Even when one is dead and gone
It still takes two to make a house a home
Well I'm as lonesome as the catacombs
I hear you call my name but no one is there
Except a feeling in the air
(Tobin - “Dearly Departed” (feat. Esmé Patterson) by Shakey Graves)
After the wreckage
After the dust
I still hear the howling, I still feel the rush
Over the riots, above all the noise
Through all the worry, I still hear your voice
(Christen - “Us” by James Bay)
“She’s staring,” Channing whispered to Christen, her hand gripping onto Christen’s thigh.
“Ow, Chan,” Christen swatted her hand away, stabbing another piece of lettuce with her fork. “I don’t care.”
“Sure you don’t,” Channing mumbled under her breath.
Christen forced herself to stare at her salad, fighting off the urge to look over her shoulder at Tobin’s table, which she knew was about halfway across the restaurant. As fate would have it, Tobin’s table, where she sat with her parents and Allie, was in the perfect eye line from Christen’s table. Not that Christen was looking over there.
Megan, on the other hand, with her foot propped up on a chair and a fresh bag of ice on her ankle, wasn’t able to fight off that same urge. Her eyes were glued to Tobin Heath.
“I have half a mind to hobble over there and shove that breadstick down her stupid, motherfu-” Megan started to say, but was quickly interrupted.
“So, girls,” Christen’s mom, Stacy, cleared her throat. “How’s the first semester been so far?”
Crystal eyed her roommates. Christen hadn’t looked up from her salad, seeming like she hadn’t even registered the question from her Mom. Megan continued to aggressively eat breadsticks, her eyes never leaving Tobin. Crystal sighed, realizing she would need to be the one to dispel the awkwardness around the table.
She beamed at Stacy. “It’s been really great actually! I’m so glad we’ve been able to room together.”
Crystal continued to field questions from Stacy and Tyler, trying to keep the conversation going. But no matter how much she smiled and regaled half the table with tales of their first semester, she couldn’t distract anyone from the tension around the table and Christen’s terrible mood.
Cody and Megan were sending daggers in Tobin’s direction, both of them looking moments from standing up and confronting the reason for Christen’s mood in the middle of this Olive Garden. They passed the bowl of breadsticks back and forth, angry glares never leaving Tobin.
Channing was flicking her eyes between her sister and Penn State’s Number 17, waiting to see what would happen, too entertained to pay attention to anything else. She only wished Olive Garden had started serving popcorn, she could have really used some right then as she watched the tension unfold.
Christen hadn’t spoken since seeing Tobin come out of the bathroom. She sulked into her food, her movements robotic and a bit aggressive. Her parents and sisters were concerned, but none of them knew what to say. There was an elephant in the room, and they were doing backflips to avoid addressing it.
Christen didn’t know how much more of this she could take. Her eyes felt heavy, the constant burning and threat of tears making it hard to keep them open. She hadn’t been able to stomach anything past water and a few bites of salad. She just wanted to go back to the hotel and climb into bed. She wanted a good cry, a long night’s sleep, and then to wake up tomorrow and put Tobin Heath out of her mind.
Tobin was gnawing on her fifth breadstick, her eyes glued to Christen Press. She hadn’t been able to look away, completely engrossed with Christen’s entire being and absolutely heartbroken by the sadness and anger she could see in Christen’s tense, hunched form. She could see that Christen’s dad and the pink-haired forward were glaring at her, but she didn’t care. She only had eyes for Christen.
“You did this to her,” she thought to herself, shoving another bite into her mouth. “You did this and there might be no way to fix it.”
“Thank you both so much for inviting me to come along to dinner,” Allie spoke up, smiling at Tobin’s parents.
“You know you’re like our fifth kid,” Tobin’s mom, Cindy, smiled, reaching her hand across the table to squeeze Allie’s. She looked over at Tobin, who was fully faced away from their table. Her eyes held a question as she looked back to Allie.
Allie got the unspoken message and shook her head slightly. Now was not the moment to ask Tobin what had happened on the field, or what was happening currently. Tobin’s parents were obviously worried, but Allie hoped her entertaining stories and reassuring smiles were enough to distract them.
Tobin rolled her shoulders and then reached for another breadstick. She could feel her parent’s concern, but she didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t known what to say a few hours ago at the soccer field either.
She could tell her parents were worried as soon as she’d met up with them after the game. They’d shared forced smiles, pulling Tobin in for tight hugs. Her Mom had rubbed her back and whispered words of support, while her Dad had patted her arm and told her to move on, there was always next season.
As Tobin tactfully avoided their eyes and scuffed the toe of her cleat against the ground, her parents shared troubled looks with one another. They’d never seen her get that mad during a game before, but they’d also never seen her compete for an NCAA Championship. So maybe that was just an expression of all the pressure she’d put herself under. Like Tobin, though, they weren’t the type to pry or share too much of their own private thoughts. They’d always figured that their kids would speak up if and when they needed help or advice, and Tobin wasn’t speaking at all. As much as they wanted to pry, as desperate as they were to sit Tobin down and get answers, they didn't.
So instead of asking her why she had verbally berated a UCLA player and acted out on the field, or why she was now staring across the restaurant at said player, they left her alone with her thoughts, content to let Allie Long catch them up on her fall semester at UCLA.
“I hate her,” Megan growled to Crystal, annoyed that Tobin was still staring at Christen.
“Calm down,” Crystal whispered. “I have to pee, and you better help carry the conversation when I’m gone because this table is about to explode with the amount of tension it’s holding.”
Megan grunted softly, not agreeing to Crystal’s request fully, her eyes still drifting to Tobin’s table.
Crystal pushed her chair under the table and walked to the bathroom, not realizing that she was being followed until the bathroom door didn’t shut behind her.
“Hey, girlie,” Allie said.
“Allie!” Crystal squeaked, slightly surprised at Allie’s presence behind her. “I didn’t even hear you come in.”
“I’m sneaky like that,” Allie replied, pushing into the bathroom and closing the door behind her. “So, do you want to talk about our friends’ sexual tension completely terrorizing this restaurant and almost ruining the game, or are you as angry as Megan?” Allie asked, not beating around the bush at all.
“Sexual tension?” Crystal asked, hesitant to let Allie know anything about Christen’s feelings toward Tobin. She had a feeling that Allie would look out for Christen’s best interest, but she had no idea just how deep her ties with Tobin were rooted. If she was eating dinner with Tobin and her parents, they must be close.
“Tobin Heath is my best friend,” Allie said like she could read Crystal’s mind. “I love her to pieces, but I’ve never seen her like this. She’s crushing super hard on Christen, and I need to know if there’s any chance Christen will forgive Tobin. Otherwise, I’m gonna need a lot more ice cream than the pint I already promised her.”
“Wait, Tobin likes Christen?” Crystal asked, her heart fluttering for her best friend. While she was immediately excited for Christen, this was also a complete surprise to Crystal. Thinking back to the way Tobin had acted during the game, nothing about her actions or words told Crystal that she was into Christen. It seemed like the exact opposite was true, in fact.
“Completely. She has since like August or something,” Allie nodded her head excitedly. Allie rationalized spilling Tobin’s secret to Crystal because, clearly, Christen and Tobin were fools who were both too stubborn and hurt to help themselves at this point. Allie had a plan, though, she just needed some assistance. “While I don’t fully agree with the way she chose to express it today, Tobin is into Christen.”
Crystal grinned, her mind running wild with all the possibilities. But she reminded herself that she was talking to Tobin’s best friend, not just her friend and her teammate. So, Crystal decided to rely on half-truths, as to not betray Christen’s trust.
“I can’t speak for Christen, but I can say that there’s something there. There has been for a while,” Crystal said, not able to keep her excitement at a whisper. “Tobin’s feelings for Christen have a high possibility of being returned.”
“Hell yes!” Allie said, pumping her fist in the air. She smiled at Crystal and shook her head. “Those two are such idiots,” she sighed, rolling her eyes at the way Tobin and Christen had handled themselves at the game and continued to handle themselves now.
“They just got off on the wrong foot. Whatever Tobin’s deal was today, she’s got a lot of explaining to do,” Crystal replied, knowing that Christen wasn’t going to be easy to win back. She’d never seen her friend like this before. Her light, her sunshine, were gone and Crystal only hoped Tobin could be the one to bring them back.
“Tobs just needs the chance to explain. I’m thinking they need to be shoved into a room and forced to work out their issues,” Allie smirked, her eyes lighting up with mischief.
Crystal smiled right back at Allie, catching the underlying message in her words. “Name the time and place,” Crystal replied.
Tobin’s dad, Jeff, pulled the car up in front of Allie’s hotel, putting it in park. Cindy turned around in her seat and handed Allie a bag.
“You sure we can’t get you anything else?” she asked, eyes flitting over to Tobin, who stared out the window in a daze.
Allie took the bag and smiled. “Nope, just the ice cream. You can come back and get her in a few hours? I don’t think Coach Foudy would love it if I had a sleepover with grumpy gills, here.”
Cindy nodded then looked at Tobin. She reached out and patted Tobin’s knee. “Text us when you’re ready, Tobs, and we’ll come to get you.”
Tobin looked over at her mom, feeling guilt settle low in her stomach. She had barely spoken a word to her parents since the end of the game. Allie stepped out of the car, leaving the door partially open, to give Tobin some space with her parents.
“Thanks for coming to the game,” Tobin muttered. “I’m sorry it wasn’t a better one to watch,” she choked out, feeling her eyes start to burn again.
“Sweetheart, we love watching you play. No matter what,” Jeff replied, turning around in his seat and holding onto his daughter’s hand.
“We just want you to be happy and have fun on the field, just like you’ve been doing since you were too tiny to lace your own cleats,” Cindy added. She leaned forward to kiss Tobin’s forehead.
“I love you guys,” Tobin sighed, coughing a little in the hopes of getting rid of the lump in her throat.
“We love you, kiddo,” Jeff smiled.
“I’ll see you in a little while,” Tobin said, hoping her forced smile was convincing enough. She hopped out of the car, and Allie linked their arms, pulling Tobin into the hotel lobby and toward the elevator.
In all honesty, Tobin had wanted to stay in the car with her parents. Sure, she had no idea what she would say to them, but she’d rather be with them than in UCLA’s hotel, with the possibility of running into Christen Press.
“You promise she’s not here?” Tobin asked Allie, looking over her shoulder.
“Christen?” Allie asked, completely oblivious to Tobin’s anxiety.
“Shhh!” Tobin hissed. “What if she heard you?”
“I told you that she’s staying at her parents’ hotel or something,” Allie said, gripping the bag of ice cream tighter.
“How much ice cream did you even buy?” Tobin asked, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to eat three pints, despite considering herself an aggressive eater.
“More than enough,” Allie smiled.
That smile struck a chord of fear in Tobin. She didn’t trust that smile. She’d known Allie for five years, and she’d gotten to know her best friend’s facial expressions. This one always spelled trouble for her.
“What are you planning?” Tobin asked, too little too late since Allie was opening her hotel room door and pushing Tobin inside.
The room was empty, both beds neatly made by housekeeping. Allie’s clothes were tossed messily into her suitcase. Another suitcase sat on the other side of the room, but Allie had assured her that her roommate was staying in another room until Tobin left. It would be Harry time, just movies and ice cream.
Tobin felt herself calm down at the sight of the empty room. She slipped her shoes off and sat on Allie’s bed, opening the bag of ice cream. As she pulled out her favorite pint, Phish Food, she wondered if Allie had retired her meddlesome ways in favor of simply having a quiet night in.
That thought was quickly proven wrong when Allie didn’t sit down next to Tobin, despite historically loving Harry movie nights. She remained standing, checking the time on her phone, and fidgeting. She looked like she was waiting for something.
“What is it?” Tobin asked, her mouth full of ice cream, a prickle of worry running through her stomach.
Allie opened her mouth to respond, but a knock came at the door, interrupting whatever response she was about to give Tobin. Her face broke out into a huge grin, and Tobin knew she was screwed. Royally screwed.
“Allie, what did you do-” Tobin started, her voice rising.
“Shhh! What if it’s my coach? Be quiet,” Allie said, walking to the door and out of Tobin’s line of sight. “Oh, hey!” Allie said at the door, her voice way too chipper.
“You said 6:30, right?” a soft voice floated through the room from the door.
Tobin choked on the glob of ice cream that she’d just shoveled into her mouth. She couldn’t see the person at the door, but she was 10000% certain that the sweet voice she’d heard belonged to Christen Press. “Harry, you little shit,” Tobin thought to herself, wondering momentarily how long of a drop it would be if she went out the window. They were only on the second floor, surely she could find something soft to land on and make her escape.
Tobin disregarded the window idea quickly, realizing it was ridiculous. She then looked around the room, wondering if she should try and prolong the inevitable meeting by hiding under the bed or behind the curtains. But she quickly dismissed that idea as well. Hiding would be childish and immature, and the last thing she needed was Christen to find her even more juvenile than she already did. Tobin decided she should just bite the bullet and remain in plain view. She arranged her legs and arms a few times, trying to appear casual and nonchalant, despite the flutter of nerves within her. She finally settled on a position, her legs stretched out in front of her, her back against the headboard when she heard Allie reply to Christen.
“Come on in! I got ice cream,” Allie practically sang.
Tobin saw Christen’s slides first, her foot coming around the corner, followed by the rest of her body. She was freshly showered, her hair in a bun, wearing sweatpants and a faded UCLA t-shirt. Tobin couldn’t keep her eyes off of her, feeling her heart jump into her throat when her eyes met Christen’s green ones. Tobin knew right away that Christen wasn't happy to see her. Her eyes hardened and her face fell.
“What the fuck, Allie?” Christen seethed, turning away from Tobin’s gaze to stare at the blonde midfielder.
“Your ice cream’s in the bag. Enjoy that while you work out whatever it is that’s happening here,” Allie pointed between Tobin and Christen. “I’ll be standing outside. No one can leave for at least thirty minutes. Play nice kids!”
“HARRY!” Tobin yelled, the closing of the door the only response she received. And just like that Allie was gone, and Christen and Tobin were alone for the first time.
Christen stood at the foot of Allie’s bed, a suffocating silence falling over the room in the wake of Allie's departure. Christen looked everywhere but at Tobin, purposefully avoiding looking at the brunette. With a huff, she turned on her heel and walked back to the door. She squinted to look through the peephole, checking to see if Allie was going to follow through with her threat.
Christen’s heart sank when she saw Allie standing in front of the door, a large grin on her face. “Good one, Christen. Way to get duped. But I guess there’s no escaping this now,” Christen thought to herself, her forehead hitting the door. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Thirty minutes. That was all Allie required of them. She could handle thirty minutes alone with Tobin.
She stalked back into the main part of the room, ripping the paper grocery bag open and pulling out her preferred flavor of ice cream, the pint cold in her hand. She pulled one of the plastic spoons out of the bag too, still avoiding Tobin’s eyes, before hopping onto the other bed and sliding as far away from Tobin’s side of the room as possible.
Tobin watched as Christen shoved a few spoonfuls of ice cream into her mouth, completely forgetting her own Phish Food pint in her hand. This was the closest she’d ever been to Christen off of a soccer field, and she was struggling to take deep breaths. Christen’s entire presence was suffocating Tobin.
The silence in the room was painful. Tobin swore that Christen could hear her heart beating rapidly against her ribs, but Christen didn’t seem perturbed, too focused on her ice cream. She occasionally looked out the window at the shopping mall across the hotel parking lot, the sound of her spoon scraping against her carton of ice cream the only sound in the room.
Tobin had been staring at Christen since she’d entered the room. She could see the exhaustion etched on what little she could see of Christen’s face. She could see Christen's frustration at their current situation in the way she pressed her lips tightly together, in the tension she held in her shoulders.
Tobin hadn’t even realized that she was picking at her fingernails, one of her few nervous ticks, until she felt pain shoot down her right index finger.
And then Christen let out a soft sigh, the sound involuntary. That small sound had broken the stalemate between them and Tobin realized that this could be a make or break moment. If she said nothing, if she let the silence continue to consume them for thirty minutes, she’d never get this kind of opportunity again. She’d lose any possible chance to be with, or even just know Christen Press.
“I’m sorry,” Tobin whispered.
Christen froze, the whispered words of apology reaching her ears. She hadn’t expected Tobin to break the silence, and she certainly hadn’t expected an apology. She just assumed they’d suffer for thirty minutes, no words passing between them, and then go their separate ways. But now that Tobin had opened the door, had attempted to start a conversation, Christen found herself needing more than a feeble attempt at an apology. She wanted Tobin to mean it. She wanted Tobin to say it with her entire chest, making Christen believe that she was actually sorry for the way she’d acted and the words she’d said in anger.
“Excuse me?” Christen asked, not turning to face Tobin just yet, gripping tightly onto her ice cream as the hurt she’d been pushing down all day resurfaced.
“I’m really sorry about what happened today,” Tobin sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I knew the tackle was a bad one as soon as I did it, probably before I did it. It was a huge mistake, and it wasn’t like me at all.” She stared at Christen’s back, willing UCLA’s Number 23 to turn around and look at her. She needed to see those green eyes, to see if there was any chance of forgiveness.
Christen could hear the sincerity in Tobin’s words and she wanted desperately to believe them. But she couldn’t, not yet. She was still hurting and it wouldn’t be solved by accepting Tobin’s apology now.
“Not like you at all, huh? Well, I wouldn’t know that. We don’t know each other, as you made perfectly clear today on the field,” Christen replied, her voice hard, her words holding a bite to them. Clearly, she was more upset about what Tobin had said to her than what Tobin had done. This wasn’t about the slide tackle anymore, this was about more than that.
Tobin cringed at Christen’s words, wishing she could forget how she’d acted on the field, better yet, wishing she could take back everything she’d done and said. Tobin hadn’t fully realized how much her words had upset Christen, but now that she did, she felt like a complete asshole.
“I was a jerk,” Tobin said, sliding her legs off the side of the bed, subconsciously wanting to be closer to Christen. “I’m really sorry about what I said. It’s true that we don’t know each other, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to know you. I really do.” Tobin could feel her cheeks start to burn, and for the first time, she was glad that Christen was turned around.
As soon as she had that thought, though, Christen turned her shoulders slowly, half-facing Tobin, her eyebrows knitted in confusion.
“I really do,” Tobin’s words reverberated around Christen’s mind. Tobin wanted to know her. Tobin freaking Heath wanted to know her. It was absurd, given everything that had happened today. The barbed words, the aggressive antics. Hours ago, Christen was sure Tobin thought she was a freak. With the mention of the Instagram-stalk and the liked picture, Tobin had made it sound like Christen’s actions weirded her out, like Tobin disliked her because of them. So to say Christen was a bit taken aback by the sudden declaration of the desire to get to know her would be an understatement.
Somehow, Tobin had flipped the script on her, again. First at the field, and now in this hotel room. Here she was, sitting on the edge of the bed, with the most wounded, open expression Christen had ever seen, imploring Christen to forget what she’d said and done today. Tobin was asking her to believe that she wanted to get to know her, despite everything that pointed to the opposite. And the most shocking thing of all? Christen did believe her.
Yet, Christen didn’t say that. Instead, she let the little voice of doubt within her speak, asking questions of Tobin to try and understand the gorgeous, frustrating, enigmatic girl sitting across from her.
“You want to get to know me? That’s not what you made it seem like today. Like, at all. That seemed like the furthest thing from your mind, in fact,” Christen said, pivoting a bit on the bed so that she was now sitting with her legs crossed, fully facing Tobin.
Tobin felt her shoulders slump forward. “Of course Christen thinks that. You literally tackled her to the ground and screamed at her,” Tobin thought, chastising her behavior for the thousandth time since the game. She took a deep, shuddering breath, trying to ground herself in the green eyes that were staring at hers.
“Sometimes you - not you. I mean, people. I mean…” she started, trying to find the right words. “Sometimes I do things that I don’t want to do, like my brain isn’t really communicating with the rest of me. Sometimes I do things without thinking or I do the exact opposite of what I want to do. You know?” she finished softly, dropping her eyes to the pint of ice cream in her hands, the top layer melting and the little chocolate fish practically floating on the surface.
“Actually I wouldn’t,” Christen shot back. “I always think things through.”
Christen winced at the harshness in her tone. While Tobin's explanation left a lot to be desired, she didn't need to be cruel. Noticing that Tobin’s eyes remained on the ice cream in her lap, Christen softened and added, “I think things through maybe a little too much sometimes. My Mom always tells me not to overthink, that life’s not that complicated, so I should just let it happen. I bet she was a little surprised when I decided to take her advice today and not think. I acted completely on impulse and things got a little ugly.”
Christen felt a small, half-smile tug at her lips when Tobin looked up at her hesitantly. Leave it to her Mom to help her even when she wasn’t here.
Butterflies fluttered softly in Tobin’s stomach. For the first time, probably in Tobin’s whole life, she was nervous under the gaze of another person. She was nervous, staring at Christen and seeing Christen’s soft smile. At first, she’d thought that Christen was going to yell. She’d sounded angry, but then, Christen’s voice had softened, and Tobin was able to glance up at her again. Her face had looked perfectly peaceful when she talked about her mom, and Tobin wanted to know more. She wanted to know everything. She wanted this conversation to go so well that Christen felt like she could share her whole self with Tobin.
“I’m really sorry,” Tobin repeated again, knowing that she would need to apologize a lot before Christen would actually forgive her. “I was definitely not on my best behavior today.”
Christen’s own shame burned through her then, making her face feel hot. Tobin wasn’t the only one who’d behaved badly today. Ducking her head, Christen chewed on her lower lip. “Neither was I,” she admitted finally, surprising Tobin.
“You were only reacting to everything I was doing. I showed up to the stadium with a chip on my shoulder, and I took it out on you. What else were you supposed to do? If the roles had been reversed, I would have done the same thing,” Tobin said, wanting to take any and all blame away from the girl in front of her.
Christen shook her head, not letting herself off the hook so easily.
“It doesn’t matter, I shouldn’t have screamed at you or treated you like I did,” Christen murmured, her throat becoming thick with tears. “Keep it together, Christen. Do not cry in front of her, not now that you’re making progress.”
"I'm trying to shoulder the blame here, and you're making it super hard to do so," Tobin replied, a small smile tugging at her lips.
Christen looked up at Tobin. The genuine smile gracing her features was the first one Christen had seen out of Tobin since the walk-through yesterday. It made Christen all warm on the inside, seeing that easy, effortless smile back on Tobin's face.
Then, Christen realized something. Tobin had admitted to showing up at the game with a chip on her shoulder. So, why had Tobin targeted her? Why had that chip led to what had happened on the field today?
Tobin could feel another blush traveling up her chest and neck, into her cheeks. Christen said her name so softly, her voice gentle and sweet, better than in any dream she’d ever had. “No one’s ever made my name sound that good,” Tobin thought to herself. A part of her wished she could ask Christen to just say it over and over, to repeat it until Tobin committed it to memory, but she knew that would be weird. She wasn’t about to creep Christen out when they were finally talking.
“Christen?” Tobin responded, a part of her hoping that she had the same effect on the green-eyed forward.
A matching blush heated Christen’s cheeks as she replied, “Why did you show up today with a chip on your shoulder? Did I do something wrong?” Christen’s face fell a bit as she asked that second question.
Tobin practically tumbled out of the bed, trying to answer her as quickly as possible and eliminate any negative thoughts Christen had. “No no no!” she basically shouted at Christen. “It was not your fault, I promise. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Tobin sighed. She couldn’t tell Christen the complete truth. There was no way that she was going to admit to Christen about the dreams she’d been having since August. She’d have to settle for some type of half-truth that might help Christen feel better and hopefully explain Tobin’s behavior.
“I just had a stress dream last night, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I overslept and missed breakfast. I’m also rooming with a snoring space cadet who didn’t wake me up this morning but has no trouble keeping me up at night. So, I was tired and hangry, and totally not myself. Today was the first day I’ve ever been nervous for a game, and I completely psyched myself out,” Tobin finished, scratching at the back of her neck when she realized she'd been going on and on, while Christen had just been sitting there listening.
Christen’s relieved expression morphed into something resembling slight amusement. Tobin's rambling was just about the cutest thing Christen had ever seen. She did feel bad about what Tobin was talking about though. She’d been there, she knew exactly what that felt like.
“I’m really sorry,” Christen said, her eyes dancing between Tobin’s. “I know what you mean, though. I’m usually a big ole bundle of nerves on game day.”
Christen cleared her throat, a thought popping into her head. She hesitated, unsure if she should say it. She didn’t know if they had reached the point where they could joke about what happened today. This thing between them felt new and fragile, Christen didn’t really want to test it. But then the words were tumbling from her lips, and she was powerless to stop them.
“Kinda stinks though, knowing you weren’t 100%. Here I was on cloud nine, thinking I’d bested the great Tobin Heath, but the win doesn’t feel as good now,” Christen teased, her smile growing a bit, her cheeks tinged a light pink.
“You have no idea how much you’ve actually bested me,” Tobin thought to herself, knowing already that she was completely powerless when it came to Christen Press. “Hey, you megged me in front of my entire team,” Tobin sighed. “You’ve pretty much done what I thought was impossible, so I think you can be proud.”
She wasn’t lying to Christen or just gassing her up. Christen had played incredibly well, and she did deserve to be proud of herself. Normally, Tobin would have felt a pang of regret or frustration if a competitor talked about one of Tobin’s losses, but seeing Christen’s smile made Tobin’s heart flutter in her chest.
“I did, didn’t I?” Christen asked, her blush deepening at the reminder.
“I hope you took some pictures in your mind because that won’t happen again,” Tobin added quickly, her cockiness returning.
“Never say never,” Christen quipped, forcing herself to look away from Tobin and down at her ice cream. Her reply had come out a touch flirtier than she’d been going for, and she had to fight off a wave of embarrassment. She dug into her pint and stuffed a large spoonful of ice cream in her mouth, effectively shutting herself up.
“Was she flirting?” Tobin thought to herself. She desperately hoped the answer was yes. Tobin noticed Christen’s blush, smirking at the possibility that she was flustering Christen Press just as much as Christen flustered her. She took pity on Christen, though, noticing that she was digging her spoon in her ice cream as a distraction.
Tobin cleared her throat and grinned at Christen when their eyes met again. “Fun fact, my favorite color is orange," she said as if it wasn't the most random statement to have said right then.
“Excuse me?” Christen replied, the same question leaving her lips as before, but now her words were gentler, her tone less antagonistic. In the last twenty minutes, they’d undergone a huge shift, and neither one of them could complain about the direction they were now moving in.
“Annnnd I’m hopeless in the kitchen. Can’t cook to save my life,” Tobin said, sticking another bite of ice cream into her mouth, ready to return to her ice cream now that her stomach finally settled after Allie had surprised her with Christen’s presence.
With that second statement, Christen realized exactly what Tobin was doing. Smiling, Christen abandoned her spoon and relaxed back onto the bed, putting her weight onto one hand and leaning back.
“Are these fun facts supposed to help me get to know you better?”
Tobin grinned cheekily and nodded, silently waiting for Christen to catch up and offer her some facts too. She didn’t have to wait long.
“I have two dogs, Morena and Khaleesi. Khaleesi is scared of wrapping paper and hats, but both Morena and Khaleesi love to hike.”
Tobin grinned softly. She’d spoken to Christen for less than thirty minutes, but she already felt like it was a typical Christen move to talk about others before herself, even her dogs. “I like knowing that, but now I know more about your dogs than I know about you,” Tobin laughed, hoping that Christen wouldn’t be offended by Tobin’s request for a fact that was actually about Christen.
With a small chuckle, Christen replied, “Fair enough. I don’t really like talking about myself, if you hadn’t noticed. But umm...I like doing yoga and my favorite place in the world is the beach.”
Tobin’s face broke out into a smile. She remembered Christen’s answer when Allie asked about her ideal date. She’d said any date on the beach would be perfect for her, and Tobin suddenly wished she could drive Christen to one of Florida’s beaches and spend more time with her. Instead, she nodded softly and continued, “My sister and I tried to go vegan last summer, but I gave up after a week because I couldn’t stomach any of the vegan ice creams. They don’t make a vegan Phish Food flavor.”
Christen giggled, eyes dropping to the carton of ice cream in Tobin’s lap, then back up to meet her gaze. “Is that what got chocolate all over your mouth? Phish Food?”
Tobin immediately ran the back of her hand over her lips, seeing chocolate on her knuckles and blushing. She dug through the bag in search of a napkin. “Of course Harry didn’t get napkins,” Tobin thought, grumbling as she stood up and walked to the bathroom to grab one of Allie’s washcloths. “You waited that long to tell me?” Tobin asked, walking back to the bed.
“It didn’t feel right to say it before when we were all angry at each other,” Christen replied with a shrug. “Umm, okay. Another fun fact...oh! I hate the dentist. It’s why I tend to avoid super sugary things, like that chocolate monstrosity thing you’re eating.”
“Phish Food is a delicacy,” Tobin gasped. “I’m scared to ask what flavor you’re eating if you avoid sugar…” Tobin gestured at Christen’s ice cream with her spoon.
“Oat milk ice cream, just plain vanilla. Sometimes I go a little crazy and put blueberries on top,” Christen confessed, admitting to that like it was a huge, earth-shattering secret.
“Woah! Settle down!” Tobin feigned surprise. “I’m gonna call the sugar cops.”
Tobin waited for Christen to finish laughing, steadying herself with a deep breath before she scooped a sizable amount of ice cream onto her spoon and stood up from Allie’s bed. “You cannot live your whole life without trying this,” Tobin said, nodding down at the spoon in her hand. “I would feel like I did you a disservice if you left this room without having a bite of Phish Food.”
Christen paled, eyeing the spoonful of ice cream like it could hurt her. She swallowed thickly and shook her head.
“I’m good, thanks though.”
“Please, Chris,” Tobin asked, pushing her bottom lip out into a pout. “I need you to try this. I lost a really big game today, and you’re the one person who can make me feel better.”
Christen could feel herself caving. That stupid pout was beyond powerful. And the way the nickname had rolled off Tobin’s tongue, like she’d said it a million times before? It was all too much.
“Fine, you win,” Christen said, fighting off a smile at the look of victory that passed over Tobin’s face.
Tobin moved the spoon between the two of them, unsure about how to share ice cream with Christen. She decided to let Christen decide, waiting patiently while Christen sized up the bite of chocolatey goodness.
Christen reached out and grabbed the offered spoon, bringing it hesitantly to her lips. She was about to take a small bite when she realized how unfair this whole thing was. She looked up at Tobin and smirked.
“I had a really hard day today, some girl tackled me to the ground and bruised my ribs, and you having a bite of my oat milk ice cream is the only way I’m going to feel better,” Christen said, her beaming smile aimed up at Tobin. She held out the carton of ice cream, her spoon stuck in it.
“Shit,” Tobin thought. As soon as Christen had smirked, Tobin knew she was a goner. That smirk had been one of the things Tobin hadn’t been able to forget. That smirk had starred in every single one of Tobin’s dreams. The way Christen was smiling up at Tobin, though, completely happy, a bit of mischief in her eyes, was possibly even better.
“Fine,” Tobin sighed, taking the pint of ice cream out of Christen’s hands and scooping a small amount of ice cream onto Christen’s spoon.
Their eyes held as they both lifted the spoons to their mouths, each taking a bite of the other’s ice cream at the same time.
Christen was surprised she liked it, the way the chocolate and caramel and marshmallow flavors all combined together to make something so goddamn good. It was quite rich though, and Christen had had enough of it with that single bite.
Tobin tried to keep her face neutral. She even managed a smile after swallowing the oat milk ice cream, handing the pint back to Christen in exchange for her spoon.
“Wow, so yummy,” Tobin lied, bouncing back to her seat on Allie’s bed.
“Liar,” Christen giggled. She eyed the distance that was once more between them. She found herself missing Tobin being so close to her, even if it had only lasted for a moment or two.
“So, uh, another fun fact. I hate feeling like I have to shout at you to get you to hear me, since you’re sitting so far away,” Christen admitted, going for smooth and failing epically. She cringed at her awkward attempt and hid her face in her ice cream, avoiding looking at Tobin at all.
Tobin didn't let her sit in that awkward regret for long. “What a coincidence!” Tobin chirped, jumping up from her spot and sitting down next to Christen. Christen immediately relaxed when she felt the bed dip under Tobin's weight.
“We have so much in common already,” Tobin grinned, sticking her ice cream spoon back in her mouth. She felt Christen’s warmth practically radiating next to her, and she was dying to scoot just a little bit closer, just to touch Christen once. “Fun fact, I think people who sleep in socks are weird,” Tobin mumbled past her spoon, wanting to keep their conversation flowing.
“I sleep in socks,” Christen deadpanned.
“Weirdly coooool,” Tobin replied, trying to save herself. “I didn’t finish that sentence. I think they’re weirdly cool.”
Christen narrowed her eyes playfully. “Next time bring a shovel if you’re going to dig yourself that deep of a hole. Save yourself some time. Maybe bring a ladder too, so you can climb out when you’re done.”
Tobin blushed, knocking her shoulder into Christen’s. “I didn’t realize I was in the presence of a comedic genius,” Tobin teased.
“Well, I guess you could say we both know each other a bit better now. You have zero taste when it comes to ice cream, and I’m hilarious,” Christen grinned, fighting off the urge to wink. “Oh my god, I almost winked at her. I’m FLIRTING with her! What is wrong with me?” Christen wondered, feeling a bit flustered all of a sudden, her confidence waning.
“I bring life into this space,” Tobin moved her arms around in the air, scoffing at Christen’s criticism. “That’s the best you have? She’s totally flustering you,” Tobin thought to herself, realizing that Christen was completely knocking her off balance.
Christen simply rolled her eyes and went back to her ice cream. The two sat in silence for a few moments, until Tobin found herself breaking it.
“My little brother’s my best friend in the whole world. My teammates kept trying to get me to hang out and party this past semester, but I’m usually a stay-at-home and chill type of person. Jeff and I Facetime and play Fifa a lot,” Tobin admitted, slightly embarrassed, not knowing whether Christen was a partier who might think playing Fifa in a dorm room with your brother on a Friday night was lame.
“I’d take a night in over a night out any day. Especially with my family. I didn’t realize how much I was going to miss them when I went to college,” Christen replied softly.
“I was so homesick for the first three months of college!” Tobin admitted for the first time to anyone other than Jeff. “I seriously thought about transferring to a school closer to New Jersey.” She wasn’t completely sure why Christen made her feel so comfortable, but she was aware that she felt safe enough to spill her deepest secrets to Christen Press.
Their quick pivot from fun facts to something a bit deeper and more real should have felt awkward. But it didn’t. It felt like the most natural thing in the world. Christen could have listened to Tobin talk about anything, and she was more than happy to sit there while Tobin confided in her.
“If it hadn’t been for Lauren and ARod, I probably would have,” Tobin sighed, remembering all the nights that her friends had dragged her out of her room to team parties and sleepovers.
“ARod...is that the blonde who took Megan out today?” Christen queried.
“Yeah…” Tobin flinched. “She wasn’t on her best behavior today either. She’s kind of a hothead in general, but today’s game had such high stakes, and I think she just lost her temper. Off the field, she’s so fun to be around! The most loyal friend, but I’d never want to play against her,” Tobin laughed.
“God, I was such a bitch to her,” Christen realized, her tone full of self-deprecation and regret. “Will you tell her that I’m sorry?”
“Hey, you were not a bitch,” Tobin emphasized, reaching out instinctively and resting her hand on Christen’s knee. She blushed at the contact, feeling Christen’s warm skin through the fabric of her sweatpants. Tobin never wanted Christen to talk about herself that way, so she squeezed Christen’s knee to get her attention.
“Honestly, ARod deserved to be taken down a peg or two. So did I, and you did a great job!” Tobin laughed. “She’s got the attention span of a goldfish, anyway. She probably doesn’t even remember you getting upset with her.” Tobin hadn’t lied. ARod was the type of player who left everything on the field. She was good at separating “game self” from her “normal life self.”
Christen was only half listening as Tobin talked about ARod. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from where Tobin’s hand rested on her knee. Sure, there was a layer of fabric between Tobin’s palm and her skin, but Christen could feel the heat of Tobin’s touch all the same.
“Sorry,” Tobin coughed, pulling her hand away from Christen’s knee. She didn’t want to freak Christen out, and judging by the way Christen had stared at Tobin’s hand, she might have.
“No! You’re fine,” Christen rushed to say, reaching out to take Tobin’s hand in her own. She gave Tobin’s hand a quick squeeze, hoping to communicate with the touch that everything was okay. She hadn’t hated Tobin’s hand on her knee. She liked it, and maybe she wasn’t ready to admit it out loud, but she hoped Tobin got the message.
From the small smile on Tobin’s face, it looked like she had. Christen dropped Tobin’s hand and sat back a little. She put her ice cream down on the bed and reached up to undo her bun. With deft fingers, she re-did it, needing the familiar actions to calm her racing heart.
“Can I tell you something?” she asked, eyes meeting Tobin’s for a moment, before skittering away.
“Of course,” Tobin nodded, feeling simultaneously nervous and excited for whatever Christen wanted to say.
“This is not how I pictured today going. At all,” Christen almost laughed, finally seeming to process the rollercoaster that was today.
“What? Winning the semifinals?” Tobin laughed, her voice completely devoid of any kind of professional jealousy.
“No, I always pictured winning and going to finals, you know, visualization and all that,” Christen admitted. “But I guess I - I didn’t think this was how it would go between us,” she finished with a bashful grin, gesturing between the two of them shyly.
“You thought about how things would go between us?” Tobin asked, her heart speeding up in her chest. She suddenly wished that she were further away from Christen, worried that Christen would be able to tell that Tobin’s pulse was speeding up. For a second, Tobin let herself hope. She thought about Christen, who possibly had been thinking about her since August. She thought about future dates with Christen, future conversations, future plans to visit one another. She let herself get carried away, and then she stopped. In the back of her mind, she remembered a certain pink-haired forward that ARod had taken out, the forward who Christen had wrapped her arms around and helped off the field. Tobin’s stomach twisted painfully at the thought of Christen and someone else.
“What would your girlfriend think about that?” Tobin asked, her filter having been left in her parents’ car apparently.
Christen’s forehead creased in confusion. “My what now?”
“Uh…your girlfriend?” Tobin said, now less convinced that she’d understood everything during the game. “Pink hair, curses like a sailor, is probably currently icing her ankle?”
Christen was taken right back to the game when Tobin had asked her this for the first time. In the heat of the moment, Christen hadn’t given it much thought. But now she realized that Tobin actually thought that she and Megan were dating. It was laughable, honestly, but based on the somewhat serious expression on Tobin’s face, she didn’t share in the hilarity.
Swallowing her laughter at the mere thought of dating Megan, Christen shook her head at Tobin.
“Definitely not dating her. Pinoe and I, well it would be like you dating ARod. We’re best friends, but no. No, no, no.” Christen chuckled, then paused. “At least I hope she’s not dating ARod?”
Tobin appeared unfazed by the assumption, more relieved at the admission than anything else.
“Ew,” Tobin laughed softly, her face scrunched up at the thought. She and ARod would kill each other before going on a single date.
“Exactly, ew for me and Pinoe too. Honestly, she’s not even my type,” Christen admitted with a shrug.
“Poor Pinoe didn’t make the cut,” Tobin grinned, shaking her head softly. “What is her type?” Tobin wondered, hoping that she fit the bill, but not feeling brave enough to ask that question out loud.
“Nope, and I’m sure she’s really broken up about it. Apparently, I’m a catch according to my sister,” Christen joked.
“Smart sister,” Tobin mumbled, immediately wanting to kick herself for her brazen flirting. “Cool it, Tobin. You’re gonna freak her out.”
Christen’s cheeks flamed as she blushed, and she ducked her chin to her chest to hide it from Tobin. They’d slipped so easily back into this flirty banter and it had Christen floundering for solid ground.
“I’ll, uh, pass on the message to her,” she replied, looking up at Tobin through her lashes quickly, then returning her focus to her hands in her lap. She played with the rings on her fingers, doing anything to keep her distracted from her hammering heart.
Suddenly, Tobin was struck with inspiration. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and tapped away at her phone screen, letting the no longer awkward silence envelop both of them, not wanting to ruin the moment with a stupid comment.
“Can I see your phone?” Tobin asked, reaching her hand out toward Christen.
Christen looked up, her eyes narrowing at Tobin. “Why?”
“Pleaaaase?” Tobin begged, her lips pouting again and her eyelids fluttering.
Christen was a weak woman for Tobin’s pout, and she had the sneaking suspicion that Tobin had already figured that out. She reached into her pocket and took out her phone, holding it towards Tobin. With a start, she pulled it back and opened her lock screen. She typed in her super-secret passcode, then handed Tobin her phone.
“Don’t break it,” Christen advised playfully.
“Woah!” Tobin jokingly tossed the phone an inch into the air, catching it easily before Christen could get upset. She shot a grin at Christen before focusing on the phone. Tobin opened the Instagram app, already seeing the notification that @tobito17 had requested to follow Christen. From Christen’s account, she accepted her follow request and followed herself back. She smiled, satisfied that she could now get in touch with Christen after they separated for the night, and handed the phone back to Christen.
“There! Now I can stalk your Instagram,” Tobin winked.
Before Christen could muster up a response, feeling tongue-tied at the flirty tone and the wink Tobin had given her, there were three loud knocks at the door.
Christen and Tobin shared a puzzled look. Tobin went to get up, but Christen held her hand out.
“You’re in UCLA territory now, Tobs. Let me get the door.”
Tobin fully flopped back onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling and wishing that they hadn’t been interrupted.
“Allie?” Christen’s voice floated through the hotel room, causing Tobin to sit up on the bed.
“Crystal and I got through two whole episodes of Dance Moms. We wanted to make sure we gave you two enough time to talk. Or kill each other. Speaking of, is Harry here? Or will I be helping you bury a body?” Allie replied, walking into the room, followed closely by Christen. Christen peeked her head around Allie and shot Tobin an amused look. “Will one of you tell me what this Harry business is about?”
Tobin chuckled, shooting Allie the bird with her right hand, and looking back at Christen.
“It’s a long story, Chris,” Tobin began, only to be quickly interrupted by Allie.
“You wound me,” Allie feigned hurt, returning a matching middle finger to Tobin and clutching at her heart with her other hand. “After all I do for you, Harry?”
“Harry,” Tobin said, a warning tone in her voice. She could see the mischief in Allie’s eyes.
“I set you up with a pretty girl! I buy you both ice cream. I make sure said pretty girl doesn’t leave your ass. I-”
“HARRY!” Tobin yelled, slipping off the bed and covering Allie’s mouth with her hand.
“I’m sorry about her,” Tobin said, leaning around Allie to see Christen, her cheeks burning with embarrassment.
“I think we’ve had enough sorrys for one day,” Christen shot back with a small smile.
“Oh, so we made up?” Allie asked, her voice muffled from behind Tobin’s hand.
Tobin and Christen shared a look, both of them grinning like fools. They had made up, and even though Allie proved to have terrible timing, she had been the one to bring them together.
“I’ll buy you a Starbucks to say thanks tomorrow,” Christen said, her words meant for Allie, but her eyes unable to look away from Tobin’s.
“Yeah, same. What she said,” Tobin added.
The two of them got lost in each other’s eyes for a moment, allowing Allie to wrestle Tobin off of her and look between them. Allie couldn’t help the shit-eating grin that made its way onto her face.
“You two are adorable, and while I hate to be a party pooper, it’s time for Harry to go.”
“Right,” Tobin mumbled, her heart dropping slightly. She didn’t want to leave the room. She didn’t want to leave Christen.
“I should get to my room too before Coach Foudy catches me running through the hallways and not resting for the final,” Christen added, sending Tobin a sad smile.
“Oh, she’s starting you for the final?” Allie asked, having known that Foudy had threatened to bench Christen because of her behavior.
“I don’t think she wants to,” Christen sighed, slipping her slides back on in preparation to leave. “Megan probably won’t be able to play, and Abby isn’t really fully back, so I’m her only choice.”
“I’m s-” Tobin started.
“Don’t say sorry,” Christen stopped her with a small smile. “I’m glad I’ll get to play, despite how I acted on the field. I’m using Sunday as an opportunity to prove to Foudy that she starts me for a reason.”
“I’ll make sure to watch then,” Tobin said, grinning at Christen.
“I love third-wheeling,” Allie said under her breath as she ushered Tobin and Christen to the door. “All righty, you two,” she chirped, standing in the doorframe, facing Tobin and Christen who now were outside of the room. “Harry, elevators are to the right. Pressy, I literally don’t know where your room is, so, find your own way back.”
“Thanks, Harry,” Tobin said, pulling Allie in for a quick hug. She backed away, making sure not to step too close to Christen. She scratched at the back of her neck as she watched Christen wave good-bye to Allie.
“See you at breakfast, Al,” Christen grinned.
“And Starbucks,” Allie replied, looking between Tobin and Christen with a smile.
The two of them nodded and then turned to look at each other. Christen’s smile changed as she looked from Allie to Tobin, the gesture becoming sweeter. Even though her smile was tinged with disappointment that their time had come to an end, it still made Tobin weak at the knees. Tobin looked into Christen's eyes, those green eyes that Tobin could look into forever, and saw that they were so much lighter and happier than they had been earlier tonight. It made Tobin's heart sing.
“I guess this is goodbye,” Christen murmured.
Tobin nodded, doing her best to hide her disappointment. “We’ll keep in touch,” she promised, tapping the pocket her phone was sitting in.
“I can like, give you two some privacy,” Allie offered, halfway shutting her door.
“Bye, Harry,” Tobin waved, not turning her head away from Christen, almost shutting Allie’s door for her. “Bye, Chris,” Tobin smiled, forcing herself to turn around and walk toward the elevators.
“Bye, Tobs,” Christen replied, hoping Tobin heard her as she walked away.
Christen watched Tobin’s retreating form approach the elevators. The way Tobin carried herself, it was so much freer than it had been earlier. Gone was the tension, the pain. Her movements were languid and effortless. Christen couldn’t help but smile, knowing that it was their talk tonight that had gotten Tobin back to her old self.
As the elevator doors opened, Tobin turned back around, her eyes meeting Christen’s.
“Kick Stanford’s ass for me, Chris!” Tobin called, waving enthusiastically at Christen before getting into the elevator. Christen could only smile and nod as she watched the elevator doors close and Tobin disappeared from view.
“I’m considering changing my name,” Allie’s voice brought Christen’s attention away from the elevator and back to Allie.
“Yeah?” Christen asked.
“To the love guru,” Allie smirked, winking at Christen as she closed her door. “Night, Pressy!”
Christen chuckled and shook her head. She began walking in the opposite direction from the elevators, toward her own room down the hall, the bottom of her slides scuffing the carpet.
Her phone buzzing in her pocket caught her by surprise. She pulled it out, opening the Instagram notification. At the sight of a message sitting in her inbox, Christen smiled. It was from Tobin. Her smile only grew as she read the message.
Fun fact, I’d rather be in UCLA territory right now 😉 Thanks for talking to me tonight.
Christen grinned, deciding to respond to Tobin after she got to her room. Becky was already in bed, reading with her headphones on. She waved at Christen when she entered the room, but the two girls stayed quiet, enjoying the peacefully silent room. Christen washed her face and brushed her teeth, brainstorming what kind of response she could send Tobin. She could be serious or sweet or flirty. Her stomach flipped with nerves, feeling like this message would start an entirely new chapter in her life and relationship with Tobin, not that there really was one yet. Once she crawled under the comforter, she opened Instagram and started to type. She decided that honesty was the best policy, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t also be somewhat flirty...
Fun fact, talking to you was the highlight of my day. Let’s actually stay in touch?
Tobin’s reply came in moments later.
I, Tobin Heath, pinky promise to stay in touch with you, Christen Press. And I don’t make a pinky promise lightly.
Christen grinned down at her phone, burrowing under the covers as she typed out a response.
Neither do I. Talk to you soon?
I’ll literally send you my notes on Sunday’s game. Make sure none of the Stanford players slide tackle you.
Oh, only you’re allowed to do that?
That’s right! 😳
Your choice of emojis might be questionable, but I’ll make sure no Stanford player slide tackles me.
That’s the embarrassed face... right?
Oh Tobin, you need an emoji education.
Emojication? Lol I’m hilarious
Christen had to bite back a laugh, conscious of Becky sleeping a few feet away from her.
I thought we agreed I was the funny one?
It takes two to tango💃💃
Oh boy. What have I gotten myself into here?
Am I embarrassing you?? 😳 😳 😳 😳
Tobin grinned in the backseat of her parent's car, her face illuminated by her phone screen. Both of her parents could clearly tell that her mood had significantly changed, not asking for any details about her movie night with Allie but grateful for the smile on their daughter’s face.
Tobin could imagine Christen’s face when she saw those stupid emojis. Tobin hoped that she was making Christen smile. She wanted to be the reason for her smile, and she longed for the day that she could see it regularly.
Yes. I just rolled my eyes, in case you were curious. Now I should get some sleep. Good night, Tobin!
Good night, Chris.