Love and Friendship

Disclaimer: characters are not mine, but the property of Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges and Guljit Bindra. No copyright infringement is intended.
Notes: written for Yuletide 2003 ().


There's a certain dynamic that you get on a team of girls. Even though the Santa Clara team is more organised, more professional, more of a big deal, it's still the same dynamic that existed on their old team. Girls on a football team are close; they share a special bond that others can't understand and that simply can't be explained. But at the same time there's always the sense of not letting yourself get too close to anyone on the team. Of constantly reminding everyone of your straightness. It's important to talk about boys, giggle about the guys that you fancy and roll your eyes when you're talking about the ones that you're not interested in.

Jules picked up on it right away. But then again, Jules noticed the dynamic of the Hounslow Harriers, too. There was a certain code in the changing rooms, for instance, and it exists here in California, too. It's all right to carry on a conversation, to look at someone else, if she's changing at the same time you are, for example. But if you're dressed and she isn't, well, you can't. Because if you're not occupied with your own undressing or dressing motions, if you're just looking at her, it's not on.

Jules picked up on it right away, and she was all too aware of the way the other girls on the team noticed the way she looked at Jess. The way she watched Jess as she undressed, the way her eyes traced lines from her collarbone to her breasts to her stomach. And she noticed the raised eyebrows, and the glances between the rest of the team, and she knew that eventually Jess would notice.

And Jess would know. So she stopped.

***

Well, she tried to stop. It's been six weeks since she made that decision and it gets harder, not easier, every day, to be so cautious around her best friend. To restrain herself from the easy casual touching they both indulge in so often, because they're friends, and that's what friends do, and sometimes the line between friendship and love is oh-so-blurry.

Is it love? She wonders about that sometimes. She remembers the first time she saw Jess, playing football with the guys, and noticing how she handled the ball, her natural ease and skill. And how delicate and fragile she looked, despite her ability to hold her own amongst the others, and how she was really quite attractive and beautiful, even, you might say, and how Jules wanted to – well, she told herself she wanted to be like that. To look like that. To be that beautiful. That the image of Jess's face which seemed to take up permanent residence in her mind was only there because she was, well, jealous.

When did she know, she wonders. She honestly doesn't remember. Somewhere in between seeing Jess kissing Joe – fine, fine, she concedes, almost-kissing Joe – and her mother making a fool of herself at Jess's sister's wedding, it struck her that she'd crumpled up the photo of her and Jess first. It was just that she'd been betrayed by her friend, she rationalised. And it hurt. It hurt that Jess had wanted to kiss Joe – no, that Joe had wanted to – wait, what exactly was she upset over?

It hurt that Jess had wanted to kiss Joe. Jules was the one who had introduced them, Jules was the one who'd gotten Jess on the team, Jules was the one who went shopping with her and listened to her and tried to convince her to do what she wanted to do, not what her parents wanted to her. Jess was her friend, her protégé, hers.

And slowly, slowly, she realised that not only was she not in love with Joe – though she hated him then, for wanting Jess and for being able to have her (because that's the way the world works, isn't it, boy-girl, boy-girl?) – but that she quite possibly had feelings for her friend.

Feelings. She had feelings towards Jess. Maybe it was a crush. She was reluctant to call it anything else, anything more serious. After all, hadn't she said herself that just because she was a tomboy, it didn't mean she was a lesbian? She didn't want to prove her mother right, for God's sake. It was just a crush, just an innocent same-sex infatuation that was a perfectly natural part of adolescence, even though she'd prefer if she was past being an adolescent at the age of eighteen-going-on-nineteen.

She told herself the feelings would go away, that they'd fade. Instead, they intensified, but what else did she expect? They see each other every day; they spend a ridiculous amount of time together. Two fish out of water, really, and even though she loves getting to meet new people, she craves the security and comfort that she feels when she's around Jess. The easy companionship, the casual touching – no, don't go there, she tells herself. Because she knows she has to restrain herself around Jess now, because otherwise she'll be leaning her head on her shoulder and she'll turn slightly and then she'll be kissing her, and not in that quick, chaste way that can be written off as a friendly kiss, but in a proper, tongues-in-mouth, pressing-against-her-so-hard-it-almost-hurts, desire-soaked kiss.

And then Jess will know beyond a shadow of doubt that Jules is maybe-in-love with her.

***

Whenever they lose, everyone moves much slowly in the changing rooms. Everyone's tired and weary from the defeat, missing that extra burst of enthusiasm that winning a match brings. Watching Jess now is like watching her in slow motion. She winces, suddenly, and Jules – who is right beside her, as always – looks at her in concern. "You okay?"

"It's just a leg cramp," Jess says, rubbing at her left calf.

"Let me take a look at it," Jules says without thinking. The second the words are out of her mouth, the second she notes the look from one of the other girls, she wishes she could take it back, and in the next second she changes her mind. If it had been anyone else, no one would care, no one would think it was a big deal. And maybe she's just over-reacting anyway, reading too much into everything.

She moves her hands over the taut muscle, pressing down with her fingers and looking intently at Jess. "Better?"

Jess nods. "Much. Thank you." She smiles, and it's enough to make Jules melt. She can feel her face getting hot, and she busies herself with lacing up her shoes.

***

"Have you heard from Joe recently?" Jules asks her. They're in Jess's room, and there are photos and letters pinned up on her walls. A shrine to home, a reminder of the people they've left behind. Jules isn't often homesick, but Jess is. She's closer to her family than Jules is. She has more to miss.

Jess nods. "Yeah, he wrote last week." She smiles. "He has a girlfriend."

Jules freezes for a moment. "He – what? Why didn't you tell me? Are you –"

"It's not a big deal," Jess shrugs.

"But I thought – " Her mind is spinning. Joe has – and Jess doesn't care – and – no, she must just be hiding her feelings. "I mean, you and Joe – "

"I do care about him," Jess says. "But – I don't know. It was confusing. He was the first guy outside of my family's friends that I really ever got to know, and he was so nice to me, and so supportive, and I suppose I thought –" She sighs. "I thought I loved him."

"But you don't."

Jess shakes her head. "It's hard to sort out what's friendship and what's love sometimes, isn't it?"

For a second the world stops and Jules thinks that maybe she means that – and then she regains her senses, and just nods in agreement. "Yeah. It is."

***

She wants to write to Joe and ask him what he's thinking, going off with some other girl when he could have Jess. She wants to throw things at him for being so bloody stupid, for not appreciating what he could have had. It's a good thing he's six thousand miles away, she thinks grimly.

And then she wants to soothe Jess and stroke her hair and kiss her, but she can't even do that because Jess doesn't seem upset over the whole thing, and it's all so – confusing. And she knows, she just knows, that everyone's watching her, that her emotions are written all over her face.

Maybe even Jess knows. But no. She can't. It wouldn't even enter her mind, would it? But it might. It might.

At night she dreams of scenarios in which Jess loves her, too. She wakes up in a fuzzy happy haze and as she comes back down to earth, she's left with an intense longing that can't be filled by anything other than her dreams coming true. She wants Jess. She needs Jess.

She must love her. It must be love, because anything that isn't love couldn't hurt this much, could it?

***

"Are you sure you're okay?" Jules dares to ask when they're at a bar one night.

Jess frowns, looking confused. "Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Joe and his girlfriend!"

"I'm not bothered by it," Jess says calmly. She takes a sip of her beer, and then asks, "Are you?"

"No," Jules laughs. Of course she isn't. Joe can do whatever the hell he likes.

"I know you used to – " Jess begins, but is interrupted.

"I haven't liked him in a long time," Jules says.

"It just seems like you do, that's all."

"I – no. Joe is – I mean, he's great and all, but he's not the one I like." She pauses. Did she just say – oh, that's obvious, Jules, she berates herself. It's so obvious, and Jess will know, she's going to know now, and – and maybe she's sick of waiting, maybe she's sick of having to bottle up her feelings and pretend that she's not in love with her best friend, maybe she's sick of this ache and longing and need that's consuming her, maybe she needs to tell her.

The problem with Joe started because they weren't honest with each other, and now that Joe's out of the way, now that it's just the two of them, she might as well tell the truth. And everyone already knows. Everyone can see it in her eyes, and if she can't talk to her best friend about this, who can she talk to about it?

Jess stares at her for a moment, and then looks down at the table. It takes another moment before she looks up again and asks, "So who do you like, then?"

Jules knows it's just a formality and she suspects Jess knows it too. Playing out the rest of the scenario, saying all the things one should say in this situation, when they both know what's going on.

And she suspects, suddenly, that Jess has known for a while. That someone's said something, that one of the girls made a comment or had a chat with her or something.

"You really want to know?" Jules responds. Keep it going, keep playing the game. Like kicking a ball around, really. Pass it this way, that way, always aiming for the goal even though it's not always going to end up there. But football's easier than this. Simpler.

"Tell me," Jess says.

And Jules thinks that Jess must know, how could she not know? And then her mouth is on Jess's, and she's not surprised by this one bit, there's no little voice inside her head telling her that she shouldn't be kissing her best friend, because it feels so natural, as if she's always been meant to do this. As if it's the natural progression from hugs and casual touches, and maybe it is.

Kissing her doesn't help her decide whether it's a crush or an infatuation or love. But it doesn't matter, because it's her and Jess, her kissing Jess, Jess kissing her, and it doesn't seem to need a name anymore.

fin