It's always for you
And never for me
And I need it to stop
So let me tell you, please
I'm always sad
And I'm always lonely
But I can't tell you
That I'm breaking slowly
Locked in, no keys
Keeping my feelings hidden
There is no ease
(Tobin - “feelings are fatal” by mxmtoon)
I tell myself that you can be replaced
I try with someone else but it's you that I taste
We go in circles on this rusty old ride
Maybe it's our time to say goodbye
Maybe it's our time
(Christen - “Mary Go Round” by The Struts)
SEPTEMBER - SOPHOMORE YEAR
Christen jerked herself out of bed, practically peeling her eyes open. Her alarm had been blaring for nearly thirty seconds, and she knew Megan, Crystal, and Kelley would start to wake up if she let it go off any longer.
The four of them had moved off campus into a townhouse for their sophomore year, and while Christen enjoyed the extra space, she did miss the proximity to campus. That being said, living off-campus had helped her learn to wake up and get out the door quicker than usual. Typically, she woke up around 6:00AM for classes, but this Sunday, she was up much earlier.
It was 4:45AM when she finally climbed out of bed, shuffled down the stairs, and into the kitchen. She fixed a pot of coffee, pouring herself a huge cup and stirring in her favorite oat milk creamer. She fixed her hair in a bun and climbed back up the stairs, hoping that her eyes were somewhat more alert by the time she got to her computer.
INCOMING FACETIME CALL: Tobin Heath
Christen grinned to herself and answered the call.
“Right on schedule, Heath,” Christen whispered, smiling at Tobin’s equally sleepy face, despite it being 7:55AM in Pennsylvania. Tobin was dressed in a baggy pajama shirt, her hair in her typical messy bun and her glasses sitting on her nose.
“I try not to disappoint,” Tobin chuckled. “Plus, I’m energized this morning.”
Christen hated that her heart sped up in her chest. “Was that flirty?” she wondered to herself. She’d been wondering that about almost everything Tobin had said to her since Tobin’s birthday in May.
They’d had a rocky start to their day at the beach, but after a quick surf with Allie, Tobin had come back to the beach to apologize for being weird. She’d blamed it on feeling jet-lagged and not loving attention on her birthday, and even though Christen had wondered about it being more than that, she hadn’t said anything initially. She hadn’t wanted to push it. But she would never forget what Tobin had said next…
“Chris?” Tobin whispered, her eyes fixed on the patterns she was tracing in the wet sand with her fingers. The two of them sat down the beach from the rest of their friends, enough for some semblance of privacy, but with a sizable distance between the two of them.
Christen let out a shuddery breath at the casual use of the nickname, not having realized that she’d missed Tobin using it. She also hadn’t realized how much it had hurt to not hear it from Tobin until right now.
She chanced a look over at Tobin before replying. The brunette appeared to be back to her old self. Ever since Tobin had returned to the beach, quietly asking Christen to join her near the water to talk, the distance between them had disappeared. She didn’t feel so far away anymore. But even the sight of the warmth back in her brown eyes and the goofy grin back on her face hadn’t completely dispelled Christen’s confusion about what had gone down earlier.
Sure, Tobin had apologized and explained it all away. She blamed her sour mood on jet lag and her dislike of birthdays. Yet, just like that night in Orlando, Christen knew she wasn’t getting the full story. Tobin was telling her half-truths and hiding the rest.
Christen sighed, her eyes moving out to the waves. It didn’t feel like that apology was enough to send them back in time to the gray area they’d once been in. It didn’t feel like they were once more hovering between friends and something more. It felt like the pattern Tobin was drawing in the wet ground was a literal line in the sand between them, communicating an unspoken message to Christen.
Christen dug her feet into the sand, feeling a flicker of stubbornness ignite within her. She wanted to push Tobin. She didn’t want to give in. She wanted to know why Tobin had this weird habit of treating her so coldly, like suddenly they were miles apart, like everything that happened between them didn’t mean anything.
But she didn’t do or say any of those things.
“What is it?” she replied, stiffening a bit as she felt Tobin scoot a bit closer to her.
“I - uh - I decided what else I wanted for my birthday,” Tobin said.
Christen nodded, waiting for Tobin to continue, unable to find the words to reply.
“I want to rewind and re-start today. I want to spend the rest of my birthday with my coolest friend -” Tobin paused, poking Christen’s calf with her finger, “-and forget about my jerk behavior from earlier. What do you say?”
Friend. The word echoed around Christen’s mind and heart. Tobin wanted to be friends. That was what she wanted for her birthday, just a friendship between them. If she hadn’t before, Christen was now getting Tobin’s message loud and clear. She was seeing the line in the sand and hearing her spoken request. And even if it hurt, even if it was disappointing, Christen couldn’t fight it. If Tobin wanted to be just friends, she could do that. She would do whatever it took to have Tobin in her life.
Christen pushed down her hurt, her disappointment, and fixed a smile on her face. She looked over at Tobin, thankful her watery green eyes were hidden behind her sunglasses.
“Of course, Tobs. It’s already forgotten.”
Christen didn’t mind waiting for Tobin, as long as she got to have Tobin in her life, something that she’d never regret. Tobin was becoming one of her closest friends. She could talk to Tobin about literally anything, aside from her romantic feelings. Those feelings were reserved for Megan and Crystal, occasionally Kelley and rarely Allie.
“Why are you energized this early in the morning?” Christen asked, her head cocking slightly.
“Arsenal is about to kick Chelsea’s ass, and I get to watch you get all upset when it happens,” Tobin yawned, reaching her arms over her head and leaning back into her pillows.
“Yeah right, Tobs. You’re gonna be the really disappointed one for the rest of the day,” Christen teased back, just wanting to see Tobin’s smile.
Tobin did smile, that sleepy smile that Christen absolutely loved. It made Christen’s heart speed up and breath catch in her lungs. It made her skin prickle and heat up. She knew that she should hold back all of her feelings, she had quite a few months of practice doing just that under her belt now, but sometimes she just couldn’t help herself.
“How about this,” Tobin stated, “If Chelsea beats Arsenal today, I’ll buy you coffee when we’re home for Christmas break.”
“Is that a date?” Christen thought to herself, wishing she hadn’t immediately. She couldn’t think about Tobin like that, not if she wanted to save herself from feeling perpetually hurt by the current status of their relationship.
“Hmmm...How about two coffees and some banana bread?” Christen wagered.
Tobin simply rolled her eyes. “Dream on, Chris.”
The two of them grew quiet as the game started. But, like every other game they watched together, Tobin had trouble focusing. She was always too distracted by Christen’s face, Christen’s laugh, Christen screaming “GOOOAAAAAL!” in the cutest way possible.
After their day at the beach, Tobin had promised herself to hide her feelings for Christen, at least enough that Christen could develop her own feelings for Tobin without Tobin’s interference. That being said, Tobin wasn’t always the best at hiding her feelings, her words sometimes slipping out and sounding flirtier than intended. Plus, she still hadn’t managed to get her “heart eyes,” as ARod called them, under control.
“Damn it!” Christen said, hiding her face in her sweatshirt.
“That’s 2 goals for me and nothing for you!” Tobin giggled, loving the way Christen looked in her ratty sweatshirt and glasses.
“Oh, are you an Arsenal player now?” Christen quipped.
“I’ve been an Arsenal fan since birth, so I think I’m an honorary player by now.”
“Chelsea still has time to catch up. Don’t underestimate them,” Christen warned.
“You’re cute,” Tobin thought to herself, almost speaking the words aloud.
“I’ll look out for a surge of greatness,” Tobin laughed.
Tobin didn’t care who won. Not really. Of course, she loved Arsenal, but if Chelsea won, then Christen would be oozing happiness, and Tobin loved seeing that more. She just wanted Christen to be happy, and she was prepared to do anything to make sure Christen would be. If that meant being captain of the friendzone, Tobin could do that, with a smile on her face to boot.
As the final whistle blew, Christen hung her head and dramatically groaned. “I really wanted that banana bread,” Christen complained.
“I guess I can make an exception,” Tobin replied, her eyes looking down at her hands.
A blush crept into Christen’s cheeks at the sly answer.
“In that case, I would also like to place an order for some blueberry scones too. Fun fact, I love a good scone,” Christen teased.
“Slow your roll there, Chris,” Tobin laughed, her eyes crinkling, finally meeting Christen’s. “What do I get for winning?”
Christen gulped. Despite their unspoken agreement to be friends, they had never really left the gray area they’d always occupied, the area between friends and friendlier. As much as Christen loved flirting with Tobin, she couldn’t deny that it was getting more and more painful to live in that gray area. It physically hurt to be Tobin’s friend while also harboring an unrequited crush for her. It was too early in the morning for Christen to be held accountable for her words. She needed to back them up to safer shores before she said something to Tobin that she’d regret. She couldn’t lose herself to her feelings.
“Whatever you want, Tobs,” Christen replied, her smile not really meeting her eyes.
“You,” Tobin thought to herself, shaking her head softly. She picked up her phone, exited the video, and started to type, aware of Christen’s soft huff on the other end of the line.
“I think I want a burger and fries. Think you can manage that when we see each other next?” Tobin teased.
Christen shrugged, slightly confused as to why Tobin had paused her video. “Um, sure. There are lots of great places we could go.”
Tobin clicked back to the video, a grin on her face. “My parents are loving L.A. so far, and Jeff says the weather is amazing. I hardly got to settle down at the house before I was flying here, so I’m gonna need a real Californian to show me the best places. I’m really picky about my burgers,” Tobin said, winking softly.
Christen’s brow furrowed even more. “Was that a wink? A wink?” Christen thought to herself, completely surprised. This was so far past the line in the sand they’d drawn over the summer. For someone who wanted to be friends, Tobin was still as flirty and sweet as she had always been. Christen couldn’t decide if Tobin was just a touchy-feely person or if there had been a misunderstanding at the beach. Despite her confusion, Christen felt herself smiling just a bit.
“I’m assuming you’d need a competent tour guide. Someone really familiar with the area, who knows all the best burger joints in town,” Christen said, joining Tobin in the gray area this morning. She’d blame it on sleep deprivation later.
Tobin hadn’t meant to wink. It had been an impulse, an impulse that she should have controlled. She knew she was probably giving Christen five thousand different mixed signals, and she hated that. She’d promised herself to just be Christen’s friend, but she also couldn’t always help the flirting. It came naturally around Christen. She loved seeing Christen blush at her compliments and grin at her stupid flirting. It was magnetic and addicting.
“Would you mind?” she asked, somewhat shyly. “I mean, I guess I could ask Allie, but she’s got really bad taste…”
Christen laughed. “That she does. I’ll check my schedule and see if I can pencil you in, Tobs.”
“I need you to check something else,” Tobin said, her grin growing even more.
“Your front door…” Tobin said.
“My front door?” Christen parroted, her stomach doing somersaults at the smile Tobin was giving her.
“Yep, go check the door. I just got an alert, and something is there.”
Christen huffed and threw her sheets off her lap. She decided to take Tobin with her as she left her room, went down the stairs, and approached the front door.
“What did you do, Tobin Heath?” she asked, her hand on the doorknob.
“I just wanted you to have a good morning since your team lost and all,” Tobin chuckled. “Plus, you’ve got to be alert for your home opener against Utah tonight.”
Christen narrowed her eyes at Tobin and then opened the door. She looked down at the doormat and felt herself melt at what she saw there: two Starbucks coffees and a bag that she was sure held a piece of banana bread. She was also sure that those coffees would be oat milk lattes, made just the way she liked them. Tobin Heath was making it really hard to just be friends.
“Tobs, what?” Christen asked, shaking her head as she bent over to collect the items off the front porch.
“Consider it my good luck message to you,” Tobin said, loving the way that Christen’s face had changed immediately when she saw the coffees. Tobin had been worried that she might be overstepping by ordering Christen breakfast, but Christen not wanting a long-distance relationship didn’t have to mean that she never wanted to be with Tobin. Tobin had decided to wait, but if she could make Christen smile and feel special in the interim, that’s what she wanted to do. If they could stay in the gray area, friendlier than regular friends, then maybe Christen would someday be ready to be more.
Christen felt like her heart was going to burst from her chest. This was one of the sweetest things anyone had ever done for her. But the fact that Tobin had done it? Well, it just made the gesture a thousand times sweeter. She knew she should quell the thoughts and feelings swirling around inside of her. In order to preserve their friendship and put aside her feelings for Tobin, she should do just that. But for a moment, she let herself revel in the gesture and everything it was doing to her heart.
“This is the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for me,” Christen admitted, smiling at Tobin.
“You know I’d be at the game if I could be, so I thought I’d at least try to do something nice,” Tobin said, feeling herself start to blush. She loved the way Christen looked at her, the way Christen spoke with such surprise at being cared for. She loved it too much, and she knew she’d acted more than just friendly.
“It’s what friends are for, right?” she added, hoping that Christen would do all the hard work and tell her that they were more friendly than friends would normally be, hoping that Christen would pull them out of this gray space that they found themselves in. She longed for clarity and for Christen to be the one to give it to her.
Christen’s face dropped just a bit, but she masked it quickly with another smile. “Right, the best of friends,” Christen replied.
Her heart ached in her chest. A familiar lump rose in her throat, and she forced herself to swallow it down. “I can’t do this,” Christen thought, staring at Tobin’s sweet face and goofy smile. There was no way that Christen could talk to Tobin and pretend that everything was okay, that she felt okay just being friends. Tobin couldn’t call her a friend and then turn around and buy her breakfast and flirt with her and text her all day. It was too much. It was too painful.
“When do you have to get ready for your game?” Tobin asked, quickly changing the subject, wanting to mask any disappointment she had at Christen’s response.
“It’s at 1, so I gotta get going actually,” Christen said, her voice tinged with sadness. “Are you gonna watch?” she asked, her tone a bit more reserved than normal.
“Of course I’m going to watch, Chris,” Tobin practically whispered. She needed Christen to know how much she cared, even if Christen wasn’t ready for a long-distance relationship just yet. “I’d never miss it. Getting to see you in action after all the training you did this summer? Sign me up!”
“Thanks, Tobs,” Christen smiled halfheartedly. If nothing else, they would always be able to go back to this, to soccer. It was their North Star, their common ground. Whenever Christen got bogged down with the what if’s, with the confusing feelings, with the uncertainty, she could always go back to the thing that had brought her and Tobin together in the first place.
“Always,” Tobin said, hoping the intensity in her eyes wouldn’t scare Christen away. She couldn’t help how serious she felt about Christen and the more she tried, the more she realized that she couldn’t hide her feelings completely. She couldn’t bury them out of sight totally.
“I’ll text you after,” Christen replied.
“Maybe you can call and we’ll rehash the game?” Tobin asked, hoping her request wasn’t too much. She just wanted to know that she’d hear Christen’s voice again that day.
Christen melted and nodded. She didn’t have the heart to say no. She didn’t have enough strength to tell Tobin that talking to her at the frequency that a girlfriend would was killing her slowly. Tobin was only looking to talk about soccer anyway, just like any friend would do. There was nothing more there and imagining there was would only serve to hurt her down the road.
“Of course,” Christen said, nodding a bit.
“Okay, well enjoy the coffee and have a great game,” Tobin grinned. “I’ll talk to you after.”
“Thanks again, Tobs. Talk to you later.”
With a small wave, Tobin hung up, set an alarm for 3:30EST, and went back to bed.
Christen always tried really hard not to look at the stands. She didn’t need the added pressure of knowing how many people were in the crowd, or just how many spectators would see if she made a mistake on the field. But for some reason tonight, as they lined up for the kick-off following Christen’s second goal of the night, their fifth total against Utah, Christen looked into the stands.
Her eyes ran over the collection of families and teammates’ parents, landing on the student section. It was a packed night, with it being their Pac-12 home opener, but one person caught her attention right away.
Christen’s brow furrowed as she tried to think about why the girl in the front row looked so familiar. She had striking red hair and was holding a handmade sign…
“Wait, that’s Starbucks girl,” Christen thought to herself. It was the girl who had come in during her morning shift, freshman year. The one who had shown up in two of her classes this semester. “Kayla? No...Kate, maybe?” Christen thought, trying to recall the girl’s name. She sat a few rows behind Christen in Spanish class and a few seats away in Statistics. They’d never spoken, not since that day in Starbucks a year ago. But the girl, Kate, often nodded or waved at Christen before classes. They’d shared occasional smiles too, usually when Kate was rushing out of class, always seeming like she had somewhere important to be.
Kate locked eyes with Christen and smiled. She waved then cheered loudly, shaking the handmade poster in her hands, causing Christen to focus on it. The poster read: I know you’re #23 on the soccer field, but what’s your other number?
The message made Christen blush and she hesitantly raised a hand to wave back at Kate. Megan jogged over, lining up next to Christen for the kickoff. Megan realized Christen’s attention was elsewhere and looked to the stands. Megan caught sight of the girl and the poster and rolled her eyes.
“Oooh Tobin’s got some competition, huh?” Megan teased, knocking her shoulder into Christen’s.
“Shut up, Pinoe,” Christen grumbled. She shoved Megan back and turned away from the stands, trying to refocus on the game.
The game ended with a score of 6-0, with Christen logging one more goal in the final minute of the game. It hadn’t been due to any real talent, just the right place and the right time. She hadn’t been able to do much more than go through the motions in those final minutes of the game, her thoughts consumed by Kate, her poster, and of course, Tobin.
“Can I get your autograph?” a voice asked, bringing Christen’s attention back to the autograph line she had in front of her. She and her teammates were seated at a long table, a line of fans and spectators waiting to get posters or balls or hats signed by the UCLA team.
Christen looked up and saw Kate standing right in front of her. Her eyes danced with a playful glint as she held out her poster to Christen. Christen took the poster, feeling her face flush.
“What would you like me to write?” Christen asked a little breathlessly.
The redhead grinned down at Christen. “If the message on the poster wasn’t clear enough, I’ll take the recipe for that cappuccino you made me last year. It was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had,” Kate replied. “Or your number, whatever you’re up for.”
Christen paused, her sharpie hovering over the poster. Her brow furrowed as she looked away from Kate. A tiny stab of pain pierced her heart, knowing this girl was flirting with her the same way a certain someone else would.
For some reason, she felt like she was cheating on Tobin by talking to this girl, by even entertaining the idea of giving away her number. But that was ridiculous. “You can’t cheat on someone you’re just friends with,” Christen reminded herself. That didn’t take the sting away, though.
That sting, that pain, was a constant reminder that her feelings for Tobin were as strong now as they ever had been. They couldn’t be, though. She couldn’t keep harboring a crush for Tobin, she couldn’t keep holding a flame for the Penn State forward. Her feelings for Tobin Heath were only serving to hurt her and the universe was giving her the opportunity to do something about them. The universe put Kate in front of her, with her cute sign and sweet smile, and challenged Christen to finally do something about her feelings for Tobin. It was time to put herself first, to choose herself. It was time to move on.
Christen was so deep in her own head, deliberating for so long, that a back-up had started to form in the autograph line.
“Yo, hurry up, Pressy!” Kelley called out from the start of the autograph table.
“Quit flirting and move it!” Ashlyn added, earning her a slap to the shoulder from Ali.
Christen blushed and snapped out of it. She looked back up at Kate, a sheepish grimace on her face.
“Sorry about them. How about I…” Christen trailed off. She took a deep breath and reminded herself that it was time to move on. It was time to put Tobin out of her heart and her mind as anything more than a friend. “Um, how about I show you the recipe for the cappuccino? Wait for me outside the locker room?” Christen replied, with a small, shy smile.
Her answer was apparently the one Kate was looking for. She grinned down at Christen and nodded.
“Okay,” Kate hummed, moving down the autograph line. Once she was gone, Christen let out a long breath. She was surprised at herself. She didn’t flirt with other girls, only Tobin. Not recently, but still. For almost a year, she’d been so wrapped up in everything Tobin Heath that she’d never even considered anyone else. Not that she would want to. She wanted Tobin.
But Tobin had made it perfectly clear they were just friends. There was nothing more than that between them. So maybe Christen should allow herself the opportunity to try and move on. Maybe this girl was a way to do that. Maybe the pit in her stomach would go away if she ignored it in favor of getting coffee with Kate.
Tobin looked at her phone for the third time that night. Nothing. She let out a soft sigh and refocused on her computer, determined to write her Art History paper ahead of the due date and finish it with several days to spare. It was so unlike her, she wondered if Christen was rubbing off on her.
Just like she’d promised, Tobin had watched the game earlier and cheered every time Christen scored. Tobin wasn’t always a big fan of watching other college teams play, but watching Christen play had quickly become one of her favorite things to do. It wasn’t hard to enjoy watching Christen kill it on the soccer field. She was just so naturally gifted, both athletically and with the ball at her feet. Tobin could only find one word to describe it - magic. Christen Press was magic personified.
While watching the game, Tobin had done some mental math and determined that Christen would be calling her around 7:00 or 7:30PM EST, maybe a little later if she decided to go to dinner first. She loathed to admit it, but she’d been glued to her phone the moment the clock struck 7:00.
It was now 9:47PM EST, and Tobin was slightly concerned. Christen wasn’t one to forget. She never forgot to call or text if she promised. Tobin’s eyes drifted to the clock at the top of her computer again: 9:48PM.
She sighed before closing her computer, knowing she wouldn’t get any more work done. Instead, she lifted herself out of bed, slipped on a pair of sneakers, grabbed her soccer ball and cleats, and jogged to the practice fields. She juggled, dribbled, and shot, happy to be on her own, practicing in the dark. The field had always been her place. It was where she found peace, where she found clarity. But tonight, peace and clarity were elusive.
She’d been practicing at night more than usual, trying to work out her feelings, trying to calm her anticipation. She was officially pining over Christen, just waiting for Christen to want to try a long-distance relationship, just waiting for a day when they would no longer be so far apart. Tobin took a few short steps toward the ball, kicking it toward the goal and hitting the post. She jogged after the ball flicking it up into the air and juggling it with her knees. She took a few deep breaths, catching the familiar smell of fresh grass. “Settle down, Tobs. She’s worth waiting for. Just be her friend, and someday maybe she’ll want more than that,” Tobin thought to herself, kicking the ball into the air and catching it in between her shoulder blades.
When she got back to her dorm room, Alex and Lindsey were already both in their separate rooms. She quietly walked through their suite and into her own room. That had been the best part about sophomore year, getting her own space. She threw herself onto her bed, her legs already tired and ready for bed. Her phone read 10:33PM.
“I think she’s forgotten,” Tobin thought, hating the way her heart dropped in her chest. “Nothing left to do but go to sleep and get up for morning practice.” So, she did just that. She washed her face, brushed her teeth, and curled up under her covers, hoping for a dreamless night’s sleep.
“And I seriously thought we were going to die!” Kate laughed, holding her slice of pizza in her hands still.
Christen laughed, still amazed that she was enjoying her night with Kate, more than she’d expected. At first, she’d worried that it would be awkward or that she’d feel guilty the entire time, but after reminding herself that she and Tobin were not together, she was able to set Tobin in the back of her mind and focus almost all of her attention on Kate.
“That sounds like an amazing trip,” Christen mused, sipping on her water.
“It was amazing. It really made me love Nicaragua, but it’s nothing compared to Costa Rica,” Kate continued, already moving onto another topic.
Kate was easy to talk to, mainly because Christen didn’t have to talk much. Kate did a lot of the talking, enjoying Christen’s reactions, especially enjoying whenever she could make Christen laugh.
The two of them had left the soccer field and walked around campus for over an hour, each holding their own cup of Christen’s famous cappuccino and talking casually about the game and their classes. It wasn’t until Christen’s stomach had grumbled that Kate had suggested they should stop somewhere for dinner. Ever cautious, Christen hadn’t wanted to hop into Kate’s car and leave the safety of campus, so she’d suggested a pizza place close enough to walk to so they could enjoy the early fall evening.
Kate was very different from Tobin. She wasn’t quite so goofy, some of her actions seeming somewhat performative, but who didn’t perform on a first date...if you could call walking to a pizza place post-soccer game with a practical stranger a date. She was more uptight than Tobin, not as relaxed. Tobin’s entire aura was chill, her voice, posture, and personality completely calm. She set Christen at ease. Kate didn’t put Christen on edge by any means. She just didn’t have the same calming effect that Tobin did.
The differences didn’t stop there. Kate was always in motion, always gesturing with her hands or moving around, her rushed pace not just reserved for exiting the classroom. Kate ordered a pizza on a cauliflower crust, and Christen almost laughed out loud just because she thought about Tobin’s reaction to that order. She probably would call cauliflower crust an indictment against the whole institution of pizza. Kate hated soda, and even though Christen also avoided soda, she couldn’t help but think about Tobin’s sweet tooth and the night they’d first spoken and shared ice cream. Tobin’s ice cream had been so incredibly sweet.
But despite all those differences, Kate was nice and funny and confident. She had pulled out Christen’s chair for her when they were seated, and cracked jokes like it was the easiest thing in the world. She was brazen and so sure of herself. She was also very sure about what she wanted. Another difference between her and Tobin. Where Tobin was unsure and hesitant when it came to the idea of them, Kate was confident.
Kate reached across the table and laid her hand atop Christen’s, bringing Christen’s focus back to her.
“Where’d you go just now?” Kate asked.
Christen forced herself to relax, to find comfort in the feeling of Kate’s hand on her own. She must have been taking too long to respond, because Kate squeezed Christen’s hand and tried again.
“Chris? You okay?”
“Please don’t call me that,” Christen said without hesitation. She shouldn’t have sounded so gruff, but Chris didn’t sound good coming from Kate. That was Tobin’s name for Christen, even her friends referred to her as Pressy or Press, even C.P., but not Chris. Chris was for Tobin only.
“Oh, sorry,” Kate said, her cheeks blushing softly as she retracted her hand.
Christen immediately regretted snapping at Kate, it wasn’t her fault that Christen was sensitive about the nickname. This was not turning out to be a great date, and it was all because of her. She had been terrible, oftentimes lost in her own thoughts and only half paying attention to Kate when she talked.
Christen smiled at Kate, shaking her head slightly. “Don’t. I should be the one saying sorry. I...I haven’t been on a first date in a long time and I think I forgot how to do this,” Christen admitted sheepishly.
Kate returned Christen’s smile. “That’s hard to believe. You’re gorgeous, brilliant, a great soccer player. I was worried I’d be fighting to just get your attention.”
With a laugh, Christen felt the tension in her shoulders loosen and the last vestiges of her thoughts about Tobin completely move to the back of her mind. She eyed Kate, almost like she was seeing her for the first time. It was as if she finally had given herself permission to look at Kate and see her for everything she was, not for everything she wasn’t in comparison to Tobin.
“Nope, you’re the only one,” Christen replied, surprising herself at how not bitter she sounded. Sure, it still stung to know that the person she truly wanted to be with, the person she’d been falling for for over a year, just wanted to be friends. She wasn’t sure how long it would take not to feel some semblance of hurt over that. But as she sat there looking at Kate, Christen had the sneaking suspicion that maybe this girl sitting in front of her could help her get over those feelings. If nothing else, Kate could be the perfect distraction as Christen did her best to bury her feelings for Tobin deep within a small corner of her heart.
“And you’re not half as bad at this as you think you are,” Kate said smoothly, a cocky grin on her face. “But just to be safe, maybe we should do this again sometime?”
Christen found herself nodding, an actual genuine smile on her face at the prospect of going out with Kate again.
“I would really like that,” Christen shot back, watching as Kate’s face lit up with her response.
Kate didn’t let her pay for dinner, citing something about chivalry and being a gentlewoman as the reasons why Christen wasn’t allowed to split the bill with her. They ambled slowly back to campus, trading jokes and light conversation as they headed toward the soccer stadium. As they approached, Christen noticed that the stadium lights were now on, the field illuminated under the bright lights as the sun set in the distance.
“I think this is my cue,” Kate commented, reaching the door of the locker room. She turned to face Christen, a flash of nerves crossing her face for the first time. “I’ll see you in Spanish tomorrow morning?”
Christen nodded, her fingers toying with her car keys on her UCLA Soccer lanyard.
“Can’t wait,” Christen replied with a smile.
Kate hesitated, looking like she wanted to pull Christen in for a hug, but also a bit unsure as to if she should or not.
Christen made the choice for the two of them. She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Kate’s middle. The redhead was a bit taller than her, and she felt Kate’s arms curl around her shoulders, returning the hug.
Kate wasn’t warm like Tobin. She didn’t smell like pine and mint and eucalyptus. Instead, Kate used vanilla perfume and almond conditioner, two scents that Christen liked but didn’t love. But maybe she could grow to love them.
Kate stepped back and gave Christen one last smile, her confidence returning as she swaggered away.
As Christen made her way to her car, she didn’t feel that ache in her chest that she always felt when she left Tobin. “You just met her. You have to build feelings for someone. That’s why you go on multiple dates,” she thought to herself.
She didn’t remember until she’d already brushed her teeth and changed into her pajamas, but when she did, her stomach dropped rapidly. She hurriedly jumped into bed and opened up her phone.
Tobin answered on the fifth ring.
“Hello?” Tobin whispered, her voice foggy with sleep.
“I am so so so sorry, Tobs,” Christen said, her words shaky and genuine.
“Hey, Chris. It’s fine,” Tobin mumbled.
“Were you asleep?” Christen asked, checking the time on her watch.
“Mhm,” Tobin mumbled, turning in her bed, the sheets shuffling audibly. “I have a morning practice.”
“Oh, Tobs. I’m sorry I woke you up,” Christen sighed, lightly smacking herself in the forehead.
“All good. You played really well today, Chris,” Tobin said, her voice calm and relaxed, still slightly tinged with sleep.
Christen couldn’t tell if there was a hint of sadness in it too. She thought there might have been, but before she could listen for more, Tobin’s voice had changed.
“That first goal was awesome!” Tobin enthused, shifting her attention to soccer in the hopes of ignoring the disappointment she felt at not being at the forefront of Christen’s mind post-game.
“Thanks,” Christen said shyly.
“Did you have a nice night?” Tobin asked.
“Yeah, it was fine,” Christen responded, hoping Tobin would talk more about the game and ask fewer questions.
“What did you do? Anything fun?” Tobin pressed, now sounding more awake.
Christen paused, unsure how to answer. She didn’t know why, but telling Tobin she’d gone out with Kate, that she’d agreed to another date, that she’d hugged Kate, that all felt like something she needed to hide.
“I, umm...I went to dinner with a friend,” Christen said finally, lying down in her own bed and pulling the sheets up to her chin.
“Megan and Crystal?” Tobin asked, her curiosity getting the best of her.
“No...you don’t know her. She doesn’t play soccer,” Christen said, feeling that same pain in her heart. “You aren’t cheating on Tobin. You aren’t even dating Tobin,” Christen reminded herself. “You’re allowed to see other people.”
“Oh, cool,” Tobin whispered, her voice catching in her throat. “I missed you,” she whispered, so softly that Christen wondered if she’d actually heard her correctly.
“I missed you too, Tobs,” Christen whispered back.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, just listening to each other breathe, neither wanting to break the tension or ruin the moment.
“I need some sleep before practice tomorrow,” Tobin said, finally ending the silence.
“Of course, sorry,” Christen replied.
“You played a great game,” Tobin yawned. “Night, Chris.”
“Good night,” Christen whispered into the dark, waiting for the line to go dead before she rolled over in bed.
Sleep remained elusive for Christen for a long while, she just couldn’t turn off her brain. She was obsessively worrying about the fact that she’d lied to Tobin, not directly but out of omission. She also worried about the fact that she’d gone on a first date and was entirely torn about how to feel about it.
A part of her was embarrassed and annoyed with herself. She shouldn’t be going around and dating other girls when her heart clearly belonged to another. She should remain faithful to the feelings in her heart, faithful to Tobin.
But the other part of her, the stronger part currently, was stubborn and very convincing. This part of her rationalized that it was no use being faithful to Tobin while Tobin just wanted to be friends. It was self-sacrificing and painful to do so. With Kate, there was a chance to move past all of that. She could get over Tobin by getting with someone else. It was the oldest trick in the book and seemed to work for others, so why not for her?
Her head was convinced, but her heart was holding out. Maybe the butterflies in her stomach weren’t as powerful when Kate smiled at her, maybe her skin didn’t tingle when Kate hugged her, but maybe that would change with time.
As Christen felt sleep overtake her, she only wished that her heart would catch up with her head.
Tobin’s heart was still racing, her forehead dripping with sweat and her baby hairs sticking to her face.
“Jesus, Tobin! I swear you’re even faster than last year,” Alex panted next to her.
“Makes sense. She literally lives on the field or in the gym these days,” Lindsey gasped, squeezing her water bottle and sending a stream of water into her mouth.
“I want to win it all this year,” Tobin sighed, laying back onto the grass and looking up toward the sky, shielding her face with her forearm.
“I mean me too, but I’d like to be alive to hold that trophy,” Sonny wheezed, throwing herself onto the ground next to Tobin.
“Yeah, Toby. You sure you aren’t working a little too hard?” Alex asked, her voice softening with worry.
“I’ve never felt better,” Tobin lied.
Physically Tobin was at the top of her game. She’d never been as fit as she was this semester, partly because she wanted to win but mostly because she spent all her time working out in order to focus on something other than Christen Press.
Christen had been more distant than usual. They still talked every day, but their texts were less constant. Mainly, they waited to call until both of them were in bed at night, both sleepy and whispering in the dark. They caught up on each other’s weeks, discussing school work and soccer more than anything else. Tobin was Christen’s sounding board for all of her worries. She let Christen vent without complaint or judgement, and Tobin was certain that Christen would do the same whenever Tobin needed her.
Emotionally though, Tobin didn’t feel quite as strong. She felt like any minute she’d combust with the feelings she hadn’t yet shared with Christen, like she’d explode if she had another conversation with Christen about free kicks instead of the crush she’d had for more than a year. Feeling further away from Christen than she had over the spring semester of freshman year was troubling, and Tobin kept wondering if something was going on that she was just too blind to see. Not only that, but Christen was slowly becoming her best friend, her person, and it was killing Tobin to have a secret from the one person she wanted to share everything with.
“Tobin!” Coach Parlow called from across the field.
“See you guys later,” Tobin groaned, rolling over onto her stomach and pushing herself off the ground. She jogged over to her coach, feeling the familiar post-practice ache in her legs.
Coach Parlow beamed at Tobin as she arrived. “I got good news, Heath,” she said, clapping her hands together excitedly.
“You’re giving us a weekend off?” Tobin teased, grinning a lopsided smile.
“Never,” Coach Parlow replied with a wink.
“Worth a shot,” Tobin shrugged. “What’s up?”
“The coaches are going to be voting next week on the All-American first and second teams. I nominated you way back in August, and after what I’ve seen since, you’re a shoo-in for the first team. You’re leading the league in points and have the most goals on the team. Just have another great game against Minnesota on Friday and the All-American title is yours, all right?” Coach Parlow patted Tobin on the shoulder.
Tobin’s chest felt like it was inflating, like she’d bubble up from inside if she didn’t celebrate or tell someone her news. A part of her felt like she might jinx it if she told someone, but the more dominant part wanted to yell it across campus. She’d been working so hard all semester, harder than she’d ever worked, and she felt a sudden urge to cry. Not sad tears. She just felt an urge to let out all that she’d been holding in, to let out tears of relief because she was actually doing well. Better than just well. She was playing like an All-American.
“I won’t let you down, Coach,” Tobin said, holding in her emotions.
“Don’t let yourself down. You earned it, Heath. Now hit the showers.”
Tobin was buzzing all the way to the locker room, her heart hammering in excitement and a warm-up song bouncing around in her head. She knew exactly who she wanted to tell first. Tobin pulled out her phone, ignoring the rest of her teammates who were showering, changing, and gathering up their stuff.
MISSED CALL AND VOICEMAIL: Christen Press
Tobin almost called Christen back immediately, her finger hovering over Christen’s contact, but then she remembered that Christen had a Psychology exam that she was either studying for or currently stressing about, and Tobin didn’t want to interrupt. Instead, she clicked play on the voicemail and listened, sinking into Christen’s soft and sweet, albeit a bit stressed sounding, voice:
“Hey, it’s me. Obviously. Anyways, hi. I hope your Wednesday was amazing. I just thought I’d try you earlier than I usually do, but you’re obviously busy with practice or something. I just...it’s been a week, Tobs. I screwed up a Stats quiz and can’t wrap my head around the Psych stuff for Friday’s exam. On top of that, I can’t seem to find my groove on the field. Every shot I take feels wrong coming off my foot and I haven’t been able to find the net. Everything just feels messed up and I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. I just need to talk to you. You’re the only one who ever knows what to say to make me feel like the sky’s not falling down around me. I’ll talk to you tonight, Tobs. Miss you.”
Tobin sighed, hating the crestfallen and stressed-out way Christen had spoken in the voicemail. It made her chest tighten with worry. She quickly clicked over to their messages and typed furiously.
[Tobin Heath 7:18PM]
Hey, Chris. Sorry I was at practice, and Coach Parlow wanted to talk to me after practice for a few minutes.
[Tobin Heath 7:18PM]
I’m so sorry you’re so stressed. I wish I could actually do more to help you than just being your sounding board.
[Tobin Heath 7:19PM]
I’m sure the Stats quiz didn’t go as poorly as you think, and you’re gonna kill the Psychology exam. You’re the smartest person I know and you’ve got two nights to prep. If it’ll make you feel any better, we can study tonight and tomorrow night too. I’ll call out flashcards or ask you questions.
[Tobin Heath 7:20PM]
As for soccer, everyone has good and bad moments. I swear last Spring I had like two months where I thought the ball hated me! We can practice this too, though. We can Facetime on the weekends and run drills on our own. No worries. You’re your biggest critic, Chris, when in reality, you’re amazing. One of the best. Just be patient with yourself.
[Tobin Heath 7:20PM]
I miss you too, Chris. So so much...
[Tobin Heath 7:21PM]
Maybe we can talk after the group Facetime call tonight? I’m free for the night now. I have some news to tell you too, so maybe we can catch up.
Tobin waited a few minutes to see if Christen was holding onto her phone and might text back or call immediately. When she didn’t, Tobin stuffed her phone back into her bag and walked back to the showers, her brain spinning with her own excitement and worry for Christen.
Christen surveyed her outfit in the mirror’s reflection - a pair of blue jeans, a black sweater, and some black booties. Simple, but dressy enough for date night.
As she sat down at her desk, her makeup spread out in front of her, she heard three sets of footsteps hurrying up the stairs. Sighing, she tried to focus on applying mascara but was quickly interrupted by the door to her room opening.
“Fan out, roomies,” Megan said, leading the pack as she, Crystal, and Kelley entered Christen’s room. The three of them stood in a half-circle between Christen and the door, all of them fixing Christen with stern looks.
Christen continued to apply mascara, not bothering to look up. She knew this was coming, the inevitable confrontation. She’d been keeping her private life very private this past month, especially from her roommates. She’d been seeing Kate on the down-low and her roommates were none the wiser. All they knew was that she stayed out late some nights and ignored their constant badgering for answers. But it seemed that tonight, the three of them had decided enough was enough.
“You could have knocked,” Christen muttered, capping the mascara and looking down at her lipstick options.
“You could stop sneaking around behind our backs,” Megan shot back, her arms crossed over her chest defensively.
“Yeah, that’s just hashtag rude, Pressy. I thought roomies didn’t have secrets from each other,” Kelley added, her words tinged with hurt.
“We’re also just worried about you,” Crystal added sweetly, trying to soften the blows Megan and Kelley seemed intent on dishing out.
Christen hung her head, knowing her friends were making some excellent points. Initially, she hadn’t said anything because this thing with Kate was really casual and didn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. But as time passed, as casual dates turned into day-trips to the beach and fancier dinners, Christen had remained just as quiet about the whole thing. If she thought long and hard about it, she knew why she hadn’t told them about Kate. She knew they would be confused. She knew they would be upset that she was dating someone else while still holding a flame for Tobin. Most of all, she knew they would be disappointed in her and she wasn’t ready to deal with that. But even if she wasn’t ready, it didn’t seem like she had the choice to ignore her friends any longer.
Christen turned to face her friends, her eyes narrowing in Kelley’s direction. “I take it Pinoe and Crystal told you about the secret Sour Patch Kids stash we keep hidden from you then, Kel? Or are my secrets the only ones you guys have an issue with?”
Kelley scoffed and looked between Megan and Crystal, disbelief on her face.
“A secret stash? No way. I’d sniff that shit out so quick,” Kelley said. But Kelley’s confidence waned when she saw the sheepish looks on Megan and Crystal’s faces.
“Pressy, you traitor!” Megan huffed, dropping her hands off of her hips.
“You guys SUCK!” Kelley announced, crossing the room and flopping onto Christen’s made bed. “But that doesn’t mean we’re done talking about you, Pressy,” she added.
“Yeah, don’t avoid the intervention, Pressy,” Megan said, joining Kelley on the bed.
“We’re worried about you. What’s going on? Why are you sneaking around?” Crystal said softly.
“I’m fine. Really. I…” Christen trailed off. She looked between her friends, feeling defeat creep up on her, knowing she’d probably need to come clean with them tonight.
“You’re dating someone,” Megan supplied.
Christen blanched and turned back to her makeup, her silence enough of an answer for her roommates.
“You didn’t put mascara on after practice at the beginning of the school year, and now you do all the time, so either you’re sleeping with someone, you have a girlfriend, or both…” Kelley added, feeling proud of herself for joining in on Megan’s train of thought.
“We’re not sleeping together and she’s not my girlfriend,” Christen huffed sharply.
“Sure, just like Pinoe wasn’t screwing Sue. And look at them now, basically wifed up,” Kelley replied, winking at Megan, earning her the bird in return.
“This has been going on for like a month? Is it the same girl?” Crystal asked, ignoring her other roommates and focusing completely on Christen.
Christen sighed, deciding to just bite the bullet. “Yes, it’s been a month. Yes, it’s the same girl. No, it’s not serious. At all. Not like Sue and Pinoe.”
“What happened to Tobin?” Crystal asked, her lips turning down in a frown. “Did you just get over that crush and move on?”
Christen felt her throat thicken at the mention of Tobin’s name. Her eyes started to burn, so she blinked them quickly, hoping the looming threat of tears would recede.
“Tobin wanted to be friends, so we’re friends. End of story,” Christen explained, avoiding answering if she’d gotten over Tobin. She knew she still wasn’t over the Penn State forward, even after going out with Kate for the past month. Kate was fun and sweet and nice, but she wasn’t Tobin.
“I don’t know a lot about Tobin, but she doesn’t look at you like she just wants to be friends,” Megan snorted. “She looks at you like she wants to make lov-”
“She doesn’t just want to be friends, but I’m sure you dating someone else hasn’t made her feel all that confident,” Crystal interrupted. “What did she say when you told her about this new girl?”
Christen’s cheeks flamed. Crystal had inadvertently brought up something she’d been so keen to avoid. She hadn’t actually gotten around to telling Tobin about Kate. How could she? What would she even say? “Hey Tobin, I’m dating this other girl in hopes of getting over this silly crush I have on you, which isn’t actually working all that well, but I keep hoping it will.”
“You haven’t told her,” Kelley deadpanned, her jaw practically dropping.
“I - uh - well,” Christen stuttered, feeling a flush creep up her neck as her stomach rolled.
“You literally talk to her every night before bed. We all hear you two,” Megan said, eyes narrowed in Christen’s direction. “It hasn’t come up once?”
Christen sniffled, the burn of tears almost excruciating at this point. She dropped her eyes to her hands in her lap, her fingers flexing and fidgeting.
“I can’t...she’s the reason I’m dating Kate in the first place. It’s the only way to get over her, which I clearly am still working on doing,” Christen explained, wiping at the lone tear that escaped her eye, hoping her mascara wasn’t completely ruined.
“Oh, sweetie,” Crystal cooed, seeing Christen’s eyes starting to water.
“You could get under Tobin instead,” Kelley choked out before Megan dragged her from the room to give Christen some privacy with Crystal.
Christen’s tears began to fall faster now, there was nothing to stop them. The dam had broken.
“It’s the only way, Crys. What else was I supposed to do? Liking her just hurt too much,” Christen whispered, her arms lifting to wrap around her middle protectively.
“Do you like this girl? Or are you just hoping to like her?” Crystal asked quietly, kneeling on the ground in front of Christen, her hands placed gently on Christen’s knees.
“I could like her. Maybe. She’s great,” Christen hiccuped.
“Do you think you’ll ever like her the way you like Tobin?” Crystal practically whispered, her fingers rubbing soft circles on Christen’s kneecaps.
“No!” Christen’s heart screamed in protest. “The way I feel about Tobin, I’ll never feel this way about anyone else.”
But Christen didn’t voice that. She merely looked up at Crystal with sad eyes and shrugged, unable to find the words.
“I’m not going to judge you for going out with this girl, with Kate, but I want you to do it because it feels right. I wish you’d told me instead of sneaking around. I wish I’d made you feel comfortable enough to tell me,” Crystal sighed.
“I didn’t know how to tell the captains of the Preath ship that their ship had sunk, under friendly fire from Tobin no less. I didn’t want to disappoint you guys,” Christen replied, grabbing a tissue from her desk and running it under her eyes, trying to salvage the little makeup she’d put on for her date.
“I may love the Preath ship, but I love you more. You’re my best friend, and if Tobin isn’t what will make you happy, then I’ll no longer captain that ship. But, I think she does still make you happy…” Crystal trailed off. “I don’t know if you or Tobin have really given it as much of a chance as you need, but it’s not my place. If you want to date Kate, then give me time and maybe I’ll captain the ChrisKate ship. We’ll work on the name.”
Christen smiled at Crystal, her chest warming at the depths of her friend’s kindness. “Thank you. I’m sorry I snuck around, I won’t anymore.”
“Good. Let’s clean up that mascara before she gets here,” Crystal said, reaching out for a makeup wipe.
She and Crystal managed to salvage her makeup and reapply where necessary before the doorbell rang. Crystal shot her an excited smile as the two of them left Christen’s room and headed downstairs.
“Not-Tobin’s here,” Megan said with a saccharin smile, her arms crossed over her chest as she stood near the front door.
Christen rolled her eyes and opened the front door, not seeing the pinch Crystal gave to Megan’s arm in retaliation for her snarky comment.
As the door swung open, Christen saw Kate on the front porch, a bouquet of red roses in her outstretched hand. Kate was beaming at her and Christen wished for a flutter in her heart or butterflies in her stomach, but she only felt a small twinge of guilt. She didn’t even like roses. She’d grown up thinking that roses were overrated. Her favorites were orange and pink dahlias, something only her mom and Tobin knew. It had been an early fun fact she’d told Tobin, and she was sure that Tobin wasn’t going to forget something like that, even if they were just friends.
“Hi,” Christen said, taking the roses from Kate and smiling at the redhead.
“Hi yourself,” Kate winked, stuffing her hands into her front pockets.
“Thanks for the flowers. You’re very sweet,” Christen mumbled, aware of the audience she had.
“You’re welcome,” Kate replied. Her eyes moved to the congregation of people in the hallway behind Christen and her smile grew. “Hi, Christen’s roommates.”
Crystal was the only one to acknowledge Kate, offering the girl a small wave. Megan and Kelley glared in Kate’s direction, their distaste quite evident.
“Wow, roses. This totally isn’t serious,” Megan scoffed, rolling her eyes.
“Red roses mean only one thing,” Kelley said, shoving a handful of popcorn into her mouth. “Seriousness,” she added, the word garbled around the popcorn.
“Okaaaay, let’s go,” Christen said, handing the flowers to Crystal and practically dragging Kate out the door behind her. “Don’t wait up!” she called to her roommates.
As she got into Kate’s Jeep, she felt her phone vibrate from inside her purse, but she ignored it. It was probably just Megan or Kelley trying to get in one last word.
Tobin’s hair had finally dried after her shower, some of the strands wavier than others, since she’d been sitting in bed since practice had ended. She pulled on her favorite sweatshirt, opting for comfort over something cute. Christen had already seen her at the crack of dawn, in her glasses, with bedhead, so she wasn’t too concerned about looking flawless for group Facetimes.
[Harry 😜 9:53PM]
I’m gonna call in a second. Just got back to my apartment.
Cool. I’m free whenever
Tobin sat back in her bed, scrolling back through her messages to Christen. It wasn’t like Christen to ignore so many messages for such a long amount of time, especially since Christen had been the one to call and leave a voicemail in the first place. Tobin couldn’t help but feel a little worried that Christen was having a really bad day and Tobin was miles away and couldn’t help. She kept wondering whether her messages had only upset Christen more or frustrated her. “Maybe you shouldn’t have tried to give her solutions to her problems. Sometimes people just want to vent and commiserate, not problem-solve,” Tobin thought to herself, pushing the heel of her hand against her forehead.
Tobin hadn’t yet told her parents about the All-American news. She’d wanted to tell Christen first, but she was becoming more and more worried that today wasn’t the day to tell Christen, that Christen needed her to be there for her, not share the good news that might make Christen feel worse. She didn’t have too much time to worry about it before Allie’s face was on her computer screen, a huge grin on her face.
“Harry!” Allie cheered, clicking her mouse on her computer to add the others into their chat.
“Hey, Harry,” Tobin said, feeling immediately better just by seeing her best friend’s face.
“Toby!” ARod practically shouted when she appeared on the screen, causing Lauren to cringe and lean away from her.
“Hey, guys,” Crystal joined in, sitting on her couch between Megan and Kelley.
“Sup, e’rbody!” Megan added, shooting a peace sign toward the camera.
Tobin glanced at the computer screen, only allowing herself to look briefly. She didn’t want the others to see her disappointment. Instead, she leaned away from her camera, grabbing her water bottle as a distraction. “Keep it together, Tobin. Don’t worry about Christen. She’s probably just running late,” Tobin thought, giving her a silent pep talk before lowering her water bottle and smiling at her friends.
[Tobin Heath 10:11PM]
You okay, Chris? Allie just started the Facetime call.
Tobin waited for a response from Christen, practically feeling phantom phone vibrations against her leg in anticipation, but nothing came. She still hadn’t responded to Tobin’s earlier messages, and as much as Tobin prided herself on her chill demeanor, she was really starting to worry. Not much really rattled Tobin, and that was something that she liked about herself. She’d learned to go with the flow at a really young age. Now, though, she was worried. It wasn’t like Christen to avoid text messages or miss Facetime calls without warning or an excuse.
Tobin nodded along, smiling when appropriate at whatever Allie was saying, but she wasn’t digesting anything. She just stared at the computer screen, her mind spinning with all kinds of dangerous scenarios Christen could be in, scenarios that would cause Christen to go M.I.A.
“Yo, Heath, who killed your cat dude?” Megan asked, drawing Tobin’s attention back to Facetime and away from Christen.
“I’m more of a dog person,” Tobin sighed, snapping out of her fog for a second.
“Wait, was that a sex thing?” Kelley asked, her brows knitted in confusion as she looked over at Megan.
“K.O.!” Allie screeched at an inhuman volume, hiding her face in her hands.
ARod burst into laughter, practically spitting out the water she’d just sipped. Lauren even cracked a smile.
“Dude, if you need to ask...send my apologies to that softball chick you’ve been seeing,” Megan teased, sticking out her tongue and laughing so hard, she almost fell off the couch.
Despite the hilarity in the air, Tobin wasn’t joining in. She couldn’t even force a genuine-looking smile. In fact, a prickle of pain had started behind both of her eyes, perhaps from lack of sleep, but more likely from her stress about Christen’s safety. Finally, she couldn’t take it any longer. She tried to keep her voice level, to make sure it wasn’t wobbly with worry or frustration, but she had a feeling she hadn’t succeeded.
“Pinoe, have you seen Christen today?” Tobin asked, her voice softer than usual.
Oddly, Megan, Crystal, and Kelley shared a look between the three of them. Some silent conversation passed between them before they turned back to look at the camera.
“She’s at the dining hall,” Crystal said.
At the same time, Megan said, “She’s studying.”
“She’s in the gym,” Kelley threw in last minute.
Tobin narrowed her eyes at the three UCLA players, knowing without a doubt they were lying, and not even that well.
“That smells like buuuullshit to me! What’s going on guys? Since when am I in the dark?” Allie questioned, looking at her teammates and fellow co-captains of the Preath ship.
“New development,” Kelley quipped, earning her an elbow to the boob from Megan.
“Dude,” Megan warned in a low tone, furthering Tobin’s confusion and worry.
“It isn’t ours to tell,” Crystal murmured, wishing she could excuse herself from the hot seat.
Tobin’s head began to spin. “What could Christen be keeping secret, and why didn’t she tell me? I thought we were best friends,” Tobin wondered to herself, her eyes becoming sorer by the minute.
“Will someone explain what’s going on here? It’s like you guys are talking in code,” ARod said. Lauren nodded along, sharing in the sentiment. “Yeah, we’re really lost,” Lauren added.
Allie paid them no mind, her sole focus on her teammates and their secret-keeping.
“I’m literally going to hang up on all of you and kick your asses on the field tomorrow if you don’t tell me,” Allie huffed out, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Christen has a girlfriend,” Kelley word-vomited. She immediately regretted it, throwing both of her hands over her mouth, her eyes widening in surprise, her face paled in distress.
Megan groaned and hung her head, while Crystal shot a worried look at Tobin.
“Excuse me?” Allie almost growled, her protective best friend instincts kicking in.
Tobin blinked rapidly, her brain trying to catch up with what Kelley had just said. “Christen has a...a girlfriend? No, she can’t. She wouldn’t. I would have noticed something like that. She would have told me,” Tobin tried to rationalize, but the sinking feeling in her stomach made her think otherwise.
The pain behind her eyes increased tenfold, causing her to squeeze her eyes shut. She rubbed at the bridge of her nose, focusing on breathing in and out. “This was just a mistake. Kelley was joking around. This wasn’t real. Breathe in, breathe out.”
Tobin wasn’t sure if she wanted to scream or cry or vomit. Her stomach was rolling, her skin felt too hot, and her heart rate kept on increasing. This feeling inside of her chest, this agonizing ache, was overwhelming. She was beyond devastated. She didn’t even think there was a word for how she felt right now.
“You’re never going to be with her. She isn’t waiting for you. You won’t get to hold her or take her on a date to the beach. You missed your chance,” Tobin’s thoughts sunk deeper and deeper, almost punishing her for not telling Christen sooner. She couldn’t concentrate on anything besides her racing thoughts, barely listening to her friends and teammates as their conversation continued.
“We only just found out tonight after we cornered her and asked her point-blank,” Megan mumbled out an excuse.
“She’s been sneaking around for like a month,” Kelley blurted out, anything to keep an angry Allie off her case.
“Shut up,” Crystal hissed, squeezing Kelley’s arm tightly.
“Hell no!” Allie bellowed. “I’m literally going to kill her tomor-”
“I have clothes in the washer downstairs. I forgot about them,” Tobin choked out, hearing her voice crack but not finding it in herself to care.
“Tobs,” Allie whispered, but the rest of her sentence was cut off when Tobin ended the call, slamming her computer closed with a resounding click.
Tobin’s ragged breathing was the only sound in the room as she curled up under her sheets, hugging a pillow to her chest. She squeezed her eyes tightly, finally letting the first tears fall down her cheeks. They soaked into her pillow, but Tobin couldn’t find it in herself to care. She was beyond caring at this point. Christen had moved on, had found someone else, and Christen had left her behind. Here she was, broken and crying and alone, in Christen’s wake.
Once the tears had slowed, Tobin was left with a raging headache. She stared at her ceiling, too tired to get up and wash her face or take out her contacts. She listened as Alex and Lindsey walked around the suite, finishing up a movie and finally getting ready for bed. Her phone buzzed softly somewhere under the sheets, presumably messages from her friends who’d practically seen her fall apart on video. She didn’t even look for her phone, more interested in the crack in the left corner of her room’s ceiling near the window.
She didn’t know how long she stared at that crack. It could have been five minutes or five hours, but finally, she fell into a restless slumber, her subconscious tormenting her with images of Christen kissing some other girl.
She had no idea what time it was when her phone vibrated against her foot. Her eyes were heavy. Her head was throbbing as if she were hungover, only the night before hadn’t been fun-filled or celebratory.
She jerked up in bed, her room completely dark and her hoodie twisted around her waist, evidence of all of her tossing and turning. It took her a few more buzzes before her hands found her phone under her sheets. She pulled it up to her ear, swiping across the screen to answer it without looking at who was calling. In all honesty, she expected Allie to speak, or maybe her mom. She wasn’t expecting the voice she’d fallen asleep haunted by.
“Hey, Tobs,” Christen said softly.