Christen opened her bedroom door Saturday morning, greeted only by the hum of the air conditioning unit in the window. She stepped out into the hallway and peeked into the living room, surprised that it was empty.
Ty’s normally up by now.
Although Christen considered herself a morning person, her sister normally had her beat by an hour or two. Christen had grown accustomed to waking up to a half-finished pot of coffee and clean mug on the counter, a good morning gesture often left by Tyler before she went about her morning routine of answering emails and tidying the apartment. She normally woke to her sister whistling or the low timber of talk radio, but today the apartment was eerily quiet. The dogs were lounging lazily in streaks of sunlight coming through the open curtains, so Christen bent down to nuzzle each, petting them affectionately behind the ears and across their bellies.
“Hi girls. Where’s Mama?” She glanced over to their food bowls, seeing traces of crumbs and half-drank water bowls next to them. Tyler must have fed them before leaving for her Saturday errands. Christen stood and stretched, letting out a high squeal then a long sigh, and grabbed the two leashes from the hook by the door. The dogs leapt at the sound of the silver clasps knocking against each other and wagged their tails in expectation.
“Yes, we’re gonna walk. Yes we are! Yes we are! ” She bent down to clip each dog, grabbed two plastic bags, her keys, and some cash, and led the dogs down the steps of the apartment building. Might as well get fresh coffee and some sunshine.
She set out for her favorite park a few blocks from the apartment, stopping in at her favorite bodega on the way. The owner, Sal, greeted her with a wide smile.
“Gorgeous!” He threw his hands up. “You brought the pups!”
Christen laughed lowly and leaned over the counter, kissing each of his cheeks. “Hi, Sal. We’re heading to the park. But first,” she gestured over his shoulder, “Need some coffee.”
Sal bobbed his head knowingly. “Yes, yes. Fuel first. Park next.” He reached below the counter into a box, rattling around before coming up with two small Milkbones. “Mo-Mo. Leesi.” He waved the bones at the dogs. “Look what I’ve got for you!”
The dogs turned to the counter at their names and Christen swore she saw their eyes widen and mouths break into smiles. They sat eagerly, tails swishing back and forth on the ground, waiting for Sal to toss the treats.
“Sal,” Christen chastised. “You spoil them.”
“Hey, happy dogs make happy people. Happy people buy my coffee.” He winked at Christen and traded her the two bones for Christen’s dollar and fifty cents, then poured her a coffee. “Take a muffin for the park. Make friends with the birds, beautiful.”
Christen laughed and grabbed a cinnamon swirl muffin, thanking him on her walk out. “See you later, Sal!”
She planned on taking a leisurely stroll to the park, listening to the chirping birds and sounds of families chattering on their way to the farmer’s market or playground, but she should’ve known better. The dogs caught sight of the expanse of green from a block away and took off, tugging Christen along with them. She loved Tyler, and she loved her dogs, but her sister hadn’t trained them particularly well.
“Morena! Kahleesi! Heel!” She tugged back on the leashes with little result, ultimately walking at a breakneck speed with her arm outstretched, all her strength directed at keeping the dogs near her. At the gated entrance to the park, the dogs wiggled happily, ready to run off-leash at the unsuspecting birds and squirrels littering the lawn, nearly empty at the early morning hour. Christen simultaneously opened the gate with one coffee and muffin laden hand while unclipping the dogs with the other, allowing them to push through the gate and run freely. She wandered over to a bench and sat, watching the dogs as she sipped her coffee and popped bits of muffin into her mouth.
She looked to her right and couldn’t stop a broad grin from spreading across her face.
“Hey, you. What are you doing out here?”
Tobin gestured aimlessly around her, then swept her hands up and down her body. “Morning run.”
Christen eyed her skeptically. “You live in Brooklyn.”
Tobin nodded, smiling. “I do.”
“We’re on the Upper West Side.”
Christen looked at her expectantly. Tobin smiled back.
“Yeah. So that’s like… a ten mile run.” Christen prodded.
“I like to run.” Tobin said with a shrug. “I like this park.” She motioned to the empty seat next Christen, accepting the dark-haired girl’s nod as a silent invitation to sit.
Christen looked around the park, taking in the acres of green fields, outskirts laced with trees, running trails, and the Hudson river just beyond. “Yeah, yeah this park is worth the ten miles.” Where else would you get a real breath of calm in this city?
“Definitely. Everyone needs some trees and grass and river view every once in awhile, you know?” Tobin gazed ahead, nodding along with herself.
Christen hummed in agreement. “I really love this part of the city. So many people think of Central Park as the only place to get some nature, but I really like this little strip of the West Side. It feels more like a local secret, you know? Everyone’s here to take a deep breath and just… be.”
“You don’t get that feeling in Central Park?”
Christen thought for a moment. “I don’t know… It’s like, since everyone knows where it is and it’s this big place to visit and experience , it’s always so full. I’m sure there are small pockets there that can feel more personal but…” Christen spread her arms wide and stuck her legs straight out. “When I first found this park, it was pretty empty. It was just… like… grass and trees and benches. Just local kids and families and couples walking their dogs. It felt like my own piece of the city.”
Tobin laughed. “Ah, yes, trees and dogs. Key selling points for every good park.”
Christen giggled and swatted Tobin’s knee. She felt her stomach explode with butterflies at the contact and pulled her hand back to rest safely in her lap. “Oh hush, you know what I mean.”
And Tobin, after another short, quiet laugh, turned ahead and sighed fondly. “Yeah, I do. I feel that way about a park near my place. The first time I passed by it on a run I thought ‘Huh, I should check this place out.’ And I stopped my run and walked in and immediately it just…” Tobin turned and suddenly Christen saw how the sun caused her eyes to sparkle. She was transfixed. “It felt like my place. And in a city with millions of people and thousands of places, that’s a nice feeling.”
Tobin smiled widely, happily and unselfconsciously, hers eyes crinkling at the corners. Christen hadn’t realized she herself was wearing a matching smile until her cheeks began to hurt, causing her to look over Tobin’s shoulder to compose herself again. She spied a couple jogging side by side, one of the men pushing a baby buggy while the other held tightly to a dog’s leash. She remembered then that Tobin had run across the entire city and it was barely after breakfast.
“So what, a light ten mile warm-up to the best park in the city, then a ten mile cool down home?” She teased.
“Nah,” Tobin shook her head. “I’ll take the train home.”
“Tobin! That’s like an hour long ride back.”
The brunette just shrugged. “It’s worth it.” She gestured to the view in front of them. “Plus, it’s actually a pretty relaxing ride with the right music.”
“Huh,” was all Christen managed. Then, “So what’s the ‘right music’?”
“Ah,” Tobin broke into a wide smile. “Prepare for some education.” She pulled her phone out of the armband strapped around her ( very defined, Christen noticed) bicep, and leaned into Christen, scrolling through her music library. She showed Christen her different playlists, aptly titled “Running,” “Weights,” “Commute,” and “Chill,” but one playlist caught Christen’s eye.
“What’s this one?” She tapped the “Feels” playlist, already guessing its purpose. The red tint that sprouted across Tobin’s cheeks all but confirmed her suspicions, but Tobin’s voice didn’t waver.
“Ah, yes, my best one,” she adopted a tone of nonchalance. “That one’s for seducing the ladies.” She arched her eyebrows and waited for Christen’s response.
Christen, in turn, took her time scrolling through the list of songs. “You’ve got a good selection here," she offered noncommittally, trying her damndest to seem unaffected by looking at the playlist Tobin had sex to. “Though I’d make a few adjustments.”
Tobin guffawed. “Adjustments? I’ll have you know, this playlist gets rave reviews.”
Christen poked her tongue into her cheek, then licked her bottom lip slowly while locking eyes with the girl next to her. “Huh.” Her eyes softened from challenging to playful. “All I know is if the sex is good enough, the background music is the last thing I’d compliment.”
Tobin’s eyes popped wide. She opened her mouth to respond but nothing came out as she tilted her head, regarding Christen’s expression.
“Thanks for the tip.”
The two girls held eye contact a moment longer before Christen looked away and sipped her coffee. She spotted Morena and Kahleesi fifty yards away trotting through the grass. She figured it was time to go, not wanting to charge the air with any more sexual tension with Tobin, who has a girl, Christen reminded herself. Another girl she has sex with. Not you. That was reason enough to break the tension and call for the dogs.
“Morena! Kahleesi! Come here, girls! Come here!” She called out to them. The dogs galloped over, slowing as they neared the two girls.
Tobin’s eyes lit up as she stuck out her hand. “These guys are yours?” She asked unbelievingly. “They’re gorgeous.”
“Yeah, their my sweet girls.” Christen looked over to Tobin. “Well, not mine. My sister and her boyfriend’s. But I get to love on them all the time.”
“Wow, lucky girls.” Tobin looked up from where she had one arm wrapped around Morena, semi-hugging the happy pup.
Christen blushed and reached for the leashes next to her. “I’m the lucky one.” Tobin chuckled and leaned back into the bench, giving Christen space to bend down and reach the dogs.
“Time to go?” She hadn’t stopped looking at Christen, even after the green-eyed girl had dropped her gaze.
“Yeah. They need breakfast,” Christen lied. She bent down to clip the dogs to their leashes, then turned to Tobin. “See you at soccer tonight?” She hoped for a yes.
Tobin smiled. “I’ll be there.”
“Awesome,” Christen smiled, relieved. “See you later.”
“Bye Chris. Bye, pups,” Tobin called out once they were a few paces away. Christen looked back over shoulder, sending a small smile and a quick wave her way. She took one last lingering glance over the girl, who was leaning back with her face tilted up to the sun and eyes closed, arms draped across the bench, comfortable and peaceful as ever.
The conversation with Tobin still rattled Christen three hours later. She walked to the grocery store and thought about the fact that Tobin had her own park, too. She changed her sheets and thought about Tobin leaning into her to show her her playlists. She scrubbed the shower clean and thought about Tobin blushing. She folded her laundry and remembered how peaceful and unaffected Tobin seemed as Christen left the park.
Some girls are just really comfortable around everyone. Or maybe she’s a flirty person? Kelley flirts with the goddamn bus driver--she hit on a cop that one time outside Stonewall! Tobin’s probably the same way. She’s being friendly. She’s new. She needs friends. Don’t make her feel weird. Even if you think she’s cute. Don’t be weird.
Christen nodded. She could be not weird. She could be totally normal around pretty girls. She could totally keep her cool around confident, pretty girls. She could totally act like herself around confident, pretty girls with big smiles.
Or she could just ignore her.
That would probably work best.
Christen sat on the bleacher tying her laces while a few girls milled around stretching and swapping Friday night stories. Kelley was wrapping up the events from her and Christen’s night at one of Christen’s favorite game bars up near Columbia, where she and Kelley regularly sharpened their game board skills (Christen) and people skills (Kelley). Kelley was just delivering a hilarious tale of two wannabe-Wall Street frat guys trying to woo them with drinks, a story Christen experienced as far more exasperating than funny, but she still chuckled at Kelley’s version of it.
Christen hopped up to join in on the passing and movement with her team when she heard laughter coming from around the corner. She turned around and locked eyes first with Allie, sending a big smile her way. When she glanced to the left she caught Tobin mid laugh and Christen had to catch the smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
Ignore ignore ignore ignore ignore ignore ignore ignore. Ignore the pretty girl.
Was Christen acting like a middle schooler with a crush? Well... yeah. But in her defense, she basically had the same experience with girls as a 14-year-old. The reaction was nothing if not expected.
But then Tobin beamed at Christen, accompanied with a little wave, and Christen couldn’t stop the smile she sent back. More girls arrived as the clock approached game time and finally everyone trickled off the field and congregated around the bleachers. Becky passed out pinnies and sent two teams back on the turf, Christen taking her seat with Emily, Rose, Becky, Allie, and Ashlyn. She tried to take in the whole game, each pass, and cheer when her friends made good shots and great saves, but she had a hard time cheering for Tobin. There was something about cheering for her that Christen felt would give away her infatuation, and she was determined to hold onto that secret until the feelings settled and she could properly kick them aside. Only then would she feel like she could actually treat Tobin like… well, just another teammate.
Christen managed pretty well, in her opinion, to toe the line between cheering for her teammates and cheering for Tobin like a teammate. What helped the most was being sucked into sideline conversations and, when her team did match up with Tobin's, playing on the opposite side of the field from her. When the final game wrapped, she exhaled deeply, then breathed in as slowly and deeply as she could, feeling her lungs expand and ribs rise as air filled them. When she exhaled again, she dropped slowly to the turf and reached for her toes, stretching languidly and bringing her body down from the quick pace of the short games.
“Chris, you’re really good,” she heard over her shoulder. Her eyes locked with Tobin as the she slowly took a seat by her side. The lanky girl kicked out a leg and grasped her foot, leaning to the side for a deep hamstring stretch. The movement brought her closer to Christen than Chris thinks they've ever been and she can smell the sweat and bodywash and shampoo seeping off of her.
She smells so good. She smells strong. Is that even a smell? She smells it, even if it isn’t a real smell. If other people smelled Tobin, they’d smell ‘strong.’”
Christen was lightheaded and her breathing had become shallow, but attributed to an entirely different reason now.
“Thanks, Tobin,” Christen smiled at her words. “You are too. Your footwork is out of this world.”
Tobin laughed heartily. “I wanted to be Ronaldinho when I grew up but my mom wouldn’t let me kick the ball around in the house. Who knows where I’d be now if she did?” She threw a wink Christen’s way and Christen laughed, switching stretches so she could face the brunette easier.
“So how was the park? Did you stay for a while longer?” Christen asked. Easy, neutral territory. It’s easy to be cool and collected when talking about a park.
Tobin shifted to stretch her other leg. “It was good, yeah. Productive. I updated one of my playlists.” Christen froze momentarily but continued back with her stretch. She swore she caught a smirk pull at Tobin’s lips.
“Yup,” Tobin popped the “p” and leaned back onto her hands, not even feigning a stretch anymore. “I’ll be sure to send it to you for your approval before I need it next.” The wink that accompanied her statement sent Christen’s head jerking up and she turned to regard Tobin. By then, though, Tobin was laughing and standing up, patting Christen’s shoulder as she made her way off the pitch. Christen’s head fell forward as she gathered her wits, then moved into downward dog, shaking her head slowly, clenching her eyes tight.
I should have ignored her.