though I felt like shit a few hours earlier.. At some point we were so exhausted we just fell down in the middle of the field and you threw the blanket over our feet and grabbed my hand and we stayed there until the sunrise.. That was like, ten years ago now, but it's still my favorite memory."

 

There's a game against Canada at the beginning of May in Chicago, a test game for both teams before they fly to Europe. It's an extraodrinarily calm and gentle game, considering it's the US and Canada. Both teams make a lot of changes, giving everyone the chance to get some minutes. In the end it's a 1-1 tie with Carli and Sinc scoring three minutes apart.

After that the team goes to New York for some more media. Christen gets probably the most attention besides Alex, Carli and Pinoe, but she doesn't even notice it.

The players get surprised with their families at breakfast on a day off and Christen makes sure to enjoy the day with them to the fullest, even though she misses her Mom more than ever.

 

They take a flight from New York to Vienna and from there a bus takes them to the Alps, to the same hotel the team stayed at ahead of the World Cup in Germany in 2011. Two more games are scheduled during their preparation time there, one against the Czech Republic and one against Austria.

Jill tells them what she wants from them for the next few days, to build a strong bubble, to be honest, to be competitive, to be their best selves. Training and relaxing and recovering in the Austrian Alps is beautiful, there aren't any people around except for the staff at the hotel, so it's perfect for becoming even closer as a team. They go on top of a mountain together one day and the view from up there is breathtaking.

 

Their game against the Czech Republic is scheduled a week into their camp. Jill makes all the substitutions she's allowed, giving everyone a chance. Even Adrianna gets 45 minutes in goal. They win 8-0, with Christen, Mal, Alex, Tobin, Pinoe, Carli, ARod and Sam scoring. The day after the game is spent with revocery and icebaths and massages. At dinner Dawn gathers the team around her.

"Listen up, ladies. You have the next two days off. Do whatever you want with those two days, but be back the day after tomorrow in the evening. Stay here and relax, go to Salzburg, go to Vienna, go to Munich, I don't care. Just take some time for yourself, have fun and be safe."

 

Christen knows nothing about Austria, so she has no idea what she should do there with two days off. Kelley and Emily decide to go to Bad Ischl and even though they both ask Christen to come, she says no. Tobin asks her to come to Salzburg with her and several other girls from the team, but Christen doesn't feel like going there. So she just decides to stay at the hotel with the rest of the team, go for walks and relax in the spa. But then Carli grabs her hand that night when she heads to her room.

"Come to Vienna with me."

 

Christen doesn't know why she agreed to going to Vienna with Carli when she gets up the next morning at five a.m., dragging herself and a small bag to the station to get the train that leaves at six. But Carli is excited and Christen can't remember the last time she's seen her like that, so she just smiles and leans against the window, watching the mountains disappear after a while. Carli falls asleep at some point, her head on Christen's shoulder. Christen presses a quick kiss to her head, before falling asleep herself.

They're in Vienna a few hours later.

"Where do we go?" Christen asks. "Where do we even stay?"

"I booked a room. We just need to find the right subway or tramway or.. whatever they have here."

It takes them a while to figure out how to get there, but 40 minutes later they're at their room at the 25 hours hotel. It's located pretty centrally and they decide to get lunch at an Asian restaurant the girl at the reception suggested, a few streets down. It's called Shanghai Tan, the food is delicious and the atmosphere is so, so romantic. Christen looks at Carli and her big smile and bright eyes and thinks that maybe she really likes how romantic and how right it feels.

They book a hop-on-hop-off-tour afterward, going around the Ring, where all the old, big buildings are lined up next to each other, one more beautiful than the other. It's different here than every other town Christen has seen so far. Especially the Inner City looks like it's the same now as it was 150 years ago.

They get off the bus at some point and when they take a few steps towards the next park, they're almost hit by a girl on a bike. She breaks so hard she almost falls down herself and comes to a halt right in front of Christen and Carli.

"Oh mein Gott, Entschulding, ich hab Sie nicht gesehen, es tut mir so leid!" She starts rambling something in German and the look on her face says sorry. Then suddenly her expression changes to pure shock, her eyes widen and she just stares between Carli and Christen. She wants to say something, but just opens and closes her mouth like a fish.

"Are you okay?" Carli finally asks, taking a look at the poor girl. She looks to be in her twenties, her face is read and sweaty and there's a bag slung over her shoulders. "Do you, do you speak English?"

The girl nods. "Yeah, I, I do. I speak English."

"Are you okay then?"

"Oh, yeah, yeah, sure. I'm, I'm okay. So okay." She blinks a few times and then pinches her own cheeks. "You're, you're, you're Carli, you're Carli Lloyd. And you're Christen Press."

"You know who we are?" Christen asks, suprised that anyone here would know who they are.

"Of course! You're amazing, you're legends!" The girl grins and then Christen notices the shirt she's wearing. A black US jersey with one red and one blue sleeve, a big white 11 on it. Krieger. Anger builds inside Christen at the thought of Ali and the fact that Jill just stopped calling her up two years ago. But then she thinks about Ali and Ash and Logan and how they want to start their own family after the World Cup. And then she remembers that there's no need to be angry, because Ali is back at the hotel with Ash, going to the World Cup as well.

"I like your shirt." Christen says with a smile, pointing at the white 11.

"Th-thank you." The girl grins at her and Christen feels like it was the right decision to go to Vienna. They keep talking for a few minutes and the girl tells them that she's on her way to soccer practice, that she's excited for the World Cup and that she's going to France with a few friends for the semifinals and the final. They take a selfie together and then the girl drives off with a big grin and Christen leans into Carli with a smile.

It's warm, so they decide to go to the Danube and put their feet into the water. Noone else seems to recognise them and Christen finds her fingers tingling everytime her hand brushes Carli's when they're walking next to each other. It's dark when they walk back to the hotel and Christen feels brave, so she grabs Carli's hand and interwines their fingers.

As soon as they're back at the hotel and the doors of the elevator have closed behind them, Carli spins her around and kisses her hard.

 

Christen wakes up the next morning with bruised lips and a dark bruise under her right collar bone, with Carli's hair in her face and their feet tangled and a big smile on her face.

 

They order breakfast to their room and spend the morning eating, laughing and kissing, before they're on their way to the train to get back to the team.

 

The game against Austria is a little tougher than the one against the Czech Republic. They're faster and one of their midfielders is running full speed even after almost 90 minutes. Christen is impressed.

They win 4-1.

 

As soon as June starts they're on their way to Paris.

 

Paris is so beautiful.

 

Tobin and Lindsey keep arguing about who can give a better tour of Paris until Dawn decides to book a guided tour.

 

Paris is huge, there's so many people and Christen doesn't understand a thing they're saying. Still it's so goddamn beautiful. They visit Notre Dame together and even though the roof is, well, missing, it's still breathtaking.

The Mona Lisa is pretty disappointing.

The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower isn't. It's a clear day, so they can see so, so far. They watch some guy propose to his boyfriend on the top and clap with everyone else.

Dinner at a small restaurant makes Christen feel like she's in Lady and the Tramp. Small tables with red and white table cloths, with candle light and descret service. It's so romantic. Christen shares a table with Kelley, Emily and Tobin. Jill and Dawn have their own table and the sight of them looking a bit uncomfortable makes the whole team laugh.

Christen's eyes wander the room and land on Carli, who's sitting with Becky, Alex and Alyssa. She's laughing and when her eyes meet Christen's she sends her a big smile and a small wave. Shortly after Christen's phone vibrates in her lap.

Carli: You look so beautiful tonight. <3

So do you. <3

 

Sharing a room with Tobin means soft music, a bible on the bed and snapbacks on the table. Christen couldn't imagine a better roommate for a tournament like this.

 

June 11th 2019

The US' first game of the World Cup is against Spain, besides New Zealand probably the biggest competition in group F. It's a warm day, just the right amount of heat mixed with a chill breeze. Amy braids Alex' hair (It's her first World Cup game as a captain. It has to look perfect, she said.) while Crystal and Emily dance around them. Ashlyn and Adrianna stand aside with Alyssa, talking in quiet, but excited voices. Becky is trying to gather her defenders around her for one last talk.

 

"Your first World Cup game. You nervous, kiddo?" Tobin asks Tierna before they head out of the tunnel, putting a hand on her shoulder.

Tierna smiles. "Nah. It's just another game."

 

Christen's blue nails dig into her jersey as she sings the national anthem, her smile bright and her heart excited.

 

It's just another game.

 

"All right, guys." Alex says, adjusting her captain's armband. "First game, let's make sure it's also our first win. Team on 3! 1-2-3!"

"TEAM!"

 

Possession is on the US side from the beginning. It doesn't take long for them to take the lead. In the 13th minute, Kelley sends a beautiful ball forward, right in front of Christen's feet. Christen dribbles around one, two, three defenders and when she's left with only the goalkeeper between her and the back of the net, she shoots. Julie and Alex are the first ones to jump onto her and then there's Tobin patting her head and Kelley running into her arms and Christen smiles so big it almost hurts.

Alex gets her first goal a few minutes into the second half, when Tierna sends a long ball from the back forward and all Alex has to do is kick the ball over her defenders head, make a quick run and volley the ball behind the goalkeeper.

Mal comes on for Tobin and Carli for Sam and a few minutes later Mal is in front of the Spanish goal. She's trying to outplay their defenders when she sees Carli unmarked, so she quickly passes her the ball and Carli does what Carli does best.

A 3-0 win is a good start to the World Cup.

 

There's a few days until their next game against New Zealand and those days are spent with recovering, training and slow walks around town. On their day off the whole team decides to go to Disneyland.

Disneyland leaves everyone speechless.

Some are a little pale at the end of the day, others have to be dragged away from the rollercosters.

Kelley buys Emily a stuffed squirrel, Ali buys a stuffed shark for Ash.

"Here." Carli grabs Christen's hand when they're sitting down for the show at night and holds something in front of her. "For you. I figured you'd prefer this over a stuffed animal."

It's a book with watercolor drawings about Disney princesses, but without princes. Christen grins and wraps her arms around Carli. "You were right. Thank you."

Christen doesn't miss the way Tobin grins at her or how Kelley gently nudges her and wiggles her eyebrows. But somehow she doesn't care.

In the evening there's a knock on their hotel room door and Christen hopes, it's Carli, but then Kelley comes in with a big grin, squeezing herself between Tobin and Christen. They start watching a movie, but then Kelley says:

"So, Chris, you and Carli, is it official now?"

Christen tries to get up, but she's being pulled back down, so she sighs and shrugs.

"Come on, Chris." Tobin says. "You're like so hard in love."

Christen sighs. "I know, okay?"

"You do?" Kelley asks, a little bit surprised.

"Of course I know."

"Have you told her?"

"Carli?" Christen shakes her head. "No. We both know that there's more to it than just.."

"-fucking?" Kelley offers and Christen rolls her eyes.

"Sometimes I really wonder why I was ever in love with you."

"You were?"

"Of course I was, Kell. Maybe I didn't know it at that time, but I for sure was." Christen says, grabbing Kelley's hand.

"Uh, do you guys want me to like leave?" Tobin asks, leaning forward and looking at them both.

Christen laughs and crawls over Kelley to sit in between them. "No, Toby. You're my best friend, you know everything anyway."

"I don't know if you and Carli are officially together though."

"You know you're both morons?" Christen asks, looking between Tobin and Kelley and holding both their hands. "Carli and I have decided to talk about everything after the World Cup. Our focus for the past months has been this tournament and making sure we win. There's enough time to talk about it afterwards."

"Do you have a 'no sex at camp/the tournament rule' like Ali and Ash?" Kelley asks and Christen blushes.

"You both know way too much about my sex life, so I'm gonna pass on that question." She replies, grabbing the remote and pressing play again.

 

June 16th 2019

Playing against New Zealand is different than playing against Spain. Christen has friends on both teams, but it feels different. Maybe it's the fact that suddenly 22 players on the field are screaming in English.

Christen watches with a smile from the sideline as Kelley hugs Ali Riley right before the start, but then it's back to being enemies and wanting to win.

Christen is sitting between Alex and Ash and after 13 minutes they both angrily hit Christen's thighs with their fists. "Sorry." They both mumble, still staring daggers at Hannah Wilkinson, but Christen decides to not risk getting hit again, so she gets up and squeezes herself between Carli and Crystal. They both wrap their arms around her twenty minutes later, when Lindsey's wonderful head connects with Emily's cross.

Christen stays between Carli and Crystal for the second half as well and when she watches Alex and Ash hit each others thighs in the 67th minute, she's glad she changed seats. Christen wants to be mad at Ali for scoring, but it was such a beautiful goal and she's Ali Riley and Christen loves her dearly, but right now they aren't cardinals and teammates, so Christen shakes her head and leans back, her shoulder pressed against Carli's.

Both Andi and Alex come on and immediately connect beautifully, Andi passing Alex the ball and Alex sliding it past the goalkeepers fingers.

The game ends in a tie and Christen jogs towards Ali, wrapping her into her arms.

"Great goal, Ali!" Kelley joins them and pats Ali's head with a laugh. "Couldn't you have scored against Ghana though?"

 

Christen's family comes to France before the last group game against Ghana, her sisters and her Dad and Nima and her brother in law and Christen misses her Mom more than ever.

"I'm here for you, if you need anything." Carli tells her that night at dinner and Christen just wraps her arms around her.

Kelley doesn't say anything, she just squeezes Christen's hand and nods her hand. She doesn't have to say anything though.

Christen tries not to cry that night, but she can't help it. Tobin puts her bible aside and crawls into Christen's bed, holding her tight.

 

When she wakes up, Christen decides to dedicate the rest of the tournament to her Mom.

 

June 20th 2019

The US and New Zealand are tied with 4 points and technically all four teams can qualify for the Quarterfinal, so the pressure to win the last game of the group stage is immense. There's a weird tension in the lockerroom before the game, but then Emily throws a waterbomb (no one knows how or why she has a waterbomb) at Alex' back as she's putting on her jersey and the pure look of shock and "WTF" on Alex' face as she turns around is all it takes for everyone to break into laughter, stopping only when they're already in the tunnel.

Alex puts her arms on Tobin's and Christen's shoulders right before the game, squeezing them with a smile. "Let's win this game."

"Aye, captain."

Alex ends up assisting both Tobin and Christen.

Christen doesn't run around after her goal, she just looks at the sky and smiles and then the team jumps onto her.

Carli comes on for Andi in the second half and four minutes later Christen crosses the ball towards the middle and Carli shoots it into the goal mid-run, tumbling into Christen's open arms before everyone else comes crashing into them.

When Amy comes onto the field for Tobin in the 80th minute, they quickly hug, before they take each others hand and Amy jumps onto and Tobin off the field. When Amy scores a few minutes later, she runs towards the sideline, jumping into Tobin's arms.

 

June 24th 2019

"Considering how fucked up my ankle was a few months ago I'm pretty proud right now."

"You better be, Kell. You've started every game so far."

"I did." Kelley's smile gets bigger and bigger. "Fuck, Chris, I'm a starter at a World Cup."

Christen can't help but laugh. "Indeed you are, Kelley. Now go and play another game."

 

Kelley assists Julie two minutes into the game against Italy in the Round of 16. Fivteen minutes later Emily assists Carli two a 2-0 lead.

"We're the assist couple." Emily says at halftime, highfiving Kelley with a laugh.

Two minutes into the second half Kelley assists Julie again. Fivteen minutes later Emily and Carli combine again for a 4-0 lead. They really are the assist couple right now.

Sam gets punched into the nose a few minutes later and won't stop bleeding, so Moe gets on for her. Alex subs on for Mal and two minutes later Moe assists her on a beautiful volley goal. Two minutes before the game should end, Moe gets fouled by an Italian player and her ankle twists in a way it shouldn't. There's a red card and a freekick and Rose comes on for the last few minutes.

The game ends 5-0, Sam looks like she has tampons stuffed up her nose and Moe has her ankle wrapped in ice.

 

June 28th 2019

The Quarter-Final against Germany feels like a Final itself. After all, it's Germany.

Christen has her headphones on before the game and as she's listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, her smiles grows bigger and bigger. There's a tap on her knee and when she opens her eyes she sees Carli in front of her.

"Hey you." She says, sitting down next to Christen.

"Hey." Christen stuffs her headphones into her locker and looks at Carli. "How do you feel?"

Carli bumps her knee against Christen's. "Honestly? I feel happy."

"Yeah?"

Carli nods. "Yeah. I'm at my fourth World Cup. I can still score goals. I have great friends, a great team. And I.. I have you." She adds quietly, sounding more like a question, casting a careful glance at Christen.

Christen smiles and grabs Carli's hand. "And you have me. Now let's win this game."

 

The first half is rough. Several chances on each side, but both teams have strong backlines and whenever someone manages to get through them, Alyssa and Almuth Schult are there to make a save. Emily, Julie and Pinoe have gotten yellow cards, as well as three German players.

"We need to play calm." Becky says at halftime, looking at everyone.

"Calm, cool, collected." Kelley adds and Becky nods her head.

"Exactly. We can do this, guys."

 

The second half isn't any different. More chances, more saves, more fouls.

And then there's Pinoe's scream.

She gest carried off the field on a stretcher.

For the last 25 minutes, the game gets even more rough, each team trying to finally score. A few minutes before the second half ends, Alexandra Popp and Andi both try to head the ball, both missing and hitting each others heads instead. There's blood everywhere and they're both on the ground next to each other, holding their heads. Players from both teams gather around them. Medical staff is with them immediately and it's soon obvious that they can't continue to play. Christen helps Popp up and her and Sara Doorsoun lead her off the field, while Julie and Dzsenifer Marozsan help Andi.

The remaining minutes until the whistle consist of just passing the ball around. No one dares to start an attack, no one dares to get too close to each other.

 

"We don't want to go to penalties." Alex stands on the bench in front of her locker. "We need to score. And I know that we can do it. We're the best team in the world. We're gonna win this game. Team on 3! 1 2 3!"

"TEAM!"

 

Playing 90 minutes is exhausting, but playing 110 is even more exhausting. Everyone just wants to finally score, but the game continues to be so careful it's hard to even create chances.

Then there's a corner for the US and everyone gathers in front of the goal. Tobin adjusts the ball at her feet. Christen exchanges a nod with Carli, both determined to win. Then Carli takes a few steps to the side, away from her defender. Tobin plays the ball quickly towards Carli, surprising everyone with her decision. Carli turns and shoots, the ball hitting the crossbar. Lindsey tries to head the ball in, but it's fisted away by Schult and lands at Carli's feet again. Carli passes the ball to Christen, who tries to think of a way to get the ball behind what seems like six defenders. Then she hears a shout from behind "Chris!" and she knows what to do. Christen kicks the ball back with her heel and only seconds later she sees the ball flying past her and through Schult's outstretched fingers into the back of the net.

Christen turns and the smile on Kelley's face is huge as she jumps onto Christen, pressing a kiss to her sweaty forhead. Then the whole team comes running and there are hands everywhere, trying to reach Kelley's head or Christen's shoulder.

There's determination in everyone's steps now. Less than ten minutes are left to play. All they have to do is keep the lead for a few more minutes.

Then Christen hears her name again. "Chris!"

She looks up and sees Kelley with the ball, sending it forward. Christen catches the ball with her chest while turning and before it can even hit the ground she volleys it into the goal.

With outstretched arms Christen starts running, everyone chasing after her towards the sideline where she jumps into Ash's arms and everyone starts jumping and screaming around them.

 

"Holy shit." Kelley says, leaning back against her locker in shorts and a sports bra, jersey tangling from her fingers. "What a game."

"What a game." Emily repeats, sitting down next to Kelley. "And you scored, against Germany, in a World Cup. Again."

"Again." Kelley stares at Emily with wide eyes. "Holy shit. You better start thinking about my reward." She says with a laugh and wiggles her eyebrows at Emily.

"We better first win this World Cup, Kel." Alex says with a laugh, throwing her socks at Kelley. "There's enough time for rewards after that."

Kelley rolls her eyes, but still winks at Emily, swatting her butt as she walks back to her locker.

"I know we will win this World Cup, Lex." Kelley throws Alex' socks back. "Me scoring against Germany is a sure sign."

 

July 2nd 2019

Moe's ankle is still swollen, Sam's nose is still blue, Andi just got stitches on her forehead and Pinoe's probably going to be out for a while. The Semi Final against England is for sure going to be a rough game.

Becky is leading the team as a captain today and her speech to the team before the game is calm and comforting.

The game is, well, not rough. It's beautiful. Christen's sitting between Carli and Alex on the bench and they have to admit that the football in front of them is one of the best football they've seen so far at the tournament. With beautiful and talented play comes goals and at halftime it's 1-1 with Julie and Lucy Bronze scoring. The second half doesn't look very different from the first. When Mal scores, the whole US team is on their feet, but then Jodie Taylor scores a few minutes later and it's back to a tie.

Alex, Carli and Christen get subbed on and then the game goes into overtime.

Shortly before the first half of overtime ends, Christen fights herself free from three defenders and makes a run towards goal. She sees Carli to her right and passes her the ball.

Christen chases Carli who runs into Julies arms and the whole team jumps onto them, already feeling the final.

It's the 119th minute and there's three minutes of time added on. All they have to do is pass the ball around and make sure England doesn't score. But then Tierna makes a small mistake and Toni Duggan has the ball and equalizes the game.

Becky has her hands on Tierna's face and is talking to her, while Tierna just nods her head.

"We got this, guys, there's still time left!" Kelley shouts, clapping her hands together.

No one wants to go to penalties.

30 seconds before the end of the game, Christen intercepts a pass from Steph Houghton and shoots with all the force she can master. The ball sails towards the goal and the goalkeeper just gets her fingers on it to send it behind the goalline.

Corner.

Tobin is quick to grab the ball and everyone's gathering in front of the English goal, even Alyssa is in the English half.

Tobin raises her hand and shoots.

Players are jumping and maybe pushing a bit, but then Tierna rises up and heads the ball into the back of the net.

Her eyes are wide, as if she can't believe she just scored, and then the whole team is running and jumping onto her. The referee blows the final whistle and now everyone who was standing at the sidelines is jumping onto Tierna as well.

 

July 7th 2019

The finale against Sweden is a complete turnover to the game at the Olympics. This time the Swedes are fierce and attacking and always putting pressure on the US-defense.

There's a corner after thirteen minutes for Sweden and when Magdalena Eriksson's head connects with the ball, they know they need to step up their game.

It takes until the 37th minute to tie the game. Becky starts a beautiful run from the back, dribbling through the Swedish midfield, before she passes the ball to Rose who scores.

 

At halftime Alex readjusts her captain's armband and gathers the team around her.

"We can do this guys. We're gonna win this game. I know it."

 

Five minutes into the second half Stina Blackstenius makes it 2-1 for Sweden.

 

Shortly after they're in front of the US goal again. There's a long ball and Alyssa jumps up to catch it the exact moment Fridolina Rolfö tries to shoot the ball. Her foot connects with Alyssa's chest instead of the ball and they both fall to the ground. Alyssa curls into a ball and grimaces in pain. Rolfö puts a hand onto her shoulder and motions for the medical team to come onto the field. There's a yellow card for Rolfö and Alyssa keeps shaking her head and wincing in pain every time the medical staff tries to touch her chest. Kelley makes a substitution motion towards the bench and then someone comes onto the field with a stretcher and Alyssa gets carried off the field and Ash has to warm up quickly and sub into the game. Her eyes are wide, but her voice is confident when she takes the freekick and passes it to Julie. The whole backline seems to be marching towards the Swedish half and Julie passes the ball to Becky. Becky takes a quick run deeper into the Swedish half and then she shoots the ball forward. It's intended for Lindsey, but she misses it with her head and then the goalkeeper misses it with her hands as well and suddenly it's 2-2.

Becky stands stock-still and her mouth hangs open in disbelief. Then the whole team comes running and jumping onto her, the bench is celebrating and even Alyssa on the ground fistbumps the air in celebration.

 

It's still 2-2 twenty minutes later but then Caroline Seger takes a beautiful shot from outside the penalty area and Ashlyn just can't get her fingers onto it.

 

Two minutes later there's a penalty for Sweden. Becky seems to have touched the ball with her arm and now it's Tierna who has her hands on Becky's face.

Ash jumps up a few times and then stands still with a stoic expression.

Seger takes a few steps back and then she shoots left and -

Ashlyn guesses the direction and jumps to her right, fisting the ball away in front of Kelley's feet who sends it forward.

 

There's six minutes of added time and they know they have to score now. They won't be lucky every time.

 

They start a counter attack and Carli shoots, but Lindahl sends it behind the goal line for a corner.

Christen takes the corner, she raises her hand and shoots. There are many players in front of the goal and somehow Carli gets her feet onto the ball and touches it once and then Alex touches it as well and suddenly it's 3-3.

 

The team gathers in a huddle before overtime starts and Alex sounds like Abby a few years ago, almost losing her voice.

 

The first half of overtime ends without any goals.

 

Then the second half starts and Seger scores after 20 seconds.

 

The game continues and when the added time of one minute gets announced it's still 3-4.

 

Then Carli passes the ball from the right side towards the center, where Christen catches the ball with her chest and before it's even hit the ground she turns and volleys it into the goal.

There's no time to celebrate, only quick pats on the shoulder as they head back to their half.

 

Then the whistle blows, signaling that there's going to be a penalty shoot out.

 

The teams line up at the centerline and put their arms around their shoulders.

 

Nilla Fischer is the first one to take a shot, she adjusts the ball, steps back, runs, shoots and -

 

1-0

 

Now Alex steps forward. She kicks the ball with force and sends it into the left upper corner.

 

1-1

 

Olivia is the next one for Sweden and she's so quick, Ash didn't even get to guess a direction.

 

2-1

 

It's Tobin's turn now and she puts the ball where she wants it, steps back and -

 

save.

 

Kosovare Asllani is up next, she takes only one step back, shoots and -

 

save!

 

Ashlyn guesses the right direction and sends the ball behind the goal line.

 

Christen feels the arm from her right side slip away and then Kelley steps forward, jumping a bit on her way towards the penalty spot.

"You got this, Kell." Christen repeats in her head and then she watches Kelley make a quick run, shoot and -

 

2-2!

 

Magdalena Eriksson is up now and she shoots and -

 

3-2

 

Julie is the next one for the US to take a penalty. She steps back, runs and -

 

save.

 

It's Blackstenius for Sweden now, she runs, shoots and -

 

save!

 

Tierna walks forward with confidence, she takes the ball, puts it down, takes a deep breath, shoots and -

 

3-3

 

They're at the sixth round of penalties now and Caroline Seger is up to take the next one. She steps forward, runs, shoots and -

 

misses wide.

 

Christen takes a deep breath and closes her eyes for a moment. She knows, if she scores now, they're World Cup Champions. All she feels are Kelley's and Carli's hands on her shoulder, all she hears is the loud roaring of the stadium. Christen opens her eyes, breathes out and takes a few steps forward. She grabs the ball and puts it down on the penalty spot. Then she turns around and takes a few steps away from the goal. She sees Kelley and Carli and the whole team standing there, watching her, cheering her on. Christen takes one last look up at the sky, takes a big breath and with a big smile on her face she turns around, runs forward and -

 

shoots.