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The Disintegration of a Beautiful Mind

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January, 2016

 

Tobin is contemplating on how she should organize her paint brushes, they’re scattered on the card table she has set up in the living room near her large glass patio door. She scrunches her mouth and heads to the kitchen, opening a cabinet and finding a thirty-two ounce plastic souvenir cup from a Sea Dogs baseball game. She had gone with Allie who was throwing out the first pitch and kept the cup. She brings it back to her work area, one knee on the office chair she dragged out from her second bedroom, popping the brushes into the cup and setting on the table. She sets her easel a little further back against the door, out of the walk way and picks up the alarming amount of balled up sketch paper from the floor, past design ideas that were hastily discarded because Tobin wasn’t feeling it.

She’s feeling good about this particular painting, though. It’s her first work for the Painting 101 class she’s taking at the University of Portland. She took Art 101 last year in the spring, figuring out a way to juggle her schedule and complete the course. She wants to pursue this, this art stuff. Painting makes her feel deeply, she can’t completely describe how freeing it is to her, she feels almost more free and expressive than when she’s got a ball at her feet. She’s been loving the fact that for the past few days, she’d go work out and train, then come home and turn on some music and paint.

She’s been seriously contemplating if this is what she wants to after her soccer career is over. Yeah, maybe she’d still do camps and stuff, maybe even coach at some level, but she just has this strong feeling that this is something she’d be good at. It fulfills her a way similar to soccer.

Being lucky enough to travel the world, Tobin has used her opportunity to lose herself in museums abroad, enduring the teasing from her teammates when she comes back, glassy eyed and excited about the art she’s seen, clutching onto a new art book that she’d have her nose in for days.

Tobin wants proper schooling, she wants to hear the teacher critique her works, mostly because her friends and family pour praise on her so much, sometimes she feels like a little kid who did a crappy drawing and it’s gotten put up on the front of the fridge. She knows they all mean well, some of them may even really like her work, but she wants an outside perspective, someone who is knowledgeable, trained in the arts to honestly give her feedback.

She doesn’t want to paint something and the only reason it gets sold is because she’s Tobin Heath, Soccer Player. She wants her art to reach a wider audience, people who love art for art, not just soccer fans. Sure, she could probably sell paintings to her fans, but that makes her feel she wouldn’t have credibility. She wants her pieces to speak for themselves, not her name that she signs in the bottom right corner. She wants to do this right and see if she truly has the talent to make it in the art world, if it’s possible. She feels she ha a few years left playing, unless some catastrophic injury forces her to retire, but she thinks she’s got gas left in the tank for another cycle after this Olympics. Work hard to get on the roster for the 2019 World Cup.

This first assigned piece is depicting a still life. They had free reign to choose their subject matter. Tobin did not want to do the classic fruit bowl. She sat at the card table for hours, sketching out a bunch of ideas, crumpling up each paper torn from her sketchbook, not satisfied with what she came up with. They were dull, they didn’t spark anything in her. Frustrated and deciding to take a break, she had pushed away from the card table, intent on finally finishing her laundry.

It was when she unzipped her gear bag and let the contents fall that inspiration struck. How her boots just perfectly spilled to the floor, one on its side, the other upright, half crumpled socks falling over one and the other to side, her shin guards, haphazardly on the floor.

The idea hits and she gathers her gear, bringing them over to the table, looking around to figure out where to put it. She decides to put them on the floor, reasoning she’d have a different perspective, looking down on it from her chair. She sets the bag open, recreating the look of the cleats and socks, the scuffed practice ball lying casually next to the bag, having one shin guard remain in the bag, trotting over to the kitchen and grabbing a Gatorade, dumping half of it in the sink, twisting the bottle so the label wouldn’t be visible and shoving it partially in the bag.

She studies it critically from her spot in the chair, realizing it’s missing something. It needs grass or turf or something to set on, make it look more realistic, as if she’s just tossed her bag down to get ready for practice.

Tobin nodded to herself and decided to hit up a sports store to buy one of those practice hitting mats and see if that would make a difference. She brought out a posable lamp from her office desk in the spare bedroom set it down on the floor, extending the rod and angling it down to cast a beam of light on it as if it were the sun’s rays. Satisfied with how it looked, she left it and went back to doing her laundry.

That afternoon she found the perfect piece of turf, checking out the sports shop and finding a long blade turf piece used for practicing golf chip shots. That night, she set it all up, making sure everything looked just so, adjusting the lamp to give the best light and create interesting shadows. She snapped some photos of it with her phone as she sat on her chair.

Since that night two weeks ago, Tobin has been painting with any free moments she’s had, listening to music as she works, feeling happy and content. She’s almost finished with it, just needing a few more hours to finalize some of the fine detail in the cleats and one of the shin guards and then she should be set.

With Kelley coming to stay for a couple of days, Tobin wants to tidy things up, make sure to remove some of the clutter surrounding her workspace. She knows Kelley prefers everything to be neat and clean, but she’s just going to have to adapt to this situation.

 

 

For years it was Kelley and Tobin. They’d known each other since they were fifteen, being on youth national teams, showing up at the same summer camps and playing against each other in club play. They were good friends as the years passed. They’d kept in touch throughout high school, then during college. They gravitated to each other every time they were together.

It started out casual. The first time was at a party in their California beach house they’d rented with a couple of other teammates while they were playing for the Pali Blues while still in college. They just looked at each other, both pretty drunk and one thing led to another and they ended up in bed together.

They kept sleeping together, on and off, for a few years after, every once in a while, both attracted to one another, yet neither interested in making it a steady thing. It filled a need at the time, a release from horniness and unspoken loneliness. Both were pretty laid back about it, they knew their teammates whispered about them, but they didn’t care. It didn’t happen enough to make it a thing, like, a commitment or anything, so why should anyone care?

Then Tobin went to play in France and everything changed when she met Laure. Tobin and Laure were wonderful together, the fun couple, the adorable couple. Both knew it wouldn’t last and they ended things when Tobin went back to play for the NWSL for the Thorns.

Kelley was in New Jersey playing for Sky Blue and she got pretty close to Ali Riley. They seemed to have a pretty solid thing going on, like a consistent thing. Maybe even a relationship. Kelley would never admit it to Tobin, but every time she tried to bed Tobin, Tobin would refuse.

“I’m not a home wrecker,” Tobin would say, shaking her head at Kelley, not matter how drunk she was.

“Jesus, Tobin!” Kelley would exclaim, “We’re just fuck buddies, it’s not a thing,” she would plead with her.

Tobin would wince at the term, every time, hating how that sounded. “No way, man,” Tobin would just shake her head and move away from her.

When Tobin went back to France, she met Shirley and again, everything changed. She found herself in her first real relationship since college, and she liked it. Shirley was fiery and passionate, the sex was unreal. They got along well together, mostly having soccer in common and not too much else.

Tobin really fell for her, flying to France often in her down time, not doing her usual couch surfing trips to visit friends and family. The summer after Tobin’s contract was pulled due to a nagging foot injury, she still made trips out there. Things weren’t going so great between her and Shirley then, there were ‘discussions’. Tobin didn’t like to fight, she hated confrontation, it made her feel physically ill.

The ‘discussions’ grew more heated, Shirley not even contemplating coming to play in the NWSL and Tobin being pressured to stay in the states due to the upcoming World Cup and then the Olympics. The writing was on the wall.

Shirley made it easy on Tobin. One night they went out with a group of players to a bar and even though she came there with Tobin, she didn’t go home with her. Right in front of Tobin and her former teammates, Shirley found some chick on the dance floor, made out with her right there and then escorted her out of the bar.

Tobin left the bar, went straight back to Shirley’s tiny apartment, thanking God the two weren’t there, packed her belongings, left her key on the table and went to the airport. In the middle of the night, she parked herself in an empty coffee shop, bleary eyed, writing in her journal until her flight later in the afternoon.

When she arrived back in Portland, jet lagged and in a fragile emotional state, she poured herself into soccer and gave it everything she had.

It took her almost six months to gain perspective from her time with Shirley, to let that feeling of being devastated move to grieving it was over and move to accepting it was never meant to be. Yeah, she had loved her, but it was doomed once Shirley told her she wouldn’t play in the states. It just wouldn’t ever happen. Tobin often wonders if she was really in love with Shirley, because she feels differently about Kelley, but she doesn’t know if it’s because they’re just two different people.

Lauren and Amy, her two best buds from the National Team, helped her through it mostly, offering a shoulder and an ear. The three of them came up through the ranks together, getting to the bigs at the same time, learning and growing and maturing, somewhat, as they settled in playing on the national stage.

The three had so much in common, their faith, their values, their work ethic, their weird sense of humor and so much more. Tobin was always a little more in the clouds, much more content to go off on her own and experience new places and meet people. She was the quietest of the three, content to hang out and chill, not be the loudest in the crowd. She consistently would journal her thoughts, it helped her figure things out, it helped her calm her thoughts that would keep her awake at night.

Soon Kelley was getting call ups, more and more consistently, becoming a factor on the national team. She didn’t like the conversion from a striker to defense, but she sucked it up, realizing it may be her only shot to stay on the team.

The team was chock full of dangerous strikers, Carli Lloyd, Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez, Abby Wambach. There wasn’t room for a fiery red head that didn’t always listen to her coaches.

Kelley and Tobin became close again, Kelley insisting and convincing Tobin she was done with Ali Riley, free as a bird. But she was New Jersey, playing for Sky Blue and Tobin was in Portland on the Thorns. They made it work. Soon hook ups became staying the night, staying the night became hanging out, hanging out became talking while they were across the country from each other.

Slowly they became a thing, kind of a couple, inseparable when together, communicating almost every day while apart. They both affirmed they were solely with each other one day two years ago on the back deck of Kelley’s childhood home, after a day of surfing. Soon they would join one another for family visits, then holiday visits, then vacationing together.

Over the last two years, they weren’t super public with it, but it was solid. They were together and it was good.

 

Then Kelley got herself traded away from Sky Blue, landing in Utah. Tobin was excited, it meant shorter flights and possibly more time together. Quick weekends, days off, the chance to really build this into something more.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

It’s now late afternoon and Tobin is reading her textbook about the realism movement in art in the 1840’s and how it rejected the romanticism period with all the naked ladies and well built men. How this period of art focused on basic subjects, common subjects and every day events. She’s making notes on an index card, intent on making sure she has the proper time periods and definition of the movement.

Tobin realizes she’s a much better student this second go around at college. Partially because she’s actually paying to take the class and sees it as an investment, but also, she’s just a little more mature and really wants to know the subject. There were few classes that struck her as interesting during her time at UNC. She was too busy making soccer her priority, that was her mission and reason for being there. Yes, she went to classes and did the required work. She only did it to stay there and play soccer.

But this class, this class she can feel the difference. It’s a Tuesday night class and usually Tuesdays are hard practice days and Tobin is tired. She figured a Tuesday would give her the greatest chance of actually attending and not traveling while in season for the Thorns or the National Team. There’s this excitement she has every time she steps on campus and her fatigue fades away. This idea that she’s going to learn something valuable means something to her. Has an impact on her life.

She finishes reading the chapter, makes her final notecard and feels really good about it. Her instructor will give a short quiz on the chapter in tonight’s class and she feels prepared. Just a brief once over of her note cards and she should ace it.

She closes her book, leaving it on the kitchen table, and retrieves her laptop from her bedroom, firing it up and settling on the couch. Her next assignment is to find an early realism artist for a short biography and to complete a replica of one of their painting’s in their style.

Her phone chirps and she smiles, seeing a message from Kelley.

Kelley: On my way, in the Uber now. Be ready for me!

Tobin shakes her head, having no clue what Kelley might mean about being ready.

Tobin: Can’t wait!

She browses through a few pages of images, not really finding what she wants, and then switches over to the Portland art museum and looking under the styles of paintings that they currently are showing. The idea of actually going to see the painting she might want to replicate excites her, to see the brush strokes and how the artist accomplished the task seems pretty cool to her.

She finds the task might best be left to going to the museum due to the sheer amount of paintings on the website and how many of them are currently not on view. She knows that’s not something Kelley would be up to doing with her, but Kelley’s visit is going to be short, here this afternoon for a quick overnight and then off the day after tomorrow for some unknown destination.

Kelley had told her she was heading to LA to visit some friends and hang out but didn’t offer any other details about her trip. Tobin is used to her being slightly vague and the times she does press her for details, Kelley either clams up, claims she doesn’t know yet or gets pissed. So, Tobin, not being one who enjoys confrontation, usually just lets it slide by. She realizes they are both their own people and do their own things from time to time. It’s just a quirk in Kelley’s personality. It doesn’t happen much, so she doesn’t let it bother her.

Tobin retrieves her orange backpack from her hallway closet, bringing it to the table and loading her textbook, laptop and notes in there, double checking to see that she’s got everything else she would need for tonight’s lecture. Satisfied that she’s all set, she zips up the back and leaves it on the chair.

A loud knock gets her attention, a smile crossing her face as she heads over to open the door. She answers the door to Kelley pushing her against the wall, kissing her passionately as she drops her bag to the floor, her hands reaching and finding the back of Tobin’s neck, giving her a searing kiss as she fumbles out of her jacket with one hand. Words aren’t spoken as Kelley continues to kiss Tobin, grabbing her by the hip and leading her to the bedroom. It doesn’t take long for clothes to be shed, Tobin bouncing on the mattress as Kelley grins wickedly and licks her lips as she stares down at her.

“I missed you,” Kelley mutters, bending over and crawling to her on the mattress, her eyes crawling over Tobin’s body, “oh yeah,” she whispers, now hovering over her. Tobin pulls her down with a hand wrapped around the back of Kelley’s neck, bringing their lips together.

 

“So, hey,” Tobin grins at her, lying on her side, Kelley still panting, “how was your flight?”

“Good,” Kelley breathes out, “boring,”

“We should get dressed,” Tobin glances at her clock on the bedside table, “we need to leave in about a half an hour to meet everyone.”

“Go shower,” Kelley gives her a wave with her hand, “I’ll be right behind you,”

Tobin nods and leans over to place a kiss on Kelley’s lips, “Okay,” she says as she slides off the bed, “see you in there,”

 

 

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” Kelley says dryly as she looks around the living room.

“Ah, Kel,” Tobin says, walking past her to the kitchen table to grab her backpack, “it’s for school,” she says, “my art class, I have to leave it up,”

“Okay, dude,” Kelley nods, frowning at the clutter in the corner of the living room, “whatever you say,”

“You ready?” Tobin questions, holding her keys and looking at her from the hallway.

“Let’s roll,” Kelley grins at her, following her out of the apartment.

 

 

“It’s so good to see you!” Allie exclaims, standing from the head of the table and hugging Kelley, “how’ve you been?” Tobin takes a seat at the table, greeting Nadia Nadim and Emily Sonnett as she slides in next to Nadia.

“Good,” Kelley smiles, “Utah is a lot nicer than New Jersey,” she makes a face.

“Hey now,” Tobin says mildly, “Jersey’s pretty cool,”

Kelley rolls her eyes, “Not where I was,” she scrunches her nose and then grins at Tobin.

Tobin grins back, “You’ve got a point there,” she concedes. “Kel,” she says, “you remember Emily from camp, right?” Emily had her first invite to the National Team camp in December.

“Oh yeah,” Kelley nods, sending Emily a flirtatious smile, “how you doing?”

Emily shakes her head, “Just fine O’Hara,” she snickers.

“I’m here! I’m here!” Lindsey Horan breathes out as she rushes to the table, “Sorry, sorry,” she says as she sits at the opposite end of the table across from Allie, “traffic was a bitch,” she explains as she sets her purse on the table, looking around. “Hey, Kel!”

“Hey Linds,” Kelley grins, “how’s it going?”

“Well, fine now,” Lindsey snorts, rolling her eyes, “sometimes I hate Portland traffic,”

“City traffic does kinda suck,” Kelley agrees, nodding at her.

Their server appears and takes their drink orders, returning quickly the beverages.

“Tobs?” Emily looks over, “You’re not drinking tonight?”

Tobin shakes her head, “I’ve got class tonight,” she explains, “got a quiz too,”

“School sucks!” Kelley declares, raising her glass, “I’m out of college and never going back!”

Emily and Lindsey raise their glasses, toasting and drinking and laughing at the other end of the table.

Nadia turns to her, “What type of class are you taking?” she asks quietly, looking at Tobin with interest. Nadia came over to the Thorns from Sky Blue, a teammate of Kelley’s for a couple of years. Tobin’s met her a few times but they don’t really know each other well.

“Art,” Tobin nods, “studying painting,”

A smile spreads across the woman’s face, “Nice,” she says, “thinking of life after soccer?”

Tobin shrugs, “More like seeing if I’m worthy of it,” she says, still kind of shy to talk to people about it. But Nadia is different, Tobin’s heard she’s in school too. “You’re doing something in the medical field, right?”

“Pre-med,” Nadia nods slowly, “one class at a time,” she smiles at her, “it’s along road but it will be worth it.”

Tobin and Nadia haven’t spent much time together since she’s been in Portland for only a couple of weeks. Allie’s been pulling her along to meet any of their teammates around in the off season and helping her settle into the city.

“Where are you at with it?” Tobin asks, turning slightly to face her as the others are discussing last year’s World Cup.

“Almost finished,” Nadia’s lip curls into a half smile, “maybe three more years.”

“Wow,” Tobin leans back in her chair a little, giving her an encouraging grin, “that’s a commitment, huh,”

Nadia smiles wider at her, “I like to look at the big picture, Tobin,” she says, taking a sip of her beer, “keeps me motivated.”

Tobin nods as she thinks about her comment, then leans close to her, “Do you feel like you’re more invested in school now that you’re older? Like, not eighteen on a scholarship and playing soccer?”

Nadia nods bringing her lips together in a tight line, a slight smile playing on her face, “I value education more, now,” she says quietly, her eyes on the others as they laugh and joke about pranks the teams were playing on each other during the World Cup.

“Yeah,” Tobin says absently, looking over to watch them as well, then she gently elbows Nadia, “you coming to train with us tomorrow?”

“Yes,” she replies, “I can’t wait to see what it’s like to be on the same team as you,” she says genuinely, “and not having you break my ankles,”

Tobin laughs, “Well, I don’t know about that,” she says, shaking her head, “we’re just going to kick it around a little,”

“You’re too humble,” Nadia says, shifting to pick up her menu, “what’s good here?” she questions.

“Before I answer that,” Tobin says, “you have my number, right?” she sees Nadia nodding, “If you ever want to hang out, let me know,” she offers, “I know being in a new city can be weird, so if there’s anything I can do,” she trails off.

“Thanks, Tobin,” Nadia smiles gratefully, “everyone has been very nice since I got here. Nadine has shown me around,” she shakes her head, “that woman can drink!”

Tobin laughs with her, “Well, if you ever want to hang out and do something that’s easy in your liver,” she says, taking a sip of her water, “let me know.” She grabs her menu and the two discuss the offerings.

The server comes back with another round of drinks and they place their orders. When the food comes, Kelley takes up again with the World Cup talk, sharing stories that Allie, Emily and Lindsey may not have heard before. Tobin sees Nadia politely listening and she feels awkward for her.

Tobin asks her what her hobbies are and what she likes to do in her down time. They’re talking about the museums in the city when the two are drawn away from their conversation by the sharp tone in Allie’s voice.

“Kelley!” she says sternly, the whole table growing quiet.

“What?” Kelley questions, looking around, “I’m just saying that Tobin was subbed off, I came on and scored during that Germany match,” she catches Tobin’s eye, “that’s all.”

Tobin maintains a neutral expression, looking over and seeing Kelley’s at least two, if not, three drinks ahead of everyone else. She nods, “It was pretty amazing, Kel,” she smiles, “you saved our asses that day.”

“I sure as shit did,” Kelley boasts and points the tip of her bottle at Allie, “and that’s why I should be a striker, not a defender.”

Allie shakes her head, “Never gonna happen, Worms,” she says, calling her by her nickname.

“I don’t see it that way,” Kelley says, tipping the bottle back and finishing her beer. She catches the eye of their server who comes by to check on drinks and she orders another two. “I figure I’m only an ACL away from being there,”

“Shit, Kel,” Lindsey shakes her head, “that’s pretty fucking dark,”

“What?” Kelley straightens in her chair, “I’m just telling the truth,” she says with a shrug, “anything can happen.”

“Well, I hate to break it you Kel,” Allie says, shaking her head, “but I think Tobin’s going to be ahead of you on that depth chart,”

Kelley turns to look at Tobin who’s face remains impassive. She doesn’t want to argue with Kelley about this. She hasn’t even told her this little tidbit that she’s positive Allie is going to share any moment.

“Tobin’s going to play striker this season for the Thorns,” Allie smirks, just wanting to egg Kelley on. She’s not aware that Kelley is actually truly serious about wanting to be a striker.

Tobin focuses on her meal, looking down at her plate.

“Is that true?” Kelley asks her, her eyes locked on Tobin. Tobin hears her tone and looks up, seeing the anger smoldering just under the surface of her eyes.

She shrugs, “It’s just something he’s talked about,” she deflects, “nothing’s set in stone,” she nudges and smiles at Nadia, “especially when we’ve got this one now,”

“I don’t know,” Allie says, shaking her head, “rumor has it, this came from Jill.”

Tobin sighs, knowing this will not be good. In the corner of her eye, she can see Lindsey tense up, as if she’s realized this isn’t funny anymore.

She looks up as she grabs her glass, taking another sip of water, avoiding Kelley’s gaze.

“Well,” Emily says, grabbing onto Kelley’s arm, “you promised you’d show me the ropes defensively,” she says, trying to change the subject, “Imma gonna need help back there,”

Kelley holds her gaze on Tobin for another beat then turns and smiles at Emily, “I’ll show you the ropes, kid,” she says very flirtatiously, grinning at her.

Allie, now realizing how she struck a nerve with Kelley steers the conversation to music, asking about recent concerts anyone has attended.

Tobin looks at her watch, ignoring Nadia’s thoughtful look, taking her phone out. She Venmos Allie for her dinner, covering Kelley’s tab as well.

“Well, guys,” she says, standing, “I’ve got to get to class,” she grabs her jacket, “I’ll see y’all tomorrow,”

“Why don’t you text us when you’re out of class?” Lindsey looks up at her, “maybe meet up with us,”

Tobin shrugs, “Yeah, I’ll see what’s going on,” she says, remaining noncommittal.

“Harry,” Allie looks up from her phone, “this is too much,”

Tobin comes around and lays a hand on Kelley’s shoulder, “I’ve got Kel’s tonight,” she informs Allie.

“Ah,” she nods, understanding why it’s so much money.

“You guys have fun,” Tobin says, waiting for Kelley to acknowledge her, when it doesn’t come, her shoulders drop just a little, hoping it’s not too noticeable to the others, “I’ll see ya’s,” she says, scrunching her mouth up as she leaves the table and makes her way to the exit.

 

Tobin stops at a convenience store to buy a bottle of water, still feeling upset from dinner. By the time she gets to campus, she’s in a mood, having that feeling in the pit of stomach that Kelley is going to be super pissed at her when she gets home tonight.

 

 

XXXXXXXXXXX

 

 

Tobin made it to campus with a few minutes to spare, using that time to review her notecards for her quiz. Then she left her vehicle and trudged over to the art building, inhaling the scent of earthiness from the pottery studio as she passed by the room.

Her quiz was fast, she felt confident she knew the material and did well.

Tobin almost enjoys the lectures in class just as much as when they come in and paint. She really likes that this teacher prefers to lecture in the art studio, casually sitting to the side as she shows slides of paintings, using a yardstick to point out details and encouraging them to stand up and get closer to the screen to see what she’s talking about.

The class is small, only fifteen students are gathered, huddled around two tables while Dr. Andrews demonstrates how the realism painters from long ago most likely sketched out their drawings before actually setting brush to canvas or wood. Her classmates have been super cool to her, only once asking her questions and for photos and autographs after class. Tobin just asked them not to post that she’s on campus, doesn’t want to have fans trying to come and sneak in and disrupt the class. They all respect that.

The group is enthralled as Dr. Andrews explains the composition, the use of light and shadows, encouraging them to think about it for their first piece they’re currently working on.
The two and a half hours fly by, Tobin noticing almost everyone having her same reaction of dropping her shoulders when Dr. Andrews announces their time is up for the night. She reminds them to bring their painting to the next class for peer review and critique. The paintings are due in two more weeks, this was just a check in.

Tobin lingers as she gathers her belongings and sticks them in her back, approaching Dr. Andrews as she’s packing up as well.

“Dr. Andrews?” Tobin addresses the woman who looks up smiling at her, “Yes?”

“Um, I just wanted to let you know there’s a possibility I may have to miss a couple of classes,” she says hesitantly and a little nervously, “and I wanted to know if we could work together so I don’t miss any deadlines you have.”

“Oh, Ms. Heath,” Dr. Andrews smiles, “I understand,” she nods, straightening up and leaning against her desk, “they haven’t come out with the schedule yet,” she cocks her head to the side, “do you players get it earlier than the public does?”

Tobin scrunches her mouth and shakes head, “Unfortunately, no,”

“Well,” her teacher gives her a little wave, “once it’s released we can review it,” she says, lifting her coffee cup, “I suppose you’ll be traveling towards the end of the semester.”

“Yeah, March, April and May,” Tobin offers, still feeling a little nervous about talking to her about this. She’s never had to arrange her schoolwork before, when she was back at UNC, the team liaison would contact all of the players’ professors.

“Well, it would be no problem to jump ahead,” Dr. Andrews assure her, “maybe we can meet up and review the assignments, I can give you the readings and even my powerpoints,”

Relief floods Tobin, a smile gracing her face, “That would be wonderful, ma’am, thank you so much,”

“Ms. Heath, it isn’t a problem,” she says as she takes a sip of her coffee, “I’m intrigued to see your first piece,”

Tobin kind of shrugs, “Please, call me Tobin,” she says, bobbing her head a little, “it’s just my gear bag,” she says, “soccer stuff,”

“Is it going well for you?” she asks genuinely, “No snags?”

“Actually,” Tobin gives her a crooked grin, “it’s almost done,” she says, her voice having a touch of pride in it, “my schedule is pretty open right now, so I’ve been really working on it,”

Dr. Andrews brightens at that, “Oh, that’s wonderful,” she enthuses, “well, let’s see where you’re at compared to the rest of the class,” she says, grabbing her coat, “Have you decided on an artist and painting yet for your next project?”

The two make their way out of the studio, Dr. Andrews shutting off the lights as they leave the room.

“Actually, I looked online this afternoon,” Tobin explains, “and I thought I would go to the art museum tomorrow to see what’s on display,” she shrugs, “I thought it would be cool to see the actual painting, study the brush strokes and stuff,” she adds hastily, feeling a little unsure of herself.

“That’s a wonderful idea,” Dr. Andrews enthuses, “I wondered if any of my students would think of doing that,”

“Well, looking on their website, I don’t know what’s on display,” Tobin confesses, “I don’t know if there’ll be something cool or not.”

“Oh, don’t you worry Tobin,” Dr. Andrews says as they approach the exit doors, “they have an excellent rotating display, I’m sure you’ll find something interesting,”

“Oh, great,” Tobin smiles, “I wasn’t sure,” she says, “I haven’t been there in a couple of years,”

“Well, enjoy your visit tomorrow,” she replies, “I’ll see you next week,”

“Thanks, have a good week,” Tobin grins at her as they depart for their vehicles.

After Tobin starts her car, she pulls out her phone, seeing a text from Allie.

Harry: Don’t come out, Kelley is on a bender : (

Tobin frowns as she reads the message. She carefully types out her reply.

Tobin: should I come and get her?

The reply is immediate.

Harry: no, I’m going to give her an hour and then call it a night, I’ll drop her off at your place.

Tobin sighs, noisily blowing air out through her mouth. Sometimes, Kelley doesn’t know when to say when.

Tobin: let me know if I owe you some cash

Harry: she’s been buying, it’s cool

Tobin raises her eyebrows at the response, Kelley buys when she wants everyone to drink with her.

Tobin: I owe you one. See you at training

She tosses her phone on the seat next to her, puts her car in gear and heads home.

 

When she arrives home, she gets ready for bed, deciding to sack out on the couch to wait for Kelley. It’s getting late, way beyond midnight, when Tobin falls into a troubled asleep. When she hears the key in the lock and fumbling at the door, she glances at the clock and sees it’s two forty-five. She rolls over, pulling the blanket over her shoulder, facing inward to the couch. She doesn’t want to deal with a drunk and horny Kelley. There’s no pleasure when Kelley’s drunk, Tobin has faked it before, just wanting to be done with it.

She hears Kelley enter, her footsteps stopping in the living room, pausing before turning away and going back down the hall. In the quietness, she hears the toilet flush a couple minutes after, the sink running and then silence.

Tobin sighs, thinking they need to talk about what is happening between them and tries her best to fall asleep.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

January

 

The next morning, Tobin stands in the doorway to her bedroom, looking at a sleeping Kelley. She feels a surge of affection for Kelley as she looks at her, even after last night, shaking her head as she moves to the side of the bed, sitting down slowly.

Kelley issues a groan as she rolls over to face her, “Hey,” she mumbles, her eyes closed, yawning and stretching her arms, “what time is it?”

“About eight-thirty,” Tobin replies, “breakfast is almost ready,” she says, “you want to eat?”

“Yeah, I’ll get up,” Kelley nods, her eyes still closed, “I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Okay,” Tobin says and gets up, “I made you some coffee,” she says over her shoulder as she exits the room.

“I love you!” Kelley yells from the bedroom, making Tobin smile.

 

The two are side by side on the couch, eating and watching ESPN, Tobin keeping an eye on the time.

“You going to train today?” she asks Kelley, nudging her with her elbow.

“Nah,” Kelley shakes her head as she takes a sip of her coffee, “my legs are tired,” she says, “I had a heavy few days before I got here,”

“Oh, bummer,” Tobin frowns, “we were gonna shoot around for a little bit,” she says, “you sure you don’t want to come?”

“Nah,” Kelley looks over at her, “my ankle is a little tight,” she scrunches her mouth, “don’t want to mess with it.”

“You gonna be okay for camp?” Tobin raises her eyebrows with concern.

“Yep,” Kelley smiles at her, “just giving it a few days,” she assures her, “it’s feeling better already when I roll it around,”

“Just take it easy, dude,” Tobin says softly, “you don’t want something like that to linger,”

Kelley nods at her, “Oh, I know,” she says seriously, “I’m not gonna fuck around with it.”

“Cool,” Tobin says, “I’m gonna head out in few, you gonna meet us for lunch?”

“Definitely, just text me where,” Kelley smiles, leaning over and giving her a soft kiss, “if we make it a quick lunch, we’ll have some time back here,” she says suggestively, eying Tobin with lust in her eyes, “maybe we can, you know,” she gives her a knowing nod with a sly grin.

Tobin smiles at her, “I’d like that,” she says, leaning over to kiss her softly, “I’d like that a lot.”

 

Lunch is good, Kelley has her arm casually on the back on Tobin’s chair, laughing at Lindsey’s story about tripping on the escalator when she arrived in France to play for PSG. Allie follows up with one about Kelley scaring her in a hotel hallway, making her scream.

Nadia laughs, joining in and telling a story of how Kelley and Ali Riley put plastic wrap across the toilets of a few players hotel rooms on an away trip.

Kelley beams at the prank, “No one messes with the master,” she declares with a proud smirk, “they learned their lesson.”

Tobin laughs and takes a sip of her iced tea, nodding her head, “Remember back when we played for the Pali Blues?” she elbows Kelley, “That prank war?”

Kelley bursts out laughing, her arm slipping down around Tobin’s shoulder, pulling her close, “Tobin had made a bet that she was the prank master,” she laughs, shaking her head.
Tobin sends a thumb in Kelley’s direction, “This one declared from the start she wasn’t going to be involved,” she says, catching everyone’s eye at the table, “she said we weren’t worthy of her pranks. We were living with like, four other girls at the time, all of them on the team.”

“The pranks started as typical,” Kelley joins in, “the toilet thing, saran wrap across doorways,”

“The water bucket over the door!” Tobin giggles, “But then, they went another level,” she nods, “the salt in the sugar dispenser was the bomb.”

Kelley laughs, shaking her head, “Picture a bunch of tired ass soccer players wanting their morning coffees and there’s salt in their coffee!” The table responds with laughter and grimaces.

“Then someone,” Tobin says, casting a glare at Kelley, “wrapped everything in the fridge and freezer in foil,” she looks at her again.

Kelley’s eyes go wide, a hand to heart, “Not me,” she says, a hint of a smile on her face, “I wasn’t in the war, remember?”

“Uh huh,” Tobin chuckles, “and how did everyone’s car keys get switched from their key rings?”

Kelley shrugs, putting her hands in the air, “No clue,” she says, “not in the war.”

“Riiight,” Tobin nods, looking at the table, “the last prank,” she shakes her head, “unbelievable,”

“What was it?” Nadia asks, looking expectantly at them. The rest of their table has their eyes on Tobin and Kelley.

“So, we were going to have a party,” Tobin explains, “the whole team was coming over,”

“Back then, screwdrivers were the drink of choice,” Kelley adds, “you know,” she nods at everyone, “it’s healthy because orange juice.” They nod in understanding.

“Someone,” Tobin chuckles, “someone switched out the vodka,”

Kelley chuckles at the memory, grinning at the table, “There were all of these bottles of vodka, but they were actually filled with Everclear, rum, gin, whatever clear booze there was.”

Tobin looks up at the ceiling, then shakes her head, “If that wasn’t bad enough,” she says, sending another look at Kelley, “the orange juice was messed up too.” She frowns at the memory, shivering in her chair.

“Our captain tells everyone to make a drink,” Kelley says, “she always had this thing where you chug the first the drink of the night.”

“So, everyone makes a drink,” Tobin says, “we all are together on the back deck, she makes the toast and we drink,”

Kelley starts laughing, “It was awful!”

“What was in the orange juice?” Allie wants to know.

Tobin scratches her temple, “Well, we think some had carrot juice in there, definitely lime juice, the apple cider vinegar was atrocious, so was the lemon juice.”

“Oh, that sounds awful!” Emily grimaces, just imagining what it would taste like.

Tobin looks at the table, “No one in the house claimed the prank as their own,” she says, narrowing her eyes on Kelley, “although we all had our suspicions,”

Again, Kelley raises her hands in surrender, “Not my war,” she claims, “I was Switzerland,”

“Anyway,” Tobin grins, picking up her tea, “I don’t do pranks anymore,” she says, “not when this one is around at least,” she elbows Kelley who looks smug.

“Bow to the master,” she says airily, lifting her beer to her lips.

 

As soon as they walk into Tobin’s apartment, she knows something is off. She looks around and her shoulders drop.

“Kel?” she questions, “where’s all my painting stuff?” Her easel and a card table are missing from the corner of the living room.

“Oh,” Kelley says as she walks to the couch, “I put it in your guest room,” she says over her shoulder, “it was cluttering up the living room.”

Tobin sucks her lips into her mouth, pressing down firmly as she inhales, slowly letting the air out as she counts to ten in her head. Kelley is always moving her stuff around, but this is the first time she’s touched her art supplies. Why she would move her art stuff this morning when she’s leaving this afternoon puzzles Tobin.

“Hey, Kel,” she says, moving to the couch and sitting down, making sure to keep her voice calm and casual, “I’m gonna be putting it all back there,” she jerks her thumb over her shoulder to where it used to be, “it has the best light and that’s the best place for me to paint for my class,”

“Fine,” Kelley shrugs, clearly unhappy.

“I usually put it away when you’re coming over,” Tobin states, “but I need to keep it up while I’m taking my art class,” She shifts on the couch, “I’ve got my eye on a cool table and an organizer,” Tobin continues, “I know it looks messy, I promise I’ll get it straightened up,”

“Yeah, okay,” Kelley says flatly.

Tobin doesn’t want to start a fight but she needs to say this to Kelley. She takes a deep breath and sets her hand on Kelley’s thigh.

“Kel?” she says quietly, waiting for Kelley to look up at her. “Kel, I’m taking this class and it’s super important to me. I’m going to need to keep my stuff out,” she pauses, “and I’d really appreciate it if you wouldn’t mess with it, okay?”

Kelley nods, “Okay,” she says quietly, looking guilty.

“Class just started like three weeks ago,” Tobin explains, nice and easy, her voice gentle, “I haven’t had time to get my stuff together, like organized, I will, though,” she says, “I promise.”

“I know you don’t like stuff messy,” Tobin continues, “but I’ll get it ship shape, real soon.” Kelley is somewhat of a neat freak and any time Tobin tried to talk to her about it, Kelley would just explode on her. Tobin doesn’t know, because she isn’t a professional, but she suspects that Kelley has some OCD tendencies.

“Okay,” Kelley replies, “I’m sorry,”

“It’s alright,” Tobin reassures her, “I’m sorry it was so messy,” Tobin moves to stand up but Kelley takes a hold of her wrist, pulling her down.

“I’ve been thinking, Tobin,” Kelley says, and that’s when Tobin knows it’s serious because Kelley hardly ever calls her by her name. .

“Yeah?” Tobin prods.

“I was thinking of maybe finally getting a place somewhere around LA,” Kelley says, her eyes becoming brighter, “you know, so we could enjoy the off season more,” she grins at her, “you know, in the sun and not,” she waves her hand towards Tobin’s patio door with the overcast sky coming in, “gloom.”

Tobin grins at her, “Sounds sweet,” she says, smiling at her.

“Yeah,” Kelley says, looking around Tobin’s apartment, “I think I’m ready to start settling down, you know?”

“Yeah, I do,” Tobin agrees, because she’s feeling the same way. Her heart soars with a warmth that fills her, this is taking the next step, she feels, this is them getting closer to being a real couple. She doesn’t tell Kelley that she’s gotten a notice that her apartment complex is going condo and she’s thinking of buying this place, though. She doesn’t want to steal her thunder.

Kelley looks at her watch and smirks, turning to look at Tobin, “I have an hour before I need to leave,” she says, her voice dropped low, her eyes beginning to swirl with a darkness.
That look in Kelley’s eyes makes Tobin feel a spasm low in her belly, especially when Kelley reaches over and begins to rub her hand on her thigh.

“Bedroom,” is all Tobin says, wordlessly standing up, peeling her shirt off as Kelley follows.

 

XXXX

 

 

It takes Tobin an hour to set up her art supplies to her liking and another hour to get her still life items composed perfectly to match how it originally was before Kelley put it in the guest room.

Tobin isn’t training today, it is her chosen off day, a time to relax and get her legs back and the rest of her body a chance to regenerate from her workouts. After Kelley left, she did her stretches, she rolled out her legs and laid on the floor with the compression sleeves her legs, feeling the cyclical pressure as they worked on her circulation.

After that, she showered, ate a quick lunch and got to putting her workspace back together. Now she’s excited to get to work.

She sits in her chair, looking down at her cleats, the focus of her attention today. The overcast sky is coming in through her patio slider door is perfect, not glaring or creating any additional highlights on her still life.

Her playlist is playing quietly, a mix of Christian songs and easy listening music, nothing with a heavy beat, just laid back and calming. She starts uncapping the few colors she needs and squirts the tubes on her pallet, anxious to get back to it and lose herself for a while.

 

Dusk is on her as she leans back in her seat, rocking it side to side with short bursts of movements as she scans over her canvas. She abruptly pushes her chair back, standing and arching her back, it’s tight from sitting hunched over for so long. She realizes she’s thirsty and blinks in surprise when she sees it’s almost dark. She goes to the kitchen to get herself a water, filling her cup and bringing it back to stand before her canvas.

It’s done.

She doesn’t allow herself to get excited about it, reasoning that she should review it critically in the daylight, not right now when it’s nearly dark and she’ll need to put a light on it. She hasn’t brought any natural light lightbulbs yet, so she’s hesitant to say for certain it’s finished.

It’s Thursday and she thinks she remembers that the art museum is open tonight, she snaps her fingers and retrieves her phone from the kitchen table, ignoring the messages that appear when she swipes it to life.

She finds out she’s correct, she’ll have a couple of hours to check out the realism paintings and heads to her room to find something not paint stained to wear out in public.
Forty minutes later, Tobin is standing at the entrance of the near empty exhibit hall, the soft lighting along the walls illuminating a myriad of paintings. As is her habit, she turns left to begin her study of the realism movement gallery.
She slowly scans the paintings on the wall, looking at them thoughtfully, trying to see if she feels anything from each one, a pull, an emotion, something that might make her want to paint it. On the second the wall, she stops in her tracks at the large painting, she guesses it’s about 24” x 36”. She leans forward and squints to read the placard.

 

Beach in Normandy

Gustave Courbet

 

She looks at the painting, studying it. She can hear the waves, the seagulls, almost smell the salt in the air. A high cliff, boats on the shore, small figures near the shoreline. The water, just a sliver of blue with a rolling wave coming to the shore. Darkening storm clouds off the distance.

She takes a step back, now critically examining the painting. She likes the composition, how the rocky cliff looks interesting, the sand with some valleys and designs. She’s biting her lower lip as her head begins to nod, formulating how she might block out the work. She likes that the most technical part, the cliffs, is located on the left side, being left handed, she feels like it would be more comfortable to paint.

She takes out her phone, opening her notes and entering the painting’s name and artist. She notices the museum is open for twenty more minutes, so she makes her way to the gift shop.

“Hi, can I help you?” a young girl asks, popping up from behind a rack, making Tobin flinch with surprise.

“Oh, hey,” Tobin replies, “yeah, actually,” she nods, “I was wondering if there are prints or posters available of a particular painting?”

“Oh sure, we have loads,” the girl smiles at her, “come on,” she says, leading her to a computer kiosk.

“Do you know the artist and name of the print?”

“Yeah,” Tobin gives her the information.

Five minutes later, she’s walking out in the brisk night with a grin on her face, clutching a rolled up poster of the her next painting.

 

She doesn’t hear from Kelley for a few days, her calls go unreturned. Same with her texts. She’s not sure what she’s doing down in LA,so she tries to be patient. Kelley’s done this before, and she’s been guilty of it a well, although not in a few years, of being off and busy, thinking of contacting her too late in the day. She tries to blow it off, but it nags at her. For the last two years, she’s really put effort into staying in contact with Kel when they are apart and so did Kelley, so for her to blow her off stings.

She keeps herself busy, working out, running, working on her speed techniques. She’s feeling good about her fitness level and how her legs don’t feel heavy. She knows she’s played a bunch of matches last year, for the Thorns and National Team, the send off series, the World Cup, the Victory Tour.

She really laid low in December, closely following Dawn’s prescribed workouts, not varying it and focusing on maintaining her rest and forcing herself not to do too much. She met up with Christen Press when she was in LA, visiting her sister. They went to a yoga studio together a few times and Tobin found herself enjoying it.

She appreciated the stretching aspect of it, liking the calmness of the activity. While challenging, she found it to be something she enjoyed doing and added it to her regimen, doing it a few times a week. While Christen really benefited from the meditation aspect, Tobin found herself day dreaming, thinking of life after soccer and what she would do.

Over coffee, the two discussed what they thought they might find themselves doing. Most of their other teammates on the National Team didn’t want to explore that just yet, believing they should focus on the present, the here and now.

Tobin liked to be a little organized, granted not in all aspects of her life, her apartment might sometimes be categorized as cluttered, she preferred the term lived in. Tobin liked talking with Christen. She was smart, like, super smart and could express herself well. Sometimes Tobin found herself struggling to say what was on her mind, needing time to process her feelings and then be able to talk about the subject. Christen could draw it from her easily, asking her gentle questions.

Their friendship had always been like that, both preferring serious conversations over small talk. They quickly became good friends, having a unique friendship that allowed them to pick up from wherever they left off, as if they had just seen each other the day before. It was similar in so many ways to the friendship she has with Lauren and Amy.

When Tobin shyly shared that she was considering pursuing art, Christen championed the idea, genuinely supporting her, being one of the first outside her family to do so. Tobin appreciated it, she always felt nervous talking about her interest in art or showing her works. She had a hard time believing peoples’ compliments were sincere. But Christen, Christen genuinely saw her passion for it and encouraged her to pursue it. They would check in here and there over their breaks from camps and friendlies, talking about whatever
was on their minds.

No topic was off limits. Christen wanted to know how it was going with Kelley, Tobin wanted to know how Christen was feeling about her level of play. It was a great friendship.
So that was how Tobin found herself texting Christen after not hearing from Kelley for almost a week.

Tobin: Hey Chris, how’s it going? Let me know when you have some time to chat

Press: Hi Tobin! I can call you in 5?

Tobin: Perfect!

Tobin stretches herself out across her couch, her head resting on a pillow. Her phone rings and answers with a smile.

“Hey, Chris, how’s it going?”

“Hi, Tobin!” Christen’s perky voice comes across the phone, “I’m doing really good, how are you?”

“Pretty good,” Tobin replies, “starting to pick up training, lifting a lot,” she says, “how about you?”

“The same,” she answers, “following the workouts, you know?”

“Yeah,” Tobin nods as she speaks, “I’m feeling so much stronger,”

“I know what you mean,” Christen says excitedly, “I’ve maxed out on squats, dead lifts and leg press,” she says, “I’m lifting more than I’ve done before,” she pauses, “I mean, I know it doesn’t show on me, I’m not like, cut like you,”

“Aw, Chris,” Tobin sighs, “you know that doesn’t matter,” she says seriously, “you know what you’re lifting, you know how strong you are, it doesn’t matter if you’re not looking ripped.” She knows Christen has some body perception issues, so she tries to encourage her.

“You’re right,” she sighs, “sometimes I just feel like I put in the work and there’s nothing to show for it,”

“Chris, you know that’s not true,” Tobin says, “you’re perfect just how you are. And you know it will show when you blast by defenders to score.”

“Thanks,” Christen says quietly, “I know I shouldn’t let myself think that way, but sometimes it just creeps up on me,”

“I understand,” Tobin says just as quietly, “I know what it’s like to battle those self-doubts,”

“But I just have to ignore them and remind myself of the positives of what I’m doing,” Christen states, knowing that’s exactly what Tobin would be saying next.

“Did you do any speed work?” Tobin asks, “I did a week session and it was awesome,”

“Yes,” Christen answers excitedly, “I worked with a sprint coach, it was really interesting,”

They talk about running form and pacing and the workouts they are continuing with in their regular workouts.

“I feel faster,” Christen says, “more explosive,”

“Yes, exactly,” Tobin grins, “so how’s your family?”

They catch up on family and friends and how their holidays were.

“So, how are you and Kelley?” Christen asks, “Lay down Morena,” she says and Tobin can hear the dog groaning.

“We’re doing pretty, good,” Tobin says hesitantly, “I haven’t heard from her since she left for LA last week, it’s been five days,”

“Huh,” Christen murmurs, “I haven’t heard from her either, she usually calls when she’s in town,” she’s quiet for a minute, “Have you checked Instagram?”

“No,” Tobin replies, “I hardly go on there,”

“Looks like she’s surfing,” Christen says, sadness in her voice.

Tobin changes screens and pulls up the app. She scans IG for a minute, “She’s with Ash?” Christen can hear the hurt in her voice.

“I’m sorry,” Christen says heartfully.

“What the hell,” Tobin mumbles, then she sees another post of Kelley with Ali Riley, “and Riley, too?”

“I’m sorry,” Christen repeats, her voice nearly a whisper.

“I guess I’m not surprised,” Tobin admits, “but usually Ash would call me,”

“Has she been…unpredictable lately?” Christen asks cautiously.

Tobin considers, “No,” she replies, “not really anything out of the ordinary. I mean, she drank a bit more. When she was here, she kind of talked about wanting to be a striker, not liking playing defense.”

“Hhmmm,” Christen hums, “I’ve had that conversation with her before,”

“You know,” Tobin says, “now that I think of it, she didn’t train with me while she was here, that was weird. Said her ankle was hurting a little.”

“And then she goes surfing,” Christen snorts, Tobin hearing the aggravation in her voice, “she needs to get serious about herself.”

“She did say it was feeling better,” Tobin offers, wanting to defend Kelley a little.

“Yeah, I’m sure she did,” Christen notes, “but she knows how something little like that can linger. She preached it to me last season,” she’s speaking quickly, getting a little riled up, “and for her to be slacking in preseason…”

“I don’t know what’s going on with her,” Tobin confesses, “anytime I try to talk seriously about stuff, she bottles up.”

“Tobin,” Christen says quietly, her voice sad once again, “that’s not healthy for a relationship.”

“I know,” Tobin admits, “I love her, but sometimes she can be so aggravating,” She tells her how Kelley moved her paint set up even though she was leaving that day. “I’m sure there’s plenty she can bitch about me though, too,”

Christen chuckles, “You sell yourself too short,” she says, “how is painting class going?”

That launches Tobin into a passionate few minutes of telling her about how much she’s loving it, including on how she chose her next painting subject.

“Text me the artist and the name of the painting,” Christen requests, “that way when we talk about it later, I’ll have an idea of what you’re talking about,”

“Yeah, sure,”

They’re both silent for a minute, then Christen speaks.

“You know,” she says slowly, “I did talk to Allie yesterday,”

“Long?”

“Yes,” Christen confirms, “she told me about Kelley at lunch and the striker thing,” she admits. “And she told me how mean Kelley was to you,”

“Aw, it-” Tobin starts.

Christen cuts her off, “She told me about how Kelley said she’s an ACL away from being a striker,”

“I’m sure that was the booze talking,” Tobin asserts.

“Drunk talk is sober thoughts,” Christen replies, “guess I’m going to have to watch myself,”

“Aw, Chris,” Tobin sighs, “please don’t get mad about this,” she pleads, “you know how Kelley shoots off her mouth, it doesn’t mean anything,”

“I’ll think about it,” Christen says, “I’m moving in on Tuesday next week,” she announces, “Kelley said she’s moving in at the end of the week, I offered to give her a hand,”

“Chris,” Tobin says, feeling a little upset, “I don’t know what to do,”

“About what?” Christen asks.

“In my exit interview with Jill, she asked me to work on my shooting and offensive runs,” Tobin explains, “she’s thinking of putting me, you and Pinoe up front,”

“She told me,” Christen acknowledges, “I think it’s a fantastic idea,”

“Mark is going to incorporate me up front as well,” Tobin states, “but how will Kelley take it? She’s going to be so pissed,”

“If Jill sticks with this three back idea and pushes Kelley up the wing, maybe that will satisfy her striker need,” Christen reasons, “if not,” she pauses, “Tobin, if not, if this starts becoming a serious issue between the two of you,” she says softly, “you may need to reconsider your relationship with her. I know you love her, but if she can’t get over it and it causes problems and fights between you two, then maybe it’s not meant to be,”

“I hope not,” Tobin sighs, praying this doesn’t become a serious issue, “I really hope not.”

“So do I,” Christen agrees, “I really hope Kelley figures herself out.”

They talk about the upcoming camp and make a plan to get coffee when they arrive. Then they sign off.

Tobin has some thinking to do.

 

XXXX

 

 

She has class tonight and is anxious to hear what Dr. Andrew has to say about her painting. She pulls her easel out to face the sun coming through her window and examines it. She’s hit with this overwhelming feeling of pride and peace and excitement that washes over her and tears spring to her eyes.

She moves to the guest bedroom and retrieves her portfolio case and her supply case. She brings them back to her work area, unzipping the portfolio and setting it on the ground. She brings her painting over, clipping it into the portfolio, even though it’s dry, she doesn’t want it to get scratched.

For this class, they are using acrylic paints, it’s necessary so their works can dry quickly as they work through the different styles of painting. She packs her supplies, the brushes, the paints and everything she needs to paint tonight. She sets her poster of the Courbet painting, unsure if she’ll have time to get started on it. She makes sure to slide a blank canvass in her portfolio, just in case she can start.

 

Tobin greets her classmates as she gets to her work area, sighing happily as she opens her portfolio. A wave of nervousness overcomes her, making her stop in her tracks. It’s a different type of nerves she rarely feels. Before matches, her nerves are more excitement, anticipation of the match, she’s not nervous of the outcome, she's eager to get playing.
This is different. This is sharing your work and hearing it being critiqued. She knows she can take constructive criticism, it’s part of being a soccer player. Your coach is constantly on you about stuff, areas of improvement, mistakes you need to stop making, choices you make on the pitch.

This is about her art. It’s so much more personal.

She hears her phone chirp, indicating a text message. She pulls it from her pocket, swiping it open.

Harry: Good luck tonight! I’m sure it’s awesome! Don’t be nervous!

Tobin smiles and lets out a breath, instantly feeling better.

Tobin: Thanks- you don’t know how much I needed that

She turns her ringer off and pockets her phone in her hoodie.

With renewed energy, Tobin removes her painting and sets it on her easel, biting her lower lip as she looks it over. I can’t do anything about it now, she thinks, taking the photo of the still life and setting it on the lower edge of the easel. One of the requirements of this exercise was to have an 8” x 10” photo of the still life present with the painting.

“Holy shit!” a voice behind Tobin exclaims, making her jump. She turns to see one of her classmates peering over her shoulder at her painting. “That’s awesome!” she grins at Tobin.

“Thanks,” Tobin says shyly, turning to face her, “Ginny, right?”

The young woman nods at her, smiling, “Yes,” she replies, “Tobin?” Tobin nods.

“How’s your painting going?” Tobin asks easily.

“Ugh!” she rolls her eyes, “the perspective is killing me!”

Dr. Andrews greets them as she passes by, “Let’s take out seats please,” she says as she approaches the front of the room, “I want to hand back your quizzes and then discuss how this critique works.”

The group grows silent as Dr. Andrews walks around the room, handing their quizzes back to them. Tobin feels a knot of nerves, enough though she felt confident when she took the test. Dr. Andrews offers praise and encouragement to each student as she hands over their test, stopping by Tobin.

“Nice job,” she smiles at her, handing over the paper. Tobin takes it in her hand, glancing to see she scored one hundred percent.

“Thanks,” she nods back at her.

 

When she reaches the front of the class, she gestures for them to approach her desk, “Come on up,” she says casually, “this is how we’re going to do the peer critique.” She looks them over as they gather, “Take one of these sheets,” she instructs, “you’ll see how there are categories with a series of numbers for grading. At the bottom is a small area for any comments. Remember these are works in progress, so don’t worry about the completion question.”

“This is to offer constructive criticism to your classmates, so be nice. Also, take a sticky note and write the title of your piece on it and put it on the easel, use the title at the top of your papers. I have clipboards up here to use, when you complete a critique, set it face down on the desk next to the painting. Come back here and grab another form or just take a bunch and work your way around the room.”

“The first painting you are to critique is your own, complete it as a self-review before you move to the others.”

For the next hour and a half, the group silently reviews each of the pieces. Tobin quickly realizes that she is the only one who has completed her piece, then reasons that this is the only class she’s taking and she has much more time than her classmates who have other classes to balance.

When she completes her critiques, feeling that she’s maybe a little more advanced than some of her peers, she sits at her desk, waiting for the last stragglers to finish their task.
Dr. Andrews has also been circulating around the room with her own clipboard, making notes and setting her paper face down on the desks as well. She comes back to the front of the room, looking around to make sure everyone is seated.

“Before you tear into your critiques,” she addresses them, “just remember, this is positive encouragement, you should take it to heart. Don’t let low scores be a negative, they are only a tool for motivation and to address areas of your painting which you may have overlooked. Don’t let it get you down,” she smiles at them, “this is your first project, it’s not the end of the world.”

The group nods at her.

“Okay,” she says, “take a look at your reviews, if you have any questions, come see me before class ends or schedule an office visit.”

Tobin flips the papers over, leaning her elbows on her desk, reading the first one. When she gets to the sixth one, she has a frown on her face, feeling troubled and a little disappointed.

“Tobin?” Dr. Andrews is standing next to her, “would you have a minute after class?”

“Yeah, sure,” Tobin nods, giving her a thin smile.

Dr. Andrews eyes her for a moment, then gives her a bright smile, “Thanks,” she says, “keep your painting out, alright?” and moves back to her desk.

Tobin flips to another review, seeing another glowing report. Every check mark is in the perfect box, the comments, if any were left were gushing how awesome her painting her was. That feeling of being told it was great merely because she played soccer fills her. Then doubt sets in. Maybe this isn’t the best idea. To be here, taking this class. Maybe she should stick to soccer, like coaching and doing clinics. This art stuff is just a pipe dream.

She shakes her head, noticing the others beginning to pack their belongings. She stands quickly and begins to do the same. She sees Dr. Andrews up front, almost finished as well. Tobin unzips her portfolio and lies it on the table, so she can just shove her painting in there and be ready to roll.

“Tobin,” Dr. Andrews says warmly, “I think you know why I asked you to stay,” she walks over to look at the painting on Tobin’s easel. “Your quality of work exceeds everyone else in this class,”

Tobin’s eyebrows raise, “Really?” she’s not quite sure she believes the statement. There were a few paintings she thought were really good.

“Yes,” Dr. Andrews’ eyes do not leave Tobin’s painting, “with your permission,” she says slowly, “I’d like you to work at your own pace,” she glances over at her, “with your season approaching and the friendly coming up, why don’t we let you get a jump on things. Shall we?” she turns to face Tobin.

“Well, sure,” Tobin agrees, feeling a sense of relief, “if it doesn’t make issues for you.”

Dr. Andrews chuckles, “Tobin, I’m the one asking you if it’s okay,” she says, then looks at her closely, “Have you ever had training for this?” she questions, cocking her head at Tobin’s painting.

Tobin shakes her head, “No,” she replies, “I didn’t even get to take any art classes in college,” she says wistfully, “my academic advisors thought they were too time consuming and would interfere with soccer.”

“Pity,” her teacher mumbles, “well,” she grins and cracks a smile at Tobin, “luckily, you’re here now,” she leans against the table. “What I’m thinking is that you’re ready for the next lesson,” she eyes the rolled up tube, “is that your choice?” she asks.

Tobin nods, “Yeah, I think so,”

“Perfect,” Dr. Andrews smiles, “If you’re able to keep up with the readings, that’s wonderful, let me know when your preseason starts and we can work around that part of the class. For this exercise, I’d like you use a 16” x 20” canvas,” she picks up the tube and snaps the rubberbands around her wrist and then unrolls it, spreading it out on the table over the portfolio.

“Ah, Courbet,” she mumbles, looking down on the painting of Normandy, “the artist with a wooden leg.”

“Is that so?” Tobin asks, a smile on her face.

Dr, Andrews nods, then points at the poster, “Use this poster as your guide,” she explains, “but only choose the exact 16” x 20” section to paint, anywhere on this canvas.”

“Like, make a picture, within the picture,” Tobin comments, leaning forward and letting her eyes roam over the lithograph sheet.

“Exactly,” Dr. Andrews murmurs, “tape it off and recreate that scene.”

“Okay,” Tobin nods, “I can do that,”

“Tobin,” Dr, Andrews looks over at her, “I haven’t seen raw talent such as yours in along time,” she turns and looks at her still life on the easel, turning her hed to look at Tobin, “I’m telling you right now,” she says, “this is being submitted for the school show,”

“Seriously?” Tobin questions, her eyes large and searching her instructor’s face, ready for her to crack a joke and tease her good naturedly.

“Oh yes,” Dr. Andrews states seriously, “this is one of the best paintings I’ve seen come out of this class in fifteen years. How the soccer bag leads the eyes to the first cleat on its’ side, the worn look of the leather, the grass still on the bottom, directing your eyes to the upright cleat, standing strong, not showing the signs of the grass, yet unlaced and ready for action.”

She points to the interior of the bag, “The bottle of Gatorade, the box of bandages, the wrappers, the crumpled t-shirt, how it haphazardly spills from the bag, leading your eyes to the socks.”

She clucks her mouth as she studies the painting, “The impression of this image I’m seeing, were I to submit a critique for judging, I would state that the artist conveys the message of strength, of hard work, the cleat on its’ side representing the practices, the time spent learning to master the position, the upright boot could be interpreted as either representing the Thorns, being able to make it to the top. The socks and shirt, showing the dirt and sweat, represent the realism of having to put in the work, the rip in the shirt sharing that it’s hard and something not everyone can do.”

She points to the bandages, “The work can be painful,” she turns to face Tobin, “that probably wasn’t your intention, but those are the types of things you’ll hear at the show.”

Tobin shakes her head, her mouth open and her brow furrowed. She raises her hands to her sides in surrender, “I gotta admit,” she says, “I just thought it looked cool,” she confesses.

Dr. Andrews gives her a knowing look “I figured as much,” she says, “but we’ll work on that in a few weeks. Now, your assignment is to give me the 16” x 20” within three weeks, okay?”

“Absolutely,” Tobin nods, “thank you so much for doing this,” she says, rolling up the poster, sticking the end towards Dr. Andrews as she uses the rubberbands from her wrist to secure the tube. “I really appreciate you working with me,”

“It is my pleasure, Tobin,” she holds the tube while Tobin sets her painting in her portfolio, “I don’t say this often or in jest,” she says, “but I think you’ve got something here,” she says, “and I want to help you peel back some layers to really find it,” she walks to her desk, gathering her jacket and briefcase, “and I can’t wait to get really into it.”

“I can’t either, Dr. Andrews,” Tobin says quickly, then looks at her seriously, “do you really think it’s that good?”

“I do,” the woman replies confidently, “if I were a betting woman, I’d say this will ribbon at the show,”

Tobin’s eyebrows raise again, “Woah,”

“And,” she emphasizes the word, “they judge the show blindly, meaning signatures are covered so they don’t know who the artist is and that way you’ll really see for yourself that your truly have a God given talent that you should be exploring.”

The two walk out together, Dr. Andrews pausing at a darkened doorway, “I’ve got to get something from my office,” she says, “thank you for staying late tonight, I hope I didn’t keep you from anything important.”

“No, you didn’t,” Tobin smiles at her, “thanks again,”

“Good night,” she says, “I’ll see you in two weeks.”

“Yeah, see ya,” Tobin says, “take care,”

Tobin calmly walks down the corridor, waiting to turn to the exits before issuing a whispered “Yes!” and a fist pump. She can’t believe that her goal for finding out if someone else thinks she has some talent was just revealed in the third week of class. She’s pumped and excited to get to work on this, her shoulders slumping when she realizes she’s leaving for camp in a day and a half and she still needs to pack.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

January Camp

 

“Dude!” the voice rings out loudly, “When do you fly in?”

“Saturday,” Tobin replies, “early evening.” Tobin’s just gotten home from class.

“Aw, shit!” Ashlyn replies, “I knew I should have talked to you direct,” she says, disappointment in her voice.

“Why’s that?” Tobin’s confused.

“I told Kelley to see if you could come early, to surf.” Ashlyn replies, “I got a house rented by the beach,” she explains, “I told her about it when we talked about the Hawaii trip.”

“The Hawaii trip?” Tobin questions.

“Yeah,” Ashlyn answers, “and listen, dude, it sucked you weren’t there, remind me never to vacation with Kelley and Ali again.”

“Hey, Ash,” Tobin says, “what did Kelley tell you I had going on?”

“She said you had school,” she replies, “like a few days a week and couldn’t miss.”

Tobin is silent.

“Is that not what you were doing?” Ashlyn asks slowly.

“No,” Tobin says, “I was,” she sighs, “sorta,”

“What?”

“Ash,” she says, her voice low and sad, “Kelley didn’t tell me about the trip. I haven’t spoken to her since she left for it.”

“What?” Ashlyn questions, “Are you guys fighting?”

“I don’t think so,” Tobin answers honestly.

“Huh,” Ash says, trying to think of why Kelley would do that.

“Yeah,” Tobin sighs, “that’s what I said.”

“Man, I’m sorry,” Ash says heartfully, “that’s really shitty of her to do that,” she says, “I thought you guys were together? A couple?”

“Well, yeah,” Tobin says, “we have been for two years. Kelley just sometimes…” she trails off, lost in thought.

“Dude, that ain’t right,” Ashlyn replies sternly, “that’s bullshit.”

“It’s whatever,” Tobin mumbles, “I’m over it,” she says, “I’ll see her at camp,”

“Okay,” Ashlyn says, backing off, knowing Tobin typically thinks things over before taking action. She, herself, would be flying off the handle if her girlfriend ever did something shitty like that to her. She knows Tobin will handle it, on her timetable with as little as drama as possible.

“I’ll see you Sunday,” Tobin says, “I’ve got to get packing, dude.”

“Okay,” Ashlyn agrees, “you take it easy, dude,”

“I will,” Tobin says quietly, “later,”

They end the call, Tobin feeling a bit more disheartened than before. She goes to her bedroom and grabs her journal, needing to write some things down and outlet her feelings.

 

XXXX

 

Tobin loves coming to California from Portland, every single time she comes, see smiles when she sees the palm trees and feels the warm air on her skin. She finds Dawn in the lobby, greeting her with a smile and hug, making some small talk before she’s handed her room key.

Her roommate for this camp is Christen as luck would have it. Tobin quickens her pace to the elevator to head to her room.

“Hi, you!” Christen grins and drops a stack of shirts on the bed, moving to hug Tobin.

“Hey,” Tobin smiles at her, letting go of her rolling suitcase and extending her arms.

They fall into an easy conversation as they unpack for camp.

“You want to go and get a little snack?” Christen asks, “I need just a little something before bed,”

“Yeah,” Tobin agrees, “that sounds good.”

The two grab their room keys and phones and head out. The go down the hallway looking for the snack room, greeting the few of teammates they see on their way. Once in the room, they peruse their options, Tobin grabbing a fruit cup and Christen selecting a small salad.

“How was your last class?” Christen asks as she curls her legs under her in the chair, then ripping open the small dressing packet and drizzling it on her salad.

“It was good,” Tobin smiles, “my instructor is going to accelerate the class for me, we’ll work together so I can get everything done with missing classes.”

“That’s wonderful,” Christen smiles, “and how was the critique?”

Tobin can’t stop the goofy grin from spreading across her face, “She’s entering it in a show,” she says, the pride in her voice evident.

“Tobin!” Christen exclaims, “That’s awesome!”

“Yeah,” she gives her a toothy smile, “I couldn’t believe it,”

“Nonsense,” Christen waves at her, “just from the photos you sent, I knew it was outstanding.”

“Aw,”

“Hey!” a voice calls from the door, Becky entering, grinning at them, “How are you guys?”

Soon, other players begin to trickle in the snack room, everyone catching up since they last saw each other.

An hour later, Tobin and Christen are back in their room, preparing to get some sleep.

“I didn’t see Ash or Kelley,” Christen comments as she slides into her bed, shutting off her bedside light.

“They’re coming tomorrow,” Tobin replies as she settles into her bed, “they’ve been surfing,”

“Oh, did you talk to Kelley?” Christen asks.

“No,” Tobin replies, “I talked to Ash,” she says quietly, “Kelley must have forgotten to tell me they were getting together,”

“I’m sorry,” Christen says genuinely.

“Thanks,” Tobin says in the darkness, “I think Kelley’s going through something,” she states, “and I don’t know exactly if it’s the whole striker thing or something else,” she continues, “you know how she doesn’t tell you exactly what’s wrong unless she’s drunk or super mad,”

“I know,” Christen says quietly, knowing her college classmate’s tendencies.

“So, I just need to be supportive,” Tobin continues, “yeah, it hurts that she didn’t invite me on the trip,” she acknowledges, “but maybe she just needed the time away without me,”
she shrugs, “I don’t know,”

“Tobin,” Christen says quietly, “just,” she pauses as she formulates her words, “don’t lose yourself in her,” she says, “you need to keep yourself first, you know?”

“I know,” Tobin replies quietly, “I know,”

 

XXXX

 

 

Two arms surround Tobin as she sits at the breakfast, pulling her in a tight hug.

“Hi, you,” Kelley says, bending and giving her a kiss on the side of her head.

“Hey!” Tobin greets after she finishes chewing, “How’s it going?”

“Awesome!” Kelley replies excitedly, “I’ll see you later, ‘kay? I’ve got to eat and then get ready,”

“Sure thing,” Tobin replies, “later,”

 

 

It’s January camp and the norm is that the first day is baseline testing. The team assembles at the gym, listening to Dawn explain the test circuit today, then receiving their small group number to work through the stations.

Tobin moves through her circuits, feeling good, happy with her scores. She realizes her flexibility has increased and jokes with Christen it’s because of the yoga. Whitney Engen is in her group and the two catch up as they wait between turns in each circuit.

They break for lunch knowing the afternoon will get tougher with the lifting circuits, measuring their max outs. Five hours later, they end their day, encouraged to relax because tomorrow will be all of the agility and sprinting tests, ending the day with the dreaded beep test.

Kelley sits down next other on the bus, “Wanna do something tonight?”

Tobin shakes her head, “I’m doing some recovery after dinner and just laying low,” she replies, “we can hang out, if you want.”

“Recovery? From today?” Kelley questions.

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “beep test is tomorrow,” she reminds her, “and I want to feel good for it.”

Kelley nods sagely, “You do all the recovery you can,” she grins at her, “I’ll still beat you,”

Tobin gives her a small grin, “Okay, Kel,” she says, “how’s the ankle? Feeling okay?”

“It’s perfect,” Kelley replies, “no problems,”

Tobin nods and bites her lower lip, turning her head to look out the window. She feels a hand on her thigh, “Hey,” Kelley says, “you mad at me or something?”

Tobin licks her lips as she consider her reply, then turns to face Kelley, “I guess I’m a little disappointed and curious why you didn’t tell me about the Hawaii trip or coming here early to surf with Ash,” she says carefully, keeping her voice low.

Kelley’s face drops, “Oh,” she mumbles, a blush creeping up her neck, “I, uh, I,” she pauses, “you have school,”

Tobin nods, “I do,” she says, “but it would have been nice for me to make the decision not to go instead of me hearing about the trip on Instagram.”

Kelley doesn’t have a response. The two sit in silence as the bus brings them back to the hotel. Kelley doesn’t stand to get off, leaving the two alone, watching all of the players file off the bus. Tobin waits for Kelley to say something and when she doesn’t speak, she stands and pulls her bag from the floor.

“Come on, Kel,” she says quietly, “let’s go.”

Kelley slowly leaves her seat, walking off the bus, Tobin behind her.

“I’ll come find you later, okay?” Kelley asks her earnestly.

“Yeah, sure,” Tobin says casually, gesturing to Becky, “I gotta go,”

 

Becky, Christen, Carli, Heather, Ali and Tobin are chattering away in the large pool of ice water.

“No Kelley?” Becky questions as Tobin shivers.

“I’m not sure what she’s doing,” Tobin shares. Christen sends her a glance understanding how much truth is in that statement.

The conversation turns to Carli who is discussing her upcoming wedding in the fall. She was apologizing to them because her and Brian had decided on a destination wedding and were keeping it very small. Knowing her family issues, the others were quick to reassure her it didn’t hurt their feelings.

HAO wiggles her eyebrows, “That doesn’t mean we can’t give you a bachelorette party,” she grins.

A flash of panic crosses Carli’s face, until Ali laughs and assures her it would be tame, sending a glare at HAO.

The timer buzzes and they slowly leave the pool, all intent on showering and meeting for dinner.

“Hey, Chris?” Tobin questions as they shiver in the hallway, speed walking to their room, “you wanna do some pool time after dinner?”

“Yeah,” Christen agrees, “we can see if anyone else wants to hang out there at dinner.”

Tobin grins, “Sounds good,” she opens the door, “you can shower first,” she offers.

“Thank you so much!” Christen exclaims, “I’m freezing!” she pulls some clothes from her dresser, “I’ll be quick, I promise!”

Christen held her promise, exiting the bathroom in record time, a towel wrapped around her head, “All yours,”

“Thanks,” Tobin says, grabbing her clothes she had gathered already and heading into the bathroom.

 

XXXX

 

“What were you doing after dinner?” Kelley leans in close to whisper in Tobin’s ear at the dinner table.

“Chris and I were going to see who wanted to hang out at the pool,” Tobin replies, addressing the table.

Lindsey is in, HAO, Ali and Ash as well.

“I’ll see you down there,” Kelley smiles at Tobin, setting her hand on Tobin’s thigh. Her hand lingers there during dinner, occasionally shifting a little higher, but each time, Tobin shifts her leg and Kelley’s hand slides back down.

 

Kelley finds Tobin in the corner of the pool, away from the others, where she’s floating on her back using some pool noodles to keep herself afloat.

Kelley arranges herself in a similar position, quietly floating next to her. “I’m sorry,” she says suddenly, “I’m sorry I didn’t invite you on the trip or coming here early,”

“Why didn’t you?” Tobin questions quietly, “Kel, it’s not like you to do something like that,”

Kelley sighs, “I know,” she says sadly.

“Do you not want to be with me?” Tobin asks quietly, looking straight up at the ceiling of the pool room. She hears the water splash from Kelley turning her head sharply to look at her.

“I never said that,” Kelley replies, a touch of defensiveness in her voice.

“Your actions kinda do,” Tobin says quietly. “You never returned my calls or texts, Kel,” she continues, “what am I supposed to think after a week of not hearing from you?”

Kelley is quiet for a minute, Tobin just keeps looking at the ceiling.

“I want to be with you,” Kelley says quietly, “I love you.”

“And I love you, Kel,” Tobin says, doing her best to keep her voice level, “but ghosting on me,” she sighs, “that’s not cool. That’s not what people in a relationship do to each other.”
Tobin feels a tear leak from her eye and roll towards her ear. “I know we have our own lives going on while we live apart,” she continues, “but if you’re committed to someone, you
don’t do things to intentionally hurt your partner.”

“I know, I know,” Kelley says quickly, “I’m sorry,” she sniffs, “it won’t happen again. I promise.”

Tobin nods, sniffing, “I really hope so,” she whispers.

Tobin feels Kelley’s fingertips on her hand, seeking to hold it. They float for a while, just holding hands until Ash calls them over, assembling teams for a short volleyball game.

They have a good time, laughing and splashing around until they deem themselves ready to head to their rooms.

Kelley finds Tobin near a deck chair, drying off.

“You wanna go sneak off somewhere?” she propositions her, eying her lustily.

“Rain check?” Tobin smiles at her, “I want a good night’s sleep,” she explains apologetically.

Kelley’s eyes scan Tobin’s body before meeting her eyes, “I want you,” she says, her voice low and husky.

Usually, when Kelley looks at her like that, Tobin can’t resist, but tonight, especially after their talk and her really wanting to go to bed early, Tobin shakes her head. “Later,” she says, leaning forward to place a kiss on her lips.

“Later, then,” Kelley nods, taking her hand and escorting her back to her room where she gives her another kiss, a firm kiss that wants to lead somewhere until Tobin breaks away.

“See you in the morning, Kel,” Tobin says, giving her a soft smile.

“See you, babe,” Kelley says, backing away, “have a good night.”

 

XXXX

 

“Go! Go! Go!” is all Tobin can hear as she runs, her teammates screaming from the sidelines. Her group is doing the beep test, her arms and legs pumping, concentrating on her running form, her chest feeling like it will burst. She crosses over the line, glancing to Kelley and HAO crossing with her. They’re the last three still going in their group.

She tries to control her breathing, stepping up to the line, waiting for the tone. It beeps and she’s off, accelerating quickly, increasing her speed as she runs. The three cross together again, hearing the cheers from those on the sidelines. She’s panting as she comes across, raising her hands to head to get more air in as she lines up again.

“Level 60.” the voice announces and then the beep sounds. Off she goes again, in step with HAO and Kelley, arms and legs moving in stride, their footfalls in unison. Tobin’s already four levels above her personal best. Once, just once, she wants to beat Kelley. If she can beat HAO, it would be unbelievable.

“Level 61.” Tobin hears right away that someone is a step off, she concentrates on her form, remembering her speed session at the beginning of the month. Hands level, no flopping, intentional movements, maintain her form.

They all make it to the line in time, the yells of encouragement echoing off the walls of the gym. Her lungs are screaming, her chest is getting sore from breathing so heavy.

Determined, Tobin toes the line, glancing at Kelley who gives her a grim stare.

“Level 62.” Tobin pushes off, feeling off a step, then straightening up and accelerating as fast as she can. Her legs feel like lead, not wanting to move for her, but she pushes hard, giving it everything she has. It takes a few strides but she’s in step with HAO, feet pounding on the artificial turf. She can’t see Kelley in her periphery although she can hear her steps over the yells.

They cross the line, Kelley a foot from it as the beep sounds. She’s out.

“Fuck!” Kelley screams, pounding her fist on the wall, then bending over, hands on her knees.

Tobin lines up, needing to finish this, she can’t let up, she just has to beat Kelley. Maybe it’s because Kelley’s been treating her shitty, maybe she’s not totally over it, maybe she just needs to lord this over her. She doesn’t like to think she’s that kind of person, but right now, she needs to cross that line and beat her. She wipes her face and lines up and sees HAO rip her shirt off.

“Let’s go! Tobin! You can do it!” Ashlyn’s voice rings out. “Push it HAO!” she screams.

“Level 63.” Her legs are screaming as she starts, she pushes herself, forcing herself to keep up with HAO. A wave of dizziness passes through her as she steps over the line and beep sounds. She did it. She drops her hands on her knees, panting.

“Get up there, Tobin,” Christen calls out, “Line up!”

She nods, gulping in a deep breath, raising a finger as she turns to face the line. She puts her right foot on the line, HAO sending her a grin. She nods back, too gassed to smile.

“Level 64.” She’s off with the beep and right away she knows she won’t make it. She keeps pushing, her arms are tired, her legs are a constant ache. HAO crosses, the beep sounds and Tobin is two steps behind.

She stumbles into the wall, leaning against it as she takes deep breathes, hearing the cheers and the encouragement being for HAO. Alyssa is at her side, offering her a towel and a water bottle.

“Thanks,” Tobin pants, pushing off the wall and taking the items in her hands. She watches to see HAO cross the line before the beep.

“She’s gonna puke,” Alyssa observes, watching as HAO dashes to the garbage can.

“Ick,” Tobin pants, shaking her head, “what’d she get?”

“65,” Alyssa replies, “you did awesome,”

“Thanks,” Tobin gives her a half grin, “that was nuts,” she looks around to find Kelley but she nowhere to be seen.

“She went outside,” Christen says, appearing at Tobin’s side, “that running clinic really paid off, huh?” she grins at her.

“Yeah,” Tobin smiles back, “I didn’t think I had it in me,” she wipes her face and arms with the towel, then takes a long drink.

“What type of special training did you do?” Alyssa teases, “You’re usually up there, but not HAO and Kelley level,”

“I don’t know,” Tobin shakes her head, “it must have been the ice bath last night,” She gets to the floor and begins to stretch out, cooling down. They make small talk as Tobin stretches out.

When she’s finished, the three make their way to where the group is assembled.

“You’ll be happy to know,” Dawn addresses them, “that concludes today’s training.” Some of the girls cheer.

“I’d recommend ice baths,” she says, pointing at Tobin.

“You always do!” HAO chuckles.

“You for sure!” Dawn points at her, “Do your treatments, tomorrow is the first full practice, so be ready. Dinner tonight at seven, tomorrow breakfast is at eight, meeting at nine-thirty and the bus leaves at eleven.”

“Ladies,” Jill speaks up, “I’m so impressed with your dedication to fitness this off season,” she says, making eye contact with them all. “So many of you have increased your strength and speed and it’s very encouraging. We’re in a very important year,” she says, “and I’ll be looking for chemistry on the pitch and experimenting with different line ups and formations. So, be rested, be ready and we’ll end tomorrow’s practice with a scrimmage.” She smiles at them.

“Let’s pull it in,” she says, “Team on three.”

“1-2-3 Team!” echoes in the gym.

“Tobin,” Jill calls with a head nod as Tobin nears her, “excellent job on the beep test,”

“Thanks,” Tobin grins at her, “I surprised myself.”

“Ah, you’re too humble,” Dawn says, wrapping an arm around Tobin’s shoulder and giving her a squeeze, “this just might be the strongest you’ve ever entered camp,”

“I just followed your guidelines and workouts,” Tobin responds, “and I may have done some speed work, too,” she grins.

“Well, it’s paying off,” Jill smiles, “I’m excited to see you on the pitch,”

“I’m excited to get out there,” Tobin chuckles, “I can’t wait.”

One of the other coaches calls to Jill, “You keep up the hard work,” she smiles at Tobin, “see you at dinner.” She walks away to the other coach.

“Is Kelley mad at you?” Dawn asks Tobin.

Tobin flinches, “I don’t think so, why?”

“It’s the first time anyone besides HAO beat her in the beep test,” she explains, “I was just wondering how she’s taking it.”

“Well,” Tobin shrugs, as they near the exit doors, “I haven’t talked to her yet,” she says, jerking her head towards the waiting bus, “guess I’ll find out.”

Dawn laughs, “Don’t let her guilt you,” she says, “you beat her fair and square.”

Tobin nods and enters the bus, a sense of anxiety filling her as she makes her way to her seat. She sits down next to Kelley.

“You did awesome,” Kelley says immediately, “I’m proud of you,”

“Thanks,” Tobin says, somewhat surprised and not expecting this positive reaction from her, “you were pushing me all the way.”

“I don’t know what happened,” Kelley frowns, “I usually make it sixty-three easy,” she says, scrunching up her face.

Tobin thinks of how Kelley was slacking with her training, “Maybe it just wasn’t your day,” Tobin offers, patting her leg.

“Maybe,” Kelley considers, “hey, it’s movie night in my room, wanna come?”

“What are you guys watching?” Tobin asks warily.

“A classic,” Kelley grins at her, “Nightmare On Elm Street.”

Tobin shakes her head, “Kel, you know scary movies aren’t my thing,” she says, “I’ll pass.”

“It’s not that scary!” Kelley protests, “It’s like a baby scary movie, come on,”

“Nope,” Tobin stands firm. The team knows who’s into what types of movies, so they generally try to have different movie nights. “Maybe the next movie night.”

Kelley frowns at her, “You really need to get over this fraidy cat business,” she grumbles, “I want to spend time with you,” she whines.

“We will,” Tobin assures her, “just not at a scary movie.”

Kelley eyes her and then kneels in her seat. “Hey!” she shouts, “Poll time!” she claps her hands, getting everyone’s attention. “On a scale of one to ten, how scary is Nightmare On Elm Street?”

“Jesus, Kel, it’s a ten!” Whitney shouts at her, “Those nightmare things could be true,”

“Zip it!” Kelley yells at her. “Come on,”

The lowest number given is a five and that’s five too many for Tobin. She’s grinning as Kelley desperately tries to convince her teammates it isn’t a scary movie.

Kelley puts her arm around Tobin, “I just want to spend some time with you,” she husks, “on our off day, let’s do something, just the two of us,”

“We can,” Tobin agrees, “go hang out, grab dinner, maybe get dessert,”

Kelley wiggles her eyes, “I know what I want for dessert,” she whispers at her.

Tobin rolls her eyes, “Well, unless you rent a room somewhere, that isn’t happening,” she replies quietly as she shakes her head, “I’m not having sex with you in a car.”

“Why not?” Kelley argues with a whispered voice, “It’s hot! The thrill of possibly being caught,”

“Yeah, stop right there,” Tobin chuckles.

“Okay,” Kelley smiles warmly at her, “you doing an ice bath?” Tobin nods.

“I should too,” she nods, “I can feel them tightening up.”

“Didn’t you stretch out?”

“No,” Kelley replies, “I was too pissed,”

“Kel,” Tobin sighs.

“I know, I know,” she says, “I’ll stretch when I get back.” Her hand finds Tobin’s and squeezes it. Tobin leans back in her seat, resting her head on the seat back, giving her a smile.

 

 

XXXX

 

“Here,” Kelley says, presenting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to a shivering Tobin.

“Aw, thanks! I’m starving!” Tobin grins and accepts it, taking a large bite.

“You didn’t bring anything for us?” Whitney narrows her eyes at Kelley.

“Nope,” Kelley says, clumsily getting in the water and creating waves, making everyone mutter and swear at her.

“Jesus, Kel!” Ashlyn exclaims, “Could you maybe get in a little slower?”

“Nope,” Kelley grins, worming her way in next to Tobin and putting her arm around her. Tobin gives her a closed mouth smile as she continues to eat.

“Tobin,” Whitney address her, Tobin raising her eyebrows at her, “do you have homework?”

Tobin nods as she chews.

“I do too,” Whitney grins, “you wanna study together tonight? Like old times?”

Tobin grins and gives her a thumbs up as she finishes her sandwich. “Sounds good,” she says.

“Hey, I think Baby Rose has homework,” Carli says, “you should ask her to study,”

Tobin and Whit nod, “I’ll find her after this,” Tobin says, wanting to include the rookie, “thanks,”

“Anyone else?” Whitney asks, looking around the icy pool.

“You should ask at dinner,” Kelley suggests, she nudges Tobin, “maybe any other scaredy cats will want to hangout,” she gives her a cheesy smile.

The timer chirps and the group slowly gets out of the pool, Kelley looking at Tobin forlornly. “You’re leaving me in here?”

“Well, I’m not staying in there!” Tobin laughs, reaching for her towel. Kelley pouts, crossing her arms.

“Tobin,” Carli says, “why don’t you like scary movies?”

Ashlyn and Whit send knowing looks to each other. Since they went to college with Tobin, they know the story.

“Well,” Tobin says as she dries her red legs, “when I was eight,” she explains, “it was close to Halloween and my Dad convinced my Mom I was old enough to watch Poltergeist. We were all in the family room, I was on the couch with my Dad, he was lying on his side and I folded myself in the crook of his legs. Perry and Katie were on the floor, my Mom in her rocking chair. Jeff was already in bed, he was too little to watch,”

“Did something happen in the house while you were watching it?” Carli asks, her eyes wide.

“No,” Tobin shakes her head, “my Dad thought it would be funny to scare us. You know that part where the people investigating are there at night and the guy walks into the kitchen and meat is moving?” The group nods.

“Well, my Dad thought it would be funny to scream ‘Watch Out!’ and fly off the couch to scare us.” Tobin says, “I freaked out,” she says, shaking her head. “I had nightmares for weeks, I wouldn’t go in the kitchen, Perry teased me by leaving the TV on a static channel, I was a mess.”

“Oooohh, your mama must have beat your Dad!” Whitney exclaims.

Tobin rolls her eyes, “She was pissed at him,” Tobin says, “I didn’t trust my Dad for a while there,” she admits, “I was afraid of him,”

“That’s awful!” Carli says, “He must have felt like shit,”

“He did,” Tobin agrees, “he apologized so many times, he felt really bad.”

“So, no more scary movies for you?” Carli asks, as she finishes drying her legs.

“I tried in high school,” Tobin says, “I didn’t want to be that girl who was afraid,” she shrugs, “I watched the first Halloween and had nightmares for a week,” she sighs, “it wasn’t worth it.”

“Talk about parents fucking up their kids, huh?” Ashlyn chuckles.

Knowing Ashlyn’s history with her parents, Tobin gives her a thin smile, “I was lucky, dude,”

Ashlyn just nods.

“We’ll watch a Disney movie this week,” Carli promises, “so you don’t miss out.”

Tobin grins, “Cool,”

The group leaves, Tobin staying with Kelley as she finishes up her ice bath. She bends down and kisses her, “Thanks for the sandwich, Kel,” she says.

“No problem, babe,” Kelley grins.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

January

 

Practices are tough with new drills, new plays and integrating new rookies to camp. They work hard to establish some sort of chemistry. Pinoe isn’t in camp, dealing with her ACL recovery, so Tobin is taking most corners, splitting her time with Morgan Brian.

The meetings are slammed with new formations, Jill inserting Tobin into a free role, allowing her cross over with the other wing, switching during the flow of play.

Jill implements a new defensive structure, a three back, adding Kelley as a mutant wing who can drop back when needed. She wants the backs to move up when the play dictates it,
making Kelley excited to get into the offensive action.

There’s so much new information, Tobin and others find themselves staying in and studying, some gathering to watch film, or meeting as positional groups to work out how to achieve Jill’s goals.

Tobin bounces between the midfielders and forwards, spending more time with Christen, Crystal Dunn, and the rookies, Mal, Rose and Stephanie. They Skype Pinoe in on their meetings, keeping her the loop. Pinoe is determined to be back in time for the Olympics.

Her and Kelley don’t get to spend as much time together as they would like, not until their first off day. Kelley drives out of Carson, having a plan for the day.

“What’s the plan?” Tobin asks from the passenger seat.

“To fucking forget about the three back,” Kelley snorts, “that is going to be a disaster.”

“So, forget about everything?” Tobin says, “Jill is completely stripping every position and tactical plan we used before it seems,”

“We’ll be lucky to qualify for the fucking Olympics,” Kelley grumbles as she steers through traffic, “and fuck this traffic, too!” she shouts.

Tobin puts her hand on Kelley’s thigh, “It’s early,” she reassures her, “we’ve got some time to work it out,”

“I hope so,” Kelley shakes her head, her face grim, “or it’s gonna be a shitshow.”

Tobin squeezes Kelley’s thigh, “So, tell me?” she demands, “Where are we going?”

They stop at a red light, Kelley smirking at Tobin, “A surprise,” she says, “one you’ll like,”

Tobin moves her hand, crossing her arms, “No fair,” she grumbles, “at least a clue?”

“Nuh huh,” Kelley smiles as she drives, “you’ll just have to be patient.”

“Can we at least eat soon?” Tobin whines, “I’m starving,”

“Oh yeah,” Kelley says as she makes a quick right, so abrupt that Tobin grips the grab bar. Another fast left follows and they’re in a strip mall parking lot. Tobin’s rolling her eyes behind her sunglasses because sometimes Kelley’s driving can be a little…dicey.

“We’re here,” Kelley announces, pulling in to an In-N-Out.

“I love you,” Tobin sighs, “I have such a taste for one of their burgers.”

 

After they eat, which Kelley bought for Tobin, she guides the car to their next destination.

“So,” she says a little hesitantly, “did you get a desk for art stuff yet?” she asks as she pulls into another mall lot.

“No,” Tobin admits, “I haven’t had a chance,” she replies, “I promise I’ll have it before you come over next,”

Kelley’s face lights up at her response, “Good!” she exclaims, shutting off the car and unbuckling her seatbelt, “Let’s go!”

When Tobin gets out of the car, she looks around and sees the sign, “Big Dick’s Hardware?” she questions, unsure of why they are here.

“It’s an art shop,” Kelley says as she leads her to the door, “I thought you could look for a desk and organize your shit,”

Tobin raises her eyebrows as she follows her into the store. From the first glance, Tobin knows this isn’t an art store like Blick, where she usually goes to in Portland. She follows Kelley down an aisle of spray paint cans, watching as Kelleys’ head swivels around, looking to find a desk or an organizer.

“Yo, Kel,” Tobin says, stopping at a shirt display, “these are pretty sweet,” she comments as she flips through the rack, trying to find something she would remotely wear. She doesn’t. She certainly will not wear a shirt with Big Dick on it. Kelley might.

She finds some hats, recognizing some skateboard ones. She picks out a cool one, then moves next to Kelley who is, as she guessed, contemplating a Big Dick’s shirt.

“Kel,” she says, quietly, “I think this is more for graffiti art,” she says, “it’s pretty rad, but I don’t think they have what I need,”

Her shoulders slump, “Yeah, I know,” she says quietly, choosing an obnoxious shirt.

“Kel,” Tobin touches her arm, “thank you,” she smiles at her, “I appreciate the thought, really,”

“Yeah?” Kelley questions, looking at her closely.

“Yeah,” Tobin grins, “it was sweet,” she gives her a shoulder bump, “let’s check out the rest of this place,”

Tobin finds a cool sketchbook and picks up two of them knowing she’ll use one of these when she travels.

They check out and Kelley slaps her credit card down, shooting Tobin a look for her not to argue. Tobin stays quiet, knowing Kelley is disappointed she didn’t check this place out first and her plan didn’t go over perfectly.

“Thanks, Kel,” Tobin says as Kelley hands her the plastic bag of their purchases and they head for the door.

“Sure thing, babe,” Kelley smiles at her, “I guess I should have looked it up their website first,”

Tobi shrugs her shoulders, “It was a cool place,” she says, “I liked checking it out,”

Kelley looks at her watch, then looks at Tobin, a gleam in her eye, “On to the next place,” she says, “let’s hit it.”

 

 

“A hotel?” Tobin questions as Kelley parks the car.

“Yeah, a hotel,” Kelley says quickly, “come on,”

Once through the doors, Kelley shoves Tobin towards the gift shop, “Get some drinks and snacks for us,”

“What the Hell, Kel,” Tobin says as she looks at her.

“I’ll meet you in there,” Kelley says, giving her a soft push towards the gift shop entrance and turns on her heel.

Tobin enters the gift shop and picks up some waters and a couple of apples, some trail mix and sausage and cheese tray, having no clue what’s going on. Kelley appear at her side.

“Ready?”

“Yeah,” Tobin replies, “you want anything else?”

Kelley glances at what Tobin has in her hands, “I’ll get us a couple of beers,” she says, heading towards the cooler.

They leave and Kelley guides her to the elevators. Once in the car, Tobin turns to her, “Kel, what is going on?”

Kelley smirks at her, “You said you wouldn’t have sex in a car,” she answers, holding up a room key with one hand, the other hand finding Tobin’s ass, “and I aim to please.” She leans over and kisses her passionately.

When the elevator announces their floor, Kelley slaps Tobin’s ass as they leave the car.

 

Tobin is bent over putting the drinks in the fridge when Kelley comes up behind her, her hands on Tobin’s hips, pressing into her. Tobin shuts the fridge door, standing upright, feeling Kelley’s hand move around her waist, slowly traveling up her stomach to her chest. She lets her head fall back on Kelley’s shoulder as Kelley begins to massage her chest, her lips on Tobin’s neck, kissing her.

“That feel nice, baby?” Kelley murmurs against her neck.

“Yes,” Tobin breathes out, her desire rising, feeling happy for this stress relief. This week has been hard, so technical with all of the new information and Jill pushing them to adapt quickly. She needs this outlet, she needs time with Kelley, one on one, just like this.

She feels Kelley pulling her shirt up, she lifts her arms get the fabric off. She turns to face Kelley, seeing her smoldering eyes, how she licks her lips as her eyes drop down to crawl over Tobin’s body. Kelley bumps up against Tobin, gripping her hips again and attaching her mouth to Tobin’s collarbone, biting her not so gently and then swiping her tongue over and sucking gently. Tobin feels herself relaxing, moving her hands to Kelley back, rubbing them up and down.

She drops her hands to Kelley’s ass, lowering her head, nudging Kelley’s and their lips meet. Kelley begins to pull Tobin towards the bed, slowly turning her and lowering her to the mattress. Kelley stands before her, removing her shirt and bra, sliding off her shorts and underwear as Tobin stares at her.

Kelley kneels before her, her hands traveling to the waistband of Tobin’s shorts, tugging on them. Tobin leans back on the bed, lifting her hips as Kelley slides them off with her underwear. Tobin removes her bra, tossing it to floor with their other garments and slowly crawls further back on the mattress. Kelley moves herself between Tobin’s spread legs, her head dropping as she licks through Tobin’s center.

Tobin drops back from her elbows, lying flat, spreading her arms, reveling in the feeling as Kelley picks up the pace. Her breathing picks up as Kelley adds a finger, opening Tobin up, thrusting into her slowly, her tongue working industriously around her clit.

Tobin feels her orgasm building, her toes begin to tingle, the feeling spreading up her legs and her hips flinch and move on their own accord. A moan escapes her lips when Kelley adds another finger, thrusting harder into her, making her wince, a mix of pleasure and discomfort. She suddenly feels Kelleys’ free hand on her breast, pulling at her nipple, making her jerk forward.

Kelley sucks hard on her clit, Tobin groaning as she comes.

 

 

“Babe,” Kelley’s voice brings Tobin into wakefulness, “come on,” she says, her voice quiet, “we have to get back.”

Tobin rolls her head to face her, “Huh?”

“It’s almost nine thirty,” Kelley says as she slips on her bra, “we’ve got to get back.” She turns and tosses a clump of clothes at Tobin, her underwear landing on her face. She grabs at it, “Shit,” she says, yawning, “we slept that long?”

“Yeah,” Kelley says with slight agitation in her voice, “and we’ve got to get moving,”

“Do I have time to shower?” Tobin questions as she slides from the bed, heading to the bathroom.

“No,” Kelley answers, “pee and get dressed.”

 

 

“I’m starving,” Tobin complains as they drive back to the team hotel.

“Eat your fruit,” Kelley advises as she accelerates.

They make it back in time, parting ways with a searing kiss in the empty hallway. Before Tobin heads to her room, she makes a stop at the snack room, making herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She grabs a few of squares of dark chocolate to share with Christen before going to her room.

“Fun day?” Christen smirks at her as Tobin enters the room.

She makes a face back at her, “Yeah, it was fun,” she tosses a couple of pieces of chocolate on her bed where she’s sitting.

“Ooh, thanks!” Christen exclaims, setting her book down and reaching for the treat. “So, what did you guys do?”

Tobin is sitting on the edge of her bed, eating her sandwich. She swallows before speaking, “Went to lunch, went shopping,” she shrugs, “hung out,”

Christen gives her a kind smile, “I’m glad you had a good day with her,” she says sincerely, knowing how unsettled Tobin has been about Kelley.

“Thanks,” Tobin looks at her, “it was,” she says, appreciating her not teasing her. She knows Christen is smart enough to know her and Kelley were probably off somewhere having sex all day. “I’m gonna shower,” she announces, “do you need the bathroom?”

“No, you’re good,” Christen says and picks up her book again.

Tobin rifles through her dresser and selects her sleepwear, then heads to the bathroom. She pulls her hair up and showers quickly, still feeling tired and looking forward to sleep. When she comes out, Christen has her light off, so she silently sets her clothes in her dirty clothes pile, and pulls back the covers and slides into bed.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

USA vs Ireland Friendly- last friendly before qualifying

 

The team comes out with a fast pace, Tobin sending in a corner kick within the 2nd minute that gets broken up by the Irish defense. In the 6th minute, Tobin throws in to Christen who passes it an open Carli who taps it into the back of the net. The game opens up more after that.

In the 21st minute, Kling gets it on the wing, sliding a pass to Tobin who hustles to the end line in the box, crossing it in to Christen who heads it bouncing towards goal. The goalie gets a hand on it, the ball spinning high above for Carli to launch herself up at it and sends it into the goal. In her descent, Carli’s jaw catches Quinn on Ireland’s team, sending her to the ground, stunned. She needs a minute to get up and shake it off.

The team keeps pressing, owning most of the possession and in the 27’ minute, Carli pounces on a bad back pass to the goalie, making one move and scoring her hattrick within the first thirty minutes of play.

Right before the half, Lindsey sends a ball towards goal, Carli heads it, sending it rebounding off the post, right to a lunging Christen who taps it in for a goal.

Tobin takes the bench for the second half, watching as play goes on.

Kelley comes on in the 58th minute, sending a nice ball into the box for Christen, who heads it wide.

Ireland’s first shot on goal comes in the 66th minute, which Hope handles easily. She gets challenged a few more times but denies their chances. After that flurry of offense, Ireland is exhausted, their play slower and they’re lucky the US doesn’t score more.

In the 82nd minute, Press gets a ball in the box, spinning to pass near the end line to little Mal, who’s on a trailing run and sends it in for her first goal in her first appearance on the National Team. The bench erupts in cheers for the rookie, excited for her.

On the bus, they pass a game ball around, everyone signing their congratulations to Mallory before Jill makes a presentation and hands it over to her. Carli gets some love for her hattrick and then they file off the bus, which had stopped at a restaurant for their celebratory victory meal.

Kelley inserts herself next to Tobin at the long rectangular dinner table, a hand on her leg, while they eat. Dinner is fun, talk mostly centering on the upcoming NWSL season.

“So, Kel,” Ashlyn says, “how do you like Utah?”

Kelley shrugs, “I haven’t really gotten around there, you know?” she says, “Harvey is cool,” she nods at Christen, “I think we’ll have a good season,”

“Stanford represent!” Christen cheers, “Just like old times,” she chuckles, “when we get back, I’ll have to show you the coffee spots,” she says, “so you can’t complain you’re not caffeinated enough.”

Kelley smiles, “Sounds cool,” she turns to Tobin, “what are you doing when you get back?”

“Painting,” Tobin says immediately, “I have another project due.”

“Tobin’s first painting is being entered in an art show!” Christen announces proudly, “Her teacher thinks it’s terrific.”

Tobin blushes and drops her eyes, “Aw, Chris,” she says quietly, then feels Kelley arm on her shoulder, pulling her into her side, “The next Picasso here, folks!” she says loudly.

“Tobes, where’s your smock and beret?” Ashlyn jokes, smiling at her.

Tobin shakes her head.

“Kelley, how do you feel about being with a famous artist?” Lindsey teases, completely joking.

“I’m cool with it,” she replies coolly, “as long as she keeps her shit from being spread all over the place, I’m fine with whatever the hell she does,” Tobin tenses up hearing that, even though Kelley places a sloppy kiss on her cheek.

She gets through the rest of the dinner fine, Kelley makes no other comments about her art stuff. They get back to the hotel the two say goodnight in the hallway.

 

Christen doesn’t say anything to her when she gets in the room, Tobin’s not sure if it’s because she’s being polite or maybe Kelley’s comment didn’t register with her as being painful to hear. They both pack up, chatting casually about their season ticket events coming up for the fans, how they can be a little uncomfortable but also fun.

They get to bed, both knowing they need to be up early for recovery before their flights back home.

 

XXXX

 

 

Portland

 

“Tobin! You’re my favorite player ever!” the young girl gushes, jumping up and down in her excitement.

“Thanks!” Tobin grins at her, “Do you play too?”

“Yes!” she nods, “I’m a midfielder!” she says proudly. The kid probably isn’t older than eight or so, she’s wearing an old Mia Hamm t-shirt.

“Cool!” Tobin states as she offers her a high five. The girl excitedly slaps palms, then her parents ask for photos of the group.

Tobin, Lindsey, Hayley Raso and Emily Menges gather around the child, smiling as the parents take numerous photos. Today, Thorns players are delivering season ticket packages around town. They’ve been at it for almost two hours and Tobin’s feeling a little antsy. She thinks they all are.

As they leave the house, Nancy, one of the PR people guiding them around, assures them they have only one more stop and then they’ll go back to Providence Park. The four had already had their morning workout and a quick lunch before climbing into a van with Nancy for this adventure.

Tobin is longing for a nap. She closes her eyes as they drive to their next destination.

“Hey,” Lindsey nudges her, “wake up, we’re here.”

“Huh?” Tobin opens her eyes, she was just falling into a deeper sleep, “We’re here?”

“Yes,” Lindsey grins at her, “wipe your drool off your face and come on,” she chuckles as she slides out of her seat.

Tobin wipes her face, but there’s no drool, yawning as she slides across the seat to exit the van. Once out, she stretches her arms over her head, then ambles over the small group as Nancy prepares the season ticket holder packet and readies her video camera.

They’re on a residential street that’s only about two blocks from Tobin’s apartment. Nancy had parked in the middle of the block, but they were heading towards the end, closer to where Tobin lives. The older historic homes give way to a few commercial buildings near the end of the block. The first one is a two story building that’s situated along an alley.

It’s a two story building, made of weathered brick, a large driveway in front with enough space to fit four cars. A large wooden garage door that’s nearly as tall as the building sits in front of the drive, windows appearing at eye level. Everything about the building is older, giving off a cool vibe to Tobin.It looks like it’s some sort of garage, like the kind you take your car to. They pass the drive and Nancy makes her way up the sidewalk to what appears to be an office.

“This looks kind of sketchy,” Lindsey mumbles, bumping shoulders with Tobin. They see Nancy turn around, “Sign says go to the back,” she announces and the group heads for the alley.

“I’m glad it’s light out,” Emily comments quietly, “Tobin, you got your shiv?”

Tobin chuckles as they walk, hearing the sound of loud machinery. Maybe a saw or something.

They round the corner to the back of the building and an ornate metal fence greets them. Nancy shrugs and opens the gate and enters the backyard. Tobin sees some colorful pots with greenery in them, comfortable looking patio furniture and a nice outdoor kitchen shaded under a wooden awning.

She turns and sees the building also has a garage door on the rear, it’s open and the saw is whining loudly. As they approach the entrance to the garage, Tobin lifts her sunglasses from her eyes to see inside.

“Woah,” Tobin says under her breath, looking around. She’s a few feet behind everyone, her eyes looking up at the interior. There’s a conservatory skylight on the ceiling that runs almost the entire length and width of the garage. Natural light floods the interior. Two thirds of the alley wall have large window panes that open at the bottom to let air circulate.

She turns to her left and sees the upper wall is littered with canvases and pieces of metal work. She fully turns to look at it, amazed at the colors on the some of the canvases. Her eyes go lower and she sees a row of large wooden boxes against the floor. They must be about six feet tall and maybe six feet wide. She counts eight of them. The last two are open without doors and look unfinished. She puts it together that the woman is making them.

“Tobin!” Hayley hisses, tugging on her jacket, making her flinch and turn towards the woman the group is speaking with. She takes a couple of steps to meet her.

She sees the thin woman is covered in sawdust, her hair held back by a navy bandana, long, blondish hair flowing out the back. She’s wearing tan work boots, dusty jeans and a navy thermal shirt. Then Tobin looks at her face. She’s beautiful.

They make eye contact and smile at each other.

“Hi, I’m Tobin,” she greets, extending her hand to shake.

“Alex,” she grins at her, “welcome to my studio.”

“Studio?” Tobin questions, squinting a little at her.

“Yeah,” Alex says, “I’m an artist,” she replies and Tobin smiles at how she says it confidently, not shy at all about what she does. It makes her think and impresses her.

“I play soccer,” Tobin says dumbly, earning herself an elbow from Lindsey.

“You idiot,” Lindsey laughs, “she knows that!”

The group chuckles, Tobin blushing a little.

“Tell us a little about yourself, Alex,” Nancy urges, raising the camera up her eye, filming.

“Well,” Alex grins, “I’m originally from California,” she says, “went to school in Chicago, worked there for a while and then came out here.”

“Is your studio open to the public?” Nancy asks.

“Yes,” Alex replies, “I provide workspaces for artists,” she explains, “many times, people don’t have the space for large works, so I rent them a cubby to store their supplies and use the open area for their projects.”

Tobin’s eyes shoot open, her eyebrows raised. This is quite interesting. It would solve her issue at her place, get her stuff out of the apartment, Kelley would be happy. She looks up at the ceiling again, marveling at the light coming through. It would be cool to come and paint here, she muses.

“-and I’ll be having a co-op showing at the end of the week,” Alex is finishing up.

“That sounds cool!” Emily says, “Hey, Tobin, we should come,”

“Huh?” Tobin has her head up, looking again at the glass ceiling, shakes her head as she looks at Lindsey.

“To the showing,” Lindsey asks, looking at her, “why are you so spacey? You feel okay?”

“Oh yeah,” Tobin says quickly, noticing they’re all looking at her with concern, even Alex, “I’m good,” she assures them, “just checking this place out,” she grins a little, “it’s so rad.”

“Alex, you have a flyer for the event?” Hayley asks, “Is it Friday or Saturday night?”

“Saturday,” Alex replies, showing no nerves from having met them, Tobin likes how down to earth she is. She turns and walks over to a desk, grabbing a couple of flyers and handing them to Hayley.

“Thanks,” she smiles at her, “Tobin, you should be into this,” she says.

“Yeah,” Tobin smiles, “totally.” She takes one of the flyers.

“Well, Alex, it was nice meeting you,” Nancy declares, announcing the end of their visit.

“You all as well,” Alex smiles at them, she’s calm, just like she’s meeting a normal group of people, not professional athletes. “I hope you can join us at the show,” she adds.

She shakes hands with each of them, thanking them for their time and wishing them a successful season.

The group trickles out, bidding her goodbye, Tobin silently following them. They walk down the street, Tobin shoves the flyer in her jacket pocket, thinking this may be a good thing. They pile into the van, heading back to the Park where their cars are parked.

Tobin passes on hanging out and doing dinner later, citing her need to work on her project. She drives home, her mind on the idea of renting a space from Alex. It’s close to her place, she could come and go, she reasons, she wonders how late she could stay there. Alex said it was a co-op gallery, Tobin recalls, I wonder what that means.

When she gets back to her place, she sets her gear bag down near her washing machine, then pulls her phone out to look up what co-op gallery means. All thoughts of a nap are gone from her mind.

Her eyes widen at the definition.

A co-op gallery (also called artist-run initiatives) usually involves a group of artists who work together to show their work, promote the gallery, and sometimes offer community art classes or workshops. Some co-op galleries will even have studio space available for their members to create artwork on site.

The co-op gallery will require a membership fee, which will go towards gallery maintenance, rent, promotion, etc. You may have to pay a commission to the gallery as well, upon the sale of your artwork.

The main difference between a vanity gallery and a co-op gallery is that the artists in the co-op are invested in the running of the gallery. This can also be a great way to get experience with shows, to meet other artists, critics, curators, etc.

You’ll most likely want to be as involved as you can, so being physically close to the gallery will be important.

 

Tobin bites her lower lip as she reads. That sounds super cool, she thinks. I’ll have to talk to Alex to make sure hers is like this.

Not wanting to wait, Tobin springs from her couch, anxious to talk to Alex and see if this really would work for her.

Pleased that she’s at the back gate within a seven minute walk, Tobin pushes it open, hearing a power tool of some type. She enters the yard, pausing to look at it more closely. She notices only one patio chair is pushed away from the table, the other three close to the table, as if they hadn’t been moved.

The colorful pots look as if they’ve been hand painted. They’re whimsical, one featuring primitive animals, another with a diamond pattern. Others have polka dots or stripes, all in bright colors. It makes for a happy area, she reasons.

She treks towards the open garage door, whatever tool being used earlier is silenced. She lifts her sunglasses again to adjust her eyes to light inside. She spies Alex at the large table, painting a piece of wood. She notes it matches the other cubicles in the same cream color, this must be a door she’s working on.

Alex raises her head, hearing Tobin step inside, “Tobin?” she questions, surprise in her voice.

“Hey, Alex,” Tobin greets, suddenly nervous to be here alone with her. She’s nervous because she’s not one to talk about her art, it took a couple of weeks for Dr. Andrews to get her to open up.

“What can I do for you?” Alex smiles, dipping the roller in the tray, “Excuse me while I work on this,” she apologizes, “I don’t want the paint to dry,”

“Oh, no problem,” Tobin says, approaching the table, “I was wondering, if you had a few minutes to talk about your co-op?”

“Sure,” Alex grins, “what would you like to know?”

“Well,” Tobin shrugs, scratching at the back of her nervously, “like, how does it work? My art stuff is all over my place and I was thinking it might be cool to rent a spot to work instead,”

“Why don’t you pull up a stool and have a seat?” Alex invites, smiling warmly at her, “I’m almost finished with this panel,”

Tobin grabs a stool from nearby and carries it over, sitting down and leaning her elbows on the table.

“So, you can do a few different things,” Alex begins, rolling out the paint on the panel, “first, you can just rent a cubby,” she says, shrugging, “that basically allows you to come in and paint during business hours without any other responsibilities.”

Tobin nods, watching as Alex refills the roller and moves to the side to finish the final part of the panel.

“Then you can buy in to the co-op on a limited basis,” Alex explains, “meaning you would be responsible for managing the building a few days a month, working some studio shifts and working some of the events.”

“Huh,” Tobin nods, not sure if that would be something she could manage.

“Next,” Alex says, smiling down at the finished panel and setting the roller back in the tray and then looking at her, “next would be another level of a buy in, that one is the same as the first, but it also allows unlimited access to the studio. You would also have the opportunity to have your works included in the four art shows we do a year.”

“Okay,” Tobin says, still wondering if she could do it. With her travel schedule, she’s not sure if it would work.

“The next one just levels up- all access, showing your work, but without participating in running the place.” Alex pulls a stool to the table and sits down. She figures if there’s one Tobin might do, it would be either the first or last one. Celebrities usually don’t want to make a commitment to help running the events and being here to supervise the studio.

When Alex took over the studio from her brother, she changed some if his business models over the two years she’s had it and lost a few people. She didn’t mind though, they were high maintenance and rather demanding of her and she didn’t like how they made her feel she was below them.

She can see Tobin is mulling over the options, her forehead is furrowed, her mouth cocked to the side.

“You don’t have to make a decision this second,” Alex comments and Tobin looks up quickly at her. Alex shrugs, “Why don’t you think about it, maybe see if you can swing by the showing and check it out? I’d introduce you some of the co-op artists and they can answer any other questions you may have.”

Tobin nods, then gives her a small smile, “Yeah,” she says, “I’ll do that,”

Alex smiles back at her, “Hey,” she says, “would you like something to drink?” She stands up and heads to a side door, “Beer, water, soda, iced tea?”

“What are you having?” Tobin asks, shrugging.

“Beer,” Alex replies.

“I’ll have one too,” Tobin replies, “thanks.”

“Anything special?” Alex calls out from inside the room, “I’ve got Bud Light, some Weiss beer,”

“I’ll take a Weiss,” Tobin calls back.

Alex returns holding a bottle out to her, clinking it when Tobin grabs it, “Cheers,” she grins at her.

“Cheers,” Tobin repeats, lifting her bottle and then taking a sip. “I love Weiss beers,” she says, looking at the label, “Live Oak? Huh,”

“It’s from Texas, believe it or not,” Alex says, siting back down, “my brother introduced me to it.”

“It tastes great,” Tobin says as she takes another swig from the bottle, “it’s really close to some of the beers I’ve had in Germany.”

“Really?” Alex asks, “I’ve never been.”

“Yeah, the beer halls there,” Tobin says, “they’re huge. And the beer menus are unreal.”

They both fall silent, each taking another drink.

“So,” Alex says, “what medium do you work with?”

“I paint,” Tobin replies with a shrug, “I’m taking a class at Portland U,”

Alex visibly brightens, “Dr. Andrews?”

Tobin nods and Alex gives her a tremendous smile, “She’s an amazing woman,” she says, “very knowledgeable. Very well respected in the community.”

“Yeah?” Tobin questions, giving her a shrug, “I really don’t know the art scene,” she confesses, “I go to few things, but it’s hit or miss,”

“I imagine your schedule can make your free time pretty limited,” Alex says quietly.

“Yeah, sometimes.” Tobin agrees, “Off season is a little better,” she says, “but I usually travel.”

Alex nods.

“What do you do?” Tobin asks, “I mean, with your art?”

Alex nods as she drinks her beer, “Oh, I do a little of everything,” she says, giving her a grin, “I’ve done some sculpting, some casting, some glass blowing, drawing, painting,” she shrugs, “just whatever my mood dictates.”

“Wow,” Tobin straightens up, “that’s pretty cool.”

Alex jerks her thumb over her shoulder, “I’ve got a kiln for ceramics and a crucible for the glass.”

“Yeah?” Tobin leans close, “That’s so cool,” she says quietly.

“Thanks,” Alex says with ease, making Tobin a little envious with how easily she speaks about what she does.

“So, do you have a portfolio?” Alex asks, looking at Tobin intently.

“Uh, portfolio?” Tobin asks, thinking about the one she uses to carry her paintings.

“Yeah,” Alex says, “like, a collection of your works,”

“Oh,” Tobin says, leaning back, running a hand through her hair, “not really,” she shrugs, “I mean, I have photos of few things I’ve done,” she says, “but nothing major.”

“Can I see?” Alex inquires, “do you have them on your phone?”

“Oh,” Tobin says, “yeah, sure,” she fumbles for her phone, suddenly feeling nervous. She swipes her phone open, she frowns when her hand trembles as she opens her folder of five of her paintings. Alex stands up, using one hand to slide her stool around the table and hold her beer with the other. She sits down next to Tobin.

“Let’s see?” She smiles at her.

Tobin turns her phone so she can see the screen, “This one, I don’t know, I was just messing around with this photo I took in the Algarve, I thought it was cool.”

Alex looks carefully at the screen, her eyes roaming over the landscape of the beach.

“That’s really nice,” she murmurs, nodding.

Tobin swipes to her next one, “My Mom wanted me to paint her something for her new place,” she explains, “she told me she wanted something beachy,” she grins, “she lives in Florida.”

“That’s so whimsical,” Alex smiles, seeing the beach seen that shows a family playing in the sand and water. “That’s really nice,” she nods approvingly.

“This one,” Tobin frowns, kind of shrugging, “I don’t know,” she says, “I was in a mood, I guess,”

Alex looks at it closely, furrowing her brow as she takes in the painting. It’s dark without much color, showing the profile of a woman overlooking a balcony of a city.

“Can I?” Alex asks, reaching for the phone, she brings it closer to her face, using her fingers to enlarge the photo. The woman has a sad disposition, she looks devasted, her eyes unfocused, Alex seeing how there’s a trace of tears on her face. She feels the profile is Tobin, looking to see she’s wearing athletic clothes, no names or numbers, not in USA colors, but none the less, you get the sense the person is athletic.

She looks further, marveling at the detail, how the woman grips the metal railing of the balcony, how the muscles show in her forearms from how tight she’s holding on. Then she sees material wrapped around one of her fists, a medal dangling from the ribbon.

“This one is from 2011,” Tobin says quietly, “after we lost the World Cup,” she murmurs, then takes a long pull on her bottle.

"The detail work is fantastic," Alex murmurs.

Wordlessly Alex swipes to the next photo, this is Tobin’s still life. “Holy shit,” she mumbles, her eyes widening, leaning closer to the screen, she looks up at her, “Tobin,” she says, “this is incredible.”

She straightens up, “What size is this canvas?”

“Uh, twenty by thirty-six.” Tobin replies. Alex nods.

“And you’re taking Painting 101?” she questions her incredulously. Tobin nods, feeling nervous again. Alex looks at the photo again.

“Uh huh,” Tobin replies, then bites her lower lip as Alex moves her eyes to the screen once more.

“Tobin,” Alex says quietly, “you have some serious talent,” she looks up at her, eying her intently, “this is a wonderful painting,” she says sincerely.

“Thanks,” Tobin says shyly with a shrug, “I just kind of do it for fun,”

Alex raises her eyebrows slightly at that, then smiles at her, “I think you could easily make this more than just for fun,” she simply.

“Huh,” Tobin considers, still not used to hearing her work being complimented.

“ALEX!” a booming voice calls from the garage door, a man entering the building.

“Serv!” Alex grins, rising from her chair, accepting his kiss on her cheek and hugging him, “It’s so good to see you!”

She turns to Tobin, “Serv, I’d like you to meet Tobin,” she says, Tobin rising from the stool, shaking his hand.

“I have the thing,” Serv says, his eyebrows wiggling.

“Hey, uh, Alex,” Tobin says, “I’m gonna go,” she says quickly, “thanks for taking the time for speaking with me,”

“Oh,” Alex says, frowning a little, “sure. I hope to see you Saturday?”

“Sure thing,” Tobin smiles, then she turns to Serv, “nice to meet you,” she grins at him.

“You too,” he grins back, shaking her hand, “take it easy.”

Tobin makes her way out and is at the gate when she hears Serv’s low voice, “What the Hell is Tobin Heath doing here?”

Tobin quietly opens the gate, hearing Alex’s reply, “She’s a talented painter, she’s interested in the co-op.”

“Are you sure you’re not just fan girling?” he asks.

Tobin’s shoulders slump and she exits the yard, shutting the gate quietly behind her, unable to hear Alex’s reply.

 

As Tobin walks back to her apartment it occurs to her that she’ll face this reaction no matter what she may choose to do just because of who is she is. She’s surrounded by yes people already, people who think she walks on water. They don’t know her, not the real her, just that she’s Tobin the soccer player. She tries to separate herself from them but it’s hard. She knows their opinion doesn’t have much weight. She just needs to develop a thicker skin.

She nods determinedly as she walks back to her place, I can learn to not let it bother me, I can learn to not care. I can figure it out.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

February

 

“This is super cool,” Tobin grins as she looks around. The space of the large garage has been transformed into a cool gallery, more panels hung displaying works of art, the large table has been separated, lining the walls with glass and metal works, some of the more delicate ones under glass cases, one more interesting than the next. A live band is playing, stationed off in the corner.

Lindsey, Emily Menges, Sinc, Kat, Sonnett, Hayley, Kling and a few others are mingling around, drinks in hand, checking things out. Tobin had contacted Becky to let her know a
group of them were going to this and her and Zola showed up. They live in Portland and Tobin trains with her often in the offseason. They all get interrupted a few times by fans but it’s cool and laid back. People mostly leave them alone.

Tobin feels a hand on her elbow. She turns to see Alex smiling at her, “Hi, you made it!”

“Yeah,” Tobin smiles at her, “this is rad,” she says, gesturing with her hand, “really cool.”

Alex greets everyone and thanks them for coming, making sure they all have drinks and exhorting them to hit the appetizers coming around. Then she turns to Tobin.

“I have some people I’d like you to meet,” Alex states, “you wanna?”

“Yeah, sure,” Tobin nods, allowing Alex to guide her through the crowded space with a hand on her lower back. Alex gets stopped a few times by people greeting her, see handles them with ease, explaining she’ll be back out to see them in a bit. She leads Tobin to a side room where a group of people are gathered, preparing trays of appetizers that some of them take out to the larger garage.

“Guys,” Alex calls to them, “this is Tobin,”

A few of them look surprised, their mouths dropping open, one of them muttering holy shit.

“This is Tobin, and tonight she’s a very talented artist,” Alex states, “not a soccer player and she’s interested in the co-op and would like to learn more about it. So, if you all would be kind enough to discuss it with her, artist to artist,” she eyes them with an arched eyebrow, a stern look on her face, “I’d really appreciate it.”

One of the guys, a large burly bearded and tattooed biker looking dude, recovers from his look of surprise and nods his head vigorously, “Sure thing,” he smiles at Alex and then at Tobin, “I’m Tomaz,” he introduces himself, stripping off the plastic glove he’s wearing before extending it for Tobin to shake, “I’ve been here for a couple of years,”

“Nice to meet you,” Tobin nods, giving him a smile as they shake hands.

The others fall in line with introductions, offering her some snacks. Alex excuses herself, promising she’ll return shortly, leaving Tobin with the group.

“Hey, we need more trays!” A younger woman exclaims, rushing in the room, “I think they think we’re feeding them dinner!” she giggles.

An older gentleman enters the room with an empty tray, “The shrimp kabobs are a hit,” he smiles, “we need more.”

“Got it!” one of the women exclaims, heading into another room. They begin to scramble to bring more trays to the table and a few of them go through another doorway.

“Here, let me help,” Tobin offers, “where are the gloves?”

Tomaz points to a box on the side table. Tobin grabs a pair and holds them up, wiggling her fingers. “Show me how you want these,” Tobin indicates the box filled with meat slices and cheeses.

“Like this,” Tomaz says as he assembles them on a cracker and lays it down on the tray in front of Tobin.

“Got it,” she says and begins to work. “So, how does this whole thing work?” Tobin questions, “The levels?”

“Well, it depends on your commitment level,” he explains easily, taking about how much he usually comes to the studio per week. How long shifts are and how many he takes.

“The events are fun,” he grins, “hey, you’re good at that,” he praises as Tobin quickly works on the tray, skillfully making a nice presentation.

“Thanks,” she says, “this stuff, I can handle, cooking, eh,” she shrugs with a grin.

“I’m usually here at least three nights a week,” he continues, “but in the winter, I come more often,” he shrugs, “less sunlight, more depression, I need a positive atmosphere.”

“I get it,” Tobin nods as she works, creating another appetizer to set on her tray.

“When we have showings, I help hang the pieces,” Tomaz says proudly, “I’m a carpenter by trade, so I know how to do it and Alex gives me a break.”

“Cool,” Tobin says, beginning to think Alex is very skilled in a variety of ways.

“I help with sales,” another woman at the table offers, Tobin thinks her name is Claudia, “I work retail, so it comes easy to me. She glances at her watch, “I’ll get out there in another hour, that’s when the buying usually starts.”

“Depending on your level,” Tomaz explains, “you might have works out there for sale, so it’s important to show your face, let people know who you are and explain your works, if needed. We all take turns back here so we can circulate out there.”

“Huh,” Tobin says, nodding her head. “This is done,” she says, “is there another tray?”

“Bruschetta’s ready!” an older woman enters from what Tobin assumes is the kitchen, carrying a large silver pot, setting it down near Tobin. She hands her a small spoon. “Toast is coming in a second.”

“Uh, where are the trays?” Tobin questions. The woman spins behind her, handing her one. “Here.”

“Cool,” Tobin nods.

“Are you sure you’re cool with this?” Tomaz questions, narrowing his eyes at her.

“Yeah,” Tobin grins, “I mean, I want to learn more about this place, try to figure out where I could fit in.”

“Tobin,” Claudia states, “what I did was record my time at home of how much I worked on my pieces,” she says, “then I figured out where that left me, compared to the co-op levels.”

“Oh, that’s a great idea.” Tobin grins at her, “Thanks.” She reaches her hands out to take the basket of toasted bread slices. She moves the pot to her left side to make it easier for herself. Then she snatches a piece of bread, spooning the bruschetta on it and placing it on her clean tray.

“Hey,” she says, after thinking about it for a minute, “we have four appetizers going,” she says, “what about filling each tray with a little of each?”

Tomaz looks at Claudia, “Why did we not think of this?”

“Let’s do it,” Claudia agrees, “Tobin fill that up a quarter, and then I’ll fill mine up, Tomaz, you can put more cheese and crackers together and then the shrimp kabobs can go on.”
They all stand to arrange the table into more of an assembly line.

“Lisa!” Tomaz calls out, “Where’s the kabobs?”

“Right here,” a plump woman smiles as she enters the room. “Oh, look at this,” she says, eying the assembly line.

“Here, I’ll take that,” Tomaz takes the tray in his hands, setting it down, “see if Shelly can help with this.”

The woman nods and heads back in the kitchen, another woman entering a moment later. “What can I do?” she asks.

“Kabobs.” Tomaz points to the tray that has space for them, “and then it can go.”

They have another tray ready just as Shelly finishes the one she’s working on, “I’ll take this,” another woman pokes her head in, seeing the complete tray, “this is so pretty,” she comments as she leaves the room with the tray.

Tobin asks them what type of art they’re into and they go around the table explaining what they do. Tomaz makes metal art, Claudia is into making primitive pottery, Shelly paints.

“How about you?” Claudia questions Tobin.

“I paint a little,” she replies, “I’m taking a class so I’m getting into it more,”

“That’s cool,” Tomaz grins.

They continue to talk about the co-op, Tobin learning more about the sales work and how many important people come to these events. They commend Alex for having reasonable co-op pricing and only taking a small commission on sales, praising her for being so fair. Also, how she takes barters for people helping out around the co-op when things need repair. They share with Tobin how connected Alex is in the art world, inviting prominent citizens and gallery owners to the events.

“Wow,” Tobin breathes out, “so, like, this could really launch people, huh?”

They all nod.

Alex enters holding two beers, “I said talk to her, not put her to work!” she exclaims with wide eyes and look of horror on her face.

Tomaz points to Tobin, “She offered!”

“It’s cool,” Tobin grins as she sets more shrimp kabobs on a tray.

“Tobin, there’s someone here who’d like to see you,” Alex informs her, “you guys doing good?”

“Yeah,” Tomaz grins at her, “two more trays and we’re done,” he says, “look, Tobin suggested we put a little of everything on each tray, how cool is that?”

“Very nice,” Alex comments, looking at the tray and nodding in approval. She looks at Tobin, “Can you tear yourself away?” she teases Tobin.

“Well, there’s two more trays,” Tobin grins at her.

“We got it,” Claudia says, “go mingle.” She gives her a wave of her hand.

“Nice meeting you all,” Tobin says as she strips off the gloves and accepts the beer from Alex.

“You too!” they shout.

“Hope to see you around,” Tomaz smiles at her.

“Yeah, me too.” Tobin says as Alex pulls on her arm.

Alex’s head is close to Tobin, she still has her hand on Tobin’s arm, “I am so sorry they put you to work,” she says quickly, “I’m so embarrassed.”

“Aw, it’s cool,” Tobin replies easily, giving her a smile, “I did offer to help.”

“Tobin!” a voice says in greeting. Tobin turns her head.

“Hey, Dr. Andrews,” she greets with a smile, “how are you?”

“Please,” she smiles, “call me Donna outside of class, I’m so glad to see you here,” she replies, “do you have a minute?”

“Uh, sure,” Tobin replies.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” Alex says to Tobin, raising a finger to someone in the crowd and moving away.

“Are you a part of the co-op?” Donna asks her, looking at her seriously.

Tobin shakes her head, “No,” she answers, “actually, I just met Alex at the beginning of the week and I came to check it out and see if it was something I might want to do.”

“Do it,” Donna nods at her, “this would be a wonderful atmosphere for you to thrive in and if you ever consider selling some of your pieces, this would be the place for you to do it.”

Tobin raises her eyebrows at her, “Really?”

Donna nods, taking a sip of her martini, “Alex is one of the best,” she says, “and she’ll keep your best interests in mind.”

“Huh,” Tobin says, not exactly sure what she means by that. She must look confused because Donna leans in closer to her.

“She’ll give it to you straight,” she says, “and she’ll help you price your pieces and protect you from any unscrupulous dealers that might want you to show in their galleries. They’ll rob you blind.”

“Oh,” Tobin says, her eyes widening, “I’m not totally sure I’m ready to sell anything just yet,” she shrugs, “I kind of want to learn more, figure out my technique, I don’t know,”

“I understand,” Donna says warmly, “you’re still playing, but if this is a possibility of being something you’d like to do after soccer,” she smiles at her, “this place would offer an excellent foundation for you and I’d strongly recommend this co-op for you.”

“Okay,” Tobin nods, “I’ll really think about it,” she says, taking a sip of her beer, “I mean, it’s super close to where I live, and everyone seems cool. I’m just not sure what level of the co-op would be good for me.”

“Well, take some time and think about it,” Donna says easily, “Full disclosure, I’m a patron of this place and two other galleries, I trust Alex.” she says, nodding, “I would trust her with my work. In fact, I have in the past,”

“Oh, okay,” Tobin nods, looking at her seriously, “I understand.”

“Good,” she smiles at her, “now, I’m going to get another drink and find my husband and make sure he doesn’t buy anything crazy,” she says, “you have a wonderful night and I’ll see you in class.”

“You too,” Tobin raises her bottle, “cheers!” she smiles as they clink bottle to glass, “see ya,”

Tobin hears Emily Sonnet’s laugh and makes her way over to where her friends are.

“Where were you?” Sinc asks, wrapping her arm around Tobin’s shoulders, “Getting in trouble?”

“Nah,” Tobin grins, “I was talking to some of the people who come here to paint,” she says.

“Cool,” Sinc grins at her, “the food is terrific,” she comments, taking a sip of her gin and tonic. Tobin grins, shaking her head, thinking of how she ended up preparing appetizers.

“I’m off,” Sonnett says, making Lindsey frown. “What?”

“I thought you were coming out with us,” Lindsey demands.

“Something came up,” Emily replies slyly, “gotta run.”

“Booty call!” Kling calls out laughing.

“Later,” Emily says, “this was cool,” she turns and makes her way for the door.

“She’s had her face in her phone for the last hour,” Kat says, shaking her head.

“Tobin,” Hayley nods at her, “you thinking of coming here?”

“Thinking about it,” Tobin nods, finishing her beer.

“Hey,” Kling grabs Tobin’s arm, “did you see the metal coat of arms shield?”

Tobin shakes her head, allowing herself to be guided through the crowd by Kling. They check out the low tables of smaller pieces of metal, glass and pottery works, impressed with the quality. Sinc the others join them, idly talking and watching as small Sold stickers begin to appear on some of the paintings and other works.

“How do you know how much they are?” Kat asks Tobin, who shrugs in response. She sees Tomaz pass by, “Tomaz!” She calls, and gestures for him to come over.

“How do we know how much the pieces are?” she asks him, him bending down to hear her over the noise.

“You get a booklet,” he replies, “I’ll get you one,” he nods and disappears in the crowd.

Alex appears out of thin air a moment later, handing a booklet and a beer to Tobin. “I ran into Tomaz,” she says, “brought you a Live Oak,” she comments, “my private stash,” she nods at her.

“Thanks,” Tobin grins at her, “have you met my friends?”

“Yes, she has,” Sinc joins in, “and we’ve told her a ton of embarrassing stories about you,” she chuckles.

“Not really,” Alex says straight faced, then a slow smile spreads across her face, “maybe a few,”

Tobin rolls her eyes, taking a drink from her bottle. “Whatever,” she grins, “so, is tonight a success?”

Alex nods, her lower lip sticking out, eyes scanning the room, “Think so,” she says, “sold quite a few pieces already,”

“That’s cool,” Tobin says, “I’ve never been to something like this,” she admits, “it’s pretty neat.”

Alex smiles at her, “It’s a necessary evil,” she leans closer to Tobin, “this is a cut throat business,”

“Really?” Tobin whispers back, “I had no idea,” she says honestly. Alex nods, “I need to go talk to someone,” Alex says, still close to her, “but if I don’t see you before you leave, thank you very much for coming tonight and please tell your friends I said that as well,”

“Um, before you go,” Tobin says, “I’m busy during the days for the next few weeks, are you open in the evenings? To talk about the co-op?”

Alex nods, “Just call first,” she says, taking a step away, “I’m usually around,” she gives her a small smile and a finger wave and slips away from her side.

Tobin and her friends hang around for another hour, Sinc finding a colorful glass paperweight she buys for her Mom, Kat discovering a neat bowl she purchases for her apartment.
They head out, Tobin departing as their Uber arrives, choosing to walk home.

As she gets in the door, she notices a carry on bag in the hall. “Kel?” she calls out, entering her living room. She checks the bedroom, but she’s not there. She checks her phone, no messages. She texts her.

She’s brushing her teeth when she hears her phone chirp in the bedroom. She finishes her nightly ritual, shuts off the light and enters her room, picking up her phone and sliding into bed. It’s Kelley.

Kel: 5 minutes

Tobin rolls her eyes, not sure what five minutes means, until she’ll call, text back, be home, she sighs. She clicks off her light and snuggles under the covers, glad to be in bed. She missed her usual afternoon nap today and she feels it now. She’s tired.

She’s just falling asleep when she hears the key in the lock and door opening quietly. “Hey, babe,” Kelley says as she enters the bedroom, peeling off her shirt as she comes in, “you up?”

“Barely,” Tobin moans, yawning, “what are you doing here?”

“Thought I’d surprise you,” she replies, heading to the bathroom. When she comes out, she’s naked and slides in bed with Tobin, leaning close to her, kissing her shoulder. “I missed you,” she purrs, caressing Tobin’s arm with her hand, “I want you,” she murmurs, placing soft kisses on Tobin’s neck, her hand moving under the covers, fingers circling Tobin’s stomach.

Tobin slides on her back, looking up at her, “I missed you,” she says, feeling her desire rise, lifting her head to meet Kelley’s lips. She tastes beer on Kelley’s lips, wondering briefly where she was, but then Kelley slides her hand under Tobin’s sleep shorts and Tobin’s mind goes blank. Kelley kisses her forcefully, entering her with two fingers, using a fast pace. It takes Tobin a minute to relax and get into it, spreading her legs wider, feeling Kelley shove her shirt up and attack her chest.

 

When Tobin awakes, she’s alone in bed and for a moment thinks she was dreaming last night. She rolls to her side and when her legs close together, she feels that ache in her core, instantly knowing she wasn’t dreaming. She lies in bed wondering why Kelley is here. It would be ridiculous for her to come here for only a day, airfare is expensive for a quick trip like that. She wonders if something is wrong. Something serious enough that Kelley wants to talk face to face.

That propels her from her bed, heading to the bathroom to pee and wash her face.

 

“Kel?” Tobin calls out as she comes down the hallway.

Kelley turns from the stove, giving her a smile. “Morning, babe,” she greets.

“How long have you been up?” Tobin asks, coming in close and hugging her.

“Just a little,” Kelley replies, kissing her softly.

“What brings you here?” Tobin asks as she retrieves a mug from the cabinet, preparing a cup of tea for herself, “Not that I’m complaining, this is a nice surprise,”

“I was bored and missed you,” Kelley replies simply, stirring the scrambled eggs in the pan, “so I came.”

“Well, thanks,” Tobin smiles at her as she leans on the counter next to her, “I wish you would have texted me, we went to an art gallery last night, it was super cool,” she says, “I think you would have liked it.”

Kelley gives her an uncertain look, scrunching up her face.

“They had an open bar,” Tobin grins, knowing that would change her opinion. She chuckles as Kelley’s face lights up.

“Dang! I should have,” she frowns, “I just went over the that bar a couple of blocks away and had some beers.”

“Next time,” Tobin says softly.

Kelley nods as she plates the eggs.

“For sure,” she says, handing Tobin a plate and a fork.

They sit side by side on the couch, ESPN on the TV, eating quietly.

“Do you have anything going today?” Kelley asks, glancing over as Tobin eats.

“No,” Tobin replies when she finishes chewing, “day off.”

“Wanna do something?” Kelley asks, “I mean, we can just chill here if you want, I’m here until five, we could get an early dinner somewhere.”

“We can,” Tobin says, “let me grab my phone and see if there’s anything going on,” she says, “then we can figure something out.”

 

 

“You want me to climb up that?” Kelley asks, looking at Tobin with wide eyes.

“Yeah, just don’t look down,” she grins at her. “Hey, you said you wanted to try it.” They’re at an indoor rock climbing facility, both harnessed up, helmet on their heads, an attendant waiting to hook them up to the belays lines.

Tobin steps forward and the woman starts to run the rope through her harness, she looks at Kelley with a smirk, “Chicken?”

That gets Kelley moving, “Never,” she says firmly, “let’s do this thing,” she says to the guy who’s grinning at her.

They both receive some helpful pointers from the workers and approach the wall. “Just go nice and easy, Kel,” Tobin says, “pick out where you’re going a couple of moves ahead,” she offers, having climbed before with her brother.

“Got it,” Kelley grins at her, “and don’t look down.”

Tobin nods, “And don’t look down.”

 

 

“What’d ya think?” Tobin asks as they make their way to Tobin’s vehicle, “You like it?”

“It’s a workout,” Kelley says as she slides into the car, “I didn’t realize how much work it is,”

“Did you have fun?”

"Oh yeah,” Kelley grins at her, leaning over and giving her a kiss, “lots of fun. Especially watching you climb around like a monkey in those tights,”

Tobin blushes and shakes her head, starting the car.

“What?” Kelley exclaims, “You’ve got a great ass! What can I say?”

Tobin drives to one of Kelley’s favorite brew pubs, knowing she would want a beer after that.

“They have the best burgers,” Kelley moans as she takes another bite.

“Are you all moved into your apartment?” Tobin asks, “Chris help you out?”

“Yeah,” Kelley nods, taking a sip of her beer, “pretty much all set. I’ve got a bunch of shit I put in storage, this place is smaller than my other one,” she takes another bite of her burger, chewing and swallowing quickly, “Tell me about this thing you went to last night,”

Tobin shares with her how she met Alex through the Thorns season ticket holder thing and explains to her what the co-op is. She tells her she’s considering renting space so she can get her paint supplies out of her apartment.

“Well, you know I like that,” Kelley grins at her, “it sounds like a cool place,”

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “next time you’re here, maybe you can come by and check it out or come when they have another event.”

“That sounds cool,” Kelley agrees.

“Once the schedule comes out, maybe we can take a look and figure a time for me to come visit you,” Tobin offers, not wanting Kelley to begin feeling as if she’s doing all of the traveling.

“Yeah,” Kelley says, “just no surprise visits,” she cautions, “you know that freaks me out.”

Tobin nods, knowing very well how Kelley reacts to that. She did it once and Kelley had a fit, freaking out that she there without her prior knowledge. It was years ago, but Kelley explained that it really bothered her, she wanted everything in place before Tobin would come to see her.

Tobin accepted Kelley for her quirks, knowing how people have weird things that just get to them. Kelley had a list. Tobin, being so laid back, accepted it, deciding she loved Kelley more than her eccentricities and would respect her wishes.

On the other hand, Kelley didn’t always respect Tobin’s wishes and she normally could overlook them. Kelley would always be genuinely sorry, making Tobin feel bad for getting upset with her. Right now, the art thing was a big hurdle, but Tobin is happy she’s found a solution.

Kelley kisses Tobin passionately in the car pulled over in the drop off lane at the airport, leaving Tobin breathless.

“I’ll see ya soon,” Kelley grins, “camp is just a couple of weeks away,”

“Love you,” Tobin says, taking a deep breath, recovering from the kiss.

“Love you, too,” Kelley says, opening her door and pushing the passenger up and retrieving her bag from the back seat. “Take it easy,” she says, giving her a grin and then shutting the door, bounding towards the door.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

February

Preseason has officially started for the NWSL, they’re a week into it. They’ve done their physicals, fitness testing, the photos shoots and their individual meetings with Mark.It’s mid-week of the grueling two a day sessions.

They’re in the locker room after practice and Tobin is around the corner dressing when she hears Nadia and Lindsey talking by the showers.

“What about Tobin and Kelley?” Lindsey asks, obviously in the middle of their conversation.

“It’s just that last season Kelley and Ali seemed really…close.” Nadia replies quietly.

“Oh, no, I’m sure they’re just friends, Tobin and Kelley are rock solid,” Lindsey insists, her voice low, just above a whisper, “they’ve been together for at least two years.”

Tobin grabs her bag and is near the exit when she hears Nadia’s reply.

“Really? I mean, ‘cause they seemed like they were more than just friends,” she says, “like, intimate.”

“Aw, Kel is just a touchy feely person,” Lindsey assures her, “they went to college together, they’re just best buds.”

Tobin leaves the locker room before they see her. Troubled, she heads to car. As she drives home, she thinks about what Nadia said, Kelley being with Ali. She’s known Ali Riley for ages, she played with her way back in college with the Pali Blues. She knows her and Kelley are great friends, they went to Stanford together. She compares their friendship to hers with Lauren and A-Rod.

The doubts still nag at the back of her mind, but ultimately, she trusts Kelley. She knows Kelley wouldn’t do anything like cheating on her. It’s not in her nature. Nadia must have just misinterpreted their friendship.

 

 

“Hey, Alex,” Tobin greets as she enters the studio, anxious to put the final touches on her latest piece.

Alex looks up from the papers spread across the table, “Hi Tobin,” she greets, “how’s it going?”

Tobin nods, setting her backpack down on the table, “Pretty decent,” she replies, “got a couple of hours before a meeting, so I thought I’d put in some time,”

“Cool,” Alex says, nodding and then glancing down at the papers in front of her. Tobin takes the hint and moves to her cubby, unlocking it and hanging her pack on a hook and reaching in for her easel. She gets set up quickly, angling her easel to take advantage of the natural light coming in from the ceiling before she sets up her palette.

There’s music playing in the studio, the big doors are closed, there’s a chill in the air today and it’s raining. Practice this morning was wet and sloppy. Tobin had lingered under the hot shower for awhile, warming up her chilled bones.

Tonight’s meeting tonight is a continuation of Mark’s message, building on the play of this morning, using the new set pieces they incorporated, improving on their defensive work and transitions. They would view the video of today’s scrimmage and Mark would review it, picking out the errors, offering judgement on the play.

She had her notebook in her pack, she would leave for the park directly from here, a team dinner was tonight as well. She liked team dinners, she made it a point to sit next to someone different each time in an effort to get to know them better. All of her teammates are genuinely nice people and they have a good time together. It’s one of the few teams she’s been on where everyone really got along.

Mark does a fantastic job of setting the tone, he shares his vision of the club, sets realistic goals and is constantly reaffirming the effort they put in. He’s fair in his assessment of individual players, never calling them out in practice in a way to blatantly embarrass them. In his private meetings, he’s honest, he listens to their opinions and together they set off season goals.

Tobin really likes how he runs the team, it’s similar in many ways to Jill and the National Team, mostly the level of professionalism. The expectations are clear, the timeline to peak is set, and the scouting reports are spot on. One of the only differences between Mark and Jill is the ability to change the flow of the game in a match and not wait until halftime. Mark makes the changes on the fly, Jill usually waits for half and sometimes that’s too late. Granted the National Team has been dominant, but the gap is closing and the rest of the world is catching up to them in talent and fitness. It troubles her. Especially with the Olympics coming up.

She’s isn’t too bothered by the tweaking Jill’s doing now, Tobin realizes she wants to put her own stamp on the team and is trying to find a good fit. She just hopes that she finds it quick with qualifying right around the corner.

Tobin’s phone chirps, signaling her alarm, she flinches, surprised at how quickly the time has passed. She looks around and sees Alex still intently going through papers at the table. She stands up from her stool, silencing her phone, grabbing her brushes to clean them.

Once she’s all packed up, she shuts the cubby door, locks it and turns towards the side door.

“Later,” she says to Alex, who gives her a smile, “Good luck at camp and qualifying!”

Tobin grins at her, “Thanks,”

 

XXXX

 

 

“No movie night?” Ashlyn questions, a smile playing on her lips. Tobin shakes her head, “Homework,” she replies, looking up from her laptop.

“I can’t believe you willingly are going back to school,” Ashlyn teases, “you couldn’t wait to get out,”

Tobin grins at her, leaning back in her chair, “Ah, this is different,”

Ashlyn leans against the doorjamb of the hotel room, crossing her arms, “How so?” she questions genuinely, looking at her curiously.

“Well,” Tobin begins, “I’m invested in this, it’s something I actually want to learn about.”

“Huh,” Ashlyn nods, “okay, I’ll give you that,”

“Have you considered classes about fashion?” Tobin inquires, knowing that is something Ash is interested in after soccer.

“No,” she shrugs.

“Well, maybe you should consider it,” Tobin suggests, “find out if it’s really all you think it is,”

“Huh,” Ashlyn considers, nodding.

“Educate yourself,” Tobin continues, “it might surprise you and you might find something that really clicks for ya, dude.”

“Yeah,” Ashlyn nods, scrunching her mouth up as she thinks about it, “maybe I will,”

“Enjoy your movie,” Tobin grins at her, “don’t scream too loud.”

Ashlyn laughs and leaves the doorway.

 

Kelley drops off a bag of microwave popcorn for Tobin, frowning that she won’t watch the movie with her.

“Kel,” Tobin sighs, slightly frustrated at the interruption but also that she’s pushing her to watch a scary movie.

Kelley raises her hands in surrender, “I know, I’m sorry,” she says, then smirks at her, “maybe I just wanted you to cling to me during the movie,”

Tobin smiles, shaking her head, “Get out of here!” she throws a piece of popcorn at her.

 

 

Camp is good, everyone is energetic, upbeat and ready to play. The practices are great, things seem to be working smoothly, everyone is gelling together. They’ve won their first two matches, beating Costa Rico 5-0 and Mexico 1-0. Things seem to be going fairly smoothly, the three back has caused some moments of confusion but they’ve recovered and are working hard to fix their mistakes.

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin is standing with her hands on her head, breathing deeply after practice. She watches as Kelley approaches, smiling at her.

“Here,” Kelley shoves a water and Tobin’s post workout drink at her as is her usual habit, “Imma go talk to Sonnett,” she shakes her head, “this three back,” she grumbles, then walks away.

“Thanks,” Tobin nods and turns to chat with Becky and Chris, sitting down on the bench near them. She wipes the sweat from her face, it’s hot today, hovering in the mid-nineties, unusual for this time of year. She unlaces her boots, kicking them off and taking off her socks as she listens to Becky and Chrsiten discussing a book. Once her feet are free to breathe, Tobin uncaps her water, takes a drink, then chugs half of her shake, taking another drink of water and then she chugs the rest of her shake.

“Tobin what do you think?” Christen asks, “There’s a baseball game at the stadium tonight, want to go?”

“Eh,” Tobin shrugs, then she suddenly feeling nauseous. Becky looks at her, “You feeling okay?”

Tobin’s eyes go wide, shaking her head, afraid to speak. She suddenly stands and makes her way to the garbage can behind the bench, gripping the sides as she vomits.

“Oh, gross!” Tobin’s hears behind her. Another wave hits her, then another.

She stumbles a few steps back, her head spinning, arms out for balance, bumping in to Dawn who steadies her, eying her carefully, the trainers circling around her. She breaks away from Dawn, staggering back to the trash can, vomiting again. For the next ten minutes, she has dry heaves, sipping on water and then throwing it right back up. She’s hustled back to the bench, one of the trainers squatting in front of her asking what happened.

“I don’t know,” Tobin answers, taking a deep breath, “I just felt sick.” Becky hands her another water bottle, she takes it, filling her mouth, squishing it around and then leaning back to spit it out behind the bench.

“How are you feeling now?”

“Just shaky,” she says, sniffing, “little dizzy,”

“Maybe it’s the heat,” the trainer offers, “you might be a little dehydrated,”

“We should get you checked out,” the head trainer insists, “you’re a little pale, let’s get you back to the hotel, showered up and come to the training room.”

Tobin nods, drinking some water. “Okay,” she says, “I’ll come see you,”

 

 

“You okay, babe?” Kelley questions from the doorway, looking at Tobin with concern.

“Yeah,” she replies, slightly annoyed, “they said I’m dehydrated,” she snorts, raising her right arm to show her where the port line is attached for the IV fluids she’s receiving. She’s stretched out on one of the training tables in the converted hotel room.

“You gonna be okay on your own?” Kelley asks, “we’re headed for the ballpark.”

“Yeah, I guess it’s fine,” Tobin says, a part of her wanting Kelley to stay and take care of her.

“Cool,” Kelley grins at her, “I have a taste for some ballpark beers,” she says, “you need anything right now?”

“Nah,” Tobin shakes her head, “I’m good. Thanks though,”

“Aright,” Kelley grins, “I’ll text you later and if we get back early enough, I’ll stop by.”

“Sounds good,” Tobin says flatly, disappointed that Kelley didn’t pick up her vibe and picking up her phone to scroll through it.

 

Tobin is sprawled across the bed, reading her painting textbook, not feeling like taking notes, just skimming the chapter when there’s a knock at her door. She sets the book aside and gets up to answer it. Becky and Christen appear before her.

“I thought you guys were going to the ball game,” Tobin says, opening the door to let them in, both of them have paper bags in their hands.

“Wasn’t feeling it,” Becky says, “wanted to make sure you were okay,”

“Aw, guys,” Tobin says, touched they would do that, “you didn’t have to,”

“It’s fine,” Christen says, moving to the desk and beginning to unpack the bag, “it’s still super hot out,” she says, “I don’t want to sweat while I’m just sitting there.”

“So, you feeling better?” Becky asks her, sitting at the desk and unpacking her bag.

“Yeah,” Tobin replies, “it was super weird, I just felt sick, threw up and then was a little dizzy after. I didn’t feel dehydrated, you guys know how that feels,” she shrugs, “they gave me fluids, but I feel fine.”

Christen frowns, “That’s weird,” she says, turning back to the desk, “I got you some soup and a ham and cheese sandwich.”

“Oh, thanks!” Tobin says, “I was gonna order room service soon,” she says as she approaches the desk, “I’ll pay you back.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Christen waves her off.

“I’ll get your coffee tomorrow,” Tobin states, “you want one too Beck?”

“Sure,” she grins as she tears into her sandwich.

They eat in silence for a couple of minutes, Tobin channel surfing as she drinks her soup. She finds an episode of The Office and drops the remote on the bed.

“So, Tobin,” Becky says looking at her, “I have to ask you something,”

“What’s up?” Tobin crosses her legs on the bed, looking at her intently.

“Is there something going on with Kelley?” Becky asks seriously, “She seems…off.”

Tobin lowers the cup of soup from her lips, her mouth going dry. She swallows and reaches for her water bottle. “She’s a hard one to get a handle on sometimes,” she says slowly, “I think she’s been frustrated.”

“About not being a striker,” Christen inputs, nodding to Becky.

“Yeah,” Tobin says, “I think that’s troubling her more than she says.”

“Okay,” Becky nods, taking a sip of her drink, “I know about that,” she says slowly, “everything okay between you two?”

Tobin straightens up on the bed, “Yeah,” she says, “why? Is she not happy with me?” She asks quickly.

Both the women shake their heads, “No,” Becky assures her, “she hasn’t said anything to me,” she says quickly, “and I haven’t heard anything from anyone else, have you?” she asks Christen.

“No,” Christen shakes her head, “in fact, she was just gushing to me about how much fun her last visit to you was,” she looks at Tobin.

Tobin shrugs, “I don’t know what’s going on with her,” she says truthfully, “she doesn’t exactly,” she pauses, “open up super easily.”

“She gets super defensive,” Christen explains to Becky, “you might have seen it last week?”

Becky nods.

“What happened last week?” Tobin asks, her concern evident.

“She skipped a workout,” Becky states, “Captain’s practice.”

Tobin’s eyes go wide, “The first one of the preseason?” she can’t believe it.

“Said she had her days mixed up,” Becky says, her voice clipped. “She has the schedule downloaded to her calendar.” She frowns.

“Huh,” Tobin frowns as well.

“She kind of slacked on some of her off season training,” Christen adds, “she came out to train with me and spent more time surfing than working out.”

This was news to Tobin, “Really?” she knits her brow in thought, wondering what could be going through Kelley’s mind. “Do you really think she’s just that upset about not being a forward?” she asks them.

They both shrug, “Like you said,” Becky sighs, “she’s a tough nut to crack.”

“She was upset you beat her on the beep test,” Christen says quietly, “I don’t know if she said anything to anyone else, but she kind of…vented to me that night.”

“Well,” Tobin snorts, “she brought that on herself,” she says, irritated, “especially if she was slacking off.” She stands up, setting her soup cup on the desk and begins to pace, “It’s an Olympic year,” Tobin suddenly bursts out, her arms waving, “what is she thinking?”

She stops pacing and suddenly looks at them, “She said she had a taste for beers tonight,” she says, putting her hand to her forehead, “we have a match tomorrow!” She bellows.

She stands in front of her bed, flopping back and putting her hands to her face, covering her eyes, “Kel, what are you doing?” she moans.

The two sit quietly, unable to offer an answer. After a few minutes, Tobin sighs heavily, leaning up on her elbows. “I’ll talk to her,” she says firmly, “I’ll do my best to see what’s going on,” she bites her lower lip, thinking of how she could accomplish that task.

“We will too,” Becky says quietly, glancing at Christen who nods in agreement, “something just isn’t right with her.”

Eventually, Becky and Christen join Tobin on her bed, watching an episode of Parks and Recreation before bidding her goodnight.

Tobin has trouble falling asleep, worried about Kelley.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin sits up high in the stadium, not dressing for the match, the staff wanting to be cautious about her mysterious illness and be positive she’s fine for the upcoming matches. The temperature shot down overnight, a cool sixty degrees at kickoff with some clouds.

She cheers as Mal makes some nice moves on her defender to find Crystal at the top of the box, scoring in the 6th minute. Then Mal gets taken down in the box, Carli bouncing her penalty shot off the top post and in the net in the 19th minute. Christen wrangles a loose ball in the box and gets it to Crystal who sinks another goal in three minutes later. Then
Carli sends a ball in to the flank for Stephanie who slots it across and finds Kelley who scores right before halftime.

In the sixtieth minute, in a span of three minutes, there’s an own goal by Puerto Rico, then Crystal for her hattrick, then Christen again. Crystal is on fire and no match for an exhausted Puerto Rican team, finding the back of the net in the 85th and 87th minute and ends the match assisting Sammy Mewis in extra time.

They pack up and bus to Houston, spend a couple of days practicing and preparing for their match against Trinidad and Tobago. Kelley mentions more than a few times that she really should be put in the offensive position to score more and it is an injustice she isn’t. She always says it in a way that makes everyone unsure if she’s joking or not.

Tobin tries on more than one occasion to spend some alone time with her only to be denied by outside influences and group outings or Kelley herself. Tobin feels great, no trace of illness and the coaching staff is delighted and Jill rewards her with the start.

In the twelfth minute, Mal gets a ball from Kling, looking to cross to send it behind the runners and Tobin swoops in and drills it into the back of the net for the first goal of the match. Kelley almost gets a chance to score a few minutes later, but the ball skitters out of play. Tobin passes the ball to Kelley who sends a great ball in the box, Lindsey heading it on a bounce wide of the goal and Christen sticks a foot out and deflects it in.

After that, it was no contest with Carli scoring and Christen completing a hattrick.

They go out for dinner afterwards, reliving the match, feeling good and knowing they have qualified for the Olympics. They know they have the toughest match to come- facing Canada and they know Canada won’t lie down having already qualified as well. This is for pride.

They have short rest for this match so much of their time is spent on recovery and meetings. Again, Tobin gets no one on one time with Kelley, even for coffee. The team is cohesive and typically travels in groups, frustrating her. But Kelley’s mood is improved, these past few matches she’s had her chances to score, getting up in the box. Becky and
Christen feel this is a positive and Kelley is adapting into the role, knowing she has a chance to end up on the score sheet.

Canada always plays them a tough, physical match. Neither team is willing to concede. Both teams get chances only to be denied. Twice there were possible penalties in the box that should have been awarded to the USA and were not. It’s not until the fifty-third minute that Becky gets up high and sends a beautiful ball into the box that Lindsey tracks and heads in the goal. They’re up 1-0.

Seven minutes later, Mal gets a ball from Kling and brings it up, sending in a pass across the box that Tobin, making the trailing run, lopes across and zeroes in on the ball and bends it into the back of the net past the diving reach of Labbe.

Hope makes a fantastic save in the seventy-first minute on a shot from an open Zadorsky to save the clean sheet. Tobin almost gets another goal, Chapman being able to stick a foot out and deflect her shot. Both teams are exhausted, the Canadians disappointed in their loss.

The USA team celebrates winning the CONCACAF title again, happily being awarded their medals and lifting the trophy. After the match, the team goes for a celebratory dinner, then those of age, hit a nightclub for some drinks and dancing.

Tobin doesn’t drink much because they fly out in the morning and she wants to stop by Providence Park and check in, hopefully to make it for the end of practice. Kelley gets drunk and handsy, trying to paw at Tobin, frustrating and embarassing her.

“Kel,” she says in her ear, “not here, not now.”

“But I wanna fuck you,” Kelley whines, “can you boot out your roommate?”

“No,” Tobin says, walking her back to their table, offering her a water which she refuses. “We leave in the morning, Kel, super early,” she says, “I don’t want you to be hungover and flying halfway across the country.”

Kelley nods, taking the water glass and chugging it down. Tobin rubs her hand along Kelley’s back, “You really played great,” she smiles at her, “the whole tournament. I’m so happy the plan seems like it’s working and getting you guys active in the scoring. Kling, too,”

Kelley nods, “Yeah,” she says, “Imma gonna score some goals this year,” she slurs, burrowing in to Tobin’s side.

“I’ll be right back,” Tobin says as Ali and Ashlyn approach the table, “I need to use the bathroom,” she mouths ‘water’ to Ash and points to Kelley as Ashlyn nods, understanding what she means.

As she approaches, she hears Kelley, “That was a shit team she scored against,” she complains, “why does she have to score? I understand Press, but her? Come on,” she continues to peel the label of an empty beer bottle. None of the three woman at the table have seen Tobin approach.

“She scored against Canada,” Ali comments, not seeing the warning flash from Ashlyn.

“That was a gift!” Kelley snorts, “My Grandma could have put that one away,” she shales her head, “and she’s in a wheelchair!”

“Hey, did you see that one sign in the crowd?” Ashlyn asks, trying to get on another topic. Ash has a talent for dealing with drunk people, taking care of them and talking them down. Tobin waits a minute and then comes in close, “Hey,” she smiles, “you guys ready to head back?”

Soon the other girls gather and order Ubers and they’re back at the hotel. Mewis is Kelley’s roommate and she drags Kelley away after Kelley kisses Tobin goodnight in the hotel hallway.

As Tobin tries to fall asleep she’s thinking of what Kelley was saying, troubled that she’s upset with her for doing her job on the pitch. She doesn’t know how to handle it. She knows Kelley was drunk and just spouting off, but Christen’s words echo in her head. ‘Drunk words are sober thoughts.’

It takes her a while to get to sleep.

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin’s greeted with high fives and hugs along the sideline when she arrives on the pitch at Providence Park, the coaching staff congratulating her on her play in the tournament and qualifying for the Olympics. She looks around and doesn’t see any other National teammates, no Lindsey or Emily. Then she remembers they took later flights. Sinc isn’t there either, but she doesn’t know what her travel plans were for her return. When she had talked to her after their match, Sinc was hobbling a little, explaining she picked up a knock during the tournament and was hoping it wasn’t serious.

She speaks with the head trainer who wants to hear about her mysterious illness, he had received the health report from Dawn and wants to know what happened. Tobin is explaining it to him when she hears the final whistle and the team breaks for the day.

“It was weird,” she finishes, seeing her friends approaching the sidelines, “like it just hit and was gone. I guess I got dehydrated.” He seems satisfied with it, cautioning her about fluid intake and chuckling that she won’t have to worry about soaring temperatures here any time soon.

 

“Sinc is gonna thump you!” Kat laughs, hugging Tobin, “That goal was sick!”

Tobin chuckles, “I couldn’t pass it up!”

She hangs around for a bit, speaking with Mark and Nadine, catching up on what she missed while she gone. She’s here for only a week and then is off for the She Believes Cup. She departs and heads to the studio, anxious to get to work on her latest painting. She has class tonight and is supposed to bring it in for viewing and an update. She has a quiz to take as well, she’s read her chapter and has her note cards ready for a quick review before she goes to class.

 

XXXX

 

 

“Hi!” Alex greets her, approaching her and giving her a hug, “Congratulations!”

“Thanks,” Tobin smiles, “it’s nice to have that over with,” she says, “how’ve you been?”

“Good,” Alex states, nodding her head, “things are starting to come together,”

Tobin nods, unsure what she means by that, but Alex is smiling, so she’s leaves it be. They haven’t really spoken of their personal lives, keeping this strictly a platonic studio based relationship.

“Awesome,” Tobin enthuses, giving her smile back, “glad to hear it.”

Alex is chatty as Tobin sets up her workspace, filling her in on what’s been going on around the studio while she’s gone. She thanks her again for helping out with the appetizers from the event, still feeling slightly bad Tobin roped herself into doing it.

Tobin laughs, telling her that she really did offer, thinking it would set the others at ease to be working together while they talked and less like an interview.

Tobin had chosen the top level of the co-op, although she told Alex she wanted to be involved as much as she could with her travel schedule. She confessed that she liked the teamwork aspect and wanted to be on the same level as others and not feel like she was getting special treatment. This level allowed her a key to the studio, the benefits of coming at any hour to work.

Alex leaves her side as she prepares her palette, giving her space to get some work done. Once again, she’s the only one in the studio besides Alex, she’s learned most of the others have day jobs and she’s seen them after five o’clock. She’s enjoying the quiet as she concentrates on the section of the painting she wants to finish before tonight, noting there’s no music playing like there typically has been.

Alex is sitting at the big table, doing some writing or sketching, Tobin isn’t sure. She hears her phone go off and Alex pushes her chair back as she stands, picking up the phone.

“Hi, Serv,” she greets, slowly walking towards the back door, “yeah, I did,” she says, “I don’t know, I just felt like drawing again,” Tobin can hear happiness in her voice.

Tobin looks up and sees Alex has her hand on the door, listening to Serv, “Yeah, my therapist said it’s great that I’m drawing again,” she says as she leaves the building, going to the patio to continue her conversation.

Tobin frowns as she ponders what she’s just heard, feeling like she was eavesdropping on a private conversation. She refocuses herself and gets back to work. Alex comes back in about fifteen minutes later, bounding up the stairs to her apartment in the back. Tobin’s never been up there, but she sees the large window that overlooks the garage and watches
Alex pass by it. She works for another two hours until her phone chimes, her alarm going off.

She begins to pack her equipment, she gave herself plenty of time to get everything cleaned up, go back to her place and eat some dinner before going to class. She’s just finished cleaning her brushes and is shutting the door on her unit when Alex opens her door upstairs.

“Tobin?” She calls out, leaning against her bannister, looking down at her.

“Yeah?” Tobin looks up at her.

“I was wondering,” Alex hesitates, “I was wondering if you’d like something to eat before class?”

Tobin can hear the uncertainty and nervousness in Alex’s voice. She smiles at her, “Uh, sure,” she says, pleased to see Alex smile back at her.

“Come on up,” Alex grins, turning back to her place and leaving the door open.

Tobin grins, putting her brushes away, locking her unit and grabbing her backpack. She heads for the stairs.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

March

 

“Nice to meet you, Kelley,” Alex says as she shakes her hand, “That goal against Puerto Rico was so lights out,”

“Thanks,” Kelley grins, looking over at Tobin, “I like her already,”

Tobin chuckles, “Kel’s in town before we fly out for Tampa tonight,” Tobin explains, “and I wanted her to see where I work,”

“Oh,” Alex grins, “well, I’ll leave you to it,” she says, “I’ll be upstairs. You guys have a great tournament, I’ll be rooting for you,”

“Thanks, Alex,” Tobin says, “I’ll see you in a couple of weeks,”

“Sounds good,” she replies, “take care,” she looks at Kelley, “nice to meet you.”

“You too,” Kelley enthuses, Tobin seeing how Kelley’s eyes are trained on Alex’s ass as she climbs the stairs. Tobin shakes her head.

“So, this area is where people work on their projects,” Tobin explains, “there’s a crucible over there for glass blowing,” she says, “it gets pretty hot in here when they are doing that.”

She points over to the kiln, “That’s for pottery, there’s a wheel for making pots, and these shelves are for pieces drying out before they get fired in the kiln.”

She approaches her cubicle, pulling out her keys and opening the lock, “This is my space,” she says, opening the wide door.

“Do you paint in there?” Kelley looks perplexed.

Tobin rolls her eyes, “No, I put my easel out here,” she answers, “see the ceiling, this light is perfect almost at anytime during the day.”

Kelley looks at the glass above her. “That’s cool,” she nods. She peers into the cubicle, “Nice and organized.”

Tobin grins at her as she shuts the door, “I knew you’d like that,” she says as she puts the lock back on and clicks it shut. “So, when there’s an event,” she explains, “these tables
come apart and are lined up against the walls, they put pottery and other stuff on them. They hang these cool panels over the windows and that’s where they hang the paintings.”

“Cool,” Kelley says as they make their way to the door.

“They set the bar up over there,” Tobin points to the side of the door and then jerks her thumb to the back garage door, “the band was over there.”

“Nice,” Kelley says, “top shelf booze?”

“I don’t know,” Tobin replies honestly, “I just had a couple of beers and I never even went to the bar myself,”

“This is cool,” Kelley says as they leave the building, “it’s close to your place,”

“Yeah,” Tobin nods as they walk.

“So, tell me,” Kelley looks at her slyly, “you hitting that?”

“What?” Tobin asks, “Hitting what?”

“Alex,” Kelley clarifies, “she’s hot.” She’s nodding at her with a smile.

“No!” Tobin shakes her head, “Fuck Kel, I don’t hook up with anyone,” she says sharply.

“I was just joking,” Kelley slips her arm around her, “I know you love me,”

“Shit, Kel,” Tobin huffs, annoyed that Kelley would say something like that.

“I need to eat,” Kelley says abruptly, “we have time before our flight, right?”

Tobin looks at her watch, “Yeah,” she replies flatly, still annoyed.

“Let’s go here,” Kelley stops in front of the bar on the corner of the street the studio is on, “they got food.”

“Sure,” Tobin sighs, following her into the bar.

 

XXXX

 

 

They hold camp in Tampa, enjoying the sun and the surf on their first day off. A large group of them go to the beach, a few of them renting surfboards, catching some waves. They collect driftwood along the sand, make a bonfire and hang out until they have to head back to the hotel for curfew. It’s a good day. Kelley nuzzling into Tobin’s side by fire, having been sweet and attentive all day.

They beat England on a goal by Crystal Dunn, the defense looks a little shaky, still not used to this three back system. Allie is frustrated, complaining to Tobin after the match. Kelley is pissed because she came in the eightieth minute.

They have their recovery in Tampa, lying low, Tobin working on another paper, she’s also surfing the web for inspiration for her final painting. Dr. Andrews gave her carte blanche, her only request was for it to not be overtly soccer related or any beach scenes as she has completed paintings of those types.

 

Practice the next day is hard, lots of running, Tobin is sprinting as fast as she can with the drill. She’s pushing herself as hard as she can, reveling in the burn she feels in her legs, knowing she’s put in the work to be stronger. Jill has made it known that this tournament will be extremely important to them. She will be evaluating all aspects of their performances, starting with meetings, practices and match play. She will make her decision for the final roster for the Olympics during this time.

Everyone is pushing, the rookies are especially on edge, nervous of their status. Tobin remembers how she felt when she was a rookie, dubbed one of the New Kids with Lauren and A-Rod. Most of the veterans would be sure to always offer encouragement to them. It’s weird for her to think she’s maybe a veteran now. She makes sure to give positive feedback to the youngsters, doing her best to set them at ease. She’s not the only one doing it, Christen, A-Rod, HAO, Carli and even Hope can be seen standing with the rooks while waiting around to the drills.

“Jesus, Tobin!” Kling pants, “What did you do this off season? Run track?”

“Yeah,” Julie Johnston grins at her, “You’re making us look bad,” she elbows Kelley, “She might start making you and HAO look slow!”

The group chuckles, Kelley scowling at her, “Never,” she says firmly, not thinking it’s funny.

“Oh, Kel,” HAO grins at her, still breathing hard, “we’re supposed to push each other, it’s cool.”

“Whatever,” Kelley says, standing upright and putting her hands on her head and turning away from them, walking off.

The group eyes each other with surprised expressions, Tobin only looking down, slowly taking a deep breath and letting it out. When she looks up, Julie meets her eyes, looking at her apologetically, “I’m sorry,” she says quietly, “I was just teasing her,”

Tobin nods and gives her a small smile, “I know,” she says, “no problem,”

“Why is she so touchy?” Kling snorts, “She kicks our ass all the time,”

Tobin grabs one of the water bottles, taking along drink, then dropping the bottle and walks away in the opposite direction. She does a few stretches while the assistant coaches set up the next drill.

“Just let her blow it off,” Christen says, appearing at her side.

Tobin looks at her, “Why is she so fucking pissed at how fast I run, Chris? I don’t get it? This is bullshit!” she says heatedly, loud enough for JJ and HAO to hear.

“Alright, ladies, let’s line up,” Jill calls out, observing the tenseness, “four lines,” She decides to let it fuel the players. She notices how Tobin intentionally moves into the group that Kelley is in.

“Let’s line up by position,” Jill calls out, noting how Tobin’s slump slightly as she jogs over the next line.

She runs the group through some agility drills and then resets it. Dawn stands next to her.

“Something’s brewing,” Dawn murmurs, leaning close to Jill.

Jill nods, “I can’t put my finger on it,” she says quietly back.

“Should you let them scrimmage?” Dawn asks, “Let them work it out on the pitch?”

“Yeah,” Jill agrees, “full pitch, but separate Tobin and Kelley,” she says, “Kelley seems a little grouchy, let’s test her.”

Dawn hands Jill her clipboard, Jill circles the player’s names for the scrimmage line ups, noting the positions she wants them in for each team. The assistant running the drill whistles it to end, some of the girls falling to the ground. Everyone is getting tired. Water bottles are being passed around, Tobin takes a drink, passing the bottle to Mal, “Nice job on that one, Mal,” she smiles at her.

“Thanks,” she replies, taking a long drink, “that was hard.”

Tobin nods, “Yeah, I like that one,” she grins at her, “the harder, the better,”

“You’re sick, Tobin!” Becky laughs, “Sick in the head!”

“We all are!” Tobin chuckles, giving her a fist bump.

“Ladies,” Jill calls out, “take ten while they’re resetting the pitch, we’re going to scrimmage.”

A cheer sounds, if there’s one thing they all love, it’s playing a full scrimmage.

 

Tobin dons a red pinnie as she listens to Jill direct her team. One of the assistants is coaching the other.

“Okay, defense, Jaelene, Sonnett, you two push up when you can, Ali and Whit, stay back and hold the fort for Ashlyn. Morgan, you and Tobin are the wings, Lindsey, stay central. A-Rod, you’re in the middle, Mal and Crystal on the outside. Take it to them!”

“Two ten minute halves!” Jill yells. Then the whistle sounds and they’re off.

Play starts and Morgan drives up the field, passing to A-Rod who takes a quick first shot on goal that Hope handles easily. They drop back to defend, Tobin seeing she’s paired against Kelley. Perfect, she thinks, hoping nothing happens. As soon as the whistle blows, it’s like the flick of a switch, it’s soccer. It doesn’t matter who she’s playing.
That thought leaves her mind quickly as Kelley comes charging at her, ball at her feet, Tobin stepping in to disrupt her. She nutmegs, hearing Kelley swear as she chases her down, Tobin nearly at a full sprint as she cuts around Becky, passing to Mal, who looks surprised the ball is coming at her. Mal takes a shot, bending it around the grasp of Hope’s extended fingers.

Christen scores on a looping pass from HAO, making a quick step and freeing herself from Whitney’s block, punching the ball into the back of the net.

It continues back and forth, saves made, tackles coming in to disrupt plays. There’s no official score kept, but all of the players know who’s winning.

They take a five minute break between halves, regrouping and listening to their coach.

They’ve only played a couple of minutes when Tobin is on a breakaway up the left side, holding up the ball while she waits for others to come in. Kelley’s in front of her, a hand on Tobin’s side, trying to get the ball. Tobin’s already nutmegged her twice, so she know she’s waiting for it. She angles herself and Kelley moves just where she wants her and then does the unthinkable. She flicks the balls behind her, rainbows it over Kelley and gets past her, passing the ball past stunned defenders to A-Rod who rockets the ball past Hope.

The group ooohs and aahs from the move.

“Holy shit, Tobin!” A-Rod yells breathlessly as she crushes her in a hug.

“That was amazing!” Morgan says with wide eyes as they trot back to position.

“The fuck was that?” Becky yells at her, grinning wildly from across the field.

Christen scores only minutes later, making her team down by one. Tobin’s team attacks on their next possession, their passing crisp, bringing the ball up. Crystal is open, Lindsey slotting the ball in to her and Crystal unloads, her shot rebounding off Hope’s hand, bouncing back out into the eighteen. Tobin zeroes in on it, taking her first touch, she dribbles to the right and suddenly she gets taken off her feet, pain shooting through her left leg.

She crumples to the ground, a yell coming from her mouth as she curls into a ball, holding her leg. She hears a whistle, she hears angry voices, but she can’t focus on anything else except to think she’s broken her leg and that’s it for her Olympics.

The trainers come out, urging Tobin to let go of her leg so they can look at it. She slowly rolls to her back, seeing the blurry concerned faces of HAO, Christen and Becky through her tears, others lingering behind them. She grimaces as the trainer begins to palpate the area, flinching and letting out a hiss as they touch the sensitive area.

As they work off her boot, Tobin hears an angry Ashlyn shouting. “What the fuck, Kelley?”

“I was defending!” Kelley screams back, “We go for the ball!”

Tobin sits up, wiping her eyes, craning her neck to see Carli coming between the two, speaking sternly to them both. Another touch to her lower leg grabs her attention again, gasping. She leans forward and sees three nasty red marks on the outside of her leg, just above her ankle. She lets out a deep breath, feeling hopeful there’s no fracture. She’ll know in a minute when she tries to put weight on it.

A whistle blows and Jill is yelling that the scrimmage is over and everyone cool down. Tobin glances up at those gathered around, seeing the sympathy in Christen’s eyes, who gives her a small closed mouth smile. HAO has kneeled down, a hand on Tobin’s shoulder.

“You doing alright, buddy?” she asks, looking at her carefully.

“I think so,” she turns her leg for her to see and HAO hisses at it, grimacing. “Dude,” she says softly, giving her shoulder a squeeze. HAO puts her arm under Tobin’s helping her as Tobin grabs the trainer’s hand, standing. It hurts to put pressure on it, but she keeps doing it, testing it. The pain lessens and she’s nodding to the trainer.

“I’m good,” she says, limping towards the bench as Dawn comes up to her, looking concerned. “I’m good,” Tobin repeats, taking a seat and grabbing a water bottle.

“Training room after you shower up,” Dawn instructs, handing Tobin her post practice shake, Tobin nods, knowing she’ll be icing a lot tonight if she hopes to play tomorrow.

 

She showered when she got back to the hotel, limped to the training room, the team doctor performed multiple tests on her, eliminating any thoughts of a fracture. The bruise from the cleats was developing as she sat in the ice bath, shivering along with her teammates.

Tobin glances around, seeing her teammates chatting, some scrolling on their phones. Ashlyn is still pissed, she can just tell by her posture, HAO is trying to joke with her, loosen her up. Carli looks unaffected by the cold, calmly looking at her phone.

They all were concerned when Tobin joined them, standing to give her hand as she got in the pool.

“What the fuck was Kelley thinking?” Ashlyn suddenly asks, looking steadily at Tobin.

Tobin shrugs, “She was probably pissed and embarrassed that I rainbowed her,” she says honestly.

“She’s your teammate!” Ashlyn says heatedly, "And your girlfriend!"

“Ash,” Tobin says tiredly, not wanting this to escalate into something big, “it’s just soccer,” she says, “I’m sure she’s gotten chewed out for it already, let’s just drop it.”

Ash looks unconvinced, frowning at Tobin. Tobin knows she thinks she’s letting Kelley walk all over her, but she’s not. It was a soccer thing and sure she’s mad about it, but she doesn’t think Kelley did purposefully to injure her. It was the heat of the moment.

Thankfully the timer goes off, HAO standing and offering a hand to pull Tobin up. She gingerly gets out of the pool, wiping herself down with a towel, then limping back to her room to shower once again. When she’s dressed in sweats, she makes her way back to the training room, enduring one more round of testing and then they wrap her lower leg, reminding her to ice throughout the night and keep it as elevated as possible. Then they insist she wear the dreaded boot on her foot until further notice.

She swallows down three Tylenol with her water, more for the headache she has than for the nagging ache in her leg. She slowly thumps back to her room, contemplating if she has enough time to nap before dinner.

She’s alone when she enters her room, Morgan is off somewhere, probably getting into trouble with Kling. She collapses on her bed, lying face down for a minute until she rolls over, dutifully pulling a pillow over and situating it under the boot and lays on her back.

She awakes with a jump from Morgan entering, Kling following her in the room, “Oh,” Morgan says with surprise, “you’re here,”

“Yeah,” Tobin says, her voice low and gravelly, still filled with sleep.

“We thought maybe you missed dinner because they took you to the hospital for X-rays or something,” Kling explains, frowning at her.

“I missed dinner?” Tobin says, frowning and, as if on cue, her belly rumbles. She’s hungry.

“They’re all still down there,” Morgan says as she moves across the room, “we just came to get some playing cards,”

“Oh, there’s still food down there?” Tobin questions as she sits up, swinging her feet off the bed.

“Hey,” Kling states, eying her with concern, “I’ll run down and make you a plate,” she offers, “you can eat up here, not have to walk.”

Tobin considers for a moment, still not quite awake, “Okay,” she yawns, “I’d appreciate that,”

“Be right back,” Kling nods and darts out of the room.

“I’ve got Catan over there,” Tobin points to the dresser the TV sits on, “you can take it if you want,” she offers.

Morgan grabs it, “Thanks,” she says, pausing near the door, “you okay here on your own?”

Tobin nods, “I think I’m going to get ready for bed, eat, ice for a while and then lights out,” she states, “I’m pretty tired and I really don’t feel like hanging out,”

Morgan nods understandingly, “Okay,” she says, frowning, “Kelley got reamed out by Hope pretty bad,” she says quietly.

Tobin sighs, she doesn’t want what happened to upset the team.

“She told her she was being emotional and reckless and if she did something stupid like that again, in practice or a match, she’d bark at Jill to get her off her defense and ride the bench until she was pulling splinters out of her ass.”

“Shit,” Tobin sighs, knowing if Hope was that pissed, it wouldn’t make life easy for anyone.

Morgan takes a few steps to the bed and sits on the edge, looking at her worriedly, “Tobin, is Kelley okay?”

Tobin presses her lips together, feeling a pang in her chest, “I don’t know,” she says, her voice cracking, “I’ve tried talking to her, she just isn’t saying anything.”

Morgan frowns, “I’m sorry,” she says, “that has to be hard,”

“Yeah,” Tobin murmurs, blinking back tears, “I don’t know what to do,”

Morgan gives her a sad smile, “Just be there for her,” she says as she stands, glancing at the cooler. “I’ll make you an ice bag, before I go, okay?”

“Thanks,” Tobin says, sliding out of bed and limping to the bathroom.

 

Morgan has left, Tobin is back on the bed, icing her leg. Her door is open slightly with the case of water chocked in it that Morgan had dragged there. Tobin hears a light knock and the door is pushed open. Tobin looks up from the TV, expecting to see Kling with her food, instead, it’s Kelley holding a tray with a covered plate and a drink.

“Hey,” she says tentatively, entering the room, setting the tray on the edge of the bed and standing there looking at her.

“Hi,” Tobin replies, shifting into an upright position, the ice bag falling off as her leg slides off the pillow. Kelley comes around the bed and gently places the pillow underneath and sets the ice bag on her leg.

“Thanks,” Tobin says, feeling anxious. She decides to be cool, not come right out and start interrogating Kelley, besides, she’s starving and wants to eat before getting into a serious conversation.

“I brought you your food,” Kelley states, going back around the bed and bringing her the tray, setting the drink on the nightstand before handing the tray to her.

“Thanks, Kel,” Tobin gives her a small smile, “did you eat?”

Kelley nods, her hands toying with the hem of her shirt, “Yeah,” she says, glancing at the TV, “whatcha watching?”

“Just ESPN,” Tobin replies, tossing the remote to the open side of her bed, “come on over and find something,” she invites, lifting the lid off the plate and inspecting tonight’s dinner. Kelley smiles and springs around the bed, grabbing the lone pillow and putting it against the headboard and sliding on. She pulls the pillow closer to Tobin so she’s sitting right next to her, hips and shoulders touching.

Kelley clicks around as Tobin begins to eat, settling on a Timbers match. They offer commentary to each other about the game, Tobin frustrated when they don’t score. When she finishes eating, Kelley takes her tray, setting it out in the hallway, then returning to the bed. Tobin offers her hand and Kelley takes it immediately, rubbing her thumb across the back of Tobin’s hand. They continue to watch the match and when halftime hits, Tobin turns to Kelley.

“Kel,” she says quietly.

“I’m sorry,” Kelley says genuinely, “I’m so sorry, babe, I didn’t mean to come in like that on you,”

Tobin nods, “Let’s just remove me from the incident for a minute, okay?” She asks, “What if it was Press or A-Rod? Kel, I know you were frustrated, but that was way out of line,”

“I know, I know,” Kelley agrees, tears forming in her eyes, “I just was so mad I got beat,” she says, “oh, and what a rainbow! You nailed it, by the way,” she gives her a little grin, “but after you make me look like a fool so many times, all I could start thinking about was maybe I would lose my spot on defense.”

“Kel,” Tobin sighs, “that wouldn’t happen from just one scrimmage,”

“I know that now,” Kelley rolls her eyes, “but then, in the moment, it was making me crazy,”

“I get it,” Tobin says, pressing her lips together as she nods.

“Babe, I’m sorry,” Kelley says earnestly, her eyes searching Tobin's face, turning on her side and putting her other hand on Tobin’s stomach, “I would never hurt you,”

“I know, I know,” Tobin states.

“Does it hurt?” Kelley asks timidly.

Tobin scrunches up her mouth, “Yeah, it does,” she frowns.

“Is it broke?” Kelley’s eyes are wide.

“They don’t think so,” Tobin replies, “I think it’s just a really good bruise.”

“Can I see?”

“It’s wrapped,” Tobin shrugs, “maybe tomorrow,”

Kelley sighs and frowns, “Can I do anything for you? Massage?”

“Only if you keep it PG,” Tobin replies, a smile playing on her face, “Morgan might come back any time, and I’d hate it if we scarred her for life,”

Kelley smiles at her, leaning forward and kissing her gently, then pressing her forehead against Tobin’s. “You still love me?”

“I’ll always love you, Kel,” Tobin replies, kissing her again.

Kelley smiles at her, “Lay down,” she instructs. It takes Tobin a moment to get in position, her chest resting on the pillow, head turned to the side, arms spread out.

Kelley begins massaging the backs of Tobin’s calves, slowly working her way up her legs, then her butt, doing her best to stay on task. Tobin’s got a great ass and Kelley loves working her hands on her tight muscles. She loves touching Tobin, reveling in how muscular she is, yet still so soft and sexy. How smooth her skin is to her fingers. Fortunately, she’s massaging her over her clothes or things would get out of hand quickly, spiraling into some serious foreplay.

“Ummm,” Tobin moans, “feels so good, Kel,”

“Good baby,” Kelley purrs back, now working on her shoulders, “I love making you feel good,”

They hear Morgan entering, “Uh, am I interrupting something?”

“Oh nah,” Kelley answers, not even looking at her, “we already had sex on your bed,”

Tobin’s head pops up, twisting her neck to glare at her, “Kel!” she looks at Morgan who looks rather horrified. “Morgan,” she says, “there was no sex,” then she elbows Kelley and twists underneath her, “and you keep that up,” she threatens Kelley, “there will be no sex,”

Kelley laughs, leaning to playfully kiss Tobin, “Sorry,” she says, lifting her leg and sliding off the bed, “Sorry Mo,” she grins at her, “I couldn’t help myself,”

“Okay,” Morgan says, eying both of them as she cautiously moves across the room, she stops to inspect her bed. Satisfied there were no shenanigans, she sits down, “How ya feeling?”

“Much better now,” Tobin wiggles her eyebrows.

“Ew, Tobin,” Morgan frowns, “stop.”

Tobin chuckles, “Sorry,” going up on her side, “Did you play Catan?”

“You played Catan?” Kelley bursts, “I wanted to!”

“Well, you weren’t there,” Morgan says smugly, “I won.”

“Were you playing alone?” Kelley quips.

“No!” Morgan pouts.

“Kel,” Tobin says, chuckling, “don’t wind her up before bedtime,”

“Yeah,” Kelley smiles, “I should go,” she leans down and kisses Tobin, “almost curfew.”

“Goodnight,” Tobin says, "thanks for stopping by."

“Later,” Kelley says, heading for the door, “night Mo!”

“Goodnight!” Morgan calls back.

 

The two are lying in darkness, Morgan having just clicked off her light after getting in bed.

“Tobin?” she asks.

“Yeah?”

“How long have you and Kelley been together? A few years?” she asks.

“Well,” Tobin replies, “two officially, but we’ve like been on and off for like, five.”

“Oh, wow,” Morgan is surprised, “I didn’t know it was for that long,” she rolls on her side, “you guys are so cute together,” she murmurs.

“Thanks,” Tobin smiles, “night,” she says as she rolls to her side.

 

They fly to Nashville the next and Tobin is sidelined for the practices leading up to the match. She doesn’t dress for the match, Jill erring on the side of caution and she watches the match from the team box.

It’s a tough match against France, neither team giving up a goal. Kelley gets the start, playing well defensively, making smart choices and great passes. Press comes on for her in the eighty-fifth minute and scores in extra time. The final score is 1-0.

They fly to Boca Raton Florida for the final match, Tobin getting some work in. Her leg is still tender, the bruise a constellation of colors with deep purple marks from Kelley’s cleats. She continues treatment on it, badly wanting to play.

They fly out to Ft. Lauderdale and bus to Boca Raton, having a later afternoon practice. It’s the first time in three days that Tobin can suit up for a full practice. The cloud of anxiousness seems to have lifted from the team once Tobin stepped on the pitch. Maybe it’s because they’re tied with Germany to win and they are all focused on the prize.

Tobin doesn’t spend as much time with Kelley as usual, choosing to hang out with A-Rod and Alyssa and Christen. She hasn’t fully forgiven her for what she did. When she had been getting treatment for her leg, the trainer had shown her the incident. Kelley came in with her spikes up and feet off the ground, it looked to her she was intentionally coming at her ankles.

Tobin dresses for the match but doesn’t start. The training staff want her to work into her minutes, so she sits on the bench, watching the match against Germany unfold.
Germany strikes first in the twenty-ninth minute with a blast from Mittag. The USA responds seven minutes later with Christen making an acrobatic goal, taking the ball with her left foot, tapping over the defender’s head to her right side and crushing a right foot volley into the goal.

In the forty-first minute, Sam Mewis scores the game winner. The game goes back and forth, Hope making some excellent saves against the tough Germans. Tobin comes on for Crystal in the sixty-first minute, happy to be on the pitch. Carli almost scores, Tobin gets taken down hard by Maier, Maier earning herself a yellow. In the seventy-eighth minute, Mittag gets a breakaway, Ali swooping in, angling her away from the box, getting a toe on the ball and breaking up the play. Kelley comes on in the eightieth minute for Ali.

They smother Germany, not giving them any space to play the ball and keep it Germany’s end for the most part. They chew up the clock, pressing Germany hard, forcing them to kick the ball out for USA throw ins. They win the tournament, coming from behind to capture the title.

Hope wins the Golden Glove, Press receiving the Golden Boot for scoring and the also the Golden Ball for top play of the tournament. They stand around, drinking water and their post match drinks, waiting as Germany receives their second place medals, before they take the stage.

They line up and receive their medals, assembling on the stage, waiting for the trophy presentation. Tobin sits on the stage, her legs hanging off, Crystal on her left and Becky on her right. They all put their arms around their shoulders, swaying as the music plays, Carli receiving the trophy, confetti shooting out the cannons, covering them in gold ticker tape. Carli passes the trophy to Hope, Hope laughing as she holds it, calling the Golden Uterus. They wait for all of the photos to be taken, Tobin the first to just hop off the stage, slightly wincing as she lands from her tender leg, others following as they take a walk around the pitch, clapping and thanking the fans. They grab their warmups, then sign some autographs for a bit before heading to the locker room.

After they shower, the team heads to a victory dinner at nearby restaurant, then back to the hotel. The next morning is spent doing recovery, packing and then each of them flying back to their NWSL teams that afternoon.

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

March

 

“Hey!” A deep male voice calls out, “How’s it going Tobin?” It’s Tomaz.

“Hey, man!” Tobin grins, standing to hug him. “How you doing? Did you get that bowl finished?”

“I sure did,” he says proudly, taking his phone out to show her.

“Dude,” Tobin drawls, “that is sick!”

“Thanks!” He grins, “Hey, I’ve got some cutting to do, will that bug you? I’ll make sure I’m downwind.”

“Naw,” she shrugs, “I’ll just zone it out,”

“Cool,” he says, peering at her easel where her final painting for her class stands, “woah,” he says under his breath, “that is” he looks at Tobin, “you sure you still want to play soccer and not just keep doing this full time?”

“Tomaz,” Tobin softly draws out his name and gives him a light hit on his shoulder, “dude,”

He laughs, “You keep doing your thing,” he says, giving her a head nod, “you got something there,”

“Thanks,” Tobin says shyly, “I appreciate it, dude,”

“Let me know if you get a headache from the saw or anything,”

“No worries,” Tobin says easily, sliding back onto her stool, biting her lower lip and looking at her painting. She opens a paint tube, squeezing some out on her palette, capping the tube and reaching for another color. She gets her palette prepared and begins.

She doesn’t hear the saw, doesn’t see Alex enter, but she jumps when her phone chirps, her alarm going off. The stool she’s sitting on screeches a little from her being startled, she shakes her head and grabs her phone.

“Little out of it?” Alex questions from across the studio, her lip curled into a crooked grin.

“Yeah,” Tobin says, arching her back and stretching her arms over her head, “a little stiff, too,”

“How are you?” Alex asks, walking towards her, setting her sketchbook on the large center table.

“Good,” Tobin yawns, “how’s it going?”

“I’m doing good,” she replies.

“Hey, are you hungry?” Tobin grabs a damp cloth and begins to wipe the paint from her hands.

“I could eat,” she shrugs.

“Is Tomaz still here?” Tobin asks as she looks around. She doesn’t see him.

“He left, like two hours ago,” Alex chuckles at her, “You were in the zone,” she says knowingly.

“Oh, wow,” Tobin says as she scratches her shoulder, “I guess I was pretty in to it,” she shrugs, a little embarrassed.

“It happens,” Alex smiles kindly at her, “what are you thinking for food?”

Tobin shrugs, “I should probably have something relatively healthy,” she replies, “I could do some pasta and chicken, you want some Italian?”

“That sounds good,” Alex nods.

Tobin picks up her phone, “Gilda’s?”

Alex’s eyes widen, “Sure,”

“Do you know what you want or do you want to look at the menu?” Tobin asks.

“Let me see,” Alex shrugs, “I haven’t been there in forever.”

They order two salads and two pasta dishes, Tobin insisting on paying and having it delivered as a thanks to Alex feeding her a few times. In the time it took for Tobin to clean her brushes, her hands and pack her cubicle up, the food had arrived. Alex carried it upstairs, claiming she preferred to eat with real cutlery and on plates.

Tobin’s head is on a swivel once again when she enters Alex’s apartment over the garage. It’s spacious and also has a clerestory ceiling, the natural light shining through. Her living room is tastefully decorated, a few paintings demand attention on the wall to her right, a shelf with some interesting pottery is on the short wall that has large French doors leading to what Tobin thinks is a patio. There’s so much cool stuff in there that Tobin wishes she had the time to look it all over carefully. Their friendship is nice, although it mostly consists of eating together and discussing light topics, neither really opening up to each other just yet. So, Tobin isn’t about to wander through Alex’s place, looking over all of her stuff.

To her left is a bedroom and then a bathroom and a small kitchen. Everything is neat and tidy, her furniture consists of a large brown leather couch and a matching over stuffed leather chair angled to face a TV on the wall with the window that overlooks the interior of the garage.

They eat in the kitchen, each having a glass of red wine with their meal. They talk about Dr. Andrews, Alex sharing more of her history, how she’s known around Portland and basically the West Coast for her shrewd judgement in talent and her own artistic ability.

“You should really just read her wiki, Tobin,” Alex tells her, “she’s pretty important in the art community.”

“I will,” Tobin nods, thinking about how humble her instructor is.

“You excited about the start of the season?” she asks her, looking expectantly at her. It’s the first time since she’s known her that Alex has ever asked her in depth about soccer. Tobin likes that they can find a whole host of topics to talk about and soccer is hardly ever one of them.

“Yeah,” Tobin grins, “I can’t wait to see my teammates and get back to it, and it’ll be nice to be back here for a bit.”

“It’s only a week away,” Alex grins, lifting her fork to take another bite.

Tobin grins back at her, “Yeah, I love playing at home,”

Alex tells her how she followed the Red Stars while in college, going to their matches and cheering them on. She played soccer in high school and just loves it.

“We should kick it around some time,” Tobin grins at her.

Alex snorts, “Oh, so you can dribble circles around me and nutmeg me? No, thanks,”

Tobin pouts, “I wouldn’t do that,” she says, placing a hand to her heart, chuckling, “I’m hurt,”

Alex gives her a look, “We’ll see,” she says.

That sparks a conversation about other sports, leading to another conversation of rock climbing and hiking.

Tobin’s phone has been vibrating in her pocket pretty consistently and she’s doing her best to ignore it while they enjoy dinner. She offers to help Alex clear the table and wash dishes, Alex having her box up the leftovers.

“Do you mind if I keep this here?” Tobin asks, lifting her container of food, “We can eat it tomorrow.”

“Sure,” Alex grins, “just put it in the fridge.”

“Could you excuse me for a second?” Tobin asks, “I just need to look at my phone for a second, it’s been blowing up,”

“Oh,” Alex straightens up, “I didn’t mean to keep you,”

“Oh, no, no,” Tobin says earnestly, putting a hand up, “I just want to check it real quick.”

“Okay,” Alex says, turning in the faucet to rinse the dishes.

Tobin steps to the living room, swiping her phone open. She sees Kelley’s been texting her.

2:04 Kelley: Hey babe

2:06 Kelley: Where are you?

2:08 Kelley: I miss you

2:10 Kelley: TOBIN! I MISS YOU

2:11 Kelley: got time for phone sex?

2:23 Kelley: WTF, where are you?

2:48 Kelley: Are you mad at me?

3:10 Kelley: What did I do now?

4:15 Kelley: Whatever I did I’m sorry

5:32 Kelley: Giving me the silent treatment?

6:14 Kelley: WTF Tobin I want to talk to you

6:35 Kelley: you know this is rude

7:19 Kelley: whatever call me when you have time

7:50 Kelley: is this still because I tackled you?

Tobin reads her texts, first letting out a sigh, then huffing at Kelley’s attitude. She bites her lower lip as she considers her message back to her.

8:10 Tobin: I’m sorry- I’ve been at the studio and had my phone off. I’ll be home in a little bit.

She pockets her phone and enters the kitchen, giving Alex a small smile.

“Everything okay?” Alex asks as she wipes the kitchen table.

“Yeah,” Tobin sighs, running a hand through her hair, “long distance relationships suck sometimes.”

Alex frowns, “Sorry,” she says genuinely.

“It’s cool,” Tobin shrugs, “we’ll talk later, she didn’t remember I was here today.”

“Ah,” Alex nods.

“Thanks for this,” Tobin says, nodding says, “it was nice to eat dinner not in front of my TV,”

“Same here,” Alex smiles at her, “do it again tomorrow?”

Tobin thinks for a minute, she doesn’t have a team dinner or anything, she smiles, “Sure,”

 

 

“Hey,” Tobin says quietly, “I’m sorry,” Tobin is now home and sitting on her couch.

“I feel like you never have time to talk to me,” Kelley says just as quietly.

“Kel, you know that’s not true,” Tobin insists, “we talk all the time, you know I have this class and I need to work at the studio.”

“But why won’t you answer my texts while you’re there?” Kelley asks.

“I need to concentrate,” Tobin explains, “I put my phone on silent. I told you yesterday I would be here most of the day.”

Kelley huffs quietly into her phone.

“Listen,” Tobin says, “how about every time I go to the studio, I text you, so you know and I’ll let you know when I think I’ll be done?” she offers.

“That’s fine,” Kelley says dejectedly.

The two are silent for a minute.

“I’m sorry.” Tobin says. “It’s hard being away from you.”

“I’m sorry I got wound up,” Kelley says, “it drives me nuts sometimes being away from you.”

They talk for another thirty minutes, Kelley is excited about a squirrel she’s been feeding on her patio of her new apartment. When they say goodnight to each other, both are in good moods.

 

 

“Kel,” Tobin says, her grip tightening on her phone, “I can come to you,” she says, “it’s not a problem, I don’t mind.” Kelley has a day off before the week of Utah’s home opener.

“No, babe, I’ll come to you,” Kelley insists, “it’s totally cool,”

“Well, let me book your flight at least,” Tobin tries to reason, “I don’t want you spending money to come here,”

“I’ll use my miles,” Kelley explains, “it’ll be like, thirty bucks to fly.”

“Okay,” Tobin relents, “oh, hey, depending on your flight, I might be in class, so let me know. I’ll pick you up if the time works out.”

“Okay,” Kelley agrees, “I’ll let you know.”

 

Four days later, Tobin is cleaning her apartment, wanting it to be in good shape for Kelley’s visit. It’s not she’s a slob or anything, but she’s let her laundry build up a little and noticed a water ring in the toilet and wants to take care of it. Her final painting for class is about a third of the way done, Dr. Andrews wants to see her progress tonight. She brought it back to her place yesterday, knowing she wouldn’t have time today to get it. She’s had practice today, class tonight, a meeting after recovery tomorrow morning and she’s free for the rest of the day. Kelley flies out tomorrow night, so they’ll be able to spend most of the day together. Satisfied everything looks good, she checks her phone for any messages from Kelley. There’s none and she’s not surprised. She texted when she boarded and she doubts she’d buy wifi for just a two hour flight. Kelley’s going to take an Uber when she gets in, Tobin wouldn’t be able to pick her up and still make class. Tobin grabs her backpack and portfolio as she heads out the door, smiling knowing that when she returns, Kelley will be there.

 

XXXX

 

“This is looking very nice,” Dr. Andrews murmurs at Tobin, looking over her glasses at her painting.

Tobin found a photo from 2014 when the National Team played a tournament in Brazil. While on the team bus heading to one of the matches, Tobin snapped a photo of a poignant scene. It was an old building in the city, a grocery store with carts out in front and men sitting in chairs smoking cigars. A group of children were in front, pausing their game to look at the bus. Everything was rundown, the people were dressed poorly, but they were happy. What got Tobin were the children. They were in dirty t-shirts and shorts, barefoot, kicking a ball around. Boys and girls.

It spoke to her about the language of soccer and how universal the game was. So, she choose to base her painting off the photo, altering it as she seemed fit to convey her feelings.
Tobin has the whole scene sketched out on her canvas, opting to paint from the lower right corner and spread it across. Being left handed, that’s what works better for her. She’s completed just under half of it, the sky in the background is done, most of the building and the smoking men gathered. She switched the side the carts and the men were on and added an older woman to be near the one of the fruit carts. There were eight children playing soccer and Tobin eliminated four.

“The composition is lovely,” Dr. Andrews continues, “is this based on something or did you sketch it on your own?”

“It’s from a photo I took in Brazil back in 2014,” Tobin explains, pulling out her phone, “I changed it around a bit,”

“You improved it,” Dr. Andrews states as she looks at the photo, “I might have considered an odd number of children playing, but four works.”

Tobin shrugs, “I thought it might overcrowd it,” she explains.

Dr. Andrews looks back at the painting, her head tilted a little, “Yes, I see what you’re saying,”

“So,” Tobin nervously scratches at the back of her neck, “you think it’ll be okay?”

Dr. Andrews nods, turning to look back at the painting to hide her smile, thinking of how insecure and humble Tobin is. She faces her, “It may end up being your best one yet,” she says warmly.

Tobin smiles, “Hope so,” she breathes.

Dr. Andrews gives her a smile back, thinking she needs to figure out a way to get Tobin more confident in her abilities and be definitive in her work. She’ll have to be careful how she grooms her, she thinks, not wanting to frighten her of the prospect that she may be an incredible artist. Baby steps, she thinks, Alex will help her, she knows that.

Dr. Andrews closes class that night with a reminder for the upcoming Art Show, encouraging them all to come. Over the semester, Dr. Andrews has selected one piece from each of the students to be featured in the show, although Tobin was the first. In her opinion she could easily submit every piece Tobin has created but she realizes that would be the wrong thing to do.

She knows Tobin seeks feedback and true affirmation and criticism of her work. She’s heard her mention how she doesn’t know how truthful people are sometimes, just telling her what they think she wants to hear. She’s going to have to step up her game to get through to the young lady and guide her on her discovery of her raw talent.

 

As she drives home that night, Tobin thinks about Dr. Andrews and how nervous she felt when she was looking at her painting. She doesn’t completely understand why her nerves become so frazzled when someone looks at her pieces. Then a thought enters her mind, making her slowly grow calmer. From the age of four, she’s always had a coach giving her constant feedback, whether positive or negative. Someone was always guiding her journey through soccer, challenging her, making her work hard to reach the goals she’s set. This is no different. If she gets herself in the mindset that Dr. Andrews is like a coach and her art represents her soccer play, maybe things won’t be so anxiety filled for her.

Maybe she’ll try to meet Dr. Andrews for coffee soon and discuss that.

Satisfied that she has a plan, Tobin shifts gears, knowing Kelley will be at her place. She presses her accelerator down just a bit, anxious to see her.

 

XXXX

 

“Kel?” Tobin calls out, her forehead wrinkled at the silence. “Kel?” she pokes her head in her bedroom, she flicks on the overhead light, nothing.

She sets her portfolio and backpack down, reaching in to her hoodie to pull out her phone.

Tobin: Hey, where are you?

She goes in to her bedroom, kicking off her shoes and strips out of her clothes. She takes her underwear and bra off, smirking as she thinks it will make for easier access to Kelley’s searching hands. She throws on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt and, still feeling a little chilled, a sweatshirt. She uses the bathroom and brushes her teeth and then heads for the living room.

Here phone lights up as she passes it on the end table, she grabs it to look.

Kelley: omw 5 minutes

Tobin smiles as she walks to the fridge, pulling out a water bottle. As she takes a drink, she hears a key in the lock. She sets her water down and meets Kelley as she enters the apartment. “Hi!” Kelley smiles, setting a plastic bag down on the side table near the door and sliding her small duffel from her shoulder.

“Hi,” Tobin sighs happily, wrapping her in a tight embrace, “I missed you,” she murmurs in her ear, then she kisses her. Kelley responds instantly, plunging her tongue into Tobin’s mouth, connecting with hers, twisting and sucking. Tobin can smell beer on Kelley’s breath and taste it on her lips as she moves her hands down to grip Kelley’s ass, bringing their hips together.

Kelley pulls back, licking her lips as she smiles at Tobin, “Hey, you,” she says, “as much as I want to continue that,” she says, licking her lips once more, “I brought a six pack, thought we could have some beers,”

“I’ll have one,” Tobin says accepting the bottle Kelley is handing her.

Tobin turns and enters the living room, taking a seat on the couch. Kelley bops into the kitchen shoving the six pack in the fridge. She settles on the couch, wrapping an arm around Tobin’s shoulder, scooching her legs close to her.

“I thought you got in earlier?” Tobin questions, wondering where Kelley had been off to drinking.

“I met up with Sonnett and had a couple of beers,” Kelley replies, “She’s pretty nervous about being called up, kinda freaking out about it,”

“Oh,” Tobin replies, nodding.

“What’s new?” Kelley asks, her fingers softy running up and down Tobin’s arm. She takes a sip of her beer, looking at her intently.

“Training is going great,” Tobin replies, “school is good,”

“Cool,” Kelley grins at her, “when do you finish again?”

“Mid-May,” Tobin replies, taking a drink of her beer. “Oh,” she says animatedly, “when you guys come to play us, my Art Show is the next day in the afternoon,” she looks at her, “I thought maybe you’d try to take a later flight home.”

“Oh, yeah?” Kelley shows interest, “This is the school one?”

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “it would really mean a lot if you were there for it,”

“I’ll be there,” Kelley says, leaning over and kissing her softly.

“I already texted A-Rod, Press and Becky,” Tobin smiles, “they’re going to come.”

“Cool,” Kelley says, “I’ll make sure to get on the same flight back with them,”

“Thanks, Kel,” Tobin says heartfully, “it means a lot,”

“Anything for you, babe,” Kelley says as she leans in to kiss her once more. They make out for a few minutes, just kissing, no hands, Kelley teasing Tobin. She can sense how horny she is for her. She can tell by how Tobin looks at her.

“How’s it going for you?” Tobin asks, finishing her beer.

“Good,” Kelley replies, getting up from the couch, taking her empty bottle and finishing her own as she walks to the kitchen. “You want another?”

“I’m good, thanks,” Tobin says over her shoulder, watching as Kelley comes back with a fresh bottle. She sits even closer to Tobin on the couch, her hand now on Tobin’s thigh.
“My apartment is finally unpacked,” she says, beginning to lightly massage Tobin’s thigh, “I know how to get to and from the stadium, I found a cool coffee shop and I’m getting to know my new teammates.”

“Good to hear,” Tobin says shifting her legs apart just a little as Kelley’s touch is beginning to grow more urgent. Kelley chugs her beer and sets down the bottle, “you really don’t want to hear that boring shit, though, do you,” she accuses her, her voice low and sultry, “you want me to fuck you,” she states, sliding her hand over to cup Tobin’s center, making Tobin sharply inhale.

“I want to hear what’s happening with you,” Tobin insists, her hips slowly moving against Kelley’s hand, her voice dropping lower, “it’s important,”

“Well,” Kelley says, continuing to lazily hold her, occasionally pressing her hand against her, “that’s all that’s new with me,” she says, “tell me more about you,”

Tobin leans her head back on the couch cushion, “I got a notice last week my building is going condo,” Tobin says slowly, closing her eyes and shifting to slouch back and spread her legs even more, “I’m considering buying,”

“Yeah?” Kelley questions, “Tell me more,” she demands, loving the way she can manipulate Tobin with her hand.

“Maybe not this unit,” Tobin says, “I did a little research," her breath hitches from Kelley's insistent hand, "I’d get a great deal on a two bedroom,”

“Well, I know you love this city,” Kelley acknowledges, “it would be a smart move,”

Tobin opens her eyes to look at her, “I thought we could make it a place for us,” she says, arching her back as Kelley strokes her through her sweats.

“Yeah, maybe,” Kelley says, her voice growing deeper, “although I don’t know why you like living in this rain and gloom,” she pulls her hand back, replacing it on Tobin’s thigh, “but if I get a place in LA, we could split time,”

“Kel,” Tobin murmurs, her pupils blown wide, “kiss me,”

Grinning wickedly as she leans in, Kelley kisses her hard, moving her hand from Tobin’s thigh and gripping her jaw, holding her in place as she continues to kiss her. She releases her jaw after a minute, leaving Tobin gasping for breath as her hand travels to Tobin’s chest, roaming over her breast and massaging it. Tobin lets out a moan, making Kelley chuckle and then grips the back of Tobin’s hair, tugging on it as she begins to suck on her neck while she continues to massage her breast with her other hand.

“Are you wet for me, baby?” Kelley questions, her lips brushing Tobin’s neck.

“Yeah,” Tobin moans, arching her back once again.

“How wet?” Kelley persists, now twisting Tobin’s nipple with her fingers.

“So wet,” Tobin groans, “Kel, please,” she pleads.

“Bed,” Kelley orders, releasing Tobin, standing up and extending her hand to pull Tobin up.

 

“Get your clothes off,” Kelley orders, watching as Tobin strips before her. She digs in her luggage, pulling out a scarf, “Can I blindfold you, baby?”

“Sure,” Tobin says, her tone rushed, urgent, needing to feel Kelley in her.
Kelley ties the blindfold around Tobin’s head, “Get on the bed,” she orders, now stripping off her own clothing, digging in her bag and pulling out a harness and strapping on a rubber cock.

Kelley forcefully pulls Tobin’s legs apart, kneeling in between them, going down on her belly, roughly massaging Tobin’s thighs as licks through her center. She circles Tobin’s clit, loving how Tobin’s hips squirm, how a high pitched, feminine moan escapes her lips. She brings her mouth down, fully taking in her clit, sucking on it, letting her tongue slowly makes its way in a circle around it.

She brings a hand up and slowly teases Tobin’s opening with a finger, riding it around the edge before entering her. Tobin gasps and her hips buck as she desperately tries to catch up with Kelley’s fast pace of her thrusts. Without stopping her finger thrusts, Kelley detaches her mouth and slowly gets to her knees, spreading them out against Tobin’s thighs, forcing Tobin’s leg into a wider position.

She adds a second finger, smirking as a ragged moan come from Tobin’s mouth who is writhing beneath her, her hands clutching the balled up comforter, doing her best to stay anchored in this position. Kelley pulls her fingers almost all the way out, using them to stretch Tobin open, circling her opening.

“Oh,” Tobin moans, her back arching, her exhales becoming ragged.

Kelley uses her other hand to guide the cock against Tobin’s clit, rubbing it on her, making her flinch.

“Uh,” she lets out a surprised gasp.

“Come on, baby,” Kelley urges, now bumping the cock against Tobin’s opening, “give it up to Daddy,” she presses further, entering her.

“Ow,” Tobin moans in pain, driving her hips down into the mattress. “Kel!” she cries, her hands moving blindly up trying to touch her. “Stop! You’re hurting me!” she cries. Kelley grabs Tobin’s forearms, pinning her to the bed, “Stop fighting,” she growls as Tobin struggles against her, “let Daddy fuck you,” she pants as she thrusts into her. Tobin cries out, feeling the pain of being penetrated. She struggles against Kelley, but Kelley has the advantage of her weight behind her, keeping her on the mattress. “Stop!” Tobin cries, grimacing as she twists underneath Kelley as she continues to fuck her.

“Ow! Kel! Stop!” Tobin yells, swinging her arms to pull Kelley to the left, twisting her hips and shooting out her right leg to kick Kelley’s torso, pushing her off and breaking free. She blindly skitters off the bed, falling to the floor, ripping the blindfold off and getting to her knees. “What the fuck, Kel?” she bellows, breathing hard, glaring at her, watching as Kelley slowly takes off the harness.

“The fuck were you thinking?” she says loudly, her anger growing.

“I thought you were in to it,” Kelley replies sharply, glaring back at her. “You didn’t have to kick me,” she’s rubbing her side.

“I sure as fuck did,” Tobin responds vehemently, “you were hurting me.” Her eyes are wide, nostrils flaring as she breathes heavily, in shock this has just happened.

Kelley just looks at her with dull eyes and Tobin realizes that she’s drunk. She slowly gets to her feet, shaking with a lot of anger and some fear. “Kel?” she says in a quieter tone, trying to understand what Kelley was thinking.

“Kel,” she repeats and Kelley blinks and focuses on her, “Kel, we’ve never played with…toys before,” she says slowly, “especially something like…that.” She gestures with an open hand to the strapon lying on the bed, “You should have said something before,” she explains, “we should have talked about it.”

“Sorry,” Kelley mumbles, her shoulders slumped and she looks down.

“Sorry?” Tobin questions, her anger building, making her shake, “that’s all you can say? Kel, you were hurting me,” she says, her voice trembling and tears building in her eyes.

Kelley looks up sharply, her eyes flashing, “I’m sorry, okay?” she says harshly, “I thought we talked about it, I really did, I wouldn’t have brought it here if I didn’t think you were into it.” She says, sighing and clumsily moving off the bed to stand, “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she says softly, looking contrite, “I really thought we discussed it,”

“Well, we didn’t,” Tobin says angrily, her chest hiccupping as she tries not to cry. She doesn’t want to cry in front of Kelley, she’s too mad about this to give in to that. “I said stop,” she states, her voice trembling, “and you didn’t stop,”

Kelley walks around the bed, approaching Tobin. She reaches a hand out to her and Tobin takes a step back, “No,” she says, “you’re drunk,” she states, “we’ll talk about this tomorrow,” she says, darting past her, gathering her clothes from the floor and heading to her bathroom. She slams the door and twists the lock.

It’s not until Tobin is in the shower, the hot water beating against her scalp, when the tears come. She begins to sob, quivering and bringing her hands up and lowering her head. She’s a mix of emotions, she feels the betrayal of trust between her and Kelley, the panic she felt while it was happening, an overall sense of being frightened by her, and an immense amount of anger.

Anger that Kelley would be so careless with her, anger that she didn’t stop when Tobin said to. Anger that on a Tuesday night, Kelley would choose to drink. She is a professional athlete in training and that she would drink to excess during the preseason, it was just so careless and it appears to be happening with an alarming frequency.

Tobin scrubs herself, needing to feel clean again, she’s still crying, she’s almost hysterical and she doesn’t know how to face Kelley and rectify how scared and mad she is at her right now. She doesn’t know how long she’s been in the shower, but she holds up a shaky hand and sees how wrinkled her fingers are.

She turns the taps off, sniffling now, trying to collect herself, not wanting to be such a mess before facing Kelley again. She needs to collect herself, be calmer and be able to articulate herself. Her breathing is coming easier, her shaking hasn’t stopped and she can’t stop the tears from falling.

She dries off, wrapping her head in a towel and then gets dressed. She stares at the door. The door she locked to keep Kelley out. To keep Kelley out because she was afraid. She dries her hair as best she can, knowing she’s stalling for time and ultimately hangs the damp towel on the hook on back of the door. Quietly, she unlocks the bathroom door, peering out first before stepping in the room. It’s empty. Not wanting to face Kelley tonight, she silently closes her door, holding onto the doorknob as she contemplates locking the door. She lets her hand fall, turning and crawling into bed. She shuts the beside light off, plunging the room into darkness.

She lies on her back, thinking for hours about what happened. She knows for a fact her and Kelley never, ever discussed using toys during sex and she’s absolutely positive they’ve never even joked around about strapons. Where did Kelley get that idea, she wonders. Is she cheating on me? Was she with Ali Riley last season, more than friends? Why would she bring it here? Has she been getting with someone here in Portland? Kelley’s hung out with Sonnett but she knows her and she knows her character and Emily would never get with her knowing they together. Does she know we’re together? She has to, she reasons, the whole National Team knows we’re together.

Tobin turns her thoughts to something happy, something that will help her sleep. She thinks about the painting she’s working on, on having her other painting in the art show for school. She thinks about one day, maybe showing her at to the public, she knows she’s got a long way to go, her work isn’t nearly good enough yet, but maybe one day, one day she’ll do it. Those are her last thoughts as sleep overtakes her.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

March/Next Day

 

“Okay,” Allie corners her in the locker room, “what is wrong?”

Tobin looks up at her with a flash of panic, “Uh,” she mumbles, swallowing hard, feeling tears prick at her eyes, “I can’t-” she gets out before her chest hitches and Allie just nods.

She lays a hand on Tobin’s shoulder, “Just get dressed and we’ll talk,” she quietly soothes, startled at how upset Tobin is. She knew something was up with her, hell, most of the team knew, it was incredibly unusually that Tobin wasn’t her normal lighthearted, laughing and joking self during practice. She keeps an eye on Tobin as she silently dresses, nodding occasionally to her teammates and issuing a quiet goodbye as she leaves. She’s out the door one step behind her, linking her arm through Tobin’s guiding her to her car.

Allie is silent as she drives the ten minutes to her apartment, playing soft music, although she can hear Tobin sniffling.

Once Tobin drops her gear bag in the hallway, she looks at Allie and sees her kind eyes and starts sobbing. Allie takes her in her arms, holding her. She slowly walks her to her couch, gently lowering her while still holding her, twisting her torso as she holds her. She’s got her wrapped in her arms, bringing one hand up to hold the back of Tobin’s head, “I got you,” Allie murmurs, rocking her slightly, “It’ll be okay,” she murmurs and thinks, maybe whatever it is won’t be okay. She hasn’t seen Tobin this upset ever and decides to be quiet, humming softy.

Just seeing the love and concern in Allie’s eyes sets Tobin off, she couldn’t help herself. She startles herself with the intensity of her sobs, as soon as it starts, she desperately tries to stop and it just makes it worse. She’s never felt so out of control, she’s crying worse than last night and she buries her head into Allie’s shoulder, feeling how Allie tightens her grip on her.

It’s the first time in sixteen hours she’s felt safe. Kelley was passed out on the couch when Tobin rose from her bed after a sleepless night, quietly dressing and leaving the apartment without disturbing her. Gradually she begins to slow her sobs, her chest not heaving as hard as before. She feels herself growing calmer, although she’s shaking.
Slowly she lifts her head up, sniffling and not meeting Allie’s eyes. She feels Allie’s arms fall away as she leans forward, holding her head in her hands. When she opens her eyes, she sees a wad of tissue in Allie’s hand in front of her. She takes it from her mumbling a thanks, blowing her nose and wiping her face.

She crumples the tissues in her hand, gripping it tight and she sets her elbows on her knees.

“Something happened last night,” Tobin says with shaky voice, “and it freaked me out.”

“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Allie asks, twisting a little, her eyes on the side of Tobin’s face.

“I’m okay,” Tobin says, taking a deep breath, “but I don’t know what to do,”

“I’m listening,” Allie says, using one hand to rub Tobin’s back, “I’m here,”

Tobin nods and licks her lips, “I don’t want you to think differently of Kelley until her and I sort this out, okay?” Tobin turns to looks at her, Allie nods, “Of course,”

Tobin bites her lower lip, thinking of how to share this as delicately as possible. “So, last night, I got home from school and she wasn’t there,” she begins, “she came in with beer on her breath, saying she went out for a few drinks with Sonnett while I was in my class. She came home with a six pack and we had a beer and caught up. Well, actually,” Tobin frowns, “she had two more, I only had one.”

She takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out, she sniffs again, feeling nasally and the beginning of a huge headache is coming on. “We were being…intimate,” she says, “and I was wearing a blindfold,” she blushes at this admission, but Allie’s hand on her back never falters and never pauses with a reaction.

“I couldn’t see and things were heating up and then I felt Kelley using, um, a, ah,” she struggles to say it.

“A toy?” Allie prompts, scooting a little closer to her.

Tobin nods, “Like, a strap on,” she quirks her mouth, “we never talked before about using one,” she swallows, clearing her throat, “we never talked about using anything and I never ever did anything like that,” she sniffs again, “you know, like... so penetrating,” she says quietly.

Allie hums in response, letting Tobin know she’s listening.

“So, Kelley like, grabs my arms and starts using it,” Tobin says, her voice growing unsteady, “and it hurt,” she sniffs, “and she didn’t stop when I asked her,” a cry escapes her, her vision growing blurry through her tears, “and I yelled at her to stop and she wouldn’t,” she cries harder, “and we struggled and then I had to kick her off me,” she cries sobs, burying her head in her hands again, weeping.

Allie leans in and brings her head next to Tobin’s their temples touching. Allie’s crying with her, her heart aching with Tobin’s pain. When Tobin calms, once again, she looks at Allie with bleary eyes, her face wet with tears.

“She said she thought we talked about it,” she said, her voice filled with sadness and disappointment, “but we never did,” she shakes her head, “and she was pretty drunk.”

“What happened next?” Allie asks softly, her voice cracking, tears on her face as well.

Tobin sniffs and wipes her eyes, “I locked myself in the bathroom and took a shower,” she shares, “when I came out, she wasn’t in my room, so I shut my door and went to bed.”

Allie nods slowly, taking in all of the story. “Was she there this morning?”

Tobin nods, “She was passed out on the couch when I got up for training,” she swallows, clearing her throat again, “I left her a text saying we need to talk when I get back home this afternoon.”

Allie nods, sucking both her lips in her mouth as she thinks.

Tobin leans back, slouching on the couch, her head on the back cushion. “What am I gonna do, Al?” she questions, “I love her, but this…” she trails off.

“Wait,” Allie says, taking a hold of Tobin’s forearm, “are you okay…down there? You’re not like, bleeding or anything?”

“No,” Tobin replies softly, “just kinda sore, no blood,”

Allie nods and settles herself on the couch, hugging her knees and resting her chin on her kneecaps. “Tobin,” she says quietly, “Kelley hasn’t been…herself in awhile,” she states uneasily, seeing Tobin nod, “and a lot of us have tried to talk to her,”

“I know,” Tobin agrees, “we all know she’s not happy playing defense and she’s been drinking more,”

“And slacking on training,” Allie adds, seeing Tobin raise her eyebrows. “I talked to Becky,” she shares, “she’s not putting in the work, not as hard as she usually does.”

Tobin frowns. “Why is she sabotaging herself?”

Allie shrugs, “Is everything okay with her family? I mean, I know things between the two of you have been a little weird,” she scrunches her mouth, “but you guys are solid.”

Tobin frowns again, “I talked to her Mom last week,” she says, “just checking in, and she said Kelley hasn’t called her as much lately.”

“She’s distancing herself from everyone,” Allie murmurs.

“Al, I don’t know what to do when I go home,” Tobin shakes her head, “I mean, if it had been some random hookup, I’d be calling the cops that she raped me.”

“You still could,” Allie whispers.

Tobin shakes her head, “I love her,” she insists, “she’s my partner,”

“She didn’t stop when you asked.” Allie reminds her.

“She was drunk,” Tobin fires back.

“Don’t make excuses for her,” Allie says sharply, “she hurt you.”

Tobin is silent for a moment as she thinks. “Do I break up with her?” Tobin thinks aloud, “Do I give her an ultimatum? Tell her to straighten herself up or else we’re done?”

“Are you prepared to let her go if she doesn’t like that?” Allie questions, looking at her intently.

“I’ll have to be,” Tobin replies honestly, “I can’t control her actions and what she did was so wrong.” Tobin is quiet for a minute, then she turns and looks at Allie. "But what if I do break up with her and it sends her over the edge?" She questions.

"You can't save her," Allie replies quietly, "as much as you love her, you can't make her get help if she doesn't want to help herself." Tobin looks at her, her face filled with such grief, it makes Allie's eyes water.

"I love her, Al," Tobin sniffs, wiping at her face. "She needs to get help," she says, straightening up a little, "and I don't want to just leave her on her own,"

"Tobin, you can't just act like nothing happened," Allie says strongly, shaking her head, "this is serious."

"I won't," Tobin bites her lip, "I'll talk to her, tell she needs to work with a professional and put us on hold until she starts getting herself sorted out,"

"Tobin, you better not let her convince you that she's fine," Allie warns, "I know how persuasive she is,"

"I won't," Tobin says with conviction, her face serious, "I won't cave to her."

Allie studies her, seeing how exhausted she is and she sees that steely determination in her eyes. She frowns and nods at her. “Then I think you know what you’re going to do when you go back home,” Allie says softly, “I’ll be here for you,”

Tobin nods, “Thanks,” she says, “thanks for listening,”

Allie scoots her legs over the side of the couch, hugging her again, “I love you, Harry,”

“I love you, too,” Tobin replies, squeezing her tight, “I’m not looking forward to this,”

“Nobody does,” she replies.

“Can you drive me back to my car?” Tobin asks, looking at her watch, “Kelley leaves in a few hours.”

“Sure,” Allie gives her a small smile, “let’s go.”

 

 

“All I’m saying, Kel, is that I’m super concerned about you, your drinking and the fact that you did that to me last night,” Tobin says wearily, “it scares me.”

“I promise,” Kelley kneels in front of Tobin, who is sitting on the couch, “I promise, I’ll be better,” she pleads, “I love you,” she cries, “I won’t drink, I’ll get back into training hard,”

“Kel,” Tobin says slowly, “I want you to really consider speaking with someone, like, the team psychologist,” she suggests, “just to help you get your head straight,”

“I will,” Kelley nods, her eyes wide, “I promise,” she says feverishly, “I know I’ve been getting off the rails,”

Tobin looks at her phone, “Your Uber should be here in five minutes,” she announces, standing up and pushing past Kelley on the floor.

“You’re not going to drive me to the airport?” Kelley asks as she scrambles up and trails behind her.

Tobin turns to face her, “No, Kel,” she shakes her head, “not this time.”

Kelley nods sadly, “Okay,” she whispers, looking properly miserable. She looks up at her, “Can I hug you?” she asks hopefully.

“I don’t think so,” Tobin steps back, still feeling skittish around her, “let’s talk these next couple of weeks and then we’ll see each other when you guys come to play,”

“Okay,” Kelley says, her body language defeated, moving slowly as she gathers her bag in the hallway. She has her hand on the doorknob when she turns to look at Tobin who’s standing about ten feet from her, her arms crossed, looking exhausted and sad.

“I love you,” Kelley says heartfully, looking at Tobin, her eyes scared.

“I’ll see ya, Kel,” Tobin replies, unable to look at her nor bring herself to say it back to her, “let me know you got home safe,”

Tobin hears the door shut and her eyes jolt up and she rushes to the door, locking it securely. She begins to tremble, her hands are shaking and she feels a little weak. She makes it down the hall to the kitchen on unsteady feet, pulling a kitchen chair out and sitting down and the adrenalin washes from her.

She focuses on some breathing exercises to calm herself, gradually feeling better. She can’t believe she stood her ground, not giving in to Kelley’s persuasive pleading and crying.
She remained firm while they discussed what happened, never wavering from her points, not allowing Kelley to bait her into getting off topic. Kelley tearfully apologizing, reiterating how she really thought they’d talked about it and she was drunk and thought Tobin wanted to play rough. Tobin realized Kelley really believed these things, although they never had spoken about it nor did Tobin ever want to play rough in the bedroom. It was never something she had enjoyed, the power struggle, she didn’t feel that was a turn on. Some teasing, sure, but downright restraints and stuff was not her scene.

When she had returned from Allie’s, Kelley was on the couch and the apartment was spotless. Her floors gleamed, the counters were shining from polish. Tobin took a seat a cushion away from Kelley, letting her begin to speak.

It dragged on for a couple of hours, circling back to Tobin’s points she was most concerned with. Tobin was stoic, maybe because she was exhausted, but she didn’t get overly emotional or lose her temper. She kept them on topic, not letting Kelley stray from what she was saying. She was sad and angry and not completely swayed by Kelley’s pleas for forgiveness as she listened to her. It grieved her to feel that she didn't trust Kelley and believe what she was saying to her.

Kelley is an extremely smart and articulate woman, forming a well crafted defense. Her argument stuttered when Tobin responded with words like consensual, prior knowledge, the definition of the word stop and then her observations about her decrease in her training ethic. She had no defense for that.

They weren’t broke up, but Tobin felt detached from her, like there was this part of Kelley she didn’t know existed. These next two weeks would give her time to think about their relationship and see if Kelley makes some strides to regain her former self.

She moves to the couch, needing to lay down, hugging one of the couch pillows and smelling Kelley’s scent. She passes out, sleep overtaking her quickly.

 

XXXX

 

April

 

Tobin throws herself into training, gradually feeling better and finding her joy in the beautiful game. Allie stuck closely by her, having her over for dinner on nights she wasn’t at the studio, her and Bati entertaining her and making her laugh. She’s feeling like her old self again, being able to laugh and joke with her teammates. Kelley is still a major concern, but Tobin is finding herself feeling a little distant from her. As if Kelley's pull on her heart isn't as strong as it once was. Still, they talk almost daily, Tobin letting Kelley lead the conversations, telling her what she's been doing.

She talked to Perry for along time, explaining how they broke up, omitting some of the gritty details, like the strapon, but giving her enough of the story that she had a full picture of their situation. She hated to call her Mom and tell her, struggling not to cry as her Mom just was so sweet to her and concerned.

Tobin knew Alex was concerned the first time she came by the studio, it was two days after the incident with Kelley. Tobin was frazzled, shaky and just feeling fragile and unsure of herself. She could feel Alex’s eyes on her as she tried to organize herself at her easel. Nothing was comfortable, her brush felt alien in her hand. She felt shitty saying no to Alex’s dinner offer, seeing the disappointment in her eyes, but she just couldn’t be here. She packed everything up and left silently, feeling moody and pissed that her one outlet betrayed her.

She returned to the studio two days later, holding a container of fresh cut fruit from the farmer’s market, offering it to Alex as an apology for her behavior the other day. “I’m sorry,” Tobin said heartfully, “I really wasn’t myself and I was pretty upset and nothing felt right,”

“I understand,” Alex replied graciously, “I’ve been there before,”

“I’m really sorry for bailing on you for dinner,” Tobin sighed, “and I can’t stay tonight, but I brought you some fruit?” she offered her the container, shrugging a little, “Team dinner.”

Alex nodded as she took the container, peeling it open and smiling with happiness. Then her expression grew serious, “Are you feeling better?”

Tobin quirked her mouth and let out a sigh, “Not really,”

“Then don’t paint today,” Alex said firmly, “do something else, if you try to paint, you’ll get more frustrated.”

“I don’t know what I’d do,” Tobin shrugged helplessly, looking around the studio.

Alex looked at her for a moment and then took her hand, her other holding the fruit container, “Come on,”

She led her to the area near the kiln, setting the container on the table and pointing for Tobin to take a seat. She returned with a small ball of clay wrapped in plastic and some tools. She left them in front of Tobin and returned with a bowl of water.

“You gonna show me how to use the wheel?” Tobin asked.

Alex laughed, “No, champ,” she said, “you have to work up to that,” she points to the clay, “I’m going to show you how to make a pinch pot.”

For the next hour, Alex directed Tobin how to pound the clay and prep it to release any air bubbles, then form it onto a ball again, pushing and pulling to shape it into a crude bowl. She nibbled on the fruit as she instructed her, nodding approvingly at Tobin’s ability to follow directions. She guided her through using the water on her fingertips to smooth out the surface inside and out. She explained the tools to her, encouraging her create a pattern on her piece, watching as Tobin made a crude line design wrapping around the bowl.

“Now what?” Tobin asked, looking up at her, seeing the happiness in Alex’s eyes. She smiles at her.

“Now we let it dry and then you can glaze it.” Alex replied. “Then it gets fired.”

“Oh,” Tobin’s shoulders sagged a little, “we’re done?”

Alex looked at her watch, “You could make another one,” she offered. Tobin nodded and smiled brightly at her.

When they were finished and Tobin had cleaned the clay from her hands, she wrapped Alex in a tight hug.

“Thank you for this,” she said heartfully, “I really needed something like this,”

“You’re welcome,” Alex replied quietly, “sometimes you just need a change of pace,”

They break apart and Tobin smiled at her, “I really appreciate it,”

Alex smiled, “If I don’t see you tomorrow,” she said, “kick some ass in the opener.”

“You’ll be there?” Tobin questioned.

Alex nodded, “With the Riveters.”

Tobin smiled, “I’ll look for ya,”

“See ya later,” Alex nodded.

 

XXXX

 

 

The first match of the season begins with much fanfare. The crowd is huge and loud, cheering loudlywhen the Thorns take the field to warm up. Allie gets a shot off in the fifth minute but it sails wide. Orlando scores on a corner in the twelfth minute, the crowd going silent. Tobin misses a long bomb to the right minutes later. In the twenty-fifth minute, Tobin slides a pass to Dagny in the box who bullets it into the center of the goal. Tied game 1-1.

The crowd is back in it. Orlando responds with a flurry of shots fended off by the defense or Betos or is called off by offside. Tobin finds Lindsey who’s shot is saved. They go into halftime tied, coming out of the half just as hungry. In the seventieth minute, Tobin slots the ball to Nadia but the shot goes wide. It goes back and forth, but Orlando is plagued with offside calls or shots that are easily saved by Betos. In the eighty-second minute, Tobin slots a through ball to Lindsey and her shot finds the back of the net. Allie almost gets a shot in the top corner, but it sails wide. The match ends with a Thorns 2-1 victory.

After the match, Tobin scans the Riveters section slightly disappointed when she doesn’t see Alex in the sea of hundreds of faces cheering. She likes the idea of knowing Alex is here watching and cheering her on.

Tobin has been making excellent progress on her final painting, usually going to the studio on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesday afternoons and sometimes on Fridays since those are lighter training days. Her and Alex have a dinner routine on those nights, Tobin and her now texting each other to plan their meals.

Since the ceramics lesson, they’ve migrated from the kitchen table to Alex’s couch, eating and watching TV, talking about the show and anything else that pops into their minds. Alex has begun to share more about her art, telling Tobin how she was considered a prodigy in her work as a child. They spoke about the stress that carries, Tobin relating with her soccer skills. They find they have a lot in common, their drive and work ethic are similar, even though it’s though different channels. It’s an easy friendship, one that’s just budding, both rather tentative in sharing too much, but they enjoy each other’s company and their conversations never pause with uncomfortable silences.

Tobin and Kelley are still texting and talking, the time difference is a little challenging, but they are making it work. Their first few conversations were awkward, but Kelley is really trying. Her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed with Tobin receiving calls from Becky and Christen, who report they feel they almost have the old Kelley back.

“She doesn’t go out with the team as much,” Becky had stated, “and when she does, she usually leaves early,”

“What do you think about that?” Tobin had asked.

“I think she’s trying,” Becky insisted, “whatever you said to her, she’s trying to make it right and get back on track.”

Christen had another opinion, one that was a bit darker.

“Tobin,” Christen had said very quietly, “I can’t help but to think that Kelley went through something like this in college,”

“What do you mean?” Tobin was curious, she hadn’t heard any stories like this before.

“Just that when she was nominated for the Mac Hermann, she kind of acted like this,” she explained, “I wasn’t as close to her that year, I think it was her junior year,”

“Huh,” is all Tobin could say.

“I remember something happened,” Christen continued, “but I don’t remember everything,”

“Well, she seems like she’s moving forward pretty good,” Tobin reasoned.

“Yeah,” Christen had agreed hesitantly, “I hope so.”

“Me too,” Tobin had said.

 

 

The next Thorns match, they traveled to Boston, it was a hard fought match, with back and forth plays. The Thorns were a little off, a little sloppy with numerous offside calls. In the seventy-ninth minute, Tobin sets up a corner, lifting the ball perfectly to find Dagny’s head who redirects on goal. That would be the only goal of the match and the Thorns hold off an impressive offensive display from the Breakers to manage the win.

They get back into Portland the next day, Tobin is tired, the time change jacking her up. She sleeps most of the rest of the day, feeling disoriented when she forces herself to get up after dinner and go to sleep at her regular bedtime.

Her conversation with Kelley is rather one sided, Kelley is frustrated with the team, they’d lost their second game and now are coming to face the Thorns.

“Just, take it easy on us,” Kelley jokes, “I don’t want to get crushed.”

“Come on, Kel,” Tobin chuckles, “anything can happen on gameday,” she says, “you guys could be on fire and we might be having an off day, you know that,”

“You’re right,” she agrees, “we’re gonna kick you asses,” she chuckles.

“Whatever,” Tobin laughs back, “I miss you,” she says when her laughter dies out.

“I miss you, too,” Kelley replies softly, “I think we’re gonna be okay,”

“I’m hoping so,” Tobin says honestly, “I’m excited to see you,” Over the past couple of weeks, Kelley seems to be like her old self. Tobin is smart enough to know what she's dealing with isn't going to be fixed overnight, but she feels like her almost has Kelley back, like when they were best buds before they ever got together intimately. She's still cautious of her feelings so she surprised herself when she let that admission of missing her out.

“We’re doing dinner on Thursday, right?” Kelley asks.

“Yep,” Tobin grins, “Becky, Zola, Chris, Linsdey, Sonnett,”

“Just make sure we don’t go somewhere that has a history of food poisoning,” she warns.

Tobin laughs, “Man, do you remember that trip to Brazil back with the U-18s?”

“Oh, man!” Kelley exclaims, “When half of us got food poisoning? That sucked!”

“I’ve never eaten fish stew since then!” Tobin laughs, “That was the worst!”

They both laugh, remembering how awful it was being stuck in a hotel with twelve others who were so sick.

“Let me know when you guys get in, okay?” Tobin asks as they end their call.

“I will, babe,” Kelley says, “goodnight.”

“Goodnight,”

 

XXXX

 

 

On Tuesday, Tobin heads to the studio straight from practice, intending to get in some work before class. She’s carrying a Tupperware container of the chicken dish she’s made for her and Alex to eat tonight. When she enters, she’s surprised to see Alex is at the pottery wheel, apparently making a vessel of some sort.

“Hey!” she greets, as she walks near the spinning machine.

“Hi!” Alex grins, slowing the wheel down, “How’s it going?”

“Good,” Tobin replies, she taps the lid of the Tupperware, “I brought dinner,”

Alex’ eyes grow wide, “You’ve blessed me with your cooking?” she teases as Tobin is usually prone to ordering on her nights.

“Yeah,” Tobin chuckles, “I do cook on occasion you know,” she defends herself.

Alex arches an eyebrow at her, “Is that so?” she asks suspiciously. “Hmmm,” she considers, “you said you can cook, you didn’t say you were a good cook,” she teases. “Is it edible?”

Tobin shakes her head at her, “Well, I’m going to eat it, so,” she shrugs her shoulders, “you can do whatever,”

“I can’t wait to try it,” she grins at her, “would you mind running it up? I’m a little..” she holds her wet clay soaked hands up.

“Sure, no problem,” Tobin nods, “I’ll be right back.” She turns and moves the stairs, bounding up them.

When she returns, she watches raptly as Alex uses her hands to skillfully shape the vessel she’s making. Tobin’s never seen anyone actually making a pot before, so this is really cool to her.

“It’s fascinating,” she says softly, her voice near a whisper.

Alex nods, “It’s a lot of fun,” she says, “I’ll get you on here soon, I promise,” she offers.

“Yeah,” Tobin grins at her, “I’ve made two pinch pots, a coil pot and a slab pot, what’s next?”

Alex sticks out her tongue as she looks at her ceiling, thinking, then she shrugs, “I guess you’re ready for the wheel.”

Tobin smiles at her and then she watches for another minute and then shifts, “I’m gonna go and get to work,”

Alex nods, “You can Bluetooth your playlist if you want,” she offers, “I’m getting kind of sick of this one.”

“Alright, cool,” Tobin bobs her head, pulling out her phone and walking over near the sound system to disconnect Alex’s phone.

She cues up her classical music playlist, finding it soothing while she paints and hopes it doesn’t bore Alex to death. As the music begins, she turns to see her reaction and is pleased to see a smile form across her face. She gets her things together quickly, anxious to complete another section of her painting.

 

“So?” Tobin questions, anxiously watching Alex taste her dinner.

Alex chews carefully, taking her time and considering her reply. She keeps her face neutral, nodding as she swallows. “It’s, um,” she says hesitantly.

“You don’t like it?” Tobin questions with a frown, leaning towards her.

A slow smile spreads across Alex’s face, “It’s really good,” she grins at her, “I was just playing with you,”

Tobin leans back on the couch, “Whew!” she draws her forearm across her forehead, “You had me worried for a minute!”

Alex chuckles, “Is this Spanish?”

“It’s more Brazilian,” she replies.

“It’s really good,” Alex says as she lifts another forkful to her mouth.

Tobin smiles to herself as she takes another bite, turning her attention to the TV.

 

 

XXXX

 

Dinner on Thursday night was relaxed, Tobin hugging Kelley when they meet at the restaurant. They sit next to each other, Kelley putting her hand on Tobin’s thigh and Tobin removing it. Kelley gets the hint after the third time and contributes to their table conversation, making everyone laugh. It ended up being an enjoyable time, Tobin glad to see photos of A-Rod kids and witness how happy Becky was being with Zola. Things seem good. They get into playfully talking trash, catching up on what everyone has going on and enjoying their time together. They depart early, having practice the next morning.

“I can’t wait for Sunday!” Becky gushes, smiling at Tobin, “I’m so proud of you,” she says as she hugs her, “I’m really excited for you.”

“Thanks,” Tobin says, smiling back at her, “I’m kinda nervous,”

“Is Alex going to be there?” Emily asks, looking at her.

Tobin shrugs, “I don’t know,” she replies honestly.

“Did you invite her?” Emily follows up.

“No,” Tobin shrugs and shakes her head, “I didn’t.”

“I thought you guys were close,” Emily persists, cocking her head to the side.

“We’re kinda friends,” Tobin says slowly, “but not, like, super close or anything,”

“Oh,” Emily says, looking confused, “okay.”

Tobin sees Kelley eying her, “We sometimes grab dinner when I’m there for a few hours,” she explains, “but we don’t like, hang out or anything.” She’s always told Kelley when she stays and eats at the studio, so this is not a surprise to her. She suddenly feels weird defending her growing friendship with Alex, like it’s something they wouldn’t understand. It makes her feel a little guilty.

“Sure,” Kelley says easily, giving her a little smile, “I get it,” she says casually, looking relaxed.

“See you on the pitch,” Christen grins, “good luck.”

“You too,” Tobin smiles and they hug.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

As soon as Tobin opened her eyes in the morning, she smiles. Game day. She lazily stretches, content to lie in bed, knowing she doesn’t have to be at the park until around five. She falls back asleep, waking an hour later and sauntering to her bathroom to shower. Once she’s dressed in her joggers and a sweatshirt, she moves to the kitchen, making herself brunch. She fills up with a small salad, a skillet of eggs, bacon, hash browns and some toast, sitting on her couch with her feet up watching an Arsenal match.

She calls her Mom, checking in with her, hearing about what’s new with the family and then checks in with her sister Perry. They catch up for a bit, she teases Tobin when she yawns, joking about her hard chill. Tobin sets her alarm on her phone before slides on her side, content to nap on her couch and then head to the park.

 

On her first touch of the match, Tobin knows they’ll win. The crowd is loud, the team is organized and everything is clicking. In the twenty-ninth minute, Tobin takes a corner, meeting Lindsey’s head on her curving kick and Lindsey sends it in. The crowd roars, the red smoke appears and the team huddles around her and Lindsey, screaming at each other.

In stoppage time of the first half, Tobin gets open and receives a slotted pass from Sinc and she chips the keeper, the ball bouncing behind her. It’s a few feet from the goal line and Tobin books over to it, seeing the defenders coming fast, sliding to knock the ball in goal, popping up with a hand on the goal post, giving a little clap to the crowd before Dagny swallows her in a hug.

Utah mounts an aggressive series of attacks in the second half but are turned away each time by the Thorns defense. Michelle makes some amazing saves, practically standing on her head, keeping the Thorns alive.

They win 2-0, staying on the pitch after, walking the perimeter to thank the fans. Tobin receives a rose for her goal and the crown for player of the match, clapping back at the Riveters, her eyes scanning the faces, trying to see Alex. She thinks she does, waving animatedly, seeing Alex respond. Tobin flashes a peace sign at her and Alex gives her a thumbs up.

The team makes their way to the locker room buzzing about the match as they shower up and get changed. Tobin goes out with Allie and Bati, opting to eat a quiet dinner and not go out for drinks. Tobin doesn’t want a late night, not with her art show tomorrow afternoon.

 

XXXX

 

 

“You were on fire,” Mark grins at her as Tobin sees Mark in the training room the following morning, “keep it up.”

“It feels good,” she smiles at him, “it’s like everything’s clicking.”

“It’s going to be a special season,” he says warmly, “we’re going to take it all.”

“We are,” Tobin nods.

“See you later, Tobin!” Sonnett yells as she heads out.

“Bye,” Tobin calls out.

“See you Tuesday,” Mark says, “enjoy some time off.”

“Will do,” Tobin shoulders her gear bag, “see ya.”

She heads home, eats a light lunch and contemplates her outfit for the art show. She had asked Dr. Andrews what the dress code was and her reply was everything from jeans to dresses. Tobin decides to go with something in the middle, comfortable, yet with more effort than her usual jeans and a t-shirt. Once she feels she’s presentable, Tobin grabs her phone, wallet and keys and heads for the door. This is it, she thinks as she makes her way to her car, my first art show.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

 

April

 

 

Tobin arrives at the appointed time, a half an hour before the show begins, meeting with Dr. Andrews and her class in a private room of to the side of the gallery. Dr. Andrews smiles as she tells them how proud she is of all of them and their effort and commitment to her class this semester. She explains that the show was judged last night and ribbons were awarded for multiple categories. There were ribbons for best in category and overall winners for best in show. She explains how the judging is blind, the judges do not know who the pieces are completed by, tags were not on the wall. Signatures were covered so they could judge each piece on its own merits. She reviews what the judging criteria was and how they would score each one of them and how the scores would be available to them next week in class.

“Any works that place in the Best of Show will continue to a regional show,” she ends.

She invites them to partake in the light appetizers and drinks, then move through the display and find their paintings. It’s fifteen minutes before the show opens, so the students from all of the classes have the place to themselves.

Dr. Andrews walks with Tobin, chatting lightly as they make their way to the still life gallery, eying her carefully as they approach. She sees Tobin’s mouth drop and how she leans forward as she slows her pace when she sees her painting. There’s two ribbons on the wall next to it.

Tobin looks at her with wide eyes, not completely understanding what is going on. “I won?” she whispers.

Dr. Andrews nods, “Yes, Tobin,” she says quietly, “Best in Still Life and Best in Show,”

Tobin looks overwhelmed, maybe even frightened, panicking a little, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. “Uh,” she says, her eyes moving everywhere.

“Just breathe,” Dr. Andrews says softly, “just take a minute.”

Tobin nods, licking her lips, taking some deep breaths.

“I said this was a blind judging,” her teacher says quietly, “they had no idea who had done any of the paintings. You earned this on your talent alone, not on your soccer fame.”

“Woah,” Tobin says as she takes another deep breath, letting it out noisily.

“Now,” Dr. Andrews says warmly, “now can you accept that you have some talent with this?”

Tobin looks over at her painting, seeing how cool it looks in a sleek black frame with proper display lighting, the two ribbons affixed to the wall next to it.

“I guess so,” she says softly, “this is so surreal,”

Dr. Andrews gives her a side hug, “Get used to it,” she chuckles, “as long as you continue classes here, I think you’ll be seeing more of those ribbons.”

“Thank you for everything this semester,” Tobin says, tears threatening, “it really means so much to me,”

Dr. Andrews smiles warmly at her, “Well, we’ll stay in touch over the summer,” she says, “I’ll come by the studio, see how you’re doing.” Tobin nods and smiles at her, turning to hug her, “Thanks,”

Dr. Andrews makes her way to the other students that have filed in, Tobin stands before her painting, shaking her head slightly, still not believing she won. She turns and seeks out her classmates, congratulating them on their pieces.

Another student that’s helping run the show comes by and hands Tobin a program, congratulating her on her winning piece. Tobin graciously thanks her, slowly feeling settled and realizing she’s going to be answering to these accolades today. She gets a drink from the bar set up, there’s beer and wine and Tobin opts for a water, wanting to keep her senses about her as much as she wants something stronger to settle her nerves. Voices are coming from the lobby, people are arriving and Tobin returns to the still life room, hanging out with Leslie, another classmate, both talking about how nervous they.

“You’re nervous?” she asks, surprise in her voice.

“Well, yeah,” Tobin shrugs, “I’ve never done this before, you know?”

“I guess,” she nods, “I guess I thought you wouldn’t get nervous about anything,”

“Because I play soccer?” Tobin inquires, tilting her head at her.

She shrugs, embarrassed, “I guess doing that doesn’t just give you a free pass for everything, huh,”

“No,” Tobin chuckles, “I’m glad I’m wearing this sweater, because I’m sure I’m stress sweating through my shirt,” Tobin had chosen her favorite fitted black pants, her boots, a crisp white button up and a long grey cardigan sweater.

Leslie chuckles, “I’m in the same boat,” she confides, “this is nerve wracking.”

Tobin nods and looks over to see Allie and Bati entering the gallery hand in hand, looking at the art on the walls. She excuses herself and takes a couple of steps near her painting, standing straight and beaming with pride as they approach.

“Harry,” Allie cries, tears welling in her eyes as she looks at the painting, “this is amazing,” she whispers, seeing it for the first time, giving her a side hug.

“Thanks,” Tobin whispers, “it turned out really good,” she acknowledges.

“Seriously, Tobin,” Bati says, giving her a hard hug, “this looks like a photo,” he says, “the detail…” his eyes scan the canvas, “it’s incredible.”

“Thanks, dude,” Tobin nods.

“Best in Still Life,” Allie says, reading the smaller ribbon, “Best in Show?” she turns to Tobin who shrugs with a shy smile on her face. “You won the whole thing?”

Tobin nods.

“Holy shit,” Allie murmurs, “amazing.”

“Tobes,” Bati asks, looking up from the program he’s reading, “what does it mean blind judging?”

“The judges do not know who the artists are, their names are covered while the judging occurs,” a female voice is heard behind them. Tobin turns to see Alex grinning at her.

“Hey!” Tobin says, “I didn’t know you’d be here!” The two hug.

“Donna asked me to come,” she replies rather shyly, “said there was a new artist I should keep in check,” she jokes.

Tobin chuckles, turning to Allie and Bati, “You guys remember Alex, right? From the art studio?”

They exchange greetings, Allie asking when the next showing is, hoping to purchase something for her parents before Christmas. They chat easily, Alex fitting right in, congratulating Allie on her last match.

“Excuse me, please,” Tobin says, walking over when she sees Mark Parsons and his wife approaching, “Mark?” she smiles with surprise, “I didn’t know you guys would be here,”

“We support our family,” he replies with a smile, “Allie told me about this,” he says, hugging her, “congratulations Tobin.”

His wife hugs her as well, “Please don’t tell me we’re losing you to the art world,” she grins at her.

“Not any time soon,” Tobin promises.

Her teammates arrive in small groups, trying their best to not be loud and failing a little. Dr. Andrews comes by with the school’s newspaper photographer and Tobin poses for a photo with her next to her painting. Strangers approach Tobin, explaining they were judges and offering her their congratulations on her painting, Tobin humbly accepting their praises.

There’s a break for a moment and Tobin is alone, watching her friends visit and check out the other paintings, speaking with her classmates and undoubtedly telling them comical stories about her she judges by the reaction and quick looks she’s receiving as they laugh. She feels a hand on her low back, turning to see Alex who offers her a water.

“Thanks,” Tobin says, gratefully accepting it and chugging down half, “this is exhausting,” she says quietly. Alex nods knowingly.

“It’s almost over,” Alex says, reaching in her purse and pulling out a container, “want a mint?”

“Oh, yes, please,” Tobin nods quickly, “I haven’t done this much speaking since the World Cup Media Day,”

Alex grins, “I like to play a mental game during these,” she says, “see how many different ways I can explain whatever I’m showing,”

“I like that,” Tobin grins, “this gets a little repetitious.”

“There you are!” Kelley says loudly, “We’ve been looking for you!” she approaches Tobin, Becky and Zola, A-Rod and Christen trailing behind her.

“We established an hour ago you weren’t at the bar,” Zola rolls his eyes with a little annoyance as Becky elbows him in the ribs.

“Well, you’re here now,” Tobin replies easily, “you guys remember Alex from the studio?” she asks Becky and Zola and Kelley, “Chris, Amy, I’d like you to meet Alex,” she says, “she runs the studio I go to,”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Christen shakes her hand, “I’ve heard wonderful things about your place.”

“Thanks,” Alex says genuinely, “maybe you could stop by next time you’re in town,”

“I will,” Christen grins at her, “how Tobin describes it, the building itself is a work of art,”

Alex raises an eyebrow at Tobin who grins, “That ceiling is the bomb, yo,” she chuckles.

“Nice to meet you,” Alex extends a hand to Amy and they shake.

“It’s nice to put a face to the name,” Amy smiles at her, “Tobin usually calls me on her walk home from your studio,”

“Oh, good,” Alex says, smiling pleasantly, “I always worry about her walking alone, no matter how close she is,”

“Well, it’s only like, ten minutes away,” Kelley says, shrugging, “it’s no big deal,” she finishes her beer, “I’ll be right back,”

Christen leans close to Tobin, “She got a little wild last night,” she says quietly, “she proclaimed her beers today are the hair of the dog,”

Tobin slightly frowns, “Shit,” she sighs.

“She coming back to your place before our flight?” Christen asks.

Tobin nods, “Yeah,” she says, annoyed.

They turn when they hear Kelley’s loud laugh, seeing her with Sonnett and Horan.

Tobin looks at Alex, “When is this thing done?”

Alex looks at her watch, “They should be coming by to do the award presentations now,”

Sure enough, the group of judges, Dr. Andrews and some other official looking people enter the gallery, making their way to the third place award winners. They stand with the artist, the school photographer snapping photos as they hand over a plaque and make a nice speech.

“Nervous?” Amy asks, looking at Tobin intently.

“Uh huh,” Tobin nods.

“What another mint?” Alex asks, digging into her purse, handing the tin over to her.

“Thanks,” Tobin mumbles as she removes one and pops it into her mouth. “I can leave after this, right?”

“Yes,” Alex nods.

“Good,” Tobin says under her breath, taking a deep breath and smiling as Dr. Andrews approaches.

Her friends gather and take photos and shoot videos of Tobin receiving her awards, shaking hands and looking properly humble. When the presentation is complete, Tobin makes her way around to profusely thank everyone who came today.

She gives Alex a hug, “Thanks for keeping me sane,” she says, “I would have been freaking out so bad if you weren’t here,”

Alex smiles at her, “No problem,” she says, “I know what it’s like,” she says, “going home and taking nap?”

Tobin nods, “Yeah, after Kel leaves,” she says, “she’s coming over for a couple of hours before she has to get her flight.”

Alex nods, “See you tomorrow?”

“Yep,” Tobin agrees.

“I’m making dinner,” Alex declares, as the group begins to walk towards the exit.

Dr. Andrews sees Tobin and hugs her once more, “That wasn’t too terrible, was it?”

“No,” Tobin shrugs, “it wasn’t awful or anything,”

“She did good,” Alex says, “she’ll be a pro in no time,”

“Wonderful,” Dr. Andrews smiles, “see you Tuesday.” She gives them a wave.

“Hang on,” Kelley says, draining her beer and then setting her glass down, “okay,”

They’re in the parking lot, Kelley retrieving her bag from Sonnet’s car and a few of them clustered around Tobin. They’ve said their goodbyes to Alex.

“So, happens next?” Christen asks Tobin, looking at her expectantly.

“Uh, what do you mean?” Tobin asks, perplexed.

“Your painting,” Christen giggles, “space cadet!”

“Sorry,” Tobin grins, “it’s been a long day,” she says, “it goes to a regional show,” she explains, “I don’t know where or the date yet,”

“That’s great Tobin,” Becky says, “we’ll see you in a few weeks at camp,” she says, hugging her. Tobin gets hugs from them and Allie and Bati as Kelley approaches, grinning.

“See you guys in a little while,” she calls to Amy, Christen and Becky, they wave back. She turns to Tobin, “Ready to go?”

Tobin nods as she unlocks her vehicle, relieved to be heading home.

 

 

Tobin immediately grabs the Tylenol bottle and swallows three pills down with half a water bottle. A headache has been looming since the middle of the art show. It’s from her being on edge this afternoon, the anxiety of her first showing. Kelley tosses her bag on the hallway floor and heads for the couch, flicking on the TV. Tobin goes to her room and changes into sweats and a sweatshirt. When she sits down next to Kelley, Kelley immediately reaches for her hand, holding it and rubbing her thumb on the top of Tobin’s hand.

“Sorry I’ve been such an asshole lately,” she says quietly, “I’ve been lashing out at you and it’s wrong and unfair to dump on you when it’s my problem.”

“No, Kel,” Tobin says, “you can dump on me, talk to me,” she reiterates, “being shitty? No, but needing to vent, Kel, that’s what I’m here for. I love you,” she says, “we’re a team together and when one is down you help lift the other up.”

Kelley nods, her free hand picking at her pants.

“It sucks you’re struggling with this,” Tobin continues, “and I’m sorry you feel trapped being on defense, but you have to know you’re damn good. You’re excellent. Having you back there and knowing you can get into the attack makes us dangerous. It makes you vital to the team, you know? Not everyone has the talent to convert like that, Lord knows my defense needs work.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Kelley says, nodding her head.

“Kel,” Tobin clears her throat, “this drinking thing, in season,” she frowns, “and in general, it’s a lot, you know? People are worried about you, I’m worried about you.”

“I’ve cut down,” Kelley says earnestly, “I have really,” she says when Tobin doesn’t look convinced. “I know it’s stupid,” she drops her head, “it’s a pretty immature way to deal with it.”

Tobin squeezes her hand, letting her know she’s there for her.

Kelley looks at her intently, “I really, really thought we talked about using the strap on,” she says seriously. “I’m so sorry that happened.”

“You really scared me, Kel,” Tobin says, her voice trembling, “and it’s gonna take some time for me to trust you again,”

“I know,” Kelley nods quickly.

“So, we’ll both keep working on this?” Tobin asks, “Us, together?”

“Yeah,” Kelley turns and smiles at her, “we will.”

They sit together in silence for a couple of minutes.

“Oh,” Kelley says, “I did ask my Mom, they are going to Brazil,”

“Cool,” Tobin smiles, “we can plan to do something when my folks are there,”

Kelley straightens, surprised, “Like, together?”

“Yeah, Kel,” Tobin says slowly, “why wouldn’t we?”

“Uh,” Kelley quirks her face as she considers her answer.

“Kel, why wouldn’t we, as a couple, want to spend time with both of our families?” Tobin ask, growing suspicious.

Kelley nods slowly, “What do you mean, a couple?”

“What?” Tobin’s face falls, “What do you think we’ve been doing for the last two years?”

“Just hooking up,” Kelley shrugs, looking at Tobin as if she should know that.

Tobin abruptly stands, slapping her forehead, frustrated, “Kelley, I love you,” she says, she can’t believe Kelley is being so obtuse, “I’m committed to you,” she shakes her head, “this has just been hooking up to you? We are a couple!” she says, her voice rising with emotions. She looks at her hard, “Has this just been two years of hooking up and booty calls to you?”

Kelley doesn’t answer, her eyes on her lap.

“Kel,” Tobin says, moving to stand in front of her, “I don’t see other people, I don’t hook up, I haven’t since we got together,” she swallows, “have you?”

“It’s just sex,” Kelley starts.

“Oh, this is fucking unreal, Kel!” Tobin cuts her off, turning away to pace as she brings her hands to the sides of her head, pressing to help reduce the pounding headache that is blossoming.

Kelley stands up, “Hook ups don’t mean anything,” she says, tugging at Tobin’s elbow only for her to twist away, “it’s just sex, an outlet, it feels good.” She moves behind Tobin and grabs her arms, “It doesn’t mean anything,” she says to her, her hot breath on Tobin’s neck.

Tobin’s shoulder fall, she’s willing herself not to cry, “Kel,” she says, her voice trembling, “that’s cheating,”

Kelley spins her around so they’re face to face. “No, it isn’t,” she insists angrily, “we never said we were exclusive,” she shakes her head, “you’re just springing this on me now,”

Tobin’s mouth drops open, looking at her incredulously, unable to speak. She can’t believe it. Her headache is now roaring. She turns away, shaking her head, “Kel,” she sighs, “you do family stuff with me,” she says quietly, “we did Christmas with your family,” she turns around to look at her, “this is seriously just an extended hook up for you?”

“Listen,” Kelley grabs at her arms again, “I love you,” she says earnestly, “I do,” she nods at her, “that’s why we do that stuff together,” she looks at her, “I really didn’t think meaningless hook ups would be a problem,” she says slowly, as if she needs to say it so slow for Tobin to understand, “it was only like a stress release, I thought you were doing it too, since we are apart so much. That’s why I asked you about Alex.”

“No, Kel,” Tobin sighs, feeling defeated and incredibly stupid, “it’s only been you,”

“I didn’t know,” Kelley bends down to look up and catch Tobin’s eyes, “I didn’t know,” she repeats quietly, “I don’t have to hook up,” she says, “if you want to do this, I’m on board,” she brings her hand to Tobin’s jaw, lifting her head, looking her in the eyes, “I didn’t know this is what you wanted.”

Kelley cups Tobin’s face in her hands, “I love you,” she says, giving her a soft kiss, “I feel stupid not knowing this is what you wanted,” she says, tears threatening to spill, “I feel like an asshole, I really thought we were on the same page.”

“I can’t do this,” Tobin says, her voice uneven, “this isn’t a relationship,” she shakes her head at her. She pulls herself away Kelley, distancing herself a little. She points her finger at her, “Two years ago, we were at your Mom’s house,” she says sternly, her anger bubbling over, “we just got back from surfing and were on the back deck. That’s when you said you wanted to be with me. Me and only me!”

Kelley looks at her blankly, “Okay,” she says, “I don’t really remember that, but….”

“Jesus Christ!” Tobin roars with frustration, “Everything was a lie? God, Kel, what the fuck?” A thought suddenly enters her mind. “You used that strapon on me because you got mixed up about who you were with.”

Kelley looks at the floor.

“You brought it here-Kel, were you hooking up with someone here?” Tobin accuses her.

“I don’t have to answer that,” Kelley says harshly, “this is bullshit. Just because you thought you lived in a fantasyland where people are together and happy? Fuck that, Tobin! People never stay together, you should know that, fuck, your own parents got divorced.” Kelley knew that Tobin’s parents’ divorce was a touchy subject, making her flinch when she brought it up. She was playing dirty.

“And why are hook ups so bad when we’re separated, huh? Huh, Miss Holier Than Thou? Because of something your God said?” Kelley spits out at her.

“Get out,” Tobin says quietly.

Kelley laughs darkly, “You can’t argue that, so you want me gone?”

Tobin’s anger is growing, “Kelley, grab your shit and get the fuck out!” she yells at her. “We’re done! It’s over!” she shouts, “I’m done with you!”

“Oh, that’s rich,” Kelley chuckles, strolling to the hallway, “you’re such a pussy,” she says, “I should’ve kept fucking you that night,” she smirks at her, picking up her bag, “might have fucked some sense in you.”

“Get OUT!” Tobin screams, advancing angrily on her, ready to shove her out the door.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Kelley says, shaking her head, “see you around, you stupid cunt.” She pokes her head back in the hall, “Oh, and your stupid ass painting sucks! Stick to your day job, you’re at least a little decent playing footy.”

As Kelley shuts the door behind her, Tobin pushes it hard to slam it shut. She spins the deadbolt and leans against the door, breathing hard. Still in battle mode, she pushes herself off the door, stomping to her bedroom, flinging open her closet doors and begins roughy flicking through the hangers, working from left to right, pulling out Kelley’s tops. She tosses them carelessly over her shoulder towards the bed, moving through the rack.

When she completes that rack, she scrunches down, going through her pants. She gets a chair from the kitchen for her shelf of sweaters above the top rack, standing on the chair, flinging Kelley’s sweaters out of the closet. She can hear her phone chirping in the distance, it’s out in the living room or kitchen and she ignores it. She doesn’t realize she’s crying, she’s still furious and feels stupid and gullible and taken advantage of. She lets her anger fuel her, ignoring the headache, ignoring how her stomach feels jumpy and nauseous, she keeps going through her clothes and making a mound on and near the bed.

When her closet is finished, shoes included, she does the hall closet, then she inspects her living room, taking photos from the shelves, crying as she sets them on her bed. Gradually she grows calmer, still angry and upset, wondering what she is going to tell her family in a way that they won’t hate Kelley. She kind of wants them to hate Kelley, right now she wants everyone to hate Kelley, but she decides to keep the real reason to herself.

She won’t air her dirty laundry except to a few select people, the ones she knows won’t gossip and talk.

She’s satisfied she’s cleared out every reminder of Kelley, it’s all in her room. She goes back to the hall closet, finding some broken down boxes she’s kept to ship things, grabbing her tape dispenser and taping the first box together. She considers putting the clothes in a garbage bag to protect them, then decides against it, messily grabbing them and shoving them in the box, a small smirk on her face knowing it will really bother Kelley that they’re not folded. She doesn’t even wrap up the very few trinkets and gifts Kelley had gotten her since they together, looking at them with disdain. She boxes the photos and shoves them in back of her closet. I wonder if she gave gifts to all of her hook ups, she thinks darkly.

Once she gets everything boxed up and taped shut, she finds some index cards and addresses each box, taping the label on the top. She sets the boxes in her hallway, wanting them out of her place. She goes to the bathroom, startled when she sees herself, she’s pale, her cheeks flushed from emotion and there’s still some wetness from her tears under her eyes.

She runs some hot water, wetting a face towel and pressing it against her face, letting the warmth relax her a little. She washes her face, removing the trace amounts of makeup she wore for the art show, satisfied she’s presentable to face the public.

Determined to feel safe and not have any unexpected surprises, Tobin leaves the bathroom, going to grab her keys and wallet. She ignores the notifications on her phone, dials the concierge desk downstairs and asks them to pick up some packages to be mailed and put them on her FedEx account. She leaves her phone on the counter and walks down the hall.

She leaves her place, heading to the hardware store where she examines a few lock sets, reading the installation directions on new door locks. She has an employee help her make a final decision and then has some additional keys made there as well. When she gets home, she immediately pulls her small tool box from the bottom of the pantry, noticing her Weiss beers and pulling three out and putting them in the fridge. Then she gets to work. She’s already replaced the doorknob and is working on the deadbolt, standing in the hall, her back to the elevator. She’s almost done, but she’s having a hard time getting the face of the front off, carefully using her screwdriver to pry it free when she hears a voice.

“Harry?” is Allie’s careful tone.

Tobin turns to glance at her, “Hey,” she says and turns back to focus on her task. She finally gets the front off and bends over to put in the new deadbolt.

Allie is silent as Tobin quickly replaces it, screwing it in place and then testing it. She tests all of the keys she had made, glancing at Allie who is sadly looking at the boxes to Kelley, handing a key over to her who puts it in her pocket. Tobin picks up the old lock pieces, dumping them in the trash can, then she finds her key ring, fishes off her old house key and puts on the new one. She sets her keyring down on the kitchen counter and finally looks at Allie.

“Are you okay?” Allie questions, her concern evident.

Tobin shakes her head, “No,” she says, letting out a shaky breath.

“Come on,” Allie urges, pulling on her arm to sit on the couch.

“I broke up with her,” Tobin says as soon as she sits down, she looks at Allie, “Al, she was hooking up with people the whole time we were together, like, she said it was just sex, a stress release from being apart.”

Allie’s jaw drops, her eyes wide, “Oh, wow,” she says slowly, looking a little confused. “Uh, Har, that’s not what she’s saying,” she says slowly.

“Huh?” Tobin is confused.

“She’s saying you cheated on her with Alex,” Allie states with a sigh, “and have been since you started school.”

“WHAT?” Tobin questions loudly, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“I wish I was,” Allie murmurs, scanning her phone, “she’s got everyone riled up.”

“Fuck,” Tobin mutters, “I wasn’t gong to tell anyone what happened,” she says, “I was just going to say we broke up. I didn’t want this, I didn’t want everyone getting in our business,”

“I know,” Allie says kindly, “and believe me, I set a few people straight already,”

Tobin looks at her with sad eyes, “People are taking sides, this is gonna suck,” she leans forward and holds her head in her hands.

She feels Allie hand on her back, “It’ll be okay,” she assures her.

“No,” Tobin moans, “it won’t,” she protests, “she’s gonna blow this whole thing up.”

“No, we’ll work it out, I’ll talk to everyone,” she says earnestly, “I’ll set them straight. They know you, Tobin,” Allie says heartfully, “they know you’re not like that, I think they’re just in shock.”

“Jill’s gonna kick me off the team,” Tobin begins to sniffle, “I should call her now,” she says, reaching for her phone.

“Woah, woah, woah,” Allie takes her phone from her hand, “That’s a good idea, but maybe we should wait a little bit,” she counsels, “let’s get a little calmer and be able to talk about this. You don’t want to freak out while you’re talking to her.”

“Yeah,” Tobin agrees, nodding her head, “you’re right,” she sniffs.

“So, can you tell me what happened?” Allie asks, “All I’ve heard is Kelley’s side, I want to hear the truth.”

Tobin shares with her exactly what went down, Allie scowling when she hears Kelley’s theory on sex. She remains silent, listening as Tobin calmly tells her each part of the story.

“That sounds more realistic.” Allie states, “She’s just winging it to make herself look better.”

“I never wanted anything like this to happen,” Tobin groans, standing up, suddenly looking horrified, “we have camp in a few weeks!”

She reaches for her phone, Allie takes hold of her arm, “Maybe talk to Dawn first?”

Tobin nods, sitting down and she places the call. She puts her phone on speaker, Allie listening quietly. Dawn is sympathetic, then surprises her by telling her Jill is with her and hands the phone to her coach. Tobin repeats the story, less the nasty details, making sure to be as neutral as possible and not slamming Kelley.

“I swear Jill,” Tobin says, “I don’t want this to be a problem,” she pleads, “I didn’t think she would be calling everyone and reacting like this.”

“Tobin,” Jill says calmly, “we all know emotional Kelley is,” she states, “and sometimes she flies off the handle. I commend you for taking the initiative and letting us know, we’ll do our best to mitigate any uncomfortable situations for you both.”

“Jill, I just wanted to let you know, I will be professional and not let this affect the team,” Tobin sniffs.

“Tobin,” Jill says warmly, “I’ve known you and Kelley for a very long time, I know you do not let your personal life interfere when you come to camp. I’m also very aware that you and Kelley are on very different levels of maturity. I thank you for making me aware of this situation and I hope things settle down for you before you get to camp. Break ups hurt and you have my sympathy. If there’s ever a time you’d like to talk, I’m only a phone call away.”

“Thanks, Jill,” Tobin says with relief, “I really appreciate it, I never wanted anything like to happen, I’m so sorry,”

“Tobin, I understand,” she assures her, “I’m not thrilled, but I understand these things happen. What she is saying and how she is acting is out of your control. You just take care of yourself and get in a good headspace, you’ve been playing so well, I don’t want this to ruin what you’ve got going.”

“I won’t, I’ll stay on task,” Tobin nods as she replies, “thanks for everything, I really appreciate it.”

When she ends the call, Tobin looks at Allie. “That was the smart thing to do, Har,” she says

Tobin nods seriously, “I should probably look at my phone,” she sighs.

“You want me to stay?” Allie asks, “I can cancel dinner,” she offers.

Tobin shakes her head, “No, not with Bati’s parents, I’ll be fine,” she assures her. “I’ll probably go to bed early, I’m exhausted.”

Allie looks at her closely. “Okay,” she says, “I’ll check in with you later, if you want me to come stay, just let me know.”

Allie stands and pulls Tobin up to hug her tight, stroking the back of her head as she holds her. Tobin nearly begins crying again, but she holds herself together.

“Thanks, Harry,” she says quietly.

She walks Allie to the door, her breath hitches when she sees the boxes are gone from against the wall.

She locks the door, reassuring Allie once more she’ll call her if she needs to, heading to the kitchen and grabbing a beer. She knows it’s not the smartest thing to do, but she needs to relax a little. She takes a long drink and then opens her phone.

4:58 A-Rod: How could you? I am so disappointed with you.

5:05Becks: What the Hell Tobin?

5:06 Christen: We need to talk, Kelley is a mess. She’s saying awful things.

5:16 A-Rod: I feel like I don’t even know you anymore. I never thought you would be a cheater.

5:17 A-Rod: I’m so disgusted with you right now. Seriously Tobin this is the worst.

5:19 Missed Call: Christen

5:22 Missed Call: A-Rod

5:22 Voicemail: A-Rod

5:36 Ali: Is it true? Did you cheat on Kelley? WTH Tobin!

5:58 Hope: Get your shit together Heath!

6:02 Ash: Hey man, are you ok?

6:10 Kling: Tobin I heard something bad, I need to talk to you.

6:30 Whit: Tobin? Can you give me a call when you have a chance?

7:21 Missed Call: Lauren

7:36 Kling: You okay? Call me

7:44 Ash: Dude, I’m worried about you- call me

7:52 Lauren: Tobes, give me a call when you can, hope you’re okay

8:01 HAO: Buddy, are you okay? I just heard. I’m here if you want to talk

8:13 Whit: You okay? Just checking in

8:15 Ali: Seriously Tobin! Cheating? So disappointed

8:18 Ash: Ignore Ali, she’s pissed and I’m sure she doesn’t know the whole story I’m here for you

Tobin sighs noisily, setting her phone down. She finishes her beer, contemplating who would be a voice of reason to talk to about this. She’s shocked at A-Rod’s texts, saddened that her friend would think so little of her. Becky, too.

She leaves the couch and heads to the fridge, grabbing another beer and bringing it back to the couch. She cracks it open, setting the cap next to the empty bottle. She grabs her phone, takes a deep breath and a long sip of her beer, then dials.

“Tobin! Are you alright? I’ve been so worried,” Lauren says quickly.

“Hey Lauren,” Tobin says tiredly, “I’m, uh, honestly, kind of numb,”

“Are you safe? Are you home?” Lauren asks seriously.

“Yeah, I’m home,” Tobin replies, running a hand through her hair. “Allie was here and she just left a little bit ago,”

“Okay,” Lauren says, Tobin can hear her sigh, “Can you tell me what happened? Amy called me before her flight, she was so worked up, I couldn’t understand everything. She was mad at you, she said you cheated on Kelley?”

Tobin sighs, “I never wanted this to happen,” she begins, “I didn’t cheat. I wouldn’t ever cheat. And it really hurts me that her and Becky think I would. I think it hurts worse than breaking up with Kel,”

“Wait, you broke up with her?” Lauren asks, surprise in her voice.

“Yeah,” Tobin says, “I ended it. For the whole two years we were together, she was hooking up with people. Said sex was an outlet, a stress relief from being apart from me. It didn’t mean anything to her. So, I ended it. I couldn’t be with her knowing she wasn’t committed to this relationship.”

“That is not what Kelley is saying.” Lauren states flatly.

“Yeah, so I’m hearing,” Tobin sighs, “I’ve got half the national team texting me, furious that I would do such a thing. Hope texted me telling to get my shit together.”

“Shit,” she mutters.

“Yeah,” Tobin says with frustration, “I’m the bad guy, the cheater.”

“She told you she was hooking up while she was with you?” Lauren asks for clarification.

“Yes,” Tobin replies, feeling a flare of anger, “she said she didn’t know I wanted to be exclusive. Can you believe it? We did Christmas together, with both of our families and she didn’t think this was a committed relationship.”

“Did you tell her that, though? Like at the beginning?” Lauren asks prudently.

“Yes” Tobin exclaims, “On the back deck of her Mom’s house two years ago. We both said we were the only ones for each other.”

“I’m so sorry,” Lauren sniffs, “I’m sorry you’re being put through this, it’s not fair.”

“Laur, I don’t know what to do,” Tobin sniffs, getting emotional, “what do I say? She’s lying? I feel like that would make it worse,”

“I think everyone needs a day or two to calm down and really think about it.” Lauren reasons, “Amy knows you would never cheat, Becky too, but they’re dealing with an upset Kelley and you know how persuasive and believable she can be with whatever she’s saying.”

“I just feel like I should say something,” Tobin persists, “something like, neutral, like they don’t know all of the facts.”

“Yeah, maybe that would put the thought in their heads that for you to cheat would be completely out of character and actually, unbelievable.” Lauren responds.

The two are quiet for a minute. Both lost in thought. Tobin takes a drink of her beer.

“How did your show go today?” Lauren asks suddenly, as if she just realized that was today. For Tobin it feels like it was a week ago.

“Oh, good,” she replies, “um, my painting ribboned.”

“Oh? Do tell?”

“Yeah, it, um, placed first for Best Still Life,” Tobin says, still not comfortable speaking about it, “and then it placed as Best in Show,” she adds quietly.

“Like it won the whole thing?” Lauren exclaims, “Tobin!”

“Yeah,” she says, smiling a little at how excited Lauren is for her, “it goes on to a regional show sometime next month, I think,”

“That’s incredible!” Lauren gushes, “How exciting!”

“Yeah,” Tobin actually smiles, “I’m kind of excited about it,” she says, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to go, I haven’t got the date yet,”

“But still!”

“Yeah,” Tobin says, getting a little feeling of happiness from the afternoon back.

“You’re gonna be okay, you know,” Lauren says tenderly, “this will settle down and from what I heard, Kelley’s been pretty erratic lately and they’ll see through her act.”

“Yeah,” Tobin knows this too shall pass, “it’s just gonna suck until then,” she says morosely.

“You’re a little toughy,” Lauren encourages her, “you have to just weather this storm and you’ll come out the other side,”

“Yeah,” Tobin sighs, worn out from her day, “thanks Laur,”

“You call any time,” she says, “I love you, I trust you, and I know the others will come around,”

“Yeah,”

“You call me,” Lauren urges, “any time, I mean it,”

“Okay,” Tobin agrees, “I will,”

“You good on your own tonight?” Lauren wants to be sure, “I can tell Allie to come over,”

“I should be good,” Tobin states, “I’m exhausted, I’m gonna crash soon,” she says and sips her beer.

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow sometime,” Lauren says gently, “get some rest,”

“I love you,” Tobin says heartfully,

“I love you too,” Lauren says and Tobin can hear her smile.

They hang up and Tobin looks at her phone. She finishes her beer as she contemplates the best way to convey her message. "This is such a fucking mess," she mutters as she types out her message.

Christen; A-Rod; Becks: It hurts me to think you feel I’m a cheater. I’m sad you feel our friendship isn’t strong enough that you’d think so little of me. Especially after knowing me for so long, you’d judge me without hearing all of the facts. You’ve heard whatever Kelley is saying and judged me guilty. Maybe we can talk tomorrow. Up to you guys.

 

She stares at her message for long time before pressing send.

Ash; HAO; Whit; Kling: Hey guys, I’m super tired and will talk tomorrow. I don’t know why Kelley’s saying what she is, but I broke up with her. She was hooking up with people while we were together. It’s a mess and I’m so sorry everyone is being pulled in to it. Going to sleep.

She sighs as she presses send, waiting for it to go through and turning off her phone.

She stands up, feeling a little headrush, realizing she hasn’t eaten since lunch. She’s a lightweight so the beers are hitting her. “Fuck it,” she mumbles as she moves to the fridge, grabbing her final beer, popping the top off and chugging as she walks to her bedroom.

Maybe it will help me sleep, she reasons, setting the beer down and heading to the bathroom. She takes out her contacts, brushes her teeth and changes into a t-shirt and shorts and heads for her bed. Please God, she prays, let this work out, let Kelley realize she’s only hurting herself talking like she is.

 

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

April

 

Tobin tosses and turns, unable to get comfortable, the words from the text messages bubbling up in front of her face, reading Amy’s message in her voice, filled with such scorn and anger. Becky’s voice sounding so disappointed in her. Ali’s anger. She’s so tired but her mind won’t turn off and let her sleep.

Aggravated, she sits up, sighing as she considers what to do. She’s still a little tipsy so her thought processes might not be the best, but she decides to head over to the studio and work out her frustration. Grabbing a hoodie, she heads towards the door, grabbing her keys and her wallet and phone by habit.

She only realizes she’s barefoot when she’s almost at the studio. She shakes her head at herself, feeling stupid. She berates herself, considering turning back and getting a pair of sandals, but then she sees the dark building and walks into the alley. She sidesteps a homeless person sleeping along the wall, giving him a width berth, suddenly feeling unsafe. She scurries past, opening the locked gate with her key, silently pushing it open and closed behind her, making sure it’s securely locked behind her.

She heads for the small service door next the garage door, quietly opening that, not wanting to disturb Alex. Her bare feet make soft slaps on the smooth concrete floor as she makes her way in the moonlit space, the full moon’s rays shining down enough for her to see where she’s going.

She unlocks her cubicle, doing the best she can to be quiet, looking up and seeing Alex’s apartment is dark. Slowly she lifts her adjustable floor lamp out, clicking it on and next comes her easel out, setting her project down, not wanting to work on that. She needs to get this angst she’s feeling out. She needs to express herself in a way words can’t convey.
She picks a new canvas that’s ready to go, locking it in place on her easel. She lifts her stool out, grabs her palette. She pulls out her caddy of paints, quickly squirting the colors on her palette, grabbing her cup of brushes and starts.

Her strokes are angry, there’s no patient outlining in this piece, no working on it with minute details, she works quickly, making fast decisions as she paints on the fly. She hasn’t even sketched her idea out, instead letting it just flow from within her. She doesn’t realize she’s crying as she paints, weeping and sniffling quietly, angrily pushing up her glasses and wiping at her eyes with her sleeve. At some point, Tobin grows hot from her anger, tossing off her hoodie and letting it rest on the floor. She’s working at a frenetic pace, pouring herself into this piece, letting her emotions run through her to the canvas.

 

Alex thinks she’s dreaming when she hears the soft chimes of the door being opened. It doesn’t alarm her as it signals when the key is used to enter. She drifts back to sleep, convincing herself she was dreaming. It’s some time later when she hears a sob echoing softly up from the studio through her open interior window, she lifts her head from her pillow, her ears straining as she listens.

Someone is crying, she realizes, so confused as she begins to awaken from her deep sleep. Slowly she lifts the covers, shivering as the cool air hits her, frowning when she remembers she left her window open in the living room from the studio. She grabs a hoodie, throwing it on as she quietly approaches the window. Her eyes open wide as she sees Tobin, half lit by her floor lamp in the dark studio, standing before her easel, painting with an anger and passion she’s never seen before. Fascinated, she watches how Tobin is scowling as she works quickly with hard strokes, angrily attacking her canvas, pausing to wipe at her eyes with her shoulder, pushing her glasses up then going back to it with a ferocity that frightens her.

She needs to pee and she’s cold, so Alex turns away from the window, doing her business and then putting on a pair of sweats and socks and finding her slides. When she returns to her perch, she can’t see Tobin. The soft light is on, shining on her canvas, her stool sits there, her palette precariously balanced on it.

Worried, Alex makes her way to her door, quietly unlocking it, opening it slowly and creeping down the stairs, freezing when she hears the soft sobs. She continues on, making it to the main level, hearing the sound grow louder. She’s leaning forward as she steps softly, approaching Tobin’s cubicle. She makes a width berth, standing a few feet back from the canvas, her mouth dropping open when she sees the painting.

In the foreground is a woman, Alex instantly realizing it’s Tobin, standing on an angle, shoulders slumped, one hand to the back of her neck, the other crossed over her chest and cradling the upright elbow. Her face is slightly turned to look at a group of women retreating from her, walking across a grassy field, a few on the sidelines, some looking at the group and others looking at her.

The retreating group is huddled together, arms around a woman in the center, Kelley, Alex realizes, her lips pressing firmly together. Two women are supporting her with arms around her, both blondish and Alex gets the sense it’s Amy and Becky from their physiques. She sees a dark haired woman walking in the group looking over her shoulder back at Tobin, her face filled with sadness, as if she’s unsure where she should stand. Christen. The impression she gets from the painting is one of heartbreak and the horrible feeling of being alone it brings with it.

Alex’s eyes sweep back across the canvas to Tobin, seeing the sadness on her face, the light tracks of tears, how she looks so fragile and withdrawn. So hopeless and defeated. She really wants to study it more, but her attention is turned to Tobin, who is curled against the inside wall of her cubicle, knees up, weeping.

Alex’s stomach drops and tears prick at her own eyes seeing Tobin in such a state. She slowly approaches the cubicle, not wanting to startle the distraught woman. She bends down and gets to her knees, shuffling over towards.

“Tobin,” she says quietly, sitting down and sliding next to her.

Tobin looks up at her, the light from the lamp near the easel showing her wet, bloodshot eyes, her exhaustion. The sadness that permeates from her. Alex slowly reaches her arm around her and Tobin leans in to her, dropping her head on Alex’s chest, crying hard. Alex brings her other arm in front of her, cradling her from the side, resting the side of her head against Tobin’s. Alex doesn’t speak, she just holds her, frowning as Tobin sobs and hiccups, tightening her grip on her. She feels how frail Tobin is, just how fragile she feels in her arms right now, a part of her pleased that Tobin didn’t pull away from her when she approached. That their growing friendship would allow Tobin to feel safe enough with her during this dark time.

Gradually Tobin grows quieter, her hard crying becoming softer sobs, her sobs becoming weeping and her weeping becomes sniffing. It’s when Tobin lets out a deep sigh that Alex shifts, pulling away from her slightly so she can catch her eye.

“Come on,” she says whisper quiet, “you’re freezing,”

Alex helps her get to her feet, leading her out of the cubicle, clicking the light off as she passes it, picking up Tobin’s hoodie and leading her upstairs. She brings Tobin to her couch, feeling if she brought her to her bed, it would make her nervous. It’s a gut feeling, just because she’s so upset, so Alex wants to make sure none of her actions would make her feel uncomfortable.

She let’s her sit and she moves to her kitchen, putting on a pot of tea, thinking a warm drink would soothe her. Tobin’s trembling and Alex isn’t sure if it’s from emotions or being cold, although Tobin’s arms feel icy to the touch. She stops by her bedroom and grabs a couple of pillows and blankets, bringing them to the couch.

“Here,” she offers Tobin, draping the blanket over her shoulders, “get warmed up,”

“Thanks,” Tobin says, her voice unsteady, looking at her gratefully.

Alex gives her a soft smile, “It’s okay,” she says, “get comfy,” she offers, moving back to the kitchen. She makes the tea, bringing out two mugs, handing one to her as she sits.
They drink their tea in silence, Alex content to sit and not start a conversation. She wants Tobin to talk if and when she feels ready. After a few minutes, she notices how Tobin’s mug is balanced awkwardly on her lap, in danger of falling. She glances at her and sees her eyes are closed. Alex sets her hand on the mug, lifting it from her grasp. She puts it on the side table, finishing her own tea and then gently shakes Tobin.

“Here,” she says, “why don’t you lie down,” she suggests.

Tobin blinks at her, “Oh, I should go home,” she starts, panic in her voice.

“You can crash here,” Alex soothes, “it’s late, just stay,”

Tobin considers it for a moment, “Okay,” she whispers tiredly, “thanks,” she starts to flick the blanket and then looks at her, “Stay?” she pleads, her eyes so sad and scared. Alex nods wordlessly, deciding to sit on the end putting her feet up on the ottoman and arranging her pillow behind her head.

“Is this okay?” Tobin asks uncertainly, as she moves her pillow to Alex’s lap.

“Yeah,” Alex nods, slouching back and getting comfortable.

Tobin lays down, pulling the blanket over her shoulder, settling in on her lap and then issuing a deep sigh, “Thanks, Alex,” she whispers.

Alex rubs Tobin’s back, “S’okay,” she whispers back. Alex continues to rub Tobin’s back until she feels Tobin’s breathing evening out and how her body grows heavy as she finally relaxes when she falls to sleep. Alex glances at the DVD player and notes it’s after four. She snuggles in and falls asleep quickly.

 

Alex awakes to the insistent vibrating near her hip followed by a low buzz. She blinks her eyes, widening when they discover her hand is on the back of Tobin’s head. She slowly lifts it away, then digs down in the couch cushion to pull out Tobin’s phone. She rubs her eyes and then squints at the phone, seeing multiple calls from Allie and other people. She sees that it’s after eight and she becomes worried that Tobin might be late for practice or something. Hoping she isn’t overstepping, Alex slides open Tobin’s phone and replies to Allie’s text.

 

Tobin: Hey Allie, it’s Alex from the art studio. I found Tobin here in the middle of the night, she was extremely upset. She’s asleep now, does she have to go to practice? Should I wake her? She was pretty exhausted.

Alex chews on the inside of her cheek as she waits for a reply.

Harry: Oh thank God! I’m at her place and was so worried. I’ll be there in a few. Let her sleep.

Alex nods as she types.

Tobin: come in through the front, Tomaz is here, just come up the back stairs to my apartment.

Alex reaches for her phone and texts Tomaz to let Allie in and just keep Tobin’s stuff out and they’ll pack up soon. Alex slowly finagles her way out from under Tobin who doesn’t even stir from the movement and slight jostling.

She heads to her room, uses the bathroom and pulls her hair back before coming out and checking on the sleeping woman. Tobin hasn’t moved, she’s still on her side, a hand gripping the pillow. Alex is a little chilly, so she shuts the windows and turns up the thermostat, remembering that Tobin is only wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

She looks in her fridge, contemplating what to make for breakfast when she hears the soft chime of the door. She shuts the fridge door and looks out the window, seeing Allie staring at Tobin’s painting, snapping a photo and then heading for the stairs. She meets her as she’s on the last few steps, giving her a small smile.

“Thank you, Alex,” Allie says quietly, keeping her voice down, “I’ve been so worried, I’m so glad you let me know,”

“Thanks,” Alex replies, “I wasn’t sure if I was overstepping or not,” she says nervously.

“Don’t worry,” Allie replies confidently, “its’ fine,” she holds up a tray, “I brought you a coffee, do you drink coffee?”

Alex nods, “I will today,” she says, “thanks, come on in,”

Allie stops by the couch to look at Tobin, frowning at her before continuing to the kitchen. She sets the coffee tray on the kitchen counter, removing the drinks from the tray.

“This one is yours,” Allie says quietly, taking a seat at the table, “so, that painting,” she says with a sigh, “it’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,”

“It is,” Alex agrees, “it’s pretty raw,” she adds some cream and sugar to her coffee and stirs it, “Allie, I don’t think Tobin is aware of just how incredibly talented she is.”

“Huh?” Allie asks, “really?”

Alex nods, “She has a natural talent,” she says, “it’s a gift,”

Allie nods, “She has a hard time accepting her soccer abilities,” she says and takes a sip of her coffee, “she’s way to humble and insecure sometimes.”

Alex nods, recognizing those tendencies.

Allie turns to look over at Tobin on the couch, then leans forward and looks at Alex intently, “So, can you explain what happened last night?”

“I woke up to a noise sometime after one, I think,” Alex explains, “I looked out my window and saw Tobin painting,” she says, frowning, “but she was crying, working so angrily, with so much aggression.”

“I put some clothes on and when I looked again, she was gone,” she continues, “I went downstairs and saw her canvas, then found her curled up in her cubicle. She was crying and freezing so I brought her up here and she feel asleep on the couch,”

Allie nods thoughtfully, “She and Kelley broke up,” she states quietly, “and Kelley has been twisting the facts and turned a lot of people against Tobin. Yesterday was pretty horrible,” she sighs, “and the afternoon was so nice, I was so happy for her,”

Alex nods as she sips her coffee, “Her painting reflects that was what happened,”

Allie frowns, “What time did she finally go to sleep?”

“I think it was around four,” Alex replies, yawning a little.

Allie frowns, “She’s a basket case if she doesn’t get enough sleep,” she looks over to the couch.

“She can stay here,” Alex offers, standing up, “I’m going to pack up her cubicle, put her stuff away, you want to hang here for a bit?”

Allie nods and pulls out her phone.

Alex slips on her slides and heads down the stairs, greeting Tomaz who come over and stands near Tobin’s painting. “That’s a lot of pain,” he frowns, looking at it.

“Yeah,” Alex says as she takes a photo of it with her phone and then hauls the easel into the cubby. She rolls the paint caddy in and the stool. She pitches the ruined brushes and then closes the door. She doesn’t lock it because she doesn’t know where Tobin’s keys are.

She heads back up, Allie still at the kitchen table, her head popping up from her phone.

“You want something to eat?” Alex asks her, opening the fridge door, “I was going to make a big skillet.”

Allie shrugs, “I could eat,” she says, “let me help,” she stands up and walks over to the counter, “I’m good at cutting things, that’s my best kitchen skill.”

Alex chuckles softly, mindful of Tobin sleeping, “Okay then,” she says, handing her a container of mushrooms, “let me know if you or Tobin don’t eat any of this,” she says as she passes her a few vegetables.

“She’s a human disposal,” Allie shakes her head, “she’ll eat anything she doesn’t have to cook,”

Alex arches an eyebrow at her, “Oh?”

Allie chuckles, “I’ve never met someone with such a wide palette of food tastes, she’s fearless trying stuff,” she says, slicing the mushrooms, “when we’re overseas, she wants the local food,”

“That’s kind of cool,” Alex says aloud, “huh,”

They work quietly, Alex tasking Allie with preparing the veggies while she cooks some bacon and scrambles some eggs to add to the skillet.

“Oh, would you like some more coffee?” Alex asks, “I can put some on,”

“Just tell me where and I can do it,” Allie says easily, moving to the cabinet Alex directs her to for the coffee. She likes Alex, has since the first time she’s met her. She appreciated how she lingered at the art show, concerned for Tobin and her nerves. How she’d lean over and share something with her, telling her how the whole event works. It was a kind thing of her to do.

Once the skillet is complete, the two grabs their mugs and plates and sit at the kitchen table. Allie asks her how the co-op works and how many events they hold. Alex explains it to her, proudly telling her how hers is a little different because of how she charges her members and takes barters to help her around the place.

“My brother initially opened this place up,” she shares, “and he was pretty traditional in how he ran it,” she says, taking another bite and chewing, “I came here after college and had an apartment close by, he lived here. I saw up front how it ran, he wanted me to be more involved, but at the time I wasn’t interested.”

Allie is listening intently as she eats, nodding at her to go on.

“He passed away and suddenly, this place was mine,” Alex shrugs, “I didn’t have a lot of managerial skills then, but I knew how I would want this as an artist,” she says, “so I made some changes, some of the friends I’d made from other galleries helped me out and now we’re thriving.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your brother,” Allie says softly, frowning, “that’s so sad.”

“Yeah,” Alex sighs, looking at her coffee mug, “motorcycle accident,” she frowns, “he never had a chance.”

“Oh, that’s awful,” Allie says genuinely, “I’m so sorry,”

“Thanks,” Alex nods, “but I feel like a part of him is here, you know? This place was his favorite,” she smiles, “and I think he really would like what I’ve done with it.”

They both finish eating and are lingering at the table, chatting easily like old friends, “So, I go to UNC for my official campus visit and on Saturday night, I’m thinking it’s time to party. Tobin tells me she’s got something super cool planned and I get all dressed up, dress, heels, makeup, the whole nine yards.” She chuckles, “You know what that chucklehead did? Where she took me?”

Alex looks at her questioningly, shrugging.

“She took me out to the woods, built a fire and I sat there the whole night, on a log, talking about life, how soccer is a universal sport and how super cool Jesus is,” Allie shakes her head and chuckles, “I thought it was some kind of a joke, like a weird initiation or something,” she sighs, “then when I met her again that summer for preseason, I realized that was just how she is,”

Alex smiles, “That’s a hilarious story,” she says, “she’s pretty interesting, that’s for sure.”

Allie’s phone chirps, she looks at it, frowning, scrunching her mouth up. “My in laws are in town,” she says, “we’re supposed to go out,”

“Well, Tobin can stay here until whenever,” Alex offers, “I’m not doing much today, I think I’m going to go back to sleep for a bit,”

“You really don’t mind?” Allie asks her, looking at her closely.

“Not at all,” she says, “I’m concerned for her, too,” she says, “she looked really shook last night,”

“Here,” Allie shoves her phone across the table, “put your number in, will you? I’ll text you later to check in,”

“Okay,” Alex nods, entering her information, “text me now and I’ll add you, let you know if she leaves to go home or anything,”

“Thanks,” Allie says, giving her thin smile, “I’m really worried about her,” she says, “some of our friends aren’t being cool about her and Kelley breaking up and it’s really hurt her.”

“That sucks,” Alex frowns.

Allie stands, gathering her purse and stopping by the couch, looking down at Tobin. She sighs and looks at Alex with sad eyes. She slowly moves to the door, stopping to give Alex a hug.

“Thanks for being so kind to her,” she says, “I really appreciate it,”

“No problem,” Alex replies, “I’ll keep you posted if something happens, okay?”

Allie nods and heads for the stairs. Alex cleans up the kitchen, making a plate for Tobin and setting it and the leftovers away in the fridge. She cleans the counters and dumps the old coffee out, rinsing out the pot.

When she finishes, she yawns and stretches, feeling warm and full and sleepy, even with two cups of coffee. She reasons she hasn’t had such broken sleep in a while. She debates going to her bed, but she doesn’t want Tobin to wake up in a strange place and be confused or scared. She grabs her blanket and pillow, gently lifting Tobin’s feet and sliding onto the couch. She sets both phones on the end table, then adjusts the pillow behind her head, pulls up the blanket over her and closes her eyes, a hand on one of Tobin’s shin, taking a deep breath and letting sleep come.

Alex wakes feeling Tobin’s legs shifting on her lap, blinking her eyes and seeing Tobin twisting her hips, her head moving from side to side. She lets out a soft cry, mumbling.

“Don’t…stop lying,” Alex can make out, Tobin’s voice low and scratchy, frowning as Tobin, whimpers, obviously dreaming and maybe reliving part of yesterday.

“No…” Tobin twists, moving back to her side, “not a cheater,” she cries, “listen,” she trails off, issuing one last whimper and settling down.

Alex frowns, feeling for Tobin, hoping she can rest peacefully for a few more hours. She angles herself beneath Tobin’s legs, her feet on the ottoman, getting more comfortable and finding sleep once again.

 

When Alex wakes again, her bladder is urgently talking to her. The coffee, Alex sighs, moving slowly to get out from under Tobin’s legs and head to the bathroom in her bedroom. When she comes out, she sees Tobin is curled in a little ball, still on her side and it looks like she’s drooling slightly onto the pillow.

Alex stations herself back in the corner, now feeling awake, so she grabs her phone and starts scrolling. After a few minutes, she hears Tobin’s stomach rumble loudly, she looks over and sees her sleepily yawning and blinking at her.

“Hi,” Alex greets quietly, putting her phone down.

“Hi,” Tobin replies, her voice deep and scratchy, looking at her and then scanning the room. She yawns again.

“You can sleep if you’re still tired,” Alex offers, “I’m just chilling over here,”

Tobin nods and shuts her eyes, they open when her stomach rumbles again.

Alex chuckles, “You hungry? I can get you something,” she offers, looking at her expectantly.

“No, no,” shakes her head, “I’ve imposed on you so much,” Tobin says, her eyes showing a little panic, “I should get out of here, let you alone,” she moves to sit up, shivering a little when her arms hit the cool air.

“No,” Alex insists, scooting towards her, “it’s no problem, really, I’ve got a plate ready to go,”

Tobin wipes at her eyes, then her face, yawning again, “I’m so sorry for last night,” she says, looking down at her lap, “I’ve never been so reckless like that before,”

Alex touches her arm, “It’s okay,” she says softly, her voice raspy from a lack of sleep, “I’m glad you came here and were safe, not out wandering in the night.”

Tobin just nods, not looking at her.

“Let me heat up some food,” Alex insists, “I can’t let you leave without eating first,” she slowly peels away the blanket and stands, “can I make you some tea or coffee?”

Tobin scratches at the side of her scalp, “Coffee would be awesome,” she says quietly, looking up at her, “thank you so much,”

Alex smiles warmly at her, “No problem,” she says gently. She heads for the kitchen, turning on the coffee maker and filling the pot, thinking she could use another cup herself.

She puts the plate for Tobin in the microwave, she’ll reheat it when the coffee’s ready. She detours to her room and hands Tobin a hoodie.

“Your phone was going nuts earlier,” she says, her voice has an edge of uncertainty and nervousness to it, “I texted Allie because I thought maybe you had practice this morning, I hope you don’t mind,”

Tobin sniffs, rubs her arms to fend off the chill and nods, “No, that was fine,” she says slowly, her voice low, “thanks for looking out for me,” she drops her eyes, “I usually don’t lose it like that,” she puts the hoodie on.

“Well,” Alex says, replies from where she stands behind the couch, “I think you were under some exceptional stress,”

Tobin sniffs again, “Yeah,” she agrees.

“How do you take your coffee?” Alex asks as she retreats back to the kitchen, pressing a button on the microwave.

“Just some cream and sugar,” Tobin replies, “not too much of either,”

“Okay,” Alex says and Tobin can hear the gentleness in her voice.

Alex comes back with the plate, steam rising from the skillet and coffee.

“Thanks, so much,” Tobin accepts the items gratefully, looking surprised when Alex returns with a mug of coffee and resumes her seat on the couch. “You’re not eating?”

“I ate earlier,” Alex replies, “Allie came by,” she says cautiously, “to check on you, she was worried,” she shrugs, “she brought coffee and I made breakfast for us,”

“Oh,” Tobin says, her eyebrows rise slightly, “did I talk to her?”

Alex smiles and shakes her head, “You never woke up,” she answers, “she didn’t try to talk to you, she just wanted you to sleep. She had to go,”

Tobin nods, “Her in-laws are in town,” she says and Alex nods, “Did she talk to you about…”

“Not really,” Alex tilts her head, “your painting kind of told the story,” she says, “I’m really sorry,”

Tobin bites her lower lip with her upper teeth, giving her a slow head nod, “It sucks,” she says, frowning.

“Eat,” Alex suggests, “before it gets cold,” Tobin nods and starts to eat.

“This is really good,” she says in between bites, “thank you so much,”

Alex grabs the remote and starts clicking through the menu, looking for something to watch. They both look up when they hear rain begin to hit the glass ceiling. Alex finds the Weather Channel, clicking it and turning up the volume a little.

“Ooh,” she says, “look at the radar,” They both can see the dark green line of storms approaching.

“That looks like it’s right on us,” Tobin murmurs, taking a sip of her coffee.

A flash of lightning confirms it, thunder rumbling only a couple of seconds behind it.

When Tobin finishes eating, she stands and takes her plate and mug back to the kitchen, setting them in the sink. Then she uses the hallway bathroom. When she sits again, she rubs her arms, still chilled.

“You can take a shower, if you want,” Alex offers, “I can let you borrow some clothes,”

“I’m good,” Tobin insists, not wanting to impose even more.

“Tobin,” Alex says, her voice a little sharp, as if she’s speaking to a toddler, “I can see the goosebumps on your legs from here,”

Tobin’s shoulders slump, she looks at Alex with bleary eyes under her glasses, “You’ve done so much,” she begins.

“And this is just a little more,” Alex says firmly, “come on, let’s go.” She stands and looks expectantly at her, “I can’t be responsible for you getting a cold, you know,” she gives her a small smile, “a Riveter letting a Thorn get sick?” she clucks her tongue, “Unacceptable.”

Tobin gives her a half smile and stands, following her to her bedroom, watching as Alex pulls out a pair of sweats, tossing them at her, then a sweatshirt. She holds up a pair of socks, arching an eyebrow at her. Tobin nods, giving her a full smile now.

“Thanks,” she says, catching the socks, “really,”

“Everything’s in there, use whatever you want,” Alex says warmly, “There’s a new toothbrush in the top right side drawer of the sink. I’ll be in the living room, watching the storm,”

Tobin turns and heads for the bathroom. She doesn’t need to flick a light on, the glass ceiling extends to this room as well, she looks up and marvels at how the rain bounces off it. The sound is soothing. She notices it’s a large bathroom, an old clawfoot tub on one side with a tray across it, complete with a hand towel, a candle and a book, like something taken from a Pinterest page.

There’s a long counter with the sink, the counter is made from old wood, the sink is enamel, like the tub. The lighting is industrial, making a cool contrast to the old fixtures. The shower is large, open to the room with a low step to get it. A shower curtain runs across it. She sets her clothing on the counter, grabbing a towel from the basket on the floor and peeks in the shower. She finds a stainless steel rack filled with body washes and shampoo. Tobin reaches in and starts the shower, setting both taps towards the middle, then she peeks around and finds a wash cloth and sets it on the counter. She pushes the big fluffy towel to the edge of the counter within easy reach from the shower. She strips out of her clothes, folding them and setting them on the countertop. Then she gets in.

She flinches from the cool water, turning the hot up and the cold down, waiting for the warmth to run down her body. Oh, this feels so good, she thinks and she steps under the shower head, running her hands through her hair. She finds an ocean scent body wash, turning for the water to cascade down her, feeling the chill she’s carried since last night finally leaving her.

She doesn’t linger too long, shutting off the water and reaching for the towel and drying off inside the warm shower stall. She dresses quickly, wrapping the towel around her head to help her hair dry as she finds the new toothbrush and brushes her teeth. She sits on the end of the tub, putting the thick warm socks on. She towel dries her hair as much as she can, then places her towels in the hamper and collects her clothes and heads out.

She finds Alex on the couch, watching a curling match with the sound off, the rain pattering against the glass over them.

“Curling?” Tobin comments as she takes a seat on the far cushion.

“There’s nothing else on,” Alex sighs, “and I’m tired, come on, curl up on here, I know you must be tired too,”

“Maybe just for a little while,” Tobin considers, “I don’t want to take you from whatever you’re doing today,”

“This is what I’m doing today,” Alex states, yawning, “laying here, listening to the rain, sleeping. It’s good for my soul. You should try it.”

“Yeah, alright,” she says, “I’ll give it a whirl,” she grins at her.

“Wait,” Alex says, stretching out with her legs along the back of the couch, “do you mind? You can stretch out in front of me,”
“Yeah, that’s cool,” Tobin agrees, yawning as she lays down on front of Alex, their bodies touching under the blanket. They’re both lying on their sides, each with a pillow at opposite ends of the couch. The rain comes down steadily and it doesn’t take long to lull them to sleep.

 

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

April

 

“She just made me feel safe, Har,” Tobin says quietly, “like, I know her and I aren’t best buds, but she,” she pauses, “she just like, knew what I needed, you know? She was so cautious and gentle, like she didn’t want to scare me,”

“She seems like a really solid person,” Allie states, “I wouldn’t have left you there if I didn’t trust her with you,” she says, “you know, if I didn’t think she’d fuck with your head or something.”

Tobin nods even though she’s on the phone, “Yeah,” she says, “she was cool.”

 

Tobin had awoken to her stomach rumbling once again. She was absolutely starving and when she opened her eyes, she could see how dusk was just beginning to settle in the sky above her. I love this roof, she thinks, sleepily grinning a little at the view. She slowly rolls off the couch, doing her best to not disturb Alex who is fast asleep.

She puts on her glasses and grabs her phone, thinking she should just order something and let Alex wake up to food. It’s the least she can do to repay her for her kindness. She looks in her history and finds the deli they ordered from a few weeks ago, Alex had raved about her sandwich. Tobin places an order, then adds two soups as well, thinking they would go good on a day like today.

When Alex awoke, there was no sign of Tobin. She sat up slowly, looking around, listening to hear if she was in the bathroom. She stood up, suddenly needing to pee and went the bathroom, frowning at the thought of Tobin just leaving. She reasoned that wouldn’t be like her, at least she didn’t think so. She could tell Tobin was pretty freaked out, she hoped
Tobin wasn’t upset waking up to sleeping on the couch with her. When she returned to the living room, Tobin was just entering the door holding a bag.

The two of them both stop and stare at each other, both surprised.

Tobin cleared her throat, “I got us food,” she said quietly, shrugging sheepishly, “I’m starving.”

“Now that you say that,” Alex grinned, “I am, too,” She was relieved that Tobin didn’t seem upset.

“I got you a sandwich from that deli you liked so much,” Tobin explained animatedly as she walked past her to the kitchen, “and I us got soup, too.”

They made their plates and sat on the couch, watching ESPN and talking sports as they ate. It was a little later, when Tobin was at the door, ready to leave, she engulfed Alex in a tight hug, thanking her profusely for being there for her.

Alex held on tight, urging her to take care of herself and if she ever wanted to talk, she would be here for her.

 

Now, Tobin’s on the phone with Allie, thanking her for checking in on her and apologizing for worrying her this morning.

“So, I’m going to call Chris,” Tobin says, taking a deep breath and sighing, “I figure she’s the most level headed one out there right now,”

“Good call,” Allie agrees, “I spoke with Becks this morning,” she says slowly, “she still hasn’t completely come around, but I feel like I made her think about it, you know?”

“Yeah,” Tobin says, “thanks for talking to her,” she frowns, “I’m kind scared to call her and A-Rod,”

“Well, don’t,” Allie suggests, “let them call you,”

“Maybe,” Tobin considers, she kind of prefers to tackling this straight on, talking it out with them, but she’s feeling a little insecure.

“I hope it goes good,” Allie says warmly, “Chris is smart, she knows how Kelley is.”

“Yeah, we’ll see,” Tobin says, “I’ll see you tomorrow at practice.”

“Okay, have a good night,” Allie says and they end the call.

Tobin looks at her phone, considering her next step. She decides to text her first.

Tobin: Hey Chris, you have time to talk?

Her phone buzzes a few seconds later, indicating a Facetime call.

“Hey, Chris,” Tobin greets quietly.

“Hey,” Christen greets, rather subdued, she looks at Tobin, “Tobin,” she breathes out, “you look terrible,”

Tobin gives her a faint smile, “Yeah, well, I haven’t exactly had the best twenty-four hours, you know?”

Christen frowns, “I’m sorry,” she says heartfully, “I’m so sorry for how I reacted yesterday, I was so in shock at Kelley, I didn’t really stop to think of how you were feeling,”

“It’s okay,” Tobin replies easily, she can’t be mad at Christen, she knows she’s being truthful and she knows Kelley was probably an overdramatic character yesterday, in an airport of all places.

“No, it’s not,” Christen shakes her head, her eyes welling with tears, “I know A-Rod and Becky and some others have been really vicious to you and it’s really unfair,”

“Yeah,” Tobin sighs, “It hurts that they came at me like that,” she admits, leaning her head on the back on her couch, “especially when they haven’t asked me what happened.”

“Tobin, what did happen?” Christen asks earnestly, “Kelley is saying some horrible things, but I’m not sure it all makes sense.”

Tobin nods and bites her lower lip, thinking of how to phrase things. “Well, you know things haven’t been that great between the two us recently,” she begins, “and the last time Kel came in, something happened, something really bad, and it really scared me.”

“What happened Tobin?” Christen asks, her voice concerned and her eyes widening as she looks at her. Tobin’s known Christen for years and they are good friends. She knows she can trust her and she knows she can tell her anything and she knows Christen doesn’t gossip. So, she decides to go full out and lay out everything to her.

“Uh,” Tobin frowns, “so, Kelley and I never discussed using, ah, like toys, you know?” she says, “That night I got back from class and she wasn’t there, I texted her and she came back about five minutes later with a six pack and I had a beer with her and she was saying she met up with Sonnett for a few beers,” she explains. “So, um, we were being intimate, and I uh, couldn’t really see,” she says, taking a deep breath and shakily letting it out, “and um, she like, just sort used a, um, this strap on, and I was surprised and said stop, because we’d never done that. She didn’t and it hurt and I was panicking,” her voice start cracking, “and she was a little drunk and she wouldn’t stop and then I kicked her off me,”

“Tobin,” Christen whispers, “no,” she looks horrified.

“Yeah, well,” Tobin sniffs, feeling the tears prick at her eyes, “she said we talked about it, but I’m like, that’s a conversation you really remember, you know?” she sniffs, “And then she got pissed I was so upset, and I kinda freaked out and yelled at her and I was scared and I locked myself in my bathroom.”

“Oh my God,” Christen sniffles, “Tobin,”

“The next morning I had training and then I talked with Allie, and then I went home and Kel and I talked,” Tobin continues, feeling the tears streaking down her face, “and she knew I was upset and she swore she thought we talked about it,”

“Oh my God, Tobin, were you okay? Did she hurt you?” Christen cries.

“I was okay,” Tobin sniffs, “sore, okay, but I was scared, you know? I didn’t trust her and I told her that,” Tobin wipes at her eyes, under her glasses, then looks at Christen, “that’s when I told her that her drinking was a concern and her slacking off with training wasn’t like her,” she clears her throat, “and then I told her she should see someone on the staff to talk to.”

“Um hum,” Christen nods, “she told me you were hard on her about that,” she says, “I remember that.”

“Yeah, so those couple of weeks we were good,” Tobin says, her voice cracking, “we were talking and when we went to dinner, that was good. I still didn’t totally trust her, but it was getting a lot better. Then yesterday, at the art show…”

“Zola was pretty pissed at her,” Christen says, “he dragged Becky away to find you and then Kelley left finally left the bar,”

“Chris, I just wanted to thank you again for coming,” Tobin says, getting off topic, “it really did mean a lot to me,”

“Oh, Tobin, I loved it!” she exclaims, “I really want to see Alex’s studio next time I’m in town, you’ll have to take me.”

“I will,” Tobin promises.

“So, what happened later that afternoon?” Christen guides the conversation back on track.

Tobin sighs again, “We were talking and everything was going okay,” she recounts, “I felt we were slowly getting back on track, you know? Then she told me her parents were going to Brazil and I said we should plan something we could do with our parents and she’s like, why?”

“What do you mean, why?” Christen asks.

“That’s what I said,” Tobin says indignantly, “and she’s like, do like, couple stuff? Like it was the strangest thing ever. I was like, well we are a couple, Kel, we did Christmas we each other’s family, we’ve been together for two years.” Tobin pauses to regroup as Christen patiently waits.

“Then I asked her what she thought we were doing for the last two years,” Tobin sniffs again, “and she said,” she wipes at her eyes again, “she said just hooking up.”

“What?” Christen explodes, “She said that?”

Tobin nods as she cries, “She said she didn’t remember when we were at her Mom’s house when we decided to be together, like exclusively.”

Christen sighs, her lips firmly pressed together looking pissed.

“I was like, Kel I don’t hook up with anyone, I’m with you,” Tobin sniffs, “and then I asked her if she was hooking up with people.”

“She said it was just sex, her hooking up with people when we were apart, it was just a stress release.”

“Oh, fuck,” Christen mutters, shaking her head, looking at Tobin with sad eyes.

“Then she said she would be on board and stop hooking up if that was what I wanted.” Tobin states, “Then I accused her of mixing up who liked using a strap on, why would she bring it here? I asked her if she was hooking up with someone here.”

“What did she say?”

“She wouldn’t answer and started yelling at me about how stupid I was thinking people could be together and not hook up and then started talking about my parents being divorced and I just couldn’t believe it and told her we’re done and she should get out.”

“Oh, Tobin,” Christen grimaces, “I’m so sorry,”

“On her way out she said she should’ve kept fucking me,” she says unsteadily, “it might have fucked some sense into me.”

Christen sighs, “I’m so sorry,”

“Yeah,” Tobin sighs, “and now my phone is blowing up with everyone calling me a cheater and telling me how despicable I am.”

“And Kelley’s playing victim and telling everyone you cheated on her,” Christen says angrily, “I was so stupid,” she mutters, “this is just like back in college.”

“What?” Tobin asks sharply, shocked by this.

“Yeah,” Christen shakes her head, “something like this happened with her back then,” she says, “she was with a teammate and it ended badly and there were two very different stories floating around of what exactly happened between them.”

“No,” Tobin breathes out, “I don’t remember hearing any of this,”

“I’m sure you did,” she reminds her, “it was right before the ACC playoffs, I think your senior year,”

“Huh,” Tobin frowns, trying to remember, “I don’t think so, Chris,”

“I’m sure Kelley would have told you,” she persists.

“I don’t know,” Tobin admits, “I remember her just kind of hooking up with a bunch of people, but never really dating any one person,”

Christen shakes her head, “I wouldn’t past her to not tell anyone outside the team, really,” she sighs, “she’s…” she trails off, thinking, “Tobin, I’m worried about this,” she says, “I think she needs help,” she looks at her seriously, “like, serious mental help.”

“I do, too,” Tobin agrees, “I asked her to talk with someone a few weeks ago,” she shares, “she said she was talking to your team person,”

“Huh,” Christen chews on the inside of her cheek, thinking, “she was doing better,” she says softly, “maybe she is,”

“Chris,” Tobin says, taking a deep breath, “I’m just worried about what’s going to happen in a couple of weeks when we’re in camp,”

“I know,” she nods, “I’ve been thinking about that, too,” she lets out a deep sigh, “I’m so sorry for this,”

“Me too,” Tobin says sadly, “I love her, you know?” she looks at her earnestly, “but she’s just been so, so careless with my feelings, her thinking we were only hooking up…” she sniffs, “Chris, this hurts so bad, like it was all a lie.”

“Yeah,” Christen says, wiping at her eyes, “I love Kelley, she’s been one of my best friends forever, but this…Tobin, I’m so sorry,”

“Thanks, Chris,” she says heartfully, “I really appreciate you listening to me,” she pauses, “and not judging me,”

“I think I knew in the back of my head there was something more,” Christen admits, “and I think I knew Kelley was acting that way because she was the one who was at fault,”

“I get it if it was like, a defensive mechanism,” Tobin says, “to cope, but to say I cheated on her?”

“I know,” Christen says, “listen, when the time is right, I’m going to talk to Becky and Amy, let them know just how wrong this all is, I promise.”

“I was thinking of texting them to see if they would want to talk,” Tobin states.

“Eh,” Christen sucks in air through her gritted teeth as she grimaces and shakes her head, “you might want to hold off on doing that for awhile,”

Tobin frowns, her eyes filled with sorrow, “I guess you’re right,” she whispers, her shoulders slumping.

“I’ll keep working on them, I promise,” Christen nods at them, “keep your chin up, you did nothing wrong, they’ll come around.”

They end the call, Tobin feeling much better after speaking with Christen, glad she’s so level headed and yet still upset about Amy and Becky. She prays they just need some time and things will work out before they get to camp.

It’s getting late and she’s getting tired, even from sleeping so much today. Being up late really throws her off and she wants to get back on track. She’s always been that way, needing to sleep, since a young age. Her Mom would often tease her about how much she napped as a baby, chuckling how it made her life so easy dealing with Perry and Katie while she was an infant.

She changes into shorts and a t-shirt, setting Alex’s clothes she borrowed in her hamper, making a mental note to get on her growing pile of laundry before it gets out of hand.

 

XXXX

 

Tobin is sitting on the bench next to Allie, lacing up her cleats before practice when Lindsey and Emily approach her, Lindsey looking serious and Emily looking as if she’s going to be sick. She’s pale and nervous, stopping and turning around when Tobin looks up after Allie elbows her, but Lindsey clamps her hand around the back of her arm and nearly pushes her towards Tobin.

“Sup?” Tobin questions, unsure how to act, she’s nervous herself today. She doesn’t know how far the news of her and Kelley has spread.

Emily sits down next to her, glancing at Lindsey who nods her head slightly.

“Uh, Tobin,” she says nervously, “um, I had no clue you and Kelley were together,” the rookie says, balling her fist to stop her hand from shaking.

Tobin looks up at her, seeing how distraught the young woman is and sighs. Kelley did hook up with her, she realizes, I am such an idiot.

“I believe you,” she replies softly, going back to tying her laces. When she finishes, she leans back on the bench to look at her.

“Um,” Emily begins, tears beginning to well in her eyes.

Tobin takes pity on her, feeling in her gut she really had no clue and also she’s fairly certain that if she had a clue, Kelley would have probably told her that they were only hooking up. In the short time she’s known her, Tobin feels Emily’s a solid person, rooted in faith and has a good moral bearing. She truly feels Sonnett would never be sneaky and get with someone who was in a relationship.

Tobin leans forward, elbows on her knees, head down but turned to look at her. “Em,” she says, “I believe you,” she repeats, “I’m not mad, I don’t blame you for anything,” she says softly.

“I really didn’t know!” she exclaims, placing her hand over her mouth from her outburst, she lowers it, “I never would have been with her if I knew you were together,” she whispers.

“I know,” Tobin says, “I believe you,” she says, giving her a wry smile, “relax,”

“She told me you were hooking up with Alex,” she frowns, “and that sounded weird to me, but I was afraid to ask you,”

Tobin shrugs, “Yeah, well, I guess she was saying whatever she could to get whatever she wanted, you know?” she sighs, “Em, you’re a good person and I like you a lot. I’m sorry you got pulled into this mess, kid,” she stands up and flashes two fingers at her. “If I can suggest two things to you,” she says, pulling on her warmup jacket, “the first would be to think hard about your relationship with her,” she zips up her jacket, “and second: get tested for STIs. I am.” She walks away, leaving Emily, Lindsey and Allie, stunned with open mouths.

Practice goes well for her, she focuses on the drills, doing her best to be perfect in her execution every time she touches the ball. She runs hard and fast, giving it her all. It feels good, she feels good, losing herself in the repetitions of the drills. Once again, soccer grounds her, lets her just be and only think about the pitch, the ball and laying. She looses herself in practice, grateful for the interruption it provides to the mess that is currently her life right now.

In the locker room after practice, she learns through her teammates quiet comments as they each come up to her that they have her back. Nobody says anything horrible about Kelley, in fact, nobody mentions her name, but they make it clear that they are all here to support her. It nearly brings her to tears, their kindness and their loyalty. She’s so grateful to them. She gives them each a hug, thanking them, appreciating their thoughtfulness.

When she finishes dressing, she walks out with Allie, pulling her into a tight hug, knowing she was behind it all. “Thanks,” she says, “you’re incredible,”

“We all love you,” Allie states, “you’ll get through this.”

 

 

XXXX

 

 

“And she’s been telling everyone that I was cheating on her,” Tobin says, “and now a bunch of people are pissed at me and I’m pretty nervous to go to camp,” she finishes, looking up Alex and seeing the sympathy and compassion on her face. Tobin doesn’t include that Kelley is alleging hat she’s cheating with Alex, she doesn’t want to pull her into this mess if possible.

“That’s terrible,” Alex replies, frowning, “you don’t deserve that,” she sighs, “I’m sorry,”

“Thanks,” Tobin says, running a hand through her hair, “I’m just hoping that enough time has passed that people will cool down and realize I would never be like that.”

Alex nods thoughtfully, “Your team knows what kind of person you are, Tobin,” she says slowly, “and, even though I don’t know Kelley, she comes across, uh, a little wild, you know? And I think if they start to think about it, they’ll know you’re the more stable one in that relationship.” She gives her a little smile, “They’ll come around.”

“Thanks,” Tobin gives her the same shy smile back, “listen, I just really appreciate how sweet you were the other night,” she says, blushing with embarrassment, “I’ve never really lost it like that and…”

Alex reaches across the couch to rub Tobin’s shoulder, “It’s okay,” she says softly, drawing her hand back and leaning against the back cushion, “and just so you know, I’m not going to talk about this, you know, to like, my friends or anything. Your personal stuff isn’t going to get spread around.”

Tobin nods, “I trust you,” she says simply, “thanks.” It’s a few days later and Tobin and Alex had just finished dinner after Tobin finished her painting.

“You should head to class,” Alex says, standing up and taking her plate, “don’t want to be late for your last one.”

“Yeah,” Tobin agrees, standing up and following her with her own plate to the kitchen.

Tobin was gathering her backpack when she looks up at Alex, frowning, “I was thinking of getting rid of that canvas,” she says quietly, “you know, the one I painted that night. I hate it, every time I see it in the cubby,”

Alex immediately strides over to her, putting her hands on Tobin’s shoulders, “Don’t,” she says firmly, shaking her head, “you should never get rid of anything you paint. I can store it for you if you don’t want to see it, but maybe one day, you will.”

Tobin scrunches her mouth up as she considers, “Okay,” she says quietly, “next time I’m here, okay?”

Alex nods, “I’ll give you a tour of the vault,” she says.

“Vault?” Tobin questions, her forehead wrinkling.

Alex just nods with a sly smile on her face, “In the basement,”

Tobin presses her lips together as she nods, “Okay,”

 

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin’s stomach is doing flip flops as she eyes Dr. Andrews who is studying her painting. Dr. Andrews is holding a clipboard, standing a few feet back from the painting, looking at it critically. Of course, hers is the last one being reviewed and Tobin had to sit through the class while Dr. Andrews was critiquing the others. Tobin’s anxiety is ramping up, her leg bouncing on the floor as she sits on her stool. Dr. Andrews scribbles a few things down, taking a couple of steps closer to the canvas.

Tobin turns away, biting her lower lip with her upper teeth, taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly. She’s the coach, she reminds herself, if there’s stuff wrong, she’s just gonna point out how to fix it, how you can improve. She keeps reminding herself that this is practice and she’s just learning and this isn’t anything personal and doesn’t reflect on her as a person or her self-worth.

Now feeling much calmer, she stands up a few steps to the side of Dr. Andrews, rubbing her sweaty palms on her jeans and looks at her painting. She likes it, she likes the feel of it. How the sun cast shadows and the people and the detail she put in to the fruit stand. She thinks it turned out pretty good. She thinks she nailed the perspective, making sure the shadows aligned with her invisible sun off the canvas.

Dr. Andrews turns to her, smiling, “It’s lovely,” she says warmly, “I’ve made a few notes for you,” she says, “and some suggestions for you to work on over the summer. Excellent job.”

“Thanks,” Tobin says, letting a breath out, “that was nerve wracking,”

“I was happy to see you work yourself out the melt down you were heading for,” Dr. Andrews states very quietly, only for Tobin for hear, “I did that on purpose, you know,” she grins slyly.

Tobin tilts her head as she looks at her, “You were testing me,” she slowly realizes, her mouth dropping open.

Dr. Andrews nods wisely, “You getting more comfortable with people looking at your works critically is something you need to work on,” she says quietly, “you can’t let it get in your head so much.”

Tobin nods, “Yeah,” she sighs, “I’m working on it,”

“Look at my notes later,” she advises, “we can meet when you get back from your friendlies and talk then, alright?”

“Sounds good,” Tobin nods, “this has been such a great class,” she says, “I’ll see you next semester for sure,”

Dr. Andrews smiles, “I look forward to it,”

“Oh, did you um,” Tobin looks around, making sure her classmates aren’t listening, “did you take care of that scholarship thing?” she asks quietly.

Tobin had been awarded a two thousand dollar scholarship for her winning Best in Show at the Art Show and she wanted to pay it forward to another art student anonymously. She had the money and could afford the tuition and was only taking one class at a time and felt it should go to someone who could really use it.

Dr. Andrews nods, “Taken care of,”

“Awesome,” Tobin grins, “thanks.”

 

 

XXXX

 

They’re in Chicago, Tobin feeling ready and thinks the Thorns are up for a good match. They’re fighting for sole possession of first place and Chicago always plays them tough. Right away it’s a hard fought match, the Thorns conceding a goal 30 minutes in. At the half, Mark praises the positives he sees and addresses the areas he wants tightened up. Christine gets them riled up, shouting that they are the better team and they’re not going to lose.

They come out renewed, tightening up their passes, but Chicago’s defense is tough, disrupting their chances. Tobin gets knocked around, Julie Johnston taking her down hard on a fifty-fifty ball. She offers her hand to help her up, muttering a ‘sorry cheater’ under her breath as she trots away.

Tobin rolls her eyes, rubbing her hip, then refocuses. In the seventy-eighth minute, Tobin sends a curling pass to Lindsey who beats her defender and gets a shot off. It’s just out of the reach of Naeher’s outstretched hand, hitting the back of the net.

In the 86th minute, Raso gets a hold of an off target pass from Alyssa and takes advantage, swopping in on the goalkeeper one on one and scoring easily. From there, the Thorns play possession, carefully probing and picking and choosing their efforts to score. They frustrate Chicago, making them foul them, resulting in many free kicks. When the whistle blows, the Thorns take the win, relieved that Chicago couldn’t slip past their defense and get a late game tying goal.

Tobin just offers her hand as she makes her way through the mix of players, Alyssa offering her a hug and asking her sincerely how she’s doing. She must have looked shocked because Alyssa just shakes her head and says she doesn’t always believe what she hears and knows there’s more to the story. She gives Tobin a hug and tells her she’ll see her in a couple of days.

Tobin heads back to her team, grabbing a water and doing her stretches. She’s on the bus heading to a restaurant for dinner and smiles when she sees a text from Alex congratulating her on her match. They text back and forth until Tobin gets off the bus, letting Alex know she’s at dinner now and will chat tomorrow.

Weather that night causes a flight delay, Tobin sends Alex some photos of the airport, claiming how bored she is. Alex texts back an hour later, apologizing that she was on the wheel making a new vessel. She asks if she’s still waiting. Tobin sends back a photo of them playing Catan on the carpeted floor at the gate.

When they return to Portland, Tobin goes straight to bed. Her next day is busy. She does her recovery, gets her laundry done and packs for camp and the friendlies. She packs her laptop, her notecards and her textbook, she has to take her final for her art class. Dr. Andrews said she could defer it until she got back, but Tobin wants to get it out of the way and do it on time for the class. One of the strength coaches is a licensed proctor so she’ll make an appointment with him as soon as she sees the schedule for the week.

 

XXXX

 

 

She’s got a window seat for the flight to LA, Allie leaning against her, dead asleep. Tobin looks out the window, repeating to herself that everything will be fine at camp. Christen had told her that Becky was starting to question Kelley’s story and suddenly Kelley isn’t hanging out with her as much. A-Rod is still pretty upset about it, believing Kelley’s story and spending much time with her. Christen warned Tobin to be ready to get an earful from A-Rod despite her pleas to really think about the situation.

Tobin’s ready, she’s been thinking and praying about how she’ll handle everything. She just wants to get there and get to work, anxious to get these send off matches out of the way and get to the Olympics if she makes the roster.

She doesn’t take anything for granted, like making the roster, especially now with this drama Kelley’s created. She’s not sure how it will affect the team dynamics and she desperately hopes Jill won’t be forced to leave her or Kelley off the roster because of locker room and chemistry problems. She’s adamant that her play won’t reflect how others think of her, on the pitch they’ll be a team, she’ll pass to whoever’s open, she be the perfect teammate. She won’t let her personal issues be a factor while she’s with the National Team.

She sighs as she contemplates Kelley. She misses her. The anger she feels towards her has been replaced with sadness. She misses her friendship. They were best buds for years, always finding something fun to do. They were always busy with something, laughing and having a great time. She realizes she misses the sex, it was great, even if it was always fast and hot and passionate. Kelley was never one to take her time and just slow things down and she somehow had a way of making Tobin melt in her hands and get her off in just minutes.

She wonders what is going through Kelley’s mind to think they weren’t together, she struggles to wrap her head around it. She remembers their conversations they had about being exclusive and how eager Kelley wash to be with her. The times she would just call to tell her she loved her. Tobin’s mind jumps back to Nadia and Lindsey talking about how close Kelley and Ali Riley were back in Jersey last season. It makes Tobin think. In all the years Tobin has known Kelley, she’s never really remembered her being in a relationship for too long with anyone.

Maybe I was only seeing what I wanted, she contemplates, maybe I just wanted to be with her and glossed over all of the little things that would raise a red flag. She sighs, frowning, and thinking that maybe she just didn’t want to be alone. Not when most of her friends were in relationships and getting married and starting to have children. Maybe I didn’t want to be single anymore and just took what she gave me because I was scared to be alone.

She puts her head back, feeling like she just learned something about herself, closing her eyes, leaning her head on Allie’s that’s on her shoulder and falling asleep.

 

 

“You’re rooming with HAO,” Dawn smiles at her, “here’s the schedule and your room key.”

“Thanks, Dawn,” Tobin grins, accepting the paper and key, “is Gary around?”

Dawn nods, “Upstairs in the physio room,” she looks at her questioningly.

“I need to schedule an exam,” Tobin says, waving the schedule, “want to get it done ASAP.”

“Oh, well, good luck,” she smiles, “and just relax, okay? Everything will be fine.”

Tobin nods, “See ya,” she says, pulling her suitcase behind her, heading for the elevators.

She finds Gary before she goes to her room, looking over the schedule with him and scheduling her exam. Then she heads for her room, looking forward to seeing HAO.

“Hey, buddy,” HAO smiles, sliding off the bed and greeting her. She gives her a tight hug, “You hanging in there?”

“Yeah,” Tobin replies, giving her back a slap, “doing alright.”

HAO pushes her back a little, looking her over, “You got this,” she says, looking at her seriously.

“I do,” Tobin nods solemnly, “it’ll all work out.”

HAO nods, “So, what’s new? Almost done with school?”

Tobin gives her a grin, “Taking my final on Thursday,”

HAO chuckles, shaking her head, “Never thought you’d go back to college.”

“Anson would be so proud,” Tobin jokes, yawning, “you taking a nap before dinner?”

“Uh huh,” HAO says, “unpack first,” she reminds her and heads back to her bed. HAO has a tendency to mother Tobin and it reminds her of her sister Perry. HAO’s a few years older than her, so she doesn’t mind, mostly because Tobin knows she gets distracted and needs to be kept in check sometimes. She doesn’t mind it at all.

“Did you set an alarm?” Tobin questions as she begins to unpack.

“Yep,” HAO replies, grabbing the remote and flicking through the channels.

They chat about their families, catching up since they last spoke. Tobin confesses to her that she misses Kelley, misses her laugh and the fun they had together. They’ve been friend since their teenage years, playing club together, then college and some youth national teams before HAO got her call up. Tonight is a team meeting after dinner, Jill will layout the camp schedule, what she’s looking for and her expectations of what they want to get out of the friendlies. It’s not all about the victories, it’s about their execution of set pieces and designed plays.

The alarm sounds too soon for both of them and they drag themselves from their beds, hungry but still sleepy. They make their way to the conference room, grabbing plates and going through the buffet. Ashlyn and Kling join them at their table, so does Sonnett and Allie. Alyssa and Christen round out their table. They all catch up and have some laughs, just like before. Nobody brings up Kelley, nobody brings up anything serious, they just relax and it is just what Tobin needs her first night at camp.

 

XXXX

 

“It feels pretty good,” Jill leans over to say to Dawn as they watch the team perform their warmup drills. It’s the first practice and it seems like everyone is in a good mood and motivated to get to work. Last night in the meeting, Jill stressed the importance of team and the need to focus to not let any distractions enter the pitch. It’s a veiled warning for Tobin and Kelley and all who are on either side of the fallout.

So far, it’s been a routine warm up. Jill blows her whistle and directs the groups to their positional training. An hour later, they assemble for a scrimmage. Tobin starts in the midfield, working efficiently, connecting her passes, taking a couple of shots. Her team is outplaying the other, unfortunately, Kelley is on the losing team. She can see the anger building, glad she’s not on the same side of the field as her and having to face her.

They take a short break for the half, Jill speaking with their team. Tobin is moved upfront with A-Rod and Christen as a forward for the second half. She takes some hard fouls, creates three chances for A-Rod who converts one into a beautiful goal. A-Rod just gives her a thumbs up, not approaching her for a hug like usual.

Becky does get to the ball first, Tobin knows that, but it doesn’t tickle when she takes her down hard. She lays on the grass for a minute, just holding her index finger up as she catches her breath. Becky is looking on from a few steps away, feeling guilty but not saying anything. Kelley has a smirk on her face. Hope barks at them, telling them to get back in formation.

Lindsey slots a pass to Tobin who’s at the touchline and she brings it forward, cutting across to the top of the box, A-Rod is making the trailing run and Tobin is being stonewalled by Sonnett and Kelley. From her periphery, Tobin sees A-Rod and flicks a back heel pass to her. A-Rod shoots, clanging the ball off the crossbar. It drops at Tobin’s feet and her reaction is to chip it.

Hope can’t recover and get off the ground and the ball sails into the net.

Tobin gets surrounded by her teammates, A-Rod silently giving her a high five, Christen hugging her. They regroup and play on.

 

 

“You’re playing at another level,” Carli says quietly, “and you’re staying above the bullshit. I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Car,” Tobin chatters back at her. They’re alone at the moment in an ice bath.

“Hope wants to talk with you,” she states casually, looking at Tobin from over her phone. Tobin will never get used to ice baths, they make her cold for hours after, even when she takes a hot shower afterwards.

“Great,” Tobin says dryly, not looking forward to that conversation.

Carli rolls her eyes at her, “It’s not like that, kid,” she says, even though they’re only a few years apart, Carli’s always called her kid. Tobin doesn’t mind, her and Carli have a good relationship.

“I trust you,” Tobin replies evenly, knowing Carli wouldn’t steer her into trouble.

The timer goes off and they both slowly stand up, Carli looking at her, “They’ll come around, you know,” she says softly, “they know your character and they know number five is full of shit.”

Tobin nods at her they get out of the small pool and dry off. “What are you doing tonight?” Carli asks her.

“Studying,” Tobin replies, “I’ve got a final in a few days.”

Carli smiles, “Good for you,” she says, “if you need help studying,” she says, smirking, “don’t ask me,”

Tobin chuckles, giving her a fist bump, “I know,”

Years ago, when Tobin was first called up, she was studying for a test and Carli offered to help her. It was a trainwreck. They laugh about it now at how Carli was panicked at trying to test Tobin. She ended up calling Barnie to come in and help.

After dinner, Tobin is sitting in the hotel coffee shop, her notecards in a stack, her textbook open and notebook next to it. Her laptop has about fifteen different tabs open, using them to locate paintings by specific artists. A fresh mug of tea is set down near her elbow and Tobin looks up to see Hope smiling gently at her. “Have time to take a short break?” she asks pleasantly.

“Uh, sure,” Tobin nods, “thanks,” she moves the mug closer to her.

“You’re welcome,” Hope says and sits down across from her, scanning the table, “always knew you’d find your way to art,” she says quietly. Hope is a quiet person. Not too many know that. They think her public persona on the pitch carries over to her personal life. But she’s quiet. She’s had her share of issues, both on and off the field and she takes no bullshit in either place. Her and Tobin go way back to when Tobin first came up to the National Team. Hope was in a similar situation, being outspoken and on the outs with her teammates. That didn’t stop Tobin, a rookie, from befriending her and Hope has never forgotten it.

“Yeah,” Tobin sighs, “I love it.”

Hope nods and smiles, “I remember,” she says, “how many museums did we hit in England in 2012?”

Tobin grins, “You were nice enough to carry some of the books I bought.”

“I never said it then,” Hope says, “but you looked at those paintings like you look at a new soccer pitch,” she says softly, “the passion is the same.”

“It is,” Tobin agrees, finding it easy to talk to her about this. Maybe it’s because Hope has known her history of loving going to museums in foreign lands. She takes a sip of her tea.

“I don’t know the details of what happened between you and Kelley,” Hope states, getting to the point, “but I know you would never cheat,” she says firmly, “it’s not in your nature.” She leans forward, “I spoke with Kelley and told her to shut up,” she frowns, “I know she’s lying, I don’t know why, but the only thing she’s doing is breaking this team apart.”

Tobin nods, dropping her eyes.

“Tobin, I spoke to the defense, too,” Hope says, “one on one, asking them to really think if the Tobin they know would actually do the things Kelley is claiming,” she states, “they’re realizing how full of shit she is,”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Tobin quietly protests, “I didn’t want things to be like this,”

“I know,” Hope agrees, “but I did and the sooner everyone can get past this, the better for us all,”

Tobin nods, scrunching her mouth.

“Are you doing alright?” Hope asks, “You’re rooming with HAO, right?”

Tobin nods, “I’m hanging in there,” she replies quietly.

“Good,” Hope says, standing up, “you’re tougher than you think,” she states, “now get back to studying, but don’t stay up too late.” She smiles at her.

“Thanks, Hope,” Tobin says heartfully, “I really appreciate it,”

“I’ve got your back, kiddo,” Hope says affectionately, pointing to the table, “now study.”

Tobin nods, “Thanks,” she says quietly, “and thanks for the tea,” she says as Hope waves to her as she leaves the coffee shop.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

May

 

Practices are going good, days have passed and the team chemistry growing, although they’re not completely the fun spirited group they normally are. There’s an underlying tenseness surrounding them, it’s lifting slightly, but not completely yet.

Tobin nods to Becky when she joins them at the dinner table. Neither speak much, but Tobin takes it as a small step to healing.

When Tobin enters the patio to take her ice bath after their final practice in LA, she sees Amy is lowering herself into the empty pool, using her phone to set her timer. Tobin wants to turn and leave, but she considers maybe this is divine intervention and she should talk to her and approaches the pool and quietly gets in. Amy has her nose in her phone, Tobin opting to just look off the patio at the view. After a couple of minutes, Amy speaks.

“I’m so disappointed in you,” she says, a quiet harshness in her voice, “I thought you were a better person,”

“I don’t know that I’ve done anything wrong,” Tobin replies evenly.

Amy looks around to make sure they’re alone, “You cheated on Kelley!” she hisses, “The poor girl is hysterical, she loved you,”

Tobin nods, biting her lower lip, “So she says,” she murmurs.

“What?” Amy questions.

“Let me ask you something,” Tobin says, feeling a surge of confidence she didn’t have a moment ago, “what has Kelley been saying? I’m curious.”

“You’ve been cheating on her with some woman named Alex since January, maybe even earlier.” Amy replies, anger in her voice.

“I didn’t even know Alex until I met her from a season ticket holder thing after January camp,” Tobin replies, “and I didn’t start at the co-op until a couple of weeks later.”
She looks hard at Amy, her anger and hurt rising, “Have you known me to ever just jump in bed with someone, Amy?” Tobin questions, “I mean, of course, I sleep around all the time,” she says sarcastically. Amy is silent.

“Did Kelley share with you that she was hooking up with Sonnett in March?” Tobin asks her. Amy looks startled. Tobin nods, “I thought so,” she says, “you’ve only heard her narrative.”

The two are silent as they sit in the icy water.

“Did Kelley happen to mention she was hooking up with people during the two whole years we were together and how she ‘forgot’ when we talked about being exclusive?” Tobin asks as the timer sounds. She abruptly stands, hearing Amy hiss from the icy waves hitting her, “Thought so.” Tobin says as she steps out of the pool. Tobin walks away quickly, not wanting to continue the conversation, just wanting to say her peace and let Amy think about it. She doesn’t stop to dry her legs until she’s in her room, HAO looking at her with concern.

“You okay, dude?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “gonna shower,”

It’s not until she’s under the water that Tobin lets herself the tears she’s been holding back. She hates confrontation, she hates that one of her best friends thinks ill of her. She’s glad she got to say what she wanted to her, but sad that Amy didn’t question what Kelley was telling her sooner. When she gets out, HAO is already napping, they have an hour before they have to meet for an early dinner and then they’re off to the airport. They’ve got a cross country flight for their match in Connecticut.

 

XXXX

 

“Tobin?” Jill calls after their morning meeting, “Have a minute?”

“Yeah, what’s up?” Tobin asks, sitting down when Jill gestures to her to take seat.

“Tobin,” Jill smiles at her, “are you doing okay? Have things been getting better?” she asks kindly.

Tobin shrugs, “It’s been okay,” she says, “nothing awful.” Truth is, there is a silent shunning going on. The people who believe Kelley are just avoiding Tobin, not speaking to her and casually moving away from wherever she is.

“Good,” she replies, “the tension is slowly dropping,” she states, “and I don’t want to intentionally add to it, but we’re going to do something.”

“Okay,” Tobin nods, wondering what her coach has up her sleeve.

“As you know,” Jill states, “I asked you to work on your defense this offseason and also your striking,” Tobin nods. “Now,” Jill says, “I’m planning for all sorts of scenarios, if we get Pinoe back in time for the Olympics, I want her on the field for as long as she can be effective,” she explains, “and with that, I want you on the field as much as possible,”

Tobin nods again.

“I want you to practice on defense, right and left back,” Jill states, “just in case the scenario comes up, I want you to spend some match time there now, to get comfortable.”

Tobin swallows hard at the thought of it, but nods at her coach, “Whatever you want, Jill,” Tobin replies, “I’m here for the team,”

Jill smiles, “I know this may cause some issues with your teammates,” she frowns, “but I will address that before practice.”

“I’m in for whatever, coach,” Tobin nods, “I just want to play,”

Jill smiles at she looks at her, “I know,” she says, “and you’ve been playing very well, I don’t want you to think I’m just moving you around for kicks, this plan was made months ago.”

“I understand,” Tobin says, “you said you would be trying out all types of scenarios back in January.”

“I did,” Jill sighs, “sometimes people forget though, and I don’t want this to cause disruptions.”

“It won’t from me,” Tobin says emphatically, glancing at her watch, “um, is that it?” she asks. “I have to take my exam,”

“Go,” Jill smiles, “good luck.”

Tobin stands, “Thanks,” she says, “I’m kinda nervous, I haven’t taken a final since my senior year,”

Jill chuckles, “I’m sure you’ll do fine,”

 

XXXX

 

“Time,” Garry announces, looking up as Tobin nods.

“Done,” she grins at him, “whew!”

“How’d it go?” he asks, approaching her as Tobin hits the submit button on her screen.

“Pretty good, I think,” she replies.

“The email I got said the grades will be posted in a twenty-four hours.” He shares, “You should get an email when it’s posted.”

“Cool,” Tobin nods, closing her laptop and standing up, “thanks again for doing this.”

“No problem,” he grins, “Sonnett’s got one in a few,”

“That time of year, huh?” Tobin grins as she heads for the door. “You know it,” he chuckles, “later,”

Tobin bumps into Emily in the hall, “Good luck,” she says, giving her a high five.

“Thanks,” Emily replies, “I’m so nervous,”

“I’m sure you got it,” Tobin assures her, “just relax and go with your gut,”

Emily nods, taking a deep breath and entering the room.

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin keeps her face unreadable as Jill announces that she’s going to be working out on defense during practices. She reminds everyone of their mission here, to be a team and how in January she stated this would be happening. She explains her reasoning, how she’s asking many players to move around all in preparation for possible scenarios they could face in Brazil. She doesn’t name names, just stating that a few players will be trialed at some new positions. For the most part, everyone nods and is on board, but Tobin could tell by some people’s body language that this isn’t a welcome a change.

Hope finds her quickly as they prepare to start practice, “Remember, when I yell, it’s not because I’m mad,” she grins at her, “I’m just giving you directions.”

“Got it,” Tobin says, nodding at her, “nothing personal.”

“That’s right, kid,” Hope says, suddenly serious, “it’s nothing personal, just putting you in the best spot to succeed.”

It takes Tobin very little time to get used to the position, she reasons it’s like being a midfielder with a lot more pressure, finding the openings to pass to her teammates, cutting off the offense as they try to build plays.

That night, Hope, Alyssa and Ashlyn are at the dinner table, talking excitedly to Tobin about different defensive plays and the Columbian strikers she’ll face if she plays against them.

“How’d your final go?” Christen asks from across the table during a break in the conversation.

“Good, I think,” Tobin says, “I answered all the questions, even the short essay ones, so that’s a plus.”

Everyone chuckles, “I’m sure you killed it,” Ash says, “Oh, hey,” she says, “Tobin, I signed up for an online class,”

“You did?” Tobin asks, her eyes wide with surprise.

“Yeah,” Ash grins, “Fashion 101.”

“Sweet, dude!” Tobin grins, “That’s awesome!”

“Yeah, it doesn’t start until August, but I’m ready to do it,” she says, grinning wildly, “I really thought about what you said and decided to check it out.”

“I’m so stoked for you,” Tobin says, “I hope you get a lot from it,”

“I’ll let you know,” Ash replies, “if I don’t, I’m coming for ya!” she laughs.

 

XXXX

 

 

“Get your ass back there!” Kelley shouts at Tobin, waving her arm, “Don’t let her beat you!” It’s their next morning practice.

Tobin is hustling back, Christen is on the ball, forcing herself into the final third.

“Post up!” Kelley screams as Tobin faces up against Christen. Tobin’s eyes are on the ball and Press’ feet, watching as Christen makes her move. She goes right, fakes it and comes left, Tobin getting her foot out and poking the ball away. She recovers it, turning on the jets, racing up the field, looking up as Christen is just behind her, passing it just as Christen slides for the ball. She connects with Allie in the midfield who makes two moves and slots it to A-Rod who scores.

“Nice move,” Christen comments as she jogs past her on her way to regroup.

 

She had caught an elbow from A-Rod during a drill. Tobin didn’t think there was any malice behind it, it seemed like an honest accident. They had gotten tangled up and A-Rod was apologetic as she bent over Tobin. Tobin popped back up, wiping her face claiming she was fine.

Twenty minutes later, Tobin gets pulled off the pitch, one of the trainers had seen Tobin’s eye was swelling from the knock she took from Amy. She was tested for a concussion and ordered to sit and ice. Her practice was over. The team finishes only a few minutes later, Jill giving them an encouraging talk. A-Rod frowns when she saw Tobin’s face. “I’m sorry for that,” she says quietly.

Tobin finishes drinking her shake, “No worries,” Tobin replies as she takes her socks off, “it’s fine.”

“I really didn’t mean it,” A-Rod persists, wanting her to be sure Tobin knew she didn’t do it purposely.

Tobin gathers her boots, shin guards and socks, stuffing them in her bag. She slips on her slides and looks at her thoughtfully. “I’ve known you for a long time Amy,” she says just as quietly, “and I know you’re not the type of person to do something like that on purpose.” She turns and leaves HAO and Allie sitting there with open mouths, and Amy, standing
there looking guilty.

She’s the first on the bus, melting into the seat. She puts on her shades and headphones, looking out the window, trying to be as closed off as she can. That doesn’t stop Kelley from sitting next to her. Tobin holds her breath, not turning to look at her.

Kelley fiddles with her bag, putting on headphones as well, leaning back, her shoulder touching Tobin’s. Tobin doesn’t know exactly what to do, she doesn’t want to get up and switch seats or make a scene. Without turning her head, her eyes scan around, using the reflection of the bus window to see the others around her.

The bus ride is uneventful, neither of the two speak to one another. As Tobin trails her off the bus, Kelley stops and turns to her, “You did good, today,” she says, nodding at her.

“Thanks,” Tobin says, watching Kelley turn and walk off the bus. It doesn’t go unnoticed by her that Kelley stopped right by where Dawn is sitting. She shakes her head as she hops off the bus, feeling it was just a set up.

 

XXXX

 

It’s cold in Hartsford, somewhere in the forties, but the wind makes it feel like it’s like it’s in the thirties. Tobin chatters as she waits for kick off, still a little surprised she’s playing striker with Crystal and Mal. They maintain possession, their passes are as crisp as the weather, but Columbia is pressing hard, fouling them left and right. Crystal scores in the twenty-seventh minute, then Allie five minutes later. Carli slots a pass to Mal a minute later and suddenly it’s 3-0. Six minutes later, Mal returns the favor and sends one over to Carli who bags a goal. They come out a little flat after the half, but in the sixty-second minute, Crystal sends in a cross that Tobin leaps for, bending her leg and volleying into the net.

That gets them going again, with Allie leaping for a header from Julie to score. Christen had come on for Mal at half, scoring in the seventy-fourth minute with a beautiful bender into the goal. The team doesn’t linger too much after the match to sign autographs and take photos, it’s drizzling and they’re all cold. Tobin’s adjusting the heater vent in her bus seat when Kelley sits down next to her.

“Nice game,” Kelley says, digging in her bag.

“You too,” Tobin replies, blowing on her hands.

“Cold?” Kelley asks.

“Uh huh,” Tobin replies quietly. She’s not ready to just start talking to her, not after how things have been. Kelley takes the hint and sits quietly, Tobin turning to look out the window at the dark scenery.

They separate when they arrive at the restaurant, sitting on opposite ends of the table. Tobin relaxes and has a nice time. A-Rod is a couple of chairs from Tobin, congratulating her on a nice match. Tobin smiles and says thanks. Becky watches the exchange silently, sipping on her water. Baby steps, Tobin thinks.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

They have a free day after their recovery in the morning, spending time in time the pool, getting massages. HAO, Ash, Crystal, Kling and Tobin go to lunch, finding a nice steak place to splurge on and enjoy a nice meal together.

 

“You predicted I’d score, how did you do that?” Tobin asks with a smile on her face. She’s now chilling in her room, taking it easy after napping.

“Just a feeling,” Alex replies, “I didn’t think it would be so acrobatic though,” she chuckles, “it was quite the sight.”

“I just went for the ball,” Tobin says dryly.

“I’m teasing,” Alex says, “so, did they say anything more about playing defense?”

Tobin had shared with her that she might make an appearance on defense in one of their prior conversations.

“Not really,” she replies, “but I’ll know when Jill announces the line up,” she says, “if I’m starting or what,”

“Uh huh,” Alex muses, “so,” she says quietly, “have things been going okay?”

“Yeah,” Tobin says, “better than I expected,” she notes, “people have been decent, A-Rod, Becky and Ali are still a little stand offish, but I think they’re rethinking everything.” More people have begun to talk to Tobin lately, it’s still not the usual atmosphere, but Kelley’s pull over the team seems to be lessening.

“Good, I’m glad,” Alex replies, “I was worried for you,”

“Thanks,” Tobin says genuinely, “it really hasn’t been as bad as I was imagining it could be,”

“Good.” Alex replies, “Did you get your grade on the final?”

“Uh huh,” Tobin replies in a teasing voice.

“And what was it?” Alex probes.

“I got a ninety-seven,” she replies.

“Ugh! Tobin, how could you? What did you get wrong?” Alex sasses her.

“I mixed up Monet and Manet, get off my back,” Tobin laughs.

Alex chuckles, “That’ll happen,”

“So, what are you working on?” Tobin asks her.

“Well, I think I’ve decided to do series on spring,” she replies, “you know, the renewal of life and what it represents.”

“Huh,” Tobin nods, “that sounds cool, are you painting or drawing or making sculptures?”

“Yes,” Alex laughs, “a little bit of each, I think.”

“Sweet,” Tobin smiles, “I can’t wait to see it,”

“What about you? Have you decided if you’re going to tackle something new that you’re out of school?”

“Well,” Tobin draws out the word, “Dr. Andrews wants me to start using oil paints,” she says, “and know nothing about them, so I guess I’ll mess around with it, get the feel.”

“I’ll go shopping with you,” Alex offers, “let you know what you’ll need,”

“That’d be awesome,” Tobin replies, “I was going to ask you,”

“I haven’t been to Blick in a while,” Alex warns, “so be prepared to be there for a few hours,”

“I’ve been warned,” Tobin chuckles, “I’ll eat first.”

They chat for a few more minutes and then end the call. Tobin sighs as she rolls on her side, thinking how nice Alex is and how she’s become a good friend. It’s nice to have a friend outside of soccer. Alex treats Tobin’s career for what it is, a job. She doesn’t ask intrusive questions about her teammates, she just wants to know how she’s doing. She’s unfazed about the air of minor celebrity that surrounds Tobin and is so at ease meeting her teammates. Maybe because she is somewhat also a public figure, Tobin’s not sure, but Alex is just really easy going and she likes being around her.

HAO comes back and demands Tobin join them for game night, claiming that she’s going to kick everyone’s ass in cards. Tobin grabs a deck and retorts that she taught her how to play and she sucks. They head over to Christen’s room, Tobin shuffling the cards as she walks.

 

XXXX

 

Tobin starts at left back in place of Kelley against Columbia in Chester, Pennsylvania. It’s an afternoon match, bright and sunny yet a cool forty-eight degrees. Tobin gets a nod of encouragement from Hope before the whistle blows and Tobin gives her a thumbs up. The match starts and once again, the USA takes possession. Tobin keeps moving, partly to make sure she’s in the correct position and partly to stay warm. In the twenty-sixth minute, Lindsey sends in a cross that Christen cheekily pops over the keeper for their first goal of the day. Columbia puts up a fight, threatening a few times and getting turned away. In the forty-second minute Tobin takes a free kick, sending in a lofting ball to the box, finding Julie Johnston’s foot who scores triumphantly, her first goal using her foot.

They go into halftime up by two, warming up in the locker room. In the sixty-first minute, Kelley enters the match, Tobin moving into the midfield. She takes a chance and shoots only having her shot blocked. They score a free kick a few yards from the touchline even with the eighteen yard line, Tobin hovering over the ball. She sends in a curling ball to the near post with Julie breaking from her defender to score again.

The match gets physical, Tobin getting taken down on the hard ground a few times, knowing she’ll have a lovely bruise on her hip for the next few days.

She lingers under the shower, slowly warming up and losing the chill that settled in her bones. She gets dressed, talking to Christen who’s also still shivering even after her shower. They bundle up, both feeling stiff from the match. The whole team moves slow, its’ been a long camp and the practices have been physically and mentally demanding.
Kelley sits next to her once again on the bus.

“You did good out there,” she offers, giving Tobin a head nod.

“Thanks,” Tobin replies, “that shot you had, if there wasn’t that deflection, it would have gone in.”

“Thems the breaks,” Kelley shrugs, “next time.”

Becky stops in the aisle to look at Tobin, “Good game,” she says pointedly.

“Thanks,” Tobin replies, looking up at her, “couldn’t have done without all the off season work we did,”

Becky freezes for a moment and then nods, “Yeah, it paid off. Nice going.”

The rest of the bus ride is quiet, Tobin and Kelley in their own worlds.

They return to the hotel to eat and when they finish dinner, Jill addresses them for their exit meeting. When it’s over, Tobin decides to take her ice bath later, not wanting to get cold again. Everyone is tired and nobody wants to go out tonight. It’s around six- thirty, so she crashes on her bed, setting her alarm.

Groggily she trudges to down the hallway to take her ice bath, a sleepy frown on her face. She’s alone in the room, slipping in the icy water and pulling up her shirt as she descends to sit down. She starts her timer, shaking as she sits, contemplating what she wants to do after this. Hot shower. Pack. Lay clothes out for tomorrow and sleep. After what feels like an eternity, Tobin’s alarm chirps and she springs from the pool, violently wiping down her lower half, quickly trotting back to her room. She pulls her hair into a sloppy bun, running her shower and warming up once again.

She’s packing when HAO enters, coming in from talking on the phone with her husband.

“How’s Dave?” Tobin inquires, sending her smile.

“He’s good, he says hey,” she replies, beginning to pack as well. “Did I see Kelley give you a high five after the match?”

“Uh huh,” Tobin replies, “and she sat next to me on the bus again.”

“Are you guys talking?” HAO questions, opening one of the dresser doors.

“No,” Tobin replies, “just like, good game and that’s it.”

“Do you want to be talking?” HAO stops what she’s doing to look at her. Tobin straightens up, holding a pile of t-shirts and looks at her.

“If it will stop the shunning, then yeah,” she says slowly, “but I’m not like, looking to get back with her anything.”

“No?”

Tobin shakes her head, “I love her,” she says, “but there’s no way we can have a solid relationship, not like what you and Dave have. I don’t think she’s capable and with the chances I’ve already given her, I don’t want to try again.”

“I’m sorry,” HAO says genuinely, “that sucks.”

“It does,” Tobin agrees with a sigh, “but I can’t trust her, not with this. I gave her everything and she couldn’t do that back. She’s got some serious stuff to work through and I can’t be the person she leans on for that, not now. Not after what’s happened between us. I’m scared for her, I don’t want her to be so reckless and endanger everything she’s worked so hard for. I don’t want her to fly off the handle and Jill lose her patience with her.”

“I haven’t haven’t heard her mouthing off about being a striker as much lately,” HAO comments.

“You wouldn’t.” Tobin shakes her head, she taps at the side of her head with her index finger, “she’s so smart, HAO, she knows she’s on thin ice. Especially after that talk Jill gave us.”

“Well,” HAO drops down to sit on her bed, “I’m actually pretty shocked Kelley didn’t lose her shit when you started in her position,”

“I don’t think for one minute that wasn’t a test from Jill and Dawn,” Tobin observes, “to make sure she could control her temper.”

HAO scrunches up her face as she considers Tobin’s statement. “Huh,” she says slowly, “I think you’re right.”

Tobin nods and they pack silently. The next morning, as they gather their belongings, Tobin and HAO make plans for HAO to stay with Tobin one night when the Courage come to play the Thorns. They head to the airport, eating breakfast in the terminal with a group of others before separating to their gates.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin is home for a day, doing her laundry, talking to her family, and getting ready to hit the road with the Thorns. They fly to Boston the next morning, do a walk around to stretch their legs and have some light training.

They have a nice dinner at a cool restaurant, then head back to the hotel for a meeting before being dismissed for the night. Tobin knows she won’t start, but there’s a possibility she’ll see some minutes. She gets in the match around the sixtieth minute, immediately getting fouled by Zerboni, hitting the ground hard.

“That was for Kelley,” she spits at her as she stands above her, “you fucking cheater.”

Tobin shakes it off, Christine yelling at McCall as she approaches. “You good?” she asks as she hauls Tobin up.

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “let’s kick their ass.”

The ass kicking does not ensue. Boston plays them hard, not allowing them to put together a good build up. Dagny does get through in the seventy-first minute, scoring against Abby Smith. Tobin wins a bunch of free kicks from the hard fouls she’s been receiving, but nothing comes from it. She’s frustrated but doing her best to remain calm and not retaliate. For the thirty minutes she’s on the pitch, Tobin is constantly harassed, feeling the elbows, the shoves and all those little things players to get away with and not be called for fouls.

They win, bruised and tired. Tobin notices Whitney Engen approaching and she tightens her grip on the water bottle she’s holding. Whit hugs her, “Tobin, I’m so sorry,” she says, “Kelley’s bending Mewie’s ear and Mewis has been talking.”

“Whatever,” Tobin sighs, shaking her head, “they’ll get over it once they feel like they’ve got their justice,”

“I’m sorry,” Whit says solemnly, “I guess they don’t remember how many times Kelley’s hooked up with some of them,” her eyes go wide, “sorry.”

“It’s fine, Whit,” Tobin says, giving her a quick hug, “I gotta go,”

Tobin’s quiet at dinner and on the ride to their hotel. Allie nudges her, “You okay?”

Tobin nods, “I just have this terrible feeling that Kelley’s contacted someone on every team to make my life miserable.”

Allie slips her arm around her, “You know she hangs with Kristie and Steph,” she says, “I’m sure this was just a one off,”

Tobin looks at her, frowning, “We play Washington next,” she says, “Ali still isn’t speaking to me.”

“I’m sure Ash has talked some sense onto her,” Allie assures her.

Tobin lets out a breath, “I hope you’re right,”

 

 

XXXX

 

 

They stay on the East Coast for the week, training just outside of D.C. Tobin gets to see her sister on her day off, taking the train to New York and meeting her for dinner.

“So, she’s been telling lies this whole time?” Perry asks, her eyes wide.

“I feel so stupid, Per,” Tobin says, taking another sip of her wine, “like, she led me on for two years.”

“I’m so sorry,” Perry says gently, “I had no idea,”

“Neither did I,” Tobin replies darkly.

“But it’s okay on the National Team?”

“For now,” Tobin says with a sigh, “now it’s just this bullshit in the league.”

Perry insists on driving Tobin back to her hotel, citing the fact that Tobin’s had a few glasses of wine and she doesn’t want her to take the train alone.

“You know the truth,” Perry says emphatically, “your friends know you wouldn’t do that,” she says, guiding the car into the hotel drive, “you just need to stay strong and not let these assholes get to you.”

“I know, I know,” Tobin says, “it just sucks.”

“I know,” Perry says gently, “I’m sorry you’re going though this,”

“Listen,” Tobin says as Perry stops the car in front of the doors, “don’t tell Mom about all of this,” she says, “I told her the breakup was messy and things were tough but not all of these details, okay?”

“Okay,” Perry agrees, leaning over to hug her, “you take care of yourself, alright?”

“Yeah,” Tobin replies, giving her another squeeze, “love you, Per,”

“Love you, too,” Perry says, “talk to you soon,”

“Text me when you get home, alright?” Tobin says, opening the door and looking back at her.

“Will do.”

 

 

XXXX

 

 

“Fuck!” Tobin groans, both of her hands are holding her knee, “Argh!” she grimaces, curling in a ball, feeling a hand on her back.

“You okay?” Nadia asks, concern on her face.

“Yeah,” Tobin says, rolling to her back, flexing her leg. Nadia waves off the trainer and helps Tobin up.

“Can you take the kick?” Kling rushes up, looking her over.

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “Just give me a second.” Ali had come in hard from the side, her trailing leg slashing across Tobin’s knee.

It became obvious within the first twenty minutes that Washington was targeting Tobin. Mark was apoplectic, red faced from screaming at the fourth official to call the fouls. Nadine was stalking the sidelines, swearing in German and waving her hands in frustration.

At halftime, Mark controls his rage, he focuses on regrouping the team, making some changes to allow them to create some scoring chances. The fouls continue, the ref ignoring most of them. Ali continues to taunt Tobin, making comments about cheating and how awful of a person she is. Tobin picks up a yellow for a hard foul against Megan Oyster. Allie walks her away from the ref, shushing Tobin to keep her mouthing off and getting a red card.

The tension keeps building, the Thorns have a few chances but Stephanie Labbe is having an incredible match, making some amazing saves.

In the eighty-fifth minute, Tobin gets fouled again by Oyster and it doesn’t get called and she’s had enough. She goes after the ball, shoving Oyster off it and dribbling away. The whistle gets blown and Tobin picks up the ball, spiking it hard to the ground.

She hears Ali laughing, taunting her, “Keep it up,” she laughs as she ref approaches.

Tobin gets her second yellow and then the red. She struggles to control herself as the ref smirks at her, a sleazy smile on his face. She saunters off the pitch, using every once of restraint she has when Ali calls her out.

“Cheaters never win, Heath!” she shouts at her.

Tobin leaves the field, shaking with rage, feeling like the entire world is against her at the moment. She strips off her uniform, heading for the showers, crying hard. She’s still crying as she dries herself off, feeling so attacked for something she didn’t do. It’s not right and she feels angry with Kelley, angry with Ali and angry with everyone who’s been fucking with her. She’s sad they all think so little of her and would be willing to believe Kelley with something she feels is an outrageous lie.

She’s got her bra on and her joggers and is standing to reach in her locker for her shirt when Nadine rushes into the locker room, making her way to her. She crushes Tobin in a hug, slowly rocking her in her arms. It only serves to make Tobin cry harder. Nadine knows about Tobin and Kelley, she knows how the others have been treating her.

“I’m so sorry,” Tobin cries, “I lost it,”

“Ssshhh,” Nadine soothes, “you’re good,” she says, “just breathe,”

Tobin gradually calms, sniffling and wiping at her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she says glumly, “I don’t know what overcame me,”

“It was building all match,” Nadine states calmly, “it was bound to happen and you should have been subbed out.”

“But I shouldn’t have spiked the ball!” Tobin frowns, “I lost my temper,” she sighs, shaking her head.

“It’s done,” Nadine states, “don’t stew about it, just be better. Be faster, don’t let them touch you.”

Tobin nods, “Thanks,” she says, scratching at the back of her neck, “I feel like an asshole,”

“Don’t,” Nadine says, her accent thick, “you’re not. Yes, you shouldn’t have pushed her, you shouldn’t have spiked the ball.” She says firmly, “But you were taunted all night, we could hear it on the sidelines. The ref wasn’t calling obvious fouls against you, it happens. I wanted to slap that smile off his face when he showed you the red card.”

Tobin nods, looking down at her shoes.

“Get dressed,” Nadine says, “they’ll be coming in soon,”

“Yeah,” Tobin swallows at the thought of facing her teammates.

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin lies in her hotel bed, sleep not finding her. She tosses and turns, her mind unable to shut off. When Tobin apologized to the team and staff, her team was supportive, blaming the ref and the Spirit for playing dirty and baiting Tobin. They were angry, promising retribution in the form of an ass whooping later in the season when the Spirit would come to them. Mark apologized for not pulling her when things were getting out of hand.

The damage was done though, Tobin was out for the next match and it was against their rival the Reign, up in Seattle.

Tobin still doesn’t want to begin to broadcast to everyone just how things went down between her and Kelley to set the record straight. Her team knows most of the story, mostly through Sonnett and Allie, her closest friends on the National Team know almost all of it, yet Tobin holds back. She doesn’t want to put Kelley in that light, showing everyone just how horrible she acted. She loved her and she was also nervous about what the consequences of doing that would be.

A troubled sleep finds her, waking only in what seems minutes later to Horan’s alarm to drag herself down to breakfast and then head to the airport.

 

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

May

 

“This place is just so cool,” Alex marvels, fingering a swatch of canvas.

Tobin inhales deeply, “I just love how it smells,” she grins at her. “So, which canvas should I use? Are they different than for acrylics?”

“No,” Alex shakes her head, “as long as they are prepped with gesso it’s fine, although you could upgrade the quality of the canvas.”

Tobin nods, “Is there one you’d recommend?”

Alex points to a display, “I like this brand, the paint color pops off it, it feels good with a brush or a knife.”

“A knife?” Tobin’s eyebrows raise high on her forehead.

“I’ll explain when we get there,” Alex smiles, “you want to pick a few of these?”

“Oh, sure,” Tobin nods and selects a few of different sizes.

“Why don’t you buy a pack of these flat ones,” Alex suggests, “use those to practice on until you get the feel,”

“That’s a great idea,” Tobin nods, grabbing a pack of 8” x 10” thin canvases.

“Here,” Alex offers, taking the pack and setting them in the black plastic basket she’s carrying. “Now paint,” she smiles with wide eyes at her. Tobin follows Alex as she leads them to the oil paint section.

Alex explains the pros and cons of the different brands of the oil paints rather excitedly, offering her opinion of which one Tobin should start with. Tobin readily agrees, taking her word for it.

They bump shoulders as they browse the selection of brushes, Alex noting the ones Tobin doesn’t need and ones she should consider. Tobin drops them in the basket, asking what else she should need.

“Let me show you the knives,” Alex says, wiggling her eyebrows, “those are fun.”

 

As they are checking out, Alex suddenly turns to Tobin, “Oh, I forgot, why don’t you run and get a new palette, maybe two sizes larger than the one you have, okay?”

“Oh, yeah,” Tobin nods and trots off. When she comes back, she frowns seeing Alex sign a credit card slip.

“Alex,” she complains as she approaches, but Alex arches an eyebrow at her to silence her. Tobin pays for her palette and takes the canvasses as they leave, Alex carrying two bags.

“You gotta let me pay for it,” Tobin insists as they load up her car.

Alex nods, “You can,” she agrees, “I get a pretty terrific discount there, so any time you need something, let me know, okay?”

Tobin slides into the driver’s seat, taking out her phone, “Venmo or Paypal?”

“Venmo,” Alex confirms and hands over the receipt.

“Thank you,” Tobin smiles, looking over the receipt, “woah, you really do get a discount,”

Alex nods, arching an eyebrow and giving her a sly grin.

 

XXXX

 

It’s later that day, Alex has given Tobin a short lesson on the oil paints, Tobin taking notes before putting a brush to the small canvas. Now, they’re eating dinner, Tobin insisted on buying as a thank you for her help today.

“So,” Tobin begins casually as they finish their meals, “um, are you planning on going to the match this weekend?”

Alex nods, “It’s Seattle,” she snorts, “of course I’m going. I want to see them get crushed.”

Tobin nods, biting her lower lip.

“What?” Alex questions, then realizes Tobin won’t be playing. “Oh,” she frowns.

Tobin nods at her, “I was wondering,” she says and Alex detects some nervousness in Tobin’s voice, “I was wondering if you’d like to go with me,” she says quietly. She shrugs and looks down at her empty plate, “I should go to support the team,” she says and clears her throat, “and I could use a friend there with me,” she adds quietly.

“Sure,” Alex replies quietly, “I’ll go with you,” she says, seeing Tobin looking up at her and she gives her a soft smile, “No problem.” It suddenly hits her that maybe Tobin doesn’t have too many or any friends here in Portland outside of her teammates or people associated with the team. She feels a warmth spread across her chest.

“Thanks,” Tobin says gratefully, “I really appreciate it,”

Alex nods, then grins, “I suppose I shouldn’t wear my Fuck Seattle shirt huh?”

Tobin smiles, “No,” she chuckles, “and no face paint, okay?”

Alex shrugs, scrunching up her face, “I can’t make any guarantees on that,”

Tobin rolls her eyes at her, “Whatever,” she shakes her head.

 

XXXX

 

Tobin practices with the team during the week, she does her positional work but in scrimmages she’s on the second team. She plays just as hard, following Mark’s directions of the type of offensive threat she should pose, as if she’s Jess Fishlock. Pinoe is still out, rehabbing her ACL in hopes of making it back in time for the Olympics. She feels humbled to be in this role, knowing it’s a consequence of her actions from last week and she gives it her all, wanting her team to play well without her.

She has a day off on Friday, opting to go in and lift for a few hours, work out some of her lingering anxiety. She doesn’t go the studio that day, opting to meet with one of the reps in her building and tour a few places she might consider buying.

She finds one she really likes, it’s a two bedroom with two bathrooms, one in the master and one in the hallway and a much larger living room and kitchen. The price is reasonable, she’s done her research, and she doesn’t think it will need much work to make it suit her taste. Mike doesn’t pressure her but mentions that she’d get a twenty-thousand dollar discount if she signed this month. The owners were offering this discount to the current residents in hopes of having them buy and have less turnover. That is the factor that sways Tobin, she knows that would be an incredible savings. She runs back up to her apartment and grabs her checkbook, coming back down to walk through the new place once more, snapping photos and then writes out a deposit check.

Mike, the agent, congratulates her and promises her she’ll have the paperwork on the contract in a couple of days and then they can set a closing date. He explains that these renters will be out in September, so she’ll be able to take possession before most others. The owners are honoring the leases as much as possible. Tobin’s own lease will be up in January, but Mike tells her they’ll break it when she takes ownership of the new place. It will all be in the contract and she can have her lawyer review it and sign off on it. They shake hands and Tobin grins at him, excited that she’s done this.

When she returns to her place, she calls her Mom, excited to share the news.

“Oh, honey, I’m so happy for you,” her Mom gushes, “that’s so exciting!”

“I know, right?” Tobin exclaims, feeling pumped that she actually did it. She sends her Mom the photos.

“So, October is when you’ll take ownership?”

“Yeah,” Tobin replies, “I’ll paint and stuff first before moving, but it’s only two floors lower so I can move some stuff a little at a time.”

“I can come help get you settled,” her Mom offers, “it’ll be fun.”

“That sounds awesome, Mom,” Tobin agrees, “let me use my miles for your flight, okay?”

“That would be wonderful,” Cindy replies.

They catch up on other topics, before Cindy has to go and they end the call. Tobin calls her Dad and then Perry next, sharing the news with her.

 

 

“So, how does this work?” Alex asks as she settles in the passenger seat, looking expectantly at Tobin.

Tobin looks at her, very confused, “Um, how does what work?”

Alex grins, “You drive, I navigate? You drive, I’m in charge of music? What?”

Tobin grins back at her, “I drive, you do music,” she nods at her, “I think I’d like to hear your roadtrip choices.”

Tobin doesn’t get a chance to listen much because the two start talking as they drive and their conversation doesn’t stop until they near the stadium. The first hour, they talk about family vacations from when they were kids.

“Our whole family was in Reno for Christmas and we got snowed in,” Alex sighs, “it was great. We had so much fun, playing games, skiing, snowboarding, just hanging out with my cousins and everyone.” She sighs again, “Wish we could put something together like that now,”

“I hear ya,” Tobin acknowledges, “holidays are weird now in my family since my parent’s divorce,” she frowns, “we all get along, but it’s not the same anymore,” she continues, “I hardly see my Dad’s side of the family anymore,”

“I’m sorry,” Alex says quietly, “I didn’t know,”

“Yeah,” Tobin shrugs, “it happened when I was in college and that was hard, I didn’t take it very well, but it’s been so much better these last few years.”

“Do you have a good relationship with both of your parents?” Alex asks quietly, turning down the stereo.

“I do,” Tobin nods, “now, I do,” she says, tilting her head, “I think I needed some time to realize that I could love them both, separately, you know?”

Alex nods, wondering how her life would be if she had to deal with that situation.

“I mean, our whole family is cool with each other,” Tobin says suddenly, “you know, my parents can sit together at my games and even go out to eat together,” she nods, “it’s just the holidays get weird,”

“What was your best holiday trip?” Alex asks.

“Going to my grandparents for the Fourth of July in Rhode Island.” Tobin replies immediately, “They had a huge place,” she smiles at the memory, “we felt like we got to stay outside so late, you know? It was magical with the fireworks and the ocean,”

“Nice,” Alex smiles.

“Did you ever have like, a life changing trip?” Tobin asks seriously. “Someplace you went to that made you rethink things or you felt like you gained something special from it?”

Alex nods, “I’d have to say it was last year when I went alone to Sedona, in Arizona.” She settles in her seat, “It’s a very artsy place, and it has this energy, I can’t explain it, but you just feel alive and the nature there, the desert, it’s amazing. Being able to drive out just a little ways from town and feel alone and wander around.”

Alex turns her torso to face Tobin, “My brother had passed away,” she continues quietly, “and I was struggling with it all. It was…healing and inspiring. He was a big part of my life and it took me awhile to accept that he was really gone.”

“Um,” Tobin grimaces, frowning, “I’m so sorry,” she says, her voice full of sympathy, “I can’t imagine what something like that is like to go through.”

“It’s hard,” Alex states, “and once you get over the shock, it still hurts, it hurts bad, but every day it gets les and less and still it’s been almost three years and I’ll see something or get some news and he’s the first person I want to talk to. And then you feel that stabbing pain in your chest when you remember he’s gone.”

“Damn,” Tobin swears under her breath, flicking a finger under her eye, “Alex, I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks,” Alex says genuinely, glancing over to see how upset Tobin looks, “it was actually a double purpose trip,” she says, “I had also just broken up with my girlfriend and wasn’t in a very good place.”

Tobin sucks in air between her gritted teeth, “Oh man,” she murmurs. She realizes this is the first time she’s hearing that Alex is into women.

“Yeah,” Alex chuckles dryly, “I was a mess back then,” she says, “but in Sedona, I found a sense of peace, a realization that I could be myself and do things alone and I found my way back to creating. When Jer died, I froze up, I couldn’t paint, I couldn’t sketch, I couldn’t do anything creative. I got that back from Sedona.” She frowns, “I lost two years of doing anything really, and it’s only just now that I feel like I’m back into a groove of some sort.”

“Wow,” Tobin marvels, “that sounds like it was pretty intense,”

“It was,” Alex agrees, “it was good for the spirit, ya know?” she smiles at Tobin.

Tobin glances over and smiles back, “Yeah,”

“What about you?” Alex asks, “Any life changing trips for you?”

“Hum,” Tobin murmurs as she contemplates, “I’ve had a few, you know? Ones for soccer, ones for God and ones for, like, me learning things. I guess the best one was last year,” she says, “In September, after the season ended and before we did more Victory Tour matches, I went with my Mom and sisters to Africa. Tanzania, actually. My Mom had had some health issues earlier in the year and she wanted to do something crazy, like accomplish something major. So, we climbed Mount Kilamanjaro.”

“Woah,” Alex says, not expecting that.

“It was the conversations about life we had,” Tobin glances over, “how my Mom was just so strong and sharing with us things about her and Dad and I just gained a whole new level of amazement for her, you know? She told us about the divorce, how she struggled but then found herself, her new identity and how she pushed to learn the new role. She is just this kind, wise woman and I felt so lucky to have her as my Mom and share that adventure with her and see her crush it.”

“That sounds pretty incredible,” Alex nods at her, “she sounds like a very special woman.”

“She is,” Tobin turns and gives her a smile, it’s that smile Alex’s seen in photos where you think Tobin is just bursting with happiness and here she is witnessing it during this private moment.

They’re quiet for a moment after, both thinking of what each other had shared.

“You know,” Tobin says to break the comfortable silence, “that Reno trip sounds awesome,” she glances over and smiles, “do you still ski?”

“Yeah and I snowboard,” Alex nods, “I hit up Mt. Hood a few times a year,”

“Yeah?” Tobin glances over, smiling at her, “I like to snowboard,” she says.

“We should go some time,” Alex says casually.

“Yeah,” Tobin agrees, “after the season,”

The topic turns to road trips in the car.

“Fifteen hours in the car,” Alex laments, talking about a family trip to Texas, “now that I’m older, I don’t know how my parents didn’t want to kill us,” she chuckles, “I feel as if my sisters and I sang almost the entire trip.”

Tobin nods as she smiles, her eyes focused on the road, “Our thing was the alphabet game,” she shakes her head, “somehow, when we got older, punches were involved,”

“Oh, yeah,” Alex laughs, “we had one too,” she says, “I think it was a way for Jer and my sisters to beat up on me under the guise of it being a game.”

“I feel the same way,” Tobin agrees.

Alex can feel how tense Tobin becomes as they approach the stadium, timing their arrival perfectly. She gets quiet as she navigates the vehicle through traffic, guiding the car to the players’ lot, showing her pass to the guard and being waved through.

“Here,” Tobin hands Alex a laminated badge on a lanyard, “this is your pass,”

“Thanks,” Alex accepts it, draping it over her neck.

Once out of the car and across the parking lot, Tobin leads Alex to the back of the stadium, they show their passes to the guard and enter, Tobin pausing near the restrooms.

“I need to use this,” Tobin says and Alex follows, “Good idea.”

Back in the hallway, Tobin pulls out her phone, “Hang on one second, okay?” she looks at Alex, then looks down at her phone.

She sees the texts she’s received, nodding and replying. She looks up at Alex, “So, Kendall, uh Johnson, she’s not playing tonight,” she explains, “and she doesn’t want to sit in the box,” she says, scratching at the back of her neck, “and to be honest, neither do I.”

“We can sit wherever, I don’t care,” Alex offers, shrugging, “it’s not a big deal.”

“Cool,” Tobin flashes a smile that’s filled with relief, “so, it’s cool to go meet her and sit with her?”

“Tobin, this is your thing,” Alex states, looking at her intently, “whatever is most comfortable for you. Seriously.”

 

 

The three are up high in the bleachers under the overhang, sitting on the wood bleachers away from the rest of the crowd. A few Reign staff linger, checking ticket stubs and waving people off from approaching them. Alex takes it all in, glancing over to see Tobin slouched back with her feet on the bleacher in front of her. She knows Tobin gives off this casual vibe, looking as if she’s watching the match without a care in the world, however, she sees how tightly she holds on to her water bottle and sees how her eyes flicker on the pitch, her jaw clenched.

Kendall is very nice to Alex, giving her a firm handshake and asking her how she knew Tobin. When Alex explains she owns the studio Tobin paints at, her eyes lit up. “Of course!” she says, “Now I remember! That event was so cool,” she says brightly, “I really want to go to the next one,”

“I’ll make sure to give Tobin some flyers,” Alex replies easily, “I haven’t set a date yet for the summer one,”

“Well,” Kendall flashes a smile at her, “please make sure the Thorns are at home that weekend,”

“Of course,” Alex laughs.

All three lean forward as the Thorns build up an attack only to be kicked out for a corner kick. They wait for Kling to send in the ball, a header from Allie goes wide. It’s a physical match, like usual against the Reign, each team doing their best to thwart the other. It goes back and forth, played well yet neither team being able to connect for that goal. Both goalies make some amazing, game saving plays, closing down angles, making leaping outstretched saves.

Just after halftime, Nadia scores, bringing them to their feet. The good feeling only lasts for three minutes because Yanez puts the ball past Betos to tie the game. Lindsey gets another yellow card, bringing her total to three, which is not cool this early in the season. Tobin’s shoulders tense when the final whistle is blown and Alex knows she’s upset she wasn’t on the pitch to help her team get those three points.

The three stand and stretch their legs, watching as the teams gather for their after match remarks.

“You going down there?” Kendall asks Tobin.

Tobin shakes her head, “Nah,” she says, “I think we’re going to get on the road,”

“Oh, you’re not staying the night?” Kendall is surprised.

“Nah,” Tobin shrugs, “we’re gonna head out.”

“Okay,” Kendal nods, then turns to Alex, “it was very nice seeing you again,” she says, “sorry we didn’t really get a chance to talk,”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Alex smiles at her, “and I understand, the match was riveting.”

Tobin elbows her, “Riveting?” she gives her a soft grin, showing the first sign of a sense of humor since they entered the stadium, “Says the Riveter?”

Alex puts her hands on her hips, “Alright now,” she says, pointing her finger at her, “First you didn’t let me wear my Fuck Seattle shirt,” she says sternly, although her grin fails to make her seem threatening, “and second, you don’t know how hard it was to refrain from singing some of the chants!”

Tobin and Kendall laugh, knowing exactly which ones she’s talking about.

“You were admirably poised this evening,” Kendall notes, giving her an approving head nod, “well done.”

“Yes,” Tobin says with a smirk, “thank you for not cursing for ninety minutes in my ear.”

Alex arches an eyebrow at her, “Well, there’s always the car ride back home,” she says crossing her arms.

Tobin rolls her eyes and Kendall giggles, bidding them goodbye and wishing Tobin good luck on the drive home.

“You wanna get something to eat here before we drive?” Tobin asks, looking over at Alex as they buckle their seatbelts.

“I could eat,” Alex agrees.

“Do you like seafood?” Tobin inquires and Alex nods her head. “Cool,” Tobin smiles, “I know a sick place,”

They talk about the match as Tobin drives, Tobin giving Alex an analysis of the Reign’s defensive tactics that leaves her speechless realizing the depth of Tobin’s soccer knowledge. It’s one thing to be ridiculously talented playing soccer, Alex thinks, but this deep knowledge of tactics and recognizing individual player tendencies impresses her. She’s steered clear in the past asking Tobin pointed questions about the team and tactics, sensing that Tobin isn’t always comfortable talking about soccer when she’s not playing and at the studio. Maybe as if she wants the studio to be devoid of her soccer career. So, it’s cool to listen how Tobin breaks the match down and shares her thoughts about it.

Tobin drives them past the tourist district, near the ports and swings the car into a half filled parking lot along the water. Alex blinks a couple of times viewing the dilapidated shack with a half working neon sign reading Fresh Fish.

“I wasn’t planning on getting knifed or robbed tonight, you know,” she says sarcastically as she looks at the building.

Tobin narrows her eyes at her, “You say that like it couldn’t be fun,” she replies just as sarcastic. “Come on,” she encourages, unbuckling her seatbelt, “this place has the best food, I promise,”

Alex follows her, but slows her pace when Tobin moves to the side of the building, instead entering the doors. “Tobin?” she questions, wondering where she’s going.

“Come here, check this out,” Tobin waves to her, she’s standing along the railing that separates them from the twenty foot drop off to the water. “See,” she points down and to the side.
Alex comes up next to her, brushing up against her shoulder as she peers over to follow Tobin’s finger. There’s a pier with a small shack attached to it, a boat currently lashed to the dock, lazily bobbing in the water, the deck lit up with bright lights. A woman is gesturing to the bins on the deck, pointing to the fish that lay there, encased in crushed ice.

“That’s how fresh this place is,” Tobin says, nodding at her, “trust me, now?”

Alex smiles, “Yes, and now I’m starving, can we eat?”

Tobin laughs, “Absolutely!” she grabs her hand and leads her to the door, dropping it to open the door for her.

They sit by the window overlooking the harbor, Alex appreciating the different view from the ones she’s seen within the city.

The food is amazing.

They talk about food, restaurants and eating in general as they hungrily devour a captain’s platter they split. Tobin had suggested getting it broiled instead of deep fried, Alex agreeing readily. When the waitress returned to check on them, Tobin looks over at Alex, “Do you have some room for something else?”

Alex shrugs, “Yeah,” she says, taking a sip from her beer.

Tobin looks at the waitress, “May we have a small chef special to split?” She looks at Alex, “You like raw seafood, too, right?” Alex nods and Tobin turns to the server, “All cold?”

The woman smiles, “Sure, I’ll have it out in a few, would you like another iced tea?”

“Please, thanks,” Tobin replies, offering her the empty plastic cup.

This place isn’t fancy by any means, it has the typical red and white striped vinyl tablecloths over the scarred wood tables, neon beer signs illuminating the interior. Old fishing gear and nets adorn the walls and ceiling.

“This food is outstanding,” Alex says, glancing around, “how did you find this place?”

“Megan,” Tobin replies, “uh, Rapinoe,” she adds, “we’re pretty good buds and sometimes in the offseason I’d come up and train with her and hang out.” She thanks the waitress who delivers her drink and takes a sip, “She’s a real foody and knows some incredible places.”

“Do you fish?” Alex asks suddenly, not exactly knowing where that question came from. It must be the close proximity to the water and all of the gear that surrounds them.

Tobin bobs her head, “I’ve been known to throw a line out from time to time,” she grins, “you?”

“Yeah,” Alex nods, the small smile on her face fading, “I’d go with my brother a lot, he was really into it,”

“So’s my bro,” Tobin nods, understanding why Alex’s face is tinged with sadness, “we should go sometime,” she says, wanting Alex to smile again.

“Really?” Alex straightens her back, “You’d want to go fishing?”

“Sure,” Tobin chuckles, “a ton of my teammates fish,” she says, “we could do a group thing,” Tobin leans forward, seeing a look on Alex’s face, “You’d be cool with hanging out with my friends, right?” she asks quietly, her brown eyes searching Alex’s face.

Alex nods quickly, “Yeah, of course,” she says, her face falls a little, “it’s just…” she trails off as she thinks.

“What is it, Alex?” Tobin questions quietly, looking at her with concern.

“It would be the first time since he’s passed,” Alex says, looking down, “and I don’t want to be…emotional and ruin a fun thing.”

Tobin nods understandingly and then licks her lips, straightening her area of the table as she considers what she wants to say. Then she leans forward again, “Um,” she says a little nervously, “would you wanna maybe go fishing with just, like, me first?” she asks, giving a little shoulder shrug, “Just us and then if you feel okay, we could do a group thing later?”
Alex feels a surge of affection course through her, appreciating Tobin’s sensitivity and she smiles, “Only if you’re willing to put up with me crying,” she says, a hint of humor in her voice.

“Very,” Tobin nods, making sure to look her in the eye, “I’d never want you to feel uncomfortable,” she says earnestly, “and if doing this helps, I’m all for it.”

“Thanks,” Alex says, touched by her kindness, “I really appreciate it,” she says, “we could end up having a really fun time.”

“I think so,” Tobin smiles, leaning back as the server sets down a large tiered tray full of crushed ice and fresh shrimp, oysters and crab legs.

Alex leans to the side to look at her, the tray blocks her view a little, “This is a small?” she questions, her eyes large as she scans the tray.

Tobin grins at her, nodding, “Think of this as dessert,” she says, “do you eat oysters?” Alex shakes her head.

“Have you ever tried them?” Tobin asks, looking horrified Alex doesn’t eat them.

“Once, they were so slimy,” Alex frowns, making a face.

“Oh, then you gotta try them Texas style,” Tobin grins at her confidently, “will you?”

“Sure,” Alex shrugs, “I’ll try it,” she finishes her beer.

Tobin is looking down, her face is serious as she is constructing something. Alex can’t see because the tray is blocking her view, and she takes a piece of shrimp and eats it. She hears the crinkle of a wrapper and her curiosity gets the better of her.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

Tobin looks up, “Making you an oyster to eat,” she replies, “How hot do like things?”

“Um, medium spicy,” Alex states and Tobin nods. After another minute, Tobin looks up and smiles at her, carefully handing her a plate.

“Explain,” Alex states, lifting the cracker, inspecting it.

“Okay,” Tobin says, lifting one of her own, “so the base is the cracker, then the oyster, you just spoon it out from the shell, then a layer of cocktail sauce and then some horseradish.”

Alex blinks at it, wondering how to eat it.

“You just shove the whole thing in your mouth,” Tobin instructs and then she does, crunching and chewing and wiggling her eyebrows at her.

Alex chuckles, “Here goes,” she says, opening wide and then biting down. She chews carefully, tasting the spiciness of the horseradish that’s offset from the cocktail sauce. Then she feels the crunchiness of the cracker and it eliminates the sliminess of the oyster and she can taste the saltiness of unique flavor.

She looks at Tobin with wide eyes and Tobin looks nervous.

“Well?” she questions Alex anxiously.

“It’s…delicious,” Alex says slowly, surprised by her admission. She rearranges couple of plates and slides the tower of seafood over, “okay, show me how to make one,” she insists, fishing out a packet of crackers from the basket.

Tobin shows her, carefully explaining the basic steps and they eat another one.

“Wow!” Alex exclaims, “It’s so good!” she smiles happily.

Tobin nods, “We should hit the crab now, before the melted butter gets cold,” she suggests.

The two end up finishing the tray, leaving them each with two oysters to finish the meal. Tobin insists on paying, telling Alex it’s a thank you for her agreeing to come with her.

Alex doesn’t argue, knowing somewhere down the line she’ll treat her somewhere in return.

“I feel like I should run back to Portland after that,” Tobin rubs her belly as they walk to the car, feeling full.

“I’m glad we came here,” Alex says as she gets in the vehicle, “thanks.”

“So am I,” Tobin agrees simply, smiling as she starts her car.

They talk about what their week looks like, Tobin has a home match and it’s against Washington. She admits she’s not looking forward to it but vows that she won’t let them get under skin like they did two weeks ago.

The way Tobin makes that statement with such conviction and determination, it leaves no doubt in Alex’s mind that Tobin will be the picture of professionalism during the upcoming match.

“So, like, a bunch of my friends on the National Team have been talking to their teammates,” Tobin says uneasily, “about Kelley and what’s going on,”

“Uh huh,” Alex says, looking at her carefully, seeing how uncomfortable she is about it.

“And they’ve been kinda setting everyone straight about what went down,” Tobin frowns, gripping the steering wheel with both hands. “Kelley is a very persuasive person,” she says quietly, “and very convincing,”

“So, she’s been talking to people she knows around the league and saying stuff?” Alex asks.

Tobin nods, still frowning, “Seems like it,” she says, “I’m just still like, disappointed that some people think cheating is something I’d do,” she shrugs a little and glances over, “I mean, I know some people don’t like me because of how I play, I get that,” she says, “but there’s a few I thought we were friends, you know?”

“I’m sorry,” Alex comments, frowning when Tobin looks at her, “that has to be hard,”

Tobin takes a deep breath and lets it out, “Yeah,” she says, “it’s just like, I don’t know, I thought people knew me better, you know? Like, knew that I wouldn’t be that way,”

“That sucks,” Alex sighs, reaching over and squeezing Tobin’s leg, “but it will blow over,” she says, “between just giving it time and those people figuring out that you’re not like that,”

Tobin nods at her, “Yeah,” she says.

An hour into the drive, they stop to gas up, use the rest rooms and Tobin grabs a coffee. Alex asks Tobin if she is fine to drive and Tobin replies she is. Alex decides on a coffee as well, wanting to stay awake and keep company.

In the third hour of the drive, the two are singing loudly to Alex’s throwback playlist of the greatest hits of the nineties. Laughing and talking about their favorites TV shows as kids in between songs.

The fourth hour Alex suggests listening to something else.

“How about spooky stories?” she suggests, scrolling through her phone.

“No,” Tobin says immediately. There’s something in her voice that makes Alex look up.

“Why not?” she asks.

“I’m not into that stuff,” Tobin shrugs, her eyes focused on the road. Alex can tell she’s trying to play it off but there’s something else there.

“Is,” Alex twists to look at her, “is there a reason?”

Tobin glances over and sees how serious Alex is, as if she really wants to know, not because she’s ready to tease her like most others do.

Tobin sighs, “Well, when I was a kid,” she begins and proceeds to tell her about the time her Dad scared her and how she suffers from nightmares and sleep walks sometimes when she’s dreaming.

“Oh, that’s awful,” Alex says heartfully, “that must suck.”

“Yeah,” Tobin sends over a half smile at her, “Halloween isn’t my favorite holiday,” she says.

That leads to an interesting conversation about dreams, Tobin telling her about the time her parents found her trying to escape the house in the middle of the night, claiming that monsters were chasing her. Alex shares how some of the dreams she’s had of her brother seem so real, she’s confused when she wakes.

“My therapist claims that I keep having them because I haven’t fully processed his death,” she states soberly, “probably because it was so sudden.”

“That has to be so hard,” Tobin says softly, reaching her hand over and gently rubbing Alex’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze before gripping the steering wheel again.

“Eh,” Alex shrugs, “it comes and goes, you know? Like, some days, he’s really on my mind but then there’s days I’ll go without thinking of it,” she says. “The pain lessens, but it’s replaced by this ache,”

“Huh,” Tobin says. Alex looks over and sees her biting on the inside of her cheek, as if debating something in her head. Alex looks out the window, taking a sip of her coffee.

“You know,” Tobin says softly, her voice low and a little rough, “I’ve been super lucky,” she says, “I’ve never experienced a tragic death. My grandma on my Dad’s side died when I was super little, I don’t remember her at all, my other grandparents are still here. I’ve had aunts and uncles who’ve passed away, but some of them were old and some were sick. You could justify it,” she says, lifting her coffee to her lips and taking a sip, “I mean, we were all sad, of course, but there hasn’t been a sudden, unexpected death.”

“Hmmm,” Alex nods, glancing to see how Tobin’s eyes are wide, looking out at the road.

“I’ve thought about what would happen if my Mom or Dad passed away,” Tobin frowns, “and I don’t know how I’d get through it, like, I don’t think I could function,” she says, “I’ve never been mugged or beat up, or really faced anything like, life or death. Even with all of the air travel I do,” she raps her knuckles on the dashboard, “I’ve never had a problem.”

She glances over and catches Alex’s eyes, “I don’t know if I could cope if something happened like that,” she says seriously, “I mean, I seriously don’t think I’m equipped to process it and that scares me,” she sighs and frowns.

Alex reaches over and sets her hand on Tobin’s knee, “You just get through it,” she says earnestly, “and it sounds like a bunch of bullshit, but you really just take it one day at a time,” she says and gives her knee a squeeze and removes her hand.

Tobin glances over, “You’re right,” she says, giving her a thin smile. “I didn’t mean to get so deep,” she says, and in the lights of the expressway, Alex can see Tobin is blushing.

“It’s fine,” she reassures her, “it was a heavy topic, it’s cool,”

Alex fiddles with her phone, sensing the conversation is over, locating an old party playlist. They sing along to stay awake, it’s nearly three in the morning and the music keeps them awake. Alex is dancing in her seat, making Tobin laugh, and when Tobin does this weird little twitch and shimmy, Alex nearly loses it.

When Tobin pulls in to Alex’s driveway, she confuses her by exiting the running vehicle. But Tobin comes around to her side and gives her a tight hug.

“Thanks so much for tonight,” she husks against her neck, sending a shiver down Alex’s spine, “it really means a lot that you came with.”

“I wanted to,” Alex replies, her voice raspy from singing and being tired, “I’m glad you asked me.”

They look at each other for a moment, smiling and then Tobin steps away, edging back to her open door, “I’ll see you Tuesday after practice,” she says, “thanks again,”

“See you,” Alex smiles as she fishes out her keys from her pocket, side stepping to the door, “get some sleep,”

“You too,” Tobin says, “goodnight.”

Alex waves as she stands in the open door, watching Tobin pull out and drive down the block.

 

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

May

 

A loud pounding on her door rouses Alex from a deep sleep. She sits up, thinking it’s a dream then hears the banging again. She throws the covers off, yawning as she leaves her bedroom to answer it.

“Alex!” a voice calls out, tapping on the door again.

“Hang on, Syd,” Alex croaks, unlocking the door and letting her best friend and accountant enter.

Sydney barrels past her into the apartment, turning to face Alex, arms crossed, her hip cocked to one side and a knowing look on her face.

“What?” Alex asks, yawning, “Wait, I have to pee,” she says, striding to her room to use the bathroom.

“It’s almost one o’clock,” Syd calls after her, “not get much sleep last night?”

When Alex returns, she finds Syd looking through her fridge.

“You couldn’t have brought coffee?” Alex asks tiredly, moving to the coffee maker and preparing a pot.

“You don’t drink coffee in the afternoon,” Syd quips, pulling out some lasagna from the other night.

“I do when I go to sleep at four in the morning,” Alex replies, bumping her away from the fridge and taking out the carton of eggs. She removes two and sets it back, then pulls out
a pack of fresh breakfast sausages.

She starts cooking while Syd sets a plate of lasagna in the microwave.

“So,” Syd looks at her with a sly grin on her face, “are you canoodling with a one Tobin Heath?”

“What?” Alex drops her spatula, picking it up again, “No!” she protests, “We’re just friends.”

“Right,” Syd replies, grinning wider and drawing the word out, “sure,”

“No, really,” Alex states, pointing the spatula at her, “we’re friends, that’s all,” she punctuates each word with a flick of the utensil at Syd.

“Uh huh,” Syd nods, “friends enough to cozy up with her at the Seattle match?”

“Cozy up-Syd!” she exclaims, “No, I went with her,” she shakes her head, “she was nervous to go alone to watch the match,” she explains, “it was her first professional suspension
you know,”

Sydney’s shoulder drop slightly, “So, there’s no love connection?” she asks, her disappointment loud and clear.

Alex gives her a look, “There’s no love connection,” she states, “we’re just friends,” she repeats, “that was actually, like, the first time we hung out outside of her being here at the studio or going shopping to Blick.”

“Really?” Syd is surprised.

“Yeah,” Alex yawns, pushing the sausage around the frying pan.

Syd steps close to her, “Do you want there to be a love connection?” she asks quietly, looking at her intently.

Alex shrugs, “Yeah, maybe? I don’t know if she’s interested,” she shrugs, “she just got out of a relationship and it hasn’t been pretty.”

“You don’t want to be the rebound,” Syd says sagely, nodding wisely.

“No, I wouldn’t,” Alex agrees, “I don’t think of her like that, though,” she states, shaking her head, “I mean, sure, she’s gorgeous and has a killer body,” she nods, Syd nodding with her, “but there’s so much more to her, Syd,” she moves to crack the eggs and whisk them in a bowl, reaching to add some milk.

“She’s really talented,” she continues, “with her painting, she’s like, nearly brilliant and she doesn’t even know it. She’s so humble and gets super nervous talking about her art, it’s,” she shakes her head, “it’s so endearing, so fresh and so not like so many of the other artists we both know.”

“That’s sweet,” Syd grins at her.

“She is,” Alex nods, “and she has other hobbies and talents and you know,” she adds the adds to the skillet, “she’s very well read, she reads all of the time and she really listens,” she says, leaning up against the counter, “when we talk about stuff, she listens and thinks about what I’ve said before she replies. It’s like when you have a conversation with her, you come away with it with something, you know?”

Syd nods, nudging her to look at her pan, Alex flicks the sausages and stirs the eggs.

“We should hang out some time,” Syd says, “it would be cool to meet her,”

Alex shrugs, “Well, we’ll see,” she says, “I don’t know if this Seattle thing was like, a one time thing, or if we’re gonna start hanging out,” she says, “she’s in season and leaving for the Olympic run up soon, so I don’t know.”

“Well,” Syd shrugs, “let me know,”

“I will,” Alex says and lifts the eggs out onto the plate Syd hands her.

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin groans as a weight lands on her, waking her from sleep.

“What?” she groans.

 

“What is going on with you and Alex, Harry?” Allie questions, pulling Tobin onto her chest and rubbing her back.

“Sleep,” Tobin moans, sighing heavily.

“You’re sleeping together?” Allie questions, shocked.

“Huh?” Tobin asks sleepily, nuzzling into Allie’s shoulder.

“Are you sleeping with Alex?” Allie repeats.

Tobin’s eyes open wide, she lifts her head up to look at her, “What? No!” she says, “Where would you get that idea?”

“You just said sleep,” Allie retorts, “and I thought that’s what you meant.”

“NO,” Tobin shakes her head, then lays down back on Allie, “I meant go to sleep, I’m exhausted.”

“It’s nearly two o’clock, Har,” Allie states, “What time did you go to bed?”

Tobin mumbles something into her shoulder, Allie takes a moment to try and work out the translation.

“Four?” she asks.

“Uh huh,” Tobin breathes out, “let me sleep,” she whines.

Allie pushes her off, hearing Tobin groaning in protest, “I’m making you breakfast,” she says as she stands, “you have twenty minutes and then I’m hauling your ass out of bed.”

 

“This is really good,” Tobin says with her mouth half full as she chews, “I had this in the house?”

Allie snorts, “Close your mouth,” she says, “that’s disgusting,” she stands up and brings over a napkin for her, “and wipe your face,”

Tobin wipes at her face and digs in again. She’s starving.

“So, you and Alex,” she says sitting back down, looking at her expectantly.

“What?” Tobin asks, “There’s no me and Alex,” she says, taking a sip of orange juice, “we’re just friends.”

“That’s it?” Allie questions, “Nothing more?”

Tobin frowns at her and shakes her head, “I don’t think of her that way,” she states, “yeah, she’s beautiful and her eyes can captivate you, but I just like her as a person. A friend.” She sets her fork down and toys with her juice glass, “Besides,” she shrugs, “I don’t think I’m ready to like, be with anyone, and I certainly don’t want to jump in bed with her and have it be like a rebound thing.” She looks down, “I’m not looking for one night,” she says quietly, “I’m looking for forever,” she looks up at Allie, “I thought I had that with Kelley, but boy was I wrong.”

“Uh huh,” Allie nods, “it’s probably way too soon, huh?”

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “I mean, she’s great, but I don’t want to mess up our friendship, you know? She’s super cool and I like spending time with her, she knows so much about art and is so talented, I learn so much from her, it’s sick.” She pauses for a moment, “I really like having a friend that isn’t, like, soccer related, you know?”

Allie nods. “That’s smart,” she says, settling back in her chair, “I mean, I personally think it would be too soon for you to be with anyone,” she states, “and I like Alex. I think she would be good for you, if she was interested. But I think you’ve got some things to work through still.”

Tobin nods at her, “Yeah,” she says, “that’s fair.”

“It doesn’t mean that you can’t hang out, though,” Allie says, giving her a shrug, “as friends, I mean.”

Tobin gives her a smile, “Yeah,”

 

XXXX

 

 

“But it’s your birthday!” Allie protests, “You have to celebrate!”

“Come on, Har,” Tobin says, unlocking her car, “I don’t feel like it, not this year.”

Allie frowns at her, her lower lip out in a pout, looking at her forlornly.

“No,” Tobin repeats, “I really don’t feel like it, like, seriously.”

“Alright,” Allie sighs, “what are you going to do?”

The two practiced with the Thorns and leave tomorrow for the National Team and some friendlies.

Tobin shrugs, “Probably go to the studio and do some painting,” she replies, “Dr. Andrews is going to come by and see how I’m progressing using oil paints,”

Allie smiles, “I’m so happy you’re enjoying painting so much,” she says, “it’s really great that you have something new to get into.”

Tobin gives her a hug, “Thanks, Har,” she says, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin sits on her stool, bent over the table sketching in notepad as Dr. Andrews, Donna, she insists, examines five of her small paintings. Tobin isn’t feeling nervous, she knows that this is a process, just like the skills she learned years ago for soccer, just like she continues today to learn and try to master. There’s so much about painting she has no idea about, just speaking with Alex makes her know that. So, she relaxes and sketches out her next idea for her next exercise. Alex suggested she try the knife, maybe using a forest scene and creating a bunch of trees.

“Tobin,” Donna says quietly, “you have a minute?”

“Oh, sure,” Tobin says, dropping her pencil and pushing back from the table, she stands next to her.

“Okay,” Donna says, “I want you to look at these all in a line as they are and see if you can identify a certain tendency in all of them.”

Tobin nods and stands in front of the first, her eyes scanning over it, then she slowly works her way down the line. She looks up at Donna, shrugging, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to see,” she says.

“All of your brush strokes are in the same direction, from right to left,” Donna states as Tobin peers down to look closely.

She jerks her head back, now realizing she’s right. “Is that bad?” she asks.

“No,” Donna answers, “it’s not,” she walks past the paintings again, “however,” she turns to face her, “now that you’re aware, considering using the strokes to your advantage. Shadows, flow, making strong accents. With the oils, you can raise the paint from the canvas, make certain aspects more dramatic.”

“Huh,” Tobin puts her hands on her hips, “I never thought of that,” she says honestly, “I guess I never paid attention to it in other paintings I’ve seen,”

Donna nods, giving her a smile, “Now that it’s on your radar, I guarantee you’ll see an increase in the impact of your paintings.”

“Thanks, Donna,” Tobin says, smiling at her, “this is awesome,”

Donna gives her a hug, “Keep this up, Tobin,” she smiles, “you’re coming along beautifully, Alex is giving you a wonderful foundation. What is your next exercise?”

“Using a knife,” Tobin replies with a grin, “but I’ll totally remember about the strokes,” she says as she walks over to her sketchbook, “I was thinking of a forest scene.”

Donna nods as she views it, “Should be wonderful.”

They chat about the upcoming show Alex is preparing, there’s no date yet, but Donna tells her she’ll have some of her works displayed for sale.

“That’s so cool,” Tobin says excitedly, “can I ask,” she pauses, “is it nerve wracking while you’re there? I can’t imagine how it must be, standing around and waiting for someone to buy one of your paintings.”

“When I started it was,” Donna admits, “but then my Mother told me something that made sense. She had said that there’s a lid for every pot and sometimes your lid just isn’t at that particular show.”

“Huh,” Tobin considers the phrase, “that’s pretty wise,” she says, “I guess you can apply that to a lot of things in life.”

“True,” Donna says, glancing at her watch, “I’ve got to run,” she says, giving Tobin a hug, “let’s get together in a few weeks, yeah?”

“Sounds good,” Tobin says, walking with her to the door, “thanks again, so much,”

“You’re very welcome,” she says, “have a great summer, good luck with all things soccer.”

“Thanks,” Tobin says, holding the door and watching her walk to her car. She gives her a wave and shuts the door, returning to the table. She studies her paintings again, fascinated that she unconsciously painted everything in one direction. It seems kind of weird to her, now that it’s been brought to her attention.

Tobin begins to prepare her work space, setting her canvas on her easel when she hears Alex’s door open.

“Hey, Tobin!” she calls from the top of the stairs.

“Yeah?” Tobin looks up and smiles.

“Is dinner okay around five? I know you have an early flight tomorrow,” Alex asks. Tobin is flying out for a mini camp and some friendlies.

“Sure,” she replies.

“Set your alarm, I’m going to hang out up here, alright?”

“Sounds good,” Tobin smiles, reaching for her phone and setting her alarm.

 

 

“Oh, man, Alex, that was amazing,” Tobin says as she rubs her belly, “thank you so much for this,”

Alex had made an Italian chicken dish, wanting to stay on the nutritious side of things for Tobin’s sake. The dish had a light sauce and was piled high with sautéed vegetables.

“You’re welcome,” Alex says as she finishes chewing her last bite, looking to see Tobin’s clean plate. “There’s more if you’d like some,” she offers.

“No, I’m full,” Tobin grins at her from across the table. Alex had set the table nicely, finding some placemats and linen napkins that matched that she hadn’t pulled out for years except to wash them.

“You better have some room for dessert,” Alex wags a finger at her.

“Oh, I always have room for dessert,” Tobin chuckles, “let me do the dishes,” she offers, standing up and taking both plates and heading to the kitchen. She insists on cleaning the kitchen and directs Alex to find something on TV.

When she sits down, Alex I still flicking through channels, she hands her the remote, “You find something, I’ll get dessert.”

Tobin puts on the Chicago versus Utah match that’s streaming through a sports app.

Alex comes back over and handing her a small bowl filled with green foam and burning candle that’s dangerously close to falling over.

“Happy Birthday,” Alex smiles at her, “ooh! Blow it out!”

Tobin smiles at her thoughtfulness, then blows the candle out, setting it to the side. She takes the spoon Alex offers and takes her first bite. Her head suddenly turns to look at Alex with wide eyes.

“What?” Alex questions, “Is it bad?”

Tobin silently shakes her head, “This is just like my Mom’s,” she says emphatically.

Alex gives her a little smile and a shrug, “Well, on the drive up to Seattle, you told me how it was your favorite dessert,” she states, “and even though you couldn’t describe it except for telling me it was green foam that tastes like sweet lime, I guessed it was this,”

“That’s incredible!” Tobin states, “How did you figure it out?”

Alex looks at her as if she’s kidding, then realizes Tobin is serious. “It’s just lime jello and cool whip,” she explains, “like, one of the most basic desserts ever.”

“What?” Tobin asks crestfallen, looking so confused and maybe a little heartbroken.

“We had this all the time growing up, didn’t you?” Alex asks, confused why such a basic thing would seem to be so mysterious to Tobin.

“Well, no,” she replies slowly, “it was like, for special events,” she says, “holidays and stuff. She’d make a huge bowl of it.” She frowns.

“What’s wrong?” Alex asks, feeling a little concerned.

“I always thought she would be like, creating this cool foam concoction, like, it would take her forever because it was so special and she didn’t make it all the time,” Tobin looks down at her bowl and then looks up at Alex with these big sad brown eyes, “and it’s just jello and cool whip.”

Alex fights back the laugh that’s bubbling up inside of her, clearly seeing the disappointment on Tobin’s face. “I’m sorry,” she says, fighting to keep a straight face. “Did you not help out in the kitchen growing up?”

Tobin shakes her head, “No, I was hardly home,” she explains, “I was always either playing or practicing,” she says.

“Oh,” Alex slumps back on the couch, feeling a little sad learning Tobin didn’t have that part of her childhood.

Tobin takes another bite, humming as she eats, “It’s so good, though,” she says appreciatively, giving Alex smile, “thanks for remembering,” she says seriously, “it means a lot,”

Alex smiles at her, “Sure,” she says, “you’re very welcome.”

They eat as they watch the match, both setting their bowls on the coffee table when they finish. Then Tobin starts chuckling, “This is really quite hilarious,” she says, her eyes shining with humor, “you must think I’m such an idiot,” she laughs harder.

“I don’t,” Alex insists, “okay, well, maybe a little,” she chuckles.

“I can’t wait to tell my Mom,” Tobin giggles, “she’s going to think it’s so funny!”

 

 

“So, I guess I’ll see ya in like three weeks,” Tobin says as she hugs Alex after thanking her again for dinner.

“I’ll be around,” Alex pulls back and looks at her, “you call if you want to talk.”

“I will,” Tobin replies, “I want to know how your spring series is going, maybe we’ll Facetime so you can show me.”

Alex smiles, “Of course,” she glances at the wall clock, “you should go,” she suggests, “you did pack already, right? It’s getting kind of late.”

“I’m packed,” Tobin picks up her hoodie and slips it on, “all set, just have to wake up and go.”

“Have a good flight,” Alex follows her to the door, “and some great matches.”

Tobin turns and smile at her, “Thanks,”

 

 

XXXX

 

June

 

The US ties Japan 3-3 with two goals from Press and one from Horan. Nobody is truly happy about the scoreline, they haven’t tied a match in ages. They have an off day for recovery tomorrow and most of the team is at a some club in downtown Denver, having some drinks and dancing. Tobin is anchoring the table, watching some of her teammates purses, chatting with Alyssa and Hope.

 

The first few days of the team being together was very good. There’s a good energy, no evidence of the cloud of tension like before. Sure, Tobin noticed some people were still not approaching her, giving her the silent treatment, but she could deal with it. It was on them, not her. After each practice, Kelley would bring Tobin her water bottle and post workout shake mix and they would make small talk. It was a habit that started years ago, Kelley always beating Tobin to the bottles and grabbing them. They never spoke about anything other than practice or sports, but slowly they were warming up to each other.

Kelley joined Tobin and Ash and HAO for coffee one day, she stayed a little on the quiet side, but made conversation about how she was adjusting to Utah. It was weird, but Tobin thought Kelley was making an honest effort, so she wasn’t going to shut it down. She missed Kelley, she missed her best friend, and she held out hope for one day they could be friends again.

Alyssa and Hope leave early with a few others, leaving Tobin alone at the table, content to sip her drink and watch her teammates dancing. She turns when feels the padding in the booth dip down, seeing Ali and Ashlyn slide in next to her.

Ali clutches her arm, “Tobin, I’ve wanted to talk to you, but not over the phone,” she says seriously, “I am so sorry for how I acted back in Washington,” she says earnestly, “I was so out of line, taking something so personal like that and using it on the field against you. I’m very sorry.”

Tobin nods, biting her lower lip as she listens, glancing at Ash who is nodding with her.

“Kelley was so upset and the things she said and how heartbroken she sounded,” Ali takes a breath, “I just got so wrapped up in it,” she sighs, looking out at the crowd, “and it took me awhile to realize that she was talking about you, and when I started to think about it, I just knew that wasn’t you. Ash kept telling me it wasn’t true, but Kelley is so convincing and she was so upset, but then some of what she was saying just didn’t match up, you know? Her story kind of kept changing and I’m so sorry I hurt you, Tobin,” she says as tears form in her eyes, “you’re one of the nicest, most trustworthy people I know and I know now,” she grips Tobin’s forearm, “I know you aren’t a cheater, I know that’s not the type of person you are. I’m so sorry,” she cries.

Tobin slings an arm around her, pulling her close, “It’s okay, Kreigs,” she says to her, her voice hushed in Ali’s ear, “it’s okay,” she reaches on the table and hands her a napkin. “Come on, it’s okay, let’s not mess up your mascara,”

Ali pulls away slightly, taking the napkin and dabbing it under her eyes, “It’s waterproof,” she smiles at her.

“Cool,” Tobin says, nodding at her, “we’re good, okay?”

“Okay,” Ali nods, taking a deep breath, “Tobin, I don’t know the whole story,” she raises her hand up, “and I don’t need to, but I just from the little Ash shared with me,” she frowns, “I feel awful for believing Kel before trying to find the truth.”

“I’m gonna get us another round,” Ashlyn announces awkwardly, sliding out of the booth.

“Al,” Tobin leans down to meet her downcast eyes, “Al,” she says, giving her a soft smile, “how many times did we end up going somewhere or doing something sketchy because Kelley convinced us to?”

Ali sits back up and nods at Tobin.

“Al, she’s very persuasive, I know it,” she nods, “that’s how she is,”

“You’re too kind to her, Tobin,” Ali says, shaking her head, then she hugs her, “how are you doing with all of this? Are you okay?”

Tobin gives her a small smile, “Much better now that we talked,” she says.

Ali crushes her in another hug in the booth, holding the back of her head, “You’re too good for this world,” she sighs into Tobin’s ear.

“Hey, guys,” A-Rod greets as she slides in the round booth, Becky following. A-Rod slides up around the bend to sit next to Tobin.

“How’s it going?” she asks Tobin.

Tobin nods, “Pretty good,” she says, determined to be pleasant and polite to her, “how about you? How’s the kids?”

A-Rod’s smile fades, remembering the multiple times she’s told her kids they couldn’t call Aunt Tobin because she was busy. The truth was, Amy wanted to hurt Tobin by keeping the kids from her. Lauren had berated her for being so mean about it, urging her to just talk to Tobin and find out what happened but Amy had allowed herself to get wrapped up in Kelley's story. She was ashamed.

“I’m sorry,” she suddenly blurts, “I’m sorry I’ve been so terrible to you!” she brings her hands to her face as she cries.

Tobin shifts from Ali to Amy, putting her arm around her, “Hey, I get it,” she says, her voice calm and understanding, she looks up across the table and sees Becky, who looks stunned and is clutching her beer bottle with white knuckles.

Whiles she’s speaking to Amy, Tobin is looking directly at Becky, “I understand,” she says, “you were on the front lines, you saw her daily, you had to deal with her being emotional. I get it,”

Becky looks down as she nods, Amy is shaking with her cries.

Ashlyn appears, her face hard, seeing Amy and Becky there, but softens as she sees both of them upset and Tobin the only calm one at the table. Christen is right behind her, feeling just as protective over Tobin, cursing herself that she didn’t see them heading towards her, hoping everything is fine.

“Uh,” Ashlyn passes the drinks to Ali, sitting down next to her, Christen silently sitting down next to Becky, “everything okay here?”

Tobin looks up from consoling Amy, sending a questioning look to Becky who has tear tracks down her face.

“Everything is good here, Ash,” Becky says, her voice a little shaky, “just setting things right.” She wipes her eyes and offers Tobin a small smile who returns it with a head nod. Both know they’re okay. Allie sits down at the table, appearing from thin air, it seems. She looks around the table with narrowed eyes on everyone, relaxing them once she sees Tobin.

Christen scans the table, feeling immense relief as she sees Amy wipe her eyes and pull out her phone to show Tobin photos of her boys. Table talk resumes with Ali questioning Becky about her cats and then Christen’s dogs. Ashlyn states that she wants a dog, Ali interjecting that they are discussing it, which makes everyone chuckle.

Tobin leans back in the booth, looking around the table with a small grin on her face. She’s got her friends back, happy that they’ve come around, just like she’s prayed so hard to happen. She gives up a silent prayer of thanks, grateful she went out tonight for this to happen. It’s starting to get late and they’re finishing the last of their drinks before corralling anyone else still here to head back to the hotel, when they see Becky’s face drop. She’s looking to her right, which is straight across the bar.

All eyes follow hers and they see Kelley, holding the hand of some woman, being led to another woman at the bar. The three are talking, it’s obvious to them all that Kelley is shamelessly flirting. They each cast worried glances in Tobin’s direction who is just looking on, her face unreadable, slowly sipping on the end of her beer. Intrigued and upset, they all watch as Kelley gets close to the woman sitting at the bar, whispering something in her ear, making her blush. The woman reaches in her purse, drawing out some money and setting it on the bar, then standing and taking Kelley’s hand. Kelley has her arm around the woman she walked over with and the three exit the bar.

The table is silent, stunned to witness the event, fearful of how Tobin will react.

“Well,” Tobin says, gently setting her bottle down, “I think I’m ready to call it a night, how about you guys?”

“Are you okay?” Christen frowns, her concern obvious.

Tobin shrugs, glancing around at the table, “Yeah,” she says, “I think so,” she picks at the label on her empty beer, “that sucked to watch, but I’m not like, pining over her, you know? I mean, I miss her and I loved her, but I’ll never go back to her,” she says, fairly stunning the group the with her admission, “I miss my friend the most.” She gives them a sad smile, “She was really a great friend first, that’s what I miss,” she looks at them, seeing their kind and concerned expressions, “I’ve done my crying over her,” she states, feeling this inner strength well up, “I’m not ready to go looking for another relationship or anything this second, but I’ve made peace that me and Kel are over.”

The group nods.

“So, uh,” Ashlyn starts, giving Tobin an arched eyebrow, “what’s the deal with Alex? I saw she was with you in Seattle,”

“We’re just friends,” Tobin replies honestly, “I didn’t want to go up with the team and didn’t want to go alone, so I asked her to come with,”

Everyone nods, contemplating her answer. Allie holds her tongue, she has a feeling there’s more to it that Tobin isn’t even aware of yet but doesn’t bring it up.

“She’s very nice,” A-Rod offers, “that was cool of her to come to your school thing,”

Tobin nods, “Yeah, Dr. Andrews mentioned it to her and she knew I was super nervous about it,” she says, “it was cool she hung out to explain how it worked,”

“I’d really like to see the studio next time I’m in town,” Christen says, “from how you describe it, I might want to paint something there,” she grins.

“It does give off this like, inspiring vibe,” Tobin admits.

“It’s very Portland,” Allie rolls her eyes, “that’s why you like it,”

“We should head out,” Ali states, standing up, “we’re the last ones here,”

They slowly exit the booth, Amy giving Tobin another crushing hug, promising her they would call her kids tomorrow. Becky just looks at Tobin, frowning and then hugs her, whispering an apology to her.

When they arrive back at the hotel, they all cram themselves into the elevator, then disperse to their rooms. Tobin silently opens her door, using her phone as flashlight in case her roommate Mal is sleeping. She grabs her sleepwear, a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, and heads to the bathroom and prepares for bed.

Sleep comes quick.

 

 

XXXX

 

The next few days are a blur, traveling from Colorado to Cleveland, Ohio, having a day’s practice then playing their rematch against Japan. They were up 2-0 when Ali gets subbed on and a thunderstorm ensues. The storm is powerful, filled with thunder and lightning and Ali endures teasing from everyone that the Warrior had caused it. The rest of the match is cancelled and they’re all disappointed they don’t get a complete final with their opponent but take the win and move on.

The next day, Tobin, Sonnett, Allie and Horan fly back to Portland, training with the team for a few days before they leave for Chicago. They tie Chicago, 1-1, Tobin taking a few shots on goal, making chances, and Sinc scores but Morgan Brian evens it for Chicago. Frustrated they couldn’t get the win, they take the point and stay in Chicago for a couple of days before flying to New Jersey to play Sky Blue. They beat them 2-0, Sinc scoring in the 26th minute, Tobin getting fouled in the box in the 72nd minute for a penalty. Nadia takes it and drills it into the back of the net.
T
he next day, the Thorns fly across country back home to Portland. Four days later, they play Chicago again, Sinc and Nadia scoring to secure the win.

They fly out the next day after recovery, heading to Florida to face the Pride, they have a few light practices, getting used to the time change, then have a long, physical one two days before the match. The next day is a walk through. Ash, Allie and Tobin get together a couple of nights for dinner, relaxing on the patio of Ashlyn’s apartment. Tobin tells them both how she purchased her condo but would have to wait until October to take possession.

Through all of the travel, Alex and Tobin steadily keep in touch. Lex sends her videos of her working on the pottery wheel, glazing some interesting pieces and Tobin sends her some of her different city views and soccer stadiums. Alex suggests places to go in some of the cities, claiming how she enjoyed a meal or coffee there. Tobin sends her photos at some of those places, smiling with a group of Thorns she convinced to tag along.

 

The heat and humidity of Orlando is stifling, the officials grant water breaks at the 30th and 60th minute of play. Orlando comes out aggressive, playing them tough, trying to run them down and exhaust them. The half ends with no score, both teams heading in to the locker room to regroup for the second half. In the 48th minute, Tobin gets the ball, pushing up to lead the attack from the midfield, she’s got one Orlando player on her left when another one crashes into her from the right, causing her to stumble, they get tangled up and Tobin cries in pain as she feels the full weight of her left hand being stepped on. She curls up in a ball, grimacing in pain, holding her forearm gingerly, feeling as if she’s broken something in her hand.

The trainer comes out to evaluate her, getting her up and escorting her off, Tobin holding her hand out in front of her, startled to see how badly it’s shaking uncontrollably. She rushes the trainers, telling them it’s fine, pleading with them to just spray it and freeze it and let her get back on the pitch.

Her hand is throbbing but Tobin pushes the pain back, clenching her jaw as she enters the pitch, getting back in the fray. Thirteen minutes later, she’s just outside the box in front of Ashlyn as she’s trailing after the ball when she feels the twinge in the back of her leg. She lowers herself to the ground, feeling pain from her hamstring. She panics, praying it’s not serious, hearing Ash call out to her as she approaches as the teams play on down at the opposite end of the pitch.

The whistle finally blows and the trainers come and take Tobin off the pitch and this time she doesn’t argue. She gets her leg swaddled in ice bags, her hand iced as well as she seethes on the bench. She’s furious with herself, hating that she’s injured and praying it’s not too serious. She doesn’t care much about her hand, she doesn’t need that for the Olympics which are fast approaching. She’s worried, her jaw set hard, frowning when Jasmine Spencer scores in the 67th minute.

Twelve minutes later, Dagny scores on a header from Sinc and Lindsey puts it away in the 90th minute to seal the win.

She’s limping slightly as she meets up with the team on the pitch to shake hands and gather with her teammates. The trainers hustle her back to the training room to give her a thorough exam on her hamstring. They’re satisfied it’s not serious enough for her to need any scans, relieving Tobin immensely. Her hand, they determined, was severely bruised, if pain persisted she should go for an X-ray, but she wasn’t showing any radiating pain during their exam. She’s still worried about her hamstring, she’s tired, in pain and just wants to go home.

Her Mom is at the match and they meet up after, Tobin getting permission to go to dinner with her and then head back to the hotel after. Her Mom fusses over her, going so far to cut the meat on her plate at dinner, seeing Tobin struggle with her swollen hand.

They have a nice time, just the two of them, enjoying each other’s company. Tobin tells her about what’s going on with the National Team, how everyone seems to be realizing Kelley was embellishing the facts of their relationship. Her Mom doesn’t know many of the gritty details, Tobin glossed over it, not wanting to get that personal with her. But her Mom knows Kelley and she’s sympathetic to Tobin.

“I think in the back of your head you knew something like this would happen,” she says gently, “I’m glad you persevered and kept your integrity intact. The kindness you showed to Kelley by not spouting out all of the details, which I’m sure you’ve edited to me, just puts you in a better light. I’m so happy your teammates realize who you are and that you’re not the kind of person to cheat,”

“Thanks, Mom,” Tobin says, “it was really hard,” she admits, “but it’s all turning around now, I think it’ll be fine.”

She gives her Mom a tight hug when they return to the hotel, so happy to have spent time with her, “I’ll see you in Salt Lake next month, right?”

Her Mom smiles, “It’s only a few weeks away, Perry is coming too,”

“Awesome, I can’t wait,” Tobin smiles and kisses her cheek, “Love you, Mom, I’ll talk to you soon,”

 

XXXX

 

 

“It’s fine,” Tobin says quietly, “just bruised,” she sighs. She’s sitting in the hallway speaking to Alex quietly via Facetime after getting back from dinner with her Mom.

“And your leg?” Alex questions, she was so concerned, texting Tobin when the injuries occurred, asking her if she was okay. She flat out told her to call her when she had a chance, whatever the time was.

“Just a twinge, nothing serious,” Tobin replies, “I’m so relieved,”

“Well, you keep icing it, you hear,” Alex says, “and whatever else they tell you to do,”

“I will,” Tobin smiles at her stern expression, “I just want to come home,” she admits, “I’m so tired of the road right now,”

Alex looks at her softly, “Would you be open to dinner tomorrow? A home cooked meal?”

“That would be wonderful,” Tobin smiles, “but you don’t have to, we could order something,”

Alex shakes her head, “No,” she states firmly, “I want to cook for you,” she says, “you have a taste for something?”

“Whatever you want to make,” Tobin replies easily, “don’t go to too much trouble,”

Alex twists her mouth as she thinks, “Mmmmm, what about seafood?”

“That’s fine,” Tobin nods.

“You haven’t been eating a ton of it down there, have you?” she asks, looking at her intently.

“No, actually,” Tobin shakes her head, “I haven’t had any.”

“It’s settled then,” Alex smiles, “tomorrow is seafood night,” she says, “wear sweats,” she advises, “be comfy.”

“What time?” Tobin asks, “I should get in around three,”

“Just come here,” Alex offers, “you can nap or whatever, we can just hang out,”

“Sounds good,” Tobin grins, “I wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow but now I am,” she says.

“I’ll make sure to have ice for you,” Alex says, “I’m sorry you’re all banged up, I know it’s got to be bothering you,”

Tobin shrugs, “I have some time to heal up before camp,” she replies, “it shouldn’t be anything serious.”

“Well, I should let you go,” Alex says, yawning, “it’s got to be late by you too,”

“I’m sorry for keeping you up,” Tobin apologizes, forgetting about the time difference.

“It’s okay,” Alex grins sleepily at her, “I told you to call me whatever the time was, I can sleep in, in my bed, not on a plane,”

“I’m jealous,” Tobin chuckles, “I’ll text you when I get in town tomorrow, okay?”

“Yep,” Alex says, “have a safe flight, Tobin,”

“Thanks,” Tobin says, “goodnight, Alex,”

“Goodnight,” she says, her voice raspy with sleep.

They end the call and Tobin quietly slips in her room, already dressed for bed and she quickly gets under the covers and goes to sleep.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

“Alex!” Tobin whines, “You shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble!” She’s referring to the platter of crushed ice filled with oysters in the half shell, cold shrimp and a couple of crab claws.

“It was fun,” Alex shrugs, “it wasn’t a problem,” she says, bringing Tobin a beer, “and besides, once we agreed on seafood, I had a taste for oysters again,” she smiles at her. “Eat up,” she offers, “here’s some crackers,”

They eat outside on the patio enjoying a dry, sunny afternoon. They catch up with what’s been going on for the past month, both feeling out of touch with each other even they had been consistently texting and talking while Tobin was gone. Alex promises to show her the paintings she’s been doing, she’s completed four in her spring series. Tobin shares with her how A-Rod and Becky have come around, apologizing to her and they’re back to where they were before. She also tells her how they all watched Kelley pick up two women that night in the club.

Alex’s eyebrows nearly shoot off her face, “What?”

Tobin nods, shaking her head, “Yep,” she says, “I don’t know what to say,”

“Neither do I,” Alex says helplessly, “are you okay about it?”

“Well,” Tobin considers, “seeing as she was doing that the whole time I thought we were together, I can safely assume that the leopard hasn’t changed her spots.”

“I’m sorry,” Alex frowns, “that had to suck to see,”

“It wasn’t like she was throwing it in my face, though,” Tobin reasons, “I don’t think she even knew we were there still,”

“But still,” Alex persists, “I feel bad you had to sit there and watch it happen.”

Tobin nods as she eats some shrimp and chews, when she finishes, she considers, “I think it actually was a good thing,” she says, “now that I’ve had some time to think about it,”

“How so?” Alex is intrigued, plucking a piece of crab off the ice to eat, dipping it in the melted butter, looking at Tobin as she does.

“Pretty much all of my closest friends were there to see it happen,” Tobin states, “so I feel like it made what I was saying to them a reality for them, you know? Like it reinforced what Kelley what Kelley was saying about hooking up.”

“Huh,” Alex considers, “I could see that.”

Tobin nods, glancing around the patio, noticing the colorful pots are empty. “Hey,” she says to Alex, “are you going to plant some flowers or anything in those?”

“I was thinking about it,” Alex muses, looking at a row of pots, “It was Jer’s thing,” she says quietly, “I haven’t really done anything with them since he’s gone.”

“I’m sorry,” Tobin winces, “I didn’t mean to hit a nerve,” she apologizes, feeling bad.

“No, no,” Alex says quickly, looking at her, giving her a small smile, “you didn’t know,” she says, “and I really was thinking of doing it,”

“Well,” Tobin leans forward on the table, “I haven’t planted anything in years,” she says, giving her a timid smile, “would you mind if I tagged along and gave you a hand?”

“Well, I don’t want to do it now,” Alex states, looking pointedly at Tobin’s bruised hand, “I’ll need you healthy to lift the bags of dirt,” she gives her a smile.

Tobin flexes her left hand, wincing a little, “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she gives her a crooked grin.

“How about we hold off and do it after your match in Chicago? Before you go to Kansas for the last send off match?” Alex offers.

Tobin considers, “Yeah, that sounds good,” she agrees, “that it’ll be nice.”

“Great,” Alex smiles, “that way it will give me some time to figure out what flowers and stuff to plant.”

“Okay, sounds good.” Tobin nods with a smile. “I look forward to it.”

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

July

 

“Tobin!” Alex exclaims over the phone, “Thank you so much!” she gushes, her eyes dancing as she shows her the edible arrangement. “This looks amazing!”

“Happy Birthday!” Tobin grins, “You like it?”

“Oh, I do!” Alex smiles at her, “This is so thoughtful, thanks,” she says, “I really appreciate it,”

“So do I!” A voice calls out from beyond the camera view. Tobin raises her eyebrows.

“Syd!” Alex looks off camera, then a shadow passes and a beautiful woman can be seen, plucking a chocolate covered strawberry from the arrangement, “Hi, Tobin,” she smiles as she takes a bite of the treat, “oooh, this is delicious!”

“Hey, Syd,” Tobin says, “how’s it going?”

She nods as she finishes the strawberry, “Awesome,” she says, “thanks for the fruit,”

“It’s my fruit,” Alex says, sliding the basket closer to herself, “not yours,”

“Whatever,” Syd waves at her, “we need some wine,” she heads off camera.

“Guess you’re going to have a fun night,” Tobin grins, “remember,” she cautions, “wine hangovers are the worst.”

Alex rolls her eyes at her, shaking her head, “It won’t come to that,” then she smiles, “thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Tobin says warmly, “I hope you have a great day.”

“Tobin! Let’s go!” HAO calls out as she passes her hotel room.

“I’ll let you go,” Alex says as she watches Tobin slide off her bed and pick up her bag, “have a good practice.”

“It’s hot here today,” Tobin wrinkles her nose, “it’s gonna be nasty. I didn’t realize it gets this hot in Utah.”

“Ew,” Alex grimaces, “well, it is the desert, so take it easy, I’ll talk to you later.”

“Yeah, later,” Tobin smiles, “and go easy on the wine!”

Alex laughs and they end their call.

 

 

“What the heck?” Tobin inspects her boots closely, peeling back the inner sole and then trying it back on. She hops up and down, frowning and takes her boot off.

“What’s wrong?” Morgan asks her, leaning over in her seat next to her in the locker room to look at Tobin’s cleat.

“Something’s wrong with it,” Tobin frowns, “it doesn’t feel right.” She stands up and heads out of the locker room to find their equipment person.

When the team heads out to the field for practice, Tobin is not with them. They’re just starting their warmups when Tobin jogs out, looking pissed. Tom, their equipment manager is slowly walking behind her, looking slightly confused and upset.

“What’s going on?” Allie asks as Tobin begins to stretch out near her.

“Someone fucked with my boots,” Tobin complains, “something is screwed up with the insole.”

Allie looks over and sees Tom talking to one of the assistant coaches, showing him Tobin’s boot.

“That’s weird,” Allie frowns, looking at Tobin.

“Yeah,” she says, shaking her head, “good thing I have more here,” she says, “I don’t get it.”

Practice drags on, Jill working them hard. With the weather being so hot, she has them scrimmage for a long time, preparing them for the heat they would be subjected to in Brazil. They were beginning their heat protocol, Dawn reviewing the saunas, the hot tub protocols while stressing the safety factors.

Kelley hands Tobin her two bottles after practice, talking to her about her defensive work. “It’s really coming along,” she says, giving her a grin, “I hope we don’t need you there, but I understand why.”

“Yeah,” Tobin agrees, “I’d prefer be to in the midfield, but I feel pretty comfortable back there,” she says as she uncaps her water and takes a drink. She doesn’t mention how she truthfully is enjoying the chance at striker, being up front to make plays for Press and A-Rod and even scoring herself. How she allowed herself to dream a little and think of an attack consisting of her, Press and Pinoe when she comes back. She knows that would set Kelley off.

“If it comes to that, you’ll rock it,” Kelley smiles at her, “you’ve been playing so lights out lately,”

“Aw, thanks,” Tobin says, a little shyly, not expecting the compliment, “your match against Orlando was really something,” she says, “that slide tackle in the box against Marta” she grins at her, “that saved the game.”

“You got that right,” Becky says, stepping up and grinning as she leans her elbow on Tobin’s shoulder, “Kel here was Woman of the Match.”

“You deserved it,” Tobin nods at her.

“Thanks,” Kelley says quietly, “I appreciate it,” she says mumbles shyly.

“Hey, Tobin!” Ashlyn yells at her from a few yards away, “come here!”

Tobin nods, “I’ll talk to ya later,” she says to Kelley, “thanks for these,” she holds up her bottles.

“No problem,” Kelley smiles, then turns to Becky, “are you going to sauna later?”

Tobin sits down to join Ash, Ali, Crystal, Morgan, Christen and HAO.

“What’s up?” she asks, uncapping her shake. She sets it down and unlaces her cleats, taking them off and then removing her shin guards and socks.

“When’s that gallery thing this summer?” Ashlyn questions.

“It’s after the Olympics,” Tobin says, “I know it’s on a Saturday, like the first weekend on September,” she replies.

“Is that when we play you guys on Friday?” Ali questions as she stretches.

“I think so,” Tobin nods chugging half her shake and then drinking some water, “I’ll check my phone and let you know for sure.”

“How’s Alex doing?” Christen asks, giving Tobin grin.

“She’s good,” Tobin replies, “I’m going to help her plant her flowers when I get back,”

“Ooooh, planting flowers,” HAO teases.

Tobin pushes HAO over on her side, “It’s not like that,” she says, “she’s a friend, you know? Like, my only friend outside of soccer,” she says giving them all a shrug, “it’s nice.”

“That’s cool,” Ashlyn says, “we all need something like that, you know?”

Tobin finishes her shake and then chases it with some more water. She starts to stretch her legs. Not a minute later, she feels a rumble in her stomach, the one that lets you know something isn’t right. She looks around to find the trash can, scrambling to her feet.

“What’s wrong?” Crystal asks, alarmed as they watch Tobin sprint barefoot to the trashcan, leaning over it and hurling.

Ashlyn gets to her knees, “That came on fast,” she says, standing and trotting over to Tobin who is still violently retching. The trainers surround her again, Tobin sweating profusely, weak kneed and a little dizzy.

The group gathers their gear, Christen stuffing Tobin’s socks into her cleats and handing her shin guards to Crystal to carry. She makes sure to grab Tobin’s water and shake bottles, feeling suddenly suspicious about what just occurred. Tobin is escorted to one of the vans the training staff use and they whisk her back to the hotel for further evaluation.
Christen packs Tobin’s bag, carrying it with her on the bus, frowning as she considers what she should do about her unsettling thoughts.

 

 

“Are you okay?” Morgan frowns at her, her arms crossed and looking concerned.

“I’m pissed,” Tobin laments, lying on her bed, picking at the bandage from the IV she was given, “they think I have some sort of heat issue,” she complains. She raises her arm, “They took blood,” she frowns, “I can’t practice tomorrow, no heat training until they find out my results.”

“When will that be?” Morgan asks, moving to sit on the edge of Tobin’s bed.

“Day after tomorrow,” Tobin spits out disgusted.

“I’m sorry,” Morgan says heartfully, feeling bad for her, “I don’t understand though,” she says, “it’s only happened twice, right?”

“Yeah,” Tobin says, suddenly sitting up, “and it came on so fast, I know I wasn’t like, dehydrated, I know how that feels,” she insists.

Morgan twists her mouth as she thinks, “I guess better to have this happen now instead of right before we leave,” she frowns.

“Yeah,” Tobin agrees glumly, “but now I might not get to play in two days,”

“Well, they said you’d get the results that morning, right?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Tobin replies, feeling down, “but depending on what they find,” she shrugs.

Morgan looks at her watch, “Well, come on,” she says, “you feel up to eating? Dinner’s in ten,”

“Yeah,” Tobin moves off the bed, grabbing her phone and room key, “I feel fine,” she says, following Morgan out of the room, “I’m hungry.”

 

Tobin spends most of dinner telling everyone she felt fine, just upset about what happened and how Dawn is holding her out of practice tomorrow. She told them about the bloodwork and that she was worried about it.

“What do you think it could be?” Allie asks, a perplexed look on her face.

“I don’t know,” Tobin says aggravated, “it was just as hot a few weeks ago in Portland, remember? I didn’t get sick then,” she pushes her food around on her plate, suddenly not hungry because she’s upset.

The rest of the table is silent, unsure what to say.

“Well, I’m praying everything turns out fine and you can play on Saturday,” Julie states, the blond giving Tobin an encouraging smile.

“Thanks,” Tobin says, her voice low.

 

 

Tobin sees Carli carrying a bag of microwave popcorn in the hallway, giving her a head nod as she passes, “Hey,” Carli says, “you coming to movie night?”

Tobin shakes her head, “I don’t do scary,” she says. She holds up her sketchbook, “Gonna go draw for a while,” she says.

“On that’s right,” Carli says, frowning, “I’ll make sure the next movie night is your pick,” she promises.

“Thanks,” Tobin says, “see ya,”

Carli watches her walk away, frowning before turning and heading to Hope’s room.

 

 

Tobin gets a coffee from the small shop in the lobby and then finds a comfortable lounge chair near the bar, not close enough to it to be distracted by the muffled music coming out of the entrance. She settles in her seat, setting her coffee on the table next to her, kicking off her flip flops and crossing her bare legs, pulling at her shorts on one side to get comfortable.

She had contemplated calling Alex to tell her what was going on, but then remembered she was at a music fest with Syd and some other friends. She didn’t want to disturb her fun and make her worry. She’d tell her about it once she gets the results.

She pulls her ink pen from where it’s clipped on the inside of the spiral and opens her sketchbook. She prefers to do her sketches with her favorite black ink pen, not minding if they’re somewhat messy with corrections, thicker lines covering spots she wants a little different as her idea takes shape. She’s been messing around with the oil paints, enjoying the use of texture, alternating between using brushes and the knife. She’s half done with her forest panting, pleased with her progress and the fact that she’s using a variety of strokes in different directions. It really does provide emphasis to leading the eye, she feels. She used the knife in some of the trees, building the thick branches and the sturdy trunks. She’s likes how it looks.

Now, now she wants to think about a painting for herself, something to put in her new home. She smiles to herself thinking about that. After almost ten years of living on her own, mostly with roommates, she’s finally going to have her own place.

She wants a large canvas to hang above her couch, her TV she figures will be mounted on the opposite wall in the living room. The third wall is her balcony, she’s hopeful she can actually sit out there more often than she uses her current one. Maybe being two floors lower it won’t be as windy.

Mike, from the sales office, had sent her up the contract and Tobin looked it over and then it to her lawyer. She approved it and Tobin signed off on it and dropped it off to Mike. He handed her over a small tube which contained the architectural layout of the condo, so now she has the room dimensions and plans to review them before she starts shopping for any new furniture. Her fourth wall in nonexistent because it leads to the open kitchen. It has a larger island, in fact she thought she counted four stools on the living room side of it. It makes her happy that she’ll have more seating when she has her friends over.

Back to the painting, she thinks, concentrating on the vibe she wants to give for the room. She frowns when nothing enters her mind quickly. She decides to just freeform, thinking maybe trying to do something abstract for a change.

She hasn’t really painted in abstract before, she’s not sure it would be something she would want to work off a sketch from. Then she considers that maybe sketching out the idea and then forming it with the paint would be more her style.

She plays around, sketching some lines and making circles and boxes, thinking the forms are inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright designs. She sets her pen down and picks up her phone, googling his name and going to the images. She finds a few that inspire her and sets her phone down and begins to draw. She likes the idea of not having everything be perfect and exact. It’s quite the opposite of his designs, she figures, but rather inspired by them.

She loses herself in her drawing, making multiple pictures, each one building on the last one. She’s feeling more settled, not as upset as before, but still troubled by being sick earlier.

“Hi, Tobin,” a quiet voice says and Tobin looks up from her sketchbook to see Amy, Christen and Becky approaching her.

“Hey, what’s up?” her head shoots up and Tobin smiles at them, yawning and arching her back, then shifting in her seat.

“What are you doing down here?” Amy questions, peering at her sketchbook.

“Oh, I didn’t want to watch the movie,” Tobin explains, “so I came down here to do some sketching.”

Amy nods, “Nice,”

“Where were you guys coming from?” Tobin asks, stretching her arms above her head.

“We had an appearance for the Royals,” Becky explains, looking around the hotel lobby, “Kelley should be back soon,” she muses.

“I don’t know why she drove separate,” Christen frowns, “we were all going to the same place,”

“You know how she likes to jam,” Becky elbows her, “and drive,” she rolls her eyes.

Tobin nods knowingly, “I said a prayer every time I got in the car with her,” she grins. Kelley was not the world’s best driver. “How’d your appearance thing go? Where were you guys at?”

The three fill her in on the event, a send off one the Royals put together for all of the international players on the team.

Christen yawns, “I’m going to head up,” she says, “see you in the morning,” she says, Becky nodding, “I think I will too,” she agrees, “the heat training is kicking my ass, goodnight.”

Amy and Tobin watch them walk off to the elevators.

Amy lingers, “Do you have a minute?” she asks Tobin and Tobin nods. Amy sits down next to her in one of the lounge chairs.

“How are you doing?” she asks seriously, “With the heat thing and Kelley and everything,”

Tobin shrugs, looking down, feeling all of her anxiety flood back to her. “Okay, I guess,” she says quietly, “I mean, I’m just scared they’ll find something wrong and I won’t be able to play,”

“You know there’s a slim chance of that happening, right?” Amy responds, “They’ll be able to figure something out,”

“Yeah,” Tobin mumbles, “it just sucks, I’m really worried.”

“I wish it were different,” Amy frowns, “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “me too,” she sighs heavily, frowning, looking down at her sketchbook.

“So,” Amy says, nudging Tobin’s sketchbook, “how’s the art thing going?”

Tobin smiles, “It’s going really good,” she says, “I’m really getting into it, you know?”

She excitedly goes on about how Alex is helping her with using oil paints and how they feel different than the acrylics she normally uses. She tells her how cool it is that they’re slowly becoming good friends, having dinners and how she came with her to Seattle for her suspension match. Then she tells her about the condo she put a down payment on.

“I’m glad you’ve found some normalcy,” Amy smiles at her, “you’ve been bouncing along all over the country for so many years, it’s good to hear you’re putting down some roots.”

Tobin bobs her head, “Yeah,” she says, fidgeting with her pen, “I just really love Portland, you know? It’s such a cool city,” she shrugs, “there’s just something about it, you know? I feel like that’s where I want to live after I’m done playing,”

“It suits you,” she smiles. “You know,” Amy says, a smile playing at her lips, “my Mom is bringing the kids tomorrow around,” she says, “they would love some Auntie Tobin time,”

Tobin’s face lights up, “That would be awesome!”

“I’ll text you when I know what time they’re coming,” Amy smiles at her and stands, laying her hand on Tobin’s shoulder, “You going to stay down here for a little longer?”

Tobin nods, “Yeah, I’m gonna draw some more,”

“I’ll see you at breakfast, then,” she says, giving her shoulder a squeeze, “please try not to let it bother you so much, I know it’s hard,”

“Yeah,” she says, “thanks Ames,”

Amy smiles, “Goodnight,”

“’Night,” Tobin nods at her. She yawns and then picks up her pen and begins to draw again.

A few minutes pass and she feels a presence to her side and looks up. It’s Kelley, looking at her rather nervously.

“Oh, hey,” Tobin says, straightening up once more in her chair, “what’s up?”

“Hey,” Kelley replies, shifting her weight, “I was wondering if you might wanna talk? Maybe go get a Slurpie and take a drive?”

Tobin studies Kelley’s face seeing a mix of hopefulness and uncertainty as she considers her reply.

“Sure,” she says, closing her sketchbook and sliding the pen in the spiral and gabbing her phone and room key from the table. She reasons that Kelley has been making a real effort and maybe the two can finally have a good conversation away from everyone.

“Thanks,” Kelley says quietly, “I’m parked right outside,” she says over her shoulder as Tobin follows her through the lobby and out the doors.

As Kelley guides the car through the parking lot and out onto the street, Tobin sits patiently, waiting for her to start the conversation. At the first red light, Kelley looks over at her,
“You know,” she says, “Utah is a bit different than anywhere I’ve lived,”

“How’s that?” Tobin asks, knowing Kelley would ease into talking about whatever is on her mind.

“The mountains, first,” she grins, turning to face out the windshield, pressing the accelerator when the light turns green, “being able to get to nature so quickly,” she adds.

“It is beautiful around here,” Tobin comments, looking out even though it’s night. The drive to the practice fields is always pleasant, showing the mountain range in the background behind the city.

“There’s some amazing hiking trails,” Kelley says enthusiastically, “you would love it,”

“Huh,” Tobin nods.

“And the food scene!” Kelley adds, glancing over at her, “There’s some really awesome restaurants,” she shares, “the coffee isn’t as good as Portland, but it’s close.”

Kelley rattles on as she drives, telling Tobin about how she misses the ocean but the lakes here are cool and she can’t wait to go boating with the team. Her face lights up when she sees the convenience store, making a sharp turn into the lot that makes Tobin grab the door handle. Vintage Kelley O’Hara driving.

Kelley parks the car and turns to face Tobin, “What size do you want?” she asks her.

“I can go with,” Tobin says, reaching to unbuckle her seat belt.

“No, no, no,” Kelley insists, “it’s my treat,” she says to her, “you just relax,” she frees herself from the seatbelt and scrambles out of the car, poking her head back in through the open window, “So, a medium? Little bit of every flavor, right?”

“Sure, Kel, thanks,” Tobin smiles that Kelley remembered her favorite way to have a Slurpie.

She watches Kelley practically skip to the building, yanking the door open and disappear from her view. Tobin rubs her arms, feeling a little chilly and regretting not grabbing a hoodie. The days here get warm, very warm, but the nights drop into the fifties and sometimes the forties. It reminds her of LA in the spring, how you could be hanging out on the beach all day and then as dusk hits, the air gets much cooler.

Kelley pops back out, skipping to the car, handing Tobin her drink through the open window. She slides into her seat, sucking on her Slurpie, grinning at Tobin. Tobin sucks the crushed iced mix, grinning at her around her straw in her mouth.

“Good, huh?” Kelley asks, setting her drink in the cupholder and starting the car.

“Yeah, thanks,” Tobin says, “I haven’t had one in forever,”

Kelley pulls out of the lot and back into traffic, driving around, what appears to Tobin, rather aimlessly. Tobin presses the button to slide her window up, feeling chilled from the air rushing in and her drink. Finally, after hearing about the little chipmunk at her apartment complex Kelley’s trying to befriend, she gathers her courage.

“Kel,” she says quietly, her voice even and low, “why did you tell everyone I cheated on you?”

She watches as Kelley’s face falls, her expression changing as her shoulders slump. She sends a quick glance Tobin’s way before licking her lips and scrunching her mouth up.
“Because I was embarrassed,” she whispers.

“What were you embarrassed about?” Tobin questions softly, shifting to look at her as she drives.

Kelley frowns, gripping the steering wheel tight, “That I screwed up so bad,” she says, “I fucked so much up with you, I just, I just couldn’t tell people it was all my fault.”

“So, you thought telling everyone I cheated on you was a better solution?” Tobin asks with a slight edge to her tone.

Kelley runs a hand through her hair, sighing noisily through her nose, then glancing over at Tobin, “I know it was fucked up, okay?” she says, irritated, “I know I fucked up, yet again,”

“Kel, I’m just not following why you didn’t just say we were done,” Tobin comments, her voice not as hard, “everyone would have understood if you had just said we were done and that was it,” She sips on her drink, her throat feeling dry.

Kelley grabs her drink and takes a sip, setting it back in the cup holder. “I wanted to hurt you,” she admits, “I wanted you to be the bad guy,” she frowns at her.

“Oh, Kel,” Tobin says, shaking her head.

“I’m sorry,” Kelley says emphatically, “I,” she pauses, “I’ll tell everyone the truth, that I fucked it all up,”

“What’s done is done, Kel,” Tobin sighs, “it’s been months,”

“No, I’ll fix it,” she insists, “I can fix this,” she nods as she drives.
Tobin yawns, feeling really tired, “Kel, I-” she yawns again, “I’m really tired,” she says, “can we talk about this later? When I’m more with it? It’s been a long day,”

“Sure,” Kelley agrees, “and thanks for coming,” she says, “I know you could have just said fuck off because of what I’ve done.”

Tobin nods, “Maybe we can meet for coffee after practice tomorrow,” she offers.

“I’d like that,” Kelley says softly, “I’ve missed you, you know? Hanging out,”

“Yeah,” Tobin says with a tired nod, “we’ve got some work to do before we can be there again,” she cautions her. Even though Tobin does miss Kelley terribly, she’s not willing to just accept her back into her life. Not with everything that has happened.

“I know, I know,” Kelley nods her head quickly, “but I hope one day we can,”

 

XXXX

 

 

“Where’s Tobin?” HAO questions the others at their breakfast table. Everyone begins to swivel their heads, looking around the room.

“I don’t know,” Ashlyn shrugs, “probably sleeping in,” she suggests.

The others nod, thinking that’s what they’d do if they had a day off from practice.

“Okay,” Jill calls out, “we’ll start the meeting while you’re eating,” she says, “I’ve got two screens up so you’ll be able to see what I’m talking about.

The meeting lasts for over two hours, Jill focusing on the strategies she wants to use for their match against South Africa tomorrow.

They only have a couple of minutes to break before they head to the bus for a walk through and then another meeting on the field.

It’s unusual that they leave so soon after eating, not having the normal time to digest and prepare themselves for practice, but Jill explains that their real practice will be after an early lunch. Then, they’ll have another meeting after dinner and be done for the day.

It’s not until after dinner that anyone thinks to question where Tobin is again, Christen whispering over to Allie if she’s heard from her at all today. Allie shakes her head, sliding out her phone and discreetly texting her.

They don’t hear from her when they are finally dismissed. Christen seeks out Morgan in her room, knowing they were rooming together.

“Have you seen Tobin today?” Christen asks her anxiously, her hand on Morgan’s arm.

“No,” Morgan shakes her head, “it didn’t really look like her bed was slept in this morning,” she frowns, “I’m not positive though,”

Christen frowns, scrunching her mouth up, “I don’t like this,” she murmurs, “nobody’s seen her all day,”

“Well,” Morgan shrugs, “she was upset about getting sick, maybe she went out for the day, you know, head to the woods or something,”

Christen grimaces, “Maybe,” she considers, “I still think she would have told someone, though,”

“Maybe she did,” Morgan counters, “listen,” she says, “if you’re really worried, let’s text the team, see who saw her last and what time,”

“Good idea,” Christen nods, pulling her phone from her hoodie. She types out a text to the whole team, then looks at Morgan, “I’m really worried,” she says, “I just have a bad feeling about this.”

Christen sits down on Tobin’s bed as replies start coming in. In a few minutes, HAO, Allie, Becky and Ashlyn are at the door, entering the room. Morgan explains to them that she didn’t believe Tobin slept in the room last night and their concern grows.

Hope and Carli enter, both looking anxious.

“I saw Tobin last night before the movie,” Carli states, “she was heading downstairs to draw for awhile.”

Morgan rifles through the papers on the dresser next to the TV, pulling out Tobin’s art notebook and finding a pen. Christen reaches for them and opens the notebook.

“Okay,” she says, “so when did the movie start?” she looks up expectantly at her.

Carli looks to Hope, “About seven forty-five?” Hope nods and Christen writes it down, wanting to make a time line.

“We saw her in the lobby at what, nine or so?” Becky says, looking at Christen.

“Is Tobin missing?” Amy asks from the door, looking pale. “She never texted me back when the boys were here,” she frowns.

“We don’t know,” Hope says reasonably, “we’re making a timeline of who saw her when.”

“I saw her with you guys last night,” Amy replies, “we talked for about fifteen minutes, then I went up for bed.”

“So, let’s say, nine twenty or so,” Christen says, “since we talked with her for a few minutes.”

After a couple of minutes, the whole team is crammed into the room, sitting on the floor, the beds and anywhere else.

“I saw her,” Kelley pipes up, all eyes turning to her. She glances around the room, “I got back,” she considers, “must have been only a couple of minutes after Amy went up.”

Christen looks at her, “So, nine thirty maybe?”

Kelley nods, “Yeah, because it was nine thirty-five when we got in my car.”

“Wait, hold up,” Ashlyn interrupts, “Tobin went somewhere with you?”

Kelley nods, “Yeah, we went out and got Slurpies and talked,” she replies slightly defensively.

“How did it go? Did you talk or fight?” Hope asks, narrowing her eyes on Kelley.

Kelley frowns at the group, “We talked, okay?” she says, “I bought her a Slurpie, we talked for a little while, she said she was tired and we came back here.”

“What time was that?” Christen asks, ready to write it down.

“Um,” Kelley thinks, “I got up to my room at ten forty-five, maybe closer to eleven,” she replies, “Tobin said she wasn’t feeling that great and was going to get some Tylenol from the snack room.”

Christen scans the room, looking around expectantly, unsure of who is Kelley’s roommate. Lindsey nods, “I think it was right around eleven,” she says. Christen writes it down.

“Did anyone see Tobin this morning?” Carli asks, seriously, her concern growing.

“What is happening here?” Dawn Scott pokes her head in the room through the open door, her eyes scanning everyone assembled, “Am I interrupting something?”

“No,” Hope replies, her jaw set, “we think Tobin is missing,”

Dawn’s eyes goes wide, “What?”

“Kelley saw her last night around eleven and nobody has seen her since,” Carli states.

Dawn’s face grows serious, “Now that you say that, she wasn’t around today,” she muses, “usually even if she was injured, she’d hangout, come to the meetings,” she looks at the group, “was she upset?”

Amy eyes Christen, “Yeah, she was upset about the bloodwork and maybe not being able to play,” she says quietly. Dawn frowns.

“She said the same thing to me,” Morgan offers.

“She thought she’d get taken off the roster if she had some heat issue and wouldn’t get to go since Brazil is so hot,” Kelley states, “She was really depressed about it, not being on the team, but I don’t think she’d hurt herself or anything like that, I mean, if she didn’t know for sure.”

Dawn pulls out her phone, “Okay,” she says, “you all stay put,” she instructs, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“I think her Mom is coming to the match,” Allie says suddenly, breaking the silence in the room.

“Should we text her?” Christen asks, unsure if she should.

“Let’s wait for Dawn,” Carli advises, “Do any of you know if she had anyone else coming to the match, maybe she was going to hang out with them?”

“I don’t think she took any clothes,” Morgan says, getting up and going the dresser Tobin had filled, glancing at it, shoving the drawer closed and then looking at her suitcase. She looks up, “Looks like all of her stuff is here,” she frowns.

Shoulders slump around the room.

Dawn reappears with Jill and members of the security team.

Christen reviews the timeline to them, with Carli adding that Tobin was worried about her bloodwork and the possibility of not playing. Kelley adds that Tobin was worried she might not make the team if she was having issues with heat since Brazil would be miserable.

Jill looks at the time, seeing how late it is and dismisses the group, urging them to get some rest for the match tomorrow. She assures them the security team will look for Tobin and will update them in the morning.

Slowly the group disperses, Christen sitting on the bed, Morgan pulling out some clothes for bed. Christen picks up her phone and writes out a text and remains on the bed.

“Uh, you hanging out for a bit?” Morgan asks, looking at Christen.

Christen looks up from the notebook, “Yes,” she replies, “we’re going to have a little meeting here in a few minutes. Are you cool with it?”

“Of course,” Morgan replies as she changes into a t-shirt and sweats, “I think they should call the cops,”

Christen nods at her, “I understand why they won’t right now,” she says, “Tobin is known to do her own thing, she might be with family and she hasn’t been gone for twenty-four hours. Legally, their hands are tied. She’s an adult, after all.”

Christen springs up when there’s a quiet knock on the door. She lets Ali and Ashlyn in. Soon HAO, Becky, and Allie join them.

“So, what’s up?” Ashlyn asks, settling on the bed.

Christen looks at the six women seriously. “Nothing said here leaves this room, got it?” They all nod. “I’m serious,” she continues, “what I’m about to say, if it gets out, Tobin could be in serious danger.”

“Yeah, of course,” HAO says, “if you think it’s this serious, should we get Jill and Dawn?”

Christen shakes her head, “I don’t think they should be involved with this, like legally.” Eyes widen at her statement.

“Okay,” Christen crosses her legs on the bed, “back at Stanford, something kind of like this happened. Right after dinner, I called Ali Riley this afternoon to help me remember how it all went down, but Kelley was involved, I know that for sure. She was dating someone on the team, the breakup was bad, very similar to Tobin and Kelley’s, Kelley talking down about the girl, the girl being ostracized by the team because they believed her. For a while. Then they realized how Kelley’s story didn’t totally make sense. The facts were twisted and embellished.”

“You know,” HAO interrupts, “I thought what Kelley said about Tobin maybe hurting herself was bullshit,”

Christen nods, “So did I,” she agrees, “back to college, the girl in question suddenly started getting sick,” she says, “and later on, after everything died down, Ali found a bottle of Ipecac in Kelley’s bathroom.”

“Is that like, to induce vomiting?” Ali squints, trying to remember. Christen nods.

“The girl became kind of unstable, very depressed and we were partly responsible, being so cold to her.” Christen continues, “Then we sat her down and talked to her, finding out what really went down and her side was very different from Kelley’s.” She looks around the room making eye contact with them, “Kelley had…forced herself on her, dominated her, sexually and then when the girl resisted and broke up with her, Kelley put her in a bad light.”

“Fuck,” Ashlyn mutters, Allie slaps her forehead, sighing loudly.

“I have the worst feeling that Tobin never came back with Kelley last night,” Christen states quietly.

“You think Kelley hurt Tobin?” Morgan asks, her eyes wide.

“Something similar happened between the two of them,” Allie states quietly, “like when they were being intimate,” she doesn’t give out details.

“I think it’s interesting that over these past few months, when people,” Christen frowns, “like myself, realized how much bullshit Kelley was spouting, Kelley changed her tune.”

“And did you notice how suddenly Tobin was so wonderful again,” Becky says, “I mean, Tobin was, is, playing lights out, but Kelley always talked about it. Like, unusually a lot.”

“So, what can we do?” Allie asks, “I mean, I feel helpless, what if she’s somewhere lying in a ditch!”

“I want to go to Kelley’s apartment,” Christen states, “but I want to be positive Kelley’s here,”

Ashlyn takes out her phone, typing. Her phone rings and she quickly answers it.

“Linds,” she says, “I need your help and do not give anything away with your voice, got it?”

“Yeah,” they can hear her voice through the speaker.

“Good, I just called you to ask if you wanted to get together to take some shots before the match tomorrow, okay?”

“Yeah, Ash, that sounds good,” Lindsey replies casually, “I’m down for it.”

“Is Kelley there?” Ashlyn asks.

“Uh huh,” she says.

“You call me if she leaves, okay?” She orders, “The second she’s out the door, call me, no matter what time.”

“Yeah,” she sighs.

“I’ll text you when it’s cool,” Ash finishes.

“Yeah, later,” Lindsey says and hangs up.

Ashlyn looks at Christen, “You think she’s got Tobin tied up there or something?”

“Maybe,” Christen answers, letting them know how serious she is, “she’s been so unpredictable, I don’t know what she’s capable of.”

“We can take my car,” Becky states, standing up, “but we all can’t go.”

“There’s something else,” Christen says as she slides off the bed, “you guys come up with a plan to distract Kelley after the match, I want to go through her stuff here. There won’t be time before the match, since it’s early. I’ll get a key from Lindsey.”

Ali nods, “We can do that,” she says confidently, “we can take her out, she never says no to booze,”

“Especially day drinking,” HAO nods, “we’ll get her out of here,”

Becky turns to Christen, “If we get stopped, my cat is sick and we have to take him to the vet, I’ll act upset,”

“Got it,” Christen agrees with a nod, then turns to the others, “I’ll text you when we get back,” she says.

“I’m going to take a look around here,” Ashlyn says, “what if Tobin locked herself on the roof or something?”

“Good idea,” Allie says, “I’ll go with you,” she looks at Ali, “you’ll never room together again if you two gets busted, Jill will keep you separated forever,”

Ali frowns, “You’re right,” she says pouting.

“Do you really think Kelley did something to her?” HAO asks Christen, looking at her intently.

“It’s possible,” Christen replies, “but we can’t let her know that,” she stresses, looking at them all, “we can’t let her know we think she’s done something, not until I’ve had a chance to look through her stuff.”

“What are you looking for?” Morgan asks.

“Ipecac,” Christen replies tersely, “both times Tobin got so sick, Kelley gave her the bottles,” she says, “I mean, she always gives Tobin the bottles, has for years, but I want to find out if she spiked her drink,”

“Jesus!” Hao exclaims, bringing her hands to head, “fuck.”

“Listen,” Christen says, “not a word to anyone about this,” she nears the doors, “I kept Tobin’s bottles from today, if I find the ipecac, I’m demanding Jill to have it tested or I go to the Police.”

“We’ll stand with you on that,” Allie states as she rises, “but let’s pray they find Tobin tonight.”

Christen turns to Becky, “Let’s go save your cat,” she says and they leave.

HAO, Allie, Morgan, Ashlyn and Ali stare at each other, stunned by what has transpired, then Ash stands up.

“I just want to go beat the shit out of Kelley and make her tell us where Tobin is.” She says angrily.

“Wait,” Ali says, gripping Ashlyn’s arm, “we can do something to help right now,”

“What’s that?” Morgan asks.

“Do any of you have Kelley’s address here?” Ali asks, looking at them. “I’ll text Press.” She gets her phone out and texts her. It only takes a minute for the reply, Ali briefly explaining her idea to Christen and then looking at them.

“Morgan, you have a laptop here?” she asks. Morgan silently nods, sliding off her bed, bringing it to her desk and powering it up.

“What are we doing?” Ashlyn asks.

Ali grabs Christen’s notebook, “We have a rough time line of when Kelley left and returned. She claims Tobin came back with her,” she says to them, “Morgan, pull up a map of this place, enter her address and this hotel.”

She looks at the rest of them, “We’ll see in that time, how far Kelley could go and get back here,” she says, “just in case she did do something to her, if she did leave her somewhere.”

HAO strides over to Ali, smacking her cheek with a loud kiss, “You are fucking brilliant,” she says, edging back behind Morgan so she can see the screen.

“It’s all the Law and Order she watches,” Ashlyn boasts, bringing an arm around Ali and kissing her gently.

“Come on,” Allie says to Ashlyn, “let’s go take a look around,”

“I’ll see you back in our room,” Ashlyn tells Ali, “text me if anything comes up,”

“You do the same,” Ali says, nodding at them. Allie and Ashlyn slip out the door, shutting it quietly behind them.

A half an hour later, they are frustrated.

“She’d never get back in time going out to the woods,” HAO frowns.

“Maybe she took her to another hotel?” Morgan suggests half-heartedly.

“The chance of someone finding her there would be high,” Ali says, running a hand through her hair, “housekeeping and all,” she reasons.

“Well, we’ve got nothing,” HAO says sighs, “let’s hope Press and Broon find something.”

 

 

XXXX

 

 

“Jesus, this place is a mess,” Becky wrinkles her nose, her eyes crawling over the living room, “what is that smell?”

Christen heads to the kitchen, spying the overflowing garbage. “This,” she points. “This isn’t like her,” she murmurs, “Beck, you know what a neat freak she is,” she looks up at her, looking as if she’s going to cry, “this is bad.”

“What should we look for?” Becky asks, hugging herself with her arms, looking around the messy room.

“First, let’s look for Tobin, if she’s not here, then any clue to where she would have taken Tobin,” Christen replies, “I’m going to check her bedroom,” she announces and heads down the hall. “Check the closets, under the beds,” she calls out. Becky opens the fridge to look, just in case. She shuts the door and then heads for the hall closet.

Christen opens the closet, looking inside, her nerves jumping, hoping to find Tobin safe, but fearful she won’t.

“Press!” Becky calls from the living room, “Check this out,” she says, looking at her and pointing to the kitchen table.

“What is it?” Christen asks as she approaches.

“It looks like recording equipment,” Becky tilts her head, confused, “there’s a mic and headphones,”

“Video game?” Christen asks prudently.

Becky shakes her head, “Kelley plays Mario Kart, badly, it’s not her thing,” she scrunches up her mouth, “Unless she’s been hiding that from us too,” she murmurs.

“Huh,” Christen says, flipping open the laptop, “do you know her password?” Becky shakes her head, frowning. Christen closes it, “I wonder what she was doing,”

“Look at this,” Becky says as pulls a cardboard box off the top of the overflowing trash can.

“What is it?” Christen asks, stepping closer to her.

“A power bank,” Becky reads, “for iPods and cell phones.”

“Huh, what does she need that for? Travel?”

“I don’t know,” Becky says, “I’m going to check the spare room,”

“Don’t forget the closet!” Christen calls out as she walks back to the bedroom. She heads for the master bath, opening the medicine cabinet. She gasps. “Becky!” she calls out. She hears footsteps approaching quickly, “What is it?”

“Look,” Christen points to the shelf in the cabinet.

“Holy shit,” Becky whispers, looking at the medicine bottles lined up. She leans closer, “They look full,” she glances at Christen, “like she’s not taking them,”

Christen takes out her phone, carefully turning each bottle so the label is visible, “I’m showing this to Dawn,” she says, “this is insane.” She makes sure to turn the bottles back in their original position after she takes her photos.

“I can’t believe what a mess this place is,” Becky frowns, eying all of the crap on the bathroom counter, “I didn’t see anything like, a clue in the living room,” she frowns, “she had to take her somewhere, right? Tobin would answer her texts, she wouldn’t go off like this, not for this long,”

“I know,” Christen nods, tears welling in her eyes, “I’m so scared for her,” she says, looking again at the medications on the shelves.

“We’ll find her,” Becky states, firmly, “where ever she has Tobin, I bet she has keys or something with her, back in her room,” she assures her, “we’ll find her tomorrow, I’m sure of it.”

A sob escapes Christen, Becky hugging her tight, “I’m so afraid we’ll be too late,”

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

July 9

 

The morning drags. They eat breakfast, Christen, Becky, HAO, Ashlyn, Allie, Ali and Morgan are all on edge and trying to act as normal as they eat. Christen notices that Lindsey is sticking close with Kelley, discreetly staying in her peripheral. Roman, the head of security announces to the team that they haven’t found Tobin yet and they are discreetly working with the local police. They’ve checked in with her family, they’ve checked the hospitals and they haven’t found anything yet. He reminds them all that the team maintaining a strict policy of no commenting about this, as they don’t know if Tobin was taken or if she’s out her own and having some personal issues.

After breakfast, Christen texts Dawn, asking her to meet her somewhere they won’t be found. Dawn suggests the local library that’s located a few blocks away and they agree to meet in a few minutes.

Becky insists on coming with her and her and Christen are surprised to see Jill sitting with Dawn at a table in the stacks on the second level when she enters the area. Christen lays out her story from what happened in college and the similarities between Tobin and Kelley and how things have been. She explains about the ipecac and hands over Tobin’s bottles, pleading with them to have them tested. Then Becky tells them they went to Kelley’s apartment last night and what they found. Christen texts Dawn the photos. Her and Becky watch as Dawn’s face grows pale, her concern mounting.

“These are a mix of antidepressants meds and some antipsychotics ones,” she murmurs, looking up at them, “you said they were full?”

“Yes, and see how the caps haven’t been turned upside down, like you do when you take them every day?” Becky points out.

“What I’m going to say needs to be kept private,” Jill states, looking at them sternly, “we can’t have this get out.” Becky and Christen nod. “It’s not just because of the publicity, the issues it would cause, it’s more serious than that.”

“Our security team found Tobin’s sketchbook, phone and room key in a stairwell of the hotel last night.” She states, “They are working with the police to review the hotel cameras as we speak.”

“I don’t think Kelley came back with her,” Christen shakes her head, tears welling in her eyes, “she’s done something with her.”

“That is looking likely,” Jill agrees regretfully, “but for now, it’s our advantage not to tip our hand until we have more evidence. Like these bottles,”

“We were going to-” Becky stops when Dawn raises her hand.

“We can’t hear your plans,” Dawn says firmly, holding a hand up, “everything we do will be scrutinized and we must be above the board in our actions. If you are planning something to help, I exhort you to be extremely careful.”

“I’m not afraid of the fallout,” Jill insists, “we’ll face it head on,” she states, “but we must follow the letter of the law and remain above reproach in our actions dealing with this.”

“No more texts that are suspect,” Dawn advises, “keep it vague, just call me or we’ll talk face to face anytime,”

“Me too,” Jill says, wiping at her eyes, “I just want to find Tobin.”

“Can we borrow a team van after the match?” Becky asks, “You know, to go to dinner?”

“Of course,” Jill nods, “that’s not the least bit unusual,” she smiles slightly, “I’ll talk to you after the match and keep you in the loop,”

“How’s Mrs. Heath?” Christen asks anxiously.

“She’s incredibly worried, her daughter Perry is here as well,” Dawn states, “they both understand the need for discretion and are updated regularly. They’re staying at the Hilton down the street.”

Christen and Becky leave the library from a side door, meandering back to the hotel. They have another half an hour until they need to be dressed and ready and head to the bus for their match. They both feel hollow, helpless and anxious for the game to be over.

 

It’s no surprise that the United States comes out flat, playing a rather lackluster game, only a threatening a few times in the first half. Once again, it’s a hot sunny day and the heat doesn’t make anything easier. In the sixtieth minute, Lindsey makes a slotted pass to Crystal, who loses her defender and fires the ball into the back of the net. That lights a fire under South Africa, who organize and threaten multiple times in a flurry of shots that Hope saves before the U.S. gains possession. They gut it out to end the match with a 1-0 victory, although they don’t feel like they deserved it.

Jill gives them an inspiring post match talk, praising them for keeping their composure while being so worried about Tobin. She ends with notifying them that they have a mandatory team meeting tonight and need to meet in the conference room at seven. The truth was that the investigators have some follow up questions about the timeline of events and want to interview every single player, Kelley O’Hara, in particular. Once they were interviewed, they were free to spend the rest of the evening as they liked.

Seeing as it’s only three o’clock, they know they have time for a quick recovery in the ice bath and then to head out for dinner. Lindsey makes subtle eye contact with Press as she walks past her on the bus, giving her a slight nod letting her know she remembers the key exchange.

 

 

Christen is in her room, Becky at her side, both waiting for a text from HAO that the group has left the building. There’s a knock at her door, it’s unlatched and it swings open to reveal a forlorn looking A-Rod, Allie and Ashlyn.

“We have to do something,” Allie pleads, searching their eyes, “I feel so helpless,”

Christen nods, “I know,” she says, “we’re going to search her room as soon as HAO says it’s clear,” she informs them. An idea hits, “Why don’t you guys track down the Heaths? I’m sure they could use your support,”

Allie nods furiously, pulling out her phone and texting away. Ashlyn walks in, looking as if she was ready to kill someone. “You don’t know how hard it was to stand there and not just grab Kelley and beat the shit out of her,” she says shakily.

“What did you say about not going with?” Becky asks her.

“That Umbro wanted a quick photo op here and I would hook up them after the interviews to go out,” she explains easily.

“Good one,” Christen nods.

“So, what’s the plan?” Ash asks, looking at Christen.

“We’re going to hang with Cindy and Perry,” Allie says, looping her arm through Amy’s and leading her to the door, she stops, “You let us know if there’s anything else we can do, okay?”

“I’ll keep you in the loop,” Christen promises, “and you can let the Heaths know as well,”

Allie nods and they exit.

Christen’s phone chirps and she glances at it, then stands up. “We’re on,” she says, pulling out a key card and putting her phone in her hoodie.

 

 

At Kelley’s room, Ashlyn looks up and down the hallway, “I’ll guard,” she offers, leaning on the wall outside the room as Becky and Christen shut the door behind them.

“You look pretty determined,” Becky observes as Christen heads straight for Kelley’s suitcase, “got something in mind?”

“I do,” Christen nods as she flips up the lid and begins running her hands along the interior of the suitcase, “Kelley has a storage unit,” she says, “and we didn’t find the key at her apartment,”

“Oh, shit, that’s right,” Becky nods, remembering now, “we went there when she moved,” she bites her lower lip, thinking. Then her eyes brighten, “I’m going to check her jewelry case,” she says and scurries to the bathroom.

The room is quiet except for the soft noises of them looking through Kelley’s possessions. Christen is frowning as she works, her hopefulness fading. Her hand feels a small bottle in one of Kelley’s socks. She pulls it out. Ipecac.

“Found it!” Becky calls from the bathroom, exiting the room holding up a key and a small business card. She looks at the card and then frowns, “It doesn’t have an address,” she looks up at Christen, her voice cracking, “how will we find it?”

“I know it was close to her place,” Christen says calmly, “let’s look it up.” She pulls out her phone and texts in Public Storage, her eyes scanning the results.

“There’s four close to her place,” she says, “let’s go.”

“Look what I found,” Christen holds up the small bottle.

“What the fuck!” Becky curses, taking hold of Christen’s arm and leading her to the door. They’re out the door so fast and walking down the hall so quickly, Ashlyn has to trot to catch up to them. “Where are we going?” she asks.

“Kelley’s storage unit,” Becky replies crisply.

They take the stairs down three flights, feeling it’s faster than waiting for the elevator. They sprint through the parking lot to the van Becky secured the keys to, Becky starting it and pulling out before Ashlyn has the sliding back door closed.

“Okay,” Christen says, staring at her phone, “take a left out of here,” She guides her to the first Public Storage location, Becky pulling up and entering the access code on the card.

The gate doesn’t open.

“This one didn’t look familiar,” Christen murmurs as Becky backs out and gets back into the traffic. The second one doesn’t allow them in either.

“Let’s hope three’s the charm,” Ashlyn says darkly from the backseat. She’s texting Allie, letting her know they’re checking out the storage units.

“Oh, fuck,” Christen mutters as they pull up to the third location, “she rented an outside unit,”

“Yeah, what’s wrong with that?” Ashlyn asks.

Christen turns to look at her, her eyes wide and scared, “Remember how hot it was yesterday? And how cold it got at night?”
Ashlyn’s mouth drops open, “Fuck,” she curses.

“Oh, shit,” Becky says as the gate opens for them, “I didn’t think of that.”

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Christen whispers, sniffing.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin awakes shivering she’s so cold. She can’t see anything, feeling something across her face, her mouth is open, something pressing against her tongue. She tries to move but she’s bound. Her arms are tight against her chest, her hands unable to move. She’s lying on her right side, she can’t even move her head, just slightly up and down, but not much at all. Panic sets in as she struggles to move, but it’s hopeless, it’s like she’s wrapped up in saran wrap or something, she can’t get anything to move much at all. After doing her best to break free, she gives up.

Her breathing is loud from her exertion against whatever’s in her mouth, she tries to calm herself, steadying her inhales and exhales, evaluating her situation.

Okay, she thinks to herself, start from the top. She tries to move her head, it’s stuck to the floor, she feels like she’s wearing a helmet or something, she can feel a chinstrap digging in under her chin. She can’t move her head left or right, just slightly up and down, but not much at all. She feels like her hands are taped, like her left hand is in a fist and her right one is over it. She can’t move her fingers, she’s just able to wiggle her right thumb. Her arms are bent to her chest, and feels feel pressure around her, again, she thinks it’s tape, it’s too wide to be rope. She feels something hard against her chest in between her breasts but she can’t figure out what it is. As she concentrates, she can feel the cold against her bare skin, her shirt has come up her back and she can feel the cold ground and the air on her exposed back.

There’s pressure on her hips, her knees are bound and so are her ankles. She can’t move her legs, there’s hardly any give. She does try to move again to no use. She can feel the air on her upper legs, her shins and calves and her bare feet. It’s then that she realizes she has earbuds in her ears and there’s a voice coming through pretty loud. She was in such a panic, she wasn’t paying attention to it earlier. She listens. It’s a silky male voice and he’s telling a story in a deep baritone.

 

“I was assigned to be the fire lookout at Station 9 for the night. It’s an easy shift, every fifteen minutes, take a walk around the platform, looking out into the night, scanning for any signs of a forest fire. The station itself has all glass windows wrapping around, so you could take your look by doing that, if you were so inclined. The boredom is the worst part of it, but there’s a computer and you can always use one of the radios to call up another ranger at another tower to bullshit and pass the time.”

“That night, as I climbed the one hundred and fifty-six steps up the metal tower and unlocked the station, the air felt…different. I couldn’t explain it, it just felt weird. Like the feeling in the air before a thunderstorm, how the barometric pressure changes and the air stills, the birds going quiet. Nothing was disturbed in the station, the computer and radios were functioning, the lights all went on when I flipped the switch. I shook it off.”

“My shift started at eight which gives me the chance to catch the amazing sunset over the treetops of the national forest. From this vantage point, I can see nothing but forest from four sides around me and only the faint glow of the city just before the horizon smothers it into the night. So, when I say I’m alone out there, I’m alone. “

“The other rangers, the ones who’ve been here for awhile tried to scare me when I first pulled this shift at this tower, telling me to be aware of the screaming woman, don’t go out on the platform after three in the morning. Don’t let her get to you and lock the doors. I thought they were just razzing me being a newbie, but when X pulled me aside when I checked in tonight and told me to seriously not be on the platform after three, I could see he was serious. Now, I’ve played poker with X and I know he’s a lousy bluffer, so I know he wasn’t joking around, he’s not that good of an actor. I nodded and said will do.”

 

Hearing this, Tobin’s mouth goes dry and she tries to distract herself, singing a song in her head to not listen. She’s doing well for a few minutes, letting the deep voice drone on, desperately trying not to listen when a loud female screaming pierces her ears. She flinches, feeling the bindings pull at her, her breathing becoming faster.
No, no, no shouts in her head, not realizing she’s yelling against the ball that’s in her mouth, biting down hard on it. Not fucking scary stories, she tells herself, no, no, no.

 

“She’s screaming and I can hear her climbing the steps. Panicked, I make sure the door is locked, I’m anxiously looking around for some type of weapon other than my large flashlight. I see a flash of white, she’s on the platform, staring at me.

 

Oh, God, no! Tobin screams, panic enveloping her, trying to remember the lyrics to any song to drown out his voice. She can’t. He continues to speak. She continues to scream against the gag in her mouth.

Shrill screaming fills her ears, making her head throb. Tobin can’t stop her mind from creating the mental vision of this woman as the reader describes her. Her tattered clothes, the messy long hair, her face bloody with haunting eyes.

The image imprints in her mind and Tobin’s unable to stop screaming. It takes her a couple of minutes to realize there’s silence. The man is no longer speaking. The story is over. Relief floods her and the shivers returns, the cold settling in her bones. She was too busy being terrified to be aware she was freezing. She can hear a couple of soft thumps, like from an edit in the recording.

 

“Hey, babe,” Kelley’s cheery voice fills Tobin’s head. “How’d you like that story? I thought it was pretty good, myself. How that guy could hear the footsteps coming up the stairs, knowing it’s this scary ghost? Pretty scary, huh?” She chuckles, “Oh, babe, you’re in for a treat, these last stories have been lame compared to what’s coming up. I hope you’re awake now to listen in. Well, on to the next!”

 

Kelley’s voice cuts off and another thump is heard.

Tobin is reeling, unable to believe that Kelley would do something like this to her. Kelley, the woman she loved. Kelley, who knew her, knew her inner fears, knew her history about hating to be scared and watch scary movies or listen to these types of stories. How could she? How could she be so cruel? She lied last night or whenever they were together, Tobin realizes, she wasn’t sorry. She begins to cry, feeling this is it, Kelley is just leaving her here to die, wherever this is. She doesn’t know how much time has passed, although it’s getting progressively warmer around her. The ground is still cold, but she’s not shivering anymore. She tries to take some deep breaths, feeling that hard item pressing against her chest. Her arms dig into her ribs when she tries to take a deep breath. As soon as this new voice begins to speak, Tobin begins to pray as she cries.

 

 

A loud jolt of thunder makes Tobin’s whole body flinch, waking her a troubled sleep. Her gasp makes her inhale the drool collected in her mouth, causing her to cough violently as she tries to catch her breath. The coughing fit feels like it lasts for an eternity, Tobin beginning to panic that she’ll choke to death on her own spit. When she finally can breathe somewhat normally, Tobin feels how hot the air is when she inhales. Wherever she is, it’s like an oven right now.

She feels wet, her body coated in sweat and a thought enters her mind. The storm rages on from her earbuds, the right one growing uncomfortable in her head. Whatever headgear she’s got on, it’s pressing the earbud deeper. She tries to move and finds a more comfortable position. If she’s so sweaty, maybe she can loosen the bindings reasons. She begins to twist her torso, growling out as she feels what has to be tape painfully peeling from her exposed skin. Unfortunately, the tape is still very sticky and as soon as Tobin moves in the other direction, it adheres itself to her again.

Tobin struggles hard, trying to free her ankles, but she has no leverage because she’s on her side and her knees are bound and her hips are taped to the floor as well. Spent, she lies there, listening to a new voice speaking to her. Her left eye hurts, she feels pressure on it. She thinks she’s wearing some kind of glasses to block her view and now it’s digging in to her left eye and it’s really starting to hurt.

Tobin can’t help herself to listen to the story and regrets it immediately.

 

“He laid there in the box, unable move as the red ants began to crawl over his body, the sound of the swarm in his ears as they began to cover him.”

 

Tobin swears she feels something on her, crawling on her feet, tickling slightly as she moves her toes. A part of her knows her mind is playing tricks on her, but it feels so real, she can’t fight it. She’s screaming but she can’t hear herself, the voice in her ears is too loud. She feels something pop in her throat, then pain.

She exhausts herself squirming and fighting against what holds her in place, frantically attempting to stop the insects that she’s sure are covering her. The sounds of insects are pumping in her ears, strange chattering and clicking noises that come in waves. Out of breath, she stops moving, her chest heaving, not allowed to fully expand, pressing that solid object into her chest. She’s no longer sweating, her mouth is dry and she realizes this is what it feels like to be dehydrated. She can feel a headache coming on and decides to conserve her energy, waiting for the time when someone comes in and she can fight herself free.

Or maybe her rescue will come. Her team knows she’s missing, they have to by now she reasons. Even though she was held out of practice she would go, hang out on the sidelines and listen to what they’re doing. There’s always times during practice that Jill shares with them some points she didn’t cover in their morning meetings. They have to know she’s gone. Morgan would say something when she realizes she didn’t come back.

A scream jolts her again, a woman pleading for help as a man terrorizes her. He mocks her as she struggles, threatening her menacingly.

Tobin is whimpering as she listens, unable to distract herself any longer. She lies there, tired yet unable to sleep, thirsty, hungry and uncomfortable. She doesn’t know how many stories she’s heard, some positively terrifying, others just plain disgusting.

Kelley’s voice comes through a few more times, berating Tobin for playing so well, her jealously coming across loud and clear. Kelley screams at her for being so good, for getting the chance to play striker while she languishes on the defense.

Tobin’s heart flutters when she hears her next line.

 

“You’re the first, Tobin,” Kelley states, suddenly very calm, “I’m going after Press next, a clumsy slide tackle to her knee, maybe her Achilles,” she says, “I’m going to force them to put me up front.” She pauses for a moment, “Too bad you won’t be around to see it.”

 

After hours of lying there, Tobin realizes that this recording is on a loop. She’s beginning to recognize the stories, remembering some of what Kelley speaks about.

It’s getting cold again, Tobin can feel the warmth leaving her body. She does some isometric exercises, flexing her muscles to give her some warmth, but it helps only a little. This means two nights, right, she thinks, they have to know something happened. My Mom would call since I didn’t meet her for dinner, right? Perry is coming here, we have a game tomorrow. They’ll raise Hell looking for me.

She thinks about her family but can’t concentrate because the ruckus in her ears keeps distracting her. She’s shaking again from the cold, the concrete she’s on is so incredibly cold. Her toes are painfully tingling as she chatters. Her back is freezing, the sweat from during the day not helping her current situation.

An unusual voice grabs her attention, it’s a female with a high pitch, speaking quickly.

 

“I don’t know who you are or why you’re here,” she says quickly, “but you will die a painful death. I know because I’ve been there. I was once what you are now. She did this to me as well. You are not the first.

Tobin struggles as she listens, her fear rising, not knowing if this is another story or something else. She’s breathing hard, her jaw aching from being open wide with this stupid ball in her mouth, her hip feeling raw from the contact with the hard floor.

 

“You will suffer. You will feel incredible pain. You will beg for death. You will beg for it to end. May God have mercy on your soul.”

 

Tobin is shaking from the cold and fright, realizing her reality is slipping and she doesn’t know if that was recorded or someone actually speaking to her. The deprivation of her senses, her sight, her ability to hear properly and move, it’s getting to her. She doesn’t know what’s real. She hears another few clicks and then silence.

 

“So, wasn’t that one creepy? Did it fuck with your head? Are you scared? It’s true you know,” Kelley’s voice says, a hint of sadness in it, “I hired some people to come and get you,” she says, “do you know how much money you can get to offer up someone for another’s pleasure? Alot, let me tell you. I think you’ll have so much fun with them, babe, I really do. You’re finally going to discover what it’s like to be fucked hard by a guy with a huge dick. Repeatedly. Maybe even for days, maybe even a bunch of other guys too. You really should have let me fuck you that night, you would have gotten used to it.” She quiet for a minute. “I did love you, but you got so much better than me and I just couldn’t live
with that.”

 

Tobin can’t believe her hears. This is the first time she’s heard this. She reasons she must have been passed out before. She’s terrified. Terrified that Kelley would do this. Terrified of what her fate will be.

 

“You just, I don’t know, like, you’re so dedicated to it, you love it. I love playing, but you adapt. You’re a fucking amazing middy, you can handle defense, and now they’re talking about making you a striker? Fuck Tobin, there’s other people on the fucking team that can do that. Why does it have to be you? I thought about just like, breaking your leg or something, but you’ll just come back. And probably be even better. With you out of the way and Press next, I’ll be striker. Just like when I was in college. Fuck defense.”

 

There’s a pause and Tobin is shaking with terror as she waits to hear what’s next. Kelley speaks again, her voice chipper and bright.

 

“The bright lining is that the guys promised to leave your body out in the woods, so you’ll be someplace you like. I know how much you like hiking and nature, so you’ve got to look forward to. I hope it’s not too painful and I asked them to make it quick when they finally kill you. They promised they would, they said they weren’t into torture or anything, so, I think it be fast. I owe you that.”

 

Tobin freaks out, exerting all of her strength to get free, feeling her legs move a bit more, encouraging her to work harder, keep pulling and trying to kick herself free. She can now wiggle her feet back and forth about four inches, but that’s it. She can’t get much leverage to pull herself free not matter how hard she tries. Screams of many people fill her head, these horrible mournful cries of agony even though she’s heard it repeatedly for hours. She remembers this part, waking up to these screams, as she continues struggling, the panic she feels propelling her burst of energy. She twists her torso, trying to work her upper body free, feeling some give in the restraints. Her head is anchored down hard, she can’t move it much at all.

She uses her tongue to push out the drool in her mouth, not wanting to experience another coughing and choking fit. Then she stops moving, her exhaustion overcoming her, shuddering as she pants, her chest burning, her throat burning from screaming.

A flashback of her night with Kelley elbows its way to the forefront of her mind, she was feeling super drowsy and Kelley told her to look straight ahead. Then she felt a blinding pain in her face, her left eye feeling hot, then nothing.

Kelley hit me.

She begins to weep, unable to stop, realizing this is hopeless. Oh, Jesus, she prays as the screams continue to fill her head, please have mercy on me.

This is her destiny.

 

XXXX

 

 

“So, how are we doing this?” Ashlyn asks from the backseat of the van.

“I think we should pull close to the door, so we block it,” Becky suggests as she navigates the car through the storage facility, “and maybe not pull the door all the way up.”

“Guys,” Christen says with a trembling voice, “what if we’re too late? What if she’s dead?”

“Jesus, Press, don’t say that!” Ashlyn exclaims, “We can’t think that way.”

“Ash, she’s been in there for almost forty-eight hours,” Christen rants, “in the cold, in the heat, alone,” she cries, “what if Kelley killed her?” she asks, horrified at the thought.

“Okay, Chris,” Ashlyn says, placing a hand on her shoulder, giving it a squeeze, “let’s think positive and go from there. We’ll call Dawn no matter what.”

Becky makes a left turn, taking a deep breath as the vehicle rolls to a stop. “This is it,” she says, looking to her left at Unit 138. She turns to look at them, unbuckling her seatbelt, swallowing hard, “Let’s do this.”

Both nod with her, feeling an almost overwhelming sense of dread as they unbuckle their seatbelts and leave the van. Becky has the van snugged up against the door, only about a foot and a half worth of space between it. The three gather in front of the door, Ashlyn taking a deep breath as Becky uses a shaky hand to twist the key in the hanging lock. She opens the shackle, taking it off and tossing it on the ground, looking at the two with large, scared eyes. Christen nods at her through her tears, encouraging her to roll up the door.

Becky swallows hard once again, firmly sinking her upper teeth into her lower lip as she reaches down and grabs the handle, lifting the rolling door open.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

July 9

 

Tobin feels a rush of air hit her bare skin, oh, that feels so good, she thinks, relaxing for a moment, doing her best to ignore the screams in her ears. Then she thinks, oh my God, it’s the men. The men Kelley told her about. The ones coming to take her and do despicable things to her and then kill her. She begins to flail as much as she can against the bonds that hold her, panic rising, making her whimper and emit these sounds of the terror she’s being consumed by. She feels hands on her legs and it only makes her fight more, lashing out with all she’s got.

 

XXXX

 

 

“Oh my God!” Becky, Ashlyn and Christen exclaim when they see the sight before them. Tobin is covered with duct tape, her ankles, knees and arms bound, then strips of the tape crossing her body and anchoring her to the concrete floor. She has a hockey helmet on her head, tape crossing it to hold her head to the floor as well.

They spring forward, landing on their knees, scrambling to pull the tape away.

“Tobin, it’s us, Becky, Press and Ash,” Becky says, “you’re safe, stay calm, we’ve got you,” she exhorts.

“Look,” Christen points as she crawls near Tobin’s head, showing them the tape on Tobin’s ears. They can hear the muffled screams coming from the earbuds over Tobin’s muted screams. Christen goes to reach for Tobin’s mouth to remove the ball gag, but Becky clamps a hand on her wrist, stilling her. “Don’t,” she orders, “she’s too freaked out to stop screaming,” she advises, “we don’t want to attract a ton of attention.”

“I’ll get the ear buds out,” Christen says as she begins to try and work off the tape from Tobin’s left ear. Becky and Ashlyn attempt to remove the tape from the floor to free their friend, but the heat has created a strong bond, slowing their progress.

Ashlyn scrambles up, using her phone as a flashlight to view the random boxes and some furniture. “We need a knife,” she announces, “I’ll be right back,” she says, ducking under the partially open door and running for the sales office.

With tears in their eyes, Becky and Christen do their best in the hot storage unit to peel the tape free from Tobin, both crying quietly as they witness their friend who is in absolute terror. Both of them are sweating in the hot storage unit as they work feverishly to free their friend. Christen unravels the tape and gently pulls out the ear bud, leaning close, laying a hand on the hockey helmet Tobin is wearing, “Tobin! It’s Christen and Becky, you’re safe!” she says loudly in her ear.

Tobin is too far gone to hear it, the screams in her other ear bud and the panic she’s feeling not allowing her to pause and let the words sink in. Christen looks worriedly over at Becky who is managing to free the tape holding down Tobin’s bound ankles. Tobin begins to kick at her, forcing Becky to straddle her and keep her legs still and she starts to work near her knees. They both turn to look over their shoulders when they hear someone approaching, it’s Ashlyn, ducking the door holding a razor knife in her hand. “I bought this in the office,” she explains, flicking the blade open and beginning to slice through the layers of duct tape on the floor near where it moves up to Tobin’s body.

“Let’s get her in the van,” Becky suggests, “we’ll keep working on the tape while you drive, Ash,”

Ashlyn gets Tobin free from the tape that holds her down, handing the knife to Becky and moving to the van. She folds the front row passenger seats down, then pops back in the unit.

“Alright, let’s load her up,” Ashlyn commands, grabbing Tobin’s ankles as Becky rises and grips her hips, Christen holding Tobin’s shoulders. They reverse their order, Christen getting in first, cradling Tobin as she scoots along the floor of the van, Becky following her in and sliding the door shut. Ashlyn finds the lock, rapidly shutting the rolling door and locking the unit back up.

She scampers around the van to the driver’s door, entering quickly and handing her phone to Becky, “Put in our hotel,” she orders, “then call Dawn and let her know we’re on our way,”

Becky does as told and passes the phone back so Ashlyn has the directions back and then gets her phone out, calling Dawn. Christen is cradling Tobin, working on getting the other ear free and the helmet off her head. Tobin is still bound by her arms and knees, her breathing erratic mixed with these whimpers and shudders and sounds of terror. She’s futilely fighting against them, although there’s not much behind it right now, she’s growing exhausted.

Christen cheers a little when she gets the second earbud out, lowering her head next to Tobin’s, stroking her forehead with her other hand, “Tobin, it’s Christen, you’re safe.”
Tobin cries out, her voice low and distorted from the ball gag shoved in her mouth. Christen works to rid her of the plastic helmet, unsnapping the chinstrap and then she traces the cords of the earbuds, going under Tobin’s shirt and pulling out an iPod with a connected power bank. She shuts it off and stuffs it in her pocket, then begins to work on freeing the tape from around her eyes. She notices an ugly bruise around her left eye, frowning.

“Becky, I need the knife,” she sticks her hand out.

She’s discovered that Tobin has on a pair of Kelley’s obnoxious swim goggles. When the van is stopped at a red light, she carefully cuts the straps, relieving the pressure on Tobin’s face. Tobin groans with relief, her head sliding to the side. She’s still shuddering, her breathing shaky, noisily coming out her nose and mouth around the gag.

Becky has Dawn on speaker, she’s crying as she describes to her how they found Tobin, getting the knife back from Christen and carefully removing the excess tape.

“Tobin, you’re safe now,” Christen urges in her ear, “I’m going to take the gag out of your mouth, alright? Nod your head if that’s okay.”

Tobin nods her head rapidly, unable to stop trembling.

Christen unbuckles the leather harness and removes the tape carefully from her face. She pulls out the spit coated ball and drops it on the floor, hearing rush of breath from Tobin. Christen goes back to lifting the tape from around Tobin’s eyes, removing it fully and dropping the goggles beside the gag.

Tobin is breathing rapidly, then licks around her lips, grimacing, her eyes shut, mouthing something.

“What Tobin?” Christen asks, “What do you need?” she lowers her head down, unable to hear what she’s trying to say. She can see how Tobin’s throat bobs as she swallows, breathing out “Water,” in a scratchy, raspy whisper.

“She wants water, do we have some?” Christen asks loudly.

Becky has a bottle open and hands it to Christen, she opens another and starts pouring it on Tobin’s torso to cool her. Christen brings the bottle to Tobin’s lips, tilting it slightly as she drinks greedily, water spilling over her lips and down her chin and neck.

“Easy,” Christen soothes, pulling Tobin’s sweaty hair from her face.

“We’re almost there,” Ashlyn announces from the driver’s seat.

“Pull around back,” Becky says, “go by the dock. Dawn will be there.”

Tobin flinches, her eyes opening, wincing at the light, “Kelley,” she cries, her voice cracking and raspy from screaming still just above a whisper, “Kelley… did… this,” she sobs.

“I know,” Christen whispers in her ear, “I know, honey,” she says, holding Tobin tightly, rocking her gently as Becky continues to try and remove the silver duct tape. Both her and Christen are crying from hearing Tobin’s tortured sobbing, reeling from the pain in her wrecked voice.

“We’re here,” Ashlyn says tersely, jerking the vehicle to a halt, “there’s Dawn,” she says as she unbuckles her seatbelt and springs from the van. She slides the door open and Christen and Becky can see two of the team doctors and Dawn standing there with a gurney, looking worried.

“No, no, no!” Tobin whisper chants as she’s lifted from the van, “Please! No!” She’s panicking, unaware of what’s happening, beginning to hyperventilate, “Don’t hurt me!” she pleads, beginning to squirm and struggle against the hands holding her.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Christen soothes, “you’re safe,”

Tobin looks at her with fearful eyes, glancing at the male doctor, swallowing and looking at him with terror. “No, please,” she begs, closing her eyes, panting.

Christen eyes Dawn and then Dr. Logan, the male doctor, who seems to take a step back, sensing Tobin is afraid of him. Dr. Anderson, the female doctor steps up, taking control, turning to Dr. Logan, “Get me an all female crew,” she nods at him. He nods back, turning and trotting into the hotel through the dock doors.

She grabs the arm of one of the female security officers, “I need a hand, okay?” she asks her. Jen nods, “Of course,” she says, “what do you want?”

“Just,” she frowns, “don’t let her hurt herself,” she says, beginning to push the gurney, “or us,” She turns to Becky, “Come with us,” she orders, “I need to hear what you saw,” she says. Becky looks wide eyed at her, nodding her head silently. Dawn grabs a hold of the gurney, speaking quietly to Tobin who is still breathing heavy but has gone silent, not speaking.

Dawn looks over her shoulder at a stunned Christen and Ashlyn, “I’ll find you in a few minutes,” she says, “go to the snack room or one of your rooms,” she requests.

“I found the ipecac,” Christen says suddenly, fishing the small bottle from her pocket, handing it to her. Dawn nods as she takes it and hands it to Roberta, looking grim.

“Here,” Ashlyn places the key to the storage unit in her hand. Becky hands over the card with the password on it.

“Ashlyn,” Roberta, one of their security agents steps next to her, “may I have the van keys?”

“Sure,” Ashlyn hands them over.

“I’ll need to talk to the three of you,” Roberta says, “I’ll find you in a bit.”

Ashlyn nods and looks at Christen, “I’m gonna kill her,” she says, stomping into the building, walking quickly and then beginning to run, Christen hot on her heels.
Ashlyn bursts through the team meeting room, sensing they would be there, waiting for the interviews. Everyone in the room jumps at her loud entrance, all eyes on her and Christen who is also struggling with the rage she feels bubbling up in herself.

“Where the fuck is she?” she yells, breathing heavy, her hands balled into fists, looking around the room. She sees Kelley. “You!” she screams, pointing at Kelley, moving through the tables, “You fucking animal! What the fuck did you do to her?” Kelley stands from her chair, backing away as Ashlyn approaches. Hope and Carli grab Ashlyn’s arms, struggling to hold her back from beating Kelley to a pulp. Christen approaches Kelley, looking at her with a mix of sadness and disgust.

“I know,” she says in a surprisingly calm voice, “I know what you did,”

Kelley looks at her with wide eyes, then glances around. “She did it to herself,” she spits out defensively, her face turning red, “it’s not my fault.”

“You fucking left her there to die!” Ashlyn roars as she struggles to break free, Carli and Hope holding her back. Ali quickly crossing the room to get near her.

Christen walks in front of Ashlyn, who is still struggling to break free from Carli and Hope’s firm grasp, blocking her from Kelley. She’s feeling sick to her stomach and she’s shaking with rage and emotion as she glares at her one time best friend, “Tell me Kel,” she says, her voice sounding calm and collected, which is the exact opposite of how she is feeling, “was I next? Or were you going to take out Amy?”

Kelley’s mouth drops open, closing a few times as she tries to come up with a response. Crystal and Lindsey and stand up from their chairs which were next to Kelley’s, stepping back to glare at her. Kelley holds her ground, looking furiously at the team, her eyes blazing, cheeks red from her fury. She lifts her hand to point her finger at Christen, just about ready to let loose when a voice rings out.

“Kelley!” A voice from the entrance calls out. All heads turn to look. Aaron Heifetz, their Press Officer is standing there, flanked by a male and female member of their security team.

“May I have a word, please?” he asks, gesturing for her to come with him. "Now." He says sternly.

Kelley nervously licks her lips, lowering her hand and then bites her lower lip and sends a look at Christen, composing herself and confidently walking past her and Ashlyn.

“One day, Kel,” Ashlyn growls, “one day, I’m going to find you,” she says. Ali springs to her side, “Ssshh,” she orders, taking hold of Ashlyn’s jaw, forcing her to look at her, “no threats,” she warns, her eyes blazing at her.

“Fuck,” Ashlyn yells, watching Kelley leave the room then looking at Hope, “I’m good,” she says, swallowing hard, “thanks.” Carli and Hope drop their hands from her. Ali envelops Ashlyn in a fierce embrace, whispering to her as she cries.

 

The room is silent, everyone is in shock at the sight of Ashlyn, their rock, freaking out and breaking down in front of them. They’re all thinking about what just went down, confused by the events, the majority of them who have had no clue as to what has been happening and Kelley’s involvement. They’re formulating the questions they have for Ashlyn, Christen and Becky.

Before anyone speaks, the doors push open revealing Allie and Amy, both looking shell shocked.

HAO springs from her chair in the back of the room, “Is she fucking alive?” she yells, her voice cracking, her face twisted in anguish. Allie nods as tears flow from her eyes, her and Amy both so affected from their time with Tobin’s Mom and sister. Waiting with them, sharing with them the facts they knew, trying to piece together how Kelley could have gone off the rails like she has.

“What did she do to her?” Hope asks loudly, her face set with worry.

Christen wipes her eyes and nods, slowly walking to the center of the room, Becky at her side, Ashlyn coming forward and joining them. Allie and Amy move through the tables and stand with them. Their teammates leave their seats, pressing against each other in a tight semi-circle before them. Christen begins to explain, not sharing the extremely personal details of Tobin’s and Kelley’s relationship, she doesn’t talk about the strap on incident, rather sharing the other, less extreme instances where Kelley was acting strangely. She builds up the tale, talking about how Tobin getting sick was the result of Kelley spiking her protein drink, how she kept Tobin’s bottles, asking Dawn to have them tested. How she found the ipecac in Kelley’s room.

Then she shares with how this was so similar to what happened back at Stanford years ago, shocking everyone. The facts stun the team into silence, such as how her and Becky found unused medications in Kelley’s apartment. How they found the keys and password code to the storage unit after Tobin had been gone.

Becky takes over, wrapping an arm around a shaking Christen, speaking clearly to the group, yet her voice trembling. She tells them how they found Tobin in the storage unit, how she was bound in tape, unable to speak, hear or see. She tells them how Kelley had put earplugs in, using an iPod to play loudly. She lowers her voice, looking at them and shares quietly how Christen has the iPod and is going to listen to what’s on it.

Christen states she thinks Tobin is pretty dehydrated, but she’s worried about her mental state. Becky adds that Dawn promised to come in and give them all an update as soon as she was stabilized.

Allie steps up when Becky finishes, sharing her and Amy’s time with Tobin’s Mom and Perry. How worried they are, how fearful. She drops a bombshell that Kelley’s parents are here and are waiting with the Heaths, currently being spoken to by the security team and medical staff about what’s going on. The room is somber, the air is thick with tension and worry.

“Did they take her to a hospital?” Alyssa prudently asks, glancing around the room.

Becky shakes her head, “They have a room upstairs, it’s like a hospital room,” she explains. The others nod, the veterans nodding knowingly, remembering when Abby was taken there after she had taken too pills once two years ago. The medical team has a state of the art set up with access to the nearest hospital’s lab. It’s not something that’s completely publicized.

“Is there anything we can do?” Morgan Brian asks, wiping at her eyes.

Allie frowns as she surveys the room, “If you’re so inclined,” she says quietly, “I think Tobin and Kelley both could use your prayers.”

 

XXXX

 

 

A bloodcurdling scream jolts Tobin awake, her whole body flinching as she gasps for breath. She’s got her eyes shut as she pants.

“You’re okay,” she hears a voice say and feels a hand squeezing her forearm. She flinches again, then cracks her eyes open, still sensitive to the light, relieved to find the room is dim.

“It’s okay baby girl,” Tobin recognizes her Mom saying warmly, now stroking Tobin’s hair back from her forehead, “you’re safe.”

“Mom?” Tobin croaks, her throat dry and raspy. She feels her eyes watering. She realizes she had been dreaming just a moment earlier.

“I’m here, sweetie,” she says, looking down lovingly at her, “it’s over now, Tobin. You’re safe now.”

“Mom,” Tobin cries, clumsily moving her hand under the warm blanket, trying to get it out from under the covers. Her Mom finds her hand, interlocking their fingers together, comforting her. Tobin sniffs, looking up at her Mom, seeing the worry in her eyes. She glances around the room, squinting, everything is a little fuzzy. She lifts her head off the pillow a few inches when she sees another person sitting nearby. “Per?” she questions.

“Hey Tobes,” Perry says softly, scooting her chair closer, bringing her hand up to the side of the where Tobin’s lying, rubbing her left forearm, just under where the port is for the IV, “how are you feeling?”

Tobin lies back, considering how she feels. “Weird,” she replies, her throat hurting as she speaks.

Perry smiles at her, “You’re on some good stuff,” she nods at her, “just relax, there’s no rush to go anywhere,”

“Where.. are… we?” Tobin asks, blinking rapidly, the dimness of the room is still pretty bright to her. She shuts her eyes.

“We’re at the team hotel,” her Mom replies, “they set up a medical room here,” she says, squeezing Tobin’s hand, “you’re going to be just fine,”

“Time? Day?” Tobin whispers, wanting to conserve her speech. Her throat hurts too much.

“It’s around ten o’clock,” her Mom answers, “and it’s Saturday night.”

“Satur…missed match?” Tobin asks, opening her eyes and squinting to look at her Mom.

“Yes, honey,” she nods.

“Where… was… I?” Tobin asks, wincing and swallowing hard.

“I think there’s some other people here who would be better explaining everything that happened,” Perry interjects, “and I’m sure they’re very anxious to see you,” she reaches for her phone and types out a text.

“Water?” Tobin whispers, her voice cracking. Her mother brings over a cup with a straw in it, bringing to her and letting her drink some water. “Thanks,” Tobin sighs, letting her head fall back on the pillow.

“You tired, baby?” her Mom asks, looking at her intently

Tobin can only nod.

Her Mom frowns back at her, nodding her head.

“Oh man,” Tobin moans, sighing deeply. She opens her eyes and looks at the IV sticking out of her arm, then down at her chest where wires snake out from under the blanket. She swallows hard and squints at her Mom, “Am… I… okay?”

“Yes,” her Mom replies, leaning in and lovingly lacing her hand on the side of Tobin’s face, “you were very dehydrated,” she explains, “you had a touch of heat exhaustion as well. Everything is fine now, your kidneys are working, your blood levels are improving.”

“Not normal?” Tobin questions, rubbing her eyes. Her head feels funny, she feels loopy and her ears are ringing a little.

“Not yet,” her Mom says softly, “but improving with every test, it will take a little time,” she assures her, “your electrolytes were very off kilter and you were really out of it.”

Tobin closes her eyes, letting out another sigh, “Don’t remember,” she mumbles, her forehead crinkling as she tries to remember, “don’t remember,” she sniffs, her eyes popping open, “Mom,” she says, growing a little frantic.

“It’s okay,” her Mom soothes, “it’s okay,” she says, “you’ve been through a lot, it’s okay if you don’t remember right now,”

Perry leans in, tightening her hold on Tobin’s forearm, giving it a squeeze, “You’re on a lot of drugs right now,” she says, “it’s very normal to feel foggy,”

“Oh,” Tobin frowns, “okay,” she says, shifting in the bed, wincing a little. She knows Kelley did something to her, she doesn’t remember what. She feels terrible, she’s so tired and feels stiff. Her eyes are burning and her throat hurts. But the sensations she’s feeling seems disconnected, as if she’s not really feeling it with the intensity she should. Must be the drugs. She rubs her ears.

“What’s wrong?” Perry asks.

“Ears, my hip hurts,” Tobin frowns, shifting again.

“You have a little ear damage from the earbuds, nothing too serious and you have a scrape on your hip,” her Mom informs her, “stay off it,”

“Uh huh,” Tobin nods. “water?” she whispers, tentatively reaching a shaky hand out to hold the cup her Mom hands her. It takes her a couple of tries to find the straw and then she sips on it. She lowers her arm, resting the cup on her leg.

There’s a knock at the door and Perry leaves her seat to answer it. She opens it and stands to the side, quietly greeting those who slowly file into the room.

Tobin squints at her teammates, “Hey,” she says, her Mom standing up, taking the cup from her hand and setting it on the table next to her. They all look pale and haggard to her, it’s so strange to see them so serious and solemn. She sees her Mom and Perry hugging Becky, Christen and Ashlyn, speaking with them for a moment before leaving the room.

HAO steps forward, “How you feeling, dude?” she asks quietly, her eyes crawling over Tobin in the bed.

Tobin shrugs, “Out… of… it,” she admits.

Amy moves to her bedside, sitting down in the chair Perry had vacated, “We were so scared for you,” she says, tears in her eyes, “I’m so glad you’re okay,”

Tobin reaches for Amy’s hand, taking it and giving her a squeeze, “Thanks,” she says and looks at the others, “what…happened?” she asks.

Christen steps forward, sitting on the edge of the bed, her hand finding Tobin’s shin and rubbing her skin, “We didn’t realize you were officially missing until after practice on Friday,” she states, “I had suspected Kelley was messing with you,” she frowns, “like you getting so sick,” she says. “So, that night, Becky and I went to Kelley’s apartment to look around, see if she had you there,”

Christen wipes at her eyes, “We found a whole medicine cabinet full of prescription drugs that Kelley hadn’t been taking,” she informs Tobin, who’s mouth drops.

“Huh?” Tobin questions, looking shocked.

Christen nods her head, her eyes downcast. Becky steps in behind her, placing a hand on Christen’s shoulder, “Dawn informed us that Kelley has been seeing a doctor out of Georgia for many years, unbeknownst to U.S. soccer up until about nine months ago. Her drug test popped up with all of these meds and she had to answer to it.”

“Is…she…sick?” Tobin asks, alarmed.

Becky looks away from Tobin’s searching gaze, swallowing hard, licking her lips and nodding herself before turning back to face her. “Dawn told me that Kelley was diagnosed as having a personality disorder,” she says quietly, “and some other issues.”

“Uh,” Tobin utters, unable to find words.

“She hasn’t been taking care of herself,” Christen states, “and this all accelerated into a huge mess,” she sighs, “and you were caught in the middle.”

Ashlyn is standing there, arms crossed, rigid in stature. “She drugged you and tied you up and left you in her storage unit,” she says quietly, her voice cracking, tears running down her face.

Tobin’s face goes slack, her mouth open unbelieving that Kelley would do such a thing. She can’t remember much of her being in the car with her, her forehead crinkles in concentration, trying to remember.

“I… don’t… remember,” she whispers, “why… can’t… I… remember?”

HAO kneels at her side, even with her shoulders, “Probably the drugs,” she says, “it might come back when you’re off them,” she assures her.

“How… did… I… get… here?” Tobin questions, searching their faces. Her voice is just above a whisper, ragged from her screams. She’s vaguely aware that her whole body is sore. She wonders why she isn’t more upset about not remembering what happened. She thinks she should be freaked out learning Kelley abducted her. It must be whatever drugs she’s on. She just feels off, kind of foggy.

Allie stands next to Ashlyn, putting an arm around her, taking a few steps forward with her, then she puts her arm around Becky on her other side.

“These guys figured it out,” she says, “After our match, Becky and Christen searched Kelley’s room and found the key and password for her storage unit. Ash drove the van and they found the right place and got you out and brought you back here,”

Tobin stares at them, her mouth open, her eyes as wide as they’ve ever seen them tonight. Her throat starts moving, she blinks rapidly, her breathing picking up. She eyes each of them, licking her lips and tilting her head, “You… did… that… for… me?” she asks, her voice cracking and escalating in pitch.

Christen rubs her hand on Tobin’s leg through the blanket, “Yes,” she replies, wanting to assure her before she starts to unravel, “we did,” she says, “we had a feeling, once we found the key to the storage unit that you would be there,”

“Saved… my… life,” Tobin whispers, tears streaking down her face, “thank you… so much,” she sniffs, shaking her head, “can’t… believe… it,”
Amy extends an arm out and Tobin leans into her, holding onto Amy’s right arm as she hugs her. HAO reaches her hand out, holding onto Tobin’s shoulder. The other women come around, each laying a hand on Tobin as she weeps quietly. Amy is murmuring words of reassurance in her ear.

The soft cries of Tobin and the sniffling of the others fill the room.

 

XXXX

 

 

“I’ll have a bourbon, neat,” Ashlyn states to the server at their table. All of the women have ordered drinks except Becky, who is last. After seeing Tobin, the group decided to have a drink, not caring about the team curfew right now. They had passed Dawn and Jill on their way down to the bar, both of them nodding sympathetically to them.

“What’s your strongest drink that doesn’t taste like alcohol?” Becky asks, looking up at their server.

“A Long Island Iced Tea,” she replies, “our bartender makes a terrific one.”

“I’ll have that,” she says, “and seven shots of Jack, chilled, please.” The server nods with Becky’s order being the last one of the table and she leaves to get the drinks.

“I’m so relieved she’s going to be okay,” HAO sighs, her head in her hands, “I can’t imagine what she went through.”

“She’s going to be fucked up for a long time,” Ashlyn laments, leaning against Ali who puts an arm around her.

“Her and Kelley,” Christen murmurs quietly, “I can’t believe we didn’t realize she was suffering from something so serious like this,”

“Hey,” Becky says, leaning forward to catch Christen’s eye, “we can’t start playing shoulda coulda woulda,” she says, “we can’t change the past.”

Christen nods morosely, flicking a tear from her eye, feeling like she’s been crying most of the day.

“I’m struggling to have any compassion for Kelley right now,” Ashlyn admits, “I know I should, she’s my friend, but what she did to Tobin…” she shakes her head.

“I think we all are,” HAO agrees, “it’s going to be a fine line to walk.” The others nod their heads with her.

“I think Kelley will dictate how we react to her,” Amy says quietly.

“So, they arrested her, huh?” Allie asks, looking around the table.

Becky nods, “I saw Dawn and Roberta,” she says quietly, “after we left the meeting,” she frowns, “she said Kelley lost it, had to be restrained, she was screaming when they took her.”

Christen wipes at her eyes, “This is unreal,” she shakes her head, “I just can’t believe she did this,”

“Dawn said they’re pushing to get her in a mental facility, not jail,” Becky informs them, leaning her elbows against the table and massaging the bridge of her nose with a hand, “they’re trying to keep it as quiet as possible,”

They sit in silence until the server returns with their drinks.

Allie raises her shot glass, “To Tobin for a speedy recovery,”

Becky raises her shot glass, “May we always have the right words to help her through this,”

They knock back the shot.

 

 

XXXX

 

“The ENT said she has a severe case of laryngitis, most likely caused from screaming,” Dr. Anderson states to Cindy and Perry as she looks down on a sleeping Tobin. “The ringing is gone from her ears, so that’s a relief. We’re going to continue to monitor her overnight,” she says, “her vitals and levels keep improving and I feel confident she’ll be feeling much better by tomorrow. However, we are going to keep her slightly sedated so she can rest.”

“What about her voice?” Cindy asks, “She can barely talk,”

“The ENT recommends no speaking or limited speaking at least until she follows up seeing another doctor back in Portland. The Thorns have someone they’ll send her to.” Dr. Anderson replies, “We’re going to coordinate her care with them while she’s back there, ease her into training and make sure she speaks with their psychologist. She’s going to need some professional help after this. Be assured, we will make sure Tobin gets the best care available.” she walks over to the monitor next to the bed, checking the display.

Cindy nods solemnly, “I see,” she says quietly, turning to Perry, “what are we going to do,”

“Mom, I can’t take off any more time from work if I’m going to go to the Olympics,” Perry says frowning, “you’re in the same boat.”

“I’m not even sure if Tobin’s going now,” Perry adds miserably, looking at her sister. Tobin’s left eye is swollen and darkened with a bruise.

Cindy sighs heavily, “We’ll figure something out,” she says, turning to look at her daughter in bed.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

July 9

 

Allie looks over to the desk in her room, seeing Christen wipe her eyes as she listens to the iPod, writing down and transcribing whatever Kelley had loaded on it. She looks down at her phone, taking a deep breath. She doesn’t want to make this call, but Alex has been texting her, concerned about not hearing from Tobin. She decides to Facetime her.

“Allie!” Alex exclaims when her face pops up, “Is Tobin okay? I’ve had the worst feeling that something terrible happened.”

“She’s going to be okay,” Allie nods, biting her lower lip.

“Did something happen?” Alex looks horrified.

Allie bites her lower lip and nods.

“Did something happen with her and Kelley?” Alex asks, sitting down on her couch. She’s gripping her phone with both hands.

“Kelley…” Allie starts, then takes a deep breath and lets it out, “listen, I’m not sure how much Tobin has shared with you about her and Kelley.”

“Well,” Alex says, “I know their breakup wasn’t pretty,” she nods, “and I know Tobin’s been surprised at how nice Kelley is being to her lately, like, she’s making an effort.”

Allie just looks off camera, contemplating how to tell her this and if she should. She figures she really should because Alex is really Tobin’s become really close to her.

“Allie, is Tobin in trouble? She didn’t even dress for the match, is she still in camp?” Alex asks urgently, “Did she get kicked off the team or something?”

“No, she’s still here,” Allie says, “we’re coming home tomorrow night.”

“You’re scaring me,” Alex whispers.

“Kelley abducted her and tied her up and left her in a storage unit for two days,” Allie says abruptly.

“WHAT?” Alex explodes, “Is she okay? Oh my God!”

“She’s going to be fine,” Allie assures her, “it’s just…”

“What? It’s just what? Is she hurt? Can she play? What’s wrong?” Alex persists, sitting up straight and looking terrified.

“Kelley left her there, alone in the dark and taped earphones on her and played a bunch of scary stories. For hours.” Allie says, “You know Tobin is particularly not into scary stuff, right?”

Alex nods, “Yeah,” she says, “she told me about it,”

“Christen is transcribing it right now,” Allie says, looking over at her, seeing how her face is twisted with emotion.

“How is her mental state?” Alex asks, feeling sick to her stomach.

“I don’t know,” Allie replies truthfully, “she hasn’t been able to talk much,”

“Why?” Alex asks sharply.

“She lost her voice screaming,” Allie answers, beginning to tear up.

Alex makes a strangled noise, her hand covering her mouth. Tears are now flowing from her eyes.

Allie hears Christen moving, looking over and seeing her take her headphones off, wiping her eyes and looking over at her.

“I’m talking to Alex,” Allie says, “Tobin’s friend from the art studio.”

Christen’s eyes grow large for a moment, then a small smile crosses her face. She gets up and climbs onto Allie’s bed next to her. “Hi, Alex,” she says quietly.

“Hi, Christen,” she replies softly, wiping at her eyes, “how are you?”

“I’m a little…traumatized,” Christen admits, “this has been a lot,”

“I can’t imagine what you guys have been going through,” Alex says, “this has to have been awful,” she says heartfully, knowing what good friends they were with Kelley. The emotions of realizing that she would do something like this to Tobin had to have been very difficult to accept.

There’s a knock at the door, Allie hands the phone over to Christen, getting out of bed to answer it.

“Alex, the stories Kelley recorded and made Tobin listen to,” Christen frowns at her, “they were terrifying,” she runs her hand through her hair, “the things she told her,” she shakes her head and looks away, wiping at her eyes.

Alex winces, “Oh no,”

Christen nods, “I’m so worried for her,” she laments, “not only is she going to have to deal with Kelley taking her and leaving her, but those stories…she’s going to have nightmares about them.”

Alex nods, thinking back to when Tobin told her about her avoidance of scary movies and why. “Is there anything I can do to help?” she questions.

“I don’t know,” Christen sniffs, “I only saw her for a little bit, she didn’t say much,” she wipes at her eyes again, “she’s coming home tomorrow night, but I don’t know if her Mom or sister are coming with,”

“If there’s anything I can do to help,” Alex offers, “please, let me know,”

Christen nods, looking off camera, Alex can hear some soft talking but can’t make out what is being said. The camera backs off as Allie joins the picture again.

“We’re going to have a meeting tomorrow with Jill and some others to find out what is happening,” Allie explains, “can I call you after it?”

“Yeah, I’ll be around, sure,” Alex nods quickly.

“Thanks, Alex,” she says and Alex can see Christen stifling a yawn.

“I should let you go,” she says, “you guys have had a long few days,”

“We’ll talk tomorrow,” Allie promises, nodding at her.

“Okay,” Alex nods, “Allie, thanks so much for letting me know,” she says, “I won’t tell anyone about this, I promise,”

Allie nods as she bites her lower lip, “I know I can trust you, Alex, thanks,”

They end the call.

Alex sits on her couch for along time, holding herself as she imagines the horrors Tobin experienced as tears run down her face.

 

Allie turns to Christen, “We should try to get some sleep,” she suggests, “did you finish listening to the recording?”

“Yeah,” Christen sighs, “Al, it is so awful,” she says, “I’m going to download it to my laptop and then turn it in to Dawn tomorrow,” she looks at her, “if you want, I’ll send it to you, so you know what’s on it,” she shrugs, “maybe it will help if Tobin starts talking about it.”

“That’s a good idea,” Allie says, then yawns, “I’m bushed.”

Christen nods, “I’m exhausted,” she agrees.

 

XXXX

 

 

July 10

 

 

Tobin whimpers as she sleeps, the memory of her night with Kelley in the car seeping into her unconsciousness. She flinches when the image of Kelley punching her fills her mind, her hand moving to her face. She feels something warm against her, a feeling of comfort surrounding her and nestles herself towards it. Suddenly the images in her mind become fuzzy and then foggy, a pair of piercing blue eyes enter her vision and then gradually fades away, leaving only darkness as she falls into a deep sleep.

 

 

“Everything looks fine,” Dr. Anderson smiles at her, “all of your levels are normal, no lingering issues.” It's the next afternoon and Dr. Anderson has received the results fro the lst round of bloodwork.

Tobin gives her a thankful smile and mouths thank you to her.

“You’re welcome,” she replies, “we’ll have a pack of items for you to take back with you to Portland, I’ve written out all of your prescriptions and you must follow them carefully, okay?”

Tobin nods, shifting in the bed, her back is stiff from lying there.

“These are serious drugs, so no messing around?” the doctor cautions, “We’re having you take them so you can rest and prepare for the Olympics, we want you ready, if you’re able, to play the last send off match. We’ll evaluate you when once you get to camp, but you need to wear that Fitbit everyday, no taking it off,”

Tobin nods and holds up her right arm, nodding her hand that’s balled into a fist.

“No talking,” Dr. Anderson orders, “you see an ENT in Portland on Friday, they’ll let you know when you can start talking. They’ll check your ears too, but in the meantime, no headphones or earbuds. Want to make sure there’s no lingering hearing issues.”

Tobin nods dutifully.

“Here,” Dr. Anderson hands her a dry erase board and a marker, “do you have any questions?”

Tobin scrunches her face up as she thinks, then she begins to write. She flips the board so the doctor can see.

Where’s Kelley?

Dr. Anderson’s shoulders slump slightly, just enough for Tobin, Cindy and Perry to pick up. “Jill and Dawn will come speak with you about that, okay? I don’t know all of the details, but I know she’s getting the help she needs.”

Tobin nods, sighing, glad that Kelley hadn’t done something drastic, like hurt herself, and hoping she really is getting help.

“Come on,” Perry says, giving Tobin’s shin a light slap, “let’s get you dressed and back to your room,”

 

 

XXXX

 

 

Mom, Perry, I understand. I’d much rather have you in Brazil, it’s okay, really.

“But honey, I just feel like you’ll be all alone back in Portland,” her Mom sniffs, wiping her eyes with a Kleenex.

Tobin wipes her board, then writes quickly and flicks it up for them to see.

I’ll be okay, I have the team to hang with, I’ll go to the studio, I’ll be okay,

Neither of them look convinced but Tobin looks determined, so they reluctantly agree.

When they entered her room, Tobin saw her sketchbook, pen and phone on her bed. She immediately found her charger and connected her phone to it. Then she set to work reassuring her Mom and Perry she would be alright heading back to Portland with Allie, Lindsey, Kling and Emily.

She feels stiff and sore and is still very tired, but other than that, physically, she feels pretty good. Her eye bothers her a little with being swollen and her eyes burn from having her contacts in for too long. She’s wearing her glasses and the doctor told her not to wear her contacts for a while. She promises to her Mom and Perry to check in daily, she promises to see the team psychologist, she promises to take her medication properly. She reminds them that she’s not going to be stupid about this, she wants to get match fit and have her head on straight so she can play in Brazil.

They reluctantly agree, both of them looking pained and sad. After making sure Tobin was comfortable they depart, having to pack and catch their flights back home.

Allie knocks only a minute after they leave, critically examining Tobin. Then she crushes her in a hug.

“Your eye okay?” she asks after letting her go.

Tobin nods.

Allie seems intent on planting herself in her room, but Tobin has something else on her mind.

Al, would you mind giving me like an hour to myself?

Allie’s eyebrows nearly hit her scalp line. Then she narrows her eyes at her. “Why?”

I just want to shower and then call Alex, okay?

Allie nods, “I talked to her last night,” she says quietly, “she texted me a few times when she didn’t hear back from you,” she explains, “I told her the gist of what happened, Christen talked to her too,”

Tobin nods and mouths thanks.

“Okay, do you want to go out for something to eat or just order room service before we leave?” Allie asks, “and do you mind if Linds, Em and Kling come hang out? They’ve been freaking out worrying about you,”

Yeah, room service is cool and I’d like to see them too

Allie reads her board and then nods, standing up, “I’ll give you an hour or so and then we’ll be back,”

Tobin gives her a thumbs up, grabbing her clothes from Morgan’s empty bed and making her way to the bathroom. She stops and knocks on the wall, Allie turning from the open door. Tobin points to the room key and she grabs it.

The shower felt great, although Tobin didn’t linger under the hot water, she wanted to call Alex.

Now clothed in her warmest sweatshirt, a pair of joggers, her glasses on and her hair air drying, Tobin sits at the desk to make her call. She’s still sore, as if she’s worked out hard for the last couple of days and didn’t stretch out before or after. She did get a massage this morning from one of the trainers before they had to pack up the room to leave, so she knows she’s in better shape if she hadn’t gotten one.

She figures she’ll lean her phone up against the desk lamp so she can write on her board to talk with Alex. She takes a deep breath and replies to one of Alex’s texts.

Tobin: Hey, just seeing this now, have time to Facetime?

Her phone buzzes almost immediately with an incoming Facetime call.

“Tobin!” Alex exclaims, leaning close to her phone, looking at her so concerned, “is your eye okay? Are you okay?”

Tobin nods, holding up an index finger and then writes on her board. Then she flips it up so Alex can read it.

I can’t talk, I lost my voice. I’m sorry you were so worried, I’m glad you reached out to Allie. She told me she let you know what happened. I’m still freaked out Kelley did this, I don’t know what to think.

Alex reads her printed message, her lips moving as her eyes follow the words. Then she looks up at her. “I’m so sorry this happened,” she says sincerely, “I feel sick about it,” her voice trembles a little with emotion.

Tobin nods.

Me too. I can’t believe Kelley did this.

Alex frowns, looking at her, “I really just want to hug you right now,” she says, looking so upset.

Tobin gives her a shy smile, “Me too,” she mouths. She scrunches up her mouth as if she wants to say more, then looks down and begins writing.

I don’t really remember everything that happened, just bits and pieces. But last night while I was sleeping, some of it started coming back. It scares me.

Alex frowns as she reads, “Oh,” her frown deepens, “Tobin,” she whispers, tilting her head and looking at her, her eyes so sad.

Tobin swipes at the board, writing again, then flipping it up.

I think Kelley put something in my drink, I was falling asleep and she punched me in the face,

Tobin’s chin is quivering and some tears are falling.

“Tobin,” Alex says softly, soothingly, “that’s very natural, you know. To have your dreams bring those memories back. As awful as it is, it’s something you need so you understand what happened to you and heal from it,”

Tobin nods as a soft sob escapes her lips, she swiftly removes her glasses and wipes at her eyes with the heels of hands, then puts her glasses on, swallowing hard. Alex is tearing up as well, thinking what she could say to comfort her friend, “I,” she pauses, “I kind of went through something like that too,” she says hesitantly, not really wanting to talk about it but wanting Tobin to know she understands.

Tobin looks at her with wide eyes, panicked almost at the thought of someone hurting Alex and her going through something like she’s just did. Alex notices how scared looks, realizing she’s under the wrong impression of what she’s just said.

“I mean, your memories coming back in your dreams,” she corrects herself, seeing Tobin relax her shoulders and nod, “I blanked out after my brother died, it took me almost a month to remember being at the hospital and then his wake and funeral, I was on autopilot, just in shock,” she explains quickly, “my therapist told me it’s very normal not to remember that type of emotional trauma,”

Tobin whispers “I’m scared,” as she rubs her upper arms and hugs herself.

“It’s okay to be scared. You’ve got a team around you to help, two teams,” Alex assures her, “your family will be there, too,” she says, she looks at her silently for a minute, “I’ll be here for you,”

Tobin looks at her for a moment, seeing the sincerity and compassion on Alex’s face. She whispers thanks to her, taking off her glasses again and wiping her eyes with her sweatshirt sleeve. She puts her glasses back on, then sighs.

“Those glasses look good on you,” Alex smiles, changing the subject, trusting her gut that they should move on from this serious conversation.

Tobin coughs out a soft laugh, then turns her head from left to right with her chin up, then she gives her a small smile.

“How are you feeling physically? Were you injured?” Alex asks, noting that Tobin doesn’t seem to be in pain and is moving normally. She watches as Tobin writes on her board.

I’m a little sore but feeling decent. They have me on some drugs, so like I’m a little foggy right now,

Alex nods, remembering her own foggy days when she was taking a host of prescription drugs after Jerry passed. She had other things going on at the time which set her stress level unusually high. Still dealing with her growing fame as a wonderkid of the art world had its ups and downs and she didn’t really grasp how to navigate her life. Mix in a girlfriend who wasn’t that patient or completely understanding with her and she was a hot mess. When she stopped producing anything new, the pressure from her old agent and her old group of friends became too much for her to handle.

“Do you have a lot of stuff going on tomorrow? Or are you just planning on chilling out?” she asks Tobin.

Tobin shrugs, then erases her message with her sweatshirt sleeve, grabbing the pen again and writing.

I don’t have anything to do. Allie and those guys have practice, but I don’t need to report.

Alex reads her message and nods. “Well, if you want to get out of your apartment,” she says, “it’s supposed to be a pretty day, maybe you’d like to plant those flowers with me,”

Tobin’s eyes brighten up, her whole demeanor changes before Alex’s eyes, her head nodding rapidly and she smiles at her.

I’d like that a lot

“Just come over whenever you want,” Alex offers, “I’ll be around, we’ll keep it low key, yeah?”

Tobin give her a grateful smile, then she ducks her head down to write.

I’m so glad we got to talk. I’ve been thinking about how worried you were since last night. I kicked Allie out of the room so we could talk now

Alex smiles, “I’m so glad you texted me, I was really worried,” she says, “and I look forward to tomorrow when I can cash in on that hug.”

‘Me too,’ Tobin mouths, smiling at her.

“You have a good flight, okay? And a good night too,” Alex says, “I bet it will be nice to be back in your own bed,”

Tobin nods, still smiling at her. She hears the door open and sees Allie entering with the girls behind her. She writes on her board and flips it up so Alex can see.

Have a good night, I’ll see you tomorrow

“Looking forward to it, goodnight, Tobin,” she says softly, smiling warmly at her, “Take care of yourself, okay?”

Tobin flashes her a peace sign and they end the call.

Allie gives her a smile, “How’s Alex?”

Tobin nods as she smiles at her.

“Good,” she says, lying on the bed, “now I’m starving, let’s order food!”

Tobin stands up, looking at her three teammates who look so upset. This is the first time they’ve seen her since it all happened. She approaches Kling and giving her a hug, she feels Kling’s hand on the back of her head, “Jesus, Tobin, I was so scared for you,” she whispers in her ear, “I’m so glad to see you,”

Tobin squeezes her tighter, sighing as they break apart and she gives her a small smile.

Lindsey is next, tears already flowing down her face, this is the first time she’s seen her since it all happened. “Oh, God, Tobin,” she cries as she hugs her “I just can’t believe this happened.” Tobin rocks slightly as she holds her, somehow feeling as if she’s gaining strength from her good friends.

Sonnet is last, just inside the door, looking down and not making eye contact with her. Tobin leaves Lindsey’s arms, giving her head nod as she moves past her to stand before Emily. Emily looks up at her with such sorrow and guilt on her face, feeling overwhelmed by all that has happened. Tobin just tilts her head at her, giving her a half smile and opening her arms.

Emily sobs as she crashes into Tobin, repeating how sorry she is for everything that happened. Tobin holds her, holding back her own tears, feeling badly for the young woman. She knows Emily still feels awful for hooking up with Kelley and probably still thinks she’s still harboring anger towards her. Emily quiets down after a few minutes and Tobin releases her only to place her hands on each side of Em’s head, just above her ears, looking at intently softly.

Emily looks up at her with red puffy eyes, looking miserable.

“It’s okay,” Tobin whispers, her voice rough and cracking, “we’re good.” She nods at her.

Emily tilts her head slightly, a tendency that reminds Tobin of Kelley so much it makes her smile a little bit. “We’re good?” Emily questions back at her.

Tobin smiles a little wider, nodding at her and Emily hugs her again, clutching her tightly. Tobin rubs her back a little, swaying slowly from side to side.

“Alright, you two,” Allie announces, “let’s go, I’m starving! And we got a plane to catch!” Allie has a knack for knowing when to be serious and when to lighten a mood, her sarcasm is perfect, just what is needed, reminding them all that things will be back to normal.

Tobin silently chuckles, little chuffs of noise coming through her nose. She rubs Emily’s back once more and they separate with Emily wiping her eyes, slightly embarrassed. Tobin returns to the desk, pulling the room service menu out of the desk drawer, looking it over. She writes her order down on her dry erase board, passing both to Allie.

 

XXXX

 

July 11

 

“You okay with this going public tomorrow?” Allie leans over and speaks quietly to Tobin. Tobin is slouched in her window seat of the flight, pulling out her jacket she stowed in her backpack. She freezes for a moment, then looks at Allie, kind of frowning, but shrugging her shoulders. She knew that U.S. Soccer had to say something, they had to explain
Kelley’s status for the Royals of being listed out with an illness and also set the stage if she would miss the World Cup. Tobin knew she’d be asked questions, but for now, her not being able to speak was the excuse she was using.

This morning, Jill, Dawn and Heif sat down with her and her Mom and Perry, explaining what the game plan was going to be with her acceptance. Tobin read the press release after her Mom and Perry had, realizing how vague it was worded to not explicitly state any definite reasons beside illness pertaining Kelley’s status. She herself is not mentioned at all which she is grateful for. Her Mom insisted on sending it over to Tobin’s agent and lawyer, wanting to be sure it was fine. Heif nodded approvingly, opening his laptop and sending the attachment of the draft to himself.

All three of them were respectful of Tobin and Kelley’s privacy as neither of them were out to the public. They explained the idea was to make Tobin’s black eye and loss of her voice a separate and unrelated incident that has nothing to do with Kelley’s illness. Tobin was fine with it, she didn’t think she’d be questioned too much about it, she rarely did press except of after some practices and matches and avoided answering any questions about her anything too personal.
Once Tobin’s people signed off on it, she felt better, thinking maybe she could get away without having to talk about this with anyone. With Kelley currently in protective custody at a mental facility, approved by Kelley’s parents, she prays Kelley will be prudent enough to let it all go and keep her mouth shut. She knows she has no control over things like that and it would suck, but she’d get through it if things were to come out. For now, she’ll do her best to concentrate on herself and get herself back to playing. Then focus on the Olympics. After that, whatever happens, well, she’ll deal with it.

The team is aware of Kelley’s admittance to the mental facility, to the statement being released and all were advised to have no comment on it if asked.

Jill made a point of it to tell Tobin that her spot on the roster hadn’t changed and she was counting on Tobin to be with them for the Olympics. She wanted Tobin to focus on getting herself rested and prepared to head to Rio.

Dawn and Dr. Anderson reviewed the medications Tobin was to take for the next week. Dawn asked her to upload her FitBit readings to the cloud so she could review them and monitor her sleep schedule and make sure she’s getting enough rest and make adjustments accordingly. She was concerned if Tobin was to be training with the Thorns while not getting enough rest.

Now she’s feeling a bit sleepy, so Tobin shoves her jacket against the window, leaning over and shutting her eyes. She’s out before they are wheels up.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin stares at her darkened ceiling, waiting for sleep to come. She’s comfy and warm in her bed, Allie sleeping next to her. Her friend had insisted on staying with her this first night. It feels good to be back home. She’s taken her night time pill, something to help her sleep and she’s slowly feeling tired. As her eyes begin to shut, she smiles at thought of spending the day with Alex tomorrow.

 

She feels her head thump against the ground and moans out in pain. Then she feels her hands being clasped together, one fisted inside the other and then it gets tight. She’s lying on her back, feeling woozy and as if she’s very drunk, but her head is telling her she hasn’t been drinking. Kelley is muttering under her breath, something about soccer, get the forwards out of the way, she’s just too fucking good. She can hear that distinctive sound of tape being pulled off the roll and the noise of it ripping. It doesn’t register to her as she feels her ankles being pressed together, her toes are cold.

Something is being put in her ears, but she doesn’t have the strength to move. She’s wearing a hat of some kind, then is being turned on her side. She feels tugging on her knees and ankles, the tightness of her legs being forced together. She’s trying to stay awake, but she’s just so tired, she can’t keep her eyes open. She sighs deeply and lets the darkness that’s hovering around her periphery take over and she falls asleep.

 

Tobin wakes gasping at the memory, sitting upright in her bed. She’s breathing hard and her shirt is slightly damp. She lays there for a minute, telling herself she’s home and she’s safe. She gets out of bed on unsteady legs and makes her way to the bathroom, using the toilet and washing her hands and face.

“You okay?” Allie asks from her side of the bed, rolling over to face her in the darkness.

“Yeah,” Tobin croaks, “had to pee,” she says as she snuggles under the covers. She feels Allie sliding closer against her back, snaking one arm under Tobin’s pillow and draping the other over her side and pressing up close against her. Feeling safe with her presence, Tobin mulls over the dream/memory.

Her eyelids are winning the battle and she decides to just keep them closed and her thoughts are starting to jumble in her head, most likely from the sleeping pill. She gives up, thinking she’ll journal it in the morning and drifts back to sleep.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

July 11

 

Allie yawns as her and Tobin eat breakfast. They’re at a café just down the street from Tobin’s building. After being gone for weeks, Tobin had nothing edible in her place.

“So, you’re going to hang out with Alex after this?” Allie questions, looking at her expectantly. Tobin nods. “Nice,” she smiles at her, “we should all grab lunch one day this week,” she suggests and Tobin bobs her head in agreement as she eats.

“Please don’t think I’m mothering you,” Allie begins, “but I’m reminding you to text your Mom and Perry some time today, okay? And remember, tomorrow morning you have to be at the Park at ten.”

Tobin nods and gives her a thumbs up and then flashes a shaka sign as she gives her a smile to let her it’s cool.

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin opts to walk from the café to Alex’s studio, wanting to take in the city and ground herself that she’ll be here for the next ten days. She mentally prepares herself for what she needs to do in the next few days. First, she needs to order some groceries in, then do her laundry and then she needs to check in with her agent/manager. She wants to hear what she has to say about how she should prepare herself for any questions she may face in the next coming days. Tonight, she wants to make some time to journal what she’s feeling. She feels less foggy, but the pill she takes in the morning does make her feel a little off. She’ll talk to the team psychologist about what they have her on. She wasn’t paying attention when Dr. Anderson was talking about it, she was pretty zoned out.

She’s feeling pretty good, like she has a handle on what Kelley did to her. She still doesn’t remember much except Kelley drugged her and being scared then being cold and being so hot. She knows she was kept in Kelley’s storage unit that was outside, so that explained the extreme temperature changes. Her hip is still tender from her large scrape, it’s more like a fabric burn from her struggling to move. She has to wear her underwear and shorts a little lower on her hips so the scrape doesn’t rub against the fabric. Her skin is a little tender in a couple of spots from the sticky residue of the tape she was bound in, when the staff was removing it, the tape was so strong, it removed a couple layers of skin as it came off. She’s got a few bandages on her forearms and upper arms, hence her long sleeve shirt, but the one on her right calf she doesn’t mind because most people would think it’s a turf burn.

As she turns the corner to the street the studio’s on, Tobin smiles at the thought of seeing Alex. They’ve talked while she was away, but to hang out with her, she just really likes her. She’s such a cool person and so knowledgeable about art and techniques of painting. Tobin just feels she can learn so much from her and enjoys her company. She’s become a really good friend.

She’s still smiling when she opens the back gate, swinging the door open and seeing Alex rising from one of the metal chairs near the table. Alex takes large strides to her, her smile fading as she sees Tobin’s bruised face and notes the bandage on her leg. She looks at Tobin with those blue eyes that are filled with warmth and affection and Tobin witnesses how they change to worry and sadness.

“Hey,” Tobin whispers out, her voice so low Alex strains to hear it.

“Hi,” she says softly, “Tobin,” she whimpers, tilting her head and frowning, her eyes scanning Tobin’s face and tears building in her eyes.

Tobin suddenly loses any composure she held moments ago, a wave of emotion hitting her, making her chin quiver and her eyes water. Alex steps close and hugs her, wrapping her arms around her and holding her as Tobin begins to cry.

“I got you,” Alex murmurs, holding her close, her hand snaking under Tobin’s backpack to rub her back softly. Tobin lets it out, feeling a release from her tears, her confusion, her sadness over Kelley and her illness driving her to do something so horrific to her. The regret she has in not being able to help Kelley, the regret she feels that breaking up with her drove her to the breaking point. Tobin shakes in Alex’s arms as the memories of being terrified overcomes her, only she can’t remember why she was so scared. She trembles at the thought of her dreams revealing whatever horrors she suffered through. She knows she’s going to need help in getting herself through this.
Her thoughts shift to how comforted she feels in Alex’s grasp, grateful for meeting her and becoming friends. How real Alex is, how down to earth, how interesting and fascinating with what life’s journey has been.

Tobin feels herself calming down, her breathing slowing itself back into its normal pattern. She wonders why looking at Alex and seeing the concern and care in her eyes set her off on this crying jag. She feels Alex’s grip loosen, and Tobin steps back, her head down, blinking her eyes and looking up at her. Alex gives her a small smile, moving her hands to rub them down Tobin’s arms, feeling the bandages and her eyes widen.

Tobin holds up an index finger, sliding off her backpack and opening the back pocket. She pulls out her dry erase board and fishes in the small pocket to find her pen. Alex guides her over to the table, pulling a chair out for her to sit down.

“You want some water?” she asks, moving to a small cooler on wheels near the table. Tobin nods as she begins to write.

Alex reads Tobin’s message about how she has some spots on her body where the skin pulled off when they were removing the sticky tape from her. Alex whimpers as she reads it, tearing up again and looking at Tobin with such heartbreak in her eyes. They both wipe at their eyes, Tobin suddenly feeling embarrassed for her emotional outburst.

“It’s okay,” Alex whispers, setting her hand on Tobin’s shoulder, “you’re fine,”

Tobin nods as she sniffs and looks up at her. “Sorry,” she mouths.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Alex says, “I’m just really glad to see you,”

“Me too,” she whispers back and takes a drink of water. Her throat hurts from crying. She uses her hand to erase her message and begins to write.

How are things going here? How is your spring series going? Will you show me what you’ve been doing? Did you get the ceiling fans fixed?

Alex smiles as she reads the questions. She adjusts her ponytail as she sits down next to Tobin. “Everything here is fine,” she nods, “the guys got the ceiling fans fixed, so we’re ready for the hot days. The series is going okay, I think I’m done with the sculptures I want in it,” she says, “and I’ll show you some of the pieces that are done,”

Tobin smiles and nods. She looks around the patio, noting the colorful pots have been rearranged and placed on risers of various levels. She sees a pile of potting soil bags and flats of colorful flowers scattered nearby.

“You wanna get started?” Alex asks, thinking maybe just doing their task would set Tobin at ease and maybe calm her own nerves about doing this.

Tobin nods, writing a message. She holds it up with a grin.

Just tell me what to do, I’m all yours.

“Are you sure you feel okay enough to do this? I don’t want you to hurt yourself or be too tired,” Alex cautions, looking at her intently.

I’m good, honestly. I need to get back to working out so this will be a nice baby step, Tobin smiles at her.

Alex reads the message, sees Tobin’s smile and then nods. “Well, I thought we’d dump out the pots and then mix in the new topsoil with it,” she suggests, “so it’s healthier for the flowers,” she shrugs. “I haven’t really done much gardening, have you?”

Tobin makes a face, curling a lip as she shakes her head, she mouths, “Sounds good,”

“I thought we’d dump all the dirt in a pile and then mix it with the fresh stuff and put it back,” Alex suggests, moving to the table to grab a folded blue tarp.

Tobin puts her index finger up, signaling her to hold up, glances around the patio area, seeing the wheelbarrow on its side against the shed that holds the lawn tools. She trots over to it, her feet bare because she kicked off her flip flops as soon as she sat down, pulling the handles down and pushing it over the pots. She empties three pots into the wheelbarrow and then heads for the bags of topsoil.

“Wait,” Alex calls out, moving quickly to reach the dirt before Tobin gets there, “I’ll bring it over there,” she says, easily lifting the bag, “I don’t think you should be lifting anything heavy with your arms,” she explains, “you could split it open,”

Tobin scrunches her mouth to the side, nodding reluctantly.

“This is a good idea,” Alex continues, setting the heavy bag on the side of the wheelbarrow, sticking her finger into the plastic, trying to open it. She keeps at it, frowning as the plastic won’t give. Tobin steps next to her, reaching over and pulling on the top of the bag, opening it easily as the dirt spills into the wheelbarrow.

“Oh, thanks,” Alex mutters, looking up at her, “show off,” she grins at her.

Tobin chuckles and nods, then gestures at her to dump the rest of the dirt in. She begins to use her hands to mix it.

“I’ve got gloves,” Alex offers, but Tobin shrugs and continues to work. Alex starts mixing the dirt as well and then she leaves, heading to the shed. She opens it and pokes around in there coming back with a short-handled shovel and two hand shovels. Tobin takes the shovel from her, beginning to pour the new mixture into the empty pots and Alex retrieves the flats, bringing them closer.

Tobin points to the flowers then to Alex then to the pots.

“You want me to pick them?” Alex asks, seeing Tobin nod. “I suck at it,” she complains, “you pick them,” she nudges Tobin, “I just picked out what I thought was pretty,”

Tobin smiles and shuffles over the flowers, looking them over. She squats down and begins pulling the trays into various groups. Alex dumps three more pots into the wheelbarrow and dumps the remainder of the fresh topsoil into it, mixing it up and then repeating it down the perimeter of the fence. When she’s got almost all of the pots filled with fresh dirt, she turns and sees Tobin is sitting on the ground, surrounded by the flowers, as if she’s the conductor and the flowers are her orchestra. Alex abandons the wheelbarrow, curious as to what Tobin is doing. She walks over to her, squatting down next to her. “So, what are you doing?” she questions, looking at the flowers.

Tobin points the group to her left, holding her fingers close to together, the second, her fingers go wider, the third, she holds her hands apart and the last group, she holds her hands apart further.

“You separated them by height?” Alex asks, seeing Tobin nod. “Okay, now what?”

Tobin grabs two different smaller plants and one medium, offering them up to Alex. She takes them from her and then watches as Tobin gets up, heading for a six inch round pot. She points at it, for the two to go in the front and the taller one in back.

“Got it,” Alex nods, using her fingers to dig a little hole and set the first plant in. She takes her time, deciding on which plant should go where, humming to herself and pressing the plants into the soil. She turns when she finishes, looking over to see Tobin has laid out the next six pots.

She grins as she moves down to do the next one. She glances over and sees Tobin standing before one of the larger pots that’s at waist level, arranging the ivy so it cascades down over the pot. She smiles wide when she sees the look of happiness on Tobin’s face as she works. She had thought about turning on some music, but prefers this, how they both work in content silence. She knows Tobin’s silence is forced from her throat, but she doesn’t feel the need to jabber on and chatter. She likes to focus on this task.

As she moves from pot to pot, her mind wanders, thinking back of when she was little, her and Jerry helping her Mom plant flowers in the front and back of the house each year. They’d make a day of it, her Mom taking them to the garden center, explaining the different types of flowers and plants they could use. Over time, it slowly became a thing Jerry and Mom would do, Alex content to haul the dirt, teasing her brother as he so carefully planted the flowers. She’d tease him as he watered the yards faithfully and he’d sass her back good naturedly. Over the years, Alex lost her interest in doing it, usually planting a few flowers, moving bags of dirt around and then finding an excuse to go back in the house.
They were in high school when she came in from soccer one day, hot and sweaty and there he was, watering the yard with a smile on his face.
“Why do you get into this so much?” Alex asked as she grabbed the hose from him and puts her head under it to cool down, handing it back.

He looked at her to gauge if she was teasing him once again, but saw the honest question on her face.

He shrugged a little, “I like how you can see the growth, knowing that I take care of them and they bloom so beautifully. You know, nurturing them. They’re nature’s art really,” he said seriously to her, “you just have to look at it close,”

That stuck with her, she had just looked at him, never really thinking about it before.

Over the years, she had tucked that nugget of insight away, never really doing anything with it, but smiling when she would visit Jer years later, seeing his garden and how Mom would gush over it each time.

 

Alex sits back on her heels, looking over to see Tobin standing by the table, drinking her water, looking at the wall of plants. Tobin glances at her, sending her a quick smile as she lowers the bottle from her lips, she points at her at with her index finger, then makes an okay sign.

Alex smiles back, nodding, feeling a flutter in her chest that Tobin is aware she’s struggling a little with this and she gets up and stands next to her at the table.

“This looks beautiful, Tobin,” she breathes out, feeling a hitch in her chest, thinking about the last time she was here when Jerry was alive and the flowers were outrageously blooming and color was filling the yard. She sighs and frowns, regretting that she didn’t share the same passion of doing this as he had over the years. She looks over to the galvanized steel trough on the fence, seeing how Tobin planted the most beautiful arrangement, spikes of grasses at the back, zinnias and snapdragons bursting with color with coleus and ivy creeping over the sides to trail down the fence. It hits her that Jerry always had ivy spilling down from the high pots and troughs and a sob escapes her at the realization he wouldn’t be here to see this.

She brings her dirty hand to her mouth, feeling the tears coming down her face, her vision becoming blurry. She’s crying now, filled with sadness, the grief of him being gone almost as fresh as it was two years ago.

Suddenly she feels a hand on her back, a light caress, and she turns to face Tobin who’s looking at her with such concern and understanding. She just moves her hand, that’s all it takes, the invitation offered and Alex presses herself into her, feeling both arms around her. Alex rests her head on Tobin’s shoulder, her face turned inward, sobbing quietly, loosely gripping Tobin’s shirt with one hand, the other on her hip. Tobin holds her close, swaying from side to side to gently, barely moving, just a shifting of her weight on each foot.
As she calms, Alex can feel how her shoulders relax, and it’s then that Tobin hugs her a little tighter, pressing her jaw against the side of her head in a such a tender way it almost makes her cry again. She inhales and takes in Tobin’s scent, it’s fresh and clean, like an ocean body wash. The thought crosses her mind that if Tobin had been in her life when Jerry died, she might not have been so completely emotionally devastated and maybe could have gotten through it with less damage to her career and personal life.

She sighs, feeling safe and content and realizing this is a good thing, being able to cry over Jerry at a memory. This one hit her hard, it came a bit as a surprise, but she thinks if she allows herself to feel what she feels, when she feels it, maybe one day she’ll be able to remember Jer with a smile and not tears. Alex takes a couple of deep breathes before she moves to Tobin’s side, her arm still wrapped around her, looking up to see Tobin looking at her with concern and a offers her a soft smile. “Jerry used to do the same arrangement,” she comments, pointing to the galvanized trough, “I guess it set me off,”

Tobin whimpers, sighing and frowning.

“It’s not your fault,” Alex says, rubbing Tobin’s back, “it’s beautiful and I love it,” she says, smiling at her, “I would always tease him about his flowers, how he doted on them,” she chuckles, “now he’s got the last laugh,”

She looks at Tobin’s shirt and brushes off the dirt from her hand, Tobin making her turn around and she brushes off her back. Alex looks around the patio, there’s only one large container left to plant. Tobin gestures to her with an open hand that she should do it. Alex steps to the side, finding Tobin’s hand and taking it in her own, giving it a squeeze,

“Let’s plant it together, yeah?” she offers, feeling very happy when Tobin smiles and nods.

She drops Tobin’s hand as they approach the pot, both beginning to move the dirt to make room for the variety of plants.

 

They’ve cleaned up everything, the empty flats stacked near the gate, ready to return to the garden center, the empty bags of dirt in the recycle container, tools returned to the shed. Now Tobin’s sitting at the table, her feet up on one of the chairs watching as Alex sprays the hose on the new plantings. Tobin feels a warmth in her as she sees the small smile on Alex’s face as she waters the plants. The pleasant sound of the hose and sun on her skin makes her sleepy and it doesn’t take much for her to close her eyes for just a minute. I’ll just relax while Alex does this, she tells herself, just chill for a little.

When Alex finishes her task, she turns to see Tobin is asleep, she’s slouched on the chair, her head turned to the side, arms resting on the chair, legs splayed on the chair across from her. She quietly gathers the hose, wondering if Tobin had gotten a good night’s sleep or if she was plagued with nightmares last night. She decides to let her sleep for a bit, lunch time is approaching and Alex wants to stay in the yard and grill and eat outside.

Now that the flowers are planted, she wants to make use of this outdoor space as much as possible. She sits down quietly at the table, grabbing her phone and scrolling through it, frowning when she sees the statement issued by U.S. Soccer regarding Kelley. Tobin isn’t mentioned in it, which she’s glad for, but it makes her wonder if she’ll face questions by the press about it.

She takes a few photos of the yard from where she sits and sends them to her Mom and then sets her phone down, putting her feet up as well on the chair in front of her, looking down at her hands, feeling pride in a job well done. She looks around the yard again, smiling at what her and Tobin have accomplished, thinking Jerry would have loved it. She can’t wait for her Mom to see it in person.

She puts her head back against the chair, glancing over at Tobin once more, then shuts her eyes. She feels the warmth of the sun on her skin, hears the birds chirping from the trees and sighs contentedly.

 

XXXX

 

Alex woke up and shifted in her seat, rolling her stiff neck out. She glances over and sees Tobin is awake. She’s just staring at the fence, her forehead furrowed and a frown on her face.

“You okay?”

Tobin looks over at her, clearly surprised she’s awake. She gives her a flat smile and reaches for her writing board.

I feel like if I hadn’t broken up with Kelley, this never would have happened.

Alex reads her message, keeping her face neutral and nodding. “I understand you may feel that,” she says carefully, “but I highly doubt that is true.”

Tobin frowns at her, sighing through her nose.

“Tobin,” Alex persists, “if Kelley was diagnosed with a mental issue, I really doubt there is much of anything you could have done to change the course of what happened,”

Tobin’s chin is quivering as she looks at Alex, her eyes watering and feeling so completely gutted.

Alex leaves her chair and comes to her side, squatting down and placing a hand on Tobin’s forearm. “You did nothing wrong,” she insists, “please don’t torture yourself thinking if there was anything different you could have done. Kelley is sick. And that sickness led her to do something horrible to you. It’s okay to be sad and angry about what happened, it is,” she says, looking at her earnestly, wanting her to believe her, “but please, don’t go back and analyze everything little thing. It won’t help,” she says, “I did it with Jerry, what if I’d called him back sooner, maybe he wouldn’t have been on the road when the truck lost control. What if I’d stopped by instead of going home and taking a nap? It’s an exercise in futility, Tobin. You’ll never know, and you’ll just make yourself crazy about it.”

Tobin nods at her, sniffing as tears streak down her face. She grabs for her board and pen, beginning to write. Alex pulls the chair out next to her and sits down. She patiently waits as watches as Tobin prints out her message.

I know you’re right. I do. But it’s hard. It’s hard not to think if I could have changed things. And I’m sad. I’m sad and mad. Why did this have to happen to Kelley? She’s so full of life, so fucking smart. She went to Stanford. Why did this happen? Why didn’t she talk about it? Why did she keep it from everyone? We could have helped her.

Alex nods as she reads, frowning. She looks up at Tobin and sees the pain in her eyes. “I don’t have those answers,” she says quietly, “I don’t know why and I don’t know if you will ever too.”

Tobin wipes at her eyes, letting out a soft cry. “But Tobin, you can’t let this eat you up, you can’t lose yourself in thinking about it so much. I think maybe it’s normal, what you’re doing right now, I think maybe it’s a part of grieving, you know? And it’s okay to feel that. It is. You lost the Kelley you knew, the Kelley you once loved, and knowing that hurts. God, it’s got to hurt so much. But you have to push through it and focus on yourself right now. It’s easy to say, but I know this, Tobin, you can’t obsess on this and let it take you over. You need to focus on being healthy, physically and mentally too.”

Tobin is nodding as Alex speaks, wiping her board with the side of her hand and writing when she finishes.

It feels like she’s dead, you know? The Kelley I knew is gone. It tears me up thinking she won’t be back. I miss her. I miss her friendship. She was one of my best friends, even before we got together. I just want my friend back and I don’t think it will happen.

Tobin passes her the board and brings both of her hands up to hold her face as she softly cries, her voice hoarse and painful sounding. Alex leans forward in her chair, touching Tobin’s back and Tobin leans into her, letting her hold her as she cries.

 

 

She was a little shy after her crying jag, writing to Alex that she feels a bit emotional and she doesn’t normally cry so much. Alex replied that she’s been through an incredible experience that’s sad and scary on many levels and she thinks it’s a pretty normal reaction to it. They’re both starving, having napped way past lunch time and into dinner time now. Tobin insists on grilling, writing on her board she hasn’t cooked in almost three weeks and misses it. Tobin got a bit more after that, scribbling on her board, sweetly asking Alex how she was feeling, how did she like the yard, was there anything else she wanted to do with it.

They prepared their meal together, Alex cutting the potatoes and shucking the corn and Tobin going through her cabinets to find the spices she wants for the chicken, gathering it all on a platter that Alex insists on carrying down while Tobin takes the plates, silverware and napkins.

Alex puts on some music, amusing Tobin when she can’t figure how to light the grill, embarrassed when Tobin shows her how easy it is. They both drink iced tea while they eat, Alex not offering beer since she knows Tobin is taking medication and she doesn’t want to drink in front of her. Tobin had written it was fine, but Alex sassed back that she’s in season she shouldn’t be drinking anyway, except after victories.

Tobin writes that she’s not sure if she’ll play this week or if the trainers will hold her out.

“I don’t see why they would,” Alex reasons, “unless they think your arm is too messed up to play or because you can’t talk,” she smirks, “we’ll all miss you yelling at the ref,”

Tobin balls up her napkin and throws it at her. Alex stands up, taking their plates, “Order your groceries, while I take care of this,” she says, “I’ll be back with dessert soon,”
Tobin nods and pulls out her phone from her backpack. She sees she has some texts from Allie, opening them. Allie wants to know how her day is going and if she has dinner plans. Tobin texts her back, saying she’s good, having had dinner with Alex and sending a photo of the plants.

She pulls up her app for the groceries, calculating how much food she should buy and goes to her shopping list, quickly clicking on her choices. It only takes her a few minutes to get her order together, setting the delivery time for tomorrow afternoon when she’ll be back from her appointments at Providence Park. She texts back most of her teammates on the National Team who are checking in with her, letting them know she’s doing alright. She texts Lauren, catching up with her and then her Mom and her sister Perry, showing them photos of the flowers they planted, checking in like she promised. She finishes up as she hears Alex opening the back door of the studio, setting her phone down and twisting in her chair to see her carrying a small tray with two bowls on it and a couple of spoons.

“You like gelato, right?” Alex asks as she the tray down, “I know you said you weren’t a big fan of ice cream, which you really shouldn’t have if you’re on any antibiotics,” she rattles on, “it might make you nauseous,”

Tobin straightens up in her chair, writing on her board.

This is great, thanks so much

Alex sits down and turns to her, “You’re welcome,” she says, picking up her spoon, “we ate so much, I thought this would be nice and light and good for your throat, too,”

It’s perfect Tobin scribbles and then picks up her spoon.

“So, you need to go do your laundry?” she asks, watching as Tobin nods. Then Tobin starts to write.

I was thinking of coming by tomorrow to paint for a bit

“Cool,” Alex nods, spooning into her gelato.

Will you be around? Tobin looks at her expectantly.

“Oh, yeah, I want to do some clay work tomorrow,” Alex says, “I have an idea for a few vessels that would look cool out here,”

Tobin grins at her and nods. She puts her spoon down to write again.

Is it cool if I get dinner for us tomorrow?

“Sure, whatever you want,” she smiles, “have a taste for something since you’ve been gone?”

Tobin shrugs, still eating her gelato. Then she wipes off her board with a napkin and begins writing. When she finishes, she slides it over so Alex can see.

Thank you so much for today. I really missed hanging out with you and it was just so nice to plant flowers and chill. You don’t know how much it means to be to just be able to forget about everything for a while. And for being so understanding when I kind of lost it. I appreciate so much how you make this safe cocoon I can breathe in with even knowing it.

Alex smiles as she reads it, looking over at Tobin, “Today meant a lot to me, too,” she says quietly, “you don’t know how nervous I was to do this patio and you being here helped me so much,” she flicks at her eye, feeling it welling with moisture, “it looks so beautiful and I feel so happy and I think Jerry would appreciate I finally put some effort into it,” she smiles and rolls her eyes at the last part of that statement.

Tobin gives her a shy smile, her head slightly down, looking at her though her eyelashes. She sighs and then stands up.

“I should go,” Tobin mouths, cocking her head towards the gate.

“Okay,” Alex nods, looking up and seeing how the sun is setting and figuring Tobin probably spent more time here than she figured and has a bunch of things she needs to do since she just got back. “What time do you think you’ll be over?”

Tobin picks up her board, writing for a moment and then turning it to her.

I’ve got to see the medical team at 10:00 and then the team pysch doc at 11:00. I’ll eat lunch at the Park and then head over unless I get a chance to see Mark and talk to him. Groceries coming at three.

Alex nods, stepping close to give her a hug, “You call me if you need anything, okay?” she says quietly, “If you’re having trouble sleeping or nightmares…just call,” She feels nod against her shoulder and then they step back, giving each other shy smiles. Tobin puts her board and pen in her pack, hoisting it up on one shoulder and then heads for the gate.

She turns and gives Alex a peace sign and slips out of the patio.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

July 11

 

 

“Did you take your sleeping pill?” Allie asks, looking at her with narrowed eyes through the phone. Tobin nods, holding the pill up as she continues to brush her teeth. She’s got her phone angled against the back of the counter in the bathroom, Allie Facetiming her as she prepares herself for bed.

“Did you have a good day hanging out with Alex?” Allie questions, doing her best to keep her face neutral. Just from how Tobin acts and talks about Alex, she can totally tell Tobin likes her a lot, but thinks Tobin is completely oblivious as to how much. She’s pretty sure Tobin isn’t in the state of mind to be thinking about seeing anyone yet, especially after what Kelley has done to her. So, Allie plays innocent, keeping her face and tone neutral, not wanting to tease Tobin about her growing crush for the artist.

Tobin nods, smiling around her toothbrush, then she pulls it out, spitting and grabbing some water. She takes a drink, swishing the contents around in her mouth and spits it out. She refills her cup, holds up the pill for Allie to see, pops it in her mouth and drinks to swallow it down. She wipes her face, then grabs her phone, shutting the light off and she heads to her bed.

She flips her comforter back, sliding in and sits up against the headboard, grabbing her board and writing for a minute. Then she shows it to Allie.

 

It was so nice, we planted flowers and hung out. She was a little upset because it was the first time she planted the flowers in the patio since her brother died, so that was sad
but kinda healing too? And she was so nice to me when I got there, I could tell she was worried but she didn’t like come at me with a million questions or anything. I swear Al, it’s like she knows how I’m feeling and can read me so well, it’s scary.

Anyway, we talked and we napped outside after we planted, then grilled some food and had dessert. I left after that to start my laundry and stuff and get my mail

 

“She shared a little with me about her brother, it sounded horrible, a motorcycle accident? Ugh, I could never imagine it.” Allie pauses for a moment, “it makes me think that her losing him makes her more aware of like, the trauma or something you’re facing?”

Tobin nods and then writes.

 

She’s like, intuitive, you know? Like you are. You both know like, what to say or something

 

Allie reads her message, a soft smile on her face. She watches as Tobin quickly writes on her board.

 

And I’m so grateful for both you. Seriously, Harry, you’ve been my rock through this. All of it. I’m so grateful you’re my friend,

 

Allie tears up as she reads Tobin’s blocky printing. She looks up at her and sees Tobin has tears in her eyes as well. “Harry, you’ve been there for me just as much,” she says, her voice scratchy with emotion.

They just look at each other nodding a little.

“So, anyway, the planting flowers sounds nice,” Allie replies, “relaxing, I don’t remember the last time I ever planted flowers,” she shakes her head. She notices how Tobin’s eyes are growing a little glassy, “Why don’t I let you go to sleep,” she suggests, “you call me if you need anything, okay?”

Tobin nods and mouths goodnight and they end the call.

 

XXXX

 

She can hear the man’s voice, narrating the story of his time being on fire lookout. She knows she’s dreaming but when she looks down, Tobin sees she’s wearing a forest green uniform, a badge on her chest with the Forest Ranger crest. She blinks as she looks around, she’s in the outpost, surrounded by walls of glass, reflecting the interior of the cabin.
She takes a step towards the nearest window, now realizing she’s holding a flashlight, her body unwillingly propelling her to the door, opening it and walking out on to the platform that surrounds the fire tower.

Her eyes sweep over the darkness, some weird instinct in her to look for any bursts of color in the dark forest indicating a fire but seeing none. She feels a strange electricity in the air and listens to the absence of the typical nighttime sounds. Birds, crickets, frogs, even the wind is still.

Then she hears it. A long wail of pain off in the distance. Her heart begins to beat faster, the scream repeating every couple of minutes and getting closer. She scrambles back into the tower, fumbling to lock the door, her hands shaking. She tries to still herself to listen, switching to breathing through her nose because she’s making too much noise. She’s still breathing loud and faintly hers something, squinting out the windows, trying to recognize the sound. It soon comes to her with a sense of dread that makes her stomach sink and her mouth go dry. The woman is on the stairs, walking up in a slow pace, her footsteps reverberating on the metal stairs.

A strangled noise comes from her throat, Tobin panicking, going to the door again to make it’s locked. She shuts the lights off so she can see out the windows, scrambling around, making sure the windows are closed and locked. In the center of the tower is an enclosed bathroom, but Tobin avoids locking herself in there, she’d much rather try to hide out of view somewhere else. Being out here gives her a chance for escape.

She ducks under the desk, pulling herself into a ball as the screams get louder. I’m safe in here, she repeats to herself, I’m safe in the tower. She’s shaking so badly the desk moves, but she suddenly realizes the screaming has stopped. Shuddering, she cautiously pokes her head out from under the desk, scanning the three windows. There’s nothing there.

Fuck that, she thinks, burrowing herself under the desk more, gripping her shins with her shaking hands, trying her best to slow her breathing. She doesn’t know how long she sits, her eyes darting around from her position, looking out into the darkness. She sees a slight movement across from her, a bit of lightness, moving slowly across the way.

This woman is on the platform across from her, trailing a hand along the fence rail as she comes to a stop and looks out into the night, her back to Tobin. Tobin watches steadily, praying it will move on and leave her alone.

Tobin stifles a whimper when her own feet begin to move, her mind unwilling to leave yet her body slowly climbing out from under the desk. She can’t stop herself from walking across the room to stand near the glass and watch as the woman slowly turns around.

She’s horrified at what she sees, the pitiful face of this young woman, battered and bloody. Her eyes crawl over her, taking in the tattered nightgown, the bloodstains and the dirt.
The woman’s arm reaches out, her fingers extended at Tobin, suddenly she feels something on her shoulder and she flails around to see the woman behind her. Both let out bloodcurdling screams, Tobin terrified watching as dark blood pours from the woman’s mouth, spraying on her, how her eyes widen. She realizes one of the woman’s eyes is missing as watches as blood and maggots come spilling out.

 

Tobin hits her head on something, rubbing her forehead as she comes to, feeling cold on a hard surface. She blinks and opens her eyes, realizing she’s on the floor, partly under her own bed. She turns her head and sees the woman is under the bed, reaching for her.

She’s off the floor in a clumsy flash, grabbing her glasses from the nightstand, unsteady on her feet from her sleeping pill, the vision of the woman appearing as she rounds the corner of her door, making her let out a strangled, raw scream, whisper quiet. She jerks back, hitting the doorjamb, bouncing into the hallway, grabbing her keys and fleeing her apartment.

She runs down the hall to the elevator, pressing the down button repeatedly, looking at her doorway as if expecting the woman to open it and follow her. When the doors open, she steps back, terrified she’ll be there, leaping in and hurriedly pressing the down the button to the main floor.

She’s shaking as the elevator descends, the terror taking a firm hold over her. When the doors open, Tobin rushes out, ignoring the night deskman, pushing open the door and fleeing down the street. She doesn’t remember running barefoot though the streets and arriving at the studio until she’s frantically opening her cubicle, pulling out her easel and art caddy, whimpering in her haste to get her paints set up. She pulls out the first canvas, an 18” x 24” that’s prepped and ready to go. She clicks on her light, illuminating her workspace, lifting her metal stool, leaning on it as she opens the tubes of acrylic paint with a shaky hand.

Using only black, white and red on her palette, she begins.

 

 

Alex swears she hears the soft chime go off that indicates the door being open. She looks at her nightstand and sees it’s twelve thirty, instantly thinking Tobin is here. She leaps from her bed, moving quickly to her living room peering out the window.

Her shoulders slump as she sees her friend there. Alex feels like she should have known Tobin would come here, she slaps her forehead, cursing herself for not bringing it up to her, talking to Tobin that this might happen. She leans her elbows against the windowsill, looking down to see Tobin work. Her eyebrows raise when she sees Tobin’s only wearing shorts and a sports bra, her body slick with sweat, glasses on and her hair a stringy mess.

Alex sighs, considering what to do. On one hand, she doesn’t want to interrupt Tobin as she paints. She feels in her gut painting is Tobin's emotional outlet and once it is completed she’ll be able to process it and it won’t have such an impact on her in the future. The fact that Tobin doesn't remember the stories concerns her because that means they were so upsetting, Tobin's mind repressed those memories. It's important for Tobin to know what truly happened to her, what she experienced as unpleasant as it may have been.

On the other hand, it’s really disturbing to her to sit here and watch Tobin suffering like this, even though she can’t hear her, she can tell from this distance that she’s crying. Her third cause for concern is that Alex isn’t sure if Tobin is actually awake and that thought terrifies her if Tobin was sleepwalking from her apartment to the studio, especially in her state of dress. It’s not safe at all.

Alex pushes off the windowsill, intent on doing something. She goes to her bathroom and pees, washes her hands and sets out a towel. She rummages around and throws on sweats and a sweatshirt then finds two sweatshirts and two pairs of socks and sweatpants, leaving one of clothes on her bed and carrying the other out to the living room. She goes to her desk and finds a legal pad and a notebook, leaving the notebook on the desk and grabbing a pen to take with the legal pad.

She stacks the clothes on the legal pad and inches to her door, quietly opening it and creeping out on to the balcony. She sees Tobin is still focused on her work, making messy strokes and frowning as she paints.

Alex deliberately takes almost ten minutes to descend the stairs, softly padding down them step by step, pausing in between her steps and not wanting to break the spell Tobin is under right now. She slowly walks a wide berth in the darkness of the studio to the far side of the large table, silently moving in her sock clad feet.

Alex realizes Tobin is in her own world right now, her focus hasn’t strayed from painting as she approaches. So, Alex continues to move around the table, coming closer to Tobin on her left, getting her first view of her painting. She doesn’t look, not yet, instead she sets the clothes and legal pad and pen down on the table, deciding to pull out the stool and sit.

She cringes when the stool legs screech on the floor, freezing as she looks at Tobin, then relaxing when she sees she doesn’t even flinch. Alex sits down and finally looks at the canvas and what she sees horrifies her.

It reminds Alex of the chick from the movie The Ring, but so much more terrifying. Her greyish face is twisted with agony, mouth open in a frozen scream, a hand outstretched. It’s so disturbing, how this woman’s expression pierces you with a split second of fear, her teeth and gums bloody, and the eyes. An eye socket with maggots and dirt and what looks like an oozing substance spilling from it, the other contains a haunted look. Alex has to look away, it disturbs her too much, her eyes moving down to the ragged nightgown, the bloodied hands. Knowing that Tobin isn’t into scary movies, it really pulls at Alex that Tobin is seeing something so horrifying in her subconscious.

Alex shifts her gaze to Tobin. She can only see the side of her face, how her eyes are focused on the canvas, not looking down as her hand moves to the palette, her brush swishing in the paint, bringing it up to continue her strokes. Her jaw is clenched, noisily breathing from her nose, a mix of a scowl and frown on her face. Her eyebrows are furrowed, her eyes slightly squinting behind her glasses. She’s breathing hard as if she’s just finished running and Alex can hear the soft whimpers she’s making. It’s as if Tobin is desperate to put this on the canvas. As if she needs to complete it to get it out of her mind. Alex can see this drive in Tobin, the fear on her face as she paints. A fine bead of sweat coats her forehead, running down the side of her face. Alex tries not to get distracted looking at Tobin’s body, clad in only a sports bra and mesh shorts.

Alex scrunches up her mouth, trying to figure out what she should do. It appears Tobin is nearly finished with the painting, now she’s just dabbing at bits as her eyes scan over the canvas. She watches as Tobin steps back and sits on her stool, setting her palette and brush down on her caddy.

She just sits there, spent, examining her painting, fresh tears coming to her eyes.

“Tobin,” Alex says softly, slowly standing up, not wanting to startle her.

Tobin jumps, losing her balance and sliding off her stool as it tilts over, scrambling at it, falling to the ground, the metal stool clanging loudly and echoing in the studio. She’s on her back, her hands pushing her up into the sitting position, breathing loudly, looking at her with large eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” Alex says, squatting down next to her, “are you alright?”

Tobin swallows hard, slowly nodding her head. She blinks at her, shaking her head for a minute, looking around the dark studio. She takes Alex’s extended hand and lets herself be pulled up, rubbing on her upper arms as she looks around.

“You awake?” Alex asks, looking at her carefully.

Tobin nods as she scratches at the back of her neck, looking anywhere but at Alex. She shivers, rubbing her arms again.

“You cold?” Alex asks, stepping to the table, “I brought down some sweats for you,” she offers, holding up the sweatshirt.

“Thanks,” Tobin whispers, taking it from her and putting it on, then the sweats and socks. She wipes her forehead, then finds a towel on her caddy and wipes her hands. She begins to wash her brushes, drying them with her towel.

Alex stands there, unsure of what to do. She notices how Tobin is purposefully not looking at the canvas. “Do you want me to put this away?”

Tobin turns to face her, looking embarrassed. Her eyes lower to the ground as she nods.

“No problem,” Alex says, carefully removing the canvas from the easel. She walks it over the side room, flicking on the light and laying it flat on the empty table. She flicks the light off and shuts the door behind her as she walks back to where Tobin is now moving her caddy into her cubicle. Alex glances over as she walks past her to the kitchen area, ducking in, flicking on the light and going to the fridge, grabbing two water bottles and shutting the door. She clicks that light off as she reenters the main space, flipping the switch for the lights on the back half of the studio, walking over and sitting down at the table closest to Tobin who is locking her cubby up.

“Water?” Alex offers, pushing one of the bottles on the table towards the seat around the corner from her. Tobin slowly approaches, watching Alex slide the legal pad and pen next to the bottle.

They both open their bottles and drink.

Tobin picks up the pen and begins to quickly write. She frowns when she finishes, turning the pad to the side so Alex can see it.

 

I am so sorry for waking you up again. I don’t remember coming here, it’s freaking me out that I don’t remember. I had a nightmare. It was one of the stories on the iPod that Kelley had on a loop. It was the first one. When I thought I woke up, that woman was in my apartment. She was under my bed and then she was in the hallway. I guess I left and came here.

I was almost done with the painting when I started waking up. When you said my name, you scared the shit out of me. I didn’t see you.

I’m going to move some of my stuff back to my apartment so I don’t keep doing this. I’ll just paint there if that’s what I need to do. I’m so sorry this happened, I’m so embarrassed.

 

Alex keeps her face neutral as she reads the message although she frowns at the end. She looks up at Tobin, seeing she is leaning her hand against forehead, looking down at the table.

“Hey,” she says softly, her voice raspy from how late it is, “first off, please don’t be embarrassed. You’ve been through so much, it’s not surprising this happened. In fact, I’m kicking myself that we didn’t talk about how this could have been a possibility.” She slides her hand across the table to touch Tobin’s forearm.

Tobin looks at her and sighs. Alex can see the mix of emotions in Tobin’s tired eyes.

“Look, why don’t we go upstairs,” Alex suggests, “do you want to shower and warm up?”

Tobin grabs at the pad, writing quickly.

You’ve done so much, I should just go home

Alex snorts, “Well, that’s not happening,” she says, shaking her head, “unless I’m walking you home. Come on, shower and you can stay here, I’ll set an alarm, you said you need to be at the park at ten, right?”

She can see Tobin considering, then nods.

“What time should we get up?” Alex asks, looking at her expectantly.

Tobin writes it down.

“Okay, eight-thirty,” she says, standing up and handing the pad back to Tobin, “let’s go.”

 

 

“I have a few questions to ask you,” Alex says, crossing her legs under her on the bed. Tobin has showered and changed and now they’re both almost ready for sleep.
Tobin nods, pushing her glasses up on her nose. She’s holding the legal pad in her hands.

“Would it be okay if I texted Allie in the morning and let her know you’re here? I was just thinking of maybe she’ll text you in the morning and freak out if you don’t respond.”

Tobin bites her lower lip with her teeth and nods slowly.

Alex nods, “Okay, good. Do you think you can sleep?”

Tobin nods, then yawns as if on cue.

Alex smiles, sliding off the bed and pulling the comforter back. Tobin gets up as well, grabbing a pillow and taking a step away, intending to sleep on the couch.

“Tobin?” Alex questions, “Will you stay?” she asks, frowning, “I don’t think I’ll sleep if you’re not here, I’ll be worried.”

Tobin looks at her, a noise coming from her throat, dropping the pillow and walking around the bed to her, she hugs her, burrowing her head in against Alex’s neck. “Thank you,” Tobin rasps, wanting to say so much more, but she’s so tired and writing it out will take too much time. She squeezes Alex tight, hoping to convey her gratefulness in this hug.
When Alex begins to rub her back, Tobin loses her control, letting out a soft sob, feeling a surge on emotion, a mix from being so scared to finding such comfort in Alex.

After a few minutes, Tobin steps back, once again embarrassed for being so emotional and needy, giving Alex a quick smile before retreating to the other side of the bed. They both get in, Tobin lying on her back, now feeling uncomfortable. She can see Alex setting the alarm on her phone, then clicking off the lamp on the nightstand and snuggling under the covers, inching towards the center of the bed, her gut telling her that Tobin needs some human touch. “I’m big spoon,” she rasps, “on your side,” she says, hoping that Tobin will respond.

Tobin inches over to meet her, turning on her side, pressing her back against Alex’s chest. Alex brings her arm over Tobin’s side, seeking her hand and finding it, interlocking their fingers and giving it a squeeze.

“Sleep,” she whispers, “just sleep,” she repeats, hoping Tobin will relax and get some rest. She feels Tobin bring their hands close to her chest and then lets out a sigh. They both soon drift off.

 

XXXX

 

July 12

 

Allie is just finishing getting dressed when she hears her phone go off. She hopes it’s Tobin, she hadn’t replied when she texted her earlier. She pulls her shirt on and then heads to find her phone on her nightstand.

Tobin’s Alex: Hi Allie, just wanted to let you know Tobin is here. She came last night to paint.

“Shit,” Allie slaps her forehead, kicking herself for not thinking that this might happen.

Allie Long: Thanks Alex. I’m so upset I didn’t think that would happen. I hate the idea of her walking around in the middle of the night. Was she upset? How late was it?

Tobin’s Alex: I know, me too. We should try to figure something out. It scares me that she was out there, I think she sleepwalked here. She didn’t really wake up until I was talking to her. It was pretty late. I’m waking her up in a half an hour.

Allie Long: How about I come over with breakfast then I can go back with her to her place so she can change and then we’ll go to the park?

Tobin’s Alex: Sounds good. Allie, she painted the most horrific painting last night. She said it was from one of the stories she was hearing.

Allie Long: I can send you the file to the stories. Christen sent it to me. It’s pretty scary, I can’t imagine having to listen it on repeat for days.

Tobin’s Alex: Maybe let’s wait on that and ask Tobin first. I don’t want her to think we’re managing her and she gets pissed at me.

Allie Long: True. But let’s talk about it at breakfast. She can’t live like this. Not if she’s going to paint every story that she heard.

Tobin’s Alex: Sounds good, see you soon.

Allie Long: Yep

 

Alex sets her phone on her side, turning to look at Tobin, who’s head is resting on her chest. During the night, they shifted positions and now Tobin is on her stomach, an arm draped over Alex’s torso, half her body on her with a leg draped in between her.

Alex likes how this feels, she likes Tobin in her bed. She knows she needs to be careful, she knows this isn’t something she can push for. Tobin isn’t ready. Alex won’t do anything to jeopardize their friendship, she wants that first and foremost. She doesn’t want Tobin to be uncomfortable when she wakes, so Alex carefully and slowly slides out from under her, sliding her pillow in her place.

She gathers some clothes and uses the bathroom, gets dressed for the day and then heads out to the living room, unlocking the back gate and the back door for Allie to come right up. When she comes back in, she sees it’s nearly time to wake Tobin up. She enters her bedroom, sits on the side of the bed and softly rubs Tobin’s back.

“Time to get up,” she says quietly. Tobin makes a noise deep in her throat, shifting a little, and then sighing. “Come on, Tobin, wake up,” she says, “Allie is coming over with breakfast.”

Alex grins when she sees Tobin crack one eye open, looking at her. “No,” she grumbles, “sleep,” she croaks, her voice barely above a whisper, rough and cracking.

“Don’t make me use force, Heath,” Alex warns, “get up, you’ve got to get moving,” she says it sternly but there’s a smile on her face.

Tobin shakes her head, closing her eye and shifting again and sighing.

“You asked for it,” Alex states, standing up and yanking the pillow out from under Tobin and then smacking her with it rather lightly.

Tobin growls at her, rolling over onto her back, looking up at Alex with squinty eyes. She cracks a smile, slowly shaking her head and then flips the covers off and slides her legs over the edge of the bed and sits up.

“Good morning,” Alex says sarcastically and overly chipper.

Tobin runs her hand through her hair, mouthing a good morning back to her. Her hand goes to her throat as she winces, swallowing and then clearing her throat.

“Throat hurt?” Alex asks, frowning. Tobin nods. “How about I make you some tea with honey, that might help, huh?”

Tobin nods and then stands, stepping close and hugging her, “Thank you,” she whispers, “so much,” she husks.

Alex gives her a soft smile, “You’re welcome,” she says quietly, “you’d do the same for me,” she says, “and you have.” She smiles at her and then nods, “Allie should be here any minute.”

Tobin nods and gives her a shoulder squeeze, then moves to the bathroom.

 

 

“So, Tobin,” Allie says as they eat, “are you feeling okay?” Tobin shrugs as she attacks her skillet, she’s so hungry.

Alex sends Allie a look and Allie slightly nods and continues eating. “You get your laundry done?”

Tobin nods, giving Allie a questioning look.

“I didn’t finish,” Allie replies, “almost got through half, then just vegged out.”

Alex asks Allie if she noticed the patio and flowers they planted. That sparks a conversation about flowers and Allie complaining about not having any.

“Well, would Bati water them if you had them?” Alex questions.

Allie considers, “I really don’t know,” she confesses, “I should ask him.”

“You could probably have some planters on your balcony, right? You do have a balcony?” Alex asks.

“I’ll have to check and see if we can have them,” Allie smiles, growing excited. She looks over and sees Tobin writing in the notebook. Tobin pushes it toward her.

“Make sure you can’t kill them,” Allie reads and makes a face and sticks her tongue out, “very funny.”

After eating and over another coffee, Allie brings it up.

“Tobin,” she says, looking at her seriously, “Alex mentioned what your painting was,” she says, “and I’m wondering if this is going to become a thing,”

“Me too,” Tobin mouths, glancing over at Alex with a rueful look.

“If you’re afraid of this happening again,” Alex says, taking a sip of her coffee, “you should consider just staying here for a few days,” she offers.

Tobin looks at her with wide eyes, then looks over at Allie.

“From how Alex described the painting, it sounds like the first story from Kelley’s thing,” Allie states, “am I right?”

Tobin nods her head slowly.

Allie leans forward, resting her arms on the table, “Tobin, Christen sent me a copy of the recording. She only sent it to me because I’m here with you and we thought it might be a good thing if I knew what you were forced to listen to while you were in that storage unit.”

Tobin blinks, nodding and then sitting upright in her chair.

“I think you should send a copy to Nancy,” Allie suggests, Nancy is the Thorns team psychologist, “it might give her insight on how to work with you and maybe you’ll stop having these terrible nightmares.”

Tobin quirks her mouth, then reaches for the legal pad, scribbling on it then passing it towards Allie and Alex.

It might be a good idea, maybe it would help.

Tobin grabs the pad and scribbles something else, passing it over for them to read.

I think I want to listen to it. Will you send it to me?

Allie’s eyes go wide, “Well, if you want to, I’m not going to deny you,” she says, taking her phone out and pulling up her emails. “But if it really bothers you, please don’t keep listening, okay?”

Tobin nods, then she begins to write on the paper.

I was thinking that listening it to now, like during the day, might help me not be as scared if I dream about it. Maybe it will help me process it better or something. Like, right now, I couldn’t tell you what the next story is, I just can’t remember it. And I couldn’t remember the first one until last light.

Allie and Alex both read her message, nodding in unison. Allie speaks up.

“You should talk to Nancy about it,” she encourages, “it makes sense to me.”

Tobin nods.

“But I really think we need to discuss something,” Allie continues, “you walking around in your sleep is so dangerous, Tobin. I really don’t think you should be alone, especially at night. I mean, what if you left your apartment and didn’t come here?”

Tobin frowns, nodding with her eyes down.

“Tobin, I’m offering for you to stay here,” Alex says quietly, “I know you don’t know me like you do Allie, but if the drive for you to paint is this intense, maybe this would be the best thing for you,” Alex says, “you could sleep in my room, I could take the couch, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

Tobin is nodding and biting her lower lip as she listens to Alex. Then she writes a message.

I hear what both of you are saying and I agree. It scares the shit out of me that I was walking around last night and don’t remember it. Would it be cool if I talked to Nancy first and then we can come up with a plan? Maybe if you don’t have plans Alex, you could meet us for lunch after and we can talk?

“I don’t have any plans,” Alex agrees, shrugging, “just text me where to meet up,”

Allie looks at her watch, “Oh, woah, we should get moving Tobin if you want to stop at your place and get your board and change your clothes.”

“Go,” Alex waves them both off, “I’ll see you later.”

 

XXXX

 

 

Should I do it? Tobin elbows Allie, showing her the message.

“Do what?” Allie asks, looking up from her phone and rubbing her arm and looking slightly annoyed. They’re still at Providence Park, Tobin met with Nancy, discussing what happened to her, how she was sleep walking and if she should stay with Alex. She also wrote out about how she painted her dream, if she wanted to see it, if she wanted to hear the stories. She explained about how she hates scary stuff and how that came about with her Dad scaring her when she was little.

She met the ENT doc and got a spray to help the pain in her throat and was ordered not to speak for the next five days. He explained that her voice was going to take some time to come back, it was a serious rupture although not enough to warrant a surgical repair. After checking her ears, he told her to avoid loud music, headphones and earbuds for another week as a precaution. If she was cleared by the training staff, she could still work out with the team and play.

Tobin shakes out her hand, it’s a little sore from writing so much.

Stay with Alex Tobin looks at her, almost glaring.

Allie pauses before she answers. She nods once, “I think it would a smart and safe thing for you to do,” she replies with conviction. “I mean, I could stay with you or you could ask Sonnett or Kling or Horan, but I know you feel comfortable with Alex and she understands how you need to paint. I think there’s something to you painting that helps you, and I don’t know if setting it up at your place will be the same as going to the studio now. You’ve been there for so long, it might not be the same.”

Tobin huffs, leaning back against the locker while Allie finishes getting dressed. She’s done with practice and has already showered. Tobin’s already greeted her teammates, reassuring them she’s okay but not going into detail. That is for another day, one that Tobin wants to be able to actually speak to her teammates to explain things to them. She gave the green light to Allie to explain the basics of what happened and everyone has been awesome enough to not ask her any detailed questions, noting how difficult it was to maintain a multi-person conversation while Tobin had to write her replies.

Allie senses Tobin’s apprehension, “What did Nancy think about it?”

Tobin begins to scribble on her board.

She doesn’t want me alone at night. She thinks it dangerous if I’m sleepwalking and leaving my apartment.

I feel bad, like I’d be imposing on Alex, especially if I have nightmares and keep her up Tobin elbows Allie again, shoving her board in front of her.

Allie reads it and resists the urge to smile at how sweet and considerate Tobin is. She shakes her head, she just doesn’t know how much she likes her yet, she thinks.

“Tobin, she offered,” she replies, faking being slightly exasperated because that’s what she’d normally be, “besides, it’s perfect, it’s not like she has a nine to five job and you’d be wrecking her schedule or anything,”

Tobin hums at that, considering it.

“Just text her that you’ll stay with her, okay? And pick somewhere to eat, I’m starving,” Allie instructs.

Tobin let’s out a huff and then sets her board down and pulls out her phone.

Tobin Heath: Hey Alex, if it’s cool with you and the offer still stands, I’d like to stay with you for a bit.

Alex Morgan: Of course, it’s fine, totally. Are we still on for lunch? I’m starving!

Tobin smiles at that.

Tobin Heath: Yeah, sure, of course. Um, how about the deli place?

Alex Morgan: Great, I’m on my way. See you soon.

Tobin slides her phone back in her pocket, picking up her board and writing.

You ready? We’re going to that deli on 6th

Allie stands up, glancing at the board, “Let’s go.”

 

 

“So, this is your place, huh?” Alex comments as she follows Tobin down the hallway, looking around.

Tobin nods, glancing over her shoulder, giving her a small smile. She sets the bag down on the kitchen table that she’s carrying, then writes on her board.

Yeah, home, sweet home. You want something to drink?

“I’m good, thanks,” Alex says, “this is nice,” she smiles, looking around the small living space.

The condo I’m buying is much larger, 2 bedrooms, another bath and the living room and kitchen is bigger,

Alex nods approvingly, “Nice, when do you move?”

October

Alex smiles, “That’s exciting,” she says.

If you wanna hang out or come with me while I pack, I’ll be quick

 

Alex is impressed with how quickly Tobin packs a medium sized suitcase and a duffel bag. Then she figures that travel being such apart of Tobin’s life, this is nothing to her. She looks around the room, taking in Tobin’s style. The room is light beige, with dark wood furniture, some photos on the top of the dresser, along with an intricate wood box and some intriguing small figurines.

Alex realizes there’s not much on the walls in her entire place, then realizes it’s an apartment and Tobin probably didn’t want to put a bunch of holes in the walls. Plus, she travels often so maybe this place isn’t as homey as one would expect.

A knock at her door interrupts Alex’s thoughts, turning to see Tobin dart from the room to answer it. She hears a man state he’s here for her grocery delivery. Alex stands and wanders out from the room to the kitchen where Tobin is helping him unload a long dolly of bags.

She writes out a thanks with an explanation she lost her voice. He smiles and tells her that sucks, handing her a clipboard to sign off on the paperwork. She escorts him to the door and approaches Alex with a rueful grin.

Tobin picks up her board and marker and begins writing. Then she turns to her to read.

So, I have some food now, should we bring it with or just come back here to eat it?

“We could come here,” Alex nods, “it would be fine,” she says. Tobin nods and writes again.

I have stuff to make dinner, shrimp and veggies and some rice, should we take it for tonight?

“Shrimp?” Alex smiles, “I could go for shrimp, we could grill if you want,”

Tobin nods with a grin and begins to unpack the bags. Alex jumps right in, unpacking the items while Tobin puts them away. Tobin pulls out a wrapped package from the freezer and sets it on the counter. She opens the fridge and holds up a baggie of green beans, some carrots and a zucchini, waiting for Alex to nod that they are good for her. Then she removes a package of wild rice from a cabinet. She uses one of the empty plastic bags and Alex insists on putting the items inside.

Tobin holds up a finger, walking to her room and coming back with two books, sliding it and her board and marker into her backpack and retreats and pulls out her suitcase and duffel bag. She gives Alex two thumbs up and then cocks her thumbs over her shoulders to the door.

“Let’s go,” Alex grins, picking up the bag of food, following behind. As they wait for the elevator, Alex considers how easy it was to work with Tobin. They were almost silent, working in tandem, rather seamlessly actually. True, it was a simple mundane task, but they were comfortable together completing it, as if they’d been doing it for awhile. She looks over and gives Tobin a smile as the elevator doors open and follows her in.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

July 12

 

“Tobin, that’s like the sixth time you’ve yawned,” Alex observes, “please, don’t feel like you need to stay up, take a nap, I’ll be doing my own thing, it’s alright,” Tobin is on the couch, watching a soccer match and Alex is sitting in one of the club chairs, working in her sketchbook. She’s is considering a piece for an installation in a hotel lobby in downtown Portland. She’s working on some ideas. Tobin slides over to lay down, resting on her side with a pillow under her head. When Alex glances over a few minutes later, she sees Tobin is dead asleep.

Alex leaves the soccer match on the TV, not feeling like getting up and grabbing the remote near Tobin. She continues her work, sketching out possibilities for her proposal. She’ll visit the hotel in a day or two, wanting to see the actual space and get a feel for it before she makes her final decision. She has the diagrams for the location and specs on it, but she wants to make sure it would be something that would flow with the area.

She has her head down, concentrating on her drawing when she hears a whimper. She looks over and sees Tobin frowning, her face morphing into a grimace. Tobin squirms on the couch, wincing as she does, drawing her hands up to her chest, one fist surrounded by the other. She begins to jerk her hands, as if trying to escape being tied up. Her legs are close, hips thrusting and legs twitching as she struggles.

Alex watches, fascinated and filling with sorrow and uncertainty in what she should do. Should she let this continue and let Tobin suffer or wake her and end it. She doesn’t know. Hearing her whimper and see her face contort in pain makes the decision for her. She swiftly sets her sketchbook aside, leaping from her chair and dropping to her knees in front of Tobin.

“Tobin! Wake up!” She urges, not wanting her to experience whatever she’s dreaming a second longer. She pushes on her shoulder, shaking her. “Tobin! You’re dreaming, wake up!” she loudly.

Tobin’s whole body flinches and jolts as her eyes fly open, looking panicked and terrified. She’s panting as her eyes lock on Alex and it takes a few seconds for any spark of recognition to come across her face.

Once Alex sees it, she rubs Tobin’s upper arm, “You’re safe,” she says calmly, “you were dreaming, you’re okay,”

Tobin gulps in a breath and nods slowly, resting her head back on the couch, sucking in deep breaths. “Everything is okay,” Alex soothes, “you’re safe, it was just a dream,” she repeats. Tobin nods again, pursing her lips and taking some controlled exhales, calming her breathing.

Alex brings her hand to Tobin’s which are still locked together, rigid against her chest. She tries to free them, but Tobin’s grip on her right hand is too tight. Alex uses her other hand and places both of them on Tobin’s fists, “Let go,” she says, her voice warm and soft, “it’s over,”

Tobin looks down at her hands, realizing they’re still tightly clasped together and slowly releases them, watching as Alex takes them in hers. She looks up at her, seeing the warmth and genuine concern in her blue eyes. She gives her a shy smile, suddenly embarrassed, looking down, knowing her face is hot and flushed, then feeling the tips of Alex’s fingers under her chin, lifting it.

“It’s okay,” Alex assures her, “please, don’t be embarrassed,”

Tobin swallows and nods, “Okay,” she whispers, her throat dry.

“You want to sit up?” Alex asks, inching away on her knees from the side of the couch. Tobin nods and swings her legs over the side of the couch, sniffing as she brings a hand up to wipe her face. She reaches over for her bottle of water and takes a long drink, sets it down and then grabs her board and marker and begins to write. She scrunches her mouth as she starts, then turns it for Alex to see.

I think I was dreaming about being tied up, Kelley had taped my hands together like you saw, then they were taped around me. I guess I was taped to the floor.

Alex sits next to her on the couch. “That had to be terrifying,” she says, looking steadily at her, “I can’t imagine how panicked I would be,”

Tobin nods, writing again.

It was awful. I was so scared, I didn’t know what was going on. It was so cold when I first woke up. I was freezing. Then it got so hot, I really thought I might die from it. Hearing Kelley talking made me realize that this wasn’t a nightmare, it was really happening and there was no way I could get out of it.

It didn’t help that those stories kept scaring the shit out of me, even if I heard them so many times. It’s so weird I can’t remember them, well I do remember the first one now. But the others, I don’t. But I know they terrified me every time I heard them. Do you think I should listen to the whole thing? I don’t know what I should do.

Alex slides her leg under her to face Tobin, looking at her seriously. “Jesus, Tobin,” she says, “I’m just freaking out you went through this,” she confesses, “I don’t know what the right thing to do is.”

Tobin nods, shrugging her shoulders.

“You know,” Alex considers, “maybe it would be a good idea if you wrote out your dreams,” she suggests, “between that and painting them, maybe it’s a good way for you to release the hold they have on you.”

Tobin nods, holding up an index finger and then begins to write.

Nancy suggested I do it, too. That’s a good idea. I’m thinking maybe I’m not ready yet to listen those stories. Maybe it needs to come from my dreams, she said I repressed it because I was so scared. Maybe listening to them now would mess up it and make things harder to get through.

Alex nods as she reads, a thought entering her head. “What if I listen to it? Like, I’ll listen to the first one and then read what you’ve written about the dream and see how they differ?”

Tobin eyes go wide at that.

“I mean,” Alex says quickly, “unless you want to leave that to your therapist, if it’s too personal,”

Tobin shakes her head, writing quickly and messily.

You’d be willing to do that? For me?

Alex glances up at her and see how Tobin looks at her. She smiles. “Of course, Tobin,” she says, “I’m your friend and if this helps you, I’m all for it,” she shrugs, “I mean, you’ve help me with Jerry, so much of it unknowingly and I’m so grateful for it. So, I’m willing, unless you feel more comfortable with Allie doing it,”

Tobin shakes her head and scribbles something, tilting it so Alex can see.

No, I want you

Without moving her head, Alex steals a glance at Tobin, noting how her face is crimson as she frantically wipes it off and writes again.

I mean, if you’re sure you want to do it, it would mean a lot to me. I think you’d get it more because we could talk about my paintings

Alex nods, “Okay,” she slides her arm around Tobin and gives her a side hug, “this might really help you get through this,”

Tobin nods and gives her a small smile.

Alex drops her arm and lightly slaps Tobin’s thigh, “I’m getting hungry, are you?” Tobin nods and then winces.

“What’s wrong?” Alex asks, concerned.

My hip

“What’s wrong? Did you pull it or something?” Alex asks, confused, Tobin hadn’t been limping or anything. She watches as Tobin stands up and pulls the waistband of her shorts and underwear low, turning to show her a scrape on her hip.

Alex sucks in are between her teeth when she sees it, noting how it looks irritated. She stands up, “You should have that covered,” she says, “stay put, I’ll be right back.” Alex returns quickly with her First Aid kit, sitting down on the couch and setting it on her lap, opening it up and finding an antibiotic ointment and selecting a large bandage. “Okay, let me see,” she orders.

Tobin turns to her side, lifting her t-shirt up so Alex can see the wound. Alex bites her lower lip hard as she tries not to be distracted by Tobin’s smooth tan skin and the definition of her muscles. She opens a sterile cotton swab stick, applying the ointment and then rips open the bandage, gently placing it on her.

“Thanks,” Tobin mouths, looking down at her.

“You’re welcome,” Alex says, crinkling up the wrappers and handing them to her. “Let’s start dinner, yeah?”

 

XXXX

 

 

Alex studies the haunting painting, impressed with the detail, horrified with the expression. They had a nice dinner outside, grilling the shrimp and veggies and making the rice on the side burner. They stayed in the yard chatting after dinner, talking about the plants, Alex sharing her ideas for adding a few more vessels and pots. After they came in and did the dishes, Tobin started writing in her journal and Alex has just finished listening to the first story, Tobin is still upstairs writing her narrative in her journal, so she came down to look at it with this new perspective.

In her opinion, Tobin nailed it, it looks just like what she would have imagined. She prays this unorthodox method will help Tobin accept and heal from what happened to her. She frowns, thinking about how cruel it was for Kelley to exploit Tobin’s fears in such a manner.

She can’t believe the sense of betrayal Tobin must feel, checking herself that she once again, shouldn’t push to start a relationship with her. She likes her so much but is resolved to build their friendship and hope that one day Tobin might consider taking it to another level. She thinks Tobin is attracted to her, she sees the glances and the small smiles. But she won’t initiate anything until Tobin makes the first move.

 

Tobin sets her pen down, leaning back in the kitchen chair, rolling her neck and then sighing. She’s just finished reliving the first story, then her dream and how it was different, continuing to explain Kelley’s words and how they made her feel. She’ll take this to Nancy tomorrow, at the end of her entry, she wrote down some questions she wants to ask her about this.

She closes her journal, thinking about Alex. She likes her she realizes, she likes her a lot and she’s been so kind to her, so understanding. She knows she’s not ready to enter in a relationship, not until she can wrap her head around what has all happened. She’s grieving for Kelley, she praying she’s getting the help she needs. She misses her friendship but now she wonders if that’s something she’ll ever have again. She isn’t sure it’s something she wants anymore. Not after this.

This is the first day she’s feeling really with it, like she’s crawled out from the fog that’s she’s been under. She still takes her medication, it does help her fall asleep, keeping the swirling thoughts from her mind that would normally make her stay up, analyzing it all. She concludes that when the time is right, she’ll talk to Alex, to see if she likes her back, if she’s reading things properly, and maybe they can slowly build something together. She wonders if this is something she should talk to Nancy about, if it’s too soon. She’ll just see how it plays out.

She’s hoping her throat feel better soon, the pain isn’t as raw and the spray she’s using helps immensely. She wants to talk, it’s frustrating writing everything down.

She stands up, thinking she should check in with everyone and let them know she’s doing okay. She grabs her phone and begins to text to her Mom, sisters and friends.

She’s still on her phone when Alex comes up, giving her smile and letting her eyes follow her as she moves to the bedroom.

They watch TV for awhile before Tobin changes for bed, she’s tired even with her nap and wants to get a good nights sleep before practice tomorrow. She feels a dip in the bed when Alex enters, sighing deeply at the comfort she brings with her presence.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

“Come on, back in the bed,” Alex soothes as she guides Tobin into bed, getting in behind her. She wraps her arms around her, feeling how Tobin is still trembling, letting out little hiccups and shudders. Tobin had once again left the bed quickly in the night, bolting upright with a gasp and fleeing the room.

Alex took her time before coming down to watch her, sleepily putting on a hoodie and sweats and grabbing a set for her.

They weren’t up for very long, Tobin completed her painting rather fast. It was messy, the strokes unsteady yet effective. The painting itself looked like a drug induced dream, dark swirling colors blended into blackness and from it came black hands gripping and reaching for a woman as she runs towards the viewer.

It was disturbing, seeing the terror on the woman’s face as she struggled against the hands that held her. Alex can only wonder what the story is behind it.
It takes Tobin a long time to settle down and even out her breathing before she finally sleeps.

 

 

XXXX

 

July 16

 

It only takes a couple of days for the two to establish a routine. They’d have breakfast together, Tobin would gather her gear for practice, making sure to take her portfolio, writing board and journal for her meeting with Nancy and leaving.

Alex would workout, shower and get ready for her day. She’d workout, she’d work on her proposal, taking breaks from it to throw on the wheel, making some new pots for the patio. She’d get lunch with Syd, revealing her new pseudo roommate, sharing with her how she thinks they’re both dancing around their feelings for each other, both knowing they should take it slow. Syd is excited for her, knowing that Alex hasn’t allowed herself to even think about seeing someone and now finding herself in something that could be a wonderful relationship.

Tobin would come back from practice and her therapy session mentally and physically exhausted, passing out on the couch. Alex would work downstairs or at the kitchen table, keeping herself busy. Tobin would get up after a couple of hours, finding her and they’d have dinner. One night they went to Tobin’s, another at Alex’s and the third night they went out with Allie, Syd, Sinc, Kling and Lindsey.

“Game day,” Alex murmurs, rolling over to face Tobin, smiling as she sleepily opens her eyes.

Tobin closes her eyes, “Game day,” she whispers back, her voice gravelly and low. Her voice has been improving, she’s able to speak more, still under doctor’s orders not to talk excessively, but she can hold a conversation now. It’s above a whisper, but still quiet.

Alex lies on her stomach, going up on her elbows, looking at Tobin. “What do you do for game day?”

Tobin cracks one eye open, her bruise has faded. “This,” she replies with a smirk.

“Oh, so you don’t eat breakfast?” Alex questions playfully, then sighs, “What a shame, I was thinking about making pancakes and sausage,” she says, slowly inching out of the bed. Tobin’s hand shoots out and grabs Alex’s forearm.

“Pancakes?” she asks, blinking at her.

“Uh huh, pancakes,” Alex smiles, “that is unless you have to eat something different for game day.”

“I could have pancakes,” Tobin grins at her, “let me help,”

Alex shakes her head, “Nope,” she says, shaking Tobin’s hand off her arm, “I will not be accused of making you work today and tiring yourself out.”

“Al!” Tobin calls after her as Alex leaves the room. Tobin comes out from the bedroom as Alex is getting the frying pan out from under a cabinet.

“I can help,” she insists, “I’m not helpless,”

“I know you’re not helpless,” Alex retorts with a grin, “but I don’t want you to get tuckered out before tonight,”

Tobin shakes her head at her, moving to the coffee pot and preparing to make a fresh pot. “I won’t get tuckered out,” she chuckles, “I’ll be napping after breakfast,”

Alex shakes her head at her, now pulling out the package of sausage. “Seriously though, what do you do on game days? Just take it easy, or what?”

Tobin nods, “Yeah, I basically chill up until I have to leave,” she replies, “I usually read, watch TV or nap, that’s about it.”

Alex nods, “Okay, what time should you at the Park?”

“Around three,” Tobin replies as she fills the coffee filter, “Mark said I’ll be on the bench, so that’s cool,” she says, flashing her a grin, “at least I’m dressing today.”

Alex thinks there’s no way Tobin wouldn’t play, she’s one of the best players on the team, although she knows there’s more involved to it, like minutes the National Team wants her to play and whatever else she doesn’t know.

“Hope you get some minutes,” Alex replies, returning her grin.

“What time do you leave?” Tobin asks, looking over at her and stepping close to take the sausage from the counter and turning on the burner. She starts loading the skillet with it.

Alex is mixing the batter for the pancakeses, “About twelve-thirty,” she replies, “it’s my week to help set up the tailgate,”

“Tailgate starts at one?” Tobin asks, looking over at her. Alex nods.

“Maybe when I get back from the Olympics, I’ll come to one,” she muses, “might be cool,”

Alex shrugs, “Mana and Celeste came at the start of the season, it was pretty cool,”

“Yeah?” Tobin asks, nodding her head, “I’ll definitely make it a point to get to one this season,” she says, Alex nods, “That would be cool,”

Tobin smiles absently as she flips the bacon, “Yeah,” she says, “you know, this is the best place to play in the entire league,” she says, “there’s nothing like it, even when I played over in France, we didn’t get crowds like this until playoffs,”

They chat as they eat and when they finish, Alex shows Tobin her ideas for the hotel commission. Tobin gets excited, “Al, these are so cool,” she exclaims, “where would this be? The entrance? What hotel?”

When Alex tells her where, Tobin insists that they should go and check it out, “I want to be able to envision where this will go,” she says.

“Tobin, I haven’t even submitted anything yet, it’s not due for a while.” Alex replies.

“Well, I still want to see where it would go,” she insists, “so when you talk about it, I have an idea,”

Alex nods, “We can go sometime,” she says, “they have a nice coffee shop,”

“Tomorrow,” Tobin says, “it’ll give me energy to start packing,”

Alex frowns, “That’s right, you leave Monday,”

Tobin sighs, “Yeah,” she says, “I think I’ll need to bring some paint and canvases to camp,”

“Have you talked to the team so they know what’s going on with you?” Alex asks prudently.

“Oh yeah,” Tobin says, “I sent an email to Jill and Dawn,” she says, “Dawn is the head trainer, she oversees our fitness and whatnot, coordinates with the psych team,” she nods, “so I’m rooming with Allie and they know I might be up some nights. She’s been monitoring my sleep,” Tobin holds up her arm to show off the FitBit on her wrist, “she’s a litte concerned about my sleep pattern,” she frowns.

Alex frowns, “I think Allie said you have three stories left,” she frowns, “I hate to think of you being in some hotel room,”

“It’ll be okay,” Tobin assures her, “if I dream tonight and tomorrow night, then I’ll only have Monday to deal with,”

Alex looks at her, “It still makes me worry,”

Tobin gives her knee a squeeze, “I appreciate that,” she says seriously, “I really can’t express how much I appreciate you being here for me this week,” she presses her lips together, “you’ve really come to mean to so much to me,”

Alex lays her hand over Tobin’s, “You’ve become a really great friend to me,” she says, “you get me, you get my moods, my feelings, and believe it or not, you’re kinda fun to be around, even if you are slightly nerdy,”

“Nerdy?” Tobin inquires, arching an eyebrow at her, a smile playing at her lips.

Alex nods her head at Tobin’s book on the coffee table, “Harry Potter?”

Tobin quickly reaches for it, holding it up, “This is a classic piece of literature,” she declares, “have you even read one of them?”

Alex shakes her head, “I did see the movies,” she offers, “on cable.”

Tobin clucks her tongue at her, “I’m leaving you the first three books for while I’m gone,” she states, trying to be stern, yet failing with the smile playing at her lips, “and I expect daily updates.”

Alex crosses her arms, “How are we going to do daily updates with you half around the world?”

Tobin smirks at her, “I’ll only be like, four hours ahead of you, I’ll have you know,”

“Oh, is that so?” Alex returns the smirk.

“Uh huh,” Tobin smiles triumphantly, tapping her book, “so daily updates.”

Alex narrows her eyes at her, considering it. “Fine,” she says, “I’ll read your children’s books while you’re gone.”

Tobin scoffs, “You don’t know what you’re in for, Alex,”

“Pretty sure I have a good idea, Tobin,” she responds in the same tone.

They both hold each other’s gaze, both breaking out laughing when they can’t stay serious.

 

XXXX

 

 

“Need some second half magic, Tobin,” Mark says as he claps her back as they head in for halftime.

Tobin nods, “Do my best,” she replies, jogging ahead to get to the locker room.

Tobin sits on the floor, stretching as Mark speaks, noting the adjustments he wants made for the second half. She continues to stretch while Sinc speaks, then Kat Reynolds comments on the defensive things to watch for. She stands up when they huddle, mouthing a PTFC when they break.

Pinoe jogs over before the half starts, slapping Tobin on the back, “You good?” she asks, her eyes concerned.

“I’m good,” Tobin replies, “how about you?”

“I’ll kick your ass for forty-five, after that, I’m not sure,” she chuckles.

“Awesome,” Tobin grins, “So glad you’re back,” she says, “don’t try to score or anything,”

Pinoe laughs as she runs backward from her, “You wish, Heath!” she laughs, getting into position.

The game starts, Tobin taking it all in, getting herself into the flow of the match, working hard to get open and contribute. Seattle always plays them rough, there’s no love lost between the teams. It’s a hard, physical half, each team trying to break the scoreless tie.

Tobin gets fouled a few times, going to the turf, clenching her teeth as she feels the slight burn on her calf and hip. She bounces back up, glad to have won the free kick, waiting as her teammates set up. Seattle defends it, Kopmeyer coming way out of the goal to leap and catch the ball.

In the seventy-fourth minute, Tobin gets the ball, edging around Corsie who’s been guarding her, sucking her in one on one before nutmegging her and chipping the ball in the box. Nadia Nadim finds it, redirecting it into the back of the net.

The crowd goes wild, the red smoke pouring, the chanting deafening as they celebrate and then get in position for the restart. They manage to defend the Reign, Betos making some amazing saves and the defense shutting them down.

Tobin swears she sees Alex up in the stands, holding a scarf up, smiling and laughing with Syd.

“Where’s your girl?” Allie comes up from behind her, looping an arm around her shoulders.

Tobin looks at her sharply, “She’s not my girl!” she insists quickly.

“Just razzing ya, geez!” Allie laughs, “So, where is she?”

Tobin points, “Behind the Horan sign, halfway up,”

Allie begins waving, “I see her and Syd!”

Tobin smiles, flashing them a peace sign. They turn to gather with the team.

“They coming out with us?” Allie asks.

“Uh huh,” Tobin replies, “just text her once you figure out where you want to go,”

Allie nods with a smile on her face. From just how Tobin argued Alex wasn’t her girl, Allie has figured out that Tobin is aware of her feelings for her. She won’t push her, she knows Tobin still needs to work on herself and get through these nightmares before she attempts to share herself with someone else. Allie smirks to herself, thinking that Tobin hasn’t realized how much of herself her and Alex have shared of each other since they met.

The crowd distracts her, drawing her attention to Nadia receiving her rose. They do their thank you wave and disperse to stretch out and hear what Mark has to say about the match.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

“Did Alex show you the new pot she made for the patio?” Syd asks Tobin.

“The one with the rainbow of colors?” Tobin replies, seeing Syd nod, “it’s so cool,”

They’re all at a diner that Allie choose, having dinner and talking. Alex is sitting next to Syd, leaned over speaking quietly with Allie. Tobin glances over and sees that it looks like a
serious conversation, so she doesn’t try to interrupt.

Tobin asks Syd what her job entails and Syd is explaining how she works with clients as an agent for showing their works of art and setting up gallery showings.

“Have you considered selling any of your works yet?” Syd asks, finishing her dinner.

“Eh,” Tobin shrugs, taking a sip of her iced tea, “I’m not sure,” she says, her voice hoarse and low but it doesn’t hurt to talk now, “I mean, right now all that I’m painting is deeply personal, these nightmares I’m having. I’m not even sure if I’d ever want anyone to look at them.”

“Well, you know, you could always save them and just have a gallery showing,” Syd states, “not have them for sale. It could just be a series, just call it Nightmares.”

Tobin grimaces, “I don’t know if I’m ready for something like that,”

“Just keep it in mind,” Syd suggests, “maybe even for some time years later, when you’re not playing anymore.”

“Yeah,” Tobin agrees, “I think there will come a time I’m ready to show my stuff, but like, right now I’m getting the feel for oils,” she says, “I think once I get a handle on it, maybe I’ll think about it.”

“Well, sports and art agents are two completely different things,” Syd states, “so when the time comes, you come talk to me, and even if you don’t sign with me, I’ll make sure you work with someone good.”

“Sweet, thanks,” Tobin smiles over to her, glancing and seeing Alex and Allie now laughing over something.

Syd follows Tobin’s gaze, then smiles at her, “You know, Alex has been so happy, she’s been producing like crazy,” she says, “I think you’re a big reason why,”

“Me?” Tobin straightens her back, sitting upright in surprise.

“Yeah,” Syd chuckles, “she’s been in a funk for over a year, not creating much,” she says, “when she came back from Sedona last year, she made xome stuff, but that fizzled out in a few months. Now she’s got over twenty new pieces for her spring series, it’s incredible. She’s taking commissions again. But since you started coming to the studio and then becoming friends, it’s like she’s awakened into this major creative period. I’ve been fielding calls from all over, people wanting her to create installations for them.”

“Yeah?” Tobin smiles a little, “That is so cool,”

Syd nods, “She’s in high demand,” she says, “I know she’s so excited about the hotel one,”

“She said she hasn’t submitted her ideas for the hotel thing yet,” Tobin says, scratching at her arm, “something about putting in a bid,”

Syd shakes her head, “She’s already been chosen by the hotel, Tobin,” she explains, “the bid is for how much money they want to spend on an Alex Morgan original.”

Tobin raises her eyebrows at that, her mouth slightly dropping open, not realizing how popular of an artist Alex is.

Syd elbows her, breaking her from her thoughts. “You really should Google her and read her wiki,”

“Uh, yeah,” Tobin agrees, thinking about how there’s so much she still doesn’t know about Alex.

Just then Alex leans over towards, smiling at them, “What are you two talking about so quietly?”

Syd laughs, “I’m educating Tobin on an important topic,”

Alex looks at her, narrowing her eyes, “And what is the topic?”

“You,” Syd answers coyly, breaking into a laugh.

Alex’s eyebrows raise, looking between the two of them.

“Just good stuff,” Tobin says, “you didn’t tell me the hotel thing was a done deal,” Tobin watches as Alex blushes, looking down for a moment.

Alex looks up, locking eyes with Tobin, “Yeah, well, I didn’t want to brag,” she says humbly.

“It’s all good,” Tobin replies with a smile and sending her a wink.

Neither of them see Syd rolling her eyes at Allie who is doing the same.

 

“That was fun,” Alex says as she drives her and Tobin back to her place, “did you hear Kling telling the story about how she nearly broke the World Cup?”

Tobin laughs, “Yeah,” she says, “it was hilarious,”

“You ready for camp?” Alex asks, looking over at her.

“Yeah, I think,” Tobin says, “it’s going to be weird without Kelley there,” she admits.

“Tobin,” Alex says, unsure if she should ask this, but she really wants to know what Tobin thinks, “is there a chance Kelley could come back to the team?”

“It would be really hard if she does,” Tobin says truthfully, “I don’t know how the team would respond, I don’t think it’s possible right now, though. She’s in a mental facility, like a criminal one, back in Utah. She’s been charged with kidnapping and a bunch of other offenses,”

“That hasn’t become public knowledge yet though, right?”

Tobin shrugs, “I’m sure it’s somewhere on public record somewhere,” she frowns, “but it’ll come out, it always does, you know?” she gives her a rueful smile, “I just don’t want to talk about it to reporters or anything, but Heif, he’s the PR guy on the National Team, he said I won’t have to,”

“Do you think it will come out before or during the Olympics?”

Tobin noisily sighs, “Probably before,” she says quietly, “those reporters are always digging for something, I bet they’ll figure it out by then.”

“I’m sorry,” Alex says heartfully, “I hope it doesn’t, I hope you don’t have to deal with it then,”

Tobin shrugs, “I can’t worry about it,” she says, yawning, “I can’t control that stuff so I shouldn’t focus on it,”

“That’s a good plan,” Alex says, concentrating on the road, “a good mindset.”

 

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

July 18

 

“I’m going to miss you,” Alex says as she hugs Tobin, “seeing you through a screen just won’t be the same,”

“I’m going to miss you, too,” Tobin says, her head buried in the crook of Alex’s neck, “we’ll talk every day, I promise.”

“You go knock ‘em dead out there,” Alex says as they break from their embrace, “and don’t get hurt,”

“I don’t plan on it,” Tobin laughs, “I’ll see you when I see you,”

Impulsively, Alex kisses her on the cheek, “Good luck,” she says, smiling at her.

Tobin smiles wide, “Yeah, thanks,” she breathes out, “I’ll text you later, okay?”

Alex nods and they’re just standing there, smiling at each other. A car horn blows, making both of them flinch.

“Let’s go!” Allie yells from the passenger seat, her hand slapping on the outside door of Kling’s car.

Tobin shifts the strap of her backpack, nodding, “Okay, I gotta go,”

“Bye, Tobin,” Alex smiles, watching her get in and the car pull away. She can see Tobin looking out the window, waving. She waves back and once the vehicle is out of sight, she slowly walks into the studio.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin has her nose in her iPad the whole flight to Denver. She’s been reading Alex’s wiki and then found a link for a listing of all of the outdoor installations her friend has made in the United States. She raises her eyebrows when she sees there’s a listing for the world. She grows excited when she finds that Alex had five different pieces installed in one of the large parks in Denver. She hits the link and discovers it was part of an art contest that she won while a student in Chicago, going up against established artists in the country, so this was one of her first major projects she ever did. Impressed, Tobin goes back and scrolls through the Portland tab, intent on seeing what is in the city that she’s done. Again, Alex has some pieces in the parks, but then she has numerous ones in buildings. A few hotels, some banks, even the city hall.

Syd was right, she thinks to herself, there’s so much about Alex I don’t know. She swipes pages and goes back to the Google search results, finding an interview Alex did a couple of years ago. She notices by the dates that Alex has been off the radar in the art world ever since Jerry died. There are a few entries about studio events but nothing specifically on Alex. Tobin is so engrossed reading the interview, she doesn’t notice Allie peering over her shoulder, seeing the photo of Alex and smiling to herself as she leans back in her seat.

 

XXXX

 

 

“This is the last one, Syd,” Alex states as she sets the clay sculpture on the table, “what do you think?”

Syd shrewdly surveys the four pieces on the table, tilting her head, and walking around to see the backs of them. “I like this one,” she points to the second one from the left.

Alex nods, “I call that one Starburst,” she says, “I like it the best and I think that’s the one they’ll go with.”

Syd nods, “They most likely will, you have a knack for reading your clients,” she smiles at her. “Okay, so they’re coming here tomorrow to make the final decision, you’ve got the sketches ready?”

“Yes, I just finished matting them, I’ll hang them on the wall.” Alex replies.

“Good, I’ll be here at one, they’re coming at one-thirty.” She replies.

“Sounds good,” Alex grins at her.

“Oh, and Alex?” Syd turns as she picks up her purse, looking her up and down, “Would you maybe not wear shorts and a t-shirt? Maybe something slightly dressier?”

Alex rolls her eyes, “Yes, Syd, I’ll be presentable.”

 

 

XXXX

 

 

July 19

 

 

“You look nice,” Tobin says when Alex pops up on her screen.

“Thanks,” Alex says, “you look, uh, wet.”

Tobin laughs, “I just got out of the sauna and took a shower,”

Alex nods, “How was practice?” She tries to dispel the image flashing in her mind of a naked Tobin in a sauna.

“Really good,” Tobin smiles, “what’s up with you? Did you go out or something?”

“No,” Alex replies, taking a drink from her water bottle, “the hotel people came over today and selected which piece they want,”

Tobin leans closer to her screen, “Which one did they choose? Starburst?”

Alex frowns, “How did you know? Did Syd text you?”

“No!” Tobin laughs, “I just liked that one the best, it has a nod to the chandeliers in the lobby, it goes really well.”

“Well, that’s what they thought,” Alex grins at her, “I can’t wait to get started.”

“So, is it going to be metal or casted in concrete or carved or what? You never told me,” Tobin asks, excited for Alex.

“It’s actually going to be welded, in a shiny aluminum to reflect the light,” Alex replies, “I’ll hammer some texture into some areas and some parts will have open spaces.”

“Will it be done before I get back?” Tobin frowns. “I would love to see how it comes together,”

“The install should happen in the first week of September, so…” Alex shrugs.

“I might be around,” Tobin muses, “will you send me videos of it? How you’re making it?”

Alex smiles because Tobin looks so earnestly at her, so genuinely interested, “Of course,” she says.

“Good,” Tobin says and yawns, “I wish I wasn’t missing it,”

“Well, what you’re doing is a little more exciting,” Alex counters, “did you nap yet? You look tired,”

“Not yet,” Tobin sighs, “I wanted to talk to you first,” she says, “we have a team dinner and then some team building thing tonight. I wasn’t sure if it would get too late to call,”

“Well, this is all that’s new for me,” Alex says, “so, why don’t you nap and I’ll talk to you tomorrow,”

Tobin nods, yawning again, “Okay, have a good night, alright?”

“You too,” Alex says, hoping Tobin doesn’t have a bad night.

Tobin gives her a crocked grin, “Cross your fingers,” she says, “only one more story left,”

Alex holds up her crossed fingers, “I hope you’re done after this,”

“Me too,” Tobin agrees, “it’s been tough,” she admits, “but I nap a lot so it makes up for it. Everyone has been awesome, too.”

“Good, go sleep,” Alex nods at her, “We can talk more about it tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Tobin smiles as she sighs, “tomorrow,”

Alex smiles and they end the call.

 

XXXX

 

 

July 20

 

Allie watches in awe as Tobin paints, fascinated by how her friend works. She grabs her phone and films it for a few minutes, impressed by what she’s doing. She looks over to the nightstand, seeing it’s nearly three in the morning.

The other nights she’s watched Tobin, it was difficult not to step in, since she was so upset. Allie was shocked by how terrified Tobin was when she would awake from her dream, although she didn’t act awake, more like she was sleep walking. It was horrifying to witness the terror that Tobin trembled with as she looked at her without seeing her, moving quickly to her easel, hastily painting. For Tobin to produce such amazing pieces while not being totally conscious, it was amazing.

Alex had told her what to look for when Tobin was painting, how to know when she was finished. What she usually does to comfort her when they try to go back to sleep. Allie was nervous, even with what Alex told her, it was so scary to witness.

Allie stops filming, sliding from her bed and silently moving to Tobin’s suitcase and pulling out a fresh t-shirt since the one she’s wearing is soaked with sweat. She sets it on the bed, going back to her own, turning down the comforter on the near side to await Tobin.

She speaks softly to her, helping her wash her brushes in the bathroom sink of their hotel room, making sure she washes her hands, then hands her the fresh shirt to change into. She has a hand on her, guiding her to the bed, making sure she’s covered before turning off the lights and sliding into the other of the bed. Allie wraps her up in an embrace, listening as Tobin’s breathing grows quieter, steadier and not as shaky.

Both of them are tired when they get up the next morning, quietly getting ready for breakfast, Allie standing in front of Tobin’s easel frowning at this latest one.

“It’s freaky,” Tobin rasps, “I’m not sure what the hell it is,”

Allie shifts her weight on one leg, crossing her arms and titling her head as she examines it. She points, “Those are Kelley’s eyes,” she murmurs, “and those are your hands.”

“Hm,” Tobin adjusts her glasses, looking at it closer, “you’re right,”

“What were you dreaming?” Allie asks, sliding an arm around Tobin’s shoulders.

“It was a series of things that happened while we were together,” Tobin explains, “and then just like, a bunch of like, scenes of Kelley hurting me. Not like, anything she did in real life, like made up stuff, like this was her coming at me with a knife or something and my arms are up to defend myself.”

“Lord have mercy,” Allie mumbles, then whistles softly.

“I wonder what else is coming,” Tobin says quietly, the anxiety loud and clear.

Allie side hugs her, “Whatever it is, you’ll handle it,” she assures her, “you’ll get through it, Tobin, I know you will.”

Tobin nods, “Yeah,” she says thickly, yawning and scratching at the back of her neck, “we should head down to eat,”

“You good to go?” Allie wants to make sure she’s feeling okay.

Tobin yawns again, “Still tired, but okay,” she says, turning in to her and hugging her, “thanks Harry,”

“Anytime,” Allie promises.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

Christen stands in the corner of the room near Tobin’s easel, examining the paintings. After a few minutes, she turns to face the group, rubbing her arms to dispel the goosebumps that popped up.

“Tobin,” she says quietly, sitting down on the edge of the bed, “how are you feeling after this?”

It’s the questions everyone in the room wants to know. HAO, Ashlyn, Kling, Sonnett, Lindsey, A-Rod, Ali, and Allie are all spread out on the beds and in the chairs. Practice is over for the day and the group is just hanging out before they go down for dinner and another meeting.

Tobin draws her knees up, scrunching up her mouth and then wraps her arms around her shins. She looks over the room, seeing all of the concern on their faces before she speaks.
“It’s surreal,” she says her voice still gravelly but stronger, loud enough to be heard, “sometimes, when I wake up I don’t know if I’m still dreaming, then like, later in the day, it will hit me that it all really happened, you know?”

She considers how to explain it, “I guess it’s good that the dreams about the stories are kind of over,” she says, “and I don’t really understand why I need to paint them afterwards, but it helps, it like, releases the power they have over me. I don’t feel as terrified of it,” she pauses, “still freaked out, but not like, paralyzed with fear. It’s like I can suddenly remember what happened to me and maybe that’s like, step one or something to getting over it.”

HAO nods, “I read that writing things out and creating art about traumatic experiences has a way of de-sensitizing the act, allowing the person to remember it and not feel the trauma of it as dramatically, allowing them to accept it and not have it trigger them as emotionally over time.”

The room just stares at HAO, in shock with what she’s just spewed out.

“What?” HAO frowns, looking at them, “I did some reading, I wanted to know what to do to help,”

“Dude!” Ashlyn bursts, “Did you read that one article from the Mental Health Institute about traumatic nightmares?” HAO nods. “I did, too,”

All of the sudden, they all begin talking rapidly about the different websites they’ve been to, what they’ve read, pulling their phones out to send each other links on articles.

Tobin takes it all in, forgotten by their involved conversation. Silent tears run down her face, she’s feeling so overwhelmed and grateful by their actions. She loves these girls like her sisters, bonding over the years, sharing that unwavering passion for soccer that is so hard to put in words, the drive to be the best and the will to sacrifice so much to get to the top. She’s letting it sink in how compassionate her friends are and the fact that they’ve all gone off on their own to educate themselves about what she’s going through right now to help her, it blows her away.

It’s when she sniffs that Allie turns sharply to her. “Tobin!” She exclaims, “What’s wrong?”

Tobin wipes at her eyes, the room has fallen silent, each one of the women fearing Tobin might be upset with them.

“You guys are just so,” Tobin pauses, giving them a crooked smile with watery eyes, “so, amazing,” she says, “I just love you all so much,”

Allie slides her arm around Tobin’s shoulders, squeezing her, “We love you, so much,” she says.

“Tobin,” A-Rod says, wiping at her eyes, “you are always the first person to help whenever someone else has something going on, we’re just following your example,”

“Remember when back in college, I thought Dave was cheating on me?” HAO asks, “And what you did?”

Tobin nods her head, smiling at the memory.

HAO turns to the others, knowing Kling, Allie and Ashlyn know the story, but not them, “I was certain he was cheating on me. He’d be all mysterious when he’d go out, I was a mess. Tobin took it upon herself to figure out what was going on without him knowing. She followed him around for a week, using disguises, like she went a got wigs and shit, then somehow got one of the library janitor’s uniforms to spy on him.”

“What happened?” Sonnett asks, intrigued.

Tobin chuckles, “He was meeting a girl at the library almost night,” she says seriously, then a smile on her face, “at first, I’d just start dusting the shelves by them, listening. It became very clear he wasn’t cheating on Heather though.”

“What was going on?” Christen asks, her eyes moving between the smile on Tobin’s face and HAO’s.

“He was meeting up with his cousin Rachel,” Tobin informs them, “who HAO knew, but she didn’t know that’s who he was with. She was helping him plan HAO’s birthday surprise and helped Dave pick out the promise ring he was going to give her.”

The room laughs, teasing Heather with good natured barbs.

“Oh my God,” Ashlyn laughs, “you should have been there when HAO told Dave about it!”

“No! When?” Ali asks.

“They’re third wedding anniversary!” Tobin laughs, wiping her eyes again, “It was classic! Dave’s face- sooo epic!”

Ashlyn, Kling, HAO and Allie are howling at the memory.

“He,” HAO starts, trying to get herself under control, “he had no idea,” she says, wiping at her eyes from laughing so hard, “he thought he was being sneaky and cool and didn’t think I had any idea something was up. He couldn’t believe Tobin followed him around, he never saw her.”

HAO continues her story, telling them how Dave was flabbergasted at the confession, trying his best to think if ever saw Tobin while the investigation of his behavior was going on.
They head down to dinner, laughing about past college pranks as they wait for the elevator.

 

 

XXXX

 

“It was a really good moment,” Tobin says smiles, “they’re just awesome people,”

Tobin has just finished catching Alex up with her day, ending with their group talk in her room about her dreams and how they sought out ways to educate themselves to help her.

“I don’t know them very well, but they do seem like really good friends to you,” Alex smiles back at her.

“Yeah,” Tobin agrees.

“So, I have a question for you,” Alex says, her smile growing larger.

“Okay, what’s up?” Tobin perks up.

“Well, I was contacted by a past client today and they want me to come down and meet with them for an upcoming project.” She states, almost beaming at Tobin. “It’s kind of last minute, but the funds just came through and they want to meet before they create the proposal and their board meeting is in a week.”

“Yeah?” Tobin nods her head, “That’s super cool Al,”

Alex nods, “It’s on Monday and it turns out it’s near you,”

Tobin’s eyes go wide, her smile so big, her eyes crinkle with happiness and surprise, “Really?”

“Uh huh,” Alex grins back at her, “so, my question is if maybe you could score me a ticket for your match?”

“Really?” Tobin’s voice cracks as it goes up.

“Yes!” Alex laughs, “I’ll get in town Friday morning, I’m taking the first flight out,”

“I can get you a ticket, no problem,” Tobin is speaking fast and can’t stop smiling, “you want to sit in a box or the stands? Oh, wait, I know exactly where you can sit,”

“Tobin, stop,” Alex laughs, interrupting her rambling, “I just need to get in the stadium, I don’t care where,” she says, “don’t go to any trouble.”

“No, no, no,” Tobin insists, still smiling, “it’s no trouble,” she says, “but there’s only one condition.”

“What’s that?” Alex grin as she shakes her head at her.

“You absolutely, positively, under no circumstances wear your Fuck Seattle, shirt.” Tobin states, still grinning.

Alex laughs out loud, “Of course not,” she giggles, “that’s only reserved for when you play against the Reign,” she says, “hm, I’ll have figure out what to wear though,”

“I can hook you up with that,” Tobin says eagerly, “I’m shipping the paintings back to the studio, I’ll throw a little something something in there for you,”

“Tobin,” Alex starts.

Tobin raises her hand, “It’s done, no arguments.”

“Okay,” Alex smiles, happy to see Tobin so excited.

“So, I’ll have Saturday and Sunday off,” Tobin says, “we can hang out if you want,”

“Of course, I want to hang out,” Alex snorts, then she sighs, “It’ll be the last time I get to see you before you leave.”

“I can’t wait to see you,” Tobin says quietly, feeling a warmth in her chest.

“Me too,” Alex smiles at her. She looks at her watch, “it’s late, you should get to sleep,”

Tobin frowns, “Yeah,” she says, getting up from her bed, “Allie should be back any minute,” she says as she enters the bathroom, pulling out her toothbrush, “I’ll talk to you later,”

“Goodnight,” Alex says, “we’ll catch up sometime tomorrow,”

“Okay,” Tobin smiles, “’night, Alex,”

They end the call and Tobin prepares for bed.

 

“What are you so smiley about?” Allie asks as she enters the room, “Oh, Bati says hey, by the way,”

“Alex is coming to the match!” Tobin grins at her, “And she’ll be in town for the weekend, too,”

Allie smiles at her, “That’s wonderful! Did you know she was coming?”

“No!” Tobin shakes her head, “She just got a call for a meeting here in Denver on Monday,” she explains, “so she’s coming for the game,”

“Cool,” Allie grins at her, “that’s so awesome,”

“Yeah,” Tobin signs happily, “I’ll have to get her a pass and stuff in the morning,” she looks at Allie, “you don’t mind if she comes out with us afterwards, do you?”

“Not at all,” Allie shrugs, “she’s kinda becoming all of our friends, you know,”

“Yeah,” Tobin can’t stop grinning, “it’s so cool,”

 

XXXX

 

 

July 22

 

Alex is growing more and more bewildered as she is escorted through the stadium, riding in a private elevator with Jamie, the WNT player rep who Tobin arranged her to meet near the rear entrance of the stadium.

She’s wearing a laminated pass on a lanyard, looking down at it and reading it says All Access. Her eyebrows shoot up at that, wondering just what that means. Tobin had overnighted her paintings and some of her art supplies to the studio, adding one of her jerseys as well. Alex likes how it feels on her skin, it’s one of her actual jerseys, the sweet note Tobin had scribbled saying she didn’t get to the store to buy one, so she swiped the jersey she wore in her last match and made sure it was washed. It makes her feel special.

“Here you are,” Jamie smiles, opening the door to one of the luxury suites, “help yourself to whatever you’d like, it’s all comped, so don’t be shy, okay?”

“Thank you,” Alex replies politely.

“This box has a private restroom, so you won’t need to leave at all,” Jamie explains, glancing in, “I think some people are waiting for you,” she opens the door wider and exhorts to have fun as Alex enters the suite.

“Alex, hey!” HAO smiles at her, standing up from one of the sofas, “you made it!” Alex and HAO had met multiple times over Facetime calls with Tobin.

“Hi, Heather,” Alex greets, relieved at knowing someone here, “how are you?”

“Great!” she smiles at her, “Hey! Tobin took us to City Park yesterday,” she shakes her head, “your statues are amazing!”

Alex blushes furiously, “Oh, thanks,” she says shyly, slightly overwhelmed that Tobin would do something like that. She smiles a little at the thought that Tobin took some time to research some of her displays.

HAO grins at her, “Yeah, Tobin was totally bragging how you created those while you were still in college,” she says, “we couldn’t shut her up,” she chuckles. She lightly holds Alex’s upper arm, “Come on, you want something to drink? It’s almost time to start,”

She guides Alex over to the bar, sliding herself behind it to act as a bartender, “Pick your poison,” she says, extending a hand across the bottles of top shelf liquor, “we’re drinking Jack and Diet Cokes,” she says, leaning over the bar, “they give us solid cups so nobody can see if we’re on TV,”

Alex relaxes a little, thinking a beverage would do wonders to settle her nerves even more. “I’ll have the same, except a regular Coke,” she grins at her.

“Atta girl,” HAO grins, beginning to prepare the drink. “There’s snacks over there, and right before the half they bring in even more food, so help yourself,”

“Ah,” Alex shakes her head, “now I know why Tobin said I couldn’t wear my Fuck Seattle shirt,” she smiles at HAO, “I might be on TV, sitting here with you guys,” she looks around,
“This is pretty incredible,” she observes.

“Yeah, US Soccer does it up,” HAO says, “this is the player box, for those on the team who aren’t dressing for the match,” she explains. “Yeah, someone would have probably come in with a jersey or something and asked you to change,” she smirks at her, “but I see you’ve been taken care of,”

“Oh,” Alex blushes as HAO chuckles, Alex silently takes the drink she slides across the bar, then follows her out to the seats in the open air.

“Alex!” Emily stands up, “Hey, you, great to see you!”

“You too, Emily,” Alex says as they hug.

“Alex, this is Ashlyn and Sam,” Emily introduces her two tall blondes, one with curly hair and the other with long straight hair. “Ash, Sam, this is Tobin’s friend Alex from the art studio,”

“Oh, hey,” Ashlyn shakes her hand, “it’s very nice to meet you, seriously,”

“You too,” Alex smiles, “Tobin said you’re coming to the fall gallery event,”

“Oh yeah,” Ashlyn nods her head vigorously, “can you convince Tobin to show something? She’s so shy about her painting,”

Alex shrugs, “It’s not an easy thing to do,” she says, “I have a feeling she might hold out until she’s done playing.”

“Shit,” Ashlyn frowns, “I want to buy something she’s painted,”

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Alex shrugs again.

The tall blond gently pushes Ashlyn aside, “I’m Sam,” she says, extending her hand, “nice to meet you,”

“You, too,” Alex grins, “you played lights out against Japan,”

Sam’s eyes light up, “Oh, thank you so much,” she grins, her cheeks turning red, “I was so nervous, I thought I was going to puke before it started,” she confides.

“Okay, Mewie,” HAO says, nodding at her, “I’m sure Alex doesn’t want to hear about your weird vomit rituals,”

Ashlyn laughs, “Come on, let’s sit down,” she suggests, giving Sam a light push to the seats.

Alex finds herself in between HAO and Ashlyn, looking out at the pitch. “This is incredible,” she murmurs, taking a sip of her drink.

“It never gets old,” Heather says wistfully with a sigh as she looks down at the field.

Alex thinks about the career of an athlete and how uncertain and short it could be.

The whistle blows and the crowd roars, breaking them from their thoughts.

It’s interesting watching the match with these guys, listening to them comment on the match. Alex surprises them when she stands up yelling about what she thought was a foul on Tobin that didn’t get called.

“Easy tiger,” Ashlyn chuckles, “this ref doesn’t usually call that bullshit,” she explains, “she lets them play on,”

“But she could have gotten hurt,” Alex insists, frowning and glaring down at the field.

“Watch Tobin,” HAO suggests, “the chick defending her has been playing her to the right since the start of the match,”

“Okay,” Alex nods, leaning forward in her seat.

“Tobes is gonna burn her bad really soon,” HAO predicts, nodding knowingly at her.

Sam leans over to look at Alex, “Tobin’s been screwing with her since the match started,” she explains, “letting her think she can drive her right and not get a cross, but each time, there hasn’t been anyone in the box making a run so Tobin laid off, making her think she played her.”

“So, when Press or Crystal are in the box, you can be sure Tobes will pull out a highlight reel move and break her ankles,” Ashlyn says sagely.

Alex raises her eyebrows at this insight into this strategy, not realizing how Tobin would make the defender feel like she’s beating her until she’s ready to make a move. Five minutes later, it happens, Tobin gets the ball out wide, the defender coming in one on one to push her back. Tobin toys with her, giving her a head fake a couple of times before bolting to the left and nutmegging her, getting around her to deliver a stunning cross that makes them all stand and yell as it meets Allie’s head for a goal.

They all high five each other, cheering wildly, watching the replay, then cheering again. They take their sets, flushed with excitement. Moments later, they’re out of them again, watching as Carli hits the back of the net with a screamer from outside the box.

At halftime they go back in the suite to eat, looking over the spread and making plates. They sit at a table to dig in with a fresh round of drinks.

“Tobin’s told me how intense the therapy she’s doing is,” Ashlyn starts off, looking over at Alex.

Caught slightly off guard, Alex nods, “Yeah, she was seeing the Portland doc every day,” she says before taking a bite of prime rib kabob.

“Same here. Seems to be helping her a lot,” HAO adds, nodding thoughtfully, “she’s seeing our team doc every day too,” she adds, frowning, “between practice, seeing her and then
following Dawn’s sleep program, she doesn’t get to go out much,”

“Huh,” Alex frowns, not aware of how much Tobin was being monitored, “I just wish the nightmares will end,” Alex laments, “it can’t be good for her,”

Emily nods, “Allie says they’re really intense,” she frowns.

Alex nods, “I’ve never seen anything like it,”

“Hopefully things will get better soon,” HAO sighs, “this has been rough to witness, feeling so helpless,”

“You do know how appreciative Tobin is of all the support you’ve given her,” Alex says, looking at them.

“Yeah, well,” Ashlyn considers, “we can only do and say so much, you know? It’s like we’re here to help her up, but she still gets hurt falling,”

“I know what you mean,” Alex agrees.

Alex notes Sam has been pretty quiet, thinking maybe she’s not in the inner circle of Tobin’s friends and doesn’t have much to say about it. She shifts the conversation to Rio, asking them how they are preparing for the heat. The four women lament the sauna training they’ve been doing, not looking forward to playing in such uncomfortable weather.

HAO darkly chuckles as she mentions the scandal Hope caused with the Zika virus fiasco. She shakes her head, “They aren’t going to forget it,” she predicts, “Brazil doesn’t need any motivation to hate us more,”

“Are you guys nervous about the Zika stuff? The media is making it seem so serious,” Alex asks, curious to what the reality is that the team faces.

Sam waves her hand dismissively, “We have good bug spray, good sunblock, you just have to remember to put it on and everyone reminds each other, so I don’t think it will be problem at all,”

HAO, Ashlyn and Emily nod in agreement. “The media is just needing something to blow out of proportion,” HAO states, “and Zika is it.”

Ashlyn frowns, “And Hope kinda gave them something to blow up,”

“I had a feeling, but you never know,” Alex nods.

“Oh, hey,” Sam turns to look toward the stadium, “second half is starting,”

They finish eating quickly, refresh their drinks and head out, munching some veggies and dip they brought out with them.

The second half is just as exciting, Tobin scoring with a sick back heel off a pass from Carli, Christen with a bomb from outside the eighteen, Mal with a rebound chip over the goalie, Carli baggie another. The crowd goes wild when Lindsey makes a diving header from a corner kick to score.

During a lull while an opposing injured player is being tended to, HAO leans in close to Alex. “Just so you know,” she says quietly, “I told the team last night that I’m retiring after the Olympics. The first friendly after will be my send off.”

Alex turns to look at her, her mouth open slightly, shocked. “You’re not playing anymore?” She knows Heather was going to the Olympics as an alternate, but isn’t sure if that is one of the reasons she’s retiring.

HAO smiles, “I’ll still be playing,” she says, “I’ll finish out the season with Kansas City and see what’s next, you know? I’m not sure I’ll play here or go overseas for a bit.”

“Heather,” Alex says emotionally, “I know we don’t know each other very well, but you’ll be missed so much, I know you and Tobin are close.”

Heather give her a bright smile, “Hey, I’m not going anywhere for a while,” she says, “but I just wanted you to know,” she nods at her, “Tobin is pretty upset, I wanted to give you a heads up. She’s happy for me, but still sad, you know?”

Alex nods, “She’s known you for a very long time, right?”

HAO nods with a grin, “Yeah, since we were kids,” she says, “with Lauren gone too, I’m sure she’s going to feel a little lost,” she grimaces slightly, “but she’ll be fine.”

Alex nods, unsure what to say but grateful Heather felt it was important for her to know. She likes how accepting this group of women are to her, recognizing her friendship with Tobin. She thinks it’s because they know how much Tobin trusts her. Especially now with her staying at her place and being there when Tobin needs her. It makes her feel special that Tobin has shared with them what good friends they’ve become.

The fourth official holds up the board signaling extra time of two minutes and the crowd rises to their feet, cheering loudly.

“That went fast,” Alex murmurs, standing up and finishing her drink.

When the final whistle sounds, Ashlyn gives Alex a slight push, “Let’s go,” she says, “HAO, come on,” HAO nods and leads them from the outdoor seats, turning to face them.

“Bathroom anyone?” They all shake their heads, so HAO opens the door of the suite and walks into the hallway.

Once in the elevator, Ashlyn nudges Alex, “So, your pass allows on field access, so you can just come with us,” she says, Alex looking down at the pass on her lanyard.

“It’ll be cool,” Emily grins, “don’t worry, I’ll hang with ya so you won’t be alone,”

“Thanks,” Alex says a little nervously.

Alex puts her jacket back on, waiting for the doors to open. They find themselves in a quieter hallway, a security guard checking their passes and opening another door for them to enter. That leads past the locker rooms and after another turn, Alex finds herself walking through the tunnel to the pitch.

“Woah,” she says as they enter, the lights slightly blinding her as she looks around. People are screaming for HAO and Ashlyn, who wave as she walks, leading the little group to the sidelines near the US bench. Sam and Hao and Ashlyn wander off, finding their teammates to congratulate them.

“Let’s wait here for a second,” Emily suggests, stopping by the bench, Alex standing next to her, slightly in awe.

“It’s so loud,” Alex leans over to say to her, Emily grins back, “Yeah,” she says, peaking over the noise, “it’s amazing,”

Alex smiles at Emily’s excitement, then she turns to the field, seeing the players, her eyes seeking out Tobin out. She’s standing on the edge of the huddle as the coaches speak,
squirting water into her mouth and nodding. They give a cheer and break up, Tobin’s eyes going up into the stands, possibly seeking the box where she thought Alex would be.

Alex saw Tobin’s shoulders just slightly slump, so small was the movement most people looking at her wouldn’t notice the disappointment. Then Emily starts yelling and Tobin turns to look and Alex can’t stop smiling when Tobin notices she is standing next to Emily’s side.

She jogs over, her hair wet from the water she splashed on her hand to run over her head to smooth it out, her white uniform grass stained and hanging with sweat.

“Hey!” Tobin exclaims, wrapping her arms around Alex and spinning her around a couple of time before setting her down, “How’d you like game?”

Alex shrugs, “Eh,” she says, elbowing Emily, “kinda boring, huh?”

Emily nods, trying to hold back her smirk.

“Go on,” Tobin laughs, seeing right through them.

“It was fantastic!” Alex gushes, “That goal you scored was so sick! Thank you so much for letting me sit in the box, we had such a great time!”

Emily wraps her arm around Alex, “We got a little liquored up,” she grins and wiggles her eyebrows at Tobin, “they gave us solid cups,”

Tobin laughs, shaking her head, Alex holds up three fingers with a shrug and a smile. “Let me guess,” Tobin chuckles, “HAO and her Jack and Cokes,”

They both nod.

“Alright,” Tobin swipes her forehead, “gimme like, thirty minutes, I’ve got to sign a little bit and then shower up and stuff and I’ll meet up with you guys wherever,”

“Sounds good,” Emily says, then leans into Alex, “we should have stayed up in the box until they kicked us out, we could have been drinking for free,”

“Oh, stop,” Alex playfully slaps her shoulder, “you know, they’re yelling for you,” she says, cocking her head to the side, “I’ll be fine here if you want to do your thing,”

“Yeah?” Emily eyes her carefully, “You sure?”

Alex nods, “Yeah, I’ll just hang here and take it all in,” she smiles at her, “go, really,”

“Okay,” Emily nods, “I won’t be far, don’t wander away,”

Alex nods and takes out her phone, pulling up the camera, turning to see Tobin not far off, just a few feet away, signing autographs and taking selfies with mostly young girls. She snaps a few photos, then Tobin catches her eyes, smiling broadly at her, turning to say something to the crowd behind her and then approaching her.

“Em abandoned you?” she asks, taking a drink of from a water bottle filled with a milky substance.

“I told her it was fine,” Alex explains, then she makes a face, pointing to the bottle, “what is that?”

“Protein drink,” Tobin answers, then finishes it. “I’ll gonna shower and change, okay?”

Alex smiles, “This is your thing,” she says, “do what you need to do,”

“I’ll be back,” Tobin nods, giving Ashlyn a head nod as she approaches.

“Hey, Alex,” Ash says, “on field experience,” she nods at her, “pretty sweet or what?”

Alex looks around, “It’s kind of surreal,” she admits.

“Yeah,” Ashlyn breathes out, then smiles broadly, “it really is.”

 

XXXX

 

“So,” Alex looks around the electric restaurant, then faces Christen, “how do you guys decide where to go out to eat? This place is very cool,”

“Oh,” Christen nods, “well, there’s a lot of down time,” she explains, “after practices, we have a curfew too, so there’s time to research the city we’re in and find the neat places. We try to do the offbeat stuff, the places where fans won’t intrude as much,” she says, looking around, “it’s not bad when we’re in smaller groups like this. When we go as a team, they usually rent the places out or put us in private dining.”

Tobin comes back from the restroom, sliding in on the other side of Alex at the end of the table. She had chosen this spot, citing her left-handedness, making it easier for her to eat and not disrupt others bumping elbows.

“What’d I miss?” She smiles at them both, looking expectantly.

“Alex here was wondering how we found this place,” Christen explains, turning her attention to the menu.

“This whole team is full of tour guides,” Tobin states, “some of them have really missed their calling being soccer players,” she grins.

 

After an incredible dinner, which Tobin insisted on paying for Alex’s share, the group is making their way out the restaurant, lingering near the front door waiting for some who have left to use the restroom. An older couple approach them, stopping near HAO and Allie who are standing next to Alex and Tobin.

“Excuse me,” the distinguished woman speaks, making the women turn to her. Alex is looking at her phone.

“Excuse me, miss?” she repeats, stepping closer to her, making Alex look up.

“Yes?” she asks, thinking it was a soccer fan.

“Are you Alex Morgan?” she asks, and Alex can hear snickers as the others take a little step back to give them some space.

“Yes, I am,” Alex looks at the woman, she appears vaguely familiar.

“You might not remember me, dear,” the woman says, “I’m with the Denver Park Board,”

Alex’s face flushes slightly, “Mrs. Overstreet?” she repeats, “Oh, yes!” she smiles at her, “How are you?” She reaches out and hugs the woman who gladly hugs her back.

“I’m so glad to run into you,” the woman smiles, “I’m so looking forward to our meeting on Monday,”

“Yes, I can’t wait,” Alex nods, still smiling, “I’m so grateful the park contacted me, this is such a beautiful city.”

“I was wondering,” Mrs. Overstreet says, “since we’re not officially meeting right now, if you would consider doing something for a private residence?”

Alex blinks at her, looking away for a moment, seeing Tobin beaming at her, then smiling at Mrs. Overstreet, “For you? It would be my pleasure,”

The woman hands Alex a card, “Would you have time Monday after the meeting for coffee?”

“Yes, I certainly do,” Alex smiles, “my flight isn’t until the evening. I must say, I was so touched by your kindness and confidence in me when we last met,” she states seriously, “you really supported me as a young artist when I was nervous and so unsure of myself,”

“Oh, sweetheart, you’re quite welcome,” she looks up and sees the group of women sort of gawking at them, “I’ll let you go, I look forward to seeing Monday, have a fun weekend with your friends,”

“Thank you, Mrs. O,” Alex refers to her by the nickname she had insisted on a few years ago, “I’m so happy you’re still with the park board, I look forward to working with you again.”

Alex smiles as the woman and her husband leave, turning to face Tobin and the girls.

“What, no autographs? No selfie?” Allie asks from behind her phone, filming and laughing.

“Hey now,” Alex states, a smile spreading across her face, “it was a work thing, little different than you guys,”

Ashlyn turns to open the door, “Yeah, okay Superstar,” she chuckles, teasing her.

“I forgot we’re hanging out with a famous artiste!” Emily says loudly as they leave the restaurant.

Tobin falls in next to her as they walk down the block, “That was really cool,” she smiles at her, “she seems like a nice lady,”

“Oh, she really is,” Alex nods, “she was so supportive when I did my first installation here, she helped me find the best contractors, she let me stay at her house instead of a hotel, she volunteered to oversee things when I couldn’t be there, she is really great.”

“That’s so cool,” Tobin muses, “to have a connection like that,” she nods, “I’m glad you’re working with her again,”

“So am I,” Alex smiles at her, “now I’m not even nervous for Monday,”

“Good,” Tobin bumps her shoulder into her, “I’m glad,”

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

July 24

 

Alex swings her rental car into the drive of the hotel, pulling over near the front door. Tobin met up with Alex yesterday after doing her recovery from the match, then they explored the city. Alex dropped her off at her hotel that night, both of them reluctantly parting ways, comforted they would see each other today.

Today, Alex picked up a quiet Tobin, bright and early at eight in the morning, stopping for coffee and a breakfast they could eat in the car. They went south, Tobin becoming more talkative once she had a cup of coffee in her. Alex has discovered that Tobin is not a morning person. She thought it was coming from her broken sleep pattern, although Tobin had insisted she slept pretty well last night.

Tobin put on her playlist of nineties classics, the two of them singing along. As they passed through Castle Rock, Larkspur and Monument, they stopped at places that intrigued them, taking photos together and browsing tourist shops.

“I just can’t believe, Tobin Heath, World Traveler, has never been to the Garden of the Gods,” Alex continues her point as they get back in the car.

“Well,” Tobin shrugs as she buckles her seatbelt, “I honestly never heard of it,”

Alex huffs and rolls her eyes, “This is like, one the most beautiful places in the state.”

Tobin looks at her over her sunglasses, “If you had the choice of going surfing in Trinidad and Tobago or coming here, where would you chose?”

Alex narrows her eyes at her, her lips pressed together. They have a stare down as a smile creeps across Tobin’s face. Alex huffs, “Point taken,” she shakes her head as Tobin chuckles. She starts the car and looks over at her. “You’ll be impressed, Heath,” she says as she begins to back out of the parking space, “I guarantee it,”

“I’m sure I will,” Tobin agrees easily, “hey, you know what we should do?”

“What’s that?” Alex replies as she waits to enter traffic from the parking lot.

“Why don’t we explore together?” Tobin proposes, like it’s the most natural thing in the world to do.

“What do you mean?” Alex asks.

“Well, you’ve been all over the country,” Tobin bobs her head, “and I’ve been all over the world,” she grins at her, “so you picked this and I’ve never been there, so now I should pick somewhere you’ve never been,”

Alex raises her eyebrows at that, considering. “And how would you know Ms. Heath, that I have traveled the United States rather extensively,” she asks coyly, amused that maybe Tobin has finally done some research on her life.

Tobin begins to blush, “Well, um,” she pauses, knowing she’s busted, “okay, so I read up about you,” she confesses.

Alex smiles, “You Googled me? Read my wiki?” she teases.

“Yes, I did,” Tobin starts to laugh, “and I read some articles about you, too,”

“Oh, did you now? Find out anything interesting?” Alex grins at her.

Tobin twists herself in her seat to look at her, narrowing her eyes at her as she swirls her nearly empty coffee cup, “Uh huh,” she nods, “I learned a very interesting fact about you,” she says slyly, wiggling her eyebrows.

“And what fact do you think you know?” Alex asks dryly, although she is curious.

“Well, I know for a fact that, in no less than four separate interviews, you mentioned you were afraid of spiders,” Tobin states factually and with an air of smugness.

Alex grips her hands on the steering wheel a bit tighter, “You really stalked me, huh?” she isn’t ready to give up just yet.

“I had a lot of time on my hands,” Tobin replies quickly, “but that’s beside the point. Is it true?”

“Yes,” she admits with a sigh, “I’m terrified of them,”

“Did you suffer a childhood trauma like I did with scary movies?” Tobin asks seriously, her voice much softer without a trace of sarcasm.

“No, I don’t think so,” Alex considers, “I think they just freak me out because of their legs and the fact that when they spin webs, it’s almost like they can fly.”

“Well, walking through spider webs is freaky,” Tobin states, “I usually become some type of ninja, karate chopping my way through them,” she says moving her arms out in front of herself.

Alex snickers, “I’m sure that’s a sight,”

“I’m sure it is,” Tobin laughs, then she quiets down for a moment. “You know, I did find something you said that really stuck with me,” she divulges.

“Yeah?” Alex asks, glancing over at her, taking in Tobin’s thoughtful expression.

“Yeah,” she says, “you said something about how art is a living, breathing thing that comes from our surroundings and experiences and that led you to believe that everyone, on some level, has an appreciation of art because people are innately looking to connect with one another and shared experiences is one of the deepest ways they can.”

Alex winces hearing her words spoken back to her, “I was pretty young and wet behind the ears when I said that, Tobin,” she declares, “I’m not sure if that’s true,”

“I don’t know,” Tobin considers, “I think you’re right on some level,” she looks over at her, “it’s kinda like how they say that we’re wired to always look for familiarity, so like, for example, when people take photos and say there’s ghosts in it, it’s because our brains are trying to create a human form in something that may end up being just an innocent shadow or trees or something,”

“Hhhmmm,” Alex utters, thinking about her reply, “I see what you’re saying,” she nods.

They drive along in comfortable silence for a few minutes, both contemplating the subject.

“Do you think you’ll ever show any of your art?” Alex asks curiously.

Tobin lets a breath out through her nose, stretching her legs and shifting in her seat, “Yeah,” she says, “I will,” she shrugs, “I just don’t know when. I was a nervous wreck at the showing for school,” she admits, “and I think I need to get to a place that I can feel comfortable before I do,” she chuckles, “but how do I do that if I don’t actually show any works so I can get used to doing it?”

Alex laughs quietly, “And there lies the conundrum,”

“Exactly!” Tobin sticks her index finger out, “I don’t know what to do, really, part of me would like to, I think it’d be rad to have my art displayed, but then I run into the thought of would people buy my stuff because they like it and it’s good or because Tobin Heath, The Soccer Player painted it,”

“Well,” Alex shifts in her seat, “the only way you know for certain would be to have a showing, like one that art critics would come to,” she states, “then face the firing line of publicly hearing their opinions of your work.”

Tobin scrunches her nose, “That’s like reading about my performance after a soccer match,”

“Exactly!” Alex chuckles, holding up her index finger, mimicking her.

“I’m not overly fond of most of the media,” Tobin confesses, “they’re a necessary evil in my world.”

“The art world too,” Alex points out.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Tobin agrees. “Maybe I’ll submit something for the fall event,” she muses.

“Ashlyn really wants to buy something you painted,” Alex smiles at her, “she was asking me to convince you to put something in,”

Tobin grins at her, “Maybe I’ll surprise her,” she says, “her birthday is in October, maybe I’ll paint something for her.”

They drive along, beginning to see the changing landscape as they enter the park.

“Woah,” Tobin utters, looking out the window, “this is unreal,” her head is swiveling to see the unusual rock formations.

Alex smiles to herself as she guides the car to the visitor center parking lot. They get out and enter the center, using the restrooms and then standing before the large map on the wall. They amble through the information displays, learning about the history of the unusual sandstone formations.

“Wow,” Tobin shakes her head, “this is incredible.”

“Wanna rent some bikes to check it out?” Alex asks her.

“Totally,” Tobin smiles at her, “absolutely.”

 

 

Two hours later the two are stopped by the side of the road, helmets off, taking photos of themselves in front of the scenic background. They took their time enjoying the scenery, pedaling at a comfortable rate, stopping whenever they wanted to take photos, drink from their water bottles and just sit on a rock and talk. They talk a lot about inspiration and how nature can just make your chest and your head fill with ideas. Alex shared more about her time in Sedona and how it grounded her and inspired her on so many levels.

The sky is looking dramatic, darker clouds moving towards them. They take photos of the threatening sky, figuring they have time before it heads their way.

The two stand side by side, just looking out into the distance, lost in their own thoughts.

Tobin is feeling her heart beating wildly chest and it has nothing to do with the bike riding and everything to do with the beautiful woman standing next to her. She knows she’s not ready to dive into something fully with Alex, but she likes her and she’s pretty sure Alex likes her as well and she wants to make her feelings known.

Tobin gathers her courage and turns to face her, a gentle smile on her face. “This is the coolest,” she says softly, stepping closer to her. Alex takes a step, placing a hand on Tobin’s wrist, “I’m glad you like it,”

Tobin moves her arm and her fingers to find Alex’s hand, interlocking their fingers together, “I really do,” she whispers, gazing at her over her sunglasses, looking in her eyes, “so beautiful,”

Alex swallows, reminding herself that Tobin needs to make the first move, as much as she wants to kiss her right now, she wants Tobin to do it first. She can feel how Tobin’s hand is trembling slightly and she squeezes her fingers as she smiles as at her.

Tobin takes a half step closer, standing before Alex, licking her lips and moving her head in slowly. Just as their lips meet, a deafening crack of lightning hits nearby, making them jump. Alex lets out a short scream, Tobin pivots to look around.

Both see the darkening clouds approaching as the wind begins to pick up.

“Holy shit!” Tobin exclaims, “How did that get so close?” She raises her hand at the approaching storm clouds.

“I don’t know,” Alex shakes her head, “but we should head back,” she gives Tobin a soft smile. Tobin gives her a shy smile, blushing a little, “Yeah, okay,” she agrees.

 

“Aaaaahhhhh!” Alex screeches as she pedals, pushing her chest forward as the rain pelts her back. “It’s freezing!” she yells over her shoulder to Tobin who’s a little behind her getting just as soaked.

“We’re almost there!” Tobin hoarsely shouts to her, her voice still not back to normal. They can see the visitor center about a hundred yards away. Lightning cracks across the sky, the roll of thunder immediately following each flash, making them both increase their speed.

“I’m so soaked,” Alex mutters as she wrings out the bottom of her tank top. Tobin is doing the same. They’ve returned the bikes and helmets and are now standing under the covered entrance to the center. Tobin runs her hand along her head, then squeezes the water from her ponytail. Alex keeps stealing glances at how Tobin’s tank top is plastered to her skin. It’s doing things to her. She averts her gaze, looking over and seeing the covered area extends along the building and at the end, there’s tables and chairs.

“We should eat something, huh?” she nods at Tobin.

“Yeah, I’m starving,” Tobin agrees, following her eyes to the tables. “We could eat outside,” she reasons, “it’s still so hot out, we’ll dry out soon,”

 

“I’m amazed my phone isn’t dead,” Alex says, wiping it down with a napkin while they wait for their food order.

“No kidding,” Tobin agrees, doing the same.

Neither bring up the almost kiss, both sensing it’s something that’s just going to happen organically, spontaneously. It hasn’t changed how they are interacting which reassures them.

The storm passes as they eat, the rain coming down and then stopping as if a knob was turned on a faucet. The sun comes back out and they watch from under the covered dining area as the storm front moves to the east.

“I’ll be right back,” Tobin says, pushing her chair away from the table, grabbing her wrappers and tossing it in the trash.

Alex balls up her wrappers and throws it away, sitting back down and wondering what they should do next. It’s only one o’clock and they’ve got the rest of the day ahead of them.

“Here,” Tobin offers, handing Alex a popsicle with the handle wrapped with a napkin, “real strawberries,” she grins at her, “all their stuff is organic,”

“Ooh, thanks,” Alex says after taking a few licks, “this is good,” she nods at Tobin, but Tobin is staring off in the distance as she licks her popsicle. Alex keeps looking, watching how her tongue darts out and along the frozen fruit. She’s watching Tobin for so long, she feels the sticky popsicle melt onto her hand, quickly licking at it to stop the flow.

Alex is feeling a little horny from Tobin’s innocent tongue exercise on the popsicle. She decides to do something about it. She intentionally shifts her chair, making it scrape against the pavement and draw Tobin’s attention. Alex fixes her gaze to the horizon, seductively running her tongue along the popsicle. She can feel Tobin’s eyes on her as she tilts her head and slowly circles the top of the popsicle with the tip of her tongue.

She switches things up, mouthing the frozen treat, practically deep throating it before she hears a whimper and looks over at Tobin wincing in pain.

Alarmed, Alex pulls the popsicle from her mouth, watching as Tobin brings a hand up to clutch her forehead.

“What’s wrong?” Alex reaches a hand out to Tobin’s forearm, seeing her grimacing in pain.

She’s still clutching her head, nodding a little and then she takes a couple of breaths, “Bwain fweeze,” she states with a frozen tongue. That’s when Alex sees she’s holding only the stick of her popsicle having eaten it quickly. Alex laughs, realizing Tobin probably did that because she was a little worked up from her show.

“You okay?” she chuckles as Tobin brings her hand down.

“Uh huh,” she replies, “My tongue ith numb,” she giggles.

“You goofball,” Alex laughs, “why’d you eat it?”

Tobin shrugs and gives her a crooked smile, “It wath melthing,” she grabs her water bottle and takes a long drink.

Alex shakes her head, “You ready?” she asks, chomping down and taking a bite from her nearly gone popsicle.

“Uh huh,” Tobin says, “my tongue was frozen,” she chuckles, “you want to walk around a little?”

“Sure,” Alex says, standing up and finishing her treat.

They walk along one of the paths near the visitor center, marveling at the natural formations. Both are quiet, but it’s a comfortable silence as they take their surroundings in. Both move together down the path, when Tobin senses Alex seems a little stiff in her posture. She wonders if she’s overthinking the almost kiss. Impulsively, she reaches for her hand.

“Is this okay?” she asks her quietly, gauging her expression. She watches as Alex looks down at their joined hands and then up at her. She gives her this look that’s a mix of surprise and shyness and then she smiles sweetly at her.

“It’s very okay,” she breathes out with a happy sigh.

 

XXXX

 

 

Alex glances over seeing how Tobin’s head bobs as she tries to stay awake, she chuckles a little.

“Huh?” Tobin asks, yawning. They are close to the team hotel after their day together. She tugs on Alex’s hand a little. They’ve been holding hands for most of the drive back.

“It’s not even nine yet and you’re almost falling asleep,” she smiles fondly at her, “you missed your nap today,”

Tobin chuckles, letting out a contented sigh and leans back on the headrest, “Yeah, but it was worth it,” she smiles at her.

Alex pulls into the hotel drive, parking by the end of it. She shuts off the car, “Well, this is it for a while,” she says, her voice tinged with sadness, “almost a month I won’t see your face,”

“Oh,” Tobin grins at her, unbuckling her seatbelt, “you’ll see my face,” she says, “it might be pixelated but we’ll talk as much as we can,”

“I know,” Alex sighs, “I’m so excited for you,” she says earnestly, “and I’m so proud of you,”

Tobin smiles at her, “Thank you,” she says, “hang on,” she nods as she exits the car. She walks around and gestures for Alex to get out.

“What?” Alex questions.

“I want to hug you,” Tobin laughs, wrapping her in an embrace, “and thank you,” she adds as she rests her head in the crook of Alex’s neck and shoulder, “without you, I’m not sure I’d be here, I’d probably be locked up like Kelley trying to deal with it.”

“Don’t say that,” Alex chastises her, “you’re as tough as they come, and what you went through was horrific and cruel. It takes time to get over it, you’re still healing from it,” she says, hugging her tight, “and you’re not crazy for how you’re dealing with it. It’s what works for you, don’t ever forget that.”

Tobin pulls back to look at her, her brown eyes swirling with emotion. Alex can hear Tobin swallow.

“I, um, I,” Tobin whispers.

“Do it,” Alex urges her.

Tobin leans in and kisses Alex. It’s soft, as if she’s hesitant, then she presses her lips firmly against Alex’s, then surprising her with a soft probe of her tongue against her lips. Alex opens her mouth and they join together, kissing passionately. Tobin lets it go on for a minute before easing down a notch, ending the kiss with a few soft pecks.

She smiles at her, “I’ve been wanting to do that for a while,” she sheepishly admits.

Alex chuckles, “So have I,” she nods, pressing their foreheads together, “so have I.”

“I’m really sorry, the timing” Tobin starts.

“Ssshhh,” Alex soothes, “it’s fine, I’ll be here when you get back,”

“I want this Al,” she whispers, “I want this so bad,” she says, “but”

“We’ll take it slow,” Alex insists gently, “while you figure it all out, we’ll just take it slow.”

Tobin gives her another lingering kiss, then loosens her grip on her, taking a step back to look at her. “You’re a pretty amazing person, Alex Morgan,” she says, giving her a crooked smile, “I don’t know how you know just what to say to me, but you do.”

“It just comes naturally with you, Heath,” Alex grins back at her, “and you’re pretty amazing yourself.”

“Let me know how your meeting goes tomorrow, okay? And the thing with Mrs. uh, Mrs.”

“Overstreet,” Alex smiles, “I will. You have a safe flight, let me know when you land, alright?’

“I will,” Tobin promises.

“And you call me any time, you hear? Don’t worry about time zones, just call whenever,” Alex orders.

“Okay,” Tobin breathes out, grinning at her, “I should go,”

Alex nods. “Okay,”
Tobin takes a couple steps back, then pulls at the hoodie she has on. Alex lent it to her when she got chilled in the evening. “You want this?” she asks, a smile her lips.

“Keep it,” Alex nods, opening the door to the car, “it could get chilly some nights there,”

“Thanks,” Tobin smiles wider, “we’ll talk soon,”

“See you later,” Alex says as she gets in the car, starting it up. She watches as Tobin skips into the hotel, taking big loping steps and swinging her arms, then disappears from her view.

Alex shakes her head and pulls out to head back to her hotel.

 

XXXX

 

 

“What are you doing?” Allie asks when she sees Tobin digging through her neatly packed suitcase.

“I gotta find something,” Tobin insists, making a sound of victory as she pulls her second oldest USWNT sweatshirt from the suitcase. She looks around the room, heading over to the desk and pulling open the drawer. She finds the stationary and a pen and sits down, tapping the pen against her teeth as she thinks about what to write.

Allie sees how Tobin’s eyebrows shoot up and then her neck bends to focus on writing. Allie goes back to reading her phone, scrolling on Instagram. When Tobin gets up, she gathers the hoodie and heads for the door, checking to make sure she has her room key.

“Where are you going?” Allie asks.

“I need to mail something,” Tobin says, hand on the door, “I’ll be right back.”

Allie shakes her head, then she realizes she didn’t recognize the hoodie Tobin was wearing. She sets the thought aside, smiling to herself as she waits for Tobin to return. Ten minutes later, she can hear Tobin’s distinct whistle from the hallway, smiling again at the peppy tune. She studies Tobin’s hoodie as she enters, watching her head for the bathroom. She hears the water running and figures she’s washing her face and brushing her teeth. When she comes out, Tobin changes into her sleep shorts, then pulls the covers back on her bed and crawls in.

Allie flicks off her light and snuggles in. “Since when are you into hockey?” she asks Tobin in the darkness.

“Huh?”

“Chicago Blackhawks?”

“Uh,” Tobin responds slowly.

“The hoodie you have on,” Allie persists.

“Oh,” Tobin says, looking down at the sweatshirt she’s wearing, pausing a moment, “it’s Alex’s, she lent it to me,”

“Uh huh,” Allie smiles wide in the dark room, “and you just shipped her one of your favorite sweatshirts back, huh?”

Silence.

“It’s only fair,” Tobin drawls.

“Sure,” Allie agrees, loving this, “it’s not like you’re sharing clothes or anything,” She’s not going to push Tobin, she knows her limits, but some teasing is certainly in order. “If she lent it you, that means you’re giving it back.”

“Well, that’s why I sent her one,” Tobin sasses back, “I’m keeping it for awhile.”

“That’s fair,” Allie chuckles.

The two lay in silence.

“We kissed,” Tobin suddenly blurts out, “we were going to kiss then we almost got struck by lightning, then we did kiss. I kissed her. I kissed Alex.”

Knowing she’ll sleep on the long flight, Allie rises from her bed, moving over to push Tobin aside and crawl in with her. “Tell me everything,” she says, snuggling against her.

“It was amazing, Harry,” Tobin begins, proceeding to recap her day. Just from her tone in the dark, Allie knows Tobin is beaming as she speaks.

They talk long into the night, Tobin sharing how deeply she feels for Alex and wants to get her head straight to have a healthy relationship with her. They talk about Kelley, the upcoming court dates and the possibility that it will all come out to the public soon. They talk about HAO retiring, what it means for the team, how different it will be. At some point they drift off, knowing their alarms are set for an early morning breakfast before they to head to New York for media for two days before heading off to Brazil.

 

XXXX

 

August 2

 

“It’s so pretty here,” Tobin says, “but so stinking hot,” she yawns, “the humidity is the worst.”

“Are you finally adjusted to the time zone?” Alex asks, concerned with how tired she sounds.

“Yeah, for the most part,” Tobin replies, “I had some trouble sleeping last night,”

“Oh?” Alex feels herself tense up.

“Yeah, just a bad dream,” Tobin says, “like, a normal bad dream, missing shots and getting hurt, stuff like that.”

“Do you have those often?” Alex questions curiously.

“Nah, sometimes before big tournaments like this, though,” Tobin replies, easily, “I’m sure everyone has them at some point or another. I went right back to sleep, though. I didn’t even wake up Moe,” She rooming with Morgan Brian.

“Good,” Alex feels better, “I’m glad you were able to,”

“Yeah, me too,” Tobin says quietly.

“Is your SpongeBob bed comfy?” Alex teases, mentioning the wacky bedset Tobin was given.

“Oh, it’s terrific,” she replies sarcastically, “I think it’s smaller than a twin, my feet hang over,”

“Aw,” Alex comforts.

“I’ve been taking a sleeping pill each night,” Tobin says quietly, “it really does help, but in the mornings I’m pretty out of it for a while.”

“You’re not a morning person,” Alex states humorously, “how can you tell the difference?”

“Ha ha,” Tobin says, smiling at her through the phone, her eyes looking tired, “very funny. Hey, tell me how Starburst is going?”

“Oh, well, this morning was interesting,” Alex juts her lower lip out, “I sorta had a little accident,”

“What?” Tobin’s eyes fly open and she bolts upright, “What happened? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Alex reassures her, “just a couple of stitches,” she holds up her arm, the forearm bandaged with white gauze.

“What happened?” Tobin frowns, her forehead crinkled, looking at her with such concern it makes Alex’s chest warm. Those honey colored eyes searching her so intently.

“I caught my arm on the side of one of the pieces I was hammering and cut it,” Alex explains, “Tomaz was here, don’t worry, I don’t work alone on pieces like this,” she assures her, “we patched it up but it was still bleeding a bit, so we went to the urgent care and I got a tetanus shot and ten stitches.”

“Ten stitches!” Tobin slaps her forehead with her hand, “Does it hurt? Can you still work?”

“Tobin,” Alex smiles at her, “I’m fine, really, it’s just a little cut. And no, it doesn’t hurt, and yes, I can still work.” She looks at her, “I always put a little blood, sweat and tears into my work, so now I just have to cry and I’ll be all set,”

“Well, save the crying for the end,” Tobin says, “the happy tears that it’s done and is beautiful.”

“That’s my plan, I promise,” Alex nods at her. “Okay, you should nap, tomorrow is game day and you need to rest up. Does the heat take more energy form you? Does it make you more tired?”

Tobin scrunches her mouth up, “It sucks,” she replies, “they gave most of us IVs today after practice to make sure we won’t be dehydrated tomorrow,”

“Well, you take care of yourself,” Alex admonishes gently.

“I will,” Tobin promises, “I’ll call you after the match, is that okay? It’ll be late,” she warns.

“I want to hear your voice after a victory, call whenever, I don’t mind.” Alex replies.

“Okay,” Tobin simply says.

 

XXXX

 

August 3

 

 

“Go! Go! Go!” Syd chants, raising her fist in the air, cheering with the others in the bar. They watch as Tobin bodies off her defender, finding some open space, pivoting and sending a ball right to Carli who heads it in.

“Yes!” Alex screams for the first goal in the ninth minute with an assist from Tobin in their opening match against New Zealand. She turns to Syd and they high five, then each turns to high five those surrounding them.

When they came in early to eat, they sat down near a table of Thorns players. Kat Reynolds and Emily Menges recognized Alex and called them over to their table, both of them excitedly asking Alex about the fall show. They invited them to hang out for the game, so Alex and Syd joined them. They talked about the gallery, Kat and Emily telling the others how cool the event was and that they had to go this fall.

“That was sick!” Emily yells, slapping hands with Alex again.

“Tobin is fucking on fire!” Kat yells over the crowd noise, “She’s on another level,”

Alex grins at her, “She really is!”

They cheer again on the next few shots on goal, rising from their chairs in anticipation of a goal, only to sit down with sighs. They rise again when Tobin takes a free kick just outside the box, sending in a beautiful ball only for it to get headed away by a New Zealand defender.

They hold their collection breath when Tobin gets taken down by Hassett on a nasty slide tackle, her leg being pulled out awkwardly. Tobin is on the ground for a minute while Hassett is issued a yellow for the play, Tobin slowly getting up and taking the free kick.

Alex watches closely when the team comes out after half time, squinting to see if Tobin is limping or showing any signs of discomfort. She seems fine. Christen scores right out of the gates in the forty-sixth minute, much to the delight of the roaring crowd in the bar. Alex realizes she misses some of the action, her attention to following number seventeen of the ball.

On a strange broken play, Tobin skies the ball over the net, showing some frustration with herself. She doesn’t miss too much because Tobin is the one making the most plays for scoring chances. The crowd in Rio loves her, her playfulness with the ball and exciting and inventive moves. Alex is beaming with pride as she watches, loving how gracefully Tobin moves, yet still so powerful and athletic.

Alex has no idea that Em and Kat have been recording her antics and sending the videos to Tobin.

 

On a breakaway, Tobin gets taken down by Percival, hitting the ground hard on her hip, sliding with the force. Percival pats her on the back as she’s issued a yellow, obviously thinking Tobin dove, although their legs tangled.

“That was a foul!” Alex bellows exasperatedly when Tobin goes to ground hard once again. “What the fuck?” she frowns, elbowing Syd, “totally a foul.” Her fists are curled at her sides, angrily muttering under her breath. She turns to grab her beer and hears giggles and turns to see Kat recording her.

“What are you” She starts and then sees how Kat and Emily’s eyes light up. She narrows her eyes at the two, “You didn’t.” she states.

“We did,” Kat answers in a sing song voice.

Alex shakes her head at them, “Guys,” she says, feeling a blush forming on her face and neck.

“That was the last one, promise,” Kat swears, holding up two fingers as a pledge.

“Wait, there were more?” Alex asks, her eyes wide. Syd is laughing next to her, Alex turns and shoots her a look.

“Oh, you’ve got it bad!” Syd bellows, laughing hard.

At the end of the match, Press sends in a cross and Tobin can’t get her foot on it, sending it awkwardly out of play.

 

They hang out for a little bit after the match, Kat and Emily exchanging phone numbers with Alex to meet up for the next one. They settle their tab and leave the bar, departing with hugs and promises of seeing each other for the next match.

“Is there a requirement that all professional soccer players are incredibly nice?” Syd asks Alex as she slides into the driver seat.

“I know, right?” Alex agrees, “They’re all so friendly and down to earth, it’s pretty amazing,”

“Seems like a good crowd to hang with,” Syd nods knowingly, “good people.” Alex has confided in Syd much about her past few years, about her ex-girlfriend and the group she ran around with. How they weren’t a good influence on Alex when she was struggling with her brother’s death. She told Syd all about her weekend in Denver and the kiss. Alex nods back at Syd, understanding she’s giving her a blessing about Tobin’s friends.

 

XXXX

 

 

“You were not that animated when went watched the Seattle match,” Tobin states, “are you always this expressive?” She grins at Alex. She looks tired, her eyes are sleepy, not open all the way. Alex thinks she’s already in bed.

Alex knows she’s referring to the videos Kat and Emily sent her. She looks at Tobin, “Well, now I’m much more emotionally invested in those matches,” she states, giving Tobin a somewhat flirty smile. She’s rewarded with a wide smile from Tobin.

“Oh, I see,” she says, still smiling, “how’d you like it?”

“It appeared that you were quite the playmaker,” Alex replies, “it was an entertaining match,”

“It just felt good to actually play,” Tobin admits, “all this build up, it kills me,”

“I can only imagine,” Alex nods at her, “are you good? You didn’t get banged up did you? You were on the ground a bit,”

“Nah, I’m good,” Tobin smiles sleepily at her.

“You played so good,” Alex says, finally telling her exactly how she feels, “I’m so proud of you,”

“Thanks,” Tobin blushes slightly, smiling shyly at her, “nice sweatshirt,” she grins at her.

Alex smiles, “It’s a little chilly here,” she shrugs, “and it was just laying around,” she tries to be casual.

“It looks good on you,” Tobin says, “brings out your eyes,”

Alex thinks that’s a little flirty, smiling at her, “Well, you have good taste,” she replies, smiling coyly at her. They just look at each other, smiling for a minute and then Tobin yawns.

“You should go to sleep, you look exhausted,” Alex says quietly.

“I wanna keep talking to you,” Tobin mumbles, yawning again.

Alex chuckles, “What does your day look like tomorrow?”

“Ah, recovery in the morning and afternoon,” Tobin recounts, “meetings after lunch and then a light practice tomorrow night,”

“Busy,” Alex murmurs, tilting her head and looking affectionately at her.

“I’ll try to call before practice, okay?” Tobin asks, “That way it won’t be too late,”

“Whenever,” Alex shrugs, “and don’t feel bad if you can’t, I understand.”

“But I wanna talk to you,” Tobin whines even though she is losing her battle with keeping her eyes open.

“Man, you’re whiny when you’re tired,” Alex chuckles, “go to sleep, honey, we’ll talk whenever okay?”

Tobin cracks an eye open, “Okay,” she says, giving her this sleepy warm smile, liking Alex calling her honey, “we’ll talk soon,”

“Good night,” Alex smiles at her and thinks Tobin is sleeping already.

 

XXXX

 

August 4

 

It’s evening and Tobin is in Kling’s room with a group playing cards. Tobin goes out, leaving the little circle, sprawling on the bed, suddenly feeling the need to check in Alex.

“Hey!” Tobin greets when Alex answers, “How are you?”

“Fine,” Alex sighs, pulling her messy hair back from her face, looking annoyed.

“Is this not a good time?” Tobin asks cautiously, unsure of what is going on with Alex right now.

“No, it’s fine,” she replies, her voice low, looking upset.

“What’s wrong?” Tobin asks, not seeing some of her teammates sending her concerned looks.

“Nothing,” Alex shakes her head, “I just fucked up Starburst,” she spits out bitterly.

“What?” Tobin sits up, “What happened?”

“I’ve just calculated the weight and I made the skeleton too heavy and now I can’t transport it without renting a like a crane or something and they won’t be able to install it and it’s ruined and I have to start it all over”

“Honey,” Tobin cuts in, seeing how tears are threatening to spill from Alex’s eyes, “would you take a deep breath for me?” she asks, sliding herself off the bed and padding barefoot out of the room. She catches Allie’s eye and points that she’s leaving.

She’s heading back to her room. “Can you start from the beginning? Like, what weight does it need to be?” she asks as she keys her door and enters her empty room. She goes right to the desk and shuffles the papers she’s keeping in her journal, finding the skeleton diagram Alex sent her and the drawing she’s done of the individual pieces and then the page with the final Starburst rendering.

Tobin lays the three pages out, setting her phone against her stacked up journal and Bible, angling it so she’s in view.

“I made the entire skeleton from steel to withstand the weight of the aluminum panels and now the whole thing will be too heavy.” Alex laments, holding her forehead with her hand, “This is going to set me back weeks,” she sighs, aggravated.

“Sweetheart, I’m looking at the renderings,” Tobin says, “would you mind if I ask you some questions about it?”

Alex kicks at a piece of metal on the ground, sending it skittering across the cement floor of the studio. Tobin raises her eyebrows, seeing Tomaz in the background who is looking at Alex wide eyed.

“Yo, Al, I’m gonna take five for a smoke, okay?” he says as he walks out of view, Alex giving him a wave.

“Sure,” Alex says, her voice clipped as she drops down on one of the stools near the table.

“Um, do you have the renderings by you?” Tobin asks carefully.

“Yeah,” Alex replies, frowning deeply and then going out of view as she pulls the papers in front of her. “Shoot,”

“Okay,” Tobin says, nodding as she looks over the skeleton, then looking at the panels, her eyes going back and forth between the two sheets, “okay, so this is like Starburst for
Dummies, alright?” Tobin asks, giving her a hopeful look.

Alex takes a deep breath, wiping some sweat from her forehead, nodding, “Okay,” she says, giving her a tight smile, “go ahead,”

“Alright, so the all of the panels are aluminum and then you have the crystals coming out from some of the tops that spread out at the top, right?” Tobin asks, her forehead creased as she looks at the final rendering.

“Yes,” Alex answers.

“So, the arches with the crystals will be heavier than the arches without?” Tobin asks, looking up to see her.

“Uh huh,” Alex asks, Tobin thinking she’s not looking at the renderings but still forgoing ahead.

“Okay,” she hums, critically examining it. “Al,” she draws out her name, “sweetie, how overweight is it?”

“Like two hundred pounds,” Alex frowns.

“Huuumm,” Tobin says nodding, “and about how much would a steel skeleton piece weigh? Like say, three or four feet of it?”

“Uh,” Alex gets up, walking over the other side of the table, picking up a piece nearly that size and setting it on the scale that’s nearby, “maybe twenty pounds.”

“Okay,” Tobin nods, “I have an idea,” she announces, grabbing the hotel notepad and beginning to scribble down something.

“Go ahead,” Alex replies, her tone sounding hopeless and aggravated.

“Okay,” Tobin says, “so I would imagine the base must stay all steel, right?”

“Yes,” Alex is barely containing her anger, it’s not directed at Tobin, it’s directed at herself, “it needs to stay balanced,”

“Right,” Tobin says, “okay,” she looks up at her, giving her a small smile, “will you entertain me for just a minute?”

Alex looks at her and then sighs, giving her a smile, “Yes, sweetheart,” she says genuinely, knowing Tobin is only trying to help from another country.

“Okay, so the skeleton pieces, uh, number,” Tobin starts.

“I call them Bones,” Alex cuts in, “just call it Bone number whatever, honey,”

“Okay,” Tobin nods, “got it,” she grins at her, pulling her hair behind her ear, “give me a minute, okay?”

“Sure,” Alex says, giving her a genuine smile, feeling so pleased that Tobin wants to help her. Tobin smiles back at her and they just stare at each other for a moment and then Tobin nods and looks down at the sheets.

Alex watches as Tobin concentrates, at times she’s muttering to herself or she just has the tip of her tongue poking out between her lips. Alex keeps smiling as she watches how her forehead crinkles as her eyes dart between the sheets, then she scrunches her mouth as she scribbles something down.

“Okay,” Tobin announces, looking up at her, “let’s look at the final rendering, alright?”

Alex nods, “Okay,”

“So, out of forty different spires that come out, it looks like twenty-six of them are non-weight bearing, there’s no chandeliers or anything hanging from them,” Tobin states.

“Uh huh,” Alex nods, wondering where this is going.

“Would aluminum bones support the weight of those spires? Or could maybe the top triangular spire be steel and bottom two be aluminum?” Tobin asks, tilting her head at her.

“Huh,” Alex considers.

“And then I saw you have a bunch of horizontal bones, do they all have to be steel? Could you replace a few of them with aluminum ones?” Tobin asks, her shrugging a little.

Alex hums, nodding as she studies the renderings, Tobin watching carefully. Alex grabs a pen, then starts marking up her sheet for a few minutes, allowing Tobin to now watch how expressive she is as she thinks of her solution.

“Hang on,” Alex says, swiftly leaving the stool and bounding out of the screen. Tobin can hear metallic noises for a minute and then Alex reappears carrying a section of shiny metal. She places it on the scale, nods her head and then returns to the stool, writing furiously. Then she looks up at Tobin, a genuine smile spreading across her face.

“You are a genius,” Alex states, beaming at her. Tobin smiles back, feeling a rush of being able to help her.

“Will it work?” she asks her, looking expectantly at her.

Alex nods, “I think so,” she grins back at her, “I did some of the math, looks like I’ll come in under weight,”

“Awesome,” Tobin pumps her fist.

“Thank you,” Alex says softly, her cheeks turning the cutest shade of pink that Tobin’s ever seen.

“You’re very welcome,” Tobin gives her a closed mouth smile, “I’m glad I could help,”

“You did more than help,” Alex gives her a rueful look, “you got me off the ledge,” she says, letting out a sigh, “I think I scared Tomaz,” she shakes her head, “I was so upset with myself,”

“Well, I’m glad I called when I did,” Tobin smiles at her.

“It’s almost like you knew or something,” Alex says absently.

“Huh,” Tobin straightens up in her chair, “it kinda was,” she says slowly, seeing Alex look at her with surprise, “I had just busted out in a card game and then you popped in my head and I felt I should call,”

“Weird,” Alex scrunches her nose, “I’m very glad you did,” she says heartfully, “thank you so much,”

Tobin yawns, “It’s nice to see you happy again,”

“Aw, you’re sweet,” Alex coos, “do you need to get back to your card game?”

Tobin gives a half shrug, “I’d prefer to talk to you,” she replies, “unless I’m keeping you from something,”

Alex shakes her head, “Looking forward to tomorrow?”

A wide smile graces Tobin face, “I can’t wait,” she says animatedly.

“Who should I watch on France’s team?” Alex asks.

“Oh, Amandine Henry,” Tobin says quickly, “she plays on the Thorns,”

“Oh, I didn’t remember she was on their National Team,” Alex lightly slaps her forehead.

The two chat until Morgan enters the room, both still wanting to talk until Alex reminds her she needs to go to sleep.

After the call, as Tobin is changing into something to sleep in, Morgan lightly elbows her on her way to the bathroom, “Everything okay with Alex?”

“Yeah,” Tobin grins at her, “she was having trouble on her project and just needed to vent,”

“Oh, good,” Morgan says as she enters the bathroom, “glad it wasn’t anything serious,”

That night, Tobin sleeps well, a deep dreamless sleep letting her awaken feeling refreshed.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

August 6

France is a tough, an unrelenting team to be reckoned with. They’ve made great strides in their fitness, so the USA can’t count on just tiring them out anymore.

Tobin comes out as a force, a whirlwind of movement, within the opening minutes. She shakes off a defender, moving to the middle of the pitch, slotting a pass to Carli who gets fouled and taken down just outside the box.

Tobin stands over the free kick, pulling some loose hair over her ear as she looks at how France is setting up their defense. In their pregame meeting, Jill instructed them to take the shot for the first free kick within distance of the goal.

Tobin lines it up and sends in a rocket that rises as it travels, France’s keeper just getting a hand on it to keep it from going in the back of the net. The ref doesn’t see the deflection, awarding France a goal kick, much to the USA’s disproval.

The bar that Alex, Syd, Kat, Emily and more Thorns are in is growing louder with each minute being played. They’re no longer sitting, all standing with nervous energy as the watch the match unfold. It’s obvious that France is double teaming Tobin and when the players are forced into one v one situations, it usually results in Tobin hitting the turf. It’s about fifty-fifty that she gets the fouls called, but she’s frustrated when some of the obvious ones aren’t called by the referee.

In the sixty-forth minute, Morgan finds Tobin open just inside the box, undefended and slides the ball to her, as the defenders converged, Tobin darts towards the goal, shooting the ball, deflecting off the outstretched hand of the keeper and bouncing off the post. Carli finds herself with the rebound at her foot, kicking it in for the first goal.

“Holy shit!” Syd screams, jumping in the air, hanging onto Alex’s arm, sloshing her beer out of her glass.

It’s late in the match when Amandine Henry gets tangled with Tobin, making her fall awkwardly into the other France midfielder and she gets a knee in the head as she lands on the grass. She rolls into a ball, cradling her head in her hands.

The bar goes silent, watching as Tobin takes a minute to recover and eventually the ref helps pull Tobin up.

They cheer at the final whistle as the USA beats France, 1-0 on a goal that many feel Tobin should have earned an assist for.

Emily is talking to Alex about how she wants to find something cool at the fall event for her parents Christmas gift when they see the US players being interviewed after the match. They hear Carli talking about her goal, praising Tobin for taking the shot and being lucky enough to catch the rebound.

Victor Moreno, the guy interviewing them is some dude from NBC who nobody ever sees talking about women’s sports until the Olympics, he always comes across as being a step behind in the story, asking questions that are obvious and sometimes a little condescending.

His eyes light up when he sees Tobin approach, smiling at her. He asks her about the game, Tobin giving her unique perspective on it, complimenting France for being such an incredible team.

“How have you been able to play so well with all of the distractions going on?” he asks, looking a little smarmy.

“Uh, distractions? Like, this is the Olympics, dude,” Tobin smiles, “everything is a distraction! We just stay in our own little bubble though,”

“How is that bubble?” he asks, “Are your teammates divided?”

“What do you mean?” Tobin looks completely confused.

“Well, are they choosing sides?” he asks. Tobin cocks her head at him.

“Oh no,” Alex whispers, feeling a sense of dread, her hand reaching out and gripping Emily’s forearm hard.

“With the news that Kelley O’Hara is not on the team due to being in police custody after kidnapping and assaulting you, is the team divided about who side they are?” he asks, his smirk barely concealed.

“Oh, um,” Tobin stutters, swallowing and glancing around.

“The court documents state you and Kelley were in a long term relationship and after it ended is when Kelley abducted you,” he steps closer to her, Tobin instantly stepping back, “that’s when you missed the match against South Africa.”

“I gotta go,” Tobin says, taking another step away. The guy reaches out and grabs her arm, Tobin glaring at him and pulling away.

“Don’t touch me!” Tobin hisses, her eyes shining dangerously, although Alex can see some fear.

“You don’t touch her!” Hope growls, pushing the guy away hard, making him stumble back a few steps. Hope gives Tobin a gentle push to the bus, squaring up to face him.

“The nerve you have to do that!” she shouts, “You’re an asshole, Victor!”

NBC bleeps it out but everyone knows what she’s yelled. Heif is on scene, pushing a shouting Hope away and the screen turns back to the anchors in studio. Aly Wagner looks furious, muttering under her breath. Asshole is clearly heard. They cut to commercial.

“Oh, fuck,” Kat mutters, holding her head in her hands, looking up to face Alex. Alex looks pale, her expression unreadable. She slides in her seat to hunch over the table, finishing her beer.

“What an asshole!” Menges explodes, “Outing her like that, who does that?”

Syd slides her arm around Alex’s shoulders, “You okay?”

Alex nods, looking up to glance at everyone, “Yeah,” she says, “I just feel sick for Tobin,” she says, “she had a feeling it would become public during the Olympics, but I don’t think she thought it’d come out that way,” she frowns.

The mood of the group is somber, most of the girls pulling out their phones, angrily typing. Alex feels a little nauseous and stands up, “Guys, I think I’m going to head home,” she announces, gathering her purse and throwing out money to cover her tab. She’s surprised when all of the Thorns give her hugs and are genuinely concerned for her and tell her to let Tobin know they are thinking of her.

Syd is quiet on the ride back to her place, knowing Alex is deep in thought. As Alex pulls into Syd’s driveway, she turns to her. “Alex, Tobin is surrounded by a great support group right now,” she counsels, “her therapist is there, so she’s not going to go off the rails or anything,”

“I know,” Alex agrees, “I just worry about her,”

Syd smiles, “I know,” she says quietly, “tell her I said hey when you talk to her,”

“I will,” Alex nods, biting her lower lip, wondering how that conversation will go.

 

XXXX

 

“Are you okay?” are the first words from Alex’s mouth when Tobin’s face pops up on her screen.

“Yeah,” Tobin says, drawing out the word. She’s got her glasses on and her hair is down and messy, a tank top with one shoulder nearly falling off. She’s lying on her stomach, a pillow shoved under chest, her chin resting on one of her hands.

“Where are you?” Alex asks, trying to decipher the background.

“My room,” Tobin replies, but she sounds off.

A chime goes off, and Alex suddenly sees bare legs in her view. “Tobin, let’s get these ice bags off you,” a voice says.

“Tobin?” Alex questions, confused at what’s going on and growing slightly alarmed. Tobin’s phone gets jostled and a new face appears.

“Hi,” a woman with long brown hair greets, “I’m Morgan, Tobin’s roommate, are you Alex?”

“Yeah, hi, Morgan,” Alex replies, “nice to meet you, great match tonight,”

Morgan perks up, “Oh, hey, thanks,” she smiles at her, “Tobin was a little banged up,” she explains panning the phone down. Tobin is lying on the floor, slowly removing a large ice bag covering her lower back and another on her right hip and knee.

“Oh,” Alex squeaks, hoping she’s not seriously injured.

“It’s all a precaution,” Morgan explains, “although I’m sure she has a nice bruise on her hip and knee,”

“I’ll be right back,” Tobin says off camera. Alex hears a door closing.

“Is she okay?” Alex asks.

“Yeah,” Morgan nods, “but the medical staff gave her a muscle relaxer and some pain meds,” she explains, “so she’s a little out of it.” She suddenly Morgan’s eyes widen, “Hang on,” she says quickly. The phone is showing the floor, “Tobin! No pills tonight, you already had some,” she calls out.

“Okay,” Alex can hear her reply.

Morgan’s face appears again, “Sorry, I just didn’t want her to take a sleeping pill,”

“Thank you for thinking of it,” Alex says genuinely.

“Oh yeah,” she waves at her, looks at her, “she’s been doing pretty good, you know,” she says quietly, sitting on her bed, “no nightmares the last few days, at least nothing like Allie told me she was having. She still naps a lot and journals a lot, though.”

“That’s what she told me yesterday,” Alex nods, “I’m so glad, I’ve been worried. What about what happened after the match?”

Morgan rolls her eyes, her face becoming stern, “That guy is such a dick,” she grumbles.

“I’m shocked Hope didn’t punch his lights out,” Alex shakes her head.

“If Heif hadn’t gotten there, she probably would have,” Morgan nods, “We had a meeting on the bus,” she shares, “it’s been discussed for a while what we’d do if it happened, the news getting out,” she explains, “but how he ambushed her, we’re all fighting mad,”

“What are you going to do?” Alex asks, concerned about how this could blow up into a huge ordeal.

“We’re thinking about it,” Morgan says, “we have a couple of ideas, but we’ll see,” is all Morgan will say.

Alex nods, deciding not to prod any further, she doesn’t know Morgan, Morgan doesn’t know her and Alex really just wants to talk to Tobin.

“How is Tobin?” she asks quietly.

“She was shaken,” Morgan sighs, “but she held it together,”

Alex nods, biting her lower lip, “Okay,”

Morgan looks over off camera, “Listen, I’m staying in the room,” she states, “but I’m going to put my earplugs in and watch TV, so you guys will have some privacy, okay?”

“Sure, thanks,” Alex nods at her.

“I’m on strict orders from Allie not to leave Tobin alone,” Morgan whispers, “and I don’t want Allie to get mad at me, she’s scary.”

“I’m glad you’re there with her,” Alex states, “thank you,”

Morgan shrugs, “No problem, it was nice meeting you Alex,” she says with a smile, “here’s Tobin.”

The phone gets handed back to Tobin who’s now lying in bed.

“Hey,” Tobin smiles at her, looking even more doped up.

“Are you in any pain?” Alex asks, wanting to be sure Tobin isn’t hurt badly.

“Nah,” Tobin grins at her, “you know, you’re really beautiful,” she smiles at her.

Alex blushes, “Thank you,” she says, “you’re a knock out for sure,” she smiles back at her.

"Hey, can we,” Tobin looks over to where Morgan is, then back to Alex, “like,” she drops her voice, “make out when I get back?”

Alex smiles widely at her, “We’ll see,” she says, “but I think we can make that happen,”

Tobin smiles at her, all teeth, “Awesome,” she whispers, “you do things to me,” she admits.

“Likewise,” Alex says, feeling a rush of excitement in the pit of her stomach. She’s not going to bring up the incident to her, not now. Tobin is almost asleep, Alex doesn’t want to upset her, especially if she’s so loopy.

“But I think it won’t happen for awhile,” Alex teases, “you know, you’ve got a Gold Medal to win,”

“It would be so rad if we win,” Tobin sighs, “I hope so,”

“Why don’t you go to sleep now,” Alex coos, watching as Tobin’s eyes slowly close, “I’ll stay here until you do,”

“Lex?” Tobin murmurs, her eyes still shut.

“What, honey?” Alex asks softly.

“I think meeting you was the best thing to ever happen to me,” Tobin whispers, a smile on her face.

“Me too,” Alex breathes back, “now go to sleep, sweetheart,”

Tobin hums and sighs and shifts in her bed, the trace of a smile on her face. Alex watches her sleep, studying in the dim light Tobin’s natural beauty that she finds so attractive. After a few minutes, Tobin moves again, the phone falling onto the covers and making Alex’s screen go dark. Alex ends the call, sliding down in her own bed, thinking of Tobin as she pulls her covers up, a smile on her face.

 

XXXX

 

 

August 7

 

“Come on, wake up,” Tobin feels someone saying and her arm being jostled. She slowly opens her eyes, blinking at the brightness, shifting in her seat. Allie is next to her, stuffing items into her voluminous purse.

Tobin sits up straighter in her seat, squinting and looking around, realizing she’s in an airplane. “Where are we?” she asks, taking her glasses off and rubbing her eyes.

“Manaus,” Allie replies, “we’ve got to go,” she instructs, “your backpack is under your seat, I’ll grab your suitcase,”

“Okay,” Tobin says, yawning and reaching down to get her pack. “I was out,” she says, yawning once more, “I don’t even remember boarding,”

“Yeah,” Allie chuckles, “I know,” she reaches down and helps Tobin stand up, “let’s go,”

Tobin is a little woozy as they walk up the jetway, her mouth is dry and she’s still just so incredibly tired. She pulls her suitcase along, stumbling a couple of times because she keeps running the case into her own legs.

“You good?” Christen asks from behind Tobin.

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, her voice gravelly, “just tired,”

Tobin doesn’t notice when her teammates flank her as they walk through the airport, creating a safe space for her. She doesn’t notice how they shield her from the reporters as they leave the terminal and get on the bus. She doesn’t notice much, still so drowsy and all she wants is to sit down and sleep.

They get their room keys, Tobin is rooming with HAO and they dump their suitcases and packs, both tired, falling onto their beds. They are both sleeping soundly when someone pounds on the door.

“Recovery in five minutes, meet at the pool,” it’s Dawn, informing them.

They drag themselves from their beds, shuffling down to the equipment room, grabbing their outfits and coming back to change and then head down to the pool.

Tobin doesn’t talk much during their session, she left her glasses on, forgetting to put her contacts in. When they finish the organized session, Tobin sets her glasses on the side of the pool, then dunks her head under the water, hoping the water helps her shake this drugged out buzz she feels.

When she emerges to the surface, HAO is treading water next to her.

“You okay, dude?” she asks, looking at her carefully.

“Yeah,” Tobin replies, “I’m just so tired and out of it,” she complains, “I don’t know what they gave me but it knocked me on my ass,”

HAO smiles, “Yeah, you were pretty loopy,” she chuckles. Then she turns serious, “You know we’ve got your back,” she says quietly, “that dick isn’t going to get away with ambushing you like that,”

Tobin shrugs, dunking herself under the water, then popping up again, “It’s whatever,” she says, “bound to happen,”

HAO nods, but Tobin see something in her eyes that makes her feel they aren’t going to let it go like she’s trying to.

After she showers, Tobin checks in with the trainers, having them look at her hip and knee. After an involved evaluation, they pronounce her only suffering from bruises, painful on contact yet otherwise not serious, just as she suspected.

She joins a group of teammates for lunch, finding a local spot to relax and eat. They have a good time, exploring the city a little, browsing through some shops and window shopping. Her and HAO nap afterwards, then slowly get ready for their light practice.

“You feeling better?” HAO asks as they leave the room, headed for the lobby to wait for their bus.

“Yeah, a lot better,” Tobin nods as they skip down the stairs, “much more with it,” she grins at her, then she frowns, “I didn’t say anything stupid last night or this morning, did I?”

Hao slings an arm around her shoulder, “Nah, you were just super sleepy, a little whiny about having to get up, but you were fine,” she says, “although, if Kelley was here, she’d most certainly would have given you a makeover while you were passed out,”

Tobin grins, remembering Kelley’s personal favorite prank, applying garish makeup to a teammate while they slept. Her grin fades, “I miss her, HAO,” she says, “really bad,”

“Me too, kid,” HAO says, squeezing Tobin a little closer in her side hug, “I’m praying she’s getting the help she needs.”

“So am I,” Tobin replies softly.

 

Practice feels good, the sun is hot, running feels like being free. Practice is light, playful, filled with lots of small group challenges, races and generally more games than actual soccer.

After dinner, Carli, Hope and Megan have a press thing to do, going to the studio NBC has set up in another local hotel. The team has gathered in the meeting room, spread out on chairs and the floor, watching the USA women’s volleyball match. Tobin feels her phone vibrate, pulling it from her hoodie, actually Alex’s that she’s been wearing often, and finds a text from Christine Sinclair. Her eyebrows shoot up a little, they usually don’t talk during tournaments much.

Sinc: You hanging in there? What that jackass did was awful.

Tobin: Yeah, it was bound to happen, I was just surprised he did it like that

Sinc: Still it was shitty and I’ve got your back.

Tobin isn’t sure what she means by that, even though they’re teammates on the Thorns.

Tobin: Thanks dude and kick some German ass okay?

Sinc: We’ll do our best- hope to see you in Belo

Tobin: Me too- later

 

Then Tobin’s phone rings, it’s her Mom. She gets up from the floor and moves to the back of the room to take the call.

“Hey, Mom,” she greets, glad her mother hasn’t called her when she was so loopy.

“Honey, are you okay with what that awful man did?” her Mom gets right to the point.

“Well, no,” Tobin replies, “but I figured something like that might happen.”

“I’m sorry,” she says, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you, I wish there was something I could do,”

“Aw, Mom, I know,” Tobin says, “I’m okay, I’m just going to weather the storm, nothing else I can do,”

They talk for a while, planning dinner before the quarter finals when they get into town. After Tobin ends the call, she takes her seat once more, NBC is now preparing to interview their teammates. The intro explains they’ll be speaking live to members from USA and Canada who are looking to win their groups in the upcoming matches. When they come back from commercial, they see Carli, Megan and Hope seated with Aly Wagner on the hotel’s rooftop overlooking the city.

“Thank you so much for joining us tonight,” Aly greets them, “we’ll get right to it,” she says, “how is the team feeling approaching this next match?”

Megan leans forward, catching the eye of Hope and Carli, “I’ll take this one girls, if you don’t mind,” she smiles at them, “Aly, I would love to answer that question, but I can’t. I can’t when NBC employs a ‘reporter’” she air quotes and rolls her eyes, “who ambushes one of my teammates like a sleazy paparazzi and then outs them. I can’t stand for that. I will not stand for it until Victor Moreno apologizes to both Tobin Heath and Kelley O’Hara. And more importantly than that, I won’t stand for it until Victor Moreno’s ass is on a plane back to the states and he meets with members of GLAAD so he can begin to understand the damage of his actions. Hashtag Moreno out!” She stands up, unclipping her mic and pulling out the transmitter, lifting the microphone to her lips, “Peace out, yo,” she flashes the peace sign, drops the mic and walks off the set.

Carli and Hope calmly watch as Megan leaves, then turn to look at a stunned Aly.

“Aly,” Hope says, “one of the reasons I enjoy speaking with you is you played the game, you know the sport and you understand the nuance of women’s soccer. You’re very good at what you do.”

Aly is appearing in a state of shock, but she smiles, “Oh, thank you Hope,”

“That aside,” Hope says, “I can’t speak with you tonight because NBC decided to send some idiot who doesn’t know anything about the sport to cover our matches. He asks stupid, condescending questions that are borderline sexist, and with what he pulled off last night, no. There are plenty of qualified females to do his job and NBC decided on that bum. It’s a slap in the face to all of women’s sports. NBC, you can do better.” She unclips her microphone and transmitter and walks off the set.

Tobin’s mouth has dropped open, she is absolutely stunned. The room is silent and she can feel many eyes on her.

Carli is smiling at Aly like the cat who ate the canary, arching one eyebrow like a challenge.

Aly composes herself, nodding at her.

“Women’s sports on a whole is in the same boat.” Carli speaks, “Just for NBC’s women’s soccer coverage, men outnumber the women nine to three in coverage as analysts and play by play. The similarities of this discrepancy is one of the points we are fighting for in our lawsuit against US Soccer. It’s unfair when there are many much more qualified individuals out there who can perform the better, give more intimate insights and actually have followed the womens’ teams. Until Victor Moreno is removed and replaced by a competent female reporter for women’s soccer, I won’t be speaking to any NBC outlets.”

Aly nods, internally cheering, yet having to maintain her professional composure. “As captain for the team, are you speaking for them as well?”

Carli shrugs, “I made this decision on my own and they are free to do so as well,” she stands up and unclips her microphone and drops her transmitter on her seat.

Aly nods, “Thank you for your time,” she looks to the screen, “we’ll be right back.”

 

XXXX

 

 

“I can’t believe you did that!” Tobin exclaims twenty minutes later when Hope, Pinoe and Carli enter the meeting room a half an hour later, “You didn’t have to do that,”

Pinoe wraps an arm around Tobin’s shoulders, side hugging her, “Yes, we did,”

“You heard what we said,” Hope says calmly, “it was for the larger picture, as well.”

“It was fine, I was just going to ignore it,” Tobin persists.

“Tobin,” Pinoe steps close to her, “nobody should be publicly outed,” she says kindly, “and if we take a stand against it and how NBC borderline acts as TMZ, we can make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The team is huddled together in a circle.

“We could get in so much trouble,” Tobin looks at them, her eyes wide and fearful.

“Tobin, don’t worry,” Carli says confidently, turning to look at the screen, “just watch.”

The broadcast scrambled to replay the highlights of the matches to fill time until the Canadians were ready on the video feed. The Canadians are now on the screen with Aly, who is speaking with them from Sao Paulo.

“Aly, we may be fierce opponents with the USA on the pitch, but we are united in their message. We do not condone the actions of Victor Moreno and how he misrepresents womens’ soccer. He has made sexual remarks and comments to and about my teammates in the past. What he did to last night is unacceptable. Until NBC takes action to remove him and replace him with a qualified female who follows our sport, we will not be speaking to any NBC outlets.”

Christen Sinclair stands, along with Melissa Tancredi and Sophie Schmidt and the three walk out of the camera view.

Aly turns to the camera, now composed. “To my colleagues and those in charge, as one of the three female correspondents working this Olympics, I implore you to seriously consider these requests. I’m Aly Wagner, a proud former USWNT member, Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup winner, good night.”

The team lets out a cheer, yelling and clapping at their victory.

Tobin looks dumbstruck. “That’s what she meant,” she whispers.

“Who?” Pinoe asks, still hugging her.

“Sinc,” Tobin says, “she texted me and told me she had my back,” she explains.

“Yo, check this out!” Julie exclaims, holding her phone, “Look at all of these tweets!”

“Australia, France, Sweden, holy fuck, it’s all the teams on the tournament!” Allie squeals, “Look, they’re all using #MorenoOut.”

“It’s not just them,” Carli says, looking up from her phone, “Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Caster Semenya,”

“Here’s Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant,” HAO adds.

“Georgia Simmerling, fucking Neymar, the Fab Five,” Christen whistles, “they gotta listen now,”

They mill about, looking at their phones, discussing all of the celebrities who have joined in on the movement.

Tobin is still in shock, having a hard time to grasp that this was actually happening. She plops herself in a chair, biting her lip, her leg bouncing. Pinoe squats in front of her.

“Tobin, you okay?” she asks.

“No, I’m not,” Tobin shakes her head, “I, Pinoe, this is big, I didn’t want this, I don’t know how to handle this,” she rambles. She looks up when she feels a large hand on her shoulder. It’s Heif, looking down at her warmly.

“Tobin,” he says, pulling a chair up and sitting down next to her, “please don’t worry,” he says, “we’ve got the team working on a statement and we’ll take care of everything. You won’t have to speak to anyone you don’t want to.”

Tobin nods.

“We’ll be talking to Kelley’s family and working with them as well,” he states, “we want you both to get through this as smoothly as possible.”

Tobin nods again, not trusting her voice to speak.

Jill and Dawn come into view, looking serious as they approach. Tobin’s eyes grow wide, a fearful expression on her face. She clutches the chair she’s sitting in, her knuckles white. Her breathing is picking up, she’s sweating, feeling nauseous. Christen kneels in front of her, pushing Pinoe aside who gets up and approaches Jill and Dawn. Tobin’s eyes follow her, Carli and Hope and joining her to talk with the two.

Tobin doesn’t realize she’s panting until Christen touches her knee. She looks at her with wild eyes, seeing her looking calm and smiling gently at her.

“Just breathe,” Christen nods at her, “breathe with me,” she inhales and exhales, gradually slowing it down until Tobin’s breathing returns to normal. Tobin is so focused on Christen, she doesn’t see how the room clears out, HAO hanging back near Heif.

“Okay?” Christen smiles, looking expectantly at her.

“Yeah, I think so,” Tobin nods, “thanks,”

“You were on your way to a panic attack,” Christen states, “I should know, I’ve had plenty of them,”

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe,” Tobin says, seeing Jill, Dawn, Carli, Pinoe and Hope pull chairs up. Tobin feels wetness on her face, she uses the sweatshirt sleeve to wipe her eyes, inhaling Alex’s scent and suddenly feeling calmer. But now she wants to talk to Alex. Hear her voice.

“Tobin,” Jill says kindly, “are you okay?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she replies, looking at the group, “I’m really freaked out about this,” she admits.

“Well, you’re not going to have to do anything except play footy,” Pinoe replies, “we’ve got this,”

“But you didn’t have to start ‘this’!” Tobin exclaims, “It was fine, I just wanted it to blow over, I wasn’t going to say anything,”

“But Tobin, what he did was bigger than just you, don’t you see?” Hope asks, “This is the same guys who groped HAO’s ass last Olympics, this is the guy who constantly wants to know more about who we sleep with than whatever happened in the matches.”

Carli leans forward, “This has everything to do with us pushing forward for equality in sports,” she states quietly, “I’m sorry you’re the focus, but it’s the perfect incident to display how we’ve been treated by the media over the years and the need for it to change.”

Tobin stands up, “Okay, I understand that,” she nods at them, “but I don’t want to talk about it, I’m not going to talk about it,” she shakes her head, “I just want to play soccer and win a medal,” she steps out the circle, “You guys do your hashtag thing, that’s cool, but leave me out of it,”

She leaves the room and once the door closes behind her, she runs down the hall, up the stairs and back to her room, passing the opened doors on their floor, hearing people call to her. She gets in her room, shutting the door behind her and heads for the patio. She slides the door open and sits down in one of the chairs.

“Alex?” Tobin searches the darkness on her screen.

“Hey,” Alex’s sleepy voice comes through, “are you okay?”

“I don’t know,” Tobin confesses, “I don’t feel so okay right now,”

Alex clicks on her lamp next to the bed, “I saw what happened,” she says, rubbing her face, “and I saw the interview with Carli and Hope and Megan,”

“I didn’t ask them to do that,” Tobin bursts, tears coming. Alex nods. “I didn’t want to make a huge deal out of it,” she says, “I just wanted it to die on it’s own,”

“It will,” Alex assures her, “it might be a while longer now,” she says, “but it will die down,”

“That guy is going to lose his job,” Tobin cries, “because of me,”

Alex shakes her head, “Oh, honey, no,” she says, “he’ll lose his job because what he did was wrong. He never should have done that, it wasn’t the time or the place.”

“I know, but still,” Tobin cries, running her hand through her hair, “I feel bad for him,” she says, her voice unsteady, hiccups of breath interrupting her speech.

“You shouldn’t feel bad for him,” Alex sighs, “he made the decision to bring it up, to do it in such a deceitful way. That’s not on you and he will now suffer the consequences.”

“But they made it into this big ordeal!” Tobin exclaims, “I didn’t want that, I don’t know how to handle this! Now it’s my name and face that will be talked about everywhere and I don’t know how to feel about it,”

Alex nods as Tobin speaks, letting her express herself.

The two are quiet for a moment.

“Tobin,” Alex says gently, “you’re right.” She admits, wanting her to know she’s listening to what she’s saying. “They made a big deal out of this, that’s true. And yes, your name will be mentioned, but from seeing how it’s spread on social media, I think you’re slightly missing the point of what Carli, Hope and Megan actually said.”

“Huh?” Tobin looks at her with a furrowed forehead, “What do you mean?”

“If you take a step back, try to remove the idea that it was you they were talking about and think for a minute, remember what they said to Aly Wagner.”

Tobin is a study of concentration for a moment, then she makes eye contact with Alex and smiles sheepishly, “I kinda forgot, I was freaking out,”

“Megan was upset you were outed, Hope was upset that the guy is a sexist, unqualified jerk who knows nothing about womens’ soccer and Carli pointed out that NBC’s coverage of women’s soccer only includes three women while the other nine are males.”

Tobin just looks at her.

“They’re making this about equality for the sport. Yes, him surprising you by asking what happened to you with Kelley is the incident that sparked it, but they’re pressing NBC for higher standards for covering women’s sports. Right now, during the Olympics, while it’s happening. It’s almost like an extension of the lawsuit for equality.”

Tobin covers her mouth with a hand, holding her chin and her eyes dart around as she thinks. She drops her hand and leans back in her chair, looking at Alex and giving her rueful smile, “I’m an idiot,” she shakes her head.

“No, you’re not,” Alex assures her, “I’m sure you were in shock seeing it happen and just started freaking out about it. Nothing wrong with that, now that you’ve calmed down and can really think about it and analyze it, you see the true intention.”

Tobin nods silently.

Alex smiles at her, “Tobin,” she says gently, “you want to know something else?”

Tobin nods, wiping at her nose with the heel of her hand, she doesn’t want to wreck the sweatshirt. “Uh huh?”

“In the months that I’ve known you, I’ve discovered something pretty incredible about you,”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?” Tobin sniffs, “I’m not afraid of spiders?” she tries to joke.

Alex smiles at her, “You’re so humble,” she begins, “you are the epitome of team player, never wanting the focus on yourself, yet lifting your teammates up when they do well,” she says, “On the pitch you crave the ball, you make the plays, you can be downright cocky, yet off the pitch, you shy away from the spotlight, letting others shine in its glow.”

Tobin leans back in her chair, putting her feet up, “Is that so?”

Alex nods at her, “Yes,” she states, “and maybe you’re freaking out about this because it makes you feels like you’ll have to be the leader of this and that terrifies you. But maybe you won’t,”

“They said I wouldn’t have to do anything,” Tobin says, much calmer now, “they said I wouldn’t have to speak about it,”

“You know eventually you will,” Alex reasons, “but for now, you won’t. The thing with Kelley is an active case, legally you shouldn’t speak about it and I’m sure your lawyer will tell you that.”

Tobin looks at her for a moment, “Huh,” she says, “I didn’t think of that,” she says, “I mean, I did a while ago, but I didn’t tonight,”

“Sweetheart, it’ll be alright,” Alex assures her, “you just need to take care of yourself and focus on what you’re there for.”

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “yeah, you’re right,”

“And make sure to check your email,” she says, “I’m sure you’ll have some from your agent and lawyer,”

“Oh, yeah, I will,” Tobin nods again, then she looks at her. “Thank you,” she says sincerely, seriously, “I really needed to talk with you,” she says heartfully, “I knew you would help me,”

Alex smiles, “You’re my honey,” she says, “I’m always going to help,”

“Yeah, you are,” Tobin smiles wider at that, “and you’re my sweetie,”

Tobin hears her door open, HAO entering cautiously. She turns in her chair to make eye contact with her through the patio door, giving her a head nod and a thumbs up. Morgan gives her a thumbs up back, her shoulders dropping with relief. Tobin turns around to continue talking to Alex.

 

 

HAO looks up expectantly when Tobin enters the room from the patio, sliding the door shut behind her.

“You good, dude?” she asks.

“Yeah, I think so,” Tobin nods, “Alex talked some sense into me,” she says, dropping down on her bed, “I think I understand now what this is all about,”

There’s a quiet knock on their door. HAO springs up to answer it, revealing a sorry looking trio of Hope, Carli and Megan. They enter, all eyes on Tobin who sits up on her bed.

“Tobin,” Carli starts, her voice low and quiet, “I, we,” she sweeps a hand out, “we’re sorry for putting that all out there,”

Tobin holds up a hand, “Guys, I,” she pauses, “I was freaking out,” she admits, “you know how much I love talking to the media,” she rolls her eyes at them, “I couldn’t get past that it was about me and Kelley,” she says, patting her bed and scooting so they can sit. “After some time to chill out and think about what you guys said, I think I understand what this is really about,” she says and then smiles, “and I’m all for it.”

 

XXXX

 

August 8

 

“Hey,” Christen nudges Tobin’s shoulder as they walk together to return their sweaty practice clothes for laundering, “you wanna go get some coffee with me? I was thinking of taking my journal and just hanging out to write for awhile,”

“Yeah,” Tobin grins at her, “I like that idea, meet up in ten?”

“Sounds good,” Christen smiles.

 

They find a cool spot outdoors that was deserted. They chat for a bit, then each found somewhere comfy to write. Tobin kicks off her sandals, pulls a bench up and sits on another bench against the wall in the shady corner, putting her feet up on the other bench. She begins to write.

It’s only after she’s returned to her room two hours later and finds her phone that she sees the text from Christen. It’s just a photo of her writing and Tobin really likes it. She posts it on IG with the simple caption: stewing.

 

XXXX

 

August 9

 

Tobin looks at the beautiful arena filled with fans, cheering on the match. She’s on the bench, a day off, as Jill explained, part of her plan to rest the starters to prepare against Sweden. They only need to draw against Colombia and it’s looking a little iffy to Tobin. Colombia scores first, then Crystal gets one back in the forty-first minute. Pinoe had started but comes out at the thirty-third minute, she wasn’t looking all that great.

Press goes in after the half for Carli, Allie goes in for Morgan Brian just after Mal scored. They hold the lead right up until the ninetieth minute when Usme knocks in her second goal of the match. Tobin thinks her team looks vulnerable, as if there’s something not quite right. Maybe it’s Pinoe being off the pitch and less effective than she usually is. Tobin can’t knock her, she’s doing the best she can while still coming back from her ACL injury. She sees how much work she puts in, she knows.

It’s hot as fuck here, Tobin is sweating just sitting here, a cooling towel around her neck, sipping a water bottle. She wants to be playing, she wants to be out there, contributing, helping the team. She thinks about HAO, Ashlyn, Sonnett and Sammy being here as alternates, having to sit up in the box to watch the matches, giving their all in every single practice. Knowing their only shot at playing is if someone gets hurt.

She knows it hurts, Pinoe being picked for the roster without having played a national team match before the Olympics, getting only thirty minutes in two Reign matches. Her and HAO spoke for a long time about it, they both love Megan yet they know the grind of the Olympic tournament and just doubt she’s healthy enough to last the whole way through it. Matches every three days, the travel, trying to sleep in these hotels, the heat. Both concluded that they felt Jill was using her as life preserver and at some point, it would come back and bite the team in the ass.

The whistle blows to end the match and Tobin stands up, clapping and walking out on to the pitch handing her water bottle to Christen who drinks greedily from it. They mingle with the Colombian players, shaking hands and high fiving, then assemble for Jill’s post match comments. Jill gets them pumped up about winning the group and heading to Brasilia for the knock out round. They’re first match is against Sweden, playing against their former coach, Pia Sundhage.

 

Tobin showers just to get the sweat off from sitting in the heat, the cool water refreshing her. After she dresses in her travel outfit, she slips on her slides, rummaging though her bag to get her phone and ear buds. She zips her bag up and turns to leave when she feels a hand on her forearm. It’s Allie.

“Give me a minute and I’ll go with you,” she says, nodding at her.

“Yeah, that’s cool,” Tobin says, leaning up against the wall. She gets bored after a minute and grabs an apple, walking over to the sinks and washing it off out of habit, drying it against her shorts.

She doesn’t say anything when Crystal, Ali and Hope join her and Allie on the short walk to the bus. She notices how they casually surround her as she walks, eating her apple, appearing without a care in the world. She doesn’t have her earbuds connected, curious to hear if anyone says anything to her. She focuses on the back of Ali’s head, eyes straight as she hears reporters calling her name. Hope drops off to speak to one of them, gesturing with her hands. She breathes a sigh of relief as she climbs the steps, letting Allie take the window and her the aisle.

The team bus stops at a restaurant on the way back to the hotel, some kind of steak place that serves the meat on skewers. They enjoy an amazing meal, eating too much of the many different types of meat they present to them.

When they get back, Tobin and a few others take a walk to the beach, wanting to see some of Manuas on their last day. They drag a heavy chain on the sand, spelling out love and Tobin takes a photo, posting it to her IG. She really loves this country, she wants to explore it so much, yet there’s no time. They have to get back so the others can do their recovery and Tobin joins them, feeling a little uneasy about exploring alone likes she usually does.

She’s concerned she’ll run into some of the reporters that are hanging out around here and she doesn’t want to tangle with them. She feels like a chicken but convinces herself that maintaining radio silence with the press for a while is the best method for now. The emails from her agent and lawyer stress it as well and she doesn’t want to misstep and possibly mess up any of the legal issues with Kelley she’ll be facing once she gets home.

Home, she thinks as she trudges along the sidewalk back to the hotel, I can’t wait to get home. I can’t believe how much I miss Portland, she shakes her head, I can’t believe I finally have my own place to call home.

“What are you smiling about?” Christen nudges her, giving her a grin.

“I can’t believe I actually miss Portland, I miss my place,” Tobin laughs, “me, the homeless soccer player,”

Christen smiles back at her, “That’s a good thing,” she says, “I’m happy for you,”

“Thanks,” Tobin says.

“So, how is Alex?” Christen asks, a glint in her eye.

Tobin raises an eyebrow at her, considering how to answer. “She’s good,” she nods, “she’s working on a new piece that’s going into a hotel in town,” she says, “she’s like, welding and hammering it and it’s gonna be like, fifteen feet high.”

“Wow!” Christen exclaims, “I can’t wait to see it,” she says, “you two doing good?”

Tobin can’t stop the blush spreading across her neck and creeping up on her cheeks, “Yeah,” she says, “taking it slow, you know? I don’t want to mess it up with her,”

“Not quite ready to jump into it yet?” Christen asks, tilting her head.

“Ah, yes and no,” Tobin shrugs, “I mean, I think there’s a lot we should talk about,” she explains, feeling comfortable as always with Christen. She’s easy to talk to and is so smart about so much. “She’s the first person I’ve ever been interested in being with that isn’t a soccer player,” she says, “and I don’t know how that’s going to work out,”

“Uh hum,” she hums, nodding her head in understanding, walking along at an easy pace, “have you talked to her recently?”

“Oh, we talk almost everyday,” Tobin replies, “and if we don’t talk, we text, so it’s been cool,”

“Interesting,” Christen nods, shaking her head a little, “every day, huh?”

“Yeah, I” Tobin stops, realizing just how much they’ve stayed connected since she’s been traveling. A slow smile spreads across her face, “You’re sneaky,” she accuses Christen, who starts chuckling, “real sneaky.”

“I think you’ll be fine,” Christen says, “I seem to recall her being stopped by a fan of her own when we out to dinner. Sounds like she has her own following,”

Tobin laughs out loud, shaking her head, “I thought you majored in comm like me, not psych,” she says.

Christen laughs, “That’s a Stanford degree for ya,”

 

XXXX

 

 

“Hello,” Alex greets Tobin over their Facetime call.

“Hey,” Tobin says, a little subdued, “how are you?”

“I’m fine,” Alex hears something in Tobin’s voice, “what’s up with you? Something wrong?”

Tobin shrugs, “I don’t know,” she confesses, “I just feel like something’s off,”

“What do you mean? You don’t feel well?”

“I feel fine physically,” Tobin says, “I just have a bad feeling about the next match,”

Alex frowns, “What’s bothering you? You guys are playing very good,”

“I don’t know,” Tobin shakes her head, frowning, “I can’t shake the feeling that something is going to go wrong,”

“Well, that mindset can’t be a good thing,” Alex says reasonably, “you normally envision yourself winning,”

Tobin nods, “Yeah, I normally do,” she agrees, “but this…” she trails off, looking away, thinking. She turns to face Alex, “I think I just feel that Pia is going to throw something at us we won’t be able to handle,”

“Pia?” Alex tilts her head.

“Sweden’s coach,” Tobin states, “she was our coach for years, Jill was her assistant.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Alex nods her head in understanding.

“Yeah, like she’s going to pull out a bunker or do some weird five three two or something we’ve never seen,” Tobin mutters, frowning.

Lex looks at her. “Hey,” she says softly, “you can only control what you can control,”

Tobin gives her a rueful smile, “Spitting my words back at me, huh?”

“Yes,” Alex gives her a little smile, “your team has worked hard to be there, you guys will face whatever’s thrown at you and you’ll still kick ass.”

“I hope so,” Tobin sighs, still looking upset.

“Tobin,” Alex coos, “you need to change your mindset before you go to sleep,” she says, “think about something nice, something fun, replay a victory or something.”

Tobin leans back on the hotel wall, she’s sitting in the hallway, giving HAO some privacy while she’s on the phone with Dave. “You’re right,” she agrees quietly. After a pause, she perks up. “How’s Starburst going?”

Alex gets a big smile on her face, “I’ve finished cutting the pieces for the skeleton, so I’m going to start shaping it, adding some dimension and texture to the panels.”

“Oh yeah?” Tobin eyes grow large, “Did it make the weight it needs to be?”

Alex smiles, “It sure did, thanks to you,”

Tobin shrugs and gives her a little grin, “I think I just helped push you in that direction,”

Alex rolls her eyes, “Uh huh,” she shakes her head with a smile still on her face.

“Can you send me pix or something to see it?”

Alex nods, “I will,”

Tobin nods and then yawns.

“So, what’s your positive thoughts going to be tonight?” Alex wants Tobin to get in a better mindset.

“Uh, I don’t know,” Tobin sighs, scrunching up her mouth.

Alex thinks for a moment. “Well, what about looking forward to something?”

“Like what?”

“Well, when the Olympics is over, what are you going to do? Spend time in Brazil and see the sights with your family?” Alex asks.

“Ah, my Mom and Dad and Perry are in Brasilia today. So, I’ll probably have dinner with them tomorrow night and then maybe the day after too,” Tobin replies. “They’re here for the gold medal match, but I think they’ll leave if we lose,”

“Oh?” Alex is curious.

“Yeah, they all miss a lot of work to see me play, you know?” Tobin says, “I told them to do that so we could have Christmas together,”

“Oh,” Alex says, thinking about that. “So, what are you going to do after it’s all over?”

Tobin shrugs, “Come home, chill out,”

“What if we went on an adventure for a couple of days?” Alex proposes, wondering if it’s too soon to offer something like this.

“Yeah?” Tobin straightens up, interested in hearing what she’s thinking.

“Yeah, we’ll go somewhere and relax, I want to take a break from Starburst anyway,” Alex reasons.

“Where would you want to go?” Tobin asks, getting a little excited at the thought of traveling with her.

“A road trip,” Alex states, “you need to see our great country.”

Tobin laughs, “Okay, where?”

“How about we decide when you get back? I’m sure you’ll want to sleep for a while and get settled, then we can figure it out,” Alex shrugs.

“I’ll start thinking of places I haven’t been to,” Tobin nods, “Alex, this is a great idea,”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Alex smiles, “it’s going to be so much fun.”

“Me too,” Tobin smiles big at her, then yawns again.

“I’ll let you go,” Alex says, even though she wants to talk to her all night.

“Okay,” Tobin smiles, her voice containing this sleepy quality that Alex adores, “I’ll talk to you soon,”

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

August 12 Brasilia

 

Sweden is relentless and very organized. Within the first thirty minutes, Tobin’s uniform is covered with grass stains and she feels an ache in her ribs with every step and breath she takes. The Swedes are smart and most of the fouls are clean and tactical. Alex feels her heart go into her throat when Tobin gets a shot off that the keeper saves with the tips of her fingers, the ball almost curling into the net.

It happens again when Tobin sends in a looping free kick that Press can’t get her head on. The Swedes bunker in, forming a wall of defense that the US is having a hard time getting through.

“What the fuck?” Syd screams, watching as Tobin trots back to play left back when Crystal Dunn comes on for Rapinoe. The whole bar is up in arms, yelling at the TV screens, swearing with frustration. The announcers are shocked, speaking with confusion as to why one of the most prolific playmakers for the USA is on the backline, especially if Rapinoe is out of the match. That leads to a short discussion about missing Kelley O’Hara and how it’s affected the team, especially the defense.

After watching two tortuous periods of extra time, the match goes to penalty shots. When Dahlkvist’s penalty shot gets past a diving Hope Solo, Alex stands in stunned silence, tears streaming down her face as she watches the screen. When the camera lands on Tobin looking exhausted and utterly devastated, she almost loses it.

It’s a blur for Alex as she says goodbye to the group, hugging them with a stoic silence. She walks the few blocks to her place, her mind on Tobin. Tobin thought something like this would happen and she truly didn’t believe it would. She feels numb, thinking of how hard Tobin played, never giving up on a play, how she tried to make something happen throughout the entire match. How she almost scored. How her crosses could have resulted in goals if her teammates had moved just a little quicker or had been just slightly in better position.

She knows it’s a team sport, she knows Tobin will never blame anyone in particular for the cruel loss, but she just feels so bad for her. She really wanted Tobin to get another gold medal.

Absently, she flicks on EPSN, needing to hear some noise in her quiet apartment. Julie Foudy is speaking, apparently Hope Solo said something caustic after the match. Alex rolls her eyes, turning up the volume. Her mouth drops open when she hears the quote about cowards. That leads to a discussion with the analysts about the team chemistry being thrown off with the whole Kelley O’Hara and Tobin Heath incident and how the team handled it. She shakes her head, thinking the team doesn’t need any other type of scandal right now.

She charges her phone, then gets her laptop, flicks on her printer and sits on the couch. She needs to do something, something to keep her mind off this ache she feels in her chest. She types in best roadtrips on the west coast and starts looking through the results.

 

XXXX

 

August 13

 

Alex didn’t expect to hear from Tobin last night, figuring she’d be busy with the team, consoling each other. She felt particularly bad for Christen who skyed her penalty shoot over the crossbar. So, she was surprised to see a text from Tobin, sent a couple of hours ago that she didn’t hear. She opens it.

Tobin: I’m coming home. Sent you an email. Really can’t talk right now.

Alex opens her emails and finds Tobin’s name, swiping to open it. It’s a travel itinerary.

Departure August 14th at 7:00 in the morning, landing in Miami at 1:50. A four hour layover there and she boards another flight at 5:49 to LA that lands at 8:18. There she has an hour and eighteen minute layover, gets on her last flight to Portland at 9:36 and lands at 11:59.

“She’s going to be exhausted,” Alex says to herself, sighing. She texts her back.

Alex: I’ll pick you up.

Tobin replies with a thumbs up and a heart. Alex smiles.

 

XXXX

 

August 14

 

“Hey,” Tobin’s voice sounds nasally and scratchy to Alex.

“Hi, honey,” Alex answers. It’s almost nine o’clock and Tobin’s in LA on her layover.

“My flight is delayed because of the storms,” Tobin says miserably, a hint of a tremble in her voice.

“Okay, I’ll keep monitoring the website,” Alex says, “I’m sorry, I know you just want to get home,”

“Yeah,” she replies dejectedly.

“Did you eat something?” Alex asks.

“Yeah, I had a couple of tacos and a smoothie a little bit ago,” she replies, “I’m not very hungry right now,”

“What did you do yesterday? Did you get to spend some time with your family?” Alex asks.

“Yeah, we went out for a bit and had lunch and dinner,” Tobin answers, “I had to do some recovery in the morning and then pack, I actually flew back with Mom to Florida, so she hung out with me for a while during my layover, so that was cool,”

“Oh, that’s so nice!” Alex exclaims softly, “I’m glad you weren’t just sitting there for four hours, I’m glad she was with you,”

“Yeah, it was nice to have some one on one time with her,” Tobin yawns.

“Is she excited about the condo? Did you tell her?” Alex asks.

“Oh yeah,” Tobin sounds more animated, “she’s super excited about it, we talked about all sorts of stuff. She’s going to come to town to help me pack up and see the place,”

“That’s awesome!” Alex smiles, “That’ll be so nice,”

“Yeah, it’ll fun,” Tobin replies but her voice doesn’t reflect the true enthusiasm it should.

“Have you thought about furniture or anything yet or is it too early?” Alex asks.

“Yeah, I’ll probably start thinking about it at the end of August,” Tobin says, “I don’t need much, but if I have to order something it’ll take some time to get it.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” she says, “how long is your delay?”

“I don’t know,” Tobin replies, “I’m going to mosey over by the gate to see,”

“Okay,” Alex says, shifting to lie on the couch, “I hope you get out tonight,” she says, looking up at the glass ceiling where the rain is coming down. She grabs the remote, clicking on the weather channel. “The rain is moving out of here, I have the weather channel on and the radar is showing it clearing out over the next hour or so,”

“Oh cool,” Tobin comments, “hang on a second,” she says and Alex sees Tobin squinting as she looks at something. Her eyebrows raise and she nods, letting out a sigh. “Another hour,” she says, scrunching up her nose, “at least it’s not three,”

“You must be exhausted,” Alex frowns, seeing how Tobin’s shoulders are slumped and she’s yawning.

“I’ll sleep on the plane,” she shrugs, “it won’t be too bad,”

Alex can’t imagine traveling all day like Tobin has done. She was never a fan of the four and a half hour flight from Chicago to LA when she was in school. She wonders how Tobin tolerates flying so much for soccer.

“So,” Tobin smiles tiredly at her, “I got you something from Brazil,” she says, wiggling her eyebrows a little.

“You did?” Alex is surprised, “You didn’t have to get me anything,”

“Well, I wanted to and I saw it and it made me think of you,” Tobin says, “so I picked it up,”

“Well, I can’t wait to see it,” she smiles at her.

“Yeah, me too,” Tobin’s eyes go off camera, squinting again, “hang on,” she says, walking closer to the gate area, “Oh, we’re getting ready to board,” she says, her eyes widen a little, “sweet,” she smiles at her.

“I’ll let you go,” Alex says, smiling at her, “I’ll see you in a few hours,”

“Al, I really can just grab an Uber,” Tobin protests, “it’s no problem,”

“I insist,” Alex firmly, giving her the look, the one that Tobin realizes she shouldn’t argue anymore.

“Okay,” she sighs, then smiles, “thank you,”

“Have a safe flight, honey” Alex says, “there’ll be a big hug waiting for you when you land,”

Tobin smiles, “I can’t wait,” she says, “see ya in a little bit,”

 

 

“Hi,” Alex smiles wide as Tobin approaches her in the baggage claim area, “you look so tired,” she frowns, pulling her lower lip out as she frowns at her.

“Hey,” Tobin breathes out, leaning into her, “I’m so happy to be home,” she says quietly.

Alex holds onto Tobin’s shoulders when she pulls back to look her over, she’s wearing her Blackhawks sweatshirt, black joggers and a snapback. Even after a grueling day of travel, she looks good. She gives her a peck on the cheek, unsure of how much public affection she should display, “Let’s go get your luggage,” she suggests, linking their arms and guiding her over to the proper carousel.

They only have to wait for a few minutes, there aren’t many other flights coming in at this late hour. Alex hefts Tobin’s two large suitcases from the conveyor belt, setting them on the floor and pulling the handles, insisting on taking them. She leads Tobin out to the parking garage and her car. Tobin helps her get the bags in the car, yawning as she tosses her backpack in the backseat.

Alex had packed a bag of her own, intending on taking Tobin to her own place so she could sleep in her own bed and get a start on laundry and whatever else she needed to do. She’d spend the night and then go from there.

 

 

“Oh, this feels so nice,” Tobin moans as she finally lies in her bed, “my body still feels like I’m on a plane,” she yawns noisily, shifting under the covers, groaning as she moves. Alex inches closer, running her hand along Tobin’s stomach and then resting it on her chest in between her breasts, “Sleep, sweetie,” she whispers, “just go to sleep,”

 

XXXX

 

 

August 15

 

Alex goes back into Tobin’s room a couple of times to make sure she’s still breathing. She’s been up since around ten, unable to sleep anymore. She laid in bed for a while, scrolling through her phone, reading more about the Hope Solo drama, how the other players reacted to the loss. There were a few articles outlining the basics of what happened between Kelley and Tobin from what Alex assumed was court documents and police reports. She quietly watched a video of an interview with Megan, Allie and Carli who had hung out for a few days.

After an hour of lying there while Tobin softly snored next to her, Alex had to get up. She used the bathroom, washed up and got dressed for the day. She was hungry. When she entered the living room and was heading to the kitchen, the thought occurred to her that Tobin probably doesn’t have anything edible here. Not with planning on being gone for a month.

She grabbed a water from the fridge, inspecting the sparse shelves. She checked the freezer and closed the door with disappointment. She did find some tea bags and a granola bar and munched on that while waiting for the water to boil.

After checking on her for the second time, Alex decides to order in some breakfast, going a little overboard on her order for the two of them, but figuring Tobin would be starving and deserving of eating a ton of food she normally avoids when in season. She finds a piece of Tobin’s mail with her address on it, realizing she’s only been here a few times and never entered it in her phone. Once the order is placed, she has about forty minutes before arrival. She figures out Tobin’s remote and keeps the sound low, not wanting to wake her just yet.

After a half hour of watching the Olympic broadcast, Alex scans the channels and finds a soothing music one, setting the remote down and moving to the kitchen to prepare for the food arrival. She puts on a pot of coffee, having ordered some milk with the food.

She searches Tobin’s cabinets and drawers, pulling out plates and silverware and napkins and setting the table. She decides to leave the unboxing of the food until Tobin is at the table, wanting to see her reaction to the goodies she ordered.

Once she receives the delivery, she brings it to the kitchen table, removing the covered containers from the bags and arranging them around Tobin’s place setting. She fills two mugs with coffee and then decides to wake her up. Alex slowly crawls into the bed, lying down next to Tobin, looking her over for a moment. She’s on her stomach, her left hand hanging off the edge of the bed, one bare foot sticking out from the under the comforter. Her head is turned to face her, her mouth slightly open, a fair amount of drool darkening the pillowcase. Alex frowns seeing the slight crinkle on Tobin’s forehead, perhaps indicating she’s not sleeping peacefully.

Alex lays her head on the pillow next to her, smiling as she rubs Tobin’s upper arm. “Honey,” she says quietly, “it’s time to get up,”

Tobin doesn’t respond, she’s still dead to the world. Alex gently shakes her arm, “Tobin,” she says, a little louder, “time to get up,”

Tobin groans, burrowing her head into her pillow, frowning when she feels the wetness. She moves her head up, seeking a drier surface. “Let’s go,” Alex says, “breakfast is ready,”

Tobin cracks an eye open, just a slit of it, “Hey,” she grumbles, clearing her throat, “morning,”

“More like afternoon,” Alex smiles at her, “if you stay here any longer, you’ll never sleep tonight,”

“Oh,” Tobin moans, rolling over and stretching out, “I feel awful,” she whispers, her voice rough.

“You’ll feel better with a cup of coffee and some food,” Alex says confidently, “come one, let’s make our plates and sit on the couch,”

Tobin nods, but her eyes are still closed, taking in a deep breath and sighing. Alex snakes her hand under the covers and finds Tobin’s side, tickling her slightly. “Ah,” Tobin squirms, “stop!”

“Let’s go,” Alex says, pulling the covers off her, “it’s going to get cold,”

“Okay, okay, okay,” Tobin nods, opening her eyes, blinking at the sunlight coming through the blinds, “what time is it?”

“Almost two,” Alex replies, leaning in and kissing her lips lightly, “come on, now, it’s time to eat,”

“Okay,” Tobin sniffs, yawning once more and then rolling to her side and sitting up, “I’ll be right there,”

Alex gets up on her knees, crawling over to hug her from behind, she dips her head low next to Tobin’s ear, “Can I trust you not to go back to sleep?” she asks.

Tobin turns her head to face her, giving her a tired smile, “You said there’s food,” she replies, her voice low and gravelly, sending a chill down Alex’s spine, it’s so sexy. “I’ll be there,”

“Okay,” Alex grins, her smile growing wider when Tobin puckers her lips for a kiss. She gives her a quick one, then rubs her back, “I’ll meet you out there,”

 

“Woah,” Tobin says as she sits down at the table and surveys the spread, “this is nuts,”

“Open them,” Alex smiles, setting a mug of coffee in front of her.

“Bacon,” Tobin lowers her voice to call out, grabbing a piece and shoving half of it in her mouth, chewing as she opens the next one, “oh, hash browns,” it sounds distorted because her mouth is full. She finishes chewing and pops the rest of the bacon in her mouth.

“Pancakes!” she grins, opening another container, “Oh, waffles,” she moans, “Alex, you didn’t have to do this,” she looks at her.

“I did,” Alex grins back at her, “you have nothing here to eat!” she laughs. She stands up, opening the scrambled eggs and fresh fruit and passes a plate and a spoon to her. “Dig in,”

They eat while sitting on the couch, legs spread on Tobin’s coffee table.

“Thank you,” Tobin says as she sips her coffee, “this was a really dope treat,”

“You deserve it,” Alex says simply.

“I appreciate it,” Tobin smiles at her. She stands up and takes Alex’s empty plate, going to the kitchen and rinsing the plates and putting them in the dishwasher with the silverware.

She lids the containers and puts them in the fridge, then moves down the hall.

Alex stays put, but then her curiosity gets the better of her. “Whatcha doing?” she calls out.

“Laundry,” Tobin calls back from down the hall where her laundry nook is.

“Need a hand?”

“Nah, I got it,” Tobin replies, “thanks though,”

She returns in a few minutes, standing there and looking at Alex.

“What?” Alex questions, looking up at her.

“You wanna snuggle?” Tobin asks with a half smile on her face.

“Sure,” Alex stands, “you lay down first,” she says scooting in and feeling Tobin’s arm come around her, settling lightly on her stomach. Alex reaches for Tobin’s hand and interlocks their fingers, bending her arm to let them rest against her chest. She’s watching the TV, right now the USA softball team is playing and it only takes a few minutes when she feels how Tobin’s body relaxes, leaning against hers slightly, her grip loosening in her hand and she hears her sigh contentedly.

 

 

“Tobin, can you just open the door? I’m freezing!” Alex complains as she tightens the towel around her chest. The two went for a swim in Tobin’s complex, Tobin needing to do some movement after flying yesterday and she wasn’t feeling like taking a run. They hung out in the water, raced each other doing laps across the pool and then just floated together, bodies touching.

Unfortunately, the hot tub wasn’t working, so they quickly made their way back up to Tobin’s unit, now shivering from the air conditioning in the hallway. As soon as Tobin gets the door open, Alex pushes past her, grabbing her hand and leading her to the bathroom. She reaches in and turns on the water. Alex looks at her as she steps under the warm water, “Come on,” she encourages, gesturing to her, her eyes sparkling at Tobin.

Tobin slowly steps in the shower, Alex’s hands on her shoulders, guiding her under the water to warm up. She moves close, putting her arms around her, just holding her. It feels so intimate to Tobin, unlike anything she’s ever experienced before. She feels Alex’s skin under her fingertips as she slowly glides her hands up and down and her back. She keeps her hands from traveling lower, Alex is doing the same, just sort of touching each other, feeling the closeness of their near nakedness.

As much as she wants to jump Alex’s bones, she just knows she’s not quite ready and that this isn’t what this is about. It’s about being comfortable with each other, even more than they currently are. It’s leading up to giving themselves to each other. There’s this feeling of tenderness that she’s feeling from Alex’s touch. She begins to shake, nerves overcoming her. She never felt this intimacy with Kelley. This wasn’t a part of their relationship and Tobin didn’t even know that’s part of what she felt was missing. Sure, her and Kelley had sex, they had a lot of sex. It felt amazing but it wasn’t always fulfilling, she didn’t feel closer to her as she thought she should.

This is what was missing.

She tightens her grip on Alex, feeling a surge of affection for her. Feeling grateful that this woman walked into her life and is willing to share this experience with her. Alex slowly moves them under the water, then reaches for Tobin’s shampoo, taking a step back and pouring some in her hand, offering the bottle to Tobin. Tobin smiles, taking it and pouring some out, closing her eyes as she washes her hair, letting Alex move under the water to rinse. She rinses after, when Alex steps out of the way. Alex’s eyes never leave hers when she slowly brings her hands up to loosen the strings of her bikini top.

Tobin’s eyes grow wide, she doesn’t think she’s ready for this, to have sex with her. As much as she wants to, she thinks she needs to get her head straight about still about what happened with Kelley.

Alex smiles at her, “Just looking,” she says, dropping her top, “no touching, okay?”

Tobin’s mouth drops open at the sight of Alex’s breasts, small and pert, the dark nipples hard. She gulps, watching as Alex removes the bottoms, standing before her naked. “You don’t have to if you feel uncomfortable,” Alex says slowly, grabbing the bottle of body wash and a hand towel. She washes herself, concentrating on her task, letting Tobin figure out what she should do.

Tobin’s eyes follow Alex’s hand as she lowers the soapy washcloth to her lower belly, seeing the small strip of light hair in between her legs. She swallows, her mouth suddenly dry. She feels a little dizzy but in a good way. She reaches to turn the water handle, allowing more warm water to spray on them, stepping to the side for Alex to rinse herself. When she finishes, Alex finally looks at Tobin, giving her a shy smile.

Tobin returns it with one of her own, slowly reaching for the band of her sports bra and pulling it over her head. She averts her eyes as she awkwardly steps out of her Nike pros, wringing them out and then tossing it to the back of the shower. She licks her lips and then focuses on Alex who’s eyes are crawling over her, she sees how Alex’s mouth is drawn up tightly, her lip pressed together, eyes wide.

She sees the desire in them, making her feel instantly better, more comfortable in her skin. Alex lets out a breath, handing Tobin the washcloth and body wash, slowly meeting her eyes. Tobin gives her a smile, feeling a warmth flood her chest. She averts her eyes, still smiling as she washes herself quickly, then she pauses.

“Wash my back?” she asks extending the soapy cloth to Alex. Alex sees the glint in Tobin’s eyes, biting her lower lip as she nods. Tobin turns around, feeling her run the cloth over her skin. She steps under the water, facing forward, Alex behind her, rinsing her.

Feeling a little cocky, she looks over her shoulder, “Is it all off?” she asks, bringing her arms to sides, slightly curled and flexing them so her muscles pop out on her shoulders and back.

“Oh, fuck,” Alex moans, running two fingers down Tobin’s wet skin. “That’s so not fair,” she says, clucking her tongue, reaching around Tobin quickly and turning the water to cold. She laughs and steps out as Tobin squeaks as she scrambles to shut off the water.

They dry off quickly, giggling that they just did this, both kind of in shock, Alex at her boldness and Tobin at her willingness. Tobin is finished first and reaches for Alex’s t-shirt, wanting to smell her scent on her again. She missed it since she had to wash the sweatshirt, although she should ask Alex to just exchange it for another one.

“Oh, we’re doing that huh?” Alex laughs, taking Tobin’s t-shirt and putting it on, Tobin trying not to be distracted how her nipples protrude from the faded youth camp shirt.

“I kind of can’t believe we just did that,” Tobin says, “it was so…,” she shakes her head, unable to put words to her feelings.

“You’re making it pretty hard for me to control myself,” Alex admits, “I’m trying my best,” she says, turning to face, looking serious, “but if I get too forward and it makes you feel uncomfortable, please say something,”

Tobin tilts her head slightly, “I wasn’t uncomfortable,” she says just as seriously, “it just took me by surprise and I needed a second to think about it, that’s all,”

Alex searches her for her sincerity, seeing it loud and clear. She gives her a smile, “Okay, honey,” she says, leaning forward to give her a soft kiss. It’s Tobin that surprises her, putting her arms around her extending the kiss, deepening it. Both moan into one another’s mouths, the sensations of their tongues intermixing sending waves of pleasure through them. They both pull back at the same time, each a little flushed and smiling.

“Now that was something else,” Alex says, bringing a hand up to Tobin’s jaw and holding it lovingly.

“Sure was,” Tobin agrees, feeling slightly dizzy from the kiss.

“Come on,” Alex takes her hand, “the gold medal round for gymnastics is coming on,” she leads her to the door, then stops suddenly, turning to look at her closely, “Is watching it going to bother you?”

Tobin smiles at her for being so considerate, “I don’t think so,” she shakes her head.

“Okay,” Alex smiles back.

 

“Hey, I found some popcorn,” Tobin calls from the kitchen, “you want some?”

“Sure,” Alex nods, flicking through the stations to find the coverage. Tobin brings over two beers and a bowl of popcorn, they clink the bottles together and drink.
It’s the floor routines tonight, Simone Biles is leading the event. Tobin doesn’t say much, content to sip her beer and chew on the popcorn. It’s comfortable, watching the athletes perform their amazing routines, both of them cringing when an obvious mistake is made.

Alex chuckles, “I think it’s funny how I become this expert on floor routines when this is the only time I watch them compete,”

“I know what you mean,” Tobin agrees, “we were watching one of the volleyball matches and analyzing how they play and none of us know a thing about the sport,” she sets her empty beer bottle and bowl on the coffee table.

They watch on and it’s only until the medal ceremony that Alex glances over when she hears Tobin sniffle. Tears are streaming down Tobin’s face as the National Anthem is being played, her chin quivering as she fights the sobs she feels building up in her chest. Her cheeks are rosy, her neck flushed, and her hands are balled into fists.

“Honey,” is all Alex says and Tobin bursts out with sob, suddenly burying her face in her hands.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” she cries, her breath hitching as she ugly cries, “we shouldn’t have lost,”

Alex pulls her into her arms, holding her tight as she burrows into her chest, there’s nothing she can say right now. She wouldn’t have an any idea what to say to comfort her. So, she holds her, allowing her to let it all out. The emotions, the frustrations, the sadness, the bitter disappointment. She holds her until Tobin’s cries become softer, her breathing becomes even and she’s just sniffling. Then she rubs her back, using her fingernails to glide over her shirt in a figure eight pattern.

“I’m sorry,” Tobin murmurs, her voice nasally and low. She raises her head to see the tears in Alex’s eyes.

“I am too,” Alex gives her a sad smile, “I feel so bad,” she says with a sigh, “I wish there was something I could say to make it all better,”

Tobin gives her a little grin, “Just being here with you makes it so much better,”

Alex looks at her for a moment, then chuckles, “That’s a pretty cheesy line even for you, Heath,”

Tobin now smiles, sitting up beside her, “Yeah,” she laughs, “I guess so,”

She looks at her, “But I mean it,” Tobin says softly, seriously, as she raises her hand and rests it softly on the side of Alex’s face, leaning in and kissing her tenderly. “You help me remember that tomorrow is a new day, when I was having my nightmares and now with this loss,” she kisses her again, “and I am so thankful for you,”

“You’re going to make me cry,” Alex whispers, her eyes filling with tears, “I hope you know how much you mean to me,” she says, glancing down and then up at her, “you’ve done so much to help me accepting Jerry’s death and embrace my art again,” she shakes her head, “you’ve helped me get my life back on track again,”

Tobin looks at her for a long moment, chewing on her lower lip before she slowly smiles at her. “We’re pretty good together, huh?”

Alex nods, “I think we are,”

“Me too,” Tobin smiles and leans over and kisses her softly.

The Men’s Swimming events are on now and they turn their attention to the TV, becoming sucked into the competition. Tobin completes her laundry while they watch, folding her clothes while sitting the couch, piling them on her coffee table.

“So,” Tobin says as she folds one of her shirts, “I have an appointment tomorrow morning with my therapist,” she glances over at Alex, “and after that, I don’t have to report to the Thorns for a week,”

“You still wanna get out of town?” Alex asks her.

“I do,” Tobin smiles, “do you?”

“Sure,” Alex grins, “any idea of where?”

“Well, you mentioned before about Mt. St. Helens,” Tobin shrugs, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a volcano in the US,”

Alex gives her a toothy smile, “When do you want to leave?”

“Is tomorrow too soon?”

Alex shakes her head, “Perfect,” she replies, “how about I’ll get packed up in the morning while you’re at your appointment and then I’ll pick you up here after and we hit the road?”

“That sounds rad,” Tobin grins at her, “stop for lunch outside the city?” Alex nods.

 

XXXX

 

August 16

 

Tobin finds herself only speaking with her therapist for a few minutes about the loss. Yes, it hurts and it’s deep and she’s going to think about it for a long time, let it stew in her mind and want retribution. But she’s been through it before, back in 2011 with the World Cup and it was devastating and she’s more mature now to handle her feelings about it. It’s her job and the team failed to get the job done. One night, her and Allie and maybe Sonnett and Kling might sit down and watch the match and analyze it for themselves. See where the breakdowns occurred, what they could have done better. But for now, Tobin just wants to put it in the rearview mirror and let it go for a little while.

She wants to talk about Alex. She wants to talk about trust and feelings and Kelley and the upcoming deposition she needs to give and how she feels about what happened. It’s a month and a half since Kelley put her in that storage unit, it’s been four months since she broke up with Kelley.

Stephanie listens and asks her questions that make Tobin think. She realizes that her relationship with Kelley was unhealthy, even during the years they were hooking up. When they got officially together, or when she thought they did, she realizes now that she was equating sex with love and the affection that Kelley did show her made her feel that she was in love with her.

Now she knows that while she did love Kelley, their time together wasn’t a true relationship. She was the one investing in it, not Kelley. There weren’t any times where they would just be together and not need to talk. They were always doing something. Everything was rushed. Even the sex. Sometimes it felt like a competition to see who could get the other one off faster.

Tobin thinks she could really have something amazing with Alex. They are just so compatible. They support each other and comfort each other. They can sit for hours reading or writing or drawing and not speaking it feels…perfect.

Tobin gets flutters in her chest from Alex, whether it’s something she’s said or does, or how she looks at her. She really likes her.

As Tobin finishes packing back at her condo, she thinks she’s ready. She knows she has a full plate ahead of herself, talking about the Olympics, talking about Kelley, the possibility of being in court to face Kelley. Coming back to the Thorns and trying to win the Shield. Joining back up with the National Team for some friendlies in the fall.

Tobin just stops for a minute when she realizes that she can do it all knowing Alex will be by her side, supporting her. And the thing that gets her, is she knows that she’ll be supporting her just as equally. That is what a relationship is all about, being there for each other. Not just sex. But the meeting of the minds and the sharing of feelings and being comfortable enough with each other to share them with one another.

How many times did Tobin hold her tongue for fear of sparking a confrontation with Kelley. That’s the thing, she understands now, there’s no confronting Alex with anything. It’s about talking, communicating, making the effort to be present for one another. And she knows she’s up to the task. If they were talking almost every day while she was in Rio, they can get through anything.

 

XXXX

 

 

“You ready?” Alex asks, her eyebrows wiggling above her sunglasses. She’s wearing a tank top and jean shorts and sandals with a snapback on her head, her hair in a ponytail and Tobin thinks she’s never looked better.

“Let’s roll,” Tobin grins at her, buckling her seatbelt. She turns to look into the back of Alex’s SVU, “What did you bring?” she questions, seeing it piled high with bags of gear.

Alex shrugs, “I just brought some stuff just in case,” she says slightly mysteriously. Tobin nods and lets it go, “Cool,” she faces the front and sees how Alex smiles.

“We look like twins,” Alex grins at her, noting Tobin’s outfit, matching in style right down to the snapback.

“Oh, Al,” Tobin smirks at her, “don’t you know, you just can’t copy cool,” she repeats the line Allie had stated in one of the national team videos.

Alex just shakes her head at her, “Dork,” she mutters, although a smile spreads across her face and she reaches for Tobin’s hand as she guides her truck into traffic.

 

XXXX

Chapter Text

.

 

August 16

 

 

Alex glances over and sees Tobin is still sleeping, she passed out about a half an hour after they had stopped and ate lunch. She thinks she must be exhausted from the travel, the practices and matches, not to mention the stress of it all. Especially the whole NBC thing.

NBC had gotten rid of Victor Moreno, stating his actions were unprofessional and apologizing to Tobin in particular and the women of the Olympics in general. Kate Markgraf flew out from the NBC studio to be the sideline presence and the since then NBC has had some recently retired and some active players on the recap show studio show, offering their perspectives.

A reporter in Portland had done some research and published an article regarding the incident with Kelley. In Alex’s opinion, it was done as respectfully and as professionally as possible, stating the facts of the case as it pertains to the police reports and then the court complaint. The reporter hadn’t even tried to contact to Tobin, instead stating that it was an ongoing issue and wishing Tobin the best.

Alex lightly rubs her thumb along the top of Tobin’s hand, thinking about last night. She was pretty bold to get naked in front of her and she was glad with how it all worked out. She wanted to offer herself to Tobin, to be vulnerable in front of her and she thought that was the best way to express it. She had no intention of it leading to sex, she can sense Tobin isn’t quite ready yet, but she wanted Tobin to be comfortable with her. Being naked was, in all truth, Alex baring herself to her and when Tobin reciprocated, she feels that was her way of accepting her, accepting them and the future they have.

She decides to alter the road trip plan a little bit, knowing Tobin would be up for doing anything, but maybe hiking shouldn’t be one of the activities they undertake. Maybe just relaxing and doing nothing would be a better option. Donna, Dr. Andrews, had offered up her cabin to Alex on numerous occasions, so when Alex sees a rest stop, she pulls off the highway, parks the car and pulls her phone out to text her.

After a short exchange, a satisfied Alex pulls out of the parking lot, back on the highway, believing this is actually the best thing the two of them could be doing.

 

“Oh, sorry,” Tobin mumbles, straightening up from her slouch and looking around, “Where are we?” She yawns and looks around and then reaches for her water bottle, taking a long drink.

“Near Seattle,” Alex says, hunching her shoulders and wincing, “I sorta did a thing,”

Tobin raises her eyebrows over the frames of her sunglasses, “Oh?” she questions, looking around the interior of the truck, “Whadya do?”

“I sorta changed our plans without talking to you,” Alex glances over with an unsure look on her face.

Tobin yawns again, “Al, it doesn’t really matter what we do or where we do it,” she smiles at her, “it’s doing it with you that I like,”

“Um,” Alex starts to laugh, “oh yeah?”

Tobin shakes her head, laughing at herself, “You know what I mean,” she says, squeezing her hand, “what’s the plan?”

“So, Donna has a cabin near here,” Alex starts, “and she’s always telling me to come out and use it, so I took her up on it,”

“Like, was that your plan all along?” Tobin asks, not seeming upset at all. “I mean, if that’s what you wanted to do, I would have been totally cool with it,”

“No, no, no,” Alex shakes her head, “I texted her about an hour ago,”

“Oh?” Tobin looks surprised.

“Well, you were sleeping, like, totally passed out,” Alex explains, “and it got me thinking that you’re still in season and you just came back from all of that playing and all of that travel and maybe hiking around Mt. St. Helens wouldn’t be the most ideal thing for you, so I thought we’d hit the cabin and veg out, like just totally relax and do whatever we want,”

“Al,” Tobin says, tilting her head at her and squeezing her hand again, “that’s so considerate, hon. I mean, I would have told you if I got tired, but I do like the idea of just doing some hard chillin’ with you,”

“So, you’re not mad?” Alex asks, wanting confirmation from her.

“Nah,” Tobin grins, “this sounds like a cool adventure,” she says, “Have you ever been to this cabin?”

“No, I haven’t even seen photos,” Alex admits, “but Donna said it was one of her most favorite places ever.”

“I can’t wait to see it,” she grins at her.

“Well, we have to stop at this grocery store coming up,” Alex states, “we can decide how many days we want to stay and buy what we want to eat there,”

“Okay,” Tobin readily agrees, “are we like, roughing it or do they have utensils and stuff?”

“She said there’s a full kitchen,” Alex nods, “and beds, so we actually don’t need the sleeping bags I packed.”

Tobin just smiles at her for a moment, “You brought sleeping bags?”

“Uh huh,” Alex nods, “I wanted to be prepared,”

“What else did you bring?” Tobin prods.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” Alex looks over and grins at her, “when we unpack,”

“Fair enough,” Tobin chuckles, then points, “is that the store?”

“Yep,” Alex nods, clicking on her turn signal and entering the parking lot.

 

 

“Are you sure this is right?” Tobin asks, her forehead knit with worry, “we’re really in the woods and this is just a dirt road,”

“According to the GPS we’re doing fine,” Alex assures her, “she said we’d be on this for about forty minutes and it’s been a half an hour, so we’re close.”

“It’s so dense,” Tobin comments, looking out the window, she leans forward in her seat, peering out the windshield, “I don’t see tire tracks on the road,”

“She hasn’t been up here in a couple of weeks,” Alex explains, “her property started at the cut off at that gate we went past a while back.”

“Woah,” Tobin looks at her, “how big is her property?”

Alex wiggles her eyebrows at her, “About forty acres,”

“Sweet!” Tobin exclaims, “This is going to be awesome!”

 

“No way!” Alex whispers as the cabin comes into view, “Are you kidding me?”

“Holy shit!” Tobin exclaims.

It’s a large two story log cabin, complete with a wrap around covered porch. It’s landscaped beautifully with natural plants and trees and no real lawn whatsoever. Wildflowers surround the area with gravel pathways leading to the steps and then around to the side of the cabin. The driveway is gravel and they can hear the tires crunch as they slowly come to a stop.

They both exit the vehicle, looking at the cabin with amazement.

“This place is nuts,” Tobin shakes her head, looking at Alex as they walk along the path to the porch, “how do we get in?”

“We have to look for the statue of Aphrodite, the key is under it,” Alex states as they climb the five steps up onto the porch, “it’s here on the porch,”

“That it?” Tobin points to a white marble statue, tilting it on an angle and sliding a key on a key chain out from under it. She hands it to Alex, “You do the honors,”

Alex winks at her, “Here goes nothing,” she grins, inserting the key and twisting the doorknob. They enter and both stop after only taking a few steps in. Their view in the entryway leads to an open concept living room with a huge fireplace on the north wall, the open kitchen to the south side. The focal of the cabin is the wall of glass windows on the west wall, from floor to ceiling, interrupted with French doors off to the side that lead to a large deck in the back.

“This place is sick,” Tobin whispers, taking a few more steps in, looking around the living room. It’s tastefully rustic with deep brown leather couches, hardwood floors and primitive art on the two walls.

“Donna said to look on the kitchen counter,” Alex announces as she enters the kitchen, looking on the island counter. There’s a legal pad with instructions.

“Okay, next to the bathroom is a utility closet,” She reads aloud, “in the closet is the water shutoff, turn it to the left,”

Tobin finds the closet, using the flashlight on her phone to follow the instructions Alex reads.

“What about the electricity?” Tobin inquires.

“It’s on,” Alex states, “see,” she flicks on a light switch.

“Oh,” Tobin grins, “I just assumed it’d be off,”

“Let’s go get our stuff,” Alex suggests, “we should get the groceries in the fridge,”

Half an hour later, Tobin and Alex are exploring the cabin. All of the food has been put away, their bags are still near the door and they are looking through the rooms on the main floor. They climb the steps to the master, both feeling a little uneasy to sleep there.

“Yeah, no,” Tobin shakes her head, “it’s Donna’s you know?”

“Yeah,” Alex agrees as they come down from the second floor, “I like the room in the back on the first floor, the one with the big window.”

“Cool,” Tobin says, grabbing both of their bags and setting them on the bed. When she comes back, she sees Alex has opened the French doors and is walking out onto the back deck.

“Tobin!” She gestures to her excitedly, “Look at this!”

The yard has an outdoor kitchen under a rustic circular pergola, made with heavy wood beams. Patio furniture is scattered around the eating area, there’s an outdoor bed, lounge chairs and a firepit. Tobin immediately checks out the kitchen area, lifting the lid to the cook top, inspecting the dials and flicking it on. A smile crosses her face, looking up at
Alex, “You hungry?”

Alex nods, “Let’s figure out dinner, yeah?”

They retreat inside, bumping shoulders through the door in their haste to get dinner in their bellies.

 

After a grilled chicken dinner, they wash the dishes together, then return outside to watch the sunset on the back deck. Tobin makes a fire and they huddle together on a lounge chair, watching the flames, not really talking much, just enjoying the symphony of nature coming alive as night descends.

They get chilly as the flames go down, the moon illuminating the deck, casting dark shadows everywhere. Just when they get up to head back inside, a loud screech echoes from the woods, freezing them both.

Tobin looks at Alex with fear in her eyes.

“Just an owl, sweetie,” Alex says, “that’s all it is,”

Tobin nods, but looks unsettled. They head in, both yawning from the day. Alex is tired from the driving for hours and Tobin is just tired. They take turns getting ready for bed, neither one changing in front of one another, keeping things rather chaste.

“Oh,” Alex moans, “this bed is almost as comfortable as yours,” she says, shimmying further down the bed and snuggling in.

“You should get a new mattress,” Tobin suggests, “we can look at the tag on mine,”

“Yeah, maybe I should,” Alex agrees sleepily, rolling to her side to move closer to Tobin. They come together under the covers, a tangle of limbs, a window left open for some air circulation, hearing the frogs and crickets and breathing in the fresh air.

 

“Oh, God,” Tobin calls out, “it’s her!”

Alex flinches when she feels Tobin knee her leg, her eyes fluttering open, putting her arm to defend herself against Tobin’s wildly swinging hand. She hears aloud screeching of an owl coming through the window.

“Tobin!” she says loudly, gripping her, “Wake up!”

In the moonlight Alex can see Tobin’s face, it’s twisted in fear and when Tobin turns her head to look at look, her eyes widen and screams in fright, her body flinching.

“It’s me, it’s Alex,” she states sternly, pinning her shoulder down, wanting her to wake up. Alex holds Tobin’s jaw with her hand, “Wake up sweetie, it’s just a dream,” Tobin’s mouth is moving but nothing is coming out, her breathing is shallow, almost panting.

“It’s a dream,” Alex repeats, “you’re safe,”

Tobin stops struggling, looking at her closely, blinking rapidly, shaking her head, “Alex?” she cries out, her body trembling.

“Yes,” Alex says, moving to her knees, “it’s me, you’re safe,”

“Why won’t it stop?” Tobin cries, getting to her knees as well, “I can’t stop it, make it stop,” she pleads, “I’m so tired, please make it stop!” Tobin sobs as she curls in a ball, crying hard. Alex puts her hand on Tobin’s back, feeling how her shirt is damp with sweat. Alex leans down, now wrapping her arm around Tobin, stretching out to hold her, whispering quiet calming words to her. Her hand goes under Tobin’s shirt, feeling how her skin is cool.

Tobin is weeping softly, still trembling in Alex’s arms. “I’m just so tired,” Tobin cries miserably, her voice gravelly and low.

“Come here,” Alex shifts so she’s next to her, “take your shift off, it’s wet and you’re freezing,”

Tobin sits up and removes her shirt, using it to wipe her face and then she tosses it on the floor. She watches as Alex removes her shirt and then lies back, sliding her hands around Tobin’s waist, tugging her close. “Come here,” she urges, spreading her legs as Tobin lies half on her, her leg falling in between Alex’s, feeling Alex’s hot skin as their upper halves meet. She feels Alex’s hand glide up and down her back, then how one hand slides up to the back of her head, gently directing her down to rest on her chest.

Alex seems to sense that Tobin doesn’t know what to do with her hands, so she brings her left one up and guides Tobin’s hand to cup her breast. She puts her own hand over Tobin’s, continuing to rub her back, feeling how she calms.

“Sleep, sweetheart,” Alex coos, her own voice low and raspy, “I’ve got you,” she husks, feeling how Tobin’s fingers slightly tighten on her breast, giving it a soft squeeze. Alex feels how Tobin trembles against her, she hears Tobin’s chest hitch and can feel how Tobin swallows hard before nuzzling her head into her neck, a soft sigh escaping her lips as she gets comfortable. They both grow still, each slowly relaxing.

Alex pulls the comforter up over their bare shoulders, shifting her hips to accept Tobin’s weight on her. She turns her head and places a series of kisses on her forehead before turning her neck and letting her jaw rest against her.

 

XXXX

 

August 17

 

Alex feels lips on her neck, soft kisses being placed on it, slowing trailing down and growing more determined, sucking just a little harder, each one lingering just a little longer. The hand on her breast begins moving, a slow rhythmic grasp. Alex spreads her legs wide, feeling as the weight on her starts an agonizingly slow rut against her core. She starts to move her hips in unison, her hands finding Tobin’s muscular ass, gripping each cheek hard and driving Tobin’s hips to meet her own.

She let’s out a moan, arching her back, that exquisite feeling building up in her, setting her on fire.

“Tobin,” she moans, rocking her body against her.

“Huh?” Tobin moans sleepily beside her, moving her hand along Alex’s stomach, “You say something?” she asks, her voice edged with sleep.

Alex’s eyes shoot open, realizing she was just having a very explicit dream. She glances around, blinking as she discovers the sun isn’t up just yet, it must be on the edge of dawn.

“Sleep,” she says, shifting her hips so she’s on her side, feeling the wetness in her between legs. Tobin’s hand snakes up under Alex’s pillow, finding Alex’s and holding it loosely, her thumb rubbing soft circles on the back of her hand. Alex smiles at the sweetness of it, loving how tactile Tobin is, how she seeks her out in her sleep.

Then her thoughts shift back to that dream, what a doozy it was. She’s glad she woke up before things got really heated, imagining waking Tobin up by rutting herself on her leg or something else that is equally embarrassing.

Alex shifts once more, resting her right hand on Tobin’s forearm, slowly drifting back to sleep with the soft sounds of Tobin’s calm exhales.

 

Tobin was bewildered when Alex took her shirt off, showing her naked chest and beckoning to her. The fleeting thought that she was trying to seduce her crosses her mind, but she knows Alex wouldn’t do that, not when she’s upset like she is. She settles down on her, feeling her hot skin, making her tremble at her touch. She thinks of her dream, it was the woman from the platform, the first story she heard back in the storage unit. She wonders why that dream happened, then realized it was probably that owl screech they heard right before bed.

She can feel herself growing calmer as Alex rubs her back, she’s trying to match Alex’s steady breathing but her breath hitches a couple of times as she tries to get into a slower rhythm. Soon she can feels herself molding into Alex, how comfortable she feels, how it just seems like they fit together like this. Her and Kelley never slept like this, they never really cuddled in bed, for sure on the couch but not like this.

This is the intimacy that Tobin realizes she’s been missing. She nuzzles into Alex’s neck, inhaling her scent and sighing contently, finally relaxing. She feels the warm comforter coming up over her bare back and shoulders, thinking about how wonderful Alex is her last thought as she drifts to sleep.

 

“I think that is longest pee I’ve ever heard,” Alex croaks from the bed as Tobin crawls back in, burrowing herself under the covers, snuggling up close to her. The room has a slight chill in the early morning. “Are you some kind of a camel?” she questions with a tired grin, flipping to her side as Tobin takes her in her arms.

“A sleepy camel,” Tobin replies, yawning in her ear, “can you sleep a little longer?” She asks as she squeezes her close to her, Alex feeling Tobin’s chest against her back.

“Uh huh,” Alex says, once again taking Tobin’s hand and placing it on her breast, letting a sigh out as they fall back asleep.

 

 

“Did you read this?” Tobin questions as Alex is cutting up some fruit to add to their brunch. It’s after eleven and they’ve finally emerged from the bedroom, both a little tired still, feeling that hangover from too much sleep.

“No, I just looked at the first page,” she replies, popping a strawberry slice in her mouth.

“There’s stuff about a boat, like, directions to where the lake is and the different hiking trails and,” her eyes grow wider and she grins at her, “they have ATVS!”

Alex grins back, “Awesome,” she says, picking up her plate, “come on, let’s eat and then we can go check it out,”

“Yeah,” Tobin comes around to grab her plate, stopping to take the legal pad and continues to read from it while they eat.

“There’s a bath house with a toilet and showers by the lake and a fire ring with a grill,” Tobin nods approvingly, then she looks at Alex, “you packed sleeping bags, did you pack a tent?”

Alex gives her a sly smile, “A tent, an air mattress and a couple of fishing poles,”

“Were you a Girl Scout as a kid?” Tobin jokes.

Alex slaps her arm lightly, “Girl Scouts was cool,” she sasses back.

“If you say so,” Tobin edges her chair away from her, chuckling.

 

 

“Woah,” Tobin says as she slowly dismounts from the ATV, walking to stand beside Alex, “this is rad,” she slides her arm around Alex’s waist.

“It’s beautiful,” Alex says.

It’s a fairly a large lake, a manmade beach nearest to them, a quaint cabin nearby that they found held a bathroom and a shower. Mature trees ring the lake, casting shadows on the water. There’s a small dock that stretches out about twenty feet into the water, with three benches at the end.

“This is like, magical,” Tobin says as she surveys the water, “look, fish are jumping!”

Alex hums, “Wonder what’s in there,”

“Wanna throw in a line?” Tobin asks her.

Alex contemplates it for a moment, “Sure,” she says quietly.

Tobin realizes Alex might be thinking about her brother, remembering their past conversation about it. “I’ll go grab the stuff,” she says just as quiet, leaning in and kissing her cheek. She then trots back to the ATVs, unstrapping the two cylindrical pole cases and taking the tackle box. She comes back near Alex who is still looking out at the water, so she sits down on the wooden dock, taking her time opening a case and putting the rod and reel together. Alex sits next to her, opening the other case, pausing as she runs her fingers over the reel, a sorrowful look on her face. After a minute, she puts the rod together, attaching the reel and running the line through the guides to the tip top. She sets it down next to her, looking over at Tobin who gives her a half smile.

“What tackle should we use?” Tobin questions, “I haven’t been fishing in a few years,” she shrugs.

“Um,” Alex considers, looking over the trays in the box, “maybe we should start with these bright squiggly guys,” she points to the middle tray, “I usually have pretty good luck these,”

Tobin carefully selects an orange one, then finds a hook. Just as she starts to tie on the hook Alex speaks.

“Here, let’s switch,” she says, handing the pole over to her. She just can’t bring herself to use Jerry’s pole. Tobin silently exchanges the poles and then begins to attach the hook. Alex prepares hers as well, working silently.

When they stand up and each cast their lines, Tobin sees how Alex is frowning.

“Will you tell me about him?” She asks her quietly.

“Huh?” Alex asks, clearly not listening.

“Will you tell me about Jerry?” Tobin asks, letting another cast go.

“What do you want to know about him?” Alex asks, surprised by her request.

Tobin looks over at her and shrugs, “Whatever you want to share,”

Alex just looks at her, then she twists her mouth up as she thinks. “He could be the funniest sore loser when he lost something,” she says, “like, his car keys or a ping pong game or cards,”

Tobin nods, “Uh huh,”

“He was super competitive,” she continues, then elbows her, “kinda like you,”

Tobin side eyes her, “Yeah?”

“Uh huh,” Alex nods, smiling, “this one time, during the 2000 Olympics, we put together our own,” she smiles at the memory, “in the backyard with my sisters, Jerry insisting we had to pick countries to represent and then we used some of my Dad’s old under shirts to make uniforms with their flags on them,”

“That’s awesome,” Tobin smiles as she sits down on the dock, letting her feet hang over the edge. Alex does the same, a few feet away so they don’t hook each other when they cast. “What country were you?”

“I chose England,” Alex replies, “I think my Mom still has the shirts somewhere,” she muses, “we had an opening ceremony, some of our friends joined in, I think there was like, fifteen or so,”

“That’s awesome,” Tobin laughs, “did you win any medals?”

Alex smirks at her, “I swept all of the running events,” she says, “Jerry was so mad! He was four years older than me and I still beat him, he insisted we do a weightlifting competition,” she laughs.

“How did he get into art?” Tobin asks, curious about how the studio came to be in existence.

“Oh, he was always drawing,” Alex smiles as she casts again, “we both were. He made his own comic books and he always made birthday cards for everyone,” she sighs, “he was super sentimental, he had a day planner, like, he was in high school and he kept this Snoopy day planner with the dates of everyone’s birthdays in it. He had it for years.”

“Did he go to art school?” Tobin asks.

Alex shakes her head, “No, he moved to Portland after college, he studied business,” she replies, “He worked in finance for a while, then he managed his own money and created the studio,”

“Huh,” Tobin is kind of surprised.

“It shocked the hell out of everyone,” Alex shakes her head, “but he did great. He was a people person and attracted a lot of talented artists and the studio became a success very fast.”

“So, then he started doing his own thing? Like, art wise? What was it?” Tobin asks. She sends out a log cast.

“He illustrated,” Alex explains, “he schmoozed a bunch of his financial friends and did portraits for them in their offices, a lot of corporate work. He really found a niche. But he had a playful side,” she says, smiling, “he made most of the pots in the backyard,” she says, “he could have really been an amazing ceramist.”

Tobin looks over at her, “That sounds pretty cool,”

Alex nods with a smile, “He was so much fun, too,” she says, “he would throw the best parties in the backyard, everyone would end up dancing and drinking way too much,” she reels in her line, then turns to look at Tobin, “what about your brother?”

“Jeffrey?” Tobin smirks as she casts her line again, “He’s a senior in college,” she says, “he golfs and he’s pretty good.” She looks over at her, “But he’s a better photographer,” she says, “I think that’s what he wants to do,”

The two talk about their siblings, what they do for a living and which one they’re each closest with.

In the two hours they sit and cast their lines, they don’t catch any fish, but what they learn about each other is priceless. They pack up the rods and reels, stashing them in the bath house for when they come back later.

“Thank you,” Alex says as she envelops Tobin in a hug, “you made this so nice today,” she smiles at her and kisses her softly. “You know, people don’t ask about Jerry anymore,” she frowns, “I know people get weirded out sometimes asking about someone that’s dead,” she looks at Tobin tenderly, “so I really appreciate you letting me rattle on about Jer. It was nice to talk about those memories.”

Tobin kisses her, smiling when they part, “He’s still your brother,” she says quietly, “I want to know about him just like your sisters and your parents,”

Alex smiles, leaning in and resting her head on Tobin’s chest, “Oh, sweetie,” she says as she hugs her tight, “thank you,” She feels a surge of emotion in her chest, her thoughts swirling that she loves Tobin and is so grateful for her right at this moment.

 

“You’re sure?” Alex asks warily, looking at her closely.

“Yeah,” Tobin replies, “I think the owl took me by surprise last night,” she explains, “if I hear anything like that tonight, I’ll just tell myself it’s an owl,”

“We don’t have to camp,” Alex hedges, “we can just stay here,” They’re lounging on the couch right now.

Tobin sighs, “Can we try one night?” she asks, “I,” she pauses, “I don’t want to stop doing things because I’m afraid I’ll have a nightmare about it,”

Alex nods, “Okay,” she says, “how about you pack up the food for dinner and breakfast and I’ll get the gear together?”

“Sure,” Tobin smiles, “I think I saw a cooler in the garage, I’ll grab that.”

 

 

“Now that is a tent,” Tobin states as she watches Alex the final pole to complete the tent set up. It’s rather large, maybe a four person tent. Alex wiggles her eyebrows at her as she disappears into the shelter, rummaging around in there. Tobin turns and goes back to her task of cutting up vegetables in preparation for dinner. She’s actually cutting everything she’d packed up to make it easier in the morning for breakfast. She prides herself in thinking ahead like that.

She’s planning to make steaks for dinner although she was thinking of seeing if she could catch a fish to eat as well. She saw a filet knife in the tackle box so she thinks she’ll give it a try. Once she has all of the veggies cut and put in little baggies, she dices the potatoes she brought, separating the slices into two bags for dinner and breakfast.

Alex is still doing whatever in the tent, so Tobin grabs her rod, chooses a different color of bait to use and heads to the deck to fish. As she sends out her first cast, she smiles, thinking of her own times fishing with family, her brother Jeffrey especially. She contemplates what her life would be like if Jeffrey was gone, if something ever happened to him and she just can’t picture it.

She thinks about what sense of loss Alex feels and it makes her sad. Jerry sounded like a terrific person and she wished she could have met him. She feels in her heart that his spirit is around and knows what is going on and she sends up a prayer that he’s happy for Alex.

She jumps when she feels a hand on her back, turning to see Alex looking at her with concerned eyes.

“You okay?” she asks quietly, her hand lingering on her back.

“Oh, yeah,” Tobin grins at her, “just thinking,”

“Oh,” Alex says, “I called your name a few times and you didn’t respond.” She gives her a thoughtful look, “Deep in thought?”

Tobin gives her a small smile, “I was thinking about Jerry,” she replies honestly, “and I think he knows exactly what’s happening in your life,” she says, putting her free hand around Alex’s waist and drawing her close, “and every time he suddenly pops in your head, I think that’s his way of saying he’s around,”

“Oh, hon,” Alex says, giving her this sad smile, “you’re so sweet,” she says and turns into her, bringing a hand up to caress her jaw and kiss her. They deepen the kiss, Tobin still holding her, although her hand has dropped to Alex’s waist, the kiss becoming deeper, more passionate.

Tobin’s rod suddenly jerks, her hand tightening its grip and she raises it, pulling her head back, “Fish on!” she yells, making Alex laugh.

“Thanks Jer!” Alex shouts, laughing as her voice echoes across the lake.

Tobin reels in the fighting fish, raising and lowering her rod as the fish struggles against her. Alex trots back to the bath house, grabbing the net and running back to Tobin’s side. She kneels on the dock, ready to plunge the net int the water as Tobin guides it close.

“Look at that!” Alex squeals as she raises the squirming net, getting to her feet. “What a beautiful trout,” she grins at Tobin, “it’s huge.”

“Holy shit,” Tobin says, bending to retrieve the snippers from the tackle box. She unhooks the fish, looking up at Alex. “Want fish for dinner?”

Alex nods with wide eyes, “Hell yeah,” she says, “do you want to filet it or me?”

“How about together? I haven’t done it in a long time,”

They walk back to the picnic area, Alex selects a rock and smashes the fish’s head to kill it. She expertly filets it, explaining to Tobin how it’s done.

Tobin rummages around the sack of dry goods she packed, finding the box of fish breading. She retrieves the rest of the items she needs and creates her outdoor kitchen.

Alex walks halfway around the lake to launch the fish remains far along the shoreline across from where they are. As she walks back, she sees Tobin is getting a fire going in the firepit. Tobin smiles brightly at her and hands her a beer, “It’s a cheat day,” she announces, leaning in and kissing her softly, “are you ready for some surf and turf?”

“What can I do to help?” Alex smiles at her, taking a drink from her bottle.

“There’s a fry pan in the box, if you could bring that over and maybe put in a little olive oil and sea salt and do the veggies?” Tobin asks, “I’ll take care of the steak and fish,”
They cook the food together over the open the flame, Tobin swinging the grill grate over it, using tongs to move the steak around.

When Alex plates