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When You Find What's Been Missing

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It’s raining when Tobin decides to go to the park and kick a ball around for a bit. She doesn’t mind the rain, she lives in Portland and has grown used to it. When you’ve got the appropriate weather gear, it isn’t so bad, she figures. At least it’s not that biting wind like in New Jersey where on a March night like this it would cut through you no matter what you were wearing and chill you to the bone. It would take hours even after a hot shower to warm up. So, Portland in March is pretty cool in that respect.

She’s feeling the preseason blues, missing two March friendlies the National Team due to a slight shoulder strain. She feels much better but with it being an Olympic year, the staff is being extra cautious. She hates when she misses any camps or matches, especially due to injury. She gets why they kept her home, getting tossed around in practice and the two matches would most likely aggravate her shoulder and she doesn’t want to come into the NWSL season with that nagging at her.

She opts against taking her skateboard, knowing the roads will be slick and with the season starting soon she doesn’t need to hurt herself doing something careless like taking a fall just to get to the park five minutes quicker. She doesn’t mind the walk with a soccer ball under her arm, wearing her turf shoes, since it’s a pretty crappy field with an old synthetic turf.

Once there, she drops the ball, taking heed to do a few more stretches than she’s done in her condo, making sure to loosen her thirty year old muscles so as, once again, not to
injure herself in this endeavor. After a fifteen minute warmup, she starts to jog and then runs a little, feeling good to get her legs moving.

She’s ready.

She gets her ball and starts and dribbling as she approaches the goal on an angle. As she gets closer, she imagines a defender in front of her, making moves and dodging them before taking her shot. She retrieves the ball and drop kicks it away from her, jogging to start all over. She does this for twenty minutes and then decides to take some penalty shots before backing up and shooting further and further away from the goal.

When lightning illuminates the now darkened sky, she squints up at the sky, frowning as the rain beads up on the bill of one of her numerous Nike snapbacks. Her shoulders slump when another strike hits closer, her day outside is over. She slowly dribbles over to the sideline, it must be around six, she figures, glancing up to see the heavy traffic on the nearby street.

It felt good to get some touches today, Tobin thinks, feeling better than she has most of the day. She’s feeling bummed, hating that she’s missing camp and the friendlies. She’s also feeling lonely, it’s something that comes and goes every once in a while, usually creeping up on her at night when she’s lying alone in her bed. Usually she keeps herself so busy, she’s dead tired by the end of the day and falls asleep quickly leaving no time for the pensive thoughts to invade her mind and keep sleep away.

She hasn’t been in a relationship for a couple of years and there are no current prospects she has in mind. She’s in a weird position, being kind of known to the public, yet not out and currently not actively seeking to meet women. She doesn’t cruise the gay bars, she never contemplates one night stands, she doesn’t hook up. She likes romance, she likes to know the person she chooses to be intimate with. She feels old fashioned and out of touch when she’s with her younger teammates who talk about Grindr and Tinder and how they’re getting laid on the regular with random males and females. That’s not her scene. She figures she’ll be on her own until her playing days are over, unless fate intervenes in some magical way.

She pops the ball from her foot to her hands, casually cupping it between her elbow and her torso as she jams her hands into her pockets. Maybe she’ll stop for a coffee on her walk home. A loud horn blaring makes her flinch and look over to the street to see a dog cowering in the road. Alarmed and not wanting to see the animal get struck, Tobin steps closer to the curb, waving her hands at the approaching cars. They slow to a stop as she steps off the curb, taking three steps onto the road.

“Hey, buddy,” she calls, snapping her fingers, trying to coax the scared dog towards her. The dog looks at her. It’s a young Lab mix she thinks, it’s light tan coat soiled with dirt and slick with rain. It makes Tobin how long this dog has been out on the streets.

“Come on,” she calls, keeping her voice gentle, “I’m not going to hurt you,”

The dog takes a tentative step towards her, then approaches, tail in between legs, eyes downward. Tobin spies the collar, hopeful she can locate the owner. She bends to hook two fingers under the collar, slightly bent over, guiding the dog from the street while awkwardly holding her soccer ball. They get up on the sidewalk and the rain is now coming down harder. Thunder booms loudly, making the dog cower, crouched down, belly nearly meeting the ground, head looking fearfully around.

“Come on,” Tobin says, “let’s get out the rain.” It’s just a block to her usual coffee spot that is dog friendly, so she heads there. If anything, she might be able to check out the collar and find a number to call.
The dog doesn’t seem to mind the walk with Tobin, it puts up with her pauses under business awnings as she continues to scan the area, seeking out anyone who appears to be looking for their pet. She sits as Tobin snaps a few photos of her in her straggly wet state, looking honestly pitiful. Eventually they enter the coffee shop and Tobin is greeted by name. It’s pretty deserted at this time in the late afternoon, actually, the early evening now. Tobin lets her fingers release the collar and dog stays by her side. She’s impressed.

“Who ya got there?” Callie, one of the employees asks.

“I don’t know,” Tobin admits, “I was hoping to get a look at this collar here,” she says, crouching down to find a tag with a name on it. She hisses and arches her back as cold water trickles down her neck. “Jemi?” she holds the dog’s head in her hands, the pup’s tail wagging furiously as it licks her face. “Your name is Jemi?” Tobin chuckles, “Okay, let’s see if there’s a number.”

She takes her phone out and dials as she reads the small tag. As the phone rings on the other end, Tobin watches as Callie goes behind the counter, talking to one of her coworkers and disappearing out of her view.

“Hello?” A man’s voice answers.

“Hey, hi,” Tobin greets, “I found your dog,”

“Ah geez,” he says, “that thing is still loose? I don’t have a dog,” he says.

“Oh?” Tobin straightens up, looking at wet dog.

“Yeah,” he sighs, “I just got this number last week,” he explains, “people have been calling me from Portland for the last three days.”

“Oh, man,” Tobin says, “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, so am I,” he says, “I live in California. I feel bad for the owner.”

“Okay,” Tobin nods, “I’ll figure something out,”

“Good luck,” he says.

“Sorry again,” Tobin frowns.

“Not your fault,” he says, “have a good one.”

“Thanks,” Tobin says and they end the call.

Callie comes out carry two bowls in her hands. She bends down and places them in front of the dog.

“Oh, thanks,” Tobin says, “uh, so the number leads to a guy in Cali who doesn’t own the dog.”

Callie’s eyes go wide, “What are you going to do?”

“I guess keep it until I can take it to a vet tomorrow,” Tobin says slowly, watching the dog hungrily eat some cold cuts. She snaps a photo of the scene.

“You know,” Callie clears her throat, “there’s a Walgreens across the street,” she says, “I can keep an eye on the dog if you want to get a leash and some food and stuff.”

“Oh,” Tobin straightens in the chair, “yeah, that would be great.”

A few minutes later Tobin is back out in the rain, Jemi at her side, easily walking in stride by her side while Tobin carries two bags of dog supplies, her soccer ball stuffed in one of the bags. Upon her return to the coffee shop, Callie informed her that the dog is female. Tobin may have gone a little overboard while shopping, calling Allie to explain her predicament and listening to her advice in what she should purchase.

 

“Oh, aren’t you the pretty girl,” Tobin coos as she dries the dog’s soft fur. She’s given her a warm bath, cranking the heat in her condo so the pup wouldn’t get a chill. The dog behaved wonderfully for her, patiently allowing her scrub the soapy cloth on her body, washing away the mud and grime to reveal to reveal a beautiful light tan coat. Jemi made these cute noises as she was sitting in the warm water as if she was enjoying the while process. “You like water?” Tobin asks, receiving a lick for a response before the dog shakes her whole body, spraying water everywhere getting Tobin rather wet. Tobin actually giggles, then laughs at how cute the dog looks. She had taken photos of how dirty she was and how much fun she enjoyed her bath and now she snaps a couple of how clean and beautiful she is. Tobin is still laughing as she lifts a paw to dry when Jemi yelps and withdraws it.

“What’s the matter?” Tobin asks, reaching for her paw again, bending low to look at it carefully. She sees one of the pads on her foot is cut. It’s no longer bleeding but obviously causing the pooch some discomfort. Thinking back, she remembered the dog was limping slightly. She sees the paw is clean and moves on to finish drying her, thinking she’ll come back to it later.

Jemi is comfortably curled on Tobin’s couch, after Tobin coaxed her up there, making Tobin think the dog was waiting to get up until she was given permission. She’s on her phone, looking up how to treat a cut on a dog’s paw. She leaves the couch, Jemi following her all the way to her bathroom, sitting and watching as Tobin gathers medical supplies she on hand. Tobin sits on the tile floor, laying out the items, and opening the gauze pad. Then she smears some anti-bacterial ointment on the pad, then looks at the dog. She takes another photo catching the laid out medical supplies and Jemi looking down at the items.

“I just want to help you, okay?” she says as she slowly lifts the dog’s leg and places the gauze pad on the bottom. She then wraps two rolls of gauze around the paw and lower leg, taping in completely so Jemi might not pick at the gauze. “Don’t chew on this, now,” she warns as she lowers it. Jemi licks her face.

Tobin collects the wrappers and other items, disposing of the trash and placing everything else back in her first aid kit. She leaves the bathroom, intent on having some dinner. First, she prepares the can of dog food, putting it in one of the bowls she has when Allie’s dogs come over and setting it down on the mat next to the water dish. Then she makes herself something to eat.

 

 

“Who is this?” Kling asks when she enters Tobin’s place the next day for lunch.

“This is Jemi,” Tobin informs her, “I found her on the street yesterday and I’m trying to get her home.”

“Hi, Jemi,” Kling greets her, going down on one knee to pet her. She looks up at Tobin, “You shouldn’t try too hard,” she grins at her, “this dog is awesome.”

“I’m sure someone is missing her badly,” Tobin answers back, although she is growing fond of the animal.

“Have you started yet?” Kling asks. “Finding her owner?”

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “I posted on Facebook, to the neighborhood lost dog group,” She had taken a photo of the dog and created a short message.

“You used your own account?” Kling asks her with large eyes.

“Yeah, why?” Tobin asks.

Kling rolls her eyes, “You’re going to have all of the wackos answer just to meet you,”

“I left out her name and told people to please share and only reply if they know what’s on her collar and what her name is.” Tobin frowns at her.

Kling laughs, “Good luck with that,” she snorts.

 

The trip to the vet went fine, the vet praising Tobin for her treatment of the wound. She sadly announced the chip only gave the same number as the one on the collar. But there was a new clue. The owner had a name. A one Christen Press.

In her down time, Tobin began to search the internet in between weeding out the obviously incorrect answers to her posts about the dog. She was overwhelmed with the search results, it would take her forever to find her. She got discouraged quickly, then clicked on images in her Google search, just for the hell of it. Scrolling down, her finger stopped over the image of a beautiful woman with dark curly hair, amazing bone structure and these mysterious and alluring green eyes. Tobin wasn’t sure how long she stared at the image before she closed out the page on her phone. With mixed feelings about not finding a quick result, she abandoned her search.

After realizing she would have to change the wet bandage every time she took Jemi out, Tobin and Jemi trekked over to the nearest PetSmart. She was delighted to find a raincoat in navy with matching booties. The kind worker at PetSmart had suggested a rain coat instead of a winter jacket, citing the dog’s thick fur, suggesting maybe she might be a mixed breed. The winter jacket might overheat the animal, where the rain jacket is breathable. They pass a fabric store on their way back, stopping in and inquiring about patches or appliques. Tobin couldn’t stop grinning as she carried the bags home with the dog at her side, excited to get to work.

She spent a good part of the evening applying the silver stars and colorful rockets to the jacket, adding the pack of the four moon phases. She decided against getting letters to spell out Jemi and when she finished, she was glad she didn’t, it would look too crowded. She shot a video of Jemi getting used to the booties, nearly falling over with laughter as she watched the pooch high stepping awkwardly around her living room.

Two days pass, then three. Tobin and Jemi have created a routine, spending their days mostly together. Tobin would take her to Garga’s gym, the dog behaving perfectly while she worked out, they’d go for lunch before heading back to her condo. They come home and nap on the couch together. Tobin realized how much she enjoyed having the dog nuzzled against her while she slept. She found herself not as bored as she usually was during the off season. She felt like she was smiling more often and mostly for no reason. She was just happy. Jemi provided was a constant companion and she was slowly developing a deep connection with the animal. She found her phone was quickly filling up of photos of the dog.

 

“You have to narrow down the search,” Allie informs her as they watch Jemi playing with Shay and Kass in Tobin’s living room. Allie had just returned from the last friendly.

“How do I do that?” Tobin asks exasperatedly, throwing her hands in the air with frustration.

“Well, is there anything on her collar?” Allie asks with a shrug.

“It’s got rockets and stars and moons on it,” Tobin replies, falling back onto her couch.

“Huh,” Allie answers, thinking about it for a moment and then frowning, “guess you got a dog now.”

“Allie,” Tobin whines, “someone is out there missing this dog like crazy, I just know it!” She stands up abruptly, “Jemi is awesome, she’s the sweetest dog I’ve ever met!”

Allie arches an eyebrow at her.

“Besides your girls, of course.” Tobin adds hastily as she sits back down.

“Of course.” Allie says pointedly. “How’s it going otherwise?” she asks. “Is this cute dog helping you meet any hot women?”

Tobin snorts, rolling her eyes, “Harry, come on,”

“What? Come on,” Allie frowns at her, “you haven’t dated anyone in a long time, I just thought this adorable furry wingman would help you,”

“Al,” Tobin sighs, “I’m not looking,”

“Why not?” Allie taps her leg with her toe.

“Because,” Tobin answers, “it’s scary out there,” she shares, “I never know if someone is interested in me or Tobin Heath, soccer player.”

“Well,” Allie drags out the word, preparing to begin what she’s told her many previous times before.

“Al, you met Bati while you were in college, so did Alex, so did Hao, so did Becky, so did Syd,” Tobin leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees, “Ash and Ali met through soccer. It’s hard to meet a normal person.”

Allie shuts her mouth, considering what she’s just heard. She takes a deep breath, letting it slowly. “Well,” she thinks, “maybe it’ll just happen organically.”

Tobin looks at her, “Yeah, right,” she shakes her head, “organically,” she snorts, thinking never in a million years that will happen. She’s resigned herself to being alone until her playing days are over.

After Allie leaves with her dogs, Tobin ponders Jemi’s collar. “It has to have some meaning,” she mumbles, she reaches over to where Jemi lies next to her, unclipping the collar to examine it closer. It’s a nave blue collar, the color matching Jemi’s eyes, adorned with reflective silver stitching of pointed stars, a moon and little rocket ships.

“What does this mean?” she wonders aloud. “There has to be a connection,” she sighs, attaching the collar around the dog’s neck. Jemi settles her head back on the couch with a groan and closes her eyes. This dog is so good. She has to have a special owner. I wonder what this collar means, if it means it’s connected to Jemi’s name.

A clue comes to her that night while Tobin is dreaming. In her dream, she’s in a park, Jemi lying in the bright sun on the blanket next to her. She’s trying not look like she’s looking for someone, although this Christen Press has contacted her through the lost dogs page she posted in. She feels anxious and slightly heartbroken at the thought of Jemi leaving her life.

She spies a dark haired woman walking determinedly across the park, her eyes focused on the canine next to her on the blanket. It’s the woman from the photo she drooled over earlier, the gorgeous one with dark curly hair, tanned skin, long legs striding confidently across the grass. She notices the woman’s hands are curled into fists, clenching on and off as she approaches.

It’s then that Jemi notices her, sitting up with her tail wagging furiously, not quite barking, but talking with excited whimpers and yips.

“Jemi!” the woman calls out, her voice reaching them as she trots to them. She gets on her knees, hugging the dog who is crying and whining in her arms. Tobin watches as sadness begins to fill her. She’s going to miss Jemi.

She wakes up with a start, remembering her dream and the stunning woman. You just dreamed about her because you think she’s hot, she reprimands herself, lying on her bed, feeling suddenly lonely. It isn’t that she doesn’t have friends, she’s so lucky to have an amazing group of people in her life. She just doesn’t have that soulmate. Someone to be intimate with, physically and mentally. Someone to share those thoughts and ideas she would never broach with even her closest friends. The loneliness hits her every once in a while, usually when she’s at weddings or events with plus ones and she’s on her own. Sometimes it hits at night, after a hard day when she’s struggled with something and writing in her journal isn’t cutting the feeling of needing to talk. The worst nights are the times Tobin just wants to be hugged. Just to have that comforting human contact.

Jemi has taken a big bite out of feeling alone she realizes, letting her hand find the dog’s side and gently scratching. Jemi responds by shifting onto her back, exposing her stomach for belly rubs. Smiling, Tobin obliges, stroking the dog’s soft fur as she lets herself drift back off to sleep.

 

 

Tobin is sitting on her couch, legs curled under her as she eats her morning cereal, trying to avoid dribbling milk down her chin and shirt when her phone goes off. A new message. She sets her near empty bowl down to read the message. It’s on her Facebook post.

Alyssa Naeher: Hi Tobin. I know this dog, it’s my friend’s who is out of town. Her name is Jemi and her collar has silver rockets, stars and a moon on it.

Tobin frowns as she reads the message, looking over at Jemi who is curled up in the corner of her couch. Tobin frowns and sighs feeling the loss of the pup already and switches over to private messager begins to write her response.

Tobin Heath: Hi Alyssa, you’re correct! Um, what’s the name of your friend?

Tobin thinks that it’s just another way to be certain that Alyssa is correct, since according to the microchip under Jemi’s skin, she’s registered to a Christen Press. The reply comes almost immediately.

Alyssa Naeher: Her name is Christen Press and she’s currently unreachable until Friday afternoon.

Friday, Tobin reads.

Tobin Heath: can I give you my number and we can talk? Tobin types in her cell number, praying this woman is legit and she hasn’t opened herself up to another intense fan. Her phone rings. She bites her lip before she swipes to answer it. “Hello?”

“Hi, Tobin?” a female with a quiet voice asks.

“Yeah, is this Alyssa?” she replies.

“Yes, it is. Thank you so much for finding Jemi!” she says and Tobin can hear the relief in her voice. “Christen went on a business trip last Friday and the boarding place Jemi was at lost her.”

“Oh, how horrible,” Tobin comments, sadly looking at Jemi.

“She’s unreachable by phone, but I sent her an email to let her know you found her.” Alyssa continues, “she’ll be flying back on Friday afternoon.”

“I can keep her until then,” Tobin offers, wanting to extend her time with the pooch, “she’s an amazing dog and it’s no problem at all.”

There’s a pause, “Are you sure?” Alyssa asks, “I’d come and get her, but my building doesn’t allow animals.”

“Oh, yeah, no problem,” Tobin says quickly, “I’ll be around on Friday after three,” she informs her, “she can come to my place to pick her up if she wants.”

“She will,” Alyssa states, “like, right from the airport. I’m sure she’s been a basket case since hearing about Jemi going missing,” she states, “it probably ruined her trip.”

Tobin hums sympathetically, “Oh, that sucks,” she says quietly. She looks over at the dog, yeah, if I was out of town and learned she was missing, I’d be pretty upset.

“I’ll give you her number and you can text her to set it up, is that alright?”

“Yeah, sure,” Tobin agrees, hoping that her dream was a premonition and she’d meet the gorgeous dark haired woman. She shakes her head at herself, knowing the chances of that happening are infinitesimal.

“Okay, great,” Alyssa replies, once again the relief evident in her voice, “thank you so much, she’ll be so happy Jemi is safe.”

“Thanks for reaching out to me,” Tobin says politely, “I look forward to meeting Christen,”

“Thanks for being so kind to Jemi,” Alyssa states, “I’ll send over Christen’s number.”

“Okay,” Tobin breathes, “bye,”

They end the call and a minute later, her phone dings with Christen’s contact info. Tobin stares at it, wondering if she should send a text now. She thinks about it, then realizes she should send a photo of Jemi. Something cute, she thinks, to relieve her worry. She looks over at the dog, resting comfortably on her couch. She scrolls through her phone and decides to send her the story of when Tobin found her.

Just sending one photo with a short explanation doesn’t seem enough, Tobin decides and she spends the better portion of the next hour carefully choosing photos she’d taken of their time together so far, explaining each one. She starts off with an introduction, explaining how and where she found the dog, using the photo she took in the coffee shop. Then a photo during her bath, then the adorable one of Jemi’s tongue hanging out as she’s wrapped in a towel after her bath. Her eyes are squeezed shut and her head is tilted, looking like she’s so happy. With the picture she sends of Jemi lounging fully stretched out on her couch, Tobin apologizes if she’s not allowed on furniture in her home. Then photos from their activities each day they’ve been together with funny captions. She makes sure to include photos of Jemi’s paw and how it’s healing, to show her she’s doing fine.

 

 

“Tobin, this pooch is awesome,” Sinc says as she pets her. A group of teammates are back in town to train and have gathered at one of the quieter bars in town for drinks and to hang out.

“Yeah,” Tobin sighs, “I’m gonna miss her.” She’s explained to them how they met and how she’s contacted the owner and the dog will get returned on Friday. She tells them how she’s been sending her photos to document Jemi’s freedom run.

“I’m just so curious about her collar,” Tobin says, shaking her head, “I don’t know why, but I feel like it means something, something important to her owner.”

Becky leans down and inspects it, furrowing her forehead as she sits back in her seat, “Maybe she’s a rocket scientist,” she offers with a shrug.

“Or an astrologer,” Kling chimes.

“Or a psychic and knew you had her already,” Sinc smiles.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Tobin chuckles.

“You should do something crazy,” Kling suggests with a glint in her eyes, “I know,” she grins at them, “let’s take some photos of her at the bar,”

Tobin laughs, thinking it’s hilarious, “Yeah, let’s do it.” She gets up and they begin to set it up. First she lifts the dog onto a barstool. Then she places her beanie on her head, Sinc offering up her scarf as an accessory. Then they have a debate about what type of drink Jemi would prefer.
The bartender knows them, they’re regulars here and she indulges their fun, making a fake martini for the pooch, sliding dog treats they keep behind the bar through a swizzle stick and carefully balancing it in the glass. Photos are taken and Jemi even rests her paw on the bar, looking carefree.

Tobin sends a text, writing that she’s out for Wednesday night dogtinis. Kling, who’s never shy, approaches a couple who’s there with their dog, asking if they can borrow the dog for bar photos. The couple have been watching them and eagerly agree, debating what type of character their pooch should play.

The man grabs his leather jacket and works it onto their German Shepard, who is patient and looks bored, as if this is something that happens often. They get the dog up on the stool next to Jemi and dogs gently greet another, politely sniffing each other. The man balances sunglasses on his shepard dog and puts his beer in front of him on the bar. The woman is over Tobin’s shoulder, getting the dog’s attention as Tobin takes photo after photo.

She thanks the couple, getting the woman’s number and sends her some of the better photos and buys them a round of drinks. They get the animals off the stools and give them treats for being so good. The couple go back to their table laughing over it and thanking Kling for including them.

“That was hilarious!” Emily laughs, “Jemi’s face when he moved the stool closer!”

At one point, the man was on his knees and slid the barstool his dog was on closer to Jemi. The dog’s paw landed on Jemi’s and she turned to look at the Shepard with such disdain, an arched eyebrow with tilted head. Tobin was able to capture the moment, the Shepard looking at Jemi with his tongue hanging out made it even more hilarious. Tobin knew exactly how she was going to caption that.

They stayed for a while longer, ending the night with one last phot of Jemi. She was lying on the floor resting peacefully and they carefully placed all of their empty glasses and beer bottles around her, making her look like she was passed out.

It’s near midnight and Tobin is in bed with Jemi at her side, Tobin is laughing and a little buzzed as she scrolls through the photos once more, selecting four to send her. She giggles as she types out the first one. Alyssa had said Christen was unreachable, so she didn’t think it would matter what time she sends her texts. Jemi is sitting at the bar with a dogtini. “Feeling cute,” she writes, “might delete later.”

The next one is when Sarge makes his appearance. “Who’s this handsome fella?” she writes, giggling at the photo. Then the epic photo, “Yeah, no. Not my type.” She writes with frowning faces.

The last photo is of Jemi on the floor surrounded by empty drinks. “Overserved.” She writes, deciding she should end there and go to sleep.

 

 

It’s Friday, Tobin and Jemi’s last day together. The temperature has dropped and it had started snowing some time before Tobin awoke. Tobin is laughing at Jemi as she investigates the snow, as if she’s never seen it before. They’re in the parking lot of the gym walking slowly with her nose to the ground, letting the snow build up across her face and then lift her head and shake it off. Tobin is filming it as the dog is straining on the leash.

They enter the gym, Tobin removing the jacket and booties form the dog, checking that her bandage is still in decent shape. Jemi finds a soft spot on a mat used for stretching, curling up and taking a nap while Tobin does her workout. Before they leave, Tobin poses Jemi at the squat rack, having her stand on her hind legs with her front paws on the bar. Garga is laughing at her, telling her she’s nuts. Quickly she sends the photo, giggling as she writes. “New PR- 225lbs!”

After she gets her workout done, she takes the dog over to Allie’s for lunch. Shay and Kass greet Jemi like an old friend, the three dogs playing and chasing each other around Allie’s apartment. Tobin videos it and sends it to Christen. Twenty minutes later, the dogs are crashed out sleeping in a pile together. Tobin takes a photo and sends that too, mentioning it’s nap time.

“You seem pretty determined to document your time with her.” Allie comments as she pulls out the casserole she’s made.

“Well, I just want her to know the dog is doing okay,” Tobin explains.

“Uh huh,” Allie nods knowingly. Then she grows serious, “Tobin, I hope you’re not like, building her up to be this amazing person who’s going to fall in love with you or something,” she says, “you don’t even know if she’s married or straight or anything.”

Tobin nods, biting her lower lip, knowing that the truth is she kind of is doing just that. But she doesn’t want Allie know that. “I know,” she says, trying her best not to sound defensive.

Allie knows her too well to see past it all, she knows the truth. “I just don’t want you to get hurt,” she says gently. She begins to plate their lunch.

Tobin smiles at her, “I know Harry,” she says, using their nickname for each other. She shrugs, “Can you imagine being away for over a week knowing Shay or Kass was missing and not having access to find out anything? I just want her to know as soon as she gets reception that her dog is fine.”

“I get that,” Allie accepts, still thinking that Tobin is definitely going overboard with this and will be disappointed. They’re now sitting at the kitchen table eating. Tobin notices how Jemi cracks an eye open at the smell of the food but doesn’t move from her spot. Shay and Kass squirm over each other to get up and come sit by Allie’s side, begging for a scrap of their meal.

“You know,” Tobin says, “I don’t think she’s ever seen snow before,”

Allie resists rolling her eyes, deciding to let Tobin do her own thing. “Oh yeah?”

Tobin is nodding her head quickly, “She didn’t know what to think when we got to the gym,”

“You took her to Garga’s again?” Allie’s eyes widen, she’s brought Shay and Kass once before and Garga mentioned maybe she should leave them home the next she came there.

“She just chilled on a mat,” Tobin explains quickly, realizing she shouldn’t have shared that. She was with Allie that day at the gym and her dogs were a bit hyper, running all over the place, chasing and tripping her when she did her running drills. Granted, they were puppies then, but still, she’s sure it stung Allie to not let them come again.

“Huh,” Allie sniffs, feeling a little hurt. “What are you doing tonight?”

“I don’t know,” Tobin bobs her head, “just hanging out. Might do some painting or something. What about you and Bati?”

“Well, we’re supposed to go to the basketball game,” she frowns, “but if this weather keeps up, I don’t know.”

“Huh?” Tobin turns her head to look out the window. It’s snowing hard now. She clenches her teeth and frowns at the same time, hissing air between her teeth, “Oh,”

“You may end up having Jemi for another night,” Allie predicts, “this storm could shut down the airport.”

“Maybe I should head home,” She says as she finishes eating, “it looks like it’s getting pretty bad out there.”

“Let me turn on the Weather Channel,” Allie says as she gets up from the table, “I hope this doesn’t mess up Bati’s commute home,” she frowns, walking to grab the remote off the coffee table.

Tobin picks up their plates and brings them to the sink, dutifully scraping them, then rinsing them and placing them in the dishwasher with their utensils. She opens the cabinet that houses Allie’s Tupperware, going to work on putting away the remnants of their lunch. “Should I make a plate for Baps?” she asks, her nickname for Bati.

“Sure,” Allie answers as she watches the screen, “that would be great, thanks.”

Tobin doesn’t mind doing this stuff ever, she’s not a huge fan of cooking, even though she can make some decent meals. Food to her is energy, it’s what allows her to be in her best shape and play as hard as she can. She’s not like, a foodie, although there are some meals that she craves sometimes. If it were up to her, she’d be pretty content eating the same thing almost every night.

“Uh, Har,” Allie calls out, “what city is this Christen coming from?” She still standing in front of the sofa, staring at the TV screen.

“Denver,” she replies, “she was there for a business trip.”

“The Denver airport is closed right now,” Allie informs her. “I wonder if she’ll get out.”

“Oh,” Tobin grimaces, “that’s not cool,” she runs the water in the sink, washing her hands and then dries them with the dish towel hanging nearby. Then she joins Allie by the couch.

“Do you have enough food for a few days?” Allie inquires, nudging her arm.

“Yeah,” Tobin replies, “I got a grocery delivery two days ago, I’m good. You?”

“We’ll survive,” Allie nods, “my freezer is packed.”

Tobin lingers at Allie’s for a half an hour, talking about the impending storm that will hit Portland late in the afternoon today into the evening. Allie amusedly watches as Tobin gets Jemi dressed in her booties and jacket, then shrugs on her own jacket , jamming her beanie down over her ears. Allie hugs her, “Thanks for coming over,”

“Thanks for lunch, it was awesome, as usual,” Tobin smiles at her.

“Let me know how it goes with Dog Lady,” Allie grins at her.

Tobin shakes her head, “I will,” she says, gathering Jemi’s leash and clipping it to her collar, “one of the first questions I'll ask her is what the meaning of her collar is,” she states.

Allie walks them to the door, Shay and Kass following behind. “I’m so happy they got along so great,” Allie remarks, “this was like a play date.”

Tobin chuckles, “Later,”

Allie pokes her head out of her doorway, “Text me when you get home safe!” she calls.

Tobin raises her arm and flicks her a shaka sign, whistling as she walks with the dog.

 

Driving wasn’t too terrible, Tobin thinks as she parks in spot, grateful she has indoor parking. She walks over to the attendant’s booth, greeting him and reserving pass for a guest. She realizes she doesn’t know what type of car Christen drives, so she says she’ll call down when she knows. He’s cool about it, it won’t be a problem. Satisfied she thought to do that, Tobin decides to get off on the fifth floor. It holds the gym, the indoor and outdoor pools and the large patio area. She unclips Jemi’s leash as they enter the patio, letting her run around in the snow. She makes a few snowballs to throw up at her to catch, filming it as she laughs.

They go inside when Tobin feels her hair is wet and caked with snow and Jemi comes to her side easily. She’s so obedient, Tobin thinks as she clips her leash on, I wonder how she escaped the boarding place. Kneeling on the floor in her entryway, Tobin feels a sense of déjà vu as she removes Jemi’s coat and booties, just like her Mom did when she came in from the snow as a child. Jemi gives a full body shake, then finds her water bowl, lapping at it for a while. Tobin takes off her own boots and coat and beanie, running her hands through her wet hair. She pads down her hallway in her socks, a chill from the cold outside washing over her. She stops to grab a dish towel and dries her hair as best she can.

“You wanna take a nap?” Tobin asks the dog as she stretches out on the couch, spreading a blanket over herself and smiling as Jemi obliges, carefully coming up to join her, settling on her lower legs. She doesn’t even turn on the TV, content to lay there in silence with Jemi and closes her eyes.

 

XXXX

 

Christen Press had only transferred to her new job, but since it was just a location change to another office, she still retained all of her seniority and vacation and salary. Her first week in Portland, she hurriedly quasi-settled in to her apartment with Jemi. She still had loads of boxes to unpack, but she could function fairly well with her kitchen and clothing unpacked. Her photos, knickknacks and other décor still had to find places on walls and shelves, but that could wait for later. She had checked in at her new office, signing some transfer paperwork with the HR officer and then finding her new office. She had intentionally come in later in the day, not wanting to linger with introductions since she wouldn’t officially start for another week.

In the week they were in the apartment, Jemi adjusted well to the change of her routine, patiently waiting for her walks and visits to the dog park close by. Christen had located the closest grocery store, dry cleaners, chosen a veterinarian and the nearest coffee shop. She decided she didn’t want to overdo things that first week, feeling that she’d have more time when she returned from her trip.

This business trip was booked months ago, she had gained another level of security to be included on the project and was looking forward to contributing to it. Her job required a small amount of travel and usually it wouldn’t be an issue for her, she friends and family back home to leave Jemi with. With the timing of her move, that put her in a bit of a difficult position.

She had dropped Jemi at the boarding facility on her way to the airport, doing her best to keep her emotions in check as she left her there. She had carefully researched the company, reading over reviews from past customers. Satisfied they were a reputable firm that cared for their canine clients, Christen called and made a reservation even before she left California.

By the time she landed in Denver, she had a voicemail waiting from a nervous sounding woman apologetically informing her that Jemi had gotten scared from a larger exuberant dog and bounded out of the facility through a series of unfortunate events. The entire staff was looking for her and assuring her they will update her when they find her. She spent a couple of moments trying not to burst in tears as she walked to the baggage claim, contemplating on grabbing her bag and booking a return flight to Portland. She called her friend Alyssa, the only person she knew in Portland to explain the situation. Alyssa promised to check social media and go looking for Jemi and somehow convinced her to stay and attend the meetings. Christen really had no chance in leaving, she was to play a vital role in their meetings and was hoping to be named a project leader.

She booked her rental car and navigated through the snow covered streets out of the city and into the woods. She knew she wouldn’t have cell service at her destination, but Alyssa would call and leave messages for her with updates at the main office or send her a message through the company’s chat room server.

The first few days are lackluster, Christen cannot find her rhythm, her heart isn’t in it, she’s distracted thinking about Jemi. At lunch on the third day, she happened to sit next to an acquaintance. She worked with her on another project last year and they kept in touch. Th kind woman murmured to her that she sensed she was struggling and the floodgates opened. Christen tearfully explained what was going on and how worried she was and how helpless felt and conflicted she felt for staying here when she should be out trying to find her dog.

The woman comforted her, understanding her feelings and agreeing how difficult it must be for her right now. She had her consider how effective it would be for her to leave now and join the search or stay here and gain the insights she will need to navigate if this situation comes out negative. Her frankness shocks Christen, almost out of her chair.
They agree to talk more after their day ends, just one on one and for some reason, Christen feels more settled. It was one of the last things she had said her, “What if this situation is stretching you right now, to leave your emotions raw enough to really understand these concepts?”

She pondered that for the rest of the day, frowning when she read the daily message from the boarding house that Jemi wasn’t found. Maybe there was something to what she said, Christen had thought, it wasn’t seeming like Jemi would ever be found and maybe here, learning to clear her mind and release her emotions was actually preparing her for the loss she would face when she returned to Portland. During her time alone most evenings in her lodge room, Christen focused on Jemi, thinking of the dog’s amazing disposition, how she captured her heart so easily when she first met her in the shelter a year ago. With horror she realized that since she had gotten rid of her old phone number two weeks ago, she hadn’t updated Jemi’s microchip. She fought through her emotions of being so irresponsible, feeling that she played a significant role in the dog being missing for so long.

The next day, Alyssa left a message, stating that she had found Jemi, well, someone had found Jemi and stated they had her instead of turning her in to Animal Control. They had talked and the woman had agreed to keep the dog until Christen could pick her up. Alyssa had felt the woman was trustworthy and was taking good care of Jemi and since she couldn’t keep her, decided that it would be okay. Christen wrote the name and number down, immediately putting it in her phone when she returned to her room. She pondered who Tobin Heath was, thinking of the unusual name. It’s sounds familiar to her but she can’t place it. She’ll have to Google her later when she has cell service. She trusts Alyssa’s judgement to let Jemi stay with the stranger, her instincts must have guided her to feel okay with it. Relieved and anxious to get home and curious about the stranger caring for Jemi, Christen went through the next two days enjoying herself. She happily found her friend and relayed the good news. She felt lighter and free and happy she had stayed. The next two days she was on her game and fully involved, offering some suggestions and being charged a significant portion of responsibilities for the project. As she packed Friday morning, Christen thought about how she learned so much about herself while dealing with Jemi’s disappearance that she thought she gained more insight from it than if the dog hadn’t gotten loose.

She waits until she gets through the long security line and is seated at her gate before opening her phone, her mouth dropping open with the amount of messages she has from Tobin Heath. She grows anxious as to why this woman would text her so often, opening the messages and waiting for them to load. She feels her lower lip tremble as she looks at Jemi who’s so wet and dirty, looking depressed and sad in the photo. She reads Tobin’s message, smiling at the playful play by play of Jemi’s journey with this stranger. Tears come to eyes at the beginning, seeing Jemi looking so sad and dirty and then her wound on her paw, imagining her being in pain. She laughs out loud at the bath photos, the working out at the gym and playing in the snow. She’s grinning like a fool, looking up at the ceiling to gives thanks to the universe for Jemi finding such a caring person to take her in.

She looks over to the flight information board behind the counter and sees that her flight is delayed thirty minutes. She thinks for a moment as she sips her coffee, contemplating what her first text to this Tobin should be. She decides to Google Tobin and see if she can learn something about her. After typing in her name, her eyes widen at the results. After enlarging her photo on her wiki page, Christen bites her lower lip and then switches to look at images of her.
After a few minutes she shudders in her seat, shaking herself from her cyber stalking and decides to send her text. Good Lord is this woman hot, she thinks to herself, she is so attractive. A soccer player, I knew I knew her from somewhere, she nods to herself. They just won the World Cup this summer. She only got to watch one match due to a project she was supervising that took up most of her time. She nods when she had read about Tobin playing for the Portland team, thinking that was cool.

Now, she taps her chin with two fingers, what to text to her, she ponders.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

Tobin wakes from her slumber hearing her phone going off with a new text message. She groans as she turns, feeling the weight of Jemi on her legs, effectively trapping her under the sixty pound animal. She yawns as she reaches for her phone, blinking rapidly to wake herself up and be able to focus.

Christen Press.

“Holy shit,” Tobin whispers, “holy shit,” she repeats as she swipes her phone open and navigates to her messages.

Christen Press: Hi Tobin! I’m sitting here crying in the airport at your kindness and the hilarity of these photos of you and Jemi! I can’t thank you enough for helping her! She and I are so lucky you’re so awesome to take care of her. My flight back to Portland is slightly delayed, but I should return before six o’clock. Would it possible for me to come and get Jemi tonight?

Tobin smiles as she reads the text.

Tobin Heath: Hey Christen! Jemi is awesome and it’s been a treat to be hanging with her. She’s such a good pup and we’ve had a really great time together. I’ll be home all night so come whenever you want. We’re just chilling out. Tobin snaps a pic of Jemi sprawled out on her legs and stomach on top of the blanket.

“Aw,” Christen smiles at the photo of Jemi looking so comfortable. She reads Tobin’s message.

Christen Press: I definitely want to come and get her, I’ve been so worried all week. Thank you again, will you send me your address? You’ve been so kind, I don’t want to be an imposition.

Tobin reads her message, smiling, noting the proper punctuation and finding it endearing. Then thinks of her answer. They go back and forth exchanging her address and Christen’s license plate. Tobin directs her to park in the garage, explaining she’ll reserve her a spot and she won’t have to park on the street. Especially with the snow. Christen is surprised about snow and asks her what’s going on in Portland.

They chat via text for another twenty minutes until Christen informs her that she to board her plane. Tobin bids her a good flight and asks for a heads up when she lands. When Tobin looks at her phone, she realizes she’d only napped for under an hour and it was only two thirty in the afternoon. She slowly slides off the couch, Jemi intent on staying there, allowing her escape from underneath her. Tobin ambles over to her patio window, stretching her arms as she walks. She moves aside the fabric of her drapes, gazing out at the overcast sky, seeing it is still snowing heavily. She turns and grabs her remote, flicking the TV on and finding the Weather Channel.

The reality that this stranger was going to come to her house hits her and Tobin begins to clean up her kitchen. She continues on to her living room, doing floors and preparing for her arrival. When her phone chirps again in a half an hour, she’s surprised to see it’s Christen again. Hoping her flight didn’t get cancelled, she opens it quickly. A wide smile spreads across her face as she reads that Christen is on her flight, choosing to comment about every photo Tobin has sent her. They continue their conversation through text as Tobin finishes making her home presentable.

 

 

XXXX

 

 

She’s tense, not used to driving in such horrible conditions. Christen is sitting upright, her back arched, her shoulders tense and knuckles white wrapped around her steering wheel as she slowly creeps down the city streets. The Californian native was not enjoying this experience right now. Her flight went by quickly, laughing and enjoying Tobin’s wit in her replies to the photos sent her, explaining each one more fully. By the time they had gone through them all, Christen felt closer to this stranger. This incredibly hot stranger. This top class soccer player that somehow found her dog and has taken wonderful care of her and has shown her such love and affection in their short time together. Christen couldn’t deny she was attracted to Tobin.

She was shocked to find she only lives about a mile from Tobin’s place. She realizes Portland is a large city and the chances they would run into each other were probably low but she couldn’t help to think that maybe this was some sort of strange coincidence that the universe has presented her. She lets out a sigh of relief when she navigates the final turn onto Tobin’s street. She easily finds the entrance to the parking garage, stopping at the gate and explaining that she has a parking pass waiting for her. The attendant smiles and nods and hands over a tag and instructs her to hang it from her mirror and directs her to where the visitor’s parking area is located.

Christen sits in her car once she’s parked, pulling the visor down and checking her hair and making sure she looks decent. She spritzes some perfume on to mask the smell of traveling all day and takes a deep breath. This is it.

 

 

When Christen texted Tobin the plane was beginning its descent, Tobin decided to get into gear. She stood in her closet, contemplating what to put on. She decides to throw on a comfy sweater, one of her favorite ones, a dark solid brown with the classic alpine white skiing design across the chest. She puts on a pair of her faded old brown demin pants, leaving her feet bare, pleased with the heat coming through her floor. She runs a brush through her hair, frowning at it and then pulling it back into a bun.

Tobin sighs as she pulls out one of the many Nike bags she’s been given, using it to place all of the items she’s brought for Jemi. She packs it up, stopping to play tug of war with the dog for a few minutes, before she lost interest and then stuffing the toy in the bag. She feels sad to be doing this, but knows she has to. She feels slightly foolish with how attached she’s gotten to the animal. It’s been wonderful taking care of her and while she always enjoyed the other dogs in her life, Allie’s, Alex’s and her sister’s, she never entertained she never considered owning one of her own one day. She still doesn’t know if she would, but this week certainly has her considering it more seriously.

She calculates she’s got another twenty minutes before Christen would arrives, knowing how long it normally takes to get to her place from the airport and then two things happen. First, Tobin grows antsy. Then she grows hungry. She realizes it’s almost six o’clock, long past her normal dinner time. Her stomach is making noises and she’s beginning to feel sick from not eating.

She throws together a quick chicken dish, intent on preparing a separate tray of vegetables, shoving some pieces of raw carrots in her mouth as she prepares it. She makes enough for her and Christen, hoping she can entice the woman to stay and eat with her. She feeds Jemi who has been patiently sitting in the kitchen watching her move around.

“Does your Momma eat meat?” Tobin questions Jemi as the dog is hungrily eating her dinner. “I should make more vegetables,” she mumbles to herself, moving to her fridge and perusing her choices. She selects a zucchini and some broccoli. She’s just finished sliding both trays in the oven when her doorbell sounds, making her freeze for a moment.
Jemi emits a bark, looking towards the door and then back at Tobin who is drying her hands that are suddenly clammy on her pants as she walks down the hallway. She opens the door and her breath is taken away. The gorgeous woman from the photo she had seen and from her dream is standing before her.

“Hi, Tobin?” the woman speaks, Tobin shaking her head and grinning, stepping back and opening the door wider, “Hi, Christen?”

She smiles and Tobin’s heart just might explode, “Yes,” Christen nods, looking past her to Jemi. Jemi sees her and begins excitedly barking, so Tobin flattens herself against the door, “Come on in,” she encourages.

“Thanks,” Christen says, sliding past her and dropping to her knees, squealing as Jemi launches herself at her with tail wagging and behind wagging and crying and whimpering. Tobin smiles as she watches the reunion, how Christen is hugging and talking to her dog. How Jemi is now on the floor, crying and pawing at her.

Tobin shuts the door quietly, turning to watch them when Christen looks back over her shoulder. Tobin can see the tears streaking down her face and gives her a soft smile.

Christen stands up, looking at her sheepishly as she wipes at her cheeks. “Sorry,” she says shyly, a cute blush spreading across her neck and cheeks.

“No problem,” Tobin says with a soft smile, clearing her throat, “uh, you want to come for a few minutes?”

“Sure,” Christen agrees, returning the soft smile.

“Let me take your coat,” Tobin offers, reaching out and helping her out of the garment. She turns and hangs it up in her closet while Christen removes her snow boots. “Come on in,” Tobin invites, “may I get you something to drink?”

Christen turns from where she looking at Tobin’s living room, “Sure,” she replies, following her to the kitchen. “Tobin,” she says suddenly, “I can’t thank you enough for this,” she says, “it was so kind of you to take her in instead of dropping her off at a rescue or animal welfare,”

“Aw,” Tobin shrugs, “she was so friendly, I just couldn’t do it,” she admits, “she sort of captured my heart, you know?” She says, a peaceful smile on her face while looking at Jemi who is now standing next to her. She looks at the dog for a minute, apparently lost in her thoughts before looking up at Christen quickly, “Ah, so, a drink? Water, wine, Gatorade?”

“I’ll have whatever you’re drinking,” Christen says agreeably, watching her move to a bottle of red standing on her kitchen counter.

They sit on the couch at opposite ends, Jemi sitting on the floor next to Tobin on the far side, looking at Christen. The dog begins to warble at her, as if she’s complaining, whining and chuffing with her disdain. Tobin looks at the dog and then at Christen, “Uh?” she questions, slowly stroking Jemi’s head to try and calm her down.

“She’s upset with me,” Christen explains with a head tilt, “she always does this, lets me say hello and then gets mad I was gone.”

“Do you travel often?” Tobin asks.

“Just a few times a year for work or a vacation,” she answers, “how about you? Oh, wait, of course you do,” she chuckles.

“You know what I do?” Tobin asks, slightly surprised. She’s still surprised when people know her, she’s not used to being recognizable. “Come on, Jemi,” she pats the middle cushion of the couch, “come on girl,” she encourages her. Jemi gets up on the couch, but leans on Tobin, curling up against her so she can look at Christen.

“Well, I didn’t until I looked you up,” Christen admits, “I don’t really get to follow much soccer,” she says apologetically.

“Oh, that’s fine,” Tobin grins easily, giving her slight wave, “what do you for a living?”

“I work for Boeing,” Christen replies, “and I just moved here from California,” she frowns, “and I hadn’t had a chance to get Jemi’s microchip updated,”

“Ah,” Tobin nods, “yeah, the dude who has your old number seemed like he got a few calls,” she shakes her head, “you make airplanes?”

“Mostly satellites,” Christen grins.

Tobin slouches back on the couch, sipping her wine, then looks directly at her, “That explains Jemi’s collar, huh?”

Christen smiles widely and gives this adorable giggle that almost makes Tobin melt, “And her name,” she chuckles. “Her full name is Jemison,” she explains, taking a sip of her wine, “she’s named after Mae Jemison.” Tobin looks at her questioningly.

“Mae Jemison is the first black female astronaut,” Christen explains, “she’s an engineer and a doctor and went up in the Space Shuttle to perform science experiments and stayed in the SkyLab for a time.”

“Woah, that’s so cool,” Tobin comments, “so are you an engineer too?”

Christen nods, “Yes,” she says, “I work on designs and some other stuff.” She’s never sure how to explain what she does when some of it is classified and she’s not allowed to discuss it.

“That’s awesome!” Tobin says enthusiastically, leaning towards her a little, “Are you a rocket scientist?”

Christen gives a melodic laugh, “You could say that,” she grins at her.

A beep comes from the kitchen, Tobin turns to look, slowly sliding from the couch and standing, “Uh, that’s dinner,” she announces, “I made some chicken and veggies, would you like to stay and eat? Have you eaten?”

Christen considers it a moment, then smiles, “I’d love to,” she replies, standing up as well, “Can I help with anything?”

“Sure,” Tobin grins over her shoulder as she walks to the oven, finding her oven mitt and removing the two trays. She directs Christen to the cabinet that holds the plates and lets her find the silverware as she plates the food.

They sit at the kitchen table and eat, talking about anything and everything. Christen wants to pay Tobin for the supplies and toys she’s bought Jemi and Tobin refuses, trying to convey how much fun she’s had with the dog and she doesn’t mind. Christen smiles shyly at how sincere Tobin is, how she enthusiastically expresses the joy Jemi had brought her and how it was so unexpected and great.

Tobin listens sympathetically as Christen explains how devastated she was hearing about Jemi going missing.

The conversation comes so easily, it shocks both of them. There’s an obvious connection and right now it’s friendly, but there is the underlying attraction they feel for one another. They don’t bring it up, both hesitant to discuss it. Instead, they talk about Portland, Tobin sharing neighborhood places she likes when Christen tells her she’s about a mile across town. Christen peppers her about different places, asking if certain ones live up to the hype she’s read online. Tobin gladly answers all of her questions, talking about why she likes certain ones and what she doesn’t care for about others. She tells her how her opinion is skewed because she avoids the places that people come up to her often, explaining how it makes her slightly uncomfortable. Christen realizes it’s because Tobin has to be pretty famous in this city, with her playing for the Thorns and on the National Team. Talk circles back to Jemi with Tobin asking her how long she’s had her and where she got her.

“Well,” Christen begins, her eyes shining at the memory, “my parent’s have two dogs, well one is mine but I could never separate her from her sister, and when I moved…” she goes on to explain how she felt she needed a dog, her hands waving as she speaks, smiling and gesturing to Jemi as she shares her story of viewing her at a local ASPC event last year in her hometown when she was visiting her family.

“My girlfriend at the time was happy about it,” she says and Tobin straightens up hearing that. She had a girlfriend, she thinks, her smile widening as Christen continues, now explaining how Jemi seemed to choose her. “It was like she knew,” Christen says heartfully, “we just connected.”

Tobin nods, feeling that with Jemi as well, “Yeah, that’s pretty awesome,” she says, smiling back at her.

“Did you have pets growing up?” Christen asks, looking at her intently.

Tobin shakes her head, “Nah,” she says with regret, “I was always playing soccer and it wouldn’t have been fair and neither my brother or sisters were totally wanting one so it just never worked out. Now, with the travel,” she shrugs, “I don’t know, I’d like to, but my traveling….” She trails off, now thinking it may not be such a great idea after all.

Christen hums sympathetically, “Well, you’re always welcome to visit and hang with Jemi,” she offers, “whenever you need a pick me up.”

Tobin smiles at her, “I’d like that,” she states quietly. “You know,” she says wistfully, “I think I get it now,” she says, looking at her shyly, “the appeal of having a pet, I mean. It’s been so cool to like, I don’t know,” she shrugs and scratches at the back of her neck, “like, having her here was cool. Like, as silly as it sounds, talking to her, and cuddling,” she shakes her head, blushing with embarrassment, “I think the second glass of wine is talking,” she diverts her eyes, looking down at her empty plate.

Christen reaches her hand out across the table and taps on it lightly, “No, I get it,” she says gently, understanding what Tobin is saying. She waits for Tobin to look at her. “I understand what you’re saying,” she smiles softly at her, “I talk to her all the time, it’s comforting to have someone to talk to, even if she’s not a human. I feel she understands my moods, she knows when I’m happy, upset, everything.” Tobin nods, biting her lower lip, her cheeks heating up and still feeling a bit like she’s overshared and she’s only just met Christen.

“It’s the unconditional love,” Christen says suddenly, “that’s what it is,” She really likes how open Tobin is and doesn’t want her to be embarrassed for feeling the same way she does about Jemi.

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “you’re right,” she says and her throat catches, making her words uneven. She coughs lightly into her fist and clears her throat.

“It’s human nature to want to share emotions,” Christen smiles warmly, “and I don’t think it matters if you do to a dog or a cat or a snake. Just being able to express yourself and feel the companionship back is enough.”

Tobin nods.

“And Tobin,” She continues, “now that you how much she means to me,” she says, “you’ve got to let me pay you back for all of your expenses. The jacket and booties,” she smiles and tilts her head at her, “they’re adorable and I know they weren’t cheap.”

Tobin shakes her head, “No, really,” she says, “it’s been my pleasure,” she says, nodding her head and glancing over at Jemi lying on the couch. “It's like the universe planned for this to happen, you know?” she looks at her wistfully, “Jemi really gave me a boost.”

Christen is surprised at the vulnerability Tobin is sharing with her.It makes her think that Tobin isjust a very genuine person and she likes that a lot. “Well how about this,” Christen leans in, “how about you pick the place and I’ll treat you to dinner,” she offers, “you’re not letting me pay for all of the stuff you’ve bought Jemi, so it’s the least I can do.”

“I’d like that,” Tobin agrees, “I’d like that a lot.”

“This has been so nice,” Christen smiles at her, “Can I help you with the dishes before we go?”

“Ah, sure,” Tobin agrees, trying not to seem too eager since she doesn’t want the two to leave so soon. She really enjoying Christen’s company.

The two leave the table with their dishes and empty wine glasses and move to the kitchen. Christen insists on washing, reasoning that Tobin knows where everything belongs so she should dry and put away the items.

“I can’t argue with that,” Tobin nods, smiling at her, “the soap is under the sink in the cabinet.”

Both of them realize how easy it is, how it’s like they’ve known each other as they work together. Tobin hands her a dirty tray just as she’s finished rinsing a clean one. Like they’ve done this domestic task countless times before.

They chat about the city some more, Tobin telling her what spring is like and the best rain gear to purchase. Christen asked about the other dogs in the video Tobin had sent her and Tobin filled her in on Allie and her pups. Then she told her about the two dog parks they visit and the one along the river they like to go to in better weather.

“Speaking of weather,” Tobin comments, dropping her dish towel and walking over to the TV, flicking it on and pulling up the Weather Channel. “Oh,” she looks alarmed, moving quickly to look out her patio window. “Holy shit,” she says quietly, turning to look back to the kitchen, “Chris,” she calls out, using her hand to gesture to her, “you should see this.”

Christen shuts off the faucet, looking up as she dries her hands and sees Jemi leaving the couch and nuzzling Tobin’s leg and how Tobin absently reaches down to scratch her head by the window. She stands next to her, “What a view,” she marvels, stepping closer to the glass, “it looks so beautiful,”

“Look at the street,” Tobin suggests as she points.

“Woah,” Christen’s eyes widen, “that’s a lot of snow.” She turns to face Tobin, “I should probably get going,”

Tobin nods slowly, “Yeah,” she sighs, “let me get Jemi’s stuff together,” she turns from the window and slowly moves across the room. Christen watches how Tobin’s shoulders slump and feels bad for her. She steps away from the window, thinking and then walks over to the kitchen table where Tobin has set down a Nike bag.

“Would you like to join me and take her out one more time before I leave?” she asks, not wanting to leave to Tobin’s company so quickly, “I don’t want her to have an accident in the car,”

A genuine smile spreads across Tobin’s face, “I’d like that very much,” she says, “thank you.” She unzips the bag and pulls out the navy jacket, Christen reaching for it and looking it over. “I didn’t know they made a matching jacket to her collar,” she murmurs.

“Oh,” Tobin smiles bashfully as she digs around for the booties, “I just bought a navy one and then found the appliques at a fabric store.”

Christen lifts the jacket higher, “You made this?” she marvels, running a hand over the appliques, “Tobin, that’s so sweet,” she coos.

“Ah, it was fun,” Tobin says quietly, setting the four booties down on the table.

Christen looks at her, “Thank you,” she says heartfully, “this is wonderful.”

“It’s just a rain jacket,” Tobin says, “the nice person at PetSmart said it would be better since her fur is so thick, do you know what she’s a mix of?”

Christen nods, “Lab and husky, we think,”

Tobin chuckles, “That’s why she loves the snow,”

“I can’t wait to see her out there,” Christen admits, “show me how you get those on, will you?” She points to the booties.

“We should get our boots on first,” Tobin suggests, “she gets super excited when I put them on,”

“Okay,” Christen grins. She makes sure to grab her phone while she’s near her purse and is holding her jacket while Tobin grabs her keys and follows her back to the table. Tobin drops her jacket on the table and retrieves a plastic bag and then pulls Jemi’s leash out from the Nike bag.

“Jemi,” Tobin calls, “wanna go play in the snow?” she questions, holding up the jacket.

Jemi runs over, skittering to a stop, her tail wagging and butt wiggling as Tobin easily slips the jacket on. “Now, sit, please,” she says firmly in a pleasant tone, “Good girl,” she pets her head when Jemi sits. Jemi licks Tobin’s face when she kneels down and puts on her front booties. “You just slip them on and then use the Velcro strap to tighten them around her leg,” she explains. Then she stands up, “Okay, up,” she says and Jemi stands, craning her neck to watch Tobin lift a back paw and put on a bootie and repeats it on the other leg.

“Ready?” Tobin grins at Christen, “Let’s go!” she enthuses, grabbing her jacket and leading them to the do the door. She affixes Jemi’s leash and hands it over to her, “Here,” she says, opening the door for them to go.

 

Christen can’t stop laughing as Jemi leads Tobin along the sidewalk wading through the knee deep snow. The staff of Tobin’s building had attempted to clear the entrance but didn’t get much further than that. Christen is filming as Jemi leaps through the snow, Tobin laughing as she wades along, encouraging her.

They only walk a short distance before Tobin stops and begins to use her foot to clear some snow away. Jemi begins to sniff around and circle the slightly uncovered spot, Tobin taking a few steps away to give her some space as she pees. Tobin uncovers another spot and stands closer to Christen.

“It’s wild,” she says quietly, as the snow continues to come down on them, “look, there’s no cars,”

Christen looks up and down the street, frowning, “You’re right,” she says, a note of worry in her voice. “I don’t think the plows are out,”

Tobin nods, “This is a pretty busy street,” she muses, “it usually gets plowed pretty quick.” She looks up and down the street again, “It’s so weird for it to be so quiet,”

“How much snow are we expected to get?” Christen questions. Tobin shrugs. Christen uses her phone and pulls up her weather ap. She gasps.

“What?” Tobin looks over at her, alarmed.

“It says we should get five to six more inches,” she says, looking around, “there’s like, over twelve now,” Tobin can hear Christen’s distress very clearly.

Tobin licks her lips as she thinks, kicking at the snow aimlessly. “Um,” she says slowly, “I know this sounds crazy,” she says quietly, “especially since we’ve just met,” she swallows, “but there’s no way you can drive in this. Um, you’re welcome to stay in my guest room tonight and then get home after they plow tomorrow,”

“There aren’t any tracks in the street,” Christen murmurs to herself, then she turns to look at Tobin, “does it snow like this all the time?”

Tobin chuckles, “Nah,” she says, “not unless you’re up in the mountains,”

Christen puts her hand on chest with relief, “Oh good,” she says.

Tobin just stands there, still kicking the snow with her boot, then switching feet.

“Okay,” Christen says, “I’ll stay,” she decides, holding up a finger, “only if you let me make you breakfast.”

Tobin smiles, “For sure,” she says, nodding, looking over at the dog, who’s squatting to poop, “oh, she-”

“I’ll get it,” Christen says holding her hand out, feeling Tobin shouldn’t pick up Jemi’s poop while she’s here, “may I have the bag, please?”

Tobin pulls the empty bag from her pocket and lets Christen do her thing. They stroll back to the entrance, dropping the bag in the trash can and brush off the snow that has accumulated on themselves.

As they walk through the lobby to the elevator, Tobin bumps her shoulder, “We could go to the patio, if you want,” she offers, “she can run around safely there and tire herself out.”

“Okay,” Christen agrees, “I’ll need to get my luggage too,” she says, “and my bag with laptop.”

“We can stop there first and then go to the patio, I’m sure it’ll be fine to leave your stuff by the door,” Tobin says confidently.

They are silent in the elevator and it makes Tobin feel anxious. “I know it’s like, weird to invite someone you just met to stay over,” she rushes out, her voice clearly nervous, “but I just can’t let you try to drive and it’s too far to walk.”

Christen gently elbows her arm, “It’s fine,” she assures her, “really.” She turns slightly to look at her, “What’s that saying?” She smiles at her, nudging her again, “I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person,”

Tobin smiles, “Okay,” she says, “I just don’t want you to feel weird,”

“I don’t,” she says as if she’s surprised, “I know I can trust you,”

“I’m glad,” Tobin smiles, “because you can.”

 

 

“That was so much fun!” Christen giggles and Tobin thinks she won’t ever stop smiling when she hears her do that. The two are taking their coats off in Tobin’s foyer, Jemi sitting patiently nearby waiting to get her outdoor gear off.

“You’ve got quite the arm,” Tobin laughs, “good aim too,” she chuckles as she rubs at the side of her head where Christen had inadvertently nailed her with a snowball.

Christen lays her hand on Tobin’s forearm, “I’m really sorry about that,” she says sincerely, “I really wasn’t aiming for your head.”

Tobin grins at her, “It’s fine,” she says, “doesn’t hurt at all.”

Christen insists on getting Jemi’s wet gear off and Tobin hangs the soaked coats up in the shower of the second bathroom to dry. She returns with a towel for her to use on Jemi to dry the pooch off while she hangs up her jacket and places the booties on the lip of the tub.

She pulls Christen’s suitcase down the hall to the guest room and leaves it there, returning to the hall to see Christen still kneeling on the floor, her hands gripping the sides of Jemi’s face, speaking softly to her.
“I was so worried,” Christen is speaking quietly to the dog, “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, but then this amazing person took care of you,” she kisses Jemi’s nose, “you’re so lucky.”

Tobin ducks back into the guest room, tripping over the luggage and stomping the floor as she catches her balance.

“Are you okay?” Christen’s voice floats from the hallway.

“Yep!” Tobin yells back, tripping over her feet as she slides into the hall, “All good,” she nods, her face flushed with embarrassment.

Christen chuckles as she stands, “So,” she walks up to her, “what do you want to do now?”

“Ah,” Tobin scratches at the back of her neck, “we could watch TV or,” she pauses, “wait!” she grins, “I know!” She trots back to the guest room, leaving Christen in the hall who takes a couple of steps to peer into the room. Tobin is on her knees, her upper half reaching in the closet rummaging around. She pulls a box out, getting to her feet, smiling when she sees Christen in the doorway.

She holds up the box, “Want to work a puzzle?” she looks at her with a hopeful look.

“Got any cookies?” Christen counters, a smile spreading on her face. “My family always has cookies while we work puzzles,”

“Uh,” she crunches up her face, “I think I have stuff to make chocolate chip cookies?”

A small gasp escapes Christen, who claps her hands together, “Please let me make them,” she urges, holding her fingertips under her chin, “I haven’t made cookies in forever.”

“Sure,” Tobin agrees with a laugh, “you want some coffee or tea or maybe hot chocolate?”

The two enter the kitchen with Tobin pointing to her pantry and inviting Christen to poke around. “You have full refrigerator privileges while you’re here,” she announces grandly.

“Refrigerator privileges?” Christen questions, giving her a suspicious look.

“Yeah,” Tobin laughs again, “just feel free to help yourself, alright?”

“Got it,” Christen nods, “thanks,” she says, turning to look in the pantry.

Tobin busies herself preparing the hot chocolate, monitoring the milk warming on the stove while Christen is measuring the ingredients for cookies. Tobin bends over and presents her with a baking sheet and they talk about food and what they like to eat. It becomes quickly apparent that Christen has a much wider palette than Tobin, having tried many more foods than Tobin. Tobin playfully defends herself, explaining to her that she feels most food is fuel so she can play at her best. Christen counters that she shouldn’t miss out on life and wonderful dishes that are healthy as well.

That gets them into a discussion on nutrition that carries over when they sit at the kitchen table while the cookies are in the oven. They’re sipping on the hot chocolate, puzzle pieces spread out before them. Before Tobin sat down, she opened her drapes on the patio so they could watch the snow as it continued to come down.

“Are you some kind of a masochist?” Christen questions, peering over the box top of the puzzle, studying the photo.

“Nah,” Tobin laughs, “my Mom bought it for me a couple of years ago,” she explains, “I was laid up with an injury and she thought it might help pass the time.”

Christen nods, “I can’t help but notice that you had to remove the cellophane,” she says quietly.

“Yeah,” Tobin gives her a tight lipped smile, “I wasn’t exactly in the best frame of mind to assemble a puzzle when I felt like my life was in pieces,”

Christen hums, “Well you seem to have come out the other side pretty well,” she says cautiously.

“Yeah,” Tobin agrees, “it really sucked,” she sighs, leaning back in her seat. “I hurt my back,” she explains, “and it was misdiagnosed, and I missed almost the whole season because of it.”

“Aw,” Christen grits her teeth, “I’m sorry,”

Tobin rubs the back of her neck, “It’s in the past,” she says, offering her a small smile, “and, like you said, I did come through it, so I just leave it there now.”

Christen nods, “Sometimes the past isn’t worth revisiting,” she says in a tone that makes Tobin think she’s been through something painful as well.

“You’re right,” she agrees. Then picks up a piece, “So, do you have any sort of amazing puzzle strategy other than doing the edges first?”

“Well,” Christen grins at her, noticing the subject change but grateful Tobin didn’t press her to share any of her own experiences, lifts the box top up and angles it so she can see it. The puzzle is a photo of multiple used, dirty soccer balls sitting next to one another on grass. “Maybe you could start by picking an unusual colored ball and go from there,” she suggests.

“Ah,” Tobin nods wisely, a playful glint in her eyes, “that’s how we engineer this, huh?”

Christen groans, “Really?” she chuckles, “You got jokes?”

Tobin laughs, “Just the one,” she winks at her.

Tobin’s phone chirps, indicating a text. She reaches for it to glance at it. It’s Allie.

Harry: How’d it go with Dog Lady?

Tobin grins.

Harry2: Good, she’s still here visiting. Tell you all about it tomorrow

She sets her phone down and goes back to the puzzle. Their conversation comes in spurts, talking for a few minutes and then both going quiet, focusing on the puzzle. Christen silently gets up when the oven chimes, removing the tray of cookies and asking if Tobin has a cooling rack. When Tobin shakes her head, Christen roots around her cabinets, finding another tray and transferring the cookies to them to let them cool. She slides back in her seat, praising Tobin quietly that she finished another soccer ball, asking her to point out which one it is on the puzzle box.

Tobin’s phone goes off again.

Harry: Love connection?

Tobin rolls her eyes, clucking her tongue as she writes her reply.

Harry2: Turning my phone off now- talk tomorrow

She catches Christen’s curious look when she sets her phone down after turning it off. “That’s my best friend,” she explains, “she was wondering how my day was going,”

Christen grins at her, “”Let me guess,” she says, “she’s giving you shit about meeting me?”

“Bingo,” Tobin fires finger guns at her making her laugh.

“Ah, friends,” Christen sighs with a smile, “gotta love them,” she looks at Tobin, “that’s why I turned my phone off when I got here.”

Tobin rolls her eyes to her ceiling, spreading her arms out wide, “Well, you’re a pro, I can see,”

Christen giggles and fires finger guns back at her.

After a few minutes, Tobin nudges her, “Are the cookies ready?” she asks eagerly, her eyes questioning her.

“I think so,” Christen grins, pushing her chair back. Tobin follows her to the counter, “Oh man,” she says, “these look so good,”
Tobin refills their mugs with more hot chocolate and leads them to the couch, stating they should take a break from concentrating on the puzzle. Christen enters with a plate of cookies, relaxing on the couch and setting the plate on the middle cushion.

Tobin steals a cookie, holding it to her mouth, “Is you job new or a transfer?” she asks, shoving the whole cookie in her mouth and then moaning at how good it is, rolling her eyes appreciatively.

“A transfer,” Christen explains when she finishes chewing her small bite, “same position, just working out of a different location.”

Tobin nods, sipping on her drink, “You have family here or?”

Christen shakes her head, “Nope,” she gives her a small grin, “just me and Jemi.”

Tobin’s eyes flicker, “That’s pretty brave, Chris,” she says, “not everyone can do that,”

“Well,” Christen says, shifting her legs and facing her, “Not gonna lie,” she shares, “I needed a fresh start,”

Tobin leans back and shifts as well to face her, “Personal stuff?”

Christen smiles at how Tobin phrases it, “Yes,” she replies, “I ended my relationship with my girlfriend almost four months ago,” she explains, “and just felt suffocated being there still.”

“I know what you mean,” Tobin nods, her eyes gentle, “A few years ago, I ended a relationship I had with a woman in France while I was playing there,” she shares, “I ended leaving the team due to injury, but I didn’t come back after I was healed. It just…was tainted, you know?”

“Tainted,” Christen repeats, “exactly. That’s just what it is. So,” she shrugs, “I’m here for a fresh start.”

Tobin smiles softly, lifting her mug, “To fresh starts,” she toasts.

Christen raises her mug with a grin, “To fresh starts.”

 

 

“I have never finished a puzzle in one evening,” Tobin declares, hands on her hips, standing by the table looking down at the completed piece.

“Me either,” Christen agrees, “it’s not even midnight yet,”

Tobin nods as she covers her yawn, “That has to be a record,” she moves to the table, “You want to do the honors and rip this up with me?”

“You should take a photo,” Christen suggests, “you could send it to your Mom,”

“Oh,” Tobin looks at her with surprise, “yeah, I should, thanks!” She finds her phone on the end table near the couch and snaps a couple of pics and sets it down. They break up the finished puzzle and place the pieces back in the box. Tobin leaves it on the table.

“So, you know where the guest room and bathroom is,” she says, “and please help yourself to anything in the kitchen.”

“I will, thank you,” Christen says, “this was fun, Tobin,”

“It was,” Tobin holds her gaze, “I enjoyed hanging out with you,”

“Me too,” she replies, covering a yawn of her own, “I should get to bed.”

“Yeah, me too,” Tobin nods, “just yell if you need anything, I usually get up around eight or nine,”

“That’s fine,” Christen says, “I usually get up and do yoga, but it will be nice to relax,”

“I have a yoga mat,” Tobin mentions, holding a finger up and disappearing into her room, returning momentarily with the mat. “I’ll get leave it here,” she says, “if you’re up and want to use it, go for it.”

“Okay,” Christen agrees with a smile, “thank you,”

“Okay,” Tobin breathes out, “you should get Jemi,” she says.

“She can pick where she wants to go,” she replies, “I’m fine with it,”

“Okay,” Tobin nods, “I usually leave my door open,” she shrugs.

“Me too,”

“Okay,” Tobin says, “well, good night, Christen, I hope you sleep well,”

“I’m sure I will,” Christen smiles at her, “and thank you for a relaxing evening, it was a lot of fun.”

Tobin smiles big, giving her that charming smile she’s so well known for, “It’s been my pleasure,” she starts to edge towards her door, “just call out if you need anything.”

“Goodnight,”

“Goodnight,”

 

 

XXXX

 

 

The snow stopped falling mid-morning, the plows came out soon after. It’s a few hours before Tobin’s street is plowed properly, but the two weren’t paying attention. Both awoke tired, neither admitting it was because they spent most of the night thinking of each other. After a quick trip outside for Jemi to relieve herself, they stay in their sleep clothes, snuggled on the couch with the dog until lunch time. They talk, watch TV, nap.

Christen showers while Tobin prepares lunch and they find themselves back on the couch to eat. Tobin showers while Christen washes the dishes. When they are both dressed, Tobin coaxes Christen into going out, venturing out in the snow to see if the closest coffee shop is open. It is, since the owner lives above the store, greeting Tobin heartily. They relax and share stories of places they’ve been to, experiences they’ve had in other countries.

Christen’s are mostly travelling experiences while attending conferences in her field while Tobin’s are a mix of wild vacations with friends and strange happenings when travelling with the National Team. Christen asks her more about playing soccer, what the life is like. Tobin shares how she started playing as a child, then with a club team, then being accepted by the PDA and getting on the national team radar. At fourteen she was called to her first camp, playing with the team for a few weeks and then being sent to the U17 team to their camp.

She talks about how she had to grow up rather quickly, being the youngest on most teams she played on. She read a lot about team building, she read her Bible, she talked to a team psychologist to adjust to being surrounded by older teammates. She admits how tough it was, yet how much fun at the same time, how she was presented with these amazing opportunities. She loves playing soccer and loves practice just as much as playing the matches.

“You know, though what’s been the toughest part of life right now?” Tobin eyes her, holding her gaze.

“What’s that?” Christen asks leaning her elbow on the table and resting her chin in her hand.

“Almost all of my friends are getting married,” Tobin says quietly, “or retiring from playing and having kids or buying houses and talking about mortgages and 401ks and preschools and I’m like…alone.”

Christen sees the mix of emotions in Tobin’s eyes, the hurt and bewilderment and regret that flash at her. “Me too,” she says quietly, tilting her head and nodding slightly, “I’ve been so deep in my job that sometimes I feel like those types of things have just passed me by,” she shakes her head a little, “like the universe is saying, ‘I’m skipping over you,’”

Tobin nods, humming in agreement.

“And I don't know if it’s the same for you,” Christen continues, “but I don’t know what’s worse- my well meaning family or my friends trying to set me up with people,”

Tobin rolls her eyes, sighing deeply and giving her a rueful grin, “Do you ever think they just try to find any gay woman and instantly think you’d be compatible?”

Christen throws her head back and laughs loudly, letting her hands grip the edge of the table as she looks at Tobin, “That is so right on,” she chuckles, “like, as if it’s some magical thing.”

Tobin is nodding as she speaks, “Yeah,” she says, “like, let’s not take my personality anything into the equation,” she says chuckling.

“As long as she’s gay, it should work out,” Christen finishes humorously.

They both sigh.

“Weddings are the worst,” they say at the same time and then laugh again.

“It’s usually when I feel my loneliest,” Christen admits ruefully, “and it’s not because I don’t love whoever’s wedding I’m at.”

Tobin nods knowingly, “It’s that feeling like you may never get to experience it for yourself,” she says wistfully.

“Bingo.” Christen nods.

They fall into silence, Christen looking out the window and Tobin staring at her mug, her finger circling the lip of it.

“I should probably head home,” Christen says quietly, her voice full of apology, “I need to get settled before work tomorrow,”

Tobin is biting her lower lip as she nods, lifting her mug and finishing her lukewarm drink. “Will you have a lot of work to catch up on since you were gone?”

Christen stands up, “No actually,” she says as she collects her purse, “my trip was to be briefed on a new project. I’ll be outlining the assignments for my team.”

Tobin gives her a grin, “Sounds important,” she says, grabbing both of their mugs and setting them on the counter as Christen follows her. She opens the door for her, “You’re some kind of a bigshot, huh,” she wiggles her eyebrows at her and bumps her shoulder.

“Eh,” Christen shrugs, zipping up her coat, “a team leader, not the project leader,” she says, “I’ve got a way to go to get up there.”

“You can’t really talk about what you do, huh,” Tobin observes, looking at her as they walk.

“I really can’t,” Christen confesses.

“I get that,” Tobin replies easily, looking up as a fresh round of snow begins to fall. She sticks her tongue out to catch the flakes as Christen giggles.

“You’re going to walk into a pole,” she cautions, grabbing Tobin’s arm to guide her from the curb.

Tobin laughs, “It’s not like I haven’t before,”

Christen shakes her head, “You’re something else,”

 

 

“So, this is it,” Christen breathes out, looking at her luggage and Jemi’s bag near the door of Tobin’s place then she looks up at Tobin and smiles, “for now.”

“Friday night,” Tobin grins at her, “I’m looking forward to it.”

Christen beams at her, “Me too,” she steps forward and hugs her, “thank you so much. For everything.”

“You’re very welcome,” Tobin says, giving her a tight squeeze. Christen thinks Tobin may give the best hugs beside her Mom. So comforting, just perfect. They step back from each other.

“Will you text me you got home safe?” Tobin asks anxiously.

“I will,” Christen promises.

Tobin kneels to hug Jemi, “Bye you,” she says, letting her go and holding her face in her hands, “you’re such an awesome pup. Be good for your Mom.”

Tobin watches as Christen and Jemi make their way to the elevator, offering a wave goodbye.

 

 

Tobin looks around her living room, frowning at not seeing Jemi lying on the rug or the couch. She misses her already. She knows she’s being unreasonable, she knew the dog would leave as soon as she received Alyssa’s message a few days ago. Still, she misses the pooch. She yawns and sets her phone on the coffee table and sits on the couch.
Christen.

Tobin lets out a sigh. Christen is something else. She’s funny, kind, considerate. She’s absolutely beautiful and a fucking rocket scientist. Maybe a little high strung, but aren’t we all in some ways? She’d never want to date me, I’m just a soccer player. I’m sure i would never be able to keep up with her high intelligence. Maybe we could be friends, she’s new to town and would be fun to show around. I’m sure I don’t have a chance in Hell to be with her.

I thought we had a good time together, she thinks, we never had those long awkward pauses where we didn’t know what to say. She seemed to be having a decent time here with me. She sighs heavily.

She glancing at the clock on the wall, seeing how almost an hour has passed since Christen left to go home. She hadn’t texted that she got home. She sighs heavily again. She was probably just being nice about doing that. I wonder if we’ll even go out to dinner like she said we would. She’ll never admit it to anyone ever, but the longer she was around Christen yesterday and today, she thought she might have had a shot with her.

Feeling rather miserable and maybe slightly heartbroken, Tobin lays on her couch, content to sleep away the rest of the day and put Christen Press and her adorable dog Jemi out of her mind. She’s only shut her eyes for maybe ten minutes when her phone chirps and she leaps up to grab it off the coffee table, juggling it in her hands as she tries to see who is texting her.

It’s Allie. She sighs and swipes her phone open.
Harry: How’s it going? Dog Lady gone?

Harry2: She’s gone

Harry: What’s wrong?

Harry2: Nothing.

Harry: You’re upset aren’t you?

Harry: She’s pretty isn’t she? Is she straight?

Harry2: She’s beautiful and not interested in me.

Harry: Why? You’re a catch

Harry2: She’s a rocket scientist. Like for real. She doesn’t want to be with a soccer player

Harry: Did she tell you that?

Harry2: She didn’t text me she got home safe like she said she would. Let the ghosting begin.

Harry: Aw, Har, you don’t know that. Maybe she’s on the phone or something

Harry: You still there?

Harry: You want me to come over? You want to come over here? Or go out?

Harry2: Nah, it’s okay. Thanks tho

Harry2: Just disappointed. I thought we kind of hit it off. I thought we had a good time.

Harry2: I’m okay. Promise.

Harry: Let’s do lunch tomorrow. My treat and you pick.

Harry2: Okay. See you at the gym. Thanks for checking in.

Harry: Always. Love you!

Harry2: Love you too Al

Tobin lets her phone drop in her lap, rubbing her face as she frowns. She flicks on her TV, watching the local news that’s all about the snowstorm, the hype of how much snow, power outages and water main breaks spread across the city from the snow and cold. The newscasters warn of ice when the temperatures rise.

She thinks maybe she’ll go down and take a swim, at least to some sort of workout today. She goes to her room and puts on a pair of compression shorts and then board shorts and slips on a sports bra and finds a hoodie to put on over it. She finds her swim goggles and is slipping on her slides when she hears her phone ring. She thinks it’s Allie trying to entice her into doing something tonight and is shocked when she sees it’s Christen.

“Hello?” Tobin answers slightly warily and not sure why.

“Hi, Tobin?” Right away Tobin can tell Christen is stressed out. Her tone is off, sounding scared and panicked and she’s never heard it like that.

“Yeah, you okay?” she asks with concern.

“Um,” Christen drags out the word and then is silent. As if she’s thinking of what to say or how to say it properly.

“Chris?”

“My building is without power.” She replies mournfully, “It’s currently forty-seven degrees in my apartment.”

“Oh, no,” Tobin frowns. “that’s awful.”

“I called Alyssa,” Christen rushes out, “but her building doesn’t take dogs and the hotels are booking up and most of them don’t take pets and I certainly don’t want to board Jemi and” she stops to take a deep breath and Tobin takes the opportunity to speak.

“Why don’t you come back here,” Tobin offers calmly, “bring Jemi, she can come workout with me tomorrow while you’re at work. You can stay until your power comes back on.”

“Really?” Christen asks, sounding as if Tobin’s offer is too good to be true.

“Absolutely,” Tobin is grinning, “I’ll get you a parking pass and bring a swimsuit. I was just going to take a swim and get in a workout.” She adds the swimsuit thing, thinking it may help her relax a bit.

“Really? I love swimming,” Christen says, Tobin hearing the smile in her voice.

“Yeah, sure,” she says, “we’ll take a swim, sit in the hot tub for a bit and just chill. We’ll have some dinner and then you can do whatever you need to be set for work tomorrow. I’ll do my own thing,”

“Tobin,” Christen says earnestly, “I swear you’re some kind of an angel. Thank you so much.”

“See you soon?”

“I’ll see you soon,” Tobin smiles when she hears the eagerness in Christen's voice.

She calls down for a parking pass, relaying Christen’s vehicle info from her prior text and then hunts for a couple of beach towels. Then she waits. Fifteen minutes later, there’s a knock at her. She trots to answer it, flinging the door with a wide smile on her face. Christen steps forward, taking her in her arms, the impact making Tobin take a step backwards. Christen holds her tightly, her head on her shoulder.

“Thank you so much,” she says heartfully, letting out a sigh, “I was starting to panic.”

Tobin instinctively lets her hand run up and down Christen’s back, “No worries,” she says, “I’m glad you called.”

Christen pulls back, “We really are going swimming?” she asks brightly.

Tobin laughs, reaching down to pet Jemi, “Yup,”

 

 

Christen had come out of the guest room wearing baggy sweatpants and an old Stanford sweatshirt, frowning at Tobin’s equally aged UNC hoodie. “UNC?” she questions with an arched eyebrow.

“National Champs, baby!” Tobin boasts, sticking out her chest with pride as she puts her hands on her hips. Christen laughs, “I remember I had classes with some bigshot soccer player back at Stanford.”

Tobin starts to laugh, “Don’t tell me,” she says in between her chuckles, “Kelley O’Hara?” Tobin keeps laughing at Christen’s expression.

“How did you know?” she asks, her eyes as wide as saucers.

Tobin shakes her head, “Small world, Chris,” she says, reaching to pull in her suitcase from the hallway, “she’s one of my best friends.”

Now it’s Christen’s turn to laugh, “Small world.”

 

Tobin wasn’t prepared to see Christen in a bathing suit, nearly stumbling over one of the plastic chairs by the side of the pool as the woman stripped her sweatshirt off. She clears her throat and turns away, focusing on peeling off her own hoodie and shorts before turning back to face her.

They stare at each other for almost a full minute before they come out of their daze.

“So,” Tobin clears her throat, “I normally do some laps,”

“How many miles?” Christen questions, a playful challenge in her eyes.

“You call it, hotshot,” Tobin grins at her.

Christen walks over to the side of the pool that’s roped off with lane markers, “Let’s do a practice lap,” she suggests, “you know, to get used to the water. Then how about ten laps?”

“Sure,” Tobin agrees easily, “are we betting?”

Christen purses her lips as she looks at her, “Sure,” she agrees, “how about winner chooses where to go for dinner?”

“I thought I got to choose where we were going on Friday,” Tobin frowns as she shifts her weight.

Christen smiles at her, “I thought maybe we would go out again,” she says, looking at her shyly.

Tobin brightens up, smiling big at her, “Oh, yeah,” she says quickly, nodding her head, “you’re on!”

They put their goggles on, Tobin letting her arms swing in big circles to loosen up before looking over at Christen who is doing the same, “One warm up lap, we get out, then race.”

Christen nods and gets her feet to the lip of the pool and they dive in at the same time. They swim at an easy pace, swimming side by side down to the end of the pool, doing a flip turn and returning. Christen watches as Tobin’s muscles ripple as she pushes herself out of the water to stand on the side of the pool, barely winded. She has the feeling Tobin will be winning this race, although she’s going to give it her best.

She manages to get out of the pool as gracefully as she can, glancing to see Tobin staring at her. “You ready?” adjusting a strap on her suit, turning slowly to get in position. Tobin shakes her head and gets ready.

“You call it,” Tobin manages to say, still distracted by Christen’s body.

“I’ll count and say go,” she answers, “you ready to get your ass kicked, Heath?” she grins at her, her eyes flashing dangerously in challenge.

Tobin swallows, she’s so turned on right now, “Bring it,” she says.

“Ready?” They get set in position.

“One, two, three, go!” Christen says and they’re off, both entering the pool with crisp dives, kicking underwater and resurfacing. Tobin can see Christen has the edge, she’s just ahead her. She decides to let her stay in that position, keeping up beside her. She’ll begin her kick on the return of her seventh lap.

They stayed in the same position, Tobin slightly behind Christen in the next lane by a half body length as they swam lap after lap. When Tobin’s feet touched the wall and pushed out to return to start her eighth lap, she increased her pace, turning her head to breath in and see Christen was doing the same. Tobin kicked it up another notch, swimming harder, letting her body knife through the water.

When they both hit the wall on the ninth lap, it was obvious they were giving it everything they had. Tobin took the lead slightly on the way down of the final lap, Christen charging up beside her. Tobin could feel her legs and shoulders burning with her effort, that feeling she relishes from working hard. She always pushes herself when she swims but she never times herself. She didn’t need to know if she was swimming faster on a watch, she could feel it in her muscles.

She hit the wall ahead of Christen, her hands on the lane markers keeping herself afloat just as Christen hit the wall. She popped up in front of her, one of her hands on top of Tobin’s for a moment before she moves it to the side. Both of them out of breath, heavily panting. Tobin rips off her goggles, dropping them in the water to float nearby while Christen calmly removes hers.

“Looks like I won,” Tobin breathes out, wearing a triumphant smile with her chest still rising and falling rapidly.

Christen just gives her a half smile, her eyes shining brightly at her, “No, I did,” she says, her smile spreading. She leans in closer to Tobin, her right hand coming behind Tobin’s neck and pulling her close.

Tobin begins to smile, seeing the affection in Christen’s eyes. She leans in, waiting. Their lips connect and it’s soft and gentle, even though the two are still breathing hard. Christen pulls back, unable to keep the smile from her face. The same goes for Tobin. Christen pulls her closer, the two letting the lane marker keep them afloat as they embrace, Tobin kissing her again.

When they break free for a breath, Tobin caresses Christen’s cheek with her thumb, “So, uh,” she stammers, “what do you say if we call dinner on Friday a date?”

Christen giggles and nods her head, “I’d like that very much.”

 

 

 

It’s Friday night and Tobin and Christen are walking hand in hand down the snow covered sidewalk, Christen holding Jemi’s leash in her free hand. Christen had laughed and then smiled shyly at Tobin’s sentimental admission of choosing a place for their date where Jemi would be welcome.

“It’s only right,” Tobin had said casually, “I mean, she’s the reason we met.”

 

Callie goes to one knee to greet Jemi, petting the dog and then standing up to greet Tobin and Christen. Tobin had called Callie and asked for a huge favor and as soon as she explained to her what she wanted to, Callie enthusiastically jumped on board. Tobin arranged for the Tapas restaurant next door to send over an array of dishes, remembering Christen mentioning her love of the tiny plates. Callie had screened off one of the more private corner areas of the café. She had outdone herself with creating a space of them to be alone, except for her delivering dishes to them and clearing the table. That afternoon, Tobin had walked over and delivered two bottles of wine for Callie to keep chilled and review the plan once again.

Tobin grinned at Callie’s attempt to fancy herself up for the occasion, she was wearing her typical café sweatshirt with a silk tie hung loosely around her neck, grinning at the two mischievously as she escorted them to their table.

“Aw,” Christen smiles at the dog cot in the corner next to two stainless steel bowls, one filled with kibble and the other water. She smiles sweetly at Tobin who is removing her jacket and has her hands out to help her out of her own. Tobin places the coats on the backs of their chairs, and then stands behind a chair, pulling it out and gesturing for her to sit.

Callie appears with a swish of fabric, grinning at them, “May I offer you a glass of wine?” she asks, thoroughly enjoying the role she is playing tonight.

Tobin chuckles and gestures to her glass, “Yes, please,” and Callie pours her a generous amount.

“And you, miss?” she bows to Christen.

Christen smiles at her, “Yes, please,” she replies and sends Tobin an amused look.

When Callie disappears behind the curtain, Christen looks at Tobin questioningly, “Why do I feel there’s a story behind this unconventional dinner spot?”

Tobin shrugs rather bashfully, “Well, see,” she says, “this is where I brought Jemi to get out of the rain and look at her tags,” she explains, “and I was so captivated by her collar. It was so unusual I just knew it had a deeper meaning.”

Christen smiles fondly at her, “It really does,” she sighs, looking at the dog who’s lying on the dog cot.

“I just knew I had to keep her with me until I found her owner,” Tobin continues, “I knew she meant a lot to someone and they would be so upset that she was missing. I couldn’t drop her off at an animal shelter or animal control.”

“I’m so glad you didn’t,” Christen says heartfully, “I’m so glad you found her, Tobin,” she says softly, “I’m so glad we’re sitting here right now together,” she smiles at her.

“I am too,” Tobin says, taking a deep breath. “You know,” she says, “you might have found your dog,” she leans in close, “but I think I found what I was missing,”

Christen smiles wildly and pushes herself out of her seat for lean across the table and kiss her deeply. “I think I have too,”

 

XXXX
Fini