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Coming Home

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I used to believe in us
When times got tough.
Lately I’m afraid
That even love is not enough.

But if you can look in my eyes,
And tell me we’ll be all right,
If you promise never to leave,
You just might make me believe.

 

April, 2027

“Kelley!  Kell, wait up!” Emily trots behind, trying to catch up to the shorter woman’s lengthened and purposeful strides.  Kelley’s on a mission, to get as far away from the cluster of offices as she possibly can. She headed straight out of their therapist’s office, letting the door swing shut behind her instead of holding it for Emily as she all but raced for the parking lot, ignoring Emily’s pleas to stop, to slow down, to talk to her. She isn’t able to grab Kelley’s hand until she’s almost made it to the car, but when she does, she tugs the brunette back towards her, a little forcefully, because it’s the only way to break her singular focus on escaping. “Hey,” she says softly, trying to get her to cool down. One hand offers the pressure Kelley needs, a reminder that she’s still here, they’re here together and she doesn’t need to run. The other provides steady, soothing strokes along her forearm.

It doesn’t work for more than a few seconds, just long enough for Kelley to take a deep breath that doesn’t calm her any more than Emily can.

“Take me home,” Kelley rips her hand from Emily’s grasp, and before Emily can stop her, she’s slammed the car door behind her. By the time Emily is in the driver’s seat, Kelley’s arms are crossed tightly over her chest and she’s staring out the window.

Emily knows she’s already shut down, but she tries anyway because she promised she’d never stop trying again. “Kell, she doesn’t know us. She-”

“She said we jumped back into this too fast.” Even more worrisome than Kelley’s typical fire, her affect is flat now, and she doesn’t even bother turning towards Emily as she speaks, seemingly preoccupied by the clouds. “She said we’re going to fail again. She said-”

“I don’t care what she said. She’s not us,” Emily interrupts her, and that – the interruption, not the actual words – is enough to get Kelley to finally look at her. “She doesn’t know how much we love each other. She doesn’t get it.” No one does, not the way that she loves this woman so deeply and so completely, with all of her scars and walls and insecurities.

“Will you drive, please?” Kelley asks, resting her head against the window and closing her eyes in a way that says she’s done, done – with the conversation for sure; with more, possibly.

All the progress they’ve made over the past two and half months of preseason seems to have washed down the drain in an instant – again – this time thanks to the words of someone who was supposed to help make them whole. One small step forward, one giant leap back - over and over, like a viscous cycle they can’t escape. Emily wonders how many more times they can do this. She’s not worried about herself, but rather about when Kelley’s going to realize that they’re so far back from the place they started that she’ll just give up, for real this time. The repetition of their fear-driven mistakes isn’t even all Kelley’s fault. Their eyes met in Marietta Square, and then their lips, and Emily panicked. They went to breakfast, talked about forever too soon, and then something changed for Kelley. Emily kept her from physically running away in Atlanta only for the distance that grew between them while they were apart to feel as wide as the Pacific Ocean. And all the work they did taking their time to relearn each other's bodies and hearts just came unraveled in a single session. “We’ll find a new therapist. She hasn’t lost a child. She doesn’t know-”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Take me home.” Kelley sinks lower in her seat.

Home.

The most powerful word in the English language.

Emily stares at her, completely lost. Home like her parents’ house? The hotel where she has a room with the team, her uneasiness with this, despite Emily racking up the most frequent flyer miles of her career going out to see Kelley every single weekend up until their season officially kicked off, causing her to keep one foot out the door? Or home home? Is it possible that she’s calling Emily’s condo home? She’s almost too afraid to ask.

But she doesn’t have to.

“You know what?” Kelley sits straight up and glares at Emily with that familiar fire behind her eyes. “You want this to work? Or to try to make this work?” she angrily challenges, because in her heart, she already believes the answer to her demand is going to be a no. “Take me to the cemetery.”

The place Emily refused to go with her. When Kelley needed her wife the most, she stayed in the car. Claimed she didn’t need closure. Left her to bear it alone – with family, technically – but none of them mattered to Kelley that day; Emily was the only one that mattered.  There was no coming back from having to live through that day without her wife to help bury their child.

But this time, Emily isn’t about to let some stranger come between them or any amount of pain dictate their future. If this is what it takes to prove to Kelley that their love is strong enough to overcome everything, she’s not about to hesitate. She turns the key in the ignition, checks over her shoulder, and puts the car in reverse.

 

The car’s barely stopped, two tires off the gravel road and onto the grass, before Emily’s seatbelt is off and she’s around to the passenger side, opening Kelley’s door for her and offering a hand. That hand acts as a lifeline that always seems to appear for Kelley lately, just in case she needs it, and always exactly at the right times. Today, Kelley needs that hand more than ever, but she almost doesn’t take it. The betrayal from years ago that mixes in with the relief and support she’s being offered now washes over her and makes her lightheaded.  But when she finally pushes past the uneasy feeling in her stomach and gives in, that hand is as familiar as ever: warm, a little rough, the strong grip that she needs to give her the strength to walk up the grassy hill.

“It’s not like I haven’t been here,” Emily says quietly, barely over the sound of a persistent red-headed woodpecker tap-tapping away at the tree that branches out over their daughter’s headstone. “I come here a lot.”

Kelley doesn’t quite know what to make of that. Emily couldn’t come the one time Kelley needed her to, yet on her own, she seems to have made peace. And Kelley’s happy for her because her ex-wife needed to, at some point, but it stings to find she did it on her own. They should have done it together.

“I come on the day we conceived her. What should have been her birthday. Christmas. Thanksgiving, because I’m thankful you got to witness her take a breath and because I’m thankful you were holding her when…” Emily’s voice cracks, “… so she wasn’t alone. I come on your birthday, because I can’t be with you, and she’s the closest I could get. I come here on the anniversary of the day we lost her. And anytime I’m having a bad day. I talk to her when I feel lost or hopeless. I know it’s dumb...”  She notices Kelley’s eyes fixated on the flowers in the cone vase.  “I’m sorry they’re fake. The cemetery won’t allow real flowers because they… because they die,” she continues. “They said people don’t keep up with them. I would… I would have if they’d let me, but…”

“It’s ok, Em.”

But it’s not. The longer she stands there, the more rage builds up inside her. Kelley still hates her, even though she was able to bury it for so long, focusing all of that hatred on herself and her sins. She’s hated Emily for years. Never forgiven her for shutting her out when she needed her the most. For putting her in the position she eventually found herself in. Never moved past the idea that yes, she was the one who cheated, but that day, the day that they – that Kelley – buried their daughter, all Emily had to do was get out of the car. She had the chance to stop their implosion, to make the choice that would have saved their marriage, and she didn’t. Said it was too hard. Said she didn’t need to. Couldn’t care enough in that moment to do something for someone else. That was their point of no return, not that day in the hospital, and not that night in their bedroom. Yet she’s had the nerve to come back here over and over and over. Too late. Alone. Because she eventually realized she needed it. Kelley can’t hold her fury in any longer, her screams piercing through the pleasant springtime sounds of a beautiful Georgia day. “Fuck you. Fuck you! Fuck you fuck you fuck you!” Her pain mixes with her words, and her words mix with hot tears, and her tears mix with rage as her fists pound into Emily’s chest.

Fists that will leave bruises for Emily’s teammates to see in the dressing room tomorrow when she pulls on her jersey. Bruises that will be worthy of not just a questioning look from a few of them, but a question from one, and Emily will brush it off as various knocks and elbows she took in training without ever blinking. She’ll walk out into the tunnel before anyone presses her further, because this? These fists responsible for what will soon be faint bluish-purple orbs on pale skin, stretched thin across her breastbone, feel like the very least she deserves. So she stands there and takes it, eyes closed, unmoving, and without a word, with no thought of grasping Kelley’s wrists to stop her. She could easily end the onslaught, but she doesn’t want to because she couldn’t stand there three years ago. Couldn’t hold her wife up. Failed at the worst possible time.  The force coming from Kelley pounding against her chest is nothing more than a reflection of the hatred Emily has for herself. It’s hard to tell if the pain is her flesh or the deep cuts to her heart from the sound of Kelley’s own agony finally out in the open in the daylight.

Sometime after the searing pain numbs, Emily realizes Kelley is leaning against her chest, breathing hard and sobbing uncontrollably through a string of mumbled apologies. Emily pulls her clenched fists from her pockets and wraps her long arms around the smaller woman, hugging her tightly against her aching chest. “It’s ok. Kell, it’s ok, baby.”

“It’s not,” Kelley sniffles, a blubbering mess.  “This is why she said we shouldn’t be together. It’s not enough that I love you. Look at us.”

“No, baby. This is exactly why we should be together. We’re doing the hard work in our own way.”

“I can’t. This is… no,” Kelley continues, inconsolable, because anything that brings out that kind of unforgivable response can’t be right.

“Kell, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.” Kelley pulls away from her, eyes bloodshot and forehead creased. “I’ve been waiting for you to get your feelings out. To stop trying to bury them. To admit that this wasn’t all your fault. This is what we needed to be able to move on. We don’t need some crappy therapist. We need us. We need to love each other enough to promise we won’t give up just because it gets hard like this. You feel deeply, too intensely, but it’s who you are, who you’ve always been. It’s why I fell in love with you. This is how you’ve been needing to get your feelings out – for years – and you finally did. You let me take some of the blame, let me have some of the burden today. This… this is what we needed,” Emily wipes at her own eyes.

“Can we please go home? Please?” Kelley begs through tears, refusing to acknowledge any of Emily's logic.

Emily doesn’t have to wonder this time what home means.

Her condo is their home.

Kelley has two homes now, and while it’s not the same as having one shared one, it’s progress. There’s a place in Georgia she considers hers again. A few months ago, that was inconceivable.

*****

“I’m sorry,” Kelley mumbles, and Emily can feel warm, wet tears on her neck again. Kelley’s been crying off and on since they got home earlier in the afternoon, and while Emily doesn’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, she also can’t get past the ache she’s had behind her own eyes all day because she can’t stop thinking about how Kelley has been constantly suffering.

“Sweetheart, I’ve already told you it’s fine,” Emily runs her fingers through long, thick, brown hair, wet around the temples from new tears.

“No, but I’m sorry,” Kelley continues, lightly tracing an already-faint bruise on Emily’s chest. Most are covered by her sports bra, but a few are peaking out from the edges of the fabric, impossible to ignore. “You don’t need all this to deal with. You’ve got a game tomorrow.”

“You have a game tomorrow too, so stop apologizing and let’s finish the movie.”

“It’s not like I have to do anything. I just sit there. You have to play,” the older woman mumbles.

Emily snorts because she knows that’s not true. Kelley doesn’t sit the entire game unless Laura gets off her cooler and she’s forced to, and that’s rare. She’s the same way on the sidelines as she was on the field. Loud. Obnoxious. Arms flailing. Face not hiding any of her many emotions. Screaming at officials, but still able to talk herself out of a card most times, so there’s that saving grace. Emily knows this because she watched it all, every game that Kelley’s coached. The camera only cuts to her on the sidelines every once in a while, but Emily can still read her every emotion, even when she’s nothing more than a blurry figure in the background. It’s brought laughter in low moments, tucked under the covers in the dark, watching Kelley talk mad shit to officials, her face getting redder and redder by the second. She replayed the video of Kelley’s red card enough to be responsible for a several hundred of the views on Twitter. Emily knew instantly that it was tactical, done to inspire a comeback from her team, and it worked, but it didn’t make the situation any less funny. “Do you want me to make more popcorn?” she changes the subject. Kelley shakes her head and instead rolls the taller woman half on top of her like she’s a weighted blanket. “Wanna turn the movie off and go to bed then?”

Kelley looks up at her with these astonished, almost grateful eyes, like despite the fact that Emily hasn’t left her side all day, she still has serious doubts that the blonde would want to share a bed with her tonight. She had every intention of curling up on the sofa alone for the remainder of her trip. “I’m so sorry, Em, I-” she starts again, only to be cut off.

“I don’t care. I don’t know how to get that through this thick, thick skull,” Emily grins, knocking lightly on Kelley’s head. She pushes herself off the couch and begins dragging Kelley down the hall towards her bedroom. “I don’t care if you need to rage over and over again. I just need you to get it out – all of it – so we can move on. I’m not trying to rush you, I don’t care how long it takes for you to stop hating me-”

“I don’t hate you,” Kelley stops her.

“You did though.”

“I did for a long time,” Kelley admits. “But I don’t anymore.” She means that. She feels something beyond exhausted now. Defeat. Maybe like a failure, the same way she felt when she lost their baby, and again when she lost Emily. But she doesn’t feel hate.

“Well good,” Emily kisses her forehead. She doesn’t believe it, but she needs Kelley to think she does. “Can you stop hating yourself now, too?”

That’s so much harder than finally forgiving Emily

“Because I don’t, baby. I don’t hate you even a little bit. So I feel like if I love you, you can love yourself.” Kelley nods in agreement, against Emily’s chest to hide her doubt. Emily doesn’t believe that either, but she’s no choice but to go along with it.

 


 

When Kelley returns from her early morning run, the scent of coffee fills her nose, keying her in on the fact that Emily is awake only seconds before she hears the quiet strumming of a guitar coming through the open French doors leading out to the balcony. She toes off her running shoes and silently slides across the hardwood. Emily’s sitting in the near-dark, the only light coming from the sun peaking out above the horizon in the distance and her dimmed laptop screen beside her. There’s a cup of coffee on a small table in front of her, a guitar across her lap, and sad tones leaving her lips. It takes Kelley a minute to process the situation because the Emily she knew couldn’t play an instrument to save her life, but here she is, sitting cross-legged, and at least managing chords.

“Blades of grass on tiny bare feet. I look at you and you’re looking at me,” Emily continues, her voice still rough from sleep, or crying, or both. “Could you beam me up? Give me a minute, and I don’t know what I’d say in it. Probably just stare, happy just to be there, holding your face. Beam me up. Let me be lighter, I’m tired of being a fighter. I think a minute’s enough. Just beam me up.”

Kelley lets her finish, but it feels like reading someone’s diary, standing in on a private moment like this. She can’t stop herself though, can’t back away and head for the shower, Emily’s voice pulling her in and holding her there like a hand around her throat, aching and making it hard to breathe. Emily doesn’t notice her until she drops her hand to her shoulder a few lines into another song. She spins in her seat, incomprehensible stuttering replacing lyrics.

“Don’t stop,” Kelley says softly, “I just didn’t think it was fair to keep listening without you knowing I was home.” But Emily makes no move to continue. “Why this?”

“Huh?”

“Why this song? You have to know bunches of songs, so why this song?”

Emily shrugs and looks away like she’s not sure if she wants to answer, but she really just needs time to gather her words. “I thought about it back then. I think about it still. What if I hadn’t destroyed you and you had been able to fight me when I told you to leave? Or if you thought we were still worth fighting for? What if instead of telling you to go, I had been the reason you stayed? Because the truth is, you already had one foot out the door when I walked in that night, and so did I. You should have. I deserved that. But you didn’t deserve what I did. And now… now I can’t stop thinking what if I could be good enough that you could be all in? Doesn’t matter to me that it’s three years later. I feel like I’m failing you. All over again.”

“You’re not failing me. I feel like I’m the one giving you all the reasons in the world to give up on us. Like, I should just make this easy for you. I don’t mean to make it hard, I really don’t. I just can’t. I don’t know how. But you deserve easy.” Emily reaches out and takes Kelley’s hand, but stays silent because there’s no point in trying to convince her that’s she’s wrong. And maybe she’s not wrong. “You wanna play it again?” she asks, giving Emily’s hand a squeeze.

Emily just shakes her head, embarrassed.  “No,” she finally says. “I’m not good. I can’t even play… I just miss- miss- missed you playing.”

“You were doing just fine.”

“No, I can’t. I just thought… fuck…” Emily shakes her head. “I thought what if I adopt kids, you know? I want them to have music in their lives. I want them… I wanted them to have what you could give them… but,” she rubs her face and bites down on the inside of her index finger – hard – in frustration, “but I’m not good. You play.” Emily tries to hand the guitar to Kelley.

Kelley moves the coffee mug to the floor and sits on the table, studying Emily intently for a moment before shaking her head. She hasn’t played in years, and the callouses on her fingers have long-since healed. “Please? I’ll sing it with you.” She reaches out and grabs the capo off of Emily’s guitar. “But that’s too low for me.”

Emily takes a deep breath and clears her throat, starting the song again, much slower than before, like she’s unsure. “You’re givin’ me a million reasons to let you go.”

Kelley closes her eyes, taking in Emily’s raspy voice and the words that are already breaking her heart.

“You’re givin’ me a million reason to quit the show. You’re givin’ me a million reason, give me a million reasons.” Kelley leans forward and touches Emily’s knee as she sings, and opens her eyes as she finishes the line. “Givin’ me a million reasons, about a million reasons.”

“If I had a highway, I would run for the hills,” Kelley’s voice blends with the final note that Emily hangs onto. “But if you could find a dry way, I’d forever be still. You’re givin’ me a million reasons, give me a million reasons. Givin’ me a million reasons, about a million reasons.”

“I bow down to pray, I try to make the worst seem better. Lord, show me the way to cut through all her worn-out leather.”

The sounds of the guitar fade in Kelley’s mind and all she can hear is the pain in Emily’s voice as she continues. The reality. Of how much she time she probably has spent on her knees since their reunion, begging the God she still believes in to help her find a way through all of Kelley’s messiness and well-fortified defenses. “I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away. But baby, I just need one good one to stay.”

“Head stuck in a cycle, I look off and I stare. It’s like that I’ve stopped breathing, but completely aware. ‘Cause you’re givin’ me a million reasons, give me a million reasons. Givin’ me a million reasons, about a million reasons.”

Kelley clears her throat before she comes in again. It’s harder than she thought it would be, and even more impressive that the blonde is managing to sing and play without breaking down. “And if you say somethin’ that you might even mean, it’s hard to even fathom which parts I should believe. ‘Cause you’re givin’ me a million reasons, give me a million reasons. Givin’ me a million reasons, about a million reasons.”

“I bow down to pray, I try to make the worst seem better. Lord, show me the way to cut through all her worn-out leather. I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away. But baby, I just need one good one to stay.”

“Oh baby, I’m bleedin’, bleedin’.” This time, Kelley can’t stop her voice from cracking.

“Stay.” It’s long and painful and it takes everything Emily has to not stop.

“Can’t you give me what I’m needin’, needin’.”

“Every heartbreak makes it hard to keep the faith.”

“But baby, I just need one good one, good one, good one, good one, good one, good one.”

Emily’s voice grows with the intensity as she strums harder, getting lost in it all. “When I bow down to pray, I try to make the worst seem better. Lord, show me the way to cut through all her worn-out leather. I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away. But baby, I just need one good one, good one.”

“Tell me that you’ll be the good one, good one.”

“Baby, I just need one good one to stay.” They finish the last line of the song together, Emily’s eyes closed, Kelley looking directly at her, waiting.

Emily takes a deep breath and slowly opens her eyes to meet Kelley’s gaze, and Kelley bursts out laughing. Emily stares at her for a few stunned seconds, but can’t hold her own laughter in at the sound of Kelley’s, no matter how hard she tries and how much she doesn’t understand it. “What?” she manages as she catches her breath.

“Your,” Kelley laughs again and a snort escapes, “your accent comes out when you sing and I don’t get it.”

“I don’t have an accent.”

“I know. You don’t. Your family doesn’t. But then you sing and,” Kelley chuckles again, “you’re like… you’re like somebody whose grandparents have been raised here. Real Georgia.”

“Fuck off,” Emily shakes her head at Kelley biting her lip to keep from smiling too big, but soon, they’re both laughing again. “I am real Georgia. Minus the accent. Come here,” her voice turns quiet, and she leans the guitar against the wall, moving her laptop, and patting the seat beside her. Kelley slides over and lets Emily tuck her under her arm. They watch the sky gradually turn to hues of orange and pink for a while in silence before Emily speaks again. “That time I was in Utah and I told myself I was going to apologize to you…”

“When you asked Laura where I was?”

“Yeah. I um, I had our wedding rings. It was stupid, I don’t know what I was going to do with them. With yours. I just… I wanted you to have it back. I wanted to know if you’d take it back. Felt like if I could give it back to you, there’d be a chance, like you weren’t rejecting me completely. But then you weren’t there, and that,” Emily looks up at the ceiling and wipes her eyes, “that, that was rejection enough. So the next morning, I got up early. Well, I hadn’t really gone to sleep, but I left the hotel early before our flight and I took an Uber to that place we used to hike. I climbed up, as high as I had time for. I was gonna throw our rings off the side of the mountain.”

“It’s not a mountain.”

“It fucking feels like a mountain when you hike it. Every fucking time, it’s like my lungs were on fire and there you’d be, pushing on ahead like nothing. I hated you every time we hiked it,” Emily jokes. “Anyway, I carried those rings in my fist the whole way and I cocked back my arm to just chunk them as far as I could, and I couldn’t. Fucking white knuckles, hand cramping, couldn’t do it.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because. If me telling you I love you isn’t enough, well maybe that can be enough. It’s enough for me. It’s always been enough for me. That moment, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to move on. Wouldn’t matter how much I wanted to or how hard I tried. And I shouldn’t have tried. I hurt someone in the process. I fucking knew, Kell. And I still know. So you can push me away all you want, and you can keep looking for all these reasons that we shouldn’t try again or this isn’t going to work, but if you want a reason why it will work… there it is. I have never been able to let go of you, not when I wanted to, not when things were the worst ever, not when all I had to do was throw the last piece I had of you off the side of a fucking cliff. So you should know that means I never, ever will. You don’t have to be scared. Please let it be enough. I don’t care if we have to deal with the repercussions of what I did for the rest of our lives, Kell. I don’t care if your rage comes in waves that crash around us forever. I should have said this then and I didn’t, so I want to be clear now. I want you to stay. And I want that to be enough of a reason for you to stay. I want to be enough.”

It’s enough. And Kelley doesn’t have to say it for Emily to feel the change in her, to look in her eyes and see all the way to her soul and know that Kelley wants to stay every bit as much as she does.

“Wanna go inside?” Kelley asks softly, wiping away the single tear falling down Emily’s cheek.

Emily shakes her head. “Not yet. I missed your voice.” She reaches for the guitar and holds it out towards Kelley again.

Kelley sits up, narrowing her eyes at Emily. “What?”

“Play me somethin’.”

“Seriously?”  Emily nods enthusiastically. “I haven’t touched a guitar in ages.” But it does little to dissuade Emily, who continues to look at her with expectant eyes.  “You can play something else. You only kinda suck.”

Emily flicks her off. “I only know sad songs.”

“Clearly. We’re just destined to have a sad morning I guess,” Kelley scoots to the other end of the bench seat, giving Emily room.

“Ugh, fine!” she groans. “All the things I felt and never shared. All the times that she was lonely with me there. The tears I wouldn’t let fall from my eyes. And I let her go without a fight.”

Kelley regrets pushing her to play something else, and she can help but join in on the chorus, but as soon as Emily starts the second verse, she can’t take it anymore. She sits up laughing so she won’t cry again, and pushes her foot into Emily’s lap to stop her from playing. "That was great and all, I’m glad we can still harmonize, but I can’t with that song. It’s too much.” Kelley reaches for Emily’s coffee mug and takes a sip, smiling to herself at Emily’s frown. “Ok,” she acquiesces, handing the mug to her and moving back to the table. “I’ll play something. Just no more sad shit. What do ya want?” Emily just shrugs and Kelley rolls her eyes. Well, Kelley tells herself, she had the chance to pick a song

“No, no, no,” Emily throws her head back cackling almost immediately. “Not that. I can’t think of anything but the TikTok with the cats. No.”

“Well I don’t know anything new, so you’re stuck with all our old shit. I seriously haven’t played anything in years.” But Emily keeps staring at her, waiting patiently, and she has no other choice; Kelley never got quite good enough at saying no. “Felt the thrill of a wave on the coast in California,” Kelley croons. It’s not her first choice, but she’s not really sure what is, it’s just the first thing that she remembers, and from the beginning chords, the way Emily closes her eyes and rocks back and forth in time with the music, she can tell that the younger woman remembers it. “Felt the warmth of a Georgia breeze on a summer night. There ain’t a feeling out there that could ever compare to what a girl can do with just her two grey eyes.” She looks up into Emily’s, the way they’re shining in the glowing sunrise, smile lines evident as she gets to that line and changes a word for her, just like she used to.

“I love this song,” Emily interrupts her after the chorus, huge smile spreading across her face.

“Yeah, ok. I don’t want to sing the next verse. How about…” Kelley hums to herself for a minute as she taps her chin. “Yeah, I got it,” she winks, inspired by the way she remembers how much Emily always liked it when she rewrote lyrics of songs to fit her or their relationship. Besides, they need something more upbeat.

“My baby she’s Northwest Georgia, a Dixie land delight. Kissin’ me like molasses, slow and sweet, mmhmm just right. She’s an endless August summer, sunshine 365. When she forgets the punch line, it still gets me every time. ‘Cause I love every little, every little, every little thing about her love. Just a little, just a little, just a little ain’t enough. Gotta get a, gotta get a, get a little more of all she does. ‘Cause I love every little, every little, every little thing about her love. Yeah she’s Portland and Hiawassee, runs on coffee and red wine. Easy like Sunday mornin’ and wild like Saturday night.” Emily bounces to the song as Kelley sings, thankful the muscle memory allows them to have this impromptu jam session because it’s the most fun, and most healing thing they’ve done since they got back together.

When she finishes the song, Kelley sets the guitar against the bench seat and leans forward, hoping to meet Emily’s lips. She only gets a quick peck before Emily’s begging her for just one more song. She about to protest because she wants a shower and coffee more than just about anything right now, but then a smirk spreads across her face and she picks up the guitar one more time, strumming a long C chord. “Oooh that body’s like music to my ears.” She can barely get through the intro without laughing at how happy Emily is, so she skips to the second verse because suddenly, something else seems more important than coffee.

“You want me,” Emily gloats before Kelley even finishes the song.

“Stop flattering yourself,” the older woman says with an eyeroll as she shoves the guitar back into Emily’s hands.

“You want me. Look at me and tell me you don’t,” Emily shoots back, her confidence growing.

“I want… to take a shower.”

“That’s not a denial.”

“I’m going to take a shower,” Kelley stands, hovering over Emily for a few seconds too long and giving her a bigger opening.

“You want me to join you.”

It catches Kelley off-guard. “I- I- I-”

“You what, Kell?” Emily asks seductively, standing and leaving exactly no space between them. “Come on,” she leans into Kelley to whisper in her ear. “It’s just a shower.”

It’s just a shower.

Nothing more than Kelley closing her eyes as the warm water runs down her front and Emily washes her hair, scratching and massaging her scalp the way she used to. The way that would make Kelley involuntarily moan because it almost felt as good as other things.

Nothing more than Emily behind her, sliding soapy hands over her stomach and slowly working her way up to Kelley’s breasts, careful not to linger.

Nothing more than Emily pressing her up against the shower wall, setting Kelley’s arms over her head and taking her time as she washes her shoulders and back.

Nothing more than Kelley pushing back against her every time Emily’s hands dip to her ass or her thighs.

Emily wasn’t wrong - and both of them are painfully aware of that. Kelley wants her.

But it’s just a shower.

And Emily’s careful not to ever move in front of her, where eye contact might be too intense, where her wandering eyes might be too much, where Kelley would definitely get a clear look at the bruises across her chest and this would be over before it started.

It’s just a shower.

And then all the contact is gone and Kelley’s left feeling cold against the tile, despite the steam filling the enclosed glass area. “You can finish,” Emily turns around to lather up her own body, away from Kelley’s eyes, and giving Kelley the privacy she needs until she’s rinsed off and ready to be wrapped up in a fluffy towel.

Because it was just a shower. And they’ve got plenty of time for brunch, a pre-game nap, and maybe to finish the movie before they face each other tonight.

*****

Emily slings her duffle over her shoulder as she makes her way through the parking garage towards the elevator. Her body aches and her team lost, but all she wants is to get up to her floor and walk through the door to Kelley because the arms of that woman are more important than the outcome of any game. It’s been years since she’s been able to chase the bitter taste of a loss with something strong enough to make her forget about how poorly she played. But before she can even get to the stairwell, Lindsey’s face appears on her phone. She doesn’t even get out a “what?” before Lindsey starts in on her.

“Why was she there?” Lindsey asks, setting her jaw in defiance before Emily even has a chance to respond.

“Who?” she asks innocently.

“You know who, Son.”

“Because it’s her job?”

“It’s been her job for fucking ages. She’s never been at one of your games. Why was she there tonight?”

It’s a level of demanding Emily isn’t used to for Lindsey. “How’m I supposed to know, Linds,” Emily asks with a tired sigh.

“She didn’t try to talk to you?”

Emily doesn’t answer right away. She doesn’t know how to without either admitting what’s going on or lying. And just like she predicts, Lindsey doesn’t do well with the silence.

“Is that why you played bad?” she keeps pushing, reaching for a reason to blame Kelley.

“I didn’t play bad,” Emily protests.

“Well you didn’t play good. Not good enough to get back into the National Team mix.”

“Linds,” Sonnett rubs her forehead in frustration.

“And Mal said you didn’t stay after for the post-game meal.”

“I’m getting off the phone, Lindsey,” Emily snaps without addressing that either as she approaches her door.

“Why?”

“Because I’m going inside?”

“So take me with you,” Lindsey suggests.

“No!” Emily shouts, and immediately regrets it.

“Why not?”

“Maybe I have someone in there,” the older woman replies coyly, trying to play her annoyance off.

“Who?” Lindsey asks, a hint of happiness mixing with the disbelief in her voice.

At least she doesn’t suspect Emily’s ex-wife. “No one you know.” It’s not a lie, Emily reasons. Lindsey doesn’t know Kelley, not anymore. Not the person she’s become and not how broken she is. She only knows what Emily wanted her to know all those years ago. Besides, if she has to lie, she will lie to her best friend to protect the woman she loves. The last thing Kelley needs is Lindsey coming at her.

“So? Let me meet her.”

“No!” Emily shouts again before reining it back in. “What if she’s naked? You don’t need to see that. And she doesn’t need to see me talking to you.”

It’s enough to make Lindsey back off, the possibility of her best friend finding happiness again, so she lets her go with the promise that she’ll get details soon. Soon is relative, Emily figures.

“Honey, I’m home,” Emily calls, locking her door behind her. “Where are-” She stops short and breaks out in a fit of laughter. Kelley’s sitting on the floor, cross-legged in a t-shirt and as far as Emily can tell, no shorts, staring up at her TV. She’s chewing on a pen and has a notebook in her lap, and she doesn’t even react to Emily’s voice at first. “Babe? Hey, sweetheart,” Emily drops her bag and sits beside her, knocking their shoulders together, “what are you doing? Can’t you and Laura do this later? Or does she give you homework?”

“Shhh, hang on,” Kelley leans away, furiously scribbling something on the pad of paper before she turns to meet Emily’s raised eyebrows. “No, she doesn’t give me homework. I… this…” she looks down sheepishly at the notes scattered everywhere, “this is about you.” Emily narrows her eyes. “I know I shouldn’t, it’s just… Em… T’s not totally healthy and… especially if you could convince your coach to move you to center back… there’s just some things you could work on I think to get back.”

“Get back where, Kell?”

“You know. Into a National Team camp.”

Emily lets out a long, slow breath. The two most important people in her life have unknowingly ganged up on her in the same evening. Her first reaction to say they’ve been over it, except they haven’t been over it. She’s been over it with Lindsey. She’s been over it with herself. She’s made peace with it, but it seems like she’s the only one who has, so she leaves it. “Why’re you so close to the TV?”

Kelley glares at her for a second before huffing out an answer. “I took my contacts out and couldn’t see.”

“Come on, babe,” Emily pushes herself up to her knees. “That’s a sign. Let’s go to bed.”

“You should,” Kelley strains upward and purses her lips for a kiss.  “I’ll be there when this is over.”

Emily rolls her eyes and drops a hand to Kelley’s shoulder. “Your treachery is deepening,” she smirks.

“Hush.”

“Well I don’t know what to think about it. It’s kinda hot.”

“No, literally. I need you to stop talking, I can’t concentrate.” Emily grabs the remote from the floor beside Kelley and pauses the game. “Hey!”

“Couch,” Emily offers a hand that Kelley takes. As the older woman settles in, she heads to the bathroom to retrieve her glasses. Kelley grumbles as she puts them on. “What was that, baby?”

“Nothing.”

“You look sexy in your glasses,” Emily says with a loving look.

“I look old,” Kelley pouts. “And I was fine on the floor.”

“You look like a hot teacher. I like it,” Emily runs her fingers teasingly across the back of Kelley’s neck.

“Stop it.” But Emily doesn’t miss the slight crinkle of Kelley’s nose, the one that tells her the brunette loves the reassurance that Emily offers. “What are you…” Kelley says incredulously as Emily lays down in her lap. “Em, I’m trying to work.  For you, in case you forgot.”

She sits up a few inches, nods to the arm of the couch so Kelley knows she has a perfect perch to write on, and threads Kelley’s left hand through her hair. She wants to tell her that she doesn’t have to study film, that it’s a waste of time and they both would be better served going to bed, but she also knows this is Kelley’s way of showing her exactly how much she loves her when words are too hard. Instead, she tucks one hand under her chin, rests her other lightly on Kelley’s knee, and manages a “thanks, baby,” that she doesn’t know if Kelley even hears over the volume of her own internal thoughts.

 


“Hmm,” Emily hums, stirring as Kelley runs her fingers over still-taut abs under her shirt.

“Wake-up, baby. I gotta go,” Kelley whispers

Emily rubs her eyes and blinks away the blurriness.  “What time is it?”

“Almost 11:00.”

“Kell, your flight!”

“I’ve got an Uber that’ll be here in 10 minutes.”

“No, I’m taking you,” Emily protests. “Just- just lemme change.”

“Em, I can’t. I don’t want to say goodbye to you at the airport.  I want to say bye to you right here. Like this. Without you getting up,” Kelley strokes her cheek. “You look so comfy.”

“But…”

“I can’t do this at the airport,” Kelley lets her hand drift to Emily’s breast, smoothing over the fabric of her t-shirt.

“No, you can’t,” the defender agrees, barely able to choke the words out.

“I can’t do this at the airport,” Kelley smirks at the satisfied sigh that escapes Emily’s lips as she shifts her weight on top of the blonde and wedges her thigh between Emily’s legs. “Or this,” she buries her nose, puffing warm air into the crook of Emily’s neck. The sound of the younger woman giggling abruptly stops at the touch of Kelley’s lips on her neck.

“Fuck, Kell,” Emily’s hips jerk up off the couch.

“Thank you for breakfast yesterday.”

“Brunch.”

“And for the nap.”

“And the shower,” Emily reminds her.

“And the shower. I gotta go,” Kelley squeezes Emily’s hip as her phone dings, signaling her approaching ride.

“But-” Emily protests weakly. They’ve had lots of goodbyes over the past few months, but this one seems especially hard.

“I love you, Em.”

“I know.”

“Stop being so cocky,” Kelley chuckles.

“It’s not cocky,” Emily says with enough sincerity that Kelley believes it. “I know. I know you loved me when you hated me and I know you loved me when you were scared. I know because I never stopped loving you either. Because I couldn’t and you couldn’t.”

“So we’re going to do this? Like really do this?”

“We already are. We’re all right, Kell.”

“But… that means I’m your…” Ex-wife is out. Finally. Girlfriend doesn’t seem near enough.

“Lover?” Emily tosses out with a wink, and Kelley spurts to stop her laughter at how awkward that sounds, especially when they've still ended everything just shy of making love. “You’re my life. My person. My Kelley. But I guess we gotta grow up and use the word partner, huh?”

Partner. That’s new for them. Emily’s been her girlfriend, her fiancé, her wife. But now their responsibilities to each other, strangely, seem to run deeper. Partner feels ok. For now.

“Ok, for real, I’ve gotta go,” the brunette rolls off her, and stops her from getting up. “Stay. You’re cute like this,” Kelley smiles down at her… partner… and tucks her under a blanket thrown over the back of the couch. It’s going to be awhile until they’re able to be in the same city again; these sleepy eyes and that soft smile are what she wants to see when she closes her eyes and thinks about Emily.

“Lemme walk you to the door,” Emily tries to sit up, but Kelley’s firm hand on her chest convinces her otherwise.

“Uh-uh,” Kelley perches on the edge of the couch, leaving her hand on Emily’s chest, over her heart, before leaning down to kiss her softly one last time. “Til next time.” When she says it, it feels like there will definitely be a next time this time. “Love you.”

Emily fights every fiber in her body telling her to get up, to follow her, help her with her luggage at least, kiss her one last time, but she knows one last time will never be enough. She waits for the click of the door before letting herself fully relax, realizing she’s been holding her breath at the slim possibility that Kelley would ditch her flight and come back to cuddle for a few more hours. This living on opposite sides of the county will never work past this season, she knows, but she doesn’t know how to rectify the situation so they can end up in the same place. She groans, rubbing her eyes, and pushes herself up. Making her way into the kitchen, Emily digs around in the pantry for a few minutes before giving up and turning to the fridge. Inside are individual portions of chia pudding Kelley’s left for her. When the older women put them together, Emily is unsure, but it’s cute that she found the time to do it. With a smile, she grabs one and turns to lean against her island while she eats. It’s then she finally notices a stack of paper with rough edges, clearly torn out of a notebook, on her counter. She recognizes Kelley’s handwriting even before she leans over to pick the papers up. It’s Kelley’s notes from last night. Every wrong step she took, every time she was an inch out of position, is detailed. There are time-stamped notes about balls she played forward and the angles she took, offensively and defensively, complete with sketched out diagrams, and drills she needs to work on. As she makes her way past the first few pages, she realizes that she’s looking at notes over the last couple of games Tierna’s played in, also timestamped and every bit as detailed. This is why Emily woke up squeezed in next to Kelley on the couch; she stayed up all night analyzing old matches. At the bottom of the last page is a note written in Kelley’s perfect cursive, not her scratchy, rushed print.

 

You’re not done yet. I see it in your eyes still, the same way I saw it in your eyes four months ago that you weren’t done with me. You want to get back there, Em, and I want to help you. I know you’re scared to say you want it because you’re afraid you won’t achieve it. I know how much you fear failing, but I believe in you with my whole heart, and you’ve taught me that some risks are worth taking. Maybe it’s time to take your own advice. I’ll be with you every step of the way if you’ll let me. If that makes me a traitor, well, I guess we’ll just have to find our way to the same city next season so I can stop giving the enemy private lessons and film sessions.

I love you,

Kell

(Now call me and tell me yes.)