Author: maraudersaffair or Oldvoiced
Pairing(s): Amy LePeilbet/OC (Original Character)
Summary: Amy sets off on a road of discovery with help from an assistant coach.
Rating: PG-13 (This Part)
Warning(s): Nothing the rating doesn’t already imply.
Word Count: 8,000
Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction. The situations portrayed are not real.
Author's Note: The poem that inspired the title of this fic can be found here. I hope you enjoy and more parts are on the way!
Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine
Darkness surrounded Amy as she made her way down the winding concrete path toward the residence halls. A soft breeze rustled the trees above and the scattered light poles beamed down at her like solitary mentors. Her limbs ached in a satisfying way. She felt calmed and accomplished. Another long and difficult practice was under her belt.
Her backpack was heavy against her shoulders, the thick gray headband she wore to push her bangs back itchy against her hairline. Her eyes were slowly adjusting to the shadows around her, the brightly lit field illuminated behind her. The contrast of light between the field she’d just left and the walkway she was on now made her memory of the practice seem surreal, distant.
The sense of rightness she had when there was a ball at her feet dissipated the further she walked from the field. Her steps on the hard concrete seemed wobbly, uncomfortable. She preferred grass to soften her tread, to protect her. Squinting, she spotted a figure on a bench a few yards away. She slowed until she realized that she recognized the woman who was taking off her shoes. Claire was an assistant coach on the team and more than once Amy had found herself staring at her soft body and long eyelashes.
Claire looked up, smiling. “Always one of the last to leave,” she said, tilting her head to peer at Amy.
“I had to talk to the coach,” Amy said, hooking her thumbs around the straps of her backpack. Hesitating, she didn’t know if she should walk away or continue to chat.
“Here, have a seat.” Claire placed her bag on the ground and patted the space beside her. “I usually wait to get home before I take off my cleats but my toes really needed to breathe.” Laughing, she wiggled her toes. Amy stared at the glittery pink polish on her nails.
“Why would you wait?” She sat down next to Claire, but was careful to leave room between them.
“I’m usually always racing home to catch the West Wing, but it’s not on tonight. I was out of the locker rooms before I realized there was no need to rush.” Her long blonde ponytail hung over her shoulder as she slipped on Adidas flip flops.
“Nike’s better,” Amy said, smiling. Claire had known her for a while and she understood Amy’s humor.
“Woo,” Claire said, waving her hands in the air. “Are you not going to talk to me now that I’m wearing Adidas?”
“Yep, you’re dead to me.” Amy’s bag bumped against her back as her shoulders shook with laughter.
Claire clutched at her chest. “I’m devastated!” Their chortling filled the air between them for a moment. Then Claire said, “So, how’s school going? I’ve been meaning to ask, but there’s not a lot of time to talk when I’m screaming at the defensive line constantly.”
Shrugging, Amy said, “Fine, I guess. I’m getting kind of bored with all my education classes.”
“Oh, that’s right. You’re an education major. Wanna be a teacher, Ms. LePeilbet?”
A blush warmed her cheeks. “I thought I did.” She stared into the foliage across from them, watching the leaves shudder as if cold. She turned her head and smiled at Claire. “What do you wanna do, Ms. I-Graduated-Three-Years-Ago-But-Stayed-T
“Hey!” Claire punched her lightly in the arm. “I’m working on my Master’s right now. Don’t make it seem like I’m wasting my time!”
“I didn’t say you were wasting your time!” Amy tried to judge whether Claire was offended or not. Wide set blue eyes stared back at her as they grinned at each other. Amy’s stomach twisted, her smile slackening. She had to look away from Claire.
Silence descended upon them, uncomfortable and indecisive. Amy felt like they were too close on the bench. Standing, she struggled to look at Claire. “Well . . . I’m going back to my room now. I have lots of homework.”
Claire nodded, a tiny smirk playing on her lips. “Are you sure you aren’t just gonna watch Seinfeld reruns?”
“It’s not on tonight.”
“Oh, no! I am so sorry. So very sorry!” Claire stood up and grabbed her bag. “Mind if I walk with you? My apartment is that way.”
“Sure,” Amy said, her heartbeat quickening. She refused to analyze her nervousness. “Wow, you have an apartment? And see I thought you still lived with your parents.”
“I would if I could,” Claire said, her teeth gleaming in the dark. “They live back in New York.”
She didn’t know what to say. Looking forward, she nodded and hoped that Claire would continue the conversation. She wasn’t disappointed.
“You’re from Illinois, right? Do you miss your family?”
“Yeah, years after leaving home I still get homesick.” Claire took a deep breath and let out the air slowly.
Amy didn’t know why Claire was making the effort to talk to her. She wanted to come up with an excuse to leave quickly and then run away before the conversation became too awkward. She didn’t know what to say and being close to this woman made her anxious. Conversation was usually a struggle for her, but Claire made her palms sweat and her throat to close up. How was she supposed to say something clever when she couldn’t think straight? It was fine when they were on the field or in the locker room with the rest of the team. She realized with a start that this was the first time that she had been alone with Claire.
Staring straight ahead as they continued down the path, her anxiety grew as several moments passed in silence. She needed to take a deep breath and understand that this wasn’t a big deal. God, why was she reacting this way? Why were her lips trembling to say something when she was usually happy not talking to people? She recognized that she wanted to impress Claire. She wanted Claire to think that she was funny and mature. The problem was that she had no idea how to appear to be funny or mature. She just knew how to be herself, awkward and quiet.
“How do you like living in the dorms? I’m sure Erika is great to live with.” There was a level of sarcasm in Claire’s voice. Amy was surprised that she wasn’t afraid to criticize her roommate in front of her.
“Why do you say that? Erika is a great roommate.” Amy felt Claire’s eyes on her. Great, now she would think Amy was being defensive.
There was a pause. Then Claire began to laugh, her voice rising up to the trees. “You’re very loyal, aren’t you? I can tell by the way you play.”
Amy glanced at her. “How so?”
Shrugging, Claire said, “Your loyalty doesn’t lie with yourself, but with your team. You are too loyal to let them down, to take a chance that could jeopardize the game.”
“I’ve taken shots on goal, if that’s what you mean.” Heat inflamed her neck, spreading to her face. Now she felt a little defensive. Claire was talking like she knew her completely, like she was Amy’s sister or something.
Claire raised her hands. “Hey, all I’m saying is that you should take more chances when you play.”
“Okay,” Amy said, trying to downplay her uneasiness. She felt like Claire was prying into her life, but she knew that Claire was only being friendly. People can be friendly without wanting to know all my secrets, she thought. But I have one big secret that she can never know.
“Do you ever watch The Golden Girls?”
The randomness of her question made Amy laugh. “No.”
Claire stared at her. “You’ve never seen the show?”
“I mean, I have seen a few episodes. Who hasn’t?”
“Exactly. The Golden Girls is a staple in every woman’s life.” Pride filled Claire’s voice. Amy couldn’t help but laugh again.
“Are you sure about that? Every woman’s life?”
Claire gazed steadily at her. “Of course. Any woman.” Dropping her eyes, she looked at the ground, the curve of her neck beautiful. Amy allowed herself to stare at her soft skin before forcing her eyes to the ground as well. Her skin was probably delicate and warm to the touch. Amy gulped thickly.
Approaching the building where Amy lived, they paused near a tree that obscured the yellow streetlight glow. Claire was speaking. Amy’s gaze was glued to the silhouette of Claire’s moving lips, the words not registering with her. She knew she should respond to whatever Claire was talking about, but she couldn’t focus her mind. All she could think about was the thumping of her heart and the aching, pulling feeling in her stomach.
She had the sudden urge to run her hands down the sides of Claire’s body. She wanted to press her lips against the hot skin of her neck and feel her pulse. This impulsive rush of desire frightened her. She felt alien, out of control. The thought of Claire knowing how she affected Amy terrified her. Most of her friends wouldn’t care or would think it was cute, but she couldn’t predict Claire’s reaction. She drew her eyes over Claire’s blonde hair tied neatly down her back, the remaining mascara clinging to her lashes despite hours of running on the field.
“Yeah, even if it sometimes fails at being politically correct, which I mean, come on, it was the 1980s and pretty much everything failed at that stuff back then, there are still some really great life lessons that people can learn from The Golden Girls.” Claire stared at her expectantly.
“Yeah, definitely,” Amy managed to say, hoping the night hid the redness of her cheeks. She needed to get away from Claire before she really did something embarrassing.
Smirking, Claire said, “We should totally watch it together sometime. I could instruct you on the importance of the show.” Her expression conveyed that she knew Amy hadn’t heard a word that she had said.
“Yeah, sounds good,” Amy said, her eyes wandering to the door of her building. “I really have to go now. Lots of homework.”
“Of course! Have a good night.” Claire paused, as if deciding how to depart. Amy thought of them hugging and her knees weakened. After a moment Claire patted her on the shoulder and walked away.
The befuddled, hypersensitive cloud that had overtaken Amy drifted away once Claire was out of sight. Letting out a deep breath, she ordered her legs to move and she slowly made her way into her building and up to her room. She vowed to keep away from Claire in the future. There was no need to risk everything that she had worked so hard for just because of a crush.
Erika was passed out on her bed when Amy entered their room. A textbook lay against her chest and an arm was thrown over her face to block out the overhead light. The pages moved up and down with her calm breathing. Erika’s side of the room was drastically more cluttered and messy, though Amy found her untidiness endearing. Not that Amy was a clean freak herself, but at least she managed to throw away her garbage.
Her own desk was piled high with books and notes that she needed to read. There were many tests coming up, but none of them were tomorrow. Peering at all the work she had to do made her shoulders ache with exhaustion. She was too tired to crack open a book, especially after what had happened with Claire.
What did happen with Claire? Nothing. That’s how Claire would see it. Nothing happened during their conversation that wasn’t natural friendliness. It wasn’t Claire’s fault that she made Amy react so awkwardly around her. Claire just wanted to be friends. She just wanted to watch television together and be her mentor. Cringing, Amy realized that Claire most likely pitied her and thought Amy needed her help to be more social.
Sighing, she prepared for bed as quietly as she could, using extra caution as she slowly opened and closed the bathroom door. Her mouth was minty and her skin was dry from her facial cleanser when she switched off the light and carefully slid under her covers a few minutes later.
She stared into the darkness, the silence of the room seeping through her internal walls. Her thoughts thundered within her brain, her eyes fluttering as emotion swelled inside her chest, choking her.
She knew it wasn’t just Claire. It seemed like once a day Amy saw a girl who made her heart stop and her breath catch in her throat. Deep down inside she knew what it meant. To most of her friends it wasn’t a big deal, but what would her family think? How would she ever be able to verbalize that she liked girls? There it was. She liked girls. She really, really liked girls. Girls made her head spin, made her experience need and hunger and all those other feelings that she couldn’t put into words.
Rolling over, she tried to clear her mind and relax as she waited for sleep to come, but all she could think about was what Claire’s lips would feel like against her own. At least she knew one thing about herself. Men had never been an option.
The sunlight was weak against Amy’s face as she walked with Erika to their room from the MU, warm bags of Taco Bell swinging from their wrists. The MU was officially called the Memorial Union, but all of the students knew it by its initials. Erika only had an hour for lunch, but Amy had the rest of the day free. She planned on spending it in the library, hoping to get ahead on her homework before their game on Saturday.
“I can smell my tacos from here,” Erika said, groaning. “I want them in my mouth. I can’t wait any longer.”
Amy snorted. “That sounds so dirty.”
A deviant look came over Erika’s features. “Tacos and I have a very intimate relationship. You have no idea.”
Erika was one of the forwards on the team and her personality fit the spotlight position. At the beginning of the year Amy had the choice of rooming with one of her best friends, Liz, but both of them had decided against it. They knew that they would not be best friends for long if they saw too much of each other. Besides, Amy liked Erika a lot. Erika made her laugh.
Coming to a halt at a curb leading to an expansion of grass, Erika sat down and untwisted the bag from her wrist. She produced one of her beef tacos, unwrapping the yellow paper and taking a big bite. Her eyes closed and she rocked her head from side to side.
“MMM. MMM. MMM.” She rolled her shoulders and bumped up and down on the curb. “I don’t know what they put in their beef, but it’s damn heavenly.”
“I don’t wanna know,” Amy said, thinking about her own burrito still in its wrapping. She hoped Erika would hurry up. She didn’t want to eat on the curb.
“Hey, isn’t that Claire coming our way?” Erika said, pointing across the grassy area.
Turning to look, Amy’s stomach lunged when she spotted Claire walking toward them, her hair slightly wet and falling in layers around her face and down her back. Amy glanced at Erika, wondering if she had noticed anything unusual about her reaction. She didn’t know if she could keep her infatuation to herself. Her blushing would sure give her feelings away.
“Hey guys,” Claire said, her smile brightening her face. Her eyes fell on Amy and she stared for a moment. “How are you?”
“I’m good. How are you?” Amy looked over at Erika to prevent herself from blushing. Erika was too involved in her taco to notice anything. There is nothing to notice, she told herself.
“Tired, but hungry enough to venture out of my cave. Practice was a killer, wasn’t it?” Her gaze was too blue for Amy to handle. She struggled not to look skyward.
“Yeah, my body aches all over.”
“You know what you should get, Claire? Tacos.” Erika wiggled her taco at them and then frowned when some cheese fell on her shirt.
“I’m actually craving a burger,” Claire said, glancing quickly at Erika before focusing on Amy again. Amy finally gave up and stared back, grinning weakly. Her eyes were the clearest blue she had ever seen. She felt saliva fill her mouth as attraction pulled at her insides.
“You fucking traitor!” Erika said, alarming a few students who were walking by. Claire and Amy smiled apologetically at them.
“Is that any way you talk to a coach?” Claire said, putting her hands on her hips.
Erika looked at her, trying to decide if she was being serious or not. Claire began to laugh. “I’m deeply sorry. I won’t say ‘fuck’ around you again. Oops, I said ‘fuck’ again. Shit, there I go again. So sorry about that.”
Glancing between the two of them, Amy laughed with a huge smile on her face, appreciative of the amazing women who were in her life. Sometimes her friends’ humor astonished her. She wished she had the same kind of quick wit. Blinking, she realized that she thought of Claire as a friend. She is a friend, she thought. Just a really hot friend who makes me faint. No, she couldn’t think in those terms. Claire did not make her feel faint. She was not the heroine of some Austen novel.
“Hey, have you ever seen The Golden Girls?” Claire asked, once again bringing up the show at a very random moment. Amy laughed harder.
“Thank you for being a friend! Travel down the road and back again! Your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confidant!” Erika sang the theme song with her eyes twisted closed and her hands clasped at her chest.
Claire’s laughter reverberated across the yard. “And if you threw a party and invited everyone you knew, you would see the biggest gift would be from me and the card attached would say, thank you for being a friend!”
“Did we miss anything?” Erika said, looking at Amy.
“Nope, I think you guys got it.”
“Hey, would you want to watch an episode?” Claire looked at her watch. “It starts in fifteen.”
“Sure, but I have class soon. I’m sure Amy wouldn’t mind finishing it with you once I leave.” Erika stood up and wiped the crumbs and cheese from her shirt. Claire looked at Amy.
Trying desperately to control her features, Amy said, “Yeah, all I have to do is study today. I wouldn’t mind watching it.” She was silently grateful that her voice remained steady.
“Great! Let me grab some lunch quickly and we can set off. Do you have a TV?”
Amy pointed to Erika. “She does.”
Nodding, Erika said, “Yep, we can watch it in our room . . . if you don’t mind the mess.”
“I don’t care.” Claire widened her smile at Amy before walking toward the MU. “I won’t be long!” she called over her shoulder.
Turning to Erika, Amy expected her to say something about Claire. Was she really the only one who was picking up on Claire’s attention on her?
“Let’s hope she doesn’t take long. I wanna finish my lunch before class,” Erika said.
“Yeah, I don’t want my burrito to get cold.” Frowning, she stared at nothing in particular as she tried to sort out her feelings. It was easy enough to ignore her attraction to Claire when they weren’t around each other, but she had to be honest with herself and acknowledge that it was attraction. She had known it under that tree the last time they saw each other and when she had laid in bed with only her thoughts staring back at her.
If she was honest with herself, she had known that she liked girls for a long time, but it was always easier for her to push aside her sexuality. There had been other things to occupy her mind and time. Well, only one thing in particular. Soccer had taken up all of her free time for as long as she could remember. Everything she did revolved around the sport. Now she found herself attracted to Claire and somehow she couldn’t see how her feelings fit within the confines of her soccer-focused life.
Claire returned in record time. She carried her own bag of Taco Bell.
Smirking, Erika said, “I see that you’ve made the right choice.”
“The line for a burger was too long. I didn’t want to keep you waiting.” There was a light sheet of sweat on her forehead. Her eyes once again fell on Amy. “What did you get?”
“A burrito,” Amy said, not trusting her voice to continue with more detail.
“Good, me too.”
They set off toward their building, the sunlight warming Amy’s shoulders through the thick gray of her hoodie. She looked at the blue Adidas jogging jacket that Claire wore with the sleeves pushed up to her elbows.
“Adidas again?” Amy said, shaking her head in faux disgust.
Laughing, Claire said, “Does it burn your eyes? Does it sting, Amy? Does it sting?”
Amy brought her hand up to shield her eyes. “It really does. I’m surprised that jacket doesn’t burn through your skin.”
“Adidas would never! It’s more like a second skin.” She ran her hand over the shiny material in a loving manner.
“What do you think?” Amy asked Erika.
Erika shrugged. “I don’t really care. Whichever fits the best, you know?”
Amy flapped her hand at her. “Whatever. Nike is the best. It’s only a matter of time before you both know it.”
Entering their building, the three women climbed the stairs to the third floor. Music blasted from one of the rooms, vibrating the Resident Assistant’s bulletin board. The little tack under the “Off Campus” location fell to the ground. Amy retrieved it from the carpet and tacked it back into place.
Erika hastily tried to clean up the mess on her side when they walked into their room. Snorting, Claire accepted the chair that Amy offered and sat down to eat her burrito. Amy settled on the floor, disappointed that the wrapping of her food was cold against her fingers.
The crash of glass hitting the floor echoed through the room. “Shit!” Erika said, bending down to pick up the broken picture frame. She had knocked it over with an elbow while collecting the scattered paper on her desk. Holding the frame up, she said, “Monica is going to kill me. The glass tore the picture of us.”
Claire leaned over to look at the picture. “You guys are cute.”
“Yeah, we’ve been together for almost two years now. It’s hard being in a long distance relationship, though.”
Amy watched for any change in Claire’s expression. Nodding, Claire said, “Did she used to go here?”
“Yeah, but she decided to go back home last year. Devastating.”
Nothing in Claire’s expression told Amy whether she cared that Erika was dating a girl or not. She guessed it would be pretty weird if Claire turned out to be homophobic. There were many gay girls on the team. But was there any chance that Claire liked girls as well? Amy watched as she applied some glossy stuff to her lips and thought it unlikely. Claire probably had a boyfriend back in New York or something.
“Do you miss her a lot?” Claire asked, still looking at the picture.
“Yeah. It’s hard not being able to see her whenever I want, especially when I have an . . . urge.” Erika winked at them.
Laughing, Claire gave back the picture and said, “Totally. So are we gonna watch the show?”
She didn’t look at Amy when she stood from the chair. “Can I sit here?” She pointed to Amy’s bed.
“Sure,” Amy said thickly, trying not to stare for too long as Claire settled down on her blue comforter. In the big scheme of things Claire sitting on her bed was very small, but it was monumental to Amy for a reason that was clear to her even if she refused to dwell on it. She tried to hide her shaking hands as she stood to throw away her trash. Pausing for a moment, she joined Claire on her bed with her head bent downward.
Sliding the TV to face them, Erika wiped the dust off her hands and sat down next to Amy on the bed. She nudged her with an arm to move over, forcing Amy to shift closer to Claire. Their thighs touched. Maybe she imagined it, but she swore that she could feel the heat radiating from Claire’s skin through her clothes.
The episode had already started. Erika and Claire groaned about missing the theme song. Claire had seen the episode numerous times, so she quoted some of the dialogue. She could have been speaking gibberish for all Amy cared. Taking deep breaths, she struggled not to show how Claire’s proximity was affecting her. She was sure that The Golden Girls was a great show, but there was no way she could focus on what was happening on the screen.
“So, which Golden Girl do you think you are?” Claire asked.
“Nice!” Erika said, getting up from the bed. “I’d say I’m Blanche.”
“Blanche? Why?” Claire was laughing.
Smirking, Erika said, “Because I’m always up for a little fun. At least before Monica I was.”
“Who do you think Amy is?” Claire asked, bumping her shoulder into Amy’s.
Erika stared at her. “Well, she’s definitely not Blanche.” Claire and she laughed loudly.
“Why do you say that?” Amy said, feeling her face burn. She knew enough about the show to know who Blanche was.
“No, I would say that she’s Rose,” Erika said.
“Why? Isn’t she the dumb one?” Anger intensified the red on Amy’s cheeks. “I’m not dumb!”
“Not dumb, more like clueless.” Erika inspected Amy with her arms crossed over her chest. “Yep, just clueless.”
“What am I clueless about? I’m not clueless!” Amy heard her voice rising.
Erika and Claire looked at each other, their laughter filling the room once more. There was real anger developing within Amy. She wasn’t dumb or clueless. Her friends didn’t know her if they thought so. She was sure her other best friend Patrice wouldn’t think she was clueless.
Wrapping her arm around Amy, Claire said, “Hey, it’s okay. We’re just playing with you. I think you’re more like Sophia. Secretly a spit-fire.”
Her anger had vanished. All she could think about was Claire’s warm arm wrapped around her back, her hand resting on the curve of her side. Claire didn’t remove her arm.
“I have to go to class now,” Erika said, collecting her notebooks and throwing them into her backpack. Her eyes didn’t linger on Claire and Amy, as if there was nothing wrong with their position. Amy tried to catch Erika’s gaze and plead silently for her not to leave yet. She didn’t think she could handle being alone with Claire while her arm was around her.
“What kind of thoughts do you have up there, Ms. LePeilbet? They are Sophia-esque, I’m sure.” Claire tightened her hold, leaning her shoulder into Amy’s.
“I-I don’t know,” Amy said, surprised her voice even worked. Her heartbeat thundered in her ears. She felt herself perspire under her hoodie.
“Yeah, she probably calls us all prostitutes and condemns our meatballs in her head. Must be the reason why she’s so quiet, too busy making fun of us,” Erika said, brushing her hair in front of the mirror. “God, my roots are showing.” She flattened her part to stare at the brown that was in view. “We really need to dye our hair soon, Amy.”
“Yeah,” Amy said, a little breathless.
Pulling on her backpack, Erika waved to them before opening the door. She looked at Amy and winked, then left.
“Is this all right?” Claire said, wiggling the arm that was around Amy.
Gulping, Amy nodded that the embrace was acceptable. Minutes passed as they sat in silence, watching the show. Slowly Amy allowed herself to relax. She leaned into Claire, their collective warmth feeling as if it could burn through her skin. Sweat dotted her temples. The heater in their room was on too high. Amy couldn’t breathe.
Claire laughed at a joke that was said on the show. Amy felt her body shake against her side, her voice unnervingly close. She wanted to move closer and jump from the bed all at once, both thoughts confusing her and forcing her muscles to tighten in awareness.
Her eyes drifted over to Claire, staring at the pale flesh of her neck. Claire swallowed and she watched the thin veins along her throat tremble. She tried to spot Claire’s pulse with no luck. The slightly freckled skin on Claire’s cheeks reddened. Her chest beat up and down quickly through her jacket. Claire caught Amy’s gaze and smiled.
Amy felt trapped by Claire’s eyes, the blue darker than it had been in the sunlight. Maybe she was imagining it, but there was something begging, something questioning within her stare. It seemed like Claire wanted her to say something, but Amy couldn’t think clearly, let alone move her lips. She was sure that only a puff of air would come out if she opened her mouth.
Claire brought a hand up and smoothed part of Amy’s bangs from her forehead. Smiling, she said, “You should go a darker blonde . . . or just let your natural hair color come through.”
Were they really going to talk about hair at the moment? Amy didn’t want to talk about hair. She didn’t want to talk at all. She wanted to . . . kiss Claire? Run her lips over her throat? She wanted to do a lot, but couldn’t visualize herself in the act. How would she ever summon enough courage?
Her head spun and her vision blurred. She needed to get some air. She couldn’t take any more of this. Standing up, she shivered when Claire slid her hand over her back before dropping it away. She could tell that Claire was startled, a little disappointed.
“I’m sorry. I really need to study,” Amy said, her words rushed. There was a roaring noise in her ears. Suddenly the room was too small for her to be in it with Claire. She needed to get away from Claire. She needed to get away from herself.
“That’s fine, I’ll leave,” Claire said, standing as well. Amy watched for any sign of anger or judgment in Claire’s expression. The smile on her lips was understanding, but there was something guarded within Claire’s eyes. What was Claire trying to hide from Amy?
Pausing, Claire gestured in an aloof manner, her hand immobile in the air as if she couldn’t make up her mind. “I’m sorry,” she said after a long moment of silence. “I . . . if you . . . . I’m sorry if you need an apology.”
Amy wanted to say that there was no need to apologize, but she was afraid of admitting her feelings to Claire. Whatever that had happened between them confused and frightened her. Claire stared at her for a moment before walking to the door and slowly slipping it closed behind her. Amy didn’t know what Claire meant for her to understand with her lingering gazes.
Wandering to the sink, she splashed some water on her face and stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her cheeks were unbearably flushed and her eyes seemed too wide for her face. She looked terrified. Groaning, she yanked on her ponytail in frustration.
God, she looked like a twelve year old. At one point she’d thought dyeing her hair blonde made her look mature, but now she thought it made her look like she was trying too hard to be someone she wasn’t. Her hair was lifeless, her nose an awkward shape. She had always thought it was too big for her face. Her cheeks were round like a child’s.
What did their interaction mean? Was Claire even into girls? Did it mean that Claire was a lesbian? Had Claire been flirting with her? Maybe Claire was straight enough to not realize what an embrace like that meant. Maybe she just wanted to be affectionate with Amy because she cherished their friendship.
Even if she was into girls, why would Claire ever be interested in Amy? How much older was she? God, she had to be at least twenty-five. Why would a twenty-five year old want to waste her time on someone like Amy? Someone who had always been too timid, too afraid to even kiss a girl, let alone go further? Claire would want someone her age, someone with more experience.
It occurred to Amy that Claire could have been waiting for her to make the first move. Had she completely dropped the ball? No, she hadn’t received that feeling from Claire. It was more like Claire had been waiting for approval from her. Had Claire doubted Amy’s sexuality? Amy looked at herself in the mirror. Yeah, she could easily pass as straight to someone who didn’t know her well.
She had no idea what to do.
The game was rough, sweaty and everything that Amy liked about sports. She felt real power when she battled with another player for the ball. It was hard work, but there was something exhilarating about knowing that her personal might denied the other team from scoring. Playing gave her a rush of confidence that she never felt in other circumstances. She knew who she wanted to be when she was on the field.
She had tried not looking over at the sidelines too much during the game. When the ball was on the other side of the field, Amy found it impossible not to allow her eyes to search for Claire’s blonde ponytail among the beanies the other coaches wore. Claire had been hard on them during practice and Amy wanted to make her proud.
They’d won. Another shutout thanks to the defensive players and coaches. A low rumble went through the team when the final whistle was blown. Then everyone ran toward each other and the sidelines to celebrate. Every victory was like they had won the championship.
“I scored! Did you see it?” Erika said, hugging Amy roughly around the neck.
“Yeah, it looked awesome from where I was,” Amy said.
Another player ran up and hugged Erika.
“Hey, Brittany, we should go see your mom!” Erika said.
Brittany stared at her, confused. “My mom lives in California.”
Erika stared back seriously. “But she has one leg and works at my favorite place.”
Narrowing her eyes, Brittany said, “Ha-ha. You’re hilarious. My mom doesn’t work at IHop.”
“Did someone mention food? I’m starving,” Liz said, joining the small group.
Amy had been staring at Claire on the sidelines. She felt guilty about keeping whatever that was happening with Claire from her close friends. “Yeah, I could go for some food about now,” Amy said.
Liz tried to see what she had been staring at, but didn’t pose the question verbally. She seemed to shrug it off and focus on the more important topic of getting something to eat. Sighing internally, Amy knew that the conversation was bound to happen. No one besides Patrice knew her better than Liz and it was only a matter of time before she discovered the target of her gaze.
Clapping erupted on the sidelines. Patrice, the team captain, was encircled by the coaches. She looked over the group and motioned for Amy to join them. Amy hesitated for a second before doing so. Claire was standing beside Patrice.
“Great game,” Patrice said, wrapping her arm around Amy’s shoulders. Amy looked at Claire and smiled.
“I saw that you listened to me during practice. You did wonderfully!” Claire said, punching Amy in the arm.
“Do you know what the team plans on doing for dinner?” Patrice asked.
“Erika wants to go to IHop,” Amy said.
“Yeah, she seems to always dictate where we go,” Patrice said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t mind eating there.”
Nodding, Amy still felt the touch of Claire’s fist on her arm. She wondered if she would be able to sit next to Claire at the restaurant. Her chances seemed slim. Claire probably wanted to sit with the other coaches.
Erika ran to the sidelines. “IHop! IHop! Let’s go! I’m starving!”
“Who all wants to go?” Patrice asked. “The usual number?”
“Yeah, but Brittany doesn’t have her car right now. It’s in the shop,” Erika said.
Patrice thought for a moment. “That means we don’t have room for two people.”
“I could take my car,” Claire said. “I could take someone with me. Do you want to ride with me, Amy?” Claire looked at her with something like hope in her expression.
“Uh, yeah,” Amy said, surprise jolting her stomach. She felt Patrice’s eyes on her. “I mean, if you want to take me.”
“Of course I want you to ride with me! I just have to stop by my apartment to get my wallet. Is that okay with you?”
Amy would agree to anything with Claire staring at her with such an adorable expression on her face. “Yeah, that’s fine.”
“Great! It’s settled then,” Patrice said, her eyes shifting between Claire and Amy. She didn’t seem accusing, only curious.
Showered and dressed, Amy sat on a locker room bench as she waited for the coaches’ meeting to conclude. She didn’t pay attention to the nerves eating at her stomach. Her other team mates had left to clean up in their rooms. They were supposed to meet up for dinner in half an hour. The solitude didn’t help the thumping of her heart.
She would be alone in the car with Claire. That wasn’t a big deal, right? She had been alone with tons of other attractive women before. There was something different about Claire, though. She couldn’t deny that. She couldn’t deny the way her eyes were drawn to Claire whenever the other woman was around, as if it was all caused by magnets.
It would make sense if magnets were involved. Her inability to ignore Claire’s presence would be explained. She struggled to pay attention when Claire was around and that was a dangerous thing. She couldn’t slack in practice. Her level of playing could not be affected. She would not allow her feelings to jeopardize her success on the team.
“Ready?” Claire said, coming out of the office with the other coaches. She had changed into a fitted purple sweater and her eyes shimmered with new eye shadow. There was a nice glossy shade of pink to her lips.
Gulping, Amy said, “Yeah.” Her voice was nearly inaudible, her throat closing around the needed air. They stared at one another for a moment, then Claire put her arm around Amy’s shoulders and they walked to the door side by side. She dropped her arm once they were outside. They walked to her car in silence.
Amy tried to remember if any of the other coaches had seen Claire’s arm around her shoulders. Frowning, she realized that it didn’t really matter to her at the moment. She was thrilled that Claire had voluntarily touched her.
“Hope you don’t mind the mess,” Claire said, throwing books and paper into the back of the car. Amy picked up a nutrition book from the seat when she sat down.
“You like studying kinesiology?” she asked, staring at the front of the textbook.
Claire shrugged. “Sure. I hope I can be a physical trainer if this whole coaching thing doesn’t work out.”
“It’ll work out, don’t worry,” Amy said. “You are such a great coach. You have nothing to worry about.”
“Thanks,” Claire said, grinning widely at her. She pulled out of the parking lot and turned onto the street, her head still slightly facing Amy as her eyes concentrated on the road. “I’m glad you appreciate what I do. I try really hard to be a good mentor.”
Nodding, Amy remained silent. What was she supposed to say in return? You are a good mentor! The only problem is that your attractiveness distracts me from listening to all your awesome advice!
Painful worry shot through Amy’s stomach. What if Claire was only trying to be a good mentor? What if she had been misinterpreting Claire’s actions all along? Her mind buzzed with the memories of them together from the past couple of weeks. Was it all normal mentor stuff?
“What are you thinking about?” Claire asked, hesitation registering in the tone of her voice. “I mean, sorry if you think I’m prying, it’s just that I always wonder when you fall silent like that. You do it a lot.”
Amy stared at her. “Nothing. I’m thinking about nothing.”
Claire glanced at her inquisitively. “You’re thinking about nothing? I don’t believe that! You must be thinking about something!”
“I’m thinking about how hungry I am,” Amy said, her heart rattling against her ribcage. Without a doubt she couldn’t let Claire know her true thoughts. Warmth reddened her cheeks. She felt like Claire was reading her mind.
Silence fell within the car. After a long moment Claire placed her hand on Amy’s thigh, her palm warming Amy’s skin through her jeans. The pressure of Claire’s fingertips against the inside of her leg made Amy’s breath quicken.
“How’s the knee? I remember you said it hurt a few weeks back,” Claire said, her fingers brushing along her knee but returning to her thigh to squeeze the flesh.
“It’s fine,” Amy said in a gasping exhale. She couldn’t believe that Claire recalled something as trivial as her knee hurting one time after a game.
“Are you sure? You are very tense.” Claire kneaded her thigh with confident fingers.
Amy struggled to quiet her breaths, but the excitement that stirred within made her head spin. The car was like an oven, the blast of air from the heater too much against her flushed face. Her body was motionless, her limbs tightened and oversensitive. She was convinced that she could feel Claire’s natural heat from across the seat.
They pulled into the parking lot outside Claire’s apartment. Claire turned off the ignition and smiled at Amy, squeezing her thigh once more before removing her hand.
“You wanna come up with me?” Claire said, shifting her eyes to stare out of the window. It was like she didn’t want to see the uncertainty in Amy’s expression.
“Uh, yeah,” Amy said, wetting her lips with her tongue. She looked over at Claire and found the other woman staring at her mouth. Quickly averting her gaze, her blushing intensified as she felt the full weight of Claire’s attention. Taking a deep breath, she stepped out of the car and waited for Claire to follow.
The cool night air was like ice against her cheeks. Her lungs felt twice as big as she gulped and gulped, her form relaxing as her heartbeat began to slow. She could handle this. Whatever that was happening right now was manageable. She had everything, including her anxiety, under control.
Claire didn’t appear as calm. Her keys fell to the ground and she bent over to retrieve them with shaking hands. She didn’t look at Amy when they walked across the concrete path and ascended the stairs to her apartment in silence. Her hands were still trembling as she unlocked and pushed open the door to her home.
“Again, don’t mind the mess,” she said, smiling in Amy’s general direction.
“I won’t,” Amy said, curiously watching Claire’s nervous actions. Was she really the reason behind Claire’s peculiar behavior?
“Let me just go grab my wallet,” Claire said, disappearing into her bedroom. Amy stood in the middle of her living room and looked around. The couch was threadbare and stained, the television balanced atop a rickety wooden table. There were a few copies of Sports Illustrated Women stacked on the floor beside the couch, notes and textbooks covering most of the cushions.
“I keep on leaving my wallet in the pocket of my jeans,” Claire said, laughing as she came out of her room. The few moments alone seemed to revitalize her disposition, for she met Amy’s eyes and smiled brightly. “Ready?”
“I like your couch,” Amy said.
“Thanks! My friend gave it to me. She had it in her dorm room before she graduated. Crazy that she found room for it, right?” Claire approached Amy and stopped in front of her with barely an inch between them.
Amy fought the urge to take a step backward. Craning her neck to look up at Claire, she realized for the first time how tall Claire was. She had to be around the same height as Patrice. Her friend usually towered over everyone.
Startled, Amy was alarmed when she saw the expression in Claire’s eyes. There was a dark pleading about the blue stare. She couldn’t quite identify the intense emotion, but Claire’s vulnerability took her breath away. Something innate told her to keep still and wait for whatever Claire was about to do.
Slowly, as if waiting for Amy to object at any moment, Claire leaned down and kissed her. The press of her lips against Amy’s was soft and gentle, hesitant. Amy felt her chest tighten and the air bubble up within her lungs. She was sure that her heart was going to explode. Everything seemed distant. Time ceased to exist.
When Claire pulled away, Amy’s eyes were blown wide in shock. She looked at Claire’s flushed cheeks, reddened lips and the frailty of the smile smeared on her face that didn’t reach her eyes. She saw her own doubts and insecurities in Claire’s anxious expression.
What was she doing? Why did she just allow a coach to kiss her? Becoming too close with an authority figure on the team was the last thing that Amy wanted to do. What if she did something wrong? What if she angered Claire? The woman she’d just kissed had the ability to get her kicked off the team. She could start lies about Amy. She could tell everyone that Amy had thrown herself at her. She could tell everyone that Amy wasn’t suitable to be on the team.
Her delirious thoughts ran uncontrolled within her mind. This had been a mistake. She couldn’t allow this to happen again. She couldn’t be alone with Claire again. Silently berating herself, she damned herself for not doing anything to stop this predicament from happening. She was ridiculous and her inability to control her crush on Claire was just a sign of her weakness and immaturity. She needed to remind herself what was truly important. It was the sport that she’d spent her entire life playing that was crucial, not this woman who towered over her and wore too much makeup.
The corners of Claire’s mouth had turned downward. “That was a mistake, wasn’t it?” she said softly.
Amy looked down at the floor. “Yeah, I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry! Don’t apologize! I’m the one who made the mistake!” Claire’s voice was elevated, her words running into one another. Amy was quiet and didn’t look at her. “Let’s hurry up. Don’t want to be late, right?”
“Yeah,” Amy said, following Claire to the door silently.
Not another word passed between them that night.