If we lay, let the day just pass us by
I might get to too much talking
I might have to tell you something
I like me better when I'm with you
I like me better when I'm with you
I knew from the first time, I'd stay for a long time
'Cause I like me better when
I like me better when I'm with you
(Tobin - “I Like Me Better” by Lauv)
Well, everything has changed
And now it's only you that matters
I will find any way to your wild heart
(Christen - “Wild Heart” by Bleachers)
“Fuck!” Christen yelled, slapping the dewy morning grass with both hands.
She and Tobin were at a local field and had the whole place to themselves. Tobin had brought small, pop-up nets, a bag of soccer balls, and some cones. They’d started their first training session with some light conditioning, not wanting to wear themselves out. Christen had thrived, of course, like she always did when fitness was involved. It felt extra good to beat Tobin in those long, full-field sprints.
But now Tobin was getting her revenge. They were practicing 1v1s against each other, and Tobin had just successfully nutmegged her for the fifth time.
Christen slapped the grass one more time before collapsing backward, her forearm covering her eyes from the blinding sun slowly rising overhead.
“You alright, Chris?” Tobin jogged over, knocking her cleat against one of Christen’s. Tobin felt a little guilty for frustrating Christen, but Christen had completely shown off during the sprints, and Tobin had wanted to protect a little bit of her pride. Christen was extremely fast, faster than Tobin had ever given her credit for, and Tobin was leaning back into her tricks to beat Christen.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I promise I can actually defend,” Christen grumbled, not lifting her arm away from her eyes.
“I know you can. I’ve seen it,” Tobin agreed, squatting down next to Christen to get a better look at her partially-hidden face. “Chris, I’m sorry. I was being too, uhhh… aggressive?” Tobin tried, scratching the back of her neck.
Never in her life had Tobin ever apologized for beating someone at a 1v1 drill, but then again, she’d never felt the way she felt about Christen Press for anyone else before. She couldn’t help but feel a little guilty when she frustrated Christen when all she wanted was to make Christen happy. She wanted Christen to feel confident and joyous, not disappointed and frustrated. For better or for worse, she was falling in love with Christen and becoming completely weak for Christen in the process.
Christen held up a finger, silencing any more of Tobin’s words. “One more sorry and I’m gonna smack you, Heath.”
“Noted, noted,” Tobin mumbled. She looked down at Christen, wishing she could make her feel less discouraged. She’d never trained with Christen before. She didn’t know how Christen liked to practice or whether Christen typically got frustrated. She immediately noticed how determined Christen was, a trait that clearly served her well since she refused to quit without winning. “Umm, you want to do something else then?” Tobin asked, picking at the grass on her cleats.
Finally, Christen rose to a sitting position again. She wiped the grass from her face and fixed Tobin with a hard look.
“No. Your start,” Christen replied, pushing Tobin’s shoulder, hard, and causing her to fall to the grass. With a small attempt at a smirk, Christen quickly hopped to her feet and stood in front of her small pop-up net, ready to defend.
Tobin had expected that answer, but she hadn’t expected such a cheap shot from Christen. “Hey!” Tobin protested. “What was that!”
Christen shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You slipped.”
“I should have brought my yellow card,” Tobin grumbled, rolling over and lifting herself off the ground. She began to dribble toward Christen, grinning at Christen’s immediate focus. It was simultaneously adorable and hot, and Tobin needed to look down at the ball to avoid getting distracted.
Christen kept herself low, trying her best not to let her feet drift far enough apart for Tobin to poke the ball between them. She pivoted backward, keeping Tobin and the ball in front of her, her brow knit in determination. She wasn’t going to let Tobin beat her again.
Instead of kicking the ball between Christen’s legs this time, Tobin sidestepped to the right of Christen, trapped the ball between her cleats, and flicked it over her shoulder. She didn’t even wait to see if Christen was impressed with her rainbow move. She raced around Christen and tapped the ball into the goal.
If Christen was annoyed before, now she was frustrated and humiliated. She placed both hands on her hips and dropped her chin to her chest. She took deep breaths in, hoping they would dispel the red haze threatening to descend upon her.
“Was that too much?” Tobin asked, her celebratory smile long gone, a sheepish one in its place.
Christen shook her head and walked over to where they’d dropped their stuff. She needed a break, and some water, and a little bit of space from Tobin Heath. She was annoyed that in addition to just being frustrated with her lack of defending, she was impressed with Tobin’s skills and found them extremely hot. This was not the way she wanted to feel when preparing for the biggest opportunity of her life.
Tobin watched as Christen retreated, unsure of whether she should follow or not. Her guess was Christen didn’t want her around, since she’d turned her back so quickly and was already sitting next to their things. Instead, Tobin grabbed the bag of soccer balls that she’d brought and jogged toward one of the goals. She placed each of the balls along the eighteen-yard box, knowing that Christen excelled in scoring. This was Christen’s bread and butter, and Tobin knew Christen would be able to beat her and release some frustration at the same time.
She waited patiently for Christen to calm down, choosing to give her space. Tobin sat near the line of soccer balls, letting herself have a breather and looking up at the clouds every few minutes, just enjoying the scenery.
Christen finally felt her heart rate slow enough for her to consider going back out on the field. But when she looked up, she saw Tobin sitting near the eighteen-yard box with all of the soccer balls. With a final sip of water and a deep breath, Christen jogged over to Tobin.
“Done with small-sided already?” Christen asked, hating that her voice was so tight and full of annoyance still.
Tobin jumped to her feet as soon as Christen spoke. She curled both of her hands into fists and raised her arms over her head, trying to ooze as much excitement as she could. All she wanted was for Christen to feel excited about camp and training. She didn’t want Christen to start her summer feeling discouraged.
“Christen Press, this is the World Cup Final!” Tobin said, a huge grin splitting her face. “Take your shot!”
Christen’s brows drew together. She looked around and then back to Tobin, her confusion deepening as Tobin seemed very committed to whatever it was she was doing.
“Do you...do you not do that?” Tobin asked, her arms falling to her sides in slight embarrassment.
“Every time I practice shooting, I pretend it’s the World Cup Final and it’s this shot that’s going to decide whether we win or lose,” Tobin said, feeling somewhat stupid that something she had done throughout her life, from the age of five on, was less common than she’d thought.
Christen melted at the admission, some of her frustration and confusion seeping away. Of course, Tobin Heath would think something like that when she practiced shooting. It was part of her effortless and free way of playing the sport they both loved, something Christen envied.
“I don’t think I’ve ever let myself dream like that, especially if I’m just shooting some balls at the net,” Christen admitted.
“Well start dreaming, Chris, because we have two weeks before it starts getting really real. I’m not going to the World Cup without you, and I’m going to the World Cup,” Tobin asserted, her hands resting on her hips now. She needed to get Christen’s confidence up and fast. Tobin had no idea how Christen couldn’t see herself the way everyone else saw her, a natural-born talent and a fierce competitor.
Christen’s smile came without warning, and definitely without her expecting it too. Usually, when she got this frustrated, she just shut down for the rest of the session and couldn’t let it go until she meditated on it. But Tobin’s goofy grin and big dreams, dreams that involved her, were working wonders for her right now.
“Guess I better score some goals then,” Christen replied, turning to face the goal. She started at the far end of the line of balls and looked back over at Tobin with a smile.
“Press will be the one to take this shot for the U.S.,” Tobin spoke, making her voice sound as much like an ESPN commentator as she could. She just wanted to make Christen smile again. The smile made Tobin’s stomach do somersaults, the smile that she wanted to see on Christen’s face literally every second they were together.
Christen let her eyes fall shut, trying her best to center herself. This was just shooting. Simple shooting. She’d been doing it since she was a kid. It was something she was impossibly good at, and it was time to show that.
Christen took a few strides and struck the ball with her laces, sending it skyrocketing over the goal. She immediately cringed, her palms rising to smooth out the hair on her head, her nervous tic.
“The thing about Press that makes her so deadly on the field,” Tobin continued, not even phased by the ball that Christen had sent sailing acres over the net, “is that she isn’t afraid to make mistakes. Players who make it as household names, as real legends, can’t be discouraged by a mistake, and Press is the perfect example of that. You see that smile, folks. That’s a smile that says she’ll try again. Opponents should fear that smile,” Tobin finished, waiting for Christen to take her next shot.
Christen could feel the smile Tobin was talking about on her face, and she couldn’t do anything to stop it. So, she merely narrowed her eyes teasingly at Tobin and shook her head. She then moved down the line, ready to send this next ball into the goal. This time, Christen hit the ball with the inside of her foot, the ball curling into the back of the net.
Christen bent down and pumped her arms at her sides, exuberant at making the shot. It was one she’d made hundreds of times, and would easily make again, but it felt more important than ever before.
“AND IT’S A BANGER, FOLKS! That is what makes Christen Press one of the best forwards in the world!” Tobin yelled, her hands flying into the air in celebration.
Every shot left in the line went exactly like that. Christen would line up, send a beautiful shot into the back of the net, celebrate it like she was scoring at the World Cup, and Tobin would comment on it. Each of her comments was different but no less adorable or full of compliments. They always made Christen’s smile that much bigger.
As the last shot curled into the very top corner of the net, Christen lifted her arms into the air and turned to face Tobin.
“CHRISTEN PRESS! WHAT HAVE YOU DOOOOONE!!!!” Tobin yelled, running toward Christen with her arms outstretched, a huge grin on her face. She couldn’t help herself. Looking at Christen so happy and carefree made Tobin want to lift her off the ground and spin her in her arms.
Christen couldn’t help but laugh, feeling her gratitude for Tobin settle in her heart. She let Tobin scoop her up and hug her tight, almost as if they were celebrating a goal they’d scored together, Tobin assisting her and her sending it into the back of the net. It was an embrace that had so much hope, so much ‘someday’ in it, that Christen needed to close her eyes and take it in. It felt real, it felt like they could go all the way to the international stage together. And it all started here, on a sunny morning in Los Angeles, where Tobin had helped her get out of a bad place and back into her groove.
Eventually, Tobin set her down and Christen took a small step back, her smile never falling.
“Okay, I’ll hand it to you, Tobs. You always know how to make the game feel fun,” Christen said a little breathlessly.
“It’s supposed to be. It wouldn’t be called a game if it weren’t,” Tobin shrugged, not really taking the compliment.
Christen cocked her head to the side, her smile growing, her awe at everything about Tobin, her mentality, her love for the game, her giving heart, growing as well.
“It’s fun when I play with you,” Christen confessed.
“Good thing we get to do that all summer,” Tobin hummed. “You’ll learn all my secrets and kick my butt when we’re back at separate schools.”
Tobin hadn’t meant to mention their separation. They had all summer and really didn’t need to think about separating in the fall. That being said, it was something Tobin couldn’t stop thinking about. As much as she wanted to tell Christen about all of her feelings, she was terrified that Christen wouldn’t want to give it a shot because of the distance. Their separation was inevitable, and Tobin didn’t want to ruin things between them over the summer.
The reminder chilled the warmth spreading around Christen’s heart. Her smile faltered just a little bit. At the mention of their impending separation and time apart, even if it was months away, Christen backed away toward the goal.
“Right. I’m gonna go shag these,” Christen said, hooking a thumb over her shoulder. “Then we can do some crossing and finishing?”
“Sure, Chris,” Tobin nodded, knowing she’d brought the mood down considerably. “I’m just gonna get some water.”
Christen jogged over to the goal, kicking the balls over towards the touchline so she could cross them for Tobin.
When they were together, things were so easy. Tobin just had this calming effect on her, putting any of Christen’s worries or anxieties at ease. She also had such infectious energy, making Christen always want to be around her. They were good together, a nice balance of put-together and laid-back, of serious and silly. They complemented each other so well, and with every passing day, it was getting harder to deny it. But no matter how great things always were when they were together, no matter how much her heart raced and the butterflies in her stomach fluttered, she knew Tobin couldn’t be by her side in the long run. At some point, she’d go back to Penn State and leave Christen all alone in L.A.
“It always comes back to that. To the distance. Stupid freaking distance,” Christen thought, juggling the last soccer ball as she made her way over to the pile of balls near the sideline.
Tobin took one last gulp of water, hoping that she could clear her head of all the warring thoughts she had about telling Christen how she felt. “She asked you to practice together, not freak out about feelings,” Tobin reminded herself. “You need the practice, anyway. You’re panting out there.” Tobin capped her water bottle and stood up. She placed a grin on her face, hoping that it would convince Christen that everything was fine. Tobin didn’t want Christen to think that Tobin’s mind spiraled all the time. She wanted to be fun to be around. She wanted Christen to enjoy spending time with her, and making things complicated with feelings was not the way to do that.
“I’m ready when you are,” Tobin called to Christen, genuinely smiling at the way Christen messed around with the ball, sliding her cleat down the front of the ball and sending the ball spinning back toward her across the slick grass.
Christen looked up, a hand over her eyes to shield them from the sun. She returned Tobin’s smile, albeit a little hesitantly. She quit messing around and focused on the task at hand. Christen dribbled down the sidelines, pulling a quick move for an imaginary defender, and then taking a touch toward the goal. She picked her head up and saw Tobin hovering near the back post.
“Tobs, head!” she yelled, winding up and sending a floating ball to the back post for Tobin to head home.
Tobin hardly had to tap the ball with her head. It was extremely well-placed by Christen, and Tobin suddenly longed to know what it would be like to play with Christen in an actual game. She wanted to know what it would be like to be on Christen’s team, on the receiving end of one of her passes or crosses. In two weeks, she got to find out and she was beyond excited about it.
“GOOOAAAAAL!!!!!” Tobin cheered, running away from the goal and pumping her fist.
Christen threw her head back in laughter at Tobin’s celebration and then hustled back toward the pile of soccer balls.
“That was just a warm-up, let’s see what you can do with this one,” Christen called out, her tone challenging.
Tobin prepared herself, her focus back on Christen and her legs twitching in anticipation to start running.
Christen smirked and then took off with the ball at her feet. She drove to the end line, cut the ball back like she was faking out a defender, and then looked up. Tobin was situated a little behind the penalty kick spot. Wanting to give her something more difficult, Christen sent a knee-height, driven ball toward Tobin.
Tobin’s total focus was on the ball. She didn’t look away to see if Christen was smirking, not that she needed to. She knew that Christen thought she’d bested her. Instead of bringing the ball down and shooting, Tobin lifted her right leg off the ground, got her hips around the ball, and volleyed it into the upper ninety.
Tobin didn’t run or celebrate. She didn’t scream “goal” or pump her fist. She didn’t need to. Tobin put her hands on her hips and looked right at Christen, the smirk that had probably been there before completely gone. Instead, Tobin was wearing the smirk, just waiting for Christen’s complaint.
Christen simply shook her head, her tongue poking out of her mouth to wet her lips. That was one of the sexiest things she’d ever seen on a soccer field, and she’d seen Tobin play numerous times. But that, that side-volley into the top corner, done with such precision and patience and ease, was beautiful and had Christen struggling to ignore the heat settling low in her stomach.
“Take a picture. It’ll last longer,” Tobin laughed, loving the way Christen was looking at her.
“Shut up, Heath!” Christen replied, hoping her blush couldn’t be seen from all the way over there.
“Ooooh, someone’s grumpy. Do you want me to teach you how to do that volley, Press?” Tobin asked, partially just to bother Christen but also seriously willing to teach her.
Christen narrowed her eyes, feeling the need to rise to the challenge. She’d let Tobin best her too often today. She motioned for Tobin to switch with her and jogged away from the sidelines and into the eighteen-yard box. As she passed Tobin, she stuck her tongue out.
“Give me crosses like the ones I gave you, and you won’t have to teach me anything,” Christen said.
Tobin could only laugh, having nothing left to say. She took one of the balls and started to dribble, too distracted by Christen to even fake dodging defenders. She sent a driven ball across the ground to Christen, watching as Christen smoothly tapped the ball into the goal.
“Challenge me, Tobs! Can’t make it to the World Cup with easy tap-ins like that,” Christen yelled, backing up toward the top of the eighteen.
“Fine, fine. Bossy,” Tobin mumbled, her words not even reaching Christen’s ears. Tobin kicked a ball up into the air and juggled it in the air for a few yards. She then wound up and sent a volleyed cross into the eighteen-yard box. She knew she’d over-hit it the moment it left her foot. She cringed as she watched it soar toward Christen.
Christen sucked air through her teeth, gauging the cross from Tobin. It wasn’t perfect, and it certainly wasn’t the cross Tobin intended to give her, but Christen wasn’t going to let that stop her. Instead, she read the trajectory of the ball, pivoted a few steps to her right, and jumped into the air. She threw a bicycle kick and sent the ball streaking into the back of the net. She hit the ground pretty hard, but she didn’t care. She’d just scored a beautiful goal and she couldn’t be happier.
“Holy shit,” Tobin mumbled, her mouth nearly falling open. Tobin felt conflicted. On the one hand, she wanted to run over to Christen and make sure she was okay. She wanted to make sure she hadn’t hurt a rib or knocked the wind out of herself. On the other hand, she was incredibly turned on. Tobin could feel heat spread throughout her body, her abdomen practically aching to reach out and touch Christen. She felt a fire burning in her stomach that she knew wouldn’t go away, no matter how much water she drank. Only after a few more seconds of Christen lying on the ground did Tobin walk over, her worry overtaking her desire.
Christen couldn’t get up, too happy with herself to end the moment she was in. Her eyes were on the blue, cloudless sky above her, and her arms were out to her sides. She knew she had the biggest smile on her face, she could feel it. And then she saw Tobin’s face pop into her view.
“Are you okay?” Tobin asked, her brow creasing in concern.
“Did you see that?!” Christen gushed, sitting up, smiling at Tobin. “I have never done that before and God, that felt good. That was incredible!”
Tobin’s worry immediately slipped away, replaced with complete awe.
“Yeah, I did. You were amazing!” Tobin said, matching Christen’s excitement. “That was something special, Chris.”
“Thanks,” Christen blushed. She held out her hand for Tobin to help her up, which Tobin quickly offered. Christen let Tobin pull her to her feet.
“You want to get lunch or something?” Tobin asked, her legs tired from a full day of training with Christen.
Right on cue, Christen’s stomach grumbled.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Tobin laughed, kicking the closest soccer ball up into her hands.
Christen shared in Tobin’s laughter, knocking her shoulder against Tobin’s.
“I know just the place,” Christen replied, a grin on her face.
“Oh no. I know that look. That look never ends well for me,” Tobin groaned, already on her way to gather all of their gear.
Christen could only smile, knowing exactly what their destination would be.
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth,” Tobin winced, pushing the cup away from her and across the table toward Christen.
Christen giggled and rolled her eyes at Tobin’s theatrics. She could be such a baby about trying new things, especially new and healthy things. They were sitting at a table outside a small smoothie place near Christen’s house, both positioned under an umbrella as the afternoon sun beat down around them.
“I’m serious. I’ve literally eaten dirt before and that was better than this,” Tobin whined. “I need fries. Now.”
Christen grabbed Tobin’s discarded kale and ginger smoothie, not seeing the purpose of wasting a perfectly good smoothie. She’d already finished hers and had been patiently waiting on Tobin to take a sip of the green liquid for the past ten minutes. She took a small sip, hiding a smile at the fact that even if it had a distinct ‘healthy’ taste, the smoothie was really good.
Tobin couldn’t stop her eyes from landing on Christen’s lips. Her lips were on the same straw that Tobin’s had just been on, and there was something intimate about that, something that Tobin couldn’t really rationalize. “Friends drink after one another. College athletes drink after one another. It’s not a big deal,” Tobin reminded herself. Despite the reminder, Tobin couldn’t stop herself from thinking about what it would be like to take one of Christen’s lips between her own.
“This tastes way better than dirt, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Christen replied, licking her lips subconsciously.
“Oh, so you’ve tasted dirt too?” Tobin quipped, her voice breaking softly. She quickly moved her eyes up to meet Christen’s.
“Everyone eats dirt as a kid, it’s a right of passage,” Christen replied, taking another long sip of Tobin’s smoothie.
“I ate an acorn in seventh grade,” Tobin blurted, not knowing what it was about Christen that made her say stupid things.
Christen coughed, nearly choking on the smoothie she’d just sipped. She could feel tears spring in the corners of her eyes and she tried her hardest not to let out the laugh bubbling up in her chest.
“Acorns don’t have the best flavor if you ask me, but what do I know?” Tobin teased, wishing she had something cooler to say but happy that she was able to make Christen laugh. She’d literally do anything to make Christen laugh.
“You are so weird,” Christen finally said, her smile sweet and a bit teasing.
“Yeah,” Tobin nodded, her face falling for a millisecond, wondering for a moment if that was a good thing or not.
“Weird’s a compliment, Tobs,” Christen added.
“Well, you’re weird too then,” Tobin smiled back.
Christen beamed and bit the straw of the smoothie. She sat back in her chair and fixed Tobin with a look.
“What are you doing Saturday?” Christen asked, feeling that familiar flutter of butterflies in her stomach.
“Am I spending time with you?” Tobin asked, hoping that Christen wasn’t about to ask her to just pet-sit her dogs or something while the Press family went on vacation.
Christen ducked her head, suddenly finding the smoothie cup very interesting.
“My dad got a new burger-flipper thing, and of course he wants his favorite grill helper there by his side when he tries it out for the first time,” Christen replied, chancing a look up at Tobin quickly before dropping her eyes back to the cup.
“Oh? So, Cody wants me to come over?” Tobin laughed. “I can do that. Saturday night’s free for me.”
Christen relaxed just a bit at Tobin’s response. She didn’t know why she’d gotten so nervous all of a sudden. Tobin had come over for barbecues before, this wasn’t something new. But for some reason, it felt different this time, like there was more at stake.
“Great, cool,” Christen replied softly.
“You okay?” Tobin asked, reaching her hand across the table to hold onto Christen’s.
Christen nodded, unable not to love the feeling of Tobin’s hand on her own. “Yeah, just exhausted. I did throw a pretty sick bicycle kick today.”
“You definitely did. That was so cool,” Tobin said, squeezing Christen’s hand before taking her hand back and leaning back against her chair.
“The U-23s won’t know what hit ‘em if we show up and do what we did today,” Christen replied with a beaming smile.
Tobin grinned at Christen and the complete 180 her confidence had done since the start of their practice.
“No, they won’t,” she nearly whispered, feeling Christen Press and her beautiful smile take her breath away, just like they always did.
Christen tied the strings of her red bikini top, her fingers fumbling as her nerves flared up once more.
“Roommates, huh?” Channing asked from her spot on the floor. She was scratching Khaleesi’s belly as she waited for Christen to get ready for the barbecue.
“Yup,” Christen replied, popping the ‘p’ on the word as she finally got the knot tied. She grabbed a simple gray tank top and pulled it on over her bikini.
“Are you worried?” Channing wondered.
Christen scoffed, feigning like being in the same hotel room as Tobin for two weeks was no big deal. Sharing a space, falling asleep and waking up together, getting changed...nope, nothing to worry about there.
“Uh, no,” Christen mumbled, fidgeting with the hem of the tank top as she searched for a pair of shoes.
“So you’re not gonna lose your shit when she walks out of the bathroom, all shower-fresh and wet, in only a towel?” Channing teased, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively at her sister.
Christen huffed and threw a slipper at Channing’s head, which her younger sister easily dodged.
“What? Chan- no! Of course not!” Christen complained, her tone a bit forceful.
Channing’s grin grew at Christen’s protest. Christen might have said no, but the flush creeping up her neck told Channing otherwise.
“There are only two types of people in this world, Christen. The kind who bring their clothes in with them, and the kind who leave the bathroom in only a towel. Tobin Heath strikes me as the latter,” Channing replied.
Christen’s cheeks burned at her sister’s words. Up until right now, she’d just been so happy to have the chance to go to camp and spend more time with Tobin, she hadn’t considered much else. She’d been feeling thankful that Tobin would be there for her, especially off the field. She’d been so focused on all of that she hadn’t paused to consider all of the...implications of rooming with Tobin Heath. She’d have to see Tobin every hour of every day, in various states of undress. She’d have to resist the urge to hug early morning, sleepy Tobin, to kiss late night, flirty Tobin. She’d have to avert her gaze and ignore her desire any time Tobin changed.
Her heart rate skyrocketed at the thought of having to deal with her feelings for Tobin while occupying the very same room as her. It was hard enough keeping a lid on them while spending only a few hours a day with Tobin, mostly on the soccer field where their attentions were more focused on training and fitness. But at camp, Tobin would be there in the quiet moments at night and the soft moments in the morning. Tobin would be everywhere and Christen suddenly realized she was not prepared for that. At all.
“Oh, God. What am I gonna do?” Christen asked, her face filling with alarm and worry as she sank onto the floor by Channing’s side.
“You’ve been ignoring your feelings for her for like, almost two years. Two weeks shouldn’t be a big deal,” Channing said, throwing her arm around Christen’s shoulders and giving her a side-hug. “And maybe just hope Tobin decides to never shower.”
Christen choked out a laugh. “Gross, Chan.” After leaning into her younger sister, she sighed and added, “I just don’t want to blow my chance with the National team by letting whatever’s going on between us distract me.”
“What is going on between you?” Channing wondered, smiling over at her sister and noticing the immediate blush on her cheeks. “This is the third family barbecue Mom and Dad have invited her to.”
“I know,” Christen replied. With a shrug, she leaned out of the side hug and ran a hand through her straightened hair. “Honestly, Chan? I have no clue what’s going on or what we are. We’re...something, and I’m pretty sure she likes me. But the distance- ”
“Ugh, enough about the distance. It’s such a cop-out,” Channing shot back, getting to her feet.
Christen was a little stunned at her younger sister’s reaction, not having expected that out of Channing.
“Tyler would disagree,” Christen said, rising off the floor as well.
“Tyler’s experience is not universal. Just because Clint’s a fucking asshole doesn’t mean Tobin is.”
Christen crossed her arms defensively over her chest. She hated being lectured, especially by her younger sister. Even if there was a little voice inside of her that agreed with Channing, the larger part of her was annoyed.
“I know that!”
“Do you?” Channing challenged. Then she noticed that the defiance on Christen’s face was masking the fear in her eyes. Channing sighed and put a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “I just don’t want to see you lose a good thing because you’re scared. Don’t look for an excuse just to keep yourself from getting hurt.”
Channing half-smiled at Christen and then backed up, whistling for Khaleesi. “I’m gonna go help mom with the fruit salad. Sorry, I yelled,” Channing added, having the good sense to be a little apologetic for getting on her soapbox.
Christen waved Channing off, trying to return her smile. “Don’t worry about it, Chan. I’ll be down in a few.”
After Channing left, Christen walked over to her bed. She sank onto the edge of it, Channing’s words turning over in her mind.
“Am I scared of losing her or am I scared of being with her?” Christen wondered, for the first time trying to get at the root of her fear over a long-distance relationship. Of course, it had been a bit traumatic to see what a long-distance relationship had done to Tyler. It was enough to scare the daylights out of the most hopeless romantic, which Christen was. She couldn’t risk losing Tobin Heath, no matter the cost. She’d rather have Tobin in her life as something than lose her completely.
But she’d never thought if there was more to that fear. If maybe she was so scared of starting something with Tobin, of admitting her feelings and giving them a shot because there was a small part of her that was worried it would turn out just like it had with Ryan Oliver.
Ryan Oliver had been Christen’s best friend from fifth grade until 10th grade. In that time, they’d rarely spent more than a few hours without seeing each other. They were more than just best friends, they were next-door neighbors and teammates. Christen wouldn’t have asked for it any other way. Seeing Ryan made every day better, and spending afternoons on the field with her and weekend sleepovers at each other’s houses was fundamental to Christen’s childhood. But by their freshman year of high school, Christen wondered if she enjoyed spending so much time with Ryan and sleeping over at Ryan’s house because she didn’t think of Ryan just as her best friend anymore.
It was a whole giant mess of confusing, deep, life-altering feelings and it took her over a year to figure out what they meant. It took her months to accept and understand the butterflies in her stomach and her racing heart. When she did, Christen had felt so naively hopeful. Surely, if she felt this way, Ryan must as well.
Then, it had all come crumbling down. She’d gone over to Ryan’s house for a sleepover before their first club soccer game of the season, intent on telling Ryan about her feelings, hopeful that maybe she’d experience her first kiss. Except when she did, there were no fireworks or fanfare or reciprocated feelings. Instead, Ryan had awkwardly explained that she only saw Christen as a friend and then asked Christen to leave.
Maybe Christen would have apologized or put up more of a fight if she’d known that she wouldn’t ever visit Ryan’s house again, that she wouldn’t be invited over for birthday parties or extra soccer practice sessions with Ryan and her brother.
Christen had called Tyler in tears, begging her to come pick her up and take her home. The two of them had spent the next twenty-four hours snuggled up in Tyler’s bed, watching Audrey Hepburn movies as Tyler assured Christen that she would get through this, that she would survive her first heartbreak. Christen did survive, but it had taken time. The game the next day was the only soccer game she’d ever missed in her entire career.
She hadn’t thought about Ryan in years, but maybe the scars from what Ryan had done to her, how Ryan had cut her out of her life, were still there, raw and unhealed. Maybe she was so fearful of starting something with Tobin because over these past two years, while Christen tried to deny or hide her feelings, the two of them had developed the deepest friendship Christen had ever had. Tobin Heath was, without a doubt, her best friend, and Christen didn’t want to lose another one. She didn’t want to be rejected and humiliated again. She was scared to be heartbroken.
Christen grabbed a pillow off her bed, covered her face with it, and groaned loudly into the pillow. This was all so messed up and convoluted. Somehow, this thing between her and Tobin had become even messier than that complicated thing with Ryan. If that had been a small, tangled ball of yarn, this thing with Tobin was a twisted, confusing mass the size of the sun.
Tobin huffed, digging through the pile of clothes on her bed, still in the baggy t-shirt and shorts she’d been wearing all day.
She’d spent a lazy day with Jeff, playing video games and eating sandwiches on the couch. In hindsight, she should’ve given herself more time to get ready to go to Christen’s house, but Tobin hadn’t wanted to abandon Jeff and make him feel like Christen was more important. She also hadn’t wanted to start to get ready, leading to the inevitable stress she now felt about picking out an outfit. She didn’t consider herself very stylish, especially in comparison to Christen. Outfits just kind of happened randomly. She’d pull on a shirt that she liked and throw on the closest pair of pants or shorts and call it a day. She didn’t put much stock into clothing or thought into planning outfits, but now, Tobin wished, for maybe the first time in her life, that she had a few more outfits that really went together.
“You okay, bud?” Tobin’s dad asked from the hall.
“I have nothing to wear,” Tobin mumbled, immediately embarrassed that she was worrying so much about a barbecue at the Press house.
“Really? That looks like a huge pile of clothes,” he laughed, gesturing at Tobin’s covered bed.
“Yeah, I just-” Tobin sighed, turning to face her dad. He was standing in the doorway, his shoulder resting against the doorframe, a patient but knowing smile on his face.
“I’m not good at this,” Tobin mumbled.
“At what?” Tobin’s dad asked, his brow furrowing for a second.
“I don’t know...being a girl. Perry and Katie were always just naturally good at it, and I just don’t get it.”
“Tobin, you don’t have to be a girly girl to be a girl,” he laughed, walking toward his daughter and sitting next to her on her bed.
“They just always knew how to like dress and act. I don’t even know what matches and what doesn’t,” Tobin pointed at the pile of clothes.
Her dad looked at her for a moment, waiting for Tobin to finally meet his eyes. When she did, he placed a comforting hand on her back. “You’re nervous about going to Christen’s,” he said, not even a hint of a question in his voice.
Tobin could only clear her throat in response, unable to actually answer him but unwilling to look away from his love-filled gaze.
“She clearly likes spending time with you, otherwise she wouldn’t have invited you to the barbecue tonight, and let’s not forget that she flew all the way to New Mexico just to drive back to L.A. with you,” Tobin’s dad said, squeezing Tobin’s arm softly.
“I just want her to like me,” Tobin nearly whispered. “I want her to keep liking me.”
“You’re the most likable person I know, bud. Not finding the perfect outfit isn’t going to change Christen’s mind about you.”
“It isn’t just the outfit,” Tobin thought to herself. She didn’t answer her dad though, she didn’t know what she could say, how to explain what she was feeling.
“And from what I’ve seen, Christen thinks you’re pretty perfect no matter what you’re wearing or doing. The way she looks at you...well anyone can see that she thinks you’re amazing. As she should,” he grinned, the same grin that Tobin had inherited.
“I don’t know about that,” Tobin shrugged off his response. She moved her eyes back to the pile of clothes, deciding on a white v-neck and a pair of jean shorts. She threw them onto the bed next to her dad.
“Are you excited to be going to camp together? It’ll be nice for you to have someone there since Allie isn’t going this summer,” Tobin’s dad, continued.
“Yeah, it’ll be nice to have someone to talk to. I’m glad she got called up too. She’s worked really hard, and she deserves this,” Tobin answered, folding her other clothes and putting them back into drawers and her closet.
“Your mom-” Tobin’s dad cleared his throat softly. “Your mom seems to- ah-”
“What?” Tobin asked, her body freezing, wondering what had her dad so flustered.
“She seems to think that you have feelings for Christen,” he blurted out, scratching at the back of his neck. That was another thing she’d inherited from him, his nervous tic. “Which is obviously totally fine. It’s good. We all like her a lot.”
“Relax, dad,” Tobin hummed, her cheeks reddening quickly. She and her dad were close. Tobin had told him about her first crush on a girl when she was fourteen, and he’d been supportive even then. It wasn’t abnormal to talk about girls, but Christen was different. With Christen, Tobin wanted to be gentler, more sincere. She wanted to take things at Christen’s pace, which wasn’t very fast since they were still long-distance for most of the year.
“I do like her,” Tobin admitted. “I just can’t tell her right now.”
“Why?” Tobin’s dad asked, reaching for a few of Tobin’s t-shirts and helping her fold them.
“We’re about to start camp, and it’s already going to be stressful, especially for Chris, since it’s her first one. I already know that she’s worried about a long-distance relationship, which is what we’d have to be. I just don’t want to ruin the friendship we have for a relationship that can’t happen right now,” Tobin huffed, shoving her dresser drawer closed with her hip.
“So, you’re just going to torture yourself instead, worrying about what to wear in front of Christen and ignoring the feelings you clearly have?” Tobin’s dad nearly chastised.
“If that’s what I need to do to get through two weeks of camp, then I will,” Tobin replied with a shrug. She knew it was a bit self-sacrificing, but there was no other way.
“You’ll call me if things get too hard and you need to talk through stuff?” Her dad looked concerned, his eyes wide and accepting.
“Of course,” Tobin sighed, walking two steps across the room to wrap her arms around her dad’s neck.
“I love you, Tobs,” her dad whispered against her head.
“I love you too.”
Tobin got dressed quickly once her dad left her room. She picked out a black bikini to wear under her clothes and slipped on a pair of flip-flops. She didn’t waste much time after checking her watch, aware that she was going to be a few minutes late. Tobin grabbed a pool towel, her car keys, and wallet, giving herself a pep talk as she walked to the truck. “You’ve literally done this exact thing before. It’s just a family barbecue. It’s good practice for the two weeks you’re about to spend with Christen, with literally no break.”
Tobin released a long breath and pulled out her phone, deciding that she could be a few minutes later if need be. After all, the Presses were inviting her over to their home. The least she could do is not arrive empty-handed.
Her phone dinging on her nightstand caused Christen to pause her muffled groaning. She blew out a long breath, removed the pillow from her face, and grabbed her phone from her nightstand.
[Tobin Heath 2:43PM]
Does your mom like Dahlia’s too?
Christen shook her head, unable not to smile despite the emotions and thoughts and fear still swirling around inside of her. Tobin Heath was such a sweet, sensitive charmer, one she’d gone and fallen hopelessly head over heels for.
[Christen Press 2:43PM]
What are you up to, Tobs?
[Tobin Heath 2:44PM]
Making sure Stacy likes me!
[Christen Press 2:44PM]
She already does, but if you’re worried, grab some tulips and a box of Charleston Chews. She loves them!
[Tobin Heath 2:44PM]
Your assistance is appreciated...oh and obviously I’m gonna be a few minutes late.
Christen rolled her eyes and typed out a response.
[Christen Press 2:44PM]
Get here safely, okay? See you soon, Tobs.
Christen locked her phone, not waiting for a reply from Tobin, and headed downstairs. She’d only managed to bring some plates of snacks and appetizers out to the backyard before the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it!” Tyler said, springing to her feet and racing inside, the pool floaties she’d been trying to inflate discarded by the edge of the pool.
Christen took a few deep breaths as she nervously rearranged the plates on the large table outside.
“You got this, just relax. It’s just a barbecue. You’ll be fine,” Christen whispered to herself.
She felt a hand squeeze her shoulder and she knew her mom had snuck up on her, probably having heard every word she’d said.
“My sweet girl,” Stacy murmured, turning Christen to face her. “What's got you whispering at my pita chips and hummus platter?”
Christen sighed and shrugged. She hadn’t quite gotten around to telling her mom, and not even her dad, about her feelings for Tobin. They’d just taken Tobin’s place in her life in stride, not questioning her on it and waiting for her to come to them. She’d always appreciated that about her parents. They were curious and interested in her life, but never nosy. They let her live it and then come to them whenever she needed to.
“Can I ask you a question?” Christen replied, nervously chewing on her lower lip. She had to get this out fast before Tyler returned with Tobin in tow.
“Always,” Stacy said, giving Christen a knowing look. That look made Christen feel like her mom already knew what was going on, already had some idea of just how deeply Christen’s feelings for Tobin ran. A mother always knows.
“How do you know when a risk is worth taking?”
Stacy smiled, rubbing Christen’s shoulder soothingly. “When you’re more scared of not taking it than you are of what could happen if you do.”
Christen chewed on those words, not really sure just how she felt about them yet. But she nodded up at her mom in thanks. “You and Chan, always so wise with your words.”
Stacy pulled Christen in for a hug, placing a kiss on the crown of Christen’s head.
“And you, my girl, have always had the biggest heart. Don’t hide it away, especially from someone who seems to have already won it,” Stacy whispered. Christen blushed at the implication behind her mom’s words, clinging onto her mom just a little bit longer.
“Look who I found out front!” Tyler called, leading an already blushing Tobin into the backyard.
“Hi,” Tobin mumbled, holding her towel under one arm, a box of candy under the other, and flowers in her left hand. Tobin could immediately tell that she and Tyler had interrupted something between Christen and her mom. She couldn’t help that her cheeks were warming up, both Christen and Stacy now looking at her, a voice in the back of Tobin’s mind suggesting that they might have been talking about her.
“Tobin! My barbecue buddy!” Cody yelled, hustling over to where Tobin and Tyler stood near the door that led back into the house. Cody shook Tobin’s free hand enthusiastically like he always did anytime she came over. “Those tulips for me?” he asked, earning a laugh from Tobin and an eye roll from Tyler.
“Uh- they’re for all of you,” Tobin muttered. “I didn’t want to come empty-handed.”
Christen and her mom chuckled to themselves as they joined the small group.
“That’s very thoughtful of you, dear,” Stacy said, taking the flowers from Tobin’s outstretched hand. “But I do hope those are just for me,” she added with a smile, pointing at the box of Charleston Chews under Tobin’s arm.
“Yeah,” Tobin grinned, “Someone might have mentioned that you love these.” Tobin held out the box for Stacy to take, happy that she’d texted Christen for her help at the last minute.
Christen grinned at the interaction, watching as both her mom and her dad fell under the effortless spell of Tobin Heath.
“All right, all right,” Christen said, grabbing Tobin’s arm and pulling her away from the group. “Stop hovering and give her a chance to breathe.”
Christen led Tobin toward the table under the gazebo, away from her parents and Tyler. She slipped her arm around Tobin’s waist and gave her a side-hug as they walked.
“Is your goal to make my parents like you more than they like me?” Christen asked, letting her arm stay around Tobin for a little longer than entirely necessary.
“That’s unattainable. I’m settling for as much as they like you,” Tobin smirked, feeling slightly more comfortable now that she was out of the spotlight. She squeezed Christen’s shoulders, her arm having found its way there as soon as Christen’s slipped around her waist.
When they reached the table, Christen stepped out of the embrace, missing the feeling of Tobin’s arm around her immediately.
“You can put your towel down anywhere. We’re probably going to swim first then eat later if that’s cool?” Christen asked.
“Oh crap! Should I have brought a bathing suit?” Tobin teased, loving that she could make Christen laugh or smile just by being goofy.
Christen rolled her eyes in amusement. “Ha ha, very funny. The bathroom’s inside if you need to change and my mom will definitely make you put on sunscreen, so don’t try to avoid that. And once we're in the water, it’s PYOF.”
“PYOF?” Tobin sounded out slowly, trying to figure out what the letters meant.
“Pump your own floaty. Tyler started on hers like an hour ago and hasn’t gotten anywhere, but Channing’s already lounging,” Christen replied, gesturing at the pool where Channing was sitting in a large, inflatable Unicorn, sipping a Virgin Strawberry Daiquiri.
“Don’t worry, lungs of a champion over here,” Tobin smirked, pulling her v-neck up and over her head in one swift motion, leaving her in only her black bikini top and shorts.
Christen cleared her throat and dropped her eyes to the ground, wanting to give Tobin some privacy and not be caught staring at Tobin’s six-pack, or her arms, or the sharp angles of her hip bones- “Nope, don’t go there,” Christen said to herself.
At the throaty chuckle she heard from Tobin, Christen set her jaw. “Something funny, Tobs?”
“You’re just cute,” Tobin smirked, placing her hands on her hips and kicking off her flip-flops.
Christen looked up, a hint of a challenge in her eyes. “Cute? I’ll show her cute,” Christen thought to herself. Two could play at this game. With a small smirk, Christen reached down and pulled off her tank top, leaving her in just her very small, very flattering, red bikini top and very short shorts.
Tobin’s mouth went dry, her smirk slipping from her lips. She’d seen Christen in bikinis before, at the beach and Christen’s house, but none of them were quite as nice as the red one in front of her. “This is exactly what you’re going to have to deal with for two weeks,” Tobin reminded herself, forcing her eyes away from Christen’s chest and back up to Christen’s eyes.
Christen felt a small thrill of satisfaction at the reaction she was getting from Tobin. The wide eyes, the blown pupils, the blush-filled cheeks. But since Christen didn’t just want to play the game, she wanted to win, she wasn’t going to stop there. She quickly pulled off her shorts and kicked them to the side, her smirk growing. She didn’t feel self-conscious or nervous for a second, being this undressed in front of Tobin. She knew she looked good in this bikini, and even if she didn’t know, everything about the look Tobin was giving her would have told her so.
Tobin sighed. She was so weak for Christen’s legs. She’d known that the minute she saw Christen in August of their freshman year. Seeing those legs in a tiny red swimsuit made Tobin’s jaw literally drop, her mouth hanging open and her eyes glazing over. All she wanted to do was reach out and touch. She wanted to feel Christen’s strong legs. She wanted to hold onto her waist and run her fingers up and down her ribs, listening for any noises that Christen might make. She wanted to-
“Take a picture, it’ll last longer,” Christen quipped before turning on her heel and waltzing over to the edge of the pool.
“Fuck,” Tobin thought, turning around and yanking her shorts down. Her cheeks were beet red, and Tobin could feel a fire, pooling deep in her stomach. She gulped down a few mouthfuls of air, killing some time by putting her hair up into a messy bun. Then, she walked across the pool deck and picked up a deflated floaty, determined not to look toward Christen and that red bikini until she was in the swimming pool’s cool water.
“And I swear she pulled my hair, literally yanking me to the ground. Then, she tried to help me up, like nothing had happened! I was so mad! But after I got up off the ground, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was just so stupid. Who goes for the hair?” Tobin laughed genuinely.
Christen looked around, at her parents and her sisters laughing earnestly in response to Tobin’s story, and felt her heart soar. She could get used to this, having Tobin in her space, at her home, with her family. It was a dangerous thing to get used to, knowing how deeply she’d fallen for Tobin and how much she’d be risking if things didn’t work out between them. But for the night, Christen decided just to enjoy herself and enjoy the way Tobin Heath fit into her family, thoughts of feelings and falling put on the back burner for now.
“What’s crazy is she didn’t even get carded!” Christen added, having watched the game Tobin was referencing and wanting to jump in to add to the story. “I don’t even think the ref noticed.”
“Oh, she noticed. She told me to calm down,” Tobin rolled her eyes. “Apparently she didn’t see it happen and couldn’t take my throbbing scalp as evidence.”
“Florida State is such a dirty team, I hate those guys,” Christen grumbled.
“They’re brutal when they get desperate,” Tobin nodded, glancing around the table to make sure that she and Christen weren’t boring the rest of the Presses.
Which based on the amused expressions on everyone’s faces, they weren’t. But Tobin wasn’t sure if their amusement came from the story or the piggy-backed way she and Christen had told it.
Christen caught on to what Tobin was doing and also looked around the table, realizing the two of them had been caught up in their own world.
“Umm, great burgers, Dad. Best ones yet,” Christen complimented.
Cody grinned and sank back into his chair. “Thanks to Tobin. I almost burned the daylights out of them!”
“Me?! I didn’t help with the burgers at all,” Tobin replied, her brow furrowing.
“Well, if you hadn’t accidentally hit me in the back of the head with the beach ball you were trying to kick at Christen, I never would have noticed they needed to be flipped,” Cody teased, winking over at Christen and then at Tobin.
“Turns out I have better aim with soccer balls,” Tobin shrugged, perfectly happy with Cody’s teasing. She did feel a little guilty that she’d hit him with the ball, something everyone had noticed when she’d apologized five times and offered to get some ice.
“Don’t let him make you feel bad, Tobin. He’s got a hard head,” Stacy replied. “Now how about some help clearing these plates?”
Christen was about to get to her feet, but Tobin put a hand on her arm.
“I’ll help you, Mrs. Press.”
“Stacy’s perfectly fine, Tobin,” Christen’s mom smiled, picking up a pile of plates and heading into the house.
Tobin followed after, carrying the rest of their dishes and leaving Christen, her sisters, and dad at the table.
Stacy quickly got them settled into a routine. Tobin washed the dishes, then Stacy dried and put everything away. She let Tobin get comfortable with the routine, washing a few plates before she spoke up.
“Can I talk to you about something, Tobin?” Stacy said quietly, cognizant that the door to the backyard was left open.
“Of course,” Tobin replied, pausing her movements to face Stacy and read the situation. She couldn’t help that her stomach was churning slightly at Stacy’s serious tone.
Stacy dried a plate slowly, running the towel over it as she figured out the right words to use.
“I would never presume to know things about you, and I certainly would never poke my nose into my kids’ business,” she started, looking at Tobin, almost like she was appraising her. “But I’m a mother and my kids will always come first for me.”
“As they should…” Tobin trailed off, her anxiety completely taking over her body. She forced herself to finish rinsing the plate she was holding and pass it to Stacy.
“I just want to know where you stand, my dear. Because I’ve stood in this kitchen with only one other person, someone I was sure was planning to stand by my daughter, through thick and thin. Sadly, he proved me and Tyler wrong. I’ve never had to do that for Christen before. None of the people she’s brought home or spent time with have ever made it to the kitchen sink talk. But now that she has you, I’m asking,” Stacy said, her attention now on drying the dishes, giving Tobin a moment to process her words and respond, or make a run for it, should she choose.
Tobin couldn’t swallow. Her eyes were stuck on the soapy sponge in her hand, the dishes in the sink long forgotten. She hadn’t expected Stacy to ask her about her intentions before she and Christen were even together. That being said, Tobin knew exactly how she would answer Stacy’s question, with a resounding yes. Of course, she’d stand by Christen no matter what. She was willing to wait for Christen, as long as needed. She was willing to be Christen’s friend if the feelings weren’t returned, not that she believed that anymore. She knew Christen felt something. She just didn’t know when and how Christen wanted to go about everything.
Stacy could tell that she’d given Tobin quite a bit to think about, and to Tobin’s credit, she was still standing here.
“Maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit, and if Cody or Christen knew I was saying this, they’d be pretty upset with me. But I see the way you look at her, Tobin, and I wouldn’t be a mom if I didn’t look out for her. She’s got the biggest, most generous heart. I just want to know it’s in the right hands,” Stacy said, dropping the towel to the counter and turning to face Tobin.
“I know she has the biggest heart,” Tobin whispered, her voice shaky. “That’s what I like most about her. I don’t know if anyone would be good enough to hold her heart in their hands,” Tobin replied honestly, finally looking up at Stacy. She could feel a small prickle behind her eyes and knew that they were starting to water. But she didn’t shy away from it, knowing Stacy was asking for vulnerability.
“I would never hurt her. I know she doesn’t want to be with me right now because she’s scared of being in a long-distance relationship and getting hurt, and that’s okay. I won’t be in school all the way across the country forever, and when she’s ready, I’m ready. She’s the most important person in my life, and I’m prepared to wait as long as it takes. But if I’m wrong, if she never wants that from me, well at least I get to be her friend. At least I get to have her in my life. But you have to believe me, I’m not planning on going anywhere,” Tobin whispered, wanting to turn back to the dishes in the sink and hide her tears, but choosing not to. She looked at Stacy with watery eyes and hoped she’d answered the question in the right way. She hoped it was enough.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Stacy murmured, wrapping her arms around Tobin and pulling her in for a tight hug. That was everything she could have wanted in an answer and more. She had such a good feeling about Tobin, and that had confirmed it. Tobin Heath wasn’t just a good person, she was good for Christen. “I know you won’t.”
Tobin leaned into the hug, wrapping her arms around Stacy. She held her hands away from Stacy’s back, not wanting to get any soap or water on her. Stacy hugged like Christen, fully and warmly, with strong arms and wholehearted kindness.
“That was a very mature response. Not that I expected anything less from you,” Stacy added, rubbing her hands up and down Tobin’s back as she felt a few tears hit her shirt. “My sweet girl isn’t known for her speed, off the field that is. She’s a thinker, and she’s really thinking hard about this. Just be patient with her.”
Tobin nearly choked out an “of course,” but the words died on her tongue when she saw Christen step through the back door and into the house. A few more tears slid down her cheeks, mainly from the relief of being able to tell Christen’s mom about how she felt. Stacy had made her feel completely accepted, like she truly thought that Tobin was doing a good job with Christen, even when Tobin felt like she hadn’t done anything for Christen.
“Uh, what happened?” Christen asked, her eyes shining with concern as she looked from Tobin to her mom, noticing their tight embrace and the tears in Tobin’s eyes. “Is everything okay?”
Tobin couldn’t reply, instead, pulling out of the hug and turning around to finish the remaining dishes in the sink.
“None of your beeswax, sweet girl. Go grab the cookies and scoot back out. Tobin and I will be there in a moment,” Stacy said, smiling reassuringly at Christen.
Christen’s brow furrowed as she looked over at Tobin, her concern refusing to wane until Tobin looked at her and confirmed that everything was truly okay. She’d seen the tears, and she couldn’t for the life of her figure out what her mom could have said to make Tobin cry.
Tobin lifted the next clean plate from the sink and passed it to Stacy, her eyes meeting Christen’s finally. She could see her concern, could see the question written across her features: “Are you okay?”
Tobin placed a lopsided smile on her face, hoping that Christen would stop worrying. She had no idea what she’d say if Christen decided to question her about anything.
It wasn’t enough to quell her worry, but the smile on Tobin’s face was enough to get her moving. Christen grabbed the tray of cookies, shot a quick look at Tobin, and then went back out the door.
Once Christen was gone, Stacy reached up and patted Tobin on the back.
“Your secret’s safe with me. Just please don’t prove me wrong, Tobin. You and I will be having words if you do,” Stacy said, her words holding a bit of bite to them. She was still Christen’s mom, after all, so she couldn’t forego all protective instincts.
“I’d expect nothing less,” Tobin nodded, finishing with the last dish and rinsing out the sponge.
Christen had been patient. She’d waited while everyone sat around, munching on cookies and sharing stories. She’d waited while Tyler and Channing hooked Tobin into a deep discussion about Hogwarts Houses. But now, with her dad about to get Tobin to sit down and watch a replay of the Arsenal vs. Manchester City game from earlier in the week, Christen had been patient long enough. She was dying to know what had gone down in the kitchen and now was her chance to find out.
“We’re taking the dogs on a walk!” Christen announced, grabbing Tobin’s hand and pulling her toward the door.
“Get it set up, and we can watch when we get back!” Tobin called to Cody, letting Christen pull her away from the living room.
Christen huffed and got the dogs into their harnesses. She grabbed their leashes, some treats, and Tobin’s hand and walked out the door, with Tobin and the dogs in tow.
The sun was setting, creating a beautiful orange and pink sky overhead. The heat had all but burned off, leaving the night cool and the perfect temperature for a stroll.
Christen and Tobin walked in silence for a bit, the dogs meandering down the sidewalk in front of them. Christen knew she was tense, her hand gripping tightly onto the leashes, but she couldn’t help it. She was desperate to know, but was too stubborn to cave and ask.
“Is something bothering you?” Tobin asked, taking mercy on Christen, knowing that she was dying to ask Tobin about the scene she’d walked in on in the kitchen.
“Does something have to be bothering me for us to take a walk together?” Christen shot back, cringing at the hardness in her voice.
“No. I guess not,” Tobin replied, somewhat caught off guard at Christen’s harsh response. She glanced at Christen for a second before staring straight ahead, letting her eyes settle on the sunset and the scenery around them. “But it usually does mean you have something you want to talk to me about.”
Christen sighed, her shoulders loosening and her grip on the dogs’ leashes relaxing.
“Yeah, sorry, Tobs. I just- what did my mom say? She tends to overstep sometimes and she’s super blunt, so if she upset you-”
“She didn’t upset me,” Tobin interrupted. “She didn’t overstep either.”
Christen suddenly stopped, tugging Tobin’s arm so she stopped as well. Christen looked into Tobin’s eyes, searching them for the truth.
“I pinky promise,” Tobin smiled, loving the way that Christen’s eyes visibly relaxed when she promised.
“So why were you crying?” Christen asked gently.
Tobin shrugged, knowing she couldn’t tell her the truth without word vomiting her feelings all over Christen. “Would you believe me if I said I got soap in my eyes?”
Christen laughed and shook her head. “No, but it’s cute that you think I would,” Christen said. “You don’t have to tell me, just know that I’m always here if you need to talk about something. I pinky promise,” Christen added with a smile.
“I’ll tell you someday,” Tobin nodded, wanting Christen to know that she wasn’t just shutting her out.
“I can work with someday,” Christen replied. She reached out and threaded her fingers through Tobin’s, gently pulling so they could continue their walk. Their clasped hands swung between them as the hope of someday lingered in the air.