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I was immediately peeved when I woke up to the sound of car doors slamming, heavy objects being lugged around, and a parade of hired movers helping a small family get settled in next door. I grunted and pulled my comforter over my head in hopes of some noise cancellation. As predicted, it didn’t work. I rolled over and saw that I had left my window open from the night before. When I got up to close it, it hit me that things would change. That house had been empty for years. Conveniently, my window and the window of the room across from mine in the neighboring house were connected by the rooftop. I spent most of my time on that rooftop, either reading or listening to music while counting the stars. Sometimes, when I needed a break from my family, or if I had a bad game, I would crawl into the room that was indirectly linked to mine and relax. I wouldn’t be able to do those things anymore. I would have to get used to escaping to my room instead of nobody’s room.

I was shaken out of my thoughts when I caught a glimpse of who was moving in through my window. She had long, flowing walnut hair and was, as far as I could tell from my second-floor view, very attractive. Maybe this wasn’t a total loss, I thought to myself as I watched her carry a box into the house. I couldn’t tell if she was straining to carry it, which caused her arm muscles to pop, or if she was just that jacked. I let out the breath I was holding when she entered her new house. I might as well get ready for the day. But when I walked to my night-stand to check the time on my phone, I was annoyed all over again. Eight in the morning?! A door loudly closed outside. I shook my head in agitation and stormed back to my window to close it and the curtains. I hesitated as I saw the girl again. She was walking out of the house but paused. She turned around and met my gaze, startling me. I frantically shut the window and curtains and turned around. I hadn’t even met the girl and she already saw me in nothing but a sports bra and shorts. I didn’t realize my heart was pounding so hard until it was all over. I shook my head while walking back to my bed and getting under the covers. I was determined to get another few hours of sleep, but instead, my mind kept wandering back to the girl’s warm, hazel eyes and how things were changing, yet again.

I managed to climb out of bed a few hours later. The commotion outside had subsided, to my relief. I groggily opened my curtains to let in some natural sunlight and was surprised to see that across from me, the previously empty room was being occupied by the girl from that morning. She was too busy organizing her clothes into drawers to notice me. I smiled to myself. At least my former safe haven was being taken by someone as beautiful as her. Hopefully, she was as nice as she looked.

“Tobin! You slept through breakfast! I saved you some pancakes!” My mom yelled from downstairs. That was enough to break me out of my trance. I sloppily threw on whatever shirt came to eye first and headed downstairs to eat.

“Good morning sweetheart, or should I say good afternoon?” My mom joked as I was fixing my plate of brunch. “I gotta get as many hours of sleep as I can before school completely drains me. Where’s the syrup?” She handed it to me as she sat down at the dining table. She usually only did that when something was up. I hesitantly sat down in front of her.

“Aww, I can’t believe it’ll be your senior year of high school! The more you grow up, the more you remind me of Dad,” She reached over the table to brush my messy brown hair out of my face. “Did you just roll out of bed? I could’ve sworn I heard you walking around earlier.”

“The new neighbors and their loud doors woke me up,” I deadpanned.

“Well, that’s why you wake up early! You get-”

“More hours in the day and a better sleep at night. You’ve only been telling us that since we practically came out of your womb,” She laughed and nudged me in the arm.

“Speaking of habits, is there something you want to tell me? You don’t hover over us while we eat for nothing,” I asked mid-chew.

“Well, I just wanted to let you know that I invited the new neighbors over for dinner,” I nearly choked on a bite of pancake. “Tonight?”

“Yes...why? Is something wrong?” I sighed and finished my plate.

“No. Is Jeffrey up?” I asked, hoping to change the topic.

“He’s in his room playing that damn game. I swear, one day I’m going to chuck his computer into the trash. Could you let him know we’ll be having company tonight?”

“Of course.”

“Thanks hun. You’re the best. You go get cleaned up, I’ll tidy things up down here,” She took my plate and kissed my head. I got up and climbed the stairs, stopping at my little brother’s room. I knocked twice before cracking the door open a bit.

“We’re having the neighbors over for dinner tonight, so you might want to clean your room and help mom around the house,” I added in the last part to give myself a break. He was glued to his computer all day, playing that stupid game and yelling swear words at strangers online. He never contributed anything to the household and let his room turn into a pig’s sty. Every time Mom asked him to even eat a meal with us, he’d throw a fit and slam his door shut. Typical annoying, emotionally stunted, 14 year old brother.

“Why do I have to help?” He whined, not taking his eyes off of his screen for one second. There was a dirty plate laying on his bed from breakfast that morning. I guessed Mom had let him eat in his room.

“You probably won’t have to do much. Just wipe off the counters and tables and do the dishes. That’s nothing. Or, you could help Mom cook dinner. You’d be able to persuade her to make your favorite dish I bet.” He huffed.

“Okay fine. Close the door when you leave.”

That was all it took for him to agree. I did as he said and went back to my room. Out of curiosity, I looked out my window to see what the girl was doing. She was unpacking a cardboard box of what looked like soccer jerseys. I guess she hadn’t finished with her clothes yet. She looked up at me and we made eye contact. Instead of frantically breaking it, I gave her a small smile and a wave. She sheepishly waved back with a smile and went back to her box. On a whim, I decided to open my window and talk to her. I couldn’t believe that I was being so proactive. As I partially leaned out of the window, she noticed and gave me a confused look. I didn’t even know what I was going to say to her, but I knew that I wanted to hear her voice. As she hesitantly approached her window to open it, I gulped. Here goes nothing!

“Welcome to the neighborhood!” I greeted, kicking myself mentally for being so corny.

“Thanks! Nice to see you’re wearing a shirt this time,” She smiled as I felt heat rush to my face in embarrassment.

“Oh! Yeah-uh, sorry about that. Next time I’ll remember to close my curtain before I sleep,” She started chuckling at how flustered I was.

“It’s okay, it’s fine. I didn’t mind at all” She shyly smirked. I giggled nervously. C’mon Tobin, play it cool.

“I’ll keep that in mind then...” I trailed off, allowing an awkward silence to settle.
“I’m Tobin Heath by the way. And you?”

“Christen Press. Nice to meet you,” She smiled again, which riled up the butterflies in my stomach.

“That’s such a beautiful name,” I said before I could stop myself. “I mean, uh, I just really like it,” She blushed and seemed taken aback, but maintained her contagious, bright smile.

“Thank you! I like your name too. I have to finish unpacking, unfortunately, but it was great meeting you!” She started to retreat back into her room.

“Wait! I’ll see you at dinner later tonight, right?”

“Of course! I never turn down free food,” she joked.

“Can’t argue with that. I’ll let you get back to your unpacking.”

“Thanks, later!”

I smiled and went back into my room and shut the window. That went way better than I expected. I still didn’t know what had gotten into me, but I wasn’t mad about it. I found myself wanting to talk to her again, but I knew that I would be pushing it if I interrupted her. Instead, I decided to distract myself with cleaning my room. I had become a summer slob with piles of clothes on the floor, pens and pencils sprawled every which way on my desk, and dirty socks from soccer practice laying around. I wish I could say they were my lucky ones, but I was just lazy. That tradition of not cleaning your socks in hopes of good fortune was disgusting anyways. A few girls on the school’s team subscribed to that superstition. It always made me gag.

I haphazardly organized my mess. It only took about an hour. My phone buzzed with my daily reminder to start my workout. Perfect timing. I was already wearing athletic shorts, so I just swapped my t-shirt for a tank top and grabbed some (clean) socks as I went downstairs.

“Wow! Look at you, getting all fit! Be safe on your jog, sweetheart,” Mom told me as she was rolling out pizza dough. I put my shoes on and headed towards the front. I took a deep breath before I opened the door, pushing aside the anxiety that was rising in my chest.

“I’ll be back soon to help out!” I yelled as I closed it behind me. I felt the warm, humid, summer air stick to my face as soon as the breeze hit me. I glanced up at Christen’s window and saw that she was peering at me. As soon as I met her gaze, she jumped, startled by the fact that I had caught her in the act, and immediately left the window pane. I couldn’t help but grin as I started walking in the opposite direction towards my favorite neighborhood trail.

Chapter Text

The Press family would arrive soon. Mom and Jeffrey had cooked up their signature homemade pizzas (per Jeffrey’s request) and made--or rather, defrosted and threw in the oven--garlic bread as a side. I helped throw together a last minute salad as mom ran to the grocery store to pick up dessert. I was not surprised to find Jeffrey severely underdressed, wearing basketball shorts and a Fruit of the Loom white tee. I was wearing my nice jeans paired with a grey, long sleeve button up, which was much more on par with how Mom told us to dress. My nerves were off the charts, but I forced myself to relax. All I had to do was be polite, eat my food, and chime in every once in a while. That was it. If I stuck to those three things, I’d be alright.

Mom came in through the garage door somehow managing to carry two cakes at once, all while opening and closing the door. I relieved her of one of the cakes, setting it in the kitchen. Jeffrey sat impatiently at “his” place at the dinner table.

“When can we eat? I’m getting hungry,” He complained, fiddling with his silverware.

“We can eat when they get here,” Mom answered.

“When are they gonna get here?”

“Jeff, all you have to do is be the precious little boy you are. Have some patience.”

“I’m not little!”

The doorbell rang before Mom could whip him into shape. Mom gave him one last look of expectancy before rushing to answer the door. I took a deep breath and sat down across from him. After a few moments of small talk, Mom ushered the Press’ into the house, telling them to make themselves at home. Christen and I made eye contact, smiling at each other as she sat down next to me.

“Hey stranger,” She greeted, “You have a lovely home.”

“Thanks, built it myself.”

“No you didn’t! It was already made before we got here, liar!” Jeffrey interrupted. I glared at him. “It was a joke. Ever heard of those?”

“Yes I have. I’m not stupid.”

“I beg to differ, but that’s a conversation for another time. Christen, this is Jeffrey, my little brother-”

“I’m not little!” He huffed again, admitting defeat and slouching in his chair. “Hi Christen,” he mumbled as a teenage girl sat next to him. She looked a little older than Jeff, and was dressed significantly better. But compared to Jeffrey, that wasn’t hard to accomplish.

“Channing! Guys, this is my little sister. Channing, meet Tobin,” she gestured to me, “and Jeffrey,” she nodded to the brat across from me. Channing gave a shy smile. My mom and Christen’s parents were sitting in the living room talking.

“Channing will be a sophomore,” Christen tried to get her to talk, but all she did was nod in confirmation. Christen shrugged and turned back to me. She looked even more stunning up close. She had pulled back the top of her hair, leaving the rest to fall over her shoulders. She wore a black, spaghetti strap blouse and skinny jeans. It was hard not to let my eyes roll over her body, but I managed to control myself.

 

Before her and I could engage in our own conversation, the parents made their way to the table. Mom rushed to the kitchen and on instinct, I jumped up to help her. She carried the two pizzas to the table while I followed her holding the salad bowl. Right as Mom and I sat down, Jeffrey had managed to grab two slices of cheese pizza and start stuffing his face, as if he was being neglected. For an incoming freshman, he sure acted like a 6th grader.

“So, Tobin, I hear you play soccer,” Christen’s dad, Cody, looked at me with raised eyebrows, expecting me to go on.

“Yup. I’ve been playing since I was four-”

“She got recruited last year, so she’s off to North Carolina for college, with all expenses paid. Go Tarheels!” Mom interrupted excitedly. The Press’ looked impressed, and even though my mom’s interruption annoyed me, I couldn’t help but smile.

“You’re gonna be a freshman this year?” Cody inquired.

“No, a senior in high school.” His jaw dropped.

“That’s amazing! Do you have any games coming up? We’d love to see a rising star in action,” Christen’s mom, Stacy, asked. Christen shifted in her seat and started pushing her salad around.

“The summer league just ended. I don’t play again until the school’s soccer season starts up in January.”

“That’s a bummer. Maybe you can convince Christen to try out. She used to be a beast on the field. It would be a shame to let that talent go to waste,” Cody gave her a pointed look, which she avoided by staring at her plate. A tense silence followed the subtle jab.

My mom eventually cleared her throat;

“Who wants cake?”

After the Press family left, I helped Mom clear the table and do some dishes. Jeffrey, being the stubborn ass that he was, went to his room. How dare we take time out of his gaming?

“Well, that certainly got awkward,” Mom sighed as she scrubbed a plate.

“You can say that again. Between Mr. Press’ remark and Channing practically being mute, I thought I’d die of extreme discomfort.”

“Christen seems very nice, though. You should show her the ropes, make her feel less alone.” She handed me the plate so I could dry it and put it in its rightful spot. I did so with haste so I could get upstairs as soon as possible. Although I hardly knew Christen, I felt compelled to make sure she was okay after that painstaking dinner.

“So, how’s Kelley?”

I mentally kicked myself for forgetting about my girlfriend. Idiot.

“She’s good! Still in Fayetteville visiting family, still bored without her. Tomorrow’s our anniversary.”

“Ah yes, young love. Ya know, your father and I were high school sweethearts,” Mom handed me a wet fork.

“I know, Mom. You guys would never shut up about it,” She laughed and turned off the sink water.

“I wish he was still around to see how amazing you’re turning out. He’d be so proud of you. I’m so proud of you. Your sisters are, too. I’m sure Jeffrey is, he just has a funny way of showing it.”

“Thanks Mom,” There was a pause.

“I miss him.”

Mom pulled me into a tight hug, “I miss him too.”

When I got to my room, I saw that my phone had blown up with text messages. A smile immediately crossed on my face when I saw who it was.

Kelleyyy: Hope your dinner with the neighbors went well!
Kelleyyy: Sorry I haven’t been texting today, we were out literally ALL DAY
Kelleyyy: I got you an anniversary present so it wasn’t all for nothing ;)
Kelleyyy: We’re going out to eat, I’ll harass you after. Love you tobs <3
Tobyyy: it’s all good, missed u tho :( love u too

I changed into my favorite pair of Adidas sweatpants and a school hoodie before opening my curtains to check on Christen. She had changed too. She was sporting a tank top and spandex. She’s absolutely breathtaking. I knocked on my window to get her attention. She jumped at the sound, but relaxed when she saw me waving at her. We opened our windows.

“Hey, didn’t mean to scare you. You doing okay? The dinner was…”

“Bad, yeah I know. Sorry about that, by the way. The pizza was delicious, though.”

“Now that your mom has the recipe, I’m sure you’ll be eating a lot more of it. Anyways, answer my question,” Christen cocked her head.

“You didn’t ask one.”

“It was the first thing I said to you, fool.” She furrowed her eyebrows together in thought.

“...Oh! Well, I’m doing okay. I just wish my dad would stop pestering me about soccer, though. He knows it’s a sensitive subject,” She sighed.

“Hm. Do you wanna talk about it?” She stopped, letting a breath out and running her fingers through her wet, wavy hair.

“I’d love to, but this isn’t exactly the most comfortable way to do so,” She gestured at the space between us, and the fact that we were both partially hanging out of window sills.

“I’ve got the perfect solution,” I left the window to grab the pillows and blankets I only used for the rooftop. I carefully crawled out of my room and started setting it up.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m making the no man’s land comfortable so we can talk. That okay?”

“Yeah! You didn’t have to do that for me, though. That’s really sweet,” I looked at her while simultaneously arranging the pillows. It was all muscle memory, but she didn’t need to know that. She had a small, shy smile on her face that made my face warm.

“It’s no problem, really. Come on out to Tobin’s Place!” I boomed in my best announcer voice. She laughed as she cautiously crawled out of her window and onto the roof.

“It’s more of a neutral space than your space, but that’s okay,” She sat down next to me. I fought the urge to scoot closer to her. Dude, you literally met her today. Keep it in your pants! Not to mention, you’re taken…

I cleared my throat, “So, what’s on your mind, Chris?”

“Chris?”

“Yeah, short for Christen. Nobody’s ever called you that?”

“Not really, but it’s okay if you do,” I hoped she didn’t see me blush.

“Anyways, it’s not that I hate soccer, because I don’t. I really love it, actually. I follow the National Women’s Soccer League-”

“What team?”

“Utah Royals, duh.”

“Gross. Portland Thorns all the way. But continue,” She rolled her eyes.

“But yeah, soccer is one of my passions. I used to play a lot when I was younger. Back in Palos Verdes, I used to practice almost everyday on my own, shot after shot. I played year round and-”

“What position?”

“You’d know if you’d let me finish,” She teased.

I held my hands up in surrender. “Sorry! Sorry, go on.”

“Anyways, so I used to play constantly. Coaches from select teams would scout me and recruit me for camps. My freshman year, I made the Varsity school team. I was the only freshman on that level, so it was a huge deal. Unfortunately, half way through the season, I got in a car wreck. I was in the hospital for a few weeks. When I was released, I was so determined to bounce back, and determined to pretend it never happened. I kept pushing myself and testing my limits as a forward. But things just weren’t the same. I went to physical therapy and started doing yoga, but my injuries never healed back to one hundred percent. I fell behind the others while I was gone, and I couldn’t catch up. The harder I tried, the worse my body felt. I really wanted to play, but physically, I couldn’t do it. So, I finished out the season and quit,” She stopped to catch her breath. It was a lot to take in.

“My dad was furious. He was so supportive of my playing, sometimes too supportive. So when I broke the news to him, he was not happy, and that’s putting it lightly. He went on about how I was throwing away my future, how I had wasted my family’s time, so on and so forth. It caused a rift in our relationship, to say the least. It’s been years and he still won’t let it go. I’m about to start my senior year of high school, and he still won’t stop making passive aggressive comments. It’s aggravating,” She looked at me for the first time since she started venting.

“Sorry for unloading all that on you.”

“Don’t apologize! It’s good to talk, get it off your chest.”

“That’s true. Thanks for listening.”

“My pleasure. Could I offer some advice?”

“Sure!”

“I know what it’s like to be injured and be off the team for a stint. Not to that extent, but it happened. Sophomore year I broke my ankle from a ruthless defender playing dirty. It sucked a lot, having to miss essentially the entire season. But what helped me get through it was my mindset. I was eager to get back on the pitch, but I knew if I didn’t let my ankle heal right, I’d never play again. Sometimes my ankle still acts up from overuse, but it’s all about your outlook. As soon as you give up in your head, it’s over. I’m not trying to change your mind or anything, but I think if you gave it another shot with a better mindset, you’d be golden.”

“You’re probably right. I do miss it a lot, but at this point it’s about the principle. I’m just so frustrated with my dad. He makes me not want to play.”

“I get that. My dad used to be like that too.”

“Really? What changed?”

“He died.”

Christen’s eyes went wide, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know, oh my God.”

“It’s okay, really. He died a few years back.”

“Still, though. Jeez, I’m sorry Tobin.”

“Like I said, it’s okay.”

Silence.

“Could I ask you a question?” She asked, turning her torso towards me. For some reason, my heartbeat quickened immensely. Get. It. Together. It’s just a question!

“Yeah.”

“Are you this friendly to everyone?” I chuckled, but I was disappointed. What did you think she would ask? “Hey Tobin, wanna kiss underneath the moonlight?” Get a grip, Heath.

“I wish I could say yes, but that would be the biggest lie I’ve ever told. Not to say I’m mean! Just, would prefer to walk with my earbuds in if you know what I’m saying.”

“I understand that. Thanks for being so nice to me, though. I really appreciate it. I thought I’d have a hard time making friends so late in the school year. I’m glad you’re my neighbor,” She smiled at me and scooted closer (just as I hoped she would!), laying her head on my shoulder. Without thinking, I moved my arm behind her back, gently gripping her waist. “That okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” She whispered.

“Ya know, I could help you get back in the swing of things, if you want. We could do some basic drills together, pass the ball around. Even if you end up not trying out, I think it would be fun. But only if you want to.”

“That sounds awesome.”

We stayed like that for a while. Contrary to my belief, the contact put me at ease instead of triggering my nerves. Us, together under the stars, felt so right.

Chris broke the comfortable silence, “Do you have a speaker?”

“Hell yeah I do. Why?”

“I don’t know why, but I really want to listen to Truth Hurts by Lizzo,” I burst with laughter.

“You’re something else, Chris,” I muttered as I got up to get the music playing.

“Oh what? It’s been stuck in my head this entire day!”

We spent the next hour on the roof, singing along to classics, arguing over which National Women’s Soccer League team was the best, and trading embarrassing stories.

“Wait, you did what?”

“I’m not saying it again! I’m ashamed!” We laughed together, but Christen stopped and tilted her head.

“Did you hear that?” She asked, looking at my window.

“Hear what?”

“I think your phone is buzzing,” We fell silent for a second to listen.

Bzzt bzzt. Bzzt bzzt. I immediately recognized the vibration and scrambled to answer it.

“Oh fuck, it’s my girlfriend. What time is it?” I asked while climbing back into my room. Chris shouted, “Midnight!” I grabbed my phone and turned to her. “Hold on a sec, I gotta take this,” I told her before answering the call.

“Happy anniversary!!” Kelley’s loudness startled me, but I smiled upon hearing her voice. I didn’t realize how much I missed her.

“Happy anniversary babe. Isn’t it one AM over there?”

“Yeah, but for you it’s midnight. I did the math, I’m confident in my calculations.”
“It’s actually two in the morning here…”

“WHAT?”

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Cool your jets, O’Hara,” I giggled. I absolutely loved messing with her. Her fiery reactions, both in conversation and on the pitch, drew me to her.

“I swear to God, when I get back I’m gonna beat your ass. You scared me for a second there, Heath.”

“First of all, you couldn’t beat my ass if you tried,” I mocked. “I have a solid two inches on you-”

“One! It’s one inch! It’s not that much!”

“And second of all, you’ll have to save your attempts for after your birthday. August fourth is right around the corner,” I reminded.

“It’s not even August yet!”

“Uhm, it started for you an hour ago, and for me, well,” I glanced at my phone. “Three minutes ago.”

“Okay, well, our anniversary comes first. I already told my family that I’m benching myself from the activities so you and I can spend some quality FaceTime time together,” My heart melted at her thoughtfulness.

“You don’t have to do that, Kel.”

“I do a lot of things for you that I don’t have to do. But I do them because I want to. I’d do anything for you, you know that,” A pang of guilt struck my chest for letting myself pine over Christen earlier that day.

“You’d eat spiders?”

“...I’d do most things for you.”

“You’d wash your lucky socks for me?”

“I don’t think you heard me, so I’ll say it again. I’d do most things for you,” I chuckled.

“Seriously though. Those things are fucking disgusting.”

“Whoa! Language, Heath!”

“Oh please, you’ve said way worse. Remember when you got wasted-”

“I don’t remember.I don’t recall. You sure that was me? I would never underage drink! Must’ve got me mixed up with someone else,” Sarcasm was practically dripping off her tongue.

“You didn’t even let me finish, but fine,” I looked over my shoulder to check on Chris, who had busied herself with admiring the stars. Whoa, she’s so beauti- NO.

“Hey, I’m kind of hanging with the new neighbor right now. I don’t want to leave her hanging. Besides, you’re probably exhausted. I’ll set an alarm for seven AM-”

“That better be a joke. If you wake me up that early I will not hesitate to ignore your call.”

“Wow, I’m hurt,” I scoffed in mock offense. “Fine. For you, it’ll be ten when I call. I gotta go, I love you, Kel.”

“Love you too, Tobs. Happy two year.”

“Happy two year.”

“Sorry ‘bout that. Hope you weren’t too bored,” I said while settling myself back on the roof, making sure to leave some space between us.

“No worries! So, girlfriend, huh?” She inquired, her expression unreadable. I felt the familiar pit in my stomach, the one that never failed to make an appearance when Kelley and I held hands in public.

“Yeah. Today is our two year anniversary,” I said carefully. “She plays soccer, too! That’s how I met her, actually. Through the school’s Varsity team our freshman year-” I stopped myself from going down memory lane in fear of boring Chris.

“But yeah. Her name is Kelley.”

“What position does she play?”

“Mainly right back, but she’s insanely versatile on the pitch. Can play whatever position she’s put in. There’s no doubt that she’s got a promising pro career ahead of her. I’m really proud of her,” I met Chris’ eye. She was beaming.

“She sounds like a lovely person. I can tell that she makes you happy.”

“Yeah, she does.”

“It’s also nice to know that I’m not the only lesbian in town,” She casually added. My eyes widened with happiness.

“You’re gay too?”

“Yup!”

“How’d your parents take it? You don’t have to tell me, of course.”

“Uh,” She hesitated. “My mom is supportive, but my dad is still struggling with it. He’s gotten a lot better, but he’s still got a long way to go. What about yours?”

“My mom bought me a pride flag for my birthday after I came out, so I’d say she’s on board. Never got to tell my dad, but my mom said they had a running bet on when I would tell them before he died, so I think he would’ve been okay with it.”

“Oh.”

“Sorry, but yeah that’s cool-” I heard my door swing open and angry footsteps storm into my room.

“Can you please turn off your music? I can’t hear my game!” Jeff yelled.

“Dude, you’re not even supposed to be awake.”

“Yeah, but what will Mom say when she finds out that you locked your door when Kelley was over?”

“Yeah, but what will Mom say when I tell her you were up past your bedtime? We’re even, Jeff. I’ll turn it off.”

He opened his mouth as if he had something to say, but instead stormed out of my room and slammed the door shut behind him. I turned back to Christen.

“Sorry, but that’s my queue. Tobin’s Place is closing for the night.”

“I think we should rename it, Tobito and Chris’ Place.”

“...Tobito?” I tried to stifle a laugh, but failed miserably.

“It’s pronounced like Dorito, but Tobito. It’ll grow on you. But if you’re not satisfied, there’s also Toebean, and my personal favorite, Heath Bar,” She somehow managed to say with a straight face.

“Anything but Toebean, Jesus Christ,” I shook my head while carefully standing up. I offered her my hand, “But for real, I should sleep.”

She took it so I could help her get up, “Yeah, me too,” We both started to toss pillows and blankets into my room.

“Thanks for tonight, I had fun,” Chris simpered.

“Me too. Whenever you wanna talk or hang out, I’m like,” I scanned the rooftop. “A couple of feet away,” We giggled, leaving a beat in the conversation.

“Goodnight, Heath Bar,” She pulled me into a gentle hug. I wrapped my arms around her. A deep warmth spread throughout my body, causing my eyes to close and a soft smile to spread on my face.

“Goodnight...Panini Press,” I felt her laugh on my shoulder. We pulled apart, our arms still around each other. We were smiling like idiots. Remember Kelley? Your girlfriend?

I broke the moment by clearing my throat and sheepishly stepping back. “Night,” I reiterated and crawled back into my room, watching her do the same as I closed the window and pulled the curtains shut. I threw off my hoodie and fell onto my bed, feeling nothing but guilt and shame for the way Chris made me feel. I sighed in frustration as I pulled the covers over me. I just needed Kelley to get back to Austin, pronto.

Chapter Text

I was jolted awake by Kelley’s ringtone blaring in my ear. “Jesus fuck,” I muttered, not even bothering to check the time before I answered her FaceTime call.

“Guten morgen,” Kelley smiled, saluting me with her coffee cup before taking a sip.

“So, when I threaten to call early in the morning, you say you’ll ignore me. The audacity. I should hang up right now.”

“You were taking too long, sorry ‘bout it. You look good,” She took another knowing sip.

“Fuck you,” I laughed, shaking my head and falling back onto my pillow.

“I’m serious! Grumpy Tobs is a sight to behold,” She smirked, setting her cup down and trading it for a strip of bacon. “You’re lucky you’re cute,” I muttered.

“Just cute? Usually it’s ‘hot’ or ‘attractive’, dare I say, ‘World’s Sexiest Right Back’. But ‘just cute’ will suffice,” She took a bite and shrugged.

“Anyway, how’s your morning been so far?” I asked, sitting up and trying to subtly fix my hair in the front camera.

“Well, you’ve met my family. They’re loud, so imagine us, times like...three, and then shoved in one house. It’s only fun when you’re a part of it. But when you’re woken up at seven A.M because your sister can’t find her phone, well, you can’t really fall back asleep after helping your family tear apart the house for the sake of Erin’s sanity. I tried to wait, really, but they all left thirty minutes ago and I was getting bored.”

“Sounds like a typical O’Hara morning to me,” I chuckled.

“I’ll drink to that,” She downed the rest of her coffee and slammed the mug on the table, exhaling loudly. I caught a glimpse of the time on my phone and sighed. She couldn’t wait one more hour until I called? With anyone else, I would have been annoyed. But with her, it was endearing. I got out of bed, stretched a bit, and set my phone (Kelley) on my nightstand, facing my dressers. When I got back into frame, I heard her whistle.

“Whew! Happy anniversary to me!” I rolled my eyes. She should’ve been used to me being a sports bra.

“Shut up, perv,” I teased as I walked towards her, flipping the camera so it was showing my bed post. “Hey!”

“I’m changing, can’t have you getting any ideas, loser,” I shuffled through a few drawers before finding my favorite pair of yellow shorts and pairing it with my red Joy Division shirt. Did the colors go together? Not really. Did I care? No.

 

“You look absolutely beautiful,” Kelley smiled. I was in the bathroom getting ready for the day.

“I’m bwuffshin’ my teef.”

“And what about it? I said what I said. You are the most striking girl in the world. I’m so lucky to have you,” I fell into a fit of giggles after I spat out the toothpaste into the sink. “And you’re the most amazing girlfriend I’ve ever had.”

“I’m the only girlfriend you’ve ever had. Nice try, Heath,” She said with an uneven smile and raised eyebrows.

“Hey Tobin?” The tone of her voice shifted from joking to serious. I looked at the screen with concern.

“Yeah?”

“How’ve you been doing?”

“Well, it’s our two year anniversary and I’m talking to my wonderful girlfriend, so I’m pretty good.” I grabbed the phone and went back to my room, resting it against the wall as I sat at my desk.

“That’s sweet, but I mean, for real. It’s been awhile since I checked in,” My smile faltered.

“I’ll be honest, I’ve been feeling kind of...off. I-, It’s hard to explain,” I took a breath and rested my elbows on the desk. Kelley was listening intently.

“Yeah?”

“It’s like, usually when Alex and Sonny invite me out, I feel this...dread. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing, I can’t make myself go. It’s stupid,” I shook my head in frustration and slouched in my chair.

“It’s not stupid. When was the last time you left the house?”

“Yesterday, I forced myself to go on a run. Usually I just workout in the backyard, ya know?”

“Right.”

“But I knew I was on the verge of spiralling, so I sucked it up and went outside.”

“How’d it go?”

“I survived, so I’m counting it as a win. But I couldn’t get out of my own head. I felt like everyone was staring at me or something,” I felt deflated and uncomfortable. I hated being vulnerable, but Kelley helped me out of my shell. She made sure I felt safe, and never pressured me. Well, she never pressured me to open up to her.

“What do you usually do when you feel like this?”

“I...I kind of forgot. Last time this happened was when my, uh, dad passed,” I stopped. I could feel my heart sink and my eyes sting. Apathy could only get me so far.

“That was when you did online school for a semester, right?”

I hummed silently in confirmation before fighting off the bubbling emotions, “I’ll be fine.”

“Tobin-”

“I’ll be fine, I promise.”

Kelley nodded and spoke softly, “I wish I could hug you.”

“You get back tomorrow.”

“Yeah, and the first thing I’ll do after we get home is bike to your house and cuddle you SO HARD!” Her aggressive affection made me belly laugh. She never failed to put a smile on my face.

We stayed on FaceTime throughout the day. I leaned the phone against a tree trunk as I did my backyard workout. She cheered me on through my AirPods as I did basic soccer drills to stay sharp. My mom made an appearance every time I went downstairs to eat meals. They talked more than Kelley and I did when I went down there. By the time Kelley’s family got back from their day of festivities, it was around eight o’clock.

“Is Tobin on the phone?” I heard her mother ask on the other end. Kelley gave me an apologetic look. “Hi Tobin! Congratulations on two years!” Her mom got halfway in the frame, waving excitedly. I cracked a smile.

“Thanks Mrs. O’Hara.”

“We’ve been over this, call me Karen,” She beamed. “Sorry to break up the love fest-”

“Mom!”

“But we need to steal Kelley back. We have an early flight tomorrow morning!”

“It’s no problem.”

“It was good seeing you, Tobin!’ Karen waved again and planted a kiss on the side of Kelley’s head before leaving.

“Gross,” Kelley muttered before turning her attention back to me. “Sorry to cut this short, but duty calls.”

“Oh no, how will I EVER survive without my beautiful lady talking my ear off?” I sighed, putting my hands over my chest like a damsel in distress. Kelley flipped me off with a cheesy grin.

“Goodnight, Heath.”

“Goodnight, O’Hara,” I ended the call and was about to plug my phone in to charge, but stopped to read some new messages.

Kelleyyy: I love youuuuu
Kelleyyy: Looking forward to hugging you to death and giving you your present
Kelleyyy: <3 <3
Tobyyy: i love you too my lady

I heard a loud knocking, but it wasn’t coming from my door. I snapped my head to the window and saw Christen. Her eyes crinkled at the corners when we made eye contact, and I couldn’t help but return the smile.

“Hey Chris.”

“Hi! How was your day?”

“Pretty damn great, if I say so myself.”

“I thought so. You were on the phone with Kelsey, right?” I snorted.

“Kelley, but yeah. Just as she promised. How was yours?”

“Just a bunch of boring unpacking. But,” She bent down and came back up holding a soccer ball. “I came across this old thing. I was wondering if you wanted to pass it around?”

“Right now?”

“Not right this second! I’d have to change. These hoops were expensive,” she joked, gesturing to the golden earrings she wore.

“There are some public fields near here we can go to. I can drive us,” I offered. Her jaw dropped in surprise.

“You literally read my mind. That was exactly what I was going to suggest,” She scoffed and moved to close her window. “Do you want to meet down there in fifteen minutes?”

“Sounds good to me,” I shrugged with indifference. “That Corolla is mine,” I pointed to the silver car sitting in my driveway. She nodded, closing her window and curtains. I stood in front of my full body mirror for a few minutes, contemplating whether or not I wanted to change out of my beloved shorts. I decided to opt for generic soccer ones. Can’t risk getting these bad boys dirty. I threw on shin guards and socks before making a pitstop in the bathroom to put my hair in a messy bun. I tiptoed downstairs, trying not to alert Jeff. I quietly searched for a pen and a sticky note, and when I found them, I wrote, "Took my car to the soccer fields with Christen, will be back soon" before heading to the front to put on my cleats. I grabbed the keys out of the bowl and went outside to get the car started.

 

There was a knock on the passenger door window before it was pulled open to reveal Christen. Her hair was pulled back in a slick ponytail. I knew her jawline was sharp, but I didn’t realize how attractive it was until that moment.

“Hey, sorry that took so long. I didn’t expect Channing to be eating second dinner in the kitchen. I agreed to do her laundry for a month so she wouldn’t rat me out.” She shook her head and buckled her seatbelt.

“Siblings suck sometimes,” I said absentmindedly as I backed out of the driveway and headed to the fields. I handed her the aux cord, “I’m giving you special privileges. The only rule is, no country music.” Christen smirked. “Well, if you insist!” Before I could protest, the most infamous country song started blasting from my speakers.

“Baby lock the doors and turn the lights down low,” Christen sang, using her phone as a faux microphone. “Put some music on that’s soft and slow.”

“I will stop this car.”

“Baby we ain’t got no place to go, I hope you understand! I’ve been- WHOA!” I slammed on the breaks, causing her phone to fly out of her hand and the horrible singing to stop. I yanked the cord out of Chris’ phone before she could collect herself.

“You’re a lot of things, but a singer isn’t one of them. I am never trusting you with the AUX ever again.” I handed her her phone back. She was in shock.

“You weren’t kidding!” I scoffed.

“I absolutely was not kidding. I hope you enjoy a car ride of silence,” I said flatly, trying my best to maintain my poker face. I started driving again, expecting her to try and break the silence, but instead, she grinned and said, “Okay!”.

 

As soon as we parked, Christen grabbed her ball and tried beating me to the fields, but couldn’t even get out of the car. She tugged at the handle with confusion. “Now I know the child lock works, thank you Chris.” Her glare was ruined by her bright smile.

“Toebean-”

“Nope! Get out,” I quickly unlocked the car, got out, and sprinted to the field. I was so sure that I would beat her.

Right as I was about to claim my victory, I felt a pair of strong hands grip my shoulders and a body hug my back, legs around my waist.

“Shit!” I yelped. The contact caught me off guard and before I could steady myself, I fell flat on my face.
All I could hear was Chris cackling at me. In that moment, I was very happy with my decision to change out of my perfect yellow shorts.

“Are you-” She tried to stifle her laughter. “Are you okay?” She was laying on the ground next to me.

I lifted my throbbing face out of the dirt and considered her for a second. I should’ve been pissed, but something about the way she was laughing made my heart skip a beat. My silence caused the grin to melt off her face. She sat up when she realized I wasn’t laughing with her.

“I’m really sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. I don’t know what I was thinking-”

“Gotcha!” I shouted as I got to my feet and finished the run to the field. I celebrated by dancing around the field. “Whoo!”

Christen’s jaw had dropped in pure shock. “I thought you were hurt!”

“And I thought you respected me enough to listen to my one rule. Guess we were both wrong!”

She threw the ball at me, but I caught it with ease. When she made it to the field, she offered a hand.

“Truce?”

I tilted my head and pretended to consider her offer.

“Fine, but only because I’m feeling generous.”

We warmed up by passing the ball around. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but it surely wasn’t for her passes to be as precise and strong as they were. My mind was blown even more when we moved on to one on one drills. While her maneuvers were sloppy, her execution was flawless. For someone who hadn’t played in years, she was pretty fucking amazing.

Even though the car ride back was short, Chris fell asleep with her head leaning against the headrest. Her soft snores made my heart melt. She looked so peaceful, and all I wanted was to have her in my arms.

When I parked the car, I smirked as a devilish idea popped into my head. I plugged in the AUX cord into my phone, being sure to crank up the volume before blasting heavy metal.

“AAAHHH!!” Chris screamed, jerking awake. I doubled over with laughter. “You couldn’t have gently nudged me or something? You had to play this...this satan music?”

“Excuse you, Anthrax isn’t satanic!” I turned off the music. “By the way, we’re here.”

“You suck, but thanks for the ride.” We got out of the car and crossed the street.

“Well, this is me,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s both of us,” We giggled. She pulled me in for an embrace. She buried her head in the crook of my shoulder. “Thanks for playing with me.”

“Anytime, Chris.”

I made a conscious effort not to repeat the moment that we had last night as we pulled apart. We said our goodbyes and headed inside.

I threw away the note I had left in the kitchen before going upstairs to shower. I couldn’t stop replaying our night together. No matter what she was doing, whether it be focusing on shooting goals, laying in dirt laughing at me, or snoring, she took my breath away. I knew I shouldn’t have felt that way, but I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t like I was planning on acting on it. It was an innocent crush. Nothing more, nothing less.

At least, I hoped that’s all it was.

Chapter Text

Kelleyyy: GOOD MORNING! Waiting to get on this damn plane is boring
Kelleyyy: Jk we are boarding I’ll text you when we land !
Kelleyyy: This is me texting you bc we’ve landed
Kelleyyy: Thank FUCK we are home! When you wake up you should come over
Kelleyyy: But until then I’m gonna nap so…
Tobyyy: jesus christ thanks for the spam
Tobyyy: text me when ur awake tho, i miss u

I put my phone in my pocket and headed downstairs for lunch. I woke up early, like I usually do, but I didn’t have it in me to get out of bed. I just...couldn’t. Even walking around, my body felt heavy. My feet felt like bricks. All I wanted to do was lay in bed and let the emptiness I felt consume me. But I knew I couldn’t do that. I refused to let myself fall back into the pit of darkness that I had spent years digging myself out of.

“Sleep in today?” My mom asked from the couch.

“Yeah.” I opened the fridge.

“Kelley back in town?”

“Yeah.” I grabbed leftover pizza and didn’t bother heating it up. I tried to make my way back upstairs, but my mom stopped me.

“Are you doing okay, Tobin?” She paused the TV and looked at me, concern in her eyes. Her questions were starting to get on my nerves. I wanted food, not an interrogation.

“I’m fine,” I huffed, trying again to escape.

“Sweetie, if there’s something going on-”

“I said I’m fine! What more do you want?” I turned to face her, feeling the heat in my chest rise to my face. I didn’t know why my mother caring about me made me angry, but it did.

She stood up and walked towards me.

“I want you to watch your tone, young lady. As long as you live under this roof, you will treat me with respect, no matter how grown you think you are. Is that clear?”

“Crystal.”

“Now, like I was saying, if there’s something going on, you can always talk to me. Whether it be about Kelley, soccer, school, your father-”

“Maybe I don’t want to talk! Have you ever considered that? Maybe I just want to be left alone! Maybe I just wanted some fucking pizza!” I could feel my blood boiling for no reason at all. I knew I had no right to be mad at my mom, but I was, and it felt good to lash out.

“Tobin Powell Heath, you are on thin ice. I will not tolerate being spoken to like that.” She paused. “Go cool off and we will talk about this later.”

“Fine,” I said, holding my tongue so I didn’t say anything I would regret. I walked to the front door and grabbed my keys out of the bowl.

“Where are you going?”

“Kelley’s.”

I left before she could respond.

 

Kelleyyy: That was the most refreshing nap I’ve ever had
Kelleyyy: I can’t wait to see you!!
Tobyyy: i’m otw
Kelleyyy: Yay! The fam isn’t home so it’s just you and me ;)
Tobyyy: ok

 

Kelley opened her front door before I could get a knock in. She tackled me in a hug while screaming in excitement. I was still pissed, but I couldn’t help but crack the smallest of smiles. She quickly pulled back, not letting me go entirely.

“Dude, you’re insanely tense. What’s up?” She let me in her house and shut the door behind me.

“I go downstairs for one second and my mom hounds my ass. She always asks stupid questions and it pisses me off. She’s fucking annoying sometimes.”

“What was she asking?” We started walking upstairs.

When I started thinking about what had happened, my heart sank.

“She just wanted to know if I was doing okay.”
“Not that I’ve been keeping track or anything, but this is like…” She counted her fingers. “...the fifth time this summer that you’ve gotten mad at her because she was worried about you. I assume you yelled?”

I sighed, “...yeah.”

We reached her room. “Tobin, I know you’re a brooding, angsty teenager-”

“I’m eighteen.” I interrupted.

“But you were seventeen three days ago. Being a legal adult doesn’t give you the right to lash out at your mom because you feel like it.” I knew she was right.

“Don’t yell at me for asking this, but what’s been going on? I know you’re struggling, but my Tobin-Senses are telling me there’s a deeper issue here.” She sat on her bed and patted the spot next to her. I tried to sit on the edge, but she pulled me into her arms.

“Your Tobin-Senses?”

“Yeah, but that’s not important right now. Your mental health takes priority over the stupid name I gave my Tobin-centered intuition.” She kissed my temple.

“Now tell me what’s wrong!”

I took a deep breath and tried to gather my thoughts. I knew what was happening, but all I wanted to do was ignore it, bury it, and move on. Thinking about it made me feel stupid.

“I’ll get over it.”

“Uh, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’ve been doing the complete opposite of that. You don’t have to go into depth, you don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. But I want to help you, and I can only do that if you clue me in.” She squeezed me before letting go to lay down. She opened her arms to me, so I laid down with her. We wrapped our arms around each other. With Kelley, I felt safe. I felt at home. She absentmindedly started playing with my hair, which made me relax even more. She placed a gentle kiss on my forehead, then on my nose.

“I know what you’re doing.” I rolled my eyes.

She smirked. “Oh yeah? And what is that?”

“You’re trying to get me to talk.”

“Maybe I just want to hold you because I haven’t seen you in two weeks.” She paused. “But yeah, you’re right. I’m just getting worried about you.” Her fingertips grazed my cheek. Every bit of tension within me vanished at her touch, but her words made my stomach drop. I hated when people were worried about me. I hated being a burden because I couldn’t get my shit together. I stayed silent.

“Is it about your dad?”

I hesitated, “...I guess.”

“Do you need to talk about it?”

“I just...it all feels wrong, ya know? Senior year is about to start, and then it will end. We’ll graduate, and he won’t be there to see me walk across the stage. He wasn’t there when I committed to UNC. He won’t be there to see me off before Prom, and he never met you. It’s all wrong. Moving here even…” I trailed off, not wanting to go on. I tried my best to love Austin, I really did. But I never understood why we had to move after he died. I never understood why my mom felt the need to leave Basking Ridge, leave behind the city our family had been in for decades. I never understood why she did that to Jeff and I. Mom let Perry finish her senior year before uprooting us and dragging us to Texas, of all places. Even though we had been here for four years now, I still felt like I was a tourist. I didn’t belong here. I tried my best to love Austin, but it wasn’t the same without my dad around.

“But it’s dumb. I’ll be okay, I just need to let the storm pass,” I sighed.

“Grieving is not stupid, I promise. How you’re feeling isn’t something to take lightly and brush off-”

 

“I’m fine, Kel,” I said shortly. I felt the familiar anger start to bubble in my stomach. Thankfully, she took the hint and dropped it.

“You’re not, but I won’t push you. When you’re ready, though, I really think you should consider talking to a professional.” I gave her a warning look.

“Or at least apologize to your mom. She can’t read your mind, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. Can we talk about something else now?” Kelley nodded and kissed me.

“I love you.” She whispered.

“I love you, too.” We smiled at each other. I loved those small moments where it was just us, together.

“Are you getting soft on me, O’Hara?”

“In your dreams,” She smiled before getting up.

“Come back! Now I’m cold,” I pouted, sitting up and leaning against the wall.

“I’ll be back in a minute, I gotta go to the bathroom.” And with that, she left.

I really was cold, so I started searching through her drawers to find a sweater. Ever since we met, I’d been telling her to hang up her sweaters in her closet to prevent wrinkles, but she said they “added character”, whatever that meant. I opened one drawer and immediately saw that something was off. There was an obvious bump underneath the pile of shirts. I hesitantly lifted the pile and was shocked to find a half empty bottle of vodka. I moved to another drawer and saw the same bump, but instead of vodka, it was a bottle of tequila. I jumped at the sound of the door opening.

“I’m ba- What are you doing?” She asked, anger in her voice.

“You told me you weren’t drinking anymore.” I stood up, facing her. “Why did you lie to me?”

“Why are you going through my stuff? Do you not trust me?” She walked past me and put her drawers back together.

“I was just looking for a sweater, I wasn’t trying to find anything incriminating. You can’t like, try to get me to open up to you while you’re getting drunk behind my back. You know how that makes me feel.”

“I’m not getting drunk, I’m not an idiot.”

“Then why do you still have those?”

“I’ll get rid of them if you want.”

“Answer my question, Kelley.” She looked at her feet. I could tell she was mad, but she didn’t say anything.

“Why would you lie? Trust goes both ways.”

“I know, I’m sorry for lying. It won’t happen again.”

“I’m not mad at you, I’m just disappointed. Alcoholism runs in your family, and I don’t want you getting caught up in that. I don’t want you getting in trouble. I worry about you, just like you worry about me.” I stepped towards her and grabbed her hands, holding them.

“I said I’m sorry, Tobin.”

“Kel, I forgive you. I just,” I sighed. “You said you stopped. Do you see the problem here? Am I overreacting?” She bit her lip and nodded her head no. “I just need you to be honest, okay? You can always talk to me. I will always have your back. We’re in this together.”

“Okay.”

I took a moment to eye her. Her anger had faded to guilt. “I really haven’t been getting drunk. It was just like, the occasional drink. But I...I’ll stop.” I softly smiled at her and held her hands. “I believe you.” She let out her breath and nodded. There was a pause.

“Do you wanna play FIFA 19?” She asked.

“I thought you’d never ask.”

 

We spent hours playing that damn game. I sucked at it. After Kelley kicked my ass in a few games, I suggested we play my made up version that I was actually good at. Whoever gets the most yellow and red cards wins. It was by far the best, most hilarious way to play FIFA.

 

Mom Heath: Ready to talk?

 

I saw my mom’s text and groaned.

“What?”

“My mom texted, it’s nothing. Let’s get back to the game.”

“Tobs, you need to talk to her. My family will be home soon, anyways. If you don’t work things out now, it will keep snowballing and get worse and worse. Trust me, I know.”

“How are you so wise? You’re literally a frat boy in a high school girl’s body.”

“Frat Daddy O’Hara comin’ at ya with the wisdom. But if for some reason things go haywire, you’re always welcome here.” I put the controller next to her TV (yes, she had her own TV) and got up.

“You know nobody actually calls you that, right? I’m pretty sure you gave that nickname to yourself.”

“I like it better than KO.”

“Again, nobody calls you that.” Kelley paused the game and stood up, walking me out of her house and to my car.

“Oh! I almost forgot,” She yelled, sprinting back in her house and coming out just as fast as she left. She was holding a small, felt box.

“This is for you!” She shoved it into my hands. I felt guilty for not getting her anything.

“Are you proposing or something?”

“Just open it, loser.” I narrowed my eyes at her before opening the box. Inside were two silver rings with small, black stripes in the middle. “They’re promise rings! It’s supposed to go on the ring finger on your left hand. I googled it.”

“Kel-”

“I know it’s a lot, but I don’t know...it just made sense. I love you a lot. I know the future is unpredictable and shit, but I pray that we at least face it together...or something.” She seemed apprehensive, but genuine.

“I love it,” I said, taking one out of the box and trying to force it on my left ring finger.

“That one is mine, sorry.” She took it from me and nervously fiddled with it. “You really love it?”

“Of course I do. You’re the best, Kel.” I put my ring on and embraced her. “Your gift is on the way. I ordered it late,” I lied. I had to do some online shopping later.

“Being your girlfriend is the greatest gift of all time,” She said as we pulled apart.

“Likewise, even though you can be a giant pain in the ass.”

“Shut up.” We hugged again, only separating because my phone vibrated.

 

Mom Heath: Tobin?
Tobin Heath: sorry, otw

 

“Okay, I really gotta go now. Time to face my fears.”

“You’ll be fine. Text me afterwards, yeah? I’ll send you memes.”

“Please don’t. Your memes are terrible.” I groaned.

“And your memes are old, but I pretend to like them anyways. Go talk to your mom!”

“Wait, you don’t like my memes?”

“...I didn’t say that.”

“You definitely did. We’ll discuss this later.” I leaned in to kiss her before getting in the car.

“I love youuuu!” She sang.

“I love you too, jerk.”

 

I turned onto my street and saw Christen leaving her house with two dogs at her feet, running in between her legs and tangling the leashes. She looked my way with a smile when I pulled into my driveway. Her bright, bubbly smile never failed to make me feel giddy inside. I got out of the car and waved.

“Hey Chris! I’d chat but I’m kind of in trouble. Gotta face the music,” I yelled as her and her dogs walked towards me. Her happy expression faded to a worried one.

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll fill you in later.”

“Actually, we’re going to dinner and a movie, so I won’t be home until late tonight. You can text me, though.” I met her at the end of my driveway, petting her dogs while she got her phone out. “Oh my God, they’re so cute.”

“They’d be cuter if they wouldn’t tug so much. Here, put in your number and I’ll text you soon.” I put my contact information in her phone while fending off the jumping, excited dogs.

“Here you go.” I handed her her phone back and sighed. “Alright, wish me luck.”

“I’m sure it will be okay. Good luck with whatever it is!” She gave me a quick hug and off she went. I slowly walked to the front door. I took a deep breath. Rationally, I knew it would be fine. My mom was understanding and genuinely wanted what’s best for us. I felt terrible about how I had been treating her and all I wanted to do was fix it, but I was scared. I took a deep breath, unlocked the door, and walked in.

Chapter Text

To my surprise, my mom wasn’t waiting on me. I tried to set my keys down quietly so I could avoid the confrontation as long as I could, but that was nearly impossible.

“Tobin?” My mom called from her room. I sighed and took my shoes off.

“Yeah.”

She came into view, her expression blank.

“I’m...I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry for yelling at you and letting my short temper get the better of me. It’s not fair to you at all. You haven’t done anything wrong. I’m sorry,” I apologized, standing there awkwardly.

“Thank you for the apology. Is there something you want to talk about?” I knew I should confide in her, but I wanted so desperately to be okay, so I didn’t.

“Just nervous about my last year of high school. Nothing to worry about, I promise.”

“Oh Tobin,” Her face softened and she approached me with arms wide open. “I know it’s a lot, but you’ll do amazingly.” We hugged each other for a few moments before I stepped away.

“Thanks, mom.”

“And if it gets to be too much, you can always come to me. Do you think it’s just nerves or is it anxiety? You can go back to Dr. Tester if you need to.” I tensed at the mention of my old therapist.

“It’s not that serious.”

“Okay, well, thank you for talking to me. I know it hasn’t been easy, but you’ve grown into such a strong, beautiful, young woman,” She hesitated. “Are you sure you’re alright?” My eyes welled at her words.

“I-I’m fine.”

I could tell she didn’t believe me. She hugged me again, “I’m always in your corner, Tobin.”

 

(512)-555-4509: Hey Tobin, it’s Chris!
Heath Bar: howdy
Panini Press: What’s up?
Heath Bar: nm, trying to decide if i should go out tonight or not
Panini Press: You should!! Did you get an invite?
Heath Bar: yea some soccer friends invited me to a kickback but idk
Heath Bar: not rlly my scene
Panini Press: Is Kelly going?
Heath Bar: *kelley
Heath Bar: and yeah she is it’s for her birthday
Panini Press: Then you should go! I don’t think you have a choice if it’s for her...
Heath Bar: ehhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Panini Press: Tobin! Put on those stupid yellow shorts and party with your gf!
Heath Bar: they’re not stupid, they’re cute and comfortable
Heath Bar: but fine
Heath Bar: i won’t wear those tho they’re dirty
Panini Press: Yay! Have fun Toebean :)
Heath Bar: i’m gonna fuckin block u
Panini Press: Nooo :(

 

I groaned and rolled out of bed. I really, really did not want to go. Kelley knew I didn’t like those kind of hangouts, and she told me it didn’t bother her that I planned on not going. But I had forgotten to shop for her anniversary present, so I felt obligated to suck it up and go. It had been awhile since I’d seen my friends, anyway. I threw on a hoodie, some Adidas joggers, and my favorite maroon Bodega hat before heading downstairs.

“Where ya goin’?” Jeffrey asked from the couch. I was surprised to see him outside of his room.

“Kelley’s having a birthday hangout. Get tired of Minecraft?”

“I don’t play Minecraft! I play Fortnite.”

“I don’t know which one is worse, but I’m glad you were able to break free from it. The new neighbors have two dogs, by the way, so if you’re still trying to build a dog-sitting empire, you can hit them up.”

“For real? I love dogs!”

“I know you do. They’re cute ones, too. Are you okay? I haven’t seen you this cheery since...birth.”

“I convinced mom to order me new shoes.” It all made sense.

“Ah, I see. Well, I’m off. See ya,” I turned to the front door and left, still in shock from the pleasant conversation I had with Jeff.

 

After a fifteen minute drive, I arrived at Alex’s house. I ignored the dread that was building in my stomach and got out of the car. Kelley’s car was parked in the driveway, thank God. I knocked on the door, part of me hoping no one would answer so I could go home. My wish was not granted. I was greeted by Alex.

“You’re alive!” She hugged me and turned to yell, “Tobin’s here!” Cheers erupted from the living room. “Come in, come in. Can I get you something to drink?”

“Something non-alcoholic, please.” Alex rolled her eyes and ushered me in.

“You’re no fun. Kelley’s in the backyard with Julie and Tierna.” I followed her to the kitchen.

“Tierna the sophomore?”

“Yeah, she’s actually really cool. She’s like you, though. She won’t even look at alcohol.” She shoved a red Solo cup in my hand. Lindsey and Rose joined us in the kitchen.

“Long time no see!” Lindsey patted me on the back. “Kelley said you weren’t coming, what made you decide to show up?”

“I haven’t seen you guys in a while, and it’s for Kel’s birthday, so I figured I should at least make an appearance.”

“Hell yeah!” Lindsey yelled, taking a swig of her drink and walking back to the living room.

“They’re playing Beer Pong out in the back if you wanna join. The rest of us are watching Netflix in the living room. Pizza’s on the way,” Rose gave me the rundown.

“Kelley’s playing Beer Pong?” I asked, trying to contain my suspicion.

“Uh, I mean she’s back there? I don’t really know who’s playing,” Rose stopped and tilted her head up, listening to the music.

“Which one of you jerks queued Mo Bamba?” She complained, walking towards Sonny and Sam who were hunched over Rose’s phone. I could hear their giggles from the kitchen. I chuckled at their antics and turned back to Alex.

“Oh, I don’t think this will apply to you, but if you plan on smoking you gotta pay up,” Alex informed me.

“Smoking…? Like, cigarettes? People still do that?” Alex laughed at my naivety.

“That wasn’t what I was talking about, and kind of? Vaping replaced that.” I cringed when she mentioned vaping. “I was talking about weed, dumbass. How are you a legal adult? You couldn’t use context clues for that?”

“I don’t go to these things, you know that. Sorry I don’t like being intoxicated.”

“You never know until you try! But man, I’ve missed you. Where you’ve been all summer?” There was a twinge of guilt in my chest.

“I haven’t really, uh, left. I’ve just been under the weather.” She raised her eyebrows at me.

“You’ve been sick for two months? Really? You know, if you don’t want to hang out with us, you don’t have to lie about it. I’d rather you be upfront than do that.” I didn’t know how to explain it to her. Alex was my first friend in Austin. She went out of her way to include me in everything she did and coax me out of my shell. Before I started dating Kelley, I practically lived at Alex’s house. She was my best friend. I felt bad for avoiding her (avoiding everyone, really), and I knew I owed her an explanation, but unloading all my inner turmoil was something for a sleepover, not a birthday kick back.

“It’s not like that, Alex.”

“Then what’s it like?” She raised her voice, tightening her grip on her cup. Her anger took me by surprise.

“There’s just been a lot going on. I promise we’ll hang out soon, okay?” I gave her an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, Al.”

She took a sip of her drink. “It’s fine.”

Before I could respond, the doorbell rang. She pushed past me, muttering, “I’ll get it.” I turned my attention to the living room crowd. Rose had pulled up a chair next to where her phone was plugged into the speaker, guarding it from anyone who tried to pull what Sonny and Sam did. Lindsey was sharing the love seat with Mal, who was nursing a water bottle. There wasn’t anywhere for me to sit on the couch, as Abby and Moe were sprawled out on it. I said hi to them all before checking out the backyard.

Much to my relief, Kelley was preoccupied with juggling a soccer ball, and not playing Beer Pong. Tierna was timing her on her phone, cheering her on.

“Harry!” Allie yelled from the Beer Pong table. Julie was on the other side. She gave me a wave and went back to concentrating on the game.

“Hey Harry,” I greeted, making my way to them. Julie got the ball in a cup, which seemed to be a bad thing for Allie. I didn’t really understand the game, and I didn’t care to learn. I watched her down the beer.

“On a scale of one to ten, ten being absolutely wasted, how drunk are you?” I asked. She set the cup to the side and turned to me.

“That is none of your business. What’re you drinking?”

I sniffed the mystery drink Alex gave me. “Sprite, I think. How are you-”

“PIZZA’S HERE!” Rose yelled from the open sliding door. Kelley ditched the ball and sprinted towards the door, but switched gears when she saw me.

“You’re here!” She cheered, giving me a tight squeeze.

“Yeah, I’ve been here. You better get in there before all the pizza gets eaten, wouldn’t want the birthday girl starving.”

“It’s not even my birthday yet, but I’ll never say no to free pizza. Thanks for coming, Tobs. It means a lot.” She beamed at me, giving me a kiss before running inside. Crowds and I never meshed well, so I decided to chill outside.

 

After about an hour of going in and out of the house, listening to conversations and hardly engaging in them, I settled outside. Beer Pong no longer interested anybody, so Kelley had convinced some people to play a small soccer game of three versus three. It was Kelley, Tierna, and Alex on one team, and Lindsey, Julie, and Mal on the other. I opted out because I personally found it hilarious to watch the drunk ones stumble around, thinking they were kicking the ball but actually kicking the air next to it.

“Who waaants the bong?” Sonny offered from the house. Her eyes were on the verge of being shut. Lindsey jumped at the opportunity, bringing the game to a halt. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. I wanted to leave. Alcohol was one thing, but I just didn’t like being around drugs. But I knew I wasn’t going to participate, so what was the harm in watching others?

“I’ll take that,” Kelley said as she swiped the bong and lighter out of Lindsey’s hands.

 

Panini Press: Dinner and movie got cancelled :( How’s the party?
Heath Bar: it’s about to get interesting i can tell u that
Panini Press: How so?

 

I was in the middle of typing a response when I noticed Kelley hovering over me with the bong. The smell was enough to make me curl my nose.

“You should try it, babe.” She tried to give it to me, but I pushed it away.

“No thanks.”

“Oh come on,” She whined, tilting it towards me again. “It’s my birthday!”

“It’s her birthday!” Lindsey cheered. I took a deep breath and glared at Kelley.

“I said no. Please stop.”

Alex, who was on her third Four Loko, yelled to the living room dwellers, “TOBIN’S ABOUT TO TAKE HER FIRST HIT!”, which caused even more people to join us outside.

“Well now you have to!” Kelley tried to give it to me again. I took it, but handed it to Tierna. Her eyes widened as she quickly passed it off to Julie.

“Kelley, quit it. I’m serious,” I tried to sound angry, but I could feel myself start to shake. Everybody was staring at me expectantly. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

“Tobin! Tobin! Tobin!” Lindsey started, gesturing for everybody to start chanting.

“TOBIN! TOBIN! TOBIN!” Blood pounded in my ears and my heart was thudding in my chest. My throat was incredibly dry, and even though the Texas heat was humid and sticky, I was shivering. The feelings were all too familiar. I needed to get out of there.

I pushed past Kelley and went inside. I ran through the living room, out the door, and to my car. My hands were shaking and numb at the same time, which freaked me out even more. Eventually, I managed to unlock my car and get in. I gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles, my head spinning. I didn’t know what to do. Usually, I would call Kelley and she would calm me down, but she was the one who triggered it. I tentatively got my phone out. I thumb lingered over Christen’s name.
“Tobin! Hey! Aren’t you at the party?” Christen sounded concerned.

“I...I was…” I managed to get out. I was trying my best to control my breathing, but it wasn’t working.

“Take a deep breath with me,” We inhaled and exhaled. “Are you safe to drive? Do you need me to come get you?”

“I-I can drive.”

“Okay, when you get home I’ll be there. You’re safe, Tobin, you’re alright.” She paused. “Do you need me to stay on the phone?”

“I’ll be fine. Thank...you,” I said slowly.

“Just breathe, Tobin. I’ll see you in a few.”

I hung up. The conversation was short, but I could feel the anxious tension in my body slowly fade away. A few seconds of Chris’ voice relaxed me. After taking a moment to collect myself, I drove home.

 

Missed call from Kelleyyy (2)

Kelleyyy: Where’d ya go?

Mom Heath: Jeff and I went out to dinner. We will bring you back leftovers.
Tobin Heath: thx

Kelleyyy: I’m sorry Tobs

 

I walked into my room, finally feeling the panic fully subside. My mind was beginning to clear, which made way for shock and anger to surface. I went to that stupid party for her. I pushed my anxiety aside and second guessed myself for her. I couldn’t believe she would pull something like that. But, it wasn’t her that started chanting, and it wasn’t her that got a crowd together. But it was her that offered me the bong, even though she knew how I felt about it. We had many long, honest talks about alcohol and drugs, so it was a known fact that illegal use made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t fathom why she would do such a thing. It boggled my mind.

I heard Chris knocking on her window to get my attention. She looked worried sick. She hurriedly opened her window, and I opened mine.

“Hey Chris-”

“I’m coming over.”

Before I could say anything, she climbed out of her window, carefully crossed the rooftop, and crawled into my room.

“Are you okay?” She asked, looking me up and down with concern.

“Physically, yeah. Sorry to bother you, I just didn’t know who else to call.”

“Don’t apologize, I’m glad you called me. Was Kelley not there or something?”

“She was, but...uh, she,” I sighed, still in shock. “She was part of the problem.”

Chris furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. “Did something happen?”

I sat on my bed, beckoning Chris to join me. I explained to her what happened, which baffled me all over again. I didn’t hold anything against Lindsey- she didn’t know how drugs made me feel. Alex was probably lashing out (which was not an excuse, but understandable) because I had been ghosting her ever since school ended. But Kelley’s peer pressure was completely out of left field.

“That’s terrible.” Chris rubbed her hand in circles on my back. I relaxed at her touch. “Do you mind if I give you some advice?”

“Sure.”

“I know you and Kelley have been dating for a while, but I think you might need some space.”

“But she just got back.”

“Not forever, just maybe a day or two. I don’t think she’s in a place to listen, and you’re not in a place to talk.”

I hesitated. “You’re right. I just need to process it.”

“You said she was high, right?”

“Yeah, which I’m fine with. I mean, I don’t like it, but I’m not gonna try and stop her. Like, we’ve talked about it. She’s her own person.” I shrugged. I hated her drinking because of her family history, but who was I to tell her how to go about drugs? It was a grey area that I wasn’t sure how to navigate. I hated her partying and her eagerness to not be sober, but I also hated controlling her like that. I just didn’t know.

“It doesn’t sound like you’re fine with it, especially after what she did. But just remember that she wasn’t in her right mind. I’m not trying to justify her actions, but I’m pretty sure she would never cross that line sober. Has she done this before?”

“Never. She’s always been incredibly respectful of my boundaries in any context. I literally have no idea what she was thinking.”

“Well, it’s good that it’s not a pattern. You’re feeling better than you did when you called, right?”

“I’m not having a panic attack if that’s what you mean. I am feeling better though, thank you.” I hugged her, not wanting to let go. Neither did she, apparently, because we held each other in a comfortable silence for a while. I couldn’t tell if the happiness I was feeling was due to hugging someone, or hugging Christen.

“Do you wanna go to my house and watch Netflix? I could make popcorn,” She suggested, lifting her head to smile at me, but not pulling away. That damn smile.

“Are you asking me to Netflix and chill?”

She punched me in the arm, her jaw dropped. “You’re the worst. Yes or no?”

“Sure, I’d love to.”

We spent the rest of the night in her room, watching cringe-worthy shows and movies on her laptop. We were cuddled up on her bed. Being that close to her, with her head on my shoulder and our legs intertwined, it all felt easy and painless. The constant fog that was in my subconscious had cleared. I had only known her for a few days, too. We had an instant connection that was almost too good to be true. I hadn’t clicked so well with someone since...forever, really. Somehow, she was even cuter when she was asleep on my chest. I justified adjusting myself so I could hold her in my arms by thinking of the few times Alex and I cuddled. I disregarded the fact that those nights always ended with us kissing under the covers and not talking about it in the morning. I wouldn’t let that happen, I wouldn’t let it get that far. I couldn’t do that to Kelley, and I didn’t want to, no matter how weird she was being.

And even though I knew I shouldn’t let myself indulge, I couldn’t help but place a kiss on Christen’s forehead before closing my eyes. As far as I was concerned, in that moment, it was just us.

Chapter Text

I tried my best to take Christen’s advice. I knew she was right, but I also knew Kelley felt terrible about what had happened. I actually knew. She wouldn’t stop texting me about it. At first, it pissed me off that she wouldn’t leave me alone, that she wasn’t respecting what I wanted. I was able to ignore her (after sending her a courtesy text explaining that I needed some time) for about three hours, but caved when she started spamming me with pictures of puppies wearing hats.

Tobyyy: aw i like his party hat
Kelleyyy: Wow it worked
Kelleyyy: You respond to the puppies but not something that’s actually important
Kelleyyy: Noted :p
Tobyyy: just cuz i appreciate the pups doesn’t mean i’m ready to talk
Kelleyyy: Just one call and I promise I’ll leave you alone after that
Kelleyyy: I just need to apologize I feel so bad you have no idea

“Oh my God,” I mumbled to myself, shaking my head. I should’ve known she would be so annoyingly persistent. It was part of her personality. Most of the time, I found her determination adorable. But right now, I needed her to seriously buzz off.

Tobyyy: u can apologize tomorrow
Tobyyy: give me some space, i’m serious kel

I saw the three dots appear and disappear on my screen. They were on for a while, and much to my surprise, all she said was;

Kelleyyy: I understand. Love you

I tossed my phone onto my bed and huffed in frustration. I got what I wanted, but I felt guilty about it. I didn’t do anything wrong, and I knew that. All I did was stand my ground. But knowing Kelley, she would beat herself up and put herself down. She didn’t deserve that, despite the issue between us. I shook my head and grabbed my phone. I knew myself well enough to know that if I stayed holed up in the house, I would dwell. And I knew that if I dwelled, I’d call Kelley. So instead, I called Alex. She picked up immediately.

“Tobin, I am so so so so SO sorry-”

“Whoa, slow down. I’m not mad at you.”

“...are you sure?”

“Well, okay. I was a little mad, but it wasn’t your fault. Also, you could hardly walk.” She chuckled at that. “How’s the hangover, by the way?”

“Nothing some Aspirin and a cold shower can’t fix.” She stopped. “Are you okay? I meant to text you, but I thought I lost my phone. When I woke up, I realized that it was in my pocket all along.”

“I’m doing better now, thanks for asking. Uhm…” I cleared my throat. “Do you wanna go somewhere for lunch?”

I thought I heard her smile through the phone. “I thought you’d never ask.”

We agreed to meet at Starbucks within the hour. I was very nervous. There was a lot to unpack, especially after her outburst last night. I guess I didn’t realize that my self-inflicted isolation was hurting the people I loved. I mean, I should have, but it just didn’t occur to me. I missed her a lot. I missed our sleepovers. I missed her laugh. I missed making our signature (and totally not store bought) bagel bites. I missed hearing her gush about Servando, the boy she had been pining over since Junior Prom. I needed to explain myself, and apologize immensely.

I hesitated before I left my room, looking out of my window in hopes to see Christen. Her curtains were open, but her room was empty. My mind wandered to how I woke up that morning with her nuzzled up on my chest, snoring softly. I held her longer than I should for someone who was in a relationship, but I didn’t want to disturb her. That’s what I was telling myself. I simply didn’t want to wake her up. But deep down, I knew the only reason I hadn’t snuck out sooner was because she looked even more angelic up close. And like I justified to myself the night prior, nobody needed to know. It was just us.

 

I couldn’t control my knee from bouncing as I sat outside, too nervous to drink my latte. I decided against sitting inside, just in case our conversation got heated. I hoped that it wouldn’t, but it never hurt to take precautions, even if they were a bit over the top. The knots of anxiety that were in my stomach grew tighter and tighter as I saw Alex walk through the front doors, sunglasses on, looking completely badass. But that was to be expected; she was Alex Morgan. I, on the other hand, felt completely out of character. Although Alex and I were as close as two peas in a pod, I had never really opened up to her. She always teased me about being so laid back and how I always went with the flow. I never let on about how my anxiety was gradually eating me alive.

“Hey! Not hungry?” She asked, taking off her sunglasses as she sat down. She had gotten a sandwich. “Whoa, are you feeling okay? You look sick.”

I did my best to muster up a small smile. “Just nervous.”

“You? Nervous? That’s a new one,” She scoffed, unwrapping her meal. “What’re you nervous about?”

I rubbed my face, feeling my heart in my throat. “There’s a lot I need to talk to you about.”

She hesitated as she went to take a bite, her face full of worry. She set her sandwich down and gave me her full attention.

At first, I tried my best to calm my nerves while telling her selective details of my mental health. But as I went on, it became harder and harder for me to control my rising anxiety. Eventually, I gave up and lost my filter. I told her how homesick I was, how much I missed my father, how a dark, heavy cloud was following me and I couldn’t shake it off, no matter how hard I tried. If it weren’t for us being in public, I would’ve broken down then and there. I told her how I blamed myself for my father’s death, even though everybody I ever talked to reassured me there was nothing I could’ve done. I told her how hard everything was hitting me that summer. I told her everything. Well, almost everything.

I took a breath after I had gotten it all off my chest. I wiped away the few tears I let slip. Alex’s expression was unreadable, if not completely blank. We looked at each other for a few moments. I collected myself in the silence.

“Thank you for telling me, Tobin.” She reached across the table and rested her hand on mine. I turned my palm up to accept the gesture. She squeezed my hand. “I really had no idea. I thought you were just being a bitch,” She laughed under her breath.

“I can see how it would look that way. I’m really sorry, Al. I should’ve told you sooner.”

“No, it’s really hard to open up like that. Don’t feel bad about not being ready. How are you holding up now, though?”

“I’ve been getting better. I think I just ignored everything for way too long. Pushed it down until it bubbled back up,” I shrugged. “I didn’t mean to ramble like that. I don’t want you to feel bad.”

“Tobin, confiding in someone isn’t the same as guilt tripping them. I’m glad you were able to vent. Does Kelley know any of this?”

I stopped. “Uh...she knows bits and pieces. Not like, the deeper stuff. But she knows more than you did before today.”

“I think you should tell her as much as you’re comfortable sharing. Maybe your mom, too.”

“I guess I should. I’ll get around to it.” She squeezed my hand again.

“Have you talked to Kelley at all today?”

“Not really. She wants to, but I just need the day to get my thoughts in order.”

Alex raised her eyebrow at me. “I know it’s none of my business, but you really should talk to her. She won’t stop harassing me about you.” She took her phone out of her purse. “See? Seven texts since I got here. She feels awful about what happened. We all do, really. We shouldn’t have pressured you like that. It wasn’t right.”

“I just don’t understand what made her think it was okay to do that. She knows how transparent I am in my disgust for drugs and alcohol.”

“You won’t know if you keep ignoring her. It sucks, I know. She made a mistake-”

“Right after our anniversary too!”

“I know, I know. Just, think about it.” She picked up her sandwich and took a bite. “You should come over! It’s been a while since we tried our hand at a Buzzfeed recipe.”

“Agreed.”

 

I made a pit stop at my house so I could grab sleepover essentials before going to Alex’s house. We fell into our usual rhythm. Nobody would have guessed we hadn’t talked in two months. Our Buzzfeed Tres Leches turned out...edible, which was better than our cakes usually were. Baking was definitely not our strong suit. Making a mess of the ingredients, however, was what we did best. After cleaning up the kitchen, we settled down in the living room. She was scrolling through her Hulu account, about to show me the TV show she had been addicted to. Her phone buzzed, so she checked it.

“Tobin, for the love of God and all things holy on this damn Earth, call your girlfriend. If I get another desperate, disgustingly self-pitying text message from Kelley Maureen O’Hara, I will call her myself, force you to talk to her, and then strangle the both of you with my bare hands.”

I threw my hands up in surrender, quickly jumping off the couch in case she was serious. “Okay! Okay! You could just tell her to fuck off, but sure, threaten me.”

“You’re both annoying, bottom line. Now please, get her off my back before I drive to her house and beat her phone with a hammer.” I held eye contact with her as a challenge, shoving my hands in my pockets. I lost when she stood from her spot on the couch and made a step towards me. I sprinted into her bedroom out of fear and locked the door. “That’s what I thought!” She yelled through the door, laughing as she walked away.

 

“Kelley, before you say anything, I just want to let you know that you’re driving Alex crazy. She respectfully requests that you stop texting her every two seconds.”

“That’s fair.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “Tobin, I am so sorry. I messed up, I know I did. There’s no excuse for what happened, but just know I didn’t mean to hurt you.” She sounded so sincere and genuine. It hurt my heart to hear the pain in her voice.

“You know how these things make me feel, Kel. You know drinking and drugs make me uncomfortable. Why would you think pressuring me was okay?” I asked softly, not wanting to turn this into a fight.

“I know you pretty well, Tobs. I know you weren’t having a good time. It was written all over your face. I thought taking a hit would, I dunno, help you have some fun. I was just trying to help, that’s all.”

I held my tongue. It was the stupidest, most on brand thing she had ever said to me. I squinted my eyes shut and pinched my nose in frustration.

“Kelley. Let’s dissect what you just said. I understand you had good intentions, but you could’ve pulled me aside and communicated your concern. Shoving a bong in my face and trying to force me into smoking was the literal worst thing you could’ve done. Either you don’t know me as well as you think you do, or...I don’t even know. It was stupid, Kel. You sent me into a panic attack.”

She was quiet for a beat. “...I did?”

“It wasn’t obvious from the way I ran away hyperventilating?” I started getting irritated. It had been a while since we butt heads like that, but it was usually over minor things that we forgot about before the day ended. She was intelligent, but sometimes she refused to use her brain.

“I’m really sorry, babe. I guess I wasn’t thinking.”

I scoffed. “That’s an understatement.”

“Dude, I’m trying here. You don’t have to be a dick about it. I messed up. I apologized. What more do you want from me?”

“I’m not being a dick-”

Alex, who didn’t care if I knew she was eavesdropping, chimed in through the door, “Yes you are!”

“Okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but I think I’m allowed to be angry at least. What you did was bullshit.”

“Yeah, I know. You don’t have to rub it in my face, God.”

“Whatever.” There was a pause.

“Did your mom help you out?”

I cocked my head in confusion, but forgot she couldn’t see me. “With what?”

“Ya know, calming you down.”

“Oh. Uh, no. Christen did.”

“...who?”

“The new neighbor. She’s in our grade and we’ve gotten kind of close, so yeah…” I trailed off. It felt weird telling her about Christen, which worried me. It shouldn’t have been weird to tell my girlfriend about a new friend of mine.

“You’ve only known her for a few days.”

“We opened up to each other after her family came over for dinner. We just click. I don’t know what to tell you,” I said a little too defensively.

“What did you tell her?”

“Everything that happened. I vented, she listened, gave advice, then I spent the night at her house. We watched Sharknado.”

I heard Kelley huff. “Could you not go around telling strangers our business?”

“Are you kidding me? First of all, I only told one person. Second of all, you seriously can’t have expected me to not reach out to anybody. I was literally having a panic attack, Kelley. Third of all, like I literally just explained, she’s not a stranger. She’s my friend.”

“Yeah, well, she’s a stranger to me and probably thinks I’m a terrible girlfriend.”

“THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU!” I yelled louder than I should have. She was being infuriating and getting on my last nerve. Of all the moments in the world, her boneheaded-ness had to kick in then. I heard Alex scramble away from the closed door, finally giving us the proper privacy we needed to sort things out.

“It just makes me uncomfortable that you told her about it! Am I not allowed to voice my concerns?”

“But why is it even a concern? I vented to a friend. What’s the harm in that, Kelley?”

“I just don’t know her. I don’t really know how to explain it...just, can you not talk to her about us? I’d rather figure things out first. And I know in this situation, you weren’t able to talk to me, but in the future, I want you to be able to trust me more. You can vent to me anytime, you know that.”

I sighed, taking a moment to cool down. She had a point.

“That makes sense.”

“So, you won’t treat the neighborhood like your personal therapist?”

I hesitated. She was seriously being so rude, but I understood where she was coming from. But something about Kelley’s proposition didn’t feel right. I couldn’t place what was wrong. It was a gut feeling, but I ignored it.

“Fine.”

“Thank you. I’ll let you get back to your girl’s night. I love you, Tobin.”

“I love you too.”

I hung up. That was not how I wanted it to go. But at least we communicated, no matter how dysfunctional and flawed our conversation was. I tried to enjoy the rest of my night with Alex, but it was difficult to ignore the uneasy feeling in my stomach. Something about the way our talk went left me feeling tense. I had never snapped at Kelley before, but she had also never been that dimwitted. She was literally saying all the wrong things. But at least I saw where she was coming from, no matter how illogical her thought process was. We’d get past this, like we did with most things, and be back to normal in no time.

 

The next day was Kelley’s birthday. Since the soccer team had already thrown her a party, she spent the day celebrating with her family. I sent her a happy birthday text to be polite, but that was all. I forced myself to browse Amazon for her anniversary gift, making myself promise to stop by Academy eventually to buy her a new pair of cleats for her birthday. I wasn’t in any rush, though. Although we had talked, I still needed some space. I missed her, no doubt about it, but she was being such a prick. Instead of wallowing and simmering in my anger, I did two workouts instead of the usual one. I thought it would help me blow off some steam, but it didn’t. I was still just as pissed as I was before. I forced myself out of the house, going grocery shopping with my mom and Jeff. He was back to being a stubborn boob, so I enjoyed picking on him while we shopped, pointing at baby products and whispering to him, “Hey look! Something your size!”. The fun was cut short when he punched me in the arm and called me a bitch, which really shocked mom more than it hurt me. He was pretty weak, and I actually found his outburst funny. Call me a bad sister, but it was all in good fun.

Despite the distraction, Kelley and I’s conversation still bothered me. I just wanted to turn my brain off and forget about it. I knew we’d have to revisit it before we moved on, but I didn’t want to do that on her birthday. I also knew that if we talked then, we’d go around in angry, passive aggressive circles, which was the last thing we needed. My phone buzzed on my nightstand.

Panini Press: Either you’re asleep, or miserable.

I peered through my window and saw her typing away on her phone with a small smile.

Panini Press: Bad day?
Heath Bar: bad day(s)
Heath Bar: u watchin me sleep press?
Panini Press: Don’t make it weird. I honestly thought you were dead
Heath Bar: oh what a girl can’t sleep face down?
Panini Press: I mean, if you want to suffocate, be my guest.
Panini Press: Wanna talk about it?

Kelley’s request flashed through my head. I really wanted to talk to Christen about it and get another perspective. Alex was great for listening, but her advice was very...aggressive. Christen was level headed and saw everyone’s point of view. And of course, I couldn’t talk to Kelley about it for obvious reasons. I pondered the pros and cons, weighing the options in my head. My conclusion was: what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Once we figured things out, of course I would go to her more often and trust her with the missing pieces of my life. But until then, it was okay to go to Christen, right?

Heath Bar: i’ll open up tobin’s place
Panini Press: *Tobito and Chris’ Place
Heath Bar: i never agreed to that

I set my phone aside and opened my window, setting up the pillows and blankets. We both sat down on the roof. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, but her hair wasn’t ironed straight. Her natural waves were prominent and beautiful.

“How are you? What’s up?” She asked, tilting her head a little.

“I made the mistake of not taking your advice. I think it made things worse.”

“What happened?”

“Basically, she wasn’t fully understanding why what she did hurt me, which pissed me off. I kind of yelled at her, we argued, half resolved the issue but opened another can of worms, and now I don’t know what to think.”

“What do you mean, ‘half resolved the issue’? Did you sugarcoat how you were feeling?”

“According to her, I was being a dick about it. But I, uh,” I closed my eyes and took a breath. “I kind of agreed to not tell anyone about what we’re going through.”

She raised her eyebrows and widened her eyes. “And here you are, telling me.”

“Yeah. But like, what does she want me to do? Keep it all in while we’re in this weird place? What really bugged me was that she was more concerned with you thinking she was a bad girlfriend than-”

“Wait, why am I suddenly involved in this?”

“Oh, well, I told her that you helped me think things through and calm me down when I was panicking. She would’ve preferred if I kept what happened quiet and not talk to people she didn’t know about it.” I suddenly wanted to drop it. I felt like I was digging my own grave.

“Tobin, that’s kind of controlling. She shouldn’t have a problem with you turning to a friend for help, regardless if she knows them or not. I don’t know, that just rubs me the wrong way.”

There was some truth to what she was saying, but I didn’t like what I was hearing. “I honestly just think she worded it wrong. Like, she just wanted to figure things out before people knew. I get it,” I half-heartedly defended. Kelley wasn’t trying to be controlling. Sometimes, she put her foot in her mouth. She never was the most eloquent person.

Christen studied me, seemingly weighing something in her mind. “If you say so. You know her better than I do, I guess. So, the conversation wasn’t pleasant.”

“Oh yeah. I mean, both of us were definitely being assholes, but she just wasn’t getting it! I spelled it out for her and she STILL acted like her intention outweighed her action. She was being so passive aggressive about it, too. I think I’m gonna wait for her to reach out. I’d probably yell at her again if the ball was in my court.”

“Yeah, you both need some space to cool off. I wonder who suggested that in the first place…” She hummed, squinting her eyes at me. I shook my head and chuckled when she said, “I told ya so.”

“Ha ha. Very funny. You should write a self-help book,” I jokingly suggested. She leaned into me as we fell into a fit of giggles. The tension in the air was lifted by her bright, warm green eyes and her brilliant smile.

“It’s so effortless to be with you,” She absentmindedly said quietly after the laughter settled down. “It’s like I’ve known you for years.”

“I feel the same.” I met her gaze, infatuated by her. I felt a strong magnetic pull that drew me towards her. I couldn’t help but glance at her lips, and when a giant smile crossed her face, I knew I had been caught. I thought I saw her start to lean in, so I followed suit. All logic and reasoning left mind. I caressed her cheek, smoothing her skin with my thumb. Her dark, sun-kissed skin was soft to the touch. I soaked in all the imperfections, even though there were hardly any to begin with. How could someone be this ethereal? Our lips almost met, brushing against each other, before Chris pulled back slightly.

“Tobin, we can’t,” She whispered.

Our faces were still close in proximity, so she turned away before anything could happen. Once again, she was right, but I didn’t want her to be.

“Yes we can,” I whispered back.

“No, we can’t,” She said sternly, facing me and scooting a bit away from me. “It’s wrong. I’ve been trying to ignore these, these moments and feelings but I can’t anymore. I can’t do this, Tobin. You’re dating someone. It’s wrong!” Her soft features were now sharp and tense. “We’re friends, okay? That’s it. I know I played a part in this, but it ends now. I won’t be the other woman, and I certainly won’t allow you to continue this, whatever this is. No more lingering touches, no more kissing my head, got it? It’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to Kelley.” I sighed, feeling my heart sink to my feet. It needed to be said, and it needed to be done, but I still felt a little heartbroken and embarrassed.

“I thought you were asleep…”

“Well, I wasn’t. Maybe Kelley was right, you shouldn’t be talking to me about your relationship drama. Figure your shit out, Tobin.” She stood, gathering herself before heading to her window.

“Wait!” I stood up, too. She spun around, glaring at me.

“I’m sorry, Chris.”

She scoffed and shook her head before crawling into her room, shutting her window with a slam and closing her curtains.

Jesus Christ, what have I done?

Chapter Text

Days passed before Kelley and I finally talked. On a day when Jeffrey was at camp and mom was at work, Kelley came over to my house. I had prepared myself for essentially the same conversation we had over the phone, but we didn’t make the mistake of yelling at each other, and instead, we were civil and talked it through. She understood my perspective, and I understood hers. Finally, we worked things out, and right before school started too.

Christen and I, however, were hardly talking. She stopped smiling at me through the window, and made sure to keep her curtains closed when she was there. It hurt, but it was necessary. She only texted me when she had questions about school and classes, which I was way too eager to respond to. When I asked to compare schedules, she didn’t answer.

 

My alarm went off, scaring me out of my sleep. I groaned, wanting so badly to stay in bed, but knowing that I had to get up. I was responsible for driving Jeff to school now, so I had to make sure we were on time. I rolled out of bed and opened my curtains to let in some morning sunlight. To my surprise, Chris’ curtain was open and she was buzzing around her room, her eyes full of focus. She was already ready for the day, packing her backpack full of notebooks, binders, and other school supplies. She looked stressed. I fought the urge to get her attention and reassure her that everything would be okay, and instead, I closed my curtain and turned my bedroom light on.

“Jeff!” I yelled from the kitchen. We had about ten minutes left before we had to leave, and he was still upstairs running around.

“Yeah?”

“You wanna eat here or stop at McDonalds?”

“McDonalds, duh. Have you seen my shoes?”

I stepped out of the kitchen and glanced at the front door, seeing his pristine, white Nike shoes. I went back to the kitchen and finished putting together his lunch. “They’re down here!”

I heard his loud footsteps run down the stairs and to his shoes. I put my backpack on my shoulders and stopped in the bathroom to check how I looked one last time before we left. I ran my hands through my hair to smooth it out, nodding in approval at my simple outfit. Black, ripped skinny jeans paired with a plain, white shirt.

“Tobin, are you ready?”

I walked to the front and saw Jeffrey impatiently waiting. I was shocked at how decent he looked. He was sporting a black Vans shirt and khaki shorts. He was gripping the straps of his backpack tightly.

“Damn, Jeff. You clean up good. Did you get your lunch?”

“Yeah, thank you. Let’s go!”

As we agreed upon, we stopped at a McDonalds drive thru for breakfast. I could tell that he was nervous, but was trying hard not to let it show. Usually, he inhaled any food that was put in front of him, but he didn’t even open his Egg McMuffin. We pulled into the Senior parking lot with time to spare. Kelley was leaned against her car as we parked next to her. Before I got out of the car, I turned to Jeff.

“Hey, it’s not as scary as you think. You’ll do fine. If you need anything, text me.” We fist bumped. He gave me a small smile and took a deep breath, a look of determination spread across his face. “I got this,” He mumbled to himself as he opened the car door and marched towards the school.

“Good morning, babe,” Kelley greeted, wrapping her arms around my neck.

“Now it’s a good morning,” I smirked, leaning in for a kiss. She tasted like black coffee. I intertwined our hands together, making our way towards the school. I followed Kelley through the halls, which weren’t as packed as I thought they’d be. Right as we crossed the threshold from the indoor hallway to the outdoor one, I made eye contact with Christen, who was walking in the opposite direction with earbuds in. We held each other’s gaze for a second too long. Her stare hardened as she looked forward and kept walking.

“Happy last first day, y’all!” Alex raised her Starbucks in the air. Being we were all seniors, we cheered in celebration. The Varsity soccer team was close, but there was a smaller, more tight-knit group of them that had been playing together since middle school. I had become close to Alex and Kelley during freshman year, which guaranteed my place in the squad. Of course, when they held kickbacks or hangouts, everyone was invited, but in the mornings and other in between times, it was only the handful of us.

“The first meeting of the Senior Squad has officially begun-” Alex was interrupted by collective groans and protests.

 

“That’s a terrible name,” Julie interrupted.

“Can the first order of business be choosing a name that isn’t so...bad?” Pinoe asked, making a face of disgust.

“I’ll give you points for the alliteration, but yeah it kind of sucks. Sorry, Al.” I muttered to her while they all started arguing over a “better name” for our little group. “I highly doubt you’re sorry,” She turned back to the group, clearing her throat loudly.

“We can work out the name later, but since this is our last year-” More cheers erupted. “-I think we should leave behind a legacy of our own. I think us seniors should initiate the juniors.”

“What is this, a frat house?” Allie chimed in. Kelley gasped and looked at me with wide eyes.

“Frat Daddy O’Hara, oh my God.” I stifled my laughter and shook my head at her.

“Of course, I’ll make a giant senior group chat for this. Think of it as preparing the juniors for their responsibilities when we’re gone,” Alex continued, clearly proud of herself for thinking of the idea.

“Alex, we barely have any responsibilities. What would we be passing down, our one collective brain cell?”

“Pinoe, kindly shut the fuck up,” Alex requested before trying once more to explain her idea to us. “I just think it would be fun to initiate them. It could be the start of a beautiful tradition.”

“But like, why?” Allie asked, a bit confused.

“Why not? We don’t need a reason,” Alex answered, looking at us, gauging our reactions.

“Well, can’t argue with that. I’m in!” Kelley exclaimed, letting go of my hand to throw her hands in the air. The rest of us cheered in agreement. Before Alex could elaborate on specifics, the bell rang. Thankfully, Kelley and I had the same first period, AP U.S Government and Politics. We retraced our steps, hand in hand, walking back through the outdoor hall and into the campus. She busied herself with greeting everyone she knew as we walked, while I hoped to see Christen again. It had to be scary for her, going into the first day of school knowing absolutely nobody. I just wanted to be there for her, make it a little easier on her. But she was nowhere to be found.

 

I was thankful for my off period, because U.S Government had nearly bored me to sleep, and I didn’t think I could handle another slow, introductory class before lunch. The teacher thought it would be great to have assigned seats, so naturally, Kelley and I were split. She tried to make a case for us to sit together since her last name was O’Hara, emphasis on the Hara, but the teacher, Mrs. Wilson, wasn’t having it. I walked with the freckled girl to the English hall, where she had her AP English 4 class.

“You should get your loving girlfriend a McFlurry from McDonald’s,” She whispered seductively, biting her lip.

I rolled my eyes. “I’m not gonna become a regular there. I can bring you some coffee from Thunderbird? That’s where I’ll be.”

“Oh my God, that would be amazing. Here,” She started to take off her backpack to find her wallet, but I stopped her.

“No no no, my treat.”

“Maybe,” She leaned in closer, moving her head up to reach my ear. “I can repay the favor later- hey!” Someone pushed past Kelley, shoulder-checking her as they walked.

“That’s probably my queue to go. Honey Nut Latte?” I asked.

“You know me so well.” She kissed me on the cheek. “I love youuuu.”

“Love you too.” I tilted her jaw up and left a gentle kiss. “Kick ass, O’Hara.”

 

I was sitting inside the coffee shop. I had already finished my drink and was waiting until I left to order Kelley’s. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself for the remaining hour and forty minutes, since I had no homework. Luckily, my phone buzzed.

Kelleyyy: What’s your neighbor’s last name?
Tobyyy: why tho
Kelleyyy: There’s a girl named Christen in my class
Tobyyy: her last name is press
Kelleyyy: Yup that’s her
Kelleyyy: Oop gotta put my phone up adios

I hadn’t told Kelley about Christen and I’s conversation and how we weren’t really talking. I didn’t think I had to. But knowing Kelley, she’d go out of her way to befriend her. I hoped Christen wouldn’t be too rude to her. I sighed, letting my head into my hands. I didn’t even know why I was worried about it, but because I was, Christen was on my mind. I started thinking about how much I missed her. We weren’t even on cordial terms. Towards the end of summer, I filled my time with catching up with my soccer friends, but all I could think of was how to make things right with her. Last time we talked, she said we were friends, but she was treating me like an enemy. It didn’t add up.

 

I approached our usual spot on the “soccer” field. It wasn’t technically one, but it had a netless goal on one side and was used for Junior Varsity practice. We used the track for practice, but the Junior Varsity field had a cement slab on one corner that we had eaten lunch on since our freshman year. Kelley’s eyes lit up when she saw the Honey Nut Latte in my hand. She excitedly waved me over, shushing me as I sat down next to her and handed her the drink.

“All the seniors are here, yeah?” Alex asked, standing up and clearing her throat. I looked around and sure enough, we all somehow managed to squeeze onto the square. I guess I had missed the memo about a Varsity senior meeting and got lucky that I ate there anyway.

“What’s happening?” I whispered to Kelley.

“You didn’t get the text?”

“Nope.”

“Hm,” She hummed, taking her phone out and adding me to the GroupMe.

“So, to keep a long, genius idea short, I think we should start a tradition of initiating the juniors through a series of ‘assignments’ throughout the school year. I think it would be best if the tasks were tailored to the junior. Now, I’ve done the math, and there are twelve of us and six of them. So that means, there will be two of us assigned to one junior. I’ll send out who has who through the GroupMe. Here’s how it’ll work-”

“Wait, we don’t get to choose?” Ashlyn asked. The goalkeeper’s arm was around Ali’s shoulders. No one knew what was up with those two, but we knew there was something going on. We all had running bets on if they’re dating or not. I placed a crisp twenty dollars on dating. Kelley, on the other hand, bet fifty dollars on friends with benefits.

“Well, no. It’s easier this way, trust me. I wanted to avoid people fighting over the juniors. Anyway, so I took into account the details because there are so many little things that could go wrong or blow our cover. I’ll take care of letting the coaches, Tierna, and the few sophomores know what’s up so they don’t accidentally say something that could raise suspicion. Then,-”

“Damn, Alex. You really thought this through. Had nothing better to do over the summer?” Pinoe teased, smirking at the standing brunette while taking a bite of an apple.

“I swear to- is that my apple?” Pinoe shrugged in response, taking another bite and zipping up Alex’s backpack. The two forwards loved to banter off the field, but on the field, their chemistry was incredible.

Alex peered at Pinoe before continuing, “As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted and robbed of my third period snack, after those not involved are informed, I’ll create a fake but believable group chat using the app, Discord-”

“Speed it up, Alex. Some of us made lunch plans,” Allie requested, not looking up from her phone.

“Discord? That stupid gamer app? Why in the HELL would we ever use that?” Crystal questioned.

“Because there are different channels within our server, so our conversations can be organized and-”

“Alex, if you don’t finish this meeting within the next five minutes, I’m leaving,” Allie pressed again, eyes still glued to her screen.

“Fine, fine. I’ll take care of everything and send all the info out through the GroupMe. Sound good?” Everyone nodded.

“Alright. Dismissed. See you ladies in fourth period!” Alex sat back down as the group thinned out, leaving the usual suspects. Since the impromptu meeting was adjourned, I decided to extend a lunch invite to Christen.

Heath Bar: hey!
Heath Bar: hope ur first day is going well :D
Heath Bar: care to join us for lunch?

“Is that Christen?” Kelley asked, peering over my shoulder. I shielded my phone with my hand and turned to face her so it would be harder for her to look at my screen.

“Yes, and don’t do that, weirdo.” I stuck my tongue out at her. “I was just curious! I saw ‘Panini’ and was intrigued. Speaking of Press, I don’t think she likes me very much. Either that, or she’s just the kind of quiet girl that hates everyone,” Kelley shrugged, sipping on her latte.

“Oh, can you change my name in your phone to ‘Frat Daddy’?”

“Absolutely the fuck not. Do you know how terrible that would look out of context?”

She paused to think. “...huh. Good point.”

Panini Press: No thanks.

My heart sank at the text. Before I had time to respond, I got roped into a conversation about something I didn’t really care about. To be honest, all I did was smile and nod, laughing when everyone else laughed. Thankfully, the bell rang before anyone could notice my lack of participation. A simple text was enough to throw me off my game.

“Where ya headin’, Heath?” Kelley asked, standing up. She offered me her hand to help me off the ground.

“Statistics, and you have an off period, right?” I took her hand and stood, dusting off my jeans and putting my backpack on.

“Yup! I think I might drive home and hang out for a bit. Lucky for you, the Math hall and the Senior Lot are in the relative same direction, so I’ll accompany you!” She puffed up her chest and crossed her arms, flashing me a picture perfect smile.

“Wow, I feel so much better with a bodyguard that’s shorter than me,” I teased.

She scoffed, “Last I checked, I can out-bench you, so my strength makes up for the one inch you keep hanging over my head.”

“You’re such a jock.”

“You love it,” She smirked, tugging me closer by the belt hoops on my jeans.

“You’re right, I do,” I whispered as I leaned in to meet her lips half way.

“Get a room, my God,” Alex said as Pinoe made a gagging sound next to her.

“Oh, come on. Let them have their moment,” Julie defended, nudging Pinoe with her elbow.

“Moment ruined, but thanks JJ.” Kelley held my hand as we all started walking off the field. Pinoe and Julie walked the opposite direction after saying their quick goodbyes. Alex walked with Kelley and I. Turns out, we both had math at the same time, but she was in AP Calculus instead of Statistics. Kelley was telling a story about her English class. It baffled me that the first day hadn’t even finished yet, and she already had something happen.

“We’re in table groups, right? I knew everyone at mine except for this one girl who was on my right. I figured she’d naturally join the table conversation, but she didn’t. We were joking around and stuff, she didn’t even crack a smile. So, ya know, I figured she was listening to music or something. I glance at her, and turns out, she’s just writing in her agenda. No earbuds in sight. She was just flat out ignoring us, ignoring me, which is hard to do because I’m hilarious.” Alex scoffed at the last bit. “She probably thought y’all were loud and annoying. Please tell me you left the poor girl alone.”

“Nope! At that point, it was personal. So, I nudged her with my hand. We talked for a bit, made her laugh a few times. No big deal. She’s actually really pretty.”

“You should ask her out,” I joked.

“Nah, I’m good. I’ve already got a girl. Anyway, so we get to talking and things are good! All is forgiven. Then class starts and the teacher takes attendance, and that’s when things get weird. Her name rings a bell, but I can’t really remember why. But then it dawns on me,” She took a dramatic pause. “Her name is Christen Press.”

Oh God.

“So I’m like, ‘Isn’t Tobin’s neighbor named Christen?’. I text Toby here, and she confirms my suspicions. Christen knows who I am, and I know who Christen is. We have someone in common,” She pointed to me. “So I continue to try and talk to her, since she’s friends with Tobin. Nothing. It was like a flip was switched. She doesn’t even look at me. I took that more personal than before. Like, wouldn’t you think she’d want to get to know me?”

“Consider this: She actually wanted to listen to the teacher,” Alex countered. Kelley’s animated storytelling stopped for a second, chewing on what Alex said.

“No way. That wouldn’t make sense because I stopped her after class before she could leave.”

“Seriously Kelley? You need to learn how to take a hint,” Alex scolded. We silently agreed to take the long way to the math hall to accomodate Kelley’s story. We turned into the science hall from outside.

“So, I asked her if her coldness had anything to do with what Tobin told her when we, ya know, weren’t doing so hot.” My jaw dropped. “You did not.”

“I thought it was a fair question! But apparently the two were unrelated, so now I’m more lost than ever. Weird, right?” I was fuming. I clenched my jaw and let go of her hand, taking subtle deep breaths to calm down.

“What did she say?” Alex asked, dodging a group of people who decided to stop in front of her.

“Nothing! She said nothing! Before I could try again, she ditched. It was wack.”

I bit my lip and walked a little faster. I wasn’t angry at Kelley. She didn’t know about the weird place Chris and I were in. I guess I was more mad at the universe. It was just my luck that this would happen on the first day of school.

Alex noticed my change in mood and dismissed herself by saying, “My class is the other way, bye!”

“What? No it’s- aaand she’s gone.” Kelley caught up with me, holding my hand again. “Are you mad? If you’re mad that I asked Christen that question, I’m sorry. I was just confused.”

“It’s not that. I’m not mad at you, I promise. Just a tough situation.” We turned right into the main hallway.

“What’s that mean?”

“I think Chris is mad at me or something. We haven’t talked in weeks, which might be why she didn’t really wanna talk to you.”

“Oh, well at least she doesn’t think I’m terrible!”

“Kelley!”

“Sorry, sorry. I hope things work out.” She raised our intertwined hands and kissed my fingers. The warning bell rang as we reached our separation point. She needed to go straight, but I needed to turn right. She pulled me aside so we weren’t in the way.

“I love you so much, Tobin.”

I giggled at her sudden sappiness. “We’re gonna see each other in an hour and a half.”

“I know. You’ll be all hot and sweaty, and I’ll be hot and bothered.” She wiggled her eyebrows at me.

“Keep it in your pants, O’Hara. School is not the place to talk dirty,” I laughed. “Besides, it’s the first day. I don’t think we’ll do anything in Soccer class.”

“Get to class, ladies!” An administrator yelled at us. We looked at each other and stifled our laughter.

“You heard the man, get to class,” She mocked, pulling me in for a hug. I kissed her cheek. “Bye, babe.”

“Adios!” As I turned around to leave, I felt a slap on my ass. I spun my head around and saw her wink at me. I gave her the finger and made my way to AP Statistics. Usually, I stuck to regular math classes, but I really liked Mr. Cole. He taught regular Geometry my sophomore year, and I actually learned something!

The final bell rang as I stepped foot in his class. The tables were in groups of four. I made a beeline for the first empty seat I saw. As I took my backpack off and got settled, I heard a very familiar, frustrated sigh. I froze, looking up to see stone cold green eyes. I gulped.

I accidentally sat next to Chris.

“Hey…” I said cautiously. She kept looking at me.

“Heard you met Kelley today. She’s a handful,” I said, trying to start a conversation.

“Yup.” She went back to writing in her agenda.

“How’s your day so far?” I tried again. “Find everything okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool, cool. Can I just, uh, ask a question?”

“You’re going to ask anyway, so sure.”

“Why were you rude to Kelley? She’s got nothing to do with why you’re shutting me out, I don’t think.”

Christen stopped writing and put the cap on her pen, slowly setting it down. She opened her mouth to respond, but was cut off by Mr. Cole finally starting class.

Heath Bar: it looked like u were about to say something

Her phone buzzed, and when she saw it was from me, she glared at me.

Panini Press: For the record, I don’t condone texting in class.
Panini Press: But you won’t shut up so
Heath Bar: ouch
Panini Press: I was going to say that I just want to be left alone.
Heath Bar: chris, i rlly miss our friendship

She sighed, glancing at Mr. Cole’s Beginning of the Year presentation before going back to her phone.

Panini Press: Me too. It still hurts, Tobin
Panini Press: Seeing you and Kelley this morning was salt in the cut.
Panini Press: And then she tried to talk to me… I just couldn’t do it
Panini Press: I got caught up in the thrill of a summer romance, but it wasn’t realistic
Panini Press: I just need some time to get over this, okay?
Heath Bar: understood, thank u for telling me
Heath Bar: space granted :D

I saw a hint of a smile grace Chris’ face as she turned her phone off. She mouthed, “Thank you” before giving her full attention to Mr. Cole. It felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Finally, we had an understanding.

 

The rest of the day went by painlessly. As I predicted, we didn’t exercise during soccer class, but were warned to bring gym clothes for Wednesday. I had to wait a few minutes longer than I wanted to for Jeff. According to him, he had a great day. He loved his classes and even made a few friends! I was feeling generous, so we stopped at a local ice cream parlour to celebrate surviving the first day of the school year. It was really nice. Usually, Jeff and I were either fighting or ignoring each other. I would never tell anyone this, but I was hoping that high school would bring us together. Sometimes, it was lonely without Perry or Katie around the house. It was even lonelier without dad.

I decided to do my homework downstairs at the kitchen table with Jeff while mom cooked dinner. It had been a while since we all willingly spent time together as a family. It reminded me of how things were back in New Jersey, which I had mixed feelings about. On one hand, it started to feel like home, but on the other, it felt wrong. It felt like I was betraying my dad, in some weird, indirect way. I tried not to let myself spiral, because I knew only bad things would come out of it. Instead, I did my best to stay engaged in the conversation Jeff and mom were having. He was complaining about having homework on the first day of school.

“What about you, Tobin? Anything interesting happen?” Mom asked over her shoulder. She was stirring homemade marinara sauce in a pot.

“Alex is putting together some weird, junior initiation thing for soccer. But other than that, no.”

“Did you see Christen at all?”

“We have third period together and I saw her around the halls. She seemed like she was doing okay.”

“Seemed? I thought y’all were friends?”

“I don’t know, we kind of drifted. It’s fine,” I lied, focusing on my government reading. My mom took the hint and went back to talking to Jeff.

 

After a delicious dinner, I opted to work on my reading in my room. It was hard to focus when mom and Jeffrey were watching TV. When I got to my room, the first thing I noticed was muffled pop music. I knew for a fact that it was coming from Christen’s room. When I got closer to the window, I realized it wasn’t just pop music, she was singing to the Glee versions of old pop songs. I covered my mouth to stifle my laughter. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t judge her, but it was fucking hilarious. That show had ended years ago. I completely forgot it even existed. I didn’t even know people actually watched it.

I got myself together and casually walked past my window, setting my backpack down next to my desk. I so badly wanted to poke fun at her, but I knew better than to interrupt what looked like an intense karaoke performance. She wasn’t half bad, but definitely not American Idol worthy.

That night, after the singing had died down and I was getting ready for bed, I was trying to put together my outfit for tomorrow. I really, really wanted to bust out my yellow shorts, but since school had started, I needed to actually color coordinate so I didn’t look like a clown. I was running around my room wearing some sweats and a grey Nike sports bra, tearing apart my closet and drawers trying to find my “no social media” t-shirt. It was a message I kind of stood by, but really, I just thought it looked cool.

I knocked on Jeffrey’s door before opening it. “Jeff! You seen my ‘no social media’ shirt?”

“Ew! Put a shirt on!” He yelled, covering his eyes and turning away from me.

“I’m not naked, grow up. Have you seen it?”

“I thought it was mine!” He still hadn’t turned around. The irony was, he wasn’t wearing a shirt either.

“You-” I stopped myself and took a deep breath. “I spent like, forty dollars on that. Can I have it back? You can wear it next week if you want.”

He spun around, eyes wide with excitement. “Really?”

“Yeah, as long as you don’t stain it.”

“Yes!” He exclaimed, digging through his closet for the shirt. “Here ya go!”

“Thanks, brat. Night.”

“Goodnight!”

 

I got back to my room and was surprised to see that Christen had texted me.

Panini Press: I knew you’d wear those stupid shorts by the end of the week

I looked to her room, but the curtains were closed and the lights were off. I double tapped her message to “laugh” at it, deciding against responding entirely to keep things from getting too friendly.

I fell asleep with a smile on my face. Things were finally getting better.

Chapter Text

SEN19R SQUAD
Alex Morgan: Hey guys!
Megan Rapinoe: What the fuck did we say about the name
Julie Ertz: It’s worse when you put the 19 in there
Alex Morgan: I think it’s clever :/
Allie Long: It’s ugly the house
Kelley O’Hara: House? What house?
Allie Long: Never mind
Alex Morgan: Do y’all have a better suggestion or are y’all just gonna complain?
Crystal Dunn: Lmk when y’all figure this out
Tobin Heath: lol what about the soccer sisters
Megan Rapinoe: Y’all hear sumn?
Allie Long: Harry that’s even worse I-
Alex Morgan: I meant real suggestions
Ashlyn Harris: How about something simple but effective?
Ashlyn Harris: “Varsity Soccer Seniors”
Kelley O’Hara: Ooooo I like it
Megan Rapinoe: How about “Baby Horse Sucks :)”
Alex Morgan” First of all, I’ve been trying to outrun that nickname since elementary school
Ali Krieger: Don’t you mean out gallop?
Ashlyn Harris: DAAAAAMN ALI
AD Franch: That was a good one
Alex Morgan: I hate y’all
Kelley O’Hara: Might I suggest “The Frat Daddies”?
Tobin Heath: u need to let that go kel
Tobin Heath: do u have a daddy kink or somethin?
Kelley O’Hara: NO I DON’T ISTG
-Alex Morgan changed the name to “Kelley has a Daddy Kink”-
Alex Morgan: :)
Julie Ertz: Omg this is amazing
Kelley O’Hara: ALEX CHANGE THAT RIGHT NOW
Allie Long: Don’t you dare change it Al
Alex Morgan: Anyway, I’m gonna send a pdf of the senior pairs and who their juniors are
Alex Morgan: *Attachment: 1 Image*

I saved the list in my camera roll and checked to see who I was assigned to. I didn’t have to scroll too far, because I was the very first one listed. I was paired with Alex, and our junior was Hayley Raso. She moved from Australia last year, and was an absolute beast on the field. We all knew how talented she was. There was no doubt in my mind that she would get drafted into the National Women’s Soccer League as soon as she graduated high school.

Kelley O’Hara: Becky we have Sonnett!
Becky Sauerbrunn: Sounds good.
Julie Ertz: Pinoe we got Lindsey
Megan Rapinoe: I have eyes but thanks
Alex Morgan: I’ve already emailed Coach Ellis and she’s on board
Alex Morgan: Sophomores and Tierna are on board too
Kelley O’Hara: Aw lil T :’)
Alex Morgan: Here’s the gist- throughout the year the pairs will give their junior a “task”. The tasks will be entirely up to the pairs and the junior will have a week to complete it. If they don’t make the deadline, the pair will have to prank them as punishment.
Ashlyn Harris: Do the tasks have any criteria?
Alex Morgan: Good question
Alex Morgan: Make them kind of challenging
Alex Morgan: Something they’d not wanna do but something doable
Kelley O’Hara: I have so many ideas oh my god this is amazing
Alex Morgan: I’m throwing a back to school party next weekend to kick things off
Alex Morgan: I’ll send y’all the details when things are solid
Megan Rapinoe: This might not be half bad
Megan Rapinoe: Good work Al
Kelley O’Hara: Can you change the name please i’m begging you
Tobin Heath: don’t listen to her
Kelley O’Hara: Who’s side are you on????
Tobin Heath: the side of chaos

I was actually kind of excited for Alex’s master plan. Since I wouldn’t have to apply to colleges like the average high school senior, I’d need something to occupy my time. Embarrassing Hayley would be the perfect thing to do. I watched the chat blow up with questions, expecting Alex to answer them, but then she called me.

“I think you should be answering the GroupMe.”

“I’ll get to that, but I just wanted to talk to you about something.”

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Are you and Christen all good now?” Alex asked timidly.

“I mean, I guess. Why do you ask?”

“We’re in the same psychology class, and she’s the only person I knew. I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t any tea. I refuse to be friends with someone who’s feuding with my bestie.”

“There was never a feud. But yeah, things are fine now. You have my approval.”

“Thanks, Tobs. See you Monday!”

“See ya.”

While I appreciated Alex’s support, her phone call was kind of weird. I shrugged it off and continued on with my day. Kelley and I were gonna work out together and go on a pizza date afterwards.

The rest of the weekend and the following week were pretty uneventful. I fell into the familiar cycle of wake up, go to school, go home, do homework, sleep, repeat. Even though I told Kelley I didn’t want to frequent the McDonalds near our school, I started getting her McFlurrys when she asked (which was almost every day). Usually, Alex was the queen bee of our lunch group, and would always eat with us or organize where we would go. It had been like that for three, going on four years. So when she missed lunch on Friday without saying anything, it was a hot topic.

“She’s probably getting lunch or something, she’ll be here,” Julie explained. She was easily the most reasonable out of all of us.

“Nah, I bet she’s getting it on with Servando,” Pinoe teased, sending us into hysterics.

“No way, where would they even do it?” I asked.

“In a car, duh.” Kelley nudged me, but then leaned in to whisper, “I wouldn’t mind doing that.”

“I’m changing your contact name to ‘Horndog’.”

“Let’s be real here, she’s probably not fucking Serv. Alex is a woman of class,” Allie defended.

Pinoe snorted. “She’s a woman of ass.”

We quickly forgot about Alex until the bell rang and we realized she never showed up. She hadn’t texted any of us to give a heads up either. I personally thought nothing of it. Sometimes I had to miss a lunch for tutoring, so she probably got caught up in that. But not everybody thought like Julie and I.

“What did I tell ya? Serv got served,” Pinoe smirked.

 

“Don’t get face paint on my shirt,” Kelley warned. We were in her room getting ready for Alex’s “party”. The seniors were instructed to show up wearing all black with blue and silver face paint. I was trying to follow Alex’s model for the face paint on Kelley.

“The chances of me messing up would be less if you stopped talking.”

She stuck her tongue out at me, but kept quiet until I was finished. Right as Kelley started putting the silver face paint on me, my phone rang.

“Who’s calling?” I asked. My phone was closer to her than it was to me.

“Alex, conveniently. She couldn’t have waited?”

“You do realize she has no clue what we’re doing, right? Can you pass me my phone?”

Kelley stood and grabbed my phone. Before she handed it to me, she answered the call.

“‘Sup Janice?...Tobin? She’s busy at the moment,” She looked at me and winked. I rolled my eyes and took the face paint to her bathroom to apply it myself.

I had finished the silver side when Kelley waltzed into the bathroom.

“Yeah, uh huh...okay, here she is…” She gave me my phone. “Thanks, loser,” I said to Kelley before putting my phone to my ear, being careful to steer clear of the painted half of my face.

“Hey Al.”

“Hi! Could you and Worms do me a quick favor before y’all head over?”

“Worms? I-never mind. What do you need?” I hadn’t heard of the “Worms” and “Janice” thing before. It didn’t really make sense, but neither did Alex and Kelley’s friendship.

“I need you to stop by Central Market and pick up a few things for me. I’ll venmo you whatever you spend.”

“Uh...okay. Send me the list, yeah?”

“Already did. Ciao!”

 

“Kelley, get the sushi!” I yelled, making a beeline to the soup self serve area. We were already ten minutes late to the senior call, and Alex wouldn’t stop blowing my phone up with, “Where are you???” texts. “Quickly, please!”

“It’s not my fault!” She yelled back. “We’re both to blame for being late,” She winked. I rolled my eyes and turned my back to her. “Which one do I get?”

“Two giant platters!” I sloppily filled a large soup cup with tortilla soup, going as fast as I possibly could.

“I’ll go get the chocolate milk!” She frantically exclaimed in my ear, startling me. We probably looked like absolute idiots, yelling at each other about ingredients that didn’t even make sense together. Not to mention our dumb face paint. But we both knew we would face Alex’s wrath for being late, so we hauled ass.

After hunting down jalapenos and cheesecake, we checked out and sprinted to Kelley’s car. She was speeding the whole five minute drive, which made me nervous. The thought of being chewed out by Alex was worse than getting pulled over, though. She was a stone cold bitch when she wanted to be.

“I swear to God, you two better have a great excuse for being twenty minutes late or you’ll be drinking this smoothie too,” Alex threatened when she opened the door for us.

“We-”

“One that doesn’t involve being down each other’s throats,” She interrupted Kelley, glaring at the short defender.

“Uh...” Kelley looked at me. I shrugged, not wanting to incriminate myself. “I won’t lie, that’s exactly what we were doing,” She admitted.

“You’re lucky we’re running ahead of schedule, O’Hara, or I’d be serving both of your heads on a silver platter.” She made sure to give me an icy look before grabbing the grocery bags from us and turning on her heel. We followed her to her kitchen like ducklings. I set the large (and I mean large) cup of tortilla soup on the kitchen counter.

“Alright Tobin, I’m gonna need your help with the smoothies- DON’T EAT THAT!” Alex screamed, lunging at Kelley, who had picked up a Big Mac and took a hefty bite out of it. She nearly choked at the sight of a pissed off Alex Morgan charging at her.

“That was for the God damn smoothies!” Alex yelled again, taking the burger out of Kelley’s hands and turning back to me. “New plan, I need you to saw off the part your pet rat ate.” She handed me the half eaten burger.

“Pet rat? I know that’s supposed to be an insult, but rats are cute, so I accept your compliment. I mean, have you seen Ratatouille? They’re adorable AND they can cook!”

“Kelley, I’m gonna need you to go downstairs and help them set things up before I kick your ass down there.”

She saluted and sauntered down to Alex’s second, more secluded living room. I grabbed a knife and started chiseling into the Big Mac.

Before we knew it, it was almost 7:30 P.M. Alex and I brought the last of the disgusting smoothies downstairs. She cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention.

“The juniors should be arriving soon! Remember, shut the fuck up and keep them quiet before I come down with the last one. Is everything in place?” Alex did a quick once over of the room. She was the only one not wearing face paint because she would be the one greeting the poor, unsuspecting juniors and guiding them to us. Once she approved the room, she rushed upstairs just as the doorbell chimed.

 

A very hesitant Abby Dahlkemper was the last to show up. Alex followed her down the stairs.

“What is going on?” Abby asked, more so directly at the herd of juniors in the middle of the room. Behind them stood a table full of unappetizing smoothies (if you could even call them that), and behind the table, were the painted seniors. Alex stopped at the bottom of the staircase and faced everyone.

“Welcome to your Initiation, juniors! Tonight is the night it all begins.” She moved in front of them and gestured to separate table, where a notebook laid open. “One by one, you will sign your name in The Book. After that’s done, you’ll take an oath of consent and chug this delicious smoothie.”

“What exactly are we consenting to?” Sam asked. She towered over most of the juniors, and most of the seniors as well.

“Well, if you choose to participate, you’ll be assigned a pair of seniors. Throughout the year, your seniors will give you tasks to complete, which all have a week deadline. If you don’t do it on time, you’ll be punished. Who wants to sign first?”

Without any hesitation, Emily Sonnett swaggered forward and signed her name. We shouted in celebration as she rejoined the juniors. Lindsey followed suit, and it wasn’t a surprise when Moe was the last one to sign The Book. A few of them still looked unsure, but Sonnett, Sam, and Lindsey were pumped.

Alex lead them through the oath, which I was listening to until Kelley tugged on my shirt. We were standing in the very back.

“I can hardly see anything,” She complained.

“You’re not missing much.”

“Not right now! But I won’t be able to see who blows chunks when it’s smoothie time!”

I shook my head and wrapped my arm around her shoulders. “You’re cute when you’re pouting,” I told her.

“And you’re cute all the time. I wish we weren’t wearing this stupid face paint so I could kiss you again.” I felt her arm hug my waist. “I’m gonna break out so bad tomorrow. I hate acne.”

“You have pretty amazing skin, Kel. I’m sure you’ll be fine.” I smiled at her.

“Juniors! Please take a smoothie,” Alex instructed. We had accidentally talked through the oath. I heard Kelley gasp as she scurried to the front of the group. She was hyping up Sonnett, who was soaking up everything the brunette was telling her.

“Wait, do we get to know what’s actually in this?” Hayley asked.

“Nope! Now, chug on three.” Alex looked us expectantly. We counted down with her.

“One, two...THREE!” We yelled, chanting, “CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!”. Lindsey, Sam, and Sonnett clinked their cups together and started drinking. Hayley hesitantly followed suit, immediately gagging and spitting the chunky, brown liquid on the floor.

“And that’s why I brought a tarp,” I heard Becky mutter to Alyssa in front of me. “Good thinking on that one,” Alyssa commended, high fiving Becky.

After seeing Hayley’s reaction to the smoothie, Moe and Abby still hadn’t taken a sip. Hayley tried again, drinking a quarter of it before she stopped. She looked nauseous. “Let’s go, Raso!” I cheered, making my way to the front to help her out. “You got this!”

She smiled and nodded her head, going back for more. I heard cheers on my right from Kelley, who was egging Sonnett on. I looked just in time to see Sonnett wipe her mouth, slam her cup on the table, and throw her hands in the air in celebration. Kelley was jumping next to her, yelling her head off. Her energy level matched that of our high school football games. “That actually wasn’t bad,” Sonnett told her. Lindsey and Sam were next to Sonnett, doing their best to keep up with her. Sam was trying to take it like a champ, but her face was green and she gagged everytime she brought the smoothie to her mouth. Lindsey had a few sips left, but was trying to keep everything down. I heard people gagging on my left and was not surprised to see Abby and Moe dry heaving into the same trash can. They had barely touched their smoothies. I turned my attention back to Hayley, who was also eyeing the sensitive duo. She took a deep breath and tried to chug the rest of her smoothie. I started hyping her up, yelling louder and louder as she nearly emptied the cup. Alex joined me, clapping Hayley on the back. Hayley’s eyes went wide at the contact and before I could shield my face, the smoothie came back up.

“Oh my God I’m so sorry!” She apologized. My eyes were shut in order to prevent the concoction from getting in them. Alex was howling with laughter. Everyone was. I wiped my face with my hands, finally opening my eyes to see Hayley staring at me with a look of horror. She kept saying, “Oh my God,” under her breath.

“It’s fine,” I reassured her as I made my way to the bathroom. It was obvious that nobody was going to help me, since they were all busy laughing at me. The only thing that kept my emotions in check was the fact that it would make for a hilarious story later on. After I cleaned myself up, I took a moment to collect myself before going back to where the magic was happening.

As soon as I stepped foot into the living room, Hayley bombarded me.

“Tobin, that was a complete accident I swear.”

“It’s okay! I know how gross the smoothie was. I don’t blame your body for rejecting it.”

We walked back to the group. Moe and Abby were still hovering over the trash can, their cups half empty. Lindsey and Sonnett looked completely unharmed. They were laughing with Kelley and a few other seniors.

Alex eventually let Moe and Abby off the hook for the sake of moving on with the night. She cleared her throat and waited until we were quiet.

“Now that that shit show is done, it’s time to meet your senior pairs! Seniors, since you know who you have, you figure it out. I’ve gotta clean this mess up.”

I turned to Hayley. “That was easy. You have Alex and I.”

Her face lit up. “Awesome! You guys will go easy on me, yeah?”

“I don’t know about that, but we haven’t even thought about your first task so I wouldn’t worry for now.” I watched Alex squint at the dirty tarp, trying to figure out how to move it without making a mess. “Actually, your first task is to clean all this up,” I said to Hayley.

“Oh, come on!”

“Sorry, I don’t make the rules. Oh wait, I guess I kinda do!” I patted her on the back and walked over to Alex with Hayley sulking behind me.

“Hayley’s got her first task. You’re off the hook,” I explained. Alex grinned and nodded in approval. “Nice. Wanna help me upstairs while everyone mingles?”

 

Alex and I were cleaning up the kitchen. She was washing all the cups while I wiped the counter tops. “Hey Tobs?”

“Mhm?”

“Why are you so against alcohol?”

I froze, feeling my muscles tense. I closed my eyes and sighed. I really did not want to get into that at a high school party.

“You have a wonderful habit of asking personal questions at the worst times.”

“That was a personal question?” She stacked the cups in one another and put them in a cabinet. I kicked myself for giving away more than I wanted to.

“Eh.”

“Have you even tried-”

“Alex, stop. We are not doing this again.”

She raised her hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. Moving on…”

“You missed lunch on Friday. Didn’t think we’d notice, did ya?”

She chuckled as she dried a cup. “I didn’t know y’all were keeping tabs on me. For the record, I was getting some help in Psychology,” She explained absentmindedly.

“You need help this early on? Is it really that hard?”

“I mean, not really. I wasn’t paying attention to his lecture so I went in and acted like it wasn’t clicking. Worked like a charm. I think that’s all the cups,” She said as she put the blender in the dishwasher. She leaned against the sink. “Think it’s time to start the party?”

 

Kelley and I decided to stay for an hour or so since it was a special occasion. We opted to hang out in the downstairs living room where there were less people. We were sitting in a circle with Allie, Alex, Lindsey, Moe, Abby, and Hayley. We could clearly hear the party music coming from upstairs and how crazy they were going. Becky and Alyssa had left early in favor of “not partying”. We were listening to Alex, who was tipsy, tell the story of the first time she blacked out. Everyone thought it was hilarious, and it was kind of funny, but I wasn’t amused. She could’ve gotten in serious trouble.

“Crazy idea, but what if we played Spin the Bottle?” Sonnett suggested as she took a sip from her beer. I immediately scooted out of the circle. Not that I had anything against Spin the Bottle, I just didn’t want to kiss my friends. That’s what I had Kelley for.

Since most of the group were drinking, they unanimously decided to play. I wasn’t surprised when Moe, Abby, and Allie agreed to the kissing game. Drunk straight girls loved to kiss each other.

“Sonnett, that’s the best idea you’ve had all night. Chug that beer so we can use the bottle,” Kelley instructed.

“Kel, you’re playing?” I questioned, a little confused.

“Hell yeah! You’re not?”

“Uh, no, for obvious reasons,” I hinted.

“Must not be so obvious, then. Could you get me a water bottle?”

I rolled my eyes and got up to go upstairs where the beverages and food were. I found myself feeling uneasy as I grabbed a water bottle from the refrigerator. The idea of Kelley kissing someone else made me feel nearly as sick as Moe when she tried to drink the smoothie, but I knew that I had to trust her. I twisted the promise ring that was on my finger. I needed to stop doubting Kelley and worrying about every little thing. It was just a dumb, high school party game.

I returned just in time to see Alex spin the bottle. I handed Kelley her water and sat on the love seat. As much as I didn’t like the game, it was entertaining to watch tipsy girls play.

A few rounds went by before something interesting happened. Hayley spun the bottle after giving Sonnett a peck, and it landed on Allie and Abby. The two blondes looked at each other, jaws dropped. They started giggling as they met in the middle of the circle. Allie’s foot knocked over her cup, spilling her mixed drink on the carpet. What did I tell you? Alcohol gives straight girls an excuse to be gay.

Alex scolded Allie as she jumped up to grab the spilled cup off of the floor. As soon as she stood, she stumbled a bit.

“Hey, I got it. I don’t think you can make it up the stairs,” I told her as I grabbed her arm. She leaned onto me.

“Shespiiilled her drINk! It’s gonna staaaain!”

“I’ll take care of it, no worries,” I reassured her as I helped her sit back down in the circle. She protested, but once she was on the floor she didn’t try to get back up. I went back upstairs to get some paper towels. I had to maneuver through the makeshift dance floor to get to the kitchen, where I ignored Ali and Ashlyn making out next to the sink.

As I walked down the stairs carrying a handful of paper towels and a can of stain remover, I saw Kelley and Alex in the middle of the circle, kissing. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, since it was the name of the game, but they were actually kissing. Not a peck, but actually kissing. Borderline making out. I froze, watching them swap spit as my drunk teammates cheered them on. I calmly walked around the circle to where Allie’s cup spilled and started cleaning. I was seething, but I knew nobody would understand why since they weren’t in their right mind. What really angered me was the fact that Kelley was 100% sober. I focused on scrubbing the alcohol out of the carpet, not wanting to cause a scene.

“Daaaamn that was hot!” Lindsey yelled as Kelley and Alex pulled apart. I scrubbed the ground harder.

“Kelley, we should go,” I said shortly, balling up the dirty paper towels and sitting on my knees.

“Why? The party’s just getting started!”

“Yeah well, I’m getting tired, and you’re my ride, so…” I stood up, throwing the trash into the trash can.

She sighed as boos erupted from the circle. I made a beeline to the stairs, not saying goodbye to a single person.

 

“Why’d you leave so fast?” Kelley asked as she approached her car, digging in her pocket for her keys. I had been leaning against the passenger door for about five minutes.

“We need to talk, that’s why.” The car beeped as Kelley rounded the front of it. We got in.

“About what?” She asked as she started the car. I put on my seatbelt and looked at her with raised eyebrows.

“Really? You don’t have a single clue?”

“Throw me a bone, babe. Did I do something?” She started driving. Was she being serious? How could she be so clueless?

“You kissed Alex.”

She scoffed. “That’s kind of how Spin the Bottle goes. Blame the bottle if you want.”

“I get that, but like...it was the way you kissed her. You were practically frenching her!”

“Okay, I definitely was not frenching her. It was just a game, Tobin. It obviously didn’t mean anything. You really think I’d cheat on you?”

I fell silent at that. It’s not that I didn’t trust her, it was just...well…

I felt her brown eyes stare at me, but I didn’t dare return her gaze. Somehow, I had become the one in the wrong.

“No, it’s not that. Seeing you kiss her like that just, I don’t know, made me uncomfortable.”

“Everything makes you uncomfortable,” She muttered under her breath as she took a right.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. If that’s how you feel, then I won’t play Spin the Bottle again.”

I wanted to press, because it seemed like there was something I was missing, but I decided against it. I did not want to start another fight with her, not after we had finally gotten to a good place.

The rest of the car ride was filled with tense silence. She dropped me off at my house without saying goodbye, which I didn’t mind. I knew it would pass, as all our small conflicts did. Tomorrow morning, we’d act like nothing happened, like there was something she wasn’t telling me. Was I really being that sensitive?

I ignored the suspicion in the back of my mind as I tried to fall asleep. It was just a game. I needed to trust my girlfriend. It was just a stupid fucking game. Maybe Kelley was right- I needed to relax.

Chapter Text

“Gooood morning Silver Oak! It is a beautiful, mid-September day. Please stand for our pledge of allegiance!” Kelley boomed over the school speakers. Only a few people actually stood, including Mrs. Wilson. I liked to think she only stood because she was a U.S Government teacher, but she seemed like the type of person who would stand anyway. I tuned Kelley’s voice out, opting to read my book for English class.

“One last thing! Emily Sonnett, your mom dropped off your bright pink My Little Pony lunchbox. Looks like you left it at home. Please come pick it up at the front office. I repeat, Emily Sonnett, your My Little Pony lunchbox is in the front office. Thank you SIlver Oak, and have a marvelous Monday!” I snorted, covering my mouth with my hand to contain my laughter. Kelley told me Sonnett had missed her deadline on purpose (I didn’t blame her, I wouldn’t want to pull Pinoe’s shorts down during soccer class either), but she didn’t tell me anything about how she was gonna punish her. After the announcements finished, my phone started buzzing with texts.

KELLEY HAS A DADDY KINK
Megan Rapinoe: That was cruel
Megan Rapinoe: I loved it
Kelley O’Hara: Thanks! I worked hard on it
Becky Sauerbrunn: It was all Kelley’s idea.
Ashlyn Harris: That shit had me rolling lmao
Allie Long: Kel you really went off
Kelley O’Hara: Now that I’ve proven myself can Alex PLEASE CHANGE THE NAME
Alex Morgan: Nope! :)

Kelley came back to class right as the bell rang. We walked hand in hand to her English class.

“McFlurry?” She asked, using her puppy eyes against me. I smiled and shook my head.

“You better cough up some money then. I’m not your personal, bottomless cash flow.”

As she dug around her backpack to find her wallet, I saw Christen walk past us. Per usual, she was wearing earbuds. Luckily, I caught her eye. She pulled out her earbuds as she walked over to the side of the English hall Kelley and I were standing at.

“You know the bell rings in like...” She checked her phone. “...two minutes.”

“Yeah yeah, thanks mom. I’m pretty sure I’ll be alright.”

“Well, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but everytime you’re tardy Ms. Ottosen gives you the death glare.” Christen turned to me with a warm smile. “Hey Tobin, how’ve you been?”

“I’ve been good, I’ve been cooking up something big for Hayley-oh shit, I need to text her what her task is!” Right as I pulled out my phone, the bell rang. Christen’s eyes widened with panic as she sprinted to her English class, muttering a sorry to the teacher who was waiting by the door.

“You better get to class. Your teacher is staring right at you,” I gestured, nodding my head past Kelley. She didn’t follow my gaze and instead pulled me in for a hug.

“Kel, I’m serious. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

“I won’t get in trouble, you worry too much.”

“She’s glaring at us, and now I feel like I’m gonna get in trouble.” I pulled back and let her go, but her arms were still tightly wrapped around me.

“Fine. No McFlurry.”

She flung herself off of me and ran, not even saying bye. I chuckled to myself. I knew her so well.

Tobin Heath: hey raso, i have ur second task
Aussie: Please tell me it doesn’t involve cleaning
Tobin Heath: it does not
Tobin Heath: it’s a scavenger hunt >:)
Tobin Heath: first clue is in coach ellis’ office, good luck kid
Aussie: Fine :/

I smirked to myself as I picked up Kelley’s Oreo McFlurry. Hayley was in for a treat. For her sake, I hoped she completed the scavenger hunt on time. I was in charge of coming up with the tasks while Alex was in charge of punishments, and we all knew she would come up with something terrible.

 

It was Thursday before Alex showed up to lunch. Pinoe and Kelley were insistent that Alex and Servando were doing...things, to which Julie adamantly rejected the idea. Basically, nobody had budged on their theory as to what Alex was actually doing. Allie and I were the only ones who didn’t really care either way. She was her own person, she could make her own decisions. But I had to admit, it was pretty funny listening to Kelley and Pinoe argue with Julie.

“Look who’s back from her sex-capades!” Pinoe greeted Alex as she sat down in between her and Julie.

“My what?”

“Ya know, your sex-capades.”

“Pinoe, I know I did not just hear you insinuate that I’ve been having sex during lunch. Where would that even happen? Who would that even happen with? You didn’t think that through, did you?” Alex asked, taking out her lunch bag and setting it in front of her.

“That’s what I said!” I yelled as if they were all idiots.

“Servando’s car, probably,” Kelley innocently chimed in. Alex choked on her own spit when she heard that.

“You honestly think I’d fuck in a car? You don’t know me at all.”

“See? I told y’all,” Julie said, taking a sip from her “water” bottle that we all knew was full of black coffee.

“Aha! So you were with Servando!” Pinoe cheered, high fiving Kelley. Alex cringed when she heard his name.

“Oh my God no! I don’t even like him anymore. Does it matter what I was doing? I’m here now, aren’t I?” I could tell she was getting frustrated.

“It’s just weird. Like, you’ve never once missed lunch until recently. It’s not a big deal. We’re just messing with you, damn,” Pinoe defended angrily.

“Let’s all just calm down, alright?” I tried to diffuse the situation. When Pinoe and Alex got into it, things got nasty.

“Fine,” Pinoe huffed. Alex still looked pissed, and she made it known. For the rest of the lunch period, she hardly spoke. When she did, it was short and borderline rude. Nobody really understood why she was being so cold and defensive, but didn’t dare press the issue. None of us wanted to anger her more than we already had.

“Hey Al,” I said as her and we walked to the math hall after lunch.

“Where’s your little cockroach?” She asked, referring to my girlfriend.

“Kelley didn’t park in the Senior Lot today,” I lied. I had actually asked her to leave us be so I could talk to Alex alone. “Everything good? You seemed on edge today.”

She sighed. “Not really, I’m just stressed out.”

“Wanna get dinner tonight? We can talk about whatever you’re going through if you want,” I offered.

She smiled softly. “That would be great, actually.”

Aussie: I had to pass up the opportunity to go to Macca’s w/ friends today
Aussie: So basically I hate you and Alex
Tobin Heath: :p
Tobin Heath: did you progress in ur mission
Aussie: Yeah and I’m mad at you
Aussie: You made me go into the boy’s bathroom and there was a group of them vaping
Aussie: Do you know how embarrassing that was?
Tobin Heath: kind of the point but the vapers were an added bonus
Tobin Heath: ur almost done rip
Tobin Heath: glad ur having fun tho!
Aussie: Shut up

Alex and I decided to meet at the JuiceLand near her house. Alex was vegan, so apparently she went there all the time. I knew I should’ve eaten healthier, considering I was about to be a collegiate athlete, but I opted to buy a strawberry banana smoothie and stop at a burger place on the way home. I promised myself that I would go vegetarian in college, so I had to eat all the meat I could before the time came.

After she got her food, we sat outside.

“So what’s been bothering you?”

Alex sighed and opened her salad. “You know how strict my parents are about grades, right?”

I nodded, remembering the time last year when she had to bail on sleeping over at my house because she got an 89 on a homework assignment.

“Well, I’ve been having a really hard time in AP Economics. Like, I’ve been failing quizzes. Getting anything below an A stresses me out, you know this,” She gestured at me with her fork full of lettuce. I nodded again.

“Now just imagine that and add on the stress of my parents screaming at me about it. They’re giving me this grading period to get my shit together before they make me drop soccer so I can see a personal tutor. It’s insane,” She ate the bite of salad.

“They’re threatening to take soccer away from you? That’s so stupid. You’re literally aiming for a scholarship.” I felt myself grow frustrated for her. Her parents were so strict and controlling.

“I know right? I brought that up and they just ignored me. It was so annoying and dumb. But yeah, I’ve been at Economics tutoring during lunch with my teacher. I promise I haven’t been like, ignoring y’all or anything.”

“I get that. It’s no big deal, really. Your grades obviously take priority over us. It’s the same with me, and I’m sure that’s how it is with most of the others. But, uh, if you don’t mind me asking, why were you so defensive over that?”

She sighed. “I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m ashamed of it. Like, I’m in the top ten percent of our class. I should be understanding this, but it’s just not clicking. I don’t know why. I just wish it made sense for me, like literally everything else does. I just want to keep it to myself, I guess.”

“It’s not something to be embarrassed about, Al. Everybody struggles with school. It’s totally normal. Do you think the tutoring is working?”

“Yeah, I think so. Slowly but surely.” She took another bite of her food. “I’m thinking I’ll be fine, but it just got on my nerves that y’all really thought I was banging a crusty soccer guy instead of, I don’t know, actually being productive. I wouldn’t bail on y’all if it weren’t something important.”

“That’s fair. I think Pinoe and Kel were just joking around, though. I’m pretty sure they weren’t serious.”

“I know. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have gotten so pissed,” She hesitated. “Can I tell you something?”

“Yeah, of course!” I sipped my smoothie as she took a deep breath.

“I think I might be bisexual.”

I nearly choked. The conversation really took a turn. “Alex, you don’t need to do any thinking. You’re definitely bisexual. ”

“What?”

“Not to bring up the past or whatever, but we used to kiss a lot.”

She fell silent. It was weird to bring up since we had never talked about it before, not even in the moments it happened. Even when Kelley and I started dating, we never spoke of it. We just, stopped.

Alex looked extremely uncomfortable, which annoyed me.

“Al, it’s not a big deal, okay? I was just saying.”

After a long, frustrating pause, Alex finally spoke.

“I’m sorry.”

She paused again, but I let her speak.

“I’m sorry for using you like that.”

I felt my heart drop to my feet.

“That’s what that was? You were using me?”

“What did you think it was?”

I said nothing.

“Tobin, did you think I liked you?”

I felt sick to my stomach.

“Yeah. It’s whatever.” I checked the time on my phone.

“I gotta go.”

I stood, grabbing my keys and my smoothie. I pushed in my chair and turned to leave. She grabbed my arm.

“Tobin, I’m sorry, okay?”

“It’s fine. I really need to go, accidentally double booked myself.”

I could tell she knew I was lying, but she gave me one last apologetic look before letting me leave.

As soon as I got in my car, I felt the tears stream down my face. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. In hindsight, Alex was obviously experimenting, but in those moments, I thought there was something there. I felt stupid, but I knew I just had to let myself feel. Although I had obviously moved on from her, it still hurt like hell to know that I had been used by my best friend.

Friday 8:47 AM
Aussie: Is this a joke
Aussie: Did you guys really send me on a wild goose hunt?
Tobin Heath: what ever could u be possibly talking about?
Aussie: The scavenger hunt was literally useless
Tobin Heath: hm?
Aussie: *Attachment: 1 Image*

I chuckled to myself at the picture Hayley sent. It was a small, ripped piece of paper that read, “all for nothing :(“ in Alex’s handwriting. I was actually kind of surprised. I didn’t think she’d make the Friday deadline. I tilted my phone towards Kelley, who doubled over with laughter. I gave her a “what the fuck” look immediately, as we were in the middle of our government class. Mrs. Wilson stopped her lecture and looked at us, her eyes full of rage.

“Kelley, that’s not your seat, is it?” She said through gritted teeth, trying to remain calm.

“Well, I kinda traded my spot with Chantelle,” Kelley responded, nodding towards a girl who was diligently taking notes.

Mrs. Wilson turned to her. “Is this true?”

“She paid me fifty bucks,” Chantelle said, still writing. I bit my lip so I wouldn’t laugh. She really threw Kelley under the bus.

“Dude! Not cool!” Kelley huffed, shaking her head in defeat as she gathered her things.

Mrs. Wilson closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Go back to your original seats. Kelley, we’ll talk about this after class,” She walked over to where I was sitting and put her hand out expectantly. “Phone, Ms. Heath.”

I groaned but reluctantly gave it to her. I knew I technically caused the incident by having my phone out, but Kelley was the one who got us in trouble, so I glared at her as she walked back to her former seat. She mouthed, “Sorry!” as she sat down in her seat across from me.

 

I tossed my backpack on the floor and flopped onto my bed. My entire body ached from soccer class. I was sweaty and gross, but all I wanted to do was lie down.

“Tobin Powell Heath, I know you did not just get on your bed before taking a shower!” My mom yelled from downstairs.

“I just can’t win,” I muttered to myself as I crawled out of bed, grabbed some clean clothes (not quite pajamas, but nothing I’d wear to school), and went to get clean.

After dinner, I started going through my closet to put together an outfit for Tierna’s birthday party. It was gonna be a movie party, which made sense because she was a freshman. She had been scouted and recruited by Coach Ellis, which meant that she was amazing for her age. I had been a freshman on Varsity too, but I had to try out with everyone else. I was never guaranteed a spot on the team like Tierna was.

As I was shuffling through my shirt drawer, I caught a glimpse of shaking shoulders and puffy eyes through the window. I slowly dropped my shirts back into my drawer and closed it with my knee, peering at my neighbor without being too obvious. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, cradling her head in her hands. My heart wrenched, and I grabbed my phone to call her, solely to get her attention. She wiped her eyes and looked at her phone next to her. A small smile crossed her face as she looked at me. I ended the call and opened my window. She did the same.

“You okay, Chris?”

She laughed softly. “Not even a little.”

“Alright, I’ll open ‘Tobin’s Place’.”

“We’ll discuss the name later.”

She watched me lay out the blankets and fluff the pillows before we sat down.

“You’ve really perfected this to a science, huh?”

“I really have. So not to be too forward, but why were you crying?”

She sighed. “It’s gonna sound stupid, but I’m just really homesick. I miss my friends so much, I miss my old home and I miss everything about where we used to live. I feel so out of place, ya know? I feel like I don’t belong here at all, like I’m just visiting or something. And it’s not like I haven’t been making friends, because I have. I’ve got a few, but I still eat lunches alone and walk everywhere by myself. It sucks, to be honest. I’ve met some great people here,” She gestured to me. “But it just feels like something’s missing. I wish I could’ve finished out my senior year in California instead of uprooting my entire life.” Tears welled in her eyes again, but she took a breath and wiped them away.

“I feel that.”

She gave me a puzzled look. “I’m not sure I follow.”

“When my dad died, we moved here from New Jersey. It was really hard, and it still is. It’s gotten a lot better, though. I got kind of lucky with soccer and stuff, but still. Actually, why don’t you eat lunch with us on Monday?” I offered.

Her face lit up with a smile. “Really?”

“Yeah! It’ll be fun. You used to play soccer, so I’m sure you’ll fit right in. Who knows, maybe getting to know them will convince you to try out,” I joked as I lightly nudged her with my elbow. She giggled and nudged me back.

“Thank you, Tobin. You’re a great friend,” She scooted closer to me, leaning her head on my shoulder. On instinct, I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and held her close. It was all too familiar. The warmth in my chest, the butterflies in my stomach, how right and easy everything felt with her. I closed my eyes and relished in her presence. It had been months since we had been that close. I missed her so much.

But then, I processed what she said.

Friend.

I pulled my arm back and cleared my throat. “No problem. You know I always have your back,” I said softly, trying to force a smile.

The rest of the night was spent talking, catching up, and goofing off. It was amazing spending time with her after everything that had happened between us. I was so glad to have her back, but everytime we smiled at each other, I felt sick.

I, Tobin Heath, had not gotten over my stupid crush on her.

I, Tobin Heath, was still dating Kelley.

I, Tobin Heath, felt absolutely lost, but what else was new? I had gotten used to the feeling of not knowing what to do. It had become a part of me ever since I saw my dad’s life end.

Bzzt bzzt. Bzzt bzzt.

“Hello?”

“Tobs, where are you? Tierna’s party started thirty minutes ago.”

“Shit! Sorry, Kel. I’m on my way.”

I turned to Christen and gave her an apologetic look. “Sorry to cut this short, but I totally forgot I have a birthday party to get to.”

She nodded in understanding. “You know, I really missed this. We should do this more often,” Chris suggested, stretching her arms. I had to stop myself from staring at her. She looked absolutely incredible under the soft glow of the moon.

“Agreed, but next time with more pizza.”

“I never turn down free pizza.”

“Who said it would be free?”

We stood there, laughing together, not wanting it to end.

“See ya later, Chris.”

“Bye, Toebean.”

I shook my head at the stupid nick name, grabbed the pillows and blankets, and headed back to my room. I left the house wearing what I had on. I figured I shouldn’t be more late than I already was.

Tierna’s birthday party went by slow. We were watching movies, so it was easy to tune out and contemplate what the fuck to do about my feelings for Christen. I was mad at myself, for the most part. I was with Kelley, but I knew if I didn’t do something fast, shit would hit the fan. Every time Kelley touched me, my skin crawled with guilt. Even though Chris and I hadn’t done anything, and even though she didn’t like me anymore, I still felt like I was being disloyal to my girlfriend. I saw a future with Kelley. We had talked about it a lot. She was planning on applying to UNC so we could be together. We had planned out our dorm, named the house plants we wanted to buy. We even went so far as to talk about kids. I could not give that all up because I had a juvenile crush on the girl next door. I could not betray Kelley like that, and I didn’t want to.

I still loved her.

Right?

Chapter Text

Surprisingly, Kelley didn’t request a McFlurry before my off period. I almost asked if she wanted one, but I decided against it because I did not feel like having a twenty minute conversation with Dak, the cashier that was ALWAYS there every time I went in. She was nice enough, but she never remembered my name. She always asked how ‘Jonathan’ was doing. I had never met anyone named Jonathan in my life.

I hated being a regular at McDonald’s and it was all Kelley’s fault.

Heath Bar: we still on for lunch today?
Panini Press: Of course!
Heath Bar: sick
Heath Bar: u know where we sit right?
Panini Press: Yes!

Kelleyyy: McFlurry?
Tobyyy: fuck u remembered
Kelleyyy: I’ll venmo you
Kelleyyy: Say hi to Dak for me :D
Tobyyy: u suck

“Tabatha! I was starting to think you weren’t gonna come today!” Dak greeted as I walked up to the register.

“Morning Dak,” I said plainly. Correcting her had proven ineffective in the past. I just hoped one day she guessed my actual name and stuck with it.

“Will it be the usual Oreo McFlurry?”

“Mhm,” I hummed, taking my debit card out of my wallet.

“You must really like these, huh? Breakfast of champions!”

“I’m lactose intolerant. They’re for my girlfriend.”

She stared me dead in the eyes. She was shocked. “Girlfriend? But what about Jonathan?”

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. “Dak, for the last time, I am gay. I don’t know who Jonathan is, never met him.”

She tilted her head with wide eyes. “I thought y’all got married last year!”

I coughed in surprise. “Married? I’m still in high school.”

“You’re- you’re in high school?!”

“Yes. I’ve said this before.” I didn’t understand why this was so surprising to her. Did I really look that old?

“Wow. The more you know,” She muttered to herself. “Well, I’ll get that right out for you, Taylor.”

 

“You’re the best babe,” Kelley thanked as I handed her the McFlurry. “How was Dak?”

“Well, first she thought my name was Tabatha, and then Taylor. Usually she sticks to one, so that was new. She also thought I was married to someone named Jonathan?” I sat down next to her, giving her a quick kiss before getting my lunch out of my backpack. I kept my eyes peeled for Christen, feeling the nerves in my stomach grow more and more with each passing second.

“Tobin, when are you gonna start bringing me McFlurrys?” Pinoe asked.

“On your birthday.”

“But my birthday is in the summer! We won’t be here.”

“I know,” I smirked. “Don’t count on it. You’re perfectly capable of getting your own McFlurrys.”

“So is she!” Pinoe stuck her hand out at Kelley, who was sipping her dessert and listening to the conversation.

“She,” I threw an arm around Kelley’s shoulders. “Is my wonderful, amazing girlfriend. You, on the other hand, are not.”

Before Pinoe could respond, Christen walked up to the field.

“Hey Chris!” I exclaimed, a little too excitedly. I scooted closer to Kelley and moved my stuff to clear a space for her to sit down.

“What’s up, Press?” Kelley reached around me. “Dap me up.”

Christen looked at Kelley’s extended hand. “Excuse me?”

“You...you don’t know what that means?” Kelley gasped.

“Not at all,” Christen said, giving Kelley a hesitant high five. She disappointedly shook her head and turned to me. “She’s a lost cause, there’s nothing we can do for her.” I laughed at Kelley’s antics but was distracted when I saw Alex walking up. Her eyes were glued to her phone. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Christen tense up. I looked at her and saw her stare at Alex with wide eyes.

“Alex! Dap me up.” Kelley reached her hand towards Alex, looking at Christen to make sure she could see what Kelley was trying to get her to do. She absentmindedly did the handshake. I could see the gears frantically turning behind her eyes as her and Christen made eye contact.

“Oh, Alex, this is Press! Press, Alex.” Kelley introduced the two, but by the way they were looking at each other, I could tell they had already met.

“Hey, you’re in my Psychology class, right?” Alex asked, breaking out of her trance and flashing her megawatt smile. As if on queue, Christen did the same.

“Yeah! I think we were in a group together at some point. I didn’t know you played soccer,” She said innocently, making conversation. Watching them interact made me feel like I was having a fever dream. I could not understand why they were pretending they didn’t know each other. I wasn’t stupid, I remembered Alex’s phone call. She basically asked permission to be friends with Chris.

“I’ve been playing since I was born,” Alex said as she sat down in between Chris and Allie.

“Nice! You must be pretty good then.”

“I’d like to say so.” They shared a knowing look before moving on. Was I the only one seeing this?

“Actually, she kind of sucks,” Pinoe chimed in.

“At least I don’t wear sunglasses inside and get dress-coded every single time.”

“It’s called fashion, Al. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Tell that to my Gucci belt, dickhead.”

“Just because it’s expensive doesn’t make it fashion. In fact,” Pinoe leaned forward towards Alex and cupped her hand over her mouth to whisper, “It’s kind of ugly.”

“I can’t tell if they’re being serious or not,” Chris muttered to me.

“I don’t think anyone can. It’s best not to intervene until they get angry,” I muttered back. She shrugged and started pulling a prepackaged salad out of her backpack.

“That’s all you have to eat?” Alex asked Chris.

“Yeah, it’s pretty filling.” She peeled back the plastic seal.

“Are you sure? Here,” Alex searched through her lunch-bag and pulled out a green apple. “Have this.”

My jaw dropped.

Alex Morgan did not share food with anyone. She didn’t give Kelley her extra slice of pizza when “Worms” forgot her lunch at home. She didn’t split her morning granola bar with Pinoe when she woke up late and had to skip breakfast. She didn’t let me have a sip of her Pink Drink when I told her I had never tried it before.

But now, there she was, offering Christen her apple because she didn’t think a salad would be enough to eat. What the fuck was going on?

 

The bell rang, signalling the end of lunch. I stood up, holding my hands down to Kelley. She took them and I pulled her up off the ground. “Thanks, Heath.” She winked.

“No problem, O’Hara,” I smirked, leaning in for a kiss. Before we were able to meet in the middle, Chris stood up. She grabbed her backpack, but notebooks and folders spilled out of it. Alex started picking up her things before Chris could even bend down to get them. But when Chris reached for a certain green folder, Alex happened to reach for the same one.

And as if they were in their own little Hallmark Christmas love movie, their hands touched.

They gazed at each other, and I could’ve sworn I saw Christen blush.

“Thanks Lex,” She whispered to Alex, who smirked at the nickname.

I felt my heart stop.

That was what I called Alex in the past when we were...you know.

Something was going on, and I was determined to get to the bottom of it.

 

“Did you see that?” I asked Kelley in a hushed tone, tugging her towards our usual route before Alex could notice we left her behind.

“See what?”

“Everything that just happened. I think Alex and Christen like each other or something.”

Kelley snorted in surprise, pulling her arm out of my grasp. “You think what?!”

“Did you not notice how they were staring at each other when Alex walked up? How Alex voluntarily shared her food with Chris? How she helped Chris pick up her things? Their hands brushed! I saw it with my own eyes!”

“Well I’d hate to ruin your conspiracy, but those are all things people do to be nice to each other.”

“When was the last time Alex was nice to other people?”

Kelley laughed. “Babe, they’re definitely not a thing. You’re overanalyzing it. Put that energy into giving Hayley another task, or better yet,” She leaned in and whispered, “Put it towards me.”

“You choose the most inconvenient times to be seductive. Do you have a school kink or something?”

“Kelley has a school kink? Damn, you’re lowkey a freak,” Alex said as she caught up to us.

“Why do y’all hate me?”

“You just make it so easy,” Alex said as she winked. Kelley jokingly shoulder checked Alex. “Shut up Janice.”

“Never, Worms.”

 

I sat in my place next to Christen, who had gotten to Statistics before I did.

“Thanks for eating lunch with us. How’d you like everyone?” I asked.

“They’re all super kind and funny. I had a good time. Thanks for inviting me,” She responded with a warm smile before going back to organizing her Statistics folder.

“No problem! I’m glad you had fun…” I trailed off, choosing my next words carefully. I needed to know if I was going crazy or not.

“How’d you like Alex?”

She hesitated momentarily, but recovered. “She’s nice.”

“That’s all?”

She squinted her eyes at me. “Yes. Were you looking for a paragraph or something?”

“No! I was just curious, that’s all.”

“Why were you curious?”

Oh no, she was onto me.

“No reason! No reason, uh…” I backed off, both physically and verbally. “You guys are in the same Psych class.”

“Yes, we are. Are you okay, Tobin?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” I busied myself with getting my notebook and calculator out.

“You’re acting strange.”

“Not true. I think you’re the one acting strange here, Press,” I joked.

Just as she mumbled something about me being weird, Mr. Cole cleared his throat and turned on the projector.

I had a hard time paying attention because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something even though all signs pointed to me being overdramatic. Maybe I misheard Chris when she called Alex “Lex”. She did whisper, afterall. And maybe Alex was just being a nice person like Kelley said.

Maybe I got it all wrong.

No, I definitely got it all wrong.

Alex and Chris would tell me if something was going on. They were both my closest friends. They wouldn’t keep a secret like that from me.

So then I was left analyzing why I thought I saw sparks fly. Alex and I were on good terms, but her confession lingered in the back of my mind every time I saw her. It hurt me more than I wanted it to.

Christen and I were on good terms too, but I couldn’t stop thinking of what her lips would taste like and how I missed the feeling of holding her in my arms as we both drifted off to sleep.

Two complicated situations.

Maybe I was projecting.

No, I was definitely projecting.

“Tobin, Earth to Tobin.”

I was shaken out of my thoughts by Christen’s hushed words. She was looking at me expectantly.

“What?”

“You’re spacing out and we’re starting new material today.”

“So?”

“Are you trying to fail?”

I shrugged. “Maybe.”

She opened her mouth to retort back, but decided against it and went back to taking notes. Her concern made me smile, so I decided to snap out of it and pay attention for her sake.

 

September 28th, 2019
9:00 A.M
Kelleyyy: Good morning sunshine! Wanna grab breakfast?
Kelleyyy: Or not, we can do whatever
Kelleyyy: I just wanna see you :)
Kelleyyy: Tobs?

10:46 A.M
Kelleyyy: Are you awake now?
Kelleyyy: You hardly sleep past 8
Kelleyyy: You’re probably busy oop

12:03 P.M
Kelleyyy: Tobin?
Kelleyyy: Are you okay babe?

4:58 P.M
Kelleyyy: I’m getting worried Toby
Kelleyyy: I love you a lot :/

5:07 P.M
Tobyyy: sorry not feeling well today
Kelleyyy: It’s okay! Glad you’re alive
Kelleyyy: Need me to come over? I can make the world famous O’Hara chicken soup
Tobyyy: no i’m good thanks tho
Kelleyyy: Okay
Kelleyyy: Feel better love

I told the truth. I wasn’t feeling well, but I wasn’t sick. It was just another one of those days where I felt like I couldn’t move. My body was so heavy. It felt like I had turned to stone. I had no motivation to do anything whatsoever. It didn’t help that my mom was worried about me. She had come into my room multiple times, asking if I was okay, asking if I was sick. I just wanted to be left alone. Left to sink into a deep sleep and never wake up again. All the words I wanted to say were stuck in my throat, trying to escape but to no avail. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything. I was barely able to keep down the tomato bisque soup my mom made. I felt suffocated and I didn’t know why.

Panini Press: You don’t look too well. How are you doing?

I saw her text and looked through my window. She was chewing her cuticles nervously while sitting on the edge of her bed staring at her phone.

Heath Bar: i’m fine
Panini Press: Are you sure? You haven’t moved all day
Heath Bar: u stalkin me press?
Panini Press: No. I’m just concerned.
Panini Press: Are you sick?

I couldn’t lie to her.

Heath Bar: no
Panini Press: I’m opening Christen’s Place if you want to talk, okay?

A faint smile crossed my face when I saw her open her window and place her own pillows and blankets on the roof. At first she tried to copy my usual configuration, but got frustrated and decided to create her own layout.

She sat there, reading a book, waiting for me. She only looked through my window to smile at me. Her thoughtfulness moved me, and I appreciated her patience. It was tempting to sit there and admire her from afar. She looked so peaceful, soaking in the golden hour sunshine. Her hair was in two braids, and she was wearing jean shorts accompanied by a fitted, grey tank top.

Eventually, I dragged myself out of bed and opened my window. It took everything in me to do that. I felt exhausted.

“I’m gonna get myself together and I’ll be right out.”

“No rush. Take all the time you need.” She smiled sweetly at me before going back to her book. I nodded and left to brush my teeth and hair. I cringed when I saw myself in the mirror. I looked terrible. There were bags under my eyes and my hair was a mess. I couldn’t believe I let Chris see me like this.

“Sorry,” I apologized as I sat down next to her.

“What for?” She asked, placing a bookmark in between the pages so she could close her book.

“I dunno...for making you wait I guess.”

“Tobin, you’ve got nothing to be sorry for. I would’ve waited all day if I had to.”

“I wouldn’t want you to do that for me.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not worth it.”

She put her book to the side and positioned her body to face me. She held my hands. “Tobin, you are definitely worth waiting on a slightly uncomfortable roof for. You are worth so much, to me, to your friends, to your family, and to a lot of others. Don’t you ever doubt that for a second.”

I gave her a half smile. It was hard to believe, but I appreciated the kind words. On any other day, I know I would have melted right then and there. But I couldn’t shake off the burdening shackles that were keeping me guarded and empty inside.

“Thanks.”

“No, I really mean it. You have worth. You matter so much. You are loved.”

“Chris-”

“No Tobin, I will repeat it until you understand how amazing you are. I know it can be really hard to see, but Jesus Christ, you are an outstanding person. I’m so glad we met.” She took a breath. “You don’t have to talk about what you’re going through if you don’t want to. But I just want you to know that I will always be here for you. I...I know what it’s like to feel powerless. It sucks a lot when you feel like you are losing control of yourself. Just know you’re not alone, okay?”

Her sincerity made me want to cry.

“Thank you...that means a lot. Really, it does.” I stared at my criss-crossed legs. “I don’t know why I keep feeling like this. Like, just when I think I’m getting better, this happens. It comes in waves and I wish it would just fucking stop. I’m sick and tired of…of being so depressed. It’s exhausting and it doesn’t just affect me. I hate the feeling of people being worried and stuff. It makes me feel...disgusted with myself. I don’t know...I’m tired of being a burden. I’m just tired.”
She nodded her head in understanding and squeezed my hands reassuringly. “You’re not a burden, Tobin, I promise. You know what are burdens? College applications. Homework. Midterms. Tests. Chores. You are none of those things. We all struggle with something. Nobody is perfect, you know. But I understand what you’re saying. I used to feel like that, too.” She stopped for a second. “How long has this been going on?”

“Years.”

“Have you considered talking to someone about this?”

I nodded my head no. “I probably should, shouldn’t I?”

“Only if you feel like it’ll help, but I honestly think it would. Mental health is a very serious thing, and your emotions are nothing to be ashamed about.”

I shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Are you feeling any better?”

“A little bit.”

Chris hummed to herself, furrowing her eyebrows together in thought.

“Why don’t we get you out of the house?” She asked, releasing my hands to pull her phone out of her pocket.

“I don’t know if I’m up for it tonight.”

“I promise getting some fresh air and doing something will be better than sitting in your room. You’ll feel better,” She said as she appeared to be scrolling through something on her screen.

“Oh! How about this? I can get us tickets to the Zara Larsson concert tonight!”

“Chris, you don’t have to do that.”

“I don’t have to, but I really want to. It’ll be fun! Please?” She begged, tugging on my arm.

I couldn’t possibly say no to her.

“Fine, we’ll go. But I’m gonna pay you back.”

“No you won’t. This is my treat,” She said as she cautiously stood. “Let me buy the tickets and get ready. We can go out to eat before the concert. Meet you by my car in twenty?”

“You at least have to let me drive!” I complained.

“Nope. See you down there!” She started tossing pillows and blankets back into her room. I rolled my eyes and climbed into my room with a smile on my face. Although I still felt lethargic and down, I was excited about my night out with Chris. I considered her words, though. I knew I needed some help, but something was stopping me from reaching out. I just wanted to be alright. Asking my mom to put me back in therapy meant admitting that I wasn’t okay, and that terrified me.

Maybe it was time I faced my fears.

 

“Where do you wanna eat?” Christen asked, turning her key to start the car. She had taken her hair out of the braids, which emphasized her beautiful, tight waves. She put on small, golden hoop earrings and had thrown on a jean jacket to match her shorts.

Christen Press is unparalleled.

“Uh, I’m down for whatever. I’m not picky.”

“Oh, come on. If you had to pick one place, where would it be?”

“Hm...I could go for a Big Mac right now.”

She laughed as she pulled out of her driveway.

“Is that funny?” I asked. She slowly stopped laughing and looked at me. “You were being serious?”

“Dude, I love burgers. You asked, I answered.”

“You would choose fast food before a concert. That’s such a Tobin thing to do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, nothing,” She smirked, pulling to the side of the road and opening the Maps app on her phone.

“I can navigate, it’s not that far. We can go to the one near school.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, Chris. It’s not that big a deal.”

She squinted her eyes at me before putting her phone away pulling away from the curb.

 

“After you, my lady,” I said, holding the door open for her.

“Thank you!”

We walked towards the cash registers and got in line. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” I mumbled as I saw who was working.

Dak.

“What?” Chris asked. She was practically nuzzled into my side, so I put my arm around her shoulders.

“That girl,” I nodded my head in Dak’s direction. “Is always here when I’m here. She messes up my name and thought I was a straight, married woman.”

Chris snorted and covered her mouth in surprise. “You? Straight?”

“Oh, what? Am I not straight-passing?” I joked, knowing full well I gave off intense gay vibes.

“Absolutely not. No straight girl dresses like that,” She chuckled, gesturing to my outfit.

“I’ve seen straight girls wear snapback hats!”

“Maybe for a Halloween costume. It’s okay, I like how you dress. It suits you.” We met eyes, and her green eyes sent electricity through my body, more than her touch did.

Dak’s eyes lit up when she saw me. “Tiffany! Long time no see, huh?”

“Hi Dak.”

She smiled and turned to Chris, who’s arm was still around my waist. “And is this Kelley, your lucky lady?”

Chris and I immediately pulled apart. I could feel the heat of embarassment creep into my face as Chris coughed.

“No, no. This is my friend, Christen. We’re getting something to eat before we head to a concert,” I explained.

“Ohhhhhhhh! Sorry for assuming. But,” She leaned over the counter to whisper, “Y’all would be a cute couple.”

I sputtered over my words as Christen calmly excused herself to the bathroom. Leave it to Dak to ruin the moment and scare Christen away. God damn it.

 

After Christen came back, we ordered our food and opted to eat in the car to escape the air of awkwardness that had clouded the McDonald’s after that conversation.

“How’s that Big Mac?” She asked, stirring up her Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad, chicken on the side, in the driver’s seat.

“It’s delicious, probably way better than a bunch of lettuce and dry chicken,” I teased. She rolled her eyes at me and took a bite. “It’s wonderful and way healthier than that pile of meat could ever be.”

“Shut up. You’re just jealous. Why’d you get the chicken on the side, though?”

“I don’t recall asking you why you requested two buns in the middle instead of one.”

“Listen, I like carbs, okay? Sue me.”

“Let me be picky about my chicken and I’ll let you mess up your Big Mac, okay?”

“Oh, so you’re judging my choices now?” I asked in mock offense.

She shrugged and took another bite of her salad. “Maybe.” She checked the time on her phone before putting the lid on her salad bowl and placing it back in it’s bag. “You can keep eating. I’m just gonna get us there so we don’t have to worry about traffic or being late.”

I nodded, mouth full of burger as she pulled out of the parking lot.

 

Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of pop music (or even a fan at all), I loved concerts, so I went into it with an open mind. I was surprised that someone as big as Zara Larsson was performing in a smaller, more personal venue. There were a few songs she performed that I actually liked, but I wasn’t really focusing on the music. How could I when Christen was dancing and singing along at the top of her lungs? The sight of her letting go of her troubles and living in the moment was nothing short of beautiful. I felt drawn to her, and eventually I let go, too. I completely forgot about everyone around us, including Zara herself. It was just Chris and I, dancing with each other and having the time of our lives. Seeing her so thrilled made me genuinely happy. I could not wipe the smile off of my face everytime a new song came on and she became excited all over again. It was incredibly endearing. But when Zara started singing one song in particular, Christen practically squealed and screamed her lungs out from happiness. She tugged on my arm, yelling something about it being her favorite song of all time. I became overwhelmed with awe and admiration, and before I knew it, my lips found hers.

And as quick as the magical moment started, it ended all too soon with her strong hands gently pushing me off of her.

“Tobin, why?”

I stood there, staring at her while her eyes blazed with confusion.

“What?”

“You just, you just kissed me.”

“I…” I was at a loss for words. I wasn’t sure what had overcome me, but I know I had fucked everything up because of it.

“You know what? I’m done with this. I don’t think we can be friends until you figure out your feelings. I don’t want to be hurt again, Tobin.”

“But I thought…”

“What did you think? That me trying to help you and be there for you was me liking you? I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” She shook her head in disappointment and was ready to continue talking, but she realized that there were people staring at the scene. She sighed, staring at me sadly before walking out of the pit. I trailed behind her, trying not to lose her in the crowd.

I followed her all the way out to her car before I came to my senses.

“Where are we going?”

“Home.”

“What? But the concert isn’t over yet!”

“I just don’t feel like being here anymore.”

“I can call an Uber or something, you don’t have to leave because of me.” I said as I pulled out my phone and opened the app to summon a ride home.

“No, it’s fine. “ She unlocked her car and opened the door. I sighed and did the same, getting into the passenger seat. I had never seen Chris so upset before, and it killed me that I was the reason behind it.

“Look, I’m sorry okay? I don’t know what got into me.”

“Tobin, please stop. Nothing you can say is going to make it right.”

The rest of the car ride was absolutely silent.

 

My head was spinning as I stepped into the shower. My chest felt tight, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I fucked up so bad. Christen was done with me. She hated me. I hated myself for hurting her again. That’s all I seemed to be good for. Hurting people. Hurting Christen because I didn’t know how to handle my feelings for her. Hurting my mother because I refuse to open up to her and instead, push her away. Hurting Kelley because-

Oh fuck.

Kelley.

I couldn’t tell if I was sobbing or if it was just the water from the showerhead.

How was I gonna tell her? What would I say? Should I even mention it? I had already ruined things with Chris, and I didn’t want to lose someone else I cared about. But Kelley deserved to know about how I kissed Chris. I had to tell her, because if I didn’t, the guilt would eat me alive inside.

All I did was fuck everything up.

Heath Bar: i’m sorry
Panini Press: We need space.
Tobin Heath: chris, what can i do?
Panini Press: Respect my wishes.
Tobin Heath: ok

As I shakily closed the Messages app, I saw that day’s date.

September 28th.

The anniversary of my dad’s death.

My phone fell out of my hand as a wave of painful numbness washed over me.

I walked downstairs. Grabbed my keys.

I drove.

Chapter Text

I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew I needed to escape. I felt completely out of control. I couldn’t stop sobbing. All I could focus on was the excruciating pain and grief that rippled through my body. I was shaking. I was screaming. Everything inside of me was shattering with each second that passed. Every single emotion I locked up for later was bursting forth and wrecking me entirely.

I ruin everything I touch.

I hurt everyone I care about.

God, I fucking hate myself.

I deserved to die, not him.

I accelerated. Every part of my body was tense from digging my nails into the steering wheel and crying.

I didn’t know where I was going, but I hoped I would never return.

I didn’t register the red light until I heard a blaring horn in my ear.

I could’ve sworn I was gonna die.

But I didn’t.

The car stopped just in time, sparing my life.

The near collision brought me back to my senses. I slowed down and pulled into a parking lot so I could try to gather myself, but instead, I remembered that awful night and broke down all over again.

-

September 28th, 2014

“I can’t believe you convinced mom to let me drive!” I exclaimed. I was beyond excited to sit in the driver’s seat instead of the passengers. Dad occupied that spot. He buckled his seatbelt and smiled at me. “You’ve been working hard, pumpkin. Besides, it’s late. There won’t be a lot of people on the road, so mom’s got nothing to worry about.”

I took a deep breath before turning the key. It was only my second time driving, so it still made me anxious. I didn’t have my learner’s permit either, being I was too young, but he always reassured me that we wouldn’t be caught and I would never get in trouble on his watch.

“You’ve got nothing to be worried about either.” He gave my shoulder a squeeze. “Remember what we worked on last time. Slow and steady, but not too slow. You don’t want people to honk at you,” He joked.

I took us to an empty school parking lot, where I drove in circles and practiced parking for an hour or two. Dad rewarded my awesome driving by directing me to Penguin Ice Cream so we could get celebratory cones before heading back home. He asked if we should bring back ice cream for the rest of the family, to which I replied, “Why would we?”

“Can you change the station, please?” I asked politely.

“Pumpkin, we’re at a stop light. You don’t need me to do it when you can do it yourself.”

“But what if it turns green while I’m messing with it? Then I won’t be ready!”

He chuckled. “What do you want to listen to?”

Like I predicted, the light changed to green right as he started fiddling with the radio. I turned my head towards him to say, “I told you so!”, but the words never left my lips.

I saw a car barrelling full speed at us right as we crossed the intersection. I screamed.

Glass shattered. Blood splattered.

I woke up in the hospital the next day.

He was gone.

Because of a drunk driver.

I didn’t drive again for two years.

-

I searched through my pockets and cup holder for my phone before I realized I left it at home. My hands were shaking so bad. I felt like I was choking on my tears. I needed to calm down. I needed to calm down. I needed to calm down.

I couldn’t be alone.

 

I knocked on Kelley’s door, trying my best to keep the sniffling to a minimum. I did my best to dry my eyes and take some deep breaths before her mother answered the door.

“Tobin? Are you okay, honey?”

I shook my head no, feeling my throat tighten.

“Is K-Kelley here?”

“She is. Come in, come in.” She ushered me in their house, closing the door behind me. She rubbed my back as I wiped my eyes.

“Let me get you some water and then I’ll take you up to Kelley, okay?”

I nodded my head as I tried to keep myself together. I didn’t want to breakdown again in front of Mrs. O’Hara.

 

“Babe, what’s wrong?” Kelley asked as she paused her video game and stood up. Her mom closed Kelley’s bedroom door and left us alone. The sight of her worried face sent me into hysterics all over again. She rushed over to me and held me in her arms as I sobbed into her shoulder.

So many things were wrong, and they were all my fault.

Eventually, with Kelley’s help, I calmed down enough to talk.

“Did something happen?” She asked as we sat down on the edge of her bed, her arms wrapped around me.

“Remember when I-I told you I wasn’t feeling well?”

Kelley hummed in acknowledgement.

“It wasn’t ‘cause I was sick. I was really...depressed.”

I felt her deflate a little bit as she asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t want to worry you.”

“Babe, we’ve talked about this. You can always trust me with anything, you know that. I love you, and that won’t change because sometimes you have off days.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” I felt guilt wrap around my throat as I remembered what I’d done.

“I kissed Christen.”

I was fully prepared to face her anger at my confession when she tensed up. My heart stopped beating and I held my breath.

“You...kissed Press?”

“I’m so sorry Kelley it was all my fault. She pushed me off and now we aren’t friends because I fucked up and you probably hate me too everyone hates me I’m so sorry you deserve so much better I’m so stupid I don’t know what I was thinking I’m so sorry…” I rambled on, explaining everything that led up to the moment I wrecked every good thing I had. Kelley interrupted me with a “shhh” before kissing my forehead and telling me that everything was okay. I tried not to cry again as she squeezed me. She was so comforting and warm. How could I do such a thing to her?

“You’re...you’re not mad?” I pulled back to see her. I didn’t notice that she was crying until I saw the tears silently stream down her face.

“Of course I’m not mad,” She whispered, her voice shaking. “I’m hurt, but not mad.” She took a deep breath, collecting herself before continuing. “Thank you for being honest. It was just the heat of the moment, right? It didn’t mean anything?” She asked, looking at me expectantly. I hesitated.

I knew it meant everything. I knew my feelings for Chris had grown so much. I knew it wasn’t just a crush anymore.

“It meant nothing.”

Kelley gave me a warm smile and left a soft kiss on my nose. “Then there’s nothing to worry about. Here, I’m gonna text your mom that you’re here safe with me. Do you want me to drive you home or do you want to stay?”

“I wanna be here with you.”

She nodded as she took out her phone to keep my mom posted, who was probably asleep and didn’t even know I had come back home only to leave. I was genuinely shocked at Kelley’s forgiveness. I was one hundred percent expecting her to explode in a fiery rage, but she didn’t.

I promised myself then and there that I would get over my feelings for Christen, for Kelley’s sake.

For our sake.

I loved Kelley with all my heart, and there was no doubt about it.

 

The next morning when I got home, I was greeted by the amazing smell of eggs, bacon, and my mom’s homemade pancakes.

“Tobin?” My mom called from the kitchen when she heard the front door shut behind me.

“Yeah?” I turned the corner into the kitchen and saw her hovering over a pan of sizzling bacon.

“I got a text from Kelley saying you were safe, which worried me because I didn’t know you weren’t safe to begin with. Did something happen?”

My first instinct was to reassure her that everything was fine, that I was alright, and that things were going just great.

But I knew I couldn’t go on like this anymore.

If I continued going against the overwhelming sadness, anxiety, and grief alone, it would consume me.

The thought of losing that war was terrifying.

I took a deep breath in an effort to calm the nerves in my stomach. “I wanna start seeing Dr. Tester again.”

My mom froze and slowly turned her head to look at me. “I’ll schedule an appointment right away. Is...is everything okay, honey?”

I swallowed my fear and sat down at the kitchen table. Mom turned off the stove and sat in front of me, holding my hands in hers. I told her everything. I told her how God damn sad I was all the time. How my anxiety was crawling back into my life and making it a living hell. How the things I used to love seemed boring and dull. I purposefully left out everything that happened between Christen and I. I didn’t want to relive it. I just wanted to forget it ever happened and move on.

“Thank you for trusting me with this,” She said as she wiped a tear from her eye. “I wish I would’ve known sooner so I could help you. It hurts my heart to see you in so much pain. But I’m glad you’re taking this step, that takes a lot of courage.” She reached for my hands and gave them a squeeze. I nodded in silence. I thought I would feel better after telling her. I thought it would feel like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. But it didn't.

I was terrified and ashamed, but I knew it had to be done.

 

“What’re you gonna be for Halloween?” I asked Jeffrey, who was in the passenger seat of my car. We were on the way home from an exhausting school day. Luckily, it was a Friday, so we had the weekend to relax and recover.

“I don’t know, it’s only October 25th.”

“Dude...you realize it’s less than a week away. You’re gonna end up going to Walmart and picking something off the shelf with that attitude.” I turned onto our street.

“That’s what I was planning on. You didn’t tell me Alex was coming over!” Jeff whined.

“Um, she isn’t…” I trailed off, focusing on driving rather than talking.

“But that’s her car, right?” I saw him point as we approached our house. He was right. There was a car parked across the street from our driveway that looked an awful lot like Alex’s.

“Looks like it. I guess we’ll find out.”

 

“How was school today?” Mom asked from her usual spot on the couch in the living room. She was absentmindedly flipping through a furniture magazine while the local news played in the background.

“Is Alex here?” Jeff asked eagerly. I squinted at him.

“Why do you care? She’s my friend, not yours. But yeah,” I turned back to our mom as I slipped my shoes off of my feet. “Is she here?”

“No...is she supposed to be? You know I don’t like when you have last minute guests over, Tobin. I need time to tidy up the house.”

I sighed, partially in disappointment but also with relief. “We thought her car was parked outside.”

“What a waste of time,” Jeff mumbled to himself as he stalked upstairs.

“I think someone has a crush,” Mom joked.

I wrinkled my nose in disgust at the thought. “Gross. What’s for dinner?” I asked as I made my way to the kitchen. I was surprised to find no containers of food in the fridge. Usually she was either in the process of making supper, or already done. She hadn’t even started.

“Well, I was thinking I could order pizza. I have a hot date tonight!”

I froze, a mixture of emotions flashed before me. Happiness. Pride. Sadness. Guilt. Anger.

Conflict.

“Oh,” was all I could manage as I closed the refrigerator door.

She didn’t seem to notice, because she kept going.

“His name is Gregory. We met on Bumble!”

“Oh,” I mumbled again.

“Well, I’m gonna start getting ready,” She said, setting the magazine down as she stood up. “By the way, your first appointment is next week on Friday, I hope that’s alright.”

I nodded in acknowledgement, but I barely heard what she said. “Thanks.”

 

I decided that instead of dwelling on my mom’s thriving love life, I would buckle down and actually do my homework. I had been slacking, due to my poor mental health, but thankfully all my teachers were understanding and had given me extensions on assignments I had missed.

I sat at my desk and opened my laptop, trying to get into a learning mindset. As I pulled up my online government textbook, I realized that my room was almost pitch black. Trying to be more environment-friendly, I opened my curtains to let some sunlight in.

I immediately regretted it.

The car across the street was Alex’s.

And there she was, on top of Christen.

Her tongue down her throat.

My jaw dropped at the sight.

I frantically shut the curtains before they could see me. I was momentarily paralyzed from shock at what I had just saw.

What the actual fuck.

The surprise was pushed aside by an overwhelming wave of anger. I knew there was something going on, I fucking knew it. I couldn’t believe they would try and hide it from everyone. I couldn’t believe they would try and hide it from me. My mind was racing. All I wanted to do was yell at them, scream at them. I wanted to hurl my laptop at the wall. I was so pissed off.

But, what right did I have being so angry?

That’s when it dawned on me.

I felt incredibly betrayed.

I felt like I had been cheated on.

 

October 28th, 2019

Tobin Heath: u know what time it is
Aussie: No please no
Tobin Heath: ur task is to make a batch of caramel onions and pass them out during soccer class
Tobin Heath: if no one falls for it, u will be punished
Aussie: God I hate this

MY Best Friend: hey we need to talk, lunch ok?
Baby Horse: Sure yeah! Everything okay?
Baby Horse: And where are we meeting?
MY Best Friend: could we talk in ur car?
Baby Horse: Yes!

I walked to Alex’s car, trying to contain the anger that was bubbling in my stomach. I had managed to keep my shit together so far, but every time I saw Christen in the halls, I wanted to scream at her. Kelley had caught on to how tense I was, and had voiced her concern. I didn’t tell her what I had seen because, quite frankly, I would never out someone like that, regardless of who they were or how much I wanted to bash their kneecaps in. When Alex was ready to come out, it would be on her terms, not mine.

I heard the bell ring, signaling the start of lunch, and soon after that, I saw Alex strut out of the building. Even though she was wearing grey sweatpants and a Silver Oak Lady Knights soccer shirt, she still looked flawless. It was no wonder that she had been a model in our school’s fashion show for three years straight, and was already guaranteed a spot in her fourth and final show.

“Hey!” She greeted, going in for a hug, to which I loosely returned. I took a deep breath to prevent everything I had to say to her from pouring out.

She unlocked the car and walked to the driver’s side. I got in her car and set my backpack on the floor, in between my feet.

“So, what did you want to talk about? Is everything okay?”

I clenched my fists and took a deep breath before saying, “I saw you and Christen.”

I noticed her hesitate, but she quickly shook off the surprise. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I scoffed. “Yes you fucking do, Alex. Don’t play dumb. Friday after school, we saw your car parked across from our house.”

“We?”

“Jeff was the one who noticed.”

She sighed and turned the ignition to start the car. “Well, we were studying together.”

“If studying is you locking lips with Chris, then yeah, you were doing a lot of that.”

“What the fuck are you insinuating, Tobin?” She asked angrily. The cold gust of air from the vents cooled off my boiling face. Her denial was pissing me off.

“I fucking saw you guys on her bed. What the fuck is going on?”

“I don’t know who you saw, but it sure as Hell wasn’t me. What Christen does in her spare time isn’t my business, and it shouldn’t be yours either.” She said pointedly, plugging the AUX cord into her phone. She seemed so unbothered.

“STOP FUCKING LYING TO ME!” I yelled, regretting how short tempered I had become as soon as the words left my mouth. But before I could say anything, she yelled back, “Fine! We’re fucking dating! Are you happy now?!”

Her words reverberated through my hollow body and echoed in my mind.

“You...you’re what?”

“She’s my Goddamn girlfriend, Tobin. You fucking kissed my girlfriend and I couldn’t say anything because she never wanted you to know that we have a thing, but now I can tell you to properly fuck off. Stay the fuck away from her, or I’ll tell Kelley what you did.” She was seething with anger.

“You’d really stoop that low? I already told her, so go ahead. Air my dirty laundry to her, it’s nothing she hasn’t heard before. I can’t believe you just said that. What the fuck is wrong with you? Why are you being such a bitch?”

“Oh, I’m the one being a bitch? I know about you and Christen, and how you refuse to leave her alone. She’s too kind to say it with her chest, but she really doesn’t want to be around you anymore. You have a girlfriend, for God’s sake. Stay with Kelley or give it to her straight, I don’t care, but don’t act like you aren’t letting your eyes and heart linger. Don’t act like I’m somehow the bad guy in this fucked up mess that you made.”

“How long have you and her been dating?”

“Did you just hear anything I fucking said? Our relationship is none of your fucking business! Open your eyes, she doesn’t like you anymore!” She paused, taking a deep breath. “Stop fucking around, dude. I don’t care how you feel about Christen or Kelley, but you need to quit this game you’re playing. It’s not fun, it was never fun in the first place. Kelley is my friend. Chris is my girlfriend. Stay in your lane or I’ll swerve into yours.”

Her tone was cold but her eyes were on fire.

“Is that a threat?”

“It’s food for thought. Get out of my car.”

“Are you being serious right now, Alex? You have no right to be angry with me. You’re the one who’s been hiding a relationship from your best friend!”

“You’re the one who cheated on my friend and kissed my girlfriend, without consent!” She tightly gripped the steering wheel and glared at the trees infront of the car. “I won’t say it again. Get. Out.”

I grabbed my bag and opened the door.

“Fuck you, Alex.”

I slammed the door and beelined straight to mine.

Tears of anger and heartbreak streamed down my face.

What. The. Fuck.

Chapter Text

“Hey Mal, try these apples my mom made!” Hayley shoved a tray of caramel “apples” under Mallory’s nose.

“Uh, no thanks. Not hungry.”

“Oh, come on. My mom’s been working really hard on these!”

“Yeah, why has she been making so many caramel apples? I feel like you’ve been trying to hand those out all week.”

I quickly covered my mouth to prevent myself from laughing. Not that Hayley’s struggle brought me joy, but...actually, yeah, it did.

“She made them for a Halloween party at her work, but overestimated how many to actually make. Our fridge is full of these,” Hayley explained, un-phased by Mal’s question. I was surprised at her preparation. She even had me convinced for a second there.

“Ah, makes sense. I’ll pass, but thanks.” Mal gave her a pity smile before closing her locker and leaving the locker room. Hayley sighed and gave me a look of desperation. I shrugged, putting the lock on my locker before walking over to Kelley. She was preoccupied with stuffing her soccer bag with all her dirty clothes. I wrapped my arms around her waist from behind and rested my head on her shoulder. I felt her relax at my touch.

“Hey babe,” I whispered in her ear before giving her a kiss on the cheek.

“Heath, Morgan, in my office, now,” Coach Ellis announced before Kelley could respond. I sighed in frustration and let her go.

“Hey, it’s probably nothing. Remember, deep breaths.” Kelley turned to face me and smoothed the wrinkles from my shirt. I had vaguely mentioned that Alex and I had got into a fight and weren’t speaking. It stressed me out a lot, and of course I missed having my best friend around, but I was still just as irritated as I was on Monday.

I nodded and made my way to Coach’s office. Alex was already standing there. I felt her icy glare burn into the side of my face as I stood next to her. I silently fought the urge to return her look.

“I’ll keep this short since school is over. Whatever conflict there is between you needs to be solved, or at least put aside when you’re on the pitch. It’s been affecting your chemistry and form, and I’d hate to bench healthy players because they can’t get their acts together. Am I understood?”

I wanted to protest, but I knew it would only make things worse. I solemnly nodded in understanding while Alex gave a “Yes, ma'am.” We were promptly dismissed.

I thought about talking to Alex, but I decided against it. It looked like she didn’t want to talk either, because she booked it out of the locker room after that.

 

“Hey Cap! Wanna try a homemade caramel apple?”

“I really don’t.”

“Oh.” Hayley awkwardly walked away from Becky. Kelley and I quickly turned our backs to them before we could be caught laughing. “Dude, this is too good. You’re a genius.”

“You can thank Buzzfeed for the inspiration.”

“Fine, I’ll take one,” Sonnett relented, as if Hayley had been pestering her about it all day.

“But last time I asked, you said no…” She trailed off, tilting her head a bit in confusion.

“Nobody else will try them, okay? Your mom worked hard and I feel bad.” Sonnett grabbed an apple off the tray. “Oh my God,” Kelley whispered.

As soon as she got past the caramel coating, she gagged loudly and ran to the trash can. Those who were left in the locker room burst into laughter. I was in shock that someone actually fell for it, but I wasn’t surprised that it was Sonnett who walked into the trap.

Sonnett ended up loving the idea (after she got the disgusting taste of caramel dipped onion out of her mouth), so she eagerly took Hayley’s tray and started to hand them out to her unsuspecting friends on the way to Lindsey’s car. Sonnett was in the process of getting her driver’s license, so until then, Lindsey drove her home everyday. I’m pretty sure she would do that for Sonnett anyway, license or not.

 

November flew by with the blink of an eye. Therapy was going pretty well. Kelley had sent in all of her college applications ahead of time like I had suggested. Mom was still going on dates with that Gregory guy. Alex and I still weren’t talking. Chris and I weren’t talking either. Every time we accidentally made eye contact, I tried to smile at her, but she always ignored me. Eventually, she started leaving her curtains closed for good. I took a page from her book and ignored the pang of pain in my chest every time I saw her closed window.

I was happy to leave Austin for the week long Thanksgiving break that we had. We flew back to New Jersey and celebrated with my extended family. I got to see Perry and Katie for the first time since June. Being back home was so refreshing. I finally felt at peace for the first time since we moved. I met up with my childhood best friend, Carli, in between all the Heath chaos. She was dead-set on going to an Ivy League college, and wanted so badly to get into Rutgers. I reassured her that her 4.0 GPA and 1570 SAT score would get her in. When she asked how I was doing, I left out all the bad parts. I wanted to be okay, I wanted to be happy, so I made sure people thought that was the truth of my reality.

Once I had gotten used to being home, it was time to leave. And as much as I didn’t want to go, I knew it was unrealistic to stay. It wasn’t like I had a choice to begin with, but I really did not want to go back to Austin. I didn’t want to see (or deal with not seeing) Christen. I didn’t want to face Alex. I didn’t want to return to the mess that awaited me.

There was a pit of dread at the bottom of my stomach for the entirety of the plane ride that only got worse as we approached Austin.

 

“Kel, give it back,” I sighed, smiling at her as she adjusted the maroon beanie on her head. The weather had changed drastically while I was gone. Winter had finally come, and just in time for December.

“You know I look good in it, babe.”

“Just because you look unbelievably beautiful in my beanie doesn’t mean it’s yours now. Give it back, loser.” I reached for her head, but she ducked out of the way. I chuckled at her antics. “If you really want a beanie, you should look into getting one.”

“Toby, I have ten dollars in my bank account,” She complained.

“Sounds like a you problem. I think McDonald’s is hiring, maybe you should apply there.”

“Hell no. I’d rather drink expired milk than work with Dak. Speaking of McDonald’s…” Kelley wrapped her arms around my waist and looked up at me with puppy eyes. I already knew what she was gonna ask.

“Cough up some cash and I might consider getting your McFlurry. Or, you know, you might get a discount if you worked there…”

She let me go and took out her wallet. As she was pulling out a ten dollar bill, I took the opportunity to get my beanie back.

“Hey! That’s not-Press! What’s good?” Kelley gave Chris a small smile and a nod as she passed us. Per usual, her earbuds were in and her stride was confident. Her hair was back in a ponytail, her natural curls running free.

I fought the urge to speak up and grab her attention.

She gave a curt nod to Kelley and made disinterested eye contact with me before continuing on with her path.

I didn’t dare let on how hurtful the gesture (or lack thereof) was. I should’ve been used to it by now, but the unbearable sadness was just as strong then as it was on the night I messed everything up. Every time I saw her, my mind was thrown back into my dilemma. I knew I wanted to stay with Kelley. I had to. I had no other option at this point. She loved me more than anything, and I loved her too. But every time I saw Chris, all I wanted to do was feel the warmth of her embrace and the softness of her lips, and every time I saw Alex, all I wanted to do was deck her right between the eyes.

I had no right to feel those things towards either of them, but I did, and I had no idea what to do about it. The best I could do was ignore the situation and hope that it disappeared on its own.

“Tobin? Hello?” Kelley waved her hands in front of my face, effectively breaking me out of my trance.

“Huh? Oh, yeah sorry.” I put my beanie on and cleared my throat, giving her my full attention.

“I was just asking if you knew why Press was so cold. She usually says hi to both of us. Do you know if she’s okay?”

“No clue. None of my business.”

“Are y’all not talking or something?”

“Kel, I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t you have to get to class?” I tried my best to distract her from digging. I really didn’t want to think about that...situation, more than I already did.

“I was just asking, jeez. You really are in the middle of everyone’s drama,” She joked, cracking a smile. I didn’t laugh.

“Hilarious,” I said before attempting to walk away. I could feel myself getting pissed, and I didn’t want to say anything I didn’t mean to Kelley.

She grabbed my arm and spun me around. “I was just kidding, babe. It was a joke. Are you alright?” The concern in her eyes kept me in check.

“I’m fine, sorry. There’s just a lot on my mind right now. I’ll get you that McFlurry, free of charge. Have a good class.” I kissed her cheek and went on my way.

 

Coach Ellis blew her whistle to start the drill. Lindsey promptly passed the ball to Crystal and strategically charged forward while Crystal was challenged by Ali. The cool Friday breeze sent a shiver down my spine.

“You doing okay, Harry?” Allie asked from behind me.

“Hm? Yeah, I’m alright.”

“You just seem a little more reserved than usual. Are you sure you’re good?”

“Just trying to focus. I’m already on thin ice and I don’t want to make it worse.”

That was the honest truth. Well, kind of. I was truly trying to get into the right mindset to be the best that I could be, but it was pretty hard to do that when the star center forward (Alex) refused to pass to the right winger (me). It wasn’t like she never saw me. I called for the ball and made eye contact with her so many times, but she always pretended like I didn’t exist. The more I thought about it, the more annoyed I was.

And lucky for me, we were up next for the drill.

When the whistle blew, Alex passed the ball to me and made herself available while I took on Abby.

“I’m open!” I heard her yell. I ignored her as Abby approached and tried to dispossess me.

“Pass the ball! Pass the fucking ball, Tobin!”

I kept ignoring her frustrated calls and tried to get past Abby, but she stood her ground and made a risky tackle. As I ran, she rammed her body into mine. I flew forward and ate shit.

“Sorry!” She apologized as she helped me get back on my feet.

“You’re good.” I held my arm across my chest for a few seconds, trying to stretch out the dull pain from the fall. I attempted to walk back towards the lines, but Alex stopped me.

“Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you? I was wide open! We could’ve had that!” She yelled at me.

“Now you know how I’ve felt for the past four days!” I snapped back.

She scoffed. “You ruined a practice drill because you think I haven’t been passing to you on purpose? How mature. You’re acting like a fucking child.”

“Can y’all, uhm, move out of the way?” Sonnett asked cautiously.

“And you’re acting like a fucking asshole,” I retorted. I balled my fists in an attempt to try and contain my anger. I felt the fire spread throughout my body, causing me to shake.

Alex marched forwards and shoved me. On instinct, I shoved her back. “What the fuck, dude?” I asked as she shoved me a bit harder.

“Knock it off!” I shoved her back, causing her to stumble.

Just as she started to come towards me again, Kelley and Pinoe jumped in between us, dragging us away from each other. Alex was still trying to get to me, and while I was still livid, I was slowly becoming aware of what was happening. Kelley’s grip was tight on my arms.

“Toby, you need to calm down. Take a deep breath for me.”

“She started it, I didn’t do anything wrong,” I said to Kelley.

“We can talk about that later-”

“God damn it,” I muttered as I saw Coach Ellis storming over to us. Kelley whipped around and moved out of the way.

“THAT’S IT! BOTH OF YOU, GET! OUT!”

“But there’s an hour left of-” Alex tried.

“OUT!! NOW!!”

Coach Ellis didn’t bother waiting for us to leave before she turned to the rest of the team and announced, “Mal, Raso, you’ll be starting until further notice.”

Alex angrily pushed past me, and I dejectedly followed her to the locker rooms.

I opened my locker and took out both my backpack and my soccer bag. I was in shock at what had happened. Everything was unclear. Were we just kicked off the team? Had I just ruined my future at UNC? I shook my head in an attempt to clear my mind, but it didn’t work. I could feel the anger fade into buzzing anxiety.

After putting my cleats and shinguards in my bag, I heard Alex close her locker.

“Alex, can we talk?” I asked, locking mine and turning towards her. She continued zipping up her bag.

I sighed and stepped towards her, trying to get her attention. “This has gone on long enough. I miss you, Al.”

She put her backpack on grabbed her soccer bag.

“Please talk to me, I’m really sorry.”

She left.

 

4:35 P.M.

Kelleyyy: Hey are you okay?
Kelleyyy: Tobin I really need to know if you’re okay or not

4:40 P.M.

Missed call from Kelleyyy (3)

 

“Hello?”

“Tobin! Thank God. Are you alright??” Kelley asked frantically. I had just gotten out of the shower and was standing at my window, squinting at a car that looked an awful lot like Kelley’s.

“Are you at my house?”

“Well, when you weren’t answering my messages or calls, I got pretty worried, so I sped over here as quickly as I could. Can I come in?”

“Kel, I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something that’s been weighing on me, anyway. Even if you really are okay with the weird Alex thing, we need to talk.”

“Can it wait?” The thought of having a serious conversation with her was annoying at best. I just wanted to be left alone, quite honestly.

“Uh, not really.”

I pulled the phone away from my ear so she didn’t hear me sigh out of frustration. “Fine. See you in a bit.” I hung up and headed downstairs to open the door.

 

“Kelley’s here? What did I tell you about last minute guests?”

“She practically lives here, and I wasn’t expecting her either. Sorry.” I opened the front door to let Kelley in. She seemed super uneasy, which in turn made me more anxious than I already was. “Come on in,” I muttered as she moved passed me.

“Hey Kelley! How’re you?” My mom asked with a smile. Kelley mustered up a small one in return. “I’m good, and you?”

“I’m doing just fine. You kids have fun, alright?”

We both nodded and climbed the stairs up to my room.

 

“What did you want to talk about?” I asked as soon as she shut the door behind us.

“Let’s not talk here. Could we sit on the roof?” She suggested without looking at me.

“You...the roof? Kelley is everything okay?” We only talked on the roof when things were super serious. It was where I opened up to her about my dad’s death for the first time, where we talked through our first real fight. We hadn’t even looked at the roof since, and the fact that she felt the need to sit there again was distressing.

“We just need to talk.”

“You keep saying that and it’s freaking me out.”

She huffed and started fidgeting with her hands. She was nervous. When she didn’t respond, I nodded and opened the window. I didn’t bother setting up “Tobin’s Place”.

 

Once we sat down, the words poured out of her mouth as if she couldn’t keep them in any longer.

“I can’t stop thinking about how you kissed Press. I really didn’t think it would bother me, but you’ve been acting so different. Your gestures are so...so empty. I really can’t stop thinking about it, Tobin. I can’t stop replaying when you told me. It follows me everywhere. It doesn’t make sense to me. Like...I thought we were okay,” She sighed with sad eyes. “I’d almost rather you break up with me than do that.”

“Don’t say that…”

“But that’s how I feel. I would rather be consumed with heartbreak than be haunted by, whatever this is. I know you told me it didn’t mean anything, but you hesitated. You hesitated and you stopped trying and now every time I see Press I can’t even look at her because all I can think about is how you kissed her and how I feel like you don’t love me anymore.” She stopped to look at me before she continued.

“You hug me, you kiss me, you tell me you love me, but it’s not there. I don’t know, something’s just changed. I’m watching us fall apart before my eyes and it’s eating me alive. Am I going crazy? Should I be feeling this way?”

When I didn’t respond, she asked the one thing I didn’t want her to ask.

“Do you have feelings for Press?”

“I only have feelings for you,” I responded almost immediately, feeling dread in my heart. I knew I was lying to her, but I had already made a promise to myself to get over this and get back to loving Kelley like I used to. I didn’t want to have this conversation with her in the midst of trying to mend everything I’d messed up.

“Tobin, please just be honest with me. I just need to know the truth now. I need to know if we’re able to come back from this.” Her voice cracked a little. She turned her head away from me to wipe her eyes.

“I am being honest! All I want is you.” I reached out to hold her hand, but she moved her hand away from me.

“Answer my question.”

“Kelley, c’mon. You should know me better than that.”

“I guess I don’t, then,” She snapped. “You like Press, that’s why you kissed her. You didn’t have to lie to me about it. You always get so worked up over every little thing I do wrong, and the second I’m upset that you lied to my face, you patronize me.”

“I’m not fucking lying to you! It’s just been really hard for me. With the Alex drama and dealing with my grief, it’s been a lot.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it!! I’m not stupid!!” She slammed her fists on the surface after her outburst. I immediately felt guilty for pulling the dead parent card, but I felt trapped. I felt like I was losing control.

I took a deep breath. I knew I owed her the truth. I couldn’t keep doing this to her, to us.

“I...I have feelings for Press. But I’m getting over them! I am! I promise,” I defended, hoping I was doing a good job of convincing her.

She shook her head in defeat and ran her hand through her brunette hair.

“I knew it. I fucking knew it. Sonnett said I was wrong but I knew it.” Tears were streaming down her face. I knew if I tried to comfort her, I’d be met with more anger and rejection. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I thought being upfront would give me clarity, but I still felt like we were spiraling.

“It’s gonna be okay, though. I want to get through this with you. We have to, it’s all we’ve talked about.”

“Just because we’ve talked about our future doesn’t mean it’ll come true. How could I be so naive,” She muttered to herself.

“Kelley, talk to me.”

She scoffed. “You don’t get to say that to me, not after all the shit you pulled. What else did you do with her? When did this start?” She demanded.

My instinct was to lie and reassure her that nothing was going on, but I had already told her the tip of the iceberg.

“The day she moved in next door. That’s when it started for me.”

“On our two year anniversary,” She covered her face with her hands.

“I’m really sorry-”

“You’re only sorry because you got caught! You wouldn’t have said shit if I hadn’t confronted you. I can’t believe this. Two years, gone, all because of the girl next door.” She stood up and climbed back into my room. I quickly followed her.

“Where are you going?”

“I can’t do this. I’ve been ignoring all our problems because we were young and in love and I mistakenly thought we could get through anything that life puts us through. I was obviously SO wrong about that.” She started walking towards my bedroom door.

“Problems?”

She spun around. “Every time I would do one small thing you didn’t like, you’d get so, so sensitive about it. Exhibit A, Spin the Bottle.”

“You were full on making out with Alex in front of everyone!”

“And you were cheating on me with Press, which is worse, Tobin? And-and you were always so controlling when it came to my sobriety. Going through my things when I left the room? Come on!”

“I worried about you, okay? Alcoholism runs in your family!”

“That can’t be the only reason why you got pissed every time you found out I was drinking. Nobody reacts like that because they’re ‘worried’.”

She was right. Alcohol was a very sensitive subject, for reasons not so obvious to her. I never told her the cause of the car accident, and I sure as Hell wasn’t gonna tell her now.

“Well, I’m not the only one with problems. You were so weird when I told you I confided in Chris after your birthday party, and what for?”

“Obviously I had something to worry about! You know what? We aren’t gonna get anywhere right now. I can’t do this.” She tried to leave again, but I caught her arm.

“Kel, where are you going?” She pulled her arm out of my grasp and continued forward.

“Kel, answer me.” I followed her out of my room and down the stairs. Luckily, my mom was in her bedroom.

“Babe-”

“Don’t call me that,” She opened the front door, but stopped to look at me. “I need space.”

She closed the door behind her, and I didn’t bother chasing her.

She was gone.