I wanna take you everywhere I go
Have you by my side
Take a walk round in every town
Drive across state lines
Like the sun sends a golden stream
Into our front room
I could be the same old light for you
Like the morning is always new
Give it back to you
Like the rain, it just passes through
For all you give
I'll give it back to you
(Tobin - “For All You Give” feat. Lucy Rose by The Paper Kites)
You're like a sunrise
And I'm scared that I'll never get enough of you
Nobody called it a starfall
Come out the blue
I'm all butterflies
I'm sky-high for you
When it feels like this, like a light came on
And you look at me like I'm all you want
I got everything at my fingertips
How can I resist when it feels like this?
(Christen - “Feels Like This” by Maisie Peters)
Tobin pushed her hair behind her ears for the third time, checking her face in the rearview mirror again before releasing a long breath and opening the car door. She didn’t know exactly why she was so nervous. She’d seen Christen Thursday evening for their game against UC Irvine, which had been quite the night. Christen notched another hat trick and Tobin couldn’t have been prouder. Then they’d eaten dinner with their teammates, trading smiles across the table. She’d walked Christen back to her house, listening to her talk the whole time about how excited she was about Tobin’s date plans the following day.
She knew she had nothing to worry about. Being with Christen was so natural, so easy. Doing anything with Christen would be fun. Still, the butterflies hadn’t stopped fluttering through her stomach all morning. They hadn’t left her alone while she’d worked ahead on some homework first thing after waking up. They’d fluttered obnoxiously while she’d showered and picked out an outfit. Her stomach had continued to somersault while she talked to Jeff on the phone to make sure everything was set up. And now, walking up to Christen’s porch, Tobin was grateful that she hadn’t had anything to eat for breakfast or lunch. She wasn’t about to throw up in Christen’s front yard before their first date.
Tobin took every other step on her way up to the porch, her excitement getting the best of her. As nervous as she’d been during the day, her nerves seemed to finally be slipping away, overshadowed by how much she missed Christen and wanted to see her. She straightened her black, short-sleeved henley t-shirt and tucked her hair behind her ear once more before reaching out to knock on the door. Her heart nearly left her body when she looked through the front door’s window and saw Christen jog down the stairs in a pair of black jeans and a gray cropped tank top, a huge smile on her face.
Christen couldn’t get to the front door fast enough. She readjusted the backpack strap on her shoulder and opened the door, a beaming smile on her face.
“Hey,” she said breathlessly, her eyes taking in how good Tobin looked in those ripped blue jeans and her loose-fitting shirt. “God, she’s always so beautiful,” Christen thought, her cheeks heating slightly.
“Hey, yourself,” Tobin grinned, moving her right hand that she’d been keeping behind her back to the front of her body to show Christen the dahlias that she’d picked up from a nearby florist for Christen.
Christen looked from the flowers to the shy, sweet smile on Tobin’s face and nearly melted. Tobin was just so thoughtful, so purposeful, and caring. She swore she could live a thousand lifetimes and never deserve Tobin Heath.
Taking the dahlias, Christen stepped onto the porch and shut the door behind her. “You didn’t have to get me flowers,” Christen hummed, her eyes dancing between Tobin’s.
“I wanted to,” Tobin shrugged. “Don’t you want to put them in water?” Tobin asked, pointing toward the door.
Christen shook her head, lifting the flowers to her face and breathing in their sweet, floral scent. “I want to take them with me, I don’t think I could leave these here while we go somewhere else.”
“That’s a good point,” Tobin said, offering her hand to Christen before turning to head to the car. “We can put them in water when we get to where we’re going.”
Christen took Tobin’s outstretched hand, lacing their fingers together. She gently pulled Tobin back to her, not letting them walk to the truck just yet. She stepped into Tobin’s space, nuzzling Tobin’s nose with her own.
“Thanks for the flowers, Tobs,” Christen whispered, closing the space between them and kissing Tobin quickly. It was only a brief brush of their lips, but Christen tried to imbue as much gratitude and love into it as she could.
“It’s very tempting to just stay here and kiss you, but I can also see Kelley on the stairs watching us,” Tobin mumbled, quickly kissing Christen once more.
Christen chuckled and turned around, waving the flowers in a goodbye to her nosy roommate. Christen let Tobin lead her to the truck, her eyes trailing down Tobin’s back as she followed Tobin’s lead. It was criminal how good Tobin looked in those jeans. Christen pulled her lower lip between her teeth and shook her head slightly.
Tobin let go of Christen’s hand when they got closer to the car, jogging forward quickly to open the passenger’s side door for her.
“After you,” Tobin smirked, holding out a hand for Christen’s backpack.
Christen rolled her eyes affectionately. She gave Tobin the backpack and then climbed into the truck, settling into the passenger seat and turning to look at Tobin.
Tobin couldn’t help herself. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed Christen in just the half of a day they’d been apart. She leaned forward into the cab of the truck, catching Christen’s lips with her own.
Christen smiled into the kiss, dropping her arms atop Tobin’s shoulders. The butterflies in her stomach fluttered at the sweetness of the kiss, at the slight hesitation and tentativeness to it. Even if they’d kissed dozens of times now, short pecks and long, heated make-outs, they’d never had a first kiss before their first date before. It was tinged with nerves and excitement and it had Christen’s entire soul feeling light.
“You look beautiful,” Tobin whispered when she pulled away from the kiss.
“You stole my line, I was going to tell you that first,” Christen hummed, eyes falling to take in Tobin’s outfit again. “You look very, very beautiful.”
“I missed you,” Tobin sighed, having trouble making herself leave Christen’s side to walk around the truck and to her place in the driver’s seat.
“I can’t wait for the day when we don’t have to miss each other anymore,” Christen whispered, her eyes meeting Tobin’s shyly. It felt like too big of a confession, too much for a first date. But she couldn’t help it. Every time Tobin kissed her or looked at her, she felt like forever had already started for them.
“Me too,” Tobin grinned and leaned back, feeling no fear or hesitation at the seriousness behind Christen’s words. Christen pouted as Tobin pulled away from her, her hands aching to hold onto Tobin again.
“Give me five seconds.” Tobin stepped back with a smile, shutting the door softly and hurrying around the truck.
Christen watched as Tobin walked around the front of the truck, as she slid across the bench seat so that she was in the middle of it. She turned to the driver’s side door right as Tobin got to it, the smile she’d been wearing since she stepped out of her house still on her face.
Tobin opened the driver’s side door, slipping Christen’s backpack into the cab behind her seat. She hopped into the truck and buckled her seatbelt, turning in her seat to smile at Christen again, having no idea how she was supposed to drive when she couldn’t stop herself from staring.
“Are we having this first date in your car, in the driveway of my house, or…” Christen wondered, quickly buckling up and laying her arm along the back of the seat so her hand could fall to the nape of Tobin’s neck.
“Nope,” Tobin blushed, turning back toward the wheel and reaching out to put her keys in the ignition. Her heart fluttered at the way Christen’s hand brushed the back of her neck. “I’m sure you remember that Frank’s kind of old, so he doesn’t have an aux cord, but I charged the portable speaker last night if you want to control the music.”
“I get music power again?” Christen clarified, running her fingers through Tobin’s gentle waves.
“You did such a good job last time,” Tobin hummed, loving how soothing it felt when Christen touched her hair.
“So you didn’t give me control just to get in my pants?” Christen teased.
Tobin let out a loud laugh, her eyes crinkling and her smile growing. “Oh, I totally did. It just so happens that I still want that. You’re the only person I’ve ever given music control to.”
Christen’s grin grew as she wrapped a few strands of Tobin’s hair around her fingers, loving the silky, smooth feeling of her hair. It was so different from her own curls and it made her want to run her fingers through Tobin’s hair constantly.
“I totally knew that was the reason!”
“What and you didn’t want to get into my pants back then?” Tobin asked, wishing she weren’t driving and could look over at Christen. She kept her eyes on the road though, making sure that she could merge properly to get on the highway.
Christen felt her cheeks heat up at the question. Of course, she’d wanted that. She’d been wanting that for two years now.
“Why else would I have taken a red-eye to the middle of bum-fuck-nowhere to drive with you the rest of the way to L.A.?” Christen hummed, chuckling a bit at how silly they’d been, how obvious they’d been.
“You know, Harry said that was more than just a friend being nice,” Tobin laughed, reaching out to rest her hand on Christen’s leg. “I just thought you were really really kind.”
“I hope you still do, especially after I was a little...spicy recently,” Christen admitted, a guilty grimace on her face.
“Spicy you is…” Tobin paused, searching for the right words.
“Please finish that sentence, put me out of my misery, I know it was terrible,” Christen confessed, hiding her face behind her free hand.
“Spicy you is really really hot. Next time, I just hope you’re spicy because of a game and not because of me,” Tobin smirked.
Christen lowered her hand off her face, a surprised little smile aimed in Tobin’s direction. She was not expecting hot, out of everything Tobin could have said.
“When you threw away my scones?” Tobin laughed, lifting her hand up and off of Christen’s leg to fan herself.
Christen groaned and hid her face in the crook of her own elbow. “Ugh, that was so horrible. I wanted those scones so bad! It broke me a bit to throw them away!”
“I thought you ended up eating them after I put them in your locker,” Tobin said, glancing quickly at Christen.
Christen snuck a peek at Tobin, lifting her head slightly. “Oh, I did. The slight germaphobe in me was dying, but I ate all of them, except for the one I donated to my roommates.”
“Please, they were in a Tupperware that was in a bag. No germs were on them,” Tobin asserted, brushing her thumb against the outside of Christen’s leg.
“I hope not,” Christen shivered, still a little thrown off that she’d done that. It was sweet, sure, but it was definitely slightly gross.
“Oh, and when you stole the ball and pushed me during my first practice here. That was super spicy. It made me think of our NCAA semifinal,” Tobin hummed. “Totally a turn-on.”
Christen let her hand fall to the nape of Tobin's neck, running her thumb along the side of it. She shook her head slightly at Tobin’s words, her guilt receding more and more with every assurance Tobin offered.
“I still can’t believe you were so brutal because I invaded your subconscious. That’s like expert tactics on my part,” Christen teased, squeezing Tobin’s neck once before continuing her path up and down the side of Tobin’s neck.
“It was a super sexy dream,” Tobin shrugged, trying to rationalize her aggression during their freshman year. “Honestly, it was kind of a premonition not a dream…Who knew I could see the future?!”
Christen laughed, her nose scrunching in delight. They’d come so far, and sure it had taken two years to get here, but as she looked across the cab of the truck, the sunlight filtering through the windshield and bathing Tobin in light, catching the honeyed tint to her hair and the golden flecks in her eyes, she couldn’t regret a single moment that had led them here.
“You totally had a crush on me for like a year and a half, that’s so cute,” Christen giggled.
“Baby, have you seen yourself?” Tobin smirked.
Christen had to force air in and out of her lungs. When Tobin said that to her, when she called her baby, it just did things to her. Her chest got tight, heat flooded her stomach. It made her want to kiss Tobin senseless. Suddenly feeling a little warm, Christen leaned over and cranked the window down, hoping the rush of air would calm her erratic heart and the desire pooling between her legs.
“I would have asked you out after the preseason game if you didn’t make me so nervous,” Tobin admitted.
Christen blushed and turned around, tilting her head to the side and fixing Tobin with a surprised look.
“I made you nervous? Have you- I mean, you’re you!” Christen said. “No way did I make you nervous.”
“I could hardly keep up with you during that first game. You were so distracting,” Tobin grinned, remembering how Christen had been so fast and tricky to keep up with the first time they’d met. She’d been too busy admiring her to focus on the ball.
“So were you. Have I mentioned how hot you are when you play soccer? Because wow,” Christen said, wetting her lips and letting her eyes trail over Tobin’s side profile suggestively.
“Please,” Tobin scoffed, rolling her eyes at Christen’s words. “I’ve been told by every coach I’ve had that I look sloppy in my uniform and that it’s good I play well.”
Christen shook her head, her free hand dropping to wrap around Tobin’s bicep. “They might say sloppy, but to me...you look effortless and beautiful and like you are so completely enamored with the sport. It’s impossible to watch you play and not realize that your love for the game is in everything you do and everything you are.”
Tobin could only grin, a blush painting her cheeks. She officially liked Christen’s version better than any of her coaches’.
Christen was living for this walk down memory lane. It was like they were both looking back on the crooked, bumpy path that had led them here with no regrets. They instead looked back with admiration, with shy smiles and quick laughs.
“Remember when we did all those Facetime ‘not-dates’, which were totally dates? I don’t think I formed a coherent sentence around you for like months after we first met. Maybe until your birthday at the beach?” Christen chuckled, remembering how awkward and nervous she’d been around Tobin those first few months.
“Me either, but I guess that’s why it took so long for us to do this,” Tobin smiled, squeezing Christen’s leg softly. “I almost asked you out that day...at the beach,” Tobin said, glad that her eyes had to be on the road so that she didn’t have to see Christen’s reaction. They hadn’t actually talked about the beach, about why Tobin had been in a funk that day. That day had taken a backseat to everything else, to all the other difficult days and months they’d had.
Christen seemed to realize the same thing, her grip on Tobin’s arm tightening. “Really? Why didn’t you?” Christen asked gently, her mind replaying the day’s events and looking for the moment it had changed for Tobin, trying to recall why Tobin had been so off that day.
“I overheard you and your sisters,” Tobin mumbled softly. It wasn’t a moment she thought about too much anymore, but there were still questions surrounding it. When she stayed up too late, when she had trouble falling asleep, sometimes Tobin would wonder if Christen would have given her a chance if she were still back at Penn State, if she were far away. On bad nights, after nightmares, when she wasn’t curled up with Christen, she wondered if Christen liked the convenience of this, if Christen would change her mind after college if they went to play for separate teams.
“Overheard wha- oh,” Christen’s words caught in her throat, a rush of realization running through her. Tobin had overheard her and Channing and Tyler talking about the ills of long-distance. Tobin must have heard her one-woman diatribe against long-distance relationships, her rant and rage against it.
“Yeah, you gave quite a long speech. Reminded me of high school debate, honestly,” Tobin tried to lighten the mood with a joke.
“I did take debate, but I’m suddenly wishing I didn’t. I didn’t know you could hear me,” Christen admitted, running her thumb along Tobin’s upper arm, wishing she could look into those brown eyes and communicate how sorry she was for all of that. “I’m sorry, Tobs. And there I was getting all huffy and upset because you were acting weird,” Christen shook her head at herself. "When it was all my fault."
“It’s okay,” Tobin shrugged, squeezing Christen’s leg again. “We don’t have to worry about that now that I’m a west coaster.”
Christen nodded, but she could hear the tightness in Tobin’s voice still. She had an inkling as to why it was there, and she decided to venture a guess, hoping she was right but also hoping she was wrong too.
“You know that I’d still want to be with you even if you weren’t in L.A. right?” Christen asked softly.
Tobin glanced over at Christen, returning her eyes to the road quicker than she really wanted to. “No,” she said softly.
Christen let her eyes fall shut, guilt making her head drop for a moment. She hadn’t realized just how much overhearing her that day at the beach had affected Tobin. And while her fears of long-distance were well-founded, she’d also gotten to the place where she was no longer scared of them. She was more scared of not being with Tobin. It had taken her almost two years, but she’d gotten to that place. She finally had and she needed Tobin to know that.
“Great first date conversation,” Tobin teased, again trying to lift tension and offer Christen a way out.
“Baby, don’t joke. I didn’t- I didn’t realize this still weighed on you and I’m really, really sorry about what I said.”
“I’m glad I’m here, though,” Tobin whispered.
“I am too. Of course, I am,” Christen assured, scooting a bit closer to Tobin. “But I need you to know that I was ready to jump into long-distance with you. I had made my peace with it while I was sitting with my feet in the hot tub and Coach Foudy was talking to you in the hotel room in Portland. I realized the risk was worth it, that you were- you are worth it.”
Tobin felt her chest warm up with each one of Christen’s words. She’d never known anyone who made her feel so wanted, so important. The way that Christen looked at her was honest and genuine, sending each of her words directly to her heart. She’d spent so much time feeling like she wasn’t good enough, like she was too selfish, too at fault to be forgiven by her family and by Christen. Christen’s words seemed to sink into her and stitch together all the pieces of herself that had broken apart over the summer.
“It’s a lot more fun to kiss in person though,” Tobin shrugged, grinning softly. “And I don’t know if you would have forgiven me if I’d been apologizing from Pennsylvania. Not that I came here for that purpose. It’s closer to my dad…” Tobin trailed off.
“I would have forgiven you, Tobs, as soon as I’d forgiven myself for being so self-centered this summer. I know you’re here for your family, that they’re important to you. And while it’s a very happy coincidence that we ended up in the same place, it didn’t need to happen for us to happen,” Christen hummed, tucking her leg beneath her so she could face Tobin fully. She leaned forward and kissed Tobin’s shoulder quickly, wishing she was kissing Tobin’s lips but settling for this for the time being.
“I love you,” sat at the tip of Tobin’s tongue. She swallowed the words, instead, drumming her fingers against Christen’s leg a few times. “I don’t think you were self-centered, and I know you’ll argue with me about that, but I don’t think you were.”
“Agree to disagree, Tobs. Now let’s get back to the fun stops on memory lane. Lighten this first date back up? Like...oh! Remember Spring Break? That was fun,” Christen said with a giggle, her cheeks heating up.
Tobin let out a soft groan, sinking into the memory of Christen and the tequila shot and the dancing.
“So, how many times have you taken a tequila shot like that, ‘Ms. Tobin Needs To Learn How It’s Done’?” Tobin asked, smirking at the memory of Christen’s cocky behavior that night.
Christen momentarily considered teasing Tobin, riling her up by pretending to have done that before. But on the heels of such a heartfelt moment between them, Christen didn’t have it in her to tease right now.
“You're my first,” Christen replied, her voice deepening slightly as images of Tobin’s head thrown back as she licked the salt from her skin ran through her mind.
“You were a natural,” Tobin grinned.
“I was freaking out on the inside,” Christen confessed with a laugh. “I kept wondering if you were just going along with it to humor me, or if you actually wanted to. And then we got to the club and I got my answer,” Christen smirked, scratching her nails against the back of Tobin’s neck.
“I definitely wanted to,” Tobin laughed, as if the idea that she hadn’t been into it was absolutely hilarious, which it was. “I was so nervous, but not because of you. I just wanted you alone, away from all the people in the kitchen.”
Christen’s eyes darkened as the heat pooling low in her stomach sunk just a little further and blazed just a little hotter.
“I’m so glad we don’t have to pretend anymore. ‘Forgetting’ moments like that with you was torture,” Christen whispered, feeling beyond grateful that they could just lay everything on the table now, that they could hold each other and kiss each other, uninhibited and unrestrained.
“I mean...I did actually forget a few things,” Tobin said honestly. “I woke up with you in Ali and Ashlyn’s apartment, and I had no idea how we got there.”
“It’s pretty blurry for me too. The last thing I really remember was you moaning in my ear and then almost drunk kissing you in the middle of the dance floor,” Christen chuckled, fire dancing beneath her skin. She was having to work a little harder to keep breathing at a normal pace. Walking down this part of memory lane, while beyond enjoyable, was definitely working her up at a torturously slow pace with no end in sight.
Tobin cringed slightly, not having the good fortune to have forgotten that she’d moaned on the dance floor. “Yeah, that was not my finest moment,” Tobin sighed, making a face at the memory.
“You’re kidding right?”
“That was one of the sexiest moments of my life, of course, but it’s also one of the most embarrassing,” Tobin admitted.
Christen didn’t want Tobin to feel embarrassed, not about anything that had happened between them, but especially not that. So, she leaned in, ghosting her lips across the shell of Tobin’s ear.
“That moan? It made me want you more than I ever thought possible. Nothing to be embarrassed about,” Christen husked, smirking a bit as she leaned away from Tobin.
Heat rushed through Tobin’s body, settling low in her stomach. She clenched her legs together, shifting in her seat slightly. There was no way she was going to be able to get them safely to their destination if she was this turned on for the rest of the drive, but with Christen next to her, she had a feeling she wouldn’t be able to calm down any time soon.
Christen chuckled as she watched Tobin squirm, feeling quite pleased with herself. This fluster war was continuing and she was most definitely in the lead.
“That helps,” Tobin choked out, her grip on Christen’s leg tightening somewhat.
“See, it hasn’t been all bad these past few years,” Christen hummed, returning to stroking her thumb along the side of Tobin’s neck.
“Nothing with you has been bad except not talking to you,” Tobin said, her voice taking on a serious tone. She looked over at Christen, just to make sure that Christen knew that she honestly meant what she said.
Christen felt her smile drop a bit. She might be feeling much more confident in herself and in her feeling for Tobin, but she was still struggling to wrap her head around the “Tobin Heath thinks I’m perfect” thing. She might have shown one of her not-so-great sides recently, her ability to be petty and angry and stubborn, but she hadn’t shown all of her imperfect, human sides yet. Tobin hadn’t seen all her sides, so there was no way that nothing could be bad moving forward.
“Not yet,” Christen tried to joke, the words falling flat at the insecurity lacing her tone.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tobin asked, wishing she could look at Christen. “You should have chosen a place closer to campus. Then you could look at her face.”
“What if it does get bad? What if I mess up? What if I show you a side of myself that I’m not proud of and you don’t like it?” Christen asked quietly.
Tobin sighed, realizing that she'd been so worried about her own insecurities, about her own shortcomings this past week, that she hadn't thought about Christen’s. She’d always seen Christen as self-assured, confident, and experienced. She hadn’t even imagined that Christen was nervous and insecure about this new relationship. But of course she was. Christen was human, and if she felt for Tobin even half as much as Tobin felt for her, there were bound to be nerves and anxieties.
Tobin stayed quiet, looking over her right shoulder and pulling off of the highway.
Christen’s forehead furrowed as she looked around, wondering if they were where they’d been headed for their date. She could forget those questions and refocus on the date. She should do that, she shouldn’t let her worst fears drag them down today.
Tobin turned her blinker on and waited patiently to pull into a Starbucks parking lot. She put the car in park as soon as she found a parking spot and unbuckled her seat belt to turn and look at Christen.
“You’re going to mess up,” Tobin said, as calmly as possible, nodding her head.
Christen felt her mouth drop open at the blunt honesty, not feeling entirely reassured by Tobin’s words.
“I’m going to mess up too. Probably a lot.”
Christen still wasn’t sure where Tobin was headed with this, with putting it out there how much they were going to mess up and how many mistakes they were going to make. So she just waited quietly, trying to ignore the tightening of her chest in favor of focusing on the sincerity on Tobin’s face.
“I think we’ve both shown sides of ourselves that we aren’t proud of. You’ve shown me that you can hold a grudge and have a temper, one that I never want to be on the receiving end of again but probably will be. I’ve shown you that when it comes to fighting or fleeing, I like to run. I don’t like to need people and you like to be needed. You aren’t perfect. Neither am I. We-”
“You said I was. You built me up in your mind to be,” Christen interrupted with a shake of her head. “I don’t want to let you down by just being me.”
“What?” Tobin asked, her eyebrows crinkling as she tried to remember when she’d said that. “If I ever called you perfect, do you know what I really meant?”
Christen shook her head, finding herself wishing she were in Tobin’s arms, that she hadn’t brought this up. She was ruining this date already and it had barely even begun.
Tobin lifted her hand to brush her fingers across Christen’s cheekbone and let it rest on the right side of her neck.
“You are perfect, but not because you never make mistakes. You’re human. You get to make mistakes. You get to make me mad or hurt or frustrated. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t perfect for me,” Tobin whispered.
Christen felt tears prick the corners of her eyes and she had to release a long breath to keep them at bay, not wanting to smudge the make-up she’d made Crystal spend far too long perfecting earlier.
“I didn’t know that’s what you meant,” Christen whispered, leaning into Tobin’s touch, lifting her hand to wrap around Tobin’s wrist.
“You make me want to be a better version of myself, and that’s what makes you perfect,” Tobin added, scooting forward in her seat, just wanting to be closer than the car allowed.
Christen let out a shuddery breath, tears blurring her vision. “Dammit,” she whispered, feeling the first tear fall. “Crystal spent so long on this winged eyeliner. She’d be so mad I’m ruining it,” Christen hiccuped with a small smile.
Tobin leaned forward and kissed Christen’s cheek, stopping the tear in its tracks. “We won’t tell Crystal,” Tobin hummed. “And you look beautiful, with or without winged eyeliner.”
Christen pressed her lips against Tobin’s, just needing to seal this moment with a kiss. It had been heavy, heavier than she’d anticipated. She hadn’t expected to unload that baggage so soon, especially not on their drive to their first date. But she and Tobin had a way of just diving in headfirst to the messy bits and figuring it out as they went. Which they seemed to be doing just fine right now.
“You’re perfect for me too, in case that got lost in translation somewhere,” Christen whispered, kissing Tobin hard and then leaning back, running her hands under her eyes to wipe away any smudged make-up.
“I understood that, but it’s nice to hear it,” Tobin nodded, rubbing her thumbs on both of Christen’s cheeks.
Christen grinned at Tobin, at her sweetness and her gentleness, and then looked out of the corner of her eye at the place they were parked in front of.
“So...our first date is at Starbucks?”
Tobin laughed, turning back to face the wheel. “No way, but we’re getting close.”
Christen looked around, vaguely recognizing the area they were in. “Are we close to our houses?”
“Mhm,” Tobin nodded, reversing the truck and pulling away from the Starbucks.
Christen stretched her arm across the back of the seat again, wanting to stay close to Tobin. She ran her fingers along the back of Tobin’s neck gently, tracing swirls and patterns into her skin. She bit her tongue, trying not to pepper Tobin with the hundreds of questions she had about why they were going toward their houses and what they were going to be doing.
“You want to know one of the moments when I knew that I had to have you in my life?” Tobin asked, rubbing her hand slowly against the top of Christen’s leg.
Christen felt her heart flutter, her mind quieting as she got lost in Tobin’s goofy grin.
“Let me guess...when I sent you that selfie with the champagne bottle after we won the Natty?” Christen joked.
“That was so cute. I saved it,” Tobin chuckled, squeezing Christen’s leg.
“Ugh, no you didn’t, that was so cringy.”
“Mhm. I’ve saved every picture you’ve sent me.”
Christen shook her head with a smile, wondering how it was even possible for Tobin Heath to be this sweet.
“I’ll stop guessing now, when was it?” Christen asked, her stomach filling with butterflies as she waited for Tobin’s response.
“Only one guess? All right,” Tobin sighed. “Well, the champagne selfie was great, and there are a ton of moments that made me want you in my life, but the one I was thinking about was when we road tripped. Right at the very end, after I bored you to death with my tutorial on changing a tire. You fell asleep against me,” Tobin said, her mind far away in the memory for a second.
That was one of her favorites. It was the moment she knew she was falling in love with Christen Press. It was the moment she knew she needed to have Christen in her life. It was the moment she knew she’d do anything to keep Christen safe and happy.
“I didn’t want to wake you up. I just wanted to freeze that moment and stay in it forever. I knew then that I wanted you to be a part of my life in any way possible,” Tobin said quietly.
Christen was a little speechless, just like she always was when Tobin bared her soul to her in a moment of complete authenticity and vulnerability. Tobin was so sensitive and felt so deeply, and Christen loved that about her. But that fact that Tobin was sensitive and felt so deeply about her was something that never failed to take her breath away.
“And I know I’m not supposed to apologize, but I need you to let me talk for a second,” Tobin said, hoping Christen would let her get through what she wanted to say before they got to their destination.
“Baby, you’ve been talking and making me feel all sorts of things for a few minutes now,” Christen replied, her words a little hoarse since her throat was so thick with emotion.
“So a few minutes more should be okay,” Tobin grinned.
“Yes, just know I’m going to cash in my ‘heartfelt declaration and apology’ monologue sometime soon,” Christen replied with a smile, her mind repeating “I love you, I love you, I love you” over and over again with every new thing that left Tobin’s lips.
“Of course,” Tobin relented. “So...after the accident. After I ignored you. After I got over the original fear and the guilt I felt for not being there, I felt horrible for not talking to you. I felt maybe even guiltier for not talking to you because I’d made that choice. The accident was a fluke thing that I had no control over, but I had some control over this, and I chose wrong.”
Christen tightened her hold on the back of Tobin’s neck, not out of worry or fear, but out of an effort to let Tobin know that she was here, she was listening, she wasn’t running away.
“That’s okay, Tobs,” Christen assured. It was okay because Tobin had made a different choice the second time around. She’d chosen to open up to her, to let her in. But Tobin still had a full head of steam, so Christen didn’t say more. She just looked at the deep lines that had formed on Tobin’s forehead and between her eyebrows, wishing she could kiss them away.
“When I was still at home, guilty, and trying to come up with some plan to apologize, and then when I came to UCLA and saw how much I hurt you, I couldn’t help but think of you asleep in my car. Every time I saw you, I thought about that moment. You were so vulnerable, asleep in my lap, and I couldn’t help but think about hurting that version of you, even though the angry you was throwing away scones and pushing me over at practice,” Tobin teased, squeezing Christen’s leg. “I went back to that moment when I swore to myself that I was going to be there for you, that I was going to keep you in my life. I kept reminding myself that that version of you was hurting somewhere, under all the anger, and that I owed it to both of us to be there. I should have been there earlier. I shouldn’t have hurt you in the first place. I should have driven to your house and asked you to go for a drive, and I should have taken you here,” Tobin said, putting the truck in park. “I should have let you in earlier, so I’m doing it now,” Tobin whispered, taking the keys out of the ignition.
There were so many things Christen wanted to say. She felt like she could cry or laugh or smile, all at the same time. But she was once again rendered completely speechless. After two years of failing to communicate, of talking but never really communicating, they finally were. Tobin was finally opening up and being honest.
Christen didn’t even look at where they were. She just undid her buckle and threw her arms around Tobin, burying her face in Tobin’s hair. She let the familiar scents of pine and mint and warmth settle over her, helping her piece together her thoughts and feelings about everything Tobin had just said to her.
“I love you, I love you, I love you,” Christen thought, almost letting the words slip off her tongue. She was so close to saying it, but she didn’t. She didn’t want to detract from the moment, she didn’t want to take anything from Tobin. This had been a big step, a monumental admission. She didn’t want to cloud it with her own admission.
“I really opposite of hate you, Tobin Heath. Like, a lot. Thank you for telling me that,” Christen whispered, feeling Tobin’s arms wrapped around her, tighten. “I don’t have a super coherent response because you basically made my heart explode in a really good way, but I’m just really glad you let me in. I understand why you didn’t before, and I don’t want you to keep feeling guilty for why you didn’t. But we can work on that. What counts is that you let me in now and I am so happy to be here,” Christen added.
“Do you even know where here is?” Tobin laughed. “You haven’t looked out the window.”
Christen pulled back and looked around, slight confusion running through her when she realized where they were.
“You brought me to your house? Oh God, is this like a meet the family as ‘we’re more than friends officially’ type of scenario? I’ve got dried mascara under my eyes and I am so not prepared for that right now!”
Tobin burst into laughter, her stomach aching and her cheeks tightening. “You’ve already met the family, and the family isn’t here right now. Jeff’s staying at a friend’s house, and my mom and dad are at a dinner and won’t be home until later tonight.”
Christen couldn’t help but sigh in relief. “Not that I don’t love your family, but this-” Christen gestured at her tear-stained face, “-isn’t ready for family right now.”
“You look beautiful,” Tobin assured, opening the driver’s side door, grabbing Christen’s backpack, and jogging around the front of the truck to open Christen’s door.
Christen slid out of the truck, kissing Tobin quickly, just because she could and just because she wanted to, desperately. She wanted to kiss Tobin until all of the guilt was gone, until the light was back in her favorite pair of brown eyes.
“Do I get to see more of your art or something? Like a private art gallery showing?” Christen guessed, threading her fingers with Tobin’s.
“I mean, if you want to,” Tobin snorted, reaching into the bed of the truck to pull out a large duffel bag. “I won’t stop you from looking at it.”
Christen eyed the bag. “What’s in that?”
“So impatient,” Tobin sighed, locking the truck and leading Christen toward the backyard.
“Sorry,” Christen replied. “I have a tendency to ruin surprises by asking way too many questions. Bad habit, I guess.”
“You’ve done surprisingly well, then,” Tobin said. “You could have been peppering me with questions all week.” She reached out and pushed the gate that led into the backyard open.
“It’s been a Herculean effort, trust me,” Christen replied with a small smile.
“Okay, close your eyes,” Tobin hummed, a huge smile on her face.
Christen let out an adorable little huff but covered her eyes with her free hand anyway. “Don’t let me fall,” Christen said, letting Tobin lead her further into the backyard.
“Never,” Tobin whispered, leading Christen past her dad’s grill and her mom’s favorite hammock. She looked at the backyard that Jeff had set-up while Tobin had directed him on Facetime the day before, knowing that the pizza she had promised to send to him at his friend’s house was completely worth it. He’d done a perfect job.
“What’s that thing you asked me on my birthday, ‘Is this when you murder me?’ or something?” Christen quipped with a teasing smile.
Tobin dropped the duffel bag and wrapped her arms around Christen. She kissed Christen’s cheek softly, nuzzling against her. “You can open them,” she whispered next to Christen’s ear.
Christen laid her arm on top of Tobin’s, threading their fingers together as she let out a small breath and then uncovered her eyes with her other hand. She gasped audibly at the sight before her.
In the middle of the backyard, a large orange and white tent was perfectly set up and staked in the grass. A portable fire pit sat close to the tent, wood already stacked next to it and skewers for s’mores leaning against it. There were market lights in the trees that Christen had never seen in the Heath’s backyard before. It was so Tobin, calm and relaxed, quiet and peaceful. The entire scene was perfect.
Christen was, for the hundredth time today, rendered speechless. “Tobs, is this-”
“We didn’t get to camp this summer, so better late than never right? If you don’t want to, though, we can always do something else,” Tobin suggested.
Christen spun around in Tobin’s arm, crashing their lips together. The kiss was a little sloppy and rushed, but Christen had to kiss Tobin now. Tobin had recreated something they hadn’t gotten the chance to do this summer. They were going to backyard camp and Christen couldn’t imagine anything more perfect for their first date. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” It was getting harder not to say those three little words each and every time Tobin did something thoughtful and sweet.
Christen pulled out of the kiss and ran her thumbs across Tobin’s cheeks, looking deep into those brown eyes and hoping her face was telling Tobin everything her words couldn’t yet.
“I would love to dabble in this outdoor activity with you,” Christen grinned, kissing Tobin sweetly once more.
“You said that you were worried we’d lost time,” Tobin hummed. “I don’t want you to feel like we missed out on anything.”
“You are, quite possibly, the sweetest person ever,” Christen whispered, completely in awe of the girl in front of her, wondering what she must have done right in some other life to deserve to be here, with Tobin, in this one.
“Agree to disagree,” Tobin quipped, kissing Christen’s forehead before she put Christen’s backpack down and partially unzipped the duffel bag. Tobin tossed a soccer ball out of the bag, pushing a few other things out of the way before she pulled a grocery bag out and placed it on the ground.
“Don’t worry. I’m not cooking,” she promised.
Christen laughed, skipping over to the soccer ball and juggling it up in the air, her touch slightly off thanks to the Converse on her feet.
“Does that mean I’m cooking?” Christen asked, shooting a look up at Tobin through her lashes.
“You can push the buttons on my phone and tell the delivery person to come here,” Tobin said, a grin on her face.
“My favorite kind of cooking,” Christen teased.
“Mine too,” Tobin hummed.
After messing around with the soccer ball for a bit, since even on their off day Christen and Tobin couldn’t avoid the sport they loved completely, and ordering food, they sat by the fire pit, digging through Tobin’s grocery bag and setting up a s’mores station for later. Their food was going to get here any minute, which meant the next part of Tobin’s plan was almost upon them.
Tobin jogged to the front of the house to meet the delivery guy, thanking him for the food and hurrying back to Christen’s side.
“Will you do me a favor?” Tobin asked, handing the bag of food to Christen.
“Yeah?” Christen replied, getting to her feet and smacking the dirt off her jeans from the seat she’d been sitting in.
“Will you go into the tent and order my brother a pizza? His friend’s address is already plugged in. They like pepperoni. I just have to set something up,” Tobin asked, hoping Christen would agree without complaint.
Christen shrugged, narrowing her eyes a bit at Tobin’s secrecy. She held her hand out for Tobin’s phone.
“Of course, but I take my tips in kisses,” Christen winked, stepping into the tent.
“Thank you. I’ll tell you when it’s ready,” Tobin grinned, leaning forward to kiss Christen softly before she zipped the tent closed.
Tobin jogged up to the back door, unlocking it and grabbing the cardboard box that her brother had put just inside the house. She carried it to the side of the house and plugged the projector into an extension cord, letting out a sigh of relief when it turned on and projected against the side of her house. She pulled her computer out of the giant duffel she’d brought from school and hooked it up, thankful that this had worked on her first try, that she hadn’t needed to call her brother for help. She spread out a couple of blankets on the grass in front of the projected video screen, placing their takeout dinner on the ground.
“Okay,” Tobin said, unzipping the tent slightly. “Can you close your eyes again?” Tobin asked.
Christen humored Tobin and covered her eyes with her hand again, holding Tobin’s phone out to her with the other.
“Thank you,” Tobin grinned, putting her phone in her pocket and pulling Christen up to her feet. She helped Christen walk out of the tent without tripping. Then she bent down next to the duffel and pulled out her favorite jersey.
“Will you lift your arms?” Tobin asked, suddenly feeling shy at the way that probably sounded to Christen.
Christen huffed out a surprised laugh. “Are we rule #5-ing it right now? We haven’t even had dinner yet,” Christen teased.
“We’re opposite of rule #5-ing it,” Tobin whispered.
Despite her confusion, Christen lifted her arms in the air and kept her eyes tightly shut.
Tobin gently lifted the jersey over Christen’s head and guided her arms through the armholes.
“Usually you’re trying to get me out of my clothes, not into more of them,” Christen chuckled, knowing by the feel of it that Tobin had put her in a soccer jersey, she just didn’t know exactly why.
“Not in my parent’s backyard,” Tobin snorted, grabbing her scarf from the duffel before putting her hands on Christen’s waist and turning her around.
She walked Christen forward, making sure that she didn’t trip over anything in the yard.
“Okay, you can open your eyes,” Tobin said, unable to contain the nervous smile on her face. She stood next to Christen, hoping that she’d connect all the dots, that she wasn’t being silly by setting all this up.
Christen let her eyes flutter open and felt her heart melt. She took in the blankets and the food and the soccer game projected on the screen. A look down at her jersey only confirmed her initial thought. She turned to look at Tobin, a delighted and slightly awestruck smile on her face.
“The Arsenal game?” Christen hummed.
“I don’t know how it ended,” Tobin said.
“Me neither, I couldn’t watch it,” Christen shrugged. “I didn’t want to watch it without you.”
“It’s the first Arsenal game I’ve ever missed,” Tobin admitted.
Christen’s hands rose to adjust the Arsenal scarf around Tobin’s neck. “Then we better not miss out any longer.” Christen tugged on the ends of the scarf, pulling Tobin over to the blankets on the grass. They settled on the ground together, Tobin settling behind Christen. She pulled Christen back against her chest, Christen sitting between her legs.
Christen leaned back into Tobin, getting comfortable as her eyes drifted to the projected game on the side of Tobin’s house.
“This is recorded right? I mean, obviously, it’s not live, but can you, like, fast-forward or pause or something?” Christen asked, running one hand across Tobin’s knee, the other holding onto Tobin’s that was holding her around her waist.
“You want it to be over already?” Tobin teased.
Christen shook her head. “No, I just want to be able to kiss you whenever I want and not miss any of the game.”
“Have I told you that you’re my dream girl?” Tobin asked, a smile spreading across her face.
Christen blushed, a smile tugging at her lips. “No...but it’s nice to hear.”
“Yes, I can fast forward and pause and rewind,” Tobin husked, leaning down to kiss Christen’s cheek.
“Good, because Jeff’s pizza got extra pepperoni so I’m expecting a lot of tips,” Christen teased.
Despite how nicely Jeff had organized the tent, Tobin had no qualms about pulling the camping mats and sleeping bags out and placing them in the grass. She wouldn’t have been able to say no to Christen’s request even if she’d wanted to, not when Christen had looked at her with the widest, most hopeful green eyes Tobin had ever seen.
“I have always wanted to sleep under the stars,” Christen hummed, her eyes stuck on the sky above her. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the twinkling stars dotting the inky blackness of the night. She’d always loved the stars, always loved how calm they made her feel. When she was looking up at them, her daily worries or anxieties or fears drifted away. Because who could be stressed about an exam when an entire universe existed right above them?
“I can’t believe you’ve never done it before,” Tobin said, spreading her own sleeping bag out on top of her camping mat. She jogged back to the tent and pulled out the two pillows that Jeff had grabbed from her bedroom, placing them at the top of both camping mats.
Christen shrugged, wrapping her arms around herself, fighting off a bit of a chill. She still wore Tobin’s Arsenal jersey and wished she’d thought to pack warmer pajamas.
“Do you want to put on sweats or something?” Tobin asked, rubbing her hands along Christen’s arms, feeling how cold she was against her hands.
Christen finally looked away from the night sky, her eyes meeting Tobin’s. She was mesmerized by the warmth and the care she saw dancing within them.
“I already stole one of your sweatshirts, I shouldn’t kidnap another,” Christen grinned.
“I like you in my clothes,” Tobin shrugged.
A small thrill ran through Christen at the huskiness in Tobin’s voice. She loved wearing Tobin’s clothes, the way they were just a little too big on her since Tobin’s shoulders were broader. She loved being wrapped up in Tobin’s smell. So who was she to deny herself that?
“I like wearing them,” Christen replied. “And I’d really like to wear some right now. I only packed shorts and a tank top to sleep in,” she confessed, a little sheepishly.
“I probably should have given you more of a hint about what we were going to do on this date,” Tobin grimaced, wishing she’d remembered just how chilly the Californian-born girl could get.
“I’m glad you didn’t. This was the best surprise ever,” Christen murmured softly.
“Let’s get you some sweatpants and a sweatshirt, so you can actually enjoy the rest of it,” Tobin hummed, taking one of Christen’s hands and leading her toward the back door of the house.
Christen stood in the open door frame of Tobin’s bedroom, her arms crossed over her chest as she watched Tobin dig around in the dresser. She knew Tobin was talking to her. She could hear the faint mumbling, but she couldn’t focus on the words. All she could do was look around the room and think about how these four walls were Tobin’s only company this summer. This was the room she’d cried in and felt lost in, the room she’d had nightmares in. It made Christen want to take Tobin in her arms and never let go.
“Babe?” Tobin asked, holding two different pairs of sweatpants.
Christen blinked out of her thoughts and fixed a smile on her face, looking toward Tobin and the sweats she was holding up.
“Looks great,” Christen replied.
“Are you okay?” Tobin asked, her eyebrows crinkling in worry. “The air’s fine in here.”
Christen leaned her head against the doorframe and fixed Tobin with a pensive, guilt-ridden look. “It’s just hard knowing you were in here all summer, that this room and this house were all you had. Those dents along the wall over there look like someone kicked them in,” Christen pointed.
“Would you believe me if I said I was practicing and banged up the wall?” Tobin tried to joke. It was a complete lie. She’d kicked out of frustration. She’d knocked her foot against the wall over and over again, just hoping that she could get out all the anger she felt, just hoping she would hold everything in and not explode at anyone.
Christen shook her head sadly. She looked to the window and then gestured to the blackout curtains, “I know you hate to admit it but you like waking up with the sun. So you shouldn’t need blackout curtains, but I know why you needed to get them.” Her eyes moved to the carpet in front of Tobin’s bed, a clear line ironed into it from endless nights of pacing. “That carpet shouldn’t be that worn in only one spot, but I know it’s that way because you walked over it, over and over again, wishing you could walk away from everything that was hurting you.” Christen sighed, her eyes falling to the threshold she couldn’t cross. “This room is full of your pain and it kills me that I can’t take it away. I can’t even come in.”
Tobin clenched her jaw, hating that it was so obvious to Christen. She didn’t expect anything less from her, though. Christen was smart and sensitive and observant. Still, she wished that she could forget, that the past could stay in the past, that it didn’t have a residual hold on her, that it didn’t torture her still. Now that everything felt better with Christen, now that she felt like she was starting to heal, she wanted the past to release her and let her move on.
“I-” Tobin started, squeezing her eyes shut for a second, trying to find the words that would soothe Christen’s worries.
“I’m sorry, that was a lot. I just don’t think I’m totally over the worry. I’m still worried about you, even if I get to hold you now. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to make sure you’re sleeping and resting, that you’re actually there,” Christen admitted, her eyes meeting Tobin’s as she pulled her lower lip between her teeth.
“I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t worry about me,” Tobin said, stepping back and sitting on the foot of her bed. “Mainly because I know that won’t stop you, but also because I know that I’m not the same person I was in May. I’m-” Tobin let out a soft sigh, blowing strands of hair away from her face.
“There are some things that I don’t think are going to be fixed,” Tobin whispered, looking at Christen for a second before focusing on the messed up carpet in front of her bed. “I don’t think I’m going to stop worrying. I don’t think I’ll ever keep the panic from strangling me when someone in my family calls, even if Jeff is just calling for homework help. I don’t think I’m ever going to stop feeling like I need to be everywhere at once, even though the logical part of me knows that I can’t, even though the logical part of me knows I can’t save anyone just with my presence. There are parts of me that are broken, and I don’t think I can put them back together. You’re right, this room is a memorial to sleepless nights and so much anger, and I wish I could erase it all, but I can’t.” Tobin stared at her hands, the sweatpants having long been forgotten beside her on the bed. She’d spent weeks of her summer sitting just like this, her eyes glued to the lines on her palms, her brain reeling with anxiety.
Christen might have thought she couldn’t cross the threshold, that she couldn’t enter this room that only served as evidence of Tobin’s pain. But she had to when Tobin was sitting there on the edge of her bed, folding in on herself, her words quiet and shaky.
Christen pushed off the doorframe. She quickly walked to the bed and climbed onto it behind Tobin. She pulled Tobin back into her chest, her arms wrapping around Tobin’s middle. She pressed her face into the middle of Tobin’s back, letting the scent of pine soothe her.
“You’re not broken, baby. Maybe bent, maybe a little bruised and black and blue, but you’re not broken,” Christen hummed, tightening her arms around Tobin. “And if there are parts that need to be healed, we can do that all together. You’re not the same person you were in May, and neither am I. We’re different and that’s okay. You’re going to be okay. You’re not alone.”
Christen pressed a kiss to Tobin’s back and then rested her chin on Tobin’s shoulder. With every deep breath they took together, she could feel more and more tension seep out of Tobin’s frame until there was none left.
“I should have made first date notecards or something for conversation topics that wouldn’t lead to emotional breakdowns,” Tobin huffed, trying her hardest to make a joke, to break the tension, to make Christen laugh.
Christen chuckled and kissed the spot below Tobin’s ear. “We had two years of shit to dig through, Tobs. I’m glad we’re doing it, that way we can put it all to bed and move forward. Which doesn’t mean you won’t need me to remind you that you’re not broken, or that I won’t need a reminder from you that perfect doesn’t mean no mistakes. But now we can focus on us, instead of on all the reasons we almost didn’t make it here.”
“I love you,” Tobin thought, squeezing her eyes shut and leaning back into Christen. “I can remind you of that any time you want.”
“And I can do the same,” Christen replied with a small smile.
“Penn State or Camp Woodchuck?” Tobin asked, pointing at the two pairs of sweatpants on the bed.
Christen snorted softly. “Are those my only two choices?”
“Is that a problem?” Tobin asked, smirking and turning her head to glance at Christen.
“Oh no, not at all. I’ve always wanted to wear merch from Camp Woodchuck,” Christen teased.
“Wow, I didn’t realize you hated Penn State that much,” Tobin snorted, rolling her eyes.
“I didn’t when you went there,” Christen shrugged, not thinking much of the admission.
Tobin stood up from the bed and picked up the Penn State sweatpants, taking them to the dresser. “I might have thought about you in Penn State sweats before,” she shrugged, pulling the drawer open.
Christen stood up quickly and held her hand out. “I’ll take the Penn State ones then!”
“You didn’t even ask me what I thought about,” Tobin smirked.
Christen snagged the sweats out of Tobin’s hand and stepped into Tobin’s space. She got close enough to ghost her lips across Tobin’s, barely a touch, not even really a kiss.
“Oh, I bet I know exactly what you thought about,” Christen whispered, her breath hitting Tobin’s lips. She backed away quickly, with a devilish smirk, and waltzed out of the bedroom, the sweats slung over her shoulder.
Tobin shivered at Christen’s brazenness and their close proximity.
“Bathroom’s down the hall on the left,” Tobin called, grabbing the Camp Woodchuck sweats for herself. She pulled out two sweatshirts for them to wear as well, knowing that Christen would need more than just sweatpants in the chilly night air.
“And that’s Cassiopeia right there. Named after this queen in Greek mythology who apparently boasted about her beauty, but she was probably just confident and some man decided to label her vain,” Christen explained, her pointer finger tracing the constellation in the sky for Tobin to see.
Tobin smiled, feeling extremely relaxed in her backyard, staring up at the sky and listening to Christen’s soft words. It wasn’t the first time she’d thought about Christen’s voice. She’d always loved the way Christen spoke, so passionately but so calmly. It was a voice that she could listen to all the time and never get tired of. “You’re amazing,” she sighed.
Christen rolled her eyes affectionately, her cheeks heating slightly at the compliment.
“I just like stars, nothing too special about that,” Christen shrugged.
“Everything about you is special,” Tobin whispered, knowing her words were cheesy but completely true. Before Christen could deflect or disagree, Tobin pointed up at the sky, choosing to treat this experience the way she treated cloud watching as a child. “That one looks like a walrus,” Tobin mumbled.
Christen giggled, wishing she could be even closer to Tobin. But they were each zipped into their own sleeping bags, which was severely limiting cuddling potential.
“I don’t even think that’s a constellation, and it looks more like a garden gnome to me,” Christen replied.
“I don’t know, Chris. I think I just discovered a constellation. I want to name him Todd,” Tobin yawned. “But I can be generous. If you think he’s a garden gnome, he can be a garden gnome.”
Christen rolled onto her side, lifting up onto her elbow and putting her head on her hand. She gazed down at Tobin, completely enamored.
“Do you think Todd would mind if we mixed up these sleeping arrangements?”
“How so?” Tobin asked, bracing herself to have to carry everything back into the tent if that’s what Christen wanted.
Christen sat up with a smile and started to unzip her sleeping bag. “I’m sure Camp Woodchuck taught you all sorts of things about camping, but did it teach you how to zip two sleeping bags together?”
“Oh, she wants to snuggle with me, Todd,” Tobin grinned up at the sky, already moving her hands to her own zipper to help Christen.
“You just discovered a new constellation, how can I resist?” Christen teased, wiggling out of her sleeping bag and handing it to Tobin.
“I’d love to cuddle,” Tobin hummed, organizing her sleeping bag and zipping Christen’s to hers. Together, the two sleeping bags made one large down blanket, basically. Tobin spread it out, lifting up one side so that Christen could crawl under again before crawling in behind her and resting on top of her own mat.
“Mmm, much better,” Christen hummed, wrapping her arm around Tobin’s waist and placing her head on Tobin’s chest.
“You’re okay with seeing my family tomorrow, right?” Tobin asked, squeezing Christen softly against her chest.
Christen nodded, her fingers sliding beneath Tobin’s sweatshirt and running across her skin.
“I’m still a little embarrassed about how rude I was in front of your Mom last week after the game, but I’ll survive brunch after I apologize.”
“It really wasn’t a big deal. She knows you were mad at me,” Tobin shrugged, rubbing her fingers against Christen’s back.
“I’m definitely not anymore,” Christen replied, squeezing Tobin’s side playfully.
“She also knows that,” Tobin whispered, kissing the top of Christen’s head.
Christen squeezed Tobin around the middle, rolling her head so her chin was on Tobin’s chest. She looked up at Tobin, her brows knit. “Are you- I mean, are you doing okay?”
“Am I talking too much or something?” Tobin asked, cocking her head.
Christen shook her head. “No, not at all. I just didn’t know how you were doing after talking about some heavy stuff upstairs. I never want to push you to talk about things you don’t want to.”
“You aren’t pushing me. I want you to know everything,” Tobin whispered, running one of her hands over Christen's hair, pushing a few strands behind Christen’s ear. Her chest tightened slightly as the words left her lips. She hadn’t told Christen every single thing. She hadn’t told Christen about the content of her nightmares. She hadn't told Christen that she wasn’t sleeping through the night anymore. She hadn’t told Christen that anxiety was sneaking into her normal life, making it hard to focus on school work and even sometimes soccer. But, Tobin wanted to tell Christen everything. Christen was the one person who wouldn’t judge her, who Tobin trusted most. She wanted to open herself up completely...eventually. She just needed Christen to be patient.
Christen melted a little at Tobin’s words and at her touch, her eyes dancing between Tobin’s. She felt the heaviness leaving them the longer they looked at one another. They’d covered a lot of ground on this first date and while Christen had loved every moment of their heartfelt admissions and honest revelations, she also knew that first dates were supposed to be light and fun. It was time for light and fun tonight.
“Everything, huh?” Christen replied.
“Why do I feel like this is a trap?” Tobin groaned, unable to remove the smile from her face.
“People who are worried about traps are usually worried for a reason,” Christen hummed, the fingers of her free hand dancing up and down Tobin’s side.
“I’m just worried because you have that look in your eyes,” Tobin sighed. She couldn’t help but close her eyes, relishing in Christen’s soft touch, in their closeness, in the warmth.
“Is it a good look?” Christen wondered, knowing exactly what look Tobin was referring to but wanting to tease her anyway.
“It’s mischievous,” Tobin laughed. “It’s very cute,” she added, wanting to make sure that Christen knew she liked every version of her, especially this one.
“That’s good because I’m wondering something, baby…” Christen trailed off, leaning down just a bit.
“What’s that?” Tobin grinned, loving how Christen’s voice had shifted into a teasing lilt.
“Does everything include what you thought about me and these sweats?” Christen husked, her smile widening with the question.
Tobin covered her eyes with a hand, groaning softly. “I think you know what I thought about,” she huffed, her eyes still covered.
“I might have said that but I’d much rather hear it from you,” Christen replied, tilting her head to the side and pressing a soft kiss to the side of Tobin’s throat.
Tobin was a weak woman. It only took one well-placed kiss for her to start talking. “Well, back when I was still at Penn State,” she started, gulping as Christen’s lips moved to another spot on her neck.
Christen continued to press soft kisses to the side of Tobin’s throat, loving each and every word that left Tobin’s lips.
“I had a lot of dreams…” Tobin trailed off.
“I’m aware,” Christen whispered into Tobin’s skin, her fingers climbing under the hem of Tobin’s sweatshirt. She ghosted her fingertips across Tobin’s ribs and down across her stomach, trying not to get too distracted at the strong muscles she came across.
“Wh- which you starred in. And there were a few that inclu-” Tobin sucked in a deep breath. “That included those sweats. My sweatpants and sweatshirt.” Tobin could feel her brain spinning. She couldn’t grasp onto the words she needed to explain her dream to Christen. She was too distracted by Christen’s lips and tongue.
“Was I wearing them?” Christen hummed, sucking a little harder on Tobin’s pulse point, but not too hard to leave a love bite.
“Not for long,” Tobin husked, freezing as soon as the words left her mouth. She hadn’t meant to say that. A simple yes would have sufficed, but instead, she’d let the truth slip from between her lips. Her fingers froze on Christen’s back, twisting in her shirt.
Christen chuckled, shaking her head a bit at the clear panic in Tobin’s actions. She lifted up, smiling down at Tobin, her cheeks tinged a lovely shade of pink.
“You didn’t break rule #3 just by dreaming it, Tobs,” Christen said, her fingers still tracing up and down Tobin’s side.
“Well if that were the case, I’ve broken rule #3 a lot…” Tobin whispered, running her fingers under Christen’s shirt and along her waist.
Christen’s eyes darkened as she wet her lips. Just the thought of Tobin dreaming about her like that was sending heat all throughout her body.
“Me too,” Christen said softly.
“Really?!” Tobin asked, her eyes widening at the new information. She’d never imagined that Christen dreamed about her in the same way.
Christen arched a brow at the clear surprise in Tobin’s voice. “How are you so shocked by that? Do you remember the tequila shot? Dancing in the club?”
“I don’t know,” Tobin shrugged. “I guess I just always figured you’re you and I’m...like a horny teenage boy.”
Christen laughed out loud as she shook her head. She removed her hand from underneath Tobin’s shirt and lifted it to brush some baby hairs off of Tobin’s forehead.
“I want you just as much as you want me,” Christen breathed.
“Completely noted,” Tobin husked, placing her hands on Christen’s back and interlacing her fingers.
Christen beamed down at Tobin. “You want to know what else I’ve never done beneath the stars?” she asked, pulling her lower lip between her teeth.
“Hmm?” Tobin hummed, her eyes drifting back up to the starry sky.
“Made out with a girl I’m really, really into,” Christen whispered, tilting down to nuzzle her nose against Tobin’s.
“Well, in that case…” Tobin grinned, pressing her lips against Christen’s eagerly.
Christen shivered as she slipped out from under the sleeping bag. She hated to move, hated to get up and out of the warm cocoon of sleeping bags and Tobin’s arms, but she had to pee.
Christen had to pry open Tobin’s iron-like grip just to wiggle out of the sleeping bag. She hesitated, looking back at Tobin, feeling her heart swell in her chest. Tobin’s face was scrunched up adorably, a small pout on her lips. She looked as disappointed that she was no longer holding Christen, as Christen felt to be leaving her side. Christen leaned down and left a lingering kiss on Tobin’s forehead and then hopped to her feet.
She slid into Tobin’s shoes, not able to remember where she’d dropped her Converse last night, and made her way inside. She grabbed her toiletry bag from her backpack near the door, deciding to kill a few birds with one stone, now that she was up.
She had just started brushing her teeth when she heard a knock on the bathroom door. With a smile, and toothpaste dripping from the corner of her mouth, Christen yanked the door open.
“Oh!” Cindy yelped, stepping away from the door. “You’re not Tobs.”
Christen’s eyes widened and she rushed to pull the toothbrush from her mouth and spit out the toothpaste. Wiping at her mouth, she grimaced at Cindy.
“Uh, nope. She’s asleep. Outside. In her own sleeping bag. By herself,” Christen rambled, her cheeks burning as she wrapped an arm around her stomach and used her free hand to wipe any remaining toothpaste from her mouth.
Cindy suddenly grinned a huge, lopsided smile that matched her daughter’s. “It’s good to see you, Christen. We missed having you around.”
Christen immediately relaxed. She returned Cindy’s grin and stepped into her arms, giving her a brief but tight hug.
“I missed you guys too,” Christen replied softly.
“I can let you finish getting ready. You can have some coffee with Jeff and me in the kitchen before Tobin wakes up,” Cindy offered, her voice still cheery but not really sounding like Christen had much of a choice.
Christen tried not to let the prospect of drinking coffee alone with Tobin’s parents now that things between them were more than friendly scare the absolute crap out of her. She fixed a large smile on her face, trying to act like that was something she’d really want to do.
“That sounds super…super-duper,” Christen said, her voice a little weak.
“Great, I’ll start a pot,” Cindy said, spinning on her heel and making her way to the kitchen, her slippers scuffing on the floor as she went.
After Cindy walked away, Christen quickly shut the door and leaned against it. She ran a hand through her messy curls.
“I can do this. It’s just coffee. With Tobin’s parents. After spending the night in their backyard. With their daughter.”
Christen groaned and added more toothpaste to her toothbrush, deciding she was going to take her sweet time getting ready in hopes that Tobin would get up soon.
It had been forty-one minutes. Tobin was still asleep and Christen was on her third cup of coffee. She and Tobin’s parents had really stretched the topics, spending a lot of time on school and soccer, on her own family, and their plans for what home games to come to. But now the topics were dwindling, and the only thing left was to talk about Tobin and their changed relationship.
“I’m going to get dressed for the day. Jeffrey should be coming home from his friend’s house soon, and then we can start cooking some brunch,” Cindy sighed, lifting herself from her chair at the table and carrying her coffee to the sink.
Christen breathed through the blooming worry in her chest. She and Cindy had been carrying the conversation, and Jeff had only spoken very briefly.
“I uh- maybe I should go see if Tobin is awake,” Christen suggested, lifting out of the chair she was in at the kitchen table.
“Actually,” Jeff spoke up from behind his coffee cup. “I wanted to talk a little longer.”
“Oh God, breathe. In and out. Breathe. You can do this,” Christen reminded herself, forcing a smile on her face.
“Sounds good. Tobin could always use more sleep anyways,” Christen replied.
Jeff waited for Cindy’s footsteps on the stairs to disappear before he turned back to Christen.
“I thought you and Tobin were only friends…” Jeff started.
Christen choked on her sip of coffee, her cheeks immediately filling with color. She spluttered as she struggled to breathe and speak around the coffee she’d just inhaled.
“I- we- um- we were?” Christen managed.
“...for a long while,” he finished. “The first time I realized there was something more was when Tobin was going over for one of your family’s barbecues. I came into her room, and she’d emptied her entire closet trying to find something to wear.”
Christen felt her heart flutter at the admission. She could picture Tobin doing that, worrying about what to wear. She never needed to, her style was effortless and chill and always looked great. But knowing that Tobin had been nervous even then made Christen feel a bit better about being nervous now.
“My other daughters worry about that kind of stuff, but Tobin’s my tomboy. She’s never cared about that sort of thing. Her sisters used to tease her about being boyish, but she just shrugged them off. She didn’t care until you, so I knew it was serious,” Jeff hummed, taking a sip of coffee.
Christen wasn’t sure if Jeff was expecting an answer out of her, so she simply offered him a nod and a smile. She sipped her coffee as well, waiting for him to continue.
“I know that Tobin hurt you when she ignored you this summer. Cindy told me about how hurt and upset you seemed at the first game this year,” Jeff added, looking seriously at Christen.
Christen dropped her gaze to the table in front of her. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, letting a long breath escape her lips. She tightened her grip around the coffee cup and made herself look back up at Jeff. She wasn’t going to hide, she wasn’t going to run away from this conversation. She was here, she was serious, she cared.
“I know she hurt you, but she hurt herself too,” Jeff sighed, putting his coffee down and laying his arms on the breakfast table.
“I know. I hate that she was hurting, that she still is. I wish I could take it all away, that it was just me who got hurt,” Christen admitted.
Jeff smiled softly at Christen, his eyes showing just how much he hurt for his own daughter. “She wouldn’t want that.”
Christen chuckled and nodded in agreement. “Oh I know, believe me. Doesn’t mean I don’t still wish it, though.”
“It took us a long time to get her to talk about you,” he sighed. “I had no idea what happened between the barbecue and the end of camp that changed nervous, blushing Tobs into quiet, brooding, angry Tobs. When I finally asked her what happened with you, she told me that you didn’t want her back.”
Christen physically flinched at the words, bile rising in her throat at having to face her mistake again. She wondered if she’d ever stop feeling guilty for that, for making Tobin feel like she didn’t want her.
“So, even though this is usually Cindy’s domain, I’m going to ask you and make sure. Do you want her back? Because she’s in deeper than she was in May. I can already see that, and she doesn’t need more hurt.” Jeff leaned back in his chair, feeling weird about giving a protective parent talk. Tobin was his little girl, though, and he needed to make sure that the girl across from him would be careful with her heart.
Christen took a deep breath, and then another. She looked up at Jeff, the glisten of tears in her eyes. She could feel her throat tighten and she knew her voice was going to shake. She just hoped she’d get through everything she needed to before she broke.
“I...I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. I made a lot of mistakes. I ran when I should have stayed, I pulled away when I should have fought harder. And these past few weeks, I-” Christen shook her head, pushing through her guilt, knowing Jeff wasn’t trying to reopen old wounds but was asking for a promise not to make any new ones.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I want to be with Tobin, more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. She’s…” Christen felt a smile tug at her lips when she thought of the girl fast asleep outside, the one she was hopelessly in love with. “She’s magic. She makes me laugh and makes me feel brave. She makes me want to be better. So sure, Tobin is in deeper than she was in May, but so am I, Mr. Heath. I don’t ever want to hurt her, and I’m in this, ‘til the end.
“I had a feeling when we got home last night to the two of you asleep outside, but it’s good to hear. You can call me Jeff, even if I was definitely just trying to play the intimidating father,” Jeff laughed, reaching out and squeezing one of Christen’s hands.
Christen smiled and sniffled once, wiping at the single tear that had escaped the corner of her eye with her free hand.
“Woah, what happened?” Tobin asked, her voice still groggy, a few lines from her pillow imprinted on her face. She had no idea what exactly was going on, but the air in the kitchen was tense, her dad gripping Christen’s hand on the table.
Christen composed herself and spun around in the chair. She beamed at Tobin, at the sleepiness in her eyes and the adorable little yawn she let out.
“I think my mom would call it a kitchen sink talk,” Christen replied with a small smile, suddenly feeling a thousand times lighter now that Tobin was here. She’d missed her, more than she ever thought she could miss another person.
“Oh my god, Daaaad,” Tobin groaned, slumping against the counter and pouring herself a cup of coffee. She added some milk before carrying her cup over to the kitchen table, placing it in front of the seat beside Christen, and giving Christen a soft kiss on the head.
“What? It’s a Dad’s job to do that!” Jeff laughed, winking at Christen.
“That’s so not true!” Tobin argued. “Mom always gives ‘the talk,’ and she promised not to with Christen.”
Christen hid her blush and her smile in her coffee cup, feeling Tobin’s hand wrap around her knee and give it a squeeze under the table.
“It’s okay, Tobs. I survived,” Christen teased, reaching down to take Tobin’s hand in her own.
“You did better than I did with Stacy,” Tobin snorted, remembering how she’d ended up in tears.
“Oh we know, Stacy told us all about it,” Jeff quipped, rising from the table to get himself some more coffee.
“I hate this,” Tobin sighed dramatically.
Christen laughed, squeezing Tobin’s hand comfortingly. “You might say that, but you look pretty happy,” Christen whispered.
Tobin leaned over to place a kiss on Christen’s cheek, unable to control her smile. “Okay, I’m not sure how you’ll feel about this, but how do scones sound?” Tobin asked, lifting her eyebrows slightly.
Christen’s eyes lit up. “Is that even a question?!”
“Well, I don’t know! I don’t want them to end up in this trash can,” Tobin whispered, jumping up from her seat and hurrying around the kitchen island.
Christen let out an amused scoff, shaking her head at Tobin and then jumping to her feet.
“I already apologized for that!” Christen replied, joining Tobin and Jeff in the kitchen.
“It wounded me,” Tobin teased, pulling ingredients out of the pantry and a few cabinets.
“Do I want to know?” Jeff asked, looking between Tobin and Christen curiously.
“She threw away perfectly good baked goods,” Tobin said, laughing to herself.
Christen looked to Jeff, ready to defend herself. “It was not my finest moment, but I did eat them all after Tobin got them out of the trash for me.”
“Tobs is just feeling sorry for herself. When I was dating Cindy, she threw away an entire lasagna that I made to say sorry,” Jeff grinned.
Christen chuckled and looked over at Tobin. “So this is where you learned to bribe people with food?”
“Clearly, he didn’t tell me the version of the story where mom rejected his attempt,” Tobin muttered, handing Christen the sifter and dumping flour into it. Jeff laughed as he left the kitchen and headed for the stairs, giving Tobin and Christen some time alone now that his protective dad talk was over.
Once Jeff was gone, Christen grabbed a pinch of flour from the sifter and smeared it on Tobin’s cheek, unable not to grin as she did so.
“Goooooood morning,” Christen sing-songed.
“Good morning,” Tobin hummed, leaning in for a kiss and wiping her floury hand along Christen’s neck.
Christen scoffed playfully and leaned back, her eyes narrowing. “Are we gonna do this?”
“I’d rather just kiss,” Tobin said in a soft voice, not particularly wanting flour in her hair.
Christen melted and stepped back toward Tobin. She placed a gentle kiss on Tobin’s lips, sticking her hand into the bag of flour and grabbing a handful. As she deepened the kiss, she dropped the flour on top of Tobin’s head. She got some on herself, but it was worth the shriek of shock that left Tobin’s lips. At the sight of flour completely covering Tobin’s hair and falling down into her face, Christen could feel tears forming she was laughing so hard.
Tobin pouted and shook her head over the sink to get as much flour off of herself.
“I couldn’t resist,” Christen said, still laughing.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Tobin mumbled, running her fingers through her hair softly. “That was so mean. You’d be so mad if I’d done that to you.”
Christen softened and wrapped an arm around Tobin’s waist. She kissed Tobin’s jaw lightly. “I’ll make it up to you,” Christen whispered.
“Oh, and now she thinks kisses will fix everything,” Tobin sighed. “Todd would be so disappointed in you.”
Christen giggled, wiggling between Tobin and the kitchen sink. “I can’t stand to disappoint Todd,” Christen said, kissing the tip of Tobin’s nose. “You look really cute with all this flour on you, by the way.”
Tobin glared at Christen, but her eyes were soft and playful. “You have to be on scone duty once they’re in the oven so I can shower, which means you get to be in the kitchen alone with my parents again, so really you hurt yourself.”
Christen shrugged, a small smile on her face. “Meh, I’ll be fine. I survived the protective parents talk already. I can just ask your mom to pull out the baby picture books while we wait for you.”
Tobin groaned, knowing exactly what picture her mom would show her first.