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Mother Knows Best

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"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.

Chapter Text

Tobin spent a lot more time than she expected taking the long way home and falling back into trailblazers and tourism traffic. There were already 2 other cars there at the condo, besides Christen's. Sinclair had prepared quickly, not wanting to waste any more time than necessary. She also wanted to speak to Christen alone, without Tobin there. Just to see how she was doing.

Sinclair had a strange bond with the forward, she had obviously played against her nationally but she had also watched as Christen and Tobin's relationship blossomed. She had seen Tobin mature and grow up right in front of her and she'd be remiss to say she didn't feel like she had some sort of motherly duty to be there for the two of them. Every so often Sinclair made an effort to check in with the younger girl, go out for coffee and just chill out.

Tobin paused as she stepped out of her car, pulling herself up and stretching her back before walking towards the cobblestone path up to her door.

"Thorns family dinner, can never pass one of Sincy's meals up." Haley grinned as she walked to the front door with Tobin in tow. Tobin pushed an old newspaper out of the entry way with her foot, then bent over to pick it up. It was at least 3 days old, and the plastic wrap to protect it from Portland's unstable weather was peeling. She set it on the small corner shelf next to the doorway where everyone's shoes sat. Normally Christen brought the paper in each morning, but it was one part of her routine she had began to neglect. Tobin couldn't determine why, but she supposed that Christen found her days to be blurry. She didn't want the future, and was avoiding it.

Tobin had long drowned out Haley's talking with her own thoughts against the loud clatter that came from the team in her home.

"There you are Tobes!" Caitlin swung her arm around Tobin, squeezing.

"You saw me an hour ago." Tobin grumbled underneath the Australian's arms. Caitlin chuckled, letting go with a soft smile.

"Aw come on Tobin, it's family dinner night! Brighten up a little," She nudged her then went to talk to Hayley who had found Midge.

Tobin made her way into the kitchen where as promised Christine Sinclair stood in the kitchen prepping the main course, which looked to be pasta considering all of the different dietary options on the team. She had three different mini containers with labels on the side she was scooping the pasta into for vegan, gluten free, and keto.

"Hey! Glad to see another home owner showing up," Sinclair teased Tobin as she came in. Tobin let out a sigh, leaning against the kitchen counter. She jerked her head towards the living room couch.

"It smells good Sinc," Tobin commented, her brown eyes wide as she gestured to the couch again trying to gauge from Sinclair if Christen was annoyed at her or not. The Canadian rolled her eyes at Tobin, turning back to her cooking. She wasn't about to play messenger pigeon between the couple if they were on the outs.

"Go talk to your girlfriend Tobes. We can't do the heavy lifting here. Go." She waved her off with a warning look before checking on Lindsey's famous meatballs.

Tobin took a breath and approached the couch, turning to see her girlfriend curled up in their woven blue blanket with Emily and Lindsey on either side of her. She crossed over and sat in the chair on the other side closest to Christen.

"Hey," Tobin said feebly, unsure of what's been said between the girls. Lindsey felt the tension in the air and immediately stood up, grabbing Emily's hand.

"Hey Sonny, do you remember the two cities cider we left in the garage? Why don't we break it out," Lindsey lied as she tugged the younger woman out of the room so that Christen and Tobin could have an illusion of privacy. It wasn't much having the kitchen connected to an open living room but it was something.

Christen pulled the blanket tighter around her, feeling Tobin's eyes on her. She let out a breath and spoke quietly.

"Why didn't you let me know this was happening."

Tobin winced at the hoarseness of Christen's voice and she crawled out of her chair, up to the couch. Christen sank into the couch, not here for Tobin's excessive touching and pleading.

"Chris...it wasn't planned. Okay, honestly they just kind of decided. They miss you baby. You're a friend of the team, and they wanted to step up and be a friend back." Tobin explained, running her hand along Christen's side covered by the blanket. Every so often her fingertips poked through the holes and brushed against her skin and for a moment Christen felt her heart soaring.

"Why does everyone think that I can't take care of myself?" Christen asked, her brow creasing in annoyance. The two women sat in silence at that. Tobin merely unable to even scold her and tell her that no one thought she couldn't take care of herself. Because there was a little truth to that, more so it was fear. Fear that Christen would loose touch and slivers of herself. Tobin handled Christen after Rio, but this was something far different and she was scared for herself as well, that she couldn't be enough for what Christen needed to grieve. 

Tobin pulled away and got up, going to Sinc in the kitchen. She knew Christen would be like this, avoiding the problem in front of her.

"This has disaster written all over it Sinc," Tobin murmured to her captain, watching her dice tomatoes for a salad. Sinclair stopped her chopping and rolled her eyes again.

"You can't fix what isn't broken Tobin. Have a beer. Take a moment. Press isn't going to sulk all night." She stated, going back to chopping. Kling handed Tobin a bottle of her favorite beer with a nod.

"Old Heath never leaves the dog house. Can't teach an old dog new tricks." She teased, already buzzed from her own beer. Tobin's cheeks flushed at the insinuation that she always ended up in these situations.

"Aye lay off. Things are tough. But they always come around." Adrianna spoke up, reaching out for a grape on the counter. Sinclair sighed, shooing them out for a third time.

"Out."

Tobin walked out towards the living room area where the rest of the team was congregating, talking about plays and knocking back a few beers. The sound level had sort of increased with Emily and Lindsey returning from their fake storage check for more beer.

"Hey guys," She spoke up a little so they all could hear her. "It means a lot you all came out but can we keep this a chill kick back? It would be really helpful to Chris,"

A murmured course of "yes tobes," responded and Tobin rubbed the back of her neck sheepishly, thankful they all listened. The team knew why they were there to begin with, family dinners were serious business. She took a swig from her beer, letting the taste roll over her tongue and take her mind off the tenseness that's been following her around.

"You didn't have to do that T, you're allowed to have your team over at your house." Christen said, finally walking up to Tobin. The brunette slid her arm around her girlfriend, taking a deep breath.

"Chris, it's our house. And I don't want them being rowdy and making you anxious. I should have told you beforehand, it's just they wanted to be here for you. Not that you aren't doing fine on your own but we all could use a friend babe." Tobin explained gently, leaning her head against Christen's shoulder. "I can ask them to lower the volume, they are good with it."

Christen sighed and let Tobin pull her closer. She took a deep breath, trying to understand the purpose of all of this. She kissed Tobin's temple softly, taking a breath of her shampoo.

"Sorry I was snappy earlier." She murmured, but Tobin already spoke before she could add on.

"Chris, just be here with me. Now. I don't care what you said, what you did." Tobin replied as she stroked her girlfriend's side over her loose crewneck.

"I hate to break this up and be all leave room for jesus but dinner is ready," Meghan squeezed her way into Tobin and Christen's space in the back corner, tugging Tobin out towards the table. She let herself be dragged by the smaller woman to the dinner table where the rest of the thorns stood. This was Tobin's house and they knew the rules of the household. She holds prayer before each meal, and if you aren't religious you can take the moment to silently reflect and meditate.

Tobin assumed her space at the head of the table, which made it quite easier for her anyway being a lefty and all. Christen sat to her left and Lindsey on her right.

"Um, well thanks guys. For showing up here, and I have to be honest for a second. I really didn't want this. I had a shitty practice, and I was found by Meghan and Sinc, and you know they suggested this. And I know that you've seen Christen and I, and how we are still struggling and I wish it would get easier but here we are. So this means a lot," Tobin rambled, her eyes downcast at her clasped hands. "Thank you lord for all that you've done for us. For this team, and for this family. Your plans and wisdom have always seen us through. Thank you lord for this dinner, and blessing us with the opportunity to be alongside one another. For watching over Christen and I, and to allow me the honor of being alongside her. Amen."

Christen squeezed Tobin's clasped hands with watery eyes as she finished, taking a deep breath in. Usually when they were alone she would murmur a quick prayer before dinner, sometimes skipping over it but making sure she prays before bed. It was a staple of Tobin, and reminded Christen that she was here. It was grounding.

"Alright let's eat!" Tobin added after a few moments, chuckling as the mad dash to Sinc's serving dishes started.

"I have labeled everything! Check the dietary labels, and don't come crying to me if you made a mistake." Sinclair said gruffly, loading up her own plate with spaghetti, Lindsey's meatballs, and garlic bread.

"Thank you momma Sinc," Emily laughed sad she scooped up her plate, adding quite a few of Lindsey's meatballs. Sinclair smacked the side of Emily's head as she passed by to go sit down. Tobin smiled at the exchange, for a moment she wasn't lost anymore. Oh how she loved her team.

They each filled their plates and sat down, starting to eat. Christen was one of the last to do so, brushing her hand against Tobin as she sat down.

"Tobes?" She asked softly, her green eyes watching her girlfriend take a swig of her beer. Christen couldn't place a finger on why but she always found the heavy way Tobin threw back a beer to be attractive.

"Yea Chris," Tobin replied as she set the beer down, left hand going to swirl her fork around.

"Can you grab some more wine from the garage? I think we have another bottle of that red," Christen replied, smiling at her girlfriend before turning to engage in conversation with Kling who was on her side. Tobin got up and gladly went to get another bottle of wine.

She trailed her way through the living room back to the guest bedroom hallway and down a few stairs. As Tobin opened the tiny garage, which held nothing but a mini fridge and her car, she heard her front door opening. Forgetting the bottle of red, Tobin raced back up the steps to make sure that no one was suddenly leaving.

"Toby! I hope you don't mind I used my key pumpkin,"

Tobin paled at the voice.

Her mother was surely not walking in unannounced to Thorn's family dinner night. Surely not.

"Cindy?" Christen asked, rising from the table as the rest of the Thorns kind of paused. Kind of because nothing would stop Emily Sonnett from shoving at least three of Lindsey's meatballs in her mouth at the same time. Not even Tobin Heath's mother arriving straight from New Jersey without warning.

"Oh Christen!" Cindy cooed, turning the corner to the living room/kitchen. She paused, immediately realizing that maybe dropping in unannounced could have problems. "Shoot! I'm interrupting, maybe I should have called..."

The thorns shrugged and went back to eating, still quietly but not wanting to interfere with everything. Lindsey waved at Cindy, having met her at national team games and during Paris visits.

"No, mom it's fine." Tobin stepped in, setting the red wine on the counter that held all of the booze.

"Toby! There you are," Cindy hugged her youngest daughter tightly. Emily chortled at 'Toby' but Tobin sent her a quick glare to let her know that she would never get away with using it.

"We were kind of having a thorns family dinner, you know Christine Sinclair? Sincy made dinner, with some help. Tables kind of full but you can—"

"There's a spot right here," Lindsey pulled over a folding chair next to her on Tobin's right, and held out a plate.

"Lindsey! Thank you, thank you. Gosh how have you been?" Cindy delved into conversation with Lindsey as she got her food, interested in hearing about the young woman's life.

Christen poured herself another glass of wine, and Tobin stood beside her at the counter.

"I had no idea babe." Tobin began, reaching out to stroke Christen's shoulder. Christen shrugged.

"She's your mom Tobin. I can't be upset but her just showing up unannounced is well a lot. I'm fine. I just," Christen looked off into the countertop, looking at the marbled texture and shook her head, taking her wine back to her seat. Tobin cracked open a hard cider, going to sit down as well.

"I think we better get out of your hair Tobes." Sinclair said as she cleaned her dish. Tobin shrugged, looking over to the couch where almost everyone had quieted down.

"Can't argue with that. Thanks for tonight, again. I know I was upset—"

"Tobin how many times do we have to tell you that you don't have to apologize for your feelings. Having feelings is normal. It's healthy..." Sinclair sighed, pulling Tobin into a loose hug. "You've spent a lot of time bottling it all up. You're 31 and you're just now realizing feeling things can be helpful. Let yourself feel them."

"Thank you Sinc." Tobin murmured, hugging her back then going to clean up her own dishes.

"See you at practice when you make it in." Sinclair waved as she gathered up her things and left. Tobin kept cleaning up the kitchen, whistling as she did so. Scrubbing at plates, and clearing serving treys. A poke broke her whistle.

"What?!" Tobin asked, whipping around with a dish scrubber in hand. Emily grinned at her, coming in for a small hug.

"I'm driving Lindsey and I back. We love ya Tobes. And you know we're here for you." She said honestly, pulling away and giving Tobin's arm one last squeeze. Tobin grinned, looking back at the dirty blonde.

"Thanks Sonny. Be careful on the 405, you know they do a lot of traffic stops. Take the back roads and be careful." Tobin warned. Emily was definitely sober enough to drive having stopped drinking a few hours back but it was better safe than sorry.

"Yes mommy Toby," Emily replied in a sing song voice as she headed towards the door and scrambled out of it before Tobin threatened her for using 'Toby".

"Mommy Toby huh?" Christen teased as she opened the fridge to place the bottle of wine inside.

"Not you too." Tobin groaned, rubbing at her temples. Christen has perhaps the closest exception to using Toby, who wasn't her mother.

"You don't think our kids would be yelling for mommy Toby?" Christen asked slowly, staring off into the distance of the room.

"Nah. Cole calls me auntie to-to." Tobin replied, shaking her head as she collected the bottles to go to the recycling.

"Got that all figured out huh? Plans. What a waste, you know?" Christen rambled, slurring as her tone grew angry. Tobin paused mid trip to the garage, turning to face the younger woman.

"Chris, you should go relax-"

"I had so many plans! Tobin...I had plans for you and me and now they're all gone. Stupid plans. You know what our kids will call you and your family and I don't-they don't have.." Christen kept fumbling around words, pausing and restarting. Tobin set the bag of bottles down and reached for her girlfriends trembling hands.

"Christen. Look at me. Your head is being too loud, I know. You'll be okay." Tobin led her towards the bedrooms, setting her down on the edge of the bed. Tobin crouched on her knees, rubbing her palms until Christen's breathing slowed and she took deeper breaths. Christen then curled herself up on the bed, falling over to the side, and then falling into a fitful sleep.

"Goodnight Toby." Cindy cooed from the doorway, having already found her way to the guest room and set it all up.

Tobin rose a finger to her lips, then padded out to the door.

"Can we talk?" She asked, leading them to the back deck. Cindy sat down at the small table they had outback and nodded.

"Let's talk Tobin." She agreed, taking a deep breath. "I came because every time I call you, you sound worse than before. You're trying so hard to fix something that isn't yours to fix. And after this weeks call I knew that you would drive yourself insane trying to act like everything's okay. Pumpkin, her mom died. It's not going to be easy."

Tobin sat next to her mom and leaned onto her shoulder, letting the events of the day roll through her. She sniffled, biting her lip.

"She's angry and bitter and I get scared that it's forever. That's not the Christen I know." Tobin murmured, feeling her tears start to fall. "And I've been with her every step of the way but now it's just so bleak."

Cindy stroked her daughter's back, humming softly in the cool Portland night air. She nodded, letting her talk through her feelings.

"That's why I'm here Tobes. You can't do everything and neither can Christen. She lost her mother. I'm here for three weeks that's all. She needs a mother's love."

Tobin rubbed her eyes, looking up into her mom's identical ones.

"I should go and make sure Chris is asleep," She said, getting up and taking a deep breath.

"Is she not sleeping through the night again?" Cindy asked, following Tobin back inside the condo. Tobin shrugged, waving her hand in a shaky sort of sign.

“She slept last night. I just worry. I stay up and read for like an hour, to make sure.” Tobin explains with another shrug as they head towards the bedrooms. Cindy took a breath,

“Oh Toby,” she breathed out. “I love you, goodnight.”

“Goodnight mom. I love you too.”

Chapter Text

Christen rolled over as she woke up, looking at the sleeping form next to her. Tobin had the covers pulled up to her neck, and slept on her side facing Christen. She smiled at her, stroking her messy brown locks slowly as the sun rose through their bedroom windows.

Christen wiggled closer to Tobin, and wrapped an arm around her warm body. She felt the older girl's chest rise and fall. Tobin was her one constant in all of these changes in her life recently. And Christen felt her heart pang as she thought about all Tobin had stuck beside her in.

She pressed a kiss to Tobin's forehead before pulling herself out of bed. Christen went through her morning routine, including meditation and light yoga before padding down to the kitchen. As she made her way to the side where the french press sat, Christen came to see Tobin's mother already preparing breakfast.

"Good morning Christen," Cindy smiled warmly, mixing together the fixings for an omelette.

"Hi Cindy." Christen replied quietly, her voice still raspy from waking up. Cindy hugged her softly, kissing the side of her forehead.

"You want an omelette too? I was making one for myself and then setting it aside for when my daughter decides to pull herself from her bed, but there's enough if you want one." She said, turning back to whisking the eggs. Christen chuckled at Cindy's remarks about her daughter. She was completely correct in that Tobin would not be awake for another 2 hours at least.

"An omelette sounds great, thank you." Christen replied as she reached for a baby pink mug with an orange C that Tobin had painted years ago. She got the beans ready for the French press and sighed, watching the coffee drip down. Cindy fried up two omelettes, plating them for Christen and herself. She sat across from Christen at the table, smiling gently between bites.

"Cindy, can I ask why you decided to drop in here? Not that I don't appreciate it but Tobin had no idea, and she's kind of scatterbrained but she'd at least tell me so I can make a note of it." Christen asked quietly between sips of coffee. Cindy chuckled,

"Thought you'd never ask sweetie," She said, leaning forward—a trait Christen recognized in Tobin when she had something important to say. "Toby she calls me a lot. And I've just been a bit worried honestly. She tells me how you're doing, and I wanted to check in on you. Christen, I want to let you know I love you. You're my daughter too now."

Christen felt the blood drain from her face, embarrassment flooding through her body. So this surprise visit was a babysitting mission? She felt low and embarrassed for having let herself be this noticeable.

"I don't need a replacement mom, I'm an adult Cindy really now." Christen said firmly, crossing her arms. Cindy shook her head, taking Christen's wrists.

"I'm no replacement Christen, I promise that to you and your mom. But grief is hard and we never make it quite as far as we think we do in the steps." Cindy replied with warmth, rubbing Christen's wrists tenderly. The brunette went back to eating, nodding ever so slightly. Cindy was correct, and she really did care for Christen.

"Sorry, that was rude. I wish I wasn't so...snappy. What does Tobin say about me? I just want to know, she's honestly been kind of quiet lately." Christen asked between bites of eggs, shaking her head.

Cindy went to wash her plate and make a cup of coffee, leaning against the counter as the french press warmed up.

"Well I think she wants you to have your own timeline to grieve and doesn't want to rush it. But she just tells me how it is Christen." Cindy replies. "I'm here to give you the time you need to grieve. Without thinking about the small stuff like chores." She explained, taking a sip of coffee before going to add sugar and creamer.

Christen put her head in her hands, feeling embarrassed by all of it. She knew Tobin was telling Cindy about what was happening, she'd be dumb not to know, but hearing it out loud hurt a little more. Cindy rubbed Christen's back as she sat back down, knowing it would take a few moments for her to breathe through it. Christen looked up from her hands, shooting Cindy a sad smile.

"I just keep wanting to ask her for advice and then I remember she's gone." She said, lowering her head back down.

"She's in your head, your heart, and your spirit. She knows what to do to help you through this. God's plan." Cindy replied effortlessly to Christen with a nod, drinking her coffee. The two let a comfortable silence fall over the kitchen, the late summer air breezing in through open windows and sun trickling through cozy curtains. There's nothing quite like a late summer in Portland where the sun shined and the rain poured.

Tobin dragged herself into the kitchen thirty minutes later just as Christen's coffee was growing cold. Her bare feet smacked on the wooden floor, sounding similar to large child like pitter patters. She rubbed at her sleepy eyes, pushed back her messy hair, and sighed.

"Good morning sunshine," Cindy cooed from the table, turning to watch Tobin's bleary wake up.

"Morn'..." Tobin mumbled with a jerky head nod to Christen, going to grab her usual coffee mug from the cabinet. Now, Tobin was never one to use the stool in their kitchen. She liked to pretend it never existed in the first place. Besides her mug was almost always set out by Christen when she got up in the morning. She stretched her lithe body, pushing up on her tiptoes, pursing her lips as she reached for the bright orange mug in the back of the high shelf. Her index and pinky caught the mug but her elbow knocked over a rather large mug that wasn't used anymore. Stacy's mug.

It went clattering to the floor with a crash, splitting down the middle as it hit the hard wood of their kitchen floor.

Christen's head whipped around to face her girlfriend, her eyes going wide at the color of the mug remnants on the floor. Her heart dropped.

"Tobin." Christen whispered through her grit teeth, trying so desperately to not want to get angry at the older girl. She knew she was tired still, and accidents happen. But that mug was special.

"Oh good lord Tobin," Cindy remarked at her daughter's clumsiness, bending down to see the pink shards everywhere.

"Chris, I- " Tobin started to apologize, her face red and eyes wide in concern. She could see the anger in Christen's face as she tried to keep it together, breathing in steadily.

Christen stood up, shaking her head. "No." She said firmly, grabbing a dust pan and broom to help clean up. "You don't get to say you're sorry and act like it fixes this...I—,"

Tobin reached out, stroking Christen's shoulder lightly as she swept the shards into the dust pan. Christen shrugged her off, standing up. Tobin's face fell, feeling cold and hurt.

"...I need to go get some air." Christen said, taking a deep breath. She dropped the dust pan and broom in Tobin's hands before slipping on her running shoes, heading out the back door.

"Shit," Tobin swore, leaning back on her hands as her mother tsked.

"Language Toby." She reminded her, going to dump the mug shards in the trash. Tobin leapt to her feet, grabbing a plastic bag. She dumped the shards in there instead of the trash, sighing at her mom's knowing look. "You can't fix it with superglue." She remarked.

Tobin sighed, going to wash her hands in the sink. She sure as hell would try to save that mug. Small drops of blood fell out of mini cuts on her palm, dripping into the metal sink.

"It will pass over. You know Christen. And you know how much you love her. She's going to be like this for a long while Toby." Cindy added, walking over to the sink to wash her own hands. She saw blood in the sink and immediately went to grab bandaids for Tobin. After gently wrapping her cuts in bandaids, Cindy pulled Tobin into a big hug, rocking her back and forth.

 

Christen was out jogging around their Portland neighborhood with AirPods in her ears, and hands curled into fists. She was angry. At almost everything. The world. Whatever spiritual being watched over the earth. Mother Nature. At the doctors for not curing something incurable. At herself for not setting Tobin's mug out like she usually did. At the stupid contractors who built the building for placing a shelving unit more than three feet above the countertop.

But not at Tobin.

Christen took a deep breath, letting herself come to a stop at a neighborhood park. She looked up at the sky, seeing a few clouds roll in. All she wanted to do was scream. Her phone chimed in her AirPods, and Christen decided to check it.

Tobin: I know I can't make this up to you. Take ur time. Mom thinks we need a spa day, talk more l8er. I love you Chris. -10:35 am

Lindsey: thanks for letting family dinner happen. I know Toby didnt think to tell you. We're here for you too Chris. You're Thorns family too. - 11:15

Tyler: So her mom just showed up out of the blue is what you're saying? Chris, that's a lot. Call me later and tell me deets. 11:35

Christen sighed at her messages list, deciding to call Tobin since it would take less time than waiting for her to reply to a text.

"Chris?" Tobin answered the phone while she juggled in the backyard, her breathing shallow proving that she's been working at it for a while.

"Tobin," Christen started, sitting on a park bench. She felt tears spike her eyes and she groaned, upset at herself. "I'm not mad at you." She chokes out.

"It's okay if you are. I know how much that meant to you, and I'm really sorry. Chris...I screwed up."

Christen can hear Tobin putting herself down over the phone and it makes her heart sink even more.

"No Tobes it's not. It was an accident. I also didn't want to yell at you in front of your mom. But I shouldn't want to in the first place. But it's hard." Christen opened up, leaning back on the bench and watching kids start to play from afar.

"I've broken fine china that was over 70 years old while practicing my soccer skills in the house Chris. My mom would find it justified to yell at me over a broken mug, don't you worry." Tobin teased, trying to get Christen to lighten up. Chris found herself fighting the urge to crack a smile. She definitely knew Tobin had broken many things playing soccer in the house.

"I'm sorry I just kind of ran out. I had to clear my head, you know? I'm at the park. I'll be home in 30?" Christen replied, getting off the bench and ready to start her way back home.

"Love you. See you soon baby." Tobin replied with a click of a hang up, setting her phone on the outside table. Cindy faced her youngest daughter from where she stood inside, inspecting a shelf. Tobin went on inside, still dribbling the ball between her feet to keep her brain from picking up speed.

"You put more photographs up." She remarked, feeling the new frames underneath her fingertips.

"Oh, uh yeah I did. That one's from Mexico, the one next to it is of Morena and Khaleesi from an LA visit. And Chris..." Tobin trailed off, eyes meeting the photograph of Christen and her mother just taken three months before her passing. Cindy pressed a finger to the glass, taking a deep breath. She missed Stacy, more than the girls knew. They had become close friends during the time period the girls had started dating, contacting each other to check in and simply talk. They had a lot in common, and bonded. Cindy was the first to send flowers, and spent many nights praying.

"So you broke Stacy's mug?" Cindy remarked with an eyebrow raised at her daughter. Tobin hung her head in her hands, nodding. Cindy rubbed her shoulder.

"I'm going to go grocery shopping for you two, the least I can do and give you some space. Text me a list of anything you need."

Tobin smiled at her mother, finally letting the ball rest and going to make her cup of coffee that she had discarded during the whole mug event. "Thanks mom. I'll let Chris know, we'll text. Love you."

"Tobes?" Christen made her way back into the house, taking off her shoes and setting them by the door. She hung up her windbreaker and headed into the living room to see Tobin sprawled out on the couch, all messy limbs, and her coffee mug in hand as a timbers game from the other night played in the background softly.

"Mm'm here Chris," Tobin mumbled, her eyes half closed as she took a few moments to be by herself. Christen tsked, shaking her head as she scooted herself between Tobin's legs and the couch.

"Stop being a couch hog, and talk to me." Christen replied, her tone low and serious. Tobin's brown eyes opened, and a faint blush spread along her cheeks. She wiggles back against the cushions, tucking her legs under herself and pulling her coffee mug up to her chest. Christen smiles at the movement, letting out a breath and laughing. She pushed back Tobin's hair.

"It's so difficult to stay angry at you." Christen teases, kissing Tobin's ruddy cheek. Tobin looks down, rubbing at her kneecap. She sets her coffee down.

"Then don't." Tobin teases, her brown eyes finally reaching Christen's steely grey green. Christen smirks, shaking her head.

"I wish it were that easy. I should have put the mug somewhere special I guess. But...I'm trying so hard to not be mad at you for breaking it. Tobes, we made that mug together-"

"I know Chris." Tobin spoke quietly, leaning over to hold Christen's hand. She rubbed the delicate skin, taking a deep breath. "I know that it was a special mug. She used to use it when she came to visit. French press. Light creamer, the almond milk one you always make me buy. One spoon of organic sugar. And a drizzle of honey. Cinnamon if it's chilly out. She liked the beans from stump town the best."

Christen is taken back by Tobin's reveal, not realizing that her partner had remembered that much. She fiddles with the ring on her middle finger, her eyes full of tears. "You remember all that?"

Tobin nodded softly, taking a sip of her own coffee. Black with a pinch of organic sugar and cinnamon. "Of course I do. I'm really upset that I did that, I'm clumsy and messy, and I should know better. I really am sorry Christen." She replies slowly, taking a deep breath in. Christen wraps her arms around Tobin, letting her tears trickle down her neck, feeling dumb for the emotion in the first place. She knew she was upset over a mug that in all realities would probably never be used again.

"I kept seeing it each morning and I don't know...I had some stupid hope that maybe if I just left it then this would all be some cruel joke and she'd walk through that door and use it again." Christen choked out, a sad rasp in her voice. Tobin stroked her back, threading her fingertips through the ends of Christen's curls. She didn't know what to say in response, hoping the gesture let Christen know she heard her.

Christen remembered the first time her mother had visited them in Portland, seeing it visibly in her memory.

 

Tobin had opened the door in one of her nicer button ups, with her nice pants on instead of her usual slouchy fit.

"Hello Stacy, come on in. Let me get that!" Tobin quickly reached for the small overnight suitcase Stacy had brought from LA for the weekend. Christen smiled, pressing a kiss to Tobin's forehead as they headed inside.

"Thank you baby," She murmured, knowing this had to be causing some nerves for the older woman. Tobin snuck the suitcase away into the guest bedroom and then ushered Stacy to the kitchen.

"I knew you might be hungry after an early flight, so I made some arrangements and got these breakfast tacos from this little joint down the ways!" She beamed, showing off the three plates of tacos complete with salsa in their own serving cups and a mug of coffee.

"Oh Tobin," Stacy cooed, pulling up a seat at their kitchen table. "These look delicious! Thank you,"

Christen looped her arm around her girlfriend, kissing her forehead gently again. "You know I love these, you even got the salsa I like too. Impressive." She teased, taking a sip of coffee. Tobin laughed, shaking her head.

"You know I do listen when you speak," She replied with a playful scoff. Christen chortled,

"That is debatable and you know it."

Stacy meanwhile ate her tacos but kept watching her daughter and her girlfriend, seeing how comfortable they were together. After a few moments of quiet eating she spoke up.

"This is a really neat set up, is that grassy space behind for the entire complex or just the lower levels?" She asked while dipping her taco in salsa. Tobin swallowed, nodding.

"Mm the grassy space is like for anyone. Sometimes I kick the ball around back there. My teammates also lease in this complex actually, it makes training carpool so easy." She explained, glancing outside to see the grassy patch under their balcony.

"She doesn't use the space enough honestly. She kicks too many balls around in here, and I know she's worse when I'm on season." Christen spoke up playfully, her hand on Tobin's knee rubbing softly. Tobin hung her head shamefully, a pink blush on her cheeks at Christen's remark.

"Oh like I don't have a story or two or three of you breaking things in the house miss star striker." Stacy teased, this time earning a blush from her daughter.

The two of them had spent a good half of the day curled next to each other on the couch with lazy tv in the background and eyes half closed as they relaxed until Cindy returned.

"Grocery time kids," She called out, walking into the house with two fairly heavy bags. Tobin blinked the sleep away from her eyes first, grabbing the bags from her mom.

"Mom, you don't need to bring them in. I've got it," Tobin urged her, worried about the strain even though the woman did her own groceries every week still. She headed outside to her car, grabbing the next set of bags.

"Yo tobes," Sonnett waved as she crossed over through the lot and towards her own apartment.

"Oh hi Son, groceries, what're you doing?" Tobin explained, holding up her reusable bags. Sonnett grinned, looking at the bags.

"I probably should shop but I was just on a run. I'll see you around." She waved, bouncing off to her space. Tobin carries the groceries in, and made quick work of unpacking for her mother.

"I got some essentials for meals. You two are going to get some left overs," Cindy says with a kiss to Tobin's cheek. "Christen's looking a bit thin. I want you two to be eating, and I mean like full meals."

Tobin rubs the back of her neck, thinking about what her mother said as she hums in agreement. Christen wasn't looking her best. She glances over to the couch, seeing the small form still asleep. Tobin walks towards her, setting down where she was before her mother came home. Her hand trailed softly across Christen's shoulders, brushing back her hair.

"Toby, you want grilled cheese and tomato soup?"

"Yeah mom that sounds great." Tobin replied quickly, noticing the clouds gathering outside.

Christen woke up 10 minutes later to thunder rumbling against the apartment, and warm grilled cheese and soup on a serving trey on their coffee table. Tobin was busy eating, her mother in the reclining chair beside them reading.

"How long was I out for?" Christen grumbled, rubbing at her eyes. Tobin set down her grilled cheese after taking a soup covered bite.

"Well hello sleeping beauty. Long enough for mom to make some grilled cheese and soup." She teased, rubbing the tops of Christen's knees. The brunette yawned, stretching out and seeking the soup as thunder rumbles again.

"Oh! Thank you Cindy," Christen says politely, pulling herself up to sitting and taking a sip of the warm soup.

"No need to thank me. It's getting chilly out, and I want you two to stay warm." Cindy remarked as she turned a page in her book. She took her glasses off and smiled at Christen, watching the younger woman take a bite of the sandwich. Christen tugged the couch blanket around herself, hearing the thunder rattle the windows as she ate.

Tobin cleaned her dishes meanwhile, and took her time to watch Christen as she did so. The nap did nothing to conceal the growing tiredness of her eyes, and the dullness of the skin. Cindy walked around behind her daughter, rubbing her shoulder.

"I've got the rest dear. I'll make dinner later, why don't you and Chris go freshen up, and maybe go kick around if the rain stops?" She said, taking the dishes from Tobin's soapy hands. The brunette sighed, watching the rain. It was not letting up any time soon.

"Let me know if you want help mom." Tobin said before she went to Christen, sitting with her.

"What was that all about?" She asked, brow raised Tobin turned pink, realizing what Christen meant. She rubbed her palms together. 

"Mom said we should freshen up. Come on, the rain isn't going to let us play footy even for some one v one." Tobin replied, brushing back Christen's hair. She ran her palm over her forehead, feeling it radiate a bit of heat. Christen shifted, moving to get up and out of Tobin's arms.

"Okay Tobes." She said as she walked out of the living room and towards their bedroom on the left with an en-suite. Tobin followed along, her hand on Christen's shoulder lightly.

"Chris, are you feeling okay?" Tobin asked gently, closing the door behind her. Christen sat on their bed, her head in her hands.

"...Honestly? I feel like garbage T. And I don't know if it's me being sick or if it's the weight of everything." She replied quietly, swallowing. Tobin sat beside her, a warm palm rubbing up and down on her almost sweaty back. Tobin could tell that Christen was still not at her best. She felt her heart aching for her partner, and struggling with how to help her through it. The pain comes and goes in waves. Like little aftershocks of an earthquake. Days. Months. Years.

"Your forehead felt a bit warm, you gotta take each day one moment at a time," Tobin said as she kissed Christen's blooming rosy cheek. "Say...how about this? You and me under the shower with that new organic soap you love, and the really nice shampoo you just found at the store the other day by surprise?"

Christen looked up at Tobin's pleading honey brown eyes and smiled softly, a teasing look written across her cheeks. "Hmmm I don't know...let me think about it," She quipped playfully, closing her eyes and counting from three. Tobin chuckled, leaning into her further. "I think the answer is yea." Christen said with a nose scrunch, kissing Tobin's cheek.

The pair quickly got off the bed and shed their clothes on the way to the bathroom. Tobin started the warm water while Christen pulled out her favorite soaps, shampoos, and conditioners.

"After you," Tobin teased, pulling back the shower curtain for Christen who was still peeling off her underwear and lazy day sports bra. The tanned woman shivered as goosebumps traveled up and down her skin, and she went to tug at Tobin’s crewneck.

“Off.” Christen stated, giving Tobin a playfully stern look, expecting to see her expanse of weathered and muscular skin. Tobin chuckled, starting to shrug the top off and then shimmying out of her joggers. Christen meanwhile stepped under the water, letting herself soak in the warmth. Cool hands glided over her sides, Tobin stepping in.

“Your wish is my command.” She teased with a giggle, pulling Christen closer to herself under the water. Tobin was rewarded with a soft mumble of “love you,” and warm hands rubbing her back. They stood like that for what felt like hours, with Tobin trailing her hands across wet expanses of Christen’s skin sensually, her mouth leaving soft kisses across her jaw.

“Tobin, baby,” Christen murmured between measured breaths as she began to wash her hair. They each took their time, washing, cleaning each other. Christen felt the weight of the day shedding from her skin with each careful scrub of skin and tease of hair. Tobin found herself reconnecting to a Christen she hadn’t seen for months, peaking through her hardened shell. “Don’t tell me you’re about to step out of here before conditioning your hair. Tobin . You’re 31. How many times do I need to tell you.”

Tobin freezes as she hears Christen being annoying about her hair routine. A smile traces her lips, and Tobin finds herself stepping back inside the shower to her girlfriend holding out a bottle of conditioner.

“Sorry.” She muttered, squeezing the liquid into her palm and then lathering it up. Christen grabbed the bottle back, putting it in her own hair. She sighed at the feeling, reaching out to hold Tobin closely as they let it soak in.

“I feel a little bit better Tobes,” Christen said quietly under the sound of the running water. They rinsed their hair out and stepped into their bathroom, pulling on warm sweats and tees before dinner.

Thunder rattled the house again as Christen walked downstairs to help Cindy with their dinner, signaling only a small part of what was to come next.

Chapter Text

Christen breathed in the warm aroma of the coffeeshop as she settled down in the back corner, taking off the top of her to go cup and letting the steam roll out from under the plastic. 

 

"So. How's my favorite yogi doing this morning?" 

 

Christen looks up at the faded pink haired woman dropping herself in the seat across from her. Megan. Down in Portland for a midweek match up with the Thorns, she made time to meet up with Christen, Tobin and other friends.

 

"Just peachy." Christen responds with an eye roll, sipping her coffee. Megan softens, teaching out to squeeze Christen's hand. 

 

"I know things haven't been a walk in the park lately. But you know this too shall pass." She says warmly, her brown eyes on Christen as her hand clasps over hers. Christen gives a slow smile to Megan, knowing that the older woman is trying her best to comfort her. And to her credit, Megan was always there for her. 

 

"It's just when I think it's passing, it restarts itself. It's tiring..." Christen spoke quietly between sips of warm coffee. Megan drank from her own cup of iced coffee, nodding. "Oh did I mention that Tobin's mom flew out and showed up at her doorstep without so much as a peep?" 

 

Megan chuckled at that, eyes flicking up as she threw her head back. "You gotta love Cindy. She's the sweetest. What's going on though?" 

 

Christen drew back a little, leaning against the back of the booth she was curled up in. She let out a deep breath. 

 

"I think Tobin's been worried about me. And Cindy knows, and she came to support us for a while. While I heal. God, you can see where Tobin gets it from," She explained, shaking her head as she says it out loud. Megan's brows rose and she nodded. It's not surprising Cindy would fly out on a whim to dedicate time to comfort not only her daughter but most of all her daughter's girlfriend. Tobin's done much of the same for Christen, flying out midweek after a game just to be beside her. 

 

"Well the Heath doesn't fall too far from the tree." Megan commented, stirring her reusable straw around. Christen chuckled at the remark, taking a breath. 

 

"I think she's coming to the game tonight. I'll probably be in the press box. Tobin has to sit on the sidelines." She says between sips. 

 

Megan raises one eyebrow, jerking a finger at Christen as if she just remembered an old thought. 

 

"Oh! That's right, why is Tobin on the bench? I don't know if I saw the injury report, just that she's out for a while?" Megan questioned, unsure of the whole Thorns issue. Christen tries to respond but shrugs herself. 

 

"She's having a tough time in practice. Making rash decisions and it's all because of the stress she has taking care of me. Mark's calling it extended grief absence but on the reports I think it's a concussion and small ankle sprain so she can't play for like six weeks. No traveling but bench at every home game." Christen explained with a light shrug. Megan nodded, mumbling a small "aw" at the information. 

 

"Tobes...is gonna be Tobes. What can I say. She's passionate, and being sidelined sucks but it's Mark looking out for her and the team. He can't put out his star player if she's at risk for making yellows. I'm gonna miss playing against her tonight." She says, finishing off her drink. Christen runs a hand through her curls, taking another gulp of coffee. "Speaking of which, gotta meet up for some game day prep."

 

"Pookie?"

 

Christen looks past Megan's shoulder to see Allie Long waiting for her cup at the counter. She waves and walks over, wrapping her arms playfully around Megan's shoulder. 

 

"Oh come on it's been like an hour?" Megan chuckles, knowing she just saw her teammate at their hotel. Allie rolls her eyes at Megan but then walks over to Christen. 

 

"I've missed you! Where's your better half?" She asked, wrapping her arms around Christen. The darker haired girl hugged back, nodding as the question about Tobin came. 

 

"She's in game day mode, you know the drill. Wakes up at noon, hard chills for hours." Christen replied, standing up to go throw away her empty cup. Allie hummed, knowing Tobin. 

 

"I was going to stop by and see her before I head to the park for training. You don't mind do you?" She asked, going to pick up her to go order from the counter. Christen shook her head. 

 

"Of course not. Fair warning, Cindy is visiting." Christen let her know with a smile, seeing Allie's face light up at the reference of  Tobin's mom. 

 

"Oh I'm absolutely coming then! I love Cindy." Allie grinned, squeezing Christen's side as she followed her out of the coffee shop. They weren't too far from Tobin & Christen's apartment complex, just about a good ten minute walk. 

 

  •  

"So you're telling me that Cindy walked in unannounced to Sinc's team dinner made to help Tobin feel better? Oh you have to be kidding me!" Allie laughs, shaking her head at the whole story as they walked through the neighborhood. 

 

"I mean I love her but could she at least knock, she just walked in with the key Tobin made her. What if like it wasn't the team and we were-"

 

"Do not say having sex in your living room. We eat there Christen!" Allie interjected, coffee sloshing in her to go cup as she shakes her finger at Christen. The brunette's cheeks turn pink as she retorts playfully,

 

"So do we." Earning her a shove from the blonde. 

 

"I swear Tobes is rubbing off on you." Allie remarks as they turn a corner into their little neighborhood complex. Christen punches in their gate combo, and smiles at the thought. 

 

"Don't think I mind that too much." She says softly, thinking about what it means to have your partners traits become your own. Say what you want about mingling, and urge to merge but Christen saw parts of herself in Tobin that made her feel warm. The way the older woman would try to loosely plan her days around Christen's schedules. Or how she managed to actually put her toothbrush back in their holder after weeks of nagging and leaving it on the sink edge. 

 

Allie and Christen walk up to their apartment building, heading up to their unit. Christen lets them inside, to where Tobin was laying on the floor with a discarded yoga mat next to her and Cindy curled up in a chair with her coffee and crossword puzzles. 

 

"Harry I'm home!" Allie said loudly while taking her shoes off at the door, remembering Christen's rules. Tobin shot up off the floor, grinning wildly. 

 

"Harry?! What's going on dude?" Tobin asks, running to hug her friend. Christen meanwhile heads back to their bedroom to pull out a book she wanted to read from their bookshelf. 

 

"Allie! It's good to see you!" Cindy pipes up from the chair, knowing it would be too much of a hassle to go hug the girls. 

 

"You too Cindy!" Allie replies, and pulls Tobin towards her patio mumbling something about it being nice out after the rain and her needing the fresh air. 

 

  •  

"So. Harry. What's this about?" Tobin asks, stretching out across the patio furniture and letting the heat soak into her tanned skin. Allie sits next to her, giving a shrug. 

 

"The Seattle game tonight originally yeah. I just wanted to check in on you! I miss Portland. And I'm kind of sad my Harbear isn't going to be playing. But on the plus side no one has to worry about nutmegs." Allie teases, her hand on Tobin's shoulder. 

 

"I have a protégé in nutmegging. Don't write my thorns off Harry. You'll never see them coming." Tobin quips with a chuckle. She sighs, looking up at the clouds dotting the blue sky with swirls or white. Allie sips her coffee, following Tobin's gaze up. 

 

"You've done really well with Christen," She says quietly, trying to find shapes in the clouds. Tobin shakes her head, letting out a sigh. 

 

"No I haven’t. She's just strong at hiding it. Honestly Harry...I don't know. That's why my mom came to support us and it just sucks. Because Chris feels like she's trapped in it but she needs to feel it to let it go you know?" She explains, trying to focus her eyes on the clouds. Allie rubs her shoulder warmly, setting her coffee cup down and taking a breath. 

 

"Harry. You listen to me. Eyes up here," Allie snaps her short manicured fingers together, fixing her blue gaze on Tobin's honey brown. "You are the best supportive girlfriend anyone can ask for. Christen will always be adjusting to life with grief. It doesn't go away but Harry, you are the one constant with her. I love you and I am endlessly proud of you. Don't get all caught up in your head." She rambles, making sure Tobin understands that she has a space in all of this. The brunette bites her lip, looking down and away. 

 

"Thanks Harry." Tobin mumbles, pushing her hair behind her ear. She felt incredibly small, curled up in a sweatshirt watching the clouds on the patio like she did in her grassy backyard as a child. 

 

"I'll see you later on the bench alright? Front row seat to us kicking Thorns butt." Allie teased, hugging Tobin as she got up. 

 

She headed back inside, dropping to hang with the girls on the couch. 

 

"Allie, how are you? And how's Bati? You liking Seattle?" Cindy asks as she bookmarks her page and sets the book on the coffee table.

 

"Oh! We're doing great up there. I'm sure and you Jeff would love to come for a visit, there's actually some really lovely vineyards out by us! I know, I was shocked too but the rain season helps things grow. Just gotta protect the vines when it's too wet." Allie starts rambling on about her time in Seattle, letting Christen go visit her girlfriend on the patio deck. 

 

"Hey," Christen says softly, sitting beside Tobin on the furniture. Tobin rubs the back of her neck, a small smile dancing on her lips. 

 

"Hey you," She teases back, kissing Christen lightly. The younger girl nudges Tobin's knee slightly, and follows her gaze up to the clouds. 

 

"You're not upset about sitting out tonight? Are you?" Christen asks, knowing that the girl was but refused to admit it. Tobin looks down, her head low. 

 

"To be honest? Christen? It's embarrassing." Tobin stated, shaking her head softly. "I let my emotions get the better of me, and it's costing me. I'm here for you, and us and this is tough. But not being on the pitch is rough." 

 

Christen pulled back, her brows furrowing. She didn't know what to say in response, knowing that Tobin was right. Not being on the pitch sucked almost as bad as what happened, but they all needed to grieve. Tobin sighed, crossing her arms. 

 

"Tobin," Christen warned, reaching for her arm. "It's okay to be upset. I'm upset. God am I upset that you...you were pulling things in practice you had no business pulling, and getting yourself looked at as an at risk for your team. And I'm upset that it's because of circumstances from my life! But you can not let it manifest like this. You're stewing in your anger instead of learning from it."

 

Tobin heard Christen's voice crack and she pulled her knees up to her chest, letting out a puff of air. 

 

"Are you done yet?" Tobin asked, swallowing back her anger at Christen's outburst. Christen blinks, gritting her teeth as she watched Tobin tug her hoodie around her head, and her sweatshirt over the tops of her knees. It was petulant and childish, and Tobin knew it.

 

"I—Tobin," She breathes out, not surprised in the slightest at the brunette's tendency to shut down when things got snippy between the pair of them. Tobin’s emotions were a bit scattered, she had never really been able to talk about them and then when they finally rolled out of her it was after stewing for so long, bottled up within her lanky frame. Christen gives up, walking away and shaking her head. Tobin needed space and time, and she knew that. 

 

  •  

 

Cindy packed Tobin a pb&j sandwich without crust like she used to do when Tobin was a kid on her way to practice. 

 

"Mom, you didn't have to-" Tobin says as she laced up her sneakers, making sure her cleats were in her practice bag. 

 

"Oh hush Tobin. I have not been able to make your sandwiches for like ten years now. You eat that on your way to the game, and don't forget the bag has grapes and a granola bar. Tell the girls hi. We'll see them when the game ends!" Cindy shoos Tobin out the door into Lindsey's waiting carpool. Christen follows her out with a tap on her shoulder. 

 

"Tobin?" Christen asked softly as the brunette turned around. She smiled, kissing her girlfriend gently as Sonnett honked the car horn at them. Tobin raises her middle finger back and returns the chaste kiss. "I'm still annoyed at you. But, I love you."

 

"Gee thanks, Love you too Chris." Tobin replied smartly, pulling away and going into the car. She crawled up behind the seats, squeezing in between Caitlin and Ellie.

 

"You know Tobes, when we promise to do carpool pick ups generally it's not a kiss and ride." Emily remarks from the front seat. Lindsey smacks her knee, rolling her eyes as she drives them towards the park. 

 

"Shut up Son. They're cute." Lindsey laughs, turning a corner. Tobin rubs the back of her neck, trying to ignore their embarrassing comments. Her head was elsewhere, thinking about Christen and what she said earlier. They arrived at the stadium quickly, walking out through the fans with their bags tucked under their arms. AD and Caitlin took a few photos, as did Sonny and Lindsey but Tobin walked straight inside with her AirPods on. She did not have the patience for fans today, unfortunately how bitter that seemed. She didn't want a million questions about her fake injuries either. 

 

"Good to see ya Heath." Mark clapped Tobin on the back of her shoulders before she headed towards the locker rooms. 

 

" 'sup," Tobin jerked her head, smiling at her coach as she walked past him. She had no requirement to dress today as she was sitting on the bench but Tobin still wanted to be in the locker room for tradition. She sat down on the bench across from locker #17, staring at the empty space where her jersey would usually hang. Now all Tobin saw was the printed photo of her and Christen, from a few summers back in LA and a photo of her baby niece from the World Cup. 

 

“Sonny that was my sandwich!” 

 

“You didn’t label it, in my defense a lableless sandwich is free game Linds,”

 

“That’s not how it works! You saw me make that one and you had your own,”

 

“Well I don’t see my own anywhere in here so…”

 

Tobin was pulled out of her own head by Sonnett and Lindsey’s bickering at the locker near hers, her eyes flicking over to see the pair in half jerseys half bra/underwear fighting over the sandwich. She pulls out her own brown bag, nibbling on her mom’s pb&j and looks around the locker room. 

 

AD and Menges were having a conversation, Sinc is checking the Velcro on the captains armband, and the rest were in various states of undress going about their routines. A knock comes on the heavy doors with a shout.

 

“Five minutes until coach pep talk! Get changed come on, game day!” Mark yells through the door, banging once more to announce his presence. Tobin sighs, putting her food back in her little knapsack to eat on the bench. She kisses her index finger, bringing it back to the photo of her and Christen. 

 

“Come on Tobe, be part of the circle.” Sinclair grabs Tobin’s shoulders and nudges her into the player circle. The routines start as they always do, Tobin and Sonnett and a few others leading a team prayer and then Nadine does her hype speech. Routines are normal, routines make the players feel in control when tensions run high- as they often did in this Pacific Northwest rivalry. But Tobin can’t help the feeling in her gut knowing she won’t be on that pitch. She misses an occasional game once or twice a season due to an injury, every player does. A pulled hamstring, a twisted ankle, even a bruised up knee could pull them out. Tobin unfortunately knew the seriousness of it all, having a misdiagnosed back injury on top of repeated fractures on her ankle a few years back. Missed almost the entire season and the national team games at the time. 

 

For a moment, Tobin reflects on that time period. She remembers what it felt like to lose control over her own job and her lifestyle. She felt like a burden. It was not her first time with an ankle in a cast that was for sure but she wasn’t 15 anymore. No driving, no kicking a ball (her favorite past time despite Christen’s insistence that sport was outdoors and you don’t bring work into the home), and absolutely no running. She had to teach herself how to not fall into the often bitter darkness injured athletes fall to, which had been difficult but aided with her faith and gratitude of life itself she survived. 

 

And Christen was there for her every step of the way from her misdiagnosis and frustration, to her post surgery- where she had essentially turned into a clingy, whiny, child on anesthesia and pain drugs. Christen who triple checked each medication dosage to prevent even accidental abuse of prescription pain relievers to make sure she never had the opportunity to get addicted. Who sat by her side when she tried to wean off the drugs a little earlier than expected, experiencing light withdrawal including a fever. 

 

Tobin pulled herself out of her own mind, looking up at Mark who was mid speech. Most of his words were just rehashed versions of the same old things he said last game. At this point Tobin knew most of the Reign team inside and out. She knew Fishlocke would be her biggest rival. Rapinoe may know her tricks of the trade, but Fishlocke would do anything to take Tobin out. That is if she were playing. 

 

“1, 2, 3 THORNS!” 

The team shouted before they lined up in the hallway to head onto the pitch. The starting lineup collected in front, Mark dividing them amongst the youth academy girls U 5-10 team that were walking out with them. One little girl, with her hair pulled back in a custom made thorns scrunchie wandered off in the hallway ending up near Tobin. 

 

“Where’s your jersey?” She asked, tugging on Tobin’s tshirt with her little hands. Tobin’s attention fell down to the girl, who stared up at her with curious blue eyes. Tobin squatted down so she was at eye level with the six year old. 

 

“I’m not dressing today sweetheart,” Tobin replied gently, sticking her lower lip out playfully. The little girl’s brows creased, pouting. 

 

“But you’re To-Tobin... Heath!” She exclaimed, eyes wide and scared almost. Tobin chuckled at her, reaching out to hold her hand. 

 

“Yeah I am. But what’s your name?” Tobin asked with a smile and a brow raise, trying to make conversation. The little girl swayed back and forth on her feet, shyness creeping in. 

 

“Flynn.” She said quietly, her wide eyes going back up to Tobin. Tobin rose a brow, watching the child.

 

“That’s an interesting name,” She teases, finding it rather cute. The girl cocks her head, smiling up at Tobin. 

 

“I like it.” She says confidently, crossing her arms. Tobin reaches out to hold her hand, nodding at the little girl. She knew all too well how it felt to have an ‘interesting name’ that wasn’t from the top 15 of the baby name books. 

 

“I like it too.” Tobin replies with a smile. The starting lineup got called to walk in for the anthem and Tobin’s attention was drawn to the doors. Flynn most certainly should have been with a player walking out, but she was attached to Tobin’s side. Which meant someone in the line up was childless- and that was on Tobin to send the girl back to the line up. Tobin crouched back down to Flynn. “Hey kiddo, you gotta get on out there. And I’m gonna drop you off to one of my teammates okay?”

 

The blonde nodded, throwing Tobin a thumbs up as she realized the situation. “You got it dude!” She grinned, swinging their hands as Tobin walked out as the announcer was reading through the names of the singers for the national anthem. 

 

Suddenly the crowd erupted, not expecting to see Tobin on the pitch at all much less walk a child across it. She flushed, hanging her head and focusing on leading Flynn over. Tobin could feel the eyes on her back as she walked the little girl up to AD’s side, noticing she was lacking a small child next to her. 

 

“Okay Flynn, this is Adrianna. We call her AD. She’s our goalie. She’ll take good care of you. See you after the game, let’s go PTFC!” Tobin said quickly, going to stand at the bench before the anthem started. After the singers left and the fireworks went off, Tobin turned to look at the box seeing her mother and Christen talking in it. 

 

She scuffed at the ground with her shoe, not caring how dirty it got as the game began. Tobin loved the fact that Christen came to support her, only she wished she was able to play. With the crazy game schedules, mixed with the national team- her parents never made it out for Portland games anymore. Just the USWNT games in Jersey, or Philly, and the cup games if they reach the final. It had been months since Cindy saw Tobin play in France, and she hadn’t been to Portland for a game since the 2015 season. 

 

It made Tobin sad, and frustrated. But she knew if she played right now it would be angry, and they didn’t deserve a game of cards and fouls. Tobin watched as the game grew intense with Seattle fouling left and right as they lost opportunity to score with AD’s clean sheet and that damn cross bar. 

 

She sank down in her seat, eating her sandwich as she waited for half to be called. A 0-0 score before half wasn’t ideal but Tobin had faith her team could pull out at least a 1 or 2 lead. 

 

“Hey, what are you seeing out there Tobes?” Mark asks, sliding into the bench beside her. Tobin looks over to him then back at the field where Midge is looking for a place to shoot but is too wide. 

 

“Formation issues I think mostly. Getting really close to offsides and look at how wide Midge just was, she needs coverage. So defense, and protection I’d say. If she had someone up a little higher to pass to attempt a goal we might have gotten it.” Tobin points out between sips of water. She bites her lip watching as the team gets closer but just misses it. 

 

“You’re always solid T. You just get it. Yeah that’s what’s all over my notes. Sometimes it’s nice to actually ask the players before I decide to address it next training, so no one feels attacked.” Mark explains as his eyes focus on the game play. Suddenly loud cheers disrupt their thoughts, only they were there from the section of Reign fans.

 

Tobin groans, seeing the ball hit the back of the net bouncing off of the back of Adrianna’s gloves. Megan bows for her goal celebration, throwing a wink to Tobin on the bench. God If I could just-

 

Tobin closed her eyes, trying not to think of all the ways she could have gotten that ball away from their strikers. It hurt. It really did and Tobin was getting frustrated. She could be out there if she hadn’t been angry and she wouldn’t have been angry if Christen let her help her grieve—

 

if Stacy hadn’t left.

 

Her eyes stung with tears but before they could fall half was announced. Tobin jumped out of the bench, grabbing her bag and going straight to the locker room. She launched it into her cubby, hearing the thud of the bag as it landed. 

 

Whoa .” 

 

Tobin turns her watery eyes onto the other player in the locker room already, Kling. The short woman was crouched in front of her locker relacing her boots, and looked up at Tobin’s outburst. The rest of the team were busy with rehydration, giving Meghan a chance to walk over to her friend. “Hey, Tobes,”

 

Tobin jerks away violently from Kling, embarrassed that her old friend was seeing her so vulnerable for the second time in a row lately. “ Jesus ! Hey, Tobin look at me!” Kling says strongly, her voice dripping with anger at Tobin’s reaction. The brunette paid no attention to her, squatting down on the bench with hot, salty tears streaming down her sweaty face from sitting in the sun. Tobin was angry, so angry. At life, at God- she didn’t even pray before the game this time feeling hopeless since she wasn’t playing. That wasn’t like herself, and she was all too aware of that. 

 

Kling reaches out, sitting on the bench herself and grazes Tobin’s kneecap. She holds her hands down to the bench, grounding her. “Tobin. It’s me. You’re with me, you aren’t alone.” 

 

“Kling...go. I don’t wa-want anyone to see me,” Tobin hiccuped, trying to push off the smaller woman’s hold on her. Kling may be tiny but her strength made up for her size, and she could prove it. 

 

“They’re all going to come in here to change their jerseys and do a run down with Mark of the next half, Tobes. What are you doing? It’s just a game-”

 

But it’s not about the game. 

 

Tobin launches off the bench, walking out of the locker room as her anger steeps even longer. She hasn’t the slightest clue where she’s headed. She blocks out the voices of office management members, providence park employees, and the fans milling about outside as she storms out. 

 

She leaves without her bag, her wallet, her phone. Tobin just keeps walking…

 

  •  

 

Christen stretches out in her seat at halftime, looking down from the box where she sat beside Cindy. Her eyes were focused on almost anything but the game itself though. She could see Tobin’s hunched figure in the Thorn’s non dressers box, see the tenseness in her shoulders as she watched the game. 

 

Christen lets out a small sigh at the image, knowing that the older woman was annoyed from earlier and frustrated at not being able to play. Cindy took notice of Christen’s sigh, reaching out to squeeze her hand. 

 

“You know, I used to have to tell Tobin not to get lost up in her mind a lot. Something tells me you’re getting lost up in there too.” She cooed between game play, her eyes still on the thorns trying their hardest. Christen feels the squeeze and she sits up a little bit. 

 

“It’s nothing really. Just thinking about her...us…” Christen played off slowly trying to move Cindy’s interest away from her. But Cindy Heath never stopped putting up a fight for the truth. Just as the Bible taught her. 

 

“I heard you two in the backyard you know.” Cindy remarks, watching as Christen turns to face her with wide and embarrassed eyes.

 

“Oh shoot...Cindy I-” Christen’s pleading apology is cut off by a chuckle from Tobin’s mother, her kind brown eyes crinkling. 

 

“Christen, you don’t have anything to be ashamed of. I assure you,” Cindy spoke up, her eyes drifting back to the game for a moment. “Sometimes I wonder if we let Tobin grow up too soft. Her biggest flaw is how big that darn heart of hers is. She feels too much and gosh she was a quiet little one but when she cares about someone she’s fiery.” 

 

Christen can’t help the smile on her face at Cindy’s story, because she was right. She was annoyed at her girlfriend, frustrated by her behavior that got her benched but she knew that Tobin was never reckless. She cared about her, and she was taking it all to heart. “And she shouldn’t have behaved in whatever way that got her kicked to the bench like a delinquent you know. Tobin knows better, and she’s in it for the long haul with you. Just try to be patient with her. You were right, about everything.” 

 

Christen’s eyes catch Tobin standing up and pacing in her box below as the Reign send a ball to the back of the net. She knows the way Tobin is feeling, thinking about her own series of benching after benching for the national team. And then half starts, half the stadium rising to run to the restrooms or grab another overpriced beer. Christen watches Tobin’s messy bun dart into the locker room before anyone else. 

 

“You know, I’m going to go head down and see her. Plus I should see the team.” Christen says, pulling her hat down on her head. Cindy nods, leaning back to look at her phone. 

“I’m going to call Perry and check on my grandson,” 

 

Christen leaves Cindy to make her calls during half while she dodges fans in providence park, walking down to the locker room entrances. She flashes ID to security who take her down into the lower underbelly of the stadium, through a corridor hall that leads into the two locker rooms. 

 

“Christen!” Midge waves at the forward while she heads into the Thorns locker room herself, and Christen hurries over to walk in with her. 

 

“Hi Midge, good game so far. I’m sure you’ll make it up the next half,” Christen says casually to make small talk as she looks for Tobin in the mess of players. Her locker had her bag in it, which meant she had to be there somewhere right? 

 

“If you’re looking for Tobin she’s gone.” 

 

Christen turns around, facing a flushed Klingenberg whose jaw was tight and her fists clenched. Each Thorns player was caught up in their own method of half time—relaxing, playing music, eating a snack, changing sweat soaked uniforms, teasing each other…

 

“What do you mean ‘gone’ Kling? What’s going on?” Christen asked firmly as she crossed her arms, briefly glancing at the old clock behind Kling’s head. 

 

“I don’t want to worry the girls,” Kling stated first, jerking her head to walk into the hallway that leads to the tunnel. Christen followed hesitantly, unsure if she wanted to hear this. “I was like first in the lockers, changing my socks you know? Tobes comes in and she’s pissed. Chucked her bag in the locker. I went to talk to her, see what was up and Chris, she pushed me away. Like hard. Crying and then she just up and left but through the exit to the stadium.” 

 

Christen steps back, taking a deep breath to calm herself down. She hears the overhead PA system announce that half was ending and she jerks her head to the pitch. 

 

“Thanks Kling. I’m sorry she’s—”

 

“You don’t have to apologize for her. Just be gentle with her when you find her I guess? I was kinda trying tough love and she spooked. That’s on me, I know she doesn’t like that. You know Tobes, she’ll be back.” Kling replied, her hand on Christen’s shoulder before she headed out to start the second half. The rest of the Thorns headed through the tunnel, waving at Christen as if nothing was wrong. 

 

The dark haired woman made her way back into the locker room, deciding to grab Tobin’s bag for her if at any rate she left the park. Christen had no clue where she could have gone...this wasn’t like Tobin at all. The frustration she had about not playing was much more internal. Maybe it was easier to accept when you were broken as a player, the diagnosis and the pain. But this was all Tobin’s own fault and she struggled to come to terms with that herself. 

 

Christen opened the pouch, sighing as she discovered Tobin’s cellphone, leather wallet, sunglasses, and gum. She had left everything. Maybe she ran to the bathroom? Christen ran through possibilities in her head, wandering towards the stalls near the showers at the back of the locker room. Each door hung open, each stall unoccupied. The emptiness signaled to Christen that her girlfriend wasn’t returning, at least not here.  

 

Slowly she made her way with the bag up to the top of the box seats again, sliding in beside Cindy. 

 

“How’d it go? Everyone excited for this half?” She asked dotingly, kind brown eyes crinkling. Christen felt herself deflating, knowing she would have to tell Tobin’s mother her daughter was ‘missing’. She left her damn phone and never told Kling where she was going… “Christen? Is everything okay?” 

 

The dark haired woman pursed her lips, taking a deep breath. She reached for Cindy’s hand, trying to speak steadily. 

 

“Tobin left Providence Park. She had a moment with Kling, and was upset—she left her bag with everything her phone, her ID.” Christen said, shaking. Saying out loud made it much more real. She had hope that the brunette was just walking around the park, getting lost in the upstairs sky deck or hiding with the groundskeepers. But a part of Christen knew that she could have left the premises, hiding from the fans at every corner, looking for peace. 

 

“Good lord,” Cindy’s hand flew to her mouth, and she shook her head. “You’re sure she’s not here anywhere?”

 

Christen furrowed her brow in concern, worried that she was overthinking it but also worried she was right and Tobin was missing.

 

“I wish I knew. I don’t know. She’s nowhere I checked and Kling said she was really upset.” Christen spoke cooly, trying to calm herself down before she started to cry. Cindy grabbed her purse and stood up, reaching for Christen’s arm. 

 

“Let’s head home and then we can talk about this, maybe she started walking back. It’s not far is it?” Cindy asked, pulling out her sunglasses. She was overwhelmingly calm, which surprised Christen but then again Tobin must have gotten her hard chill from someone. 

 

“Well...no it’s not far you’re right.” Christen sighed, walking through the providence park front doors and back towards parking. “Wish she didn’t leave her bag, and us worrying though.” 

 

“I know I probably seem far too calm but Christen, I’ve been dealing with my daughter for 31 years. There’s still more layers of her you’ll be discovering when you’re 50. Promise you. This gray hair was all her doing.” Cindy rambled as they walked through the parking lot. “Gosh I remember worrying when Perry had her first date and when Katie was going with that junior boy to prom but nothing has stricken fear in my soul the way that this darn child has. Soccer games in lightning storms, icy winters, and beaten up bruised and bloody bodies for years. I would draw her a bath and she’d be crying from the scrapes on her kneecaps!” 

 

Christen’s heart warmed for a moment, her mind taken off the worry for her honey brown haired girlfriend and adoration filling its space. Cindy just knew somehow what Christen was feeling. They crawled into Christen’s BMW, taking a deep breath of the leather interior. 

 

“Did Tobin do this? As a kid I mean. Like run off?” Christen asks bluntly. She was curious if this was something the older woman did often. For all she knew so far, she wasn’t but Tobin seemed to be full of surprises as well. Cindy purses her lips at Christen’s question. She reaches over to place her hand on Christen’s. 

 

“You know she’s a very calm soul. Calmest child I had. She slept and slept, and she hardly cried. And was so easy, it seemed too easy. I thought I was crazy. Had three girls under ten and only two made me want to pull my hair out. Once she got busy with a soccer ball she had no time to mouth off or get involved in school yard teasin’.” Cindy pauses and looks out the window at the sky. The darker clouds had steadily rolled in ready to dampen the end of the game. Typical Portland. 

 

“But then something changes. And she stops telling us about her day as much as possible. She’s in her room reading her bible obsessively—and I know I raised my children to love Christ but she’s taking time to bookmark passages and re read them each day. One day I walk into church, to pick her up from Bible study with the youth group and she’s sitting in the corner and another young girl is sitting in the opposite corner. Pastor Michael tells me that my daughter was caught kissing another girl in the coat room. Maybe part of me knew? She never blinked in the direction of a boy her whole life. I go to talk to her and she bolts. Just runs. She ran away that night.” Cindy lowers her voice, feeling herself back in the moment. “Jeff and I...we couldn’t find her. Her teen coach never saw her for practice that day. We were so scared. And that pastor refused to light a candle for her safe return, saying she was led astray. We never returned to that church. She shows up at home the next afternoon covered in mud, and her bible in her hand.”

 

Christen’s body went numb as Cindy told her story. She couldn’t imagine little Tobin, the one with braces and a soccer ball at all times from her baby photos had actually ran away. They had never actually told each other their full coming out stories. Just the gist and if their parents were accepting. A resounding yes although Tobin’s father had his moments. 

 

“She said she was angry at herself and God for how he created her and…” Cindy pauses as she gets choked up about it. She shakes her head, leaning back in the seat. “You know I’ve said too much. I- this is Tobin’s story to tell. But she came home. She swore she would never run away again. She had no need to after it was all out on the table.” 

 

Christen steadied her hands on the steering wheel, taking a deep breath. She was surprised and scared, but most of all she ached to hold Tobin in her arms. She turned the key in the ignition and began their short drive home as rain poured down the streets of Portland. “Thank you Cindy.” Christen murmured as she drove into their parking structure. 

 

  •  

 

Tobin walked for hours. She isn’t quite sure what time she left at, and didn’t wear a watch today so she has to go by the sun for the time. The sun that was hiding behind angry dark clouds now. She sighs, resting for a few moments on a bench in the middle of the city outside Powell’s. A part of her wants to run inside and pick up at least a bible to thumb through while it storms outside but the other part of her—the one rearing it’s stubborn ugly head right now knows that she needs to do this without a boundary between her and God. No books. No scripture. Just Him and her. 

 

She gets up off the bench, throwing her hood up over her wet, knotted hair. Tobin keeps walking. The city streets are slick with rain, emptying out as everyone heads inside for the rest of their Saturday. It echoes gently, the sound of water and occasional vehicle noises through the streets. Tobin finds herself humming along to the sounds. 

 

She ends up out by the river, sitting down beside a tree as the rain starts to really come down. Tobin stares out at the water, watching it ebb and flow with the pounding force of the rain. She puts her hand down, feeling the wet earth between her finger tips. It’s grounding. It’s calming. She has to do this. 

 

“God? ‘Sup. It’s Tobin, again. I’m still mad at you. But I don’t want to be. It’s hard. Really hard. I wish I knew why but I know that you have reasons and I have to trust them. But it means I have to see Christen suffering, and I don’t like that. I couldn’t bear to watch the game so I left. It was probably stupid. I don’t even have my wallet. I didn’t pray to you before the game started, and I know I usually do. I’m so thankful for what you’ve given me with soccer, I felt so ashamed that I threw the opportunity to play away over my anger at you. I can say I was upset at Christen all I want but it was always you. For taking Stacy away.” Tobin murmurs her prayer, speaking out loud to her God in hopes of clearing the air. “The last time I ran away like this...I was caught having my first kiss with Piper in the coat room by the Pastor. I know that we worked through that so let’s try again. Your love is ever flowing, and I am so thankful you have assured me of my place as a creation of yours, as someone who can be loved.” 

 

She clenches her fist in the mud, squeezing at soil, grass, and tree roots. This was earth. God created it. 

 

“God please reach out a hand to guide me through this tough time, and watch over Christen as I comfort her. I know now that I can no longer be angry with you. Taking Stacy away was for this wasn’t it? To strengthen us, to test us. Praising you has taught me that you have reasons for us all and may I not know the answer yet, I am always seeking to understand you. You move my life, you have a story for me. All I ask for is a sign. A helping hand. I’ll pay it forward. Just please. Amen.” 

 

Tobin finished her words to God with a prayer, bowing her head and closing her eyes. She felt the wet mud beneath her fingertips, smelt the wet grass, and shivered as wind rustled the branches of the tree she huddled under. 

 

Tobin?!” 

 

The brunette opened her eyes quickly, seeing a familiar short figure running through the grass towards her. She sat up straighter, smiling at the red and green thorns shirt pulled over a tiny sweatshirt soaking from the rain.

 

“Hiya Flynn! What are you doing out here in the rain?” Tobin asked as the little girl bounded up to her. Flynn laughed at Tobin, scrunching her nose up.

 

“What’re you doing out here?!” She asked back, squealing at the rain fall. Tobin stood up, trying to wipe her muddy hand on her pants. She shrugged casually,

 

“Just doing some thinking. Talked to someone for a little bit.” Tobin replied to Flynn, not sure how appropriate it was to mention her relationship with God so she kept it vague. 

 

“Flynn! What have I told you about running off, especially up to strangers?” An older woman with blonde hair and a heavy rain coat come up, trying to shoo Flynn away from Tobin. “I’m sorry about her I—”

 

Flynn interrupted her mother, going back to Tobin’s side and reaching for her non muddy hand. “Momma, she’s not a stranger! This is Tobin Heath.”

 

“Oh... Oh ! Tobin, my bad. Flynn really missed ya on the field today.” Flynn’s mom apologizes, but keeps a firm hand on her daughter’s shoulder while bringing over her umbrella to shield the kid from getting even more wet.

 

“Don’t apologize, I know how it is at that age. My nephews do the same thing. Just stay warm and dry okay?” Tobin directs her final comment to Flynn, hoping the little girl isn’t cold running out in the rain like this. 

 

“So you have nephews? No little ones?” The mother asks Tobin, handing Flynn a snack from the pocket of her bag as a small distraction.

 

“Oh? A uh...no not right now.” Tobin was caught off guard by the question. It's the one she’s been thankful to avoid for a while now with focus on her career. Without a public presence of her relationship off the field, there was no pressure from reporters to ask the questions. And even if they happened to know about her relationship, they’d know she was gay and children have to be planned out for years in advance really— so yet again no question. 

 

“Sorry gosh that was out of line. But you just were really great with Flynn earlier. I guess some intern caught you taking her out after everyone to team up with another player, it was really sweet.” Flynn’s mother says as she rubs the back of her daughter’s head. “She just loved her experience today, every part of it. So naturally I assumed you were a mother.” 

 

Tobin hummed at the prospect, thinking about Christen and being a mother with her. A smile tugged at her lips as she thought about it. “One day. Things have to line up but one day maybe when I start coaching and settling down more.”

 

“Oh I’m sure! A husband, a dog, some kids running around. I’m so glad I chose to settle here, and you’re the city’s golden girl.” The older woman grinned, slowly moving to walk away as Tobin’s stomach knotted. She wanted to correct her, say something small like “wife and dogs” but Tobin knew she couldn’t. It was too risky, she hardly knew this woman. Instead she waved, mumbling a quiet goodbye to Flynn. 

 

Perhaps the end of the conversation was poor but it had done one thing for Tobin, and reminds her why she does this. Why she got benched, why she acted out, and why she loves who soccer has brought to her. She heads back towards providence park, realizing that the game was long over and she was alone in the pouring rain. 

 

Fuck .

 

The brunette watched the street signs carefully, and decided to walk to her apartment, nevermind her exhaustion from her entire day. 

 

  •  

 

Christen paced across the living room, watching as the sky darkens and the street lamps flicker on. Her arms are crossed and she can’t believe Tobin did this. She knows the brunette’s tendency to take long walks to clear her head, or to go out and juggle but Tobin always communicated at the very least. Not to say that she was the best with communication when 30 minutes turns into an hour because a cute dog showed up but she told her where she went. 

 

“Believe me, I’m disappointed in her and every part of myself wants to ground her for months even though she’s 31.” Cindy speaks as she carries two mugs of tea into the living room. One she sets on the coffee table, one she reaches out to Christen. “But she’ll come back. It’s Tobin, she loves you.” 

 

Christen accepts the warm mug, taking a deep breath of the swirling steam. She thinks about Cindy’s words, knowing she was right. Tobin loved her. It was a fact now, it was always there. 

 

“Sometimes I worry that she’s falling back into wanting to be a nomad to escape all of this. To escape what she’s feeling with us. It’s stupid, I’m stupid. But I know what she used to do. She ran away from commitment with Shirley in Paris. It’s a miracle she’s tied down to Portland.” Christen tries to not say it bitterly, she tries to bite her tongue. Especially when she sees Cindy looking back at her. Her warm brown eyes were sad, and she knew the unfortunate truth of her daughter’s fleeting feelings. 

 

“For someone who loves so much Tobin...she never quite understood how it feels to let herself be loved.” Cindy comments as she reaches her for tea. “You taught her that though. To be loved is a wonderful thing.”

 

Christen finally sits down on a chair on the side of the room, tired of walking. A knock comes on the front door, Cindy getting up and gesturing for Christen to stay down.

 

Christen sits back, anxiety flooding into her brain. This could be the cops with Tobin’s body. If it were Tobin she would walk in unless she doesn’t have a key. 

 

“Lindsey? Come on in, we’re actually just kind of waiting for her.” Cindy cooes. 

 

“Chris, are you okay?” Lindsey asks immediately, her hand on the shoulder of the lounge chair. “Kling mentioned it, just so I kept an eye out.” 

 

Christen shrugs, putting on a brave face. “As good as I’ll ever be.” She says, getting up. “Tea? Cindy made some just a bit ago.”

 

Lindsey nods, slipping onto the couch with her head in her hands. She can’t wrap her head around it. “Do you think she’ll be back by tonight?” She asks slowly, not wanting to upset either woman. Christen hums from the kitchen, taking a breath as she pours the steaming water into one of their mugs. 

 

“I have no clue Lindsey. I don’t even know where she could have ended up. She walked from the park but if she was with any teammate or staff we’d know by now.” Christen said matter of factly handed Lindsey the mug. Cindy speaks quietly in response, 

 

“There’s no use in a search mission if she is going to be upset when she’s found still.” 

 

The three women sit in silence, Lindsey’s hand squeezing Christen’s in response. She was there for support most of all. 

 

Christen’s phone rings in the silence, echoing around their small apartment. She answers, staring at Tobin’s art hanging on the walls. Her damn art. Christen’s eyes watered with tears, thinking about the last time she watched Tobin paint something. 

 

“Hey Pressi, Kling filled me in on stuff. What’s going on at ground zero? She home yet?” Megan’s voice fills the speaker on Christen’s phone and she lets out a tiny breath at hearing the Californians voice. 

 

“Not yet. Lindsey came over. I think we just wait it out. No use tracking her down if she’s still upset you know?” She replies, getting up and walking around not being able to face the art. 

 

“Damn I wish I knew before I left. Sue drove me back home, I would have stayed though. We both would. She’s worried too.” 

 

“I’m sorry. Just like on her behalf. I don’t want you to have to worry—please enjoy your night.” 

 

“Christen, come on. I have watched Tobin grow up basically on the team. I watched her love and  heartbreak and I watched her fall for you. So don’t push me away. I’m here to lighten your burden. She shouldn’t have ran off without a word,” 

 

“You’re right. Sorry. It’s just, today has been a lot.” 

 

“Shit happens Pressi. Trust me. Can I ask you something, about Tobin?” 

 

“Of course.” Christen walked into her bedroom at the tone of Megan’s voice, wanting a bit more privacy. She curled up on the quilt, clutching a pillow to her chest. 

 

“She’s not like been depressed right? I mean Tobes has never, she’s not suicidal—not her.” Megan asked bluntly, not wanting to beat around the topic. She knows the issue well, too well with her own family. She’s concerned but she doesn’t find it likely for Tobin. 

 

“Oh gosh no. Never. I think, I mean the church taught her that was selfish. Never mind the truth behind all of that, it’s just not who she is. We’ve been having issues and my grief hasn’t been helping but no. Definitely not.” Christen spoke rapidly, shaking her head at the thought. She knew Tobin would never hurt herself. That isn’t her. Even as depressed as she has been at her lowest during her ankle injuries, she’s passive. 

 

“Okay good. I didn’t think so. But I just like to ask, I mean I’d hate to see...well. I have to go, Sue just finished dinner. If Tobin shows up let her know I’m kicking her ass next camp for worrying us like this. Geeze! Goodnight Christen.”

 

“Goodnight Megan. I’ll text if she shows up.” Christen hangs up the phone, leaning back on the bed with her pillow still clutched to her chest. Where the hell was Tobin? 

 

Lindsey knocks on the bedroom door softly, walking in. 

 

“Hey. I sent some texts to like Bailey who lives out near a park Tobes likes to juggle at. And um this bartender I uh know Tobin visits sometimes when she’s moody. Trying to keep it all discreet but man she’s missing now.” 

 

Christen rolls over nodding at Lindsey. “Thank you. It means a lot, and I know tobin didn’t want you to worry for her.”

 

“Well she could have thought about that before pulling this. I love Tobin, but I hate you’re here with no idea where she could be.” Lindsey scoffed, shaking her head. She sits on the bed, sipping the tea as they both wait for the prodigal Heath to return. 

  •  

Knocking at the front door launches Christen out of her light nap, her body moving faster than her brain to scramble towards it. 

 

Cindy had been reading by candlelight in the living room now, ready to go to bed. She got to the door before Christen, reading glasses around her neck on a small pearl chain. 

 

She opened it slowly, taking in the sight of her rain drenched daughter before her. Tobin stood covered in mud, her clothing clinging to her body tightly as it dripped on their welcome mat. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying in the weather, her hair wet and knotted. The ends were even starting to curl slightly. Her nose red from sobbing. She was a mess.

 

Christen stepped over slowly, pushing past Cindy to wrap Tobin in a hug. She could deal with it all later, the mud and the tears, and the anger she felt because Tobin had all but left her. Now it was about holding on to what she could have lost. 

 

Chapter Text

“I had to talk to God.”

 

Tobin hiccups it as Christen shuffles them inside the door, cradling the older girl to her chest with a deep breath. Lindsey stands in the hall, giving them space but still perplexed by it all. Simply put, Lindsey had seen Tobin be an idiot with her feelings before and she really didn’t want to be reminded.

 

“I know Tobin.” Cindy cooes, reaching for the pocket Bible in her hand and placing it on a side table in her living room. She would wipe off the dirt and mud in the morning. Christen rubs Tobin’s back in soft circles, leading her to their bedroom. She turns her head to look at Cindy and Lindsey, 

 

“I want to get her to bed, and wash up I think if that’s okay?” She says nervously. Tobin was exhausted and distraught, they definitely weren’t having a conversation about this tonight. Lindsey walks over, squeezing Tobin’s hand softly. 

 

“I’ll go and let everyone know she’s back Christen. And Tobin, I—” Lindsey cuts herself off before she yells at the older woman, frustrated with her. She heads out, dialing up Pinoe and texting Kling that Tobin was safe. 

 

Cindy follows behind the pair, leaning in the doorway. Her brown eyes soften as she sees how gentle Christen is with her daughter, knowing how difficult it can be when the person you love has upset you to be patient. And from her own daughter who was both effortlessly chill and stubborn at the same time nevertheless. 

 

“Goodnight you two. I’ll see you in the morning, I’m making waffles.” Cindy says as she turns to close the door, giving them privacy. Tobin sits on the bed with her head in her hands, taking deep breaths. Christen keeps her hand on Tobin’s back protectively, fingers tracing the wet fabric. 

 

“...You should really get out of these wet clothes.” Christen breaks the silence, her voice raspy and low. Tobin knew that voice, she hated that voice. It’s the voice she first heard Christen speak with in fact, but then she learned why it was so wrecked constantly. It had been from the nerves. The constant adrenaline from games, only to be benched and brought in as a sub. It was the anxiety eating her up that she wasn’t enough for the league, for the national team. Never being enough made her head spin, and her stomach churn. 

 

“I’m sorry I was worrying you.” Tobin speaks in response, her own voice low and heavy from the events of the afternoon. Christen’s hands pull at her top, she shakes her head. 

 

“I—Tobin we can talk like tomorrow. You’re gonna get sick sitting here all wet.” She says firmly, finally lifting the shirt off as Tobin lifts her arms. “Lift.” Christen adds, thumbs hooking in the waistband of her joggers. Tobin lifts herself off the bed, kicking them off so she’s left in boyshorts and a sports bra. 

 

Christen’s eyes raked over her girlfriends frame, for once not seeing all of her muscles but her soft skin puckered with goosebumps. She presses a kiss to Tobin’s sternum, her hands going to pull off her sports bra and then her boyshorts. Tobin sighs out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. Christen’s hands were soft, and they were warm. 

 

Christen leads them to the shower, turning it on and checking the water before taking off her own clothes as Tobin watched. The brunette chewed on her lower lip, hazy brown eyes looking away from Christen’s bare skin. It’s as if she felt like she didn’t deserve to see Christen at her most vulnerable because of how she treated her today. 

 

“You don’t have to just because—”

 

“Tobin. I’m not angry with you. Exasperated? Maybe. But you’re my girlfriend and you have been out in the rain and mud all day talking to God. So I’m going to shower with you tonight, because I love you Tobin. Even when you frustrate the hell out of me.” Christen says firmly, her hands on Tobin’s strong shoulders. A ghost of a smile tugs at Tobin’s lips while she checks the water temperature. 

 

“For the record, I love you too Chris.” Tobin says as cheekily as she can, kissing Christen chastely on the lips before stepping into her warm shower. Water engulfed Tobin in a warm hug, settling between her bones. Christen stepped in, wrapping her arms around Tobin’s shivering body as steam curled around both of them. 

 

“I thought I could have lost you today.” Christen breathes out quietly, murmuring against Tobin’s wet shoulder blade where she rests her head. The woman beneath her breathes out, trembling. 

 

“Chris I—” Tobin breaks. She lets go. All her resolve is gone. It’s a loud wracking sob, one that shakes Tobin’s narrow body from her shoulders to her hips. She feels guilty for walking out on Christen and her mother, for being selfish enough that her emotions were overwhelming to the point that she needed to escape. Christen squeezes Tobin’s hand, her thumb wiping away the salty tears that were hardly different from the hot water pouring down over them. 

 

“Shh... Toby ,” Christen mumbles, rocking her tight against her body. The older woman paused, her sobs grew louder and then they trickled to a stop. The nickname Toby was one fraught with dislike. It was too childish as she grew up, and Tobin only let her mother get away with it. And Kelley if she wasn’t being an ass about it.

 

But when Christen called her Toby in that warm, raspy voice—damn did Tobin know she was a goner. It made her feel warm and safe, Christen’s voice felt like a velvet hug. Only when Tobin was at her lowest, did she hear her say the name though. Knowing that’s what she needed to get her through. Assurance that she was loved enough. 

 

Christen reached for their honey vanilla body wash, moving to scrub the days dirt off of her girlfriend. She let it swirl down the drain, moving to wash her hair next. It was languid and slow, Christen spending her time with Tobin’s body. A body she knew like the back of her hand, a body she appreciated so much it was hard to deny. Her warm, trembling thighs. The valley of her breasts. Toned abdomen, abs flexing at each scrape across them. Her shoulders that ripple with muscles. 

 

Eventually Christen moved and Tobin offered to help her wash up as well, returning her slow touches in her own way. Warm hands on slippery tanned skin. Kisses on her cheeks, caresses up and down her body. 

 

They stepped out, throwing on oversized tees and falling asleep in each other’s arms. 

 

  •  

 

Tobin groaned at the sunlight pouring through their curtains, casting golden light across her pale comforter. Christen wiggled her body in response, tucking in tighter to Tobin’s bare chest. At some point in the night of tangled limbs and overheated bodies her top fell to the floor. Not like either minded too much. 

 

“I smell waffles.” Christen mumbled against tanned skin, nibbling gently as she woke up. Tobin sighed at the nips, feeling Christen’s teeth graze her breasts. Her hand slid through the younger woman’s dark curls, curling her fingertips around the strands at each bite. 

 

“We need to get up before my mom decides to come in.” Tobin signed, trying to nudge Christen off her path down her chest. The striker sits up, laughing at the possibility.

 

“Cindy is not going to come in. It’s your house, you’re an adult Tobin.” She chuckles, leaning back on her elbows. Tobin smacks her kneecap, shaking her head. 

 

“Since when has that mattered? She has 5 kids, she walks in without a care for privacy for all involved.” She replies, flopping back onto the bed. Christen scoffed. 

 

“She wouldn’t.”

 

“Oh but she will.”

 

“Get dressed then smartass.”

 

“It’s not my boobs I’m worried for—it’s yours!” Tobin squeaked as Christen pulled down the sheets, leaving her girlfriend bare. She clutched at her very slight breasts playfully, reaching for her shirt disregarded last night. Christen shrugged hers on as well, getting up and straightening out her bed. Just like that as if on cue Cindy rapped on the door with her knuckles. 

 

“Tobin? Christen? Waffles are ready, if you’re up.” She called out, her hand on the knob of the door ready to go in before she stopped herself. Tobin walked over to the door, sticking her head out. 

 

“Mornin’ momma, we’ll be down soon.” She yawned, blinking her brown eyes in the harsh light of the hallway. Cindy squeezed her cheeks, seeing her daughter safe and clearly in a better headspace than yesterday. 

 

“That’s fine pumpkin,” Cindy replied, tucking a strand of messy bed head behind her ear. “There’s plenty to eat.”

 

Tobin pulled back into the bedroom, her heart feeling heavy at the tender touches of her mother. She knew she had worried about her last night, and felt horribly about it. She knows that her mom accepted her explanation with no hesitation and for that she was grateful. Soft hands reached over to hold Tobin’s shoulder, a warm kiss pressed to her cheek. 

 

“Don’t space out too much babe.” Christen teases, nuzzling the warm skin of her neck before heading out the bedroom door. Tobin breathes out, going to follow her downstairs. Cindy wasn’t lying about there being plenty, a full platter of waffles on the counter and fresh fruit in bowls for toppings. And quite a few extra heads sitting around the table.

 

“I invited Lindsey over to thank her for everything last night, and she brought a friend.” Cindy said, handing her daughter a plate and gesturing to the counter. Tobin immediately feels bad, having felt like she inconvenienced everyone yesterday but comes to the realization that these people showed up for her. 

 

“Your mom makes such good food, I couldn’t say no. And Sonny was in the halls so I figured--”

 

Tobin waves Lindsey’s explanation off, going to grab food. She vaguely remembers the blonde being upset with her last night, but wasn’t going to hold it against her. She was still upset at herself. 

 

“You’re always welcome here you two, and --” Christen gets cut off by a raspy voice from a facetime call, one she hadn’t heard in months. 

 

“Tobin Powell Heath, we need to talk!” Alex Morgan chastised her former best friend from the phone. Sonny gave a small shrug,

 

“You know I can’t ignore a call from Alex, I’m sorry Tobin,” She said with a slight laugh, handing the phone off to the frazzled woman herself. Tobin rubs at the back of her neck while others stack their waffles with different toppings. Christen eyes her but says nothing, letting Tobin deal with it. 

 

“Good morning Al,” Tobin started as she sat on the couch, watching the blue eyed woman on the screen cross and uncross her arms. 

 

“Tobes, listen...I hate this. Megan told me what went down last night, and I just needed to check in. I’m your captain and I worry, so talk to me. What were you thinking?” Alex demanded, cutting through the bullshit. A part of Tobin wished the dark haired woman were still a part of Portland, could come and knock sense into her here. But they both knew why that wasn’t an option anymore. 

 

Briefly, Tobin had found herself repressing her feelings for women and then spent her days trying to be Alex’s shadow. It took a little bit before she understood she didn’t want to be Alex, but she wanted to be her friend so bad and keep her to herself, it ended up tearing them apart. That on top of a husband, new expansion trade ideas, and needing a fresh start. Tobin didn’t feel bad for her history with Alex, in fact it meant she knew her closer than most. 

 

“What did Megan say?” Tobin asked as she curled up in a chair in the living room while everyone gathered their breakfasts. 

 

“You ran away at half time, and poor Christen thought you died. Look, you know Mark sent your “injury” report to US Soccer.” Alex says, taking a deep breath. She closes her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Jill knows you’re struggling. Christen is on the list too. But Tobin, this runaway stunt has to be reported. You know Dawn will make you do a therapy session before you’re cleared to play mentally.” 

 

Tobin feels her heart clench at the realization of Alex’s words. The striker sighed as she watched Tobin’s face fall. The looming threat of being benched or worse comes bubbling up her throat. “No…no dammit no—-”

 

“Megan and I and Carli are doing a conference call about this as captains. Just about what it looks like, and Tobes we love you, absolutely always will but this is out of our decision really. You know Megan and I will fight for you, but Carli won’t.” Alex explained with ease. 

 

Tobin’s heart dropped at the realization of her mistakes. Carli won’t fight for her, and she knew that. Tobin had known the older player since her first cap at age 20, back when she was a much younger and different player. Carli was no nonsense, she had a heart and a laugh but preferred they stayed off the pitch. She certainly wouldn’t take kindly knowing her fellow forward endangered herself. She would view her as risky and a threat to the core team’s energy, which Tobin understood was a worrisome situation. 

 

“I’m sorry Al. You don’t have to fight for me, I won’t ask that of you. I just had to uh talk to god. I’ve been angry and upset with Him so yeah. I have been making poor choices, especially on the field. I’ve been reckless. I don’t want to drag anyone down with me.” Tobin admitted, hanging her head at the sad reality. Alex watched her former best friend with trained eyes, picking up on her little fidgets still. She wanted nothing more than to desperately assure Tobin that she was okay, but life didn’t work like that. As well, Alex knew that the forward would blame herself and take whatever punishment dished out to her whether she deserved it or not.

 

“Tobes, I’m sorry. I really am. I just want this to pass. I’ll let you know what Carli says, and how we’ll put together a plan of watching your mental health yeah? You’re hurting and that hurts us, right? Like I don’t want to say liability here and of course Christen is being watched too, we know how grief works.” Alex replies as she looks into Tobin’s warm brown eyes. “Now go eat Cindy’s breakfast. It’s not everyday she’s across the coast for you.”

 

“Alright, alright. Thanks Al.” Tobin said, hanging up and going to the kitchen table where everyone was eating. She handed Sonny back her phone, and grabbed a plate. Cindy hummed at her daughter’s return, taking a sip of coffee. 

 

“What did Alex want sweetie?” She asked while Tobin settled down into her seat. She cracked a piece of bacon in half, chewing it slowly as she thought about a response. 

 

“Uh, well, Al was saying mostly that um my little journey yesterday made its way back to Jill, and I have to do some uh um like therapy.” Tobin responded quietly, feeling Christen turn towards her. Cindy hums at her daughter, taking the cue that she might not want to talk about it. Christen however, puts her hand on Tobin’s forearm. 

 

“Therapy might help Tobes,” Christen says calmly, noticing how withdrawn Tobin seemed. But then she understood that yesterday had been rough for her, and that the exhaustion takes a toll. Tobin didn’t reply, starting to butter her waffle. Christen got up, walked over to make some coffee and then delivered Tobin the mug. 

 

“We don’t have to talk about last night if you don’t feel comfortable Tobin.” Lindsey pipes up from across the table between bites of waffle and egg. “I’m just glad you’re back in one piece.” 

 

Tobin turns red, feeling the guilt and shame eat at her. She picks at her breakfast, trying not to let her emotions bubble over. She never quite knew how to deal with being the center of attention. 

 

“If it helps, we still won last night. 2-1, pulled out a scrappy win!” Sonny spoke up, trying to divert Tobin’s attention for the moment. She smiled softly between bites of food. 

 

“Good going Son,” Tobin replied quietly. Cindy collected the plates as soon as they finished, going to start washing them. Sonny offered to help Cindy clean, leaving Tobin, Christen, and Lindsey to talk amongst themselves. 

 

“Tobes, you wanna kick around?” Lindsey suggested killing the silence in the air. Tobin perked up at the idea of a kick about, nodding. 

 

“Meet you downstairs, grab your cleats.” She said, rushing to grab her own. Christen followed her slowly, knowing exactly where their gear should be. She changed into shorts and a tank, slipping on old training cleats. Tobin followed suit with her own patterned gym shorts and tank, her hair up in a messy bun. She grabbed an extra ball from their hallway closet, letting Cindy know they were headed out. 

 

  •  

 

The laid back afternoon game of kicking around turned out to be necessary for someone like Tobin. Here she was free, here she was fluid. And she could focus on one thing at a time, letting her brain and stress fall to the wayside. 

 

“Come on Press!” Lindsey shouted encouragement at the forward as she lined up to strike at the little park’s goal, which was being defended by Sonnett. Christen ran with her right foot out, ready to send a screamer in but the ball curved right before it could reach her. Tobin snatched the ball from just beyond Christen’s foot and sent it soaring. Sonnett jumped, but couldn’t deflect it--she wasn’t a keeper after all. Tobin let out a shout at the goal, swinging her hands out wide and her head up high. But her face was far from happy.

 

She was overwhelmed. That much was clear to Christen as she stepped over to hug her girlfriend. 

 

“Tobes?” She asked softly, seeing the tears in her eyes. 

 

“It’s nothin’ —I’m just sorry. About everything. I should have waited. I shouldn’t have left the game, a game I had the honor and privilege of sitting at even though I made Mark afraid to play me. This goal, these games—I just know I want to share it with everybody.” Tobin sniffled, wiping at her eyes. Lindsey stepped over, her hand on Tobin’s shoulder. She didn’t speak, her harsh thoughts from earlier fading away. But she wanted to reassure the older woman that she had people there for her. 

 

“Okay Tobes, it’s okay. I know. Let’s keep playing, get some touches in.” Christen suggested, knowing she was also struggling against the emotion of playing. Stacy had been her biggest soccer supporter, and pushed her to keep going. So getting her feet back at a ball once she had time to process was a hard task. She dribbled around, Tobin sobering up and starting to work on some 1 V 1 skills with her. It was beautiful, just the girls passing and playing and letting the struggles of the days pass over them. A few hours passed, and then Christen’s phone rang. Tyler. 

 

“Hey Ty,” She answered the phone, taking a breather as Tobin and Lindsey started to work on touches. Tyler sighed on the other end, glad her sister finally picked up. 

 

“Hey to you too sis. This whole thing, what’s going on? You never filled me in about Tobin’s mom.” 

 

“There’s not much to say. She just kind of arrived during a Thorns dinner night because Tobin was struggling with my grief. I think she was worried and I don’t blame her.” Christen replied as she sat down, watching Tobin start to play with the ball like her usual self. “Ty...Tobin ran away yesterday.”

 

“Ran away?”

 

“We went to her game and she simply left at half. No warning. She’s benched, she’s been angry but I never thought she would do that. She left everything.” 

 

“Oh Mo, things sound a bit tough over there. I know you don’t want to be here right now but maybe you should go visit Chan and take some time—”

 

“Absolutely not! Tyler I’m not leaving Tobin, not right now.”

 

“But what about your own healing? Are you taking care of yourself? Have you even touched a soccer ball in the past like I dunno month?” 

 

“That’s not fair. And yes I did I played today, because Tobin and Lindsey were and it felt good. Really good. I’m making progress and…”

 

“And if you go see Channing it’ll all fall apart? You can’t keep thinking avoiding traces of mom will heal you, and you know that Christen.” Tyler spoke firmly, frustrated with her younger sibling. “And I think that Tobin tries so hard, bless her soul, to fix you when she can’t. She does everything and anything to make you feel better, but she can’t bring back mom. She has to be frustrated with that, and her mom coming in is sweet but—”

 

“She had to talk to God yesterday. Ty, there’s a lot you don’t know happening. Tobin is trying so hard. Let her do what she needs to do for me. For us. We’ll make it through this, we always do.” Christen said as she watched Tobin meg Sonnett and fall down laughing at the look of shock and playful hurt from the younger girl. This was how days in Portland should always be, and they were what Christen aimed for.

 

“Okay I get it, I’ll back off. I love you Mo, don’t forget that.” Tyler replied before hanging up as Christen replied “Love you too,”

 

The four women spent the rest of the day working on touches, having fun, and being purely in the moment. The sun finally broke through some clouds, warming their skin.

 

Eventually Sonny and Lindsey headed back to their respective apartments, going to wash off all the grass stains from the kick around games. Tobin thanked them for coming over, and apologizing if her mom made it overbearing. Lindsey merely smiled, clapping Tobin on the back as she hugged her. 

 

“Cindy,” Lindsey laughs, “is the best. And Toby? We all love you here, so don’t go running off anywhere.” She adds as Tobin returns her hug. Christen kisses Tobin’s cheek as she watches the girls leave. She has nothing to say, but is simply glad the sun is setting and her girlfriend is by her side. 

 

“There you two are.” Cindy walks out to the little grassy patch where the two soccer players stood, feeling the sun start to set. She wraps an arm around Tobin’s shoulder’s, rubbing softly. “Perry called, Tucker wants to see you if you want to FaceTime her back.” 

 

Tobin looks down, rubbing at her arm. She isn’t sure if she wants to talk to Tucker with the way her mind has been running in circles. Christen grabs their equipment, walking back into the apartment as she senses the private moment between Cindy and Tobin starting. 

 

“Am I an awful person if I say no?” Tobin mumbles, looking up into her mom’s eyes, identical to her own. Cindy raises a brow, pursing her lips. 

 

“Is this about last night or is it because you suddenly find toddlers annoying?” She teases, starting to walk along with her daughter. Tobin shrugs, kicking a pebble out of the way as they walked through the pathway. 

 

“I miss him and Perry, I do. But I dunno,” Tobin takes her time choosing her words carefully. “I don’t want Tucker to see me like this?” 

 

Cindy places her hand on Tobin’s shoulder as they walk into the elevator together up to her floor. 

 

“He’s only five Tobin, he won’t know how rough you’ve had it. Only that you’re saying hi. He misses you pumpkin.” She urged Tobin to reconsider visiting with her nephew, knowing that the young woman’s soft spot would eventually win out. They headed back into the apartment and Cindy dialed up her eldest on her iPad. Christen meanwhile was curled up on their balcony, reading.

 

The call with Tucker was endearing, Christen eavesdropping and listening to her girlfriend talk to the kid about his week at school and tell him how the team was doing. 

 

But once Tucker was off playing, Perry started talking. 

 

“Tobes, what’s this about you on an injury report? Again?” Perry asked incredulously, thinking she would have heard sooner if her baby sister did hurt her head and her ankle. Tobin groaned, hanging her head. 

 

“Uh well you see Perry, the thing is…” She paused, rubbing at her forehead. “I’m on extended grief leave. For Chris. And Mark needed to bench me— I was being reckless. So he made up an injury report to keep people from prying, like personal reasons just makes people investigate. I don’t need that. Neither does Chris.” 

 

“I— I had no idea Tob, I didn’t… Mom? Is that why you’re,” Perry watched her mother’s slight nod. She thought her mom had just gone to visit Tobin since the younger girl never found time to come home anymore. “Damn, I’m sorry Tobin.” 

 

“Don’t be.” Tobin brushes her concern off, shaking her head. “Like I don’t want pity, or sadness. We’re just trying to work through life.” 

 

“And I’m helping them dear.” 

 

Tobin smiled, looping her arm around her mom. She was definitely helping her. 

 

Hey babe, she’s hungry, again.”

 

“Hand her over, come here little pumpkin,” Perry turned to face her husband, graciously accepting the little one from his arms who was whimpering softly for a feeding.

 

“She’s a quiet baby,” Tobin remarks absently, taking in the sight of her niece Bailey. Only about 5 months old, and adorable as hell. Not much of a head of hair, but big brown eyes and chunky cheeks. 

 

“You were a quiet baby. Must run in the family,” Cindy says in response, stroking Tobin’s back softly. It wasn’t surprising that Tobin had been a quiet baby, less likely to scream and less colicky than her siblings. She was always content. 

 

“Well maybe she’s got your talents Toby,” Perry laughed, rubbing Bailey’s back as she held her close. 

 

Christen watched from the balcony doorway, smiling at Tobin’s awkward movements. She was almost sleepy, her head dipping into Cindy’s shoulder. 

 

“I love you Tobes. Say hi to Chris for me. Bye mom, see you when I can.” Perry signed off, leaving the room silent. 

 

Tobin got up, went down to their little studio basement, and pulled out some art supplies. She needed to work on something to fill her mind as the hours passed. The studio wasn’t much but it was where she did her airbrush work, or her more intense painting. Dipping her paintbrush in a baby pink color pot, whistling with a smile, Tobin got to work. 



Chapter Text

Christen pads her way to the kitchen quietly in the mere hours of dawn. She tugs her shorts down a little bit, making sure they weren’t bunched up from the tossing and turning she had done in her empty bed previously. Much to her surprise she discovers her girlfriend asleep at the kitchen counter drooling on what appeared to be an outline sketch of some artwork. 

 

“Oh Tobin ,” Christen breathed out quietly at the sight, watching as the first rays of sunlight streamed through their window and caught Tobin’s golden brown tresses. She tiptoed closer, squinting at the sketch work on the page seeing clothing and different body shapes and an abstract stippling piece in baby pink. Christen reaches out tenderly to tuck Tobin’s hair behind her ear, taking in the way her face was relaxed with crinkle lines by her closed eyes fluttering ever so often. Her perpetually chapped lower lip stuck out and moved with every quiet snore. 

 

She let Tobin keep sleeping, afraid to wake her if she’d move her at this point and continued to make herself tea in the morning hour. Slowly the world around them woke up, frogs croaking in their complex’s little yard and birds chirping their praises for a new day between the roar of the city below them.

 

Christen didn’t want to return to bed after waking up even as early as it was, so the dark-haired woman settled for yoga in the living room and a book as the morning fully formed. 

 

“Oh! Good morning Christen,” Cindy chirps as she exits the guest bedroom, heading to make coffee in the kitchen—but pausing at the sight that stopped Christen just no more than 30 minutes ago. “She was up all night painting and drawing wasn’t she?” She asks Christen quietly, leaning over the couch so she could whisper. Christen nods shyly, bookmarking her page. 

 

“It happens. She’s a night owl so I don’t expect her to go to bed when I do.” She replies with a fond memory in her head. A few weeks into Christen living in Portland with her, Tobin had spent so long in the art studio that the younger woman had to drag her from the room half asleep with drool in the corner of her mouth. A few days later she stayed late again, but this time Christen took advantage of her having a personal space by defiling it. 

 

“Oh I know that, not surprising at all but...she used to do this as a kid. A lot actually it’s why I put her into some after school programs especially at the Y. I think it was because she had all this creative energy and nowhere to put it. Arts programs weren’t really a big thing then,” Cindy reveals playfully, heading back for her coffee. “She loved it. Loved physics experiments. Getting her hands dirty in science experiments. But soccer won her heart so dearly…”

 

Christen couldn’t help but notice the inflection of Cindy’s voice, as the older woman seemed to speak about what could have been for Tobin. A different life, a road unknown to them. Images of a younger Tobin floated through her mind, of the girl playing with legos or making a homemade volcano. 

 

“You don’t regret it do you? Having her life like this?” Christen asked quietly as her brow furrowed. Cindy’s hands went up, 

 

“Oh no not like that nothing of the sort! I mean...I had reservations but I put my faith in God. He always had her back, and some path for her. That beautiful path has brought her so much hope, and love—I can't trade that away.” She replied, rubbing Christen’s shoulder as they both watched her daughter. 

 

Tobin woke up from her sound sleep at the feeling of eyes boring into her back. She sits up, startled, knocking her sketchbook onto the floor. 

 

“Welcome to the land of the living pumpkin’,” Cindy teases, patting her daughter’s shoulder as she blinked at the golden morning light. 

 

“Shit! I-I swear I was on my way to bed…” Tobin swore and picked up her sketchbook from the floor while Christen watched. She fumbled around with it, setting it back on the table while she slumped back down in the chair. Her back definitely was not pleased about sleeping in a kitchen chair and pain radiates up and down her muscles. 

 

“It’s not like I can ground you for staying up past your bedtime Tobes.” Cindy deadpanned in response as she went to pull yogurt out of the fridge. Tobin sheepishly rubbed the back of her neck. 

 

“Sorry.” She mumbled, her cheeks pink as Christen giggled at the sight. 

 

“So...since the two of you are up—mostly— would you want to go to one of the nature parks around here? I think it would be good to get some fresh air, how about that?” Cindy asks as Christen sits down next to Tobin at the table. They share a look, Tobin gesturing that it’s Christen’s choice yes or no. The brunette’s eyes widen, and a smile quickly takes hold of her lips. 

 

“Of course! I could stretch my legs, right Tobes?” Christen nudged the older woman who nodded. 

 

“Yeah...I could do that. Momma, did you bring your hiking shoes? Or those good sneakers that Jeff gotcha?” Tobin asked her mother. Cindy ruffled her youngest daughter’s hair. 

 

“Jeff’s sneakers pumpkin, don’t worry. I didn’t climb Kilimanjaro just to be tripped up by Portland’s hiking trails.” She replied with a doting smile, kissing Tobin’s cheek. “Okay up and up. Let’s be ready to go in 20? That's enough time for you Toby?” 

 

“Got it!” Tobin replied as she got up and made herself a quick protein shake in her shake bottle before heading to shower. 

 

  •  

Tobin drove the three of them out to the trails where they could head towards the riverfront. Secluded with high weeds and trees, the pathways were mostly gravel. But Tobin loved it. She loved the murky waters, the bits of sand at the edge, and the way the high weeds tickled your ankles when you walked through them. They parked in a little dirt parking lot and started their trek through the weeds towards the water. There was a grassy little hill Tobin and Christen liked to have picnics at that they knew Cindy would enjoy resting at. 

 

“You know I missed sleeping next to you last night,” Christen started to say as she and Tobin hung back, letting Cindy start the pace for the hike. Tobin hangs her head sheepishly, 

 

“I missed you too—my neck is killing me.” She complained, rubbing at it. 

 

“Ooh you poor thing,” Christen teased, taking a swig from her water bottle as they continued through a wooded pass. Tobin let out a scoff, crossing her arms playfully.  “What’s going on inside that pretty head of yours Tobes? Your mind palace?” 

 

Tobin looked down at the branches crunching under her feet, letting the Pacific Northwest wind curl against her sweatshirt. She sighed, shrugging. 

 

“I don’t really—just some cluttered thoughts after everything. I painted to let it out last night and I fell asleep at the table. It’s really fine. I’m not like I was. It’s better. I made peace now I just gotta keep it up—”

 

Tobin’s rambling was cut off by a chaste kiss pressed to her jaw, and Christen’s arm sling across her shoulders. 

 

“You’re cute when you're rambling but I don’t want to lose track of your mom.” Christen giggles, holding Tobin’s hand while catching up to the beautiful hill Cindy had climbed to overlook the waterfront. 

 

“Isn’t it beautiful?!” She calls out, her hands wrapped around her mouth to make her voice echo. Tobin and Christen come bounding up together, grinning at the sight. 

 

“Thought you’d like it, Momma.” Tobin comments, squatting down and pulling a book from her backpack. “This is prime real estate on this trail, pitch a blanket and quick!” 

 

Tobin was right about the location of the grassy hill being a prime location. She could see the shops on the waterfront, but also the water and each way it came and left, and then the ‘woods’ to her back. Dozens of folks were coming along the trail as the sun started to move through the clouds, promising a chance of sun before the rain. 

 

Tobin pulled out a book and settled on her blanket, leaning back to lay in Christen’s lap. Cindy had her readers and a leather-bound journal to write in. 

 

As the morning grew to early afternoon Tobin fell asleep across Christen’s knees, snoring softly into the book covering her face while the breeze tickled her nose. 

 

“She’s out again huh? Like a light, bless her heart.” Cindy commented, noticing her daughter. She paused in her journaling, blinking those same sweet brown eyes before speaking again. “Do ya think she’s still hurting?” 

 

Christen turned her head to glance at Tobin’s mother, her eyes wide as the words to say fumbled around in her head. 

 

“I think...we’re always hurting. The other night was just a step for Tobin. I mean isn’t that how your God works anyway? She’ll always be of service to Him. And rebuilding what she broke.” She said, absently stroking Tobin’s long honey brown hair. Cindy couldn’t disagree with that, watching the tender touch Christen used. 

 

“Sure is. It sure is. I hope there’s at least some light for you today Christen.” 

 

Christen smiles at Cindy’s gentle words, closing her eyes to feel the warmth of the sunlight on her face. 

 

“There is. I always feel connected to her when I’m in nature, I guess…” She replies while pressing her toes down in her running shoes, trying to ground herself into the earth. “I mean that’s where my mom’s spirit is now, in the trees and the sunlight that feeds the plants to create more life.” 

 

Cindy’s eyes watered as she took in the strength of Christen’s words. They may believe two different things but the sentiment stayed the same—that Stacy, wherever she ended up, was most certainly in a state of peace. 

 

And that peace was felt through the breeze that skimmed off the top of the lake, the birds chirping, geese honking, and the squirrels digging for seed. Nature was shining today, showing off in a way that told Christen her mother was here. 

 

The afternoon passed quickly as the two kept up their hobbies of writing and reading. Tobin, on the other hand, dozed for quite a while, but neither woman had the heart to wake her up again after what clear poor sleep she had the night before. She eventually woke up rubbing at her eyes. 

 

“Morning sleepyhead,” Christen chuckled as she pressed a kiss to Tobin’s forehead. The brunette grumbled, blinking in the harsh sunlight. Christen leaned down to scramble through their bags for Tobin’s sunglasses.

 

“Thanks,” Tobin yawns as she pulls the sunglasses on, sitting up to take in the world around her. She rubs under the glasses, getting her contacts back into place before standing up to stretch out. Sleeping in the kitchen chair did no favors to her back last night, and now sleeping half elevated on Christen’s lap and the cold hard ground had not made that situation any better.

 

“You know Tobes you’re not going to be able to sleep tonight because of this. So this sleep cycle is still going to be messed up.” Cindy chastised as she stood up to stretch. Tobin sighed immediately knowing her mother was right and still disliked it. 

 

“I know. I shouldn’t have,” She agreed with no ifs or buts about it. There was no use defending herself against an honest statement. 

 

“She has time to fix it,” Christen reassures Cindy as she rubs Tobin’s back softly, knowing the girl was struggling. The older woman hummed at the comment but remained quiet after that, leaving the two women to talk to each other. 

 

  •  

 

“Oh! Chris, look at this!” Tobin got up, stretching out her legs quickly before bolting to the river bed where she scooped up some pebbles to skip. 

 

“Pebble skipping? Are we five?” Christen chuckles as she follows her girlfriend to the water's edge. 

 

Tobin shakes her head at Christen’s comment and keeps her eyes focused on the ebbs and flows of the water. A particular motion caught her eye, swallowing in and out. 

 

“Come on, Chris just watch!” She replied animatedly, swinging her arm back to then flick one of the smoothed pebbles across the water. She continued the motion, adding a bit of flair to the flick so it spun and caught a few extra moments of air time before skipping along the water. 

 

Christen watched carefully, her green eyes focused on Tobin’s demeanor as she flicked each pebble. The older woman looked carefree. She wasn’t tensed up, even if her back was screaming at her to stop. It was an old memory tugging in her mind. One would even say Tobin looked more like she did as a child with that much joy. 

 

With that joy, Christen can not help but wonder about the stories that Cindy had told her about Tobin’s childhood. At that moment Christen could see the braces across her top teeth, bangs hanging down to her eyebrows, and her lanky limbs giving the illusion of height. She could hear the giggle from the older girl at the joyfulness that came from pebble skipping. 

 

“Tobes?” Christen asks, clasping Tobin’s hand I’m herself softly, feeling her suddenly release the pebbles.

 

“What’s going on Chris?” She replied to the younger girl, heat flooding her senses as confusion boiled up.

 

“Can we sit?”

 

Christen asks while Tobin gradually sinks down next to the bed of rocks on some grass. Tobin’s pebbles eventually sank to the bottom of the river while they spoke. Christen holds Tobin’s hand gently, rubbing the space between her thumb and index finger. 

 

“Your mom told me a story the other night,” Christen starts and Tobin’s cheeks immediately grow pink. 

 

“Oh no, please don’t tell me she told you the snapping turtle prank! Kelley and I never heard the end of it all summer after that,”

 

“No, it wasn’t...the snapping turtle story?” Christen chuckled, shaking her head at the older girl’s red face. Tobin covered her mouth with her hands, eyes downward. 

 

“I uh...go on with your story then,” Tobin mumbled out, refusing to actually tell the snapping turtle story. Christen bookmarked that in her mind to text Kelley about while Tobin's adorable chapped pouty lips stayed shut.

 

“Tobes, it was about the first time you ran away.” 

 

Tobin’s face falls and all of a sudden the redness across her face wasn’t from playful embarrassment anymore. It was sadness, anger, and frustration. God she wished she could just let that night fade away from her mind, her life as it is. But Tobin knows that night will always be a part of her story, and that’s what brings the tears to well in her brown eyes. 

 

“I’m sorry, that wasn’t—I didn’t want to upset you, baby,” Christen coos gently, reaching out for Tobin’s cheek. She cups it, her thumb rubbing the warm skin in soothing circles while she tries to blink away the tears. Tobin takes a deep breath in, trying to steady herself before speaking. She looks at the people around them who are oblivious to what’s happening. Little girls with pigtails caught up in their own world of playing pretend and little boys storming around and poking at bugs on the ground. Helicopter mothers tugging girls away from the waters edge and the relaxed ones watching their son stumble for the fifth time that afternoon, scraping his knee again. Not a soul looking over at the pair talking on that hill. 

 

“I don’t want pity.” She finally says quietly, brown eyes finally reaching Christen’s. “How much did my mom blab to you about?”

 

Christen’s brow raises at Tobin’s tone but she answers nevertheless. “You got caught kissing a girl at bible study and you ran away after the church tried to punish you, and you didn’t even listen to your parents. You came home the next day just like you did the other day.” 

 

Tobin scoffs, her brow going up at the abridged version of her story. Although she had to admit that the more to it version Cindy didn’t pry out of Tobin after—in fact, they never tried to make Tobin talk about it. 

 

“Well, she told most of it at least. So let’s start when I was 14 in the U-15 National team camp? I think? And Kelley is my roommate again. And she can’t stop telling me about how she wants to have her first kiss in high school that fall, so she finally won’t be left out of Erin and her friend’s convos. But Kelley is annoying and was left out on purpose by her sister.” She pauses to chuckle at the innocence they both once had, and Kelley’s desperate need to be liked by her sister. 

 

“But she kept saying about how it would mean something, and wanted to prove she liked girls. Because I dunno saying it wasn’t enough and we were both kinda unsure of ourselves,” Tobin starts to explain the story, rambling as she tries to tell it to the best of her memory. Some things were fuzzier than others as she tried to block out bad times in her life. Tobin never dwelled on the past, always moving to tomorrow. 

 

“And well she did it. Wouldn’t shut up about it honestly. And like I didn’t know why it made me feel weird. I was jealous but I didn’t know I wanted to kiss girls. And like the straight girls were always talking about boys and I just figured I was too focused on sports. So whatever right?” 

 

Christen’s nodding gently at this point, her body closer to Tobin’s and arms ready to take her if she needed her to. The brunette shudders, feeling like this might be too long-winded. 

 

“It’s okay to talk about it T,” Christen murmured across Tobin’s cheek, kissing her jaw. Her warm breath trickled across her nose in the chilly Portland air.

 

“One day it got under my skin, and I snapped at Kelley. I mean—” Tobin pauses you rub her hand on her thighs as she steadied herself. “Ok, so Kelley and I have obviously made up since then. Like, just please don’t judge me,”

 

“That’s not who I am Tobes, you know that. It’s okay to be afraid but I won’t hurt you, baby.” 

 

Tobin glances up at Christen’s warm eyes, seeing her empathy and her own worry etched through them. This story, whatever it was, Christen knew that it ate at Tobin. It was far more complex than Cindy could have ever explained. 

 

“I told her no one cares about her fooling around when she’s going to hell because of it—and fuck I’m not proud of that,” Tobin’s face screwed up in disgust at her own self as she repeated the words that hurt her during her youth in a whisper. “Kelley didn’t talk to me for the rest of the camp beyond hand signals & ball calls. You know when you room with Kel, how loud it gets? How chill and fun she is? Gone. Silence. All week every week. And it was my fault!”

 

Tobin broke on the last word, her lower lip trembling as she let a few tears fall down her face. Christen wipes them away with her thumb while her stomach churns. She was frustrated at a younger Tobin, for hurting Kelley—dearest Kelley their best friend like this. 

 

“How do you make that up?” Christen asked quietly as she slid an arm around Tobin’s middle. She has to remain in this moment, in what has transpired since. Kelley made up with the older girl and she knew that her intention was not out of malice. Christen’s quite sure the freckled defender forgave Tobin the moment she knew she was queer as well. But she listened on, letting Tobin tell the story. 

 

“It was a long process. I had broken Kelley’s trust and hurt her, all because I was jealous of her and I didn’t have the tools to figure it out yet.” Tobin mumbled, starting to dig the tip of her shoe into the dirt on the hill. Her skin was crawling with the memories, her own shame bubbling up. “We didn’t talk that summer and I came home and I started spending a lot more time at church. It was where I had learned that saying from others during the study and after all of this is when I started studying on my own more. I didn’t need leadership from anyone but God himself. I still go to holiday services, and you know my place up here is queer affirming, but I had thrown myself into a bad space.” 

 

Christen was speechless at the amount of courage her girlfriend had, airing her life out for her like that when she was still clearly battling the effects of it on her. She rubs Tobin’s thigh with her thumb and index, making soft circles in the firm skin. 

 

“Your body was protecting itself.” She says quietly to Tobin’s disbelief. Though she shouldn’t be surprised her girlfriend studied psych and wanted to show it this way. 

 

“Protecting from what?” Tobin asked incredulously, scoffing at her girlfriend. “I kissed a girl in the closet of our bible study room and got caught. And I had no idea how my parents would react so I just ran. That night I slept at HAO’s, that’s where I was. I knew her from PDA training and she said that if I ever needed her she was there. She talked me down, and I came out to her, and even told her about the Kelley story.”

 

Christen hummed attentively, pushing strands of hair behind Tobin’s ear. Her warm hand lingered, trailing down her cheek to her jaw. “Protecting you from yourself.” She says as she gazes along the river. “I think what you said to Kelley you were worried about in yourself. I don’t have a connection to Him or any of that and I respect yours obviously Tobes but you worried about not getting into heaven right?”

 

“More than you’d want to know,” Tobin replies meekly with her head hung low. “There’s not a lot to explain with that.” She mumbles as the wind rips between them. Christen knew that the topic would come up, knowing the struggle it is to many queer Christians. 

 

“I think that your heaven looks a lot different than mine but I know one thing and that whatever—no whoever runs this universe doesn’t discriminate. The God that you’ve taught me about is kind and loving, he sees you for who you are and doesn’t judge that. Your God is good, unconditionally.” Christen speaks candidly, taking a deep breath in and holding Tobin as she lets the words sink into herself. 

 

The brunette wishes that these were words her teen self could have taken to heart then and prevented her years of heartache and hurt. But she also knows that she grew immensely during that time period. HAO had talked her down and read Bible excerpts with her to calm her down and feel connected. HAO promised that God loves her. And that was what she needed at the moment. Tobin runs her hand along Christen’s arm, humming quietly in the peaceful afternoon air. 

 

“You have no idea how much you mean to me Chris, and I know you think you do. But I don’t know if it’s possible to put it into words.”

 

Christen smiles at Tobin’s beaming face, kissing her softly.

 

“I don’t think words define much of anything at all.”

 

*

They ended up back home from the day trip by late afternoon. Cindy offered to make roast chicken with sweet potato for dinner, allowing the two girls to wash up and spend some time alone.

 

Tobin hangs back as Christen goes to start her shower. She sits at the kitchen island, snacking on a grape while Cindy shuffles through the kitchen to prep her meal. 

 

“Tob, go wash up. You were rolling around in the grass today. Go--shoo,” Cindy says as she starts to chop the vegetables up. Tobin looks up, swallowing her grape. 

 

“So Chris and I talked about my first kiss today, and Mom I just want to know why?” Tobin asked carefully as she licked the sweet juice of the fruit off her lips. Cindy sets down the knife, looking across at her daughter with darkened eyes. 

 

“Tobin.” Cindy starts in a chastising tone, shaking her head. “You ran away for the second time in your life and your girlfriend had no idea you were returning. So I told her some things. I can’t believe you two haven’t spoken about that before.”

 

“Mom, it's not like hi nice to meet you here’s my horrible teenage experience? I mean I would have told her eventually,” Tobin replied, her lower lip pouting. She really didn’t like that her mother had spoken about her experiences to her girlfriend without asking her first but she also knew she had created the situation in the first place. 

 

“Listen, Christen was a darling about it all. She really loves you, and I trust her. I knew she would care, and wouldn’t be afraid of it.” Cindy said as she went back to chopping onions, slicing through with ease. Tobin stood up from the counter, running her hand through her hair. 

 

“This means I’m going to have to tell her about dad, and then everything with Katie, and then it will just keep going.” The brunette sighed at the prospect of having to dig up her dark moments again. She knows she has to eventually, and it’s good to be honest but sometimes it hurts and Tobin doesn’t know if she can handle the hurt. Especially not while Christen is still nursing a raw wound from her Mother’s death. She shudders and thinks about the stories of her father she will eventually have to tell. Flinches as she turns on her heel, mind caught up in memories too harsh to bear. 

 

She passes a photo of herself at Katie’s wedding framed on the end table of her hallway and her heart falls for what feels like the hundredth time that day. She loves Katie, that’s why she keeps it up to remind her of her sister but every now and then it’s a painful reminder of a time where she wasn’t out and still hid herself from her own family. 

 

Tobin still heads to shower still, knowing that she mostly missed her chance to join Christen. She peeled off her sweatshirt, stepping out of her jeans and walking into her ensuite bathroom to see her girlfriend humming along while conditioning her hair. 

 

“Hi baby,” Christen smiles, opening the sliding door for her. “Water is still hot.”

 

“Think it's cause you’re in it,” Tobin chuckles, scrunching up her nose at her own teasing as she heads into the warm steam. Christen lathers up Tobin’s tanned skin with their almond body wash, pressing kisses against her neck. Tobin sighs out at the warm sensation, her hands running through Christen’s hair as the water flows through her curls. 

 

“Do we have time,” Christen pants, her lips crashing against Tobin’s under the water. Tobin steps back, wishing that she could. She desperately wants Christen, but knows her mind is too crowded to give all of herself to Christen. 

 

“Dinner is almost prepped, we shouldn’t be late.” Tobin says as she starts to wash her own hair. Christen makes a noise of frustration, moving to rinse her hair. Tobin groans, knowing that Christen is annoyed with her. “If we leave my mom at dinner alone she might be upset.” 

 

Christen can’t argue with that logic, rinsing her hair once more before stepping out. Her eyes glance back over at Tobin as she heads out, eyeing the conditioner the brunette held. 

 

“Glad to see you finally know how to use it,” She comments while walking through the door and Tobin shakes her head. Christen was not impressed when she said she didn’t condition her hair, and made it her life’s purpose to get Tobin’s hair as healthy as possible. 

 

Christen steps into the kitchen to the aroma of warm roasted chicken and herbs, and Cindy chopping now for a mixed salad. 

 

“Smells delicious,” She comments, taking a deep breath and going to grab dishes to set the table. Cindy smiles at the younger girl, taking kindly to her manners. Christen Press never had to be asked to help others, that’s for sure.

 

Cindy resumes chopping, one hand over the knife as she presses down into a fresh hard carrot and then it skids. Christen hears a low swear leave the elder woman’s mouth and it’s then she knows something is wrong. She turns to see the bright red blood splattered across the white cutting board and Cindy stepping back to the sink as she sees the wound expand. 

 

“Cindy?! Are you okay?” Christen asks as she sets the stack of bowls on the table, rushing to the side of the sink to turn on the water for rinsing the cut. 

 

“I’ll be alright dear, it’s just a bit of a big nick,” Cindy replies, biting her lip at the stinging feeling the warm water brought to her palm. Christen smiled softly to herself as Cindy’s kind brown eyes scrunched up—she could see little details of Tobin and it warmed her heart. 

 

“Let me go to the bathroom and see if we have gauze. Just keep putting pressure on and rinsing it.” Christen adds calmly, trying not to feel sick at the sight of all the blood. She was never great with injuries. She heads towards their bathroom only to run into Tobin at the hallway. 

 

“You missed me that much babe?” Tobin cheesed as she leaned against the wall. 

 

“Your mom cut herself chopping for a salad. And I’m getting the gauze and first aid kit.” Christen says quickly, her eyes darting around her as she takes a deep breath. 

 

“Got it!” Tobin speeds down the hall to the kitchen and her mother. She runs to her side, hugging gently and watching the blood flow through the paper towel now clasped around her mother’s hand.

 

“It looks worse than it feels pumpkin, don’t worry. Chicken will be out in 5 can you grab that for me?” Cindy says as she strokes her daughter's hair with her one good hand. Tobin nods, tucking a strand behind her ear before getting up to watch the oven.

 

Christen returns in a few moments with a first aid kit in her hands. She sets it on the table then takes a look inside at the measly offering. Tobin’s cheeks turn hot as she realizes just how empty the first aid kit was. Athletes run through more bandaids than you’d think. 

 

“Okay we got gauze, anti bacterial wipes, and some medical tape. Should be good to go.” Christen says as she holds up a bunch of the products. She helps lead Cindy back to the sink where they rinse her palm softly. “This might sting,” She adds while she wipes down the cut with a wipe and then unfolds the gauze. Cindy grimances with Tobin holding her other hand. Christen wraps the gauze around gently, securing it with medical tape. She’s reminded of her own injuries as a child, scraping her knees and cutting herself on rose thorns in the garden and her mother fixing them up gently. She was supposed to grow up and be able to take care of her mother like that.

 

“Well don’t we have a little nurse in the room, thank you, Christen. I’m impressed by your hard working soul.” Cindy complements her as Tobin pulls out the chicken. Christen blushes, shaking her head no at the proposition.

 

“I am certainly not a nurse by any means. Blood really makes me queasy but I’m always fixing up Tobin’s bloody knees.” She rolls her eyes, giving Tobin a pointed look to which she just shrugs sheepishly. 

 

“Providence turf isn’t really forgiving…” 

 

Cindy chuckles at the pair of them and moves to sit down while Tobin begins to prepare their plates. Together they eat, watching out for Cindy’s gauze bandage and then decide to turn in for the night. 

 

Missed Call : Big Daddy 

Unread text from: Big Daddy

“Mo, I think that Ty is right. You should go to Chan, you have time and it could be good 4 u. We miss you. If you can come home, you should.”

Chapter Text

They wanted her away from the only source of comfort she had.

 

That’s what was whirring through Christen’s brain as she tried to make sense of her father’s texts the next morning. Tobin had gone to her studio early that morning, saying she was going to grab coffee with Lindsey & maybe do some drills after. Which left Christen with Cindy for the morning, not like either minded much.

 

Christen took a bite of her cereal, scowling at her phone once again. Her father really wanted her to go coddle her little sister or better yet have Channing coddle her. 

 

It wasn’t like the idea hadn’t crossed her mind but things in a Portland had a routine, and if there’s one thing Christen knows about herself and about mental health is that you don’t fuck with routines. You shape them gently, and allow this here or there. You account for others wanting to push themselves in here or there but this—

 

was bigger than a schedule change of dinner at 8 instead of 6 because someone is running late. 

 

Going to Channing would just be a complaint about how Tyler is hiding her struggles and she would have to go visit Tyler and that would lead of course to her father which Christen dreaded. She loved her father, dearly, but the wreck he has been reduced to since Stacy’s passing could be hard to bear. And Christen? She doesn’t want to see her father like this nor could she stand not being the strongest in the room for him. 

 

She doesn’t need to see the food from the neighbors down the hill spoiling in his fridge while he orders out and only runs to the store for beer. She doesn’t need to see Morena nudging his hand for a walk she hasn’t had in weeks, him opting to take her to the backyard instead. 

 

She doesn’t need to see the photos of her mom lining the walls—

 

“Are you okay sweetheart?” Cindy breaks Christen out of her own mind prison. She blinks, looks up and realizes that her cheeks are wet. She’s crying. 

 

“Oh I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to,” Christen fumbles, trying to wipe away the tears. Cindy hands her a tissue, and sits beside her. 

 

“Do you wanna talk about it?” Cindy asks, leaning over to place a hand on her shoulder. Christen gives a shaky sigh. 

 

“It’s stupid really. I’m honestly being a brat about it and I hate that…”’ She reveals slowly, taking a breath in. “My dad wants me to visit my sister in Denver and stay with her for a while. I’d have to take some more time off of my club but honestly I shouldn’t be playing right now and I know that. But what I also know is Channing would want me to check in with Tyler who loves to act looks nothing like is wrong, and that would lead me back to LA and then I have to see my dad…and I just—” 

 

Cindy runs her hand up and down Christen’s back soothingly like she was her own child. She hums in acknowledgment, knowing that Christen was facing a tough decision. 

 

“Your family is hurting and so are you, there’s no right answer to this Christen.” Cindy says, letting the younger woman lean into her. “It breaks my heart to know Cody is suffering, it really does. I don’t judge you for not wanting to go if that’s your feeling about it. We don’t judge in my household. Romans verses are something that Tobin reminded us of, and it’s important. Your choices are your own, who am I to make judgement on them?” 

 

Christen looks up at the elderly woman, seeing the kindness and strength in her warm brown eyes and her heart is still sinking and hurting but she feels a little lighter. She knows that her choice can’t be rushed. 

 

“Am I interrupting somethin’ Momma?” Christen turns her head at the sound of Tobin’s drawl, watching the brunette enter the room carrying something behind her back. Cindy cranes her neck, and slowly lets go of Christen. She shakes her head with a smile. 

 

“Don’t think so Pumpkin let me get out of your way,” Cindy says as she stands up, going to put the kettle on for some tea. 

 

“Tobin what’s going on?” Christen asks immediately, noticing the hand behind her back. The brunette shys away, rubbing the back of her neck with the other hand. 

 

“Um well I didn’t think I would be doing it this way but uh—Chris I know how important this was so I did something…” Tobin stutters, a bit unsure how to explain herself and her thought process behind this. She holds out the canvas she had been holding behind her back for Christen to see, watching her girlfriend’s face light up in recognition. 

 

It was beautiful. A 8x5 canvas splash painted in a marbled baby pink and white, with the shards from her mother’s broken mug glued and covered in varnish and a healthy dose of mod podge against the canvas. Tobin had outlined each piece in thin gold, and painted lilies along the outer edge of the mug fragments. 

 

“I can't believe you did this,” Christen’s eyes water as she gets out of her chair to hold the canvas. She trails her fingertips along the mug, Tobin had buffered away the sharp edges before placing them. “I don’t know what to say Tobin...it’s beautiful.” 

 

Cindy turns her head from where she was making tea and she smiles at the sight of her daughter being quite possibly the purest version of herself she’d ever seen. 

 

“I just knew how much it hurt that morning, and you deserve to keep a piece of her here with you in Portland.” Tobin says as she moves around the kitchen, trying to find a nail she had expertly hidden in the wall to hang this for when the time came. She places it above their sink in a tiny alcove made by the microwave above it. 

 

“I love it. Thank you Tobes,” Christen adds as she kisses her girlfriends cheek softly while trying not to cry at it. Perhaps what was hitting the hardest about this was how Christen longed to see her mother’s face light up while looking at it, and she knew that wasn’t an option. 

 

“Love you Chris,” Tobin murmured back, admiring her own work with her girlfriend on her shoulder. 

 

*

“Do you think I could play again, soon?” Christen asks later in the afternoon while Tobin showers after a grueling workout. She lays on the bed, the door to the en-suite bathroom open while Tobin whistles quietly during her shower. 

 

“Is that what’s on your mind?” Tobin asks in return, between whistles. Christen hears her grab the soap, and sigh at the relaxing feeling of the silky body wash. 

 

“I mean it’s been a few weeks. And I miss my team.” Christen offers up, hands crossing over her stomach as she lays on the back. Tobin hums in agreement, understanding her dilemma. 

 

“I miss my girls too. But I keep reminding myself it’s for our safety as a team that I’m taking it slow.” She says as she rinses her hair out. 

 

“I know…” Christen sighs, hearing the shower shut off. Her girlfriend walks into the room in just a towel, going to grab clothes from the drawers across the room. 

 

“You’re really cute when you’re deep in thought,” Tobin giggles, sliding herself into Christen’s lap and kissing her pouting lips. “You will come back when you’re ready and so will I,” She teases, hooking their pinkies together in a promise. 

 

“Look—Tobin,” Christen slowly tilts Tobin’s head up with a thumb under her chin. “My dad wants me to come home for a little while. I’m not sure what my decision is but I might spend a few days with Channing and go back to Utah for some training. I don’t know... I need to learn how to be okay and if I’m not okay to be alone?”

 

Tobin’s eyes meet Christen’s warmly and she presses her lips to hers longingly. “You need to make your choices. I don’t know if you’re ready but only you will know once you take that step.” 

 

Christen pulls back, biting her lip and holding her phone in her hand. “I love my dad but I just there’s something keeping me from going to him right now.” She admits in a small voice, feeling ashamed. Tobin cuddles in next to her on their bed, her head on her shoulder. 

 

“I mean I know that feeling. I would just blow off his text for weeks when my dad reached out after the divorce.” Tobin replied, shrugging. “I wasn’t mad at him, but I dunno I just couldn’t let him in. Not at that point in everything.”

 

Christen faces Tobin with an understanding face, clasping a hand over hers. “I’m really sorry you went through all of that.” 

 

“Oh it’s not...I mean the worst part was I couldn’t protect Jeff, and he was pretty much grown up almost.” Tobin shook her head, thinking back about how she felt when her parents announced their separation over thanksgiving dessert. She remembers almost throwing the pie up, anger spreading through her at the thought of their love being broken. After all the grief that her father had given her about God and sins, only to commit a cardinal sin.

 

“What do you mean you saw it coming Jeff?” Perry’s got a hand on her forehead, brows furrowed, and jaw locked into a pout at her little brother. Jeff jr sank himself into the couch even more, his playstation controller on his lap as his sisters interrogated him. 

 

“C’mon they’ve been fighting for months, it’s not that big—” 

 

“For months!?” Katie echoed, her brown eyes going to Tobin perched on the couch arm. Tobin shakes her head, scoffing. 

 

“I was busy packing for my call up last time I was here so sorry I didn’t pick up on any of that.” She says, hands up. It was only partially a lie. Tobin had certainly been packing for her call up but she also had heard her mother and father yelling late at night in the study—she had heard it many times before. But Katie did not need to know that. Perry starts pacing, muttering to herself. 

 

“I cant believe him! He’s such a son of a—”

 

“Perry! We don’t even know if that’s why…” Katie tries to steady her younger sister, grounding her. She wasn’t so confident about that herself but anything to keep Perry from pacing a hole in the carpet. The curly haired woman gave a barking laugh, rolling her eyes. 

 

“What the hell other reason would they divorce Katie? They don’t just fall out of love, no one does…” Perry argues, a brow cocked in Katie’s direction. 

 

Tobin sits on the arm of the couch, her eyes going down to her feet as she realizes what her sisters mean. They think that their father cheated. 

 

“What are you two gonna do about it anyway? It’s a lost cause. You can’t just try to make them get back together again.” Jeff says as he finally finds his voice in the matter. “They’ve been fighting off and on since a few years ago. Over what? I don’t know but Dad has been sleeping in his study off and on all week—and we all know he doesn’t have that much work to do.” 

 

Perry finally collapses between Jeff and Tobin, sighing at the reality of it all. “I just never thought that they would...I mean,” She murmurs quietly, tears in her eyes thinking about her parents. 

 

Tobin has a differing opinion, one that would just cause more pain to the other siblings so she stays mute. Maybe her father did cheat, recently? Or years ago. But one thing is for certain, the very one thing that she saw her parents get into an actual fight over with slamming doors and nights filled with whiskey was

 

herself. 

 

Katie was already out of the house by then, and once she got wind of it she assured Tobin no matter what, that she loved her. Perry sometimes woke up during the arguing, but just long enough to coax Tobin back to bed lest their parents see her eavesdropping. Jeff never paid much mind, too busy sleeping or playing video games. His bedroom was in the basement, so the thick walls and padded door made sure he never heard what the topic of the fight was. 

 

Tobin would sit perched on the balcony overhang at the foot of the stairs listening to her mother and father go back and forth for sometimes hours. Her father would pour another glass of whiskey, sometimes not even mixing it before taking a long swig. 

 

Tobin definitely knew why her parents finally broke.

 

“Tobes, I just don’t know if I should leave right now. After everything,” Christen breaths out, “I mean your mom came all this way to help me—”

 

“Us,” Tobin interrupted with a kiss to Christen’s temple, “She came to help us. If you need to take time with your family I get it. It can just be me and my mom. Besides I’m going to try to get back into practice soon. I know it’s quick but I want to show Mark that I am responsible, and that I can handle it.” 

 

Christen holds onto Tobin’s hands in her lap, and takes a steady breath. “You really can’t rush that babe. Listen, I know you want to prove you’re fine but are you? Really? Deep down inside? What about the National Team and Dawn’s therapy? You know she can get you started here—”

 

“This isn’t about me right now Chris, I need to own my actions. What’s upsetting you about me going back to practices? I made peace with Him, and I’m staying faithful to my prayers. There’s no reason I can’t at least go back to team training, and work with others. I’ve had my pain, and I’m still grieving but it’s time to put that energy into something, y’know?” Tobin pulls away slightly, feeling cornered by Christen trying to take pressure off of herself. The curly haired woman fiddles with her nails, fighting the urge to chew on them. 

 

“I don’t want you to be all fixed up while I’m still broken.” Christen says quietly, her bottom lip between her two front teeth quivering. “If you’re at practice, and you’re working well with others there’s just depressed me sitting here alone then. And if I go, I won’t have you at the end of the night even if I have a sibling with my father—I won’t have you.” 

 

Tobin blinks at the realization that falls into the pit of her stomach. Christen wouldn’t be just fixed in a snap of your fingers, and she didn’t understand that Tobin’s frustration was making her feel like she would never be normal again. She reaches out for Christen, pulling her to her chest in a moment of understanding. 

 

Christen buries her head in Tobin’s warm neck, letting tears fall down her cheeks. “Chris...I won’t leave.” She promises her with a kiss to her forehead and the stroke of a warm hand down her back.

 

“B-but you can’t hold yourself back if you need to go.” Christen mumbles, her words muffled through the fabric of Tobin’s sweatshirt. Tobin stays silent in response, humming in the back of her throat as she lets Christen feel what she needs to. 

 

Christen’s phone lights up with a call from her father, and the two women watch it pass. Christen hangs her head low, knowing she shouldn’t be ignoring her father’s attempts to talk. But she can’t bring herself to. And it hurts. Tobin frowns at the sight, not used to seeing Christen so distant from her family. She’s used to Cody making her laugh so hard her insides hurt and her sisters poking their nose in their business- rightfully so to make sure she was treating Christen right. 

 

“It’s because he expects the best from me no matter what.” Christen says softly, putting her phone on the nightstand. “I love my family so much but everything they have always wanted from me is the best and nothing short from it. He doesn’t understand that I can’t be making him each meal, and moving her ashes around and cleaning up because I’m also hurting. I’d be a burden if I went back to him.” She reveals to Tobin, getting up and searching in their closet for her yoga mat. 

 

“You’re not a burden Christen,” Tobin says firmly from the bedside, her voice so heavy Christen turns around to face her with questioning green eyes. “Don’t be pushing yourself down.” 

 

Christen sets the yoga mat down, and walks back to Tobin. She kisses her tenderly, a hand pushing her hair behind her ear. “I love you, I need to meditate on this though.” 

 

Tobin took the hint, getting out of bed. She threw Christen a shaka, smiling softly at her as she rolled out her mat. “Say no more.” 

 

  •  

 

“I can’t say I’m not happy to hear from you Tobes but it’s been a while,” 

 

Tobin immediately cringes at her father’s first line of response when she calls him. She’s embarrassed at her own self, and upset she doesn’t call him more frequently. She really would but as she realizes now she tends to have to psyche herself up to speak to him. It’s unfortunate but true. Things with her father have never been the same since...well everything

 

“Hi Dad. Sorry I haven’t been, work has just been a lot. As usual. I’ve been meaning to call and check in,” Tobin says as she fiddles with an eraser sitting on her desk. She flips it around, focusing on feeling the rubber grooves under her fingertips. 

 

“I know that, what’s with you getting injured again? Maybe it’s time to slow down Tobybear,” Jeff Sr says in response over the phone and it immediately makes Tobin sigh audibly. He has some nerve trying to be concerned for her and her body. 

 

“I’m not injured.” She states firmly, “I’m taking time off because of Christen’s grief absence from her own club. I- it’s complicated dad, but it’s fine. We just don’t like the public knowing that sort of stuff.” She explains, already feeling exasperated and tense. She can hear her father over the phone taking a breath. 

 

“Okay then Tobin...well things are okay out here. Devon has been bringing me fresh veggies every few weekends she can, her farm is doing great. My company is doing great, and I’m working at the office less and less. Honestly preparing to retire.” Jeff explains while fiddling with a pen on his desk in his office at home. 

 

The two were more alike than they thought, painting a parallel fidgeting mess on either side of the phone.

 

“I’m happy to hear that Dad. I really am.” Tobin says and she can’t understand why but she feels tense and she knows she’s being short with her father. The discussion with Christen earlier had brought up old memories for her but Tobin really believed she was over it. She had forgiven her father for what happened when she was a teen, and she had made such big progress with him. So why did she feel hurt still?

 

“So Perry told me that your mother flew out to see you, is that right?” Tobin hears the questioning tone in her father’s voice and she sighs for what feels like the hundredth time since she called. 

 

“Mom is here, because Christen and I were both struggling. That’s all. Grief is a lot, and we were so wrapped up in the Cup...Christen repressed a lot of feelings.” The brunette speaks firmly as she shifts the phone between her ear and shoulder while her left hand fiddles with a pen this time. 

 

“Well it’s good she has a support system in you two. What about Cody, why isn’t she there with him?” 

 

And there it is. 

 

Tobin was expecting it sooner. An innocent question with a much darker connotation behind it. Why isn’t Christen going home for her family to pick up her pieces. Like she’s a friend on an extended vacation. She should be dealing with her own issues rather than having Tobin involved. 

 

“I’m closer to Utah, for when she comes back to training. It’s all planned out, Cody is doing okay, Tyler is right there. And Channing checks up as often as she can. We’re all doing the best we can, Dad.” Tobin reminds him gently, trying to hold the snap out of her tone. 

 

Jeff grunts in acknowledgment, knowing that he pushed a little further with Tobin than he should have. He rubs the back of his neck and switches the position of his cell. “I ought to let you get back to things out there with everything. Tell Cindy I miss her, and try not to overextend yourself Tobin.” 

 

Christen comes back into the bedroom as Tobin finishes off the call, dropping the phone with a disgruntled sigh while she rolls up the yoga mat. 

 

“Tough crowd huh?” She teased, hoping to get Tobin to at least crack a small smile but the brunette just gets out of bed, rubbing her temple. She slips on her tennis shoes, double checking the triple knot that she hasn’t undone in months. 

 

“I’m um- going on a jog. Be back in 20?” Tobin mumbles at the foot of her door, zipping up a jacket and shoving her phone into her pocket. Christen reaches out for her, squeezing her hand gently. 


“Talk to me when you come back.” She says, and she means it. This is a moment of confidence and trust between the two of them. Christen is worried at Tobin’s frustrated behavior that she might be running off again, but she wants to trust the woman and respect her emotions. Tobin is trusting that Christen will let her have space. 

 

Christen thinks more about her father now and how much he probably needs her. Cody was sensitive, and she had always seen that from him. He never shied away from expressing his feelings around his children. Often leading him to moments of openly weeping in front of the television or at games. She thinks about the last time she saw him on the long weekend after the ESPYs. He tried to hold himself together for her- for Tobin even though he should know better by now. Tobin is practically family, there is no need for a front when it comes to her. 

 

His eyes wouldn’t reach his smile, and the smiles were less and less Christen remembers. Maybe he had been worse off than she thought. She thinks about what Tyler said when she expressed that she was worried. 

 

Sometimes adults have to reach out themselves Mo, you can’t smother him. You have to let him reach for you. He will never be who he was before she was gone, I think we all won’t be. But it’s about letting him ask for the help. You can’t be everyone’s superhero Christen.” 

 

Tyler was right. She did play superhero, and she badly wanted to for her father. Learning to step back hurt Christen a lot. But it also protected what was most vulnerable about herself, her heart. 

 

  •  

 

Tobin returns in about 20 minutes, sweaty from an actual jog and not just listless wandering. She knows she just defeated the purpose of her earlier shower, but she couldn’t shake the feeling talking to her father had. Christen looked up from the couch as she returned, playing a game of cards with Cindy. 

 

“There you are Tobes!” Cindy greets her with a smile, and Tobin can't help but collapse in her arms. Just like she did as a kid. When the world was too much and she felt it all. 

 

Tobin was Cindy’s most clingy, most sensitive child after all. 

 

She replayed so many things in her brain during that walk, but one memory in particular hit her harder than the rest while she took in the sight of Portland after a fresh summer rain. 

 

“I don’t see why we can’t do every other month Jeffery?! Can you think about it for their sake, it’s too much to move every week between houses.” Tobin hears her mom and her dad fighting for the upteenth time that summer in the study of their Rhode Island timeshare. 

 

“That’s ridiculous, they don’t need to be with one of each other all the time. They have their things at my place and they’ll have things at yours. It’s just Jeff and Tobin really, honey.” Tobin heard her father argue in response, talking about dividing time up between the two of them for the kids. 

 

It was the summer before senior year, and Tobin had just returned from a trip to NYC to see Katie with Perry. Perry was in between her last year at Georgetown and considering getting an apartment not far from Katie’s just across Brooklyn. Which meant that the house was pretty much down to two Heath children left. 

 

“Right. Jeff jr and Tobin. That’s two of ‘em and there’s two of us—”

 

“I’m stopping you right there. I am not splitting up custody between my two children because you have an intolerance problem! She is our child, Jeffrey.” Tobin hears her mother’s voice lower and she can almost feel the anger in it. She feels her own anger clenching and clutching at her gut. Her father simply didn't want her anymore. He was throwing a tantrum as if the toy he purchased was defective.

 

Tobin tries to comprehend how a man can agree to raise a child for 17 years then turn his back on her the moment she doesn’t fall in line with his plans for her. The years of soccer at the YMCA, ODP, and the boys league. The days where she would come home covered in sweat and rain, frustrated that the boys team she played with refused to listen to her on the pitch. They would stubbornly act like they couldn’t hear her asking for a pass, losing a scrimmage all because they felt inferior. Coach loved having Tobin there, trying to test her skills and better her. 

 

Her father would welcome her home with a hug and a talk about knowing how much you can handle. They would spend the night watching old tapes and games from the 90s, just the two of them. He would never stop supporting her future. 

 

And then she got caught kissing the girl in church. Things were never the same after that. Her mother tried to come to terms, and understand her. She was disappointed that she ran away but her father was furious. Angry that she ran away, angry about why she did in the first place. 

 

“And I don’t even know her anymore! Getting busted with another girl? In our church?! It’s been embarrassing ever since I’ve had to set foot there again!” Tobin hears her father make a drunken exclamation and swears she can hear the rattle of the ice cubes in his glass of whiskey. She blinked back tears, not wanting to listen anymore but knowing she has to. If she wants to know how her father thinks of her, then she has to. 

 

“This is the daughter that you have raised, whether you want to admit it or not. She’s a child still, forget about her going to college next year. She deserves to be heard. She’s not a lost cause you know, God loves his sinners too.” 

 

Nights like these have become too far common to Tobin, and she desperately wishes it wasn’t. On the outside her family seems put together so well, like one of the shiny medals adorning their living room wall. They have photos from the dozens of country club days Tobin swears she’s been at since birth. Their crisp polo tees and dark summer tans. Plaques of Tobin’s achievements. Katie and Perry’s highschool degrees, framed. Jeffrey Jr’s award winning photography prints framed next to the table. And a cross on their wall. So neat. So clean. And so much of a front.

 

For as much as these people loved Tobin, they also couldn’t fathom accepting her sexuality. They weren’t bigots about it, at the very least. But they weren’t welcoming. Standoffish. Aloof. Her parents marriage was coincidentally falling apart after discovering she was gay. Her sisters tried to accept it, they lived in NYC for crying out loud but Tobin was met with a stubborn questioning of phases and growing out of it. Katie even tried setting her up on a date with one of her coworkers son’s while she was there. It went so horribly Tobin ended up paying for both meals, because she didn’t think she was worth being paid for by someone else. Pitiful. 

 

That night in Rhode Island her father walked out. Tobin had fallen asleep at her post on the staircase, wearing herself out from crying and fear. She hears the door of the study open, smells the whiskey wafting from the room. It startles her awake, she moves slowly to hide herself back in the shadows of the hallway. Her father downs his glass of whiskey, setting the glass on the living room table. He glances up at her with a grimace, from the whiskey or towards her Tobin would never truly know, and walks out of the house with a duffle bag in hand. 

 

Tobin’s mother would tell her that her father simply needed a break and to focus on his business so he went home early from their summer vacation. What she was too naive enough to realize was he gathered his things to leave the house, and in just a few short months they would announce their pending divorce. 

 

“What’s going on in that head of yours pumpkin?” Cindy asks as she feels her daughter’s warm embrace. Tobin burrowed herself into the couch cushion and her mother’s shoulder, shaking her head. 

 

“I talked to dad on the phone a little while ago. I shouldn’t be like this, it’s been so many years. We reconnected, he came to my games. So why do I get so upset?” Tobin asks with a stubborn set jaw and darkened eyes. She doesn’t want to cry at this. It’s more of a growing anger if anything.

 

Christen moves up slowly from their lounge chair and sits by Tobin’s side. Her hands drop to her thigh, tracing patterns in the muscular skin. She can tell her girlfriend is frustrated. Gently she kneads, knowing that Tobin calms under her touch. Her jaw loosens from its vice grip, her hands unclenching. Christen kisses her shoulder, peppering her skin with soft touches of comfort. 

 

“Does Christen know? About your father Tobes?” Cindy asks as she shifts so that Tobin’s weight leaned on Christen instead. Tobin’s lower lip wobbles and she responds sullenly with a “not exactly” that lets Cindy know she’s been keeping it a secret. 

 

“What do you mean about reconnecting? Tobin, what’s going on here? I can’t help you if I don’t know.” Christen urges her girlfriend to speak up, her hand stroking her warm cheek and feeling the weathered skin. She hums, not wanting to push or pressure Tobin while she waits for a response. It was clearly weighing on her. 

 

“He’s never been exactly accepting of me. I called him because of our talk and ‘cause you’re upset with your own dad, who you love and adore but he can expect a lot out of you. And I knew I shouldn’t have. But we spoke and he just...he didn’t say anything wrong but I could tell he’s still not sold on m-my lifestyle.” Tobin takes her time speaking, pausing to take breaths and actually speak what’s on her mind. She’s a little scared to be speaking candidly like this in front of her own mother, who she knows had her own issues with her sexuality. But this was something Christen had to hear.

 

Cindy mutters under her breath, shaking her head with her own frustration at Jeff. She doesn’t despise him, never could for they were in love once upon a time. She happily sends him Christmas cards and asks for updates of her nieces and nephews from his side of the family but beyond that they hardly spoke. She’s disappointed in how he has hurt their daughter so much that she is still unsure of his support of her. 

 

Christen takes a deep breath, pulling Tobin into her chest and trailing fingers through her hair, massaging her scalp gently to calm her down. She doesn’t really know what to say here, what would make Tobin feel better. Suddenly she feels very ashamed of her own issue with her father, even though she knows that wasn’t Tobin’s intention. Her parents accepted her as soon as she told them, it never felt strained but Christen knew it was too good to be true sometimes. Her family while never judgemental could be a lot to handle with smothering and wanting to know everything about her girlfriends and boyfriends. They were nosy. A stark contrast to Tobin’s conseravtive family where they’d rather say grace before dinner than make a joke about getting hot and heavy the night before. 

 

“I’m sorry baby, why haven’t you told me-- he was so kind during the world cup I didn’t know--” Christen says. She kisses the crown of Tobin’s head, hands still working through her knots softly.

 

“You wouldn’t ever know. He’s not...loud or angry about it. Not anymore. We came to terms a long time ago but it's hard. I spent so many years thinking he hated me.” Tobin pulls out of Christen’s embrace, rubbing at her nose with the back of her hand. Cindy nudges her and shoves a tissue in her hand. Tobin takes it and sighs. 

 

“He never hated you Tobes. Never did. Not once. We may have split but I know my Jeff.” Cindy remarks as she walks into the kitchen, prepping dinner for them. Tobin blinks, wishing her mother’s words could assure her of that. She thinks back to one of their first meals after she came home from Heather’s. She shakes her head as if to will the memory out of her mind, not wanting to hear the anger from her father that kept on repeating for roughly 5 years of her life since. 

 

They eat dinner with Christen promising that she could pay for the meals, the food was so good. Cindy merely smiles, her eyes crinkling at the good naturedness of Christen. She can see how the younger woman treats her daughter with grace, and respect. She lets her wallow, lets her breathe, but also holds her through it all. There’s a portion of her that wants to—no needs to have her daughter get a move on proposing before she may as well drop a hint to Christen to do it. And Cindy knows Christen would in a heartbeat. 

 

“So I think that I’ve made a decision about my dad.” Christen starts as she sips the glass of red wine after swallowing a taste of pasta. “I’m going to see him but I want all three of us there. I don’t think it’s fair for me to leave you, and I do not want to be stuck with my siblings for 2 weeks in Palos Verdes. We have the Manhattan beach house and it should actually be lived in one of these years.” 

 

Tobin swallows quickly as she takes in what Christen just said. Going to LA. With her mother in tow. To check in on Christen’s father. She takes a gulp of her own red wine, letting the dusky taste settle against her tongue. “You still have time to think about it Chris. But of course we can go. You’re right the beach house is probably gathering dust at this rate.” 

 

Cindy clears her throat, her warm eyes on Christen. “You’re such a kind soul Christen, really. I’m sure you get that all the time. But I think that this is where our paths part. I have a return ticket for a flight in two days, and I can’t waste that. I do send Cody the best, I’ll make sure to send you two off with some cookies I know he loves mine.” She dotes on Cody for a moment, fond memories of their first meeting at one of the Pali Blues games in LA. 

 

Christen reaches for Cindy’s hand, squeezing her palm. “It’s been wonderful having you here. Thank you Cindy, I’m sure my dad will appreciate it.” 

 

Tobin sips some more wine, her lower lip pouting. “Momma, do you really have to go?” She asks playfully with a whine, making Cindy roll her eyes at her 31 year old daughter. 

  •  

Cindy leaves that Friday, holding Tobin close before getting into her lyft. She tells her how much she loves her and makes her promise to call once a week, telling Christen to hold her to that promise. Sonny and Lindsey are outside of the complex watching the farewell take place as a lyft rolls up. 

 

“Thank you Mrs Heath, for how kind you’ve been.” Christen says hugging her future mother-in-law gently. Cindy feels like the embodiment of hugging sunshine, with warmth and belief.

 

“Christen, sweetie it’s Cindy. Always and forever now, I’m in your heart. None of that Mrs crap, I’m not even with Jeffrey anymore. No no, it’s Cindy, respectfully.” Cindy chided Christen playfully, but her brown eyes shone with understanding to the brunette. 

 

“Yes, thank you Cindy,” Christen murmured between Cindy’s shoulders as she scooped her up in a huge hug once more. Tobin stands back with her hands in her pockets. She knew this day would come eventually where her mom found that the world needed her touch. She can’t help the melancholy twisting in her guts. 

 

Cindy turns to her daughter, arms open. “Tobes, I’m proud of you. Love ya, loads. I know things were tough, but may His blessings rain on you.” She presses a kiss to her forehead, feeling her daughters arms around her. 

 

“I think I needed this more than I knew. Love you. Text me when you board, and land.” Tobin replies, stepping back to wave her mom off to the lyft. 

 

“Oh damn is she leaving? I wanted her lemon bar recipe!” Sonny says loudly as she jogs down the stairs to the building complex. Lindsey sighs loudly next to her, reminding the dirty blonde that she is in fact on a fitness run and diet that lemon bars do not support. 

 

“She’s gone. Yo, Linds you mind watering our plants while we head to LA?” Lindsey looks up at Tobin’s request and nods quickly. 

 

“I love your little plant family Tobes, of course!” She replied with a teasing smile. Tobin lets her cheeks blush for a moment before she resumes her ‘stern’ voice with Lindsey, and Sonny (mostly Sonny). 

 

“No touching our food. We’re leaving on Sunday for 2 weeks. Water my plants, and scram.”

 

“Tobes, what about like if food goes bad should we just leave it for you or—”

 

“What do you think, Sonnett?”

 

“That’s why I’m asking,” 

 

“Emily if we return to moldy food we’ll be annoyed but not more annoyed than if you touch our booze.” 

 

Christen smiles as she scoops Tobin’s arm in hers, and heads upstairs to pack for what will certainly be an exciting LA trip. 

Chapter Text

“It’s not...the worst…” 

 

Christen closes her eyes as she takes in a deep breath while her sister talks about what they’re going to discover upon walking into the Press house. Tyler had picked her and Tobin up from LAX and driven them to the beach house to drop off their luggage before taking them back to Christen’s father’s house. 

 

“Ty that’s not promising either. I’m just worrying, that's all. When is Channing flying in again? Did she confirm that she got a ticket yet?” Christen asks as they turn onto the exit ramp from the 10 to PV. Tyler hums, thinking about it. “I can buy her a ticket if she needs she just has to ask—”

 

“She’s coming on Wednesday. Mo, you know she won’t take your money. Or Tobin’s for that matter.” Tyler shuts Tobin’s mouth before it even fully opens regarding the situation. 

 

Last year Channing left her practice in Denver to become a stay at home nurse for their ailing mother. It was costly, losing her apartment and with no regular income. Her fiancé stayed with her at the house, getting a local grocery job to support somewhat while working on his music career in LA. Channing was lucky if she received 50 dollars for an online class attendee, and there was no way she could do her yogi work in CA with licenses for CO and Stacy taking all her attention. She has since returned to her previous workspace and moved into a smaller more affordable apartment complex with her fiancé.

 

“Just don’t tell him that he looks like shit.” Tyler reminds them as they make their way up to the gleaming glass front door. She slowly turns the knob, and that’s when it registers for Christen how much has changed in her decades spent in this home. 

 

They walk quietly into the hall connecting the open den to the living room where Cody lay snoring with a 1992 dated football game playing on the tv. Tobin decides to pull their luggage upstairs, leaving the two women with their father. 

 

“Think we should wake him?” Christen asks in a whisper as she rummages through the almost bare kitchen. Tyler tsks at her but then sighs, nodding. It was almost dinner time anyway and Tyler was planning on making one of Stacy’s favorite chicken recipes. If he didn’t eat with them he would probably go without the meal. 

 

Christen walks to the side of the couch as pain blossoms in her heart. Cody Press was not known for being a small man. He played college football, he was a quarterback all broad shoulders and muscle. But that wasn’t the case for this graying, bearded, tucked in aging man. The exhaustion etched up and down Cody’s face as he slept, causing Christen to physically take a breath to ground herself. 

 

“Dad? It’s almost dinner time,” She said gently but firmly while tapping on his shoulder. 

 

Cody thought he woke up to a simpler time, one of the youth of his children but Christen’s very thoroughly adult face took that away real quick. He sits up, blinking groggily at the sight before him. “Mo?” He asks softly, still confused at the sight. 

 

“Tyler drove Tobes and me here. We’re gonna stay for a few days then head to the beach house as we talked about.” Christen replies while Cody sits himself up. He pulls Christen in softly for a hug, kissing her forehead. 

 

“My little Mo, we’ve missed you.” He says as he pulls himself up to walk towards the kitchen where Tyler was prepping some leftovers to go with the chicken. Christen follows gently watching her father's slow footsteps and sees how her mother's death has aged him almost ten years. They had her and her siblings young, just out of Howard together. 

 

Tyler turns and gestures for them to sit. “Dinner is on me tonight. Sit and it’ll be ready soon.” She says. Christen can’t help but think about how their mother used to do the same thing. She would make them sit still and wait, instead of running to the table to be served. It was so small, such a simple idea really, to teach them how to be patient. But it reminded Christen of home. 

 

“Can I help?” Tobin asks eagerly as she comes down the stairs after stashing their luggage in Christen’s old bedroom that they usually stay in. Tyler shakes her head at the midfielder, gesturing with her chin to the table. 

 

“Sit. It’ll be ready soon. You can help wash up after.” She says with a kind smile. Tobin gets up to wash her hands and then settles in beside everyone again. 

 

“Mom used to do this...she’d make us sit and wait for the food to teach us patience. Whoever got the rowdiest would do dishes and no dessert for a week.” Christen explained as Tobin settled on her left side. 

 

“Mmhm interesting. I was too busy getting on Katie’s nerves with my constant dribbling in the house when mom made dinner.” Tobin chuckled, pressing a kiss to Christen’s cheek. 

 

Cody raises an eyebrow at the small amount of PDA but then turns back to watching Tyler wait forever for the chicken’s glaze to brown. 

 

The meal is eventually served and then they head up to unpack a few things and get rested in bed for the night. Tyler drives home to her apartment in Santa Monica, hugging her father goodbye and promising to see him tomorrow. 

 

“He looked so tired and worn…” Christen mumbles as she lays on their bed while Tobin changes into PJs. The brunette hums and turns while trying to get her sports bra off. 

 

“Your dad?” She asks, already knowing the answer is yes as Christen nods. “He did look tired. Sad probably. But you know that’s not his endpoint.”

 

“Of course not. I just hate seeing him like this. Ever since the first seizure... he’s been so cautious about me and my sisters but not about himself. I just worry Tobs.” Christen replies, watching Tobin sink into the mattress beside her. She rolls to her side, stroking the darker-skinned woman’s face softly, kissing her forehead in a butterfly kiss. 

 

“You’re the best daughter a man could ask for Chris, and you know it. That’s why we’re here. To check upon him. Please don’t think everything’s the worst before we’ve even started here.” Tobin assures her gently, watching Christen’s face relax as she takes a deep breath. Tobin yawns in response, eliciting a giggle from her girlfriend. 

 

“Goodnight sleepyhead.” Christen laughs, turning the bedside lamp off. She curls up with Tobin in her arms, the older woman breathing deeply against her chest as she slowly falls asleep. Christen soon follows after pressing a kiss to the crown of Tobin’s already unruly bed head. 

 

A loud shattering crash echoed in the Press home only a few hours later. Tobin jolts up out of bed, squinting at the bedside clock. 1:30 AM.

 

She pulls on one of her sweatshirts, and her big glasses and steps into the hall. The corridor is dark, and the only thing lighting up the house is a wide window above their glass-covered front door. She steps down the stairs carefully, eyes catching the trail end of something glimmering in the moonlight. 

 

glass shards. 

 

Tobin’s stomach plummets and she has no choice but to call out in a low voice. “Cody?” 

 

She turns the corner into the living room to see a broken bottle of brandy on the wood floor. Morena whines from her bed, having sense enough not to run towards the glass. Khaleesi is standing with her tail on high alert near the entrance of the living room, beside Tobin. She reaches down to pet the dog, saying slowly “outside”. Both dogs hear and head to the backyard door on Morena’s side of the room, where Tobin lets them out so they don’t get hurt. 

 

“Cody, is everything okay?” Tobin asks as she comes back in from letting the dogs out. He’s sitting next to the shattered glass with puffy eyes, not even registering Tobin calling his name. The brunette walks around to pull over the garbage can. She begins collecting the bottle glass, nicking her thumb on one but continuing anyway. 

 

“I’m not--this isn’t what it--don’t tell Mo,” Cody pleads from his seat on the floor. Tobin takes a deep breath, looking up from the mess to face her girlfriend’s father. She places her hand on his softly. 

 

“We all have hard nights. It’s okay.” Tobin assures him. She continues to clean, grabbing a rag to wipe up the small spots of brandy on the wood floor. Cody pulls himself up, shaking his head. He wipes his hands off in the sink, letting out a sigh of frustration at himself. 

 

“I- it’s hard when the nights are lonely. Please never leave Christen lonely,” Cody begs her. He’s not quite drunk, only a bit tipsy and coherent with his words. Tobin gauges that the bottle was likely smashed in anger rather than from a drunken stupor. 

 

Tobin rinses her hand and the rag off, looking up at Cody with an expression of worry and sadness. She holds his hand again,

 

“I would never. In fact...I want to marry her. One day. When this all settles down and I can make her my wife. I love her so much.” Tobin starts as she blinks back a small tear. She can see how Cody’s taking his wife’s death harder than he wants to, fighting back against the feelings swelling inside him much as Christen does. Cody shakes his head, a rumbling laugh deep in his throat. 

 

“Of course you are. I knew you’d be an honest woman Tobin. You got a ring yet?” He asks. Tobin shakes her head shyly, rubbing her forearm. 

 

“Haven’t quite gotten that far yet.” She admits while Cody lifts up her chin. He embraces her warmly, taking a deep breath. 

 

“Let me know when you do,” Cody says as he lets go and heads towards his bedroom. “And Tobin?”

 

“Mmmhmm yes?” Tobin replies while double-checking the floor for glass and then heading to let the puppies inside. 

 

“Thank you. For cleaning up. For coming down and checking on me. You and Christen...she loves you so much. Thank you for coming down here.”

 

Tobin graciously nods, rubbing Morena’s head as the dog leans against her. 

 

“Of course. Have a goodnight!”

 

Tobin heads back upstairs to Christen’s room, shedding her sweatshirt to wear just the tank underneath and shed her sweats. She slides back under the sheets and feels one of the dogs curl up at their feet. Christen rolls over, reaching out to run her hand down Tobin’s side. 

 

“Mm, what were you doing baby?” She asks in a low, sleepy tone. Christen was just awake enough to know Tobin had left her side of the bed for quite some time, and knew that she wasn’t in the en-suite bathroom. 

 

“Let the doggies out. They were whining. Huh, weren't you little monkey?” Tobin teases, reaching out to pet Morena at her feet. The dog rolls over and wiggles her way between the two of them like a toddler. Tobin feels a little bad, making a white lie to Christen but the last thing she needed was to upset or worry her about her father. It wasn’t an outright lie, it was an omission of the full events in question. 

 

“Oh, dad would have let them out. It’s okay thanks, baby.” Christen yawns, pressing a soft kiss to the space below Tobin’s ear. 

 

“Not a problem my baby girl, not a problem at all.” Tobin murmurs into Christen’s temple as she closes her eyes again and surrenders to sweet sleep. 

 

  •  

 

Things at the Press house went smoothly the next morning, with a warm breakfast from Tyler and a long beach walk with the dogs. Tobin and Christen come in from the beach, shaking out their shoes in the back before stepping into the kitchen. The dogs' nails clack against the wood floors as they rush to greet everyone in the house.

 

“Mo, when does your season start again?” Cody asks from the living room as he fumbles around the channels on the tv. Christen pokes her head in from the kitchen, taking a breath. 

 

“Dad, the season has already started. I’m just taking time before returning.” She reminds him, walking out into the living room and sinking into the couch. Her hands wrap around a throw pillow, picking at the embroidery and feeling the fabric beneath her fingertips. 

 

“Christen Annemarie.” Cody says sternly, closing his eyes to calm himself down before yelling at her. He licks his lips, shaking his head. “You are a damn good player. And you know your mom wants you on the pitch. You listen to me, being hurt does not mean you recoil from what you excel in. It means you thrive despite your odds. When I was playing football, Lily got in a car accident I—”

 

“She didn’t die, Dad.” Christen interrupts her father with a firm tone. She gets up again, shaking her head. “You can’t be lecturing me about going back to work when you’re still grieving too Dad. You knew her for 35 years. I knew her for 30. Don’t tell me that she wants me back there when I played games throughout her treatment, her relapses, her death. I was at a tournament when it happened. For every moment she had Channing or Tyler, she didn’t have me. Soccer is selfish. So ugly and selfish and I couldn’t be there for her.” 

 

Cody’s silent in return, trying to swallow his middle daughter’s words but being unable to form a response. He hates that she’s right, and she’s losing her love of the game in the process. She walks out of the living room and onto the back deck, where she can watch the waves bobbing in the ocean below. 

 

Tyler steps out not too much later, a coffee mug in hand. “Chris,” She starts softly, reaching for her sister’s hand. Christen grips the mug, trying to ignore the collage of family photos on it as she takes a deep breath of the warm medium roast. 

 

“No one understands,” Christen murmurs bitterly as she takes a sip, eyes still looking at the water below. Tyler takes a deep breath, pinching at her nose. 

 

“Shit. Okay I know I’m not as touchy-feely as Chan, but Chris I promise I’m here to listen.” She says, leaning on the balcony alongside her sister. Christen lets out a light chuckle at the comment, knowing the truth. Channing was so spiritual and in touch with her emotions, almost too deeply at times, it made Tyler feel weird, and like she wasn’t feeling enough. 

 

“Just go. It’s not worth it. It’s not. I’ll just become the family black sheep I think that’s going to happen-” 

 

“Christen! Listen to yourself, what the hell is going on?” Tyler asks mid ramble, facing Christen as the younger woman fixes her face with a scowl. 

 

“What’s going on? Wouldn’t you like to know!” Christen exclaims, choking back her feelings with a dose of caffeine. “I don’t think...I just --I missed so much of mom because I was busy with work and sometimes I don’t want to be a player anymore.”

 

Tyler sets her coffee mug down on the balcony and reaches out for Christen, letting her sister bury herself in her warm arms as she tries to keep blabbering about how she feels. 

 

“Chris? I’m gonna be honest right now, okay?” She says while rubbing her younger sister’s back and swaying softly. “I can’t make these choices for you or tell you right or wrong. I know you’re looking for someone to make it for you, and take the pressure away. And you’re still hurting because it’s not your choice. Do you want to quit or are you just feeling guilty over mom’s death and need to punish yourself for what’s already happened?

 

Christen’s shoulders drop and she lets out what can only be described as a whine. 

 

“I miss her so much Tyler, every day. Getting that call...hearing Channing tell the story of how it happened—I should have been there!” 

 

Tyler pushes back her sister’s curls, using her thumbs to dab at her eyes. Two sets of glimmering green eyes staring back at each other. 

 

“Your soul was here. Your energy was present. I know you physically weren’t but the years you’ve spent here left so much.” Tyler tries to reassure Christen gently, seeing misty eyes spring up once more. “You’re in her bones. Her spirit. Her love.” 

 

Christen leans her head on Tyler’s chest, letting out a deep sigh of relief as the afternoon passed. Together they walk back into the house, and Cody glances at them from his seat on the couch. Tyler goes to put their empty mugs in the dishwasher. 

 

“Mo...I’m sorry. I can’t rush you back to the way things were. Things will never be that way again actually. You’ve never stepped away from the game,” Cody talks as he makes his way from the couch over to his daughter. “Even when it’s hurt you. You deserve time for yourself. For healing, Mo. And the way you wouldn’t budge on this is how I know you’re my girl.” He pokes fun at his stubbornness while embracing Christen. 

 

“Love you, Dad,” Christen murmurs as she pulls apart, not needing to say much else to the man before her. She swears each day she sees a new grey hair. Cody’s black may not crack but he sure is getting a load of salt and pepper growing. It’s times like these where Christen takes a moment to remember her father, the old t-shirt with a hole in the neckline that her mom despised, his house slippers that were from two Christmases ago, and of course the cargo shorts. He’s still broad-shouldered and wearing the remains of a college quarterback on his bones. 

 

Tobin’s sitting in the living room, watching the old game Cody had running. She had partially heard the fight when she was in the kitchen, cleaning some dishes but saw Tyler had Christen handled. So, she spent her time listening and talking to Cody. Most of it was about the game on tv, which Tobin knew just enough about American football to skate on by with. Christen came up as well, and Tobin tried to assure him that she was going to return at a point in time. This is just temporary.

 

Things settle down in the house for a few hours, before Tyler decides that it’s time to pull out the board games which gets everyone on their feet. Tobin swears it’s the first time in a long time she’s seen Christen’s smile reaches her eyes the way it used to. For a moment everything slips to the back of their mind. 

 

“Why are you the banker if you can’t make the change?” Tobin asks her girlfriend as she watches Christen count the paper dollars and then pull out her calculator so she’s giving an exact change. 

 

“It’s unfair if it’s Tyler, she does all of our taxes. You wouldn’t believe how much math she does as a lawyer.” Christen replies as she slaps down the fake money in Tobin’s hands. The brunette shoves the cash under her side of the gameboard in a messy pile and shakes her head. “No, we make Katie banker because she’s the oldest and a businesswoman. It’s accurate that way.”

 

“Tobin, you wouldn’t know if your cash is accurate because you keep it in that wad.” Christen sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose in playful disgust as Tobin tries to defend herself. Cody chuckles as he rolls the dice and the game continues throughout the evening. 

 

Dinner rolls around and Tyler enlists Tobin and Christen’s help to make an herb coated roasted chicken, figuring the leftovers would be useful to Cody. She’s helping Tobin chop the fresh parsley while Christen’s washing potatoes for a side dish. Tyler watches Tobin with kind eyes, watching the skill, and precision at which she chops with her left hand. She knows Tobin’s had a rough time lately too.

 

“So how was having your mom around for a while?” Tyler asks it innocently enough, trying to make conversation with Tobin. The brunette shrugs, continuing to chop. 

 

“I mean it was good. Like I’m glad she came, we needed it to be honest. Just was being stubborn when it happened as I pushed back and I shouldn’t have.” Tobin replies as she sweeps the parsley into a custard cup and moves onto peeling the garlic cloves. Tyler hums, understanding all too well. 

 

“I get it. Mom came to me when I was having a hard time with my divorce and I pushed back against her so hard and I regret that because she was right. Maybe she’d have saved me time if she told me she didn’t feel right about my ex. We’re still close, I mean he’s a great guy don’t get me wrong but I wasn’t in love with him. I wasn’t ready for a long future with him.” She explains as she dices the carrots on her cutting board. Tobin turns to face Tyler, raising a brow. She hadn’t realized Tyler had a divorce. “I brought him to the world cup as a friend. We hadn’t finalized everything until June and the tickets were already bought.” Tyler adds as she realizes Tobin’s confusion. 

 

“Oh, that makes sense. I just-- I never realized how Chris’s grief affected me and it brought up feelings that I hadn’t thought about for years even. My mom helped come to terms with some of that. I know I have mine still so. It’s different.” Tobin replies as she walks to the sink to wash her hands between ingredients. Tyler smiles gently, shaking her head. 

 

“Tobin, you never have to apologize. We all have our issues, you’re not upsetting us.” She assures her, while taking the herbs and adding them to the seasoning and butter she’s using to glaze the chicken. Tobin smiles at Tyler, squeezing her shoulder as she scoots past her. 

 

“If you two have everything covered, I’m going to call one of my sisters for a moment, is that okay?” She asks while leaving a gentle kiss on Christen’s cheek. They both shoo Tobin off, knowing the chicken is almost ready to be put in the oven with the potatoes circling it along with fresh green beans and a bit of parsley. 

 

Tobin dips into Christen’s bedroom and calls Katie, the one sister she talks to the least. While talking to Tyler Tobin had come to the realization that she couldn’t tell a single thing about Katie’s life if you asked her, and their communication had been scarce. 

 

“Hello?” Katie answers cautiously, the sound of her son making a fuss in the background. 

 

“Hey Katie,” Tobin starts out, hearing Katie’s small gasp of realization it was her little sister. She hadn’t bothered with caller ID while Cole was protesting his nightly bath. 

 

“Oh Tobes, how are you? Is everything okay? I know we haven’t talked in a while but whatever you need I’ve got you.” Katie says while her eyes widen, watching her husband handle the tantrum this time. 

 

“I’ve just been thinking about how much I miss you, and Cole. And how I want to be home this Thanksgiving to see you, and Mom was just visiting me and I just want you to know how great of a sister you were during the divorce...everything.” Tobin gushes, letting out all of the memories flooding to her surface. On the hardest nights, she would coop herself up in Katie or Perry’s apartments in New York. Just a train ride away, they always promised her. So she’d fill up a backpack and bring a ball with her. They spent nights watching cheesy movies and having New York pizza while in highrises. Tobin would sit on the fire escape and just dream. She would make up stories for each person she saw waking beneath her. It was such a breathtaking escape for a moment of peace and she didn’t even realize how much she needed it. 

 

“Gee...it’s been a long time since that. You’re holding up, right? I miss you too Tobin. Cole misses his auntie toto loads. We’ll see you. I promise.” Katie promises. They launch into a conversation about careers. Tobin talks about her plans with the club and youth academy in Portland while Katie talks about becoming her own freelance boss between moving companies. She used to work as a designer for an office supply start-up but it fell through around year three.

 

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Tyler turns up the heat on Christen, figuratively. She pokes her sister to make her stop mid salad chopping. 

 

“What is it, Ty?” Christen asks, thin brow raised. Her sister looks at her with a close contender for an eye roll. 

 

“Since Tobin’s outta the room, I have to ask you about her. That’s the rules. It’s the law.” Tyler chirps, guiding Christen by the shoulders to sit at the island in the kitchen on a stool. “Now, where was I? Oh yes. You and Tobin. What’s up with you two? Is she treating you good Mo? I’ll kick her ass if she doesn’t.” 

 

Christen’s cheeks burn up immediately. She raises her hands, pleading with Tyler to shut up. “Please, Tyler stop. She’s not, aargh,” She groans inwardly at how stupid it sounds out loud. Tyler begins to chuckle, walking around the island with a finger on the marble.

 

“Tobin treats me perfectly. Like I know you’re doing the big scary big sister thing. And I love you for that but she doesn’t need it. I don’t know when obviously but I think...Tyler she might...propose.” Christen whispers it, praying to a God she doesn’t believe in that Tobin isn’t eavesdropping like she’s been known to do. Jeff jr talks a lot of shit when you get to know him. Tyler’s jaw slacks and her eyes are wide full of genuine disbelief. 

 

“You think she has a ring?” She asked, hopeful about this possible marriage in years to come. Christen leans over, taking a cherry tomato in her mouth while mulling the question over. She shrugs. 

 

“I think her mom might have a family ring to pass on to her. And she’ll get that adjusted for me. I’m just not sure when she would ask. But I think we’re at that stage now? It’s been four years and she’s not leaving my side any time soon.” Christen says. She rests her elbows on the marbled counter, holding her head up by the chin in her hands. Maybe this is when Christen starts to think about the notion she had formed of marriage as a child. The idea of true love was always one she had a curiosity for, and boy did Stacy give into it every chance she could. Toilet paper wedding dresses, and toasts from her stuffed animals. 

 

“Christen, listen to me okay?” 

 

Christen looks up from her textbook with tired eyes. She’s home for a week because of an extended fall break in her classes, and Stacy is slightly frustrated that her daughter is putting her time off into work. 

 

“Yeah mom?” Stacy walks over to sit beside Christen at the kitchen table. She mutes the local news station on their tv, and places her hand on Christen’s arm. 

 

“You know we talked about time and how to keep yourself from being overextended before you left for college, right?” Stacy starts casually and watches Christen freeze up in shame. 

 

“This professor does pop quizzes after fall break every year. I’m just trying to be one step ahead of him that’s all.” She defends herself but closes the textbook. Christen knows her mom hates how much time she spends on her assignments and wants her to spend more time engaging with her classmates, outside of school related activities like her volunteer work or soccer training. 

 

“Okay, kiddo. That’s fine. I just don’t want you burnt out. My little Stanford cardinal,” Stacy teases, kissing her daughter’s cheek. “I love you. No matter what comes at you.” 

 

Christen furrows her brow. She’s not going to say no to her mother’s doting but feels as if it was unusual. This would’ve saved for the drop off when she went back to Stanford. 

 

“Mom? What’s going on?” She asks, putting her pencils and pens away in a pouch. Stacy takes a deep breath. 

 

“I’m watching so many of people’s children being denied their right to love all over,” She gestures at the news. “I can’t watch suffering like that. Human beings being told their lives are immoral and wrong. Somebody’s child who they wanted to walk down the aisle can’t because there would be two brides.”

 

Christen’s brow furrows even more but then she reads the headline on their local news. Prop 8 had passed in California, eliminating rights of same-sex couples to marry. Her heart sinks. She remembers it being on the ballot, she remembers voting no but only now had Christen realized the impact of this option on herself. 

 

“I wish your sisters were here. I don’t know if any of you guys are,” Stacy gestures to the tv, an old habit of her generation’s around sexuality. “But listen to me Christen, I never want to see another person being suffocated by the laws of this nation so help me God. I have seen too much with the Civil Rights act aftermath. My entire life has been, and so has yours, about the color of my skin. We’re white passing but that does not save us from all abuse. And I want to see you able to appreciate the pure joy that comes with being in love. I don’t care who it is with. Unless they treat you bad. But I want you to find true love, and enjoy that without being worried and peaking over the back of your shoulder for someone who hates you.”

 

Christen watches as her mother is almost turned to tears at the demonstrations on the rose garden lawn at the capitol building. LGBTQ+ couples from across the state are protesting, some in wedding gowns and others in pride gear. She bites the bullet and opens her mouth. 

 

“I am.” 

 

It’s the first time she’s been completely honest about herself out loud. She knows she’s developed feelings for women and it was time to be clear about that, while she also has relationships with men like Nima. Stacy holds her tightly. 

 

“Find your truest love Christen, forget those who create things like this. You’re going to get married, legal or not. I want you to find the person that sweeps you off your feet. Find love my darling.” 

 

Stacy eventually saw Prop 8 overturned, and gay marriage legalized but that night taught Christen about how far the lengths she would have to go for her own justice, and peace in life. Her mom wanted her to find the truest love, and that love came in the form of Tobin. Lanky, brown-amber eyes the color of whiskey and long brown hair that’s like golden silk in the sun. Tobin, who always sat down with her at the dinner table, said a prayer before they ate. The woman who loved her almost sinfully, able to pleasure her beyond her wildest dreams. 

 

“Oh, my baby sister is growing up.” Tyler coos, hugging Christen’s side as they finish prepping dinner. Tobin comes back down a little while later as the chicken is still cooking. They talk about her call with her sister for a little while. Dinner flies by smoothly, and then they take the dogs on a little walk around the block. 

 

Things are peaceful, and simple at the Press house. The entire unit returns from walking the dogs, and Cody’s smiling. Christen feels it in her gut that things are getting better. They turn in early because Channing and her husband are arriving tomorrow. They will be taking up the guest bedroom while Christen and Tobin go to their Manhattan beach condo. 

 

  •  

 

“She’s still groggy from the panic meds. Give her a little bit.” Channing’s husband warns as he slides into the back of Tyler’s car. Christen looks behind her and gives a sad smile. Channing has an extreme fear of flight, it’s pretty common with any anxiety disorder because of the lack of control associated with it. Christen herself has even admitted to hating flying, opting for melatonin to sleep through it all. Her little sister is in the back seat, half asleep and blinking wide green eyes. 

 

“S’okay.” Channing mumbles, waving Christen off. Mikel offers her a water bottle, his hand on hers squeezing in reassurance. They drive back to the Press home and unload the luggage. Tobin and Cody swap the luggage, Tyler had offered to drive them to Manhattan beach because she was meeting a friend in Venice for a late dinner. 

 

“Gosh I hope this wears off soon enough,” Channing says between yawns as she settles onto the couch across from Christen and Tobin on the lounge section. The family had decided on a small movie night to settle down. Cody’s across the living room in his recliner, and Tyler is cuddled up with Morena and Kahleesi on the floor with pillows and dog beds. 

 

“Tonight’s a chill night Chan, don’t sweat it.” Tobin replies, trying to reassure her. She shifts, tugging the crocheted blanket around her as she cuddles up to Christen. It had been a little while since they really relaxed in each other’s arms. Christen’s already running her hands through Tobin’s hair. 

 

It’s some cheap action thriller from the 80s that Cody chooses because it reminded him of dates with Stacy. Tobin finds her heart clenching at the thought, and tears prick at her eyes. Christen kisses her forehead, taking a deep breath ready for anything. 

 

Only 30 minutes of the film had passed. 

 

It’s a really stupid movie. Christen thinks to herself. She can’t stand the way they talk like robots who learned slang from Grease. She’s glancing over at her father during this and watching how he’s smiling for most of it. He’s engaged in it and his eyes widen at the action chase scenes. It’s a joy Christen hasn’t seen in so long. 

 

Tobin lets out a yawn in Christen’s arms at some point in the film. She nuzzles her sweatshirt, breathing in the soft fabric. Christen glances down, catching Tobin falling asleep in her arms peacefully. Of course she fell asleep during an action thriller. Able to tune out the entire world to just focus on Tobin time. One of her super powers.  

 

The film ends around 8pm, and then Tyler drives them to Manhattan beach. She helps get their luggage out, and hugs goodbye. 

 

Christen walks up to the porch, running her hand along the painted handrails. “I missed it here,” She murmurs, taking a deep breath. Tobin’s got her key out, unlocking the door and dragging the luggage inside. 

 

“Me too,” Tobin says as they shut the door. She walks beside Christen, helping her drop her backpack, and kisses down her arm. “I missed being able to do that.”

 

“Tobin,” Christen warns as their lips meet quickly. She sees the mischievous glint in her girlfriend’s brown eyes and knows all too well what’s about to come. 

 

“Chrisssteen,” Tobin exaggerates playfully, kissing her cheeks and the hollow of her ear. It had been weeks since they were properly alone and now they had their quaint beach house to be alone in. It was the perfect combination. 

 

“You’re so bad,” Christen laughs as she moves to their bedroom and sets down her suitcase. She’s rolling her eyes, taking Tobin’s larger suitcase in as well. 

 

“Oh I’m bad?” Tobin counters with sass and a lopsided grin bearing teeth. She wraps her arms around Christen, making out with her while they sway to the rhythm of the beach waves. 

 

“Yes,” Christen says pointedly during a temporary moment of freedom from Tobin’s bone crushing hug. “You’re currently thinking of something dirty, and we haven’t even settled in yet.” 

 

She goes to open her suitcase, and unload their toiletries bag in their en-suite bathroom. Christen goes through the motions carefully, setting it up like she would at home. It’s a sense of familiarity wherever she goes, to have stability. Tobin’s toothbrush on the left because she’s a lefty, that way their arms aren’t bumping as they brush with their elbows wide. Christen sets her things on the right, and leans down to set things in their shower. 

 

“How much longer till we’re settled in?” Tobin asks from the doorway. Christen looks over her shoulder with a brow raised at her girlfriend. Tobin’s lanky body is leaning against the doorframe, her arms are crossed while her white Nike tee shows off her upper arms. Christen has to collect herself and looks back at the bottles in front of her, trying not to jump her girlfriend right then and there. 

 

“Why does it matter Tobes?” Christen responds, rearranging the order of the bottles from left to right the order of usage. 

 

“Your ass looks so good in those leggings I might pass out if I can’t do anything about it,” Tobin says in a low, husky voice. She’s approaching Christen slowly, placing a hand on the small of her back. “When was the last time I fucked you so hard you screamed babe?”

 

Christen straightens up, and stands to face Tobin. She wants this, badly . She knows how confusing their sex life has been lately. It’s not gone very well with both of them in their state of what’s known as a funk. They’ve had intense makeouts, and a few moments of mutual touching but it’s been long without sex that dedicates them to each other. Worshiping each other’s bodies, and loving themselves fully. Every time they get close to being intimate it’s almost as if they feel like they don’t deserve it. 

 

Tobin’s afraid she’s gone too far over the deep end and Christen wasn’t ready for her. She steps back, looking at her bare feet on the tiled floor. “Chris...only if you want me to. Really, if you’re not ready tell me.”

 

Christen cups the side of Tobin’s face, her eyes glistening as she hears the genuine ask of consent. She kisses Tobin softly, featherlight almost. Of course she knew Tobin would ask. For even as downright filthy as her comment was, Tobin was still a genuine woman. She always put Christen’s needs above her own. 

 

“I think tonight is a little soon, Tobes.” Christen admits quietly as her thumb stokes Tobin’s cheek. “I want to. The leggings line really hit me and it made me remember what being wanted feels like. But we just left my dad, and I’m not convinced he’s better. I know Channing is there but still. My mind needs time to sort itself out, yeah?” 

 

Tobin’s face softens and she nods. “Of course. That’s not an issue babe.” Her arms close around Christen, holding her tight. They walk out to their porch, facing the ocean with a glass of wine in their hands. 

 

“Thank you for coming with me. I feel like this trip is everything I needed. This house...we haven’t been here since that week and I—well I needed to come back and honor that she’s gone. Tobin you have stuck by so much.” Christen says between sips. Tobin sits down in their patio lounge chair, eyes trained on the roaring orange sunset in front of her. 

 

“That’s what love is Chris. It’s sticking by.” 

Chapter Text

“Is it bad I don’t want to do this?” Christen’s quiet voice trembles through the bedroom, breaking through the silence save for the echo of the coffeemaker in the kitchen. Tobin pauses from rummaging in their suitcases, glancing up at the bed where she sees Christen with the quilt pulled up to her chin. 

 

An unusual scenario for the pair as Tobin, usually is the last out the door scrambling for Christen to not leave her behind. She sets down the pair of joggers she held on the desk chair, then crawls under the soft quilt. 

 

“I don’t think anyone wants to do this, ever.” Tobin says as she wraps an arm around Christen’s shoulders. “But you might regret it if you don’t.” 

 

Christen knew that Tobin was right, and that she had to push through and do this. She couldn’t let time pass like this without savoring it. It’s a foggy morning outside, but the fog only lasts until 9am or so on the coast. Slowly and gingerly Christen slips out of bed, going to the coffee pot while Tobin changes. 

 

She checks her phone, seeing a message from Channing. 

 

: deep breaths Christen, in and out. We’re all doing this for a moment of peace. See you soon x

 

She can’t help the shiver that runs down her back. It’s hard to tell if Channing has a natural gift for meditation and teaching, or if there’s a bond between the two sisters that goes beyond what we can truly explain. Channing knew about Christen’s nerves before she even realized the feeling herself. 

 

Christen closes her phone, taking a long sip of her dark coffee. Not her favorite but they were truly lucky the rental had coffee on it’s own. Tobin enters the kitchen with a soft smile, kissing Christen’s temple before grabbing her own cup. 

 

“I love you and I’m proud of you.” She adds while pouring the black coffee into a white mug. “And I’ll be with you every step of the way, you’re not alone Chris.” 

 

Christen looks up at her partner, watching the steam swirl up in front of her face. She musters up a glimpse of a smile, feeling appreciated by Tobin. They have a small breakfast, neither one’s appetite making any appearance today. Then they head out to meet up with the rest of the Press pack. 

 

When they get to the beach Christen freezes. She hears the waves crashing against the rocks on the shore and it finally hits her. The crushing emotions. The reason they’re here today. 

 

“You each get a handful. And we’ll let her drift into a new life. One beyond us, okay?” Cody says as he holds the urn in his hands. Channing squeezes Christen’s hand, taking deep meditative breaths. 

 

“This is what mom wanted. Let’s let her move beyond.” She whispers, closing her eyes. Christen reaches into the beautiful glazed beach stone urn, feeling the ashes underneath her fingers. The breeze against the waves picks up, tickling the back of her neck. Almost like a siren song of those departed. She closes her fingers around a clump, pulling her shaky hand out. 

 

Christen walks closer to the roaring sea, feeling the heavy waves tumble over her feet on the shoreline. The Pacific Ocean is unrelenting in her ice, stinging the toes of those who dare wade in the water. 

 

Cody walks further out, letting the water bob at his ankles. He’s crying silently, for fear of disrupting nature’s peaceful morning. Tears leaking down into the collar of his crisp dress shirt, one Stacy had purchased him for thanksgiving one year. 

 

He opens up his curled fist, whispering a prayer before blowing the ashes into the sea. They scatter around like confetti of the fallen into the deepest waters to be reborn again. 

 

Cody sinks to his knees in front of his daughters, letting his tears overtake him. His grief to be taken by the ocean as well. 

 

They go in order with Tyler next. The eldest daughter with Khaleesi at her feet takes a shaky step towards the sea. As a lawyer Tyler spends her days in courtrooms with briefcases, sitting the straightest one could, and full of confidence. Such is a sight to see the shroud of hardness softened, and broken down to show Tyler at her rawest. She sings a lullaby from their childhood. It’s one Stacy would sing each night with each daughter when rocking them after a bath. She drops the handful of ashes in with a plop, watching them sink like a failed bath bomb. 

 

Christen glances at her blackened hand, taking a deep breath. Not even a thousand meditation sessions with the eldest Yogi alive would prepare her for this but perhaps Christen decides, that is for the best. 

 

For this is a moment she would rather have in anguish than content, it is not a place in your life that you have to feel at peace with as it happens. 

 

She opens her palm. Her gut drops to her knees as she looks up into the sky. Clouds are lifting and sun is starting to gaze through, wrapping the Press pack in a deep hug of warmth while they take upon this challenge. 

 

Christen repeats affirmations that her mother taught her in highschool, once her anxiety started to spike. Reminders that she is worthy, she is powerful, she is soft, she is strong enough. 

 

With each affirmation she blows a bit of ashes into the ocean. Sealing them with the reminder that as Stacy is returned to the earth that birthed her, she is everywhere. She will be in the water that rises from the ocean and that weighs down the rain clouds. She will water the plants of our world, and help them grow. She is in the oxygen those plants release, letting us breathe. 

 

Morena comes up to Christen’s side, whining as the waves crash louder while she lets a deep sob wrack her body. 

 

“She loved you little monkey.” Christen cooes, kissing the top of the brown dogs head. Taking Morena’s advice, she finally leaves the water and walks back up the shore to watch Channing’s release.

 

Channing holds the ashes in her palms, raising them high above her head as she takes deep breaths in. She repeats similar mantras to Christen and then recounts a story of how her mother gave her the strength to find her own path and that included becoming a meditation teacher. 

 

Channing kneels in the water, letting it lap at her hands and take bits of ashes with each bobbing wave. She plucks a rock up from the shore under her knees. Taking it as a token of the day, reminding her of her mother forever. 

 

Christen looks up and over at Tobin sitting on her own a few feet away. Kind, precious Tobin. The forward knew that she had to space herself from them, and not encroach on their grief. She knows the grief she has of Stacy is nothing compared to her girlfriend’s and that’s okay. 

 

Christen sits beside her, an arm around her middle as she wipes her eyes on her sweatshirt sleeve. “Thank you for being here. Even just sitting and watching, it—it helped a lot.” She says as Tobin turns to hold her closer. 

 

“Of course, Chris. I know how much this matters. I think that knowing you’ve let her go is going to help. I could see it already.” Tobin murmurs between soft kisses to Christen’s head. Tyler walks over to them, sitting beside Christen with a deep breath. 

 

“Dad thinks we should go to that cafe mom loved. For brunch? Are you guys interested?” She asks, her voice a bit raw from the crying. Tobin glances to Christen who’s giving a nod. A warm meal always does you good.

 

-

 

“Channing, any plans on a wedding for you and the nice man?” Cody teases at brunch, watching his youngest take a pause and roll her eyes. 

 

“Dad, if you’d like to fund the entire thing down to the venue be my guest.” Channing says as she sets her menu down. “Mikel and I just love being together. I mean maybe we’ll do the whole courthouse thing eventually but we just kind of want to live how we do. Our hearts are already bound, no ceremony will cement it more than it already is.” 

 

Christen hums in agreement with her sister. While she would marry Tobin in a heartbeat if she asked truthfully, Christen had to admit that she didn’t care for a full ceremony. She knows it’s important to Tobin, raised in Christ and that it would be for her ultimately. Which is fine but she’s also not rushing for it because like Channing has said, they’re already bonded to each other like glue. 

 

“Well aren’t we philosophical at 9am,” Tyler mutters while flipping the pages of her menu. Channing and Christen both turn pink, knowing this probably wasn’t the best subject for Tyler being a new divorcee and all. Tobin is looking out the window, having checked out of the conversation. 

 

“I think I’m gonna get the eggs Benedict, Tobes do you know what you want? Christen asks, nudging the brunette for an answer. “Tobin? Hey, what’s—-”

 

Tobin jerks, shaking her head and pulling her shoulders back while sinking into the faux leather booth. 

 

“Nothing… I uh I’ll get like some eggs yea?” The forward mumbles, clutching the seat bottom in her two palms. 

 

“Okay over easy with home fries. And a coffee Tobin?” Christen asks, a bit clipped at Tobin’s behavior. The forward nods, her thumbs rubbing back and forth at the  polyester. “And a coffee, thank you so much.” She orders quickly. By the time the food had arrived about four or five different conversations had started. Tobin responded a few times quietly and quite the failed attempt at not being short with them. 

 

A cell phone ring interrupted each press pack member while they were cutting into their food. and Tobin stood up, her cheeks flushed. 

 

“Sorry it’s my dad,” She apologizes while squeezing out of the booth. Tobin turns the corner, pushing open the heavy doors and answering her cell. 

 

“Dad?” She asks hopeful that it’s just a buttdial and she can go back inside quickly. 

 

“Tobin! Glad you picked up, I was thinking— you know it’s been awfully long since you’ve been on this side of the country, and well your cousins want to see you and your aunt and uncle of course. Since you’re kinda injured or whatever you wanna call it, I thought you’d have time. Plus I uh wanna talk to you in person about some stuff. Nothing bad but you know working on my retirement and shuffling things and drafting my will.” Jeff sr bolsters confidently, and his daughter can picture the smile beaming across his identical face. 

 

“Oh?” Tobin questions, feeling her gut sinking at the proposition. Something didn’t quite feel right about it. She fiddles with her hoodie’s drawstring while taking a breath, considering it all. “Dad, I want to come I really do, but I’ve kinda got to put Christen first—”

 

“Toby, you’re going to wear yourself down if you keep putting others before your own family, I swear—”

 

“DAD!” Tobin raises her voice only to sheepishly glance around the porch of the restaurant, noting concerned glances from some outside diners. “I am at a cafe, having brunch with them right now after releasing Christen’s mother’s ashes into the ocean,” her voice lowers to a whisper, “This is not the time or place to have a pissing match for who’s my father.” 

 

Tobin hangs up abruptly, sinking back against the red brick of the cafe walls. She hates this. She hates how her father makes her feel. His guilt, his sympathy, and his history. Christen was her family. And she doesn’t know what hurts more, her father trying to be involved in her life or her wishing that he would be as absent as he used to be. 

 

She shoves the phone into her joggers pocket, walking back through the door of the cafe. Tobin slides into the booth on Christen’s left, seeing her eggs show up. She digs in quietly. 

 

“So?” Christen questions between bites of toast, facing Tobin. The forward gives a small shrug, 

 

“It’s nothing. He just wanted to talk about whatever really. Told him to call me back.” She says while taking a bite off her fork. 

 

The press pack ate the rest of their meal in relative silence. They finished with Cody grabbing the check and the girls going to their respective vehicles. Christen gazes out at the water one last time, taking a breath of the salty air.

 

She wraps her hand around her mandala, knowing that today was the right choice. 

 

*

 

“Do you want to get married?” Christen asks while scrubbing their dinner plates at the beach house rental for a moment later that night. Tobin just about nearly spits out her wine, sputtering and mumbling about “wrong pipe,” before swallowing and nodding. 

 

“I— yeah of course. Chris I thought we talked about it a little before.” Tobin says while she sets her glass down, realizing that having her wits about herself might help here. 

 

“Uh yeah we did...we did,” Christen pauses, sucking her breath in as she tries to find the words to say. She gently comes back to the table, sitting across from Tobin with a worried gaze. “It’s just today, talking about Channing and Mikel. Tobes you really seemed out of it and then your dad called…”

 

“So you think I don’t want to marry you?” Tobin bites out, pushing up from the table. Christen stands up, leaning over the table. They’re silent as they calculate what to say next. Tobin knows she’s being childish, talking back and twisting Christen’s concern for her. She hates the way she’s feeling inside. 

 

“Tobin. Please, I’m just talking to you about what I noticed. Can we sit and talk?” She almost begs, her hand covering Tobin’s. Christen’s green eyes meet brown and instead of seeing fire, she sees glittering tears. Tobin sniffs, pulling her hand back but she makes her way to the couch. She pulls a throw pillow to her chest, hands playing with the tassels on it. 

 

“Okay, let’s start this again.” Christen takes a breath in and places her hand on Tobin’s bouncing knee cap. “I was noticing that you grew distant, and you did the same a week ago. You’ve always loved weddings, I don’t get what’s going on Tobin.” 

 

Tobin looks down and closes her eyes. “Chris. I- can I tell a story?” She opens her eyes just a little to see her girlfriend nod and nods herself in understanding. “So. Um maybe my mom mentioned something with Katie before?” 

 

Christen nods, biting back her need to tell Tobin that it’s okay to not be ready to tell the story. She hates seeing the way Tobin’s anxious. This never used to be them. Their communication was never so strained. 

 

“So uh well I was out to my parents, obviously, but when I was in highschool and college my focus was mostly on soccer. I didn’t have any girls who stayed longer than a night. And I’ve never been uh...great at reading signs. Misread a lot of them.” Tobin says, now wringing her hands. She’s reminding herself of a lot of moments she’d rather forget. “And then I went to Paris. I met Shirley there. But we lived in such secrecy. I mean, for Shirley it was hard enough being a female footballer in Costa Rica let alone gay. She taught me how to hide myself in a way that wasn’t shameful, but tactful to protect myself. I don’t ever think that she meant to hurt me, but my parents wanted me to come back over the summer which I did for the national team anyway.”

 

The brunette takes a moment to collect herself, seeing how Christen is watching her with such intention and worry. She gently cups Christen’s face in her hands, kissing her while murmuring “I’m okay,” 

 

Tobin pulls back and sets the pillow on her lap beside herself, trying to minimize the distraction. “Katie got married that summer and my parents sort of knew about her, they went to a few games with her there. But Katie needed a bridesmaid who needed a plus one. There’s all these pictures of me from that night with an old friend from highschool, Santos.”

 

“So like your Nima?” Christen wonders aloud, trying to see the good in the situation. She figures that Tobin just found it uncomfortable because they were both gay. But then she watches Tobin’s face fall. 

 

“I uh we don’t talk anymore.” She mumbles, feeling the memories come back up like a piece of bad meat. “Shirley was getting braver, and she wanted to come to the US that summer just to spend some time together but I told her no. And she saw Santos and I dancing, it was awful Chris. My dad saw him around town, and kept setting me up with him when I got home. And I—”

 

Tobin pales, the physical memory resurfacing and stomach churning. She grips the pillow and takes a deep breath. Christen’s hand finds itself on the small of her back, gentle and grounding. “I promised him a fun one night, and I don’t know what I was thinking. We had sex. It was awful actually, but I wasn’t saying no. I- I was caught up in the wedding and all of the drinks, and he kept talking about how I promised him a fun night. So, I gave him that. And I know I love weddings, but everything with my dad brought this up again. And I just— he would encourage Santos all night to dance with me. So one thing led to another.”

 

Christen sharply inhales and her right hand curls into a fist with anger. “He had no right to do that.” She bites out, her other hand tightening on the fabric of Tobin’s top. 

 

“I thought that maybe if I could just show my dad that I had some interest in men, he could finally accept me back into his life. And that I could be something or someone to him again. I- I missed him Chris.” Tobin’s lower lip pouts out as she tries not to cry, swallowing the tears. 

 

Christen scoots closer, taking the older woman into her arms and pushes back her long hair. “Tobin?” She asks, receiving a small mumble from the face currently wrapped up in her cozy sweatshirt. “You didn’t owe Santos anything. Especially not sex, not while you were with Shirley. I hope you know that. Nothing is owed. I don’t want you to beat yourself up over what is done and gone too. Oh, my love,” Christen croons as she kisses Tobin’s forehead. Tobin nods in understanding, her hands twisting in the hem of Christen’s sweatshirt for comfort. 

 

 “You aren’t attracted to men and there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t know how that feels, but what I do know is that I love you. All of you, and I will be at your side at every wedding we attend from here on out.”

 

“Even our own?” Tobin asks in a choked up, snot filled chuckle that makes Christen giggle. 

 

“Especially our own. And screw it if your father is that much of a prick, you can dance with mine for the father daughter dance.” Christen says confidently, her hand stroking Tobin’s back in gentle circles. 

 

“Might have to fight Jeff jr for that.”

 

“Bring it on.”

 

 

Voicemail: 

 

Hi Toby, I hoped you would have called by now. But that’s alright. I’m sorry if I overstepped, I called at a bad time for ya. But listen, I’ve been with your cousins a lot out here. Yeah up on the farm you know how it is, but watching the little ones around with their fathers. Well it’s making me regret some things Toby. I miss you, and I know I already apologized to you before but I think it’s time to really spend some time together. I want to know my daughter, and her girlfriend before I get too old

Chapter Text

Tobin stands outside of her father’s house hesitantly. She eyes the cars in the driveway, she can see her father’s sunglasses on the dash of his old truck and his stupid Hawaiian girl bobblehead too. She notices the path of rose bushes leading up to the front porch where there is a hanging wooden swing. A mosquito candle on a light-fired glass table.

 

“If you’re not ready, we can go,” Christen says, her skin crawling at Tobin’s sudden silence while standing on the porch. She doesn’t want to rush Tobin into this, not while she’s honestly emotionally volatile. It had been a few weeks since they were at the Press pack’s and then back at Portland for a few before coming out to Jersey. And each day for Tobin was more agonizing than the last. It starts with her thinking that her father deep down hates her because she’s gay, and ends wondering if his half-assed acceptance is grounds enough to leave and never return. 

 

“I’m…” Tobin hums for a moment as her eyes catch a potted plant. It’s leafy and still green as the season starts to change. But it’s the pot that stands out for Tobin. It’s clay and very basic like the one you’d get at any old home improvement store. This one isn’t as bare however, it has a very beautiful sunset swept across it. Well beautiful for a nine-year-old’s sake anyway. 

 

Tobin remembers the day she painted it. It was just any other day really in elementary school they were trying to do crafts to fill up some extra time before spring break. And her teacher suggested painting pots to bring home with a couple of bags of sunflower seeds to plant. Tobin remembers the acrylic paint dripping down her right arm as she laid it across the pot to hold it steady. Mrs. Smith had complimented her work, and it was the first time a teacher had done so. In retrospect, Tobin knew the teacher was just being kind and glad she hadn’t finger painted it. The lines were too thick, the colors not blended, and the reflection of the sunset in the water seemed clunky. And now her dad had the damn thing on his porch. She didn’t even remember him liking it. 

 

“...ready as I’ll ever be I think.”

 

Christen takes a deep breath, going up to press the doorbell since Tobin was still not making a move towards it. She sees Jeff through the window, grinning at them. 

 

“Toby! Christen, come on in you two. Did ya bring any luggage?” Jeff says, welcoming them in like old friends. Tobin shakes her head, fiddling with her leather jacket pockets. 

 

“We got a hotel up the road dad. Didn’t want to put you out,” She explains. Truthfully Tobin had convinced Christen to let her get a hotel room because she didn’t know if any fallout might happen. She can’t promise a drama-free weekend and it’s killing her. Especially with her dad being so generous right now with Christen around. 

 

“Oh, that wouldn’t have been a problem kiddo. Suppose you haven’t been out here much but there is a guest room. Usually, Devon uses it or Michaela, you know when they come in from the city. But it’s okay.” Jeff adds as he leads them into the living room where a football game is playing softly in the background. 

 

“Jeff, honey, is that your daughter?” A woman’s voice asks from the kitchen and Tobin pales. She knew her dad was dating ever since the divorce but she hadn’t realized he would be even now. She can see her in the connected kitchen. Tall and blonde with a dimpled face. She’s drying some pans from their lunch. 

 

“Yeah, and her partner Chris,” Jeff replies, walking up to the kitchen and kissing her softly. Tobin turns away, wanting to gag at the sight. She pulls Christen with her to sink into the couch. The brunette rubs her hand along Tobin’s knee in an effort to calm her. 

 

“Well! Hi Tobin, Chris, I’m Georgia. I’m Jeff’s girlfriend, it’s so nice to finally meet ya!” The leggy blonde introduces herself to the girls while wiping her hands on her apron. “Hope you two enjoy yourselves out there. I’m making grilled salmon for dinner, something nice and lean for you two fit superstars!” 

 

Christen makes nice, greeting her and thanking her for dinner in advance to make up for Tobin’s surly short responses. There are bits of pieces of Tobin around the house, but not as much in her mother’s home. A few framed photos of Jeff holding her at her first soccer match, her confirmation, and her holding her Olympic gold medal from 2008. Christen pauses, staring at them in wonder. It’s hard for her to picture the smiling girl in all these photos to be as hurt as Tobin has been. 

 

“Ah, yup. You found little Toby.” Jeff says, slinging his arm around Christen’s shoulders. “She almost didn’t get to confirmation on time. Wouldn’t wear the white dress.” 

 

“Here we go,” Tobin mumbles with disgruntlement, still ticked off about the new woman in Jeff’s life. And she knows it’s unreasonable considering that her parents split nearly 14 years ago but with the strain on their relationship, she had never seen him with anyone else. 

 

Jeff clears his throat, pulling himself back to his full height at Tobin’s interruption. He starts walking, beckoning with his hand for them to follow. 

 

“Come on, let’s get to my desk so we don’t disrupt Gigi in the kitchen.” He offers, stepping inside. Christen follows immediately but then stops and circles back around. She saw a photo from the corner of her eye and just had to look at it in full. It’s Tobin, tucked behind a photo of Jeff jr at prom and one of Katie at tennis champs. It’s her and Santos at the wedding. Christen’s eyes follow the way his hands are around her waist, and she has a forced smile. She has to physically break herself away from it, thinking about how much Tobin hurt after that night. 

 

“Chris?” Tobin calls out gently from the doorframe. The younger woman straightens up and walks herself over to the study. 

 

“Sorry,” Christen mumbles as she squeezes past Tobin’s lanky frame. “I thought it would just be you two.”

 

Jeff nods and sits down at his desk. He’s combing through manila folders before pulling out a formal-looking paper. Tobin walks over to the table, her hand runs along the smooth wood finish as she approaches her father. 

 

“Right. So, uh let’s get started.” Jeff says with a bit of fluster to his voice. He holds out the document. “You know I’m retiring soon. And with that means my investment stake in the company will too retire. I’m leaving it all behind, and I don’t want to be managing investments from a beach with a Mai tai.” 

 

Tobin raises an eyebrow at her father rather incredulously. If this was all he wanted to do, he would have just texted her. She knows his company’s assets would follow his retirement. There was something more to this. Christen stands next to Tobin with her hands clasped, wiggling her rings restlessly. 

 

“Tobin, I’ve broken down my assets for each of you kids. It comes out to around 3 grand, for your piece. When I pass, they’ll become your assets. But before I add your name, I wanted to..well if you’ll let me,” Jeff propositions, holding a pen in his left hand and twirling it. “Put Christen on the paper. She’ll own the same assets as you, Toby. But only if you’re ready for this. I— I know it seems rushed but the paperwork for this truly takes decades with the number of hands it runs through…” 

 

Tobin’s eyes are wide. Her jaw goes slack. She can’t believe she’s hearing her father right. Does he want them both on her declaration of ownership of his assets? She swallows thickly, looking to Christen who was equally surprised. Her hand reaches for her girlfriend’s warm one, squeezing gently to remove her nerves. 

 

“Dad...of course, we’ll take it. Promise.” Tobin assures Jeff who is sitting up tall and proud. He’s grinning and fiddling with the cap of his pen. 

 

“I uh hope that all that doesn’t get used for quite a few years yet but I’m glad I’m putting things into place here.” He adds as Tobin writes down the acknowledgment of transfer of assets. Christen is watching her girlfriend with a smile, seeing the way both parties are excited. 

 

-

 

The day passes in a quiet sort of haze. Jeff brings Christen around the house to show her Tobin’s things if there were any. And then he leads them into the backyard —

 

“My hammock?! Dad, you kept it?” Tobin shouts as she steps outside into the cool wood covering the back deck. She sprints to the hammock sandwiched between two birch trees. It’s a little frayed on the ends from wear and tear. 

 

“Oh yeah, I still uh spend days reading in it,” Jeff says offhandedly, watching how excited his daughter was. Christen watches the two interact from her own guarded distance. For whatever relationship she has with her own father, she knows it’s much less strained than Tobin’s. 

 

“I loved this thing,” Tobin says as she sits on the edge and lets herself fall back into it in a childlike manner. As the hammock opens to let her lay back Tobin finds her mind transported to a younger time. 

 

-

It’s a sticky summer in New Jersey and Tobin’s worn herself out with every sport imaginable on top of a mile run for conditioning. She wants to make the starting roster for the middle school team this year. But after so many shots on goal, you get exhausted. 

 

She climbs into her hammock, book by her side as she lays back. There are still birds chirping and a slight balmy breeze whispering through the wilting birch trees of the backyard. There’s peace. 

 

Here Tobin forgets the way that Caroline Beaker made her feel like her heart was in overdrive. Forgets how she was laughed at for her basketball shorts. 

 

It’s here that her father playfully pushed the hammock to swing back and forth, startling Tobin from her dreamy peace. It’s here that he lined up the balls for another round of ‘superstar kicks’ and brought out extra popsicles from the garage freezer. 

 

One night as the sunset and the stars became alive like twinkling crystals far far away, Tobin lay in her hammock with her legs dangling off the side. Jeff sits beside her, leaning back to point up at the constellations. 

 

“There are so many stories in the world, Tobin. And your story will be up in those stars one day. Someday somehow. And whenever you feel lost? You see this bright star,” Jeff asks as he reaches Tobin’s arm out to point at it. “It’s the North Star kiddo. It guided those three Wisemen, and it will guide you home to where Christ will always be.” 

 

The thing that Jeff didn’t know was that ever since that night Tobin had found herself looking at the North Star and finding it fading away from her, pushing this divide inside herself. It’s strange to think about it now as her strength in Christ has returned as has her confidence in sexuality. 

 

-

“So Christen, it’s been a while since we last really talked,” Jeff starts up as he starts pulling out dishes for dinner later that night. “How’s life been with you and my kiddo?” 

 

Christen isn’t surprised at the small talk Tobin had warned her about. The other woman is across the room, helping Gigi with the salmon basting. 

 

“It has been a while. Uh, things are as good as they could be.” Christen answers awkwardly while sorting out plates for the four of them. “Tobin’s kind of been my rock lately with everything that happened to my family,”

 

Jeff sets down a fork on a napkin, raising his brow. It takes him a few minutes but then Christen sees the recognition behind his brown eyes. “Oh right, your mother. That must be hard, you know the parents are always friends. You two playing for the national team, and man we just hit it off, every game in those supported sections. Let Cody know I’m thinking about him.” 

 

Christen takes a deep breath, not feeling up to recounting her mother’s death for this man. She brings the salt and pepper shakers to the table. 

 

“Thank you. My dad definitely had fun with you in Paris at those golfing ranges. I’ll tell him to call you up one of these days.”

 

Jeff smiles at the notion as he grabs a set of plates. His worn hands shake a little as he carries the stack to the table, Christen’s eyes catch it but she says nothing. Jeff would ask for help if he needed it. Or he had Tobin’s annoyingly charming trait of being bullheaded and never asking for help. 

 

“...she’s the only one who gets me, you know? Chris is awesome like that,” Tobin says in passing as she brings out a bowl of fresh sautéed vegetables for their meal. Gently she sets it on the table, squeezing Christen’s arm in passing before hustling back into the kitchen ready to grab the next bowl.

 

Christen beams at the comment, letting herself bask in the glow of it. Tobin seems to be genuinely getting along with Gigi which sounds promising. The dinner is finally served with the next round of dishes, letting Christen and Tobin sit down together. 

 

“Babe, can you pass me the salt?” Christen nudges Tobin with her elbow, a warm smile plastered across her cheeks. Tobin passes the salt shake over with her right hand.

 

“So Toby do you still go to a church? Cause we're going on Sunday, obviously and your father wasn’t sure about the whole gay thing, even if you can come but we always do brunch after. ‘Corse you two could just meet us after.” Gigi just rips right into it, leaving the two women across the table blinking in shock. Tobin furrows her brow, setting her napkin down on her placemat. She swallows before fixing her eyes on her father. 

 

“I go every Sunday to a church in Portland. Christen is spiritual but she comes a couple of times especially for Christmas or Easter.” Tobin states matter of factly before taking a bite of her salad. Christen takes a breath, focusing on Tobin’s hands she sees shaking. She gently holds them under the table, rubbing her thumb softly. It had been a loaded question from Gigi, one that Christen suspects wasn’t intentionally harmful. But it had definitely brought up feelings for Tobin. 

 

“I view them as storytelling sessions of myths, it keeps me sane and I learn so much!” She chuckles, reaching over to grab some bread from their little basket. Gigi shakes her head, a bit surprised. 

 

“Oh well, that’s nice dear,” The older woman comments, taking a bite of her salmon. Jeff clears his throat after a sip of wine. 

 

“Maybe we could just meet up for brunch then?” He suggests as Tobin carefully sets down her fork. “Around 11? There is a really cute place on 7th and market if you—”

 

“Why can’t I go to your church,” Tobin speaks over her father, clenching her hands in Christen’s. She stands up, her frustration running in her head on a loop.  “Why’d you even ask us about it?! Is there something wrong?” 

 

Christen stands, her left hand resting on Tobin’s back. She can feel the energy radiating off her and desperately wishes that she could take it away. “ Tobs ,” she whispers, trying to keep her from making a rash decision. 

 

“Well, you know some places here just are behind the times,” Jeff starts to speak, wiping his lips with a napkin. “Now Tobs, Gigi never said you couldn’t come. There’s no reason to get upset. I’m trying to apologize for my past, and in this past, I gave you a religious trauma or whatever my therapist said—”

 

“Whatever your therapist said! Are you kidding me!” Tobin shouts. She’s given up the control. Her nostrils are flared and her eyes have gone dark. Hands curled into fists. “Ever since that night where we were found in the closet, you’ve hated me. You’re hiding out here with a new girlfriend, going to a new church, and pretending that our family never existed!”

 

Jeff stands up at his daughter’s accusations, an identical face of anger and disappointment reflected across the table in Tobin. Gigi looks ready to cry. 

 

Tobin .” Christen is firm, her hand pressing down into the small of Tobin’s back to try and ground her. She can feel the adrenaline pumping through her girlfriend and honestly, it scares her. She doesn’t quite know if she can hold her back entirely. She has never seen Tobin this close to losing it. 

 

Chris .” Tobin grits out lowly with an equally firm voice. Her brown eyes are full of unshed tears. Tears of anger, disappointment, and memories of her father. She sniffles, pulling her chin up to stare at her father. Gigi cries out at the tension, getting up to refill her wine glass in the kitchen while they square off against each other. Tobin is taken back to that night in Rhode Island. She can hear the rattling of the large ice cubes against her father’s whiskey glass rolling back and forth in her head. The tip of Tobin’s tongue curls against the back of her front teeth, the taste of her own favorite whiskey floating through her senses and biting at her insecurities. Like father like daughter after all. 

 

“I have never hated you, Tobin. I have never lied to you, and I won’t be starting now.” Jeff says. It sounds distant, garbled, and formal all at once. Tobin can’t swallow it for a second. She fails to keep down the broken scoff in response. 

 

“You ended your marriage because you couldn’t handle that your daughter likes women.” Tobin watches Jeff’s eyes widen and he starts shaking his head. She laughs gleefully, her hands rising as she talks. “You really think I didn’t hear it. Dad, I heard you and mom that night in Rhode Island. Before you mysteriously walked out on us.”

 

Christen’s hand moves from Tobin’s back up to her shoulder, and she leans closer. She can not watch the woman she loves, blow up any chance she had at reviving her relationship with her father. But Christen also doesn’t know what to say. Should she intervene? Does Tobin need to be alone or could she be trusted alone?

 

“Heard what? What are you talking about Toby, I left your mom because we weren’t working out anymore-”

 

“Because she stood up for me. I’m not stupid. I eavesdropped a lot more than you think as a kid, and you couldn’t stand me after you found me with that girl. I fucking heard my own father talk about how embarrassed he was about going back to church, and how you don’t even know me anymore!” 

 

The tears start to pour. Tobin can’t stop them any longer. She doesn’t want to at this point. Her throat is raw and scratchy, her eyes red and puffy. Christen instantly pulls her in closer, glaring at Jeff throughout the entire exchange. All she knows is that her girlfriend needs her support, and Jeff was hurting her again. 



“It was a different time! We didn’t know how to deal with this, you were a child and-” 

 

“Bullshit. You didn’t try to understand. And I didn’t need my sexuality to be dealt with, I needed a father who cared about me.” Tobin shakes her head, tucking herself into Christen’s arms. She’s getting her sweater wet but neither woman cares anymore. That’s when Christen makes an executive decision. She grabs her purse from the chair, nudging Tobin to start walking. 

 

“I’m really sorry that we’re wasting this meal because it really was lovely. But we’re going to the hotel, and I don’t think that we’ll be seeing you for brunch on Sunday. Please, just you’ve done enough damage for one night.” Christen says as she slides Tobin’s coat on the crying woman.

 

Tobin is almost shaking at this point, blubbering about how she didn’t get to tell him everything and that they shouldn’t leave. Christen just walks her out, not taking a second glance out at Jeff. 

 

Tobin kicks the potted plant on their way out to the sidewalk where they’ll call another uber. She watches as the painted pot from her childhood breaks into pieces of terracotta shards and laughs at it. She just laughs between the tears. Angry laughs. The laughs you hear when you know that someone’s soul has been broken. Tobin watches a memory of hers die and maybe it’s for the better. 

 

They get across the street and Christen envelops her. “I am so sorry baby, I didn’t know-”

 

“I didn’t know that I would break like that. It’s stupid but I don’t want them in my life on their terms. Shi-t-ty fucking terms that--that erase me. Dad knows that I would go to church. They questioned it and said ‘the gay thing’ like I can’t believe in Christ. I know who I pray to, I know who guides my life. Christ is my savior, and he made me in his image. God makes no mistakes.” Tobin explains passionately as they wait for the car. She starts pacing back and forth with all her pent-up energy. Muttering to herself between bouts of tears. 

 

“I know Tobs, I know. And they had no right to question you about that. We can talk more at the hotel babe--hey, come on,” Christen reaches out to hold Tobin’s hand and stop her pacing. “Just breathe with me?”

 

Tobin nods, following Christen’s slow breathing technique. She starts giggling midway through because Christen instructs her to plug one of her nostrils. Their uber pulls up closely after and Tobin turns around to watch them leave her father’s house. As the car drives away she can see a figure in the doorway get smaller and smaller. 

 

It’s Jeff.

 

-

 

Christen orders them greasy new york style pizza and they curl up under the hotel sheets while SportsCenter lulls Tobin to sleep. She’s wrapped up under the blankets with her head on Christen’s chest, arms around her middle. Christen glances down at her girlfriend, tracing the line of tried tears on her warm cheek with a sigh. 

 

This was not what they wanted from this trip. Farthest from it. Though Christen knew it was a possibility she had really hoped that Tobin could not only hold Jeff accountable for what had happened but move them forward. It seemed like there was so much unsaid. The Heath family just didn’t communicate compared to her own. She hates seeing Tobin like this. The anger she had felt radiating off of her still spooked her heart. It was so unusual. She’s seen Tobin sad. Distraught. But never so angry. 

 

Slowly Christen’s fingers thread through Tobin’s messy hair, comforting the exhausted woman who lets out a gentle noise at the feeling. Her other hand traces soothing patterns into Tobin’s back, feeling her slowly become boneless at the feathery sensations.

 

“I love you. I always will love you.” Christen mumbles against Tobin’s crown, breathing her in softly. Tonight taught her how much she hadn’t known about Tobin and her father. How Tobin blamed herself for the divorce, and how she was able to piece it together that it is why Tobin was afraid of her leaving. She wishes that she could prove it wasn’t true, but life doesn’t work like that. 

 

“Always?” Tobin whispers against Christen’s chest, her ear full of Christen’s beating heart. Thuwump, Thuwump . Thuwump, Thuwump. Thuwump, Thuwump.

 

“Always Tobs.”

 

The older woman’s eyes finally slip shut into the darkness of sleep, leaving Christen pondering once more. She’s pondering a lot of things. Like if she should answer her text from Tyler asking how it’s going, or the group chat message from Pinoe asking how the trip home was for Tobin. Part of her wonders if Pinoe could help Tobin, knowing how hard it can be living with those uncomfortable or unwanting of who you are. It’s a thought that Christen bookmarks in her head for another time. 

 

At the end between all of her winding thoughts, Christen chooses to text Cindy.  



Cindy? Look, things didn’t go so well tonight. I don’t know if Tobin will reach out but I think she needs to talk to you about it. If that’s okay. Can you try to call us tomorrow? She’s exhausted and worn out right now. But she needs her mom.