There is no distance
That cannot be covered
Over and over
You're not defenseless
I'll be your shelter
I'll be your armor
I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS, your SOS
I will send out an army
To find You in the middle of the darkest night
It's true, I will rescue you
And I will never stop marching
To reach you in the middle of the hardest fight
It's true, I will rescue you
I hear the whisper underneath your breath
I hear you whisper you have nothing left
(Tobin - “Rescue” by Lauren Daigle)
Wrapped up, so consumed by all this hurt
If you ask me, don't know where to start
Anger, love, confusion
Roads that go nowhere
I know there's somewhere better
'Cause you always take me there
Came to you with a broken faith
Gave me more than a hand to hold
Caught before I hit the ground
Tell me I'm safe, you've got me now
Would you take the wheel
If I lose control?
If I'm lying here
Will you take me home?
Could you take care of a broken soul?
Will you hold me now?
Oh, will you take me home?
(Christen - “Take Me Home” by Jess Glynne)
“Good evening everybody! My name’s Heather O’Reilly-” Heather said, the microphone held up to her mouth, her newscaster smile faltering when her co-host piped up and interrupted her.
“And I’m Alexi Lalas, obviously,” Alexi said with an annoying smirk.
Heather stifled the urge to roll her eyes. “We’ve got quite the showdown for all of you tuning in tonight. This is one of the greatest rivalries in women’s college soccer, with no small amount of bad blood between these two teams. It’s UCLA against USC. So, let’s head down to the field for kick-off!”
The roar around the Staples Center was almost deafening. With both teams hailing from Southern California, their large and rowdy fan bases could easily make the trek to downtown Los Angeles for this infamous match-up.
USC had claimed an ugly and embarrassing victory during an exhibition match in August, and UCLA had clinched a scrappy 3-2 victory in late September. While UCLA had tied with Stanford to be PAC-12 regular-season champions, USC now stood between them and their dreams of winning the conference championship on top of that.
Christen bounced from foot to foot on the sidelines after planting with Tobin, unable to ignore the small pit growing in her stomach.
“Ready to have some fun?” Tobin grinned.
Christen blinked and looked over at her girlfriend, a smile immediately making its way onto her face. The pit was still there, but she didn’t quite feel like she was going to throw up because of her nerves anymore. With just a few words and that goofy grin, Tobin had made her feel lighter than she had since she’d stepped onto the field for warm-ups.
“My mom promised us tacos after this game, so the sooner we beat them, the sooner we can eat,” Tobin teased, knocking her foot into Christen’s.
Christen leaned into Tobin just a bit, conscious of their team around them and the many, many cameras lining the field on every side.
“Fun and tacos, my two favorite things,” Christen replied with a small smile.
“There’s a third, but I can’t say it here,” Tobin winked, loving that Christen’s nerves seemed to be slipping away.
Christen’s smile grew. She rolled her shoulders and let out a deep breath, finally feeling ready to step out onto the field.
“Let’s go kick some ass and then I can show you the third thing,” Christen hummed quietly, winking back at Tobin and then jogging away from the bench area toward the halfway line. As the whistle blew and the game began, Christen shared a quick look with Tobin, getting one last lopsided grin before focusing on the game.
From the first minute, the game was feisty and chippy and physical. USC’s entire tactic was to knock UCLA off their game, literally, and unfortunately for USC, it wasn’t working. The magic was harnessed, existing in every touch and pass between Christen and Tobin and their teammates.
In the nineteenth minute, Christen had the chance to put UCLA ahead. She was sent a long ball over the top of the backline from Crystal. She brought the ball down with a gentle touch and sprinted for the goal. She felt the USC center back tugging on her jersey, trying to disrupt her stride, but it wasn’t working. Christen was on a mission and wasn’t going to be deterred.
And then the center back dropped her shoulder and shoved Christen off the ball, hard. Christen stumbled a few steps and tripped, sliding across the grass on her stomach.
“REFEREE!” Megan yelled, calling for the foul.
But whatever contact had brought Christen to the ground had been missed by the referee. He allowed the game to continue.
Christen slapped the grass in frustration and rolled over. “Are you kidding?” Christen yelled, sitting up and glaring at the referee’s back, whose focus was on the ball and not on her.
“You okay?” Tobin asked, reaching a hand down to pull Christen up off the ground.
“I’m pissed,” Christen growled, wiping the grass from her jersey, thankful the ball was now out of bounds for a UCLA throw-in, and that Crystal was taking her sweet time. It allowed her a chance to get to her feet and for Foudy to berate the referee for the missed call.
“I guess we better really embarrass them then,” Tobin grinned.
Christen nodded, squeezing Tobin’s shoulder quickly before jogging back over to her spot.
The embarrassment finally came after halftime, in the fiftieth minute. It just looked a little different than Tobin had been expecting.
She was dribbling the ball down the left flank, right at USC’s outside back. She did a few quick step-over moves, faking the defender out, and then poking the ball between the girl’s open legs.
Tobin moved by her quickly with a small smile, intent on sending a curling cross to where she could see Christen standing near the back post of the goal. But then she felt a hand grab onto her ponytail and yank her backward. Her head snapped back as she was pulled off her feet, her hand rising to hold onto the back of her head. She stumbled to the ground, an exasperated huff escaping her lips.
She waited for the whistle, knowing it had to come. But when it didn’t, when the outside back took possession of the ball and started dribbling toward UCLA’s half of the field, Tobin felt her eyes widen. She threw her arms out to her sides, her eyes on the referee.
“REF! She pulled my hair!” Tobin yelled, but the referee wasn’t listening.
Christen couldn’t believe the ref didn’t call that. It was clearly a foul, even more clearly a yellow card for the USC outside back. But the referee refused to blow his whistle again and Christen had had enough.
She took off after the outside back, sprinting all the way across the field, way out of position. She tracked the outside back, getting a little physical as she tried to take the ball away from her. It was a tad too aggressive, but if Tobin could get her hair pulled and there was no call, she could certainly rough this outside back up a bit and not be penalized for it.
Finally, she dispossessed the outside back and turned back up the field. Tobin was now back on her feet, and Christeen could see that her girlfriend was so mad she was about to spit fire. Christen passed the ball into the midfield for Rose, sprinting back up to the front, knowing this was their moment to get on the scoreboard.
Rose beat two midfielders with some crafty footwork and passed to Megan, who quickly flicked the ball to Tobin, who was a few yards from the eighteen-yard box. Tobin only had one defender to beat before she would get a clean shot on goal. But just like she always did, she went for the unselfish play. She saw Christen streaking across the backline, so she sent a through ball between the two center backs.
This time, Christen received the through ball and was able to take it to the goal without being pushed over by a center back. She juked the goalkeeper out and dribbled the ball all the way into the goal, finishing it a little cheekily, a definite insult to the USC side.
She spun around and held her arms out at her sides, running over to Tobin and jumping into Tobin’s arms. They were quickly joined by the rest of their team, everyone jumping around and cheering right inside the USC eighteen-yard box.
Unfortunately, their celebration only lasted for a little over half an hour. USC was awarded a penalty kick in the 87th minute off a bogus call. Apparently, when the referee did blow his whistle, it was for phantom fouls.
“I didn’t fucking touch her!” Kelley argued, gesturing between her and the USC girl hamming up her “injury” a few yards away.
“Dude,” Tobin warned, putting an arm over Kelley’s shoulders and pulling her away from the ref. “You’ve already got a yellow card, and we need you for the rest of the game.”
Kelley huffed and fought off tears at the fact that she’d brought a penalty kick down on them. Crystal rubbed Kelley’s back and led her to the top of the eighteen-yard box, away from the referee and the player on the ground.
“You gotta keep it even, Sir,” Christen said to the referee who stood a few feet away from her, keeping her voice even and professional. “You can’t call that, and not call the hair pull from earlier.”
“It’s not up for debate, Captain,” the referee replied, walking over to grab the soccer ball and get the penalty kick set up for USC.
Christen clenched her hands into tight fists at her sides as she stalked over to join Tobin at the top of the box.
“I haven’t had poor officiating like this since high school,” Christen huffed, watching as the USC player placed the ball on the penalty kick spot. Alyssa hopped around in goal, preparing herself for what was to come.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a ref this bad, even when I was in preschool, coed soccer,” Tobin muttered under her breath.
“Your head okay?” Christen whispered, her stomach tightening in concern. She hadn’t been able to check on Tobin since the un-called foul.
“Would you still love me if I were bald?” Tobin teased, trying to lighten the mood, considering they were likely about to watch USC score.
Christen cracked a small smile. “Of course,” she replied softly.
“Good...because I think some hair is missing now,” Tobin deadpanned.
With a small laugh, Christen knocked her shoulder into Tobin’s.
“Turns out I only like it when you do it,” Tobin shrugged, glancing down at her cleats instead of at the USC player who was taking the shot.
But Christen couldn’t laugh again. She watched as the USC player scored the penalty, tying up the score at 1-1. Instead of hanging her head, Christen grabbed Tobin’s arm and pulled her toward the rest of her team.
“Bring it in!” Christen yelled, ignoring the celebrating USC team. She looked around the circle at her teammates, at her friends. She could see they were tired, dead on their feet, and ready for this game to be done. But they still had some fight left in them and Christen had to tap into that.
“They didn’t deserve that shit. So let’s wipe those stupid smiles off their faces, okay? We don’t need the refs on our side to win. Let’s put this game away,” Christen said, looking around and smiling at Megan, Mal, Crystal, Kelley, Sam, Rose, and the rest of her team. She finished with Tobin, adding in a small wink for her.
“They’re playing rough, but their passes are weak right now. They’re tired,” Tobin added. “We just need to push for the last three minutes and exploit how tired they are.”
“Fuck yeah!” Kelley nearly growled, slapping Sam on the back.
“Let’s fucking gooooo!” Megan cheered.
Tobin squeezed Kelley’s shoulders before she left the huddle and jogged to her place at half-field. She jumped up and down a few times, trying to keep her energy up.
Kelley, Megan, and Mal were fidgety too, clearly feeling amped about the remaining minutes of the game. Sam, Crystal, and Christen were calm, their faces fierce and stoic.
Tobin clenched her hands at her side, ready for kickoff. They were going to pass quickly and cleanly. They were going to keep USC’s players running back and forth along the field. They were going to make their way up the field and tire USC’s team out further on their way.
Sam kicked the ball to Christen, starting the play. Tobin jogged forward a few steps, waiting to see where Christen would pass the ball. She watched as Christen dribbled a few steps before faking a few steps toward Tobin and then passing to Megan. Megan dribbled the ball up the right side of the field, passing back to Mal when three USC players surrounded her. Mal trapped the ball with her right foot and flicked it over to Rose. Rose stepped carefully, dribbling the ball with delicate touches. She slipped past two USC players, avoiding their attempts to strip the ball from her.
“Rose, you got Tobs!” Christen yelled from her spot on the right flank.
Rose chipped the ball into the air toward Tobin. Tobin trapped it with her chest and turned toward the endline. She dribbled effortlessly, zigzagging past a few USC players, nearing the edge of the eighteen-yard box. Tobin didn’t even need to lift her head. She knew Christen was there, and she knew Christen was ready for her to cross the ball.
Tobin sent a driven ball into the box to Christen. It got deflected by the outstretched cleat of the USC defender, sending the ball much higher in the air than Tobin had wanted. She had meant for the ball to go to Christen’s feet, she hadn’t meant for Christen to have to score a header. But as she watched the ball sail through the air toward Christen, about head height, Tobin knew that the only way for her to score would be with a header. She watched as Christen tracked the ball and jumped into the air, her eyes narrowing a little in preparation.
And then Tobin’s heart clenched violently in her chest. She watched in horror as two USC players jumped into the air on either side of Christen, their eyes on Christen and not on the ball.
Christen managed to get a header on goal but was then immediately sandwiched by both of the USC players. It was clear that the USC players were going for Christen, not the ball. Tobin’s entire body tensed as she watched one of the girls’ heads crack against Christen’s forehead and the other girl’s elbow hit Christen in the back of the head. Christen immediately crumpled to the ground, a sharp cry escaping her lips.
“Chris!” Tobin choked out, her scream eerily similar to the one she herself had let out when she’d gotten hurt in the Spring.
Tobin didn’t wait for the ref to call anything. She didn’t stop to see if the ball was saved by the keeper. She didn’t wait for a single thing. She ran across the field, faster than she’d run all game, sliding down onto her knees when she reached Christen’s side.
The ref’s whistle blew, but Tobin didn’t look up. She couldn’t tear her gaze away from Christen’s furrowed brow, from the way her face was drawn into anguish. Tobin was trying to get a good view of Christen’s eyes, so she brushed hair away from Christen’s face. Her chest clenched tighter and tighter with each passing second as Christen’s eyes remained shut, as the pained expression on Christen’s face persisted.
“Ow,” Christen hissed, a hand rising to cover her eyes, tears leaking from the corners of them. She hadn’t seen the challenge coming, she’d been so focused on the ball. But one second she was jumping up to redirect Tobin’s cross and the next she was on her back on the grass and with an odd sort of feeling in her head. She couldn’t remember getting hit, but she knew she must have because there was a sharp pain in her forehead and a dull throb at the back of her head. "Shit," Christen breathed out, her voice shaky.
“The trainer’s coming,” Tobin whispered, looking up to where Foudy and Alicia were making their way toward Christen. Tobin reached out to brush the tears off of Christen’s temples.
Christen blew out a wobbly breath and dropped her hand from her eyes. She tried to sit up but instantly regretted it when a wave of nausea rolled through her. She thought, for a moment, that she was going to throw up right then and there, all over Tobin, which would have been easily the most embarrassing thing to have ever happened to her. But thankfully, she managed to keep it together.
“Woah, woah, just stay here,” Tobin hummed softly, putting a hand on the back of Christen’s neck and guiding her back down to the ground.
“I don’t feel so good, Tobs,” Christen whispered, scrunching her face up and reaching out for Tobin’s hand.
“I know, baby. I’m so sorry,” Tobin murmured, holding onto Christen’s hand. She wanted to kick herself for passing that ball, for not beating her defender enough to get off a clean cross, for inadvertently making it impossible for Christen to get the ball without trying for a header. She wanted to take all the pain away from her girlfriend, but all she could do was whisper comforting words and brush hair from her eyes.
“I thought you liked getting me on my back,” Christen wheezed, trying to smile. But regretted the small laugh that escaped her lips instantly, as a piercing pain ran through her head and brought fresh tears pricking the corners of her eyes.
Tobin didn’t get a chance to respond as Alicia and Foudy joined them.
“Hey, Press,” Alicia said, placing her bag down on the field and kneeling next to Christen. “That was a pretty tough tackle. Can you tell me what hurts?”
“Head,” Christen choked out, squeezing Tobin’s hand a bit too tight.
“Anything else?” Alicia asked gently.
“I might vomit at any moment,” Christen added, trying to take deep breaths, but they kept getting caught in her throat as the emotions of the moment were catching up to her. She was starting to hyperventilate a little as the pain in her head worsened, as the tears continued to fall without permission.
“Okay, okay that’s fine. That’s normal. I’m going to check and make sure you didn’t hurt anything else, now.”
Tobin watched as Alicia probed Christen’s neck and squeezed her shoulders gently, hating that Christen had tears running out of the corners of her eyes and dripping into her hairline. She wanted to wipe them away for Christen. She wanted to press her lips softly against Christen’s forehead and make the pain go away, but she couldn’t do that on the field, in front of her coach and trainer.
Instead, she watched as Alicia spoke softly with Christen, asking her to move her legs and arms, to wiggle her fingers and toes.
“I don’t want you to worry, but with head injuries now, we can’t let you walk off the field on your own. And frankly, I don’t want you to walk around right now. Okay, Press?” Alicia said quietly, rubbing Christen’s shoulder.
Christen sniffled and let out a sharp breath. She felt worry and fear coil inside of her chest, making it difficult to breathe. She had always been so careful, so diligent with her recovery to ensure she didn't get hurt. But two stupid USC players had erased all of that hard work, all of that preparation. She could tell from the growing pressure inside her head and the weird ringing in her ears that she had a concussion and a not-so-small one at that. She knew protocol said she had to be carried off the field, but she didn’t want to be.
“Do I have to be?” Christen asked quietly, her eyes opening for the first time since she hit the ground. She looked at Alicia, careful not to move her head, just her eyes. At the small nod she received, Christen let a wobbly breath escape her lips.
Tobin squeezed Christen’s hand in her own. She didn’t want Christen to be carried off the field. She didn’t want Christen to need to be carried off the field. More than anything, she just wanted to hold onto Christen and stay by her side. She wanted to watch until everything was okay.
Foudy patted Christen’s knee and then waved at the sidelines, at the medical staff armed with the stretcher.
“It’ll be okay,” Tobin said, more for herself than for Christen.
Christen looked over at Tobin and felt her lower lip tremble. She wanted to nod, to be reassuring, but she couldn’t. She didn’t feel like things were going to be okay right now. She could feel a goose egg forming on her forehead, she could feel her head filling with pressure, she could feel the rest of her senior season slipping away.
“We can sit in the dark tonight and tell ghost stories or something,” Tobin tried again, just wanting some of her words to make Christen feel better.
Christen forced herself to try and smile at Tobin. “Sounds good, Tobs,” she replied softly, her voice a little hoarse.
“I love you,” Tobin thought, far too aware that Foudy was sitting right next to her. She stared at Christen, hoping Christen could see in her eyes what she was thinking.
Like always, Christen could read exactly what Tobin was trying to say. So, she looked to Alicia and then to Foudy, seeming to understand Tobin’s momentary predicament.
“Can you give us a sec?” Christen asked her coach and her trainer, all too aware that the medical staff was hustling over to them and they had mere moments before she was going to be carried off the field.
Alicia nodded and got to her feet. Foudy stood up too, squeezing Tobin’s shoulder, and stepped away from Christen, speaking softly to Alicia.
“I love you, too,” Christen whispered, her eyes holding Tobin’s, her hand holding Tobin’s as well.
Tobin could feel her eyes burning a little at Christen’s words, at how easily Christen had known what she was thinking.
“I love you so much, and everything’s going to-” Tobin tried to say, her voice cracking a little.
“Can you move back please?” a medical staff member asked Tobin.
Tobin shifted off of her knees and onto her feet, basically crab-walking to the side to keep her hand in Christen’s. She settled closer to Christen’s head and prepared herself to have to let go when they asked.
Christen screwed her eyes shut at the agonizing throb in her head and behind her eyes, at the fierce ache shooting down her neck and into her back. She settled onto the stretcher with the help of Alicia, the medical staff, and of course, Tobin. She wanted one last look, one last moment, with Tobin, but she knew she wasn’t going to get it. There was no way she could open her eyes right now, not with the debilitating, rolling waves of pain within her.
Tobin helped Alicia and the three medics lift the stretcher, the faint sound of applause reaching her ears. Her hand was still tangled with Christen’s, and she wasn’t planning on letting go. Tobin didn’t even know how many minutes they had left in the game or whether Christen had scored or not. She didn’t care. She wanted to get to the locker room as quickly as possible and make sure that Christen was okay. She wanted to sit with her and absorb all the information from the medics so that she could take care of her.
Tobin walked next to the stretcher, finally looking away from Christen for a second. She met Stacy’s eyes in the stands, noticing that all of their parents were on their feet, looking down and trying to get a good view of the stretcher. Tobin sent them a thumbs up so that they knew Christen was coherent. She looked back down at Christen, aching at the way Christen’s eyes were squeezed tightly shut. Tobin ran her thumb along Christen’s hand, matching the medics’ movements, step for step.
A hand on her shoulder stopped Tobin in her tracks before she could get any further. “Heath,” Foudy said quietly.
“Coach?” Tobin answered, looking over her shoulder. She kept her hand attached to Christen’s, unwilling to let go.
“You gotta let her go, kid. We need to finish this game,” Foudy replied, squeezing Tobin’s shoulder.
Tobin shook her head softly, not trusting her voice to answer Foudy. Christen could feel it in the way Tobin’s hand tightened around her own that Tobin wasn’t going to listen to Foudy. But Christen knew Tobin needed to. Tobin needed to be on the field, as their captain, leading their team to victory.
“Coach is right. Stay here. The team needs you, Tobs,” Christen said, cracking an eye open and looking up at Tobin.
“We gotta get moving, guys,” one of the medical staff members said with urgency in her voice.
“Score a goal for me, okay?” Christen added with the ghost of a smile on her face. The expression was tinged with pain, but it was the best she could muster right now. She gently extricated her hand from Tobin’s after giving it one final squeeze.
“I’ll come find you as soon as it’s over,” Tobin said, hating how empty her hand felt, hating that she had to watch them carry Christen away. She turned around, facing all of her teammates' worried faces and the stupid looks of guilt on a few of the USC players’ faces, and it made Tobin’s blood boil. She stalked past the other players, ignoring their questions and pats on the back.
The referee handed Tobin the ball for the penalty kick, but Tobin knew she couldn’t do it. Her hands were shaking, and her mind was no longer focused on the game, it was with Christen in the locker room. She didn’t even feel like she was still present on the field.
“Pinoe,” Tobin called over her shoulder.
“Sup, Heath?” Megan replied, keeping her voice gentle. Her worry was palpable on her face, but she was masking it better than Tobin was.
“I need you to take it,” Tobin said, holding the ball in front of Megan. “I can’t do it. Not- not now.”
Megan looked ready to argue, but Crystal stepped up to them and took the ball from Tobin, placing it into Megan’s hands.
“Is she okay?” Crystal asked, her words shaking just a little.
“I don’t know,” Tobin mumbled, her voice devoid of emotion now that she had a game to finish. “She’s coherent if that’s what you’re asking.”
“That’s a good thing, actually. Really good,” Crystal nodded at Tobin and then turned to Megan. “You good to take this, Pinoe?”
“For Pressy,” Megan replied, walking over to the penalty kick spot.
Tobin watched Megan score. She saw the rest of her team gather in celebration. When she glanced up at the stands, she saw that Stacy and Cody weren’t sitting with her parents anymore.
For the dying minutes of the game, Tobin hardly touched the ball. She mindlessly passed, easy, simple passes to Mal, and Crystal, and Sam. She didn’t try to practice any fancy footwork or tease any of the USC defenders. Tobin’s only goal was killing time until the clock ran out and she could run into the locker room.
When the ref blew the final whistle, all of Tobin’s teammates gathered in a huddle, hugging and cheering. But Tobin didn’t stop to offer a high five or any words of congratulations. She sprinted across the field and into the tunnel, her cleats thudding against the floor on her way to the locker room, on her way to Christen.
Christen listened to the sounds of her mom’s, dad’s, and Alicia’s voices fade as they walked out of the small training room. She was left alone, on top of a padded table, in semi-darkness. She was finally alone for the first time since she’d realized she was lying in the grass, concussed. Tears sprang to her eyes again and she didn’t have the heart to try and stop them. She let them silently fall as her hands balled into fists on top of her stomach, as she truly started to process what had just happened and what it could mean for her season and her career.
Tobin slowed her footsteps when she got to the training room door. She peeked through the window and into the dark room, just making out Christen’s body on the table. Tobin took one last deep breath and swallowed thickly before pushing the door open and closing it behind her. The first thing that she heard was Christen’s soft sniffles, and her heart cracked in her chest. Tobin quickly walked across the room, her hands immediately reaching for Christen.
“Baby,” she whispered, leaning down to kiss one of Christen’s fists.
Christen let out a shuddery breath. “Hi,” she choked out.
“Hi,” Tobin echoed, unsure of what to say. She didn’t need to ask if everything was okay. Everything was most certainly not okay. She didn’t need to ask if Christen was hurting. She knew she was.
“There’s a stool next to you. Alicia was using it earlier. You don’t have to stand after playing a full game,” Christen said quietly before pulling her lower lip between her teeth.
Tobin leaned forward, brushing her fingers along Christen’s cheeks and temples where the tears were dampening her skin. She pressed the lightest kisses she could on each tear track.
“I don’t mind standing. It’s easier to see you,” Tobin whispered.
Christen blinked her eyes open and looked up at Tobin, who hovered above her. She felt her throat grow thick and more tears blur her vision as she reached out to grab Tobin’s hand. She was still so damn scared and she just wished every kiss Tobin had pressed into her skin could take that away.
“It’s bad, Tobs,” Christen choked out, her voice thick with tears.
“Oh, baby,” Tobin mumbled, gripping Christen’s hand tightly in her own. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t say that,” Christen huffed, sniffling a bit as her tears continued to fall. “It’s not your fault.”
“Do you need anything? Do you have water?” Tobin asked, looking around the room, now that her eyes had adjusted to the dim lighting.
Christen’s hand tightened around Tobin’s. “I’m fine, just- don’t go,” she whispered.
“Never,” Tobin murmured, pressing a feather-light kiss to Christen’s lips.
Christen readjusted against the couch cushions, squinting her eyes at the lights on in the house. Her dad and Jeff were standing at the kitchen island, talking about...something that Christen couldn’t quite hear. Cindy and her mom were standing near the couch, trying and failing to keep their chit-chat about the game to themselves. At least everyone was talking quietly. If she’d had to deal with the bright house lights and loud noises, she might start to lose whatever semblance of control she’d managed to get back in the training room.
“Do you want sunglasses?” Tobin offered, watching Christen squint.
“No,” Christen hummed, trying to soften her voice so it didn’t come out annoyed or upset or harsh. She was just tired, and all she wanted to do was crawl into bed upstairs with Tobin and wake up tomorrow without the pounding in her head and the aching in her body. She wanted to wake up tomorrow not concussed and able to play in the NCAA tournament that was quickly approaching.
“Do you need more water?” Tobin asked, reaching for Christen’s empty glass.
“Baby, I’m fine,” Christen replied quietly, going to stop Tobin from grabbing her glass and then wincing as even lifting her arm and moving her upper body caused pain to shoot through her head.
Stacy noticed the hiss of pain. “You can come home for a few days, my sweet girl,” Stacy whispered, brushing her fingers along the top of Christen’s head. “We’ll make up the guest room for you so that you don’t have to climb any stairs. You can just relax.”
“That’s okay, Mom,” Christen replied, leaning back against the couch to look up at Stacy. “I have to stay here for concussion tests and stuff.”
“Are you hungry?” Cindy asked. “Your dinner’s in the fridge.”
Christen’s nose scrunched at the thought of food right now. She was still feeling nauseated, still a little off, and she didn’t want to try to stomach food.
“Thank you for getting me dinner. I’ll eat it later,” Christen replied, trying her best to smile at Tobin’s mom.
“Tobin, your food’s in the fridge too,” Cindy added. “If you get hungry later tonight.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Tobin replied, her eyes never leaving Christen.
“And you know that you should wake Christen up and check on her a few times tonight?” Stacy reminded Tobin, handing her the bottle of Tylenol that Cody had picked up at the pharmacy.
“Yes,” Tobin nodded, taking the bottle. “I’ll text you every time I check on her.”
“You don’t need to-” Christen tried to protest, not wanting anyone to make a fuss.
“You most definitely do need to. Thank you, Tobin,” Stacy interrupted. “And I expect at least a five-minute phone call tomorrow.”
“I’ll knock your socks off with a ten-minute phone call,” Christen replied weakly, smiling up at her mom. It was easier to joke than to dwell on the pain, on the ramifications of it.
“Woah, slow down there!” Cody teased, joining the conversation.
“You’re sure you don’t want to come home?” Stacy worried. “You can sleep in the car on the way there...”
Christen squeezed Tobin’s hand in hers and then shot Tobin as quick of a look as she could, given everything.
“Tobs, didn’t you want to show your parents where you hung up those lights on the deck outside?” Christen asked, hoping Tobin would go along with this so she’d get a moment with her parents.
“Uh...yeah,” Tobin nodded, catching the subtext in Christen’s eyes and question. She led her parents to the backdoor and closed it behind them once they were all outside.
Christen pushed herself up off the couch with a small huff, wincing at the way pain radiated from her forehead, to her temples, and settled low at the back of her head. She shuffled around the couch, coming to stand in front of her mom. She gently stepped into her mom’s embrace, feeling her dad join them as well.
“I’m fine, you guys, really,” Christen mumbled, hoping her tone was convincing enough for her parents to believe her. She knew if she couldn’t sell this, her mom would be spending the night on their townhouse couch and worrying about her constantly.
“You promise you or Tobin will call us if anything happens or if you want us to get you something?” Stacy asked.
“I promise,” Christen replied.
“We can stop by again sometime tomorrow,” Cody said to Stacy, squeezing her shoulders gently.
“You could bring Bardi’s for dinner?” Christen said, knowing her parents were definitely making a trip back here tomorrow to check on her, so she might as well get the best pizza in Palos Verdes out of it. Tobin loved that place too, so it was a win all around.
“We can do that,” Stacy nodded, feeling somewhat better about being able to do something for her daughter.
Christen stepped out of the hug, looking between her parents. “I love you guys,” she said quietly, suddenly feeling tired again.
“We love you,” Stacy replied.
“So much,” Cody nodded.
“Do you want your dad to help you upstairs?” Stacy asked.
Christen shook her head slightly, ignoring the throbbing the movement caused. “I’ve got Tobin if I need any help.”
“I think we’ve been replaced by the girlfriend,” Cody teased, leaning forward to kiss Christen’s temple. “Good night, Mo.”
“Night, Dad,” Christen replied with a small smile.
“We’ll get out of your hair,” Stacy sighed. “Ice that goose egg. Sweet dreams, my sweet girl.”
“Love you, Mom,” Christen hummed, giving Stacy one more hug.
Christen returned to her spot on the couch, offering a small wave and a tired smile to Jeff and Cindy as they said their goodbyes as well. Once the two sets of parents had joined Tobin in the hallway, on their way to the door, Christen let out a long breath and sank back into the cushions. She was exhausted from the brief conversations and the few hugs, and she hated that the pain was still there, still behind her eyes and in her head. She lifted her hand and traced the goose egg on her forehead, feeling how much smaller it was thanks to all the icing she’d done tonight. But it was still there and she hated that it was.
“So, are we thinking bed or couch tonight?” Tobin asked, leaning against the doorframe.
“I don’t know,” Christen sighed tiredly.
“I’ll carry you to bed if you want to sleep there,” Tobin offered. “Or I’ll bring blankets down if you want to sleep here.”
Deciding she’d like to be upstairs, in bed, Christen sat up and pushed herself off the couch, cringing as she stood up fully.
“Baby,” Tobin said, stepping forward.
“I want to be in bed. So, I’m making it up those stairs,” Christen replied stubbornly, holding a hand to her head as she shuffled toward Tobin.
“Do you remember when I had surgery and you wouldn’t let me do anything? I wasn’t allowed to brush my hair or make coffee or tie my own shoe or make sandwiches? All of which have nothing to do with an ankle, might I add,” Tobin smiled softly. “Please let me be here for you and take care of you.”
Christen blew out a wobbly breath. “I did do all of that, didn’t I?” she asked quietly.
“You were incredibly sweet,” Tobin nodded. “And now I want to make you sandwiches and coffee and help you get up the stairs and brush your hair and tie your shoes.”
Christen blinked away the few tears that sprang to her eyes and smiled a bit. She nodded gently, just once, anything more would hurt.
“I know you’re stubborn and probably want to do this on your own, so do you want me to carry you upstairs, or is this gonna be an arm around you and a lot of resting on each step kind of thing?” Tobin asked, reaching out to rest her hands on Christen’s waist.
Christen moved slower than she normally would, but she still closed the bit of space between them quickly. She wrapped her arms around Tobin’s middle and buried her face in Tobin’s neck, ignoring the slight ache in her forehead.
“Can we start with option number two and reevaluate if necessary?” Christen mumbled.
“Of course,” Tobin nodded, wrapping an arm around Christen’s waist and turning them both toward the hall and the staircase. “Slow and steady is totally cool.”
“Like a turtle,” Christen replied, taking it one step at a time, literally.
“That’s true. Or a slug,” Tobin hummed.
“Gross. What about a sloth?”
“They’re very cute,” Tobin smiled.
Christen grew quiet as they neared the top of the stairs. She leaned more heavily into Tobin’s side, the pounding in her head getting stronger after climbing most of the way up the stairs.
After a longer rest than any of the others before, Tobin tilted her head to look at Christen. “Do you want option one? You’ve basically conquered the stairs. We can get the last five tomorrow.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Christen sighed, exhaustion coloring her words.
Tobin held Christen’s back tightly, not wanting to jostle her head any more than she probably would. She scooped Christen’s legs up with her other arm, gripping her close and climbing the last few steps. She didn’t put Christen down until they were in their room and Tobin could lay Christen down on the bed.
“You look super cute in the uniform, but do you want some pajamas?” Tobin asked, already stepping toward the dresser.
Christen nodded, just once, again. With tired eyes, she watched Tobin pull pajamas out for the two of them since Tobin was also still in her uniform. Despite the storm of emotions running through her, the anger at having gotten hurt, the pain at potentially ending her career at UCLA like this, the fear that this concussion would sideline her for more than just her college career, she decided to just focus on the love and the gratitude she felt for her girlfriend for the moment.
She had spent a lot of their time together taking care of Tobin, and she wasn’t complaining. She loved doing that. But now that the shoe was on the other foot, now that Tobin was getting the chance to care for her, it was something special. It made Christen feel more loved than she ever had been before, and that was enough to dull the pain for the briefest of times.
Tobin tossed two pairs of sleep shorts and two baggy t-shirts onto the bed. She stepped close to Christen, starting with her shorts since she knew sitting up to change shirts would be painful. Stacy had already helped Christen out of her cleats and socks, so all Tobin had to do was swap out the shorts, which she did. She then helped Christen sit up in bed, propping her up against two pillows before she peeled the jersey and her sports bra off and replaced it with the t-shirt.
“First you get me on my back, and then you get me naked. Lucky me,” Christen tried to tease, but her voice was tight and the smile on her face looked a little forced.
“Lucky me, ” Tobin corrected. “Chris?”
“You know that you can be upset, right?” Tobin whispered.
Christen’s jaw clenched, which set off a horrible chain reaction of sharp pain in her temples, a pulsing throb in her forehead, and a dull ache in the back of her head. She shut her eyes for a moment, breathing through the pain, accepting the heaviness in her head that was left in its wake.
“I- not tonight. Maybe tomorrow. Or in a few days. Or next week. But right now, I’m too...tired,” Christen replied once the fogginess and weight in her head were no longer compounded by intense pain.
“Okay,” Tobin nodded, trading in her own uniform for pajamas. “No twinkly lights tonight?”
“No, thank you,” Christen sighed.
“Okay,” Tobin repeated, flicking off the bedroom light and feeling her way across the dark room and to the bed. She helped Christen get situated under the covers before crawling into bed beside her. Then, she set an alarm for 2:00AM, so that she could wake Christen up and check on her.
Tobin kept a few inches of space between herself and Christen. She’d been told, mostly by Allie Long, that she tossed and turned at night, and she didn’t want to bump into Christen and hurt her head even more than it was already hurting. She didn’t want to keep Christen up, not when it was clear that Christen was exhausted. Tobin didn’t typically sleep flat on her back, but tonight she planned on it. She placed her hands on her stomach and looked up at the ceiling, hoping that she could be as still as possible, even in her unconscious state.
“You’re thinking really loud, baby,” Christen whispered, hating the inches of space between them that felt like acres.
“Me?” Tobin mumbled. “I’m just relaxing.”
“You're the opposite of relaxing. You’re tense.”
“I just don’t want to toss and turn too much or bump into you or something,” Tobin sighed.
Christen wished she could just scoot over in bed and wrap Tobin in her arms, all without her head and her neck and her back protesting. She wished she hadn’t gone up for that header tonight. She wished those two USC girls weren’t such colossal assholes. She wished for a lot of things. But mostly, she just wished for the space to be gone, no matter the risks.
“Will you stop worrying and come hold me?” Christen asked quietly, her voice soft. “Please?”
Tobin couldn’t get rid of the worry in her chest, she couldn’t stop the way her throat felt tight, but she could give Christen what she wanted. Tobin slid closer in bed, reaching out to hold onto Christen’s hand and press her leg against Christen’s.
“You’re almost there, Tobs,” Christen hummed.
Tobin let out a soft chuckle, the worry uncoiling the tiniest bit with Christen’s teasing.
“You promise to tell me if your head hurts?” Tobin asked, sitting up in bed and looking down at Christen.
“It already hurts, nothing you do will change that,” Christen replied.
“You know what I meant. You’ll tell me if it starts to hurt more?”
Tobin nodded, satisfied with Christen’s response. She rolled over onto her side, pressing herself against Christen’s body and wrapping an arm around Christen’s waist.
“I love you. I’ll wake you up in four hours,” Tobin mumbled.
Christen sighed at the feeling of Tobin’s arm around her, at the feeling of Tobin pressed against her back, making her feel safer than she had in hours.
“I love you too,” Christen yawned, her eyes closing as she tried her best to ignore the pounding in her head.
By 5:00AM, during the second round of wake-ups and check-ins, Tobin could tell that she was annoying Christen. It was the second time she’d disrupted her sleep, and Christen was more than a little frustrated.
“What’s your name?” Tobin asked.
“Same name I had three hours ago,” Christen grumbled.
“That’s not really an answer, but I’ll take it. Where are we?” Tobin asked, biting back a laugh at Christen’s grumpiness. She hadn’t really ever seen Christen this grumpy. Typically, Christen got really good sleep and woke up ready to start the day.
“Unfortunately, not on a Hawaiian beach in bikinis, sipping margaritas.”
“You’re telling me,” Tobin snorted. “Okay last question...you ready?”
“I don't have much of a choice,” Christen grouched, holding a hand over her eyes and breathing through the pressure she could feel building in her head.
“If you had to choose...which time that we’ve done it was the best?” Tobin asked, hoping that Christen would enjoy the question.
Christen cracked a smile, her grumpiness subsiding. “I only get to pick one?”
“You can always pick another one when I wake you up at 8:00,” Tobin smirked.
Christen dropped her hand away from her eyes and squinted through the darkness at Tobin. She could just make out the sleepy smile on Tobin’s face, and she let that adorable smile fill her chest with warmth and chase away the last vestiges of her frustration.
“First time, for my birthday,” Christen replied, feeling her cheeks heat a bit at the admission. “Tie between the very very first time and the...kitchen.”
“Yeah, that was a great weekend,” Tobin agreed, leaning down to press a soft kiss onto Christen’s lips. “You can sleep now.”
“I don’t get to know yours?” Christen hummed, burrowing into Tobin’s chest and fisting her hand in Tobin’s sleep shirt.
“Valentine’s Day weekend, in the bathtub,” Tobin whispered.
“That was my 8:00 AM answer,” Christen mumbled, yawning a cute little yawn.
“I have to say, the first time holds the most sentimental place in my heart, though. Getting to see you like that, for the first time…” Tobin trailed off.
“Mmm, what was it like?” Christen sighed, already moving back towards sleep.
“It felt like everything fell into place,” Tobin hummed. “It felt like everything finally made sense, that you wanted me just as much as I wanted you.”
“You’re the only thing that makes sense sometimes,” Christen whispered, nuzzling into the crook of Tobin’s neck.
“I feel the same way, baby,” Tobin mumbled, remembering how she’d felt just like that when her ankle hadn’t healed faster, despite all her P.T. and wishful thinking. Christen had been her safe place and her foundation. Christen had made the most sense. So now Tobin was going to do the same and be the same for her.
“Duck, apple, garage, bitcoin...um,” Christen paused, her forehead furrowing in thought, causing a sharp hiss to escape her lips. She held her forehead and tried to remember the last word Alicia had told her. “Beachball? No wait, that was the last round. I meant clock. Yeah, clock.”
Christen cracked an eye open, watching as Alicia touched the screen of the iPad a few times.
“Did I get it?” Christen asked with hope in her voice.
Alicia sighed and turned the iPad around to show Christen. She pointed at a graph, at a dot that was titled “baseline.”
“You were here for the baseline test we did during preseason, and now…”
Christen looked to where Alicia pointed next, at a dot that was way, way below where she was in August.
“...you’re here. We’ll take these tests every few days to gauge your recovery. In the meantime, no elevating your heart rate, no class, avoid bright lights and loud sounds, absolutely no screen time, and manage the pain with Tylenol as needed, okay?” Alicia finished, closing the iPad and giving Christen a small smile.
Christen sighed and slid on a pair of sunglasses, the ones Tobin had reminded her to grab as they were leaving the house. She slowly got to her feet and grimaced at Alicia. She still felt groggy, still had the pressure in her head and a sharp ache behind her eyes. It had only been less than 48 hours, but Christen was already over this. She was dying to get back on the field, to do something other than sit in the dark and avoid mental stimulation.
“Thanks, Alicia. I’ll see you at practice,” Christen replied.
“No, you most certainly will not,” Alicia sighed, putting down the iPad and standing up to follow Christen to the door.
“Your only job right now is to rest. You can come to practice and sit on the sidelines with your sunglasses on in a few days if you start to improve,” Alicia added.
Christen hung her head and walked out the training room, feeling her shoulders droop and the road to recovery get even longer.
“Hey! I got you coffee,” Tobin said, standing up from the chair she’d been waiting in outside.
“Better be decaf!” Alicia called through the training room door.
“It is!” Tobin yelled back.
Christen took the offered cup with a weak attempt at a smile. “Thanks, babe,” she sighed, feeling the ever-present exhaustion in her muscles and body that had been there since the game.
“You want to take a nap?” Tobin asked, intertwining her fingers with Christen’s and swinging their clasped hands softly between them.
“I want to run,” Christen huffed, sipping her coffee and cringing at the decaf flavor, the one that no amount of oat milk could hide.
“If by run you mean Rest Until No pain, that sounds good to me,” Tobin tried to tease. She could tell that Christen was frustrated. She could see that Christen wanted to be back to normal, that she wanted to play soccer and go to classes and join her friends for movie nights, just like she usually did.
Christen’s lips twitched up into the ghost of a smile.
“See, you do think I’m funny,” Tobin winked. “Just not in the middle of the night, clearly.”
“I always think you’re funny,” Christen hummed quietly, letting Tobin lead her out of the Athletic Building and toward the parking lot.
“Maybe this weekend if you’re feeling a little better, we can drive to the beach and just relax on the sand?” Tobin offered. She’d been spending any free second she had thinking about fun things she could take Christen to do that didn’t involve staring at a screen or any strenuous activity.
“You’ll have to clear that with Alicia,” Christen grumbled, hating how restricted she was in what she could do. “Since apparently I’m only allowed to sit in the dark and do absolutely nothing.”
“I’ll double-check with her. I just ordered really huge, grandma sunglasses from Amazon, and they’ll get here in a couple of days. Don’t worry. I ordered two pairs so that you won’t be the only one wearing them,” Tobin grinned. “Or we could go to the beach around sunset when it isn’t so bright. Ooooh...we could do a short beach walk and look to see if any turtles are nesting,” Tobin added, getting more ideas about what she could do to entertain Christen and get her out of the house.
Christen blew out a wobbly breath and felt a tear drop down her cheek. She tried to quickly wipe it away, so Tobin wouldn’t see. She didn’t even really know why she was crying. It just seemed like, since the concussion, her tear ducts were insanely overactive and every little thing could make her cry. Especially Tobin being sweet and thoughtful and perfect.
“Hey,” Tobin cooed, noticing the tear and the way Christen tried to wipe it away quickly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest too much too fast. We can do whatever you want to do. We don’t have to do anything, and if you want me to give you some space alone, I can,” Tobin offered. She kind of wondered if her constant presence was starting to grate on Christen’s nerves. She wasn’t meaning to, but she knew she was hovering. She was just worried, and she wanted to be there when Christen needed her. She wanted to take care of her, no matter what.
Christen stopped walking, pulling Tobin to a sudden stop. She quickly pulled Tobin in for a tight hug, burying her face in Tobin’s still-damp hair, letting the scents of eucalyptus and pine and mint calm her. She still felt tears leaking from her eyes, so she gripped Tobin even tighter to her.
“You didn’t. You’re- you’re being very sweet, and the last thing I want is space. I think the concussion is just making me cry at everything right now,” Christen whispered.
“Welcome to my world,” Tobin chuckled, knowing that she was often the one who cried. She held Christen as close as she could. “You want to try and shower?” Tobin asked. “I’ll wash your hair. All you have to do is stand there.”
“Maybe later. I just want to lay down for a while, I think,” Christen replied, not letting go of Tobin just yet.
“We can do that. I ordered five different books on tape from the library too, and Kelley picked them up. If you want to listen to anything,” Tobin offered, knowing that Christen would get bored very quickly with all the resting she was going to have to do with this injury.
“Can we listen to our records first?” Christen hummed.
“Of course,” Tobin mumbled, turning her head and kissing Christen’s neck.
Tobin closed her computer, shoved it in her backpack, and raced out of the auditorium. She had approximately seven minutes to run across campus to her Art History class now because Christen’s Child Psychopathology class had run long. She ignored the students that glared at her as she shoved past them, tightening the straps on her backpack and hurrying out of the building and into the bright sunlight.
Christen wasn’t allowed to attend classes yet. She still had horrible headaches when she looked at her computer or tried to read anything. Her eyes still ached when she looked at one thing for too long, and she still seemed to need to sleep for most of the day. Thankfully, Christen’s and Tobin’s class schedules didn’t really overlap. Tobin was able to attend Christen’s Child Psychopathology class and her Mental Health in Literature class. Crystal was able to pick up the slack and attend Christen’s Criminal Psychology class, and Tobin already was part of Christen’s ceramics class.
That being said, attending seven classes and making each practice for soccer was a little chaotic. Tobin made sure to pack a lunch every day, knowing that she wouldn’t have time to stop at a cafeteria or coffee shop. She wore her sneakers to classes now too, knowing she often needed to run across campus to make it to lectures on time. Friday was the only weekday when there were no classes, and Tobin was looking forward to this Friday more than she ever had before.
When she finally made it to her Art History class with thirty-two seconds to spare, Tobin sunk into her seat, ready to relax and watch her professor flip through slides of Ancient Egyptian sculptures.
“Okay, I have your notes for the week, not that you should read them right now. I can read them to you,” Tobin offered, sending the notes she and Crystal had taken for Christen during the week to Christen’s email. “I tried to color-code them like you usually do, but I didn’t really know what colors you typically use. I made the really important exam information red, the general information green, and information that won’t be on the exam, purple. I also put some of my own commentary in orange, but you can delete that if it’s distracting.”
Tobin put her computer on top of her dresser and flopped down on the bed next to Christen, kicking her shoes off and crawling under the covers. She dropped her head into Christen’s lap and let out a tired breath.
“You didn’t have to do all of that,” Christen hummed, running her fingers through Tobin’s hair. Tobin was running herself ragged trying to keep up with both of their classes, and with training and film sessions. The first round of the NCAA tournament was tomorrow, and they would be facing Eastern Washington at home. They should win, given they were the top seed in their side of the bracket, but Christen was worried that Tobin was so focused on her, on taking care of her, that she wasn’t focused on the game.
“Psychology is pretty interesting, so I’m actually enjoying it. I feel like I’m getting double the education,” Tobin murmured, already relaxing with each brush of Christen’s fingers through her hair.
“My professors can send me notes, so you won’t have to keep doing this. Even if it is very sweet of you,” Christe hummed, scratching Tobin’s scalp gently. “You should be focusing on the game tomorrow.”
“I really don’t mind doing it. This way, I can clarify anything that happens in your classes and take notes the way you like to take notes, or at least close to the same way you take notes. And I am focused on the game tomorrow. I’m gonna get a great night’s sleep tonight and eat an amazing breakfast tomorrow and completely kick their asses,” Tobin assured, opening her eyes to look up at Christen.
“I hope I can come watch,” Christen choked out, feeling that familiar burn behind her eyes. She swallowed her tears though, not wanting to cry again. That would make it every single day this week.
“Alicia said she’d check you out tomorrow morning and give you the green light to come to the game, as long as you feel good enough,” Tobin said, running a hand along Christen’s leg.
Christen sighed, doing a mental check on how she was feeling. It had been five days now since she’d gotten hit, and she still had the pressure behind her eyes and the heaviness in her head. She still sometimes felt like she was underwater and struggling to focus. She still felt overly emotional and irritable more times than not. She still had headaches and sensitivity to light. So, she was pretty much still where she was five days ago, having made no progress.
“Yeah,” Christen mumbled, her fingers running through Tobin’s hair a little quicker now as she got a far-off look in her eyes.
“Either way, I’ll walk you through the entire game afterwards,” Tobin whispered.
Christen smiled and looked down at Tobin, blinking back into the moment and out of her thoughts. “That’s because you’re the best.”
“This isn’t going to be forever, Chris,” Tobin promised, her voice soft. “I know it sucks, and I know it’s frustrating, but it won’t be forever.”
Christen nodded, feeling her smile grow just a bit. “I think if I didn’t have you here with me for this, I wouldn’t-” Christen let out a short breath. “Well, I would be in a much darker place. So, thank you. For being here, for taking such good care of me.”
“Always,” Tobin mumbled, burying her face against Christen’s stomach. “Are you hungry? I can make you a limited number of things and order anything.”
Christen immediately thought of something, something she knew Tobin could make without burning it. But she didn’t want to ask, she didn’t want to add to Tobin’s plate. She didn’t want to make Tobin get up, not when she was looking so peaceful and relaxed.
“I’m okay,” Christen replied softly.
“You’re not a good liar. Your stomach is grumbling,” Tobin chuckled, her ear basically pressed against Christen’s stomach. “I really don’t mind. Honestly, I could use some food too.”
“Can I come down with you? I promise to wear my sunglasses,” Christen said with a small chuckle.
“Of course,” Tobin nodded. “Crystal and Megan are still at class, and Kelley’s with her girlfriend, well girl who’s a friend, so we’ll have the downstairs to ourselves and can keep the lights off while I make food.”
“No lights? That sounds like a recipe for burning my grilled cheese,” Christen teased.
“My phone has a flashlight,” Tobin winked. “And I knew you were in a grilled cheese mood!”
Christen shrugged. “I’m only in the mood for yours. Nobody else can make them like you can.”
“It’s the obscene amount of butter,” Tobin nodded.
"It's the love, baby," Christen hummed. She smiled as Tobin sat up, holding in a laugh at the sight of her slightly messy hair. Christen reached out to untangle it and smooth it out, having been the one who messed it up in the first place.
“Sorry,” Christen murmured, pushing a few strands of Tobin’s hair behind her ear and then letting her hand fall to her lap.
“Don’t be. You give the best head scratches,” Tobin sighed, feeling infinitely more relaxed than she had earlier in the day.
Christen felt her smile falter just a bit as her head started to pound just a little harder. The reminder doused the small bit of happiness that had taken root in her chest.
“Chris?” Tobin answered, cocking her head.
“What if I-” Christen paused and took a deep breath. She reached out to grab ahold of Tobin’s hand, needing the touch to stay grounded.
Tobin waited, knowing that Christen would need to let her worries and fears out soon. She’d been waiting for this. She’d been waiting for Christen to get frustrated, to let her fear seep out.
Christen quickly shook those negative thoughts, those worries from her mind. Now was not the time to dwell on them or voice them, not when there was a big game tomorrow. She’d still feel like this tomorrow night, after the game. She’d still have these same fears and anxieties and worries in two days, and three, and four.
“You can tell me whatever you’re worried about,” Tobin whispered. “I’m not going to judge you or look at you differently, just because you’re anxious or scared about something.”
“I know you won’t,” Christen replied softly. “I...I’ll tell you about it after the game tomorrow.”
“Telling me now won’t affect the game. I promise,” Tobin mumbled. “But if you really want to wait, I won’t push.”
“But now this is all you’re going to be thinking about, isn’t it?” Christen sighed, realizing that by avoiding the conversation, she was actually probably being more distracting.
Tobin’s eyes crinkled a little, her mouth sliding into a tight smile. Christen wasn’t wrong. She would be thinking about this for the next day until the final whistle blew at the end of the game. “Not if you don’t want me to…” Tobin offered.
Christen reached up and smoothed her thumb across Tobin’s worry wrinkle. “I’m just really scared I won’t come back from this. Not just in time for the tournament, but...ever. I’ve never felt this kind of pain before. Just getting up in the morning hurts. Trying to focus hurts. Everything hurts.”
Tobin’s heart ached at Christen’s words. She knew Christen was hurting, but Christen had never actually voiced how much pain she was actually in. Tobin could hear her wincing when she sat up in bed or when she rolled over in the middle of the night, but she wasn’t entirely sure just how severe the pain was. Christen wasn’t the type of person to complain or vocalize pain. She was quiet and focused and serious, and she didn’t let many people see how much it hurt.
Tobin nodded her head thoughtfully. She didn’t have concrete answers for Christen. She couldn’t say with 100% certainty that Christen would come back for the tournament or that the pain would go away. Tobin wasn’t a doctor. She wasn’t a medical professional. She couldn’t tell Christen any statistics that would make her feel better. A lump grew in her throat, and her chest tightened the slightest bit, but she knew that she had to respond. She had to give Christen some sort of answer, any amount of comfort that she could.
“I have so much more to give to this game, so much more that I want to do. I don’t want to be done. Not like this,” Christen added, blinking away the hot tears in her eyes as her fingers toyed with Tobin’s hand.
“You’re right. You do have tons more to give to this game,” Tobin said. “And I can’t guarantee anything, since I know very little about concussions and about how you’re feeling. But I do know a lot about you. I might even go so far as to say I’m an expert in the field of Christen Press,” Tobin smiled.
Christen shot Tobin a watery smile, letting Tobin’s words comfort her.
“And from everything that I know and everything that I’ve learned over the past three years, I know that you push through every single obstacle. You’re strong and resilient, you’re stubborn and the hardest worker I’ve ever met. You're a fighter, baby," Tobin began, reaching up to gently trace her fingertips along Christen's cheek. "Sometimes when a wave is coming at you, the only way to get past it is to dive right into it. We can’t avoid pain, and we can’t magically make it go away. If we could, I would have made yours go away on the field during the game. But we can dive into it and come out on the other side...” Tobin trailed off, searching her mind for more words, for anything she could say to make Christen feel better. “I don’t think you’re finished playing. You're coming back from this. I’d bet all my money on you.”
Christen felt the first few tears slip down her cheeks as she let the full force of Tobin’s words, of the love and the care and the certainty behind them, wash over her. If Tobin believed all of that to be true, then maybe so could she. Maybe she could believe it too.
Tobin quickly moved behind Christen, just like Christen had right after her ankle injury. She wrapped her arms around Christen’s front and pulled her back against her chest, letting her cry for as long as she needed to. She whispered soft words, phrases like “Give it time,” and “You’re going to get past this,” slipping from her lips. She pressed gentle kisses along Christen’s shoulders and pressed her hands against Christen’s stomach.
Tobin couldn’t help the few tears that slipped from her own eyes. She couldn’t help the desperation she felt clawing its way up her throat when she saw Christen so hurt, the teary floodgates breaking opening. Tobin wished that she could take away the tears and the pain and the fear that Christen felt with each and every word and touch and kiss. She wished that she could fix everything, just by holding onto Christen, but she couldn’t. All she could do was hold Christen together while Christen fell apart.
“19, 3, 27, 17, 4, 2,” Christen said, repeating the numbers Alicia had read to her, only in backward order.
“Interesting,” Alicia hummed, tapping away at her iPad.
Christen’s confidence faltered for a moment. She had been feeling so good about this concussion test. She’d been feeling good in general lately.
She hadn’t had a headache in a full 24 hours. She still was a little sensitive to light, but nothing too crazy. She’d been able to go back to class and sit through lectures, to take notes on her computer, and read articles all without a mountain of pain. She’d been able to sit at practice and watch. It had taken a full two weeks of dark rooms and boredom and a lot of crying in Tobin’s arms, but she felt like she was finally rounding the corner. But the only way to know that for sure was to ace this concussion test.
“Remember those five words I told you at the beginning of the test?” Alicia asked, eyeing Christen curiously.
Christen nodded. “Duck, apple, garage, bitcoin, and jungle,” she replied, not second-guessing a single word.
Alicia smiled and nodded, tapping at the iPad again. She flipped it around to show Christen the chart.
Christen could see the slow incline back to baseline that she’d managed to get over these last two weeks. This test that she’d just taken was almost at baseline, it was so goddamn close and all Christen could feel was relief.
“So I can play? That’s what this means?” Christen asked excitedly. Last week, she’d gotten to add in light cardio. Two days ago, she’d gotten to touch a soccer ball. And maybe today, she’d actually get to train.
“Slow your roll, Press. You can do some light, no-contact training today. But you’re ways away from actually getting into a game.”
Christen deflated, feeling every bit of hope she’d woken up with this morning seep out of her. She couldn’t train full contact today, which meant there was no way she was going to be able to play in the quarterfinals against Florida in two days. She couldn’t train today which meant she’d have to sit on the sidelines, again, and cheer and coach and try her hardest not to get frustrated that she wasn’t on the field. She could feel that frustration she’d been avoiding bubble up within her, and she didn’t think she’d be able to ignore it any longer.
“Hey, cutie,” Tobin chirped, passing a ball to Christen at the end of practice. “You looked good out there.”
“I picked up cones, took uncontested shots on goal, and juggled when I got bored. That is far from good,” Christe grumbled, trapping the ball and taking a bit of a heavy touch. Two weeks and she’d already lost so much more than her fitness; she was starting to lose her technique as well. She sent a pass back at Tobin, a little off the mark.
Tobin lunged to her left to stop the ball that Christen had passed her. “It’s a lot better than lying in the dark,” Tobin said, trying to be optimistic. She tapped the ball back to Christen and walked toward her girlfriend.
Christen let the ball roll past her, not wanting to trap it and take a crappy touch again. She crossed her arms over her chest and watched the rest of their teammates joke around and head back toward the locker room. They were all smiles and laughter and happiness, and Christen was envious. She wanted to feel that way too. She wanted to laugh and be happy, but all she felt was down and dark and irritated.
“Yeah, I guess,” Christen shrugged, her eyes still on their teammates.
“You were cleared for cardio too,” Tobin wiggled her eyebrows, trying a different tactic, one that didn't involve passing a soccer ball.
Christen didn’t pick up on the subtext, still too focused on the fact that she couldn’t play tomorrow, that she was sitting out again, that she might not get to lead her team to another NCAA Championship.
“...which means you can raise your heart rate?” Tobin tried again, concerned that Christen wasn’t even interested in joking about sex, something that at least made her smirk usually.
“But I’m not cleared for contact. So, no game tomorrow,” Christen mumbled, finally turning to look at Tobin.
“Right,” Tobin nodded, giving up on that approach. They hadn’t slept together since the concussion, and Tobin was pretty sure that Christen wouldn’t want to until after her first time back on the field. Not that that was a problem or an issue. Tobin completely understood why Christen wasn’t doing more than kissing her softly, more than hugging and cuddling. She understood because she’d gone through the same thing with her ankle. “I think you’ll be cleared soon, and the whole team is going to play for you tomorrow so that you get to play in the semis and the finals.”
“They don’t need to do me any favors, they should win for themselves,” Christen replied with a small, irritated pout.
“You’re our captain. We do everything for the team, and you’re the head of the team. So, we do it for you,” Tobin shrugged. “You’re going to play in the final, and that’s that. Now would you like to take some shots on goal before we change and go home?”
The stubborn part of Christen just wanted to stalk off this field and throw herself a pretty great pity party. She wanted to sulk and mope. But the stronger part of her, the part that recognized what Tobin was doing for her, knew she’d regret not taking shots. She hadn’t done her typical end-of-practice routine since getting hurt and now seemed like a good chance to start that again.
“I’d like that,” Christen replied with a tight smile, reaching out to squeeze Tobin’s wrist between her fingers. “And I’m excited to watch us win tomorrow.”
“Hurry up, you’re in training,” Tobin teased, jogging to where the ball was and kicking it toward Christen. “Twenty shots on goal, per foot, and then I’ll buy you dinner.”
Christen received the pass, taking a somewhat better touch this time. She turned to face the goal, about twenty yards away from the net. She took a touch and sent a shot toward the goal. It wasn’t super well-struck or well-placed, but it hit the back of the net all the same.
“GOOOOAAAALLL!” Tobin yelled, running around Christen with her arms stretched out.
Christen cracked a smile. “That’s your one, no more celebrating now until the end.”
“You’re right,” Tobin murmured, wrapping her arms around Christen and whispering in her ear, “I wouldn’t want to jinx it and mess with your superstitions.”
“I don’t really have any anymore,” Christen mumbled, pressing a quick kiss to Tobin’s cheeks and moving out of her arms. She jogged over to the goal, waiting for any sign that her headaches would return. But she felt great as she grabbed the ball from the net and dribbled back to the top of the box.
“Why’s that?” Tobin asked, watching Christen move, the worry that had been living in her stomach tightening.
Christen lined up and took another shot, this one curling just inside the right post. She put her hands on her hips and looked over at Tobin. “It didn’t matter that I triple knotted my left cleat, that I planted with you on the field, that I only took just six bites of a power bar right before game time. I still got hurt. So what was I really protecting myself from by believing in all that crap?”
“Repetition feels good,” Tobin said carefully. She could tell that there was a bite to Christen’s words, that there was anger in her voice. Tobin had been noticing how frustrated Christen was getting, and she was waiting to see when Christen exploded. She knew it was coming. After all the tears and time being upset, the anger and explosion were coming. “I’ve teased you for a long time about your superstitions, but it’s just tradition and repetition, and every athlete, every person, I know likes repetition. That doesn’t mean it’ll protect us, but why stop something that feels good, right?”
Christen shrugged again and ran to the goal to retrieve the ball. She juggled it back to the top of the eighteen, mulling over Tobin’s words.
“I’m still waiting to feel good, being back on the field with the ball at my feet. It still doesn’t feel right yet, and I don’t know why,” Christen sighed, kicking the ball in the air and winding up to send a powerful rocket of a shot toward the goal, the ball sinking into the top corner of the goal. Even if that was the best shot she’d taken since coming back from her concussion, it didn’t fill her with the same pride or excitement it once had. She just couldn’t fight through the bitterness, through the disappointment in herself.
“Nice shot, babe!” Tobin said with a smile. “And I think it’ll come. When I first got on the field after surgery, I felt so stiff and wrong. I didn’t feel like me.”
“But look at you now,” Christen replied with a forced smile, before jogging over to the goal to retrieve the ball again.
“I’ll get to say that to you in a little bit,” Tobin said. “What do you want for dinner?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Christen mumbled, winding up to take a shot, the ball clanging off the crossbar. She clenched her hands into fists, watching as the ball rolled to the right of the goal.
Christen rolled her shoulders and swallowed the urge to groan, to scream, to let out every twisted, tangled emotion filling her chest.
“Do you want to go out or stay in?” Tobin tried again. “We could always make a date of it.”
“That sounds great, babe,” Christen said with a nod, stalking over to where the ball had landed and returning with it moments later.
“Okay,” Tobin nodded, deciding that staying quiet was probably the best choice, considering Christen’s voice was getting tighter and gruff.
Christen heard the slight hurt in the single word and it cut through a bit of the exasperation she was feeling. So, she left the ball right outside the eighteen-yard box and moved to Tobin’s side. She reached out to tangle her fingers with Tobin’s as a heavy sigh left her lips.
“I’m sorry,” Christen whispered, her eyes on their clasped hands.
“You don’t need to be. I know I’m probably hovering too much or annoying you by talking when you’re trying to focus,” Tobin said, her lips quirking up into a soft smile.
“You’re not. You’re perfect. I’m just- I’m working through this, and I’m trying not to take it out on you,” Christen replied, her voice still a little tight, but with a bit of warmth that had been missing.
“I appreciate that,” Tobin chuckled. “But you don’t have to work through it on your own.”
Christen nodded and finally looked up at Tobin, her eyes moving between those brown eyes she could look into forever, into those eyes that looked right into her soul and saw her.
“I’ll work on that too,” Christen said with a half-smile. “I’d love a date night tonight, by the way.”
“Me too,” Tobin hummed, pushing Christen’s hair away from her forehead.
Christen let out a little sigh at the feeling of Tobin’s fingertips ghosting across her skin.
“I think this is all going to come exploding out of me soon, and I’m not sure what that’s going to look like,” Christen mumbled, gripping tightly onto Tobin’s hand. She had almost exploded at practice, and she’d managed to keep it in, but she didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to.
All of this anger she’d been harboring since getting hurt was going to come out of her at some point, and she was worried about what her anger would leave in its wake. The last thing she wanted to do was say something hurtful, to lash out, especially at Tobin, who had been nothing but sweet and supportive from the very start of this whole thing.
“I already love you, and you getting frustrated won’t change that. You getting angry at the universe won’t make me look at you differently. You get to be human,” Tobin whispered.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those ugly sides I’ve always been worried about you seeing,” Christen said, a weak attempt at a laugh. “Me, angry at the universe, isn’t going to be pretty.”
“You and I agreed on forever, so I’m going to see that side eventually,” Tobin shrugged. “I want to know you. All of you, and that means loving you for everything that makes you you, even the things that are maybe rough around the edges.”
Christen tilted forward and placed her forehead against Tobin’s, letting her eyes flutter shut.
“I love you,” Christen hummed. “Thank you in advance for hopefully still loving me when I fall apart.”
“And I love you. All of you. No matter what.”
NOVEMBER 23rd - THANKSGIVING
“Is this too formal?” Tobin asked looking down at her black dress pants, light gray turtleneck, gray plaid coat, and black sneakers. “Or not formal enough?”
Christen slid a small hoop earring into her ear, the one that matched the one she already had on her other ear and turned to look at where Tobin was scrutinizing her outfit in front of the standing mirror.
“You look hot, does that answer your question?” Christen replied with a small smile.
“No, but it’s nice to hear,” Tobin laughed. “I have to keep up with you.”
Christen scrunched her eyebrows and looked down at her cropped, oatmeal-colored sweater and her floral skirt. She’d worn the same thing to the team’s Thanksgiving meal this afternoon, the one they held after their final practice before their game tomorrow. The only difference was she added some jewelry and make-up for the dinner they were rushing off to at her parent’s house.
“It’s nothing to write home about, Tobs,” Christen shrugged, leaning a hip against the dresser and crossing her arms over her chest.
“You look beautiful. I could write home about you every day and in every outfit,” Tobin countered, grabbing her wallet and phone off of the dresser and putting them in her coat pocket.
“You know it’s like, 75 degrees outside right?” Christen asked, arching a brow in amusement.
“I’m sure the coat will come off, but it pulls the outfit together,” Tobin shrugged. “Do you want me to change? I can go with another shirt, and you can carry my wallet in your purse-”
“Baby,” Christen interrupted, pushing off the dresser and stepping up to Tobin. “Don’t change. You look drop-dead gorgeous in that outfit. You’re not underdressed or too formal. You look perfect, and you have no reason to be nervous. My parents already love you,” she added, wrapping her arms around Tobin’s waist.
“I haven’t been to a family Thanksgiving meal in,” Tobin looked toward the ceiling, counting the years that she’d missed Thanksgiving for something soccer-related. “Seven years?”
“Just think of it like a Press family barbecue, just with different food and the same great people,” Christen hummed.
“I would never wear this to a barbecue,” Tobin said, looking down at the dress pants again.
Christen’s smile grew. She leaned forward to press a kiss to Tobin’s lips quickly. “We should get going, there’s bound to be traffic,” Christen murmured.
“You want to take Frank or your unnamed car?” Tobin teased.
“If I say Frank will you stop trying to name my car?” Christen shot back.
“Sure, but I really think you should consider...Nigel,” Tobin smirked, grabbing her car keys from her dresser and spinning them around her index finger.
“Are you going to a job interview?” Tyler teased, sending Channing into a huge bout of laughter.
“I hate it here,” Tobin muttered under her breath, bending down to pet the dogs.
“Tyler, you’re just mad because your date showed up in a Hawaiian shirt,” Christen said with a small glare at Tyler, placing a hand protectively on the small of Tobin’s back.
“At least he won’t be sweating within five minutes of dinner on the patio,” Tyler said, sticking her tongue out at Christen.
“This is why it pays to be single,” Channing laughed, wiping the tears from her eyes.
“Barbecue Buddy!” Cody yelled from the kitchen.
“Hey!” Tobin called back with a wave. “Thank God for Cody,” Tobin whispered, moving past Channing and Tyler to hug Cody and give Stacy the flowers she’d picked up on the way to their house.
Christen’s glares for Tyler and Channing softened as she hugged her sisters.
“Be nice, it’s Thanksgiving, and she looks hot,” Christen said with a smirk, pulling away from the quick Press sister hug.
Channing gagged, dramatically leaning over and placing her hands on her knees.
“She does look very cute, Mo. And Mom and Dad literally won’t stop singing her praises. I hate it,” Tyler teased.
“I’m sure this guy you brought will survive,” Christen replied, looping her arm through Tyler’s.
“Yeah, Nigel’s cool I can’t wait to introduce you to him,” Tyler grinned, pulling Channing with them toward the kitchen.
Christen snorted and raised a hand to cover her face, trying to stifle her laughter and failing epically.
“What’s funny?” Tyler asked, raising an eyebrow.
Christen waved Tyler off, just as Nigel himself strolled into the kitchen, Hawaiian shirt and all.
“Christen, Tobin, this is my boyfriend Nigel,” Tyler introduced, moving to Nigel’s side with a smile.
Tobin choked on the wine that Stacy had just given her, a huge grin sliding onto her face. She forced herself to swallow the sip of wine in her mouth, her eyes watering, and her hands bracing herself against the counter.
“So great to meet you. I love the name Nigel,” Christen replied, stepping up to Tobin’s side. She moved her hand across Tobin’s back to rest against her hip.
“It’s a great name, and that’s a great shirt,” Tobin wheezed, putting her glass down on the counter.
Stacy looked between the two of them and shook her head. “I’m not even going to try to unpack whatever you two got going on. Let’s move outside for some food!”
Christen loved her family, she really did. But for all the reasons she loved them, for their fierce support and their interest in her life and their protectiveness and their love of soccer, right now, she couldn’t wait to leave them all in Palos Verdes and go home with Tobin.
“And Florida will come out in a 3-4-3, right? I watched their last game against Arkansas. They got some fast kids out there,” Cody commented, his words aimed across the table at Tobin.
“We’ve been working a lot on quick, clean passing because of how fast some of their players are. Hopefully, we can play out of their pressure and break them down that way,” Tobin said, reaching for her water glass.
Even though Cody seemed oblivious, Tobin could feel the anger rolling off of Christen. She could feel how frustrated Christen was with the soccer talk, talk that had lasted for most of dinner, talk that didn’t include her because she wasn’t cleared for the game, talk that tortured her because all Christen wanted to do was play. She reached out and put her hand on the arm of Christen’s chair, offering it to Christen if she wanted to hold it.
Christen slid her hand silently into Tobin’s, opting to distract herself by taking a large sip of wine. Even with the wine, there was no reprieve in sight, with her mom and Tyler and Nigel and Channing all engrossed in a conversation about Nigel’s pet hedgehog. And with her Dad talking about soccer, Christen was in for a very long night.
“How do you think Mal’s been doing on the right? She’s scored a few goals if I remember correctly,” Cody said, taking a bite of mashed potatoes.
Christen didn’t want to hurt Tobin’s hand, so she squeezed the arm of her chair in a tight grip, her eyes fixed, unseeing, on her somewhat empty plate.
“Mal’s doing a really good job. Obviously, she’s not Chris, but I think she’s stepped up to the plate well. I think the team will do a good job when we’re gone,” Tobin answered diplomatically.
“That she is not, you’re right about that,” Cody laughed. “But she does seem pretty speedy, which can only help you out going up against a 3-back who play too high up and leave all that space in behind.”
“That’s true,” Tobin nodded, not liking the tension she could feel with Christen on her right and Cody across from her.
Christen abruptly pushed her chair back from the table, having heard enough soccer talk. She couldn’t sit here for another moment and listen to Tobin and her dad talk about the team and the game tomorrow. Not when it was making that ugly, twisted ball of anger inside of her burn hotter than it ever had before. She grabbed her plate, as well as Tobin’s, and stalked away from the table.
“Babe, I wasn’t done-” Tobin tried to stop Christen, but Christen was already nearing the back door, and Tobin was certain that the rest of her mashed potatoes were going in the trash.
“So...you been keeping up with American football these days?” Tobin asked awkwardly, hoping to pique Cody’s interest in another conversation.
“Did someone say football?” Nigel said, his story about his hedgehog abandoned.
“Yeah, I played in college,” Cody nodded.
“Rad! What a coincidence! I played flag football as a kid, but then I realized I was allergic to grass, so I had to quit,” Nigel replied.
Tobin saw Cody’s face fall and held back a laugh. Conversation ebbed and flowed for a while, but Christen never came back out. Tobin was starting to worry and then she saw Stacy get to her feet.
“Hey, Stacy, would you like some help clearing the table?” Tobin asked, seeing this as her opportunity to go check on Christen.
“I never say no to help,” Stacy grinned, snagging Tyler and Channing’s plates.
“I’m still working. Great grub, though,” Nigel said, holding a hand over his plate.
Stacy shot an amused look in Tobin’s direction. Tobin smirked at Stacy, noticing that Nigel was kind of a dud. None of the Presses, except Tyler, seemed interested in anything he had to say, and although that was sad, it did give Tobin a little bit of an ego boost. She grabbed Cody’s plate and Christen’s and their empty glasses and headed to the kitchen, wanting to find Christen as soon as possible and make sure she was okay.
Stacy noticed Tobin looking around the empty kitchen with a furrowed brow. With a sigh, Stacy dropped the plates next to the sink.
“She’s probably at the beach. My guess? She took the roundabout way to avoid coming back outside,” Stacy said, nodding in the direction of the front door.
“Oh, that makes sense,” Tobin nodded, turning on the water to start washing dishes.
“You gonna go after her or are we going to bond over soapy dishes again?” Stacy said with a small smile.
“I don’t want to leave you with all of this, not after you made dinner,” Tobin said. She was also a little worried that Christen would get upset if she showed up at the beach unannounced.
“Oh, I’m leaving these for Cody. I just came in for more wine,” Stacy winked.
“In that case, I’ll be back,” Tobin said with a smile, heading out the back door, past the table where Nigel was annoying Cody, and down the trail to the beach.
She found Christen sitting on a large rock, her shoes abandoned in the sand and her hair blowing back with the wind that came off the ocean. Tobin walked quietly, toeing off her dress shoes and socks and leaving them with Christen’s shoes.
“Hey,” Tobin said, not wanting to scare Christen.
“I expected you five minutes ago,” Christen tried to joke, wiping inconspicuously at her wet cheeks.
“Nigel wanted to tell me about his grass allergy,” Tobin joked back, her eyes glued to Christen and the way that her shoulders were slumped forward.
“I’m definitely not naming my car Nigel now,” Christen said, sniffling a bit and running the sleeve of her sweater under her eyes.
“I don’t blame you. We can go with my second choice and call him Hank,” Tobin offered, climbing onto the rock and sitting behind Christen with her legs on either side of Christen and her arms wrapped around her waist.
“Frank and Hank. What a pair of cars we’ve got,” Christen replied, her voice catching in her throat slightly.
“They’re best friends,” Tobin mumbled, pressing her nose against Christen’s neck. “I’m sorry there was so much talk about soccer and the game.”
“You didn’t bring it up. Not your fault,” Christen sighed, feeling tears burn behind her eyes again.
“I’m still sorry it hurt,” Tobin whispered.
Christen didn’t have a good answer to that, because it had hurt. It hurt to sit there, knowing she still couldn’t play. It hurt to sit there and imagine a scenario where her team lost tomorrow and her season would be over. It hurt to sit there and feel like no matter how much time she put into meditating, into finding the lesson from all of this, she was still going to be left with this angry mess inside of her.
“What if you lose tomorrow?” Christen asked quietly, moving her arms so they were on top of Tobin’s, wrapped around herself.
“ We aren’t going to lose,” Tobin said, feeling confident in their team and knowing that Christen needed the reassurance.
“But what if you do? What if the season is over tomorrow and I don’t-” Christen blew out a breath. “What if you lose?”
“Then you and I will keep working on skills and drills, and then we’ll start a new career with another team after we graduate,” Tobin said, squeezing Christen a little closer.
“Do you ever get tired of being this optimistic?” Christen replied.
Tobin smiled softly. “I’m not always optimistic. Right now I’m being realistic, and the reality is that we’ve got an amazing team, and we’ve worked really hard to get here. I think Florida is gonna get their shit rocked. And I also think you and I are going to play on professional teams after this one. We’re really good, and I don’t feel cocky saying that...maybe a little, but it’s kind of just factual.”
Christen had a feeling Tobin was right about the game tomorrow. On paper, UCLA should beat Florida, they were simply better in every way. But Christen was a little less certain now about playing professionally. She’d now been sidelined for the entire NCAA Tournament, which was an absence that wasn’t hard to miss. She knew the scouts were at the games, not just for the professional teams, but for the U.S. as well. They were easy to spot in the stands, especially from her spot on the bench. They hadn’t been able to see her play, which meant the chances of getting drafted, of getting called up into camps, were dwindling. Just for her though, not for Tobin.
“You made it look so easy,” Christen said quietly, her eyes on the crashing waves on the shore.
“What?” Tobin asked, unsure about where Christen’s thoughts had gone.
“To come back, to be better than you were before. You were already great, but you came back from your injury stronger and quicker and better.”
“My surgery fixed a problem I didn’t even know I was dealing with. It’s just a different type of injury,” Tobin hummed.
“I thought this was going to be easy too. I thought I was going to be strong enough to get through it quicker, to come back and play sooner. But I wasn’t,” Christen admitted quietly, letting all the ugly, negative thoughts she’d had for weeks spill out from inside of her. She couldn’t keep them in any longer.
“I wouldn’t say my injury was easy,” Tobin chuckled. “But you are strong. This is just a different situation.”
“Maybe not easy, but definitely better timed,” Christen snapped, feeling her frustration bubble up inside of her. She couldn’t keep that down either it seemed.
Tobin’s back tensed, her hands loosened their grip on Christen’s waist. She moved so that her hands were behind her now so that she could lean back away from Christen for a second, so that she could give Christen the space to be angry and frustrated and upset.
Christen regretted the words immediately, and she regretted them more when she felt Tobin pull away.
“I didn’t mean that,” Christen whispered, reaching out to place a hand on Tobin’s thigh, not wanting them to lose all contact.
“I know,” Tobin breathed out. “I’m not upset you said it. I’m pretty sure you kept me sane for almost three months. It was a long recovery and you were there every time I got annoyed or bit your head off or said something I didn’t mean. So I’m doing do the same.”
Christen tucked her knees to her chest and dropped her head to the fabric of her skirt. She didn’t want to say anything, didn’t trust herself to open her mouth. She had already lashed out once at Tobin and really didn’t want to do it again.
Tobin pulled her legs away from Christen and stood up on top of the rock behind Christen. She lifted her hands above her head and stretched her back before leaning over to cuff her pants’ legs twice. Tobin jumped off the rock and moved around to stand in front of Christen.
“Come on,” Tobin gestured.
“I’m fine here,” Christen mumbled, not lifting her head up from her knees.
“Please?” Tobin asked, reaching her hands out and putting them on Christen’s ankles.
Christen lifted her head up and fixed Tobin with a look, her forehead creased and her mouth turned down in a frown.
“Where are we going?” Christen asked, not making a move to get up from the rock.
“We’re going on a walk,” Tobin answered, gently pulling on Christen’s ankles to bring her legs over the side of the rock.
Christen sighed, not having it in her to fight Tobin on this. Tobin seemed intent on walking, on not sitting here in tense silence as they both waited for Christen to continue to snap and send out biting words she’d instantly regret. So, she slid off the side of the rock, landing in the sand by Tobin’s side.
Tobin held onto Christen’s hand and led her closer to the water, wandering down the beach and waiting for the sun to just dip below the horizon.
“After Portland and my dad’s accident, I had all this anger that I didn’t know what to do with,” Tobin sighed.
Christen immediately tightened her grip on Tobin’s hand, turning away from the ocean to look over at her girlfriend.
“I just let it build and build and build until I snapped at Jeff one day, and I felt so terrible that I went for a drive. I ended up at the beach, and no one else was around...so I just let it out,” Tobin shrugged.
“Let what out?” Christen asked gently.
Tobin took in a deep breath, a smile spreading across her lips for a second before she stepped away from Christen slightly, looking toward the ocean, and screamed as loud as she could.
Christen was slightly taken aback at the fact that Tobin Heath, who never raised her voice, who was calm and chill and zen all the time, was standing in front of the ocean, absolutely screaming at it.
When Tobin ran out of air, she stopped, looked at Christen, and shrugged again. “Sometimes it’s nice to yell words too.”
Christen let out a huff, crossing her arms over her chest. She realized what Tobin was doing, and while adorable and slightly too loud, she wasn’t going to bite.
“I can demonstrate again,” Tobin offered. “I have a few choice words tonight.”
“Please don’t,” Christen chuckled.
“FUUUUUCK USCCCCCCCC!!!!” Tobin screamed.
“Babe!” Christen said, stepping up to Tobin and putting her hand over her mouth. She looked around, making sure they were alone on the beach. Thankfully, they were. “You can’t just yell stuff like that!”
“You actually can,” Tobin mumbled from behind Christen’s hand. Tobin pulled Christen’s hand away, kissing the back of it before she dropped it. “It makes me feel better, and no one gets hurt. It’s not like I’m screaming in the middle of a crowded beach at noon.”
Christen shook her head and looked back out to the ocean. She watched the waves roll and crash, letting the soothing sounds wash over her as she tried to decide if this would help. She wanted to let the anger out; she wanted to unpack the weight she’d been carrying around. She wanted that more than anything.
“I LOOOOOOOVE HEEER! LET HER PLAAAYYYY!” Tobin screamed at the water again, completely interrupting the silence that had settled over the two of them.
Christen felt a warmer, more genuine laugh escape her this time. “I had no idea you could scream like this,” Christen said, angling her head so she could look over at Tobin again.
“I could make a sex joke right now, but I’ll refrain,” Tobin smirked.
After returning Tobin’s smile, Christen turned back to the ocean and let her arms fall to her sides. She grabbed at the material of her skirt, fidgeting with it as she tried to gather the courage to let the anger out. She was a little worried about what would be left if she did, about what would take its place once it was gone.
“I’ll scream with you if you don’t want to do it by yourself,” Tobin offered.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Christen admitted quietly.
“You don’t have to say anything. You can just scream. This is literally the most unfair situation. You were fouled by two players who aren’t even that good, and now you’re missing out on some of the best games of the season. I’d want to scream if I were you,” Tobin tempted.
Christen felt her blood start to boil at the cruel but necessary reminders, her fingers tightening their grip on her skirt. “And once I’m all screamed out, what then?”
“Then we can go home, and I’ll hold you, and we can talk about training that we can do to get you ready for the semifinals,” Tobin shrugged.
Christen nodded and then let her eyes fall shut. She replayed every moment in her mind: hitting the grass after the collision, the instant pain in her head, getting stretchered off the field. She remembered the slow recovery, the concussion tests, the inability to get back on the field quickly. She recalled the constant crying, the feelings of weakness and inadequacy, the disappointment in herself. She let every moment fill her and fuel her, so that when she finally opened her mouth to scream, she released all of that pain and anger, giving it to the ocean for safekeeping.
She screamed as tears started to fall, as her throat started to hurt, as she sank to her knees and landed in the sand. She screamed and let everything out until she had nothing left, until all she could do was pull the neck of her sweater up to cover her face and cry.
Tobin sacrificed her dress pants and sank down onto the sand. She moved closer to Christen and wrapped her arms around her, now that she seemed to be finished screaming. She held Christen as tightly as she could, letting Christen rest her head on her shoulder and rubbing her hands up and down her back.
Christen looped her arms around Tobin’s back and buried her face in Tobin’s neck as her tears continued to fall. These tears felt different though. For weeks, she’d been crying from a seemingly endless well of tears of frustration and pain and worry. But now, she felt like these tears were cleansing, were healing. She felt like these tears were bringing an end to all that anger and pain and were ushering in the ability to heal and move on.
“You’re a natural,” Tobin whispered, trying to lighten the mood a little bit.
Christen hiccuped out a wet laugh, her arms tightening around Tobin.
“I really thought I’d have to bring up more stuff to make you mad. I almost told you about Kelley using your toothbrush that one time during an away trip,” Tobin mumbled.
Christen leaned back, her eyes narrowed. “She what?”
“And I didn’t even get to remind you that we haven’t had sex since the USC game,” Tobin smirked.
Christen let out a small sigh, dropping her head back to Tobin’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, baby. I’ve really been putting you through it, huh?”
“No way are you apologizing for that,” Tobin said, leaning back to look at Christen.
“Just did,” Christen shrugged.
“Absolutely not. I figured it was something you were upset about too. I don’t need sex all the time to want to be with you and be there for you,” Tobin added, seriously.
“I know, Tobs. I just felt so...off these past few weeks. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I was angry and upset and irritable and crying a lot , so I didn’t want that to come into bed with us. I never want to bring something like that into those moments,” Christen replied quietly.
“I agree. And I’m glad we didn’t…” Tobin trailed off. “You know, you were using a lot of past tense there,” she noted.
Christen felt a small smile tug at her lips. She was using past tense. She was using it because all of those things were in the past. Thanks to the embrace waiting for her when she was all screamed and cried out, Christen felt better than she had in weeks.
“You continue to work magic, baby,” Christen hummed.
“Screaming on the beach isn’t magic. It’s catharsis, but it isn’t magic,” Tobin sighed.
“Whatever it is, it got me feeling a whole lot better,” Christen replied, loosening her arms from around Tobin’s back. She lifted a hand and cupped Tobin’s cheek gently. “Thank you, my love.”
“Are you two okay?”
Tobin looked up to see a family, a woman, a man, and their kid, walking down the beach. The woman looked concerned, possibly having heard their screams from earlier.
“Yeah. We just did some magical, cathartic ocean yelling. All good here,” Christen said with a hopefully reassuring smile.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Tobin added, lifting up her hand in a wave.
“Whoa. Mom, can I ocean yell?” the kid asked with wonder in his eyes.
“No, sweet pea,” the woman sighed. “Happy Thanksgiving,” she called out, pulling the kid and the man along with her as they continued down the beach.
“Hey?” Tobin whispered to Christen.
“Yeah?” Christen whispered back, her eyes drifting away from the family and onto Tobin.
“You want to go back to the house and eat dessert and then go home and watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving ?” Tobin asked, her throat a little sore from yelling for so long.
Christen grinned and nodded, tilting forward to kiss Tobin gently. She lingered in the kiss, longer than in any kiss she’d given Tobin since her injury.
“No pie for you though, you got a game tomorrow,” Christen whispered against Tobin’s lips.
“Not even a bite?” Tobin pouted.
Christen was no match for that pout, she never was. “I’ll give you a bite of mine, but I expect lots of kisses in return.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Tobin grinned, getting up on her feet and reaching down to help Christen stand.
Christen let Tobin pull her to her feet, but then she bent down to brush the sand from her skirt and then from Tobin’s dress pants. She tried to get as much off as she could, wincing a little at the splotches of wet sand and dirt she couldn’t get off.
“I’ll have to hand wash these,” Christen mumbled, standing back up.
“My pants?” Tobin asked, arching an eyebrow. “I can wash my own pants.”
“I’m the reason they’re dirty…”
“I got to kiss you, so kneeling was my pleasure,” Tobin countered.
“Can I wash them if I’m the one who takes them off of you?” Christen shot back, falling back into their flirty banter easily, with a smile on her lips and a lightness in her heart that felt like coming home.
“If you want to take them off,” Tobin said, watching Christen’s face to make sure that she was actually wanting to go home and move in that direction. She didn’t want anything she’d said about not having had sex recently to pressure Christen into doing something.
Christen slipped a finger through one of the belt loops of Tobin’s dress pants and stepped closer. “I really want to,” Christen whispered.
“Me too,” Tobin mumbled. “We should probably rescue your dad from Nigel first, though.”
“It is the day to give thanks and be kind and whatnot,” Christen agreed with a smile. “And I’m thankful for you .”
“I’m incredibly thankful for you too,” Tobin hummed, pressing a kiss to Christen’s lips, a kiss Christen was eager to return.