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Who Needs a Fantasy? Pt. 02

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Welcome back to Lily and AJ’s story. If you haven’t read part 1, I guess you could still follow the plot here but why would you want to?

The Second Sunday of December

Lily

After rushing home as fast as she could, Lily stripped her wet clothes and boots and slipped on the sweatpants and hoodie she’d staged by the front door for exactly that purpose.

Lily: I think I just went on a date with AJ

Elliot Facetimed Lily before she could even make her way to the couch.

“You know, texting is a totally normal method of communication. You don’t have to Facetime me every time I text you,” Lily teased Elliot.

“I don’t call you every time you text me.” Elliot grinned. “Just most of the time. And so what. I’m not over you leaving so I’m going to take every opportunity to see your face that I can, Miss No Social Media.”

Lily gave Elliot a play-by-play of her day with AJ. She explained the conversation with Cammie and Jasmine, her overt attempts to flirt with AJ at the Christmas Village, and how they’d held hands by a fire pit until the sun set and it got too cold, even with the fire in front of them.

“We held hands the entire way from the rink to the garage. And I was totally going to try to kiss them, but it didn’t feel right. Not that I didn’t feel like the feelings were mutual, but like it wasn’t right for AJ. They almost looked scared,” Lily explained, trying to wrap her head around why AJ had looked so uncomfortable when they hugged goodbye.

“I’d be scared too if I were them,” Elliot scoffed. “Babe, you realize you were standing in front of a car, about to kiss, for the second time in your lives, right? And last time, you didn’t talk to them for twenty fucking years.”

“Well, fuck,” Lily said, dropping her face into her free hand.

“Yeah,” Elliot nodded. “You know you’re going to have to talk about it now, right? Not just today. All of it. Twenty years ago shit. You can’t keep pretending it didn’t happen.”

Lily wasn’t sure she wanted to keep pretending anyway. It was an important event. Their whole childhood friendship had been important. Her crush on them had been important. Pretending it didn’t happen was a disservice to the significance of their friendship.

The Third Friday of December

AJ

The Comets were up 57-35 against The Panthers at the beginning of the fourth quarter when Lily arrived at the game. AJ smiled in her direction, trying not to be distracted by the butterflies that had been becoming more and more intense each time they so much as got a text message from Lily.

The two had been texting more frequently that week than they had the week before but neither had brought up what AJ had assessed to be a budding romance on top of a rekindled friendship. They may not have been good at reading situations, but they were sure of it this time. Lily was into them.

That didn’t mean they were comfortable talking about it, though. AJ may have been confident that the romantic feelings they were experiencing were mutual, but they were still afraid they’d read it wrong. So while they weren’t going to actively avoid flirting with Lily or holding her hand, they certainly weren’t going to be the one to initiate anything more.

AJ’s weak attempt at just a soft smile and glance in Lily’s direction was not successful. She held eye contact with them for a bit longer than one might look at a friend and it made the warmth in AJ’s chest travel south and settle in their core. They’d fantasized about Lily as recently as that morning when they’d woken up from a dream wherein they went down Lily on their dining room table while her arms flailed and knocked their dinner onto the floor.

Good thing their plans were to go out to eat and not for AJ to cook for her at their house. They weren’t sure they could be in their dining room with Lily without that fantasy popping into their head.

After the game, AJ found Lily in the stands and told her she could wait in the gym for them. They just had to go to the locker room with the team and congratulate them on the win.

“Take your time. That was the first game of the season and first win of the season, you have to give them a Coach Booker level speech,” Lily told AJ with a wink.

They followed her advice and made their best attempt at an inspiring speech in the locker room. The players ignored the inspirational content and instead focused on teasing AJ for how they’d gotten distracted by Lily more than once in the fourth quarter.

AJ returned to the gym to find Lily lowering the net for one of the players’ little brothers. “Larry doesn’t like it when people mess with his stuff,” AJ said, motioning towards the long pole in Lily’s hands.

“I’ll put it back,” Lily said as she cranked the handle to lower the hoop.

By the time the hoop was lowered, the kid’s sister came out of the locker room. She thanked Lily bursa escort for hanging out with him and Lily promised the kid she’d lower the hoop faster next time so they could actually play. AJ didn’t overlook Lily’s mention of a next time.

“You ready to get something to eat?” AJ asked. They tried to play it cool, but they were starving.

Lily returned to hoop to the appropriate height. “Do you want to play first to eleven before we go?” she asked.

AJ was not about to deny the challenge, hunger be damned. They doubted it would take long anyway. Surely Lily didn’t still play. They would let her sink a few baskets but they were sure they could beat her in a quick game of one-on-one. They were so confident, they even let her have the ball first.

It wasn’t a smart move, though, as Lily hit the first shot from outside of the three-point line immediately.

“That’s two nothing,” Lily said with a cocky smirk. She motioned for AJ to pass the ball back to her. “Make it, take it.”

“Oh we’re playing playground rules,” AJ said, tossing the ball back to Lily. “I didn’t know this was Streetball.”

Streetball was a little rougher than the more formal game. Players called their own fouls, but only when the foul was egregious – calling too many fouls on one’s opponents was seen as a weak attempt to gain an advantage. AJ was not going to be the first one to call a foul no matter how aggressive the game got.

The game was a little more handsy than it was aggressive, though. Both players found reasons to wrap their arms around each other in feeble attempts to steal the ball and there was rarely more than a foot between the two. By the time the game was tied at nine points each, they were practically wrestling each other for the ball and a crowd of AJ’s players had gathered. Half cheered them on while the other half teased them.

Lily’s palm found AJ’s lower back more than a few times when she defended them and tried to impede their drives to the basket. They hoped it was subtle enough for their players not to notice, but judging from the whistles coming from the crowd, it was noticeable. Not that AJ was going to stop it, regardless of how potentially inappropriate it was in front of their team.

Lily had possession and all she needed to do was hit a two-point shot to end the game. Since they were playing 1s and 2s, that shot had to come from outside of the three-point line. Alternatively, she could hit two one-point shots in a row, but she had to win by two points.

AJ was not going to give up those last two points without a fight, though. They had a reputation to uphold with their players, none of whom had even been able to take them in a game of one-on-one.

The game didn’t end until a very loud growl from AJ’s stomach surprised Lily enough that they were able to steal the ball right from her hands and sink a two-point shot while she laughed. As expected, half of the players cheered and the other half groaned in disappointment. They all joined the two on the court for high-fives before the bus driver came inside to get the players he was waiting for.

“It’s Friday night, don’t you kids have parties to go to or something? Let’s go, I’m late for dinner with my husband,” he yelled from across the gym.

“Sorry Jesse, that’s my fault,” AJ said, waving to the driver. “Let’s go everyone, don’t piss off Jesse. We need him in a good mood this season so he lets y’all play whatever music you want on the bus.”

As the gym emptied and AJ congratulated their team on a great win again, Lily stood close to AJ and wrapped her pinky around theirs. “They really love you, you know. Maybe more than we loved Coach Booker.”

There was no greater compliment in AJ’s book than being compared to their idol.

Lily

The Italian place AJ picked for their date had changed a lot in the twenty years that Lily had been gone. What was once a pizza place that also served a little bit of pasta had become the fanciest restaurant in the small town. They hadn’t even had a liquor license the last time Lily had been there in her teens. The decor was a little over the top, but it fit.

“We barely touched that wine,” Lily commented, nodding towards the bottle that still contained three glasses of wine. The glasses on the table were also still half-full.

“Yeah, I don’t drink much these days. I did my best to keep up with you at the mixer, but the next day was a little rough for me,” AJ explained.

“I was trying to keep up with you!” Lily laughed. “I prefer being stoned to being drunk these days.”

“Same. No hangovers and no calories. Except the ones I gain from the snacks, but I don’t count those,” AJ said.

Lily rolled her eyes. “I don’t think you need to worry about counting calories, my dear.” Even by Lily’s professional trainer standards, AJ was in amazing shape. They had barely broken a sweat playing one-on-one with her.

“In that case, how do you feel about bursa escort bayan dessert?” AJ asked.

“Uh, I feel great about dessert,” Lily replied.

The two split a large piece of chocolate cake and a scoop of ice cream. They fought over the single cherry on top of the ice cream for a moment before AJ relented and let Lily have it. Lily slowly cleared the cherry of any remaining ice cream and held the fruit between her teeth before pulling the stem. She hoped the overt flirtation was not overlooked by AJ. If the way they cleared their throat before speaking was any indication, they had not.

“Do you want to come back to my place for a smoke?” AJ asked. “My dispensary finally had Lavender Haze and I’ve been waiting two months to smoke Lavender Haze while listening to Lavender Haze.”

“Oh my God, are you a secret Swiftie?” Lily asked. She didn’t need an excuse to go back to AJ’s house, she’d been hoping the night would end there.

AJ laughed. “It’s no secret. I have a Chevy truck named Tim, where do you think that came from?”

The reference was lost on Lily. “I have literally no idea. I’m a fan, but maybe not at your level. My fandom is more recent, so if that’s a reference to her Country days, I’m not going to get it.”

“Come on,” AJ said as they stood and held their hand out for Lily to take, “I can give you a Taylor lesson while you roll us a blunt.”

“A blunt?” Lily laughed and took their hand. “I haven’t smoked a blunt since…” she trailed off, remembering that the last time she used that particular method. “I don’t think I can even roll a blunt anymore.”

AJ’s house was small but it suited them. With the exception of the couch, all of the furniture was real wood and slightly imperfect, making the room feel cozy and lived-in. It was a refreshing change from the bare apartment she’d just moved into. She hadn’t had time to decorate much yet.

“Did you build all of this?” Lily asked, running her fingers along the worn wood of their built-in shelves. They were filled with small action figures with disproportionately sized heads.

“My dad helped with those, but yeah,” AJ confirmed.

“Your dad? The guy who tried to hammer your basketball hoop together when he got frustrated and permanently tilted the hoop to the right?” Lily asked.

“Hey, that tilted hoop still served its purpose,” AJ said. “And I only let him do the sanding and staining, which are my least favorite parts of building something.”

“Really? That’s the only part I’m good at,” Lily said.

AJ let their dog out of his crate and opened the back door to let him out. “Perfect. You can take his place, then. I have a bunch of half-started projects in the shed that I’m avoiding right now.”

“I don’t think I could ever take your dad’s place. He was a great guy,” Lily said.

AJ just nodded. Lily didn’t know the details of their dad’s passing, but the two were very close. He’d been to every one of AJ’s basketball and softball games from the time they were just starting out with sports.

“Your dog is very well-behaved, by the way,” Lily commented as she followed AJ to the screened-in back porch. “I was expecting a jumper.”

“Bruce has gotten calmer in his old age,” AJ said, flicking on the small heater mounted on one of the corner posts. “He’ll jump on you, but only to snuggle. He used to destroy everything. Hence the name.”

“You’ve lost me on the reference again. Is this another Taylor thing? Because I know you’re not implying that Bruce has destroyed anything,” Lily said, referring of course to the only human Bruce that could go only by his first name.

“No,” AJ laughed, “it’s not a Taylor thing. And look at that chonky dog, do you think he was born to run anywhere? I’m clearly just a bigger nerd than you. Bruce as in Bruce Banner, also known as The Hulk.”

“So you’re a Swiftie and a comic book nerd?” Lily asked with a teasing lilt in her voice.

“I don’t have the time for comics anymore, but I am a big fan of the MCU… The Marvel Cinematic Universe… and I’m not ashamed of it,” AJ said, grabbing a blanket from a chair and handing it to Lily. They nodded towards the loveseat on the porch. “Be right back.”

Before AJ returned, Bruce jumped into Lily’s lap and sniffed her for clues – all seventy pounds of him. “Well, hi there, Bruce. Do I smell like pasta?”

“Get down!” AJ yelled as they returned to the porch with a small wooden box. They didn’t sound mad, just commanding, and the thought of AJ commanding Lily sent a shiver up her spine. They pointed to the dog bed in the corner closest to the heater and Bruce jumped off of Lily. He spun in a circle a few times before curling up in a ball on his bed. AJ handed him a treat from the jar on the table and scratched his face. “Good boy.”

AJ set the wooden box on the table and joined Lily on the loveseat. She lifted the blanket for them to get underneath and tucked it under their legs on one side before escort bursa tucking it under her own legs on the other side. “It’s cold.”

It took Lily longer than she expected to roll a very pathetic blunt that absolutely would not stay lit. AJ quickly dismantled it and dropped the herb in their vaporizer. “I had high hopes for you, Duval.”

“I’m an adult with access to adult money and a variety of low-effort methods for consuming cannabis,” Lily said, trying to defend the decline in her rolling skills. “You know, they sell cones you can just drop that into if you really want the combustible experience.”

“Nah, I was just feeling nostalgic today,” AJ said, passing the vaporizer to Lily.

The two shared a look as if they both knew what AJ was referring to, but Lily didn’t dare to bring up the past. If she was lucky, they could avoid the topic for a few more weeks and reach a point where they were both so in love with each other that they could call it water under the bridge.

That’s if Lily were lucky, which she knew she wouldn’t be. She’d likely have to be the one to bring it up too. She may not have known AJ as well as she did years ago anymore, but they still seemed to have the anxiety that plagued them all those years ago. It was not probable that AJ would want to confront it immediately.

Despite the chilly temperatures, they stayed on the screened in porch long after they’d finished smoking. They talked more about what they each wanted in the future. Not necessarily with each other, but the future in general.

Lily asked AJ if they aspired to move up in the coaching world and potentially start looking at college jobs or travel team clubs, but they said they were happy where they were. “I get these kids at an age where I feel like I can make a difference. Not just in how they play the game, but also how they grow into adults,” they said.

The conversation made Lily miss personal training at the college. She’d always felt like she was helping student athletes achieve their goals, whether they were short-term in college or long-term aspirations to go pro. When she opened her own business, she was still helping people reach their goals but most of those goals were shallow goals to look better, not necessarily to be healthier. Her clients that wanted to be healthier for the sake of being healthier were always her favorite.

When the snow started to fall, Bruce joined them on the loveseat, stretching across both of their laps and tucking his face into AJ’s hip. His warmth bought them a little more time outside before they both would freeze. But eventually, Bruce hopped down and nudged the patio door, apparently ready to go inside and warm up.

“Should we join him?” AJ asked as they opened the sliding door for Bruce.

Lily looked around at the snow that was starting to accumulate. She had a long drive ahead of her. “Maybe just for a minute, I should really head out before the snow gets too bad.”

AJ switched the heater off and took the blanket from Lily to fold it. “Fair enough. Do you want a cup of hot chocolate? It’s nothing fancy, just the powder stuff you add to water, but I’ve always thought that was the best kind.”

“Um, fuck yes I want powdered hot chocolate, have you been holding out on me?” Lily asked as she stood.

Once inside, AJ told Lily she could sit on the couch and wait for them if she wanted, but Lily opted to join AJ in the kitchen. They set the electric kettle and pulled out two Villanova mugs.

“No way, I’m not drinking out of one of those things,” Lily said, pointing to the mugs in AJ’s hands. She was a UConn fan through and through and would not be caught using a Nova mug. “I’ll use a Penn State mug before I use one of those. And you know how I feel about Penn State.”

“Yes, yes, I know,” AJ sighed. They put the mugs back and pulled out two MCU-themed mugs. “Your favorite teams are contrary to what people in this area typically like because you’re such a rebel.”

“Or,” Lily said, dragging out the word, “I just get tired of people acting like Penn State is some sports powerhouse. They had one good coach who actually ended up being complacent, at best, in several assaults. I never had to turn on Penn State because I never thought Paterno was all he was cracked up to be anyway. And Nova is strictly a UConn basketball thing.”

“Still obsessed with Rebecca Lobo?” AJ asked, pouring the hot water into the mugs.

Lily rolled her eyes. “Obsessed is a little dramatic, don’t you think?”

“Tell that to your AIM screen name in the late nineties,” AJ quipped, referring to Lily’s username ‘UConn_50_Baller’ from the OG instant messaging service.

“Whatever you say, ‘SwoopesHoops22’,” Lily retorted.

AJ turned around with both mugs in hand and held one out for Lily. Instead of holding onto the mug, Lily took it from AJ’s hand and set it on the counter behind them, reaching past them on their right. She then took the second mug from their other hand and placed it on the other side.

With both of her palms resting on the edge of the counter on both sides of AJ, Lily took another step forward so their bodies were almost touching. They leaned back, but not away, and gripped the counter.

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