But go ahead give me all the blame
Twist my words and set them to flame, woah
We all know
That you'll go tell all of your friends
That I'm the one you wish you never met
We all know
The story never ends
(Tobin - “The Story Never Ends” by Lauv)
And it would knock me to the floor if I wasn't there already
If only I could hunt the hunter
And all I really want is some patience
A way to calm the angry voice
And all I really want is deliverance, ah
Do I wear you out?
You must wonder why I'm relentless and all strung out
I'm consumed by the chill of solitary
The conflicts, the craziness, and the sound of pretenses is falling
All around, all around
Why are you so petrified of silence?
(Christen - “All I Really Want” by Alanis Morissette)
“Good morning, ladies, and welcome to preseason!” Coach Foudy greeted the sleepy but smiling faces she could see in the crowd. Well, mostly smiling. A handful of her juniors looked like they were ready to kill each other.
“I wanted to welcome our four freshmen real quick, get on up here you guys!” Foudy continued, gesturing at the nervous-looking freshmen to join her at the front of the group. “I know a lot of you already know each other, but I’d like each of you to say your name and then a fun fact about yourself!”
“Shit, she’s totally going to make me do a fun fact,” Tobin grimaced, trying to hide at the back of the huddle with Allie. Literally, every single one of the UCLA girls had given her a dirty look beside Allie, Ashlyn, and the freshmen. She had zero desire to stand in front of a bunch of people who hated her and tell them something about herself, especially not when fun facts were her thing with Christen. She glanced at the green-eyed girl, wondering if Christen thought about her when Foudy mentioned fun facts. She wondered if Christen missed taking turns sharing facts with her. Tobin sure as hell did.
The freshmen all fidgeted at the front of the huddle, looking between themselves to see who would go first. The smallest of the group stepped forward and sent a large smile to the rest of the team.
“Sup guys, I’m Mal Pugh, and a fun fact about me is...I really hate Brussel sprouts!”
Allie laughed from the back. “Everybody hates that healthy stuff, except for Pressy!”
Christen shot a tight-lipped grimace at Mal in greeting. She hated that Allie had called her out and brought attention to her. She wasn’t in a place for that right now. She was still reeling from a certain someone showing up here at UCLA. Someone who’d thrown her for a total loop. Someone who hadn’t stopped looking over at her since they’d all huddled as a team to start practice.
Mal waved at everyone and then stepped back. A tall, blonde stepped forward next.
“Hi, I’m Sam or Sammy, and in club, I was nicknamed the ‘Tower of Power’ because, you know,” Sam gestured at herself, “I’m a giant!”
“That’s gonna stick here too,” Ashlyn grinned, causing Sam to blush and step back. The next freshman stepped up. “I’m Rose and my fun fact is that my dog’s name is Wilma, and I love her.”
The team chuckled politely, even Christen cracked a smile at the mention of a dog. She wasn’t completely heartless.
The fourth and final freshman stepped forward. “Hey y’all, I’m Barney, well Nicole Barnhart, but everyone calls me Barney. A fun fact about me is that I had to play for the boy’s team in high school because my school didn’t have one for girls.”
“Ew, men,” Megan coughed, earning her some laughs, the loudest from Barney.
Coach Foudy shooed the freshmen back into the huddle and then looked toward Tobin. “And now to introduce our exciting new transfer, please give a warm welcome to Tobin Heath. We’re lucky Penn State let her get away, and she’s going to be a great asset to us here.”
“YAAAAS HAAAARRRYYYY!” Allie cheered, hoping that her excitement would distract Tobin from the complete lack of excitement from anyone else. At least the freshmen and Ashlyn clapped softly.
Christen looked off into the distance, not able to look anywhere near Tobin. She couldn’t hear her talk, she couldn’t hear her say the words “fun fact” and not feel the newly formed scars on her heart re-open. This was already too much for her, she had no idea how she was supposed to survive a practice being around Tobin, let alone an entire season.
“Tobin, will you join me up here?” Foudy asked, gesturing at Tobin.
“Do I have to?” Tobin thought, hoping Foudy would read her facial expression and leave her alone. Based on Foudy’s nod, she would definitely have to. Tobin shuffled to the front of the huddle, eyes skipping across lots of angry faces.
“Uh...hi,” Tobin waved awkwardly.
“Yes! Hi, Harry!” Allie called, literally the only person trying to gas her up or show support.
“My name’s Tobin, not Harry,” Tobin said, trying to smile. “Uh, I guess a fun fact about me is that my name is my great-grandmother’s maiden name,” Tobin said, shrugging softly and walking back to the back of the huddle before Foudy asked for anything more.
At the tense silence that descended upon the huddle, Coach Foudy looked between her veteran players, worries already forming in her mind about Tobin’s transfer and the ramifications it was having.
“Okay...now that the formalities are out of the way, let’s get to it, shall we? Light training this morning, just to get the legs moving, and then this evening we will do fitness testing,” Couch Foudy said, clapping her hands together.
“Booooo!” Allie yelled, trying to take away any and all tension. She pulled Tobin into her side and grinned at Coach Foudy.
“Long, take ‘em through a dynamic warm-up,” Foudy said, walking over to the sidelines.
“Aye aye, Captain!” Allie said, dragging Tobin by the arm and calling for the freshmen to follow her.
The tension between the upperclassmen stayed relatively calm during warm-ups and even during the passing drills. But then Coach Foudy separated everyone into five teams for a 5v5 tournament. Having picked up on the tension and the animosity, Coach Foudy decided to bite the bullet and put her problem players together, to see what would shake out.
“Pinoe, Press, Long, Heath, and Dunn are the last team. You’ll be set up on field two,” Coach Foudy said, sending stern looks at each of the players.
“Fuck,” Christen whispered to herself, clenching her fists at her sides. She didn’t wait for anyone, not even Crystal, and stalked off toward their field. This day just kept getting worse. She half-expected it to start raining, despite the cloudless, sunny day. That would be the cherry on top of it all.
Crystal and Megan followed close behind Christen, sending glances over their shoulders at Allie and Tobin who brought up the rear. They’d never seen Christen like this, so shaken and upset, it had their protective instincts kicking into overdrive.
“Think they’ll kill each other?” Megan hissed.
Crystal scoffed and turned back around. “My money’s on Christen.”
“Mine too,” Megan nodded.
Allie dragged Tobin behind Megan and Crystal, keeping enough distance between them so the other girls wouldn’t hear her talk to Tobin.
“Ooooh, C.P. is so pissed,” Allie whispered.
“Yeah, this is going to suck,” Tobin groaned.
“She’s kinda hot when she’s mad though, right?” Allie teased, bumping her shoulder into Tobin’s, trying to keep Tobin’s spirits up.
Tobin’s face flushed. “She’s always hot,” she admitted softly, smiling despite the tension between all of them.
The smile didn’t last. Ten seconds into their first game against the freshmen and some sophomores, Christen ran over to where Tobin was fighting off a freshman, stole the ball from Tobin, and tripped Tobin for good measure before dribbling off.
“Jesus, C.P.!” Allie called, pulling Tobin off the ground before jogging back to her place.
“Same team, Press!” Coach Foudy yelled, walking between all the fields so she could keep an eye on all of the games.
Christen didn’t register any of their words. She sent a blazing shot past Barney and then jogged back to her spot, receiving high fives from only Crystal and Megan.
“Get it, Pressy!” Kelley yelled from a field over, voicing her support of Christen, even from so far away.
Tobin tried not to let it faze her. She ran up and down the field, staying parallel with Christen, just in case some miracle happened and she tried to cross the ball to her. She ignored the sore spot on her knee from where she’d hit the ground. She ignored the slightly wounded pride she felt at being knocked down so quickly.
“That was a great shot,” Tobin said when she ran past Christen and toward the tall freshman, Sam, who had just gotten the ball.
Christen hated that her heart skipped in her chest at Tobin’s compliment. She hated that a small part of her yearned for the time when she and Tobin worked together on the field, for the magic and chemistry they had between them. She quickly swallowed it down, reminding herself that nothing had changed. Tobin had still lied and ignored her and broken her heart. It didn’t matter if Tobin was here, if Tobin had baked her scones and brought her coffee. It didn’t matter if Tobin apologized and gave her heart eyes. None of that changed the fact that Christen’s heart was still a tattered, torn-up mess.
Setting her shoulders, Christen sprinted after the ball and after Tobin, not letting Tobin get away with complimenting her. She ran right by Tobin now and said, “I don’t need you to tell me it was great.”
Christen chased Sam down and stripped the ball from her, turning on a dime and taking the ball back up the field. She saw Tobin wide open, with a perfect shot on goal, but she couldn’t pass Tobin the ball. She couldn’t do that when Tobin was already everywhere else. She couldn’t be here too.
“Cross it to Harry, C.P.!” Allie shouted, watching as little Mal started running toward Christen, Mal’s eyes focused on the ball.
Christen ignored Allie and forced the dribble, letting Mal corner her near the end line. She didn’t have an angle on goal, but she wasn’t going to give this ball to Tobin now, maybe ever again. She took a wild shot, the ball not going anywhere near the goal. She groaned and started tracking back.
“Pass the ball, Press!” Coach Foudy shouted.
Christen held up a thumbs up and focused on defending the attack from the freshmen. She could pass it, she would pass it, just not to Tobin.
A few moments later, Tobin used some fancy footwork to pull the ball away from Rose. She sprinted up the field, finally feeling calm with the ball at her feet. Instead of shooting at the goal, something she probably could have done from her spot on the field, she glanced up and passed it to Christen.
Christen saw the pass happening before it even did. She knew Tobin was going to give her that damn ball. But she also knew that Megan was behind her and wide open. So she watched as the ball left Tobin’s foot and stopped her run. The ball skipped by her and landed right on Megan’s outstretched foot. Megan sent an easily placed shot into the bottom corner and celebrated by embracing Christen.
“Teamwork babyyyy!” Megan cheered, her attention only on Christen. Christen accepted the embrace, ignoring the small look of defeat on Tobin’s face.
“All right, water break!” Coach Foudy called out, the players slowly stopping and heading off the field toward the sidelines.
“That was a good pass, Harry,” Allie whispered, patting Tobin on the back.
Christen turned and glared at Allie. As if the great Tobin Heath needed reassurance on the field, the constant babying that Allie was giving her. It grated on her nerves, it tightened the coil in her stomach further.
“It actually wasn’t, but it’s not like you’d tell her that. You clearly picked a side, Al,” Christen said, her body fully facing Allie, ignoring Tobin who stood right there.
“I’m a little rusty. Haven’t played in a while. I’ll do better next time,” Tobin shrugged, beating Allie to a response. She didn’t want Allie fighting all of her battles. Besides, she’d prepared for an angry Christen and wasn’t really that surprised by the hostility. She could handle this.
“We’re all on the same team here,” Allie replied, her back straightening as she took a step toward Christen, bringing her in front of Tobin. “Act like it, C.P.”
Allie shouldered by Christen and ran over to the sideline, followed closely by Megan and Crystal.
Tobin and Christen stood a few feet apart, unspoken words passing between them. Christen glared in Tobin’s direction and Tobin accepted it, knowing she deserved it. After a few moments, Tobin had to turn away. Seeing the anger in Christen’s usually soft green eyes was still painful, even if she deserved it.
“Hey, Mal?” Tobin called, turning away from Christen. “That move you did to strip the ball from me, could you show me?”
Christen watched Tobin turn toward Mal, with a sweetness in her voice. It sounded like the old Tobin, like the one she’d fallen so hard for. It made her blood boil. She felt the words coming out of her before she could stop them, harshly spoken as she walked by Tobin, headed for the sidelines.
“Yeah, walk away from me. You’re good at that.” Christen didn’t even recognize her own voice. It was hard and cold and so devoid of life. She didn’t like it, she didn’t like what being hurt by Tobin had done to her.
Tobin’s chest and throat tightened. Her stomach flipped. It seemed like she couldn’t evade the guilt, no matter what she was doing, it always came back, usually on its own, but now with Christen’s words, with the hurt in Christen’s voice. She forced her lips into a smile, nodding in feigned excitement as Mal showed her a trick that Tobin had actually learned when she was eleven.
The bickering and snide comments only got worse as training wore on. After an hour of 5v5 games, where Christen purposefully avoided passing to Tobin, purposefully took the ball from Tobin, and actively hurt her team by doing so, Coach Foudy’d had enough.
“Press, Heath. Come here!”
“Nicely done, C.P.,” Allie sighed, hating that Christen was letting her feelings ruin their first practice.
“Yeah, like this is my fault,” Christen muttered to Allie, running off the field over to where Coach Foudy was standing on the sidelines. “This was Tobin’s fault, she did this to me,” Christen thought to herself.
“Sorry, I’m a little out of practice still, Coach,” Tobin said, trying to shoulder the blame. Christen was allowed to be upset. She’d been completely caught off guard by Tobin’s presence, and she was rightfully hurt and angry.
Christen rolled her eyes at Tobin’s comment and looked straight at Foudy.
Coach Foudy looked between the two players, disappointment clear on her face. “If you want to yell at each other, go somewhere else. If you want to play soccer, you can stay on this field. I won’t have whatever is going on between you two cost us anything this season,” Foudy said, her voice leaving no room for argument. “You two were magic at camp together. Maybe I was naive to think that magic would translate easily here, but I have hope it can. Prove me right. And start proving me right by doing 12 laps around the field. You run together or you start the count over, your choice.”
“Yes, Coach,” Christen replied, having the decency to be a little sheepish about how she’d acted. She shot an apologetic grimace at Coach Foudy.
“Got it, Coach,” Tobin said, flashing Foudy a thumbs up and waiting for Christen to start the laps at her own pace.
Christen felt her muscles tense and tighten as she started their pace at a jog. She could feel Tobin running a foot or two away from her, she could hear her soft intakes of breath. She was going crazy being this close to Tobin.
“So, the freshmen seem nice,” Tobin started, hating that she couldn’t think of anything better to say.
“Coach didn’t say anything about talking. We just have to run 12 laps together, that’s it,” Christen replied coldly.
“You know talking will make it go by faster,” Tobin said, undeterred.
“Funny, you didn’t seem to think so this summer. You preferred silence then,” Christen said, picking up her pace, unfazed by their increase in speed but hoping Tobin would be.
“Chris, I made a mistake,” Tobin huffed, already breathing hard, trying to keep up with Christen.
“My life kind of fell apart, and I didn’t think you’d want to be there and hold it together,” Tobin said. “I know that’s stupid, and trust me a ton of people have told me as much. I’m sorry, okay? I shouldn’t have ignored you. I- Jesus, can we slow down?” Tobin panted.
Christen couldn’t hear this, the sadness in Tobin’s voice, the regret and the guilt and the apologies. She ran even faster, almost completely sprinting, knowing that Tobin couldn’t keep up. Maybe if she kept running, she wouldn’t have to hear this. Maybe if she kept running, Tobin would stay behind. Maybe if she kept running, she wouldn’t feel the burn of tears in her eyes for the first time in a month.
“START OVER!” Couch Foudy yelled.
Christen slowed to a stop, dropping her hands to her knees as she sucked in deep lungfuls of air.
“Well, you got faster this summer,” Tobin sighed, stopping beside Christen and wiping baby hairs off her face.
Christen ignored Tobin, straightened, and walked to the corner of the field, just wanting them to start again. She wanted to finish these laps and never have to think again about the way her heart beat a little faster hearing the soft sigh of Tobin’s voice.
“Or maybe I just got slower,” Tobin tried to joke, making her way to Christen’s side with a weak chuckle.
It was the laugh that finally broke her. Christen growled in frustration and whirled around, finally looking Tobin in the eye and stepping in close. She was close enough to see the golden flecks in Tobin’s honey brown eyes, close enough to hear the way Tobin’s breathing picked up at their proximity. It made the burning behind her eyes worse.
“Stop, please, just stop. Stop talking to me, stop making jokes. Just stop. I can’t-” Christen took a sharp breath, her voice cracking and her eyes stinging. “I can’t do this right now.”
Tobin fought off every instinct inside of her to pull Christen toward her, to hold her, and whisper apology after apology. Instead, she clenched her hands at her sides, hoping her eyes told Christen everything her words couldn’t.
“I’m sorry, Chris. I’m sorry that I hurt you,” Tobin said, nodding softly. “I won’t talk anymore. Well...I’ll try not to talk anymore.”
“Yeah, good luck with that,” Christen said, turning away and readying herself for Coach Foudy to start them again.
“GO!” Foudy called out, sending Christen and Tobin on their first lap again, their pace a quick jog.
Tobin pulled in breaths of air, trying to stay in step with Christen. She couldn’t figure out if she should push more and talk or leave Christen alone, and the warring thoughts inside her brain were overwhelming.
Gradually, the team left the field and headed for the locker room, leaving only Coach Foudy on the sideline and Christen and Tobin still doing their laps.
The first tear fell on lap ten. Christen hadn’t expected it. She hadn’t even been thinking about it. She had just been running, her mind mostly blank, the field wide open in front of her. But the tear was probably inevitable. Just like everything with Tobin always was.
“Chris,” Tobin whispered from beside her. Her eyes had been glued on Christen since they’d started practice, since they’d started running again, and she had immediately seen Christen’s eyes tear up and the first tear escape.
“Don’t,” Christen huffed out, her voice a broken whisper. She wiped the tear from her cheek and continued onto the eleventh lap, wishing Tobin would just stop talking and let her run and cry in peace.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you. I know I was selfish and- I’m sorry. I’ll stop,” Tobin said. The least she could do was listen to Christen now. The least she could do was stop when Christen told her to stop. She kept pace, guilt eating away at her heart with each tear that came from Christen.
The tears continued to fall from Christen’s eyes as the eleventh lap turned into the twelfth. They fell recklessly, dripping off her chin and landing on her shirt or flying behind her. Her breathing became ragged, her chest tightening as they neared the end of their punishment workout. Her tears weren’t going to stop but their run was, and when their run was over, Christen didn’t know what awaited them.
“All right, ladies! Hit the showers,” Coach Foudy shouted, walking off the field and leaving Tobin and Christen on their own.
Christen crossed the far end line and took a few steps forward before crouching down, her elbows on her bent knees. She hid her face in her practice shirt, drying her old tears and catching her new ones as sobs overtook her. Her shoulders shook and her chest heaved, but she couldn’t stop her tears. They poured from her, every bit of anger and frustration and heartbreak pouring out with them.
Tobin followed behind Christen slowly, holding herself back from touching Christen. She knew that would only set her off even more. Instead, Tobin squatted down next to her, staying silent, just like Christen seemed to want. She stayed beside her, feeling like it was her own personal punishment to watch Christen cry like this.
“Damn you,” Christen whispered, her voice breaking and thick with tears. She dropped the shirt from her face and sniffled. “Damn you, Tobin Heath. You’re never there when I need you, and you always show up when I don’t want you to.”
Tobin flinched away from Christen’s words, each one hitting her like a physical blow. “I’m sorry. I...I know you don’t trust me. I ruined that, but I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to spend as long as it takes to gain your trust back,” Tobin whispered, knowing her promise sounded hollow. She’d keep saying it until it no longer did. She’d keep proving it until it no longer did.
“I don’t know if you can,” Christen choked out, standing up and walking off of the field.
Tobin waited a few moments before following Christen, giving her enough space to walk by herself. Tobin didn’t say anything more to her, instead choosing to jump into the shower. Only then did she let the tears she’d been holding back fall. She stayed quiet, not wanting to bother Christen or any of her other new teammates in the locker room. She let the water wash over her, wishing she could wash away the guilt and the sadness she’d felt since seeing Christen for the first time since camp.
It didn’t work.
She turned off the water and wrapped her towel around herself, reaching an arm out of the curtain to grab the clothes she’d left on the bench right outside the shower. She felt nothing. She pushed the curtain open, immediately meeting a smirking Kelley and Megan.
“Welcome to the team,” Megan grinned, holding Tobin’s sweats and t-shirt.
“This is for hurting our friend, enjoy the walk back home in a towel!” Kelley added, waving Tobin’s shoes and socks around.
“Really?” Tobin asked, trying to seem calm but hating that she had gotten herself into this situation.
“See ya at practice tonight,” Megan called over her shoulder as she walked out of the locker room, Kelley trailing right behind her.
Tobin stepped out of the shower, peeking around the corner to see if anyone was in the room. She pulled out her phone and dialed Allie’s number, wishing Allie hadn’t already left to shower at the house.
She glanced at Christen’s locker while she waited for Allie to pick up and bring her a change of clothes. The scones were gone, and Tobin tried to be cynical. She tried to rationalize that Christen had just thrown them away or given them to Kelley or Crystal. Still, there was a hopeful part of her that believed that Christen had taken them, that Christen hated her but was maybe willing to accept a weak olive branch.
Christen opened the refrigerator, her stomach grumbling as she searched for a snack.
“Those scones look good,” Crystal commented, dropping onto the couch as she watched Christen continue to stare into the fridge.
“I’m not having one,” Christen muttered, slamming the refrigerator shut with more force than necessary. She grabbed a banana from the counter and joined Crystal on the couch.
“It’s sort of sweet if you think about it? They are your favorite.”
Christen glared at Crystal, surprised at the words. “Really? Like some blueberry baked good is supposed to make all the shit she did better?”
Crystal sighed and propped her feet up on the coffee table, leveling Christen with an understanding look.
“I get it, girl. She broke your heart. And I am totally ‘Team You’ in this scenario. I sent her a bunch of death glares today. But...she’s here. That has to count for something?”
Christen sank back into the cushions, pushing the heels of her hands into her eyes. She didn’t want to cry again. She wasn’t going to turn back the clock and become the girl who cried over another girl every single day of her life. She’d done that all summer.
“And did you see those puppy dog eyes she couldn’t take off of you?” Crystal added, trying to make Christen smile like she had before everything with Tobin had gone down.
“Crys…” Christen said, her voice cracking. “She still took it back. What we did, what she said. So she’s here, that doesn’t change anything.” The threat of tears was receding thankfully, so Christen dropped her hands back down to her lap. She looked at Crystal and shook her head. “Puppy dog eyes and scones don’t fix that.”
“I don’t know what she was doing that night or what went through her head to send that text, but that girl is whipped. However you feel about her, and there’s no judgement from me, but you can’t deny that she’s got heart eyes and has since the first time she saw you.”
Christen narrowed her eyes in Crystal’s direction. “What happened to being on Team Me?”
“I am! I’m totally on Team You! I’m the Captain of Team You!” Crystal promised, wishing that she could take away her best friend’s pain, but wondering if Tobin was the only person who actually could. “Also, since when can Tobin bake?” Crystal asked, hoping to distract Christen from painful feelings.
Christen groaned and stood up from the couch, pacing around the living room. “She taught herself last year. When we didn’t talk for two months because of Kate? She was learning how to make freaking scones. She’s so annoying.”
“She’s whipped,” Crystal laughed.
“You said that already,” Christen sighed, running her hands over her head as she paced. “I just feel like we’re going around in circles like we’re in some kind of holding pattern. We get close, one of us fucks it up, we don’t talk for months, then somebody shows back up and expects everything to go back to the way it was.”
“Well, then one of you needs to break the cycle,” Crystal said, deciding to finally be honest instead of sparing Christen’s feelings. “You still care about her, don’t you, even though she’s a total idiot and broke your heart?”
Christen didn’t want to. She didn’t want to care. She wanted to hate Tobin Heath with every fiber of her being for breaking her heart. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t hate someone she was maybe, kinda, sorta in love with.
Christen couldn’t find the words to admit that though, so she simply shrugged at Crystal as she continued to pace.
“I’ll take your silence as a yes. I say, let her do the work. She’s clearly already trying. Let her apologize and fix things and grovel for the appropriate amount of time, and then you can decide if you’re ready or willing to try again,” Crystal said.
“What if she breaks me again? I can’t- I can’t feel like this again. I wasn’t in a good place this summer, before or after hearing from her. I never want to go back to feeling like that,” Christen whispered, her lower lip trembling a bit with the admission.
Crystal softened, trying to smile comfortingly at Christen. “Tell her that. Tell her that if she ever wants anything to work, she has to prove that she’ll be here, that she won’t run away. And if she can’t, I’ll take you to a club, and we can drink and find someone for you to hook up with or makeout with or whatever you want,” Crystal said, knowing she’d have a serious talking to with Tobin if she broke Christen’s heart again.
Christen nodded, feeling a small smile tug at her lips, and drifted over to where Crystal was sitting. She dropped down next to her and put her head on Crystal’s shoulder.
“I’ve got a really great best friend,” Christen said, squeezing Crystal’s hand with her own.
“So do I. And-”
“LOOOOK WHAT WE GOT!!!!” Kelley yelled, kicking the door open and lifting Tobin’s favorite pair of sneakers into the air.
Christen and Crystal turned around, the sweet, emotional moment they’d been having now shattered by Kelley O’Hara...and Megan Rapinoe.
“Anyone want to burn Heath’s sweats with me in the backyard?” Megan asked, slinging Tobin’s pants in her hands like a lasso.
Christen sighed and shook her head at Kelley and Megan. Of course, they’d taken Tobin’s clothes. They were the trouble makers on Team Christen.
“Did you leave Tobin naked in the locker room?” Crystal asked, finally feeling a pang of pity for the newest UCLA player.
“She had a towel, we’re not that cruel,” Megan quipped, tossing Tobin’s clothes into a pile on the floor.
“It’s a harmless warning. A welcome to campus, if you will,” Kelley said, bowing to no applause. “Plus, tell me these sneakers aren’t great! I think we’re the same size, so I’m taking ‘em!”
“Guys, give her stuff back,” Christen said, not anywhere near close to forgiving Tobin, but not wanting Kelley to ruin her favorite pair of sneakers either.
“No fun! We thought you’d be ready to burn it all,” Megan pouted.
“Not today. Ask me again tomorrow,” Christen replied with a small smile. She still felt her heart hurting in her chest and her anger coiled in her stomach. She was still frustrated and confused and whiplashed and broken. But she let Crystal’s words help get her to a place where she was okay with those feelings. At least for the time being.
“I’m keeping these. Literally pry them from my cold, dead hands,” Kelley said, sliding off her slides and pulling Tobin’s Air Jordans on.
“You guys suck!” Allie yelled from the front porch. “Open the door!”
“Never! We don’t want an enemy behind our lines!” Kelley yelled back, retreating to the living room to join Crystal and Christen on the couch.
“Kelley, just because Megan’s finally including you doesn’t mean you need to be an asshole!” Allie yelled. “Crystal, let me in!”
Crystal went to get up from the couch, but a stern glare from Megan kept her rooted in her spot.
“Crystal’s not here!” Megan screamed. Crystal rolled her eyes at Megan.
“Okay, that’s a lie. C.P., please open the door,” Allie asked, her voice softening slightly.
Christen sighed, getting to her feet. She ripped the Air Jordans away from Kelley and then grabbed the pile of clothes from the ground. She walked to the front door, ignoring a protesting Megan and a pouting Kelley, and opened it.
“This doesn’t change anything,” Christen said, handing the pile off to Allie.
“She’s trying, C.P.,” Allie replied gently.
“I know. Still doesn’t change anything,” Christen said, this time with less anger and a little more sadness, almost resigned.
“I’m really sorry she hurt you,” Allie sighed, “And I’m sorry that it’s made things between us,” Allie waved her free hand between the two of them, “awko taco. You’re still my friend and my teammate, and I love you.”
Christen swallowed thickly. Did she have every right to be upset with Tobin? Of course. Was she rightfully annoyed and angry with Tobin today? Also yes. But should she have taken it out on Allie, who was the only person in Tobin’s corner? Probably not. None of that meant that seeing Allie align herself with Tobin, after seeing Christen hurting and broken this summer, wasn’t painful.
“I...I’m not there yet. But thanks for saying all of that,” Christen whispered, her tears catching at the back of her throat. She tried to smile at Allie, but the gesture fell flat.
“Are you going to come to the team dinner tonight?” Allie asked, wishing that things between Tobin and Christen were simple. She desperately missed her team and her friends and how easily things had been before all of this. She hadn’t expected her senior year and year as team captain to start like this.
“Optional means mandatory, so yeah,” Christen shrugged, stepping back into the house, her hand on the door.
“I can tell Tobin to turn the heart eyes off if you want,” Allie said, trying to lighten the mood.
With another shrug, Christen shook her head. “Don’t worry about it.”
“She might not even come, so you should be safe,” Allie hummed, turning around to walk Tobin’s clothes back to their house where Tobin was cleaning up again after wearing her dirty workout clothes and walking barefoot to get across campus.
Christen watched Allie walk away, all of her anger from earlier softening a bit. “I’ll try not to derail practice tomorrow, captain,” Christen called out.
“I’m gonna hold you to that!” Allie called, shooting a thumbs up over her shoulder.
Tobin stayed sprawled across her bed for most of the day, happy that Allie had been able to get her clothes and sneakers back but overall unhappy about how much she’d hurt Christen without realizing it over the summer. She hadn’t realized how much her disappearance would affect Christen, which was probably short-sighted of her. She’d been heartbroken when she’d made her decisions, though, so she was trying to follow Stacy’s advice and have grace with herself. She was trying to be patient with herself and with Christen.
Allie and Ashlyn had invited her to get smoothies with them, but she’d opted to stay in her room, deciding that it would be a good time to check in with her family at home. She couldn’t help but feel selfish that she was at school with friends, even if most of them hated her, and not at home ready to help when needed.
“Tobs,” Cindy sighed as soon as Tobin’s Facetime call connected.
“Hey, Mom, how’re you doing?”
“We’re okay,” Cindy said. She still looked tired, and Tobin felt that familiar urge to drive home and take over, just to give her mom a break.
“Are you sure about that?” Tobin asked.
“Yeah, we just-”
Cindy was interrupted by shouting in the next room. Tobin immediately knew that her dad was having a mood swing, one that the doctors assured them was normal for a traumatic brain injury patient, a side effect that would likely go away with time. It still didn’t help to alleviate the frustration and heartache that the mood swings caused. Her dad found it especially difficult, feeling completely out of control one minute and extremely sorry the next.
“I can come home and help,” Tobin said, not thinking before voicing her knee-jerk reaction.
“Absolutely not,” Cindy said, walking up the stairs and away from the shouting. “I want to know how your first practice went.”
“I’m definitely not in the same kind of shape I was in during camp, but I’ll get there.”
“How’s Christen?” Cindy asked, her voice soft and sweet.
“She’s really mad,” Tobin answered honestly. “I really really hurt her.”
“Sounds like you’ve got a lot of work to do there,” Cindy said, offering a small smile.
The shouting from downstairs came again, and Cindy walked back toward the stairs.
“Are you sure you don’t need me to come home?” Tobin asked, worrying her lip between her teeth. She hated feeling pulled in multiple directions.
“Sweetheart, you are our kid, not our parent. Your dad might get frustrated more than he used to, but he’s fine. He has a couple of appointments at the doctor’s office this week, and they’re going to try a few new medications to help alleviate pain and help with the mood swings. Everything is okay. I’m going to come watch your preseason game, and I expect it to be good.”
“I don’t get to play until conference games,” Tobin reminded her.
“Then, you better look cute on the bench because I’m taking pictures, and then we’re gonna get some dinner.”
“I love you,” Tobin whispered, her voice breaking a little. “I miss you guys.”
“We love you too sweetie, and we can’t wait to see you soon. Maybe you and Christen can come home for the weekend once she’s speaking to you again.”
Tobin couldn’t help the laugh that slipped out of her mouth. “We’ll see if that happens before graduation.”
“Positivity, Tobs. I have to go and get ready to drive your dad to the doctor. We’ll call later,” Cindy said, smiling at the phone.
Tobin hung up the phone, deciding to get dressed and ready for practice and maybe squeeze in a phone call with ARod and Lauren before fitness testing. She’d still forgotten to pick up her UCLA gear from Coach Foudy, so she slipped on another pair of shorts and a tank top. She packed her two pairs of sweats for after practice this time, just in case Megan and Kelley decided to steal her clothes again.
It only took a few rings for ARod to pick up her phone, her smile spreading across her face and making Tobin feel at home for the first time since leaving her family’s house.
“How was the first day in hell?” ARod called through the phone.
“Hell froze over because I’m getting the cold shoulder from everyone,” Tobin sighed, missing her friends at Penn State more than she thought she would.
“Honestly, you probably deserve it,” Lauren laughed, pushing ARod out of the way so Tobin could see her face on the screen too.
“They stole my clothes while I was in the shower,” Tobin groaned.
“Tobin Heath! Did you streak at your new campus without us?” ARod asked, her offended tone making a grin break across Tobin’s face.
“Absolutely not,” Tobin laughed.
“Good, you can’t do that until we visit for Spring Break!” ARod cheered.
“Speak for yourselves,” Lauren snorted.
“Oh, yeah. Lauren’s got a new basketball-playing boyfriend,” ARod laughed. “So, she’s not stripping for anyone else.”
Lauren smacked ARod’s arm, and for the first time in her new house, Tobin laughed a real, genuine laugh.
“Someone order two cases of Gatorade?”
Christen popped her head out of the downstairs bathroom, smiling as her mom walked through the front door.
“Mom!” Christen ran over and wrapped her arms tightly around Stacy, needing a hug from her mom more than anything right now.
“Hey, my sweet girl,” Stacy said, squeezing Christen tightly before letting her go. “How was fitness tonight?”
“Pressy killed it, as per usual,” Megan replied, hopping down the stairs. “Did I hear Gatorade mentioned?”
Stacy pulled away from Christen and wrapped her arms around Megan quickly. “The cases are in the trunk, I’m leaving the heavy lifting to the athletes.”
“I’m on it!” Megan skipped out the front door right as Crystal and Kelley wandered downstairs.
“Stacy!” Kelley and Crystal cheered at the same time. Kelley ran and jumped into Stacy’s arms, getting her own hug from Christen’s mom. Crystal joined in on the hug as well and rocked them all back and forth, causing Christen to grin and shake her head.
“How did fitness go for you girls?” Stacy asked as she headed into the kitchen, followed closely by Kelley, Crystal, and Christen.
“Great, but there’s always room for improvement,” Crystal replied humbly.
“So, so for me,” Kelley shrugged. “I thought for sure I’d beat Pressy though after she had to do punishment running this morning.”
Christen’s eyes widened and she shook her head in Kelley’s direction, but it was too late, Stacy had caught the off-hand comment.
“That so?” Stacy asked, her parental, judgemental gaze trained on Christen.
“Shit, vacate the kitchen, vacate the kitchen,” Kelley hissed, pushing Crystal toward the open front door of the townhouse.
“Sorry, Christen!” Crystal called out.
Christen grinned weakly at her mom. “I can explain?”
Stacy shook her head at her daughter. “Let me guess, Tobin Heath is somehow involved?”
Christen felt her brow furrow. Nobody off the team knew about Tobin being their new player, and she had tactfully avoided telling her family about the news.
“How do you know that?” Christen asked, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
“I’m a great guesser...and I also knew Tobin was going to be here,” Stacy replied. “I took her to lunch on Monday.”
“Mom,” Christen groaned, dropping into a chair at the kitchen table. “I thought I asked you not to fight my battles for me.”
“I wasn’t fighting yours. She and I needed to talk about some things, and we did, and then we ate some breadsticks. It was all-around a very successful outing. Now enough about that, what happened today?”
With a shrug, Christen turned away from her mom, shame filling her at the things she’d said and done on the field this morning.
“I let my anger get the better of me, so Coach made us run laps together.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Stacy asked gently.
Christen shook her head forcefully. “Not at all. I just-” Christen turned back to look at Stacy, unable to shake the small feeling of betrayal rattling around in her chest. “I can’t believe you did that, Mom. Did you take Clint out for breadsticks after he broke Tyler’s heart too?”
“That’s a completely different situation, and you know it,” Stacy said, giving her daughter a soft but firm stare.
“Whatever,” Christen grumbled, feeling like a petulant child but not caring about it in the slightest.
“Not whatever. Clint cheated on and then broke up with your sister. Tobin was hurting for an entirely different reason and, although ill-advised, she kept you at arm’s length, hoping that was the best thing to do. That’s not me saying that Tobin didn’t break your heart. That’s me saying that she made a mistake. She’s human.”
“Everyone is so ready to forgive her - you, Allie, even Crystal. But I’m not ready, Mom. I’m not even close,” Christen admitted, hanging her head in defeat.
Stacy was quiet for a moment while she observed her daughter. It hurt her heart to see Christen hurting, and she wanted to help.
“The Tobin I had lunch with was in a lot more pain than I expected,” Stacy began, her tone soft. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone look so overcome with guilt. Which doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to spit fire and be pissed off, because you're allowed to feel all of that my sweet girl. You don’t have to be ready to forgive her. You can take as long as you need. But just keep in mind that you weren’t the only one hurt,” Stacy said, hoping her words were getting through the frustration she could see rolling off of her daughter. “The Tobin who’s here with you now has had to do a lot of growing up recently, and while growing up means making mistakes, it also means being able to fix them. Keep your heart open to the fixes, but don’t make it easy on her either,” Stacy added with a wink.
Christen wasn’t ready to forgive Tobin yet, and she wasn’t really ready to entertain the idea that Tobin might be as hurt as she was right now either. So instead, she nodded at her mom and tried not to dwell on the irritation swirling around within her, especially the irritation rooted in the fact that her mom seemed to know exactly what had happened this summer, while she still didn’t.
“We have got to get you a Costco membership so that you can get your own Gatorade this year,” Stacy sighed, changing the subject as soon as she realized that nothing she said would change her daughter’s mind just yet.
Christen cracked a smile at her mom. “But then you wouldn’t come visit us as often as you did last year.”
“You know you’re more than welcome to come home for barbecues and to hang out. Bring the team,” Stacy smiled, walking over to the kitchen table and squeezing Christen into her side.
“The team or Tobin?” Christen asked, a knowing look in her eyes.
“Tobin is more than welcome as long as she’s on her best behavior, but you don’t have to invite her. Bring whoever you want, even Kelley. I still won’t forgive her for cracking my car’s windshield with that misthrown cleat, but she’s welcome to come and sit outside.”
Christen chuckled and wrapped an arm around her mom’s waist, giving her a small squeeze back.
It shouldn’t bother Christen, but it did. It was like one minute, she’d made peace with her anger and heartbreak, and was ready to move forward. But then something would set her off, and she was right back at square one, boiling over and fueled by pain. Right now, it was the latter.
Christen’s irritation from earlier in the evening, brought on by her mom’s surprise visit, was now bubbling into something twisted and crabby and hostile. How else was she supposed to feel after getting put at a table with all of the freshmen and Tobin Heath? Coach Foudy relegated them to the kid’s corner as part of their continued punishment and it set Christen’s teeth on edge.
Her feelings on the matter were further compounded by the way Tobin was laughing as she joked along with Sam, her hair swept over on one side of her head and her glasses perched on her nose. Stupid, adorable Tobin Heath.
“I still can’t believe you aren’t a keeper,” Tobin teased, looking up at Sam even from a seated position.
“Zero hand-eye coordination,” Sam shrugged.
“I was in goal once in second grade, and I had a panic attack. You couldn’t pay me to do that,” Tobin laughed. She was trying to follow Allie’s suggestion and give Christen a break. She was trying not to overwhelm Christen with heart eyes and kindness and affection. But it seemed that even giving Christen space was annoying her. Tobin could feel the tension coming off of Christen in waves. She could feel her eyes boring angry holes into the side of her head.
Christen rolled her eyes at Tobin’s words and looked over at the table where Crystal, Kelley, Megan, and Ashlyn were sitting. She desperately wished she could be with them. Not only would she have gotten to order food first, instead of last, but she also wouldn’t have to sit here and listen to Tobin.
“So...Christen, or is it Pressy? I don’t want to get it wrong,” Mal said, drawing Christen's attention and bringing her back to the table.
Christen forced a smile, biting down her irritation a bit so it wasn’t directed at an unsuspecting and undeserving freshman.
“Pressy is fine. Al calls me C.P. Other people call me Christen or Press. Whatever floats your boat, Mal, just not Chris,” Christen replied, pointedly ignoring the way Tobin’s shoulders slumped.
“I’ll stick with Pressy, it kinda fits!” Mal said, grabbing the lemon wedge off the rim of her water glass and squirting it into her water. “So you’re like really freaking good. Rose and I were with the U-18s this summer and we got to catch a bit of your game against Brazil in Portland at the start of our camp. Your goal? Legen-dary!”
“Oh, I saw that game!” Sam said, jumping in on Mal’s conversation and leaving Tobin mid-sentence. “My sister, Kristie, played with you guys, and my parents took me to watch!”
Christen paled at the mention of camp, of what had happened there.
“Your sister is KMew?” Christen choked out, sitting tensely in her chair. She fidgeted with her napkin, trying to push away any and all thoughts of Portland, of what had happened there, from her mind.
Sam didn’t seem to notice the change in Christen’s mood and nodded. “Yeah, she’s older than me and a total rockstar.”
“Kristie is super good,” Tobin offered, hoping to steer the conversation to safer shores. She could see Christen’s tense expression in her peripheral vision, and all she wanted to do was help make her feel more comfortable.
“So was your assist, Tobin! I don’t know how Christen managed to trap it, but you two lit it up on the field together,” Rose said with a smile. “I can’t wait for PAC-12 games so you two can do that again!”
“Yeah...I’m glad she was able to. That pass was definitely not what I intended it to be,” Tobin said, remembering how her foot had slipped at the last minute and sent the ball higher and more to the right than she’d planned.
“There was a lot at that camp that wasn’t intended,” Christen muttered under her breath.
Tobin’s grip on her water glass tightened. She turned to look at Christen, her eyes narrowing slightly. “Nope, that’s the only thing I can think of that I didn’t intend,” Tobin replied.
Christen barked out a humorless laugh and looked over at Tobin, meeting Tobin’s soft and sure gaze with her own fiery, angry one. “Sure, you say that now. Doesn’t mean you actually mean it.”
“Oh shiiit,” Sam blew out a breath.
“Whoa, did I miss something?” Barney whispered, leaning over to Sam and Rose and Mal, all of their eyes watching the verbal volley across the table between the juniors. “Were they like this at camp, too?”
“Shh, it’s getting juicy,” Mal hushed, sipping her water, eyes back on Christen and Tobin.
“I do mean it. I have never regretted what happened,” Tobin said, ignoring the freshmen, her sole focus on Christen.
“That’s not what you said a few weeks ago,” Christen shot back.
“I know what I said, and I didn’t mean it. I don’t regret a thing,” Tobin assured, wishing Christen could hear the sincerity in her words.
“Bullshit, Tobs,” Christen replied, her voice dangerously low and almost breaking. She cringed at the use of the nickname she’d been tactfully avoiding.
The breath left Tobin’s lungs. “She finally said Tobs,” Tobin thought, forcing herself not to smile at the nickname and make Christen angrier.
“The only bullshit was in that text,” Tobin whispered, aware that four sets of eyes were on her and Christen and wishing they were alone for this conversation.
Christen sighed and ran a hand through her hair, tousling her curls. She couldn’t sit here and hear this, but this time, there were no laps to do, no way she could sprint away from Tobin. So instead, she slid her chair back.
“Sorry, guys, I need a second,” Christen said, looking to the freshmen apologetically and standing up. She couldn’t look at Tobin, not right now. She needed to retreat, to collect herself, to try and breathe and calm down. She was doing it again, letting this thing with Tobin affect her, and it wasn’t fair to the freshmen.
Tobin immediately pushed her chair back, intent on following Christen. But then she thought about earlier, about how Christen had told her to stop and had told her that gaining her trust back was impossible. Right now, it did feel impossible, especially if Christen kept running away. With a defeated sigh, Tobin dropped back down into her chair and put her face into her hands.
Christen breathed deeply, trying to quiet her mind as her hands gripped the edge of the sink in the bathroom. After a few deep breaths, she relaxed her grip, turning the sink on and splashing her face with some cold water.
She hadn’t meant to let the nickname slip out. It felt foreign on her tongue, but also too intimately familiar, all at the same time. She needed to get herself in check and make sure she didn’t say it again. She needed to push aside the flutter in her stomach at Tobin’s smile, the guilt in her chest at the hurt in Tobin’s eyes every time she walked away. She needed to keep this distance between them.
After patting her face dry, Christen made her way back to the table. She avoided Tobin’s worried gaze and focused on the freshmen.
“So, are you guys excited for classes to start in a few weeks?” Christen asked, ignoring the tense silence that the table was in when she sat back down.
“I’m preparing myself to get horrifically lost the first day,” Rose laughed, trying to get back into an easy conversation.
“Forget school. Can’t we just play soccer all the time?” Mal shrugged.
“You won’t be saying that by December,” Sam said. “You should hear Kristie complain once the fall semester is over. She always comes home in a boot or on crutches.”
“KMew’s a walking hazard though, so don’t think that’s a universal experience,” Tobin laughed, knowing exactly how Mal felt about just wanting to play and do nothing else.
Suddenly, a spitball hit Tobin on the side of her face and landed on the table. Christen snorted, knowing exactly where that had come from and hiding her smile behind her hand.
“Ugh, gross!” Tobin groaned, wiping the side of her face with her napkin and turning around to see where it had come from.
Megan snickered and wiggled her fingers at Tobin, her straw stuck between her teeth.
“Seriously? How old are you?” Tobin sighed, trying to turn back to the freshmen and pay attention to whoever was now talking.
“How old are you?” Kelley replied, shooting another spitball and hitting Tobin in the forehead.
“Stop,” Tobin nearly growled. She could understand Christen’s anger, but Kelley and Megan were really starting to annoy her.
“Breaking hearts over texts, that’s so middle school,” Megan added, earning a high-five from Kelley.
“Jeez you guys, give it a rest,” Allie said, stepping out of the bathroom at the end of Megan’s sentence and looking between the two tables.
“Why should we?” Megan shot back, dropping her elbows to the table and raising her eyebrows at Allie.
“She doesn’t deserve to be harassed by you two, straight-up children,” Allie glared, crossing her arms over her chest.
“First of all, we’re offended at the insinuation that we’re anything less than mature 20-year-olds,” Megan started.
“Second of all, she totally deserves it,” Kelley added, wrinkling her nose in Tobin’s direction.
“After everything with her dad this summer, all she needs is a fucking break,” Allie hissed, just wanting to shut her teammates up for the rest of the night, the ha;f-truth slipping from her lips without permission.
Until that moment, Christen had allowed herself to be entertained. The spitballs, the teasing, especially done on her behalf, had been nice, funny even. Did it lessen the sting of her anger and guilt? Not really, but it was better than nothing.
But now she wasn’t entertained. Now she had gotten another piece of the puzzle, another clue as to why Tobin had disappeared, and not from Tobin herself. It seemed that in addition to her own mom, Allie was also in the loop about what went down. After all of this, all of Tobin’s soft words of apology and promises to make it right, she’d still never explained herself. It was just another item on the long list of reasons why she was upset with Tobin Heath.
“Is there anyone who doesn’t know the truth?” Christen whispered, hating that her first instinct was accusation, hating that her mom’s words about open minds and open hearts were shoved to the side. She turned her hurt, angry eyes onto Tobin, waiting for an answer.
Tobin let her eyes fall shut, wishing she could disappear. She no longer wanted to finish the pasta dish in front of her or the conversation with the freshmen. All she wanted to do was crawl into bed and pretend that Allie hadn’t said anything, that the summer had never happened, that Christen wasn’t sitting next to her, completely tense and hating her.
“Allie only knows because she climbed into my bedroom window and wouldn’t leave,” Tobin clenched her teeth, wishing Allie could have been born with better impulse control.
“If I’d known it was that easy, I would’ve tried it,” Christen replied a little bitterly.
“Chris, I didn’t know that you wanted to be there, not after Portland. But you’re the only person I did want to tell,” Tobin tried, knowing that her words were probably falling on deaf ears.
“Clearly not,” Christen muttered.
A tense silence descended upon the table once more, the freshmen all unsure what to say or if they should say anything. Tobin stared at Christen, tuning everyone else out. She couldn’t think of anything else to say. Nothing would make Christen feel better about being out of the loop and kept out of Tobin’s life.
The dinner ended soon after that, and no amount of chitchat by the freshmen helped to dispel the awkwardness and the tension that had settled between Christen and Tobin.