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Chapter 25:  

There’s a rhythm in rush these days

Where the lights don’t move and the colors don’t fade

Leaves you empty with nothing but dreams

In a world gone shallow

In a world gone lean

And I will wait for you tonight

You’re here forever and you’re by my side

I’ve been waiting all my life

To feel your heart as it’s keeping time

We’ll do whatever just to stay alive

(Tobin - “Stay Alive” by José González)

 

So much talking, swear that's all you ever do

Show me something before I show something to you

When you gonna take me out?

Make a move and make it now

When you gonna take me out?

(Christen - “Take Me” by Aly & AJ)

 

WEDNESDAY

“He did not!” Christen snorted loudly, hiding her mouth behind her hand.

They were sitting in the back corner of the dining hall, on the same side of a small booth. Christen was completely turned to face Tobin, hanging on her every word. Tobin was telling her some story about her art class this morning, and Christen couldn't get enough of the way Tobin's eyes lit up when she talked, or the way her smile grew at a particularly funny part, or the way her laugh filled the space around them. Christen reached out to rub her thumb along Tobin’s forearm, just wanting to be even closer to her.

Tobin stilled at the contact, unable to keep her eyes off of Christen’s hand. Her conversation with Allie yesterday kept running through her mind, “The slower the better. You don’t want to scare her.” On top of the anxiety she felt about not knowing exactly what Christen wanted from her...physically, Tobin hadn’t slept more than a couple of hours the night before. She’d woken up drenched in sweat and gasping for air after an hour of sleep and a horrible nightmare about the accident. She hadn’t felt like trying to sleep after that, opting instead to work out in her bedroom and read ahead for one of her classes. She hadn’t wanted to go back to sleep and fall into another nightmare. It was easier to just be tired. 

Tobin pulled her arm out from under Christen’s fingers, toward her side of the table. At the last minute, she decided to reach for her water bottle, so that Christen didn’t think she was pulling away from her...even though she kind of was. She just didn’t want to be too touchy. She didn’t want Christen to think she had to be touchy before they were ready. 

“Yup. Then he offered to give a demonstration to the rest of the class, which of course, the professor turned down,” Tobin laughed, wishing she wasn’t so worried about crossing lines, wishing that this wasn’t new to her, that she could be experienced for Christen. 

Christen joined in on Tobin’s laughter. “Sometimes I wish I took just one art class, the students sound like they’re cut from a different cloth.”

“Some of them are really cool, and some of them...are...interesting?” Tobin offered, not wanting to say anything rude about her classmates, despite how weird a lot of them were. 

Christen tilted her head forward, intent on kissing Tobin and showing her just how interesting Christen found her. But right as she was about to catch Tobin’s lips, Tobin turned and Christen kissed her cheek instead. 

Confused, Christen leaned back a bit. She chuckled weakly, trying not to overthink the second dodged kiss in two days. 

“You’re definitely cool and interesting, Tobs,” Christen hummed, reaching out to wipe the bit of chapstick she’d gotten on Tobin’s cheek off. As her hand fell back to the table, Christen let her eyes track across Tobin’s face. She could see a slight hesitation, a slight distance in her eyes, and plenty of exhaustion. 

Tobin felt a desperate urge to call Allie Long. The more time she spent with Christen, the more she realized that she had absolutely no idea what slow meant. She should have asked her roommate when she’d had the chance. Christen was leaning in for kisses in public, despite the fact that most of their teammates didn’t know about them. She was touchy and sweet and sitting so close, and it was taking all of Tobin’s willpower not to pull her even closer and kiss Christen the way she wanted to. Not to drag her into the nearest janitor’s closet or empty room and kiss her desperately, all hot and needy and wanting.

Instead, Tobin reached out and squeezed Christen’s hand quickly, not lingering too long but not totally ignoring Christen’s affection. She needed to talk to Allie tonight as soon as practice was over. There was no way that she could survive being in Christen’s room tonight, especially if she didn’t have a game plan about what was slow and what was too fast. 

“Tobs?”

“Yeah?” Tobin asked, pulling herself away from her thoughts.

“Are you one of those people who hates PDA or something?” Christen wondered, cocking her head to the side.

“What?” Tobin asked, completely caught off guard by Christen’s question. 

“I just- never mind. Stupid question,” Christen replied, turning back to her half-touched grilled cheese sandwich. This was weird, this was so weird. Last night, they’d fallen asleep with sweet words and happy smiles. But now it felt like the last thing Tobin wanted was to be near her. Christen couldn’t help but wonder what had happened between last night’s Facetime and now. 

Christen had thought they were on the same page. She thought they’d established ground rules, set the pace, and were in sync. But it didn’t feel in sync at all as she sat there playing with her grilled cheese and Tobin sat stiffly beside her.

“Are you excited about practice tonight?” Tobin asked, trying to change the subject. 

“Hmm let me think,” Christen said, narrowing her eyes teasingly at Tobin, desperately trying to get them back on track. “I get to play the sport I love with the best team in the country, and I get to watch you run around on the field, showing off just how amazing you are. Oh, and then lowkey check you out during water breaks. So yeah, you could say I’m excited,” Christen chuckled, knocking her shoulder into Tobin’s lightly.

“Slow. You can be super slow for her. That’s what she wants...I think. What the hell does she want?” Tobin dragged herself out of her thoughts again to smile at Christen, shoving a forkful of fried rice into her mouth to avoid having to respond. She didn’t need to tell Christen she’d be checking her out too. In fact, she was going to be trying her best not to check her out. She was trying to be respectful. She was trying not to screw anything up before they really even got a chance to do things right. 

A few moments of silence passed, where Tobin continued to eat and Christen shot her occasional looks. Right when Christen had worked up the nerve to ask Tobin what the heck was going on with her today, Tobin slid out of the booth.

“Shoot, I have a meeting with Foudy in fifteen minutes,” Tobin rushed out. “I totally forgot.”

Christen swallowed the momentary disappointment. She looked up at Tobin, reaching out to snag one of Tobin’s hands and trying to smile at her.

“That’s okay, I’ll see you in the locker room soon.”

Tobin leaned down and pressed a quick kiss to the corner of Christen’s mouth, not lingering long enough for Christen to adjust and kiss her back. “I’ll see you,” Tobin said, grabbing her tray and taking it to the trash, sending a wave over her shoulder before she left the cafeteria. 

Christen watched Tobin go, dropping her elbow to the table and propping her chin on her hand. 

“What the actual fuck?” she whispered to herself. Something was definitely going on with Tobin. She was usually so touchy-feely, usually more than happy to hold hands and sit close together. But now it seemed like it physically pained Tobin to be in her presence. 

Christen pulled out her phone.

 

Group Text:  ROOMIES

[Christen 1:45PM]

What does it mean if Tobs hasn’t kissed me in two days? Is something wrong with me? Should I be popping some Tic-Tacs or what?

[Crystal 1:46PM]

Wait what?

[Christen 1:45PM]

We haven’t kissed since Monday night. I keep trying, but she dodges it.

[Pinoe 1:46PM]

WTF Tobito, a kiss dodger? From you? Blasphemy!

[Kel 1:46PM] 

Maybe she doesn’t like your toothpaste flavor?

[Crystal 1:46PM]

Christen, come meet me in the LR. We can girl talk it out!

 

Christen sighed and gathered her stuff, throwing away her still barely touched grilled cheese sandwich. She suddenly wasn’t very hungry, too confused and bordering on concerned. Was her decision to ask Tobin to take things slow freaking Tobin out? Was Tobin against PDA and people seeing them together? 

She just hoped Crystal could offer some clarity, and if she couldn’t, Christen would get Tobin to talk to her about it. They’d gone too long being bad at communication. They couldn’t keep doing that now that things had changed between them for the better. 


“How are you settling in here, Heath?”

“Great!” Tobin said, sitting up straighter in the chair across from Coach Foudy’s desk. “It was a somewhat rocky start, but I feel like I’m settling in.” 

Foudy nodded. “It was, which is why I’m a little worried about our first PAC-12 match coming up in a few weeks. Stanford will be gunning for us and I’d like to avoid in-fighting.”

“There won’t be any more of that,” Tobin promised, her voice somewhat pleading. She wanted to play, and she didn’t want any of the past conflicts between Christen and Christen’s friends to get in the way of that, not when everything was getting better. 

Coach Foudy gave Tobin a knowing look. She might be a bit older than these college kids, but she wasn’t blind. She’d noticed the shifting energy in practice, during their most recent away games. Her star players had gone from being at each other’s throats to actively being in each other’s presence again. It reminded her of the magic she’d seen in Portland. 

“I hope you’re right, Heath. I’d like to play you and Press together, just like Portland. How would you feel about that?” Foudy asked with a smile.

“That would be awesome!” Tobin said, nearly bouncing from her seat. “Chris- I mean, Press and I can totally work together, just like Portland. Stanford won’t know what’s coming.” 

“Agreed. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing in training, and you’ll be game-ready. I’m happy you’ve found a home here.”

“Thanks,” Tobin said. “Thanks for a lot, actually. I know I’ve already thanked you for letting me come here, but thanks for Portland too…” Tobin trailed off. “I don’t know how I would have coped or gotten on that plane to Sacramento without you.” Tobin looked down at her sneakers. She’d originally thought that coming to UCLA, playing with Christen and under Foudy would be too much, that it would bring too many bad memories. It was the opposite, though. Foudy had been there for her in her worst moment, and other than Allie, she was the most comforting presence during her first weeks at UCLA. 

“When opportunity knocks, I find it best to open the door,” Foudy replied thoughtfully. “And you’re welcome. I...I’ve been there, getting bad news at camps. It’s never easy and I’m sorry I had to be the one to deliver it. I’m just glad everything’s settled down for you and that your family is doing better. If I played some small part in smoothing out your transition to this team, then I’m happy.”

Tobin nodded, not really having much more to say. She glanced up to her coach and smiled softly. 

“Go get ready for training,” Foudy said gently, smiling at Tobin as she nodded at the door.

“Got it,” Tobin said, standing up from the chair and grabbing her backpack. 

Right as Tobin got to the door, Foudy added one final sentiment to their conversation. “And Heath? It’s not always easy, but just try to keep your life outside of this team, off of the field. The bad and the good,” Foudy winked. 

Tobin blushed for a second at the thought that Foudy knew about the good. “Of course, Coach,” she nodded, pushing the door open and heading down the hall. 


“Did I read it wrong? Am I the one giving out mixed signals? Has the definition of slow changed?” Christen wondered and worried, sitting in front of Crystal’s locker, slinging a soccer ball between her hands.

“I don’t think so,” Crystal hummed. “I mean, you and Tobin haven’t really done anything that doesn’t constitute slow, right?” 

“Not at all, like sure things get a little-” Christen stopped, her cheeks heating.

“Go ahead, I won’t tell Megan or Kelley,” Crystal grinned, pulling on her socks. 

Christen chuckled. “They get...heated. Which is amazing, don’t get me wrong. And I thought we were both very much enjoying that, but now I feel like we’ve taken five humongous steps backward. We went from ditching shirts to...middle school hand-holding?”

“Did you say anything to her to make her feel like you wanted to step back? Other than saying you wanted to keep things slow,” Crystal asked. 

Christen groaned and flopped back onto the locker room floor, the soccer ball on her stomach. 

“Not that I can think of? All I said was no sex and no nightly sleepovers,” Christen replied with a long sigh.

“Listen, Tobin’s completely whipped for you. If she’s acting weird, it’s probably because she’s trying to do something for you, right?” Crystal offered, trying to keep her friend optimistic. 

“Probably...I just-” Christen shook her head. “I don’t know and that’s the worst part. I just don’t know. But that means I just have to talk to her about it. Which I’m totally going to.”

“You should talk to her. You two definitely need to work on that, no offense. Maybe she had a bad experience?” Crystal brainstormed, her eyebrows scrunching together. “Like with a former girlfriend or something. I mean, you don’t know who she was with before you, right?” 

Christen sighed again and sat up, fixing Crystal with a look. “I don’t. Somehow it never came up when we were avoiding our feelings for each other for two years, shocking right?”

“What a surprise,” Crystal rolled her eyes. “So, maybe she’s been hurt by someone, or maybe she’s freaked out by too much PDA or touching. Who knows, but you can ask and find out.”

“I’m going to. Tonight,” Christen nodded. “There’s no way it’s my toothpaste right? Kelley’s gotta be wrong…”

“Breathe,” Crystal said, waving her hand to bring Christen’s breath closer to her. 

Christen grimaced but leaned forward. “I brushed hours ago, but okay, new friendship level reached.” Christen leaned forward, breathed into Crystal’s face, and backed up, chuckling through her embarrassment.

“Nope, you’re good,” Crystal grinned, leaning back into her locker. “Tobin probably just has some past issues. Let’s just hope it isn’t serious because she’s been through enough.”

Christen sobered at the thought, unable to forget how exhausted Tobin looked at lunch, unable to push down the worry she felt when Tobin didn’t get enough sleep. “Yeah, I don’t want to add to that.”

“Just be your gentle, kind self. You’re Tobin’s favorite person. If she talks to anyone about the hard stuff, it’ll be you,” Crystal said, squeezing Christen’s hand. 

Christen nodded, her ears picking up on the familiar scuffing of shoes along the locker room floor. She turned, looking at Tobin strut into the room.

“What’s up, dudes,” Tobin hummed, nodding her head at both Crystal and Christen. She made her way to her locker without another word or any touch. 

“Did Tobin just call me dude?” Christen thought. Christen watched Tobin drop into her locker and then turned to look at Crystal. 

“Did she…” Christen whispered, eyes widened in alarm.

“Yeah. You gotta talk,” Crystal muttered, pulling on her cleats and lacing them slowly, glancing between Christen and Tobin with a concerned look the entire time. 


Tobin stood apart from the group and juggled one of the soccer balls at her feet, half-listening to Coach Foudy explain their plans for practice. She hadn’t spoken a word to Christen since the locker room, and she was kicking herself for using the word dude, for making Christen’s face scrunch up in confusion, something she’d been doing a lot of lately. Christen’s confusion honestly only made Tobin more confused, though. 

“...and we’re going to start with a soccer tennis tournament. Since I’m in a good mood today, I’ll even let you pick your own partners!” Coach Foudy said.

 “Yesss!” Mal cheered, linking her arm with Rose. 

Christen brightened at the announcement, looking quickly over at Tobin who stood a few feet away from her. Things might be weird but she wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to team up with her girl.

“Go find your partner and a team to play against,” Foudy announced with a smile.

Christen elbowed by Alyssa and Ashlyn, who were already teaming up, and stepped up to Tobin.

“Partners?” she asked softly, trying and failing to keep her smile off her face.

Tobin froze, letting the ball she was juggling fall at her feet. There was something about Christen in soccer shorts that was becoming more difficult to ignore. She wouldn’t be able to survive being Christen’s partner for a whole hour of soccer tennis. Not when she couldn’t look at Christen without wondering what it could be like to slip her shirt off and- “Be respectful. Be calm. Go slow,” she reminded herself, shaking her head softly. 

“Tobs?” Christen asked again, her shoulders falling a bit at Tobin’s continued lack of excitement. Crystal had assured her that maybe things would get better at practice. Tobin always was so relaxed and at peace here, there was no way whatever was going on with Tobin would affect them on the field too. Apparently not. 

“Shoot, I already promised Harry,” Tobin lied, scratching at the back of her neck. 

Hearing her name, Allie looked over at Tobin and Christen. “No you didn’t-” Allie started to say, only to be interrupted by Tobin.

“Yeah, I did, dude,” Tobin said, wishing that Allie could read the urgency in her eyes. 

Getting the unspoken message, Allie forced a smile at Christen. “Right, I...forgot. Sorry C.P.!”

Christen looked between Allie and Tobin, her confusion and concern coiling in her stomach. She tried to catch Tobin’s eye but couldn’t.

“Harry and I will play against you though!” Allie offered, making Tobin completely deflate. 

The only thing Tobin could think of that would be more difficult than playing right next to Christen was playing right across from her. She was going to die, spending the first hour of practice standing across from Christen, in all her muscly, sweaty glory. 

Christen blinked rapidly and turned to Allie. “Uh, sure, I just need-”

“I’ll be your partner, Pressy!” Kelley offered, slinging an arm across Christen’s shoulders. “At least I don’t find your spearmint toothpaste offensive.”

Christen pushed Kelley’s arm off of her shoulders, her cheeks flaming.

“What?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side. 

“Move it or lose it, ladies!” Coach Foudy yelled, pointing at one of the soccer tennis fields. 

Christen sighed and followed Kelley to their side of the net, shooting looks over her shoulder at Tobin.

“Harry?” Tobin whispered under her breath, looping her arm through Allie’s. “I’m dying.”

“You must be if you just turned down the chance to be C.P.’s partner.  What the heck is wrong with you!” Allie said, knocking her hip into Tobin’s as they walked.

“She’s trying to kill me. How am I supposed to go slow, like she asked, when she keeps touching me and trying to kiss me and being all cute?” Tobin whispered, bending down to check her laces, just to kill time to get her words across to Allie. 

Allie squatted down next to Tobin and clapped a hand on Tobin’s shoulder. “Ah, the woes of loving a woman. So you’re saying C.P. is too sexy and thus you’re avoiding her so you won’t go too fast?”

“She wants to go slow, right? So, I’m trying to be respectful. Avoiding her is literally the only way to go slow,” Tobin huffed. 

“When I said the slower the better, I didn’t mean suck the life out of-” Allie started.

“Heath! Long! Why are you staring at your shoes?!” Coach Foudy called.

“They’re cute shoes, Coach!” Allie replied, standing up and pulling Tobin to her feet as well.

“Tell me later?” Tobin begged, wanting any advice Allie could give her.

“I’m staying over at Bati’s tonight. We’ll have a Harry talk tomorrow?” Allie asked, starting the match off by kicking the ball over the net toward Kelley and Christen. 

Tobin cringed, knowing she was scheduled to stay over at Christen’s tonight, but there was no way she could spend the night with Christen if she couldn’t even control her thoughts on the soccer field. 

Christen could barely focus on anything except Tobin the entire soccer tennis match. She was mesmerized by the sweaty baby hairs that fell into Tobin’s face, the way she’d stick her tongue out of the corner of her mouth in concentration, the deft touches and smooth passes that always were placed perfectly. She only wished Tobin could be that calm and confident in their budding relationship. She was desperate to know why Tobin would barely touch her, would barely even look at her. 

Thankfully, Kelley was a genius at soccer tennis and was able to keep them in the game. They were up by one point and needed one more to win. Kelley served the ball over the net. Christen watched as Allie trapped it and sent the ball to Tobin in the air. It soared over Tobin’s head, and Christen was sure victory was theirs.

Tobin hadn’t been too focused on the game, even if she was pretending to be. She’d been too distracted by the muscles in Christen’s legs and the way Christen squinted in concentration. She’d been too worried about her night with Christen and the temptation that she’d feel being that close to her, in her bed, pressed against her. She was too nervous about not being experienced enough and not being respectful enough, about not being enough for Christen.  

“Harry!” Allie yelled, bringing Tobin’s attention to the ball.

Tobin’s eyes snapped from Christen’s legs to the ball soaring over her head. She stepped back on her left foot and lifted her right leg behind her, just hoping that the ball would hit her heel perfectly and she could volley it over to Allie. She didn’t look over her shoulder; she just hoped that she was right, and somehow she was. The ball hit her heel; all Tobin had to do was lean forward slightly to change the ball’s direction and send it to Allie. 

“Use your head,” Tobin called over to Allie, knowing the ball was going to be high in the air. 

Allie headed the ball over the net, thinking that they had scored the equalizing point with that heroic effort. 

But Christen sprinted forward and slid across the grass, poking her toe under the ball before it hit the ground and sending it over to Kelley. Kelley headed it up to herself and then sent a volley over the net. The ball hit the grass right next to Tobin’s cleat, ensuring victory for Kelley and Christen. Christen slapped the grass in celebration and collapsed backward onto the ground, not bothering to fix her shorts that had ridden up quite high on her legs because of the slide across the grass. 

Tobin’s eyes were glued to the new expanse of skin that was revealed due to Christen’s valiant save. She wasn’t able to even step toward the ball, her mind completely blank, distracted by Christen’s muscular quads and the huge smile on her face. Christen was without a doubt the most beautiful, sexiest person Tobin had ever seen, and she was failing at the whole ‘go slow’ thing. Her mind was moving rapidly, her eyes practically undressing Christen by the second. She needed to get off this field and fast. She needed to get her thoughts under control so that she wouldn’t act on them later. 

“Switch fields, losers stay, winners, move up!” Coach Foudy called out.

Kelley looked across the field at Tobin and then nodded down at Christen. “Clean up, aisle three, Tobito!” she called, jogging over to the next field.

Tobin walked around the net, forcing herself to think G-rated thoughts and offering a hand to Christen when she got to her side. 

Christen lifted her head and looked at Tobin’s outstretched hand. She took it with a smile, relishing in the warmth of Tobin’s palm against her own. Her skin tingled at the contact and it made her want to be somewhere else, anywhere else, with Tobin. So they could talk, so they could do more than talk, so they could put all this weirdness behind them.

“That was a good save, Chris,” Tobin offered, sending Christen a smile. 

“Thanks,” Christen hummed, letting Tobin pull her up to her feet, accidentally stepping in too close to Tobin and bringing their faces within inches of each other. 

“Good game,” Tobin husked, taking a step back from Christen. 

Christen felt her brow furrow for the millionth time that day. There was no quippy remark, no lingering look at her lips. Nothing. She knew they were at practice and that they had to keep things professional, but she at least expected a wink or suggestive smirk or something .

“Uh, you too, Tobs,” Christen called out, watching Tobin walk away from her. Whatever was going on, they couldn’t ignore it. Christen decided then and there that she was going to talk to Tobin about this, about whatever had created this weird space between them. Two days ago they’d been on cloud nine, and now it felt like she was getting the cold shoulder. But instead of shutting down and worrying, Christen decided to woman up and say something. 

She got her chance at their last water break of the practice. She stood next to Crystal and Megan, passing a water bottle back and forth. She then felt a presence near her elbow and turned to see Tobin bending down to put her water bottle back down on the grass. 

Christen excused herself from Crystal and Megan and stepped over to Tobin. She hovered near Tobin, inches away from her, facing the field.

“You’re being weird and six months ago I would have been upset and petty and ignored you or something, but I’m not going to do that,” Christen whispered as Tobin stood up.

“I’m not trying to be weird,” Tobin whispered back, her shoulders slumping slightly. 

“We can talk about that tonight,” Christen replied, reaching out to squeeze Tobin’s bicep quickly, trying to comfort her with her touch even if her words held a bit of a warning in them.

“I have a lot of work tonight,” Tobin said, her voice wobbly, knowing that she was avoiding Christen because she was nervous, knowing that she shouldn’t be making excuses, knowing that she needed to talk to Christen. The only person who could actually make her feel better in this situation was the green-eyed forward that she didn’t want to have to spill all her insecurities to. 

“Relationships are work, I’m glad you agree. We’ve got work to do,” Christen hummed under her breath, conscious that their teammates were still nearby. She squeezed Tobin’s arm once more and then walked off.

Tobin deflated, hating that she’d have to tell Christen just how inexperienced she actually was in just a few hours. 


Christen juggled the two pints of Phish Food ice cream, her phone, her house keys, and her school bag as she walked up the steps to Tobin’s townhouse. She knocked twice, then stepped back from the door, blowing out a long breath. Whatever was going on, whatever had Tobin pulling away, they were going to talk about it and overcome it, together. 

“What’s up, Press?” Ashlyn answered the door, a small grin on her face. 

“Tobs, here?” Christen asked, returning Ashlyn’s smile.

“Oh, you’re here to see Tobin? What happened to hating her?” Ashlyn teased, knowing full well that the two were more than friends. 

“Hate is...on a hiatus,” Christen shrugged, hoping the blush in her cheeks wasn’t going to give her away.

“You don’t have to act like you don’t care around me,” Ashlyn whispered. “I live here. I hear every single Harry conversation about you.” 

Christen’s blush deepened. “I- uh- cool, gotcha,” she replied, bouncing from foot to foot.

“Yesterday’s was a hoot,” Ashlyn laughed, stepping to the side and letting Christen into the house. 

“What was yesterday’s?” Christen wondered, stepping inside.

“Oh, Tobin being a worrywart and Allie not helping at all. Just the usual stuff when you ask a straight girl how to work a queer relationship if you ask me.”

Christen chuckled and grinned at Ashlyn. “I apologize in advance if she bothers you.”

“There are spoons in the drawer closest to the fridge,” Ashlyn pointed. “Bring me one of those next time, and all will be forgiven,” Ashlyn added with a wink. “I’m headed out, Ali’s visiting and has a sweet hotel set up, so the house is yours.”

Christen nodded in goodbye as Ashlyn walked out the front door. Once Ashlyn was gone, Christen stopped to get two spoons before climbing the stairs. She hesitated at the top of the stairs, seeing three doorways and not knowing which one belonged to Tobin. But then she noticed that one door had a letter “A” on it, and the other had a “KEEP OUT!” sign on it, leaving the third one bare. That third one was definitely Tobin’s. 

Christen paused at the door, momentarily wondering if this unannounced drop by was going to be okay. But then she remembered the weirdness from Tobin these past few days, the aversion to touches and smiles and everything they’d been doing, and Christen pushed through that hesitation. She knocked twice on the door with the toe of her shoe, waiting for an answer. 

Getting none, Christen rearranged the stuff in her arms to open the door and peek her head inside. 

Tobin was sitting on the floor, her back to the door, in a pair of sweatpants, a ratty t-shirt, and huge headphones perched on her head. Her head was bobbing up and down to whatever song she was listening to, and she was peeling the tape off of the canvas that Christen had seen her working on during their Facetime call. The shapes were now all painted, and most of the tape was wadded into a ball by Tobin’s bare feet. 

Christen smiled a bit at how adorable Tobin looked, and at how beautiful Tobin’s painting was, and then tiptoed into the room, shutting the door behind her. She cleared her throat, trying to get Tobin’s attention. Tobin didn’t seem to hear her, so she tried again. Failing to get Tobin’s attention for the second time, Christen slipped off her slide and flicked it in Tobin’s direction, her shoe landing right next to Tobin.

“JESUS!” Tobin screamed, her voice rising several octaves in the process. She turned around on the floor and ripped the headphones off of her head, nearly getting tangled up in the long strip of tape she was holding. 

Christen stifled a laugh, her cheeks flaming a bit in embarrassment at having startled Tobin so bad. “Sorry, Tobs,” Christen said, awkwardly waving with her elbow since her hands were full. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I think I just had a heart attack,” Tobin gasped, holding her chest in surprise, still catching her breath. 

Christen cringed slightly. “I brought Phish Food if that makes you feel any better?” 

“How did you know I was in need of ice cream?” Tobin asked, leaning back on her hands and flashing a smile at Christen. 

“I’ve known you for a long time, Tobin Heath. So I know something’s bothering you, and Phish Food is always the answer,” Christen replied, taking another step into the room, unsure whether to join Tobin on the floor or where to go. It was then that Christen remembered she’d never been in Tobin’s room before. She let her eyes roam, taking in the piles of art supplies and blank canvases, the rack full of shoes under the window. Tobin’s bed was tucked into the corner of the room, the yellow sheets partially covered by a black and white striped comforter. The walls were covered in framed photographs and posters, a smattering of art pieces as well. The room felt very Tobin, with its light walls and soft colors. Christen finally looked back at Tobin, a small smile tugging at her lips despite her confusion.

Tobin lowered her head, wishing that she’d acted more normal after their conversation, that she’d acted more experienced, despite having no idea what she was doing. She picked up the canvas and pushed it under her bed to store it out of sight. Then she tossed the wad of tape into her trash can, all the while searching her brain for something that she could say. 

“Yeah, Phish Food is pretty great that way,” Tobin mumbled, standing up from her spot on the floor. 

“We can eat downstairs if you want? Ash’s gone to see Kriegs, so I think the house is empty considering I haven’t seen Allie anywhere,” Christen offered.

“We don’t need to eat downstairs. Here is fine,” Tobin shook her head. “Here,” Tobin walked across her room and pulled out a chair that had been covered by a tarp, one of the many tarps and sheets she used to protect her floor from paint. She pulled the seat away from the wall and gestured for Christen to sit before grabbing the other chair in her room and moving it to sit across from Christen. 

Christen smiled in gratitude and dropped her stuff onto Tobin’s desk, sitting in the chair and turning to face Tobin. She grabbed a pint of Phish Food and a spoon and held it out to Tobin. 

“Want some now? Or later?”

“Later’s fine. Thanks,” Tobin sighed, not feeling hungry in the slightest. In fact, she worried that she might be sick as soon as Christen broached the subject of Tobin’s weird behavior. “Oh here, I have a freezer,” Tobin offered, taking the pints and putting them in the top portion of the mini-fridge she’d inherited from Allie for her room. 

“So...want to tell me what’s going on?” Christen asked, crossing her legs and hating the physical distance between them, but respecting it if Tobin needed it.

“I-” Tobin sighed, closing her eyes slightly. The familiar prick of exhaustion sat at the back of her eyes, and closing them gave her a second of reprieve. “I don’t want to mess this up,” Tobin whispered, painfully aware that she likely already had. 

Christen tilted her head to the side, fixing Tobin with a look. “I know, I don’t want to either. But how does your not wanting to mess this up translate to you avoiding me?”

“You said you wanted to take things slow, which I’m totally okay with. I like slow. I-” Tobin started, feeling herself start to ramble.

“Baby, I said slow, not glacial,” Christen interrupted, the endearment slipping from her lips without permission for the second time. She didn’t even really notice it, too caught up in trying to understand where they’d miscommunicated. “I didn’t want to turn back the clocks and start at zero, though. I loved where we were at.”

Tobin paused, unable to respond with her stomach somersaulting at Christen’s use of the word baby. No one had ever called her that. She hadn’t even realized she’d like to be called that, not before Christen. 

“I didn’t know what slow meant,” Tobin sighed. “I didn’t want to freak you out or make you think that I only wanted to be with you for…” Tobin gestured at Christen’s body across from her. 

“Oh, Tobs,” Christen sighed, getting up from her chair, having had enough of this distance. She knelt in front of Tobin, taking Tobin’s hands in her own and looking up at those guarded brown eyes. “I guess I should have defined slow for us, huh? That’s on me. I’m sorry. I know you don’t just want to be with me for...that. I promise.”

“Not that that’s not great. You’re hot,” Tobin blurted. “You don’t need to apologize. Anyone else would have probably known what slow means,” Tobin shrugged. 

Christen blushed but didn’t look away from Tobin. “You’re sweet to say so, but I’m not worried about anyone else. Only you.”

Tobin sighed, running her thumb along one of Christen’s fingers. She wanted to kick herself for not just asking, for being shy and insecure, and not telling Christen that she was worried or confused or whatever she’d felt in the moment. She’d missed this, the closeness. She’d missed how perfectly calm she felt around Christen, how Christen knew how to read her and how to talk to her. 

“Can I ask you something? And I’m not judging or anything like that, I just want to know,” Christen asked gently, lifting Tobin’s hands and pressing soft kisses to the backs of them.

“Sure,” Tobin sighed, knowing exactly what Christen was about to ask. She’d known this question was coming as soon as she realized she didn’t even know what Christen expected the pace of their relationship to be like. 

“Is this your first relationship?” Christen asked, the expression on her face soft and open.

Tobin bit her bottom lip, nodding softly. “I mean technically…” 

Christen arched a brow, waiting for Tobin to finish her sentence. 

“I mean there was a guy in middle school that I let hold my hand once. I kissed a girl after my sophomore year of high school. Then there was a sort of relationship with another girl for like a week during my junior year, but soccer kept me kind of busy, and she didn’t like that. And there was a girl my senior year that I hung out with for a bit, but she said I was too…” Tobin faltered, not meaning to spill that much detail about things that she thought were embarrassing. 

Christen listened as Tobin spoke, pressing gentle kisses to the backs of Tobin’s hands and keeping her eyes on Tobin’s the entire time. She wanted Tobin to know she was here, that she was listening.

“Too what?” Christen asked softly.

“Too inexperienced. I think she wanted someone who could rock her world or something,” Tobin whispered, shrugging her shoulders lightly. 

Christen let her eyes fall shut, anger flashing through her, targeted at whoever had the audacity to make Tobin, her Tobin, feel insecure and scared and embarrassed. She wanted to kiss away those worries, to hold Tobin until she didn’t think about that girl or what she said anymore.

“That girl had no idea how incredible you are,” Christen whispered, kissing Tobin’s hands once more before standing up and pulling Tobin to her feet. She quickly wrapped her arms around Tobin’s shoulders, pulling her in for a tight hug. “I’m sorry she told you that.”

“Well, she also wasn’t you, so there wasn’t a lot going for her,” Tobin hummed, pressing her face into Christen’s neck. 

Christen just held Tobin for a few moments, one hand tracing over Tobin’s back while the other scratched at Tobin’s scalp. She had no idea that all of this was weighing on Tobin. They’d never really dug into their romantic pasts over the last few years, tactfully avoiding any mention of past relationships. But now, Christen wished they had. She wished she’d known Tobin had never done this before. She wished she’d known that Tobin didn’t know how to navigate a new relationship. She wished she’d known that Tobin harbored such negative thoughts about herself, thoughts planted within her by someone else. 

“If only you could see you how I see you, then you’d never have to doubt how extraordinary you are,” Christen hummed, pressing a kiss to Tobin’s temple. “I just wished I’d known, then I really would have made sure we were on the same page about all of this. I’m sorry, Tobs.”

“I’m sorry I dodged your kisses,” Tobin sighed. 

Christen chuckled, rubbing her hand across Tobin’s back. “It’s okay, I feel better now knowing why you did. That it wasn’t because you suddenly decided not to do this or something.”

“Are you kidding me?” Tobin leaned back to look at Christen. “You’re Christen Press. I’ve thought about doing this for two years. I just- I know that you’ve been with people, and you’re more experienced. I don’t want to be bad at this. You’re too important to me.”

“You could never be bad at this,” Christen replied. She immediately wanted to kiss that fear away. She wanted to kiss Tobin until Tobin realized how good she was at this already. But she hesitated, her eyes dancing between Tobin’s.

“Can I please kiss you?” Christen whispered.

Tobin leaned forward, kissing Christen gently, brushing her fingers along the soft baby hairs on Christen’s neck. 

Christen sighed into the kiss, letting her lips do the talking. She wanted to tell Tobin that she had nothing to worry about. That she was already better at this than anyone else. That it didn’t matter if she was inexperienced. That this thing between them was magical and perfect and right, no matter what the road that had led them there looked like. 

Tobin quickly pulled back. “Can I also say that I didn’t mean to stick you with Kelley at practice, even if it turned out to work in your favor? You look really good in those shorts, and I didn’t trust myself not to...well not to be...not slow?” Tobin stuttered. 

Christen scrunched her nose, holding in a laugh. “I think we need to redefine slow, get us both on the same page,” Christen replied with a smile, leaning back in to capture Tobin’s lips.

“You called me baby,” Tobin murmured against Christen’s lips, a smile breaking across her face at the memory.

Christen nodded, hoping Tobin wouldn’t notice her blush if they kept kissing. “It just slipped out, I can stop saying it if you want,” Christen mumbled.

“Not for the first time either. You said it in San Diego,” Tobin laughed. “Please don’t stop,” Tobin whispered, pulling Christen closer. 

Christen nodded and wrapped her arms tighter around Tobin, running her teeth teasingly along Tobin’s bottom lip. “Rule #4, kissing is good. Very good, and definitely counts as slow,” Christen whispered, tightening her grasp on Tobin’s hair. She backed them up toward Tobin’s bed, her lips moving from Tobin’s lips, down across her jaw, latching onto her pulse point and sucking hard. “I missed this,” Christen said, her words whispered into Tobin’s skin.

Tobin let out a soft moan, warmth flooding her body with each touch and taste of Christen’s hands and lips.  “Me too, baby,” Tobin sighed, knowing and not even caring that Christen was probably going to leave a hickey on her neck. 

Christen groaned, sucking a bit harder on Tobin’s neck when she heard the word baby leave Tobin’s lips. She’d never really been one for terms of endearment, and she’d never really been a fan of baby. Other people had tried to use it, and it never felt right. It always made her skin crawl. But when Tobin said it? It made her heart race and her palms tingle and her entire body sing.

“Rule #5,” Tobin sighed, her skin burning against Christen’s hands that had crept under her shirt. “You can take off my shirt any time you want, but the bra stays on if we’re going to follow rule #3.”

Christen chuckled against the skin of Tobin’s neck, leaning back and admiring her handiwork. A small, purplish bruise was already forming on the side of Tobin’s neck, and even if a small part of her felt bad, Christen couldn’t help the thrill of excitement she felt at the sight of it. She looked up and met Tobin’s eyes. 

“Same goes. And I should have said this earlier, but I don’t care about experience. Everything we do is our first time doing it, together. That’s what counts,” Christen replied, a smile aimed in Tobin’s direction.

“I love you. I love you. I love you” ran through Tobin’s mind at warp speed, nearly knocking her off her feet. Instead, Tobin whispered a soft, “Thank you,” against Christen’s cheek, placing kisses against her skin, along her jaw, and down her neck. 

Christen hummed, knowing Tobin had nothing to say thank you for, but not wanting to distract Tobin from whatever magic she was working.

Tobin’s thumbs slipped under Christen’s shirt, tracing across Christen’s stomach and ribs softly, as gently as she’d ever touched anything or anyone. She loved the way Christen’s skin felt so smooth against her fingers, how warm Christen felt pressed against her, how just a simple touch could leave her hands tingling for hours. 

Christen felt like her skin was on fire, Tobin’s touch leaving sparks in its wake. She had said slow, and she meant slow, but Tobin also had established rule #5. Rules were meant to be followed. Christen released her hold on Tobin and lifted her arms up, silently asking for Tobin to take her shirt off. She just needed to be closer to Tobin right now. She needed to feel Tobin against her. 

Tobin hadn’t even realized she was holding her breath until she let out a long puff of air. She pulled back to look at Christen, just to make sure that she was reading her signal correctly. 

“Tobs, you’re reading this right. Please?” Christen asked, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction. She smirked at the foggy look in Tobin’s eyes, at the desire dripping from Tobin’s small smile. 

Tobin pulled Christen’s shirt up and over Christen’s head in one fluid motion, her eyes grazing over skin that she’d seen before but rarely allowed herself to admire. She brushed her fingers up and down Christen’s ribs, watching as her stomach clenched with each touch. 

“Too much? You okay?” Christen asked, her words breathy and choked, dripping with desire. She wanted to make sure that this was okay with both of them. She might be the one with her shirt off, but Tobin was the one who had been feeling lost and adrift in this new relationship. Christen had to check in with her, ignoring the clenching of her stomach and the inferno raging beneath her skin.

“You’re beautiful,” Tobin husked, leaning down to kiss Christen’s collar bones softly. “You’re so beautiful.” She ran her fingers over Christen’s hips and along Christen’s back, tracing words on her skin, words that she hoped Christen couldn’t decipher, words that she was thinking but wasn’t ready to speak aloud just yet. Tobin didn’t speak the words. She kept her mouth busy against Christen’s shoulder, placing a few small kisses there before working her way back up her neck, along her jaw, across every inch of Christen’s face until she found her lips again. 

Christen’s eyes fluttered closed and she let Tobin’s words wash over her, healing every small fissure left in her heart. Whatever scars or jagged edges she’d retained from the summer, from every moment since then, they were instantly healed by Tobin’s soft words, by her gentle touch, by the sweetness that followed in the wake of her lips. She kissed Tobin back recklessly, her lips moving without logical thought, just pure want, needy and hot.

Tobin felt like her knees were about to buckle beneath her, like one more kiss from Christen would completely overwhelm her and send her crashing to the ground. She stepped backward, her legs hitting the edge of her bed, and slowly sat down, Christen’s lips never leaving her own. 

Christen stepped between Tobin’s open legs, having to lean down a bit to keep their lips connected. She cradled Tobin’s face between her hands, feeling one of Tobin’s legs wrap around the back of her knee.

Tobin lifted her arms, copying Christen’s earlier movement, just wanting more of her skin to touch Christen’s. Just wanting to feel Christen’s hands trace her stomach and ribs and back and chest. She just wanted her hands on her. Tobin wanted Christen to touch her. She looked up at Christen, both of them completely out of breath, their pupils blown, their lips swollen. 

Christen smiled, pulling back so she could divest Tobin of her t-shirt quickly. She looked down at Tobin, her chest heaving, a darkening purple bruise on the side of her neck, her brown eyes wide open and full of want, and Christen had to bite her lip to hold back her moan. 

“You know exactly what you’re doing, don’t let something that someone told you a long time ago convince you otherwise,” Christen whispered, pushing Tobin’s shoulder gently so that Tobin would lie back on the bed. She slowly crawled on top of Tobin, her eyes holding Tobin’s the entire way. “You’re so good at this. Every kiss, every touch, it’s perfect.” 

Tobin’s heart fluttered at each of Christen’s words. As always, Christen knew exactly what to say. For two years, Christen had pretty much always known what to say, how to make Tobin laugh, how to make her smile, how to push her buttons. Tobin pulled Christen closer, sliding one hand into Christen’s hair and the other onto Christen’s hip. She kissed her without hesitation, without second-guessing herself. She kissed Christen the way she’d always wanted to kiss her, the way she had been before she’d gotten lost in her own insecurities. She kissed her so that Christen would know that she loved her before she even spoke the words aloud. 

After a brief miscommunication, they finally established some more ground rules and they’d definitely gotten onto the same page. And while they’d drawn a hard line they didn’t want to cross, that didn’t mean they weren’t going to enjoy the heck out of everything leading up to that line. They deserved it. After two years of back and forth and missed chances and almosts, they deserved it.