Kelley wishes she could say she’s surprised when she rolls over to an empty bed, but she can’t. Alex and all her things are gone, and Kelley groans. “Fuck,” she swears under her breath. Christen’s bed is still perfectly made, so she must not have come home last night, but Kelley knows better than to be worried. Not to mention she has a text from her letting her know she stayed in Alex’s bed at the ADPi house.
She throws her hair up in a bun and goes downstairs, not bothering to put on a bra or pants because why would she? She only thinks about the fact that she’s wearing an ADPi shirt when she gets to the bottom of the stairs and sees a bunch of girls in the kitchen, eating breakfast. She crosses her arms across her chest when Crystal and Steph look up, grunting their hellos.
“Nice shirt,” Carli says between sips of orange juice.
“Alex,” Kelley says, as if it requires explanation.
“Right here,” Alex says from behind her. Her hair is wet, and she’s wearing running shorts Kelley knows she got out of her dresser and the tank top she wore to bed last night. “Sorry, I woke up early so I took a shower and had some breakfast with the girls.”
“Oh, I thought you left,” Kelley says.
“Of course not,” Alex says. “But Crystal might have replaced you as my new favorite Kappa.”
“Not possible,” Kelley says, wondering if this is real, if Alex is really acting this normal the morning after… whatever that was. “Can we, uh—” She nods toward the door to the porch. Alex nods and follows her out.
“Listen, I’m so sorry,” Alex says. “Last night, that was completely unfair of me.”
“No, you were drunk,” Kelley says. “You didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Right,” Alex says, an unreadable look on her face.
“So we’re good,” Kelley says. “All is well. Did you still want to go shopping today?”
“Um, actually, I thought maybe I’d kind of do my own thing today.”
“Oh,” Kelley says, trying to mask her surprise. “Yeah, okay.”
“I just—a little space can’t hurt us, right?”
“Yeah, I need to study anyway,” Kelley says. “See you tonight?”
Alex cringes. “Tomorrow morning? At the tailgate? I just told Abby I’d hang out with her tonight.”
“Sure,” Kelley says. “Tomorrow.”
“I look that good?”
“Better,” Abby says. “I ordered for you because the line was getting long.”
“Perfect,” Alex says, trusting Abby completely to know what she’d order herself. When the waiter brings over her favorite spicy roll with tuna, crab, sriracha, and avocado, she knows her trust is perfectly placed. “How did last night end up for you?”
“It was fine, I hung out with Syd and that girl Crystal, who’s a hoot. All those Kappas you’re hanging out with are really cool, I only wish I had spent more time with Kelley, considering how close you two are.”
“Yeah,” Alex says, taking a big sip of water. “About that.”
“I know, I’m sorry for saying all that yesterday,” Abby says. “I was drunk, and it was uncalled for.”
“Drunk minds,” Alex says. “But actually—”
“Secretly I just always thought you’d be a great lesbian.”
Alex laughs, nearly choking on her sushi. “I appreciate that,” she says. “But I kind of wanted to talk to you about that.”
“Alright,” Abby says. “What’s up?”
“I told you I’d tell you if anything happened, and it kinda did last night.”
“Oh my God, what?”
“We… kissed. More like made out, actually.”
“She kissed you?”
“I kissed her.”
“Because of what I said?”
“Maybe,” Alex says. “I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s a little bit because of that. But also I think I really wanted to.”
“So how did she react?”
“Well, she kissed back,” Alex says. “And it was really good.”
“Okay, set the scene. Give me some context, was this in the Uber?”
“In her bed.”
“Damn, you went right for it.”
“Yeah, and she stopped me.”
“Presumably because you were drunk.”
“Or because she didn’t want to kiss me.”
“Any self-respecting lesbian would want to kiss you.”
“Wait, did I tell you that?” Alex asks, eyes wide. “Oh my God, please don’t tell people that, she’ll kill me, she trusted me with that!”
“No, she did. Last night. And don’t worry, I didn’t ask about you, she was just asking me things about dating and my whole college experience.”
“What’d you tell her?”
“Mostly that women are heartbreakers,” Abby says. “But when you find a good one, you have to go for it no matter the risk.”
Alex smiles sadly. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” Abby says. “Things are great. I’m more interested in you. This is kind of big. Not in a scary way, just in, like, a do you want to talk about it kind of way.”
“I don’t, really.”
“We don’t have to,” Abby says. “But do you like her? Do you like girls? Or is it just a little post-breakup girl crush?”
“Do those happen?”
“I mean, I’ve had it happen to me,” Abby says. “I dated a girl over the summer who had just ended a long relationship. It lasted a few weeks, lots of sex, some talking, but in the end her heart wasn’t really in it. It’s okay, she wasn’t trying to hurt me, and I don’t think you’re trying to hurt Kelley, but what is it?”
“I don’t think Kelley’s the one in danger of getting hurt,” Alex says quietly. “And this morning she said it’s okay because I didn’t mean anything by it, but like, what if I did?”
“Well, do you?”
“I don’t know!” Alex says, throwing her hands up in frustration. “That’s what today was supposed to be about figuring out. I went for a run and journaled and prayed and spent a lot of time alone just not talking to anyone, and nothing.”
Alex shrugs. “I tried, I don’t think I did it right.”
“I don’t think there’s a right way to do it,” Abby laughs. “But hey, whatever works.”
“I just wish it were a little easier to figure out,” Alex says. “I haven’t dated anyone ever. Servando was my only relationship, and I don’t remember even having a crush on him. He was there and he was attractive and liked me, so I dated him. I almost feel like the friendship was what kept me hanging on for so long.”
“So have you ever liked a girl before?”
“I don’t know, when I was with Serv it’s not like I was really looking for anyone, and before that—well there wasn’t anything before that, not even boys when I was younger. My sisters always thought I was a late bloomer because I just never had any interest in boys. I had a lot of friends, though, boys and girls, and I just liked playing with them. I wasn’t into anyone sexually until I was like a year into my relationship with him, and even then, it was mostly just a nice thing we did sometimes. I liked it, don’t get me wrong, I just never thought about it much.”
“So Derek was—”
“I thought he was attractive and I wanted to have sex with him,” Alex says.
“And it felt… good?”
“Until the next morning, yeah,” Alex laughs. “But it was missing the connection I had with Servando. It was basically like doing it myself. Like, physically it felt good, but it wasn’t magic.”
“And with Kelley?”
“We just kissed,” Alex says.
“Still,” Abby says. “How’d it feel?”
“Amazing,” Alex admits. “It was doing something super intimate physically with someone I feel super intimate with emotionally.”
“Yep, you’re gay,” Abby says, and Alex’s jaw drops in shock. “I’m kidding—I mean, I’m not, but it’s your call. I’m just telling you, you like her. My feelings on sexuality are that you can be gay or straight or neither or something in between, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter too much how you define yourself. I’m gay, but it doesn’t mean I feel what you felt with Kelley or what I felt with Sarah about every woman I meet. And if I met a guy who made me feel that way, him being a guy or having a penis wouldn’t stop me. It’s just never happened, and I can’t imagine it ever happening, but did you ever imagine you’d find that with a girl?”
“No, not really,” Alex confesses, wringing her hands. “But if I like her, and if I want to do more of that with her, I don’t want to lose her as a friend.”
“That’s the beautiful thing about being in a relationship with another woman,” Abby says. “I mean, that should be the beautiful thing about any romantic relationship really, getting to be best friends with that person. I know I’m not the best person to advocate relationships at the moment, but just ask Ali and Ashlyn, they seem to have a good thing going.”
“But relationships end.”
“So do friendships, but that doesn’t stop anyone,” Abby says. “Both are incredibly painful, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It doesn’t mean it’s not worth going for it.”
“And if she doesn’t feel the same?”
“Your drunk self took care of that by sticking your tongue down her throat,” Abby says. “That ship has sailed, my friend. You can pretend it never happened, you can address it and agree that it’ll never happen again, or you can agree to go for it. The worst thing she can say is no. And if she gets freaked out and runs away, maybe she wasn’t the person you thought she was.”
“That’s easier said than done.”
“Don’t I know it,” Abby says. “Trust yourself, kid. Trust your gut, your heart, God, whatever you’re into these days.”
“I trusted my gut and ended up sleeping with a guy who was in a relationship.”
Abby smirks. “Congratulations on proving my point,” she says. “If you hadn’t done that, there would be no Kelley. At least not in your life. Imagine that.”
Tobin and Syd agreed to come to the O’Hara tailgate, but neither one wanted to get up at the crack of dawn, so Alex drives herself to campus on her scooter, glad she had the foresight to wear Spandex shorts under her orange and blue gameday dress. She knows she’s wearing the proper attire for a sorority woman on a gameday, ADPi button and all, but she can’t help but feel slightly out of place among all the families and fans wearing jerseys and jean shorts.
When she sees Kelley, though, that discomfort fades away entirely. Kelley—and a girl she knows is Kelley’s sister, Erin—are wearing similar dresses, and her dad is dressed in a blue polo shirt and seersucker shorts, ever the preppy Southern gentleman.
“Al!” Kelley exclaims, brightening visibly as she walks over to greet Alex. “You’re here!”
“You sound surprised.”
“Just that you’re here so early. I thought that was just when I was going to be dragging you straight out of bed.”
“I said I would be, so of course,” Alex says, smiling as Kelley leads her over to her family.
“Guys, this is Alex,” she says. “Alex, this is my family. Mom—Karen, Dad—Dan, Jerry and Erin.”
“We’ve heard so much about you,” Karen says, greeting Alex with a hug. “I’m sure you know Kelley’s a social butterfly, but even I didn’t think she could possibly make another best friend this late in the game.”
“Kelley also lives to prove us wrong,” Dan says, shaking Alex’s hand firmly. “Would you like something to drink?”
Alex looks to Kelley, who already has a champagne flute filled with champagne and orange juice for her, and she smiles. “Mimosa,” she says. “My drink of choice for 8 a.m.”
“My kind of girl,” Erin says. “You’re going to fit in just fine here.”
And fit in she does, teaming up with Kelley against Jerry and Erin in beer pong and talking about school with Dan and pretending to gossip with Karen about the “inside scoop” on what Kelley’s been up to and hasn’t been telling her family. By noon, the family is ready to make Alex an honorary O’Hara, and Alex couldn’t feel more at home.
“This is making me really ready for Thanksgiving,” Alex says, handing Kelley another drink before sitting in the lawn chair beside her. “I miss this with my family.”
Kelley pouts. “Yeah, but that’s five days we won’t see each other.”
“FaceTime, duh,” Alex says. Kelley grabs her hand and squeezes it quickly, smiling sadly. “Don’t pout, I’ll get emotional.”
“You’re an emotional drunk.”
Alex cringes internally, but tries not to let it show. “I know. I’m sorry.” Kelley raises her eyebrows in a challenge. “I mean, I’m not sorry.”
“That’s better,” Kelley says. “I’m not going to tell you how to live your life, but just know with me, you never need to apologize.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Did you have fun with Abby?”
“Yeah, lots,” Alex says. “She said she might stop by, but she’s probably drunk by now and will totally forget.”
“We can see her later,” Kelley says, and Alex feels a familiar flutter in her stomach at the word “we.” It carries a sense of comfort, some familiarity for Alex, acting almost as some sort of reassurance that things are right between them. She doesn’t want to rock the boat anymore, so she puts Abby’s advice on the back burner.
Then begins the constant battle of where to go next. By merging their friend groups, Alex and Kelley had unknowingly made it both harder and easier on everyone each night of the week. On one hand, it’s harder to reach a consensus, but on the other, two groups can typically form for one option or the other, making everyone happy.
Tonight, the factions are a bit more splintered. Ali, Ashlyn, Kelley, Alex, Tobin, Christen, Whitney, and Ryan just want to get a bite to eat and some drinks, and the rest of the girls and their significant others want to go to various pubs. Kelley feels down after leaving her family, despite knowing she gets to see them again in just two weeks, and Alex looks after her like a mama bird taking care of her baby, constantly touching her and making sure she’s drinking water because she’s had a lot to drink.
“Fine,” Syd announces. “All the boring old married couples can go out for dinner and drinks and the rest of us will barhop, sound good?”
“Fine by me,” Ashlyn says, unfazed by Syd’s snark, but Kelley feels slightly ruffled.
“Is she talking about me and Alex?” she asks Ali, who’d heard all about the night before. “Do you think Alex told her?”
“It’s Syd, don’t take her too seriously,” Ali says. “She’s including Tobin and Press in that too.” Kelley turns to see Tobin giving Christen a piggyback ride as she chats with Alex, and somehow that doesn’t make her feel a whole lot better. “If you’re concerned, just ask her.”
“No, Alex,” Ali says. “For what it’s worth, though, I think you’re overreacting. Unless you’d like to be an old married couple with Alex.”
“She’s straight,” Kelley hisses.
“Didn’t seem that way last night,” Ashlyn mutters, knowing it’s not her conversation to butt into, but unable to resist the joke.
“If you tell anyone about that, I swear I will kill you,” Kelley says, and Ashlyn raises her hands in surrender before wrapping an arm around Ali’s waist.
Kelley still isn’t sure what to do about it or what she should even think about it, but she’s following Alex’s lead, and if Alex wants to pretend nothing happened, Kelley will play along. She remembers everything that happened with Ann far too vividly for her liking, from the tears to the unbearable searing pain in her heart, and as far as Kelley’s concerned, nothing is worth going through that again.