Feels like there's oceans
Between me and you once again
We hide our emotions
Under the surface and try to pretend
But it feels like there's oceans
Between you and me
(Tobin - “Oceans” by Seafret)
Summer comes and winter fades,
Here we are just the same,
Don't need pressure, don't need change,
Let's not give the game away
Just please don't say you love me,
Cause I might not say it back,
Doesn't mean my heart stops skipping
When you look at me like that
(Christen - “Please Don’t Say You Love Me” by Gabrielle Aplin)
JANUARY - FRESHMAN YEAR
“Harry, are you serious right now?” Allie asked, staring at Tobin on her Facetime screen.
“Shut up,” Tobin growled, digging through her dresser again before pulling out three more shirts.
“Christen’s already seen you in person. She thinks you’re cute. You don’t need to look cute on a Facetime call from your dorm room,” Allie sighed, struggling to remain non-judgemental when all she wanted to do was laugh at Tobin for worrying so much.
“I just don’t want her to think I’m a slob. She could still change her mind and decide I’m totally lame,” Tobin sighed, pulling on a plain white t-shirt over her black skinny jeans.
“It’s not like you’re going on a date, Harry. We’re all just hanging out and catching up, something you and Christen don’t need to do since you’re literally messaging each other every single minute of every day,” Allie smirked.
“We do not,” Tobin muttered, knowing her lie was feeble.
“This’ll be a good chance for ARod and Lauren to meet Christen and for you to meet Christen’s friends,” Allie said confidently.
“Easy for you to say. You’re not meeting anyone new,” Tobin huffed, throwing herself onto her bed in preparation for their group Facetime call. “What if her friends don’t like me?” Tobin whispered.
“Harry, have you met yourself? You’re great! Megan’s gonna give you a hard time, but she’ll chill after a second. Crystal’s amazing and already likes you. Kelley’s just weird, and you two will get along just fine. Relax, dude,” Allie said, her attempt at putting Tobin’s fears to rest failing miserably when she decided to go ahead and add everyone else to the call.
Before Tobin could even complain, ARod and Lauren’s faces popped up in another window. The two of them were sitting together in their apartment across campus, and Tobin suddenly wished that she’d made the trek through the snow to sit with them. Tobin sat upright in her bed, fixing a stray piece of hair behind her ear.
“Allie!” Lauren cheered, smiling brightly on the screen.
“Hey, guys!” Allie smiled back, still distracted on her phone.
“No excited greeting for me?” Tobin grumbled.
“We literally just saw you at team dinner,” ARod teased.
“Toby is a little nervous,” Allie laughed, sticking her lip out in a little pout.
“Tobin’s nervous?” a sweet, soft voice asked before her video turned on.
Tobin would have known that voice anywhere. She suddenly wished that Allie Long had never been born or at least never learned to speak. Christen’s face appeared in another window, soft and gentle, her eyes looking somewhat worried. She was sitting on a couch, Megan and Crystal on either side of her, but Tobin could only focus on her.
“I-I have a- an exam tomorrow,” Tobin sputtered.
“You have an exam the first week back at school after Christmas break?” Megan blurted out.
“Isn’t it still syllabus week?” Crystal asked.
Christen just lifted her eyebrows, still somewhat concerned and definitely confused.
“Oh, yeah. My Physics professor is really tough,” Tobin lied, hoping that Allie wouldn’t call her out.
“That sucks,” Megan said before lifting her foot up to the camera. “Hey, look I’m boot-free and rehabbing away! Tried to keep me down, but you couldn’t SUCKA!”
ARod burst out laughing, already vibing with Megan’s personality.
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that, Megan,” ARod said, a hint of seriousness in her tone.
“No biggie,” Megan replied, waving her hand at the camera. “I got to get on the plane first when I flew home for Christmas because of the boot, so it had its perks.”
Tobin smiled at the camera, happy that her friends and Christen’s were getting along and happy that she and her fake Physics exam were no longer the centers of attention. She took a sip of water, frowning when a knock came at one of the girl’s doors and Christen stood up and left the computer screen.
“Oh, Kelley’s here,” Crystal said, scooting over on the couch.
Christen reappeared, Kelley following close behind in a tank top and shorts.
“You guys are so lucky it’s warm there,” Lauren sighed, snuggling deeper into her sweatshirt.
“I don’t think it’s actually warm enough for shorts and a tank, but yeah we’ve had nice weather,” Christen grinned, sitting on the arm of the couch since Kelley had taken her spot.
Tobin listened as Allie told the other girls about the date from hell she and Bati had last Friday at a local mini-golf place. She nodded along when ARod and Lauren told the UCLA girls about Penn State’s pick-up games. It wasn’t until Megan started talking about her twin sister that Tobin felt her phone vibrate next to her leg. She looked down, surprised to see a message from Christen. She glanced back up at the computer screen, noticing Christen’s soft smile and knowing it was directly aimed at her.
Are you okay? You’re just nervous about the exam?
I’m totally gooooood! Physics is my jam. Fun fact, I was part of the Physics Club in high school.
Nerd alert haha
SAYS YOU, MS. I TUTOR PEOPLE IN MY SLEEP, 5.834 GPA PRESS! Not all of us can be perfect off the field.
Christen’s laugh was barely audible, but Tobin caught it. Megan kept going with her story, not having caught onto the fact that Christen and Tobin were no longer paying attention and were instead looking down at their phones. Crystal seemed to clue into it though. She smirked at Christen and then at Tobin, shaking her head at the two of them.
Tobin’s phone vibrating drew her attention back down to it.
5.834’s aren’t possible, Tobs.
I never said I was good at math. Now who’s showing their nerd status?
Okay, fine, I’m a nerd. A big nerd.
Fun fact: I was nervous about this Facetime.
Tobin’s heart practically leaped out of her chest. “She was nervous too,” was all she could think. Christen had been nervous, just like Tobin had been, and that fact made Tobin want to spill every single thought and secret and feeling she’d been holding in. She wanted to share them right then and there with Christen Press. She glanced up at the computer screen, noticing that Christen was smiling at her phone. Tobin wanted nothing more than to reach through the screen and touch Christen. She just wanted to hold her hand, to feel her skin, to know she was real, that she wasn’t going anywhere. Instead, Tobin typed out another message.
Oh thank God! So was I! Harry was teasing me about it.
On-screen, Christen’s brow furrowed and she shot a quick look at Tobin before returning to her phone.
Why would she tease you about that?
Tobin tensed, realizing that maybe she’d read into things a bit. Maybe Christen had been nervous for an entirely different reason than she was, one that was not tease-worthy.
Tobin had been nervous to see Christen after a month of messaging every single day. It was one thing to talk and build a relationship over messages. It was easy, you had time to think through answers and you never had to worry about the blush that was ever-present on your face, because they couldn’t see you. But when you hopped on Facetime, you couldn’t hide the blush or the smiles or the hope in your heart that one day you could have more than a friendship. That was why Tobin had been nervous, with clammy hands and a flushed face to boot.
But it sounded like Christen hadn’t been nervous in the same way. Now Tobin had to do some verbal backflips to get out of admitting her real reason for being nervous.
Umm...I mean I was just kind of nervously moving around the room. I have trouble staying still when I’m nervous about something.
Tobin cringed, knowing how lame that excuse was. She only hoped Christen would drop it and move on.
What was making you nervous?
“Shit,” Tobin muttered under her breath, not realizing her mic was on until Megan replied.
“Yeah, exactly! Shit! That’s what I’m saying Tobito!” Megan said.
Tobin’s head whipped up from her phone. She could see the smirks Crystal, Allie, ARod, and Lauren were giving her, and she knew she hadn’t been subtle about focusing on her phone the entire time. She scratched at the back of her neck and grimaced.
“I got you, Pinoe. Anytime.”
Tobin looked at Christen and saw the curiosity in her green eyes even through the computer screen. She also looked vaguely amused at Tobin’s attempt at covering up her accidental interjection. The corner of her mouth was lifted into a smile, making Tobin’s grimace soften into an actual grin.
“You rock, now back to what I was saying. Rach and I were slaying it out there on the playground…”
Tobin went back to tuning Megan’s story out and flicked her gaze down to her phone, her smile never dropping.
What was making YOU nervous?
Jinx, you owe me a Coke. And I asked you first, rules are rules.
I didn’t think perfect Press would drink soda!
I don’t...fine, jinx you owe me a green smoothie with extra kale
Tobin looked up and saw Christen smirking at the computer screen. That goddamn smirk. It was powerful even from thousands of miles away.
Your coach must love you haha! You could come over here, and I’d buy you one right now.
I was just a little nervous about the Facetime call that’s all… Why were you nervous?
Counteroffer: you come here and buy me one since it’s supposed to be 68 and sunny tomorrow. A smoothie in the snow sounds awful.
And that’s still not really an answer, Tobs. But I’ll accept it...for now 😉
I was nervous because Pinoe and ARod definitely did not get off on the right foot…
Tobin felt her heart drop slightly. She hadn’t even thought about her friends. She’d been so incredibly nervous about Christen. She’d just wanted to keep making good impressions. She wanted Christen to like her and want to talk to her, not just type out long messages every day.
I so wish I were there! Sunny California and you?! That sounds like the best!
I honestly didn’t even think about ARod and Megan…That probably makes me a bad friend.
Also, Chris? Was that a foot pun about Megan’s injury? You’re a total dork 😂
Maybe you should come visit sunny California?
Oh hush, you’re not a bad friend. As your friend, I’m uniquely qualified to know if you are or not, and you’re not.
It was...not my best pun work, but it made you smile. Don’t deny it, I saw!
Maybe I will. Harry does live there too, so I could visit you both. Especially since we’re officially friends now, I see.
Fun fact, you always make me smile.
Even when I’m dorky and nerdy?
Especially when you’re dorky and nerdy. That’s the best Christen there is!
You might be the only one who thinks so...
Hell no! I bet there are hundreds of people lined up outside your dorm just waiting to tell you that.
What’s that? Channel 5 News just called. There’s a huge traffic jam because of all the cars waiting outside to tell you that you’re amazing!
This time Christen couldn’t hold back her laugh. She rolled her eyes at Tobin’s message, a small laugh slipping from her lips. Tobin grinned at her computer screen, loving the way her message had made Christen’s cheeks blush.
“Care to share with the class, Pressy?” Allie asked, a smirk plastered on her face.
“Yeah, Christen, you’ve been on your phone like this whole time. What’re you doing?” Crystal added.
“Who’re you texting?” Kelley asked, practically leaping behind Crystal to grab Christen’s phone out of her hand.
Christen was too fast for Kelley, snatching her phone away quickly and sliding off the couch.
It wasn’t quick enough, though.
“Who’s tobito17?” Kelley asked, not knowing anything about Christen and Tobin’s Instagram messaging.
“Toby, you’ve been messaging Christen this whole time and ignoring us all?” ARod teased.
“What’s so important you needed to message her right now?” Lauren asked, her smile turning mischievous.
“Nothing,” Tobin choked out, she crossed her arms over her chest, a sign to her friends that she wouldn’t budge.
The little bit of Christen’s face that Tobin could still see on the screen was completely red.
“Should we hang up and leave you to it?” Allie asked, waggling her brows as her smirk grew.
“NO!” Christen and Tobin both blurted at the same time.
That caused everyone to laugh, even Kelley, who still had no clue what was going on but decided to laugh anyways. Tobin and Christen could do nothing but blush and struggle to form coherent sentences, both completely thrown off by their friends’ teasing.
Crystal was the first to take pity on the blushing, blubbering fools.
“Hate to break up the party, but we UCLA ladies have practice tonight,” Crystal said, her smile a bit sad.
“And a 5 AM lift tomorrow,” Kelley added. “That's how champions are made.”
Lauren and ARod’s mouths flopped open in sync, causing the rest of the group to laugh once more. This time, Tobin and Christen joined in.
“You all better go before you get ARod all fired up again,” Tobin warned with a smile, her eyes still stuck on Christen.
“Or Tobin,” Megan chimed in, earning her a smack to the arm from Christen and then another from Crystal.
“Not nice, Pinoe! We’re all friends now,” Allie said.
“Yeah! KUMBAYAAA,” Kelley started to sing, earning groans from everyone. Allie waved at everyone and quickly ended the call before Kelley could continue with her singing. The last thing Christen saw was Tobin’s mouth turned up in a grin, her brown eyes dancing with amusement, and her left hand held up in a shaka sign.
Kelley pouted when the screen went black, signaling the end of the Facetime call.
“Dudes, I was just getting to the good part. Why did Allie have to end me like that?” Kelley asked, groaning dramatically.
Megan, Crystal, and Kelley all got up from the couch, chatting amongst themselves as they went to their rooms to get ready for training. Christen remained seated on the edge of the couch, her mind lost in thought.
Tobin had looked good. She’d never seen her out of soccer gear or sweats before, and sure maybe it was just a plain white t-shirt and ripped jeans to some, but to her, it was an outfit that was the perfect combination of beautiful and laid back. It was just so Tobin. It was something that she could even see Tobin wearing on their first date-
“Whoa, slow down there. Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Christen thought. “You’re friends who live 2,582 miles from each other.”
Friends. They were friends. Christen had trouble remembering that sometimes, especially recently. They’d been talking non-stop since that night in the Orlando hotel room. There had never been an awkward moment or a moment where they were unsure what to talk about or say. Conversation just seemed to flow between them so naturally. And more often than not, their messages erred on the side of flirty. So flirty in fact that both Channing and Tyler had teased her mercilessly over the Christmas break about Tobin.
Christen thought she’d be safe once she got back to school and could distract herself with soccer and classes and her friends. But her crush on Tobin Heath was ever-present, and nothing she did could silence it. Especially during this group Facetime call.
She hadn’t totally lied to Tobin earlier. She had been nervous to get all their friends together, especially Megan and ARod who had bad blood between them. But mostly, she was nervous to see Tobin. If her crush was uncontrollable and all-consuming when Tobin was only sending her Instagram messages, how would her heart fare when she could see Tobin? When she could hear her laugh and see her smile?
The answer? Not well. Christen’s blush had heated her cheeks from the moment she and her friends jumped on the call, until Allie hung up on everyone.
“So,” Kelley stated, jumping onto the couch and plopping her socked feet in Christen's lap. “You’ve got a crush on Tobin, or should I say, tobito17.”
Christen turned beet red. She spluttered and avoided looking at Kelley.
“What? Me? Tobin? I - uh - I don’t-”
She was saved by Crystal and Megan coming back into the room, smirks on both of their faces.
“She guessed, huh?” Crystal asked, nodding in Kelley’s direction.
Christen hung her head and hid her face in her hands. Her muffled, “Yes,” was barely audible.
Megan whooped and hopped next to Kelley. She held her hand up in a high five, which Kelley excitedly gave her.
“Another member of Team Tosten!” Megan said with a grin.
Crystal wrinkled her nose. “That’s not our team name, Allie already shot that down. Stop trying to make Tosten happen.”
Christen uncovered her face and eyed her friends warily.
“Why is there a team and why do I have a feeling I’m not going to like your answer?” she grumbled.
“Maybe team is the wrong word. We’re...captains of the Chrisbin ship!” Megan replied, holding her arms out as if to say, “How about that name?”
Crystal shot her down, again. “It’s a no from me.”
“Same, that sounds like a brand of pita chip,” Kelley added with a shudder. “And I hate pita chips. Like little daggers to your gums.”
“Guys!” Christen cried, bringing everyone’s attention to her. She looked at Crystal with a brow arched. “Explain, please?”
“Well...there are a select few of us who love the idea of you and Tobin together. Me, Pinoe, Allie. Now Kelley too. So, we’re like your own personal fan club who just want what’s best for you two,” Crystal explained.
Christen shook her head, barking out a laugh. “Why am I friends with you guys?”
Megan shrugged, “Cuz we’re hot.”
This caused everyone to laugh, the momentary tension dissipating. Suddenly, Kelley jumped to her feet and cried, “I’ve got it!”
Christen, Crystal, and Megan shared confused looks. Kelley rolled her eyes and explained, “The ship name. I’ve got it!”
After a beat of silence, Kelley drum rolled against her legs and then cried, “PREATH!”
Christen could only chuckle. Her friends were crazy, but she had to admit, the ship name wasn’t half bad.
Tobin had reached a new record. She hadn’t messaged Christen for a full 24 hours, and it was killing her. Christen was still busy at school, their spring breaks not aligning, and Tobin’s parents had insisted on having quality, phone-free family time, so needless to say, Tobin was ready to race up to her room and grab her phone before her older sister came over with her nephew.
I’m about to meet the baby who made me an aunt 😊😊😊
Not just any baby! THE CUTEST BABY!!! He’s my first nephew 😍
Tobs, that is so cute. You’re an aunt! How does it feel?
Honestly? I’m just nervous. I want him to like me so much!
How could he not like you? You’re YOU.
I’ve gotta be his favorite aunt. It’s my life’s goal. Screw the World Cup! haha
Guess I’ll have to go win it without you… 😉
WOAH WOAH WOAH let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The plan is for you and me to check that off the bucket list together.
Oh, so I made your bucket list? 😊
You’ve made it quite a few times...
WHY AM I ONLY JUST LEARNING THIS?
THIS IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION!
What are they?
Please tell me? I’m so curious!
That is top secret information. I can’t tell you. They’re like wishes, and if I tell you they won’t come true. It’s science.
Just because you were in the Physics club doesn’t mean you get to make up fake science stuff!
Ugh...you won’t tell me them, will you? No matter what I do?
You’d be more convincing in person, I’m sure.
Speaking of, when are you coming to visit me? Sunny California is still very sunny and I was promised a smoothie. With LOTS of kale.
Tobin grinned at the message. There was nothing she wanted more at that moment than to be in California with Christen, on the beach, sipping a smoothie. She’d been waiting to tell Christen about her summer plans, since they were really dependent on her parents, more specifically on her dad’s new job, but now seemed as good a time as any. She took a deep breath and typed out her message, pressing send and then deciding that she’d much rather tell Christen, face to face. She wanted to be able to gauge Christen’s reaction.
Actually, there’s something I wanted to tell you…
Christen froze, seeing the “INCOMING VIDEO CALL” from Tobin on Instagram. She was in no shape to answer this video call right now. Her hair was in a curly, messy bun atop her head, she hadn’t been sleeping all that well so the bags under her eyes were ghastly, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d showered. She’d been overwhelmed with projects and essays and exams this week, and it showed. She was in a ratty, old high school soccer sweatshirt and she’d forgotten contacts this morning, so she was currently wearing her glasses. She was a far cry from put together or even remotely passable-looking, and she knew it.
She wondered, just for a moment, whether or not she should ignore the call. She could always make up some excuse like she was studying in the library and couldn’t answer right now. Which was a total lie, she was on the couch in the suite’s living area, alone since her roommates were gone for the day.
But the longer she waited, eyes stuck to the screen, she knew she couldn’t ignore it. This was her chance to see Tobin for the first time in a few weeks, and actually talk to her alone, and not in their usual group Facetime sessions which had become less frequent as spring breaks forced them all apart.
Christen took a moment to gather herself. She ran a hand over her baby hairs, trying to smooth them out. She fixed a large smile on her face and decided to just answer the call, knowing she didn’t look her best but unable to deny herself the chance to see Tobin and talk to her.
“Hey!” Tobin practically sighed into the phone, her face softening as soon as she saw Christen.
Christen could barely formulate a response. On her screen, looking absolutely gorgeous, was Tobin Heath. She was smiling in that easy, relaxed way of hers and her brown eyes sparkled. Her hair was loose and falling around her shoulders, and she wore an orange beanie on her head. Her plain, gray t-shirt was fitted and featured a graphic of the Mighty Ducks cast. She was as beautiful as Christen remembered, maybe more so. Tobin Heath never failed to take her breath away.
“Uh, hello, I mean, um hi there,” Christen replied, internally cringing at her awkwardness.
Tobin couldn’t help the soft giggle that left her lips. Not only was Christen slightly flustered, but she also looked adorable in her glasses and soft sweatshirt. Tobin had always seen Christen in a cute outfit or in her uniform. Even her sweatpants were perfectly creased and wrinkle-free. She loved how put-together Christen was, but she had never seen her in ratty clothes, and she was beginning to wonder if that was her favorite way to see Christen, completely relaxed in her own space. All Tobin wanted at that moment was to be near Christen, to fly to California and hang out with her, even just sit with her while she studied for her next midterm exam.
“Did I interrupt you? Were you studying? I can call back later,” Tobin choked out softly, worrying for a second that she’d annoyed Christen by calling without warning.
“NO!” Christen yelled, before taking a breath and repeating herself, only much softer this time. “No, you didn’t and I wasn’t.”
Christen forced herself to take another deep breath. This was just Tobin. Just her friend, Tobin. She needed to stop acting like a lovesick spaz and relax.
“You are a welcome distraction. I was getting nowhere with my Anthropology review anyways,” Christen added with a small smile.
“I just didn’t really want to type anymore,” Tobin said, scratching the back of her neck awkwardly. That wasn’t true, but she didn’t want to tell Christen just how much she’d been missing her face since group Facetiming had slowed down recently. “And I have big news…” Tobin trailed off, waiting for Christen to encourage her to continue.
“You’re an aunt and you’re about to meet your niece or nephew, I know! That’s so exciting, and I’m not at all jealous,” Christen teased sarcastically. “I can’t wait to be an aunt!”
“I am an aunt, and I’m dying for my sister to get here so I can meet him, but no,” Tobin laughed. “It’s other news actually. It’s probably not as exciting as a baby, but it’s big news.”
Christen’s brow furrowed. “What’s up? Is everything okay?”
“Well, it wasn’t okay for a couple of weeks, but it is now,” Tobin nodded.
“Are you being intentionally vague?” Christen replied, arching her brow.
“Just trying to make sure you’re interested in the story,” Tobin laughed. “So, back in December, right after the NCAA Championships, actually, my dad was laid off at work.”
“Oh, Tobs,” Christen sighed, her chest tightening with emotion. Apparently, her teasing had been a bit premature. This seemed like news of the bad sort and she felt horrible for making light of it. “I’m so sorry.”
“Thanks, Chris. It was stressful for a few weeks, but my dad decided instead of waiting around to see if he got his job back, he wanted to look at other opportunities. So, he had maybe seven job interviews, and he decided to take one of those jobs at the beginning of this month. He’s been flying back and forth a little bit and is just renting an apartment there. Obviously, he can’t keep flying back and forth though, so this summer, we’re going to look at houses there. Jeff’s only a freshman right now, so it shouldn’t be too hard for him to switch schools and have three years there,” Tobin rambled, her excitement getting the best of her.
Christen nodded, smiling a bit at the way Tobin’s words had basically run together. Her excitement was palpable and infectious.
“That sounds like a lot of changes, but I’m glad your dad found a job and everything!”
“You aren’t curious?” Tobin teased, smirking softly at Christen.
Narrowing her eyes, Christen replied, “Curious about what?”
“Maybe I’m misreading this friendship, but I thought you’d be curious about where I’ll be spending all of my vacations, Chris,” Tobin laughed.
“Wait, where is the job? Where will you be?” Christen asked. The glint in Tobin’s eyes looked a little like hope and it had Christen’s heart pounding in her chest. She wasn’t sure why she was suddenly nervous about Tobin’s answer, but she was. It felt big, whatever this news was. It felt like more than Tobin’s dad’s job and moving. It felt like something was going to shift between them.
“I believe you call it the City of Angels?” Tobin giggled, unable to keep her happiness inside. “Or is that just what tourists say? I want to fit in,” Tobin feigned seriousness.
Christen’s eyes bugged out, her mouth dropping open in shock. “Did Tobin just say what I think she said? Is she moving here? To L.A.?” Christen’s thoughts ran wild through her mind as she struggled to process exactly what Tobin had just said.
“I mean, I’ll still be freezing my butt off in Pennsylvania for most of the year, but yeah! Sunny California is about to be home base for the Heaths,” Tobin said, her grin practically splitting her face. She watched as Christen smiled. “She’s happy about it,” Tobin thought to herself. “Probably not as happy as you, but she’s happy.”
Tobin couldn’t help the thrumming of her heart in her chest. She felt like all of her nerve endings were activated, like she couldn’t sit still. She walked down the stairs, unable to stay in one room after seeing Christen’s face light up. “You’re going to get more time with her,” was the thought that continued to loop through her mind. She couldn’t help but feel a surge of energy shoot through her. All she wanted was more time with Christen, time to get to know her, time to make her feel special, time to build something between the two of them. This move, although drastic, was a dream come true for Tobin. She knew when she first saw Christen that she wanted to know her. She knew when she first spoke with Christen that she wanted more than friendship. She just needed more moments with her to build that relationship, and moving to L.A. felt like fate had stepped in to help her.
“I’m so happy for you, Tobs. This is so great!” Christen replied.
Christen could feel the smile on her face, despite the warring emotions in her heart. She couldn’t deny the pure, unadulterated elation at the thought of Tobin being in L.A., moments away instead of thousands of miles, for a few months out of the year. That was almost enough to silence the whispers of doubt within her. Almost.
“Tobin will still be at Penn State for 9 months out of the year. Three quarters of the year, she will be all the way across the country. This doesn’t really change anything,” Christen’s doubt whispered. All of that quelled the overwhelming joy she initially felt at Tobin’s admission. Now she was stuck, feeling like nothing had changed and everything had changed, all at once. It was completely overwhelming.
“I know! I guess I’ll have to take you and Allie to Starbucks after all,” Tobin teased.
Christen laughed, the sound a little forced. “I guess so…” she replied.
“You okay? You seem a little-” Tobin was cut off by the front door opening and her sister, Katie, calling out a greeting, if you could call it that.
“Help! I have a newborn, and I’ve had to pee for two hours!”
“Oh, I’ll go, your family is there. Go be an aunt,” Christen said quickly, ignoring Tobin’s cut-off question.
“No! I want you to meet him!” Tobin begged. “Please, Chris?” She put on her best pout before looking up at her sister, holding her nephew out toward Tobin.
“I’m a mess, I can go, really -” Christen tried to say, only to be quickly met with the image of Tobin cradling her nephew, a large smile on her face. Any protest died on her lips. Christen instantly softened, her chest warming at the sight of Tobin looking at her nephew with such a fierce and powerful love. “Awww, Tobs, he’s so cute,” Christen cooed.
“Who said that?” Katie asked, eyes narrowed in the direction of the phone in Tobin’s hand. “And why are you holding my child with only one arm?”
“It’s Christen. Go pee, Katie,” Tobin sighed, not looking up from her nephew’s sleeping face. “I need time with this little dude.”
“Oh, the Christen? Christen Press, Christen? Jeff told me about her, and about how you-”
“KATIE,” Tobin warned, looking up from her nephew to glare at Katie.
“Watch his head, Tobs!” Katie laughed, walking toward the bathroom.
Tobin’s cheeks burned as she risked a look at her phone screen. Christen was simply grinning at her, torn between amused and slightly embarrassed. The blush in her cheeks was noticeable.
“Sorry about her, motherhood’s loosened a few bolts,” Tobin said, rocking her nephew gently in her arms.
“It’s fine. It just gives me more ammo to tease you with, knowing that you’ve told your siblings all about me,” Christen replied with a smirk. “Now introduce me to your nephew, he is literally so cute!”
Tobin felt her heart dip slightly, wondering for a moment if Christen talked about her with her sisters as much as Tobin talked to Jeff. “She has more important things to do than to talk about you with her sisters,” Tobin thought, sobering some of the excitement and hope she might have had from previous flirty talks with Christen.
“And your siblings don’t know about me?” Tobin whispered, trying to mask the urge to frown slightly with a little bit of teasing.
“They don’t not know about you…” Christen blushed.
“Oh, I see,” Tobin grinned back, her heart lifting somewhat. “They know that I’m…?” she encouraged.
“They both know you love Olive Garden breadsticks,” Christen replied, her eyes swimming with mirth.
“Not my finest moment, buddy,” Tobin sighed, shaking her nephew’s hand that was wrapped around one of her fingers. “Those breadsticks are so good, though. I can’t wait until you have teeth and can eat them with me. Maybe we can convince Chris to come too.”
Christen’s heart jumped into her throat. “Tobin wants me to meet her nephew? To get breadsticks with them? That feels...like a huge step,” Christen thought to herself, surprised that the thought didn’t immediately scare her off.
“You’ll have to ask really nicely,” Christen replied. She grinned down at the sleeping baby in Tobin’s arm. “And maybe I’ll even learn your name before then if your Auntie Tobin ever decides to formally introduce us.”
“Cole,” Tobin whispered softly into the phone, completely enamored by the sleeping baby on her chest.
“Nice to meet you, Cole. I’m Christen and I’m going to leave you with Tobin now,” Christen replied, her volume matching Tobin’s.
“Nooo,” Tobin whined, her voice soft and sleepy. “Stay. Come here and stay,” Tobin couldn’t help but think when she stared at Christen’s face on the screen.
“This Anthropology midterm won’t take itself. But…” Christen trailed off, working her lower lip between her teeth.
“Oh right, shoot! You have a midterm,” Tobin said, losing her train of thought as soon as she looked away from Cole and toward Christen, who was more distracting than the infant in her arms. Tobin couldn’t help but stare at Christen’s lips, wondering how they’d feel, how they’d tas -
“Nope, not with the baby present,” Tobin chastised.
“I do,” Christen acknowledged. “But...maybe we can do this again soon? It’s way better than messaging. Not that messaging you isn’t fun. It totally is. But this is just, well it’s just…”
“Better? Easier? Completely relaxing?” Tobin offered. Getting a smile in response, she added, “And no offense to our friends, but I think I prefer just talking to you...I don’t have to yell over you, you know?”
“I feel the same way,” Christen beamed.
“Good luck with your test,” Tobin sighed, watching as Cole’s eyes fluttered open, his chubby hand reaching up toward her face.
“Good luck with Cole,” Christen replied softly, all but melting at the sight of Cole reaching up to touch Tobin’s face. “Message me later? Or better yet…”
Christen’s brows knit in concentration for a moment. She exited the video and tapped her screen a few times. She then returned, smiling.
“There. Now you can text me when you’re free,” Christen added.
Tobin’s heart beat even faster in her chest. Allie had always been the group Facetime facilitator, the one with everyone else’s phone numbers, and Tobin had been too much of a chicken to ask Christen for her number, not when Instagram worked well enough.
“I will. Happy studying, Christen,” Tobin said, her eyes crinkling with a smile.
“Bye, Tobs,” Christen replied, a matching smile on her face.
BEGINNING OF MAY
“Tissues, check. Lots of chocolate, double-check,” Christen mumbled to herself as she strolled the aisles of CVS. Her basket was stocked full of the essentials, but she was still missing a few things.
“I found The Notebook and 10 Things I Hate About You,” Channing announced, looping her arm through Christen’s and dropping the DVDs into the basket. “Maybe it’s just me, but if I’d just had my heart thrown into a blender by a boy, the last thing I’d want to do is watch gross, sappy romcoms,” she added.
Christen shook her head and pulled Channing towards the chips and snacks aisle.
“Well, you’re not Tyler,” Christen replied.
“You can say that again. My heart’s intact,” Channing shot back, earning her an eye roll from Christen. “What? I never liked that douche-canoe.”
A laugh bubbled up in Christen’s chest. In all honesty, she had never liked Clint either and had never seen why Tyler had stuck with him for so long. They were high school sweethearts who’d tried their hand at long-distance college dating. Which had served to bite Tyler in the butt when Clint had broken up with her three days ago, after six years of dating, saying that distance was too hard. Christen had found that a bit ridiculous, seeing as Tyler attended the University of Oregon and Clint went to Portland State which was 2 hours away by car. Real distance was like Los Angeles to Penn State…
Christen sighed, perusing the chip options alongside Channing. “If Tyler couldn’t make it work with her long-term boyfriend and overcome a meager 2-hour distance, how the heck am I supposed to make it work with someone who lives on the other side of the country?” Christen thought to herself.
“I found the wine, girls,” Stacy said, interrupting Christen’s thoughts. “I got three bottles just to be safe.”
Christen held out the basket, letting her mom slip the wine bottles into it. The three of them quickly grabbed a few bags of salt and vinegar Lay’s and checked out, rushing to get home to Tyler.
They found Tyler burrowed beneath a pile of blankets, mascara under her puffy red eyes, sitting on the couch in almost complete darkness.
Christen, Stacy, and Channing jumped into action. Christen got the chocolate and chips into bowls, Channing set up the movie, and Stacy uncorked the wine and poured three glasses. She gave a small glass to Christen with a wink, earning a huff from Channing.
“Rose-hey! Where’s my glass?” Channing complained, flopping onto the couch by Tyler’s side.
“You live under my roof, you live by my rules,” Stacy replied, handing a large glass of rosé to Tyler and then sitting on the couch with her own glass in hand.
Christen grabbed a box of tissues, the snacks, and her wine, then scurried to the couch. She sat on Tyler’s other side and pulled her sister in for a tight hug.
“Boys suck,” Christen said, squeezing Tyler a little extra as she hugged her.
Tyler sniffled and nodded. “Distance sucks more,” she replied.
“And romcoms suck the most, so let's get this suckfest going,” Channing added, pressing play on the remote so the movie would start.
They were about halfway through the movie when Christen’s phone started buzzing. She removed her arm from around Tyler’s shoulder and pulled her phone out of her jeans pocket.
It was an incoming Facetime from TOBIN HEATH. Christen’s stomach fluttered at the sight, but she quickly hit ignore, knowing she couldn’t answer right now. She was busy wallowing with her heartbroken sister.
Christen opened up her messages to text Tobin to make sure she knew that she wasn’t ignoring her. Christen was acutely aware of her mother’s eyes on her, so she angled the screen away from Stacy’s probing gaze.
[Christen Press 3:23PM]
Sorry, we’re at Defcon 1 over here in the Press house. Tyler’s boyfriend dumped her and we’re all elbows deep in chocolate, wine, and romcoms. Call you tonight?
Christen turned her attention back to the movie for a moment, waiting for Tobin to respond. She wasn’t kept waiting long.
[Tobin Heath 3:24PM]
No worries, Chris. Let me know if there’s anything I can do. I have a mean left hook if necessary.
Christen grinned then put her phone away, not wanting to be on it for too long. She could still feel eyes on her, so she looked up and met her mom’s gaze. Seeing the knowing look Stacy was giving her, Christen felt the flush creeping up her neck shoot up to her cheeks.
She shook her head at her mom and went back to the movie. Tyler needed her right now. She shouldn't be thinking about Tobin. But as she watched Ryan Gosling write letter after letter, all of them going unanswered, her thoughts naturally drifted to the captivating Penn State forward.
Her biggest fear had happened, just not to her. To her sister. After all that time and effort, Tyler’s relationship had ended in heartbreak because of the distance. It made Christen’s stomach roll just thinking about it. If Tyler and Clint couldn’t make it, how could she and Tobin?
Christen looked over at her sister, noting the tear stains on her cheeks and the pain in her eyes. Christen snuggled closer to Tyler and put her head on Tyler’s shoulder. She wanted to believe that she and Tobin could be different, that they wouldn’t end up like this - the tears, the hurt, the copious amounts of chocolate to ease the pain. But fear had her running in the complete opposite direction.
“I’m never going to let something like this happen to me,” Christen vowed. “Long-distance isn’t worth the inevitable heartbreak.”
“We’re almost there,” Tobin’s dad said, turning the car onto a two-lane road.
Tobin hardly heard him, just nodding in affirmation. She was too busy running through a script in her mind. It was the script she’d been working on since the beginning of March when she’d first called Christen and spoken to her one-on-one. If she were honest with herself, it was the script Tobin had been working on since she’d seen Christen for the first time.
“I know that we’ve only known each other for five months and only really spent in-person time together once, but I feel like there’s something here that’s more than friendship...no, no that’s weird,” Tobin thought, sighing to herself. She’d been changing the script obsessively for the past few hours, worrying herself into a dizzy mess. “I feel something for you that’s more than friendship...no, that’s weirder. She’s gonna think you’re a freak. She probably doesn’t even like you,” Tobin leaned back in her seat, trying to block out her thoughts, trying to focus on the California scenery outside the car window.
She’d flown out to L.A. to spend time with her dad for her birthday weekend and help him pick the house that her parents would buy and move to. He was stuck between three houses, and he’d invited Tobin to help him choose, wanting some quality time with his youngest daughter.
They’d already toured two of the three houses, but her dad had work for the next two days, so the third house would have to wait until Sunday or Monday. Tobin had originally planned on spending her actual birthday in her dad’s apartment, accompanied only by Netflix and some Chinese takeout. However, when Allie had learned about her depressing birthday plans, she’d invited her to spend the weekend at the Long house. While she felt like she was slightly intruding on Allie’s family, she was more than a little excited to surf and spend time with her best friend.
Not only that, but Allie had convinced Tobin to surprise Christen with her presence in L.A., hence the obsessive and worried thoughts that kept running through Tobin’s mind. She hadn’t actually planned on seeing Christen during this trip to L.A. She expected to be busier with her dad, and she knew that Christen was busy trying to keep Tyler distracted post-breakup. The last thing she wanted to do was annoy Christen with a visit when she was too preoccupied to really spend time with Tobin. When Tobin had voiced those concerns, however, Allie had insisted that Christen and Tyler had both spent time at Allie’s house and would probably love to get out and surf at the beach.
Initially, despite her worrying, Tobin had been excited to see Christen and surprise her. She’d been eager, the butterflies in her stomach racing. Even if she hadn’t settled on exactly what to say to Christen, she was getting to see the gorgeous, green-eyed girl in person. Only a fool would focus on the bad instead of the good.
Now, though, Tobin felt like a fool. She kind of wished she’d told Allie that she didn’t want to see Christen. She wanted to give herself another week or month or few months to pick out each and every word that she wanted to say to Christen. She wasn’t sure if she was ready or had all the things she wanted to say just yet. But there was no turning back now.
Tobin smoothed her hand over her hair one more time and jumped out of her dad’s car before turning around to wave at him, having already promised to let him know when she and Allie got to Allie’s house safely for the night. She stood at the edge of the parking lot, facing the ocean, the sand dunes obscuring her view of the actual beach. Tobin scratched at the back of her neck, feeling unsure and insecure.
She shuffled her flip-flops off, picking them up in her hand and stepping into the sand. The beach was her favorite place, regardless of which coast she was on. She loved the ocean, the sand, the sun. There was just something so peaceful and healing and perfect about the beach, even on a day like today when she felt so nervous.
As soon as Tobin moved past the highest part of the dunes, she saw the umbrella Allie had told her to look out for. It was orange with yellow stripes, practically blinding in the sunshine. Underneath the umbrella were three girls, all with dark, curly hair, facing the water. Tobin’s breath caught in her throat, and her feet faltered on the steps down to the beach.
She could recognize Christen immediately, her slender hands moving quickly to emphasize whatever she was talking about. Tobin couldn’t help but grin, having missed Christen’s mannerisms and laugh, two things that just weren’t the same over the phone. By the fluttering in her stomach and the clamminess on her palms, Tobin knew her feelings for Christen were as strong now as they ever had been. “This is it. You have to tell her. Don’t chicken out. You’ve both flirted for months. It’s time to tell her and get on with it,” Tobin thought to herself, trying to buck up the courage to walk right up to Christen and profess her feelings. “You got this, Tobin. Surprise her, hang out with her, show her how cool you are,” Tobin continued to psych herself up.
She walked forward, ripping her eyes away from Christen to look out at the water, hoping for one last moment to settle her nerves. Allie was easy to spot, floating on a surfboard with two other people, presumably Megan and Kelley. The two other UCLA players were staying with Christen for two weeks before visiting Crystal in New York.
“Tyler, he’s a jerk,” Christen’s voice carried all the way back to Tobin, practically blowing in the sea breeze.
Tobin was too far away to yell toward the three Press sisters. She also didn’t really want to interrupt them, somewhat nervous to meet Channing and Tyler, since their opinions mattered so much to Christen.
Tyler was quieter than Christen, her shoulders shaking softly, and Tobin stopped in her tracks, not wanting to step into their emotional moment. She remained a few yards away, within earshot, but not in the eye line of any of the Press sisters.
“You’re so much better off!” Christen announced, her arm wrapping around her older sister’s back. “A long-distance relationship isn’t worth it anyway,” Christen said gruffly.
Tobin’s heart sank in her chest, her legs practically giving out beneath her. She needed to sit down, to stop her head from spinning and her stomach from knotting.
“She doesn’t like long-distance. She doesn’t think it’s worth it,” the thought repeated like a mantra through Tobin’s mind. “She doesn’t like long-distance. She doesn’t think it’s worth it. She doesn’t think that I’m worth it...”
“A distance relationship is hardly a relationship at all!” Christen asserted, her voice holding a hard edge that Tobin had rarely if ever heard from her. “You hardly ever get to go out with your significant other when you’re far away, and that’s no way to be in a relationship. You deserve more!”
“I know, I know,” Tyler sighed, leaning into Christen’s side.
Tobin’s vision blurred, tears stinging the corners of her eyes. It felt like with every word, Christen was mounting a defense against a potential relationship with Tobin. Sure, they were just friends. But for the past few months, they’d Facetimed and texted every day. They’d started to move into the gray area between friends and...something more. They’d never actually talked about it, the flirty messages and smirks and winks. The fact that their family and friends teased them about each other. It went unspoken between them, but Tobin had been hoping that this summer would be the perfect time to talk about it, that this surprise trip would be the perfect moment to tell Christen how she felt. She only now realized how wrong she had been.
“She deserves someone who will be there all the time. Who can take her out on dates and make her feel as special as she deserves,” Tobin thought, shaking her head and willing the tears away. “She deserves something you can’t give her right now.”
“You couldn’t pay me enough money to put myself through dating long distance,” Christen added, her back straightening.
Those words were the final nail in the coffin. Any and all hope in Tobin’s heart was now extinguished. “I’m not enough,” Tobin thought to herself, all logic leaving her brain. “This whole time I’ve been feeling all of these things for Christen, and she hasn’t felt any of it.” Tobin knew her brain was spiraling. She knew her thoughts were irrational, but she couldn’t stop herself. Her mind was simultaneously flooded with negative self-talk and inundated with images of all the hopes she’d had with Christen. She’d hoped to be with Christen, to be Christen’s person. She’d dreamed of celebrating holidays together, of knowing how to cheer Christen up on sad days. She’d imagined what it would be like to hold Christen and kiss her, to show up to parties with Christen’s hand in hers. She’d gotten ahead of herself. And now, her mind was screaming, “You aren’t enough for her,” over and over again. “She doesn’t think you’re worth it. You’re just friends. You can’t be more than that.”
Tobin took deep breaths to ground herself. She needed to pull herself together, in order to survive the rest of this day at the beach. For a moment, she thought about Ubering back to her dad’s apartment, but her feet were still stuck in place in the sand.
“HAAAAARRRRRYYYYYY!!!!!!” Allie yelled, dragging her surfboard behind her on the beach.
All three Press sisters turned around, Channing’s mouth immediately dropping open, Tyler still sniffling softly, and Christen’s cheeks already red.
Tobin lifted her arm in an awkward wave, her mouth pulling up in a lopsided half-smile. She jogged toward Allie, letting her friend pull her into a tight hug despite the wet bikini that drenched Tobin’s clothes.
“I missed you, Harry,” Tobin whispered into Allie’s ear, channeling her emotions into Allie instead of Christen. She needed to choke down whatever disappointment she felt from Christen’s words before actually facing Christen and her sisters.
“I missed you too, dude,” Allie grinned, ruffling Tobin’s hair with her wet hands.
Tobin jerked back from Allie, her white t-shirt already wet enough for her bikini top to be seen through it.
“Hey, Tobs,” came a soft voice from behind her. Tobin’s eyes slammed shut, a ragged breath leaving her lips. It was Christen. Christen was behind her, and Tobin wasn’t sure if she was ready to face her. She could still feel the hurt and disappointment weighing heavily on her chest, and she was sure those emotions were palpable on her face. But if Allie caught her reaction, she had the good sense not to say anything. She simply squeezed Tobin’s shoulder and gave her a “we’re talking about this later” look.
Tobin nodded at Allie then set her shoulders, fixing an attempt at a smile on her face. She turned around right as Christen launched herself at Tobin, wrapping her arms around Tobin’s neck and pulling her into a hug.
“She smells better than I remember,” Tobin thought, sinking into the sweet mix of lavender and sunscreen and something completely unique to Christen that Tobin couldn’t name. As much as she knew it was going to hurt later on, Tobin turned her face into Christen’s neck, taking in this moment before it was gone.
“Hey,” Tobin sighed, wishing that the hug didn’t feel as amazing as it did, that Christen didn’t feel so soft and warm and good in her arms. “You’re her friend,” Tobin reminded herself. She stepped away from Christen, making sure there were several feet between the two of them. She needed to keep space, to keep the distance between them and keep herself from falling any harder.
The blush on Christen's cheeks was noticeable, even from a few feet away.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to ambush you,” Christen said, shooting a bashful half-smile at Tobin.
Tobin grimaced in response, waving a hand in the air.
“All good,” she replied, eyes looking anywhere but at Christen.
Tobin smiled at Tyler and Channing, not knowing whether a hug was in order or not. The five of them stood there, awkwardly, the tension between Tobin and Christen palpable to both Press sisters and Allie. Tobin had no idea what to say, struggling to find the right words and clear her throat of the lump that had shown up when she’d heard Christen’s denouncement of distance.
“Tobin, it’s so good to actually meet you,” Tyler said, her voice soft and tired.
“Ditto,” Channing chimed in.
“Yeah, you guys too,” Tobin said in response, mustering up as close to a real smile as she could for Christen’s sisters.
Before the silence could turn awkward again, Christen decided to speak up.
“You didn’t tell me you’d be coming here,” Christen observed, trying to catch Tobin’s eye.
“Surprise,” Tobin said weakly, lifting her hands up in mock surprise.
“Harry and her dad are looking at real estate this week for the new family house, and since it’s her birthday and her dad has to work, she’s partying at Casa Long this weekend,” Allie said, laying her arm over Tobin’s shoulders.
“It’s your birthday?” Christen asked, her brows furrowing.
Tobin didn’t miss the look of hurt that crossed Christen’s face.
“I don’t really celebrate it…” Tobin trailed off, wanting to take the disappointment off of Christen’s face. It didn’t really work, though, as Christen continued to look at her with confusion and hurt.
“Until now!” Allie said. “We’re gonna go on a birthday surf! STRIP STRIP STRIP!”
Whatever comfort Allie had been trying to give Tobin was clearly taking a backseat to her desire to catch waves.
Tobin dropped her flip-flops onto the ground under the umbrella and pulled her wallet out of her pocket. She’d forgotten a towel but figured she could borrow Allie’s or just dry off in the sun. She reached down to grab ahold of the hem of her t-shirt, ready to strip off her clothes and get into the water and away from the beach as quickly as possible.
“Hey there,” Christen grinned, bumping her shoulder into Tobin’s.
“Hi,” Tobin mumbled, letting go of her shirt and looking at Christen, that pang of hurt hitting her heart again. She moved her eyes away from Christen’s trying to avoid looking into the green eyes that had drawn her to Christen in the first place. “She’s just a friend. That’s what we need to be.”
“Why didn’t you tell me it was your birthday?” Christen asked, stepping just a bit closer to Tobin, wanting some semblance of privacy beneath the umbrella while her sisters and Allie stood a few feet away, Allie entertaining them with a story.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Tobin shrugged. “I’ve just never been a big birthday person. It’s not really my thing.”
“Fun fact, I am a HUGE birthday person,” Christen confided, still trying and failing to catch Tobin’s eye. It was like the brunette was purposefully avoiding her gaze and it compounded the confusion settling in Christen’s heart.
“I’ll try to remember that,” Tobin said, forcing a smile onto her face and meeting Christen’s eyes. “December 29th, right?” She didn’t need to ask. She knew. She’d imagined what it would be like to take Christen on a birthday date. She’d pictured the cake she’d attempt to bake for Christen and the dinner she’d probably have to order from a restaurant since she couldn’t cook herself. She’d pictured the gifts she’d get her and the way they’d spend the day. She’d- “It doesn’t matter anymore. She’s your friend. You can get her birthday presents and nothing more.”
“Correct,” Christen half-smiled, her eyes darting between Tobin’s. But what she saw there, the closed-off distant look, looked so foreign in Tobin’s brown eyes that Christen found herself pausing. She went to reach out for Tobin’s arm, to do something to bridge this weird divide she could feel between them, but she couldn’t. Her arms were rooted at her sides. “Are you okay, Tobs? You seem...different.”
“20 looks weird on me?” Tobin tried to joke, watching as it fell flat between them.
“Weird is definitely not the word I’d use,” Christen replied, her eyes glancing down at Tobin’s practically see-through, wet t-shirt, heat flooding her cheeks. She expected a flirty response, something the Tobin she’d been talking to the past few months would have said.
“Cool,” Tobin mumbled. “Thanks,” she said, so softly that she wondered if Christen had even heard her.
Christen’s stomach churned at the evasive response. “What in the actual heck is happening? Why is Tobin acting so weird?” Christen wondered.
“Um...so surfing. That’s all you want to do for your birthday?” Christen asked, hoping a change of topic would help get them back on track. Maybe this was just nerves, jitters from seeing each other in person again after all this time. Growing pains caused by moving from Facetimes and texts to in-person interactions.
“Yeah. It’s my favorite thing to do. I’m staying at Harry’s this weekend too, so we’ll probably watch some movies and kick the ball around or something. Just Harry and me,” Tobin shrugged, itching to leave this conversation before she shoved her foot deeper in her mouth. She couldn’t stand the look on Christen’s face, the awkwardness between them.
“Oh. Right, of course,” Christen replied, the sting of rejection following Tobin’s dismissive response.
There was no mistaking it, the clear avoidance and detachment in Tobin’s words. This went beyond growing pains and jitters. This was something else entirely and Christen was at a loss.
Tobin reached down, unbuttoning her shorts and slipping them down her legs. She kicked them off and dropped them on top of her shoes. She was finished waiting on Allie, and she had to get away from Christen before her heart exploded and begged for Christen to give long-distance a shot. She’d come to the beach today completely prepared to lay all of her feelings bare in front of Christen, but now she felt completely suffocated. She didn’t want to be rejected, not on her birthday. Worst of all, she didn’t want to be pitied when Christen did reject her, which, knowing Christen’s kind heart, she would be.
As Tobin’s hands reached for the hem of her wet t-shirt, Christen whirled around, wanting to give Tobin some privacy. She cleared her throat and wrung her hands together.
“So, maybe this is a total shot in the dark, but can I join you? Surfing or movie watching or something? Maybe convince you to love birthdays as much as I do?” Christen asked, cringing at the way her voice broke slightly with the final question.
“Sure, Christen. Whatever you want to do. I won’t stop you,” Tobin mumbled. Without waiting even a second, Tobin stalked down the beach, snatching Allie’s extra surfboard on her way to the water.
She didn’t want to wait around to see Christen’s face. She didn’t want to be lectured by Allie. All she wanted to do was feel bad for just a minute, to feel sorry for herself. She didn’t want to hang out with Christen, to flirt with Christen, to feel things for Christen, all the while knowing Christen would never want more than friendship.
Logically, Tobin knew that she was being incredibly selfish. She had been raised better than that. She’d been taught to be kind and accepting, to love others even if they couldn’t love her back in the same way. Still, for just a minute, for just a few moments, Tobin wanted to be selfish, to be hurt, to protect herself from any more pain.
Christen watched Tobin walk away from her, beyond confused and more than a little hurt. This was not the Tobin she’d grown to know these past few months, that she’d fallen for. This Tobin was cold and far away, slightly resembling the Tobin she’d faced off against in the NCAA semifinals all those months ago. But they’d grown so much since then, separately and together. Tobin had shown the depths of her heart, of her kindness, of her compassion. She’d been goofy and funny and sweet. She’d been everything Christen had dreamed she’d be and more.
But now, unlike that night in Orlando five months ago, watching Tobin walk away from her didn’t feel hopeful. As Tobin trudged towards the water, Christen had a sinking feeling in her stomach that was the complete opposite of hope.
“YO, PINOE!” Kelley called, wobbling on her surfboard despite the small wave.
Megan heard Kelley calling for her, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the shore. She’d just witnessed the most cringeworthy, the most awkward, the most horrific encounter ever and it had been between Christen Press and Tobin Heath.
“Pinooooooeee,” Kelley whined, paddling up next to Megan.
“The fuck you want? I’m busy!” Megan grumbled, eyes watching as Christen sank to the blanket spread out across the sand beneath the umbrella, and as Tobin made her way out to the waves.
“I just surfed fully standing up. I thought you’d be proud,” Kelley said, a small pout on her face. “What are we looking at?” She asked, now next to Megan and aware that her attention was elsewhere.
Megan looked over at Kelley and sighed, realizing she should just tell her what she’d seen, knowing there was no point in boxing Kelley out.
“Okay, K.O., here’s the deal. Something of epically terrible proportions just went down on that beach between Pressy and her lady lover. I have no fucking clue what happened because they’re so into each other it’s disgusting. But I’m gonna go figure it out.”
“Oh, Tobito…” Kelley sighed. “You know, my parent’s therapist is always talking about communication, and from what I’ve seen, Pressy and Toby are sorely lacking in that area.”
“That was...surprisingly thoughtful, K.O.,” Megan replied, nodding in Kelley’s direction.
“I’m gonna rip into Tobito,” Kelley said, determination on her face.
“From thoughtful to impulsive in two seconds,” Megan grumbled to herself. She reached out and pushed Kelley’s board so that they were facing one another. “The only ripping you’ll be doing is out in the water on these waves. Got it? And do not, I repeat, DO NOT talk to Tobin before I get the 4-1-1 from Pressy. Capiche?”
“Capoche!” Kelley cheered, already facing away from Megan and looking for her next wave.
“Such an idiot. Lovable idiot, but an idiot nonetheless,” Megan said to herself as she paddled away, headed right for the shore. She passed by Tobin, who barely acknowledged her, seeming to be in a world of her own. Megan hurried out of the water and up towards Christen.
“Pressy! I’m feeling a walk along the beach, join me?” Megan asked, her tone leaving no room for disagreement.
Megan held out her hand and latched onto Christen’s, dragging her away from her sisters and down the beach.
“Pinoe, I was comfortable. Why don’t you take Channing? She loves you,” Christen asked, her tone betraying the depths of her sadness.
“I love Chan Chan, but I need some Christen time, and you’re the Press I’m worried about right now,” Megan said, holding tighter onto Christen’s hand, worried that Christen might try to pull away.
Christen scoffed. “Worried? Why are you worried about me? I’m...I’m fine. I’m great.”
“Liar liar. If you were wearing pants they’d be on fire,” Megan teased. “So what did Tobin do this time?”
Christen paled and wrestled her hand away from Megan’s. She crossed her arms over her chest defensively.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Okay, what did you do this time?” Megan pressed, knowing that one of them had to have done something to create such a weird tension, a tension that Megan could feel all the way out in the water.
Christen pushed Megan’s shoulder, not appreciating the accusation. “What makes you think I did something?”
“You have your sad, ‘I did something but I don’t know what’ Pressy face on,” Megan said, bending down to pick up a shell.
With a heavy sigh, Christen kicked at the sand underfoot. “I don’t know. I...I must have done something, though,” she replied with a shrug.
Megan grabbed one more shell before the two continued walking down the beach. “I thought you’d be happy about Tobin surprising you and joining us at the beach. Allie and I had so much trouble keeping Kelley in the dark,” Megan chuckled.
“I was. I am! I-” Christen paused, looking sharply over at Megan. “You and Allie planned this?”
At the sheepish look Megan gave Christen, Christen groaned and ran a hand through her hair.
“You two need to let us work things out on our own. Not that we need to anymore...Tobin seems to have worked things out for the both of us,” Christen added a little bitterly.
“Oh did she profess her love finally?” Megan asked, regretting the question immediately when Christen stiffened next to her.
Christen’s eyes burned, tears threatening to fall at Megan’s question. She laughed sardonically, wiping at the few tears that escaped her eyes.
“Not at all.”
“Shit! Pressy, I’m sorry,” Megan backtracked, reaching her arm out to link through Christen’s.
“No, you’re fine. It’s not you,” Christen replied, leaning into Megan’s touch and smiling at her friend.
“What do you mean Tobin’s worked things out?”
Christen shook her head and looked out at the stretch of beach in front of them. It was just miles of sand and coastline, as far as the eye could see. Christen let the serenity of the view comfort her as the memories of her and Tobin’s earlier conversation ran through her mind.
“She seemed...different today. No flirting, no smiles, nothing. It felt like she just wanted to be friends. It felt like we’d gone right back to the semifinal game and everything we’ve gone through these past few months, getting to know each other and all that, didn’t even matter,” Christen admitted, her heart sinking as she realized that was exactly how Tobin had acted. Tobin was pulling away and Christen was clueless as to why.
“Are you sure she wasn’t just nervous? I mean that girl literally always has heart eyes for you on Facetime calls, and being in person might have scared her a little,” Megan said, giving Tobin the benefit of the doubt.
“They were M.I.A. today. She could barely even look at me,” Christen replied, another tear escaping her eye. She wiped at it quickly.
“Did you say something to upset her?” Megan asked, her eyebrows furrowing in concentration.
“I told her that I like birthdays and that I wanted to spend time with her this weekend. That’s it,” Christen replied, racking her brain for any clue as to what she could have done wrong, as to what she could have said to make Tobin treat her like this.
“Maybe she really hates birthdays and is in a funk…?” Megan wondered aloud. “I don’t know, but I can give her a talking to if you’d like.”
“Pinoe, don’t. Please?” Christen asked, looking over at Megan, her eyes pleading.
“All I’m saying is that Tobin Heath literally messages you all the time, looks like a love-struck puppy on Facetime with you, and ignores everyone else when you’re around. I don’t think one bad day should change how you feel about whatever you two have,” Megan said, putting all her logic behind her words and hoping her best friend would hear them.
Christen was quiet for a few moments, and then said, “She called me Christen.”
“Well, that is your name,” Megan laughed.
“Not to her, it isn’t. She always calls me Chris. Always. Something happened and I feel like she’s pulling away from me. What if she just wants to be friends? What if she showed up today to tell me that?” Christen rambled, her worries fueling her words.
All Megan could do was pull Christen in for a side hug and continue walking down the beach, both of them unsure of the answers to those questions.
“I showed up today planning on telling her about all of my feelings, planning to tell her that I like her as more than a friend, and then I overheard her and her sisters!” Tobin sighed, throwing herself back onto the surfboard and looking up at the sky.
“And they were talking mad shit about you, Harry?” Allie queried with a smirk, her arms atop her surfboard as she treaded water and looked at Tobin.
“Of course not. Chris would never talk bad about anyone,” Tobin sighed, the familiar nickname for Christen slipping through her lips without permission.
“So her sisters talked mad shit? Shocking if I do say so myself.”
“Shut up, Harry. Chris said that she could never do a long-distance relationship, that you couldn’t pay her enough money to be in one,” Tobin huffed, hating that a tear slid out of her eye and down her cheek.
That had Allie pushing her sunglasses up on her head and widening her eyes in Tobin’s direction.
“She said that to you? She said she doesn’t want to date you?” Allie asked, her tone full shock.
“Not in so many words,” Tobin mumbled.
“Nuh-uh, Harry. Don’t go reading into things that aren’t there,” Allie admonished, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction before sliding her glasses over her eyes.
“Fine, I overheard her saying it to her sisters, but she literally said that she thinks long-distance relationships aren’t even relationships at all, that they hardly count.”
“Huh, well that is a stumper…” Allie said, poking her tongue out of the corner of her mouth in thought. “C.P. clearly likes you, a lot. So maybe she just meant that long-distance with anybody else BUT you isn’t worth it?”
“She didn’t specify,” Tobin muttered. Her shoulders slumped as she looked at the clear sky overhead, wishing there were a few dark clouds in it to reflect her mood. “What if I’ve been reading her wrong this whole time?”
“Okay, enough with this mopey crap,” Allie said, splashing water up at Tobin. “How do you know if you didn’t talk to her about it? I heard you two lovebirds under the umbrella. C.P. sounded interested and you sounded like a dick.”
“Jeez, Harry. Way to be on my side,” Tobin spluttered, wiping at the water on her chest.
“Sweetie, I am on your side. Always,” Allie promised. “But sometimes you’re not even on your own damn side. You self-sabotage. I’m here to be your super sexy Jiminy Cricket, not tell you what you want to hear. And Harry? You were rude.”
Tobin sighed, knowing Allie was a little right but also knowing that she had reacted like that only to protect herself. She reached her hand out across the water and linked her fingers with Allie’s. “I know I was harsh on the beach,” Tobin admitted. “I was just hurt and caught off-guard. I didn’t want to cry in front of her either. I don’t want to make her feel bad if this isn’t something she wants to do.”
Allie squeezed Tobin’s fingers with her own. “And you have every right to feel that way. But have you considered that maybe you’ve got to show her that long-distance between the two of you can work? That she’s just scared? Fight for her, bish! The Harry I know doesn’t go down without swinging.”
Tobin moved her head to the side to look at Allie. Her brown eyes were heavy and lacking their usual light, something that had Allie softening.
“And what if she doesn’t want to do distance, even if I try to show her that I’m worth it?”
Allie sighed and hopped up onto her board. She sat facing Tobin and fixed Tobin with a hard, but caring, look.
“Lemme ask you a question.”
“Oh God,” Tobin sighed, looking back up to the sky and bracing herself for whatever Allie had to say.
“Is she worth it? The wait, the fight. Everything,” Allie said softly.
Tobin was a little surprised at the question, having expected something either inappropriate or R-rated.
“Of course,” Tobin replied, not waiting even a second to respond. She didn’t even need to think about it. Christen Press was worth everything.
Allie nudged Tobin’s leg with her foot and grinned. “Then why are you sulking? If she’s worth the wait, then wait. Be there for her until she’s ready. So why don’t you get your ass over to that beach and spend time with her?”
Tobin nodded, mulling Allie’s words over. “Can I do that? Can I wait?” It wasn’t so much a question of if Christen was worth it, but more so if that was something Tobin could do. But Tobin already knew the answer. She’d wait forever for Christen Press.
“I can be her friend. I can be by her side and be there for her. I can wait,” Tobin thought to herself, those promises reigniting the stubborn flame of hope in her heart. With a smile for Allie, Tobin started paddling immediately toward the shore, her brain finally free of all the negative self-talk.
“Thanks, Harry!” Tobin called back, not even turning around to look at her best friend. Her eyes were trained on the beach, on Christen as she made her way back to the umbrella, arm-in-arm with Megan.
At the end of the day, she wanted Christen in her life, in any capacity. She waited for the perfect wave to come before paddling harder and standing up on her board, making her trip to the beach a little bit quicker.
Allie shook her head, watching Tobin ride away to go get her girl. “Freshmen,” she grumbled good-naturedly. She was about to follow Tobin when a voice from her left scared the living shit out of her.
“Soooooo,” Kelley said, a large smile on her face.
Allie held a hand to her chest and breathed deeply, trying to calm her erratic heart.
“Literally, fuck you,” Allie said, flipping Kelley the bird which earned her a belly laugh from her teammate.
“Tobito’s going to wait for Pressy?” Kelley asked, her head jerking in the direction of the beach.
Allie looked to the beach with a smile. “As long as it takes,” she replied.