Cliff's edge, you turn me on
You lead me on
You got me on a
Cliff's edge, where I belong
You got me on
You turn me on
(Tobin - “Cliff’s Edge” by Hayley Kioko)
A meter apart
You blankly stare
We shout in our heads
Are you still in there?
Well this ends bad, then
We knew it would
So we won't eat our words
'Cause they don't taste good
(Christen - “Monster” by Dodie)
“You played really well,” the green-eyed forward smirked, walking across the hotel room. It was the same smirk that she’d given Tobin at their first game, the smirk that had lived in Tobin’s memory for more than three full months.
“Christen,” Tobin choked out, causing the dark-haired forward to grin softly at her.
“Tobin?” Christen replied teasingly, quirking her head to the side.
Tobin had never seen someone so cute and sexy at the same time. It was a combination that shouldn’t work, but Christen found a way to pull it off. As Christen tugged her lower lip between her teeth, Tobin’s stomach flipped slowly.
“Wh-What are you doing here?” Tobin mumbled, noticing that Christen was stepping forward, crossing the room to where Tobin’s feet were planted.
Christen was wearing a pair of black leggings that hugged her body and a white tank top. Her shoes were off, lying near the door, leaving her in a pair of Nike socks. She looked comfortable in Tobin’s space, something Tobin found both amazing and terrifying. Christen’s hair was freshly washed and dried, wild and curly, falling over her shoulders.
“You asked me to come over after the game,” Christen laughed, looking at Tobin as if she were crazy or forgetful or both.
Tobin racked her brain for that memory, coming up empty.
“You said we’d continue what we started before the game,” Christen added, reaching out and resting her hands on Tobin’s hips.
Tobin’s skin immediately warmed at the touch, something that seemed strange considering Christen’s thin fingers were cold. She leaned her forehead into Tobin’s, their breaths collecting between them.
“I missed you,” Christen whispered, her breath soft and warm against Tobin’s cheek.
This was all happening too fast and not fast enough. Tobin willed her erratic heartbeat to slow as her eyelids fluttered closed, grounding herself with the feeling of Christen’s breath ghosting across her cheek.
“I never thought I could miss someone I didn’t even know,” Tobin whispered back. She reached out and pulled Christen’s hips toward hers, needing the green-eyed girl to be just a little bit closer. They stood there, breathing each other in, their hips practically pressed against one another.
Christen’s lips grazed against Tobin’s jaw, causing the brunette to open her eyes with a start. Tobin couldn’t help the sigh she let out. She’d been waiting to feel this close to Christen for months. She’d been longing to know what she felt like and smelled like, what she sounded like when she whispered and sighed. Christen’s lips were on her jaw, moving down to her neck and trailing softly against her collarbones. Tobin had no idea why UCLA’s Number 23 was in her hotel room. Truth be told, Tobin couldn’t even really remember getting to the hotel or playing in the semis. She had no idea where her roommate was or what had led to this moment, but she was not going to question anything. She’d do anything to keep Christen Press this close to her, to feel Christen’s lips move against her own.
Christen pulled away from Tobin, her pupils blown and her lips full. She stared at Tobin with the same kind of want that Tobin felt in her chest, and Tobin couldn’t help but lean forward and catch Christen’s bottom lip in between her own.
She heard the noises that Christen made between each kiss, the soft moans and sighs, but Tobin could hardly process them, her brain too preoccupied with the feeling of Christen Press’s lips on hers, of her hips beneath her hands. Christen’s fingers tangled in the hem of Tobin’s t-shirt, sliding up against the bare skin along her ribs, and Tobin thought she might as well combust then and there. Her mind went completely blank, overwhelmed by the tingling sensation that Christen’s fingers left behind on every trace of skin. The backs of Tobin’s knees hit the foot of the bed, causing her to fall into a seated position, and Christen pulled Tobin’s shirt off in one fluid motion.
Christen’s teeth grazed Tobin’s bottom lip, and Tobin let out another soft moan, knowing exactly what she was about to do with the UCLA forward. Images of Christen’s hair splayed across Tobin’s pillow, of Christen on top of Tobin, of Tobin leaving marks on places no one else would ever see, of Christen shirtless and moani-
“We are beginning our descent into Orlando, Florida. Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin,” the pilot announced over the loudspeaker.
Tobin jerked up in her seat, her face immediately flushing a deep red. She took a ragged breath, trying to dispel every single image she’d imagined a second ago. It would have been one thing if she’d had the dream in the privacy of her own bedroom, but on the plane, Tobin was conscious of ARod and Lauren on either side of her, their thighs practically touching hers.
“Have a nice dream?” ARod snickered next to Tobin.
Lauren let out a snort too, high-fiving ARod over Tobin’s lap.
Tobin’s face burned even more. She was conflicted about her own desires, wishing she could have stayed in her dream for much longer and also wishing she hadn’t fallen asleep in the first place. She had no idea whether she’d made any kind of noises in her sleep or said anything. She hadn’t ever thought of herself as a sleep talker, but now she wasn’t so sure. Her friends both looked like they were about to tease her for the rest of her life.
“I hate you both,” Tobin grumbled, closing her eyes again, pushing images of Christen Press to the back of her mind.
The landing was turbulent. Tobin forgot how much she hated her friends, opting to hold onto both of their hands for the remainder of the flight. They rode in a team bus to their hotel, each getting assigned a room and a roommate. Tobin and Sonnett were put in room 308, and the two of them unloaded their bags in relative silence, Sonnett surprisingly tired after the long travel day. It wasn’t until after a catered team dinner that Sonnett’s energy returned, just in time for the team to gather in Lauren and Lindsey’s room for a movie night.
“It’s called a recovery party! We’re not watching It,” Lauren shouted over the rest of the Penn State team.
Tobin’s legs were already zipped into a pair of the team’s Normatec recovery boots, the air compressing her tired legs. “Let’s watch Toy Story! ” she yelled, offering up a movie that she knew wouldn’t scare any of her teammates.
“That’s so lame,” Sonnett insisted, holding the remote and selecting a different scary movie.
“I’m leaving and taking these compression boots with me if you play a scary movie,” Tobin threatened, her heart already beating faster with the possibility of a horror movie.
“Fine, fine,” Sonnett relented, handing Lindsey the remote.
They settled on Lilo and Stitch, a movie that Lindsey loved that would definitely not scare anyone. Tobin sat in the compression boots for forty minutes, nearly falling asleep before letting Lynn have a turn with them. She loved the way her legs felt after being compressed, practically floating back to her hotel room after the movie ended.
The next morning, Tobin’s legs still felt good. They weren’t practicing anymore before the semifinals, just walking around and stretching their legs. Coach Parlow insisted that the entire team relax as much as possible, only requesting their attendance for an 11:00 am visit to the Orlando Pride Stadium where the semifinals would take place the next day.
Tobin had slept like a rock, not even noticing that Sonnett snored, despite Lindsey’s original warnings. She was basically still in her pajamas, having worn a pair of sweatpants and a tank top to bed. She’d just woken up and thrown on a snapback and a pair of slides that morning for the walk-through. But either way, she was in a fantastic mood, bright-eyed, a bagel in hand, any and all thoughts about Christen Press and the dream far from her mind.
Right before stepping onto the field, Tobin slipped off her slides and dropped her water bottle onto a stadium seat. She wanted to feel the grass between her toes and fully take in this moment of peace before the game tomorrow.
“This place is niiiice,” ARod whistled from beside Tobin.
“Yeah, I can’t wait to play tomorrow,” Tobin mused, closing her eyes as she stepped onto the grass.
“Jeez, Pressy! You’re lucky coach is in a good mood today,” Tobin heard a larger-than-life voice float across the field. She snapped her eyes up to the opposite side of the stadium where the voice came from, hardly even processing the pink-haired forward from UCLA’s team. Then she saw her. Christen Press, not fifty yards away from her.
Tobin stared, her mouth practically hanging open. Her dreams hadn’t done Christen justice, nor did her memory. Christen was in a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops. Her legs were long and toned, and her skin was tanned. She radiated light and happiness, her infectious energy captivating Tobin.
She watched as Christen looked apologetically at the pink-haired forward. Tobin couldn’t remember her name for the life of her, despite seeing her in the video that Allie had sent her. She’d been too focused on Christen to really remember the rest of them.
Christen said something to the other UCLA player, and Tobin fought off a wave of disappointment that she was so far away. Tobin wanted to hear Christen’s soft voice. She wanted to hear how much better it sounded in person than on video, but Christen wasn’t as loud as her teammate. Instead, she spoke so only the pink-haired girl could hear and held her wallet and water bottle up with an emphatic shake of her hand. She moved her hair over her shoulder, turning to face her friend again when suddenly, her eyes met Tobin’s across the field.
Tobin felt her breath stop in her throat. Even from a distance, those green eyes enthralled her. Even from this far away, Christen was so goddamn beautiful, that Tobin couldn’t help but smile. Her lips quirked up into a huge, face-splitting grin, one that she was positive was too dorky for Christen to think was cute. To Tobin’s delighted surprise, Christen Press smiled back at her, a large beaming smile that sent butterflies through her throat and chest and stomach.
Without conscious thought, Tobin lifted her hand and waved. “A wave, really?” Tobin chastised herself, feeling embarrassment fill her chest. She was about to drop her hand back down, to cringe at her lame gesture, but then Christen lifted her hand in return. She waved shyly back at Tobin until her pink-haired friend pulled Christen away from the field and out of the moment.
Tobin’s hand remained raised as she watched Christen and her teammate trek out of the stadium, wanting to look at Christen for as long as she could.
“Tobs! Don’t fraternize with the enemy!” ARod grumbled, smacking Tobin’s hand down and attempting to look serious.
Tobin’s cheeks flushed, and she reached her hand up to scratch at the back of her neck. “Christen Press isn’t my enemy,” Tobin thought to herself, before realizing the implications of that thought. Christen was on UCLA, the team standing between her and the NCAA Finals. She might be the girl Tobin had a silly, stupid thing for, but she was still the girl who would line up opposite from her tomorrow. “Christen should be your enemy if you don’t want her to cost you another game.”
Tobin set her shoulders, trying to embrace that logic and start thinking about Christen in only a professional sense. But as she traversed the field with her toes in the grass, Tobin couldn’t wipe the grin off of her face.
“You better start talking. Right. Now,” Megan whispered harshly.
Christen looked between Crystal and Megan, who hovered over her. The three of them were huddled at the back of the bus, out of earshot from the rest of the team. Crystal and Megan leaned over the backs of their seats, crowding Christen, who sat alone in the last row. Crystal looked down at her, curious and slightly impressed, while Megan looked confused and vaguely annoyed.
Christen grimaced and feigned ignorance. “Talk? About what?”
But Christen knew about what. Megan was talking about that “moment” with Tobin just now. The one she hadn’t anticipated, the one she was sure would haunt her in the best ways for days to come. Maybe even longer.
It hadn’t lasted more than a few seconds and it had happened completely by accident.
Christen, Megan, and Crystal were walking a few yards behind the rest of their team, lingering in the stadium for as long as they could. They’d just completed a walk-through, with inspirational words from Coach Foudy and Becky, a few jokes from Ashlyn, and a quick fun game of soccer tennis. As Christen walked off the field, in between Crystal and Megan, she was confident that the field they’d just left was going to be the field on which they would win the NCAA Championships. Megan had been thinking about something else entirely.
“I could murder some donuts right now,” Megan commented, holding onto her grumbling stomach. “Pressy, you still got your wallet? Maybe we could convince Coach to stop on the way back to the hotel.”
Christen had laughed and patted her pocket, her eyes widening when she realized her pocket was empty. Her wallet was gone.
“Oh, shitballs. I left it next to my water bottle.”
Christen stopped walking, Crystal and Megan pausing with her.
“Where?” Crystal asked, noting the panic on Christen’s face and keeping her voice calm.
Christen hooked a thumb over her shoulder and pointed back towards the field, wincing. Megan hung her head and then looked to Crystal.
“Let Coach know we’ll be right there. Don’t let the bus leave without us!” Megan said, grabbing Christen’s arm and dragging her back into the stadium.
Christen had been so engrossed with getting back to where she’d left her wallet and water bottle, that she hadn’t registered the fact that the stadium was no longer empty. Christen ran into the stands where she’d put her stuff down, happy to see her water bottle and wallet were still there. She’d picked them up and then she’d had this feeling. Something deep within her told her to look up, across the stadium. So, she had.
At that moment, she looked right at Tobin Heath. Tobin was standing on the field, shoeless and carefree, directly across the stadium from her. Apparently, Penn State had entered the stadium once they’d left, probably to do a walk-through of the field just like UCLA had done. But none of that crossed Christen’s mind. All she could do was hold Tobin’s gaze and look deep into those brown eyes.
The moment their eyes met, her breath had been wrenched from her throat and her feet ceased to move forward, leaving her rooted in the stands. Even from a distance, Christen could feel the warmth in Tobin’s gaze, the sudden surprise that melted into shyness. She was sure her own surprise was evident, but Tobin didn’t seem to care. She simply grinned a goofy little grin that had Christen’s stomach doing somersaults.
Christen’s skin prickled under Tobin’s gaze and her cheeks heated at the sight of Tobin’s smile. She’d seen versions of that smile all over Instagram - laid back and happy with her parents, cocky and cool with teammates, a little reserved but no less confident when she was on her own. But this smile Christen had never seen before. It seemed more open, more dazzling, more assured, albeit a bit bashful. It felt like a smile reserved only for her, a thought that nearly made Christen weak at the knees.
And then Tobin had waved. Honest to God waved. It gave Christen pause, because why would Tobin Heath be waving at her? So, Christen had given a quick look around, trying to see if Tobin had been waving at someone else, maybe Allie was behind her or something. But that was ridiculous, she and Megan were the only ones over there, and Tobin certainly wasn’t waving at Megan.
When Christen’s gaze reconnected with Tobin’s, she felt a matching grin tug at her lips as she raised her own hand, giving Tobin a small wave in return. Tobin’s smile grew as she waved, and Christen was sure that there had never been a more perfect moment in the history of the world. And then someone had to go and break it, pulling her out of the stands and out of the stadium. Someone who was currently interrogating her, along with Crystal.
“You sure as hell know what!” Megan said, her voice rising. Crystal quickly shushed her with a hand on her shoulder then turned back to Christen.
“Christen, Megan saw the whole thing and then told me all about it, so by the transitive property of equality, I basically saw the whole thing too.”
Christen rolled her eyes at that. She then swallowed thickly and tried to deflect. “So you saw our competition for tomorrow show up? They looked a bit scared to me.”
Megan moved out from her row with Crystal and jumped into the seat next to Christen. She held a finger in Christen’s face and wagged it.
“Tobin Heath gave you the look. The ‘I want to have lots of sex and babies with you for the rest of our lives’ look. When the hell did this happen?! How could you not tell us?”
It was then that Christen picked up on the underlying sound in Megan’s voice -- hurt. She looked up at Crystal and saw that hiding behind her curiosity, there was a bit of hurt also. Christen sighed. She hadn’t intentionally kept her roommates in the dark about Tobin, she’d just been trying so hard to forget about the annoyingly talented and annoyingly gorgeous Penn State forward, that she forgot to say anything to Megan and Crystal about it.
Christen looked around, making sure they truly were alone, and then beckoned her roommates closer.
“I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t - look, do you want the truth?”
Megan nodded enthusiastically in assent and Crystal clapped her hands together, grinning.
“Nothing’s going on-” Christen began. Megan looked ready to protest again, so Christen slapped a hand over Megan’s mouth and continued.
“Seriously, nothing. Nothing’s changed. Her picture remains liked, she never followed me, I never followed her. We’ve never spoken. We haven’t even seen each other since the game in August.”
Megan’s brow furrowed. She clearly had something she wanted to ask, so she licked Christen’s palm. Christen groaned and wiped her palm against her shirt.
“Gross, Pinoe,” Christen muttered.
“Whatever, I’m confused and need lots of clarification -” Megan tried to say, only to be interrupted by Crystal.
“Me too! She looked at you like that and you’ve never even talked?” she asked, seeming to struggle to wrap her head around this.
Christen understood where her confusion was coming from. She was in the same boat. She was having trouble understanding why Tobin had smiled at her, let alone waved. It seemed so familiar the way she’d done it. Way too intimate for perfect strangers, which they were.
“Was it possible Tobin had spent the last few months thinking about me, the way I’ve been thinking about her?” Christen wondered, entertaining the flicker of hope that bloomed in her chest for a moment. But then she extinguished it as quickly as it popped up.
“I don’t know what you mean about a look, but we’ve never met, spoken, or interacted. I think she probably just waved so things weren’t awkward, after me liking her picture and stuff, or maybe she was just being friendly,” Christen said, hating the way her mind was rationalizing an interaction her heart desperately wanted to read into.
Megan and Crystal shared a look. They looked like they didn’t believe her, but her two friends seemed to silently agree to drop it for now. Christen sensed that Megan and Crystal had a million more questions, and if she were honest with herself, she kind of wanted to talk to them about how she was feeling.
Christen sighed. “Come to my room after the film session and we can talk about it?”
Megan’s and Crystal’s eyes lit up at that, and Christen couldn’t help but smile at them. “Don’t look so excited, there’s not much to tell.”
Megan scoffed and nudged Christen’s arm. “Tell that to your face, you haven’t stopped smiling since I caught you making eyes at Tobin.”
Christen blushed and looked out the window. She wasn’t wrong in telling her friends that not a lot had been going on between them. Because nothing had happened or was happening. It was all one-sided...or so Christen thought. But with what Megan had said about Tobin and the way she’d been looking at her...maybe this was less one-sided than Christen had thought. Maybe her crush wasn’t unrequited. Maybe?
Bolstered by that thought, she decided to give her friends something to tide them over until tonight. Something she was nervous to admit out loud, but something that was a bit easier to do after her conversation with Channing last weekend.
“I like her, you guys. It’s irrational and insane and makes no sense, but I do. And that’s all you’re getting for right now,” Christen admitted, her eyes still trained on the scenery passing by outside the window of the bus. If she’d been looking at her friends, she would have seen the excitement and glee on their faces.
Megan and Crystal waited a few seconds after Christen’s quiet admission before they squealed and wrapped Christen up in a tight hug. They kept hugging Christen and whispering words of happiness and pride to her for the remainder of the bus ride, drawing weird looks from the rest of their teammates that they all chose to ignore.
Unfortunately, their film session lasted way longer than anyone expected, as did dinner. By the end of the night, when Coach Foudy had sent everyone to bed with strict instructions not to stay up late, Christen, Megan, and Crystal were so tired that they didn’t even put up a fight, promising to talk more tomorrow after the game. They all shared a hug in the lobby before going off to their rooms, full of elation and anticipation about tomorrow’s game for all sorts of reasons.
Christen got ready for bed quickly, wanting to get in at least ten minutes of meditation before falling asleep. Thankfully, Becky had let her go first in the bathroom, something Christen was grateful for.
She’d started doing meditation about two years ago, needing to find a way to calm the anxious ball of nerves that always settled within her chest the night before a game. While she liked to visualize and get into game mode on the day of, the night before she preferred to empty her mind and quiet her heart. It was the only way she knew how to dispel the anxiety within her and just focus on the game.
Tonight, the ten minutes flew by, leaving Christen feeling beyond relaxed and ready. Her breathing was steady and she felt completely at peace. Despite the fact that tomorrow she’d be playing in one of the biggest games of her life, opposite a girl she was crushing on hard, Christen had never felt more prepared. She was pretty sure she fell asleep with a smile on her face that night, excited for the day to come.
Tobin hadn’t heard her alarm that morning. She hadn’t heard Sonnett’s alarm either. She hadn’t heard Sonnett shower and move around the room in search of her warm-up gear and sneakers. Instead, she’d woken up to Lindsey’s worried and rushed voice.
“Tobs, what the hell are you doing? We’re leaving in thirty minutes,” Lindsey said, shaking Tobin’s arm.
Tobin peeled her eyelids open, the bright lights in the hotel room burning her eyes.
“What?” she mumbled, still half asleep.
“Get up! You missed breakfast, and you’re gonna miss the bus if you don’t hurry up,” Lindsey said, a bit more urgency in her voice than there had been before.
Sonnett stood near the door to their room, looking slightly guilty for not waking Tobin up earlier. She’d thought that Tobin had wanted more sleep, and by the time she’d arrived at breakfast, Sonnett had forgotten about her sleeping roommate entirely. It wasn’t until ARod, Lauren, and Lindsey had asked about her that Sonnett had remembered.
“Shit,” Tobin groaned, jumping out of bed and pulling on a t-shirt. She stumbled into the bathroom, immediately noticing the dark circles under her bloodshot eyes. She splashed water on her face, upset that she wouldn’t get a shower until after the game, having wanted to shower before seeing Christen. “Christen,” Tobin thought. She shook her head, staring down at the sink. “Don’t think about her. She’s the competition, and you can’t get distracted,” Tobin schooled herself.
“You look great, Tobs,” ARod laughed as Tobin slumped into her bus seat next to ARod.
“Don’t be mean,” Lauren chided, noticing that Tobin had her headphones in and a glare on her face already.
Tobin had double-checked to make sure she had her shin guards and cleats. The last thing she needed was to forget important gear. Coach was probably already mad at her for missing breakfast, and despite having shoved a granola bar in her mouth before getting on the bus, Tobin was already starving. She hadn’t wanted to start the day like she had. She’d wanted to wake up early and shower. She’d wanted to stretch in the hotel room and eat a big breakfast. Instead, she was exhausted, starving, and quite frankly pissed off, and it was all thanks to Christen Press and that stupid smirk.
After seeing Christen in person for the first time in months, walking the field with her team, and enjoying a team dinner, she’d dreamed again. She dreamed of Christen, those magnetic green eyes and full lips. Only this dream hadn’t been like the last. She’d been playing with her team, facing UCLA in the semifinals, tied 1-1. Christen had been sweaty and panting, distracting Tobin as usual, and Tobin had been chosen to take a penalty kick, one that would decide the game.
Christen’s smirk had distracted her. She’d sized Tobin up, an amused look on her face, almost like she knew Tobin was going to miss. Tobin hadn’t disappointed. She’d taken a few steps back, trying to clear her head but only seeing Christen Press. When her foot met the ball, it hadn’t made the right noise. It wasn’t a hollow thump. It was sharp and short, and the ball shot into the air, flying away from the goal. UCLA’s goalkeeper hadn’t even had to move. She’d just stared at the ball, flying miles up and to the left of the goal. Christen’s smirk had grown, a laugh bubbling out of her lips.
“Damn, Tobin,” ARod had scoffed, shoving Tobin out of the way with her shoulder. “Maybe if you’d stop eye-fucking the competition we’d actually have had a shot.”
Christen had winked then, her smirk turning into something mean, something menacing. She turned away from Tobin, celebrating with her teammates.
“Christen,” Tobin had tried to call, but the darker-haired forward was swept away in a mass of royal blue jerseys.
Tobin had woken up to her dark hotel room, the bedside clock reading 3:18 AM. Her sheets were stuck to her body, a layer of sweat covering her skin. She felt claustrophobic, Sonnett’s snoring not helping matters. On any normal night, Tobin would have climbed out of bed, grabbed her soccer ball and cleats, and jogged to the field. She would have worked through her sleeplessness and felt better in the morning. She hadn’t had that option, though. Coach Parlow would have killed her if she’d snuck out of her hotel room to jog or kick the soccer ball around, so instead, Tobin pulled the sheets back around her body and flipped onto her other side. She’d tossed and turned, trying to forget the way that Christen’s face had changed when she’d laughed at Tobin.
She could still hear Christen’s mocking laugh as she tied her cleats in the locker room. She shoved her headphones deeper into her ears, wishing that she could get into her pregame playlist, but she couldn’t. She paced back and forth in front of her locker, knowing that she was probably worrying her teammates.
Honestly, she was worrying herself. She’d been playing soccer her entire life. She didn’t remember a time before soccer, a time without the ball at her feet. For the first time in her life, however, Tobin wasn’t excited to play. She wasn’t dying to get her first touch on the ball. She was terrified. Her stomach twisted in knots, making her worry that she might actually be sick. Her palms were sweating, and her head was throbbing. She was nervous. Her teammates were depending on her. Her parents had flown to Florida to watch her play. Her coach was starting her, fully trusting that Tobin would do a good job. All the while, Tobin couldn’t help but wonder whether she could even perform in front of Christen.
“Don’t let her take another game from you,” Tobin thought to herself, gritting her teeth and setting her shoulders. “Today is your day.”
“Great moments are born from great opportunity, and that’s what you have here today, ladies. That’s what you’ve earned here today,” Coach Foudy said, beginning her big pre-game speech.
Christen looked to Megan and Crystal, stifling a small giggle at the thought that Coach Foudy plagiarized her speech from one of the best pre-game speeches of all time. But she wasn’t going to say anything, this speech always got her fired up, and by the looks on her teammates' faces, it was working for them too.
The atmosphere was what every player dreams of on game day. The team wasn’t too serious or too casual, people feeling like they could joke around and have fun, while also staying focused on the task at hand.
In the locker room, everyone had fanned out and found a spot to get comfortable. They all got into their gear as Ashlyn played music on a portable speaker. Megan, Ashlyn, and Kelley had been the first ones to start dancing, jumping around the locker room to “International” by Chali 2na and “4ever” by The Veronicas, classics from the She’s the Man soundtrack. Gradually, everyone had joined in. Christen let Crystal drag her out into the middle of the locker room to dance, while Kelley found a way to convince Becky to hop into the mix as well.
When Coach Foudy had entered the locker room, her smile was one full of confidence. She had asked the team to retake their seats so she could read out the starting lineup.
“Ash, hold down the fort back there. Dunn, Becky, Dahlkemper, and Kriegs, you’re in front of Ash today. You’ve been so great this season, limiting our opponents’ opportunities in front of the net. Let’s keep it that way. K.O. and my other outside backs, expect to get some minutes today. I want to keep fresh legs out there. Allie, you’ll be our holding mid-”
Christen tuned out when Coach Foudy ran through the midfielders, trying to keep that sense of calm she’d had all morning, but refocused when she heard the forwards being listed.
“With your foot still not 110%, I’m going to keep you as a sub today Abby. So we’ll go with Pinoe on the left, Mac in the middle, and Press on the right.”
Megan reached over and squeezed Christen’s knee, while Christen gripped tightly onto Crystal’s hand. The three of them were starting together today, and they were ready.
For the first time in her entire soccer career, Christen wasn’t nervous. She was centered and calm, cool and collected. She was ready to step out onto that field and play the game of her life...and then hopefully talk to Tobin Heath.
When Penn State and UCLA faced off in August, the game was tame. There hadn’t been many fouls or much physicality at all. Each team was still sorting out their system, their dynamic. It had been a fairly even game between them, with equal amounts of possession and opportunities on goal. Mistakes were made and it was acceptable because that was preseason.
But today was an entirely different story. This was the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament and neither team could be labeled tame. UCLA was all quiet strength and composure, while Penn State was scrappy and confident, and the clash between them would be one for the record books. These two teams were hardly the same ones that had faced off three months ago, and the same could be said for their leading scorers: Christen Press and Tobin Heath.
Christen had lined up on the halfway line, with her team kicking off the game. She’d promised herself that she’d remain professional, but she couldn’t help but smile at Tobin Heath in front of her. Tobin’s jersey was too big on her and her socks were rolled down in their usual messy way. There was something so comfortable and familiar about Tobin’s appearance that for a brief second Christen wanted the game to fly by and end so that she could talk to Tobin.
She stood in front of the girl she’d spent three months thinking about and found herself slightly confused about Tobin’s lack of eye contact. Tobin had always looked Christen directly in the eyes. During their preseason game, Tobin had stared at Christen up until the kickoff, and during Penn State’s walk-through just the day before, Tobin had stared at Christen. She’d smiled so big and waved. Christen wanted to see that Tobin, even if only for a second. She tried to meet Tobin’s eyes, lifting her hand slightly to wave, but her hand stopped in midair.
Tobin’s eyes finally met Christen’s, but gone were the warmth and the shyness and the joy. Those brown eyes were dark and hard, practically icy. Christen’s smile faltered, slipping from her face as her hand fell back to her side. Tobin rolled her eyes in Christen’s direction before focusing her attention on the ball in the middle of the field.
Christen wished it hadn’t hurt. She wished her heart hadn’t clenched at the sight of Tobin’s complete disregard for her, but it did. Her heart hadn’t been prepared for this complete and utter 180. Where there had been hope in her heart yesterday and even this morning, there was now an empty chasm, filled only with confusion and hurt. Christen didn’t want to care, but she did and she knew she shouldn’t. Despite the painful whiplash she felt from Tobin’s cold and detached demeanor, Christen had to refocus. She had to get her head in the game, as Crystal liked to say. While confusion and rejection settled deep in her gut and caused bile to rise in her throat, Christen pushed it away. She had a game to win.
Thankfully, the game was fairly even, which kept Tobin and Christen at opposite ends of the field. While Christen and her fellow forwards ran an attack on goal, Tobin was stuck around midfield, sitting tight on the UCLA defenders. While Tobin and her teammates attacked UCLA’s goal, Christen sat high on the field while Mac elected to hustle back and play defense. Without being near one another, they didn’t have to think about each other. Tobin could ride the wave of her cold fury she felt for UCLA’s Number 23 and Christen could avoid any and all thoughts about Penn State’s Number 17.
The professional air to the game and the stalemate were both broken in the 45th minute, moments before halftime. Up to that point, the game had been full of decorum, no silly fouls or brutal tackles. It was full of respect for the game and for each other. But then Christen had received a long throw from Ashlyn near half-field. Because of the quick change in possession and quick transition, Tobin was closer to Christen than she had been all game. She was also the closest Penn State player to Christen at that moment. Most of the Penn State players were out of position, leaving Christen and Tobin alone on the right side of the field.
Christen locked eyes with Tobin, seeing the same darkness and coldness within her eyes that had been there at kickoff. It made Christen’s blood boil, her confusion burning into something resembling irritation. Christen felt her own face harden as she dribbled at Tobin, full speed.
The two battled down the entire length of the sideline. Christen kept the ball on her right foot, away from Tobin, and her forearm firmly against Tobin’s chest. Tobin’s hands grabbed at her jersey repeatedly, trying to pull her off the ball. It wasn’t until Christen got near the eighteen-yard box that Tobin’s attitude changed.
Christen knew she had Tobin beat the moment the brunette’s shoulders slumped and brows furrowed in frustration. With a smirk, Christen poked the ball between Tobin’s open legs, nutmegging her smoothly.
“OOOOOOH!” the UCLA bench roared to life, causing Christen’s smirk to deepen.
Tobin had had enough. That damn smirk and that damn girl using her own move against her. It was enough to drive anyone to drastic measures. Long gone was her composed defending, now she was haphazard and reckless and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
Christen was barely a foot away from her, her outstretched foot looking to reconnect with the ball and drive toward the goal to get a cross off. Tobin couldn’t let that happen. She couldn’t let Christen Press cost her this game too. All of her anger and rage and exasperation bubbled within her, causing her to act without thinking.
Tobin sprinted to catch up to Christen and then hooked her left leg in front of Christen. She didn’t get the ball, there was no way she did. She only got Christen. Her reckless slide tackle caused Christen to soar into the air, over the soccer ball, and land flat on her back on the grass. A choked gasp left her lips as she connected with the ground with a resounding thump. Tobin cringed at the look of pain that crossed Christen’s face, regret blooming swiftly in her chest. But there was no way to take it back now.
In her mind, Tobin knew it was a stupid foul. Sonnett was right there, a few yards away, backing her up, ready to contain Christen. But she had done it anyway.
Tobin sat in the grass for a moment, post-slide tackle, knowing what awaited her when she stood up. Pissed off UCLA girls, maybe a yellow card from the ref. She got up slowly, pushing herself to her feet and brushing the grass from her shorts. She thought she knew what was coming. She never expected Allie Long.
“What in the ever-loving fuck was that, Harry?!” Allie yelled, getting right in Tobin’s face. Tobin dropped her chin to her chest, her eyes never leaving the grass, her cheeks burning with shame. Tobin deserved this. She deserved the yelling, the harsh words, the palms pushing against her shoulders aggressively.
She even deserved the animosity thrown her way from the pink-haired forward, who now stood right at Allie’s elbow, her face filled with rage.
“Let me at her, Al. She hurt Pressy! She’s a dead woman.”
“Pressy...she means Christen. Christen.” At the reminder, Tobin’s eyes lifted from the grass and sought out the green-eyed striker. Christen was still on the ground, her eyes scrunched up in pain, her breaths coming out in ragged pants.
Tobin’s heart dropped at the sight. “Get up, Christen. I’m sorry, get up,” Tobin pleaded silently, hoping Christen could hear her.
“I’m gonna break her fucking face for going after Pressy like that,” the pink-haired forward all but spat at Tobin, causing Tobin to look away from Christen, away from the reminder of her temper and recklessness. She pushed the sweaty strands of hair out of her face in frustration. She’d let her emotions get the best of her. She’d let her nerves and her irritation get the best of her, and because of that, she’d hurt Christen.
“Pinoe, walk away I got this,” Allie advised, sending the forward over to Christen, leaving Allie with Tobin. Tobin was already shrinking away from Allie, knowing this was nowhere near finished.
“Focus up, Harry! Are you listening to me? What was that?!” Allie yelled again, her hands bunching in Tobin’s jersey, shaking Tobin like a rag doll.
Tobin kept her arms by her sides, but her hands clenched into fists. She let Allie shake her, not bothering to fight back. She deserved this. She knew that Allie was right. She knew she’d been a jerk. She’d been the type of soccer player she’d always hated, the ones who let their emotions get the better of them. Still, she couldn’t stop the thoughts from floating through her brain: “You let Christen get the best of you. She’s the reason you lost your temper. She’s the reason you aren’t playing well.” She knew those thoughts were wrong. She knew that Christen was just being a competitor, a really really good competitor, and Tobin was letting her feelings make everything more confusing. She was letting her feelings make everything worse.
“Back off!” ARod yelled, materializing at Tobin’s side, reaching around Tobin to push Allie’s hands off of Tobin’s jersey.
“You did not just touch me,” Allie growled, her attention leaving Tobin and landing on ARod.
“Oh, you mean like this?” ARod asked, a mix between a scowl and a smirk on her face. She stepped forward and pushed her hand into Allie’s chest, shoving the blonde UCLA midfielder backward.
Allie stumbled then caught herself. With a huff, she moved forward, practically shoving Tobin out of the way to reach ARod. The two of them were moments from coming to blows, the temperature on the field rising as more and more UCLA and Penn State players approached the eighteen-yard box.
The referee was finally on the scene, coming right for Tobin.
“Number 17,” the referee called, “This is a warning. Next time it’ll be a card.”
Tobin rolled her eyes and stepped away from Allie and ARod, still unable to look up from the grass. She turned her back on the whole scene, passing Lauren on her way to the opposite side of the field.
“ARod!” Lauren yelled, putting herself in between Allie and ARod, acting as a mediator. “Cool off. We don’t need a yellow card.” She wrapped her arm around ARod’s waist and pulled her toward Tobin. Allie watched them go, her eyes narrowed.
“Yeah, you better run!” Allie called out.
A pained gasp had her turning around and hurrying to Christen’s side. Megan and Crystal were already kneeling beside Christen, both of them hovering over her.
“Are you okay?” Megan asked, reaching her hand down and settling it on Christen’s shoulder. Christen forced a smile and sat up, hissing in pain as she did.
“I’m fine,” Christen mumbled. She closed her eyes for a second, taking a mental inventory of her body. Her ribs hurt a little, but they just felt bruised, not broken. Her legs felt all right, if not a bit tired, and her head was fine. The only thing smarting worse than her back and her ribs right now was her heart. She was overcome with feelings of anger and slight embarrassment that the girl she’d had a crush on had completely taken her out. In front of both their teams, their families, friends, and everyone watching the game on television.
Here she was, laid out in the grass, all thanks to Tobin Heath. Who, for some reason, had a personal vendetta against Christen today. Yesterday, it was all smiles and cute waves and looks that Megan assured her meant Tobin was into her. But today? Today, Tobin’s eyes were cold, her expression closed off, her anger rolling off of her in waves. She was a completely different person, nothing like the goofy and carefree person Christen had seen. Christen just didn’t know what she’d done to cause such a sudden shift in the brunette.
Christen’s eyes blinked open, the sunlight seeming just a bit brighter than it had moments ago. She let out another long breath and looked up at Megan, Crystal, and then Allie. She shot Allie a tired, half-smile.
“Did you say ever-loving fuck, or was I hit harder than I thought?”
Her teammates chuckled lightly at her weak attempt at a joke. Allie held out her hand, Christen taking it firmly. Megan and Crystal were there to support her as well as Christen was pulled gently to her feet. The crowd applauded as she got back to her feet, and she could hear her family cheering in the distance.
“Yes Mo-Mo, get back in there!” Channing screamed, only to be drowned out by her mother adding, “Kick some ass, babygirl!”
Christen waved at her family in the crowd, hopefully assuaging the worry she could see on their faces. She grimaced as she held onto her back but quickly shook it off as the referee approached.
“Are you good, 23?”
Christen nodded and then looked past the referee. Her eyes scoured the field for Tobin, needing to find her, needing to see her.
She found Tobin crouching down near half-field, her body half-turned away, her eyes on the ground. Christen felt a fierce fury course through her, something she wasn’t used to feeling when she looked at Tobin. Whatever had happened for Tobin was no excuse for the egregious foul she’d committed. That could have been much worse than some bad bruises. Christen narrowed her eyes at Tobin and then turned back to the referee, taking the ball from her and placing it on the spot of the foul, determined to make Tobin and Penn State pay.
Unfortunately, they didn’t score. Christen played a gorgeous ball into the box but Megan hadn’t been able to get a clean shot off. The half ended quickly after that, sending the teams into their respective locker rooms. Everyone crowded around Christen once they’d made it inside, wanting to know if she was okay, or if Tobin had said anything to her, or if she wanted to get Tobin back. Their questions and the crowd dissipated once Coach Foudy entered the locker room. She crouched down in front of Christen, a concerned look in her eye.
“Tell it to me straight, Press, are you okay?”
Christen nodded at her coach, determined not to let Tobin Heath and her temperamental attitude get the best of her today.
“She’s not sidelining me, Coach. I’m going back out there to win this game,” Christen replied, mustering up as much enthusiasm as she could despite the pain she was in.
Coach Foudy patted Christen’s knee and then got to her feet, facing the rest of the locker room. She gave a rousing speech, getting everyone fired up to go back out there and dominate the second half. Which they did.
From the moment the referee blew her whistle, it was UCLA’s game. They dominated possession and attempts on goal. It seemed as if a fire had been lit under Christen and her teammates, while Tobin and her teammates were floundering.
Tobin knew they were in trouble, and worse, so was she. She was off. Her passes weren’t connecting, her touches were poor. She couldn’t shake the funk she was in and it had everything to do with the fact that Christen Press was dominating on the field. Despite Tobin’s unclassy tackle in the first half, Christen had rebounded and was on another level. Her touches were crisp, her shots were well-placed. Penn State was just lucky A.D. was making saves left and right to keep them in this game.
Until the 67th minute, when not even A.D. could work another miracle. Tobin had given the ball away in the middle of the field, leaving her defense in a 3 v 2 situation, with Christen, the pink-haired forward, and their tall center forward, running at Sonnett and Julie.
“Get back, Tobin. Get back!” Coach Parlow bellowed from the sidelines, but even if Tobin could, there was no changing fate.
Christen slotted a perfect ball to the pink-haired forward, setting her up for a 1 v 1 with A.D. The goalkeeper had no chance as the forward sent a cracking shot into the upper corner of the goal.
Tobin’s shoulders slumped as she heard the ball swish against the net, the sound reverberating around her mind. “That was your fault. You’re such an idiot, giving the ball away like that. Christen Press really is going to cost you this game,” Tobin thought, kicking herself.
She watched as Christen wrapped her arms around the pink-haired forward, an obvious familiarity in the way the two embraced. White-hot jealousy flamed in Tobin’s stomach at the sight. But she wasn’t the only one with less than positive feelings about UCLA’s goal celebration.
As Christen and the rest of her teammates obnoxiously posed like they were taking a selfie to celebrate their goal, ARod walked up to Tobin, her hands on her hips.
“I hate that. Just score a goal and move on, no need to rub it in our faces,” ARod commented, her words laced with anger.
The UCLA players eventually stopped their celebration and spread out, moving to their half of the field for the kickoff. The pink-haired forward jogged right by Tobin and ARod.
“That goal? That was for my girl, Press. The one you were an asshole to earlier. Don’t ever touch her again,” the forward barked at Tobin, her glare full of unrepressed rage.
The forward seemed to realize that ARod was there too. She relaxed her glare and shot ARod a toothy, cocky grin. “Hey, I can give you some pointers after the game if you want, since you’ve been having so much trouble finding the net today.” The forward ran off, leaving a chastened Tobin and a seething ARod in her wake.
In the subsequent minutes, Tobin watched as ARod got angrier and angrier with the pink-haired forward. It was only a matter of time until ARod retaliated. Tobin just hadn’t expected it to be so soon or so bad.
It was the 72nd minute, and UCLA had a corner kick. Everyone was back for Penn State, even ARod and Tobin.
“Come on, Tobs. Pick it up, it’s our game to lose. We’ve got to get on the board,” Lauren said, running by Tobin as she got into position. Tobin nodded weakly, looking around the eighteen-yard box to find someone to mark. She saw that Christen was free, but chose to mark a different player, not wanting to be near her right now.
The corner kick didn’t result in anything right away. It was cleared by Penn State, but only as far as the tall center back for UCLA. She kicked a long ball back into the crowded box, her pinpoint accuracy sending the ball right to the pink-haired forward, who found herself open on the far side of the box.
Christen watched as the ball Becky had sent forward sailed towards Megan. She knew this was her chance to crash the goal, knowing Megan would head the ball across the box. Except as Christen took off towards the six-yard box, she saw a blonde Penn State player running straight for Megan.
It seemed to happen in slow motion. Megan leaped into the air, head stretched towards the ball. The Penn State player jumped straight into Megan, making absolutely no attempt at getting the ball. The two collided in midair, sending them both plummeting to the ground. Megan fell awkwardly, her ankle rolling beneath her, while the Penn State girl landed hard on her shoulder.
Megan let out a loud whine, grabbing at her ankle. She stayed on her back, her eyes clenching closed and her cheeks puffing out in painful breaths.
Christen saw red. First Tobin with her wild tackle, and now this blonde b-word who had the nerve to hit Megan. Christen stomped up to the forward, crossing the few yards between them quickly. She bent over the forward, who was still down, gripping her own shoulder in a poor attempt at acting in pain.
“What the hell is wrong with you? With your whole team?!” Christen yelled, staring down at the Penn State forward, her tone accusatory.
The blonde sat up, still rubbing at her shoulder. “Us? Are you kidding me?! What about you guys?”
Becky jogged up to Megan and squatted to check on her, noticing that Christen was too heated to think clearly about Megan’s possible injury. The rest of the UCLA and Penn State players gathered around as Christen stood above the blonde, everyone watching the drama unfold. This game had descended into chaos, and they were mere spectators to it.
As the blonde forward got to her feet, Christen got in her face, her temper getting the best of her.
“First Tobin’s a total jerk, not to mention a physical danger to me and my teammates, and then you recklessly knock Megan out of the air!”
Tobin, who was standing just a yard or two away from Christen and ARod, whipped her head around toward Christen, hearing the green-eyed forward say her name. She’d dreamed about hearing Christen say her name for the first time. She’d longed for it, she’d yearned for it, but not like that. She’d imagined it would be sweet and breathy and light. She’d never imagined Christen saying her name with such hatred. Hearing her name spoken with such vitriol brought Tobin right back to all those feelings of irritation and insecurity.
“She just landed wrong. I didn’t-” ARod started, but was quickly interrupted by Tobin, who marched right up to Christen.
“Don’t you dare talk about me like you know me!” Tobin barked, hating the way her own voice sounded but unable to control her anger. She pushed Christen’s shoulder, turning her away from ARod so that they were now face to face.
Christen didn’t take kindly to being touched. She smacked Tobin’s hand away, her eyes hardening. “You’re the one who took me out with that tackle. I don’t need to know you, to know that what you did was dangerous!” Christen countered, her own voice rising.
Tobin took a half step toward Christen, bringing them toe to toe. She was close enough now to see the small, golden flecks in Christen’s green eyes, the ones that now shined brightly with anger.
“Just because you Instagram-stalked me doesn’t mean you get to pretend like you know anything about me!” Tobin yelled, having no idea why she was suddenly word vomiting all over the field. She wasn’t thinking about her words, they were just pouring out of her and she was helpless to stop them.
For a split second, she swore that Christen’s face fell, that the anger was replaced with embarrassment or even regret. Tobin couldn’t quite tell what it was, but she immediately wished she hadn’t said anything. It only lasted for a second, though. Christen’s steely expression returned quickly, her eyes piercing into Tobin’s.
“I never even looked at your Instagram. I didn’t like that picture! She did!” Christen screamed back, pointing a finger at Megan’s still crumpled body, completely lost in Tobin’s glare and unable to see that the rest of their teammates were staring at them, all other drama on the field subsiding.
“What, so your girlfriend’s liking other girls’ pictures on your phone?!” Tobin asked, her voice somewhat hysterical. She felt that same jealousy bubble up in her chest. Christen and the other UCLA forward were so close, so comfortable with each other, and Tobin’s entire body ached at the idea of someone else being with Christen. She couldn’t stand imagining Christen in someone else’s arms or heart or bed. That was all she could do, though. She couldn’t stop herself from imagining Christen’s possible love life with the injured player on the field.
“Megan?” Christen almost laughed, not able to get the words out but thinking, “She’s not my girlfriend.”
“I mean what kind of twisted mind game is that? Do you do that to all of your competitors?” Tobin taunted, her mind spinning with thoughts of Christen and the pink-haired forward giggling over her Instagram.
Allie watched on in horror, ready to step in and break this up, but Lauren put a hand on Allie’s shoulder, stopping her. “Let them go, they gotta work this out,” Lauren said, her tone resigned.
“Oh my God, grow up! I didn’t play some stupid mind game with you. You’re not worth the time that would take,” Christen snapped, surprising herself with the harshness of her words.
Tobin recoiled at that, hurt flashing across her face. She recovered quickly, though, anger taking over her features once more, but she wasn’t given a chance to respond. The referee had had enough of the drama and the antics and was putting an end to this. She ran over to the benches, her hard look traveling between both coaches.
“If you don’t pull your players, I’m giving them both red cards,” the referee told both coaches. The referee made her way back to the large group of players, dispersing them with her whistle.
The only two who didn’t back away from each other were Christen and Tobin. They glared at one another, nothing but resentment passing between them.
“Press, help Rapinoe off the field! You’re done,” Coach Foudy yelled, pulling Christen out of her staring match with Tobin.
“What?” Christen muttered, finally noticing everyone’s eyes were on her and Tobin. She looked back at the brunette, her brown eyes no longer boring into hers. Instead, Tobin was staring at the grass again. Christen stumbled back a few steps, shame burning in her cheeks as she hurried to Megan’s side.
The referee blew her whistle again, this time for substitutions on both sides. Tobin stalked off the field, passing her team’s bench and jogging straight through the tunnel and into the locker room. ARod also left the field after receiving a yellow-card, dropping heavily down onto the end of the bench.
Christen wrapped her arm around Megan’s waist, helping her friend hobble to the bench and watching as Kelley and Abby took hers and Megan’s places on the field. Christen sat next to Megan on the bench, both of them seething in anger, Megan shooting daggers over at ARod and Christen wishing Tobin were around for her to do the same.
If she were completely honest, though, Christen was most upset with herself. She’d never lost control like that before. Tobin had brought out the worst in her. She’d made her feel angry and out of control. Worse, Tobin had confirmed Christen’s greatest fear: that Tobin thought she was a freak for stalking her on Instagram. Tobin had spat out those words like she’d thought Christen was a creep for accidentally liking the picture. Tobin didn’t know Christen at all, but it seemed like she knew just where to hit Christen so that it would hurt so that Christen would completely lose it. She’d never yelled like that on the field, and she knew Coach Foudy was going to have several choice words for her. That wasn’t something Christen was looking forward to, but she also knew that she would beat herself up about it more than Coach Foudy’s words would. She had been her own worst enemy today, and she’d berate herself for it for the next few weeks, if not longer.
She leaned back in her chair, her ribs aching from Tobin’s stupid tackle, a physical reminder of the hurt Tobin had caused.
“You okay, Pressy?” Megan asked from beside her. A trainer wrapped an ice bag around Megan’s already swelling ankle, then handed Christen an ice bag for her ribs. Christen took it gratefully.
“Just sore,” Christen mumbled, putting the ice against her ribs. “You?”
“Just pissed,” Megan replied simply, her shoulders bobbing up and down and her eyes remaining glued to the ball on the field.
Christen smiled at Megan’s response, glad that her friend could still make her feel better even when she felt like crawling into a hole and never coming out again.
Tobin threw a cleat across the room, immediately regretting it when she had to walk across the room to retrieve it and put it in her bag.
She couldn’t stand to stay out there and watch the game, not after the way she’d behaved. Sure, she was mad. She was angry about what Christen had said. She was angry that her team was losing. More than anything, she was angry with herself. She’d been the kind of soccer player she hated. Really, she’d been the kind of person she hated.
Christen had tried to wave at her at the beginning of the game. She’d tried to be nice, and Tobin had shut her down. Not only that, Tobin had knocked her to the ground, hurt her, and then yelled at her. That wasn’t like Tobin at all, and she was embarrassed. She peeled off her jersey and dropped it onto the floor, chugging down some more Gatorade before pulling her hair out of its ponytail and leaning her head back against the wall.
“So much for talking to Christen Press and getting to know her,” Tobin thought to herself. “She’s never gonna want to talk to you. From what she said on the field, it sounds like she never even liked you in the first place. She isn’t even the one who liked that stupid Instagram picture. She probably hates you after that screaming match, anyway.”
Tobin’s brain berated her heart, reminding Tobin just how stupid it had been to crush on a total stranger or to think that a total stranger might have had a crush on her too. Tobin cleaned herself up and sat in the locker room to wait for the game to end, knowing she’d be chewed out by Coach Parlow, and probably some of her teammates, for her behavior on the field.
“I’m feeling a ton better after getting some ice from the trainer,” Megan said, her bad mood having disappeared after UCLA beat Penn State, officially advancing to the NCAA Championship Finals. The final score was 2-0, Abby having scored the penalty kick Megan earned with the foul that had injured her.
“Honestly, I’d take that kind of tackle any day if it means getting my team through to the finals,” Megan added, her grin growing exponentially.
Christen sat sandwiched between both of her sisters, Crystal and Megan shouting over their shoulders from the back seat so that Christen’s parents could hear. She hadn’t spoken since hugging her family and thanking them for coming to the game. Coach Foudy had seriously reprimanded her, explaining that she’d need to think carefully about putting Christen in for the final against Stanford. Christen had listened to her coach, feeling more and more disappointed in herself the longer Coach Foudy spoke.
Her teammates’ celebration hadn’t made Christen feel better. Seeing Coach Parlow pull Tobin out of the locker room and to a quiet corner of the field to yell at her hadn’t made things any better either. Even hugs from her sisters and her parents hadn’t helped her dislodge the deep ache in her chest. She felt suffocated in her parent’s SUV, her mind spinning with all of the negative thoughts she was having about her own behavior.
“I’m just excited to kick some Stanford butt!” Crystal cheered from the back seat, reaching her arms forward to squeeze Christen’s shoulders.
Christen flinched, letting out a soft hiss, her back and ribs getting sorer by the minute.
“You okay, Mo?” Tyler asked. “You took a beating out there.”
“I’m fine. Just ready for some dinner and an early night to bed,” Christen lied. She wasn’t even sure she could hold down food. She felt sick to her stomach, and the last thing she wanted to do was eat or sleep. Instead, she wanted to go out to the soccer field and shoot balls at the goal until her legs gave out. She deserved to wear herself out, but even that didn’t seem like punishment enough.
“Take it easy, sweetheart. You don’t want to tire yourself out before Sunday,” Christen’s mom warned, turning around in her seat to get a good look at her daughter.
Christen nodded, a soft smile creeping onto her lips. Her mom had always been good about making Christen smile when she really didn’t feel good. She’d made her laugh after her first big loss in high school, when Christen had stayed home from school with the stomach flu, and when Christen’s first crush turned her down.
Her dad pulled the car into the Olive Garden parking lot, putting the car in park and clearing his throat.
“Yes! BREADSTICKS!” Megan cheered. After Channing moved her seat forward, Megan hobbled out of the car, the ice bag still wrapped around her ankle. Crystal and Tyler filed out on the other side of the car, holding the door open for Christen.
“Christen, stay in the car for a minute,” Christen’s dad said, waving Christen’s sisters, friends, and mom ahead. “Save us some breadsticks,” he joked.
“What’s up?” Christen asked when they were alone.
“We need to talk about that behavior today,” Cody said, turning around in his seat to look at his middle daughter.
“Explain yourself,” Allie demanded as soon as the door slammed shut behind them.
Tobin kept her eyes forward, staring at the wall and listening to the stereotypical Italian music blasting from the bathroom speaker.
“What do you mean?” Tobin mumbled.
Allie pulled on her best friend’s arm, spinning Tobin around to face her. Tobin’s eyes stayed glued to Allie’s sneakers, terrified to lift her head up and meet Allie’s eyes. She’d been holding herself together since she’d been taken off the field, since Coach Parlow had yelled at her, since her parents had commiserated with her about the loss, and since Allie had started glaring at her at the dinner table. She didn’t want to fall apart now.
“Don’t pull that shit! That was not the Harry I know out there on that field today! You were a total bitch to Christen, a.k.a. the sweetest human alive. So I repeat, explain yourself,” Allie said, trying to lower her voice slightly. Getting no response from Tobin, Allie took a deep breath. “Will you just look at me?” Allie asked, her voice even softer this time. She reached her hand out to lift Tobin’s chin up.
Tobin’s bottom lip wobbled first. She looked into her best friend’s blue eyes, Allie’s typical kind, non-judgemental look within them. That was when the first, hot tears dripped down her cheeks.
“Oh, Harry,” Allie gasped, completely caught off guard by her friend’s tears. Allie stepped toward the bathroom door, turning the lock quickly so that no one else would try to enter.
“I’m sorry,” Tobin sputtered, more tears falling, despite her efforts. Her nose burned, and her throat thickened, but no matter how much she tried to contain the tears, they just kept falling.
“I wasn’t expecting tears. What’s going on?” Allie asked, handing Tobin a paper towel to dry her face, rubbing Tobin’s shoulder comfortingly.
“I hurt Christen,” Tobin blubbered, her voice wet and cracking.
“She’ll be fine,” Allie replied, trying to speak lightly about Tobin’s aggression during the game, not wanting Tobin to feel worse about it. “It isn’t like you broke her leg or something. You just knocked her around a little.”
“No, but I - I hurt her. I hurt Christen,” Tobin repeated, her eyes pleading with Allie to understand what she was trying to say.
Allie eyed her friend, taking in the swollen, red eyes, the tear stains on her cheeks, the torment in her gaze. Suddenly, Allie realized this wasn’t just about the game. This was about something else entirely, only she wasn’t exactly sure what.
“I know you did, sweetie, but why am I getting the feeling that there is more to the story here?”
Tobin nodded, the relief on her face palpable that Allie was finally getting it.
“There is. She’s important,” Tobin whispered.
“Christen?” Allie clarified.
Tobin nodded again, softly this time, finally in control of her tears. She wiped at her eyes, brushing away the evidence.
“I didn’t even know you two knew one another,” Allie said, cocking her head curiously.
“We don’t!” Tobin snapped, feeling a fresh wave of emotions crash toward her again.
“Okay okay, you don’t. But so what’s important about Christen Press?” Allie asked, her hands on Tobin’s arms again.
“I like her,” Tobin said to the tiled floor.
“What was that?” Allie asked, lifting Tobin’s head up again so that she could actually hear Tobin’s response.
“I like her,” Tobin repeated, louder this time, a little more confident in tone even if her words were shaky.
“Holy shit,” Allie blurted, completely thrown off at the revelation. She hadn’t expected this out of her best friend. Out of the girl who didn’t do feelings or relationships. She hadn’t expected cross-country pining and explosions of emotions on the national stage during the NCAA Tournament either. Tobin was full of surprises today, it seemed. Reigning in her surprise, Allie schooled her features. “Since when?” she asked.
“August,” Tobin choked out.
“Wow. You know...people don’t really knock their crushes down after they graduate kindergarten and grow up,” Allie teased, trying to bring some light to the situation.
It seemed to work as Tobin let out a wet chuckle, her lips quirking up in a half-smile. “Shut up, Harry!”
“You’ve got a really odd way of showing affection, dude. Make sure to warn a girl next time before you tackle her with the force of your loooove.”
“Harry. Shut. Up,” Tobin said, shoving Allie away and tossing her paper towel in the trash can. The two friends laughed for a moment before Tobin sobered, her face hardening once more. “No one said anything about love,” Tobin added.
Allie held up her hands. “Sorry, like. You like her. That’s no biggie, Harry! You’re hot. She’s hot. I see no issues here, like zero,” she shrugged.
Tobin sniffled and stepped up to the mirror, eyeing her disheveled appearance. “I literally just sent her airborne and knocked her on her back. She hates me,” Tobin said, wanting to kick herself for being such a jerk. She had royally messed things up and she wasn’t sure there was any way to go back and make them right.
“Christen’s super sweet though. There’s no way she’ll hold that against you forever. Just apologize, and you’ll be good as new!” Allie said, her voice cheery once more. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me this sooner. We could’ve been gossiping about this literally all semester! I could’ve sent you pictures with Christen every day!”
“You can’t tell her,” Tobin begged, turning to look at Allie. “She thinks I’m a monster already, and I need to fix it without you getting involved.”
Allie could do ‘not involved’...maybe. She’d give it her best shot, but she already had the makings of a scheme in her mind. “Okay, okay,” Allie conceded, crossing her fingers behind her back, negating the promise she was about to make. “No involvement. Now, scooch, I’ve gotta pee.”
Tobin waited on Allie, leaning against the bathroom wall. She ran her fingers through her hair, the mindless motion doing a little calm the storm of feelings raging within her.
“Harry has a little crush, little crush, little crush. Harry has a little crush. Her name is Christen Press,” Allie sang to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb, her voice reverberating around the small bathroom.
“You suck,” Tobin groaned, leaning her head back and looking up at the ceiling in defeat.
“Never, and I mean never, have I seen you do what you did today. I’ve been watching you kick a ball around a field for fourteen years, but today I looked out there and I didn’t even recognize my own daughter,” Cody said, his voice even.
There was no anger in his words, but Christen shrank under the criticism all the same. She mentally added her Dad to the long list of people disappointed in her after today’s game. She hadn’t been thinking about him or her family or really anyone else when she’d started fighting with Tobin. She’d only thought of Tobin and how angry she was at her.
“I’m sorry, Dad-” Christen tried to say, but Cody interrupted her.
“No, I’m not finished. When I am, then you can speak.”
Christen nodded solemnly, pushing herself further into the seat of the car. Maybe if she tried hard enough, she could disappear into the seat and not have to sit here, knowing she’d disappointed one of the only people in this world that she wanted to make proud.
“You were rude and you were indignant. Above all else, you were disrespectful. Of your teammates, of Penn State, of your coaches, and of yourself.”
Christen sniffled and wiped at her watery eyes, willing the tears she’d managed to keep at bay all day not to fall now. For she knew once they did, she wouldn’t be able to stop them.
“But...you were justified,” her Dad finished.
Christen’s head snapped up, eyes widening in confusion.
Cody nodded, his own frustrations getting the better of him as he began to complain about everything he’d been keeping inside since the game.
“That Number 17 was way out of line. She forced your hand, and while I don’t love the way you went about it, you defended Megan and yourself. I was a little lost about what you two were arguing about, but your Mom just told me not to worry about it.”
Christen felt a small chuckle escape her lips. She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around her Dad’s neck, bringing him in for a bruising hug.
“I love you, Dad. I’m really sorry for how I acted, but I promise that I’m going to make you proud on Sunday.”
Cody patted Christen’s back, a large smile on his face. “You make me proud every day. Now can we go get some breadsticks or what?”
With another laugh, Christen leaned back from her Dad. They got out of the car quickly, hustling towards the door, leaving the heaviness of their conversation outside.
Christen’s Dad held the door open for her, so Christen walked through first, her eyes searching the restaurant for her friends and family. They were nowhere to be found upon her initial scan of the room. So, she looked towards the back, near the kitchen and the bathrooms, and then felt her entire body tense up.
Tobin Heath, looking haggard and worn down, was here. She was being led out of the bathroom by Allie Long.
Christen’s mouth flopped open in shock, silently cursing the universe for being so cruel as to make her face Tobin Heath again today. She heard her Dad pause behind her, his curse not so silent.
“Damn, what are the odds?”
Christen knew the odds were astronomical, so she must have pissed off the universe in a big way today to deserve this.
Tobin felt eyes on her and she looked up toward the front door. Her eyes widened into saucers as she made eye contact with Christen Press. She stopped walking, causing Allie to crash into her back.
“Harry, what the -”
Allie looked up then, seeing Christen and her Dad at the front door. She cringed and then shook her head. “What the actual fuck is today?”
Tobin didn’t know how to answer that. All she knew was that Christen was here and was glaring at her with such hostility that Tobin was sure that Allie was wrong in her assessment. Christen was going to hold everything against her. Forever.