You're wonder under summer sky (Summer sky)
Brown skin and lemon over ice
Would you believe it?
You don't have to say you love me
I just wanna tell you somethin'
Lately, you've been on my mind
(Tobin - “Adore You” by Harry Styles)
Now you're liftin' me up, 'stead of holdin' me down
Stealin' my heart, 'stead of stealin' my crown
Untangled all the strings, round my wings, that were tied
I didn't know [her] and I didn't know me
Cloud nine, was always out of reach
Now I remember what it feels like to fly
You give me butterflies
(Christen - “Butterflies” by Kacey Musgraves)
It was the morning of a gorgeous, sun-filled Thursday. Christen knew they should be in their classes, her Psychology lab had started five minutes ago, but it was just too beautiful of a day to spend it cooped up inside.
Instead, she, Crystal, Megan, and Kelley had decided to play some soccer. Their spring season had wrapped up last week, and they now had three months off before their Junior season began, but they were all missing the game. They played some small-sided games, a little 2v2 action, and then a crossing and finishing game. They finished with soccer tennis, with Christen and Crystal beating a bickering Megan and Kelley.
The four of them now lounged in the middle of their practice field, a little sweaty and a lot happy. Christen leaned back on her forearms, her legs stretched out in front of her across the grass, with her face to the sun. She was so busy soaking up the sunshine, she hadn’t noticed her friends share a quick look between them. She did notice when they tried to whisper amongst themselves though.
“I’m dying, I need to know,” Megan mumbled.
“Just ask her, you weenie,” Kelley hissed.
“It’s none of our business,” Crystal replied.
Christen’s eyes fluttered open and she looked around at the three of them, fixing her friends with a look.
“What’s none of your business?” Christen asked.
Silence fell over the group and it had Christen’s curiosity rising. “What were they talking about?” she wondered, her eyes narrowing at Kelley, who was definitely the weakest link of the three.
Kelley didn’t even last three seconds. She sighed and threw her hands up in the air.
“Fine. We’re all just wondering why you’ve been shitting rainbows recently, and if Tobin is the reason you’re so annoyingly happy?”
Christen’s blush was immediate, she couldn’t fight it off if she tried. She hadn’t realized her mood had changed all that much recently, but looking back, she could see that maybe it had. She’d always been a relatively happy human, quick to smile or laugh. But this past month, after having spent most of her spring break with Tobin at the beach or at their respective houses, she’d found a new level of happiness. It was like the colors were brighter and the world was full of better things. Everything was just better, her morning coffee, her grades, her performance on the field. She’d never felt better and it had everything to do with Tobin Heath.
They still hadn’t talked about that night in the club, but it didn’t weigh on Christen’s conscience. She just took it in stride and tried to sink into their new normal. They talked all the time now. When they weren’t on the soccer field or in the classroom or at team meals, they were texting or Facetiming or talking on the phone. They had weekly movie nights and study sessions, sometimes even getting meals to go to bring back to their respective houses so they could eat together. Tobin often was eating dinner at like 9 or 10 PM, which Christen always felt a little guilty about, but Tobin assured her it was fine. It was worth it so they could eat together.
There had been a definite shift between them ever since spring break. Their flirting had been turned up, their compliments were more direct, they didn’t shy away from charged looks. For the first time, Christen truly felt herself believing that maybe Tobin returned her feelings. After the way Tobin had touched her, the way she’d looked at her, there was no other alternative. Tobin had to feel something, even if it was just attraction. But still, Tobin feeling something for her didn’t change the facts. They could talk all the time, have Facetime dinners and movie nights, but it didn’t erase the thousands of miles between UCLA and Penn State. It didn’t make Christen forget all that Tyler had been through, the utter heartbreak that had come from trying to make a long-distance relationship work.
“I...yes, it’s Tobin,” Christen admitted quietly, earning her hoots and cheers from her friends.
Crystal and Kelley high-fived, while Megan pounded her hands on top of the soccer ball.
“I called it! K.O. thought you’d wait until summer to get together, which is totally ignoring the fact that you two have been lusting after one another for over a year. So I’m right, she’s wrong, as per usual,” Megan said, a beaming grin aimed in Christen’s direction.
While Christen shared in her friends’ elation, she also needed to set the record straight. They weren’t together, despite how much Christen wished they were.
“We’re not together, guys. Nothing’s changed really,” Christen admitted, knowing that everything had somewhat changed between them, but also knowing that there was nothing to be done about it.
“That’s now what it looked like at the club last month,” Megan commented.
“Or during tequila shots,” Kelley quipped.
“Or at your birthday party when she kissed you on the cheek,” Crystal added.
Christen held up her hands, silently asking her friends to stop. She hadn’t realized they’d all been paying such close attention to her and Tobin, especially at the club, but nothing they’d mentioned changed the most important reason why she and Tobin couldn’t be together.
“None of that matters when she’s thousands of miles away,” Christen reasoned. “Crys, we’ve talked about this.”
“I know, I know. But I still think long-distance is worth it when you’re with the right person,” Crystal replied with a shrug.
“I agree. Love knows no distance when distance gives you even more reasons to love,” Kelley added, sounding very wise all of a sudden, surprising her friends. Kelley noticed their looks of confusion. “What? I’m deep sometimes!”
“More like you’re sleeping with a poetry student,” Megan jeered.
Kelley tossed her ponytail over her shoulder. “Those are not mutually exclusive things, Pinoe.”
Christen chuckled and then ducked her head, a bit overwhelmed by the certainty in her friends’ voices. Crystal and Kelley were making pretty decent cases for long-distance, so maybe she shouldn’t be so opposed.
But then Megan spoke up, any teasing gone from her voice. “I gotta disagree with these ladies, Pressy. If Sue and I weren’t in the same place, no way would our relationship work. It probably wouldn’t have even started. There are just too many chances to miscommunicate when you’re not in the same place. And you know that you and Tobito don’t have the best communication track record.”
Christen sighed, her eyes falling to her hands. She picked up a blade of grass from the field and rolled it between her fingers.
“What should I do?” Christen asked quietly, her friends straining to even pick up her words.
“What do you want to do?” Crystal shot back.
Before Christen could reply, her phone dinged. Christen looked down at the screen and saw that she’d gotten a text from Coach Foudy.
Got time to chat today?
[Christen Press 10:17AM]
Sure thing. What’s up, Coach?
Come to my office at 12:30PM.
Christen closed her phone and looked up at her friends, her brows knit together, a small flicker of trepidation shooting through her.
“Tobito?” Megan wondered.
Christen shook her head. “Coach Foudy. She has something she wants to talk to me about.”
Tobin tossed the remainder of her t-shirts into her overflowing duffel bag. She wasn’t an over-packer and hadn’t brought too much to school, at least not in the clothing department. The hard part had been getting all of her soccer gear and her longboards tied down in the back of her pickup truck. She’d left her truck in Pennsylvania last summer, not certain about when her parents were planning to move or where she’d be.
Now, though, she had every intention of driving her truck to L.A. for the summer and possibly leaving it there for Jeff to borrow, now that he had his license. She didn’t really have much use for it at school, spending most of her time on campus or with teammates who had their own cars. In L.A., though, Tobin wanted to drive. She wanted to be able to drive Christen to the beach or visit Allie’s house without waiting for her parents’ cars to be available.
“Do you know how to fold clothes?” Lauren criticized. She and ARod were both sitting on Tobin’s bed, neither being very helpful despite offering to help Tobin pack and carry her stuff to her car.
“I’m just going to wash everything when I get home,” Tobin shrugged, pulling the last few soccer shorts from her dresser and pushing them into the duffel. She yanked the zipper shut and deposited the duffel bag outside of her bedroom door.
Alex and Lindsey had already moved out, both of them dying to get home and start their summer vacations immediately. Tobin probably would have too, but she’d needed to finish a few papers and take a Physics exam. She hadn’t minded the quiet dorm. The suite had been cleaner than it ever had before, the halls were quieter, perfect for studying, and Tobin had enjoyed the privacy. She’d been able to Facetime with Christen without Alex or Lindsey making kissy faces over the back of her laptop screen.
“This summer is going to suck,” ARod sighed, trying to adjust her leg on Tobin’s bed. She’d stepped wrong during their last practice and torn a ligament in her ankle, which wouldn’t have been a huge issue, but it kept ARod from accepting her call-up to U-23 Camp. Because of that, Tobin was trying extremely hard to avoid any topic related to soccer or the National Team.
“Don’t say that. I’m visiting in June, and Tobin said we can visit L.A. any time we want to in August,” Lauren said, trying to be optimistic.
Lauren shot Tobin an apologetic look before continuing, and Tobin suddenly realized that she was about to be used as the butt of some joke to cheer ARod up.
“Pluuuus, if we visit Toby in L.A., we can see how she’s getting along with Operation Get Press in Bed,” Lauren added.
“That is not what I’m trying to do,” Tobin immediately defended, her words drowned out by ARod’s laughter.
“That so is what you want to do! We saw the video!” ARod hollered, pointing her finger at Tobin and shaking with laughter.
“What video?” Tobin demanded, punctuating her words in the hopes that ARod would knock it off and be serious.
“You weren’t supposed to tell her about that,” Lauren mumbled, suddenly paling.
“What video, you guys?” Tobin asked again, putting her hands on her hips and kicking one of her empty dresser drawers closed with her bare foot.
“Allie shared a video…” Lauren started.
“You and Pressy were all up on each other in that club!” ARod snorted.
“I’m going to kill her,” Tobin growled, pulling her phone out of her pocket and opening her text messages. She ignored the new notification she had from Christen, not wanting a sweet message from Christen to calm her down before she had time to text Allie with the full force of her anger.
[Tobin Heath 12:37PM]
[Tobin Heath 12:37PM]
YOU ARE NO LONGER MY BEST FRIEND! FROM NOW ON, I WILL REFER TO YOU ONLY AS ALLIE.
[Tobin Heath 12:37PM]
THE HARRY DAYS ARE OVER!
Tobin dropped her phone on the top of her dresser and glared at her two friends in front of her.
“She shouldn’t have shared that video. She shouldn’t have even taken a video. It was just a dance. We were both super drunk, and we haven’t spoken about it since. Who knows if she even remembers that we danced like that,” Tobin tried to shrug noncommittally.
“You two have been all over each other since spring break!” ARod argued.
“Yeah, there’s hardly a moment when Christen isn’t messaging you or you aren’t calling her,” Lauren added.
“Okay, so I like her. You’ve known that for a while now. That doesn’t change anything,” Tobin defended, carelessly pushing the stuff on her desk into a small moving box.
“You know that she wouldn’t dance with you like that if she didn’t like you back, right?” Lauren pressed, reaching out to grab Tobin’s arm and pull her attention back to her two friends.
“Yeah, Toby she was all over you,” ARod agreed, her eyes fixed on her phone, likely watching the stupid video again.
“I know, I know,” Tobin relented. “I think she feels the same? Or at least, she’s attracted to me, well drunk her is attracted to me. I just can’t ruin this. I can’t push her when I know that she doesn’t want a long-distance relationship. I won’t ask her to do something she doesn’t want to do,” Tobin sighed.
“What if she needs a push, though?” Lauren asked, her voice soft and logical.
“What if I push her and she says no and then everything changes? I can’t lose her again. Those two months that I spent ignoring her and trying to cut her out of my life were the worst months I’ve ever experienced. I can’t risk losing her again. I’d rather be her friend and keep her in my life than push her and lose her.”
“I don’t think you’ll lose her. She needs you too. It’s obvious in the way she talks to you and looks at you that she needs you too,” Lauren murmured, squeezing Tobin’s arm.
“I think you should tell her how you feel,” ARod said, her eyes now fully focused on Tobin.
“I’m going to U-23 camp. It isn’t like I’ll be around L.A. for a long time this summer. I’ll be going there and then visiting my sisters in Florida. I won’t have time to even start an in-person relationship with Christen,” Tobin argued.
“You could tell her your feelings right before you leave for camp and tell her that you’re willing to wait, that you won’t put any pressure on her, that you just wanted her to know how you feel,” ARod huffed, clearly annoyed with Tobin’s excuses.
“She deserves to know how you feel,” Lauren said, her eyes sincere.
Tobin let her friends’ words swirl around her head. She wasn’t afraid of actually speaking the words to Christen. She was just scared of how Christen would respond. She didn’t want to scare her away or make her feel like Tobin only wanted one thing from her. Tobin needed Christen Press in her life in any capacity that Christen was comfortable with.
That being said, Tobin couldn’t deny that she was realizing more and more that Christen felt more than just friendship for her. Christen was flirtier than normal. They were in constant contact. Since spring break, they’d Facetimed more and more without their friends, even eating dinner together, something that Tobin had trouble not thinking was date-like. Christen was a central part of Tobin’s life. If Tobin wasn’t eating, sleeping, going to classes, or playing soccer, she was talking to Christen. Someone who didn’t care about Tobin wouldn’t talk to her as much as Christen did. Someone who only thought of Tobin as a friend wouldn’t tell her she’s beautiful as much as Christen did.
“Maybe I’ll tell her,” Tobin mumbled. “I just wish this summer would be easier. I wish she were going to Florida with me to visit my sisters or going to camp with me. I mean, they’re blind if she doesn’t get called up.”
“Well, it isn’t too late. People are still being called. And, if she doesn't get to go to camp, you could always invite her to visit your family in Florida,” Lauren suggested.
“I said I'll tell Christen how I feel. I’m not subjecting her to my entire family just yet. She’s already overwhelmed with just my parents and Jeff,” Tobin huffed. “All right, get up. I need to take the bedsheets now.”
Tobin stuffed her bed linens into a trash bag and checked every last drawer and closet in her dorm room. Once she was satisfied that the room was empty, she carried her last duffel bag, trash bag, and box to the truck, ARod and Lauren trailing close behind. It was already pretty full, so Tobin just stuffed the last three things in the passenger’s seat next to her.
“Let us know when you get home. It’s a long drive,” Lauren said, her arms wrapping tightly around Tobin’s shoulders.
“I will, mom,” Tobin teased.
“And let us know how it goes with Press,” ARod reminded. “We want a full report.”
“I’ll try and work up the courage,” Tobin sighed, letting ARod pull her in for a hug and ruffle her hair.
“I better get going if I’m going to make it to St. Louis before it gets super late,” Tobin said, hating goodbyes more than anything.
“I can’t believe you’re driving by yourself all the way to L.A.,” Lauren worried.
“I’m stopping at hotels overnight, and I’ll get home in three days,” Tobin assured her. “I’ll text you every day, okay?” she offered, knowing that Lauren would worry no matter what.
“Deal,” Lauren sighed.
“I love you guys,” Tobin mumbled, slipping into the driver’s seat of her truck.
“We love you,” ARod replied, both of Tobin’s friends waving her away.
Tobin hadn’t even gotten off of campus before she remembered that she hadn't read Christen’s latest text message. She also hadn’t texted Christen that she was on the road home, something she promised to do. So, Tobin pulled her truck into another dorm’s parking lot and pulled out her phone.
[Christen Press 11:58AM]
How’s the packing coming?
[Tobin Heath 1:46PM]
Sorry, I just loaded the car and said goodbye to ARod and Lauren. I’m officially on the road to L.A.! Call whenever you want. I just won’t be able to text much until I get to St. Louis tonight.
Tobin stuck the phone into the cupholder, turned up the music, and got on the road, hoping Christen would call her soon. She missed her.
Christen took a deep, steadying breath. She raised a fist and knocked on Coach Foudy’s office door, feeling her stomach fill with butterflies and her palms start to sweat. She had no idea why Coach wanted to meet with her, and if she were being honest, she was a little worried. These sort of unannounced meetings always caused her anxiety to flare.
“Come in, Press,” Coach Foudy called out.
Christen let herself take one final breath and then opened the door, fixing a smile on her face.
“You wanted to see me, Coach?” Christen asked, shuffling into the office.
Coach Foudy sat behind her desk, a scattered mess of papers in front of her. For such an organized, disciplined coach, her office was a mess of papers and trophies and framed jerseys and pictures adorning the walls.
“Sure do. Shut the door.”
Christen gulped, hating the way her stomach dropped at the command. She did as she was told and then took a seat in front of Coach Foudy. She tried not to fidget, but her leg bounced and her fingers drummed against her thighs, her worried eyes darting all over the office. She ran through every possible mistake she could have made recently that Coach would get upset about, her mind drawing a blank.
Christen finally looked at Coach Foudy and tried her best to smile.
“Why don’t you take a few deep breaths for me. I’m not cutting you or anything, you’re not in trouble,” Coach Foudy assured. She folded her hands in front of her, a smile threatening to break out across her face. “Actually, it’s the opposite.”
“What do you mean?” Christen asked, willing her heart rate to slow as she wiped her palms across her sweats.
“What do you think of Portland?”
Thrown off by the drastic change in subject, Christen felt her brow furrow.
“Um, cold, rainy, good coffee?” Christen replied, trying and failing to figure out what Coach Foudy had brought her in to talk about.
“True. Nike HQ is up there too, along with some U.S. Soccer training centers. Actually, the U-23 camp is being held there at the end of the month. I was asked recently to come and head up the camp.”
Christen grinned at her coach, overjoyed that Coach Foudy was getting the recognition she deserved. She was the best coach she’d ever had and deserved to be coaching at the national level, if not at least the professional one.
“That’s amazing, Coach!”
Coach Foudy grinned, ready to deliver the best news of all.
“Thank you, Press, but I didn’t call you in here to brag. I asked if I could be the one to tell you...you’re getting called up. You’re coming to camp with me! You should be getting a bunch of emails soon with the details, but the camp is two weeks long, from May 25th to June 8th…”
Whatever else Coach Foudy said was completely lost on Christen. She was getting her first call-up into a U.S. Camp. She had been working so hard for this, for so long. Sure, she hadn’t had the best fall season. But this spring, she had really hit her stride. She played lights out and she knew it. She just hadn’t realized anybody in U.S. Soccer had noticed.
“Holy shit, Coach, really?” Christen asked, almost unable to comprehend what she’d just heard. She was having trouble wrapping her mind around it.
Coach Foudy laughed, leaning back into her chair.
“Damn straight, kid. Go tell your family the good news and I’ll see you in Portland.”
Tobin was sipping on the first coffee of many she’d consume in the next three days when her phone started buzzing in the cupholder.
“Shit,” she grumbled as hot coffee fogged up her glasses. She placed her coffee in the other cup holder and pulled her phone toward her, all while staring at the road.
“Hello,” she said once the phone was on speakerphone, not having checked the contact before answering. She didn’t want to take her eyes off the road, not while she was driving down the highway.
“Tobs, oh my God, hi! I am like freaking out right now!” Christen practically yelled, her excitement palpable in her voice.
“Hey, Chris! What’s up? Everything okay?” Tobin asked, a grin spreading across her face as soon as she heard Christen’s voice.
“Beyond okay! I got called up! I’m going to camp!!” Christen cheered. She was pacing around the empty UCLA locker room, her phone held in her hand. She couldn’t stop shaking, too overwhelmed from the news Coach Foudy had just told her. She had immediately raced to the locker room and called Tobin, wanting her to be the first person she told.
“Are you serious?” Tobin asked, feeling like the words were bubbling out of her chest. Her smile grew more than she ever thought possible. “Chris! That’s amazing!”
“I just- I’m- I can’t-,” Christen spluttered, suddenly unable to even put into words how excited she was. It was all too much suddenly, the elation, the emotion. She leaned against the wall and sank to the ground, holding the phone to her ear with one hand and her face in the other. Tears burned her throat as she struggled to talk, to tell Tobin what Coach Foudy had told her.
“I- I’m going to Portland with the U-23s,” she finally choked out, sniffling a bit to get rid of the threat of tears
“Chris, I’m so proud of you,” Tobin whispered, completely aware that Christen was getting choked up on the other end of the phone. Tobin could remember the first time she’d been called up. She had been fourteen and completely bouncing off the walls with joy. She completely understood the emotions Christen was experiencing right now.
“It’s at the end of this month and- oh shit, Tobs, I’m gonna miss your birthday,” Christen realized suddenly, sobering a bit. “I had the best surprises planned.”
“And what makes you think I’m not going to be in Portland?” Tobin smirked, wishing she could see Christen’s face when she realized what Tobin was suggesting. She hadn’t told Christen about going to camp. For Tobin, going to camp was still amazing, but it was also something she’d done a few times now. She didn’t mind keeping it on the down-low, especially since most of her friends were also vying for a spot at camp. She didn’t want to make anyone feel bad or jealous or inferior.
“Wait, what?” Christen asked, shaking her head slightly. There was no way this was real, the world didn’t work like this. There was no way Tobin Heath was going to be there for her first U.S. Camp, for the first time she put on the U.S. Soccer crest. “You’re going to be there?”
“Of course! I was an All-American this year, I will remind you,” Tobin replied, letting her voice sound a little cocky.
Christen chuckled, the burn of tears receding as her smile came back with full force.
“True. And what kind of best friend would you be if you weren’t there with me for my first call-up?” Christen said.
“Not a very good one,” Tobin joked in reply. At the small bout of silence on the other end of the line, Tobin hazarded a guess that Christen was beginning to overthink things.
“Is someone nervous?” she asked, her voice softening immediately. Of course, Christen was nervous. She was often anxious, something that Christen tried to hide with her beautiful smile and killer goals, but she was still anxious just the same.
Christen blew out a long breath. “Honestly? Not yet. But I know I will be an absolute wreck when I get there,” she confessed, her head tilting back against the wall, wishing more than anything that she could be with Tobin right now.
“Can I tell you a secret?” Tobin asked, gripping the steering wheel a little tighter. She’d never told anyone this, but she had no qualms about telling Christen.
“Always, Tobs,” Christen whispered in reply.
“My first camp, I cried the entire time,” Tobin mumbled, a little embarrassed by the admission.
Christen softened at the mental image of a younger Tobin crying at camp. She really wished she could be with Tobin now. She’d give her a tight hug and buy her a pint of Phish Food. “Aww you did? How old were you?”
“Poor Harry probably hated rooming with me. I was fourteen. Harry was fifteen, but for some reason, Harry just clicked with everyone. I was so homesick, and I felt so little, way too young to be doing anything important,” Tobin sighed. “I think Harry begged to stay in someone else’s room just to get some good sleep, since I literally cried myself to sleep.”
“And look at you now, a couple of Harry’s doing Harry things. How far you’ve come,” Christen replied with a smile. “I hope we get to room together,” she found herself adding quietly, almost like she hadn’t expected those words to come out of her mouth.
Tobin gulped at the idea. “I hope we don’t,” she thought to herself. She couldn’t handle watching Christen get ready for practices and get out of the shower. She’d probably combust if Christen Press was her roommate at camp. Of course, Christen was one of her best friends, so rooming with her would be nice. Not only that, but Tobin did want to explain her feelings to Christen, and rooming with her would give her a lot of time to do that. Still, if things went poorly, she’d be trapped with Christen as a roommate, and that would be horrifically awkward.
“Yeah, that’d be cool,” Tobin choked out.
“Then you could make sure I don’t cry myself to sleep the whole time,” Christen said, trying to make a joke, but the tightness in her voice betrayed her nerves about the whole situation.
“You will most definitely not be crying the whole time,” Tobin laughed, hoping to assuage Christen’s worries. “Let’s remember that you aren’t fourteen. Plus, you’re way cooler than I am, so I’m sure you’ll be friends with everyone within the first couple days.”
Christen chuckled in response. “Yeah, maybe. Wow. We’re going to camp together, Tobs. How crazy is that?” Christen asked, the wonder in her voice making her words light.
“I’m not surprised in the slightest,” Tobin said confidently, grinning at the awe in Christen’s voice.
“I am. Not about you, obviously,” Christen replied.
“I’m sorry, have you seen yourself play? You ‘megged me the first game we played against each other!” Tobin groaned with feigned frustration.
With a shrug, Christen chewed on her lip, unable to formulate a response to that.
“Chris, I can hear you doubting yourself. You’re amazing and incredible, and you deserve to be at camp. You’re going to kill it!” Tobin encouraged, just wanting Christen to see herself the way Tobin always did.
The confidence in Tobin’s voice made Christen’s chest warm. While she still had worries and anxieties and fears, she did feel a bit better knowing that Tobin had faith in her. Suddenly, Christen brightened, an idea popping into her head.
“Will you train with me? We’ve got a few weeks before camp starts and you know what to expect, so you can help me prep. If you want?”
“As long as my soccer gear doesn’t fly out of the bed of my truck on the highway during this drive,” Tobin teased, her eyes glancing at her rearview mirror to check on her stuff in the back.
“Oh right, you’re driving. How is it so far? Are you being safe? Tell me I’m on speakerphone,” Christen said.
“I don’t like using the word boring, since the world is full of exciting things, but the highway between Pennsylvania and St. Louis, Missouri is pretty bleak,” Tobin laughed. “Yes, you’re on speakerphone. Yes, I’m being safe.”
Christen laughed right along with Tobin, another idea popping into her head, this one even crazier than the last.
“Where’s your second-to-last stop?”
“Albuquerque, New Mexico,” Tobin hummed, interested to see where Christen’s question was going to lead. “I'm driving over ten hours a day,” Tobin groaned, “But at least that gets my car to L.A. for the summer.”
“Would you like some company from Albuquerque to L.A.? I hear that stretch is boring too, but it’s better with a passenger who has great taste in music and road snacks,” Christen said in a rush, wondering what possessed her to think this and then actually ask it. It was crazy to even consider this, but she just wanted to see Tobin, so she was willing to entertain crazy.
“Umm...are you talking about yourself? You’re in L.A. not Albuquerque, right?” Tobin asked, confused about what Christen was planning.
“No, I’m talking about Kelley O’Hara,” Christen joked. “Yes, Tobs, I’m talking about me!”
“I was about to completely reject Kelley,” Tobin snorted. “I couldn’t deal with her constant talking.”
“Me neither, so you’re lucky it’s my dad who collects Southwest miles like it’s his job and not Kelley’s. But he’s been meaning to use some and I’ve always wanted to see Albuquerque’s airport,” Christen replied, running a hand through her hair nervously.
“Just the airport? I see,” Tobin replied. After a pause, she added, “You really want to fly to New Mexico just to sit in a packed car with me for over thirteen hours?” Tobin’s skepticism was getting the best of her. There was no way that Christen would actually do all of that just to keep Tobin company.
“Why do you make it sound like that would be torture for me?”
“Because I do think it would be torture for you,” Tobin snorted, already hating that she had to drive for three days straight and not wanting to subject Christen to any part of it.
“Where’d all that confidence go from a few minutes ago? You would be amazing car company,” Christen reasoned, unable not to smile as she thought of singing along to the radio with Tobin, of sharing snacks and stories, of just being together.
Tobin blushed, her cheeks completely heating up. “Christen wants to do all that just to spend time with you,” she thought. For a moment, Tobin wanted to just spill all of her feelings to Christen on the phone. She wanted to tell Christen exactly how she felt about her, but instead, she bit her bottom lip and grinned because Christen wanted to spend time with her on a boring road trip through the desert.
“I guess it’s a good thing I got the air conditioning in the truck fixed,” Tobin said.
Christen laughed, her cheeks heating at the thought of actually doing this. This was so unlike her, this impulsiveness. She usually thought things through, planned weeks in advance, even made itemized packing lists and extensive itineraries. But here she was, ready to throw that all away and fly to Albuquerque just to spend a little extra time with Tobin.
“I should call my dad and make sure those miles are up for grabs,” Christen hummed, hating the thought of getting off the phone with Tobin.
“No worries if they aren’t,” Tobin said, not wanting Christen to feel stressed. “And don’t worry if you just decide you don’t want to.”
“First no confidence, and now that infectious optimism I’m so used to hearing is gone too, Tobs?”
“I must have left it in Pittsburg after the first two hours of this torturous drive,” Tobin laughed. “Sorry, let me try again. I’M SO EXCITED, CHRIS!” Tobin yelled, just wanting to make Christen smile.
Christen laughed freely at Tobin’s over-exuberance. “You’re ridiculous, I can’t believe I want to sit in a car with you across multiple state lines. But here we are. What day should I meet you?”
“If all goes as planned, I’m getting into Albuquerque on Saturday night. I can pick you up from the airport then or on Sunday morning before we start the drive to California. Your choice,” Tobin said, immediately wondering how she’d survive sleeping in the same hotel room as Christen if she, in fact, flew in on Saturday night.
“I’ll see what the flights look like and let you know. I’ll call you after I talk to my dad?” Christen asked, already looking forward to the next time they got to talk.
“I will literally be completely free for the next ten hours,” Tobin sighed, running a hand through her hair.
“Drive safely, okay? Precious cargo and all that. I can’t prep for camp if you lose your soccer stuff,” Christen teased.
“Ha. Ha,” Tobin deadpanned. “I’ll talk to you later, Chris.”
“Bye, Tobs,” Christen said, hanging up her call with Tobin and quickly calling her dad. She drummed her fingers across the locker room floor as she waited for him to pick up the phone. Finally, he did.
“Christen, what’s up?” her dad said, a smile in his voice.
“Hey, Dad, I have a huge favor to ask.”
Tobin had peeled her eyes open at 5:30AM, the hotel parking lot still dark. She’d arrived in Albuquerque the night before, immediately falling into bed and crashing. She’d barely even felt awake enough to text her friends and family that she was safe at stop number two. Christen’s arrival at the airport was the only thing that had motivated her to get up with her alarm, take a shower, reconfigure bags in the truck to free up the passenger’s seat, and get on the road.
Tobin stopped at Starbucks, ordering two coffees, one with oat milk and one with regular milk, before making her way to the airport. It was still dark, the sun just barely peeking over the horizon, when Tobin pulled up at the airport pick-up location, her thumbs drumming on the steering wheel in anticipation. It had been over a month since she’d seen Christen in person, and she was dying to be in her presence again.
[Christen Press 5:58AM]
Landed and walking through baggage claim! Also, I need coffee, stat 😴
[Tobin Heath 5:58AM]
I’m right outside, and I have caffeine just for you! ☕
Christen stepped out from between the sliding doors, into the dark early morning, suppressing a yawn. She looked around at the all-but deserted arrivals area and felt a smile grow on her face at the sight of the overloaded truck parked on the curb, with none other than Tobin Heath leaning against it. Christen tightened her grip on the strap of her backpack and hurried toward Tobin.
“I’m so glad I did this, that airport was so cool,” Christen said, stopping a foot away from Tobin, her smile so big it was starting to hurt.
“So you did do this for the airport,” Tobin teased, opening her arms and stepping forward to wrap Christen in them.
Christen sank into Tobin’s embrace, her arms tightening around Tobin’s middle. She had missed this, being with Tobin. She had missed the way she felt, the way she sounded. Mostly, she’d missed the way everything just seemed better when Tobin was by her side.
“That depends, did you really get me coffee?” Christen teased right back, leaning out of Tobin’s embrace, but staying close by.
Tobin turned around with a smile, opening the passenger door and signaling that Christen could get in. “After you,” Tobin grinned.
Christen rolled her eyes and hopped up into the truck, dropping her backpack onto the floor. She turned back to Tobin, to ask where the coffee was, and found Tobin leaning into the truck, their faces inches apart.
“Uh-” Christen blurted, suddenly self-conscious at their close proximity and very distracted by the scent of pine and mint coming from Tobin.
“Here you are,” Tobin hummed, trying to act casual, having misjudged how close her face would be to Christen’s when she’d leaned in to grab the right coffee out of the cupholder. She handed Christen the cup, smiling softly before she leaned away.
“Thanks,” Christen whispered, her heart hammering in her chest.
“My pleasure,” Tobin mumbled, stepping away from Christen to close her door and walk around to the driver’s side of the truck.
Christen forced herself to take a few deep breaths. This was ridiculous, getting this flustered this early into the drive. But she’d forgotten what it was like to be near Tobin, to feel that desire to touch her, to feel that need to be close to her. It was intoxicating and overwhelming and Christen needed to get a handle on it, like now.
“Okay, so I don’t have an aux cord, but I have a portable, Bluetooth speaker, so if you want to connect to that, you can play whatever music you want,” Tobin began, hoping that talking would distract her from the butterflies that had taken over her whole body as soon as she’d seen Christen. She suddenly felt wide awake, the cab of the truck full of electricity.
“You’re giving me control over the music?” Christen asked, pushing down her flustered feelings and focusing back on the task at hand. She had over 13 hours in a car with Tobin Heath and needed to get her head in the game.
“Of course, that’s why you flew all the way here right? The airport and complete say over the music, right?” Tobin laughed, pulling out of the arrivals area and getting them on their way.
“I have been meaning to make you listen to Taylor Swift’s entire discography, from start to finish, spending time in every era so you can really appreciate her talent,” Christen replied, connecting her phone to the speakers and pulling up her music app.
“What makes you think I’m not a Swiftie?” Tobin cocked her head to the side, focused on the road ahead of her.
“If it took you almost two years to tell me you’re a Taylor fan, I will feel seriously cheated.”
“I won’t tell you then,” Tobin giggled, reaching out for her coffee and taking a sip.
“Ugh you are, aren’t you?” Christen asked, narrowing her eyes at Tobin.
Tobin’s large grin was answer enough and it had Christen shaking her head. Could Tobin get any more amazing? She had to stop wondering that, because every time she did, Tobin proved, again and again, she was even more incredible than Christen expected.
“I swear, Tobs, one of these days I’ll find your bad quality. I haven’t yet, but someday I will, because you have to have at least one. Nobody’s this perfect,” Christen said distractedly, focused on finding music for them to listen to.
“Christen Press thinks I’m perfect?” Tobin flirted shamelessly.
Christen’s head whipped up and she looked over at Tobin, her brows knit. “Did I say that?”
“Are you taking it back?” Tobin challenged.
“No...but I am blaming it on my lack of sleep and caffeine,” Christen replied with a smirk, eyes tracking over Tobin’s side profile.
“I think you’re pretty perfect too,” Tobin mumbled behind her coffee cup, her cheeks reddening immediately.
“You’re just saying that because I’m a fellow Swiftie,” Christen teased, ignoring the way her heart fluttered and her cheeks burned.
“Nope, Alex is a major Swiftie too, and after living with her for two years, I think she’s faaaar from perfect,” Tobin chuckled, one hand falling from the steering wheel to reach up and push through her hair.
The movement caused Tobin’s arm muscles to flex and Christen unconsciously licked her lips. Christen was reminded once again just how gorgeous Tobin really was. Even at 6 AM, with slight bags under her eyes and exhaustion on her face, Tobin Heath was lovely.
“Chris? Did you hear me?”
Christen snapped out of it at the sound of Tobin’s voice. She forced a weak smile and nodded.
“Yeah, sorry, zoned out there for a second,” Christen replied. “And maybe after we room together for two weeks, you’ll feel differently about me too.”
Tobin tightened her grip on the steering wheel, her stomach clenching. “Who says we’re rooming together?” she asked, her words a little tight.
Christen pulled up her email and scrolled to the one she’d received last night, reading from the email so Tobin could hear it.
“Hi Christen, my name is Cherry and I will be the manager for U-23 camp. Below you’ll find your flight information and your roommate’s name and information. Feel free to get to know her before you arrive in Portland...blah blah blah,” Christen said, grinning up at Tobin. “And guess who's name is at the bottom of this email?”
“Uh...Jennifer Wheeler? Sarah Johnson? Lane Clemens? Should I continue making up names?” Tobin teased, just wanting to push Christen’s buttons and wanting to get over her immediate nerves at the prospect of sharing a space with Christen.
“Wow, didn’t realize you were so opposed to rooming with me,” Christen said with a teasing lit in her voice.
“I’m not!” Tobin rushed to say, causing her to blush again. “It’ll be great!” Tobin couldn’t help that her mind immediately thought about all of the compromising situations the two of them had found themselves in: dirty dancing with Christen, how Christen’s tongue felt on her neck, how Christen had kissed her on the dance floor. “This is going to be torturous,” Tobin thought, keeping a smile on her face despite her worries.
“Bring this speaker so we can jam to Taylor the whole time, and it really will be great,” Christen replied with a smile.
“Oh, Chris I have to tell you something, though…” Tobin said, a serious tone in her voice.
Christen’s brows knitted together in confusion, her eyes tracking over Tobin’s features.
“I only listen to heavy rap when I’m at camp,” Tobin said, her voice completely deadpan.
Christen barked out a laugh. “Sure you do, Tobs.”
“Excuse? Do I not seem cool enough for that?”
“You seem like a baby pool, shallow end kind of rap fan. Definitely not deep end rap,” Christen teased, smirking at the look of total indignation on Tobin’s face. She couldn’t help but pivot in her seat, fully facing Tobin as they talked. This way, she got to watch Tobin the whole time, while Tobin had to look at the road.
“Woooow! You’re in for a surprise,” Tobin lied, knowing full well that she’d be happy to listen to Taylor Swift for the entire camp.
Christen giggled, pressing play on her phone, one of Taylor’s earliest songs playing from the speaker. “Whatever you say, Tobs. I am really happy we’re rooming together, though. Now I don’t have to worry about hiding how nervous I am in front of my roommate.”
“I am too, Chris. Trust me, you have nothing to be nervous about,” Tobin assured. “Also, not fair! You get to stare at me while I have to sit here and drive for more than ten hours!” Tobin was dying to turn her head to look at Christen. She wanted to see Christen’s smile and eyes. She wanted to see Christen talking and laughing. It had been too long since she’d just gotten to stare at her.
“We can switch, you know? I’m a great driver, hands always at the ten and two, never going over the speed limit.”
“I bet you are. Probably aced your test on the first try,” Tobin mumbled.
“100%, no mistakes,” Christen shot back with a smile.
“I went fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit and ran a red light my first try,” Tobin replied honestly.
Christen gulped, eyeing Tobin hesitantly. “And you grew out of that right?”
“I’ve had a lot of practice since then,” Tobin nodded, reaching one hand out to squeeze Christen’s for a second.
Christen didn’t want to let go of Tobin’s hand, but she knew she should. As she did, she scooted just a bit closer to Tobin and put her arm along the back of the bench seat, her hand right behind Tobin’s neck. She shouldn’t hold Tobin’s hand, but she could at least get closer to her.
“Want to switch in a few hours?” Christen asked, her fingers dying to reach out and play with the baby hairs curled at the base of Tobin’s neck.
“I don’t know,” Tobin hummed. “You flew all the way out here. I’m not gonna make you drive too. Maybe we can stop for breakfast at some point, though.”
“Sounds good. I’m happy I’m here,” Christen replied softly.
“Me too. I missed you,” Tobin whispered.
“How cool is it that we don’t have to miss each other for like the next month, at least?” Christen asked, her cheeks heating up and butterflies exploding in her stomach at the question. She got to spend every day with Tobin for the next month, at least a few days a week until camp. It was the most time they’d had together since they met and Christen was beyond excited.
“Extremely,” Tobin nodded. “I was really worried we’d both be too busy this summer to actually spend time together.”
“Me too. Thank goodness for U-23 camp and my dad’s Southwest miles.”
“Good ‘ole Cody,” Tobin sighed, leaning her back against the driver’s seat.
Christen’s fingertips ghosted across the back of Tobin’s neck as Tobin leaned back. Tobin immediately sucked in a breath at the contact.
Christen pulled her hand off the back of Tobin’s seat quickly, an embarrassed flush on her face. She put her hands in her lap and tried to forget the intimate sound of Tobin’s gasp.
“Umm, yeah my dad won't stop talking about how you fixed the grill over spring break. I swear, every time I get him on the phone he mentions it! Like, I could have figured out the gas wasn’t plugged in too, I just was busy with Morena and Khaleesi,” Christen said, laughing a bit at the memory of Tobin and her dad fiddling with the grill for over an hour, until Tobin realized the gas was unplugged.
Tobin let out a loud laugh as well, remembering how Christen had called her and asked her to come over to help with the grill. Of course, after fixing it, she’d been invited to stay for their family cookout.
“Yeah, sure. You were busy,” Tobin rolled her eyes. “You pretending you know how to grill would be annoying if you weren’t so cute,” Tobin said, the words practically spilling from her lips without being filtered.
“I can totally grill. You throw things down, flip them over, and take them off. Easy, peasy,” Christen teased, loving that she could get Tobin riled up with something as simple as grilling.
“Chris, do you even know how to prepare a grill for grilling?” Tobin challenged, chancing a look at Christen and loving the way Christen’s eyes were already scrunched in thought.
“You ask it nicely to behave?”
Tobin snorted, just nodding her head softly. “Sure. Or when it’s you, you just ask me nicely to come do it,” Tobin added.
Christen shrugged, running her free hand through her messy curls. “Guilty,” she blushed.
“Well any time it breaks, you know who to call,” Tobin said, knowing she was powerless against Christen. Christen could ask for anything, and Tobin would oblige.
“And I’ll help by watching you fix it, since asking the grill nicely isn’t the right thing to do apparently,” Christen replied with a small laugh.
“Why would you want to watch?” Tobin asked, her eyebrows scrunching together.
Christen took a long sip of coffee, finding that her cup was almost empty but that it was the perfect distraction to give her time to think of a suitable response. Something other than, “It’s hot” or “You’re hot when you do it. ”
“Uhhh...when do you think we’ll get that breakfast?”
“Solid avoidance tactic,” Tobin murmured, wishing that Christen had answered, wishing that she could be honest with Christen without fear that Christen would get scared or freaked out. “Hmmm…we could stop within the hour, I guess.”
“Tell me pancakes don’t sound so good right now?” Christen asked, appreciating that Tobin dropped the whole barbecue thing and seemed to be content to move on.
“Pancakes literally always sound good,” Tobin agreed, her stomach growling without warning.
“Then get us there safely. I’ll buy us the first round,” Christen replied, sliding her sunglasses on as the sun began to rise over the horizon.
“If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?” Tobin asked, stretching her legs forward, her feet resting against the dashboard of the car.
“Damn, that’s a good one,” Christen replied, her eyes focused on the road. They were about 45 minutes away from her house, and the two of them had taken to asking each other questions to pass the rest of the time. She signaled with the blinker and changed lanes, letting a Mustang roar past them.
“Probably something to better help others, like volunteering or giving back. I don’t have enough time to do it now, and if I didn’t have to sleep, I think I could manage to make more of a difference,” Christen replied with a small shrug.
“Well that’s super selfless. I was going to say that I’d practice free kicks,” Tobin mumbled, completely in awe of Christen Press, as usual.
Christen laughed, looking over at Tobin quickly before moving her eyes back to the road.
“Hey, that’s a good answer too!”
“You don’t need to protect my ego, Chris. I know you’re the good one in this car,” Tobin laughed.
“One woman’s opinion,” Christen shot back with a smile. “Okay, my turn. Um…” Christen trailed off, racking her brain for another question. She’d been dancing around one in particular for the last hour, and with only a short bit left in their drive, she thought now might be the time to ask it.
“Do you believe in soulmates?” Christen asked quietly, hoping her curiosity and desire to know Tobin’s answer wasn’t obvious.
Tobin nearly choked on the water she’d been sipping on and off throughout their car ride. Most of the questions she and Christen had been asking each other were stupid, meaningless really. Questions like: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be, or if you could take only one thing to a deserted island what would you choose? Tobin was taken aback by how serious Christen’s question was. Not only that, but she wondered if there was a possibility that she might answer incorrectly and cost a possible chance with Christen. “Can you pretend you didn’t hear her?” Tobin wondered, knowing just how stupid that would be, since they were side-by-side in her tiny truck.
“Umm…” Tobin faltered. She could feel her palms start to sweat and her heart start to thrum faster, just trying to find the right words to say. “I think so,” Tobin nodded, trying to watch Christen’s face for a response. “I don’t think people only have one soulmate, though.”
“How so?” Christen queried, wishing she could turn to face Tobin, slightly regretting asking such a serious question when her attention had to be on the road in front of them and not on Tobin.
“I mean,” Tobin laughed. “I consider Jeff my first soulmate. He’s my baby brother and my best friend, and he always understands me best, not that I don’t love the rest of my family. Jeff and I are just cut from the same cloth. And I consider Harry a soulmate, despite how annoying she is. She’s my best friend, and I think it was fated that we would meet. I consider ARod and Lauren soulmates. They’re my best friends and the reason I’m still at Penn State. I consider…” Tobin trailed off, not knowing if she wanted to say the last part just yet, while Christen was operating heavy machinery.
“You consider…?” Christen parroted, the warmth in her chest from Tobin’s response evolving into something resembling hopeful curiosity at the way Tobin failed to finish her last sentence.
“I consider you a soulmate. A new kind of soulmate that I’ve never had before,” Tobin thought to herself. Not that she could tell Christen that, though.
Before Tobin could find the words to answer, they suddenly hit a pothole in the road, the front left tire popping loudly. The truck shuddered violently as the tire popped.
“Shit!” Christen shrieked, gripping the steering wheel tightly with two hands, her heart beating so fast in her chest she thought it would explode.
“Okay, okay, just ease over to the shoulder,” Tobin hummed, keeping her cool. She slid her feet off of the dashboard and reached over to put her hand on Christen’s shoulder, noticing that Christen’s entire body was tensed.
“Yeah, right, the shoulder,” Christen replied, thankful for Tobin’s touch. It was the only thing keeping her grounded right now.
“You’re doing great,” Tobin assured her, looking over her shoulder to check for cars behind them and seeing none.
Christen pulled the truck to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. She parked the truck, her lower lip pulled between her teeth. Her guilt was eating away at her and she couldn’t bear to look at Tobin just yet.
“All righty, let me assess the damage,” Tobin muttered, hardly seeming fazed by anything that had just happened. She didn’t even look over to Christen, too intent on solving the problem quickly and getting back on the road. Tobin turned on the hazard lights, slipped a pair of flip flops onto her feet, and slid out of the passenger’s side. She checked the highway before walking around to the driver’s side where the tire had popped. She peered at the tire, looking at a huge gash in the rubber. She’d never actually seen a gash that big in a tire, and thought about taking a picture for her dad to look at after she got home. He’d probably think it was cool. “Well that’s super flat,” Tobin laughed, glancing up to finally look at Christen.
Christen rolled down the window manually, her face tight with guilt as she kept her eyes on some spot on Tobin’s shirt, avoiding Tobin’s eyes completely. “I am so sorry, Tobs, I didn’t see the pothole and if I did, I would have swerved out of the way and-”
“Chris, relax,” Tobin whispered, reaching a hand into the car and pushing a strand of hair behind Christen’s ear. “It’s no big deal. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just a pothole and a flat tire.” Tobin moved her hand under Christen’s chin, trying to get her to meet her eyes. “I’m not upset. I promise.”
Christen huffed out a laugh, her eyes suspiciously wet. “Yeah,” she replied, trying her best to smile in Tobin’s direction.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Tobin asked, her voice the softest it had ever been.
Christen shrugged and tried to turn away, but Tobin’s hand on her chin kept her in place.
“Please talk to me,” Tobin asked, her voice somewhat pleading. She just wanted to make whatever sadness had completely taken over Christen go away.
“I didn’t mean to destroy Frank,” Christen muttered, feeling beyond bad that she’d not only derailed their road trip, but had done damage to Tobin’s car, a car she loved so much she’d spent an hour of the drive talking about it. “You love Frank so much and I killed him, basically.”
“Frank is totally fine,” Tobin assured her, lifting her free hand to tap on the hood of her car. “Replacing a flat tire is no big deal.”
“You totally know how to do that on your own, huh?” Christen asked, her hand coming up to pull Tobin’s away from her chin. But she didn’t drop Tobin’s hand this time, instead keeping it in a tight grasp.
Tobin nodded slowly, letting a smirk creep onto her face.
“You want to watch? It’ll probably be a lot like when I fix the grill,” Tobin teased, just wanting to see Christen’s smile again.
And smile she did. Christen fought off a blush as she dropped Tobin’s hand, shoving the brunette away from the driver’s side door.
“Move, let me get out,” Christen grumbled, grabbing her jacket so she could throw it on once she got outside.
Tobin grinned wide enough that her cheeks ached. She dug under a few of her bags to pull out the lug wrench and jack she kept in the back of the truck’s cab. Then, she climbed into the bed of the truck, moving even more of her belongings to pull the spare tire out.
“I’d offer to help, but you seem stubborn and determined,” Christen quipped from the ground, her green eyes dancing with amusement.
“I’m sorry, do you want to learn?” Tobin asked, a sincere look on her face.
Christen swallowed her sarcastic response once she saw the genuine smile Tobin was giving her. With a sigh, Christen pulled a hair tie off of her wrist and began to tug her curls up into a bun.
“I guess now’s as good a time as any,” Christen replied.
“Awesome!” Tobin said, rolling the spare tire toward the front of the car. She was hoping more than anything that helping her with the tire would make Christen feel less guilty about the pothole. “You did put the parking brake on, right?”
Christen blanched and hurried back to the driver’s side door. She peeked her head into the truck and let out an audible sigh of relief.
“Parking brake, engaged,” Christen called out, returning to the side of the truck.
Tobin nodded in approval, showing Christen how to loosen the lug nuts, raise the truck with the jack, and replace the tire. There were a few steps that Christen definitely ignored, choosing instead to look at the night sky and let Tobin tighten the nuts with the wrench, but Tobin enjoyed Christen’s interest, even if feigned. There was something so incredibly normal, maybe even domestic, about doing this with Christen. The road trip, replacing the tire. It was all just so normal, and all Tobin wanted was more moments just like these.
“That should do it,” Tobin sighed, tossing the flat tire into the bed of the truck. She glanced at Christen, loving that the dark-haired girl was still looking up at the sky, her face lifted. It reminded Tobin of the first moment she’d ever seen Christen on the soccer field with her head facing the sun and her hands lifted from her sides. Tobin felt a sudden urge to wrap her arms around Christen’s waist and hug her from behind, to just sit in this moment with Christen.
She didn’t though. She stayed near the driver’s side door, one hand on the door handle, her eyes glued to Christen’s profile, her thoughts drifting.
Christen hadn’t mentioned anything about their night at Ali and Ashlyn’s house or at the club. She’d acted as if it never happened or like she couldn’t remember. Tobin wasn’t hurt by that. After all, she also had no idea how to bring it up with Christen. Because of that, however, Tobin had no idea how to be around Christen without short-circuiting. All she wanted to do was touch Christen. She wanted to pull her into her arms. Tobin just wanted to feel Christen’s lips on her cheek again, on her neck. She wanted to kiss Christen softly, tasting her lips, taking one between her own and-
“Are you okay to drive the rest of the way?” Christen asked, her eyes wide and curious.
“Ye- yeah. Yep,” Tobin coughed out, yanking open the truck’s door and sliding into the driver’s seat.
The rest of their drive was peacefully quiet, the two of them tired after a full day of driving. A soft song played over the radio as Tobin drummed her fingers to the beat. It only took a few minutes of driving away from the pothole for Christen’s eyes to get heavy. Tobin could tell she was fighting to stay awake, her head lolling against the window, the day’s events taking their toll.
“You can lie down,” Tobin whispered softly, glancing over at Christen’s fluttering eyelids.
Christen hesitated, not wanting to ditch Tobin for the dream world, when she’d been able to stay awake all day long.
“I’m wide awake, I promise,” Tobin said. “We’ll be home in half an hour anyway. You can sleep.”
They were going to Christen’s house, which definitely wasn’t Tobin’s home, but the sound of that word rolling off of her tongue made Christen’s chest warm. Christen let herself wonder for a moment if one day they would be in the same place, if they would both be able to call somewhere home, maybe even if they would become each other’s homes. But she shouldn't be thinking about that, not when sleep was muddling her brain and the words for telling Tobin how she truly felt were ready to come out.
“You’re sure?” Christen asked, wanting to give Tobin one more chance to renege her offer.
“I can’t promise it’ll be comfortable,” Tobin warned, looking down at the bench seat that the two of them shared, “But it’ll be better than the window.”
Christen couldn’t deny herself the chance to be this close to Tobin. So, she smiled and bunched up her jacket, positioning it against Tobin’s thigh. She gently tucked her legs onto the seat and then dropped her head onto the jacket, careful to stay a few inches away from Tobin.
“You can take up more room than that,” Tobin laughed, taking her eyes off the road to look at Christen. She was making herself as small as possible, but all Tobin wanted was for her to be comfortable. Christen had chosen to take this trip with her. She’d sacrificed an entire day just to sit in a car with Tobin, and the least Tobin could do was help keep her comfortable and happy. Not only that, but Tobin was dying to touch Christen. Today, every time her hands met Christen’s or her knee brushed against Christen’s leg, she could feel every inch of her skin warm up. All she wanted was to feel that again and again.
“More room...it’s like she’s trying to kill me,” Christen thought. She was trying to respect the last bit of space between them left in this truck. Especially after they’d just huddled on the ground on the side of the road together, after Tobin’s hands covered her own as they turned the lug wrench. She was trying not to cave and give in to her desire to cuddle up to Tobin. But she couldn’t do it any longer.
“Fine, but if I drool on you, it’s your fault for offering,” Christen muttered, moving her jacket out of the way and then placing her head down on Tobin’s leg. The jeans Tobin wore were way more comfortable than her jacket, and Christen couldn’t help but feel immensely grateful for Tobin’s complete disregard for personal space.
“I’ll put my jeans in the wash as soon as I get home. I won’t even tease you for it,” Tobin laughed, trying to act normal when her entire body was heating up at Christen’s contact. She was happy that the car was pitch black so late at night, allowing her reddened cheeks to stay hidden.
Christen could feel Tobin’s warmth through the jeans, and it made the heaviness in her eyes even harder to fight. As sleep started to completely pull her under, Christen placed her hand right by her face, wrapping her hand around Tobin’s thigh. She fell asleep faster than she ever had before, with a small smile tugging at her lips.
Tobin didn’t want to wake Christen up. The closer they’d gotten to Christen’s house in Palos Verdes, the slower Tobin had driven. At some point on their drive, Tobin’s right hand has slid off the steering wheel, falling to rest on Christen’s shoulder, drawing random shapes against her skin. She couldn’t stop herself from glancing down and looking at Christen’s sleepy face, her eyelids fluttering softly with whatever dreams she was having. She looked more peaceful than Tobin had ever seen her before, and Tobin didn’t want to ruin that. She didn’t want to wake Christen up and lose the contact Christen was making with her leg. She didn’t want to feel cold as soon as Christen left her car.
“I’m falling in love with you,” Tobin thought, her stomach dropping as soon as she’d processed the thought. She glanced back down at Christen, hoping that her brain hadn’t been thinking hard enough for Christen to hear. That thought, those words would terrify Christen. They weren’t even together. They were only friends, and Tobin was already feeling more for Christen than she’d ever felt for anyone else. There was no denying it. Tobin was quickly and helplessly falling in love with the girl asleep on her lap. What surprised her more was that Tobin wasn’t afraid to fall. If she were going to fall in love with anyone, she wanted it to be Christen. She needed it to be Christen.
No matter how slowly she wanted to drive, though, there was no stopping the inevitability of actually arriving at Christen’s house. It was late, only two upstairs windows were illuminated in Christen’s house and shining down into her front yard. Tobin took one last look at Christen, loving the way Christen’s breath came out in puffs against her leg.
“Chris,” Tobin whispered, moving her hand from Christen’s shoulder to brush a few strands of hair out of her face. She let her fingers move softly through Christen’s curls, hoping that it would be a relaxing way for Christen to wake up.
“Mmmm, five more minutes,” Christen grumbled, burrowing closer to Tobin, her grip tightening on Tobin’s thigh.
Who was Tobin to deny Christen? How could Tobin say no to the girl who was holding so tightly onto her? She glanced back at Christen’s house, noticing that a person was passing one of the bright windows, presumably having seen Tobin’s car pull into the driveway.
“I wish,” Tobin sighed, knowing Christen was too sleepy to really dissect what exactly Tobin was wishing for. Tobin wasn’t even fully sure what she was wishing for. “I wish we could stay right here, like this, forever. I wish I could tell you how you make me feel. I wish you could feel how fast my heart beats when you touch me. I wish you’d feel the way I feel for you. I wish we were falling in love together.”
“I wish too,” Christen replied, her voice heavy with sleep.
“You want to do some training tomorrow?” Tobin asked, clearing her throat and clearing her mind of all of its jumbled thoughts. She felt completely unable to leave Christen before they had another scheduled time to hang out, like she couldn’t drive away before knowing when she’d come back.
Mention of training had Christen wrinkling her nose and blinking her eyes open. She moved out of that pleasant, sleepy state and became a bit more alert. She was about to slide her hand off Tobin’s thigh, her cheeks burning that she’d been holding Tobin that way for the past thirty minutes, but then she felt Tobin’s blunt nails scratch at her scalp and Christen couldn’t have pulled away even if she wanted to.
“Training, sprints, whatever you want, so long as you keep doing that,” Christen mumbled, letting her eyes fall shut once more.
“Doing what?” Tobin asked dumbly, her hands moving without her conscious thought. She hadn’t intended on running her fingers through Christen’s hair for long, but Tobin had gotten lost in the feeling. She’d gotten lost in how close she felt to Christen.
Christen sighed as she removed her hand from Tobin’s thigh. Without turning her head or looking up, she pointed at where Tobin’s hand was buried in her curls, still scratching at her scalp and making Christen’s entire soul happy.
“Oh, sorry,” Tobin blushed, knowing she shouldn’t have done that without asking. She pulled her hand away, gently in order to not pull any of Christen’s curls. Tobin didn’t even like putting her arm around Christen without asking permission, afraid that the other girl wouldn’t like it.
With Tobin’s hand gone, Christen resigned herself to sit up and move off of Tobin. She regretted it immediately, feeling cold and far away as she sat back on her side of the truck.
“I’m gonna make you pay me a dollar every time you say sorry for things you don’t need to say sorry for,” Christen said, rearranging her curls after the small mess of them that Tobin had made with her subconscious scalp massage.
“You’d probably be very wealthy,” Tobin sighed, running her hand through her own hair now to refocus herself. Sitting this close to Christen was intoxicating, and she could feel herself weakening. She didn’t want to drop Christen off at her house. She didn’t want Christen to leave.
“So wealthy I could afford a top-notch trainer to show me the ropes before we fly to Portland together,” Christen teased, finally looking over at Tobin. She was mesmerized by the way the moonlight filtering in through the windshield was playing off the lines and angles of Tobin’s face. It made her look even more beautiful.
“For you?” Tobin feigned deep thought. “I’ll train, no cost.” Tobin turned to look at Christen, grinning when she saw that Christen’s eyes were glued to her.
“Nine AM? I can pick you up or we can meet somewhere-”
“What? You don’t want Frank?” Tobin gasped.
Christen grinned. “Frank needs a new tire and some time away from me.”
“It’s okay, buddy. She doesn’t mean it,” Tobin whispered, tapping her hands against the steering wheel.
Christen rolled her eyes. She turned to look at her house, noting the lights were on upstairs, as well as on the porch. Her cheeks grew hot, knowing what that meant.
“My dad’s been watching the truck this entire time,” Christen said. She pointed to the upstairs windows, her eyes still on the house. “He always sits behind the blinds and peeks out when he knows one of us is coming home.”
“That’s a good dad. Good thing we weren’t making out,” Tobin blurted out. “Really?! You’re that tired?” Tobin chastised herself, immediately wishing that she could drive away from the situation.
Christen whipped around, fixing Tobin with a surprised look. “Did Tobin really just say that?” she wondered, feeling like all the things they’d been tactfully avoiding, the building tension and the lingering looks, were about to explode, right here in this truck, after a 13 hour car ride.
“Not that- I mean. Not that we’d…” Tobin couldn’t finish her sentence. She couldn’t save herself from her own words. Instead, she just sat back in the driver’s seat and looked straight out the windshield.
Christen chuckled at Tobin’s flustered rambling, knowing that she’d need to be the one to pull them back from this, to salvage this before Tobin further withdrew.
“What was that thing I said to you in Orlando? Next time bring a shovel if you’re gonna dig yourself that deep of a hole?” Christen teased, reaching down to grab her backpack from the floor.
“You’re really proud of that line, aren’t you?” Tobin teased. She still couldn’t look at Christen, her eyes glued to Christen’s neighbor’s mailbox.
“It was pretty good, and always seems fitting whenever I’m with you,” Christen replied, eyes locked on Tobin’s side profile, wishing Tobin would just look at her. “But, uh, thanks for the ride. This was really fun.”
“Thanks for the company,” Tobin mumbled. “I’ll see you tomorrow at 9:00. You can drive. Frank’ll sit this one out.”
“Yeah?” Tobin replied, just hoping that the driver’s seat would swallow her whole and take her away from the awkwardness she was feeling. She shouldn’t have said that. She’d crossed a line, and Tobin hated when she said things and couldn’t take them back.
“Feeling sorry and then not saying it means you owe me five dollars,” Christen quipped hoping that would get Tobin to look at her.
“I’ll buy you a coffee in the morning,” Tobin replied, giving Christen a half-smile, her eyes shifting from the windshield to Christen for a second.
Christen beamed, reaching out to grab ahold of Tobin’s hand in her own. She gave it a quick squeeze.
“Thanks again. And, um, I believe in soulmates too, you know. I never got to tell you before the whole pothole-mageddon thing,” Christen said, her words a little rushed, her blush deepening. “Good night, Tobs.”
“Good night, Chris,” Tobin whispered, her voice hardly working. She couldn’t take her eyes off Christen, wishing she could ask her even more questions, wishing Christen would clarify just a little bit more.
Christen finally let her hand fall away from Tobin’s. She forced herself to turn around and open the truck door, knowing that if she didn’t right now, she’d do something absolutely silly like kiss Tobin Heath.
“Sweet dreams,” Tobin murmured, stuck in her seat and unable to do anything but watch Christen scramble out of the truck and grab her backpack.
“You too,” Christen grinned, shutting the door gently and then waving one more time before walking up to her house.
Tobin sat in her truck long after Christen walked through the front door and turned off the porch light. She watched as another window brightened and Christen’s shadow moved across the room. Only then did Tobin crank the car up and pull out of the driveway, the thought “I’m falling in love with you,” returning to her brain and keeping her company for the rest of the night.