I'm never gonna let you close to me
Even though you mean the most to me
'Cause every time I open up, it hurts
So I'm never gonna get too close to you
Even when I mean the most to you
In case you go and leave me in the dirt
(Christen - “Too Good at Goodbyes” by Sam Smith)
It was raining because of course, it was. Christen shivered as a few raindrops landed on her bare arms.
“You should’ve grabbed a jacket,” Christen thought to herself, but quickly realized how silly that thought was. She didn’t have time to grab a jacket, let alone her phone when she was all but thrown out of the hotel room by Coach Foudy.
Coach Foudy might have had the worst timing in the world, but there was something about the harrowed look in her eyes that had Christen realizing she shouldn’t be in there. She quickly left, with a small glance at Tobin, so much passing between them when their eyes met. Tobin looked so worried, almost devastated, and she was sure her fear was easy to see as well.
Christen had forced herself to walk out, when all she wanted to do was stay. She wandered downstairs and made her way outside into the cool night air. She found herself alone outside in the pool area in the back of the hotel. Christen kicked off her slides and slipped her feet into the hot tub, sitting down on the edge and ignoring the small droplets of rain that hit her. She had too much on her mind to worry about trivial things like prophetic rain.
Tobin had kissed her. Tobin Heath had kissed her, and it was glorious and wonderful and so very hot. It was everything she’d always wanted from their first kiss and more. Hands had wandered, tongues had slipped between parted lips, teeth had bitten and teased. It made Christen’s skin prickle just thinking about it. There had been such an uncontrollable lust between them, something that had been slowly building for two years, and tonight, they’d finally acted on it. God, did they act on it.
Christen traced her thumb across her lips, still feeling the ghost of Tobin’s on them. What had surprised her most was the softness. Even when Tobin had her pressed into the mattress, even when Tobin’s hands had grasped at her hips desperately, even when Tobin had sunk her teeth into Christen’s lower lip, it had been soft. Tobin had kissed her and held her and touched her with such reverence, such adoration, as if she was worried that if she pushed too hard, Christen would shatter like glass. She hadn’t expected that softness from Tobin, not when she’d felt the power and the hunger in Tobin’s hands and hips that night in L.A.
Kissing and touching Tobin had been a dream come true. But then Tobin had to go and open her mouth.
“I’m falling in love with you.”
The reminder of those words had Christen’s heart clenching painfully in her chest.
She hadn’t been expecting love. She knew they cared about each other; she knew they were attracted to one another. She knew there were feelings between them, messy complicated feelings. She knew there was love in her heart, something she was too scared to explore yet. But she hadn’t expected love from Tobin, not tonight.
Christen let out a shuddery breath and leaned her elbows on her knees, her chin tucked to her chest. She forced herself to take deep breaths, to settle the rolling waves of emotions within her.
She’d been falling for Tobin Heath from the very first moment she saw her. That was something she couldn’t deny. She’d never felt like this before, not about anyone. This deep, agonizing desire, this pull, this connection. From the moment their eyes locked for the very first time, it was like everything had clicked into place for Christen. Every moment after that, every conversation, every touch, all culminating in their kiss tonight, had all confirmed the fact that this thing between them was right .
Maybe that was what love was, when everything started to make sense, when life suddenly became unbearable without her in it. Maybe these feelings that Christen had been trying to understand for two years all pointed in the direction of love. Maybe she was in love with Tobin Heath.
But she wasn’t ready for love yet. She couldn’t love Tobin, not when there was still so much they’d never talked about, so much they refused to acknowledge, and so much actual distance between them. She couldn’t love Tobin, not yet. She couldn’t love Tobin and put her defenseless heart into the hands of someone else, someone who could break it and shatter it into a million pieces. She couldn’t love Tobin Heath and run the risk that she’d lose her best friend.
Despite all of that, there had been a small part of her that rejoiced at Tobin’s words. When she’d heard that Tobin was falling in love with her, for a matter of moments, all was right with the world. It was the ultimate confirmation that this dance they’d been doing for years wasn’t all for naught. Tobin did have feelings for her, and more than that, she wanted to act on them. It had only lasted for a moment, but for however brief a time, Christen’s heart had soared.
But then it had all come crashing down around her. Fear quickly seized her heart. Bone-deep, chilling fear. Tobin couldn’t love her. Tobin didn’t even know all of her. There was no way that Tobin could truly love her, not when Christen hadn’t shown her every raw, real, human part of herself. Tobin didn’t know that Christen, the extent to which Christen struggled with anxiety and perfection. She didn’t know that sometimes Christen chose to stay home or stay in bed, just because she was afraid of failing. Tobin hadn’t seen her at her worst. Tobin had only seen her, a smile on her face and ready to socialize. For Tobin to actually love her, really love her, she’d have to know all of her, and Christen had this deep fear that whispered that once Tobin really knew her, she wouldn’t want her. She’d never be what Tobin desired, what she needed and deserved.
And she couldn’t love Tobin. If she loved Tobin and let Tobin into her life in the way Tobin seemed to want, it would crush her as soon as Tobin changed her mind. She would be irreparable.
Christen didn’t realize she was crying until the tears dripped from her chin onto her knees, sliding off her skin and falling into the hot tub. She shouldn’t be crying, but she couldn’t stop. Tears flowed from her eyes despite her best efforts to stop them. She cried and cried, not even really knowing what her tears were for. Was she mourning the loss of what could have been between them? Was she crying out of guilt or regret? Were her tears for her or for Tobin or for the two of them? Or were her sobs for something else entirely?
“Damn it,” she whispered brokenly, sniffling as she wiped at the tears falling from her eyes.
Her mom’s words echoed around her heart and her mind, without permission. “A risk is worth it when you’re more scared of not taking it, than you are what could happen if you do.”
Christen had been given a chance, the perfect chance, to tell Tobin about her feelings. She’d been gifted the opportunity to come clean and admit to everything she’d been feeling and wanting. Twenty minutes ago, she could have kissed Tobin again, voiced her own feelings, and taken the leap of faith.
Instead, she’d backed away, ruled by her fear, and found herself thankful for Coach Foudy’s interruption. She ran, she ran far. Every bit of space she put between her and Tobin was there to protect her, to keep her safe. Her fear of hurting Tobin, of being hurt by Tobin, of being unworthy of the love she could see so clearly in Tobin’s eyes and hear in her words, made her run.
But then she thought of what life would be like without Tobin. She’d lived it already, for two months. She’d heard Tobin’s voicemail recording enough times to be able to quote it from memory. She’d listened in on her friends’ conversations, just dying to hear something about Tobin. She’d texted her long, desperate messages, just hoping Tobin would read them. She’d dragged herself out of bed, worried that she might never see Tobin’s smile again, or hear her laugh, or hold her close.
She couldn’t do that again, go back to a version of the world that was dark gray and empty. She wanted a world full of color, full of life, full of Tobin. Not only would she not survive without Tobin in her life, she couldn’t imagine going back to just being friends. She couldn’t go back upstairs and beg Tobin to stay in her life, ignoring all that had transpired between them, all of their feelings.
She couldn’t ask Tobin to pretend to be friends until she wasn’t ruled by fear any longer. She couldn’t ask that of Tobin, and she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to go back there, to those feelings of repression and longing.
If all that was true, and Christen knew it was, why was she still paralyzed by fear? But as she sat there, ankle-deep in the hot tub, cold and crying and alone, she realized her fear was misplaced. Her fear of all of the bad paled in comparison to her fear of not taking the risk, of not being with Tobin. She was more scared of losing Tobin, of never giving this thing between them a chance, than she was of being hurt, of hurting, of being unworthy.
Christen let out a choked, wet laugh. Her mom was right, the risk was worth it. Tobin was worth it. Hurrying to dry her tears, Christen hopped out of the hot tub and slipped her slides back on. She had to get back to Tobin, she had to tell her the truth.
Maybe she was still a little hesitant about love. Maybe she was still a little fearful of feeling that way toward Tobin. Maybe she would still have to struggle with feeling worthy of Tobin’s love. But she could figure all of that out with Tobin by her side. Tobin had always been patient and understanding. She wouldn’t rush her. She had time.
Christen ran the entire way back upstairs, not bothering to wait for the elevator. She couldn’t get there fast enough, couldn’t wait to take Tobin in her arms and tell her that she felt the same way, that she wanted to try, that she was ready.
But when Christen burst inside of the hotel room, she found Tobin’s side of the room empty. No roller bag, no backpack, no pile of shoes at the foot of the bed or collection of t-shirts by the TV stand. The only thing she saw was Tobin’s sweatshirt, their sweatshirt, the teal and purple one with a retro Nike logo, tucked under her bed, almost like it had been left on purpose.
Her first thought was of worry. “What could Coach have told Tobin to have her leave so quickly? Where did she go?”
Christen couldn’t find her phone fast enough. She tried to call Tobin, to text her, to get ahold of her, but all she got in response was radio silence. All she got was that voicemail, the one she’d memorized months ago. She called and called, texted and texted, but heard nothing.
As she sank down onto the floor, she pulled the sweatshirt into her chest, burying her face into the material that smelled like pine and mint and something that was so Tobin, Christen couldn’t even describe it. As she let those scents wash over her, Christen couldn’t ignore the pit growing in her stomach telling her something was wrong.
I had all and then most of you
Some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don't know what I'm supposed to do
Haunted by the ghost of you
(Tobin - “The Night We Met” by Lord Huron)
“There was an accident. Your dad and brother were hit by another car. Your brother is okay, but your dad-”
Tobin completely spaced, not hearing all of Coach Foudy’s explanation. It felt too blunt, too quick. This happened in movies and on TV. It happened in the reality shows that Allie sometimes made her watch. This wasn’t real life. Tobin was waiting for Coach Foudy to say “just kidding” and punch her in the arm, some type of twisted hazing. She wasn’t prepared for when Coach Foudy wrapped her up in her arms, trying to console her. She couldn’t process the words. She couldn’t form the sentences. All Tobin wanted to do was run.
Coach Foudy’s words echoed in Tobin’s head, over and over. Those words spun through her mind while she threw her toiletries into her bag and raced down to the team van. Foudy’s words sat heavily in Tobin’s brain, causing her forehead to throb. She hadn’t been able to look out the window at Portland one last time, to say goodbye to a city that she actually liked, to remember her birthday outing with Christen. She hadn’t been able to talk to the person at the United kiosk when she checked her bag. She hadn't been able to do anything more than robotically walk through the motions.
It wasn’t even until she was seated on the plane, an hour flight to Sacramento ahead of her that Tobin even thought about something other than Foudy’s words.
When she did think about something else, she thought about Christen. She remembered how Christen’s lips had felt against her own, how Christen’s fingers had brushed against her ribs, how Christen’s tongue had slid against her bottom lip. Tobin also remembered how Christen had looked after she had expressed her feelings. Christen’s eyes had been glassy, completely vulnerable and scared. Tobin’s feelings had scared her. Tobin had made Christen back away and put space between them.
Her biggest fear all along had come true. She’d told Christen how she felt and scared Christen away. She hadn’t given Christen the time and space to decide for herself. Instead, Tobin had kissed her and possibly ruined their friendship, ruined everything , forever. Christen didn’t want a long-distance relationship. It was too hard to be far away, and Christen had made that clear time and time again, and Tobin had gone against that wish anyway.
Along with all the fear that coiled in Tobin’s chest, fear that her father wouldn’t be okay, fear that her brother would be hurt, there was one other emotion: guilt. She felt guilty for pushing Christen. She felt guilty for not asking Christen if she could kiss her, for taking instead of asking. She felt guilty for not getting in the car with her brother and her dad. If she’d been in the car, the accident might not have happened. If she’d been in the car, she wouldn’t have been in the hotel room with Christen and ruined whatever they had. If she’d been in the car, she wouldn’t have seen the look of regret on Christen’s face after hearing about Tobin’s feelings. If she’d been in the car, she wouldn’t have lost the girl she was falling in love with. If she’d been in the car, maybe she’d be in critical care, not her father.
“Sweetie,” Cindy choked out, reaching for Tobin as soon as she walked into the hospital lobby.
Tobin’s mom pulled her into a tight hug, and the first tears started to slip out of Tobin’s eyes. She’d held it together the entire flight, too distracted by everything to even process how she was feeling, but now, in her mom’s arms, Tobin let the guilt and fear wash over her completely. She felt her knees buckle underneath her and pressed her hand against her suitcase handle to keep herself upright.
“Where are they?” Tobin sniffled, trying to clear her throat and wipe away tears before seeing either her dad or brother.
“Let’s go see Jeffy. They just finished with his x-rays,” Cindy said, trying to smile at Tobin but failing miserably.
Tobin followed behind her mom, feeling like she and her suitcase were too loud for the hospital. The white walls and floors were nearly blinding, and the synthetic smell made Tobin wish she hadn’t had dinner with the Press family in Portland after the game. Her stomach rolled, remembering the few times she’d visited the hospital as a kid. She’d broken her wrist when she was nine and cut her hand on a kitchen knife when she was 12, both of those requiring trips to the emergency room. The hospital had always made her feel small and weak, but this trip was worse. This time she felt small and weak and at fault.
“Tobin,” Jeff sighed when Cindy and Tobin walked into the room, reaching his good arm out to hold onto his sister’s hand.
“Hey, dude,” Tobin whispered, her voice cracking.
Jeff’s arm was swollen and already bruising, definitely broken. It looked like it hurt. Tobin had trouble pulling her eyes away from his arm, the image of the bruised and battered skin cementing itself in Tobin’s mind. “You weren’t there for him,” Tobin thought to herself, squeezing her eyes shut quickly to stop the tears from leaking.
“I’m getting a green cast,” Jeff said, trying to grin at Tobin. It turned into a grimace.
“Cool,” Tobin mumbled, rubbing her thumb along Jeff’s good hand, wishing that she could take away all the pain.
“Have you seen dad yet?” Jeff asked, his eyes moving between Tobin and Cindy.
“He’s still in surgery,” Cindy replied, shaking her head softly. “I’m sure we’ll see him soon.”
Tobin pulled her hand away from Jeff, leaving her bag in the room and walking toward the door. “I’m gonna use the bathroom,” Tobin grunted, hardly pausing to look back at her mom or brother. “He’s in surgery. He’s in surgery. He’s in surgery,” the thought spun through Tobin’s head, making her feel even dizzier. She closed herself in a bathroom stall, immediately getting sick, somewhat glad that she no longer had to worry about the dinner she’d eaten in Portland swirling in her stomach.
This is endless
Someone help me
'Cause the memory
Convinced itself to tear me apart
And it's gonna succeed before long
This is the memory
This is the curse of having
Too much time to think about it
It's killing me
(Christen - "The Memory" by Mayday Parade)
THE NEXT DAY - JUNE 8th
Christen wasn’t sure what time she’d fallen asleep. She knew it was late, based on the pain behind her eyes and the pounding in her head.
Last night, she’d slept alone for the first time in two weeks, hating the way the bed felt empty without Tobin’s comforting weight pressed against her. It had taken her ages to fall asleep, her mind running through every possibility for why Tobin was gone. She’d kept trying to call Tobin, to text her, all throughout the night. She never heard anything back. When she’d finally fallen asleep, it had been wrapped up in Tobin’s sweatshirt, in their sweatshirt, with the ghost of Tobin’s arms around her.
A few hours later, Christen had forced herself to get up, her limbs heavy and her heart aching. For a brief, blissful moment, she’d forgotten that Tobin was gone. She’d woken up thinking that Tobin was here, was in their bed, and everything that had happened was just a bad dream. But the hotel room was still vacant and her bed was still empty. Worse, she had no new texts or calls from Tobin.
So, Christen’s headache worsened and her heart filled with worry. She went through the motions of her last day at camp, her mind a million miles away as she ran around on the practice field, her passes off and her shots soaring miles away from the goal.
At first, she’d been selfish. She thought Tobin had left because of her, because her fear had pushed them apart. She worried that it had been her rash, knee-jerk reaction that had caused Tobin to pack up and leave her behind. The radio silence felt just like last time, full of intentionality.
Then, the rational part of her brain had kicked in. If Coach Foudy, who was suspiciously absent on their last day of camp, had come to the room last night, clearly there was something else going on here. Maybe Tobin had been called into a different camp? Maybe Tobin had to get back home for some reason?
“Hey, uh, Pressy, where’s Tobinho?” Kristie asked, kicking at the grass as she fidgeted next to Christen during their water break.
Christen barely registered the question. She stared out at the field, trying to figure out where Tobin had gone and why she wasn’t answering her texts and calls.
“Press?” Morgan interrupted. “You okay?”
This question Christen couldn’t ignore without feeling rude. She blinked her eyes and looked over at Morgan, catching the concern in her slight frown.
“Sure,” Christen shrugged, not able to muster up the strength to say more than one word.
“Where’s Tobinho?” Kristie repeated now that Christen was paying attention.
Bile rose in Christen’s throat as her vision blurred around the edges. That was the million-dollar question. “Where was Tobin?”
She didn’t have a single clue, but every single part of her was worried.
“Don’t know,” Christen whispered, feeling tears prick the corners of her eyes. She thought she’d be cried out after spending most of last night with tears running down her face, but apparently not.
“Wherever she is, Coach dropped her at the airport late last night. That’s why Coach isn’t here, needed to sleep and take care of some stuff,” Syd commented, spraying the back of her neck with water.
“Airport? They went to the airport?” Christen thought, her mind desperately clinging to this new piece of information.
“Do you know-” Christen rushed to ask, only to be interrupted by Coach Overbeck.
“Let’s go, ladies! Back on the field!”
Christen returned to the field, catching herself looking around for Tobin. It felt so empty without her, so lonely. Christen couldn’t focus on the new drill Coach Ovrebeck explained, too caught up in her own uneasy apprehension to do much else but worry.
She hadn’t realized just how much time she’d been spending with Tobin, how attached she’d become, until being with Tobin was no longer an option. Lunch, the afternoon training where Coach Foudy avoided her like the plague, dinner, all of it felt like something was missing, like someone was missing. Christen didn’t know where to go, what to do, without Tobin’s hand in hers, without Tobin’s laugh in her ears.
But she finally caught up to Foudy after dinner, her coach unable to avoid her any longer. She’d stepped into an elevator, alone, and Christen had all but sprinted to make it in before the door slid shut. She heard Coach Foudy’s sigh and knew her coach wouldn’t give her much. But Christen had to try.
“You gotta tell me something,” Christen begged quietly, her eyes boring into Foudy’s.
“I can’t do that Press,” Coach Foudy replied. She took in the dark circles under Christen’s eyes and the look of exhaustion on her face and softened a bit. “Something just came up and she had to leave Portland ASAP.”
Christen huffed and sank back against the elevator wall, running her hands over her hair, wishing she hadn’t put it up in such a tight bun. It was only making the pounding in her head more painful.
“Is she okay?” Christen asked, her voice cracking with worry.
“I can’t -” Coach Foudy began, only to be interrupted by Christen.
“Tell me, yeah I figured,” Christen finished for her coach, her voice a little bitter. She had no idea what had taken Tobin away from Portland, away from her. She wanted answers but she now knew that she wouldn’t get them from anybody but Tobin.
Christen got out on the fourth floor, trudging to their- her room. She quickly shut off all the lights and got into bed, pulling the hood of their sweatshirt up. She called the same number she’d been calling for the last twenty-ish hours, hoping that this time she’d hear Tobin’s gentle, husky voice pick up the phone.
“Hey, it’s Tobin. Sorry, I missed your call. Leave me a message if you want. Or don’t. Your call!” Tobin’s voicemail sounded in Christen’s ear.
Christen’s heart sank at having missed Tobin once again. She cleared her throat and waited for the beep.
“Hey, it’s- uh- it’s me. I’ve been trying to reach you. Obviously. Just please call me or text me and let me know you’re okay. I’m really starting to freak out a little bit here, Tobs. If this is about what you said last night...” Christen paused, not wanting to make some big heartfelt declaration over a voicemail, “...just give me a chance to explain. There’s a lot to say and I just need you to call me back so I can tell you. Please, Tobs. Call me.”
Christen hung up the phone and swiped at the lone tear that escaped her eye.
Now I'm feeling guilty for it
Didn't wanna leave
I got caught up in the forest
Hangin' with the trees
Realized I'm less important
Than I thought I'd be
I'm not tellin' you for any certain reason but
Now I'm feelin' guilty for it
I didn't wanna leave, no
(Tobin - “Stuck with Me” by The Neighbourhood)
“Mom and I are going to drive him home when he wakes up and they let him out of the hospital,” Perry whispered, squeezing Tobin’s hand.
The two sisters stood right outside of their dad’s hospital room, staring through the glass window at the tubes and wires that were breathing for him and measuring his heart rate and blood pressure and who knows what else.
“I hope it’s soon,” Tobin mumbled back, her eyes stinging with exhaustion.
“It won’t be,” Perry sighed, her typical optimism missing.
Tobin hadn’t slept the night before. Jeff, Cindy, and Tobin had waited for the surgery to end. They’d waited for Tobin’s dad to be ‘out of the woods,’ as one of the doctors had put it. They’d waited until the doctors said that he would be in his induced coma until the swelling in his brain went down.
Tobin and Jeff had left the hospital after that, checking into the closest hotel upon Cindy’s request. She’d stayed with her husband, opting to sleep in a waiting room chair, just wanting to be close, but she didn’t want her kids to have to sleep in the waiting room too. Jeff had slept easily, his body completely exhausted after so much trauma and pain and fear. Tobin stayed awake, choosing to watch over her brother instead. She could hardly bring herself to leave him alone in the main room to brush her teeth or wash her face in the bathroom.
Maybe she was punishing herself. Maybe she was just worried. Either way, Tobin sat in the bed next to her brother’s all night, watching him sleep and waiting for something to go wrong, or for a call from her mom to light up her phone screen.
That call never came, although a few text messages from Allie and ARod did, an even larger majority of texts and calls from Christen. Tobin couldn’t bring herself to open any of them, to answer. She didn’t know what she’d say. She didn’t want to take her eyes or attention off of her family. She couldn’t be selfish, not when being selfish was the cause of all of this in the first place.
That didn’t mean that she didn’t torture herself by reading every single text and listening to each voicemail. But she couldn’t bring herself to call back. She didn’t want to hear Christen’s voice. She didn’t want to remember the night she’d told Christen everything. Tobin didn’t want Christen to know what was happening. She didn’t want her pity or her kindness.
“Katie said she’s flying out tomorrow to stay with you and Jeff,” Perry whispered.
“We don’t need her to come watch us,” Tobin sighed, wishing that she could just be alone, wishing her sisters would stop hovering over everything.
“She wants to be there when dad comes home, and she wants to make sure you and Jeff are okay. She said she’d bring Cole for you to play with,” Perry squeezed Tobin’s hand. “You love him.”
“Won’t a baby just get in the way when Dad’s finally home?” Tobin shrugged, feeling numb, even at the mention of her baby nephew.
“Tobs, please just take care of you and Jeff. I know this sucks, but we’re going to get through this. I did some research.”
“Of course you did,” Tobin scoffed. “Why are you being a jerk? She’s just trying to make everyone feel better.”
“Patients come out of induced comas sometimes as quickly as twelve hours,” Perry said, her voice tight with worry.
“Dad’s been under for longer than that,” Tobin sighed. “I’d trade places with him if I could.”
“What I’m saying is that once the swelling in his brain goes down, the doctors will wake him up, and then the healing can begin. Really it’s already begu-”
“I wish he hadn’t come to my game,” Tobin mumbled, interrupting Perry, her eyes glued to the machines surrounding her dad.
“Don’t say that. He wouldn’t have missed it even if you’d asked him to,” Perry said, her voice stern and serious.
“I wish he and Jeff had flown,” Tobin whispered, her voice breaking.
“You know as well as I do that they hate flying, almost as much as you do. Dad would rather drive for multiple days across the country than fly for a few hours,” Perry laughed. It wasn’t a full, rich laugh. It was more bitter. There was pain in her voice. “Let’s get you and Jeff to the airport.” Perry wrapped her arm around Tobin’s shoulder, walking her back toward their mom and Jeff in the waiting room.
If Tobin had it her way, she’d sleep right outside of her dad’s hospital room until he was awake and could hear her apologies. As fate would have it, her mom insisted that Jeff couldn’t miss his summer camp, cast and all. Her argument was that keeping to a normal schedule would help everyone keep a positive attitude. Tobin, being the youngest sister and the closest with Jeff, was nominated to fly home with him and spend the weekend with him before Katie could get to L.A. and stay for a bit.
So, instead of moping around the hospital, floating from one hallway to the next, Tobin sat on a plane, without Christen there to calm her nerves about flying. She inhabited her house and city, knowing Christen was only twenty minutes away. She cooked for her brother, something he was horrifically worried about. She’d have to keep herself busy, despite wanting to check her phone every five seconds to see if her dad was finally awake.
To love someone so much
To have no control
You said, "I want to see the world"
And I said, "Go"
But I think I'm lost without you
I just feel crushed without you
But you were the only
Safe haven that I've known
Hits me at full speed
Feel like I can't breathe
And nobody knows
This pain inside me
My world is crumbling
I should never have
Let you go
(Christen - “Lost Without You” by Freya Ridings)
OVER TWO WEEKS LATER - JUNE 24th
“Okay, that’s it,” Stacy muttered, throwing open the drapes in Christen’s room, sending bright sunlight into the room for the first time in almost two weeks.
Christen groaned and put her pillow over her head. “Go away, Mom,” she grumbled loudly, hoping her mom would continue to respect her space and not push her, just like she’d been doing.
No such luck.
“I will not go away. I’ve watched you drag your feet around this house, barely saying a word to any of us. I tried waiting you out, but you’re more stubborn than I gave you credit for,” Stacy replied, tugging the comforter off of Christen.
“Hey!” Christen cried, sitting up and glaring at her mom. She didn’t want this right now. She wanted to continue to mope around, feeling sorry for herself, desperate to hear from Tobin but knowing she probably wouldn’t.
Christen had spent every day back home in L.A. waiting for Tobin to call. She waited day and night, her phone always in one hand. But as the days wore on, as the silence started to grate on her every nerve, she found what little hope she had slipping away.
If Tobin wasn’t talking to her, wasn’t reaching out, there had to be a reason. Whether that reason had to do with her or not, Christen’s mind assured her it didn’t, but Christen’s heart taunted her with fears that it did. It was easy to listen to her fears, falling back into the mindset she’d had six months ago, the last time she’d gone this long without hearing from Tobin. She once again felt like she’d irrevocably fucked everything up and was now shouting into the void, miserable and desperate and hopeless.
With all of that brewing inside of her, she wanted to live in the suck and not have any witnesses to it. She wanted to be sad and upset and feel lower than dirt without her mom hovering over her.
“Mom, please. Just go,” Christen pleaded, her voice thick with emotion as a fresh wave of tears sprang to her eyes.
Stacy shook her head firmly. “Not a chance, my sweet girl. You’re drowning and I’m your lifeboat. Get up and shower, dear Lord please brush your teeth, and then we’re getting out of this house.”
With that, her mom waltzed out of her room, calling over her shoulder, “Now, Christen!”
Christen sank back into her mountain of pillows. She chewed on her mom’s words, wondering if she even had it in her to get out of bed and fake a smile and go through the motions of hanging out with her mom. She didn’t feel like she could yet, she needed to clear her head.
“I’m going for a run first!” Christen yelled.
“Fine!” Stacy called back, the relief palpable in her voice that Christen was going to get up to do something.
Sighing, Christen reached for her phone on the bedside table. She opened her stream of unanswered text messages sent to Tobin, obsessively scrolling through them, the number of blue bubbles mocking her.
She’d give anything to hear from Tobin, but she knew she couldn’t keep lying around waiting for something that might not come. She was torturing herself, something she wasn’t about to stop doing, but she’d at least try to take care of herself while she did.
Christen would still let her stomach knot with worry, she’d still let her chest stay tight with guilt, she’d still let her heart convince her of her fault in this situation. All of that, her worry, her guilt, her culpability, would stick with her, during every waking moment, during every restless night. But she’d actually get out of bed, take a shower, and try to function like a normal human being in the meantime. And it all started with this run.
She ran far, like down the coastline until she stopped recognizing houses far. It must have been something like 8 miles, her aching legs told her as much. But she reveled in the pain, in the exhaustion she could feel in her muscles. At least she was feeling something other than the gloomy cloud of depression she’d been under for the last 17 days. She walked back up to her house from the beach, using the hidden path. She tried not to remember the last time she’d walked these steps, who’d been by her side when she had.
It had been the first night she’d held Tobin’s hand. Something had clicked for her when she’d felt Tobin’s palm against hers, when she’d felt Tobin’s fingers tangle with her own. She knew then, just like she knew now, she’d never want to hold anyone else's hand for the rest of her life.
Christen paused at the final step. She took a deep breath and sank down to sit on the worn wooden step, burying her head in her hands. Her tears came easily, just like they always did now. Her shoulders shook with the force of her sobs, wet hiccups, and wheezes escaping her lips as she cried, and cried, and cried.
She missed Tobin, God did she miss her. She missed her smell, her warmth, her goofy grin, and her bad jokes. She missed the sleepy blinks Tobin would give her in the morning, when she wasn’t fully awake yet and Christen had been up for hours. She missed the happy sighs Tobin would exhale across her collarbones as Tobin drifted off to sleep in her arms. She missed the way Tobin’s hand always seemed to find its way into hers, no matter where they were or who they were with. But most of all, she missed how everything felt when she was with Tobin. She missed feeling happy, she missed laughing, she missed feeling like the world was full of possibility and promise and somedays.
Wiping away her tears, Christen rubbed at her sternum, her chest tight with worry, just like it always was. Every hour of every day, with more and more time passing between the last time she’d heard from Tobin, her worry grew. She was anxious and distraught most days, often taking to pacing around her room just to work off the energy. She often considered just driving by Tobin’s house, just to see if her truck was parked in the driveway. But every time she’d worked herself up to go downstairs, the keys to her car in her hand, she chickened out.
Christen took a few deep breaths, lifting the neck of her UCLA Soccer t-shirt to wipe at her eyes. It was probably just her imagination, but she swore she caught a whiff of pine on the shirt. She’d forgotten that Tobin had borrowed this shirt to sleep in at camp a few times, and even though she’d washed it since then, it felt like Tobin lingered.
Tobin lingered everywhere. In her mind, on her skin, on her tongue. Christen couldn’t get Tobin out of her life, even if Tobin seemed to want to be out of hers.
Letting out a frustrated huff, Christen got to her feet, ignoring the smell of pine taunting her and the feeling of Tobin’s hand in her own. Despite everything, the worry and the guilt and the sadness, Christen yearned for Tobin. She wanted to touch her, to hold her, to apologize for running scared and promise to make up for it. She desired her, especially when night had fallen and memories ran through her mind, memories full of feelings and images from their last night together. Images of Tobin hovering above her, of Tobin capturing her lips with her own, of Tobin shirtless and flushed and wanting her.
Christen couldn’t get the scent of pine or the ghost of Tobin’s touch to leave her until after a longer-than-anticipated shower. She’d stayed too long under the cold spray, willing the water to wash everything away. Everything Tobin, everything that had happened between them, every bit of affection and adoration and want and desire within her.
“Let’s move it!” Stacy said, banging on the bathroom door. “You and I are in charge of picking up pizza for dinner.”
Christen hung her head, wishing her mom had picked anything in the world except pizza. She hadn’t had it since camp, and while that might seem silly since it was just pizza, it had actually turned into more than that for her. Everything that she and Tobin had shared, pizza and ice skating and bagels and that damn Nike sweatshirt Christen hadn’t been able to stop sleeping in, was now tattooed on her heart as something intimately theirs.
She didn’t speak a word to her mom the entire drive. She sat silently as the country station her mom loved played over the radio, her eyes staring, unseeing, out the window.
“The Arsenal game is tomorrow,” Stacy commented, looking quickly over at Christen before looking back to the road.
Christen tensed, not realizing it was already so late into the month. She’d completely forgotten about the game, in all honesty. She’d been too wrapped up in her worry, in her moping, in her guilt.
The worst part of it all were the unanswered questions. Why had Tobin disappeared on her? What happened to make her leave? Was she the reason Tobin left? Why wouldn’t Tobin talk to her? With all of that on her mind, the last thing she was worried about was some soccer game.
“I’m not going,” Christen murmured, pressing her forehead to the window, letting the cool glass ground her.
“My sweet girl,” Stacy sighed, pulling into the parking lot of the pizza place. She parked the car and turned to look at Christen. “I know something happened, something with Tobin-”
Hearing Tobin’s name spoken aloud made Christen flinch and recoil away from her mom, scooting even closer to the door.
“-and I don’t know what, considering we left you two to come back here looking as comfortable and happy with each other as ever, but if you want to talk about it, I’m here.”
“I don’t,” Christen replied coldly, crossing her arms over her chest.
With another sigh, Stacy pulled out her phone and scrolled through Spotify. “You leave me no choice. I’m not usually a pusher, that’s not my thing. But I can’t be your lifeboat if you won’t let me.”
Stacy looked around until she’d found the song she was looking for. She scrolled a few seconds into the song, pressed play, and set the phone down. She looked over at Christen and waited for her daughter to let her walls down.
“If you’re out on the road, feeling lonely and so cold. All you have to do is call my name and I’ll be there on the next train…” Carole King’s melodic voice echoed around the car.
Christen blinked back tears, willing herself not to break. She didn’t want help, she didn’t want sympathy. But her mom, and Carole King, weren’t making this easy on her.
Stacy began to sing along, dancing around in her seat. “Where you lead, I will follow. Anywhere that you tell me to. If you need, you need me to be with you. I will follow where you lead!”
Christen hiccuped out a laugh and shook her head, finally looking over at her mom. Stacy was shaking her shoulders and bobbing her head to the beat, singing as off-key as Christen always did. This was their song, the song Stacy played on long car rides home after Christen had a bad game, the song Christen played when Stacy had a stressful day at work and just needed a good cry. This was their mother-daughter song, and damn it, it was working.
“Okay, okay!” Christen said, reaching out to pause the song. “God, I can’t believe you Gilmore Girls -ed me.”
Stacy chuckled and smiled at Christen. “Drastic times, drastic measures. Now, are you going to tell me what happened or are you going to make me guess? Because after two weeks of you moping...I have some guesses and I don’t like any of the directions my head went in.”
Christen sighed and turned toward her mom, knowing her eyes were already teary and her face splotchy with emotion. She could see the concern on her mom’s face, the love and care in her eyes, the softness in her small, worried smile. Maybe Christen didn’t want help or sympathy, but maybe she wanted someone in her corner. Maybe she wanted to spill everything and have somebody else help carry this burden she’d been shouldering since camp.
“After you guys left, To-” Christen’s voice broke, unable to even say her name at this point. “- we had some ice cream and watched Mamma Mia 2. And then we started talking, and then we started... not talking.”
Stacy forced her face to remain neutral. “I see. Did you two…” she trailed off, making some ridiculous gesture with her hands that seemed to imply sex.
Christen’s eyes widened in shock and she furiously shook her head, a blush rising to her cheeks. “No! No, no, no! We- we didn’t,” Christen assured.
“Thank God,” Stacy whispered, a hand held to her heart.
“Whoa, really? Thank God?” Christen asked, arching a brow in her mom’s direction.
“I didn’t mean ‘Thank God’ like that. I meant it in more of a ‘Thank God they didn’t do it before they were together and in love and ready’ sort of way,” Stacy corrected, reaching across the console of the car to take a hold of one of Christen’s hands. “Have sex with whoever you want to, well not whoever- you know what I mean!”
Christen felt the hint of a laugh bubble up in her chest, her first in weeks. She gripped tightly onto her mom’s hand.
“I do, and we didn’t. But we did...kiss, and it was…” Christen paused, remembering back to her last night with Tobin. Despite her web of tangled feelings and uncertainties, she couldn’t deny how lovely that night had been. “It was magical and extraordinary and everything I wanted it to be. But then it...wasn’t? She started talking about love and I just- I got scared, Mom. I got scared and I ran.”
Christen blew out a long breath, using her free hand to wipe at the tears that had escaped her eyes.
“I shouldn’t have run, I know that now. I hate that I did. I just wasn’t expecting love and even if it still scares me, I’m more scared of not being with her,” Christen continued, unable to stop the words flowing from her mouth. It was like the dam had broken and there was no staunching it. “But when I got back to the room, she was gone. Coach Foudy had come to get her for some reason and then took Tobin to the airport and I haven’t heard from her since.”
Stacy was quiet for a moment, holding Christen’s hand while she rummaged around in her purse for some tissues. After finding some, she handed them to Christen and sighed.
“I had no idea any of that was going on, I’m so sorry, Christen,” Stacy sighed. “Have you tried calling?”
Christen wiped at her eyes, wondering if she’d ever be completely cried out. “Yeah, and I text her good night every single night because we never go to bed without saying it, but I’m the only one saying it now,” Christen blubbered.
“Oh my sweet girl,” Stacy cooed, leaning over the console to wrap Christen in as much of a hug as their current positions allowed. “There’s got to be a reason. There’s gotta be something. That girl cares about you.”
Christen shook her head dejectedly. “She doesn’t. She said she loves me but now she’s ignoring me and I don’t even know why.”
Stacy rubbed Christen’s back, a sense of purpose in her voice. “Then you need some answers. Tomorrow you’re going to go over to her house and you’re going to get her to go to that game with you, because that was an incredibly thoughtful birthday gift. And she won’t say no, because she’s not an asshole-”
Christen huffed out a laugh at that, burrowing deeper into her mom’s embrace.
“-and then you’ll get your answers,” Stacy finished confidently.
Christen didn’t have it in her to argue. The only way she would ever get an answer from Tobin was if she showed up at her house and asked for it. She only wished her heart didn’t fill with fear at the prospect of seeing Tobin tomorrow.
Yes sir, I understand
She's the sea, I am the land
You're not the only one who feels this way
I'm fire, she's rain
She's bliss, I am pain
(Tobin - “Only Girl” by Ari Weiss)
It took five days for Tobin’s dad to be okayed by the doctors to wake up from the induced coma. It took another ten for the doctors to deem him fit enough to make the drive to the closest hospital in L.A. Two more days of close observation in L.A., and he was finally given the okay to come home.
He was currently asleep in the downstairs office that Katie and Tobin had made up into a bedroom after hearing from Cindy that stairs were still too tricky for him. He’d claimed that the travel from the hospital took more out of him than he expected, but Tobin was starting to wonder if he closed himself in the office all day because he didn’t want to see them. The selfish part of her wondered if he was upset with her, if he blamed her, since the accident happened because of her game.
Cindy sent a list of things that were tricky for him before they drove home from Sacramento. The list included buttons and zippers, shoelaces, eating with utensils, and climbing the stairs. And while Cindy was too polite to say it, Perry hadn’t shied away from telling her sisters and brother that their dad was dealing with serious mood swings, mostly due to the frustration that came with simple motor functions feeling impossible.
“Tobin, stir,” Katie pointed at the vegetables, smoking in the pan beside Tobin.
“Shit,” Tobin sighed, stirring quickly.
“Is it burning?” Cindy asked from the dining room.
“No!” Tobin called back, trying to scrape the charred bits out of the pan and onto a plate that she could wipe off into the trash can.
“I don’t know why we’re doing this anyway,” Perry whispered from across the kitchen island, aware that their parents were nearby and definitely not hard of hearing. “It isn’t like Dad’s gonna want to sit through dinner and use a fork in front of everyone. He already has enough trouble on his own.”
“I wouldn’t know. He hardly stays in the room with me long enough for me to see him struggle,” Tobin sighed, feeling her throat thicken. She hadn’t cried since the first night in the hospital, and even then, she’d pulled herself together. She could see how her sisters, mom, and brother were walking around her, all waiting for the floodgates to open. They didn’t. It was like she couldn’t bring herself to cry, like something was wrong with her.
“Did you invite Christen to come over tonight after dinner?” Jeff asked, knowing that broaching the subject with his sister would likely result in her snapping or stalking out of the kitchen.
“It’s a family dinner. She’s not invited,” Tobin huffed, stabbing one of the boiled potatoes to see if they were ready to mash.
“Mom said she could come over after dinner, though,” Jeff pushed. “She’s letting Andy come over to play video games with me.”
“Chris is busy,” Tobin snapped. “Not to mention, I’m busy. Dad and Mom kinda need our help right now, if you haven’t noticed, so I’m too busy to hang out with friends.” She regretted her words as soon as she saw Jeff lower his head, struggling to help Perry roll balls of cookie dough with only one good arm.
“I’m sorry, dude. I’m tired. I didn’t mean to-”
“We’re all tired, Tobin,” Katie scolded. “This is a time when we should be grateful for one another and patient with each other.”
“Easy for you to say,” Tobin thought, gripping the fork tighter in her hand. “You and Perry get to abandon ship and go back to work and your families. Jeff and I are stuck here.” She felt bad as soon as she had the thought. Her dad was hurt because he’d driven to her game. He was hurt because he’d been trying to get home from her game. She deserved to be stuck at home. She deserved to stay and help around the house.
“I’ll get the potatoes,” Katie offered, leaving Tobin with basically nothing to do. She sat down in the empty living room and pulled out her phone, rereading a few of the messages she’d nearly memorized. All of them from Christen.
The first ones were from the night she’d left, the night she’d found out about her dad and Jeff.
[Christen Press 6/7 12:17AM]
Tobs? Where did you go?
[Christen Press 6/7 12:17AM]
What did Coach Foudy want?
[Christen Press 6/7 12:17AM]
Is this about what happened? I can explain...
[Christen Press 6/7 12:18AM]
It would be easier to explain if you’d reply?
[Christen Press 6/7 12:22AM]
Tobs? Are you there?
[Christen Press 6/7 12:23AM]
Okay, you’re starting to scare me. Can you please just text me back? Or call me? I keep getting your voicemail.
[Christen Press 6/7 1:45AM]
I’m still awake. I just want to know you’re safe.
[Christen Press 6/7 1:46AM]
I’m not trying to annoy you, especially if you want space or something, but this silent treatment while I’m worried sick isn’t cool, Tobs
[Christen Press 6/7 2:04AM]
I’m really sorry. I’m so sorry. There’s so much I need to tell you. Please text me back.
[Christen Press 6/7 2:59AM]
We haven’t gone to bed without saying good night to each other for a long time, and I don’t want to stop doing it just because you’re mad at me or something. So, good night Tobs. Sweet dreams.
[Christen Press 6/7 3:01AM]
Your reply is “sweeter dreams” in case you forgot. Okay I’ll stop now. Good night, Tobs. I really hope you’re safe and okay. Please let me know if you are.
It had killed her not to answer. She almost had, more than once. But every time she opened the text thread, every time her fingers hovered over the keyboard, she froze. She didn’t deserve to have Christen be there for her, she didn’t deserve to have Christen worry about her. She didn’t deserve to say good night back to Christen.
Tobin scrolled through a dozen more texts, a dozen more good night messages she never answered.
[Christen Press 6/13 11:36PM]
Please talk to me, Tobs. Please. I’m begging you. Let me fix this, let me try.
[Christen Press 6/13 11:37PM]
I’m here when you’re ready to talk. Good night #7, sweet dreams, Tobs.
[Christen Press 6/19 9:22PM]
Good night #13, sweet dreams. I hope you’re okay.
[Christen Press 6/23 12:23AM]
Good night #17. Your lucky number. Maybe it’ll be mine too and you’ll finally talk to me. I miss you.
Tobin cringed at the last message, the one she’d received last night. Christen had been texting her a good night message every night since she left camp, and not responding was absolutely killing her.
But what was she supposed to say? “Sweet dreams, Chris. How’ve you been doing? I’ve been feeling like shit because instead of going home early with my dad I chose to stay at the hotel and be selfish, and now he’s angry and hurt and can’t look at me.” Tobin shook her head softly, closing her phone and sliding it in her pocket.
She couldn’t be selfish anymore. She couldn’t pull Christen back into her life when her life was literally falling apart. She couldn’t lean on Christen the way she needed to because Christen didn’t love her back. She didn’t feel the same way. Tobin wasn’t willing to text Christen back and get her hopes up again about their friendship healing. She wasn’t ready to be Christen’s friend, and more likely than not, Christen would run at the first sign of what was going on with Tobin and the entire Heath family. She deserved to have friends that could be there for her, and at this point in her life, Tobin couldn’t be there for Christen. She couldn’t be a support system. She was too busy trying to keep herself afloat.
“Goddammit!” Tobin’s dad yelled from the office.
Tobin felt bad for hesitating, but she didn’t want to be the one to go help him. She didn’t want to be in a room alone with him. She didn’t know if she could face him, knowing that she was at fault. Perry, Katie, and Jeff continued cooking, manning the stovetop and putting dishes in the oven.
“Tobs, will you help?” Cindy called from the dining room, pointing down the hall toward the office.
“Yeah,” Tobin choked out, slipping off the couch and making her way into the office. “Hey, Dad,” Tobin whispered, hating the anger that was apparent on her dad’s flushed face.
“Bud,” he sighed, trying to calm himself down.
“What’s going on in here?” Tobin asked, making her way across the room and toward where he was sitting on the bed.
“I can’t even put a damn shirt on,” he hissed, his anger directed at the universe, but Tobin felt it hit her in the chest.
“I can help,” Tobin offered, holding a hand out to grab the shirt.
“I don’t want my kid to have to dress me!”
“I don’t mind,” Tobin whispered, pulling the shirt off of her dad’s knees and straightening the collar.
“I MIND!” he screamed, and even though Tobin knew he wasn’t angry with her, she couldn’t help but flinch. Her dad had never yelled growing up. Both of her parents had been quiet and peaceful, never really raising their voices at their kids.
“It won’t be like this forever,” Tobin hummed, reaching out slowly to help him put his arms in the sleeves.
Her dad stayed silent, her face still red and angry. He was clearly trying not to have another outburst at Tobin.
“We’re making your favorite dinner,” Tobin said, trying to distract him from the buttons and the ease at which she could button his shirt. “Well, Katie’s making it. I was politely encouraged to stop helping,” Tobin grinned, knowing that would make her dad laugh. She’d inherited her lack of cooking skills from him, and they’d always joked about burning pasta and melting kitchen appliances.
“I can’t even eat it,” he growled, no smile slipping across his face.
“We’re going to help you,” Tobin promised, standing up straight now that the shirt was buttoned.
“I don’t want your help,” he sighed, lowering his head into his hands.
Tobin watched as he wiped his hand through his hair, hitting the bald spot where his scar sat, dark and glaring on his head. He winced softly, and Tobin felt the urge to take him in her arms, to hold onto him and make sure he was okay. She couldn’t.
“Dinner’s ready,” Cindy called from outside in the hall.
“I’m sorry,” Tobin’s dad sighed, clearly noticing that Tobin had stepped away from him.
“It’s okay,” Tobin mumbled.
“No it isn’t,” he said, his eyes meeting Tobin’s for the first time since he left her soccer game.
“Let’s eat,” Tobin whispered, slipping out of the office and making her way to the dining room.
Tobin sat next to Jeff, across from Katie, Perry, and baby Cole. Her dad sat beside her at the head of the table, her mom at the opposite end near Jeff. Tobin hadn’t felt tension like this since...possibly ever.
It wasn’t like the tension she’d felt with Christen. That had been powerful too, but it was different. It was exhilarating and exciting. It made her want to run full speed toward Christen, knowing that she’d catch her.
This tension was painful. It wasn’t exciting; it was uncomfortable and heart-wrenching. No one knew what to say. Katie talked out loud to Cole, and Cindy tried to talk with her kids and husband, but all Tobin could hear were the angry huffs and grunts when her dad dropped his fork or had trouble moving his knife across the plate.
“We couldn’t have had something that didn’t require a knife,” Tobin’s dad hissed, dropping his knife in frustration.
“Tobs, why don’t you cut your dad’s chicken for him?” Cindy suggested, sending a tight-lipped smile to the other end of the table.
Tobin hesitantly reached out for her dad’s plate, watching as he pulled it away from her.
“I don’t need my kid to cut up my food,” he huffed, sending a glare toward Cindy.
“You did it for us. We can return the favor,” Katie said, trying to lighten the mood in the room.
“I did it for you guys when you wore diapers!” he complained.
Tobin couldn’t look away from his eyes, seeing the pain in them. Her funny, dorky dad was embarrassed and angry and hurt, and she felt that same overwhelming guilt rise in her throat.
“I don’t mind cutting it,” Tobin whispered, wishing she could disappear from the dinner table. She reached out, her dad’s hand immediately grabbing hers roughly.
“I’m really not hungry,” he sighed, standing up and making his way back into the office-turned-bedroom.
“Jeff!” Cindy called after him, standing up to follow.
“He probably needs space,” Perry sighed, trying to stop Cindy from walking after him.
“Well, he’s not getting it,” Cindy replied, marching across the floor and into the office, the door closing behind her.
“Good dinner, Katie,” Jeff said from beside Tobin.
“Thanks,” Katie sighed, slouching in her seat.
Tobin couldn’t take another bite. Her stomach was knotted, her throat was dry, and her chest felt tight.
“I’m gonna go get some air,” Tobin choked out.
“Tobs-” Perry started.
Tobin stood up from the table, not waiting for her sister’s words, taking her plate with her and discarding it in the kitchen. Her running shoes were outside by the front door, and she quickly slipped them on as she left the house.
She ran through her neighborhood, loving the way her lungs were burning and distracting herself from the nausea she was feeling. When she got to the main road, Tobin turned left, staying on the shoulder and letting cars pass her. She ran until her legs burned, until her calves twitched and her toes ached.
It wasn’t until she heard a car horn honk behind her that she looked up and realized where she was. As soon as she did, she turned around and sprinted as fast as she could in the opposite direction. She was too close. There was too much of a pull, a temptation, to finish running down the street, to turn into the neighborhood and wander through until reaching Christen’s house.
What was she supposed to say anyway? “Hey, Chris, I know I scared you and you turned me down, and I know I’ve been M.I.A. recently, but I need to talk to someone. I need you.”
Christen wasn’t interested in Tobin like that. She didn’t want a long-distance relationship, and even if she was attracted to Tobin physically, she didn’t return her feelings. If she didn’t want Tobin two weeks ago at camp, there was no way she’d want her now, completely guilt-ridden and sad and terrified. Not only that, but Tobin was needed at home. She couldn’t be with Christen. She couldn’t ditch her family for Christen again, not when it went so horrifically the last time.
“You okay?” Jeff asked as soon as Tobin’s feet landed in their front yard. Jeff was sitting on the front porch steps, a bowl of ice cream in hand.
“Just needed to jog a little,” Tobin huffed, dropping down to sit next to Jeff. “Why are you out here, dude?”
“Mom and dad are yelling,” he sighed, shoving a bite of ice cream into his mouth.
“Is that Phish Food?” Tobin asked, trying to smile at her brother.
“Want to share?” Tobin asked, reaching out and wiggling her fingers.
Jeff handed the bowl to Tobin, knowing she probably needed it more than he did. “Nobody else wants to ask, but I don’t like seeing you hurting. What happened at camp, Tobin?”
Tobin’s heart nearly jumped into her throat. “Nothing happened at camp,” she lied.
“Bullshit,” Jeff snorted. “Christen doesn’t come around anymore. Are you two fighting?”
“She wouldn’t want to be around all this,” Tobin sighed, avoiding the question.
“Have you asked her that?”
“She doesn’t want me,” Tobin whispered, handing the ice cream back to Jeff.
“Tobs, what did she say?” Jeff asked, his brows crinkling in confusion.
“I’m gonna shower. Maybe mom and dad are finished arguing,” Tobin sighed, pushing herself off of the front stoop and walking into the house, pushing all thoughts of Christen from her mind.
Second, third, and hundredth chances
Balancin' on breaking branches
Those eyes add insult to injury
I think I've seen this film before
And I didn't like the ending
I'm not your problem anymore
So who am I offending now?
(Tobin - “exile” by Taylor Swift feat. Bon Iver)
All this time
We always walked a very thin line
You didn't even hear me out
You never gave a warning sign
All this time
I never learned to read your mind
I couldn't turn things around
‘Cause you never gave a warning sign
(Christen - “exile” by Taylor Swift feat. Bon Iver)
Christen’s hands shook as she finished running the flat iron over her hair. She had waited until the last possible moment to get ready, and even that hadn’t helped her nerves.
She was thirty minutes from finally, hopefully, seeing Tobin for the first time since Portland and she was a freaking wreck. Her palms were sweating, her hair kept frizzing, and her attempt at make-up was abysmal. Despite her mom’s assurances that everything was going to be fine, there was a pit in her stomach that argued otherwise. It was the same pit she’d had in her stomach since the night she’d come back to an empty hotel room. Something was wrong, something had happened. That much she knew. But what she didn’t know was why Tobin had gone silent on her again.
Sure, she hadn’t reacted in the best way to hearing “I’m falling in love with you”. But that had been her fear, something she still struggled with, but something she was no longer ruled by. She just wanted the chance to tell Tobin that.
Christen glanced at herself in the mirror and sighed. She looked about a good as she felt, which was not good. She had dark circles under her eyes, a sunken, sad look on her face, and a heaviness in her eyes. She might have added a dash of mascara and lipgloss, straightened her hair, and put on a nice outfit, but there was no covering up how much these past few weeks had weighed on her and affected her.
Checking her phone and seeing it was already a few minutes past 4:30, Christen hustled down the stairs.
“Bye, I’ll be back later!” Christen called out, her voice tight.
Her mom and dad poked their heads out of the kitchen, both fixing her with concerned looks.
“Good luck, peanut,” Cody said with a small smile.
“You got this, my sweet girl. We love you,” Stacy added.
Christen could only nod at them and then head for the front door.
Tobin pulled the mop out of the closet and carried the bucket to the sink, filling it with water and cleaning solution. It was the second cup of coffee her dad had spilled that morning, and based on the angry noises coming from the living room, he was beyond frustrated.
“I’m heading to work,” Jeff said, hurrying to the garage door.
“Since when do you have a job?” Tobin asked, completely caught off guard that her brother was leaving in the middle of all the chaos.
“I told you that dad’s work friend hired me to pet sit for the weekend. I’m staying over there until Monday night,” Jeff rushed out, grabbing Tobin’s car keys from the hook. “I can borrow the truck, right?”
“Sure,” Tobin sighed. It wasn’t like she needed it to go anywhere.
Perry and Katie had left that morning, flying and driving back to their homes and families, and Tobin was officially on deck to help her mom with anything and everything that needed to be done around the house and for her dad.
“Thanks, dude. I’ll see you later,” Jeff said, barely getting the words out before shutting the garage door and rushing to the car in the driveway.
“Shit,” Tobin yelped, jumping back from the sink and reaching toward the stove where her dad’s grilled cheese and soup were cooking...well burning now.
“Tobin, what’s burning?” Cindy called, walking around the corner.
“It’s fine. Just the sandwich. I’ll eat that one. I can make another,” Tobin said grabbing the pan without a potholder and hissing in pain.
“Sweetie, let me. Why don’t you mop up the floor in the living room?” Cindy sighed, squeezing Tobin’s shoulder.
Both of them looked exhausted, neither having slept much. They were too worried about being needed in the middle of the night. Tobin was too preoccupied with bad dreams that had become way too frequent.
Tobin walked into the living room, hauling the mop bucket after her and looking at the huge dark spot on the hardwood floor. She ran the nearly dry mop over the coffee, trying to soak up as much as possible.
“I can get it, Tobs,” her dad huffed, trying to get up from the low couch in the living room and clearly having difficulty.
“It’s fine. I can do it,” Tobin said, trying to smile at her dad, hoping it would help him relax back into the couch.
“I said I can-,” he snapped, trying to force his body up out of the couch.
The doorbell rang in the middle of his sentence, causing Tobin to whip her head around. The front door wasn’t in her line of sight, just around a corner but close enough for her to be able to put the mop down, race to the door and hurry back before her dad could take over.
Christen bounced from foot to foot, nervously fidgeting on the Heath’s front porch. She ran her fingers through her hair and looked straight ahead at the door, willing Tobin to open it.
The entire drive over here, she’d practiced what she would say. “Tobs, I know something is going on and I know that for whatever reason, you’re avoiding me. But I’m your best friend, I’m someone you care about and who cares about you. Give me the chance to be here for you, and then we can talk about what happened in Portland.”
It had felt like a good enough explanation until she was moments away from seeing Tobin. Then every word, every phrase, felt inadequate. They felt like they weren’t enough.
Christen felt her breath catch in her throat when she heard the lock turn in the door...
TO BE CONTINUED