Help me understand
The war you're fighting
We'll never have a chance
If you fire blindly
You're circling the atmosphere
Unsure if I'll disappear
I'm not going nowhere
Open your eyes
(Tobin - “Safe Place to Land” by Christian Burghardt)
You were alone, left out in the cold
Clinging to the ruin of your broken home
Too lost and hurting to carry your load
We all need someone to hold
You’ve been fighting the memory all on your own
Nothing worsens, nothing grows
I know how it feels being by yourself in the rain
We all need someone to stay
(Christen - “Someone to Stay” by Vancouver Sleep Clinic)
“I’m really getting tired of this,” Tobin groaned, pushing the door to the locker room open.
“I swear I didn’t let them into the house, Harry,” Allie complained.
“You didn’t need to. You and Ash never lock the door,” Tobin sighed.
“KELLEY AND PINOE! Breaking and entering, really?” Allie called across the locker room.
“Tobito broke Christen’s heart, we enter her closet and steal her shoes! I don’t see the issue here!” Megan shouted back with a shrug, turning around to whisper at Kelley.
“This is literally the third time I’ve had to walk barefoot across campus, and the pavement is so hot here,” Tobin whined softly.
“BOOHOO!” Kelley mocked, propping her feet up on the bench to show off Tobin’s favorite sneakers that she’d been coveting since preseason started.
Tobin finally snapped. It had been two weeks of this shit. Two weeks of pranks, two weeks of cold shoulders and cruel words from Christen. She had finally reached her breaking point. She stalked across the locker room, narrowed eyes jumping between Kelley and Megan.
“I looked the other way when you emptied my water bottle on beep test day, when you filled my shoes with red Kool-aid powder, when you put shaving cream in my socks before our scrimmage, when you drew penises in sharpie on my shin guards, but I can’t handle this anymore. I’m so tired of thinking you’re around every corner waiting to jump out at me or hit me with something or destroy more of my stuff,” Tobin huffed, the frustration evident in her exhausted-looking eyes.
It was one thing for Christen to hate her. She was exhausted, but at least Christen had a real reason to feel hurt. Megan and Kelley were just taking Christen’s hurt and using it to play pranks, and Tobin was completely over being patient. She was having trouble remaining calm and cool, and it was starting to show.
Crystal and Christen entered the locker room together, having heard the majority of Tobin’s rant. Christen ignored the small flash of guilt in her stomach and quickly sat down in her locker, putting in her headphones.
Crystal sighed, noting the sheepish looks on Megan and Kelley’s faces. “Cut it out, you two, that’s enough,” she called out, arching a brow at Kelley and Megan. “Call a truce or something.”
“Can I please have my shoes,” Tobin sighed, pointing at Kelley’s feet.
“Nope,” Kelley shook her head.
Tobin clenched her jaw tightly, stalking toward her locker and forcing herself to take a deep breath.
Christen chanced a look up at Tobin, who sat a few spots down from her with her head in her hands. Tobin looked exhausted and haggard, something that was, in no small way, partially her fault.
These past two weeks had been rehashes of their first training together. They clashed on the field, Christen unable to stomach playing with Tobin. She avoided passing to her, avoided playing with her. What she couldn’t avoid were the small outbursts of anger and frustration. The snide comments, the low blows. They just left her with such ease, aimed to dispel her guilt and frustration, and send them onto Tobin.
Christen was still so angry, still so upset. It was two weeks of gentle apologies, of Tobin’s quiet presence and the occasional small smile. It was infuriating and had only served to tighten the coil in her stomach. Crystal’s words, her mom’s words, they hadn’t found purchase within her yet. She knew this couldn’t last, this all-consuming hurt and resentment. She knew at some point she’d listen to Crystal and her mom, she’d open her heart and her mind, and she’d be ready for forgiveness. Just, not today.
Letting out a sharp breath, Christen looked away from Tobin and focused on her game-day preparations.
“Give her the fucking shoes, Kelley,” Allie grumbled, grabbing her game shorts and her warm-up top out of her locker.
“Not until after the game. I’m in a betting mood,” Kelley smirked. “If I score a goal, which we all know the chances of that are pretty slim since I’m a badass defender, Tobin can have her shoes back. Otherwise, they’re mine.”
Crystal narrowed her eyes at Kelley. “You two need to cut this stuff out. No one thinks it’s funny anymore.”
“She deserves it,” Megan scoffed.
Allie dropped her gear on the bench and glared at Megan and Kelley. “No, she doesn’t. Even if you don’t score, you’re gonna give her stuff back, stop acting like five-year-olds, and grow up.”
“Okay, fine. But I took your vibrator from your room, Tobin, and I don’t know if I want to give it back,” Kelley huffed.
“My what?” Tobin asked, a blush rising to her cheeks.
Christen choked on air, covering it up with a cough and then chugging water from her water bottle. She hated the way heat pooled low in her stomach, the way her mind tortured her with memories of Tobin’s lips on hers, of Tobin’s hands touching and teasing. These memories weren’t just cruel reminders, they further twisted the knife in her gut and made her blood boil.
“Your vibrator,” Kelley repeated, lifting up what she thought was a vibrator.
“That’s my USB stick,” Tobin sighed.
“You’re such a moron, K.O.!” Megan howled, falling back onto the ground in laughter.
“Ohhh...do you want it back?” Kelley asked.
“I don’t know, what did you do with- Actually, no you can have it. I just want the shoes,” Tobin said, slouching against her locker. She wasn’t looking forward to watching this game. She hated not playing, since tonight was a regular-season game and not a PAC-12 one, but honestly, it was probably a good thing. She was exhausted from all the emotions and practices and pranks.
She glanced at Christen, hating the way Christen’s eyes immediately left her when she did. All she wanted was a private moment to actually talk to her, but any time she tried, Christen found something else to be busy with or snapped out an angry one-liner. Tobin went to every team meeting and meal and practice prepared to talk to Christen, but she kept shooting her down, which only made her question Christen’s feelings even more.
Of course, Christen was still upset and hurt. She had every right to be. Tobin had ignored her for nearly two months, and she didn’t expect Christen to forgive her in only two weeks. Still, Tobin couldn’t stop her mind from replaying the night in Portland when Christen left the hotel room. She’d read that situation as Christen not feeling the same way about her, and Tobin was starting to really think that that was the truth, that Christen was just mad because Tobin had been a bad friend and made her uncomfortable before cutting her out of her life.
It was Allie’s and Stacy’s words and her own desire to show Christen how much she cared about her that carried her through all the pranks and all of Christen’s harsh words. But she was also only human, and feeling iced out by nearly everyone was starting to seriously wear her down.
“Heath!” Coach Foudy shouted into the locker room. “Come here for a sec.”
Tobin stood up from her spot, padding across the locker room and standing in front of Foudy. “What’s up, Coach?”
Foudy sighed, shooting Tobin an apologetic half-smile. “Today’s not a Pac-12 match, so-”
“No playing for me,” Tobin finished her sentence, hating the way her shoulders slouched at the news. She’d expected it, but that didn’t mean it didn’t suck to have to sit and watch others play the game she loved.
“I know you’re bummed, but rules are rules,” Coach Foudy replied, clapping Tobin on the shoulder. “Good thing there’s no rule against you helping me coach.”
“Excuse me?” Tobin asked, completely caught off guard.
“Obviously, we’ve got a solid staff, but if you keep an eye on our attacking players, it would help us out a lot and keep you sharp.”
“Oh great, she’s asking me to literally watch Christen for 90 minutes,” Tobin thought, letting out a soft breath. “It’s not like you wouldn’t be watching her anyway.”
“Will that be a problem for you?” Foudy asked, raising a brow knowingly at Tobin.
“Of course not. I’m looking forward to it,” Tobin said, forcing a smile. “Get it? It’s a pun.”
“Making bad soccer jokes, you’re already halfway there, Coach,” Foudy winked.
Tobin settled into the role pretty easily. After pulling on her cleats and following the rest of her teammates onto the field, she spent the warm-ups feeding every one of her teammates balls to practice their shooting. Megan purposefully skyrocketed a few, just to send Tobin running after them, and Kelley aimed hers directly at Tobin’s chest and not at the goal at all.
“So where we at today, on a scale happy to super fucking pissed?” Crystal asked. Crystal and Christen stood at the back of the line, the two of them moving closer to the goal after Rose and Sam got their passes from Tobin and took shots.
“Ask me after the game,” Christen shrugged. She watched Tobin give Crystal a perfect pass, Crystal burying the shot in the back of the net with ease.
“Nice shot!” Tobin called to Crystal, readying the next ball for Christen.
Christen tensed, her eyes on the ball at Tobin’s feet. She’d already taken a few decent shots, but she was waiting for that last one. The shot that came off her foot perfectly and bent into the far post. The shot that she needed to get before every single game.
Tobin tried not to look at Christen, knowing that the girl would distract her from passing a decent ball. Instead, she scrunched her eyebrows together and kicked it perfectly, only looking up once it left the ground in front of her.
Christen trapped the ball, did a quick move, and struck it toward the goal. She watched it curl toward the far post, a smile tugging at her lips as it sailed past Ashlyn’s gloved hand. Christen pumped her fist into the air and turned to the locker room, knowing she was now ready.
“There’s the magic!” Coach Foudy called from the sideline. “Good pass, Tobin!”
“That was really beautiful, Chris! World Cup material!” Tobin said, already grabbing another ball, getting ready for the freshmen who wanted to get a few more shots in before the game.
Christen froze, mid-stride. She was a few yards away from Tobin, turned to head back into the locker room. But Tobin’s words had her stopping, a familiar rush of emotions swirling around her heart.
There was a time when she loved hearing those words from Tobin, the joy and excitement about a future between them. A future of playing internationally together, a future full of possibilities and somedays. But right now, she didn’t love it. It didn’t make her heart flutter or her smile grow. It made her stomach sink and her jaw click shut.
Christen ran into the locker room, all but vibrating with anger.
“Woah, what happened to you, Pressy?” Kelley asked, reaching out to hold onto Christen’s shoulders.
“Scale tipped toward super fucking pissed, didn’t it?” Crystal asked.
Christen could only nod, her words lodged in her throat as she pulled on her jersey.
“Screw her! We’re gonna kill it today without her help, and Coach is going to realize we don’t need her,” Megan said, wrapping an arm around Christen’s waist.
But Megan failed to take into account the amazing new forward on Pepperdine, the forward who scored two goals on them in the first ten minutes of the game.
Christen hung her head, looking away from the ball in the back of her team’s net. She’d let the stupid, giant Pepperdine freshman forward beat her out for a header off of Pepperdine’s attacking corner kick. They were now down 2-0, and it was her fault.
“Chris, Megan, and Mal need to be more defensive. Chris needs to win that header, she’s a great defensive forward usually,” Tobin mumbled next to Coach Foudy on the sideline.
“Tell them that. All of them,” Foudy said, patting Tobin on the back.
“I’d rather not,” Tobin thought, glancing to her right to see that Coach Foudy was waiting for her to shout out at her teammates. “Shit, this isn’t going to help me make friends.”
“Pinoe! Mal!” Tobin shouted across the field.
“All of them,” Foudy repeated.
“Chris!” Tobin yelled, her voice feeling weak immediately.
Christen bit back a growl hearing her name come out of Tobin’s mouth. She really didn’t need this right now. She knew she’d messed up her marking on the set-piece, she didn't need Tobin Heath of all people telling her that. She followed Megan and Mal as they jogged over to the sideline.
“You guys really need to play defense too, track those outside backs when they get into the attack. High press their backline, make it predictable for the midfield,” Tobin instructed, looking Megan and Mal in the eyes, surprised they were actually listening to her.
Christen was looking in the complete opposite direction, her hands on her hips.
“Press, you with us?” Foudy asked, really getting tired of the tension between her two, star players.
Christen resorted to her classic thumbs up and pivoted to face Tobin.
“Chr- I mean, Press. You gotta win those 50-50 challenges. You’re faster than she is, use your speed, stop trying to muscle her off the ball. You can’t beat her that way,” Tobin said, her throat tightening with each word.
Christen’s eyes narrowed. Despite knowing that Tobin was right, she wasn’t going to give Tobin the satisfaction. She spun on her heel and jogged to the halfway line for the kick-off.
“Good talk!” Tobin called, Christen’s constant anger finally frustrating her a little bit.
“Let’s never do it again!” Christen yelled back, getting into position. She let all of her feelings, all of her hurt and rage, propel her forward after the referee blew her whistle. She sprinted up the field, knowing Sam would be sending a long ball over the backline after the kick-off.
“You okay?” Coach Foudy asked, her eyes never leaving the players on the field.
“Oh, yeah. Just some fun banter we like to do,” Tobin sighed. She watched as play resumed and Christen ran up the field and received a long ball from Sam. There was a new sense of energy on the field.
Christen’s anger was propelling her forward. She beat two defenders with quick cuts, one of the defenders actually falling to the ground as she did so.
“OHHHHH!” Megan cheered from somewhere behind her, but Christen barely registered it. She was a woman on a mission, a mission to prove to everyone and especially Tobin Heath that she could in fact make a difference in this game. She could beat that stupid Pepperdine forward, the entire Pepperdine team, and Tobin, if she could score.
Which she did, in that classic way of hers. She curled a shot into the far post from her spot at the corner of the eighteen-yard box.
“That’s great, Chris! Your speed is your weapon!” Tobin yelled from the sideline, watching as Christen completely tensed at her compliment.
“Fucking hell,” Christen grumbled under her breath, walking back to the half-line with her teammates who’d just finished celebrating with her.
“Maybe she’ll stop if you score two more goals,” Megan replied, knocking her shoulder into Christen’s.
“I’m not that lucky,” Christen replied, wondering how she’d found herself in a situation such as this. Playing the sport she loved under the watchful gaze of the person who’d broken her heart, the very person who used to be the only one Christen wanted to play with.
Christen was lucky in some ways though, like on the scoreboard. She scored three more goals in the game, cementing their 4-2 win over Pepperdine in their first regular-season game. But after every goal, Tobin had cheered. Tobin had complimented. Tobin had been kind and thoughtful and supportive. If Christen had been pissed before the game, she was livid now.
“Good game, sweet girl,” Stacy congratulated, swaying Christen back and forth as they hugged outside of the stadium. Christen forced a smile and loosely embraced her mom.
“Christen, you were phenomenal,” Cindy said from beside Stacy.
“Uh, thanks,” Christen managed, trying not to take out her frustration with Tobin on Tobin’s mom.
“Mom, I thought you were joking about coming,” Tobin called from behind Christen.
Christen pulled out of Stacy’s arms, her hands clenched into fists at her sides at the sound of Tobin’s voice. Tobin was just everywhere, all the time. Christen barely got a chance to breathe.
“And miss the first chance to wear my Bruins shirt? No way!” Cindy said, reaching out to hug Tobin tightly. She could feel the tension coming from Christen and suddenly felt an urge to protect her own kid.
“Thanks,” Tobin mumbled, her cheeks turning pink. “It’s nice to see you, Mrs. Press,” Tobin said, feeling the awkwardness set in as soon as she left her mom’s arms and looked at Christen and her mom.
“Next time, I’ll bring some guac,” Stacy winked.
“I don’t know, breadsticks were a good call,” Tobin grinned.
Christen choked down the urge to vomit. Her mom was joking around with Tobin and she was about to freaking lose it.
“Tobs, I have to get on the road. Your dad and brother are home alone, and your brother’s probably been gaming all day,” Cindy sighed. “I’m sorry we couldn’t make a day out of it.”
“That’s okay. Thanks for coming. It’s good to see you,” Tobin sighed, hugging her mom again before stepping away.
“Call me tomorrow, Cindy?” Stacy said.
“Of course. Jeff and I are looking forward to Thursday night.”
“What’s Thursday?” Tobin asked, looking between both of them. She could feel the rage rolling off of Christen and directly into her.
“Barbecue,” Stacy replied, a big smile on her face.
“Don’t forget about the wine!” Cindy added with a chuckle.
If Christen was losing it before, now she'd officially lost it. “Can you take me home, Mom?”
“Woah woah woah, what happened to mother-daughter dinner?” Stacy asked, reaching out for Christen.
“I’m not hungry anymore,” Christen shrugged, needing to get away from this conversation, from the barbecue and wine night, from Tobin.
Cindy sensed things were taking a turn. “Tobs, you want me to drop you off at your house?”
“Yep,” Tobin said, practically pulling her mom away from Christen and Stacy without saying any goodbyes.
“We always celebrate your first hat trick with sushi,” Stacy said, trying to catch Christen’s eye. “Are you sure you want to skip it?”
The thought of trying to work chopsticks right now, to be calm enough to use them, seemed like too big of an ask. Christen wasn’t in a place for that.
“Can we just go home? Home, home?”
“Oh, it’s like that. Okay, let’s go,” Stacy replied, fresh worry settling within her. “I think Channing has some ice cream in the freezer you can steal.”
Christen ate the whole thing, an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream, in one sitting. She knew she’d regret it later, but right now, it was one of the only things keeping her from totally falling apart.
“You ready to talk now?” Stacy asked from the other side of the couch, a glass of wine in hand.
“Ugh, she’s everywhere, Mom,” Christen admitted, dropping the spoon into the empty carton. “I feel like I’m suffocating.”
“Have you talked to her?” Stacy asked. “Nicely? Patiently? Honestly? Not like how you talked to her on the field today.”
“I’m not just going to magically wake up and feel better about what she said, Mom. I’m not there yet.”
“You’re right, you won’t, but just getting angrier and angrier without talking about it with her won’t make that happen any quicker.”
Christen sighed. Why did her mom have to always be right? Her anger wasn’t solving anything, wasn’t breaking their holding pattern. If anything, it was making things worse. But she couldn’t turn it off, she couldn’t ignore it.
“Are you really mad that she’s everywhere or are you just angry because you still care about whether she’s there or not?” Stacy asked, putting her glass of wine down on the coffee table.
With a shrug, Christen tugged her lower lip between her teeth. Early on, it was easy to remember why she was so angry. Tobin had disappeared, ignored her for weeks, then broken her heart. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure all that out.
But then Tobin had shown up at UCLA, with apologies on her lips and softness in her eyes. Tobin had tried to make amends, had promised to earn back her trust. She’d been there and she’d stayed there. Despite Christen’s barbed words, despite Kelley and Megan’s antics, despite everything stacked against her, Tobin was sticking around.
It was hard to justify her anger now. It was hard to understand why what Tobin had said today enraged her, why their parents planning a barbecue and wine night had sent her off. But maybe it had something to do with the fact that without her anger, without her hurt, without the broken pieces of her heart collected in her chest, she would have to deal with everything she still felt for Tobin.
Christen blinked away the lone tear that threatened to fall. “Of course I still care. I don’t think I’d feel like this if I didn’t. But if I stop feeling angry, I don’t know what’s going to be left. Or maybe I do and I don’t want to know.”
“You don’t want to care about her?” Stacy asked, trying to understand Christen’s emotions.
“I…I don’t want to love her when she could just leave me again,” Christen whispered, her eyes trained on the setting sun out the kitchen window.
“Do you think she’ll leave you again?” Stacy asked honestly.
“I never thought she would, but she did once before. She could do it again.”
“Hmmm, are you more afraid of being left, or of never getting the chance to love her and be loved by her?” Stacy pressed, just wanting her daughter to finally be happy, whatever she ended up deciding.
Christen snapped her head around to look at her mom. She hadn’t realized she’d even mentioned love. She hadn’t realized it until her mom said it back to her. Christen quickly took five giant steps back, not wanting to go down this road. It was easier to be hurt and be angry. It was easier to feel that way than to be in love with someone who would hurt her again.
“I...I don’t know anymore.”
“Do you ever wonder why Tobin left in the first place?” Stacy pushed. She knew Christen was about to bolt away from this conversation, but she wanted to say as much as she could before she did.
“You know I do. She decided to tell everybody and their mother, except for me,” Christen replied, a little bitterly.
“She did not and you know it,” Stacy corrected.
“Mom, please. She would have told me if she wanted to,” Christen said quietly.
Stacy sighed. “Have you ever considered that maybe Tobin thought the same thing about you? That maybe she thought that you would have told her you cared about her if you wanted to?”
Christen opened her mouth, ready to answer, but the words died on her lips as she truly considered her mom’s words.
She’d been so consumed with picking up the pieces of her heart that Tobin had shattered, that she’d almost forgotten about the fact that she’d been the one to walk away first. She had been the first to pull away in Portland, and Tobin had probably spent all summer believing that she didn’t want a relationship with her. Still, if Tobin had only picked up the phone, she would have known the truth. She had been ready to tell Tobin that she cared, that she had feelings for her. She’d been waiting for a chance to tell Tobin the truth, and then it had all come crashing down.
She had gone through such a journey, making peace with her fear, knowing she was probably in love with Tobin and was prepared to tell her that. But then Tobin had been the one to pull away. Right when Christen was finally ready to follow Tobin over that cliff’s edge, Tobin had pulled the cord of her parachute and disappeared, leaving Christen in a free fall, all alone.
A part of her wanted to keep feeling angry that Tobin hadn’t given her a chance. Tobin was the first person Christen had felt these big, messy feelings for, and Tobin hadn’t answered the stupid phone. Tobin had ignored her for reasons she still wasn’t sure about. She wanted to keep feeling angry about the fact that she’d gone over the edge alone. She wanted to hold onto these twisted, tangled, horrible feelings because they made her feel justified to retreat into her fear. She was allowed to be scared again, she was allowed to be the one to pull away when she only focused on the anger, on the hurt.
There was a quieter part of her, though. A part that had been shuttered away during her heartbreak. A part of her that wanted to let go of her anger and her hurt. It begged her, it pleaded with her to let the rage go, to embrace the love that would surely take its place. The love she felt for Tobin, the love she’d been feeling from the very beginning.
But Christen wasn’t ready to let go yet. She didn’t want to let go of her wrath and irritation. She didn’t want to love when she would get hurt again, she didn’t want to shirk her fear and choose love when it had burned her so badly before.
Stacy could see the war being waged in Christen’s heart right now, and she wished she could help. She wished she could take all the confusion and pain away. But she couldn’t, so she decided to change the subject and try to get back to her motto of not pushing her kids.
“I’ll stop, just think about that. Now, what would you like for dinner?” Stacy asked, smiling at Christen warmly.
Christen managed a weak smile in return, an answer bubbling up from within her, probably from that small part of her heart that was ready to move past her anger.
“Can we get pizza?”
Tobin ran down the stairs, her hair still wet from her post-run shower. She hadn’t played during the game, so she’d opted to run around campus and get a little bit of a workout in. She opened the front door and handed the delivery guy a wad of cash, paying for four pizzas. She slipped her slides on and grabbed her phone, keys, and wallet, heading out the door and down the street.
Two weeks of torture was enough, and Tobin was tired of fighting and arguing with people that she really did care about. She’d gone surfing with Megan and Kelley. She’d Facetimed with Christen and Crystal. Everyone had gone dancing and seen movies together during school breaks. She wanted to repair those relationships she’d messed up too, and her weapon of choice was always food.
Tobin knocked on the townhouse door, stepping away from the threshold and holding her breath in preparation.
Allie and Ashlyn were already inside with most of their teammates, but Tobin hadn’t felt like she’d be welcome, probably because Megan hadn’t invited her. It was Crystal who’d encouraged her to crash and suggested she bring something to win people over.
“TOBIN!” Mal cheered, pumping her fists in the air. “I knew you were coming! Barney and Rose said no way, but I knew you wouldn’t leave us hanging!”
“Hey, Mal,” Tobin grinned, already loving her personality. “I brought dinner,” Tobin said, holding the pizzas out in front of her.
“Did I hear dinner?” Kelley asked, poking her head around the corner to look at the front door. Her face dimmed a bit when she saw Tobin. “Oh.”
“Hi, Kelley,” Tobin said. “I’m calling a truce, and I got you sausage pizza.”
“Dude you know I can’t say no to pizza,” Kelley whined, joining Mal and Tobin at the door.
“It’s got extra cheese too,” Tobin said, knowing Kelley would fold easily.
“Can we let her in? Pleaaaaase?” Mal begged, her lower lip jutting out in a pout in Kelley’s direction.
“Yeah, Kelley! Pleeaaasssee,” Tobin mimicked.
“UGH! Fine, but Megan won’t be so easy to win over,” Kelley replied, retreating with a dramatic sigh.
Tobin stepped inside, admiring the nice furniture and the cute pictures all over the kitchen fridge. It was organized but homey, lived in, and very Christen. Tobin walked further into the house, turning toward the living room and bracing herself for Megan Rapinoe to kick her out.
“I let her in, but she has pizza sooo,” Kelley explained, pointing at the stack of boxes in Tobin’s arms.
“Yours is on top, Kelley,” Tobin mumbled.
“That’s what she said,” Kelley said, grabbing the box and sitting on the floor to pull a slice out.
Megan hadn’t stopped glaring at Tobin since she walked in. Crystal at least had the decency to smile in a somewhat welcoming way.
“Thanks for bringing food,” Crystal said, nudging Megan. “Right, Pinoe? Thanks?”
“Depends on what she expects in exchange for pizza,” Megan huffed.
Kelley paused mid-bite, her eyes widening and turning to look at Tobin with alarm on her face.
“I just want to bury the hatchet. I want to stop fighting with you guys. We used to be friends,” Tobin said, looking directly at Megan.
“Not to be a total freshman about this,” Barney interjected, “but can someone give us the twenty-second lowdown real quick?”
“Yeah I feel like we walked in on something right out of Shondaland,” Rose added. Sam and Mal nodded their agreement.
“Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on, and I was here,” Alyssa said from the kitchen.
Tobin turned around to look at Alyssa and Ashlyn both of them staring at her, their hands frozen over the mocktails they were mixing.
“Hey, guys,” Tobin waved awkwardly.
“So, the lowdown?” Barney asked again.
Tobin handed Mal a pizza and offered one to Megan, waiting an awkward amount of time until Crystal took it. She turned around and handed one to Ashlyn too and waited until all the pizza was passed out, all the drinks made and distributed before she took a deep breath, ready to tell them what had happened.
“Okay, so I-” Tobin started.
“Fuck no, you don’t get to revisionist history this thing. We’ll tell it,” Megan interrupted.
“I’m not going to revise anything,” Tobin sighed, rolling her eyes at Megan’s temper. “I was literally going to start by saying I made a mistake.”
“A big one, freshies. Like, huuuuge,” Megan nodded.
“Yes, it was a bad mistake,” Tobin said, clenching her jaw at Megan’s interruptions. “I wasn’t a-”
Mal quickly raised her hand, making Tobin pause once more.
“What is it, Mal? You don’t have to raise your hand,” Tobin said, rubbing her face with her hand.
“Can we know what the mistake was?” Mal asked.
“It’s obviously about Pressy,” Sam hissed, yanking Mal’s hand down.
“Yeah. Okay, so I met Chris my freshman year and we became friends-”
“After you were a dick, again,” Kelley called out, returning to her pizza quickly after.
“Oh my God,” Tobin groaned. “Yes, I was a jerk at the NCAA Tournament. I got ultra-competitive, and we competed against each other, and we got heated. Anyway, after that, we got close. We became best friends. And it felt like...we were more than just friends sometimes,” Tobin continued.
“Awwww,” Mal and Rose cooed.
Megan rolled her eyes. This was going to take forever at this rate. She interrupted Tobin, finishing out the story.
“Then Tobin took Christen’s heart, shattered it, and transferred here to bother Christen into forgiving her. The end, no happily ever after,” Megan announced.
“I didn’t take her heart,” Tobin growled. “In case you forgot, she didn’t give it to me. And I’m not trying to annoy her into forgiving me. I just don’t want her to think that I don’t care about her. I didn’t leave her because I didn’t care about her.”
“Sure you didn’t-” Megan started to say.
“Who made you Chris’ keeper anyway?” Tobin huffed in frustration.
Crystal sighed, standing between Tobin and Megan and holding her hands out. “Guys! This isn’t helping!”
“Sorry,” Tobin muttered, stepping back from Megan.
Crystal turned to the freshman. “Sparknotes version? Tobin and Christen are two idiots who are crazy about each other and they just can’t get their heads out of their butts to do anything about it. Most recently, Tobin messed up, Christen got hurt, and now we’re all just hoping they can fix it.”
There was a moment of silence as the freshmen took in all the information.
“That’s super romantic,” Mal sighed, leaning against the edge of the couch and looking up at Tobin for more details.
“Told you, Shondaland material,” Rose commented, sipping her orange juice.
Tobin focused back in on Megan. “Dude, I’m sorry I hurt your friend. I don’t think anyone is as sorry as I am. I’m also sorry I cut you out of my life and hurt you, even though you’ll probably say you don’t care enough to be hurt. I really am sorry,” Tobin sighed, suddenly wishing she’d stayed in her bed and not tried to take on all these apologies at once.
Megan sulked back into the couch cushion, groaning dramatically after a second. “I thought we were closer than that, dude. You ghosted all of us…you ghosted me.”
“I KNEW YOU WERE HURTING!” Tobin called out, pointing her finger at Megan.
“Whatever,” Megan grumbled. “I just didn't realize you were hurting too, or whatever. Tobito- I mean, Tobin, I- I am really sorry about whatever happened with your dad.” She shot Tobin a pained grimace, her guilt about her actions these past two weeks finally catching up to her.
"Yeah, you don't have to tell us about it or anything, but I'm sorry too, Tobin. I should have called these jerks off of you awhile ago," Crystal added quietly.
"I'm sorry too..." Kelley trailed off. "I should be the one getting you pizza."
Tobin looked between Christen's- her three friends and smiled. She was suddenly much happier that she'd come over now.
Then Megan looked up at Tobin, her eyes still holding a bit of a warning, "I’m still annoyed you turned Pressy into a mopey-dopey mess, just so we’re clear."
Tobin jumped onto the couch and landed next to Megan. “You know I’m going to fix that as soon as Chris lets me close enough to talk to her,” Tobin said, looking right at Megan. She waited for a response but knew there was nothing left for Megan to say about Christen. “I’m sorry too, Pinoe. You want to play Fifa? I’ll let you kick my ass for at least two tournaments…” Tobin offered, knowing that Megan had officially cracked.
It took three more seconds...then Megan shook her head in defeat and pulled Tobin in for a tight hug.
“I missed our Fifa platonic date nights,” Megan said seriously.
“I missed you too,” Tobin whispered, squeezing Megan tightly.
“Oh my gosh this is so cute,” Sam whispered.
“I’m still a little confused, but whatever, there’s pizza,” Barney shrugged.
“Best team ever,” Mal gushed.
“Wait,” Kelley hoisted herself off the floor, half of her crust sticking out of her mouth. “How many rounds do I get to beat you in?”
“When do I get my shoes back?” Tobin retorted, glaring over Megan’s shoulder at Kelley.
Kelley pointed at the pile of shoes near the front door.
“Not those shoes. My shoes. The shoes, Kelley,” Tobin nearly whined. “I miss my babies.”
Kelley sighed and stuck her arm under the couch, pulling Tobin’s favorite pair of shoes out. “Here, they’re all yours.”
“All right, you can win two rounds too. I’ll play one-handed,” Tobin quickly said with a smile.
“As long as you make more scones, you’re forgiven in my eyes,” Crystal teased, winking in Tobin’s direction.
“Oh, so you’re the one who ate my scones,” Tobin laughed.
“Nah, Pressy hoarded those things. She smacked my hand away when I tried to steal one,” Megan said.
“We were given one to split between the three of us,” Crystal explained with an amused eye roll.
Tobin couldn’t stop the grin that spread across her face. She knew Christen wasn’t immune to baked goods, but she couldn’t contain the way her heart thrummed faster in her chest at the news.
“We were?” Kelley said, looking between Megan and Crystal. “You guys said Pressy wasn’t going to share.”
Megan and Crystal shared a look and grimaced at Kelley in apology. Everyone erupted in laughter as any remaining tension seeped out of the room.
“I’ll make you some scones for the bus trip this week, Kelley,” Tobin offered, sitting down on the couch and slipping her sneakers on, tossing her slides aside. “First few away games deserve scones.
Mal raised her hand again, smiling at Tobin.
“Mal, you really can just talk whenever you want,” Tobin laughed.
“Oh, right. I was wondering how you’re going to woo Christen and make her not hate you anymore?”
Everyone started shouting out ideas, like bouquets of flowers and boxes of chocolates. Even Ashlyn and Alyssa threw in some ideas.
“Well, first I have to get her to be willing to be in the same room with me for more than two minutes,” Tobin sighed, wishing she had a better plan. “I mean I have a great first date idea, but getting to that is going to take a long time, based on how she seems to feel right now.”
Just then, footsteps sounded on the stairs. Everyone looked to the staircase as Allie descended, freezing at the bottom at the sight of Tobin in the middle of everyone, not bruised or bloodied or held against her will.
“Harry, what the fuck?” Allie asked.
“What’s up, Harry,” Tobin said, holding her hand up in a shaka sign.
“I go pee and snoop around their medicine cabinet, and when I come back, suddenly everyone's BONDING?” Allie shrieked. “And there’s ‘za?!” Allie hurried over to the couch and flopped down next to Alyssa, stealing a slice from the box she held in her lap.
“We’re planning Tobin’s ‘Operation Get Christen Back,’” Mal said grinning at Allie.
“You recruited the freshmen without me?!” Allie asked. “What’s next? Are you and Christen going to get together without telling me? Seriously, if you do that I’ll kick you out of our house.”
Tobin laughed, “I’ll try not to.”
“I’m just happy I don’t have to actively dislike you anymore,” Megan sighed, shooting a small smile at Tobin.
“You and me both,” Tobin sighed. “Do you know little I’ve slept since transferring here? I’ve literally been terrified that you’d sneak into my room and shave off my eyebrows or something.”
Megan and Kelley winced. “Shit, dude, really?” Megan asked.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been this exhausted,” Tobin groaned. It was a lie. She’d been this exhausted at the hospital and the few weeks after her dad had gotten home, but that wasn’t something she’d share with anyone else before Christen.
“We’re really sorry, Tobito,” Kelley said.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You enjoyed it, and you know it. Honestly, I probably deserved it the first few times,” Tobin grumbled.
“Not gonna lie, when you had to walk home barefoot because we stole all your shoes, and your feet were bright red from the Kool-aid, that shit was golden,” Megan teased.
“I couldn’t get that out of my shoes,” Tobin sighed. “But you are both very inventive, I’ll give you that. I never want to cross you again.”
Kelley sat up straighter, her fists on her hips. “We’re the Queens of Pranks!”
“I don’t know. Harry usually takes that title,” Tobin warned, glancing at Allie.
“I’ve tamed in my old age,” Allie winked.
“You literally got in my bed with your shoes on yesterday,” Tobin scoffed.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Allie said with a shrug.
Conversation soon went another direction, the freshmen all taking turns telling embarrassing stories about each other to impress the upperclassmen. Tobin looked around the room, her smile never faltering. She finally felt like she could breathe here, like maybe she belonged here. She just had one more person to win over.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 22nd
“Kelley,” Tobin said, reaching the top step of the bus.
Kelley turned, raising her brows in Tobin’s direction. “Sup?”
“Delivery,” Tobin said, holding out a Tupperware with a few scones inside, fresh from the oven. She’d never imagined she’d wake up early to make Kelley O’Hara baked goods, but she’d rationalized that most of the scones were for her or for Christen or Crystal, not just for Kelley.
“BUS SCONES!” Kelley cheered, taking the Tupperware and shaking it excitedly. She skipped down the aisle of the bus toward the row she shared with Alyssa. “LYS, WE GOT BUS SCONES!”
Christen watched Kelley run up the aisle, taking a headphone out of her ear to listen to her. “Did Kelley say scones? Weird,” Christen thought, propping her feet up on the empty seat next to her. She could faintly hear Megan and Crystal talking from the row in front of her, already talking shop about San Diego State and what to expect from them in their game tomorrow night.
Tobin walked through the bus, pausing in the middle of the bus to look for an empty seat. Allie and Ashlyn were sitting next to each other, so she was searching for any empty seat she could find. She cringed when she looked to the back of the bus and saw that the only free seat was next to Christen. She took a deep breath and walked down the aisle, pausing at Megan and Crystal’s row, right in front of Christen.
“I made extras,” Tobin said, handing Crystal a Tupperware of scones too.
“You’re a life-saver,” Crystal replied, taking the Tupperware. “Thank you!”
“Thanks, dude,” Megan grinned and then gestured with her head at the row behind them, the one Christen was sitting in. Tobin nodded and then took a step toward Christen’s row.
“Can I sit here?” Tobin asked, willing Christen to meet her eyes. She pulled out her last Tupperware container of scones and held it out as a peace offering.
Christen tensed. She eyed the Tupperware and the person who held it out to her. She quickly scanned the rest of the bus and realized the only empty seat was the one her feet were on.
“I don’t have a choice do I?” she asked, removing her feet from the seat and scooting over.
“I mean, I can ask one of the freshmen to switch. Kelley’s kind of whipped for the scones. Maybe she could switch,” Tobin offered, scratching the back of her neck.
The bus lurched, signaling their first away trip had officially begun. Christen shook her head, sighing in defeat. “It’s fine.”
Tobin slipped her backpack off and silently sat down in the seat next to Christen’s, hoping that Christen wouldn’t verbally complain about her sitting there. She really didn’t want to hear how much Christen didn’t want to be near her. She hadn’t been sleeping well in L.A., even without Megan and Kelley’s antics. She was having her typical nightmares, really two different types. Either her nightmares focused on her family, losing her dad and brother in particular, or they focused on losing Christen, on Christen hating her and never forgiving her. She was, at this point, exhausted and she wasn’t sure how much verbal antagonism she could take from Christen today.
Tobin set the Tupperware down on the floor between their feet and pulled out a book, just wanting the ride to go by without incident. It was almost impossible to not think about and remember their road trip from New Mexico to California and how close they’d been there, how Christen had talked the whole way, how she’d humored Tobin’s lesson on changing a tire, how she’d fallen asleep on Tobin’s lap, how they’d talked about soulmates. Tobin had fallen in love with her while traveling cross country, and now here they were, Tobin still in love and Christen completely silent.
Christen stared out the window, watching the city roll by them as they made their way down to San Diego. She’d spent the last few days avoiding the things her mom had brought up, especially that four-letter word. She didn’t want to think about love, she especially didn’t want to think about being in love with Tobin Heath. Not when Tobin was sitting beside her, their legs almost touching, the familiar scents of pine and-
Christen wrinkled her nose, turning slightly to her left. There was something else mixed in with the pine, something unfamiliar. It smelled oddly...fruity? Christen sneezed gently, just a small, adorable little noise, and covered her nose with her sleeve. “Oh no,” Christen thought.
“Bless you!” Megan called over her shoulder.
“Thanks, Pinoe. Umm is that-” Christen paused to sneeze quietly once more and then turned to Tobin. “-is that strawberry-scented lotion or something?”
“What?” Tobin asked, stopping her finger on the page and lifting her head from her book.
“Did you get some kind of lotion or body wash that smells like strawberries?’ Christen said, her nose itching. She wiggled it, trying to alleviate her discomfort.
“Oh, I ran out of conditioner and borrowed Allie’s new one,” Tobin shrugged. “You don’t like that scent?” Tobin asked, her cheeks flushing slightly. “Of course, of all the scents that Allie had chosen for her hair.”
“I’m just a little sensitive to-” Christen sneezed again, this one even quieter than the last two. “Strawberry stuff,” she huffed out.
“Shit, Chris, I’m sorry. I didn’t know that. I can switch seats. Let me text Kelley,” Tobin mumbled, leaning forward to get her phone from her backpack.
Christen wasn’t sure what compelled her to do it, but she reached out and grabbed onto the sleeve of Tobin’s long sleeve travel shirt. It was the first time she’d touched her, the first time she’d crossed this line since the summer. For some reason, the thought of Tobin leaving her side right now didn’t sit right with her. It felt too much like Tobin leaving her in Portland. It made her chest tight even entertaining the possibility of letting Tobin walk away right now.
“It’s- it’s fine. I won’t break out in hives or anything like that. Just makes my nose itch,” Christen explained, retracting her hand quickly and looking away from the adorable worry wrinkle Tobin had between her brows.
“You always put strawberries in your smoothies though, and in your oatmeal,” Tobin said. “Is it just the fake scent?”
“Don’t know, happens to Channing too. Tyler’s the only normal one,” Christen replied with a small smile. The banter felt normal, the ease with which the words flowed between them felt natural. It was almost as if everything that had happened between them was in the past and they were getting back to solid ground. Almost.
“I wouldn’t say you and Chan are abnormal,” Tobin said, smiling softly despite her worry that the moment would pass. “Good thing the hotel will have conditioner that doesn’t smell like a tween girl who shops at Limited Too .”
“I’ll make sure to not tell Allie how you feel about her conditioner,” Christen replied.
“Harry deserves the truth. Bati hates it too. He’s just too nice to tell her,” Tobin shrugged.
Christen chuckled for a moment, forgetting herself. Then she remembered that Tobin had fallen in love with her, had kissed her and that she regretted all of those things. That she’d disappeared and ignored her and still hadn’t explained herself. Christen’s laughter died quickly.
“You want a scone?” Tobin asked, knowing the moment of normalcy between them was passing, but she hoped she could salvage something. She’d missed Christen’s laugh more than anything else. The small chuckle she’d gotten out of Christen had made her whole body feel warm. It had sent butterflies fluttering through her chest and tingles up and down her arms. It had made her heart leap out of her body.
Christen shook her head and turned back to the window. Of course, she wanted a scone, they were her favorite things in the world, especially Tobin’s scones. But her pride and stubbornness wouldn’t let her have one, let alone the ten she wanted to eat.
And just like that, Tobin’s heart and head returned from the clouds and landed back in her bus seat.
“Okay, I had two this morning, so take whatever you want,” Tobin shrugged, trying to seem unaffected. She looked back down at her book, wishing that it didn’t hurt every single time Christen turned away. “Think about how much it hurt her when you didn’t text back,” Tobin reminded herself, trying to gain perspective.
Christen dropped her bags onto the floor of the hotel room and sank onto the edge of the bed, her legs and back already complaining about the hours they’d spent in the bus because of traffic. Her stomach grumbled and she dropped a hand to it, mentally kicking herself for not taking a scone from Tobin. There was still an hour until dinner and she’d have to suffer until then. “Stupid pride,” she chastised herself, collapsing back on the bed.
She didn’t have a roommate this trip, the odd number of players on the team meaning someone had to room alone. She had volunteered, initially excited about the alone time and the quiet. But now that she had those things, she didn’t want them. When it was quiet, her thoughts could get louder and louder until she couldn’t ignore them anymore. Her thoughts about Tobin, her thoughts about everything that had transpired between them, her thoughts about where to go next. She’d told her mom she wasn’t ready to forgive Tobin yet. But after spending more time with Tobin on that bus than she had in weeks, it was starting to feel like maybe she was ready. Maybe...or maybe not? She still couldn’t decide. One moment she felt ready, and the next she didn’t.
Christen was surprised at how cordial they’d been able to keep things on the bus ride. There had been no terse comments, no sharp words, no bickering. It was actually sort of pleasant. But that’s where the danger was. She couldn’t be lulled into complacency by Tobin’s sweetness, by her thoughtfulness. She couldn’t forget about what Tobin had done, about what she’d said. The person who forgot history was doomed to repeat it, so Christen wouldn’t be forgetting anytime soon. She couldn’t let herself be swayed and caught under Tobin’s spell, just like the rest of her teammates seemed to be. She had to stay strong, she had to stay angry, she had to stay hurt. If she didn’t, she knew what would happen, and she wasn’t ready for that yet.
Christen whipped out her phone.
Guess who I sat with on the bus?
Don’t make me guess, I have a test to study for.
Starts with a Tobin ends with a Heath.
Ew, did you lose a bet?
Christen snorted and shook her head. While her mom and dad were definitely already on their way to forgiving Tobin, Channing still had her back, as did Tyler.
Only spot left open. At least she’s not my roommate.
The world’s not that cruel!!
How are you doing?
Taking it one day at a time. Today hasn’t been horrible. Haven’t cried yet or anything, so I’m taking that as a win lol
Day’s still young 😉
I have to go study, Mo, I’m sorry
Call me if you need anything?
I’ve been dreaming of kicking Tobin’s ass all summer, just say the word and I’m there
I will, love you, Chan 💚
I love you too!!!
Christen tossed her phone onto the bed and crossed her arms behind her head. Today really hadn’t been horrible. She just needed to keep reminding herself of her anger and her hurt. She couldn’t let herself get distracted by Tobin’s goofy grin and her delicious scones.
“This would be so much easier if she were angry too,” Christen thought to herself. If Tobin was angry, then at least it would feel like a fair fight. Right now, it felt like Christen was bringing an entire arsenal to a fight that Tobin was ready to forfeit. It felt uneven, it felt unfair.
Not for the first time since Tobin had come to UCLA, Christen found herself cursing Tobin Heath’s good heart.
Tobin’s phone buzzed on the bedside table, waking her up in the dark hotel room. She jerked up into a seated position, glancing across the room at Allie, sleeping across from her. She pulled her phone toward her, fear instantly creeping its way up her body, making her hands feel numb and her teeth chatter.
“Mom?” she whispered, answering the phone with a shaky voice.
“Sweetheart,” Cindy cried.
Tobin’s stomach dropped. She’d been dreading this call. She could hear it in her mom’s voice. This was why she hadn’t wanted to go back to school. She knew she should have stayed home. She wasn’t there for them, and it was her fault all over again.
“Mom, what happened?” Tobin asked, her heart racing in her chest. She slid out of bed and searched the floor for a pair of shoes, feeling nothing in the pitch-black room. She needed to get out of this box of a hotel room. She needed to run as fast as she could. She needed to get away and go home. She needed to reverse time.
“They didn’t make it,” Cindy choked into the receiver.
“The boys. They didn’t make it home.”
Tobin sucked in a deep breath, bending down to dig through her suitcase. “Where were they?”
“They went to your game. They went to see you, and now they’re gone,” Cindy said, her voice bitter and harsh.
“No, they didn’t. I’m not even playing,” Tobin tried to argue. “Dad and Jeff wouldn’t travel for a game just to see me sit on the bench.”
“They crashed because of you,” Tobin’s mom barked into the phone.
“No they didn’t,” Tobin whispered, wishing that her head felt clearer, wishing that she could find more than just one flipflop. Her feet felt heavy, and her hands felt numb and slow. She thought for a minute that she might be underwater, that she might be hearing things wrong.
“I need you to come home. I need you to go to the police station and I.D. their bodies. They need a family member. You owe me that much,” Tobin’s mom sighed into the phone.
“Stop lying. They didn’t come to the game,” Tobin croaked, completely confused about why Allie wasn’t waking up to her noise. “Harry,” Tobin called, trying to wake up the blonde, unable to get her to even move with her touch.
“Tobin?” Perry’s voice came over the phone.
“Perry, why is Mom saying this? Where’s Dad?”
“You did this,” Perry huffed.
“I can’t believe you did this to us,” Katie added.
“I didn’t,” Tobin’s voice broke. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Why did you do this to me?” Christen’s voice asked over the phone.
“Chris,” Tobin sighed. “I didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry.”
“Wake up,” Cindy whispered.
“Wake up, dude,” Perry laughed.
"Wake up!" Christen yelled.
Tobin jerked up in her bed, the sheets twisted around her legs, her hair plastered to her face.
“You good?” Allie asked, her brow wrinkled in concern.
“Yeah, crazy dream,” Tobin sighed. It was the same dream she’d had since June.
“Did it involve Christen?” Allie smirked, sending Tobin a wink.
Tobin laughed softly, glancing over at the clock, trying to pretend that her heart wasn’t about to race out of her chest.
“Where are you going? It’s already 9:30. When did dinner end?” Tobin asked, feeling completely disoriented. The guilt still sat heavily on her chest, the throbbing pain in her head beating against the front of her skull.
“We got back a little while ago. Coach wants to chat with me, she said not to stress about missing dinner. I’ll be back later,” Allie said, walking to the door. “Sweet dreams, Harry.”
Tobin flopped back in bed, unable to deep breathe her way out of the panic she was feeling. She rolled onto her side and pulled her phone toward her, dialing her mom’s number and waiting for her to pick up.
She waited until the familiar voicemail recording played and hung up. She dialed again. Tobin tried to call seven times, each time listening to her mom’s voicemail. She dialed her dad’s number, having no luck there either. None of her siblings answered her calls or texts. With each missed call and unanswered text, Tobin’s breath felt thinner and more ragged. She needed to hear their voices. She needed to know that they were okay. She needed to be held. She needed-
“She doesn’t want you right now. Time to self-soothe,” Tobin thought, pulling the hotel comforter around her shoulders and trying to block out her spiraling thoughts.
She rolled onto her side over a dozen times, trying to find a comfortable position, but nothing was working. The throbbing in her head hurt too much, and the stinging behind her eyes ached. She crawled out of her bed, succumbing to her insomnia. Tobin grabbed a pair of shorts and slipped them on, grabbing her room key and cell phone and making her way out of the room and down the hall. She wasn’t sure where she was going. She had no idea where anyone else was. Her first thought was that she needed to find Coach Foudy and raid the first aid kit for Aspirin, but she also didn’t want to interrupt Allie’s first away game meeting as team captain. Instead, she paced the hallway, trying to will one of her family members to call her back and soothe her worry.
Then she remembered a room number, the only room number talked about in the lobby when the team arrived. The room number Coach Foudy had talked about when she asked for a volunteer to sleep alone, without a roommate: room 437.
Tobin took a deep breath and swallowed softly, making her way down the hallway. She’d likely be told to fuck off, but if any of her teammates traveled with emergency pain medication it was the ever-organized Christen Press. When she got to the door, she checked to see if the light was on underneath before knocking.
“Shit, this was so dumb,” she mumbled, turning around and starting to walk down the hallway.
Christen opened the door, her brow furrowing as she saw Tobin Heath a few steps away from her room.
“Did you knock?” she asked, conscious to keep her voice down. She forced herself to keep her face neutral, to not notice how adorable Tobin’s messy bedhead was. “Anger, remember anger,” Christen thought to herself.
“Yeah, sorry. It’s not important,” Tobin whispered back, turned around to face Christen but still staying a few feet away from her door.
“What do you need?” Christen said, arching a brow.
“Do you have an Aspirin?” Tobin asked, hating how lame she sounded. There was no way she’d ever be able to give Christen some grand gesture if she couldn’t even talk to her without basically ding-dong-ditching her and rushing out requests and questions.
Christen sighed. She could say no. She could say no and she wouldn’t have to worry about this. But there was something about the vulnerable look in Tobin’s eyes that gave her pause. It felt like that moment on the bus again. Despite her anger and her hurt, she couldn’t let Tobin walk away from her. So instead, she took a step back into the room, held the door open, and waited for Tobin to follow.
“Come on, I have to dig around for it.”
“Right,” Tobin nodded, stepping inside the room, immediately feeling her stomach flutter at the overwhelming smell of Christen. “Nice room,” Tobin said, shoving her hands in her pockets.
“Your run of the mill hotel room, nothing special,” Christen replied, her voice a little tired as she bent in front of her soccer bag, rummaging around inside of it. She was still a little shaken by Tobin’s sudden arrival and was extremely grateful she had a task to focus on.
“I guess they are all the same,” Tobin sighed, leaning against the wall near the door, giving Christen space in her room. “You tried the conditioner here yet?” Tobin asked, hating her small talk immediately.
Christen sighed again, unable not to feel a small flicker of irritation ignite within her. Tobin had come to her, out of anybody else, and while she didn’t exactly want to turn Tobin away, she wasn’t about to let them talk like nothing had changed.
“You must have. I’m not sneezing,” Christen retorted, desperate to find her small bag of medication she always packed for road trips.
“Yeah, I didn’t want to bother my bus buddy before the game tomorrow,” Tobin nodded.
“We’re not bus buddies,” Christen shot back.
“Right. Sorry,” Tobin said, the throbbing in her head getting worse by the second.
Christen finally found the Aspirin and took the bottle out of her bag. She stood up, crossed the room, and held it out for Tobin.
Tobin cringed at Christen’s question, hating just how much Christen hated her. She opened the bottle, grabbing a pill before capping it and handing it back.
“No, actually. When are you going to hate me a little less? Just so I can put it down in my calendar,” Tobin snapped. She was exhausted. Her head hurt. Her anxiety was off the charts. She was frustrated. All she wanted to do was make things better, and Christen seemed bound and determined to push away any and all apologies Tobin tried to make.
Christen narrowed her eyes at the sudden shift in Tobin. She couldn’t help but be a little surprised at the exasperation in Tobin’s words. Sure, she had wanted Tobin to stoop to her level, to fight Christen’s fire with fire of her own. She just wasn’t expecting it the night before a huge game.
“Don’t think I have a clear idea on that. I’ll have to get back to you,” Christen replied evenly, crossing her arms over her chest defensively after dropping the bottle on the dresser.
“Okay cool. That’s super helpful, Chris,” Tobin scoffed.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m supposed to be helpful now? I’m supposed to help you apologize to me for hurting me?” Christen shot back, her anger rising in tandem with Tobin’s. God, she had wanted this. She wanted this Tobin, she wanted the yelling and screaming and anger. This Tobin she could handle, these feelings she could handle.
“You won’t even let me apologize!” Tobin groaned in frustration. “You won’t even sit in the same room with me for five minutes!”
“Why would I want to? Every time I look at you, I’m reminded about what you did and how it nearly broke me beyond repair!”
Tobin’s face hardened. “Because whether you want to admit it or not you’re dying to know what happened. You’re dying to know, and you hate that!” Tobin yelled.
Christen took a step forward, her green eyes holding a cold fury. “Fuck you. Fuck you for throwing that back in my face. You don’t get to use the fact that I care about you, against me.”
“There! At least you can admit that!” Tobin pointed, jabbing her finger in Christen’s face as she stepped forward. Christen quickly smacked it away, which only further angered Tobin. “At least you can finally admit that you give a shit, even a little bit, even if you don’t feel the same way I do. At least you can say you care, that this bothers you!” Tobin fumed, using both of her hands to motion at the ever-shrinking distance between them.
Christen let out a huff. “Of course this bothers me! I tried to be there for you, I called and I texted and I showed up at your house. And for what? To be told that none of this mattered,” Christen seethed, her eyes blurring with angry tears.
“I lied!” Tobin shouted. “People lie, Chris! People lie when they’re afraid of getting hurt or afraid of hurting others!”
“You don’t lie to the people you claim to love!” Christen snapped.
“You do when you’re trying not to love them anymore because they can’t love you back,” Tobin whispered bitterly.
“God, you’re such an idiot!” Christen shook her head, a stubborn tear escaping from the corner of her eye and dripping down her cheek.
“Yeah, thanks,” Tobin sighed, reaching out to wipe the tear off of Christen’s cheek without conscious thought. Her hand had a mind of its own. She hadn’t touched Christen since camp. She’d forgotten about how warm Christen’s skin always felt against hers, like the universe was telling her not to mess this up, to read the signs that Christen was important.
Christen’s eyes danced between Tobin’s, fighting off a sigh at the feeling of Tobin touching her. She watched the anger seep out of Tobin’s honey brown eyes and she willed for it to return.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Christen snapped, leaning out of Tobin’s touch, hoping that when Tobin stopped touching her, her heart would stop pounding.
“Like what?” Tobin asked, moving her hand away from Christen’s cheek.
“Like I didn’t just scream at you.”
“Did it make you feel better?” Tobin asked gently.
Christen shook her head, another tear falling. She let out an exasperated, strangled sigh and caught it on her finger, wiping the tear away quickly.
“No. I want to hate you, Tobin. I want to hate you so maybe I can start to feel less hollow,” Christen replied, her words hard. She felt another sentiment bubbling up from within her, from that small part of her heart that yearned to be heard. “I want to hate you as much as I hate myself for walking out of that goddamn hotel room, but I can’t,” Christen added quietly, loathing the words that had just come out of her.
Tobin’s mouth fell open at Christen’s words. It was the closest Christen had gotten to sharing her feelings since camp, and Tobin had no idea how to proceed. Christen was bitter and hurt and angry and didn’t want Tobin to touch her or talk to her, but Christen also couldn’t fully hate her.
Christen watched her words land, watched the way Tobin’s eyes changed, as the way she was looking at her shifted. Christen hadn’t expected that to come out of her, hadn’t expected to admit that. She hadn’t even realized she felt that way until right now.
“You’re just...everywhere. You’re everywhere, all the time. And I want to hate you so maybe you won’t be everywhere. So I won’t have to think about the fact that you regret everything,” Christen sighed, feeling almost defeated, her eyes falling to the carpet.
The hotel room was quiet for a moment, as Christen stared at the floor and Tobin stared at Christen.
“I’ve told you before, I have never regretted Portland,” Tobin whispered. “I sent that text because I thought you wanted me to say that.”
Christen shook her head. She didn’t want these words, these softly spoken words full of apology. She didn’t want the gentle smile on Tobin’s face, she didn’t want the sparkle of hope she could see shining in Tobin’s eyes. She wanted the fire back. She wanted the anger back. Even if it wasn’t going to make her feel better, she could at least feel safe with her rage.
“I wouldn’t take back anything that I did or said in Portland. I have never been as happy as I was there with you,” Tobin said, her voice soft and soothing like she knew she could easily scare Christen away.
“Stop doing that!” Christen snapped.
“Doing what?” Tobin asked, letting a tiny amount of exasperation out in a soft huff.
“Being so goddamn understanding about this. I walked out after you told me you loved me! I don’t deserve these sweet words and kind apologies. Be angry with me again, be upset!” Christen all but yelled, her arms wrapping around her middle protectively.
“Of course I’m upset! The universe has the absolute worst timing in the world, and now you hate me! Of course, I’m upset! I hate this,” Tobin sighed in frustration. “I hate that you can’t look at me anymore!” Tobin choked out, looking at Christen’s face, practically begging for Christen’s eyes to meet her own.
Somehow, they had drifted even closer. As they yelled, as they traded words of anger and hurt back and forth, they had erased every bit of space between them. Christen didn’t realize it until Tobin accidentally knocked into her arm. She felt her heart sigh at their proximity but ignored it in favor of the inferno raging beneath her skin. She forced herself to look up, to meet Tobin’s gaze.
“I hate that I can’t make you feel safe and comfortable anymore! I hate that I don’t make you smile like I used to!” Tobin’s voice broke with each confession that she shouted.
Christen let her arms fall to her sides. She looked deep into Tobin’s eyes, letting every word hit her square in the chest. She could take the hate, she could take the frustration. She could take it.
“What else?” Christen asked challengingly.
“I hate that I want to touch you every second I’m around you, but you’d absolutely hate it if I did!” Tobin croaked.
Christen’s breath caught in her throat at the admission. She reacted without thinking, propelled forward by the storm of tumultuous and twisted feelings within her. She surged forward and kissed Tobin, hard. There was no elegance or poetry about it. It was a kiss full of hurt and anger and frustration, full of every emotion she’d been struggling with since Tobin had disappeared. It was a kiss that shouldn’t happen, but one that seemed to be the only thing left to do now. She kissed Tobin because she had to.
It took Tobin a second for her brain to catch up with her lips, but once it did, the logical part of her brain, the one that told her to stop the kiss and talk about her feelings, lost. Instead, she reached her hands out and pulled Christen closer, trying to pour all of her feelings into a kiss, trying to show Christen how much she loved her and had missed her. She pressed her fingers into Christen’s hips and brushed her tongue across Christen’s bottom lip, trying to soothe the kiss into something gentler and slower. She’d been dreaming about kissing Christen again since leaving camp, but it had never been like this. In her dreams, she’d been intentional and tender. In her dreams she was loving Christen with her lips, not fighting against Christen’s pace and just trying to hold her in place, trying to slow things down and make them meaningful.
Christen felt Tobin trying to soften the kiss, to bring them away from the burning fire, but she didn’t want that. She wanted the fire and the passion and the anger. She wanted to let it consume them, but Tobin wasn’t giving in. With a growl, she tugged Tobin’s lower lip between her teeth. She pushed Tobin against the wall, trapping her against it with her body. She tried to deepen the kiss by burying a hand in Tobin’s hair and pulling roughly. Even now, even after crossing this line, Christen wanted to follow the anger, the heartbreak. She let them fuel her bruising kisses, her clumsy and slightly brutal touches. She willed Tobin to give in, to succumb to the heat and the want that still burned between them, to leave everything soft and gentle and full of love behind.
Tobin couldn’t stop the tears that slipped down her cheeks. This wasn’t what she’d thought about when she imagined finally being with Christen again. She hadn’t pictured hate and rage. She hadn’t wanted Christen to pull her hair or kiss quickly, without thought. It reminded her of Portland, so much unsaid still, and Tobin had the sudden fear that this was just a repeat of history, that Christen never could love her, even if she was attracted to her, even if she liked kissing her.
She also felt that familiar guilt. It was tugging at her chest and making her knees weak. She never wanted to kiss Christen without telling her exactly what she should have said in Portland, exactly what she should have said all summer. She wanted Christen to know how special she was, how wanted and loved she was, and she was being selfish again. She shouldn’t be kissing Christen like this. Her eyes stung with each tear, and her forehead burned with pain, the Aspirin lost on the carpeted floor somewhere near her feet.
The first feeling of wetness on her cheeks gave Christen pause. She leaned back, her lips leaving Tobin's, and she blinked her eyes open. And then she saw the tears spilling from Tobin’s eyes and her heart broke even more than it already had. The tears on Tobin’s cheeks cut through the anger and the hurt, everything that had propelled her to kiss Tobin in the first place.
“This is a mistake, you shouldn’t be kissing her like this,” a voice whispered through Christen’s mind. “It’s not fair to either of you.”
Christen pulled away from Tobin as quickly as she’d gone to her, almost like she’d been burned, taking a giant step back. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have-” Christen felt her words lodge in her throat as tears continued to fall down Tobin’s cheeks, as Tobin’s shoulders shook.
Tobin knew she was likely terrifying Christen. She wouldn’t have been surprised if Christen slipped out of the hotel room to get someone else’s help or even sleep somewhere else. “Way to freak her out again.” She just couldn’t stop the tears. It was like she’d been saving all of the tears up all summer and they were making an appearance all at once.
Christen took another step backward, guilt clawing at her throat and making it hard to breathe. She shouldn’t have kissed Tobin, she shouldn’t have done that. She’d done this, she’d caused these tears.
“I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have- I’m just- I’m gonna go,” Christen stuttered.
“Please don’t leave,” Tobin whispered, a sense of déjà vu washing over her. She’d begged Christen for the same thing at camp before Christen had climbed into bed with her for the first time. Tobin cringed, hating that she was asking Christen for something. Christen didn’t need to take care of her. She didn’t deserve to have to sit with Tobin after everything that had happened, after everything Tobin had done.
The request struck a chord in Christen, one that she wanted to ignore. She wanted to retreat to her pain and rage, but how could she when the girl she was hopelessly in love with was falling to pieces in front of her? Every feeling she’d had fueling her words and her actions mere moments ago had temporarily seeped out of her. In its place, were those feelings she didn’t want to feel. The feelings that wouldn’t let her leave Tobin like this.
“I won’t. Never,” Christen whispered, unknowingly repeating the same answer she’d had for Tobin’s identical request back in Portland.
“I’m sorry,” Tobin choked out, reaching her hand up to wipe at her face.
Christen let her eyes fall shut, a shaky breath leaving her lips. “Me too,” she replied softly, suddenly so overcome with exhaustion she swayed on her feet. They’d been fighting each other for so long, it had left her completely drained once the fight was over, or just on an indefinite hiatus.
“I shouldn’t have ignored you,” Tobin said once her tears were only slipping down her cheeks and not shaking her whole body.
“I shouldn’t have made you cry by kissing you,” Christen replied, her arms wrapping protectively around her middle again.
“It wasn’t because you kissed me,” Tobin whispered.
Christen leveled Tobin with a disbelieving look.
“I dreamed about that all summer. I thought about what it would be like to kiss you again,” Tobin admitted.
Christen’s heart fluttered in her chest, the first time she’d felt it do that in a long time. She’d missed the feeling.
“I just never wanted to kiss you in anger. I had it all planned out, actually. You’d be impressed. I was going to tell you everything and apologize and tell you exactly how I feel, everything that was interrupted in Portland. I only ever wanted to kiss you gently and with care,” Tobin continued, shrugging a bit with the admission.
Christen couldn’t stay mad even if she wanted to. Not when Tobin was wiping at her tear-stained cheeks, talking about her plans for kissing her, and shooting her hesitant looks through her lashes.
“You made a plan?” Christen whispered, her tone a little awestruck.
“I even wrote it down,” Tobin nodded.
Christen felt a small laugh bubble up from within her. “You’re such an idiot,” she said, the same words from earlier but said much gentler this time.
“I’ve heard that a lot lately,” Tobin sighed, leaning back against the wall.
“It’s a pretty universal term, covers a multitude of meanings,” Christen replied, backing up a few steps and dropping onto the corner of her bed. She hated the distance it created between them, but she wasn’t sure she could stay standing for another moment.
“Nope, I’m pretty sure everyone means it the same way,” Tobin grinned. “Chris I- I was an idiot for not telling you everything this summer. I thought- I was embarrassed and angry and guilty. There really isn’t an excuse, but I’ve never regretted something more in my life than not telling you.”
Christen nodded, accepting the apology for the first time since Tobin had shown up at UCLA. “Well, why don’t you tell me now?” Christen asked, patting the bed beside her. “Breakfast isn’t until 11, we’ve got time.”
“You think this is going to take me twelve hours?” Tobin arched an eyebrow, shooting a hesitant smile at Christen.
Christen shrugged with a matching smile, hers equally full of hesitance. “You take forever to finish stories, so yeah, I do.”
“Tangents happen, Chris,” Tobin sighed, walking over to sit on the opposite corner of the bed, still not sure about how much space Christen wanted. Tobin’s hands fidgeted in her lap, her eyes watching the nervous movements. She knew Christen was waiting for her to start, but she just needed another moment to collect herself.
Christen breathed deeply, fighting off the desire to say something or make a move toward Tobin. Christen’s hands itched to reach out and touch Tobin, to hold her. Tobin looked so vulnerable right now, so tormented and full of pain, and Christen suddenly remembered what her mom had told her. That whatever Tobin had gone through, she had been forced to grow up quickly, and that it had been incredibly painful. That Christen should listen with an open mind and an open heart. Taking another deep breath, Christen silently agreed to do just that, looking down at her own lap in an effort to give Tobin some semblance of privacy.
“My dad and brother didn’t make it home from the game that night,” Tobin finally said, shattering the silence of the hotel room.
Christen whipped her head around, fixing Tobin with a shocked look. Whatever it was she’d expected, whatever thoughts or ideas or guesses she’d had, nothing had come close to this.
“Some drunk driver hit them near Sacramento.”
“Oh my- oh my God, Tobs. Are they- I mean are they okay?” Christen asked, scooting just a bit closer to Tobin on the bed, struggling with the overwhelming urge to wrap Tobin in her arms and never let go.
“My brother walked away from it with a broken arm. Obviously, he was super freaked out, but other than bad dreams, he’s fine. My dad had skull fractures, so he had surgery that night. They induced a coma for a few days to reduce swelling.”
Christen covered her mouth with her hand, each new thing that came out of Tobin’s mouth furthering her shock, furthering her guilt. To think, she’d been worried about getting a text back when Tobin was dealing with life and death.
“He’s been home for a while now. It almost feels normal. For a while, his fine motor skills were pretty lacking, but he’s gotten most of those back. He’s working with the same physical therapist I saw as a kid whenever I got injured, and there’s a psychiatrist at the hospital who helps with the mood swings,” Tobin rushed out. She hadn’t told the story to anyone in detail. Allie had glued pieces together after spending some time around Tobin’s parents, and Cindy had told Stacy, but Tobin hadn’t spoken all of the words aloud to anyone. Until now.
Christen hesitantly reached out, taking one of Tobin’s hands in her own. She couldn’t remain so far away, not when Tobin’s world had come crashing down and she hadn’t been there for her. So, she was going to be here for her now.
“Tobs, I- I don’t even know what to say,” Christen admitted, threading her fingers with Tobin’s, the action so familiar it made her chest ache. What could she say? How could she possibly apologize for being so selfish, for being so wrapped up in herself?
“I missed you,” Tobin whispered, her eyes glued to Christen’s hand in her own.
Christen let out a shuddery breath. Despite her thoughts running a mile a minute, despite all of the emotions swirling around within her, she knew one thing for certain: she wasn’t going to let Tobin go through this alone, at least not for the night. In the light of day tomorrow, there would be a lot to talk about. The kiss, the feelings, Portland. But for tonight, she could do everything she should have gotten the chance to over the summer. She could shoulder some of Tobin’s pain, she could hold her hand and weather this storm with her.
“I missed you too. I wish I could have been there for you,” Christen replied, squeezing Tobin’s hand gently.
“I wish I’d let you,” Tobin said, looking directly at Christen, wishing that she could express all of her emotions in one look.
“You could...let me now?”
Tobin nodded, her lower lip trembling as she scooted closer on the bed, pulling Christen into a tight hug and burying her face in the crook of Christen’s neck. She sucked in a deep breath, having missed the smell and feel of Christen, having missed having her in her arms and wrapped around her. Her tears came quickly once more.
Christen simply held Tobin. She held Tobin as hot tears hit her collarbone. She held Tobin as sobs shook Tobin’s frame in her arms. She held Tobin as time passed and the night wore on, as her arms grew tired and her eyes grew heavy. But she never let go. She wouldn’t let go.