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Too Hot to Handle

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Oliver is maybe the sweetest man ever. He’s kind and funny in that charming Dad sort of way and Kelley really isn’t spending time with him to avoid spending time with Emily. It just sort of seems like it.

 

They’d been texting.

 

Kelley and Emily had been texting ever since Kelley accidentally gave Emily her number. The initial messages had been sweet, sincere apologies for tiredness and awkwardness, but as the week had progressed there’d been flirting, lots of flirting. Enough flirting that Sonnett had thought she’d known where she stood. Thought it had been pretty obvious that she liked Kelley and had high hopes that Kelley liked her back.

 

But now? Now they’re at the game and Kelley is sat next to some guy; she’s barely even glanced over to Emily.

 

When she’d first come over, from where all the players were sat, Emily had waved a little shyly, and it had been returned. And then Kelley had sat next to an older gentleman, only glancing over every now and again, smiling softly at Sonnett before moving her eyes back to the pitch or to the man she was having a conversation with.

 

Emily understands Kelley is technically at work right now. She understands that. But earlier when they’d been texting and Kelley had told Emily to save a seat for me and I’ll tell you all the dirty secrets to winning, well, Emily had flushed red and obliged. The seat next to her was empty, she’d made sure she was at the end of the row for that very reason. She’d thought Kelley had been genuine, thought that the brunette woman would come and sit with her, for at least a little while.

 

“Rodman is so good already. She’s got to be called up to the national team soon, don’t you think?

 

…Son? Are you even watching the game?”

 

Emily draws her eyes away from where Kelley is sat, to the right several rows down on the other side of the aisle, and glances at Lindsey’s quizzical face as she feels the tug on her sleeve. “Yeah, definitely. She’s only going to get better.”

 

Lindsey raises a brow, not even slightly fooled by Emily’s absent reply. “She’ll come over soon, I’m sure. We’re not even at the half yet.” Lindsey pats Sonnett’s shoulder, turning back to the game when the collective audience groan alerts her of the foul that’s just been committed on the edge of the 18. “Just enjoy the game, Son - if you’d been watching you’d know it’s pretty intense.”

"I have been watching!" Lindsey laughs incredulously.

"No you haven't! You've been staring at her and checking your phone every 30 seconds. Why don't you just message her again instead of freaking out? Ask her what’s up?"

 

***

 

“So tell me…” he trails off until he’s sure she’s listening.

“Hmm?” Kelley flicks her eyes back to Oliver’s smiling face.

 

She’s loved being able to get to know him. When she’d realised he was widowed and his only daughter lived out of state, she wanted to make sure he had a friend. And he’s funny, eyes twinkling when he makes bad jokes, meaning there’s pretty much a permanent shine in his milky blue orbs. He's always genuine in his questioning and his answers. And Kelley would never have ever wished to be crashed into, but she finds herself more grateful for the events of her car wreckage every day.

 

Every time her phone dings, lighting up with a message from Emily like it just has, she finds herself happy it happened.

 

She shoots Oliver an apologetic quirk of the lips and glances down at her phone, looking back over to the woman who is shamelessly looking over with a questioning eyebrow raised.

 

Thought you were going to keep the seat next to me warm?

 

Her phone buzzes in her hand again.

 

I'm getting cold without you.

 

And again.

 

*it's getting cold without you.

 

She looks toward Emily once more and finds that the firefighter isn't smirking like she expected after such a flirty text, the calibre of which they've been exchanging all week, but instead looks a little hurt, a little ignored.

 

Kelley thinks of Emily as January. New Years blues, failed resolutions, and winter chills. She wants to be the person to keep Emily warm in the snowy season, wants to sit with her in front of an, incredibly safe (‘cause Emily is a firefighter) fireplace, wants them to be able to snuggle together under patchwork blankets.

 

She knows she needs to go over. Wants to even. She’s just nervous. Really nervous. In that excited, butterflies, doesn’t know quite how to approach the situation, kind of way.

 

What she hopes is a reassuring smile and a finger up to signal she’ll be over in a second is the best she can do right now.

 

"Tell you what?"

"Tell me about the pretty blonde you can't keep your eyes off. The one sat with that group of people over there." Oliver is doing his own brand of smirk, which really doesn't suit him, especially considering the large bandage across his forehead.

 

"Sorry, I don't mean to ignore you." He laughs, a big booming laugh filled with warmth; it immediately makes Kelley smile. "Oh my dear, you're not ignoring me. Anything but. You've been over here with me this whole time, when clearly there's someone else you'd rather be chatting to. So tell me..."

"I don’t know how."

"How to tell me?"

"How to chat - to her."

"Ahh, I see." He nods in understanding.

"We've been messaging each other, a lot. But it's different in person. Harder."

"But you like this girl?" Kelley bites her lip and nods, not daring to look in Emily's direction. 

 

She doesn't even consider that Oliver could react negatively to her sexuality, hopes she's reading the tone of his voice correctly, hopes he's implying what she thinks he's implying. Hopes he's not insinuating that Kelley is struggling to make a friend in that close minded way the older generation sometimes can. Because, yes making friends as an adult is hard, but she really doesn't want to be just friends with Emily.

 

She sighs.

 

"I don't even know why I'm telling you this. We just met a few weeks ago and- and..."

"And I'm an old man who knows nothing about what you're dealing with."

"No, no. I didn't mean-" Oliver just smiles, eyes still twinkling, dismissing Kelley's concerns, both vocalised and internalised, with a wave of his hand.

 

"You know when I first met my wife- Annie was her name, beautiful Annie….” he exhales and it’s like all tension leaves his body at the thought of her. It makes Kelley smile.  It makes Kelley jealous - she wants that in a relationship. It makes Kelley sad that he doesn’t have her anymore, at least, not in the same way he used to.

 

“When I first met Annie, I didn't have the courage to talk to her properly for weeks." Kelley is  willing to sit here for however long it takes Oliver to tell the story, especially if it means putting off the inevitable awkwardness that will greet her when she finally gets up the courage to go and see Emily.

 

"Annie worked for a law firm near the Capitol as a secretary. She used to frequent this bar down town where all the high fliers used to go to drink expensive whisky and gin and pretend they liked the taste. At the time I worked for a car service, driving people around. Mainly I'd do things like take people to the airport, but every night before I went home, I'd go into the bar near closing time and see who I could pick up to take home or back to their hotel. What my boss didn't know wouldn't hurt him and this way I'd get one fare a day straight into my pocket instead of just collecting a percent.

 

“Every night I'd go in and speak to the bar manager so he could point me in the direction of someone who wanted a lift, and every night there sat Annie.

 

“I was always blown away by her - every night, she blew me away.

 

“She would smile at me and I would hear the blood pumping in my ears and I'd forget how to talk. So I'd just shuffle off and take whoever it was wherever they wanted to go, and leave Annie sat at the bar. Until one night, the bar manager points at Annie, says she's the one who wants a lift. Well, I just nod, stare at her a little I guess. I don’t know what to say so I just pick up her bag and walk her out the door and into my car. She sits in the back, tells me where she wants to go and I start driving.

 

“The thing about Annie, which as her husband I grew to know very well, is that she never shut up. So she starts yabbing, asking me all these questions. I'm all monosyllabic, y'know: 'yes, miss,' 'no, miss,' until she tells me to keep my eyes on the road. And I realise I've been looking at her through the mirror this whole time.

 

“And suddenly when I wasn't looking at her, it's like my nerves disappeared, like when I wasn't looking at her I was suddenly able to, to…  get to know her.

 

“I drove her home three nights in a row. Three nights in a row I didn’t look at her and three nights in a row we laughed and learnt things about each other. On the third night I asked her on a date, she said yes and we went to dinner that weekend. And it happened again. I was sat opposite her and I couldn’t speak, it was like I had cotton in my mouth. I was looking at her and she dazzled me so much, I got so nervous, I couldn’t speak. She laughed it off and suggested we went for a walk, and I could talk again." Kelley follows Olivers gestures with her eyes, admires the way he lights up as he talks about his wife.

 

"I was so nervous for the first six dates I went on with my wife that she had to find things we could do where I wouldn’t have to look at her. We went for walks, we went for drinks and sat at the bar, we watched basketball. So many things, until I wasn't nervous anymore. Until I could look at her and be comfortable. Until there was no one else I was more comfortable around."

 

"I don't understand what you're trying to say?"

 

"I'm saying you have the perfect opportunity here. You're in a place you feel comfortable," He gestures to the field, "There's a topic of conversation right in front of you. And if you get nervous - just look away, take a second to collect yourself.

 

“But don't do what I did. Don't take too long to look back, because one day you'll wish you spent as much time as you could've taking her in." Kelley smiles and glances over to Emily, who is now absorbed in conversation with the woman stood next to her, the person Kelley guesses is Lindsey.

 

Oliver must sense her nerves. "It's okay, take your time - you can go over in a minute. First why don't you tell me about her?"

"Her name’s Emily." Oliver smiles and nods. "She's actually the firefighter that helped me out when we got into our little accident." The way Oliver laughs and claps his hands together startles Kelley at first.

"Well, this is perfect!"

"It is?"

"Absolutely! If you think for one second I'm leaving here today without meeting one of the people that helped us out that day - you're deluded, my girl." Kelley laughs.

"Actually, the group she's with? They're her colleagues, I got them all tickets to say thanks on our behalf."

 

***

 

She watches out the corner of her eye as Kelley stands, acknowledges the way her heart flutters slightly in her chest, stops herself from moving to fix her hair because she knows she actually always makes it worse when she does that. She watches as Kelley laughs down at the man fondly and helps him as he moves gingerly to his feet, grabbing a walking stick and handing it to him. She watches, trying her best to smile as they both slowly approach, walking up the steps towards her.

 

She wants to be annoyed that Kelley is bringing company. But then she looks to her left, at Lindsey whose jaw is clenched with the intensity of the game, at Tobin as she gives a running commentary of every-thing happening on field to an amused Christen, to the group of men behind her who she works in such close-proximity with, who she literally trusts with her life day-in-day-out, who she considers family. She wants to be annoyed but, really, privacy was never going to be an option for them today.

 

And the guy seems nice enough if the way Kelley’s laughing is any indicator. He certainly doesn’t look old enough to need a stick, to be leaning into it as heavily as he is. Emily guesses he’s around 60, tall enough that Kelley only comes up to just above his shoulder, and struggling to walk up the steps enough that Emily shoots to her feet and goes to offer her help, even though there’s not a lot she can do.

 

"Hi."

"Hi."

 

The smiles are awkward, but they're genuine and sweet. Emily stops a couple of steps above them and kind of jerks into action when she realises they've caught up to her.

 

"Can I help at all?" She moves next to Kelley to begin climbing the last ten remaining steps with them. "Here, give me a bag, it can't be easy carrying two with only one arm." Kelley hands over Oliver's backpack, blushing and looking to her feet when their fingertips brush.

 

"Aren't you going to introduce us Kelley?" Oliver has paused, he's not out-of-breath but he's clearly in pain. Emily watches as he mentally psych's himself up to tackle the last 5 steps of the concrete mountain, leading to where Emily and her friends are sat.

 

"Umm, yeah, of course. Sorry. Oliver, this is Emily. Em, this is Oliver – he was driving the truck the day we met." She takes his elbow to help him, threading her good arm though his and wordlessly encouraging him to lean some of his weight on her. Emily melts a bit, both at the action and the way Kelley just called her Em so casually.

 

She hides her surprise at the realisation of exactly who Oliver is and instead greets him. "Nice to meet you, sir. Christen will be pleased to see you, she's the one who helped you out that day." She points up at Chris, who has her head tilted back in laughter, both Tobin and Lindsey joking either side of her. Oliver just grins in anticipation, unable to speak right now but looking down at Kelley with all the excitement of someone 50 years his junior.

 

***

 

The way Emily watches the game has Kelley feeling at peace.

 

She watches so curiously, eyebrows furrowed, fingers gripped around a beer Kelley bought for her at half time (just because Kelley can't drink right now doesn't mean Emily shouldn't enjoy), jaw ticking in a way that is dangerously attractive every time a call doesn't go in favour of the home side.

 

Kelley is fascinated by her.

 

Fascinated by her easy body language and endless limbs, relaxed with smatterings of freckles'. Fascinated by her laugh, unapologetic and easy, naturally encouraging of others to join in. Fascinated by her smile and her mouth, by the tongue that keeps poking out to wet her lips. Fascinated by the way she leans over to speak to Kelley when the crowd gets particularly loud, breath ghosting over the shell of Kelley's ear in a way that sends shivers down her spine.

 

And now that she's with her. Now they're sat beside one another, thighs pushing together through the fabric of their jeans, feeling the warmth radiating from each other's bodies where they're pressed close in their seats, contact from shoulder to knee. Now they're here, making jokes, making comments about what's happening on the field. Now they're here, together, Kelley realises she was worrying over nothing.

 

Oliver was right, this place, this stadium, this field, the crowd, the ball, the game – it's all hers. Her territory. Her house. There's no need to be nervous in her own house.

 

Especially because here, next to Emily, she's never felt more at home.

 

***

 

Kelly has to hang around after the game. Has to stay for the team talk, to commiserate in the locker room with her teammates, discuss what went wrong and what they're going to do better next time. She won't actually be at training this week, but she'll be around for rehab so she tells them she'll see them all soon and leaves without feeling too guilty. No one sticks around for too long after a loss anyway.

 

She'd stood from her seat about ten minutes before the final whistle, told Emily she'd text her later and given her a kiss on the cheek. Reluctantly started gathering her things after having been reassured, three times by both Emily and Christen, that they'd make sure Oliver was either put safely into a cab or they'd give him a lift home themselves. She'd kissed Emily once more on the cheek for good measure, enjoying the way it made the woman blush, waved to Oliver and jogged down to concrete steps to pitch side.

 

So she's startled when she gets out into the half-deserted parking lot and a whistle causes her to look up, from where she's just ordered an uber, to see Emily leant against a car smiling widely and waving.

 

She makes her way over, her own smile only growing the closer she gets as she takes in the way Emily is leant languidly back against her car.

 

She looks really good.

 

Kelley hasn’t really been able to take her all in earlier, what with being sat most of the time and helping Oliver out. But Emily looks good.

 

She’s got ripped acid-wash mom jeans on and an off-white waffle knit sweater. Combined they work to make her arms look tanned, where she’s got the sleeves pushed up, and to make her hair look even more blonde, where it’s down in loose curls around her shoulders.

 

“Hey! I thought we said we’d speak later? I was going to call you.”

“Yeah, yeah we did. But I suddenly thought about how you can’t drive right now, so I decided I’d stick around and see if I could offer you a lift? I promise I only had that one beer.”

 

Kelley wants to kiss her. She wants to kiss her so badly.

 

“I just ordered an Uber.” She waves her phone as if to prove the point.

 “Cancel it?” It’s a question that Kelley doesn’t answer verbally, instead just unlocking her phone and hitting the cancel trip button, she doesn’t really care about her rating at this point.

 

As she’s been busy doing that, Emily has made her way closer, closed the gap in between them so that when Kelley looks up she’s close enough to touch.

 

She pockets her phone. “Did you have a good time today? I’m sorry we lost.”

 

Emily’s fingertips are a little bit cold as she lightly touches them to Kelley’s palm, moving slowly to thread their fingers together. “I had a good time. It was really great to spend some time with you.” Kelley nods, swallowing as she looks up into Emily’s eyes, notices her eyelashes and laughter lines.

 

 She wants to kiss her.

 

“I was thinking we could do it again. This week?  I’m working the weekend so maybe some time before then?” Kelley smiles and hums as Emily continues to be the brave one and moves her other hand up to tuck some hair behind Kelley’s ear, brushing the pads of her fingers against Kelley’s cheek and revelling in the way it makes the older woman’s eyes flutter shut.

 

“Maybe somewhere a bit less noisy so I can get to know you a bit better?" The way her fingertips rest on Kelley’s neck, thumb stroking her jaw makes it feel as though Kelley’s head may float away. "I want to get to know you better. What do you think Kel?”

 

She just wants to kiss her.

 

“I-“ her voice is croaky as her eyes flit down to Emily’s lips, as she watches Emily’s eyes flit down to hers.  “Yeah…- yes. What about a walk or coffee or something?” Emily nods.

 

“That sounds good.” Emily licks her lips. “I’ll text you about it later?” Nodding, Kelley is barely aware of herself moving closer.

 

The stand silent for a moment. Emily’s thumb grazing Kelley’s jaw, breathing each other in steadily.

 

“Kel?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m going to kiss you now, if that’s okay?”

“Yeah- I… please.”

 

***

 

Emily isn’t a month.

 

She’s the morning sun that shines through Kelley’s blinds, creating warm patches of skin wrapped up in sheets and limbs. She’s the night sky keeping watch over the more careless habits Kelley passes onto their kids.

 

 She’s winters, wrapped up in bundles of clothing, teaching how to build fires safely, making sure the embers are burning to keep Kelley toasty. She’s spring, surprising Kelley with handpicked wildflowers and cheesy romantic pickup lines. She’s summer long weekends away, camping in humid tents, fighting mosquitoes and quelling fears over wildlife. She’s autumns spent kicking up piles of leaves for Bagel to chase during afternoons wandering through the park.

 

She’s Valentine’s Day. She’s Easter. She’s Mother’s Day. She’s thanksgiving. She’s Christmas.

 

She’s every banal Monday or Thursday or Saturday. She's every average day that is still filled with smiles and laughter and love.

 

Emily isn’t a month on a Calendar.

 

She’s the whole damn year.

 

She’s a lifetime of years.

 

***