"Toby, it's going to take a while."
Tobin sighed over the phone knowing her mother was right. It was a Sunday night, and Christen had already gone to bed at 9pm trying to hide the fact she had started to sob in the shower at 8. Things with Christen weren't...the best right now if Tobin had to be honest and the truth is she felt useless. Grief isn't something you can heal from overnight. But Tobin is used to fixing things. She's been guilty more than one time or another of bottling up and running away. But Tobin always came back, and she always fixed her problem after she spent time thinking on it.
But Christen isn't something she can fix. So here she is on a Sunday night calling her mom and asking for help.
"But mom what do I do? She's hiding it from me. I mean, she shouldn't feel ashamed she's still sad. I don't get it. I just need something to do to help." Tobin responded, rambling quietly. Cindy tsk'd over the cell. Her daughter really always tried earnestly to help.
"You know what you gotta do pumpkin. You breathe, read your Bible, and you talk to her. If she's hurt, hold her. You love her Toby, that's what you told me. You'll get through this." She reminded her. Tobin flushed, rubbing the back of her neck and feeling kind of dumb for worrying so much to begin with. Her mom was right. She needed to consult with God, fix her relationship with him. That was splintered as her frustration with grief grew more and more each day.
"Thanks mom. I love you, I should go and get ready for bed. Talk soon."
Tobin washed her face, brushed her teeth and swapped contacts for glasses. She crawled into her and Christen's bed, trying not to wake the sleeping woman. She had a soft reading lamp on, and tabbed open her bible to do nightly reflection, reading, and prayers. After ten minutes, Tobin's eyes wandered off the page and to Christen.
The younger girl felt smaller to her lately. It's almost as if you felt her spirit gone. A shell of Christen was left in her place. She lay on her side, her curls hanging across her shoulder. Tobin traced her fingertips through them careful not to snag or pull.
"I love you Christen Annemarie. I love you very much." She murmured, moving closer. Tobin eventually set the Bible down and turned off the light before placing her arms around Christen's figure. Christen needed to be the little spoon tonight. She laid there listening to her breathing, kissing the crook of her neck. Tobin felt her eyes water as she thought of the pain she had been through. She clasped Christen's hand, breathing out slowly. "Goodnight Chris,"
Tobin fell asleep holding her girlfriend tight to her chest and breathing in the smell of her shampoo. And for once in weeks, Christen slept through the night.
Christen woke first the next morning. She rolled out of Tobin's arms gingerly to freshen up in the bathroom and go make coffee. Christen sighed as she perched herself at the kitchen stool, watching their coffee maker drip into her mug. Routine was a fickle thing. Christen loved routine because it made her feel stable, it made her feel good. But she was increasingly exhausted by her own, using it to mask the pain she felt still. Her eyes still couldn't look at the refrigerator door and face the images hanging there. Most of it was Tobin's art, spray painted phrases or icons. But some were photos, also most of them taken with Tobin's camera and printed.
There was a glaringly obvious one upsetting Christen. But she couldn't bring herself to remove it. Why tear down a perfectly good memory?
It was Christmas Eve and Tobin had told her parents she was staying on the west cost. Cindy and Jeff paid no mind, promising to send some cookies over to the Press family and they made Tobin promise to FaceTime during present opening.
"I am so glad you came over," Stacy cooed as she set down Tobin's hot cocoa, giving the girl a hug. Tobin grinned, looking up at Stacy through a mouthful of whipped cream from licking the top of the mug. Christen chuckled at the scene, already pulling out her phone to take photos. Stacy laughed, leaning over and kissing the top of Tobin's head.
"I'm glad I came too Stacy."
Christen slammed her fist on the counter. It wasn't fair. None of it was fair. She'd be celebrating Christmas this year with just her father and the family. Her birthday would pass and -she was just gone.
"Morning Mike Tyson, you ready to rumble already?" Tobin commented dryly from around the corner at Christen's small outburst. This was just normal in the world of Christen post Stacy. Tobin tried not to smother her.
"Don't. I need my coffee and this French Press is taking too damn long. Why the hell didn't we buy a kuerig?!" Christen seethed, crossing her arms across her chest. Tobin shrugged as she peeled a banana by the sink.
"You wanted mhm those beans from our local place up here," Tobin replied through a mouth of banana. She pressed down on the french press lever again and the coffee speed up slightly. Christen grabbed her mug and grumbled "thanks" before sitting back down at the bar. Tobin set her own hand made favorite mug on the counter, pouring more beans into the French press. Her eyes glanced at the mug they kept in the cabinet that was also hand made. It was pink and said world's fiercest mom in Christen's elegant scrawl. Stacy's mug.
"I have to get to practice at around 10:30 babe. Are you sure you don't want to come? You can totally hang Mark loves you coming." Tobin tried to make conversation, knowing that Christen's reply would be some excuse that she's too busy to do it but the reality is she was going to suffocate herself with her depression blanket of tv on the couch and snacks that Dawn would grimace at.
"We're rivals. I shouldn't. Go to practice." Christen replied, shaking her head. Tobin sighed, walking away and knowing it was useless. She geared up and grabbed her keys from the laundry room, where they sat on top of the washing machine and not hanging on the hook Christen insisted they have.
"Hey Tobs," Lindsey waves in the parking lot, coming over to Tobin's parked car. Tobin slides out of the drivers seat and locks the doors with a sigh. She gives Lindsey a tired smile that doesn't quite reach her brown eyes. The blonde drapes an arm over her shoulder, squeezing gently. "Lets make today good for you."
Lindsey already knew without words what was happening. They all did. Portland teammates saw it in the way Christen pulled away from training and the way Tobin didn't invite them over to watch games anymore. They were both isolated now. The thorns had always opened up their trainings to Christen, knowing that she needed a space to work since she wasn't in Utah. They didn't view her as a rival, she was a friend and it wasn't an invasion to know their individual work outs on the field.
But after the club return from the cup...it was glaringly obvious that Christen was now spiraling into grief she didn't allow space for during the cup.
Tobin's mind kept replaying the last time she saw Christen be inhibited and free. She wasn't focused on the game at hand, her vision blurred by the memory of a Fourth of July.
"Come on!" Tobin giggled, pulling Christen's arm down as they ran through the sand dunes and off of the beach path.
Christen opened her mouth to chastise her girlfriend about being too fast but thought better of it. Just seeing Tobin giggling with such excitement made her heart soar. It was something so special, so totally adorable. They made their way down to the shore where Tobin's family had set up to watch fireworks over the ocean from the boardwalk.
"Toby!" Tobin's nephew Cole latched onto her leg, plopping down in the sand as he reached his favorite person. Tobin reached down to pull him up into her arms with a chuckle and a forehead kiss.
"I'm about to show aunt Chris the fireworks, you wanna watch 'em with us?" She asked as the young boy nodded repeatedly. He smiled at Christen, his warm brown eyes gazing at her as Tobin led them closer to the water. Christen watched him, reaching out to loosely hold his hand.
"Cole! What did I say about going off at night, here is a sweatshirt he's probably chilly." Katie, Tobin's sister, ran over and let Tobin catch the top in her right arm that wasn't holding her nephew. Christen laughed at the encounter, helping Tobin shrug it onto Cole's little body.
"They're starting look," Christen pointed around at the deep midnight sky watching as bursts of color exploded through them. She glanced down at Cole and saw the reflections of the fireworks in his eyes and then Tobin's. They were eerily similar, rounded and golden brown almost the color of warm honey. Christen wrapped her arm around Tobin, pulling her into her side enough that she was able to kiss her cheek, earning a small gruntled noise of disgust from Cole.
"Ugh that's yucky!" He whined, trying to focus back on the beautiful fireworks in front of him. Tobin laughed, ruffling his hair.
"Why's it yucky dude? Cause we're girls?" She asked tentatively. He was still rather young, and Tobin knew the comment was innocent but she wouldn't have her preschool aged nephew being homophobic on her watch.
"Nuh uh. Mommy and daddy do it too. The," Cole paused and made kissing sounds. "Is too loud."
Christen laughed out loud at that answer, her eyes looking at Tobin's. The fireworks kept going, and both of them knew that this was all they wanted out of life.
Tobin found herself playing aggressively during practice. She tackled Lindsey, knocking the air out of the younger girl. Lindsey took it in stride, crawling back up with a cough. Tobin knocked Emily down next, with a knee to the back of her own during a nutmeg and caused her to fall like a brick.
"What the hell," Emily started angrily, pushing herself back up from the fall. "That was unnecessary, you already 'megged me!"
Tobin shrugged, crossing her arms. The practice froze at the sound of increased voices. Sinclair walked over, wedging herself between the two.
"Hey! Both of you cool down. Heath run a lap. Sonnett, get some water. Come back in 15." The older Canadian captain barked, breaking up the nonsense immediately. Tobin sprinted off to run the length of the pitch, pushing herself to release the anger every time her cleats hit the grass. Emily sat on the bench, gulping down water.
"She was looking rough when she arrived this morning, just let her be okay em?" Lindsey went over to Emily, taking her own water break. Emily sighed, shaking her head.
"She's been rough for weeks. She can't take this shit out on us. I love Tobin. I do, you know I do. But I can't like let this happen. I play dirty too, I know but she's playing angry it's not safe." Emily argued, putting her head in her hands. "And I hate seeing her suffer. Look at that," She jerked her head in the direction of Tobin still running with bits of the grass tearing off with each push forward.
"I know." Lindsey agreed sadly, rubbing Emily's shoulder. Tobin came back over after her lap finished, squirting water all over her sweaty face and looking at the two women. She scuffed the turf sheepishly.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been that rough, that would have been called a yellow. I didn't mean to— a lot of shit has happened and I took it out on you." Tobin apologized to both of them, hearing Emily let out a breath. She shook her head, getting up to hug Tobin.
"I'm not gonna be mad at you forever. And you're right. It could have been two yellows in a row. I saw Linds go down. You know Tobes," Emily replied gently, feeling the shorter player shaking in the cool autumn air. "We're watching out for you. That's why we're upset. That's all. Come on,"
Emily gave a hesitant thumbs up to Lindsey, awkwardly surprised at her own maturity of the situation. Lindsey gave her own thumbs up back, brows rising. She was actually proud of Emily for being an adult, not that she would ever say it if course. Mark called field practice off and opted for personal strength, and then recovery before ending the day a bit early.
Tobin slunk back to her locker, putting her head in her hands. Everything was so damn frustrating. She couldn't concentrate, her head kept spinning. The fact that Lindsey and Emily had to calm her down earlier was shameful. It made her cheeks flushed and her stomach clench. Reckless. It was all so reckless.
The locker room cleared out until it was just Tobin alone. Lindsey had seen her sitting alone but didn't prompt the older girl to come to strength workouts, figuring she needed that time.
"God..I just need to ask you why?" Her voice was little and much softer than expected. Tobin dropped to her knees on the floor of the locker room. She let out a frustrated groan. "I know that you have plans. It just really hurts. And she's not letting me help her anymore. Every time I try to forget there's this nagging ache and it nearly kills me. I am so frustrated and mad, and mostly it's at you and that makes me feel terrible. Because I shouldn't. But if you could watch over Christen, that would be something good. I know you have plans for her. But I love her, and I need to see her thriving. I'm sorry I'm so selfish but I'm tired of her suffering. Please God. Please."
She rambled mostly on her knees to God, and it was a moment where she gave in. She gave in to everything she was feeling, her head spinning with the emotions. A sob wracked her body, and she leant her head into the locker.
It was Meghan who found her. Honestly? That was probably for the best. It would have been too much for Lindsey to see the woman she looked up to looking so fragile. Emily would have been traumatized. No it had to be Meghan. She was quiet, hearing the tail end of what Tobin was praying in a sense. She turned the corner to see her sobs, and that's when she walked over. Despite being shorter than Tobin, Meghan pulled her up and held her tight.
"Hey, lets go wash up and visit Mark, yeah?" Meghan suggested. She knew right away that Tobin needed time off. It was obvious. The way her shoulders sagged, the way her tear stained cheeks were still wet.
She went without a fight, giving up and giving into another pair of arms.
"Heyo, Kling what have you got there?" Sinclair asked, passing them in the hall on her way back to change. Meghan pauses and looked at Tobin for a verbal response. The midfielder's eyes are glazed over and she looks away absently. "Tobin?" Sinclair immediately is at her side, shaking her head.
"Sinc I was taking her to Mark. It's pretty rough." Meghan said quietly, not wanting to attract attention. Sinclair nodded as she took Tobin from Meghan's arms.
"I'm captain, I'll handle it. Go on." The Canadian shooed Meghan off, taking a deep breath. She should have known this would happen. When Christen and Tobin refused to take more than a week off from playing after Christen's mom passed, the National team just chattered with when would they break? This spread to the club teams as well. That grief, isn't being treated properly or at all.
Sinclair led Tobin into the little side office down the hallway, sitting beside her in the pair of chairs sat across from a desk.
"Now what's going on." Mark asked quietly after closing his door with a sigh. "I'm not here for petty squabbles during practices and dirty plays that can cause harm. You know that Tobin, I'm disappointed really." He had witnessed the mess during practice and recalled a few other training days where Tobin had pulled a similar stunt, pushing and shoving with force more than necessary.
Sinclair took a deep breath at Mark's comments, knowing that he was missing the full picture here—as unfortunately men do. While Mark was a good coach, and a good man, he didn't always have the best judgement.
"Mark this isn't it. Okay, I need to be serious here. I brought Tobes in because she was crying in the locker room. " Sinclair started, her normally hard exterior crumbling when she realizes just how in poor of a shape her teammate was. This was her backup captain, one of the strongest women she knew and played with...and she was broken. Tobin's eyes were still dim, focusing on patterns in the floor that reminded her of highschool class rooms. "Well Kling found her, and I took her off Kling's arms. Since she can't hold her up and all. Mark, listen to me. I'm your captain, and all I want is to see this team thriving. We can't thrive if 17 is suffering."
Tobin turned her head slowly to face Sinclair, smiling softly at the Canadian. Her eyes traveled back to the floor. Mark sighed, leaning over his desk. Sinclair's hand squeezed Tobin's between their seats, giving her a bit of attention to ground her.
"This is about Christen's mom isn't it?" His tone was soft, a tone Tobin had seen truly reserved for talking to his 9 year old daughter and not his employees. Tobin felt both welcomed by it and childish, like she deserved him to be loud and dismissive. Which was even more painful.
"Today's practice was not one of my best Mark. And I'm sorry. I wish I could flip a switch and push it back to the corner of my brain until I need to think about it. But I can't. And it's painful. I know it's not my own mom," Tobin started to say, wringing her hands in her lap as she spoke. Mark spoke up, shaking his head.
"Tobin. It's your partner's mom, you're allowed to be upset. You won the cup, and you've been playing so well for us too, but you need to grieve. It's okay. Why don't we work this out. You won't be a starter for 6 weeks, and you only have to sit on the bench for home games. No traveling with us. " Mark replies immediately creating a plan with no hassle. He shrugged, looking into Tobin's heavy eyes. The bags beneath them spoke for her mostly. "You've always been a gracious person Tobin. You apologized for that red quickly, and you know when you've done wrong. I'm not punishing you for this week. You need time. Go home. Go enjoy your time with your partner."
Tobin picked her head up, broken at the idea of not being able to play for weeks as if she had an injury. Which was her next train of thought, naturally.
"What will I be listed as out with? I just don't want people to step in, you know?" Tobin asked quietly, wringing her hands at the question. Sinclair spoke before Mark.
"We'll fake an ankle roll or a concussion during practice? Pick your poison kid. No ones gotta know your life." She teased lightly with a soft laugh. Tobin scoffed, it was honestly a dumb concept but it worked.
"Sonny has experience in giving concussions. Maybe we should frame her?" Tobin suggested with a smirk. Sinclair laughed, nudging her shoulder.
"Dirty, and true." She replied, standing up to end the meeting now that they've got a discussion going about it all. Tobin pulled herself up as well, taking a deep breath.
"Thank you for all of this Mark. Let me know what trainings to catch." Tobin said as she followed her captain out of the office and back to the locker room. She took a deep breath, trying to relax after that.
"You're going through a tough time. This means we're doing a family dinner tonight Heath." Sinclair said as they walked into the locker room where everyone was changing to their street clothes. Tobin groaned, shaking her head.
"Christen wouldn't appreciate that—" she started to say, but Lindsey beat Sinclair to the punch.
"But Christen deserves it too. We know she's been mopey and distant. But she needs to accept help, and we're stepping in." She said firmly, crossing her arms.
"I'll be there at 6:30." Sinclair said, pulling up her phone to send a message in the team group chat. There was no use in fighting it now. Tobin wiped at her eyes, biting her lower lip as she anxiously tries to think of ways to tell Christen. Would it be better to tell her now, and have her angry or have her be surprised and forced to accept them into their house. Tobin couldn't decide, slowly packing her things up. Lindsey hung back, giving Tobin space but letting her know she was there.
"You don't need to baby sit me," Tobin remarked, closing her locker up and fiddling with the lock. Lindsey shrugged her shoulder.
"I'm not baby sitting. My friend needs someone to walk her to her car and make sure she's not a dumbass." She replied smoothly, starting to lead the way out.
"Sounds a lot like babysitting to me." Tobin mutters, she knows she's being petulant but she was never one for being doted on it cared for- that was her role for others. It didn't feel right. Though she loved Lindsey, and she had stepped in for Lindsey often when they lived in Paris together playing for PSG.
They walk through the halls solemnly, Tobin knowing she'll be there still even if she's not always playing, and Lindsey knowing her teammate is stepping back. The sun has already set as the time change draws nearer, a cool autumn breeze rustling through their windbreakers.
"I know you're trying to handle this and make yourself look tough but god Tobes, it also takes courage to accept help when it's offered. Don't make me recite the verses to you, because you know I can." Lindsey said as she spun her keys on her keychain. She leaned against her car, watching Tobin lean against hers. "You're not invincible, and you had something really awful happen in the middle of the best days of your life. You can't ignore that and coast on happiness of winning forever. I'll see you for dinner. I know Chris loves my turkey meatballs, and my four layer dip."
Lindsey got into her car and left Tobin standing alone to face the reality of what she said to her. It hurt Tobin deep down because she wanted to act unaffected, she wanted everything to be normal and it was so far from that.
She sat in the car, screaming at herself and god and the universe for being so fucked up before she finally made her way home.