Another chair around the table
Another gift under the tree
Another song about the season
But they all sound new to me
Oh, this year, I don't feel quite like I used to
December came, something changed
Guess my wish came true
Just like home, not alone
Winter's not so blue
My first winter with you
(Tobin - “First Winter” by Wrabel)
It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on
But it don't snow here
It stays pretty green
Oh, I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
(Christen - “River” by Joni Mitchell)
Christen dramatically flopped down onto Crystal’s bed and slung an arm across her face.
“I’m dying,” Christen complained.
“Merry Christmas to you too,” Crystal teased, pulling a sweater out from under Christen’s arm and throwing it into her almost packed suitcase.
“Merry Christmas, I’m still dying,” Christen said, looking up at Crystal.
“What’s wrong? Did Tobin forget that your four-month anniversary is coming up or something?” Crystal sighed, leaning against the edge of the bed.
Christen shook her head and sat up. “She doesn’t forget anything. Except-” Christen blushed and fell back to the bed, covering her face with her hands.
“What did she forget?” Crystal asked, her eyebrows scrunching together. She hadn’t actually expected Tobin to forget anything. Tobin and Christen were practically glued to each other’s sides, and when they weren’t, they were sending sweet texts or leaving each other notes. It would be next to impossible to forget something, the way those two were always together.
“Shekeepsforgettingtohavesexwithme,” Christen mumbled, her cheeks flaming.
“I’m sorry what?” Crystal laughed, sitting down next to Christen.
Christen peeked between her fingers. “She keeps forgetting to have sex with me,” she grumbled, her blush deepening.
“What do you mean forgetting? How can you forget to have sex with someone?” Crystal asked, trying to stifle another laugh that begged to break out of her chest.
Christen was wondering the same thing. Ever since their ‘National Championship almost’, Christen had been trying to get Tobin alone again. But late-night study sessions would end with a forehead kiss and snuggles. Heated make-outs in Tobin’s truck would get cooled off much too soon. Even when Christen would wake Tobin up with kisses and wandering hands, Tobin would kiss her sweetly and slide out of bed to make them coffee. It was infuriating to have been so close, and now, Tobin seemed just fine to wait and be patient again, to bide their time. But Christen wasn’t. She was almost ready to combust.
“We almost...you know, after we won,” Christen began.
“I know. Kelley told me,” Crystal nodded.
“Fucking Kelley,” Christen grumbled. “Anyways, I thought once we got back, we’d get to it. Do the deed. Cross the finish line. Round all the bases and score a home run-”
“Make love,” Crystal supplied, still beyond entertained at the conversation she was having with Christen currently.
Christen sat up, a smile on her lips. “Yeah, exactly,” she replied, then the smile dropped and her forehead creased again. “But nothing!”
“Seems like you’re spinning in a circle, back to where you were when Tobin didn’t know what slow meant,” Crystal laughed. “Did something happen in Kentucky to make her nervous?”
“She couldn’t figure out how to unclasp my bra, but we talked about it, so that can’t be-” Christen realized what she’d just said, and turned her wide-eyed gaze to Crystal. “That is in the friendship vault. Nobody else needs to know that, okay?”
“I don’t even remember what you said,” Crystal winked. “Want me to talk to her? I’m sure I’d give her better advice than whatever Allie and Ashlyn are telling her.”
“No,” Christen sighed. “I’m just being a ridiculous, horny mess of a human. No intervention necessary.”
“You’re both leaving campus today, though,” Crystal said. “And Tobin’s going to Florida tomorrow. Do you really think the horniness is just going to go away?”
“It’s fine, I’m fine, I just needed to complain,” Christen waved off, trying not to think about the fact that Tobin was leaving tomorrow, that the raging fire within her had no clear extinguishing date.
“You know you could complain to Tobin,” Crystal whispered, bracing herself for whatever defense Christen was going to have.
Christen threw her hands up in the air and groaned. She collapsed back onto the bed. “Oh, I have. Many times! She just smiles that stupid little smirk that she knows gets under my skin. And it’s like she knows something I don’t, and then just changes the subject!”
Crystal looked down at her phone, nodding at Christen’s words but moving her thumbs across the screen. “Well, I just texted her, so maybe she’ll answer me,” Crystal said with a grin.
Christen shot up and grabbed Crystal’s phone. “You didn’t...oh, you did. Oh shit, she’s replying!”
[Crystal 11:23 AM]
Tobin, your girlfriend is scaring me. Why are you not taking care of her needs?
Christen shoved the phone back in Crystal’s hands, desperate to know what Tobin had to say for herself, but not really sure if she did want to know.
Crystal waited for a message to appear, a little surprised when the three dots disappeared and Tobin’s name popped up on her phone screen with an incoming call.
“Oh, she’s calling,” Crystal hummed, enjoying teasing her friend a little.
“Pick up, pick up, pick up!” Christen hissed, jumping to her knees on the bed. “Put it on speaker!”
Crystal answered the phone, putting it on speaker. “Hey, Tobin. What’s up?”
“Hi, Crystal...Hi, Chris,” Tobin laughed, her smirk audible through the phone.
“Ugh, how did you know I was even here? I was holding my breath!” Christen complained, her shoulders sagging.
“Why else would Crystal text me that kind of thing?” Tobin chuckled.
“She has a point, Christen,” Crystal said, shrugging in Christen’s direction.
“I don’t mind talking to you, though, Crystal. Just not on speakerphone,” Tobin said.
“Babe, no! Crystal, don’t you dare,” Christen warned. “Don’t freeze me out of this.”
“Bye Christen, so great to see you, happy holidays,” Crystal grinned, grabbing Christen’s arm and pulling her off the bed. She dragged Christen over to the door.
“But, but-” Christen tried to protest, only to have Crystal shut the door in her face.
“You’ll forgive me later!” Crystal called through the door, flicking the lock and walking back over to her bed. She took the call off speakerphone, putting the phone to her ear. “All right, Tobin, spill. Your girl is wound so tight I think she might break.”
“I don’t want to take any chances when we actually do...you know?”
“You mean like, no more interferences?” Crystal clarified, knowing full well how often she and her teammates had accidentally interrupted a thing or two between Christen and Tobin.
“No Kelleys or Megans or Allies. I don’t want any interruptions or any time constraints or any pressure, and I’ve set something up, but I may need your help…” Tobin whispered, feeling like Christen could hear her through the phone and Crystal’s closed door.
“She can’t hear you,” Crystal whispered back. “But what can I do for you?” she added with a smile, already knowing that whatever Tobin needed help with, it was going to be the cutest thing in the world.
Christen slammed the trunk of her Subaru, praying that everything she’d stuffed inside of it would fit. When it actually shut, she breathed out a sigh of relief and then turned to wave at Megan and Crystal as they rode off in their Uber.
“What did your car do to you?” Tobin laughed, walking up from behind Christen.
Christen spun around, her smile immediate at the sound of her girlfriend’s voice. She quickly closed the space between them and threw her arms around Tobin’s shoulders.
“You’ve been very busy, I haven’t seen you all day long,” Christen whispered, pulling Tobin tight to her.
“I had a couple of things to finish up here and lots of packing to do,” Tobin shrugged, burying her head in Christen’s neck.
“I wish we were driving back together,” Christen hummed, pressing a quick kiss to Tobin’s cheek before backing away. She slipped her pointer fingers through the belt loops of Tobin’s jeans, keeping them close together.
“I’ll basically be tailing you the whole time,” Tobin laughed. “And then I’ll pick you up tonight for early Christmas!”
“More like you’ll leave me in the dust, I drive slowly remember?” Christen replied with a small smile.
“Okay, you can follow me and I’ll make sure to drive slow enough to keep you in my rearview mirror,” Tobin said, tucking a strand of hair behind Christen’s ear.
“Thank you,” Christen murmured, kissing Tobin quickly. “And I’m very excited about early Christmas. Not to get too competitive, but I love giving gifts and I love giving the best gifts.”
“It’s a good thing I get your birthday to redeem myself if my gift sucks,” Tobin teased.
“You could give me a rock off the side of the road and I’d love it because I love you ,” Christen shrugged, playing with Tobin’s belt loops.
“I love you too, and that’s why the gift is better than a rock,” Tobin smiled, brushing her hands along Christen’s arms. She quickly tucked her hands into her back pockets when she saw the smear of pink paint on her right index finger.
Christen beamed, still not completely over how it sounded when Tobin told her that, completely oblivious to the paint on Tobin’s hand. “You ready?”
“Yeah, I have two last things to grab from the house, but I can just grab them and Frank and meet you back here,” Tobin nodded.
Christen tilted forward and kissed Tobin sweetly, gently. She lingered, knowing their time was quickly coming to an end.
“Don’t take too long. I miss you already,” Christen whispered, feeling a bit of sadness bleed into her smile at the thought of Tobin leaving tomorrow, at the thought of them having to spend time apart after four months of being together every single day.
“I’ll be super speedy,” Tobin grinned, leaning forward to kiss Christen quickly before jogging down the street and toward her house.
She had to get Christen’s birthday present out of the house and into her car without Christen noticing. To the blind eye or Christen’s biased eye, the present might seem finished, but Tobin felt like something was missing. She’d been working on it for a long time, but she felt like maybe she needed to add a few more colors or an extra detail to really finish it. So, instead of leaving it at school, she was sneaking it back to her parents’ house and hopefully keeping it from Christen’s observant eyes.
Tobin grabbed the trash bag that she was keeping Christen’s present in and the dorky surprise she’d picked out for their drive home before doing one last scan of her room and the common areas in the house. Once she settled in the truck, she quickly made her way down the street to Christen’s house, parked outside, and hopped out to see Christen off.
“All set!” Tobin called up the driveway.
Christen strolled down the driveway, sliding her glasses up on top of her head.
“So I’ll just follow you?” Christen asked, tilting her head to the side.
“Pick a hand first,” Tobin said, stepping closer to Christen, both of her hands behind her back.
Christen arched a brow, completely unsure why her brain went to a very, very inappropriate place. She forced herself to breathe, to pack away all those horny feelings into a little box and tuck that box away. She willed her erratic heartbeat to slow as she nodded at Tobin’s left side.
“Left please,” Christen replied with a small smile.
Tobin pulled her left hand out from behind her back revealing a bright yellow walkie-talkie. “It’s kind of old school, and it’s only an hour-long drive, but with these, we can talk with the push of a button.” Tobin pulled her right hand out from behind her back to show Christen the other walkie-talkie.
Christen softened, completely, and totally enamored with Tobin and the little things she did. “You are extraordinary,” she said softly, moving forward to kiss Tobin, a little harder than she meant to, but she couldn’t help herself. Tobin Heath was the sweetest person in the entire world.
Tobin leaned back after a moment. “They were on sale at Target,” Tobin shrugged, clicking the button on her walkie-talkie and pulling it to her lips. “I thought it would be fun.”
Christen scrunched her nose adorably and then grabbed her walkie-talkie. She stepped back and held the button down.
“I love you so much,” Christen said into the walkie-talkie, hearing her words come out of the walkie-talkie in Tobin’s hand.
“I love you too,” Tobin said into her walkie-talkie, stepping back down the driveway away from Christen. “See, it works from here too.”
“Do I get a codename?” Christen teased.
“Nutmeg Queen to Pretty Pressy,” Tobin laughed into the walkie-talkie.
Christen rolled her eyes affectionately, but she couldn’t help the small blush that heated her cheeks.
Tobin jogged back up the driveway, wrapping her arms around Christen and kissing her softly on the cheek. “I’ll talk to you the whole way and I’ll pick you up tonight at 6:30.”
“I can’t wait,” Christen replied.
“Shoot,” Tobin groaned, stepping away from the wooden table in the garage and looking at her watch. She had glue on each of her fingers, having made a last-minute decision about Christen’s birthday present that was either a stroke of genius or a huge mistake. She set the gift on a clear rack in the garage before running into the house and shoving her hands under the kitchen faucet.
It took far too long for Tobin to get her fingers to stop sticking to one another and even longer for her to pick out an outfit that she thought was casual but still nice. She settled on a pair of light-wash blue jeans, a black sweater, and a pair of sneakers and ran her brush through her hair a couple of times. She nearly forgot the small box she’d wrapped a week ago but remembered just in time and ran back upstairs to put it in her pocket before saying bye to her parents and sprinting across the front yard to Frank.
“Thirty minutes is late, dude,” Tobin chastised herself, slamming on her brakes in front of the Press house. She wanted to drop her head onto her steering wheel, hating that she’d lost track of time and really hoping that Christen hadn’t been waiting for her all along. She pushed open the car door, preparing an apology as she walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell.
“Oh, good, you’re here. Christen isn’t ready yet she-” Stacy tried to say, only to be interrupted by a shout from inside.
“DAD!” Christen yelled, pain lacing her voice.
“Is she okay?” Tobin asked, peeking into the house.
“Christmas present wrapping snafu,” Stacy replied, tugging Tobin inside and closing the door. “She’s fine.”
“She doesn’t look like she feels fine,” Tobin mumbled as soon as she caught sight of her girlfriend.
Christen squeezed her eyes shut, fully looking away from where her hand was held over the kitchen sink. She trusted her dad, she trusted him with her life, but right now, she was sure he was just doing this to make her hurt.
“Dad! Enough with the hydrogen peroxide!” Christen hissed.
The cut really wasn’t that deep. It had bled a lot, which she was not a fan of. And it had only happened because she’d been rushing to get the present that had just gotten there an hour earlier wrapped in time. But she was fine. She just needed a Band-aid and then she could -
“I don’t know...this could need stitches,” Cody hummed, squinting at the cut finger. “Tobin, you feel like driving to the ER tonight?”
Christen opened her eyes, completely surprised to see Tobin in her kitchen. “Hey, when did you get here?” she asked, trying to smile despite the pain radiating from the cut on her finger.
“Just now. Sorry, I’m late,” Tobin said, scratching the back of her neck. “Are you serious about the ER?”
“He’s joking, I’m fine. I just need that Band-Aid,” Christen assured. “Right Dad?”
“Yeah, I guess you’ll live,” Cody sighed, putting Neosporin over the cut and covering it with a Band-Aid.”
“Thanks,” Christen said, skipping over to kiss Tobin on the cheek. “Hi, you look great,” she hummed quietly, conscious that her parents were in the kitchen.
“So do you,” Tobin whispered, taking a very respectful look at Christen’s black skirt and olive green sweater since Cody and Stacy were in the vicinity.
“Let me just grab my purse and your presents,” Christen whispered. She turned back to her parents. “Love you guys, be back later!”
“Wait presents...plural?” Tobin asked, following behind Christen. “I thought we agreed on one Christmas present.”
“I know, I know,” Christen replied, grabbing the square box and the large envelope from the coffee table, then slinging her purse over her shoulder. “But technically one’s like a joint gift so...it doesn’t count?”
“A joint gift?” Tobin asked skeptically, waving at Christen’s parents and opening the front door for Christen to exit.
Christen gave her parents one last smile as the door closed. She turned to Tobin and took in her date outfit, once again taken aback by how good her girlfriend looked in whatever she wore. With a smile on her lips, Christen reached out to grab ahold of Tobin’s hand and threaded their fingers together.
“Mhm, it’s pretty cute too if I do say so myself,” Christen replied.
“So this is a gift for both of us?” Tobin asked. She led Christen to the passenger’s side, opening her door for her and holding the gifts while Christen buckled her seatbelt.
“It will all make sense later,” Christen winked, taking the presents from Tobin.
“Is your finger okay?” Tobin asked, eyeing the bandaged pinky on Christen’s left hand.
Christen held it up and sighed. “It hurts a bit, but I’m sure after lots of kisses from my gorgeous girlfriend, I’ll feel a lot better.”
Tobin leaned forward, happy to oblige, and kissed Christen softly. She made sure not to linger too long, not in front of the house, knowing that Cody and Stacy often saw them off from the front window. She ended the kiss far too soon and closed Christen’s door, bounding around the car to her own seat.
“I really am sorry that I was late,” Tobin repeated, seriously hating that she’d let herself get distracted. She pulled away from the curb and drove through Christen’s neighborhood.
“Oh gosh, baby, I don’t mind,” Christen assured, laying her hand on Tobin’s thigh, ignoring the slight throbbing she still felt in her pinky. “I assume something came up. I was a bit busy anyway, cutting myself on scissors and almost losing my finger.”
Tobin lifted Christen’s left hand and kissed the back of it as lightly as she could before placing it back down on her leg.
Christen caught sight of a ring on Tobin’s middle finger, one that definitely hadn’t been there earlier in the day, one that she’d never seen on Tobin’s finger before. It was a thick silver band, covered in ocean waves.
“Did you get a new ring?” Christen asked, grabbing onto Tobin’s hand so she could get a better look at it. She ran her thumb along the band, smiling a bit. She loved it and was already planning how she was going to steal it sometime.
“Oh, it’s an old one that I found when I was packing up today,” Tobin lied, trying to act casual. She kept her eyes on the road and leaned back in her seat, just hoping that Christen wouldn’t try to take it off.
“I’m totally going to borrow this,” Christen said, relinquishing Tobin’s hand and then dropping hers back to Tobin’s thigh.
“You’re more than welcome to,” Tobin said, feeling major relief when Christen let go of her hand.
Christen grinned and turned to look out the windshield, running her thumb along Tobin’s jeans, messing with the small hole in the fabric.
“How were your few hours at home, other than nearly losing an appendage?” Tobin asked, aiming to change the subject away from the new ring on her finger.
Christen chuckled and smoothed out some non-existent wrinkles on her skirt. “They were fine, I guess.”
“Ooooh, the f-word. Scary,” Tobin shivered, teasing Christen for all the times she’d used the word ‘fine’ when she was annoyed with Tobin.
“You’re ridiculous,” Christen replied, with no real bite in her words. She smiled softly over at Tobin. “I just...I know I’m going to be a moping mess when you leave tomorrow, and I already feel bad that my family has to put up with me.”
Tobin nodded, ignoring the ache in her chest at the thought of leaving tomorrow, of making Christen hurt by leaving.
“I’m going to tell you a secret,” Tobin whispered, glancing across the car at Christen.
“What’s that, Tobs?”
“If you tell anyone I’ll deny it. This goes to the grave,” Tobin added.
Christen cracked a smile. “I won’t tell a soul,” she promised with feigned seriousness.
“I’m not even excited to see Cole yet because I know how much leaving you is going to suck, and that’s all I can think about right now. But if you ever tell him that…” Tobin warned, her lopsided smile sliding onto her face.
Christen laughed, her chest loosening as her sadness about their impending separation receded for the time being.
“I won’t tell him,” Christen replied, running her fingers along Tobin’s jeans. “But yeah, you leaving tomorrow is going to suck. We haven’t spent more than a few hours apart in four months.”
“I’m planning on bothering you with texts and calls and selfies with the baby every hour on the hour, if not more often,” Tobin promised.
“I’m going to hold you to that,” Christen said with a small smile.
Tobin pulled into the restaurant parking lot, sending up a silent prayer that it didn’t look too crowded, since she hadn’t actually made a reservation, something Christen constantly encouraged her to start doing. She jumped out of her seat and raced around the truck to get Christen’s door. By this point, she really didn’t need to run. Christen knew she would get her door, but Tobin still hurried, not wanting to miss the chance to do something nice, to do something to show her love.
They were quickly seated at a small corner table near the back of the restaurant. After pulling Christen’s chair out for her and getting settled in her own, Tobin rested her forearms on the table and looked over at her girlfriend. “Any Christmas plans with the family?” she asked with a smile.
“We love Christmas in the Press house,” Christen replied. “We go all out. Decorations everywhere, a huge tree, matching pajamas. We always decorate gingerbread houses and go look at Christmas lights, too.”
“That sounds perfect,” Tobin sighed. “Other than the lack of snow.”
“Yeah, I’ve always wanted a white Christmas. Maybe someday,” Christen shrugged, taking a sip of water.
“We can totally have a white Christmas someday,” Tobin nodded, her eyes falling to the menu, traveling over the choices.
Christeen paused, the water glass raised to her lips. Tobin had said it so casually, almost offhandedly. Like she just knew they’d be together, that they would do a white Christmas someday together. There was no doubt in Tobin’s eyes, in her words. It made Christen’s heart warm just thinking about the fact that they could actually plan for a future now. They could think about spending holidays together, about taking trips together. Tobin sounded as sure as she felt that this thing between them was strong, that it would last.
“There’s no snow in Florida either,” Tobin said, making a face. “I’m still not sure why my sister wants to live there.” She was completely unaware of what her previous statement had done to Christen. She hadn’t even really noticed the weight it held. She and Christen just felt inevitable, and saying that didn’t seem scary or forced. It was just a fact.
“And even if there’s no snow here, I think Katie and Perry should come here next year,” Tobin continued, only stopping to take a sip of water.
Christen finally had the wherewithal to put her water down and actually focus on the words leaving Tobin’s mouth, instead of daydreaming about their someday.
“That seems like a good idea, California’s way better than Florida,” Christen teased lightly.
“Plus, it’s the last Christmas before I’ll get drafted,” Tobin shrugged.
Christen felt her chest swell with pride at the confidence in Tobin’s words. Tobin knew, just like she did, that Tobin was going to get drafted. That Tobin was going to play professionally. She just hoped she fit into that version of Tobin’s life, as well as she seemed to fit into this one.
“Your family’s all in one place, so it’ll be easier to do Christmas when you’re drafted too,” Tobin added.
“I haven’t really thought about it too much, honestly,” Christen admitted. “It seems like a lifetime away from now. We’re still juniors.”
“We have a lot to do before then,” Tobin nodded. “Like winning another National Championship.”
Christen lowered her eyes to the menu, pressing her foot against Tobin’s ankle under the table. “Mhm, lots to do,” she hummed, a small smirk gracing her lips.
“I feel like I’m talking a lot,” Tobin mumbled, sipping her water again.
“I love it when you talk,” Christen said, looking up from her menu. “I could listen to you talk all day.”
Tobin rolled her eyes softly, closing her menu once she’d decided on something. She stretched her legs out under the table, catching one of Christen’s feet between her ankles. “What do you want for your birthday?” Tobin asked, knowing she already had a present that she hoped would be perfect.
“You,” Christen replied without thinking, her eyes back on the menu as she perused her options.
“You already have that,” Tobin laughed, letting her eyes trace over Christen’s face since she was busy looking down at the menu.
“Then I don’t need anything else,” Christen quipped, smiling quickly up at Tobin before flipping the page of the menu and looking back down.
“That’s not helpful. Good thing I already got something,” Tobin shrugged.
“Can I have a hint?” Christen asked, finding what she wanted to order and then closing her menu. She leaned back in her chair, moving her foot up and down across Tobin’s ankle.
Tobin shook her head no, not wanting anything to spoil her birthday gift. “Well, I guess I have two birthday gifts, but one is for both of us.”
“So after all that, you got me a joint gift too?” Christen laughed.
“You’ll forgive me when you see the joint gift,” Tobin whispered.
“Deal,” Christen replied. “You know you can just give them to my mom to give to me. You don’t have to leave your family and come all the way back here. Not during the holidays,” she added, feeling a little guilty that Tobin was planning to fly back to L.A. for her birthday.
“No way,” Tobin shook her head, vehemently opposed to the idea of missing Christen’s birthday. “First of all, I don’t want to ever miss your birthday. And...secondly, I don’t want to leave the joint gift with your mom.”
“I still feel bad,” Christen shrugged, “but I am happy you’re coming back. Best birthday gift of all.”
“I’m flying out before my parents to spend time with my sisters, and they all know how important it is to me to be here for your birthday. Please don’t feel bad,” Tobin said, reaching across the table to take Christen’s hand.
Christen squeezed Tobin’s hand, pushing aside her guilt and embracing the fact that her girlfriend was willing to leave her family over the holidays to spend time with her.
“I’ll try not. Now, please tell me you want to split a dumpling platter and I will love you forever,” Christen said, wanting to lighten the mood a bit.
“I definitely want to split a dumpling platter,” Tobin parroted, her smile growing wider on her face.
“I think this is the right station, but the lights are definitely not blinking to the right beat,” Tobin laughed, her hand on the radio and her head leaning forward to look at the house covered in Christmas lights in front of them.
Christen didn’t care if the music was off or the lights weren’t on the right timer. She was sitting in front of the most miraculous display of Christmas lights she’d ever seen and she was snuggled up to Tobin Heath. She didn’t care about anything else in the world.
“It’s perfect,” Christen hummed, her eyes never leaving the display. “I’ve been going with my family to see lights for years, and we’ve never come here before. How did you find it?”
“Would it be lame if I said Google?” Tobin chuckled, leaning back in her seat and wrapping her arm around Christen.
Christen giggled and leaned her head against Tobin’s shoulder. “Not at all. I’m just glad you found it.”
“It wouldn’t be an early Christmas without seizure-inducing light shows,” Tobin hummed, kissing Christen’s head. “It is pretty, though.”
“Totally pretty, and not to ignore them or anything, but can we do gifts now?” Christen asked excitedly, having been patiently waiting all night to ask.
“Sure,” Tobin grinned, loving how giddy Christen seemed about both giving and receiving gifts. There was something incredibly sweet about how genuinely happy Christmas made Christen, and Tobin decided right then and there that she would decorate her entire yard in blinking, bright lights if it meant making Christen smile.
Christen grabbed the wrapped box and the envelope from the floor of the truck and put them on her lap. “Can I go first?”
“Yes,” Tobin nodded, suddenly feeling a little anxious about the present she’d gotten for Christen, about the gift sitting in her glove box.
With a smile, Christen handed them both over to Tobin. “Open the box first, then the envelope.”
“Okie dokie,” Tobin hummed, ripping the wrapping paper off of the box and peeling up the tape that was holding the box closed.
“So it’s kind of dorky and you definitely don’t have to wear it,” Christen assured, eyes tracking over Tobin’s face, looking for a clue or indication that she’d done a good job, that her gift didn’t totally suck.
Tobin couldn’t stop the huge smile that had snuck its way onto her face. She immediately picked up the black snapback with the number 23 printed onto it and placed it on her head.
“This is awesome!” Tobin grinned, looking at her reflection in the rearview mirror. “Now everyone will know who I belong to. Was that the intention?” Tobin teased.
Christen blew out a short breath, feeling a slight blush heat her cheeks. “I mean…maybe?”
“I love it, Chris,” Tobin whispered, reaching out to squeeze Christen’s hand.
Christen fiddled with the brim of the snapback, a smile tugging at her lips. “You look good in my number.”
“You better keep it for the rest of your career, so that I can keep being your cheerleader,” Tobin beamed, leaning closer to Christen and kissing her forehead.
“I’ll do my best,” Christen sighed, her eyes fluttering closed at the feeling of Tobin’s lips on her skin. “Now the gift in the envelope is not as self-explanatory as a hat.”
Tobin opened the envelope slowly, pulling out a thick piece of paper. It was shiny and white, but Tobin had no idea what it meant. “You got me fancy paper?” Tobin asked, trying not to sound confused.
Christen giggled and scooted closer toward Tobin. She gently tugged the paper from Tobin’s hands and flipped it over, so that Tobin could see the picture and words printed on it. “I got you more than that,” Christen hummed, waiting for Tobin to read and put everything together.
A soft gasp left Tobin’s lips. “You got me, Todd,” Tobin whispered, unable to pull her eyes away from the paper.
“Technically I only got some of Todd, I couldn’t get all the stars. Some people already owned the others. But I got you this one so we’d always have a star in the sky that was ours,” Christen mumbled, suddenly a little shy. When she’d thought of it, she’d been over the moon. But now that she’d admitted it out loud, now that Tobin held their star certificate in her hands, suddenly a small bit of apprehension crept into Christen’s heart.
“Baby, this is amazing,” Tobin nearly choked out, feeling familiar pressure behind her eyes, happy tears threatening to make an appearance. “I wish I’d gone first,” Tobin laughed, finally lifting her eyes to meet Christen’s gaze.
Christen laughed as well, wiping her thumbs under Tobin’s eyes to catch the few tears that had slipped down.
“I’m going to love whatever you got me as much as you love these, I promise,” Christen replied softly.
Tobin placed the certificate on the dashboard to keep it from getting folded. She reached across Christen and opened the glove box, pulling out the small box that she’d wrapped in her house at UCLA as soon as it had arrived in the mail.
“Well, it’s nothing big. Not like a freaking star,” Tobin shrugged, handing Christen the box. Her stomach was tight with worry that her gift wasn’t enough or that it was too much, maybe even both at the same time.
Christen waved off Tobin’s comment with a smile and then gently began to unwrap the gift, delicately peeling off the tape and unfolding the paper. She folded the wrapping paper and set it on the seat next to her, then looked down at the small, red box in her lap. She picked it up in her hand, feeling a small flutter of butterflies within her. It looked like a jewelry box, it felt like a jewelry box...
Christen popped the box open, revealing a silver band, covered in small, engraved waves, identical to the one on Tobin’s finger. It was a bit thinner than Tobin’s, but it was clearly the second ring of a matching set.
“Tobs, I-” Christen breathed out, looking over at Tobin in complete and utter awe. She’d never gotten jewelry from anyone else before, least of all a matching piece. It felt big. No, it felt huge. The weight of the ring in the box in her hand felt heavy with somedays and forevers.
“It isn’t like a promise ring or anything. I’ve never really liked that concept. We don’t need rings to keep promises, but I thought it could be cool to have something that matches…” Tobin trailed off, scratching the back of her neck and feeling her nerves build up again in her stomach.
A stumbling, nervous Tobin Heath was one of Christen’s favorites. It was endearing to watch the slight flush fill her cheeks and the hand rise to scratch at the back of her neck. Christen just shook her head slightly, completely stunned at not just the gift, but the meaning behind it.
Christen kept a tight grip on the box with one hand and used her other to lift Tobin’s chin, allowing their eyes to meet.
“I can’t actually return it because it’s engraved, but if you want something else-” Tobin continued, officially spiraling, since Christen wasn’t speaking.
Christen cut off the rest of the sentence by pressing her lips firmly against Tobin’s, silencing her endearing rambling.
“I love you,” Christen mumbled against Tobin’s lips. “And I love this ring.”
Tobin practically sighed out in relief. “I love you too.”
Christen pressed a final, lingering kiss to Tobin’s lips and sat back. “Did you say engraved?” she wondered, removing the ring from the box and inspecting it closely.
“Yeah,” Tobin whispered, her cheeks starting to flush.
When Christen only saw waves on the outside, she spun it so she could look at the inside of the band. There, in delicate script, was an engraving.
“Fun Fact: You’re my safe place,” Christen read aloud, her voice wobbling as tears sprang to her eyes.
Tobin grinned and slipped her own ring off, handing it to Christen and showing her the matching engraving.
“We’ve both got it on the inside of our rings since we’re each other’s safe places and-”
“You win,” Christen interrupted, holding both of the rings in her hands. She smiled at Tobin, gladly admitting defeat in light of this gift. It was the most thoughtful, most incredible thing anyone had ever gotten her.
“No way,” Tobin argued. “You got me, Todd! You got me a garden gnome/walrus constellation. You got me our constellation.”
“I guess we both set the bar pretty high then huh?” Christen chuckled.
“Yeah...I better really come through on the birthday,” Tobin hummed.
“You will, baby,” Christen whispered, holding up Tobin’s ring, waiting for Tobin to hold out her hand so she could slide it on for her.
Tobin obliged, letting Christen slip the ring onto the middle finger of her right hand.
Christen lingered, letting her fingers toy with the ring around Tobin’s finger. “You are always surprising me,” Christen admitted quietly before sliding her own ring onto her right middle finger as well, the ring a perfect fit.
“Oh? Why is that?” Tobin asked, her worries finally calming down now that she knew Christen’s ring fit her properly.
Christen looked up at Tobin, running her thumb along the side of Tobin’s jaw gently. “I don’t know why, but I always forget how sensitive you are. Maybe it’s because you’re so goofy and laid back most of the time. But then you do something like this…” Christen trailed off, holding up her free hand to show Tobin the ring, “and it reminds me that you’ve got the best heart of anyone I know.”
“I mean...I’ve always been sensitive,” Tobin laughed softly. “You’ve seen me cry how many times, including during The Mighty Ducks movie.”
Christen scrunched her nose in amusement. “True, but it still blows me away that I get to see this side of you. That this big heart of yours...well, that you’ve given a part of it to me. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m lucky enough for that.”
“You have all of it, not just a part of it,” Tobin whispered, so quiet that Christen had to strain to hear. “You make me want to have the best heart. You deserve someone with the biggest heart,” Tobin said softly.
Christen’s smile grew as her heart warmed in her chest. “Good thing I have you, then.”
Christen spun her new ring around her finger as she waited for Tobin to check her bag. It was like with every spin, she was trying to slow down time. She’d been trying to slow down time since last night since Tobin had driven her home and kissed her on the front porch.
Even if she knew this was coming, she still wasn’t sure how she was going to watch Tobin walk away toward security, toward the plane that would take her away. She wasn’t sure how she was supposed to leave the airport and drive home. She wasn’t sure how she was supposed to not fall apart without Tobin by her side.
“Thank you,” Tobin said to the airport employee who took her roller bag. She stepped away from the desk, her boarding pass and backpack in hand. She’d been watching Christen’s face the entire morning, noticing that Christen was trying to seem happier when she knew Tobin was watching. She didn’t see Tobin turn around now, though, and Tobin caught sight of Christen’s face. She was worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, her eyes were teary and far away, and her forehead was creased. Tobin immediately wanted to turn around and ask for her bag back, to get into Christen’s car, and stay with her. It already felt impossibly hard to leave Christen for the first time in months, but seeing that Christen also felt that way made leaving ten times worse.
Christen blinked out of her thoughts when she felt Tobin’s presence in front of her. She looked up and forced a smile, not trusting her voice not to break, so she stayed quiet.
“Bag’s checked,” Tobin hummed, her voice wobbly and soft.
Christen wordlessly nodded, reaching out for Tobin’s free hand and tangling their fingers together.
“Ten days feels really hard, right?” Tobin finally admitted, dropping her backpack onto the floor and slipping her hand out of Christen’s in favor of wrapping her arms around Christen’s shoulders.
Christen felt that ever-present burn of tears behind her eyes intensify. She buried her face in Tobin’s chest, her hands gripping tightly onto the material of Tobin’s sweatshirt. She couldn’t start crying now. If she did, she wouldn’t stop. If she did, she wouldn’t be able to let Tobin walk away. So instead, she swallowed them down and found her voice.
“It feels impossible,” Christen mumbled.
Tobin nodded, pulling Christen even closer. “Your phone bill is going to go up.”
Christen chuckled weakly, taking a deep inhale of Tobin’s scent, trying to immortalize the combination of pine and mint and eucalyptus. She didn’t want to forget it over the next ten days.
“I hate this,” Christen admitted softly, her hands fisting tighter in Tobin’s sweatshirt.
“Me too,” Tobin mumbled. “I can’t wait to wear a cheesy Christmas sweater just to make you laugh, someday. To pick out a Christmas tree with you and just load it with tons of gifts.”
Christen smiled despite the constant threat of tears. She loved hearing Tobin talk about the future. Their future. Even with Tobin’s departure creeping ever closer, she let Tobin fill her with warmth and promises, to calm her with whispered words and gentle touches.
“All in matching wrapping paper too,” Christen replied, taking one final grounding breath against Tobin’s chest and pulling back. She let her hands fall to the front sweatshirt pocket as her eyes rose to meet Tobin’s.
“Or I’ll just ruin your Type A Christmas plans and use fifty different kinds of paper,” Tobin smirked.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Christen narrowed her eyes teasingly.
“Are you free tonight?” Tobin asked, lifting up a hand to brush her thumb across Christen’s cheek.
“Any plans I could have had are getting on that plane with you. I’m free for the next ten days straight,” Christen replied softly, leaning into Tobin’s touch.
“Great! Me too! What a coincidence,” Tobin winked. “I know we’ve only done it a few times and you always complain about using up your phone data, but maybe we could fall asleep on the phone?” Tobin asked, kind of feeling embarrassed about even suggesting it.
Christen felt her lower lip tremble. “Oh, no,” she thought, trying to keep the tears at bay once more.
“I’d love to,” Christen whispered, her voice cracking a bit as her eyes filled with tears.
“And...my sisters really want to meet you over FaceTime if that isn’t too much pressure,” Tobin continued, thinking of all the moments she’d include Christen in, all the calls she’d make, the time she’d set aside to spend with Christen, even from far away.
Christen ignored the pang of nerves in her stomach in favor of shooting Tobin a small smile. “Pressure? What pressure? I’m totally not awkward and very normal over FaceTime...” Christen trailed off.
“You’re not awkward. You’re quirky, and I wouldn’t be interested if you were normal,” Tobin smirked. “I know my sisters can be a lot, but they already love you, since my parents have told them all about you.”
“Let’s hope I live up to the hype then,” Christen replied with a shrug.
“You always exceed expectations, Chris,” Tobin whispered, leaning down to kiss Christen quickly and softly since they were in a crowded airport.
“Oh, no, you kissed me. That means goodbye’s coming,” Christen tried to joke, but the sadness in her voice made it fall flat.
“I kiss you all the time, not just for goodbyes,” Tobin hummed. She opened her mouth to say something else but was cut off by the airport’s loudspeaker.
“ Flight 437 to Miami is boarding in thirty minutes.”
“See, a kiss goodbye,” Christen whispered, feeling her eyes fill once more, the image of Tobin swimming in front of her.
“In ten days I’m going to give you the best kiss hello you’ve ever had,” Tobin promised, pulling Christen back against her chest. She’d never understood weepy couples in airports before this moment. She’d rolled her eyes when her older sisters had cried about spending weekends or family trips apart from their boyfriends, but now she understood. Letting go of Christen, even for just ten days felt impossible. Getting on the plane to Florida felt like the biggest challenge she was ever going to face.
Christen nodded, her chin wobbling as she wrapped her arms tightly around Tobin’s middle, almost clinging to her for dear life.
“This is another one of those things I never understood,” Christen whispered, blinking away the hot tears. “Those tearful goodbyes outside of airport security.”
“I was literally just having the same thought,” Tobin choked out a teary laugh.
“We’re always in sync,” Christen mumbled, the words whispered into the crook of Tobin’s neck.
“I love you so much, and I can’t wait to be back here for your birthday,” Tobin whispered, pressing her lips to Christen’s forehead and hair and temple and cheek, anywhere she could reach.
“I love you too, Tobs. So much more than you know,” Christen murmured, the first tear slipping from the corner of her eye and landing on Tobin’s sweatshirt.
“I have some idea,” Tobin said, squeezing tightly one last time before stepping back, her hands still on Christen’s waist. She reached one hand up to brush away the wetness on Christen’s cheek, feeling her own throat close up with impending tears.
Christen blew out a shaky breath, turning her head to press a kiss to the palm of Tobin’s hand.
“Hurry back to me?” Christen whispered, trying her best to smile.
“Of course,” Tobin nodded.
Christen leaned forward and pressed her lips to Tobin’s. She kissed her for probably a bit too long, considering they were in an airport and they were surrounded by other people, but Christen didn’t care. She wasn’t going to get to kiss Tobin again for ten days, so she wanted to make this one count.
“Stay safe, baby. I love you,” Christen hummed against Tobin’s lips.
“I love you too. Text me when you get home,” Tobin replied, stealing one last kiss before she adjusted her backpack on her shoulders and stepped away from the one person she didn’t want to leave.
Christen felt a choked sigh leave her lips as Tobin stepped out of her arms. She quickly wrapped her arms around her middle, tugging mercilessly on her lower lip to keep in the deep, pained sob that threatened to rip its way out of her chest.
Tobin couldn’t respond to any of the TSA employees, knowing that if she released any words, she’d let tears out in front of them and cry all the way to her gate. Instead, she went through the motions, trying not to think about how much she wanted to turn around and run back.
Christen watched Tobin the whole way. As she waited in the security line, as she went through those large TSA scanners, as she gathered her stuff off the belt. She watched Tobin slip her sweatshirt back on, sliding the new 23 snapback on her head. She watched Tobin step into her shoes and sling her backpack over her shoulder. And then Tobin turned back toward her.
When their eyes met, Christen tried her best to smile and lifted a hand in the air in a wave. She mouthed ‘I love you’ and felt another tear slip down her cheek.
Tobin smiled back, swallowing the lump in her throat. She lifted her hand in the air, holding her fingers in the sign language “I love you” sign.
Christen felt a genuine smile break out across her face at the gesture. She held the sign up as well and watched Tobin’s eyes light up when she did. But then came the hard part. Tobin couldn’t stand in the security area forever.
Tobin forced her feet to move forward, keeping her eyes trained on Christen’s until the walls of the airport disrupted her view. She propelled herself toward the right gate, having to jog, in order to make it in time for boarding. She didn’t mind having to hurry, though. She’d spend as much time with Christen as she possibly could, every time, even if it meant weaving through other travelers and breaking into a little bit of a sweat. It was worth it.
It took three days for Katie and Perry to finally convince Tobin to let them call Christen. She’d been pushing away their advances, knowing that it would likely stress Christen out. She’d been letting them stalk her Instagram instead, listening to the two of them ooh and ahh about how pretty she was in each and every photo.
Katie kept teasing Tobin about dating someone so out of her league, a joke that got old quickly and only ended when Cindy got to Florida and told Katie to knock it off. Perry preferred scrolling to the very beginning of Christen’s Instagram and pointing out every picture where Christen seemed to be with someone else, something Tobin had avoided doing, knowing that she’d get jealous if she saw any of Christen’s exes. She hated admitting that she thought the girl Christen had dated in high school and posted a photo of in April of her junior year looked like a model.
“Ooooh, she totally has a type,” Perry teased, pointing at another picture of Christen with a brunette in a beanie and white t-shirt, smiling hugely at the camera.
“You guys need to stop,” Jeff groaned, from his spot on the couch.
“See, my brother is the only friend I have here,” Tobin huffed, dropping down next to her brother to play some video games.
In hindsight, she shouldn’t have left her sisters with her phone.
“Is this her number?” Katie asked, a huge smile on her face.
“Don’t you dare,” Tobin yelled, nearly tripping over the coffee table on her way across the room.
Katie tossed the phone to Perry, wrapping her arms around Tobin to hold her still.
“How are you a parent?” Tobin growled, struggling against her sister’s grip. “You’re the most immature person here!”
“My son is the best kid you’ve ever met. Clearly, I’m doing fine,” Katie scoffed.
Tobin thrashed in Katie’s arms, only stilling when she heard the FaceTime call tone emitting from her phone.
“Per,” Tobin yelled. “Chris don’t-” Katie covered Tobin’s mouth with her hand, ignoring the way her baby sister was licking her palm.
“Hey, baby- oh, you’re not Tobin,” Christen said, her cheeks flushing immediately. She had seen enough of Tobin’s family photos to know that she was currently looking at Perry.
She silently thanked whatever higher power had compelled her to actually get dressed in something other than Tobin’s Nike sweatshirt. She also thanked them for the fact that she’d done at least a passing job at her hair today.
Perry panned the camera around, showing Christen the rest of the people in the room, in particular Katie’s chokehold on Tobin.
“You good there, Tobs?” Christen asked teasingly. “Also, hi everyone,” she said, greeting the rest of Tobin’s family.
Tobin tried to lift an arm and send her a thumbs up, but Katie was holding her too tightly.
“Hi, I’m Katie,” Katie said, stepping away from Tobin and toward the phone.
“You guys suck. When mom and dad get back-”
“Wow, that’s so mature, Tobin. Tattling to Mom and Dad?” Perry snorted.
Christen grinned at the sibling bickering and shook her head slightly. She repositioned herself on the Adirondack chair in the backyard, running a hand through her curls, trying to make them look more presentable for the impromptu Heath family meet and greet.
“You’re really beautiful, Christen,” Katie said, pulling Tobin to her side so that all three sisters were in view of the camera.
“Tobin scored big,” Perry nodded.
“I think I’m the lucky one, but thank you,” Christen replied, her blush deepening.
“This is why we like Christen,” Jeff said from his spot on the couch.
“So...Christen. Tobin’s totally your type, right?” Perry said, staring directly at the phone.
“Perry, stop,” Tobin begged, knowing that the mischievous glint in Perry’s eyes wouldn’t go away, no matter how much Tobin pleaded.
“Wow, you wasted no time there, Per,” Katie laughed.
Christen choked on air at Perry’s question. She sent an alarmed look at Tobin on the screen, but there was no rescuing her from this. This was sisterly teasing, and she had to stay strong. She cleared her throat, suddenly wishing she had some water or something.
“I don’t really have a type, I’m just happy I seem to be Tobin’s,” Christen replied evasively.
Perry’s smile grew, almost becoming deadly. Tobin could see the glee in her sister’s eyes now that she had caught Christen in a corner. “Really? Katie and I looked through your Instagram.”
Christen’s eyes widened comically. Her mouth flopped open, then closed again. She rubbed at her nose a bit, suddenly wishing she hadn’t picked up this FaceTime call.
“Several of the people you seem cozy with in pictures look a lot like Toby,” Perry smirked. Her smirk and Tobin’s looked nearly identical, but they did completely different things to Christen.
“You don’t need to answer that,” Tobin said, pinching the bottom of Perry’s arm.
Christen recovered enough to find her voice. She shot Tobin a small smile then looked between Katie and Perry.
“None of those people are your sister, so visual similarities or not, I really don’t think they matter. She’s the one I’m very much in love with, so,” Christen shrugged, trying to act nonchalant even if her words were much more serious.
“Goddammit,” Perry groaned. “I can’t be the mean older sister to her.” Perry handed the phone to Katie and flopped down next to Jeff on the couch.
“You’re the first person to kill Perry with kindness, Christen. You should be flattered,” Katie laughed. “It’s so nice to finally meet you. We’re just glad that you make our Toby happy.”
“Don’t call me that,” Tobin sighed, taking the phone from Katie’s hands.
“It’s been nice but eventful to meet you all too,” Christen called out, hoping Tobin’s sisters heard her.
“I’m sorry,” Tobin mumbled, walking a few steps away from Katie’s living room.
“Don’t be, the initial hazing has passed and I somehow survived,” Christen replied with a smile.
“With flying colors,” Tobin added.
“You look good, baby. You look happy,” Christen replied, taking in her girlfriend’s easy smile and light in her eyes. Her hair was plopped up in a messy bun and she was in a cut-off tank top, which would only be appropriate in the month of December in Florida.
“Oh? Better than @leah_04?” Tobin teased, somewhat hating the fact that Christen was cuddled up with that girl, even if it were years ago.
“Not you too,” Christen groaned, covering her eyes. “I’m deleting my account.”
“She must be special if you’ll consider deleting your account before deleting the picture,” Tobin smirked, her eyes crinkling.
Christen rolled her eyes and fixed Tobin with a look. “I’ll delete the picture, Tobs.”
“You don’t need to delete anything. I’m suuuuper confident, even if @leah_04 exists on your social media,” Tobin joked.
“You’ll forget all about her when I post the cute picture I’ve got of us tomorrow,” Christen replied with a smile, thinking about the picture on her phone that her mom had taken during dinner after the National Championship game. She and Tobin were smiling at each other, lost in a moment all their own.
“You’re very sweet. I wish I could be there tomorrow. I’d bring you breakfast or something,” Tobin whispered, stepping down the hall but keeping quiet so that she wouldn’t wake Cole up from his nap.
Christen grinned, running her thumb across the phone screen, almost as if she could touch Tobin from her, as if she could brush her fingers across her cheek, or through her hair. Her hands ached to do that.
“I get to see you in a week for my birthday, so missing tomorrow isn’t the end of the world,” Christen hummed.
“How’s Christmas at the Press house? Have you finished baking all the cookies?” Tobin asked, remembering how adorable Christen looked in the picture she’d sent her yesterday, covered in flour and wearing a red and green checked apron.
Christen sighed, turning around to look through the glass sliding door to watch as her parents organized boxes of ornaments in the living room.
“It’s getting crazy over here. We’re finally decorating the tree tonight because Tyler and Channing are both free and available. But no amount of Christmas cookies or caroling makes me miss you any less,” Christen mumbled, trying her best to smile.
“I miss you too, baby,” Tobin admitted, leaning against the wall of the hallway.
Christen blew out a long breath and set her shoulders. “But it’s just a week now. We can totally do a week. It’ll fly by too, with Christmas in the middle. We got this.”
“Absolutely,” Tobin agreed. “And we’ll call ever-”
“AUNTIE TOTO!!!” Cole called from the room furthest down the hall. Much to Katie’s annoyance, Cole had been calling for Tobin after waking up from his naps, typically begging her to hold him or sit with him and read him a book.
Christen nearly fell out of the Adirondack chair. Never had she heard something so adorable, so sweet, and never had she seen the absolute adoration on Tobin’s face that she saw now. It made her heart swell in her chest.
“He’s so big,” Tobin whispered, moving down the hallway toward Cole’s bedroom.
“And he’s definitely got a favorite aunt,” Christen replied, keeping her voice low now that Tobin was whispering.
“Don’t tell anyone else that,” Tobin laughed.
“I won’t, baby,” Christen said softly, smiling as she watched Tobin crack open a bedroom door.
“Auntie Toto,” Cole said quietly now that he could see Tobin in the doorway.
“Hey, buddy,” Tobin whispered. “You didn’t sleep long.”
This was too cute for Christen to handle. Watching Tobin and listening to Tobin take care of her nephew just unlocked a whole new level of love. A level Christen didn’t even know existed. It made her mind dream of things she shouldn’t be dreaming about this early in a relationship. Things that happened when you spent forever with someone and shared your life with them.
“It’s adorable when he calls you that,” Christen whispered, hoping only Tobin could hear her.
“It’s better than Toby,” Tobin grumbled.
Tobin flipped the camera around to show Christen how Cole was sitting up in his crib, his hands outstretched for Tobin and his wavy hair wild and messy from sleep.
“Awww,” Christen cooed. “Look at you, Cole! You’ve grown so much!”
Tobin flipped the camera back around and placed the phone on the dresser. She picked Cole up out of the crib and picked the phone back up, her heart fluttering at the sight of Christen on her screen. It didn’t seem to matter how much time she spent with Christen or how many times they called and FaceTimed while they were apart. Nothing ever prepared Tobin for how she’d feel when looking at Christen. Cole pressed his head against Tobin’s neck and twisted his fingers in Tobin’s shirt. He peeked at the camera slightly, hiding his face in Tobin’s shirt every so often.
“I bet you don’t remember me, we met when you were really small,” Christen said, her heart racing in her chest at the sight of Tobin holding Cole, at what the sight of Tobin holding a kid did to her.
“She met you when I did, buddy,” Tobin whispered.
Cole just blinked his big eyes at Tobin and Christen, reaching up to grab Tobin’s necklace and face with his little fingers.
Christen had to take a screenshot, Tobin and Cole looked too precious not to. She took a few, knowing Tobin would pretend to be annoyed, but that she’d secretly love it because Christen caught them in such a sweet moment together.
“Cole’s coming to California this summer,” Tobin said, raising her eyebrows a little at the little boy in her arms.
“Is that so? You’re coming all the way out here, Cole? That’s so cool!” Christen said, her eyes on the small boy in Tobin’s arms. “I bet your Auntie Toto is going to take you to all the best places.”
“Katie gave me permission, with her strict supervision, to take him to the beach,” Tobin grinned.
“A beach day? How fun!” Christen replied, unable not to smile.
“And if she wants, Chris is going to join us,” Tobin cooed, kissing the top of Cole’s head.
Christen’s stomach dropped in the absolute best way. Tobin wanted her to come. Tobin wanted her to meet Cole and go to the beach with her family. Tobin wanted that and Christen found herself wanting it too.
“I’m invited?” Christen asked softly.
“Of course you are,” Tobin nodded. “My two favorite people have to meet.”
Christen grinned, her fingers toying with the ring around her right finger. “I’d really like that, Tobs.”
“I’ve really got to stop saying that,” Tobin mumbled, almost to herself.
“Why?” Christen asked, tilting her head to the side in confusion.
“Perry’s totally pregnant. She hasn’t said anything, but she’s refused wine the past three nights, and she’s got that whole glow thing that Katie totally had,” Tobin hummed. “I’ve got to stop saying two favorite people if there will be three soon. Don’t want to mess up in front of a new baby,” Tobin grinned.
“You’re the sweetest person in the whole world,” Christen replied with an easy smile, the pang in her heart at missing Tobin still there, but it was less noticeable when she got to see Tobin, when she got to talk to her.
“I just really like playing with Cole and being able to hand him off to his mom when he cries,” Tobin teased. “Now, I’ll get two to play with.”
Christen heard the sliding glass door open and she knew what was coming.
“Christen, tree time,” Stacy called out. “Hi, Tobin, Merry Christmas!” she added, before retreating inside, leaving the door open for Christen.
Christen’s smile turned sad as she looked back at the phone. “I’m sorry, baby, I gotta go.”
“Don’t be sorry. Enjoy your tree time,” Tobin smiled, trying to hide that she was already missing Christen.
“Talk to you tonight?” Christen asked, hope filling her chest and chasing away her desire to sink into her sadness.
“Of course. I’ll text you when I’m free for the night, and then we can call,” Tobin said.
Christen nodded and then felt a small smile tug at her lips. “Hey, want to know something cool?”
“I love you,” Christen replied smoothly.
Tobin laughed softly, loving the excitement that overtook Christen every time she said those three words. “I love you too, Chris. So so so so much!”
Christen blew a quick kiss at the camera, waiting to see Tobin catch the kiss and send one back to her, before hanging up the phone.
Christen should have known the other shoe was going to drop. Things had been a little too perfect, a little too easy. They’d called every night, fallen asleep on FaceTime together, texted every other moment they could. She’d had a wonderful Christmas with her family and even gotten to see some of her old high school friends. Everything was going smoothly and wonderfully. And then the phone rang.
It was in the middle of dinner, and usually, Christen wouldn’t answer it. But her family was eating take-out in front of the TV, watching While You Were Sleeping, so when Christen felt her phone vibrating in her pocket, and had seen it was Tobin, she didn’t have any qualms about leaving her family to answer the phone call.
“Hey baby,” Christen hummed, stepping out into the backyard. She tilted her head up and looked at the stars, rubbing her bare arms to try and stay warm in the chilly night air.
“Hey cutie,” Tobin answered, hoping that Christen couldn’t hear the nerves in her voice or the way her feet were padding across the floor at her sister’s house.
“What's wrong?” Christen asked, her brow furrowing at the sound of Tobin’s voice, at the distance in her words, at the forced cheerfulness.
“What do you mean what’s wrong?” Tobin asked, scratching at the back of her neck and biting down on her bottom lip.
“Tobs, I know you. Your voice gets all scratchy and tight when something’s going on.”
Tobin sighed softly. “I have some bad news.”
Christen’s stomach plummeted and her heart leaped into her throat. She didn’t want to hear the rest. She didn’t want to know. She had a sinking suspicion as to what the bad news was, and she didn’t want to hear it. She couldn’t bear to hear it.
“Baby?” Tobin asked, checking to make sure Christen was still on the line.
“I’m here. Sorry,” Christen forced herself to say. She tried to take deep, calming breaths, trying not to go to the worst-case scenario.
“So, there’s this big tropical storm coming straight for Miami tomorrow,” Tobin said, cringing at each of her words.
“Oh,” Christen hummed quietly. Okay, so it was the worst-case scenario. A storm meant no flights. No flights meant Tobin wasn’t going to be here. It meant Tobin wasn’t going to make it for her birthday, that Tobin wasn’t coming home in two days.
“They pushed my flight back three times today, but I just got the notification that they canceled it,” Tobin sighed, straightening her t-shirt. “I’m really sorry. I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
Christen let her eyes fall shut, trying to breathe out her frustration, her hurt. It wasn’t Tobin’s fault there was a storm. It wasn’t Tobin’s fault the flight got canceled. But those reminders didn’t make her heart feel any better.
“It’s okay. There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Christen replied, trying to keep the wobble out of her voice.
“There are already huge power outages all over Miami,” Tobin continued. “I just hope I can find a place with power tomorrow to call you before the worst of it hits.” This was the absolute worst thing that could have happened, and Tobin just wanted to scream her frustrations to the entire state of Florida.
“Don’t worry about it if you can’t,” Christen found herself saying. She could hear the guilt in Tobin’s voice and she hated that it was her desire for Tobin to be there for her birthday, it was her wants and requests, that had put the guilt there.
“I’m going to call you tomorrow,” Tobin promised, rubbing her hand over her eyes.
“I’ll understand if you can’t. It’s not like you can control the weather,” Christen tried to joke. She suddenly felt a lot colder, now that the promise of Tobin’s embrace was even further away than it had been. Without the promise of Tobin’s arms waiting for her on her birthday, she suddenly felt very cold and very alone.
“I wish I could. I’m gonna call the airport again as soon as we hang up and see what I can do,” Tobin whispered.
“Stop, baby, it’s fine. Just stay safe. Don’t do something silly just to try and make it here.”
“Okay, okay,” Tobin sighed. “I love you. I’ll text you if anything changes and call you tomorrow.”
“Love you too,” Christen whispered. It wasn’t fair to be taking out the fact that she was upset about this on Tobin. Not when Tobin was being sweet and apologetic and promising to find coverage during a freaking storm just to call her. But she couldn’t help it. “Bye,” Christen added, quickly ending the call and letting a frustrated sob leave her lips as she pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes.
Tobin wasn’t coming home to her. Tobin, who had always promised to never miss a birthday, was going to miss hers. And with that realization, Christen felt the other shoe officially drop.