“So, what next?” Lauren Cheney asked as she placed a carton of orange juice in the shopping cart.
Tobin looked at the crumpled grocery list in her hand, squinting a bit to see the items that she hadn’t already crossed out. When she finally found what she was looking for, she lifted her head to look at her childhood best friend with a grin. “Breadcrumbs!”
“Breadcrumbs. Off we go.”
Cheney pulled the cart forward and Tobin followed along. She rested her right foot on the cart and then pushed off the floor with her left, just like she was on her skateboard, and Cheney turned to glare at her when the cart bumped into her heels.
“Sorry,” Tobin sheepishly mumbled before she set both of her feet back on the floor – like an adult.
She was thankful that Cheney had agreed to come along with her on the last minute Christmas Eve shopping errand that she was doing for her mother.
After finding the breadcrumbs, they headed towards the liquor. No one in Tobin’s family was a big drinker, but her mother liked to be sure that there was plenty of alcohol, and different kinds, for all of their holiday guests.
Cheney turned the corner and threw a curious look over her shoulder. “Hey, is that Ms. Press? Let’s say hi.” Tobin grabbed her jacket and yanked her out of the aisle before she could say anything else, or take another step forward. “What the hell, Tobs?”
Tobin peeked around the corner before she faced Cheney sheepishly. “Let’s just wait ‘til she’s done.”
“What? No! Stop being weird. She’s just a teacher.”
Tobin firmly shook her head. “Let’s just wait,” she repeated. “Chiiilllll.”
“I wanna say hi,” Cheney persisted. “I took her AP Lit class; it was awesome. She was my favourite teacher.”
Tobin peeked around the corner again, and looked down the aisle. “Yeah, she was pretty cool,” Tobin replied flippantly.
Way too flippantly.
Cheney narrowed her eyes before she laughed. “You had a crush on Ms. Press, didn’t you?”
“What? No! No way,” she answered way too quickly.
Cheney just continued to laugh. “You totally did, you dork.”
Tobin awkwardly scratched her neck as Cheney physically pulled her forward. It seemed that they were saying hi to Ms. Press, whether she liked it or not. She tried to adjust the beanie on her head and smooth out the wrinkles in the bottom of her sweater without Cheney noticing. (That would only cause further teasing.)
To say that she had had a crush on Ms. Press, her senior year English teacher, would be an understatement. For her, a girl growing up in a small town, in a conservative church, struggling with her sexuality, the new, young teacher from California had been a sexual awakening. Tobin had always wanted to do well in school – in case the whole pro soccer thing didn’t work – but she had shown an almost implausible amount of focus and concentration that year, in English in particular, and her grades had been fantastic.
She had hung on the English teacher’s every word.
“Hi Ms. Press!”
The petite brunette turned around, a bottle of wine in her hand, and after a single moment of confusion, she smiled brightly and genuinely. “Lauren, hi! How are you?”
Tobin didn’t hear the answer. She just stared.
Almost five years since her high school graduation and Ms. Press looked way hotter than she remembered. A feat that she had deemed impossible.
Her eyes looked greener. Her hair looked darker. Her cheekbones and jawline looked sharper. She was wearing dark jeans and a white sweater underneath a big winter jacket and still looked like a runway model.
What a woman.
“Hello, Tobin,” she eventually greeted.
Tobin realized that she was practically hiding behind Cheney so she took a deliberate step to the left. “Hi, Ms. Press,” she mumbled shyly.
“Nice to see you. Congrats on the gold medal!”
Tobin shrugged bashfully, like everyone in their town had won an Olympic gold medal at the age of nineteen. “Thank you. It was wild.”
Wild? That’s the word she had decided on? She wanted to slap herself on the forehead, but that would be far too obvious.
They continued to make idle small talk, the kind you made with someone that had only ever known you as a kid. Eventually, Cheney took pity on her and they finished their trip around the grocery store.
As they made their way to Tobin’s mom’s SUV, Cheney shoved her with a playful laugh.
“How did you never tell me?”
“It never came up,” the laid back midfielder offered.
“Never came up?” Cheney scoffed.
It was deeper than a teenage crush so Tobin was thankful when Cheney let it drop. Tobin really didn’t want to discuss the teacher that she had fantasized about in fifth period.
She walked through the front door with the groceries and her mother greeted her with a kiss on her cheek.
“Thank you so much, honey!”
“Not a problem, Mom, really,” Tobin answered easily as she placed all of the bags she was carrying on the kitchen counter.
She asked if there was anything else that she could help with, but her mom quickly dismissed her and she headed up the stairs. She walked into her room and flopped down onto the bed. She thoughtfully twirled her phone between her fingers and scanned her old bedroom. The soccer trophies. The curling photographs tacked to a bulletin board. The bookcase full of outdated pop culture references. The scattered teddy bears. The UNC flag that had been purchased long before she had been admitted to the school.
Everything felt a little too nostalgic.
She sprung off of her bed with the energy of an elite college athlete (because she was) and went down the hallway to visit her little brother.
“Hey,” he answered, his eyes still firmly glued to his TV and the game that he was playing. “Wanna play?”
“Yeah, sure, dude.” She sat down next to him on the bed and he promptly handed her the other controller. As he went back to the menu to change the game to multiplayer, Tobin thoughtfully chewed on her bottom lip. “So, how’s school going?”
“It’s alright,” Jeff shrugged. “How about you? How’s your school going?”
“Alright,” she parroted with a grin. “Getting ready for my last semester.”
“And then you’re going pro?”
“That’s the plan!” She paused before she asked, as casually as possible, “So, do you have Ms. Press for senior English?”
Jeff grunted and she took that as a yes.
“And how’s that? English can be tough.”
“Nah, it’s cool. Ms. Press makes it about more than Shakespeare and essays, ya know.”
Tobin nodded thoughtfully before she asked another question that she hoped came off as nothing but casual. “And how is she? Ms. Press? Like how’s she doing?”
Jeff furrowed his brow but his eyes remained fixed on the game. “Good, I guess. She talks about her dogs a lot.”
“Cool, cool. Is she, like, seeing anyone? Wedding band? Boyfriend?”
She had lost whatever semblance of cool she had started with. Jeff paused the game and looked at her with a bewildered expression. “Why are you asking so many weird questions?”
“I dunno,” she deflected, “just curious I guess.”
“Do you want to know how Mrs. Ellis is doing too?” He challenged.
She was unable to hold back her response. “No! God, no. Yikes.”
“Then why the weird questions? You think Ms. Press is hot or something?” He waited for her eyes to widen and for her mouth to fall open like a fish, and then he grinned like a little shithead. “Because everyone thinks Ms. Press is hot.”
Tobin tackled him to the bed, and despite the many pounds that he had on her, she quickly had him in a headlock. “You’re such a dipshit,” she muttered.
Her younger brother just laughed beneath her. “And you’re a dork. Just come out and say it, Toby.”
“Yes, Ms. Press is hot, okay? Is she single?”
“I have no idea, dude.”
Tobin didn’t give it much more thought over the next few days as she spent Christmas with her family. Christmas Day was full of traditions and a bustling house full of people. Presents. Church. Drinks. Christmas movies. Food. Lots and lots of food. The days that followed were about recovery and relaxation. She slept in. She played video games with Jeff. She did a little snowshoeing with Lauren. She read some of the books that she had been given as gifts.
When New Year’s Eve rolled around she came to the stark realization that their town was small enough that everyone went to the same spot to celebrate. There was one worthwhile bar and that was that.
So she definitely put a little extra effort into her appearance as she got ready to go out.
“Holy shit. Are you brushing your hair?”
Tobin spun around and scowled at her brother standing in the doorway. “Yeah, so what?” She retorted as she self-consciously ran a hand through her long hair.
“It’s just weird,” he shrugged. “And by the way, Cheney’s here.”
Tobin snatched her leather jacket off of her big armchair and raced down the stairs, pushing past her brother.
“Holy shit. You brushed your hair!” Cheney echoed.
Tobin could hear Jeff cackling even as she closed the front door behind her.
They went to Amy’s house for a few drinks and by the time they walked to the bar, Tobin was incredibly nervous, and definitely buzzed. What if Ms. Press wasn’t there? Even worse, what if she was? Was Tobin just meant to stand in a corner and gawk at her all night? It seemed like the most realistic outcome.
Tobin leaned on the tabletop that her friends had picked and anxiously ate the peanuts in front of her. There was a band playing, but she wasn’t paying much attention, and the bar was full of people that she knew, but her eyes were only searching for one.
And then Tobin finally saw her, and she swallowed harshly. She was wearing a tight, black, strapless dress that ended at her mid-thigh. It had a sweetheart neckline and her collarbone, and her breasts, and her legs in those stiletto heels… everything just looked so good. And her hair was down, straightened and silky looking.
Tobin swallowed again before she took several gulps of the beer sitting in front of her.
“Ms. Press has always been so fine,” Ashlyn teased in her ear as she wrapped her arms around Tobin's shoulders from behind.
“Yeah, some people think so,” Tobin mumbled.
“She’s pretty enough,” Tobin shrugged.
Ashlyn hopped onto the stool next to her, grin still firmly in place. “She never actually taught me, ya know? Maybe I’ll go over there and buy her a drink.”
“Go for it.”
“Tobin,” Ashlyn finally sighed. “Cheney let the cat out of the bag. Your little crush.”
Tobin rolled her eyes but she couldn’t get too upset. She had given her friend the impression that it had been a harmless little crush and Cheney had treated it as fun, harmless gossip. “Yeah, she’s beautiful,” she finally admitted.
“So that means you’re going to go talk to her?” Cheney chimed in from her other side.
Tobin turned to look at her former teacher again, now sitting at a table with a few of her friends, her head tossed back in laughter, and she promptly shook her head. “No, uh, I don’t think so.”
The woman across the bar was gorgeous, and intelligent, and mature, and Tobin was a college kid, a self-admitted dork.
Her friends stopped teasing her and asking questions, and minutes passed. She was under the impression that everyone had forgotten about it, or at least they had all agreed to table the issue. That was until Ms. Press sauntered towards their table.
Tobin practically bolted out of her chair when she placed a hand on her shoulder. “Thank you for sending over the drink.” She held up the wine glass in her hand with a sincere smile. “It looks like you could use another as well?”
The soccer player opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. She did manage a nod though.
The dark-haired woman flashed her another smile before she headed towards the bar, hips swaying dizzyingly.
Tobin looked around at her friends in disbelief. She didn’t even get a chance to comment on Ashlyn’s devious expression behind her glass before they were all yelling at her.
“Go! Go! Go after her!”
She immediately hopped off the stool and ran her hands through her hair. She made sure that her shirt was still tucked into her pants before she drained the last drops from her beer bottle and followed the woman to the bar.
She managed to make her way through the crowd and slip into the space beside the gorgeous brunette. “You really don’t have to… I didn’t actually… I,” she stammered. Before she could string anything resembling a complete sentence together, the English teacher turned towards her with a beer and another stomach fluttering smile. “Thank you.”
“Well it’s not every day I get to buy an Olympic gold medallist a beer.”
Tobin blushed. “Thanks again, uh…”
“You can call me Christen,” she laughed.
For some reason that made Tobin blush even deeper. “Christen.”
“I keep telling everyone that graduates to stop calling me Ms. Press. It’s impossible for some.”
“Habit, I guess,” Tobin offered after taking a sip from her beer.
“You know, except for soccer, I don’t remember a whole lot about you in school.”
Tobin’s face fell in disappointment. “Oh.”
“No,” Christen assured her as she reached across and placed a hand on Tobin’s forearm. “It’s a good thing.”
“It is?” She questioned in confusion.
“It is, makes thinking of you as an adult a whole lot easier.”
And then she winked.
And Tobin followed her to a booth like a new puppy.
“I’ve gotten to watch some of your games,” Christen stated as she ran her index finger along the rim of her wine glass.
“And what did you think?” Tobin asked nervously. She could talk about soccer. That was one thing she could do, even if Christen looked like that.
“I think you’re really good, and fun to watch.”
“Thanks,” she replied shyly. “It’s really the only thing that I’ve ever been good at.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Christen answered with a soft smile.
“Maybe it’s the one thing that comes easy,” she amended. “Does teaching come easy?”
“No,” the older woman laughed. “No, it does not. Teaching is hard.”
Tobin took a slow drink from her beer before she spoke, almost in a mumble. “I thought you were great.”
“Gosh,” Christen chuckled as she ran a hand through her dark, luscious hair. “That was my very first year. I was a mess that year.”
“I thought you were great,” she repeated. Tobin was able to spot a faint blush on the apples of Christen’s cheeks and it made her smile widely. And maybe it was that blush, or maybe it was the alcohol in her system, that made her bold. “I had such a crush on you.”
“Like my first real crush on a girl,” Tobin continued to reveal. Her voice was barely audible above the music, but somehow the message was received.
She couldn’t decipher the expression on Ms. Pre – Christen’s face, and all of her liquid courage evaporated. “Was that too much? Did I say too much?”
Christen slowly shook her head. “No, you didn’t. It clears a few things up for me actually.”
Her question hung in the air and she sharply turned her head when a chorus of cheering erupted from the front of the bar. The band had stopped playing and that could only mean one thing. She looked at her watch and it confirmed that time had indeed gotten away from her. The New Year’s Eve countdown had begun.
Christen realized it too and she started to slide out of the booth and rise to her feet. “I should get back to my friends.”
Tobin frowned. “Yeah, me too.”
With her wine glass still in hand, Christen rested her other hand on the tabletop of the booth and smiled down at her. Still sitting, Tobin found it impossible to keep her eyes from drifting to Christen’s incredible long legs. She looked away sheepishly and her head was directed back with a single finger on her jaw. She blinked slowly and tried to keep herself from swallowing nervously with Christen’s full attention on her. Her mouth parted with a tiny gasp as Christen leaned down and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips.
“Happy New Year, Tobin.”
Tobin smiled dopily. “Happy New Year, Christen.”